Articles tagged with: edgelanders

Teaser Tuesday: Edgelanders

NaNoWriMo 2014: Day Sixteen

throne of lies gif

As my excitement for Dragon Age: Inquisition continues to rise, my word counts seem to fall. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for this video game, and since it releases at midnight on 11/18, I’ve been gearing myself up for it. There’s a part of me that’s a little worried, not that I’ll get sucked down the rabbit hole of distraction… I wrote a lot of words already this month, and a couple of zero word days aren’t going to destroy me. No, the reason I’m worried is because the fantasy setting of a world I love so much is really going to make me want to work on epic fantasy projects. My NaNo project is urban fantasy, a story I want desperately to finish, so I’m going to have to really keep myself on task to get this book finished before the wings of epic dragons carry me away.

Inspiration points are a huge deal for writers. Playing almost a thousand hours of Skyrim inspired me to write Edgelanders, just as playing Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 helped me finish Sorrow’s Peak.Playing Dragon Age: Inquisition is going to gear me up for epic battles, war, fighting… Something I’m excited to get back to. It’s a good thing to indulge in those inspirations.

buddy santaBut the distraction leading up to this game has left me feeling like a six year old waiting on the steps while the Christmas tree lights flicker. Santa is coming. I know him! I KNOW HIM! I’m so crazy, bouncing up and down for the last three months, even more over the last three days, and more or less driving everyone I know insane.

I did manage to put some words to the page on Day Sixteen. Not many, but enough to feel like I at least swallowed my cuckoo and made the effort. Day Seventeen doesn’t promise anything at all, and Day Eighteen… well, I’ve already resigned myself to a zero word day. Who knows, maybe I’ll surprise myself and write anyway. Stranger acts of self-discipline have been known to happen.

Totals: Day Sixteen total: 1549, Month to date total: 55,309

NaNoWriMo 2014: Serpent of Time, Book 3

serpent rising nano cover fire

I took a break from the Serpent of Time series to work on Siren after I wrapped up Sorrow’s Peak, but with November just around the corner and NaNoWriMo launching in a little over two weeks, it’s time to start planning the third book. I love NaNoWriMo. When I’m not bogged down with work writing a short novel (or a minimum of 50,000 words,) in a month isn’t so difficult, but there is a lot going on in November. Holidays, editing work, Dragon Age: Inquisition… It’s going to be a challenge to stay focused, but I will do it.

As I’ve said over the last couple of weeks here on the site, I don’t like to talk too much about what I’m working on, but NaNoWriMo is different. I may post some samples* throughout the process of writing that novel, and will try to update on my progress every day of the month.

To give you a little taste of what I have planned, the third book is tentatively titled Serpent Rising. If you look under the “Books” tab at the top of the site, you’ll see it now has its very own page in the Serpent of Time series section with a brief description. Here’s the description for those of you interested:

It rose from the eastern sea, the writhing serpent of flame intent on devouring time and returning the people of Vennakrand to a time before both the gods and their creations lost their way.

In the streets doomsayers cry, “Nigh, the end is night!” Panic threatens to tear nations apart and war is born from the ashes of despair. Lorelei and Finn must get back to Dunvarak with the Horns of Llorveth to stand with her people, against the coming war with men.

Grappling with her newly awakened wolf spirit, plagued by guilt over the happenings at Great Sorrow’s Peak and coming to terms with her growing feelings for Finn, Lorelei struggles to find her way in a world prophets claim only she can save.

 

I am getting excited about returning to Vennakrand, and I hope you are too.

If you’re not familiar with the Serpent of Time series you can check out books one and two, Edgelanders and Sorrow’s Peak, available exclusively on Amazon in eBook format. That means if you have Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited, you can borrow both books absolutely free! Both books are also available in paperback from Amazon and direct from me here on the site. Just drop by the page for that particular book for details on how to order. If audiobooks are more your thing, Edgelanders, narrated by the incredibly talented Veronica Giguere, is available on Audible, Amazon and iTunes.

*all samples subject to change before the final draft.

Free Book Weekend Extended to Sunday

Edgelanders Reboot Cover

Just a quick note to let you guys know if you weren’t able to grab a copy of Edgelanders Friday or Saturday, the free period was extended to Sunday. There’s still time to grab a free copy. Just drop by your regional Amazon online retailer and grab a copy before midnight in your area.

AmazonAmazon AustraliaAmazon UKAmazon Brazil, Amazon FranceAmazon GermanyAmazon IndiaAmazon ItalyAmazon SpainAmazon JapanAmazon Mexico

If you’ve already read Edgelanders, please consider leaving a review. Reviews help other readers determine whether a book is worth their time. You can also let your friends know it’s free this weekend so they can try it out themselves at no cost. There’s nothing better than a free book, especially on a crisp and rainy autumn afternoon.

Thank you to everyone who picked up a copy this weekend and shared the links in social media streams to help me spread the word. It’s been hanging on tight in the Top 100 charts since Friday morning and I even got to sit next to one of my favorite fantasy authors for a little while yesterday in the Epic Fantasy chart at #4. See, here I am hobnobbing with Brandon Sanderson. I fangirled just a little, and then I took a selfie.

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Free Book Weekend: Edgelanders

Edgelanders Reboot Cover

Edgelanders Reboot CoverIt’s Free Book Weekend AGAIN! Which is awesome because that means you guys can grab a copy of one of my favorite books absolutely free on Friday, October 3 through Saturday, October 4 at midnight.

Edgelanders, the first book in the Serpent of Time series, launches an epic fantasy romance adventure that will spirit you away to another world.

When Princess Lorelei of Leithe overhears her fiancé’s plot to murder her on the way to their wedding, she does the only smart thing: she runs.

Into the Edgelands, the savage, woodland home of the legendary U’lfer, a race of fierce wolves who walk as men, she knows she is as good as dead, but she would rather be torn apart by werewolves than die by Trystay’s hand.

A young U’lfer warrior named Finn catches her scent on the wind and finds himself possessed by an unnatural desire to shield and protect her from that which hunts her. From the moment he first sees her, Finn knows she is his. He feels her heartbeat, knows her soul, and he will do anything, even suffer exile from the Edgelands to be with her.

But there is more to Lorelei than meets the eye. She is like Finn; there is U’lfer blood in her veins, a beast beneath her skin she never knew was there. The answers she seeks lie south, in the frozen tundra of Rimian, where a village of people just like her have been waiting for Lorelei to come and save them since before she was even born.

You can grab a copy FREE this weekend from Amazon worldwide! AmazonAmazon AustraliaAmazon UKAmazon Brazil, Amazon FranceAmazon GermanyAmazon IndiaAmazon ItalyAmazon SpainAmazon JapanAmazon Mexico

And if you’ve got Amazon Prime, or Kindle Unlimited, you can borrow the second book in the series, Sorrow’s Peak, absolutely free!

I hope you’ll help me spread the word!

Stunning Serpent of Time Art Covers

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I have said this a thousand times, and will probably shout it from the rooftops at least a million more before the end of this life of mine: I have the most talented friends on the planet. Not only is my life filled with other writers and poets, but I feel lucky to count among my friends some incredibly talented artists as well.

The other day while chatting with my friend R.J. Keith, she shared a book cover she was working on for the novel she’s been writing. The cover she made for herself  blew my mind, but then later in the evening she sent me a cover she made for Sorrow’s Peak that took my breath away. She then whipped a cover up for Edgelanders as well and said I was free to do with them what I wished because they were her gift to me.

I wanted to share them here because they are too gorgeous not to show the world. While I won’t be changing book covers again anytime soon because I don’t want to confuse readers, I would eventually like to do some special edition print versions of both books, as well as some swag for giveaways and promotions. Perhaps when I’ve got the the third book ready to go. For now, bask in the amazing aura of my talented friend R.J. Keith! I feel like she really captured the essence of each book in such a way I struggle to find words for. All I can say is she took my breath away!

 

edgelanders

Edgelanders by R.J. Keith

Sorrow's Peak by R.J. Keith

Sorrow’s Peak by R.J. Keith

I told her after she sent these to me it made me long for the financial backing to make this series into a stunning set of graphic novels. Who knows, maybe one day!

For more artwork by R.J. Keith, visit her official website: Accessories Not Included. You can also find her on Deviant Art.

Some News and a FREE BOOK!

hearth and home audiobook

edgelanders and sorrow's peakThat headline feels like an old Little Caesar’s Pizza commercial. Two pizzas and a back rub! Two pizzas and a perm! Two pizzas and some chattering teeth.  Okay, I’ll stop… because it’s early at my house and I’m still drinking coffee and while it’s always time for pizza, I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, and honestly I don’t think you need a perm. No one needs a perm. What I do think you need is a free book, but I’ll talk more about that in a minute.

First, I wanted to talk to you about my decision to pull The Serpent of Time into Amazon’s Select program for 90 days to see if I can take advantage of some those Select-exclusive promotional perks to reach more readers. The Select program allows authors to do things like run free day promotions and countdown deals to slash prices. It also grants readers in the Kindle Unlimited program to take advantage of the Unlimited Kindle Library, borrowing as many books as they can stuff into their Kindle before it starts crying, “WARNING! WARNING! WE ARE REACHING CAPACITY!”

paperback editionNow what does this mean for you as a reader? Basically, the books in the Serpent of Time Series (Edgelanders and Sorrow’s Peak) will only be available for eReaders through Amazon for at least the next 90 days. What if you read on an Apple device, you ask? I read on my iPad, but I also have the Kindle app for cases just like this. You can always download the free Kindle app to your device and take advantage of free days when the books are on promotion, and they will be on promotion very soon.

The books will still be available in print (signed copies are for sale right here on this site) and audiobook. I hope to have some news about the Sorrow’s Peak audiobook, which will be narrated by the incredibly talented Veronica Giguere just like the first book in the series.

Today and tomorrow my paranormal romance novel Heart and Home is free on Amazon. Meaning you don’t have to belong to some special Kindle Unlimited program or Amazon Prime to download a copy to your device. You can jump right over there, login to your Amazon account and download Heart and Home RIGHT NOW and it will never cost you a single penny.  This applies to Amazon stores worldwide, so no matter where you live, you can grab your copy free today or tomorrow! This offer expires at midnight in your area September 21, so grab one now!!

Be on the lookout for more free days! Free days are a great way to fill your device with books, even when your budget doesn’t have room.

Heart and Home Amazon Worldwide links:

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There’s Still Time to Pre-Order Sorrow’s Peak!

Sorrow's Peak Cover New

Sorrow's Peak Cover NewIn just four days Sorrow’s Peak will be here. I know I keep saying this, but I am beyond excited about sending another piece of the Serpent of Time story into the world.

As you gear up to download your pre-ordered eBook, or sit patiently beside your mailbox waiting for your paperback to arrive, you might be wondering what happens after book two. That would be a valid question, and while I know what happens I can’t exactly tell you because… well… SPOILERS! I can, however, tell you this: Book three is in the early planning stages. It will probably not come out as quickly as Sorrow’s Peak did. I had written both Edgelanders and much of Sorrow’s Peak successively, with a good portion of Sorrow’s Peak in the bag when I set Edgelanders free into the world. Book three, which is still untitled at this time, is still in the crock pot and these books tend to be LONG, so it’s going to take a bit of time to make sure everything’s just right.

I will begin official writing on book three on November 1, as it will be my 2014 NaNoWriMo project. I hope you’ll all rally behind me and cheer me on during the month of November, as support during the 30 days of writing madness is always welcomed and appreciated. I will post regular updates throughout November, keeping everyone informed about the process, so if you’re into that sort of thing I hope you’ll check in with the blog often.

So what am I doing now beyond planning, you might ask? Well, I’m working on a couple of other projects I’d really like to get wrapped up before November dances into view. I’ve learned lessons over the years on not talking about what I’m working on until I have the finished first draft in hand, so I won’t taunt you with any details at the moment. Just know I am working on some things and they are exciting to me and I can’t wait until I can talk to you about them.

That being said, I hope you’re as excited as I am for the release of Sorrow’s Peak. If you haven’t already pre-ordered your copy, you can do that at one of these fine online venues for just $4.99. It will deliver to your eReading device on Tuesday!

AmazonAmazon CanadaAmazon UK
Smashwords

Apple

Kobo

You can also order signed paperbacks right here on my site and I will ship them directly to you from my house with loving words of adoration inscribed inside!

I know I keep saying this, but I really can’t wait to share this book with you. The Serpent of Time series is a true labor of love, and I can’t wait for November to get here so I can rally my favorite people together and send them on the next leg of their adventure.

Frigga of the Forge

Sorrow's Peak Cover New

friggaJust near the end of Edgelanders, someone very special was introduced. A fair-faced, golden-haired goddess of the forge named Frigga, and the moment Vilnjar saw her on his first night in Dunvarak he knew exactly who and what she was to him: Frigga was his mate. Unfortunately, the dilution of her blood sparked an intense fear inside him that much like his brother’s woes with Lorelei, Frigga would need a great deal of convincing before recognizing the bond between them. In fact, he was fairly certain she would just as soon laugh in his face as acknowledge it. Funny, how much people surprise us, isn’t it?

Along with her father, Broehn Black-Hammer, Frigga mans the Dunvarak smithy, crafting weapons and armor for a city preparing to go to war. Shortly after their first meeting, Frigga offers to craft a sword for Viln, telling him he will one day need it. When he explains to her that he was cast out of his home with little more than the clothes on his back, she asks if he knows any good stories. She promises to pay him pieces of silver each time he tells her a story she’s never heard before, and when he has enough silver to pay her, she will forge him a blade worthy of him.

She is fierce and forthright, a born warrior willing to fight for her land and her people. From the moment she recognizes the bond between Vilnjar and herself she refuses to back down. She’s waited a long time for her mate to come, and she’s not about to let anything come between them now that he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be.

She is the first person in a long time who sees Vilnjar for what he really is, even if he can’t see it himself. Frigga believes there is a hero inside him just waiting to emerge and she’s not about to stand idly by and let him fade into obscurity. She will stand behind him, push him forward and encourage him to embrace the man she knows hides just beneath the surface. As it turns out, that’s exactly what he needs.

To learn more about Frigga and Vilnjar, pre-order your copy of Sorrow’s Peak now! Guaranteed electronic delivery on September 9, 2014. If you’re new to the Serpent of Time series, you can currently pick up the first book, Edgelanders, for just $.99 everywhere eBooks are sold! Grab your copy today!

*stock image from 123RF.

Sorrow’s Peak: Introduction

Sorrow's Peak Cover New

As promised yesterday, here is the full introduction… The first 4,000 words of Sorrow’s Peak. The rest of the book is ready to launch on September 9, 2014. If you like what you read, don’t forget to pre-order. You can find details for that right here!

SORROW’S PEAK

Introduction

Sorrow's Peak Cover New“It’s been three days, Your Majesty.” He said the word majesty with deliberate disdain, watching the king’s face with sharp, excited green eyes. The prince grinned just a little and stretched his long legs further beneath the table. He perched both arms atop the ledge, as if that lip of wood alone held him aloft. The casual position lent an appearance of laziness and indifference, but nothing could have been further from the truth.

His sorceress stood at his back, arms crossed, head tilted. Strategically in front of the door, which she blocked with magic so they might not be disturbed while interrogating the king, the length of her silver hair hung around her shoulders and the muscles of her mouth flexed tight with superiority.

“I’ve given you appropriate time to grieve your losses, and now I want answers. Why did she do it? What did she know that was worth dying for?”

King Aelfric of Leithe, one of the proudest men in the Middle Kingdoms, was little more than a mere shell of the arrogant monarch he’d been only five days earlier, lifted his embittered stare with surprising alacrity, but there was nothing pleasant about the leer hidden beneath the untrimmed hairs of his mustache. His pride unbroken, Trystay could see he was on the very edge. The man was horrified and more afraid than he had probably ever been in his fifty-nine years.

How quickly the mighty fall, he thought, his own cynical grin stretching into a tight, pinched line of disgust.

A kinder man would have shown more compassion, considering everything the king lost in the blink of an eye, but Trystay was in no way kind, nor was he compassionate. Such trifles were the attributes of lesser men and kings, and he knew that were the boot upon the other foot, were he in Aelfric’s position, the king of Leithe would spare him no quarter, offer no kindness. From time to time he caught the king glaring at him, and he knew what dark and twisted wishes the man plotted behind those steely eyes. The barest hint of the warrior he’d once been stared back at the prince from time to time, but he’d lost too much to form even a convincing scowl or challenge.

Sorrow… It was a wonderful thing. Grief bred weakness, where once strength dwelt.

“Yes,” Aelfric nodded, the word barely leaving his lips. His voice grew hollow as he went on to confess, “You’ve been very generous, Trystay, offering three days so I might grieve, but it feels as if it’s been a lifetime, and I still know not why she did what she did. Why she betrayed me.”

“Then perhaps it would be best to set your grief aside and act, Sire.” That last word he spoke with unbridled distaste, as though the mere acknowledgment of the other man’s royal blood was ash on his tongue, but Aelfric didn’t seem to notice. “There is little time to dwell on sorrows when a man has a target for his frustrations. Your daughter…”

“If it is to Lorelei you refer, that abomination is not my daughter,” the king hissed, showing signs of rage for the first time in days. “I would have been a smarter man to poison the seed while it still festered in the womb.” And then the grief returned, unshed tears swelling in the man’s eyes as he thought to his wife. “I spared her for her mother’s sake, because I loved her more than life itself. Oh Ygritte,” he moaned, lowering his head. The sound evoked an impatient eye-roll from Trystay, who drew his legs from beneath the table and sat up straight. “The things we do for love.”

“Pull yourself together, man!”

The prince’s flat palm came down atop the table, the blunt force of it tingling through his hand almost painfully and the sound startling the king in front of him before he was able to slip into another pathetic spell of sobbing over a woman who’d clearly been plotting against him since he’d taken her to bed on their wedding night.

At his back, Deallora did not move, but stood stoic and proud, staring straight ahead as if in deep trance.

“Your woman betrayed you, fool! And from the looks of it, it was a betrayal planned long before its execution.” Trystay pushed his chair away from the table, his long legs rising as he stood to tower over the king. “Do you really think she took her life out of guilt over the things she’s done?”

Trembling lower lip, eyes red-rimmed and irritated, Aelfric lifted his head again, shaking it in disbelief. “I was good to her,” he stammered. “I gave her everything…”

“You hunted her down like a dog when she ran from you, killed her husband and made her watch!”

“She was mine. Promised to me, just as Lorelei was promised to you, but she…”

“But she had other plans, just like her daughter. I will not stand by and be made the fool, and I will not make the same mistakes you made.”

“Wh—what are you saying?”

“I will do that which you did not have the courage to do. Ygritte should have been culled for her crimes against you. Both her and the mutant offspring she carried inside her should have put down like the rabid dogs she chose to keep company with.”

“You’ll kill her?”

“Does she deserve any less?”

Tilting back his head, Trystay felt the jostling of his own hair as it slid down the center of his spine. For a moment he closed his eyes, knowing that timing was everything. Aelfric’s grief made him weak, a liability if ever there was one, and though he’d shown definite signs of animosity toward the child he raised as his own in the days since his wife was discovered dead in her sitting room, the poisoned cup shattered on the floor around the golden strands of her lovely hair, the unexpected blow of her suicide broke the king beyond repair.

There was madness behind every utterance, rumor spreading through the castle he’d been muttering rather often to himself, or rather to his queen, as if she walked beside him as he paced the magically blocked corridor outside the wing in which Trystay’s men kept watch over him. Senseless phrases, oh how he prattled on, they said. The king was mad, no longer fit to rule, and though he could have called for reinforcements, taken the city by force and placed himself upon the throne in Leithe, Trystay had other plans.

“She betrayed me,” Trystay went on. “She made me look like a jester in front of my men, my father and everyone in both kingdoms. I nearly fell for her harlotry when she threw herself at me, but now I know she would have likely slit my throat while I slept. For that I will do to her the very thing you were too sodden with lust for her mother to carry out.”

Head shaking, eyes squinting as the king tried to make sense of his threat, Aelfric murmured something that didn’t quite reach Trystay’s ears.

Tilting his head almost thoughtfully, the grin that wrenched the left-hand side of his face was hideous and triumphant.

“I will not reward her for her betrayal with a crown, but hunt her down,” he said rather simply, “and when I find her, I’m going to kill her for making me look like a fool.”

An eerie softness washed over the king’s face, smoothing the lines and wrinkles as he held his head up high and said, “She’s just a girl. Despite her nature, she was a good girl… Surely there are other ways… I made promises to her mother…”

Squinting with disgust, Trystay’s head began to shake, but his glare never wavered from Aelfric’s face. “She’s not a girl, you doddering imbecile. She’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a beast no better than the dogs in my hunting party before her U’lfer tore them to pieces and scattered their remains across the Edgelands. I won’t make the same mistakes you made, Your Majesty. I will never take that traitor to my bed, or call her my wife.”

“But Ygritte…”

“Ygritte is dead, and her last act before she took her own life was to steal from you the only legitimate heir to your kingdom and hide it. You need to find your daughter, Your Majesty. Your true daughter, not the U’lfer bastard you attempted to taint my family line with, and when you do, she and everything you hold dear become mine.”

“You…” Aelfric shook his head, confused and disoriented. “You would still honor the terms of our alliance, still tie our houses together and forgive…”

“Forgive?” Trystay laughed, the boisterous clamor of his mock-amusement ringing through the long halls so loudly several servants on the other side of the palace were later said to have heard it. “I don’t forgive, Sire, and I never forget.”

“But you said…”

“I said you will give the girl to me, along with everything else you have. Your crown, your castle, your men… They’re mine now, and if you utter even the slightest word of protest, I’ll gut you where you stand and take it all by force. Your people will know such suffering under my rule.”

For the briefest of moments the monarch in Aelfric, the warmongering conqueror who’d almost single-handedly wiped out the U’lfer race, rose to the surface and he straightened his shoulders in defiance. “What’s stopping you then? Why don’t you just kill me and get it over with?”

“Don’t fool yourself for even a moment it is a kindness,” he assured him.

“Then be a man and do it. If you want my kingdom, you’ll have to take it by force because I’ll never hand it over to you.”

“We shall see,” he shrugged, then called over his shoulder to the guards posted just outside the door. With a clatter the doors opened and two guards strode in, heads held high as they focused their attention on the prince.

“You called, my lord?”

“I did, Kellen.” He grinned back over his shoulder at Aelfric. “Were my orders carried out?”

“Yes, my lord. The royal adviser and the king’s steward have both been tended to.”

“Tended to?” Aelfric’s glare shot upward in dismay. “What does that mean, tended to?”

“I believe they suffered an unfortunate accident, did they not?”

“Most unfortunate, Highness,” Kellen confirmed.

Quivering lips spilled anxious words into the air. The king of Leithe leaned back in his chair, flabbergasted to the point of speechlessness.

“I am to be your adviser in his stead,” Trystay announced. “And it is my advice that you draw up orders for your men.”

“Orders?”

“Yes, it’s time we finish what should have ended with the War of Silence.”

“I don’t…”

Eyes arcing toward the high ceiling overhead, he shook his head as if he couldn’t believe how daft the man in front of him was. “You’re sending troops into the Edgelands,” he explained. “Five thousand men to rout her out and burn that pitiful prison to the ground. With my help, you will finish what you started, put an end to the U’lfer once and for all, and when they’ve found that simpering bitch you tried to pawn off on me, they will drag her back here and we will bring her to justice for her crimes.”

Aelfric’s expression was indescribable, horror mingled with relief, guilt wrangling with self-righteousness and sparking strange light in his watery eyes. “And if I don’t?” he finally asked.

“Why wouldn’t you?” Trystay shrugged.

“Why would I?”

“Aelfric,” it felt good to dispense with the formality of a title he felt the king didn’t truly deserve. “You are an old man,” he pointed. “You’ve lost your wife and the only legitimate heir to a kingdom you can barely hold onto with those stiff, arthritic hands of yours. I am offering to help you, pledging my men to your cause. All I’m asking in return is that you bring back your daughter, your true daughter, and give me her hand so that when you die,” he paused for a moment, choosing his next words carefully, “and you will die sooner or later, old man, rule of your kingdom falls to me through our heirs. You see, I don’t want it to come to a fight. I want your men to follow me, to embrace and accept me because their dying king wishes his son-in-law to succeed him.”

“This…” he stammered. “This was your plan all along?”

Laughing softly, Trystay shook his head. “Oh, Aelfric, I couldn’t have planned this well if I’d tried. It’s all sort of fallen into play, hasn’t it? Now, what do you say? Do we have an accord, or are you really going to force my hand?”

“If I don’t agree?”

“I’m prepared to send word to Hofft, asking for reinforcement so we might take Leithe by force, but I’d rather not. I am already in the castle, the king under my guard. It would be bad for your people, don’t you think? I’d rather we work together,” he smiled, adding, “for the sake of your kingdom and its people.”

“I should never have offered her hand to you,” Aelfric spat, turning his head downward to stare at the table in front of him. “It was my mistake, inviting you here in the first place, thinking we could have peace.”

“Is what I’m offering you not peace?”

Scoffing, the king shook his head again and brought his eyes back up to meet with Trystay’s. “Were I a younger man…”

“But you’re not, are you?” He grinned. “You’re an old man, a spent warrior who can barely lift his sword arm above his head, much less charge into battle. Perhaps it would be better to kill you now and be done with it. You’re practically useless.”

“My men will never follow you, and the people will never acknowledge you if I do not give you my daughter.”

“I don’t need the acceptance of the dead,” he shrugged. “As I said, I’d rather not take Leithe by force, but I will if you push me to it.”

“You are your father’s son.” Aelfric lowered his head in withering defeat.

“I am my own man,” Trystay assured him. “So, what will it be? Will you work with me, or against me?”

“That is hardly a choice.”

“Perhaps not, but it is a choice. You should be grateful I’ve given you that much, considering the embarrassment you’ve caused me, the slight on my good name as you sought to marry me to a bastard mongrel that wasn’t even yours to give.”

He contemplated, lips moving over silent utterances as he cursed and shook his head. “I will do what you ask,” he gave in, “on one condition.”

“You’re hardly in a position to be demanding I yield to conditions, but I’ll take the bait. What is it you want?”

“I want two more days to mourn my wife, time enough to see her laid to rest in my family tomb.”

“The customary mourning period is three days,” Trystay pointed out. “Too much time has already been wasted. Your daughter is out there somewhere, victim of her mother’s cruel plot. She’s probably terrified, hoping against hope her father has the wits to send someone after her.”

Guiltily, Aelfric lowered his head and bit down on both lips with his teeth so he looked like a specter deep in thought. “Knowing she’s been laid to rest, I can focus more clearly on finding Mirien.”

“Two more days,” Trystay went on, “could be enough time for the slave you say was working with your queen to disappear with the girl entirely. Unless…” He pondered thoughtfully a moment, then turned distrusting stare back to Aelfric. “Unless you don’t want her to be found. Unless you were in on their plot from the start…”

“You think I wanted any of this?” the king railed, raising his voice in an attempt to startle Trystay, but the young prince was no stranger to angry kings and their senseless tirades. His own father was quite prone to throwing himself around, trying to intimidate anyone who dared challenge him—most especially his only son. And such an attempt might have worked had it come from his father, but Aelfric wasn’t even half the man King Derewend was. Maybe once, long ago, a man like Aelfric was frightening to behold in mid-tirade, but he was a man defeated. A man who’d lost everything he held dear faster than he could reach out his hand to try and hold it all in place.

“Are you deliberately trying to provoke me, Aelfric? Trying to see just how far I’m willing to go, because I can assure you that you will not like the outcome if that is the case. My sorceress…”

“No,” the king’s eyes widened as he glanced over Trystay’s shoulders at the lithe Ninvarii woman standing near the door. He shook his head, stammering, “Of c-course not. I… I want my daughter found,” he insisted. “I want her brought back and in my care where she belongs, and I want the head of the slave who took her.”

“Then call your priests and say goodbye to your queen before the sun rises on the morrow. At first light, we march men west into the Edgelands to find and retrieve that treacherous wretch you tried to force upon me. In the meanwhile, I will dispatch a search party to find your daughter before she disappears entirely.”

After a long silence, during which Trystay couldn’t tell if the man was thinking or simply staring down at his hands in his lap in hopes that some solution would magically manifest itself, Aelfric finally offered a meek nod. “Fine.”

“As you are drawing up orders for your men, you will also draw a clear decree summarizing Lorelei’s crimes. She is to be returned to Rivenn, unharmed, so she can face charges of treason against her king.”

“Yes,” Aelfric agreed. “Of course.”

“Are we in agreement on all matters presented?”

“Yes,” the king sighed, still refusing to lift his defeated head. “We have an agreement.”

“Excellent.” Trystay clapped his hands together in a triumphant gesture, the dry sound ringing through the quiet room. “I will dispatch the search party at once and bring your daughter back to you, Your Majesty, and when she is returned you will make formal announcement that we are to be wed.”

“As you wish.”

There was a lightness to Trystay’s step as he spun around and marched from the room, his guard and his stoic, Ninvarii sorceress falling in behind him and closing King Aelfric inside like a prisoner. They did not need to bar the door, his grief alone was enough to prohibit him from doing something foolish, and Trystay knew it.

Power.

It was a delicious thing, he thought, and for the first time in his life he knew his father would be proud of him for taking that which he wanted by manipulation, rather than force.

Soon he would hold enough power to rival his own father, not that lording over his father was part of his plan, but who knew, perhaps one day that was exactly what he’d do. The only way to prove oneself a man was to be the last one standing, even if the corpse he towered over was the corpse of his father.

In the meanwhile, it pleased him a great deal to imagine his father would praise his ingenuity and effort as well, saving a situation gone horribly wrong before it spun out of his hands entirely. He bettered the terms of their original agreement in ways they never imagined when he sent his son forth to Leithe.

Deallora followed him into his chambers, closing the doors behind her to provide them privacy from his men on the other side.

“Plotting vengeance against the U’lfer is not wise, Highness. My goddess…”

“Your goddess has done nothing for me, Dea.”

“She does all for you, Highness. She has shown me your path to greatness, and if you go after the U’lfer, if you pursue Lorelei…”

“You’re still jealous of her.” Trystay narrowed suspicious and taunting gaze over his sorceress, his lover, searching for the barest hint of animosity in her features.

“I am not jealous of her,” she insisted, though he sensed annoyance in her tone at the suggestion. “What is she to me? A threat? I already have you, Highness.”

Trystay surged forward so quickly the wrapping of his fingers around her throat caught the sorceress off-guard, but when he squeezed she made every effort not to show pain or surprise.

“You don’t have me,” he hissed. Three steps forward and he threw her back into the door with a rattling thud. He surged inward until the tip of his nose touched hers. Her proud, golden eyes did not widen, her body did not flinch, but remained stiff and indifferent to his abuse. “I have you. I own you, and don’t you ever forget it.”

He watched as her nostrils flared, her full, coral-traced lips twitching beneath her nose until the edges rose into defiant grin. “Ninvariin owns me.” She tilted her head, a thoughtful inspection as her cold eyes darted across his face. “I am on loan from Her, and don’t you ever forget it.”

And then she kissed him, the prince moaning softly in his throat as she shoved him backward through the room until he felt the mattress edge the backs of his knees. Taking a step away from him, Deallora brought up her hand in a fluid gesture, a surge of pale blue light dancing across the tips of her fingers before it passed between them with a playful force that sprawled him onto his back in the bed behind him.

She lingered at the edge of the bed, magic’s pale essence still flickering across the palm of her hand. “You must heed Her wisdom, Highness.” Lifting one knee onto the bed, she passed the other across the tops of his thighs and lowered herself onto his lap. “Everything is changing. There are events in the offing you cannot even begin to understand.”

The sorceress leaned forward, resting her hand on his shoulder as she descended until they were face to face. Even through the leather of his armor, he could feel her magic, the electric tingle of it invoking a series of delightful chills that raised the hairs on his arms, along the back of his neck. The energy trickled down his spine, but he did not shiver. He wouldn’t give her the satisfaction.

“Going after the U’lfer will not serve you,” she went on. “In time they will come to you. Lorelei herself will march into this castle and demand you give her back her sister.”

“I wait for no one.” He lifted his hands to her shoulders, fingertips squeezing so hard her olive skin would boast tiny, circular bruises later where his fingers pushed into her. “I send Aelfric’s men south to finish a job he should have finished long ago. The U’lfer will burn, Dea. Every last one of them.”

He surged upward, shifting her onto her back in a bold, deft maneuver and then rolling in to perch above her like a predator. Her long, exotic eyes did not waver from his face, the molten gold irises flashing with defiance. “It is a mistake, Your Highness. Let me show you what I’ve seen.”

“The only thing I want you to show me now is a little love.” He dipped his head inward, brushed lips across her chin. “Show your prince a little kindness in a world that’s been so very, very cruel to him.”

When she opened her mouth to speak again, Trystay silenced her with kisses, her protests eventually lost in a mingling of gasps and sighs. By the time he’d finished with her, she protested no more, having remembered her rightful place beneath him.