A secret past... Forced to challenge his long-held beliefs, Aaron and his companions, two soldiers of the Royal Guard and two men of the Dwarvish kingdom of Brekken-Dahl, set out on a quest to recover the Book. Aaron resolves to discover the truth, and rescue the empire he is sworn to protect.
About the Author
Michael Duncan is a Christian author and pastor and has served the Lord and the church for nearly 25 years preaching and teaching God's Word. He has shared God's message across the U.S. and beyond and is currently the senior pastor of his church and a co-host on the Alive In Christ Radio Network. He is also on the executive board of the Northwest Baptist Convention and a board member of the Northwest Christian Writer's Association. When Michael is not preaching or teaching God's word, he spends time writing. He is an apprentice-level alumnus of the Christian Writer's Guild. Michael is also a member of the Northwest Christian Writers Association and serves as a board member. Given the opportunity, he also enjoys time on the golf course.
Read an Excerpt
Shadows: Book of Aleth Part One
By Michael Duncan
Pelican Ventures, LLCCopyright © 2011 Michael Duncan
All rights reserved.
At the North Village
All was dark ...
Overhead, clouds shrouded a waning moon and drifted past the myriad stars that twinkled in the velvet sky, leaving the world in the shadowed blackness of night. The chill of early winter dug to the marrow of the young captain who stood motionless upon the sand. Aaron stared into the blackness beyond his sight and listened as the ocean waves pounded against the shore ... and his memories. Like fragments of broken dreams beaten by the sounds of the ocean, Aaron felt a primeval draw to the sea. Shards of dormant thoughts from his long-forgotten childhood stirred in the currents of the ocean and woke to its rhythm.
As he listened, Aaron heard the sound of footsteps shuffle through the tall grass behind him. He turned and watched his longtime friend, Lorik, walk toward him with a torch in his hand that fluttered in the brisk winter breeze. Even at a distance Aaron noticed Lorik's grey hair, blown by the ocean wind. The torchlight danced and flayed and caused shadows to play like children along the sandy path. Aaron took note of the grim expression on his face. He feared Lorik's arrival meant that he, once again, must leave the haven of the ocean.
"What's the word, sergeant?" Aaron asked with dismay.
"Captain," Lorik responded as he continued to approach, "we have received a message from North Village. The thief has been found."
Months had passed since Aaron ordered his entire command to search for the Book of Aleth, stolen from the emperor's royal archives. Scattered across the nation of Celedon, three hundred men, the entire Third Order of the Royal Guard, hunted in vain for the man who stole it. Aaron and his men were commissioned by Emperor Therion himself and ordered to recover the book, but the captain thought the order excessive.
"How many men do we have there?" Aaron loathed the idea of riding over four hundred leagues to hunt down one man.
"We have only one man that far north ... a young private named Rayn." Lorik paused. "He sent word by way of the governor of that region. We just received it tonight."
Aaron ran his fingers through his hair as he thought through the situation. "What are our orders then?" he asked with a sigh of frustration.
Lorik pulled a scroll from the folds of his cloak and read:
The Third Order is hereby commanded to proceed to North Village, retrieve the stolen artifact, and destroy the thief by any means necessary.
Lorik glanced up and exhaled a heavy sigh as he handed Aaron the parchment. "Sir, it's signed by Therion himself."
Aaron knew only a handful of men under his command remained in the capital, more than enough to go after one man. "Very well," he continued. "Ready all who are left in the city, and we will gather more as we travel north." He paused as he considered where his men were located. "We can forgo those who are on the northern and southern coast as well as those who are east of the inland sea. We don't need three hundred men to capture one, no matter how dangerous the emperor thinks he is."
"When do you want to be ready, Captain?" Lorik asked.
"We leave at first light," Aaron ordered. "Gather what provisions we'll need and what men you can find. Those who are not ready at daybreak will be left behind."
Lorik saluted and turned to go.
Aaron watched Lorik walk back toward the city, the ruddy glow of the torchlight flickering in the distance. Then it, too, disappeared. Aaron turned back to face the dark, fathomless ocean and listened to the surging waves crash against the breaks. His heart longed for the freedom he felt in the vast expanse before him, and at that moment determined to take an extended leave of absence when the business with the stolen book was over. Soon, he thought, I will be done with this mission. The captain turned his back on the ocean and walked toward the city, distressed at the thought of a three-week journey north.
* * *
Hidden in the rugged hills outside the small community of North Village, a quaint cottage sat nestled in the alpine growth. What once was a pleasant, humble home had become a blazing inferno. Trapped inside the structure, an old man, eyes heavy with fatigue, clutched an ancient tome to his chest. Sweat matted his grey hair and dripped like tears from his face. He stood in the center of an open room. The smell of burning timbers filled his nostrils as wisps of smoke danced through the rafters. All hope for escape had vanished.
From within his alpine cottage the man listened to the mocking rants of soldiers who swarmed around his home like a pack of hungry wolves as they laughed at his predicament. For months the wizened man had remained secluded here, certain no one knew his location or what he'd recovered from the archives of the emperor. He was wrong. Despair wrenched his thoughts as tears flooded his eyes.
Clouds of smoke billowed across the vaulted ceiling and fire crackled on the other side of the walls. Under the door, a faint, orange glow heralded the coming flames, growing brighter as the old man watched in horror. The fire would soon engulf the room. He quelled the panic that began to seize him and moved toward a small, raised platform that supported a featureless table and four chairs.
Intense heat dominated the chamber. Two candles that sat unlit upon the table melted, and the old man's wrinkled face reddened as if he lingered too long in the sun. He sat down at the table and waited for his doom that burned just beyond the doorway. He looked at the book in his hands and knew with certainty that the tome was the Book of Aleth. Dunstan had told him what it looked like but now, so close to safety, he faced his own death in the fire set by the emperor's men.
The man held his face in his hands and wept bitter tears. He had come so close only to fail all those who waited for him. So few people remained who believed the ancient truths and now all hope would burn. Smoke filled the room, and the old man coughed and choked with each searing breath. Soon, he thought, my life in this world will be over.
The flames grew brighter, and the room glowed with the dancing orange light. The air burned his lungs with each forced breath. Rafters smoked and tapestries depicting valiant men from days long ago began to smolder. In a flash, several of the ornamental rugs burst into flame as the inferno burned through the wall. Rafters exploded in fire. The old man looked up in fear as beams which once supported the structure now heralded its final destruction. Flames rushed across the wood as it popped and crackled like kindling.
He had no escape. The fire spread across the roof. Slumped upon the table in final despair, the aged man hugged the book to his chest. With all hope of survival lost, he looked down at the treasure in his hands; its golden emblem reflected the light of the fire that engulfed the room. Tears filled his eyes, and a new resolve burned in his heart to protect the wisdom of the ancient King.
He clutched the tome once again to his chest and dove under the table to escape the ash and debris that fell from the ceiling. Massive timbers fell to the floor. The crash reverberated over the roar of the inferno. A large hole in the roof exposed the room to the open air, and the chamber burst in a massive fireball that shook the foundation of the house.
* * *
Aaron paced outside the alpine cottage as darkness fell. A clear, cloudless sky revealed a host of stars that illuminated the velvet blackness of night. The crisp November air clashed with the heat and smoke pouring off the mountain lodge now engulfed in flame. Snow, which once lay like a gentle blanket on the forest floor, melted in the heat and formed rivulets of ash and mud that flowed in random directions away from the house.
As flames consumed the building, his soldiers reveled in the night. Shouts of "We got him!" and "Serves him right!" echoed in a cacophony of other unintelligent expressions. Aaron, however, found no delight in the death of the man within the cottage. It didn't have to end this way. Aaron brushed his hair from his eyes, and then rested his hand on the hilt of his sword, as the fire began to die. All that remained was to recover the Book of Aleth from the burned out ruins and return to the capital.
The crisp mountain air brushed against the captain as a slight breeze meandered through the woods, gently whispering in the midst of the pine and fir. The pale light of the full moon illuminated the smoke and haze like ghostly spirits drifting through the trees. Part of the roof caved in, and a massive ball of fire belched from the center of the lodge amid the sounds of crashing timbers. Aaron stepped away from the burning cottage and reviewed the events that ended with such tragedy.
He had arrived in North Village and learned from his private that the old man lodged in the mountains. Aaron pursued him into the hills and trapped him in this cottage. Tired of the chase, Aaron ordered the structure burned with hope that the man would try to escape. He surrounded the structure with his men and gave the order that anyone leaving the building must be captured. Aaron never imagined the man would choose to stay in the house and risk his life for an old book of little value. And Aaron wondered why the man refused to surrender when he knew that the guards were upon him.
"Captain!" Startled from his ruminations, Aaron turned to the voice. A young soldier approached. He was one of the youngest, not more than nineteen years old, a tall, able young man with blond hair and a clean shave. It was Rayn, the private who had found the thief. He was a good soldier, and Aaron appreciated the young private's eagerness to do his captain's will.
"Yes, Private. What is it?" Aaron asked.
"Well, sir, there's not much more to do here. With your permission, some of us have planned a celebration. If you'd allow, we'd like to leave this place and regroup at the local barracks," Rayn said.
The young soldier seemed too eager to celebrate, but that was the way of youth. "That'll be fine. Instruct the men to be ready to return home tomorrow. We've been on this hunt long enough and the task is done. Have Lieutenant Morryn take charge and lead the men back to the barracks at North Village."
"Without you?" questioned the private.
"Yes, Private." Aaron's voice was sharp and huffed with agitation at the young soldier. "I have other tasks to do, and I will be there soon." Aaron just wanted to be done with the entire mess.
But ... why didn't the man give up? Why didn't he just surrender? What caused someone like this man to become such a radical dissident? Aaron wanted to know, and he hoped to find some clue as to the nature of this man's compulsion. What Aaron didn't want was an eager private snooping around like an annoying puppy and getting under foot. However, the structure was too hot to enter and posed a great risk of structural collapse. He had to wait, but he also wanted to explore the ruined house alone.
In the distance, the captain heard Morryn barking orders as each soldier prepared to return to North Village. The rattle of steel echoed around the ruins as the men mounted their horses and rode off. Aaron alone remained in the glow of the burning building. He thought of the man who lay dead inside. What was worth dying for? Aaron shook his head in dismay, returned to his horse, and mounted the patient animal. He hoped in the morning to shed some light on the tragic situation ... he doubted he would get much sleep.
The full moon directly overhead illuminated the world in a radiant glow. Aaron enjoyed the crisp, cold night as he followed the rocky mountain path through the snow-covered trees back toward North Village, a refreshing change after breathing dust and ash. He found the trail easy to navigate and the journey gave him time to think.
Shadows played through the trees as the moonlight caressed the branches. The path meandered along the edge of the mountain, silhouetted with many shapes and alive with subtle movements. The path wasn't difficult, but in the darkness and shadows he didn't want his horse to miss a step and suffer injury. A wolf howled in the distance as clouds drifted past the moon.
Aaron stopped on a ledge to look down into the valley. Mist from the river glowed in the moonlight, and the houses and halls of the village radiated the amber light of warm fires and candlelit rooms. On the evening breeze Aaron heard the faint echoes of laughter from his men who rode ahead of him. However, he didn't feel the same joy as his troops. Aaron wrestled with his conscience, pierced in his thoughts about the man who had died. He knew the man was a thief who had stolen from Emperor Therion, but Aaron questioned why the emperor ordered the man's death. He had never before questioned the orders of his superiors, and the sense of uncertainty proved uncomfortable.
"What do you think?" Aaron asked his horse as he gently stroked her neck. The mare gave a quiet whinny and shook her mane, but that was no answer. "Maybe I've become too old and sentimental. I need to put this out of my mind." He gazed down into the valley below. The serene village lay in stark contrast to the chaos of the last few hours. Lights, like fireflies, flickered in the distance. I will look for answers in the morning, he thought to himself. Aaron nudged his mare and continued down the mountain path.
The captain approached the main gate of North Village. Its wide, wooden doors were shut to prevent any unauthorized entrance. A solitary soldier kept watch from a rundown shack to Aaron's left. As the captain approached, the guard hurried to open the gate. The tall, wooden door swung outward, and the portly sentry allowed Aaron to pass through without question.
Carts and wagons, pulled by horses and mules, trudged along the snow-covered road, guided by their masters. Children huddled in packs at the edges of houses. Expressive conversations emanated from several doorways and windows as the villagers argued about recent events. Much of what he heard jumbled into a dissonance of innocuous conversations. Then one discussion caught his attention. He stopped his horse and listened as two men bickered upon the front porch of a small tavern.
"Nah ... just one man," said the first man. "I heard that they burned the entire place down! Seems a bit much to me."
"Well, now," whispered the other, "I think the emperor has a right to defend his own after all."
"Perhaps," said the first. "But who was this man? Who was he hurting?"
"Watch yourself," whispered the second, his voice resonant with concern. "You might find yourself with these guardsmen at your door next!"
The two men stopped, their words frozen in the air as they noticed Aaron seated on his horse. Both men were old, even ancient in their grey hair and weatherworn countenance. Aaron knew the sight of fear and saw it in their eyes. Silence grew like a wall between the men and Aaron. He nudged his mare and continued, but listened to the faint sounds as the two men continued their conversation.
The fear and mistrust he found in many outside the capital troubled Aaron. He had seen it countless times in villages throughout Celedon, but until now, he'd dismissed it. That last conversation, however, echoed in his mind. He struggled with the same thoughts and questioned the need for such force. With resignation, Aaron continued up the road toward the barracks.
As he passed, people disappeared into homes or businesses with looks of fear upon their faces. One mother grabbed her young son and rushed him through an open door then slammed it behind them. Aaron heard the lock snap as they barred their home.
He approached the end of the lane and noticed the governor's house at the top of a high hill, overlooking the town. An elegant home for such a village, and from every window a warm, amber light glowed. Aaron's duty required he report to the governor, but he found that most politicians were overfed, under-disciplined men more concerned with their own table than with the people they ruled. Though he loathed the responsibility, Aaron knew he must present himself, and he would do it. First, however, he wanted to see his men.
Excerpted from Shadows: Book of Aleth Part One by Michael Duncan. Copyright © 2011 Michael Duncan. Excerpted by permission of Pelican Ventures, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When Aaron, Captain of the Royal Guard, is given a mission to retrieve a stolen book by any means necessary he doesn¿t question his orders. He soon finds that not all is as it seems. He becomes embroiled in the politics of Dwarves, a race of men he believed were fairy tales. He must lead a mission to retrieve the Book of Aleth and to discover the truth. I was pleasantly surprised by this allegorical fantasy of the Christian Fiction genre. The epic fantasy story was original enough to capture my attention and the writing was smooth and enticing. The religious message is present but subtle, which to me is a sign of a good writer. (I hate being beat over the head with a Message.) The book DID end with a cliff-hanger, but I guess I was expecting that based on the term ¿Part 1¿ being in the title. So I was only a tiny bit irked. (I think books should have a natural ending¿even in series.) Other than that quibble, I was very pleased.
Knowing the writer helps to understand. I think no I it is cristian based. The userper is saten and the king is God. Very nice book I enjoyed it.
If you enjoyed Tolkien's world in the Lord of the Rings series, then you will certainly enjoy Shadows, The Book of Aleth. Michael Duncan has masterfully created a fantasy world riddled with evil, sometimes unseen. And through it all, the great hope inspired by The Book of Aleth touches the hearts of even the staunchest unbeliever, and all who learn of it begin to see through the lies of their world. It's been years since I've read anything in the fantasy genre, but I must commend the author for a well-inspired, well-written work. This story truly deserves recognition in the fantasy realm...I'm sure Gandalf would agree.
When Aaron, Captain of the Royal Guard, is given a mission to retrieve a stolen book by any means necessary he doesn’t question his orders. He soon finds that not all is as it seems. He becomes embroiled in the politics of Dwarves, a race of men he believed were fairy tales. He must lead a mission to retrieve the Book of Aleth and to discover the truth. I was pleasantly surprised by this allegorical fantasy of the Christian Fiction genre. The epic fantasy story was original enough to capture my attention and the writing was smooth and enticing. The religious message is present but subtle, which to me is a sign of a good writer. (I hate being beat over the head with a Message.) The book DID end with a cliff-hanger, but I guess I was expecting that based on the term “Part 1” being in the title. So I was only a tiny bit irked. (I think books should have a natural ending…even in series.) Other than that quibble, I was very pleased.
Please ignore previous review stars, awaiting removal Excellent book, the story kept flowing and it kept me reading. I loved the little map that was given in the front of the story to show what the area is like. The characters and areas were well described so much so it felt like you were actually there with them. If you are a fan of Tolkein you will definitely love this book as I have. Well worth a read and I can't wait for the next in the series!
Excellent book, the story kept flowing and it kept me reading. I loved the little map that was given in the front of the story to show what the area is like. The characters and areas were well described so much so it felt like you were actually there with them. If you are a fan of Tolkein you will definitely love this book as I have. Well worth a read and I can't wait for the next in the series!