Saturday, May 28, 2011

#SampleSunday Chapter 1 of Laying the Odds


Wrai propped his boots on the rungs of the chair opposite him and took a deep drink of his ale, mentally cursing being stuck in this cesspit of a town. Why Krelton of all town in the four dukedoms of Ardalak?

The storm seemed to have kept most of the locals at home. Two workmen in homespun slumped wearily at a table. A merchant with a sword-carrying guard at this elbow stood at the bar talking to the innkeeper. Outside, the inn’s sign banged in the wind.

The horse fair at Rystar started in two days and he wouldn’t make it in time. A storm had left ruts and potholes deep enough to swallow a horse. The post-coach he was traveling in had hit one full tilt. When the axle shattered, it threw the coach tumbling. Wrai and the driver had walked away with only a few bruises, but the smith would take days to repair the damage.

Wrai wouldn’t make the profit he’d expected. Bollocks, he’d counted on that gold. He couldn't take care of Amalie when he was traveling all the time, having to duck out when someone decided he'd won a little too often. A gambling house he’d been eyeing would be perfect, if he could find the money. His stomach coiled at the thought of something happening to his daughter while he was gone as it had to her mother.

Wrai banged his mug down on the table. The innkeeper lifted his head to stare, so Wrai nodded to the man and leaned back again. No one else paid him any mind.

He slipped his fingers under his shirt and into his money pouch to slide over the ten silver pfennigs and, reassuringly heavy, five gold marks. They would have been more than enough for a stake at the tables at the fair. He could make up the loss if he went to Crestholm for one of the high-roller games. For that, he’d need more gold marks. It wasn’t close to enough. He still had a purse of base pfennigs upstairs to cover his room. But going to Crestholm now meant breaking a promise. He'd written Amalie that that he'd be there in two week.

She'd never have reason to think her father didn't care. Not like his. He frowned and took another sip of the dark, sharp ale.

The rattle of harness, voices, and the stamp of hooves from outside made him twitch. The door banged open, the wind jerking it to thud against the wall.

Water dripped from a thickset man’s hair and drooping moustache. He pushed the door closed against the rain blowing in.

"Wet night out," the innkeeper said as he reached for a mug.

"That it is," the newcomer said. "I’ll need rooms for me and my friends." His worn leather scabbard was scarred with use and his sleeve bulged. Definitely a strong-arm of some kind.

Wrai sat unmoving. Middling height, neatly built, dark hair and eyes, thin moustache, he blended into the background. No one would notice him. He twitched with an inward smile. Well, a woman might. Amalie’s mother had.

The door opened quietly this time as a ginger-haired man dressed in leather and linen came in. Perhaps the first was this one’s guard but strange to come in first and leave his client outside. Ginger-hair held the door open for a girl. She darted in out of the wet, dripping water from her brown split-skirt gown, hair in a knot at the nape of her neck.

"Only two rooms available." The innkeeper shrugged. "Only other one’s taken."

"That’ll do. One for the lady. My friend and I’ll share the other."

"Have him send up mulled wine to both rooms," Ginger-hair said. "We’re all chilled through with the wet."

The guard-dog handed over a folded parchment and dropped a coin into the innkeeper’s hand.

"And post this. Tomorrow we’ll need a parlor for the day."

The innkeeper yelled for a boy to show the newcomers up. As they climbed the stairs, the innkeeper unfolded the parchment. The merchant strained across the bar to see what it was.

Curiosity pricked at Wrai’s nerves but he wasn’t about to call attention to himself by going over.

"What is it?" the merchant said.

The innkeeper held the paper out at arms length and squinted at it, lips moving as he read. "It’s a notice to put up. Says he’s a merchant who wants to buy jewelry from before the dukedom was formed." He frowned as he peered at it. "Says he’ll pay good prices and be buying tomorrow all day."

The merchant took a sip of his wine. "Never seen anything that old. Wonder how he’ll tell?"

The innkeeper gave a broad shrug before turning to draw two flagons of wine from a cask and set them to mulling. "Wouldn’t mind getting in on to something like that if I knew where to find it. Must be profitable if he’s paying well." The merchant scowled into his mug. "Maybe one of the nobles hereabout, but they wouldn’t likely part with family pieces."

Wrai drained his mug. He knew of a noble who of a certainty had antiquities. A smile twisted his mouth. He’d been near the man three times in his life, but he was willing to wager a good deal some of his pieces were from before the Crestholm dukedom was founded. And he didn’t wager—not without being sure he would win.

The tricky part would be laying hands on the piece. When he’d walked past the house on the way to the inn the night before, it had been dark except for a tiny slant of light from an upstairs back window. That would have been a servant’s room. If the Faceless Goddess favored Wrai, the owner was out of town. The profit might make up for missing the fair. It might even give him the gold to buy that gambling hall. Getting it at the cost of someone who owed him made it that much sweeter.

He headed for the stairs and no one so much as turned their head. In his room, he pulled back the shutters. The rain still pelted, splattering into puddles. The streets would be quiet. If he was right that the house was empty, he could have a profitable night. Should he take the risk? He flexed his hands, a chill of nerves going through him.

He’d mostly given up thieving after Amalie was born. Every city took a hand for thieving, a few took both. The worst you got for weighting the dice in a game of Hazard was a flogging. But, no one ever won at the table if they didn’t lay the stakes. This was too good a gamble to pass up. He swapped his leather and homespun for his black tunic and breeches and pulled on his black gloves.

Time to collect a debt long past due.

The rain had quieted to a drizzle by the time he jumped from the window into the dark horse yard. The air smelled of earth and wet leaves. He slogged through the muddy street. The village was dark except for once when the quarter moon found a gap in the rain clouds. Past a street lined with ramshackle wooden huts, he came to the larger brick houses near the market square. Set back from the road, most had cypress-dotted lawns. A shaft of light shown through shutters of a manse and a couple left, talking and laughing as a torch carrier lit their way. Wrai stopped under a dripping tree to wait and then strolled through the dark keeping an eye out for guards or stray merrymakers.

His heart sped up with a thrill he had missed. The risk was better than new summerwine.

The manse he was seeking stood above the market square at the top of a hill. Heavy shutters barred the tall front windows and the hickory front door had heavy a heavy bar. He slipped through the trees of the lawn toward the back. In the shadow of an oak, he studied the house with its kitchen, scullery and back garden. He’d gambled in enough fancy manses to know how they were set up. Even with the master gone, a junior maid was probably huddled in the kitchen beside the dying warmth of the hearth. In the garret, a senior servant or two might have been left to see to the house while the master was gone. He didn’t want in the garret anyway, and he’d circle around to avoid the kitchen.

The master’s study took up one side of the front of the house. He padded across the wet grass to one of the forward windows. Running a finger over the joint of the shutter, he sucked in a breath. That latch was a heavy one. But he needed money, and he liked the idea of getting it from his father. He touched the scar at the corner of his eye. Oh, yes, he liked that idea.

He needed a window he could work at for a while so he eased around the house until he found one hidden by two heavy bushes. He pulled a long metal pick out of his boot's seam. It slid through slit, and the latch didn’t take as long as he’d thought it might. Easing the window up, he strained to detect any sound. The drizzle sputtered softly.

No noise came from inside the dark house. He climbed through into a hallway and stood still letting his eyes adjust. The house smelled of wax and fine leather just the same as when he'd been here before. He closed his eyes for a minute to let them get used to the deeper darkness inside.

His mother had dragged him the first two times. He’d been past his seventh solstice. She’d scrubbed him until he stung and dressed him in his least worn clothes. That was after the players she had been performing with had turned up its toes. He’d heard her crying every night, and she cursed all the way to the manse under her breath. She’d never said anything about his father before, but on the way, she said every bad word Wrai’d ever had his mouth washed out for saying. A servant showed her into the study, him in tow, his hand firmly in hers. He gaped at the colorful pictures in the wall hangings. In a polished case, silver urns shone and a medal as large as a man's hand etched with a deep figure of the Goddess surrounded by a strange twisted mark dangled.

"You want your own son to go hungry?" his mother said, her face drawn tight.

The man shrugged and rang for a servant to show her out. "Don’t come back with the by-blow."

The by-blow.


Laying the Odds, co-authored with C. R. Daems, is my new fantasy adventure available at Smashwords and Amazon. It is reduced from $2.99 to 99 Cents for June only in honor of Reader Appreciation Month.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Review - Daughter of Time by Sarah Woodbury

Have you ever noticed that it's easier to review novels you don't like? I'm having a hard time deciding what to say about Sarah Woodbury's Daughter of Time simply because there's nothing much to criticize there. It's well-researched and well-written with characters you really grow to like and want good things for. Her depiction of medieval life is wonderful and accurate. I enjoyed seeing them from the eyes of a modern woman. It's too bad more writers don't write about the Middle Ages as they were instead of modernizing or apologizing for them.

At first, I had a hard time feeling a lot of sympathy for one of the main characters, Meg Lloyd. Yes, her husband just died, but he was an abusive jerk. Yet, she had stayed with him not only endangering herself but allowing her two-year-old daughter to witness the abuse. The excuse was that he was dying of cancer. I still couldn't quite sympathize--not with a small child involved, especially since it was long-standing abuse. At the same time, there was a certain disconnect. Meg didn't seem to be the kind of person who would have stayed in this kind of relationship, much less exposed her daughter to it.

However, as she showed her strength and courage as well as her determination to protect her daughter, Meg grew on me.

Anyhow... that put me off her a bit and the first chapter was really backstory establishing her fear of men and her Welsh antecedents. Then she has a car accident that propels her mysteriously into medieval Wales. This requires a suspension of disbelief since there is no immediate explanation at all of how this happens, but it's a time-travel novel, so I can do that.

The other main character is the historical Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last true Prince of Wales, after him the title being held by English usurpers. She does a wonderful job of bringing this hero of Wales to life without modernizing him. He is strong with plenty of sides to his character to make him believable, and the reader is immediately plunged into a two-fold struggle. He must hold his land for his people against a constant threat from his rapacious English neighbor as well as internal threats and, at the same time, deal with the mysterious appearance of Meg and her daughter, Anna.

This is an exceedingly dangerous time in Wales and the threats come from all directions. I won't spoil the story by telling what they are or how they work out. I can tell you that if you give the story a chapter or two to draw you in, you'll really enjoy this novel whether you enjoy historical novels or time-travel ones.

This is a Five Star novel on my rating system. Great job by the author!

You can buy Daughter of Time on Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes & Noble for only $2.99. (I just noticed it's only $1.99 on Amazon!)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

#SampleSunday - Caitrina Flees the Attacking English

Freedom's Sword

Chapter Four

Caitrina shook her head. Donnchadh said they had gone north and a little east along the pine forest. He pointed to the North Star, faint in the black velvet sky. She rubbed her arms, covered with goose bumps, as they trudged. Even in April, the night air was chill. But how far east had they come? How far did they have yet to go to reach Avoch Castle?

A trumpet called somewhere behind them and she froze. It came again. She grabbed Donnchadh's arm. He pulled her, running, towards a dark mass of thick brambles down slope that extended over the next rise. She stretched her leg to keep up. They pushed their way into the scratchy branches and sank down. Panting and heart hammering, she squeezed his hand. It grew silent again except for an owl hooting in the darkness.

"They won't see us in here," Donnchadh said, "but they might hear us. It's noisy pushing our way through."

"If we tried to stay in the brambles, it would take a long time, too." She listened. The horns, whatever they had meant, had stopped. "I think we have to take the risk."

They neared the top of the next rise and crouched to listen, keeping a nervous eye out for searchers. The English could come very close before they saw them in the dark. The night was silent so they kept going, pushing their way through the dense thicket, arms and legs stinging with welts from the thorns.

Caitrina stopped. A lighter area opened ahead in the moonlight--the road. She pointed, and Donnchadh motioned for them to lie down. Caitrina pointed again at a dense clump of gorse, thick enough to hide her. "Stay here," she whispered.

He grabbed for her hand but she was already creeping forward. From flat on the ground, she could see very little, just the dark night and a ground in front of her. After a few damp, tiring yards of crawling, she glanced back to see how far she'd come. Donnchadh's eyes gleamed in the moonlight. She went on.

She was sure she was near the road when she heard the beat of horses coming at a fast walk. She trembled, wanting to jump up and run. But if she did, of a certainty, they would see her. Don't move. Don't move. Donnchadh's eyes had shined in the dark, so she forced herself to stare at the layers of leaves on the ground. The horses came from her left. They were so close they almost seemed to ride right over her; the ground shook. Her whole body shuddered with terror, but they kept going. Once the pounding hoofbeats had passed, she dared a quick glance. They disappeared before she could count the dark shapes--at least ten or twelve of them. The hoofbeats died away. She took a deep breath and crept into the spicy-smelling clump of gorse. She parted the spiky leaves and even in the moonlight, the road was scarred with hoof marks. Why were they riding east? Away from Edirdovar Castle? It wasn't enough to attack Avoch, surely. Were they looking for her?

She strained through to see along the road as far as she could without getting out in the open. Nothing. She jumped at a touch on her arm and gave a faint squeak.

"They're ahead of us now," she whispered and her stomach rumbled loudly.

Donnchadh gave her a weak grin. "Glad it didn't do that before."

Together, they crept away from the road and made their way through the firs. She had gotten blisters on the bottoms of both of her feet so she took off her shoes. The dirt and damp needles made a soft cushion underfoot. She needed to piss, but didn't want to tell Donnchadh. She couldn't make water while he watched. Finally, though she couldn't hold it any more and her belly ached from it, so he turned his back while she squatted.

The horizon was hidden by the fir trees, but slowly the sky turned from gray to blue. Caitrina stumbled over a root she hadn't seen and grabbed a trunk, the bark rough under her hand. "I don't think I can walk much more."

"We'll look for a place when it gets light. No way we'll make it to Avoch today, I don't think."

Caitrina nodded and kept her eyes on her feet trying not to stumble, putting one bare foot in front of another. Her stomach ached with emptiness. It had been a long time since the berries. Once she stumbled over a rock and landed hard on her knees.

Donnchadh gave her a hand to boost her erect. "Not much longer. We'll rest during the day and go on when it gets dark." They found a tumbled cairn grown over with brambles. He made a tunnel into it and pulled the bushes close so they were hidden. Caitrina was sure she wouldn’t sleep but the last thing she remembered was cradling her head in her arms and then Donnchadh gave her shoulder a shake.

The light was already waning in the clear spring sky and the world was turning gray. The brambles ended at the edge of a fir wood. Donnchadh grumbled that it would be hard to find their way under branches that hid the stars, but there wasn't a choice so they kept to the fragrant firs and climbed up a long brae. He led them down the other side and up the next gentle rise.

Caitrina sniffed. "I smell wood smoke."

Donnchadh pointed towards flickering light off to the right. Her stomach was so empty she felt sick and Donnchadh looked longingly towards the light.

"Maybe it's a croft," he said. "I don't have no siller to buy anything. Do you?"

"No." She worried at her lip with her teeth. "They could tell us how far to Avoch though and if they've seen riders. And maybe they'd spare an oat bannock if we ask."

Donnchadh frowned and shook his head. "But what if the riders stopped there?"

"I hadn't thought of that." She twisted her fingers together. "We better be careful."

They kept going in the dimming light that turned into twilight. Where the trees thinned, they slipped from bush to bush. Every few steps they stopped to listen. The light ahead was bright when she heard a horse snort and a man's voice. The smoky smell got stronger.

Donnchadh put his mouth against her ear. "You wait here."

She wanted to protest against being left but was afraid to with the English so near, so she sat down next to some thick brambles as he crept on his belly. Her stomach ached with hunger, but it couldn't be that far to Avoch. The once she had been there, it hadn't been a long a ride by road. She clasped her arms around her bent knees, shivering a little in the cooling night air. They could get there without food, she was sure, even walking. Then Donnchadh was creeping toward her. He shook his head and his lips were pressed so tight they were pale.

"What is it?"

"The riders that passed--they're there." His voice was choked sounding. "They've--they've killed the crofter--his family. The bodies..." He heaved and bent as he coughed up a string of bile. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and she waited, heart pounding. "They're just lying there in the dirt. Like--like old rags or--" His voice broke, and he stopped, choking back a sob. She had a sudden vision of Edirdovar Castle--her sister and mother and all the people she knew...

She pressed her hand to her mouth as Donnchadh sucked in gusty breaths through clinched teeth. He looked up, cheeks wet. "They didn't have a chance."

"The people at the castle," said Caitrina. "What about our people? If they'd kill crofters and a knight, what will they do to everyone at the castle and the village?"

She could feel Donnchadh shaking as he took both her hands. "Don't think about it. All we can do is get to Avoch and let them know. Can they get word to the king? To Lord de Moray and your father?"

She pulled her hands loose and pressed them hands to her mouth, rocking back and forth, afraid if she let out a noise she would scream. Finally, she managed to suck the scream down to her belly. "If the English are here, then... then I think that means our army lost." She rocked again a few times. She took a shaky breath and then another. "Can we get past them?"


Freedom's Sword is available on Amazon and Smashwords. Please also check out A Kingdom's cost also available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Review of Knight Errant by K. D. Sarge

This is a sweet, though action-packed, coming-of-age/gay/space opera/romance, in which the gay part is much less important that the coming-of-age part. The love scenes are not at all explicit for anyone who would be uncomfortable with that but quite unapologetically same gender, which I consider a plus. While I am not a huge romance fan, this is well-written with plenty of space opera adventure to keep you entertained.

My one complaint was that the novel gets off to a slow start. I found myself not caring that Kintaro Hibiki (mostly called by his nickname of Taro) was kicked out of a low-life gambling club, and the author seemed to go on a bit about how Taro's adopted "sister" and savior, Eve Marcori, always saved small children and got kicked out of the space marines for doing so. However, once you get past the first couple of chapters the action starts rolling and, even more importantly, you get drawn into the characters for whom you start cheering.

Taro is devoted to Eve who now owns and captains a space freighter. He has no desire to go to college or follow in Eve's footsteps as a space captain. However, he won't disappoint her by telling her that or by telling her that he is gay. He represses almost all of his own personality to try to fit into her vision of what his dead mother would have wanted him to be. The problem is that it isn't whom he is.

Then they rescue another young man, Rafe, who was a former pleasure-slave. Eve had freed him from slavery but being a courtesan has seemed to him to be the only way to make his way in life. He really isn't good at much of anything else--or so it seems. Besides that, Rafe likes pleasing and giving pleasure to other people if it can be someone he likes or cares about. He hasn't minded his way of life as long as he could choose who he was with. The budding relationship between Taro and Rafe, with its misunderstandings, some of them deliberately fostered by Rafe, and its snarky dialogue is quite well done.

Taro decides to find a way to get rid of Rafe largely, though he doesn't admit it to himself, because he is strongly attracted to him. Unfortunately, Taro has a way of finding himself in deep trouble, and his attempt to rid them of Rafe lands the two of them kidnapped and stranded on a poisonous planet. There Taro begins, with Rafe's help, to see that he can and must stand up for whom he is and what he wants, even against Eve who only wants the best for him.

Through space explosions, gambling, bar fights, more kidnappings, and a gradually deepening relationship, Rafe comes to value himself as more than a pleasure-giver and Taro comes to realize that he must be who he really is. The novel is literately written and a pleasure to read. If you hang in there past the slow start, this is a book you will thoroughly enjoy.

This is a four-and-a-half Star novel.

Knight Errant is available on Amazon for only $2.99.

Please also check out my own novels: Freedom's Sword and A Kingdom's Cost each $2.99 on Amazon. Also available on Smashwords.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Indie Fiction Challenge

Samantha Warren over at Mariyta's Musings introduced me to a fun challenge. The challenge is to read 24 indie authors this year, each with a last name that starts with a different letter of the alphabet. (The challenge allows you to skip any two letters of the alphbet) Novels read before the first of the year don't count. You can check out the complete rules at ABC Indie Fiction Challenge Sign Up.

Here is my list of books I've read since the first of the year that fit on the list.

D) Dalglish, David - The Weight of Blood (The Half-Orcs, Book 1)
H) Hocking, Amanda - My Blood Approves

L) Lieske, Victorine - Not What She Seems
M) Martinez, Victoria - An Unusual Journey Through Royal History
P) Patterson, Edward C. - Look Away Silence
S) Snyder, J. M. - Power Play
V) Vosika, Laura - Blue Bells of Scotland: Book One of the Blue Bells Trilogy
W) Woodbury, Sarah - Footsteps in Time: A Time Travel Fantasy (The After Cilmeri Series Book One)

I notice I've read books by way too many authors whose names begin with 'S'! I'll update my list as I go along.

If anyone would like to check out my novels, you'll find them here:

Freedom's Sword is available at Amazon and Smashwords. A Kingdom's Cost is also available at Amazon and Smashwords for only $2.99.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

#SampleSunday - A Kingdom's Cost -- Chapter Three

March 1306

Below the hill, every sort and color of flag and banner and pennant flew over a city of tents. From it streamed smiling and laughing men and women, gaily dressed, up the hill and into the Abbey. James found a place at the back where the warm March sun poured through. He wouldn't put himself forward. That was a right he would win, he knew it. But there might be days--not often, but a few--when being young and dispossessed was an advantage. He'd see them all as they passed. He rested his back against the wall near the door to watch.

Bruce's brothers, dressed in flamboyant velvets, came in, laughing loudly and talking. Nigel Bruce was the oldest of the four, big and broad-shouldered, looking every bit the jouster that James had heard he was. Alexander, the slender one, was said to be a scholar. Edward Bruce was tall and golden with flashing blue eyes, and the other, Thomas, was a leaner, dark-haired version of the king.

James recognized Sir Neil Campbell from when the muscular, red-haired highlander had called upon the bishop, and with him was the blond Englishman, Sir Alexander Seton. Today, the Campbell was fine in a gray silk tunic and on one arm a lady who James supposed was his wife, Mary Bruce, the king's sister. She was bonny, all dressed in blue and laughing up at her husband. Behind them strolled the gray-haired Earl of Atholl.

"Enjoying the minstrel show?" a voice said, close at hand. James turned and faced a man of middling height, sharp-faced with long brown hair going gray and a scar angled across his cheek. "If there weren't a show, someone would say he wasn't the king.”

"But a king must be crowned.” James blinked, confused at why the man would call the coronation such.

"You don't remember me, do you? Robbie Boyd." He held out a hand.

James' eyes widened as he clasped the man’s forearm. He hadn't recognized Boyd at all from those days when this man and his father had been close companions of Wallace's. "You were a friend of my father's. I remember you well.” He grinned. "I was but a lad, and I thought you were eight feet tall."

Boyd laughed. "Then you must have thought Wallace was a true Goliath.” He poked James with an elbow and nodded to a scowling man with Sir Philip de Mowbray at the front of the Abbey. "Look. The Earl of Strathearn with a face like someone threatened to cut off his head."

The man's face was furrowed in a scowl.

"Why would he look like that?" James asked.

"Because I told him I would if he didn't pay homage to the king. Lennox said killing him was a bad idea, but I'm not so sure. Puling weakling. We had to kidnap him to get him here, but we needed to make a good show. Not that it isn’t war. But they won’t say earls weren’t at our king's crowning." Boyd's eyes narrowed. "Even if it's only four."

The thought of the Earl of Lennox and Sir Robert Boyd kidnapping the Earl of Strathearn had him speechless. He stared at Boyd. "You kidnapped him?"

Boyd's teeth flashed in a grin, stretching the narrow scar on his cheek.

James scratched his new beard that was itching like a wolfhound pup full of fleas. True, most of those who should be here weren’t, but the idea of kidnapping an earl was more than he could fathom. Then it hit him that the MacDuff wasn't here. Of course, he was still a lad and in English hands. But who would place the crown on the king's head? It had always been the right and duty of the MacDuffs.

He started to mention it to Boyd just as trumpets, two lines of them, blared a fanfare that made James' ears ring. They resounded again.

Robert de Bruce strode between them into the Abbey and past the spectators up to the high altar. There he took his place on a massive throne. A low murmur went through the crowd. James glanced at Boyd, and the man met his eye, shrugging.

"No piece of rock makes a king," Boyd muttered.

No Scottish king had ever been crowned before without being seated upon the Stone of Destiny that King Edward Longshanks had stolen. It didn't matter, surely, but it left a queer feeling in James's belly anyway.

The new queen, Lady Elizabeth, entered through a side door to take her seat on a smaller throne to the side. Then Bishop Lamberton came out followed by the stooped, gray-haired Bishop Wishart and burly Bishop of Moray, all in richly embroidered, scarlet ecclesiastical robes. The chant of a choir floated through the abbey as the bishops clothed the king in the gorgeous purple and gold royal vestments. The Abbot of Scone swung a censor. The sweet scent of incense filled the air.

Lamberton's sonorous Latin Mass rolled over them, full of swelling anthems and dramatic pauses. Halfway through, James smothered a laugh at Boyd's sigh. As dramatic as the coronation was--it was long. But James caught his breath when the choir broke into a swelling Gloria in Excelsis.

The bishop brought the sacred oil and anointed the king.

James jumped when the trumpets sounded. And again.

Bishop Wishart strode to the altar and took the crown. It was a simple substitute for the one stolen by the English king, nothing more than a golden circlet. Again the trumpets sounded. The bishop placed the crown on the head of Robert de Bruce.

All around him, people jumped and cheered.

"God save the King," James roared with everyone in the Abbey. Boyd was grinning again as he joined in the shouts. "God save the King!"

Someone pushed past James and a line began to form. Soon it stretched out the door. James craned to see what was happening. The Earl of Strathearn stood first in place and Philip de Mowbray behind him. Bruce took Strathearn's hands in his, but the mumble that followed was indecipherable from where James stood. From the look of it, the rest of the day would be homage taking. James elbowed his way to the door with a wave to Boyd. James' homage and his loyalty, the king already had of him.

Below the buildings of the Abbey of Scone where it thrust into the sapphire sky, James wandered through the tent city that sprawled on the flats of the river. Near the slope of the hill, colorful silken pavilions of the lords and ladies sat under flapping banners, Bruce, Mar, Atholl, Lennox, Stewart, Hay, Lindsay, Strathearn and Campbell and the bishops and abbots. He passed tent booths where merchants cried, hawking their wares. Meat sizzling over braziers, sending up a scent that made his mouth water. Boys wander through the growing crowd crying pies for sale. James stopped under a merchant's sharp-eyed gaze to look at a brooch with a fine blue stone, but he had no lady to give it to or money to buy it. He strolled on.

Anyway, what was important lay ahead beyond more flying banners. The tourney grounds stretched out to beyond his sight.

The silver that the bishop had given him along with a gift from the king had bought a charger after he had returned the bishop's palfrey to the horse-master. James chuckled at the memory of the man's glare. Earlier in the day, he'd paid for a new shield with the blue chief and three white stars of Douglas. Tomorrow would be the tourneys, and he would have his first chance to show what he could do.


A Kingdom's Cost is now available at Amazon and Smashwords for only $2.99.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sample Sunday -- Freedom's Sword

Sir Andrew de Moray and the Scottish army have suffered defeat and capture in the south of Scotland at the hands of the English, but the news has not yet reached those awaiting their return in the north.


Caitrina de Berkely snapped off her thread and examined the seam she had finished sewing. There was no doubt. The seam was crooked.

She frowned in disgust at the gray underskirt and glanced across the sunlit bower at her sister. Isobail's needlework was always perfect. Everyone told their mother so. Even their father who had no use for such things had said, "Her embroidery is as dainty as she is."

Caitrina peeked at her mother, afraid that she might have noticed that she had stopped working, but her mother was paying Caitrina no attention at all. Her mother was counting a stack of white linen coifs and veils they had readied for Caitrina's departure for the convent, a crease between her fair eyebrows as she refolded them. She said Caitrina should be grateful they were giving her to the church and that she must be properly clothed for the novitiate. Her dower had already been paid.

Caitrina bent over the garment she held and chewed her lip. She could pick out the seam and salvage the skirt. It would take time, and her mother would notice. Sighing, she laid down her needle and watched her sister take a careful stitch in her embroidery.

Perhaps if she was careful she could slip out of the room. At least, she could have a last afternoon of freedom. Tears filled Caitrina's eyes, but she blinked them back. It wasn't fair that she was being sent to be a nun. She would never run along the beach, launch an arrow at a rabbit, or gallop a horse across the hills again. Never gather berries with her friends from the castleton and never have her own home where no one would judge her lacking.

She stood up and started quietly for the door.

"Where are you going, sister?" Isobail said in a voice as soft as one of the rose petals that scented the bower.

"I want to have one last glance of the firth before I go. Would deny me that? I'll never see it again."

Isobail colored, but even that she did daintily just as she did everything. She had even gotten their mother's golden coloring instead of red hair like their father. Her skin was soft and white as freshly skimmed cream instead of dotted with freckles.

Their mother raised her eyes. "You have no need to see the firth today. You will see it on your way."

Caitrina wanted to scream. It was just like Isobail speak up and let their mother know she was escaping.

"Let me see. Your clothes must be prepared for the morrow." Her mother stood and picked up the underskirt. "Caitrina, this must be unpicked and re-sewn. It will not do at all."

The corners of Isobail's mouth turned up in the tiniest smirk. It was all too much. Caitrina spun and bolted for the door.

Her mother said in a grimly soft voice, "Caitrina, come back here. Don't you dare take another step."

She stopped in the doorway and turned back. "What will you do to me? Lock me up?" She took brief satisfaction from the shock on their faces. "You're sending me away, remember?" With that, she whirled and made her escape, running down the stairs.

What had she done that was so bad? How could her father have agreed to send her away before he left to lead their men to fight the English? Isobail was fifteen, a year older. Perhaps by the time Caitrina was born there was no love left over for her. Or perhaps it was that she wasn't the heir they wanted. It wasn't fair. Isobail could dance, and sing, and play the harp. Even worse, she was beautiful like their mother. Their nurse had called Caitrina carrot-top while she doted on Isobail. Caitrina could ride a horse better and the sight of blood never made her cry. But who cared about such things in a lass?

She dashed past the guardroom at the postern gate before her mother could have them stop her, but there were few guards about now. Their father had taken most with him when he went to fight the invaders. Now she'd not see them return, not greet her lord father or feel his strong arms in a hug. She'd thought that he loved her. Tears were running down her face as she dashed down the hill, plunging her way through the prickly gorse.

One spiky leaf snagged her skirt so she stopped to loosen it, watching up the castle to see if they sent anyone after her. No one was in sight except a single guard walking atop the red sandstone wall. She took a deep breath and angrily wiped the tears away with the heel of her hand. She wouldn't waste her last day of freedom weeping.

They weren't pursuing her, but her mother would probably have them look in the village. There were better things to do than to stay there anyway. First, she had to find Donnchadh. He would be as eager to escape his father's mill, as she was to escape the castle.

She arrived, hot and breathless, at the round stone millhouse that jutted above the edge of the firth. Inside, below the floor, the wheel screeched as the tide turned it, blending with the swish of the frothy waves below.

Donnchadh propped up the wall, a faded plaid of green and yellow checks pleated over one shoulder and his saffron tunic hanging to his knees. He gave her a curious look. "I thought they had you locked up in the castle until you leave."

Caitrina wrinkled her nose. "I escaped. For a last day of freedom."

He grinned, showing the homey gap between his front teeth. "Come on, then. Let's go." He looked up the hill before he turned his gaze back to her. "What do you want to do?"

"It's been so warm, I'll wager some of the blackberries are ripe already. Let's go picking. We can eat our fill and then go climbing for eggs." She bent and pulled the back of her skirt through her legs to kilt it in front. She spun in circles, head back. The sun was warm on her face and the air mingled the scent of salt sea with the spice of gorse and heather. She stopped, a little dizzy, and grinned. "Come on. I'll race you."

She dashed along the beach and up a stony path to the top of the rise. Donnchadh let her have a head start. He always did, but she soon she heard the thud of his footsteps.

In a few minutes, they were deep in the blackberry brambles that grew eight feet high. They were covered with ripening berries and the two shooed away squawking birds. Donnchadh yelped when a thorn scraped a bloody line on his arm. She made a face at him. Her leg already bore a long scratch. She stuffed her mouth with a handful of juicy berries and grinned, so he did the same. A drop of purple juice dripped onto his chin.

When she heard a signal horn bugle, she stopped to listen.

"What is that?" Donnchadh asked, frowning.

"I'm not going back, whatever it is, but it's not from the castle." She took her lip between her teeth. "We're not expecting my father to return with his men for weeks yet. It might be news. They were going to fight."

"It could be." He parted the dense blackberry leaves to peer through the brambles. They were west of the castle, a good way beyond the southwest corner of the outer wall. They could see only a short stretch of the road leading out of the gate.

"I think it's too soon for news," Caitrina said. "What do you see?"

"Not much. But... Do you hear that?"

She didn't so much hear it as feel it, a rumble in the ground up through her feet from the road to the west. When she parted the brambles beside him, she could see nothing, because of the pinewoods that bordered the road, but as she stepped into the open, she could see sentries dashing into place on the castle wall.

The sound was horses, large horses. A trumpet winded from somewhere on the road.

"That's not my father's horn. Nor Lord Avoch's. I know the sound from when they marched away." A deep-toned horn called from the castle. A horseman came in sight around the angle of wall, riding fast out from the gate. His armor glittered. He wore the green cloak of their master-at-arms. "It's Sir Ailean," she said.

"Maybe you should go back."

Out of the trees came a column of men-at-arms behind a hundred or so horsemen. She gasped. "Look!"

"Whose banner is that? Do you know it?"

She jumped back into the brambles and peeked through the dense branches. "Just a second. White field—-something on it in red. The horsemen are all knights. But there are a lot of infantry." Row after row of single-edged blades on the end of tall polearms waved like a field of corn in the wind.

"None of our men were carrying those when they left," said Donnchadh.

"It is pikes. I can see the blades flashing in the sun." She swallowed. A huge rock had grown in the middle of her chest. "Holy Mary... I think that's the banner of England. The cross of St. George."


Freedom's Sword is available at Amazon and Smashwords. It is reduced to only 99 Cents through May 14.

A Kingdom's Cost is also available at Amazon and Smashwords for only $2.99.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Review of Blue Bells of Scotland by Laura Vosika

This is a well-written and entertaining time-travel novel. I enjoyed the author's rather different take on time travel, and the fact that, for a change, it was men who were the "victims" of the phenomenon. Two men 700 years apart are ripped from their places in time. How does it happen that they look so much alike that they can be mistaken for each other? That may well be related to the mysterious cause of the time-travel, but it is left to be explained in later novels. This doesn't detract from the story.

Shawn Kleiner is a world-renowned musician, selfish and self-indulgent. It took about five minutes for me to be ready to slap him up the side of the head. Niall Campbell is a medieval warrior and bard, loyal to his clan and the opposite of Shawn in every way, except in looks.

One day, Shawn's much put-upon girlfriend has had enough and leaves him stranded at a Scottish castle. While he sleeps, the two men are time swapped. Suddenly, Niall is trying to figure out how to cope with modern life, and Shawn is traveling through Scotland to the Battle of Bannockburn. However, this is a different Battle of Bannockburn. It is one that the Scots would tragically lose instead of winning unless Niall does something to change history to what it should have been and save King Robert.

The puzzlement and attempts of the two men to cope with their situation made for an entertaining novel. Whether it was Niall trying to fend off adoring women while he finds his way around a modern symphony hall. Meanwhile, in medieval Scotland, Shawn is being chased rather improbably by an English army.

I was put off, I must admit, by the story having an English army freely roaming around in Scotland just prior to the Battle of Bannockburn. This was historically inaccurate. It simply wouldn't have happened, and since the novel seemed to go to some length to try for historical accuracy, it rather stuck out like pimple on one's forehead. Nor were Scots still in Scotland debating their loyalty to King Robert. Either they were loyal, or they were expelled from Scotland.

Also, the Campbell's were very closely associated with the Scottish crown at that time and the head of the Campbells was married to King Robert's sister. Ignoring this rather important fact struck me as odd. The fact that the Campbells are represented as some poor, ill-connected clan bothered me.

I also simply didn't believe that King Robert, who had spent eight years successfully forcing the English out of Scotland, suddenly couldn't figure out how to win a battle, but an inexperienced young man could. Nor did I believe that Allene would have run off to try to take part in a battle. It simply isn't how medieval women behaved. I raised an eyebrow at that. I must admit these were issues that probably wouldn't bother most readers.

However, the author managed to get the reader invested in the characters, which helps one get past some improbabilities. The two protagonists are very well-fleshed out and fully drawn. They grow and mature over the course of the story. The secondary character of Amy was also very believable. I found that I came to like her a lot. The story did draw me in spite of my criticisms, and the prose was strong.

So as a story, I would give this 5 stars. As a historical novel, I'm afraid I would only give it 3 because of the inaccuracies about what was happening in Scotland at that time. On balance, I'd give it 4 stars, and it is well worth the price as a fun read. You can buy Blue Bells of Scotland on Amazon priced at $2.99.


My new novel, A Kingdom's Cost, is now available on Amazon and Smashwords for $2.99.

Freedom's Sword is price reduced to 99 Cents through May 14 at Amazon and Smashwords.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Writing Large Battles Scenes

This is a tough thing to do for most writers. There is so much going on all at once. The writer often feels as battered as the character fighting the battle. How do you manage to get it all in? How do you describe it all?

I am going to give my beliefs on how to do it. Will everyone agree with me? Of course not, but one of the parts of my writing that at times gets the most praise is my battles, so I suspect I may do something right at least part of the time.

I start with something I try to keep firmly in mind in all my writing. Do NOT violate point-of-view. Ever.

In a battle, this means several things. Most of all, it means that your protagonist can't see everything that is going on. They will see what is going on around them, but they are unlikely to know what is going on across the battlefield. The protagonist may not even know if the battle is won or lost.

Also, always keep in mind that battles involve the sensory, not only seeing, but hearing, tasting, feeling. Probably, not a lot of thinking though. When someone is trying to stick sharp implements in your guts or pierce them with bullets, the chances of philosophizing are slim.

However, think about times when you have been under extreme stress. I have never been in a medieval battle, but I have been in car accidents and had loved ones suddenly die. I have been around people who had these kinds of experiences, so I have a good idea how people react in emergencies and under stress.

Strange things happen to you. Time can do strange things, seem to collapse, hours seeming like minutes and seconds seeming like hours.

You may be so focused on the immediate, that you only see what is right in front of you. Or you may by divorcing yourself emotionally from the stress, even deny that the situation is stressful. Or you may appear very calm although piss runs down your leg. Some may freeze, unable to move. The same person may react in different ways at different times.

While occasionally someone may be very conscious of how they are moving their hands and feet, for the most part this isn't what one thinks about under any circumstances. One is much more likely to think of the whole. Think of physical activities we do under more ordinary circumstances, such as dancing, playing golf or playing tennis. Unless we are taking lessons, most of the coordination of our body is automatic. If we spend much time telling the reader that the protagonist's hand went here while their foot went here, it soon begins to be not only boring but also very artificial and (worse) an authorial intrusion.

I'll include a battle scene that is in Chapter Two of Freedom's Sword. I wonder if you think I followed my own rules? Did they work? I'd love to discuss it in comments.

Here newly knighted Sir Andrew de Moray is in his first battle. Part of the Scottish army, they are charging an apparently fleeing English host:

The trap snapped shut.

Cursing, his father jerked his horse into a rearing turn. "To me! To me!"

The English were upon them from both sides. They were in a chaos of crashing lances, of horns, of trumpeting horses. Everywhere steel screamed on steel.

Andrew raised his shield and caught a sword slash on it. His father rammed his lance into a knight's shield. The lance shattered. The knight crashed onto his back under plunging hooves. Lord Avoch tossed aside the butt and scraped his sword free. A knight in a red tabard bore down, lance level towards his father's chest. Andrew threw himself forward, shield high. The lance skirled, screaming, along his shield. Ducking low, Andrew swung, shearing through mail, muscle, and gut. The man was dead as he slumped, bouncing from the saddle as his steed plunged forward.

Andrew's world shrank to his father's back and his sword. An unhorsed knight thrust at his chest. His sword lashed out, knocking the axe aside. The knight darted aside for another try. Andrew rode over him, bursting his head open. One of their men rode by, slumped over his horse's neck.

A lance had gone through his belly and stuck out his back.

Sir Waltir de Berkely, unhorsed, slashed at an English knight but the mount reared. Sir Waltir ducked under slashing hooves. His father slammed his sword into a foe's side as another rode at him, swinging. The blade flashed. His father toppled. Andrew jerked his horse into a rear and shattered the man's chest with a kick. His horse made a small leap over Brian's body, blood trickling from his mouth and head in a crimson pool. He jumped from the saddle. All around rang sword upon sword and men wailed, screaming in pain.

His father rolled over. Alive. Andrew straddled him, shield up. Caught a blow. Swung hard at a mailed arm. Blood gushed over his hand.

A sickening crunch and pain exploded in his back. His vision shattered into broken shards. He was falling. He couldn't yell... Couldn't move... His father's body lay under him on the ground. A jolt jerked his head.

"England!" a voice cried out. "For England and King Edward!"

Andrew drifted into a wave of gray mist.


My new novel, A Kingdom's Cost, is now available on Amazon and Smashwords for $2.99.

Freedom's Sword is price reduced to 99 Cents through May 14 at Amazon and Smashwords.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Things Scottish -- Food to be Precise

I'm sure some of you have noticed that in the course of my life, I've spent some time in Scotland. In the course of that, I've eaten a fair amount of Scottish food--and no haggis is not made out of sheep's intestines. Like sausage, intestines serve as a casing.

However, it was other dishes that were daily fair on my granny's table, so I'm going to share a few recipes that I learned from her. They mostly were not eaten in medieval Scotland in the days of James, Lord of Douglas, the hero of A Kingdom's Cost, but they're pretty tasty and very authentically Scottish, except that I changed the measurements and temperatures to US.

Forfar Bridies

1 package of puff pastry (or make your own)

1 pound finely chopped lamb (ground beef may be substituted if you don't like lamb)
1 large onion, finely diced
1/4 cup beef broth (or enough to moisten meat)
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 egg white, lightly beaten

In a heavy skillet brown meat and onion. Drain fat. Add broth, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Cool thoroughly! (Don't fail to cool)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Roll pastry to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut into about 6 inch rounds. This should make 6 to 8 rounds of pastry. Divide the cooled meat evenly in the center of the rounds. Leave an edge of pastry showing all round. Brush edges with water and fold over. Crimp the edges, make two slits in the top (traditionally bridies with onion have 2) and brush the top with egg white.

Oil a baking sheet and place bridies on it being sure they don't touch. Bake for 15 minutes, lower temperature to 350 degrees F. and continue baking for another 55 minutes or until golden brown.

Yummy! Just like my granny made me.

My granny knew I couldn't get enough of her shortbread and since I was a skinny kid she always had a good stock on hand. (If I weren't off gluten, I'd still eat it by the truckload)

Burrebrede (Scottish Shortbread)

1 pound unsalted butter
5 cups flour (pastry is best but all-purpose works also)
1 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
(You can add a teaspoon of vanilla but I prefer it without which emphasizes the butter flavor)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

Cream butter. Add sugar and salt and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add flour and mix with a wooden spoon. Use hands to thoroughly mix. Chill for 15 minutes and then press into a jelly roll pan. Prick closely all the way through.

Bake for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking for 30 minutes. Let cool in pan for about 10 minutes and cut into bars. Finish cooling in pan before removing although the delicious aroma may make that difficult. Smack hands as needed.

Even thinking about them makes me nostalgic for my granny's kitchen.

To celebrate the release of A Kingdom's Cost the price of Freedom's Sword is reduced to 99 Cents through May 14! Take advantage of the low price now!