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Posts Tagged ‘teaser tuesday’

THANK YOU!!! Your votes put ‘Guarding Charon’ into 4th place with the P&E poll for Best of 2016!!!

This week, I’m giving you a peek at Fin and her world! Enjoy!

            Thunk.

The sound of the arrow piercing the wild boar’s carcass seemed loud in the early morning silence. Fin lowered her bow. “Well, at least I hit it that time”.

“Your aim’s getting better. It may not convince a trained archer, but most won’t question your role with us. That should make things easier for you.” Alaric kept his voice low.

She reached over her shoulder and extracted another arrow from her quiver. Nocking it into place, she slowly drew back the string. “Easy hasn’t been part of my vocabulary for a very long time.” She let the string go, wincing as the string bit into her arm. “And fooling most of the people isn’t good enough.” Fin rubbed at her stinging skin as she watched the arrow fly. It landed in the ground at least a yard away from the boar.

“Come on, let’s go pick them up and try again.” Alaric motioned for her to follow him.

They kept their voices low as they passed the small tents where their companions slept. No sense in waking them up before dawn, not unless something showed up. The last few days had been tough on all of them. After the way they’d left Lorien, Fin still kept her ears open. She didn’t like the feeling of being chased. But it was better than being chained.

“Fin, relax. If anyone made out what you are in town, they’d have caught up to us by now.”

She shook her head, the red braid dancing down her back. “You know I can’t. The only reason I’m still free is because I don’t relax. If I relax, this happens.” She looked at him.

Fin watched as Alaric’s face turned momentarily to amazement as she flashed the true color of her eyes at him. The normal green was gone, replaced by the metallic gold that marked her as one of the Amari. She sighed.

“It’s beautiful, you know. They’re beautiful. It’s a shame you have to hide them. Even around us.”  Alaric’s voice was barely above a whisper.

“Yeah, well, hiding them has kept me out of chains for twenty years. It’s a habit now.” Fin bent down and picked up her arrow. “I read somewhere once there used to be thousands of us. Walking the streets, not hiding. I haven’t met another Amari for over ten years, not one who didn’t belong to someone.” A wistful tone crept into her voice.

Alaric’s hand on her shoulder made her look up. “You don’t have to hide around me. No one should be treated like that, ever. And I won’t let that happen to you.”

The look he gave her sent chills down her spine. Of all her companions, he was the one she talked to the most. Put all her trust in. Emile, Trystian, and Gwen were all there to protect her, hide her, and she knew it. But there was something about Alaric that told her his interest went even farther.

His focus changed to something behind her. She made sure her eyes were hidden again. That was the first bit of magic she learned how to do. It was the only thing that had kept her free for so long.

“In the camp!” A male voice called out from the surrounding brush. “We’re cold tonight. Can we share your fire?”

Fin hurriedly gathered the last of her arrows, then darted back to wake the others. Alaric’s voice carried across the small area. “Depends. Are you friend or foe? We don’t take kindly to those who would share our fire and try to rob us blind.”

Fin rushed into the first tent, shaking Gwen awake. A single finger to her lips was all the warning the dark haired woman needed. Slipping back out, Fin could see three men emerging from the forest not far from Alaric’s tall form. No armor, no uniform, but something wasn’t right about how they walked.

“Would we ask first if we were foes? Why not just rob you? Why give your pet time to warn the others?” Fin stiffened at the word the man used to describe her. Pet. That’s what a chained Amari was called. She dove into the second tent. Emile caught her within his embrace. “Shh. There’s no guarantee they know.”

Trystian was up as well, strapping his sword belt on. “Stay close. We’ll keep you safe.” The tall, bearded man reassured her before leading the way out of the tent.

“What pet? There’s none here. If that’s what you seek, you’re in the wrong place.” Alaric’s voice was even. It was always better to talk their way out of a conflict.

The first tendrils of light from the approaching dawn gave her enough to see what she feared. All three of the men approaching Alaric had chains dangling from their belts.

“Ah, that’s fine. Charlie here–” the leader jerked his head back towards one of his companions, “–he likes to pretend he can smell ‘em. Says they smell bad on account of being corrupted by that magic of theirs.” He kicked at the dead boar Fin and Alaric had used for target practice. “Seems to me this is what he was smelling.”

“Fire’s that way.” Alaric gestured towards the rest of them. Fin tried not to grip her bow too tightly. The others stood near enough to prevent anyone from reaching her, but far enough away to pull out their weapons if it became necessary.

“Much obliged,” the leader remarked as he motioned the others to follow. Fin watched the strangers approach, Alaric trailing close behind. Something wasn’t right about them. It went beyond the shackles.

Alaric raised his chin, calling out “We have guests.”

That’s when it happened.

The lead bounty hunter threw his fist back hard, knocking Alaric to the ground. Fin fumbled with her quiver, sending out the silent healing energy to her friend. Around her, the other three drew their weapons and prepared to meet the charging foes.

By the time she got an arrow nocked, they were too close. Fin retreated a few feet, watching the fighting closely. Her bow was ready, but she needed to get a clear shot.

Close combat always unnerved her. The stench of blood turned her stomach. Gwen was holding her own against the one named Charlie, and winning handily. When the first body dropped, Fin relaxed just a little. There weren’t many out there who could beat Trystian or Emile in one-on-one combat, because the two men didn’t believe in mercy. Just an expedient death.

An arrow buzzed past her ear, the fletching scratching her cheek. Spinning on her heels, she watched it sail past the man charging at her. He leaped to tackle her as she tried to raise her bow. Instinct kicked in, and she did the only thing she could think of to stop him.

She willed his heart to stop beating.

An anguished wail tore from her throat. Pain forced her to her knees and caused her to drop her bow. The body of her would-be assailant fell with a heavy thud in front of her. Fin grasped at her left arm, desperate to breathe through the searing agony rippling down her bicep. She’d killed him. Justified or not, she’d taken a life.

“Fin? Are you okay?” Alaric’s voice broke through the shock. She opened her eyes.

He knelt in front of her. A single hand gently brushed her hair from her face. Concern for her was clearly visible in his brown eyes.

“I…I killed him.” She could barely whisper the words.

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Okay, I need your help. Each and every person who follows this blog!

‘Guarding Charon’ is up for Preditors & Editors Best of 2016 as a scifi/fantasy novel. Right now, it’s sitting in 3rd. It’s hit the top spot off and on during voting, so I know it’s close. Which means every single vote counts.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Go to this site: http://critters.org/predpoll/novelsf.shtml
  2. Vote for ‘Guarding Charon’. It got listed twice, so be sure to hit the first one so we don’t split the votes.
  3. Enter your name, email address (you can vote once per email address), and do the captcha to prove you’re human.
  4. Go to the email you used and click on the link to make your vote count!

Solstice Publishing is in the running, too, for best publisher! Please help!

I’m done groveling and begging now, so here’s the teaser for the week!

Guarding Charon-001

“Mr. Dixon, is this a safe place to talk? After what happened with the limo…” her voice trailed off.

“Very secure and safe, I assure you. No one would’ve been allowed to come close enough to the plane to put any sort of devices on the exterior, let alone gain access to the inside. Bruce will not be listening in.” He smiled. “If you like, you can call me Larry. Mr. Dixon is extremely formal. ‘Stuffy’ is what your great aunt called it. We will be working closely for the next several months, getting the estate transferred to you. There is no reason to be formal when we’re alone.”

He leaned back, his face taking on a more serious appearance. “Grace, this is a hard thing to ask right now, but it must be discussed. You have the chance now to reinvent yourself, disappear in some ways. Amanda knows what Bruce tried to do, and how he was forcing you into a corner so you’d have to marry him. She was making plans to bring you to her home herself, when she passed away. If you want, everything is in place for me to create a new identity for you. A new name, new social security number, new driver’s license. We can get the paperwork started now, have it all in place by the time we arrive in Cavendish. I only need your permission, and a name you’d like to be known by.”

She stared at the bottle in her hand. To truly disappear, become someone else, would guarantee Bruce would never find her again. Even if she didn’t stay in Maine after her six months were up, he would never find her.

“What about my parents?” Her voice was hushed.

“They accepted a check. Enough to guarantee your father can retire; their debts are paid in full if they choose to do that. But the money is conditional that they tell no one where you went. They know it is likely they’ll never see you again, and traded the money for contact with you.”

Grace slouched in her chair. Her entire body shook. They abandoned her, cut her out of their lives forever, for money. She knew she should be shocked, upset. But she felt numb. “I think I need a drink,” she whispered.

She kept staring at the bottle of water in her hands, fascinated by the motion of the water as the tremors continued. Distantly, she heard ice hitting the bottom of a glass, followed by liquid being poured. It appeared on the edge of the table.

Shaking, she put the water on the table and grabbed at the glass. Amber liquid swirled around a giant ball of ice. Before she could stop herself, she downed the scotch. It burned as it traveled down her throat, numbing her stomach to match her emotions.

If they were ready to be done with her, then she would be done with them. “Let’s do it.”

“Very well. What would you like your new name to be?”

She stared at the glass in her hands. “Did she have any family with her last name?”

“No. She was the last Cross. Her sisters took the names of their husbands, and she had no brothers.”

“That’s it, then. I’ll be Amber Cross.” She raised her glass. “Here’s to new beginnings.”

He raised his as well, “To new beginnings, Amber Cross.”

Swallowing some more of the alcohol, she began to try and adjust to the new name. “So, this house. What’s it like? And why’d she choose me?”

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Hey everyone!

I know it’s been a few weeks. Life got interesting leading up to the holidays. Happy to report that things are now calmer, safer, and happier.

Oh, and I finished ‘Consort of the Successor’!

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What better way to announce the release than with a teaser! Happy holidays, may the new year be everything you need it to be, and be sure to leave a review for every book you read!

Chapter One

 

“Talin, stop pacing. You’re making me nervous.” Kade laughed, not entirely in jest.

Talin stopped. Reaching his hand up to his collar, he tugged at it. Not that it was tight or constrictive, but out of a need to do something with his hands. “Well, you’re used to all of…this.” He waved his hands over the blue and silver uniform he wore. Royal colors. He’d been a member of the Royal Guard for as long as he could remember. The colors weren’t new. The regal cut of them, and what was about to happen, were.

Kade leaned back in his chair, one arm draped against the back of the empty seat next to him. His uniform was only marginally more ornate than Talin’s. “Oh, come on. It’s not that bad. You did agree to this, you know.” His friend’s face got serious. “You’re not regretting that, are you?”

Taking a deep breath, he replied, “No. Not one bit. I’ll do whatever Lily asks of me. Even if it means ruling at her side. That’s not the hard part.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Kade asked, exasperated.

“You’re going to laugh at me.” Talin moved to a chair on the other side and dropped to the seat. He raked one hand through his red hair and didn’t look at his friend.

“I promise not to.”

“It’s that everyone’s going to be looking at me. I’m not used to being the center of attention.” A muffled chuckle came from Kade. Talin’s head shot up and he glared at his oldest friend. “You promised!” he accused, pointing a finger at him.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.” Kade’s attempts to hide his amusement were failing. “Try this. Ignore everyone in the room but Lily. Given that it’s her coronation as heir as well, she’s going to be scrutinized just as bad, or worse, than you are. Show her she made the right choice in you as her consort. Lend her your strength, even if you’re an absolute mess inside.”

A thought struck Talin. “Is that how you’re getting through your wedding vows?” He smiled as Kade’s eyes started to shift and looked away at the wall.

“Yeah, well. That’s different.”

Talin laughed, “Of course it is,” he replied.

A door on one side of the room opened. Talin leapt to his feet, his hands automatically tugging on the bottom of his jacket to make sure it fit correctly and wasn’t rumpled. A side effect of years in the guard, he knew, but now he took comfort in the gesture. You’re getting a promotion, he told himself, that’s all. A really big one, sure, but the ceremony won’t be that different. I hope.

Corvin, Kade’s father and the current King of Tiadar, strode into the room and shut the door behind him. The crown worn by the ruling Consort sat on his brow. Keryth ran things, and Corvin supported her in every way he could. That was how it would be with Talin and Lily. And, if he was going to be honest with himself, he was glad for that. He loved Lily with all his soul. But he would’ve been hopeless as king.

“I think they’re about ready out there. How about you two?” Corvin asked.

Kade answered, “I’m fine. That one,” he pointed a finger at Talin, “is a nervous wreck. Lily might have to hold him upright to finish things.”

Talin swatted Kade’s hand away, “Traitor,” he joked. Turning his attention back to Corvin, he said, “I’m ready.” He released a deep breath and knew he spoke the truth. No matter what, he was doing this. For Lily, and the promise of a future with her.

“Good,” Corvin nodded slightly. “You remember everything from the rehearsal yesterday?”

“Yes, I think so. You and Her Majesty go first. Kade and I come out, followed by Lily and Rylin. I stand with Lily, say the oath when directed, and do my best not to fall over.” He smiled at the last.

The King smiled back. “That last bit’s important. You don’t want to pass out like I did. Had a headache for three days from my head hitting the step.” He reached out and placed a hand on Talin’s shoulder. “I’m glad she chose you, Talin. Keryth and I have long considered you part of our family, not just one of our guards. You’ll be able to help Lily in the days and years ahead in a way we can’t. Thank you for that. Your mother would’ve been proud to see the man you’ve become.”

The sincerity in the older man’s voice touched Talin deeply.  “Thank you, sir. That means a lot to me,” he said, his voice quiet.

Trumpets blared a fanfare, signaling the start of the processional. Corvin dropped his arm back to his side. “Well, that’s our cue.” He opened the door and stood aside, waiting.

Taking a deep breath, Talin stepped out into the antechamber that led to the main throne room. Keryth stood, tall and regal. There was no sign of Lily or Rylin.

As Corvin strode to take Keryth’s arm, Talin took his place behind the king. After all, when the day came that Lily ruled, his role would still be consort over ruler. Let that day be decades away, he prayed. The tall, ornate double doors parted and the royal couple began their walk to the thrones at the opposite end.

“Remember,” Kade kept his voice low. “This is about Lily more than you. And she’s going to be even more terrified than you are. You and I can open a bottle later tonight, and I can listen to how frightened this makes you. But she needs your strength now.”

Talin nodded his understanding. Kade was right, and he knew it. Lily had grown so much since her return to Tiadar a year ago, most in the months that followed her confirmation. There were signs of the abuse she suffered at Erena’s hands still present, but she was becoming more at ease with her true self. That inner strength he loved so much in her had begun to blossom. But elaborate ceremonies like this, where she was on display, would test that resolve.

Intrigued? I hope so! Be sure to pick up a copy here: myBook.to/consortofthesuccessor

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I didn’t forget! I just got swamped with…stuff! LOL!

Here’s the teaser for the week, from ‘Emile’s Blade: A Book of the Amari’.

Grear darted past the streams of people fleeing the caves. The amassed forces of five separate kingdoms bore down on their home, intent on rounding up the last free home the Amari had.

“Grear! To me!” A voice screamed at him over the crowd. Looking toward the sound, he saw an arm beckoning him. As quickly as he could, he wove through the throng and found the uniformed man who called to him.

“What is it?” he asked, his breath coming in gasps. “My family…are they alright?”

The blonde man nodded his head, the gold eyes darting past Grear’s head to survey the crowd. “I’m sure they’re fine. Artemis needs you.”

He shook his head emphatically. “No. I have to get to Bella and Serafina. Tell him he can find me at the rendezvous spot and impart his kingly wisdom there!”

A hand reached out, grabbing his arm. “Grear, it’s set in motion. Bella took her to the river already.”

The blood rushed out of his face as fear settled on his heart. “Lead the way,” he said, his voice wooden and heavy.

The other man wove a path through a series of caverns and tunnels, avoiding as many people as possible. “The raid started earlier than we thought it would,” he spoke over his shoulder. “Artemis got Lyssa into hiding, and summoned Bella as soon as he ordered us to evacuate.”

Grear didn’t answer. It was too late for talk, too late to say goodbyes.

They stopped in front of a plain looking set of double doors. “He’s in there. Refuses to leave. Says it’s not part of the plan.” He reached out his hand to Grear. “Take care of yourself. Stay free. Or try to.”

Grear took it in the friendship it was offered. “You as well, Titus.”

As Titus disappeared down the corridor, he pushed open the doors in front of him.

Artemis stood at the far end, his back to Grear. The sheer curtains that kept the sitting room separate from the balcony had been pushed aside. Ignoring the shelves of books, he strode past the leather chairs and finely carved tables.

“Might as well grab yourself a drink, Grear,” Artemis’ deep voice called out. “You’ll need one soon enough.”

He hesitated, the amber liquid in the crystal decanter tempting. “No, Artemis. I don’t need a drink. I need to know why you gave the order before I could say goodbye to them.” He walked out to the balcony and leaned against the rail. And waited for an answer.

Artemis stepped back from the edge, his hands resting on the barrier. He kept his focus on the people below fleeing Uamh nan Amari. “It was time. If we waited for you, we would’ve lost the opportunity. The humans will be on us soon. Most of our people will be rounded up as they leave the caves. If the ruse is to work, it had to happen when it did.” He turned, “I’m sorry, cousin. I really am. I know this will be hard on you. Raising her without any knowledge of who she is, what she is, who you are. And now she’ll think her father is dead.”

“What about Bella?” he whispered.

“She’ll remain at the river, as planned. When they find her, she’ll give them the story of how the last royal for my household is far from their grasp. Everyone will think it’s my own daughter.” He took a deep breath. “Given the magic she’s going to harness to send Fin downriver safely, she won’t live long enough to be chained. You’ll never encounter her as someone’s pet. Fin won’t have to see it, either.”

Grear’s heart constricted. His wife had agreed to this. He did, as well. It was the only way to ensure both Fin’s safety and the continuation of the royal line. But, now that the events were in motion, it cut deeper than any wound he’d ever gotten.

Artemis placed a hand on his shoulder. “They’re going to take me, Grear. They’ll make me tell them everything. I can only say I saw your wife leave with your daughter and you went after them. Make me believe, now, that Grear is dead.”

Grear looked at him, slowly making his gold eyes fade into brown. The dark brown hair darkened to a midnight black. “Grear’s dead.” Without another word, he turned and left the room.

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My first book. The one where my muse woke up and demanded attention. And I listened.

“Daughter of Hauk” will forever hold a special place in my heart. If not for this story, I wouldn’t live the life I do now.

Enjoy.

         “Arwenna, honey, wake up.” There was urgency in her mother’s voice. Sleepily, she sat up and rubbed her eyes. It was still dark, her mother’s face barely recognizable. “Honey, we have to leave right now. Hurry and get some shoes on.” Lyssa stood as if ready to run at any moment.

            Arwenna slowly got out of bed and put her shoes on. Before she had time to grab a cloak, the house lit up with a reddish glow. Looking out her window, she saw the house next door explode into flames. The roar of the explosion made her cover her ears.

            Lyssa grabbed her hand and began to run out of the room as more explosions went off.

            Outside there was confusion and panic. The air was thick with smoke and screams. Arwenna shrank in horror as she saw creatures beyond comprehension attacking all around her. Her mother pulled her along the back side of a barn, trying to shield her. Arwenna bumped into something and looked up, screaming.

            It was tall, at least as tall as a grown man. The legs were more like an animal’s, with hooves and knees that bent the wrong way. The skin was grey, as if death itself had touched it. A massive chest and pair of arms that looked like they could tear a person in two made her eyes go even wider. The face was nothing but a contorted snarl of hatred, with tusklike teeth. Red eyes looked down at her.

            Lyssa turned swiftly and shoved Arwenna behind her. She was holding a short sword in the manner of one well versed in self-defense. “Run, Arwenna!” She glanced back for a moment at her daughter. “Run! Now!” Arwenna stumbled, then obeyed the command of her mother and began to run blindly.

            She did what she could to dodge arrows streaming her way, as well as the bodies of the fallen. She stopped behind a wagon and looked back to see if her mother was following. Her eyes widened in terror.

            The creature had Lyssa in his grip. Her feet dangled off the ground as he pulled her up to face him. It ignored the sword buried within its shoulder. With a roar, he broke her in half and tossed the pieces aside like kindling. Arwenna screamed, but the creature did not hear her.

            More villagers were being slaughtered; others were being corralled into the center of the village. Most of them were her playmates. A lone horseman approached them. The visor of his helmet was down, but she could see wisps of smoke coming out from the bottom.

            “Is this all of them?” a voice demanded of one of the creatures. The voice was inhuman and grated down Arwenna’s spine like a hot knife.

            “All we can find, Lord Corse.” The beast sounded worried that his report would be found lacking.

The creature on the horse looked at the group of children, searching. He dismounted and started to examine the faces of the children. With some, he pulled aside the neck of the tunic as if searching for some kind of mark. He finished his examination and mounted his horse again.

            “The child is not here. Kill these, and keep searching.” He turned his mount and walked away, oblivious to the screams of the dying villagers.

            Arwenna turned away, unable to watch the slaughter of her friends. After a moment or two, she scrambled towards the fields in front of her. The corn was tall; it should hide her at least for a while. She ran blindly, tears streaming down her face. It seemed like an eternity before she reached the main road on the far side. She collapsed in exhaustion and grief behind a group of boulders.

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This book is dear to me, for several reasons. One of which is the way women are viewed in the world. It bothers me that too many are denied an education, are sold off, or otherwise demeaned simply because of their gender. By doing a role reversal, I hope I was able to bring a unique spotlight to this problem. After all, if it’s okay to do this to girls, shouldn’t it be okay to do it to boys?

 

The wagon bounced hard, jolting Arine awake. Rubbing her eyes, she looked around at the landscape. It was early morning, just past dawn.  The forest was familiar in the dim light. Home wasn’t far off. She stretched her arms towards the sky, willing the muscles in her back to wake with the rest of her.

She shifted a bit in the bed of the wagon. It was laden down with several boxes and bags, as well as a few other people from her village. Theos wasn’t isolated, but it wasn’t on a major caravan route either. Odd peddlers and such passed through often enough. Still, once or twice a year several of the tradesfolk banned together and made the run to Recor for supplies.

Arine moved aside the oilcloth covering the bundle next to her. The leather underneath it remained dry. It wasn’t the rainy season, but she’d spent far too much of her mother’s money on it to run the chance of spotting. Their shop was the only one for days in any direction to either have shoes made or repaired.

She bounced along with the wagon as the sun continued to climb over the horizon. Reaching a hand into her tunic, she felt the small bundle within. A smile crossed her face. Ian would love the colors she’d chosen. The pencils were a good quality, and far more expensive than she would normally have spent. There wasn’t much she could give her brother that would make him as happy, though.

A smile crossed her face at the thought of her brother. While only two years younger than she was, he was small for fourteen. Ever since the accident that had claimed their father’s life, Ian had lived in a world of his own creation. He could hear well enough, but rarely spoke to anyone besides Arine. She was the only one in Theos who could understand him. Not even their mother could. It seemed to Arine that their mother had given up trying to help Ian before she finished burying her husband.

For all his problems, Ian could draw beautifully. Sometimes she’d find him curled up at the hearth, charcoal and parchment on the floor next to him, where he’d fallen asleep while drawing the night before.

The creaking of the wagon seat alerted Arine, breaking her out of her reverie. Elaine looked down at her. “Last bend coming up, Arine.  Wake the others.” The older woman turned back around, her long silvery braid swinging slightly.

Arine pushed a stray lock of her coppery hair out of her face before slowly waking the two others in the wagon with her. More had wanted to come on the run, eager to see the sights of Recor, but there wouldn’t be enough room for them and their goods on the return trip home. Winter had been brutal, depleting stores below normal levels. Only four of them went this time, but the shopping list had been long.

The trees parted, giving way to the clearing where Theos sat. Arine took in the familiar houses and shops, dominated by the inn that took up the area behind the central well. Their wagon had been spotted already. Women poured forth from the buildings, voices calling out for help unloading, as they eagerly watched the wagon creep forward.

Arine kept silent, letting Elaine and the others answer the questions being put forth by everyone at once. She could barely keep the voices separate. Quickly, the wagon was emptied of all but the leather for Arine’s mother and Elaine’s own purchases.

Jumping down from the wagon, Arine reached in and pulled the leather bundle towards her. Her eyes scanned those still near the wagon, but Ian wasn’t among them. That’s strange, she thought. Normally he’s right here to carry the leathers for me. Puzzled, she rearranged her own pack and lifted the package from the wagon bed.  At least the shop wasn’t a long walk away.

Struggling slightly to keep her hold on the package, Arine found the latch to the door. The door swung wide at her urging, announcing her presence with a loud bang as it hit the interior wall. Arine carefully maneuvered past the tables and racks of wares, grateful her mother had put off rearranging the store until she returned. Arine put the package on the back table with a grunt.  Leaning on it for a moment, she called out, “Ma!  Ian!  I’m back!” When she didn’t hear a reply, Arine removed her pack and placed it quietly on the floor behind the table. The door to the work area was cracked open. A small knot of fear formed in her stomach. She moved to open the door, looking inside the workroom.

Her mother sat at a workbench, her back to Arine. The small fire, just big enough to keep the room comfortable, burned merrily in the fireplace.  Tools were placed on various surfaces, waiting to be used. The chair Ian preferred sat empty.

“About time you got back, Arine. Though Elaine said it might take a few more days, given the lists of stuff everyone wanted.” Her voice rang in Arine’s ears. The tone was wrong.

The older woman shifted, turning around to face Arine. Her dark hair was disheveled, strands fought against the tight braid she usually wore. “Did you get a decent amount of leather for me?”

Arine scanned the room. There was no sign of Ian. Not even a sketching. Those normally cluttered the corner of one of the tables. “Yes, Ma.  I put them out on the table. You should be ok for a while.” The fear in her stomach was growing. “Ma, where’s Ian?”

The woman stood. Grabbing a thick cloth, she moved a steaming kettle away from the fire. Calmly, she poured herself a cup of tea before responding to Arine. “He’s gone. Caravan came through, saw his drawings. Offered me good money to take him with them. Said the Domines loved having artists in their houses.”

“You sold him?” Aghast, Arine’s voice shook with shock and fury.

“Not really. It’s not like I could’ve gotten him a wife around here, Arine. He’s not worth much to anyone. If the Domine likes having a mute fool for an artist, why shouldn’t we get a chance to profit?” Reaching into the pocket of her trousers, the woman tossed a small pouch onto a table. The heavy clink of coins echoed in the room. “That’s your share. Go ahead. Take it. It’ll go to your house, anyway, so might as well enjoy it now while you’re young.”

Arine stared at the pouch, her mind reeling. Ian had been sold. Like a piece of property. His only sin being born a boy. Slavery was illegal, but the Domines usually looked the other way when it came to boys.

“When did you do this?” Arine struggled to keep her voice neutral. However, if she could get information on when the caravan came through, she might be able to go after him. She kept her eyes on the pouch, unable to look at her mother.

“Two, maybe three days ago. The caravan didn’t stay long. Lynn’s stores in the inn were already fairly low. There were too many for her to feed beyond that.” Her slurping of tea reached Arine’s ears. “Pretty sure Lynn did some trading of her own. Saw a few new boys cleaning tables for her today. I’ll bet you saw them as well. She would’ve sent them out to help unload Elaine’s wagon.”

Arine’s mind worked frantically. Two or three days’ head start! Very carefully, she reached out and took the pouch from the table. It was heavier than she expected. She’d need to find Bess first. Her friend could get all sorts of information from the new boys at the inn, and probably already had.

“I’m a bit thirsty from the trip, Ma.  I’m going up to Lynn’s to have a drink or two, recoup a bit. Don’t wait up.” Keeping a tight rein on her anger, Arine darted from the shop before anyone could stop her.

 

***

 

Two days later, Arine sat in an inn in some town. She’d lost track of names, of what direction she’d gone, searching for the caravan that now owned her brother. And of how much ale she’d had.

“This seat taken?” A voice, barely above a whisper, asked. Before Arine could raise her head to reply, the speaker pulled out a chair and sat down.

“You ready to listen to options, or are you still wanting to wallow in grief?” the voice asked.

Looking up, she took in the speaker. Dark hair pulled back in a braid, brown eyes that saw everything. The hilt of a sword peeking up past her ear. “What options?” she croaked, her voice raw from the alcohol.

“My mistress tasked me with seeking out those who had lost much, those who would do anything to regain what was taken from them. I’ve been following you since you left Theos. Heard you’re searching for your brother.” The young woman leaned in across the table. “She can train you, my mistress. Teach you how to save other boys from a fate like Ian’s. And, one day, may be able to find him for you.”

Arine shook her head, trying to take in her words. “And in return?”

The woman sat back in her chair. “Nothing. Mistress Bryn does not command loyalty, but earns it. The only question that remains is if you’re willing to follow me.”

“Follow you where?”

“To Sanctuary.”

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Yep! Time for another teaser!

I hope you all like this sort of thing…gotta admit, it’s fun for me to do!

‘Amari: Three Tales of Love and Triumph’ is a collection of the first 3 stories about the Amari race. I say ‘first 3’ because I can honestly say I haven’t given up on the world entirely. There may be more stories yet to come.

Christoph leaned back in his chair, pushing his empty plate away. “Not sure I should say this,” he hesitated, “but I think Alaric’s a better cook than the ones in the palace.”

“Only from necessity. Trystian was the real chef among us.” Alaric stood, picked up his plate, and moved to the small counter that served as their kitchen area. “Christoph, how about some air?” he asked.

The other man looked at him, confusion on his face. Alaric pointed over to their wives, deep in conversation.

“Oh, ah, yeah,” the man sputtered. “Sounds good to me.”

The pair left quietly. Alaric knew Fin was close to the end of her pregnancy. She hardly left their home now, complaining about how lonely things could be. Having Lyssa and Christoph come over to eat was his idea. Fin was so used to people around her, she didn’t take solitude well.

The two men settled into a pair of chairs that sat underneath a small overhang. “She’s giving Lyssa ideas, you know.”

“Those two get enough ideas between them to change the world. Putting them together may have been a mistake,” Alaric laughed.

“She wants us to have a child. Started talking about how secure things are now, that my line needs to continue.” Christoph leaned back in his chair, running a hand through his hair. “I just don’t know that I’m ready for fatherhood.”

“No one’s ever ready for it, Christoph,” Alaric replied. “You do have a bit more pressure on you than I ever did though.”

“I know,” he sighed. “One day I’m glad I’m the king, the next…”

“You want to run away from it.” Alaric finished for him. “I know that feeling. Far too well.” For a moment, he let his mind drift back to his childhood back on the island. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good. There were times, when his brother was sick, he prayed for him to recover. If only to spare Alaric from inheriting the throne.

“You know, Fin told me something about you when you were gone. Wouldn’t mind getting the story from you, though.”

Alaric turned, his brow furrowed. “Just what did she tell you?”

“When I told her you were heading back to Lorien, she asked if Kaerdan was still on the throne. Though she didn’t use those words.”

“Exactly what words did she use?”

Christoph looked away, watching the few people wandering the street. “She called him ‘not even half the man his brother is. And a rotten bastard that needed to be slit open’.”

Alaric laughed, but there was no mirth in the sound. “That sounds like him. And her.”

“Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Am I going to get the full story?”

Alaric looked down the street, choosing his words carefully. Christoph had been nothing but kind since they came here. No reason not to trust the man. But his own experiences with royalty made him leery. “It’s a long one.”

An elderly woman, flanked on each side by a youth, stopped in front of them. She bowed once, with great care, at Christoph.

The king rose, holding out his hands to greet the woman. “Great Mother, you honor me tonight. Will you now let me release you from your bondage?”

Alaric looked closer. A small iron bracelet encircled the old Amari woman’s wrist. Strange, he thought, Christoph set all the Amari free when he came to the throne. Why is she still wearing that? It was the first time he’d seen any Amari in Caerlynn wearing any iron.

She nodded, “The time is come for the truth to be said. For all stories to be told.” She leveled her gaze on Alaric. “Fin must learn the truth before her child comes. Before the first truly free Amari comes into this world. One whose parents never knew the burden of being a pet.” She dug a withered hand into a satchel that hung across her body. Withdrawing a worn leather book, she looked back at Christoph. “I accept now, the freedom you have offered. And then I will discharge my most sacred task and give this to Seraphina nan Grear.”

Christoph’s hands moved to the woman’s wrist. “And I am grateful, Great Mother, that I am honored to be the one to free you at last.” He slid the bracelet across her bony hand, pocketing it as soon as it left her body. Standing aside, he watched as the old woman entered the house.

“Who was that?” Alaric asked, confused. “I’ve never seen her in town before.”

Christoph settled back into his chair. “She was ancient when the raid happened on Uamh nan Amari. Stayed with Lyssa, raised her. Every other Amari my father chained deferred to her. I’ve tried, every year since he died, to get her to let me release her. She always said it wouldn’t happen until her most sacred task was near completion. I never asked what that was. It felt…wrong for me to do so.”

Alaric rose and started to move toward the door. Christoph stretched out an arm, blocking his way. “I wouldn’t, my friend. Whatever is going on in there is for Fin and Fin alone. I know that much. I know you’ll be told, in time. There are no secrets between the two of you. For now, though, I think we’ll be out here for a while longer.”

Settling back into his chair, Alaric kept a wary eye on the door. “I suppose so. But what do you propose we do while they’re in there?”

The king smiled. “You did say the story was a long one. Looks like we’ve got the time.”

Nodding, Alaric replied, “Yes, I think you’re right.”

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