female lead

7x7x7 Challenge Again

Nominated by the lovely @madeleine_deste (give her a follow or check out her blog: https://madeleinedeste.wordpress.com/) this time. I’ve already done this for my current WIP, so here are seven lines from page seven of Happily Ever After.

The Usurper stands, King Reynald’s crown perched on his head at a disrespectfully jaunty angle. My hatred seethes like boiling oil. I signal for the others with me to stop. This is my moment. This is what I have been waiting for. His jet-black armour clanks and creaks as he steps down towards me, and I examine it, looking for weaknesses.

He sweeps me a low bow.

“Welcome. I have been waiting for you,” he says in a soft voice that carries through the carnage of the throne room.

Book Review – Medieval Minds

Medieval Minds Ebook CoverRS

Medieval Minds by R Holland

What would you do if you were offered a free trip to tour a medieval theme park for the week of Spring Break, and later found out you were going to be paid $1,000 dollars?

Victoria (Tori) Ginsen and her best friend Jasmine are given an offer from a beautiful dark stranger named Elizabeth to tour a place called Medieval Minds before it opens to the general public. Upon their completion of the tour they are going to be paid $1000 each. It’s an offer they can’t refuse.

And just like any high school graduates with nothing to lose and nothing to do for Spring Break, they decide to take the offer. For them $1000 each would really help with some bills. But Tori immediately notice something’s not right. From the night the bus arrives to pick them up, to the group of delinquents that gradually fill the bus, and the passing of drugs around, Tori knows this isn’t the normal vacation. Not to mention the dead girl in the back seat. But when they arrive, the life-like jousting tournaments and the look, feel, and smell of the place allow Tori to relax a little as she realizes this place actually exists. Sadly, the day soon turns sour as two more members of their group mysteriously die, and she’s certain that the death at the jousting tournament was real. Tori and the others soon find out that none of them are going home. Ever!

Insistent upon leaving and going home, a young handsome man named Daniel is able to convince her otherwise. Their love blossoms and their main goal is to keep each other safe. Finally she accepts that escaping is impossible, but trying to keep the rest of her group alive may be the biggest challenge of them all.

Score: 3 stars

Breakdown:

Plot – 2.5

Characters – 2.5

Writing – 3

Victoria is quite a different protagonist as the book starts out. Burying her grandparents, she comments on the fact that she’s grateful that they died now, before they could rack up any more debt. The is a sense of detachment and callowness as she narrates that I found very refreshing. I didn’t exactly like her as a person, but I did find her take on things quite interesting. Sadly, that unique outlook fades as the book goes on and while her voice doesn’t change, she loses the aspect of her narration that set her apart.

The book is a slasher novel for about two thirds. I’m not a big fan of the slasher genre, but the author certainly doesn’t skimp on the death or gore, so if you are, then it will probably appeal to you. There’s a lot of opportunity for death in the pseudo medieval town that Victoria and her friend Jasmine find themselves in, from burning at the stake to being reduced to jalfrezi by landmine. The scene describing the clean up of that particular event was particularly vivid.

While there is a lot of death, I didn’t really care, because there are too many characters to be invested in. I can only remember a handful of names, and I’m not sure I could tell you much about any of them other than the main few. So I was mostly reading to find out who died in what manner, rather than being immersed in the horror of the situation.

About two thirds of the way in, the book takes on a different feel. I read the first two thirds quite slowly, not bored, but not gripped. I read the last third much quicker – most of it in one sitting. But I didn’t like the content as much. I really liked the ending. The epilogue was great, but it came out of almost nowhere. I would have loved to see the book progress from the slasher origins, to that plot, but it’s only really in the last couple of chapters that the direction of Victoria’s character is revealed.

One of Victoria’s companions in the Medieval Minds “attraction” is a boy named Daniel. Up until one point, Victoria thinks he’s cute, but he irritates her. Then he saves her life and suddenly things hot up. I found the romance moved too fast. She hated him one day, and the next he was the most important person to her. It would have been more believable if they’d had more interaction and the build-up was smoother, or if there had simply been an unstated understanding that they were probably doomed anyway, so might as well take some pleasure in each other. I found the second romance in the book completely unbelievable. Grief is resolved far, far too quickly and it almost feels like love is a result of sex. (I’m trying not to spoiler anything, so apologies if this is a little cryptic.) The last part of the book moves very quickly, jumping though months and even years.

The writing was a little basic in places. It was free from typos and grammar issues, but full of caps-lock emphasis and multiple punctuation. I think if it had been tighter, and the pacing and focus had been stronger earlier on, I would have enjoyed the first two-thirds much more than I did. I don’t think the last third is something I’d enjoy without major editing. It just felt rushed and more than a bit silly. Victoria seemed to forget where she was and what had happened in the earlier part of the book thanks to her lover’s strong, warm arms. I’m still not sure what the motivation for the place is, or why Eliza, who has so much power and control in the place doesn’t just take over. This is a fake kingdom, surrounded by mines. I’m not sure who is going to object if the rules of patriarchy are broken.

Overall, I liked many of the ideas in the book. There’s no shortage of horror, both in terms of physical deaths and also the dark pasts of the victims. The setting was an interesting choice, and the protagonist had an interesting outlook, at least early on. There’s plenty enjoy about this book if you’re after a grisly slasher. I just wish there had been a bit more in the last section on how and why everything worked, Eliza’s motivations and Victoria’s transformation, rather than what is actually depicted.

You can buy Medieval Minds on Amazon.

The Problem of the Passive Princess

The book has female characters, who act like women, rather than cardboard cut-outs or men in dresses. They talk to each other about things other than men. But is that enough? There seems to be a problem with women, (and it nearly always is women), who talk up their strengths, who take the lead in stories, and then don’t do anything.

If the plot carries on around them, if they only react to other people’s actions, if they sit around and wait for things to come to them, is there really a point to them being there? If the strong independent princess can handle a sword as well as any man in the kingdom but doesn’t, is there any reason for her learning to first place?

What bothers me most is not just that it happens, but we don’t always notice. Hell, I’ve done it myself. When I wrote Apple, I handed the draft to betas, feeling pleased. I had a bright, brave little heroine, who survives on her own and saves her big brother from a nasty fate. That was great, right? And the feedback came back that it as okay, but Apple was very passive. She doesn’t do much. Things happen and she reacts to them. She doesn’t really do anything to try and change her situation.

That feedback hurt, probably more than anything else I’ve received. I thought it couldn’t be true, but when I read back I could see their point. Plot fell into her lap. Other people did things and she reacted. At no point did she do anything as simple as even go exploring the house. I rewrote to take care of the issue, but I felt disappointed in myself that I had let it happen. And it’s not just me. I’ve beta’ed books and seen the same effect. Read them and been unable to point it out.

It’s not just  books either. My partner was discussing a TV series he’d started watching, and was saying how it wasn’t great but it was still watch-able.

“It’s got a very male dominated cast,” he said.

“That’s not necessarily a problem for me,” I replied, trying to decide if I should watch it myself.

“Well, it should.”

And he was right. It should bother me that predominantly male casts exist because it says that women aren’t necessary for stories. And it should bother me when, even when they are there, they don’t do anything towards solving the plot. It says that plot happens to women, around women, but is not controlled by them. And more, that we accept this happening.

Finished!

So today, I finally finished my current project, Happily Ever After. If you want to know what it’s about, you can read the synopsis here, and read some (unedited) extracts here and here. The manuscript is just over 107,000 words and took eight months to write the first draft.

It originally started as an idea that wouldn’t leave me alone after watching the film Mama. I enjoyed the film up until the ending, which I won’t spoil. I was left wondering how the characters were going to pick up their lives after everything that had happened. Which got me thinking. There are lots of fantasy novels about epic quests and wars and good vs evil. But I can’ recall reading one that focused on what happened after. It might say “… and they all lived happily ever after” at the end, but how true was it? Could heroes put down their swords and go back to their old lives? Could the romances forged in the fires of war survive the calm waters of peace?

The idea wouldn’t die, so I thought “I’ll just write the first chapter so I can get the characters on the page, then go back to my other project.” Which was clearly foolish, as I haven’t touched Nightingale Road since. I will go back to it, I promise! But Lavie was a very easy character to get inside, and I couldn’t put her story down. It was hard to get a story out that didn’t feel too much like a sequel to a book that doesn’t exist, and I think I’ve got quite a bit of work to do on the pacing. The first hurdle (completing the book) is done, though, and things can only get better from here. Feedback so far is very positive, and I’m looking forward to seeing what my initial beta-readers think of the completed story.

Happily Ever After – Extract 2

After defeating the last of the Usurper’s forces, Lavie joins her friend Harry and Prince Brendan for breakfast…

(Please note, this has not been edited)

They’re sitting at the small, round table near the west window. The sun streams in, as if eager to join in the meal. Harry, because manners are not catching, is speaking with his mouth full and Brendan is laughing.

I stop in the main room, just listening. Maybe I’m just tired and worn out, but I suddenly feel strangely peaceful and content. I think I can finally believe the war is over. This is how our lives should be from now onwards.

“Lavie! What are you doing standing around like a serving wench?” Harry calls.

I stalk over to the table, grabbing the chicken leg out of his hand as I do. He tries to protest but I’ve already taken a bite out of it.

“Call me a wench again and I’ll cut off your unmentionables,” I warn him, waggling the drumstick. He makes a grab at it, leaning over the table and almost sending a dish of boiled eggs flying.

“Perhaps it was best that my uncle did not join us,” Brendan comments as he butters a slice of bread.

Harry slinks back into his chair. “Sorry.”

“Oh, don’t let me stop you. This is all very amusing. The Battle of Breakfast.” He picks a rose out of the vase in the centre of the table. “Here, I shall give a favour to the winner.”

I’m definitely tired, I decide, as the giggles bubble up from inside me. It’s been a long, long time since anything seemed this funny. As I am laid helpless by mirth, Harry seizes the opportunity to reclaim the drumstick. With a triumphant cry, he stands, one foot on his chair and eats it as proudly as if it were the heart of his mortal enemy. Brendan gives him a round of applause that only sounds slightly mocking and offers him the flower.

Yes, life doesn’t get better than this.

After that, conversation dies away while we eat in earnest. I haven’t had a full meal in days, just picked at bits and pieces. I’m used to it, snatching a bite when I can, but that means I enjoy the luxury of being able to sit down to a meal all the more.

The Battle of Breakfast is about to break out again over the last of the eggs when there is a knock at the door and Lord Vayne enters. Brendan wipes his mouth delicately and stands up.

“Uncle, I did not expect you so soon. I trust your rooms were to your satisfaction?”

He nods absently. “Yes, yes. Fine. Can we get down to business now?”

Brendan gestures to the main table in the centre of the room, and orders a waiting servant to fetch more wine. He heads over to sit down and I join him. Harry stuffs the last egg in his mouth and follows.

Lord Vayne does not look happy when we sit down, but he does not protest this time. A servant sets wine and goblets on the table and pours one for each of us. It seems strange that only a few days ago this could have been used by the Usurper himself.

“Shall we begin?” Brendan asks, looking at his uncle, who nods at the prince over his goblet. “What would you like to know?”

“Has a date been set for the coronation?”

“Not officially,” Brendan replies, “given that we only took the castle yesterday. But I think we should aim for a week’s time. It will be hard work, but I believe it is in the best interests of the kingdom for my reign to begin officially as soon as possible.”

He nods again, looking satisfied for the first time since he arrived. I see Brendan draw a breath of relief.

“We will need to discuss the details, but I agree that the sooner the better. Have you given consideration to those who stood against you and what you will do about them?”

Brendan fiddles with a ring on his finger nervously. “I have. Those who stood with the Usurper will have their land and titles stripped from them and they will be exiled from the kingdom. With the exception of Lord Wester of Ruscity, who will be given fifty lashes and then exiled.”

Lord Vayne raises an eyebrow.

“It’s a promise I made,” he says simply.

The Usurper had put a price on Brendan’s head as soon as he knew the prince was back in the kingdom. Lord Wester had been one of the most eager to claim it. We’d been hiding out in the forests, supported only by a handful of sell-swords we’d employed with money raised by selling Brendan’s books.

We’d tried to be careful, but Wester’s agents had taken Harry when he’d gone into town for supplies. By the time we’d mounted a rescue, they’d given him twenty-five lashes. Brendan had promised at the time to return the favour twice over when he took the kingdom back. I’m pleased to see he has not forgotten his word.

I think it was that incident that decided things for Brendan. He had come with us when we told him the news, but I don’t think he saw himself as a king at that point. He’d spent the last ten years studying with men whose minds were much harder than their bodies, trapped in a tower and isolated from the world. But seeing Harry’s bravery, having someone believe in him like that, galvanized him.

“What then?” Lord Vayne presses. “What of their families?”

“The next in line will be offered the chance to bend the knee and swear allegiance to me. If they do, I will permit them to inherit those lands and titles.”

“Is that wise?” I ask before I can stop myself. Brendan is too trusting at times. Bonds of blood run strong. Who is to say that these people won’t retain loyalty to their family over their new king?

“What other choice do I have, Lavinia? Chop off the heads of anyone who shares a drop of blood with them?” He shakes his head firmly. “Some of them are just children and some of those who did not support me were simply afraid of the consequences. Should I punish children for frightened adults?”

He looks round the table, daring us to contradict him. Unfortunately for Brendan, his uncle does not look impressed.

“I agree with the Lady Lavinia,” he says. I give Harry a kick under the table when he grins at me. “It would be best to make a fresh start of things, ensure your allies are in important positions.”

“There are plenty of men who have served you loyally,” I point out. “It would better to reward them, rather than appoint someone just because of their blood.”

“And what do you say, Harry?” the prince asks.

Harry, who is fiddling with the rose Brendan gave him earlier, looks up suddenly. He seems surprised to have been actually included in the discussion.

“I…I think you should follow your instincts, Your Highness,” he says softly. “I think if the king can’t trust his judgement then we are in a sorry position.”

“Thank you,” Brendan says, as if this decides the matter. “Was there anything else, Uncle?”

“Yes. What consideration have you given to the matter of marriage?”

I get up and hurry round the table to help Harry, who is choking on a mouthful of wine. Brendan looks furious, his brows drawn together in a frown.

“It may surprise you, Uncle, but that has not been foremost on my mind recently,” he snaps. “I have been more concerned about restoring my kingdom and fighting for my life than considering eligible women.”

“Then perhaps it is time. The kingdom needs an heir.”

“The kingdom does not have a king yet!” Brendan retorts.

“I see. Well, I can tell your mind is made up. Perhaps we should continue this when you are more willing to listen to advice.” He gets up and strides away from the table before the prince can say anything else.

Brendan sighs and turns to Harry.

“Are you all right?”

“I…I’m f-fine,” he gasps. His face is as red as the wine and there are tears running down his face. I give his back an extra hard slap, which earns me a glare from both of them.

“He’ll live,” I say.

“Do you think I am being unreasonable?” the prince asks, reaching for his wine. “Should I just bow down to my uncle’s judgement? That’s clearly what he wants.”

“Maybe he’s testing you?” I suggest. “Maybe he wants to know that you can stand up for yourself and your decisions. You spent more time with him at Whitecastle. Was he like this then?”

We’d suffered badly at the hands of the Usurper’s men at that time. Both Harry and I were injured and spent much of the time in the castle’s infirmary. By the time we had recovered enough most of the plans had been formulated.

“Not quite this bad,” Brendan admits. “I think we agreed on more back then.”

There’s an uncomfortable silence between us. Harry is still toying with the petals on the rose and Brendan appears to be focused on his goblet. All the earlier frivolity has faded. I stand up.

“If you’ve no further need of me, Your Highness?”

He waves his hand dismissively. “No, please go on. I’m sure you have things to do, Lavinia.”

I don’t, but I feel like I’m getting in the way if I stay here. I head down the tower steps, wondering what to do with myself. For the first time in a long while I am clean, well-fed, and unhurt. I feel no need to go and train. I should probably be resting my body after the battle this morning, but I don’t want to go back and have Squeak start pumping me for information about my former glories.

There is one thing I am curious about.

The steps down to dungeon don’t look much better in daylight. They’re steep, damp and dotted with green moss. At the bottom is a dark, yawning maw that seems to repel all light. I shiver, but press on downwards.

The pool of torchlight reveals Linton is on duty again.

“Sir,” he greets me.

“Pulled the short straw again?” I ask with a grin and he nods.

“Still, it’s not so bad. At least he’s quiet and undemanding.”

“He doesn’t cause any problems?” Somehow this makes me more nervous than if he was rattling on the bars and cursing constantly.

“No. He barely seems like the tyrant who murdered the royal family, does he?”

“Never forget who he is, Linton,” I warn him. “I know he won’t.”

I make my way down the damp passage to the last cell. Unpleasant puddles dot the ground and I do my best to avoid them.

“Lady Knight, you’ve come to visit me again.”

It’s a step up from Lady Lavinia, but not much of one. “I wanted to tell you that the last of your forces have been defeated.”

He raises one pale eyebrow. “Really? I wasn’t even aware there were any left.”

“A small unit camped out at Oker’s Pass. Their commander slit his own throat rather than kneel to his rightful king.”

“Ah, Moisas,” he says with a smile. “He was indeed a loyal man. But truly loyal men, the sort who will do anything for you, do not tend to be intelligent men. Have you noticed that? You can have undying loyalty, or you can have intelligence.”

I think of Harry, his back ripped raw by the lash, asking me through bloody lips if the prince was safe. I wonder if I could have done it. If they caught me, would I have been able to hold my tongue as the leather bit through my skin and into my flesh?

“You agree with me, I see,” the Usurper says softly. “The question, good knight, is which one are you?”

Happily Ever After – Extract 1

Lavie is sent to investigate an enemy camp, without being noticed…

(Please note this has not been edited.)

Leaving the horses hobbled and a man with them in case we need to leave in a hurry, we move closer. The pass is a narrow gash between two high hills. It extends about a mile and a half before opening out, and is only wide enough for three horses abreast at the narrowest point. The hills rise above, steeply at first then level out for a bit, giving a good space to place archers. It’s the ideal spot for an ambush.

I send the two remaining men to get as close to the camp at the pass entrance as they can, but decide to climb up to the ridge myself. There are fires starting to appear both on the ground and either side so I know need to be careful. I suspect we have the larger army, but without surprise we will lose much of that advantage.

Sometimes I wonder about myself. About how easily all of this comes to me. I might have shunned needle work for beating on Harry as a child, and my courtly manners consisted mostly of remembering to say good night to my husband before going to bed, but I was still raised a noblewoman. There are times when I wake up at night and wonder where this person has come from. It’s not that I hate what I have become, quite the opposite.

I think that’s what scares me most.

I shake my head and push the thoughts aside. Now is not the time to be dealing with them. I concentrate instead on scrambling up the rocky hillside. It’s not difficult, as long as I pay attention, but there’s the risk of breaking an ankle if I don’t watch my footing.

I can see the glow of a fire on the ridge, above and to my right. I can’t get much closer without risking myself, but I want to be able to bring back something useful to Brendan. Keeping close to the ground, I push on a bit higher, until I can crawl out to the edge on my belly.

The camp lies sprawled below me. Judging from the fires, I can tell their numbers are small, probably less than half ours. But that’s all it would take to hold this place for a while. Trenches have been dug at the far end and filled with sharpened logs to stop charges, and in the growing gloom I can see large boulders on the ground that must have been pushed from above. I suspect that, come daybreak, a greater number will be up on the walls, ready to harass with arrows.

I have to admit, I am impressed. I can’t think of a single thing I would have done differently of it were me in charge down there. I take another look, committing the camp, its layout and defences to memory. Fortunately all their traps lie facing the pass. There is nothing that will prevent us riding straight into their backs come dawn.

Satisfied, I crawl away and start to make my way down the hill, just as the man is making his way up. We both stop, face to face, too shocked to respond. I notice one hand is still fumbling on the laces of his britches and I almost laugh. This man is going to die tonight because he chose the wrong moment to piss.

I react first. I have no armour, no weapon beyond my dagger in order to move as quickly and quietly as possible. Stepping forwards, I shove one hand across his mouth. Before he can react, my dagger is in the other hand and at his throat.

“Not a sound,” I murmur. His eyes go wide, and then he nods, very slowly.

Cautiously, I take my hand from his mouth. When he doesn’t do anything stupid, I move behind him, keeping my blade on his throat. I push him gently with my free hand down the slope. It’s an awkward, clumsy manoeuvre, but I need him as far away from his companions as possible.

We are almost at the bottom when he stumbles over a rock. I fall forwards and he rolls away. Cursing under my breath, I launch myself at him as he opens his mouth to yell. If he gets a single sound out we are lost. My heart beats rapidly in my chest, and I’m afraid that the army will hear it, even if I do manage to silence the man.

I can feel him drawing in for a yell as I land by his chest. My elbow strikes out and I catch him just below the jaw. Instead of a roar, what comes out of his mouth is a wet choking sound. I slam my hand over his mouth again.

“That was the last mistake you will ever make,” I hiss.

His eyes beg me for mercy, but there is too much at stake for me to spare his life. My hand goes for my dagger and I curse again as I find the belt empty. It must have fallen from my grip in the struggle. No matter. There are plenty of weapons.

It only takes a moment of fumbling on the grass before my hand closes over a suitable rock. I bring it down three times, hard on his temple and watch the light go out of his eyes. I drop the rock and sit back, breathing heavily. And then it hits me. I’ve made a stupid mistake. Even if I have silenced this man, he has comrades.

And sooner or later they are going to come looking for him.

Apple – Extract 2

Trapped in Cavington Hall, Apple wakes to a strange sound.

I wake in darkness, drenched in sweat and shaking. I must have been thrashing about in my sleep as I am completely tangled up in the blanket. Unwinding it from my ankle, I wrap it round my shoulders. I won’t be able to get back to sleep while I am as tense as this; I’m still trembling from the dream. In the gloom I can make out the shape of my brother on the bed, so I hold his hand to help me calm down.

Thump-thump

My blood runs cold. It is the sound from my dream, I am certain of it! I pinch myself just to make certain and wince quietly from the sharp pain. No solace there.

Thump-thump

There’s no denying it now. I definitely heard that noise and it sounds horribly close. I grip Skye’s hand tightly, silently begging him to wake up and protect me. Still holding on, I wiggle under the bed and lie there, quivering like a mouse. My heart beats faster as I hold my breath, listening. Under the bed is very dusty and I can feel my nose itching. I pray desperately not to sneeze.

Thump-thump

I try to think rationally. Skye said there was no such thing as ghosts, and he was right about the owl in the woods. Surely there were no such things as monsters? It must just be George banging around downstairs, or the doctor doing some work? Right? As hard as I try, in the enveloping darkness of the strange house it is very hard to think rationally.

I think of my father’s ghost stories, of the woman alone in the graveyard and the unseen thing pursuing her. It was scary enough then, wrapped in the blanket with Skye awake and teasing me. Now the very thought of it turns my muscles to jelly. I try to push back the memories, but they rush through, unstoppable, like the cloud of bats that emerges from the forbidden cave in his tales.

Thump-thump

I let out a quiet whimper, unable to suppress it completely. The noise sounds louder now, as if it is right outside the door. I let go of Skye’s hand, and move further under the bed, curling myself up into a tiny ball. If I keep really quiet, really still, maybe it won’t notice me. I wrap my hands around my knees, trying to prevent them from knocking together as they shake. It doesn’t really sound like footsteps, not human ones at least. What creature moves with a sound like that? Nothing normal comes to mind.

Thump-thump

Skye! I realise I have almost forgotten about him. If there is something out there then he is defenceless, lying above me. I force myself to crawl out from under the bed and stand up, holding on to the post. It takes a while for me to be certain my legs won’t give out beneath me. I take his arm and try to pull him off the bed, but he’s very heavy and my hands are slick with sweat. The mattress is old and has a deep indent in the centre where Skye is lying. After a few struggling attempts, I reluctantly give up.

Thump-thump

The sound has not gotten any louder, maybe it has stopped moving? I look at the welcoming darkness under the bed, wanting to hide myself away again. No. I can’t do that. If there is something out there, then I need to be able to protect my brother. It’s my turn to be the strong one. There is no tinder box in the room as George lights the candles in the evening by himself. I pick up the candle-stick though, as it has a reasonable weight for a weapon.

Taking a deep breath I tighten my grip around my weapon.

“Don’t worry, Skye,” I whisper as quietly as I can. “I’ll protect you.”

Being brave for Skye helps me to be brave for myself and I open the bedroom door a crack. Peering out, I can see moonlight flooding in through one window, bathing the corridor with its ethereal light. Nothing moves, not even a spider.

Thump-thump

It’s coming from the nursery across the hall, I realise. I tense, memories of the doctor’s reaction flooding back. I almost turn back. He locked the door; I saw him. If there’s anything in there, it won’t be able to get out. But as well as fear, there is a morbid curiosity that grips at me. What on earth is making that noise?

Slowly, I cross the corridor, my bare feet making almost no sound as I move. The air is bitterly cold out here and I can see my breath coming out in a ghostly cloud. Shivering violently, I bend down and prepare to peer through the keyhole. My traitorously vivid imagination pictures an eyeball staring back at me. I close my eyes for a moment and count to ten.

Thump-thump

I look though. Something moves by the window. I don’t see it so much as I see the change in the pattern of moonlight, but there was definite movement. Something is in there! My whole body tenses, and my heart beats so fast it’s painful. My hand brushes the doorknob and the door moves. The door is not locked. And if I can get in, whatever is inside can get out.

I want to run and get help, but I don’t know where George or the doctor sleep. And if I just shout for them then I will attract the attention of whatever is in there. I want to run. I want to hide. I want my big brother. But I just have me: Apple and the candle-stick against whatever creeping horror lies inside. And I can’t let whatever it is hurt either of us. I take a deep breath, tighten my grip on the weapon in my hand, and think of Skye.

Then I throw open the door.

It slams against the inside wall with a bang and I hold my breath. Inside the room is complete still. The curtains are open and the moonlight paints a silver highlight on all the surfaces. The wooden horse stands proud on its runners, and the chests of toys sit quiet on the floor, their lids open showing off their treasures. There are no monsters, no demons, no things that go thump in the night. As I stand there looking around, I grow braver and eventually summon the courage to throw open the wardrobe and drawers.

Nothing. Not a rat or a mouse or a spider.

I feel relieved, but also somewhat deflated, as all the tension runs out of me. I take a last look at the rocking horse, the moonlight turning the horsehair to liquid silver. In the distance, I hear a sound, like children laughing. My nerves break and I sprint all the way back to Skye’s room, not bothering to shut the nursery door behind me. Let the doctor punish me in the morning. At least he’s made of flesh and blood.

Panting, I throw myself into my nest of blankets. I pull a pillow over my head and sob quietly until sleep overcomes me.

THE FALCON QUEEN

Synopsis:

They say that endings are just new beginnings and that could not be more true for Lavie Streaver. A noblewoman turned knight, she and her childhood friend, Harry, have fought long and hard to survive, raise an army and set the rightful heir, Prince Brendan, back on the throne. Enough blood, sweat and tears have been shed to drown the kingdom thrice over, but the war is finally over.

If the fates had been fair, their story would have ended there and they would have earned their happily ever after. But Lavie is struggling to settle down in a life without an enemy to fight. Harry finds his dreams of the future aren’t matching with the reality of it. And Brendan discovers that heroes don’t make good kings.

As the cracks begin to appear in the kingdom, and their friendship, Lavie finds herself turning to an unlikely source of help – the man they worked so hard to defeat.

Status:

In progress.

Reviews:

I love your descriptions, they have this mastered way of being written that makes me nod my head and say “Yes I get exactly what you’re showing me.” Your dialogue is superb as well. I feel as though they’re real conversations going on and not as though I’m in a novel. – Soufflegirl6, Figment

Amazing! The action packed from the very beginning was absolutely astonishing! “We tear into it like suckling pigs.” Nice use of figurative language. – Sam Lively, Figment

I enjoyed the action. You pull the reader in right away, taking no time to jump into the plot. It grips the readers easily. You have a very descriptive style, but not so much that its overwhelming. Just the right amount. While I usually have a hard time reading fantasy, I found myself moving onto the next chapter without hesitation. It’s definitely a piece I’ll come back to when I have more time. – Ashley Kowitz, Figment

Where to read:

Figment – the first chapter is up, still under the old title of Happily Ever After .