The Enchanted Dagger (an excerpt)

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In THE ENCHANTED DAGGER, Book I of the Chronicles of Lifthrasir, by Vonnie Winslow Crist, Chapters I, II, and III, which come before the excerpt below, the main character, Beck, has visited the seaside town of Queen's Weather on market day with his grandmother. The reader has been introduced to Beck's best friend, Logan, to a mage, and to 2 of the races that share the world of Lifthrasir with humankind: Rufin thieves and Janepar warriors.

Beck's grandmother has sent him to retrieve his father's bones and a family dagger on a horsecart that has traveled for 9 days across an increasingly uneasy land. Finally, at Ulfwood, Beck must collect his father's bones and the family skean (the dagger). Here we pick up the tale...

THE ENCHANTED DAGGER, Chapter IV: Gathering the Bones

As the two gravediggers bent, scooped, tossed, bent, scooped, tossed, Beck sighed. Nine days' ride had brought him to this rundown burial yard in Ulfwood, and it would take at least nine days to get back to Queen's Weather. The rasp of the diggers' shovels against his father's gravebox made him flinch. He swallowed hard and shoved a stray strand of dark hair behind his ear. The chill of the burial yard wormed its way into his bones as he observed spadefuls of dirt rain down on the sod between the graves.

It started to drizzle. He thought about the rainwater seeping into the hundreds of graves around him, shivered, and pulled his hood up.

"It's all right, boy," said the older of the diggers. "Won't be so bad when we get the bones into the chest." The disheveled man scratched his chin, grunted, and resumed digging.

The other gravedigger stood upright, wiped his nose on his jacket sleeve. "He weren't a big fellow was he?"

"Shut up, Stu, and dig." The first digger rolled his eyes. "Sorry, boy. Stu was behind the door when the brains was handed out."

"Don't worry about it, sir." Beck shivered again, then shoved his hands under his armpits. "But if it makes your friend feel better, my father was a man of average size."

"Didn't mean no harm, Nate. Boy knows that," said Stu, not looking at Beck. "Just wanted to know if we'd need to get Da to help hoist him out of the hole."

So the gravediggers are brothers, he thought. Beck wished he had a brother, but his father had never remarried after his mother's death.

In truth, he'd hardly known his father. Gillis Conleth was a kingsman. It was an honorable occupation bound by oath and King's Law to serve the will of the Royals. That usually meant transporting one thing or another from the court to a local government or from locals to Ryjil. He'd been told that Gillis took prisoners from capture to dungeon to courtroom, tithes from the mayors to the king, royal correspondence and decrees to local lords, and gifts from the Guilds to the royal family. It was while transporting a known outlaw all the way across Dobran, from Queen's Weather to Ryjil, that he'd been murdered and buried in this dreary town.

Beck studied the gravediggers. Their faces were pock-marked, their mousy-brown hair was straggly, and their chins hadn't been shaved in days. Nate appeared to be the older brother, maybe thirty, while his brother looked to be in his middle twenties. He rubbed his own chin. Only soft down grew there. He wondered how long it would be until he needed to start shaving.

As Nate rapped Stu's head with his knuckles, Beck winced. "Keep digging. I'm sure us two can pry the lid and pull out the bones. It's been five years since he was buried. Ain't nothin' but bones to lift." He glanced up at Beck. "Sorry."

Stu and Nate finished exhuming his father. The only sounds he was aware of were the scrape of shovels, the pitter-patter of dirt piling up graveside, and the occasional twitter of holly wrens and drabwings building nests in the burial yard's trees. The drizzle had turned to a fine mist, and the fog creeping in from the north muffled any other noise.

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