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The Islands of the Sixteen Gods, Book 1: The Amulet of the Hunter God by Stephen Symons (Series: Fantasy)

The Islands of the Sixteen Gods, Book 1: The Amulet of the Hunter God by Stephen Symons (Series: Fantasy)
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The last that Edrun Jaranacad had seen of his beloved Jina, was an arm desperately waving from the raging waters of the flood that was bearing her away. Heartbroken, he decided to leave the safety of his quiet little village to travel the outside world to seek he did not really know what.

The discovery of a small golden jewel, an amulet of Shegadin the Hunter God, convinced Edrun that the Gods were watching over him, guiding him towards some end that only he could see. Edrun soon began to realise that although the Gods might be guiding him as he travelled in dangerous places, in company with even more dangerous people, it would take all of his own strength to reach a destination he could never have foreseen.

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The Islands of the Sixteen Gods, Book 1: The Amulet of the Hunter God by Stephen Symons (Series: Fantasy)
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Mamta Madhavan for Readers' Favorite (https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/13354)
Oct 22, 2013
The Islands of the Sixteen Gods Book 1: The Amulet of the Hunter God by Stephen Symons is an adventure/fantasy story. Edrun Jaranacad loses his beloved in the flood. He decides to leave his small village and explore the unknown outside world. The discovery of the amulet of Shegadin, the Hunter God, convinces him that God is traveling with him.

The story is like any other adventure story, fast paced. But the theme is original and, like many fantasy-themed books, this book also evokes a reader's curiosity and interest. The intrigue, mystery, and adventure make the book action packed. The characters are strong and they all have good imaginary names. One of the advantages of reading these kinds of stories is that you come across so many imaginary lands, characters, and creatures which can actually stimulate your creative mind, too. The book is a revelation of the creative thinking of the author. It is not always so easy to come up with such magical names for the characters and places.

Book 1 in the title suggests that there will be more sequels to this story, something I am eagerly awaiting. Will Edrun reach the destination he is looking for or will there be obstacles? A very enjoyable read for adventure and fantasy fans.
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Sample Chapter

Chapter One
River of Anguish

It was still dark outside, but dawn was near. The birds told him. They always knew. At first it was a gentle, sleepy twittering and rustling, barely audible. Gradually it grew, a symphony of countless chirrupings and tweetings, mingling together as one mighty dawn chorus, sweeping across the mountains and plains of Kalion, growing ever stronger with the first faint blush in the eastern sky. As they had from time immemorial, the birds of Kalion sang their welcome to the Fire of Life as She slowly rose from Her couch beyond the rim of the world.

Edrun stretched out his hand, his eyes still closed by the soft fingers of sleep. It slid up and down the bedclothes, cold on the left hand side of the bed. Cold where it should have been warmed with the heat of her slender body. The side of the bed where she should have lain beside him. The side of the bed that would never again feel the gentle pressure of her smooth skin.

How can this be? How can this be? This is wrong! This is all wrong! She should be here, here beside me! The words ricocheted back and forth within his mind like a leather ball being tossed against the walls of a barn. Instantly awake, he sat bolt upright so fast that for a moment nausea wrenched his stomach. Gasping, sweating, he gripped his head in his hands for long moments, slowly, slowly drawing his legs up, across and onto the floor.

She is gone. She is gone.

Edrun pulled the curtain back from the little window of his room and opened the shutters, letting the cool, clear air of morning into his room. As it faced more or less east, the window looked out over the mountains, still clad in their capes of winter white. Uzvath, the Queen of Heaven, the Fire of Life, was rising in all her blinding majesty above them, burning away the night shadows where lurked the demon servants of the Visitor, forcing them back into the underground realms where they would remain, quivering in terror at Her coming, until once more She slipped below the western horizon. Edrun stood before the open window in the attitude of prayer to briefly murmur the morning greeting to Uzvath.

From the village below came the sounds of chanting and singing, of the striking of gongs and the clarion of horns, as Priests and Priestesses of a dozen different shrines welcomed this new day, this latest gift of the Gods to mortals. Throughout the village, and all across Kalion from north to south, people paused in their tasks to stand for a few moments in prayer, giving thanks.

A knock came at the door. Edrun jumped, startled by the sound so deeply had he been in reverie. He realised he was still standing, naked, before the window, and turned to the door. It opened without his asking.

"Are you awake, dear?" His mother put her head around the door first, then opened it wide. "Good morning, sweetheart. Do get dressed, Edrunaraugiscal. We are waiting for you."

"Yes, Mother. Good morning. I shall be down in a moment." Edrun smiled to himself. Edrunaraugiscal. The Abundant Rain of Spring. Only his mother ever called him by his full name, which, like that of most rural Kalionali, was long, complex and grandiose. It was the custom amongst rural woman to name their children from omens of their own observation. The moment the first pangs of birth began, a new mother would look outwards to see something, or hear something, or feel something that might be a sign from the Gods indicating something of the child's future. As Edrun's mother was about to give birth to him that spring morning twenty years before, it had begun to rain lightly, which Tissa had seen as a good sign and had named her son accordingly.

Edrun chuckled to himself. It could have been worse. His elder brother Tai was 'Carhoansuanephorema Taivielanambairsunaran' – 'The gently waving grain is the gift of the blesséd Phorema', the first line of a hymn to the Lady of the Harvest. A group of Priestesses had been singing as they processed past the window when Tissa was about to go into labour, and she, devout soul that she was, was delighted. The problem was that hardly anyone could remember Tai's full name. Even Tai himself sometimes had to think for a moment to remember it, which made things a bit awkward on those occasional religious observations when it was necessary to speak one's name fully and completely.

This whimsical train of thought brought Edrun back out of the black mood into which he had been rapidly descending. He quickly sloshed water on his face from the basin on the dresser, whipped his loincloth on, threw his tunic over the top, grabbed his shoes and leather breeches and dashed down the narrow stairs to the big kitchen below.

Fully thirty adults and an uncountable number of children were passing plates, stirring pots, frying bacon, drinking proxa, running back and forth and generally forming a maelstrom of movement. Nobody looked at Edrun as he descended the stair, but he knew full well that all were instantly aware of him. As he approached the table a place was made for him, seemingly spontaneously, but he knew that it was deliberately done.

In another three days, when the sixteen day period of mourning was over, everything would revert to normal again and breakfast would be attended by the usual dozen or so currently living in the house of Jaran, Edrun's father; Jaran and Tissa and Edrun himself, Tissa's mother, Kondra, Edrun's two unmarried younger sisters, and a handful of servants. For the moment, however, the house was full of people, and they were there for him, to guide him through the period of mourning. For the sixteen Days of Bereavement he would never be alone unless he specifically requested time to himself. Always someone would be with him, keeping him company, talking to him, ready to listen to whatever he might want to say.

As he looked around the big room, Edrun felt his throat tighten. There were uncles and aunts, and cousins and nephews and nieces as well as his brothers and sisters. Most of his extended family was present to care for him, to nurse him through his agony, to share his pain, spreading it around amongst them, lessening its impact. The love in the room was so strong that almost it seemed as if it was visible, a shining mist that drifted throughout. But his father was banging the table with a spoon.

Silence fell. All hands were joined as Jaran draped the shawl of an Acolyte of Phorema over his shoulders and sang the first part of the three way grace, the prayer of thanks to the Harvest Mother for the Gift of Food.

"Lady! Mother!" he concluded. "Our thanks for your bounty."

"Lady! Mother!" murmured the crowd in response. "Our thanks for your bounty." Then Tissa, wearing the pectoral of an Acolyte of Bariog, bringer of rain, sang the prayer to the Lord of the Mountains.

"Lord! Father!" she concluded. "Our thanks for your bounty."

"Lord! Father!" came the response. "Our thanks for your bounty." Finally Tai, the eldest of the children, stood holding the Horn of Haldin to intone the last part.

"Lord! Highest!" he sang softly. "Grant us your peace this day." And he tipped the horn to let a few drops of wine slip to the floor in libation.

"Lord! Highest!" sang the people in reply. "All Praise to our Lord."

"Go about this day in peace under the guidance of the Gods." As Jaran sat, the room erupted in chatter and laughter as the family fell upon their food. The day had begun under the supervision and proper oversight of the Gods, as was only right.

The world of the Kalionali was populated by countless spirits and unseen powers, some benevolent, some malevolent, some who cared nothing for mortals but should nevertheless be left undisturbed. The world was a quagmire of hidden perils, its paths tortuous and shifting. Only through the guidance of the Gods, the protectors of mortals, could those paths be navigated, but the Gods were fickle and needed continuous attention. Only the meticulous observance of ritual and prayer ensured the safe passage of the day and the night ahead of it. To ignore the Gods was to court disaster, to disobey them catastrophic. This Edrun knew well. And yet - ! And yet - !

Thirteen days before the family had sat at this very table, the Three Way Grace had been said, and the rituals performed correctly, rituals to ensure that all travelled the journey of the day in safety. Yet at the end of it they were one less. Edrun shook himself mentally. This would not do. He had to engage with his family, who were here for that very purpose. He had to chat and smile and discuss the small matters of the day.

After breakfast he and his father and brothers walked across the yard to the wagon-sheds where they began the work of the day. Jaran was a cartwright, and well-to-do by the standards of the little village of Chernugo. Over the years he had built up a thriving business - repairing carts, building new carts, hiring out wagons and carriages, and running a large livery and bait stables. As well as his two sons, he employed fifteen men and women, making him one of the biggest employers in the village, and his order book was always full.

This morning was no exception, and work in the sheds and stables swiftly swung into motion. Edrun was given tasks, which he performed with his usual skill and diligence, but his father and brothers, watching covertly, could see that his mind was not on the crafting of wagon wheels or the repairing of harness. They stayed close, careful not to crowd him, but never getting too far away. Various other members of the staff, mostly cousins, nephews, nieces and assorted more distant relatives, came and went so that no-one was ever with him for long, but someone was there all the time. At mid-morning Jaran could watch no longer.

"Go for a walk, son," he said. "Your mind is not here. Walk in the hills and see if you can find it. Come back when you feel ready." He clasped Edrun on the shoulder.

Edrun squeezed the familiar hand, strong but gentle. "You are right, Father. I shall clear my head. But I want to go alone."

Jaran nodded and patted his son's shoulder. "As you say, son, so shall it be. Go carefully. Be safe from evil."

"Be with Phorema, Father. I shall be home for supper."

Edrun turned, walking out of the shed and across the yard to the road. Within moments he was amongst the crowds jostling good-naturedly in the little market square. For a while he wandered around the stalls, looking at merchandise, greeting friends, stopping to chat briefly. But only briefly. Courtesy dictated that he stop and exchange pleasantries, but he was in no mood to do more than that. He passed by some of the several little shrines that clustered about the square, and was induced to take a mug of ale with some farmhands that he knew as they sat outside tavern.

He passed the time of day with them, and it was pleasant to sit in the morning sunshine. He could have been tempted to linger, but it was not his way to drink so early in the day and he bid his friends farewell. With a somewhat lighter heart he strolled along the lane that led to the Temple of Cuennu on the high ground on the other edge of the village. Below him to his left wound the road to the ford over the little stream that fed into the Nogoldhere River, to his right the water meads and the beginning of the path that led down to the big river itself.

His legs striding out purposefully as if they had a will of their own Edrun headed along the path, over the pastures, beside hedges, scrambling over the stiles of the drystone walls, until he stood on the banks of the Nogoldhere River.

For a long, long time Edrun stared down at the swirling currents. The Nogoldhere River men called it now, but of old it was Zuthirass, the Black Water. No truer name could it have, Edrun's spirit cried out within him. Black waters, black as my heart! With a sob he slowly crumpled to the ground, covering his head in an agony of grief. She is not here! She should be here! But she is not! She is gone! She is gone!

Chapter Two
Words of Wisdom

Slowly Edrun raised his head. Eyes blurred with tears, he stared out across the waters of the river. A gentle breeze caressed his face, as soft as her hand down his cheek, and he sobbed anew. The grasses and flowers bent under the warm spring wind, swaying back and forth as she had swayed as she walked, as they had when they had danced together in the evenings to the clapping of the crowd. As they should have danced ten nights before. As they should have danced on their wedding night.

The reeds on the riverbank rustled in the wind, dead leaves danced in the spring air. That had been her name; Firajinaudun, the phrase that to the Kalionali meant the dancing of the flowers in the wind. Jina, he had called her in the daytime. By night the name he had whispered to her was Okilafirdais, Wind-flower, his secret name for her, for her ears alone, as they had danced the slow dance of love, driven upon the winds of passion together in the soft darkness of their room.

Slowly he stood, looking out over the river, his eyes seeing again the sights they had witnessed thirteen days ago, sights burned into his mind as the hot bronze of the branding rod burns into the flesh. The pale face vanishing into the roaring waters. The white arm raised, hand rigid with terror, only to vanish into the maelstrom of debris. It had been pouring with rain then, great battering sky waves that threatened to hammer them into the ground as they and their families had fought to drag half-drowned livestock onto the banks.

Lightning flashed as the Lord Bariog had stalked upon His terrible limbs of fire, screaming down at them with His voice of thunder. The noise and the tumult had awakened the river-demons and they had arisen in anger, pushing their waters over the river banks and onto the fields, sending their forest-wrack down the river bed along with the great brownish-yellow mass of water that poured from the hills around them.

The villagers had fought the river-demons as they tried to grasp the precious sheep and goats and drag them into their slavering maws, and many beasts had been lost. All, it seemed, that could be saved had been dragged to safety and the rescuers had paused for a moment to catch their breath, when a sudden rush of water had borne down upon them. Linking hands, they had hauled each other to safety, but something had struck Jina around the ankles. She was swept off her feet. A river demon had taken her firmly in his grasp, ripping her from the hands of her companions.

Edrun had been twenty paces away, upstream, when he heard the frantic cry. He could do nothing save stand in frozen shock, one hand clinging to a tree, as Jina was swept away. For a fraction of a second he had seen her terrified face, a brief pale flash that came and went as quickly as the lightning, yet the image was burned into his mind forever. Then she had vanished in the seething, muddy waters. He had screamed her name, but his voice was lost in the clamour of the elements about him.

How different a scene now lay before his eyes. A warm spring breeze rustled the branches of the trees overhead, dappling the golden light of the sun from high in the cloudless sky across the path behind him. The Nogoldhere flowed smoothly and evenly, its waters clear and gentle once more. Wind-blown flower petals whirled and danced, gliding onto the surface of the river, sailing swiftly to who knew where. The river-demons had gone back to sleep, satisfied for now, it seemed, with their dreadful harvest of death.

With a sigh, Edrun turned to go but as he did so he suddenly felt eyes on him. Turning, annoyed at the intrusion, he looked about to see who might be watching him. He had asked to be left alone for a while! Was that such a difficult thing to do? The rebuke on his tongue died unspoken as he realised the identity of this new companion. He inclined his head respectfully, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Good morning, Flame. I thought I was alone."

The Priest bowed in reply. "We are never alone in this world, my Brother. Always the eyes of the Gods are upon us, and their ears hear all our words."

From the distinctive yellow and brown robes, faded and patched, yet clean and neat, Edrun could see that the speaker was a Priest of Detanié, the Lady of the Bees, one of a mendicant order who wandered the Kalion Islands to do whatever good works were needed wherever they might be found. Few were the travellers who would dare to walk unaccompanied along the lonely, perilous paths of the mountains of Kalion, save only the Awakened of Detanié and their colleagues the Awakened of Renna. The Priests and Priestesses of the Lady of the Bees and the Lady of the Oak Grove walked alone, freely, where hardened man-at-arms hesitated to pass in their numbers, safe in the knowledge that they were sacrosanct.

"The ears of the Gods were closed to my cries. Their eyes watched as my beloved was swept into the arms of the river-demons on this very spot. And they did nothing!" Despite himself, Edrun's words were bitter. The Priest nodded in agreement. Edrun had never seen the man before, but somehow he seemed to know all about Edrun's woe.

"The ears of the Gods are never closed, my brother, and their eyes see all," said the Priest. "But do not be so quick to assume that they did nothing. The river-demons, after all, must also obey the Gods."

"Then why would the Gods bring about the death of so young and innocent a one as my Jina? What possible need could bring about her passing in such a horrible way?"

The Priest's dark eyes were sombre. "The will of the Gods is beyond the wit of man to penetrate. All we can know is that there is a purpose to their actions. What that purpose may be shall be revealed in time, or not, according to their will." Edrun turned away to hide the anger in his eyes. The Priest took him by the hand. "Do not be bitter, although such is only natural. Walk the world with good heart and the Lady of the Bees shall walk beside you. May you be blesséd in Her sight, and may you and yours be forever under Her protection."

Edrun sighed. "I thank you for your words, Flame, and for your blessing. Forgive me if I can only wish that the Lady had been with me and with Jina thirteen days ago. The fate that was allotted to her might well have been averted had you spoken sooner."

The Priest smiled slightly, still holding his hand. "It is never too late, my brother. Fate is written in sand, not carved in stone. Speak not of fate until all is done and even then do not be too sure." Releasing Edrun's hand he felt around inside his robes, drawing out a bone medallion, no bigger than a thumb-nail, and inscribed with signs unfamiliar to Edrun. Bending down, the Priest dipped it in the river then took it up again, blessed it and pressed it into Edrun's hand. "This is the token of a Friend of Detanié. While it is with you, She will be with you."

Edrun bowed again. "I thank you for your gift. Come with me to my Father's house and you shall share our table and all that we have." As he spoke he removed his kinkoreth, the little leather bag of personal charms and amulets that every Kalionali wore at all times and slipped the medallion into it.

The Priest bowed in reply. Together they walked slowly back over the fields and up the path to the town, talking of many things, and Edrun drew great comfort from the words of the Priest. Crossing the Market Square once more, Edrun noticed a small figure sitting sunning itself on a step nearby, head bowed as if in contemplation, hands busy with something in its lap.

He turned to the Priest. "There is someone I have to see. Go down the lane there a hundred paces to the big gate on the left. Ask for my mother, Tissa, and say that I have sent you. I shall join you later." The Priest thanked him courteously and headed for the lane while Edrun made his way across the Square where he sank down beside the figure on the step.

"Uncle Kemmel. May the Queen of Heaven warm you forever."

The head came up at once, the great dark eyes smiling, but even in repose the old man's eyes were penetrating, seeming somehow to be able to see directly into Edrun's mind. A short, compact man who bore a strong resemblance to Kondra, his sister and Edrun's Grandmother, Kemmel Shanducad held up a lump of cheese from which he pared an almost impossibly thin slice. He made a snorting noise, something between a grunt and a chuckle.

"May Haldin preserve me from such a fate! Forever? I have maybe a couple more years left in me but not much more."

Edrun took the proffered sliver of cheese delicately and popped it into his mouth. The old man often sat and pared cheese in this way. It was a sure sign that he was thinking.

"You shall live forever, Uncle! But let us not talk of such things."

"We must talk of these things, Edrun," said Kemmel gently, carefully crafting off another tissue-thin slice of cheese. "Death has come amongst us again, and He is never far from us anyway. Never more than a few steps behind, even if He is around a corner and we cannot see Him coming. Death brings grief in His wake, and you have said too little of yours. Talking at such a time is good, Edrun, and you should not deny yourself the release that talking allows. If you do not allow sad thoughts to flow from you in words they become bottled up, like poisoned waters behind a weak dam. Eventually the dam must burst, with tragic results."

"Please, Uncle," said Edrun, almost inaudibly. "I would not hear these words. Not now."

The eyes seemed to bore into Edrun's head. "You would not hear my words?"

Edrun clasped the old man's hands and looked into his eyes, matching him gaze for gaze. "Great-Uncle, I always desire your words. They are the nourishment of my heart and have been ever since I could understand them. They have formed my spirit and my mind and I pray that they shall remain with me forever."

"Then hear these words, son of my heart. Your beloved even now rests her head in the lap of the very Queen of Heaven who shines above us. You could see her if your eyes could but bear the glare of the Lady's glory. Tonight she shall awaken and dance amongst the stars, shedding her love all about you as you sleep. And one day, in the far, far future, when you are old and full of years like me, you too shall be received into the lap of the Lady. Once again you and Jina shall dance together until at last you prepare for the Return. That is the way of things, son of my heart."

Edrun turned his head away, releasing his Great-Uncle's hands. For a long time he stared out over the market square, looking at the stalls and the people without seeing them. Kemmel carefully pared off another slice of cheese, allowing it to curl into a little roll. Thoughtfully, he popped it into his mouth, looking all the while sideways at Edrun.

"You are going to leave us, are you not?"

"I have said no such thing," said Edrun loudly, rather too quickly. Kemmel made no reply. He waited, slowly cutting off yet another slice. "I have thought about it," mumbled Edrun at last, speaking so quietly that his words were barely audible. Still Kemmel said nothing, watching his great-nephew, whittling away at his cheese. Finally, "There is nothing for me here in Chernugo," said Edrun slowly. "Nothing that I can see, at least."

"Sometimes one has to live inside one's neighbour's house for a while in order to realise how good is one's own home," smiled Kemmel.

"Then you think that I should leave?" Edrun's voice was almost urgent.

"I think nothing of the sort." Again the snort-chuckle. "I have taught you many things that would be most useful should you choose to walk the wider world. Most of it, no doubt, went in one side and out the other, but you have been an apt pupil, one of the best that ever I had, so I have no fears for you. But all that I have done is equip you with tools. The choice is yours, to use them or not, to stay or to go."

"Uncle, I need your advice!"

This time Kemmel laughed outright. "No, you don't. I think that you have already made up your mind and you simply want me to agree with you. What you really need is some lunch. Let us go and see what that old bag of a sister of mine – sorry, your revered and much-loved grandma - has prepared!"

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