Thursday, May 17, 2018

The King Is Dead Tour and Giveaway

The King Is Dead
by Al Burke
Genre: Epic Fantasy 

Etruvia has known peace for twenty years. But this time of peace has brought corruption and greed. The nobility has taken control, and the memories of great victories of old have faded. Crime is rife and the once proud people are little more than peasants. As a great evil rises in the desolate north, can a forgotten king and an embittered former war hero wake a nation from its stupor and build an army strong enough to give it a fighting chance?

 “Come on, Peter,” said Sally. “Take me there. You’re not scared, are you?” She
gave him her most mocking smile.
Peter knew the legends of the barren lands to the north of the forest, but they
were only legends. The only people who claimed to still see creatures wandering
the Waste were the occasional sots, and the odds of a drunk even capable of
walking that far were slim at best. Still, the forest was tricky, and though he
knew his way well enough, it was easy to get lost, even for a woodcutter such as
himself. With night settling in soon, Peter thought it unwise to venture to the
other side at this hour.
Sally liked Peter. Granted, Sally liked all the boys, but she seemed to like
Peter more so, maybe drawn to his prospects. He had finished his apprenticeship
earlier than his peers and had a mature head on his shoulders. But maybe she
was just testing him like she had tested many others before him. His wise self
though better of trips through the forest in the dark, but when did a 16-year-old
boy in love ever listen to wisdom?
Peter made sure to follow the logging paths, but the night darkened in a hurry
the deeper they advanced into the forest. “Perhaps we should stop and spend the
night here,” suggested Peter as it became harder to follow the trail. “It’s hard to
even see the stars, and we could end up walking in a circle.”
“Scared,” said Sally in that infuriating, mocking tone of hers. Infuriating, yes,
but it also drove all the boys crazy, and Peter was hardly immune to her wiles.
“We’ll be able to see the sky again soon, and I heard the wasteland is beautiful at
night. I promise you a kiss if you take me all the way.”
How could Peter say no? None of his friends had even gotten to kiss Sally,
despite their protestations to the contrary. With a sigh, knowing this was going to
be more trouble than it was worth, Peter continued. The forest was a sight to
behold at night, but it was eerily quiet, with the usual sounds of nocturnal
feeders absent. If Peter were alone, this would have spooked him more, as he
could travel silently as the need required. Sally, however, was unused to the
forest, having learnt the ropes of being a merchant from her father―knowing
your way around woods was not a requirement. While she would no doubt profit
from this as they grew older, right now she charged through the forest like a bull
in heat and created a din that would likely scare half the forest’s denizens into
going hungry this night.
Peter was reassured when he finally heard some rustling in the bushes, but as
they walked, it sounded like something bigger than what typically inhabited
these woods. “Shhh,” he cautioned. “I think something is tracking us in the
“Oh, it’s probably just a badger,” replied Sally.
“Then it’s a big badger,” Peter retorted, “and one that we should be wary of.
There isn’t another sound in the woods. Listen! Not an owl, not even cricket.”
“They’re probably just scared of us, which is ironic, as a big, brave woodsman
like you seems to be scared of them. Wait until I tell everyone back at the
village,” she said as she raced off deeper into the forest.
Peter sighed again. Her jibe had stung, but Peter was becoming concerned
with the prospect of whatever may be in the bushes. He had heard of creatures
such as wolves and bears that lived in other parts of Etruvia, but none had been
heard of in these parts for hundreds of years. Badgers and foxes were as
predatory as the local wildlife got, and even they steered clear of the villagers.
The forest suddenly erupted into a cacophony of sounds. The first was a
strange clicking sound, which was followed by a chilling scream that could only
have come from Sally. Peter threw caution to the wind and raced in the direction
of the noises, half expecting to see Sally rolling around on the ground laughing,
having played her finest practical joke on Peter. Sadly, it was not to be the case.
Peter burst into a clearing, where a frightening spider-like creature, easily the
size of an ox, had speared Sally on a sword-like leg and was in the process of
tearing her open from belly to neck. Peter quickly looked for a weapon, but the
spider-thing spotted him. It made to attack him too, but a strange drumming
noise distracted the creature, and it vanished in a whirr of legs into the brush,
leaving Peter to collapse, vomiting up the contents of his stomach and screaming
at the loss of Sally.

Being king wasn’t exactly as Eric had imagined. His memory of his parents was
more akin to dreams than solid points of reference, but he had been very young
when they died, a mere six years old, and was now entering his fortieth year. The
succeeding thirty-four years became increasingly boring and frustrating in equal
amounts. While dealing with affairs of state was hardly something a heartbroken
child should have to deal with, as the years went by, Eric had received no
training in what should have been important matters, and instead, considerable
efforts were made to keep him from attending to what was his kingdom.
Eric’s ministers were no doubt enjoying their own power, and there were
rumours around the castle and even down in the city that they intended to usurp
him in the name of democracy. While Eric actually appreciated the idea of
democracy―thankfully he had been well schooled in other areas―what his
“advisers” were practising hardly fit in with the dictionary definition of the idea.
They preferred lining their own pockets and favouring the wealthy over those
less fortunate. There was no doubt that his father, who had come from a long line
of respected regents, was turning in his grave with regularity.
Eric, however, failed to replicate his father’s charisma and steely will that had
benefited the kingdom greatly when it came to matters of diplomacy or trade
negotiation. Whereas the mighty King Cedric had had his finger in all the
country’s pies, running it as he saw fit―which had been admittedly
effective―Eric had been hampered by his advisers from an early age, and by the
time he was old enough to sit in court, he had been roundly discouraged for so
long that he did as he was told.
Of course, this bothered Eric, who didn’t want to hand his beloved kingdom
over to a bunch of charlatans. He still occasionally tried to join in on matters of
state, but he was talked down at each attempt. With a lot of time to spare, Eric
spent much of his time reading and often talking late into the night with many of
the respected academics in the kingdom. The great minds supported the king, but
all felt he needed to show some resolve in order to take the seat of great prestige.
While his intellect was admirable and matched many of his predecessors,
there was one area where Eric surpassed not just every regent who had sat on the
throne before him, but possibly every person who had ever resided in the
kingdom: combat. Eric had been born at a time of great turmoil, as border battles
were an almost daily occurrence. Perhaps being born practically with a sword in
his hand helped, but Eric had grown up in a time of relative peace. Yet his
acumen with a sword, bow, or any other weapon one could name was peerless.
The king trained daily for most of the morning and reached the stage where he
could take on six soldiers while wielding just a knife, yet come out victorious
with nary a bruise. While some opined that his soldiers went easy on him, Eric
suspected that some of his more enthusiastic opponents were in fact assassins
sent by his ministry. Regardless of popular opinion, any combat veteran could
tell that the king’s ability to parry and strike bordered on superhuman, and if
there was one person who could spar with him for more than a minute, they had
yet to make themselves known.
Spending his day reading and training had given Eric a keen mind and a body
to match, and he could have had his pick of brides had politics not reigned
supreme. Instead, Eric was wed to Catherine of Genovia. They had managed to
consummate their marriage on their wedding night but never shared his bed
again. While court talk should always be taken with a pinch of salt, rumour had
it that Eric’s bed was the only one she refused to share as she ingratiated herself
with the castle staff.
Eric was no fool, and he knew that being royalty often led to a loveless
marriage. He could handle her frosty personality, but she refused to bear him a
child, which put his royal line in jeopardy. Not only did she refuse him sex, but
she worked hard to make sure that no one else could bear him a bastard child to
interfere with whatever nefarious schemes she had cooked up. Ending the
marriage was no option, as Catherine’s father was a proud man who would have
sought revenge with his seasoned army, something the peaceful Etruvians could
not boast. So, Eric had to grin and bear it. He continued to perfect his skills and
his mind in the absence of other ‘activities.’
Tiring of beating on his generally incompetent soldiers, Eric decided to seek
greater challenges, and at night he began to sneak down to town to try and help
stem the spiralling outbreak of crime. While the army was essentially the militia
too, some of the senior officers were well catered to by crime lords who seemed
to wield far more power than the king himself.
Dressing in dark clothing―not that he’d be recognised―Eric roamed the
town taking on thieves, rapists, and the other types of scum who had flourished
in the once proud city. Used to picking on hapless citizens, these criminals were
no match for Eric, and he quickly earned a name for himself as a vigilante. This
reputation earned him the respect of the honest people in the town, but the
criminal gangs and the militia worked hard to trap him, both of whom saw a loss
of profit courtesy of Eric’s crime fighting.
Villains came out in greater numbers, at least as great as they could without
being too obvious, yet Eric still sent the lucky ones running. With this
mysterious vigilante roaming the streets and upsetting the criminal apple cart, a
plan needed to be hatched to end his threat, and for the first time in his life, Eric
was able to bring people together to agree on one thing―the vigilante needed to
be dealt with.

Al was born in Dublin, Ireland, but moved to Vancouver, Canada in 2009 with his wife and baby daughter. Now the proud (and active) father of two children, Al pays the bills by working in his local library. Al is the author of The King is Dead, an epic fantasy novel recently published by Bella Tulip Publishing. With his first novel under his belt, Al plans to release at least one more in 2017, including a series of short stories.

Al's favourite genres are fantasy, science fiction and horror.

Al is a huge fan of mythology, and his future works will incorporate different legends.

Al has a degree in Philosophy, with particular interest in Morality and Philosophies of Freedom.

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