Chapter One: Ten Gold Coins by Joni Parker

 Title: Ten Gold Coins: Book Two of the Golden Harvest Series
Author: Joni Parker
Publication Date: March 3, 2024
Pages: 354
Genre: Fantasy/Scifi

Lady Alexin (Alex), the Keeper of the Keys for the Elfin Council of Elders, returns home to Eledon to help her grandmother clean out the warehouse, but she’s kidnapped and forced to use the magical Keys of Eledon in a series of life-or-death missions with consequences that span across the realms. Her captor, Lord Fissure of the Rock Elves, demands her magical help, but once he’s done with her, he turns her over to the Marsh Elf Sawgrass, a criminal, who sends her into the treacherous depths of Hades’ kingdom in the Underworld for his own benefit. To save herself, Alex calls upon the powers of Poseidon, but he enlists her help with the Golden Harvest for Olympus before the Mentors arrive. His brothers, Zeus and Hades, are the only ones who know where the gold is stored, so Alex follows their trail into the mortal world, only to find they aren’t ready to return. What must she do to get them back to Olympus so she can return home to Eledon?

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Chapter One:

Cleaning out the warehouse wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for my vacation, but my grandmother thought it was a great idea. Several years ago, my grandparent’s house in the Elf city of Meridian had burned down, but the contents in the basement had been spared and moved to a local warehouse. No one knew how the fire started, but I suspected arson, especially after someone reported seeing a group of Rock Elves nearby. 

The Rock Elves had this vendetta against me—I guess because I had one against them. They had yet to provide one knot of actual gold for the Golden Harvest, even though they were supposed to be the Elfin experts on mining. Go figure. They claimed they couldn’t provide any gold because they were too busy moving from Tulon on the southern continent of Sudin to Nexus Island. Come on. It wasn’t that far, and they had nearly 4,000 years to prepare for this Golden Harvest, just like the rest of us. So, I didn’t buy their excuses. 

And the Mentors arrived early to collect our gold because of them and the Star Elves, after they tried to steal our stored gold. We already told the Mentors we didn’t have the full amount, but they came to stop anyone from trying something else. The Mentors’ ships showed up slowly at first, but now, there were a dozen or more in our skies every morning. 

Since the Mentors didn’t need my help with this phase of the Harvest, my grandmother thought it was a perfect time to empty the warehouse. She assumed the leadership role of our inventory team. Lady Anteron, a Crystal Elf and the Antiquarian for the Council of Elders, and my grandmother would inventory the items, while I opened the boxes and moved them around. In addition, we had help from Vortex and Scala, two androids given to me for my heroic acts on the planet of Oltria. They had proven to be a godsend to my grandmother, who had trouble taking care of our house by herself. In the warehouse, they would provide whatever manual labor we needed to move our stuff around. My grandmother estimated the warehouse project would only take a week. Famous last words…

Whenever we finish, I will then have time to kick back and relax before I return to the mortal world. I really needed to decorate my new flat. I had bought it with the help of Andrew Miller, my manager, and the owner of the modeling studio I work for. I knew nothing about buying property in the mortal world, but Andrew did. He had dabbled in real estate before he got into the fashion business years ago. He even had the previous owner leave all his furniture in the flat since I didn’t have any. The only problem was the color scheme, which was white with brown and gray accents. I needed more color.

My vacation was scheduled to last three months until the end of August, which was longer than normal, because my mortal boss, Étienne, a world-famous fashion designer in Paris, and his boyfriend, Philippe, got married on June the first, followed by a long honeymoon to some tropical island I’d never heard of. To get the time off, we crammed six months of work into three after finishing the spring show in February. We stored the fashion collection in a vault, only to be opened on September first, three weeks before the fall show, but with enough time to make any necessary changes and adjustments. 

On June the first, Étienne and Philippe held the largest wedding I’d ever been to. There were thousands of guests, with celebrities and non-celebrities alike in attendance, and with extensive press coverage. It was the social event of the season in Paris. The next day, the ecstatic newlyweds left for their honeymoon, while I went to my flat in London. I lived there because it was closer to the portal I used to get back home to Eledon, and I wasn’t fluent in French. 

I arrived late in London on the Eurostar, the bullet train from Paris, and spent the night in my flat. Early the next morning, I jogged to Hyde Park with my travel bag and strolled over to the bushes where the portal to Eledon was hidden. After I made sure no one was around, I said the spell to make the portal appear and stepped through the glowing white arch. I closed it quickly to prevent unwanted visitors from wandering in. It happened before.

The sun was just rising over the horizon in Eledon as I strolled through the meadow near the Council building. It was one of the largest structures in the city of Meridian, measuring two hundred feet across and another two hundred feet high. It looked like a giant white cube with a pyramid on top that housed the huge crystal needed to communicate with our Mentors, the Elf guides. The Council of Elders had twelve members, the most powerful Elves in Eledon, which included my grandfather, Lord Odin. Not only did they govern the Elves, but they also kept in touch with the Mentors every day. I was a staff member for the Council, the Keeper of the Keys, the youngest one ever selected and the first woman.

Sunrise was my favorite time of day because it was so quiet. As I stared up the hill at my grandparent’s house, I hardly recognized it. The two-story house had been painted beige with green and black highlights while I was gone. Although it was a lovely house, it wasn’t like the old one, which had burnt down and was conveniently located across the street from the Council building. I reminisced about the good old days as I climbed to the top of the hill.

When I strolled in, my grandparents were sitting at the dining table, eating breakfast. My grandmother got up and smiled.  

“There you are!” She kissed me on the cheek. “I’ll have Scala bring you some breakfast.” She left, so I kissed my grandfather on the cheek. My grandfather was the Tree Elf Representative on the Council of Elders, one of its senior members. He was tall, blond, and extremely handsome, looking younger than his three thousand five hundred years. He was younger than any other member, and had been on the Council for over two thousand years. A few years ago, he married my grandmother, Lady Lestin of the Water Elves, and became my grandfather. I had known him all my life since he delivered me when I was born. 

My grandmother was one of the most beautiful women in Eledon, with blond hair and blue eyes. The only trait we shared was the color of our eyes. I was of mixed race, part Elf and part mortal—my hair was as black as coal, and my ears were rounded like a mortal. According to my grandmother, I resembled my grandfather, Themius, who was a Titan.

My grandmother returned with Scala, our android servant. Last year, I’d received three android servants as a gift from the Oltrians for saving their President’s life. I took Ratio to my brother who lived about fifty miles away, where he stayed, since my brother’s family needed the help and Ratio had been with our Oltrian family the longest, but Scala and Vortex remained with us in Meridian, taking care of my grandmother’s house. 

“Welcome back, Keeper.” Scala set a plate in front of me. She’d made me an English breakfast with eggs, bacon, beans, roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, and toast. I had shown her how to make it on my last trip home and gave her a book of recipes as a gift.

My grandmother poured me a cup of tea and sat down at the table. “So, are you ready for our historical adventure?” she asked. 

“Historical adventure?” My grandfather raised his brows. “I thought Alex came back to help you clean out the warehouse.”

“She did, but the items stored in those crates are at least a thousand years old; some may even be older.” She smiled. “We could even find some items of historical significance to donate to the museum.” 

I covered my mouth and laughed. “And why did it have to be done this month?”

“The annual renewal is due, and I can’t see paying for another year of storage.” 

“You know what? I’ll pay. How much is it?” I had some Elf coins tucked away. As the Keeper of the Keys, I received a small stipend from the Council. 

“Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t want to buy the place,” she said. “It’s an ugly building. Now, change your clothes. You’re going to get dirty in there.”

“Give me a break, Grandmother. Let me finish eating. Then I’ll be happy to help you.” 

“You’ll have plenty of time to relax later. The warehouse caretaker is expecting us in ten minutes. Go change. Now!” She strolled out of the room.

I sighed and looked over at my grandfather, who pressed his lips together to keep from laughing out loud. “What have you done to my grandmother?” I asked him, and we burst out laughing. 

“I suggest you do as she says before she casts a spell on you.” His blues eyes twinkled as he smiled.

In defeat, I raised my hands in the air. “All right. I’m going.” I stuffed the last of my breakfast in my mouth and went upstairs to change into my jungle camouflage uniform, which I had brought from the mortal world for this job. It was sturdy, warm, and wouldn’t show any dirt. I also had a pair of steel-toed boots that would be useful, manhandling the wooden crates. I got the uniform a few years ago, when I first got to the mortal world and wanted to join the British Royal Marines, but after they turned me down, the clothes remained hanging in my wardrobe, useless until now. 

When I rejoined my grandparents at the dining table, my grandmother stared at my uniform. “What kind of outfit is that?”

“It’s called a jungle camouflage uniform. Mortal soldiers wear it in the jungle, so they can blend into the background, and the enemy would have trouble seeing them.”

“I can see you perfectly,” my grandmother said. 

“We’re not in a jungle.” I smiled at her.

“By the way, here are your keys, Alex.” My grandfather slid over the leather pouch holding the magical Keys of Eledon.

“Can’t you hold them while I’m working in the warehouse, Grandfather?” 

“It’s your job. I told you I would hold them when you’re NOT here.” My grandfather had once been the Keeper, so he knew what to do if I was gone. But even he didn’t know their full magical abilities until I found out.

Over the years, I learned the keys were part of the maintenance system for Eledon. Our Mentors, the Elf guides, created this land for us when we were forced to leave Earth. We lived inside of a globe on a flat surface somewhere in space. We knew very little about our globe—we didn’t know if we orbited a sun or if there were other planets around us. Our skies were artificially created by the Mentors and projected on the interior surface of our globe, copying the patterns seen on Earth. So far, none of the mortal scientists, who used to live here, could find us on any known galactic map, so no one was sure where we were. 

In addition, myths and legends surrounded the Keys of Eledon. There were thirteen of them, and one old Elf myth claimed the keys were so powerful a person could rule Eledon if he or she had them. I doubted that was true because I wasn’t even in charge of cleaning the warehouse. I picked up the leather pouch holding the keys from the table and stuffed them into a pocket on my left leg. This uniform had pockets everywhere.

“It should take us only a week or so, maybe less with Scala and Vortex helping us,” my grandmother said, trying to reassure me. “Lady Anteron will meet us at the Council building when we take your grandfather there for the morning meeting.” My grandmother reached over and placed her hand on mine. “Thank you so much for helping me, Alex.”

“You’re welcome, Grandmother. It’s my pleasure.” Okay. So, I lied a little—I wasn’t too thrilled about the project.

As we headed down the hill toward the Council building, Lady Anteron, the Council’s Antiquarian, stood on the steps waiting for us. She maintained her residence in the building since she was single and didn’t own a house in Meridian. I considered her to be part of our family because she had been engaged to my grandmother’s brother, Lord Carver of the Water Elves. He was one of the twelve Dukes in the King’s Fleet, but someone murdered him before the wedding took place. Lady Anteron had yet to find someone else to marry even though she was beautiful and kind, with long dark hair and large green eyes. 

We left my grandfather at the Council building so he could attend the morning meeting. I felt a twinge of envy as he left. I should go with him, but I had to skip the meeting, so I could… clean the warehouse. Ugh!

Vortex and Scala followed behind us. Vortex was a tall, male android with dark hair and piercing blue eyes. He had broad shoulders and powerful arms, looking like he could take someone’s head off in a fight, even though he was extraordinarily gentle. On the other hand, Scala could be testy. She was tall and thin with brown hair. Her facial features were plain, and her eyes were light blue. She did her job well even if she complained about it. I couldn’t figure out how to turn the complaint feature off, but there had to be a way. It didn’t matter. My grandmother loved them anyway, and they were a great help around the house. 

The warehouse was near the harbor about a half mile away from the Council building. We meandered through the docks, strolling past the wooden ships of the Water Elves. My cousin, Prince Darin, was the Duke of the First Seas, and protected the city of Meridian and the continent of Easton with his fleet of ships. I wasn’t sure how many he had, but over a thousand at least. 

The warehouse caretaker met us at the door. He was a short stocky Elf, wearing the clothes of a worker—sturdy britches and a blue shirt with a brown jacket and boots. He doffed his hat and bowed to us as he showed us to our section inside. 

From the outside, the warehouse looked like an old wooden barn—it probably was at one time. It had no windows, but a large barn door and a wooden floor. An old pot belly stove stood in the corner, empty and cold. My grandmother asked the caretaker to light a fire to take the chill off, but I was already removing my jacket. The cool air felt good to me.

I counted fifty wooden crates, stacked high along the wall. Vortex and Scala climbed up to get the crates from the top and brought them down. From there, I pushed them over to a spot near the stove where the ladies planned to work. I popped the lids off with a hammer and crowbar and told the two androids to bring more. As the two ladies began sorting, anything salvageable went in one stack, and items to be burned went in another. Anything questionable was set aside for a decision later. In my humble opinion, nothing was worth saving. Everything was too old.

As the ladies sorted through another crate, they ooh’d and ah’d over some old gowns, once worn by my grandmother’s mother and her mother. They liked the styles and wondered if the dressmaker could reproduce them, so they set them aside to take to the dressmaker later, since it was still too early for her to be open for business. 

The crates with men’s clothes didn’t bring a similar reaction, except for one jacket, worn by my grand-uncle on the night he proposed marriage to Lady Anteron. It meant a lot to her, so she kept it. The rest of the men’s clothes were put in the ‘to be burned’ bin.

Other crates contained old books, many of which were disintegrating, so we set those aside to be burned, and those in better condition were separated for the librarian to review. We also set aside all the old documents we found to be read by someone who could determine if they were important enough to keep. Some could be historic, as my great-great-grandfather signed them—he was once the King of the Water Elves. 

After sorting through a dozen crates, the ladies took a break for lunch and a stop at the dressmaker’s stall in the market, while I remained at the warehouse to finish sorting the crates. Vortex carried an armful of old dresses to the market for them, while Scala went to buy us lunch. They were coming back later, so we could eat lunch on the patio table nearby.  

The caretaker appeared as I threw the last armful of clothes onto a pile. “What are these, Miss Keeper?” 

Like most people, he addressed me by my title, Keeper, instead of my name. Many considered my position as Keeper of the Keys to be ceremonial, with little responsibility except to hold the magical Keys of Eledon. As time passed, I’ve found my position was hardly ceremonial and put my life in jeopardy on several occasions. 

“These clothes are to be burned, Master Caretaker.” I pointed to the stack I was building. “They’re at least a thousand years old and falling apart.” I held up a shirt and ripped the collar off with ease. 

“Is there more?” He stuffed his hands into his pockets.

“There will be. You can burn them later. We still have a lot of work to do.” I stretched my arms overhead and yawned. “Is there any water nearby?” 

“Aye, Keeper. I forgot to mention it earlier. There’s a fountain ‘round back. Good water.” He pointed to the far side of the warehouse.

As I turned away, the caretaker tackled me from behind, knocking me to the ground. I screamed as he flipped me over and covered my face with a cloth soaked in ether, a drug used by the healers for sedation. I had no desire to be sedated, and kept turning my face away from him until he leaned his arm against my head to keep me still.  

“What are you doing, Caretaker?” Why was he doing this? Was he going to rape me? Less than a year ago, I had been sexually assaulted and never wanted to go through that again. My feelings of panic escalated to anger, and I used my legs to leverage him off me. Then I scrambled to my feet. He rose and held his hands out.

“I don’t want to hurt you, Keeper. But they told me they needed you, and they’ve paid me well.” He lunged for me once more, and we tumbled to the ground.

“Who paid you?” I squirmed in his grasp and broke free. 

“Not saying.” He pushed me against the wall, so I kicked him in the balls. 

“Ow!” He covered his private parts; his eyes opened wide.

“Who paid you?” I stomped on his foot to demand an answer.

When he didn’t, I unleashed a series of punches and kicks to his body, starting with his face, his legs, and torso. He fell back and cowered, hiding his head under his arms. He wasn’t a trained soldier like me, but he was strong and durable. Even after he endured my beating, he had the strength to grab my arms to stop me, until I spun out of his grasp. 

He lunged for me again and caught me, but I tripped him, and we tumbled to the ground. A green pouch, made of soft suede, fell out of his pocket, and ten gold coins flew out onto the wooden floor.  

“What’s this? You did this for ten gold coins? You bastard!” I screamed and threw the pouch at him, forcing him to duck for cover. Then I kicked him in the chest, making him fall backwards onto the floor, giving me time to spin away for help. If I could get outside, I could run to the sailors on the ships, anchored less than a hundred feet away.  

As I ran toward the door, an enormous Elf appeared out of nowhere and blocked it. He was so tall his head brushed the top of the door opening, and so wide I couldn’t get around him. I’d never seen anyone so big in my life; he was literally the size of the barn door. Could he be a Fire Elf? No, he couldn’t be—Lord Ashur was the last of the Fire Elves. 

Before I had a chance to ask, the giant Elf swung his arm, knocking me to the ground, but when I clambered to my feet, he backhanded me, sending me tumbling across the floor. The caretaker scrambled over and placed the ether-soaked cloth over my face—I inhaled and was woozy in seconds. My world turned blurry, before I blacked out.  

About the Author:

Joni Parker was born in Chicago, Illinois, but moved the Japan when she was 8, so her father could become a professional golfer. Once he achieved his dream, Joni and her family returned to the U.S. and moved to Phoenix, Arizona. After high school, Joni served her country for 22 years in the Navy and another 7 years in federal civil service. She retired and lives in Tucson, Arizona, devoting her time to writing, reading, and watching the sunrise.

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