An Excerpt from my Latest Novella
Maddock and the Great Liberation was published this week. Woot woot! I gave the book to several reviewers and was pleased to note that they enjoyed this novella as much as they enjoyed Jessa and the Lost Goddess. Well, at least that was the opinion of the reviewers who already finished it. It's encouraging, not to mention a huge relief, to know that the second book in this series is as good as the first. That's always a fear of mine when writing sequels! Side note: Jessa and the Lost Goddess has been marked down to 99 cents so, if you haven't gotten a copy yet, now's your chance!
The greatest challenge with writing these novellas, as always, is keeping them short! I'm challenging myself with these lengths, but I'm also trying to keep my word. I advertised the Chosen by the Masters series as a novella series so I can't go ahead and make them full blown novels. Besides, I want to keep these books affordable! Asta Among the Chosen, the official sequel to Asta and the Barbarians, is going to be a full fledged novel and will be published after the fourth novella in the Chosen by the Masters series. That's when all of these new characters will join Asta and her friends, and unresolved issues from the novellas will be solved. I know I'll be able to go all out on that one, which helps comfort me when I have to do some major edits on my novellas. Like with Maddock's story, I had to cut out an entire character to keep the book short! I may introduce this character later if she turns out to be relevant but, for this introduction to Maddock and Belhina, I decided she wasn't important (just entertaining!).
Now that Maddock's story has been published, I can fully dedicate myself to the next book in the series. I'm 45 pages away from my target page count so I have to wrap it up soon. Then the multiple rounds of edits can begin. This third novella has been equally challenging to write but mostly because of the way I decided to structure it. More on that later!
After every publication, I've posted an excerpt to whet your appetite and I'm nothing if not a traditionalist, so without further ado, here's an excerpt from Maddock and the Great Liberation. ;)
The healers allowed me to leave the infirmary when I was strong enough to walk without assistance and could look at my own reflection without putting a fist through the mirror.
They returned my satchel of belongings, the few things I’d had on me when I’d joined the Armed Forces of Aneosa, as well as a medal of honor and a scroll of honorable discharge. Then they wheeled me to the entrance of the infirmary. The man who’d pushed my chair shook my hand, thanked me for my service. The woman who’d accompanied us saluted me. Then the two healers retreated, leaving me alone.
I should’ve gone home. Reesid the butler, along with the other members of the staff, would be anxious for my arrival. But House Stornalf held no appeal to me. I hadn’t been home in…what was it now? Three years? It was a memory, a place of refuge for a version of me that no longer existed, a location detached from emotion or sentiment.
Standing in the middle of the street, in the overwhelmingly loud city of Aneosa, I found myself wheezing.
I’m without my vocation, without my unit, without orders of any kind. What am I supposed to do now?
I gripped my chest with my left hand. The barbarians from Holger had taken my right arm, and given me multiple lacerations to the face, chest, and stomach, all because I had dared to defend the largest iron deposit in our neighboring country of Ubar. My wounds had healed during my six month stay in the infirmary but I would never get my arm back. To add insult to injury, needle pricks of pain attacked the lower half of my stump when I least expected it.
Despite it all, I had no reason to complain. Not really. Mine was better than the fate of my comrades.
I looked down, not seeing the pavement beneath my feet but the broken bodies of the men I’d served beside. I stumbled back against the outer wall of the infirmary with a curse. Even after I shut my eyes, I still heard the crack of musket fire and the clang of colliding swords in the distance. Excess saliva pooled into my mouth, a warning that bile would soon follow. My stomach lurched. I clapped a hand over my lips.
“Are you napping, Stornalf?”
The voice of my commanding officer, Captain Vephlo, brought me back from the brink as it had numerous times during basic training.
“Does it look like now is a good time to shut your eyes?”
“No, sir,” I gasped.
“You still have a job to do. Now get to it!”
“Yes, sir.” I fled down the street.
Horse drawn carriages came and went. Pedestrians populated the sidewalks even at this hour of the morning. Icicles hung from the red-brick and bath stone buildings around me. Smoke from multiple chimneys, protruding from a sea of side-gabled roofs, made the air feel heavy. I tasted the soot mixed in with the morning mist every time I took a breath.
The cobblestone streets, the seemingly endless patchwork of buildings, the distant whistle of the train; all of it was so foreign to me. I’d grown up in a mansion in the middle of the countryside, pampered and sheltered, like every other young member of Aneosa’s aristocracy. Far away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Then my father, the late Lord Argin of House Stornalf, had been diagnosed with an incurable blood disease and had decided to enlist his only son in the armed forces.
At the tender age of eighteen, I’d been torn from my life of privilege and forced to endure months of hellish training before I was ordered to travel by foot or on horseback all over this frozen expanse of land (also known as the country of Loram). I, along with my unit, had defended small cities and remote villages unable to protect themselves against bandits and raiders. It had all happened so suddenly and without my consent. Had I been angry? Yes, in the beginning. But I couldn’t stay angry at my father. He was dead after all.
It was sad. I could acknowledge that but couldn’t quite feel it. My father and I, despite having lived together in that mansion for years, had never had the closest relationship. He’d passed away while I was on the other side of the country on a mission for the armed forces. Without a body, a funeral, or a tombstone, it hadn’t felt real to me. It still didn’t. Perhaps the truth of it would sink in upon my return home.
I stopped short when I realized I was going the wrong way. I squinted at the street signs ahead of me before swiveling around to look for the signs I’d passed just moments ago. Yes, I’d made a wrong turn. I was supposed to go down Kingsley Street.
“There’s a little bookstore on the corner of Kingsley and Blackbriar. That’s where she works most mornings. I bet she’d live there if she could.”
I swallowed hard.
Another ghostly voice murmuring from beyond the grave, this one belonging to Byx of House Willowrock. He’d been one of my dearest friends during my time in the armed forces.
Grief was starting to build inside of me, a deadly steam pressurizing in my chest that would make me to burst unless I took action. I gripped the strap of my satchel. Squared my shoulders. Marched around the corner and down Kingsley Street. A sign shaped like an open scroll pointed me to the bookstore.
The shop was small; only three long bookcases fit in the center of the room. Three out of the four corners were home to comfortable-looking benches and armchairs. There was a counter in the last corner, behind which a young lady sat. She had a peaches and cream complexion with burnt orange hair pulled back in a knot. A delicately upturned nose and brown eyes framed by thick lashes peaked out from above the book she read.
Even without a trace of powder or kohl on her face she was outrageously beautiful. The small portrait Byx had kept with him had not done her justice.
My heart sputtered a bit as she gracefully lowered her book over the countertop.
There was a moment of silence when our eyes met. The door swung shut behind me; the tiny bell fell abruptly silent. I knew I must’ve looked terrible. I hadn’t slept or eaten much in the past few months. My curly beard and mustache couldn’t mask the washed out pallor of my skin or the scars that now cut angry lines across my face. The shirt and trousers I wore were wrinkled from having spent years wadded up in my satchel. I should’ve gone home first.
Well, it’s too late for that now.
I approached the counter in a few quick strides, producing a smile that made my face hurt. “Good morning, Miss. I’m Maddock of House Stornalf. Do you know that name?”
Her throat bobbed as she gulped. She glanced at my missing arm before fixing her gaze on my face. “Yes, my lord.”
“I knew you were.” Laughing nervously, I added, “I’m not sure why I asked. I suppose I’m out of practice. Haven’t talked to a lady since…”
Her delicate eyebrows peaked.
“I’m not a loon. I promise. Let me try again.” I pulled my shoulders back. “Byx was my best friend.”
Her jaw tightened for a moment. Then she gave one curt nod.
I rushed on with my speech, forcing my vocal chords to work against the pressure of my grief. “I am—that is to say, my family is—very wealthy. Surely you must have many suitors, but I swore on my life that I would take care of you if anything happened to your brother. So here is my offer.” I took another moment to breathe before proceeding. “If you were to accept my hand in marriage, you’d be my wife only in name. I’d expect and demand nothing from you. You’d live on my estate in your own rooms, be free to come and go as you please, have anything you want, and be waited upon by the staff day and night. Does this sound agreeable to you?”
“Yes, my lord,” she whispered.
I forced my face to remain unchanged despite the surprise and terror that had my heart seizing in my chest. “Spectacular,” I said after a pause. “Shall we meet at the Church of Yala at sunset to make it official?”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” she said, curtsying from behind the counter.
“I suppose I’ll go and”—A quick inspection of myself confirmed my suspicions; I desperately needed a bath and a new change of clothes—“do something about this,” I murmured, waving a hand over my person. “I’ll procure a pair of rings as well. Unless, you already have a ring you’d like to use?”
Belhina shook her head. The way she stared at me, like a child meeting an impressive official, it made my stomach ache.
“Right. Well, not to worry. I’ll take care of everything.” Flashing another smile, I added, “I’ll see you at sunset.” Then I retreated.
I shouldered past the door, my hand sweaty, my heart galloping like a wild stallion running from a broncobuster. I’d never imagined in a hundred years that she would accept me. What was I to her, a name her brother might’ve mentioned in one of his letters? What was she thinking, saying ‘yes’ to a broken man like me when there had to be—there had to be—better men seeking to make her their wife?
“Oh, she has suitors, just none that I particularly like or trust. You’re a good man, Stornalf. If I go before you, my soul will be at peace, knowing that you’ll be here to take care of my sister.”
I exhaled. Of course, I’d agreed. For Byx, there wasn’t much I wouldn’t do. But that promise, which had seemed so far-fetched in the moment, was going to become my reality come sunset. There was only one place I could think to go now. Retracing my steps down Kingsley Street, I searched for a pub.