Tag Archives: Saoirse

Harvest Bite

To celebrate its full release,  today I’m sharing an excerpt from chapter one of A Harvest of Dreams & Embers, Eight Kingdoms book five! The second half of the saga begins with Merlin…and mayhem.

 

Chapter One

Sleep had come to Spring, though it did not belong there.

Myrddin advanced alone through the stillness of the Wyrdwood and found even the birds sunk into slumber. Drowsiness had descended, and with it a sacred silence that brought disharmony, reducing the promise of the branches to the ghost of leaves. There had never been such lethargy in immortal Spring before, but the season had traded away its show of splendor for somnolence.

King though he was, even Myrddin was tangled in threads of torpor and his own sudden awareness of the presence that incited them. Why here, why now? Father?

Yes.

With the feeling of acknowledgment came a summons Myrddin could not deny, though he wanted to. No other being was so perilous to him, had ever cost him so much, as his own father. And now, now that he finally had Kas for his own…

Neither the time nor the place of the visit pleased him, but Myrddin could no more deny the summons of the one who had sired him than the buds could refuse the spring.

His heart clenched. Had he regained what he’d lost only to have it taken away? Kas. All his desires were bound up in the single syllable of that name. He would not give his lover up again, no matter what demand the god of the wild had for him.

Myrddin found his father at the heart of the forest, wrapped around its most ancient oak. He knew it was his father, but Myrddin had never seen him like this. As the Stag of the wood, yes, carrying the moon in the spaces between his antlers. As a mist, or in a man’s shape, but like this?

The god of the wood had come to him as a dragon. His father was a moss-backed beast with leafed and feathered wings whose span stretched beyond Myrddin’s sight. He was the wildest and most beautiful of his kind Myrddin had ever seen, but he was a dragon all the same.

Did that mean…he was no longer a god?

There was a shiver in the branching pinions, a sibilant trembling of feathers. A sound like silk being stretched too tight and too quickly snapped through the air as the great wings beat once then settled.

“Father…” The dragon opened his mouth and breathed out the scent of somnolent blossoms, but not a single word in answer. “Father?”

He resisted the urge to go to one knee as he resisted the drowsy pressure of the air, a sudden urge to yawn. Silence greeted him. More than before, stronger the closer he came to the unsteady orb of his father’s eye. He recognized the source of the unnatural sleep with a familiarity that reminded him of his own long-vanished past.

‘My little shoot.’

Not his father’s voice, but the memory of his mother’s, brushed Myrddin with a faint prickling of dread. This sleep was akin to his own lost winter slumber. The sleep that had taken him at Samhain each year, before Spring had had a rite, or a kingdom… When winter had come to him as to the blossoms and dropped him down the well of the sleeping season.

His father blinked one enormous eye, and the flickering facets drew Myrddin in. The eye became a world, a universe in the shape of an ochre orb. “I forget who I was before the birth of this moment.

 

Want more? A Harvest of Dreams & Embers is currently available at Pride Publishing, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers. Grab your copy today!

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Hunter, Prey

Because context is key to the marvel that is #1lineWed, and because I haven’t shared anything in particular from this monstrosity I know you’re all waiting for…a piece of the upcoming book five of the Eight Kingdoms series! (With which I am currently arguing about its title.)

Saoirse watched the Red King stride up the curve of the snow, down over the crest of frosted dunes and into the darkness that reflected off the surface of the water.

Without ripples, without waves, it still lapped at the motionless shore, and gave away thus that it was water and not frozen. The deep was black and still, but as the Red King approached, the surface of the water was broken by a small, black head – and then by more, and more.

Selkies.

She had playmates and companions among their number. She had been warned in the days just past that this time was coming, but she hadn’t believed. Her own trust in Macsen Cadoc was absolute, and that there was enough worry in any being who owed allegiance to him to bring them here, to the edge of everything, to the last of all shores, hoping to escape some unknown catastrophe…

She hadn’t believed.

Quiet, stepless, without a splash, her special friend among the selkies was out of the water and by her side, and Saoirse watched her lean closer without allowing any expression on her face.

“Hello, Líadan.”

“Saoirse, didn’t I say we were going? You shouldn’t have come. Shouldn’t have come!”

“You did intend to leave without goodbye, then? I thought you were my friend!”

The edges of Líadan’s soft, black body went stiff and salty, licked by the waves, but she was still. “Your friend. Yes, I am that. But this is my family, and all of my kin, and I will not be the one who is left behind. There are stories enough of last stands and hopeless cases, and not for you or our friendship will I become one of them.”

“I didn’t ask for that, did I? Only for goodbye. Which is nothing but polite, if you cared.” Saoirse squinted and peered through one eye, but her friend didn’t seem bothered in the least about her frustrated tone. “The Red King -”

“Will let us go. He’ll see right through excuses, promises, platitudes…and he’ll talk of fear, and how little it should matter to those such as us. But though we are Hunters, we remember. We were of dark Summer first. Midsummer’s midnight moon is our provenance and our place.  Not in this dark, this winter land of blood and violence. Not for a people of mothers, daughters – not though he sheltered us when our place in the world was taken away.”

Saoirse stared back at Líadan, understanding and confused both. She remembered fear from her time in the human world…and from those first hours, alone here, wondering if she would be kept. If she could stay. Not now. The sting of the emotion, the feel of it, was all but lost to her.

“Líadan I don’t understand. You’re Hunters. How could you not belong here? What does anything else matter? How could you have belonged to Summer? This is the Hunter’s kingdom, this is…”

Líadan shook her head, had only black laughter to offer, a sound as dark and deep as the matte shine of her eyes. “You do not understand. But then, you aren’t one thing or another, are you?” Her smile showed pointed teeth. “Not yet.”

“It’s not fair. I learn so many things, but they’re never enough. Not enough to understand even my friends, and the Red King -” She made a despairing sound and shook her head at the selkie’s continued laughter.

“Girl creature. Something will call you, one thing or another, meaning or madness…and you will find your way. I have that faith in you.”

“Hmm… But I’m tired of waiting. Time is different here and still I’m tired of it.”

“The mortal in you is murmuring now. You are so young – so young! I’m still a child in the water, among my people, but I barely remember being young like you. Before I could slip the sea, leave this shape behind… Saoirse, haven’t you felt it? Your soul is slipping away. A little longer, and a little longer…and then the empty space will have to be filled in by something else. What have you chosen?”

Saoirse blinked into Líadan’s eyes, blinked at her own reflection there, and then smiled.

“Blood of course. The Hunt, and its power.”

“Have you.” Líadan blinked, and the smile on her face stretched wide, then wider. Saoirse frowned as her reflection in the black eyes distorted, changing shape, size…something.

“Saoirse, I think you will surprise yourself with how much emptiness will be left behind when you lose your human self for the last time. I think you will surprise yourself with how little blood will fill the space inside you. You are not the Red King. Macsen Cadoc is of his own kind, and it is not yours. You may walk in the shadow, but I do not think it will be this shadow…or his.”

Saoirse crouched, reached forward and pet the flat, smooth space between Líadan’s ears. “What, then? Whose? I’ve been hunting, hunting without knowing – do you know my prey? Tell me!”

The selkie closed her eyes to night-dark slits. “I see a pale shadow behind you. Yes. Not red, but stripped of all color. A pale shadow…in a pale land. White flowers beneath a black moon.”

Saoirse contemplated this, but she had never heard of a place like that. She knew of eight hidden kingdoms outside the mortal world, and none of them sounded like the place Líadan was describing to her.

“When I find it, will I know what I’ve been looking for? What I’ve been missing since – forever?”

Even before I came here. The thought left Saoirse agitated, but without an outlet, just like many other such thoughts. They were becoming more and more frequent as time passed…and didn’t. As it washed over her, and left her unchanged, as the freezing ocean water moved over Líadan’s smooth, seal-black back.

“Saoirse, it is nearly time.”

“Time -”

“For us to go.”

“You…will be safe, won’t you?”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. These are dangerous times, and there may be no safety for anyone, anywhere. But we will make the attempt. If things change, and what is broken is fixed, perhaps we will even return…and I will find you then, and see what you have become, and be, even as I will be far from you, your friend.”

“As I’ll be yours! I promise, Líadan. Friends, always.”

The wide grin Líadan wore as she slipped into the sea sealed the promise, and Saoirse stepped back from the water. She slipped into a shadow, then over the crackling, frosted dunes, closer to where the Red King was. She could hear his voice, and some other, and she wanted to know if Líadan had been right.

Would he be angry? Or would he let them go? Or both, maybe. She was curious, but not afraid. There was no violence, not even the anticipation of it, in the wind tonight.

Anyway, it was fun. Hunting Macsen, Red King that he was. She would tell Bran about it later, and he would laugh with her. He understood better than the rest, and regardless, she had to stay close to him.

There was an oath that she’d made, and it remained unfulfilled, but she understood oaths better now.

Saoirse took another step, then another, until she could hear clearly. Yes, she would tell Bran…even though Macsen was Bran’s, and therefore not her prey. Again, she faced the frustration of not knowing who, or what, it was that she was meant to be hunting.

Líadan had not answered her, but now, watching, listening, she wondered if the Red King would.

 

Want more? Book five is coming soon, but you can grab the first four books here

Shadow Bite

To celebrate today’s early release at Pride Publishing,  today I’m sharing an exclusive excerpt from chapter one of The Shadow Road, Eight Kingdoms book four! 

Enjoy this crunchy little bite, and of course, if you want more, grab a copy here!

Through the barrow, across the ice, over the bridge and the river’s black water, Macsen ran quickly, following the promise of heat. Summer fire was making its presence known in the middle of Winter, fire and coiling smoke and the scent of golden power.

A smile crawled across his face, eager with anticipation. He knew where Bran was now, and he stalked around the palace, through the green of the orchard. Yes. Yes. He could see through the open spaces of the entryway that Bran was at his forge, muttering to himself, shaping the precious metals Macsen had left for him with practiced movements.

Bits of work were scattered here and there on tables. The beginnings of what might be a silver bridle, golden baubles filled with fire and a dozen gossamer lengths of chain were coiled and piled on each other.

Macsen’s attention was drawn to Bran’s hands, the smoothness of their movements, the easy way his fingers shaped the softness of the gold. There was something sensual in the motions, in his perfect focus, the way his eyes didn’t wander at all and a tiny wrinkle deepened between his brows. The intensity of his attention to his work was such that he still hadn’t noticed Macsen’s presence.

He almost took a step forward, arm outstretched, but caught sight of his own fingers, dark with bloodstains, and grimaced. Quietly, still unnoticed, he slipped away, up to their room and the bath. Macsen stripped out of silk as bloody as his body, and the water went red as he stepped into it. It grew redder still as he bathed, scrubbed gore from his face, his hands, even his hair.

When it flowed clear, he lingered for only a moment before he grabbed a towel and wandered back into the bedroom, considering. Talaith was gone. He would have to do everything himself, or find some other servant, and even the thought made him scowl. When Macsen opened the wardrobe, it was empty, nothing hung. His clothes, where were they? But then she did that too, didn’t she? He’d have to go down into the storage closets and find everything there.

He wrapped his towel around his waist, pushed wet hair back out of his eyes and contemplated a secondary irritation. His comb, where was that? He scowled, then turned to face the door as it opened.  It wasn’t Bran, he knew that instantly, and who else would dare? But he saw first not the one who had come, but what they had brought with them—his clothes, and things glinting silver. Momentarily, a familiar face emerged from behind the pile.

“Saoirse! What are you doing?”

“I… Since Talaith… I thought you…” And she stopped dead, but still peered up at him, curious and perhaps confused. “Should I leave? I didn’t mean to be trouble, but I helped Talaith sometimes and I never once saw you come down where everything is, so I thought you would need…” Again she stopped. “Red King?”

He had too many thoughts for words, and only shook his head and turned away. Whatever she thought of that, he didn’t know. Her stillness dissipated and she came into the room, began to lay things out on the bed. Tunics and trousers in red and silver, blue and gold, more choices than he needed and some that weren’t even his clothes.

“Girl—”

“There’s things for Bran, too. He likes new clothes after he’s been working. And I brought combs and brushes, but not jewelry. Bran doesn’t need it, not with your gift, and I haven’t seen you wear anything but your crown. Do you, Red King? If you do I’ll bring it next time but—”

Next time. Have you appointed yourself my keeper, Saoirse?” But he was already laughing before she could answer, laughing and shaking his head. “Do what you please, I won’t complain. You’ve done well. I don’t know where anything is, not after so long. But how did you know? How did you know I needed you?”

“I told you, I helped Talaith—and I was watching for you. Bran asked me to. He said he gets distracted when he’s working. He said he wouldn’t notice when you’d come back. I don’t know why he wanted to know, it’s not like you wouldn’t go to him first. You always go to him first. But you looked like you wanted to surprise him and you were very bloody, so I haven’t said anything, not anything. I went downstairs instead.” She wrinkled her nose. “Red King, tell him please that I did notice, and it’s only your fault that I didn’t say.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You think he’ll be angry?”

“Not Bran. It’s not easy to make him angry—you know that.”

Macsen studied her more closely when she smiled. Subtle changes that he had missed were making themselves known to him now, and he was…confused. Were her features sharper, her teeth more pointed?

She is not the same as she was.

“Girl, you’re changing.”

“I am. I am!”

“And you like it.”

“Yes.”

“Good.” And as if he had never said anything else, he returned to the previous subject. “Since you’ve done so well, this will be your responsibility. You’ll be our handmaid, mine and Bran’s.” He met her gaze. “You don’t mind? You were a princess once.”

She dimpled, grinning, and he saw that, yes, her teeth were sharper. “This is more fun, Red King.”

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.