Excerpt Party!

The members of my blogging network are having an Excerpt Party today! Unfortunately, I missed the posting deadline to participate officially. If you’re looking for something new to read, search #excerptparty on Twitter and check out the postings of a bunch of amazing writers.

Even though I’m not participating officially, I’ve decided to go ahead and put up an excerpt – more than my Six Sentence Sunday posts.

The following is from the first draft of Blood Dragon II, Chapter 2. The point-of-view character in this scene is an involuntary antagonist, forced to go along with his brother’s plans. All the antagonist scenes in this story are told from his POV.

* A word of warning before you read: This passage is from a first draft, and is still unedited, except for a quick spell check.

 

Cam Darcy was getting sick of waiting. His sore knee was stiff as hell, and he wanted nothing more than to get out of the car and stretch his legs. He ran his hand through his short hair. Needed to get the shit cut again before the weather got really hot.

He risked a glance at his twin. Ryn’s stony gaze met his, and he quickly turned his eyes away. Bastard wouldn’t give an inch. When Ryn said they’d sit there watching until King got home and called the cops, he’d meant every word. King came home an hour ago. They’d seen him arrive.

But for some reason, King still hadn’t called the cops. It made no sense. Any sane man coming home and finding his apartment trashed would call. But only one guy had gone through the main doors of the expensive apartment building since King arrived. No cops. No lights. Nothing.

Damn, his knee was killing him. “Okay, Ryn, this is crazy. He’s obviously cleaning up the mess himself. Not going to call anyone.” Probably shouldn’t have said that.

Ryn’s heavy fist stopped a hair short of his cheek.

Cam knew better than to flinch. It would just infuriate Ryn and the beating would be ten times worse. Not now, but later. At home. Where there were no witnesses.

“Shut the fuck up. When I want your opinion, I’ll tell you what it is.” Ryn returned to glacial silence, gaze never wavering from the door of King’s building.

Like it or not, the beating was inevitable now. No use holding back. “What if he’s not a vampire? I know Fite and his buddies say he is, but what if he’s not?”

“Can you really be that stupid? Of course he is. Why else would he have all that blood hidden in the back of a broom closet? There’s a ton of other signs, too. He’s a fucking parasite is what he is.” Ryn fell silent once more, as if that were the end of it.

Cam let it drop for now. King wasn’t worth it, anyway. His twin was a pit bull when he latched onto an idea, and he wouldn’t let go of this one. Cam wasn’t even certain their sister was worth it. But that was Ryn’s obsession. Anytime a guy got close to their younger sister, Helen, Ryn went off the deep end until he found a way to destroy the guy.

King wasn’t easily accessible, though, and Ryn hadn’t been able to find anything in his past to make King back off. It didn’t help that the big man had just laughed when Ryn challenged him. An attempted mugging resulted in King wiping the alley with both Cam and Ryn. Hence Cam’s fucked up knee. Then Ryn came up with this bullshit.

A resident left the building, jogging past their car, and started a steady stream of people leaving the building for the day as they headed to work. The car parked in front of them left, to be replaced immediately by a dark green SUV with blackout windows. No one got out for a quarter of an hour, then a pretty woman with dark red hair and long legs encased in snug jeans got out and crossed the street. She entered King’s building.

“Go grab us some fresh coffee and a sandwich or something.” Ryn’s voice broke the silence.

Cam couldn’t prevent the surprise from showing on his face. Ryn never allowed him to leave like that. Not in the middle of an “operation”. This departure from the script didn’t bode well for Ryn’s grasp on reality, or Cam’s health in the near future. Arguing wouldn’t do any good, either, so Cam climbed out of the car.

Grateful for the chance to stretch his legs, he took a moment to appreciate the feeling of using muscles that had been forced to inactivity for long hours. Just wished it wasn’t daylight yet.

He started off toward the corner, long legs eating up the distance. People he met took one glance at his face, and looked away fast. Not that he could blame them. The knife wound that made the scar that ran from his forehead to chin had also ruined his right eye. The right side of his mouth lifted in a permanent sneer. The scar was wide, and angry red, stark against his tanned skin. He would look away, too, if he could.

Self-conscious, he lowered his gaze so he didn’t have to see the disgust on people’s faces. Acute memory of receiving the wound, and its aftermath, surfaced against his will. Ryn had been drunk, angry, and Cam had dared try to take his car keys. Ryn reacted by pulling a knife and cutting him. Their father refused him more than basic medical care. The wound wasn’t even stitched closed. Wonderfully durable seventeenth birthday gift. So far, it had lasted a decade.

A little boy clinging to his mother’s hand stifled a scream when he saw Cam’s face, and jolted him out of the memory. The mother clutched her child to her, scolding him for being rude, and hurried on past.

Cam lowered his face as much as he could, wishing for a baseball cap or something, and quickened his step. The sooner he got this over with the better. That kid was exactly why he didn’t go anywhere during the day if he didn’t absolutely have to. Which brought his thoughts back to King. How the hell could the man be a vampire, even if such a thing existed? He went out during the day all the time. It made no sense.

He finally reached the McDonalds and shoved through the door. Cram packed full of morning breakfast buyers. Shit. He groaned. The rush could take hours to clear, so he couldn’t just wait it out in the restroom or a secluded booth. Ryn would have a conniption if he took longer than half an hour to get back. He was going to have to face the crowd and hope he didn’t scare anyone so badly they screamed or fainted.

Chewing his lip, he joined the back of the line, and studiously stared at the floor. Even with four workers taking orders, the line was incredibly slow. Finally, he drew near the front, and nobody had screamed or fainted yet.

His turn came and he stepped forward, when something small and soft and sweet smelling careened into his right side. The force shifted all his weight onto his bad leg, which gave way. At the same time, scalding heat splashed over his chest.

Cam struggled to keep himself from falling, and instinctively grabbed for support onto the person responsible. His hand encountered the soft fullness of a breast, and he yanked it away as if burned. “Sorry.”

But the quick movement of his arm finished the unbalancing the collision had started. He went down. Hard. On his bad knee. A groan that wanted to be a scream ripped from his throat as fire slammed through his knee and up his leg.

Small hands grasped at his shoulders. “Oh, my God, are you okay? God, I’m so sorry! It’s all my fault.” The voice was silky soft, laced with something that instantly made Cam hard despite the pain and mortification.

He got his bearings enough to attempt to rise to his feet. Those little hands were still there, trying to help. Finally, he stood, trying to keep his weight off his injured leg. A tiny slip of a girl, head coming just to the middle of his chest, stood, flustered and fussing over him.

No, not a girl. Woman. Slim, but with a grown woman’s curves. Pale blonde hair straggled around her elfin face and shoulders, having come loose from whatever arrangement she’d made of it on the back of her head.

With an alarmed expression, she touched his chest where the scalding liquid still burned. “Oh, my God. I spilled the coffee on you! Come on, you need to get that shirt off before it burns you worse.” She started tugging his shirt from the waist of his jeans and pulling it up.

“Uh… Miss, it’s okay. I’m fine.” He had to do something to make her stop. Every eye in the place was on them. He didn’t want that kind of attention. He caught her tiny hands where they had successfully pulled his T-shirt up to armpit level. “Really. I’m okay.”

Vivid turquoise eyes widened and traveled upward, taking in hard abs and sculpted chest. They didn’t stop there, as Cam would have preferred. No. Instead they continued up until they were gazing into his one good eye. “You can’t be fine. I heard your knee crack when you hit the floor, and you have blisters starting on your chest from the coffee. You need to see a doctor.” No trace of fear, disgust, or revulsion. Just genuine concern for another human being.

Cam’s heart turned over in his chest. Why couldn’t he have met her another day and another way? But a woman like her wouldn’t notice someone like him unless forced to do so. Heart pounding, struggling to keep his breathing even so his voice didn’t scare her, he tried to reassure her. “Seriously. I’m okay. No harm done. Let me get you another coffee.”

Nailing Down The Essentials: Dialog

Recently, I’ve seen a lot discussions about the various elements of a story. Because of some of the questions, and yes, some of the replies, I decided to put together a new Writer Wednesday Series. Each week, I’ll take a look at some aspect of one of the story building blocks.

Basically, it’ll be the kind of stuff I searched for when I came back to writing fiction seriously, after a couple of decades just dabbling. I needed a refresher of the techniques and rules I’d learned long ago, as well as all the skills I still needed. So, I’m going to begin each element with just the broad strokes, then tighten the focus.

Some if it will be very basic stuff for some of you, but it might clear things up for others. If we don’t have an understanding of the very basic rules and techniques, the  more advanced skills won’t do us a lot of good. And rest assured, once I’ve covered that basic stuff, I’ll start on more advanced things.

 

Dialog, The Rules:

The art of writing dialog, or conversation between two or more people, is, for some writers, one of the most difficult parts of writing fiction to grasp. The goals are to make it sound real, the way actual people talk, keep it interesting to the reader, and make it understandable. If we don’t follow some standard formatting and punctuation, the reader will have a hard time following the dialog. Readers don’t like to work to be entertained, so if they can’t understand what we’re writing, most of them will toss it across the room. Or at least, click away. Since we want them to keep reading, and to enjoy it so much they tell their friends, we better keep the writing understandable.

Formatting and punctuation for grammar is pretty straight forward, once you know the rules. Now, if you’re one of those writers, who think the rules don’t apply to you because your story is so amazing, the reader will carry it home on stone tablets if need be… Well, just be aware, very few readers would go that far for the greatest works of fiction in the world, let alone your story. Besides, if you don’t know and understand the rules, how can you possibly break them consistently and effectively?

Formatting and Punctuation

So here we go, some of the basics of formatting and punctuating dialog.

  • The paragraph changes every time the speaker does.

“How are you doing?” John asked. The conversation opens.

“Busy lately. You?” Mary said, tying her shoe. The speaker changes, so we have a new paragraph.

“Yeah. Work’s been a madhouse.” John paid for his coffee. Another new paragraph, since the speaker has changed again. If we added a 3rd person here after John, we would start a new paragraph.

  • Every word spoken aloud is enclosed in quotations.

“How are you doing?” John asked. If John said something further, we would open a new quotation for those words, and close it when he stopped. If, instead of saying something else, he does something else, like walking on down the street, we would write that without quotations.

  • Punctuation that goes with the words being spoken aloud is inside the quotations.

“How are you doing?” John asked. Notice the question mark after doing is inside the quotes. If an exclamation were warranted, it would be inside as well.

“Yeah. Work’s been a madhouse.” John paid for his coffee. Here, I ended the speech with a period, since I didn’t use a dialog tag. *see below*

If, instead of the above, I had used a tag, it would be: “Yeah. Work’s been a madhouse,” John said, paying for his coffee. If a dialog tag is used, a comma replaces a period at the end of the last sentence being spoken. Question marks and exclamations are not replaced by a comma.

  • We can use attributions, or dialog tags, to let the reader know who’s speaking. The use of dialog tags is becoming less favored than it once was. Now, the preferred method to let the reader know who’s speaking is to make it clear through word choice, sentence structure, action beats. I’ll delve into all that in another post. It used to be fashionable to use all sorts of creative dialog tags to keep from boring the reader with said. Who can forget the ever popular “Oh, no!” he ejaculated.?  Now, said and asked are considered sufficient, and nearly invisible, or unobtrusive, to the reader. Personally, I prefer to use almost no dialog tags.
  • When using a dialog tag, following the closing quotation, the next word is not capitalized unless it is a proper noun, since it is a continuation of the same sentence.

“I’m glad that’s finished,” Mary said. The comma replaces the period after finished, and since Mary is a proper noun, it’s capitalized.

“Me, too,” he said. Again, the comma replaces the period after too, and since he is a pronoun, it isn’t capitalized. 

Next week, I’ll look at dialog tags, action beats, and breaking up the dialog.

Is there anything about dialog in particular that drives you nuts?

Rule of Three Blogfest: Part Four

This week is Part Four, the final entry, of the Rule Of Three Blogfest. Each Wednesday in October, I, and the other participants, will post a portion of a story set in a shared world called Renaissance. Other than the shared world, there are only a couple of other rules: there must be 3 characters, there is a 600 word limit for each part, each week’s entry must be based on one of several writing prompts from the organizers, and the entries go up each Wednesday or Thursday.

This week’s entry is really late going up. It would have been late, regardless, but at the last moment, I decided I didn’t like it, and hit delete, giving myself about four hours to write, edit and post. Made it with ten minutes to spare. 😀

If you haven’t already, check out my Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

Please take the time to visit the organizers’ blogs: Damyanti, JC Martin, Lisa Vooght, and Stuart Nager. Check out the rules, and visit the other participants’ blogs.

Participants were given the following prompts for Part Four:
The misfortune is resolved/accepted.
Relationships mend/ are torn asunder.
The final event becomes another secret for generations to come.
There is a new arrival in town.

I chose the first: The misfortune is resolved/accepted.

Visible anger reddened Londehen’s face, warning of an impending explosion. Eriahne figured she would be the first target. Her marriage would be a betrayal, though there had been no commitment from her.

Londehen raised his hands above his head, and a tiny pale glow appeared, growing and brightening. With a flick of his fingers, the glow flew toward Teguere’s head with lightning speed.

Teguere dodged, and bark blasted from the tree behind him. With a twist of his hand, a shimmering wave flowed toward Londehen.

The wave hit Londehen, staggering him, even as he built another light ball to hurl at Teguere. Before he could finish, another wave hit him, nearly knocking him over.

“Give it up, Londehen.” Teguere punctuated his statement with a blast of light that left Londehen scorched and singed.

Londehen stepped back, his handsome face ugly with fury. “Not bloody likely.” He twirled his hand in the air above his head, then flung an invisible something.

A heavy gust of wind from nowhere buffeted Teguere, but he stood his ground. “Enough.” He raised his hands and fire danced between them. “Last chance, Londehen. As King Thoranak’s Wolf, I will bring you down. One way or another.”

Londehen stood silent a moment, then began to chant aloud. Overhead, a smallish dark cloud began to gather, and wind picked up dust.

Teguere launched his fire.

Londehen screamed as flames engulfed him.

Sudden silence. Nothing. No fire. No Londehen.

What just happened? And why? Eriahne carefully climbed to her feet.

Teguere looked back. “You okay?”

Eriahne took a deep breath to calm herself. “I’m okay. What was all this about? Is Londehen okay?”

He helped her sit back down and sat across from her, arranging wood he’d gathered earlier. When he had a healthy fire going, he spoke. “He’s dead. There’s no body to be found. People will ask, then assume he just left.” Raising his head, he met her gaze straight on. “Let me tell you all of it before you get angry. I’d hoped to before Londehen took action, but there just wasn’t time.”

Eriahne considered a moment, then nodded permission.

“A few weeks ago, we, the King’s Wolves, caught Rehdevek, the sorcerer who tried to assassinate the King with magic. Our investigator learned that Londehen sought training from Rehdevek, for, among other things, a spell to allow him dominion.” Teguere went on to explain that, by doing so, Londehen became a traitor and a danger to the throne. Part of the spell required the complete subjugation of a virgin within the sanctity of a new marriage. Meaning Eriahne would have been raped as part of the plan.

Which reminded her. “What about our supposed marriage?”

“You are my wife, by order and decree of the King. It was his idea, so there’s no way out of it.” Teguere paused, looking down at his hands. “I’ll see that you’re provided for, and if you prefer, you’ll never have to see me. I won’t object if you take a lover, have children.” He looked back up. “Unless…” He shook his head. “Forget it.”

All during their conversation, Teguere’s mouth and hands had drawn Eriahne’s attention. An unaccountable urge to touch him overcame her better judgment. She scooted around to his side of the fire, knowing she shouldn’t.

When Teguere faced her, she tentatively touched his cheek, surprised at the smoothness of his skin. He moved slightly and her fingers encountered the rough stubble of his beard.

“Eriahne…”

Something about his tone made her draw her hand back.

He groaned, as if in pain, then reached to touch her cheek.

Rule of Three Blogfest Part Three

This week is Part Three of the Rule Of Three Blogfest. Each Wednesday in October, I, and the other participants, will post a portion of a story set in a shared world called Renaissance. Other than the shared world, there are only a couple of other rules: there must be 3 characters, there is a 600 word limit for each part, each week’s entry must be based on one of several writing prompts from the organizers, and the entries go up each Wednesday or Thursday.

If you haven’t already, check out my Part One and Part Two.

Please take the time to visit the organizers’ blogs: Damyanti, JC Martin, Lisa Vooght, and Stuart Nager. Check out the rules, and visit the other participants’ blogs.

Participants were given the following prompts for Part Three:
• The impending misfortune foreshadowed in the 1st prompt comes to pass, but one or more characters laugh at it.
• Betrayal is in the air.
• Relationships unravel or strengthen.
• A long-kept secret is revealed.

The Storm: Part Three

I chose the first prompt: The impending misfortune foreshadowed in the 1st prompt comes to pass, but one or more characters laugh at it.
When the ferocious storm abated near mid-morning, Londehen left the only stone building in Renaissance. It housed the jail and Constable’s office, and as Constable, he kept living quarters in it.

Navigating through heavy storm debris, he headed for the Post. He rounded the corner and stopped. The Post, the old tavern his father ran Renaissance from, had sustained serious damage.

Inside, fragments of the roof and one wall haphazardly covered the floor. Finally, he spotted the old bastard slumped against the heavy wood bar. Dead? His father’s body was cold to the touch. Dead.

Renaissance belonged to him! First, a tax to increase his salary. After that, he had a list.

Still smiling, he turned to leave, and tripped over another body. Well, now, imagine that! Robehr, Eriahne’s father. She belonged to him now, too!

Riding to inform Eriahne of her good fortune, Londehen encountered a few citizens, out surveying damage. The short distance, less than a mile to the other side of town, didn’t justify using the horse, but Londehen liked the sense of power.

At the little farmstead, a moment of apprehension assailed him. Only the hearth remained to mark the presence of the shack. Had Eriahne perished in the storm?

“Stop right there, mister,” a disembodied voice growled.

“Show yourself, coward.” Londehen searched, but didn’t see the speaker.

Just feet away, a man melted from the background of sodden soil, a boulder, and a downed locust tree. “What do you want?” The handgun pointed at Londehen’s chest didn’t waver.

Shit! His gun sat useless in his desk drawer. Annoyance clenched Londehen’s fists. “Put the weapon down before I arrest you!”

“Try.”

“No, Teguere.” Eriahne’s voice sounded weak from behind the outlaw, where she reclined against the boulder, a large bandage on her head.

“Eriahne, what did this man do to you?” He’d kill the son-of-a-bitch if he’d touched her.

“He saved my life.” Her eyes closed for a moment. “You can go now.”

Had she dismissed him? “Thought you might want to know, Robehr died in the Post, with my father, during the storm. We’ll be married later today, after you’ve rested.”

“No.”

“You don’t have a choice. No one will take care of you. You don’t have the money Robehr owed my father. Our marriage will settle the debt.” Satisfied with his victory, Londehen dismounted.

“Stop right there.” The stranger took a step. “Move, and I’ll kill you with my bare hands.”

“I’m taking what’s mine.” A blow from nowhere staggered Londehen, though the stranger hadn’t moved.

“Speak of my wife like that again, and I will geld you. Now leave before I change my mind.”

Wife? “She isn’t married.”

“She and I wed a month ago.” The man’s unreadable expression gave nothing away.

“She would have told me.” Panic edged Londehen’s voice.

“The priest came with me. No one knew.”

“Bullshit. Prove it.”

The man took a sheaf of parchments from inside his coat, and extended them to Londehen.

The official seal looked authentic. Even with careful scrutiny, the marriage contract and record seemed legitimate. Defeat soured Londehen’s stomach. Eliminating the stranger would make Eriahne his, but it wouldn’t work. Another man had already possessed her.

As the only virgin of marriageable age in Renaissance, Eriahne had been key to the spell Londehen planned to ensure his absolute power over the town. He would have to find another way.

Rule of Three Blogfest Part Two

This week is Part Two of the Rule Of Three Blogfest. Each Wednesday in October, I, and the other participants, will post a portion of a story set in a shared world called Renaissance. Other than the shared world, there are only a couple of other rules: there must be 3 characters, there is a 600 word limit for each part, each week’s entry must be based on one of several writing prompts from the organizers, and the entries go up each Wednesday or Thursday.

If you haven’t already, check out my Part One. I’ve finally settled on a title for my story, which is nearly impossible for me to do before the piece is finished. Telling myself that I’m conserving creativity, I decided to call it “The Storm”. 😉

Please take the time to visit the organizers’ blogs: Damyanti, JC Martin, Lisa Vooght, and Stuart Nager. Check out the rules, and visit the other participants’ blogs.

 

The prompts participants were given to choose from this week are:

Someone is killed or almost killed. 

One of the characters is revealed to be not who he or she is. 

A relationship becomes complicated. 

A character lies to another on an important matter.

I selected “Someone is killed, or almost killed.”

“The Storm” Part Two”:

Despite his fatigue and the bone-chilling wind, Teguere wiped the sweat from his horse’s back while it munched grain from the packs. The nanny goat tethered to one side of the shed bleated pitifully, and he gave her a small measure as her kid butted at her udders.

After a half-second’s debate, he hoisted his saddle to his shoulder, and headed toward the shack. Probably wouldn’t be much drier than the shed, but the goat kid would wreak havoc on the leather.

Low light flickered in the gaps between the plank walls. The door blew open just before he reached it, and he quickly ducked inside, pulling it closed. The low roof forced him to remain stooped, but he ignored the discomfort. Depositing his saddle and packs on the dirt floor next to the door, he removed his hat.

Silhouetted against the fire in the hearth, Eriahne smiled over her shoulder at him, and went back to filling bowls. “There’s a bench here by the fire if you’d like to sit.”

Teguere crossed the little shack in three strides and lowered himself to the low bench. His belly growled as she removed the spitted rabbits from the fire. “It smells wonderful.” Should he say something else? It seemed like he should. Lack of experience in female company left him at a loss.

“I hope it isn’t too plain for you. Or too little.”

They ate quickly, the shack shuddering around them. Would it withstand the coming storm? Teguere had his doubts. Windblown objects struck the wall with growing frequency, each harder than the last. Perhaps he should have continued on the Villein into the heart of Renaissance, or even halted earlier in the Kastanes caverns. He’d have been warmer, at least. Which reminded him of Eriahne’s thin dress. She had to be freezing.

As soon as the remnants of the meal were stored in the cook pot, Teguere crossed to his gear and unrolled his bedroll to take out his spare coat. “Here, put this on.”

Eriahne shook her head, pride sparking in her eyes. “I’m fine, thank you.” Cold-hardened nipples clearly apparent despite the shapelessness of her dress proved she lied.

Before Teguere could insist, the end of the shack quaked, then screeched as the planks parted from one another. The roof sagged sharply, then peeled back, and the remaining walls gave way.

Eriahne stood, guttering firelight from the still-standing hearth illuminating her horror.

Teguere dove to shield her, but a missile knocked her to the dirt floor first, and he dropped on top of her. Trying to protect her, he ran his hands over her, searching for the source of the blood he smelled. Finally, he found it. A long gash over her right ear bled too freely.

She would bleed to death if he didn’t do something. Reaching inside his shirt, he tugged out the cotton square he tied over his mouth and nose when he met strangers on the trail. It had saved him from recognition, maybe it would save Eriahne’s life. He bound it over the wound and wished he could do more. Stretching out his hand, he found the corner of his bedroll, and pulled it partly over them.

A cold rain joined the wind, plummeting the temperature to near freezing. The cold was brutal, but pooling water posed more danger. Cursing, he half-carried, half-dragged Eriahne and the bedroll a few yards from the low floor.

The storm continued to rage as Teguere struggled to roll them both inside the protection of the tarp. Before it stopped, exhaustion claimed him.

Writer Wednesday: Critique Series: Postponed

Due to a scheduling conflict (for me, not the blog), the conclusion of the Critique Series will be posted next week. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Rule of Three Blogfest

A couple of weeks ago, I signed up for the Rule Of Three Blogfest. Each Wednesday in October, I, and the other participants, will post a portion of a story set in a shared world called Renaissance. Other than the shared world, there are only a couple of other rules: there must be 3 characters, there is a 500 word limit for each part, each week’s entry must be based on one of several writing prompts from the organizers, and the entries go up each Wednesday or Thursday.

Please take the time to visit the organizers’ blogs: Damyanti, JC Martin, Lisa Vooght, and Stuart Nager. Check out the rules, and visit the other participants’ blogs.

This week, participants were given the following prompts to choose from:

There is an argument

There is fear of an impending misfortune

There is a humorous circumstance

Someone might fall in love

I selected “There is fear of an impending misfortune”.

Hope you enjoy the story!

An odd, dark cloud formation hung in the sky north of Renaissance, entirely obliterating view of the far-off Rondeli Mountains. Even the Major and Minor Gauches were just dark blots in the distance.

Eriahne hurried to dig the last few spindly turnips, anxious to get inside. Raising the alarmingly light hand-woven basket to her hip, she darted across the barren, rocky field, as a rising wind plastered her threadbare dress against her body. The coming winter would be lean if she didn’t manage to find more to add to their meager stock of root vegetables.

If only her father didn’t sell everything she tried to save, just for a few coins to trade for the poison swill they served at the Post. Whether the drink would kill him before his sorrow over her mother’s death did was anyone’s guess.

At the door of the little shack she shared with her father, she turned for one last look at the clouds. Closer and darker, fleeting images of strange beasts roiled within the pall. Eriahne’s breath froze in her chest, as she recalled the legend of a dark fog rising from the Rondelis, to carry evil across the land. With no time to worry about what might come, she wrestled the door closed.

Hanging the dented cook pot over the fire to boil, she added the greens she’d found growing in the lee of a boulder. They were the last before the cold set in, and would be bitter and tough, but they would have to do. At least the old man never complained about the food. When he bothered to speak, it was to urge her to accept Londehen’s proposal of marriage. Her skin crawled at the thought of the constable’s hands upon her. No.

A horse blew just outside.

Eriahne straightened too quickly, bashing the top of her head against a flimsy roof support. Checking for blood with one hand, she turned to look through the wide gap at the edge of the door, carefully keeping out of sight.

A huge, sleek horse stamped and blew again. A tall man stood at the beast’s side, loosening straps and taking things off. With a pat to its shoulder, he slung a sort of pack over his muscular arm, and dangled a brace of rabbits from one hand.

“Hello? Anyone home?” He approached the door with what looked like caution. “Hello?”

Holding her precious steel dagger hidden in the folds of her skirt, Eriahne pushed through the door.

The man swept his hat off, revealing a handsome face. “I wondered if I and my horse could shelter in your shed for the night. The storm coming looks bad.”

“My name is Eriahne. I don’t see how the beast can fit, but you’re welcome to try. The house isn’t much better, but there’s a fire, if you’d like to rest inside.” Despite the danger, the law was clear. A stranger couldn’t be turned away. “I’m sorry we don’t have food enough to share.”

“I’m Teguere. If you don’t mind cooking, I have plenty.” He grinned and held the brace of rabbits toward her.

Eriahne tried to stifle the rumbling of her stomach as she took the rabbits. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d tasted meat.