First artwork for THE OUTLANDER WAR shows the final battle to save Avalon

Half-demon mercenary Abdel Ben Faust challenges the Gil-Gamesh, Lord Bryan MoonDrake, and his Shield Maiden, Amelia Pomodoro, in the Elven Temple of Eternal Starlight in the ancient city of Alfheimer. (Art by Pam Hage)

I am so proud to show you the first artwork based on my third novel, The Outlander War. This is the pivotal fight between Abdel Ben Faust, the half-demon mercenary swordsman, and Lord Bryan MoonDrake, the Gil-Gamesh and Eternal Champion of Avalon, along with his Shield Maiden, Amelia Pomodoro. Thanks to Pam Hage, better known as the Queen of Eagles, for her beautiful artwork! You can check her out on Instagram and on Deviant Art.

Here’s an excerpt from The Outlander War: Book 3 of the Forever Avalon Series to lay out the scene depicted above.

* * *

From the highest points on the mountains flanking the two sides of Alfheimer, the Wrath Legion poured down the mountainside and into the city. Thousands of armoured wraiths ran down the sheer cliffs into the defenders below. The two sides clashed instantly, steel clanging against the phantom weapons of the wraiths.

The shield maidens held their own against the Wraith Legion, living up to their reputation as legendary warriors. The Dragon Guard matched well against the ghostly warriors. Hunter’s spell shot proved most useful against the wraiths, breaking through their armour and shattering their heartstones with a blast of fiery light.

As the battle raged around them, the Gil-Gamesh watched and waited, looking for their leader to appear. The sound of a demon hole opening behind him assured him that his wait was over. Bryan spun around as Abdel Ben Faust lunged at him, bringing his broadsword Deathsong down at the Gil-Gamesh’s head. Bryan crossed his swords and blocked his attack. Amelia stepped in and, true to fashion, used her shield to pummel Faust, hurling him away and to the ground.

Faust got up slowly as he ran his hand under his nose. He saw the dripping blood, caused by Amelia’s blow, and it angered him even more. “You’ll pay for that, you little bitch!” he cursed.

“Take another step closer, braggart, and I’ll knock you down again!” Amelia jabbed back at him. The three circled each other, there in the foyer of the temple, and jockeyed for position.

“I don’t know who or what possessed you to commandeer the Wraith Legion, Faust, but it ends today. You’re putting all our lives at risk from the demon hordes of Hell, and for what? For some foolish master with eyes on the throne of Avalon?”

“You know not of my master, Gil-Gamesh, and when you do…you will only find your death!” Faust lunged at the two again, slashing wildly. Like a precision machine, Amelia and the Gil-Gamesh worked in unison, trading blow-for-blow with Faust. Amelia blocked his attacks with her shield while Lord MoonDrake struck back at Faust.

Bryan knew that the best way to take down a formidable swordsman like Faust was to keep him off balance. The Gil-Gamesh pressed his attack, keeping Twilight high and Dusk low. Faust swung mercilessly at the two of them, cutting out chunks of marble from the floor and columns with his massive broadsword.

When one such blow briefly lodged Deathsong in it, the Gil-Gamesh saw his opening. He leapt into the air and spun, his blades extended. Bryan sliced at Faust’s chest with Twilight and connected. The unearthly dragonfire of Twilight engulfed the broadsword’s blade, hilt and beyond, burning away part of Faust’s tunic, not to mention Faust himself. The half-demon stepped back and snarled in pain. It was then that Bryan saw the source of Faust’s power.

The Gil-Gamesh looked at the heartstone attached to Faust’s chest. It looked just like the ones on the wraiths and glowed with a heavenly light. “You…insufferable bastard,” he said. “You captured the essence of the heavenly host in that stone to control the wraiths, didn’t you?”

Faust spat on the ground and smirked. “Nothing gets by you, does it?”

“But how, how can a lowlife half-demon like you get command of such magic?”

* * *

This great piece of art will have a place of honor in my Fan Art link, along with other great artwork highlighting the Forever Avalon fantasy book series. There is an additional piece of new art on The Outlander War Fan Art page, but it’s a bit of a SPOILER so I won’t post it here. No sense in spoiling things for those who haven’t read it yet.

# # #

Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers.

Shield Maidens of Avalon: Creating a new mythology

tumblr_static_branwyn-shieldmaidenI know I’ve written extensively about the Shield Maidens of Avalon before, but I never really put together the entire mythos to go with their story. They are an integral part of the Forever Avalon series so they need to have as detailed a back story as the Arthurian legend.

They are a class of warriors unto themselves, without equal. Shield Maidens demonstrate that women should be treated as equals in all things. So, here goes …

The Shield Maidens of Avalon came to be after the dawn of the first age of Avalon. After the death of King Arthur at the Battle of Camlann, Merlin cast a spell that brought all things magical from the outside world to Avalon. This included many men and women touch by magic.

Queen Guinevere and Sir Percival—the last of the Knights of the Round Table—rallied the people together to start their new life on Avalon. As the people came together, Morgana le Fay saw this as an opportunity to gather her forces and destroy the last of the Pendragon’s so she may rule Avalon.

Percival was given the command by the Queen to reform the Knights of the Round Table to protect the people of Avalon. He knew their numbers were limited and no match for the forces of Morgana le Fay; but he saw a solution. There were many women amongst the people of Avalon—widows of knights lost in battle—who were capable fighters, trained by their husbands to protect themselves in time of need.

Percival took these women and paired them with knights, calling them Shield Maidens. Their charge was to fight alongside their knight as a team, forging a bond in battle. The two fought side-by-side, protecting each other and their fellow knights. The strategy worked and the forces of Morgana le Fay were driven back to the darkness from whence they came.

Queen Guinevere saw the strength, courage and valor of the Shield Maidens. She command their leader, Dame Louisa, to continue to build their ranks and support the Knights of the Round Table in defense of Avalon. Thus, the Order of the Shield Maidens of Avalon was formed.

Their patrons saints are the three women revered by the order … Queen Guinevere, the Lady of the Lake and the Virgin Mary. They live by the same code of chivalry as the Knights of the Round Table:  To protect the weak and the defenseless; to keep faith and always speak the truth; to obey the laws of Avalon; to fight for the welfare of all and to guard the honour of the Knights of the Round Table.

Shield Maidens take a vow a chastity to demonstrate their fidelity to God and to their monarch. This gives the Shield Maiden’s a warrior heart. However, if a Shield Maiden should fall in love, they are permitted to leave the order in peace with the blessing of all.

These are the Shield Maidens of Avalon, fierce and battle-hardended, loyal and honour-driven. Their code of faith, charity, justice, truth, diligence, hope and valor are more than just words. For them, it is a way of life.

Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is now available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iUniverse.

Forging the love between a father and child, Knight and Shield Maiden – An Excerpt from “The Dark Tides”

Knights_zps02364200The love between a parent and a child is a force to be reckoned with and, make no mistake, that love extends to adopted children too. I never meant to touch on the relationship between a parent and an adopted child when I was writing Forever Avalon or The Dark Tides, but it presented itself quite plainly.

Imagine if you were separated from your family and, during that time, you came across a child that was alone, lost and without anyone to care for them. What would you do? This is exactly what happened to Bryan MoonDrake during his Grand Tour of Avalon.

In this excerpt from The Dark Tides, you’ll see how the relationship between the Gil-Gamesh and Sarafina, his adopted daughter and Shield Maiden, came to be. It was a relationship forged in tragedy but strengthened by the love between a father and child.

***

The Convent at Glennish Hills was a holy place for both worship and battle. It was home to the Shield Maidens of Avalon. The sounds of song and prayer could be heard from inside the church while the clanging of steel resonated just outside in the courtyard. It was a dichotomy in both sight and sound but its purpose was singular … To provide the knights of Avalon with the finest warriors to fight alongside them in battle.

In a small courtyard away from the main training area, the Gil- Gamesh raised a practice sword over his head, waiting for the next attack. His opponent was a 15- year- old girl. Sarafina gripped her practice sword tightly with both hands, watching Bryan’s every movement, waiting for an opening to strike.

Her small frame looked bigger than it was, covered in leather armor for protection. Her long, blonde hair was braided up to keep it out of her face. She had a strong, determined look on her face. The Gil- Gamesh took a step back and Sarafina seized the moment to strike.

She lunged forward at Bryan, hoping to catch him off-balance. He swung downward to block her thrust, knocking her sword away. He spun and tried to catch her from behind, but as he swung his blade down, she countered his attack before she elbowed him in the stomach and shoved him back.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa … Time out! Where’d you learn that one from?” Bryan asked his young charge.

“No one, I was improvising,” Sarafina fired back, still ready to continue her sparring practice. Bryan couldn’t believe how much Sarafina had learned in three years at the convent. She was definitely on her way to becoming a Shield Maiden.

“Alright then, have it your way,” he said, sword at the ready as the sparring continued. Sarafina didn’t hesitate and lashed out as soon as he was set. She swung fiercely, back- and- forth, throwing everything she had at the Gil- Gamesh. Bryan countered every blow, letting her think she was winning.

“Eo Ire Itum! ” he chanted quietly, under his breath and he suddenly teleported behind Sarafina. When she turned around, his sword was on her throat.

“Hey, that’s not fair!” she complained. “No magic!”

“It’s called improvising, remember?” he retorted. “Besides, do you think any wizard won’t use magic because it’s not fair? You have to be ready to adapt to any situation and be prepared for any possibility.”

“Well … Captain McLoughlin says I one of the best students she’s ever had,” Sarafina proclaimed proudly.

“From what I’ve heard of Captain McLoughlin, I would take that as a compliment. She rarely gives them out but it is definitely well deserved.” Sarafina enjoyed the praise from the Gil- Gamesh and rushed over to hug him. Once she did, Sarafina realized her error in protocol and let go.

“I’m sorry Sir Bryan, I forget my place sometimes,” she apologized, regaining her composure. Bryan knew the limits on contact with the young girls in training, but he ignored it as he leaned down close to whisper to her.

“Well, when we’re alone like this, I don’t think a hug is totally out-of-place,” he confided in her. Sarafina was happy to hear that and hugged him again.

Bryan felt an overwhelming surge of love and pride. Sarafina filled a void in his life since his arrival on Avalon, that of family. She was like a daughter to him and he treated her like one of his own.

The two started walking back toward the main compound, enjoying this time they have together. The conversation varied from her training as a Shield Maiden to her relationships with the other girls and, of course, the Gil- Gamesh’s latest adventure.

“So, how did you escape from the Swamp Witches of Durley? I mean, they had your weapons and you and Sir Thomas all tied up, ready to be cooked in the pot!”

“Ah but you see, there is a dragon that lives in the Durley Swamp called a Naga,” Bryan explained. “It looks more like a giant two- headed cobra but it’s still considered a dragon. I was able to befriended one when we entered the swamp, as kind of a back- up plan; you know, just in case something went wrong.”

“That seems to happen to you a lot, doesn’t it?” Sarafina zinged back at him sarcastically.

“Do you want to hear the rest of the story or not?” Bryan cajoled. Sarafina quieted down and listened. “Anyway, unfortunately, the Naga are rather slow-moving, so it was taking quite a while for it to get there, so we had to stall for time.

“When it looked like one of us was going to go into the pot, Thomas and I started arguing about who they should cook first. You know, who would taste better, who was meatier, etc.; and this lasted a good fifteen minutes. By that time, the Naga showed up and attacked the witches while we got ourselves free,” he concluded. “Not my best plan, but it worked out in the end.”

Sarafina loved hearing his stories of adventure and looked forward to the day when she would share in them as his Shield Maiden. “Can you tell me some more about your family in the outside world?” she asked.

Bryan’s heart sank and his eyes sullen. He tried not to think about Stephanie and the kids that much, though they do come to his mind each and every day. It’s as if somehow he was still connected to them, across time and space, beyond the magical barrier that surrounded Avalon.

Sarafina saw the heartache in his face and back pedaled quickly. “No, never mind, I’m sorry for bringing it up,” she said.

“No Sarafina, it’s alright,” Bryan interrupted. “I don’t get to talk about them that often and it’s nice to have someone so interested in them.” Bryan sat down with Sarafina along on the steps outside the main training area. He took out his pocket watch and opened it up. Though it didn’t work anymore, the picture inside still held the memory of his family.

“You never told me about this picture,” she asked, pointing to the watch. “Why are you all wearing funny hats?”

“Well, it was Christmas and Stephanie, my wife, she loves Christmas. She listens to Christmas music all year round, watches Christmas movies too.”

“Movies?” Sarafina thought for a moment, trying to remember what he told her about movies. “Oh, I remember. Those are they plays you watch inside a little box, right?”

Bryan couldn’t believe how she remembered that. She seemed to be a sponge when it came to stories about the outside world. “Yes, that’s right. Anyway, we all dressed up and went down to the photographers and Stephanie pulled out these hats for us to wear. Now at first, I refused. I mean, I wouldn’t be caught dead in that hat, but she always had a way of convincing me to go along with whatever scheme she had.

“It’s funny, I hated this picture at first but it grew on me and I consider it one of my favorite pictures now,” he said, staring at the picture in his watch.

“It reminds me of a special moment when we were so happy together.” Sarafina looked at the watch and imagined herself as a part of that happy family. It made her feel so good inside but sad at the same time. It was something she never had nor ever will. Bryan noticed the change in her demeanor.

“What’s the matter Sarafina?”

Sarafina hesitated at first, not sure if what she wanted to ask him was appropriate or not. “Sir Bryan, may I ask a favor of you?”

“Of course Sarafina, anything …” The young girl gathered the courage to ask him.

“Most of the girls here either have parents or some kind of relative to call on, but I have neither. I know you visit me as often as you can and I can’t tell you how much that means to me, but …”

She hesitated for a moment, but Bryan pressed her to continue. “Yes, go on …”

“Would you mind if, in private moments like these, would you mind if I called you father?”

Bryan was taken aback by her request but couldn’t help feel honored and humbled being asked by this young girl to be her father. He had lost his own children and Sarafina helped fill that particular void in his life. A tear rolled down his cheek as he is overcome with emotion. How could he say no to her?

“Sarafina, I would love for you to call me father and I hope and pray I can live up to your high expectations of me,” he said.

Now it was Sarafina’s turn to start crying as she jumped up into Bryan’s arms to hug him. For the first time since he arrived on Avalon, Bryan felt completely at home. “I will speak with Mother Superior about visiting you more often and even about the possibility of you coming to visit me on Emmyr.”

SKU-000941753The Dark Tides is now available for purchase at AmazonBarnes and Noble and iUniverse.

The Shield Maidens of Avalon – An Excerpt from “The Dark Tides”

Shield Maidens, the warrior elite of Avalon.

Shield Maidens, the warrior elite of Avalon.

When I think of the word “Shield Maiden” I am reminded of where I first heard it used. In “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” Aragorn calls Eowyn, a “Shield Maiden of Rohan.” It was from this that I created the Shield Maidens of Avalon, women devoted to God, King and Country, selfless in their duty of protecting the Knights of Avalon in battle. These warrior nuns (as I like to call them) are elite warriors on par with the Knights of the Round Table. The two share a special relationship, almost symbiotic,  that is built on honor, duty and trust. It’s one that the Gil-Gamesh and Sarafina, his adopted daughter, share; but theirs transcends that even more. Here is an excerpt from “The Dark Tides” that demonstrates how deep that relationship is. See if you can catch how I named my Shield Maidens.

***

Th e Crooked Goose was well known as an establishment that specifi cally catered to the lowlifes of Avalon. It sat at the crossroads of the Vanir Road and Hadrian’s Pass on the outskirts of Blackbriar Forest. Like many inns and taverns along the roads of Avalon, the Crooked
Goose was a place for travelers and locals to eat, drink, relax and conduct business. But anyone stopping there usually found themselves robbed blind or their throats cut come morning.

Th e inside of the Crooked Goose was dimly lit as most of the people visiting the establishment preferred the dark. Th e drinks were strong and intoxicating while the women were loose and homely. Humans, Dwarfs, Dark Elves and even some goblins and other dark creatures liked to meet in the Crooked Goose. Most of the time, they’re looking for any opportunities for underhanded work on Avalon, from simple robbery to an assassination.

Th e Gil-Gamesh lets this establishment stay open because he always knew where to look when trouble started or to fi nd information. Sarafina knew that too which is why the Crooked Goose was the first place she visited in her search for Lord MoonDrake. He’s been gone for nearly a week now. Th e fact that he hadn’t turned up dead yet meant they’re keeping him alive somewhere, probably torturing him.

Sarafina kicked the door in unceremoniously, blinding most of the patrons inside as the midday sun poured through the door. She was flanked by four of her sister Shield Maidens, dressed in plate armor and carrying various weapons from swords to pole arms. Sarafina walked in slowly, not saying a word until she found the right spot so she could see everyone in the room.

“Caleb Guoyle!” she shouted. “I want to know where that rat hides. Whoever tells me what I want to know will more than likely leave this place alive.”

“Now just one minute here!” a voice boomed from behind the bar. Elmer McElroy moved out from the bar, slowly shift ing his rather large frame. He’s been running the Crooked Goose for more than 50 years, since he killed the previous owner and took from him. He looked fat but
that was misleading. McElroy was strong as an ox and a resilient fighter. He once broke a trolls arm while arm wrestling with it. Elmer chomped down on his cigar and strutted over toward Sarafina. His receding hair line was more prominent with his hair pulled back into a ponytail. It also highlighted his enormous forehead, squinty eyes and bulbous nose.

“Just who do you think you are missy, coming into my establishment and threatening my customers,” he argued as he got right in Sarafina’s face. Elmer took a long drag on his cigar and blew the smoke right at her. “Now I suggest you get out of here before you end up like the
Gil-Gamesh!”

Sarafina turned away, as if to leave, but in one swift motion, she drew her sword and swung it at Elmer, cutting off the brute’s nose and half his cigar in one swipe. Elmer dropped to the floor, holding his face as blood spurted everywhere, agonizing in pain. He grabbed his apron and pulled it up to his nose to try to stem the bleeding.

Th e other Shield Maidens drew their weapons and surrounded Sarafina while she walked over to Elmer. Even though they were outnumbered, most of them knew better than to pick a fi ght with a Shield Maiden, especially one that’s extremely pissed off . Sarafina grabbed him by the collar and placed her sword at his throat as Elmer continued to scream at her.

“You bitch!” he shouted. “Look what you did to my nose!”

“You’re going to lose something a lot more precious than that if you don’t answer my question,” she said as she shift ed her sword from his throat to his groin, cutting through his pants and poised right at his manhood.

“Easy, easy lass!” he protested. “I don’t know where Guoyle is. He moved into some keep hidden in the Fenris Mountains. That’s all I know, I swear!”

“You’re going to have to do better than that,” Sarafi na declared, cutting away a little more pants as her sword grazed his thigh.

“Wait! Wait!” he pleaded. “There’s a troll, Usage is his name, I think. He used to live in some old keep in the Fenris Mountains, or so he said. He’s living in an old stump of a wormwood tree near the western opening to Blackbriar. You can’t miss it.”

Sarafina pulled her sword out and let Elmer go. She stood up and stared down the others in the Crooked Goose. “Rest assured, if I have to come back here, no one will be leaving this place alive.”

Sarafina turned to leave with the other Shield Maidens right behind her. Th e sounds of horses could be heard as the maidens rode away from the Crooked Goose. As soon as they’re gone, the bar quickly emptied as patrons didn’t want to be around in case Elmer gave her some bad information. All Elmer could do was sit on the floor in excruciating pain, hoping he never saw that Shield Maiden again.

Th ey rode straight through as Sarafi na continued on her search for the Gil-Gamesh. “He wouldn’t give up on me, I won’t give up on him,” she pondered as she rode toward Blackbriar and the troll named Usage. Even though the sun was high in the sky, Blackbriar Forest lived up
to its name as the thick overgrowth kept the interior of the woods dark. Th e Shield Maidens slowly entered the forest until they spotted the fallen Wormwood tree just as Elmer described.

About 100 yards off the road sat the downed tree. It fell toward the path with the roots sticking up at the far end of the tree. On the other side of the roots, obscured from view, the soft glow of a fi re could be seen.

Sarafina and the Shield Maidens quickly dismounted to access the situation and determine the best course of action for them. “Okay, Merida … You and Ariel go around the right. Aurora and
Snow will come with me around the left . Move quickly and quietly so we can jump out at the same time.”

“Why do I always have to go with the princess?” Merida complained, her thick Brogue accent running her words together.

“Who’re you calling a princess, princess?” Ariel snapped back.

“Zip it you two or you’ll have more than an angry troll to deal with!” Sarafina retorted. The Shield Maidens drew their weapons and started moving toward the roots. Shield Maidens were well versed in all forms of combat but each carried a weapon unique to their personality and
skills. Merida knocked an arrow in her long bow while Ariel wielded a trident. Sarafi na and Aurora both drew long swords while Snow carried a large hammer with a pick-axe on the backside. They moved in unison until they reached the root of the fallen tree.