Sample Sunday – Heart of the Gods

Posted on Aug 28, 2011 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

I’ve loved the Egyptian Gods and early Egyptian society since I learned about it as a kid, despite the tendency of teachers to talk about the Greek/Roman pantheon. The Greeks/Romans were a better contrast of pagan beliefs to Christian than the egalitarian Egyptians. After all, what other society valued marriage as much? Why else do so many hieroglyphs and images portray both husband and wife side by side?
Okay, and  to be honest, the Mummy movies (one and two, let’s not talk about three) didn’t hurt either, even though poor Anubis got such a raw deal. I guess  a jackal head and being the god of mummification and afterlife seemed more threatening than a ‘Set animal’ or typhonic being – in other words, the first shapechanger – than Set, the god of chaos and darkness. After all, it was Set who chopped up Osiris and scattered him across Egypt. And Isis who rescued him.
That was part of the attraction – that it was Isis who rescued her beloved Osiris, and that women in Egypt were largely as autonomous as the men. They could have businesses, serve in the army, do anything and everything that men could do.
So, what was it that triggered Heart of the Gods, what made me write this story?
Like all of us, I was as intrigued by the process of mummification as the next person and there was the mythology of the Mummy movies – the person unwillingly mummified. Alive.
And then the scene that opens Heart of the Gods was in my head –

Chapter One
Egypt, 17th Year of King Narmer’s Reign, Early Dynasty
Torchlight flickered over the stone walls of the immense cavern, bathing them in a soft golden glow. That light danced over the massive figures of the Gods, giving the faces of the statues the appearance of expression. It illuminated as well the faces of the priests and priestesses gathered around the stone pedestal that served as an altar. The air was pungent with the scent of burning incense. Chanting echoed throughout the chambers, a sound that rose and fell, a low atonal hum that resonated in the bones.
Mummification had never been intended for use on the living but it was as it must be and none of those gathered there could gainsay what was about to happen. Not General Khai, nor any of the priests and priestesses of the Gods, nor even the High Priestess Irisi herself. Who were they to second-guess the Will of the Gods?
Irisi could not and would not.
It was as the prophecy had decreed however much they wished to deny it. Kahotep’s prophecy. He who was Priest of Horus, the Falcon-God, whose Eye saw everything.
“A darkness rises, oh Pharaoh, to be unleashed across the world. It comes as a shadow rising from the desert laying waste to all of Egypt, scouring the earth as it passes. Death and destruction follow in its wake, and the cries of the people of the world are terrible. From the north comes a warrior, a crowned and golden servant of the Gods with eyes like the sky, bearing swords in hand to rise up and drive the terrible darkness out of the world, and to stand against it for all time.”
That shadow had risen and the battles had been terrible. Now they had a chance, one chance, to end it. Here. Now they had a chance, one chance, to end it. Here.
Servant of the Gods. Irisi was that, she was priestess to both Isis and Sekhmet. To stand against it for all time? What was prisoned in the chamber below would live forever. And so, therefore, must she.
And so, this.
For it to have any chance at success she knew she must accept it without protest, she must give it both her Ba and Ka, her heart and soul, willingly, and so she steeled herself to face it.
There was no other way and there was no other to do it, only she, both warrior and priestess, could, however terrible it was.
Irisi knew only she must accept it without protest, willingly, if this they did were to have the slightest chance of success and so she steeled herself to face it. Even as that other below, Kamenwati, did not. He fought them, writhed and screamed in protest, in outrage. He chanted spells against them even as Awan, High Priest of Osiris, Kahotep, High Priest of Horus and Djeserit, High Priestess of Sekhmet struggled to contain him and his terrible magic. In the back of Irisi’s mind she chanted the words of the two Books she knew so well, the Book of Life, known only to the priests and priestesses of the temples…and the Book of Emerging in Daytime – what some called, wrongly, the Book of the Dead.
Of the priests and priestesses only Rensi, High Priest of Anubis and gentle Nafre, priestess of Hathor, stood with her in the upper chamber. Representatives of their Gods, each had their task. Rensi made certain the rites done this day were done as they must be to keep Irisi’s soul alive against all the odds and to preserve her body in the hope that someday she might reach the afterlife.
Nafre gave comfort to help ease her passage.
And then there was Khai, Irisi’s beloved Khai.
She looked up at him from where she lay on the cold stone of the plinth.
Her breath caught as it always did to look at him. He was so beautiful and she loved him so much. Her heart ached at the thought of leaving him.
Gleaming black hair streamed in shining waves to his shoulders and framed his strong handsome face, high cheekbones and beautiful long-lashed dark eyes. Deep within those dark brown eyes was the hint of warm gold she knew so well. There was grief in his eyes, the sure knowledge of what they were about to do. She knew what it cost him to stand aside and watch, how little he loved to feel helpless, but for once his strength and courage could avail him nothing. This was for her to do, and her alone.
She longed to touch him once again, treasured the memory of his hands on her, his body against and a part of hers. The thought was bittersweet. In that Kamenwati had succeeded, he’d kept them apart for so long. Surely the Gods wouldn’t deny her this much? In her heart of hearts she felt the sweet benediction that was the blessing of her Goddess, Isis, who, having lost her own beloved Osiris for a time, understood her fear and her pain at having to give up her own beloved.
Here, finally for this one time and with these trusted few around them, they could do as they’d wished for so long to do openly.
While Irisi had been Kamenwati’s slave that hadn’t been possible. Or while under his threat. Only that had kept Irisi away, the sure knowledge that Kamenwati would kill Khai had he but known of their love.
His lips touched hers, so warm, the feel of them firm but gentle, a soft caress.
Reaching up, Irisi touched Khai’s stern handsome face for one last time even as the sharp pain of the reeds lanced through her wrist, her ankles. She wouldn’t cry out, not looking up into that beloved face. It wasn’t in her to make him suffer any more than necessary. She loved the Gods, she loved Egypt her adopted home but above all else she loved Khai. It was only for her duty, for Egypt and its people, and the people of all the lands she’d known, that would she would leave him.
The Gods understood.
As did he.
“You are Nife-an-Ankh to me,” she whispered, “and Nomti…I love you, I will always love you. Forever.”
Breath of life and strength he was to her. Her heart.
She’d loved him from almost the first moment she’d seen him that long ago day in the desert, standing surrounded by her dead and theirs. He’d offered her honor, then, as one warrior to another. She loved him for that, for his honor, courage and for his great heart.
He was beautiful to her in all ways.
“Irisi,” he said and lowered his proud head to hers.
Khai looked down at his beloved Irisi laid out upon the altar and wanted to cry out his denial of what was to come but he could not. Leaning over her with one arm braced on the stone he touched her face, looked into her lovely eyes, at the glorious length of her hair as it spilled over the sides. So beautiful, so alive…
Breath of life and strength as she was to him as well.
Blood flowed through the reeds, her blood, drained out of her… her lifeblood. The rich coppery aroma of it filled the air, mixed with the scent of the herbs in the Water of Life as it was drawn into her.
It must be and they both knew it. She was the one who must go and he the one who must stay.
Egypt needed her only surviving General.
Irisi’s successor had already been chosen.
Slowly, he touched his lips to hers, the kiss soft as the priests and priestesses chanted around them. Her hand was warm on his face as their lips found each other. Grief lay heavy on his heart. Duty lay heavier. He couldn’t bear to let her go and yet he couldn’t keep her, however much he wished it. He, too, served the will of the Gods. And he could see no other choice, no other way.
The herbs, the potions, flowed into her, burned in her veins. Irisi fought the pain of it with warm feel of Khai’s lips, so long forbidden, on hers…and with the surge of love that washed through her.
“Irisi,” he whispered. “You are my heart.”
As he was hers but she could no longer speak the words or else break the chant that echoed endlessly in the back of her mind.
The stone of the altar was cold and the chill seemed to soak slowly into her flesh.
Around her Irisi could hear the chanting, the minds and voices of the priests and priestesses raised in support of her and of those who fought below, mixed with the drone of the Horn in the chamber far below.
It had taken some little time for Irisi to achieve the semi-trance state necessary to endure what was done, yet some of the pain and the weakness seeped through to batter at her will. As did the will of the creatures in the darkness of the chamber below – the magic of the Horn and her own will, joined to these others, was all held them there. She dared not falter.
She felt her lifeblood drain swiftly away even as she felt the embalming fluids flow in, the natron and herbs bit sharply into her veins. It burned as it went but she turned her thoughts away from it as she turned them away from the other things they did.
Her arms were folded across her breast with a hand on each shoulder and bound so tightly with lengths of linen that she could barely breathe. Her hair was coiled up as the cloth was wrapped around her throat, around her head to cover her mouth and forehead. All but her eyes.
Cold fluid brushed across her belly, followed by numbness. Something pressed just below her breastbone. There was a sense of invasion as they finished wrapping her body in the last long lengths of linen.
Warm liquid soaked her from collarbone to feet. It drenched the linen and stung sharply in the cuts they’d made.
A cry echoed from the darkness below. That, too, fell on deaf ears.
She bit back her own cries. Fought the sense of being constricted.
Remaining still by an act of will she kept her eyes focused on his dark ones, sought the gold within them, the warmth even as her own drained away. His will melded to hers, lent her the strength she needed to do this as the weakness grew within her until he stepped back as, finally, he must.
Her heart hammered in her chest, drawing in the sacred herbs, natron and fluids through her veins even as it pumped her lifeblood out. Mixed among the herbs was the blood of the one who lay below so she would be bound to him and he to her.
The last length of linen went across her eyes.  The light disappeared behind the linen to take her down into darkness.
Pain flashed, sharp, sudden, within her to leave a sense of absence, a stillness within her.
It would go quickly now and she was grateful for that.
And it did.
She felt them raise her to carry her swiftly out.
A coughing roar echoed down the tunnel that led outside. They followed that sound, she knew.
The lions, her lions…gifts of the lion-headed Goddess Sekhmet when that Goddess had turned her away and sent her to Isis’s service instead. They would come with her, to keep her company through her long duty so she wouldn’t be utterly alone.
Watching, Khai bowed his head and looked away as they tipped her up for he couldn’t watch as her linen-wrapped form slid with a splash of the Water of Life into the hollow in the stele they’d prepared for her.
He could wish this had been done in sunlight as Irisi was and always had been a creature of light and not darkness.
His light…
Grief burned. If only he could have gone in her place…
He could not, he was no priest, he had no magic, nor as Egypt’s only surviving General could he leave his country and its people undefended any more than Irisi could have refused this.
Duty and honor wouldn’t allow it.
He laid a hand against the cold stone, listened as the hammers beat above him, pounded the sealing stone into place with steady rhythmic blows so much like the sound of a heartbeat. Sealing the stele with Irisi inside it. What was it like for her in there, in the darkness filled with the Water of Life?
Like drowning.
He willed her the strength and courage to endure. Like the beat of her valiant heart, each blow of mallet on stone reverberated, echoed from the distant walls, to whisper back over the grassy hollow within them.
Above, through the narrow break in the cavern roof Khai could see the stars glitter coldly. 
Desperately, instinctively, Irisi’s lungs sought air, her body fought…even as she clung to trance, to will, to the spells in her mind, to the endless mental chanting of the words from the Book of Emerging into Daytime – the Book of the Dead.
She had to hold against the grief and the fear, the close space that enveloped her. What lay below, him and them, battered against her will.
Khai was still here, though, her beloved Khai and these others she loved, Awan, Kahotep, Djeserit, all the priests and priestesses with whom she’d served over the years. Even poor Saini in the distant chamber below, seeking his redemption, watched the last faint light disappear as the doors shut on him to seal him in among the Dark, among Them…
She could almost pity him, not knowing which of them suffered the worst fate.
Faintly, she could hear the Horn call as he blew endlessly, drawing air in through his nose, blowing out through his mouth. That sound must not falter until the doors were shut and sealed. Forever.
Beyond, outward, there was all of Egypt, all of the world. They couldn’t let what resided so restlessly within that chamber escape to lay waste over it. Not again. She couldn’t set what lay within the tomb loose upon the peoples of this world, not with what they now knew of them. Those below would devour every living thing, turn the people of the Nile, the distant peoples from which she’d come and those of all the lands where she’d served and fought as a mercenary into cattle, chattel, something to feed upon…and their feeding…the torment of it…
Horror shook her.
If they were to be free, safe, she must hold, even as her body bucked, fought for air…and so she held. It seemed an eternity and yet it was only minutes.
She remembered…and clung to her memories, lost herself in them, held them against the pain, against the cold that seeped into her. The cold and the darkness.
Alone in the dark she remembered the ones, the one, she loved and would always love.
His hand upon the stone, Khai remembered, too, remembered his beloved Irisi with her swords flashing, her hair swirling around her as she did battle that first day he’d seen her and all the days thereafter. Priestess and warrior. So lovely, strong, so seemingly indomitable. It was her laughter though, that rang in his memory most. That beautiful hair, her glorious eyes…her laughter and her joy.
In grief and sorrow he touched the face carved into the stone of the stele…laid his forehead against the cold stone forehead of it as he would do with her in life.
His fingers traced the words engraved in the stele, the chants for Coming Forth into the Day, for Going and Coming Out of the Realm of the Dead, and For Taking on Any Shape. She would need to know them.
He willed her strength and he willed her love. How did she fare within? Was her struggle over yet, had the Gods taken her, given her surcease? Were her ba and ka yet free of her body?
He looked to Awan, to Djeserit, and saw the same thoughts mirrored there in their faces.
In the darkness of the cavern far below, the great iron doors slid closed as bands of gold and silver were hammered across it to secure it with the powers of the Gods Ra and Isis. The seal, carefully balanced, was placed in its niche to enclose what lay within, hopefully forever.
The chanting did not end…it was not done, not yet.
As one, the priests and priestesses closed around the stele. Each lay their hand on the stone and willed strength to the one within. The Gods came to the one within then, all of them but Set, each to render her a gift.
Sekhmet was the last.
In the chamber below the great iron doors were closed and sealed, and she set to stand guard over it, to ensure it remained sealed, forever.
Alone through the ages to come.
Tales were told of one’s life flashing before the eyes as one died, but Irisi was not dying nor would an afterlife await her.
So many memories…
Irisi remembered…
Heart of the Gods was originally written a much larger book, but once it was written I realized it was two separate books, both intertwined. Servant of the Gods, the prequel to Heart of the Gods, will be released in September of 2011.
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Sample Sunday – Nike’s Wings

Posted on Aug 19, 2011 in strong heroine | 0 comments

Nike’s Wings
They say writers should always go places that scare them, that make demands on their skills. Nike’s Wings was one of the more difficult books I’ve ever written, for a lot of reasons. Nike came to be by way of my vivid fantasy life, an article on parkour and a song – ‘She Don’t Want the World’ by Three Doors Down.  I could see how parkour would be handy for an assassin who didn’t rely on strength or fancy weapons. That song played in the back of my head all through the scene that began it all, the moment when Ty confronts Nike at the abandoned school halfway through the book. I could see the dingy windows and smell the moldy mattresses. So Nike was born. Not only did I want to know how they got there, I wanted to know what happened next. 
I’ve written harder scenes – the one where Elon and Colath are captured in The Coming Storm, for instance – but some of Nike and Ty’s experiences were difficult. I believe you have to put yourself where your characters are, share their experiences, and to some extent at one time I sort of had.
I didn’t need to do a lot of research, I’m an avid reader of not only books but newspapers and magazines. The information on the cartels, the wall, etc., are all based on real events. I was surprised when, shortly after writing it, a newspaper article suggested that the situation I postulated for how Nike was turned into an assassin might actually have been real.
Even so, I hesitated in releasing Nike, although I finished it over a year ago. I loved the book but something about it still felt incomplete. Not that the research didn’t come in handy *grins* I used it as the foundation for an erotic contemporary suspense called Special Delivery, written under the pen name V. J. Devereaux.
I worked on several novels in between but Nike niggled at the back of my mind. Then, one morning at 4 AM, I woke up. In that halfway space between dreaming and waking, Nike and I walked through those scenes and suddenly I had it. I got up, rewrote them and tumbled back to bed. Woke up, thinking about how it could be stronger, better. Wrote that. Halfway through the day, I had the last pieces, and it all fell into place.
Deliberately, I stepped back for a day or two before going back to her and doing the final edit. I passed her to people I knew and trusted, particularly one. The feedback came back positive, and so I released her.
Now she’s yours.


Chapter One

August 2001 Somewhere in Central/South America

The big custom-built Hummers bumped their way through the jungle along the rutted road to the oil fields. It was hardly Callie’s first trip out there but it was the first in such prestigious company. Her father’s boss and some man from the State Department, of all things, traveled with them. It didn’t look as if she’d need the book she had in her backpack, or get the chance to read it.
Oddly enough, it was turning out to be something of an occasion. Originally, they hadn’t planned to bring her along on this trip but she’d just turned eighteen and was due to fly back home to the states in just a few weeks. In less than a month she’d start her first year at Princeton University with a major in international studies. As it happened, Princeton was where both her father’s boss, Tony Gallegos, and the man from the State Department, Phillip Reeves, had attended college. Once her father mentioned it, both men insisted on bringing her along so they could fill her in and trade stories of their time there.
There were several vehicles in the expedition into the jungle where the oilrigs were located, a truck with some of the oil field workers, cars with guards both ahead and behind, another truck carrying supplies and their own Hummer.
Except for the presence of Mr. Reeves, it was a fairly routine trip. Tensions over the oil were rising among some of the more radical groups in the area so he’d come to try to negotiate with them to see if he could smooth the waters a bit.
First, though, he wanted to visit the oil fields. A lot of people were pretty pissed about it and some of them would be even more so if they knew about this trip. Some of them thought that statement said too much about his priorities, that like in Iraq the oil fields were more important to the U.S. than the negotiations. It was the oil that Reeves really cared about.
Callie had even heard some of that kind of talk on the streets among the people she hung out with there, her parkour and free-running friends.
Listening to him on the way out, she couldn’t really argue the point, it was all he talked about, the importance of the oil fields. That was, when he wasn’t talking about Princeton and the bars she had to visit in the towns near the campus once she was there.
So far, though, the trip had gone pretty quietly with the two men trading stories of their days at college. Callie caught an amused and resigned look from her father when the other two men weren’t watching. He gave her a wink and she smothered a grin.
She glanced out the windows at the thick undergrowth that ran so close beside the windows here along the road where the sun could reach and then up at the trees that towered high above them. Branches clattered and scraped against the glass. The sky was cloudy and dark above them, the sunlight of the morning vanishing as the rainy season clouds rolled in. To those who didn’t know the rain forest it was surprisingly cool, the clammy air thick and heavy with moisture. Some folks thought the humidity at home was bad but they’d never been in the jungle in the rainy season.
Both Mr. Gallegos and Mr. Reeves were reminiscing again over their days at college. Callie restrained a sigh, listening with only half an ear. A part of her longed for the book in her backpack. It was a long usually boring trip, broken only by the appearance of an animal or bird erupting out of the brush but now she couldn’t even read or she’d look rude.
The sudden chatter of automatic weapon fire shattered the boredom, the quiet.
Instantly it became a green and scarlet nightmare as bodies shuddered with the impact of bullets, blood sprayed, screams and cries ran out as men fell amid the shouting and confusion.
Glass shattered in the car ahead of them, every window exploding as bullets stitched along the side of it from the cover of the underbrush. The bodies of those within juddered with the impact of the bullets as blood flew like rain. Some of the guards bailed out of the vehicles in a desperate attempt to return fire and save themselves. Bullets savaged them. Their bodies jerked and twisted as more blood flew. It was so sudden, so shocking Callie couldn’t even draw breath enough to scream. Others tried to run to save themselves and were cut down anyway.
The noise was incredible, the sheer volume of the sound stupefying, overwhelming.
Callie tried to twist in her seat to see the guards that rode in the car behind them. One of them, Jeremy, had been teaching her self-defense. He’d been with the Navy Seals and she’d liked him. Had a crush on him. No one had been expecting any trouble.
Even as she turned, her father unfastened her seatbelt and dragged her off the car seat onto the floor.
She only had a brief glimpse of the chaos erupting behind them before her father’s weight crushed her to the floor of the car. Instinctively she wrapped her arms around her head. She didn’t even know she was screaming as the car bumped and jerked, the driver trying desperately to get around the lead cars until bullets smashed through the windshield.
Hot wetness splashed the side of her face as the car filled with the coppery aroma of blood.
The car jolted to a halt, shouting men firing their weapons into the air pulled the doors open and roughly dragged everyone out, pushing and shoving as the gunfire continued. She smelled burning fuel and scorched metal.
Callie’s father fought to keep them away from her, fought to hold onto her, shouting at them, but the men tore her away. More shots were fired as she was dragged off into the jungle.
When she looked around, all she saw was the men who’d taken them. Mr. Reeves and Mr. Gallegos.
She didn’t see her father.
The rough, dirty, smelly men dragged and shoved her ahead of them, barking at her in Spanish. She nodded numbly, staggering between them along the nearly invisible trail.
She glanced back just once before the jungle closed around them.
Bloody bodies were scattered around the vehicles and the road. No one moved. One of the trucks exploded and she flinched. Thick black smoke billowed. It rose above the trees. She couldn’t see any sign of her father, of Jeremy…then even the trucks disappeared behind the dense foliage.
Somehow she knew her father was gone…dead…but somehow she couldn’t quite bring herself to believe it. She had no time for tears or grieving, only surviving. If her father had died trying to save her, the least she could do was stay alive.
She was so scared…so scared…but Jeremy’s words as he had been teaching her echoed in her head. “Most people die because they stop thinking, Callie,” he’d advised. “Don’t stop thinking.”
Unconsciously she nodded in response to his remembered words. She wondered if he’d had time to think before he died.
She’d only been taking the lessons from him because he was cute…and he seemed to think she was, too. Now he was dead back there like the others. Because if he wasn’t dead, they would still be shooting and her father would be calling for her. But he wasn’t.
Her throat was tight.
Maybe Jeremy’s words, his training, would save her even if they hadn’t saved him. Tears streamed down her face. That was his legacy to her. That and her life.
Another set of words moved through her mind, words from an old science fiction book she’d read. She thought of deserts, not jungles, and of enduring. Of surviving.
Something about fear.
Her mind worried at the puzzle of those words, trying to remember them right.
The men tied her wrists together, pushed and shoved her along, shouted epithets in Spanish.
Knowledge, too, was a dangerous thing. It was a valuable thing. She would keep her knowledge of Spanish to herself. Everything was an edge. She would survive. Somehow, she would survive this.





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Sample Sunday – Song of the Fairy Queen

Posted on Aug 14, 2011 in heroic fantasy | 0 comments

A lot of people ask – why this story, what made you write this story? For me it was the image that ends Chapter One and begins Chapter Two and is captured somewhat by the cover – Kyriay, Queen of the Fairy, alighting on battlements, her wings lit by the flames of the castle below. In that instant I also had the title. With it came the theme – what the story at its core is all about. 
In all my stories there is always a central theme. A story can’t be just this happened and that happened, there has to be more. If there isn’t, it can’t touch the reader, can’t draw them in. For Song of the Fairy Queen, it was ‘how heavy lies the crown’. It was about honor, duty and the choices, the necessary sacrifices that sometimes we all have to make in our lives if they’re going to mean something. In Song of the Fairy Queen, all of the lead characters have to make those choices, Kyri, Morgan, Oryan and Gwenifer, Jacob…
There are other themes, too – what we’ll do for love, for children, husband, lovers – but at its core Song of the Fairy Queen is about doing what needs to be done, despite the price that will have to be paid.
That’s not to say that it’s all doom and gloom, any more than life is. There are still good moments, all the more precious because so much is at stake.
So, most of the elements were there, only one was was missing. *smiles* I was holding out for the hero.
Morgan had to be unique, a man of honor and integrity. I didn’t want the usual tall, dark and handsome, he had to be striking, different somehow. I just couldn’t picture him. Then one day I was watching this movie (which shall remain nameless) which I had been waiting to see for some time and there he was. Perfect. Even better, his physical appearance added depth and complications to the book that helped enrich it. I also fell in love with him, with his strength and courage – because if I wasn’t in love with him, how could you, the reader be? And since I was, as was Kyriay…
But I’ve already given you Chapter One…so I give you…

Chapter Two

A slender figure dropped to the parapet, crystalline wings flaring, a cascade of golden curls shimmering down over her shoulders to nearly her waist and wearing only a simple shift that showed signs of battle. That shift clung to a slender body with ripe curves at breast and hip, fluttered about shapely thighs. Blood stained it, some of it her own to judge by the rent in it. A sword belt hung on those curved hips, a bow at her back between her wings.
So they had been surprised, too.
Torchlight illuminated the fine, amused features of her face, the large liquid eyes…
Morgan’s breath caught.
She was beautiful as only Fairy were or could be… mischievous, fierce when necessary and wild.
Her bare feet touched stone with a soft patter barely heard above the wind.
Morgan looked to his King. Looking up, Oryan was clearly astonished, no more than Morgan, he’d scarcely dared to hope for help but not that the Fairy Queen herself would come.
“What would you Oryan?” Kyriay cried over the sounds of the battle still going on below, her voice soft, but clear and strong. “Haerold’s forces attacked mine, too. I heard your call. And so we came, thinking you might need aid.”
The attack on her embassy had come out of the night as if from nowhere. The flare of magic had alerted her and awakened both her and her Fairy sentries, if not, sadly, Oryan’s or Morgan’s… Even so, they had fought desperately for her. She winced at the memory, at the sharp sting of death so close. Still it had been a battle for her and her people just to find the space to take flight. With a wrench of grief and anger she remembered Ariol’s fall. And then Glennis, her wings striving for height before she spiraled to the ground, a black arrow piercing her. That young life ending as she crashed to the ground. Kyri grieved for her and her mate…
Besides Oryan, Kyri saw only young Gawain and Morgan–Oryan’s High Marshal, who she’d until now seen only in passing, a tall, handsome, powerful man with piercing eyes so clear and bright a blue as to rival a fairy’s wing ― these others then must be his people.
One face that she didn’t see that she should have, that she sought to see and ought to see.
Her breath caught…on bitter sorrow.
Grief filled Oryan’s gaze and not only for his people dying below ― as she sorrowed for those she’d lost ― but a greater grief still for the one who had stood beside him, his partner, his wife and his Queen. Kyri’s heart ached. She’d very much liked the tall, calm Queen.
“Kyriay! Thank the stars. Take Gawain, save my son,” Oryan said, as he reached for his son. “Get him away.”
Her chin lifted, she shook her head and then Kyri smiled, albeit a little grimly. She tilted her head to them once, sharply.
“You misunderstand me, Oryan. We came to take you all.”
She gestured upwards, spreading her arms, a graceful gesture of her hands toward her people as they hovered above in the night sky above, their wings beating steadily…a dozen of them or more.
All of them were beautiful, male or female, ethereal, yet all bore swords and bows.
For a moment, Oryan couldn’t grasp it. He’d resigned himself to fighting and dying. His only hope had been to save Gawain. Not himself. Not even Morgan, his friend as well as his Marshal, although he might have wished it otherwise.
Below him in the darkness and flames came the sounds of battle, the screams and shouts, fire and smoke. People, his people, were dying. He’d expected to join them and a glance at Morgan and his people showed they’d expected the same, had girded themselves to a pitched but hopeless battle against an overwhelming force.
Hope hadn’t even entered into it. He hadn’t even dared think it.
“Come, Oryan,” Kyriay said, as she leaned forward a little, holding out her hands to him, wings stroking for balance. “Live to fight another day. The Fair would rather you on the throne than Haerold. He is a cold and cruel master.”
Haerold hadn’t been kind to her folk in his own lands, what would he be like now that he had them all?
“Gawain, first,” Oryan said and she nodded, calling her people down with a gesture.
So, he thought, she didn’t doubt either who was responsible for all of this. It said much of Haerold, none of it good.
“Galan, take the Prince, protect him with your life, if need be, he is our hope,” Kyri said, as the sure knowledge of it coursed through her and Galan came forward, smiling reassuringly at the boy. “Dorien, to the King.”
Her wings stroked, lifting her from the parapet to make room for those above and behind her.  
From below came the sounds of men battering the door. It wouldn’t hold long, it had never been meant to.
There was no time, soon enough the wizards would become aware of them up here.
Kyri looked below to the sounds and cries of battle rising. The sense of dying battered at her. As a Healer, their pain and sorrow tore at her, her heart ached as she each life ended like candles being blown out.
Morgan followed her gaze.
It was a grim scene. Parts of the castle were now ablaze. A small group of Oryan’s Guard was holding out in vain in one corner of the courtyard while random small battles continued elsewhere. It was a terrible sight…filled with death and dying, cruelty and slaughter…
Morgan looked down at the dead and the dying there in the forecourt and at his people standing firm and sure at his back. They would fight and die if he asked it.
The Fairy offered them a chance to fight and live. He wouldn’t ask his people to die if there was another choice, if there was any chance at all.
Fascinated by the Fairy, by the idea of flight, Gawain lifted his arms and went willingly into the Fairy’s hands.
His simple joy and pleasure briefly lightened the horror of the night for those watching.
Those seemingly fragile crystalline wings flared, expanded and flexed, catching air, the next stroke lifting the boy and the Fairy off the parapet to make room for another.
If Morgan was honest, a part of him doubted… Those wings, large as they appeared, hardly looked strong enough to hold the Fairy themselves, much less a man his size.
Oryan looked up as Dorien settled to the parapet and reached for him. He knew this Fairy, as he knew Galan, they were Kyri’s own people.
“Hold on tight,” Dorien cautioned, “take my wrist.”
Those great wings flared, stroked hard and then they rose. Another strong beat and they were clear of the tower. Dangling in mid-air, trusting to Dorien’s surprisingly strong grip, Oryan looked back.
Morgan’s people were being cleared but even as he looked he saw Morgan and two of his people turn toward the doorway…backing up to give themselves room to draw their swords.
A part of Oryan wanted to cry out in protest.
Not Morgan. He couldn’t lose him, too. He had no other left that he trusted, he needed, no other to stand at his back…not with Gwenifer gone. Morgan had stood at his side since they had been boys, been his most trusted lieutenant for his entire reign.
Kyri turned, too, at the motion, her lovely face set as she reached for her bow. Her wings flared, then they folded…and she dove, stooping like a hawk, those wings tight against her lithe body, golden hair streaming behind her. In truth, Oryan had never seen anything quite so beautiful, or so deadly.
Below, Morgan clearly heard the sound of the door below crashing open. It had finally given way beneath the battering.
They had been so close… Morgan had almost begun to believe they might yet make it, they might survive this terrible night when Kyriay and her people had arrived.
He turned to face the new danger, to give the King and his own people time to get away.
“Go,” he said, to those remaining, backing away to draw his sword as he heard the thunder of booted feet on the stairs.
They were coming, fast.
Jacob was at his right shoulder, Liliane at his left, two of his most trusted aides, their swords drawn as the black-garbed soldiers appeared at the top of the stair. More pressed behind them, the stairs limiting their numbers.
The first soldier snarled a smile at the sight of Morgan and his people. Then a Fairy arrow with its unmistakable crystalline fletching took him through the throat. The snarl turned to surprise as he staggered, fell back against those behind him and died. Another arrow took the man next to him.
“Get them,” Morgan heard Kyriay shout. “I’ve got Morgan.”
Jacob and Liliane were literally snatched off their feet, carried up into the air as the enemy soldiers thrust away their dead and pushed forward.
Like an arrow out of the night in a whistling dive the Queen of the Fairy shot past the enemy. The invading soldiers ducked instinctively.
Her hand reached…for him… Kyriay, her golden hair streaming in the breeze of her passage. Beautiful, seemingly delicate and insubstantial, her lovely face intent, eyes narrowed and her wings tucked close…one hand outstretched for his…
“Morgan,” she shouted.
He jumped to the parapet, reaching in return, furious with her for the chance she took. His hand closed around her slender wrist, her long, strong fingers grasped his and she snatched him off his feet. It felt for a moment as if they were falling…down into the carnage below.
With a sharp crack that reverberated through both of them, those great gossamer wings opened, caught air and they shot upward with a shock so hard Morgan thought he’d nearly dislocated his shoulder. And Kyriay? He looked up at her…
In all his life he didn’t think he’d ever seen anything so stunning, so beautiful…or so fierce and determined…
Firelight danced over those brilliant wings, reflected the glow, sparkled in the shifting intangible light.
She was glorious.
It had to have hurt her, too, but there was no sign of it in that fine-boned, resolute face.
Muscles straining, that lovely face focused, determined, indomitable, she fought for height against the speed of the dive, her wings cupped, then flattened, shifted. Smaller and lighter than he, even so she held on grimly, her rippling hair streaming in the breeze of their passage.
Insane as it was at the moment, he suddenly realized how very beautiful she was. Different, but not…exotic, incredible…and beautiful.
The hard stone of the curtain wall came at them fast, but they were rising, rising, to shoot over it so closely that Morgan could see the surprise on the faces of those who fought below. So closely he heard an arrow whistle past while another barely missed a wing, as the fighters on the parapets instinctively fired at the perceived threat.
Muscles straining, Kyri fought for height.
Darkness surrounded them. The wall fell behind them.
They had made it.
She banked, searching for the others, for the familiar sense of her people in her spirit and mind.
There. Relief flooded her.
Dizzyingly, to Morgan the ground seemed to come toward them in a rush and then her wings flared again, the shock more gentle this time.
His feet touched the earth and then hers.
Kyri staggered a little but Morgan reached out a hand to steady her. She smiled at him quickly and gratefully.
A different kind of shock went through her at the contact between their hands and then a quick rush of warmth that Kyri had no time to examine as she looked over the small party of survivors.
They had lost no one since the first moments of the attack.
She closed her eyes for only a moment in relief and gratitude. Every life, Fairy or man, was precious.
Her body ached, her wing muscles protesting the abuse and her wings fluttered a little, resettling the feathers automatically… A sword cut on her ribs stung, another on her arm. Until now she hadn’t even noticed they were there.
They were free, though, for the moment.
Oryan stepped through the small crowd, Gawain in his arms.
Turning from him only a little, Kyri drew a silver whistle from beneath her shift where it hung on a silver chain around her throat and blew.
For all that it made little sound, Oryan felt more than heard it, a sharp pressure in his ears.
“Thank you, Kyri,” he said, for her assistance. “Where do you go now?”
“South and west for a time, there is a place, not far, where we will be safe long enough to decide what we do next,” she said.
“Kyri…” Oryan began.
She stilled him with a simple gesture. “Like it or no, our fates are joined, Oryan. Haerold didn’t only attack you, he attacked my embassy here, with the intent to kill or capture me and mine. My people have long withdrawn from Haerold’s lands for the wizards he kept company with. It is likely he will turn against us now whether we aid you or not.”
It was no more than the simple truth and they both knew it.
Oryan nodded.
“Where would you go, now?” Kyri asked.
“There is little time and Haerold will surely go there once he’s learned we’ve escaped, but to Gwenifer’s lands to the south―so that serves us both well―to gather what funds I may. They should be warned, too. Haerold will surely seize them… then…” He sighed. “Decisions will have to be made…”
He looked back at the castle in the distance. Flames blossomed from some of the windows, little else could be seen there.
“Good,” Kyri said, “then we will stand guard for you until you can gain some of that time to make them.”
A thunder of hooves had almost all of them turning in near panic as they quickly reached for their swords. Oryan wanted to shout in frustration and helpless fury.
“It’s all right,” Kyri said, as the horses galloped over the rise, their manes and tails blowing in the breeze of their passage. “I called them.”
The horses of the Fairy raced out of the darkness, gold, silver, bronze and copper, their long manes and tails flagging in the breeze of their passage, beautiful to watch as they ran, the muscles moving beneath their skin fluidly.
Morgan watched them come with the admiration of a true horseman, their gait so smooth and liquid they seemed to float over the ground.
At least they wouldn’t have to walk the miles from here to there.
With practiced ease Kyri caught a handful of mane and vaulted onto a horse’s bare back as it came to a halt, her wings tucked neatly and nearly invisibly against her back, her shapely legs bared high on the thigh as the shift gathered.
Morgan gave his orders, assigning Liliane once more to guard the boy, sending Alain north to call back his people there. As much as he hated it, he must leave the North undefended against the raiders so they could defend the King and what little they could salvage here until the King was back on the throne. Faithful Caleb he sent west and then south to carry the news and call up any of those he could. They would need every man and woman he could find.
He was under no illusions. Their situation was desperate. His job was to find a way to make it less so and then to put the King back on the throne.

It wouldn’t be an easy task.


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Sample Sunday – Not Magic Enough

Posted on Jul 24, 2011 in heroic fantasy | 2 comments

Writing The Coming Storm was such an ecstatic experience, to spend time in that world was astonishing. Apparently it was for my beta readers, too, as it is for my readers. But by far the most popular question from my beta readers (who had already read Convocation) was, are you ever going to tell the story of Delae and Dorovan? Because, you see, in the first version of the book, the tale was all one, and their story was a small part of a prologue I removed for the current version of The Coming Storm (it was really back story, as much as I hated to let it go). But I loved their story, too, I very much wanted to tell it and it very much wanted to be told.
Sometimes it’s like magic, the stories just write themselves. From a few lines in The Coming Storm, one day I just saw Delae running to answer her door, hearing the banging on it, not knowing what would come out of the storm. I knew her heart and her duty. It wasn’t just Delae’s story though, it was Dorovan’s, too. Dorovan, Elf, swordmaster, touched with an un-Elven wanderlust, who despite centuries of war couldn’t ride past those in need or fail to offer comfort. Or to take it. A simple act of courage, trust, love and kindness, with far-reaching consequences, that would lead inevitably to the events of The Coming Storm…and change their world forever…

Chapter One

The pounding on the heavy wood of the doors of the homestead sounded loudly even above the shriek and howl of the storm raged outside. Pulling her threadbare robe on, only half-awake Delae ran across the cold stone floors in her bare feet to answer it, rubbing her eyes wearily. Doubtless her aged cook and houseman had been roused, too, by the pounding and were on their way from their quarters at the back of the homestead but she was the closer of them. She hated to ask either Petra or Hallis to sit by the door of a night as many landowners did anymore than she set a guard by the gates as many others did. They weren’t so far from the seat of the lesser Kingdom of Riverford that they had much to fear behind stout walls.
Who would be mad enough to be out in such a storm as this? she wondered. It was early in the night, true, but it was still insanity to be caught so far from shelter.
Lifting the bar, she set it aside and released the latch.
The door opened on a blast of wet snow and wind that struck her like a blow, nearly literally, to reveal a stranger standing there, looking windblown, frozen, battered and desperate. She caught him as he almost fell in the door, a young, plain-looking man, by the looks of him a farmer or tradesman, a traveler of some sort not used to the vagaries of the weather at the edges of the Kingdoms. His ragged brown hair was drenched, his clothing soaked, his skin white and his lips nearly blue from the cold.
“Help,” he whispered as he staggered into the relative warmth of the great room.
The fire in the great fireplace that dominated the whole of one wall was banked to coals but it still heated the room beyond the chill of the weather outside.
He was clearly injured, with blood covering one side of his face.
“My family,” he croaked, weakly, “the wagon, it overturned, we were on our way home from the birthing…”
“Hush, hush,” Delae said, gently, reassuringly, as she took his weight on her shoulders and guided him to the padded bench by the fire. “What’s your name?”
“Marlan. Lady, you have to help them…!”
“Of course I do,” she said, kindly, although it was no more than her duty as landowner, but also because people needed aid. “We’ll help them, I promised. What happened, Marlan? Where are they?”
“We were coming from Raven’s Nest, heading south for the Heartlands. My sister Jessa had her baby, we were coming home,” Marlan said. His next words were bitter and angry. “Pa thought we could make it to Riverford before the storm hit. I kept telling him no, we should stop at the last village but you can’t tell him anything. So we pressed on.”
As he spoke, Petra and Hallis rushed in. With a shake of her head, Delae indicated they shouldn’t speak.
There was no need, at the young man’s words both turned to rush back down the hall to do what was needed, Petra to get the kitchens going and Hallis to gather up blankets.
“I told him we needed to stop, hunker down to wait out the storm but he wouldn’t,” Marlan said. From the way he spoke, it had the sound of an old complaint, much voiced and now tragically vindicated. “The wagon overturned.”
“Where?” Delae asked. “On the road?”
“Yes, mistress,” he said, respectfully, as Hallis returned to drape a blanket over the young man’s shoulders.
Tall and spare, his gray hair sparse, Hallis’s hands were knotted with age, bent and twisted.
“Petra is making soup, my lady, there will be food soon,” Hallis said, his heart aching for his poor mistress as he bent stiffly to stir up the fire, wrestling another log into place.
Hallis looked at her there kneeling by the young man, a pretty young woman with a kind, gentle face and a good heart, as graceful as the dancer she’d been in her youth, her tightly curled hair glowing red and gold in the light of the coals, her dark blue eyes focused only on the young man.
In truth, most landowners would already have put him and Petra to work as drudges in the kitchens or as lesser house staff by now and there were a good many who would’ve put them out to beg on the streets. Neither of them could move fast any more.
Not Delae, though. For kindness mostly but also for good reason as there simply was no money to hire better, that good for nothing husband of hers took every penny she couldn’t hide. Still, she never ordered, she always asked and never complained of her lot in life. It wasn’t in her to do it.
A sharp petulant voice came from the door to the west wing of the house startling everyone.
“What’s going on, what’s all that racket? Can’t a body get some sleep of a night? Bad enough with this storm but then folk banging around…”
Closing her eyes, Delae willed patience as she had a thousand times before.
“It’s nothing, Cana. Travelers have broken down in the storm,” she said to her husband’s mother. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Then you must send aid,” the woman said, equally sharply, as if Delae were witless.
“This I know,” Delae said. “And I will. Go back to bed, Cana, I’ll take care of it.”
As she took care of everything else.
Despair and frustration weighed on her, battered at her soul. It was at rare times such as this that Delae wished she had a husband in truth instead of only in name. This would’ve been his duty had he been there, although she would have gone with him to brave the storm and give aid. Instead it fell to her. All of it.
She took a breath, willed strength and patience. These folk needed her. There was no one else and there was something, some satisfaction, to be found in the knowledge that she could help.
“Hmmmph,” Cana said and slammed the door shut behind her.
At least Kolan, her husband’s father, hadn’t come, too, Delae thought, which was one blessing, his joints bothered him too much on these days.
Letting out the breath she’d taken, with a wince at the door slam, Delae turned to Hallis.
“Go fetch Dan, Morlis and Tad for me would you please, Hallis? Tell Morlis we’ll need our hay cart, two of the draft horses and Besra. Then you and Petra get the rooms in the east wing ready.”
Those rooms were usually reserved for rare visitors to the homestead or for travelers such as these caught out in the storm. In this isolated part of the Kingdoms the smallholders used them most when they came in during the harsh days of winter, now fast upon them.
 “Yes, Delae,” Hallis said and hurried off as best he could with his stiff joints and aching bones as Petra came down the hall toward him.
Their fingers touched for just a moment, his and Petra’s, with love and understanding and then Hallis hobbled down through the west wing of the quarters toward those of the south wing. It would take longer but he was too old to fight the winds of the storm by cutting across the square.
Petra came to sit by the boy, a mug of hot herbal tea laced with wine in one gnarled hand. She gave a nod to Delae.
“Help will be on its way shortly,” Delae said, laying a reassuring hand on the young man’s shoulder.
As she hurried away, she knew she wouldn’t tell him it would be she who would go. She, her smith, her wrangler and the addled but strong young man who assisted Petra in the kitchen.
That was all there were here save for the women and children of the homestead. All the smallholders were sheltering from the storm in the safety of their cottages and too far away to aid her.
It would have to be enough, it would have to do. Somehow.
Casting aside the threadbare robe and the thin linen nightdress she wore, Delae quickly drew on her working clothes―simple but heavy men’s winter trews, her heaviest tunic, layering over it a sweater Petra had knitted for her and thick woolen socks before she stamped her feet into her working boots. She threw her sturdiest cloak over all of it. A woolen scarf covered her abundant hair. She wrapped the scarf around her throat despite the itch of the wool before gathering up her sheepskin gloves.
She stopped to gather a jug of fortified wine from the storeroom, pausing in the kitchen to fetch a piece of warmed iron from the fire, letting it drop it into the jug of wine with a hiss before she pounded the cork stopper back in place.
By the time she reached the great room, the men were waiting.
Dan was huge and burly, heavily muscled in the chest, arms and shoulders from his hours at the forge and capable enough there. Tall and gangly, Morlis was a wonder with horses and a godsend to her. Poor Tad just looked at her with no curiosity, his huge hands dangling, his moon face waiting to be wreathed in a smile…or a look of confusion. But he was strong and he would do as he was told. For all that he was shorted on wits, he more than made up for it in other ways.
She patted his cheek lightly, fondly, and the smile broke out, big and broad, heartening her.
“I’ve the horses and wagon waiting outside,” Morlis said.
She nodded. “Tad, will you take the spare blankets and the jug to the cart please? We’re going for a ride. Dan, go open the hayloft, quickly please. If their wagon has overturned, they’ll be cold, possibly injured. We’ll need hay in the cart for warmth.”
Obediently, Tad gathered up the things and trotted out to the cart as Dan ran to the stables, Morlis on his heels to drive the little wagon there.
With a glance back at the warm building that had been her home for the last ten years or so, Delae went out into the storm.
It was an early winter storm and all the more fierce because of it, driven by the warm winds from the south and the cold winds sweeping down out of the mountains to the east and north. It was bitterly cold and damp, hurling snow before it that wouldn’t stick but would turn the roads muddy, slushy and thick.
A rumble of thunder growled above the other sounds of the storm. Thunder snow… uncommon but less so at this time of year. If this were any sign, it would be a long and hard winter.
Faithful Besra, her horse, tried to turn her back to the wind, her winter coat thick, yet still she shivered as Delae mounted.
Delae could sympathize as she turned the horse’s head toward where Dan forked hay into the cart. The cold seemed to find every gap in the layers that covered her.
“Enough, let’s go,” she shouted and he nodded, pulling the upper doors closed behind him, emerging seconds later at the door below with torches he’d lit at his forge.
He handed one up to her before mounting his own horse.
The gates were unbarred as they almost always were, save for the rare goblin raid this far to the south and west. Far from the borderlands and in a Kingdom where the King kept faith with his subjects by keeping the roads safe for those who lived within his borders, they had little to fear.
Except the storm.
The wind struck with vicious force the moment they left the security of the walls, rattling the little wagon and nearly blowing Delae from her horse.
Still there was no help for it, as landowner here it was her responsibility to render aid, regardless of circumstances.
Putting her head down, Delae drew her cloak more tightly around her throat.
In the wind of the storm, the torches and lanterns on the cart guttered and flickered. Delae could barely hang onto hers, but she did, switching it from hand to hand to give each cold aching wrist and arm relief. Both were strained and sore by the time they finally reached the road.
With no sign of the passage of a wagon south, they turned north and soon enough found the stranded travelers, huddled together for warmth in the shelter of the overturned wagon. One horse was down, tangled in its traces, still kicking weakly as the other fought to stay upright with his fellow fallen beside him.
Delae’s heart sank at the sight.
The wagon was huge, a massive farm wagon, far larger than she’d expected, put to use no doubt for the family visit to distant relatives, the last such chance to do so before the snows closed the pass to Raven’s Nest. As it no doubt would be now.
It was easy enough to see what had happened. As the mud had grown thicker it had bogged the wheels of the wagon until they’d hit a low wallow. There the wheels on one side had caught completely, pulling them off the road. The wagon had gone over in a slow but inevitable roll onto its side. Now one side of the wagon was mired in the mud, making it far more difficult to raise.
There had to be more than a dozen people there, a few men but mostly women and children, all shivering in the cold. One of the men ― Marlan’s father? ― was also injured.
It was clear the cart would never hold all of them. They would have to right the wagon.
One of the other men cried out to her in relief as he staggered to his feet.
“Thank God you’ve come!” he said as she dismounted.
“How many are injured?” she shouted over the wind. “And how badly?”
“Forman is the worst,” the man responded. “He struck his head. One of the children has a broken arm. The rest are only bruises.”
 That was a relief. Their thick clothes and hay had likely softened the fall, preventing more injuries.
“Get Forman and the child in the cart and as many of the other children as you can. There are blankets there. Try to get them warm,” she said, as she fought the wind and mud to have a look at the wagon. “Dan, I need you. Morlis, help them. Tad, keep the horses still.”
She slogged through the frozen mud.
At least the axle hadn’t broken. That had been her worst fear, as it would have made everything much harder. Otherwise, they would’ve had to take them back in stages with the fragile cart, each trip risking another accident such as this one while those remaining waited in the freezing cold.
If they could even get the wagon turned over and that was very doubtful.
The storm raged around them as Delae held her torch high examining the situation.
“If we cut the traces of the fallen horse,” Dan said, grimly, “we’ll lose pull.”
With a sigh, Delae nodded. That had been her assessment as well.
They’d never get the wagon out and there would be nothing to secure the draft horses to the wagon then. One horse couldn’t pull it alone but perhaps they could rig something.
Either way it meant the death of the horse on the ground. Without untangling it they’d never get the wagon righted and if they tried it would likely break one of the horse’s legs, if not worse. The way it thrashed she wouldn’t risk the life of whoever she asked to unbuckle it. Her heart grieved for the poor animal. She couldn’t ask Morlis to do it nor have the children watch.
Which left her. She sighed.
If they could even get the wagon righted with what they had.
They had to try.
Coming around the wagon, she eyed the situation.
Morlis had gotten the two injured and all of the younger children into the cart.
With a nod, she turned to the man she’d spoken to first.
“Your name?”
Tugging his forelock in respect, he said, “Pell, Lady.”
“Pell. Who among the women is best with the children?”
“Yana,” the man said and a young woman turned at the sound of her name, holding her thin cloak closed around her head with one hand.
“Morlis,” Delae said, “Give everyone on the cart a swallow of the wine to warm them and then leave it with those who remain to keep them warm. Leave the draft horses here. Take Yana up with you, get her, the children and the injured back to the homestead. Have Petra put them in the east wing rooms. If we aren’t back by daylight, return.”
She wouldn’t risk him coming back alone in this weather. If they didn’t get the wagon righted and on its way whoever survived the storm this night would get a ride back to the homestead in the morning. Already the cold was numbing Delae’s fingers and toes. Young Yana shivered badly.
The man nodded.
“Everyone else,” Delae said, “get back among the trees. We’re going to try to right the wagon.”
The little cart with its passengers trundled off, taking with it the dim light cast by its lanterns.
The remaining women and the older children took what little shelter they could beneath the trees. The remaining two men held the torches.
Delae turned back to the overturned wagon.
Dan and Pell waited, Tad behind them looking confused, Pell’s face already pale and set, knowing what needed to be done.
Clearly, she couldn’t ask it of him, either, and she would much prefer to do the deed herself, so it would be done as quickly as well and as painlessly as possible.
“Dan, Pell,” she said, “secure the draft horses to the rails of the wagon so they can pull as we lift but wait until I signal I’m ready. Tad, help them by holding the horses.”
She went to her knees beside the head of the thrashing chestnut horse, wary of its kicking forelegs, its tossing head hampered by the tangled traces and laid her hand on its cheek, looking into the one eye she could see. The white there clearly showed its fear. For a moment it stilled, distracted by her touch. Her heart went out to it as she stroked its rough hide and she drew her belt knife.
That was how Dorovan first saw her, kneeling in the mud by the overturned wagon. To his Elven-sight her brilliant hair was a bright splash of red against the light dusting of snow on the ground as she bent her head. Brightness sparkled on her cheeks as she touched the frightened, tangled horse gently.
Nearby three men secured draft horses to the upraised side of the wagon while a group of men, women and a young boy stood nearby beneath the dubious shelter of the trees.
It wasn’t his business, it was a thing of men. He knew he should pass by, unseen in the darkness, his Elven-sight rendering everything to him as clear as day, unlike that of the men and women here.
He was cold as well, chilled to the bone, tired, heartsick and far from home.
It had been a long journey from Lothliann in the north, where he had gone to render aid against the Borderlands creatures, through the Rift and the lands Men called Raven’s Nest. They’d lost one of their Hunters to the goblins and his people grieved the loss along with Melis’s soul-bond.
As he himself did, his heart heavy. Even without a soul-bond of his own, through the empathy his people shared he knew a fraction of what it was to suffer such a loss. His heart ached for Melis. She would go on to the Summerlands soon, he knew. And then his people would lose not one, but two.
To his vision it was clear the small party was unlikely to right the heavy wagon, not with what they had to work with, but it was also quite clear they would try. There was nothing else for it.
It was also clear what the woman on the ground was about to do, however much she clearly dreaded it and how necessary it was… If he didn’t intervene. With the storm it was also likely they would all freeze and die out here if they didn’t succeed.
Dorovan had had enough of death.

Taking a breath, Delae set the blade to the horse’s throat. She didn’t think she could successfully put it through the eye and thus into the brain―nor could she bear to do so, but she could cut its throat if she was quick. The thought of it made her want to weep but she steeled herself to do what must be done.
A strong, long-fingered hand settled over her own, stilling it.
Startled, she turned her head to look.
Shock and amazement at who stood there held her rooted to the spot.
Not who, though, so much as what.
She wasn’t certain in that moment or any moment afterward which held her more immobile, that an Elf had appeared at her side, that he was an Elf, that he was the most beautiful creature she’d ever seen, as most Elves were, or the seemingly bottomless depth of the kindness in his silvery gray eyes. Or the grief and sorrow hidden in the depths, moving like shadows in the flickering light of the torch.
His features were perfect, strong, his smooth skin reddened a little with the cold beneath the hood of his cloak, his long straight hair streaming loose in the wind.
It was as if she were held spellbound and yet she knew she wasn’t. Elven magic didn’t work that way.
Rarely did her folk see Elves out here in the outlands and never one alone given the danger from her own kind, although she certainly knew of that aloof and beautiful race. Everyone did, as they knew of the Dwarves who dwelled deep in the earth in their Caverns.
What was he doing out in this storm so far from an Enclave? There was none close that she knew of and the storm would slow even his Elven-bred horse, standing patiently nearby. She hadn’t even heard its approach.
Empathic as he was, beneath the thick scarf covering  her bright hair, Dorovan could see a woman of warmth and of spirit, of infinite tenderness, her blue eyes filled with both grief at what she was about to do, the determination and duty that was required to do it and wonder to see him there beside her. His kind and hers rarely interacted.
“Do not,” he said, gently. “I can hold him still, if you can but unbuckle the harness.”
Dorovan often worked with the horses in Talaena Enclave and the horses of men were much less headstrong than those, so keeping the animal still was only a matter of empathy with it, of sinking his awareness into that of the animal trembling beneath his hands.
It was on Delae for a moment to ask if he was certain, but he was Elf, so of course he was. If he said it, he was. There was that about Elves that they didn’t lie, it going so against their Honor.
Then he laid his strong, long-fingered hands on the horse, one on the horse’s strong neck, the other covering its eye, murmuring soft words as he did and it stilled completely.
“Dan, Pell, Tad, help me,” she said, softly, not wanting to disturb the Elf’s concentration.
Both seemed as dumbstruck by the presence of the Elf as she’d been, staring at him in amazement.
“Dan, Pell,” she called, more sharply, tugging her gloves from her nearly frozen fingers to work the straps free of the buckles. “Tad.”
 That broke their suspension and they rushed to help her, Tad goggling owlishly at the Elf, something he’d never seen.
Still it took all of Dan and Tad’s muscle to lift and Delae’s and Pell’s efforts to get the harness unfastened from beneath the horse. Then it was free and she turned to the Elf.
As lightly as a feather, the woman touched Dorovan on the shoulder, letting him know he could release his control of the horse.
It surprised him she would know his people didn’t like to be touched by anyone other than other Elves, but even that brief touch told him much about her, including the knowledge that she possessed an empathy he’d thought uncommon among the people of men. Still, he couldn’t help but be grateful for it and for her consideration.
He looked up into her blue eyes and nodded, stepping back carefully, drawing her back with him with a touch to her shoulder as the horse thrashed to its feet.
Quickly he reached out to grasp the frightened animal by its halter.
“Pell,” Delae called. “Come help us get the horse harnessed. Have one of the women hold it.”
The other man nodded while Dan took the reins of the other horses.
Delae looked at the Elf hesitantly. “I can’t ask you for more than you’ve done…”
With a grave nod, Dorovan said, “But I can offer it.”
The gratitude in her eyes was thanks enough.
“I’m Delae,” she offered.
“Dorovan,” he said.
She smiled, her blue eyes warming, turning her beautiful.
Borrowing the traces from wagon, he set them on his own Charis, the Elven horse shaking himself at the feel of the leather on him before settling. The Elven-bred stallion knew his duty here, it didn’t need to be said. Dorovan attached the traces to the sturdiest rails on the side of the wagon. Before they could move it, first they must right it.
Even so, it wouldn’t be an easy task. It would take all of his strength and more to achieve it.
“Do you want to do this?” Delae asked.
He shook his head. “They are your people.”
Relieved, Delae turned briskly to the others.
This just might be possible, now.
“Dan,” she called, “get the horses moving forward, slow and steady. Pull them back as soon as the wagon starts to break free of the mud, as soon as it starts to go. Pell, Tad, I’ll need you with myself and Dorovan.”
The four of them bent to the wagon, dug their fingers into the thick mud to find the edge of the wagon bed. She only hoped the rails above would hold as the Elven-bred pulled against them.
Her gaze turned to the Elf beside her.
Somehow, it didn’t surprise Dorovan to find Delae crouched down beside him and them in the mud to lend what strength she had to lifting the massive wagon. He could only admire her, who wouldn’t spare herself.
“Now,” she shouted and the man Dan called to the draft horses, shaking the reins to get them pulling.
Charis needed no instruction, throwing his great weight against the traces.
At the side of the wagon, Delae, Dorovan, Tad and Pell heaved.
There was a pause and then they felt it begin to move, to shift. With a wet sucking sound it pulled free.
All of them leaped back as Delae shouted, “Stop!”
The wagon tilted free of the mud, paused for a moment teetering on its side and then it fell back to all four wheels with a crash, a rail broken, a little the worse for wear, but whole enough to get the remainder of the travelers back to the homestead.
Delae shivered with the cold and turned to Dorovan.
“Our thanks,” she said, softly. “I can offer you hospitality, shelter and food, for your help, if nothing else, but also as my duty as landowner. It won’t be Elven fare, but it will be hot and there’ll be a warm bed.”
It was the least she could do.
For a moment Dorovan hesitated, despite the wind cutting through his clothing, the cold, his heaviness of spirit. It was a long way yet to Talaena, though.
“I can guarantee you privacy and peace,” she said, very gently, reaching out to touch his hand with just her fingertips, no more. “No one should be out in a storm such as this, Dorovan. The food will be plain but good and warm. There will be a hot bath, a bed for you and a stall for your horse with plenty of oats.”
The gesture touched him. Her blue eyes were calm, steady. The offer was a kind and honest one.
It was no more or less than any Elven Enclave would offer and he was far from home. In gratitude, Dorovan inclined his head.

For Delae, a lonely landholder on the edge of the Kingdoms, a frantic knock at the door on a stormy winter’s night brings more than a cry for help.
After centuries of war Elves have little contact with the race of men, but Dorovan can’t bring himself to ride past those so obviously in need.
One small act, with enormous consequences. Not Magic Enough is a tale of love and honor, duty and determination, that sets in motion a chain of events that will change their world forever.

Not Magic Enough – A KND quality book. A Top Ten Romance – Fantasy novel on Smashwords for July

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Setting Boundaries – the little story that could

Posted on Jul 17, 2011 in heroic fantasy, novella | 0 comments

I’m told I really shouldn’t use my blog just for talking about my stories, and I was going to do that, but then something strange happened….

Setting Boundaries has always been one of my favorite stories but no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t find a place for it, a home. As much as I loved it, I couldn’t seem to find an audience for it so I just let it languish.
Oh, it has action and adventure in it to be sure, but at its heart it’s a simple tale of friendship, of forging strong bonds between three people who have ample reason not to trust each other. But I didn’t want to write the standard story of mistrust and distrust either.
Ever since writing The Coming Storm I’d always wanted to write the story of how Elon, Colath and Jareth met and became friends. As many times as I tried, though, they were all too dark, too cold, they didn’t match the warmth of the original story. And that’s what I wanted, that warmth, because so much of that is missing these days.
There’s so much baggage that goes into such relationships these days. I didn’t want readers to think they were gay – as if there was something wrong with that or gay people couldn’t be friends with straight people. But that also wasn’t the story I wanted to tell.
I wanted to tell the story of that friendship. But that came with baggage, too. As with so much of our interpersonal relationships these days, male friendships have become an object of fun. Our society gives them silly names like bromance or man-date, reducing it to a poor reflection of reality. It’s even worse for women. Or consider marriage – everyone points out that half of all marriages end in divorce, rather than saying Half of all marriages succeed! Its no wonder so many of us are on anti-depressants, we’re so afraid of being open with another human being for fear of looking silly or being made fun of.
Ask anyone who’s fought side by side with his buddies, though, and you’ll find out what such friendships can truly be. That was the story I wanted to tell. I’d been making it too complicated. So, that was the story I wrote.
It’s a good story but although it received a great review within days of posting, it never seemed to take off. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to draw attention to it. No one seemed to want to read that kind of story anymore.
So when I first saw the numbers for Setting Boundaries on I honestly thought it was a fluke, a mistake they would soon correct. I mean, that couldn’t be right – 1500+ copies? And they’d been having problems with reporting, so I just chalked it up to that. But the numbers didn’t go away, they went up. It still seemed strange and I kept waiting for it to be corrected. Then, at some point, it began to dawn on me that they were real. Because those numbers kept going up. I couldn’t believe it. Then someone told me Setting Boundaries was on the top 100 list of free fantasy novels on Amazon. Last night I looked and it was #23. 1800 copies. In the world of traditional publishing its a drop in the bucket. And, it’s free. But still. For me? I’m breathless. Could it crack 2000? Has it already? I can’t imagine it. If it does, if it did… wow…



A feline scream drew Jareth out of sleep with a rush. For a moment, he could only stare in breathless astonishment…and in wonder.
He’d never seen anything so swift, so strangely beautiful or so very deadly as watching Elon of Aerilann fight off firbolg and boggins alone in the moonlight.
The Elf moved like water, smoothly, gracefully, his swords swirling around him almost as if they, too, were fluid, as if the steel bent like reeds in the flow of his movement. Yet where they touched, blood flew. There was no sound save for the cries of the firbolg and boggins. Bodies littered the ground around him as steel flashed like lightning in the thin moonlight. Every movement was graceful and sure as he wove a web of steel around himself, denying entrance as Colath took up his swords and went to join him.
There was no pause, Colath simply stepped into the flow of Elon’s movement and became part of it. It was as if they were one person, extensions of each other, one stepping in where the other wasn’t.
It was a wonder to watch.
Jareth saw the firbolg leap and scramble to the rocks above him and them and fired a mage-bolt, sending it spinning out into the night as he rolled to his feet, calling up power. Energy flared around him, gathered in his hands.
A boggart leaped to one of the rocks and then toward Colath. Jareth picked it out of the air.
It wasn’t his first firefight but he felt the same mixture of terror and exhilaration as he spun and turned in response to the motion he saw at the edges of his vision as Elon and Colath defended the entrance to their little shelter.
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