The Rose Shield – Goddess in the fog

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The Rose Shield is my 4-book fantasy series. The first book, Catling’s Bane, will be released in March. Yikes!

I’ve been introducing the main characters for the past few months. 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
Vianne, an influencer who tortures poor Gannon
Kadan, a boy who contemplates death when faced with his future

Meet the Goddess
(Raker’s voice in the fog is no longer simply a voice)

Raker poled the raft through the narrow channels, wandering his way toward the floating village deeper in the swamp. Morning mists hovered as a forbidding sky scudded eastward, promising sheets of rain. The goddess caressed him, twirled in languid circles, veils of dew flowing from her arms like wings.

She stroked his back with a fingertip. “Your indifference is as disputable as your madness.”

“Am I mad?” he asked.

“No more than you’re indifferent.” She laughed and spiraled behind him, arms encircling his chest.

“I care nothing for Ellegeans, for their tiers or their power.”

“Yet you care for her,” the goddess whispered. “Your destinies are entwined.”

Raker didn’t reply. Catling sat cross-legged at the raft’s lip. Her fishing line trailed in the glowing wake. Scraps of her previous catch baited her hook, luring in yellow-scaled pippets and the blue suckers that trawled the bottom. Jafe mended the holes in the planking and named the fish as she pulled them in, teaching her which to keep and which to toss.

The goddess interrupted his deepening silence, “Gannon’s departure stung, not his reasoning, which she understands, but his failure to bid her farewell. Another rent in a tattered life. Don’t you see? Those private tears blurring her vision are for more than this one man. He’s unearthed old bones, marked another passing, another etching on her burial stone of betrayals. Her allies are strangers, her masters concerned only with employing her skill.”

“What’s her skill?” He put his back into poling them toward the channel’s center. Jafe glanced up at him with a quizzical grin. The rafters believed him mad, and he never felt a need to explain.

“She will tell you her secrets if you ask.” The woman’s lips touched his earlobe, striking a flint to his desire.

Something tugged on the girl’s line, and she tugged back, hooking it. With a yelp, she flew off the raft into the channel. Her head disappeared. Then she broke the surface, sputtering and splashing, the luminescence marbled by stirred up mud.

Raker’s pole dropped to the raft. Three steps and he leapt into the channel beside her. His feet pushed into the ooze, and he stood, water licking his throat.

Still in her hand, the line strained. A snouted head reared from the water, blowing a breath of spray into the humid air. “A crajek!” she cried.

“Waterdragon,” Jafe shouted over the excitement. An opalescent fin sliced through the air. “A yearling.”

“Don’t release it.” Raker caught the back of her underdress as the creature pulled her farther from the raft. He grabbed the line that slid through her fingers.

She clutched Raker’s shoulder, kicking to stay afloat. “A waterdragon?” The creature’s rayed wings fluttered frantically at the surface, its wide fluke slapping the water.

“We need to free it.” Raker gently pulled the yearling in. Catling swam for the raft as Jafe poled it closer.

Something brushed Raker’s leg. A razorgill if he was lucky. Birds cawed overhead, the banks stirred and water rippled. “Crajek!” Jafe yelled.

“Get her out,” Raker barked. His hands wheeled faster. The waterdragon flailed, its scaled neck craning sideways, long tail coiling and churning the mud. Despite its small size, it matched his strength. Spined fins slashed the air, flinging water in his face.

“Raker!” Jafe grabbed Catling by her garment’s shoulders and plucked her from the water.

Raker hauled on the line. He glanced toward the banks, on the lookout for predators. Gods drifted toward the spectacle. The goddess hovered above the waterdragon, delighting in his heroics. “Your blood spills,” she warned.

“Give me time,” he growled.

“Raker!” Jafe pointed down the channel “Crajeks sinking.”

“Do you trust me?” the goddess asked, kneeling on the water’s surface, her gown of mist spreading like spilled milk, hair spiraling above her head. Jafe held the pole ready to strike.

“Do I have a choice?” Raker grabbed the wing and worked the hook. The waterdragon reeled, squealing. Its spiked head bashed him in the jaw, cutting his cheek on his teeth.

Nearer the bank, another pair of knobby eyes blinked and a head the hue of wet bark sank beneath the surface. Jafe shouted, “Crajek, Raker!”

“Goddess?” Raker murmured, ready to let go and scramble for the raft.

“Do you trust me, my love?” she persisted.

His gaze snapped to her face, the daring smile, the eagerness flickering in her eyes. “Yes.”

She flew through him into the luminescence. He gasped at the sensation. The waterdragon ceased its thrashing. Raker exhaled and worked the hook, ignoring the whorls of movement purling around him. The crajeks failed to attack though they surely tasted his blood.

The hook’s barb tore a gash in the fin and slipped free. Raker let the wing go and the waterdragon dove. In one smooth movement, he spun to the raft and leapt. Jafe snagged the back of his trousers and hauled him up.

“The crajeks.” Catling pointed to the water swarming with greedy beasts.

Jafe shook his head and slumped down, the pole across his knees. “I’ll never understand your kind.”

The Rose Shield – Kadan

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The Rose Shield is my 4-book fantasy series planned for March-ish, um, maybe April. Book One actually has a name now: Catling’s Bane.

I’ve been introducing characters for the past few months. 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
Vianne, an influencer who tortures poor Gannon

Meet Kadan

Excerpt from  Catling’s Bane, The Rose Shield: Book One 

The high ward’s residence and offices of governance, including quarters for esteemed advisors, ministers, and influencers, encompassed the entire seventh tier. Covered walkways edged with potted winter greenery connected the various structures, all Founder-made.

An influencer. The prospect of mastering the skills of manipulation tangled Kadan’s stomach into a hard knot. What would his uncle require of him? To ease unsavory negotiations, to inflict torture, to smooth over the murder of children, to halt the beating of an innocent heart?

He walked to the tier’s edge and gazed over the ever-widening layers that petaled outward into shadowy markets hundreds of feet below. The moons cast an eerie light on the evergreen forests and fields stained with freshly fallen snow. The Blackwater coursed through it all, an icy serpent winding to the distant sea.

By inches, he shuffled closer to the rim. His toes extended into the air, and he closed his eyes. For an endless moment, he teetered on the rim of a choice wholly his own. His actions were harmless, weren’t they? Or had he grown cruel, learned the high ward’s lessons of power? He couldn’t abide his life, couldn’t bear the commitment his uncle required. A raw breeze ruffled his hair, and he suddenly couldn’t wait to fall.

A hand grabbed his jacket’s collar. He gasped and his eyes flew open. Fighting for balance, he reeled backward onto the tier. His heart hammered in his ears as he spun and ripped loose of the grasp.

The influencer stepped back and offered a modest bow. “My apologies, I didn’t wish you to fall.”

“I was… thinking.” Kadan straightened his jacket.

“This province isn’t without its beauty,” the influencer said, stepping to the edge. Kadan didn’t move, the young man unfamiliar to him. He wore the blue jacket of an emotive, shaved head patterned with swirling woads.

“Are you here for me?”

The man smiled. “I’m Qeyon, from Ava-Grea. I don’t believe I am here for you, Kadan.”

In truth, Kadan wasn’t surprised that the man knew his name. “My uncle is sending me to Ava-Grea for training. He wants my oath. He wishes to make use of me.”

Qeyon paused to gaze over the high ward’s tier. “Your uncle is a powerful man, and I imagine he is seldom crossed. Wait until you experience Ava-Grea, Kadan, before you decide to leap.”

**

Note: Many thanks to everyone who offered to beta read and to all those who considered it, but just didn’t have the time. This blogging community is immensely generous and supportive. I was successful in finding some willing souls. Stay tuned! ❤

 

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

The Rose Shield – Gannon

Rose Shield Gannon

You’ve met a few characters from my WIP, The Rose Shield, which I’m delighted to say is back in play after 6 solid months of editing other books. Here are some links to previous excerpts:

Catling, my six-yr-old protagonist on Hanging Day.
Whitt, her adopted brother, battling crajeks in the swamp.
Raker, the half-mad rafter who kicks off the series.

This is an intro to Gannon. He’s having a bad day.

Excerpt: The Rose Shield

Gannon woke in a cargo hold, his ankle manacled to an eyebolt in the rocking floor, his body weak as a feathered hatchling. He lay on his back, deep in a ship’s bowels, the vessel a seafaring hulk by the creaking and groaning as it smashed through the waves. Distant voices teased his ears along with a chorus of clanking metal and squabbling seawings.

The hold was dark, but not lightless. Crates and rough sacks crammed timber berths, strapped down with camgras ropes. Oily barrels perched in wooden frames to keep them from rolling. He needed food and water, and he stank to the stars.

He’d been captive in a ship’s hold before. Memories of his torture after the ambush in Mur-Vallis flooded his head. Panic broke out on his skin in a lurid sweat, and his heart leapt into a gallop. “Gah! Help! Ah. Get me out of here! Help! Let me go!” He thrashed the chain, kicked at a convenient crate, and shouted until a hatch cracked open and a spear of sunlight nearly blinded him.

A sturdy woman with chopped hair and a pickaxe nose climbed down the ladder. A scar wrinkled her upper lip, and her eyes shone in the dim light like chips of flint. She wore a black bodice and leggings, snugly fit and bordering on transparent. For ease of movement, a slit parted the front of her calf-length skirt, and her wide belt sported an assortment of bone-handled blades, none of them friendly. Though older than he and far from beautiful, she exuded an alluring confidence.

She was also Cull Tarr; he was shackled in a Cull Tarr ship.

Her hand dropped to her hip and she held up a key. “I won the wager.”

“Unchain me,” he demanded and shook his leg, clanking the chain. “Get this thing off me.”

“You might be dangerous.” Her eyes narrowed, lips turned up in a mocking smile.

“You’re delusional if you think I can slay you all and seize the ship?”

“Probably so. Still, why risk it?”

His heartbeat slowed its pace, and he stopped rattling his irons. “I give you my oath.”

“Ellegeans break oaths. They broke faith with the Founders.” She considered the key. “However, I’ll accept your word. If you break it, I’ll slice you up and feed you to the sea.”

He didn’t doubt she would. She knelt by his ankle and unbolted the lock.

“What wager did you win?” he asked, rubbing his ankle.

“I gambled on your life.” She hung the key on a nail “We found a sack of poisons on your boat. The others figured you for dead. If you didn’t wake up today, we planned to toss you overboard.”

“I’m glad you won.” He sat up and almost fell over. “I need food and a bath.”

“I’ll feed and water you, and give you a bucket.” She stood up and offered him a hand. “Maybe a fresh pair of trousers. You stink like a grounder’s shithole.”

He grabbed her hand, grateful for the help and unsteady on his feet. The ship’s roll did nothing to pacify the queasy swill in his stomach. “My respects.” He held onto the corner of a crate and managed a crooked bow. “I’m Gannon.”

“No fancy little surname?”

He shook his head. “Just Gannon.”

“A pity.” She shrugged and swung toward the ladder. “I’d hoped to ransom you. We’ll talk when you smell better.”

“Who are you?” He staggered after her.

“Emer Tilkon of the Wandering Swan. Shipmaster to the likes of you.”

The Rose Shield – Whitt

Whitt

The Rose Shield is my current WIP.  I’ve introduced a couple characters with a bit of a snippet: Raker (Here) and my main character Catling (Here). Whitt is Catling’s adopted brother. When his search for her fails, this is where he ends up…

A Snippet of Whitt

Whitt crouched at the water’s edge where tangled roots rose in smooth arches, tall and wide as doorways. He’d wrapped his feet and shins in camgras cloth to discourage leeches and protect his skin from curious razorgills. There were fiercer predators in the swamp, though less stealthy and readily avoided.

Sheer veils of fog drifted above the water. He shifted his weight, spear comfortable in his grip and poised to thrust. Though the Kull Sea lay hundreds of leagues south, its tides altered the waterways in Ava-Grea’s swamps no less than the Fangwold snowmelt. Nearly two years after entering the world of the Fenfolk, Whitt navigated the changing landscape with minimal need to drag his raft through the mud.

A pair of reptilian nostrils peeked from the luminescence, two black holes in a sheet of liquid light. Fire-winged blackbirds shrilled warnings through the vaulted branches. Whitt needed to cross the waterway, and the crajek epitomized patience, content to wait a week for a human meal.

With his free hand, he unhooked the snared river rats from his belt. He’d caught the scaled rodents for supper, but at this point, his need to cross the channel outweighed his hunger. Holding the end of the lead, he dipped them in the water not far from his perch and dragged them from side to side. Razorgills surfaced from below and nibbled at the dead flesh. The lethargic crajek sank from sight, a good sign.

He braced himself in the roots, eyes peeled for movement in the channel around the rats. Waterspiders skimmed the surface. The razorgills flashed and fled as the dark shape neared. Whitt licked his lips, steadied, and when the crajek snapped, he rammed the spear’s sharpened point into the rear of the spiked head. The animal whipped around, dislodging the weapon. Jaws still clamped on the rats, it dove, yanking the lead in Whitt’s hand and ripping him from his roost. He splashed into the water up to his knees and froze. The line floated, slack. His spear cocked at his shoulder, he searched for ripples or bubbles, anything to indicate the creature’s location.

At the center of the channel, two wide-set nostrils surfaced, a second larger monster. Whitt retreated a step. The water erupted at his side as a set of jagged teeth gaped and the first crajek leapt at his leg. Whitt slammed the spear into its head. The point scraped over the thick skull and sank through its eye. Splashing backward, he yanked the spear from the body, without any idea where the second creature had gone.

“Foul!” He tripped blindly on the tree’s roots and fell on his ass through an arched gap. His feet flipped out of the water as the second crajek burst from the swamp and clamped its steel jaws on a flailing razorgill. Whitt crabbed backward as the crajek chewed on the spiny fish no more than a foot from his right toes.

The creature ogled him as if contemplating his next course.

(Spring 2017 – I hope)

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.

The Rose Shield

manipulated images from pixabay

manipulated images from pixabay

A peek at the start of my WIP. 

Darkest Night.

The ironwood pier below Mur-Vallis pointed like a sooty finger over the Blackwater’s swirling luminescence. Wraiths of fog pirouetted across the surface, trailing veils of white lace. Raker lounged against the piling where he’d tethered his boat, keeping an idle eye out for thieves. Not that anyone would bother his craft this night, not with finer prizes left unattended. Well-rigged riverboats and ferries floated at the wharf, thunking and clinking above the current’s hushed whispers.

With a bone-handled knife, he whittled splinters from a wood waterdragon no larger than his thumb. The solitude suited him, removed from the chaos of the warrens that crowded the dingy expanse below the city’s lowest tier. The welcome there was cold anyway, harsh enough to get a half-blood gutted. His slanted eyes, blue as rime, and three-fingered hands gave his heritage away.

The three pylons supporting Mur-Vallis soared into the vast night sky. Their lighted tiers lay open like petals on an alien flower, soft-edged and overlapping, the upper layers diminishing in size while increasing in opulence.

Or so he’d heard. No one he knew had climbed higher than the first tier, and only for a hanging.