Why should you care? Well, December 4th is when my new book, Then a Penguin Walked In and Other Tall Tales, hits the digital shelves for $4.99. But you can preorder it now for just $2.99!
This book collects four novellas into one volume. Three of them I wrote a number of years ago, one of them is new, and I'd like to use this time to talk to you about it. In fact, I'd like to provide you with a bit of a preview.
Going through the book, the four novellas, I wanted to share with you one chapter from each. Not the first chapter from each, as some previews do, but some of my favorites.
First up today is a chapter from the title story, the first to appear in the book, and that's Then a Penguin Walked In. This is Chapter Six: The Stench of Loyalty.
THE DREAD LORD HOB; Scourge of the West, Defiler of the East, Plague of the North, Overlord of the South, and King of the Nighttime World was in a bad mood. But then, abject failure and acts of cowardice perpetrated by his dark legions tended to rub him the wrong way in even the best of situations. And this was not the best of situations.
Lord Hob, who had always thought of himself as a fair and even tempered man, brooded silently to himself as he paced alone inside his command tent. The tent was exactly seven paces wide, and each time he turned to the east side of the tent, he’d walk to his mirror.
It was a glorious mirror. It stood eight feet tall and three feet wide, and each time he would come to it, the Dread Lord would pause and gaze deeply at his reflection. It was the only thing, the sight of himself resplendent in his white armor and black cape, that kept his bad mood from graduating into a full on rage.
Being the fair and even tempered man he’s always thought himself to be, it was uncommon for the Dread Lord Hob to progress any further, emotionally speaking, than an allover feeling of intense annoyance. But today he feared that if he didn’t get himself under control, he would go immediately from his tent and commit horrible acts of violence upon his cowardly horde.
Not that he was opposed to violence, just the opposite. Lord Hob was known far and wide for the brutal and creative ways he’d been known to inflict bodily harm upon others. But he preferred to the one in charge of his emotional self when violence was on the table. If someone was to die by his hand it would be because it was the logical thing to do, not because he was in a tiff.
He paused once more at the mirror and patted at his perfectly cut and sculpted jet black hair. Not a strand out of place. He smiled and resumed pacing.
The Dread Lord Hob was a man who could keep his emotions in check, something he’d always felt a certain sense of pride in, most especially after rising to the title of Overlord of the South when his predecessor, the Dread Lord Glatchington had mysteriously died a most violent, and don’t forget mysterious, death.
The Dread Lord Glatchington was a man who had known about rage, having spent most of his life deep in the thick of it. Lord Hob, Glatchington’s second in command, had borne witness to many a foam-mouthed murder spree in which anyone in reach could find their life snuffed out for no other reason that passing by when Lord Glatchington had dropped a spoon or found his soup too hot.
It was from Glatchington that Lord Hob had learned how not to behave. And so he resisted the urge to give himself over to the rage that skittered within reach. But still, punishments would need to be handed out. Lord Hob would just have to wait until he calmed himself before deciding on what was fair and just.
His pacing brought him once more to his mirror and as before, he paused. He ran a hand over his strong, squared chin. He needed a shave. Yet, the stubble made him look somewhat… roguish? Sure. Rough and tumble? Most assuredly. Sexy? No doubt about it.
Then a stench hit him that would have knocked most men flat on their backsides. But the Dread Lord Hob was not most men. Besides, Lord Hob knew what the stink signified.
Only an ogre could produce such a foul odor.
There came a tentative scratching at the tent flaps and the Dread Lord Hob sighed. The sheer meekness of the act was just the fuel needed for a kill crazy rampage, but Lord Hob kept his head.
“Come,” he said. His voice clear and commanding as he stepped to his chair.
The chair, a throne really, had been ornately carved from a massive block of white marble and needed more than ten men, or four ogres, to carry it about with them from place to place.
As the Dread Lord Hob sat upon his vast throne, the tent flaps parted and an eight foot tall ogre entered on cautious feet. It had skin like craved granite and wore a simple loincloth made from the hide of some unlucky woodland creature. Accompanying the colossus was the nearly overwhelming stink of the thing, which wafted into the tent on swift winds and brought tears to Lord Hob’s eyes.
The amount of ground between the tent opening and the space before Lord Hob’s throne was about six paces for a man of average height. The ogre crossed it in two.
The thing went down on one knee and bowed its head.
Lord Hob tried his best to look down on the ogre in disgust, but truth be told, even kneeling the thing towered over him in his throne.
“Dread Lord,” it began in a voice like a small avalanche. “Captain Branch has arrived.”
The Dread Lord Hob and all of his lofty titles attempted a reply but could only choke on the putrid smell that rose from the creature in great waves.
Ogres make great bodyguards and soldiers for a variety of reasons. First off, at an average height of seven-and-a-half feet and an average weight of four hundred and fifty pounds, the ogre is built like a tower of iron and muscle. You stand a half dozen side to side and you’ve got yourself a fairly impenetrable wall.
Beyond their impressive physical attributes, the ogre is a fiercely loyal creature. They aren’t afraid to die, and the art of killing is so ingrained in their society that it is taught in what would be the ogre equivalent of elementary school. There’s a casual savagery about them that Lord Hob found both chilling and exciting at the same time. They know hundreds of ways to kill, and will at times use combat as a way to compete with each other over which one can find the most creative way to end an enemy’s life.
The problem with ogres, the extent of which cannot be stressed enough, is that they stink. Like nobody’s business.
Ogres don’t believe in soap. Or water. Or adding soap to water, heating it to near intolerable temperatures, immersing their tough, leathery bodies into it, then wasting away the evening with a favorite book and a good, long soak. Ogres have no word for bath, or tub; not to mention wash, scrub, rinse, or even loofah. It is said that nothing precedes an army of ogres like the stench, the likes of which can often be enough to drive an occupied force out from behind the walls in which they have become entrenched.
But Lord Hob could stomach a great many things, and he often prided himself on his preternatural ability to enclose himself in a small room with three or four ogres and resist the urge to vomit. He was, in fact, known for it. So, he choked back his desire to send this particular ogre off to dunk itself in the nearest body of water, and found the strength to respond.
“Send him in, soldier.”
The Dread Lord Hob didn’t know the ogre’s name, nor did he particularly want to. It was bad enough having to put up with their stink, so remembering the names of each of his personal guards seemed to him to be a little much. He had more important matters to occupy his brain.
Captain Branch entered the tent with more than a little trepidation. The Captain was not an ogre. While Lord Hob could fully depend on the ogres to keep him safe or to depopulate a village, they didn’t quite have the intelligence for leading others, and Lord Hob believed in putting the right people in right positions.
Branch, the Captain of the Dread Lord Hob’s armies was one of his lizard men, created by magic in the jungles of the South, and bred for war. He wore mail over leather, but no boots. The feet of the lizard men had such thick soles that footwear was not required. Besides, their razor-like toe claws kept poking through whatever they tried to put on their feet.
Captain Branch had a small sword belted at his waist and he moved it aside with one clawed hand has he knelt.
“I come as bidden, Dread Lord,” the Captain said, his eyes on the floor.
“Rise, Captain,” Lord Hob said. “And tell me how fares the battle.” He knew quite well how the battle had gone. “I hear not the clash of sword nor the screams of the dying. Has the fighting stopped?”
“It has, Dread Lord.” The Captain rose, but his gaze remained on the floor.
“Why, Captain? Have we won?”
“No, Dread Lord. We are in retreat.”
“Yes, Captain Branch, I know that we are in retreat. That was a test. I thank you, however, for telling me the truth. As a reward, you will continue to remain among the living.”
“Thank you, Dread Lord,” Captain Branch said, sounding as if he had just taken his first breath since entering the tent.
“Think nothing of it, good Captain. Now I bid you to tell me why my army has retreated.”
“We were winning,” Branch said.
“Yes, we were. And quite gloriously.”
“But then something happened.”
“Something happened?” Lord Hob said. “Something?”
“Something,” Lord Hob repeated. “Unexpected.”
“Some one, actually.”
“Pray tell, Captain. Just who was this unexpected someone that caused my army, the grandest army in all of Gund, to flee before their terrible might?”
Captain Branch did not answer right away. Instead he kicked at rocks that did not exist, shrugged his shoulders a time or two, and even threw out the occasional “um” before stammering out his intelligible response.
“I’m sorry,” Lord Hob said. “You’re going to have to speak up, old boy. I didn’t quite catch that.”
The Captain cleared his throat. “It was The One, Dread Lord.”
Now it was Lord Hob’s turn to try his hand at speechlessness.
The silence hung in the air between them like a two ton mime. Lord Hob stared at Captain Branch as the Captain continued his intense scrutiny of the carpet fibers.
“The One?” Lord Hob said at last.
“Yes, Dread Lord.”
“He bore the Sword of Power, Dread Lord.”
“He?” Lord Hob said. “A human?”
“Yes, Dread Lord. He is said to have appeared suddenly in the midst of battle. He wore strange clothing but wielded the Sword. He called down lightening and our army ran.”
“Then Commander Jund’s mission to the Ancient World failed,” Lord Hob said.
“It appears so, Dread Lord.”
The Dread Lord Hob; Scourge of the West, Defiler of the East, Plague of the North, Overlord of the South, and King of the Nighttime World stepped down from his throne and resumed his pacing, his hands clasped behind his back.
“Well then,” Lord Hob said as the Captain tore his eyes from the floor to watch his master pace. “It appears that I have no choice but to take matters into my own hands.”
“If The One has been reborn, and if he brings with him the full might of the Sword of Power, then I am the only one powerful enough to face him in combat.” He turned to the tent flap. “Guard,” he called.
The ogre entered, bowing.
“Yes, Dread Lord,” it said.
“Fetch me my sword.”
“Souleater?” the ogre said with a gasp.
“The same,” Lord Hob said.
“At once, Dread Lord.” The ogre bowed and rushed out on its task.
“Captain, prepare the army, we strike at dawn.”
“Yes, Dread Lord. At once.”
The Captain made to leave.
“Oh, and Captain,” Lord Hob said, stopping Captain Branch at the flap.
“Yes, Dread Lord?”
“Ready my dragon.”
You can preorder the book now for your Kindle, Nook, or any other device by clicking the cover below, or going to penguin.steevenorrelse.com.