First Place Winner in the Dante Rossetti Awards for YA Fiction!
A young warrior stands at the precipice of war… To succeed he must find his courage and survive a treacherous journey across the sea.
Arken Freeth has always wanted to prove himself worthy of his king's appointment by becoming an officer in the Lantish Sea Service. Now the only thing standing in his way is his apprenticeship SeaJourney. But a peaceful training mission soon turns into a deadly struggle for survival as Arken's fleet must come to the aid of a princess fleeing capture by Tookan pirates. SeaJourney kicks off an epic and fantastical adventure that is a great read for all ages.
|Publisher:||Alexander Investor's Services, Ltd.|
|Series:||Arken Freeth and the Adventure of the Neanderthals , #1|
|Product dimensions:||5.98(w) x 9.02(h) x 0.85(d)|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
About the Author
This love of the outdoors has translated into a rich base of experience to draw on in writing his epic fantasy ARKEN FREETH series novels. His first novel in that series, SEAJOURNEY, is a First Place Winner in the 2016 YA Fiction Dante Rossetti Awards. Archery, fencing, Tae Kwon Do, and horseback riding have also informed his writing.
Read an Excerpt
The Rock Test
Mother, I weep for you each night. Our enemy's campfires seem to number more than the stars in the sky. Their soldiers drum and chant all night and torment our sleep. I fear the worst for my people, for I cannot read the Necklace of Tol to see the Time to Come.
— Diary of Princess Sharmane of Tolaria
Thirty boys surrounded Arken in a circle, waiting for him to lift the rock and prove he was strong enough to graduate.
"No more delays, Arken," Lar ordered. "Sunset will leave you too old to test!" Lar's olive skin and dark beard turned his sunken eyes into two caves in a rock cliff. He was a lean, tall, and wifeless instructor who lived alone in the academy officer's barracks.
Arken could never tell if Lar liked him, since Lar was sometimes friendly to him, yet now made fun and appeared to enjoy his classmates' laughter.
The circle of boys, all taller than him, carried sparring swords and wore bronze armor over their white, knee-length tunics. Bronze helmets shielded faces from the blazing sun.
"Class, form a seated square around the post and stone," Lar ordered. The moving armor rang with the music of bronze and they joked as they sat. It was easy for Arken's classmates to laugh; they had all passed the test. As the youngest, he was the last to reach his fourteenth birthday and take the test before SeaJourney, a one-moonth-long apprenticeship, now only days away.
If Arken lifted the rock, he would graduate and join his class at sea. Failing the rock test today left only one way of going on SeaJourney. He would have to defeat Gart, the class salcon, in a sparring match.
"He's taken so long I've grown a beard," Gart joked in a loud voice. Everyone laughed at Gart's jokes, even if they weren't funny, because he was a year older than the rest of the class, bigger than all of them, and their salcon, their squad leader. Gart had passed the rock test the previous year, then failed his final exams.
Given an additional year to study and the leadership position as class salcon, the academy expected him to succeed.
A wave of depression swept over Arken. If he failed to lift the rock, he had no chance of beating Gart in a sparring match. He was a head taller and stronger.
"Arken, lift the stone!" Lar's tone turned angry. "Why are you stalling?"
"Yes, sir." Arken scanned the second-story classrooms a hundred legs across the courtyard. Girls in the Queen's Trackers often visited the academy for training and, being scouts, they had good eyes. He didn't want them to see him fail.
But no girls watched from the openings in the gray stone walls. Even the tower guards weren't looking, probably due to midmeal and the mid-day heat leaving them sleepy.
Arken turned towards Tok, the name given the rock five hundred years earlier when the test began. He'd never lifted a stone this big in practice. Father would be so disappointed if he failed; he'd worked so hard with him practicing swords to help keep up with his classmates. He stepped next to the rock.
"Don't forget the warrior's creed," Lar reminded him.
"Sir! Fear none in battle, nor death at sea, nor those who wish to torment thee, with Kal in mind and sword held high, fight until you win or die."
"Good! Now win your fight with that rock," Lar ordered.
Arken squatted and picked up red, courtyard clay, then rubbed it in his palms to improve his grip. Waves of heat from the mid-day sun shimmered off Tok. Years ago they had run laps from their classroom across the courtyard to the rock and back while singing war songs. He and his young classmates would slap the hot stone for good luck and shout "Tok" on the turn.
A lingering touch of the stone could leave the palms warm from the heat. Today he had to be careful and lift the rock's cooler, shaded side because touching the warm side would make him drop the stone.
Arken was the only commoner in his class. All the other boys were sons of noble families. The king had granted a request by Arken's father, a commoner, to send Arken to the academy. It was a reward for his father's heroism in battle.
Arken had endured bad treatment and bullying at the hands of the noblemen's sons since the age of six because he wanted to prove himself to his father and he yearned for a chance to explore the world in the Sea Service.
Now all those years of abuse would only be worth it if he lifted Tok and graduated.
A swordtooth's scream split the air. The class turned as one towards the sound coming from beyond the fort's north wall. The high-pitched tone dropped to a long, low rumble that made Arken's neck hairs stand up.
"Remain calm," Lar ordered. "The swordtooth is far away. I promise, if it draws close enough for the guards to kill, we'll go up on the wall and watch."
The boys all talked at once about the swordtooth and seemed to forget about Arken. He wiped sweat from his face that had run down despite the gastag leather strap holding back his long blonde hair. He felt grateful for the swordtooth because it bought time to get his nerves under control.
The swordtooth cat was old and couldn't hunt toth and ton, so it had moved in close to the city walls to attack King's Harsemen when they patrolled outside the fort. Two dead horses and riders made it essential that the swordtooth die. So the guards had tethered a goat next to the south wall before dawn to draw the cat within range.
The swordtooth screamed again, sending chills down Arken's spine. The cats grew to twenty feet long. Though terrifying, they inspired him. They were proof of the vast, dangerous world beyond the city walls awaiting his exploration.
"Begin, Arken," Lar said.
"Fourteen ... I'm old enough," Arken whispered to himself. He rubbed the loose clay from his hands and rose to extend a hand from the top of the post to his chest, measuring the height he'd have to lift Tok to his belly button. A slight depression in the top center of the post would hold the rock, but to lift and gently place it so as not to roll off was the challenge.
"He'll never lift it," Gart whispered loud enough for all to hear. "He's too small."
"Silence, Gart!" Lar entered the square and strode towards Gart. "You're a salcon! Friendly teasing is fine, but a class leader should never undermine his men." Lar jabbed his heavy walking stick into the back of Gart's calf where the armor didn't protect his legs, making the boy wince. A grimace crossed his face. Crying out during punishment lengthened the beating so Gart made no sound.
"Yes, sir! Sorry, sir!" Gart pulled his feet in tight under the skirt of his white tunic to avoid another poke of Lar's stick. His lower lip quivered slightly despite his stony face and Arken knew he'd been hurt by Lar's blow and comment.
"Arken, lift that stone now!"
"Yes, sir." Arken said, but the swordtooth screamed, drowning out his reply.
"It's getting closer!" Lar exclaimed. "Arken. Hurry and lift, we want to see that swordtooth killed!"
"Yes, sir." Arken felt grateful the big cat had diverted attention for now he felt ready.
He squatted, put his chest on the stone, and reached around with his arms so he could lock his fingers. He'd always thought his barrel chest was an advantage; it gave him more wind when he ran. But now his chest prevented his fingers from touching. Arken turned his head to the left, brushing his right cheek against the stone. The hot rock stung his flesh as his straining fingers locked together. For once his too big hands were an advantage and not an embarrassment.
He held his cheek off the hot rock as he pushed with his legs. But the rock didn't budge. It felt alive and its weight fought him. He struggled to breathe, his chest restricted by the rock's pressure.
He tipped back on his heels and the rock popped off the ground. A thrill ran through him. I'm going to do it! But when he strained to rise, nothing happened. Impossible! So heavy!
He thought of quitting, but his fingers slipped and to his surprise he fought to tighten his grip instead of letting go.
I can't disappoint Father. Dear God Kal, grant me a birthday wish, Arken prayed. Help me lift this rock.
He screamed and it startled some of the boys. He didn't care; the scream gave him strength and the rock edged higher. His inner elbows burned from the strain of the weight. They felt as if red-hot fire pokers were being thrust into them. His legs trembled.
I am strong enough! He simply had to endure the pain.
"Almost there!" Lar had stooped over to see the post's top.
Arken lurched forward with his right foot but the rock thudded against the top of the post. He advanced his left leg, then leaned back, trying to raise the rock the last little bit to clear the post.
Pain shot across his low back. He recalled Lar's stories about boys injuring their spine by tipping backwards too far.
"One finger width higher!" Lar yelled.
The pain straightened his spine against his will.
"No, you're going lower, lift it higher!" Lar waved his hands as if he could somehow help Arken lift.
Arken strained his calf muscles, trying to lift his heels off the ground and raise the rock that way. He rose to his tiptoes.
"You're clear, push it forward, Arken!" Lar stepped closer.
A final push, he could feel it! He strained to go forward, but suddenly, his calves gave way as if they belonged to someone else, no longer willing to do his bidding. He felt his heels strike the ground as the rock pushed them down.
"Too low." Lar bent down. "Can't you get it higher? You were close."
"I'll try," Arken grunted. He strained to raise himself back on his toes, but nothing happened. He tried to pull with his arms, but the rock lodged against his chest and wouldn't budge. Suddenly everything started to go dark. He focused his eyes on some palm trees across the courtyard outside the fort's main gate.
The green palms swayed in the light breeze as they receded down a long black tunnel. He blinked, but opened his eyes to only a pinhole of light.
"Clear!" His intended yell came out a whisper. He felt the stone slip from his grasp. A hand snatched him back by his arm and the world left him.
"Are you alright?" Lar's voice echoed as if he were in a cave.
"I think so." Arken opened his eyes. A seagull hovered in the blue sky high above Lar's hollow-cheeked face and Arken realized he was lying flat on his back.
"You're sure?" Lar leaned in closer and blocked the gull's view.
"Yes." Arken rose to his elbows. "What am I doing on the ground?"
"You blacked out lifting the rock." Lar said.
"I didn't pass the test?" The memory came flooding back.
"You will next year." Lar offered his hand. "You're strong enough, just not tall enough."
"I know." He felt proud he'd at least been strong enough to lift it.
"Do you want to try your luck sparring with Gart today?"
"Yes, sir, I do." Arken surprised himself with his answer as he rose to his feet. He didn't care if he lost, or even if he got hurt sparring Gart. He wanted so badly to go on SeaJourney this week. Life at sea called him.
"Good, I admire your spirit, Arken, though you'll probably lose." Lar chuckled and shook his head.
"Maybe," Arken rubbed his hands to knock off the clay, then tried to brush the red clay from the back of his white tunic, but with little success. Arlet, their Nander kitchen slave, would scold him tonight for the dirty uniform.
The swordtooth screamed again, this time so loud it echoed around the courtyard.
"It's close to the wall!" Lar turned his gaze to the guardhouse where soldiers were running for the chariot mounted, giant crossbow. "Arken will fight you, Gart, after we watch the guards kill the swordtooth. Lead your class to the top of the wall."
"Yes, sir, I accept Arken's challenge. Cadets to me!" Gart jogged for the wall.
The cadets saluted and were gone, like armored quails busting out of grass in fear. Tanned legs carried lean bodies up the stairs to the wall top in seconds.
Arken jogged two steps to Lar's one despite Lar running with his ceremonial robe gathered in his hands to prevent tripping on it. Arken was grateful for some time to regain his strength before sparring with Gart. It was his last chance to go to sea this year. He had been so excited about beginning his officer's apprenticeship as a saldet, a junior officer. Only Gart stood in his way.CHAPTER 2
Arken Spars Gart
We will lash our ships together tonight when we gather rinfall and rest the slaves. They rowed admirably today and I ordered extra food and water rations for them. If we let them die we will drift forever at sea.
Tonight I will train with the necklace when the cool of rinfall allows concentration.
— Diary of Princess Sharmane of Tolaria
"Don't worry about failing the rock test, Arken," Lar glanced over as they climbed the stairs to the bridge which crossed the two-story buildings against the wall. "You probably can't beat Gart sparring today, which makes me admire your courage ... you're in for a pounding at his hands. But your courage and the fact you'll grow taller tells me you'll lift Tok next year and go on to become a superb officer. You've nothing to be ashamed of if Gart beats you."
"Thank you, sir," Arken rubbed the pain in his low back as he climbed the stairs.
"I'm being honest, Arken. You're an excellent student with unusual skills — you're the only one in this class to pass the advanced archer's test, which shows you're strong enough to lift the rock, just too short. Most cadets can't draw the heavy bow until they're seventeen, yet you can do it already. That proves you're strong."
"I can draw the heavy bow thanks to my grandfather. We practice every other evening after school." Arken grinned at the memory of Grandfather working with him since age six until shooting a longbow felt as natural as combing his hair. "There's a technique to it as well as strength."
"Oh, I know, but learning that technique is not easy," Lar smiled and his voice had a tone of respect in it. "You might have learned some tips from your grandfather that could help our instructors."
"I'd be happy to help other students anytime you wish." Arken felt proud to be getting so much respect from Lar.
The smell of fresh baked corn bread reached them as they crossed the bridge over the barracks between the courtyard and the fort wall. A southwest, onshore wind carried the scent from the fort's bakery across the large courtyard.
The swordtooth screamed as they reached the last flight of stone stairs leading to the wall's crest. The cat's scream sounded like death come close.
"They must have sighted it," Lar pointed to his left where guards were running from the fort's southeast corner guardhouse.
A two-person chariot exploded from the guardhouse, the driver whipping the two horses to a gallop. A crossbowman clung to an oversized crossbow mounted on a central swivel behind the driver. The guards running on the wall dodged to the side of the wall's roadway to let the chariot pass.
Arken and Lar waited at the top of the stairs to see where the chariot would stop. Arken studied the fort from his vantage point. Two-story, white stucco buildings with red tiled roofs rimmed the full length of the interior side of the fort's walls. The buildings served as soldier's housing, academy classrooms, storage, kitchens, armory, blacksmith shop, and horse stables for the King's Harsemen. The sea breeze mixed the musty odor of stable hay and harses with the corn bread scent.
"It's been a year since they last killed a swordtooth," Lar remarked as the chariot halted to their left. They joined the class as they ran towards the chariot.
"Why do swordtooth come here?" Arken asked as they ran.
"They're old. They get driven from their hunting grounds by a healthier animal. The scent of easy prey over the walls draws them in and then we have to kill them or they try to attack our harse patrols outside the walls."
"It's there, sir." Gart had run ahead and pointed as they arrived. "Stalking the chained goat."
Arken leaned over the gray stone wall to see. The stench of damp, dead rotting leaves from eons past mixed together with dead insects, worms, and animals and splashed his face like a rogue wave. Water from last night's rinfall added to the stew cooked by the sun's heat. The smell hovered in his nostrils like a foul poultice used by his mother to cure childhood illnesses.
The huge, yellow-skinned cat crept through the high grass fifty feet below. Its tail twitched as it neared the goat, which caught wind of the cat's scent and began squealing and pulling at its leg chain.
The cat's long canine teeth glistened like curved executioner's swords at a public beheading. Arken realized his forearms were shorter than one of the beast's long teeth and shuddered at the thought of being alone in the jungle with such a predator.
"Johann, how long do you venture it is?" Lar asked a boy near him.
"Twenty feet, sir, not including the tail," Johann said. "Roughly seven legs," he added.
"Good, I agree."
"It's a beautiful animal," Johann volunteered. "It's sad it has to die."
Some of the cadets giggled at Johann's softness.
"Death comes to all that live," Lar said. "You should know that Johann ... we're in the business of death."
"Yes, sir." But the tone of Johann's voice didn't seem sincere to Arken. He felt sympathy as well for the sword tooth, because despite its ferocity it seemed the underdog in this unfair fight, and Arken could identify with the underdog.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Arken Freeth and the Adventure of the SeaJourney"
Copyright © 2014 Alex Paul.
Excerpted by permission of AIS, Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Rock Test,
Chapter 2: Arken Spars Gart,
Chapter 3: Yolanta Raids Baltak,
Chapter 4: Ord's Torment,
Chapter 5: Torture and Betrayal,
Chapter 6: Birthday Party,
Chapter 7: The Tattooed Soothsayer,
Chapter 8: Ord Recovers,
Chapter 9: Grandfather's Warning,
Chapter 10: The Sea,
Chapter 11: The Dragging,
Chapter 12: Seasick Romance,
Chapter 13: Mutiny,
Chapter 14: Fighting Turns to Fishing!,
Chapter 15: Ord the Runaway,
Chapter 16: Asher's True Identity,
Chapter 17: Attack on the Golden Willow,
Chapter 18: The Tookan's Pursue,
Chapter 19: Princess Sharmane Flees,
Chapter 20: Death from the Sky,
Chapter 21: Escape to Shore,
Glossary – SeaJourney,