Widows of the Empire: A Second Excerpt

One more week until Widows of the Empire comes out! Here’s a second excerpt, in which Belwyn, stuck in exile in Annanais, finally receives a particularly stubborn caller.

That the Temple of Rend meant something to Belwyn didn’t mean she had an idea of what this particular acolyte wanted with her. She’d made the gesture to rebuild the temple in Cye after the explosion that led her to Cotber and started her examination of Port Ambs. Hagan had made all the arrangements and Belwyn hadn’t given it much thought. It had been a spur-of-the-moment thing, a decision made in the wake of sorrow washing over her for people who had lost a place where they could worship. Just because she didn’t need such a space didn’t mean she couldn’t appreciate the loss.

She wracked her brain, trying to remember if the temple had reached out to her. Maybe they had contact with Hagan, but she couldn’t conjure any memory of meeting with them. She hadn’t expected to, but why not? It would have been impolite not to acknowledge their benefactor. What if they didn’t know? Belwyn couldn’t remember telling Hagan to make the donation anonymously, but she might have. If that was the case, how would any acolyte know about her role?

She was sitting in the courtyard, after lunch, when Neven approached.

“It’s time, Lady,” Neven said, gesturing toward the formal receiving room.

Belwyn followed, pushing down a lump in her throat. A guard, one of Brixton’s men, opened the door for them. Neven waved Belwyn through, then followed behind her.

There were three people waiting for them in the room. Two were Brixton’s guards, who were making a display of their rifles, holding them in their hands, ready for action. They looked menacing, not the generally easygoing men who rarely did anything with their guns but sling them over their shoulders. In between them stood a man in a long, grey robe, complete with a hood that partially hid his face. Belwyn could see just a scrap of a beard poking out from underneath. He was hunched and looked frail, particularly between the two guards.

“Is this necessary?” she asked Neven, while gesturing toward the guards. “This is a man of the gods, after all. Can we not treat him with some dignity?”

Neven gave a signal and the two guards shouldered their rifles and left the room. “It was merely a precaution, Lady.”

After the guards left, Belwyn gestured for the man to sit on one of the stuffed chairs by the window, which he did slowly, shuffling with short steps. Belwyn sat down across from him while Neven took up her place a few feet away. Either she, or one of her underlings, had to be close enough during meetings to make sure no one told Belwyn something inappropriate.

“Lady Belwyn,” the acolyte said with a slight bow, his voice rough and low.

“You have me at a disadvantage, sir, since I do not know your name,” she said.

“You may call me Gendil, Lady, if it pleases.”

She smiled. “I once had a horse named Gendil. I was very fond of him.”

“A favorable coincidence, Lady.”

The was an uncomfortable silence. “What is it I can do for you, Gendil? I understand you come from the Temple of Rend in Cye. Is that right?”

“That is why I am here, Lady,” he said, “but I am not from the temple in Cye.” He paused, glancing over at Neven.

Belwyn followed his gaze, sensing an opportunity. “Is there a problem with Neven?”

“I’ve spoken with her many times,” Gendil said, “but what I have to say is only for your ears, Lady.”

Belwyn turned to Neven. “I think you can see that there is no risk or danger here, Neven. Can you leave us alone for five minutes?”

“You know I can’t, Lady,” Neven said.

“Your people have made exceptions before,” Belwyn said. It wasn’t strictly true. She’d managed to get her handlers out of the room for moments here and there, but never this blatantly. She hoped the thought would throw Neven off her guard just enough.

“Not with my permission,” she said.

Belwyn shrugged. “Regardless, nothing untoward has come of it. You can keep Britxon’s men on the other side of the door, for all I care, but surely five minutes to indulge this gentleman isn’t too much to ask.”

Gendil shifted in his seat toward Neven, like the effort of doing so was almost too much for him to bear. “Madam, if I may. What I wish to discuss with Lady Belwyn is of a sacred nature. The rules of my order emphasize confidentiality in personal interactions. I understand if you must be present, but do know that it will be an imposition upon my faith.”

Belwyn looked at Neven with pleading eyes. Gendil’s evocation of religious dogma made her skin crawl, but the idea that he wanted to talk to her alone was intriguing. Not to mention, the sooner Neven left the room, the sooner she could be done with this. After all, the man had appeared for two weeks straight and was unlikely to take “no” for an answer. “Five minutes?”

Neven looked like she was going to fire off a cable to Chakat about this, to try and get out of this assignment. But Belwyn had seen that look before, a look of resignation. “Very well. I wouldn’t want to interfere with a religious exercise. I’ll be back in three minutes.”

Belwyn waited for the door to be securely shut behind Neven before saying, “Thank you for coming to see me, Gendil, but I have to warn you, I’ve never had much use for the gods.”

Gendil straightened and pulled back the hood of his robe. “How could I ever forget that, Lady.”

It took her a moment, but once she studied the eyes, she knew. Belwyn put her hands over her mouth to contain the scream of excitement that welled inside her. She took a deep breath, then whispered, “Hagan!”

He nodded. “Yes, Lady.”

Widows of the Empire
Out November 10
Preorder now for Kindle or other eBook formats


Widows of the Empire: Excerpt

Continuing on with some posts about the upcoming Widows of the Empire, here’s an excerpt from the book in which Aton goes to meet a persistent potential new client and gets quite the shock:

Aton realized that he never really liked The Ferry. It was conveniently located in Cye, a good place to get business or meet someone, but it wasn’t the kind of place he liked to hang out. Aside from slamming down a drink after a job was over, he rarely came here just for the sake of it. Now, finally, he knew why.

The place was crowded. Not because there were so many people here, but because of how the room was laid out. The long, curving bar was enormous. Tables in the middle of the room were arranged haphazardly. In addition, the bare wood interior amplified every voice in the place. Even though there were only a handful of people here, the din was distracting. He was amazed he was ever able to conduct business here. He maneuvered the obstacle course of tables and chairs to make it to his old spot in the back corner.

While he didn’t miss The Ferry, Aton could admit to himself that he missed being downtown. The new house was lovely and bucolic, but it was also quiet and isolated. He’d grown up in Cye and was used to the noise, the crowds, and the occasional stench. It’s why he’d toyed with the idea of finding a small office somewhere nearby in case he needed to handle anything that came up in the city. Truth was, however, the only business he would do was with Laffargue, and that happened at the Voisine. An empty office was an expense that didn’t make any sense.

He had arrived half an hour early, supposing that Vesper wouldn’t show until their arranged meeting time. Whatever his talents, Vesper didn’t strike Aton as one who thought of worst-case scenarios and alternatives. Like a dog with a bone, he was relentless and driven, but not particularly creative. Being early allowed Aton to control the terrain, like a general pushing his troops to secure high ground before a battle. Maybe he was overthinking it, but better to be over prepared.

He passed the time scanning the crowd. It was like any skill, one he had to practice for it to be sharp when it was needed. There was part of him that wanted to find Okun there, although he had no idea what he’d say to him. He was here for work, after all, and maybe Okun would be, too. There would be no reason for them to just have a drink together. The issue never came up, as the big, bald man never made an appearance.

Aton was just about to start clock watching when he saw Vesper slip in the front door. He looked around a few times, less like he was trying to find Aton than like he was getting the lay of the land. After a moment he held the door open and a person walked in the door. Shorter than Vesper, shorter even that Aton, the individual was wearing a deep blue floor-length cloak with the hood drawn up around the face. Aton thought it was a tad dramatic, but everyone had their quirks.

Vesper led his client through the room, slamming his leg into a chair about halfway through.

Aton suppressed a laugh.

He reached Aton’s table and tipped his cap. “Mr. Askins, glad to see you here.”

“I made a deal, didn’t I?” Aton said. He waved at Vesper to stand aside. “So who is this mystery client?”The figure behind Vesper stepped forward and lowered the hood of the cloak.

“Oh, shit,” Aton said, deflating. “Ethyna.”

Widows of the Empire
Out November 10
Wherever fine ebooks are sold

Gods of the Empire Excerpt

If you’ll recall, my new book, Gods of the Empire, comes out in a couple of weeks! To whet your appetite a bit, here’s an exclusive excerpt.

In this scene, Aton responds to a note that will change his life forever:

The Hotel Voisine traded in discretion. Aton could tell that from the exterior of the building, which had almost no ornamentation on it at all. It looked more like the anonymous Imperial buildings nearby rather than the other luxurious hotels. Unlike the Hotel Woodburn across the square, with its ostentatious arch and bizarre carved faces, the front door of the Voisine was simple and did not announce itself. On closer inspection, one would see the fine grain wood used in the doors and the gold plating on the fixtures. But the only real sign of exclusivity, of upper-class opulence, was the doorman.

He wore a uniform of deep green, with bright yellow trim and immaculately polished gold buttons. He was six inches taller than Aton, if not more, and weighed another fifty pounds, all of it seemingly concentrated in his arms. Aton showed him the envelope, but before he could try and talk his way in, the doorman opened the door and tipped his cap. “Welcome to the Voisine, sir.”

Inside, the reserved nature of the design was inverted. The entryway was five stories high, with great skylights in the roof that allowed the afternoon sun to fill the place with light. It looked like any other hotel lobby—there were a pair of couches and some large, comfortable chairs with end tables—only taken to the most luxurious extreme. Aton wanted to stop and just pet the nearest couch, to try and divine which rare animal had given its hide for the comfort of the Voisine’s guests. But the moment he slowed his walk, he felt the eyes of every one of the half-dozen people in the lobby on him. He didn’t make eye contact, but he didn’t have to.

A smiling older gentleman stood behind a pink marble counter at the end of the lobby. “May I help you, sir?” he asked as Aton approached.

Aton showed him the envelope, but didn’t pull out the note inside. “I was told to meet a Mr. Laffargue here? Didn’t say where, no room number—”

The man cut him off. “Of course, sir, Mr. Laffargue. He is expecting you in the meeting room on the second floor. Upstairs, then left, then through the double doors.”

Aton paused for a moment. Surely there had to be something more. He was a stranger to these people, a nobody from off the street. Yet he was being treated as an honored guest. Aton decided to go with it. “Thanks.”

He turned at the top of the stairs and found the double doors. He almost walked directly in, but thought better of it and decided to knock. Anybody who could afford to set up shop at the Voisine could afford a goon or two waiting inside to break the leg of any unwanted, or at least unanticipated, visitor. He knocked, then went inside when he heard a muffled reply.

The room was deep and narrow, with a long table of dark, polished wood taking up much of it. The table was surrounded by about a dozen chairs. It was the kind of room where a board of directors might meet. Yet there was only one other person in the room. He was sitting at the far side, but not at the head of the table itself, as if he didn’t quite rise to that level. A stylish bowler hat sat on the table next to his chair.

The man stood up. He was shorter than Aton and about ten years older. He wore the girth of a comfortable life. “Aton Askins?”

Aton nodded.

“Please, come sit.” The man waved to the chair across the table from him, then sat back down.

Aton sat down. “Mr. Laffargue?”

The other man dipped his head. “Indeed. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Askins. Can I offer you a drink of some kind? Just a word and they can pour anything you’d like.”

“No, thank you,” Aton said, trying to get comfortable in his seat. He put the envelope on the table.

“You know why I’m here. That gives you a leg up, so why don’t you tell me what I’m doing here?”

Laffargue grinned. “My, my, why the hurry?”

“I’m a working man, sir. I’ve come considerably out of my way to this meeting, so I need to know, sooner rather than later, whether it’s worth my while.” In truth, he had nothing else to do, but he wasn’t about to let a potential employer know that.

“I can respect that,” Laffargue said, shifting in his seat. “I have a job for you. A long-term proposition, something that would require exclusivity until it was complete. Would that be a problem?”

Aton was thrown off balance by the suggestion. Usually he had two or three jobs going all at once, although now he had hit a bit of an empty patch. “As it happens, I do have an opening in my schedule going forward. However, if you want me to turn business away, I’d need to be fairly compensated for that.”

“Oh, I don’t think compensation will be an issue,” Laffargue said. “But before we talk specifics, I need to know if you’re interested. If not, there’s no point.”

“How long are we talking?” Aton was intrigued.

GodsOfTheEmpire (900x1350)

Gods of the Empire, book one of the Unari Empire Trilogy – coming October 1.

Preorder your copy now.

Water Road Wednesday – Final Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

In this final excerpt from The Bay of Sins, Hirrek scours the Neldathi city of Albandala for information about the murder of a thek. He needs to ask questions some people don’t want to hear. They’re happy to vent their displeasure toward him:

The continued celebration made the enclave louder than the others he had visited. It was nearly impossible for him to hear what people around him were saying as he passed by. The crowd was thick enough that just moving through it without running into people was a challenge. Without knowing it, his avoidance maneuvers eventually took him to the outskirts of the enclave, near the edge of the city itself. He breathed a bit more easily there, enjoying the open space. The din of the crowd rumbled in the background.

That was how they took him by surprise. The first blow knocked him to the ground, his face landing hard on dirty packed snow. He managed to roll over and see three people standing over him. All had the green and white Elein stripes in their braids.

“Keeps poking around,” one of them said. He was younger than Hirrek and not as big. “Like he’s got a right to know something.”

“You’d think he’d learned by now that nobody wants to talk with him,” said another. He was older and standing back from the other two a bit.

“People can talk to whomever they want,” Hirrek said, getting ready to stand up.

The third one, about Hirrek’s age and even bigger than he was, kicked him in the side. “How’s that for talking?”

The first one laughed. The older one didn’t. Hirrek made a note of that as he crumpled to the snow and tried to catch his breath.

“If you have nothing to say, that’s fine,” Hirrek said after a few moments, managing to make it to his hands and knees. “But you have no right to keep me from talking to others.”

“Who gave you the right to start asking?” asked the second man. The third one kicked Hirrek again, sending him back to the ground, face first.

Hirrek spat dirty snow from his mouth and did everything possible to hide the pain he’d endured so far. “The Maker gave me that right, as she did for all of you.” He didn’t expect that to work, but wanted to see what they said at the mention of the Maker of Worlds.

“A blasphemer as well,” said the first man.

“One goes along with the other,” said the third.

“You see?” said the older man. He looked to be the leader of this little group. “This is what you get when you give yourself over to the blasphemy of one god. This one’s from Clan Dost, not that you’d know it to look at him. He’s free to do whatever he wants, but what right does he have to tell us?”

“Yeah!” the other two said.

“He thinks just because his father pretends he’s jeyn now he can go anywhere he likes.”

“My father doesn’t think he’s jeyn, and doesn’t pretend to be,” Hirrek said, slowly getting back to his hands and knees.

“What does he think he is, then?” asked the second man.

“He thinks he’s doing his best for his people,” Hirrek said, speaking slowly and trying to get a good feeling for where his attackers were. The two younger ones were on either side of him now, while the older man stood a few feet in front of him. They weren’t thinking this through very well. “The best for the Neldathi people. All of them.”

“He’s not got the right,” the third man said, before he tried to kick Hirrek one more time.

This time he was ready. Hirrek lunged forward just as the kick came. The man’s foot glanced harmlessly off his lower leg while Hirrek sprang on the older man. He was taken completely by surprise and was driven to the ground by Hirrek’s charge. Hirrek wasted little time exploiting his advantage, punching him twice in the face and knocking him out.

He stood and readied himself for the others, but neither had come to the aid of their master. They stood with fists raised, poised on the balls of their feet, but neither moved.

“I don’t have any business with you,” Hirrek said, eyes flitting back and forth between the two men. “But him, I need to talk to.” He kicked at the foot of their master. “That means either you can leave or I can make you leave, since I don’t need either one of you to make it through the night. Understand?”

It was an empty threat. He was outnumbered and wasn’t carrying a weapon. He didn’t want to be known as walking through the city interrogating people with a knife in his hand, so he’d intentionally gone out without anything threatening in his possession. He’d give anything to have one secreted away in one of his furs. He just hoped that the others thought he was armed.

They looked at each other, then dropped their fists and took a few steps back.

“Don’t want to have nothing to do with you,” the first one said. “Right?”

“Right,” said the big one.

They turned and walked off together, hurrying but not running back to the crowd, the noise, and the fire.

Hirrek grabbed the other man, still thoroughly unconscious, under each arm and began to drag him through the snow toward the center of the city.

The Bay of Sins arrives March 22 – pre order now for the low launch price of 99 cents! Get The Water Road and The Endless Hills while you’re at it!


Water Road Wednesday – Second Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

In this excerpt from The Bay of Sins, Rurek arrives in Modrozon Crossing looking for someone. Not a friend, but a familiar face from readers of The Endless Hills – the thief turned soldier Martoh. In between, these two have developed a little bit of bad blood.

 Martoh sits down:

“Well, well, well,” he said, looking very satisfied with himself. “I believe the words were, ‘I’ll never come anywhere near this place again, you filthy criminal.’ Was that about right, Rurek?” While he spoke, he fiddled with the bracelet on his wrist.

Rurek cleared his throat. “Nice to see you too, Martoh. Believe me, when I said that I meant it. If circumstances were any different I wouldn’t be here.”

“Then I am truly touched that, in your hour of need, you found your way back here.” He signaled to someone, and a drink, some kind of deep-green alcohol, arrived within moments. “Have you had the ordem? It is a local specialty, requires a special kind of grain that grows wild around here. Very strong, but a wonderfully complex flavor, if you can handle it.” He took a long, slow sip and set the glass down on the table. “The girl is fine, by the way. I thought you might like to know.”

“I don’t care.” That was a lie. There wasn’t a night he didn’t think about the little girl and what her life was like in Wellston. He wasn’t about to let Martoh know that, however.

Martoh shrugged. “So be it. What, then, brings you so low that you would go back on your word and return to Modrozon Crossing, to this pub, and seek me out? I hope you did not gamble away all that money. It was so hard-earned.”

“After a fashion,” Rurek said, stifling a chuckle. “I got the money I needed to do what I needed to do. Problem is, now I’m not sure what to do with what I’ve got.”

“How cryptic. If you will not tell me what the problem is, I cannot help you.”

“Except I don’t really trust you.”

“You must trust me a little, Rurek, or you would have gone somewhere else. Did I cheat you? Did I tell you I would pay and then not pay, or pay less than we agreed?”

“No.” Rurek had to admit that.

“Did I lie to you about the nature of the work? And I mean lie, Rurek, really tell you something that was not true?”

“You didn’t tell me—”

Martoh raised a hand. “I told you what you needed to know to complete the task. Entirely accurate information. That you did not ask more questions, better questions, before taking my money is not my fault. You needed the money badly enough to keep you from asking those questions.”

“You’re being overly technical.”

“Overly technical is what put me in prison. Why should I not use it to my advantage now?”

Rurek knew Martoh had been in prison before the war and that he didn’t think he belonged there, but he didn’t know details. He didn’t want to know. “If that’s how you want to live your life.”

“It is.” Martoh sat back, looked out the window, and smiled. “Now that our reunion is out of the way, what is it that you think I might do for you?”

The Bay of Sins arrives March 22 – pre order now for the low launch price of 99 cents!. Get The Water Road and The Endless Hills while you’re at it!


Water Road Wednesday – First Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

The first excerpt from The Bay of Sins. In this scene, Mida, the healer in Innisport who Antrey put in charge of the city, has been arrested and charged with treason and collaboration with the Neldathi. Using a code delivered via a wadded up piece of paper thrown over a wall, she reached out to her neighbor in prison:

After supper, when she knew she’d be left alone for the night, Mida moved the desk chair next to the wall she shared with C4 and waited. She wasn’t sure if her neighbor would try to make contact first, but Mida thought it wise to wait. Such communication was against the rules, and she wanted the defense, if only in her head, that she didn’t break them first. She was on the verge of giving up and getting into bed when she heard it.

Six taps, faint, like a small metal pick scratching on rock. The sound repeated itself over and over.

The night before, Mida had pried a piece of metal out from under the desk. It was part of a brace that held the desk up, but it was already lose when she found it, and the desk seemed perfectly sturdy without it. She fetched the metal from its hiding place near the toilet and tapped six times in response, then waited.

The code came, slowly and deliberately. Mida wasn’t certain if the other person was being slow for her benefit or not, but she appreciated it regardless. You are new?

Yes, Mida tapped back, quietly sounding out each letter. Two days ago. You?

Long time, came the answer, a little quicker this time. What for?

I don’t know. It was only partially untrue. She was certain it had something to do with Phichan’s need to punish those who worked with the Neldathi during the occupation, but she had no idea what the specific charges were yet. You?


War is over. Mida didn’t understand.

Not for me. Name?

Mida chuckled. They were prisoners, and, naturally, went straight to talking about why they were in prison. Small details like names were secondary. Mida Innis, Healer, she tapped back. You?

Bist, her neighbor tapped, of Clan Kohar.

The Bay of Sins arrives March 22. Get The Water Road and The Endless Hills now!


Water Road Wednesday: First Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

The Water Road Trilogy wraps up later this year with The Bay of Sins. The bay is where the Water Road empties into the sea and is home to the island city of Tolenor, home of the Triumvirate. In ancient times it was where pilgrims would come to wash away their sins. It’s always been a place of reckoning.

 In this scene, something happens in the new Neldathi city of Albandala that will require some reckoning.

It was overcast the next day, snow spitting from the slate grey sky. Weft made his rounds in the morning, speaking with members of various clans, chatting about nothing important. He was feeling things out, trying to get information without anyone knowing they were giving it to him. He usually had better luck, but today people seemed tight lipped. Something was in the air, something Weft couldn’t quite put his finger on.

The day began to achieve some focus when he saw an old Neldathi man emerge from the meeting hall in the center of the city. The long, low log building was where the clans met to discuss vital issues. It wasn’t clear what this meeting had been about or how many people had been involved, but the old man’s bearing and entourage suggested that he was important. Weft suspected he was one of the chiefs, a thek, but he couldn’t tell from which clan. He had no painted lines in the long black and grey braid that hung down his back.

Even if he couldn’t tell which clan the thek belonged to, Weft could make a guess as to which faction could claim him. It wasn’t a hard and fast rule, but generally an unpainted braid identified one as a unificationist. If a Neldathi still wore clan colors, most likely he was an independent. This was most likely one of Antrey Ranbren’s men, come to Albandala on a mission.

Weft watched as the man shuffled through the snow. There were four younger men with him, all of them also wearing black braids. Warriors, no doubt, although none of them had weapons to hand. One had a rifle slung across his back, another a short spear of some kind. The others no doubt had knives or swords on them, but Weft couldn’t see. Regardless, they were woefully unprepared for what came next.

The thek was greeting people as he shuffled. He must have been popular, at least among some portions of Neldathi society. People gave him what looked like warm hellos, meeting him with smiles and nods. The jumble of voices overtaxed Weft’s limited grip on the language. The numbers overwhelmed his guards, who looked reluctant to try and push back the well wishers anyway. Were they obeying the thek’s orders?

One Neldathi, smaller than the others and with black, blue, and red stripes in his braid, stepped forward with another group to greet the old man. Weft had a hard time keeping sight of him, with the press of tall bodies around him blocking the view. He worked his way through the crowd just in time to see the small Neldathi raise his right arm and charge at the thek. He yelled something, low and guttural and angry. Weft couldn’t begin to understand it, but he caught the gist. There was a pistol in his right hand.

It wasn’t as loud as he expected, but the shot rattled Weft’s bones all the same. The speed and violence of the maneuver took him by surprise. He knew something like this might happen, but had no idea when. In the blink of an eye there was a cloud of smoke surrounding the old chief as he fell, clutching his throat. The snow turned red underneath him.

The shooter held the useless pistol aloft and began to laugh, loudly, in a way that proved he was out of his mind. Before he could even try to run away another Neldathi, this one taller, wider, and altogether more in keeping with the stereotype of his people, tackled the shooter, driving him to the ground.

There was no need for Weft to see what happened next. His work was done. He needed to leave the city as quickly as he could.

Get caught up with the trilogy by picking up The Water Road and The Endless Hills now.

Water Road Wednesday: Second Excerpt from The Endless Hills

The second excerpt from The Endless Hills brings us back to Antrey, who has now come north from the Neldathi mountains to come face to face with the war. In this excerpt she’s touring the bombed out shell of Innisport, one of the Truimvirate’s largest cities. It’s been an eye-opening experience.

There was a dull murmur that rose from the crowd. Not angry, but curious and agitated. It lacked energy and didn’t strike Antrey as threatening, although she noticed Effar and the other guards stiffen in alertness. The carriage came to a halt when the driver could no longer pick his way through the mass of people.

“You there! Clear the way!” Kajtan yelled to a group of Neldathi warriors who had congregated in front of a ruined building. They leapt into the street, pushing and shoving people out of the way. No one put up any real resistance, but the warriors used force all the same. When one woman stumbled and fell onto the street, a warrior raised his musket as if to smash her face with the butt of the gun.

“Don’t touch her!” Antrey yelled, jumping up. The warrior stopped, musket raised, and looked at her, dumbfounded.

“Jeyn, this is not wise,” Kajtan said under his breath. “Please, sit. You are far too exposed.”

“These people belong to this city,” she said in Altrerian, ignoring Kajtan and raising her voice. “They have a right not to be brutalized.”

“Aren’t you here to kill the rest of us?” someone, a woman, shouted from the crowd.

Antrey turned and saw an older woman with light green skin standing on a stoop outside a building. Her clothes were ragged and smeared with blood, although she didn’t appear to be injured. She stood straight and as tall as she could. “Why would you think that?”

“You’re the one who started all this,” the woman said. “The one they call jeyn.”

“I am Jeyn Antrey Ranbren, yes.”

“Then why ask if we think you might be here to kill the rest of us? Look around. See what your barbarians have done. Admire their handiwork.” The crowd buzzed, heads nodding in agreement. The mood caused two of the warriors to charge up and grab the woman by the arms.

“Stop that!” Antrey said in Neldathi. “She is not a threat.” They released her and walked slowly back to the street.

“You know my name,” Antrey said, switching back to Altrerian, “may I have the honor of knowing yours?”

“Mida Innis of the Guild of Healers. I’ve lived in this city all my life. It breaks my heart to see what your kind have done to it.”

“This is a war, Mida. Did you know that for a century your people had sown discord between the Neldathi clans, causing them to fight and kill each other in the name of your security? You are in no position to judge.”

“How can you say that? They say you only discovered this because you found a secret book locked in a Triumvirate vault. If that’s true, how does it convict me? The Sentinels and the Grand Council might have known, but not the common people, not these people. Why punish us?”

Antrey knew that Mida had a few details wrong, but on the whole she had a point. This wasn’t the time for a fight. “Are you hurt?”


“What about the blood?” Antrey asked, pointing to the stains.

“That’s from my patients.”

“Are they close?”

“Of course.” She jerked her head toward the building behind her. “Why do you care?”

“I came here to see the progress of the war for myself, firsthand. That means seeing the damage done, which deeply saddens me. That also means seeing those that have been injured. Can I meet them?”

Mida stood, frozen, for a moment. “I don’t want all of them in here,” she said, pointing to Antrey’s guards.

Antrey pushed Effar aside and stepped down from the carriage. “Of course.”

“Don’t do this, Jeyn,” Kajtan said, following her out to the street.

“I have to,” she said. “Keep things orderly out here. I won’t be long.” She walked toward Mina. The buzz of the crowd was gone, replaced by a still, uneasy calm.

“Lead the way,” Antrey said to Mina.

The building was red brick that had been rubbed smooth over the years. It was four stories tall, but at least the upper floor appeared too damaged to be useful. Mida opened the front door and Antrey followed her inside.

Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon as well as in the real world at Empire Books & News. The Endless Hills will be released on August 31!

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Water Road Wednesday: First Excerpt from The Endless Hills

For this initial dip into The Endless Hills, book two of The Water Road trilogy, I wanted to explore one of that book’s new characters a bit. Martoh is a crook, but he’s in the kind of prison he’s never been in before, the kind that’s landed him in the infirmary. Now, with a war on, there’s a chance for him to get out:

 A few seconds later a gentleman stepped behind the curtain as someone else held it for him. He carried small wooden stool in one hand and a black leather case in the other. His black suit was neat and fresh, implying he had some kind of official position. The fine grey dust from the stones out of which the prison had been built had yet to infest his clothing. “Martoh Isukar?” He put the stool down beside the bed.

“Who are you?” Martoh had long ago learned to be wary of men in clean suits.

“May I sit?”

“Help yourself.”

The man sat down and began pawing through his case. “It really was quite a journey to reach here, you know.”

“Why is that? And who are you?”

“I’m sorry.” The man sat up straight and pulled an official looking piece of paper from his case. “My name is Anea. I am from the Ministry of War.”

Martoh rolled his eyes. “Whatever it is they told you I did, you’ve got the wrong guy.”

Anea looked at him with a frozen expression that said he knew Martoh was the right man. “You are serving a term of life in prison, is that not correct, Martoh? May I call you that?”

Martoh gave silent consent.

“Due to your sentence, you will die behind these walls. Why would I have to think anything else about you?”

“I’m not a killer.”

“It says something very different here.” Anea held up a clutch of papers and began shuffling through them, for Martoh’s benefit, most likely. “It says here that you stole some small trinket from a shop, were caught in the act, and pursued by the shop keeper. As he gave chase in the street he tripped, fell, and upon landing broke his neck. Died instantly, sad to say.”

“My bad luck.”

“His bad luck, I would say. But the court has already decided this. You are guilty of causing death while in the commission of another offense. Same as if you put a blade in the poor man’s back. However, the circumstances of your crime did, at least, save your life.”

“Put me in this cage, you mean,” Martoh said. He tried not to get agitated as any movement caused a bolt of pain to rush through his body.

“Martoh, you have never lived a life in harmony with His Majesty’s law, have you?” Anea let the question be answered by silence. “Although I suspect you never thought it would take you this far.”

“Obviously. It’s one thing to get locked in here for shooting a man or stabbing him. It’s entirely different when you’re here because of a mark’s poor foot skills.”

Anea didn’t take issue with him.

“If you are not here to pin something else on me, why are you here?”

Anea grinned, ever so slightly. “I am here to give you a way out.”

Martoh turned away from him. “I’m in no mood for games.”

“This is no game, I assure you. I am here on behalf of the Ministry of War, looking for recruits. You do know that there is a war on?”

“I’ve heard. I’ve also heard that the Neldathi might have a right to be angry.”

Anea cleared his throat in a way that suggested he would take issue with that position. “I am not here to discuss politics. I am here only in search of recruits.”

“Conscripts, you mean,” Martoh said, turning back to face him. “Typical. Use prisoners to put down an uprising caused by your own damned fool policies.”

Anea sat for a few moments. “Is everyone that cynical in your world, Martoh?”

“In the world I came from, one steals because that’s the only way he has to feed himself or his family. In the world I live in now, any other random person might try to kill me, just to prove he can. Pardon me if I seem a bit cynical when a stranger comes preaching salvation.”

Anea heaved a deep sigh. “Cynical or no, Martoh, you are not a stupid man. If His Majesty was going to conscript prisoners to go fight the Neldathi, why would I be here?”

Martoh had to concede that, but he wouldn’t admit it. “So what’s the deal?”

“Deal? There is no deal,” he said in a way that made it clear such horse trading was beneath him. “There is only an opportunity to serve your King and defend your homeland from barbarian invasion.”

“In return for what? Look, you’ve given the game away admitting that there will be no conscriptions. I get to say no thanks and stay right here. So why shouldn’t I?

“Freedom.” Anea let the word hang in the air while he got another paper from his case. “If you agree to fight, you will be free.”

Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon as well as in the real world at Empire Books & News.

Water Road Wednesday: Final Excerpt from The Water Road

For the third and final excerpt from The Water Road, we return to Antrey. In this scene, she’s escaped Tolenor and made her way into the mountains south of the Water Road itself. For the first time since she was a child, she encounters Neldathi in the flesh.

She jumped across the stream and made her way to the rocks, which clustered near the upstream corner. She sat down, slipped the bottle from her satchel, and took a long drink. What was once snow was now ice-cold water. She gulped it eagerly, knowing that the pool would provide a means to refill it.

Just as she took the last drink of water, Antrey heard a noise behind her, downstream, that sounded like a violent displacement of limbs and leaves. She turned and saw an elk dive out of the trees on the other side of the stream. Its great antlers were a tangled mess of underbrush ripped from the forest as it ran. Her eyes met those of the elk, which had stopped at the edge of the stream, gasping hard, its breath frosting in the chilled air. After a moment’s pause, it dropped its head and began to lap water from the stream.

Antrey closed her eyes for just a moment and heard the elk make a terrible screaming sound, like it was crying out in pain. It made her shudder and sent a bolt of pain shooting down her own spine. She opened her eyes and saw the elk, reared up on its hind legs, thrashing its head back and forth. There was an arrow in its neck, just above the shoulder. Antrey had not heard anything to indicate that anyone was around.

A salvo of three more arrows thwacked into the elk’s flank. It screamed again and tried to move away, upstream back to the trees, but it took only a few faltering steps before it collapsed in the snow. As it gasped for air, the white ground turned red with blood. The beast was trying desperately to live or calling out to die. Antrey wasn’t sure which.

Antrey was so transfixed by the elk’s plight that she forgot for a moment that the arrows meant that, after all this time, she was no longer alone. She did not hear the further rustling of the trees, but did see first one, then two, then half a dozen Neldathi emerge from the forest and approach the elk.

They were tall, with just the faintest tint of blue in their white skin. Were they naked, they would nearly blend in with the snowy ground. Each wore multiple layers of animal skins that obscured, but could not hide, that they were strong, powerful men. All had long black hair, which grew from a fringe of scalp at the back of their heads. It twisted in braids that ran halfway down their backs. About halfway down, the black color gave way to a pattern of red, black, and white strips. Three of them carried ornately carved bows, while two others had similar devices slung over their backs. They either had not noticed her or ignored her and approached the elk.

The other Neldathi, Antrey had thought initially, was unarmed. The tallest of the group, he strode towards the elk, reached inside the layers of his clothing, and pulled out a knife, bigger than anything Antrey had ever seen that was not called a sword. In a maneuver that showed years of practice and an abundance of skill, he knelt beside the elk, placed the great blade to its throat, and drew the knife across, ending the beast’s misery. All the while, he said something quickly under his breath.

Antrey had never seen anything like it in her life. When she was young she had never experienced a hunt or a kill, only the end result. The sight of such a brutally efficient killing shook her to the core. The bottle slipped from her hands and splashed into the pool underneath her. At the noise, the hunters turned and saw her.

The one that had killed the elk crouched motionless next to it, knife still in hand. The others moved away from the kill and sprang across the stream swiftly, switching their focus. They began to converge on her slowly, two from upstream in the direction of the elk, two others having circled around to come at her from the other direction. She lost sight of the fifth, but within moments she knew she was surrounded. Before it ever occurred to her to try and get away, five well-armed and curious Neldathi had blocked any means of escape.

She ignored the ones on her side of the stream and tried to make eye contact with the one by the elk. He appeared to be the leader of this hunting party or its senior member. Regardless, he was someone who commanded respect. Maybe by making contact directly with him she might open some line of communication, although she had no idea how to do that. At the very least, maybe he would put the knife away. The way he crouched there, casually displaying the bloody blade, made her think he meant to tell her that it might be her neck that was sliced open next.

As the others inched slowly closer to her, Antrey could feel their eyes on her, covering every inch of her with their eyes. One of them was close enough that Antrey thought he might have sniffed her, but she quickly dismissed that as a work of her imagination. That was something the barbarian Neldathi of the Altrerian culture would do, but made little sense upon rational examination. They would use every sense available to them, just as she would.

With each footstep that brought them closer, the snow crunched underfoot. Antrey’s heart raced the closer they came. It was calmed only somewhat when the one across the stream stood up, wiped the bloody blade of his knife on the elk’s carcass, and returned it to its sheath. When she heard a voice behind her, she nearly exploded.

As I said, that’s it for the excerpts from The Water Road. That’s because it finally comes out next Wednesday! After all these weeks of reading about it, isn’t it time you just read it for yourself? Head over to Amazon and pre-order your copy today (only 99 cents until the end of the month!).

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