Hello All! Happy (Northern) summer!
I hope the summer/winter, depending on your hemisphere, is starting off well. Here it’s hot. And dry. So hot and dry that the ground is starting to crack. Fingers crossed for rain soon!
While I languish under the midsummer sun here, my heroine Dasha is dealing with the chill of autumn. And when autumn actually comes around here, book 2 in the The Singing Shore trilogy will come out! Yes, The Singing Shore II: Sky and Stone, is available to pre-order!
It’s not actually scheduled to come out until October, but in the meantime, here’s a juicy sneak peek to whet your appetite.
Warning: major spoilers ahead!
If you’ve read The Singing Shore I: Sea and Song, then you know that some…stuff happens to Dasha’s guard Alik. Well, if you read this excerpt, you’ll find out the…stuff was maybe not so…stuffy after all.
Also, we meet a new character in this excerpt! Magnus Olafsson, Anders Olafsson’s half-brother and the heir to the High King, makes his first appearance. And it turns out he has designs on Dasha, which put him on a direct collision course with his brother…
Perhaps it will be nothing but a minor skirmish between brothers, Dasha told herself. Magnus Olafsson will strike a few times, maybe draw a few drops of blood, and Anders Olafsson will…use his magic in some way—she couldn’t imagine what kind of offensive capabilities he had that would serve him in a duel—and they will clap each other’s backs and call it a draw, and we’ll all go back to the camp in great good spirits.
Suddenly, as she was feeding herself these comforting thoughts, Magnus Olafsson lunged. Anders Olafsson jumped back, but not far enough to stop the tip of his brother’s blade from sinking deep into the flesh of his upper arm. Hot red blood blossomed from the wound as Magnus Olafsson withdrew his sword.
Anders Olafsson stumbled back, his hand on his arm, blood leaking between his fingers. For a horrible moment Dasha thought Magnus Olafsson was going to run him through, sever a limb, perhaps slide his sword right through his neck, but instead he looked up at Dasha with a pleased grin, inviting her to join in his triumph.
She smiled sickly back at him. She had to admit that seeing Anders Olafsson wounded gave her a certain amount of vengeful pleasure. But she had already stopped him from hurting her and taken her revenge on him herself. She didn’t want to see him maimed or killed by his own brother in some stupid fight over the privilege of marrying her. The only person capable of bestowing her hand on either of them was her, and they could batter each other to death without changing that.
Anders Olafsson let go of his wounded arm, and flexed his bloody fingers. The ground rippled under Magnus Olafsson, causing him to stumble and fall to one knee. He laughed, and jumped back to his feet.
Anders Olafsson tried to flex his fingers again, but Magnus Olafsson rushed him, bulling into him with his shoulder and knocking him to the ground before he could do anything. For a horrible moment, Dasha thought he was going to run his brother through before he could do anything to defend himself, but once again Magnus Olafsson stepped back to let Anders Olafsson get up. He gave Dasha another grin while he waited.
Dasha realized she was clawing at her face, and pulled her hands away and put them behind her, driving them into the rock with her seat until it hurt, trying to control herself and give herself something to focus on other than screaming at them to stop it. Screaming at them to stop it might be the right thing to do. But she doubted it would do any good. Neither man had ever shown the slightest inclination to listen to her about anything of substance. As far as they were concerned, her only role here was to watch them fight, and then go off willingly with the winner.
Maybe now is a good time to run away, she said to Alik. While they’re both distracted.
I think rain is coming, he answered. You have no warm clothes with you, no food, no weapons. Run if you have no choice, but if you possibly can, go back to the camp and supply yourself first, just as you planned.
Yes. Tonight, like we planned. When it’s dark, and everyone’s distracted. We’ll run tonight.
Anders Olafsson had pulled himself to his feet. He seemed slightly stunned by the fall, and blood was still running down his left arm. With insulting laziness, Magnus Olafsson brought up his sword and began circling him.
Anders Olafsson flexed his fingers again, causing the ground to ripple once more. The rock under him seemed to Dasha’s eyes to be turning a strange dark gray, as if something essential were being leached from it. Her skin crawled from the sight.
Magnus Olafsson appeared less affected. He kept his feet, swaying back and forth with the earth until Anders Olafsson, apparently grown tired, let his hand fall limply to his side. Then Magnus Olafsson rushed him again.
Anders Olafsson sidestepped his initial charge, but wavered and almost went down as his knees buckled. Magnus Olafsson whirled around and brought his elbow smashing down on his brother’s shoulder, right where it joined the neck. Anders Olafsson groaned and went down on both knees. Magnus Olafsson kicked him between the shoulder blades, sending him sprawling facedown on the stony ground. He groaned again and tried feebly to push himself up to all fours. Magnus Olafsson planted a boot on his back and pushed him back down into the ground.
Anders Olafsson lay there, apparently in submission and defeat. Magnus Olafsson grinned up at Dasha and made a stabbing motion with his sword, obviously asking her if he should run his brother through.
“Nei!” she cried.
He shrugged and gave her a little bow of acknowledgement. He ground the sole of his boot into Anders Olafsson’s back in a final display of dominance, and, sheathing his sword, stepped off him and began walking towards Dasha in what she could only describe as a cocky swagger. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. That might provoke a response at least as violent as the beating he had just administered to his brother.
He was already within a couple of paces from her, obviously planning to grab her, when she saw Anders Olafsson rise to his knees and flex his fingers. Something thrummed deep within her chest.
“Watch out!” she cried instinctively in Zemnian.
Magnus Olafsson couldn’t understand her words, but he understood her tone and the look on her face. Quick as a cat, he whirled around, sword already clearing its scabbard.
It was too late. The stone underneath him had already gone as soft and sticky as melted sugar, sucking down his boots as he tried to pull first one foot free, then the other.
He roared in outrage and struggled harder, but that only made him sink faster. Already he was submerged in the melting stone halfway up his calves, and the ground was growing softer and softer under him, pulling him down and not letting him go.
Anders Olafsson rose to his feet, both hands held out rigidly in front of him, his fingers curled like claws. The look on his face was the same as it had been when he had attacked Dasha and she had first tried to fight back: hatred, and lust, and a desire for dominance that overwhelmed everything else.
I can’t let him do this! Blood was thundering in Dasha’s ears, and she was afraid she might be sick, or collapse, but her thoughts were oddly calm. I can’t let him do this. I cannot stand by and watch him drown another living being in stone before my very eyes. And if he wins, he might think that gives him claim over me. I cannot let that happen either. But what can I do?
Dasha brought up her hands. Not so much as a spark. Her flames were absolutely dead. How was Anders Olafsson able to work such powerful magic? Tuulikki had said he was not as affected by his father’s anti-magic as she and the other Seumi sorceresses were. But he had told Dasha that his father’s anti-magic hurt him, even so. Perhaps his father was able to control it enough to allow him access to his power, even as he kept everyone else choked and muzzled. Or perhaps his father was not exerting his power at all right now, and Dasha’s flames were dead because of some deadness within her, not from anything external.
Distract him, Alik hissed in her mind.
“Stop!” she cried in Zemnian. Anders Olafsson looked at her, but only flexed his fingers again, making his brother sink faster.
Magnus Olafsson was screaming in rage, a stream of furious obscenities, and struggling desperately, trying to drive his sword into the earth and use it to pull himself free, but the ground around him seemed as hard as iron, and his sword point skittered off what should have been soft dirt, causing him to lose his balance and almost fall facefirst into the soft, sucking rock that was drawing him down with dreadful inexorability.
“Stopp!” Dasha screamed. Anders Olafsson flexed his fingers again. His brother sank down another heart-stopping handspan, so that the ground was now well above his knees.
Look down! Alik cried. She looked down. The ground was now undulating and roiling just in front of her toes. Another couple of inches, and she, too, would be pulled into it and trapped.
Get out get out get OUT! It must have been Alik who had found an escape route for them while she had been watching the battle between the two brothers with horror, for it was not her knowledge that threw her in a violent jump to her left, stumbling and scrambling and finally rolling away from the rockface just as the ground she had been standing on gave way, and the rockface itself began to bubble and melt.
She pulled herself back to her feet. Magnus Olafsson was now sunk down to mid-thigh in the sticky ground. Anders Olafsson was watching him sink with a peculiar look, his mouth half-open and his eyes half-closed, as if he were experiencing indescribable pleasure from the slow death of his only brother. Perhaps he was.
Get OUT of here! Alik shouted at her. Let the mother-raping barbarians kill each other! Just get OUT of here.
Dasha’s legs wanted to agree, wanted to take her running down the path, away, away, away from this scene of horror. Her hand reached down and picked up a stone, the size of a large duck egg. She hefted it, feeling the weight of it in her palm.
Oh, by all the mother-raping gods! Do you even know how to throw?
No, she told Alik.
She could feel his groan of exasperation. Let me, then. And something, some force outside of herself, guided her hand as she drew it back and let the stone fly, straight into the back of Anders Olafsson’s head.
Yowza! What will happen next? Stay tuned for more excerpts, stay cool if you’re currently caught in the heat, and here’s that preorder link again.