aka “Another Super Special Newsletter Folks Page”
You’re ready for more from Duncan and the gang? Hoorah!!! Below, you’ll find the next two sample chapters. Happy reading!!!
Note: If you missed the first samples (the Prologue & Chapter 1), you’ll want to read those first. You can find them HERE.
Chapter 2 – The Layout
Okay, I’ll admit, I was indeed hungover that particular morning. Benny and I had consumed more than our fair share of wine the previous night, as was our tradition whenever we pulled into a new town. But I hadn’t lied to Zin since the hangover wasn’t the reason for my being late.
After all, even if you do manage to pull your scaly eyelids open on time, you just can’t rush a good omelet. Especially not when Pepper gets her hands on fresh quail eggs.
Honestly, given Zin’s frugal budget and slim margins, I don’t know how Pepper obtains the delicacies she serves us. And I don’t dare ask what underworld connections she might have. You learn early on in this trade that you don’t go digging into a cyclops’s business.
Still, the hangover and the omelet had left me parched, so before making my way to the Tent, I stopped by the water trough at the edge of the Cantina and did my best to undo the damage caused by the drinking game Benny and I had invented. You don’t want to know the details, but suffice it to say, the game involved throwing back a bucket of wine every time Benny’s digestive system made a noise. And Benny’s inner workings are very talkative.
From where I stood gulping up as much water as is reptilian-ly (shut up, Cordelia, it is too a word) possible, I faced the circus’s main tent with its frayed green flags emblazoned with big gold Zs flapping in the breeze.
For this run, we’d set up on the outskirts of Sherwood and were scheduled to be there for six days. A short stay for us, since runs normally last a full week to ten days, but sometimes that’s just how the calendar crumbles.
Still, the set up for Zin’s circus was nearly the same whether we were in Portland, Sherwood, Salem, or Scappoose. Beyond the Tent, and mostly out of public view, are the crew’s sleeping and living quarters. These are caravans that range from large to small depending on the size of the creatures within.
Caravans can be tidy and spare like Reinhart’s, or a ramshackle disaster zone like Zin’s. They can be as homey as Flora and Conrad’s humble abode; as fanciful as Molly’s gaudy space that was mostly taken up with cosmetic cases, feather headdresses, and glittery doodads; or as cramped as Boris’s, which he shares with seven or eight other brownies — by their own choice, mind you, if they could squeeze themselves into an apple box, they’d be perfectly content.
CORDELIA: Duncan, the readers haven’t met any of these people except for Zin. You’re going to confuse them.
DUNCAN: They’ll meet them soon enough. Besides, you’re the one who told me I should explain the layout of the place.
CORDELIA: Since when do you listen to me?
DUNCAN: You just want me to jump to your heroic part in the bogart-brownie battle.
CORDELIA: Well, maybe.
DUNCAN: I knew it.
Beyond the caravans, which were arranged in a series of semi-circles, were the trailers that held all the equipment that goes into a circus, as well as our refuse station, and the Cells — a single dilapidated caravan where Zin could toss any miscreants.
As for the main grounds of the circus, the open area in front of the Tent features displays such as the history of Zin’s circus and Benny’s wallow. Extending in a line to the left are a few smaller tents that house attractions such as the pixies’ magic act and Gladys’s fortune telling booth. To the opposite side you’ll find Eisenberg’s Entertainment Alley with its games of chance, some stands selling trinkets, and a few other amusements, including a circular corral with Shetland centaurs (or mini-taurs, as they’re more commonly known) for the kiddies to ride.
When the circus grounds are open for business, the Cantina — located not far from the entrance gates — serves as the concession stand. This is where Pepper, much to the chagrin of her gourmand instincts, offers up what the people desire: cheese-coated chips, fried things on sticks, and fizzy drinks with enough sugar to make your dentist shudder.
Surrounding all this is a barrier that, thanks to him having inherited a little magic from a distant elvish ancestor, Zin charms to keep the non-paying customers out and the animal acts in. The only access point is the front gate where Reinhart — a dwarf who manages the day-to-day operations of the circus — mans the ticket booth with an eagle eye.
Having emptied the entire trough, I set a hose inside to refill it, then turned toward the Tent where my handler, Porter Kohl, made a scooping wave with his arm, signaling me to get a move on. I nodded, switched off the hose, and followed his beckoning gesture toward the Tent’s striped canvas for my morning practice session.
Now, I can guess what you’re thinking: Duncan, you seem pretty tame. I mean, you’re writing a book, after all. Why in the world do you need a handler?
And if you weren’t thinking that, well, um, sorry for being presumptuous. But I bet you’re thinking it now.
See, while some dragons can be raging monsters who most definitely do need a firm hand to keep them in line, the majority of dragons can be as lazy as Benny if we’re left to our own devices. We don’t want to perform tricks, steal maidens, or battle knights who have a weird need to prove themselves by murdering a clumsy reptile.
This doesn’t mean we’re not active. We spend our youth dashing to and fro, accumulating our treasure hoard, and chasing after any lead that might help us add to our stash. But once we reach an age of about sixty, our main reason for being is to lounge around guarding our goodies. By then, we’re ready to enjoy the easy life. A good lie-down on our piles of precious metals and sparkly things is all we really crave. Well, that and, in my case, a good omelet.
Basically, we need a handler to motivate us to get us off our lethargic hindquarters. Because get the right handler on a dragon’s side, and we are the biggest showoffs you’ve ever seen. Just as we yearned for that treasure in our youth, we become addicts for an audience’s applause and cheers as we preen, pose, perform stunts, and do all manner of silly things that would make my ancestors wish they’d never laid eggs.
And if we get the wrong handler? Well, I’ve had my share of them. And the scars to prove it.
With a bad handler, your life is full of abuse, shouting, and then more shouting when you give a bad performance because you want nothing more than to eat the bastard who’s swinging a dragon hook at you. Thanks to the treatment of some nasty handlers, my stage name isn’t just a bunch of marketing fluff. I really am the deadliest dragon in the West, if not the world.
But let’s leave that for another tale.
Porter, thankfully, was the right kind of handler.
In addition to the whole “deadliest” thing, I’m also one of the largest dragons in captivity. When I want to be. I’m normally about the size of a Clydesdale horse, but I’m from a species of dragon who can increase their size. For my act, I make myself as tall as a giraffe with the bulk of a gorilla and (supposedly) the ferocity of a grumpy lion.
Even if I did nothing, some people might come to Zin’s merely to witness my combination of size and potential danger. But what was keeping Zin’s circus on its feet, what made his one of the most popular shows in the region, was me and Porter putting on a show like no other.
Of course, to make sure that show ran smoothly when the gates opened the next day, I needed to get to my scaly butt inside the Tent’s flaps and get to some training.
Chapter 3 – And In This Ring…
Once my eyes adjusted to the low-lit interior, I saw Porter chatting with a centaur named Flora. As I headed toward them, she was handing my handler a jar filled with a paste that didn’t seem sure if it wanted to be green or brown.
“You need to apply it every morning and evening,” Flora told him. “I should also mix up some lavender and rosemary oils to cleanse your caravan. You could be harboring bad spirits in there.”
“That would explain Gladys’s frequent desire to kill me,” Porter said with a cheeky wink.
“She wants to kill everyone who crosses her,” said Flora. “The negativity in her aura is a shame. Has she been taking the chamomile?”
By then, I had joined them.
“Ready, Duncan? Well, come on.” He held up the jar as if toasting with it. “My knees thank you for this, Flora.”
“Remind Gladys about the chamomile. Her aura will appreciate it.”
With barely a tap of the hook on my flank, I followed after Porter to the center ring of the Tent like a loyal puppy.
The hook is a horrible tool. It’s a length of iron rod about a meter long with a sharpened, sometimes barbed, hook at the end. Held with the hooked end flat, it can used for beating a dragon. Held with the business end in the hooky position, it’s used to snap a dragon to attention by raking it across or digging it into our hides.
The idea is to use pain to get a dragon to behave as the handler wishes. Which does work in some cases. I’ve seen once-bold dragons tremble in fear of the hook. In other cases, the pain only makes the dragon more ornery and tougher to control. That’s what most handlers think this game is about: control. But some handlers, the good ones, know the best way to get us to do what they want is to be our friend and cajole us with kindness to do what we love best: showing off.
Of course, bribing us with wine and beer and our favorite snacks doesn’t hurt either.
Porter used his hook more as a guide, correcting my stance by touching it to a limb that was a little off its mark, or by giving me a gentle tap to tell me to get a move on.
I didn’t need Porter to tap me. I could hear his commands well enough, but because we dragons refuse to speak to them, most humans think we can’t understand their words.
But we do understand. Obviously, otherwise how would I be writing this to you?
Still, I didn’t mind Porter using the hook. A tap from him was more like a friend clapping you encouragingly on the shoulder, and unlike any handler I’ve ever worked with, Porter wrapped thick woolen cloth around the nasty end of his hook, making it look more like an oversized cotton swab than a fear-inducing weapon.
The center ring provided an excellent view of the Tent — acts, workers, the audience, everything except what was behind me. As was always the case when we’d just shown up to a new spot, the crew of gremlins were still making adjustments to some of the equipment.
On this day they were working on the rigging for the seating. And they were having to do so under the watchful eye of Boris who — having likely just gone over the area — looked ready to scold any gremlin who dared to drop even the tiniest mote of dust on his freshly polished benches.
CORDELIA: Again, Duncan, you’re name dropping like readers are just supposed to know about these people. Not everyone lives the circus life. They probably don’t know a thing about our world.
DUNCAN: Nothing? Weird. So, Boris is a brownie. And no, I don’t understand why they’re called that since they usually have pale skin. Although some do have brown hair.
CORDELIA: Duncan. Tangent. Get off it.
DUNCAN: Right. At Zin’s, Boris is the lead brownie. Brownies work as a circus’s cleaning crew. It’s very important you don’t anger a brownie or forget to pay them their extra allotment of cream, because they will turn on you and make a mess of things. Which I suppose you could just clean up yourself instead of expecting someone else do it for you.
Yes, yes, Cordelia, I know, tangent.
Anyway, Zin’s also has a small team of gremlins, headed up by Gregg, who work as our technical and maintenance crew. Need new lighting? Call a gremlin. Broken caravan axle? Call a gremlin. Need some trickery done with the power…
CORDELIA: Not yet, Duncan.
DUNCAN: Oh, right. Got ahead of myself there. Back to the story?
The center ring not only was a perfect vantage point, it was also the largest of the three rings where performances and practices took place. Above the ring to my left, the Flying Flynns had already started practicing their high-wire and trapeze act. This bit of derring-do impresses the audience to no end.
The Flying Flynns are a breed of shape-shifting elves who pass a good deal of their leisure time in squirrel form. Their act, however, is done in their human form. But since the Flynns spend so much time flitting from tree branch to tree branch as squirrels, the high-wire act is little more than playtime for them. They hardly needed practice, and sometimes I think the Flying Flynns showed up early and trained well into the afternoon for the sheer fun of it.
Unlike the centaurs in the ring to my right who despised certain aspects of their training sessions.
It’s a well-known fact across the region that centaurs do not like to be ridden. I mean, how would you like it if some human jumped on your back and said, “Giddee up.” Wait, sorry, don’t answer that. I know you humans can be odd.
Regardless of your own personal tastes between consenting adults, centaurs do not like a human on their back. However, they do like the gourmet oatmeal cookies provided by Pepper, who was under strict instructions from Zin not to provide the centaurs these fiber-filled treats unless they went along with the acts as planned.
Which is why the miniature Shetland centaurs tolerate giving children rides, and why the full-size centaurs withstand galloping around wearing silly feather headdresses and ribbons in their tails while human females dressed in skimpy, sparkly outfits stand on their backs. To tell you the truth, I think the centaurs like the headdresses and feathers, but don’t tell Conrad I said that.
And before Cordelia gets on my case, Conrad is a centaur and he’s married to Flora.
In the center ring, Porter put me through my paces as a warm up. This mostly involved jogging in circles as he cracked a whip. The whip was far too short to ever touch me, but it did sound really impressive to the audience.
Once properly warmed up, I expanded to my show size, then Porter coaxed me to stand on a platform that was only about as wide as your average-sized human foot. It was a challenge of balance and was a great core workout. My wings flapped as I nearly toppled over a couple times, but once on the platform, the idea was for me to stand to my full height, spread my wings, then curl them forward like a hawk while fixing a menacing stare on Porter.
“That’s it, Duncan. You’ve got it,” he encouraged as my wings came around. This was the tricky bit as it threw off my center of balance. I concentrated as the leg I stood on shook with the effort. I curled my wings into position. Now it was time for the stare.
Porter tilted his head to one side as if appraising me.
“That’s hardly menacing, old boy,”
If I did speak to humans, this was one thing I would tell Porter to stop calling me. I’m not old and I wanted to let him know that seventy-five wasn’t even middle aged for a dragon.
But dragons don’t speak to humans. It’s just better that way.
CORDELIA: You going to explain that? It’s kind of vague.
DUNCAN: Not yet. I’m building curiosity. Adding questions in the readers’ minds. It’s a writer thing.
CORDELIA: Oh, that’s clever.
DUNCAN: I thought you read all those books on novel writing.
CORDELIA: Well, I started a bunch of them, then mostly just skimmed them.
DUNCAN: Which is why we aren’t co-writing this book.
I was just getting my menace on when shouting came from outside. Then the sound of a hard punch landing somewhere soft. The Flying Flynns didn’t pause for a moment in their mid-air leaps and twirls, but I hopped off my platform, pulled myself down to my smaller size, and waddled after Porter as he and the centaurs ran out of the Tent to see what was happening.
And, no, I don’t waddle because I’m overweight. It’s just that I’m a reptile and we don’t exactly have the skeletal structure for graceful running.
THE SALES-Y BIT
I really hope you enjoyed these sample chapters.
Hoard It All Before comes out 18 January.
Of course, you could wait to buy it then, but if you pre-order a copy today, the rest of Duncan’s tale will be hanging out waiting for you the moment you wake up on the 18th.
And really, who wouldn’t want a dragon eagerly waiting for them at the breakfast table?? (Since it’s Duncan, I do recommend you have omelets planned for that morning’s meal).
ABOUT THE BOOK….
Duncan — aka “Brutus Fangwrath, Deadliest Dragon in the West” — wakes one morning to find his best friend isn’t just sleeping off a hangover. He’s been murdered.
Suspicion for the crime quickly turns to the circus’s new hire, Cordelia Quinn. After all, she’s got motive, she got means, and she’s got loads of circumstantial evidence stacked against her.
When it looks like no one else is going to step in to help Cordelia, it’s up to Duncan to unravel the case, prove Cordelia’s innocence, and uncover a troubling secret along the way.
As soon as he’s done with his omelet, that is.
Set in a 1930s that’s just a tad different than what you’re used to, Hoard it all Before is the start of a delightfully humorous mystery series with plenty of tantalizing twists, a troupe of quirky characters, and death-defying feats both in and beyond the big top.
If you like paranormal mysteries that mix laughs in with the murderous mayhem, you’ll love Hoard it all Before.
Hoard it All Before comes out 18 January.
*Paperbacks are also available for pre-order on a very few stores, but in most cases, you’ll have to wait until release day (or so) to get your copy.
**Full disclosure so no one gets mad at me: This book is being released at its full retail price of $3.99 (USD). When further books in the series come out later in 2022, I will be running some 99c sales on Hoard. If your budget is tight and you want to wait until then to get your copy, I completely understand (my book budget is very tiny as well.)