Cover Reveal: Kaunis Clan Saga

Here it is! Here it is! Here it is!

Yes, I’m dancing. As I mentioned in last week’s post, I struggled a bit with the 3D image for my new boxed set. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to get it to work. Luckily, creating uniform book spines did all that I’d hoped, and I’m really pleased.

Take a look!

I can’t wait for release day! 😀

 

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The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 14)

Some moments later, Keir was again climbing toward the upper reaches of the Regenen Stair. Sunlight and warmth poured through the frequent arrowslits, and the torches in their brackets rested unlit. A porter carrying a stack of folded table linens tramped upwards, passing her. Another, heading downward at speed, smacked palms and exchanged a grin with his fellow. They were readying the three great halls for the evening feast.

Keir was headed for the regenen’s chambers. Gael wanted Carbraes notified that Gael could deliver a preliminary report on the gong, if Carbraes so desired. Keir guessed the regenen would decline. He tended to give Gael a wide berth in which to manage the metals and the smithies. He would trust Gael to do equally well with the gong. Why give the artifact to Gael, if Carbraes were to peer continuously over his shoulder? But Gael remained punctilious in his loyalty to Carbraes.

Three messenger boys hurtled around the newel post above and swung wide around her.

Good. That made it likely that the regenen was indeed in his chambers, dispatching his orders as usual via flocks of runners.

Her thoughts returned to the scullion boy she’d just rescued.

Weit had admitted he was on the verge of leaving Carbraes’ protection entirely, striking out into the wilderness to get away from the bullies tormenting him. No doubt this latest incident was one of a long string, and Weit had reason for such an extreme course.

But why had the boy believed he could survive?

Had he stolen the tin—and the bronze—envisioning the ingots buying his way into some other stronghold? That of a troll-queen in the icy reaches of the farthest north?

Keir shook her head and frowned, alarming a boy sweeping the treads of the stairwell with broom and pan.

Weit possessed more freedom than many of the kitchen scullions. The opteon in the fruitery didn’t need his assistant at all times, so Weit delivered “lunches” to various trolls throughout the tower who required a snack sometime between the morning meal and the evening feast. Some of those lunching trolls worked in the smithies. Weit certainly possessed the opportunity to swipe ingots lying about the privy smithy during the working day.

But that was ridiculous. The boy’s eyes had been clear and untroubled when he took his leave of her with Adarn in his wake. Weit was not a thief.

She considered his tormentors. They’d been an ugly lot when she stumbled upon them, doubly so in the way they’d reminded her that it was trolls—trolls, not men—who inhabited Belzetarn. And yet she’d never doubted her ability to quell their aggression. They’d turned from a nasty mob into a handful of bewildered boys readily enough under her handling. Just like the human boys back home in the village.

Troll boys were not so different from human boys, it seemed.

But what if she’d blundered in amongst a pack of troll men tormenting a scullion? It happened, she knew it did. Against the strict orders of their opteons. Against the firm policy of the march. Against even the fierce prohibition of the regenen. With punishing corrections on offer. But it happened.

Keir could not have dominated such a band.

Her pater had lost his leg to such a band.

* * *

Previous scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 13)

Need the beginning?
The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)

 

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Wishing for a Boxed Set

For nearly a year, I’ve been longing to create boxed sets of my books.

Wouldn’t it be fun to have a Lodestone Tales set or a Kaunis Clan set? Really I’ve been envisioning variations in my mind’s eye ever since I saw the cool 3D images created for bundles by Chuck Heintzelman at BundleRabbit.

Adding fuel to the inspirational fire has been the urging from Kobo, both in their newsletter for indies and in their promotional opportunities. There have been special promos for boxed sets at least three times this year, and, oh, but I wished each time that I had something to offer.

I didn’t. But I put “create boxed set” on my to-do list.

Between surgery, complications from surgery, and twins applying to colleges, I fell very far behind in doing all those items on my to-do list. For a long time I kept adding more items without crossing any off! Yikes!

But in October I began to make progress, and while I’m not yet caught up, I’m getting there.

So I tackled making a boxed set of the Kaunis Clan Saga.

Creating the interior was routine. I’ve grown very experienced with the program I use to produce ebooks. (Jutoh.) Creating the cover was fun.

Creating the 3D image of the boxed set? Well…that’s complicated.

First of all, several of the e-tailer sites strongly discourage 3D images. Kobo claims that the flat 2D covers sell many more copies than do the 3D ones. Since I want to sell some copies on Kobo, and since I hope to be selected for promos on Kobo (the promo slots are curated), I figure I’d better follow their guidelines.

I could get by without any 3D image, but I’d like to have one for Amazon. And I thought I’d found the perfect resource for easily creating one.

Mark of CoverVault.com sells an awesome template for boxed sets of any size up to 25 books. You just drop your box cover and book spine images into the template, and out spits your perfectly rendered 3D image.

I headed over to CoverVault, all prepared to snag the goods, and—

—hit a different kind of snag.

You must have Creative Suite 4 or better. I have CS2. So I set out to build my 3D image from scratch.

I was surprised that I managed as well as I did, because I’m not experienced at creating 3D images. Cover design as practiced by me is a very 2D endeavor.

But I’m not satisfied enough with the result to publish the boxed set on Amazon.

At first I thought that lack of precision was my problem. If you zoom in very close, some of the details do look clumsy. But zoomed out to thumbnail size, any lack of precision is pretty well camouflaged.

So why wasn’t I satisfied?

I browsed through the boxed sets offered by other indies, and found my answer.

Bundles have a rainbow of book spines showing, and it works—probably because it visually illustrates the multitude of authors contributing stories to the bundle.

But boxed sets of books by one author have book spines designed especially for the set that harmonize with each other and the box cover.

So the next item on my to-do list? Create book spines that possess the same visual theme exhibited by my boxed set’s cover.

I’m crossing my fingers that I’ve identified the problem and its solution correctly! If my 3D image still doesn’t look right…I’ll have to come up with a plan B. Either way, I’ll let you know how it goes. 😀

 

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The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 13)

Striding through the dark, short passage connecting the smithies to the Regenen Stair, Keir settled the strap of her portfolio more firmly on her left shoulder and the portfolio itself more comfortably against her right hip. She’d discovered nothing she didn’t already know.

The blade smith was meticulous, and his notarius followed his lead. The grinding smith was methodical. The annealing smith, detail-oriented. The smelterer, practical and down-to-earth. The armorer, thorough and responsible.

The only denizen of the forges with an unreliable character was Martell, the privy smith. And he would not be a thief.

But the questions had to be asked, the missing tin tracked and found, the guilty party identified. The secretarius must regain control of Belzetarn’s—Carbraes’—metals.

Keir stepped under the archway at the passage-end into a patch of brightness in the Regenen Stair.

A torch flared in the bracket there, and the aroma of roasting meats, fragrant with herbs, drifted on the air. The Castellanum’s kitchens—all three of them—would be well into the work of creating the evening feast that would feed all quartered in the citadel: the three cohorts currently rotated home from the field, the full staff of the tower, and every artisan supplying the warriors and staff; nearly two thousand trolls, all told.

A sweet thread of scent—glazed parsnips—prompted Keir to lift her nose and draw in a deep breath. She loved the mild flavor of this root vegetable that had never grown at home. She’d not expected to find anything she loved in a troll stronghold.

But she had. Parsnips. And other things.

Keir bit her lip and started up toward the tally room. Gael wouldn’t be there yet—she’d heard his even tones mingled with the excited verbiage of Martell in the privy smithy—but he’d want her report immediately he arrived.

As she climbed, her shadow stretched up the treads ahead of her, cast by the torch at her back. Her thighs protested slightly with each riser. Would her muscles be sore, come sleep time, with all the extra trips she’d made up and down and up again today?

A loud metallic crashing echoed suddenly, followed by immediate loud shouting.

Had someone dropped one of the massive copper cauldrons in the Regenen’s Kitchen? What a commotion!

Keir suppressed a smile. The four main stairwells in the tower conducted sound so capriciously. One moment one heard the roaring of the smithy forges; the next, the shouts of warriors drilling in one of the three places of arms; and then the clatter of knives quartering potatoes against a chopping block. Always there were footsteps.

Keir paused as the next torch came into sight. Had she heard something less usual? Something from the depths, just before the clash of copper against stone? Something . . . not quite right?

Frowning, Keir swung abruptly round and started back down.

The shouting from above faded.

A murmur from below grew. Voices?

“I’ll strip your bedding and leave your pallet bare!” came a young, jeering yell.

I’ll strip it bare and make it up again with dirty linens from the hospital!” boasted another, higher voice.

Keir hastened her pace, from a swift lollop to a more headlong descent.

The murmur of voices beneath the jeers intensified as she passed the smithy level and then the castellanum’s kitchen, a mere half twist below it.

I know where to find spiders—poisonous ones—that’ll nibble your toes when you sleep!” said a mischief maker with more glee than menace.

“I won’t!” shrilled a cry of desperation. The victim? “I’ll leave the tower! Forever!”

Keir surged around the newel post and jerked to a halt above a half-circle landing full of jostling boys. Gathered en masse as they were, their troll-diseased features smote her almost physically. The deformed noses and enlarged ears seemed monstrous, and her stomach felt sick with hatred. They were trolls. They were monsters, monsters like the ones who’d lamed her pater. Like she was.

She swallowed, hard, and her perception shifted to her more usual viewpoint.

She’d been surrounded by trolls for two years now, and she’d grown accustomed to their anomalous faces and bodies. The trolls on this landing were boys, and their troll-disease not nearly so advanced as that of their elders. Just like unafflicted boys—human boys—their struggles within their hierarchy sometimes went too far. Thank Sias she was stationed in Belzetarn proper, not one of the outlying camps where few boys were present.

At the far wall of the stairwell, under the torch bracket, two of the larger boys shoved a very small one against the stones.

“Get it tonight!” growled one bully.

“Or else!” snarled the other.

“I can leave!” sobbed the small bullied one. Good grief, he looked only nine or ten years old.

Keir, standing two steps above the landing, pitched her voice to carry. “I suspect Lord Theron will not be pleased to learn that his scullions prefer fisticuffs to performing their duties in the maintenance of Lord Carbraes’ citadel.”

The two bullies turned, horror on their faces. A boy at the back edge of the crowd attempted to slip away past Keir.

Keir thrust out her arm to stay him.

“No.” She kept her voice crisp. “Each one of you will give me your name. Right. Now.”

The boys shrank from her. She recognized them now. They were not the kitchen scullions as she’d thought. Or, rather, only one of them—the young boy—hailed from the kitchens. The rest were the cleaning crew. That explained the threats regarding the kitchen boy’s bedding. The scullions who swept, scrubbed, and collected rubbish tended to forget that the kitchen boys were essential to the meals everyone ate. Why didn’t the kitchen folk clean up after their ownselves? That was their attitude.

“You!” Keir pointed. “Speak your name.”

The scullion—one in the middle of the bunch—scuffed his shoe and looked at the floor. “Dunnchad,” he mumbled.

Hells! That was a name of Fiors! Keir worked to keep her face cold and still. She hadn’t thought any from home, besides herself, had ever come to Belzetarn.

“You!” She pointed at a different lad with a crop of freckles on his cheeks.

“Adarn.” This one looked her in the face and added her honorific, “Notarius.”

The mood in the stairwell was changing, no longer shocked belligerence, not even the sheepish shame that had come instantly after, but relief. These were good boys, despite their lapse from the standards demanded of them. No doubt her authority felt good, reminding them that it was authority that kept them safe. Her authority controlled this moment. The castellanum’s authority governed their day-to-day tasks. And Regenen Carbraes’ authority ultimately secured the citadel.

Keir herself felt secure within this hierarchy of authority, although she did not like to admit it.

One by one, the boys spoke their names, the two oldest looking remorseful. As well they should! Just as the more powerful preserved them, so they owed a duty to protect those weakest in the citadel.

She indicated the kitchen scullion last.

He still fought tears, but managed to speak despite it. “Weit.”

“Good.” Keir nodded firmly and then recited the names back to them, slowly, looking at the individual who belonged to each name as she spoke it. They would not doubt that she could bring punishment home to them, if necessary.

“Now, what was this about? What were you demanding of Weit?”

The ease spreading through them vanished. They all looked at the floor. Keir almost chuckled.

“I will know.” She shook her head at Weit. Tears glassed the boy’s eyes, but he gulped valiantly, trying to answer her. “Not you, Weit. Your tormenters shall tell.” She surveyed them and fastened on the freckled boy. “You. Adarn. What did you want from Weit?”

Adarn met her gaze with effort, gripped his lower lip in his teeth, and swallowed. The boy had moral courage, and his facial features were almost human. “We wanted him to steal some of the dried lingonberries from the fruitery for a treat for us. Notarius.”

“That is your opteon’s prerogative, is it not?” she said coolly. “To reward you or not, as he deems you deserve the reward.”

Adarn winced. “Yes, Notarius.”

She took a moment to look each of the others in the eye. A ripple of ducked heads passed through them.

“Now, you will tell me what will come to pass after this attempted theft and battery.”

The boys looked puzzled.

“Notarius?” quavered Adarn.

“I shall consult your opteon, if need be, and he shall determine your punishment. But I will not tell your opteon, if you mete out an appropriate consequence to yourselves for this attempted deed of yours.”

One of the big boys next to Weit straightened and spoke up. “We shall watch out for Weit and protect him from other bullies from now on. We’ll make his bed with the best of the dortoire linens. We’ll invite him to join us when we swim in the lake.”

Thoughtful silence followed his suggestion, then hopeful glances and a few nods.

“Is that agreed amongst you all?” asked Keir.

More nods.

Freckled Adarn raised his hand. “I’ll make over the next treat my opteon grants me to him.”

Now Keir did smile. “I don’t think that’s necessary, Adarn. Protection and inclusion is sufficient in my tally.”

Adarn smiled back. “But I want to, Notarius. May I?”

“Yes, then.” Keir let her smile fade, growing stern. “I shall know if you fail of your promise. Make it good.” She paused. “Or else!”

The boys nodded more vigorously.

“Be about your tasks,” she dismissed them.

Adarn, the freckled boy, lingered, as the last save Weit trailed away up the stairs. “You were going down, weren’t you?” he queried.

Weit nodded. “Opteon sent me to get vinegar to make a lingonberry infusion.”

“I’ll come with. May I?” Adarn asked.

Weit smiled. “Sure!”

“Were you really going to leave Belzetarn?” asked Adarn. “How could you?”

“I’d have managed,” muttered Weit.

Keir realized he must be older than she’d thought. Fourteen, maybe, but small for his age. “Are you sorted?” she asked.

Weit flashed her a bright look. “Yes, Notarius! Thank you!”

He scampered for the steps down to the cellars, Adarn at his heels. As the boys disappeared below around the newel post, Gael came into sight above. He checked and slowed.

“Ah. Keir. You’ve handled it,” he stated.

The matter had been simple enough, but Keir wondered. Had she handled it? Or was there more to it than boys being boys? The missing bronze and tin gave an edge of uncertainty to even ordinary things.

* * *

Next scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 14)

Previous scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 12)

Need the beginning?
The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)

 

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Covers, and More Covers

These days I commission cover designs for my novels from Deranged Doctor Design. Their designers are true artists, able to take half a dozen stock images and combine them to create beautiful, unique art that hits the genre conventions of today. I love what they do, and I love the covers they created for The Tally Master and A Talisman Arcane. This month they’ll start work on a cover for my upcoming release, Sovereign Night.

You might expect that my own cover designing days were over, but they’re not, and I’m glad of it. Photoshop still feels like a playground to me, and I’d be sad to give up playing there.

Luckily, I have short stories, novellas, and bundles to design covers for.

It’s been more than a year since I last collected my most recent covers together in one spot to look at them. I tend to lose track of all I’ve created, so I enjoy making a sort of virtual bulletin board where I can see everything at a glance. Since I’ve made it, I figured I might as well share it. 😀

I hope you’ll enjoy perusing it, too.

Here Be Fairies I Here Be Unicorns I Eclectica I Here Be Merfolk
Here Be Magic I Blood Moon I Might Have Been I Here Be Ghosts

For last year’s bulletin board of covers, see:
A Boatload of Covers

 

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The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 12)

In the copper smeltery, the sergeants were dusting the now-emptied ingot molds with chalk powder, while the scullions scattered the charcoal in the forge with their rakes, preparing it for the overnight cooldown.

The smith, a practical fellow with none of his neighbor Martell’s flamboyance, was examining the stack of copper ingots one by one, no doubt checking that they contained no inclusions where the metal had failed to penetrate the mold completely or where air bubbles had tainted the pour. Copper gave far more trouble than did bronze, although both required care and precision in their handling.

Gael rapped his knuckles on the waist-high counter between the privy smith and the copper smeltery.

The smeltery smith glanced up from his ingot stack, saw Gael, and beckoned him over.

“Keir told me of your schemes for greater efficiency yet,” he said. “Do you have similar plans for the mines?” The smith—Randl—looked skeptical.

“I know it is lack of raw materials that limits your output,” Gael assured him. “And, yes, I do have ideas for the mines.” That was actually true. The magus—his old friend and enemy, Nathiar—had visited the copper mines at Gael’s request, relayed through the regenen, and returned with news of a richer vein of ore, nearer to the surface. Gael had detailed one of the military engineers with determining how to safely access it, and the miners had switched to the new rock face last deichtain.

Randl nodded. “Welcome news, Secretarius.” He tilted his head. “Keeping quiet the clamor that echoed in all four stairwells earlier today would help, too. One of my sergeants landed in the hospital with severe burns because of it.”

Indeed. The copper smelter was already the most efficient of all the smiths, and a demon for work besides. There was a reason he moved over to the tin smeltery on the days that tin arrived in Belzetarn.

“I have another matter on which to consult you,” said Gael.

Randl gestured for him to continue.

“I need to melt down a disk of iron, roughly eight pounds in weight and”—Gael moved his hands—“two palms in diameter, half a finger in thickness, but with concavity of one palm’s depth.”

Randl knit his brows.

Gael continued. “The iron is inset within a disk of bronze of perhaps one hundred pounds and an ell in diameter.”

Randl shook his head. “I cannot melt the iron boss using my forges, Secretarius” he said.

Gael’s innards sank. “You cannot?”

“Tin melts easily,” said Randl. “Heat scarcely hotter than a bread oven takes it liquid.” Yes, Gael knew that. He wasn’t a smith, but one learned a great deal when managing smithies. Randl continued, “Bronze requires heat fourfold that of tin. And copper yet more again.”

Gael nodded. He knew this too.

“But iron . . .” Randl’s lips pressed straight. “I might be able to get the copper furnace hot enough to bend iron, but melting it to liquid . . .” Randl shook his head again “. . . would require more than sixfold the heat for tin. I could not do it.”

Randl intended his explanation to be discouraging, preventing his superior from wasting valuable time and effort on a wild gos chase, no doubt. But Gael’s heart rose at the smith’s words. Perhaps warping the gong would be sufficient to prevent its weakening effect. That was an avenue worth exploring.

“Bending the iron might be sufficient for my purposes,” said Gael. “Will you—”

A cacophony of shouts echoed from the stairwell at the back of the adjacent blade smithy—the Regenen Stair.

Gael and Randl frowned at one another.

The shouts grew louder.

Gael waved Randl back to his copper ingots, himself stepping away.

“I will speak with you more on this matter of iron,” said Gael.

Randl nodded, and Gael strode toward the shouts as their excited tenor gained hostility.

* * *

Next scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 13)

Previous scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 11)

Need the beginning?
The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)

 

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New Bundle! Might Have Been

I love fairy tales! I’ve always loved them, and I hope I always will.

The Red Fairy Book, Tales of the Brothers Grimm, and East of the Sun and West of the Moon were well-read favorites in my childhood, and I didn’t stop re-reading them when I reached adulthood.

My only complaint was that there weren’t enough new-to-me fairy tales. Sure, I could (and will) re-read the old classics indefinitely. I’m a big re-reader. But wouldn’t it be great to find fresh stories, or even the same stories told with a fresh twist.

I can almost believe that A. L. Butcher curated the Might Have Been bundle for me especially.

The Russian fairy tales are entirely new to me, and the twists on old favorites are twists like I’ve never seen before. This is a bundle I’ll devour.

Among the 17 titles in Might Have Been, several provoked particular interest in me. I draw them to your attention…

*     *     *

Beauty has a Fate.

A Destiny.

To keep dating losers and ‘beasts’ until she manages to find that prince hidden underneath that bad boy exterior.

But what if she doesn’t want to? What if she wants to take control of her own destiny?
 
 
 

*

“Kristine Grayson gives ‘happily ever after’ her own unique twist!”—Kasey Michaels

In this romantic trilogy, fairy tales and myths inhabit a slightly askew world of charming princes, sleeping beauties, and wicked witches.

Welcome to the fractious fairy tale world of Kristine Grayson, where the bumpy road to happily ever after surprises and delights.

The Charming Trilogy omnibus contains three complete novels.

Utterly Charming

When Prince Charming enters Nora Barr’s office to hire her to protect Sleeping Beauty, only the size of his check keeps her from throwing him out. Nora doubts happily-ever-after exists, but until last week she never saw magic before either. Let alone a real Prince Charming.

Thoroughly Kissed

Emma, the real Sleeping Beauty, awakens after a thousand years and swears to never kiss anyone again. Ever. She keeps that vow until she meets temptingly gorgeous Michael who—somehow—becomes the only person who can get her across country with her weird cat Darnell. Before her magic takes over their lives, and maybe destroys the entire world.

Completely Smitten

For centuries, Darius shadowed Prince Charmings because he knew they needed happily ever afters. And he does too. After he fought Cupid, the Fates forced Darius to unite 100 soulmates. Two away from the end of his sentence, he falls for triathlete Ariel, seemingly destined for another soul mate only he can find. If he wants freedom, he must find her soul mate. No matter how badly it breaks his heart.

*

A modern twist on the classic fairy tale of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf.

Lettie and her brothers inherited a great deal of money from their grandpa. While her brothers took the money and set off to enjoy life, Lettie took her share and bought a bar.

Unfortunately for Lettie and her brothers, Grandpa had a lot of other grandkids, and he pissed off all of them by leaving them out of his will.

And some of those other grandkids are werewolves.

*

Illustrated children’s stories that come from the heart of ‘Holy Russia’— a realm stretching from the Ukrainian Steppes of Kiev to Novgorod in the west to the borders of the Caspian Sea in the east.

Ilya and Cloudfall
Ilya Meets Svyatogor and Parts with Him
Ilya and Nightingale the Robber
Ilya and Falcon the Hunter
The Adventure of the Burning White Stone
The Story of Nikitich and Marina
The Story of Kasyan and the Dream Maiden
How Stavr the Noble Was Saved by a Woman’s Wiles
The Golden Horde
How Quiet Dunai Brought the Princess Apraxia to Kiev
How the Court of Vladimir Received a Visitor from India the Glorious
Whirlwind The Whistler, or the Kingdoms of Copper, Silver, and Gold
Vasily the Turbulent
Nikita the Footless and the Terrible Tsar
Peerless Beauty the Cake-Baker

In addition to charming line drawings, the ebook is enhanced by 16 amazing color-plates from Frank C. Papé.

Curl up with this unique sliver of Russian culture—not seen in print for over a century—and immerse yourself in the tales and fables of yesteryear.

*

Might Have Been also includes my own story collection, Tales of Old Giralliya.

A troll-mage rains death upon the land from his citadel in the sky. Who—if anyone—can defeat him? Despite the oracle’s prophecy, few believe the beggar’s son might be the people’s champion.

A magical plague infests the villages, the cities, and the lonely manors. Will the realm descend into ruin before a cure is found? Or could wizened, old Eliya convince the stricken that something improbable might save them all?

Three ducal brothers fight for the rule of their duchy, crushing fields and hamlets under their chariot wheels. Can young Andraia, kidnapped from her village, bring the destructive struggle to an end?

Instead of Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, or the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the Giralliyan Empire has Ravessa’s Ride, the Thricely Odd Troll, the Kite Climber, and more. Tales of Old Giralliya presents six of these fresh, new fairy tales for your enjoyment.

Adventure and magic in the tradition of The Red Fairy Book and the Tales of the Brothers Grimm.

*

From retellings of classic fairy tales to legends and lore shared around the hearth, this collection presents stories of wonder and fantasy—some straight up and others with a twist.

Children’s tales from Serbia and Russia feature water spirits and household sprites, knight princes and giants, whirlwinds and the Golden Horde.

An unusual visit to Wonderland follows Alice as she encounters the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and Humpty Dumpty under horror’s shadow. The secrets of a most infamous castle, Burg Frankenstein, deliver up ghosts.

While a trio of sexy gender-swap tales yield Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast with spice.

Romeo and Juliet—and vampires, the Three Little Pigs as you’ve never seen them, Cinderella embracing witchcraft…these are the Might Have Been, folklore, granny tales, and fairy tales turned upside down or glimpsed darkly in the mirror.
 
*Not all stories suitable for kids.

The Might Have Been bundle includes:

“Fairy Tale Fates” by Leah Cutter
The Charming Trilogy by Kristine Grayson
“The Legends of Castle Frankenstein” by DeAnna Knippling
Snow Truer Love by AJ Tipton
“Brick Houses” by Annie Reed
“The Return of Alice” by Robert Jeschonek
Into the Forest Shadows by J.A. Marlow
Handsome and the Beast by AJ Tipton
The Russian Story Book by Richard Wilson
Tales of Old Giralliya by J.M. Ney-Grimm
“R+J Sucks” (Vol 1.) by Ann Hunter
Hunting Red by AJ Tipton
Lost: Cinderella’s Secret Witch Diaries by Ron Vitale
Return to Wonderland by Tanya Lisle
Fairy Tales Revisited on Silvery Earth by Barbara G. Tarn
“Redd’s Hoodie” by Karen C. Klein
Hero Tales and Legends of the Serbians by Woislav M. Petrovitch

P
A Head’s Up: Most of the titles in the bundle are ‘sweet,’ not ‘spicy.’ But the few spicy ‘not for kids’ stories include explicit scenes. If fictional spice is not for you, be prepared. (Myself? I did some skipping.)

Of the non-spicy stories I’ve read so far…“Fairy Tale Fates” possesses a twist after my own heart; Completely Smitten from The Charming Trilogy has given me a new favorite character: Darius; and “Brick Houses” was just pure fun.

The Might Have Been bundle is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, or direct from the BundleRabbit site.

*     *     *

For more bundles with my stories in them, see:
Here Be Magic
Eclectica
Here Be Unicorns
Here Be Merfolk
Here Be Fairies
Here Be Dragons
Immortals

 

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The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 11)

Gael paused in the passage at the bottom of the Regenen Stair.

Well, it wasn’t the uttermost bottom. The lowest levels of the kitchen annex, slabbed onto the southeast side of the tower, lay a few twists below the forges. But the smithies—his smithies—occupied the foundations of the tower proper.

So he stood a moment, listening to the roaring of the furnaces, the clang of hammers on metal, the shouts of the smiths, and the hissing of quenched bronze, all of it echoing off massive stone piers and heavy stone groins.

This was his realm as much as the tally room. His tally room governed these vast, dark, hot vaults, lit only by the white orange glow escaping the forges and the whiter orange incandescence of the molten bronze.

More often than not, the smiths blanketed the deep embrasures of the tower arrowslits with leather hides, not needing sunlight because of the brightness of the heated metals; not wanting sunlight, because the darkness allowed them to better judge the precise moment when the molten metal had reached the right color—and heat—for pouring; or when the annealed metal grew ripe for tempering.

The Regenen Stair debouched at the back of the blade smithy.

Gael could see the scullion at the twin bellows. The inflating and deflating leather sacks pulsed like beating hearts, pushing air over the forge coals at just the right rate to produce the right heat. The smith and his sergeants were checking the blade mold, assuring themselves that the straps holding it closed were tight and assessing its temperature. The mold required heating to ensure that the molten metal would flow into it properly and would come out of the mold—once solid—without damaging it.

The heat of the smithy had not yet penetrated Gael’s suede robes, but the dry air baked the skin of his face and hands.

Yet he was not here to question the bladesmith. Not this time.

To the left of the blade smithy lay the tin smeltery and the grinding smithy, the smeltery close to the center of the vault where the furnaces for refining the tin glowed, the grindery at the perimeter of the tower’s foundation.

The mighty piers holding up the ceiling arches and the waist-high walls separating the different smithies hid much of the tin smeltery from Gael’s gaze. The grinding smithy was entirely veiled by curtains of leather hide. Perhaps Keir stood within them now, talking with the notary there. Gael did not see the boy elsewhere.

The grinding smith needed all the sunlight pouring through the embrasures on his side of the tower, so that he could be sure each blade was polished to perfection, its edge sharp and perfect, without flaw. The leather curtains contained the sunlight which would otherwise overwhelm the white orange glow of the forges that every other smith depended upon.

To Gael’s right, the fully walled storage rooms blocked his view of the copper smeltery and the privy smithy where he was headed.

He took a moment more to savor the smoothly working operation that the smithies had become. The smiths, their sergeants, and their scullions moved with assurance. The ring of hammer on bronze formed a sort of music. And, most important, the metal ingots entered the smithies, moved through them, and exited in the controlled flow that Gael had introduced.

When Gael took over their management at Lord Carbraes’ behest, each smithy had used a different tallying system—not one of which matched the other. Each smith had requisitioned ingots haphazardly, and sometimes a smithy went dark for an entire waxing moon merely because the tin vault lay empty.

Gael knew that the sure supply of the metals they needed generated the calm demeanor of the smiths, which flowed in turn to their underlings. Despite the heat and the din—the roar of the fires, the ring of pounding hammers, the shouted orders—these smithies were as much a haven for the workers of metal as the tally room was a refuge for he who counted.

Gael edged along the side wall of the blade smithy—the wall dividing the smithy from the storage rooms—and then along the back wall of the copper smeltery. He reached the privy smithy as Martell flourished a bronze ewer overhead.

“Ah! Ha, ha! Look at it! Look! Is it not fine?” Martell turned, his beaky nose with its small ornamental ring gleaming, and caught sight of Gael. “Look at the scrollwork where the handle meets the vessel! And these—the flourishes at the top where the spout attaches!” The smith strode toward Gael to hold the ewer for his close inspection. “Say I do good work!” he demanded, grinning. Sweat stood out on his brow and dewed the frizzles of his hair, escaping from its braid.

Gael smothered the smile on his lips, but let it reach his eyes. “You do good work,” he agreed.

“This ewer! The serving platter I completed this morning! And this! This, too!” Martell rummaged in a heap of utensils—kitchen knives, roasting spit jacks, awls—seized on a graceful bowl, and drew it out. “Magnificent! All of it! And to you I owe it all!” he exclaimed. “Before, it was always Martell who went short when the tin lacked, when the bronze was insufficient. But now—now Martell makes beauty to soothe the soul, and all Belzetarn is better because of it!”

Gael laid a hand on the smith’s arm. “That is true, my friend. May I have a word?”

Martell looked surprised. He shrugged, handed the bowl and ewer to one scullion, and turned to issue instructions to another. The afternoon was getting late, but evidently the privy smithy would be pouring at least one more item before they put their forge to bed.

Martell drew Gael around the massive pier separating the privy smithy from the armor smithy to the deeper shadows. “You have trouble, my friend. I sense it, I, Martell. But tell me!”

This was awkward, but Gael had been dealing with Martell’s enthusiasm for years.

“The trouble, my friend, is you.”

Martell looked more surprised yet. “But, no! How could this be? Martell is your most ardent supporter.”

Gael let a dry chuckle escape him. “Well do I know it, my friend. But this is the old trouble. The trouble with the tallies from the privy smithy.”

“Ah! Yes! The ingots coming in to the privy smithy are not matched by the weight of the beauty leaving it! Ah! I know this trouble, I, Martell! But I have explained, my friend. Art is not precise! Art requires passion! The tallying—it is anathema to the creativity. You understand this, my friend! Yes?”

Gael suppressed another smile. The issue was serious—missing tin, so precious tin—but Martell always amused Gael, even gave Gael joy. For Martell was one of Gael’s successes. The privy smith had been morose when Gael first arrived. Now he was ebullient, even while he made absurd claims. Martell might say that art needed precision less than it needed inspiration, but his art—made in metal—required great precision and care in the percentages of tin versus copper and in the heat applied to both.

Martell might be sloppy with the tallies he permitted his notary, but he was not sloppy with his medium.

“I do understand, my friend, but your tallies have slipped further from true yet again. I can allow you a few ounces, even up to half an ingot. But a full ingot’s worth is too far.”

Martell’s mouth, mobile beneath his beaky nose, drooped. “But, no, my friend! Surely not!”

Gael nodded firmly. “It is so, my friend. And I will need your good will to set it straight.”

Martell’s eyes brightened. “Ah! Then, trouble there is none, for you have my best will and always will! Tell me, and we solve it all!”

“I hope so,” replied Gael. “Will your good will extend to my notarius? To Keir?”

“But of course! Keir, he is your right hand. Courtesy to Keir is naught but courtesy to you!”

“Good. Because Keir will come down to your smithy in the morning after all the smiths have received their metals, and you must not start until after Keir has counted and tallied your ingots after their arrival. Can you do that, my friend?”

Dismay crossed Martell’s face. “Keir shall count my ingots?”

There was no point in adjuring Martell’s notary to tally more carefully. Martell had him utterly subjugated and would snatch the metal away before the notary was half done. But Keir was more than a match for Martell.

“Will you let Keir be my hands? For me, my friend?”

“Ah! For you, yes! For you I will do any and all! Ah!”

Gael patted Martell’s shoulder. “Good. And then again in the evening, when the scullion is ready to carry the finished implements, the residual metals, and any unbroken ingots away, you must send another scullion to fetch Keir from the bronze vault. And Keir will weigh the exiting material.” Gael overrode the smith’s voluble response. “For me, my friend. Will you do it?”

“Ah, ha!” broke in Martell. “I see it now! You doubt my notary!”

Gael shook his head. “I doubt your notary not at all. It is your own enthusiasm and haste that is the culprit, my friend. And those will not be stemmed by your devoted notary. You know it is so.”

“Ah, ha, ha! It is so. You know me, my friend, you do!”

Gael took Martell’s hand and grasped it. “I do know you, Martell. Will you help me thusly? Will you hold to your promise tomorrow, even in the rush of your artistry?”

Martell’s hand returned the pressure of Gael’s. “I will do it, yes. I make you my promise!”

“Good!” Gael patted the smith’s shoulder once more, withdrew his clasped hand, and moved back around the sheltering pier toward the copper smeltery. Behind him, Martell burst into voluble instructions to his underlings.

* * *

Next scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 12)

Previous scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 10)

Need the beginning?
The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)

 

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Am I Daring?

One lone idea sparked my short story, “To Haunt the Daring Place.” I wanted to tell about the founding of a monastery that will feature in the ninth book of my Gael & Keir series.

That was all I had.

There was a monastery. It had an unusual founding. Gael and Keir would visit the place a hundred years (or two) later.

My logical self informed me that this was a slim spot to start from.

My storyteller self felt serenely sanguine. There was a story already present, hiding in my subconscious and ready to be revealed. All I needed to do was trust in its existence and tell it.

I mused upon my protagonist. He was a scholar and a mage, possessed of great world-wonder. He felt curious about everything, but he’d taken a break from the scholarship he loved to rebuild his fortunes, which were decimated by the troll wars. Now he was reclaiming his curiosity.

His name was Coehlin, and he was an especial fan of ancient North-lands philosophers such as Kleomedes the Younger and Aglaia of Seleucis.

I envisioned the story appearing in my collection, Tales of Old Giralliya.

The time period seemed to fit, and I envisioned a sort of fairy tale style for its telling.

But after I wrote the first scene, it was clear that I wasn’t using a fairy tale style at all. It wasn’t right for the story I wanted to tell. Nor would the length be comparable to that of the other stories in Tales of Old Giralliya. They fell in a range between 700 and 4,500 words. “To Haunt the Daring Place” would be at least 6,000 words, maybe more.

My next plan was to submit the story to SFF magazines.

web imageI’d received a nice comment from a magazine editor when I submitted “Crossing the Naiad” to him. Recently I learned what a personal comment like that meant, aside from, ‘It’s good!’ It meant that he’d read the story all the way to its end. And editors don’t do that unless either: 1) they think they might buy the story for their magazine, or 2) they are enjoying the story so much that even though it is not right for their magazine, they can’t bear to stop.

That put my editor’s comment in a new perspective. Getting a story accepted seemed like it might truly be possible!

But as I wrote “To Haunt,” I began to worry that it would be too long for any magazine. Wasn’t 6,000 words the top limit for many? And it was becoming ever more certain that “To Haunt” was going to cross that 6K limit.

In fact, the first draft of “To Haunt” came in at 13,714 words. Yikes!

If 6,000 were the top edge, then my story was more than twice as long. Cutting it down a little to fit wouldn’t be feasible. But I could (and should) check that limit. Maybe my memory was wrong. Maybe, even if I remembered right, there might be a few magazines that would take a novelette. Or, if there weren’t any magazines that would, maybe there would be an anthology call permitting longer lengths.

What I really wanted was to get my story into a magazine with a circulation of thousands or an anthology with an editor possessing an established audience of thousands. The readers who read my work seem to love it. But their numbers are, as yet, few. I want readers who have never heard of me to have a chance at reading my stories.

So…is there a potential venue for “To Haunt the Daring Place”?

Yes!

I checked the word limits for the top magazines, and many of them accept submissions up to 20K. A few specify 15K, and one 10K.

Obviously the 10K rag won’t work for “To Haunt,” but I have lots of options. Yay! I’m pretty thrilled about it.

So…did the monastery get founded?

W-e-l-l…not exactly.

The magical architectural element that leads to the founding of the monastery is indeed created in the events recounted in “To Haunt the Daring Place.” But the monastery itself? No. It’s never even mentioned.

But it will be a fun Easter egg for readers of both “To Haunt the Daring Place” and Book Nine of the Gael & Keir Adventures. I assure you that the architectural element is not something that can be missed!

Wish me luck in getting the story accepted. 😀

For more about Tales of Old Giralliya, see:
Rebirth of Four Fairy Tales
Two Giralliyan Folk Heroes
Caught Between Two Armies
Tales in a New Bundle

 

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The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 10)

Chapter 3

In the upper reaches of the Regenen Stair, numerous arrowslits brought in light during the hours when the sun shone. But the tower’s foundations were broader than its heights, which meant the lowest twists of the stair were too far from the outer walls to make arrowslits practical. There, torches burned even by day, black soot stains on the stone vaulting above each.

As Keir and Gael passed the wide archway into the servery for the Regenen’s Kitchen, a shout hailed them.

Gael halted on the landing. “Go ahead of me, boy,” he told Keir. “Best we arrive in the smithies separately anyway, to avoid giving undue importance to your inquiries.”

Keir nodded, quickly disappearing around the newel post.

“Gael!” came the shout again from the Regenen’s Kitchen.

Gael entered the servery, a spacious chamber that grew crowded and chaotic only when the scullions clustered there, intent on grabbing the multitude of dishes they would deliver to the great halls for the morning meal or the evening feast. Between meals, the servery remained empty, its peace disturbed only by echoes from the adjacent kitchen.

A wide hatch with a broad stone sill that served as a counter occupied the wall to Gael’s left. The scullions loaded their trays at this hatch. Right now, a lean troll—with short, straight brown hair and brown eyes—perched on its sill, apparently unworried that his clogs sullied its cleanliness. His nose possessed the characteristic elongation and upward turn, but his ears—revealed by his cropped hair—remained small and well-formed. Like those of their overlord Carbraes.

Various food stains marked the apron that swathed him.

“Barris!” Gael greeted him.

Barris’ brown eyes lit, and he swung himself down from the hatch to stand leaning against its sill.

“Ha!” he exclaimed. “I hoped you’d climb out of your tally room before it buried you! Where’ve you been, you slacker?”

Gael suppressed his grin. “Slaving in my tally room, of course. Mule-horse! Missed me, did you?” It was true that Gael usually exchanged at least a few words with Barris after the metals check out. Like Arnoll, Barris was his good friend.

This morning, he’d been determined to track down the error in his tallies. The error which had proved to be no error.

“Have you heard that Carbraes has caved at last?” said Barris.

What?

“Dreben’s getting his gladiatorial ring as soon as he cares to organize it.” Disapproval laced Barris’ usually insouciant tone. “Probably yesterday, knowing Dreben.”

“From whom did you learn this?” asked Gael.

Dreben was brigenen—first in command—of the First Cohort of Belzetarn’s First Legion. He was a short, tough troll with a mean streak. Gael had disliked him ever since he’d found the brigenen’s bastan huddled outside the armory, bruised and sobbing. Evidently Dreben had needed a punching bag as an outlet for his temper and decided the bastan would do fine. Gael gathered that it wasn’t so much the bruises as Dreben’s caustic tongue that had upset the boy, who refused all aid, scuttling away from Gael’s offers.

“From the castellanum’s prime notary to the kitchens’ notary to me,” said Barris. “Doubt it’s merely rumor.”

“Hells.”

Carbraes believed that drill kept the warriors fit, spit-and-polish duty kept them busy, and sparring kept them ready to fight. Dreben, continuously agitating for sparring with live bronze in addition to inert wood, claimed that only the risk of serious injury during practice bouts would keep a troll sharp. Why had Carbraes given in to him?

Barris shook his head. “Notarius Prime says—”

A scullion appeared on the kitchen-side of the serving hatch. “Sir? Opteon?” Unlike Keir, he was servile in getting his superior’s attention.

“What is it, lad?” Despite the interruption, Barris answered the boy kindly.

The scullion bobbed an anxious bow. “Sir, I’m to start the butter sauce, but I can’t remember if I add the dried sage with the flour, or if it goes in later. And I don’t hardly like to ask Fayn, sir.”

“No, no. I understand.” Barris smiled. “You’ll be using dried sage? Not fresh?”

“Yes, sir. The dried powder from the larder, not fresh leaves from the garden. Fayn said that especial.”

“No doubt he prefers the stronger flavor,” Barris explained. “Very well. Mix it in well with the flour, and be careful not to overcook the roux after you’ve added the flour mixture to the butter. Pour the milk the instant you smell that toasting scent coming off it.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

The scullion scurried away. Just before he left earshot, Barris called, “Be sure to swing the pot well to the side of the hearth once the sauce is done! It needs to stay warm, but shouldn’t be cooked past the finish!”

The boy nodded anxiously as he passed around the corner.

“I should be on my way,” said Gael.

“Stay a minute.” Barris’ geniality with his underling shifted to uneasiness. He lowered his voice. “Do you think Carbraes could be slipping?”

“Do you?”

“No. But—no.” Barris studied his clogs, then looked up again. “If Carbraes ever goes down, Belzetarn won’t be a reasonable refuge anymore. You know this.”

Gael didn’t nod, studying his own foot gear: soft leather, knotted thongs, the shoes of a troll who needn’t worry about cooking knives dropped or swords slashing in battle.

Barris touched Gael’s arm. “As secretarius, you see Belzetarn from the top. I don’t. Do you think Carbraes is weakening?”

Gael thought of Carbraes as he’d just seen him at noon: relaxed, powerful, and fully in control.

“No. Not at all.”

Barris’ breath whooshed out in a loud sigh. “That’s a relief.”

Gael’s mouth twisted up. “You know I’d warn you, if ever real risk approached.”

Barris stared at Gael. “Huh. You would, wouldn’t you?”

“Bet on it.” He clapped Barris on the shoulder.

“Oh, I do!” Barris was grinning again.

Time to change the subject. “Listen, I’m trying to track down an anomaly.” This was the real reason he’d stopped at Barris’ hail. “Maybe nothing serious; maybe serious, but only in my purview. If it’s what I suspect, there should be a string or two that leads under other doors.

“You’re an observant fellow, Barris. The other opteons in the regenen’s kitchens and the castellanum’s kitchens and all the other kitchens can’t see beyond their cook pots and menus. But you recognize that changes in orders to the kitchens reflect the concerns of the castellanum and of the regenen himself. All Belzetarn is reflected in the kitchen annex.”

Barris nodded, looking pleased.

“Have you observed anything unusual lately? Maybe something small or innocuous, but something different.”

Barris’ brows tensed. “There is one thing . . .”

“Yes?” said Gael.

“You know how we ‘peons’ are given various dainties as reward and incentive?” Barris’ sarcastic tone on the word ‘peon’ reflected his opinion of the practice. He was no peon, being one in the trio of chief cooks in the Regenen’s Kitchen.

But patronage was how the entire troll society within Belzetarn operated.

Gael had heard tales about the previous regenen, who preferred thrashings to motivate his followers. Carbraes granted extra sauna privileges or a cup of mead or an afternoon of rest when he was pleased, and his officers followed his lead. Much more effective, surely, and certainly more civilized.

Barris might not like being condescended to, but most trolls were happy to receive a treat. Gael lifted an eyebrow. “Was Theron especially gracious to you?”

The castellanum had learned that Barris gave only dignified thanks for presents and snarky backchat in response to a superior’s haughty disdain. Barris would never have kept his position, if he’d cooked in the Castellanum’s Kitchen instead of the Regenen’s.

Barris snorted. “Oh, it’s nothing to do with me.” His amusement faded. “But the castellanum is scattering his dainties with greater abandon than usual. He’s granted several trolls from the Hunters’ Lodge dining privileges in the lower great hall.” The hunters ate their meals in the Hunters’ Lodge not in the tower proper, just as the physicians ate in the dining hall of the hospital and the leatherworkers in the Artisans’ Lodge. Barris shifted impatiently. “Hells! He even invited Martell to join him at the high table.”

“The privy smith?” That startled Gael. A smith was no peon either. Indeed, a smith received honor equal to that of a brigenen of the legions. Or an opteon in the kitchens. But neither of those were candidates for dining at the regenen’s table with the castellanum, the march, the magus, and the regenen himself. Gael dined there. But he was the regenen’s secretarius, one of the four officers through whom Carbraes governed his troll horde.

Barris bit his lip. “Theron’s up to something.”

And that was the tip Gael was looking for.

* * *

Next scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 11)

Previous scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 2 (scene 9)

Need the beginning?
The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)

 

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