It’s a couple of days late because I was on vacation (hallelujah, just sayin’), but I’ve just posted Chapter 8 of THE BABEL CHIP. If you’re just joining us now, I am posting an entire novel, one chapter per week, and all chapters stay up until the book is completely up. Then it will all come down. So check it out now, for freeee.
Chapter 7 of THE BABEL CHIP is up at Featured Reading! I’m posting a chapter a week, and keeping all chapters up until the whole book has been posted. At that that point they will all come down. So if you’re looking for some fun free reading, check out the story in progress here.
Last year at ICRS I had the privilege of meeting Anne Elisabeth Stengl, whose Tales of Goldstone Wood series is some of the finest Christian fantasy being written right now (a review here). Anne was kind enough to invite me on her blog to talk about The Oneness Cycle, and we’ve kept in touch.
So it is that today, I have the fun of helping reveal the cover for Anne Elisabeth’s upcoming release, Golden Daughter. This is some gorgeous stuff!
Ready for it?
Here it comes . . .
(The cover illustration was done by Julia Popova. Visit her website, http://www.forestgirl.ru/, to learn more about her and her fantastic work!)
BEYOND THE REALM OF DREAMS
IS A WORLD SHE NEVER IMAGINED
Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.
But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams. With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?
For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.
If you’d like to learn more about Golden Daughter, visit the book page for interesting articles, illustrations, and more!
Anne Elisabeth’s books live up to their promise. And to celebrate her upcoming release, she’s offering any two of the first six Goldstone Wood books–winner’s choice of Heartless, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, Starflower, Dragonwitch, or Shadow Hand. You can enter below. Do it, I say. Do it now.
Just for you, dear readers, because you are faithful: chapter 1 of ABADDON’S EVE. The book should be out in the next two weeks–we’re waiting on editing and cover art. But just to whet your appetite:
from ABADDON’S EVE, Book 1 of The Prophet Trilogy
A brand-new series by Rachel Starr Thomson
The voice of the wild man, the holy man, rising up out of the darkness, always gave Alack the shivers.
He was out there somewhere—down in the valley in the shadows beneath the moonlight. Eighteen-year-old Alack sat beneath the shelter of a twisted, wild fig tree, his woolen cloak pulled tightly around him. His sheep, bedded for the night, were quiet but for the occasional baa and the shuffling of their feet. The night was still, but warmth still emanated from the sands that had been heated by the desert sun only hours ago.
In the second watch of the night the wild man’s cries had begun.
Alack’s father, Naam, seated on the other side of their small fire, pushed pebbles aside with his staff and grunted.
“Why does he cry so, Father?” Alack asked. The old man, still strong, looked at him with wise eyes under wrinkled, heavy brows.
“He sees it coming,” his father said.
The shiver took him again, more deeply this time. Stars overhead shone with a fierce knowing, a terrible, distant forbearance.
Somewhere down in the desert darkness the holy man howled at the sky, a cry of torment and suffering at the visions he saw and the truth he knew. Alack could picture him: tall, half-naked in his camel skins, his hair and beard uncut, his ribs standing out in a body that was thin but wiry and terrifyingly strong. Eyes roving and wild, but with the ability to pierce right through you.
But his tongue—oh, his tongue was like fire. When he spoke, everyone listened. They flocked to listen. They could not help it.
Those who heard his words shook in their sandals with fear, or else they mocked or debated; there could be no ignoring the man, no simply writing him off as crazy.
But it was more terrible still to hear his torments out here in the wilderness, with no one listening to his tongue of fire.
The sheep were beginning to bleat anxiously, perhaps mistaking the holy man’s howls for those of a jackal. Alack rose to calm them, passing through the little flock, murmuring to them and laying his hands on their wooly heads and necks. Then he sank down on his haunches and leaned his head against one of the old matrons as though he were one of her lambs. There, surrounded by sandy wool and gentle, stupid faces, the young shepherd felt protected and safe.
Sheltered from the seeing eyes of the stars and from the cries of a man seized by vision.
* * *
Morning three days later, and the holy man appeared by the well of Beer-Abba, ranting and striding to and fro, and crowds knotted around him—shepherds there to water their flocks and traders to water their camels, women carrying jars for their households and slaves doing the same. They left their jars and their animals alone and pressed in closer to hear what the holy man had to say.
His words were like poetry, painting a terrifying picture.
“It comes: a day of darkness and of shadows, a day of clouds and of thick darkness. They come: a great people and a strong; a terrible army out of the west: there have not ever been their like seen in all the earth, neither shall there be any the like after them! A fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns; the land is as the gardens of God before them, and behind them is a desolate wilderness, yea, and nothing shall escape them.”
The holy man paused, sweeping his burning eyes across the crowd, scorching one after another with that gaze. None escaped it, not man or woman or slave or shepherd.
Alack stood riveted to the spot, unable to move even so much as to tear his eyes away. This was always the way of it: the holy man fascinated and terrified him more than anything or anyone else on earth.
And his words. His warnings. So terrible, and yet so strange.
“They come: the terrible army out of the west! They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on in a straight path, every one in his place, and they shall not break their ranks: neither shall one wound another; they shall walk every one in his path, and when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded. They shall run in the city; they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief.”
The holy man’s eyes lifted, and every gaze followed his. Up the mountain to the city on a hill: great Shalem, the Chosen City, shining like a sun in its beauty. Stone walls caught the light and reflected them; the spires of the temple rose beyond them, and the gold of the temple roof blazed with light. Bethabara, with its well and its market, was the last town on the way up the mountain to Shalem and owed all its prosperity to the city and the temple above. Shalem’s doom would be their own.
The holy man’s tone fell, from a trumpet call to the terrible finality of judgment. No one looked at him now; all eyes were fixed on the city above them.
“The earth shall quake before the army that is coming; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. And the Great God shall utter his voice before his army: for he is strong who executes the Great God’s word. For the day of the God is great and very terrible; and who can stand in it?”
Alack swallowed hard. In that moment even the animals fell silent.
But then the expected voice—the challenge that always came.
“Blasphemer,” the voice said. “Naysayer. Fearmonger. Go back to the desert and preach your warnings to the locusts. We have nothing to fear from you.”
“It is not I you should fear,” the holy man said. “Not I, but the Great God himself who speaks these words against you.”
“And for what cause?” the challenger said. By now eyes had shifted to the one who had interrupted: a familiar sight to all the townspeople. Aurelius Florus Laurentinus was the very antithesis of the holy man: broad-shouldered and muscular, dressed in fine clothes, well-groomed and clean. Light skin spoke of his foreign ancestry, from a land west of the Holy People, but his family had lived here for generations and earned the trust of many. And his voice, instead of bringing trembling and terror, brought calm—assurance. Even Alack felt better when Aurelius spoke.
“You all turned your eyes upon the Beloved City,” Aurelius said, addressing the crowd. “Tell me, then; what did you see?”
“The glory of the sun,” one man answered.
But Alack’s mind returned the words of the holy man: The sun and the moon will refuse to shine.
“The temple spires,” another said.
“The temple spires,” Aurelius repeated. “The place where we worship the very God this lunatic threatens us with. What do you have to fear from the Great God’s armies? You are the Great God’s armies! You are his people. Shalem is his Chosen City. Have not all the prophets told you so? Does not our king sacrifice to the God of Gods at every festival and every holy day? This man with his words would subvert your hearts. He is the enemy of your prosperity and the enemy of your peace. You would all do well to ignore him—let him rant out his predictions to himself alone.”
Alack thought of the howls rising from the darkened valley, and his heart pained him. There was cruely to Aurelius’s scorn. Such a lonely, anguished cry as this man’s Alack had never heard; at the very least, should not one listen to him out of compassion?
“Go back to your herds, back to your work,” Aurelius said, and the crowds turned to obey him. He was after all the chief man of the town, the king’s voice among the people; if Aurelius the Governor said they were fools, they most likely were. Alack wondered if the holy man would be angry that they were all turning their backs. That he himself was turning his back—that his feet were carrying him back to his flock as Aurelius told them to do.
He had turned away, just so, many times before.
But this time he could not. This time he could not rid himself of the man’s cries in the darkness. And so he turned back and looked into the prophet’s eyes.
And when their gazes met, Alack saw it.
A terrible army marching shield to shield, covering the valleys on every side, so numerous that the ground could not be seen, and the mountain shook with their coming . . .
* * *
Aurelius remained at the well until he was satisfied that the last of the townspeople had moved on, back to work and away from the troublemaking prophet. He glared at the shepherd boy, Alack, who seemed overinterested in the man; the boy turned his head, saw Aurelius’s eyes boring into him, and shuffled away with his cheeks flushed. Good. Let him be embarrassed—let him be mortified that he had been seen listening to the mocker.
The prophet himself had ceased his ranting and simply stood watching as the people turned their backs and returned to their work, ignoring him. At last he shook his shaggy head as if in sorrow and despair, and he turned back to the desert with his bony shoulders hunched.
Aurelius spat in the dirt behind him. Had any governor ever suffered such trouble? And so close to the Holy City! Truly, this people was bold and stubborn. A pox on all who were forced to deal with them. But stubborn or no, they were not a people that he, and his fathers before him, could not outwit.
Aurelius turned and began the trek to his great house, his guards following him at a respectful distance. When his great-grandfather had first come to this land from the west, no one could have guessed that the foreigner would become ruler, that the stranger would govern the children of the land. But the first Aurelius was a crafty man with a golden tongue and a brave spirit, and when he had saved the life of a king’s advisor in battle, the family’s journey had been set. From there Aurelius’s grandfather, Marcus, had worked his way into the royal courts, and his father, also called Marcus, had become a friend of the king.
Aurelius himself cared less for the courts of the king and more for a position where he could rule, and so he had convinced the king to make him governor of this, Bethabara, the closest and most important of the towns on the ascent to the Chosen City. Every third month he returned to Shalem, where he had the ear of the king, and then he came back to Bethabara where none challenged his wisdom or authority.
None but the mad prophet.
But this had always been a land of mad prophets and unstable religionists. A far cry from the ways of his forefathers. He remembered his grandfather’s stories of the land to the north and west, on the Great Sea, where every man worshipped any god he fancied, with no threats of jealous retribution from the God of the Mountain.
It was true—the stories these people told had raised fear and awe even from Aurelius when he was a boy. But now he saw them as foolishness. What sort of supreme god entrusted his messages to half-mad wanderers in the wilderness? In any case, the king was faithful to placate the Great God. There would be no judgment, no revenge. Revenge for what, after all? The king slaughtered enough sheep and bulls and shed enough blood to satisfy the most voracious of spirits.
Bethabara was built on the sides of the mountain, and the street sloped sharply up as Aurelius climbed to his house. Built of shining limestone, it was the finest structure in the town; glowing with light in the morning and evening as the rising lights of day and night reflected upon it. Its gates were of high, finely wrought brass, and Aurelius’s guards called for them to be opened as they approached.
He passed through the gate into the courtyard, where a fountain gushed cool water and olive trees lent their shade over hard-packed earth. His wife, seated on a bench with a harp in her hand, rose to greet him. Marah was a beautiful woman, daughter of one of the old families of Shalem, stately and crafty and every bit Aurelius’s match. He loved her at times and hated her at others, but life alongside her was never dull.
She went to kiss his cheek and whispered in his ear, “She is here.”
“So soon?” he murmured back. He let his eyes wander now and took in the clear signs of recent arrivals. Hoofprints had stirred up the dirt of the courtyard; the horses had left refuse that had yet to be cleaned up. “I would her journey had been a little slower,” he said. “The prophet is in the town.”
His wife stepped back and gave him a disdainful look. “You should have him beaten and run out.”
“The king does not like unnecessary dramatics. Especially not toward one who claims to speak for the Great God.”
“Perhaps, but you know these people. Their superstitions die hard.”
“As do your sister’s.”
He cursed inwardly. How had she taken her journey so fast? He had not expected her for another day at least.
“I must see her, musn’t I?” he said.
“Indeed you must. She insists on seeing you at the nearest opportunity. I urged her take her time about cleaning up, but you know Flora—she considers herself already as clean as need be.”
Aurelius sighed and patted his wife’s arms before releasing her. “You ought to help me be more charitable toward her, not antagonize me.”
“As if you need more antagonizing.”
If his foreign heritage was Aurelius’s greatest overcoming and his position at court his greatest pride, his half-sister was the thorn in the garden of his triumphs. Flora approached life as though their forefathers had not accomplished anything in becoming favoured in this land, as though all their privileges were worth less than the sands of the desert surrounding them. A desert where she had chosen to spend most of her life in a community of fanatics, mercifully far away from him. His mother had disliked Flora with a passion, little surprise given her origin as the daughter of a whore their father liked too well, and had sometimes muttered that she wished Marcus had enacted the ancient rights of his ancestors and exposed the girl while she was in infancy.
That had not happened, and Flora was alive, well, and far too wealthy and privileged to be anything but trouble.
Aurelius had not turned to go into the house before her voice accosted him from the door, and he turned with a smile plastered on his face to greet her.
“My brother is here at last,” she said. “And why were you not here to meet me?”
“You are early, dear sister,” he called across the courtyard, spreading out his arms to embrace her. “You might have sent word that you drew close.”
“Ah, but then I would not have the pleasure of seeing your surprise,” Flora said, pecking him on the cheek.
Flora Laurentii Infortunatia was a strikingly beautiful woman. Aurelius’s wife paled before her, a fact which was not lost on Marah. Tall and statuesque, with thick black hair that waved and curled down her back and eyes of a striking green, Flora favoured her mother and made it clear to any who would possibly wonder why Marcus had gone astray. She had been married at thirteen and promptly outlived that husband, who was carried away by an unexpected stroke only two years after their marriage; then married again and widowed within a fortnight by an unfortunate accident in the streets. By that time she had a reputation, and no one came seeking her hand, and she had as well a small fortune, left her by the second husband.
She was also a raving, wild religious fanatic whose pronouncements and self-abasement Aurelius hated almost as much as the words and actions of the prophet.
With the eyes of his wife and all the servants and guards in the courtyard upon him, Aurelius embraced his sister for exactly as long as politeness required and then stepped back and took her arm to usher her back inside.
Better just to keep her away from everyone as much as possible. He shuddered to think what sort of trouble she was likely to cause him this time.
“Was your journey pleasant?” he asked as they entered the house.
“As pleasant as a desert trek ever may be,” Flora answered.
“And you will stay with us for a fortnight, I presume? On your way to the Holy City?”
Something flashed across her face—something that gave him heartburn just to witness.
“The ‘Holy City,’ as you call it, has no fascination for me. I would as soon visit a rotting dog. No, Brother, I thought I would remain here until my business is done. Word has been sent to my business partners to attend me in your house.”
He blanched. “And you expect all of that will take . . .”
“From one moon to the next, if all goes well.” She stopped and smiled coyly at him, a smile so beautiful and so beguiling that most men would have lost their knees at the sight. “But you needn’t pretend that news is pleasant to you, Brother. Rest assured I shall not take a day longer about my business than is required.”
He felt his body going as stiff as his voice. “That is hardly necessary, Flora.”
“Neither are lies. I know that you suffer me because you have to, and because you know you will receive something from my estate when I die. Fair enough, dear brother. Your reward cometh in its own good time, and for now, I require nothing more than that you house me and feed me once a year while I conduct business and grow the fortune that shall in part pass to you.”
He groped for words. In all these years of tacit understand, and all of the effort he had put into pretension that she saw right through, she had never come out and stated the game quite so plainly.
She was in a mood, then. This was likely to be the worst visit yet.
“Will you require anything special during your stay?” he asked.
“Only a place where I may receive my guests. You have rooms you can give me, I know. And while I am not conducting business, your forebearance.”
She gave him a pointed look with her devastating green eyes. He knew what she meant.
“We will not interfere with your worship.”
Her expression grew more tender, less combative. “I wish you would give me more than forebearance, Aurelius. I wish you would listen to me. You call trouble on this house and your heads by scorning the Great God.”
“We do not scorn him,” Aurelius said stiffly; “we are strangers and owe him nothing, yet we visit the temple and offer sacrifices like the People of the land.”
“You live on his land; you owe him everything. And the sacrifices offered at the temple are an abomination. The Great God requires justice, and the priests give him bribes instead. You do not give him what he wants, Aurelius. The People are blind and deaf, shutting out his prophets—”
She saw something in his face, and zeroed in. “His prophets. Aurelius, the prophet is here. Yes, he is, and I see it in your face. Have you invited him into your house?”
“Of course not,” he snapped. “The man is mad. I commanded the people to turn their backs on him and return to their work; he was stirring up a crowd again. I tell you, if the people are not shepherded it will cause trouble for all of us. Even you, Flora, while you are with us.”
She looked sad. That was what drove him most beside himself about her. The ranting and raving and fanatical piety and cloistered life in the desert he could handle, but her sincerity made him want to do violence to someone or something. That sadness in her eyes. She’d been looking at him like that since they were little more than children and she had become a devoted follower of the Great God of the People and he had remained as their fathers had been—practical, nostalgic about their homeland, and determined to rise in the world the only way anyone could. Through good sense and pragmatism, especially in matters of gods and men.
“If the prophet is here, I must see him,” Flora continued.
“Not here,” he said sharply. “You may receive any businessman you like in my courtyard, but the prophet does not enter my house. Is that understood?”
She stuck out her chin stubbornly. “Then I will go out to him, wherever he may be.”
Aurelius groaned. Flora would go, and she would attract the attention of the entire town, as she always did. And all the people of Bethabara would know that their governor’s sister went out to consort with the prophet.
He could only hope they would all recognize her for the lunatic she was and avoid being swayed by her example.
He only wished that was likely.
Aaaand the latest chapter of THE BABEL CHIP is up at Featured Reading. Chapters will remain up until the book is finished, at which point the whole thing comes down again. So for now, you can start at the beginning :).
This update brought to you semiweekly, or biweekly, or something like that, because I forgot to do the update. Nag for better service.
And thanks as always for reading!