novella

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 – Excerpt II

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 II

Cresting a rise, Dalvin called for a rest. Stepping to the wooded side of the path, she cast about for a rock or log to sit on. Selecting a moss-covered lump of firm but indeterminate nature, she sipped from her water flask. Vec leaned against a tree nearby, studying the terrain ahead of them.

Their path wound down between lower foothills, with grasslands sloping to the east, and rocky woodlands rising to the west. The path, its track either faintly visible or painted by Grace’s fancy, rose up through a multi-green patchwork of farmland, then to a walled city, dark on its hilltop.

She breathed in deeply, and the open mountain air smelled sharply of conifers and matted late-autumn leaf litter, of the grasses to the left of their path, of good earth and damp stone and the age of the hills themselves. She didn’t mind cities, with their closeness, commerce, and crowds, but they smelled worse than a soldiers’ camp: stale with the stain of humanity.

Even so, she didn’t mind occasionally trading the freshness for walls and a real mattress. She studied the city in the middle distance. “We’ll make that by, what, early evening? Early enough to resupply and still have plenty of time for drinks and dice?”

Vec looked up at the sun, two hours past its zenith. “If we’re brisk, and if you don’t dally here.”

She took one final swallow and stood, shifting her pack’s strap from one shoulder to the other. “Let’s haul.”

They were still several days north of Urynad, but they’d started early enough to keep ahead of winter’s onset. Grace’s back and shoulders ached under the weight of her pack, its strap digging into her shoulder and chest. Her face and hands stung with cold, and her feet ached in spite of a good pair of boots. Wish I had a horse, she thought, stretching with a sigh. Or at least a pack-mule. She’d been taught how to care for either, and even knew a bit of her way around mounted warfare, but she wasn’t even close to having the money for any such thing.

Even so, she grinned up at the birds that flew in wedge-formation, arrowing their way to warmer lands. The day was crisp and beautiful, her body was young and strong and hale, she’d eaten breakfast and lunch and marched now towards drinks and dinner. Mounts and packhorses or none, hers was about as good a life as any but nobles and merchants could expect.

Vec let out a gusty sigh as they reached the lowest point, his eyes tracking up over the foothills before them.

“Tired, old man?” Dalvin grinned across at him. “Need me to take your pack?”

He snorted. “I wouldn’t say no. But nay, I’m just not looking forward to going home. Don’t mishear me; I like walls and a hearth in winter as much as the next fellow. Even the herbs that old woman stinks the place up with aren’t so bad after a few days, and she can patch up a fever right well enough, which is a boon.” He made a face. “She’ll just be expecting me to go to market for her, and gather any winter herbs, and take care of the firewood. And I’m not looking forward to any winter babes. You’d think people would want to bear their children in the comfort of their own home, but not everyone does. All that, and the only pub of any real size is a two hours’ walk from our door.”

The girl grimaced. “At least I’ve got a city, or I’d go snow-mad. Village folk are such skittish, clumsy fawns. Why do you keep going back?”

The older mercenary shook his head. “It’s where I’ve got to go. I haven’t had a lady for years now, and who’s got the coin to hole up in an inn for a whole season? I talk like I want her to pop off, but once she’s gone, I’ll be one of the poor sons of famine who winters with the band.”

“Your mum’s not passing you the house?”

He shook his head. “That’s going to her apprentice, along with all her coin, she’s made clear to me every winter for the past ten years. Anyway, I wouldn’t have any means to keep the place up in the other seasons. Will you get your Mum’s place?”

Dalvin grunted. “I hadn’t thought about it. I expect she’s willed it to me, but I should probably make sure.” Their one-room house and the small garden around it was one of the few things that had always been there, through thin and thinner; that precious wood-and-plaster barrier between starving on the streets and simply starving. Mum had gotten it when her own da died, and it had never been sold, because without it, she could grow no flowers, and without flowers, she wouldn’t have even the slim trickle of income that she did manage. Paying the taxes on the thing had been an annual miracle.

“I don’t know what I’ll do with it,” Grace realized aloud, “once it’s mine. I guess I’ll just sell it.” Once it’s mine. She took a deep breath against the strange stitch in her chest. She didn’t like to think of losing that one thing she’d never lost. She didn’t like to think of losing Mum. “Ah, what am I saying? I’m a soldier of fortune. I’ll die long before she does.” That brought another odd stab with it. Who will look after her, then? Who will bring home coin to stretch through the winter?

“That’s what I thought, too, when I first ran off to join the Yaa army,” Vec was saying, chuckling. “I was, what—fifteen? I figured I’d fall young and handsome in a hail of javelins. And here I am, near on three decades later, marking my kill-count in dozens instead of ones, and I’ve not lost so much as a limb.” He snapped his fingers. “Chance’s Fair Daughter must like me.”

The girl shook her head sadly. “The Fair Daughter has poor taste.”

He smiled sideways. “No poorer than you.”

She smirked. “I’ve never boasted of my taste in anything but weapons, armor, and teachers.”

“Oh, you only want me for my skills, is that it?”

Dalvin swatted his arm, the muscles of it hard as packed earth. “Of course. Winner takes all. And I want to be the winner, so you’ll show me what you know.”

He grinned, reaching up to straighten his headband. “You’re as strong as any youth I’ve known, girlie, and more skillful than most your age. They think they know all they need know, already. You’re always scrabblin’ for more and better; I’ve seen it, even before you turned to me. If you do live, you’ll have a real name.”

“I’ve already got one.” She smiled. “Grace the Mace.”

“It’ll do.” The older merc scratched at his stubble. “Aye; it’ll do, and folk will learn it. You move like a waterfall—the fearful sort. Not that you don’t have plenty room to learn.”

Her smile grew more satisfied. “Aye, sure,” she said to both sentiments. Not knowing how else to take the praise, she fell silent as they began to pass farms and orchards.

*****

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 from my novella. Here’s the opening.

Another excerpt to follow!

Cover reveal to follow!

Now Available!

Headshot_Ireland

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!

Headshot_Ireland

 

The Sky-Child and other stories

Sky-Child Cover

The cover reveal was breathtaking, to be sure, but now it’s time to look beneath the beautiful surface, and speak of its soul, its stories, and its songs. First, taken one at a time…

*****

~ Song-o-the-Lute ~
A breathtaking free-form poem in its own right, worthy of esteem. Brief as the brush of fingers on strings, it is a worthy opening to this compilation, and worthy of mention. (Clearly it was so worthy I was overcome with its worthiness.)

~ The Sky-Child ~
The longest tale herein–and the aching, melancholy beginning to the life of one Gant-o-the-Lute. Long before rescuing Villem Deere on The Seventh Spell’s roads, or destroying unnatural rock formations in The Song Caster, the incredible bard’s life brimmed with music and yearning, sweetness and sorrow, and a remarkable fight against the mundane. A spin on Jack and the Beanstalk like no other, the giant is the least of the difficulties the minstrel-in-blue takes on. As a tiny taste of its quality, I give you the excellent reworking of the traditional fee-fie, foe-fum folderol.

“Fie!” said the roar. “Is it a foe who’s come?
Do I smell the blood of a mortal man?
If foe he be, his life’s the fee
For venturing here to challenge me.
If man he be, his life’s blood red
And bones will spice my stew and bread.”

This may be my favorite story in the whole collection, but the last gives it some competition. I suppose that, as cruel as it sounds, the suffering of the incredible simply takes my breath away. But then, ‘The suffering of the incredible’ might be a line to suit most of the tales here seen.

~ Still Broken ~
A hundred-word jaunt back to Sula and Villem.

~ Day Broken ~
A vignette set just before The Swan Prince‘s opening chapters.

~ Skie Welduwark ~
A vibrant myth of the kings of the sky and the world’s waking. I find that I always love following the (often harrowing) antics of the Welkens. Perhaps it’s one of those just-human-things.

~ Starheart ~
The two intertwined hearts of The Stone Kingdom exchange enchanting tales under a starlit sky. A myth of how the stone kingdom came to be, and a myth of the forging of Wilderhark’s nations are tailored around a gentle conversation, humming with love.

~ The Shining Son ~
A story with the regular beat of a fairy tale, of pride and jealousy in the heavens. I also get to see my favorite sneaky wind working terrible deeds, so this is a win for me.

~ Affected ~
Set first behind the stone eyes of Denebdeor’s children, we watch the chaotic beginning of The Seventh Spell unfold–then on to the woman behind the curtain, as it were, the witch behind most of the magic in The Wilderhark Tales. Then to Gant-o-the-Lute, and a quiet conversation with Edgwyn, of love and hope in the dark of night. And back at last to the thoughts of the children, awaiting the breaking of the seventh spell’s tangle.

A mini-anthology in itself, this short story following the seventh spell’s affected suits the melody of this collection perfectly; passionate, funny, sweet, melancholy, and hopeful.

~ A Gallivanting Soul ~
A lute’s music tells its owner a tale known to it alone, bringing the string of stories full circle and tears to my eyes–tears for love forever lost, and tears for treasure found.

*****

Seamlessly woven together in perfect order, this Wilderhark Tales collection can stand proudly next to any of the novellas. (A good thing, too; as book six-and-a-half, it will likely stand between The Surrogate Sea and the series’ final volume.) D. E. Shipley’s prose is beautiful and melodic, almost lyrical, her characters as lovable and exasperating as ever, (you know I’m looking at you, Lute–and a fine view it is, too,) and her wit as charming as ever.

A fantastic anthology for any readers, workable as a standalone, the abundant easter eggs would nonetheless be most appreciated by readers of the previous six Wilderhark novellas.

This lovely creation is available in Kindle and paperback forms on Amazon and on Nook with Barnes and Noble.