Yup. I’ve been neglecting my blog. But I have a very good excuse. Well a couple of them. One is too personal to speak of in detail (RIP, big brother) and the other is because I’ve been writing.
This last year I completed two novels, a few short stories, and a novella. I’ve also begun the third novel in the Elemental Magic series: Bone Witch.
If you’ve been following the series at all, you know I’m working on a shorter, parallel series that takes peripheral characters and follows their stories. These offer backstory to Alaysha’s tale, and I’m having tons of fun with them. And the novella Theron’s Tale is very nearly ready.
But first I’d like to offer a few electronic ARCs to a few readers who might be inclined to either review or blog the book for me.
How about a small taste to help you decide, and when you do, just shoot me a comment with your email and the format you require.
Theron’s Tale: a novella
“The first conqueror came the day I received my first tattau. My skin at the lowest rib stung like it had been scraped raw and doused with fermented balsam gum, and I suppose it had when you come to think about it. I knew the outline of the first symbol meant clay – our word for the dirt beneath our feet and the soil we’d been formed from, the earth that sustained us. It was the most important symbol of the magic that would be created over the seasons and I knew the outline was as crimson at the edges as the ashes that filled it in had been black.”
Theron looked down at his feet, imagining again the henna on his toenails, pretending the veins that stood out so blue against his skin were trails of decorative woad tracing his instep in preparation for a sacred ceremony. He closed his eyes and tried desperately to imagine the woman those things had been done for. The nights they spent together. The seasons they lived with each other.
The sting of leather seared against his back and he sagged forward. He had forgotten for a moment, one blessed moment, that his hands were bound above him, that the trickling of water against the stone here inside his own sacred mountain was not there to quench his thirst as it normally would. It was good that his memories could still be as vivid, could still take him away. He needed that. Hanging like venison ready to be stripped of its skin, he knew he would need the memories before this was all over.
He did his best to lift his gaze to the arrogant youth in front of him and managed to just hold his head aloft for a few seconds before it fell and his glance went once again to his toes. “You wanted the whole story,” he said to Yuri. “I’m trying to give it to you.”
There was a shuffling sound, one that Theron imagined was Yuri easing closer. He heard the unmistakable gravel of Yuri’s voice even before he felt the man’s fingers in his hair, yanking his head upward so that he had to stare straight into the ice colored eyes of the savage.
“Your idea of the whole story and mine are different, old man.”
Theron gave him a tremoring smile. “Nevertheless, it’s my story you asked for.”
He could smell the cactus wine on Yuri’s breath. The onions he’d had for supper. So the pup hadn’t come as far from the bitch’s lair as he thought– he kept some of those familiar things cloaked about him like old bits of flax thread. Theron couldn’t help a short chuckle.
“What do you find so humorous, old man?”
Theron’s scalp hurt, his skin was on fire, the ribs beneath his tattaus made breathing difficult. They were broken, no doubt.
“You denounce your mother, and yet you carry all of her habits into your new land.”
“What does my mother have to do with any of this?”
Theron tried to shrug but the burning in his armpits kept his muscles from moving. “Without your mother, there would be no tale to tell.”
Yuri grunted. His nod to the shadow and the hulking form that cast it from some place behind Theron meant Yuri’s handler had stepped away. He would be okay for a few moments, then. As long as he kept talking, the pain wouldn’t get worse. Maybe it wouldn’t even come again for a while.
“That first tattau only heightened my already blossoming pride,” Theron murmured. His feet twitched, a cramp taking the middle of his sole and he grimaced, trying to stretch it out, to feel the muscles lengthen. When they wouldn’t he decided the best focus was distraction. He made himself concentrate on the story, the thoughts coming in a rush at first as the cramps pulled at his fibers, then slower as it eased.
He made himself think again of that day, how even in the shadow of the great beasts, those women who straddled them, so large, their legs hung down past their mounts bellies, he’d spit at them all, thinking his contempt could make them go away.
“My pride,” he said aloud. “Always my undoing. I collected all the water I could in my mouth and let fly at the largest, the one in front. The one with pale skin and obsidian hair.”
Yuri spoke and startled him. “I know who you mean.”
Theron nodded. “Indeed you do. Your mother. She was huge, so huge that even the beast she rode looked too small to carry her as she spurred it forward to look down at me. I could see nothing but contempt in her face for my arrogance.
“Even still, I could feel the power of my mark beginning to swell within me, the power given me by my temptress, and I lunged forward to kick the tender ankles of the mountain until I felt myself being lifted from my feet, still kicking–but at the air now– until I landed across that gargantuan lap with my bottom perfectly poised for a spanking.”
He thought he heard Yuri chuckle, and that was good. He didn’t mind a little mockery. It didn’t hurt quite so much as the things the handler did. He was encouraged.
“A man doesn’t receive a punitive spanking from a woman, and at ten seasons, with the initial symbol that bound me inexorably to my temptress, I was most assuredly a man even if my size and my number of seasons begged a girl to believe otherwise.
Theron thought back to the moment. He could see again the massiveness of the woman, the feel of her skin against his. His sense of rage as he twisted and snaked about her grasp, how she chuckled at first then roared straight out at his impotence. He felt again his face burning with rage, how his voice box choked off the words in a fury so volatile he could’ve chewed leather to ragged skin.
It wasn’t a pleasant memory. But those things couldn’t be changed now. He sighed.
“She slapped me cold,” he said and was surprised to hear thoughtfulness in his voice. “Pain rose to my throat and forced any words stuck there to come out in an anguished cry.”
Yuri nodded. “She has large hands,” he mused.
“Still. What is coming of this, old man?”
“To take you this far back, even though you think it’s extraneous, is still not far back enough. I’m assuming you know of our history, my tribe. To begin the tale at the time of the first conqueror and not explain how crucial this moment was to our culture is to expect you to understand what that culture is. You couldn’t know it. You only know what you saw little by little over the few years you came. But it’s important to see, because that message means I’ve jumped to the parts that concern me, being the vain man that I am, even in this my doddering season.”
Yuri’s voice took on an accusing tone, one that Theron thought he’d have to quickly placate. “You might want me to think your doddering, old man. But I know better.”
Theron tried to shrug again, to make the claim seem insignificant. Pain sliced down his back. Yes. Definitely a few broken ribs. “Our tribe is one of four clans that eons ago went to war and had to be physically separated from each other in order to keep ourselves intact at all. That was as much as I knew then, and it was part of the ritual that tapped the ashes into my mark so that I could be closer to my temptress than any other being. More, I learned later as each symbol became part of my skin, but on that day, I knew that my temptress, the temptress of clay as we called her, had been granted the full story of the war as part of her symbols and tattaus. She was one of four, descended from a great temptress who split the very earth we roamed in order to keep the clans apart – and to keep us from killing each other.”
“I know the power,” Yuri said.
“Indeed you do,” Theron said. “But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That’s the least of the tale, although you think it the most important.”
“Her mother was a temptress, and her mother before her, all first born women granted power to use the soil so long as it was also protected by her. My temptress–witch–in your language–was five years older than I, and I, just that day, had vowed to be her Arm in all she did and needed. I grit my teeth as the bone needle bit into my skin over and over, taking short breaths each time she dipped her marker into the ink made with the ashes of her grandmother’s bones. I took her flesh into my own and became her tool to protect her if needed. More than that I wasn’t to know on that day, but I knew that she had chosen me above the many much more physically suited.”
“You loved her for that,” Yuri guessed, and Theron heard a note of scorn in the man’s tone. It didn’t surprise him; men such as Yuri, young as he was, invincible as he was, could never imagine embracing the vulnerability love can bring.
“So now you know the importance of that in my mind, and how it had been sullied by the appearance of the largest of women I’d ever seen, of the massive mounts they rode, who pitched their beasts side by each at our border and declared our land their own. As I lay across the leader’s lap, willing the tears to retreat, I made myself stare at the ancestral mountain we kept and I prayed to its sacredness that this truth, that we could be a conquered people, must not come to pass.”
“So much for your prayers, old man. This mountain is mine now. This mountain, this land, everything in it.”
Theron nodded. “Indeed, it is yours.” It hurt, but he forced a laugh anyway. He expected Yuri to lose his patience, to press further. He didn’t expect to feel a searing pain beneath his ear lobe. Yuri’s handler and his hot iron again. Thankfully, the trickle of water, the smell of damp earth, and the hot pain in his neck eased away and all went black, blessedly black.
Look for the full story on Amazon soon.