Serial: An Heir to Thorns and Steel, 78

An Heir to Thorns and Steel is a serialized fantasy novel updating once a week for free on Tuesdays, and again on Thursdays and Saturdays if tips reach $15 and $20, respectively. Single reviews of existing stories posted to Amazon count for $5 toward the tip total.

An Heir to Thorns and Steel
Blood Ladders, Book 1
M.C.A. Hogarth

Episode 78

      So brusquely competent was my liegeman Kemses e Sadar that we had no sooner stepped foot at Mene’s harbor that he had us across the dock and boarding another ship in the company of a small contingent of elven guards, detached from his own business offices in the city. Beneath a clouded afternoon sky, our shadows long and violet against the plank the genets were walking to reach the ship, I turned to him.
      “I’ll have extra supplies loaded,” he said as the bustle of the harbor surrounded us. “Clothes. Food. Money, though your passage is as good as paid… you’ll need it to make the journey inland. Trust in Last, who heads your guard… he’s a good man, I’ve known him many decades now. Smart with a sword and his men will follow him beneath the shadow of a demon’s wings.”
      “God forfend,” I said and then laughed, dizzied. Behind me a dock-hand led the drake up the gangplank. “You have put together an entire expedition from scraps of gold and a few words!”
      He grinned at me. “Did I not say it was my talent, Morgan Locke? I make much of little.”
      “That you do,” I said, “And we are in your debt.” I clasped his hands. “That staff you gave me. Promise me you’ll teach me to use it when I return.”
      He laughed. “I promise to help you undo the bad habits you are about to learn while traipsing in the wilderness, for I’ve no doubt you’ll have need of that staff long before I can teach you to wield it properly.”
      “Still,” I said.
      He lifted a silver brow. “Why, my liege. I believe you are trying to extract from me an assurance that I’ll be here when the two of you return.”
      “And if I am?” I asked.
      “Then I would tell you that no one can know the turn of fate,” he said, and at the sight of my frown, “And I would also tell you that it is very hard to kill an elf, and even harder to kill Kemses e Sadar.”
      I smiled and threw my arms around him in a rough embrace. Against my gaunt frame his vitality, the smooth, bright living life of him warmed me like a hearth after too long a winter.
      “Come home safely, prince of elves,” Kemses said. “And keep your charge.”
      “I shall,” I said. “Give my regards to Galen and Basilia.”
      And then I mounted the plank with the help of the Black Pearls and joined my brother there beneath the cloud-softened sky, in the embrace of the calling sea. I heard the whisper of the mainland in the susurrus of the waves and I was consumed by a longing to be gone. How interminable, the time between our boarding and when they threw off the ropes! I held the rail and stared out toward the horizon as the timbers beneath my feet creaked and the wind kissed my lips and my brow and it was… oh, it was a benediction to at last be gone. To be free of Aravalís and the elves.
      “You love it, then,” Amhric said. He was a warmth, a knot of gold and copper against the gray and blue and storm-salt white of the world around him.
      “Yes,” I said simply.
      He came to stand beside me and we watched…. for how long, I know not. Only that I came to lean on him, after a time, for that my body was weak yet.
      “Will they pursue us?” I asked.
      “They would have to learn that we’d left,” Amhric said. “God willing, they will go to Erevar first… and by the time Kemses allows them to know that he is not our shelter, we will be too far gone for them to find us… if indeed, they could conceive of us fleeing. Recall that these are people who love power; they would think us gone to ground on some island, not sped over the ocean for the nation of our enemies.”
      “Then… we have time,” I said.
      “To recuperate, to plan. Yes.”
      “To learn a little of one another,” I said. My voice grew husky. “I have never had a brother.” And then, thinking of it, “God above. My mother will be… surprised.”
      He laughed his quiet laugh. “A good surprise?”
      “She wanted children so badly,” I said. “I have to believe it will be. Only…”
      He glanced at me.
      “Only we aren’t precisely human,” I said. “I forget that part.”
      “You will still be the son she has loved since she cradled you in her arms,” Amhric said. “Don’t doubt it.”
      It occurred to me to actually hear my words as well as speak them. “And… our mother? The elven one. I presume she still lives?”
      Amhric was quiet a moment, his gaze cast out over the waves. “I do, also. But I have not seen her for a very long time.” At my expression, he shook his head. “Long before the king-gifts came to me, I had a habit of wandering. I wanted no part of the bickering between blood-flags even then, and preferred my own company to that of my kind. When I returned from one of my sojourns, it was to the news that she had gone, and no one knew where… or cared, likely.”
      “Gone,” I murmured. “Perhaps… to bear me?”
      He looked at me, but had no answer, and I put it away as another puzzle that needed sorting when we arrived. There were other matters that needed discussion. “You are the king of elves and I the prince. Should we… shall we remain hidden? Or do you think it’s past time we healed the rift between the peoples?”
      He sounded surprised. “You would have us arrive on a diplomatic mission?”
      “We could,” I said. “We are the government.”
      “A government without power with a nation in rebellion at our backs,” he said.
      “We could ask for help.”
      His brows lifted. “Would they grant it? Or would it please them to have their ancient enemy at war with themselves? We would be delivering ourselves to their mercy. You know them better than I, but still I must ask if this is wisdom.”
      I wanted to assure him that his fears were groundless, but… I sighed. “I’m not sure.”
      “Let it be,” Amhric said, voice gentle. “There will be time enough to make those decisions when we have the tenor of the city.” A hesitation, then: “Your skin is cold.”
      I nodded. “I should probably retire. Except—”
      “Except that you love the sea,” Amhric said.
      I did not reply. When he left my side I thought nothing of it. But then he brought me thick blankets, a pillow. That he arranged me carefully so that, even stiff and pained as I was I could remain as we sped before the swelling night, into the sun-stained waves…
      I did not yet know how much I loved him. But there, wrapped in wool and with the wind in my face, I began to understand.

      Our captain was a taciturn man, not given to conversation and even less easily impressed. His expressionless face seemed to regard both catastrophe and good fortune with equal disinterest. I found it a curiosity, that the sea so often bred men of such stoicism and unyielding character, for when I looked into the waves I wanted nothing more than to flow with them, to become as limber and adaptable as they were. But I accepted that our captain had no such impulse, and in fact was so gruff as to make Gant look garrulous.
     When I found him standing at the prow a week later, squinting into the clot of clouds gathering on the horizon, I felt a frisson of unease… for his attention betrayed a concern that in any other man would have been a cry or a shudder.
      “A storm?” I asked.
      “Shouldn’t be,” he said.
      I followed his gaze. “Shouldn’t be?”
      “Not normal,” he said.
      For several heartbeats I felt nothing, heard nothing but the winding tension in every blood-bearing vessel in my body. Nothing at all. And then I flung myself back toward the cabin where we commonly slept, ignoring the awkwardness of my body in the sudden blinding need to be armed. I almost crashed into the king and Almond.
      “Morgan?” he asked.
      I grabbed his shoulders and shoved him back toward the cabin. “Go! Go now!” And then to the captain of my meager, too meager guard, “Last! To me!”
      There’s no place to hide, something whispered in me. Turn around.
      No! I cried to the voice, despairing… but I turned slowly, oh slowly, gripped by dread.
      On the water walked a single figure, dragging behind it the tangle of clouds and anger in the sky. It seemed to coruscate as it approached; with every footfall, it changed shape and form. Now a golden-locked man; now a willow-green woman, now a creature without sex or name, defying the mind’s ability to cage it with sight or understanding, on and on through a kaleidoscope of shapes and forms and light-stained colors. The eye touched on the figure and slid off in denial: it flowed across the sea with the inchoate malleability of a storm. No single person should be so chaotic, as if their soul had no shape, no core. The gorge rose trying to hold it in the mind.
      It walked until the bow of the ship obscured it… and then, with the lightness of a dancer it leapt atop the bowsprit and balanced there, settling on a single shape: raven hair falling past narrow hips, boyish and sensual and cloaked with menace. His skin developed ice’s pallor, and his eyes… his eyes were a flat and complete black from rim to rim, without iris, pupil or white. The lashes over them glittered like frost, like a feathered extension of the uncanny ivory of his eyelids.
      Nude but clothed in power and madness, Sidithin said, “You have something you promised to me, Morgan Locke.”

***

Thursday, the last episode….


Plans for This Week

Just quickly, so you have some idea of what to look forward to: we’ll be wrapping up Heir with a Tuesday and Thursday post, and I’ll give you a sneak preview of the beginning of the sequel, The Get of Royal Bloodshed, on Saturday! The Wingless sequel will continue to serialize the remaining days, and then next week we’ll have a discussion about how we want to handle that.

Also this week I’ll be sending out Kickstarter surveys so we can start getting those rewards out!

End of month outlook, we’re looking at Laisrathera‘s launch and then I’ll start considering re-packaging Wingless to match the sequel and rebranding it with the series name. More on that when I clear off some of the other stuff in front of it.

So there you go! Let’s get to it. :)

Return of the Anime Hair

It was getting way too long.

hairnow

Next stop: pink and orange streaks. *nods*

(Also, don’t mind the flush, it was 92 degrees out. I think my skin was melting off. :P )

Upcoming

Status continues, to keep me on track:

Laundry Dragons
• Coloring book is done and available for sale!
• Second proof of the picture book should arrive early next week.
• Magnet design is out for final price quote. Still. Might find a new vendor next week.
• E-book is out for conversion.
• Wallpaper is in planning stage.

Laisrathera
• Waiting on final cover/book block/etc while finishing up copy-edits. Payment for the print edition has been delivered.

Audio
• Rose Point audiobook vetting continues.
• Contract for the podcast project is at the lawyer’s.
• Got the first 15 of Dark Lighthouse in!

Serials
• Heir should wrap up next week (!).
• Wingless’s sequel is serializing, apparently, and it’s up to 230 pages already.

Here’s what my board looks like today (in order of ‘do first’ness):

2014-04-04 09.48.56

I’m currently in the process of scheduling the next few months. I think the Wingless sequel will finish itself by the end of April so that will be off my plate. I’m committed to finishing the sequel to Heir by the end of summer (title for that one is The Get of Royal Bloodshed). But after that I’m getting a little tired of writing about men (sorry guys!), and while Get will have some good female roles I’m sort of leaning toward finishing edits on the first Alysha novel, Sword of the Alliance. So I’m pondering where to fit that in.

The print edition of Godkin 2: The Godson’s Triumph should also be available by summer thanks to the fine folks at Sofawolf, for those of you waiting for it. (The ebook has been up for a while.)

Finally, I’m considering doing a brief honey badger post. Because I have so much spare time and stuff. We’ll see. :)

Proof Copy Has Arrived!

I have a couple of nitpicks to fix, but overall I’m very pleased with it!

Probably the biggest thing I wish I could fix is that there are 3 blank pages at the back to fill out the block… but other than enlarging the book by another 3 paintings/poems, there’s no way to avoid that.

Anyway! I have a typo to correct, and I’ve asked Dave to put the washy background frames around the images back in the book, and then I’ll hit ‘go’ and it will be time to start assembling Kickstarter packages. Providing, of course, the magnet quote gets back to me! It would strike me as very funny if getting the magnets together took longer than the book/coloring book. o_O

Serial: An Heir to Thorns and Steel, 77

An Heir to Thorns and Steel is a serialized fantasy novel updating once a week for free on Tuesdays, and again on Thursdays and Saturdays if tips reach $15 and $20, respectively. Single reviews of existing stories posted to Amazon count for $5 toward the tip total.

An Heir to Thorns and Steel
Blood Ladders, Book 1
M.C.A. Hogarth

Episode 77

      We sailed directly for the port town of Mene, the city where Captain Gant had delivered me to this misadventure… for as Kemses said, standing near the prow with the wind in his face, our enemies would expect us to return to our stronghold and retrench. Erevar was not safe. “We’ll put you on the first ship to the mainland,” Kemses had said, “and only then will I breathe clear.”
      “And you?” I’d asked.
      He shook his head. “I can take care of myself… I always have. But to guard a king and a prince against a nation alone… that is not in me.” He glanced at me with a quirk of a smile. “At least, not yet.”
      The days blurred, fleet and redolent with the scent of brine and wood, and I remembered little of them save the sense of urgency and the growing ease I felt in the presence of my brother. Atimes he kept the convulsions completely at bay, but when he could not I sensed him just beyond my reach, watching, guarding, and even in the deepest throes of my pain he soothed me, and I took comfort in the knowledge that pain had not transformed me into someone who could sacrifice such a man to save himself. And always, when I woke, I found him there to soothe me, and I thought I could bear all the vicissitudes of fate and body with him to gentle them away.
      As the genets listened in silent curiosity and the elves bent over the table where I sketched maps of the mainland, I told them all about home, about the university, my friends. About my family and the portrait hanging above our mantel. I wondered how I’d been brought to the mainland and the doorstep of a human family, a riddle for which neither elf had an answer. But in that short voyage, I gave them more of my life than I would ever have thought to give any casual acquaintance, and by that I knew I had decided that there was something worth saving in Aravalís. That I could be the archipelago’s Red Prince.
      But that brought me to a separate matter, one I did not understand at all.
      “The legends of the Red Prince,” I said. “And the constant war between him and the King. Were those derived from the elves?”
      “It may be,” Amhric said, petting Almond where she curled in his lap. Her short white hair was splashed like milk across his knee, gathering light from the proximity of his fingertips. “They did not understand well that relationship. It is as you said… to have the heir be the king’s shield is not a thing that would occur to humanity.”
      I thought of the myriad variations of the tales about them, blood and betrayal and sorrow and in that one shining vignette, the remorse, the love. “That would seem obvious. But… always there is a conflict between them. And the King is always bleeding.”
      “The King does bleed,” Amhric said. “That much is true. We call it the landheart. Where demons injure the land, there the king bleeds.”
      I said, “Ah, so I should only worry then if you develop inexplicable rents in your flesh.”
      “If I develop such rents,” Amhric said, “It is well past the time when you should be worrying.”
      I lifted my eyes to his and acknowledged the gravity of that matter, then returned to the puzzle. “Still, one would think there would be cause for the legends. Stories do not appear without reason. They serve a need.”
      “Perhaps they served the need of humanity to justify the guilt they felt over the betrayal of their benefactors,” Amhric said.
      I started from my reverie. “Was that censure?”
      His smile grew sad. “Did it sound that way?”
      “I’m not sure,” I said. “In anyone else… but you say so little against others.”
      “Perhaps it is you who saw censure where none was meant,” he said. His voice gentled. “I observe that you are not entirely sure to whom you owe your allegiance, brother mine. At times you are elven… and at others, human. That is a situation that cannot remain long unresolved… and we about to go to your home, where the conflict will be drawn in stark relief.”
      “Sooth,” I said, touching the side of a hand to my aching head. “I came here hating elves for all they are and thinking humans blameless. But to find that we were complicit in history’s evils?” I shook my head. “Nothing is as it seemed.”
      “It rarely is,” he said. His golden hand rested gently on Almond’s head, and the genet looked at me with drowsy, lilac eyes.

***

Three more episodes to the end…

We could be done by this time next week. o_O


Coloring Book Has Arrived!

…needs a few nitpicks corrected, but is otherwise a go! Expect it at online retailers in a couple of weeks.

colorbookproof1

colorbookproof2

So for the record, POD makes for a really nice coloring book! I was surprised. I might have to do a few more of these.

Okay, well, at $1-2 in royalties per book, maybe not a ton of them. But still, it was a lot of fun. :D

Daughter’s comment on flipping through it: “Hey, wait. That’s my shoe!” We both laughed.

Next up, picture book proof.

Serial: An Heir to Thorns and Steel, 76

An Heir to Thorns and Steel is a serialized fantasy novel updating once a week for free on Tuesdays, and again on Thursdays and Saturdays if tips reach $15 and $20, respectively. Single reviews of existing stories posted to Amazon count for $5 toward the tip total.

An Heir to Thorns and Steel
Blood Ladders, Book 1
M.C.A. Hogarth

Episode 76

      “I don’t know,” Amhric said. “But…” He closed his eyes and I felt something in him gathering the air and the starlight and the darkness. “But there is an equilibrium for now. We teeter, we are close, too close… but unless something comes into the world, something changes, we may skirt disaster.”
      Kemses was watching him. “I didn’t know, my lord. That it was so close a thing. I thought we were done with demons.”
      I thought of the voices skating up my skin, the cruel hallucinations, and rubbed my arm. “They push at the edges of the world already.”
      Both of them looked at me then, and I said, low, “They mock me. In… visions.” For what else could I call them?
      Silence a moment. Then Amhric said to Kemses, “We will never be done with demons. It is the way of the world. Where there is light, there will be the shadow.”
     ”Then you must be king,” I said.
     ”Yes,” Amhric said heavily. “But by nature I cannot rule without the consent of my people.”
     ”But I can compel them,” I said.
     ”Yes,” he said. “But not without power.” He reached for me, touched my chest and set his palm flat there, over my racing heart. “You are twisted into a knot of blood and thorns, Morgan. Until we free you, what little power you can muster will be a blunt weapon, weak and awkward and painful to use.”
     ”Well, I’m not going to pay Sidithin his blood price to free me,” I said. “Surely there’s some other way to undo this.”
     Kemses shook his head. “Such enchantments are rare among us now. What few are still in use exist only because of books from before the exile that describe their creation… but the grimoires that detail something as complex as this….” He made as if to touch my knee but didn’t. “Those are lost with the manuscripts at the athenaeum.”
     ”The… what?” I whispered.
     ”The athenaeum,” Kemses repeated. “When we still lived with humans, we maintained a great library–”
     ”–at Vigil!” I whispered. “My God! The sealed athenaeum at Vigil!” I looked up at them, wild-eyed. “But that city was ruined!”
     ”By demons, yes,” Kemses said, staring at me intently. “Did you say… sealed? There are sealed chambers?”
     ”Yes!” I said. “They have only just now begun to open the catacombs!”
     ”There, then is our hope,” Amhric said, soft. “Not just for you… but for all of us.” I glanced at him and he met my eyes. “If we can unbind a blood-working of the magnitude that claims you,” he said, pressing lightly against my breastbone, “Why not then the one that trammels our power?”
     ”To become mortal,” Kemses said, voice gone taut with longing, falling to a whisper. “God! To die at last!”
     ”Then we will sail for home,” I said. “And go seek our salvation in the ruins.”
     ”We?” Amhric asked.
     ”You would have me leave you here?” I asked. “Among your enemies, and you without defense?” I clasped the narrow wrist over my heart. “You must be mad.”
     ”You must both go,” Kemses said. “There is no question. And I can charter your voyage. But I must stay, or I will not be the master of Erevar when I return. Someone must hold the line, so you have a foothold in the madness when you return.”
     I closed my eyes. “Then we go home.”
     ”Yes,” Amhric said.
     ”Come,” Kemses said, rising. “The ship awaits.”
     ”The genets…!”
     He laughed. “Waiting for you. They didn’t wander far.”
     I sighed. “I suppose they’re mine to care-take now.”
     ”Property of the royal blood-flag,” Kemses said with a hint of humor in his voice. “All four of them.”
     ”Four!” I said. And then covered my eyes. “Ah, not the Black Pearls also.”
     ”They seem concerned for your welfare,” Kemses said.
     ”I’m sure they’d be much happier in your possession, allowed to loiter in luxury in a quiet and stable household,” I said. “Much happier than they would be tramping in our wake through the cold wreckage of broken and dangerous cities on a madcap quest.”
     He shook his head. “Oh, no… no, I think not. You’ll see.” He grinned. “We’ll be waiting for you by the ship’s boat.”
     I glanced out to sea, saw the black silhouette of Kemses’s sleek vessel bobbing on the dark waters. “Kemses, how did you come to be so close, anyway?”
     ”I have been making these voyages since you left for Kesína,” he said. “I thought…” He paused, then smiled a wry smile, “I felt uncomfortable knowing you were here alone.”
     I gave free rein to the sincerity of my feeling, and while it did not shine in my voice as it would have had it been an elf’s, still it was something. “Thank you.”
     He shook his head. “It’s nothing.”
     I grinned, then, remembering his reprimand in the stable at Erevar. “You might consider developing a touch more graciousness in accepting the gratitude of your liege-lord, vassal mine. We do take offense if we are rebuffed.”
     He started and then laughed and bowed, his silvered hair falling over a shoulder to sweep the sand. “My apologies, my lord. I will work on my polish.”
     ”Apology accepted,” I said. And smiled. “e Sadar.”
     ”Master Locke,” he said with a laugh in his eyes, and left me with the king.
     I studied him, searching for any sign that they’d hurt him and finding nothing… only his imperturbable calm. He sat cross-legged, small hands folded in his lap, and the rents in his clothes and the scratches and travel stains dulling his skin were meaningless. I had not thought that the stars would be kind to skin as honey-warm as his, to hair so autumnal, but the silver only seemed to emphasize the gold and copper limning his edges… as if it were teasing at the lips of a light that would be visible if he shifted out of its way.
     ”They didn’t hurt you,” I said.
     He met my gaze. “Not as much as they have hurt you.”
     I wanted to deny it, but I could not. Not to the man who’d held me while I retched my horror over having killed a man onto the sand. I had hated Thameis, I had wanted him dead, I had even in my worst fevers wanted to be the one who killed him… but there was no clean way to kill an elf. I suppressed a shiver and said, hoarse, “It will pass.”
     ”The sickness will pass,” he said. “But for all the deaths you will mete out on my behalf in the future… I apologize.”
     Slowly, slowly I shook my head. “No.” I drew in a breath. “No.” Lifting my head then and meeting his eyes, unblinking, “If it were to be the executioner for a king who sought power over others solely for the sake of power, you would find me gone the moment I could board a ship and leave. But we are here by…” I trailed off and laughed, because it was preposterous and it was true. “By accident of birth, and because there is a need that only we can fulfill. A duty. I would not do this for you alone. But for us all… then yes. If the elves were meant as our bulwarks against evil, then to save them from themselves is an imperative.”
     ”Were I more… ”
      “No,” I said, stopping him before he could follow that trail and find the guilt at its end. “You can’t be. Any more than I could do what you do. You said it yourself: we are not meant to be parted.”
     ”No,” he said quietly. “But I know… I know that it is a great faith, to believe it on the strength of a story from a man you don’t know.”
     ”Don’t I?” I asked, smiling.
     He hesitated.
     I said, “There are enough enemies to fight without fighting my kin. You are my brother.” And saying it, I realized I believed it. I accepted it. I laughed. “God above, what a strange world it is.” And then, even harder, imagining the expression on Eyre’s face when I presented him with a real elf: “Oh, but wait until my master professor meets you!”
     ”A shock?” Amhric asked, perplexed but smiling.
     ”An understatement,” I said, and let him help me to my feet. He bent to retrieve my staff from the sand; it was clean, as if the magic I’d poured through it had burnt the gore from its incised channels. Only the tassels and the suede hinted at its baptism in blood, stained with shadows. With a somber grace, he turned to me, and though he did not kneel there was something of supplication, of humility in the way he bowed his shining head and held it out to me. He asked me to renew my pledge… no, to make it in full understanding of what I was, what we were and what we were about to do. So many deaths between ourselves and success, and all of them would be mind to mete out or command. I hardly felt capable.
     But what could I do? I was named, bound in the circles of duty as surely as the blood-gifts that flowed in my body. Morgan Locke, historian and folklorist, student, scholar, son of Evertrue… prince of elves, defender of kings, wielder of magic. I set my hand on the staff between his and curled my fingers around it; with a long breath I met his gaze and took the staff from him. He closed his eyes and I knew then how much this wore on him. To command death is a wound to the spirit, but to be its cause… I could not fathom it, nor did I wish to. The blood had been wise to prick the prince-gifts from me after all.
     The offer of his arm I found far easier to accept, and I hobbled toward the ship’s boat with his aid. And there, God help me, I was mobbed by genets.
     ”Master! You’re safe! We were so worried!”
     Black and white arms around me, little noses tickling with their damp leather, the twitch of ears–I looked over their heads at Kemses, who was grinning. I sighed and looped my arms around all their shoulders as Kelu watched from a prickly distance. “Well, I’m here now.”
     ”All yours,” Kemses observed as we boarded the boat.
     ”I suppose at that,” I said and sighed, watching the two Black Pearls curl up with Almond. “I’m going to have to give those two proper names.”
     ”You’ll think of something,” Kemses said.
     ”You are finding this far too amusing, vassal mine,” I said.
     ”I do believe you’ve already accused me of impertinence,” Kemses said. “Far be it from me to contradict.”
     At my expression, Kelu said, “You earned it.”
     ”I should know better than to expect sympathy from you.”
     ”Yes,” she said. And then, after a pause, “All the same, I’m glad you’re not dead.”
     ”Why Kelu,” I said. “I do believe you’ve grown fond of me.”
     ”Don’t wager on it,” she said.

***

Kelu. Always good for bringing us back to earth. She’s the slave in the Roman chariot. -_-

As you can probably tell, we are very close to the end of the book now. Another 3-5 episodes, maybe….


Vikings

During this week’s episode:

Me: There’s no man man enough for that woman.

Spouse: Ragnar doesn’t need two wives. Lagertha needs two husbands.

…and, yeah. Now that’s a strong woman. Not bitter, not cruel, not un-maternal, not an atheist! She sidesteps all the modern “wisdoms” on the topic.

Anyone else watching? My favorite character is Athelstan, but they’re torturing him and it’s making me O_O at the screen all the time.

Serial: An Heir to Thorns and Steel, 75

An Heir to Thorns and Steel is a serialized fantasy novel updating once a week for free on Tuesdays, and again on Thursdays and Saturdays if tips reach $15 and $20, respectively. Single reviews of existing stories posted to Amazon count for $5 toward the tip total.

An Heir to Thorns and Steel
Blood Ladders, Book 1
M.C.A. Hogarth

Episode 75

     The footsteps on the sand felt as close as kisses, too intimate in my ears. I cringed away from them, face hidden against Amhric’s shoulder, unaware of how long it had been… feeling only that I was cold and damp and the inside of my mouth tasted of bile and my throat burnt raw. I had nothing left in me, not to kill, not even to turn, could not even straighten my crooked back.
      Perhaps it was well, then, that the voice that spoke did not address me.
      “My lord, my liege, my king,” Kemses breathed. “You live and are complete.”
      “e Sadar,” Amhric said, and in the name was a welcome.
      Kemses dropped to his knees before us and said to my turned back, “Morgan Locke.”
      “Don’t,” I croaked past the wreck of my throat. “Don’t congratulate me. I feel the vilest knave on the earth, and like butchered meat besides.”
      “I see the staff stood you in good stead.”
      I choked on a laugh. “One might say.”
      Even without my glasses, even with my face buried in Amhric’s shoulder, I could sense the glance they exchanged, could imagine the somber quality of my brother’s tawny eyes, the confusion and worry in Kemses’s.
      “Don’t,” I said. “Don’t coddle me.” I pushed myself free and lifted my head, and the blur of their faces turned toward me. “This is what we are in for, isn’t it. This is only the beginning of the violence between us and your throne.”
      “Your throne,” Amhric said. “If you wish it. I seek no such thing.”
      “Truth,” I said. “I will only have the truth. They don’t want you to be king because you will take all their power from them. They want their feudal provinces, their petty kingdoms. And they cannot carve them out and hold them without the magic you will draw from them.”
      “Yes.”
      I drew in a long breath. “And this… this is necessity.”
      “Yes.”
      I glanced from one to the other, nodding a little as Kemses passed me my spectacles. They were somewhat worse for the wear, but I set them on my nose and looked then at my brother, my king. “Explain. Explain now. Make sense of the blood on my hands.”
      They exchanged another glance. Amhric bowed his head and his shoulders lifted in a sigh I could not hear.
      “It is thus,” said he. “Long, long ago, centuries past, we lived in harmony with humans, and we had but one mission: to drive back demons. No one knows from whence they came, but that they existed was all we needed to know. They fed on magic and chaos, they lived to create hollow spaces and dead places, to unmake, to sup on the living and the bright and the beautiful and to leave nothing but waste, wreck and ruin in their wake. Our magic was our weapon against them… and when all our spellcraft failed our last resort was to drain a place of life and energy first so they could gain no foothold: the task of a king, and so dreadful and effective a weapon against the demons that the prince was forced to become his shield and sword, because the king was vulnerable while in that spell-making and the prince was the only one awake and aware enough to guard him.
      “Time passed, and we drove them away, and soon it became rare to see a demon. The task of the king shifted from weapon of last recourse to prevention. For demons are attracted to areas of great magic, and so the king siphons those concentrations away and sends them to dark places, to keep the demons from ever gaining a foothold.”
      I cleared my throat. “And now the part of the story where everything goes wrong.”
      Amhric nodded. “Our kin, humanity, had never been comfortable with us, for that we wielded a force against which they had no defense. So long as we stood between them and the dark, they left us in an uneasy peace… but as demons were relegated to the stuff of rumor, they began to associate us with what we fought. ‘Where there are demons, there are elves,’ they said. ‘Perhaps if there were no demons, there would be no elves.’ And into that breach rushed our enemies, seeing that they could turn us against each other.
      “To the humans, they promised to leech our magic from us. ‘You fear them,’ they whispered, wearing the guise of counselors and wisemen. ‘We know how to drain them of their power. We know how to make them safe.’”
      “And then the humans betrayed us,” Kemses said. “Who had ever been their guardians. They brought us the poisoned cup and gave it to our king, knowing that what affects the magic of the king affects us all, for we are tied together.”
      “The cup–” I said, and then I halted, trembling. You make immortality sound artificial–it is. “–was an enchantment. To make you immortal.”
      “To bind up the magic in our blood, to tie it to the task of keeping us alive,” Amhric said. “Depriving us forever of our ability to give our lives for the cause to which we were dedicated. A lucky few of us are strong enough to remain powers after Dissipation… after aging begins and the enchantment draws from us to undo all the damage wrought by years and abuse. But most of us it leaves barely enough to light a candle or summon a breeze.”
      “And then,” Kemses said, “And then, when we were at our weakest and most confused, our enemies struck. We lost the entirety of the north to them. Countless numbers, so many human and elven cities, all taken. And as humanity screamed for us to save them, we died horribly, slowly, ripped asunder, devoured, set aflame… helpless and bewildered, screaming.”
      Something in his eyes… I looked at him. “You saw it.”
      He turned his face from mine.
      Amhric said softly, “We did not win that day. Nor the next, nor the next. But we learned. We could not die easily, and while that was poor compensation for a people without power, we fought them back. And in our darkest hour, when our powerless king could do no more, he made sacrifice to summon an angel, an angel as from legend, as those who gave us speech and our mission. He banished the demons at the cost of his life, and his prince’s, and for his reward…”
      “For your reward you were exiled,” I said. “By humanity.”
      “Yes,” he said. “And we came here, where you now see what becomes of a people deprived of purpose and the meaning of death.”
      “And the humans here,” I said, remembering my conversation with Kelu and Almond on the drake as we headed for Erevar. “Somehow you learned how to extract the magic from other living beings and use it to augment what the enchantment has stolen.”
      “Yes,” Kemses said.
      So cold, I had become so cold, so suddenly. “The demons. This is too much. This will open the way for them.”
      “If something is not done,” Amhric said, slowly. “If this growth of life and magic is not checked… then yes. I don’t understand in fact how it has not already.”
      “How can they let it continue?” I cried, angry. Angry at them, for their recklessness. At me for the blood on my hands. At this situation which had made it inevitable. “The elves know what they court! You live forever! Did you just forget?”
      “Those of us who’ve been alive since the exile are very rare,” Kemses said. “We were victims of internecine conflicts, the same ones provoked by the council and by warring families in order to win larger estates on these islands. And those of us who were born afterward… there are not so many of them either. The past for them is the past: all that matters is eking out a life now… one good enough to live forever.”
      I looked at Amhric. “Are you one of those youths?”
      He shook his head slowly. “I was a child when we were exiled, but I remember the angel. I remember the war. And I remember the human king who sent us away.”
      “And you have been king all this time?” I asked.
      The two of them looked at one another. Amhric said, “No. But… I think the gifts rose in people without the power to express them past Dissipation. I don’t know how many have died since Mahrit and Sirél fell before the demon lord, but these gifts came to me only a decade ago.”
      “And you fell into your enemy’s hands,” I said. “To Suleris. Because I was missing.”
      They looked at me.
      “How long?” I asked. “How long do we have before it’s too late? Before they come again?”

***

Some history, now.