I'm pleased to present my most recent published Fantasy novel, a children's fairy tale called Firefly Girl. It follows the story of Alissa, a brave girl who lives in a little village deep in the aspen woods of Sephronia and raises fireflies for the village lanterns. When the Curse comes to her village she must take a dangerous journey to reach the palace in Sephron and beg the Court Wizard for help.
Firefly Girl will be up for free on Amazon Kindle from Feb. 10th to Feb. 12th if you want to take a look, and I hope if you enjoy it you'll review it and recommend it to anyone else you think might enjoy it. Here's a sample chapter of the book to give you some idea what it's all about.
by Nate Jones
This book is dedicated with love to my nieces,
who are each and every one a Princess in my eyes.
The Grain Merchant
In a very distant land called Sephronia there is a woods. Not a dark and gloomy woods but a bright, cheerful place of airy aspen trees with white trunks and green crowns. Sunlight filters through the widely spaced groves in an emerald glow slashed by golden sunbeams, and deer and squirrels and other woodland creatures frolic beneath the leafy canopy overhead.
It is quite a large woods, blanketing hills and valleys all through the heart of Sephronia, and nestled peacefully in its own little valley deep within the woods lies the village of Erlin. In that village lives a girl named Alissa, not quite a child but not quite a young woman. Like the other girls of the village she wears her long brown hair in a braid which is wrapped around her head like a circlet and pinned neatly in place, and she has lively brown eyes that sparkle with joy.
Alissa's father is a farmer, a big strong man who raises big strong cows, letting them browse far and wide through the woods with bells on their collars. Sometimes he would ask for Alissa's help, and she would peer between the slender white trunks for signs of the black and white spotted cows he raised, ears straining for the merry tinkling of their bells. When Alissa was younger the cows had been frighteningly large, staring at her with big brown eyes, but she'd come to trust in their gentleness, and when she called for them to come with her they followed placidly.
But while Alissa was proud of her father for his prosperous herd, and glad to help when needed, she was often busy at her own work. You see, Alissa was a farmer too. And while the cows her father raised were as strong and gentle as he, the creatures she raised were as delicate and pretty as she.
For Alissa raised fireflies.
No one in Erlin could boast fireflies as fine as the daughter of Johan the farmer and Lisette the innkeeper. When a villager came to Alissa with a lantern she filled it with the largest, brightest, healthiest fireflies to be found, quite handsome insects that shone the whole night through when needed.
And you will never find a girl more diligent at the work than Alissa. With her father's help she'd built counters in front of the window sills of her bright, airy room, and lined them with wooden boxes for the fireflies to use as houses, with large cheery windows for them to peek out of, and glass bottles poking out on top where they could go and buzz in the sunshine. They were quite comfortable homes, and Alissa made certain the fireflies were never stifled.
She fed them well, too, twice a day. Once when the sun was directly overhead at noon, and once just before it set in the evening. It was nearly time to feed them now and the fireflies were making sure she knew it. They filled the glass bottles on top of their houses, buzzing at her in case she'd forgotten them.
At the moment Alissa was sitting on her bed, biting her bottom lip in concentration as she fussed with her lantern. Many in the village used thin waxed paper lanterns, since they were cheap and easy to make, but Alissa's father had given her a glass lantern of her very own. It was quite the loveliest and most precious thing she owned, and she was even more proud of it than of her small collection of dolls or her pretty festival dress. Needless to say she was quite careful with it.
But even the most careful people can break things they must use often. Luckily it was not the most difficult thing to mend, only the wire hinge on the little door at the front of the lantern. Alissa would press it against the door of one of her firefly houses and then pull both aside so she could tell the fireflies to go in or out of the lantern, which they usually did quite obediently.
She could trust her glowing friends to do as they were told most of the time, and the fireflies were quite as fond of their master as Alissa was of them. But they did delight in vexing her at times, as they were now with their loud buzzing, distracting her while she was doing work that required her to concentrate very hard. Alissa did her best to ignore them, but the fireflies would have none of that and kept up their racket.
Finally with a sigh the young girl set aside her broken lantern and flapped her hands sternly at the little insects. "That's quite enough buzzing, you'll be fed soon. Goodness so impatient . . . it's not even noon!"
Alissa had a tendency to rhyme when she was excited.
But the fireflies showed no sign of stopping buzzing about their little bottles. They really were impatient, and sometimes no more talkative than her father's cows. Alissa decided she'd best feed them early for once if they were going to make such a nuisance of themselves, and went to fetch their food. In any case today was a big day and she'd have lots of things to do, so it was probably best to get started.
The grain merchant was coming some time today, and she must help her mother and father get everything ready for when he arrived.
Fireflies ate a great many things, especially when they were still glowworms, but Alissa fed her fireflies only the best flowers she gathered in the meadows around the village. Once they'd had their fill of the pollen and nectar she gave the rest of the flowers to her mother to crush with other sweet-smelling things and put in jars around the inn, giving it a lovely scent through most of the year.
In spite of their complaining her fireflies weren't quite so hungry as they acted, and she was left with enough flowers to feed them in the evening too. She tucked them away in their own little cloth bag to keep them fresh and turned to the small plate she used as a mirror to make sure she was presentable.
Fixing the lantern would have to wait til later, for now that the fireflies were fed Alissa had other work to do. Her mother would need her help around the inn, cleaning and preparing a room and collecting food the grain merchant could take with him on his travels, and all sorts of other chores. And she'd probably need to help her father with the cows as well.
Alissa called a farewell to her fireflies as she dashed out of her room and down the hall towards the kitchen. She wasn't carrying her lantern this time, so there was no need to worry about carelessly tripping or banging it on a bookshelf. The kitchen was empty save for a pot of stew over the fire, boiling and boiling the hours until the meat was tender. Alissa crossed to the door leading out into the stableyard.
As she'd expected, her mother was over at the wash lines hanging laundry when Alissa came outside. Her mother took pride in the cleanliness of her inn, and she spent quite a bit of time washing and scrubbing when she wasn't serving guests. Laundry was an important part of that, and her mother was always particular about cleaning a room's linens after the guests had left. Sometimes before they arrived, too, if it was someone important.
This time it was the grain merchant's arrival that had her mother in such a bustle of activity, and Alissa wasn't surprised to be called over as soon as she came outside.
"Oh good, you're finished with your firefly chores," her mother said, pausing to wipe a wisp of hair out of her face. "Are they faring well?"
Alissa nodded. "Although they will insist on being impatient. I had to feed them early or they simply wouldn't quit their buzzing."
"Fireflies get like that in late spring," her mother said, which Alissa already knew. "Other creatures too, I've noticed."
Although her mother could've been talking about anyone or anything, Alissa couldn't help but wonder if those words were meant for her. She had been a little excitable of late, she supposed. But before she could ask her mother straightened, suddenly businesslike, and flapped her hands towards the forest. "All right, then. Your father would like you to go round up Bessy before the grain merchant comes. He'll be giving her in trade this year."
Alissa nodded and hurried out of the stableyard towards the edge of the forest not far away. She didn't know where Bessy was, but if she had trouble finding the heifer she could always ask the other cows. What was more important was getting to the forest quickly and enjoying every minute in it.
It was light and airy beneath the trees this time of day, awash with golden emerald light filtering through the canopy above. The forest around her village was so friendly and bright that it was hard to believe there was a Curse on the land bringing peril to the people of Sephronia.
"They should just come live here," she murmured as she hopped up on logs and stumps and craned her neck to see between the spindly white trunks stretching as far as she could see. There was no sign of cows yet, but they roamed pretty far searching for fresh grass. That wasn't a problem for Alissa since there were plenty of signs of where they'd gone for her to follow.
She skipped along the trampled path, listening to the sounds of birdsong and of small animals chittering to each other. Normally woodland creatures fell silent when humans came close, unless they were squirrels and fell into fits of scolding, but even if they didn't know Alissa yet they seemed to trust her. A few would even talk to her, although wild animals usually didn't have much to say about the dealings of humans. It was quite hard to find one who wasn't absolutely hopeless at directions, for instance.
Before too long she found a few stragglers from the herd, off to one side of the path browsing around a chrysanthemum bush. They looked over as she drew near. "Have you seen Bessy?" she asked. They stared back at her placidly, and one leaned back down to tear up another mouthful of grass. Alissa put her hands on her hips. "Hurry it up, please. I haven't the time."
After a long, thoughtful pause the oldest of the cows inclined her head towards a spot deeper in the woods, and Alissa patted her broad cheek as she slipped by. "Thank you."
Cows were more sensible in horses in some ways, and less sensible in others, but one thing you could always trust was that they knew where to find the rest of the herd. Before too long Alissa found most of her father's cows grazing in a clearing. In the middle of them, laying at rest like a queen among her subjects, Alissa found Bessy. The heifer was quite handsome and well aware of it, and Alissa had to admit, albeit sheepishly, that when Bessy was a calf she'd spoiled her rotten.
At the very least that made Bessy only too happy to scramble to her feet at Alissa's arrival, and follow Alissa quite contentedly back the way they'd come towards the village. Alissa spent that time feeling quite sad that Bessy would be going off with the grain merchant. He would treat her like a queen too, of course, and she'd produce plenty of milk for his farm, but it would still mean not seeing her anymore.
She reached back and stroked Bessy's soft nose. "Oh I will miss you," she said sadly. "Even if you are quite willful at times." The heifer looked at her with large brown eyes, but since she didn't know the grain merchant would be taking her home of course she had no idea what Alissa was talking about.
Not too long after that a piercing whistle rang through the forest and Alissa stiffened with excitement. Sure enough, through the trees behind her she saw the large, solid shape of her father approaching. She gave a happy cry and caught Bessy's head in both hands, pointing her towards the village.
"Go on home, please, and then you stay! If you're good you'll get grain instead of hay."
The heifer answered with a complacent moo and continued on towards the village, while Alissa scrambled through the woods over deadfall and between spindly aspen trunks to meet her father. When she reached him she threw herself into his arms, and he laughed and spun her around a few times before setting her down.
"I see you've found Bessy already," he said, kissing the top of her head. "Good. I'm finished with all my chores too, so we can head home together and see what your mother needs us to do."
Alissa slipped her hand into his and walked beside him back the way they'd come, following the noises of Bessy up ahead. This was her favorite thing about going out into the woods, finding her father and walking beside him wherever he was going. He always beamed like the sun when he saw her, so it must be his favorite thing too.
Back in the stableyard Alissa kept her promise to Bessy, who was waiting patiently by the stable doors, and led her into a fresh stall where she poured a few cupfuls of corn into the manger. She left the heifer to her contented munching and hurried inside to see what help her mother needed.
It turned out her mother needed a lot of help. Alissa spent the rest of the afternoon scrubbing floors, fetching items for the same list the grain merchant always ordered when he was in town, and carefully smoothing the wrinkles out of bed linens and plumping pillows. All while they worked they expected to hear a shout from the young children of the village to announce the grain merchant's arrival, or perhaps the merchant himself whistling every bit as piercingly as her father could.
But he must have been running late, because before too long the sun was lowering in the sky and not even her mother could think of any more chores to be done. She finally set Alissa to helping her bake more bread so the merchant would have more tasty meals on the way home rather than hard biscuits and jerky, while her father went out to the stables one last time to make sure the stalls where the wagon's oxen would be bedded down were clean and filled with fodder.
At long last, just when her mother was wondering aloud whether the grain merchant might not come at all that day, a shout from the edge of the village drew Alissa and her parents outside, as well as most of the other villagers. That was a few of the young children waiting by the road to be the first to glimpse the wagon. Alissa remembered when she used to wait there, but now she was older and had quite too many chores for lounging about.
Instead she stood with the adults as the large wagon creaked ponderously up the road into the village, swaying with sacks of wheat and barley stacked high over the grain merchant's head and covered with canvas tied down with rope so they wouldn't spill at a bump. The grain merchant was also swaying, his blond head drooping low over the reins as the oxen pulled the wagon up to the inn.
Normally when he arrived the grain merchant drove the wagon right to the inn's cellar door so the wheat could be unloaded, but this time he stopped just inside the stableyard and laboriously climbed down. He was a young man still, and usually quite hale and hearty, so he must be very tired from the journey. His knees nearly buckled when he reached the ground.
Alissa's father started forward to embrace the man, for they were good friends, but before he'd come too close the grain merchant shouted "Wait!" in quite an alarming way that frightened Alissa. As her father paused the other man sagged to his knees and hunched over, and his loose shirt fell away to reveal terrible boils on his neck and shoulders.
Her father yelled in dismay and leapt backwards. There were few things that could frighten him, but this was one. "The plague, the plague!" he shouted. "Stay away, stay away!" At his warning the villagers lining the fence outside the stableyard gasped and retreated back into the street.
Alissa's hands flew to her mouth as she huddled back in the doorframe. "He suffers the plague, what a terrible thing! I can't think of anything worse he could bring."
The grain merchant sagged back against the wagon wheel behind him. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. "I'm sorry, Johan. I shouldn't have brought the plague to Erlin, but I needed help. Please, please give me a bed and some food and water. I might survive it still."
Her father was a generous man, and he loved the grain merchant dearly, but the plague was such a terrible thing that it tested even the strongest friendship. He shook his head, retreating back to where Alissa and her mother stood while shaking his head. "The plague, in Erlin," he said in a low voice heavy with sadness. "The Curse has reached our little village at last."