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Description of Helga: Out of Hedgelands (Wood Cow Chronicles):
Twelve-year-old Helga has more danger in her life than most beasts her age—Wrackshee slavers after her, a vicious attack by bandits that nearly kills her, a race against dragons pursuing her, and leading a daring rebellion to save her life and rescue friends and family from the insidious WooZan. And that is just the beginning. But what do you expect when you are a young beast who just can’t see the stupid rules of the world making any sense? Helga can’t accept things as they are and ends up taking on not just one, but two all-powerful, supreme tyrants in two different realms.
Helga never intended to lead a revolution. It just sort of happened because she wouldn’t go along with the “rules of normal” that keep tyrants in power and entire societies enslaved. Beginning on a dangerous quest to solve some mysteries in her own past, Helga leads her quirky comrades on a journey that will not only forever change them, but upset ancient civilizations.
As an author, I’m drawn to eccentric, unexpected characters: those who surprise because they hear a distant galaxy, see a different music, create their own fragrance rather than get hooked on a soundtrack; the child who has her own ideas about how the emperor is dressed; the lunatics and rebels who tell stories on the boundaries. Helga’s unusual story will take readers to worlds they never imagined—definitely a whole new ride.
Time and again, the unconventional heroine and her eccentric comrades overcome ominous tyrants and black-hearted slavers, not by battling to the last beast standing, but by being the first beast to think differently.
Helga: Out of Hedgelands is divided into three books which introduce the epic saga of the Wood Cow clan and their role in overturning centuries of slavery and tyranny. This story will continue in additional volumes of the Wood Cow Chronicles now in development. Over the series of current and future volumes, the entire history of the Wood Cow clan, the fall of Maev Astuté, and the coming of Lord Farseeker to the Outer Rings, will be told.
Since completing the Lord of the Rings trilogy in college, I’ve looked forward to a fantasy series that exhibited the potential to keep me up reading well past my bed time. Helga, Out of Hedgelands, did just that. – Amazon Reviewer
Absolutely phenomenal book . . . J K Rowling step aside!! I can’t wait to read Book Two!! Creativity abounds, excitement rips through each page. It doesn’t get better than this! Helga needs to become a classic! – Amazon Reviewer
Rick Johnson has created a new world, filled with characters whom I would love to meet, to watch, to emulate, and to avoid! His descriptions of the “animals,” so human in their behavior and emotions, made it possible to visualize every scene, every exchange of dialogue, and to yearn for a screenwriter to take the next step so this book might someday be made into a big-screen movie. – Amazon Reviewer
Amazon Reader Reviews:
Helga: Out of Hedgelands (Wood Cow Chronicles) currently has a Amazon reader review rating of 4.6 stars, with 8 reviews! Read the reviews here!
Helga: Out of Hedgelands (Wood Cow Chronicles) is available for purchase at:
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Excerpt from Helga: Out of Hedgelands (Wood Cow Chronicles):
The Drownlands wharf, shrouded in one of its legendary fogs, swirled with activity in the first pale light of dawn. Fish oil lanterns cast a faint, but serviceable, glow through the fog. Swarms of boats and canoes rocked and swayed on mooring ropes along the docks. Odors of musty canvas and damp wood mingled with pungent smells of fish, crayfish, and frogs being unloaded from fishing boats. Traders haggled with peddlers or bet their luck against cardsharps. Coins rattled in the tin cups of vendors hawking frog-fritters and hot Stinger Cider.
On the landside of the wharf, galley beasts in the station house scurried about making breakfast for dockworkers and wayfarers. The aroma of frying catfish, simmering beans and baking cornbread attracted sweaty dock laborers, whooping and hollering as they collapsed into chairs around tables to take a break. A crude Otter ferry pilot, little used to niceties and finery, lifted his bowl and dribbled the last of his corn mush into his mouth, licking the bowl out with a loud slurping. Wiping his mouth on his coat sleeve, the Otter looked wildly about for a galley beast to bring him more food. Banging his bowl on the table, he roared, “Yawp! Yo, Hollos! Where’s ma fish on’a plank? Where’s ma muff and crusts? Raise me some Tabasco and galley cheer! Ha! The bell will be tollin’ for me afore I’m full, at this rate. Yo, Hollos! Jump it over here!”
The rowdy Otter, howling and hollering to be served, flicked out a sharp skinning knife and sent it flying across the room. THWANNG! The blade buried itself in the timber just above the galley door. “Yawp! Yo, Hollos! That’ll be a kindly request for ma galley cheer! Ho! Ho! Ho!” Galley beasts dashed under the quivering blade, rattling plates and bowls as they scrambled to bring him his breakfast.
But the Drownlands wharf—the frontier gateway between the rough Drownlands wilderness and the tidy settlements of the Rounds—was a place of mixing and transitions of many kinds. Not all were rubes and roughnecks. At a quiet table in the corner of the room, a party of travelers calmly finished breakfast and left to catch the running-wagon that was about to leave the station.
Just outside, Livery Rats scrambled to prepare the Drownlands Weekly for departure. Travelers loaded quickly as burly Dock Squirrels tossed bags and trunks into the rooftop luggage rack. As soon as the baggage was loaded, the Weekly rolled away from the station with creaking timbers and rattling brass, its freshly serviced wheels smelling strongly of snake grease.
Bouncing along the bare track leading away from the Drownlands station, the Weekly rumbled through the sparsely settled frontier of the Rounds. Except for the Weekly and a few cargo wagons, the bone-jarring road was little used. A river of mud when it rained and a dust-choked washboard of ruts in the dry season, the many stones in the Cutoff road gave its only predictable surface.
Three of the passengers in the Weekly on this particular spring day were creatures we will hear much about in this account of former days. There was a strongly muscled young Wood Cow with soft, thick hair and a lively face. Dressed after the manner of her clan—long barkweave jacket and leggings, lizardskin boots, forest green linen shirt—Helga dozed fitfully, her head lolling against the jostling headboard. Although exhausted by her long journey, a smile played across her face. The sound of the rumbling wagon assured her that she was, indeed, at long last coming home.
Helga’s father, called Breister, bounced and swayed beside her. He had strong proportions, but was somewhat short for a Wood Cow, being barely taller than his daughter. His broad-brimmed hat, tilted forward, hid his face somewhat. The bushy beard and long tangled hair flowing over his shoulders somehow seemed to amplify the keen, proud look in his eyes. Peering out from under his hat brim, he watched the countryside passing outside the window.
Leaning against Breister sat a powerfully built female Wood Cow. Fine lines and strong features gave her face a handsome look and ample hair spilled out from under her hat. Her eyes were astonishingly black, like polished obsidian, but with red flecks seeming to sparkle within them. A spirit of pugnacious determination seemed to be written everywhere in her manner, even as a kindly smile betrayed the softness of her heart. This was Helbara, Helga’s mother.
As the running-wagon proceeded, little by little Breister noticed more and more creatures gathering, lining the road on both sides. Farmers, laborers, shopkeepers, peddlers and traders, old and young—Roundies of every size and age crowded the roadways, surging around the running-wagon, shouting their welcome to Helga.
“He-ho, Helga! Mampta-He-O! Jurrah!”
On every side, there were cheers and shouts of greeting. Breister had expected a warm welcome back to the Rounds for Helga, but nothing like this.
“What’s going on?” Helga asked, blinking sleep from her eyes.
“Look!” Helbara pointed. “In the name of the Ancients, see what is happening.”
The running-wagon gradually came to a stop amidst the immense crowd surging around it, blocking the road.
Dismounting, Helga climbed to the top of the luggage rack where she could see her friends more fully. Taking off her wide-brimmed hat, she waved it high over her head in greeting. As her eyes scanned across the welcoming crowd, she caught sight of old friends and memories flashed through her mind…
There was Mianney Mayoyo; her two pet lizards perched on her shoulder. A tough and wild-eyed River Cat, Mianney lived alone in a shack perched high on poles in the Deep Springs River. Thought to be half-savage, with strange-smelling smokes always drifting from her cabin, some avoided Mianney. But despite her fierce appearance and hermit-like ways, many called her a healer. To Helga she was a savior. Ten years before, Mianney had wakened in the middle of the night to the loud shouts of two Trapper Dogs. They had found five-year-old Helga, sobbing and lost, thrashing through the shallows near Mianney’s shack.
Standing behind Mianney was Picaroo “Pickles” DiArdo—one of the Trapper Dogs that had pulled Helga from the river that night ten years before. It was almost surprising for Helga to see him standing in the crowd. Pickles nearly lived in the long birch bark canoe with the high vaulted prow that he and his partner, Lupes Lupinio, used for travel in the backwoods, checking their snake traps. Helga well remembered the smell of the cool, damp canoe bottom where she sat among the musty-sweet bales of snakeskins. She remembered Pickles’ long brown arms, scarred from poisonous snakebites he had survived, paddling the canoe with a gentle rocking of his shoulders. He still wore the loosely tied kerchief around his neck, and was even more a bushy mass of whiskers than Helga had remembered.
“Ra-Zoo, Helga! Huncha to mi round!” The shout was from Neppy Perquat, her old friend from school days. Helga smiled as she recalled staying with Neppy and his family when she first arrived in the Rounds. Such kindness they had shown: the flatcakes for breakfast…the Old Bunge accent in the family’s speech, so unusual in the Rounds…the bright red carpet bag Neppy’s mother gave Helga to carry her things in when she left the Perquat’s to move in with the Abblegurt’s who adopted her.
Even Miss Edna Note, Helga’s old flute teacher, who had never been satisfied with Helga’s playing on the pronghorn flute, was among those welcoming Helga home. Pausing at the edge of the crowd, the graying Badger waited as if uncertain whether Helga would notice her. Helga, however, immediately recognized the figure in the familiar brightly flowered calico dress and matching bonnet. Wrinkled and thin, but still vigorous, Miss Note waved softly at Helga as their eyes met.
Helga smiled as she returned her old teacher’s uncertain gaze. Under that gaze, however, Helga’s eyes filled with tears, altering her sight. Through her blurred vision she seemed to see Miss Note playing her flute far away…long ago…
~ ~ ~
Tangled snags of fallen trees and piles of debris littered the riverbank. Floating along, exhausted, half-submerged, Helbara grabbed a protruding branch to rest a moment. Remaining low in the water with her small daughter, Helga, clinging to her back, she pulled herself in among the dense reeds and willows surrounding the fallen tree. Except for the soft gurgling of the Deep Springs River—its water colored bronze in the light of the orange moon overhead—the warm night was ominously quiet. Struggling to control the harsh rasping of her ragged breathing, Helbara knew she could not rest long. “Help us, Ancient Ones,” she breathed, as the glint of moonlight caught on more and more points of polished metal rounding the riverbend not more than a hundred yards away. Her mind worked in frantic desperation as she watched what almost seemed to be clouds of ghostly fireflies approaching from up the river.
She hardly had time to think, however, before Helga’s grip on her neck tightened. Their pursuers were drawing near. “Snake-bloods, Mama! Now what?” her five-year-old daughter whispered urgently.
“Shee’wheet, Helga, Shee’wheet,” Helbara whispered. “Yes, I see them. The Wrackshees will soon be here. Be still. Ever so quiet.”
Six heavily-armed Wrackshees, kneeling in individual kayaks made of tightly-woven reeds, paddled silently toward them. The once-faint outlines of the Wrackshee slave hunters steadily grew more distinct as they approached. Their beeline course on the wide river seemed to be zeroing in on Helbara’s hiding place. She realized she could not risk further movement above water—the Wrackshees were now too close.
Shaking the reeds as little as possible, she pulled herself and Helga further back among the reeds until only small cracks were left to peer through. Sensing Helga’s rising terror, Helbara softly whispered an old lullaby to her daughter, trying to calm her: “Shee’wheet, Sweet-Leaf, Shee’wheet…Shee’wheet, Sweet-Leaf, Shee’wheet…”
Her own heart banging in her chest, Helbara watched the Wrackshee kayaks approaching relentlessly. Moonlight clearly revealed the albino Wolf in the lead kayak—small in stature, abnormally flattened face, thick-necked, with a large moustache. She shuddered. Six kayaks. One Wolf and five Weasels. Somewhere behind them, many more. If she and Helga were discovered, what resistance could they offer?
Suddenly the kayaks slowed, pausing about twenty yards away—close enough that the Wrackshees’ awful stench covered the area with a suffocating blanket. Using only hand signals to communicate, the slavers silently peered here and there for any sign of their prey. The razor-sharp tips of dozens of small throwing lances, carried on bandoliers slung over the Wrackshees’ shoulders, shone red in the moonlight. Helbara knew that terrible things happened to beasts hit by those poisoned tips—going mad with thirst, eyes bugging, bleeding the color of grass. Each time the gaze of a Wrackshee seemed to fix on the spot where they were concealed, Helbara trembled on the edge of panicked flight. To do so, however, would mean certain capture or death. They were trapped. With every ounce of inner strength, Helbara held her panic in check.
Helga: Out of Hedgelands (Wood Cow Chronicles) is available for purchase at:
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