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[Epik Fantasy 01.0] Hero in a Halfling, page 1

 part  #1 of  Epik Fantasy Series

 

[Epik Fantasy 01.0] Hero in a Halfling
 

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[Epik Fantasy 01.0] Hero in a Halfling


  Hero in a Halfling

  Epik Fantasy Book 1

  William Tyler Davis

  Cover Design by

  J Caleb Clark

  Copyright © 2017 by William Tyler Davis

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  ISBN-10: 0-9991153-0-8

  ISBN-13: 978-0-9991153-0-5

  To Gareth, my halfling, my mini me. May all of your adventures be epic.

  Contents

  Map

  Newsletter Signup

  Prologue

  1. An Expected Journey

  2. The Men in the High Castle

  3. A Shadow in the Dark

  4. The Exit of Magic

  5. Carry On

  6. Something Wicked Comes This Way

  7. Me Talk Troll One Day

  8. Mostly Harmless

  9. Guards! Guards?

  10. Wizards, Wine, and Wily Men

  11. Hog Watch

  12. The Boroughs

  13. Invisible Monsters

  14. Lock and Key

  15. All Quiet on the Eastern Front

  16. Men at Arms

  17. Flight of the Phoenix

  18. Arrested Development

  19. The Last Juror

  20. Night Watch

  21. Skinny Legs and All

  22. The Way of Shadows

  23. The Eye of the World

  24. The Fellowship

  25. Dream Country

  26. Those Who Wander

  27. Nacer Rising

  28. Kill or Be Killed

  29. Feet of Clay

  30. Splinter of the Mind's Eye

  31. Menancing Regiment

  32. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

  33. Reaper Man

  34. The Half Blood Prince

  35. A Cave in the Black Mountains

  36. Epilogue: In the next Epik Fantasy

  An Excerpt From Knowing is Halfling the Battle

  An Abundance of Bonging

  Also by William Tyler Davis

  Footnotes

  Acknowledgments

  Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.

  Sir Terry Pratchett

  Newsletter Signup

  For updates and two free books, sign up to the mailing list at freebook.williamtylerdavis.com.

  Every ten years a new king rises.

  Every ten years the old king falls.

  And in the years between, the kingdom prospers.

  - Dune All-En proverb

  1

  An Expected Journey

  Epik thought he knew what he was looking for: A kingdom. Well, not a kingdom per se, but… Adventure. Excitement. He craved those things.

  He studied the map on his bedroom wall.

  Dune All-En—a city like no other. A place where all beings of the world lived in some semblance of harmony—humans, dwarves, elves, a few goblins, and more importantly, a halfling or two. And perhaps more important than that, it was the closest anything there was to the Bog, Epik’s current home.

  The map on the wall was as shabby as the city itself, but Epik did not know that yet. He wasn’t even sure where he’d found the map. The halfling had spent the better part of the last eight years staring at it. At the Wall that protected the city. At the river that cut through the city’s middle like a belt, running west to east into a bay. He imagined the castle, tall and foreboding, standing high on the tip of the peninsula.

  For eight years, Epik had told himself tonight was the night. The night he would leave the Bog for the city, leave and never look back. And for eight years, he had always found a reason to stay.

  Little did he know tonight was the night he would run out of excuses.

  A hundred miles away, in the city proper, Nacer climbed the stairs of the palace cautiously, ensuring he found the right footing. Two unequal steps led to the king’s quarters: one in the middle of the stair and the other just before the top—a last ditch effort to subvert any enemy of the king.

  Something was pressing on Nacer’s mind. That pressing thing wasn’t what he was there for at all. No, he was there to play a part. A bit part, if he was honest, and usually he was honest when it came to talking to himself in his mind.

  Though not always.

  As the Grand Counselor and the self-proclaimed right hand of the king, Nacer was at the end of a very long day. In recent weeks, the king’s absence in court had been well-noted among the nobility. And now it was trickling into the gossip of the commoners. While solo judgments made things easier to Nacer—now endowed with the ability to dole out swift, and what Nacer deemed just, punishments—the absence had produced unrest among the public. A crowd had formed at the castle gates. These onlookers marched around in circles singing unabashed songs about the inevitable downfall of the king—what could be only assumed was a mere week away, it had been almost ten years after all.

  Nacer bounded over the last uneven step and made it to the top of the stairwell. It opened into a dank hall, yet another of the ways the castle concealed the proper whereabouts of the king. It looked more a servants’ hallway than one that would lead to the bedchamber of a ruler. But each of the kings and queens of years past had left their personal touches on the castle—veiled attempts at keeping their status at the top of the city. Lately, the king was holed up in his chamber all day and night, for this very reason, attempting to find any way to stay his claim as ruler for another ten years.

  At the end of the hallway, a lone guard stood, a knight, his armor a gleaming divergence from the moldy black stone of the walls. Nacer sighed inwardly as the knight stepped out into the middle of the hall, a barrier between Nacer and the door. He was doing it again, this bit of banter before Nacer could reach the king. Ducking around the knight, Nacer’s thin frame would fit narrowly between the man and the wall—but Sir Robert put his hand out, blocking the way.

  “Will you stop this,” Nacer hissed. “Every day I make this trip—on the king’s orders, you know. And every day you block my way.”

  Sir Robert grinned stupidly, stepping back against the wall.

  It must be nice to think life is such a game, Nacer thought, before rapping once on the king’s door and entering unannounced.

  “Humans—I tell ya, they won’t last but a few thousand years. The way they go muckin’ about. Feuding and what nots.”

  “What do you mean?” Epik said, giving the old halfling sitting at the bar a look before returning to his work. Epik took a mug in one hand, and a tattered rag from the soap filled sink with the other, then quickly swept his whole hand in the mug to clean out the bottom. It wasn’t that he took pride in the cleanliness of the glassware, far from it. But it was work, and he thought if he was going to do something, he might as well do it right.

  The orange glow of a lamp above the bar caught the side of the glass just right, reflecting the blue green of Epik’s eyes as they rolled to the back of his head. He was pretty sure that Fatty had never seen a human in his life, but he let the old codger go on, half listening.

  “What I mean is, humans—they haven’t a lick o’ sense. See, the smartest of the lot goes around claiming some piece of land is his. Convinces a bunch o’ others it’s true. Even convinces ‘em that if they live and work on it, they have to pay some sorta pittance. Poor idiots! Only gets worse from there.”

  “Yeah?” Epik asked, smiling.

  The Hog's Toot Saloon was quiet that night, except for Fatt
y. So quiet in fact that Frank Biggle had snuck off to steal a few drinks of the good mead.

  “Then the king, as he now calls himself, gets this notion that he wants some other piece of land down the way. Somehow convinces the others o’ this too. Tells ‘em it’s his by rights or what nots. Gets ‘em to fight the other group o’ idiots werkin’ for the other king. Damn fools! Most get their heads chopped clean off.”

  “Clean off?”

  “Clean off, lad. They’ll never take, I tell you. Be wiped each other off the planet, in the end, leaving the land to us halflings. And the elves.”

  “What about the dwarves?” Epik asked absentmindedly.

  Fatty Cheapskate looked at him, dumbfounded. It wasn’t his real name, but nicknames in the Bog tended to be quite literal. He was a fat old halfling with a mutton chop beard—and he didn’t pay for much if he could help it.

  Fatty took a swig of ale and blew a smoke ring at Epik’s face.

  “Lad, have you not been listening to a word I said?” Epik pursed his lips; he had caught a few words. “All these blitherin’ idiots who go about fighting for fun, they aren’t meant for this world. Won’t last but a blink of the perennial eye, as it’s called. Take us halflings; we know how to feud the right way. Never see us goin’ about messin’ with swords or crossy bows and what nots. We fights with our words. Doesn’t matter if I don’t like the way another halfling looks or smells or thinks. I’ll give him a right talkin’ to, then he can go on thinkin’ or smellin’ or—erm— lookin’ somewhere else.”

  Fatty was like most halflings in the Bog: opinionated and intolerant of others’ opinions. He was more concerned with the affairs of others than his own.

  The halflings of the Bog were in a constant state of peering over fences and hedges, of listening behind doors, and putting their large feet where they didn’t belong.

  The Bog itself was a sort of swampland next to a large river—the River Sank. Made up mostly of peat moss and ankle deep mud, the halflings had taken to it as most of the other, better lands were claimed by bigger, more vicious lifeforms. Still, it wasn’t exactly the Shire. There were venomous snakes, alligators, and a half man half plant beast that lived in the lower river basin.

  “Why do you think they do it then? The humans?” Epik asked. He was thoroughly engrossed with the notion of human beings—with any life form really, as long as it wasn’t a halfling.

  “It’s them thick skulls o’ theirs. Not much room for brains—or so I’ve been told. Take our soft rubber like heads,” Fatty patted his head, “’tis mostly made o’ brains.”

  “What’s rubber?” Epik asked.

  “It’s…it’s…never mind,” Fatty said. “Just an expression I heard…” He paused. “From your father.”

  Epik let that sit a moment. He sunk his hands down in the sink, in the warm bubbles of soap. But Fatty knew immediately he’d said the wrong thing. He began backtracking, unmoving from his chair but looking for Frank Biggle, the barman, to save the day.

  Frank wasn’t there. Epik was. So Fatty took another swig of ale, chugged it, and slid the mug down to the bar, throwing Epik two copper coins.

  The lad shuffled back down the bar and came back with a freshly poured ale, frothing and foaming over the sides of the mug.

  “What was he like?” Epik asked. “My dad.”

  It wasn’t that the other halflings were tightlipped on the subject of Epik’s father, far from it. It was just they preferred to talk behind another halfling’s back—it was usually better that way.

  And Epik’s mother had barely suggested his father existed at all. It took a long time, but Epik stopped asking.

  Fatty, well, Fatty wasn’t tight lipped about anything, to anyone. Epik wondered why he’d never thought to ask the old coot before.

  “He wasn’t like anythin’,” Fatty said. “He was one o’ those I didn’t like his thinkin’ or smellin’ or lookin’.” Fatty grimaced. “Had this long ole nose. And he was a bit skinny for a halfling. But if I’m honest, you’s all too skinny in my mind. Anyway, he was always talkin’ bout fortunes like he had one. Or magic like it was real. Ya know, it’s one thing whatcha do in yer home, but bringin’ tha’ nonsense in the pub for all to hear. I couldn’t stand it.”

  “Magic?” Epik asked with a vain attempt to hide the excitement in his voice. Wizards, kings, and knights were the sect of humans that fascinated Epik the most. He stayed up most nights poring through old story books with any mention of a wizard’s name. Tales like that of Rollo the Serious, Epik read and reread until his vision blurred and sleep came like a crashing wave. These books—like the map in his room—were things he’d come across by accident. Things his mother claimed she’d never seen before Epik found them. So, fittingly, Epik assumed they were things of his father’s.

  Now he had confirmation.

  “Magic?” Frank Biggle said, coming down the stairs from the office Old Hog had above the bar; taking them by two. “Is Epik talking about that time he saw a wizard again?”

  Throughout his twenty-eight years of existence, Epik had only actually seen one wizard—the same one—twice. The first time was on his tenth birthday. His mother, lost in gossip with the other moms, hadn’t noticed that the other children weren’t including him in their games. At first, Epik had thought he must be good at this hide-and-seek game. But after an hour of hiding and not being found, he moved from his hiding spot in his mother’s bedroom, behind the door, to a place out in the open. He stood just beside her china cabinet, waiting. Still, the children’s eyes glanced off him as if he wasn’t there at all.

  Tired of this, Epik walked out of the house, and there in the back garden, a wizard stood, getting sprinkled by a drizzling rain. He’d looked much as a wizard should, long white beard, purplish cloak, and a pointed hat. His smile was a good one, with teeth in their proper place, white and gleaming. He’d put a hand out to stop the little halfling from coming any closer, then drew a firework from inside his billowing cloak, lit it with the tip of a wand, and sent the firework flying off into the air. It burst silently, green and red embers flashed in the sky.

  Epik, of course, had seen fireworks of this variety before, and his lack of awe had put a frown on the wizard’s formerly beaming face. He took off his hat, revealing a mane of thick dark hair, and dug inside it, finding a white furred rabbit with beady red eyes. Again, Epik hadn’t been impressed; there were halfling “magicians” that did those sorts of illusions, usually at birthday parties, not unlike this one.

  The wizard had set the unimpressive rabbit down on the grass, and from that day forward there’d always been a white rabbit scurrying around Epik’s mother’s garden.

  Finally, the wizard had drawn out his wand a second time. Pointing it at a tree, he’d muttered something under his breath and set it blazing. This, Epik approved of. This was true magic, nothing like it had been seen in the Bog for some time. The boy smiled cheerily and ran inside, telling the other children what he’d just seen. But when they returned, there was nothing—not even a slight scorch mark on a leaf. And no sign of a man.

  Epik never told anyone about the second time.

  “We’re not talking about that,” he said plainly, pushing the memory back to the recesses of his mind.

  Fatty’s face lit up at the sight of Frank. Most patrons of the Hog's Toot Saloon preferred Epik to the brash barman. Fatty was the lone exception.

  “Lad,” Fatty said to Frank, “could ya get me another?”

  He threw Frank a silver dollar, leaving the barman a full copper shilling for a tip where he’d left Epik nothing.

  Eight years of serving as the dishwasher at the bar. Epik wasn’t sure how it’d come to be such a long time. How one year had slipped to two, to three, to eight.

  “What’s a matter Epik the Weird?” Frank said. “You don’t like to talk about that wizard anymore? When we were kids, you wouldn’t shut up about it.”

  “No,” Epik said, “when we were kids, you wouldn’t shut up about it. I m
entioned it the once. At the party. Where it happened.”

  “Aww,” Frank scoffed. “And what a sad little party it was too. ‘Poor little Epik, he doesn’t have a father. You have to go to his party, Frankie.’ That’s what my mother sounds like, you know.”

  “Aye, she does,” said Fatty.

  The problem with bullies was, if you let them get away with it once, they thought they had free reign forever. Epik felt a pang of something well up in his stomach. It felt like fire. Anger wasn’t the right word, but it was the one that came to mind.

  Halflings weren’t supposed to get angry—not in the human sense.

  Without giving it much thought, Epik took off his apron and set it on the bar.

  “Where are you going?” Frank called as Epik walked away from his post. “Epik Stout, where are you going?”

  But he was already out of the bar and on the road. The town was dark. Only a few street lamps and the occasional house light were on to counter the pitch black night.

  This isn’t running away, Epik thought. This is part of the plan.

  His second encounter with the wizard, the same wizard, had come on a night much like this one. It was the reason he’d taken a job at the Hog’s Toot in the first place, in hopes of one day seeing the man again.

 
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