So Glad it’s FALL!
Fall is my favorite time of year and I always feel like I get more done during the cool, crisp days…whether or not that true, I’m not sure.
Well, it’s official: the 1st draft of Sword of Stone is finally finished! I’ve been working on this beast (on and off–mostly off) for about a year now. However, in that time I edited two novels and wrote a novella and got them all published plus did a million other things for the business. The last 8 weeks I exclusively devoted my time to get this novel finished and so it is. Yay!
I’ve commissioned the cover art from a wonderful Australian artist, Jackie Felix. She has also created the art for the first two books in the Sword of Rhiannon series which I will be changing out shortly. As soon as I have the new covers finished I’ll be putting them up here for everyone to see. You can find Jackie here: https://jackiefelixart.deviantart.com/
While you’re waiting for Sword of Stone here is something fun to read, I suggest picking up this book by Ruby Lionsdrake. Very well written, original, and I love the characters. I highly recommend this book and Lindsay hinted there will be more in the series.
Here is a short–or not so short–sneak peak of an excerpt of Sword of Stone:
“Our tjay! What disharmony blows you to my door on this day?” the old lady crooned.
“I seek a Niju,” he quietly replied, almost embarrassed. She nodded as if she expected him. Who knows, maybe she did know he was coming. Being blessed by the gods, the old woman had a bit of mysterious power surrounding her; the fact that she claimed to be over 180-years-old, notwithstanding. “Come closer, tjay, and let us dulcify those troubled thoughts!” She waved him closer with her boney arm, the dark wrinkled skin swaying with her movements.
The Ceremony Keeper’s white hair fell in two long, bright braids down her chest. She wore a thick strip of beaded leather dyed purple around her head. An elaborate network of blue and purple beads was strung across her neck and wrists and hung from her sagging earlobes. Shih ‘Ni could hear the beads banging together whenever she moved. Heavily creased black eyes pierced Shih ‘Ni through the heart. He knew what she was thinking; Ventra’s tjay could not provide an heir. He clenched his jaw, lifted his chin and looked down at the old woman, his Archigos pride suddenly bolstering him. He hoped this new found courage would last through the Niju.
Finally, the old woman turned her heavily wrinkled face to her four great-granddaughters many times over, nodding her head, and the girls immediately went to work setting up for the spirit journey ceremony. A fire was already crackling in the huge hearth warming the cottage. One apprentice grabbed two small glass bottles from a worn cupboard, another one gently lay a thick blanket on the floor while the last two made a cup of some awful smelling tea. The aroma reminded Shih ‘Ni of when he was in the cottage last, on the day Rhiannon returned to Ventra. He was filled with confusion and such strong emotions he was afraid his mind and soul would be lost to Lacti, the dark place those who have fallen into disfavor with the gods are sent. But his mind and soul were soothed by the Niju last time and he hoped that this time would be the same.
Shih ‘Ni sat down on the blanket, already warmed by the fire. At the Ceremony Keeper’s urging he took an old ceramic cup from her brown, withered hands and gulped downed the hot tea she handed him. It burned his throat going down and tasted like mold. One of the dark-headed young apprentices threw a handful of something powdered into the fire. It immediately sizzled and a purple smoke started to hang in the warm air. It smelled familiar, for he had smelled it before, but he still wasn’t ready for the acrid taste of the smoke as it burned his mouth and nose. He off-handedly wondered what plant could make such a caustic smell. He coughed but took in huge breaths knowing the bitter smoke would help him on his journey.
He lay back upon the blanket, feeling exposed and vulnerable as he clenched his fist and nervously stared at the sloping metal ceiling. Finally, he closed his eyes, taking long, deep breathes quieting his pounding heart. He could hear the old woman start to quietly chant over his prone body. It seemed like a song but had no tune and every word was different, not to be repeated. He recognized the words to be a form of ancient Venn but their meaning was lost in history a long time ago. The room was becoming overpoweringly warm and he started to sweat. He could hear the beads on her wrists as her hands passed over his body sprinkling some kind of ceremonial water on him. The droplets of water were cool on his hot skin. Soon her raspy rhythmic voice became soft and soothing as he felt himself start to fall asleep…
Shih ‘Ni gradually became aware of the feel of a harsh wind blowing across his cooling skin. It rushed by his ears defining him to his surroundings. What was once a soft, warm blanket meeting his back was now cold, hard rock. He lay there with his eyes closed for several long moments gently stroking the dry dirt under his long fingers. Through the frenzied rush of a cool wind, he could feel the slight warmth of the sun. He strained to hear anything past the wind but still could hear nothing but the wind’s forlorn wail.
Gathering his courage he slowly opened his eyes. It must have been early evening since the sun was setting in a pool of orange and red that painted the sky. Feeling stiff and sore he sat up and looked around. He was sitting on a rocky outcropping overlooking the vast Laoch Valley, Màrrach was way off in the distance; its glass domes sparkling like jewels in the sunset. Immediately he felt homesick. Màrrach was the most beautiful city in the world, he was sure of it. He had traveled all over Ventra and Beaynid, spent time on the peninsula in the coastal town of Turr’ ah; in the sprawling, bustling shipping town of Tel `Rhia on the western coast of Beaynid; and he even spent a little time in the eastern castle city of Sona Tuath. However, nothing could ever compare to the mystique and majesty of the home of the mighty Archigos: Màrrach.
Slowly Shih ‘Ni became aware of another presence. A slight warming of the air and a disturbance in the way the wind toyed with his hair. He looked to his right a saw a magnificent horned horse serenely laying on the ground next to him, her long, strong legs tucked up under her. Her coat was so shiny black it was almost blue. Her mane flowed out from her in long dark ribbons on the wind. Her huge black eyes stared at him, inviting him closer. Shih ‘Ni recalled the story Rhiannon told him of what happened to her during the Fiann and recognized the horned horse to be Rhiannon’s mother, Sernia. The horned horse stood up, all the while keeping her deep eyes upon him. Shih ‘Ni slowly stood and hesitantly walked closer to her. He was unsure of what Sernia wanted of him. Suddenly she nuzzled him to her back and he climbed on.
She turned and started ascending a rocky trail that led up into the darkening clouds. He gripped her mane and tightened his legs around the horned equine. They climbed higher and higher as the sky darkened and the wind whipped past Shih ‘Ni’s ears. They rose so high up that Shih ‘Ni could swear he could taste the salt in the air from the Carnaid Sea many miles away to the east. Finally, they stopped upon a ledge that was thrust out from the mountain like a stony finger pointing into the sky. Shih ‘Ni slid off the back of the horse and walked toward the edge. When he looked back the horned horse was gone and in front of him stood a woman. It was indeed Rhiannon’s mother.
Sernia stood tall looking seriously at Shih ‘Ni. She appeared just as she had when they were children. Her raven hair blew out in long fingers upon the wind. Dark eyes assessed him under arched brows. Brown arms came together as her long, elegant fingers clasped each other in front of her. She wore a brown, leather, sleeveless jerkin with matching trousers and brown, beaded slippers. Her top was cut low and he could see the red diamond birthmark above her heart, along with the scrolling blue imperial tattoos that disappeared under the leather. Even without the jewel-encrusted crown upon her dark head and the Necklace of Ventra around her elegant neck, she was still very much an Empress of Ventra.
Her pink lips curled into a smile and her eyes softened. “Shih ‘Ni, you have grown into a beautiful man.”
“My empress,” he breathed and bowed.
“No more your empress, my dear, but still the mother of your mate. You have treated her well, Shih ‘Ni and for that, we are all grateful to you.”
Getting right to the point, he held out his big hands pleading, “Sernia, we cannot produce an heir. What am I to do?” Suddenly she looked passed him. Shih ‘Ni turned around as a huge eagle flew up and landed right on the edge of the cliff. He stared at its golden plumage and bright sky-blue eyes. Abruptly it raised its head and screeched into the night. Bumps rose along Shih ‘Ni’s arms as he felt as much as heard the great bird’s cry. His stomach clenched and he stepped back. The moonless sky was black now but miraculously he could see perfectly and it only slightly registered to him how strange that was.
Before his eyes, the giant eagle started to blur into something else, its plaintive keening lost in the whipping wind. Its golden feathers melted into pale skin until what stood before him was a woman. Her golden hair whipped in the wind as she stared down at him with piercing bright blue eyes. Shih ‘Ni’s heart slammed in his chest and he gasped as he fell to the ground and bowed his head low. “My Goddess, Verna,” he breathed, not sure at all she could hear him over the howl of the wind.
“Rise, tjay,” she commanded in a voice that fantastically did not waver on the wild wind that blew past them. He did as she bade him and forced himself to look into her blue eyes. He saw compassion there and perhaps sadness. He wondered what cause a goddess would have for sadness. “You are a blameless man, virtuous to a fault. You are zealous in your devotion and protection of Ventra.” Shih ‘Ni beamed at her words of praise. She raised a graceful arm and gently touched his cheek. “You are a favored son of Ventra, Shih ‘Ni.” But then her lips turned down slightly and he was filled with trepidation.
“Thank you,” he whispered reverently, aware that her next words would bite.
“However you are not the tjay who will produce Ventra’s new heir.” Her words were softly spoken as if she knew how it would tear at Shih ‘Ni’s heart. With effort, his dark eyes held hers as he silently pleaded with her to take back her words. “I am sorry, Great Warrior, for I know you deeply love the empress, however, events have already been written into the Tome of Life. Neither you nor I can change that. I am here only to tell you that you must move on and to soothe your soul if it is possible.
He opened his mouth to beg for another chance and to plead with her not to make him leave Rhiannon and Màrrach, but he shut his lips knowing it would do no good to argue with a goddess. He took a deep breath and started again, “Your words make me bleed, My Lady, but I will do as you ask and leave Màrrach immediately.” Despite his feigned bravery, his words sounded small broken in his ears.
Verna clasped her delicate hands then opened them and in one hand she held a shining golden feather about the length of Shih ‘Ni’s hand with a thin, leather thong attached at the bottom. She stretched out her arm and quickly tied it to his dark hair. “You will not leave Màrrach with nothing, though it is not much. I will always be with you, Great Warrior.” And then she leaned close to him, he could smell a sharp, smoky aroma: the leaves from the Velk tree. She whispered into his ear and hung on every warm breath she bestowed upon him. His eyes widened at what she prophesied. It was almost too much to believe, especially since his position as tjay was being taken away from him and he was being thrown out of Màrrach, but he obediently stored her words away in his heart. When her warm breath left his ear he immediately felt a loss so great he wanted to weep.
“My goddess,” he whispered with great emotion and reverence and went into a deep bow. When he straightened up she was smiling at him. A huge, beaming smile brightened her unbelievably beautiful face; her eyes were so blue he could almost see right through them. Her whole body began to glow and he could feel the radiance coming from her form. She became too bright to look at and he shielded his eyes.
“It is time for you to sleep now, Great Warrior,” she said, and then softly touched his forehead. Immediately he melted to the ground and as he lay there he caught a glimpse of Verna’s pale form turning back into the golden eagle and flying away before sleep took him and he was lost to the blackness.
Of course, this is 1st draft material and it might change a little.
I hope everyone is having a wonderful fall so far and keep your eyes out for further Sword of Stone announcements or other short story and poetry posts. Have a great FALL everyone!