01/31/15
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Beast of Maug Maurai Update (and Sample)

It’s been a long time coming, I know, and I apologize profusely. I am currently finishing the the third book in The Beast of Maug Maurai trilogy. My tentative release date is February 17, although looking at what has to be done still, that’s a bit optimistic. I do, however, want to have it released by the end of February, and I am very motivated to get it done. I might put it up for pre-order for February 29, 2015. Yeah, I know, not funny. Okay, but I’m not kidding about putting up for pre-order. That would ensure that I finish it on time. How does February 28 sound? (Edit: I had to push it back so I could make it available for pre-order. Release date is now March 10, but it will be available for pre-order very soon!)

To hold you over until then, or perhaps to tease you a bit, here’s an unedited passage from the manuscript. Enjoy! And thanks again for your continued support.

“You think it was the demons of CWNCR?” Drissdie muttered. “I heard the demons can look like trees. We shouldn’t be here, in the forest. No, we should just leave, d’you suppose?”

Lokk Lurius shoved saplings aside and stomped onward. He was never lost in a city. Cities made sense. Even the Outer Line cities of Eridia, with their cattle-path roads and winding alleyways. Cities were created by humans, and even the most twisted of settlements contained a logic that could be unraveled. Forests were unreasonable things. Twisted and purposeless. They were a disease. A crazed affliction of the land.

“I heard CWNCR is the gateway to the Dark Place,” Drissdie continued. “I heard Mundaaith himself travels through CWNCR when he comes to Celusia, d’you suppose? And that anyone in the forest when Mundaaith arrives dies. Just like that. Dead. Except I heard you get a lot of pain before you die. You fall and you feel the worst pain you ever felt. I know a lad, Frynn, he says that you stay in pain ‘til Mundaaith leaves the forest? I can’t think of nothing worse than that. You think you stay in pain for days? Wouldn’t you just die? I think you’d just die. No one could stay in that sort of pain for days, could they? You’d go mad, d’you suppose?”

Lokk Lurius spun in a slow circle, staring up into the thick canopy of Maug Maurai. How far had they gone from the camp? The imbecile had run for at least a mile. Only the sound of his sobs had allowed Lokk to find him. And when they walked back for a mile, the camp wasn’t there.

Unreasonable forest. A damned plague of the land.

“Do you think the others are dead?” Drisside rubbed his hands together, as if washing them. “Do you… do you think the demons got them?”

They had wandered for hours, shouting for the others. But the forest smothered shouts. Murdered sound.  And the campsite remained hidden from them. They were lost. Ridiculously lost. Frustratingly, unreasonably lost.

Lokk walked forward a dozen paces and listened for any sound of the squad.

Drissdie had sworn that he recognized a leaning feuryk tree. Had sworn he knew the way back. So Lokk had followed the fool for another mile in the wrong direction. Traveling one mile in the wrong direction was trouble in Maug Maurai. But two miles was a death sentence. If left alone for long enough, the two of them would eventually find their way out. But Lokk had heard enough to know that Maug Maurai never left you alone.

He should have let Drissdie run to his death.

The mercenary spun again in a slow circle, but the carpet moss was like a green mist, veiling the world in sameness. How did Sage find his way through this labyrinth? How did an Eridian mercenary find himself here, lost in a murderous Laraytian forest?

Drissdie Hannish.

The fool had doomed them both. A forest was the only enemy Lokk couldn’t kill. Drissdie Hannish had led him into a trap. An unreasonable ambush of grasping branches and slashing thorns.

“What do you think the trees were firing at us? I think it was snot. Frynn says demons can cover you in snot to keep you from moving. You think they were trying to capture us? So they could bring us to CWNCR, d’you suppose? Maybe they—”

Drissdie inhaled his next words as Lokk grabbed him with both hands and snarled.

†††

The two soldiers plodded silently through the endless maze of Maug Maurai. Lokk wore a scowl that grew more profound with each crackling footstep. And Drissdie Hannish wore a gag.

They waded through a wide stream, plodding for several hundred paces to avoid a long line of sinister brambles. When they returned to land, it was to clamber over a fallen oak more than ten feet thick.  A hundred paces past the tree, Drissdie made a series of word-shaped moans.

“Take it off again,” Lokk replied, “and I’ll have your tongue.”

Drissdie’s moans grew louder. He jabbed a finger toward the left again and again.

“If the word demon or snot comes out of your mouth,” Lokk said, “I will cut you into strips.”

Drissdie shook his head, looked toward the left and jabbed his finger again.

Lokk yanked the leather gag—made from Drissdie’s tabard—away from the young soldier’s mouth.

“We walked past that tree, d’you suppose? There was a black bird in it. Remember? It had a yellow beak. Really pretty. I remember. It was sitting on that branch, d’you suppose?”

Lokk studied the tree and shook his head. “Different tree. Put the gag back on.”

“Maybe…maybe we should just stay here, d’you suppose? Until the others find us?”

Lokk took a long breath, ran a fist over his brows. “No one is going to find us.” He turned to face Drissdie. “We are miles from anyone, in a forest that kills people.” He took a step toward the young soldier. “No one will hear us. No one will see us.” He took hold of Drissdie’s tabard again and pulled the soldier close, their faces inches apart. “Maybe I’ll just kill you now,” he snarled. “Save you the misery of being eaten. Because we’re on our own.” He shook Drissdie and the young soldier’s helm tumbled off and thumped on the moss. “Do you understand? No one is going to find us! No one!

A voice called from the forest. “Oi! Someone there?”

Drissdie and Lokk—faces still inches apart—turned to look. A hulking shape crashed through a laurel patch.

“Found you,” said Black Murrogar. “Where are the others?”

11/5/13
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Beast of Maug Maurai Character List

So, I wrote this book a while ago called the Beast of Maug Maurai, and it had a few characters in it. Okay, it had a *lot* of characters in it. I’ve worked so hard on each and every one of these characters that I feel like I’ve grown up with them. Toilet-papered people’s houses with them. Been kicked out of New York City bars because of them. Destroyed people’s mailboxes with them. Gone on wildly illegal scavenger hunts that led to arrests with them. I’d make some more completely, absolutely fictitious metaphors that have nothing whatsoever to do with my actual youth but I’m not sure about the statute of limitations on vehicular assault and property damage caused by driving without being able to see. So I will simply say that I know these characters very well, but you, gentle readers, meet them with no real introductions. So, without further probing of my criminal past, here is a crib sheet of the characters in Grae Barragns’s squad:

Grae Barragns’s Standards:

Grae Barragns
Age:
31
Home: Maentrass Barony
Background: Grae is a brig in the Laraytian Standards, which is the professional army of the Kingdom of Laraytia. The Standards answer only to the king (currently Tharandyr Darmurian) and the marquesses (there are two in each of the six duchies). A brig is an officer rank, roughly between a captain and major in the U.S. or British armies of today. Grae’s father died as a hammer (sergeant) in the Standards, and Grae himself started as a trudge (private). Grae’s tactical skills, intelligence, and bravery on the battlefield have vaulted him into the officer ranks, a feat almost unheard of among commoners. The highborn officers of the Standards, however, are not keen on a commoner in their ranks. The political wrangling of these highborn officers has banished Grae to the fringes of the Standards. He becomes “The Headsman,” an officer sent out to carry out the orders that no one else wants. He leads his men on dozens of massacres, killing innocents so that enemies will fear the the Laraytian Standards. And with each massacre he leads, his soul blackens a shade.

Mullin “Hammer” Haerth
Age:
38
Home: Duryth
Background: Mullin is a hammer in the Laraytian Standards (roughly equivalent to a sergeant). He has been a hammer for so long that few people use his first name anymore. He is simply Hammer, and Grae believes him to be the finest hammer in the Standards. He and Grae are best of friends, despite being apart for the last five years.

Mollingsley “Sage” Tharke
Age
: 27
Home: Hrux Barony
Background: Sage is a stout with honors in the Laraytian Standards (roughly equivalent to a corporal). He is also a specialist — a scout. The Standards have trained him to track enemies through a variety of terrains. He can also track animals, hunt, and survive in the wilderness. He is one of the most intelligent men Grae knows, although a bit unfocused. Perhaps worse than his lack of focus is his drinking, which has gotten worse in the years since Grae last saw the scout. Sage’s father is a successful merchant, importing sundry goods to Laraytia from the far kingdoms. Joining the standards was an act of rebellion for Sage, who has not spoken with his father for five years.

Meedryk Bodlyn
Age: 23
Home: Thraen
Background: Meedryk is a specialist in the Laraytian Standards. His rank is mantic, which is the third and final phase of a magician-in-training. His father is a scribe and historian, who pens books about the history of Nuldryn in his spare time. Mages sometimes pay Meedryk’s father to copy books on the craft of magic and Meedryk has spent his childhood “borrowing” these volumes secretly (and illegally) and reading them at night by candlelight. Although he is close to becoming a guilded magician, he is not happy. He spent his childhood listening to stories about the master mages of Old Nuldryn, dreaming of one day learning their secrets. But the secrets he has learned so far have disappointed him. They are nothing more than tricks with chemics (alchemy). He wants to know the true arts — that which the master mages call “transcendence” — but is afraid that such things might not exist.

Beldrun Shanks
Age:
29
Home: Hrux Barony
Background: Shanks is a trudge in the Laraytian Standards (similar to a private in the U.S. Military). He is also a criminal. Grae finds him in the dungeon of Gaer Froen, where Shanks was sent to live out his days. The big infantryman has murdered, raped and robbed. He is a tall and strong and greatly skilled with an axe, but has a cruel streak in him and is quick to anger. His lack of discipline and respect makes him a hard man to lead. He and Sage grew up together in Hrux Barony.


 Jjarnee Kruu
Age: 26
Home: Kingdom of Hrethri
Background: Jjarnee is a stout in the Standards (roughly equivalent to a private first class in the United States military) and a crossbowman. He comes from the kingdom of Hrethri (see map). Foreigners are allowed to enter the Standards if they choose, although they must speak and understand the Galadane language fluently. Jjarnee isn’t particularly fluent, but he is excellent with a crossbow. He is also good-humored, loves tasting new ales and ciders, and plays pranks on his squadmates.

Drissdie Hannish
Age: 19
Home: Blythfarn Barony
Background: Drissdie is a trudge in the Standards.He did not enter the world with great intelligence and became even less intelligent when a war hammer’s spike pierced his skull. He still bears the scars from the wound that almost killed him, and not all of those scars are physical. He is terrified of Maug Maurai and the dark tales that were born there. A priest once told him that “A smile is the armor of the meek.” So he smiles often.

Dathnien “Daft” Faldrey
Age: 25
Home: Harrynsale
Background: Dathnien is a trudge in the Standards. He fought in the Battle of Haux, against the Durrenian hoards, and witnessed atrocities there. The most devout of Durrenians are known to occasionally eat the bodies of their enemies. Dathnien witnessed this, and many other horrors. He lost his mind in the battle and was sent to a purificery — a place were the insane are treated (in barbaric ways). Dathnien was released back into service after a year in the purificery, although Grae is not sure that he should have been. Dathnien is quiet, unbalanced, and has strange theories about the purpose of life.

Rundle Graen
Age: 28
Home: Thraen
Background: Rundle Graen is a trudge in the Standards. He is a Lojanite disciple, which means he tries to live his life by the scriptures of the god Lojanwyne. Those scriptures, The Arms and The Endeavours, teach that men must be strong, savage in battle, and unflinching when avenging injustice. Rundle is gruff, quiet, and prone to violence. He has been disciplined twice for brawling with his company mates.

Mercenaries and Other Guests:

Aramaesia Charrei
Age: 20
Home: Gri’Marche, in Kingdom of Gracidmar (see map)
Background: Aramaesia is the daughter of a Gracidmarian cavalry scout and a Sylanthian archer (Sylanthia is a region in Gracidmar known for producing the best archers in Celucia). Her mother, the archer, died when Aramaesia was five. But Aramaesia took after her and is a masterful archer. She is able to make shots that seem to defy explanation. Her father, Vreitagne, left the Gracidmarian military two years after his wife died, when he he had a vision from the goddess Ja’Drei. He became a priest of Ja’Drei and rose quickly in the church hierarchy, becoming a torchbearer (like a cardinal in the Catholic Church). Aramaesia grew up a devout disciple of Ja’Drei, and had her own visions, including one in which Ja’Drei’s prophet, Raeyn, pointed westward, over the Green Mountains that led to Laraytia. Within a month, her father put together an expedition to Laryatia for her and he traveled with her to Arryn Duchy. There, in Maug Tenrae, they established a camp to feed the poor and heal the sick.

Lokk Lurius
Age: Unknown
Home: Kingdom of Eridia
Background: Lurius is from the Kingdom of Eridia (see map). He is not a soldier in the Standards, but a freeblade mercenary. Freeblades are known to be among the most skilled of mercenaries. He is one of the best warriors Grae has ever seen and makes a welcome addition to the squad. But he is also a mystery. Lord Aeren has deduced a few facts about him, but most of the man’s past is unknown. Grae suspects there is a great depth to Lokk Lurius, and a history that he’s not sure he wants to know. Lurius doesn’t speak often — about his past or any other subject — but bristles easily. And when he starts killing, it is difficult to make him stop.

Sir Jastyn Whitewind
Age: 22
Home: Tyftin
Background: Jastyn was born the third son of a third son of a Duke. He has no hopes of ruling, or inheriting any sizable lands. He is a virtual unknown in the community, although he has started making a name for himself at tournaments, placing high in three of the last four. His brother is Knight-Protector of Tyftin. His uncle Waeryn Whitewind is the Earl of Tyftinshire.  Another of his uncles, Kethren Whitewind, is the Count of Tyftin. Sir Jastyn trains rigorously for tournaments and hopes to one day become a Laraytian Lancer (the kingdom’s feared, elite cavalry). He fell in love with his songmaiden, Maribrae Endilweir, and made her his bloodwife in a moon ceremony — a secret, symbolic ritual that has no official weight. He has been promised to Lady Trissis Wyldfourge, whom he is to marry in two months.

Maribrae Endilweir
Age: 17
Home: Taur
Background: Maribrae is a songmaiden — a woman who attaches herself to a noble (often a knight) and records his or her accomplishments in stories and songs. Her mother, who was also a songmaiden, died at the Faur Folly Battle when Maribrae was thirteen. Maribrae attached herself to Sir Jastyn Whitewind, and fell in love with him instantly. Sir Jastyn made her his bloodwife and the two are inseparable. But Jastyn’s upcoming marriage to Lady Trissis Wyldfourge (a real marriage) makes her heartsick.

Lord Aeren Threncaneon
Age: 19
Home: Invaurnoth
Background: Aeren is he nephew of the Count of Invaurnoth, Jervik Threncaneon. He serves as an assistant to the Erudite Lady Wyael — a sage of great renowned in the Galdane empire. Lady Wyael is the Old Kingdoms’s foremost authority on beasts and animals. She sent him to accompany Grae Barragns and his squad into the forest so that Aeren could gather information about the Beast of Maug Maurai. Lord Aeren is handsome and stylish. He is becoming an accomplished scholar, but his womanizing ways keep him from fulfilling his potential.

I hope this has been of some use to you. When creating each of these characters, I thought of actors that would best play them in a movie and pasted photos of those actors on their bio sheets. I didn’t put them here because reading is, itself, an act of creation. I don’t want to pollute your creation with my thoughts. On my own book. As odd as that sounds. But if you are interested in seeing the actors I chose for each of these, let me know. I might post them.

Have you read the Maug Maurai books? Let me know who you picture playing the roles. Would love to hear your ideas!

 

10/22/13
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Just Released: The Beast of Maug Maurai, Book II

I know it’s been a long time in coming, and I apologize for the delay, but I’ve just released ‘ Feeding the Gods.’ The epic-fantasy novel continues the adventures of Grae Barragns, brig in the Laraytian Standards, and of Black Murrogar, hero of Laryatia and the former Champion of Nuldryn. Like the first book, Feeding the Gods alternates between Grae’s squad of soldiers and Murrogar’s mob of lords and ladies. I’ve included a teaser excerpt below to get you in the mood. Enjoy!

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Murrogar already had a fire going when Lojen sent his gaze through the gaps in the forest canopy. The old hero been up an hour earlier, chasing the fat, waddling birds in the pre-dawn dark and slaughtering four of them. A party that had required five boar and three stags to feed could now feast comfortably on four plump birds.

He had slept fitfully, expecting an attack during the night. An attack that never came. It was the first night without a death. He should have been pleased, but he felt only a vague sense of dread. He ran a whetstone over the duke’s sword.

After the meal, Murrogar got the nobles moving. It was hard work. They were in agony, every one of them with sore muscles and many with gashed, blistered feet. But Maeris was somewhere to the south and Murrogar wanted to get to Maeris more than the travelers wanted to complain.

The duke approached. “I’d like you to speak with the others about decorum.”

Murrogar grinned. “Decorum?”

“Yes. The others are not addressing me as Your Grace anymore. And they are being sloppy when they eat. Wiping their hands on their clothing and such.”

“You’re right, without question.” Murrogar laughed. “They’ll be chewing with their mouth open before long.”

“This is a serious matter, Murrogar. Decorum must be upheld. When we get back to Lae Duerna I plan on giving a speech on this subject.”

“Are you truly speaking to me about manners?” Murrogar asked. “Here in Maug Maurai?”

“Decorum must be upheld,” said the duke. “It is the soul of nobility.” He leaned forward and, with a sideways glance, whispered, “I saw one of the ladies spit. Can you imagine? She spat like a sailor. No. We won’t tolerate this. We cannot. We cannot.”

Murrogar stopped walking and stared at the duke for a long time. The man didn’t meet his gaze, only shook his head and glanced back at the others. “Decorum must be upheld, Murrogar. Without it, we are nothing but savages.”

“Of course, m’lord,” Murrogar spoke slowly.

“You’ll take care of it?”

“I will,” Murrogar replied. “We’ll get those bastards in line.”

The duke nodded and walked off after the duchess. Murrogar watched him go and exchanged a look with Thantos.

“I think this forest has knocked a couple gems from his crown,” Thantos said.

They followed the great stone ridge for fifty yards, the nobles without shoes stepping from stone to stone to save their bleeding feet from the twigs and burs of the forest floor. The ridge curled to the right and when the group turned the corner Murrogar stopped so quickly that Thantos, who was talking to him, spoke into mid-air for two more steps. Everyone fell silent, except for Sir Wyann, who laughed and took off his helmet.

Yawning against the curve of the ridge was a cave. A gaping, ten-foot-high, toothless-mouth of a cave. For Wyann, no blythallow or palace had ever looked so beautiful as that crude, dark cave there in Maug Maurai.

Murrogar looked closely. No vegetation touched the rocks. He scanned the forest. Every other inch of Maug Maurai was covered in green. But the rocks of the cave were untouched by grass or ivy. Not even the carpet moss wanted that cave.

“Safety!” cried Sir Wyann. “We can hold off the Beast in there.” He had taken one of the birch torches they made on the  hilltop two nights earlier, and he drew it out now, struck it alight while Murrogar studied the cave.

Murrogar shook his head. “No. We keep moving.”

The nobles hesitated, their gazes creeping toward the cave. Sir Wyann turned on Murrogar, his face creased so tightly that his eyes were nearly lost beneath the blond brows. “Are you mad?” He pointed to the cave. “That’s shelter! The first decent shelter we’ve seen.”

“Yup,” Murrogar motioned to the nobles with his hands, ordered them to continue walking. He eyed the cave again. There were no tracks outside. No leaves disturbed.

Sir Wyann stepped closer, grabbed Murrogar’s arm. “Why? Why?”

Murrogar grabbed the knight by the top of his breastplate and shook hard. “Because that Beast cuts us off from every hill, ridge or hole that we’ve seen. Because it let us come here. Because that cave don’t look right. Because I don’t like it. And we’re not going in.”

But someone had already gone in.

 

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Thanks, all of you, for your continued support. I look forward to reading your comments about Feeding the Gods. And stay tuned here, on my blog, for more upcoming announcements on future work.

05/27/13

Short Excerpt: Beast of Maug Maurai, Book 2

Been working on this all week, so figured I’d give all of you a taste  of what it is I’m doing. I might post another one tomorrow.

They followed the ridge, the nobles who had lost their shoes stepping from stone to stone to save their bleeding feet from the twigs and burs of the forest floor. The travelers reached a sharp curve in the ridge and Murrogar stopped so quickly that Thantos, who was talking to him, spoke into mid-air for two more steps. Everyone fell silent, except for Sir Wyann, who laughed and took off his helmet.
 

Yawning against the corner of the ridge was a cave. A gaping, ten-foot-high, toothless-mouth of a cave. No blythallow or palace had ever looked so beautiful as that crude, dark cave there in Maug Maurai.
 

Murrogar looked closely. No vegetation touched the rocks. He scanned the forest. Every inch of Maug Maurai was covered in green. But the rocks of the cave were untouched by grass or ivy. Not even the carpet moss wanted that cave.
 

“We’re safe!” cried Sir Wyann. He drew a birch-bark torch from his sword belt and struck it alight while Murrogar studied the cave. “We can hold off the Beast in there.”
 

Murrogar shook his head. “We keep moving.”
 

The nobles hesitated, their gazes creeping toward the cave. Sir Wyann turned on Murrogar, his face creased so tightly that his eyes were nearly lost beneath the blond brows. “Are you mad?” He pointed to the cave. “That’s shelter! The first decent shelter we’ve seen.”
 

“Yup,” Murrogar motioned to the nobles with his hands, ordered them to continue walking. He eyed the cave again. There were no tracks outside. No leaves disturbed.
 

Sir Wyann stepped closer to Murrogar. “Why? Why?”
 

Murrogar grabbed the knight by the top of his breastplate and shook hard. “Because that Beast cuts us off from every hill, ridge or hole that we’ve seen. Because it let us come here. Because that cave don’t look right. Because I don’t like it. And we’re not going in.”
 

But someone had already gone in. A scream echoed from the cave.

05/24/13

The Beast of Maug Maurai: Book II – Cover Reveal

Hi everyone,

The cover for book II of THE BEAST OF MAUG MAURAI (book title: Feeding the Gods) is ready!  It’s similar to the cover for the first book, but more so. I’m all gushy over this one. It took ages to get the helmet to look right, but I think I got it to where it needs to be. What do you think? I know the shield in the first book cover was all rusted and rotting and stuff, and I had initially planned to do the same with this helmet. But while I was working I had this vision of the helmet reflecting the forest, and sort of shining brightly. So deal with it. ;)

<TECHNICAL STUFF>For those of you into graphic design, the helmet was a TurboSquid purchase. I could have made one, but it would have taken me a long time and probably wouldn’t have come out as good as this one. I brought the .obj model into Maya and mapped the forest to an environment texture in the Reflection Color attribute. It took me about two hours of fiddling with the lights and the texture settings to get it to look right. The glow in the visor is a point light with glow effects, enhanced in Photoshop with several layers of paint with outer glows.I used a Lens Blur on the forest to make it fade into the background a bit, something I probably should have done on the first cover.</TECHNICAL STUFF>

I’m really looking for feedback on this, so please let me know your thoughts. Mercy buckets.

Click for the Imax® version. (The bigger version of this image is not affiliated with Imax. Nor will it cost you $5 to see it)

 

 

05/23/13

Beast of Maug Maurai, Book II — Update

 

Hi everyone,
Just a quick note to let you know that I am trying to get The Beast of Maug Maurai, Book 2, out by the end of May, beginning of June. No promises, and schedules tend to change, but I am really trying to hold tight to my deadline. If you haven’t read Book 1, The Culling, I highly recommend it. Not just because I wrote it, but because reading books about Beasts living in forests is known to increase IQ by five to ten points at least. I’m sure I saw a study on it. Anyway, book 2 is coming out, so if you haven’t read book one, get to gettin’!

The Beast of Maug Maurai is an epic fantasy tale that has scooped up only 5- and 4-star reviews, except for one woman who was surprised that a three-part novel ended without resolving all the issues. Anyway, I digress, book 2, coming soon. Therefore, buying book 1 — if you haven’t already — is a moral imperative. Or something.

I’ll keep you updated on my progress. Thanks muchly for your continued support!

08/26/12

Love and Beastiality

Okay, so my post has nothing at all to do with beastiality, but I thought that title might earn me a few more hits ;)

Yes, there are swords in The Beast of Maug Maurai. Yes, there are knights and battles and spillage of blood and various bodily innards. But, fair reader, there is also goodness and humor and, yes, that gentlest of all human virtues, love. Medieval-style,  romantic love that twines with the story of our dread Beast. For those of you interested in the gentler of the human emotions, this excerpt from is for you:

“I am nothing.” The silks and linens that draped the canopy’s frame dampened the sound. Sir Jastyn Whitewind’s voice sounded small and flat.
Maribrae, awake by only the thinnest of threads, stirred and mumbled. “You are the blazing star of my heavens.”
It always surprised Jastyn that she could speak like this even at the edge of sleep. The layer of poetry that surrounded her rarely fell away.
“A star,” he said in the monotone of impending sleep. “That’s the right of it. I am nothing but …” He wasn’t at Maribrae’s level, he had to search for the correct words. “I am nothing but a distant star, a winking light in the distance … something interesting to look at, but providing nothing, doing nothing. Being nothing. What will be my title when I am dead? Jastyn the Irrelevant.” He let the words rest in the silks for a time, considering them. “If I were a candle, I could give light to those in the darkness. I could … I could bring day to the night. Even a touch of heat. I could re-light the hearth fire, illuminate a room, help magicians reach great heights. But a star … a star does nothing. Is nothing. Can do nothing.”
Maribrae’s hand found his and she sighed, forcing herself away from the banks of sleep, fighting the panic that rattled her heart when Jastyn spoke like this. “Fuel of my heart’s fire. You are the brilliant Western Star. Everyone who looks upon you knows where they are by your greatness. Your shining example is a guide to peasants and kings alike.” Jastyn smiled and nudged her playfully. She continued. “The world would grow colder and darker without Jastyn Whitewind.”  She draped her arm across the firmness of his chest. “What is a candle, that can be destroyed by breath or gust? That relies on the frailest patch of wax and thread to live? Even a distant star blazes eternal, outstaying mountains and civilizations. A candle brings light to naught but a tiny corner. A star gives its light to the world.” She kissed his ear gently. “Do they not say that stars are the lanterns of Eleyria? Do not the immortals hold these aloft to lend light to Blythwynn’s vigilance?” She rose from the bed, parting the silk canopy and taking his hand. “Come my love.”
The two walked across the floor of the tower, the stones still warm from the dying hearth fire, the faint light from the sconced candles casting an orange hue on their naked bodies. They passed the wafting wall hangings depicting the heroes of myth that Jastyn adored. Past a tapestry of Roebi and Ynnebelle, legendary lovers of Laraytia’s past. Past wooden plates bearing the images of The Forgotten Heroes and the Raging Eight. She brought him to the unglazed window, out onto the meager ledge. There were few lamps or torches on this side of the castle, so on that clear spring night the sky was absolutely powdered with stars. The moon, Blythwynn’s Eye, was a smudge in the southern skies.
“Stare upwards,” she whispered. “Ignore everything but the canopy above.”
He stared upward, distractedly at first, longing for the warmth of his bed. He gazed at the familiar constellations. The Spike. The Witch. Homunculus. He knew each of the immortals that made up the points of each constellation. They were as familiar as his room, or his armor. As familiar as the woman at his side. The peppering of stars so similar to the dappling of freckles across her body, her face.
But as he gazed at the dark roof of the world, he noted new details in those old stars. Shapes and subtleties that he had never seen, or had seen once and forgotten. Stars that were not immediately visible appeared. Like tiny forest creatures that peek out when observers are still and silent.
He noted the beautiful chalky veil. The faint smudges and specks that grew brighter when examined, that made the enormity of the night sky seem even larger, infinitely layered. It was endless. One could disappear among those stars, lost in a stormy sea of light and darkness. Murdered by the magnificent beauty, by the mystery and complexity of it all. Somewhere in the west a streak of light arced across the sky, burning for a moment, then fading to nothing.
Maribrae’s touch pulled him away from the black swirling sea, away from the ungraspable sophistication of the universe. Away from the power of those stars. Back to the cool stone balcony of Tower Duleun. To the simplicity of the castle called Daun Sanctra.
“I love you Mari,” he whispered. “More than Roebi loved Ynnebelle.”
“And I love you, Jastyn.” She stroked his face. “More than that.”
The smell of perfumed herbs upon her neck was more powerful than he had remembered. In her eyes he could see the night sky, the scattered stars spilling onto her nose and cheeks in reverse, white skies and dark stars. Her lips parted in a look of such vulnerable beauty, such heartbreaking innocence, that he had to fight off tears. There was expectation there. A query. He took her chin in his hand and kissed her then, closing his eyes and falling into the sweetest darkness he could imagine. 

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