April 19, 2018

Q is for Quail (and Tij)

        “What about us?”  It was another boy.  “We’re just us.  We have no one else to take care for, and we take care for each other so we travel so well as anyone.  Right?”  He turned to the girl beside him and she nodded.
“He can see for me, and I can reach out for him,” she said, and Svarnil realized that the girl’s large eyes, though turned toward the people who were talking, were focused on nothing.  She must be the blind child Jiriya had mentioned, and her brother was the one with the stricken arm.
        Oru was considering the two children carefully.  “How old are you?” he asked.
        “Nine years.  We are born together.”
        “And what are your names?”
        “I am Quail,” said the boy.
        The girl, however, looked suddenly disconcerted.  “What’s Tij?” she asked her brother, and when she felt his shrug she said louder, “Rika, what’s my name?  What do they calling tij in Common Speech?”
        “I don’t know,” Hedgehog answered, “But you must not go back there.”
        Oru said, “You are called Tij in your language?  Can you describe what you’re named after?”
        The girl smiled shyly.  “Little sand-color animal, jumping very big, digging deep burrow.  Long tail with…” She made a gesture.  “Um, fluff on end.  Big ears, long legs in back, little arms in front.  That one.”
        “Ah.  We call those jumprats.”
        “I am a rat?  My name is Rat?”
        Her brother crowed, “Now I call you Rat!  Rat, Rat!”
        “No, tij is different, more like little funny hare, maybe.  Not rat!”
        Jiriya said, “We know a jumprat isn’t really a rat.  That’s just what we call it here.”  When she saw the girl’s disappointment, however, she said, “There’s no reason we can’t call you Tij.  You don’t have to translate your name into Common Speech, do you?”
        “Good.  That’s right.  You can be Quail, Pir, but I am still Tij.  Just like the dog.”
        “A dog is named Tij, too?” asked Nulif curiously, for he had been making friends with the two sight hounds while the others talked.  He was rubbing their silky ears while their tongues lolled and their feathered tails swished happily.
        Quail laughed.  “No, our vikuri is name Wind.”  He pointed at the dog whose pale creamy fur darkened to charcoal brown along her head and back.  “But she still have to be called Abri because she cannot listen in Common Speech.”  At the sound of her name, Abri looked attentively to the boy.  He reached over and rubbed her chin with his good hand.
        Now Oru said, “Tij, we appreciate your offer, but how can a blind child be a guide?”
        The girl turned her face toward Oru and answered, “I am not blind from end of Akuv, I am always blind.  I never needing eyes.”
        “But,” Oru began, but Quail had already jumped in to support his sister.
        “Tij guide us away from Akuv when dust cloud making everything dark with it.  When everyone blind, then only Tij can see.”
        After a moment Oru nodded slowly.  “So, Tij and Quail, you think you can travel with the Vizier’s expedition back to Lothvana, back to the site of Akuv?  You can keep up with us and help us understand what we see, even though you are not very old and you’re blind and maimed?  Do you understand what you’re offering?  It may be upsetting.  It will be no easy jaunt.”
        “What is jaunt?”
        “A trip for amusement.”
        “Oh.  Yes.  We understanding.  Right?”
        “Right.”

        Quail and Tij from Ruin of Ancient Powers, sixth book in a high fantasy series for middle school-or-so through adult (excerpt
from Chapter II: The Postponement of Two Weddings).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: photoshop sketch of Quail and Tij by AEGN, 2018.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter Q

April 18, 2018

P is for Polly

        The girl paused at the corner and looked back.  She was two or three inches taller than Chen with straight brown hair to her chin like a Flapper from the Roaring Twenties.  Her knobby knees showed beneath the short skirt of a dress that looked like it was really an oversized man’s Hawaiian shirt belted at the waist with a bright blue hip pouch.  Her sneakers appeared to have been hand-painted with multicolored polka dots and were made even more outrageous by the bright, mismatched socks that showed above them.  Dressed like that, and appearing so suddenly out of nowhere, Chen thought she might as well have appeared from another planet.
        The girl unzipped her hip pouch and pulled something out before replying to Chen.  “Well, hurry up, then,” she said.  “Oh, and by the way, where are we?”
        Chen frowned as he caught up with her.  “What do you mean?”
        “I mean where are we?  City, country, building, institution, any other relevant info?”
        “The Cleveland Museum of Art.  How can you not know where you are?”
        “Well, I didn’t come through the front door,” she replied, as though this were a wholly rational and satisfactory explanation.  And then she whistled, two high notes followed by three short notes going up the scale.  It resonated loudly in the atrium.
        She had paused and then repeated the pattern by the time Chen exclaimed, “Hush!  You’re in the art museum, didn’t you hear me?  You can’t just go around whistling like that in a museum!”
        “Well, you can’t have a cat in a museum, either, and yet mine’s here, right?  So I’m trying to get her back.”
        Chen was beginning to wonder if the girl was a little bit insane or something.  Maybe she was here with a field trip from some kind of special school and had gotten away from her class group.  He tried to identify the weird look the girl was giving him.  It wasn’t scornful.  It wasn’t scared.  It wasn’t really anything, he thought.  Just a look.  And then it occurred to him how weird that was.  Nobody ever just simply looked at someone.  It was embarrassing.  Just to break the awkward silence, he cleared his throat and said, “So, what’s your name?”
        To Chen’s astonishment, the girl darted forward, seized his hand, and shook it heartily.  “I’m Polly Goggin and my cat is Uber Goggin.  Pleased to meet you.  What’s your name?”

        Polly Goggin from The Extraordinary Book of Doors, an
upper middle grade fantasy (excerpt from Chapter 4: The Cat in the Museum).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Drawing of Polly by AEGN, 2018.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter P

April 17, 2018

O is for Oracle

     In a moment the dark dragon slowed, paused in the air, and settled on the paved plaza gracefully, yet with an impact that Svarnil felt through the soles of her feet.  It had happened, really, in an instant.  Nulif was still pulling Svarnil’s arm, urging her to safety.  The iridescent scales, black and green, glittered as the dragon moved, folding its vast wings with a clatter.  The heat of its body pulsed out across the flagstones of the plaza.  As the dragon’s green-mailed head turned toward them, and the perilous eyes were almost on them, Nulif wrenched one last time and the two stumbled back into the temple, hearts pounding.
     Svarnil looked around.  The temple was full of people who huddled in terrified groups, whispering to each other.  Did they not know that the temple would be scant refuge if the dragon should choose to attack?  One swipe of its tail, and the pillars would come crashing down.  One burst of its flame and they would all be ash.  And yet...
     From the plaza there came no sounds of devastation.  Did she dare peek out and see what was happening?  Sakar Sikwan and Nulif both stood near the door, as Svarnil did, listening intently.  Fethilis on Svarnil’s shoulder was listening, too, and the feeling that came from her was not fear but expectancy.  Svarnil took a step forward and pushed open the door a crack.
     “What are you doing?” cried Nulif, clutching her arm again as Svarnil looked out.  The dragon stood still in the plaza, its huge head slightly cocked, and Svarnil had a sudden thought that it looked like Sikwan, poised in just the same posture of intent listening.  Even as the thought crossed her mind, the dragon moved, sunlight flashing off the shifting scales, and it swung around to face her.
     Three-cornered eyes clear as emeralds stared at the elf, and she stared back.  She had not covered her face or turned away in time.  She felt herself sinking into their green depths, and she felt their gaze sinking into her, so that she was powerless to hide from the mind of the dragon.  The dragon’s eyes were infinite, depths beyond depths beyond depths, until it was as if she could see the whole world spread before her in the dragon’s eyes like a vast carpet, every wave, every blade of grass, every mortal heart…
     “Thou art a dragonlord,” said the creature suddenly, its voice deep as the bedrock so that Svarnil could feel its vibration in her own chest.  The lylit bouncing on her shoulder seemed to vibrate to the same frequency as the dragon’s voice.
     Svarnil imagined her gaze falling forever deeper and deeper, yet never reaching the end of the dark, still, living greenness.  With an effort she pulled her consciousness back into her own mind, and answered cautiously, “I was called so by Lady Koir of the Ringwood.”
     White steam puffed upward as the dragon’s voice resonated in Svarnil’s bones.  “Thou art one who seeks truth,” it said.  Svarnil nodded slightly, and waited for the huge creature to continue.  “K’Ten has many liars.  The Seapeople come to me with many tales of falsehood and treachery.  They all ask for truth, but some do not want it.  Some desire validation, rather than truth, so that they may be justified in their lies.”  Fethilis lifted from the elf’s shoulder and flew to the dragon, fluttering joyfully around his head.
     And then Svarnil understood.  “You are the Oracle?” she cried, “But why then have you come to K’Ten?”
     The monstrous jaws of the beast opened, and, as a clangorous harsh growl burst from him, black smoke knotted with the steam.  “Dost thou question me?” he demanded.  Sunlight flashed from the teeth, long and sharp as daggers.  But Svarnil knew, from the gleam in the emerald eyes, from the unabated joy of the lylit, and from the resonance within her own chest, that the Oracle was laughing.  “I am not accustomed to providing people with my reasons.  Yet thou art a true bard, and a seeker of truth, and so truth will be told thee.  I have come to K’Ten to find one who is tampering with spirits.”

        The Oracle from Vision Revealed, fourth book in a high fantasy series for middle school-or-so through adult (excerpt from Chapter 12: Svarnil meets the Oracle).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Knot-tailed Dragon, rubber block print by AEGN, 2008.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter O.

April 16, 2018

N is for Nulif

        Oru swung himself down from his klaameleh and stepped forward, hand outstretched.  “I am Oru Hamar-azh, secretary to the vizier of Empress Kahan-Atar of Sisoa and Yuwara Ul Sahd.  She has ordered me to come and ask you about what you’ve found here in Sisoan territory.”
        One of the Minarians stepped forward, eyebrows raised.  “I had no idea Sisoa knew we were here,” he said, holding out his hand in turn.  “I am Nulif of the Family Atsu, leader of this research expedition.   Come, sit down and share our meal, and I’ll tell you about it.”
        Although he spoke the common speech, his accent was completely unfamiliar to Svarnil, with a sort of rolling sing-song quite unlike the clipped speech of the Sisoans.  Svarnil slid wearily from her saddle, staggering slightly as her feet hit the ground.  She stretched gratefully and followed Nulif’s gesture toward the fire circle.  While Nulif brought a bowl of water and invited his guests to wash themselves, the other two Minarians hurried to carry some split logs to the fireside until there were seats for everyone.
        Svarnil looked curiously at the Minarian men.  All three of them had their hair tied neatly into short ponytails at the back, and all three had closely trimmed beards, although the beard of the youngest looked soft and sparse.  They wore vests and knee-length kilts in bright colors now looking rather dusty.  Nulif himself was a young man, with dark hazel eyes which Svarnil thought had an open, earnest look.  She found him eyeing her as curiously as she looked at him, and he said, “Perhaps we should start with complete introductions.  As I said, I am Nulif.  I am a researcher for the Great Collection in K’Ten.”  He paused.  “Have you heard of that?”
        When Svarnil and the Sisoans nodded, he continued, “Several weeks ago I was given a manuscript by a trader.  An incredible manuscript.  I’ll tell you more about it later, but for now let me just say that the Head Librarians of the Great Collection sent me here, to the area where the manuscript had been found, to look for others.  These gentlemen - Bolekwa…”  The grey-haired man inclined his head.  “… and Jadogwa…”  The younger one nodded curtly.  “Are my fellow researchers on this expedition.  And now would you tell us more about yourselves?”
        Oru introduced his two aides briefly, then smiled at Svarnil.  “I’ll let you introduce yourself,” he said to her.
        “I am Svarnil of the Tungoldroleth, of the Fellowship of Bards.  I too am a researcher, in a way, and Oru was kind enough to let me accompany him, although I have no connection with Sisoa or her queen, because I was curious to learn what you might have discovered.  That is my calling as a bard, to discover all that I can about the history of the Otherworld.  Can you explain what you’ve found?”
        Nulif’s eyes lit up with enthusiasm.  “It’s too dark to show you tonight,” he said, “You must see it tomorrow to do it justice.  It is simply incredible!  But I suppose you won’t understand why this is so important to us.  What do you know about the Chebik-lan?”
        “For myself, not much,” answered Oru, and Svarnil and one of the aides also shook their heads.
        “Very well,” said Nulif with a twinkle in his eye, “Tonight’s lesson will be on Minarian religion.”

        Nulif from Vision Revealed, fourth book in a high fantasy
series for middle school-or-so through adult (excerpt from Chapter 2: Svarnil learns of the Chebik-lan).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Drawing of Nulif by AEGN, 2018.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter N

April 14, 2018

M is for Margaret (Priddy)

        On Tuesdays Gwyneth had her viola lesson at Ms Priddy’s house.  She walked halfway home with Izzy, then turned onto Ms Priddy’s street and walked three more blocks under the dappled canopy of the trees that arched to meet each other over the street.  Gwyneth loved Ms Priddy’s neighborhood, with its sidewalks made of great squares of slate, and its little old houses, each one different, each in its own small garden.  Ms Priddy’s house was wrapped snugly in thick rhododendron shrubs, and the front yard was spangled with the shining white stars of autumn anemones above the ferns.  In the spring Ms Priddy had dug up one of them for Gwyneth to plant in her own yard, but it had only three flowers on it this year.
        Gwyneth shuffled through scarlet maple leaves to ring the doorbell.  It gave out a deep, rich chime from the other side of the door.  Ms Priddy opened the door with a smile and stood back beside the ornate wrought iron coat rack to let Gwyneth pass to the left into the small living room or study that Gwyneth thought of as the lesson room.  It was always set up with two straight-backed chairs and an old-fashioned wooden music stand.  A bay window with leaded glass panes looked into the front yard, and on the wall opposite the window was a rather battered upright piano.  The rest of the room was mostly bookshelves.
        They sat down and Gwyneth opened her case, took out her bow, and tightened it.  She was lifting out the viola when the telephone rang on the desk.
        Ms Priddy glanced at the number on the handset.  “I’m sorry, Gwyneth, I really need to take this.  Get yourself tuned and I’ll be back in a minute.  Hello?” she said, already holding the phone to her ear and hurrying out of the room.
        Ms Priddy hadn’t returned by the time Gwyneth had tuned her viola.  She played a few quick scales by way of warming up, then lowered the viola and looked around, waiting.  It occurred to her that for all the time she’d spent in Ms Priddy’s lesson room, an hour a week for years now, she’d never really had the chance to look around before.  She got up and wandered to the bookshelves that covered the entire wall around the window.  Head tilted sideways, she scanned the titles.  The lower shelves, she noticed, were not books but cardboard file boxes, dozens of them, all lined up with handwritten labels pasted neatly to their sides.  Gwyneth frowned slightly as one of the labels caught her eye: Abductions Nineteenth Century.  That was weird.  What kind of hobby did Ms Priddy have, anyway?  An interest in abductions seemed a lot more sinister than playing viola and gardening.  Ms Priddy was a small, birdlike woman, all her movements neat, quick, and precise.  It wasn’t hard to imagine that she might have unexpected strength in her wiry arms, but all the same Gwyneth couldn’t help smiling to herself at the idea of her petite viola teacher cramming unsuspecting children into the trunk of her little hybrid car… Still, there was no denying that abductions were a strange interest.
        Gwyneth read the labels on the nearby boxes.  Abductions Ancient, Abductions Twentieth Century, Changelings Infant, Changelings Childhood, Changelings Teen…  The file boxes on the next shelf were even odder: Faerie Incidents, Faerie Rituals, Faerie Hotspots
        Margaret Priddy from an in-progress Young Adult fantasy with the working title Changeling (excerpt from Chapter 2: Come Away).

[Picture: Ms Priddy’s house, photoshopped from various sources, especially this one.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter M

April 13, 2018

L is for Lubun-Blue

         “Give me back my amulet!” demanded Lubun-Blue.
         “I would never touch any foul thing of yours!” retorted Imruk-Black.
         Once again Oru got to his feet and stood between the two nomads.  “Explain yourselves,” he ordered, as everyone watched apprehensively.
         Lubun-Blue said, “I have an amulet, copper with a sacred pattern inlaid in opal scarab shell.  This swine has stolen it!”
         “Why do you think Imruk-Black has stolen it?” asked Oru, before the other nomad could retort again.
         “Aren’t all his tribe thieving jackals, just like the one who was stealing this expedition’s supplies?  And isn’t my amulet gone?  Or perhaps it was this other Black villain.  They’re all the same.”
         Oru looked at Imruk-Black and Laal-Black.  “Did either of you take his amulet?  Or do you know anything about its disappearance?”
         They protested angrily that they knew nothing of it.
         “Do you swear on your ancestors that you speak the truth?” Oru persisted, his voice stern.
         This made the guides more solemn, yet their answers remained the same.  They denied any knowledge of the disappearance of the other man’s amulet.
         Oru sighed and said, “Well, let us break our fast and see what we can discover.  Time to rise, everyone.”
         When everyone was settled with their rounds of flatbread, Oru turned again to Lubun-Blue and said, “Now, tell me where you left your amulet, and how you discovered its disappearance.”
         “I keep the amulet on my belt, tied on with a leather thong.  At night I lay my belt beside me.  This morning when I rose and put on my belt, I found the thong ripped and my amulet gone.  Everyone knows that to sit down with a Black is to rise robbed.”  Lubun-Blue scowled at Imruk-Black meaningfully.
         “And are these childish lies the sort of witless evidence the Blue brought against our kinsman in Sisoa?” shouted Laal-Black, his hands straying to the knife and black fabric in his belt.
         Oru interrupted forcefully, “Enough of that; I asked what happened.  Let me see the thong.”
         Lubun-Blue returned to his rolled blankets and after a brief search picked up a short length of thin leather, which he handed to Oru.  Oru looked at it carefully and held it out toward the others.  “Does anyone make anything of this?” he asked, his voice puzzled.
         They all leaned forward to look, except Lubun-Blue who sat with his arms folded, still scowling, and Imruk-Black who continued to eat his breakfast with a show of utter indifference.

        Lubun-Blue (and a bonus L, Laal-Black) from Ruin of Ancient Powers, sixth book in a high fantasy series for middle
school-or-so through adult (excerpt from Chapter 3: The Theft of an Amulet).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: drawing of Lubun-Blue by AEGN, 2018.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter L

April 12, 2018

K is for Kyle

Hi Grandma,
         You know how Kyle’s always late to everything?  Well, so when everyone else was in class and the teacher had already started, he came strolling in through the door ten minutes late all pleased thinking he was on time for once.  It was like he didn’t even notice class had already begun.  He walked right across the front of the room, right in front of Ms Tulip, who was standing at the whiteboard staring at him in the middle of writing out something about man vs man and man vs nature, with one eyebrow raised.  Kyle waved at me, and called out “Hey, Zack!” to his friend, and plopped his books on his desk with a big clatter...  
         So finally Ms Tulip says in that total teacher voice, “It’s good of you to join us this afternoon, Kyle.  Do let us know when you’re quite ready for the rest of us to continue with our lesson.”  And Kyle looked around, and it’s like he suddenly realized for the first time that he’d just walked into the middle of class, and he looked exactly like a balloon popping!  His books fell out of his hands and he just drooped down into his chair with this look of utter disappointment - only he’d already pushed his chair aside, so he actually collapsed all the way down onto the floor in a heap, and everyone started laughing.  But that’s not all – on his way down he must have hit the edge of a notebook on the edge of the chair, and the notebook flipped up and catapulted his copy of “Treasure Island” up in the air, and it nearly hit the ceiling and when Kyle looked up with his mouth hanging open to see it, the book came back down right on his face!  It was SOOOOO funny!  People were falling out of their chairs laughing.  Even John was laughing!  It sure made a nice change not to be the one he was laughing at!  And when Ms Tulip told Kyle he’d have to come in after school to make up the part of the lesson he missed, his face fell even farther and he cried, “But I can’t stay after today!  I have to take my hermit crab to the vet!” and everyone laughed even harder!
         Ms Tulip said in full discipline voice, “That’s enough, class!  Kyle, you’ll have to come in briefly, but perhaps we can arrange another time for you to make up the lesson.  I’d hate to make it any harder for you to get to an appointment on time.”  That was really funny, too, but by then we didn’t dare laugh any more because when Ms Tulip says “That’s enough,” we know she’s serious.  Anyway, the whole thing was hysterical!  You should have seen it!
                  - Danny

        Kyle from The Bad Advice of Grandma Hasenfuss, an epistolary tall tale for middle grade readers.  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Hermit Crab, rubber block print by AEGN, 2006.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter K

April 11, 2018

J is for Jiriya

        Jiriya had looked carefully at the maps of the North Region before she left.  She had not dared to take anything away from the map room, but she was fairly sure of her direction.  After all, it was easy to know west by the sun, and she had only to walk until she reached the river and then turn south along it.  She had learned enough from living among soldiers to know that she should go farther north than she thought right so that she would know to turn south at the river.  She walked confidently all day, resting frequently but not long as her legs and feet began to protest the unaccustomed exercise.
        At length she came to a tiny stream wandering between lashes of lusher grass, and she gratefully decided she had come far enough for one day.  The sun was low and darkening to orange.  The shadows of the bushes were as tall as the trees.  Jiriya turned to look at her own shadow, a dark strip like a ribbon of mourning blue laid across the orange-stained plain.  She chose a space between two bushes for shelter, and easily gathered a pile of dry twigs for a fire.  Then she crouched down with her flint to strike a spark.
        Jiriya had never lit a fire with flint before.  In Sisoa the fires are always kept burning, banked down overnight, in the ovens on the rooftops.  From having watched soldiers strike sparks in the North Fort she had widely misjudged the difficulty of it.  Again and again she struck her flint and steel.  Again and again.  Most of the time no spark at all accompanied the click of impact.  Half of the sparks she did strike disappeared at once or fell to the wrong side and not among the dry twigs she had gathered.  And those few sparks that did fall among the twigs simply burned out in a hair of white smoke.  Again and again and again.  Now the sun was gone and the plain was purple and grey and indistinct.  The rare sparks gleamed tantalizingly gold, but would not ignite the twigs, and it began to grow cold.
        Tears of frustration rose in Jiriya's eyes and she began to mutter aloud to the flint, "You have to work.  Just make a proper spark.  Please.  I only need one.  You have to work.  I have to have fire.  Please."  But she could not light a fire, and as the light darkened the night grew colder.
        She put on her cloak and held it tightly around her as she ate her bread.  The food stuck in her throat tightened by crying.  She pulled the thin blanket from her pack and wrapped in that, as well, and she wondered how she could travel such a long way with no fire.  She should not have put out her torch.  And her food would soon run out, and she was still on the edge of the desert where there might not always be water.  She had been a fool to think the journey
only a matter of walking. She had never been alone, never out of Sisoa or the North Fort.  She knew nothing of the land here, and hardly even knew why she had come, except that she didn't want to return to Sisoa and she wanted to understand Prince Oru, who died two hundred years ago.  Were these reasons enough to be cold, hungry, thirsty, alone, and lost?

        Jiriya from Sleeping Legends Lie, second book in a high
fantasy series for middle-school-or-so through adult (excerpt from Chapter IV).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: created by photoshopping from various models.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter J

April 10, 2018

I is for Ingornok

         Breakfast was much the same as the meal of the night before.  Ingornok’s speech was full of little jabs at his guest, implying that Nulif was weak and womanly, inexperienced and na├»ve, and altogether an unworthy champion for a beautiful woman.  The fact that Nulif felt some of these criticisms to be true did not make them any less irritating, and he spent the time struggling to hold his tongue and keep his temper in check.  As for Svarnil, she received her host’s flattery with a gentle smile, listened gravely to his accounts of his own prowess, and asked him earnestly about his sorcery.
         “I am chiefly an alchemist,” he explained.  “My sorcery derives from my mastery of the power of potions.  There is little that cannot be controlled if one is steeped, as I am, in knowledge of the meanings and properties of the essences of earth.  Powers of life and death, control of the mind and the heart, illusions and transmutations are all mine in alchemy.  Hazliorged became Master of the Region, and I, too, shall show the people of the Region what it is to rule.”
         “You plan to rule the Region, then?” asked Svarnil.
         Ingornok’s loud laughter filled the hall.  “Perhaps I shall, bard.  But it will be nothing to you, if you feed yourself to a dragon.  Just remember, you would make a pretty noblewoman, and there is no shame in recognizing the limits of your power.”
         “True,” Svarnil murmured, “It is a wise man who understands that.”
         But Ingornok continued, “You’ll see.  When you behold your first dragon you will know fear.  If it is not by then already too late, you are welcome to return to the Castle of Ingornok.”  He threw out his arms expansively, beaming around his hall, and adding, “There would be no shame in admitting that it is only an exceptional few who can deal with dragons and live.”

        Ingornok from A Threatening of Dragons, fifth book in a high fantasy series for middle school-or-so through adult (excerpt
from Chapter 4: Journey to Drakesvot).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: created in World of Warcraft character creator.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter I

April 9, 2018

H is for Hester

        A girl stood on the doorstep, holding up a disgruntled calico cat.  “This yours?” she whispered.
        Her voice was so soft that Polly wasn’t even sure what she’d said, but she certainly recognized the cat.  “Holy cow!  Where did you find Uber?” Polly exclaimed, taking the cat from the girl’s hands.
        The girl jerked her head at the sidewalk behind her.  “Uber?”
        “Yeah, her name’s Uber.  I’m Polly.  Polly Goggin.”  Polly shifted her grip on her cat so she could stick out her hand.  “Pleased to meet you!”
        “Hester,” replied the girl softly, returning Polly’s vigorous handshake warily.  
        “Thanks for bringing back Uber.  She’s really bad about dashing through doors.  I didn’t even notice she was gone this time.  She must have got out when I brought in the mail.  Do you want to come in a minute?  Anyway, I need to shut the door, so your choice: in or out.”
        Hester hesitated a moment, hazel eyes large, then stepped through the door with a shrug.  Polly closed it firmly behind her before letting Uber down.  The cat rubbed her ankles, purred, and sauntered away.
        “May I take your coat?  Can I get you anything?” Polly asked politely.
        Hester took off her black coat and handed it to Polly, but shook her head.  There was an awkward pause as she took in Polly’s Technicolor outfit, from the fluffy yellow slippers to the purple plaid flannel pants, the red Fair Isle sweater, and the bright blue hip pouch adorned with a picture of a rubber ducky.  It made a brilliant contrast to her own plain grey sweatshirt over black leggings.  Her inspection complete she said, “Ms Barber’s social studies?”
        “Yup!  You’re in that class?”
        Hester nodded.
        “I didn’t even notice you.”
        Hester smiled slightly but said nothing.  She was several inches shorter than Polly and very slender.  Her thick, golden brown hair was pulled into a casual ponytail, and with her dull clothes and quiet voice it wasn’t surprising that she hadn’t attracted any attention in class.
        “Come on in,” Polly said, leading the way up the stairs to the apartment above the shop.  “What are your hobbies?  Favorite books?  Favorite movies?  Favorite music?  You know, all that get-to-know-you stuff.”
        After a moment’s thought Hester replied in her soft voice, “Dance, fantasy, Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky.  Yours?”
        “I read fantasy, too, and historical fiction, and I help my mom with the antiques, and she’s making me take taekwon-do for self-defense this year, but I’m not very good.  There, magnificent!  Now we’ve broken the ice and we can talk about whatever we want.”
        “Shakespeare,” murmured Hester.
        “You want to talk about Shakespeare?” asked Polly, surprised, “You mean like our Midsummer Night’s Dream unit in English class?”
        “Everyone talks Shakespeare all the time without even knowing,” Hester replied.  “Break the ice is Shakespeare.”
        “I didn’t know that.  Fun Shakespeare Fact brought to you by Hester - … Hester what?”
        “Rajagopal.”
        Hester Rajagopal from The Extraordinary Salamander Door, the in-progress sequel to upper middle-grade fantasy The Extraordinary Book of Doors.

[Picture: created by photoshopping from various models.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter H

April 7, 2018

G is for Grandma

Dearest Danny,
        I don’t know what you’re talking about saying I don’t like the quiet life.  Of course I do – it’s never my fault I have so many adventures!  The xenosaurs are a case in point.  I never asked to go to China.  It was a friend of mine who’s a biologist at the university who asked me to join the expedition just because she needed someone who could kayak, sky-dive, translate the Guilin dialect, and identify and tag the reptiles.  But you make a good point – this will probably be my only opportunity to explore the full range of capabilities of Auntie Jane’s titanium all-in-one adventure survival crochet hook that was reviewed in Adventure Needlecraft a few months ago.  Its solar-powered UV water purifier looks pretty nifty, and I’m particularly tempted at the prospect of using its cable-dart function.  Plus, with its GPS tracking I can’t get lost.  Auntie Jane’s makes lots of other interesting products, too.  I might even get to try out the power-generating knitting needle set which is still under development.  The rumor is that at 78 spm (stitches per minute) you can run an induction stove.  The possibilities are intriguing!
        I’m glad the principal seems to understand that you’re doing nothing wrong.  I’d hate to see my only grandson suspended under suspicion of felonious zombie activities!
        As for Project Kyle, it sounds like you did an excellent job.  Please be sure to report on its success.
                Yours with crossed fingers and toes, Grandma

        Grandma Hasenfuss from The Bad Advice of Grandma Hasenfuss, an epistolary tall tale for middle grade readers.  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture:  Grandma Hasenfuss snaring a charging rhino, illustration by AEGN, 2010.]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter G.

April 4, 2018

F is for Fethilis

        It was not a bundle of leaves at all, but a strange animal.  Svarnil knew it was alive because she could feel its small, frightened heartbeat thrumming against her fingers.  It was the size of a squirrel, and what the elf had thought were leaves were soft leathery wings, like a large bat’s, but dull green.  The creature lay in Svarnil’s two palms with its wings huddled around it, so that at first only the top of its head and the tips of its curled toes showed.  But after a while a wing twitched and a round emerald eye peeked out.
        “Don’t be afraid, little one,” Svarnil crooned.  The green creature opened its wings a little further.  Svarnil could now see that the rest of its body was covered in short, soft silvery fur, tinged with pale green the color of lichen.  Its head was round, with round ears on either side and round eyes above its flat round nose.  The wings had little three-fingered monkey hands at the second joint.  It gazed about warily, and now Oru and Nulif leaned in close to see what Svarnil held.
        “Goodness!” exclaimed Nulif, “It’s a leaf baby!”
        “What is it?” asked Svarnil.
        “A leaf baby!  They are also called lylits.  The Bachut think they’re sacred to the oracle they call the Third Aspect.  But they don’t come from here.  They live deep in the jungle near the Afula.  I wonder how this one could have gotten here.”
        Suddenly the creature stretched out its green-winged arms and yawned, revealing tiny pointed teeth and a narrow fluffy tail curled up as tightly as a snail.  Then it rubbed one ear and looked around alertly.  It seemed to Svarnil that the wings, which had been dull, were now a green much deeper and richer.  She found herself picturing the jungle she had never seen.
        “It will need a name.  How can I tell whether it’s a boy or a girl?”
        Nulif laughed and called, “Jadogwa, come here!  Do you know about leaf babies?  How can we tell if this one is male or female?”
        The young assistant came over and glanced at the animal Svarnil held toward him.  “Female,” he said, “Males have greener tails.  Never saw one around here before.”  He shot Svarnil a sharp look, then returned to the fire where he had been preparing lunch.
        “Well, then, little sister,” said Svarnil, “What is your name?”  Oddly, Svarnil found herself picturing the delicate green fiddlehead of a fern just starting to unfurl.  “Maybe your name should be fern frond.  May I call you Fethilis?  It is the Tungoldroleth word for a fern frond, but I trust a Minarian creature won’t mind.”  The silvery-green animal climbed quite nimbly up Svarnil’s arm to her shoulder and sat there, holding onto the cloth of her tunic with both hands and toes.  Her wings were now almost as silvery as her fur, as if they had borrowed some of the grey of the elf’s tunic.
        “It looks like she’s happy with that,” said Nulif.

        Fethilis from Vision Revealed, fourth book in a high fantasy series for middle school-or-so through adult (excerpt from Chapter 3: Svarnil begins a new quest).  More information here, or “Look inside” at Amazon.

[Picture: Fethilis, faux block print by AEGN.]

A-Z Challenge, all blogs with posts for the letter F.

April 2, 2018

E is for Emily and English

        "Did you know Emily Mannering well?" Hedger asked Ms English.
        "No no.  Not at all.  But she was always quite polite to me, as I noticed she was not to everybody.  But she really was such an elegant young woman.  We had dinner together once, when I was able to give her an introduction to a rather famous producer who was interested in supporting the sculpture garden she was promoting at the time.  So funny to see what they decide to do with their money, I always think.  I imagine if Dick ever actually went to that garden, he'd discover he'd got his name on something quite different from what he thought.  I'm sure he imagined Greek athletes and Rodin lovers everywhere making the place all classy and romantic.  I've seen the garden, and the sculpture's thoroughly modern and unrecognizable.  How you can tell something's a mother and child with all those angles, I'll never know.  Anyway, I was supposed to be telling you about Emily, but you see I really know very little about her.  Her mother had died young… well, I mean young compared with me.  Emily must have been seventeen or so.  She never got along well with her father, so she took her share of the mother's money and moved out.  That was after she went to college.  Of course her father sent her to a good college.  She majored in English, I think, which wasn't any problem because she came from such a wealthy family and could've done without any job if she'd had to.  Of course girls nowadays are all expected to do something, and marriage just doesn't count anymore, which, from my experience, doesn't seem like such a bad change.  She's lived in New York her whole life, I'm sure, but travelled a lot, and she speaks quite complacently about Paris and the Alps.  Skiing.  Not any more, of course.  I think her brother's a lawyer, but he's much older and she never saw him any more than her father.  That is, she did mention something about his having a stroke, the father, not the brother, and how she'd seen him in the hospital, but I bet that was the first time in five years.  There, I'm sure that really is all I know, except for her cat, which lived better than many men I've seen, which always seems very confused to me.  That she could pass the homeless by on the street and feed Auguste specially prepared salmon at a dollar a can.  Still, when you consider that it was the only companion she had.  Auguste as in Renoir, by the way, though he's not at all the round, cozy kind of cat Renoir would've painted, and pastels would never do him justice.  More of the panther in him than the puffball.  But maybe when he was a kitten.  Which reminds me, what is going to happen to the cat?  I can't imagine her family would want it.  I can't say I want it either, but I'd rather take it in than see it starve, much as the poor creature would think it'd come down in the world.  You check up on the poor beast and see that it's taken care of, will you?  Now, is there anything
else I can help you with?  Have some more tea.  I'm sorry I know so little about the affair.  I saw, of course, in the paper this morning and was really quite astonished.  You hear so much about shootings in parking lots and tenement buildings and Emily was that type of person who never seems to get touched by any of the problems of the world, so self-contained and secure."  And then she fell silent.
        Connie English and Emily Mannering from The Seventh Floor, an unpublished cozy mystery (excerpt from Chapter 3).
[Picture: Emily Mannering?  Butterick Fast & Easy Sewing Pattern, 1994 (Image from HoneymoonBus).]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter E.