A MelanieM Review: The Dragon’s Legacy by Robin White

Standard

Rating: 2 stars out of 5

Valgaforis wants to be left in peace. And if he must be bothered, he would prefer goblins to humans. But these humans come searching for something that sounds like it just might help him figure out what happened to the rest of his kind. He can tolerate some bothersome humans for a little while to answer that burning question.

Things just seem to keep going wrong for Alessio. While on the hunt for the regalia of his bloodline, which will finally secure him the throne, he stumbles across Erik, who’s somehow already discovered the dragon cave Alessio seeks. Erik, a native of the Northland, offers to help, and Alessio gratefully accepts, despite the unexpected complications added to his already difficult journey.

Along the way they encounter spirits, hobs, a river bride, and even trolls. In fact, the only thing they don’t seem to encounter is the dragon Alessio expected to find when they finally reach their destination…

The storyline and the characters of The Dragon’s Legacy by Robin White show promiseI just can’t resist a dragon or dragon shifter story.  And this sounded like a wonderful fantasy tale.   I think it could be as all the elements are here just waiting to be enlarged into the fantasy saga it hopes to be.

With any story, especially a fantasy one, you need a solid foundation of world building to rest it on and this one lacks that.  You get bits and pieces of the culture and the reason why Alessio and group is off on his mission but you have gaping holes in his history and in Valgaforis’ as well.  Those are never answered either by the end of the story to the reader’s dissatisfaction.  You need to pull all the threads together, answer at least the important questions in the readers minds to make the story a cohesive whole in order for any book to be an enjoyable reading experience.

I appreciated little touches here and there.  The fact that the dragon joined in on the quest with no one any the wiser was a cute aspect to the story, over too soon for my tastes.   And I liked the whole dragon’s sword bit but that should have been explored more as it was a huge part of the storyline.

But the biggest loss here is that of character development.  Each character lacked depth and that “realiness” that comes with a layered personality and time given over to making us believe in them as a person/beings.  Same goes for the relationships here.  All have that shallowness about them that feels one dimensional.  It lets you appreciate some of the nicer points of the story but removes you from any emotional contact or connection to anyone within the story.

This is the first story I’ve read by Robin White and I would certainly read others, based on the promise this one displays.

Cover art: Aisha Akuju:  The cover art is stunning with the dragon’s hoard.  Love it.

Sales Links: Less Than Three Press

Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: May 30th 2018 by Less Than Three Press
ISBN139781684312610
Edition LanguageEnglish
Other Editions
None found

A Free Dreamer: Review: The Seeds of Dissolution (Dissolution Cycle #1) by William C. Tracy

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

On a bright August day, the sun disappears.

Sam van Oen barely escapes freezing to death in his house, as his watch stops and fire ceases to burn. He is pulled into the Nether—a nexus between ten alien cultures—where he meets Rilan and Origon, two maji who can control the musical foundation of the universe. While coping with anxiety attacks prompted by his new surroundings, Sam must learn to hear and change the Symphony, and thus reality, in order to discover what happened to his home.

But more freezing voids like the one that started his journey are appearing, and Sam’s chances of getting back are fading. The Assembly of Species is threatening to dissolve and the maji are being attacked by those they protect, while rumors grow of an ancient, shape-changing species of assassins, returning to wage war.

The Dissolution is coming.

“The Seeds of Dissolution” is brilliant, to put it simply. It has everything I love in a book and I’m so glad I didn’t let the relationship dynamic put me off.

First of all, the world building was incredibly well done. Anybody who’s read a few of my reviews knows it’s hard to impress me with that. I have very, very high expectations of Fantasy and SciFi authors and William C. Tracy fulfilled them all. I’ve read countless books that deal with magic in one way or another, but never before have I come across anything like this. I’ve seen magic by colours a couple of times, but never by music before. It was a very unique and interesting approach.

The author did a brilliant job of slowly introducing all the different species and really making them all appear distinct and unique. I really enjoyed getting to know the Nether and its inhabitants together with Sam. There were a few drawings throughout the book and they really helped my imagination along.

Over the course of the story, we get to know characters from a few of the different species closer. The character cast was actually quite large, but they all had a very distinct voice. We get four three different POVs, but it’s immediately obvious who’s head we’re in at any given moment.

Our main protagonist is Sam. I really liked him. He’s so not your average fantasy hero. He suffers from crippling anxiety attacks, brought on by his agoraphobia and social phobia. That he still makes himself get up every time made him an extremely strong person to me. Far more than any typically perfect fantasy hero you happen across all the time.

The main plot of this book is definitely the fantasy. The romance plays a very minor part overall. This is just the type of book I want to see way more of: a brilliant plot with an MC who just so happens to be homosexual (or bisexual, as in Sam’s case). It’s incredibly difficult to find a really good fantasy novel with a protagonist who isn’t straight. There’s plenty of M/M romance with fantasy out there, but it’s just not the same. I grew up reading epic fantasy novels and I’m still not much of a romance reader, so this book had me extremely pleased. Thank you, dear author!

Long story short, “The Seeds of Dissolution” is brilliant fantasy. If you are, like me, a lover of epic fantasy with serious world building, then I’m sure you’ll love this unique approach of magic. If, however, you’re just looking for a nice romance novel with a bit of fantasy, keep looking.

Oh, this was also my first ever MMF book and I actually hesitated before picking it up just because of the relationship dynamic. I am SO glad I decided to diversify my reading habits a while ago. I think “The Seeds of Dissolution” will very likely end up being one of the best books of the year for me. And the best part: This is only part one and there are two more books that are set in the same world (but aren’t part of the series). Gonna read those very soon!

The cover is pretty cool. It looks very mysterious. Love those black flowers.

Sales Link:  Amazon

Book details: Kindle Edition, 436 pages

Published December 19th 2017 by Space Wizard Science Fantasy

A Free Dreamer Review: Celestia by J.D Evergreen

Standard

Rating: 1 star out of 5

Celestia has just lost its king to a suspicious illness. The king’s death has thrown the realm into chaos and a dark mage uses their power to influence the citizens, brainwashing them to do his bidding. A war is started, and it is left to Taliah and her friends to restore the rightful heir to the throne and stop the dark powers that fight against them.
But to win Taliah will have to risk everything…

An adventure that will force her to:
Learn something that can’t be taught, Fight a creature no one knows exists, And discover an heir no one can find.

Every turn she makes unravels an intricate plot designed to corrupt and control the people of her world. And Taliah finds herself surrounded by brainwashed people who are shadows of what they once were.

One false step will corrupt her mind forever and destroy the last hope of their quest for freedom.

A war,
A mystery,
A romance,
And a journey that will change the fate of a world.

Join the story! Scroll up now to buy!

This book is very hard to review for me. Normally, I always finish a book I get for a review, no matter how much I dislike it. But “Celestia” was an exception, sadly. There was just no way I could possibly finish this book. And not because I hated it so much, but simply because the text is not fit for publication.

This is a prime example of the pitfalls of self-publishing. There’s no objective quality control, anybody can publish whatever they want. In this case, the editing was non-existent. The story starts in past tense, but switches to present tense after a few lines. And then it just keeps switching back and forth. Often, one sentence starts in past tense and ends in present tense. Within the first 5%, I encountered at least one plot hole. At that point, I just had to give up. I tried, I really did, but the text as it is, is unfit for publication and unreadable.

It’s such a shame, because I do believe “Celestia” has potential. Otherwise I wouldn’t have agreed to read it in the first place. If there ever is a properly edited version of this book, I would love to give it a try again.

This proves once again that professional editing is NOT optional. There’s a reason why every somewhat decent publisher relies on professional editors. Even world-bestselling authors need editors. Proper spelling and grammar is the very least any published text should offer. The occasional typo can be forgiven but anything more than that seriously takes away from the enjoyment of reading. In this case, the lack of editing made it impossible to even read the book.

Cover: The cover is beautiful, a real eye-catcher. I love it.

Sales Link:  Amazon

Book details: ebook, 254 pages

Published February 1st 2018 by J.D Evergreen

A Free Dreamer Review: Echoes of the Gods by Gaia Sol

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Peace reigns in Midgard and with no wars to fight, Yngvi, soldier and fancy-free charmer, craves danger, excitement and adventure. He finds all that and more in a mysterious stranger whose arrival in Midgard coincides with an unexpected attack on Asgard’s pantheon by the fiendish armies of Loki, renegade god of the Underworld.

Shara has pursued a killer to Midgard and can’t afford to be distracted by the charismatic Yngvi, not when the fugitive has eluded him twice already. But Yngvi is like no one Shara’s ever met—annoyingly tenacious, but also brave, loyal and inconveniently attractive. A single night together shouldn’t change anything. But it changes everything, and Shara finds himself giving Yngvi his body, his trust and much more.

Caught in the riptide of Shara’s shocking secrets, Yngvi joins him on a quest for vengeance that takes them across the stars, onto new worlds and into battles with gods, monsters and their own unfamiliar, conflicting feelings. Disloyalty breeds distrust, threatening to destroy their new, fragile bond, but they must each choose between heart and life when they finally uncover the startling past that will change the future.

I absolutely loved “Echoes of the Gods“. I have a thing for mythology and fairy tales and I especially love it when authors take on old myths and make them into something new. And Gaia Sol did a brilliant job here.

This is the first time I’ve heard anything about the Babylonian pantheon and I actually had to google some of the names before I realized that the author didn’t just make the whole thing up. I love it when a book teaches me something new and makes me want to learn more. “Echoes of the Gods” was definitely educating for me, but it never felt like the author was lording her knowledge over the ignorant reader.

Yngvi and Shara were immediately likeable. Shara is very innocent and at times a little naive, but it fit his backstory very well. He’s never had much contact to other people and spent most of his life living alone in the woods. But he’s a quick learner and he has other qualities to make up for his innocence. I loved the dynamic between Shara and Yngvi. And I really felt for both of them, suffering with them through their various hardships and heartaches.

The world building was great. The Babylonian, Norse and Greek pantheons were explored in-depth and we got to see a lot of action there. I’m fairly familiar with Norse and Greek gods and it was great to meet well-known characters but also to learn new details I knew nothing about. And the Babylonian pantheon was completely new to me. I don’t think you need to know anything about the old gods in order to enjoy and understand this book. But to me, the familiarity added another layer of enjoyment.

Aside from the pantheons, there were lots of little magical things going on and it was all brilliantly explained and executed. It really felt like I was there with Yngvi and Shara, meeting the old gods and traveling through space and time.

The romance was definitely there, but it wasn’t overbearing. The love story is wonderful and Yngvi’s and Shara’s feelings for each other were easy to relate to. There was a really great balance between fantasy and romance, another great example how one doesn’t exclude the other. Because you can definitely have both: amazing Fantasy with great world building and a wonderful Romance.

The only thing that bothered me tiny little bit was the lack of communication and the misunderstandings it caused. But since Yngvi is a Norse warrior and Shara has spent most of his life in solitude, I guess it’s understandable. It didn’t distract from the overall brilliance of the book.

Overall, I simply loved this book. This is the author’s first book and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for future books by her.

If you have a thing for great fantasy with brilliant world building and a wonderful romance on top of it all, this is definitely the book for you.

The cover is absolutely gorgeous. It’s such an eye-catcher and really fits the storyline. At first glance, it does look like a cover for a space opera, though.

Sales Link:   Amazon

Book details:

ebook. 316 pages

Published October 25th 2017

A MelanieM Review: Deceived by Megan Derr

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Five stories of men and the secrets and lies that shape their lives…

Deceived—The hatred between Prince Benedict and his secretary Rae is well-known, and the source of much gossip at court. Each one too stubborn to walk away, determined to make the other one the first to break, they spend their days fighting or ruthlessly ignoring one another. Determined to put an end to the matter once and for all, and to give the notoriously rakish Benedict a taste of his own medicine, Rae sets upon a deception only to realize that there is more than one deception afoot…

Scandalous—Gideon has led a very strict life since the death of his parents, determined not to live the scandalous life that led to their untimely demise and to bring up his little brother in a more stable home. Journeying home to settle the matter of a new tutor for his brother, Gideon is waylaid overnight by foul weather at an inn. He encounters a beautiful young man who is more temptation than he is able to resist, and Gideon impulsively decides that one night, with a complete stranger, cannot possibly come to any harm…

From Afar—Pierce has all that anyone could want in life—an adoring brother who raised him when their parents died, the fame and adoration from being an accomplished fencer, and the best friend a man could have. What he wants, however, is to know the identity of the person who leaves him ardent love letters and why his admirer will not step forward…

Lessons—There is very little that Jude has not tried or seen, and his shameless behavior has earned him the reputation as the most notorious rake in the city. The one thing he does not do, however, is innocents. Then he chances upon a young man late at night in the park, amused to learn the man is attempting to write a love letter of all things. When he learns that Crispin despairs of ever catching the eye of his love because he is too innocent to be appealing, Jude impulsively offers to teach him all that he needs to know…

The Highwayman—When he receives word that his home is being plagued by a highwayman, Bartholomew immediately sets off for the family estate to see to the matter. When he arrives home, however, he learns that very little is as he remembers it. Instead of one problem to solve, Bartholomew finds himself contending with a highwayman, a murderer, strangers, and an old friend who is nothing like the boy he grew up with…

I love this collection of stories each linked together by location and primarily characters, flowing easily from one to the other.  Arranged in perfect order, they build like a 3-star Michelin food experience with Megan Derr, the chef with all the prime ingredients and exquisite recipes.

Here are my thoughts on each.

Deceived – This is a enemies to lovers story between Prince Benedict and his secretary Rae. Each day is spend trying to force the other to quit/fire him based on the false assumptions each has allowed to accumulate over the years about the other.  Until an upcoming masked ball changes everything.  With the ability to hide behind gorgeous masks, their true personalities draw the men together. That and their shared love of fragrances.  This is a wonderful story and a sensual one as well.  I love the element of perfumes woven throughout.  5 stars.

Scandalous – Gideon is on his way home to his estate and his young brother when he’s waylaid by a storm and a night of hot sex with a delightful stranger. So many things to love about this story.  There’s a fencing scene with where a lonely Gideon is caught ‘dancing’ with his shadow, the younger brother yearning for his older brother’s love and approval, and of course, a love story as well.  So charming.  And from this story we get to see the younger brother grown and looking for love in From Afar.  5 stars

From Afar – Pierce has all that anyone could want in life—an adoring brother who raised him when their parents died, the fame and adoration from being an accomplished fencer, and the best friend a man could have. What he wants, however, is to know the identity of the person who leaves him ardent love letters and why his admirer will not step forward.  I liked seeing Pierce all grown up as well as Gideon and Tem too.  This is probably the the story with the least depth.  The admirer is easily identified,  although I liked the poem aspect.  4 stars.

Lessons – This is  absolutely perfect.  A Rake who takes on an innocent who needs lessons in love because he wants to snare the attention of the man he loves.  The story builds just the way you want it too, as does the love Jude starts to feel toward Crispin, something he’s totally unprepared to feel.  Just a terrific story, one to give you butterflies, along with that great ending.  5 stars.

The Highwayman –  Bartholomew, older brother to Crispin and all around family meddler, decides  that he has to take charge of the situation when he hears that a Highwayman is working the area around the family estate.  Once at the estate, after years away, Bart realizes that nothing is as he remembered it and perhaps there are more problems than he anticipated.  He’s got a highwayman, a murderer, strangers, and an old friend who is nothing like the boy he grew up with.  This is the longest story of them all and easily the most complicated in every way.  The relationship dynamics, the convoluted plots,  and the tricky resolution.  It is also the most satisfying.  A great way to end the collection.  5 stars plus.

 

Cover art by Aisha Akeju is dark and hard to see.

Sales Links:  Less Than Three Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 225 pages
Published October 26th 2011 by Less Than Three Press (first published May 21st 2008)
Original TitleRegency
ISBN139781936202324
Edition LanguageEnglish
Series Deceived #1

A Lila Review: Waiting for You (Lifesworn #1) by Megan Derr

Standard

Rating: 3.25 stars out of 5

Shanna has spent her whole life waiting—waiting to be old enough, waiting for the day she must pick a consort, waiting for a chance to finally overcome her despicable stepfather… and waiting for someone to finally banish the loneliness that comes with being a queen-in-waiting one step away from being murdered.

On the eve of the two-week event during which she must pick a consort from a bevy of suitors, two strangers arrive claiming to have been invited—though she knows full well they did not receive any such invitation. But the handsome, mischievous Prince Kallaar is too intriguing to resist, and his quiet bodyguard too compelling to ignore…

But she’s learned the hard way never to let anyone get too close, and on the verge of gaining true independence her stepfather will stop at nothing to see she never gets it.

Waiting For You is an interesting take on triad stories in a fantasy setting.  Between this and the fairy tale-like plot, it almost felt as a fae poly troupe. It starts directly into the action and we get to meet Shanna and learned about her life up to that moment. At the same time, we are introduced to other relevant characters in the story.

As with other stories by this author, the main characters’ sexuality is not an issue. In their world, they have a sort of implicit bisexuality that it’s natural and accepted. Which opens the door to a diverse group of consort prospects for Shanna. They come, by invitation, to take part of the two-week festivities and we learned enough about the candidates, their lands, and how they all would benefit from a marriage alliance—including the uninvited prince and his bodyguard.

I enjoyed the story, but the world-build and the characters’ connection wasn’t strong enough to carry the plot forward. It is a good introduction to the series and it’s probably going to get better in the next books, but at the moment is hard to see how they would work as a triad in the future. We will have to wait and see.

The cover by Natasha Snow is pretty, but similar to other covers by the artist. It has a fantasy feel but could be used for other genres as well.

Sale Links: NineStar | AmazonNook

ebook, 173 pages
Published: June 5, 2017, NineStar Press
ISBN: 9781947139169
Edition Language: English

Series: Lifesworn
Book #1: Waiting For You

J Tullos Hennig on Writing, Books, and her release ‘Summerwode (The Wode: Book Four)’ (Author Interview/DSP Publications GUEST POST)

Standard

Summerwode (The Wode #4) by J. Tullos Hennig
D
SP Publications
Cover Artist: Shobana Appavu

Sales Links:

DSP Publications
Kobo
Barnes & Noble
iBooks
Amazon

✒︎

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host J. Tullos Hennig here today. Welcome, J. and thank you for sharing something about yourself and your writing!

✒︎

~Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Interview with J Tullos Hennig ~

Does research play a role into choosing which genre you write?  Do you enjoy research or prefer making up your worlds and cultures?

Research has a role in every genre. It has to; nothing can be created in a vacuum. We need some verisimilitude to latch onto, be it with our own cobbled-together universes or a world with a firmer attachment to ‘reality’. We’re all beholden to some sort of history, however intrinsically flawed or truthful. And living life can be its own research, as much as perusing a library’s closed stacks.

So what can you say but yes!—and embrace it?

Has your choice of childhood or teenage reading genres carried into your own choices for writing?

Genre was a LOT less specific when I was young, but it was a factor. I loved other worlds and times, history and anthropology, devoured mythic tales and legends, preferred stories where animals were individuals (because in a lifetime of working with them, they are), and was an nerdy Speculative Fiction fan way before it was pop culture cool.

Do you read romances, as a teenager and as an adult?

No, though I had a very short stint of romance reading as a teenager. As I said above, I’m a Historical and Speculative reader to the bone. I do enjoy epic stories that include romantic themes. And write them, natch!

Who do you think is your major influence as a writer?  Now and growing up?

I always offer sage to the three Marys: Mary Stewart, Mary Renault, and Mary O’Hara. And especially recognise the Chickasaw storyteller known as Te Ata.

Have you ever had to put an ‘in progress’ story aside because of the emotional ties with it?  You were hurting with the characters or didn’t know how to proceed?

For me, as a writer, if I’m not immersed then the writing isn’t working. And of course it hurts. Again, what can you say but yes? Amazing things are winnowed from pain AND joy.

Do you feel there’s a tight line between Mary Sue or should I say Gary Stu and using your own experiences to create a character?

Hmm. This question alone has spawned tomes of rhetoric—not an easy thing to answer in a few sentences. I was around when the “Mary Sue” thing got started, and one thing seems plain in that experience: “Mary Sue” has become a fannish pejorative that has gone wildly off its original course. As a result, women are often the ones feeling the brunt of the harshest judgments. All this, when the original plaint had as its source a complaint about lazy writing and juvenile characterisation.

The thing is, in any well-crafted story a writer has to mine one’s own experience to inform their characters. But well-rounded characterisation, whatever its source, is a skill learned over time and practice. So baby writers often fail… should fail, because if we don’t, we don’t learn. But when you put something out for public consumption before it or you are ready…?  Well. Consequences. And everyone seems to be getting less, not more, tolerant of what doesn’t fall into their own set of expectations.

Do you like HFN or HEA? And why?

Neither, really. I prefer to read and write what I term a “satisfactory” ending. I want the immersive experience, both for my readers and when I read. If I’m lucky enough to experience that immersion, I don’t get terribly picky about what those feelings are. To quote James Joyce: “First you feel… then you fall.”

How do you feel about the ebook format and where do you see it going?

Living in a small house, it’s space-wise and convenient to have a e-reader filled with titles. But I don’t prefer it. I like the feel and smell of paper books. The idea that someone can whisk my books away and into the ether on a whim, or that my reading relies solely on a source of external power—well, its worrisome. And unappealing. But convenient, no question! And I can markup files in an e-reader, where I refuse to mark in my books.

Where the technology goes from here, I wouldn’t dare to guess, save that I imagine audio will play a bigger role than ever.

How do you choose your covers?  (curious on my part)

I think about the cover artist and whether their style speaks to the story. I do consider myself blessed in that I’m able to have input on my covers through DSP Publications. My former experience with publishing houses serves to remind me that not all authors are so fortunate.

What’s next for you as an author?

I’ve a lot of projects in the wings. The main one I’m shopping now is culturally based more on my grandmother’s Choctaw/Chickasaw people than my grandfather’s U.K. heritage; a different voice, to be sure, but one underserved and vital.

But as to ‘thisnow’, as the denizens of the Wode say, I’m amidst SUMMERWODE’s release, and working on the final book in the series, WYLDINGWODE. All of the Books of the Wode are dense, character-driven, and immersive. If you’re quite strict about your Romance tropes, they mightn’t be your cuppa. But if you’re up for a good old-fashioned, epic Historical Fantasy with a goodly dose of magical realism, then the Wode might be for you!

Thanks for hosting me on your blog!

COVER BLURB for SUMMERWODE

The Summer King has come to the Wode…
Yet to which oath, head or heart, shall he hold?

Once known as the Templar assassin Guy de Gisbourne, dispossessed noble Gamelyn Boundys has come to Sherwood Forest with conflicted oaths. One is of duty: demanding he tame the forest’s druidic secrets and bring them back to his Templar Masters. The other oath is of heat and heart: given to the outlaw Robyn Hood, avatar of the Horned Lord, and the Maiden Marion, embodiment of the Lady Huntress. The three of them—Summerlord, Winter King, and Maiden of the Spring—are bound by yet another promise, that of fate: to wield the covenant of the Shire Wode and the power of the Ceugant, the magical trine of all worlds. In this last, also, is Gamelyn conflicted; spectres of sacrifice and death haunt him.
Uneasy oaths begin a collision course when not only Gamelyn, but Robyn and Marion are summoned to the siege of Nottingham by the Queen. Her promise is that Gamelyn will regain his noble family’s honour of Tickhill, and the outlaws of the Shire Wode will have a royal pardon.
But King Richard has returned to England, and the price of his mercy might well be more than any of them can afford…

~ ~ ~ ~

 

EXCERPT from SUMMERWODE:

“You look proper fetching in those breeks.” This from Much, behind Robyn and just inside the drawn-back pavilion entry.

“I wish I could say the same for you in that Templar’s tabard.” Marion had lingered with him.

Silence.

Then, “Why didn’t you say anything?” If the wretched tone in Marion’s voice set a crack in Robyn’s heart, Much’s answer shivered it into anger.

“Marion, you knew it was temporary, me being banished, like—”

“It must run in your bloody Order,” Robyn growled, just loud enough and with a glare toward the pulled-back pavilion flap. “Bein’ so reticent, like, with sommun as shares your bed.”

Within the entry, Much had his mouth open, about to make some retort. He thought better of it and shut it with an audible pop.

Marion let out a curse that could have scorched the pavilion’s fabric.

“You’d best start talking, man, and keep on,” Robyn muttered, though to which Templar, he was uncertain.

Another silence, then more conversation—this low, unintelligible. Robyn grinned—no pleasant expression—and crept closer, ready to lob another volley should it be necessary.

He halted. Frowned. Cocked his head and snuffed the air, turned sharp eyes upon the drifting smoke; previously aimless, it sucked backward, then curled forth.

The soldiers began to appear, then, silent and armed to the teeth, akin to phantoms in the wisps of murk and sun. Despite any impulse to duck back into the pavilion and hide, a dull fascination kept Robyn there, watching the men pass with ranks doubling, tripling, all parting like water around the surrounding pavilions.

The odd lull receded and filled itself with a singular rhythm; Robyn realized it was the dull tap… tap… of sword against shield, timing the tread of heavy boots, the clink and thap of chainmail against leather, the heat and menace of determination.

Some of them were Templars.

They were converging upon the gatehouse. Just a stone’s throw away, the army—and it was one, no question there—stopped.

There was a grind and clank from the main gate. A small door revealed itself, creaking outward from the great one’s leftmost corner. The waiting army angled forward—slight, but there—and a shaky voice issued from the three-sided gap. A rich baritone echoed in answer, bouncing off the gatehouse door.

Robyn knew that last voice. With a tiny skip and step forward, he confirmed said recognition: the tall, white-clad Commander of Temple Hirst with—of course—his most trusted bodyguard. Both of them standing in the bloody front of the battle line. Hubert was speaking to the one who was hiding behind the little door, and Gamelyn stood beside him, holding the Templar’s banner, with shoulders squared and russet-gold head bared beneath an abrupt shaft of the inconstant sun.

That same bit of sun spilled upon the gatehouse tower. It illuminated, through a tall and bloody narrow opening, a figure lurking behind the thick, curved wall. The odd combination of sun, smoke, and shadows betrayed a glint, here and there, wielded within. Likely a crossbow.

Eyes narrowing, Robyn kept his gaze upon the arrow loop, shrugged the longbow from its place athwart his shoulders, and fingered a flax string from its pouch at his belt.

Whatever Hubert was saying, the man at the door wasn’t having it, not a bit.

The sun making its play for Gamelyn’s bright hair slid behind a bit of smoke, and the gatehouse went dark.

Robyn stepped his bow with a soft grunt of effort, slipping string over horn tip, and kept eyeing that arrow loop. The sun crept back; one shaft of light in particular kept dancing, above and behind, to backlight the crossbowman in the upper gatehouse. Pulling a quintet of arrows from his quiver, Robyn set to knotting three in his hair.

“What is it?” Marion came up beside; he spared a swift glance. Much was nowhere in sight, and her eyes were swollen, but the look in those eyes dared Robyn to so much as mention it. And—he smiled—she carried her own bow, strung and ready.

“Hearken where our Summerlord bides.”

Marion’s eyes widened, and her pale eyebrows did a dance, one up and the other down. But all she said was “Aye, well, no wonder Much lit out like he were afire” and drew several arrows from the quiver at her hip.

Robyn loved his sister.

“Y’ canna chain t’ wind,” he quipped. “Such wishes are for Christians and rich men.”

She smirked.

“There’s more’n one bloody crossbow sighting our lovely Templars. Two there on the hoarding, one… nay, two”—he could see another now, moving into position behind the second loop—“in t’ loops, and… bloody damn!”

This as the smoke stalled upon a breeze and the gatehouse went into shadow.

With a breathy paean to the wind, Robyn drew several arrows from his quiver, slow and sure. “You’ve the lighter bow, Mari. Best cover the ones up top.” He pushed, light and ready, into his grandda’s longbow as she nocked and fisted her own arrows. “I’ve marked those buggers behind the loops; do they so much as twitch, I’ll have ’em.”

“Who let this…?” A cry rose from within the walls and garbled into more shouting. The man at the door whirled angrily, then lurched sideways with a yip and disappeared. Several of the front-line soldiers leapt after as the door was heaved shut—one ran into it with a curse.

More shouts, with one from behind the wall that left no doubt. “Shoot!”

And everything went to hell.

Crossbows discharged. Lances flew. The ground troops dove left and right, wrenching their shields atop them like turtles ducking into their shells. The Templar banner alone remained upright, sprouting from a ceiling of shields as, from the wall-walk—and more, from those damned dark arrow loops—the bolts kept coming.

Marion loosed once, then again. With a shout, a man fell from the hoarding and crashed into a brace of the waiting shields, an arrow in his throat. Robyn danced sideways, watching another quarrel spring from the loop; he loosed a desperate shot, chance and trajectory alone. It slid between the narrow lintels as if greased, and there was a yelp. Had he hit? No way to tell; instead he took aim at the other loop. Whoever was stuck in up there—they weren’t the normal dusted-off clot handed a crossbow—kept loosing bolts with unerring efficiency into the soldiers below….

And still no sign of Gamelyn, though the piebald banner flew, obdurate. The shields below it were beginning to resemble hedgehogs. Robyn’s heart clenched to quivering in his breast, forced tight his breath.

Surely he’d know, if….

L’arbalète!”

The throaty bellow made Robyn start; indeed, ’twould have brought the cows in from a hundred-acre field. Save that all the cattle here were English, and that was definitely Frankish talk.

More shouts resounded against the high bailey walls. A burly, bright-haired man fair exploded from the fancy crimson pavilion a stone’s throw west, still spewing Frankish.

It was answered by a round of cries—“Pour le roi!” “Du roi!”—and a mass of crossbowmen poured from behind the pavilions, rushing the gatehouse.

Roi? That was their talk for a king…. Robyn fisted two more arrows, all the while eying the man who still bellowed like some Frank bull. King Richard? Nay, that was unlikely. His tent was big and fancy, but the man wasn’t dressed to match. His fair hair bore no crown, was tied back all haphazard, its gingery cast picked out by a shaft of breakthrough sun. He’d an even ruddier complexion, with cheeks and nose that seemed more too much wine than too much sun, and a bit too much around the belly, as well, for some warrior king.

Still.

Something in him required pause; a pure vitality slapping at Robyn’s face like sand in a whirlwind. And the man’s bellow would stir an army from sloth to ambition, at that.

Robyn shook it off with a curse, aimed another arrow for that far loop, and hissed the wind-breath from entreaty into desperate command. Marion too was waiting, arrow to string, for another of the topmost bowmen to show themselves….

Sun rippled over the gatehouse, backlight and satisfaction and, as if similarly conjured, a rush of crossbow- and pikemen converged from behind the crimson pavilion. One of them was yelling, in Anglic: “Archers! We need more crossbows!”

Marion picked off the last of the wall crossbowmen.

But Robyn saw only the two forms, backlit behind those arrow loops. With a half-breathed snarl, he loosed; one, then immediately another.

And just like that, no more arrows came from the loops.

About the Author

J Tullos Hennig has always possessed inveterate fascination in the myths and histories of other worlds and times. Despite having maintained a few professions in this world—equestrian, dancer, teacher, artist—Jen has never successfully managed to not be a writer. Ever.

Her most recent work is a darkly magical & award-winning historical fantasy series re-imagining the legends of Robin Hood, in which both pagan and queer viewpoints are given respectful voice.

Social media links:

JTH Website

Musings blog

(You can subscribe to my newsletter at either the Musing blog or main site—you’ll receive the first and earliest notification on all updates and news, plus a gift: several short stories seldom seen in the wild.)

Bookbub

Goodreads

The Wode Facebook Page

JTH’s profile on Facebook

Twitter
or @JTullosHennig