Posted in Books, Editing, Falstaff Crush, Publishing, romance

Falstaff Crush – Romance for All

huntressHeya Kittens – Long time no type!

Regular visitors to the blog-ness know how discouraged I’ve been for a while now about the state of romance publishing. While I wish every writer nothing but the best, the wild west atmosphere created by self-publishing and fan fiction has resulted in a market flooded to glut with the same old crap repeated ad nauseam with plots no self-respecting teen-age drama queen would scribble in her diary and action that is nothing short of porn. There’s still plenty of good stuff, but it’s continually getting drowned in all this other, and publishers, desperate to maintain any kind of profit whatsoever, are demanding writers write to an ever-more-stringent and ever-less-interesting template made of tropes created more to serve a keyword search than any kind of story.

For a long time, I’ve thought there has to be a better way to keep romance as a genre alive; I KNOW there’s a better way. And now, thanks to Falstaff Books, I’m getting the chance to prove it. I’m going to be an author and submissions editor for a brand new romance line with a brand new approach to the genre. Welcome to Falstaff Crush, romance for people who think they don’t like romance. Our tagline is “Love is the greatest adventure,” and that’s what our stories are all about. We do science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, adventure–all the genres we love as readers, all built around a strong romantic relationship between people who may or may not be what mainstream romance would call a couple. The setting and genre are more than just a costume, more than just an apparatus to get two or more people in the sack. We don’t do tropes; we do story.

Our first release, Huntress, is a high fantasy dragonslayer tale, and over the next month or so, we’ll have a weird western, contemporary gothic horror, and even a sexy Sherlock Holmes, with more in the pipeline to come. (We’re also open to submissions, so please feel free to check out our guidelines.)  Watch this space for updates, and as always, let me know what you think!

xoxo

Lucy

Advertisements
Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Uncategorized

When In Doubt, Read More Books

So exactly one month ago, I moaned extensively about how all art lately has been making me sad. (Read it here if you can stand it.) Since then I’ve been taking my favorite cure–reading fiction. I asked for a bunch of books for Christmas, and I’ve been burning through them, reading every night. And I’m pleased to say, they’ve made me feel a whole bunch better.

So here’s what I’ve finished since January 2, 2018:

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I’ve loved this book since I was a teenager. I read it years before the movie came out. That first time, all I really engaged was the story inside the story, Westley and Buttercup. I read it again as a grad student and was all about the postmodern narrative and how the fantasy story reflects the story of Goldman the writer as a character–much equating of Buttercup and the starlet in the pool. Now as a middle-aged writer myself facing all those same doubts, that’s the story I see. And it’s still great. I wish he’d never bothered with all the Buttercup’s Baby stuff, but that’s not up to me. It’s an evolving story, and it’s completely his.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

It is precisely what it reads on the cover–a very readable retelling of the high points of Norse mythology from the guy who wrote Stardust and American Gods (and many many other awesome written things). These ancient stories are told with intelligence and a whimsically twisted humor that should feel very familiar to anybody steeped in contemporary pop, goth, and geek culture. But while the tone feels current, the scale of the stories is still epic; it’s not hipster-lite mythology. I’m no scholar of the great sagas, but I would bet he gets the details right–that’s certainly the way it feels. Because these are myths, the characters are archetypes, but they’re all very specific and well-drawn–I rarely found myself referring to the glossary of names at the back; I usually remembered everyone once they were mentioned. I can’t say I particularly identified with them or felt any great emotional connection to them, but I enjoyed their tales very much. I read the whole book in a weekend. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Norse culture, especially young readers. Yeah, there’s some crazy, perverted stuff that goes on, but it’s all told in a matter-of-fact, humorous style that should keep any interested middle-schooler from being scarred for life.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

This one was so wrenching, I actually put it down halfway through, meaning to take a break from it, but I couldn’t. I ended up reading the second half straight through and ended up a soggy, emotional wreck–and a huge Jesmyn Ward fan. The best, truest, most heart-wrenching, most horrifying ghost story I’ve ever read. Deserving of all its awards, including last year’s National Book Award for best fiction book. But I was afraid I would have to spend the next month reading nothing stronger than Winnie the Pooh stories just to recover.

Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

This was the first YA book I’ve read in a long time, and it’s a good one. Gray’s version of Leia at 16 is strong, smart, and winning while being both a realistic teenager and true to the character I know and love from the movies. And I was surprised by how exciting the plot was–this is no standard feisty princess tale; it’s a tense and well-paced Star Wars adventure. I would recommend it to young adults new to Leia’s story but also to older fans like me who have loved her since A New Hope.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is the easiest, most purely pleasurable reading experience I’ve had in quite a while, and I read a lot. The shorthand synopsis is that it’s a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and it very much is. If you’re familiar with Austen’s famous novel, one of the pleasures of this book is seeing all the clever, twisty ways Sittenfeld has worked all the sparkling facets of the original into this new version. But even readers who have never touched eyes to Austen and wouldn’t on a bet will enjoy this story. Witty without ever being mean, hilarious without ever being stupid, and romantic without ever being schmaltzy, this is the modern woman’s romance for readers who loathe “chick lit.”

So that was my January. Right now I’m reading back and forth between The Briar King by Greg Keyes and Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff–two great tastes that so far taste great together. And I also proofread an extremely fab anthology as part of my editing gig that I look forward to telling you all about when it releases. In the meantime, go to the bookstore. It really, really helps.

Posted in Appearances, Books, Other People's Awesome

Charlotte Writers’ Fair 2017

writers fair 1Hey Kittens – guess where I’ll be on Small Business Saturday? Meeting readers and trading witty banter with other writers and hopefully selling lots and lots of awesome print books just in time for Christmas. The Charlotte Writers’ Fair is the bouncing baby brain child of writer and publisher John Hartness, author of the amazing Bubba the Monster Hunter and Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter series (eseses) and chief executive thunder god of Falstaff Books. We’ll be filling the lobby of Theatre Charlotte with Carolina authors and their books, plus art from local artist and author Davey Beauchamp. Come hang out with us and find cool reading gifts for all the people you actually like! Romance, horror, fantasy, science fiction, action adventure, steampunk, mystery, lions, tigers, bears–something perfect for everybody on your list and at least a couple of more-than-perfect somethings just for you.

Other writers scheduled to attend:

Alexandra Christian, Tally Johnson, John Hartness, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Melissa McArthur, Susan Roddey, Misty Massey, Crymsyn Hart, Jason Gilbert, Darin Kennedy, Jim McDonald, Stuart Jaffe, Nancy Northcott, Faith Hunter, Tonia Brown, Edward McKeown, A.J. Hartley, Matthew Saunders, Samantha Bryant

I’ll have spiffy new paperbacks of these two lovelies:

last winter knight for print.jpgUntil Death 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plus a limited selection of paperbacks from the Bound in Darkness series. Come see us!

Posted in Books, Editing, Publishing, Writing process

Lucy Blue Edits!

librarianLooking through my bills for last month, it suddenly occurred to me that I really, really missed freelance fiction editing. For anyone who’s interested, here’s what I charge and how I do it and why I think I’m qualified:

Proofreading: $0.005/word ($250 for a 50,000-word novel; $50 for a 10,000-word short story)

I’ll read for typographical errors, spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and minor formatting problems. I won’t correct grammar, word choice, passive voice, continuity errors, or make any suggestions as to content. If I think your manuscript needs more than a proofread, I’ll let you know after the initial read (see below), and you can decide if you want me to go forward and how.

Copy Editing: $0.01/word ($500 for a 50,000-word novel; $100 for a 10,000-word short story)

In addition to proofreading (see above), I will also read for problems with grammar, word choice, and continuity and mark corrections. I won’t make any suggestions as to content such as plot, characterization, pacing, etc. If I think your manuscript needs more than a copy edit, I’ll let you know after the initial read (see below) and tell you why, and you can decide if you want me to go forward and how.

Substantive Editing: $0.02/word ($1000 for a 50,000-word novel; $200 for a 10,000-word short story)

In addition to copy editing your manuscript (see above), I will point out any problems I see with plot, characterization, pacing, etc., and make specific suggestions for rewrites. As part of the substantive edit, I might also engage you in a developmental dialogue to help you refocus or sharpen aspects of your story that don’t grab the reader. I will also read at least one rewrite if you choose to do one at my suggestion at no additional charge. All substantive edits will also come with a full evaluation of the manuscript—what I loved, what I didn’t love, and any thoughts I have about potential markets and your work going forward.

Initial Read: First 10 pages only; no charge

Regardless of what level of editing you want, I will do an initial read of the first ten pages (2500 words) of your manuscript and let you know: 1)if I think I can help you; and 2)what level of editing I think your manuscript needs.  I reserve the right to refuse any job that I think is beyond me, for whatever reason. Manuscript evaluation is subjective; if I don’t think I can help you make your book or story better, I won’t take your money. But if I tell you I think you need a substantive edit and you tell me, um, no thanks, I’m just looking for a proofread, I will absolutely do a proofread.

So what do I know anyway? Credentials:

I’ve been a paid, professional fiction writer since 1998. I’ve published novels with two major publishers (Berkley/Penguin and Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster) and novels and anthologized short stories with three independent publishers (Purple Sword Publications, Mocha Memoirs Press, and Falstaff Books) in addition to running a micro-press, Little Red Hen Romance, with my sister, author Alexandra Christian. In doing so, I have gone through the editorial process as a writer with many different editors with many different styles, and I know just how painful a bad edit can be—and how much a good one can help bring a story to life.

I have an M.A. in English from Winthrop University, and I’ve taught English composition at Winthrop and at York Technical College. I was the fiction editor of Winthrop’s literary magazine my senior year as an undergraduate, and I have been doing freelance editing off and on for the past three years for small presses and self-published authors.

Nuts and Bolts:

Once we decide I can help and what kind of help you want from me, I’ll send you an invoice for the full amount of my fee based on your word count. I’ll need at least half of the fee paid to me through PayPal at lucybluecastle@gmail.com before I start work.

All manuscripts will need to be submitted in Microsoft Word. I hate Microsoft, too, and I’m sure all those other software suites are charming beyond all measure, but I want to spend my time as your editor editing your art, not wrestling with your software. Any manuscripts submitted in anything but Word will be returned unread.

To get started, email me your manuscript as a Word attachment to lucybluecastle@gmail.com. In your cover email, give me your name and your snail mail address and tell me a little bit about your manuscript—genre, etc. This isn’t a query for a publisher; I just want to know what to expect when I read your first 10 pages. I only plan to do a handful of manuscripts every month, so if I’m swamped, I’ll let you know.

Final thought:

I can’t promise that if you hire me, you’ll get published, no matter how much I might love your book. But I do promise to do everything I can to make it the best book it can possibly be.

Posted in Books, Horror, Other People's Awesome

Dusk Warriors – New Vamps from Emerian Rich!

One of the great things about having a network of brilliant author friends is having people to provide brilliant content for your blog. Author and goth culture goddess Emerian Rich is taking over today to give us an excerpt from her new release, Dusk Warriors:

‡‡‡‡‡‡

dwbook3d2Lucy was kind enough to let me share an excerpt from my new book Dusk’s Warriors. What about a good old vampire hunt?

 

Excerpt from Dusk’s Warriors:

“Let me buy you a drink for helping me find my way.”

She considered as he read her mind. I got work in the morning and already dealt with one imbecile who thought he could have his way with me.

Julien looked into her eyes. His intent? Making her say yes. She was a tough one. Just like Jespa.

“All right,” she said. “But only if we go to that place.” She pointed across the street to another bar. It wasn’t as dark and the music wasn’t as hard, but Julien could see possibility.

“As you wish.”

They were the only patrons in the run-down club. Approaching the bar, he placed a crisp bill on the wooden bar top.

“Two glasses of red wine.”

“I can’t break a bill that large.” The bar keep wore a faded black concert T and looked like he hadn’t showered in a week.

“Then give us the bottle.”

“Mister, I still can’t break a bill this large.”

“I don’t want change.” The edge in Julien’s voice told the guy not to question him again. Julien took a deep breath before returning to the girl.

She glanced tentatively at the door and then at him as she fidgeted with her boot lace. He’s hot, but all he sees me as is an easy lay.

Or an easy drink. Julien snickered to himself.

“What’s so funny?” she asked.

Julien hadn’t meant to laugh aloud, but it didn’t matter. He would charm his way through it as he always did.

“You remind me of someone.”

“Oh, yeah? Gonna tell me who?”

“Someone I loved.” He looked into her eyes, attempting to wield his hypnotic power over her. He put his hand over hers on the table. Despite her strong will, the girl seemed to melt.

The barman brought over a bottle of cheap wine and two chilled glasses.

“We don’t have an ice bucket or anything.”

“It’s fine,” Julien said through clenched teeth, striving to keep the girl’s attention. Her will bent, but the barman’s voice pulled her out of the trance.

“You all right, hon?” the barkeep asked.

The girl looked unsure, blinking as she looked from the keep to Julien.

“She’s fine.” Julien spoke in controlled anger.

“Look, friend, I’d like to hear it from her,” the keep said.

“I’m fine,” the girl echoed.

“I just thought…”

“Step away from the table,” Julien said through clenched teeth. He rose, barely able to control his anger.

“I don’t want no trouble.”

“Then leave, and you won’t have any.”

The barkeep seemed frozen in his spot.

“Pardon me for a moment,” Julien said to the girl and walked the unwilling barkeep to a store room in the back of the bar.

As soon as the storeroom door closed, Julien’s forearm pressed against the keep’s throat.

“You should learn to mind your own business.”

The keep choked, coughing and panting as Julien pressed on his windpipe. Unable to control his anger or his thirst, Julien sunk his fangs into the keep’s neck before he knew what he was doing. As the blood flowed over his teeth and down his throat, Julien lost all concept of reality. His fangs ripped and tore at the man’s neck, turning him into a worthless corpse. The keep fell to the floor and Julien’s vision cleared.

dwBAR

Dusk’s Warriors by Emerian Rich

 

Heaven has opened up and welcomed the vampires of Night’s Knights into a new reality. As they struggle to find their place in their new world, trouble brews on Earth.

 

Demon servant, Ridge, is causing havoc by gathering up all the souls on Earth that have been touched by immortality. When he injures one of the Night’s Knights crew, he launches a war between the vampires of Heaven, the Big Bad in Hell, and a mortal street gang of vigilante misfits.

 

Will Julien, Markham, and Reidar be able to defeat the evil that’s returned, or will they once again need Jespa’s help?

 

Praise for Dusk’s Warriors:

“All hail, the queen of Night’s Knights has returned! Emerian Rich’s unique take on vampires delights my black little heart.” ~Dan Shaurette, Lilith’s Love

 

“A world of horror with realistic characters in a fast paced thriller you won’t be able to put down.”

~David Watson, The All Night Library

 

Praise for Night’s Knights:

“Fresh, original, and thoroughly entertaining.” ~Mark Eller, Traitor

 

“Emerian brought the Vampire Novel back from the dead.” ~C. E. Dorsett, Shine Like Thunder

 

Available now at Amazon.com in print and eBook

 

https://www.amazon.com/Dusks-Warriors-Nights-Knights-Vampire/dp/1544628803

emz1smallEmerian Rich is an artist, horror host, and author of the vampire series, Night’s Knights. She is the hostess of the internationally acclaimed podcast, HorrorAddicts.net. Under the name Emmy Z. Madrigal, she writes the musical romance series, Sweet Dreams and she’s the Editorial Director for the Bay Area magazine, SEARCH. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son.

 

 

Posted in Books, Fairy Tale Romance, Free Reads, historical romance, Medieval Romance, Paranormal romance, Witch Romance, Works-in-Progress

The Viking and the Witch – Chapter Seven

Two days into the voyage, the girl fell ill from her wounds. By late afternoon, she had fallen into a delirious stupor, and by nightfall, she was completely unconscious. Asmund’s men said nothing, but he caught them exchanging glances. He knew they hadn’t forgotten Stian’s warning that Maeve was a witch. If she had been any ordinary captive, he would have tossed her overboard before her death attracted evil spirits. But she had saved him. Even if he hadn’t developed a fondness for her, he couldn’t let her die.

Most of the women and children they had taken from the village were on a separate cargo ship, but a few had asked to stay close to Maeve, and he had allowed it. “You,” he said, pointing to the one who had told him where to find the hidden village children. “What is your name?”

“I am Luna.” She had two small sons, strong boys who met his eyes without fear.

“Come here.” He motioned her over to where Maeve lay glassy-eyed and still under a heavy fur. “Do you know how to help her?”

“Lady Maeve is the healer,” Luna said. “Better than her stupid mother ever was.” She looked at him shrewdly. “Didn’t she heal you?”

“Do something,” he said. “Why won’t she wake?”

“She burns.” She pulled back the fur and pulled up Maeve’s tunic to expose the shallow slash on her belly. He expected to find it red and festering with pus, but it was clean and looked nearly healed.

“Where else is she hurt?” he asked.

“Nowhere else, great prince,” the woman said. “I dressed her wounds myself.”

“Then why has she fallen into such a fever?” he demanded. “Why is she dying?”

“Because she has chosen to die.” Luna pulled the fur back over Maeve and made a sign of blessing or worship over her heart, folding her hands as if in prayer. “She is a child of the goddess.”

“She is a woman, just like you,” Asmund said. “Her mother was nothing more than a savage slut who doomed her own people for a trickster’s kisses.”

“Aye, she was that,” Luna said with a wry smile. “She was also the most powerful sorceress in seven generations.” She bathed Maeve’s face with cold water from the sea, and the girl stirred, but she didn’t wake. “She made this one in the spring ritual in consort with the dragon god.” She laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “I should know. My husband was her dragon.”

“Your rituals mean nothing,” Asmund said. He refused to believe that Maeve would simply decide to die and do it or that she even could. “Superstition.”

“Is it?” Luna said. “Then how is it you live?” He had no answer, and she smiled. “My husband loved Lady Maeve like a daughter, though he could never say it, not even to her.” She folded one of Maeve’s hands between her own. “He was one of you, you know—a Viking. He fell ill on his first raid when he was still just a boy. His people—your people—left him behind, and the dead queen’s mother took him in.”

“So Maeve is of Viking blood?” Asmund said.

“Yes, if that means anything to you,” Luna said. “Maybe that’s why she saved you.”

“So wake her,” Asmund said.

“I cannot,” Luna said. “If she has chosen to join the goddess, no soul on earth can compel her to return.” He saw pity in the woman’s eyes. “Let her go, great prince. She has saved you. What else can you want with her now?”

He yanked her to her feet. “Take her to the cargo ship; take all of them,” he said, shoving her at his brother. “She knows nothing.”

“Asmund, let them take the girl with them,” Hagen said, dropping his voice so the others might not hear. “Let her die with her own people.”

“She isn’t going to die,” Asmund said. “Just take the others away.”

The sea was calm, an endless plain of green glass all around them. He carried Maeve to the dragon’s head prow of the longship and settled himself there with the girl in his arms. For the rest of the day and into the night, his men avoided him, and he understood why. They thought he was reliving the terrible days after his wife had died. He had locked himself away in an empty house with her corpse until the king himself had come and ordered him to come out. But this was different. When Astrid had died, he had blamed the gods for taking her from him before her time. He had stood over her body and demanded that her soul be allowed to return, not so much for his sake but for the infant son who needed her. But of course the gods had said no, and in time, he had come to accept their wisdom.

But this was his fault. Maeve had saved him not just from death but from an eternity of wandering in a frozen hell. Tiny and fragile as she was, she had fought a fire demon for his life and won. And he had repaid her kindness by abandoning her and her people to a pig like Stian.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. She was tucked against him like a child with her face cradled against his throat. Her skin was burning hot, and her breathing was shallow and slow. He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I’m so sorry, little Maeve,” he repeated in her own language. “Please come back.”

******

In her fever dream, Maeve wandered in a forest. The trees were taller than any she had ever seen with thick, black trunks and deep green needles. It was spring, and the air smelled clean and sweet. Fallen needles made a soft carpet under her bare feet, and a warm breeze ruffled her hair. Tiny blue and white flowers peeped out from the bracken like the memory of snow. She felt peaceful but not contented. She was sad because she was alone.

The white vixen she had seen in her vision before slipped out of a thicket and crossed her path. “Wait,” she said, hurrying to follow. The fox was running through the underbrush, and Maeve stumbled and almost fell as she tried to keep up. “Wait for me.” In her heart she knew the vixen was the Goddess and that she would lead her to her mother, lead her home.

Suddenly the trees opened up on a vast green plain. She recognized this place. In her first vision, she had stood on the cliffs above it and seen it white with snow. She had seen the little village in the distance and a woman and child being chased by a pack of wolves. But now the scene was warm and peaceful, a lush green field covered with wildflowers that nodded in the wind. The vixen had stopped in the shadows of the forest and sat back on her haunches, waiting.

“What is this place?” Maeve asked her. “Why have you brought me here?”

Suddenly she heard a man’s voice calling her name like an echo on the wind. Turning, she could just make out a figure on the far side of the field. It was the Viking, Asmund, and he was looking for her. Tears stung her eyes, and her fists clenched with rage. But something in his voice touched her, angry as she was. “I’m sorry,” she heard him calling. “Please come back.”

The vixen stood up and turned back toward the forest. “Wait,” Maeve said. The Goddess paused and looked back at her, one foot poised. The choice being offered was clear. She could go back into the forest and follow the vixen to her realm. She would see her mother again and Vivian; she would grow in power and prepare for rebirth. Or she could go to Asmund.

“Why do I have to decide? You’re the Goddess; show me what I must do.” One the wind she heard Asmund calling again and a sigh like a woman’s laughter. But the vixen didn’t move.

She turned away from the forest shadows and ran out into the light.

******

Asmund had dozed off, and he woke when he felt Maeve stir in his arms. She opened her eyes and smiled at him. Her cheeks and lips were pink again, and her eyes were clear. “Maeve?” He cradled her cheek in his hand and bent as if to kiss her.

“No.” She pushed his hand away.

“All right.” If she would live, he could wait. He settled her back to the pallet beside him. “Just rest then.” She closed her eyes and slept.

 

 

**********

 

 

Days later, Maeve stood at the bow of the cargo ship as it navigated between sharp, icy cliffs. In front of them, the dragon’s head carved into the prow of Asmund’s longship sliced through the swells, a sleek, black wyrm darting over the cold, green sea. Even at this distance, she could hear the Vikings singing and laughing as they rowed, and the sailors on the cargo ship were the same. They were almost home.

Luna’s two sons raced around her, chasing one another around the deck, and one of the Vikings laughed as he called to them to be careful. These men had treated their captives well, she had to admit, much better than she had expected. Some of the women of her village were already forming attachments, young ones and widows who hadn’t had any lovers to lose in the raid. In time she had no doubt that the people of the Goddess would be absorbed into this new tribe, and that was as it should be. If the Goddess had not willed it so, Asmund would not have saved them. But cold the Goddess even see them in this freezing, far-off place?

Luna brought a cloak and wrapped it around Maeve’s shoulders. “The men say we are almost there,” she said. “They already sing praises to their gods for delivering them safely.”

“They are brave men,” Maeve said. “Can you imagine having the courage to set sail across all that empty water with nothing but the stars and a needle in a bucket to guide you?”

Luna laughed. “I can’t imagine doing anything men do, my queen.”

“Don’t call me that,” Maeve said.

“If not you, then who?” Luna said.

“No one. You have a king now. We all do—Asmund’s father.” She could see the Viking’s silhouette in the blinding white sunlight. He was standing at the rudder of the longship, steering their course, fearless and certain. “He will do what he likes with us.”

“You saved your people, Lady Maeve,” Luna said. “If Prince Asmund didn’t care for you, he would have let the other dog have us, and we would all be dead. That was the old queen’s legacy.”

“Mind your tongue,” Maeve said. “She was my mother.”

“Aye, and she was a fool.” She put a hand to Maeve’s cheek, making tears come to her eyes. “Sing for us, my lady,” she said. “Remember us to the Goddess.”

Maeve had abandoned her prayers back in Britain, her prayers and her life and her hope. But she had changed her mind about living. And if she lived, she belonged to the Goddess.

“Sing with me.” She reached toward all the women on the deck, gathering them into a circle. They were so few compared to the tribe they had been, her heart ached to see it, but they would be enough. “We will sing a requiem for our dead,” she said. “And a prayer of thanks for this new homecoming.”

*****

On the longship, Asmund heard Maeve’s voice singing just as he had so many times back on the beach in Britain. He had grown to love the sound of it. But this song was so sad, he felt a lump rise in his throat. The other women raised their own voices to join hers, and even on the longship, all his men went quiet.

“Odin save us, brother,” Hagen said, smiling but turning pale. “What magic have we brought home?”

Posted in Books, Medieval Romance, Paranormal romance, Witch Romance, Works-in-Progress

The Viking and the Witch: Chapter 6

viking and the witch serial coverOnce again, Asmund woke up alone. He had dreamed he was with his father, walking through a lush, green wood in spring. He couldn’t remember what they had talked about, but he woke with a deep sense of relief, as if some great conflict between them had been settled at last.

But he was alone. This wasn’t unusual; the girl rose to greet the dawning sun every morning then went straight to her traps. But after the night before, he had thought she might wake him or wait for him or at least come back to him after her morning prayers. If he had been the kind of man to fret over a woman and her ways, he might have been disappointed.

He went outside and replenished the fire, expecting her to come back soon with breakfast. But she didn’t come. He made his own meal of cold bread from the night before, facing the inlet as he swallowed every bite, leaving none for Maeve and assuring himself that he wasn’t punishing her for staying gone so long, that he couldn’t have cared less. But still she didn’t come.

Finally he gave up his pose and went to look for her. But she wasn’t anywhere along the inlet. The traps were empty, bobbing on the high tide, but the girl was nowhere to be seen. “Maeve!” he shouted. Could she have lost her balance as she walked in the rising waters, hit her head on a rock below the surface? “Maeve!” he bellowed louder, a most unmanly knot of panic forming in his chest. If she had drowned in the inlet, she would have floated to the surface by now or washed back out to the beach. “Answer me!” he yelled, running toward the surf. “Right now!”

But she didn’t answer, and there was no sign of her on the beach.

He ran to the cove where the boat was tied, promising himself all the way that he would find her there. But the boat was empty just as he had left it the night before, its sail neatly furled, ready for him. It bobbed like a dancer in the breakers, beckoning him aboard. If he didn’t sail soon, all hope he had of rejoining his companions would be lost.

He leaned back and shouted into the wind at the top of his lungs. “Maeve!”

From her hiding place inside a tiny cave in the cliffs, Maeve could hear the Viking shouting. She put her hands over her ears and closed her eyes tight. If she went to him, he would take her away with him; he had said as much. All the rest of that day and night, she stayed hidden, waiting. She knew he was making ready, packing supplies, preparing his boat, but she didn’t dare peek out. If she saw him, she wasn’t sure she could stop herself from running to join him.

“Your will, Lady,” she prayed as the sun was setting and she heard his voice again. He was moving up and down the beach, calling and calling until he was hoarse. She put her fingers in her ears. “Your will, not mine.”

At some point she must have slept because suddenly sunlight streamed through the cracks the rock. She didn’t hear Asmund calling any more.

She climbed out of the cave into a thicket of vines that would hide her if he happened to be looking that way. But he wasn’t looking. From where she stood at the top of the cliffs, she could see the whole rocky beach from her inlet to the cove. The sky was pink with dawning light, and the Viking’s boat was gone.

She tore through the vines to reach the cliff’s edge and looked out to sea. His sail was bobbing on the horizon, sailing west. “Protect him, sweet Lady,” she prayed aloud as tears streamed down her cheeks. “See him safely home.”

‡‡‡‡‡‡

Asmund sailed around the coastline by day and followed the stars by night, following the charts he had carried in his head since he was a boy. But he was still grateful and a little shocked when he rounded a point on his second day at sea and saw his own long ship anchored in the cove.

His brother, Hagen, was the first to spot his sail and the first to recognize him. “Thank the gods,” he said as Asmund climbed aboard. “Thanks be to Allfather and his lady, Frigg.” He embraced his brother without hesitation, and after a moment, Asmund hugged him back. “We thought you were dead,” his younger brother said in a voice thick with tears.

“I was,” Asmund said. “But we’ll talk later.” The others were crowding around him, smiling, slapping him on the back, and he was glad to greet them. But one of these men he had always trusted was a traitor. One of them had stabbed him in the back and thrown him in the sea.

“Are we early?” he asked when they had all assured themselves that he was really alive. “Where is Stian’s ship?”

“They were here,” one of his men, Torvald, said. “But we would not sail without you yet, so he and his men went after more treasure.”

“He said he knew of a village no man has ever raided, a place protected by magic,” Hagen said. “He said he had a plan to get inside.”

“Where is this magic village?” Asmund said, remembering the crone’s prophecy and feeling sick to his stomach.

“On the coast to the south of here,” Torvald said. “But he meant to anchor his ship a ways away and attack them from the land.”

“Raise the anchor,” Asmund said, and they rushed to obey him—at least that hadn’t changed. “We have to catch them.”

“But my prince, we don’t know where they meant to land,” Torvald said.

“Maybe not,” he said. “But I know where they’re going.”

‡‡‡‡‡‡

Maeve was repairing a tear in one of her tunics when she felt a wave of darkness wash over her so powerful it made her feel faint. She dropped her sewing and stood up, and she felt it again—terrible fear that drove her to her knees then terrible pain that made her scream. “Mama!” she cried out, reaching blindly into darkness the color of blood. Then suddenly the pain was gone, and the light came back in a dazzling rush, and in her mind was only silence. “Mama,” she repeated, scrambling to her feet.

She ran all the way to the village and found it under attack, just as Vivian had foreseen. Viking raiders under a wolfshead banner were swarming up and down the crooked street, setting fire to huts, dragging women by the hair, hacking men in half like saplings with their swords. If Asha were alive, this wouldn’t be happening. For all her faults and weakness, her mother’s magic was strong; she would have hidden the village or driven the raiders mad with visions of the Dragon. Maeve reached out for her own power, crying out to the Goddess for her help, but all she felt was fear and pain and the blood red cloud of death that seemed to smother her. Dodging the bloody grasp of a bearded behemoth as he grabbed for her, she stumbled then sprinted up the hill.

Asha’s women were fleeing the queen’s house in wailing terror. “Dead!” one of them sobbed as she grabbed hold of Maeve. “The queen is dead! He killed her!”

“Let me go!” She shoved the woman away and ran inside.

Baird the harper was standing over Asha’s body, holding a bloody knife. “They were going to find you anyway,” he said, his eyes wild. “I couldn’t have stopped it.”

“You did this.” She pulled her own knife from her belt.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he said, stepping over her mother’s body. “You don’t have to be hurt, little Maeve.” He was trying to circle her, his knife held much too loosely in his hand. “I am their ally. If you are my woman, you will be safe.”

She launched herself at him, stabbing him first in the eye. He screamed, and she barely felt the slash of his blade across her stomach as she stabbed him again, over and over as he fell, following him to the floor. When he stopped moving, she collapsed on top of him, sobbing and exhausted. Once again, she reached out for her witch’s power, but no power came, only the darkness.

She heard the door crash open behind her and the voices of Viking men. At first she couldn’t understand them; her mind was too addled. Then one of them laughed and said, “Well done, little one. The traitor got what he deserved.”

She tried to find the strength to fight, but two of them grabbed her, and one of them snatched the knife from her hand. The one who had laughed was standing over her as they pulled her to her feet. He was almost as tall as Asmund, but not nearly as handsome. He had close-cropped blond hair and a long, dirty beard down to his belt. “Bring her,” he said. “She might be worth keeping under all that blood.” He caught her chin with a bloody hand. “If she can behave herself.”

She wanted to fight back, but she was so tired and sick, she could barely stand. He was right; she was covered in Baird’s blood, an abomination before the Goddess. One of the Vikings picked her up, and she let herself go limp over his shoulder.

‡‡‡‡‡‡

Asmund was too late. The village was already burned. “This?” Hagen said as they surveyed the carnage with the rest of their crew. “This was Stian’s great prize?”

“Apparently,” Asmund said. His brother was right; there was no treasure here. Only people dead and dying and the burning ruins of their homes. The old woman who had come to find Maeve on the beach was lying dead in the muddy street, her ancient head caved in, the broom she’d been holding still clutched in her fist. Asmund had raided these lands every summer since he was old enough to sail, and he’d never felt a moment’s remorse. But this had been no raid; there was no prize here. This was slaughter. “Where is he now, do you think?”

“Up there, if I were to guess,” Hagen said, pointing. At the top of the hill stood a round house that was bigger and a little more grand than the others. “Shall we go congratulate him on his victory?”

Asmund laughed. Hagen had loathed Stian since he was a small boy. “Absolutely.” Maeve will have been on the beach, he promised himself as they climbed the hill. She won’t even know this has happened.

But he was wrong. A small group of young women and girls were huddled weeping in the yard in front of the round house. Maeve was among them, sitting on the ground, staring at nothing. She was so covered in blood, he barely recognized her, and he had to stop himself from running to her.

Stian was looming over one of the other women, making an impressively terrible figure as he roared at her in a language she wouldn’t understand. “Where are the rest of them?” he shouted. “The children! The boys!” He raised the cudgel he carried as if to bash in her skull.

Asmund grabbed his arm. “Well met, Captain,” he said.

Stian turned as if to cudgel him instead, then froze. “My prince!” He couldn’t have looked more shocked or less pleased if he had practiced first. “You are alive.” If this dog had been on his own crew, he would have known exactly who the traitor was. But he had been on his own ship miles away when Asmund was attacked.

“So it seems.” He tightened his grip on the captain’s arm until he dropped his cudgel. “What is all this?”

“Slaves, my prince,” Stian said. “There may be more. We have found no more than half a dozen children.”

“I’m surprised they can feed so many as that,” Asmund said. He touched the cheek of the woman Stian had been threatening, looking her over. “And why should we want them if they could?”

His voice brought Maeve out of her stupor. He was with them. He was their leader—the ugly blond one had called him his prince. Had he brought them here? Had he ordered the raid? I did this, she thought, sick with horror. I should have let him die. Suddenly her strength came back in a rush, and she launched herself at Asmund, her hands like claws.

“Devil!” she screamed at him in his own language. “Blasphemer! She saved you—the goddess! I saved you!” When she had attacked him before on the beach, he had been weak and willing to surrender. Now he grabbed her and crushed her back against him, holding both her wrists in one hand.

“I like this one,” he said, making the others laugh. “My father will enjoy her very much.”

“These slaves are mine!” the blond one said.

“No,” Asmund said. He was holding her still, but he wasn’t hurting her. “We will take these slaves as your tribute from the voyage.” He looked around at their village with contempt. “If this is what your raids have been this season, you can’t have taken much else.”

“My hold is full of treasure!” the blond one said.

“Then keep it,” Asmund said. “Sail home and be content.”

Even the men who had arrived with Asmund looked surprised at this and not entirely pleased. A young one who looked like a smaller, less confident copy of Asmund looked as if he were bursting to speak.

“The king will hear of this,” the blond one said.

“Aye, Stian, he will,” Asmund said. From where he held her, Maeve couldn’t see his face, but she could imagine it from the fury in his tone. “He will hear how you left his son and heir to die while you burned pig farms to build yourself a harem.”

“You were dead already, drowned!” Stian protested, his face turning from red to sickly white. “Your own brother thought as much.”

“And yet here I stand.” He shoved Maeve at the younger one, who caught her, startled but quick. “Be careful,” Asmund warned. “She bites.” She made a token effort to struggle, but this young one was strong, too. “Will you challenge me, Stian?” Asmund asked the captain. “Will you fight me for these peasant women? Will you break faith with my father?”

For a moment, Maeve thought he would, and from the tension she felt in his grip, she thought Asmund’s brother thought it, too. Then Stian laughed.

“Take them, then,” he said. “That one is a murderer.” He turned and motioned to his men. “To the ship!” The raiders didn’t look any happier than their captain, but they obeyed.

When they had gone, Asmund turned back to Maeve. “That is my brother, Hagen,” he said. “Will you kill him if he lets you go?” She tried to look away, but he caught her chin gently and made her look at him. “I know now you can understand me.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Yes, I do.”

“Are there more children?” he asked. “Where are they?”

“As if I would tell you!”

“If we leave them behind, they will die,” he said. “Your men are dead; your crops and livestock are destroyed.” From behind him, she heard the women of the village crying. “I will take you all with me.”

“As slaves.”

“As people with food to eat and a roof over their heads come winter,” he said. “As people who will live.”

One of the other village women stepped forward—Luna, the blacksmith’s wife. “I will show you where they are,” she said. She had two sons, neither of whom had seen five summers yet. “We will go with you.”

“Go then,” Maeve said. She had been alone on the beach; she could manage alone now. “I will stay.”

Asmund laughed. “Hush, little flame,” he said. “You will stay with me.”

End of Chapter Six