Massive thank you to Escapist Book Co. and Josepha John Lee for bringing me on board the book tour for The Bleeding Stone (The Spellbinders and the Gunslingers #1).
Below, you will find information on the book and author, links to purchase your very own copy, and an excerpt from the novel 🙂
The Bleeding Stone by Joseph John Lee
Series: The Spellbinders and the Gunslingers
Genre: Historical/Epic Fantasy
Intended Age Group: Adult
Published: May 9, 2023
Publisher: Eclipseborn Publishing (Self Published)
The island nation of Ferranda is the jewel of the Acrarian Kingdom, and its Founder, Aritz a Mata, is revered as a god amongst men. But twenty-five years ago, Aritz was merely a man, a colonizer, an Invader seeking glory and fame in the name of his King and Queen, and Ferranda was a nameless union of indigenous Tribes, reverent of the heightened powers and aptitudes granted to them by their Animal Deities, but sundered by the foreigners claiming their lands to the south.
In the unconquered north, the Stone Tribe has for fifteen years offered a safe haven for the southern Tribes displaced by Aritz’s Invaders, whose occupying march north has been ostensibly halted by a dense forest barrier dividing north and south. Among the Stone people lives Sen, an outcast for the circumstances of her birth, preserved in society only by her status as daughter of her Tribe’s Chief. Forever relegated to the fringes of society, she is forced to watch as countless of her kin, including her sister and brother, complete their rites of passage into adulthood and accordingly earn their aptitudes by the Deity to whom they share an affinity – the Bear, the Wolf, or the Owl.
Despite this, Sen finds comfort in her life of forced solitude with her close inner circle, but hers is a comfort in days of waning tenuous peace. When Aritz’s technologically-advanced forces push north, Sen is thrust into a singular quest to rescue one of her precious few captured in the ensuing struggle. While her goal is earnest – save someone dear to her and prove her worth to her Tribe – her people’s goal is far more dire: survival in the face of uncertainty.
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/m0Ep8W
Author Bio & Information
Joseph John Lee is the author of The Spellbinders and the Gunslingers trilogy. A true product of New England, he prefers Dunkin’ over Starbucks, sometimes speaks with a Boston accent, and does not say the word “wicked” in casual conversation as much as one may think. He currently lives in Boston with his fiancé, Annie, and their robot vacuum named Crumb.
A Beginning, and an End
The Year 1581 Anno Salvatoris
40 Years After the Settling
Sea winds abounded amidst an air rich upon Aritz’s tongue with the taste of salt. As gulls called, circling the depths of the Ocean of Catelina in search of food, his magnificent galleon, draped with sails of Acrarian regalia, pulled into port. A host of attendants waited for him along the dock, lined in parallel rows of six apiece. The ship was a marvel of engineering, the auspices of the Years of Industry benefiting it greatly. Up close, it nearly resembled a fortress. Ten cannons jutted out from each side, promising hellfire with the slightest of provocations. The blue and white coat-of-arms of the royal family adorned the sails, though it was a lordly variant of that emblem. She sailed alone into the port, but that was hardly anything new. No sailor worth their salt dared challenge the might of the Chariot in open waters. Any man lacking the salt merely would find themselves returned to the salt in short order.
The Chariot was a symbol. Of power, of wealth, of status. And, of course, of Aritz himself.
Distantly, he could hear an exclamation of, “He has arrived!” from one of the attendants, a portly and aged man adorned in solid blue robes of dyed hides sporting a deep V-shape in the front to accommodate the warm southern air.
Aritz took a handful of steps forward along the creaking wooden dock, crystalline waves splashing in intermittent bursts. As his shoes soaked in the puddles of salt water, he watched as a servant aboard the Chariot pushed a ramp down to the walkway below, bowing out of the way to graciously allow Aritz passage.
“He has arrived!” the attendant said again. “Lord Aritz is returned!”
The pomp and circumstance were nothing new for Aritz. For over two decades, this was his charge, his reality. And to tell the truth? He was quite all right with that.
As he prepared to descend the ramp, he drew a deep breath and collected himself, fixing and straightening his adornments. He removed his cloak, far too peppered by the lingering aroma of ocean and fish from the three-month sea voyage, and, without a glance, handed it off to some unseen boy. They came in droves whenever they were needed. He liked that about them. Underneath the cloak lay one of his finest leather tunics, solid blue as was the custom. A white cape was draped over one shoulder, symbolizing a man of status and means. His trousers and shoes were of more simple taste, however. Simple for a Lord, at any rate.
With the plank groaning underneath his weight, Aritz descended to the level of the eager throng of attendants. To his eyes, they were always men of wealth, though only by virtue of their position as lecturers at the University. On this land, that was quite something. Back home in his native Acraria…not so much. Aritz looked them over individually, all gatekeepers, individuals holding the key to a higher realm of understanding, all of it hiding behind such odd and baseless smiles. Sycophants and arse-kissers, the lot of them, he thought. Always eager for something.
The first attendant greeted him heartily from the first half-step he took on the dock, reaching out and shaking his hand with the vigor of the mightiest of earthquakes. “Oh, Lord Aritz! Welcome! Welcome back to Ferranda! You are always missed here!”
Managing a half-hearted smile, Aritz removed his hand from the eager man. “A pleasure as always, Master Horatio,” he said.
“Beg pardon, my Lord, but I am Master Hernan,” the man said with a sheepish chuckle. “Master Horatio passed some years ago.”
“Ah yes, of course,” Aritz said, passing Hernan by with a pat on the shoulder. “My mistake, Master Herman.”
Hernan did not make any further corrections. Unless inane blathering and stuttering counted for such. While the rows of silent scholars bowed their heads in respectful silence, the portly attendant shuffled quickly after the Lord, seemingly eager to continue the welcome. “It has been quite some time since you returned to Ferranda, my Lord, has it not?”
Surely, they’re awaiting an opportunity for a boon to be granted them, as though my coming here was not enough, Aritz thought with a grunt. “Four, five years, I’d wager.” The way Hernan walked behind him was frankly irritating. Hardly a plump step, just a shaky shuffle, almost like he was afraid his heavy footsteps would punch a hole through the dock. I’d enjoy seeing that, honestly.
“Such a long time, my Lord. You must miss your time here dearly.”
“I spent the first half of my adult years here. Now I’ve a family.” Aritz shrugged, the three months at sea suddenly bearing down upon his joints. He was no longer the spry man he was all those years ago. He had seen almost sixty years, after all. That was more than evident on his face. Wrinkles had long since set deeply in cavernous formations along his forehead and cheeks, and where his rows of curly hair once shimmered with shades of auburn-brown, they were now peppered with at least six shades of grey.
“And how are your lady wife and children, my Lord? They must live in wondrous comfort back in the homeland.”
“They must, yes.” Am I even allowed a moment’s rest and restoration, or is this braggart intent on following me to the privy, too?
Hernan hummed an acknowledgment and shuffle-shuffle-shuffled quicker to maintain Aritz’s pace. Savior Above, he was an unsightly man. Every orifice of his body just seemed to drip sweat.
I’m rather regretting shaking his hand now, Artiz thought.
“At any rate, my Lord,” Hernan said, heartily clearing his throat as though to announce his intention to speak further, “it is a tremendous honor and privilege that you have come all this way. The students will be immensely thrilled.”
Well, at least someone is thrilled I am here. “I’m delighted to hear so.” So long as we do not have a repeat of last time. Where did that girl get so many eggs? “I trust they are still being instructed well.” And those that aren’t are gaoled appropriately, I trust. “Have they word of my arrival?”
“Ho-ho, oh no, my Lord. We wanted it to be a surprise for them.”
“Yes, yes, ‘good-ee,’ my Lord! ‘Good-ee’ for them that the Founder himself is about to provide a special guest lecture!” He sighed longingly, shades of hopefulness adorning his breath. Hopefulness smelled like shite coming out of him.
The Founder. Sometimes Aritz would forget that title. Strange thing, memory is. After all, he had been a Lord for some time now because of it. Everything he was, it was built upon Ferranda’s foundation. That was always worth remembering.
The precipices of industry loomed over the horizon, heralding the arrival into view of Ferrand City, the capital of this island nation. The very tip of smokestacks spewing out production became visible as the wooden docks gave way to dry land.
It was always such a treat for Aritz to see how much further this island progressed in his absences, and after spending a quarter of a year on a ship, walking that much further on a rickety dock above water, with terra firma just barely in sight, was such a torturous tease. Aritz didn’t think he could ever be so enthralled by the sight of stone-lain pathways, but they looked so enticing that he could kiss them.
His entourage-in-tow would probably have worshiped the very ground had he done so.
The satisfaction of that mental image wasn’t worth the dirt and grime getting into his mouth, so he decided against it.
Relishing the solid ground beneath his feet, Aritz eyed the city of his own creation with satisfaction. A reminder of great days. Turning his gaze loosely to Hernan, whose piercing green eyes were ever-vigilant and ever-disturbing, he asked, “So, when am I expected to be at the University?” He looked up at the sky, the sun in a position to indicate high noon.
Nervously, Hernan coughed and ran his plump fingers through his diminishing hair. He was sweating even more profusely now, if that were possible. “Ah, well. It’s near midday now, my Lord, so I would wager…ah, well…”
“Out with it, man,” Aritz said impatiently.
“Ahem, well. Near on ten minutes from now.”
“Ten minutes?!” His eyes widened, an untapped frustration burning in his irises. At that moment, he felt he could melt the sniveling Hernan to the ground with just a glare. If anything, that dampness in the scholar’s trousers likely wasn’t from sweat anymore. Didn’t smell like it, either.
“A-a-ah, w-well, my Lord.” Repeatedly, Hernan ran his hands through the thin strands of hair atop his head, such that half of the hair was sticking straight up and the other half was being pulled out in clumps. Maybe that’s why he was half-bald. A nervous tick, apparently. “We had expected you a day or two past, and assumed that would be plenty of time for you to gain your bearings, relax, ah…accommodate yourself, and—”
“Well, beg pardon for the winds not playing to your favor, Master Berman!” Truthfully, Aritz was slightly annoyed but not as angry as he was making himself out to be. It does my heart well to knock this man down a peg, though. “It will take fifteen minutes just to walk to Ferrand City, for I see you’ve neglected to prepare a horse for my arrival. Is this how you welcome your Lord?!”
“No, no, please, my Lord! A thousand apologies! All fault belongs to me! Please, if I may—”
“What you may do, Master, is delay the day’s lecture.” Aritz eyed the retinue behind him, all averting their gazes to the vast and empty unknowns around them. Fascinating discoveries, these scholars must be having. I wonder if they’ve at last learnt to see the wind. “At the very least, gentlemen, I would like some time alone in my chambers. Allow me that time, and I shall ready myself within the hour.” And all the more to get this lecture over with. “Is that satisfactory for you lot?”
Hernan looked nearly on the point of tears as he emphatically nodded his head in agreement. The nameless scholars—well, they had names, of course. Aritz just didn’t care to know them—likewise voiced their gratitude in united measures, a choral harmony seeming to indicate appreciation to the Savior that they still had their necks.
“Wonderful. I know the rest of the way, gentlemen. I can show myself to my manor. I shall see you boys at the University.” Aritz doubled his pace, wanting precious little to do with the group any further. With a final glance over his shoulder, he eyed Hernan, still trembling in shock, a stark contrast to the overbearing and undue confidence he had just a few moments ago. Smiling at the sight, Aritz called out, “And be sure to change your trousers before class, pisspot!”
The sight of a warm bed not accompanied by the rank and odor of eighty other men-at-sea was immensely appealing. What Aritz wouldn’t have given to just kick his feet up, sleep away the past three months, and call it a day. But the longer he put off this lecture, the longer it would take to be done with it. Within the hour. Pheh, I should have said within the week.
His chambers were more or less as he left them five years back, save for the routine maintenance the manor staff so kindly kept up with. How heartwarming it was that he could leave his treasures and trophies unattended for years at a time, and they would not mysteriously go missing. Something about consequences, surely.
A quick eye’s glance confirmed that it was still the home away from home, the home before the home. A personal kingdom he had crafted and dwelt in for two decades, back when the Kingdom he served had yet to become the Kingdom he’d create.
Banners were draped along the walls, one of the blue-and-white heralding Acraria, another with the variant depicting the crest of his House, a red bear, fierce and proud.
Familiar sights remained in the middle: a large table displaying a map of Ferranda, from the southern shores of Ferrand City to the secluded peaks of the Northern Mountains, a cartographer’s gift which once functioned as a war map; off by the large-paned windows, an ornate desk of the finest woods, carved delicately by the finest woodsmiths the Kingdom could offer; to the side, shelving housing treasures and trophies, memories of a time long past, all flanking his cherished flintlock pistol, an heirloom he’d no longer a need for, but came well in handy during the founding of Ferranda.
It was almost worth the voyage east just for the rekindling of memories. Almost. As enticing as nostalgia strove to be, Aritz did have a task to get out of the way.
Retreating to his wardrobe, he discarded the sea-tainted leathers of his journey and replaced them with identical—more or less—garments of similar grandeur, the only difference being the trims of white-gold fringe along the sleeves and collar. He was invited as something befitting royalty, and he intended to look the part.
Bidding a final glance to the glory days, Aritz barged out from his chambers, paying little regard to the attendants awaiting his intent to leave, and strode out of his manor and onto the streets of Ferrand City, the unheeded beckoning of his guards faintly following in his step.
The capital had come a long way since its first inception almost forty years past. Seeing the advent of progress made it hard to believe that this once was just an expanse of fields with hardly any development to its name. Parsing the panoramic view before him put a smile on his tired face.
Beyond the gate leading to his manor, stone streetways laid the path, sidewalks of smooth granite directing foot traffic. The pitter-patter of horseshoes clicked along the streets, leaving him to ponder whether they were carrying lovelorn hopefuls by carriage to what was probably their next coital activity at this time of day. A steady commotion littered the air as inquisitions of the day’s coming attractions rang out, passive conversations about when to visit the open markets against aggressive arguments about Madame Whoever’s philandering husband. Poetry to Aritz’s ears. A modern society.
As he walked past the gates and turned the corner, still offering little mind to the attendants who were technically meant to be his bodyguards, Aritz breathed in the refreshing sea breeze, a remarkable change of pace from the urban stink of his homeland. Buildings of various compositions flanked his periphery, a sign of the early days when homes were haphazardly thrown together with whatever wood and stone they could salvage. There was a certain charm to it, at any rate. Puffs of smoke billowed out from atop chimney pipes, the subtle aroma of cooking coals wafting out from the assorted houses. It smelled like someone was charring a steak to perfection. I’ll have to come by afterwards for a bite. What are they going to say to me, “No?”
The University stood tall at the end of the road on the right-hand side. Save for his own manor, it was the largest building in the city. That was by his own design. It needed to express its importance while not overshadowing his own grandeur.
Regardless, he was willing to allow some more expansive worship to be given to the factory, which acted as the University’s cross-street neighbor. After all, without the factory, Ferrand City—and the whole of Ferranda, for that matter—would not be where it was. The advent of industry back home in Acraria allowed the development of this small nation to hit the ground running, with everything from the smallest of tools to the most intricate of engines holding some manner of inception within the walls of that place of creation. When Ferranda was but a mere stopover on a much larger trade route to the west, the building was vital for storing precious goods for barter. Soon enough, it became the source of those goods such that the entire island became sufficient on its own.
It didn’t take long in Aritz’s saunter of marveling at his own creations for citizens to take notice. Hushed whispers rumbled in growing excitement as more and more people came to realize just who was walking the streets of Ferrand City. Murmurs proclaiming the return of the Founder echoed through the city, and it would not be long before the entirety of the populace was in an uproar over his return. Any time Aritz showed his face was a momentous occasion, for one reason or another.
With the furor of excitement reaching a zenith, Aritz could only barely hear the warning cries from his attendants, however far behind him they were. He wasn’t much concerned, regardless. So, people knew he was back in Ferranda? No bother. The whole lot of them would only stare and gawk. For a people so reverent of the teachings of the Savior, they certainly seemed to offer Aritz the same degree of platitude. He paid them no mind either way. In his peripheral vision, men pumped their fists in a bastardization of the Acrarian salute while women shrieked and swooned after him. Over the din of fanfare, Aritz could, at last, hear a discernible voice saying, “Sir, we should really be moving along.” The concern that these upstart bodyguards elected to show was wonderful.
It matters very little, though, Aritz thought. Here, I am untouchable.