Amazon Special: Summer Leaves

Free on Amazon
March 20 – March 24

Summer Leaves
A Story in Three Acts
(Sons of Tryas, II)



Ruark, Lord Heir fourth in line for the throne, and once first in line, came so close. Still, he missed it entirely. His brother reigned, and dreamed, and Ruark himself wandered, burning his restlessness on distant, wild planets.

Then the premier of the Assembly found him, with an offer to give him everything he ever wanted, at only a small cost to his soul.

In Summer Leaves, Shannon McDermott continues the story of the sons of Tryas, begun in Beauty of the Lilies.



Summer Leaves on Amazon
Summer Leaves on Goodreads

An Excerpt of

Summer Leaves


‘Behold the summer leaves are green!’ – G. K. Chesterton

Prologue

There were five of us there that day. It was like so many days we had all lived, except for one moment. In that moment death nearly became the sixth to ride the plains. Till then I had never really believed in death. And it’s strange to recount, but it wasn’t until I first believed in death that I began earnestly to believe in life.

We were riding stallions, the fastest bred. It was a strange amusement to many, but our spirits soared with it. The stallions were fierce and eager, and there was a similarity between masters and beasts—both young and strong, given the finest and raised to be the finest. The wildness in the beasts was intended; the wildness in the masters was not.

We rode the high plains of Yavah, where the grassy meadows are split open by cliffs a mile tall. We found a large fissure, more than large enough to swallow a horse and rider. Three of my friends galloped headlong toward it and swerved at the last moment. My fourth friend and I watched.

I watched them, but I kept looking at him. His face was against the blue sky, his brown hair lit by the sun. His lips were drawn into a cheerless line, as if he did not like the vista the plains offered him.

I thought I knew what weighed on him. The burden we all carried was what had drawn us together. Most of us were brothers of great men, all of us were sons. We lived with an obscure anger.

Except him. His anger was sharp and vital, feeding off the loss of something he had never had. He was the son of an emperor, and what he had lost was a kingdom. Ruark, Lord Heir of the Empire, and close enough to be tantalized. There was much speculation once that the eccentricities and distraction of his brother would hand the throne to him. The talk damaged both brothers in the end. Any astute observer could tell what it did to Jediah; perhaps only a friend could tell what it did to Ruark.

Ruark leaned in abruptly, scattering my thoughts. He gestured to the others, saying, “They’re flirting with death.”

It was our favorite pastime, and tension swept through me at the idea that he was suddenly having qualms.

Ruark straightened, gathering the reins into a tight hold. “They aren’t serious. But I—I will court death.”

I opened my mouth, but he shot away from me. The others saw him tearing over the grass, and they reined in their horses to watch. He was always our chief.

Ruark flew across the plain, at the chasm opening its rocky mouth. He didn’t swerve, he passed the point of swerving, driving the horse toward the edge at all its speed.

My heart jolted so hard it stung my chest. Then I understood what he was doing, and my panic ebbed and surged again like the tide.

The stallion thundered to the precipice and then into a mighty leap. And though I had seen all the wealth and power of the Empire in glittering display, I never saw anything as glorious as that. For one moment horse and rider hung between the sky and the abyss, intensely alive, recklessly strong.

They made the jump. As soon as its hooves touched the ground, the horse raced on. My friends cheered, but I didn’t utter a sound. I couldn’t. Fear clenched my throat.

Ruark turned the horse and came galloping back. I watched with a detached horror, like hearing the inevitable end of a tragic story. Ruark reached the cliff’s edge, his horse leaped, and my fear nearly choked me.

The stallion came down barely on our side. At its impact rocks crumbled into the canyon, and its right hind leg plunged into air. The other hind leg slid after the first, and the whole horse slid with it. And I was as sure that Ruark was dead as I was sure that I was alive. A picture sliced across my vision; I saw myself explaining Ruark’s death to his brother.

The stallion scrabbled wildly, gripping solid ground. It pulled back onto the plain, and Ruark cantered to us.

We made a game of coming into death’s reach, but that was the first time he had ever grabbed at us. It rattled us, but no one would say a word. The rest of the day I pretended; that night I didn’t sleep. I thought of Ruark coming within a hair of falling to his death; I thought of myself standing before Jediah. What would I have said? Your brother died a fool, and I live as one? Did Ruark nearly die to prove he was better than the nine feet of empty air that told him to turn back?

It started new thoughts in my mind. I wondered why we were more interested in risking our gilded lives than living them. What did we lack, and what did we find in death’s proximity?

I went back to Telnaria, to the home that had functioned as a stop between destinations for so many years. I went for quietness and solitude, because I needed urgently to think about life, to understand what strange deprivation was shaping—misshaping—mine. Ruark followed not long after, but his reasons were different. It was the storm brewing in Telnaria that summoned him.

– Memories, by Jaden Amitai

To finish, purchase free from Amazon.

The Northmen

I am bringing down hobgoblins from the mountains, Men from the Coldlands. The Valley of Decision


The Men of the Coldlands were barbarians. That is the first thing to understand. They wore animal skins, sang of their war gods, and knew nothing of letters or runes. They forged bronze rather than iron into weapons, and decorated their chiefs’ tents with colored cloth and animal skulls.

And they were light-haired and light-eyed and fair-skinned, true children of the cold North.

The Men of the Coldlands are loosely based on the pre-Christian Scandinavians. The Roman Empire had conquered the British Isles, bringing civilization by the edge of the sword; many centuries later, long after the Roman Empire had turned to ashes, Winston Churchill declared, “We owe London to Rome.” In time, Christianity followed Rome, and it, too, taught and civilized.

But not in Scandinavia – at least not for centuries yet. The Viking Age began when the Vikings attacked the Holy Island, off the coast of England, from which missionaries had gone into Europe. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that “the ravaging of wretched heathen people destroyed God’s church at Lindisfarne.” At Charlemagne’s court, the scholar Alcuin lamented, “The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God.”

Heathen and wretched are minor insults compared to the judgment given by the Muslim scholar Masudi in the tenth century. After describing “the people of the northern quadrant”, with their “excessively white” coloring, he wrote: “The farther they are to the north the more stupid, gross and brutish they are.” Those in the “sixth climate .. are reckoned among the beasts.” (source: Bernard Lewis, The Muslim Discovery of Europe)

In L.P. Hartley’s immortally wise words: “The past is a foreign country.”

When I wrote The Valley of Decision, this notion of the pale barbarians from the north guided my characterization of the Men from the Coldlands. I called them the Northmen, an old name for the Vikings, and gave the three chiefs Norse names: Volund (in legend, the name of a great smith), Brandr (meaning sword), and Hrolfr (meaning wolf).

Volund was the leader, and he called Brandr and Hrolfr his earls – a detail inspired, I admit, by the Viking earls of Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse. These names were also a kind of inside joke: Hrolfr was the earl who draped himself in the pelt and fangs of a wolf, and when Volund passes the iron sword to Brandr … yes, that was a deliberate pun.

The Northmen had little presence in The Valley of Decision, being the coming stormclouds of the story: growing nearer, darkening the landscape, but not yet here. When I finally made their acquaintance at the end of the book, I wished they had arrived sooner. There was no space left in the story to do justice to the pale barbarians and their collision with the more sophisticated – but still so fallibly human – southern people.

But such unexplored side-paths are what sequels are for.

Amazon Special: Inspection

Free on Amazon
February 24 – February 28

Inspection
An Adventure of Christian Holmes



An interloper arrives at the CBI, claiming to be a data-collector from headquarters. Christian Holmes, together with Greg Belden, is assigned to help him.

As they work with the outsider, their doubts grow. Who is he, and what did he really come for?

More than one man will be tested, when inspection comes.



Inspection on Amazon
Inspection on Goodreads

An Excerpt of

Inspection



The stack of files was about a foot high, and I slid the folders back into the cabinet with grim speed. One and then another, one and then another. The last three days of my life had been eaten up by files – taking them out, bringing them to Lars, carrying them up the stairs, running them through the computer scanner, carrying them back down the stairs, filing them away. I had begun to feel a vague resentment of the basement, the scanner, and the awful printed papers.

I slipped in the last file, closed the drawer, and turned around. Belden stood nearby, pulling documents out of another cabinet.

I watched him, my feelings not wholly untinged by dread. He shut the metal drawer with an echoing clang and glanced at me. We shared an understanding look and headed out.

It took a minute or two to wind our way out of the cabinets to Belden’s desk. It was empty.

I took one of the chairs, accepting the break. “He’s gone.”

“Good.” Belden thumped down the files by the monitor. “I tell you, Holmes, that guy is a trial. I have been practicing superhuman restraint for three days, but I don’t know how much longer I can take it.”

He had shown more restraint than I would have expected, but sometimes he got a look in his eyes that made me fear all his restraint would break in an explosion of classic proportions. “I wonder where he went,” I remarked idly.

Belden sat in his chair; I realized, watching him settle in front of the computer, that I had begun to think of it as Lars’. Wherever he went, he had left his briefcase on the desk, his notebook laying open on top of it. His glasses, too, laid on the desk.

As I entertained the idea that Lars was farsighted rather than shortsighted, Belden began tapping on the briefcase. He tapped with both hands, first on the sides, then on the top. The hollow noise carried easily.

Abruptly he pulled his hands back, and then slowly rotated the briefcase. And he stared intensely at the open pages of the notebook.

The writing was, from his viewpoint, upside down, and it took me a moment to ask the question. “Are you reading that?”

“Trying.” He craned his neck, leaning forward.

“Belden, that’s …” Eavesdropping popped into my mind, but that couldn’t be right. “That’s snooping.”

“If you read it upside down, it’s detective work.”

“You know better than that.”

Apparently he did. Belden slowly straightened up and flipped the notebook shut. Then he picked up Lars’ glasses.

“Belden …”

“I’m not hurting anything.” He turned the glasses over in his hand, peered through the lenses, and finally put them on.

I coughed back a laugh. “Not your style.”

Belden removed the glasses and set them down. Then he leaned back in the chair, hands folded together, and gave me a self-satisfied look. “Are you ready for my hypothesis?”

“Shoot.”

“I’ve been observing Daniel Lars. Here’s what I’ve noticed: One, he’s nosy. He gets introduced to someone, and next thing you know he has the person’s background and work history. Two, he carries around a briefcase”—Belden rapped it—“that he never opens. Three, his glasses are fake. Four …” He hesitated, shame crossing his face, but finished. “Four, he’s making notes about us.”

I glanced at the notebook, then back at Belden. “And?”

“And …” He paused, seeming to relish the suspense. “And so, he’s a reporter.”

“A reporter?” I let my skepticism bleed freely into my voice.

“An undercover reporter, doing a story on the CBI.”

“Ah. Well, then, I guess you shouldn’t have gotten into that food fight with Thompson in the lunch room yesterday.”

“We didn’t throw food.”

“I was speaking metaphorically. Anyway, Belden, the supervisor told us to work with him. He’s convinced that Lars is a CBI agent.”

Belden shook his head, adamant. “Mark my words, he’s faking us out.”

My gaze drifted, settled on Lars’ glasses. I had begun to wonder if they really were fake when Lars returned. He stopped in front of Belden, an air of expectation in his posture.

Belden, moving slowly, gave up the chair.

Lars settled in. “Agent Holmes, you and I will go over these numbers. Agent Belden, get me some coffee.”

I stared at him, but he casually put his glasses on and opened a folder. Then I looked at Belden. He stared down at Lars, rigid from his toes to his eyebrows. His expression was, in all the years we had worked together, new to me; I couldn’t read it. Yet I thought it was the expression of a man in a supreme act of self-control—or plotting retaliation.

Belden motioned vaguely upward. “You were just upstairs.”

Lars looked at him. “And?”

Belden grasped the edge of the desk and leaned in. “You know, Lars, ever since you first showed up with your glasses and your briefcase and your attitude, there’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you.”

Lars closed the folder, granting Belden his full attention. “What is it?”

Belden opened his mouth, but it took a moment for the words to come out. “Cream or sugar?”

“Both.”

Belden nodded—a jerky sort of nod, as if he wasn’t used to the motion—and took himself away.

I looked at Lars, who had quietly resumed his work. “You’re doing a good job of testing him.” So good I had started to think that some of it was just his personality coming through.

He didn’t answer. Lars paged through the file, and I watched. And for no good reason, it suddenly came into my mind that maybe Belden had a point after all. If Lars wasn’t a reporter, maybe he was something else we didn’t know about.

To finish, purchase free from Amazon.

Release Announcement: Cards

Cards

An Eternities Novella

Released February 13, 2015

A boy with strange luck, a man with rare knowledge …

The card-dens of the Redzone are desperate places. Men with no money to spare gamble their money in endless games, in squalid rooms thick with smoke and alcohol and lawless recklessness. Cards tempt and betray their players, leaving them with nothing.

Except for Tav. Only Tav never loses, because the cards obey him. But the secret of his strange luck cannot be hidden forever. He plays for diamonds. What will he draw when the truth is revealed?



An Excerpt of
Cards

From the moment Tav walked in, the cards were his. They answered to him, answered the reach of his mind. He sat at the battered little table, not looking at the men hunched over their cards and winnings around him, and he stretched his thoughts toward the deck and willed.

And they came to him. The dealer scattered the cards with precise rapidity, and when he picked his own up from the table, they presented themselves to him: a flush, a straight, four of a kind, king’s draw, pirate’s hand …

Some he threw back, some he folded at first bet, the rest he played to win. And surely, but by no means abruptly, he tripled the money in front of him.

The smoke grew thick in the air, the table splotched and sticky with spilled alcohol, the other players restless—only he ever had a good game, with all the cards struggling toward him. The man to his right shifted most, and began to mutter. When Tav took the pot with a straight flush, the man slapped his cards down so violently the table quivered.

Tav took warning. He always took warning from the bad temper of his fellow players, ever since he’d had to crawl away from a brawl that erupted from too much alcohol and too many losing hands. As the dealer shuffled the deck, Tav aimed a look at the dinged metal door. It invited him, but he would lose this last hand before he left. Losers were rarely followed out into the street.

The dealer flicked the cards to each player. Tav waited until all were dealt, and then scooped up his cards. Two aces and three tens marshaled themselves in his hand, neatly divided into their own kinds.

With a sweep of mutters, the first round of betting emptily passed. Tav, in his turn, flashed the dealer one of his aces, and tossed down the other four cards. The dealer tucked the rejects under the deck, slid four new cards off its top, and moved on.

Tav drew the cards up: an eight, the deck’s last two aces, and a wild jack, joining his held-over ace to create a beautiful four of a kind.

He blinked. The cards often tried to repair the hands he deliberately ruined—somehow he could not withdraw the command as easily as he gave it—but this time they had outdone themselves.

“Five hundred.”

Tav looked up, almost startled, at the slump-shouldered man opposite him. All game he had played with the nervous caginess of a beginner, and this strong bet was unlike him. But for Tav, at least, it worked. Under cover of that bet, he folded.

The man on his left did the same, and the man two down on the right matched the bet. The last player, the man whose darkening mood had inspired Tav’s decision to depart, stared at his cards, rubbing at them with his thumb and forefinger. Then he threw in his creds, and they clattered on the table with a warning ring.

The slump-shouldered man laid down his hand, three kings. The player down the table cursed, but he was dwarfed into tameness when the man right by Tav hurled his cards across the table and surged to his feet. “Skifters!”

The dealer—his eyes, as always, expressionless to the point of bleakness—began to pick up the strewn cards without looking at the angry man looming over him. “I run a fair game, Fallon,” he said.

Fallon narrowed his eyes. “I never lose like this.”

That Tav believed to be true. He slid his chair back a foot or two, and it scraped the scarred floor loudly. But no one looked at him, because the others were also preparing to spring up from the table. The cagey beginner hastily shoveled up his winnings, as if afraid someone was going to take them away.

The dealer glanced at them, and then up at Fallon. “Every player has his unlucky nights. This is one of yours. So go home.”

As if the directive had been aimed at him, Tav began to quietly stuff his money into his pockets.

A hand closed over his wrist like a pincer, and then he was being dragged up from his chair.

To finish this story, buy Cards on Amazon – 99 cents through Valentine’s Day.

To shelve Cards on Goodreads, visit its page.

To request a review copy, e-mail me at info[at]shannonmcdermott.com.

A Little Thing

When I was writing one of the earliest scenes of The Valley of Decision, I came – while hastening to the main point, which was the introduction of Keiran, the Captain of the Hosts – to a bit moment where an officer clears the way for the army’s highest commanders: “Way for the …”

For the what? My first thought was lords of the army; I added to the notebook masters of the army. In the end I chose the latter title. True, both words mean essentially the same thing, but master seemed the less-used. Better, it seemed more visceral; in America, at least, our strongest cultural memory of addressing men as “Master” is of the slave-holding South.

So they – the five highest officers of the military, my principal heroes among them – were masters. I soon extended this principle of address to their society as a whole. I knew the Dochraitay, ruled for as long as they could remember by Belenus, would be a strongly hierarchical society, well inculcated with the idea of mastery. People could be owned. Didn’t Belenus own them?

When you read The Valley of Decision, you can learn a great deal about the characters’ relationships, and their estimation of each other, by what titles they use. Master was not a mere honorific in Dochraitay mouths, but a recognition of the speaker’s inferiority and a pledge of submission. Hence Keiran addressed the Fays, but only the Fays, as master. All the soldiers, even the three lieutenants of the army, called him master in turn. The lesser soldiers called the lieutenants master, and in their own turn assumed their absolute superiority over the Alamiri captive, and so the hierarchy went …

Caél, as the Captain’s right hand, was second in command of the army. It’s telling of his closeness to Keiran that he alone of all the Dochraitay never called him master. It’s telling of his subordinate rank that he frequently addressed Keiran as Captain. By contrast, Keiran never addressed Caél by his own title, though he might refer to him by it when speaking with others.

When dealing with foreign rulers – such as the leaders of Alamir, and even the King of the Others – the Dochraitay used the honorific lord, as their way of paying respect while subtly declaring their own freedom. The Sovereign and the King of the Others were lords because the Dochraitay did not have to obey them.

Even the fact that the Dochraitay incessantly call Jarmith Alamiri or the Alamiri tells its own tale. That was the most salient fact about him. When they referred to him as our Alamiri, it was wholly without sentiment: They meant only “our Alamiri, to keep and to do with as we like”.

My decision, in the beginning, to use masters of the army instead of lords was a little thing; I did not foresee then that I was sounding a note to be sounded again and again, throughout the book. But of such little things stories are made.

A Literary Theory (By Accident)

Recently I developed a literary theory on short fiction. This wasn’t intentional. It was a result, rather, of my attempts to escape boredom without having to pay any money.

I do aerobics. Aerobics have been described, not entirely unjustly, as “the ability to withstand enormous amounts of boredom”. I have tried to alleviate the boredom with music, podcasts, interviews, and – what proved best of all – audiobooks. Because I don’t enjoy audiobooks enough to actually pay for them, I use LibriVox, a resource of free audiobooks.

Free, because all the books are out of copyright.

Out of copyright, thus old.

Old, and so often short.

Short fiction was more popular in the old days, before the Age of the Trilogy. It’s an odd paradox that the literary fashion of our time, which demands Instant Hook (“You Had Me At Hello”), can hardly ever let a story end without first prolonging it through several books. On the one hand, the Hook Establishment, ever telling aspiring authors their first paragraph isn’t exciting enough. On the other hand, the ubiquitous series.

Literature of the old school wasn’t like this. It used to be that nobody expected anything truly exciting to happen on the first page, or even in the first chapter. If an author took a hundred pages to set up a story, readers would understand. And yet the days of the long, slow openings were also the time of the short story. A wealth of short stories surround literary monoliths like Moby Dick and War and Peace.

On LibriVox, I’ve found short fiction published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: novellas by George MacDonald, a couple short story collections by E. Nesbit, a handful of sci-fi novellas and anthologies. The sci-fi anthologies especially helped me to see that the heart of a short story is not the characters, or the plot, but a single, pulsing idea.

As I listened to these brief sci-fi stories, I came to see them as expressions of ideas, answers to questions that, never spoken, could eventually be seen: What if Martians invaded Earth disguised as performers in a parade? What if aliens intervened to stop nuclear testing? What if it really were possible to bring bad luck? Could orbiting Earth change a man’s perspective in more ways than one?

Novels are also about ideas, small and large. But the virtue of short stories is that they permit the expression of ideas without the lengthy, elaborate weaving of novels – a sketch to a tapestry. Some ideas would not be given literary life otherwise – because the author lacks the time or interest, or simply because the idea itself cannot carry a long story.

Let me give you an example. Suppose I wanted to write about the Guild of Avenging English Students, a secret organization whose mission is to capture the Hook Establishment and send it through time portals in order to suppress various interminable classics. The ultimate goal would be that no one ever again had to write a paper on Moby Dick, and of course there would be all sorts of dangers, such as the Hook Establishment getting schooled by Tolstoy.

Is this idea worthy of a novel? No. Could it be woven with other ideas to make a novel? Probably not.

But it would be a lark, and in a short story the idea could reach, without exhausting, its potential. That is the beauty of the short story.

In the Beginning …

This (nearly) past year saw the publication of my second novel The Valley of Decision – the culmination of a long process that began six years ago. At that time, I had finished the manuscript that became The Last Heir and I needed a new project. I had never written fantasy, had never planned or even particularly wanted to write fantasy. But there were three influences coming together to lead me there.

First, there was Steven Curtis Chapman’s song “Burn the Ships”, in which he re-told the tale of how Cortes, well, burned his ships. (I should note here I’m listing the influences in reverse order of importance.) What captivated me in this song was the sense of radical commitment, the blazing will to never go back, even if only death lay ahead. This roosted in my imagination for a long while, before coming home in Keiran, the chief character of The Valley of Decision. (The burning of the ships also directly inspired Keiran’s destruction of Dokrait.)

Second, I was in those days repeatedly reading G. K. Chesterton’s poem The Song of the Wheels, whose phrases and lines recurred in my mind like a song. I eventually memorized it, and that was pure efficiency, as I no longer needed to go fishing up the written form. The Song of the Wheels is the song of “the little things” – “only men”, “a gasp is all their breath” – and how they broke free of King Dives and his hives “full of thunder, where the lightning leaps and kills”. I think I understand the poem better now, but I fully felt it even then, the oppression of the weak and the freedom they gained when they finally grew bold enough to choose.

My final inspiration was Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I had already read the books years before, but a new thought struck me regarding the story: Why were the Men enslaved to Sauron and Sauraman always enemies – usually to be defeated, occasionally to be pitied, but still only enemies? Why couldn’t they ever be heroes? I thought a rebellion of the slaves against their Dark Lord would have been tremendous. In my imagination, I could see some sort of captain of the slaves making a direct assault on the Dark Lord. While quoting Chesterton’s Song of the Wheels.

With this scene playing in my head, I began to consider writing the story of the slave rebellion against the dark lord. I took up the work of all writers, even writers who tell stories about imaginary people in non-existent worlds: research. I began exploring European folklore, and I grew intrigued by what I found.

The neat divisions of our modern culture – beautiful fairies, benevolent elves, mean goblins, grumpy dwarves – are wholly upended in the old stories. I was impressed, too, by how alien and sinister Faerie was to mankind in old-fashioned fairytales. Tolkien, I came to see, had rather glorified the Elves; certainly, in the old world where the tales of Faerie were first told, no right-thinking mortal was ever off his guard around faeries of any description.

These realizations came to impact deeply The Valley of Decision, which existed then as only the germ of an idea. I hope, in the weeks and months ahead, to explore how. With this post, I open a new series – “Through the Valley (of Decision)”.

Two Announcements

Golden Daughter, the newest novel in Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Tales of Goldstone Wood, has been released to Kindle. In celebration, she has put her novella Goddess Tithe on sale for 99 cents until the end of this week. (Which is, sheesh, coming up.) Purchase Goddess Tithe here, and Golden Daughter here.

Golden Daughter

Sairu vowed to protect her mistress from all harm. But when assassins and deadly phantoms set out to hunt down Lady Hariawan, can one young bodyguard protect against enemies she can neither see nor touch? With only a Faerie cat and a handsome slave to help her, Sairu’s skills and loyalty will be tested to the limit.


Goddess Tithe

When a stowaway is discovered aboard the merchant ship Kulap Kanya, Munny, a cabin boy on his first voyage, knows what must be done. All stowaways are sacrificed to Risafeth, the evil goddess of the sea. But Captain Sunan vows instead to protect the stowaway . . . and a curse falls upon the ship.



In addition, I am running a giveaway of The Valley of Decision on LibraryThing until November 22. Check that out here.


The Valley of Decision

Far away, beyond the Northwood and the Black Mountains, Belenus rules the kingdom of the north.

How many centuries, how many thousands of years, he has held the north, no one knows. But when our distant fathers came over the mountains, he was there.

The Dochraitay are his servants – mortal Men, who live and die in the grasp of their undying master. They till and harvest Belenus’ fields, fight his wars, and bear children for his use.

When Belenus sends them over the mountains to destroy us, they will fear him, and we will fear them. But when the moment of choice comes in the valley of decision, hearts will be exposed.

Lives will shatter.

The world will change.

What no one ever guessed will happen.

– a wisewoman of Alamir

A Brief Fairy Tale

This brief fairy tale, originally written for the Prism Book Tour, is based on the story world of The Valley of Decision. One deep night, a mother of Alamir tells her child the story of another night, long, long ago …


One more tale? All right, my love; just one.

Long ago, the great father Athair led the first Alamiri up into the Rhugarch Pass. They were men of his clan, relatives loyal and strong. When they scaled the mountain to the Rhugarch Gap, they stopped for the night.

The men settled down to their rest; the fire sank into embers; the watchman grew drowsy. And a soft, soft pattering murmured into the camp.

Athair, great warrior that he was, woke and listened. Was it the wind? Was a fox slinking among the rocks?

A small, dark figure crept into the light of the dying fire. It stopped beside a sleeping man, and a stone dagger was in its hand.

With a roar, Athair hurled his knife and dropped the strange attacker dead. At his shout all his relatives leapt up from their slumber, drawing out weapons.

At that same moment, scores of small, fierce creatures swarmed into the camp. Athair commanded his men, and they stood back to back, in a circle around the fire. So standing together, they held the creatures at bay.

But the night was long, and their enemies were implacable, and the men grew weary. In the second watch, one cried out, “Athair, father of our clan, how long must we fight?”

And he said, “Until the morning comes.”

In the third watch, another cried out, “Athair, elder of our tribe, how long can we endure?”

He said, “Until the morning comes.”

When dawn broke over the mountains, sending pale rays of light shooting at the battle-torn camp, the attackers scattered and fled. But for one moment, Athair saw them in the light, and he knew them for what they were – the hobgoblins, the darkness-dwellers. And they, like the darkness and all dark things, fled with the coming of day.

Are hobgoblins real? I think so; don’t you?

Ah, but the candle is burning low, and now it is time for you to sleep. The morning comes, as Athair said, and it will be bright and good.

So sleep, my child; sleep.

Odds and Ends

So is it time for a news-and-updates blog post, a I-didn’t-have-much-planned-and-this-is-easy post? Yes, I think so.

At the end of May, I joined SpeculativeFaith as a regular contributor, posting every other Wednesday. In June I made my first two posts, and I’m scheduled to post my third this Wednesday. (Sneak preview: It will be about why Christian fiction is predominantly romance novels.)

Today, Anne Elisabeth Stengl graciously hosted me on her blog. There is an interview, a snippet from The Valley of Decision, and a giveaway.

The Prism Book Tour of The Valley of Decision has come to an end. In addition to the interviews and guest posts, I got a few good reviews. Melanie, at her blog Mel’s Shelves, wrote kindly about the ending: “There are lots of moving parts that came together in the end for a satisfying conclusion. I’m glad I had the opportunity to read this, and I look forward to reading more from this author!”

Tina at Mommynificent commented, “The characters were definitely my favorite part of the book. I really enjoyed coming to understand the complexities of the three main characters, who interestingly are all male. I also really enjoyed the unfolding mystery of who the Fay are and why they are a part of this world.”

Sara, writing on Platypire Reviews, also remarked on the characters: “Keiran, the Captain of the Hosts, was an interesting character. From the beginning of the book, I wasn’t quite sure what direction the story was going to go in, and I didn’t know what to think of him at first. As things were revealed and I got further in the story, I found myself rooting for him as a reader and enjoyed his character development.”

Which is just the sort of thing an author likes to hear.