Giveaway + Publishing Tips with Jamie Foley (Arbiter Blogtour)

Today I’m excited to be part of a blog tour to celebrate the release of Arbiter by Jamie Foley, the second book in the Sentinel Trilogy!

Book 1

I just read book 1, Sentinel, and fell absolutely in love with it! Unlike anything I’ve read before, Sentinel is a thrilling fantasy adventure in a fantasy world with modern aspects, fantasy mind-powers, and, oh yeah, an apocalypse — plus great humor, awesome characters, a hint of Christian allegory, and all rolled up in a gripping, good clean novel. 🙂 It ended at a surprising point and left me needing book 2!

Book 2

I’m so excited that Arbiter has released now, and can’t wait to dive into reading it soon. 😀

(Read my review for Sentinel — and the prequel novella, ViperHERE on my book blog!)

Jamie Foley is a great author and a lovely person; I got to meet her at a writing workshop where she was speaking on publishing and marketing and other cool authorial things. I absolutely loved all the cool info she had to offer, so I’m excited to share some of her thoughts about the publishing world and other fun things in an interview below. 🙂

Don’t forget to scroll down for links at the end, and enter the giveaway too! (Who wants to enter to win books and gift cards? You know you want to!)

Interview

1. Welcome, Jamie! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Howdy! I’m a workaholic marketing specialist/webmaster/graphic artist/indie publisher/author. Apparently that’s a thing…?

I live in central Texas with my Irish cowboy husband, hyperactive toddler, and snuggle-bunny Australian Shepherd. We’re rabid gamers and unashamed nerds.

2. Which book in the Sentinel trilogy surprised you the most while writing it?

Definitely Book 2: Arbiter. I didn’t expect the villain to come alive and be so… well… loveable over the course of the story. More than one beta reader said they learned to love him despite his nefarious deeds.

And Jet did some things I didn’t have in my outline. I tried to argue, but he’s so thick-headed.

(Oh my, I can just see that of Jet. XD)

3. What’s next in your writing/publishing plans after the final book (Sage) releases?

I’m working on two new series, both of which I hope to traditionally publish. One is called Emberhawk, which happens in the same world as The Sentinel Trilogy, but thousands of years in the past.

In Emberhawk, elementals vie for control of human tribes and empires, sparking wars that shape the nations of Sentinel. I’m planning for Emberhawk to be a series of three novels with a tad more romance than The Sentinel Trilogy, but just as much action and suspense.

The second series is still early in development, but… *looks over shoulder and whispers* It’s set on a totally new world with rune magic!

(Looking forward to both! :))

4. Zoo or museum, and why?

OK, I love zoos, but I definitely have to go with museums. My hubby and I are total nerds, always slurping up random worthless trivia and awesome historical tidbits. I love learning about the past — the more ancient, the better!

5. If you could choose one place to visit, real or fictional, where would you go?

Do I have to choose one?? Well… then it would probably be Narnia. Assuming that I couldn’t go back in time and ancient Earth. Or Rivendell. Or Kashyyyk… sorry.

(I’m totally up for Kashyyyk or any of those! ;))

6. Which aspects of indie publishing have been the most challenging and most rewarding?

It’s challenging to supply your own funds for crafting a professional work all by yourself, but if you know it’s what you want to do as a career and you save up, you’ll find that most all of the pros out there are happy to work with indie authors. Learning the ropes is tough at first, but boy, is it worth it!

One bonus of indie publishing is that you can be a little more… out there… than some publishers might approve of. Yes, you should definitely hire a professional editor or two, but at the end of the day, you get to make the call when your work is ready for the world to see.

Another reward is when the monetary investment returns and you don’t have to pay any middle-men. But if you can land a contract with one of the Big 5 publishers, signing that baby would definitely be worth it!

7. What is the difference between traditional and self-publishing, and what is a hybrid publisher?

There are a bunch of differences, but really it’s a matter of rights. As an independently published author, you’d maintain all of your rights and would take all of the profits from your book sales for yourself. But you’re a one-man show.

If you’re lucky enough to land a traditional publishing contract, you’d sell your rights to the publisher and make a much lower royalty percentage. But you’d have a team of experts behind you with a vested interest in making your book awesome and selling as many copies as possible.

A hybrid author has one foot in each camp. They have been traditionally published, but also self-publish some of their works.

8. What are the advantages of being a hybrid author versus just sticking with indie or traditional?

There are lots of advantages! Hybrid authors have the best of both worlds. They have the full force of a publisher’s resources gunning for their success–large traditional publishers help tremendously with marketing and may even hire a publicity firm for a project or two.

And when traditional authors self-publish on the side, they make a killing on the royalties because they’ve already got a large fan base, thanks to their publisher. Because of this, hybrid authors tend to make more money than both independent and traditional authors (on average).

9. Are there any well-known authors who have chosen to hybrid publish their work?

Oh, yeah! I’ve chatted with bestselling authors Ted Dekker and Beth Wiseman about their decisions to self-publish after many years of publishing traditionally with the ‘Big 5’ publishers.

The sad truth is that authors simply don’t make as much moolah as we used to. The market is changing, and a lot of big-time authors are barely hanging on. This is why you see well-known authors turning to self-publishing–even if they’re also continuing to publish traditionally–to make more money on the side.

10. What advice would you share with an aspiring author?

Decide if you want to write for pleasure or for business. It’s OK just to write for pleasure and not publish everything, just like it’s OK to be a hobby artist or musician!

But if you do want to be a career writer, realize that you’re starting a small business—and all small business require a monetary investment and a start-up period of a few years. Be willing to learn, save up, and sacrifice. Surround yourself with professionals—from top editors to bestselling authors to award-winning cover designers to marketing gurus—and I promise your hard work will pay off.

Great advice — thanks so much for joining us, Jamie!

Tour-wide Giveaway

Blogtour Schedule

The Books

This is getting a bit long, so check out the links to the books to read more about them! 🙂

Sentinel (Book 1)

Amazon (Kindle/Paperback)Signed PaperbackGoodreads

Arbiter (Book 2) — just released!

Amazon (Kindle/Paperback)Signed PaperbackGoodreads

Sage (Book 3)

Coming soon!

Viper (Book 0) — prequel novella

Amazon (Kindle/Paperback)Signed PaperbackGoodreads

What do you think, Roadlings? Do the books intrigue you? Is this an awesome giveaway? (Yes.) And did you find any of the publishing info interesting? Drop a comment to let me know what you think, and thanks for reading! 🙂

Of Writing and …Stags? #TheWritersTag

I saw this tag on Mirriam Neal’s blog and decided to steal it.

Ahem. Borrow.

*scours entire internet to find gif of Captain Jack Sparrow saying “Borrowed. Borrowed without permission” and discovers that one does not apparently exist and is now sad*

Except there was permission, because Mirri left it open for people to consider themselves tagged. So I am doing so.

What’s with the stag, then, you ask?

Well, for one thing, they’re awesome and we should always have stags. *nods seriously*

What do they have to do with this post? Ohhhh, that’s what you meant…

Well, as I remarked over on Mirri’s blog: I first read “TheWritersTag” as “TheWriterStag” and now have images of an antlered author somewhere in a green wood living incognito as the White Stag and granting wishes to writers who are seeking release from the curse of Writer’s Block.

The Writer Stag is now a thing. We should all go questing for it together.

Aaaanyhoo… I’m doing this tag thing, so enjoy.

#TheWritersTag

1. What genres, styles, and topics do you write about?

Genres: Let’s just call it Speculative Fiction; for the most part Fantasy. Mostly epic fantasy, contemporary fantasy, or fairytale retellings. I occaaasionally dabble in steampunk, sci-fi, etc. All bets are off on my short stories, which are all different and weird. 😄

Styles? I have no idea. But I hope they’re kind of funny? I try to adapt the styles for the “feel” of each book.

Topics… yeesh. I don’t put topics in on purpose, I just write the story that wants telling. If it wants to have specific topics, I won’t complain, but it probably wasn’t on purpose.

2. How long have you been writing?

It’s been 10 years since I decided to officially finish a book and be a writer (though I had been writing for a few years before that, even). Basically, it’s been awhile.

I started out with the first few pages of my (now) epic fantasy series (in a pink notebook); and a rather-obvious re-imagining of Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three (with magical chickens instead of a magical pig); and continuing from The Magician’s Nephew, the story of the first king and queen of Narnia (I got about a page of this done, which consisted almost entirely of a long list of what they were planting in their gardens. Yeah.).

Not actually sure which of those were first, second, or third, and I remember some other scribbles as well, but I barely remember a time when I wasn’t writing something.

3. Why do you write?

I’m going to commandeer Mirri’s answer to this one:

“Because I need to. Next question.”

(Because yes. Yes exactly.)

4. When is the best time to write?

Definitely the nighttime, when I’ve finished with the day and it’s dark and quiet and I have no distractions or things I need to do, and will not be interrupted.

Unfortunately, this makes for a very night-owl-ish writer.

I wish I wan’t a night owl because I know I should actually, you know, get up early and be on a good schedule, but night seems to be when my creativity awakes, so a night owl writer I be.

5. Parts of writing you love vs. parts you hate?

Um. It really depends. Sometimes I love the actual writing, other times I… don’t. But that’s usually a lack of writing, and hating having to start?

So, I’d say I love most the actual writing, when it’s flowing well. I also love the feeling of finishing a story. The best thing ever. ❤

I have occasional quarrels with editing, and dislike having to start, usually, because it’s hard, guys. Starting is the absolute worst part. Don’t try to tell me otherwise.

6. How do you overcome writers block?

I will… get back to you on that.

7. Are you working on something at the moment?

Sort of? It depends how recent/active qualifies as “at the moment.” 😄

I also occasionally work on The Secret of Kedran’s Wood (because Tare and the Chess Club are always doing something in my head), and The Other Half of Everything (because my absentminded author character Teague loves to banter with his opinionated housekeeper Meridian).

I have a couple of short stories I’ve been writing and/or hoping to write this month for Camp NaNo, although there’s only a week left, so I suspect I won’t get anything else done.

But since I already wrote 11K this month and my goal was 5K, that’s probably all right…

8. Writing goals this year?

These are vague, nebulous and ever-changing, but at the moment:

  • Write a couple of short stories (I have a list…)
  • Finish the first chapter of The Other Half of Everything (I WILL do this someday, I WILL)
  • Write Part 2 of The Secret of Kedran’s Wood a.k.a. all of it that I have plotted at the moment (lofty goals, y’all. o.o)
  • Mayyybe finish The Library in the Stars (Camp NaNo round 2, do I hear you calling meeeee?)
  • Write something for NaNoWriMo. Current candidates to choose from: The Quest of Kedran’s Wood, Once Upon a November, or The Siren and the Skyship, or some rebel mix of several WIPs. No idea which of the four (or something else) it might be. But that’s very far out, so don’t quote me on this.

Likelihood of these things all happening this year?

I’ve been very timidly creeping back into the world of writing after a long year+ of burn-out.

So I have no delusions about getting all these goals done this year.

Oh wait. I do.

How foolish of me. >.>

So there you have #TheWritersTag or #TheWriterStag or whatever.

Feel free to consider yourself tagged if you want to do it!

What do you think? Was this a post about writing? Or about stags?

Or just an excuse to throw lots of Captain Jack Sparrow and Han Solo gifs at you?

…Probably.

If you need me, I’ll be on a quest in search of the Writer Stag to help me with my lofty writerly goals.

Gifs via Giphy.com, Stag images via Pixabay.com

Short Story, Boxes, Camp NaNo, & Inanimate Objects

Hi everyone!

Two things.

First:

I have a short story on a blog!

Hazel B. West (author of the amazing Blood Ties and An Earthly King) runs a cool website called Tales From a Modern Bard, and has writing challenges there from time to time.

The latest was “Inanimate Objects” and I couldn’t resist taking this excuse to write a story I’d been planning to write for ages.

So I wrote it for the challenge and Oh. Was. It. FUN. (Spoiler: Yes it was.)

And now you can read it!

My story is called A Tale of Two Boxes, about the adventures of… yes… two boxes. If you’ve ever wondered what the life of a cardboard box is like, and what they’re thinking, and how they get from one place to another, then this is the story for you. (If you’ve never wondered… well, few of us have, and now you’re wondering — I hope — so there you are.)

It also features some books arguing about how each of their genres is better than the others’. Yes. This did happen. 😄

I’d be ever so honored if you’d pop over to Tales from a Modern Bard and read my story, and maybe tell me what you think of it! Thank you! ^_^

It was actually incredibly fun to write a story from the perspective of a cardboard box. You would think a story about a box would be boring, but… it was actually fascinating! (To me, at least. XD) I had so much fun and totally fell in love with my cardboard box characters. ❤

(Be sure to read the other challenge stories from the other authors at Tales from a Modern Bard about other inanimate objects, if you have some extra time, because they’re all quite interesting — some tragic, some funny, but all unique. :D)

The second thing has to do with the first thing.

Second:

I’m doing Camp NaNo!

Yes indeed. A couple of writer buddies dragged me into this. 😄

Although I participate in November NaNoWriMo/National Novel Writing Month each year, I haven’t done a Camp NaNo session in positively ages. I kind of stopped doing word challenges for awhile there due to burn out.

But it’s been some time, and I wanted to try it out again. Plus you can set any sort of goal for Camp. So, hoping to get some small things like short stories done, I decided to go for it!

I… um… technically hit my goal and won Camp already? *coughcough* I set it for 5K, given how little I’ve been writing of late. But I’d like to keep writing as much as my busy schedule allows. 🙂

So far for Camp I’ve written 5,813 words this month (that was A Tale of Two Boxes, so far) and I’m having a blast! It’s a wonderful feeling to write again, folks. I’ve missed it.

So there you have my writing updates of late — I wrote a short story for you to read, and I’m doing Camp NaNo.

I know — gasp! — I’m actually talking about writing on my writing blog. The strangeness!

Speak to me, my Roadlings!

Are you doing Camp? (How’s it going?) Did you read my box story and what did you think?? And what’s going on in your writing or reading worlds? 🙂

Tare Turns 5 Years Old

(Kedran’s Wood collage I made. Some images belong to me, others were found on Pinterest, here.)

Some of you are probably squinting at the title of this post, going: “…Wait, what??”

(Especially since, as those three or so people reading this who have beta-read some of the books would know, Tare’s actual age is so confusing in the story itself that he doesn’t need any more confusingness added on.)

(For anyone who is further confused due to not knowing: Tare is the name of my favorite character I’ve ever written [sorry, all you other characters] and he inhabits the contemporary fantasy series I’m writing.)

Let me set you straight.

No, it’s not actually Tare’s birthday (which is in January).

No, this post is not actually about an adorable Tare when he was a small boy (apologies).

But a week ago, on April 5, 2017, it was in fact the 5-year anniversary of the day I first started writing the book in which I first met Tare, the first book in the Kedran’s Wood series, The Owl of Kedran’s Wood!

Yes indeed, it’s KW1’s book birthday!

Here, have a cupcake to celebrate:

Today’s post is a conglomeration of random things about the series, including the first book, and basically just A CELEBRATION OF ALL THINGS KEDRAN’S-WOOD-ISH!

How it Began

It began with the forging of the great rings…

…Whoops, wrong story. How about this?

In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.

Wait, wrong one again. How about this one:

In an abandoned apartment down a dark alley there lived a Tare?

Closer.

Ahem.

Anyways, it actually began in early 2012 when I “randomly” started writing what I thought would be a fun standalone novella or short novel called The Owl of Kedran’s Wood. I wanted to try a little modern fantasy story and just… started writing. I knew a few things about the story, but for the most part, I was as in the dark as my main characters, the Chess Club. It was a first for me in many ways. I hadn’t done a lot of “pantsing” stories before, and it was also my first modern story.

I never thought I would write a modern story. Contemporary books were never my thing, and I think it’s because I don’t enjoy the kinds of things that modern books can rarely seem to resist including, like school and its petty backstabbing and bullying and drama (ugh), annoying teen characters who don’t get along and have family life problems, and love-triangles… etc., and just general ick. Many modern books just seemed petty to me and I always enjoyed fantasy worlds instead.

So the idea that I would write a fantasy book in *gasp* modern times? Unheard of!

But it happened.

I started writing a modern fantasy book, and ended up writing it (unintentionally) in direct opposition to all the problems I’d had with other modern fiction. I made it a book that I wouldn’t mind reading myself. On the way, I completely fell in love with this cast of characters — the Chess Club became more than friends, they became MY friends, and Tare became my favorite character I’ve written (so far). It also turned out to be 100K words. So much for “short.” 😄

From being a one-time random story I thought I would finish and move on from, it wrapped itself around my heart and turned into a series which, five years later, I’m still working on writing, and foresee being happily involved in scribbling for many more years to come. ^_^

It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about this particular book in the series (since it’s been awhile since I finished it) so, in celebration of its birthday, let me direct you to a handy new summary I wrote for it recently.

The Owl of Kedran’s Wood (Kedran’s Wood, Book 1)
by Deborah O’Carroll

Welcome to the town by Kedran’s Wood

  • Where teenaged best friends (but not, y’know, the angsty kind) don’t need to backstab each other (though they might the recent outbreak of monsters).
  • Where it’s not about life in highschool (because who wants to spend more time there than necessary?) but about life outside it.
  • And where the local chess club (see best friends) does more than just play chess . . .

Meet shy Lavender, rambunctious Baz, fiery Ivy, confident Adrian, and wry Mr. Larch. Oh, and Small Occasion (who is tiny, white, and fluffy, and barks like a tree).

This book is about how they play (badly) at being over-reacting amateur detectives more often than at chess; fight monsters (with some—okay, lots of—help from the resident leather-clad stranger); and still find time for friendships old and new, and small occasions like summer lemonade and puns (yes, that last one is always Baz’s fault).

But mostly it’s about the mysterious young man called Tare (see resident leather-clad stranger), how the Chess Club meets him (though whether that’s a terrific or terrible thing is part of the question—Baz would say both, if only for the puns), and how just at the edge of an ordinary small modern town, lies Kedran’s Wood . . .

And that’s where the pieces are beginning to move for a game that’s far from a friendly match of chess.

Books in the Kedran’s Wood Series

and a little bit about them

Novels

  • 1 The Owl of Kedran’s Wood — the summer when Tare and the Chess Club meet, featuring cake-baking disasters and the (almost) end of the world (#awkward). Status: draft written.
  • 2 The Secret of Kedran’s Wood — wintry novel, current work in progress, featuring mysterious villains and (possibly) an evil faerie. Status: 1/3 done? Hopefully more?
  • 3 The Shadow of Kedran’s Wood — featuring summer vacation, more about Tare, and of course secret agents. Status: snippets.

Novellas (to write)

  • 1.5 Son of Kedran’s Wood — in which Tare does stuff between 1 &2, + prequel about his past (yay!)
  • 2.5 Mixup at Kedran’s Wood — in which Tare and Adrian accidentally switch minds/bodies (because that won’t be confusing at all…)
  • 3.5 Celebrations at Kedran’s Wood — in which there is a birthday party and a wedding (no, I’m not telling you whose)

Bonus Novel (to write)

  • The Quest of Kedran’s Wood — in which Marie undertakes something NaNo-ish and writes an epic fantasy book starring the chess club and Tare in medieval roles. And reads it aloud to them. (What could possibly go wrong?)

Number of KW words written so far

According to one calculation:

190,780 words

  • (105K book 1 current finished draft)
  • (65K book 2 current + 10K snippets out of order later in book 2)
  • (10K snippets total from book 3, 1.5, 2.5, and bonus)

That averages out to approximately 104 words of Kedran’s Wood writing per day for 5 years. 😄 (Not counting previous versions or plotting, of course.)

#WIPjoy

In celebration of my Kedran’s Wood series turning 5 years old, and in an effort to get myself immersed again in the writing of KW2, I’m doing #WIPjoy on Twitter all this month, featuring The Secret of Kedran’s Wood!

For those who don’t know #WIPjoy is to celebrate and answer questions about your work-in-progress (WIP), with a different question for every day of the month.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, check it out! …For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter, where have you been?? (Just kidding. 😉 I will excuse you if you don’t have Twitter. 😄 Ahem.)

It’s been a blast so far!

Tare is an INTJ (surprise)

Yes, I took the MBTI test as Tare (or rather, as Tare IS, not how he would answer, because I’m 99% sure he wouldn’t want a random test knowing things about him so he’d likely be less than truthful in that case) and he came out as INTJ, which is the category most villains and awesome dark people like Mr. Darcy and Batman and Sherlock tend to fit into. Yes, I was monstrously pleased at this. 😄 It’s creepy how well he fits it, too…

(He’s not shy but he’s definitely not a people person. I love that he’s 80% introverted. XD)

Tare is the only character I’ve taken the test for, since he’s the only one I know well enough.

Some posts about the series

This seemed like a fun time to highlight some favorite posts in the past about the Kedran’s Wood series or (usually) Tare.

And there you have it!

This concludes my reminiscing about this unlikely but beloved series of mine. (Now to just finish writing it and get it published, amIright?? Ahem. That may be far down the road, but it’s an eventual goal. ;))

What most intrigues you about this series, or what was your favorite part of this post? Thank you so much for putting up with me flailing about this stuff (and reading this post), and celebrating with me the 5-year birthday of this series! ^_^

Wintertale: A Short Story

wintertalecover

Note:

I’m posting this short story (written January-February 2017 — one of those comfortable plotbunnies mentioned in my December Ishness) in honor of Jenelle Schmidt’s February is Fantasy Month short story challenge, which is to write and post a short story of 3,000 words or less, which is fantasy and contains the word snow.

This half-written (at the time) story seemed to fit. (It’s slightly over 3K words, but close enough. ;))

I hope you enjoy. 🙂

february-fantasy-month-banner-1024x263

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Caroline Knightley for Kendric’s accidental name, Jenelle Schmidt for the finish-inducing challenge, Christine Smith and my sister for timely encouragement and much-needed support, and the epic sounds of Celtic Christmas music (including this one) which helped inspire this story. And to you, reader, for stepping for a moment into this little tale.

wintertalecover

Wintertale

by Deborah O’Carroll

Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago

In the Bleak Midwinter (Traditional Carol)

~ ~ ~

Dusk fell, and with it his restraint. He had to go—no matter the cost.

Kendric left the lonely woods and strode out across the moor. His long black hair was tied back at the nape of his neck, and a threadbare coat of midnight blue hung from his shoulders—little comfort against the unforgiving chill of this crisp winter night, but he could bear it—for love.

White clouds of mist swirled up from the cold hollows he wandered through as he crossed the moor, the heather touched with frost. His way was lit only by the sky’s silver-grey waning light, and here and there the touch of a will o’ the wisp or other fae lights in the growing shadows. The faerie lights glimmered through the winter-bare trees and shone through the white mist on the moor, as though the stars themselves had come down upon the earth.

More lights appeared ahead—the evening star hung directly above the old mansion on the moor, its dark bulk black against the darkening sky. Golden light filled the windows, brighter in the darkness, like the sun looking out of the windows of Night.

He drew nearer and stopped just outside, watching through the nearest window. Figures moved within, dancing, and strains of music came softly to his ears—the low half-melancholy purr of a violin, a harp like a tinkling brook, the distant strains of the pipes.

Kendric stood alone outside in the darkness as the snow began to fall, watching the scene inside the place he had long known.

A place from which he was forever barred.

“With the face I call my own, at least,” he murmured.

From within his threadbare coat, he took out a black mask like a raven’s face and pulled it over the top half of his face. He slipped inside the mansion through a side door.

Music enveloped him, along with a crowd of dancers in masks, through whom he pushed his way unobtrusively, brushing past the Steward of the house and other faces he knew behind their masks. The midwinter ball was well underway. Ladies’ full gowns twirled around the floor, and men’s dark coat-tails flew as they danced and spun their ladies about in the light of a thousand candles.

One lady was more radiant than them all, at least to Kendric’s eye. She wore a dress like snow, lacy, glistening, pristinely white. Fair hair piled in abundance atop her head, like a mound of sunshine, tendrils escaping to frame the white mask like a swan which graced her gently smiling face.

With one purpose, he approached her, and in the heartbeat between two melodies he whisked her away from her last partner who stepped away, and they were off into the next dance.

Laughing, she tilted her head to look up into his masked face. For a moment, she did not know him; the next, recognition brought a gasp which stole her laughter away. She mouthed his name, but no sound came to her lips as she stared into his smiling eyes.

Kendric gave a quiet nod. “Vanessa,” he murmured in acknowledgment as they continued to dance.

She tensed in his arms, worry creasing her brow, and threw a look over her shoulder—but no one seemed to pay them particular heed.

“How have you come here? Did no one see you arrive?” she whispered.

Kendric shook his head. “No one; unless the stars above or the stones of this house would tell of it.”

Vanessa relaxed. A smile bloomed on her face, radiant as the light through the windows or the sun-like hue of her hair. “Then we will be happy, and not speak for now,” she said. “Nothing in the worlds exists besides us two.”

Kendric smiled too. “As you say, love,” he said softly.

They danced. The music wove a path for their feet, and their hearts carried them together in complete harmony. In that moment, all was perfect.

But like the last glimmer of the sun before nightfall—like the evening star gleaming reflected in a still pool before a stone drops and destroys the reflection in a splashing ripple—it could not last.

The Steward of the house, one of the few who wore no mask, his face solemn, slim, and craggy as a stone, pushed his way silently through the dancing crowd. He had returned with his master—the young man with a black coat, fair hair, and a hawk mask, who was called the lord of that place. Lost in their bliss of dancing, Vanessa and Kendric did not notice them at first.

The Steward stood aside, and the lord of the mansion pounced like a hawk on the dancing lovers. Thrusting himself between them, so that they were forced to stop in sudden startlement, he tore the raven mask away from Kendric’s face.

The music ceased. The crowd stopped dancing—some of the couples moved away, creating a bare space around the two young men standing eye to eye, with the white-gowned lady at their side.

“Skandar,” she began, addressing the lord with hair as fair as hers; but he did not turn away from the black haired young man in the threadbare midnight-blue coat.

“Step away from my sister,” Skandar said—although they had already stepped apart.

Neither moved further. Skandar’s furious gaze through his hawk mask never wavered from Kendric, who did not back down and eyed him levelly, calm.

“You would show your face here?” Skandar demanded.

“I did not intend to, and in fact did not—until you knocked my mask off. You have only yourself to blame for showing my face,” Kendric said mildly.

Skandar clawed his own mask off and flung it to the floor. The quiet sound rang through the hall like a thunderclap in the still silence. Every eye present remained fixed on the two young men facing each other . . . they who once had been as brothers.

Skandar’s voice was dangerously even. “You were banished—a mercy too good for you, but I gave it. Did I not swear that if you set foot here again I would see you punished with death? You have come. And now you will pay for it.”

“Skandar, please,” Vanessa pleaded, taking her brother’s arm.

He spun to face her. “Kendric killed him—in this very mansion!”

“I know you’re upset—” she began.

“If anyone should be upset about the murder of the lord of this mansion, I should. It is my father we’re talking of,” Kendric said gravely.

Skandar’s voice tore from his throat like a wounded animal’s howl as he shouted in Kendric’s face: “He was like my father too!”

Vanessa turned desperate eyes to Kendric. Her voice cracked in an almost-whisper. “Why did you come?”

Kendric glanced at her. His look said it all: that he could not stay away. Instead of answering aloud, he passed her an expression which said plainer than words, “I love you.” Then he was gone—slipped outside past the standing figures before any could catch him.

“After him!” Skandar cried.

Several men in the room surged outside in his wake. Skandar urged them all to horse, and with their grim lord at their head, they galloped in pursuit of Kendric, who rode away across the moor on a black horse with the white evening star on its forehead.

Kendric looked back, once, before he was lost in the snowy midwinter darkness—looked back at the woman in white who stood alone on the steps outside. Their gazes met across the distance. Snowflakes fell around her like the melancholy chords of a harp now silenced as she watched her love ride away in the night.

Vanessa would have done something to help him—anything—if she could.

But it was night, and that was her brother’s hour.

It would be long before the dawn.

~ ~ ~

Kendric galloped hard through the night, the men on horses galloping relentlessly after him.

The chase left the whitening moor under a blanket of hoof-print disturbed snow as Kendric rode into the forest, snowflakes falling about him in the blackness, driving into his eyes with a bitter wind. His hair whipped back behind him, and his horse’s mane and tail streamed in the wind to meld with the embracing shadows as he galloped through the woods.

The bare trees welcomed him into their stronghold, and the shadows of their branches intertwined, lining the ground in interlacing patterns beneath the speed of his passing.

The hoof beats pounded unrelenting behind.

Kendric bent lower to his horse’s neck and rode for all his worth.

Faerie lights lit his way, and moved off in false trails in attempts to misdirect the pursuit. Shadowy and fae beings flitted in the shadows half-unseen, giving him what aid they could, which was little—they could not well come between these two lords. The trees made a way for him and the land beneath guided him onward, while slowing his pursuers and tangling their way with branches—for the land loved Kendric.

But Skandar rode after, disregarding the distractions and obstacles, almost unchecked; for he was Night, driven by a rage born of a broken love like a wounded animal, and nothing would stand in his way.

So they galloped through the night: quarry and hunters, matched; Kendric always a little ahead, but unable to escape completely.

When his horse could carry him no further, he released it and it melted into the shadows, save for the fading evening star which guided Kendric through the wood.

He ran on alone now, through the trees with shouts behind him. At times a stone would trip him, but still he ran. He passed a river which flowed in the winter night over a waterfall, its rushing sound like the wild call of the pipes as the wind sighed through the trees like a violin, the snow falling like the harp chords which had carried Kendric and Vanessa through their joined dance . . .

He could not run much longer. The night had been long and the sky began to silver with the hint of dawn. The snow ceased falling. In a last effort, Kendric scrambled up a rocky hillside through the thinning trees. The treacherous stones threatened to dislodge him with their slippery ice, but he made it to the top, his breath ragged wisps of white on the air.

Skandar and his men had dismounted and climbed behind him, gaining.

Stumbling forward, Kendric emerged from the last of the bare trees and onto a flat hilltop clothed in an untouched blanket of white snow in a circle of standing stones with a natural rock formation behind them. Kendric ran into the ring of standing stones which stood nearly black in silhouette against the sky just before dawn.

“Kendric!” Skandar shouted. He was mere steps behind, crossing into the ring himself, sword in one hand—with the other, he seized the flapping end of Kendric’s coat and wrenched at him.

Kendric swung around and pulled free of his grasp. Skandar swung his sword and Kendric took a couple of quick steps backward to escape it, but a stone hidden in the snow betrayed him, catching his heel.

Kendric fell backward and lay full-stretch on his back, his black hair, outstretched arms, and blue coat spread out to either side atop the blanket of white. The blade had merely nicked his arm, but he lay there without attempting to get up, looking up at Skandar, who stood over him with the sword pointed at him. They remained motionless like that for several heartbeats.

Kendric stared calmly, unblinking, unresisting, at the face of the fair-haired young man who had once been like his brother, who now held a sword ready to end his life. In Skandar’s eyes was only betrayal and anguish. A single drop of blood fell from the tip of the sword blade and blossomed scarlet on the glistening snow.

“Why?” came Skandar’s voice in a hoarse whisper with a wisp of frosty breath. “Why did you do it?”

“I’ve done nothing wrong of which you accuse me,” Kendric said quietly.

Excruciating conflicting doubt twisted across Skandar’s features. “Then who did?” he challenged.

Kendric glanced past Skandar’s form looming above him, to the other men from the mansion who stood fanned out motionless behind their lord just within the ring of standing stones. “Only the stones of the mansion could tell you that.”

“You can prove nothing of your own innocence?” Skandar demanded.

Kendric blinked passively. “Of course not. You have only my word.”

Skandar drew a hissing breath of indecision.

“That used to be enough,” said a new voice.

In their focus on one another, neither Kendric nor Skandar had noticed the new hoof beats.

Just as the sun rose in a flash of golden dawn light bursting from behind the rock formation, Vanessa rode around it into view on a horse as white as the snow all around them; as white as her gown. She swung to the ground—in a swish of her long dress with the lace like a bushel of snowflakes poured down the front—and landed lightly on the snow, the brilliant sunrise behind her sun-gold hair. In a moment she was beside Kendric.

Kendric got to his feet and stood by the lady, who slipped her arm through his as they faced Skandar together.

“He has done nothing,” Vanessa said. “And in your heart you know it, brother. I know you loved his father as your own, but you seek revenge and justice blindly, in the wrong place. Kendric loved his father beyond anything, except perhaps you and I. He would never murder his own father, as much as it may appear that he did. Can’t you trust him, as you used to? No one knows what really happened, but I know—and you should know—that Kendric had nothing to do with it.”

“No one knows what happened . . .” Skandar repeated, half under his breath. “. . . Only the stones of the mansion.” Abruptly, he spun on his heel, the flashing arc of his sword glinting in the sunrise as he still gripped the handle and strode toward the edge of the circle to return to the mansion. His voice turned to harsh determination. “Then we’ll ask them.”

Kendric and Vanessa shared a brief look before stepping quickly after him.

But as Skandar moved to pass between two of the standing stones, he ran up against an invisible force which flung him backward into the snow, sword flying from his grasp as snow exploded into the air around him. The ring of stones shook violently.

The blast made to knock the other men over too, and they all staggered. Kendric stepped before Vanessa to shield her from whatever was happening, keeping her from the brunt of the blast.

Everyone slowly regained their steady footing as the shudder of the stone circle stilled, and they looked at one another.

“The stones are keeping us here, my lord,” one of the men said to Skandar.

“Why would—?” Vanessa began.

Skandar regained his feet in an angry jerk and retrieved his sword, looking around as if for something to wield it on.

But Kendric had already spied the one man who stood outside the ring of stones, watching them distantly from his emotionless stone-like narrow face. Kendric lightly touched Skandar’s arm and wordlessly jerked his chin toward the Steward.

Skandar’s eyes fixed on him and he went suddenly cold and ominous. “What is this?” he demanded.

“The stones of the mansion will tell you nothing,” the Steward said coolly. “They serve only me. As do these.” He nodded almost imperceptibly at the ring of standing stones. “Just as the rest of the land will serve me when all of you are gone.”

Fury crossed Skandar’s face and he pounded his fist against the invisible force which held them within the ring. The stones shuddered again. “This was you, was it? Just let me get my hands on you—!”

“You will not leave this circle,” the Steward said.

“We’ll see about that,” Vanessa said softly.

But the standing stones writhed and began slowly moving inward, in jerks, as if reluctant. The men of the mansion uneasily backed toward the center of the constricting circle of stones, which would crush them if they continued.

Skandar fixed his gaze on the Steward a moment longer, then sheathed his sword, drew a calming breath, and stepped back. “It seems I was wrong about you, brother.” He placed a hand on Kendric’s shoulder and bowed his head. “I . . .” He looked back up and could not continue.

He had no need to.

Kendric’s face remained serious under the life-threatening situation of their traitor Steward, but Kendric’s eyes smiled forgiveness at Skandar—a forgiveness which had been there for a long time.

A look between brother and sister and all was right with them.

Then the three faced the Steward who stood without the circle as the stones continued shifting nearer the doomed group within.

Kendric spoke. “We call the stones to witness.” He glanced at the stones—still grinding forward inch by inch—and went on. “If he has unlawfully slain the former lord of this land and some of your number were witness to it, then show it now by disclaiming his power over you.” Kendric drew himself up, Skandar on his left—a hand on Kendric’s shoulder—and Vanessa on his right with her arm through his, and he went on, voice ringing clear in the frozen dawn air.

“The rightful lords of this land and its lady call upon the timeless stones to free themselves from their enslavement to this unfaithful one who has forfeit his authority over them by his base treachery.”

A deep shudder ran through the standing stones, which shook the ground at their base.

Then they stilled.

A calm fell across the circle. Everyone there could sense the absence of the invisible force holding them inside the ring. The cluster of men breathed again.

The three standing alone remained unmoving and looked across at the Steward. His craggy rock-like face twitched very slightly, but that was all, and his stony eyes stared back at them.

“As for you . . .” Skandar growled.

Kendric cut him off, calm but authoritative, fixing the Steward with an unwavering look. “Begone. Return to your mountain fortress or wherever you dwell, and do not come to this land again.”

The Steward seemed to bend against his will, crumbled stone-like for a moment, and an instant later was gone, leaving a bare patch of ground in the snow where he had been.

As one, Skandar, Kendric, and Vanessa all collapsed to their knees and the next moment had clasped each other in a three-way hug as they knelt in the snow together.

“I think you missed me, then,” Kendric managed to gasp out, half laughing, as soon as he could breathe through the tight clasp the other two held him in, which he returned.

“Missed you!” Skandar scoffed. “Why would such a scoundrel be missed—you interrupted my midwinter ball!”

“And you, brother mine,” Vanessa said, shooting Skandar a laughing look, “interrupted our dance.”

“And you interrupted my death,” Kendric remarked to Vanessa.

She smiled. “Always.” He smiled back.

Skandar sobered a moment, then recovered. “Well, that’s one we don’t need to continue. But for the other two—well.” He surged to his feet, the other two rising with him, and they turned to join the group of men who had been stamping cold booted feet in the snow and moving arms to warm them, murmuring about heading home but cautious of disturbing the lords and lady.

“Yes . . . for the other two?” Kendric prompted, still smiling, his arm around Vanessa.

“We’ll go amend their interruptions by returning to the mansion and finishing them properly, shall we?” Skandar said, a mischievous half-smile quirking his lips. “After all, there’s no interrupted ball or dance which can’t be even better when taken up again.”

Vanessa smiled too. “With all my heart.”

Kendric, Vanessa, and Skandar followed the others to the horses, Kendric in the middle with their arms about him and his about them, the three claiming each other as their own once more—dark head between two fair ones.

Together they left the ring of standing stones to the glistening snow under the brilliant light of a golden dawn.