THE BRUSH OF BLACK WINGS is currently up for sale at Smashwords and Amazon:
To celebrate the upcoming release this week of THE BRUSH OF BLACK WINGS, I’ve put MASTER OF CROWS on sale until next Wednesday (07/22/2015) at Amazon for .99 cents. I’ve also issued a coupon code via Smashwords that will discount the book from $3.99 to .99 cents. I used Smashwords to distribute to other third party vendors besides Amazon, and sometimes those vendors are a little “relaxed” about updating price changes, so that by the time they do it, the sale is almost over. As such, I’ve issued the coupon for the sake of immediacy for those folks who wish to purchase MoC in another file format besides mobi. I’ve included the link to Amazon as well as Smashwords.
The coupon code to use if purchasing via Smashwords is LU63G. The coupon expires Wednesday, July 22, 2015.
A newsletter was never gonna happen without the help of my newly indentured assistant Kimberly Ladd. Bless her, she took on this project with great aplomb after I sent it to her in the form of an e-mailed desperate cry for help. We’re still figuring out what we want to put in the inaugural issue, but if you’d like to sign up for it now in anticipation of us sending you something that isn’t boring and doesn’t suck, click on the link below and fill out the sign-up form.
I’m on the last bit of THE BRUSH OF BLACK WINGS, and to be honest, it’s kicking my ass. With my editor’s help and several phone calls that involved brainstorming and throwing out both good and really crappy ideas, I got past a glitch that was driving me nuts. I’m not exactly blazing on the word count each day, but it has improved from 600 words that immediately went in the trash so I could start another 600 that met the same fate. Over and over and over. No longer slinging words into the virtual trashcan, so I’m calling it a win.
As most of you know, we’re on the final countdown for Ilona Andrews’ newest Kate Daniels book MAGIC SHIFTS. I am seriously stoked about this book! Also, Elizabeth Hunter will be releasing THE SCARLET DEEP the week after July 4th. I hit the one-click button for pre-order the second that title went up. Summer will be an awesome reading season for me, and I’m excited about diving into some excellent books. I hope your summer TBR pile will be just as good.
RADIANCE is now available in audio format. I’m very excited to see this come to final fruition. My narrator Gabrielle Baker really brought this book and these characters to exquisite life. Her lovely, buttery voice is such a pleasure to listen to.
The following link is for Audible where you can hear 2:37 minute sample of Gabrielle’s narration. The audio book will also be available at iTunes and Amazon in a couple of days. Once it goes live there, I’ll post additional links.
This contest was cross-posted here and FB and is now closed. Two winners (randomly chosen) from those who commented here on my blog get a copy of Jeannie Lin’s story THE WARLORD AND THE NIGHTINGALE minibook:
Helen and Lilly.
I will contact you via the e-mail you provided to get your address so I can mail the minibook to you.
Thanks everyone for participating!
I have a few things to give away from my trip to the RT convention.
Open to INTERNATIONAL readers ONLY (includes Canada and Mexico) because you folks usually miss out on a lot of stuff due to mailing costs:
I have eight copies of a mini-book put together by author Jeannie Lin. These things were a hot commodity at the RT promo alley. Eight were all I brought home. With Jeannie’s permission, I’m giving away the remaining eight to folks outside the U.S.
The mini-book is a short story called THE WARLORD AND THE NIGHTINGALE – A STEAMPUNK FAIRY TALE IN FEUDAL JAPAN.
It’s part of her Gunpowder Alchemy Chronicles which includes Gunpowder Alchemy and the soon to be published Clockwork Samurai. I’ve read The Warlord and the Nightingale; it’s awesome.
Reply here if you’d like a chance at one of these mini-books. I’ll select eight winners this time next week based on a random choosing. Once again, open to international folks only. x-posted to my facebook pages as well.
Also, if you e-mailed your address to me regarding the RADIANCE print, you’re on the list for the next mail-out. The printer has given me a delivery date of May 29th-30th, so I’ll start mailing out first week of June.
The Romantic Times Booklover’s Convention 2015 wrapped up yesterday. It was fun, hectic and exhausting. I’m currently drafting a post to give details and hope to have it up tomorrow or Wednesday. I’m giving myself two days to complete it because my narrator just sent me the revised final for the RADIANCE audio and I’m re-listening to the chapters. She did a marvelous job. I’m aiming for next week to have that go live.
One of my artists, Isis Sousa, completed an 11th hour commission for me on an art piece I wanted done for the RT convention. I ordered small prints of the work and took them with me to the convention to give as swag at a meet-up. I had a few left over, but those are now spoken for. That being said, I’m placing an order for more. They’re 4″x6″ prints. If you’d like one, I will be happy to mail it to you once I get them back from the printer. Just ping me via the contact tab here on my website with your address, and I’ll send it out. This is open to international mailing as well.
I really suck at keeping up with my blog, and apologize for that. One of the things I like about FB is that it’s not quite a drive-by like Twitter with its 140 character limitation, but it works for shorter commentary in a way that I don’t think a blog does, and these days, it’s becoming even a challenge to do a drive-by.
Anyhoo, just a quick heads-up that I’m buried eyeball deep in three projects – first is listening to the completed audio track of RADIANCE that my narrator Gabrielle Baker sent me. It’s lovely. There are the expected hiccups and tweaks that need to be made, but as I told Gabrielle, if I sent copy this clean to my editors, they’d be sending me love letters in reply. I’m on track to finish my edit pass tomorrow and turn it back over to Gabrielle for final clean-up. I’m looking forward to getting the audio up on Audible. Gabrielle has a gorgeous voice; and she can read a lovemaking scene in such a sensual way, I needed a cigarette by the time I finished the chapter–and I don’t smoke.
Because all my time this week has been consumed by the RADIANCE audio, I haven’t written a single word on THE BRUSH OF BLACK WINGS, but I’m back on the horse with that one next week. I have a printed copy of Louisa’s incredible cover taped above my monitor for inspiration.
Also putting together final preparations for my trip to the Romantic Times convention. If you’re going and you come across me, don’t hesitate to stop and say hello!
Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you on the flip side.
The following short story was inspired by a question posted on my Facebook page by Dorothy Graves McEwan. She wanted to know if I’d ever write a scene where two of my characters from different books chatted with each other about their significant others. I told her if I did, it would be a conversation between Silhara of Neith from MASTER OF CROWS and Ballard de Sauveterre from ENTREAT ME.
I was telling my daughter about it yesterday evening as I was driving her to fencing class and discovered she makes a damn good brainstorming partner. By the time we got to class, I had the foundation for such a scene and spent the time while I was waiting for class to finish writing out the first half of this story. I decided then that while I can no longer provide serialized books on this blog due to the entitlement issues of asshats who get their kicks out of extortion, I could still post a free read here on the blog now and then just for fun.
A few things about this tale: if you haven’t read both MASTER OF CROWS and ENTREAT ME, you might get a little confused as the story references events and details from both books. Second, because this was done for fun, it’s unedited. My editors’ time is valuable, and I don’t want to bother them with tweaking something that is being posted as an itch I needed to scratch, so any and all mistakes are mine and soley mine without benefit of editorial guidance or revision. Third, this is really an outtake, very loosely plotted. I don’t think I deviated from my established canon in either novel, but if so…well, so be it.
Anyhoo, I’m dedicating this short tale to Dorothy Graves McEwan whose question planted the seed and to my eldest daughter Willow whose input got the wheels really rolling. Thank you both.
And now, on with the show.
Thank you for reading,
by Grace Draven
Copyright 2015 by Grace Draven
All rights reserved
“Are you certain this will work?” Louvaen addressed Ambrose but kept her gaze on the shimmering portal of coruscating light that hovered midair in the great hall.
The sorcerer cut her a hard glance. “No, but it’s the best I could do on short notice with the limited information gleaned from the books Cinnia brought from Monteblanco.”
Louvaen glowered at him before turning her attention to her silent husband beside her. “This is a terrible idea.”
Ballard’s mouth curved, and he captured a lock of her hair in his hand, letting the silky strands slide through his fingers. “Louvaen, it was your idea.”
“That’s why it’s terrible,” Ambrose snapped and returned Louvaen’s glare with one of his own.
Ballard continually wondered when his wife and his magician would finally end their fragile peace. He kept expecting to find them literally brawling with each other in one of the corridors. “If we don’t bring back this artifact, the blight will kill every bit of flax we’ve planted.”
Since the lands of Ketach Tor were no longer hidden from the rest of the world, trade in the demesne’s flax harvest was brisk and profitable. The blight that had descended on the crop this year ensured a heavy loss if they didn’t find a way to destroy it. Ballard’s coffers were far from empty, but he didn’t relish the idea of denting them with the wholesale loss of his best crop. Relinquishing a costly jewel as payment for a magical item that destroyed blight was worth it to him, as was the strange journey he was about to take in order to complete the transaction.
Louvaen gripped his arm, her strong features grim and pinched. “You’ll be careful? I expect you to return before morning, sound and in one piece, or I’m going through the portal after you.”
Ambrose nodded. “Yes, get back as soon as possible.” He clasped his hands behind his back and adopted an innocent look. “I’m sure these are respectable people undeserving of such cruelty.”
Ballard pulled Louvaen into his arms before she could wrap her hands around Ambrose’s throat. She stood stiff in his embrace, her mouth compressed into a sour line until the light kisses he feathered across her lips coaxed her into relaxing and returning his caress.
Truth be told, he’d much rather spend the evening in her arms in their bed or by the fire in Magda’s kitchen where he could enjoy a warm ale and the companionship of his family.
“You fret for naught,” he told her, punctuating his reassurance with the slow stroke of his hand along the length of her back. “His message was straightforward, and he has what we need. He seems an agreeable, reasonable man.”
Ambrose huffed. “Agreeable and reasonable? Considering the bloodline and he the progenitor, I doubt it.”
“Ambrose,” Ballard warned and frowned when the sorcerer shrugged.
The feel of Louvaen’s tall form pressed against his body distracted him, and he promptly forgot Ambrose’s presence when she nuzzled her face into his neck and kissed the sensitive spot just below his earlobe.
“I won’t leave the hall until you return. Promise me you’ll return,” she whispered into his hair.
He leaned back enough to look into her eyes—the gray of hot ash. “I give you my word.” He smiled. “And I expect a fine greeting from you. Preferably without clothes.”
Her pupils dilated, and her nostrils flared, highlighting the prominent blade of her nose. “I’m happy to oblige.”
“And don’t kill Ambrose while I’m gone.”
“That is asking too much of me.”
Ballard chortled, gave her a hard kiss and left to stand before the portal. Its golden light pulsed, beckoning him to step through and discover the unknown on the other side. He glanced at Ambrose who now stood next to Louvaen. The two wore identical worried expressions. Ballard nodded. “Look for me in the morning,” he said and stepped through the portal.
The light was a living thing, like the tide of a sentient ocean. Waves of luminescence carried him from the world and time he knew to one he didn’t, depositing him in the sanctuary of a quiet forest where a cluster of thick evergreens enclosed a glade that sheltered the portal and hid his entrance.
Ballard stumbled as a sharp pain shot through his disfigured leg. He straightened and hobbled to a short outcropping of rock to sit and find his bearings. The message sent contained a clearly wrought map, and from his perch, Ballard saw the smoke from the public house marked as the meeting place.
He invoked one of Ambrose’s spell to hide the portal from sight while he was gone and checked his appearance. It was anyone’s guess if what he wore might blend in with the people who lived here, but he had no intention of staying long enough for his presence to bring more than the most cursory notice. Simple tunic and breeches, sturdy shoes and a loosely laced doublet woven of rough wool. There was nothing on him to signal wealth or make him an obvious target to thieves. He limited the weapons he carried to knives tucked away from sight. He was as proficient with those as he was with a sword, and any bandit with a mind to attack would be in for an unpleasant surprise.
The public house was like any he might find in the villages within riding distance of Ketach Tor or in Louvaen’s town of Monteblanco. The ground around the structure was a muddied quagmire trenched by cart wheels and the hooves of horse and ox teams. Mud-encrusted boot scrapers were planted on either side of the entrance, iron flowers mulched in piles of filthy straw.
He entered the pub and blinked until his eyes adjusted to tenebrous interior. Acrid smoke hung in a haze above the patron’s heads, swirling in ghostly dances with the more pleasant smelling smoke that swayed in tendrils up from pipe bowls. The place stank of mold, grease and too many unwashed bodies seated together in a too-warm enclosure.
The man for whom he’d crossed worlds to do business with sat alone at a small table in one corner. If the crimson cloak was any indicator, he wasn’t in the least concerned about blending in with the crowd. Even in the semi-darkness, the bright splash of color stood out like a beacon, and Ballard limped toward it, map in hand.
“Silhara of Neith?” he asked when he reached the table.
The other man nodded and rose to clasp the arm Ballard offered. Tall and wiry with a hard face, equally hard black eyes and dark hair threaded through by a startling white streak, Silhara bore little resemblance to the bookish, sometimes scatter-minded mages Ballard had met in his lifetime. Even Ambrose, focused and highly skilled in the magical arts, paled in comparison. Power poured off this man. He might not always recognize a mage, but Ballard knew a fellow warrior when he met one and suspected this one’s magery had been used more than once in combat.
“You’re Ballard…” Silhara paused and cocked his head. “How do you pronounce your title?”
He had a raspy voice with a bite to the words, as if he snapped his teeth together when he spoke. Ballard noted the white ligature scar encircling Silhara’s throat. “Day-so-va-tare,” he said.
Silhara indicated the chair across from him and resumed his seat when Ballard sat. The two men eyed each other for a moment before Silhara spoke. “How long have you known the heft of a sword?”
Ballard stifled his burgeoning smile. It seemed the mage had the same instinct as he. “Since I could walk I think.”
A serving wench sashayed up to their table, loaded tray in her hand and a come-hither tilt to her hip. She gave both men a black-toothed smile. “What can I offer you this fine day?” The false smile melted away when neither Ballard nor Silhara rose to the bait. Silhara indicated two of the overflowing tankards of ale balanced precariously on the tray. She slapped them on the table, spilling foam over the rims and took the coin he offered without further comment.
Ballard drank the ale, thick and yeasty and tried not to stare too hard at the man across from him. It was difficult. He unconsciously searched for something familiar, even knowing that so many generations past would have bred out any similarities. His lips twitched. Well, maybe all but one. Some traits stubbornly remained generation after generation.
Silhara watched him just as closely. “Your sorcerer labored hard and you’ve come a long way to seek out what should be readily available in your land.”
“True, but the records we found mentioned no other spell worked as well as the one you created. I can afford the loss of the flax but would prefer not to, and as you’ve read in the message, my reasons are also personal.”
Language was a fluid thing, especially over a long span of time, but Ambrose’s skill with translation was unequalled, and he provided the means by which Ballard and Silhara could understand each other’s messages.
“Yet you came alone.” A frown knitted Silhara’s eyebrows together.
Ballard shrugged. “I am a cautious man. Who knew what I might walk into once I came through the portal? I see you’re also solitary.”
The other mimicked his gesture. “I can’t claim your cautious nature, but I’ve put my wife’s well-being at risk too often as it is. Hence, alone as well.” He downed his ale and shook his head, a half smile ghosting his mouth. “Who knew my name would survive for so long. Shall we do business?”
One enchanted rock in exchange for one priceless ruby and the bargain was set between them. Ballard didn’t miss the many gazes that flickered their way and lingered as satchels containing artifact and payment changed hands. “Will we need to fight our way out of here?”
Silhara shook his head. “They know that to attack me would be their last idiotic act. And you’ve a look about you that would make even me stop to consider whether or not what you possess is worth the risk.” He caught the black-toothed maid’s attention and waved her over to their table. “Now that our business is concluded, you’ll stay a little longer? You haven’t tasted the elixir of life until you’ve tried Peleta’s Fire.”
A few minutes later, Ballard gasped out a breath and stared at his drinking companion with watery eyes. “Gods’ blood,” he said on a wheezy breath and peered into the small cup in front of him. “I see why they call it Dragon’s Piss. I think I just cooked my insides.” He downed half the ale in his refilled tankard to cool not only the scorch marks in the back of his throat but also the lake of fire bubbling in his belly.
Silhara’s reaction was similar to his—a gasp, tears, and a body shudder hard enough to rock the table between them. Like Ballard, he chased the fiery drink with a mouthful of cool ale. He held up the bottle. “Another?” he said in a voice rough as saw teeth dragged over gravel.
Ballard nodded. “Don’t be sparing.”
By the fourth round, his vision was fuzzy at the edges and his throat a volcanic pathway to the inferno that was his stomach. He waved away the bottle of liquid agony Silhara raised in offering. One more swallow of Peleta’s Fire would see him either immolated or passed out under the table. The sorcerer slid the nearly empty bottle to the side, and Ballard didn’t imagine the look of relief that crossed his face.
Silhara turned to survey the room. “How good are you in a fight while drunk?”
Ballard’s fuzzy vision instantly sharpened, and he straightened from his slouched position. “Better than when I’m sober. Why?”
“Just curious.” Silhara leaned back in his chair and rested his tankard on his midriff. “How did you get your limp?”
Still suspicious of the mage’s first question, Ballard slowly dragged his gaze from the other occupants in the room. “My wife shot me.”
Silhara’s chuff of laughter fanned a pattern of crows’ feet at the corners of his eyes. “Is that so? From how you step and the way you favor your leg, the wound was high on the thigh. Was she aiming for your balls?”
Ballard snorted, amused. “The one attached to my neck.”
“Fortunate for you she had bad aim.”
Silhara’s austere features turned pensive. “What’s her name?”
A hazy image of black hair and a face too strong to ever be beautiful rose in Ballard’s mind. “Lovely,” he said and blinked. “Louvaen,” he amended. “Her name is Louvaen.”
A different maid approached them with a pitcher and topped off their ale. Silhara continued with his line of questioning. “A spirited woman?”
“Very, though my magician would be less complimentary if you asked him. He calls her shrew and harpy. Rightfully so sometimes.” Ballard drank the ale, still hoping to reduce his inflamed insides to a smoking ruin. “I’d have no other.” The spark in Silhara’s dark eyes was either one of approval or simply the lacquer of inebriation; he wasn’t sure which.
“And your wife?” he asked. “The records mention her by name. Martise?”
Silhara raised his tankard in salute. “A quiet creature of profound dignity. That is when she isn’t trying to mule-kick my balls into my mouth or bash my head in with a skillet.” He grinned as Ballard sputtered into his tankard, splattering foam across his nose and cheeks. “I’ll tell her of Louvaen. I think she would approve.”
Ballard wiped the ale foam from his face with his sleeve. “There isn’t much said of her, mostly of you.”
The other man sighed. “She’d prefer it that way. And what do these tomes say of me?”
“That you were a heretic and an outcast, redeemed only by your defeat of a deity.”
“They got most of it right, except for the redemption part.” Silhara rolled his eyes. “Redemption implies I regret those appellations or apologize for them. I assure you I don’t.”
From what he could glean of Silhara’s character in the short time they kept company, Ballard would have been far more surprised if he did. The man given the insulting title of Master of Crows didn’t strike him as one who felt apologetic over much of anything.
They downed another three pitchers of ale between them as Silhara asked questions of Ballard’s life with Louvaen and offered a few stories of his own about him and Martise and the ramshackle estate they called home. Ballard prayed he’d remember the details so he could pass them on to Louvaen when he returned to Ketach Tor.
Louvaen. He stood abruptly and gripped the table’s edge to stop the room’s slow rotation around him. The worst of his inebriation had faded, but he was still cupshot to his hairline. His wife might not kill him for overindulging, but she’d have his head mounted on their bedroom wall for being late. “I must return,” he told his companion.
Silhara rose, and by the look of him, was none too steady on his feet either. “I’ll accompany you to the gate.”
They wove a path to the door; Ballard’s back prickling with the weight of a dozen stares as they passed. He hadn’t exaggerated when he told Silhara he fought as well drunk as he did sober. He could fight in his sleep if he had too, and it looked as if he might have to do so now with a barrel of ale and a bottle of Dragon’s Piss coursing through his veins. His hands rested casually against his body, his hidden knives within easy reach.
As Silhara assured him earlier, he didn’t have to worry. The mage paused at the threshold, sketched a complicated pattern in the air, and every patron in the room froze mid-action. Ballard gaped at the sight, certain he’d never seen the like. This was powerful magery. Ambrose would give his right arm and possible his leg too for the ability to cast such a spell.
Silhara smiled and nudged him through the door. “A black spell. Outlawed by Conclave, therefore; one of my favorites. It’ll fade by the time we reach your portal, and by then we won’t care.”
Afternoon had given way to aging twilight and finally full night. The forest interior rustled with the rise of nocturnal hunters as the sky listed above them, spackled in stars and silvered by a full moon. Ballard recited the spell Ambrose had given him, and the portal grew from a firefly speck to the illuminated doorway that had carried him here and would return him home.
Silhara eyed it with interest, circling slowly to view both sides as it floated just above the ground. He returned to Ballard, the shadows thrown by the portal’s light hollowing out his thin face. His mouth drew down in severe lines. “When you return, make sure your magician not only closes this portal but destroys it. I’ve learned from bitter experience that such things might start benign but turn malignant faster than you can imagine.”
Ballard inclined his head in acknowledgement. Ambrose had said much the same when he first created the portal. He clasped Silhara’s offered arm. “I thank you for the help and for the ale.”
“And the Dragon’s Piss?” Silhara’s question held a thread of mocking amusement.
“That remains to be seen.” If the contents in Ballard’s stomach didn’t stay down, he’d be cursing the sorcerer instead of thanking him.
Silhara bowed. “Safe journey, and tell your wife…” He hesitated. “Tell Louvaen I will think of her. Often. As will Martise.”
Ballard returned the bow. “Likewise.”
He stepped into the portal and had hardly found his footing in his hall before a weight slammed into his chest, almost knocking him off his feet. His queasy stomach cartwheeled against his ribs in protest.
“You’re late!” Louvaen snarled and proceeded to wrap her arms and legs around him in fine imitation of a strangler ivy.
He managed to stay upright and not pitch them both into the nearby hearth. His stomach refused to calm down and panic made the sweat break out on his forehead. Louvaen took one whiff and saved him the trouble of peeling her off his body.
She stepped back and eyed him with a narrow gaze. “Are you cupshot?”
Ambrose emerged from the kitchens to stand beside her. “Who cares?” He echoed Louvaen’s accusation. “You’re late. It’s nearly noon. Did you get the artifact?”
Ballard concentrated on staying upright and keeping his stomach out of his throat. He fished the bag containing the ensorcelled stone out of his doublet and presented it with a flourish. “As you requested.”
He wished he didn’t feel on the verge of turning himself inside out. He’d far more enjoy the spectacular moment when his recalcitrant magician and his termagant of a wife were in perfect accord in their disappointment.
“It’s a rock,” they said in unison.
Ballard sighed. “I know it’s a rock, but it’s still the artifact we need.” The warning burn of bile crept up his throat. “If I have to talk anymore or remain standing, I’m going to vomit.”
They both leapt away from him as if he’d lobbed fireballs at them. Ambrose snatched the rock out of Ballard’s hand and abandoned him to his wife’s tender mercies with a promise to destroy the gate after squirreling the artifact away for later use. Wary but determined, Louvaen helped him up the stairs, issuing numerous, particularly gruesome death threats if he so much as hiccupped. They managed to make it to their bedchamber without mishap.
Ballard collapsed across the bed and rolled to his side. He closed his eyes, hoping the darkness might slow the room’s spinning. Something cold and hard nudged his cheek, and he opened his eyes once more to find a bowl next to his face.
Louvaen offered him a sympathetic half smile. “In case you can’t hold it down.” She stroked his damp brow and carded his hair, her hand cool on his skin.
His eyelids fell to half-mast. He reached out and traced her pale features with one finger, outlining the high curve of her cheekbones and the arched bridge of her nose—a memorable face framed by black hair
Ballard ran the tip of his tongue over his lips and risked a few words. “I think he admired you. He was a strong man of strong blood.” He smiled at Louvaen’s puzzled look. “Countless generations might pass but some traits never fade. Strong blood—and noses—wills out.”
He fell asleep to his wife’s warning of “if I hear one more remark from you about my nose, I will break yours a second time.”
Ah, how he adored this woman.