Summer Bite

As the pre-order date for The Burning Season draws closer (April 10th!) snippets and bits – and thus bites! – shall begin to appear. This first one comes from the very beginning, which is always the best place to start! 

To claim Bran forever, Macsen has begun the ancient ritual of sidhe courtship—but such a rite is a trial in more ways than one. Tradition requires that Macsen seek Bran’s favor in his own country, and a Summer courtship is teasing and promising. More than that, Summer’s Queen will come between Macsen and her son however she can. But despite his mother’s disapproval, Bran’s will is bent to the same purpose as his Macsen’s—the achievement of four proofs of love, proofs that only Bran can determine or acknowledge. One step at a time, they come closer to a day when nothing will be able to separate them—but a familiar foe is more than willing to try. In the mortal world, the year has continued to pass without a hint of green. The Green King has prevented the spring, and thus all seasons but winter…but it’s Macsen whom Dealla blames, and all her plans for violent retribution are directed at him. Failure may cost her everything, but that is a price she has long been willing to pay.  In the wake of her invasion, Macsen is left with a dilemma that might not be easy to solve. Love, or vengeance—which should he choose? Can they live together in the same heart?
This is that shiny, shiny cover I was bragging about – Beautiful, Bran!

 

Chapter One

Macsen lay unmoving, not sleeping, a hand over his eyes to block out the damned and brilliant sun. He was as the wolf in his winter coat, oppressed by the Summer swelter, but he endured for Bran’s sake. He had made a promise to stay, despite his discomfort in a place ruled by the sun. He had kept it, would keep it, but the time had come to go back to his own place. To return to the Red Kingdom, even if only for a little while.

He smiled to himself. Yes, only a little while. Then I will return for you, Bran. The last time Macsen had come here had been for him, too. For the oath that almost shattered us…but nothing will come between us now. He bared his teeth. Despite himself, he knew that nothing wore the shape of the Summer Queen. Your mother does not want me to have you, lover.

Privately, he considered that she might have good reason for her fear and suspicions. The last few times he had come here had been for Bran, love on his mind, but long before, he had come here in response to a challenge. He closed his eyes, and the memories were there within him, waiting. Winter chill superimposed over the green of the leaves. The great lake frozen and red with blood, and all the blossoms fallen under the weight of snow.

If there was one thing that was the same, it was that even then, he had come for a son of the Summer Queen…

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Goddess

As accompaniment to my latest Rant, have this snippet, which comes to you from the first draft (ooooo! scary!) of the prologue of Earthbound!

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Pine for me, and I will return from the moon to love, brown earth and green leaves and the flowing water. Pine for me, but that means to remember my name.

Tell me, beloved, how do you forget what you cannot remember? I have been drawn to you from the beginning. Timeless, I am still enamored of time, and all its passing shadows…you are those shadows.

What lives in them is a man, and a woman. You and I, beloved. Shall I tell you their story? Once, it was for her, not the world, that he would have done all things, any thing. And so it was for her, not for the world, he shot the sky. His arrow past the moon, white-shining in a world made clear as glass by the fall of night.

The sun rose. The sun rose. The sun rose and rose and rose and rose until the face of the earth heaved and flame rode its curves and settled in the hollow throat of the world and cried out from the curled and hidden core, hidden at last in its own petals.

“Enough, enough, we can bear no more!”

He heard. You heard. Hou Yi, the archer. Did you know then? No… But the price of heroism would be steeper than the mountain, steeper than the curve of the sky. Nine times, you lifted your bow to heaven. Nine times, slew the sons of the brightest light. So that the fire fell, gleaming, bolts brighter than lightning piercing heaven and earth together…and not to be undone.

Your reward was your punishment. To put on the robe of heaven is to forget the world left behind, and you, you forget even now what you have done that was forbidden, even in the name of saving the whole of the earth. I remember, what you do not. That is my punishment.

To slay a god with mortal hands…

But this is not the first time I have told this story. This is the last, because you do not understand it, do not hear me, and you are the one it is for.

What speaks the shadow to the one who casts it, what speaks the shadow to the sun? Ages of ardor and ages of agony, and they were mine – as I was like you, doomed from that first stretch of the bow. 

Now I must acknowledge having planted temptation in your path – but in the manner of all good things, what I give is no more, no less than I sought. Whatever you suffered in the light, yes, all those eons in which I begged and you did not listen, do you suffer more in the darkness?

What are the thousand woes of your new existence? Are you still the lord of frigid stars? Are you still my darkest king?

What are you?

Crouching Tiger, Hidden…Doom?

Having just finished draft two of book four (Woo!) I find myself wondering what it’s time to write now – because there’s the obvious – book five; the less obvious – Glass House; and the completely insane, why am I doing this to myself, why did I DO this to myself.

Earthbound.

You see, Earthbound is my beautiful baby. My gorgeous wunderkind. My masterpiece – or at least, it is so far. It’s a bit like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets Alice in Wonderland – if Alice was a bronze age Chinese princess and the Hatter was the outcast god of stars.

Aha.

The trouble is, it’s…one hundred ninety thousand words long. And a bit. I rounded…um…down. Now, the truth is that this monstrosity of a manuscript is really possibly TWO books (and that’s half the problem). Therefore, whenever I go to start editing, I’ve been having the exact opposite of my usual writing nemesis, Blank Page Syndrome. You know it – that thing that happens when you have all the ideas in the world, and the words are at your fingertips, and you feel your soul swelling with creative impulses…and then…

The Page.

Is.

BLANK.

So much space! So much pressure! So much! Something! It’s evil. But anyway, the problem with Earthbound is the exact opposite of this. It’s so many words! What do I DO with them? As I stare, they start to waver on the page until they turn into a tiny army of spear-wielding word-natives, desperate for my soul.

I need my soul, so as you can see, this might be a problem. But – I digress. The real truth is, I’m doomed to Earthbound, and because of that it is time for Project: Immersion!

You see, Earthbound takes place in the mysterious past of China’s Sichuan region, where the ruins called “San Xing Dui”, linked to the long-lost ancient kingdom of Shu, hold terrible secrets!

What this means, of course, is that I must take my brain OUT of the west, out of Irish Mythology and into the shadows of China’s most ancient past. This means movies, music, books, everything has to change so my poor brain can recover from the doom that is the Eight Kingdoms.

I’ve watched some excellent documentaries today, detailing the fine bronze, gold, jade, and ivory pieces that have been discovered and cataloged – as well as some scary truths about flooding and ancient human sacrifices!

I think my next step is to re-read Genji Monogatari, for ambience, then watch Takahata’s Kaguya-hime, which is a Japanese retelling of the Chinese mythology that Earthbound addresses. And perhaps then, the Dream of the Red Chamber?

Because beauty and agony, that’s why. Beauty and agony!

Wish me luck! (And if you have any suggestions for Chinese movies, books, or music, that will help me get in the spirit of San Xing Dui, send them along in the comments!)

Sun Bite

This bite, like the first,  comes from Dark Side of the Sun. Enjoy a taste of Bran Fionnan – Macsen does!

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Bran burned to see what was in Macsen’s hand, gleaming yellow, calling to him with his own power. It was the dagger Bran had made for Noirine. The dagger that had been meant to kill the Red King, this smug vampire standing in front of him with a smile on his face.

The old mix of fury and guilt rose up and choked him. The heart of his rage, close to the surface after a day spent brooding, had been soothed by the promise of Macsen’s mouth and hands on his skin, had faded into the background confronted by something as inexplicable as this vampire presence and his own trust. Now instead of the pleasure those touches had promised, he was being goaded into a fight, and even knowing the reason didn’t relieve the sting of Macsen’s last comment.

“It won’t be so difficult—after all, you’re the one that forges these weapons, aren’t you? You should know how to use them.”

Bran was aware that as of yet, the one he intended to fight had done nothing to him to warrant such a violent response. He was aware that it was unfair to take out twenty years’ worth of pent up emotions on someone who had himself been hunted and harried for his existence alone.

The Milesians were fools, of course, to think they could influence or destroy the Red King and his court. Standing in Macsen’s presence, he could see that now. He couldn’t see what it was about Macsen that drove the Milesians to such extremes, seeking to destroy him, any more than he had ever been able to see what it was about himself that disgusted them so.

He was aware that men did not hold the wolf responsible for its kill, that the wildcat was not reviled for eating the flesh that sustained it. It was stupid to assume that men would have no predator, and completely idiotic to think that men could destroy such a predator if they found it.

It occurred to Bran that the Milesians had been badly misled by the ease with which their ancestors had banished the Irish sidhe, but that was a misconception that would only be corrected by future pain.

Bran looked up at Macsen, resolved to do what was necessary, and nodded once.

“All right. All right, I’ll do what you want—and hold you to your promise, Red King.”

Macsen smiled slowly. “Sidhe don’t break their word like men, Bran. What I say, I will do. Now, choose a weapon!”

Blacker than the night sky, Macsen’s aura flowed around Bran and buffeted him with power. Bran took a step to his left, his gaze fixed on Macsen, and reached behind him through the open door of the smithy. The staff was where he had left it, leaning against the wall just inside the threshold, and Bran grasped hold of it and squeezed it tightly. It hummed in his hands, drawing on the spark within him to further awaken the living gold in its bright, new spirals.

Bran faced his opponent and breathed deeply. He held the staff he had made poised across his body and saw Macsen stare at it, appraising. It was a gorgeous weapon, iron-hard oak capped and shod and inlaid with gleaming gold.

“Make a good show of it, Bran Fionnan!”

They rushed together and the lash of air that accompanied Macsen’s movements was a blow on its own. Bran’s thoughts overflowed in the wake of it. No wonder Noirine hadn’t succeeded. How could she? She had been fast, but not fast enough, strong, but not as strong as the Red King.

Bran came back to himself to find that while he’d been distracted, Macsen had gained a steady grip on his staff. He stared at Macsen’s hands, pale, smooth, the nails glinting like glass, then found himself flying over Macsen’s shoulder and down onto the ground. Macsen tossed the weapon away from them into the night, and Bran sucked in a deep breath and met violet eyes with his own gaze. He saw promise in them, promise and lust and amusement.

That last irritated him, and he wondered if he might be able to make an impression. He had no weapon, but so what? The power inside him was what was dangerous, wasn’t it?

Bran grinned and pushed himself onto his feet, crouched low to the ground and tracked Macsen’s approach. When the Red King laid hands on him, exercised a tithe of his strength and lifted him, Bran dangled in his long-fingered grasp like a doll for half a moment. Then he reached for power and felt heat flood his flesh. His skin glowed with gold light, but Macsen only laughed at him and squinted through the brightness.

“That won’t do a thing, Bran Fionnan. Not your power, not to me. Not even you and the gold you wake together can harm me. It’s just bad luck for you, none of your kin would have as much trouble. Weren’t you listening? There’s a bond between us, a bond neither of us can break. A bond of trust…and a bond against such dangers.”

Bran understood nothing but that he had failed, but he wasn’t too unhappy, just confused. He hadn’t really wanted to hurt Macsen, after all.

Macsen put him down, but his hands held Bran still, and Bran twisted in struggle. He didn’t know if he was struggling for show, or because of his own internal conflicts, and he didn’t know if what came next was an accident or not. Was it because he pressed too hard, moved just too far trying to get away? Was it just because Macsen wanted it, even as Bran himself did?

A kiss.

Lick Him Up

Welcome to our first Lick, an excerpt from Dark Side of the Sun, posted today in celebration of book three’s cover reveal! (You can see it here!) Why is this excerpt not in Bites, you ask? Because Licks are NSFW excerpts, and it’s only polite to keep them separate! Look forward to a new Lick on the smutty seventeenth of every month!

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…Bran flushed, and Macsen reached out and drew him close again, nuzzled his cheek and kissed his jaw, the curve of his ear, then down again toward his mouth. This kiss was rougher, deeper, and Bran tasted blood without knowing whose lip he had bitten. One of Macsen’s hands ran through his hair, dragged sharp nails against his scalp, held his head still. Despite himself, Bran groaned and gave in to his own desire. The soft lips opened to Bran’s tongue. He felt cool, tingling hands reach up to touch his cheeks, felt them running through his hair, slip down around his shoulders.

Bran turned his head under the pressure of a nudge and another kiss, and Macsen pulled him into a closer embrace. Bran opened his eyes and the movement felt lazy. Was the Red King’s kiss a drug?

No. It’s just desire.

Bran licked his lips, a quick darting of his tongue. He felt Macsen’s eyes on the motion and knew then the inevitable end of this confrontation.

“You’re trying to distract me, but I want—”

“I don’t want to talk about your mother right now, Bran Fionnan. I don’t want to talk at all. Not now. Ask me anything you want, but later. Not now.

He leaned close, breathed deeply. Bran felt Macsen’s breath against his lips and tried once more, but he was pressing up against Macsen even as he spoke, even as his words became a murmur that washed against Macsen’s lips.

“You’re sure no one—”

“No one will see us tonight. Not unless it’s someone with more power than me.” Macsen’s voice was breathless, his eyes shining and dark, the pupils dilated with lust. “Now, don’t struggle. I’d never hurt you, beautiful Bran—”

Macsen licked Bran’s lips, so soft, so teasing. Bran knew what was about to happen the moment before it did, but in that moment he found that he didn’t care. He had accepted Macsen’s nature for what it was—he enjoyed it, darkness and all. It was proof that Macsen was like him, proof that he was sidhe. Bran’s want flowed hot in him, spurring him onward, and beside his lust was the same welling of inexplicable trust that he had felt the night before. Trust. It was a promise with no words that was reinforced by Macsen’s aura, Macsen’s presence.

Macsen smirked, his lips stretching over white teeth, then bent to Bran’s throat. Bran felt Macsen’s tongue against his skin. Sharp teeth penetrated deep. A tickle like the brush of a feather became twin needles of sensation and fluttering heat. Bran gasped. The feeling was nothing like what he had imagined.

The theft of his blood was a delicate seduction that gave him promises instead of pain. For a moment it let him feel the rich, dark core of Macsen’s being—but that moment was very short. Macsen had taken barely a mouthful from Bran’s veins, but he was already stepping back.

“Delicious.”

Macsen’s hands roamed Bran’s skin through untied, unlaced clothes. Dazed, Bran wondered when that had happened. Macsen’s touch aroused, stimulated, tempted. His fingers teased Bran’s nipples into hard points and his other hand slipped between the tight press of their bodies and grasped the straining stiffness of Bran’s erection. Macsen lifted his lips from Bran’s throat and soothed the shallow wound there with his tongue. For a moment a haze hung across Macsen’s eyes. Bran saw it, heard Macsen’s voice thicken and slow and soften into a murmur that brushed heat against the tender place on his throat.

“Be my lover, beautiful Bran, my lover…”

Bran didn’t know why Macsen had stopped to ask. It felt like he had wanted this touch, this moment, forever. It didn’t matter that need and desire weren’t really the same thing, not right now. He surprised himself with the force of his answer. “Yes.”

That one word seemed like it was enough to awaken the bestial promise that slept in the Red King. Bran felt the shift in the hands that pulled his clothes from his body, hands that grasped his throbbing erection and pulled pleasure from his loins with smooth, slow strokes.

They stumbled together, and came up against the wall of Bran’s house. Macsen held Bran pinned there with the weight of his body, and Bran slipped his fingers against Macsen’s chest and down, down—he needed no encouragement to return the pleasure that Macsen’s stroking fingers gave him.

He could feel Macsen’s pulse beating in the heavy hardness that slid back and forth across his palm—then their gasps were equal and they panted together, gasping, moaning. Bran’s head fell forward against Macsen’s chest. He heard his own voice calling out, strangled and broken.

“Macsen…Macsen…Macsen…”

Macsen was quieter, but his whisper, “Bran,” was tender and sharp enough to send a new shudder rolling over Bran’s skin.

Hunter’s Bite

Another bite! This one comes from The Circle Unbroken, book two in the Eight Kingdoms series. Enjoy, in preparation for tomorrow’s book three cover reveal! 

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“Bran Fionnan!”

His name came hunting him with laughter on the wind beyond it, and the voice of a mortal girl that scattered across the snows of the Red Kingdom.

“Bran Fionnan! Come on, Bran, faster. They’re coming, they’re coming!”

In a flash of red hair and crunching footsteps, Bran saw Saoirse Saorla pass before him and farther out into the wilderness.

“Saoirse, wait!”

He left the wood and moved toward the middle of the frosted meadow, the sound of Saoirse’s steps the only thing he could hear besides his own breath. It was over now, he knew it. There was no escape from the ones who hunted him and the girl in such an open space. Blossoms hummed at his feet, and Bran scattered scentless petals as he broke a path through fragile ice flowers to the girl’s side.

“I think we’ve lost, Saoirse.”

“Not yet.”

“Pick a direction if you want, but I don’t think it will matter.”

She turned her face away from him and peered out across the snow. Bran followed the path of her gaze with his own, sought movement beneath the tall pines they had just left, but there was nothing visible except the girl’s footprints, a clear trail across the wilderness of the Winter landscape.

Though he had run behind her, Bran was pleased to see his own feet had left no imprint on the snow—he was learning fast, faster than the girl, it seemed, but then that shouldn’t have surprised him. He was sidhe, of course things would come more quickly to him—things like how to make the weight of his presence nothing if he wanted it to be. Intent as she was on gaining skills and powers, Saoirse was still a mortal girl.

Macsen had warned them that it would be like this when he’d ordered these lessons, when he had listed powers and promises… Things Bran might possess now, and did not know, and that the girl might never gain. Swiftness and strength, magic and mischief, fire and Summer’s wholeness. Bran had thought his lover was just being hopeful at first. He’d never felt a whisper of such powers, had felt nothing inside him but the gleaming brightness that he could spill into gold, into weapons. But Macsen had been proved right, as he usually was—even if it seemed like their lesson was only a game. A Hunt, which always ended with them as prey.

As this thought passed through his mind, Bran heard a shriek from beside him and turned to see a sudden tussle in the snow, Saoirse panting and red-faced under the playful attack of many beings much smaller than she was. She turned and tried to run again, but there was no getting away this time. Tiny fingers were tangled in the long red threads of Saoirse’s hair, and even as Bran took a step and moved toward her, he felt the chill dampness of two hands, ten fingers icy-cold around his throat.

“Do you concede, Bran Fionnan? Saoirse Saorla?”

Bran nodded, sighed. “Of course, Ffion.”

He saw Saoirse pouting out of the corner of his eye.

“Bran, we lost again.”

“Did you think we wouldn’t? There’s a long way to go before we can compete with hunters like these, Saoirse.”

Flitting figures no longer than Bran’s hand whispered and murmured to each other as they emerged into the open and hovered near him, laughing openly now, no menace in their whispers. Saoirse turned her back to him and to them, but coddling hands reached out and stroked her hair into place again. Don’t be angry, don’t be angry. The words came from all directions and no direction. Saoirse only huffed.

“I’m not angry—but I want to win! I’ll find a way someday, just wait.”

“Enough now, girl.”

Ffion came forward and settled onto the snow, long bare legs crossed at the ankle, a crust of frost moving outward from her skin.

“Bran Fionnan, Saoirse Saorla, sit with me.”

Bran sat with his legs one over the other, elbows on thighs, his chin in his hands. Saoirse spread her outer cloak on the ice beside him and sat, drawing the edges of the fur up over her feet. When they were settled, Ffion began her questions.

“Tell me, one of you—why is it you do not win against us?”

Bran’s brow furrowed, but he said nothing. Saoirse looked from him to Ffion and scowled.

“I was going to say because you’re sidhe, but since Bran’s sidhe too, that’s not fair. Unless… Unless it’s just because I’m human.”

She said the last word lowest, as if it were a curse not for polite company, a word to be feared.

“Saoirse…”

Bran wanted to comfort her, but he couldn’t deny that her existence had its own troubles. Wasn’t that why these sessions had begun in the first place? To protect her as much as to teach me. But I can’t tell her that. His brow wrinkled and he frowned, trying to come up with an explanation that might soothe her, but Ffion spoke first.

“Saoirse Saorla, listen carefully. I and my kin bested you both because the Hunt is our nature. We are of the Red Court, vassals of the Red King—our essence is his essence.”

“So if you are Hunters… What’s in my nature? What will I do best?”

Bran was interested in that answer too, but Ffion only shrugged.

“I do not know. You are in between, not one thing or another. One day perhaps you will be closer to sidhe than human, unchanged and yet no longer truly mortal. Yet maybe that is not so, and you will always be as you are now.”

“In between? Not one thing or another?”

“Only your own real self.”

Bran saw a darkness on Saoirse’s face as she turned away and tried to catch a snowflake on her tongue. Behind the puckering of her brow was a shadow of pain, and he thought he could guess its source. In her father’s palace, she had suffered for her kindness, had paid in blood to keep the secret of Bran’s trust. Bran had been told by those that had tended her that she would wear the scars of her last night in the human world forever, but what he saw now was more than scars—it was an abuse of her spirit.

“What are you thinking about, Saoirse?”

He asked the question knowing the answer, because she had to say it, bring out into the open.

The girl scowled and her gaze darted in his direction, then turned away again. “My father—that last night.”

Ffion spoke comfortingly. “The King paid them. Paid them for it all—paid them for everything.”

“Not everything. My sister—”

Ffion scolded, but softly. “She is for Bran Fionnan, for our Shining Prince. For his vengeance—vengeance paid is vengeance earned.”

Bran avoided Ffion’s stare, but couldn’t escape from Saoirse’s words, all but contemptuous.

“But Bran Fionnan doesn’t want to fight.”

The girl was giving him the most terrible look she could muster, but he pasted a shiftless smile on his face and only shrugged, tried to smile and felt his face contort into something…other.

Wolf Bite

This excerpt comes from Wolf of the West, my newest release. Let me know what you think! 

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Marcas stared upward at the sound of an imperative caw, and knew he must move faster. Four legs paced under him, swift as the wind, but he could see even from a distance that what had been a battlefield had now become a scavenger’s rout. Above him, black crows crossed the sky, first in twos and threes, then a streaming murder.

It is coming.

The twilight darkened into premature night under the shadow of their wings, and from the gore that littered the field came crawling shadows, stick-figures unbending against the light.

Darkness made flesh.

Once, twice, Marcas howled, but the moon was not yet risen and he could summon no light into his service. From the top of a low rise, he could only look down and watch more carnage in the making. Warriors, bloodstained, wounded—waylaid in victory or defeat, they had survived the battle only to suffer something more terrible.

His gaze focused on their widened eyes, the glaring darkness in each overburdened pupil, teeth visible behind lips thinned with fear in each face—yet in none of them did he see what he had come for. A spark of light—the mark of brightness that told him the one so marked was meant to survive. That one, he would protect. But where was he?

Wraiths absent of flesh unfolded across the carnage, seeking their prey. The survivors who could move stumbled away from them with all the speed their broken limbs could muster. Marcas’ gaze caught on three that moved together, two older, one younger, perhaps a son or nephew of one of the others. The elder two held him back, their hands across his chest at what they must have believed was a final moment of fear—and yet that youth stood forward, his face all confrontation, nothing of terror in the glare of his eyes.

The shadow moved to confront him, the youth painted with blazing light in the dark field of Marcas’ mind, and the truth flamed in him, sudden and precise.

This one! This one—now, now!

In a flash, Marcas leaped down the hillside, crossed the blooded grass and buried his teeth in the shadow nearest the youth. Black blood spurted around his fangs, and he felt dark fingers clutching at the fur of his back. Marcas whipped around and lunged at them. He caught sight of the three men behind him, their eyes wider now, if that was possible—watching him, wondering—but there was no way for him to explain.

Like many men before them, they would have to come to their own conclusions.

Growling, spitting, pacing back and forth, Marcas marked a circle with his steps, with his body, with his flashing fangs. He leaped across to threaten any reaching hand, any open mouth, rattle-breathed, foaming.

Three of them, but I can’t protect just that one. The boy. The boy wouldn’t let me, and it wouldn’t be right.

But three men were two more than he had expected. A battle like this one, wounds like theirs—the older men should probably be dead, but there was no accounting for the strength of a heart, a spirit or a warrior. Marcas’ quick eyes took in the wound on the younger one—the thigh, wrapped tight, blood soaked but older blood now, not fresh flowing… Not so bad, boy. It would be easier to protect him than the other two—closer to death, closer to the enemy.

The crawling multitude of bloodthirsty spirits reached out first for the men, not the boy. For a moment he felt a vain desire to take the boy and leave these fools to their fate. One wounded young man was no match for a wolf of the faoladh, no matter what his desires.

But across his mind’s eye flashed that first glimpse again—blazing light and eyes with no terror in them at all.

Black energies tore at his back again, gripped his tail and pulled him. He whirled, ears laid back, snapping, tasted darkness and congealed death, but it was neither blood nor anything real. Shadow screeched, a sound like the caw of the crows, but deepened, twisted, broken. He sought the matte jet throats, tore open wounds that spilled nothing, but it was nothing with the taste of ash. Marcas pushed them back with the weight of his body, with his claws and fangs that snapped with supernatural swiftness. Tireless, intent, he fought against the circling foes that increased in number even as he engaged them. They flowed back and receded, then returned to wash around him, a new and stronger tide—

Until the moon rose. The moonlight fell on Marcas’ back and his fur shone with a pale light, every hair illuminated. He lifted his head and those of his foes closest to him took a step back. His mouth opened, and out of his throat came an illuminated noise, more than a howl—the true song of the night, safety from all shadow in that one note, even as it was many.

The wolf song shattered the shadow, broke it apart into bits as the moonlight spread and painted the black of the hills and the gore of the field with light. Panting now, feeling the pain of many wounds, Marcas fell silent and stepped back, looked around with wary eyes to see if the night might choose to rebirth its horrors.

There was only silence and stillness. The natural shadows of the night, death in coherent slumber. What the violence had awakened was restful now. Quiet.

Satisfied, Marcas turned to face the trio of men he had protected. They, too, were silent, all but unmoving, until he turned to leave.

“Wait.”

It was a young voice, the voice of the one he’d been called to protect, but Marcas didn’t look back. He turned away despite that call, and vanished into the cloak of the night.

 

* * * *

 

The dawn came early, yellow and heavy, sunlight spreading like spilled yolk across the horizon. It was welcome light, which scattered shadow and imprisoned the fears of the night behind walls of memory. The shapes of dark and crooked power that had spilled from what had once been the bodies of friends and foe—the tide of dark within the night—those things were faded, but the memory of that which had conquered them was not.

The wolf.

“Still well, Connor?”

Startled from the thoughts that had distracted him, the throbbing of the wound in Connor’s thigh returned full force at the sound of his father’s voice. He almost brought up the image that lingered in his mind’s eye. Moonstruck wolf. But he hesitated, and only answered the question his father had asked.

“Well enough. I’ll make it.”

They lapsed into silence after that. As Connor limped forward beside the single horse they’d found wandering at the edge of the battlefield, he drew himself out of his thoughts and watched his father over the horse’s neck. Silent, craggy, a mountain in motion, he stomped forward as if nothing could—or would—stop him, as if he felt neither the pain of his wounds nor the pain of their journey. How far now? Since the wolf had left them in the blazing moonlight—since they’d found the horse and his father had forced Lord Aran to mount? Too long.

There had been an apology on his father’s face, as he’d shoved Aran up on the beast, but despite the agony of this stumble through the dark, there’d been no other way to keep Aran moving.

Again, Connor looked into his father’s face. His dark eyes were crowded under the clenching of his brow and the poor bandage that was bound there. His father nodded once, approval or encouragement, and Connor set his eyes on the road again, a dusty band that cinched the green hills before them like a poorly tightened belt.

It was good that he hadn’t said anything, hadn’t brought up the questions that burned in him. When he had asked in the dark after the wolf had left them, his father had shushed him right away, warned of bad luck and spurned blessings. Some things we should not speak of, even amongst ourselves. He heard the echo of his father’s voice, the only answer he’d gotten, and knew that now wasn’t a time to add to his worries—but despite his outer silence, the questions remained inside him, loud and urgent.

What had those things been? Shadow had risen from their comrades and from the enemy warriors both. Was it the power of their foe? But then, what of the wolf? Where had he come from? He had never seen anyone fight the way that wolf fought. Focusing on those moments, those memories, he shuddered, stumbled, caught himself and forced himself not to look at his father again. Some things weren’t meant to be faced by mortal men. He had seen training injuries enough and the wounds on returning warriors—he’d thought he’d known what there was to know of battle and death.

He knew better now.

Battle was not wounds and weapons and warriors. Battle was blood-smoke, a mist of red in the air, so fine the taste of it was in every breath. Battle was stepping forward and slipping and not looking down to see if what was under your boots was mud or the blood-slick guts of someone who didn’t know he was dead yet. Connor had learned that the arm could grow so tired it couldn’t stop swinging, that a blade new-sharpened could clot in a glut of flesh, chip on a sternum and still shatter a skull. Battle was heaving breath, every muscle burning and nerves dead ended or on fire—no in-between, no pause, no breathing space… And in the lulls, everything too quiet. Every crow’s cawing, every breath of wind became a thing that stirred alertness out of impossible fatigue.

He’d thought the end was just another one of those lulls. That there would be another charge, another rush—something else, because it couldn’t be over. It would never be over… But it was.

Until night came.

His leg had been long-bound by then and he had done what he could for his father, limping, reaching across the broad shoulders to bind a wound that streamed new flow over the rusty stains of old blood. But it had been Aran who was the worst wounded, by the loss of his sons. Connor had found him, bent over the bodies. Perhaps it had been Aran’s cries that had woken shadows out of the dead. They were loud enough. They went on forever.

Not that he could blame him. There would be no honored burial, no pyre for those boys, not after this battle. Not when no one survived, no one but them—who would carry the bodies? Who would return to this plain and bring away the crow’s feast that remained? They had come to the very edge of his father’s kingdom to fight, two hundred warriors seeking to spill blood in the name of an ancient feud long abated. Fifty years of the High King’s peace had been broken there, and for what?

Nothing had been won, nothing gained, nothing threatened—a field in the middle of pastureland, and no herds in sight, and now his father’s men and the men who had rebelled both were dead.

Connor sighed, licked dry lips and looked up across the endless rolling of the hills and into the sunlight. How much farther? He took another step, and another, and another…

“Connor? Stop, Connor.”

He heard his father’s voice, but it seemed to come from a distance. Why would that be? His father was…right there. He turned his head to the left, and the motion unbalanced some precarious state he hadn’t even been aware of. His head was light, and his leg was numb. Thigh to foot, he couldn’t feel a thing.

“That isn’t right…”

“Connor!”

Darkness.

It reached out to envelop him, and for an instant, his heart sped up in fear.

But no.

No worries.

The thought came to him of itself, soothing, silken.

Wolf will protect me.

There was no need to fear the night.

First Bite

An excerpt from Dark Side of the Sun, Book One of the Eight Kingdoms series. Enjoy – and do leave me your thoughts below, I love hearing from my readers!

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This is…one of those dreams.

The Red King scowled in his sleep.

A Samhain dream.

Most often, Macsen’s sleep brought him nightmares. He had visions of destruction, of mortals in the woods of the hidden kingdoms, moon and firelight shining on their weapons. He saw flames consuming his palace, or his throne overturned, its frost and darkness both dispelled.

Only on Samhain did Macsen have this dream, in which he was someone other than himself.

He didn’t like it. He didn’t like not being in control of himself, and while he dreamed Macsen remembered things that he knew would not come back to his memory in waking life.

Other visions, other days…the face of a child, a golden power, and… But it was lost to him then, Macsen’s own thoughts caught up in the rush of the images that had hold of him.

Gold grew alive in his hands through some inner power. He looked down, saw a stranger’s face reflected in the gilded steel, had a thought that was his own, disassociated with whoever he was in the dream.

Beautiful, he’s beautiful. Who are you, stranger?

One hand reached up and pushed back blond hair, but it fell forward again over blue eyes dark as summer twilight.

“My lord—”

Macsen’s awareness recoiled.

“— wake up!”

The images wavered like a reflection on a pool.

“Wake up, My Lord!”

The vision vanished into darkness. Macsen opened his eyes and tensed his fingers in the fur drawn up over his body. He blinked at the smooth, familiar features of the face leaning over him, then let his hands relax and closed his eyes to the presence of the female bent over his bed. The smile on her face was obscenely cheerful, and all he wanted was to go back to sleep.

For the first time he could remember, Macsen wanted to go back to one of his Samhain dreams. Despite the haze over the recollection, the thought of that male stuck with him, the shade of those blue eyes.

Was he human or sidhe? Mortal or immortal? Real…or not? As he considered it, Macsen thought that those blues eyes were set in a face he had seen before. A face he knew, and not from someone he’d drunk.Sidhe, then. But who?

A name hovered at the edge of his consciousness.

“My Lord—”

The voice cut the thread on which Macsen had been reeling the name into his awareness, and frustration boiled in him.

“Enough, Talaith! I’m awake, go find someone else to torture.”

Despite his tone, Talaith’s smile didn’t change. She obeyed, but without hurrying. Before she left Talaith opened the great window in the western wall to let in the moonlight and the night.

The sounds of his winter kingdom’s dances and the horns of the waiting Hunt came faint but clear to Macsen’s ears. He felt a tingle on his skin, a cold wind that came through the open window with the scents of pine and snow.

The Red King closed his eyes again and tried to bring back the memory of his fading dream, but as had happened every year before, the details were gone. Macsen remembered only that he had not been himself. That he had seen blue eyes in a beautiful face.

He scowled then, irritated he couldn’t remember whose face it was, and threw off the covers. The Red King couldn’t ignore his duty, even if he wanted to. The moon was at its half in the sky outside, and tonight was a night of power. His presence was required for the taking of the sacrifice.

But he had seen those blue eyes before, had dreamed of being someone who was not himself before, he knew at least that much. Every year on Samhain night—for how many years now? More than ten? More than twenty?

Macsen wondered if he would ever know what it meant, then shrugged and grinned with all his teeth showing.

Probably. One day.

His was a world in which everything happened for a reason.

Macsen lifted himself out of bed then and crossed to stand naked before the great window that looked out across his kingdom. He tried to push his dream out of his thoughts. It was Samhain, and the night was just begun. He was looking forward to the sacrifice, and wondered which of his pets Talaith had chosen.

He hoped it was one with blue eyes.

 

* * * *

 

Macsen passed down a long curving stair and out into the wild celebration of his court. Shouts of welcome and screams of glee greeted him. His presence meant the highest point of the rite had come. With deliberate steps, Macsen passed through the crowd and came to stand at the foot of the stairs that led up to his throne. Talaith was waiting for him, holding a woman spellbound by dark allure.

He took the sacrifice into his arms, stroked her auburn hair and ran his fingers over her skin, pale in the starlight. Her eyes were blue, but not the shade that he was hungry for. Still, Talaith had chosen well as he had known she would. Eight hundred years at his side had taught her his preferences.

Macsen held up the sacrifice before his people and listened to them howl for her death. She was only a human captive from last year’s Hunt, but tonight she bore the full attention of the Red Court. Under the pressure of Macsen’s allure she submitted to his grasp, to the hungry howl of the sidhe. She was a creature without a will of her own.

The Red King put her down on her feet and gathered up the length of her hair in one fist. He addressed his court in a ringing voice.

“For the Hunt, and its power!”

A tide of whispers from his court returned the words to him.

“For the Hunt and its power!”

“Because I am your king, unless one among you would challenge me!”

Below him, a hundred sidhe drew a breath in unison. No one spoke. He hadn’t thought anyone would. His power was legend, as much to his own as to humans.

Let’s break bread together!

Welcome! This launch was long was long delayed, because the world is a hard, cruel, place full of…actually, the truth is it has me in it, and I am slow and, not improbably at all, bad at website building! Who knew? (I knew.) I thought I’d start with something a bit fun, and so I share with you this character information anecdote!

Maybe you have characters of your own, whether they’re in writing, or a game, or an RP – maybe just a favorite character in something you’ve watched or read? In whatever case, I know I can’t be the only one to nickname them, hell, all the “ships” in fandom have strange names, so single characters have to get them too.

Currently, I have only one idiot that gets a consistent nickname, and that is Bran Fionnan – the son of the Summer Queen who stars in Eight Kingdoms alongside the Red King. Before I tell you what the name is (and here’s a hint, this post is posted with a picture of it), I have to tell you how it came about – which, like many other things in my writing life, is the fault of Microsoft Word.

Microsoft Word is a necessary evil, and every time I get a new version of it for my editing I have to learn how to turn off all the things that annoy me, like autocomplete and autocorrect. BEFORE I do this, all my invented words, foreign language words, and names are in danger (ask me about Maracas sometime, but prepared for me to jump out a window before I tell the story).

In this instance, Word decided that Bran was wrong, and I had obviously meant bran – as in, the grain – and changed bunches of “Bran” into “bran”. He was being an uncooperative character at that point, on top of Word deciding to take matters into his own hands, so I ignored him for a while and then….and THEN…I went back, and found all the brans, while simultaneously listening to Bob Dylan.

You know that song, “Blowin’ in the Wind”? Yeah. That song. The answer to the Red King’s prayers was blowing in the wind, and it was Bran, only it was bran….so Bran Fionnan, Summer’s son, became and has remained….”the wheat”. Yes, that’s right .The wheat. As in a field of golden grain. As in it turns into bread. Wheat.

So now if you happen to be in Connecticut, and you hear “God damn it wheat!” come blowing on the wind….well….

At least you know where it came from now.