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Snippet

Here’s the opening passage to my contribution to Calexit.  Please let me know what you think.


 

“’Night, Joe,” Jennifer said as she passed her hand under the clinic’s reader to clock out. A faint beep and a flash of red light from the appliance let her know that it had recognized the chip in her right hand and that she was officially able to start her vacation.

“’Night, Jen,” Joe replied. “Gonna be another hot one tomorrow.”

“We’re heading to a bed and breakfast in Monterey for a few days,” Jen held the door open as she paused to talk with the man. “It’ll be cooler on the coast.”

She was tall, with long legs and well-muscled arms. Her hair, which one of her college boyfriends had once described as the color of honey in sunshine, ran down the back of her faded gray scrubs in a tight braid.

“At least you’ll be away from all this smoke.” Joe’s teeth stood out against his dark skin as he smiled at the nurse and stepped out to join her on the cement entranceway. “You want me to walk you to your car?”

The smell of wood burning struck Jen as soon as she stepped out of the clinic’s air-conditioned comfort. The news feeds had been bursting with reports of wildfires in the Sierras all week, but the government had assured everyone that no damage to homes or businesses was expected.

“Nah, that’s all right,” Jen said, smiling again. “It’s just over there.” She nodded at the small, beat-up compact she had parked on the far side of the parking lot. It was the only vehicle left in the lot, since Ramon, who had relieved her for the night shift, had been dropped off by his boyfriend. The harsh light of the LED bar that hung above the entrance reached just far enough out that she could see its dull gray outline against the trees.

“Well, I’ll be here if you need me.”

“Thanks.”

Jen gave the parking lot a good, long look before stepping away from the crumbling patio at the building’s entrance. Her car sat in the shadows of tall eucalyptus trees at the far end of the lot, their pungent scent competing with the smoke in the faint, hot breeze. Above it, the skeletons of floodlights, which she had never known to work in the two years she had worked at the clinic, looked down on the cracked asphalt like immense aluminum flowers. Seeing nothing, she fished her phone from her bag.

She tapped “Hi hon. lving work. C U in the AM. Miss U” onto the screen once she had unlocked it with her identity chip and the CalSec emblem had faded to allow her access to the network. She hit send just as she reached her vehicle. The car noticed her presence and unlocked the door for her. It cheerfully chirped at her and helpfully turned on its interior lights. Their dim illumination made her feel better as she looked over her shoulder to see if Joe was still standing at the door to the building. He saw her look and waved.

Jen raised her hand to wave as well, when she heard rushed footsteps coming across the pavement. She turned to see where the noise was coming from just as someone grabbed her from behind and threw her up against the side of her car.

Instinctively, Jennifer threw her elbow back just like her instructor at her “Strong Women of the Future” class had taught her. Pain lanced up her arm as she felt the corner of her elbow impact with something that crunched under its hard bone.

Pinche puta!” a voice squealed as Jen screamed for help. She tried to turn around to confront her attackers, but strong hands forced her head down. Blood bloomed from her forehead as it caught the hard edge of the door. Jen heard voices behind her, then felt hands tearing the thin fabric of her scrubs.

She screamed again, thrashing to get away. Her phone rattled to the pavement beside the car, along with her bag. Her struggles gained her enough freedom to stand upright once again, and she caught sight of the door to the clinic closing as Joe ducked back inside.

Then, someone grabbed her long braid and used it to drag her head back, then shoved her hard against the windshield. She felt the drawstring of her pants scrape along her hips and thighs as they were yanked down, then another blow to her head made the world fuzzy and dark. The last thing she heard before slipping into unconsciousness was the sound of laughter as someone cut the strap of her bra.

Calexit Anthology On Sale Now!

The Calexit anthology, collected by OldNFO, is available for sale.

My involvement started when I was at LibertyCon this summer.  NFO was talking about his novella, The Day The Earth Shook, and mentioned that he was considering expanding on it into a collection of short fiction.  The more he talked, the more an idea started forming in the back of my head.  One thing led to another, and I found myself sitting in the back of the theater at the Chattanooga ChooChoo lining out my story in his universe.

After a few drafts, Night Crossing got sent off and NFO was gracious enough to include it in his anthology.  Working with him has always been a pleasure, and he worked his butt off to make this book happen.  Also included are L.B. Johnson, Cedar Sanderson, LawDog, and Bob Poole.  Honestly I’m not sure what I did to earn the privilege of having my writing alongside theirs.

Anyway, the book is now available on Amazon in both ebook and paperback versions.  Hope you all enjoy it, and as always, honest reviews are greatly appreciated.

Coming Soon!

While I was at LibertyCon this year, OldNFO mentioned that he was considering expanding his short work “The Morning The Earth Shook” into a compilation of short stories about CalExit.  For those of you with a healthy, full life away from the ugliness of politics, CalExit is the movement to take California out of the Union and stand it up as its own country.

So, as I sat in a dark theater watching a panel, an idea got to me, and I started sketching it out.  Once I had it lined out and drafted, I sent it along to Jim, and it’s going to be included in his anthology.

Calexit3webart

Seeing the works of the other authors in this, I’m humbled to be included.  Jim says that he expects for it to be ready for publishing in a few weeks.  I’ll keep y’all updated.

New BoogeyMan Stories!

Working Vacation“, the new BoogeyMan e-book, is live on Amazon.

Here’s the blurb:

Martin Shelby, called the BoogeyMan by friend and foe, returns in two new stories.

In “The Devil Drinks Sweet Tea”, a young Shelby thought his Grandpa was just being grouchy about having to help out with the gardening. That is, of course, until Grandma’s geraniums spontaneously burst into flames and the lilies started chanting in Latin.

In “Working Vacation”, the BoogeyMan just wants to relax on the beach with his wife, but his plans change when an old friend tracks him down to call in a debt. Shelby races against the clock to find a missing client before the full weight of the world falls in on his quiet vacation.

Thanks much to the beta readers for all their suggestions and corrections, and many thanks to Irish Woman, who has had to listen to me babble about this one for a few weeks.  These are a lot of fun, and I seem to have developed a habit of going over them out loud.

This is a quick snippet from the first story in the book, The Devil Drinks Sweet Tea.  Please enjoy Working Vacation, and if you have a moment, I’d really appreciate an honest review up on Amazon or Goodreads.


I was about halfway through weeding the tomatoes and considering whether the potato patch needed work when I heard Grandpa calling my name.  I dropped the hoe and trotted around the side of the house, but stopped when I saw Grandpa coming from the front yard.

He didn’t wait for me to speak before he pointed toward the flower beds. “Go take a sniff over there and tell me what you smell.”

“Grandpa, I know what your farts smell like.”

He made an exasperated sound and waved me toward the petunias.  “Not that.  At least, not this time.”  He took my arm and started walking back toward the flowers.  “I swear, I smell sulphur over here.”

“Grandpa, really.  Is this like the time you ate too much egg salad when we were driving back from Nashville?”

“Boy, just tell me what you smell,” he ordered impatiently.

We stopped a few feet from the goldfish pond.  I looked sidewise at my grandfather and took a quick sniff, then another.  He was right.  There was something funky in the air, like old gym locker mixed with bad eggs.

“Algae?” I suggested.  “Maybe we need to clean out the pond a bit?”

The pond was Grandma’s front yard pride and joy, even though she kept the best flower garden in the county.  It was about ten yards long, about two yards across at its widest, and anywhere from six inches to three feet deep.  She had dug it all by hand one spring when I was little, and had lovingly raised dime store goldfish in it until some of them were almost a foot long.  Molesting the fish or playing with the waterfall was a sure way to earn a swat on the butt, no matter your age.

“Nah, it’s not that.  Cleaned out the filter last weekend.”

I took a few steps away from the pond and sniffed again.  “It’s stronger over here.”

“I hope nothing’s died under your Grandma’s flowers.  She won’t be happy if we tear them up trying to find it.”

“Maybe it’s the mulch.  Where you’d get it?”

“Same place as always, Jones Supply over in Simpsonville.”

He looked about the flower garden, then shrugged again.

“Might as well get this done before it starts storming.”  The ancient freckles on Grandpa’s nose came together as he scrunched up his face and examined the sky. Dark clouds were piling in from the east, and the breeze had returned to rustle the tall oak’s leaves.  It wasn’t enough to shade us from the sun or dry out my sweat-soaked tee shirt, but it promised rain in our near future. “We’ll figure it out after church tomorrow.”

I was walking back to the vegetable garden when the first tremor struck.  It felt like a freight train was running underneath the grass, and sounded like it too.  Grandpa’s dog, an old mutt named George, started barking from the back yard, and I heard the tree above me groan as its limbs shifted in the strengthening wind.  Then I heard my grandfather shout again.

The ground was still shaking as I skidded to a halt next to Grandpa, who stood where I had left him.  Around us, the front yard was coming apart.  Gouts of rich, black earth were flying up from the center of the rose bushes, while Grandma’s geraniums were beginning to smoke.  The smell of sulphur was almost overpowering, and the wind was whipping the trees and bushes back and forth.

Just as the geraniums burst into pillars of blue flame too bright to look at for long, the lilies started chanting in Latin.  At least I thought it was them.  The voices, deep and just a little off-key, were coming from their little stone-bordered plot.

I looked up to Grandpa, and saw that his head was cocked to one side, as if he had seen a three-headed rooster run out of the old coop out back and was wondering what in tarnation was going on.  As the geysers of mulch and topsoil grew in height and girth, he turned to me.

“Marty, you seeing this too?”

 

Snippet

Here’s another bonus story from “Coming Home”.  Let me know what you think in the comments, and if you’ve read the entire book, I’d really appreciate it if you could give me a review on Amazon.


Dinner of Danger

 

A smile split the Minivandian’s craggy countenance as he looked down at his youngest son. Elsked had spent the afternoon reading a book of ancient tales and dozing off in a chair while his father and several of the King’s men had argued and debated over a table covered in maps and scrolls. Now, he lay with his head caught in the corner of its cushioned back and his feet over one of the arms. Quiet snores widened the tall Northerner’s grin as he gently touched the young boy’s shoulder and shook him awake.

“My son,” DaddyBear said, “it’s time to go.”

Elsked looked up at his father for a moment, his dreams of a beautiful princess in a high tower lingering into the waking world, then the boy blinked. He yawned and stretched as he closed the leather-bound tome in his lap, sending a puff of air scented with old vellum and dust up his face to ruffle his hair.

“Is mother home yet?” he said between yawns.

“Not yet,” DaddyBear replied. “A messenger came to us just at sundown to say that she would be later than expected.”

“Is she in peril?” Elsked asked, suddenly awake. For a moment, the dread he had felt while listening to Rustle’s story the night before returned, and he felt a shiver run up his back.

“No, but the weather is atrocious,” DaddyBear replied. “Her winged beast has been delayed, but I expect she will meet us at the inn in a few hours.

Elsked frowned at his father. “Are you sure?” he asked hesitantly.

“Have no worries,” the Minivandian assured him. “Someday I’ll tell you the story of how your mother withstood much worse than this little snow and wind.”

“What’s for dinner?” the Young Prince asked as he stood up. He walked over to the bookshelf and carefully placed his book, entitled “Dragons, Wyverns, and Other Winged Beasts: The Definitive Guide,” in its place on the bookshelf next to the chair.

“Well,” said DaddyBear, “that depends on what we wish to eat. There’s a place I know that serves the cuisine of Rhaetia. They’re a cousin to my own folk, and there’s nothing better on a cold night than fermented cabbage, sausage made from the best bits of the swine, and thick beer.”

Elsked considered that for a moment and pictured a wide platter piled high with the pieces of a pig that weren’t fit for his mother’s table and a fragrant scoop of old cabbage. DaddyBear chuckled at the look on his son’s face.

“If that doesn’t sound as good to you as it does to me, I have an idea for something different,” he said, giving the Young Prince a wink.

“Different? How?” Elsked asked. The last time his father had suggested something ‘different’ for dinner, they had gone to a place that served Aztlani cuisine. Elsked had found the food to be flavorful, but he had not enjoyed the fire it had set on his tongue and in his belly.

“Are you brave?” DaddyBear said with a gentle rumble in his voice.

“Of course I am!” Elsked exclaimed. His timidity toward trying new things evaporated when it met his father’s challenge.

“Are you adventurous?” the Minivandian growled in a low roar.

“You know it!” his son cried out, matching his father’s tone. From the other side of the room, the King’s men, who had been chatting over some cheese and spiced wine, smiled at the display.

“Good!” DaddyBear exclaimed, clapping Elsked on the shoulder. “Come. I have something to show you, my brave young man!”

The pair wrapped themselves up in their cloaks and made their way out into the night. The wind was blowing cold and strong from the north, driving pellets of ice and the occasional snowflake across the river. Elsked could hear waves crashing against the levy to his left as he followed his father down the slick cobblestone street. The streetlamps, which some daring soul had lit in the middle of the gale, provided orbs of light which extended for several yards, but there were long stretches between them where he had to watch for glints of light as they reflected from the battle axe his father carried across his fur-covered back so that he did not lose him in the gloom.

Finally, just as Elsked started to think that his feet and nose might actually freeze off, DaddyBear stopped at the entrance to what looked like a well-tended garden. A thick coat of ice lay upon the high, arching gate, but some enchantment or another kept the neat walkway of gray pebbles clear. The Minivandian motioned for his son to precede him, then took care to close the gate behind them.

The Young Prince marveled at the carefully trimmed bushes and meticulously raked beds of gravel and stone which lay to either side of the path. A small tree, which he thought might have been a pine, had been twisted into a curling statue that reminded him of one of the dragons of the Eastern Realms he had seen in his book that afternoon. Brightly painted lanterns, which seemed to float on their own beneath the manicured trees, lit the garden in a golden glow. Soon, they approached a short bridge that spanned a narrow stream. As they walked over it, Elsked looked down to see large orange and white water creatures swimming to and fro beneath the thick coat of ice that covered its surface.

He looked back at his father, who urged him on with an encouraging smile. It was then that Elsked noticed that the wind, which had cut into him ever since leaving the meeting house, was now only a rushing noise that seemed far off to his ears. The air, while still cold enough that his breath came out in long streamers of vapor, was pleasant rather than painful against his face.

Finally, they came to an intricately carved wooden door, tall enough that his father would not have to duck his head to enter and wide enough that three of him could have linked arms and walked through the portal. The Minivandian rapped his knuckles against the door, and it immediately opened for him. The puff of warm air that enveloped Elsked felt delicious, and he hurried inside.

Once he pulled the hood of his fur cloak back, he found himself in an ornately decorated room. Rich red fabric competed with carved gold and bright green in the light of perfumed lamps, while a brazier glowed a dull orange in the corner. A massive glass tank, which would have been welcome in Master Weerdington’s menagerie, dominated the wall opposite the door. Several large fish and other creatures paused in their perambulations to watch as he and his father removed their cloaks and hung them from pegs next to the door.

The scent of meat cooking and luxurious spices struck Elsked, making his mouth water and his stomach gurgle. As he looked about the room, he saw people sitting around several tables, eating from great platters of food or drinking wine from small cups as they laughed and talked quietly.

A woman, dressed in a long, flowing gown dyed the same scarlet hue as the roses that grew in the garden behind the Minivandian’s manor, approached the pair and bowed deeply. Elsked marveled that the trees and grass embroidered onto the back and sleeves of her gown continued to undulate as if they were blown by a breeze even when she stood still.

“Welcome, good sirs,” she said to them in a high, soft voice. “You honor us with your presence on such a night. How may I be of service?”

DaddyBear returned the bow, then glanced over to his son. Elsked tore his eyes away from the woman’s beauty and bowed as well once he noticed his father’s eyes boring into him.

“We have come to sample your wares, my good woman,” the Northerner said as he straightened.

“Ah, good,” the hostess replied with a small, but pleasant, smile. “Would you prefer to eat here or in the fire room?”

Fire room? Elsked thought as he looked up at his father. That sounds interesting.

DaddyBear noticed the way that his son’s face lit up at her words and replied, “On a night like this, I believe that the fire room would be wonderful.”

The hostess nodded and turned toward an arched doorway leading to a dark corridor. Its wooden walls were decorated with portraits of warriors with tall helmets and painted faces. Each carried either a large, curved sword or a bow, and their armor seemed to be made up of the brilliantly colored scales of great beasts. The flickering light of the torches hanging from the walls made it look as if their fierce eyes followed the Young Prince as he walked behind the hostess. He could hear muffled voices and the rhythmic thud of someone chopping something with a large, heavy blade coming through the walls.

The young woman led them into a small alcove at the end of the corridor. It was not as brightly lit as the main hall, but the dim glow from the fire underneath the great slab of iron at the room’s center showed that it was as richly decorated. Bordering the gigantic grill was a counter of dark wood polished to a mirror finish, with hammered silver decorating its edge. The room was very warm, but after the chill of the storm outside, it felt luxurious to the Young Prince.

The hostess motioned them toward two of the pillows arrayed around the slab before turning to the Minivandian.

“Would you prefer tea or wine, my lord?” she asked.

“Tea, please,” DaddyBear replied as he took his seat. “If you have it, I prefer the blood wood tea of the Green Mountains, although I expect that my son would prefer something a little sweeter.”

The hostess smiled at Elsked and asked, “We have honey blossom tea, my young lord, if that better suits your tastes.”

Elsked’s ears perked up at that. He had heard of honey blossom once before after an older boy at school tried it. The young warrior had described it as tasting as if it were the nectar of the gods, and had told of how it was gathered from the side of a volcano far across the ocean.

“May I try it, father?” he asked excitedly.

DaddyBear chuckled as he nodded. “Of course, my son. It will definitely take the chill off your bones.”

The lady bowed once more, then walked into the kitchen. He could hear her high voice calling to someone in a language he did not understand, then heard an answering rumble.

“What manner of food do they serve here?” Elsked asked as he look around the room again.

DaddyBear gave his son a mischievous look. “Let me surprise you,” he replied. “I promise, you will enjoy everything.”

The lady in the silk gown returned, carrying a tray from which steam rose in the warm air. She lay two ceramic cups in front of her guests, then set down two large teapots. One, which was closer to DaddyBear, was glazed a dull green, and its bottom seemed to glow sluggishly as the tea inside brewed. The pot nearer to Elsked, on the other hand, was painted with gold and red flowers against a creamy white background. As he watched, the petals swayed in time to the wisps of steam rising from its spout.

DaddyBear motioned the hostess closer and whispered into her ear. She nodded as she listened to his orders, and occasionally looked over to Elsked and hid a smile or a giggle behind her hand. Elsked’s eyes narrowed at this, and once the woman had left again, he looked suspiciously to his father.

“You’re up to something,” he teased. “Should I be afraid?”

“No, just excited,” the Minivandian said as he filled their cups with tea.

Elsked picked up his drink and saw that the tea was a beautiful saffron color, and he could smell sweet spices in its steam. He blew upon the surface for a moment, then took a tentative sip. An explosion of flavors struck his tongue, first sweet, then rich and spicy. Finally, as the warmth of the tea travelled into his middle, he smiled and sighed.

The corners of his father’s eyes crinkled over his own steaming mug, then he took a sip of his blood-red tea.

“How does yours taste, father?” Elsked asked.

“Oh, a little salty, and its astringent on the tongue,” DaddyBear replied. “This is the kind of tea the hill dwarves drink before battle.”

“Of course,” he added with a chuckle before taking another sip, “they usually add a nip or two of their red whiskey to it. They say that really prepares them for the fight.”

The hostess returned, this time bearing a tray of bowls and small plates. First, she placed a bowl of steaming soup next to each of them. This was clear at the top, with small pieces of mushroom and herbs floating on the surface. At the bottom of his bowl, though, Elsked saw a roiling layer of a thicker substance.

He looked up doubtfully at his father, but the Minivandian did not notice as he helped the hostess lay their first course down on the table. One plate held four small dumplings, their sides grilled a golden brown. The other plate held small bits of rice with different meats arranged upon them.

“Please, enjoy,” the hostess said with smile and a bow. “Your chef will join you shortly.” After checking to make sure that everything was in order, she turned and walked back into the kitchen.

Elsked reached for a dumpling, then stopped when he noticed that some of the meat on the other tray was still moving. As he watched, a tentacle curled up and reached toward him. The young prince recoiled at the sight, then watched in awe as his father took up that piece, and popped it into his mouth.

“Ah, it’s been a long time since I’ve had fresh kraken.” the Northerner said around a mouthful of rice and tentacle.

“Kraken?” Elsked said skeptically. He more closely examined the remaining morsels on the plate.

“Well, it’s either from one of the smaller varieties or a very young one, but yes, this is kraken,” DaddyBear said after washing it down with a sip of his tea. “It’s delightfully chewy.”

“And what else is there?” Elsked said, narrowing his eyes and taking a very close look at the plate.

“Hmmm, let’s see,” DaddyBear said as he surveyed the tray. “This here, with the light-colored flesh, is lagoon creeper. That dark red one there is sea rocket.”

He thought for a moment, then said, “And I’m not sure what that last one there is. I told the lady to surprise us.”

Elsked looked over his choices, then asked, “May I try it?”

“Of course, my son. That’s why I brought you here. You already know what the food from my country tastes like, and I know you’re familiar with Eyrisch cuisine. A young man should be exposed to many different things so that he can tell that which is wholesome from that which is foul.”

Elsked picked up a piece of sea rocket and took a tentative bite. The flesh was soft, yet not mushy, and the flavor, while delicate, was intriguing. He quickly finished the rest of the piece and reached for a pale green piece of lagoon creeper.

Soon, he had sampled everything on the plate, even the spicy fish that his father could not identify. That one, in particular, had been a treat, since each bite caused the Young Prince to breathe out a long burst of golden flames, which had delighted his father. The dumplings were filled with a mixture of meats and spices, and after the exotic flavors of the fish tasted wonderfully familiar.

The Young Prince noticed that his soup had cooled somewhat, so after watching his father take a long slurp from his bowl, he took a tentative taste of it. It was somewhat nutty, with a tangy, almost salty undercurrent that washed away some of the more complex flavors from the other food. His hunger rekindled, Elsked finished his bowl just as the door to the room swung open again.

Elsked was surprised to see a squat man with deep wrinkles around his eyes and mouth enter. He had a serious look in his intense, dark eyes, and his jet-black hair was covered with a white hat. This matched his impeccably clean and pressed white jerkin and breeches, the front of which he covered with an apron dyed the color of fresh blood.

The man stopped next to the iron slab and bowed deeply to the Minivandian, who rose and returned the gesture. To Elsked’s surprise, the man then turned and bowed just as deeply to him. The Young Prince recovered quickly enough to rise and bow to the man before too long, however.

A hint of a smile quirked up one corner of the man’s face as he rose and said, “You honor us with your presence.”

The Minivandian looked to his son and nodded. Elsked, again surprised, squeaked, “The honor is ours, good sir. Thank you for your hospitality.”

This brought a true smile to the man’s face. “I am Master Yoshi, young lord. I will be preparing your dinner tonight, if that pleases you.”

Elsked glanced over to his father, who again nodded to him. “Nothing would please me more, Master Yoshi.” he said, this time getting the words out in an even tone and without stammering.

Yoshi nodded to the Young Prince, then clapped his hand. Two young boys, dressed identically to their master, carried in a large brass tray and set it on a table next to the grill. It was piled high with ingredients, some of which Elsked recognized, but many which he did not. The apprentices bowed first to Master Yoshi, then to his guests, before leaving the room.

“Tonight, I shall prepare for you a special treat,” Yoshi said as he deftly took a tall vial from the tray and poured thick oil from it onto the large metal slab. It immediately began to smoke, but when he passed his hand over it, the smoke transformed into bright green flames that reached up to the high ceiling.

Tatsu!” the chef intoned, his voice deepening as it reverberated from the rafters. Elsked’s eyes widened as the flames coalesced into the head of a mighty green beast that bared its teeth at him before collapsing into the grill’s iron slab. Yoshi chuckled at the Young Prince’s reaction, then reached back to his cart.

“For you, Minivandian, I have brought the haunch of a mighty mizuchi, the water serpent, cooked blood rare and spiced with the bark of the phoenix tree. For you, Young Prince, there are medallions of basan, a fowl rich in taste, but devilish in temperament. This I will sear and then sweeten with honey and herbs.”

As he spoke, low flames danced and changed color several times as they leapt up from the grill. While his guests were watching the display, he heaped meat, rice, and vegetables upon the flames, then began to move them about with two wide and, to Elsked’s eye, wickedly sharp knives. Sparks flew as their edges beat a fast tempo against the slab, now hot enough to make the air above it shimmer in the torchlight. Elixirs that caused iridescent flames to rise above the grill were poured upon the food, along with spices that sizzled and flared as Yoshi sprinkled them into the flames.

As he worked, Yoshi hummed and sang a rhythmic song, timing his movement to the tune. It released some magic into the air, as Elsked found himself swaying to its beat, and he felt his heart leap every time the master chef struck the surface of the grill hard with his knives. He took up a tray bearing small gobbets of what Elsked thought might be fowl of some sort, and began to use his blades to juggle the flesh above the fire. They sizzled and gave off spurts of their own flames as they cooked.

Elsked looked quizzically at Yoshi, who smiled broadly and explained as his knives and the food swirled in front of his face, “This is ebi, young lord, great prawns taken from a magical bay near my home. You will like it!”

Suddenly, a scrap of meat flew up and away from the chef. A long tail of flame and steam trailed behind it as it arced toward the Minivandian. DaddyBear opened his mouth and caught the treat between his teeth, then roared with laughter as he chewed.

“Pay attention, son, it’s your turn!” he cried out as Yoshi readied another morsel for flight.

Elsked looked up excitedly as a bit of meat, which had become a mottled orange and white as it cooked, sailed his way. He lined up his head to catch it, then opened his jaws wide. At the last moment, he closed his eyes, then felt the tidbit bounce off his nose before dropping into his mouth. Both men laughed heartily at the trick, and once Elsked had gotten over his surprise, he joined them.

Soon, their plates were piled high with more food than Elsked had ever been served before. Yoshi smiled and bowed to them once more as the Minivandian and his son thanked him vociferously. Once the chef had left, they dug into their food.

“How is your dinner, son?” DaddyBear asked as he scooped up a spoonful of rice and vegetables.

“No talk!” Elsked replied between mouthfuls. “Too good. Eat first.”

The Minivandian chuckled as he ate his own dinner. “Should I assume you like it, then?” DaddyBear asked. He was answered by the sound of Elsked’s fork scraping against his plate as he munched away.

After a long while, during which their conversation consisted of one or two words about the quality of the food, Elsked popped the last bit of meat from his plate into his mouth, then gave out a loud burp. He jumped at his lack of manners, then looked sheepishly at his father. His fear of a reprimand disappeared when he saw the Minivandian wink at him.

“I’ll take that as a sign that you like the cuisine,” DaddyBear said. “Did you save room for dessert?”

Elsked groaned as he patted his stomach. “Oh, no, father, I’m stuffed like a mid-winter’s goose!” he replied. After a moment’s thought, he added, “But after a bit, I might have room for a cup of chocolate like they serve at the inn.”

The Minivandian’s laughter rumbled to every corner of the room as he left a jingling purse on the table and motioned Elsked toward the door. “Of course, my son,” he said with a broad smile. “How silly of me to think that I could find the limits of your appetite so easily.”

Together, father and son made their way back out into the stormy night and to their room at the inn. His belly full and his spirits lifted, Elsked did not feel the wind quite as much as he had during their walk to the tavern.

The Fourth Annual Indie Author Labor Day Sale!

Since it’s a nice, long weekend, and there’s no better way to spend a hot, lazy afternoon than with a good book, several authors have put their wares on sale for the weekend.  I’ve read almost all of these, and they’re excellent.

 

Rimworld- Into the Green

By JL Curtis

On sale  for $1.99 1-3 September.

http://amzn.to/2w9xxgT

After a chance encounter with Dragoons and Traders turns a routine planet exploration into a rout that kills his team and his career, Lieutenant Ethan Fargo, medically retired, wants nothing more than to hole up in the backwater Rimworld he’d explored and enjoy a quiet retirement far from people or problems.

Unfortunately, he’s about to find out that he’s not as retired as he wants to be, and that his new home system comes with dangers, politics, and Dragoon sightings of its own. What promised to be a boring retirement will turn out to be anything but.

Take the Star Road

by Peter Grant

$0.99 Sep 1- Sep 4

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CS52I32/

Nineteen-year-old Steve Maxwell just wants to get his feet on the star road to find a better homeworld. By facing down Lotus Tong thugs, he earns an opportunity to become a spacer apprentice on a merchant spaceship, leaving the corruption and crime of Earth behind. Sure, he needs to prove himself to an older, tight-knit crew, but how bad can it be if he keeps his head down and the decks clean?

He never counted on the interstellar trade routes having their own problems, from local wars to plagues of pirates – and the jade in his luggage is hotter than a neutron star. Steve’s left a world of troubles behind, only to find a galaxy of them ahead…

Scaling the Rim

By Dorothy Grant

On sale for $0.99

Sept 1 – 4

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06VT6VTYM

Never underestimate the power of a competent tech.

When Annika Danilova arrived at the edge of the colony’s crater to install a weather station, she knew the mission had been sabotaged from the start. The powers that be sent the wrong people, underequipped, and antagonized their supporting sometimes-allies. The mission was already slated for unmarked graves and an excuse for war…

But they hadn’t counted on Annika allying with the support staff, or the sheer determination of their leader, Captain Restin, to accomplish the mission. Together, they will overcome killing weather above and traitors within to fight for the control of the planet itself!

Carpathian Campaign

By Alma Boykin

https://www.amazon.com/Carpathian-Campaign-Powers-Book/dp/177342002X

It is on sale today through Wednesday, September 6 for $1.99. The sequel, Grasping for the Crowns will be out in November.

War rumors stalk Europe, but István Eszterházy has other concerns. Or so he thinks. The Powers—ancient creatures living on the very energy of the land. Allied with the Houses, together the Powers and Houses have guided parts of Europe for a thousand years and more, humans, HalfDragons, and True-dragons working as one. But other forces shift, movements of peoples and of pride. István ignores them, intent on his military duties and his forthcoming wedding. War waits for no man, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand turns rumor into red war, setting Power against Power and House against House. And war is not what István imagined. How can he survive this new world and protect his new family and his House? He must find a way, even as he begins a delicate dance with the Powers, that of his House and some far older and much more dangerous. István’s world is changing. He will survive this new campaign, or die trying.

Jade Star

By Cedar Sanderson

Free from Sept 2-4

https://www.amazon.com/Jade-Star-Tanager-Book-0-ebook/dp/B01JD1PGB4

Jade is determined to die. She is old, and useless, when she points her tiny subspace craft at the cold stars. She wakes up in the care of others who refuse to grant her death, and instead give her a new mission in life.

Jade isn’t happy, and she only gets angrier when she learns that her mysterious new home hides a horrible secret. It’s time for this old lady to kick butt and take names. Aliens, death, destruction… nothing trumps the fierce old woman who is protecting her family.

Dragon Blood: A Collection of Short Stories

By Sarah Hoyt

https://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Blood-Collection-Short-Stories-ebook/dp/B01M598E72

From the trenches of WWI where the Red Baron just can’t help turning into a dragon, to the desert sands of a future world where humans have become something else, from a coffee shop between worlds where magicians gather, to a place where your worst nightmare can love you, let Dragon Blood take you on a series of fantastic adventures.

Lucky Number 7: A Rats, Bats, and Vats Story

By Dave Freer

https://www.amazon.com/Lucky-Number-Rats-Bats-Story-ebook/dp/B06X9QH791

John Norway is an alcoholic, a double amputee combat veteran, a street beggar with nothing much to live for. But once — before conscription – he’d been a rally driver. One of the best, at the wheel of Lucky Number 7. Now… Ariel the rat wants to have him drive in a desperate race against death, and the ‘magh.

The only question: does Norway want to win that race?

And will it solve Fat Fal’s inflatable rattess problem?

Directorate School

by Pam Uphoff

 

Free through Wednesday

First Book of The Directorate Series

Ebsa “Kitchen” Clostuone invades the sacred precincts of the High Oners! The School of Directorate Studies has a wide variety of students, including the president’s daughter Paer, this strange Ra’d fellow, and Nighthawk, the first foreign student from Comet Fall. Ebsa wants to explore across the dimensions. And all he has to do is keep his grades up, learn how to shoot every kind of gun imaginable, and not get pounded by the Action Team trainees.

And last, but not least,

By Tom Rogneby

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072M6JX5H

On sale from Sept 1 through the weekend

Elsked, son of DaddyBear the Minivandian and Ruarin, the Lady of Eyre, ventures out into the night to learn the saga of his mother and father.

An ancient storyteller exchanges tales of Elsked’s life for the story of how DaddyBear and Ruarin became the lord and lady of their manor.

Coming Home brings together the stories of Quest to the North, Lost Children, and Lady of Eyre, along with four new short tales of the Minivandian and his family.

Join Elsked as he creeps into the storyteller’s lair and comes to know the next Tales of the Minivandians

 

Lots of good reading in this list.  Hope everyone finds something they like!

Bonus Story

Here is another bonus story from “Coming Home“.  Please let me know what you think, and if you’ve read the entire book, please leave me a review on Amazon.


The Flying Beast Who Did Not Eat His Breakfast

 

The pilot, a young woman with a slender build, an easy smile, and a set of flashing blue eyes, patted her winged beast upon his feathered neck. He was of one of the smaller varieties of such animals, suitable only for short trips with light loads. The creature’s blue and white scales were brilliant in the light of the torches the maintenance gnomes had arrayed around his bulk so that they could see as they conducted their pre-flight rituals and checks. Downy winter plumage moved in the wind that even the large stone building next to him could not block completely.

“Are we ready?” the pilot asked the chief gnome, who stood close to the beast to warm himself with the heat radiating from the creature’s middle. Both were dressed in multiple layers of wool and fur, but even this could not completely protect them from the wind’s sharp edge.

The gnome looked up from his tablet, upon which he had written each of the tasks needed to prepare the beast for flight, and replied in a squeaky voice, “Everything is prepared, but I’m worried that he hasn’t eaten enough.”

“Oh?” the pilot, whose name was Elbee, said. “Will he have what he needs to get us there?”

“It says here he ate heartily at your last stop. I wouldn’t worry if it weren’t for this blasted weather!” the gnome said. He glared at the beast, who regarded him with half-lidded eyes the size of the small man’s head. “You’ll have to be careful to not drive him too hard or fight the wind too much.”

“We’ll manage,” Elbee said, giving her steed another pat on the head. This drew a deep purr from the beast as he nuzzled under her arm. “Besides, we’ve made it through worse weather, haven’t we, boy?” She scratched the small dragon behind the horns, which turned the buzz of his purr into a loud hum that almost drowned out the howl of the wind around them.

The gnome shook his head and walked over to the crew that was polishing and sharpening the long claw at the end of the beast’s right wing.

Gods save me from crazy pilots, he thought darkly. I just hope you don’t end up falling out of the sky while I’m underneath you.

The pilot watched him go, then shivered as a gust of icy wind raced across the plain of ascension to buffet both her and the beast. “Ready, boy?” she asked her steed. “It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

 

Ruarin, Lady of Eyre and wife of the Minivandian, stepped through the door to the passenger cabin strapped to the blue and white beast’s back. She wore her healer’s cloak over a robe of fur and wool to ward off the winter’s cold, but even that only cut the chill from the night’s air. Around her, other passengers shivered as the wind whipped through the doorway, but memories of never-ending snowfields and frozen rivers made it easier for the Eyrischwoman to bear the discomfort.

She looked down at the ticket in her hand, then made her way to the seat at the very back of the compartment. She normally tried to sit closer to the front, but the summons to meet with other healers at the mouth of the Great River had arrived late the night before, and she had been lucky to find a suitable conveyance at all on such short notice.

After stowing her healer’s bag above her seat, Ruarin strapped herself in. She hoped that the message she had sent to her husband had made it through the storm. Lightning could wreak havoc on the connection between mages, and she did not want DaddyBear to worry when her flight back to the Port of Gnu was delayed several hours while the storm raged.

She had just finished saying her prayers to ask for protection against the weather when the curtain behind her parted. Snarglefist the She-Orc, resplendent in her blue and white robes of hospitality, stepped out and walked to the front of the cabin. After making sure that the appropriate number of passengers were on board and in their seats, she turned and smiled at her guests.

The flash of a nearby lightning bolt reflected off her long, sharply pointed teeth, drawing similar grimaces from nearby passengers. She was lovely, for an orc, with her broad, fuzzy chest, skin the consistency of rich, supple leather, long, well-muscled arms, and a head of course, dark hair that her mate had shaved on one side to reveal the intricate tattoos emblazoned upon her scalp. The rest of her mane had been knotted and braided so that it stood up into a crest of spikes and plumes.

Truly, Snarglefist was the most beautiful of orcish maidens.

After waiting for all of the other creatures aboard her winged beast to stop their chatter and turn their attention toward her, she called out, “Me, Snarglefist, beautiful youngest daughter of GLURG THE DESTROYER!” When Snarglefist said her father’s name, she shouted it out like the war cry it was while she pounded one knobby fist into the seat in front of her.

Her pond-green eyes flashing as if another bolt had descended from the heavens, Snarglefist continued, “Me, maiden of hospitality! You sit! No do stupid or me beat you like elf caught on shelf! Listen me when we crash! Me bring food and fizzy sweet water once we no touch earth. You pray now! Enjoy trip!”

Her duties complete, she walked back to her seat behind Ruarin and strapped herself in. Soon, the rumbling of her voice filled the cabin as she grasped at the charm around her neck and prayed to the gods of the storm for safe passage.

The Lady of Eyre chuckled to herself as she took in the shocked looks on the other passengers’ faces.

She always finds the best way to get her point across, Ruarin mused as she closed her eyes and began to recite the traveler’s prayer.

 

Elbee wiped the frozen rain from her goggles as she guided the winged beast to the end of the runway. The maintenance gnomes had been able to get a few potions of energy down his throat, but he had turned her nose up even at the barrel of salted fish they had offered him. Elbee had considered cancelling the flight, but after consulting with the mage of meteorology, she had decided they could manage the flight if she could find a way to stay out of the path of the strongest winds.

The beast paused for a moment at the end of the plain as he took several deep breaths to prepare himself for the exertions of taking off in such conditions. He stuck his nose into the wind and began a long, loping run as he tried to gain enough speed to drag himself up from the field. At the very end of the runway, he leapt into the air, beating his leathery wings against the shrieking gale to claw his way into the sky. With a roar of triumph, he cleared the high fence that separated the place of landing from the neighborhood in which the local folk slept.

Elbee cheered him on as he fought to gain altitude while frigid winds tossed them first one way, then the other. Pellets of ice quickly replaced the cold rain and snow, and they beat a tattoo against his hard scales as they soared upward toward the mountains. The downy feathers covering his body rippled in the breeze as the muscles in his wings and back fought against the wind to drive him ever upward.

 

Snarglefist peered out the window as another bolt of lightning, this one close enough to make the wiry hair on her knuckles stand on end, ripped across the sky. In its glare, she saw dark clouds towering up into the heavens, looking as if someone had released a cohort of titans to batter the winged beast back to the earth far below.

With a shrug, she rose from her tiny seat and began to hum to herself. The She-Orc pulled a basket from one of the cupboards above her head and walked down the narrow aisle between the seats in which her terrified guests sat. While even the bravest of her passengers looked worried, she kept a serene smile upon her muzzle. Where some of them swayed with the motion of the cabin, she kept a steady foot upon the floor as she walked to the front of the compartment.

“Stay sit!” she shouted over the din. “No untie from chair! I bring food! No worry! Stay sit!”

As she walked back to the rear of the cabin, she gave each of her passengers a small packet of dried bread knots from the basket and a tiny flask of fizzy drink from a pocket in her tunic. The young Chanani woman sitting two rows in front of Ruarin stopped her as she went.

“Might I have wine instead?” she asked, her voice pitched to be heard over the rattle of the cabin as the wind tried to wrestle it away from the winged beast. “My nerves are frayed from all this.”

“No booze!” Snarglefist snarled in reply. “Trip too short! Drink sweet fizzy! Make you pretty like me!” She shoved an extra flask into the surprised woman’s hand and moved on with her task.

Ruarin accepted her snack from the She-Orc with a gracious smile and shouted thanks, then settled back. She had attempted to read one of the many scrolls she had brought with her from the conference of healers, but the detailed description of a malady afflicting the people of the Aztlani highlands made her stomach do flip-flops and her head scream. She put it away for another time and lay back to try to sleep through the worst of the flight.

 

Elbee looked down, trying to find a landmark to guide her, but the ground below was masked with darkness and mist. Finally, she saw the bright blue light of the signal fire upon Widow’s Peak, and tugged at the reins to turn the winged beast more toward the north.

“First checkpoint!” she shouted into the tube next to her saddle. “It’s not going to be quite as smooth for the next little bit. Make sure the passengers are comfortable!”

 

Snarglefist took the tube from her ear and nodded. “Time for magic,” she grunted as she touched the switch controlling the mystical elven box of cooking. A few moments later, the sound of a silver bell told her that the treat she had prepared for her charges was ready. Taking care to not burn her delicate fingers or singe any of the whiskers on her chin, she took a tray of fragrant rolls out of the magical oven and walked back down the aisle.

One by one, she gave each of her passengers one of the rolls, which were filled with rich chocolate, along with a small flask of apple brandy from the second pocket of her tunic. This was received with great joy and relief by some who wished to distract themselves with something pleasant, while others looked at the treat as an ominous sign of things to come.

“Stay sit!” Snarglefist admonished the passengers. “Chalk’lit and fire apple water make happy!”

The Chanani woman took her share with trembling fingers and immediately drank her entire flask of brandy. Snarglefist reassured her with a gentle thump on the shoulder, saying, “We get through storm soon. Eat good food, for soon you stand at feet of storm god!” The young elvish woman looked up at her in shock.

Across the aisle from Ruarin, a matronly old woman dressed in blue silken robes rose to retrieve something from her bag. Snarglefist roared as she reached out and gripped her by the shoulder. With a heave that almost caused her to drop the last of the chocolate rolls, the She-Orc tossed the matron back into her seat.

“I say stay sit!” she squealed at the older woman. “You want die?” The lady in blue looked up in shock at her reaction, then quickly strapped herself back into her seat. Snarglefist humphed at her once more before distributing the last of her treats. Finally, she returned the now-empty tray to the oven and sat down in her own seat.

 

Elbee frowned underneath her thick woolen face covering. Her beast was taking in huge gulps of air, then breathing them out in long streamers of smoke and steam. She could feel the heat of the creature’s exertions rising from beneath her seat, and even more worrying, small tongues of orange and blue flame occasionally blew from his nostrils as he exhaled.

“Too much, boy?” she shouted, reaching down to pat his neck. The dragon lifted his head a bit to look back at her, then returned to straining against the wind.

We’ll never make it over the mountains like this, Elbee thought. Time to take the other path.

She squeezed down on the beast’s shoulders with her knees and tugged hard to the right with the reins.

“Come on, boy!” she whooped as she felt her steed slip lower and wheel downward. “Tonight, we fly the Tail of the Dragon!” Sensing her excitement, the beast roared into the wind as he descended toward the mouth of a narrow canyon far below.

 

Snarglefist nodded knowingly as she felt the front of the compartment dip and the shriek of the wind outside changed in tone. After glancing out her portal to confirm her suspicions, she looked up at the heavens and smiled.

“Tonight,” she muttered in the sonorous tones of cultured orcish, “we fly between the legs of the storm god!”

The Maiden of Hospitality reached down and used her thumbnail to cut through the cord holding a box made from sturdy pine shut. “EMERGENCY USE ONLY!” was burned into its wood in several languages. Inside, she found thirty spun glass flasks containing a clear liquid that seemed to glow like star fire in the gloom.

“Good news!” she bellowed as she picked up the box and made her way to the front of the cabin. “We no go over mountain!” Several passengers, who probably thought that this meant a safe return to the place of embarkation, cheered at her words.

With an exultant sigh, Snarglefist turned to regard her charges. “We get big honor tonight!” she roared. “Elbee take us between mountains. Only best flyers do this on good days!”

Ruarin realized what the She-Orc meant a moment before the Chanani maiden did. “Do you mean we are going to fly through the canyons?” the she-elf demanded in a high squeal.

Snarglefist grinned broadly as she handed the first bottles of moonshine to the young couple seated in the front row. “Yes!” she shouted back. “Drink deep and pray to wind goddess! We ride Dragon’s Tail while she rend sky!”

Ruarin closed her eyes and intoned a prayer for protection and forgiveness of sins as Snarglefist passed out corn liquor to the rest of her passengers. When she reached the Lady of Eyre, she lifted the last flask as if it were a holy offering, then whispered, “Drink deep, lady. This give you strength for what come soon.”

Ruarin nodded in thanks and uncorked the flask. She had taken her first swallow of the harsh, raw whisky when the beast wheeled over to the left and flew between the two tall rocks marking the entrance to the canyon. Snarglefist barely had time to strap herself in before the cabin floor bucked up, then slammed down as Elbee guided the dragon through the first of the mountain path’s obstacles.

 

Lightning flashed high overhead as Elbee hauled on the reins to turn the beast away from a jagged rock that seemed to leap out from the canyon wall. Beneath her, she could hear the beast grunting as it fought to overcome the shrieking wind at their backs, but the heat from his fires was lessening beneath her saddle.

Praise the gods, she thought as she squeezed her knees to urge the dragon downward to avoid a stone bridge spanning the canyon. He’s not as tired as he was before.

We’ll need everything he’s got, she added grimly as she again wiped the sleet from her goggles.

Thunder boomed as a bolt of lightning split the canyon face immediately behind them, throwing the beast and the air around it into a ball of white light that temporarily blinded Elbee as they plunged deeper into the canyon.

Elbee whooped in glee as she felt the beast rise beneath her, catching his claws for a moment on an outcropping before leaping off into the darkness once more. The beast answered her call with a roar as he spouted blue-white flames from his nostrils. Their cries echoed from the walls, chasing the thunder as they flew onward up the canyon.

 

Ruarin felt her stomach turn over again as the cabin shuddered around her. She clutched the empty whisky flask as if it were a talisman, while around her the other passengers cried out in fear.

Over the noise of the wind and the shrieks of the terrified, she could hear Snarglefist singing at the top of her lungs in a flat baritone:

Over mountain we go!
Through the wind and snow!
Wind no drive us from the sky!
GLURG people never die!

Suddenly, their flight smoothed as if they had passed through some barrier beyond which the winds held no power. For a moment, everyone gaped at the lack of tumult and noise, then their cries began anew.

“We’ve died!” the Chanani maiden sobbed, burying her head in her delicate hands. “That maniac has ridden us into the side of a mountain!”

“We no dead!” Snarglefist said cheerfully, clapping her hard on the back. “Captain Elbee just get us through mountains. We almost home!”

Indeed, out her window, Ruarin could make out the lights of a city far below them. Thin wisps of cloud slipped past them as she felt the dragon gently wheel downward toward the place of landing.

Soon, the lights of the city blurred beneath them as she heard the wind rushing around the beast’s wings. Then, with a bump and another roar from the dragon, they were on the ground.

 

Elbee stretched down and scratched the beast behind his horns as he trotted toward the twinkling torches of their resting spot. A cohort of gnomes waited for them in the freezing wind next to the debarking ladders, mule-drawn carts for the passengers’ baggage, and a large barrel of fish.

The beast let out a final, contented puff of steaming breath before settling down on his haunches and folding his wings underneath the passenger cabin on his back.

“Good boy!” Elbee exclaimed. She unstrapped herself from her saddle and clambered closer to the dragon’s head. She scratched with both hands while heaping praise upon her steed. “You made it!”

One of the maintenance gnomes tugged a hand cart bearing the fish barrel close to the beast’s muzzle, then gasped as he thrust his head into the food. Within moments, the barrel was half empty, and the flying beast showed no sign of slowing down.

“He must be almost empty, my lady!” the gnome squeaked as Elbee carefully climbed down from her perch. The pilot nodded as she tried to work the kinks out of her legs.

“He certainly had to work at this night’s journey, that’s for sure!” she said tiredly before turning to greet her passengers as they descended from the cabin.

 

The passengers waited until Snarglefist signaled that it was safe to stand before untying themselves from their chairs and gathering their things. The She-Orc ran a hand through her stiff hair and made her way to the front.

“Me know you could have walked through storm or taken carriage over mountains instead of flying with us, and me thank you for opportunity to face death with you tonight!” she intoned as the passengers lined up at the door. Outside, they could hear the gnomes unlocking the portal and preparing the ladder for them.

“Me wish all good travels and luck to you this night!” she exclaimed as the door opened with a creak and the passengers surged forward. The Chanani maiden, her face an ashen white, took wobbly steps toward the door.

“You brave!” Snarglefist growled to her, admiration showing in her gravelly voice. “Me wish to fly with you again!”

The elvish woman gaped at her in shock before she nodded and stammered, “Thank you. Perhaps we shall meet again, maybe even in this world.” Snarglefist gave her a belly laugh as she helped her out the door and onto the ladder.

Finally, the Lady of Eyre came to the door. She was the last of the passengers, so Snarglefist followed her down. The ladder was slick with ice, but after the flight through the mountains, that seemed but a little danger to them.

“Thank you,” Ruarin said once they were safely on the ground. Banks of compacted snow showed where someone had shoveled the flagstones clean, and tall drifts obscured the outline of the hall into which the rest of the passengers were trudging. A glaze of ice covered everything else, and several of the gnomes slipped as they brought their carts over to unload luggage from the nets slung alongside the passenger cabin.

“Me have good news, lady,” Snarglefist said quietly. “Me and mate buy farm just down road from you.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Ruarin said, reaching out to the She-Orc and embracing her. “New neighbors.”

“Yes, we take cave in hill next to water,” Snarglefist said as she and the Lady of Eyre walked toward the hall. “Maybe you bring boy to play with daughter?”

“Nothing would make me happier, Snarglefist,” Ruarin agreed. “I shall tell my husband once I get back to the inn.”

Together, the Lady of Eyre and the Maiden of Hospitality walked into the welcome warmth of the hall of flying. Behind them, Elbee watched as her flying beast finished his meal and burped out a long tongue of blue flame to show his appreciation.

BoogeyMan Is Up on Amazon!

The BoogeyMan, my first attempt at a detective story, is up on Amazon, both for sale and for Kindle Unlimited, this morning. Thanks to everyone for their pointers and suggestions.

Here’s the blurb:

Martin Shelby is The BoogeyMan, a private investigator and fixer for folks who get into trouble too tough and too strange for the police. People only bring him the jobs that require the body of a linebacker and the face of a gargoyle.

Now, he’s been handed a job that pays double, but that can only mean double the danger.

But when the things that go bump in the night look under their bed for HIM, how hard can it be? To The BoogeyMan, it’s just another job.

I put up a snippet from the book here, and here’s the first page:

 

The fat guy’s hands moved fast, clearing the big automatic from its holster before I even had a chance to start ducking. Looking down the bore of his pistol, I swear I could see the cavity in the nose of his bullet as it came at my head.

BZZZZ BZZZZ

Opening my eyes, the remnants of the dream faded as the ceiling of my bedroom came into focus.

BZZZZ BZZZZ

“The shit?” I mumbled as I turned my head and looked for the source of the noise. Beside me, my wife rolled over in her sleep, mumbling something of her own.

Grabbing my phone off the table, I saw that one of my business associates felt it was necessary to call me at three in the bloody morning. Punching the answer button, I put it to my ear.

“Speak.”

“Good morning to you too, sunshine. You pissed because I got you out from under some poor child’s bed before you had a chance to scare the crap out of her?” said the scratchy voice at the other end of the connection.

“Sid, I don’t know whether to bite your head off for being a jerk at this hour or thank you for waking me up,” I growled quietly, scratching at the stubble on my cheek with my free hand. “Since I didn’t like what I was sleeping through, I’m going to give you thirty seconds to convince me to not hunt you down and stake you out on an anthill.” At the sound of my voice, Deb rolled back over and stared at me. The light from the alarm clock made her eyes glint green in the shadow of her pillow.

“Get cleaned up and come down to my office. I’ve got a hot one for you,” he replied. I swear I could hear that damned smile of his through the phone.

“OK, but there better be good coffee waiting for me when I get there.” I punched the “END” button and turned to Deb.

“Really?” was all she had to say.

I shrugged and put my hand on her shoulder. “Sid’s got something, and we need the money.”

She closed her eyes for a moment, then nodded. “Tell him that if he can’t call you during office hours, I’m not going to invite him over for cookouts anymore.”

I chuckled as I swung my legs around and stood up. “Now, that is a threat he’ll respond to.”

I scratched my belly as I walked to the bathroom and quietly closed the door behind me. Five minutes later I came out, dressed and cleaned up as much as I was going to be for my old pal Sid. Deb was waiting by the bedroom door with my go bag in one hand and my holster in the other.

“Be careful,” she whispered as she went up on tiptoes and kissed me goodbye.

“Always am, sweetheart.” My loving wife rolled her eyes and ran her finger down the scar on my cheek.

“I’m going to do a close examination when you get home,” she growled playfully. “There better not be any more of these.” With that, she turned and crawled back into bed. I watched her for a moment, then turned off the bathroom light and walked as quietly as I could out of the room.

 

Hope you all enjoy The BoogeyMan, and remember, reviews are an awesome gift to a writer.

Snippet

This is one of the bonus stories from “Coming Home.”  For those of you who purchased the three ebooks that made that book up, this is a partial thank you.  The rest of the bonus stories will come out over the next few months.  Remember, reviews are the second best way to say thank you to a writer, and they’re much appreciated.


Losing an Old Friend

The crisp air of a fall morning greeted Elsked as he slipped through the kitchen door and trotted across the courtyard to the garden gate. Most of the beds had been cleaned out weeks earlier and covered over in leaves from the giant maple which grew in the courtyard’s center, but the pumpkin patch had been left alone until after the autumn holidays. It was a perfect morning to hunt for the greatest pumpkin in the garden.

The Young Prince’s blue eyes twinkled as he spied a pumpkin nearly as wide as he was tall, and he made a mental note to bring his father to this one first. He and his sister Lytteren had a bet on who would find the largest gourd, and he intended to collect the archery lesson she had promised if he won.

Elsked slowly circled the pumpkin, then looked around to see if any larger examples were to be found. Shaking his head, he smiled conspiratorially as he tried to remember the levitation spell his mother had told him about earlier that week.

“Just have to secret you away for a while,” he said as he patted the pumpkin’s bumpy exterior, which was wet with cold dew from the night’s frost, “then sister can be surprised when I… find you.” The boy laughed at his plan and what he expected to see on Lytteren’s face when he and his father rolled the huge pumpkin out of the garden.

Just then, he spotted a bit of pale yellow in the pumpkin patch’s sea of green and orange. Forgetting the great pumpkin behind him, he approached the oddity cautiously, then laughed when he realized that it was Turf of Azure, his mother’s hound.

“Having a nap in the sunshine, old girl?” the Young Prince said. He reached down to scratch the ancient dog between her ears, then stopped when he saw that her eyes were wide and she was panting in distress. When she sensed his touch, a whine of pain erupted from her muzzle, and she tried in vain to get up.

Elsked cried out when he saw the dog’s condition, and he ran shouting to the house. Azure returned her head to the cold ground, and tried to catch her breath while she waited for him to return.

 

Lytteren knelt down next to the dog after following Elsked back to the garden. Tears streaked the boy’s face, and Lytteren felt her own eyes water when she saw how Turf of Azure suffered. Her stomach was distended, and one of her hind legs did not seem to respond when she tried to rise from the ground.

“Shhh, girl,” the young maid said soothingly. “Be still now. Mother and father will be here in a moment.” She had sent one of the kitchen boys running to fetch them when Elsked stormed into the house, stammering about the dog and begging her to come back to the garden with him.

While they waited, brother and sister tried to calm their pet, who cried out in pain every so often as they gently ran their hands over the golden fur on her head and neck. Moments later, Ruarin and DaddyBear, both still in their dressing gowns, hurried into the garden. The Lady of Eyre gasped when she saw how her dog suffered, and paid no mind to the damp earth as she knelt down next to Azure.

“It’s alright, girl, I’m here,” she whispered in a hoarse voice. She looked deeply into the dog’s eyes, then carefully ran her hand across her abdomen. A concerned frown crossed Ruarin’s normally serene face as she mentally ticked off what she was seeing.

“Something’s ruptured inside her,” she said, choking back tears. “How long has she been out here?”

“She was asleep in front of the oven when we came back from our patrol last night,” Lytteren told her. “That was an hour before dawn.”

“Then the cook probably let her out when she came in this morning,” DaddyBear said in a deep, gentle voice. He knew how much seeing their pet like this pained his wife and children.

“Can you help her, mother?” Elsked said. His eyes were wide with fright, and the icy pit in his stomach made him fear his mother’s reply.

Lytteren placed her hands over the dog’s body and closed her eyes. “Aegritudo,” she whispered, feeling power flow through her, but not hope.

The dog’s body glowed briefly in the morning sun, showing a slow heartbeat and a dull, pulsing light in her abdomen. The Lady of Eyre’s family looked at her for an answer, but she could only shake her head.

“It’s too late,” she said in a voice that was barely audible over the dog’s panting. Then, she took a deep breath and continued, “Anything I can do will only make her pain last longer.”

Her son wailed as if his heart had broken, bringing a baying from the house as Water of Fire and Bounder, their other two hounds, came running to see what was wrong with their young master. Upon seeing their matron prostrate upon the ground, the dogs nuzzled Azure and licked at her face, but she could only lift her head a hand’s breadth from the muddy ground before letting it fall back down.

“Children, say your goodbyes so that we may send her to her ancestors,” DaddyBear said, emotion choking his voice. His heart ached to see both the suffering of his hound and the anguish his family felt, but he kept a placid look on his face as Elsked and Lytteren gently touched their dog for the last time.

“I’m sorry, girl,” Lytteren said. Her voice quavered as she spoke.

“Good girl,” was all that Elsked could stammer. “Good girl.”

Then, DaddyBear and Ruarin put their hands on Turf of Azure’s side. DaddyBear’s hands shook as he whispered, “Goodbye, girl. Thank you.” Ruarin was surprised to see a tear running down into her husband’s beard.

“I love you, pup-pup,” Ruarin said quietly. “We shall meet again.” She nodded to her husband, who removed his hands from the dog, whose breath was shallow and ragged. She swivelled her ear at the sound of her mistress’ voice, and again tried to stand.

Ruarin closed her eyes and fought to control the sobs she could feel trying to bubble to the surface. After a moment, she whispered, “Grasta,” and felt her power once more slip between her fingers.

Turf of Azure took a long, deep breath, then shuddered as she let it out. Ruarin’s charm took away the hound’s pain, but the light behind her eyes soon faded as her spirit slipped from the world. A moment later, she walked into a place where the grass was tall, the sun was warm, and her brother, Walks in Shadow, waited to wrestle with her.

 

Ruarin shook with grief as her husband encircled her in his arms. Their children joined them, and the four of them clung to each other while Water of Fire and Bounder howled out their sorrow. Finally, DaddyBear broke the embrace and knelt down next to the dog’s body.

“Let’s take her to her resting place,” he said quietly. Ruarin nodded gravely, while Lytteren wrapped her arms around Elsked. The young boy still cried unashamed tears at the loss of a pet he had always known.

Carefully, the Minivandian lifted Turf of Azure and cradled her in his arms. He led his family out of the garden and into a grove of trees near the creek that ran behind their home. There, in a small clearing ringed by cornus trees, lay a large piece of dark granite. Its surface was flat and smooth from where an ancient glacier had plucked it from a mountain far to the north. At its center, time and water had worn a shallow bowl, which measured a few hands across and half a hand deep. A beam of morning sunshine stretched along its length, causing the surface to glitter as if it were frosted with diamonds. On the far side of the clearing, sitting in a spot where the sun always seemed to shine, sat a jet-black statue of a shaggy war dog. Inscribed on its base was “Walks in Shadow.”

The Minivandian lay Azure’s body upon the stone. He gently arranged her legs and smoothed her yellow fur until it appeared that she was merely asleep in the sunbeam. He gestured to the other hounds, who had followed them from the pumpkin patch. They lay down in the grass, their eyes moving from the still form on the stone to their family, then back again.

The Lady of Eyre stepped forward. Without ceremony, she lifted her hand and slowly waved it in the air above the dog’s body. Elsked gasped as Turf of Azure dissolved into a pile of cold ashes, then buried his face in his sister’s side. Lytteren stroked his hair in an attempt to soothe him, while her own tears dripped unheeded from the end of her nose.

Ruarin pulled a handful of long, yellow grass from the clearing’s floor, then used it to sweep the ashes into the well at the stone’s center. As she did this, DaddyBear could hear her hum a lullaby that he half-remembered his wife singing to a small, yellow puppy many years before.

When she had pushed all of the ashes into the hollow, Ruarin turned to her family. “Our loyal companion has passed from this world, and it is time for us to tell her story so that she will always be remembered,” she said solemnly. “I want each of you to think of your favorite memory of her, then tell it to us.”

“Mother,” Elsked stammered, “I can’t. It hurts to think of her.”

“It’s all right,” Lytteren said quietly. “We did this when Shadow died. It helps you feel better.” She released her brother and stepped forward to stand in front of the stone.

“I shall go first,” she said in a calm voice. She closed her eyes and thought for a moment before continuing, “It was a long time ago, when I was a very little girl…”

 

Lytteren shuffled her boot clad feet through the long pile of leaves running along the fence between the courtyard where she played and her mother’s garden. Her father had spent the morning raking and sweeping them up, and she had helped by picking up handfuls of them and sprinkling them about. The new puppy, whom her mother had called “Azure,” bounded along beside her. The afternoon sun blazed from her golden fur as she jumped into the pile. The little dog would explode from under the leaves, then disappear again when she landed in a deeper part of the pile.

The little girl wore the new clothes her mother had made for her to play in. The cloth was rough to the touch on the outside, but soft and warm beneath. Try as she might, Lytteren had not been able to wear through it or tear the fabric on the rocks and hard ground she played upon as she had adventures. Her brother was inside somewhere, so she had the yard, the pile of leaves, and the puppy to herself.

Where is that puppy? she thought as she looked around. Azure had yipped and barked as she jumped down into the pile, but Lytteren had neither seen nor heard her for several moments. Her ginger hair, braided carefully by the Minivandian himself, whipped back and forth as she looked for Azure. The girl waded into the pile until it was up to her middle, then called out again for her dog.

“Puppy!” she cried. “Puppy, where are you?” Her brow knotted when the little dog did not reply or come at her voice. “Puppy!”

Suddenly, a yellow ball of fur, damp leaves stuck to its side, burst from the pile. Lytteren screamed as she felt wet paws land on her chest, pushing her over into the leaves, then both of them were submerged in them. A cacophony of squeals, barks, and giggles filled the courtyard before she sat up with the chubby little puppy laying across her lap. The dog’s tail was wagging so hard that her hind end moved with it, and her pink tongue hung from her mouth as she panted.

“Azure!” Lytteren cried out, her voice full of joy and love. She grabbed the puppy on either side of her head and gave her a loud kiss on the snout, which Azure returned by stamping her wet, pink nose on the little girl’s forehead. Then, Lytteren heaved herself back into the leaves and rolled over so that the wrestling match with her puppy could continue. Azure obliged her little mistress, and the two of them cavorted in the leaves until they were spread across half the courtyard.

 

Lytteren’s tears ran down her cheeks, but they did not ruin her radiant smile. “Azure was my first pet,” she said, “and she taught me how to care for something more than I care for myself.”

Lytteren reached up and let several of her tears run onto her fingers. Carefully, she extended her arm so that her hand was above the pile of ashes, then let the drops fall onto them. She turned away from the table and let her father’s arms enfold her.

Once he had comforted his daughter, the Minivandian stepped forward.

“I shall go next,” he rumbled. “Azure was a loyal companion, and she accompanied me into the forest on many nights…”

 

DaddyBear the Minivandian walked quietly down a dark path shrouded by thin wisps of fog. Overhead, the cold light of a winter moon flashed every so often when it found a path between the bare branches of the thick forest canopy. In his hands, he carried Clyfrender, his ancient war-axe, and at his side walked Azure, the yellow hound who had become his constant companion while he patrolled his lands. The dog had her nose to the ground as she followed the trail some loathsome creature had left after raiding the smoke house the Minivandian kept behind his manor.

His wife was home with the children. His eldest son, Bjorn, had wanted to accompany the Northerner when he had announced at dinner that he would be hunting down the marauding creature that had stolen one of their hams, but a stern look from his wife had been enough to get him to disappoint the boy. Lytteren, five summers old and ready to take on the world, had sleepily fussed about being left behind as well, but she was fast asleep in her bed by the time DaddyBear and the dog had slipped through the garden gate and picked up the thief’s trail.

“Got it, girl?” DaddyBear asked quietly as the dog snuffled first this way, then the other at a fork in the path. He could see where something large had bent the dry branches of a brambleberry thicket aside, but the dog did not follow that scent. Instead, she turned away from the path altogether and led her master deeper into the dark woods. The Minivandian could not see any tracks or evidence that something had passed that way, but his hound’s snuffling nose kept them on their quarry’s trail.

His breath coming out in puffs of vapor in the cool, damp air, the Minivandian had to jog to keep up with the hound. Her golden fur, which had darkened and become thicker as she had grown from a puppy to a war hound, seemed to glow in the forest’s half light as she darted between trees and into a thick growth of bushes.

The Minivandian could hear her pawing at the ground and barking a few feet ahead of him when he stopped at the edge of the thicket. “Azure!” he ordered in a deep voice. “Out! Get back here!” The Northerner was worried that she would stir up some animal and get mauled before he could intervene, and an axe would not work well in the confines of the thorny bushes.

Suddenly, Azure squirted out of the thicket, with something dark and low-slung at her heels. The dog yipped as the creature swiped a wide paw at her hind quarters, then turned and leaped upon her foe. A loud growl, almost a roar, filled the woods as the animal tried to fend off the dog’s attack, then it squealed as her teeth clamped down on its back.

DaddyBear raised his axe high over his head, looking for a way to strike without hitting the dog. The creature growled again, and the Minivandian heard its jaws snap on empty air as it tried to lash out at Azure. Finally, it was able to swing its short neck around far enough to sink its fangs into the dog’s flank, eliciting a howl of pain from the hound. She leaped up, trying to get free, but the beast held on. It dug its claws into the frosted ground, struggling to pull the hound back into its underground den.

The Minivandian saw the animal’s wide back as a darker blotch of black in the shadows, but now that his hound was clear, he brought the axe down in a long, whistling arc. It thudded into the creature, cutting through its tough hide and breaking its grip on Azure. The creature growled once more and turned on the Minivandian. Its teeth gleamed in a snatch of moonlight before DaddyBear’s axe swung down again, splitting its skull.

Azure limped over and sniffed the creature, then turned to lick her master’s hand as he reached down to pick it up by its short tail. DaddyBear held it up in the moonlight, then cursed under his breath.

“A skittklo, girl!” he cried out in surprise. In the moonlight, he saw its razor sharp claws, which the squat little beast used to both dig tunnels and to tear apart its prey. A pair of white stripes ran through the coarse fur of its back, and its mouthful of teeth looked fearsome even in death.

“You’re lucky you got it out in the open, dog,” he said as he tossed the carcass back into the thicket. He reached down to pet the hound, then ran his hand over the wound that oozed blood on her side. “If it had dragged you into its tunnels, I’d be looking for a new dog.”

“Come,” he said, signalling Azure with his hand, “let’s get home. You’ve earned yourself a treat.”

Azure panted happily as she walked alongside her master toward the house.

 

DaddyBear felt a solitary tear, which felt hot on his cheek, fall into his beard. Carefully, he scooped it onto his finger, then let it fall into the ashes. He turned to Ruarin, who hugged him close.

“I know, darling one, I know,” she said soothingly.

Elsked swallowed hard, then stepped forward. “Mother, may I go next?” he said. “I think I know what I want to say.” Ruarin nodded and gave her youngest son a reassuring smile.

Elsked looked at the ground, then said, “This is from when I was little, but it’s what I see when I think of Azure…”

 

The little boy crawled along the hard stone floor of the kitchen. His mother and the cook were busy doing something at one of the counters that involved puffs of flour and the spicy smell of sweetbark, but he paid little attention to that. His goal lay on a rug in front of the oven. Azure had long ago passed the age where she could enjoy frolicking in the grass with the children. Instead, she was content to lay in warm places and accept the belly rubs and pats the household gave the elder hound as she enjoyed the autumn of her years.

Elsked had always been fascinated by the hounds, and giggled and laughed when his sister had brought one close enough to pet. The dogs had shown curiosity about him from time to time, but little hands are usually not gentle hands, and losing fistfuls of fur, even when done with love, was not something they enjoyed.

Now, though, the Young Prince could come to them.

Azure opened one green-gold eye as the child scuttled across the floor to her, but did not rise from her resting place. She lifted her head as the boy leaned against her, then let out a contented sigh as he dug his fingers into the loose skin around her neck and started to scratch.

The hound yawned wide as the young master snuggled his face into her fur, then pressed her cold nose against his cheek when he stuck his face close to hers. This elicited a squeal and a giggle from him, and he latched onto one of her velvet-smooth ears and scratched behind it like he had seen his sister do.

Azure stretched out all four paws in contentment, careful to not scratch the child as he moved down and patted her on her flank. Slowly, she rolled over on her back, exposing her belly for him to rub. He laughed as her hind leg began to shake in time to his scratches, then used his hold on her fur to pull himself up onto his feet.

Azure looked up at her young master for a moment, then stood up next to the child. Elsked wobbled on his feet as she did, but was able to grab two handfuls of fur to steady himself. The elder dog nuzzled him under his chin, and the little boy giggled as her whiskers tickled him.

The dog took a step away from the boy, but then Elsked took a step of his own. Azure took another step, which Elsked copied. Soon, the pair were making their way across the kitchen toward the counter where Ruarin and the cook labored. When they had reached the midway point, Ruarin noticed the movement and looked up in surprise to see her son taking steps alongside the hound.

The Lady of Eyre caught a cry of surprise before it could escape and startle her son, then watched as Elsked let go of Azure and took the remaining steps toward her on his own. He fell into her arms just as he reached her, then she swept the boy up and embraced him. He squealed in delight and gave her a gap-toothed smile, and she kissed his cheek.

“What a big boy!” she and the cook cried out together, then Ruarin looked down at her dog. “And what a good girl!”

Azure looked up at her mistress and the young master with her tail wagging slowly. Her face, now almost white with age, held a hint of a smile as she turned and slowly walked back to her place next to the oven.

 

Elsked’s face was wet with tears as he finished his story, as was Ruarin’s. She remembered watching her son take his first steps using the dog to aid his balance. The Lady of Eyre lifted her hand to take one of Elsked’s tears for him, but he wiped them with his own fingers and let them drip upon the ashes.

“It’s not much of a story,” he said in a hushed voice, “but it’s the best I have.”

Ruarin scooped him up and squeezed him against her breast. Together, they rocked back and forth for a moment before she put him back down and took a deep breath.

“And now,” she said in a quiet, sad voice, “it is my turn…”

 

Distant thunder rumbled in the night as the Lady of Eyre slept fitfully in the big bed she normally shared with her husband. A late season blizzard had swept down from the north, and its wind and snow rattled the house in its fury. A low bed of coals burned in the fireplace across the room, and the glow from its embers threw stark, uneven shadows against the walls and ceilings. Outside, the wind moaned through the trees, and pellets of ice rattled down onto the manor’s roof.

Ruarin mumbled in her sleep, the memory of some horror disturbing her dreams. The smell of the fire, which she normally found pleasant, reminded her of the smoke of a cottage burning and of creatures leaping out of the darkness to strike at her.

She cried out, lifting her arms and clawing at an unseen phantom, when the sound of something whining and scratching at the door filled the room. Ruarin paid it no heed until the whining had risen to a mournful howl that woke her and brought her up from her bed before she knew where she was.

The Lady of Eyre looked about her bedchamber in confusion for a moment, then her mind returned to the real world and she realized that it had all been a dream. All of it, it seems, except for the scratching of something at her chamber door.

Ruarin crossed the room and opened the door a crack. She peeked out into the hall to find Azure, the younger of their two dogs, sitting on the floor and looking up at her.

“Go lay down, girl,” Ruarin ordered. “‘’Twas only a dream.” The dog, who was normally obedient to her mistress’ commands, tilted her head to the side but did not budge.

“I’m fine,” the Lady of Eyre said, opening the door a bit wider so that she could step out into the hall. To her surprise, the dog jumped through the gap and rushed between her legs. Before she could spin around, Azure had leaped onto her bed and was sitting upon the coverlet.

“No,” Ruarin said sternly. “No dogs on the bed!” She emphatically pointed to the floor. Azure, for her part, merely cocked her head to the side again, as if she did not understand the words.

“Azure!” Ruarin barked. “Get down!” In response, the hound flopped herself down on the mattress, placing her head upon her folded paws. Her green eyes glowed in the light of the fireplace.

Ruarin’s mouth quirked in irritation. She was exhausted from three restless nights without DaddyBear to warm her bed, and the memories of the nightmare still vexed her.

“Stubborn hound,” she growled as she stalked over to the bed. “Fine, stay there, you brat. Just mind you stay on the master’s side!” Azure let out a contented sigh as she closed her eyes and rolled over onto her side.

Ruarin lay back down and let her eyes close. “Just need some sleep,” she muttered as she felt her body relax once again.

Soon, she slipped into the dream again. The roar of the fire filled her ears as she tried to find her way to the door. Above her, the thatched roof collapsed, sending burning timbers down to fall on either side of her. She tried to scream, but smoke seared her lungs, cutting the sound off. Suddenly, Ruarin felt a weight on her side, then something cold and wet was against the skin behind her ear, and she could feel something snuffling at her hair.

Ruarin’s eyes popped open, and she looked up at the ceiling of her bed chamber. Next to her, Azure nuzzled against her neck and poked at her cheek and ear with her nose. Ruarin took a deep, shuddering breath, and felt the fear and pain of the dream melt away as her hand found the hound’s ear and scratched at her fur.

“Oh, girl, it was just a dream,” the Lady of Eyre said once she felt her heart stop thudding in her chest. “Thank you for waking me.” Azure replied by rolling over to give her mistress somewhere new to scratch.

Ruarin sat up on one elbow and regarded the hound. Azure met her mistress’ gaze, then stretched out languidly and closed her eyes.

“Alright, you win,” the Lady of Eyre said as she lay back down. “You may stay until the master comes home, but don’t get comfortable.” The dog answered her with another contented sigh, followed by snores as she fell asleep.

“Brat,” Ruarin mumbled as she let herself drift off to dreamless rest.

 

Ruarin’s eyes brimmed with tears as she remembered Azure protecting her from the phantoms of her own memories, then she caught one and let it drip into the ashes. She took up a stick from the ground, and began stirring her family’s tears into the dust.

“Azure was a good dog,” she said, “and we ought to always remember her.”

Ruarin stretched out her other hand and whispered, “Meabruchan”. The ashes swirled around the stick, then flared in the sunlight. When Ruarin lowered her hand, a statue of a hound with golden fur and a mischievous smile on her face lay at the bottom of the hollow in the stone. Upon its base was carved “Turf of Azure.” Carefully, Ruarin lifted it up and walked over to the sun-drenched side of the clearing.

“Azure knows we miss her, and we will never forget about her,” she said softly as she set the figure down next to that of Shadow. “This will be here for as long as we keep her in our hearts.”

For a long moment, the Minivandian’s family stood in silence, watching as the morning sun shone on the memorials to their companions. Finally, DaddyBear let out his breath and motioned to Elsked and Lytteren.

“Come, children,” he said in a low, gentle voice, “let’s go back to the house. We need to feed the other dogs, and a bit of breakfast will do our spirits good.”

Together, their arms around each other, the family returned to their home. At the mention of breakfast, Bounder and Water of Fire had raced back toward the house, their yips and cries echoing from the manor’s stone walls.

Behind them, the statues warmed in the sunshine.

June CLFA Booknado!

The CLFA June Booknado is out, and it’s a real twister!

Get ready to peruse a Category 5 Booknado of literary delights! Let refreshing winds of free thought and freedom blow away tiresome leftist reads and bring in exciting New Releases and Special Discounts! Read on for this month’s selections; just click on any book image to read more and shop. Enjoy!

Of the new releases, I’m really enjoying “Rocket’s Red Glare” and “For Steam and Country.”  Of course, some hack put out a fantasy novel about a dude with a weird name and a woman with red hair (Go figure.  A fantasy book with a redhead in it.  Who would have thunk it?) and somehow got included in the list, so you might enjoy that too.

Check out this month’s list, and please, remember that reviews are lifeblood to writers.

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