By Steven Smith
Editions: ebook, paperback
Published: December 5th 2012 by Lulu.com
Genre: MG Fantasy / Adventure
The evil of Prester John dominates the Known World. His deadly servants, the fanatical Brotherhood of Redemption, have crushed almost all resistance. With time against them, the surviving members of the Illuminati, a forbidden sect long opposed to Prester John, plan to risk everything in one last daring assault against the enemy. Meanwhile, after escaping from the clutches of Lord Lucien, Elowen Aubyn continues her search for the remainder of the Four Mysteries, ancient artefacts that hold the key to finding the Tree of Life. But she must overcome many perils and defeat the greatest of evils, for if she fails, the Known World's only chance of freedom will be lost, forever... The final part of an epic fantasy saga, 'The Last Days' is set in a richly imaginative world and takes the reader on a magical journey of adventure, intrigue and breathtaking escapes.~ Goodreads
EXCERPT: THE LAST DAYS by STEVEN SMITH
" They set off again at first light and tracked alongside a river, which was slow-moving and had patches of ice floating on its surface. The snow eased to a faint dusting but a bitter wind scythed through the forest. The horses snorted as they walked, their breath steaming in clouds above them.
The ground remained iron-hard, although Elowen spotted in the snow close to the water’s edge the criss-crossed tracks of foxes, badgers and deer. Birds, driven by hunger, darted hither and thither, rare signs of movement and life. A crusty, sparkling layer of snow crowned the bushes and shrubs, and lay as a second skin upon the black branches of the trees. A few plants peeked through the drifts, like drowning men gasping for air.
The events of the previous night left Elowen drowsy and grumpy. She walked with her head down, not engaging in conversation. She knew she had seen the mysterious figure and was angry and frustrated that the others refused to believe her. Perhaps they thought she was losing her mind.
Batu steered them away from the river and onto a wide, rutted track. He said, ‘This is the only road through the forest, built in antiquity to speed along the legions of the Imperator. It should prove the swiftest way and by following it we avoid travelling through lands plagued by the Khiltoi.’
‘You call this a road?’ scoffed Diggory, crunching his foot into a puddle filled with grey ice. ‘I can see civilisation hasn’t reached these parts yet.’
‘Considering the dubious gifts supplied by civilisation, perhaps we should be grateful for that,’ said Batu quietly.
Snow-bound trees lined each side of the road. They looked sickly, with greyish, dead branches. Orange and red-stained slush spread around their trunks. A faint smell of smoke lingered in the air and a cold sensation played down Elowen’s back that had nothing to do with the snow or icy wind. The strong connections with the Earthsoul she had experienced in the deepest parts of the forest, the warmth and energy that had flowed through her, were extinguished. She felt almost numb, her senses dulled.
As they rounded a bend in the road, there stood a Sentinel, an obelisk of Cold Iron stark against the trees. Elowen could see more of them in the distance.
‘Now it is clear to me why this part of the forest sickens,’ said Batu.
‘I cannot believe that Prester John is stretching his power to places as remote as this,’ said Elowen.
Batu tilted his head as he stared at the Sentinel. ‘His thirst for domination is impossible to quench. In this we see…’
Chinua interrupted him by whispering urgently in the Orok language; he headed for the trees, gesturing for the others to follow. Batu’s eyes immediately widened in alarm and he said to Elowen and Diggory, ‘Off the road, now.’
‘What’s happening?’ asked Elowen.
‘Is it another boar?’ said Diggory fearfully.
Batu gave no answer. Instead, he bundled Elowen, Diggory and the horses into the darkness formed by the trees. Once there, Batu whispered, ‘Keep low. Do not move. Do not speak.’
Elowen squatted and looked through a gap in the branches of a bush. A moment later, she heard horses thundering along the road. Four riders approached at great speed. They rode huge black steeds, and were dressed in white robes. Redeemers.
Elowen nearly choked in fear. Three of the Redeemers rode past, but the fourth slowed to a canter, the breath steaming out of his horse’s nostrils. The Redeemer dismounted. He looked around, turning his head slowly, his face hidden by his hood. Then with short, heavy steps, he walked over to the Sentinel. He reached out and touched the smooth surface, his fingers tracing patterns on the Cold Iron. He shivered once and then froze, his eyes trained exactly on the spot where Elowen and her companions were hiding.
‘Keep silent,’ whispered Batu. ‘He may sense our presence but he cannot see us here.’
Seconds passed. Still the Redeemer stared, leaning his head forward. Then he jerked, as if he were a puppet brought to life by unskilled hands. Hunched over, he walked back to this horse, mounted it and galloped away.
For the first time since the Redeemers had appeared, Elowen breathed, gulping air into her aching lungs.
‘They were looking for us,’ said Diggory, echoing Elowen’s own thoughts.
Batu flashed a glance at Chinua before answering, ‘We do not know that for certain. I had hoped this region of the Altheart would be free of their presence. It is not safe to take the road, instead we must head northwest, back into the forest.’
‘But won’t that take us close to the Khiltoi?’ asked Elowen nervously. ‘You told us that would be dangerous.’
He rubbed his forehead. ‘Yes, and it may prove to be so, but less dangerous than being found by Redeemers.’ "
About the Author & Links:Steven Smith lives in Suffolk, in eastern England, with his wife and daughter. Educated at the University of Central Lancashire, where he received a degree in Law, and the Open University (a diploma in Psychology), Steven currently works for Suffolk County Council.
Steven’s writing reflects his love of history and mythology, especially the folktales and legends of the West Country and his native East Anglia. Steven loves visiting art galleries and museums, both for book research and pleasure, especially the British Museum and National Gallery in London, and the wonderful Fitzwilliam Museum in nearby Cambridge.
The content and themes of this novel have also been heavily influenced by Steven’s interest in the natural world and environmental issues, and he has previously been involved in volunteer marine conversation work to help preserve the beautiful Suffolk coast. Steven’s literary influences include the works of Philip Pullman, Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien, Richard Adams and George Orwell. His favourite films are Pan’s Labyrinth and The Wicker Man.
Steven has recently completed his third novel, ‘The Last Days,’ the final book in his ‘Tree of Life’ series. Steven’s next novel will be an epic saga set during 6th century Anglo-Saxon England.