So here’s some fun news – I’ve been involved with a large group of creatives over the past few months on a collection of short stories. The ebook, called Beyond the Gate: Stories from the World of the Dream Engine, went live November 11th and can be found for FREE at any of the following links:

Amazon | | Kobo | Apple | Nook

The anthology features short stories from 23 authors who come from all walks of life and corners of the globe. You can find out more about how the book came about, learn more about the authors behind it and see what else they have in store by heading over to Blunderbuss World.

Here is a (not so) short excerpt from my story.

Fog-born, Shifty and on the Fringe

by Rob Laman

Reynaert Bedrieger stepped out from the Fog and onto the path that wound through the verdant woods. Wayfarers who stepped off the twisted path soon regretted it, as the foliage was a dense muddle of trees, vines and undergrowth that could quickly derail a journey, leaving a traveller hopelessly lost. But Reynaert knew his way about these forests and through the Fog for that matter. Though his home was a stronghold a short walk through the trees and down the path towards the seaside, he was Fog-born. The Fog and the forest were where he was his truest self.

He leaned easily against a giant, sprawling oak stroking the small, tidy beard of silvery grey that terminated in a point just below his chin. And though the beard betrayed his maturity, his hair had remained the rusty, coppery shade that women had always envied. In truth, his beard and moustache had been white almost from the time they first appeared. Combined with his lean, wiry form, his facial hair had always lent him an air of dignity, and authority which he enjoyed and used to full advantage.

Though he had no fear of the Fog and ventured in and out at will there was one thing about it he had never enjoyed. The clamminess always left him wanting to curl up in a patch of sun to warm and dry himself after he had spent time within. Indeed, even now as he stood waiting, he could feel the dampness of his shirt and the tunic that covered it. He looked down and saw beads of water on his jodhpurs and noticed the felt spats secured over his tall brown boots were dark with moisture. The black long coat he wore which fell just short of the ground helped to keep the chill off, but like the rest of him, it too was damp. He positioned himself into a beam of sunlight that cut through the canopy of treetops, enjoying the rays while he waited. After a time in the warm glow of the sun he was mostly dry and feeling at ease again.

Soon, just as anticipated, Bruin DeBruut came lumbering down the path towards him. The man stood a full head taller than Reynaert, with arms and legs thick as the branches of the oak against which Reynaert now leaned. Big and strong, this was a man who earned his living with physical toil, though his ample gut, which spilled over his belt, also told of a man who enjoyed his meals and clearly didn’t miss many. Where Reynaert’s moustache and beard were trim and precise, this man’s chin was bare though a pair of bushy mutton chops spilled down from his ears to cover his cheeks and converge on his upper lip. Over a dingy white shirt he wore a beige vest with brown leather fasteners that looked near bursting at any moment.

“Greetings, Bruin DeBruut. May the sun warm your shoulders and guide you by day.”

The great hulk of a man pulled up short, confusion covering his face, squinting at Reynaert through narrowed eyes. Reynaert, reading the surprise on the man’s rugged face, grinned.

“Lord Reynaert Bedreiger,” came Bruin’s automatic reply, completing the formal greeting, “may the moon ever brighten your path by night and the Fog ever be at your back.”

“And what is it that brings you to Manpertuus on this glorious morning?” Reynaert inquired, his eyes shining and the grin still playing at the corners of his mouth.

“We are near your home then? Castle Manpertuus is close by?”

“Why yes, how rude of me. Walk with me. We are but a few paces away. We shall refresh ourselves and then you can tell me why you have journeyed to my little corner of our world.”

Bruin took a step forward and then stopped. He again looked perplexed but this time it appeared he was debating something internally.

“Lord Bedrieger, I am here on official business of the Honorable Chancellor Hermine Leeuw. She demands that you appear for a Gathering to face charges against you made by a number of citizens of the Fringe. The Gathering is to be held in five days time at the Chancellor’s estate by the sea; you are to come with me, sir.”

Now Reynaert grinned broadly, a smile full of confidence and laughter. Internally he was concerned about these charges. Who was behind them and what could they be that the Chancellor had sent this man to retrieve him? Had the Chancellor finally grown weary of his foibles? Still, there was no need for this great oaf to witness his worries.

“Oh Bruin, it does my heart well to know that the Chancellor holds you in such high esteem as to dispatch you to protect me during my travels. Though it would seem to me your talents are being dramatically under-utilized. A strong, sharp man such as you should be leading the Chancellor’s guardsmen, not acting as courier. But come, where are my manners? Let us find comfort in my home. Your trip from the Chancellor’s estate must have you exhausted. Hungry too I suppose, a stout man like you.”

Bruin remained rooted in place, his face now conflicted.

“Lord Ysingrijn and his wife, the Lady Daciana Ysingrijn, have leveled serious charges against you, sir.” Bruin recited the clearly practiced words, all the while absent-mindedly pawing at a bag of coins that hung from his belt. “I’ve been reminded of your guile; you’ll not distract me from my task. I am to bring you back to them immediately.”

Reynaert paused only a moment to reflect on what Bruin had just said, then answered quickly, “Yes, yes, of course my dear Bruin. I wouldn’t want to see you incur the Chancellor’s wrath for my affairs. But come; let us first refresh ourselves at Castle Manpertuus. Surely you’re not expected to travel so far without any pause for rest or nourishment, am I right?”

Bruin squinted at Reynaert, the cogs in his head, such as they were, turning, processing. Reynaert could see that he hadn’t entirely won the great man over yet.

“Come friend. We’ll be quick. A mug of honey mead, perhaps some fresh berries and some salmon chowder.”

Now a pained look quarrelled with near bliss on the giant man’s face. He swayed his great head about as if searching for a solution in the surrounding foliage. Reynaert laid the last bit of bait.

“You can relax this evening, have a good long sleep, and we’ll leave immediately when you wake.”

“I do suppose we needn’t rush off tonight,” replied Bruin, shifting his immense weight back and forth from one foot to the other.

“Exactly. I can see by the way you shuffle so that your feet ache. The journey is long and one must be rested before undertaking it. Oh, I’m certain one as burly as you could turn on your heels and return from whence you came. But I am further in my years than you and need the rest. Come; let us feast. We’ll begin the trip after we’ve slept.”

“Now that I’ve found you, I don’t imagine there is a need to hurry,” Bruin reasoned, stretching his back and rubbing his considerable paunch.

Bruin was still wary but Reynaert could see that he had won the man over. They would sup and sleep before undertaking the journey. Reynaert set off at a brisk pace, speaking breezily over his shoulder.

“Most excellent! Come; follow me. And now friend, tell me what news you bring from Hermine’s court? Have you stories of scandal and betrayal? Do share the gossip, as it has been ever so long since I have had a visitor. And tell me, since you have seen her so recently, how is Daciana? Still as stunning and conniving as ever? I’m certain she’ll be the death of Lord Ysingrijn, always prodding him towards trouble. Manpertuus is just ahead. I can’t recall; have you been? I think you’ll be quite taken by the work I’ve done to modernize it. It was always so dank and dreary with its stone walls and dull turrets. You’d be amazed at what some copper plating on the tower roof and proper trim work can do to spruce up a place.”

Reynaert glanced back at Bruin who was struggling to keep pace and appeared to be somewhat overwhelmed by the flurry of questions and commentary.

“This way, Bruin, my friend. Bear with me; we are almost to my property. You’ll soon find refreshment from your journey.”

Reynaert quickly padded down the winding path, speaking over his shoulder to Bruin as he went so the large man could follow the sound of his voice. Though he was younger and stronger, the toll of the long trip and his hefty midsection meant Bruin was falling further behind as his gait began to fail.

“Keep up friend,” Reynaert called back with a laugh. “These woods can confuse even the most clever stranger to them and methinks that is not you. I know you must be exhausted, Bruin; soon you will rest.”

To read more about Reynaert, Bruin and a whole host of other characters, pick up Beyond The Gate: Stories from the World of the Dream Engine, available for FREE at the following locations:

Amazon | | Kobo | Apple | Nook

If you enjoyed the stories please consider leaving a review at your ebook retailer or over at Goodreads.