Here’s a sneak peek into my newest release, The Scholars (Book 8 of the Legacy Series)
The Matilda, September 29th, 1791
Port Jackson, New South Wales
In the pitch darkness, Geoffrey gripped the chains of his shackles, feeling the iron links bite into his palms. The ship continued to creak and moan against the winds that tossed them about at the head of the bay. Above him, he heard the excited voices of the sailors and military men, accompanied by their hurried footsteps pounding against the planks.
They had finally arrived at Port Jackson and would see Sydney Cove by morning. He, Adam, and over two-hundred convicts were to be dropped off with the rest of the cargo brought over from England. Beside Geoffrey, his son was in no better condition. Fidgety and agitated by their confinement, he wrung the same chains that bound them together, although he had advised against it so many times.
Starvation, filth, and stenches no werewolf should ever have to endure had marked this seemingly unending voyage. In actuality, their imprisonment had lasted for only five months – four of which were spent aboard this ship. And the last three and a half were bearable, considering that they had a soldier onboard who was privileged to know of their unique condition.
That soldier, God rest his soul, had been committed to the deep just two weeks prior. Two weeks too soon.
“Don’t break them,” Geoffrey once more cautioned to his son in a hushed whisper that wouldn’t awake the other convicts sleeping in heaps and rows across the hold. Although many probably wouldn’t notice if they broke free of their bonds, they couldn’t afford to make a scene. Not yet.
Adam dropped the chains that connected his feet with a startling racket. A few older men grumbled and cursed him, but the younger werewolf didn’t return their vile insults. Geoffrey shot him a reprimanding look, his golden eyes blazing. His son matched his glare.
Hunger and the pressing need to shift had set them both on edge. Geoffrey could sense that it was his son’s time to change. Though Adam had shown great fortitude in times past, he was still young as werewolves went, and could not resist the shift all night. There wasn’t a werewolf alive who could deny the beast that dwelled within them.
The soldier, the only officer to die thus far on the voyage, had an uncle residing in Portsmouth who was also a werewolf. He understood that Geoffrey and Adam were given to the change once a month and would put on a convincing show of taking one or both of them away to the deepest part of the ship to receive a punishment for some fictitious crime. There, they stayed all night convalescing from a whipping. At least, that’s what the other convicts and officers on the ship were made to believe.
If only that man were still alive. If only Geoffrey, lost in a fog of delirium and silent rage brought on by an empty stomach and restless wolf, could come up with a plan for escape. If only they were at Sydney Cove already so they could put their feet on some solid ground.
Just the thought of dry land made his muscles tense and joints ache, the need to shift pressing forward again without his consent. Clearing his mind once more, he let go of his own chains and took a deep breath. He was made to suffer the fetid odors of piss, excrement, sickness, and death for four months and it was finally at an end.
But what awaited them in the budding settlement?
It wasn’t his idea to accept the charges that were brought against them. It wasn’t his idea to stay behind prison bars while their fate was decided. His son was the orchestrator of this scheme. For over fifty years, they had lived comfortably in England. They never stayed in one place for more than a decade so as not to raise suspicion, but their offenses finally caught up with them. Taxes. Bloody taxes. The government needed them and Geoffrey had neglected to pay his dues.
They could have broken free the moment they were taken into custody in Kent, but Adam advised against it as soon as they came to understand where they would be transported for the next seven years.
This bold, adventurous spirit was not inherited from Geoffrey and if it weren’t for the green eyes they shared, he might have been tempted to think that Adam was not his son at all. That enthusiastic spark belonged to someone else entirely, whose name could barely be thought of without bringing with it great pain.
“We can swim for it,” Adam muttered beside him, a gravelly undertone in his words that told Geoffrey the shift was very near. If they didn’t find a safe way to get him below in the cargo hold or away from these men, he was liable to cause a scene.
“Swim?” he hissed. “You can’t be serious.”
One look into his son’s face told him that he was completely determined. Black fur was already trying to push its way through his dark skin, but Adam somehow managed to force it back to its source. Geoffrey was constantly astounded by his son’s remarkable abilities that stemmed directly from his close, personal relationship with the wolf within him.
Without any more delay, Adam seized his chains and snapped a few of the links. First on the shackles that bound his wrists, and then to the ones that wove through the ankle cuffs. Geoffrey reached out and dug his emerging claws into his son’s arm to keep him seated.
“Don’t be a damned fool,” he growled.
Adam turned on him, lips pulled to reveal a set of fangs that he could no more conceal than his golden eyes. “Are you with me or not?”
Like so many times before, Geoffrey was transported back to a time before Adam was alive, before tragedy and loss scarred his heart forever. It was something his brother would say. And as if those words brought back a tiny piece of his old self, Geoffrey reached down and broke his own fetters, letting the tiny shards of iron patter to the floor.
Adam was the first to bolt to his feet. What remained of his shackles didn’t encumber him as much as the hunger, and his legs refused to carry him fast enough through the ship’s hold and up the stairs to the main deck. Geoffrey followed close behind.
Guards, sailors, and soldiers in their bright red uniforms shouted and gunshots sounded, but neither werewolf paid them any attention. A few firm shoves to those who stood in their way and the path to freedom was cleared.
They vaulted over the side of the ship, plunging feet-first into the freezing waters below. In this region of the world, spring was just around the corner, but for now, winter still held a tight grip over this newly settled country.
The cold sobered him just long enough to fight back the shift. Beneath the surface, however, he could see Adam struggling. Bubbles of air escaped from his tightened lips as his human form gave way to the beast. His son sank deeper into the murky bay, thrashing and rolling.
With his lungs burning for air, Geoffrey dove down as the ship continued along its course. The shouts and alarms died away and the bullets that whizzed past lost their momentum in the water. His hands frantically grabbed for Adam’s thick arm that was now covered in hair just as his son was regaining some level of consciousness.
The shift was complete and as they struggled their way toward the direction of the shore, only his torn clothes drifted to the seafloor. When their heads broke the surface, both gasped for air. One human mouth and one wolf-like muzzle gaped and swallowed a bit of brackish water as they fought the waves that tried to sweep them under again.
Orienting themselves only by the ship that made its way toward Sydney Cove, they turned to the north and swam across the width of Port Jackson. Soon enough, Geoffrey’s bare feet slammed against the sand as they approached a beach near the head of another cove.
Adam wasted no time and charged up the shore to shake out his fur. Geoffrey, however, dragged himself onto the bank, feeling the sharp rocks and bits of broken shell prick across his skin. Fatigued by the long swim that was made even more laborious by the hunger clamping his stomach like a vice, he could barely bring himself to move. The surf washed around him as Adam patiently waited for his father. In the course of the shift, the cuffs of their shackles had splintered and fallen away. Adam’s set were now at the bottom of the bay, and Geoffrey’s would soon sink into the damp sand of the beach to lie undisturbed for God only knew how long.
As if his half-man, half-wolf form gave him renewed strength, Adam seemed undaunted by their escape or their near-drowning experience. If he had the strength to form words, Geoffrey might have cursed the boy for his inexhaustible vitality.
Slowly, his energy was restored, but he first assessed his surroundings as he always did before commencing the shift. There wasn’t another human along the beach, or in the dense woods behind Adam that stretched on immeasurably to the north. This country, wild and untamed by any European influence, was the final piece of the map, the last frontier on the earth to be claimed and molded into whatever England wanted it to be. Whether that was forever a penal colony made up of soldiers and convicts, or a lively, sprawling civilization was yet to be determined. Sydney might become the new London with time.
But for now, this was the place that Adam wanted to explore and discover. It wasn’t the last place left to be surveyed by a Swenson, but Geoffrey’s son was convinced that they should continue the adventure that began centuries ago. Only, one member of their expedition was forever lost, and because of that, Geoffrey didn’t necessarily agree. But he had given into his son, thinking such compliance was due to him after decades of training and isolation.
Geoffrey sat up on his elbows and looked up to the moon and stars above. It was the same sky that blanketed the night over England, but perhaps there was something to what Adam expected out of this idiotic journey. Maybe they would discover something worthwhile in these uncharted forests.
He pushed himself up and with aching effort, shedding the last of his clothes to shift.
Adam had never welcomed a shift more eagerly in his life. His wolf, as docile and accepting as it was at times, could not be reasoned with while onboard the Matilda. Impatient and frantic, it would not bear the internment any longer. Shifting underwater was a new experience, just as laying sprawled across this unevenly shady spot atop a waterfall was.
The morning sun warmed parts of his back as the thin canopy of leaves above him swayed in the wind. This country, untouched by the settlers that presided to the south, was unlike anything he had encountered in the place he was born or in England.
The myriad of scents was entirely foreign. The birdsongs that first awoke him some time ago were completely different in pitch and melody than he had ever heard. Even the rock on which he stretched was new and strange in its coloration. Glistening with the steady, but faint stream of water that flowed down to join the pool about a dozen feet below, the stone was a marbling of red, orange, and dark golden hues that stood out amongst the rich green foliage around him.
Where his father was couldn’t be determined from where Adam lay. His stomach was too full of the game they had hunted the night before. He would never regret stuffing himself beyond what was sensible at the time. Neither would he regret convincing Geoffrey to come to New South Wales. The long voyage on the ship was worth it, even until the end when their imprisonment could no longer be borne.
They had planned to help the colony thrive in what way they could, and when their seven-year internment was finished, they would find some land of their own if they liked the place well enough. And just from what little they had seen so far, Adam liked it quite a lot. It wasn’t like his home territory in America, with its unforgiving, dry deserts and high cliffs, but it was far from the grassy pastures of England where one could never escape from the subtle hints of habitation that floated on the winds from the bigger cities.
There was one scent, though, one trace signature of something familiar close by. Masked by the wilderness, he could still detect the presence of humans. Somewhere down the stream from where the waterfall originated, he could hear them scurrying in the brush, making their way closer. By the minimal impression the moving bodies made upon the thick forest they waded through, Adam guessed they must have been children. Two of them.
He stayed perfectly still with his eyes fixed on the rippling waters below and chin resting upon his arms, waiting for them to make their presence fully known. But they stayed in the bushes and whispered to one another in a language that he couldn’t begin to understand. It certainly wasn’t English.
After a few moments, there came perfect silence and Adam wondered if he had imagined them, or if they had slunk away, thinking he was dead or asleep.
Risking himself, he turned and peered in their direction. No movement, but he could finally hear their tiny hearts beat a little faster. Through the leaves, he could see them. Skin as black as the slaves he had seen in England, with hair and eyes to match. The only bit of color – or lack thereof – was in the whites of their eyes that stared at him from the safety of their cover.
Another thing he noticed was that they were as naked as he was. Adam still wasn’t sure what he would do for clothing now that he was back in his human form. And perhaps that’s what made them curious. He wasn’t fair-skinned like the other Europeans that they must have met already, but he wasn’t as dark as they were. Whatever they thought, Adam knew they weren’t afraid.
Even when he pushed himself up and sat on the rock, they didn’t budge. Though, they had to know that he knew they were there. Still, they didn’t run.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said to them, holding up his hands to show that he had no weapons.
But this speech was what drove them to finally run away, fleeing deeper into the woodlands, leaving little evidence of their presence besides their scents on the branches they pushed aside. Adam, just as curious as they were, took off after them.
Soon, he realized it was a game. When they darted behind a cluster of trees, they would stop and watch for him. Of course, he played along and pretended not to know where they were. When they sped away again, giggling and muttering in those animated words again, he ran after them, always staying a good distance behind.
They came to a piece of land that was cleared of all underbrush. Only tall trees with smooth trunks and twisted branches provided ample shade across the lush, but slightly rocky, terrain. To the north, there ran a great body of water, perhaps another bay or a cove.
Now, he could see the boys bounding off, the rough, faded bottoms of their feet kicking up dirt as they went. There was nowhere to hide now, but they didn’t seem worried by that. Adam watched them run, weaving between the trees toward the other end of the turf where the forest continued. But he was no longer concerned with them.
The back of his head tingled, alerting him to the presence of another like him. Another werewolf. It had to be his father, but he couldn’t pick up his scent anywhere. He followed the sensation, listening to the nudges that his wolf provided. But what he found was not Geoffrey. Across another expanse of jungle and through two more fields like the one he had just passed, he saw it.
A hut with a thatched roof made of the tall grasses that skirted the riverbanks, and walls plastered with dark mud, stood between a grouping of trees whose stalks appeared to have no bark at all and gleamed in the sunlight.
Adam stayed out of sight from the opening to the hut. Inside, was the werewolf, somehow oblivious to his being there. He should have been feeling the same prickling across his skin or at least heard his approach. But he didn’t come out of the hut.
It was then he saw the two natives – both he now realized to be boys, since they came out from the brush ahead of him – run forward and enter the hut. They shouted at the werewolf in gleeful, excited tones. A few seconds later, they were guiding him by the hands, nearly dragging him out of his home.
Adam peered at the man, carefully assessing him and wondering if this could be the werewolf he sensed. He was European with light brown hair dominated by streaks of silver and gray that matched the beard he must have been growing for some time. His body had seen better days, like a man who was once fit and powerful, but had been reduced to a life of relative inactivity. His clothes, darkened by dirt stains, hung off his frame like they were too big for him, but Adam could see the slight curves of lean muscle.
His eyes, as green and bright as the vegetation that covered this part of the land, looked all about until they landed on the place where Adam had hidden himself. There was something familiar in the way his lips flattened into a grim line as he straightened and let go of the boys’ hands.
They stared at one another, both with their brows puckered in confusion.
As soon as the two native children ran off to disappear into the brush again, Adam stepped out. His nakedness didn’t seem to surprise the man.
“Do you speak English?” Adam asked, keeping his voice level and unoffending.
It seemed that the man didn’t quite hear him, but answered with a wave of his hand, beckoning him to come closer. Adam obeyed and asked his question again.
“I do,” he replied. The deep, rumbling, and slightly breaking words told him that despite the man’s aging appearance, he hadn’t lost any of his pride or confidence.
Adam allowed himself a smile. “Do you belong with the Sydney Cove settlement?” It was unlikely that the Europeans would have spread out this far already. Besides the native boys, this man was the first person he had encountered since they’d come ashore. Perhaps he was a convict that had escaped.
The question brought a glint of humor into the old man’s eyes and he shook his head. “No. Do you?”
An honest answer might have incriminated him, but something instinctively told Adam that this man could be trusted, even if his senses couldn’t. So far, there was nothing to recommend that this man was a werewolf. His build, though tall and once sturdy, wasn’t right. And why couldn’t he hear Adam the first time he spoke from across the grove? Why did he seemed surprised to learn that he was there, when he should have known he was coming minutes before the two boys rushed in.
“We just arrived last night on a transport from England,” Adam said.
The man’s gaze swept over him. “You don’t sound English.”
“It’s a long story.”
After a moment of consideration, the old man nodded and gestured toward his hut. “Well, you can tell me about it once you’re in some proper clothes. I have a spare pair of trousers you can use.”
Adam thanked him and followed him inside the hut. Furnished with a cot, table, and one stool made from similar wood he had seen in the surrounding area, the man must have lived alone, and with very few possessions. The man bent over a light crate in the corner, filled with folded clothes and thread-bare blankets, and produced a clean pair of pants which he tossed to Adam.
“What’s your name?” he asked as he tugged the fabric over his legs. Though he might have preferred to bathe himself before dressing, he didn’t want to seem rude and disappear on his host.
“Alfred Swenson,” the man replied before taking a seat on the stool that creaked under his weight.
Adam froze and stared. “Swenson?” he repeated.
Alfred took up a piece of wood and whittling blade from the table. “You heard right,” he said as he continued the carving he had been working on before Adam interrupted him.
It wasn’t possible. Even the first name was correct by the account that his father had given him years ago. Geoffrey never spoke of him except in hateful grumbles when Adam finally asked what had become of the grandfather he never knew. Little else was communicated to him besides the fact that he had abandoned his family centuries ago, leaving Geoffrey and Hugo to fend for themselves and learn how to control their remarkable abilities as werewolves. No happy memories were imparted, no wishful thinking that one day they would all be reunited. Nothing but that burning resentment that was eternally linked with his name and the crime he had committed so long ago.
“And yours?” Alfred inquired, meeting Adam’s dumbstruck expression.
The question knocked him back into the present and he fastened the last button on the trousers. “Adam… Adam Swenson.”
Alfred now mirrored his stunned guest and blinked rapidly a few times before he seemed to comprehend their connection. “Swenson?”
“You heard right.”
Both appeared just as doubtful as the other.
“Who was your father?” Alfred demanded, looking him up and down, probably searching for any hint of resemblance. He would only find it in the eyes, as most of everything else was the result of blending Navajo and English bloodlines. The color of his hair and skin straddled the line, not quite as light as his father’s, but nowhere near as dark as his mother’s, which must have been what gave Alfred cause to disbelieve.
At this, Alfred’s hands began to tremble, and he set the knife back on the table before he accidentally cut himself. By his display of shock, Adam knew it was true. This man was his grandfather.
Questions flew through his mind, too many to number or snatch from the swarm. Where could they possibly begin? Why was he here? If he wasn’t part of the settlement, then what brought him to this place? Why did he discharge the typical werewolf signal, but not retain any of the traits?
Alfred must have been struggling in a similar way. Surely, he would want to know why Adam was there. Out of all the infinite possibilities of who could have landed on the same continent, within the same span of time, somehow by chance, they finally met. The term “miracle” wasn’t bold enough. It was too weak a word to explain what had just happened here.
Before either of them could speak first, Adam heard someone else approach the grove. By the forceful steps and the way he fought through the underbrush, Adam knew it wasn’t a native. One whiff of the air just inside the hut door confirmed it.
“I’ll be right back,” he said to Alfred in a hushed tone, urging him to keep his seat.
Adam hurried out into the grove and saw his father step past the brambles. Thorns more than an inch long protruded from his thighs and hips. His skin was smeared with dirt and mud, while his dark blonde hair appeared damp with twigs sticking out from the tangles.
“Why didn’t you stay close by?” his father complained. “Where did you get the pants?”
Trying to block his view of the hut, Adam rushed forward to turn his father around. If he could usher him away fast enough, perhaps he wouldn’t see it. But something in his nervous manner must have set him off.
Geoffrey pushed past him and looked to the hut, his face wrinkling with puzzlement that quickly morphed into something like doubt. Could Alfred keep the same scent over centuries? Would Geoffrey still recognize it?
“Did you happen to see those two native boys?” Adam asked in a further attempt to distract him. “They were just here a moment ago.”
It didn’t work. Recognition dawned in his eyes and Geoffrey marched toward the hut. Adam tried to hold him back, but he might as well have been trying to detain a stampeding mustang. He grabbed for his father’s arm, but he wouldn’t be stopped.
Probably hearing his lame efforts to detain Geoffrey, Alfred appeared in the doorway. The old man went pale at the sight of his son, who was no longer a boy, but a grown man. Now, Adam could see the resemblance.
Too quick for even his eyes to see, Geoffrey charged at Alfred.
The old man fell to the ground, the younger and more incensed werewolf looming over him with golden eyes. Adam came up behind his father and finally managed to pull him away, scooping under Geoffrey’s arms to drag him a good few yards out of reach. Their strengths were equally matched as they wrestled. One trying to wrench himself free to probably kill Alfred, the other trying to save his grandfather from an enraged and bitter werewolf who had centuries of payback to administer.
Dominance, a mostly unnecessary tool to Adam, finally became beneficial in trying to apprehend Geoffrey. Like everything else, he had adopted the skill rather quickly after becoming a werewolf. His power almost rivaled that of his father, who didn’t hold back anything for the sake of the relation with whom he fought. Their dominance clashed and blanketed the grove until every creature with a beating heart within a mile was stricken with a sudden and inexplicable fear for their lives – including Alfred.
The old man pushed himself off the ground and held his broken jaw. But the more time went by, the more perplexed Adam became. He wasn’t healing. Not quickly anyway. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth as he looked and watched the two men who were yelling, flailing, and groping for one another for their own dire purposes.
Something like regret and an utter, soul-crushing grief shone behind those green eyes that all three men shared. That’s when Adam knew that something wasn’t right with Alfred. He was still a werewolf, but just barely.