Thursday, October 19, 2017

Chapter One: Kacey(Part Two)



"Angus." John MacTavish offered his hand, and after the youngest son of one of his closest friends finished gulping, he quite approved of the young man's grip.

"Sir." Angus took a breath. "Kacey invited me to-"

"That's all right. MacLoughlin and MacTavish have always been partners. You're family. Well, as much as Corlane, at least." He really did approve of Angus, and proved it with a little smile. The young man returned it, even if his eyes were nervous.

"Uncle John-"

"Ardyn!" John made sure to give her a hug before she could get started. "You look lovely. How were you this week?"

"I...I was fine." The blonde blinked. "Uncle John-"

"How did your garden project go? The fae houses?" The Laird MacTavish leaned his cane by the door. "Are they finished?"

"Not...yet," Ardyn admitted. She blinked. "I didn't expect you would be-"

"Ach. MacDougal's not half the negotiator I am. Was in and out in a tick." John glanced to Soap, and he took a quiet breath.

"I believe Brigid was nearly finished with some pie," he finally said. "Isn't that right?"

"Yes, my laird," said the maid. "Shall I be back to it?"

"I'm sure Angus and Ardyn would love to help you sample the finished product," John agreed.

"Of course," Angus said, with an apologetic glance over his shoulder.

"But, Uncle John-"

"Please, Ardyn." John patted her shoulder. "Give an old man a few minutes alone with his daughter, won't you?"

She didn't like it. But Ardyn, for all her youth, was a wise old soul, and she nodded compliantly after only a moment's hesitation.

Brigid left, and Angus and Ardyn followed...and then it was just John and-

"What would you have had me do?" Kacey snapped, glaring his way. "He was dying!"

"Kace-" John quieted as her eyes flashed.

"Don't you Kace me!" The redhead's ponytail should have cracked like a whip, such was the fury with which her pacing set it to swishing. "I know the bloody rules! I knew you'd come home all in a tizzy and you'd read me the riot act for it! So what? I did it anyway! It's done!" She very deliberately leaned down, taking Soap's stick away for another toss, this one without even looking. "Someone in this house loves that dog enough to put her money where her words are, which puts me one up on you and Brigid!"

John waited. He counted off in his head, relying on his impassive diplomat's features to conceal it, until ten seconds of silence had passed.

"Hello, Kacey," he finally said. "I'm back from my trip. Have you been well?"

That shamed her. It registered in the dimming of her eyes and the slowing of her pace, and finally in her little sigh.

"Sorry," Kacey finally mumbled. "I didn't mean to just...spin off at you."

"That's fine." John opened his arms, and with only a little hesitation she drifted into his embrace. He held his only child of body close, breathing in the scent of her. "How have you been, love?"

"I've been..." Kacey had never been one for small talk, and she couldn't follow through. "Dad...I did what I thought was-"

"Come here." John took her hand, and gently he led her to the stone bench. They sat, and Soap wandered up, stick forgotten as he sought affection. Father and daughter spoiled him together, and for a moment, it was quiet.

"He looks well," John finally said. "You did a good job."

"I..." Kacey struggled with that. "I thought you'd be livid."

"I love Soap too. I tried not to think about him all the time I was on the road." John sighed. "Kacey, you should know Brigid was going to-"

"I asked her to! She refused." The redhead growled in the back of her throat. "So I did it myself."

"Brigid was waiting for the right time, when people wouldn't notice Soap's miraculous healing. I'm sure you beat her out by a few hours, or maybe a day. Not long enough to matter."

"He would have suffered for that long," Kacey protested.

"And he would have been fine at the end of it." John took a breath. "Kacey, the rules are the rules for reasons. I don't make them to dampen your life. I make them to keep you-"

"I'm tired of being safe," Kacey growled. "I'm twenty-one: by any count, that's grown enough I shouldn't be answering to daddy's rules."

"Kacey...just breathe." John reached out to brush her hair back. "People are afraid of things that are different. People are afraid of what they don't understand. And there's bad blood between your kinds. Of all people, I know that." His fingers brushed red away, and John's gaze lingered on Kacey's ear.

It was subtle. It was small. If one didn't know what to look for, it would take an act of the gods to see it...but there it was anyway. John knew. Anyone who had ever seen a more full example would see it too: the little abnormality in the shape of Kacey's ears.

The slight points on them.

"This is just like what happened with the racehorse," John finally muttered. "Remember?"

"What was I supposed to do? He had a broken leg. They were going to put him down." Kacey's eyes seared again. "Did you want me to let him die?"

"You can't...Kacey, I'm so proud of how big of a heart you have, but you can't undo every little suffering in this world without-"

"Says you!" She threw herself up, and John fought down the combative instinct to rise with her. True, sitting he was shorter, but he only had an inch or two of advantage at his full height anyway. Kacey seethed. "Just because...because you're a coward-"

"Kacey." John knew his tone and gaze alike sharpened at that, but he was fairly sure he was justified. "The bad blood between humans and drow is not something you can ignore. You are different."

"I'm sorry to be a bloody inconvenience," Kacey snapped.

"You know that's not what I meant," John scolded, and she looked away, ceding the point. "There's nothing wrong with different, Kace, but you have to be careful. There are people who would-"

 "Then why am I here?" Kacey demanded. "Why didn't Mum take me back with her when she returned to her people?"

"That's neither here not there." John left it at that. "What matters is you're living with your human family, not your drow one. You're half-and-half, and if people realize that-"

"So that's an evasion?" Kacey threw her hands in the air. "Have you nothing to tell me about her? Twenty-one years and you've never even told me her name-"

"That's not what we're discussing!" John rose now, and tried to look as stern as possible. "Don't change the subject."

"I wouldn't keep trying to if you would just tell me something-"

"Kacey, you cannot just resort to witchcraft to solve your day-to-day problems," John snapped, composure fraying. Perhaps his daughter got her temper from his side after all. "Vod is forbidden in these lands, and that's not even considering what's liable to happen if a wizard bumps into you and figures out you're a half-elven Vod-witch-"

"I was trying to save Soap!" Kacey cried. "That's all! And I did it! So you can lay off me, thanks much!"

"Kacey-" John stopped as she turned for the house. He marshaled himself. "Kacey Susan MacTavish!"

She did halt, but she didn't turn. John counted that as win enough.

"Promise me this won't happen again," he ordered. "Yes. You did it, it's done. Brigid and Corlane and I will do what we need to do to make sure no attention gets drawn down here. But you promise me that you've learned from this, and you'll let us deal with problems like this in the future. You have to keep this side of yourself hidden...so promise me you will."

Silence. The wind whipped over Sapphire Sound and the White Cliffs, up from MacTavish Town laid out not so far away. He waited, a lump in his throat.

Please promise, he urged in his head. Please. Please, Kacey, don't make me-

"I can't lie to you." Those five words tore John in half: half with pride that he'd raised a honest young lady, and half with fear and misery as he confronted what that made inevitable.

"Kacey, please-"

"No." She started back for the house at that. "I can't let animals or people suffer. If I have this gift, I have an obligation to use it."

"Kacey..." John trailed off as she left, storming back inside with her mother's fiery tread. He wavered on his feet, throat dry.

Slowly, his eyes turned over Sapphire Sound to MacTavish Town, and John beheld the large stake set in the market square, the base blackened by scorch marks.

He winced when the door slammed behind his daughter.

"Right, then," John whispered, after several solid minutes passed. He sank onto the bench, feeling every one of his years and a few dozen more. Idly, he reached out to pat Soap's head. "I'm sorry, Kacey." He closed his eyes, leaning his head in his free hand. "I hope you'll come to forgive me."

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Chapter One: Kacey(Part One)



"Fetch!"

With a heave of her arm, Kacey MacTavish hurled a stick from one end of her father's estate near to the other. It spun over the back porch and clattered down by the stone bench at the top of the White Cliffs, and for a moment, the redhead worried. If her companion wasn't careful...it was seventy feet down to Sapphire Sound.

Woof! And off he flew, dirt spraying under his paws. The great black dog bolted over the grounds, tongue hanging out as he sought his target.

"Gotcha!" And then a blonde beat him to it, and despite her shortness and her blondeness, she had the same blue eyes Kacey did, and the same mischievous light in them. She skittered away from the cliffside, stick in hand, while the dog barked and reared, tail wagging. He even put his paws on Ardyn MacTavish's dress, trying his best to climb her, and she burst out laughing. "Easy on, Soap!"

"Throw it, then!" Kacey ordered. "You're a wee thief, cousin!"

"Sit!" Ardyn's arm flashed as soon as Soap obeyed, and off he shot like a midnight arrow. Kacey jumped out of his way, and not a moment too soon. She had to turn her head to avoid the dirt spraying out in Soap's wake.

"I wonder how long it'll take," observed the third and final figure of the gathering, a lanky young man with a short-cut brown beard, "for the daft dog to realize you didn't actually throw it?"

"Soap's not the brightest," Ardyn admitted, tossing the stick to herself. "But he is the best, Angus."

"I admit I'm partial to him," Angus MacLoughlin agreed. He stretched out his legs where he sat on the porch steps, leaning back on his elbows. "He seems quite all right, given everything."

"Does he?" Kacey tried her best to mimic Ardyn's hair color for just a few moments, as Angus' gaze turned to her. "Right stroke of luck, innit?"

"He was on his deathbed," Angus observed. "And now he's chasing sticks at forty miles per hour."

"Right stroke of luck," Kacey repeated, smiling as disarmingly as possible.

"You're not fooling anyone," Ardyn warned her. That made Kacey simmer: she had always been the brains of the trio. "Kacey, maybe you should have-"

"Have what?" Blonde imitation forgotten, the redhead returned to her nature. "Have let him die?" She scoffed. "You know me better than that, Ardyn."

"And you know me better than that." That was definitely a stern look.

"Yes, mum," Kacey mocked. "I'm four years older than you. You could do without trying to forget it."

"As I was saying, maybe you should have let Brigid do it." Ardyn looked unhappy. "You know the rules."

"Brigid wasn't going to do a thing," Kacey protested. "Something or the other, always. I asked and asked-"

"You asked once-"

"Twice," Kacey protested. "Angus, you don't even live here. Shut up."

"Make me." He raised his hands as Kacey took a step his way. "I didn't mean it!"

"The conquering Highland pirate laird," Ardyn observed. "You're still just as frightened of Kace as you were when we were kids, aren't you?"

"No!" Angus eyed the redhead a bit self-consciously. "I'm merely respectful of anyone with a Gift."

"Right. And that my Gift is strength has nothing to do with it." Kacey laughed as Soap tore back around the house, skidding over to her with a betrayed look in his eyes. "I'm not the one who hurt you, Soap-"

"Fetch!" And then Ardyn did very well throw the stick, and off Soap went without further ado. Both girls watched with matching smiles.

"Maybe you should have let Brigid do it," Ardyn repeated. "But...I'm glad you didn't. Another night and he would have..."

"Yeah." Kacey shied away from the conclusion to that sentence. "But. I made a call and it's worked out right. So let's not dwell, shall we?" She knelt as Soap returned, and reached for the stick in his mouth. Kacey groaned when the dog turned his head, growling menacingly. "Soap...you beautiful idiot...I can't throw it if you won't let me have it..."

"That's just defeatist," Angus objected. "A real Highlander would find a way. Proves you're just a woman at heart."

"Go vote for MacDonald," Kacey snapped, and for a moment, they both snickered.

"Idiot," Angus observed after a moment. "Couldn't help it, Kace. I don't really-"

"Please. After all the times we've cursed his name together?" Kacey shrugged, resorting to petting her dog since he wouldn't cooperate. "He's funny enough in the right day. What'll be even funnier is what comes after the election, when MacPhearson is Queen of Clans and he's sitting in the dugouts blowing smoke from his-"

"Miss Kacey?"

The redhead sighed. She turned for the porch. "Brigid! Good afternoon." She took in the sour and stern look on the middle-aged maid's face. "Bad batch of pickles?"

"Young master MacLoughlin." Brigid nodded, and Angus hurriedly stood.

"Miss Stewart-"

"And Miss Ardyn." Brigid side-eyed Kacey's cousin long enough she had the good grace to look down. "I take it you two are as well aware as I?"

"Aware of what?" Kacey asked, shifting her weight to conceal-

"Aware of the bloody dog you're petting," Brigid pointed out, acid in her voice. "He's supposed to be dead."

"And that'd make you happy, eh?" Kacey scowled, pulling the stick from Soap's jaws. Brigid matched her expression.

"I take offense, Miss Kacey," she warned, and the redhead supposed she had overstepped just a hair. She still threw the stick quite angrily as Brigid carried on. "I don't love Soap any less than any of you, but what you did-"

"Did?" Kacey again tried to be as blonde as possible given her scarlet nature. "We're just out here in the morning trying to give a poor, suffering canine a bit of fresh air. I just took him out for a wee bit of sunshine."

Brigid's eyebrow went up...as her eyes tracked Soap and his hundred-mile-an-hour chase after the stick, barking and sliding over the dew-slicked grass. Kacey said a few rather unladylike things under her breath.

"...right," Brigid allowed, after Soap had returned to growl at Ardyn around the stick without offering it. "Miss Kacey, I'll have you know-"

"Oh, lay off," Kacey snapped, glaring up at her family maid. "I'm not stupid."

"Be that as it may, the rules of this house-"

"Rules!" Kacey nearly spat. "You're not my mum!"

"I am not," Brigid allowed, with colossal understatement.

"Then why do you think you're going to read me the riot act over this?" Kacey tossed her head. "I did it. So what?"

"I'm not reading you anything," Brigid said, very primly. Kacey's heart stopped beating as someone else came through the door from inside.

Tall. Tall, with lined features that suggested his fifty-plus years rather more strongly than Kacey was sure he liked, dressed fashionably yet practically. Unlike most Highland men, he had no dagger nor sword at his side, which well-fit his reputation and nickname. He had a cane, but for style rather than need, and it was set with a sapphire at the top.

His eyes were the same blue as hers...and his hair the same red.

"Hello, Kacey," John MacTavish said, as she hurriedly rose, swallowing.

"Hello," Kacey murmured, "Dad."

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Spellweaver Giveaway!

Well, friends, Belthor Spellweaver has drawn to a close. It's still one of my favorite projects, and I'm hoping you all enjoyed it too. So, I'd like to spread a little cheer by giving away a free copy!

Comment below with your favorite part of the book and an email address where I can reach you, and in one week's time I'll pick out one random winner! I would start off the chain with an example of my favorite part, but for one thing I'm a little biased, and for two, I just have far too many to select one. It's my baby, you know?

But anyway. I'm looking forward to giving out a copy, and even if you don't win, please remember that all proceeds from the Bookstore are still going toward Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands' hurricane relief. Anything you can give makes a difference.

All Midnight and Spellweaver posts have been cycled. Go take a look and see if something you missed is up now!

Kevin Haulsee

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Stinger: Shieldmaiden




"My Laird MacTavish!" Brigid Stewart greeted John MacTavish at the door to his family's estate, her brown hair bunned, dressed in black and blue as per usual. "How're you today?"

"I'm well, thank you, Brigid." He let her close the door, then removed his hat and hung it on the wall. She helped him out of his coat, and he shook out his arms. "And you?"

"Fit as a fiddle and ready to play," Brigid replied cheerfully. She hung his coat by his hat. "How'd the trade trip go, my laird?"

"It went well, thank you for asking." He grinned, leaning on his cane. "MacDougal isn't so hot about the exact terms we reached, but it'll benefit him enough in the long run. And anything that gets me more ships to put out in Ardwal's direction is a godsend if this business with the glassmakers pays off."

"That's the truth, isn't it?" Brigid agreed. "How was the rain?"

"Not so much of it, truth be told," John confessed. He hesitated. "Ah, Brigid?"

"Yes, my laird?"

"How's..." John trailed off. "How is Soap?" He winced as he expected the answer.

"Soap?" Brigid straightened, and her smile widened. "Oh, he's right as rain, my laird!"

"He is?" John frowned. "Well, I mean. I'm glad. Wonderful." He frowned. "Did you-"

"Just last night, he was lyin' there and we all thought it was coming," Brigid confessed, her smile growing and growing and turning to such a fake fa├žade John inwardly knew what had to have happened. "And then, what should happen, but young Miss Kacey sits in with him, that's what! Almost all night. And now he's on his feet after all the sickness. It's a miracle, my laird: a true love story of a young lady and her dog."

"Right. Saved by love." John felt his expression fall even as Brigid's smile remained fixed as if someone had nailed it to her. "Have you...happened to have words with her about this-"

"Well, my laird, I just figured, since you'd be home today..." Brigid shrugged, still smiling. "Well, she's not my daughter."

"Are you hitting the ball right back to me?" John demanded. "Is that what's happening?"

"Consider it hit," Brigid said, swinging her arm as if she were playing tennis. "Your move, my laird."

"There's a reason I have servants, Brigid," John shot back. "It's so I don't have to do nasty chores I don't like!" He swung his arm too. "Hit!"

"Are you saying talking to your wee daughter is a nasty chore?" Brigid asked. "Are you saying you can't right deal with your own little girl, is that what you're saying?" She swung. "Back at you, my laird!"

"I'm ordering you as your laird," John replied.

"I'm saying that, as your servant, you don't pay me half enough." She drifted away, still smiling.

"This is..." John snapped his fingers. "What's the word? This is insubordination, isn't it? Rebellion! I could sack you."

"Then who'll do your cleaning, Laird MacTavish?"

"I ask you for one little thing, and what do you do?" John demanded. "A direct order from a laird to a maid! And you do nothing!"

"I'm doing your laundry, that's what I'm doing," Brigid shot back.

"You don't even like doing laundry!"

"I like it a fair sight better'n I like having a go at Kacey!" She turned for the stairs and started up at a very fast walk.

"Give me the brush!" John called after her. "I'll-"

"Oh, no, my laird, it's woman's work!" She vanished upstairs.

"Coward!" John yelled after her. He heard a faint, cheerful yes, my laird!

John MacTavish let out a long-suffering sigh.

"Right, John," he told himself. "Kacey. Let's have a go at Kacey." He paused. "Hi, Kacey. It's Dad. I'm back after two weeks. Now, let's shout at each other for a few hours. I know you've missed our little talks as much as I have." He sighed. "Father of the Year, here I come. Thanks much, Brigid."


***

"No..." Something was wrong. He glowered at the paper. It looked like Yvette...sort of.

The eyebrows, Theron decided. Something about the eyebrows is off, even if the rest of it...

Sighing, he crumpled the drawing and threw it with the pile of other aborted attempts. He pulled another sheet from the notebook his uncle had given him, leaning back on the little cot in the dark prison cell no one in his family had ever thought one of their own would reside in.

"Yvette," he mumbled. "Oh! Or Annette. She was nice too. I remember her eyebrows better." He chewed on his thumb for a moment. "Yvette. Started her, might as well finish. Those eyebrows..."

A door opened. Theron ignored it, just starting his sketching. He bit his lip as he traced out Yvette's outline, and the flowing white dress that looked so precious on her...

Then the light went out. Metal rattled in the shadows.

"Who's there?" Theron demanded. He set the notebook down, rising to his feet as he thought he heard his own cell door opening. "Who is it?" He could see very little in the thin line of moonlight from his barred, high window, and he set his teeth as he crossed over to it. "I am a wizard skilled in staffless magic, so unless you want to-"

"Pardon the intrusion." It was a man's voice, and now that Theron had a direction, he indeed made out a faint, broad-shouldered shape in the shadows. "There's no need for that."

"Who are you?" Theron asked. 

"My name is of little consequence." He shook his head, the motion standing out in the dark. "But I work for an organization that has taken notice of you."

"What organization?" Theron asked. "Thieves? Rebels somewhere?"

"Your mastery of potions is unparalleled," the visitor said, and Theron irritably supposed he wasn't going to answer the question. "The manner in which you preserve your captives, truly remarkable. That your Gift lies in an innate understanding of potion-making cannot be denied."

"Thank you." Theron leaned against the wall. "I just do what makes me happy."

"A very worthy aim." The man nodded. "The Owner, you call yourself?"

"It's a name." Theron shrugged. "Names have power."

"That they do. It's good to meet someone who knows this." The man considered. "My employer and myself are very interested in the quality and style of your work. We believe it can be applied to many of our own designs, with some slight modifications for our purposes rather than yours."

"Really?" Theron asked. "And in exchange...?"

"We get you out of here. We spare you the noose that in the end, you know is coming. And we can supply you with as many...brides as you would like."

Theron frowned. "Who are you?"

A tindertwig lit in the dark. Theron flinched from the light, waiting as the visitor re-lit one of the lamps.

"My name is Jason," he said, green eyes glinting, "and I'm here to speak to you about a group called the Guiding Light."




To Be Continued...