Naj’ar, a Goblin.

I took a last-minute break to finish the 5th draft of my trilogy: Unraveling the Veil. Phew. Done. Now I can celebrate start my next draft. Yay! Ugh!

This project has been in the works for 2 years, and I plan to start publishing in May August if all goes well.

I thought I’d share a slightly-condensed intro to my WIP’s main characters, starting with Naj’ar, a goblin. I hope you enjoy the read.

Cover concept

Bats squeaked in the blackness, and an enduring cold leached from the walls. Neither troubled Naj’ar. His kind were accustomed to the leather-winged company, and his muscled frame, though half-elven, tolerated the chill almost as well as the purebloods. A shaggy fur draped his shoulders as he navigated the tunnelways beneath the mountain.

Ragged veins of quartz glimmered in the rock’s wet crevices, their latent power spiraling as if they’d captured wisps of cloud. Their faint glow cast angular shadows. Yet, the reflective surfaces of his eyes granted him the vision to lope through the crude passageways with sure feet.

The ground shook, and he paused, a hand reaching into the void for balance. Curved fingernails scraped a wall. Grains of igneous rock sifted from the ceiling. The tunnels to the peaks meandered in a labyrinth of forks, crumbling stairways, and long sloped passages, familiar to him though he’d never labored in the upper mines. His interest lay in the Veil and the hidden world that lay beyond.

Na’jar, a goblin

A pragmatic people, goblins rarely indulged in fantasy. But legends hinted of a hallowed land, the birthplace of the First where only the brave and just found welcome. Others speculated that behind the shimmering wall lay the answers to the secrets of eternity. Its allure tugged at his curiosity, a barbed thorn hooked in his mind, impossible to pry loose.

His feet slid, and his fingernails dug into the ice varnishing the slanted floor. Ice within the mountain? He frowned, gray skin prickling. The air froze on the walls in a glassy rime. The crust of frost thickened. Clouds formed with each breath, and for the first time, the frigid chill seeped into his bones. He sniffed the downy scents of snow and earth mingled with something new—the electric tang of power.

Bent in a crouch, he pressed forward. At the end of a winding incline, beyond the frame of winter’s brambles, a sinister light forced his yellow eyes to narrow. The snow-laced peaks sawed at the sky. And behind them, the Veil beckoned.

He toiled uphill. Bare feet crunched through frozen drifts. A white wind howled from the heights, and the curtain shimmered through gaps in the storm-bourn snow, a sheet of silver light, shuddering and bulging. Lightning crackled and ribboned through a lace of arteries and veins as if it were a monstrous creature hovering at the edge of the world.

Ears swept back, hands and feet numb, Naj bent against the blow. He trudged upward, determined to reach the ridge. Ice caked his face, sparkled on his lashes. The air hissed with electricity. The distinctive odor of ozone, both clean and burned, wrinkled his nose.

The Veil splintered. A blast of power flung him backward.

He tumbled down the steep slope, hurled into a black and white slide of rock and snow, past the tunnelway’s entrance. With a breathless gasp, he clambered to his feet and climbed for the mountain’s shelter. A second explosion slammed him to his back. Colossal shards of light shot outward, streaking through the storm. He covered his face with an arm. The snow and stone lost its grip on the mountainside, burying him alive. He clawed and kicked free of his icy tomb and scrambled over the sliding terrain.

Then the wind died. Snow and rock rumbled to stillness. The Veil began to weave itself together, threads swiftly stitching across the ether, reconnecting and patching the jagged wounds. The blizzard transformed into rain, slackened to a lazy drizzle, then evaporated before it mottled the ground. Sunshine lanced through gashes in a rapidly mutating sky. Snow vanished in a hot fog and then the fog too burned away.

The Veil thinned and solidified, releasing the energetic mass that had fortified it against the storm. Naj hastened for the tunnel entrance, his soles pained by the hot stones. Tufts of grass, moments before buried in ice, began to smolder. He dove into the warming passageway, rolled to his feet, and dashed into the blackness.

***

Thanks for reading!

Storm #Writephoto

Storm – copyright Sue Vincent

The First of Chaos strode into the Borderland, summoning the rains with his raised palms. Would their thunderous return drown the land and all those toiling in its dust? He harbored little doubt of that outcome. Would they quench the thirst of a parched and dying land to foster new life? Of that end, he was curious. Chaos wasn’t devoid of hope, but it was always unpredictable.

He turned to the peaks, the land of goblins and raptors, of hooved climbers and burrowing rodents. Towers crumbled. Ridges eroded, swept down by torrential rains. Giant trees toppled like kindling, hillsides laid low by mud-clotted waves, pummeled by sand and stone.

The storm crushed all in its path. Caverns collapsed. Tunnels flattened and filled. Goblins died. Changelings died. Elves died. The noble and treacherous, the innocent and immoral, the young and old. By chance alone, others would survive. They fled down the mountainside on his mighty heels.

He strolled the perimeter of Ka Radiff, a once-thriving center of commerce, an open and welcoming city. Now, a crater, a receptacle of his brown deluge and a raft of bloated bodies. To the west, ash and dust shrouded the land in a ghoulish film the color of old bones. Soot joined with the billowing smoke of the forests where the inferno raged, consuming all in its path—human, plant, and animal, the common and plain, the rare and beautiful. Gone, gone, gone. A waste. He would wander in that direction eventually. But first, he’d satisfy his curiosity.

There was a war on.

***

A cheery snippet for Valentine’s Day from my WIP ( book 3: Lords of Chaos), slightly modified.

In response to Sue Vincent’s Thursday #writephoto prompt. Thanks, Sue!

And Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤

pixabay

 

Filling Magical Plotholes

Elanalue Windthorn (Alue). An elf and one of the three protagonists.

I’m about 40 pages from completing my 2nd draft of a new trilogy… Unraveling the Veil. It’s been a bumpier ride than usual, my laptop jouncing on my knees as the story’s wheels plunge into plotholes on the long and winding road to publishing.

A few of them required me to rock the old tale back and forth while gunning the engine. A couple of times, I had to back up and try again, turning in a slightly different direction to get around a sinkhole. I’ve been known to add an extra gallon of coffee to the tank in order to jack up the imagination and fill in a whopping crater.

Magic is a big part of the problem.

Fantasy authors can easily find themselves mired by their magic. To be honest, I’ve struggled through a lot of “oh, shit” moments where I’ve put a character in a treacherous situation, and then realized (on the second draft) that they can easily escape. Yes, you guessed it, by using the powers I granted them.

A shapeshifter who can turn into a beetle can escape most confined spaces. Uh oh.

A shapeshifter who can transform into a bird can just fly away from a dangerous situation. Darn!

A pyrokinetic elf doesn’t have to worry much about being stuck in an ice storm. Duh.

A goblin who can rearrange earthen matter should be impossible to keep locked up in a stone cell. Gah! Rats!

The list goes on and on.

My characters aren’t all-powerful, but they have talents. And their abilities change over time, so I have to keep track of where they are in their magical evolutions.

The point is, writing, rewriting, and editing fantasy requires a unique analysis of every action scene. We, the creators and purveyors of magic, have to question our logic in order to keep the story plausible. Can my characters use their magical abilities to get out of this terrible situation?

If the answer is “yes,” it’s time to put on the brakes and check the old map. Then fix the road or plot a detour. The journey must go on.

WIP working cover

Writing “The End”

Pixabay image

I imagine all artists – writers, painters, composers – come to a place in their work when they (in one form or another) jot down those two words: “The End.”

Naturally, the end of a first draft isn’t the END. There are months of rewrites and edits ahead. The collection of words I’ve tallied up on my laptop is still a work-in-progress.

But the story is done. The plot has wrapped up. The characters have completed their arcs and in some cases have died. Even my happy endings don’t come without pain, suffering, and loss. They are always bittersweet.

When I write “The End,” it’s emotional. As I scribble this post, days after penning that last line, my eyes gloss with feeling. And there’s no single reason.

“The End” comes with a sigh of relief and a wish to tell someone the powerful news. It’s a milestone. More than a year’s creative work coming to its conclusion.

But, for me, there’s also an odd sense of grief. I don’t know what to do with myself.  I’m restless. My sense of time shifts; my focus suddenly flutters away. I can’t sit, can’t move on. The story that consumed my thoughts and hours is over. The pressure to write, to capture my characters’ thoughts and hearts and sacrifices before they slip away, dissipates. I know the story now from the beginning to the end. The characters I have lived with and come to love have nothing more to say to me. They journey into their futures without me. Inside my head, I’m… alone.

Writing is, for many, an emotional undertaking. I’ve felt this way with every first draft.

I finished my first draft on November 18th with an additional 26,722 words. My NaNoWriMo challenge is done. I’m grieving.

And prepping for the less intense application of my craft.

Do you have any emotional reaction to writing “The End?” I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

A visit from the bossy muse, a free book, and a couple of awards

The muse’s latest look (pixabay compilation)

Way too early in the morning, my muse drops down beside me on my couch and tosses her hat onto the coffee table. The howler monkey that’s been riding her shoulder for a year leaps onto my kitchen counter, curls back its rubbery lips, and flashes a yellow-toothed grin. The muse hands me a latte. “Nice progress on the draft… finally.”

“Thanks.” I’m still leering at the monkey but manage to sip my latte. Yum. “So, why the visit?  You know I’m under NaNo pressure.” I somehow forget to mention that yesterday I logged zero words.

She arches an eyebrow but for once shrugs off her annoyance. “I’m running a promotion for a couple of days. Catling’s Bane is free today and Wednesday. Your sales blah blah blah…” I’m not listening. The howler’s opened my refrigerator and taken a bite from a head of lettuce. He’s going for the orange juice.

I bolt up. “Hey! Out of there!” The beast roars at me, a sound capable of bursting eardrums. He grabs a tuna sandwich I made for my husband’s lunch, darts across the cabin’s single room, and climbs halfway up the stairs. Suspended from the banister, he gobbles and spills bits of sandwich on the furniture below. UGH. I sink back onto the couch and glower, afraid any further intervention will make it worse.

“What else,” I ask, wanting to get this over with as quickly as I can.

She smiles at me. My muse never smiles. “Two of your books were semi-finalists in the 2019 Kindle Book Awards.”

“What?” I’ve now forgotten all about the howler and the globs of tuna sprinkling my floor. I’d also forgotten that I submitted books. “Both of them?”

Sunweilder and Soul Swallowers.” She tips back her latte, stands, and snaps her fingers at the monkey. Not two seconds later, the creature swings from the banister onto her shoulder. My muse heads for the door, her familiar bossy ill-humor sliding onto her face. “Get to work.”

“I plan on it. After I clean up this mess.” As she walks out the door and into the forest, I call after her, “Hey, if I finish my first draft, can we lose the monkey?”

She glances back and slips me an evil smile.

***

I guess the muse’s visit could have gone a lot worse.

Click on the cover if you’re interested in a free kindle of Catling’s Bane:

 

And here are those semi-finalists:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!

Escape – #Writephoto

Image copyright Sue Vincent

Alue nudged the prison door open.

Dawn’s light dappled Glenglisun’s slender towers. The jade patina of jungle growth, of humidity, of misty warmth, swathed the city as if it were fashioned of ancient bronze. Spindly minarets blended into the soaring canopy, and its flowering arches belied the peril within its walls.

Naj crept past her. The goblin moved in a crouch, long limbs corded with muscle, his double-bladed glaive clasped by its wooden shaft. Alue’s breath clogged in her chest. Someone had slipped them a key, left the weapon. Someone had freed them, and yet she cringed at the possibility of arrows tracking them from the rooftops.

At the building’s end, Naj ducked to his right and vanished. She darted after him, hooked the corner, and smashed into Danian. The changeling grabbed her arm, steadying her, and she stifled a curse.

“Quiet,” he whispered. “Follow me.”

“I’m not following you anywhere.” She wrenched her arm from his grip. “You’re a liar and a thief.”

Danian closed the gap, his breath in her face, irises black with fury. She mirrored his glare until he swung away. “Your choice,” he growled and set off for the city’s high wall.

Naj paused. His yellow eyes narrowed to slits, and he studied her as if she were a new specimen of plant life. “Do not die for your stubbornness,” he warned and loped after the changeling.

The patronizing arrogance bristled, but so did the truth. Alue’s last choices had cost her more than her freedom. She raked back her froth of red hair, swallowed her indignance, and dashed after them.

Danian avoided the stone streets, escaping instead over a weave of dirt pathways. He halted in the shadow of one of the grass and mud homes. The wall loomed ahead, draped in a camouflage of leafy creepers. Guards idled by the stone columns flanking a filigreed gate, inattentive, but holding spears no less deadly.

“This way.” He made a short retreat and veered toward a cluster of aerial roots that a large banyan had suspended over the wall. Strangler figs twisted around them. A natural ladder. “We go over,” he whispered and scrambled up. Alue climbed without effort, relying on her elven agility, hands and feet finding easy holds. She jumped to the other side and waited for the goblin. Naj landed with a grunt.

Beneath the canopy, time stalled, the day cast in perpetual dusk. Birds squawked and howler monkeys roared. Danian ran ahead. Alue leapt between giant teaks but struggled through the lattices of vines that snagged her body and tripped her feet. Hands bloodied by a fall, she tried to rip the barriers aside, tempted to scream with frustration. How long until the changelings hunted them?

Naj drew her back. His glaive swung like a scythe, slicing through the tangled underbrush. It swept over her head in a terrifying arc, and a green snake thudded to her feet, severed in two.

“Do not kill here!” Danian ordered. “This is changeling territory. If you make a mistake—”

The snarl of a big cat silenced him, the sound chilling to the bone. And close. Naj spun, his glaive raised. Alue froze, the animal behind her.

“Don’t harm it,” Danian’s hand edged up toward the goblin’s weapon. He met Alue’s gaze. “And don’t move.”

Alue fought the agonizing urge to run, fear trembling through her limbs. She couldn’t bear the predator’s presence at her back. Slowly, she disobeyed, rotating, peering into the jungle’s green depth. A massive panther, a slick blackness smooth as starlit water, crouched amidst the mottled undergrowth, baring deadly fangs. A guttural growl rumbled from its throat as its muscles bunched.

Danian breathed in her ear, “Trust me.”

**

I’m cheating and sharing a bit of my WIP (still a first draft but edited so that it makes sense). This is in response to Sue Vincent’s Thursday #Writephoto prompt. I couldn’t pass it up.

Procrastination Plus!

Arrgh!

I’ve been procrastinating regarding my writing for the first time in 10 years. Why? Partly because of this dang speculative fiction prompt challenge I started. It’s not the busy-ness that’s holding me up. It’s that the responses are so creative and fun, and I’m all over the blogosphere reading and visiting old and new friends.

In terms of writing, my most productive time of day is first thing in the morning when I can indulge in big chunks of creative time. And here I sit at 5:00 AM writing this post… procrastinating!

I did finish the first draft of Book 2 in my current WIP trilogy, but it took me a month to write the last three chapters – instead of a week – ugh.  It was more fun to play with cover ideas. I can do that for days on end.

I don’t know the titles yet  – these are place-holders – and I’ll probably have covers done professionally, so this very likely is just more procrastination!

(I haven’t purchased these images, (thus the watermark). I certainly will if I decide to use them).

Okay, enough procrastinating, Diana. Time to start on Book 3. Knuckle under and get cracking! Or maybe I’ll quickly check on the blog first… See what I mean? Arrgh! Lol.

How do you procrastinate, and however do you get back on track?

 

Naked shapeshifters? A writing problem.

pixabay image compilation

I’m about 21,000 words into my latest WIP after a week of NaNo. Can I keep up the pace? Not a chance! But it feels good that the words are spewing – yeah… spewing. 🙂

But I have a problem… naked shapeshifters. They’re distracting, and I refuse to bog down the story to deal with all the nudity or the logistics of finding clothing. I’m curious as to how you might handle it.

The challenges of keeping your clothes on while shapeshifting

My human characters are shapeshifters. The story is an adventure that takes place over four large territories. Shapeshifting is a convenient way of traveling, spying, stealing, protecting oneself, and escaping some sticky situations. There are extreme drawbacks to shifting, so it’s a choice that has to be carefully weighed.

Anyway, when a human shifts into a bird or leopard or beetle, for example, their clothes don’t fit anymore and, logically, are left behind. (Yes, exceptions abound, but I’m not going there .)

So the animal travels or escapes, and then shifts back into human form somewhere in the mountains or jungle. It would follow that their tidbits are fully exposed to the elements, to the terrain, and to each other. Naked shapeshifters dangling and bouncing, wrapping themselves in handy fern fronds, or keeping a thousand stashes of plastic-wrapped outfits all over the vast territories doesn’t work for me. What to do?

Of course, I googled this problem, and I’m not the only one to face it.

Here are some ideas based on my research:

1. Clothing is a part of the shifter’s physical organism and when he changes, his clothing goes along for the ride. It’s part of his being. Damaged clothing could regenerate just like physical injuries.

2. Shapeshifters transform by rearranging the space that their physical organism and clothing occupy. The matter that makes up clothing transforms with them.

3. Similar to fey glamor, a shifter doesn’t physically reconfigure matter or change form, only appears to. Thus clothing is optional, and only the shifter knows the truth.

4. A shifter’s pattern, or archetype, is not limited to the physical body and appearance, but includes, personality traits, quirks, instincts, and training, as well as a distinctive choice of clothing. Just as the pattern of a wolf or bear includes a specific coloring of skin and fur. When a shifter changes into another archetype, the clothing disappears with his humanness. When he retakes his human form, the human imprint reappears. The shapeshifter simply transforms from one archetype to another, and back.

5. Another take on patterning – Magic is a form of energy. It interacts strongly with matter and can be controlled consciously. A shifter transforms by mentally reforming his self-image into an animal. The mental image provides a pattern for the magic, and they shift to match. Same thing in reverse, with clothing.

6. Shifters perform a ritual using the carcass of the animal they wish to turn into. They wear the skin or furs of that animal, and when they shift, the ritual pulls through the “bonded” matter around the shifting body. When transforming back, the spell returns the shifter’s body and other matter to its former arrangement.

7. Shifter clothing is crafted from animal skins and furs so it can morph with the shapeshifter. Inorganic items cannot shift and are left behind.

8. Clothing is made for a child-shifter using hides, hair, feathers, and other animal materials. During a ritual, the clothing is patterned to the child, who eventually learns to shift with them. Until they learn this skill, they are shifting in the naked human form.

9. A shifter imbibes a substance that permeates the body and gives the shifter control over his physical organism, integrating consciousness with anatomy. The substance reacts based on the conscious commands of the shifter.

10. The clothing is made of psychoactive fibers that meld into a shifter’s body when he transforms, completely hidden from view.

11. Shifters wear some kind of charm that allows them to change or create appropriate clothing.

12. Magic requires no explanation – it just works.

13. Clothing doesn’t exist in this world.

14. Deal with the nakedness.

15. Have everyone wear ponchos.

Is there one or two of the above that appeal to you? Any other ideas?

Happy Writing!

My bossy muse returns

The muse’s latest look (all images from pixabay)

My muse and I have a love/hate relationship. She’s a shapeshifter, and she isn’t known for her sweetness or patience, so I’m not sure what to expect when I open my writing room door.

I know she’s there because of the howler monkey roaring at me from the banister of the outside staircase (and I don’t live near a jungle). “Shoo, shoo,” I order, flapping a hand. I slip past and shut the door before the beast tries to bite or groom me.

A glaive

The muse is sitting on my futon, flipping a knife, a pistol-thing in a holster at her hip. Against the wall rests a double-bladed glaive that looks like it could take my head off, maybe twice. My instincts tell me to take my chances with the monkey.

“How’s the book coming?” She arches an eyebrow. Sarcasm leaches from her pores.

I lean on the door, arms crossed. “I had a hectic summer.”

She puts her boots up on my coffee table. The knife spins above her head, and she grabs it out of the air before it stabs her. “I’ll give you a pass… this time. But I want some progress. You’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo this year – 50,000 words by the end of November.”

I wrinkle my nose into my “stinky-smell” face while panic flutters in my chest like a caged sparrow. “You realize that November is tomorrow. I haven’t prepped. I haven’t even signed up. I barely have an outline. And need I remind you, NaNo is a ton of work!”

“So, get over it.” She practically rolls her eyes. “You’re a writer. Writing is a ton of work.”

“I know, but I’m having trouble even envisioning this story. Your suggestion of goblins and shapeshifters isn’t clicking. It’s not my thing.”

“Trust me.” She gives me a sly grin full of evil, musey intent.

“Can I fire you?” I ask, only half-joking.

She ignores me and sheaths her knife. “I want you to add elves to the mix.”

“Elves?” Now she’s struck a nerve. I pretend to gag. “That’s your solution? Ugh. I don’t even like elves. Their too Tolkien, too… elfish. I love Tolkien, but… ugh. I’d feel like I’m writing a spin-off. Ugh, yuck.”

My muse sighs at my immaturity. “You don’t write spin-offs.”

I still can’t get the elf-taste off my tongue, but since that sounded like a compliment of sorts, I cease gagging and plop down beside her. “Thank you, but elves?”

“What do you have against elves?” She tucks a lock of hair behind her pointed ear, and I groan. “It’s not like I’m insisting on dwarves.”

“Dwarves? As in Thorin and Balin, or gnomes with red hats? Even worse! Thank you for not ruining my life. Elves are bad enough. Yeesh.” I’m starting to feel incredibly cranky under all this pressure. “And what’s with the gun thing? I don’t write guns either.”

“It’s a pulser.” She pulls it from her holster and rests it on the table. “I’ll leave it to you to figure out how it works as well as its limitations. I want you to stretch, Peach. Write something different, something challenging.”

I slouch and put on my grumpy face. “Shapeshifters, goblins, and elves, oh my.”

She smirks and gives my shoulder a hearty shake before rising to her feet and grabbing her glaive. “Once you get started, I’ll help. It’s my job.” She opens the door, and the howler jumps into her arms.

While she clomps down the stairs, I stand at the banister outside my door. Through the dense trees, dawn’s thin light is green and liquid. The monkey barks at me from my muse’s arms, and another annoying thought pops into my head. I have to ask. “And I suppose one of the settings is a jungle? You know I’ve never lived in a jungle.”

“That’s called research,” she yells and glances at me over her shoulder, wicked half-smile curling her lips. “Have fun.”

She fades into the forest. I shut the door, open my laptop, and google NaNoWriMo. Ready or not, time to sign up.

***

My blogging time will be a bit sparse this month. But I’ve got some ideas up my sleeve too. Elves? Really? Happy Writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soul Swallowers: Writing children into adult books

pixabay compilation

I love writing children into my books. They add a bit of light-hearted tenderness and comedy between all the adult intrigue, betrayal, and gore.  They offer a fresh perspective on the adult characters around them and raise the stakes for those battling for peace and kindness.  Children don’t show up in all my stories, but they play a small role in Soul Swallower.

You’ve met, Raze, Johzar and Danzell, and Sajem.

This little snippet introduces Chellai (age 6) and Thanelan (age 4).

***

Raze carted the empty basket along the path while Chellai skipped ahead picking coneflowers and snowy oxeye. Thanelan rode on his shoulders, the blond four-year-old gripping Raze’s forehead.

“I didn’t see the witch, me lord,” Chellai said, her voice comically high.

“Lanya teases you. You mustn’t wander alone, but there’s no witch in the forest. And I am Raze. I’m not a lord.”

“Lanya says we’re to call you lord, me lord.” Chellai still sorted through Lanya’s many rules and pursed her lips at the contrary instructions.

“We don’t have to,” Thanelan said from above. “’Cause we’re free. Raze made me mum and me free before we come to Kestrel. Mum says Lanya is uppity on workin’ for a lord. That’s why she says it.”

Raze adjusted the small hands edging over his eyes. “Lanya can call me a lord if it helps her feel uppity, but you should call me Raze.”

“Mum says Lanya is a meddler,” Thanelan said. “And Lanya says me mum is a gossip.”

“I will keep that in mind.” Raze chuckled. The two women worked in the hearth, and the room was toasty enough without their squabbling.

Chellai stopped to collect another flower, her bouquet almost complete. “Lanya says you will be the king of Kestrel when Lord Rydan dies. And so I should show respect and say ‘me lord’ now.” She twirled and skipped ahead.

“Chellai!”

The girl spun with a wide-eyed pout.

Raze tempered his exasperation, set the basket down, and lowered Thanelan to the path. He beckoned to Chellai with a smile, and when she edged closer, he squatted down between the two. “Now, I will tell you a thing I want you to remember. I am only Raze. I’m not a lord, and I will never be a lord. We live in conquered lands ruled by an Ezari empress, and she doesn’t appreciate talk of kings. I raise horses and make carvings in wood. You help in the hearth and the garden. We all do our part, like kin. I am free and you are free. We are the same.”

“Criminals and cravens says me mum,” Thanelan added. “And the poor. We was the poor.”

“True enough.” Raze dropped a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I am the descendant of robbers and cutthroats, no doubt. But those years are long in the past, and we can decide our destinies today, can’t we?”

“Me mum and da and me could leave whenever we want,” Thanelan said to Chellai, “because we’re free.”

“I don’t want to leave, me lord,” Chellai’s voice squeaked.

Raze sighed. “Then you may stay, of course.” He picked up the basket. “Now, let’s be on our way. Samoth and I need to bring in the horses, and you both have chores to finish. Let’s not keep uppity Lanya waiting.”