Read The Orchard of Hope Online

Authors: Amy Neftzger

Tags: #hope, #fantasy, #magic, #wolves, #gargoyle, #quest, #gargoyles, #the kingdom wars

The Orchard of Hope

 

The

Orchard

of

hope

by

Amy Neftzger

Smashwords Edition

Published by

Fog Ink

and imprint of

Fields of Gold Publishing,
Inc.

Copyright © 2013 by Amy
Neftzger

All rights reserved. No part of
this book may be used or reproduced in any form or manner
whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher. For
more information contact:

Fields of Gold Publishing,
Inc.

PO Box 128438

Nashville TN, 37212.

Edited by Ken McManus.

Cover design & all
illustrations by Cory Basil.

ISBN: 9781940894102

The book is a work of fiction. Any
resemblance to

individuals, living or dead, is
purely coincidental.

Except for Newton. He lives with
the author and gave

his permission to be included as a
fictional character,

although we all know that he’s
real.

“You do not need to know precisely
what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need
is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the
present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and
hope.”

~ Thomas Merton

Chapter

One

Another Quest

Hope is never gone. But it can be
eaten alive, and that

s exactly what was
happening in the orchard. The king had told them about the problem
before, but the problem wasn

t going
away. In fact, the problem was getting bigger and becoming
critical, and the king was certain that Kelsey could help. She was
excited about the trip and looking forward to the journey to the
orchard, wherever that might be and however long it would
take.

It wasn’t as if Kelsey hadn’t
enjoyed the past 18 months of training with the king’s army. The
battle conditioning had been a wonderful experience for her, but
now she was ready for action. Too much time spent in one place had
made her restless. When the king first mentioned the quest, Kelsey
had jumped up out of her seat with excitement.

“How do we save hope?” Kelsey
asked with undisguised eagerness. After an awkward pause she sat
down again and waited for an answer. Her fingers gripped the top of
the thick walnut table where she was seated in the king’s study.
Every wall in this room was covered with bookshelves from floor to
ceiling, except for the places where there were windows, which also
stretched the height of the room.

“That’s a question to which we do
not yet have an answer. It’s a bit of a tricky situation,” the king
said as he smiled. He was a tall figure with broad shoulders and
flowing red hair. Although he ruled this land and was respected by
his opponents in battle, Kelsey often thought about him as
something of a father figure. His stature conveyed his strength,
but his eyes and his smile hinted at the tenderness that Kelsey
always saw in him. Of course, she had known him under different
circumstances before she knew he was the king. In fact, he had been
traveling in disguise and appeared to be a small mute orphan that
Kelsey had attempted to help. Only later did she learn his true
identity.

“Why don’t you simply fence the
orchard?” asked Nicholas, who was a young boy about the same age as
Kelsey. He sat upright in his chair, as if paying attention to a
lesson.

“I wish the solution were that
easy,” the king replied solemnly, “but we don’t fully understand
the extent of the situation. Implanting obstacles, such as a fence,
will solve the problem only if it’s a simple one. However, this
issue is complicated.”

“So, someone has tried a fence
already,

Nicholas concluded aloud. He
was a rather smart boy who attended the Academy of Miracles, a
place formerly known as the Orphanage of Miracles. Nicholas was
being raised by his aunt and uncle, who were members of the
king

s court, and because of this,
Nicholas often spent his vacations from school at the
castle.

“They

ve
tried a number of potential solutions, but nothing has worked so
far, and the obstacles only make the wolves more
aggressive,

the king
explained.

“Wolves?

Kelsey asked as she settled back into her chair.

Hope is being stolen by
wolves?

“It

s
being eaten by wolves, but these aren’t the regular
kind.

“How are they
different?

Kelsey asked.

“We

re
not exactly sure. Our information is incomplete, but we know these
are not typical wolves. For one thing, they can smell hope
blossoming and they attack at the moment it becomes
ripe.

“Most animals have very keen
senses of smell,

said
Nicholas.

“This goes beyond natural
abilities,

the king said.

“How many are there?

Kelsey asked.

Wolves, I
mean.

“We

re
not sure about that, either,

replied the
king.

We don't know if the same wolves
are coming back over and over or if different wolves arrive each
time hope is eaten alive.

Kelsey looked at the king with a
mixture of confusion and concern on her face. It

s one thing to go on a quest, but it

s quite another to go when you

re not sure what you

re
going into.

“Do you know how to get
there?

she asked.

“Yes, of course. I know where the
orchard is located.

“Good! Then you can help me find
it, at least.

She stared at the crimson
velvet curtains framing the tall cut glass windows near the table
where they were sitting.

Another
quest,

Kelsey announced to herself with
a contented sigh. The past 18 months had been anything but boring,
and yet Kelsey had been feeling restless. The thought of traveling
again brought a large grin to her face. She turned her head to look
around the room and then slapped her hand on the highly polished
walnut table, leaning forward as she turned to the king.

“It

ll
be just like old times! You and me together on another
quest!

“It

s
certainly a quest, but I won

t be going
with you.

He paused with a thoughtful
expression on his face and stroked his red beard.

“You could go in
disguise,

Kelsey insisted.

You

re good at that. You
could be my traveling partner again, and it will be just like it
was when we met.

“No. I

m
needed here. There are too many duties to which I must attend.
That

s why I

m
sending you in my place.

Kelsey wanted to protest again, but
she settled back in her chair. She knew that when the king had made
up his mind it was useless to argue. He was one of the few people
she considered more stubborn than herself.

“Am I going alone?

she asked.

“No, of course not. This task is
too large and dangerous for one person.

“I

ve
been training with your soldiers for a year and a half,

Kelsey said with undisguised protest. She had
practiced drills with knives, swords and maces. She had learned to
scale walls with one hand on her weapon and the other grasping the
stones. She had worked hard to keep up with boys who were older and
stronger than she was, and she had proved herself worthy of being
one of the king

s soldiers in training.
She was as good as any of them at most skills and better than all
of them with a knife. Kelsey was a natural with knives.

I can do this,

she
insisted.

“I know you can do this.
That

s why I

m
sending you,

the king replied quietly
but firmly,

but I

m sending others with you.

“I
don’
t need help.

“Wolves run in packs.
It

s rare to face one alone, and it will
require a team in order to defeat them.

His tone conveyed the firmness and resolve of his
decision.

“Has anything like this ever
happened before?

Kelsey asked after
thinking to herself for a moment.

“Yes. Wolves love the taste of
hope,

the king replied.

But they

ve never
devoured it like this.

“You know, I would have thought
that our old enemy, the Sorcerer, would be the one after our
hope.

“My generals think that he may be
responsible for sending the wolves. The sorcerer is clever and
wouldn’t spend his own time or effort destroying something if he
could convince someone else to do it. His spell of deception is one
of his best weapons in this war. It

s
more efficient than any army because it can even turn sections of
the opposing army upon itself.

Kelsey wanted to ask more
questions, but she knew it wasn

t the
time. She needed to focus on preparing for the quest. This would be
her first assignment as a member of the king

s army, and she wanted to make sure it went
well.

“So, what you

re telling me is that first I

ll need to assess the situation,

said Kelsey.

“Yes. It will take some
investigative work to figure out what

s
causing the wolves to be so aggressive and destructive. This sort
of behavior goes beyond anything we

ve
ever seen from them.

“I can do this,

Kelsey repeated. She sat up in her chair to
emphasize her confidence in herself.

“It

s
going to be dangerous and there may be battles.

“Battles.

Kelsey repeated softly with a hint of excitement
and relish in her voice. She smiled faintly at the
thought.

“I hope it won

t go that far, but the battles could become quite
bloody,

the king continued.

“Bloody battles!

Kelsey tried unsuccessfully to hide the thrill she
felt at the possibility of testing her newly acquired soldiering
skills in combat. As her smile broadened across her face, she
unconsciously reached down to grasp the hilt of her favorite knife.
She carried it with her at all times and even slept with it
strapped to her leg so that she could easily reach it. For Kelsey,
it had as much sentimental as practical value, since the king had
helped choose it for her when he was disguised as Silence, the poor
mute orphan.

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