Posts Categorized: The Fire Mages’ Daughter

Now out! ‘The Second God’

September 24, 2016 Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages, The Fire Mages' Daughter, The Second God 0

Yes, folks, the story that started in The Fire Mages and continued a generation later in The Fire Mages’ Daughter now reaches its dramatic conclusion, as Drina and the two men in her life, Ly-haam and Arran, are forced to make difficult and dangerous choices to defend their country from new threats.

The Second God is currently just $2.99 for a short time, and The Fire Mages’ Daughter is just $0.99. If you’d like to pick up a copy of The Fire Mages too, hold off until 3rd October, when it will be FREE. All these discounts are available worldwide for the Kindle. If you have a subscription to Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime, you can borrow all three books free. You can also buy the books in paperback, and download the ebook free of charge. Click the cover image to be taken to your local Amazon.

Here’s the blurb for The Second God:

Rival gods at war. Mind-bonded giant beasts. A fanatical golden army. Dangerous blood magic.

secondgodcover2500After The Fire Mages and The Fire Mages’ Daughter, the dramatic conclusion to the story…

It’s been five years since the war with the fearsome Blood Clans, whose giant bonded beasts almost destroyed Bennamore. Now the tenuous peace is being put to the test.

Drina’s prisoner-husband and Blood Clan god, Ly-haam, is challenged by the emergence of a second living god.

Drina’s lover, Arran, is vulnerable to flattery from the ambitious fringes of the ruler’s court, but his weakness could endanger many lives.

Meanwhile, on the southern Plains of Kallanash, a new force is arising from the chaos of the Karningplain — a vast golden army, raised in ferocious discipline, and fanatical followers of another kind of god, who is determined to spread his power into an empire, and will let nothing stand in his way.

To combat the threat to Bennamore and its allies, Drina, Arran and Ly-haam must set aside their personal differences and combine their talents in a uniquely dangerous way which will test their heroism to its limits. How much will they have to sacrifice to save their country?

Divider

Authors Answer 14: When coming up with a new story, what comes first, the character or the plot?

June 9, 2016 AuthorsAnswer, The Fire Mages' Daughter, The Plains of Kallanash 0

The character, always. Most of my books have started in a very simple way, with a character in a situation. Then I start looking around for more details of the setting, more characters, the background to the situation. Then, and only then, do I let the characters loose and see what sort of plot develops.

I always think it must be tidier to start with the plot, to know that event A is succeeded by event B and so on, right down to the grand finale of event Z, and then construct characters that will show that plot off to best advantage. Such a system leads to properly rounded character arcs, and neat resolutions, and pivotal moments that occur at precisely 37.5% of the way through. Properly structured stories must be built this way, I assume. It’s just not the way I work.

For example, The Plains of Kallanash was an accident. I was in the middle of writing something else, but then I had an idea: what would life be like if a marriage consisted of four people, and not just two? Perhaps it would just be two couples, but what if there was one active couple, the senior husband and wife, who slept together and had children, while the junior couple were just there as moral support, and to step into the breach if one of the seniors dies.

All of a sudden, Mia was there, fully formed – quiet, timid Mia, content to do whatever is needed, but secretly yearning to attract the attention of the senior husband. Jonnor appeared next, the handsome one, who treated Mia like a child, when he wasn’t ignoring her. And by contrast, Hurst, in love with Mia, and beautiful, lively Tella, the catalyst for everything that followed. So there were my characters and their situation, but what was the plot? I sat down to write, but I had absolutely no idea where the story was taking me. And yet somehow it developed and grew and took me to the most unexpected places, and, in its rambling way, came to an end. Does it work? I’m still not sure. But I liked the way it got written, and it’s a way that’s worked for several books now.

There’s only been one exception so far. My second book, The Fire Mages, came to an end with the birth of a baby, a daughter whose whole gestation period was bathed in very powerful magic. That was a situation that intrigued me. How would that affect an unborn baby? How would she be different from other children, and would that be a good or bad thing? So in that case, I had a character with a very specific situation, but there was no obvious plot. I needed a story that would put those differences under the spotlight and challenge her. So I turned to Libbie Hawker’s book Take Your Pants Off!, which demonstrates a very gentle character-based form of plotting for pantsers, and that got me out of trouble and started the story rolling. The result was The Fire Mages’ Daughter.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

 

 

Divider

‘The Fire Mages’ Daughter’: Chapters 1-4

March 20, 2016 The Fire Mages' Daughter 0

1: A Letter

As soon as I saw the messenger, I knew there would be trouble. Most letters came with Brant, ambling about on his elderly pony, his working clothes so faded from the sun it was impossible to guess the original colour. Anything more important came from the Kellona’s Hall, conveyed by a high-stepping horse, the rider clad in blue and orange.

This rider wore gold. Her trousers and jacket were trimmed with it, her smart hat bore a gold feather, and the clasp on her cloak shone like the sun. She could only have come from Kingswell, from the Drashona herself.

I was lying in the garden, my face to the sun, my hands restlessly poking holes through the grass to the soil beneath. I loved the feel of earth on my fingers, dry, crumbling, full of energy, just waiting to grow into flowers or apple trees or those strange plants that curl up when you touch them. I’d woken from my afternoon nap, and hadn’t yet summoned the energy to pick up my book.

Voices at the gate alerted me, then the gate creaking as the guards opened it, and a horse clip-clopping, and not disappearing to the kitchen yard, either, but getting louder, riding straight up to the front door. A knocking, some low voices, a long silence, more voices – my mother’s one of them – and a clunk as the door closed again. Then clip-clopping back to the gate.

A message that could only be handed over directly to my mother. This was very bad news. Rolling over, I watched the rider as she left.

I slipped into the house by the orchard door. My feet were bare, so I tiptoed soundlessly through the hall to the open study door, stopping just out of sight.

“She can’t go.” That was my mother, her voice firm, the way she spoke to the servants when they argued with her. “She’s not well enough. It’s too long a journey for her.”

Me? They were talking about me?

“That’s why she sends for her now, before the bad weather sets in.” That was Cal, who was not my father, was nothing like my father.

“Even so…”

“She has the right to claim her. We’re lucky she’s waited so long.”

“But Kingswell! How will she manage in a place like that, among strangers? How can she—?”

They were sending me to Kingswell?

A cluck of irritation, then my mother’s head appeared round the door. She’d realised I was there. She always did, I don’t know how. “Don’t lurk, Drina! But you needn’t run away. This concerns you.”

Usually I liked to pretend I didn’t really care about whatever I was caught listening to, but this was all too serious for pretending. I couldn’t possibly go to Kingswell, surely they understood that?

“Sit down, Drina,” Cal said, patting the sofa next to him. That was bad, too. I generally had to stand when I was summoned to the study to be told off or given instructions.

I didn’t want to sit beside him, so I took the opposite sofa.

Mother sat next to Cal. They always looked odd, side by side, Cal tall and bone-thin, Mother short and plump. Even the mage marks on their foreheads were different, Cal’s sweeping and flamboyant, Mother’s neat and small. Their expressions were identical now, though – troubled. This was serious.

“We’ve had word from Kingswell,” Mother said. “The Drashona is claiming her rights over you. She wants to see if you’d make a suitable heir.”

Ah, that. Well, I’d always known she might try. “Can’t you explain?” I said. “It’s out of the question. I can’t possibly leave here.”

“We’ve told her all about your illness, Drina,” Cal said. “She understands it as well as we do, which isn’t a lot. You’re a mystery to us all, petal. But she promises to take great care of you.”

“I don’t want to go! I can’t go!” I jumped up and threw myself down next to Mother, grabbing her hand and lifting it to my face. “You can’t send me away! Please!”

Gently, she slid her hand out of mine. “We don’t want you to go, but we have no choice. The Drashona is your custodian, and she has the right to claim you at any time before you reach adulthood. That’s the law.”

“Well, it’s a stupid law! She’s no blood kin at all to me. Just because my father was once married to her… but he’s dead, and you’re my mother. I should stay with you.”

Mother sighed. We’d talked about it before, of course, about the contract she’d signed when she’d been drusse to my father, giving him the rights to me. And when he died, his wife had acquired the same rights and now she was reaching out her hand to snatch me away from my family.

It was too cruel for words. But Mother had that set look about her face, and Cal’s eyes were sad like a dog’s, so there wasn’t much point arguing. I would just have to convince the Drashona that I’d make a terrible heir so she’d send me home again.

~~~~~

Evening board was a solemn affair. Everyone was talking about practical things, like boxes and clothes and journey times. The Drashona was to send a carriage, and one of her waiting women to look after me, and a mage, in case I felt ill on the way. Cal offered to go with me, but I didn’t want him.

“Why can’t you come with me?” I asked Mother, but she sighed and shook her head.

“I’m needed here, Drina. Besides…” She looked at me oddly. “You belong to the Drashona now. You might as well get used to that.”

“You lucky thing!” Lathran said. “You’ll be able to live in the Keep, and have proper bodyguards.” He swished an imaginary sword about. Lathran was the mage guards’ son, and a great irritant to me.

“You’ll be so grand, Drina,” Markell said. “You’ll have jewels and everything.”

I ignored him. He was only eight, and never said anything worth replying to. Sallorna gazed at me with her blue eyes. She was easier to put up with, because she hardly said anything at all. Even silent, she was still irritating. They all were, my brother and sister, and Cal. They were all so slender, so pale. I was the odd one out, my father’s daughter, a sturdy oak amongst delicate silver birches.

It wasn’t that I minded being different, exactly. After all, my father was a great hero, a not very important man who had married one of the heirs to the realm, and led the army to a great victory in the south. He had brought us a peaceful settlement, and negotiated a fine treaty. And he was a Fire Mage, like Mother. That was a heritage to be proud of, and I always glowed when I thought of him. I was proud to have inherited his looks. But sometimes I felt very alone.

“I can go with her,” Tisha said. I perked up at that. Tisha was good fun, so a journey with her wouldn’t be so bad. “I could even stay at Kingswell for a while. Help Drina to settle in.”

“Actually, that’s not a bad idea,” Cal said. “Maybe you and Millan could both go. We can manage without you for a while.”

That was a kind way to put it. Tisha and Millan were mage guards, protecting Mother and Cal from any threats, but Tisha hadn’t worked much since the last pregnancy went wrong, and Millan’s bad leg had been getting worse for years. Well, this wasn’t going to be so bad after all.

Then Mother had to spoil it all. “How about you, Lathran? Would you like to go too? It would be good for Drina to have a friend with her.”

I rolled my eyes. “He’s not my friend.”

“Nonsense,” Mother said in that brisk, don’t-argue way of hers. “You’re almost the same age, the two of you. You ought to be friends. You can explore Kingswell together.”

Ought to be, perhaps. That would be logical – the daughter of the mage, and the son of the mage guards, growing up together in the same house.

But Lathran was one of those disgustingly energetic boys, always running about and climbing trees and covering himself with dirt. I got tired just watching him. If you gave him a book to read, he fidgeted and squirmed and told you exactly how many pages – how many words! – he’d read until someone got cross with him and took the book away. And it was usually me who got cross with him. He was my curse, and it seemed he was destined to curse me all the way to Kingswell.

~~~~~

Cal took me off into the garden for a little fatherly chat after evening board. He liked to play the father, and that was fine for Markell and Sallorna, since he really was their father. But he wasn’t mine, and it was always uncomfortable for both of us when he chose to do it.

“Well, this isn’t what we wanted,” he said with a sigh, sitting himself on the bench round the cherry tree, and patting it invitingly.

I sat on the grass, picking daisies and pulling the petals off one by one.

“It will be strange for you at first,” he went on. “I hated it when I first went to my father.”

I looked up sharply at that. He seldom talked about his childhood, or the time before he was a mage. I’d learned more about him from his brother, who was a saddler here in Zendronia, and from his mother and her family, who lived a sun’s ride down river.

“How old were you?” I asked.

“A bit older than you – just about twelve. I knew my mother had been his drusse and that he could claim me at any time, but when year after year goes past, you begin to think you’re safe. And then – bam. Out of nowhere, there’s a summons. So I understand how you feel. But it worked out fine for me. I liked being in town, at the Hall, being the Kellon’s son. He had other children, so I wasn’t alone.”

That was something I hadn’t considered. The Drashona, too, had other children. “How many does she have? The Drashona?”

“Five altogether, besides you. The two eldest are eleven, like you, and you all have the same father. A son and a daughter. Then there are three younger.”

“Do they look like me? The two eldest?” Oh, how badly I wanted that! I was tired of being the oddity, the one who stood out at gatherings amongst the fair hair and the red and the drab brown. No one else had my black curls.

Cal thought about that. “I would say that you favour your father more than they do.”

Hmm. That wasn’t quite as positive as I’d hoped. I turned back to my daisies.

“Drina, I know you don’t want to go, but this is a wonderful opportunity for you. You’ll get the very best education, and you’ll have far more choices than you would have here.”

“Choices? What kind of choices?”

“Careers. Husbands. Or drusse, if you don’t want a husband. Zendronia has been good for us, but it’s a very small town.”

“It’s not even finished!”

He laughed, although it was an old joke. “Well, the bridge will be finished one sun, and the Kellona’s Hall, but stone work takes time. It’s more finished than it was when we arrived. At least we have a proper mages’ house now. But being the Drashona’s daughter will open doors for you, Drina, even if she doesn’t choose you as her heir.”

“I don’t want to be chosen!”

“I didn’t, either. Fortunately, I became a mage, so the question never arose.”

That was interesting. “Could I become a mage?”

“Well… possibly. It’s a lot of hard work. Five years of study to become a law scribe. Then, maybe, a mage, if you have the ability to work with magic directly. Do you want to? You’ve never shown any interest before in what your mother and I do.”

“I might. Because then I couldn’t be the Drashona’s heir, and I’d be able to come back here to Mother, wouldn’t I?”

“That’s hardly a good reason, Drina. Being a mage is a serious responsibility.”

It was a promising idea, but there’d be five years of work and no guarantee at the end of it. I could surely think of a quicker way home.

~~~~~

The journey to Kingswell was a nightmare. I was lethargic and spiritless the whole way, and the weather didn’t help. We had barely an hour of sunshine, and a dreary amount of rain. You would hardly know it was summer.

If I’d felt better, I’d have quite enjoyed the impression we made as we swept through villages and small towns. The Drashona had sent a fine carriage for me, large enough that I could lie down if I wished, which I often did. The waiting woman sat in the carriage with me, and chattered on a great deal, but if I closed my eyes she said nothing at all, and that was fine.

She dressed in a very grand style – floaty gowns with frills and flounces everywhere. Kingswell style, I supposed. I had a box full of new clothes in fine wools and soft linens, with delicate embroidery and tiny frills of lace, but all comfortable tunics and trousers. No gowns. Mother never wore a gown, and I wasn’t going to, either.

Then there was a mage, and her two guards, who rode behind us with Millan and Tisha, and an escort of eight of the Drashona’s own guard, who rode in front in their gold-trimmed uniforms. And most important of all, a driver and his wife, who took Lathran under their wing and – praise all the gods! – let him sit at the front with them, and thereby kept him almost entirely out of my way.

At last we reached Kingswell. I’d never imagined such a vast place, with buildings reaching to the sky, and great, wide streets full of people and carts and mules and wagons and so much bustle and movement. When we clattered through the archway into the King’s Keep, where I was to live, I felt energised by all the liveliness going on around me, and able to sit up and look about me.

The King’s Keep was the most famous building in the whole realm. Everyone knew of the eight octagonal towers and the great, red outer wall, which had never been breached by enemies. I’d never imagined anything so vast. Each tower was several times larger than the Kellona’s Hall at Zendronia, and the whole inner wall was dotted with windows, with washing hanging from lines and colourful boxes of flowers in vivid reds and yellows and purples.

The inside of the Keep was just as busy as the town outside. Around the inner wall squatted stalls and low buildings – bakeries, stables, shops, board houses, craft workshops, taverns and other places I couldn’t identify. I caught glimpses of gardens in the centre of the Keep, with flowers in straight lines, shrubs trimmed into balls and even the trees in neat rows. That was promising. I would have to explore when I was settled, and feel the earth on my fingers.

As soon as we pulled up outside the Drashona’s Tower, hordes of servants emerged to receive us. To receive me. There was a chair contraption, with four men to carry it, so that I didn’t have to walk at all. It was rather pleasant to sit in my chair and be lifted up the many stairs and along wide corridors, while the others scuttled along in my wake. I’d not thought much about the benefits of high rank, because in truth nothing at all had changed, but if I were forced to swear by the Moon God, I’d have to admit that I liked it.

The Drashona was at some kind of formal reception with ambassadors or some such, so we were taken to a room to wait for her. The chairs were hard and uncomfortable, covered with a slippery kind of silk. I’d never seen such elaborate furniture, all carved and decorated and painted in washed-out blues and greens. Even the ceiling had a picture on it. Another horde of servants brought out food and drink for us, so we sat and nibbled and gazed around in awe. Nobody spoke, except the waiting woman, who was used to it all, I supposed.

Eventually, the Drashona came. She wasn’t what I’d expected. Even though I knew she had children younger than me, still I’d imagined her quite old, grey and stooped, like the two sisters who came every spring to help with the festival cleaning, who called me ‘dear one’ and gave me sweeties one sun, and shouted at me the next, for unfathomable reasons. In the stories I’d read, rulers of realms were always elderly. The Drashona was not elderly at all. She wasn’t much older than Mother, although slimmer, with fair hair smoothed away under a lace cap and a silk gown trimmed with a lot more lace.

“Axandrina! Here you are at last,” she began, but as I slithered off my chair and stood, her face changed, hands lifted to her mouth. “Oh, my poor child! You are so like your father.”

I was so taken aback that I forgot to make my bow. I only remembered when I saw the others bobbing down.

“But how are you, my dear? Are you exhausted? We will take great care of you, be assured of that.”

“I’m fine, thank you… um, Most Powerful.”

She turned to the waiting woman. “Marshalia? How has she been on the journey?”

“Quite tired, Highness. She seems a little better just now.”

“Good, good. Jayna? Have you examined her?”

Jayna was the mage. She had indeed examined me, more than once, and tried to heal me, too, muttering incantations over me and touching me here and there. As if that would help. My mother was the most powerful mage in the whole of Bennamore, a natural mage, with magic inside her, and if she couldn’t heal me, no ordinary mage would help.

“I have a confession to make, Axandrina,” the Drashona said. “I sent Jayna to accompany you because she has the power to detect when a person is lying. I wanted to know whether your illness is real or not.”

“It’s real,” I said, outraged. How horrible, to trick me like that! I’d thought Jayna was so nice, too.

“Jayna?”

“She certainly is not lying, Highness. When she says she feels weak or tired, that is the truth. I could not find any abnormality that would account for it, but I hardly expected to. If Lady Mage Kyra could not find the root of the problem, no one could.”

I warmed to Jayna again. But it was still insulting to suggest that I’d been malingering all these years and had even fooled my own mother.

“Of course,” the Drashona said. “So, Axandrina, you will have a sun or two to settle in and recover before you go to the mages’ house for testing.”

That sounded ominous. “Testing?”

“Of course, child. You are the daughter of two Fire Mages. Naturally we want to find out what powers you have inherited.”

Well, that was promising. If I failed the mages’ tests, perhaps she would send me home again.

 


2: Books

The testing was very tedious. One mage after another came and poked and prodded me, gave me objects to hold, or asked me to do impossible things – as if I could make fire! Then they shook their heads and tutted and muttered together and shook their heads some more. But in the end they agreed that I had no innate magical ability at all.

The Drashona took it well when the mages had to go to her and admit defeat. “It is not important. No doubt you have other talents, Axandrina.”

“So you aren’t going to send me home then?” I couldn’t keep the disappointment out of my voice.

She laughed merrily. “By no means. It would have been useful… but you are here because you are a possible heir for me. Kingswell is the only place where you can be properly trained for such a role, and where I can get to know you and you can get to know your family.”

That stung. “But you’re not my family! You aren’t my mother, and my father is dead. It isn’t fair to take me away from my real family.”

“It must indeed seem strange,” she said equably. “But in this case, the law is being fair to me, if not to you. Claiming my husband’s children allows me many more potential heirs. Women would be greatly disadvantaged otherwise, and we would have male rulers constantly.”

“What if I don’t want to be your heir?” I said. “I could never run the whole realm, like you do.”

She wasn’t deterred. “Not yet, of course, but in ten years’ time—”

Ten years! I didn’t hear the rest of what she said. It was too appalling for words. I had to find a way to make her see I was quite unsuitable so she would send me home.

~~~~~

I had a grand apartment all to myself. There was a bedroom bigger than the one Mother and Cal had at home, with its own bathing room and separate water bucket room, some rooms for the servants, and a huge sitting room with a big table and comfortable chairs – much softer than the slippy ones in the Drashona’s formal rooms. There were bookshelves, too, but they were all empty.

“Where can I get books to read?” I’d asked Marshalia, as she was showing me round.

“Oh – I have no idea. I expect your tutors will give you books to read.”

“Isn’t there a library? I’m sure there must be one somewhere in a great building like this.”

“Oh, of course, but… you should ask your tutors.”

Not a great reader, Marshalia.

My apartment – what fun to say that! A whole apartment to myself! My apartment was on the very top floor of the Drashona’s Tower. Actually, she had two of the eight towers in the Keep all to herself, but one was only formal rooms for receiving petitioners and visiting dignitaries, and the other was for her and all her relations to live in. The Drashona’s own rooms were very grand, but up there near the sky, the rooms were smaller and plainer.

All the children lived there. They were brought to meet me one at a time, a sun apart, so as not to tire me out. None of them said a word to me. The two I’d had such hopes of, Zandara and Axandor, who had the same father as me, were plain, wilting little things, stick-thin and so pale you’d never know we were related at all. The other three were babies, and as yellow-haired as a cornfield. So that was a disappointment.

But one afternoon, when I was supposed to be resting, the bedroom door creaked open and a head peeped round. Pressing a finger to her lips, she crept in and quietly closed the door behind her.

“I knew you would not be sleeping! I am not disturbing you, am I?”

I shook my head. In truth, I could hardly be more glad to see her, for here at last was someone like me, someone else who was an oak amongst the birches. Although, to be honest, she was more delicate than I was, and prettier, with sparkling chestnut eyes and plump lips.

“Who are you? Why haven’t I met you before?”

“My turn is supposed to be tomorrow, but I could not bear to wait! I am Vhar-zhin, and we are cousins. Well, in a way. My father is the Drashona’s brother.”

“But who is your mother?” I blurted. “Is she Icthari, like my father?”

“No, no, she came from the Nyi-Harn. Do you know of them?”

“Of course. The hill tribes to the north of the sun-blessed lands.”

“Oh. No one else knows where it is. You must be very clever. My father travelled from one coast to the other to find a wife, but he chose my mother,” she said proudly. But then her face filled with sorrow. “He was so sad when she died.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I expect everyone was sad about my father. He’s dead, too.”

“I know,” she said, looking at me oddly for a moment. Then, jumping onto the high bed beside me, she picked up the book I’d been reading. “ ‘The History of the Plains of Kallanash: Volume 2’.” She flicked through the pages. “This looks very dull. Have the tutors been setting you work already?”

“No, I wanted to read it. It’s all about the Petty Kings and their wars. It’s very exciting.”

She stared disbelievingly at me. “Really? Tell me something exciting from it, then.”

“Very well. I’ll tell you the story of Prince Ronnard and Princess Callinnia. That’s my favourite.”

She rearranged the pillows so she could sit beside me, and settled down happily to listen.

~~~~~

Once I was deemed well enough, I was allowed to join in the normal activities of the King’s Keep. It was an odd thing, but as soon as I’d arrived, almost the instant the carriage had driven through the archway under the walls, I’d begun to feel more energised. I’d expected to fade away to nothing, as I had every other time I’d been separated from Mother, but it didn’t happen, and I felt better than I had for an age.

I was to take lessons each morning, then a nap after the noon board, and the afternoons I spent with Millan and Tisha and, sadly, Lathran. We went to the gardens in the centre of the Keep, which was wonderfully restful, or wandered around the many stalls and shops lining the walls. When it was wet, we went to the mages’ house, and played games of stones or bones, or calling games. Lathran was very bad at all of them. He hated sitting still.

On rest-suns, we went out into the town beyond the Keep walls. Millan was river-born, but Tisha had hordes of kin at Kingswell, so we went to see a different branch of her family each time. They were fun, and there were generally enough fidgety boys to scoop up Lathran for some pretend fighting, and leave me with the girls. They didn’t play games much, but I kept them quiet by telling them stories.

All my lessons, I discovered, were to be held in the children’s library. This had me very excited, until I saw it. A single room, not much bigger than my own sitting room, with the centre filled with individual desks and two walls lined from floor to ceiling with books.

“Is this all there are?” I said, on my first morning there. “I thought there would be a lot more books than this.”

“This is more than enough for now,” said Magister Abranda. She was quite young for a tutor, about Mother’s age, but stern-faced. She had a nasal voice, and breathed through her mouth, which made her gape like a fish. “You can read any of these that seem interesting to you. Would you like to choose one to read now, Lady Axandrina? Then you might read aloud to us, so that we can assess your current level?”

With my old tutors, I would no doubt have accepted that for the time being, and wheedled what I wanted out of them later, when I’d softened them up a bit. Tutors were easy enough to manipulate, if you were good at the work they set. But here I could be as rude as I wanted. With luck, they would report to the Drashona that I was obnoxiously uncooperative, and she would send me home in disgust.

I pulled a few volumes at random from the shelves. “These are children’s books.”

“Well, of course.” The Magister tittered. “This is the children’s library.”

“At Zendronia, I had access to the Kellona’s library. It was quite small, though. You must have a bigger library somewhere. Can’t I use that?”

“Children are not permitted in the Keep library,” she said repressively. “No one is, without demonstrating a need. We cannot have just anyone looking at the books, you know.”

“Why ever not? And how do I demonstrate my need?”

She looked me up and down, and I could see her mind scratching round for a way to deny me, without an outright refusal. Then she smiled. “When you have read every volume of ‘The Child’s Complete Description of The World’ in this room, then you may ask to use the Keep library.”

“Where may I find these volumes?”

“In the appropriate sections, naturally.”

“Which are— Oh, it’s a game! Excellent!”

I would have rushed off at once to begin the search for these mysterious volumes, but that would have been too much fun for Magister Abranda to allow me, so I had to read out loud, and then do number work for the rest of the morning.

It didn’t take me long to work out the system. There were more than twenty children being tutored, aged from seven or eight up to twelve, and only three or four tutors at any one time. Each of us would be set some work to do, the slate examined by one or other of the tutors, and then we’d be given another problem to work on. But inevitably there were periods of inactivity waiting for a tutor to be free. In those times, we were allowed to read, or to choose a book.

Naturally, I tore through my work and then dashed off to search for the volumes that would give me the key to the wonderful library for adults. Vhar-zhin was my enthusiastic aide in this enterprise, either helping me search, or keeping the tutors occupied to give me more time. I suspected that one or two of the other tutors were furtively assisting me, too, when they could, by distracting Magister Abranda, or, once, actually pointing to one of the volumes lurking on a low shelf. It would have been an easy task if I could have searched the room at other times, or taken the books away to read, but perhaps that would also have spoiled the fun somewhat.

I don’t suppose Magister Abranda intended it that way, but setting me such a challenge was exactly the right way to help me settle in. If I hadn’t burned with the desire to win the game, I would have been desperately unhappy for those first few moons at Kingswell. I’d never been so far from home before, or away for so long, and I missed my family with a passion. I even thought fondly of Markell and Sallorna, which shows how bad things were. Mother and Cal both wrote to me regularly, and several of Cal’s family, too, and I wrote back, filling sheet after sheet with trivial details that must have cost a fortune to send.

Vhar-zhin was my saviour, a friend who listened uncomplainingly to every whiny rant of mine, and there were a lot of rants. She explained Keep customs to me, showed me the secret ways to get about or to hide, taught me how to manage the supercilious servants and often crept into my bed at night and hugged me when I cried myself to sleep. I don’t know what I’d have done without her.

~~~~~

It was well into autumn when I finished reading the final volume. I went triumphantly to Magister Abranda. The whole room fell silent, a score of faces turned to watch, like sunroses following the sun.

“And how many volumes did you find?” she asked sweetly.

An easy question. “Nineteen, Magister.”

“I think you will find that there are twenty volumes in the set, Lady Axandrina.”

“That is correct, but the volume on languages and scripts is missing.”

Her eyes narrowed. “If it is missing, how do you know what is in it?”

“It is referenced more than once in the two volumes on societies and customs.”

“Well, then, you still have one more book to read, I believe.”

“But it is not in this room, Magister, and you only said that I had to read every volume that was in this room.”

“How dare you answer back!” She caught her temper quickly, and gave me a sickly smile. “But I suppose we must make allowances for one with your background. The matter is closed. When you have read all twenty volumes, you may raise this subject again.”

With a look of exultation, she turned away.

I could hardly breathe. It was so unfair! But she was not likely to be swayed by tears or pleading. Perhaps there was another way?

I cleared my throat, and said loudly, “I wish to appeal to a higher authority.”

She turned back to me with a face like a storm-cloud. “Only criminals have that right.”

“And petitioners, Magister. I am a petitioner whose petition has been denied. I claim the right of appeal to a higher authority.”

“I believe that I am the highest authority there is, Lady Axandrina.”

“Higher than the Drashona?”

She laughed harshly, like a frog croaking. “You may appeal to the Drashona, for all the good it will do you.”

So I decided I would do just that.

All six of the Drashona’s legal children spent an hour with her most suns, after her afternoon duties were over and before she dashed off to prepare for some grand banquet or ceremony or other. She was always busy, but for that hour she made it seem as if she had all the time in the world for us.

She would settle the three babies first, getting down on the floor to show them a game, or cuddling the littlest one on her knee. Then she would ask the three eldest what we’d been doing. We were almost the same age, the three of us, and had the same father, but we could hardly have been more different.

Zandara, the Drashona’s own daughter, was always quick to recite a list of her lessons. She never said a word to me, although I often caught her watching me, her face as impenetrable as her mother’s. She was quiet with the tutors, too, although she did her work quickly and was much praised by them. But when her mother was there, she became voluble, describing her accomplishments without embellishment, as glibly as if she had rehearsed them.

Axandor was Marshalia’s son, and he was an idiot. He had no accomplishments to describe, other than broken slates and grazed elbows and torn books, so he lied openly, as if the Drashona wouldn’t know. And when he was caught out, he wasn’t at all ashamed.

On one of these occasions, I explained what had happened with Magister Abranda.

The Drashona listened solemnly. “I think perhaps Magister Abranda does not like to be challenged by her pupils, Axandrina. You will be able to use the Keep library when you are an adult, and the Imperial Library, too, if you wish and the mages permit. Patience is a wonderful quality to develop.”

There was still a year before I turned thirteen and became an adult. I wasn’t going to wait that long if I could help it. Besides, with any luck I’d be home by then.

“I should like a legal ruling, that is all, Highness. The Magister made a contract with me, and now I believe she is… is reneging on that.”

She smiled, and for one ghastly moment, I thought I’d used the wrong word. I’d heard it often enough, but I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. But she went on, “A legal ruling? I can give you my opinion, if you wish. I will attend your lessons when I can spare the time, and you and Magister Abranda may each present your case. Then I will give you my opinion. But it will not have the force of law. Magister Abranda must make the rules in her own domain, just as I do in mine.”

“Thank you, Highness, that is all I ask,” I said demurely, trying not to appear too exultant.

“And, Axandrina, perhaps you might like to call me something less formal? My own children call me Mother, of course, but Axandor calls me Yannassia. You may, too, if you wish.”

I looked at her, trying to judge the implications of that. I could never call her Mother, any more than I could call Cal Father, but using her name seemed a little casual to me. She was the supreme ruler of the realm, after all. And she was still being formal with me.

“Perhaps when you call me Drina, I will call you Yannassia, Highness.”

 


3: The Icthari Delegation

It was more than a ten-sun before the Drashona appeared in the children’s library, creating a bit of a stir, and some crowding, for she always had a retinue with her. Her bodyguard was never more than two paces from her side, and then there were a couple of mages and some scribes and several waiting women.

A chair was found for her, and the others were shuffled to the back of the room, apart from the bodyguard, who stood eyeing us all suspiciously in case a child or a tutor produced a knife. I suppose a bodyguard can never afford to relax. The moment you stop watching might be the moment an assassin appears.

The Magister graciously allowed me to present my case first. I suspect she thought that would flummox me, but I’d watched any number of petitions, and worse things, at the Kellona’s Hall at home. My mother or Cal always had to be there, because, just like Jayna, they could tell when people lied. Since the sessions were public, I’d often gone along too.

So I told my tale, just the plain unembroidered facts, and then listened while Magister Abranda tried not very successfully to control her temper at having to submit her actions to the Drashona’s judgment.

“It is a most interesting case,” the Drashona said at the end of it. “Not least because of the matter of the missing book. If it is not in this room, then where can it be?”

The Magister smirked. “There are a great many books here. I have no doubt it will be found in this room somewhere, Most Powerful.”

“No, I believe not, for Axandrina has examined every book. I feel that we should institute a more extensive search. Do you not agree, Magister?”

The Magister was silent. She licked her lips, but could find nothing to say. Strangely, until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that she might have hidden the book herself. I’d just assumed that she knew it was missing and so had set me a deliberately impossible task.

But if there was a search, and the book was found in her room, that would be a very serious offence. Thievery in a Magister would cause her to lose her position. I looked from the Drashona to the Magister and back again. The Drashona’s face was unreadable to me. Was she serious about this?

But she backed away from it. “Perhaps you can take the necessary steps, Magister.”

The Magister bowed, but her hands were shaking. At that moment, I felt sorry for her, even though she’d brought it on herself.

“Here is my opinion,” the Drashona went on. “I believe that Lady Axandrina correctly met the standard of the test as it was set – to read every volume in this room. This she did.”

I glowed with triumph. I had won!

“However…”

Is there any word more depressing to hear? My heart sank to the floor in an instant.

“However… this would only entitle her to ask to be admitted to the Keep library. That was the arrangement, I believe. So you may ask, Axandrina, but it is for the Magister to decide whether to make the request on your behalf, since you are not yet adult.”

“And I have no intention of doing so,” the Magister crowed.

“Couldn’t you ask for me, Highness?” I said. “The librarians would have to do it, then.”

“Which is exactly why I cannot. I, of all people, must conform to the rules. No special cases.”

It was a huge disappointment. I’d done everything I could, and proved my case to the Drashona, but it hadn’t been enough.

“Never mind,” she said to me in a low voice as she was preparing to leave. “The next year will pass very quickly, and then you will have all the books you could want.”

But I had no intention of staying around for so long. The game had been fun, but now it was time to think seriously of a way to get myself sent home.

~~~~~

“I have some news for you,” the Drashona said to us at one of her afternoon hours with the children. “There is a group of Icthari arriving soon, and I shall be receiving them formally in the assembly room. They would be pleased to meet you, I believe, so I should like you all to attend.”

Axandor looked at the baby, who was chewing a wooden horse and dribbling. “Even Yussia?” He was such an idiot.

I rolled my eyes at his stupidity, and even Zandara shook her head, but the Drashona never showed any impatience with him. “No, just Zandara, Axandrina and you. The little ones are of no consequence to the Icthari. You three are different. Your father was Icthari, so it will interest them greatly to see how you are growing up. I am afraid it will be quite dull for you, since they only speak Icthari, so everything will be done through an interpreter. You will have to wear a gown for the occasion, Axandrina.”

“May I wear an azai? My mother always does, for formal things.”

“I remember that. Yes, it would be acceptable, on this occasion, but if the Icthari invite you to any of the evening feasts, a gown would be more appropriate. You need to accustom yourself to managing skirts for when you are adult.”

I hoped I wouldn’t be around long enough for that.

To my delight, we were allowed to be present for the entire assembly. We sat on chairs on the lowest step of the dais, saying nothing, while a long procession of petitioners and delegates came and went. The Drashona was the same to everybody, from the new High Priest to the Sun Temple down to the apprentice stablehand who felt she’d been dismissed unfairly. She never made anyone feel rushed or inadequate or unimportant.

That was why she was Drashona, I suppose, by being good at such things. I could never have been so patient with the merchant who was obviously not telling the whole truth, or the smith who was too terrified to say anything at all. The Kellona at Zendronia was very short-tempered, and if she got an awkward case, with a petitioner who argued or got flustered, she would flounce out and then everyone would have to come back another sun. Cal used to get so cross about it. “As if we have nothing better to do,” he’d storm.

The Icthari should have been seen first because of their importance, but they were late, so there was a new Durshalon first, and then an ambassador from Ghar’annish, then one of our ambassadors just returned from the Blood Clans where she’d been witness to the crowning of their new god. Crowning or whatever they do when they find a god living amongst them. Exaltation, I think it was called. And the god sounded just like an ordinary boy to me. They had some kind of ceremony for the children when they became adults – something involving blood, naturally – and this particular boy, who was perfectly normal before, became a god. It all sounded very peculiar. I made a mental note to ask the tutors about it.

Then the Icthari turned up, drifting through in a straggling group, chattering amongst themselves, very rudely, I thought. I’d read about the Icthari, of course, and even seen a few pictures in books, but I’d longed to see some in the flesh. These were my kin! Well, perhaps not these exact people, but they came from the same place as my father. At last I’d get some idea of what he looked like.

They were not what I’d expected. My mother had told me that my father was handsome and always perfectly dressed. He’d had great style, she said. These people were neither handsome nor stylish. Their clothes looked like rags, slashed and torn, although perhaps that was the fashion where they came from. And their faces were harsh, with thin noses like beaks. They looked a bit like crows, their fluttering clothes raggedy feathers.

But the Drashona was wrong about one thing, they weren’t speaking Icthari at all. I could understand everything they said.

When they reached the foot of the dais, they stopped chattering and made small bows to the Drashona.

“You are welcome to Kingswell and to Bennamore,” she said in her pleasant way.

“She welcomes you… but quite coldly,” one of the Icthari said.

“Say we are happy… the usual things,” one of the others said.

“We are very happy to be in your delightful country,” the first one said, more loudly.

“Tell her the weather here is shit.”

“Our accommodation is exceptionally comfortable. The Great One is most pleased.”

I couldn’t make it out at all. It was the oddest conversation I’d ever heard.

The Drashona spoke again. “These are the three children of your kinsman, Most Powerful Axandrei, son of the Hal Morinth deshat Shernfashat.”

“These are the traitor’s spawn,” the first Icthari said.

The Drashona again. “The eldest is Lady Axandrina, daughter of Lady Mage Kyra abra Dayna endor Durmaston.”

Traitor? My father? I was so flummoxed that I almost forgot to rise and make my bow.

The second Icthari spoke. “This one is well-grown. She will have fine tits in a year or two.”

Then the first. “Your daughter will be a great beauty when she is fully grown.”

Then Axandor and Zandara were introduced, with the same rude comments from one man, while the other made the sort of bland diplomatic noises that were usual on such occasions. Yet nobody seemed shocked or surprised by any of it.

I was very slow to work it out. It was only when I remembered that there was supposed to be an interpreter that I realised. The bland comments came from him. And the other man was speaking Icthari, yet somehow I could understand him.

I sat rigid with shock for the rest of the assembly, as petitioners came forward, were dealt with and vanished again. Afterwards, when there was food and drink served for the high-ranking visitors, I crept near enough to the Icthari to listen in to their conversation. They were standing in a line along one wall, looking out over the room.

“That one is not bad.”

“Which one? The one in red?”

“No, no! Too skinny and a face like a donkey. No, the one in gold. Look at the tits on that! Find out if she will lift her skirts, will you? Or her friend with the red hair. She looks lively.”

I didn’t stay to hear any more.

~~~~~

I had a letter from Cal to tell me that he was coming to see me. I supposed he had business in Kingswell, but he made it sound as if I was the sole purpose of his visit.

This galvanised me into action. There could hardly be a better time to get myself sent home, for then I could travel with him and not have to wait for an escort. A mage with his own guards was more than adequate.

The difficulty was to find some way to prove myself unsuitable to be the Drashona’s heir.

I was very glad to see him. Cal was not my father, but he had never been anything but kind to me. So when I saw his beaming face and he opened his arms to me, I flew into them and hugged him enthusiastically.

“Well, now, petal, it’s so good to see you!” he said, as soon as I stopped squeezing the breath out of him. “And you have splendid rooms. What a fine view from up here, right down to the gardens.”

“And a balcony, so I can get plenty of sunshine.”

“True. But are you really well? Your mother and I could hardly believe it when we read your letters. And Yannassia’s reports, too. You’re not overdoing it, are you?”

“No, not at all. I don’t run around as much as Lathran does, but I feel fine.”

“Kingswell must be good for you.”

While Cal went off to do magely things, I pondered my problem again. What would make me unacceptable to the Drashona? Stupidly, I had been very well-behaved so far. It would be tricky to change my attitude now.

No, I needed to do something outrageous, like starting a fire. Well, that could be dangerous, so perhaps not. But water – that was a possibility.

A flood, perhaps? Just a small one, nothing too drastic. There were water pipes in the bathing room with valves that opened to fill the tub. If they were left open, the tub would overflow and the water would flow out of the bathing room and down the servants’ stairs. There would be no damage to the stone stairs, but it would cause so much disruption! The servants would not be able to get up or down, and all the apartments served by those stairs would get evening board late, if at all. Everyone would be cross with me! Yannassia would have to realise I was too badly behaved to stay with her.

So as soon as the servants left to have their meal, I went through to the bathing room and opened all the valves on the water pipes. As the tub slowly filled, I quietly left the apartment.

~~~~~

“Do you see what you have done, Axandrina?” The Drashona’s voice was calm, as if I hadn’t just sent a waterfall cascading through eight floors of the Keep. “Do you see how much damage there is?”

In truth, I was appalled. I’d imagined gentle streams running quietly through the corridors and down the stairs, which wouldn’t have suffered one bit. A nuisance, no more than that.

But this… entire ceilings had crashed down. Carpets were ruined, and wall hangings and furnishings. Books had been washed away in the tide, to my great grief. It was a miracle no one had been hurt.

The Drashona had brought me and the even more appalled Cal to see the army of servants beginning the task of cleaning up. “Do you see how much work you have caused?” she said sadly.

“I am very sorry,” I whispered. I’d have preferred it if she’d shouted at me, stamped about and waved her arms and ranted a bit, as any normal person would. This calmness was unnatural.

She took us back to her private apartment, with only her bodyguard as witness, and offered me sweetmeats which I was too choked with misery to eat. For herself and Cal, she poured wine.

“Now, Axandrina, I want you to answer me one question, and you must tell the truth, do you understand?”

I nodded mutely.

“Good. The truth, then, and I shall know if you lie. Did you leave the water to run deliberately, or was it an accident?”

“Deliberately, Highness. But I am very sorry. I never meant to cause so much harm.”

“But why? What did you hope to achieve?”

I chewed my lip, but there was no point in prevarication. If nothing else, I wanted her to know how determined I was about this.

“I thought if I did something bad, you wouldn’t want me as your heir. And then I could go home to Mother.”

“Oh, Drina,” Cal said sorrowfully.

But the Drashona smiled. “Do you know what qualities I am looking for in my children, Axandrina? What makes one or another of you interesting to me as a potential heir?”

I shook my head.

“Well, it is not good behaviour, that much is certain. It is not docility. I have no interest in a child who is meek and always does exactly as she is told.” Did she mean Zandara? I wasn’t sure she was quite as meek as she appeared, but she was certainly well-behaved.

“Nor am I interested in foolishness,” she went on. Well, that was Axandor out, as well. Bother. That left me, of the three eldest. “If you had simply forgotten the water – that would have been foolish. No, I look for intelligence. Not just book-cleverness, but the sort of mind that looks for alternative ways to solve problems. Diplomatic ways. Most of all, I am looking for someone with spirit, someone who makes things happen. Even if that might be quite unconventional. Can you see why you interest me, Drina?”

So she was choosing to interpret my bad behaviour as creativity, the work of an original mind. I sighed.

“But Highness, I don’t want to be your heir.”

It was Cal who answered. “But what is it you object to? Don’t you like it here, Drina? You sound very settled from your letters. You have a friend, you like the book-work, you’ve always enjoyed the formal aspects. And you’re so well here.”

“Yes, that is most encouraging,” the Drashona said. “I do not understand it, but it is a good sign, I think. Drina’s health was always my greatest concern.”

“Kyra thinks it may be the magic here,” he said. “The whole town is steeped in it, emanating from the Imperial City, but the Keep has some magical properties too. It may be that Drina is benefiting from that.”

“Whatever the cause, she is well here, and for that reason alone she should stay. But I cannot have the Keep half destroyed because you miss your mother, Drina. You like challenges, so here is another one for you. You can exclude yourself from consideration as my heir by making yourself indispensable to the realm in some other way.”

I sat up straighter. “I could be a mage!”

“That would certainly be one way. Mages renounce their inheritance rights when they achieve that status, so you could not possibly be my heir.”

“And I could go home to Zendronia?”

“That would be one option. But it will be hard work. Kingswell has no scribery with organised training, so you would have to study with tutors and books. Five years of such study.”

“I don’t mind that. Will you let me try?”

“Of course, if you wish it. You will have to wait a year until you reach thirteen, but then you may try.”

Finally, something I could work towards that would, in time, get me away from the Drashona’s clutches. I didn’t notice at the time how cleverly she’d manoeuvred me into staying quite happily in Kingswell.

And in all the excitement, I forgot to mention my unexpected ability to understand Icthari.

 


4: A Setback

FIVE YEARS LATER

 

The Master’s eyes were wide with fear. “It is quite true, Most Powerful. I am so sorry, but… but I had to tell you.”

“It is a lie!” I hissed. “How can such a thing even be possible? It cannot be true!”

Yannassia raised one hand to placate me. “Drina, calm yourself. No one would invent such a tale. Please, sit down. You too, Master. Let us discuss this rationally.”

She threw me a worried glance, as if doubting my ability to be rational just then. Perhaps she was right. How could I be calm at such a moment? My entire future was at stake.

The Master perched on the edge of her chair, quivering with distress. Poor Luciana! She had taken me under her wing in my very first moon of study, had encouraged my zeal and glowed with pride at my successes.

I’d enjoyed it, too. The legal side was all book-learning and I had no trouble with that at all. It was a delight to spend so much time in the library, books heaped up around me, my fingers inky from taking copious notes. And the spellpages were easier than I’d expected, just a matter of careful attention to detail to be sure the variances and additional symbols were correctly scribed.

In my four years of learning, I’d never failed the Master before. Now she insisted that I had failed so spectacularly that there was no place there for me any longer.

For what was the purpose of a scribe whose spellpages lost their magic?

I took a deep breath. There was no point in anger, and it was not Luciana’s fault, after all. She was the bearer of bad tidings, not the cause of them. It was the two mages sitting quietly across the room who had identified the problem.

“Good,” Yannassia said, watching me master my emotions. “Now, Lady Mage Jayna, would you be so good as to explain it to me, from the beginning?”

“Of course, Most Powerful. It was the Scribing House where Highness Axandrina practised which first alerted us to the problem. They found customers for spellpages started to avoid her. Sometimes, they even went away and came back when she was not there, to be sure of getting a different scribe. When asked, they said that her spellpages did not work.”

“Is that common? To have a favourite scribe, or to avoid a particular one?”

“Oh yes. People are very superstitious. If one spellpage fails, they will choose a different scribe next time, or sometimes a different Scribing House. And it is not uncommon for spells to fail, or work less well than expected. With magic, nothing is guaranteed.”

“But this was more than that?”

Jayna nodded, throwing me a sympathetic glance. I had noticed it myself, to be honest. When I’d first started working at the Scribing House in my free time, customers had flocked to buy spellpages scribed by the Drashona’s daughter. But lately, the stream of silver had slowed to a trickle. I hadn’t taken much notice at first, since I hardly needed the money and only went there to practise my skills. But lately I’d passed hours at a time without a customer, even when the other scribes were busy.

“So we checked Highness Axandrina’s spellpages, and that was when we discovered that they had no magic in them.”

“That is the part that makes no sense,” I said, forcing myself to speak in reasonable tones. “I always used the spelled paper, ink and quill. I scribed each spell correctly, I am certain. How can there be no magic in them?”

“We do not understand it ourselves,” Jayna said. “Our archivists are looking for precedents, but no one can ever recall hearing of such a thing before.”

“And you are quite certain?” Yannassia said. “The spellpages have been thoroughly examined?”

“Quite certain. There are several of us who can detect the magic directly. We can give Drina… Highness Axandrina the spelled materials and watch her scribe the spellpage, and when we take it from her, there is no magic.”

“Then where does the magic go to?”

But the mages had no answer.

~~~~~

That was the end of my scribing studies. There was no longer any purpose to it. I was still officially a contract scribe, no one could take that away from me, and in theory I could complete the full five years to become a law scribe, but what would be the point? My sole objective had been to make myself a mage and so put myself beyond Yannassia’s reach, and that was now impossible.

It was Vhar-zhin who bore the brunt of my bewilderment and frustration. Vhar-zhin, my friend and confidante, my supporter in all things. I stormed back to the apartment we shared, and she held me while I wept and raged and wept again.

“We will find something else for you to do,” she whispered into my hair. “There must be something we can think of.”

But I could not. For five years I had worked tirelessly towards this one end, and now I found I had wasted my time. I might as well have sat with Vhar-zhin and her waiting women, embroidering and weaving and painting and practising complicated music.

I missed the mages’ house, where I’d had my own little study room, full of books. I missed the mages, bustling in and out to discuss a difficult set of variances, or the tricky sub-clauses of a trading agreement. Mostly, I missed having my hours full, each with its appointed task, and none of it to do with ruling Bennamore.

What was I to do now? The need to go home, to be back where I belonged, burned in me brighter than ever. When I could absorb myself in my studies, and work towards my release, I could push the longing to the back of my mind. But now I was reminded of the great void in my life. It was not Zendronia I yearned for, I knew that; it was the very heart of my life, my mother. I was like a plant uprooted and tossed aside. Without that basic connection to her – to her magic – I would fade away and die.

Yannassia left me alone for a few suns to cool my temper before summoning me. She saw me in one of her private chambers between formal engagements, wearing her ruler’s attire, a gown so layered in lace and gold trimming, it was a wonder she could move. Yet she was alone, apart from her bodyguard, and from her manner you would have thought she had all the time in the world. It was an art, the way she did that, her focus so intent that you felt you were the only person she cared about. And perhaps that was her secret: for that small fraction of time, you were indeed all she cared about, everything else set aside.

She made no attempt to console me. “It is very disconcerting, to be sure, since no one seems to know the cause of this difficulty. However, the mages are investigating and if there is a solution, they will find it, you may be sure. Or if not, then you will in time find some other occupation which suits you. In the meantime, we must find a way for you to fill the hours. You are very welcome to attend me whenever I have business that appeals to you. Your advice is always refreshing.”

That sounded too close to training for heirdom to me, and therefore something to be avoided.

“Or you might find the mirror room interesting,” she went on, ignoring my silence. “All the important messages pass through there.”

The mirrors were a means of communicating between the scriberies in different towns. Pairs of mirrors were magically linked, so that a message from Ardamurkan or Yannitore would appear on a mirror in Kingswell, to be copied by a scribe. Then a reply could be written onto another mirror to be read at once many marks away.

Kingswell’s mirrors had come from the Imperial City’s scribery, now empty and unused. The Imperial City was full of such curiosities, lingering from an age lost in history. The whole place was steeped in magic far beyond our present skills. Mother and Cal talked of its many wonders – the fountains which played just for them, the flowers that bloomed and released their perfume as they passed by, and lamps that brightened and darkened all by themselves. But it was full of traps for the unwary. Only mages were safe there, and even they had to be careful.

So the mirrors had been brought to the safety of the Keep. There were still a few mirrors left behind in the Imperial City, though. Broken, the mages said, but Cal thought they communicated with scriberies now lost to us. I liked to think of them hidden deep in the southern forests, known only to deer and foxes.

The mirror room was of interest to me, and I brightened at the thought. It was so full of magic, the air practically crackled with it.

But there were other sources of magic. “Might I take a trip away? It is two years since I have been to Zendronia to see my mother.”

She hesitated. “Perhaps, but without some reason to return, you might linger on and be caught by the snows.”

“We are several moons away from the worst weather,” I said.

“It is a long journey for you, Drina. You were exhausted after your last visit home.”

That was true. I fell silent, chewing my lip, struggling to find a reason to go home.

She went on, “Some time away from Kingswell might do you good, but what is needed, I believe, is something more constructive. I have had an approach from the Blood Clans. Their boy god is making friendly overtures to us, and there is a hint that he would consider a Bennamorian wife.”

“Not me!”

She heard the horror in my voice, for she smiled. “No, not you. Unless you take a fancy to him, of course. He is said to be a handsome boy, and very charming. But then, he has his own people crawling at his feet, so I suppose a certain magnetism is to be expected.”

I tried to reconcile this pleasant image with the bloodthirsty ways of the Clans, and failed.

“No, I was thinking of Vhar-zhin,” she went on. “She is seventeen now, and has no interests beyond the refined arts. To be truthful, I cannot imagine what we are to do with her. What do you think? Would such a husband suit her, do you suppose?”

“These people are savages, Highness. I cannot see Vhar-zhin stitching away at her tapestry or playing the querolo in such a setting.”

“The reports we get are mixed, on the matter of savagery. They are not quite running around the hills in blue paint and feathers.”

“But illiterate, and they live amongst half-wild animals. Their customs are… bizarre.”

“I daresay they think the same of us.” But she raised her hands to concede the point. “I should like you to go anyway, you and Vhar-zhin. They have asked for an official delegation to meet them at the northwestern border fortress. They have a permanent camp there, for trading purposes and formal celebrations. Discuss the matter of a wife for the boy god, but without making any commitment. See what type of people they are, what they want from us, what we might want from them. Their inner lake is surrounded by mineral-rich hills which would be most useful. They have the black-bark tree, which grows nowhere else. Or fishing, furs – you know the sort of thing.”

I did. It was depressing how much of Yannassia’s teaching I had absorbed over the years, when I’d had no idea that there was any teaching going on. Sitting on my chair at the foot of the dais, listening and watching, and discussing it afterwards with her, I’d become the diplomat I’d been determined never to be.

Even now, when I was fully aware that I was being quietly manoeuvred into a more active political role, I was still energised by the prospect of the trip. The Blood Clans, like all our more primitive neighbours, were fascinating. And it would only be a matter of suns, and then I could get back to plotting my escape.

“Do you think he will like me?” Vhar-zhin said, as we prepared for bed that evening.

“How could he not?” I said, and laughed as she blushed prettily. I couldn’t imagine any man not liking her, sweet and dainty and shy as she was. And pretty, too, much prettier than me, with her glossy black hair that fell like a waterfall to her waist, without a wayward curl anywhere. I loved brushing her hair, letting it run through my fingers like silk.

“He might like you more,” she said.

“He had better not!”

“But you might like him. He is a god, so he must surely be handsome beyond the mortal range, and tall, with lots of manly muscles and a twinkle in his eye when he looks at you. Like a certain bodyguard.”

She giggled, and I tapped her with the hairbrush. “Stop it, you wicked girl. You know he never meant anything to me.”

But only because he’d never had the chance. He was a fine-bodied man, with a smile to melt my heart, and he’d been my bodyguard for one all-too-brief period until we were caught kissing in the poetry translations section of the Keep library. To my sorrow, I’d had a female bodyguard since then, but I still had certain dreams of him.

Whatever this boy god was like, I was sure he couldn’t compare to my lovely bodyguard.

~~~~~

Our journey to the northwest was on horseback, since the paved roads petered out into rutted tracks a few suns’ ride beyond Kingswell. We passed two substantial towns, then a succession of ever-smaller settlements before reaching the remains of the High Citadel, the home of the Three Princes who had first settled Bennamore so many generations ago. They had come from the far north for reasons lost in history, and driven out the nomads and wild men of the hills, building their towers and keeps on fertile land along the river. Both river and princes were long gone now, their great town empty and silent.

There was a substantial inn just beyond the Citadel, enclosed by a high wall and manned by watchful guards, and here we stopped for our last night on Bennamore soil.

I slid thankfully off my horse, my legs heavy and stiff. We had not been riding hard, but I was exhausted. I’d forgotten how tired I got whenever I left Kingswell.

“I am going to see if this place can drum up enough hot water for a bath,” Vhar-zhin said. “Coming?” Then she caught sight of my face as I unwound my scarves. “Drina, you poor thing! You look shattered. Here, lean on me. You there! Where is our room?”

The inn manager led us up stairs and along erratic passageways, spinning round every three steps to be sure I hadn’t expired. She threw open a door and waved us through. A bed! I collapsed onto it in relief.

“Send up some food,” Vhar-zhin told the manager. “Fruit, something light. Soup, perhaps, with meat in it. And hot wine, if you have some.”

A tap on the door, followed by murmured voices, someone talking to my bodyguard.

Then Vhar-zhin’s gentle tones. “Drina? Will you let Jayna look at you?”

I didn’t mind that. A burst of magic from a mage always helped a bit, even if it didn’t last, and Jayna’s magic was strong, almost as strong as my mother’s.

She bustled in and picked up my hand. With Mother, there was always an immediate warmth, but then she was a natural mage, with her magic inside her, coiled up in readiness like a snake. Other mages had to summon magic from a vessel, so it took time. But Jayna was quick, and I was soon sitting up again.

“Ah, now you have a better colour,” Vhar-zhin said. “Does travelling always have this effect on you? Perhaps we should rest here for a couple of suns, until you are recovered.”

“It makes no difference,” I said. “I will not recover fully until we return to Kingswell.”

“Then we must continue as planned,” she said. “But we will keep our visit as short as possible. And when we return, I will tell Aunt Yannassia that you must not be sent away again. I cannot bear to see you like this.”

~~~~~

The next sun, we reached the border fortress, with its solid walls and guards patrolling at all hours. The last outpost of the Drashona’s realm, her flags snapping bravely atop each corner tower.

On the near side, a square of land was given over to a disorganised market, a place for Bennamorian merchants to trade with the Blood Clans. There was not much trading going on this sun, all activity suspended, faces turned in silence to watch as we rode slowly past. Just beyond the fortress, a deep ditch and high earth bank marked the limit of Bennamore. We filed through the single gap and dismounted, gazing down into foreign territory. The domain of the Blood Clans.

The ground sloped gently away from us, unmarked by trees or bushes, the single brown gash of the track meandering through scrubby grass. There in the distance was the curve of the lake, the last remnant of the river which had once flowed here. In the centre, a tree-covered islet. I saw no boats on the water, but perhaps there were no fish here. On the nearest shore, our destination: a scattered collection of skin tents, the trading settlement of the clans.

The fortress commander came out to meet us. “There is someone waiting to take you down to the village.” He inclined his head towards a man sitting on top of the earth bank not far away, ankles crossed, arms wrapped round his knees.

“He is one of them?” I said. “One of the Blood Clans?” The commander nodded. “I had expected a larger reception. Well, he looks quite harmless.”

“We have checked him for weapons, of course.”

“Do they have magic?”

He shook his head. “Just an unnatural affinity with their beasts. They are said to ride into battle on lions and the like, but I have never seen one with anything larger than a fox.”

“I have heard such tales. Do they give you any trouble?”

“None at all. We hardly know they are there.”

The man on the earth bank had been watching us composedly, but now he jumped up and came over to us. As he walked, he bounced on the balls of his feet, as if he had too much energy to burn. He was quite young, now that I could see him properly, not much older than me, rather slender, with softly curling brown hair. His clothes were the nondescript type that any farmer might put on for fieldwork. Only a leather necklace with an amber pendant at his throat distinguished him from thousands of other labourers.

He smiled at us as he drew close, a relaxed smile as if he were enjoying a private joke. He bowed, one hand touching his forehead, his eyes skipping from one to another of us. They came to rest on Vhar-zhin, then jumped back to me.

“I am Highness Axandrina,” I said. “I am the leader of this delegation. And this is Highness Vhar-zhin.”

He bowed again, specifically to me this time. “And I am Ly-haam. I will take you to the village. You would be best to leave your horses here.”

His accent was excellent, with only a slightly odd emphasis here and there to prove that Bennamorian was not his first language.

The fortress commander called over some of his soldiers to lead the horses away.

The young man eyed the multitude of people and horses milling about. “You have need of so many people?”

“If we are to stay amongst your people, as agreed, then we must have some attendants.”

For an instant, I pondered whether to leave some of our escort at the fortress. We had a full troop of Elite Guards with us, the mages with their own guards, bodyguards for Vhar-zhin and me, a cluster of experienced advisors and law scribes, plus various helpers and waiting women and servants. It was a lot of bodies to be accommodated and fed. But that was the custom for our rank, so the Blood Clans might as well accept it.

There was an interpreter in the group, too. Even if Ly-haam offered to interpret for us, she would watch and listen, reporting any discrepancies later. It was possible I would have the same skill, but there was no way to know if I could do the same with the Blood Clans’ language, since I had never encountered it. No Blood Clan people had visited Kingswell in recent years.

In addition, I had never confessed my ability to understand Icthari. Once the moment of discovery had passed, it would have seemed odd to mention it later. Besides, I rather liked having a secret talent. I may not have had magical powers like my mother, but this was something special I alone could do. So little of my life was secret that it gave me surprising pleasure to keep this little trick to myself.

Ly-haam led us down the track towards the village, bouncing along as if on springs, and spinning round to grin at us periodically. He hummed as he went.

Vhar-zhin raised her eyebrows at me. “Strange boy!” she whispered. “Perhaps he is simple. I hope they are not all like that.”

What an unnerving prospect. I had spent endless hours reading everything I could find about the Blood Clans, and I was no wiser for it. They were superficially a simple people, fishing or herding or hunting, apart from the beasts they shared their lives with. But there were rumours of secret ways, much darker ways.

“He may seem simple,” I said, “but he very likely knows this god-child well. They must be much of an age. So have a care.”

The village seemed as innocuous as our smiling guide. The skin tents were large enough to sleep several families, or to provide workspace as well for one family. Open flaps in the roofs allowed smoke to ooze out. I heard voices from within some of them, but no one was about. I’d expected to see people going about their daily chores, perhaps weaving or woodcarving, two skills they were famous for. But we saw no one.

“This way,” said Ly-haam. “I will take you to meet my mother.”

“Your mother?” I said, stopping dead. “Is she a leader, perhaps? I thought we would be greeted by a formal reception. We are here on official business, after all. We are here to see your byan shar.”

His smile widened, and he looked bashfully at his feet. “Oh, did I not mention it? You see, I am byan shar.”

 

Divider

Launch report: book 5, ‘The Fire Mages’ Daughter’

February 23, 2016 Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages' Daughter 0

The strategy:

After The Fire Mages and The Mages of Bennamore took off rather well, thanks to some paid promotion, The Magic Mines of Asharim, released in September 2015, was less successful. It sold during the promotion, but sales died away straight afterwards. But there were two bright spots: borrows through Kindle Unlimited were high, and emails sent out by Amazon to ‘followers’ produced a bump of around 80 extra sales. Both of these were independent of any promotion by me.

So for The Fire Mages’ Daughter I took the risky step of launching on 15th January 2016 without any paid promotion at all. Since it’s a sequel to The Fire Mages, I made that book 99c for the whole of January, and kept the new book at $2.99; that way readers could pick up both books for the usual list price of $3.99. Then I told my mailing list, blog and social media, and sat back and awaited the crash.

What actually happened:

 A splurge of sales over the first few days, which then died away. But borrows were good, as expected. And then Amazon jumped in and started sending out those emails to followers. The result was my best month ever in sales and in revenue. I estimate that those emails brought me an extra 450 sales, plus an unknown number of borrows from the increased visibility. The tail from that is still going on, in the form of sales still well higher than before the new release.

One interesting aspect, for me, was that both The Fire Mages and The Fire Mages’ Daughter sold well, so obviously a lot of people picked up both books. Since The Fire Mages has been my biggest seller by far, I’d expected that most people would already have it. But apparently not. And for some unfathomable reason my ugly duckling book, The Plains of Kallanash, which has never sold terribly well, also shifted far more copies than expected. Now, after five weeks, I’m seeing more sell-through to the other two books.

Conclusions:

The power of Amazon to shift books is awesome. Who would have thought that small-fry like me would have so many followers? And Kindle Unlimited has also done very well for me, partly because my books are so long. For my next release, I’m going to experiment further – not just no paid promotion, but no pre-order either. As my mailing list builds up, I’m hoping to make a bigger splash at launch, and hope for some uplift from Amazon’s algorithms.

All the numbers:

Before release:

A typical week before the new release would be 20 sales spread over all 4 books, and 40K pages read. There were 257 pre-orders (not included in sales numbers below).

Week 1:
Book 5: 99 sales, 30K pages read
Total for all books: 237 sales, 68K pages read.

Week 2:
Book 5: 88 sales, 39K pages read
Total for all books: 259 sales, 95K pages read.

Week 3:
Book 5: 51 sales, 28K pages read
Total for all books: 150 sales, 87K pages read.

Week 4:
Book 5: 37 sales, 20K pages read
Total for all books: 90 sales, 51K pages read.

Week 5:

Book 5: 31 sales, 15K pages read
Total for all books: 78 sales, 47K pages read

Grand totals for first 5 weeks:

Book 5: 306 sales, 132K pages read
Total for all books: 814 sales, 348K pages read
Total sales including pre-orders: 1071

Divider

‘The Fire Mages’ Daughter’: now available!

January 16, 2016 Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages' Daughter 0

Great news! The latest book set in the Brightmoon world,The Fire Mages’ Daughter, is now available for purchase from all Amazons at a special introductory price. If you pre-ordered – thank you! The book should already be available on your device. If not, you can:

Buy for Kindle or your phone, tablet or whatever for just $0.99 or equivalent, or

Buy the paperback for $10.99 or equivalent (and download the Kindle version free), or

Download for free if you have a subscription to Kindle Unlimited or Prime.

Click the Buy! button for a link to take you direct to your local Amazon. This special low price will only be available for this weekend, and the price will rise to $2.99 or equivalent on Monday 18th, so be sure to tell all your friends about the deal.

Although this book can be read independently, it is best enjoyed after The Fire Mages, which you can also buy for the special price of $0.99 or equivalent. This price will last until the end of January.

I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing it! When you’ve finished, it would be wonderful if you could write a review on Amazon, Goodreads or your blog, to help other readers decide if they would like it. Thank you! And if you have any comments or questions, do feel free to email me. I’d love to hear from you!

Divider

2016 strategy part 1: Writing

January 5, 2016 Current writings, Regency romances, The Dragon's Egg, The Fire Mages' Daughter, Writing musings 0

January 2016 sees me enter my seventeenth month as a self-publisher. To date, I have four books published, the fifth is imminent and the sixth is written in first draft form. The seventh is already taking shape in my head. All of these are part of the Brightmoon Annals world, a connected series of (mostly) stand-alone books. There is also a new project, tentatively entitled the Allamont Annals, a series of Regency romances. The first of these is almost finished. In 2015, I wrote 318,000 words.

In terms of sales, the books have had some modest success. Total sales 4,000, borrows 2,000 and over a million pages read. This is nowhere near bestseller status, but it’s satisfying to know that there are complete strangers out there who read and enjoy the books. In addition, I’ve given away more than 20,000 copies for free.

But now that I’ve worked out how to write a book and publish it and market it, what next? Do it all over again, of course! Here are my writing plans for the rest of this year.

The Fire Mages’ Daughter (book 5 in the Brightmoon Annals)

This one is written, edited, proofread and already loaded onto the Amazon servers ready to launch on Jan 15th. It’s a sequel to The Fire Mages, featuring Kyra’s daughter, Axandrina (or Drina for short), who is summoned to the capital as a potential heir to the Drashona. Bennamore’s neighbours, the unsophisticated Blood Clans, have a new boy god, and Drina’s unique heritage comes into play as events unfold.

The Dragon’s Egg (book 6 in the Brightmoon Annals)

This is finished and brewing for a while until it’s time to start editing. This is a little different from most of the other Brightmoon books, in that it features several point-of-view characters, and it’s more of a quest than many. For anyone who’s read The Magic Mines of Asharim, and wondered about the cache of dragon’s eggs Allandra and Xando discovered hidden under the mountain, this book will answer your questions. It also features some familiar characters from previous books. Likely publication date: May 2016.

The Second God (book 7 in the Brightmoon Annals)

A sequel to a sequel! This follows on from The Fire Mages’ Daughter, picking up Drina’s story after some five years. It’s again focused on the Blood Clans, and what happens when a second boy god is discovered. I’ve only just started writing this, so I have no idea at the moment where the story will take me. Possible publication date: autumn 2016.

The Allamont Annals 1: Amy (book 1 in the Regency romance series)

This is my new venture. Regency romances in the vein of Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer were my first love, and I still have a partially completed manuscript, banged out on a manual typewriter, in a drawer. These stories are intended to be shorter than the epic fantasy, and amusing rather than exciting. They’ll be traditional (which means drawing room, not bedroom), and I plan to write six books in the series. Once I have the first four written, I will start publishing them a month apart. The first should be finished this month. Possible publication date: autumn 2016.

Writing faster

So far, I’ve managed to publish a book every four months, and for epic fantasy, I’m happy with that. My books tend to be long, convoluted and, for the later books, built on the back of the earlier ones. In The Dragon’s Egg, for instance, the characters travel to Mesanthia and meet up with Allandra, Xando and Zak from The Magic Mines of Asharim. This means a certain amount of rehashing of previous events to remind those who’ve read the earlier books what happened and cover the basics for anyone who hasn’t. But it also means making sure nothing contradicts the earlier books. I’m very bad about making notes as I go, so I end up rereading chunks of the earlier books to find out the details I need. That’s not a process that can be rushed.

The Regency books are shorter, but I’m finding I need to do quite a bit of research to get the historical details right. Did they have afternoon tea? Nope, not invented until 1840, but they did have sandwiches. What is an Earl’s mother called? She’s a Dowager Countess. How do guests sit down at the dinner table? Still working on that one. But it all takes time.

Nevertheless, I’d love to increase the amount I write each day, not so much to be able to publish faster, but to give myself more time to develop these stories with a little more breathing space. I’ve found a couple of ways to help me produce more words.

1) Write in several short bursts during the day. Some people call these sprints, but I’m too slow a writer to qualify for that. Plods, maybe. But several a day, each one producing 200-300 words, plus a longer session in the evening, gets it done nicely.

2) I have a rinky-dink little computer – a tablet/netbook hybrid – which runs Windows and therefore allows me to run Scrivener, my writing software. It’s also small enough to be easily carried round with me. So anytime I get ten minutes free – tappity-tappity-tap.

In part 2, I’ll look at the marketing side of things: launches and promotions.

 

Divider

A big 99c promotion (5/6 Dec only) and a writing update

December 5, 2015 Publishing/marketing, Ramblings, Regency romances, The Fire Mages' Daughter 2

Winter is upon us!

I love living in Scotland, but there are a few disadvantages. The first snowfall of the winter hit us about a week ago. There’s been snow on the mountains already, but this was the first time it was all the way down to sea level. It wasn’t a big fall here, but enough to give a good covering, and the cold weather meant it stayed for a few days. Happily, it’s all gone now, but I’m sure there’ll be more to come.

I love the snow, but only when I can sit inside a warm house and watch it through the window. I hate to be out driving in it! Lots of Scots escape to the sun in the winter, sometimes for three months, and I can see why: the long nights, gloomy mornings and days when it just never seems to get properly light can get you down. But that’s what whisky was invented for (and vitamin D tablets!). And you can’t have those wonderful endless summer evenings without also getting the winter gloom.

And for those of you lapping up the sun in the southern hemisphere – enjoy!

Lots of cheap fantasy and sci-fi!

Once again, author Patty Jansen is hosting a group 99c promotion at her website.

PattysDecPromo

There are 84 authors taking part, and it’s a great opportunity to try out some new authors at very low cost. These prices are only for 5th and 6th December, so don’t delay. Quite a few of the books are in Kindle Unlimited, too, for those of you who have a subscription.

What do I recommend? I’ve enjoyed Patty’s own book, The Ambassador, a great all-action sci-fi. Angela Holder’s White Blood is an unusual stand-alone fantasy, featuring that unsung heroine of many great families, the wet-nurse. And Kyra Halland’s speculative romance Sarya’s Song is one that I really loved: great fantasy with a great romance, too.

And if you haven’t yet picked up a copy of my own most recent book, The Magic Mines of Asharim, it’s in the promo, too. Just 99c, or equivalent. Click here to see all the deals.

News of The Fire Mages’ Daughter and The Dragon’s Egg

This is on schedule for release on January 15th. The final edits are now complete, and the book is out with my wonderful proofreader, Lin, and several ARC readers. This is a sequel to The Fire Mages, but it can be read without any knowledge of the previous book. You can still pre-order for 99c. And there might well be a third book to complete the story – The Second God. However, that’s unlikely to be out before the end of 2016.

The Dragon’s Egg is progressing, although more slowly than I would like. This book has threads connecting it to several earlier books, so I have to stop now and again to make sure I’ve got all the references correct. And there are multiple points of view, which makes it very different from anything I’ve written before. The Plains of Kallanash had two point of view characters, but since then, every book has had just one main character. Jumping from one to another isn’t as easy as it sounds! But if the writing is challenging, the story is working out well.

Regency romance – oh my!

Work is underway on my latest project – a Regency romance series of 6 books. I say ‘work’, but it’s huge fun, so it doesn’t feel like work at all! It’s very different from my fantasy writing, though – not just in writing style (rather formal, sort-of Jane Austen), but also in the need for historical accuracy. In fantasy, I can just make stuff up. Meals, clothing, local religions and other customs – it can be whatever I want. Not so with the Regency. I was about to write a scene where the characters have afternoon tea when I thought to check – and nope, that didn’t start until 1840, and the Regency era is (very roughly) 1800-1820. Progress is being made, but I don’t expect to have anything ready for release until late in 2016.

 

Divider

All the news: a new book, a new cover and some special prices

October 19, 2015 Current writings, Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages' Daughter 0

Autumn colours

You lucky people down under are heading into spring, but here in the northern hemisphere our non-event of a summer has finally stopped tormenting us and we’re into autumn. Scotland is glorious at this time of year, with the heather in full bloom, the bracken a warm, golden brown, and the trees wearing their finest reds and yellows and oranges. I spent last weekend at Braemar, in the Cairngorm Mountains, enjoying a break before the winter weather sets in. Husband was looking up ancestors and where they might have lived. This one has a view to die for, but it would be bleak in winter. I prefer my cosy modern house!

Well, this one might be cosy too if it had a roof…

Book news 1: The Fire Mages’ Daughter has a release date! Pre-order at just $0.99.

I know many of you have been wanting to know more about Kyra and Cal, and now you can! The fifth book in the Brightmoon sequence focuses on Kyra’s daughter, Axandrina, but both Kyra and Cal have a big part to play in this new adventure. This book is a little different from the previous ones, in that it’s a sequel. However, for anyone who hasn’t read The Fire Mages, or read it a while back and has forgotten the details, there will be enough information dropped so that you won’t struggle to work out what’s going on.

The book is currently with my beta readers, and will be published on 15th January 2016. It will be available in Kindle format, and also as a paperback. As with all my books, anyone buying the paperback will be able to download the ebook free of charge, through Amazon’s Matchbook system.

You can pre-order The Fire Mages’ Daughter now from your local Amazon for $0.99 or equivalent.

Book news 2: next up: The Dragon’s Egg

For those of you who’ve read The Magic Mines of Asharim and wanted to know more about the mysterious eggs discovered by Allandra and Xando – you will get your wish! The story of one of those eggs will be told in The Dragon’s Egg, and you will also meet Allandra, Zak and Xando again, as well as one or two familiar faces from another book altogether. I’ve written 50,000 words so far, which is close to half way. The Dragon’s Egg will be published in mid-2016.

Book news 3: special prices on The Fire Mages and The Plains of Kallanash

If you don’t already have a copy of either of these, now’s the time. The Fire Mages is $0.99 (or equivalent) for the next few days; it will be back to full price on Saturday 24th October. And The Plains of Kallanash will be FREE on Friday 23rd October, again on Tuesday 3rd November, and once more on Friday 20th-Sun 22nd November. These offers are worldwide, and you can find them in your local Amazon.

Click for The Fire Mages and The Plains of Kallanash.

Enjoy! When you’ve finished, it would be wonderful if you could write a review on Amazon, Goodreads or your blog, to help other readers decide if they would like it. Thank you! And if you have any comments or questions, do feel free to email me. I’d love to hear from you!

And finally, here’s the gorgeous cover for The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Glendon Haddix of Streetlight Graphics (and yes, that is an eagle!).

You can see the cover in glorious hi-res here.

About The Fire Mages’ Daughter:

A girl fighting her destiny. A living god. A war with the Blood Clans.

Seventeen-year-old Drina just wants to hide away with her books, but as the daughter of two powerful mages and heir to the ruler of Bennamore, her wishes are rarely considered. Summoned to the capital, she is plunged into a maelstrom of politics and power struggles. The only compensation is Arran, the handsome bodyguard she grows to love.

In her new role as a diplomat, she visits Bennamore’s mysterious neighbours, the Blood Clans. There she discovers there are other, darker forms of magic in the world than the familiar spells of the mages. Driven onward by a living god, the Blood Clans’ magic drags both their countries to the brink of war. Surrounded by enemies, Drina must find a way to tame the power of a god before everything she loves is destroyed.

 

Divider

Writing update

June 6, 2015 Current writings, The Fire Mages, The Fire Mages' Daughter, The Mages of Bennamore, The Magic Mines of Asharim, The Plains of Kallanash 0

There seems to have been a lot going on lately, what with the launch of The Mages of Bennamore, various other promotions, and the ongoing projects of the next book, and the one after that. So here’s a quick rundown on the state of play.

Weekend promotions

This weekend (6th and 7th June) two of my three books are specially priced. The Plains of Kallanash is at $0.99 (US/UK Amazons only, sadly) and The Fire Mages is free in all Amazons worldwide. This is a great opportunity to complete your collection if you haven’t already got all three books. Click the links to take you to your local Amazon to buy.

The Mages of Bennamore

Release date was 15th May, with 34 pre-orders and a nice little surge of sales to get things underway. Then I had a week of promotion set up – paid advertising every day, with the price staying at $0.99 for the duration. This resulted in a grand total of 274 sales, and set the book up quite well for the rise back to its usual price of $3.99. There are still only 3 reviews on Amazon, and I would love some more, so if you’ve read it but haven’t yet reviewed it, a few lines would be very much appreciated.

The Fire Mages

This is my best seller by far, but it was a bit short on reviews, so I decided to use my free days (the bonus for being exclusive to Amazon) to try to gain a few more readers. The book was free on 24th May, with no paid promotion. I did some blogging and tweeting, mentioned it to the avid fantasy fans on Reddit and then had a piece of luck – the book was picked up for a free advert by Pixel of Ink, with the result that more than 4,000 copies were downloaded in the 24 hour free period! It also brought in several more reviews. As mentioned above, it’s free again this weekend (6-7 June) and will be free on 27-28 June as well, but I haven’t booked much advertising, so I don’t expect to give away more than a few hundred copies this time.

The Plains of Kallanash

Poor old Kallanash has always lagged behind its younger sisters in the sales department, but the release of The Mages of Bennamore put a bit of life into it, and this week I’ve been offering it for $0.99 in an Amazon countdown promotion (again, a benefit of being exclusive to Amazon). This has produced over 100 additional sales, with a couple of days still to go. Hopefully, a few new reviews will filter through, in time. It’s always lovely to have genuine reader feedback, so reviews are always welcome, whether the reader enjoyed the book or not.

The Magic Mines of Asharim

Ah, the next book in the Brightmoon world! This is scheduled for release sometime in the autumn. It’s finished but not yet edited, but before I set off for France last weekend, I popped it onto my Kindle so that I could read it through. It holds up quite well, I’m pleased to say, although naturally it needs a bit of tidying up before it goes off to beta readers. I’ll be starting the editing process very soon – not something I enjoy much (writing the first draft is always more fun), but very necessary to put a bit of polish onto the book.

The Fire Mages’ Daughter

The current work in progress takes a generational leap from the end of The Fire Mages, returning to Bennamore for another clash with the neighbours, this time the mysterious Blood Clans to the west. The clans have discovered a boy god in their midst, but will it lead to war with Bennamore? There will be some familiar characters returning to the story, but the main character is Axandrina, a potential ruler who only wants to return home to her family. I’ve written 60,000 words so far (perhaps half of it), so a way to go yet, but I’m enjoying the way the story is taking shape.

And after that…?

Who knows! But there’s plenty more of the Brightmoon world to discover yet. If you want to hear about all the new releases, don’t forget to sign up for the mailing list (click the Sign up! button up above).

Divider