The Necromancer’s Daughter: Joreh

Joreh Graeger

Joreh is the last of my trio of main characters. You’ve met Barus and Aster. Joreh is my reluctant protagonist. The poor guy is riddled with ambivalence. I make all my characters suffer, but Joreh is the least sure of his convictions, and he more than the other characters will be forced to make the difficult choices between justice, faith, and love.

Below is a little snippet from his first POV chapter. I hope you enjoy it.

***

Lanterns lit the watchtowers, and guards held up the gleaming gold haloes in the rising squall. The bonfire in the square hissed and thrashed like a demon in iron chains, and Joreh longed to stand before it and forget the girl. The caravan had departed, and the square lay empty as residents sheltered in their homes. The woodsmen headed for the tavern.

He glanced at Aster, impatient for instructions. She waited in the blowing snow for him or whatever would befall her next. Three stiff-backed soldiers approached from the barracks. At the same time, the inn’s door swung open and several brothers of the Red Order descended the steps, his father in the lead.

She stepped back, but surrounded by men from the outpost, she lacked anywhere to run. Joreh grabbed her arm. She shook in his grip, and any strength or confidence he’d witnessed during their short trek vanished. What little color rosied her cheeks drained from her face, and her eyes sought his, white-rimmed with panic. His father terrified her. How did she even know him?

“Well done, Joreh. I’d assumed we’d lost her. How fitting that you’re the one to deliver her to the Blessed One’s justice.” His father clapped him on the back and gestured to a soldier. “Secure her in a cage.”

Her gaze flitted to the dangling cages, and Joreh grimaced, wishing they could get this over with, quietly and honorably, without the displays of intimidation. If they locked her in a cage, she’d freeze to death before morning. He drew a knife from his wide sash and cut the bindings on her wrists, eager to follow the woodsmen into the tavern. “It’s too cold in the cages. Lock her up inside or chain her in the stable.”

She rubbed blood into her strangled hands and edged nearer to him as if he held the key to her salvation. He possessed no such thing. Nor did he want it.

His father looked down his nose at her. “She doesn’t require coddling. She’s dead. And if there’s any question, come morning, we’ll hang her.”

“She hasn’t been tried.” Joreh scraped a hand over his scowl. “You can’t execute her without the goddess’s judgment.”

His father raised an eyebrow. “Oh, my son, watch me. The Blessed One requires no trial for this one. She’s far from innocent. Her very existence is a testament to evil.” He grabbed the collar of her cloak and yanked her toward the fire. She cried out, writhing like a wild thing as she fumbled with the clasp.

Joreh staggered after them. Would his father throw her into the flames? That he even asked himself such a question dismayed him.

The cloak’s brooch popped. Aster dropped to the mud, and the vicar tossed the garment into the fire. He beckoned to the soldiers. “Take her to the cage.”

Joreh gritted his teeth as his father eyed him, daring him to utter a challenge. Two soldiers lowered a wooden cage. A blade prodded her to the cell, and she stumbled inside. She gripped the wooden bars as the rope drew taut through its pulley and lifted her prison, swaying and creaking, into the air. Snow fell through the bars unimpeded. Joreh stamped his frozen feet as the woman curled into the cage’s corner, too far from the fire to feel its warmth. Wrapped in his cloak, he trailed his father into the inn.

Thanks for dropping by and reading!

The Necromancer’s Daughter: Aster

With a book launch on the horizon, I’ve started introducing my three main characters. This is Aster, a young woman who was born dead and resurrected by Barus, the necromancer. He’s raised her as his own, and though he’s warned her away from dragons… she can’t find it in herself to be afraid.

I hope you enjoy this (slightly modified) snippet introducing Aster.

***

As it always did, the tide of emotion started as a trickle of anticipation at the base of Aster’s spine. The swelling excitement flowed into her chest, and her fingers tingled. It spread over her skin and rushed into her face. The feelings belonged to the dragon, not to her, but she’d become accustomed to the foreign sensations thrumming through her bones.

The dragon whooshed up the cliff into the ether, nearly knocking her from her feet. Whipped-up wind thrust her grandmother’s blue shawl open, and it flapped from her shoulders like a fledgling’s untested wings. Her fine white hair whirled with the blowing snow. Though she’d expected the creature’s striking entrance, she laughed in surprise.

The beast’s leathery wings angled for a spiraling descent far above her head. Sunlight shone through the webbing, enhancing the mottle of silver and black. She’d encountered this one many times before and raised an arm to wave. “Come down. I’m not afraid.” Would it finally heed her call? A gift for her eighteenth awakening day?

A scar striped the dragon’s snout, jagged as a thunderbolt. Its long neck arched, ruby eyes gleaming as its head dipped toward her, jaws agape. Curved incisors glinted in the raw light, and the serpentine tail snapped at the frozen stalks of asters quivering in the wind.

Barus had told her, long ago, to hide behind a tree and make herself small, and for years, she’d obeyed his wishes. But no more. If the dragon meant to terrify her, it had failed every time. She trusted her instincts, knew to her core that the creature wouldn’t shred her to pieces or whisk her away in its teeth.

But what about an apple?

She reached for the armor of scales as the massive body undulated above her, its back bristling with spikes, clawed feet sweeping the air just beyond her fingertips as she held an apple aloft. The beast circled, rising higher.

“Come down,” she teased, giving the wrinkled fruit a toss. “I brought an apple for you.”

The dragon’s wings swept back, and it dove from the cornflower sky. Aster shrieked and flung the apple. The toothsome jaws snapped the fruit from the air, and she laughed with delight.

As though in answer, the beast bellowed a cry and plummeted beyond the cliff’s wall. Aster darted to the edge as the dragon’s wings unfurled, capturing the wind with the ripple and snap of a galleon’s sails. The colossal beast skimmed the gray sea, flying for the Isles of White Sands glimmering like a mirage on the horizon.

As the drumming of wings surrendered to the waves’ roar, another sound assumed its place. The voices of men.

***

Thanks for reading!

Otherworldly #Writephoto

copyright Sue Vincent

Meriel knelt by the flame’s soft heat. “It’s so quiet here.”

The wrinkled woman sat beside her in hushed contemplation. “The stones hold the silence of time. Do you not hear it? An ancient serenade exists between the voices of the sea and the silence of the stones. There is no song without silence, and no two songs are the same, just as no stones shaping this world are the same. Each song arises from a singular darkness. Each stone bears a singular face.”

Her eyes closed, Meriel listened to the stone’s silence and peered into her clay body, attentive to the voice of her inner darkness. She waited to behold what lay hidden and fearful there, what lay wished for with secret hope, desiring to be set free. She began to see that love wove the cloth of Belonging and entwined in its folds ran threads of otherness, uncertainty, surrender, and integration.

“Will you speak to me of my journey?” Meriel asked.

With a crooked stick, the woman stirred the fire. “The Belonging never leaves us alone, child. We hold our yearning in our hearts always. We wait for an invitation to love, but we are already loved. We wait for love to fill us, but love already abides within us. When we extend our hands in love, we offer the diamonds of our souls. We offer that which is sacred and terrible in its possibility, for love is a creative and rebellious force. It is the culmination of all our dreams and desires, and therefore it is equally shrouded in fear.”

Her fingers unfolded, revealing a diamond the size of a pebble. “So, we offer the diamonds of our love. And our lover, our friend, our other, sees through the darkness only a rock, one of these pebbles worn smooth by the sea.” She closed her fist and opened it again, this time tendering a round stone. “Old wounds blind them, even though it is a precious gift we offer. We feel misunderstood, unappreciated, and in our anger and hurt, we withdraw the gift. When we are wounded, we offer the diamond conditionally. It is payment for filling our needs, for following our orders, appeasing our desires. In this way, we also turn our gifts into stone.”

A smile crossed the woman’s lips, and when Meriel looked again into her palm, the stone shimmered and transformed before her eyes. “Offer your diamonds always, Meriel. Offer them when they are rejected; offer them when they are perceived as valueless rocks; offer them when it hurts you to do so, when you tremble in pain, when your wounds gape open and bleed. Only then will they truly be the diamonds of your soul. And only then will your lover or friend or brother or sister see them for what they are. Love creates space for wounds to heal.”

Meriel wanted to believe in the possibility of transformation, the promise of hope in a world she found enormous, fractured, and filled with fear. “Where am I in my soul’s journey?” she asked.

“You are everywhere,” the woman said. “The journey is cyclical, round as our globe. We walk it individually and as communities. It ripples through our lives, often more than once.”

Meriel accepted the diamond offered in the woman’s hand.

“You must decide where you are, child, how long you will stay there, what you are willing to endure, and whether you are brave enough to risk love and hold it in your heart.” She touched Meriel’s shoulder and left her to her dreams.

At dawn, Meriel scaled the stone steps leading to the island’s grassy cliffs. Her arms rose to her sides. Love’s song, the song of the sea, her own song blended to fill the patient silence of the stones. The tides surged in her blood. Her heart pounded against the sheer walls with the waves, and her eyes filled with light. Love spiraled, descended, and alighted around her. The mist lifted, and as a warm wind bent the grass, her heart leapt without fear from the edge of the precipice into the rising sun.

***

A modified snippet from my Dragon Soul series. I hope you enjoyed it.

In response to Sue Vincent’s alluring photo prompt. She posts her prompts on Thursdays if you want to join in.

I apologize for my absence from visiting your blogs. I spend a few days caring for my mom while my dad was hospitalized. All better now. Stay safe and take good care of yourselves. ❤

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.

Descent #Writephoto

image by Sue Vincent

Thank you to Sue Vincent for the lovely #writephoto prompt. I couldn’t resist cheating on this one and only slightly modified a scene from The Sorcerer’s Garden. I hope you enjoy!

***

Dustin waited at the base of the sweeping stairs, the heaviness of his mail hauberk welcome beneath his light leather armor. He carried his recurve bow and quiver, his sword sheathed, knives tucked in his belt and boot.

The palace lay in darkness, candles snuffed and lamps doused. Only a shimmer of powdery moonlight glided through the stair-hall’s tall windows and polished the curved marble treads. He’d ordered the King’s Guard to double patrols on the walls, leaving the palace eerily vacant.

Soft shuffling feet accompanied whispered voices above. A black hood drawn over his white hair, Tristan drifted down the stairs, no more visible than the shadow of a cloud across a night sky. Behind him, the short, square form of the queen descended, her face hidden by her cowl, a pale hand gripping the banister. She turned briefly to gaze upward at the solitary king who peered over the rail above, a ghostly specter if not for the forlorn eyes glinting in the moonlight. She raised a hand, reached briefly with her fingers in a final farewell.

The princess trailed behind the queen, her cloak open, cowl thrown back. The onyx beads encircling the hem of her black dress swept the steps with a soft hiss. Stately, defiant, she refused to acknowledge her rescuers, and Dustin wondered if she believed the dreamer’s prophesy, if her starched back signified valor or fear. He couldn’t help staring at the woman, the lines of her cheekbones, her dark eyes, and the wisps of raven hair framing her face.

Before she reached the bottom of the staircase, she too paused to look back at her father. Dustin glanced up as well, only to see the king touch his hand to his heart at the gallery rail. The woman’s gasp was little more than a whisper as her fingers returned the final gesture. The doomed king retreated, and her step faltered on the stair. Dustin reached for her arm to steady her, and for a heartbeat, their eyes crossed paths. Then hers, moist with tears, disappeared as she drew her cowl over her head, and whispered, “We must go.”

Boys

A powerful snippet of writing from a master of prose.

(Please click through to comment ❤ )

 

Ordinary Handsome

Our pale naked chests caught the moonlight. We were primitive mammals, drinking from her pool. Unsentimental, there were no aftermaths to consider, no consequences to chasten our arousals. Freely belligerent, we scraped the raw off mountains and ran roughshod over untidy hearts. We did not care. We were boys.

We cured ourselves with thought and shame, and retreated from Pan’s doom. But not all; some joined his legion and drink still from the pool, naked boys in aged skin.

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The Lover’s Moon

Lover's Moon

In my fantasy worlds, the Lover’s Moon ushers in the ripeness of summer. Fiddleheads unfurl on the mountain paths and the high meadow blooms with fireweed, toadflax, and pearl everlasting. In the villages, the lanes bake and the heat rises in liquid ribbons. It’s a moon of full-bellies,  bare feet and water warm enough for swimming, of golden hay and long lazy days.  On the sea, it’s a time of genial winds, promises of love, and sails billowing with sunshine.

For anyone romantic at heart, the full Lover’s Moon smiles tonight.

Excerpt from the Lover’s Moon, Eye of Sun
(Percy is going to create a little diversion)

The Crow’s Nest bustled with seamen, yardsmen, and scurrying serving maids. Caron crowded them into a corner, sharing a long table with men from the Gale Breaker and Seabourne. A few crewmen hoisted their tankards in a boisterous greeting. Edin had never patronized such a chaotic and raucous place. Seamen sloshed well beyond their cups, and he couldn’t tell whether they were getting along or apt to throw punches. Caron suggested the mash for supper, and he took the recommendation, barely able to think straight with all the noise.

The food hearty, he ate like a starved man. One of the crewmen sharing the long table leaned toward him. The skinny seaman sported a crooked nose and hair that might have been trimmed by a blind man in a stiff wind. “How’s yer mash? Good ain’t it?”

Edin pushed away his empty plate. “We’ve been living on old bread and watered oats, complements of your governors.”

“It weren’t fish, anyway,” the young man said.

“Percy got fish nigh up his gills,” a flaxen-haired man explained. “Name’s Hywel and that’s me brother, Malven.” He pointed to the beardless version of himself sitting across the table.

“Fish mornin’, noon, and evenin’,” Percy muttered. “Can’t tolerate it no more.”

“Quit cookin’ fish then,” Malven said. “Yer the blame cook.”

“Pull up somethin’ aside fish and I will.”

“Mutton would be good,” the bearded older brother said. “Hook us a good shank of sheep off Ramsey.”

Percy thought that worth a laugh and ordered more ale.

“Don’t mind the fish stew,” Hywel said. “Like it with potatoes. Good when they come in again.”

“Still fish,” Percy muttered.

“Good crab off Ross and Whitnee,” Hywel said. “Crab’s worth the work.”

“Still fish.”

“Crab’s not fish,” Malven said. “It’s crab.”

“It’s a sort of fish,” the skinny cook insisted.

“It don’t got fins, Perce.”

“Neither do a clam, ya idiot.”

“A clam ain’t a fish neither.”

Eyeing Malven, Percy downed his ale. “If it’s from the sea, it’s fish.”

“Lot’s from the sea that ain’t fish,” Hywel said. “Rocks and weed. Sand.”

“We’re talkin’ about fish, not sand!” Percy shouted with a grin.

“Just sayin’ not everything in the sea is fish,” Hywel said.

“If it come from the sea, looks like fish, tastes like fish, is fish.” Percy pushed back his chair, thumping into a bald warrior at the next table who growled and gave him a shove. Percy bolted up and faced the shiny-headed hulk. “Now, that weren’t necessary. We was just talkin’ about what’s fish.”

“And I’ve heard enough,” the man snarled. “Fish have gills. That’s how you know they’re fish.”

Percy’s face turned scarlet. He lifted the edge of the warriors’ table and spilled every tankard the length of it. Before Malven could stop him, he took an off-balance swing at the warrior who popped him in his crooked nose. Percy howled, grabbed a tankard, and smashed it into a bearded warrior’s cheek. The man shoved Percy so hard he flew off his feet, landing on the suppers of the Gale Breaker’s crew.

“He pushed me on ya!” Percy shouted, his arms protecting his face. “Blame warriors, wreckin’ yer supper.” The Gale Breaker’s crew tossed Percy back toward the warriors, but Hywel caught his arm and yanked him out of the path of a right hook that would have lopped off his head. A man from the Gale Breaker spun around and thundered a punch into the bald warrior’s belly and head-butted him in the face, breaking his nose. Another warrior with a puckered scar on his chin picked up a chair and hurled it at the Gale Breaker’s crew. The seamen erupted, climbing over tables and throwing fists at any warrior in range. The proprietor roared from the end of the room, but he was far too late.

(Coming in August!)

The Rose Shield – Catling

Rose Shield 2
The Rose Shield is my current WIP. A month ago, I introduced Raker  (Here). He’s half mad, but has sparks of unexpected wisdom if you can get over the fact that he converses with the river fog. My main character is Catling, and here’s the start of her story:

Chapter One Excerpt

Hanging Day.

Catling clutched the back of her mother’s wool skirt as Keela picked a path through the market crowd. Head down, she kept her eyes on the bare heels slapping the pavers ahead of her, afraid of a swat if she let go.

“Stop tugging on my dress and tramping on my heels,” Keela said without a glance back. She wrenched her skirt free. “And keep up.”

Catling flinched and scurried to catch up. At six, she was a scrawny thing and easily buffeted by the larger bodies that failed to see her. The market was all shoving and yelling heads off on hanging day, and she wouldn’t have minded if Keela weren’t in such a hurry.

She spotted a split-copper and darted from safety to pinch it from the crack between two pavers. A pair of scampering boys dodged around her as she ducked back behind her mother with a crooked grin. She slid the coin into her pocket beside her carved waterdragon and considered where she might hide it. All over the warrens, she kept secret stashes of split and clipped-coppers, stowed into crevasses and holes and buried under stones. She was rich and someday she’d collect them in a sack and ride a ferry to the sea.

“Always big crowds Summertide hanging day,” Keela said over her shoulder. “The weather’s kind enough and food’s plenty. Maybe we’ll share a meat tart and catch a couple neck-stretchers.”

The mere thought of a tart set Catling’s stomach growling. During Summertide, the market circled almost all the way around the warrens. Tables, carts, stalls, crates, and planks balancing on rickety chairs were set up haphazard like river rocks that people flowed around. Servants from the tiers sauntered down with their guards and pockets of clipped silver to spend however they pleased.

Riverfolk sold fish and eels by the pier. Glassy-eyed twitchers lolled against a stone wall, begging for anything they could sell for a taste. Smelters and smiths hawked pieces of metal shaped into knives and tools. She passed other guilds peddling rag-cloth and rope, trinkets and baubles, lye soap and tallow candles, and just about everything else she could imagine. Cull Tarr preachers traded promises for prayers, and tradesmen from far off Lim-Mistral decorated tables with smooth glass bottles for nighttime luminescence. She caught her reflection in a standing mirror and winced at the sight, the ugly red halo on her face like a permanent bruised eye.