It’s been awhile since my last blog post and I hope everyone’s doing well. I can’t believe it’s already July. Where has 2016 gone?
But now I have returned with an announcement!
First off, for those (handful) of you who are waiting for the sequel to Irons in the Fire, I’m afraid that Book 2 has proved more challenging than expected, but I’m hard at work and The Fall of the House of Talis promises to have all the political intrigue, magical creatures, and simmering tension of Irons in the Fire only even more so.
In the meantime, I’ll be releasing a prequel novella—Into the Heart of Talis—on Friday July 8th.
Into the Heart of Talis leads directly into the events of Irons in the Fire, and follows the Countess as she makes her secret, perilous way into Talis, pursued by a relentless witch hunter. It fills in a few gaps and hints at some unseen motivations that will play into Book 2 and beyond.
Here is the Blurb and a Brief Excerpt:
Two hundred years have passed since the Witches were driven from Talis. Two hundred years of bitterness and exile, but at last their time has come.
Leonora has been training for this moment all her life, desperate to prove herself worthy. Magic and vengeance flow through her veins, but when her cabin is ransacked and she finds signs of sorcery, Leonora quickly realizes that someone onboard is not what they seem.
There’s the old riverboat captain who watches her, full of unasked questions, the gnome whose bitterness matches her own, and the unrepentant conman who follows her everywhere with greed in his eyes.
One of them knows her secret. One of them is hunting her.
But when you hunt a witch, it is far more likely that she is hunting you.
Into the Heart of Talis is a 20,000-word novella that takes place directly before Irons in the Fire.
I. The Captain
Captain Devos found the Woman alone on the foredeck, bathed in twilight. He was struck, not for the first time, by her beauty, but it was an unpronounceable beauty, otherworldly, almost inhuman. She seemed to shine with an inward light all her own, though her features remained obscured by distance and shrouded in the oncoming night. Devos found that even his memory of her was curiously vague, like a mirage, but her loveliness was certain, beyond all doubt. Beneath her beauty, however, he thought he could sense a terrible yet muffled yearning, deep and unspoken. He could not say where that feeling came from, or what lay behind it, but it was as real as the wind on his face.
As he stood there watching her, it was her presence on deck that astounded him most of all. She had remained in her cabin for the most part throughout the journey, reclusive and silent. In her absence, she had become more a rumor than a person, haunting the minds of the other passengers and crew. Certainly she had been on Devos’s mind a great deal. She was a mystery, and he was not fond of mysteries, especially not these days. Mysteries were dangerous.
“Captain,” she greeted without turning, her voice soft but insistent. He could feel it tickling in the back of his mind, whispering unheard secrets and warnings. Devos cleared his throat. There was no turning back now.
“Miss,” he said.
Devos touched his cap and clambered up to join her on the foredeck. Closer, her features coalesced into something solid and unmistakably human, although he found traces of the wilds about her, overgrown and full of thorns.
There was a melancholy in the air that was not his own, carried on the cool breeze, vibrating through the deck beneath his feet. Devos could feel it pressing against him, invading his own thoughts, coloring his mood. Perhaps she had a touch of faërie in her blood, after all. Changelings and half-breeds were still common near the border.
They stood side by side in silence, watching the water ripple past. Neither of them felt compelled to speak. The captain kept his eyes ahead, trying not to stare at her or to pry. She would speak when she was ready. He doubted that she had emerged from her seclusion simply to sample the night air. She had a purpose. It was written all over her face, although he could not even begin to guess at its nature. That was frustrating. The other passengers were of a more familiar sort. Most of them were from the border or the wild Faërie Lands beyond. Devos understood them and their ilk, even the faëries, but the Woman refused to be understood.
A faint whistling intruded on the night air and he turned. Mr. Hamel was making his nightly promenade around the deck. Devos scowled behind his hand. Hamel was unmistakably human, which was more than could be said for many of the other passengers, but he was a trader of dubious morals and questionable character. He had brought several crates of cargo with him and had secreted them in the hold. They were likely stolen, and no doubt highly illegal, but Devos preferred not to speculate. He had been well compensated for his troubles, and kept his judgments to himself. It wouldn’t be the first time he had smuggled some mysterious cargo into Talis.
Devos was not the only one who turned at Hamel’s approach. The Woman had finally taken her eyes from the horizon, and she was watching Hamel with a curious expression. Devos could not say if it was attraction or suspicion, or both, but something passed between them in that moment. Hamel noticed her attention and gave her a roguish smile and a wave. She replied to neither but that didn’t seem to bother him.
“Some friendly advice,” Devos said. “But I wouldn’t trust that man if I were you.”
The Woman tilted her head and studied him for a moment. “Why not?”
Devos frowned, choosing his words with care. “His only loyalty is to his purse, and he has suspiciously close ties with both humans and faëries, and even the goblins.”
“I see,” the Woman said. “Interesting.” There was a wealth of thought behind her words, impenetrable and deep, but they said no more nothing more about him. As the sun sank behind them at last, she returned her gaze to the mountains and the river.
The Woman had come aboard at the foothills dressed in rags and tatters, but with an inborn grace that hinted at a coiled power within. She had paid for passage on The Wanderer in pure gold and he had found himself unable to refuse. Devos had regretted it then and he regretted it now. Money was money, but it was difficult to trust a woman with no name.
Such secrecy was not suspicious in and of itself. She was clearly from the borderlands where faërie enchantments were strong and wild, and names had jagged edges that could break or bind you. Keeping her name hidden was simple common sense, but there was more to her than mere caution. Devos was certain of it, just as he was certain that a great deal might depend on what lay behind her mask. He shivered. It was a sudden, chilling thought, but perhaps it had only been the wind.
There were a number of lights visible on either side of the river, like strings of diamonds, luminous and strange. They moved along the banks and in the woods, and a ghostly music followed after them.
“Faërie bands,” Devos told the Woman softly, hesitant to interrupt their songs. “Roaming the dukedom like our friends in the hold.” The Lints were a family of bird-like creatures who had booked their passage a few nights ago—refugees running from some terrible calamity that they could not, or would not, name.
The Woman nodded to show that she was listening, but kept her gaze firmly on the distant lights and one ear on the music. Her face was unreadable.
“There have been more and more of them recently,” Devos continued. “Wild faëries descending down from the mountains in waves. It’s making everyone nervous. The dukes are hard pressed and the Emperor is trying to keep his hands clean, but that can’t last for long.”
Devos glanced at the Woman. She was absorbing his words with a sudden, sharp attention, as if now, at last, he was saying something worth hearing. Her eyes, however, remained fixed on the lights and the shore.
“The trouble is that there’s no more room. The Protected Crescent is overflowing. We are the last bastion, a tiny sliver of humanity on the edge of the world. Beyond the Twelve Cities there is only the ocean.” He sighed, the words and worries coming from him suddenly. “The Crescent is caught in a vise. Behind us are oceans and islands filled with monsters and creatures and before us lies the vast uncharted wilderness filled with faërie lands beyond number and counting.”
She was watching him now, studying him intently, sifting through his words, as though searching for something. There was intent and purpose behind her eyes. Devos sensed that she had learned more from him than he knew himself. It was an uncomfortable feeling. He suddenly felt small beneath her gaze.
“What of Talis?” she asked, at last.
Devos chuckled sadly. “Have you ever been there?”
“No,” she said wistfully. “But I have dreamed of its spires and beauty all my life.”
Devos raised his eyebrows, but made no comment. She had revealed something of herself, at last, though he could only guess at its meaning.
“These days the spires are covered in grime and the city is on the brink of chaos,” he said gently. “But it still has a beauty to it, I suppose.”
“You suppose?” There was peculiar quality in her voice, a tremor between yearning and despair. After a moment, Devos realized what it was. In her own way, she was begging.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and he was, not only for her sake. “Talis is not what it was in my youth. It is strong but crumbling, and I fear its beauty is that of a storm about to crash.”
“I see,” the Woman said. “Well, thank you, Captain, for your honesty.”
Devos opened his mouth to ask a question, then thought better of it. Instead he merely nodded.
“G’night, miss,” he said and left her as he found her, alone on the foredeck.
Captain Devos did not consider himself a particularly clever man. He had never learned to read or write, but he knew how to trim a sail and rig a ship, and he knew people. The Woman was still a mystery to him, but he had his suspicions now, vague and half-formed, but growing clearer.
Devos had sailed up and down the river most of his life, had traded with goblin kingdoms and fairy brughs. He had even spent five years on the open seas hunting kraken for their ink and oil. Devos had seen magic, wonder, and terror in his life, and he saw the touch of all three within her, hidden, but unmistakably there, if you knew where to look.
There was purpose, as well, written beneath her skin in blood and hatred. It clearly had to do with Talis, and Talis meant Witches. The nameless woman with her air of grace and hidden power was dangerous in a way that Devos had never encountered before, and that was most disturbing of all. Not that it was any of his business. He was just an old riverboat captain, after all, but he couldn’t help but wonder. He couldn’t help but see.
Captain Devos lit his pipe and wandered back toward the bridge. He would keep his thoughts to himself for now, but perhaps it was time he retired to some distant isle, far away from Talis.
Far away from her.