Entertainment

Driving Forces

I learn more about my characters by letting them hang out in my real life, even if it’s nothing like their own world.

Dalvin, for instance, likes to blare pop rock music and take the wheel when we’re in the car. She’s a surprisingly competent driver, for a girl from a world in which mills and magic are the height of technological advancement.

When I ask her why she likes it so much, she answers, “It’s a lot like battle, isn’t it? One wrong move and you’re dead or injured, and there’s nothing for it but to let your body outpace your mind and do what you’ve taught it to do. It’s very relaxing.”

hydroplaning-397359_1920

Relaxing? To think that you’re one wrong move away from injury or death? I certainly don’t want to think of driving in that light… How on earth do you find your looming mortality relaxing?

Rarely interested in self-reflection, she only shrugs. “Everything’s too immediate to be fussed with thinking about it. I don’t like thinking.”

Huh. That’s an odd thing to say. Why don’t you like thinking?

She gives me a dirty look. “I don’t know,” she says slowly. “Do you want me to think about it?”

Ah. Looks like I’ve used up her introspection for the day.

*****

Check out Grace the Mace

In which Dalvin is forced not only to fight for her life… but to think about it.

A Vicious Tribute

A cosplay shoot depicting V.E. Schwab’s novel, Vicious. Modeled and photographed by Tirzah Duncan (me!) and Danielle E. Shipley (the bestie!).

Blackout 05

The marker hissed as he drew another line, blotting out several sentences in the middle of the page… He skimmed the words and smiled as he found another section to ink out. By the time the first bell rang, signaling the end of Victor’s art elective, he’d turned his parents’ lectures on how to start the day into:

Be lost. Give up. give In. in the end It would be better to surrender before you begin. be lost And then you will not care if you are ever found.

He’d had to strike through entire paragraphs to make the sentence perfect after he accidentally marked out ever and had to go on until he found another instance of the word. But it was worth it. The pages of black that stretched between if you are and ever and found  gave the words just the right sense of abandonment.

Ice 04_best

Victor perched on the tub, clutching a drink as he stared down at Eliot Cardale’s corpse.

Eli hadn’t screamed. Pain had been written across every one of the forty-three muscles Victor’s anatomy class taught him twisted together in the human face, but the worst Eli had done was let a small groan escape between clenched teeth when his body first broke the surface of the icy water. Victor had only brushed his fingers through, and the cold had been enough to elicit a spark of pain up his entire arm. He wanted to hate Eli for his composure, had almost hoped―almost hoped―that it would be too much for him to bear. That he would break, give up, and Victor would help him out of the tub, and offer him a drink, and the two would sit and talk about their failed trials, and later, when it was a safe distance behind them, they would laugh about how they’d suffered for the sake of science.

Knife 01

But he needed a sign. God had seemed, in the past few days, like a match-light next to the sun of Eli’s discoveries, but now he felt like a boy again, needing sanction, approval. He pulled a pocket-knife from his jeans, and clicked it open.

“Would You take it back?” he asked the dark apartment. “If I were no longer of Your making, You would take this power back, wouldn’t you?” Tears glistened in his eyes. “Wouldn’t you?”

He cut deep, carving a line from elbow to wrist, wincing as blood welled and spilled instantly, dripping to the floor. “You’d let me die.” He switched hands and carved a matching line down his other arm, but before he’d reached the wrist, the wounds were closed, leaving only smooth skin, and a small pool of blood.

Cards - Eli, back

“Wouldn’t you?” He cut deeper, through to bone, over and over, until the floor was red. Until he’d given his life to God a hundred times, and a hundred times had it given back. Until the fear and doubt had all been bled out of him. And then he set the knife aside with shaking hands. Eli dipped his fingertips in the slick of red, crossed himself, and got back to his feet.

Cards - Victor, back

Eli was like a thorn beneath Victor’s skin, and it hurt. He could turn off every nerve in his body, but Victor couldn’t do a damn thing about the twinge he felt when he thought of Cardale. The worst part of going numb was that it took away everything but this, the smothering need to hurt, to break, to kill, pouring over him like a thick blanket of syrup until he panicked and brought the physical sensations back.

Cards - Eli, front 01

“―Self-righteousness,” Victor said. But when Sydney looked confused, he added, “He heals. It‘s a reflexive ability. In his eyes, I think that makes it somehow pure. Divine. He can‘t technically use his power to hurt others.”
“No,” said Sydney, “he uses guns for that.”
Victor chuckled.

Cards - Victor, front

The paper had called Eli a hero.

The word made Victor laugh. Not just because it was absurd, but because it posed a question. If Eli really was a hero, and Victor meant to stop him, did that make him a villain?

He took a long sip of his drink, tipped his head back against the couch, and decided he could live with that.

Cards - Eli, deuces

She wrapped her arms around Eli’s waist and kissed the back of his neck. “You know I don’t want this kind of control,” she whispered. “Now put the gun away.” Eli’s hand slid the weapon back into its holster. “You’re not going to kill me today.”

He turned to face her, wrapped his hands, now empty, around her back, and pulled her close, his lips brushing her ear.

“One of these days, Serena,” he whispered, “you’re going to forget to say that.”

Cards - Victor, deuces

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Thirteen,” she lied, because she hated being twelve. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-two. What happened to you?”

“Someone tried to kill me.”

“I can see that. But why would someone try to do that?”

She shook her head. “It’s not your turn. Why couldn’t you become a doctor?”

“Because I went to jail,” he said. “Why would someone try to kill you?”

She scratched her shin with her heel, which meant she was about to lie, but Victor didn’t know her well enough to know that yet. “No idea.”

Wineglass 04

The air was crisp and he relished it as he rested his elbows on the frozen metal rail, clutching his drink, even though he ice made the glass cold enough to hurt his fingers. Not that he felt it.

Graveyard 21

Truth be told, Victor didn’t care for graveyards either. He didn’t like dead people, mostly because he had no effect on them. Sydney, conversely, didn’t like dead people precisely because she had such a marked effect on them.

Graveyard 15

He hardly felt the cold through his coat. He was too busy trying to picture what Eli’s face would look like when he received their message. Trying to picture the shock, the anger, and threaded through it all, the fear. Fear because it could only mean one thing.

Graveyard 17

Victor was out. Victor was free. And Victor was coming for Eli―just as he’d promised he would. He sunk the shovel into the cold earth with a satisfying thud.

Graveyard 12

Thud. Thud.

“Are you one of the bad ones?” asked Sydney. Her watery blue eyes stared straight at him, unblinking. She wasn’t sure if the answer mattered, really, but she felt like she should know.

“Some would say so,” he said.

Thud.

Shovel 11

She kept staring. “I don’t think you’re a bad person, Victor.”

Victor kept digging. “It’s all a matter of perspective.”

Thud.

“About the prison. Did they… did they let you out?” she asked quietly.

Thud.

Victor left the shovel planted in the ground, and looked up at her. And then he smiled, which she noticed he seemed to do a lot before he lied, and said, “Of course.”

Shovel 01

There was a moment of silence, almost reverent, before Victor’s hand came down on her shoulder.

“Well?” he said, pointing to the body. “Do your thing.”

Shovel 08

“Oh, sure I can,” he said pleasantly. “I can shut the lid. Put the dirt back. Walk away.”

Frenemeses 01

Hate was too simple a word. He and Eli were bonded, by blood and death and science. They were alike, more so now than ever. And he had missed Eli. He wanted to see him. And he wanted to see him suffer. He wanted to see the look in Eli’s eyes when he lit them up with pain. He wanted his attention.

Frenemeses 02

“You can’t kill me, Victor,” said Eli. “You know that.”

“I know. But you’ll have to indulge me. I’ve waited so long to try.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Cards - Schwab

Eli: Wha…?

Victor: Who?

V.E. Schwab: It’s great to be the one pulling the strings. 😉

One Scene After Another

Recently, I was reflecting on how I got better at drawing. Not ‘good,’ not in the context of all the truly good artists out there. But good enough to make me (and even a few other people) happy. Good enough to make fan art of the stories no one else is making fan art for—mostly, the stories in my own head, or in the heads of my friends.

I realized that I’d been trying to get good at drawing the same way I’d gotten good at writing—on one project. For years, I wrote and revised and re-wrote and re-revised one book until I was a good writer. That was how I learned, and it worked for me. But every time I sat down to draw, I would slave painstakingly for hours, trying to erase and redo bad lines while leaving the good lines intact—just like I’d done with writing. I wanted to be able to tweak this one picture until it was good enough, but I’d have to give up in frustration and settle for what I got, because drawing doesn’t work like that.

The thing about a novel—one scene can take a dozen hours, and one novel can take scores of scenes. If you write a novel that’s not quite right, that might be a few hundred hours that you poured into this Not Quite Right Manuscript. It makes perfect sense to spend another twenty or fifty hours making it Quite Right. But here’s where I fell down. A drawing isn’t a novel. It’s more like a single scene. You can fiddle and tweak, but after a bit, even if it’s not perfect yet, you’ve got to leave it alone and move on to the next one or you’ll never get anywhere.

Then I decided to try gel-ink drawing. I had a new sketchbook, and I determined that I was going to draw at least one face or figure sketch every day. And man, a gel-ink pen is unforgiving. It was so much bolder than I was, and mistakes had to be integrated or ignored—they couldn’t be erased. And that forced me to work faster. I couldn’t perfect them if I couldn’t employ erasure–or even much in the way of subtlety. So I turned a new page and drew, every day, for a couple of months.

And what I had at the end of that time? It wasn’t even the improved skill level that mattered so much, though that was nice. It was the difference in the way I sat down to draw. The mindset that if this one wasn’t good enough, instead of editing it until it was, (an improbability, since at a low skill level I might not even really know what was wrong,) I should do it faster, let it go, and save the time and energy for trying it again tomorrow. Which led to my drawing a lot more figures and faces, because with the freedom to leave them mistake-riddled, even bad, I was drawing a lot faster and more easily. Not looking behind me, not “line editing,” just looking ahead to the next, better thing. Just putting one scene after another.

Maybe there’s something in that for writing, too.

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale: Book One of The Outlaws of Avalon

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

Cover and Spine, Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale

Okay, full disclosure time: I’m best friends with the author.

Fuller disclosure time: this book is the reason I’m best friends with the author.

I was plugging my own WIP of the time on a National Novel Writing Month forum, and the then-unpublished Danielle E. Shipley messaged me, asking to hear excerpts of my work. Flattered, I sent her my opening scene. Then she sent me her opening scene in return.

Full disclosure again? I winced when I saw the message. Fact is, most people’s first drafts aren’t worth looking at, and I hadn’t actually volunteered myself as a reader for some stranger’s project. But, feeling obligated–after all, she was reading my first draft–I decided to look it over.

I was stunned. It didn’t read like a first draft at all. It read like a–like a novel! Like one I’d keep reading! And so I did, eagerly awaiting every section as she wrote it, as she awaited mine. And over the course of those shared manuscripts and conversations, we became fast friends.

It’s been a few years since then, and the manuscript has been through some revisions. It’s even better now. It’s been through some drafts, and she’s become a better writer. She’s now worked as a player at the Faire that inspired the “What If” behind the story, and she’s gotten to know and understand the hearts of these characters better than ever.

It’s rich and silly and beautiful and hilarious and deep. It’s not one hundred percent to my taste–I tend to like “grittier” and more intrigue-fraught books than this–but it’s an exactly perfect version of what it’s meant to be.

For fans of the Wilderhark Tales, this is the urban fantasy continuation you didn’t know that you needed–but that you desperately needed. For newcomer’s to Miss Shipley’s works, know that The Outlaws of Avalon, while connected to the Wilderhark world, is a series all its own, and a perfectly good place to start. It’s where I started!

 

My Review

For fans of the Merry Men, Ren Faires, or lighthearted, magic-just-around-the-bend urban fantasy, The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale is an automatic win.

As with all of D.E. Shipley’s works, characters are the driving force behind the unique story and beautiful style–and as usual, they are individual, charming, and full of life.

Meet Allyn-a-Dale, a young minstrel whose heart is fresh from a tragedy. He’s just as freshly fallen from the magical secrets of his own world, and into the magical secrets of a modern Renaissance Faire. With his late father’s voice still ringing in his head, (Gant-o-the-Lute is quite the charismatic figure in his own right, even as an imagined echo,) the adaptable bard tentatively finds a new family in the Merry Men.

The Merry Men… you’ll find the upstanding and surprisingly straight-laced Robin Hood, Marion “the fun aunt” Hood, the frighteningly-quiet and hilariously deadpan Little John, and… Will Scarlet. Incorrigible, indomitable, energetic, babbling, brave, manic, shameless, luminous fan-favorite Will Scarlet. Just wait till you meet him. You’ll see. You’ll see.

What might have been a sweet, comedy-filled coming-of-age story takes a sharp and sudden turn into action-adventure, theft, a car chase, magical shenanigans, and battles with fantastic forces. I wish I could show you some of my fan art, but–alas, spoilers! Suffice it to say, Ballad drew me in with its voice, characters, and worlds, but it riveted me with its peril.

In a melodic style that matches the magic and minstrelsy inherent to the story, Danielle E. Shipley spins out a story that is at once fantastic, funny, sweet, melancholy, and dangerous.

Links!

The beautiful paperback is available on Amazon and at Createspace, and the e-book is available via Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Overdrive.

Here’s Danielle’s release post–complete with potential prizes! 😀

 

Grace the Mace: Now Released!

Grace has always been there for her mother, ever since she was old enough to bite the legs of those thugs and leeches that called themselves lovers. Ever since she was old enough to understand the world in a way her mother never would.

Now, she comes home every winter with blood money from a year of running with a band of sellswords. No more scrounging in midden heaps and cutting purses for a low court lord to survive the lean months.

But this year, home is as dangerous as the battlefield. Tensions are running through the street courts of her old slums, while a new and daunting lover has confounded her safeguards and gotten at her mum–and now they’re all tangled in a vicious turf war.

Is one lone mercenary enough to protect her own? Can she trust anyone else to do the job?

Grace the Mace Cover

Now available for $2.99 on Kindle and for $5.99 in paperback!

My Five Favorite Things About This Book

(Sans Spoilers)

1.  I finally get to introduce a bit of the world I’ve been building for the last eight years! This isn’t the story I expected to be sharing first–I thought that would be Sy’s story, Ever the Actor, but the story and world grew so complex, with each new draft trying to catch up to my latest revelation, that I had to take a step back from the manuscript. What better way to do that than to write an entire novella set over two centuries earlier in the same world?

2. Grace herself. She was an enigma of a character for several years, angrily stewing in the back of my mind. When I finally unlocked her, I was delighted by her (often hilarious) contradictions–chill and passionate, self-serving and selfless, stubborn and flexible, cruel and kind. It’s been a fun challenge, trying to show the truth of her dual and tangled nature throughout the narrative.

3. The swearing. That girl’s got the most interesting, varied, and versatile curses I’ve ever heard, borrowing indiscriminately from the filthiest sentiments of four different cultures. All my other characters have been pretty basic– “Chance damn it,” and “Seed of man and beast!” and “Early frost, woman!” and “What complete rot,”–but this chick’s on a whole new level.

4. The cover. Yeah, I’ve got to admit, one of my favorite things about my book is the picture on the cover. The sum total of my contribution to the cover was, A, a detailed commission request, and B, the all-too-necessary but faintly detracting addition of the title and author’s name. The talent behind the art is DarianaLoki… But I spent a whole other post gushing about that!

5. It’s a book I’d want to read. I’d enjoy the characters, the voice, the themes, the plot, the setting… It can be hard to step back and look at a work objectively after months spent immersed within it, but evaluating it as accurately as I can… I think Reader Me would love this even more than Writer Me. That’s partly because Writer Me has an anxious ego at stake, but mostly because this is exactly the sort of content Reader Me pores over shelves in search of. And that, my friends, is sweet success.

My Five Least Favorite Things About This Book

(Sans Spoilers)

1. It’s got hardly any magic, so I don’t get to show off my awesome system! Bah!

2. It’s a little tough to categorize. My instinct is to call it fantasy, but I don’t want people thinking there’s more magic and mythical creatures in it than there are. But they’re there! They’re just… fringe. But it’s still got a very fantasy world feel. Should I call it Fantasy Lite? Diet Fantasy? Low-Mana Fantasy?

3. It’s a novella! No hate to novellas, but I’m more of a novel fan, and I was sort of surprised when it didn’t come out longer. Still, I’m not going to force it full of fluff to fulfill some arbitrary page-count ideal in my head. She is what she is.

4. Oh, this had me banging my head against a wall: trying to write dialogue for a major character who’s reluctant to say anything. At all. Who has a lot to say, but likes to talk like a minimalist, if he must be more than a mime. Oh my gooooooosh. Just taaaaaaalk like everybody else, man. But! That struggle is in the past. I think I found the balance for him to express what had to be expressed without violating the truth of his character.

5. Writing blurbs and short pitches for it! Trying take the central themes (“Uh, sacrifice, mommy issues, bitterness, and trust?”) and the more concrete aspects of the story (“Oh, lots of snark, warriors doin’ macho stuff, ye olde inner city gang wars, death and struggle, some sex, some flowers, and tense family dinners,”) and fit them together–and to do it in two to four tight paragraphs? Impossible. But that’s ever my aim, nonetheless.

Now available for $2.99 on Kindle and for $5.99 in paperback!

I look forward to hearing about your five favorite–and yes, even your five least favorite–things about Grace the Mace!

Excerpt I

Excerpt II

Excerpt III

 

Grace the Mace: Cover Reveal!

Grace has always been there for her mother, ever since she was old enough to bite the legs of those thugs and leeches that called themselves lovers. Ever since she was old enough to understand the world in a way her mother never would.

Now, she comes home every winter with blood money from a year of running with a band of sellswords. No more scrounging in midden heaps and cutting purses for a low court lord to survive the lean months.

But this year, home is as dangerous as the battlefield. Tensions are running through the street courts of her old slums, while a new and daunting lover has confounded her safeguards and gotten at her mum–and now they’re all tangled in a vicious turf war.

Is one lone mercenary enough to protect her own? Can she trust anyone else to do the job?

*****

Now to meet the face of the franchise, a word I here use in its loosest sense:

Grace the Mace Cover

My thoughts, numbered, but in no particular order:

1. Give me those boots. Give them to me. And throw in that breastplate while you’re in a generous mood.

2. I feel like if you zoomed in on the shield and enhanced, you could spot the photographer. (You can’t. I tried. The CSI shows lied.)

3. YES. That’s my girl, alright. That’s her attitude, all over her face, which is totally her face! Maker take her, what a bitch! 😀

4. Ooooooh, colors and lighting and framing! Ooooh, stone textures! Yeah background!

5. This art is way better than most fantasy cover art. Imma be real; most actual paintings (not talking about the airbrushed photos) on fantasy covers look kind of… weird. Someone’s face always looks stupid, some basic physical proportions are always off. Not here. Not with this. This baby is perfect.

6. A thousand and one thanks to DarianaLoki, the artist responsible.

Grace’s thoughts:

1.  “It’s a good likeness.”

2. “My gear isn’t horribly misrepresented. Thanks.”

3. “What, am I supposed to come up with six things, too? It’s nice. It’s good. It’s, what’s the word, professional. What do you want?”

Guess I’ll have to rustle up three more thoughts somewhere else.

Grace’s Mum’s thoughts:

4. “Oh, what lovely work! Isn’t she beautiful? And so… fierce-looking.”

5. “Are those chrysanthemums? I can’t tell, but they brighten the place up nicely, don’t they?”

6. “Grace isn’t in… trouble, is she?”

Ohhhh, my sweet summer child.

*****

Excerpt I

Excerpt II

Excerpt III

 

 

Grace the Mace

Grace has always been there for her mother, ever since she was old enough to bite the legs of those thugs and leeches that called themselves lovers. Ever since she was old enough to understand the world in a way her mother never would.

Now, she comes home every winter with blood money from a year of running with a band of sellswords. No more scrounging in midden heaps and cutting purses for a low court lord to survive the lean months.

But this year, home is as dangerous as the battlefield. Tensions are running through the street courts of her old slums, while a new and daunting lover has confounded her safeguards and gotten at her mum–and now they’re all tangled in a vicious turf war.

Is one lone mercenary enough to protect her own? Can she trust anyone else to do the job?

*****

Grace the Mace – Excerpt I

Onnie winced as an apple fell from the gather of her apron, striking root. She stooped, inspecting the small gash and bruise on the pink skin. It had been perfect for market; now it would be tossed in with the cider apples. No great loss, but she hated to see a pretty thing marred. She reached to gather it up again, then froze as a harsh, foreign laugh sounded across the orchard.

Spinning on her heels, she searched for the sound’s source. There— a pair of men, walking through the trees as though they owned them, their rollicking voices nearing with every step. With great hilts bristling at shoulder and hip, with leather and mail gleaming, they could only be mercenaries. They weren’t in any regular army—fearful enough—and they couldn’t be bandits, bold as brass as they strolled, picking the apples off the trees.

Onnie pressed the apron hem to her nose, shrinking against the trunk. Only thing worse than bandits were mercenaries, everyone knew. Only difference between them was that one kept hidden, and the other had your lord’s coin and protection. Was the trunk hiding her? How she wished it were bigger. Were the men coming closer? Maker save her, they were. She muted a whimper.

“No, it gets better. See, what does he do then,” one was saying, “but try to loose a warning bolt, right by the messenger’s head. But it turns out he fancies himself a better bowman than he is, because—hold, what’s this?”

They stopped. Onnie, who’d been edging towards the trunk’s other side as they walked by, tried to spring to her feet to bolt, but her foot tangled in her apron, sending her sprawling at the men’s feet along with two-dozen apples. Likely ruined now, she thought dimly, watching one roll between a large pair of boots.

She pushed up to her knees, staring with mute terror at the pair looming over her. One had an eye patch, and a terribly scarred face. The other had a bristling brown beard, and both had wicked grins.

“Aww, it’s a little apple blossom, all alone,” drawled the bearded one, stepping closer still. “Where’s your minder, girly? Surely you aren’t old enough to be out in the woods on your own.”

Onnie’s lips quivered as she fought to find her voice. “It’s our orchard. You’re shouldn’t be here.” It came out in a whisper.

The mercenaries laughed. “Well, we weren’t doing any ill, were we? Only taking a little walk. Sure, we might be taking a few bites as we go, but where’s the harm? Now, now. No need to shriek. We’re only having a chat.”

No use in shrieking, there was the truth of it. If she screamed now, her mother and brothers might come out, but her brothers were children, whatever they said to the contrary, and children armed with pitchforks would be quickly cut down by these monsters. She’d have to try to run again.

She’d hardly gathered her legs under her when the bearded one stepped forward again, his boot coming down on her tunic’s hem. For the first time Onnie could think of, she actually wished her tunic would rip, but the contrary thing stayed whole, pinning her to the earth. The apple-sweet air now reeked of sour sweat, and worse.

Let me be. She mouthed the words, but her breath had knotted in her chest so she didn’t think she could even squeak. If there was any point in squeaking, or in saying anything to the brutes.

“Help the poor girl up, Creyl,” the man with the eye patch chuckled, stooping down to wrap a massive, callused hand around her upper arm. It clamped tight as a shackle, yanking her to her feet. The tunic did rip, then, as her arm bruised. Ruined. She stared up into the one-eyed leer, feeling faint. She wished she would faint, hoped she might.

A third figure appeared in the trees, lanky and lean and leading a mule. Oh, two were more than enough to champion for Hell. What had she done to fall so foul of Chance and the Maker?

“What’re you louses doing?”

Onnie blinked, focusing on the newcomer. A woman’s voice? A young woman. Of a height with an average man, she wore a round shield on her back, and some menacing looking ball-and-chain weapon hung at her hip. Her blond hair was short and tousled, her face pale and her eyes bright blue and—flat. Onnie dropped her gaze. She’d hoped for a rescuer, but mercs were as mercs did. This one being a woman, really more of a girl, didn’t change that.

“Just talking with this little delight,” the bearded man said, taking Onnie’s other arm. “Not much for conversation, though, she isn’t. Maybe she’s more the physically expressive sort.”

The newcomer snorted a laugh. “Oh, lay off, you luckless sons of famine. Nor’Hiymar is quick to close its borders to troublemakers. Are you looking to throw muck on the band’s name?”

“She’ll be no trouble.” The bearded man’s grip tightened. “Will you?”

“No, she won’t.” The girl hooked her thumbs in her iron-studded belt. “Because she’ll have no reason to be. Because you’re laying off.”

Onnie looked up from under her bangs, hope rising like a fresh breeze.

“Don’t be a buzzkill,” the bearded man began, but, “Aww, Gracie, we’re only teasing her,” the one-eyed man spoke over him.

“Yeah, good fun,” said the blonde mercenary. “Now the joke’s over. Hey, girl. Look at me.” She passed the mule’s lead to one of the men, and bent to snap her fingers in front of Onnie’s face. “Don’t go glaze-eyed now. We can buy apples here, yeah? Where should we go to buy them? Let go, y’louts. We’ve got a job to do, don’t go forgetting.”

Grumbling, the men’s hands drew away from Onnie. The girl collapsed, tears pricking her eyes.

“Tch.” The blond kicked at Onnie’s knee. “Scared her useless. Come on, fawn-face. We’re here looking for food. We can go on looting your trees, or you can tell us who to give coin to. We’re getting fresh food for two-hundred suppers; there’s coin in that for your little orchard, better than you’ll get at market. Speak up.”

Onnie reached out, clutching at the woman’s boot for support. It pulled back out of reach. “Well. You’ve scared her simple. Can you point, addle-pate? We’re only going to buy. We’ll not hurt anyone.” A sigh. “I swear we’ll not.”

“House isn’t far,” Onnie said softly, pointing. Her gaze on the ground, she swiped her tears on her apron. Her hands were shaking. “My Mum will be there. And my brothers,” she said, trying to make that sound like a warning. “They’ll help you.”

“You heard her. Let’s go.” The three started off, but Onnie caught the blonde’s tunic as she passed.

The mercenary girl yanked the hem free, but paused, scowling down. “What?” she asked in a low voice. “What else d’you want from me?”

“Thank you,” Onnie whispered. “I don’t know what would have happened if—what’s your name?”

The girl’s jaw tightened, her eyes a biting blue, but she answered. “Dalvin. Better known, Grace the Mace. But don’t think you can call on me by it.”

“Thank you, Dalvin. Lord Chance be kind to you. If there’s anything I can do—”

“There clearly isn’t.” Dalvin’s lips pulled into a sneer, and she turned away after the men.

Upset, afraid, and above all, relieved, Onnie buried her face into her apron and wept.

*****

After talking about other people and their works for as long as I have, I’m not sure how to say this, but…

It’s mine! That’s the work of Tirzah Duncan, my own self. That’s the opening of my novella.

Further excerpts to follow!

Cover reveal to follow!

Now Available!

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