The Rose Shield – Kari’s Reckoning

Catling’s Bane, the first book in The Rose Shield tetralogy is nearing the finish line, and unless some unforeseen computer meltdown halts all progress, it should be out… next week!

The rest of the books are slogging their way through my list of double-checks including Book 4: Kari’s Reckoning. Below is a little snippet. I took out the important names – so no hints (and a few extra pronouns). Stay tuned.

Kari’s Reckoning

He carved woads into his own skin, scored his cheeks and hairline, sliced grooves into his chest and arms. He notched his ears and slashed his shoulders and thighs. Blood ran down his legs and arms, dripped from his chin and fingers. He flayed Guardian’s dagger from his forearm and would have found another place to carve if Lian hadn’t ripped his knife from his hands and flung it into the forest.

The Farlander heaved him up and carried him to the pond. The water glowed and whirled, rich with luminescence. He staggered into the freezing fluidity and lay down, sinking beneath the surface. The light retracted and surged back, clung to his skin, and burrowed into his flesh. His wounds burned. Luminescence swirled with his blood, entered his veins, and lit him like a brand. He rose for a breath and sank again, eyes open, his vision filled with divine brightness.

The world spoke to him, not with words but emotion, an ancient message extending back through eternal time. His blood leached out, blending with the planet’s soul, every fiber connected across the land and water and air, the living and dead. The world drew on his life, tasted its richness, and integrated him into the pattern. Life surged around him and exploded into him, unstoppable and larger than he and those he lost, all of them forever part of the whole. The sensation was love, but not the feeling of love. All the emotions, fear and sadness, joy and pleasure, anger, and passion blended into the rich and poignant elixir of life.

He gasped for breath and floated, his irises reflecting the three moons and a night drowned in stars. The fire in his veins abated and the sting in his wounds faded. The owl called its lonely song. He closed his eyes and rested in the cold light.

Next Week!

The Rose Shield – Vianne

vianne

The Rose Shield is my WIP targeted for release in March-ish.

You’ve met Raker, the man who hears voices in the fog
Catling, a six-year-old with a rose birthmark around her eye
Whitt, the boy battling crajeks in the swamp
Gannon, captive in the belly of the Wandering Swan

What of Vianne, an Influencer capable to manipulating love and fear, pain and pleasure, life and death with a mere thought? Is she a villain or hero?

Vianne

When Vianne returned to his cell, her face wore a frown of reluctance, green eyes heavy with regret. The weariness in her countenance added years. The ivory clothes, flawless skin, and silver in her cinnamon hair deceived the eye. Upon first glance, she appeared innocent, gentle and graceful, her voice touched with kindness. Yet, the set of her jaw told him he’d find no quarter with her. She planned to torture him.

The latch clicked as the guards locked her in, and she assumed her seat by his cot. “I’ve returned for the truth, Gannon, and I have little time. Tell me how you blocked Qeyon’s influence. He has assured me, beyond question, of your gui…power.”

“You were about to say ‘guilt.’” He caught her eyes as her back stiffened. “Do you execute the guilty?”

The woman sighed. “Only if your pigheadedness forces my hand.”

“Torture away,” he said, turning his face to the wall and shutting his mouth. Fear wormed into his consciousness, the muscles and sinews of his body contracting.

Rising from her chair, she strode to the door and knocked. Two guards entered, carrying a strip of cloth with a bulky knot in the middle. Gannon clenched his teeth as the guards descended on him. One held his head while the other tried to force the gag into his mouth. A sharp blast of pain ripped through his chest, and he gasped. The guard crammed the balled knot into his mouth. He cried out as they twisted his head and secured the cloth. Glaring at the woman, he shouted, his oaths muffled by the gag.

The guards rose and stood by the door. “Anything else, Vianne-Ava?”

“Ignore us,” she replied. They nodded and left.

Vianne strode to the foot of his cot, her voice soft. “Block me.”

He shook his head, steeling himself. Pain flared as an invisible vise closed on his chest. His hands wrenched against his restraints as he squeezed his eyes shut and bit on the gag. The agony expanded, thrusting spears of steel into his arms and legs. As quickly, she released him, and his breath shuddered from his lungs.

“It’s going to get worse, Gannon,” she said. “Block me.”

The pressure returned, the sensation mounting. He screamed into the gag, writhed against the pain of his cracking ribs, his heart exploding in his chest. Torment scoured his veins, shooting into his joints. “Aaah. Naah. Aaaah.” He heard his own muffled bawling.

“Block me!” Vianne demanded.

“Aaaah cahn’t. Aaaah,” he howled. His head pounded, nerves sparking, skin on fire. Needled daggers ground into this bones. “Naaah. Cahn’t.”

“Block me!” she shouted.

She flayed the skin from his body. His joints twisted, bones crushed. Fear exploded in his head, smashing into the fragile barriers of sanity, incinerating the shredded remains of any resistance. The woman’s commands barked, unintelligible. All he could do was scream.

Then the pain vanished.

He panted, shaking, the muscles in his body rigid. The memory of pain bathed him in sweat, quaking through him like a virulent fever. He gulped air, body heaving and trembling.

“You couldn’t block me,” she said, her voice bewildered.

He shook his head, eyes closed. The terrible fear subsided. “Sick,” he mumbled through the gag. He heard the rustle of her jacket and felt her fingers worry the knot behind his head. When it fell away, he vomited on his shoulder and hair. He dropped his head back and groaned, uncaring.

“You couldn’t block me,” she repeated. “No one could endure… It’s not you.”

Gannon shook his head. “No.”

“But you know who it is.” She grimaced at the miasma of smells permeating the small room. “Don’t make me do that again, Gannon. Don’t force me. You must realize I haven’t a choice.”

“Who’s your master?” he asked, turning to read her face.

“The realm.” She paced between the dim walls. “You must have an inkling of how this power might be wielded in the wrong hands. Or why else would you resist me.” She pivoted on her heel to face him. “Yet, in the right hands, it can cut through subversive agendas. It might prevent influence from being used to usurp authority, incite war, and harm the future of Ellegeance.”

“I thought the influencers’ oath was to the realm.”

“It is.” She paused to study him. “Yet, we are human beings and subject to temptation after all.”

“You could just let me go,” he whispered. “It’s over anyway.”

“Tell me who it is, and I swear to you that I’ll spare your life.”

“No, you won’t. I know too much.”

“I want the name.” She resumed her pacing and then halted. “It’s the girl, isn’t it? Qeyon said she was with you in the alley.”

When he didn’t answer, ripples of pain danced behind his eyes. His stomach knotted and fear engulfed him, whether his own or influenced, he couldn’t say and it scarcely mattered. She knew. “Yes.”

She sat beside him, green eyes eager. Her hand touched his wrist, and his body began to warm and relax. The lingering pain of his previous injuries eased, replaced with sensations of physical pleasure and relief. An awareness of gratitude for his torturer tickled his thoughts. It was subtle and would have been imperceptible if it hadn’t felt so illogical.

Vianne leaned toward him. “That little girl is in grave danger, Gannon. You understand, don’t you? Algar’s no fool, and from what Qeyon said, she made a spectacle of herself in the market. I can protect her, here in Ava-Grea. You must tell me who she is and where to find her before she and everyone she knows is dead.”

Due out in Marchish

Dragons on the Loose

Dragons are on the loose!

My journey from traditional publishing to indie publishing is complete with the release of my last 4 books, a quartet set in a land of dragons and skyriders, mountain meadows and outland seas. The Moons mark the passage of the seasons in the books and here on my blog.

The Blurb-ish

In the distant mountains of the Mirror, exiled skyriders fly dragons in the old Way, merged in flesh, blood, and bone. Twenty years past, they fought for the freedom of the valley’s dragons … and lost.

Thus begins the epic adventure that stretches from the quaint village of Taran Leigh and the mountains of the Mirror to the Anghard Archipelago in the western sea. Welcome to a world where wealth and power rule, fear is the weapon of choice, and cruelty is the cost of a pocket of gold. It’s a world that forces a choice — indifference, complicity, or defiance.

The dragons of land and sea, souls of grace and beauty, hang in the balance. Will they descend into howling violence, lost to the terror and pain inflicted upon them by their tormentors? Or will they fly free, the creatures they were born to be? With each book, the stakes rise and far more than the dragon soul lies at risk.

“The chest rose above his head, long neck curving, aquamarine eyes fracturing the sunlight. This dragon’s scale gleamed blue and gray, sea-shaded with crescents of curling white waves. The webbed wings shone seafoam blue with ribbons of coral and the mottled green of seaweed. Kearney smiled. If the sea glimmered like this dragon, he’d have become a sailor.” – Mor Kearney, Clan Lord of Loughran.

Myths of the Mirror (Book 1):

Imprisoned in the stone lair, the captive dragons beat webbed wings and thrash serpentine tails. They tear their flesh and batter their bodies against the black bars of their cells, iron grating against iron. The once peaceful creatures howl, tormented by spine and spur, their fury matched only by their despair.

Treasa, the daughter of exiles, seeks the secrets of a hidden past and a father she never knew. Gifted with visions, she glimpses pieces of years long lost and a veiled future that only raises more questions. The dragons visit her dreams, laden with contradictions that tear at her heart — for one day she sails in unfettered flight, her arms thrown wide, and the next she writhes in tortured darkness, desperate to be free.

The lair’s black-garbed riders sense the dragons’ growing savagery. Yet Conall longs to grasp their power, to subdue them and soar, and he will endure the reek, filth, and terror of the lair to earn his right to fly. With a heart encased in steel, he masters the weapons of compliance to see his will done. At the cost of the woman he loves.

Then, a curved talon rends flesh and dragon scale, rattling against white ribs. Blood falls like rain and the world shifts. Treasa and Conall must decide who they are and what they stand for. Thus, the battle for the dragon soul begins again. Alliances form, old myths are revealed, and new myths are born.

Thanks again, my friends, for helping with the covers! 

Now, back to writing… 🙂

The Stairway

northagain-073

I couldn’t resist Sue Vincent’s beautiful prompt. It was right up my alley … or down my stairway, so to speak. Stop it, Sue. I’m supposed to be working on my WIP! Check out Sue’s blog Daily Echo for some beautiful writing from a fascinating woman. Here’s my take on the prompt:

The Stairway

I lingered at the top of the stairway, teetering over the ice-laden steps, my head reeling. Before me arched a gateway of ancient stone and lofty evergreen, overhead boughs bent with old snow. Why hadn’t I noticed the stairs before; I’d walked this path many mornings over the years though never as lonesome as now.

The crisp sun glinted on the ice, dusted the air with a haze of enchantment. An illusion, surely, a trick of the light. Yet, a small wisp of me believed in magic. I trusted in dreams come true and happy endings. I didn’t live them, but I believed them. The gateway beckoned like a lover, teased, promised. I took a tentative step toward my altered future.

My foot slipped on the gleaming ice and shot forward. I yelped as my hip hit the top step and I bumped down, sleeves filling with snow splinters, my coat riding up, elbows whack, whack, whacking on each step. My bottom took the stairs like a toboggan, my mouth spilling squeaky oaths and ouches the entire ride. The magic portal disgorged me onto the crusty snow like a bad meal, and my feelings hurt as much as my bones. So much for magic.

“Are you all right?” A man’s voice, trying to sound concerned despite the muffled laughter. “Can I help?”

I looked up at his offered hand, the mirth in his eyes, his charming smile. I gave him my scratched hand and my aching heart… all those magical mornings ago.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

Image from wikimedia

Image from wikimedia

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exists, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.
~Charles A. Dana

The Overlord’s parents decided to be truthful about the existence of Santa Claus. He’s 2 years old, mind you.

“You don’t believe in Santa?” I asked my daughter, aghast at the notion.

“We don’t want to mislead him or lie to him,” she said.

“How do you know there’s no Santa?” I asked, sensing her ambivalence. “How do you know there’s no such thing as magic?”

Her mother writes fantasy. What did she expect?

This conversation got me thinking about how little I actually “know.” I’m fairly certain I know my thoughts and feelings and perhaps a glimmer of what I perceive with my senses. But that’s about it. I drew a pie chart to demonstrate:

Pie Chart

Figure 1. Pie Chart of Ignorance

There are various things we humans agree upon and, therefore, have decided are “true.” For example, many of us believe gold is valuable when, if you think about it, it’s really just rock. Collectively, we ascribe values to all sorts of tangible items, and we conform to these “realities.” Move into the realm of thought and the tendency is no different.

What is “real” and “true” for me changes over time as I gain experience and ask the what-if and why questions that rattle around in my pea-brain. I imagine scientists also ponder imaginative possibilities. Otherwise, discoveries would only occur by accident. For scientists, theories become fact when proven. Yet how often are “truths” revised as more evidence surfaces, as our knowledge grows? All the time.

So, just because something can’t be proved using our limited senses and machinery, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Just because we can’t discover or measure it now, doesn’t mean we won’t in the future.

I enjoy this uncertainty. I like living with fathomless possibilities. This is where the heart of faith and spirit lies. For me, this is the realm of ghosts and angels, a sentient symbiotic planet, karma and destiny, aliens and gods. I can believe in our ability to manifest the universe through our choices, that words can change a life, that thoughts have tactile power, that love can be sent through the air like an arrow or a wave, that our understanding/categorizing/defining/ values may be flawed because we see only a minute sliver of the whole picture.

So, I’m open to the possibility of everything, to the existence of magic … and the presence of Santa Claus.

Happy Holidays.

Five Elements Anthology Supports Children’s Literacy

Children have a natural love of books. I remember reading to my daughter as an infant and toddler. Her first words weren’t mama and dada. In her little, raspy, Yoda voice, she uttered, “Reeead booook.”

We cuddled as we read the same books over and over and over and over and over again until we’d both memorized the words. We made weekly trips to the library and carted armfuls of books back and forth to our little home. She still loves to read.

DSC00609

The Overlord, age 1

Now I’m repeating history with the overlord, already book-obsessed at the age of two. Here he is reading one of my books. He just got to the good part!

 

WWLogo-1in300When my writers group and I pulled together a little sci-fi/fantasy anthology, not one of us volunteered to take the role of accountant. To make things easy, we elected to donate 100% of the profits to support a literacy program for children run by Willamette Writers, the largest writers organization in the Pacific Northwest.

BooksForKids2The program, Books for Kids, collects and distributes books to underprivileged youth in over 75 agencies and organizations. These new and used books land in the hands of children and teens that might not otherwise have them.

For $.99 you can download a kindle copy of the Five Elements Anthology and get seven short stories, knowing that all the profit (about $0.30 per book) will benefit Books for Kids. If interested, here’s the Amazon link: Five Elements Anthology

Five Elements Cover From May 7 – May 11, Five Elements Anthology will be Free on Kindle. In order to preserve our commitment to children’s literacy, I will make a direct donation of $0.30 to benefit Books for Kids for every free download up to $100.00 (and will post the receipt).

Of course, direct tax-deductible donations to Books from Kids are more than welcome and can be made on their website. The link is here: Books for Kids

Thank you for everything you do in your own way to support future readers.

A Christmas Story – The Snow Globe

 

images (5)Once again, I attempt my hand at a short story requiring 16 specific elements:

Mop, purple slippers, orange tree, 1966 Mustang, Ferris wheel, mistletoe, light post, armadillo, newspaper, stilts, pea pod, nail file, train tracks, Christmas stocking, snow globe, record player.

I hope you enjoy. Merry Christmas.

 

The Snow Globe

Delores perches at the scuffed counter of Dee’s Diner on Christmas Eve, keeping one bespectacled eye on Angie as the waitress mops the linoleum floor. The sign on the front door has already flipped from “open” to “closed,” and the crimson Panhandle sky fades to a duller shade of rose, a single bright star glimmering on the eastern horizon.

“Thanks for closing early, Dee,” the teenager says.

“No problem, honey. I got plans too.”

Angie looks up and smiles, clearly skeptical, but too kind-hearted to ask. It’s no secret Delores lives alone, unmarried, and childless—except for Buster the cat, who’s not particularly festive when it comes to the holidays.

At closing time, sole proprietor, boss lady, and down-home cook, Delores has slipped off her God-ugly orthopedic lace-ups and donned her purple slippers. She’s been on her feet since a quarter to dawn, and the dogs are hurting puppies. While Angie dumps the dingy water and tucks in the chairs, Delores cleans the kitchen grease from her fingernails with a tarnished nail file. She squints at an old yellowed newspaper, occasionally popping wilted pea pods between her dentures, too soft to serve up and too wasteful to toss out with the trash.

“Are you going to the carnival this year?” Angie asks.

“No need.” Delores looks through the front windows, ignoring the old rain streaks. Across the paved lot, just to the other side of the train tracks, this year’s carnival is setting up at the parish fairgrounds. Through the thick lenses of her bifocals, the colorful lights trimming the booths and spanning the spokes of the Ferris wheel blur into a kaleidoscope of stars. A white-suited man on stilts, graceful as a heron, hangs gold garland decked with chrysanthemum blossoms along the arch over the entrance.

“Have you ever gone?” Angie asks, her tasks done, a denim purse hanging from the crook of her elbow.

“Not since I was sixteen, the first year they came.” Delores looks at the young waitress over her glasses as a lock of white hair slips from its bun, brushing her cheek. “Honey, it’s the same carnival every year.”

“For a hundred years?” Angie asks straight-faced, and then giggles.

“Not quite, but close enough,” Delores replies.

“How come you don’t retire, Miss Dee?”

“And miss out on working Christmas Eve?” Delores shoos her off with a huff. “Get going and have a Merry Christmas now. I’ll see you Monday.”

Angie gives her an awkward kiss on the cheek, and echoes a “Merry Christmas” before letting herself out.

As Angie’s taillights turn the corner, Delores picks up the paper and shuffles back to her closet-sized office. She rummages in the bottom drawer of her old metal desk, finding the small box she stashed there a year ago and leaving the paper behind. From the box, she gently lifts a snow globe the size of a plum.

Back at the counter, she places the magic ball before her, adjusting her glasses to better see the tiny carnival inside, its eternal snow blanketing the painted fairgrounds. With a sigh, she waits, tapping cracked fingernails on the counter, clicking her false teeth, and peering into the night.

The light post at the corner flickers on, attracting swirling bugs like gold dust, and an armadillo in search of insects scurries from the palmetto and arrowroot at the lot’s edge. That’s the sign she’s been waiting for, and her memory draws near.

Reverently, she shakes the globe, the tiny Ferris wheel and colorful tents caught in a swirling underwater blizzard. In the corner of her eye, Christmas lights trimming the window sparkle on. The diner shines like new, red booths without a single burn or duct-taped patch, floors pristine, the counter gleaming like a sheet of ice. A garland bearing real pinecones drapes the kitchen door. Dainty jelly-jars with sprigs of native mistletoe and sand pine adorn every table. And a Christmas stocking hangs from the counter by the register, filled with gingerbread stars she baked that morning, on sale for a nickel.

In the diner’s corner, The Dean Martin Christmas Album spins on the record player, the needle hitting the vinyl with a soft crackle and hiss. White Christmas fills the warm Gulf air.

She hears it before she sees it. A brand spanking new 1966 Mustang convertible cruises into the lot. The car with its long hood is the color of ripe cherries with a red and white pony interior and Rally wheels that shine like polished silver. The man at the wheel parks by the orange trees that border the diner and glances toward the door, looking disappointed until she hurries over and flips the sign from “closed” to “open.”

He smiles and steps from his car, tossing the keys and snatching them from the air like a man with a silver dollar to spend. He’s a few years older than she, maybe twenty, dark-eyed with a halo of black gypsy curls and a black leather jacket. The bells over the door jingle. “Are you open?”

“A little while. It’s Christmas Eve,” she explains, brushing back a blonde lock and fighting a blush. “I was closing, but I can get you some pie or something.”

“Coffee,” he says. “Twenty of them…in a box if you have one.”

“Twenty?”

“For the carnival.” He gestures over his shoulder.

“I’ll have to brew a pot.” She walks behind the counter. “It’ll take a while.”

“I don’t mind waiting if you don’t,” he says.

He sits at the counter while she scoops coffee into the big percolator and Dean croons I’ll Be Home for Christmas. “Is it fun traveling so much?” she asks, turning to face him, elbows on the counter between them. “Do you ever wish you were home for Christmas?”

From his pocket, he pulls a snow globe and swirls the snow. The tiny carnival inside comes to life as the storm spins. He holds it up between their eyes. “My home,” he replies.

“The carnival,” she whispers, caught in the whirling snow. “How long you been with the carnival?”

“A hundred years,” he replies softly, his words drifting into the air like magic.

She smiles as the snow falls. “Will you stay with the carnival forever?”

“Forever if I could.” His eyes catch hers over the globe. “You sure are pretty. Are you alone?”

“Yes. I was closing.”

“Would you like to dance?”

“Dance?” She laughs. “Where? Here?”

He nods and reaches across the counter, taking her hand and guiding her to the end and into his arms. Silver Bells sings from the record player as they dance in the center of the diner floor, hand in hand, like a pair of old lovers. He plucks a sprig of mistletoe from a jar, and holding it over her head, kisses her, a first kiss that lays open her heart and seals it like the carnival in a swirling globe of snow.

“I should get back,” he says, finally letting her go.

“Oh, the coffee!” She laughs and hurries behind the counter. In minutes, the steaming coffee cups are nestled in a sturdy box. “That’ll be three dollars, please.”

“Leave the globe on the counter next Christmas Eve,” he says as he hands her four singles and cants his head toward the snow-laced carnival. “I’ll come home for Christmas.”

“For a hundred years?” she asks.

“I’ve loved you a long time already.” He kisses her sweetly and picks up the box. She holds the door open to the balmy night and watches as the red mustang crosses the track and glides under the carnival gate.

“I’ll wait for you,” she whispers and flips the sign to closed. Silent Night ends with heavenly peace and the record player’s arm lifts.

Delores drags her feet to the office and tucks the snow globe in its box in the desk drawer. She pulls out the paper and rereads the old article about a young carnival worker killed in a Ferris wheel accident back in ‘66. David Williams. She’d never asked his name that night.

The paper slides into a plastic bag and joins the small box. Back in the front room, she switches off the old diner’s lights and steps outside to lock the door.

Across the tracks, the carnival is a radiant haze of color and light. “Merry Christmas, David. See you next year.”