Category Archives: Tir Athair series

Beginning with Minstrel and ending several centuries later, the Tir Athair series chronicle the struggles between two medieval-based kingdoms, through the eyes of various characters and their private struggles.

Medieval Street Faire and Book Signing

On September 20th, Vassal: The Second Book of Tir Athair will be available in both print and eBook formats. To celebrate, Reno’s best independent bookstore will be hosting me as I sign print copies of all available Tir Athair works. But book signings aren’t the only attractions that day.

Grassroots poster

Book cover and advertisements designed by Blue Harvest Creative

Schedule of Events:

  • 11am: Storytelling for the kids by aspiring author Dave Nightingale
  • 11am: Falconry demonstrations by Darkwell Castle Organization
  • 11:30: Old world fibers by Beck, including spinning wheels and hand-spindling
  • 12:00: Renaissance music by youth musician Jaidyn MacDonald
  • 1pm: Book readings by authors Marissa Ames, Jean Booth, and Kurt Winans
  • 1:30pm: Face painting for the kids by Beck
  • 2pm: Renaissance music by youth musician Lauren Hutchings
  • 2:30pm: Storytelling for the kids by youth book critic Sahara Wilcock

Throughout the day:

  • Heavy combat demonstrations by the Society for Creative Anachronism. (The public will only be spectators for combat demonstrations.)
  • Craft demonstrations by the Society for Creative Anachronism
  • Historical representations of the Royal Court of Mary Queen of Scots

Other events are still being determined and will be added to the schedule once finalized.

Other authors include Jean Booth, authors of Zombie War and The Origins paranormal series, and Kurt Winans, author of science fiction works Pilgrimage and Second Moon. Works by all three authors are kept in stock at Grassroots Books.

On site food, including vegan and gluten free options, served by J&J’s Italian Ices

Grassroots Books is the preferred storefront for the Tir Athair series. Print prices will always be lower at Grassroots than on Amazon.com. However, if you prefer eBooks, you can pre-order Vassal for only $3.49 until September 20th. Upon the book’s release date, the price will rise to $4.99.

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Call for Artists

troubadours

The day is fast approaching. Vassal: the Second Book of Tir Athair will be available in two more months! If you live in Reno, you can buy the print version on September 20th at Grassroots Books, Reno’s best independent bookstore!

To celebrate the release, I am teaming up with Grassroots to coordinate a medieval street faire for the enjoyment of all Tir Athair fans and Grassroots customers. Join us September 20th for entertainment, demonstrations, and books from me and other local authors Jean Booth and Kurt Winans. We’ll have storytellers to entertain the kids while parents shop, and even food vendors to help you through your midday hunger.

We invite you to a lineup that already includes Old World Spinning by Beck, storytelling by emerging author David Nightingale, acrobatics by marital artist Nancy Bouffiou, Renaissance-inspired music by Jaidyn MacDonald, and singing by the Nielson Princesses. The schedule is almost full, but we have a few spots left.

I’m looking for demonstrators. I need:

  • actors
  • artists
  • singers
  • dancers
  • musicians
  • educators
  • craftsmen
  • anyone who can represent medieval, Renaissance or Old World skills for the enjoyment of others.

We intend to publicize this event with press releases, sign twirlers in medieval garb, Facebook and Twitter announcements, and professional posters designed by Blue Harvest Creative and placed in local independent stores and coffee shops. We even hope to attract media coverage. If you participate in this event, your organization will be noticed!

This is an outreach gig, not a paid gig. You may hand out information for your venues or sales endeavors. We’ll provide a large bowl labeled “Ye Olde Tips” to help you out. Per Grassroots’ needs, we cannot offer you space to sell your own products. We also cannot involve the public in any demonstrations which may be dangerous, such as combat or acrobatics. You may involve the public in the more innocuous arts and crafts. We will ask all demonstrators to sign waivers.

If you would like to take part in this fun opportunity for artistic outreach, please message me at marissaames4@gmail.com or on my Facebook author page! Let me know what demonstration you wish to offer, and we will see if we can add you to our lineup.

But hurry! This schedule must be finalized by July 31, 2014!

If you are a Tir Athair or Grassroots fan, watch this blog or my Facebook page, or sign up for Grassroots’ newsletters to get updates on the street faire. We hope to see you there!

5 Stars from Readers’ Favorite

Authors love any good review. But when the review comes from a highly acclaimed service from which traditional publishers choose some of their next prospects, authors get really excited.

These higher review services can be hard to get into, but luckily I have an agent. Blue Harvest Creative offers free agent services when authors hire them for the full  book design package. In return, many of Blue Harvest Creative’s authors have gone on to win awards through these review services. BHC submitted both Minstrel and “Darrion” to Readers’ Favorite, and both won 5-star reviews! Minstrel has now been entered in 2014’s Readers’ Choice Awards. When I have the money for another entry, I’ll submit “Darrion” as well.

Readers’ Favorite’s review of Minstrel is here:

Minstrel Cover

Reviewed by Tania Staley for Readers’ Favorite

“An unlikely hero becomes the center of royal dispute and intrigue in Marissa Ame’s exciting tale, Minstrel. When Liam and his band of theatrical brothers arrive in the city of Cynegil, they have only the desire to make enough money to buy food and a place to lay their head. But when they see the signs that the city is in mourning they have a difficult decision to make. Do they ignore their empty bellies and move on in the hopes of finding sustenance someplace else, or do they disregard the rules against merriment in a time of mourning and entertain people? The needs of nourishment require them to go against the rules, and this decision lands them in the hands of the new king Riordan’s court. Riordan rules the country in excess, throwing parties and feasts, ignoring the emptying larders and purses of the country. Shamus, his twin brother, realizes that it is imperative that someone knows the truth of events and hires Liam to be his personal historian in order to record the happenings of Riordan’s reckless rule. But, can a simple minstrel right the wrongs of an entire kingdom? Will anyone listen to him if he tries? Find out in Marissa Ame’s Minstrel.

“It was with much excitement that I downloaded a copy of Minstrel to review. Having previously read Marissa Ames’s short story, Darrion, which is also a story of Tir Athair, I was expecting the same intrigue and excitement in Minstrel that I had come to associate with Ames’s writing. I was certainly not disappointed. The feudal society that Ames has created, the intrigues involved in the opposing twin royal brothers, and the unlikely heroism of the minstrel, Liam, are wonderfully thought out and beautifully crafted. Rather than the lofty idealism that surrounds many fantasy landscapes, there is a grit and grime that is just as enchanting in the city of Cynegil. The world the author has created lives and breathes amongst the pages of her book. I highly recommend Minstrel, and I can’t wait to read her next book, Vassal.”

And the 5-star review of “Darrion”:

Darrion cover

Reviewed by Tania Staley for Readers’ Favorite

“Marissa Ames’ high-fantasy short story, Darrion: A Story of Tir Athair, will have readers longing to read more. Darrion is the prequel to Ames’ larger work, Minstrel, and I dare anyone who reads this short story to not want to pick up a copy of Minstrel in order to find out what happens next. Lana believed her dreams had come true when Kellan, a gifted healer, pronounced his love for her, but there was trouble ahead for their romance. The realm of Tir Athair was at war, and Kellan had been called upon to use his powers. There were darker forces at work than either of them could have realized, however, and Kellan is soon being used as little more than a weapon. To make matters worse, Lana bears a child who is gifted as well, and under the kingdom’s new regime it is a law to relinquish her child to the king’s control. Can Lana escape the kingdom and save her child from the same fate as her husband?

“Darrion is a short story that gets me quite excited to see what else Marissa Ames has in store for readers. In just a few pages, Ames creates a rich and vibrant story full of emotion and intrigue. The author has created a romance that tugs at the heartstrings and, from this joining, a potential hero that readers will want to learn about. I can’t help but wonder what sort of future lies in wait for Darrion. I see a lot of potential in this series, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Minstrel.”

Aislin’s Trial by Ordeal

Darrion cover

Cover art by Blue Harvest Creative

If accused of a crime in medieval times, a person could undergo a lengthy trial with a jury of his peers. This happened more often with nobility, richer and more important people who might disrupt societal structure if proven guilty and removed from their stations. The peasants often faced quick trials by ordeal.

In Vassal, the upcoming novel following the short story “Darrion,” Aislin has already banished Darrion from her manor house, for sins she just can’t forgive. He lives within the serfs’ cottages, biding his time until she can find a way to banish him from her fief forever. But someone has slipped belladonna poison into Darrion’s food, and the soldiers have arrived to arrest both of them. Harboring a gifted fugitive, and consorting with the Brotherhood of Teague, isn’t punishable by death. It’s punishable by torture, dismemberment, and then death when the accused could take it no longer.

Aislin faces a trial, but medieval trials weren’t as merciful as they are today. A woman, even a landholding vassal, did not stand equally among a jury of her “peers.” She relied upon the mercies of a husband, or her liege, to defend her in a trial. But Aislin had no husband. And Parlan, the Earl of Edurne, sought to defend her only to gain further control. A cauldron bubbled in the courtyard, ready for her trial by ordeal. Aislin had one more option that even Parlan did not anticipate.

An ancient judicial practice carried on through the Salem witch-hunts and ending as late as the 1700s, trials by ordeal were surprisingly effective. They followed a simple premise: God would save the innocent. The effectiveness also followed another simple premise: The guilty, who had as much faith as the accusers in the premise that God would save them, knew they would fail and declined the trial, thus automatically condemning themselves. Church and judicial officials could often rig ordeals so the participants could pass them, if the authorities so wished. If they did not rig them, the innocent still suffered.

Several trials existed, some crueler than others:

Trial by Combat

trial by combat

Depiction of a judicial duel between a man and a woman by Hans Talhoffer (Ms.Thott.290.2º f80r, 1459)

Regularly used in Germanic law, trial by combat let men settle accusations without witnesses. Both parties fought in a single dispute, and the winner was proclaimed to be right. Trial by combat appears to have been introduced into common law in England following the Norman Conquest and remained through the high and late Middle Ages. This judicially sanctioned duel disappeared gradually throughout the 16th century. Hans Talhoffer, in 1459, names seven offences which warrant a judicial duel: murder, treason, heresy, desertion of one’s lord, abduction, perjury/fraud, and rape. Peasants had to present their case to a judge before dueling, but nobles had the right to challenge each other to duels without involving higher powers. Trials by combat were abolished by Emperor Maximilian I, but evolved into gentlemanly duels, which were only outlawed in the 19th century.

A one-sided ordeal of combat included “running the gauntlet,” though this was more commonly used as a form of public punishment much more dignified than the pillory or the stocks. Stripped to the waist, the condemned or accused had to pass between a double row of men holding cudgels, whips, switches, or blades. Someone walked in front of him, to keep him from running, and sometimes the accused was dragged or prodded along. Sometimes rules banned edged weapons, or required the two sides to each keep a foot in place, or allowed the accused to protect his head with his hands. He did not always die; sometimes he simply could not walk afterward. “The gauntlet” began in Roman times, as a form of execution by cudgeling, and ended in Russia and Sweden as late as the 19th century.

Ordeal of Fire

trial by fire

After being accused of adultery Cunigunde of Luxembourg proved her innocence by walking over red-hot ploughshares.

The ordeal of fire typically required that the accused walk a certain distance, usually about nine feet, over a red-hot surface such as ploughshares. Or they carried red-hot iron for the same distance. Complete lack of injury proved innocence but, more commonly, a priest bandaged the wound and re-examined it three days later. If the wound had healed in those three days, God had intervened for the innocent. If the wound festered, exile or execution followed.

Cunigunde of Luxembourg and Emma of Normandy, both women in history accused of adultery, proved their innocence by walking barefoot over red-hot ploughshares without incurring injury.

Ordeal of Water

Several ordeals of water were employed: boiling water, cold water, and use of water to condemn witches.

trial by water

Water-ordeal. Engraving, 17th century.

In the trial by cold water, people accused of sorcery were submerged in streams. Survivors were acquitted. In the 6th century, pagans cast Gregory of Tours into a river with a millstone tied to his neck. According to record, divine miracle saved him, and the water did not suck him down. This law was abolished by Louis the Pious in 829, but reappeared in the Late Middle Ages. Men guilty of poaching could be submerged in a barrel three times, and be considered innocent if he sank and guilty if he floated.

In the witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th century, the scenario reversed: those who sank were innocent, and witches floated. Believers claimed witches floated because they had renounced baptism. In the Historia Litteraria, Jacob Rickius claimed they were supernaturally light, and recommended weighing them as an alternative to dunking them. James VI of Scotland claimed that water was such a pure element that it repelled the guilty. Witch trials by water occurred as late as 1728.

trial by boiling water

Aislin faced the ordeal of boiling water, in which Warrick tossed a ring into a cauldron. She had to recover the ring and prove her innocence.

In history, the boiling water had to be deep enough to cover the wrist of the accused if he was charged with one accusation, and up to the elbow for three. Afterwards, as with the trial by fire, the arm was bound and examined three days later. If the wound had healed within three days, God had intervened.

The Tir Athair series occurs in a medieval-based world, which has a basic belief in the singular God. However, since this is a fantasy world, instead of medieval Europe, there is no Christianity and no Catholic Church. The people face holy wars, inquisitions, trials by ordeal, and forced religion, but  accuracy to the tenets of Catholicism is not used. Instead I use artistic license. In addition, Tir Athair has the presence of natural magic, referred to as “the gift” in Athairan and Saoiran societies. Gifted people can harm, heal themselves, and heal others with the natural magic residing within them. Opinions about this magic vary from land to land; in some lands, they are considered cursed, and are burned for witchcraft. In others, the gift is feared and revered at the same time.

As Aislin faces her trial by boiling water, Warrick is ready to take her back as his ward and to control her as he desires. He offers her the opportunity to submit instead of undergoing the trial. The thing is… Aislin is guilty. But she knows she will be burned. In defiance of the judicial system and the Earl of Edurne, she plunges her arms into the cauldron.

Ordeal of the Cross

To discourage ordeals by combat among Germanic peoples, the church introduced ordeals of the cross. In this trial, the accuser underwent the ordeal with the accused. They stood on either side of a cross with their arms outstretched. The first to lower his arms lost. Charlemagne prescribed this ordeal in 779 and in 806, before Louis the Pious and Lothar I abolished it to avoid the mockery of Christ.

Ordeal of Ingestion

A priest blessed dry bread or cheese and gave it to the accused. If he choked on the food, he was considered guilty. This developed into the ordeal of the Eucharist, wherein the accused professed his innocence by oath before partaking of the sacrament. It was believed that if the oath had been false, the accused would die within the same year.

The ordeals involving ingestion of sacred food were unusually safe and merciful, but the ordeal of poison wasn’t always so.

Ordeal of Poison

trial by poison

Castor beans contain ricin, and paternoster peas contain abric acid. Both are toxins of the highest ranking. From medieval Europe to western Africa, these two seeds were used by trials of ordeal. The accused had to swallow them without dying. There was one caveat to the trial: the accused often lived if someone tipped them off and told them to swallow, not chew, to keep the poison contained within the seed’s hard coating.

In the 1800s, residents of Madagascar used the tangena nut, causing about 3,000 annual deaths between 1828 and 1861. Even in present-day Nigeria calabar bean is used to determine guilt. Innocent defendants vomit; the guilty become ill or die.

Ordeal of Boiling Oil

Similar to the trial of boiling water in Europe, the trial of boiling oil occurred in India and West Africa, requiring the accused to retrieve an item from a container of boiling oil. Those who refuse the task are guilty. Those who emerge unscathed are declared innocent. Though many “boil them in oil” jokes exist regarding medieval Europe, this rarely occurred. Oil was precious in those parts, and far too expensive for an ordeal that could be easier executed with holy water or hot iron. Similarly, oil was rarely poured through murder holes onto invading armies. Instead, they used boiling water or burning debris.

Aislin’s plot thickens as she plunges her hands into the water. Will she face execution for harboring Darrion, though Warrick tries to convince the jury that she is innocent and led by fear, so he can regain control over her? Will the water even burn her, and will she retrieve the ring, which has its own emotional history throughout the novel? And what of Shaila, who accused Darrion of the sin which got him ejected from Aislin’s house? She’s sitting on a bench, watching the entire thing. As is Sully, who orchestrated the entire arrangement between Darrion into Aislin. Gael also watches, the soldier who was left for dead by the Athairan army and has risen again to fight for justice. Oh yeah… and what about Darrion, who’s hanging above the square in a gibbet, forced to watch the entire trial as she throws herself into the cauldron?

Here is where I leave you with a mysterious smile and tell you to keep in touch. I promise, all will be answered with Vassal’s release.

Responsible Heroines

Minstrel Cover

Today in church, L stopped me to tell me how much she enjoyed reading Minstrel. Currently she’s about halfway through, and she stays up past midnight to read.

L just turned 14 years old. She belongs to a demographic for which I didn’t target Minstrel. I don’t want to write young adult fiction, because I don’t want to focus on adolescent characters. I want to write about adults who get into gritty situations and prevail, breaking through pre-existing stereotypes. But as I wrote Minstrel, I thought about my friends’ daughters. I wanted my friends to be able to trust my work, to be able to hand my books to their daughters without first censoring them.

What I anticipated actually happened. My friends bought my novel and handed it directly to their daughters, without reading it first. Without asking me if I had included sex or f-bombs, or even if the subject matter was appropriate. They trusted me. They trusted my writing.

Minstrel now follows many fantasy novels as they gain considerable fans among the young adult population. Namely, among young girls.

Robin McKinley’s books are among those that have trended with young girls, despite being written for an older audience. The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown both feature grown characters. Not far out of adolescence, these heroines fight dragons and lead battles. They fall in love, but are not saved by their men. Often, they save the men.

Growing up, among my heroes was Alanna from the Song of the Lioness series. They were Harry from The Blue Sword, and Aerin from The Hero and the Crown. I began my love of fantasy with Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, from author Astrid Lindgren. From there I admired Princess Cimorene, who volunteered to be the dragon Kazul’s captive, and who teams up with the handsome king to rescue the dragon. These were the girls and women I wanted to grow up to be.

My mother was a wonderful woman. She was as combination of superhuman sacrifice and human weakness. She was independent, industrious, and morally upright. As I grew up, I became an eclectic mixture of my mother and my fictional heroes.

Now, my 12-year-old daughter has followed my example. While writing this post, I stepped out of my office to ask my daughter, “Who are your heroes? Fictional or real life.”

She replied, “Katniss Everdeen and Tamora Pierce.” Katniss Everdeen is the heroine from the popular books-turned-movies The Hunger Games. Tamora Pierce writes fantasy quartets about young women who prevail in male-dominated medieval settings.

My daughter didn’t choose me. Does that mean I’m a bad role model? I hope not, for I wouldn’t have immediately indicated my own mother if someone had asked me the same question at that age. Yet my mother was a wonderful role model. She was my reality. Alanna and Cimorene were my aspirations.

No matter how hard to you try to choose your daughter’s role models, she will still choose her own.

As Minstrel’s popularity grows among teenage girls, it further reinforces my responsibility as a writer. I could write horror or erotica, but I prefer fantasy. I prefer a genre that is devoured by teenagers of both genders, whether or not it’s written for adult audiences. And though many of my author friends claim, “You can’t control what the characters do,” I disagree. My muse may guide, but I have the final say over my work.

I could have made Molly a simpering little waif who let herself get bounced around by whichever man claimed her. Aerdra could have let her people die, or begged her husband to defend her, instead of taking up a hatchet and fighting alongside him. Finola remained the voice of reason and morality for her daughters, while her son battled politics within the king’s guard.

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, is often asked, “Why do you create these strong women characters?” Joss’ answer has now become a mantra for feminism and equality within art: “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

Joss’ inspiring speech is here:

Other authors who write strong female characters stand out as remarkable, or even abnormal. To this idea, Neil Gaiman has replied, “Well, I write people. Approximately half of the people I know are female and they’re cool, and they’re interesting, and so, why wouldn’t I?”

Orison

Daniel Swensen, an author friend whose fantasy novel Orison is due for publication in 2014, had problems with his main character, Randoval. The novel was staid and boring, and Randoval didn’t have the potential he needed. Daniel examined Orison and realized he followed the trend that so many fantasy authors follow: the men were the heroes, and the few females were oversexualized. Daniel’s amazing solution, which changed the entire tone of the novel, was to flip Randoval into a brown-skinned woman named Story Kai Tann. Suddenly, perspective changed. Friends and beta readers were amazed. Daniel’s editor even said, “Story could never be a man! Story as a man = boring. Story as a woman = awesome.”

Daniel said of his gender-flip, “I’m not trying to teach the world to sing, or anything like that, I’m just writing the kind of book I’d like to read myself. I don’t for one instant consider Orison to be some sort of Important Feminist Work; it most emphatically is not. It’s just a good fantasy yarn, which happens to have a female protagonist who doesn’t get by on her bare midriff and her sexuality. And if that makes my novel out of the ordinary somehow, well, all I can say is, it shouldn’t. I think it should be both common and unremarkable.

You can find Daniel’s blog post regarding this gender-flipping decision here.

So what, exactly, is my responsibility as an author? First, let’s briefly look at some of Minstrel’s growing fanbase:

Though L’s parents are happily married, she’s strong in her faith, and her family has a dynamic that I envy, L and several members of her family are currently undergoing health problems that will alter their future. L herself holds on with uncertainty.

K is 11 years old. She has been the victim of poor choices made by the adults in her life, since she was conceived. Though she’s an honors student, K continues to struggle past the examples set by some of the most important adults in her life.

As she nears 16 years of age, A has become a driving force in the success of her peers. Blessed with a strong and loving family, she maintains a high moral standing in high school, surrounding herself with friends who are not so lucky.

Then there is the teenage girl who stopped by my table at a book signing and asked, “Dad, I really want to read that book. Can I please have it? Please?” I explained the book to the father, who promptly purchased it for his daughter. If she had simply seen the novel in a bookstore, she would probably have wanted it just as badly, without the author present to assure the father of the content.

Which of these girls deserves a trustworthy piece of fiction, with role models and ideals they can follow? How would my writing career, or the trust my readers have, change if I threw in f-bombs, sex scenes, or overt violence into the books? As a parent, I consider this broad demographic the same way that I consider my own children.

Sahara

My own daughter, S, lives two lives because she switches back and forth between two biological parents. When people ask about the moral character of her father, I simply reply, “Well… we’re divorced.” She is still growing, still reaching that critical moment when she decides who she will become. And, if my daughter is going to pick role models that she has never met, I want to be sure she has some she can look up to.

I don’t feel like I owe the world a story. I’m not writing for a teen magazine, or for a rally of any kind. I write entertaining fiction. But when parents hand my work directly to children as young as 11, trusting me, I feel my responsibility is to keep that trust.

As I write Vassal, as the heroine encounters compromising situations and has to take the high road (or doesn’t) through each, I keep these young women in mind. I don’t write for the young adult market, but I write for the ones who might pick up my books. They’re the ones who hand my book off to their friends. They are my fanbase.

Darrion: A Story of Tir Athair

Darrion cover

In one week, just a few weeks prior to Minstrel’s release, a new short story of Tir Athair will be available for both Kindle and ePub readers. “Darrion” takes place about 20 years after Minstrel, and about 20-25 years before my next novel, Vassal. Within about 10,000 words, it tells the story of the supporting protagonist in Vassal.

Blurb:
The first time Darrion struck her, Lana loaded her wagon and left Cynegil. Two-year-olds should not hit like that. She draped the windows of her cottage with dense cloth and worked by a single candle. If she timed her flight well, she could pass through the market during changing of the guard. In another era, under another king’s reign, Lana would have rejoiced that Darrion had inherited his father’s gift. Now, if Lana did not present her son to the king, she could lose her head.

bhc

Blue Harvest Creative has done its magic yet again.

I have a stunning cover and internal format that rivals the big publishing houses. Beta readers have rated it highly. Now I just need my other readers to give me their input and to build excitement for both Minstrel and for my new work-in-progress, Vassal.

Design Credits:
Cover painting of bluebells by Marissa Ames
Cover Concept by Marissa Ames & Blue Harvest Creative
Cover Design by Blue Harvest Creative
eBook Design by Blue Harvest Creative
Imprint concept by Marissa Ames
Imprint Design by Blue Harvest Creative

rj-reign-logo-small

In addition to formatting both “Darrion” and Minstrel, Blue Harvest Creative has helped me create the imprint name, under which all my books shall be published.

Meet the Characters: Liam

With just over 5 weeks to go until publication, anticipation is building over the release of Minstrel. Each week, until the major characters are introduced, you’ll have the opportunity to meet one character per week through excerpts from the book.

This week: Liam, the main protagonist and point-of-view character

Liam watercolor

Excerpt:

Molly took a moment to reply. “You said you could fight.”

His brow furrowed and he looked at her. Tears of humiliation sat in her eyes and she glared at him in accusation.

“What would you have me do?” he asked.

She shrugged. “I don’t-” She clenched her jaw and stared forward. “Nothing.”

“You think I should have fought for three pence?”

Her eyes widened.

“Yes, I only had three pence. I’m not stupid.”

“But-”

“Would you rather I had fought, been defeated, and had them take off my companion as punishment?”

Her jaw clamped shut. “No,” she said in a quiet voice. Her fingers readjusted on his arm. Her grip had become bruising during the robbery. She flexed her fingers then curled them around his arm again.

The gentle pressure of her fingers and the hushed tone of her voice were about the closest he was going to get to an expression of gratitude. He had indeed humbled her, without even asking her to launder his shoes. But instead of gloating, he simply felt satisfaction that he had done the right thing. If he had played the thieves’ game wrong, he would have lost his companion instead of three pence.

“How did you know?” she asked. “That they were going to do that?”

He glanced at the tattered rags covering windows, the permanent layers of soot and slime on the stonework. Symbols, drawn in kohl, marked doorways so thieves and murderers would pass right by. Here existed three things: dwellings of sticks or old stone, the inhabitants therein, and sludge. Nothing else. Upperclassmen existed on the labors of others and only needed gardens for beauty. Peasants fortunate enough to have their own houses, and clean dirt, grew vegetables and herbs. In the slums, people grew nothing. Instead of laziness, they existed on lack of resources or knowledge. If the king granted these people some land and seeds, they would only eat the seeds and use the land as a new dumping lot.

“This is where I was born,” he said.

A few streets back, they had passed his house. It had burnt down long ago, it appeared, and a new shack sat atop it. Instead of stopping in respect, paying homage to his mother and her labors to keep him alive as a young child, he kept walking. Her corpse had burned years before the house had. He passed on, as she had wanted him to do for the rest of his life.

“One of Amergin’s?” Molly asked as she kept her eyes forward.

“How else?” Liam nodded at the poor, sickly inhabitants leaning out of the buildings. “A man doesn’t leave any other way.” Even corpses stayed in the old neighborhood, burned on piles of garbage. Cottars only took away corpses from the safer streets.

“How far are we going?”

He hadn’t thought that far. He had meant to see his mother’s old home, but as that was gone, he just kept walking. Thoughts churned and memories surfaced: the bitter cold and the smoke from a damp fire pit. His mother, curled up in a ball to hide the hunger pangs as her son ate the only bread.

Liam had been a street urchin, a thief and a bully. He fought for his bread, and for his mother’s bread, and by the time Amergin’s summons had been delivered to his mother’s door, he had started fighting for other possessions as well. His mother did not know of his habits, else she would have tried to correct them. In the old neighborhood, though, those habits led to survival. Perhaps she would have let him continue to steal and fight, because it brought her food.

The master bard changed things. With a spartan moral code that included nothing about religion, Liam’s master taught him basic kindness for man. He taught him to treat women with respect. He taught him to never take anything he had not earned and which was not freely given, from man or woman. Other morals, those of chastity and honesty in words, followed a simple rule: being a decent man brought greater rewards than paying the consequences of what other men might call “sins.” Don’t take what you can’t replace, he said. Don’t say what you can’t correct. Don’t share beds unless you can afford a child. As others spoke of gods, or God, Liam did not know where those morals fit into a godly realm. He just knew to be a good man.

6 Weeks til Minstrel

Minstrel Cover

In exactly 42 days, Minstrel will be available in eBook and print formats. Now that I type that out, it feels a lot longer than saying “six weeks.”

However, with projects going on like the Fall Flash Festival, AMMC, and the Jingle Bells anthology, those six weeks will probably fly by as we rush to make these deadlines. But these six weeks are going to be full of excitement and anticipation.

In two weeks, I’ll have a surprise to offer. This surprise will only be free on specific days. (No, it’s not Minstrel. We all have to wait until November 5th for that.) To keep updated, and know when you can snag this surprise, “like” and follow my Facebook page. I will only be posting the links on there!

Thank you! Now go out and enjoy those fall leaves.