ArmadilloCon Part III

I heard it on good authority that the YA panel was one of the best ones of the con. I’d link to that but it might have been my imagination. However, I’ll say it — it was fun and lively. I don’t think of myself as a YA writer but many of my fans are teens so I have been keeping that in mind. My current work in progress, because it focuses on Kate, will probably be YA, although I’m not pulling my punches.

That was one of the points the panel made. You can really explore a lot of tough themes in YA, and the genre is often blurred between what is YA and what is adult fiction.

My reading was well attended. Alexis Glynn Latner read before me and her audience stayed, which was sweet and I brought in a few more, so the hometown crowd was good to me. I read from book III, starting with the tidbit on the website and then from a few pages in. I think people enjoyed it and I had fun reading. I may have gotten over my stage fright. I used to finish readings quaking with reaction from having held it together for a whole 30 minutes. Five minutes to go and my voice would start to quiver and the lines on the page would blur.

I also had the opportunity to hear a few other readings. Adrian Simmons read from a short story set in the world of his Bronze Age fantasy, and it totally rocked. Alexis read from her new book with a lovely alternate history of the West and an interesting magic system, although I would have loved for the women to have math magic and not sensitive, creative magic. You know, just turn the gender roles on their heads a bit.

Like, wouldn’t it be cool if mathematical formula could be used not just in engineering but be the stuff of engineering itself? So you would design the bridge and behold, you would create the bridge?

William Ledbetter read from his Mars mystery. I love Mars stories. I’ve decided when I’m old that I want to go to Mars and die there.

Yeah, okay, moving on.

So the rest of the con was friends, chatting, art show, dealer’s room, and going out to Chez Zee. I stayed at the hotel on Saturday night, and I was glad I did. It was great not to have to drive home late that night.

All in all, a good convention. Everyone I know will be at Fencon later this month, but I want to keep my momentum with GWIII, so I will stay here and write.

Kate in Terrick — an excerpt

windsor1Dear Mom and Dad,

Well, I’m here. It’s not so bad, and I don’t want you to worry, even though I guess you will. The Terricks are taking good care of me. Mrs. Terrick is nice. I like her. She showed me how to spin on a spindle the other day. I know, mom, but it’s important here. I think it’s called housewifery? I remember that from one of my social studies classes. It’s not physics, but running a big house like this one takes a lot of work.

Kate paused to rub her fingers. They were smudged with ink. She dipped the quill pen and began again.

Mr. Terrick is just like I remember him. Gruff and kind of forbidding. He reminds me of that judge that you introduced me to at the Christmas party last year? But he means well, and he’s kind of nice. He even –

She stopped. Would her parents understand when she wrote “He even smiled at me this morning”? She couldn’t cross anything out. She knew they would worry over the crossouts and what she didn’t tell them. Look, she told herself, it’s not like they’re really going to read this. In a week or two, she wouldn’t even be able to read it, once her brain reset from crossing the gordath.

Just tell them the truth.

He even smiled at me this morning.

Colar has two brothers, Aevin and Yare, and a little sister, Erinye. He had another sister, but she died, he said of a fever. He said it was probably something we could have cured back home. That’s so sad, isn’t it? That’s why I plan to become a doctor in Aeritan. Aren’t you proud of me? Haha. I know, you always wanted me to be a doctor.

She put in a smiley face and continued.

Aevin is okay, except he is constantly trying to prove himself and it gets tiring. Yare’s a little pain in the butt, and Eri’s a sweetie. We share a room and I look after her.

Kate paused again, thinking about that. It seemed to help Lady Terrick that she was there to make sure Eri was dressed and clean and had someone to keep her company at her chores. She didn’t mind doing it, and had stepped up without being asked, but now that it was expected, she wasn’t sure how she felt about it. She didn’t know how to put any of that in the letter, so she carried on.

I want you to know how much I love you and miss you. I’m in good hands, okay? I’ll write as often as I can, and maybe someday, you can read these letters.



Her vision blurred and she sat back so that she wouldn’t let a teardrop fall on the paper. She strewed sand across the paper and blew on it, then set the paper aside so the ink would dry. Kate blinked back tears as the door opened behind her and Eri came in.

“Kett, mama said it’s time for dinner.”

“Okay, I’ll be right there.”

She got up, sniffed and wiped her face with her sleeve. Eri watched her seriously.

“I’m sorry you’re sad, Kett.”

“Thanks, sweetie. I know.”

Eri came over and took her by the hand. She looked at the letter on the thick, coarse paper, cocking her head sideways the way she did when she was absorbed in something. The lamplight cast her delicate face in shadow so the child looked like a Renaissance subject in her kerchief and simple dress.

“Is that writing?”

“It is.”

“How can you read it?”

“I’ve only been here for a half-month,” Kate said. “Soon, I won’t be able to read it. It fades away after a while, and then I can read and write in Aeritan.”

Which made the whole exercise moot, she thought, because at the point that she couldn’t read and write in English, her parents wouldn’t be able to read what she wrote next.

She squeezed Eri’s hand.

“Let’s go. I’m hungry and I don’t want to keep your mom and dad waiting.”

Eri giggled. “You’re funny, Kate.”

“I’m funny! You’re the funny one, you silly kid you.”

Eri laughed louder and they teased each other on the way down the stairs.


Kate thought the great stone house looked like a dragon. It was draped across the landscape, its jagged walls and towers like the backbone and winged joints of the mythical beast. The main part of the house was a rough square, its narrow windows facing the road that led away toward the rest of Aeritan.

She and Colar had ridden up that avenue when she brought him back to Terrick two weeks before.

The stables and outbuildings were scattered to the rear of the dragon, its tail as it were. Allegra and Hotshot were stabled there, and Kate made a point of visiting her horses daily and making sure they were well taken care of. She knew enough not to fret; To a Terrick, it was a point of honor to care well for horses and hounds.

She thought she knew about a Terrick’s honor before but now, living under their roof and by their code, she knew she didn’t understand it at all.

Kate and Erinye slipped into the dining room. The family stood by their chairs at the shining table. Lord Terrick would arrive last, per custom. There were Aevin and Yare on the left, Colar at his father’s right hand. Lady Terrick sat at the foot, and there were two empty chairs for Eri and Kate. Even that stinker Yare sits higher than I do, Kate thought.

It shouldn’t have mattered. She knew who she was and her own value, and all the ingrained sexism of her strange world couldn’t change that. It grated though. Maybe that was in her expression, because Colar caught her eye and shook his head slightly. She gave him a half smile, half-grimace, and stood next to Lady Terrick, Eri on the opposite side. As it happened, she stood next to Yare.

“You’re late,” he told her. “And Eri’s face is smudged. Mama!”

You rotten little brat, Kate thought. She flushed. She had forgotten, again, to make sure Eri was kept clean and presentable. The little girl looked as beautiful as always, but to be sure there was a smudge on her cheek and her simple smock was awry.

“Sorry –” Kate began, but Lady Terrick made a gesture.

“Goodness, child, it’s not the end of the world. Eri is old enough to make herself presentable. Are you not, Eri? Try not to disappoint your father, as he loves you very much.”

“I’m sorry, Mama,” Eri said in a small voice.

Kate’s stomach clenched. No wonder I’ve lost weight; every dinner is like this. The terror of obligation to one’s parents, their honor, and above all their love permeated all things Terrick, even a simple dinner.

Lord Terrick entered the room, bringing the smell of outdoors with him. His eyes flicked down the table and back. Kate’s back stiffened, and she thought even Lady Terrick’s did. To her relief he didn’t cast a particular grim eye over Eri. Saved by the lack of electricity, she thought. The dining room was illuminated with plenty of oil lamps but was still dim.

“By the grace of the high god who holds us all in his hand, we are blessed with food and shelter,” Lord Terrick said. He sat, and they followed suit.

The meal was simple yet hearty; spiced lamb, flatbreads, stewed greens and tubers, like potatoes. Every bite tasted like sawdust. Kate chewed diligently and without savor. She had learned to eat with just a spoon and a knife. Her first dinner at Terrick, she had made a joke to Colar about inventing forks. She thought he would laugh. She thought he would accept her offering of their shared history. It was, she thought, meant as an us against them moment. Instead, he looked at her seriously and said that she would get used to a knife and spoon, just like he had gotten used to forks.

Not us against them at all, she thought. She hadn’t gotten it at the time, but she came to understand that it was him with them. Him with his family. Me against them.

It will be different when we marry, she thought. She washed down an impossibly tiny bite with an even smaller sip of Terrick brandy, which tasted like mouthwash and she loathed. As always it made her break out into a sweat, even the polite taste she had taken. She concentrated fiercely on her dinner, not even trying to catch Colar’s eye. She had tried that on their second dinner, hoping to get a smile from him, only to have Yare shout, “Mama! She’s making eyes at Colar!”

Her face flamed at the memory, or maybe that was the brandy.

Lord Terrick was going around the table, asking everyone their business. When he got to Eri, his eyes narrowed and Kate held her breath, but he said only, “Erinye, have you practiced your letters today?”

“No, lord father,” Eri said in a small, frightened voice.

“I see,” Lord Terrick said. “Perhaps you had better things to do than improve your mind?”

Yare made a derisive noise, then jumped in his seat, by which Kate thought that Aevin had kicked him under the table. Good, she thought at the boy.

“I–I” Eri started.

Lord Terrick waited politely, and when it was clear that he had silenced his daughter into frightened immobility, he turned to Kate.

“Perhaps our foster daughter can help you, Erinye. Kate’s knowledge and understanding impressed us all last year. You learned to read and write with Talios, among your lessons as his apprentice, did you not?”

“Ye – yes, sir, I did.” Kate winced inwardly at her own stumble. “I would be happy to help Eri with reading and writing, and math too.”

“Math! Learned indeed. Erinye, how would you like to be Kett’s pupil?”

Eri beamed with relief and Kate smiled back at her.

“So it’s decided then.” He turned toward his wife, but Kate interrupted.

“Lord Terrick, it’s just that I can’t just yet.”

He turned back to her. The entire table fell silent. Kate took a deep breath. “I can’t read yet in Aeritan. Yet. I’ll be able to in a few weeks, but it takes a while.”

Lord Terrick’s expression was unfathomable. Kate hurried on. “Same thing happened for Colar, actually. Right?”

She turned to Colar. Help me, she beseeched him silently.

“It’s true,” he said, and she sighed with relief. “But,” he frowned. “It didn’t take me that long – a half-month?”

“Yes,” and now she was babbling. “Longer even, because you were in the hospital, and it wasn’t until you were out and at home that we even began to try to read and write, remember? We started with Catcher in the Rye, because you were going to need it for freshman English…”

Her voice faded. Lord and Lady Terrick were looking at the both of them, as if they couldn’t understand what was happening. Yare had an expression of evil glee, and Aevin just looked shocked.

“Catcher in the Rye,” Colar repeated, as if the memory wasn’t a pleasant one. She had to admit, he had a point.

“When you can, then,” Lord Terrick said finally. “Math,” he added in a considering voice. “Perhaps you should also teach Yare.”

Kate and Yare looked at each other in equal disgust.

“Of course,” she said through gritted teeth.

“Yes, lord father,” Yare said, but she could tell by the gleam in his eye that he had no intention of obeying. Great, she thought. And it’ll be my fault if he doesn’t learn a thing.

Gordath Wood Book III

forest pathOne by one Adhar and his brothers turned to look at her as she came up the road to the forge, leading Hotshot, saddled and bridled, her pack of provisions tied tightly behind the compact English saddle and herself dressed for a journey in her sturdy jeans, heavy hiking boots, and long riding cloak, her head bare and her hair braided. It was not the best saddle for a long ride; an Aeritan saddle, which was built more like an American stock saddle, would have been better. The English jumping seat would have to do, though she probably could have bought one with the money she got from Mitain for Allegra. He had been generous – no, she told herself firmly. He had been fair. He would make a ton of money selling Allegra’s foals. It had been hard saying good-bye to the mare, who treated her with her usual disdain, laying back her ears. Allegra hated emotion but Kate had hugged her neck tightly anyway, and the mare put up with it, which for her was an expression of love.

Harder was saying good-bye to the family. She had bowed to Lord and Lady Terrick, giving thanks for their hospitality as coldly as she knew how. She thought at first that they would ask her to stay, would apologize to her, would beg to let them make it up to her. Instead, they merely nodded as if she was a stranger they had given mere traveler’s aid to.

To Aevin she held out her hand and he clasped it, as if they were comrades, and flushed earnestly.

“Be good, Aevin,” she told him. “You are a good soldier – I would want you on my side in any battle.”

He tried to scoff – what girl would he ever be in battle with?– but she could tell he was pleased.

Yare she high-fived, which he loved, and then she caught him for a hug. While he howled and struggled, she tickled him, and when she let him go, he was laughing.

“Stay out of trouble, okay, scamp?”

He stuck his tongue out at her, and as if he couldn’t stand it anymore, he darted off. Well, if he went to ride Allegra, that was Mitain’s problem now.

She faced Erinya last. The little girl hung back by her mother, tears welling. Kate went to her knees and held out her arms, and Eri flung herself at her.

“Don’t go, Kett, please don’t go!” she sobbed. Kate hugged her and shushed her.

“Eri, you are learning how to read, right?” Eri nodded, rubbing snot and tears into Kate’s cloak. “When I get settled, I’ll write to you and tell you everything that is happening to me. It’ll be as if you’re right there. I’ll send my letter so that it comes to Erinya Terrick, at Terrick House, Terrick, Aeritan. It won’t even need a ZIP code, it will fly right to you. And you can write to me, because by then I’ll have my own address too.”

Eri sniffled and looked up at her. “But Kett. You don’t have a House.”

Kate smiled. “Not yet, Eri, but I will.”

The five brothers had prepared for their own journey, their horses more expertly packed. She carried little compared to them, but she squared her shoulders. She had plenty of money to pay her way, not that she was going to tell them that. Not if they were crows. And anyway, you idiot, there’s nothing from stopping them from knocking you on the head the first night. Or…doing other things.

But she didn’t think they would, not even Balafray, strange, frightening Balafray. Not Adhar.

The morning was overcast and the air was wet, threatening a late season snow. The road was thick with mud, and it was already well over Hotshot’s fetlocks. She hoped Eldar’s shoeing would hold.

When she was in the war camp, her very first day, she had asserted her right to exist by walking up to the ostlers and demanding her place at their campfire, sharing their food. With the same bravado, she walked up to the brothers. They turned to look at Adhar and then at her, then Adhar again. He looked her and Hotshot over.

“Good. You packed light.” He threw her two sacks tied in the middle. She caught them with an oof–they were heavy, filled with grain for the horses. She draped them over Hotshot’s withers, securing them to the D rings at the front of the saddle.

That was all that was said. Without a word, they all mounted up and headed down the road, its tall elms slightly dusted with green, away from Terrick and the life she had thought was hers.


Winter came early to Trieve and spring came late. The highland House was deep in the grip of the cold, and drowsed under the darkness and the stars. On clear nights the aurora danced, a flaming crown for the grass god, the god of death and rebirth. Crae never tired of watching it. He saw the aurora rarely in his homeland of Wessen, for it was too far south, and never when he was captain in the forest holding of Red Gold Bridge. Damned forest, he remembered now, wrapped in his cloak and heavy furs, staring up at the sky. Everything so close together, so that a man couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of him for the underbrush.

The Trieve sky was big, the way a sky should be. Here, at the top of the hill that rose up over the house like a protective spirit, Crae could see the headlands of the great river that was still iced over. It threaded its way along to the south, and led to Brythern and to the sea.

crae's view

The wind blew incessantly, sharp and biting despite his wool and fur, and he knew he’d have to go soon. He liked to walk up here when the weather was clear, because the hill gave him the best view of the land. It made it even better when he went back home, back to the warmth of his hearth and to his family.

The cold finally drove him back down the hill, past the cairn of the crow, crusted over with snow and hardly recognizable as anything more than one of the many weathered rocks on the top of the hill. His eyes watered as he made his way down the slick trail, made more difficult by his lame leg. Crae managed with his stick and was sweating by the time he got inside, closing the door to the house behind him with a heave of relief.

Jessamy was sitting at her desk in the great hall, a small fire merrily blazing away, and a pot of vesh steaming at her side. She looked up from her papers as he came in, and he could tell at once something was wrong.

“What is it?” he said sharply, stumping his way over to her.

She threw the papers at him and he caught them one handed against his chest, crumpling them in his haste.

“Favor,” she said sharply. “I’m such a fool, Crae. I should have seen it at once. Terrick is after Favor.”