Sep 25 2015

Left on the cutting-room floor


Today I seem to be too busy to a) blog, or b) reset the sale price on The Steerswoman. But that’s not bad,  because b) the sale is still on, and a) how about an out-take from The Outskirter’s Secret?

The readers who follow my blog saw this a couple of years ago… but if you’re new, it’s new to you!

It was taken out of the final version, because… well, it wasn’t actually needed, and it did not help the pacing.  And the book was already long.  All good reasons to cut it loose.

But still: I find it fun.  So, here it is (again).

For reference:  the scene was originally in Chapter 25, just after Rowan learns about courting gifts…

After noon meal, Rowan settled down by the fire-pit with her logbook and the dried corpse of a spiny insect called a harvester, intending to sketch and make notes on its structure and observed habits. Hari wandered by, paused to watch without interrupting, then strolled away thoughtfully.

Some time later a small voice said, “Here.” When Rowan looked up, Hari was already gone; but Rowan discovered a flat oblong bug on the ground by her knee, stranded on its back, wriggling eight jointed legs in panic. It was not one she had observed before. “Thank you,” she called out, bemused.

“You’re welcome,” said a new voice on her left. Rowan turned to find Sithy standing before her with a trawler held in one out-held fist, its legs waving above and below the fingers, small head bobbing from side to side.

“Thank you,” Rowan said again, “but I already have notes on this one.” But she had never handled a live one, and carefully took the insect from the girl. The narrow body was cool between her fingers, bending slightly in the middle as the trawler struggled against captivity. It flexed its limbs, seeking purchase, emitting a steady stream of loud, irate clicks.

Sithy nodded once, and was gone. Rowan looked about for someplace to free the trawler, not wishing to leave her work to go to the edge of camp. She gave up, and set the creature down, hoping it would find its own way out. It instantly quieted and froze, standing in place, pretending to be invisible.

When Bodo arrived, Rowan had begun to know what to expect. He stopped at a cautious distance and deposited on the ground half of a particularly large tumble-bug. “Something ate it!” he declared gleefully, then tottered away.

“Excuse me, Rowan?” It was the eldest child, a girl near walkabout age.

Rowan took her offering with delight: A hawk-bug, its four-legged body as large as her hand, the span of its four wings fully four feet wide. “Thank you, this is wonderful! I haven’t been able to see one closely yet.” Unfortunately, the creature’s head had been crushed; Rowan turned her attention to its taloned feet, its pink, transparent wings, veined like leaves, with curious twisting joints at the body.

She looked up again when Bodo returned to his location, placed on the ground something too small for Rowan to see, and left.

“Do you want slugsnakes too?” It was a red-haired boy wearing a studiedly fierce expression.

“I believe I’m concentrating on insects today.” He gave a short nod, and left. Bodo returned with another invisible prize, departed.

Hari returned. “It bites,” he cautioned Rowan, and set his captive down beside her. It immediately attempted to depart; Rowan stopped it by pressing one finger against its carapace. Its feet scrabbled against the earth.

“Wait, what is it?” But Hari had left. She asked the next child who arrived, a girl somewhat older than Sith.

“It’s a grass-hunter.” The insect’s back split as it tried to free the pink wings hidden beneath. “Show it your trawler.” When Rowan hesitated, the girl boldly picked up the bug with her thumb and forefinger, set it in front of the still-immoble trawler. The grass-hunter spied its quarry, and began to circle, ignoring the humans watchers.

The girl handed Rowan her own catch: the beheaded corpse of a small, flying insect, one of the two near- identical types about which Bel had warned her: a flesh termite. “Which sort is this?” the steerswoman asked; but its captor had left. Rowan set it carefully aside, for comparison with possible further examples.

There was a lull, during which only Bodo returned again and again with his tiny offerings, each placed amongst the previous ones. Rowan hurried to catch up her notes with her other subjects of study. She began to draw much smaller, and wrote the notations directly across the face of each sketch. The result was confusing at first glance; to be read, the pages would each need to be studied carefully. It was a necessary tactic, to conserve her paper. As she finished each page, she blew on the ink to dry it, impatient to begin the next.

When the red-haired boy returned, Rowan was ready with a blank page. He presented her with a pulsing white lump, three inches long, on the front of which was attached a small, wingless insect. “Thank you. And what is this?”

“That’s a queen flesh termite.”

Rowan noticed that the boy’s forearms were covered with red, swollen spots. “Did they hurt you?” She became concerned; she disliked the idea of children undertaking danger on behalf of her studies.

The boy’s habitual glower did not alter. He shook his head. “Not much. It’s the other kind that are trouble.”

“Perhaps you should let Mander see to those bites.” One type of flesh termite would bite a human once, then inform the hive that the person was not edible; the other sort lived alone, and would bite and burrow into the skin, where, finding no nourishment, it would die, causing ulceration. The boy had suffered multiple bites from the harmless sort, as they defended their hive from his attack.

The girl brought another headless flyer. “Is this from the hive that –” Rowan searched for the boy’s name “– that Evvie found?”

Both children peered at the corpse in the girl’s hand. “You can’t tell without the heads,” Evvie pronounced.

Hari hurried up, took one of Rowan’s hands, and placed a small black bug on her palm. “It’s a spring-hopper,” he told her; as he left, the creature demonstrated the source of its name by leaping into the air and escaping, leaving Rowan only with the memory of a tiny, seemingly sourceless push and release against her skin. She looked down at her own palm as if it could provide further information.

Sithy returned, walking cautiously, holding one hand out to her side. She seemed to be carrying nothing, and then Rowan noticed a faint, dim cloud floating behind her: a trawler’s shoot, complete with catch. When she reached Rowan, she permitted the shoot to waft to the ground, and the steerswoman acquired two live flesh termites and a trove of tiny, golden-eyed gnats. Rowan compared the flyers with their queen.

Sithy looked up suddenly, spotted someone approaching. She let free one of her rare laughs. “Look at Bodo!”

The little boy was walking with a careful waddle, carrying, as if it were a shield, a flat oval object nearly as tall as himself. On the surface facing out, eight jointed legs thrashed. “Fool you!” Bodo squealed. “Fool you, fool you!”

Rowan stood up slowly, appalled at the size of the creature. “Fool me?”

“It’s a fool-you!” Sithy shouted; and the children unceremoniously abandoned Rowan’s menagerie to gather around the little boy.

Arrived, Bodo became perplexed at how to relieve himself of his burden. Evvie solved this by stepping behind him, reaching both hands around, and taking possession; Bodo escaped under his arms, and the older boy placed the huge insect flat on the ground.

The fool-you instantly retracted its legs, becoming a mottled brown-and-red lump. In redgrass, it would be invisible. “I can see how it fools you,” Rowan commented. She glanced about for a mertutial to consult with; possibly the creature was dangerous.

The children were delighted, and Evvie boldly stepped up and rapped it on the back. “It’s not doing it,” He complained. He rapped again, found a new spot, rapped once more. “Come on, do it.” The fool-you responded by drawing itself more tightly against the ground.

“I can make it.” It was Hari. He placed his own new catch among Rowan’s collection, walked up to the group, all confidence. “You have to stand back,” he directed; the children complied.

Rowan said: “Hari, this thing isn’t dangerous, is it?”

“Not to people,” he assured her.

“What are you going to do?”

“You watch.” He waved her back. “You have to take your shadow away. ”

Hari circled the insect at arm’s length, waving his hand cautiously over the edge of the creature’s body. “What are you looking for?” Rowan asked.

“His head.” An opening suddenly appeared on one edge, under the shadow of Hari’s hand. Within, something wet moved briefly, and the gap closed again. Satisfied, Hari went to the fire-pit, retrieved a small stone from its edge. Back beside the fool-you, he maneuvered himself to the opposite side from the head, and tossed the stone in the air.

The gap reappeared; a bright, flashing object leaped out, up and high, then vanished back inside. “What in the world… ” Rowan’s comment trailed off.

Hari repeated the trick: prepared for it, Rowan saw the result more clearly. A three-inch long insect, colored bright red and blue, flashed into the air, fluttered, and was instantly retracted into the fool-you’s head by means of a thin black line. Rowan studied the mottled creature, her eyes squinting in thought. “How did it catch that bug?”

“That’s not another bug,” Evvie informed her. “That’s the same bug.” Without prompting, the fool-you sent out its minion again, and left it fluttering in the air, enticingly.

“It’s like a lure,” Rowan said. “What is it trying to attract?”

The answer came from the sky: the children scattered with squeals as a hawk-bug dropped from above in a cloud of pink thrashing wings. It clutched the lure, attempted to escape; the fool-you tightened its grip on the ground. The line became taut; a quick tug of war followed.

The hawk-bug tried to abandon its catch, but the fluttering lure adhered to its body, and with an audible snap the fool-you retracted its line. Its flat body suddenly bent upwards in the middle, and the creature leaped into the air, landing on its back in a wild cloud of dust. Legs grasped the captive around the middle, then rotated the struggling form as small pincers efficiently clipped off legs, wings, head, while the children shrieked in gory delight. An appalling eight-inch gash appeared on the fool-you’s underside, and it stuffed the still-moving corpse within. The huge insect rocked forward and back, raising more dust. At the high end of one rock, it nimbly uprighted itself, and resumed its deceptive, flattened stance.

The dust settled, and the area became still again, hawk-bug wings, legs and head strewn about the motionless, mottled lump. “So,” Rowan said, raising her brows, “that’s what eats a hawk-bug. ”

Rowan looked up to find that a number of adults had been attracted by the action. They now stood about, studying Rowan and her young assistants with clear disapproval. Someone said accusingly: “Who brought a fool-you into the camp?”

Most of the children shuffled their feet in guilty silence, but Bodo spoke up, loudly, proudly. “I did! I brought it into the camp!” he declared.

Rowan stepped forward. “I’m sorry, I think I’m responsible. I was studying insects, and the children were helping me. I didn’t think it would cause all this –” and she gestured, “– all this fuss. ”

The mertutial who had spoken glowered: an old man, shaking a gnarled, admonishing finger. “You don’t bring a fool-you into camp,” he declared to Rowan, then caught himself. He shifted his scolding to little Bodo. “If you bring in a fool-you, you get nothing but trouble. Hawk-bugs will come down, or the bait will hit a person and stick. You can’t get it off, no matter how hard you try. You have to wait for it to rot off.” Bodo stared up at the man with apparent incomprehension, fascinated purely by the vehemence of the statements. The mertutial moderated himself. “Don’t ever do that again,” he commanded.

This Bodo understood. “I’ll never do that again!” He was pleased to have a clear rule to follow.

The children dispersed, disappointed, and Rowan returned to her logbook and specimens. She found the grass-hunter gone, leaving behind the head and still-thrashing forearms of the trawler, and the flesh termite queen trembling in death, her once-swollen abdomen reduced to ooze and shreds.

In the final version of the book, that scene was replaced by one sentence: “Rowan spent part of the afternoon seated beside the fire pit, sketching various samples out Outskirts insect life.”

All for the best.  Really, it did the chapter’s pacing no favors.

But if you’re curious about the Outskirts’ insects… there you go.


Sep 18 2015

And for those just joining us: a bit from Book 5


My regular blog-readers have seen this; but I have some new readers (thanks to the sale), and it seemed only fair that I repost it.   Proof!  Book 5 is in the works!


The sky.  That was the problem: the whole bloody sky.

Artos tried not to look up each time he thought of it, tried not to point his face upward. But all the long way home from the Archives, following his own tracks from yesterday, it was open countryside, once he got out of the forest, and the clean blue sky all around.  It seemed almost as if there was more sky than usual.   Artos caught himself hunkering; he thought of rabbits crouching when they suspect a hawk above.

He forced himself to relax.  Of course he was being watched; of course.   And he always had been.   Nothing was different about that.

But he’d read Rowan’s logbooks as they came in, and today he felt those eyes up there.

Suddenly angry at himself, he pulled his horse up and sat straight in the saddle.  He looked up.

“Yes, it’s me!”  He shouted, and flung out his arms.  “The Duke himself!  Are you watching up there, you bloody buggers?” Beneath him, the horse startled, shuffled for traction, gathered itself, then bugled.

“Ho!”  Artos reined in, shifted his seat, and man and horse wheeled in place.  Artos spoke gently.  “No, Oscar, lad, sorry, no.  Not off to battle, not today.”  Oscar calmed, then shook his head and snorted disappointment, and allowed himself to be directed back on the trail.

No way to tell if anyone was watching Artos, really.   Any number of wizards, even Corvus, might be gazing down right now… or none of them.  Only the magic spells, doing the watching on their own.  Making their mysterious records.

What would that be like, to see from so far above?  Hills and towers, Artos had been on, and in.  Although, mountains… he had never climbed fully up a mountain.

As a boy, he’d been brought by his uncle on a visit to The Crags, and young Artos had stood at the rail and gaped down the cliffside at the narrow water far below; then discovering that he had no way to think about it, decided that the correct response was to laugh, and to throw things off the edge, until the proctors came and admonished him.

But in a place so wide and clear as this, to be high up looking down — it must be like a map he supposed, like looking at a living map.


It took him until afternoon to reach the city, Oscar surging through drifts then climbing over banks left by the plowing.   Deeper in the city, the streets were lined with mounds, many of them carved by the children into warrens and forts, and one rather nice castle tower.  The street-cleaners had borrowed a number of horses – including a pair of draft animals from the Duke’s own stables — and were dragging planks.  One of these, “Old Biter”, had an iron edge and was treated with wry respect by the cleaners.

Artos wondered if there were some magical way to clear the snow from the streets.  That would be useful.

Oscar sidled around Old Biter, then scaled halfway up a snowbank, and came back down into the street ahead of the draft horses, snorting his derision.  He liked to be in front.

At the crest of the little hill on Agee Street, by Marranne the healer’s house, Artos could see south all the way to the harbor, and west all the way to the river.  Snowy roof-tops with chimneys trailing pale smoke crowded each other, to the limit of a single open area: the grounds of the Duke’s mansion.  The two towers at either end of the building now looked out on a field of snow on the left and a similar-sized muddy area just inside the entrance gate, where two banners had been raised, lying flat in the still air.

Banners?  Why would they put banners out?   He’d only been to the Archives and back.  He never had them banner his return from so short and near a visit.  He shaded his eyes against the sunlight.

From the right-hand banner, a glint of silver…

Artos felt something twist in his chest.  No – not the wizard, not now, not so soon!  Oscar stamped and fussed: Artos had pulled him up short.

Stupid thing, showing them your face like that.  But a man ought to be able to look at the sky!

He slacked the reins and let Oscar take his own time climbing down the wet cobbled street.

On level ground, the houses were close again, but the mansion gate was high, and the banners clearly visible.

To the left, his own green and gold, with the ship and the wolf’s head.  To the right — Artos released his held breath and relaxed — not black and silver, but blue and silver.

He squinted up at it against the sky as he neared: two leaping stags in silver on a field of blue.  It was no banner he knew.

There were few enough families calling themselves noble in the Great Wulf Valley, and only another handful between the Uplands and Greyriver.   He knew all their banners.  The Crags, on the other hand, fairly bristled with heraldic symbols, but this one didn’t seem to be made in the Crags style.  As banners went, this one could be better.  The whole of it seemed to be embroidered, instead of just the symbols, and it would take a stiff breeze to make it fly bravely.

As he dismounted by the gate, someone sounded a trumpet, sending clean notes out into the winter evening.

Banners and trumpets.   The Duke of Wulfshaven and the Lower Wulf Valley stood in the muddy, snow-piled street, puzzling and scratching his beard.  Finally he shrugged, and entered the gate.

An attendant hurried up to take Oscar’s reins.  Across the yard, Artos sighted a huge bearskin coat topped by a short thatch of gray: Mascha, bundled against the cold, making her way across the yard.  He met her halfway and continued on; she fell in behind.

“Who’s here?”  He asked.

“The Baron of Cerlew arrived yesterday afternoon.  Apparently his messengers were delayed by the snow, and he overtook them.  We had no forewarning.”

“‘Baron’?”  He paused.  “Of Cerlew, you say?”

“Or Finnan, as you previously knew him.”

He put his brows up.  “Really?  Calling himself a baron now, is he?”

She inclined her head.  “Apparently so, my lord.”

He chewed his lip a moment.  “Good.  That’s good.”  He continued on his way.

“My thought exactly,” she said, following.

They wended along a newly-cleared path to the side of the mansion.  The snow-banks rose to Artos’ waist.  “It must have been hard travel for them.  How many people in all?”

“Sixteen, including servants and the two messengers they overtook.”  At Artos’ wince, Mascha continued: “Of persons requiring noble treatment, there are the Baron, three male companions whom he treats nearly as equals, a dowager who seems to be a sort of distant cousin, and the Baron’s daughter.  There are four servants – two for the men, two for the women.  Baron’s men-at-arms, numbering four, are bunking with our regulars, where the addition will cause no hardship.  The messengers are with the stable-hands; they’re just glad to be warm.”

They reached the side-door, and the mudroom, where Artos handed his coat to the lad whose job it was to tend to such things, apparently; it was rarely the same person twice.  Artos had stopped trying to learn their names.  It seemed like every young person in the city passed through the Duke’s household at some point.  It had become a sort of local tradition.

Artos sat on a bench, and waved the boy back when he tried to remove the Duke’s boots.  Artos disliked having servants dress or undress him.   “Has our new Baron mentioned anything of why he and his people slogged their way through the dead of winter to come here?”  He pulled one boot off and handed it to the boy, who stood there awkwardly juggling the Duke’s heavy coat on one arm, the boot in his opposite hand.

“No,” Mascha said.  Then added: “My lord.”

He squinted up at her.  From long experience, Artos now knew by her tone that the answer was glaringly obvious to even the dumbest stump in the forest.  He probably already knew it, but at the moment he couldn’t winkle it out of his brain, which was still full of wizards, and steerswomen, and betrayal.

The answer would come to him presently; he let it pass.  “Well.”  He gave the other boot to the boy, whose fumblings approached a climax; Artos watched cheerfully, and at the last moment took it back and handed it to Mascha.  “And I wasn’t here to greet the Baron,” he said.

“I explained the situation, and your closeness with the residents of the Archives.”

“We haven’t insulted him, have we?”

“I don’t believe so.  When I apologized for the lack of appropriate ceremony, he seemed a bit relieved.”

“Hm.  I can’t decide whether that speaks well of him, or not.  At least we’ve got his banner up.”

“His very own, the moment.   Our seamstress should have a copy by morning.”

Artos rose and tousled the cloak-boy’s hair, which inspired a shy grin.  Mascha slipped out of the bearskin, revealing the small, trim woman beneath.  She passed the coat to Gaff who took it and hustled the boot-boy off.

“Any news while I was away?”  Artos glanced about for his house-shoes, inspiring three different servants to set off on scurrying searches.  He gave up before they were successful, and went striding out of the mud-room and down the tiled side corridor in his stocking feet.

Mascha followed, a step behind.  “My lord,” she said, “it’s been less than three days.  And winter holds the land.”

“It holds it here,” Artos said.  “Perhaps the cold hasn’t settled as hard to the west.”

“There is no way to know, my lord.  Unless you care to ask the wizard.”

“No,” the Duke said.  “I definitely do not care to ask the wizard.”

They went on, Mascha somehow managing to communicate by posture and controlled expression her disapproval: of the Duke’s stockinged feet, his use of the servant’s corridor, and his unwillingness to wait until he reached his office to discuss business.  She also managed to indicate that whatever the Duke chose to do was perfectly correct, by definition.  Artos wondered how she accomplished such feats of subtlety; she was a constant astonishment to him.   He loved her completely, as a boy loves his dog.

He was immediately ashamed of the comparison – but no, come to think of it, it was really no insult.   There was something wonderful about the love between boy and dog, wasn’t there?  A simpler emotion than other loves, and cleaner somehow, wholly pure and glad.

And when you think of it, the dog was not an unequal partner in the relationship — not if the boy were a good boy, and the dog a wise one.

They were alone in the corridor; Mascha moved a bit closer.  Artos slowed down, alerted and interested.  “No formal news has arrived, my lord,” she said quietly, “nothing from our established sources.  However, a cargo sled came in yesterday –“

“With a message?”

“No, my lord.  But it did carry a passenger — a girl, either an orphan or a runaway.  From Shadsburrow.”

Artos stopped short, and turned.  He beamed down at her.  “And now?”

Mascha took the moment to gracefully herd him into his study, by way of the servant’s door.  She closed it behind him.  “She needed work.  I offered her employment.  She’s in the stables.”

“Good.”  He stood before the hearth a moment, purely by reflex; it was unlit.  He quirked a smile at himself, then strode to his desk and sat behind it.  “Have we learned anything from her yet?”

“We haven’t yet tried to, other than the fact of her existence and former home.  Shall I send for her now?”

Artos drummed his fingers.   “I haven’t seen her to judge… What’s your feeling?”

“Unfortunately, she’s rather simple.  But with general good treatment and a certain amount of contact with you personally, I believe she’ll become desperately devoted to you.  And that will gain us more information in the end than an inexplicable and possibly frightening interrogation now.”

“Hm.  ‘Desperately devoted?’”

“Yes, my lord.  She’s of an age, or seems to be.  Twelve, perhaps thirteen, and alone in a strange place.  She needs someone to admire.  Kindness from the powerful — not to mention handsome — Duke of Wulfshaven will go a long way.  Especially if it can seem unfeigned.”

He presented her a glower.  “I’m always kind to children.  I don’t need to feign it.”

“Of course, my lord.”

“Well, I hope she hasn’t learned thieving ways.”

“I’m certain she has, but I suspect she will hold off unless she’s ill-treated.”

Shadsburrow… Good.   There’d been some business going on in that area just after harvest, some disturbance, dislocation.  Something.  His sources there should have used that same cargo sled to send further messages, but they hadn’t.  That was worrisome.

A soft knock on the servant’s door.  Mascha opened it to admit a manservant with a canvas carrier of wood, atop which perched the Duke’s lost house-shoes.  Mascha took the shoes and passed them to the Duke, and the servant set to laying and lighting the fire. “My lord, may I ask how matters stand at the Archives?”

“Matters stand as matters have been standing… They let me speak to the Prime, but, well, she fell into a doze in the middle of a sentence.  She knew enough to apologize when she woke again, but still… I don’t believe things will improve.   Not any more.”

“And when the worst happens – as it seems it must, my lord — who will lead them?”

“‘Lead’ isn’t the right word.   It’s a little hard to describe how they organize themselves… largely because I don’t understand it myself.  But the answer is ‘no one.’  And the way they work things, that wouldn’t have much of an effect, for a while.  Under normal circumstances.”

“No successor has been chosen at all?”

The Duke leaned back and threw out his arms in frustration.  “No, damn it!  They have to wait for the Academy to take place — that’s how it’s done, apparently.  But the Academy isn’t until Autumn, and we need to know what’s what, right now.”  Wizards, betrayal, and bloody death…   “The timing couldn’t be worse.”

Mascha waited for the fire to catch, and the servant to depart.  “I must disagree, my lord,” she then said politely.  “A year from now would be worse, and two years worse still.  Had the Academy taken place as originally scheduled, the matter would be resolved and the next Prime would be known and, I should hope, in transition to her new standing.  That would have been the most convenient.”

“You’re right. But I guess we don’t expect to die.   Hard to plan for that.”

“Not at all, my lord.  One merely looks ahead, and ensures that arrangements are in place as early as possible.”

He supposed that Mascha was a person who did plan such things, to the detail.   It occurred to him that she probably had her burial plot picked out and the division of her properties decided.  Possibly she had her own eulogy written, and filed away somewhere.

He rose, and brushed his clothing down with his hands.  “Well, what do you think?  Shall I greet our guests dirty or clean?  Which would flatter the new Baron’s pride?  That I be in such a hurry to see him that I waste not a moment, or that I so admire him that I want to make a perfect presentation?” She opened her mouth to speak – but he said, “No, wait,”  and thought.  She stood by patiently.

Artos considered the times he’d met Finnan, and everything that had happened or might have happened between.  “Can we manage a banquet by tonight?”

“Arrangements are already in progress.”

“And is Red Davey still bunking with the soldiers?”

She nodded.  “The seamstress is fitting him with appropriate clothing, and I’ve stressed to him that he must play only instrumental compositions, and not, under any circumstances, sing.”

“Well… I’ll probably let him sing – if the night gets late enough, and we all get drunk enough, and all the really gracious persons have gone to bed.  Send Finnan this message.”

She tilted her head to indicate he should proceed; Mascha could, for short periods, remember long messages word-for-word.

Artos dictated: graceful formal greetings; appologies for Artos’ absence, somewhat less formal; a few words about the banquet to come, less formal still; a bit of reminiscence; eventually ending with: ” — and glad to have you here, you snaggle-toothed old fart.’”

Mascha gave a small smile.  “Just so, my lord.”


Artos and Finnan had first met at the end of the last wizard war, when it was all over and magic had departed the field of battle.

Artos had the remains of an army; Finnan had a gaggle of allies no better than himself, and a mob of rough men and women.  But the Red, Finnan’s side, had won.

It was not what Artos had expected.  The Blue had Abremio, assumed to be the most powerful wizard; and Corvus, whose magics Artos had seen close-hand; and Jannik, who could actually command dragons.

The Red had Isara, who, it was said, cared little for people and much for the land; her spells were usually less visible, slower-working.   Artos had assumed her weaker than the others.  Mad Olin was a mystery, and the oldest living wizard – if, that is, Olin was the same man across nearly three hundred years, and not merely the latest who used the name.  But he had no fortress or armies that anyone knew of, and tales of his spells seemed more folklore than fact.

And the Red had Shammer and Dhree, who had come from nowhere, built a fortress by magic, and declared a new holding.  It was their war — but their abilities were unknown.     All the strength was on the Blue side, so it had seemed.

But Isara demonstrated exactly how little she cared for people, sending wave after wave of terrified, ill-equipped men and women, and not a few children, letting them fall under Blue swords and pikes, and sending more.  Shammer and Dhree had found some way to gather and direct the wild and leaderless people of their holding; and there were spells of confusion.  Olin’s unexpected forces did their fighting on a second front in the east; but the wizard had proved his madness by sending a basilisk into the western ground battle, and people fell, and fell, untouched.

And all the while, above, the magical part of the war waged itself in lights and thunders, wizard against wizard.

At the end of it all, in the eerie quiet, Artos and Finnan had approached each other.  Finnan pretended to bluster with pride of victory; Artos pretended dignity in defeat.  They saw through each other immediately, and dropped the poses.

They sat; they drank; they spoke.  They exchanged prisoners, shared out supplies equally, and led their people home.

They had met again two years later, at Finnan’s rough hall, a year after Shammer and Dhree’s fall.  Since then, only occasional messages back and forth.

And now Finnan himself was here in the mansion, with a retinue, a banner, and a title.  Good, Artos thought: the lands around Lake Cerlew were going to need organization and authority.  Good – but why had Finnan come here?


Artos bathed, while Mascha briefed him on the plans for the evening.  She spoke standing behind a decorative screen, a habit that always amused Artos.  He didn’t particularly care if she saw him in the altogether, but she had her own sense of propriety.

A manservant brought in clothes; Artos considered the choice presented, and requested a few changes.   After he had donned enough to be decent, the screen was removed.   Mascha watched as he completed the details of dressing.  Artos strode over to the big glass and studied the result.   He stood there for a long time.

Then he turned about and spoke to Mascha.  “How do I look?”

She tilted her head.  “My lord, you just spent a full minute gazing at yourself in a mirror.”

“It didn’t tell me what I need to know.  How do I look?”

She considered.  “Was it your intention to dress so opulently?”

“Yes, it was.”

“The quality of your shirt doesn’t match the quality of your vest.   If I hadn’t witnessed the act, I’d say you dressed in haste.”


“And therefore took whatever was closest to hand.”

“Also good.”

She nodded.   “The general impression is both of  wealth and indifference toward wealth.”

“Perfect.  What else?”

She examined him, up and down, ending with up.  “Was it five years ago that you last saw him?”


“You were less gray then.”

“That’s true.”  It was in his family, to go gray early.  Artos had seen his first gray hairs before he was twenty.  Now he was salt and pepper, long before a man ought to be due.

“It makes you difficult to evaluate.  You have strength and great energy. And yet, so much gray… a stranger would not know if he were seeing a man in his prime who has gone gray through great strain and worry, or a much older and therefore wiser man who has somehow retained all the vigor and enthusiasm of youth.”

“Throws people off balance.”

“At the very least.”

“That’s never a bad thing.”


Clean and very well dressed, Artos stepped out of his dressing-chamber, turned down the corridor, and came face-to-face with a strange woman.

It took him aback.  It took him a moment to guess.  Not a servant, by her clothing: very fine, if a bit light for the season.  For warmth she had a shawl about her shoulders, rather nice lace backed with something heavier.  It looked, now he saw it, like material originally intended for a curtain or an especially fine table-cloth.  But it was draped and shaped well as a shawl, and the edge was trimmed with silver thread, a good effect.

The Baron had two women in his retinue…

“Oh!” she said, as surprised as he.  She made something like a curtsy.   “My lord.”

He had not seen her in five years, at which time she was – what, eleven?  A skinny thing all knees and elbows, hiding under the table with the dogs.   Now she was tall and slim, brown-skinned and gold-haired, brown eyes with a tinge of green.

He opened his mouth to greet her, then realized that he actually could not remember her name.  In Finnan’s hall  she had been addressed by various nicknames, but Artos was certain she no longer answered to Addy-Ad.  Nor, for that matter, Scratch-Butt.

“Adalie, my lord,” she provided without prompting.

And yes, Artos said to himself, the Duke of Wulfshaven is in fact the dumbest stump in the forest.

He grinned to mock his own surprise. “So it is, the Lady Adalie herself!  And look at you!”  He took one of her hands and with a dance-prompt, caused her to turn.  She laughed, no longer ill at ease.  “I hope your trip wasn’t too arduous?”

One flick in her eyes: the word was new to her, but she figured it out.  “It was, my lord, dreadful in every way!  Except for the inns.  I wondered why we bothered at all – oh, but now I’m glad, your home is so beautiful!”

“If it pleases you, then it’s served its purpose.”   No, wrong thing to say — don’t be gallant!

“I’m in one of the tower rooms –“ she pointed up and back: the stairs to the East Tower.  “It’s so wonderful to be up in the light!  And I can see so far into the city!”

“I had that room myself, as a child,” he said without thinking, then suppressed the urge to thump himself on the forehead.

“Really?”  She was delighted.

No, don’t create a connection between the two of you!  But too late: now she could not help thinking of him in that room — the room where now nightly, she would shed her clothing, and slip shivering into her nightshift, and clamber into the deep soft bed, all alone.   And where she would gaze through the dark at the window strewn with winter stars, and perhaps imagine a boy standing there, looking out.   A boy possibly handsome, possibly winsome, dreamy, surely lonely — who would grow into the big great Duke who now greeted her with a smile and such fine phrases…

This would be the right moment to be brusque, inconsiderate in some distracted way.  To make her seem incidental, or a bit ridiculous.  It would be easy to do, if she were perceptive, which he thought perhaps she was.  A glance at her hand as he released it, too rough for a noble lady’s.  A side-look and wince at her shawl.  That would be enough.

He could not do it.  He liked her.  “Well, the banquet is almost upon us,” and he managed to stop himself just before he offered his arm to escort her; that would be too much.  “Can you find your own way?  Or do you need someone to direct you?  I have some business to attend to first – I’ll be along in a bit.”

Another curtsey.  “A guide would be good, my lord.  Thank you.”

He stepped into the nearest room, and rang the servant’s bell.  The maid who arrived politely led the young noble lady down the corridor in one direction, while Artos strode off in the other, exactly as if he did in fact have some business to attend to.

He felt sorry for Adalie.   She’d been dragged to Wulfshaven for what ought to be a highlight of her young life.  But there was simply no polite shortcut for this matter.  He’d have to let things play themselves out, all the way to the apologies.



Why did I not post Chapter 1?  I don’t currently have a satisfactory Chapter 1.  Still experimenting.

Also, I don’t always write consecutively.  When forced to write consecutively, I’m prone to generate prose that, while perfectly fine and even occasionally lovely, actually moves in the wrong direction, or no direction, or has endless cups of tea and endless random conversations.    Or unnecessary shouting.   Or, skips the shouting when shouting is actually exactly what is called for.

I chose this bit (which is the bit that I read a the most recent Boskone in February) because it’s likely to be in the final draft pretty much as you see it here.  Some details of timing might be changed, depending on how much time I’ll need for exciting! events! further down the line.

Also, it seems remarkably spoiler-free.

Well, off home now.   I’ve got a nice 3-day weekend ahead, which actually means: a nice 3-day span of writing time.

Sep 17 2015

Sale still going on, to what I hope is our mutual satisfaction.


The price drop that started on Sunday is still going on, and the $.99 price for The Steerswoman is in place across all the retailers now.

Kindle, of course, had the sale price immediately.  They always respond to changes fast.  And Smashwords, who are my conduit to the other ebook sellers, so iBooks and Kobo had the change within a day.

Barnes & Noble lagged… but if you’re a dedicated Nooker, you can now get your fix.

And watch out for the pirates!   If you’re ever offered a download for a price lower than the one you see on Amazon — it’s a pirated copy.   Please don’t buy from the pirates.  Also, anytime you see my books offered for free — that’s the pirates again.  I’ve never offered them for free (yet; I might do a promo sometime next year…).

My thanks to all who are helping spread the word.  And welcome, to all my new readers!


Yes, that’s the jewel…


Apr 21 2014

The Language of Power: Now Live!


Well, on Amazon in the US, that is.   Slight delay for Amazon sites in other countries, as we’ve seen.

But, yep. There it is.


tlop final large

That’s right.

Next project: getting all four ebooks out on other platforms.

Sorry about being offline for — heck, almost two weeks!  That final dose of Taxol hit me a lot harder than I expected, the steroid crash was worse than usual, and I was useless for much longer than from previous chemo sessions.  And as soon as I was able to do much of anything, I spent whatever energy I had on getting this ebook out.

Which it now is.  So happy.

More later; I’ve spent the last 3 days in a white-hot copy-editing heat, so I’m kinda beat now.

I think I’ll turn in… g’night!

Aug 5 2013

For no particular reason, an out-take from The Lost Steersman.


I was doing some file cleanup and backup and reorganization, and it brought to mind some scenes and bits that were edited out of the final versions of some of the Steerswoman books…

The things that were cut were all cut for various good reasons — mostly having to do with focus and pacing.  But I was a bit sorry to see this particular bit go, since without it something unexplained had to remain unexplained.

So, it occurred to me that some of you might be interested in seeing it…

Just a lost fragment that never made the final cut.  Incomplete — not even an entire scene.  And ending rather abruptly, as (so I now believe) I realized that it would not fit smoothly into the thread of the tale, and so just stopped writing it.

But interesting (well, to me), and an explanation of sorts.

It takes place the night before Rowan, Steffie and Zenna sail away in Janus’ nameless boat:


The boat shifted on the wharf-side, rocked back into position. Someone had come aboard. “Rowan?”

The steerswoman clambered up to the deck. “Here.”

Zenna was outlined by lights from the harborside buildings. “You took your time,” Rowan noted.

“I lost track. I found something interesting in the Annex.”


Zenna maneuvered awkwardly across the gently rocking deck. “Let’s go below. We need some light.”

“What is it?” Puzzled, Rowan led the way below, preceding Zenna and carrying the other woman’s crutches as she descended the companionway.

Seated at Janus’ little table, Zenna pulled an object from her satchel, handed it to Rowan. “Look at this.”

A steerswoman’s logbook, of a design standard forty years ago. Rowan turned to the first page. “Mira’s?” The leather was crusted with damp-mold. Rowan pried apart the warped pages.

Zenna leaned forward and indicated something tucked between two leaves.  Rowan pulled it out: a folded and refolded sheet. “Is it a map?” She lifted one edge, took one look —

Then dropped the book, snatched the candle nearer, set the chart on the table and set to unfolding it — but carefully, carefully, so as not to break the aged paper…

Fine lines, delicate colors, more like a work of art than a map. Roads mere gray threads, almost invisible in the candle-light; towns a spread of tiny rectangles, possibly indicating the individual buildings themselves. Rivers, brooks, every upthrust of crag and hill: all in maddening detail, in washes of color impossibly steady and pure. She had seen such a map before. “This is a wizard’s map.”

“I figured as much.”

Rowan’s mind was a flurry of excitement, as she mentally tested superpositions of known Steerswomen’s maps. “This part might be the northern limb of the Mountains.” She found a town she knew. “Here’s Terminus.” Farms were identifiable by the regularity of their limits but there were fewer than she knew there to be. “This map was already old when Mira found it.” Fields showed distinctive colors, perhaps schematically representing type of crop; or perhaps, Rowan thought with an eerie thrill, perhaps depicting the actual color of each kind of vegetation, as seen by an eye hung high above the world.

Zenna indicated the western section of the chart.

“Yes,” Rowan said, feeling a grin on her own face. Beyond the known mountains: yet more mountains, continuing, peak behind peak, and none of them to be found on any Steerswomen’s map, none of them seen by or known to any steerswoman. “This is wonderful! Look, look at this gray area; I think that’s a narrow valley, and if the color is right it must be blackgrass that’s growing there, like they have in the Outskirts. And look, this lake here, with the brook –” Rowan laughed out loud. “Skies above, Zenna, we’re looking at the source of the River Wulf!”

Zenna watched her, head tilted slightly back. She had recovered the logbook; now she held it toward Rowan, open to one page, where one sentence stood alone:

They know everything.

Rowan glanced at the words, shook her head at the distraction, and immediately returned to the treasure of the wizard’s chart. “Zenna, here, look at these faint numbers; they’re everywhere. When I saw them on Shammer and Dhree’s map, I thought at first that they might be elevations, but they don’t match ours at all…I wonder what they might be?”

Zenna placed the logbook before her again, on top of the chart. She indicated the lone sentence.

“What?” Rowan asked her.

As if the action constituted reply, Zenna riffled the rest of the pages, to the back of the book; all were blank.

Rowan looked down at it, then up into her friend’s face. Zenna was expecting some specific reaction. Rowan shook her head, spread her hands.

Zenna prompted her. “Who do you think ‘they’ are?”

“The wizards, I assume.”

“So do I,” Zenna said. “It explains a lot, don’t you think?”

Rowan was completely at sea. “What does it explain?”

“Mira. We were wondering how any steerswoman could ever possibly come to live and behave as Mira did. How she could ever abandon her work, and all regard for the work of the Steerswomen.”

Rowan looked at the map, at the words in the book. “I don’t understand.”

“But don’t you see? Mira somehow acquired this map — it’s very old, she might have come by it any number of ways — and she saw how much more the wizards know than we do.”

“But that goes without saying. Of course they know more than we do, about any number of things.”

“Everything we try to find out, they already know.”

“Possibly.” Rowan sat regarding the other woman, and worked through a number of intellectual recombinations of the information at hand, trying to fathom Zenna’s behavior. She failed. She threw out her arms helplessly. “And?”

Zenna’s frustration was melting into something like amazement. “You really don’t see, do you?”

“Not at all.”

Zenna looked at her for a long, disbelieving moment; then astonishingly, she laughed out loud. “Oh, Rowan!” She pushed herself erect and threw herself half-falling into Rowan’s arms, embracing her, laughing. “Oh, Rowan, bless you, please, never change! Stay like this for the rest of your life!”

Rowan held her, uncomfortably wedged amid arms, table, and chair-back. “You mean,” she said over Zenna’s head, “confused?”

“No, of course not.” Zenna clumsily extracted herself and regained her seat. “Rowan,” she began; and her expression was so filled with affection and admiration that Rowan felt disturbed and deeply uncomfortable at its inexplicability, “what’s more important: truth, or the act of discovering it?”

Rowan opened her mouth to reply, then hesitated. “You can’t separate the two. For a truth to exist, someone has to discover it.”

“And you’d like that someone to be you.”

“It’s what I love to do.”

“Suppose that you discovered something, something you thought was known only to you, then found that someone else had been there already, had already known everything you struggled to learn?”

Rowan shifted uncomfortably, made vague gestures. “I suppose I’d try to gain access to that person’s work. Perhaps the person knows even more, and could save me a lot of time and effort.”

“But it wouldn’t bother you?”

“Why should it?”

Zenna folded her hands and spoke slowly and patiently. “Suppose you were different than you are. Suppose that what you loved most was not just truth, nor the act of discovery,” and she stressed the next words, “but the fact of being the discoverer.”

Rowan felt she needed all of her concentration to follow this, and she closed her eyes, straining in thought. “I don’t see any distinction. A discoverer discovers. That’s what it means.”

“The fact of being the first one, of being that person who has struggled and striven, and has come back with knowledge that would not exist, but for you.”

“But the truth doesn’t care who discovers it.”

“People do care.”

Rowan was disappointed. “Are you saying that… that what Mira cared for was securing other people’s regard?” Such a petty thing…

“No. Not just other people’s. When one says ‘people’, one has to include oneself. We regard ourselves, Rowan. We think of ourselves, and we care about what we are.” Zenna pulled the logbook across the table, turned it so it faced her, flipped through the earlier pages. “I think Mira loved her life because it permitted her to be what she wanted to be. In her own eyes, not the eyes of others, it gave her stature, it gave meaning to her life. She wanted to be the one who finds things out. The first. New things, that no one had known before.

“She had been working in the western mountains, you know; that was her area. But when she found this map, she realized that the thing she loved about herself was untrue, a sham. It had all been done before, by others, and much better than she ever could have done.”

Rowan looked down at her scarred hands — human hands lying on the impossible, magical colors of the map. “But it doesn’t matter…”

“Not to you. It mattered to her. Try to see it her way. Think of the thing that you love best about yourself, and imagine it taken away.”

Rowan tried, failed. “I don’t know what I love best about myself…” She sought for it in her mind, but there seemed to be nothing to seek. “I… I don’t think I can break myself into pieces like that.” And viewed that way, it did seem there was something, not a separate thing, but more like an aspect; but she could not hold on to it. It was like trying to touch the green-ness of a leaf without touching the leaf. “Whatever it is,” Rowan said, “I don’t think it can be taken from me.”

“Perhaps you’re right about that.” Zenna’s face again showed that glowing admiration, and Rowan shied away from it almost physically, thinking: I‘ve done nothing to deserve that.

“Then,” Zenna continued, “imagine anything you love. Imagine it gone.”

Rowan found she had many specific examples. “I’d do what I can to get it back,” she said immediately.

“And if that were impossible?”

Rowan had not thought of Fletcher for months; she thought of him again now. “It depends on why it was lost. If it was taken from me, I think I’d try to exact some sort of justice.”

“And if that were impossible, too?”

Rowan threw up her hands. “I’d adjust to the situation and set my mind on something else. Are you saying simply that Mira was unwilling to accept a fact outside of her control? And is this intended to enable me to sympathize with her? Because it’s doing exactly the opposite; I hope you can see that.”

“Hm. I can see I’m getting nowhere. Has it ever occurred to you that not everyone is as strong as you are?”

“You’re using the term ‘strong’ in a very vague way. But, come to think of it, that doesn’t matter. Because, yes, I’m aware that some people are not as strong as I am, just as I’m aware that there are plenty of people far stronger than I, by whatever definition of the word you choose.”



That’s it; that’s all.   Left on the cutting-room floor, so to speak.