So, time for a writing update!
Thing have been going very well, lately. Lots to update everybody with, so I’ll start with the short fiction news and move into the novels.
Short Fiction News
Galaxy’s Edge Sale!
My short story “Lord of the Cul-de-sac” was just purchased by Mike Resnick over at Galaxy’s Edge. This is a great market with a typically stunning table of contents and edited by the man who has won the most Hugo awards in history, so that’s pretty damned sweet. No word yet on when my story will appear, but I’ll keep you all posted.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Sale!
I mentioned this a few weeks back, but I’m still pumped that I sold a story to CC Finlay over at F&SF.
My story “The Mithridatist” (set in Tyvian’s world, Saga of the Redeemed fans!) went on a heck of a journey through the pro-markets, garnering personal and, dare I say, glowing rejection letters from places like Tor.com before finally earning itself a home. Again, no word on release yet, but I’ll keep you posted.
I also recently sold a story to Escape Pod podcast about a month ago. It’s free and in audio or text. “Adaptation and Predation” is a space opera-esque story set in my Union of Stars world and has received a very positive response. I’ve even gotten some fan mail! Yay!
Then there’s this as-yet-untitled Time-Travel anthology over on Chappy Fiction, which bought/will buy my story “The Day It All Went Sideways” dealing with two-bit gangsters and fifth-dimensional time. I’m being called an “anchor” for the antho, which is a great compliment and I’m excited to see what Zach Chapman puts together!
Beyond that, I’ve got another five stories or so on submission to various places on and in various stages of review and another two I need to spiff up and send out again. Pretty good haul for a guy who spends *most* of his time writing novels!
The first book in the Saga of the Redeemed, The Oldest Trick, and its two halves (The Iron Ring and Iron and Blood) are currently selling very well – particularly the two halves – thanks to a price promotion and a BookBub at the end of last year. The Iron Ring peaked at #115 overall for Amazon (#2 for Fantasy) on the day of the BookBub “Book of the Day” promotion, which is mind-bogglingly awesome. It and Iron and Blood have been selling in the low 5-figures in rank ever since, which, in Amazon terms, is really goddamned good. So thank you, all of you, who have read!
That said, I could still use more reviews! I have ranked up a few over the past month or two (all very positive – thanks!), but you can never have too many reviews and, given how Amazon’s algorithm works and how important word-of-mouth is for book sales, more reviews is essential! If you’ve read any of my books, I would be ever so thankful if you left a review (even if you didn’t like it very much!).
Now for the kinda-sorta bad news. My editor at Harper Voyager has left for another publisher and, as a result, I have a new editor (hi, Rebecca!). Since she has just been saddled with a lot of my former editor’s old workload, she’s had to delay the publication of No Good Deed again. Bummer. It’s new release date is June 21st, 2016. This is disappointing, but at least now it seems like that date will be firm. I’ve also seen the cover art, which is really pretty awesome. Not time to reveal it just yet, but very pretty, trust me.
So, yet, Tyvian will be yet a few more months before he arrives in his second adventure. Of course, that’s typical Tyvian – never arrive on time when you can arrive late and make a splash. This also gives people world-wide more time to read the first book and be ready when the second comes out, so silver linings abound.
Overall, then, a great batch of news. I leave you, Tyvian fans, with the teaser text from No Good Deed, for those of you who haven’t seen it yet. I hope it sounds as intriguing as I hope it is:
Cursed with a magic ring that forbids skullduggery, Tyvian Reldamar’s life of crime is sadly behind him. Now reduced to fencing moldy relics and wheedling favors from petty nobility, he’s pretty sure his life can’t get any worse.
That is until he hears that his old nemesis, Myreon Alafarr, has been framed for a crime she didn’t commit and turned to stone in a penitentiary garden. Somebody is trying to get his attention, and that somebody plays a very high-stakes game that will draw Tyvian and his friends back to the city of his birth and right under the noses of the Defenders he’s been dodging for so long. And that isn’t even the worst part.
The worst part is that somebody is his mother.
Picture me: I’m nine years old, lying on my back beneath the skylight in my bedroom, rough carpet biting into my shoulders. I’m reading The Hobbit, enthralled. It’s summer. My mom is somewhere downstairs, yelling for me to get outside and play. I pretend I don’t hear her. I’m not there, you see. I’m in Mirkwood, starving with the dwarves and stumbling after elfish feasts in the dark. The last thing I want to do is go outside and play.
When I was a kid, I started making up imaginary places. Even before I read Tolkien, I was constructing cosmologies for my He-Man figures and establishing a chain of command among my stuffed animals. At the beach, the sand castles I built each had a story to them. They got names: Rampartiste, Gondria, Trudéal. I was the kid who wondered at the economic structure of Candy Land—did they eat it? Was the candy in the landscape distinct from the candy that made up their bodies? Did anybody ever get eaten and, if so, what was the punishment?
I was a weird kid. I know.
Fast-forward to 1991. A friend of mine is telling me about this game called Dungeons and Dragons. “Is it like a video game?” I asked, trying to wrap my head around it.
“No! You just write up your character on a sheet of paper and then somebody is the Dungeon Master.”
That piqued my interest. “What’s the Dungeon Master do?”
“He makes up the world and the monsters and stuff. Then you go and fight them.”
Makes up the world, you say? At that point, I had notebooks full of video games I wanted to create, primarily because those were the only things I knew how to script (level-boss-level-boss—a pretty simple plot). I tossed them away and started writing my own Dungeons and Dragons world. My parents gave me a copy of the 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook for my 13th birthday. That book changed my life.
Dungeons and Dragons carried me along my obsession with building worlds until I got old enough to realize I couldn’t make a living playing D&D (at least, I don’t think so. If anybody has any hot leads, let me know). So, how did a fellow make a living creating stories and worlds? After some trial and error (tried acting, directing, and a bunch of theater stuff), I settled on writing science fiction and fantasy. Mostly fantasy.
I have always thought of myself as more of a novelist. Novels were what I grew up reading, and novels were what I wanted to write. When I got out of college, I rejected the prospect of a stable career teaching high school English and, instead, flung myself into writing novels, figuring I could make a living at it after a few years.
Okay, you can stop laughing now. No, seriously. Cut it out.
Anyway, after getting my MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College in Boston, I started to figure out that short fiction could give me the ability to hone my craft more effectively. It also could give me the opportunity to submit more work and possibly get some publishing credits that might help me towards my eventual goal of being a novelist. I put the novels on hold for a bit and threw myself into short fiction. After a few years, I got a few sales, but nothing big.
“A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” was probably my tenth entry into the Writers of the Future Contest (before my win, I got one Honorable Mention, two Semifinalists, and a Finalist finish). The story is set in a world I’ve been creating for years and is far, far bigger than just the city of Illin. The challenge for me was getting the giant, sweeping landscapes of my imagination to fit into a short story. Abe’s story is part of a larger tapestry, but the story also needs to stand on its own. That took some doing. When I sent it into the contest, I was on the verge of trunking it—I didn’t think it worked. Shows what I know.
Meanwhile, the week before I found out I won the Contest, I was offered a three-book deal through Harper Voyager. The last year has been a whirlwind of writing, deadlines, and learning the publishing industry in a very hands-on, no-holds-barred kind of way. The contest win has been a vital part of what success I have had thus far, and will continue to guide me in the future.
An omnibus of my first two novels, called The Oldest Trick, releases this Tuesday, August 11th (in e-book form). I am currently working on the fourth book in the series and, in the photo, you can see the wall of index cards in my office I used in the final stages of editing the third book. I’m off and rolling and I don’t intend to stop, and the Writers of the Future Contest has given me an edge in the business that is frankly irreplaceable. For that, I am eternally grateful.
In that vein, let me entreat you all to pre-order The Oldest Trick! Below is the description and links to where you might buy it, currently only in e-book form. The print version, I have been told, will be coming “a few weeks later.”
Compiled for the first time, The Oldest Trick comprises The Iron Ring and Iron and Blood in the Saga of the Redeemed
Tyvian Reldamar gets betrayed by his longtime partner and left for dead in a freezing river. To add insult to injury, his mysterious rescuer took it upon himself to affix Tyvian with an iron ring that prevents the wearer from any evildoing.
Revenge just got complicated.
On his quest to get even, Tyvian navigates dark conspiracies, dodges midnight assassins, and uncovers the plans of the ruthless wizard Banric Sahand. Tyvian will need to use every dirty trick in the book to avoid a painful and ignominious end, even as he learns to work with—and rely on—his motley crew of accomplices, including an adolescent pickpocket, an obese secret-monger, and a fearsome gnoll.
Help a budding author out! My publicity footprint is fairly small, so if you like the book, tell your friends! Leave a review! Thanks so much for all your support so far!
When I sat down to start writing the Saga of the Redeemed, I knew where it was all going. Maybe not on a micro level (like, the individual scenes for all the books were pretty damn far from being plotted out), but in general, I knew where I wanted Tyvian Reldamar to start and I knew where I wanted him to end up (don’t worry – I won’t spoil anything). I also knew it wouldn’t be contained in a single book. Probably not even three books.
How did I know this? Well, I don’t really know. I think it was because of two reasons, and I think these two reasons are pretty important factors to consider anytime you’re planning to write a book or series of books:
#1: How Big is the World?
I don’t mean physically, either. Maybe “deep” is a better word – basically, how much story is there to explore in the setting you’ve created? If you don’t visit every single nation on your world map, will the audience miss it? How much of the world matters in the story, anyway? For Tolkien, of course, he had a vast mythology and epic forces of good and evil clashing, and so he needed a bunch of books to give the story the space he felt it deserved. Likewise, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files just keep going and going and going because it always feels like there’s more to discover. On the other hand, there’s The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison – an excellent, excellent book, mind you – which is contained in a single volume. Why? Well, Maia’s story fits there, neatly and cleanly. There simply isn’t a need for more.
#2: How Much Does the Character Change?
This is crucial. For the most part, stories are about how the protagonist changes as a result of their experiences. Now, there are exceptions (*cough*JamesBond*cough*), but mostly that’s true of almost every story, regardless of genre. We are reading to experience some kind of change, subtle though it may be. The further a journey your character has, the more books you’re going to need to write. Tyvian, in my novels, begins as a shallow, narcissistic, self-involved criminal. The story is about his slow change from that to…something else. Now, I don’t think people change on a dime, nor do I think stories of redemption accomplished in a weekend are convincing (sure, sure – Uncle Paul found Jesus this weekend and is going to stop drinking – what’s this, the seventh time?), and so I feel that Tyvian’s shift must be a gradual one. It is going to take several books to accomplish.
The series, however, presents some significant challenges for the new author, such as myself. At a basic level, you need to get a publisher to keep buying your books (or, I suppose, you can self-publish, but then you need to keep paying for cover art and editing and so on and so forth, so the basic problem is the same, even if the specifics are wholly different). Are my books selling? Well, sure they are! They are pretty steadily floating between 1000th and 2000th place on Amazon for Fantasy novels! So…yeah, people are buying them, but nobody is putting a down-payment on a summer home. I’ve got a contract through Book 3 (which, technically, is Book 2), but I need two more books to finish the story to a point where I feel satisfied walking away.
Can I get a contract for those other two? Can I score an agent to represent me? I don’t know. It’s worrying, frankly, and it’s something you need to consider about your series. They might not want to publish books 5 and 6, no matter how dear they are to you.
Of course the other, perhaps more daunting problem (even if it is more under your control) is actually writing a satisfying series of novels. You know how you read the first book in a series and you’re like “whoah! That was the most awesome thing ever!” and then you read the next one and you’re like “Oh…uhhh…it was okay, I guess,” and then by the time you’re at book 3 you’re totally fed up and the story is lame and you don’t care about the characters anymore?
Yeah, nobody does that on purpose.
All writers try to make their second and third and fourth books every bit as awesome as the first one. The problems, however, are two-fold as I see it. A sequel must:
- Be true to the original in tone and feel.
- Advance the story so that things are totally different.
Clearly, these two things are potentially at odds. Doing it well requires you to have a keen grasp of what matters in your story and what does not. This is harder than you think, too. First off, you’ll probably guess wrong – the things you love about your series might not be the same things your audience loves (hence: WRITE REVIEWS, PEOPLE!). Secondly, even assuming you guess correctly, you still need to change things to keep it fresh enough. Remember the Star Wars prequels? Remember how boring they were? Well, each Episode did not sufficiently advance the story we cared about enough to make it work and, furthermore, the world as presented was not deep enough to support all three films. Could you have done them so they worked? Sure! But we would have had to focus on Anakin and his gradual change into a monster rather than on four-armed lightsaber duels and CGI effects.
The pitfall of keeping it fresh, though, is losing the thing that made it fun to begin with. To use George RR Martin’s series, A Sword of Ice and Fire, I’ve basically checked out of the books at this point because the thing that kept me invested – the struggle between the Lannisters and the Starks – is basically over and done with. Everybody I loved is either dead now or changed so as to become lame. The books go on and the world is certainly deep enough, but the characters just aren’t there anymore for me. I’m out.
So, to circle back, I find myself writing Book 4 of The Saga of the Redeemed at the moment and I need to keep reminding myself of why I love this series in the first place (answer: the characters) and what has to change in the story to keep it fresh (maddeningly enough: the characters). It’s a balance, and a difficult one. I mean, honestly, how many more swordfights can Tyvian get in before it becomes boring?
(looks at notes)
Gosh, I hope it’s a lot.
Just wanted to take a moment to remind new readers of the Saga of the Redeemed that the first two books are being released in one volume – titled The Oldest Trick – which is how I always intended them to read. A great opportunity to get started and save yourself some dough, to boot. It is currently available for pre-order from:
And probably on Apple iBooks somewhere, but I can’t figure out for the life of me how to find it.
Anyway, preorder today!
A.F.E. Smith’s Release Party for Darkhaven completed on Saturday, and along with it my little contest to give away some signed copies of THE OLDEST TRICK. And now, for the results of that contest:
And the winners are:
Diana So/ Diana Southammavong
Penny Mmarks/ Penny Burns Marks
falicesidoma/ Felicia Sidoma
Neil Jacob David
But…but…there’s SIX of them?!
Yes. Everybody will have to share. (Kidding, kidding).
Well, I had six people enter in total, so I figured the difference between signing and mailing six books and signing and mailing three was inconsequential enough that I would have felt pretty stingy if I didn’t give everyone a prize. Yes, yes – I’m a softy.
What To Do Now?
The book won’t be released in paperback for a few weeks. In order to know where to send it, I’m going to need the winners to contact me (via e-mail or PM on my Facebook page–see the Contact Me tab at the top of this page) so I can get addresses and such. Feel free to do so anytime, but I’d recommend doing it soon before I get distracted with other things. Strike while the iron is hot, I say!
Congratulations, all, and thanks for playing!
As for the rest of you, who missed the party and so on, please check out The Oldest Trick in e-book on July 14th (or pre-order now!) or in paperback form a few weeks later. Come watch scoundrel and villain Tyvian Reldamar attempt to gain revenge against his traitorous business partner despite being cursed with a magic ring that forbids him to do evil! Swashbucking fantasy adventure in the style of Scott Lynch and Brandon Sanderson! Don’t miss it!
Yes! Finally, Blood and Iron, Part 2 of the Saga of the Redeemed, is released today!
Do you know how hard it is living with all these spoilers in my head? It’s really hard. Every time somebody would walk up to me and start talking about what they hope/think will happen to Tyvian, Artus, Hool, and so on, it was all I could do to keep from yelling “NO! THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENS AT ALL!” or “HOW DID YOU GET INSIDE MY BRAIN, YOU FIEND?”
Now you can all buy it and see for yourself. Please do!
Found wherever fine e-books are sold!
Oh, and if you haven’t read The Iron Ring, please go do that first – it will all make waaaay more sense then.
THE IRON RING introduced you to a world of industrialized magic, sorcerous enlightenment, and a seedy underworld of smuggled monsters, alchemical narcotics, and mirror-armored wizard/cops. You met Tyvian Reldamar – criminal mastermind, smuggler, and impeccable dresser – and watched him writhe in frustration as some fool’s idea of an external moral compass in the form of a plain iron ring was bolted to his hand. Struggling through the desolate winter countryside, a street urchin and a vengeful mother gnoll in tow, he tried to evade capture from the Defenders and secure vengeance upon the partner who betrayed him – that wretched, ink-thralled mercenary, Zazlar Hendrieux.
And then the book ended…
Frustrating, I know. If it’s any consolation, I was frustrated too – my publisher wanted it that way – but now, oh boy, do I have good news for you!!
IRON AND BLOOD, Book 2 of the Saga of the Redeemed, is releasing on June 2nd and (checks watch) that’s only four days away, friends!
Yup, in only four (4) days you’ll get to find out what happens!
(WARNING: Mild spoilers below if you haven’t read Book 1)
Will Hool be reunited with her lost pups?
Has Artus survived the night?
Will Myreon manage her escape?
Will Tyvian realize Carlo’s betrayal in time?
What horrible plan does Sahand have cooking, anyway?
Can Tyvian juggle all the threats that surround him to achieve revenge?
Is the ring actually making him a better person AND can he ever get it off?
Well, you folks have only four days to wait until you can find out.
I’m really excited! Are you really excited? I hope so! Finally, after a long, long wait, everybody will finally get to see this story wrapped up as I intended it to be.
Oh, yeah, and there will be third book coming out soon, too.
In Other News
I will be signing books at the Prudential Center Barnes and Nobel tomorrow, Saturday May 30th, from 2-4pm. Most of my family and many of my friends came to the last one, so I’m relying on people I don’t know personally to come and keep me company. I promise I’m nice. And not entirely unattractive. No, seriously. I mean, I could stand to lose a few pounds and I haven’t hit the gym too often recently, but still. I’ll shave, okay? Deodorant, decent shirt, the whole nine yards.
Anyway, see you there, okay? I’ll sign your book. Maybe it will be worth money someday. Or maybe you’ll be able to trade it for something useful in a post-apocalyptic scenario of your choice. You never know, right?
The journey is a sacred trope in the fantasy genre. It dates all the way back to the Odyssey, or perhaps even earlier – the hero’s journey as mirrored in their physical traverse across the hills and dales of their world. Where would fantasy and science fiction be without Frodo’s quest into Mordor, Taran’s quest for the Black Cauldron, Paul Muad’Dib’s journey into the deserts of Arrakis, and so on and so forth?
The hero’s journey, be it quest or ordeal, mirrors something essential in each of us. The metaphor for life here is implicit – hell, occasionally it’s explicit. With every step, we change. Not so many journeys end precisely where you expect them to. As Bilbo once said:
It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.
When we’re young, especially, this journey seems large and imposing. As we grow older, it changes – our journeys still seem long, but less terrifying. Mystery overcomes majesty; we get lost within our own lives, searching for that magical trinket that got us out here in the first place. Maybe we find it, maybe we don’t. In the end it hardly matters.
I’m in the midst of writing a sequel to a novel I haven’t even published yet. It’s perhaps foolish of me, a waste of my time. Yet I cannot help it; Tyvian Reldamar’s story speaks to me on many levels. Alandar occupies such a defined shape in my mind, it is as though I have lived there. How could I not want Tyvian to wander its wagon-rutted roads and gleaming spirit engine tracks, pondering the possibility and necessity of his own redemption? So, I have spent the past 100 pages guiding him across the fractured counties of Eretheria, hatching his plans and keeping ahead of his responsibilities, his friends in tow. His journey is one that asks just how long can we skate through life before deciding to make a stand. Before deciding that something does matter to us and that something in this world is important enough to fight for.
That’s not all it is, though. No journey is so single-minded, just as no college road-trip is ever really about where you’re going. It’s about the friends you take with you, the stories you tell, the secrets you keep among yourselves, and the way you change your perspective on things. To watch Frodo get worn down by the weight of the One Ring is to also watch Sam rise up and grow strong. Conan’s quest for greatness is eclipsed by his longer, more difficult quest for wisdom and understanding. It does not come with the crown of Aquilonia, nor with the loss of that same crown. It comes in the small places, in the quiet moments. It is not in the achievement, but in the struggle.
This, too, can be said of my own journey. This novel I write, the stories I publish, the queries I send – this is the time of growth, of change. This is where it counts. All of us have such journeys, and we must make them. Step out that door; see where you are swept.
Before we go any further, let me alert you to Adele singing the theme song to the new Bond flick.
If you don’t think that’s awesome, it’s probably best for all of us if you leave the room.
For as long as I can remember, the word ‘cool’ has been defined by a single, solitary figure: James Bond. Even before I was fully cognizant of that character’s influence over my development, it was still there. Bond was the lone, heroic, confident, unflappable individual that summed up what my idea of ‘cool’ was. I was pretending to be characters like him even before I can remember seeing a movie about him.
This, of course, leads one to an inevitable Chicken and the Egg problem: which came first for me, Bond or my idea of cool? To put on my psychology hat for a second (psychologists, please understand that my studies in psych are rather limited – just enough to get me into trouble, as per usual), the answer to this question depends on whether or not you buy into Carl Jung’s concept of a collective unconscious. In brief, it’s the idea that all of us share a kind of unconscious pool of psychic information that, while we aren’t consciously aware of it, is somehow inherited or passed along by our ancestors and joins us with the rest of humanity.
If you buy Jung’s theory (and lots of people do), then Bond is very much plumbing ‘the Hero’ Jungian Archetype from the depths of our collective psyche. He is the guy who’s iron willpower, courage, and inimitable skill enables him to prove his worth and improve the world. Anyone who is predisposed to admiring the ‘hero’ or similar ideas would be drawn to Bond, since he is the concentration of those traits.
That’s not all there is to him, though. Bond isn’t cool because he defeats bad guys and outwits villains – every hero does that, and not all heroes are cool. Bond has something else going on, too. He’s both sophisticated and down-to-earth, both military and civilian, both educated and street-smart. He’s able to seamlessly adapt to any social situation and comes off well in any contest. In a world full of social stratification, cliques, and labels that limit one’s confidence, Bond cuts through them all. He is cool in all possible situations, even when out of his depth, in trouble, or suffering. He forces guys to compliment him while they are torturing him. His enemies admire his skill even while trying to destroy him. His boss loves him even as he is breaking very, very important and sacred rules of engagement. Bond is, essentially, the essence of freedom – able to go where he wishes, do what he wishes, and come out of it spotless and making out with a gorgeous woman on a life raft. Few other heroes can do this with the same level of panache.
I find it interesting, sometimes, the extent to which Bond can get away with doing and saying things that other characters couldn’t. When Pierce Brosnan manages to fall faster than a falling plane in Goldeneye, we immediately know (or should know) that he is violating the laws of physics as demonstrated by Galileo. More than any other hero, though, Bond can get away with this without too many of us rolling our eyes. Why? Well, our subconscious requires him to succeed so that we may invest our own egos in his behavior. We are just so willing to be impressed by a character we have defined, at essence, as impressive that we must forgive the story it’s slights against reality so we can escape with him. This is what I have come to call the Coolness:Reality Ratio. The cooler the character is (i.e. the more he fills in some insecurity or gap in our own emotional or psychological needs and/or weaknesses), the more he can get away with before we call BS on the whole affair. Now, I don’t have a specific numbering system set in place, but it can be safely assumed that James Bond, more than any other character I can think of, has a ratio that’s off the charts.
It is telling, then, that one of the novels I’m trying to sell (The Oldest Trick, set in Alandar) is my attempt at creating a Bond-like character in the person of Tyvian Reldamar, criminal mastermind and smuggler forced to reform his ways by a conscience-reinforcing magic ring. I’m trying, somehow, to catch a bit of that lightning that pulses through Bond’s blood and bottle it up in a fantasy setting. I hope I’ve been successful, but only time will truly tell. In the meantime, I’m going to be humming the tune to “Skyfall” while concocting additional adventures for my own Bond-esque hero to negotiate with skill, wit, and panache.
The plain, wooden letterbox on Banric Sahand’s desk was so nondescript that a visitor to his voluminous field pavilion might have noticed it anyway, given that everything else in the tent was unforgettable. An educated person would quickly note that the contents of his bookshelf ran in two varieties—military strategy and proscribed magical texts—and that the vast majority of the books there had long been thought lost or had been banned throughout the West. A businessman or merchant would have noted the ostentatious quality of the Kalsaari rug that covered the ground, or the expense and rarity of the iron-and-mageglass chair that loomed behind his massive, hand-carved desk. A soldier would note the rune-inscribed broadsword on the rack by the fire not only for the weapon’s quality, but also because it was clearly kept sharp, oiled, and in regular use, as were all of the various weapons and armor supported by racks and stands and attended to by invisible specters bound to Sahand’s will. An uneducated person, meanwhile, would have likely been distracted by the imposing person of Sahand himself—his heavy fur cloak; his polished, silver-shod boots; the dark, iron circlet resting on his rugged brow; the goblet he drank from, made from a human skull. All of these things were amazing, terrifying, and incredible to varying degrees, and then, as some kind of strange, mundane joke, there was the plain wooden letterbox, sitting alone in a corner of the desk of a man who had once sought to conquer the West.
Of course, few ever noticed it, or anything else at all about the room. They were usually too busy lying on their faces before the Mad Prince, groveling for their lives, to take in the finer points of His Highness’s personal living quarters.
On this particular afternoon, the groveler was a warlock from Ayventry named Hortense. Hortense was perhaps forty, with a wife and a teenage daughter, and had come highly recommended as a man of skill, principle, and noble bearing. Sahand’s right-hand man, the towering Gallo, pressed a heavy boot into the small of the man’s back, pushing his face towards the floor; watching this, Sahand noted yet again how quickly one’s ‘bearing’ slipped when faced with imminent death. Hortense was weeping tears, drool, and snot on Sahand’s expensive carpet. “Pl…please, Your Highness, permit…just…just permit me one more chance….I, I, I know we’re close…”
Sahand sighed and looked out the open tent flap, where the snow was falling in heavy sheets along the upper slopes of the Dragonspine mountains. “Hortense, what did I tell you last fall?”
Hortense tried to look up, his eyes blinded by tears, but Gallo pressed his face back down. “Oh! You said…that…that I had one year to get the machines to work.”
“And how long ago was that?” Sahand asked calmly.
“Silence.” Sahand nodded to Gallo, who pressed harder on the engineer’s back. “Now, I am not certain how they read contracts in Ayventry, Hortense, but if it is anything like in the rest of Eretheria, twelve months equals a year. That means you are two months behind schedule, which means I am two months behind schedule. This strikes me as unfair, Hortense. Doesn’t that seem unfair?”
“V-very unfair, milord…”
“I agree, it is very unfair. It seems that you are in a breach of contract, even after I so graciously granted you an extension to complete your work and even went to so great a length as to kidnap numerous thaumatuges to assist you and procured literally scores of wild beasts from all over the world to make your work possible. Are you aware of how much such activities cost me?”
Hortense’s voice was mangled by his cheek being pressed into the carpet. “A great deal, milord.”
“Do you hear yourself, Hortense?” Sahand asked, standing up. “Are you aware of just how cavalierly you just uttered the phrase ‘great deal’?”
Hortense’s breath heaved in heavy sobs. “I…I didn’t…I don’t…”
Sahand crouched besides the prone warlock. “Of course you don’t, Hortense—this, I believe, is the problem we are having in our professional relationship.” Sahand grasped the man by his hair and jerked his head back until Sahand could see his eyes. “You simply do not appreciate my problems. My goals, my aspirations, my operations, my finances are abstractions to you, aren’t they?”
Hortense didn’t answer save to produce a nasal whine through his running nose.
“I have a solution to this problem—a way to bind your self-motivation more closely with my own interests. Now, of course, you are too valuable to punish physically—an injured, ill, or starving man does not work well. However, I have found men with families in jeopardy show a great will to succeed in their tasks.”
Hortense’s bloodshot eyes widened and his face crumpled into an even less flattering expression. “Oh…oh please, Hann, no! Anything! Anything but…”
Sahand permitted himself a tight grimace. “For every day you do not meet the goals I set for you, on that night I grant my officers access to your daughter. It is my understanding that they are not gentle lovers.”
Sahand rose and nodded to Gallo, who released the sobbing warlock. Hortense simply sat in the center of the room, tears streaming down his face, his palms upwards in his lap. “It’s…it’s impossible! It cannot be done! I…I…can’t!”
“Well, then, Hortense,” Sahand said, sitting behind his desk, “Congratulations—you will soon be a grandfather.”
Gallo seized Hortense by the scalp and dragged him from the room like a sack of grain. The tent flap closed behind him, leaving Sahand alone. He glowered at the dark stains on the rug where the warlock had been. Ten years! He had spent the past ten years of his life painstakingly preparing for this winter, and now to think he might fail just when success was closest. He wanted to flay the skin of that inept fop of a warlock himself. He wanted to make the entire city of Freegate wade in rivers of blood. He wanted to call down all the powers of the world to crack the fortresses of Galaspin open and feast on the flesh of the fools inside like a bird cracking open a snail. He clenched his fists and teeth until he heard the leather in his gauntlets cracking and heard his teeth grinding with the stress.
He stood up and released his rage into The Shattering. The heat and raw power of the Fey roared through his blood and blasted forth into one of his bookshelves with a spectacular boom, reducing the shelf and the books to flinders and torn pages. The Mad Prince watched the paper flitter around the tent for a moment before taking a deep breath and sitting down. Then he heard something drop into the letterbox.
On the inside of the lid of the plain wooden container was a spider web of intricate astral runes that, when the lid was closed, linked the interior of the box with a spatial rift through which secure messages could be sent. It was, without a doubt, the most expensive object in the room. Even the mighty Arcanostrum of Saldor did not possess such devices. The Sorcerous League, however, possessed many secrets the magi of Saldor did not.
The letter inside had a red seal, marking it as important and specifically addressed to him—the whole League would not be privy to its contents. Waving his hand to seal the tent from intrusion, Sahand broke the seal with the proper word of power and flipped open the letter:
6th Ahzmonth, 33rd Year of Polimeux II
Our friends in Freegate have come upon a unique and unusual opportunity regarding your operations in the mountains. A meeting is requested this very night for those involved to discuss the situation.
Curse the Name of Keeper,
The Office of the Chairman
Sahand frowned, pondering the implications. The vague wording wasn’t unusual for a letter from the Chairman, of course—it was the highest priority of the League to maintain its secrecy, and so any official correspondence would lack detail in case the message were intercepted. The League was, of course, aware of his actions in Freegate—they had afforded him material support in the form of a variety of magecraft—but what they would consider a ‘unique and unusual opportunity’ was very much a mystery. Especially since they had no idea what his real plan was, else they never would have agreed to support him in the first place. Whatever the reason, the meeting would have to be attended. As usual, the timing was very poor.
Sahand summoned Gallo back into his tent. Gallo was a man of similar stature to his lord, but far less social grace. Even in this cold, he wore dull and dented plate and mail with a wolf’s-head helm that only partially hid his horrendously flame-scarred face. His breath was a choking rasp that gurgled and wheezed constantly, as though the man were constantly drowning in his own saliva. His face was a ruin of burn scars, with only a ragged hole for a mouth and two, dark, fish-dead eyes. Of all Sahand’s underlings, he knew he could rely on Gallo. Gallo was that rarest of creatures—a man without ambition or compassion. Whatever fire had melted off the warrior’s face had also taken with it whatever made him human.
“I am not to be disturbed for the remainder of the evening for any reason, on pain of death.” Sahand ordered. He found threatening death to be the most reliable way to keep his idiot underlings away from him for any lengthy period of time, and he knew Gallo would follow through without hesitation. Referring to the spirit clock in his tent, he saw that he had only seven hours before midnight—just barely enough time for the ritual to be completed. Again, he wondered what could be going on for the meeting to be called on such short notice.
Gallo’s voice was a hollow rasp. “Is that all?”
“No. Keep Hortense working, and inform the city that we will need to get the idiot more help. You are dismissed.”
Gallo executed a stiff bow and went out.
“This had better be good.” Sahand grumbled to himself. He sealed the tent, threw the letter in the fireplace, and got to work.
Author’s Note: This is the first half of a chapter from Tyvian Reldamar and the Iron Ring (working title), an Alandar novel I’m currently putting through it’s final revision (hopefully) before it’s healthy enough to send out. Sahand is one of the major villains.
CHING! Chance clattered to the ground. Tyvian’s hand was numb from the disarm.
“No more playing, Reldamar.” Remieux edged Tyvian away from the sword and waited. “Go on, plead for mercy, thief.”
“Remieux, don’t kill him!” Jaliette’s hands were balled into fists as she watched, rooted to the spot by her father’s hand on her shoulder.
“Kill him.” Lady Velitiere glared at Tyvian’s back, her fingers playing with the empty clasp that held the Eye.
Remieux was breathing heavily—more heavily than Tyvian. That much, at least, was going in his favor. His blade lay four paces to his left, Remieux was but two paces in front of him. Artus was rapidly being discounted as a factor in his plan. This fight had to end, and now. Oh, and it was rather integral that Tyvian win. Being run through would muck up the remainder of his plans quite a bit.
Tyvian made as though to dive towards his sword. Remieux moved his blade to intercept, but realized too late that it was another feint. Tyvian stepped past LeMondeux and, with all the force of his momentum, kicked Remieux in the groin.
Remieux whimpered and collapsed like a cut-string marionette. Tyvian kicked him in the chin and then kicked LeMondeux away. He left Remieux to bleed on the floor so he could get Chance back in his hand.
No sooner had he snatched the weapon up than the hiss and crackle of Etheric energy cooked the air around him. Chance went very cold as it absorbed the brunt of the invocation. Tyvian escaped with a slight singe to his tunic.
“Nice shot, Orsienne. I must confess, my mother’s a bit better at deathbolts than that. Keep practicing, though.”
The exertion of channeling the Ether had left Lord Orsienne green around the gills. He flapped his hands and pointed wildly at Tyvian. “The blade is warded! Guards! Get him! Don’t let him escape.”
“As though the guards were thinking I was to be let go…” Twelve men, all armed to the teeth with firepikes, thunder orbs, and a variety of other expensive magical weapons, surrounded Tyvian.
They all tightened the ring a pace. “Artus, if you’re out there, I’d just like you to know that I’m very displeased with you right now, and I am strongly considering releasing you from my service.”
The ring tightened. The blazing tips of the firepikes were close enough to feel. Tyvian forced a smile. “Now then, gentlemen, no need to go setting anyone on fire.”
Lord Orsienne managed one last bullfrog croak. “Set him on fire!”
The chandelier fell. Tyvian, who was half expecting it, saw it before it hit the ground, and afforded his closing captors a wink. Everyone else was stunned. The collective screams of the noble audience was almost more frightening than the awful racket made by the chandelier itself.
Over years of adventuring, Tyvian had found that the funny thing about distractions was that, no matter how prepared an enemy is to not be distracted, they always, always are. The guards, all twelve of them, looked in the direction of the chandelier. Chance struck once, twice, crippling two men and creating a window wide enough for Tyvian to dart out.
Artus, his broad-bladed pokk knife in one hand, ran an intercept course with him, dragging some blonde tart by the wrist. “It’s about damn time!” Tyvian swished Chance at a few noblemen who looked enterprising enough to get in his way.
“I got distracted.”
“Ah, the stupidity of youth!”
Tyvian ran directly for Lord Orsienne, who dove behind a potted plant for cover. The plan was to go up the stairs at the back of the ballroom and move along the second floor to the other side of the mansion, where Marik would be waiting for them outside the window. That was, of course, provided Marik hadn’t found a blonde tart of his own.
On the way up the stairs, Tyvian put his free arm around Jaliette’s waist. “To remember me by, darling.” He swept her into a quick kiss. Jaliette’s knee went for the right spot, but Tyvian had been expecting it and twisted away. “Good bye.”
Jaliette’s expression was half smile, half scowl. “You ruined my wedding, you boor.”
Tyvian shrugged. “You ruined mine.”
A ball of fire hit the banister next to Tyvian. Artus rushed past him, pushing the blonde up the stairs. “Time to go!”
The guards arrayed themselves in a firing line and readied the firepikes for a volley. “Not in my house!” Lord Orsienne wailed.
Tyvian caught up with Artus. “Lose the wench, I don’t want a hostage!”
“She’s not a hostage, she’s coming with me!”
Tyvian looked at the girl—she was pale, shivering, weeping. “Don’t be an idiot! Give her a goodnight kiss and say goodbye!”
Chance flashed through the air to deflect a pair of thunder orbs back towards the guards. They exploded with a bass rumble, shattering windows and sending men flying.
At the top of the stairs, Tyvian turned one last time and caught the eye of Lady Velitiere. She was angry, but it was the good kind of anger—hot, passionate. “The old girl’s still got some fire. Good for her.”
He darted through the door and slammed it behind him. “Artus, do you know any spells to prop this door?”
Artus glared at him over the girl’s head. “I’m a shepherd. The only spells I know ward off fever and scare wolves.”
“I thought I told you to lose the girl!”
“I’m not! I love her.”
Tyvian rolled his eyes. This was just great. “Go find something to prop this door, all right?”
Artus paused, but only briefly before darting into a side room. Once he had gone, Tyvian smiled at the girl as sweetly as he could muster at the moment.
“What’s your name, darling?”
She choked back a sob. “Ysabette.”
“He’ll come back for you one day, Ysabette.” She smiled then, and it was a beautiful thing. Tyvian didn’t savor it. He planted a hand on her back, opened the door, and shoved her into the arms of the advancing guards behind.
Artus came back, dragging a chaise. “Where’s Ysabette?”
Tyvian manufactured a sigh. “Run off. Sorry.”
The blade of a firepike poked through the door, narrowly missing Tyvian’s shoulder and igniting part of the doorframe. The discussion was over, the chaise pushed into place, and they ran down the hall.
Tyvian threw Chance through the bay window at the end and followed it out. He landed roughly in the dirt.
“’Twas a fine sort of party, I see.” Marik looked like as much a beast as a man in the saddle. He drew a mammoth broadsword and tossed Tyvian the reins of one of the two mounts beside him.
Tyvian smiled. “Ah, Marik. I could have sworn you would have run off with a woman.”
Marik laugh was deep enough to shake the ground. “Bah, the wench wouldn’t have me!”
Artus dusted himself off. “Let’s go.”
They were in the saddle in a moment, and galloping through the streets of Akral even as Orsienne’s men shouted after them. Tyvian felt the weight of the Eye against his flesh, and didn’t look behind him for a long, long time.
* * * * * * * *
“This may be the most attractive thing I’ve seen all night.” Tyvian breathed deep. The innkeeper had scented the bathwater with cinnamon, just as he asked. It sat there, steaming in its great wooden basin, calling to his aching muscles.
“By the name of holy Ozdai and his holy Hearth, what a ride that was!” Marik’s sank his great, bear-like form into one side of the great tub, the steam beading on his thick beard in great shimmering globules.
Tyvian slipped into the opposite side and let out a long, slow breath. In the end, it had been a close thing. Orsienne’s guards had pursued them into the streets, and it was only by Pit-spawned chance that they had lost them.
“I don’t know how you two can relax like that.” Artus sat by their gear, sharpening a the short, broad blade of his pokk. “They could still find us, you know.”
Marik shrugged. “Take it while you can get it, kiddo. Time’ll be tense soon enough.”
“Besides, I seem to remember you relaxing at a rather inopportune moment earlier. You owe us one.” Tyvian opened one eye to look at Artus.
Artus stuck the pokk into the floor. “You would have done the same thing if you were me. She was beautiful.”
“Beautiful women are everywhere—you’ll meet another one. Better to leave her now, Artus, than to have her leave you later. I’ve done you a favor, I daresay.” Tyvian inhaled deeply. “Marik, doesn’t this smell simply wonderful?”
Marik smiled to show the gaps in his teeth. “Tickles the nose, I’ll grant you.”
Artus worried the dagger. “You don’t believe in love, do you?”
Marik climbed out of the tub. “Ah, the simple man’s cue to leave. Good night, you lot—we leave in three hours.”
Tyvian nodded to Marik as he stomped out, and watched Artus carve a nothing shape in the floor. “Is something bothering you, Artus?”
“I’m having some trouble understanding why the hell you did what you did tonight. If you loved Jaliette, why did you ruin her wedding night? If you didn’t, why did you even bother to try?”
Tyvian ran a hand through his hair. “Are you mad at me for making you leave that pretty blonde thing crying in the hallway? Come now, you know as well as I that we couldn’t take her along. You would have gotten bored with her in a week, and then where’d we be? Mailing some scatterbrained girl home in a less-than-marriageable condition, I imagine, if not caught and hanged by the neck.”
Artus pulled up the pokk. “It isn’t about Ysabette…well, maybe it is, a little. It’s mostly about you, Tyvian. What did Jaliette do to you to make you want to risk your neck like that? You don’t need any giant diamond, Tyvian—you’re richer than any three of those people at the party tonight. Was it revenge? For what?”
Tyvian turned the question over in his mind for a moment, blowing bubbles in the bath. When he came to an answer, he reached to retrieve the Eye from a pouch. It sparkled in the lamplight, like a hundred stars set in glass, and painted patterns on the bathhouse walls. “This represents a price. A price all of us, sooner or later, have to pay, one way or another—the price of life. You and I, Artus, we keep what’s ours and lose what’s taken from us. Our lives, our fortunes, our fates are our own—they’re held in our pockets and our packs, in our heads and in our hands. Not many are the men and women who can live like us, and even the very strong can succumb to the lure of a safe, boring, stable life. They sell out, just like Jaliette sold out. Tonight, on behalf on the world, I exacted her payment and showed her, in no uncertain terms, the life she was missing.”
“The gambler’s adage,” Artus nodded, “’He who has played, will be played.”
“Yes, well, I don’t think she’ll be playing again. She’s retired from the game to become a space on the board. Oh well.”
“Tyvian, would you sell out?”
Tyvian’s smile was faint. “I might have, if she had asked me.”
Artus’ mouth fell open. “Really?”
“No, not really. Go to sleep—we’re leaving soon.”
Artus stood to leave. “I might sell out one day, Tyvian. Marik will too. What happens if you’re the last one playing?”
He left without an answer. Tyvian took his time in the bath, turning over the jewel in his hand even as he turned over he thoughts. Finally, when he couldn’t stand the silence any longer, he answered the question.
“Then, Artus, I win.” He dropped the Eye into the bathtub and left. To his knowledge, it was still there when the three of them rode out under the murky grayness of the dawn mist.