‘Monster Hunters of the Undermire’ coming soon – read the first chapter here

Undermire
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Monster Hunters of the Undermire

My fantasy adventure ‘Monster Hunters of the Undermire’ is close to being ready for publication. It is currently waiting for a redesign of the cover and general artwork.

It won’t be long, but in the meantime here’s the blurb and the first chapter of the novel:

Thirteen-year-old Robbie Callahan is spending the summer with his archeologist father. Robbie wanders the moor and gazes into the peat mire where he sees a girl’s face, her eyes of amber burning back at him.

A trick of the light, he tells himself. Stay away from the black pool, his father urges. But after a family row, Robbie flees into a storm. He sinks into the peat bog, drowning until dragged from the water by the enigmatic Evelryn. Robbie finds himself in a mysterious celtic underworld enclosed by the Underlight, an uncrossable barrier created by the magic of the druids to keep monsters out – and make their people safe.

Robbie wants only to go home but never can, according to a prophecy, unless he first rescues Evelryn’s sister, imprisoned in a deep dungeon at the roots of a far-off mountain – and guarded by a terrifying monster.

Chapter One – The Black Mire

Alone on a wetland moor, Robbie Callahan knelt in the mud and stared into the peat-dark pond. Flaming hair shimmered beneath the surface. Eyes of fire flashed below the ripples of the mire. He leant closer until he felt the chill of the water on his cheeks, his hands squelching in the wet peat. He’d seen a face – where was she? There, under the reflections, something moved. Eyes of burning amber stared back at him, wide with fear.

A shiver skittered through his shoulders and down his spine. His skin tingled with goosebumps. He was seeing things. Nothing could live in the black bog. No fish, at any rate. An eel?

He pulled away, looked again: a girl, a face, terrified. Gone.

A trick of the light, he told himself, nothing more, though his heart pounded in his chest. What hair can burn under black water?

His father strode across the moor, yelling at him: “Robbie, get away from the pool. Look at the state of you.”

Robbie scowled. He wasn’t a child.

“Why are you kneeling in the mud? Don’t you know the water’s dangerous?”

But it wasn’t deep and Robbie could swim. Besides, there was nothing else to do out here except stand on the rock tomb and shriek at the wind.

His father pulled him to his feet. “Your jeans are a mess.”

His knees were caked in black mud. Stick a spade in the ground out here and this is what you got.

“Come help with the dig,” his father said, “we’ve found something extraordinary.”
What this time? A shard of pot or blob of black dirt that might be rusted metal? Robbie tried to sound interested. “Treasure? Gold? Dragon bones?”

“A body,” his dad said. “In the peat. A genuine bog body. There’s never been one found on this moor. It’s neolithic, two thousand years old at least. You can make out the features of his face, the bristles of his beard. He’s wearing a gold torc, a thick band of gold, must have been buried with it. And a ritual killing – all the signs are there: shreds of rope around his neck, as if he’d been hung, but a hole in his skull from the blow of a weapon. And cracked ribs, perhaps from a dagger struck to the heart. Overkill, they call it.”

In his mind’s eye Robbie saw the terror on the victim’s face, the glint of sunlight on a sharp blade and the grimace of the executioner. “Why do all that? What had he done?”
“He might have been a criminal, or a king for that matter, slaughtered when times grew hard, or he failed to protect his tribe. Maybe the climate turned against them, or the crops withered. Perhaps he lost a battle, or his people sickened. So they put him to death and sent him to the water. A human sacrifice. An offering to the spirits. Or a gift for the gods.”

Robbie glanced towards the mire. Is that where the ghosts lurked? Should he tell his father what he’d seen? He’d only laugh. “I don’t understand. They buried him in water, but you found him in the ground?”

“It was marsh, back then, maybe a shallow lake. The body must have sunk into the peat and mummified. We need to get it out before it rots. I’ve come for tools.” His dad gestured towards the stone tomb, which he had been excavating, off an on, for the past four summers. The top of it was still covered with layers of turf but the huge menhirs used to build the burial chamber had been exposed at the front and sides. The entrance was blocked with metal fencing padlocked together. His dad had the key but rarely opened it and he never let Robbie inside. The place was precious, he’d say, there were bones in there untouched for centuries. “Give me a hand with the bags. You can help with the dig.”

He could stand around and watch is what that meant. Fetch cups of tea and biscuits, bring trowels for the diggers, carry messages. Wash pottery. A waste of a summer as far as Robbie was concerned. He should be with Charlie, Jim and the rest. They’d be on the waste ground or down by the river, free of adults, doing their own thing. “Can I look in the tomb?”

“It isn’t safe. And stay away from the water. Don’t come here again, understand?”

The answer was always “no.” Robbie cast a glance back at the mire – black, cold and still.

His father fumbled with the keys, unlocking the padlock that secured the metal fencing around the tomb. “Stay here, I’ll go in and hand the stuff back to you.” He disappeared into the darkness and emerged moments later with a canvas bag of tools which he thrust at Robbie. “Be careful with that.”

Robbie grunted. They didn’t trust him with anything.

His father locked up the fencing. Robbie watched him secure the keys in a zip-up pocket of his jacket.

“Let’s get back to the dig. There’s lots to do. There’s a storm coming tonight. We found a sword, did I mention that?”

“Is it sharp? Can I have it?”

“Has to be cleaned up first. Then it goes to a museum. Or storage. It’s not all there. A bit of hilt, some metal.”

Not so exciting, after all. Robbie glanced again at the black mire. “I don’t get it. Why did they dump things in a pond?”

His father slung a rucksack of equipment over one shoulder. “There are finds from bogs across Europe. Gold and silver, swords, daggers, jewels – and bodies, all put into the water. It was sacred, a gateway, a passage to another world. But it’s hard to know why or what they believed. They left no writing, those ancient Celts. They’re a mystery, always will be.”

As they climbed out of the shallow dell the wind whipped across the moor, bringing a threat of rain. “You should wear a coat, you’ll catch your death,” his dad said, striding ahead.

“You sound like Mum.” That was an easy way to shut him up: mention Mum. Robbie scurried to catch up, clutching the bag of tools, too heavy to lug across the sodden moor. There was no arguing with his dad though, not in this mood. No reasoning, either. As he reached the lip of the hollow, Robbie glanced back one last time at the water. Was that a flash of fire?

“Keep up. Come on.”

Robbie longed to stay, to stare into the water and wait for the eyes to return.
“I won’t ask again,” his father yelled.

Robbie turned and headed away from the mire, shaking his head. There was nothing there, he told himself. It was only his imagination, running wild. How could there be flaming hair beneath the pond? Or a face? Though he saw it still, when he closed his eyes, as clear as day – a girl staring at him, horrified, as if she had glimpsed a shadow of a ghost, or a monster in human form from a savage, hidden world.

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