The ultimate outcome did surprise me in some respects, and with some riveting action in the final chapters the book clearly demonstrates the true depth of the author's considerable talents. After a shaky start, it settled down well to being a well balanced read. I do hope that the author picks up the tale at a later stage, and further develops the plot and characters - there certainly is sufficient scope to do so. In some respects, the conclusion does feel very much like 'end of part one', so I'll be keeping an eye open for future developments."
The second edition of Far After Gold is out now, much improved, and this excerpt introduces Oli and his canine companion....
Emer changed position and the strangeness of her surroundings brought her out of sleep. She looked around warily. The hall was dim, but not totally dark, for the fire pit glowed red in the centre of the hall. She realised with a jerk of alarm that Flane slept only an arm's length away. She stretched very carefully so as not to wake him. A flicker of movement across the hall caught her eye.
A small figure wandered slowly across the earthen floor. Emer squinted to be sure of what she saw in the dim light. It was a child, a boy of perhaps seven or eight, and his tunic barely covered his rump. One hand was at his mouth. Emer thought he was sucking his thumb, but couldn't be sure. A black and white dog trotted silently at his side, head tilted towards the child, ears pointed as if expecting excitement and play.
The silence was eerie. Emer sat up. She glanced around the shadowy hall, expecting a sleepy parent or sibling stumbling after the boy, but no one stirred. The child reached the main doors and pushed at them, but the heavy wood, built to withstand siege and attack, did not yield to the frail hand of a child.
The dog watched his master, tail wagging silently as the boy turned away from the doors, and trudged slowly across the hall. Emer was closest to him, and she leaned out of bed and scanned the dark hall. Surely someone would follow the child? Still no parent stirred, and Emer bit her lip in sudden anxiety. There was a small side door that she guessed led to the byres, and the child was heading straight for it.
There was no hesitation, no faltering or deviation. The child walked into the shadows as if into full daylight. Without making a conscious decision, Emer swung her feet to the floor and did not stop for her sandals. She must hurry, for already a rush of air puffed up the ash on the hearth, making the embers glow as fresh air swirled in from outside. She darted across the hall and slowed in the shadows, groping towards the incoming draught of cold air. The boy had left the door open. Emer halted with both hands braced on the door pillars and searched the shadows before she stepped over the threshold.
Moonlight made the outside world a place of light and dark with no gradation between the two, but a flash of white caught her eye. The dog heard her and paused to look back. Its eyes glinted in the shadows before it raced off after its master.
The child wasn't heading for the byre at all. He was heading round the corner of the hall and down towards the loch. Emer plunged through the gloom, alarmed by the thought of the small child heading for the vast sheet of water. The grass was cold and damp under her feet, and the air cool enough to bring her fully awake. Her bare feet cringed on pebbles and a stretch of shingle made her swear under her breath.
A sharp edge dug painfully into the soft flesh of her instep, her ankle turned and she sprawled full length. She flung out a hand to save herself, pain shot up the inside of her arm and a swear word her father would have shaken his head over shot out of her mouth. She scrambled to her feet, searching for the child, and limped towards the water.
She hesitated on the weathered wooden planks of the jetty and stared frantically round. The shorelines stretched in both directions as far as she could see, shadowy and black where bushes and shrubs grew, white and silver where stones reflected back the light of the moon. Behind her lay the settlement, with its hall and byres and boat sheds, the family cabins and huts where the slaves slept. But where was the child?
The dog whined softly, and Emer turned sharply. There, out on the very edge of the jetty, hovering over the drop to deep water, the moonlight shone on a short, pale tunic.
"Oh!" Emer's hand flew to her mouth. It might not be wise to shout. Instinct told her to go to the boy, but if she ran and grabbed him, the frightened child might bolt the wrong way and topple over the edge and into the water.
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