The Hunter’s Gambit by Nicholas McIntire.
Nicholas McIntire has a new queer fantasy book out, The Archanium Codex book 1: "The Hunter's Gambit."
Aleksei Drago never expected an easy life, but he never expected what he got. Growing up amongst the Ri-Vhan of Seil Wood, losing his mother and just as suddenly being torn from the forest folk, Aleksei had no choice but to make the best of the unpredictable path in life.
But what happens when the monsters and figures of fiction become horrifyingly real? Can Aleksei find the right path? When his life and the lives of his family and friends are at stake will he fight, reforging himself into the man Prophecy demands he become? In a world of magic and Magi, of Angels and Demons alike, how will a simple farm boy survive his own contorted destiny?
This is the story of a seemingly-simple world gone mad, and the reality that every action, no matter how apparently benign, can serve to unravel terrifying truths. This is the story of Aleksei Drago, farmer, Hunter, and so much more.
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Henry spent the rest of the day watching his son closely. Something was undeniably troubling him, but until Aleksei decided to open up to him there was nothing he could do.
“He’ll tell you in his own time, Henry.” he muttered under his breath.
So he waited. Every now and then he would engage his son in conversation, but every time he thought Aleksei might be on the brink of telling him something, the conversation fled to some superficial topic. Did he think it would rain by Market Day? Who did he think would bring the biggest pig to the Harvest Festival? Did he think Mother Margareta would come to bless their fields before the first frost?
Henry answered each question as though it was the direction he meant to steer the conversation, and refused to allow his frustration to surface. But by the end of the evening, he was no closer to understanding his son’s troubles than he’d been that morning.
Finally Aleksei rose from his seat before the fire, put his book away, and went to bed. Henry watched him go, more troubled than ever. The boy had never gone to bed without a word before. He always had some last comment to make, even if it was just to wonder at the next day’s activities.
Henry sat before the dying embers of the fire well into the night, thinking. He didn’t remember falling asleep, so when the voice woke him his eyes started open.
He looked around, trying to get his bearings.
Gone was the heat of the hearth, the comfort of his chair. Instead he stood in an enveloping fog of shimmering gold.
He could see no one.
“Where am I?” Henry demanded.
A dream, Henry. This is merely an illusion. I apologize that I cannot offer you more comfortable surroundings at the moment.
“Who are you?” Henry called, feeling a touch foolish, shouting at phantoms.
His question went unanswered.
Henry, I’ve come to ask a favor.
“Who are you?” Henry repeated flatly.
There was a moment of hesitation before the voice responded. A man much like yourself, Henry Drago. One who only wants what’s best for your son.
When the favor was uttered, Henry blinked in confusion. A thousand questions bubbled to the surface, yet he found that he only possessed the strength to ask one.
“Why?” he choked, surprised by the weakness in his own voice.
The air before his face shimmered and distorted, as though he were looking through intense heat. Slowly, images formed. Images of Aleksei. An Aleksei he didn't recognize.
“Why are you showing me this?” Henry managed.
Because I want you to see what your son could become. The man he could be, if you’d only let him. If you just do as I say.
“I don’t trust you.” Henry barked back. “I can’t even see your face.”
Another image shimmered into being. A man, though Henry saw nothing remarkable about him. The man leaned forward and whispered in his ear, and Henry heard the unmistakable ring of truth.
In that moment he thought he might have preferred a dagger to the heart. It would have been far less painful to simply die at the end of a highwayman’s blade than to agree to this. Either way, he would lose the most precious thing he had.
“Bargain struck.” Henry whispered bitterly, a tear winding its way down his cheek.
You’re doing your son a great service, Henry Drago.
The man even sounded earnest.
Henry started to say something, but even as he opened his mouth, darkness swirled around him. He slipped back into the empty chasms of sleep.
Morning greeted Aleksei gently, rousing him from a dreamless oblivion. It had taken him hours to finally find some rest, and his relief was immeasurable when he woke without encountering the specter of the green-eyed man. His wish had been granted. The man was gone.
He made his way down the narrow stairway and walked into the kitchen, frowning at what greeted him. Their rough wooden table was laid out with provisions for what Aleksei could only guess was a journey.
But a journey where? His father hadn’t said anything about travel. There was still wood to chop and hay to store. The first snow might be weeks away, but there was no telling when the winds would usher in the chill of Northern air. Working outside in the cold was not something he, nor any farmer, relished.
“I see you’re up.” Henry said from behind. Aleksei jumped.
He turned, “Da, where are we going? I thought we were going to finish the hay this morning.”
His father shook his head and smiled, though Aleksei caught the deep sadness in Henry’s eyes. “We aren’t going anywhere, Son. You are.”
Aleksei frowned, “Me? But I thought—”
His father tried to hold the smile, but it was forced, “You’re needed, Son. In the North.”
Aleksei thought his heart would stop. He forgot to breathe. He could hardly process what his father had just said.
You know the truth he speaks, Aleksei.
Aleksei fought back a sob of frustration. He thought he’d freed himself of the damned voice, but now he knew the truth. He would never be free from it. It would hound him until the end of his days, or until it drove him mad, whichever came first.
Or until you simply do as I ask.
“Why?” he finally managed.
His father looked out the kitchen window, and Aleksei followed his gaze. Dash waited patiently outside, a saddle fitted snugly about his muscular frame.
“Because you’re needed, Son. It’s the only answer I can give you.”
“I’m not needed here, Da? Don’t you need me?”
Henry bit back the pain in his voice, “You are more of a help than I can say, Aleksei, and I love you dearly. But no, I don’t need you. Not like this. If you stayed here, you’d be wasting something…extraordinary. And honestly, I think you’d know it too. They need you in the North, Son. And their need is much more important than mine.”
Aleksei stood there, stunned by what his father was saying to him. And then the questions came pouring forth. What did Henry mean by ‘extraordinary’? What had his father learned? What was still being kept from him?
“And I’m sorry I can’t give you the answers you want, Son. But I think you know who can. Find him.”
“But how can I….” Aleksei began, fighting back the tears springing into his eyes.
“You’re strong, Aleksei. You’ve always been strong. That won’t fail you now.”
Henry swallowed back his own tears and tried to smile again, “Now you’d better get on the road. The sooner you get beyond the Southern Plain, the better. You don’t want to be riding under the Harvest sun too long if you can help it.”
“But where am I going?” Aleksei cried, his voice breaking. It was happening too fast. His life was slipping through his fingers moment by moment and there was nothing he could do about it.
“North, Son. North. You’ll know where you’re headed as you get closer. That’s all I know to tell you.”
Aleksei looked into his father’s eyes and saw the sadness, the regret that burned within him. His father wanted to know just as badly as he, to know just what sort of place he was so blindly sending his son.
Finally, after a long silence, Aleksei nodded. “Alright, Da. If you want me to go, then I’ll go.”
“I’ll never want you to go, Son.” Henry whispered, his face contorting with pain. He had already lost his wife, and now he was losing his son, too. Aleksei would still be alive, but he would be so far away.
“But promise me something, Aleksei.”
Aleksei nodded, “Anything, Da."
“If you find this place and if it’s not what you want, what you need, promise me you’ll come back. Even if this isn’t what you want either, at least we can figure that out together.”
Aleksei finally allowed a tear to wind its way down his cheek, “I promise, Da.”
Henry stepped forward and wrapped his arms tightly around his son, hugging him as close as he could, as though any moment Aleksei might turn to mist and vanish forever. Henry stepped back and managed a sardonic smile. Aleksei might remain solid as stone, but surely enough he was about to vanish.
Henry didn’t watch his son ride away. In truth, he couldn’t bear it. As long as he’d never seen Aleksei leave he could always pretend the boy was out in the barn, or by the pond he’d swum in as a child. It was a good hour before Henry allowed himself to sit down in his chair and sob.
Critically-acclaimed author Nicholas McIntire has been writing fantasy since he was 8 years old. The bones of the Archanium Codex were first created when he was 16, and in the past 20 years, he has taken that initially simple idea and crafted it into a fully realized world, finished the sequel, earned three degrees (one in Russian, Eastern European Studies, two in Nursing), and lived life to its fullest. Now writing full-time, Nicholas is ready for share is vision of the Archanium Codex, a 10 book series. The first book of the series being The Hunter's Gambit.
Nicholas, lives in Fort Worth, Texas, but writes in both Fort Worth and Fort Davis, TX, where his family has a small place situated at 5200 feet in the Davis Mountains - and, yes, Texas does have mountains.
Author Website: https://www.nickmcintire.com/
Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NGMcIntire/
Author Twitter: @nickmcintire
Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17088295.Nicholas_McIntire
Author Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Nicholas-McIntire/e/B07X7D7CH6
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