No, I haven't been pregnant for a decade and a half - my youngest is 14 & a HS freshman...
I've been working on my WIP, Moonwitched, for an unbelievably long period of time (for me). Finally got the beastie done, but have to do my self-editing before my editor sees it b/c I hate to send her less than my best. The problem is, I've seen so much of it for so long I can't tell if it's awesome, pretty good, rather indifferent or really hideous. So I sent it out for a second opinion - to the Utah RWA Heart of the West contest - and it finalled. The top/final 4. It got sent to Jim McCarthy at Dystrel & Goderich Literary Management for final judging...
I know I didn't win, b/c winners were notified 9/20/14, but I'm supposed to get my scoresheets (and hopefully my final ranking/any comments or requests) back today. Can't wait for the feedback. You always want good honest assessments from professionals and peers - Grandma saying you're the next Nora Roberts is only good for your ego, alas...
Here's the opening scene of what was sent:
Death at the hands of men who’ve no honor? Not my first choice, but a fight’s a fight.
Valkyn dragged his bruised and naked body off the hot courtyard ground where they’d flung him. Scurvy pirate scum. Powdery red dust swirled, clung to his braided beard, smeared his sunburnt skin. With his hands bound behind his back, he couldn’t wipe the sweat or wind-blown dust from his eyes. Blood and rage pounded in his temples. He clenched his aching jaw and seethed as he stared at the stone walls and marble columns of some high lord’s manor. Captured and bound, hobbled…
Halzyaq willing, I’ll follow the Vala to Heroes Hall on my feet. By the god of war, he’d take these miserable bastards to the Beyond with him. I’ll toast Uncle Vygnal with their skulls and drink their blood in my wine. Even a leashed dog has teeth.
An overfed citizen approached in fluttering layers of crimson and purple silk. The long, curled ebony hair and beard blowing in the breeze sparkled with gold dust and stank of patchouli oil. Even the man’s glittering sandals blinded with reflective gold as they slapped the ground with every stomping stride.
Must be the owner of this place.
He drew up afore Valkyn, all pretentious self-importance.
“Where am I?” Valkyn demanded.
“Eastern port city of Saboutar, capitol of Thessera. Far from home, riever.”
Was he the leader of this corsair rabble? This gaudy lord had no idea. These dry, sun-scorched plains of southern-dwelling Thessera stood half a map-world away from the rugged, icy grandeur of northern Isadorikja. Valkyn gauged the distance with his still-working right eye; his left swelled shut. His fingers itched for his stolen battle-axes and star-shaped throwing cheqs, but his bound hands grew numb. His ankles ached, chafed raw. These cowards had learned their lesson back on the Seeker as it burned about them. A bound warrior is still dangerous so long as he keeps his wits about him.
Why was I alone spared and brought here? What do the gods intend?
The desecration of Creataq’s Blood, the most fearsome weapons ever forged by man. Made from the nigh indestructible ore of Creataq, god of the forge, found only within the Widowmaker Mountains of Isadorikja. Stolen, hanging on some undeserving pirate lord’s wall as mere trophies…
Valkyn spat defiance at the newcomer. “Release me and return my weapons, Thesseran. Creataq’s Blood doesn’t belong to you.”
“You dare accuse me of thievery?” The man drove his knee into Valkyn’s exposed groin.
Searing agony dropped him to his knees and he struggled to breathe. ’Twasn’t what he’d expected, so dishonorable a blow.
“You fight like a woman.” Valkyn’s sneer huffed out more a wheeze, but intent counted for something.
“I’m Zurvan, lord-mayor of my city. Show respect, riever. You’ll live longer.”
“Respect’s earned, Thesseran; ‘tis no entitlement.” True greatness need never boast. Valkyn swayed to his feet and staggered as he towered over the other man. Death held no fear since Valkyn had joined Widowmaker Clan’s warrior caste at the tender age of six. As his sons had, back home in the new Isadorikjan capitol, Svaaldur.
Will I see them again in this life? Gray-eyed and boisterous Einar, the bold, who’d just started to notice lasses as other than utter nuisances when Valkyn had left… Hot-tempered, defiant Helje, the loud, who’d hit the awkward, lanky stage that made him more a danger to himself than any armed opponent… Motherless, quiet Broder, the thoughtful philosopher, who asked his elders the most impossible questions… His youngest, Gjord, the merry prankster, who promised to become a blue-eyed giant of a warrior—if his overprotective mother Sanna doesn’t spoil him rotten first…
Or did fate decree he join his ancestors and now-dead son Konur to await his still-living sons in the Hall? He fingered that one black-banded braid in his beard. Would his lads ever learn what happened to him? Is Broder to be orphaned altogether?
Indeed.” Lord Zurvan studied him. “What’s your name?”
Valkyn held silent. Lord Zurvan lashed out with a beringed fist; a coppery tang flooded Valkyn’s mouth as his sun-dried, parchment-thin upper lip split wide. He spat blood—and smiled.
“I harbing your death, Thesseran.” Helje would be proud.
Lord Zurvan smirked. “Not today. The great warlord Emandu comes to question another prisoner of mine. By the time he gets here, riever, you’ll speak more on those odd throwing weapons I gift to him. Unique ore; ne’er seen their like. E’en here we’ve heard tales of their superiority.” He looked over Valkyn’s shoulder at the filthy wretches behind him. “Put him with the sea-prince. Chain him to the wall.”
Sea-prince? Valkyn struggled in his restraints as four brawny corsairs hauled him inside, dragged him down corridors that narrowed and darkened. He paid attention to turns, counted doorways and footsteps, ’til they stopped afore a bolted wooden door with a sliding view-port. One pirate drew back the bolt and shoved the door open with a grunt of effort; neglected hinges screamed in protest.
A narrow stone room loomed airless and sweltering, reeked like an untended midden. Valkyn gagged. No window. Two sputtering pitch-and-reed torches bracketed the doorway for light. Rusted iron chains bolted into the walls. A single prisoner hung naked from manacles about his wrists. Through the deep gloom, Valkyn glimpsed sable curls and a matted beard. Pale skin bore vicious scars of varying age beneath the oozing, blood-crusted stripes of a recent lashing.
The other man raised his head and bared his sharp white teeth as the enemy dragged Valkyn into place across from him. Valkyn shivered; menace and contempt pulsed off the other prisoner. Hate churned with the promise of retribution in his dark, liquid eyes. He looked lethal even in his helpless state. Impressive.
Something clicked in the back of his mind like two pieces of a puzzle. Makes no sense. What’s the point? He’d been sent to locate a missing half-troll Shadowlands warrior named Dax, not be detained in a foul Thesseran gaol.
Valkyn’s captors gave the other prisoner a wide berth, as if the shackled man could somehow strike across the room with his will alone.
“I shall feast on the bones of your children, humans.” The sable-haired prisoner glowered, curled his lip like a feral dog.
Valkyn’s guards shuddered at his malevolent promise; their calloused hands shook on Valkyn’s bare arms.
Valkyn choked as the rope tightened about his neck ’til his vision went fuzzy. He dropped to his knees, reeled on the fouled stone. The Thesserans clapped irons about his ankles. He tried to shoulder his gaolers aside as the men unbound his hands but Valkyn toppled over into the filth, coughing. It took all four corsairs to haul him to his feet and shackle his wrists overhead. Stretched taut, toes barely touching the ground, he’d sag as he tired. Valkyn imagined muscles tearing, shoulders popping under the weight of his own body—a slow, excruciating internment.
By the gods, I’ll escape and return home afore ’tis Gjord’s time to enter the warrior caste.
How long has this other man been here?
The door slammed shut and bolted behind the Thesserans’ retreat.
“I think you scared them.” Valkyn winced at the harsh rasp in his voice and coughed. He blinked and tried to focus through the burning tears that welled at the unspeakable stench enveloping him. As his vision cleared in the dim light, he focused on his fellow prisoner.
Brown eyes shone in the dark. The other man snorted. “Won’t save them, riever.”
“You have me at a disadvantage. You are?”
“You’ll find out soon enough, human.”
Valkyn rolled his watering eyes as he tested the strength of the rusted chains. “You bleed human
“I was locked to this puny form by betrayal, tossed on these forsaken shores with naught but this…skin.” The man’s rage washed over Valkyn in a searing red tide.
What to make of the odd hesitation, the inflection?
“What’s your tale, riever? I thought your kind did the pillaging.”
“Daq Aryk, my king, wed and declared peace—” tisht, that infernal word still rankled “—on everyone, within and without.” Sanna might fall for Aryk’s new plans for peace; Gjord could well become a farmer. Or a yaga herder. Valkyn shuddered at either thought. Nay, Aryk, Widowmaker Isadorikjans aren’t farmers. I’ll find a way home afore his claiming day. Gjord shall join the warrior caste like his brothers. Aught else is unthinkable.
“You weren’t born a sheep, wolf?”
Valkyn clenched his fists around the rusted chains at the other’s taunting. “Many Isadorikjans wonder at following a man led by a woman.”
For all he loved Aryk as a brother, Valkyn felt his daq had lost his way, his fierce warrior’s mind clouded by Verdeen’s haunting silver-eyed beauty and strange elven ways. ‘Twas her fault Valkyn was even here; he’d no reason to search for Dax but for Verdeen’s pleading—and Aryk’s desire to have her smile again. Romance. What rubbish. The desecration of Creataq’s Blood now wasted on plows and hoes, to swim in dirt, not blood…all in the name of peace…because of her…
Women are a menace to clear thought. I’ll never be so foolish.
“Indeed.” Such a wealth of bitterness in the other’s tone. “Women weren’t meant to lead. Cows need a strong bull to manage them.”
Valkyn choked, imagining his outspoken twin sister Erlynda’s wrath at being called a cow. Isadorikjan women aren’t cows; not the new kyras joining the warrior caste. Halzyaq help him, his own niece Birgit—Aryk’s firstborn—was one of them.
What’s this world come to when women are encouraged to fight whilst men aren’t? Aryk, brother, what’s your thought? ’Tis all backward now. You’d have us lose ourselves and I’m not there to stop you.
He coughed again, wished for even a sip of water to ease the infernal scratching. “I was sent to find a missing warrior but we were set ’pon by Thesseran pirates.”
“You didn’t fight?”
’Tis a wonder this man survived to adulthood with that mouth.
“We fought. I’m the sole survivor, but even I can’t take forty armed men.” Halzyaq kenned he’d tried. ’Til they’d overpowered him and confiscated his weapons. Creataq’s Blood was never allowed out of Isadorikjan hands. Well, nigh never.
I must get them back. I must get back.
“Forty, eh? On a burning deck? Mayhap I underestimated you.”
"Mayhap you did. “How did you—?”
“You reek of salt and pitch. I ken the scent well; spent my entire life in the sea.”
Days have passed since that sea battle. How can you smell salt or pitch under this pervasive unbathed stench?
In the sea? Not on the sea—in the sea.
A chill shot up Valkyn’s spine. “Who are you? Enough riddles.”
“Was this man important?”
Valkyn blinked. “What? Who?”
“The man they sent you after.”
“Dax? A relative of an ally of the bride.”
“And you obeyed this man led by a woman? What does that make you?”
“A loyal second to my sworn daq, but what would you ken of loyalty?”
Fury hammered into him. “I ken naught of loyalty save its utter absence.”
That bitter honesty stopped him. “Then I pity you.”
Dark eyes flared. “I neither want nor need your pity, human.”
“Cease calling me ‘human.’ Who are you?”
Royalty unransomed, abused in a Thesseran gaol? “Prince of what?”
Sharp white teeth flashed in the dark.
Do my eyes deceive me? Those teeth don’t look quite normal, quite…human.
“Prince of the sea, of the moon and the tides.”
“Tisht. You’re either a prince of bards or a prince of fools. Which?”
“I’m the ultimate fool. They should put you elsewhere. Tonight’s the full moon.”
“Which means what? You sprout fur and fangs?” ‘Twould explain those teeth.
“Better for you if I did.” Matteo snorted. “You’ll ken soon enough, human. May whatever gods you bow to have mercy on your soul then, for I won’t.”