Raven, Chapter 11

Aven took me away right away. He knew there would be trouble from the other Thief Lords. He wanted to protect me. So, he took me underground into secret tunnels only he and a few others knew about under the Sapphire District. There, we worked our magic and developed a following, a following Aven allowed me to lead.

-the writing on the cell wall.

 

Conducting her nightly business without Aven was strange. Everything seemed to be the same, operated the same. Aven had trained Onna well to be Raven’s next adviser. She had made the change as seamless as possible for Raven, but every time Raven turned to look at her adviser she expected to see Aven, not Onna.

Barrister Salway was mumbling something about wanting Raven to terrorize someone. She couldn’t quite understand the man. For a barrister, he wasn’t very articulate. He was sitting across from her with his legs crossed and his hands clasped around his knee. His thinning graying hair looked a little wispy and was in disarray from having been stuffed under the hood of his cloak. His steely gray eyes were roving all around the cavern, falling everywhere except on Raven.

Eventually, it came to the point where Raven had to hold up a hand and shake her head. She had just met the man and already she was exasperated with him. Usually, it took a couple of visits for that to happen. And, unfortunately, she wasn’t familiar with his feud with whichever family. Neither had ever come to her before.

“Barrister Salway,” Raven said, breaking into his mumbled monologue. “For a barrister, you’re hardly easy to understand. Would you please stop mumbling so I can actually help you?”

The man blinked at her before his eyes instantly shifted away. He shifted uncomfortably in the seat and cleared his throat.

“I’ve previously used Thief Lord Deryk’s services,” he said, much slower and clearer.

Raven smiled at him. “That’s better, Barrister. Now I can understand you. Were you displeased with Deryk’s services?”

Barrister Salway grimaced. “His men bungled the last job I hired them for. I hired him to forge some notes supposedly from Barrister Rayly. That man has been a burr in my side for the past twenty years. Those notes were supposed to be his undoing, but that Thief Lord’s men made a mess of it and they were written off as jokes.”

Raven gave him a patient smile. “Yes. I can see how frustrating that can be. I’m glad you decided to try my services. I guarantee you I provide excellent work. There is a steep price, but I care about my people and they always work quickly, efficiently, and correctly.”

Salway nodded. “I had heard. Your services came highly recommended. I can pay your price, Thief Lord, never fear.”

“What exactly are you hiring me to do?” she asked.

Salway uncrossed his legs and leaned forward as though to engage in conspiratorial whispers. “I want your men to terrorize Barrister Rayly’s oldest son, Balier. Rayly and I have an important trial we’re starting in two days and I want Rayly’s mind on everything but the trial. I don’t want you to actually hurt the boy; just scare him badly enough that his father takes notice.”

Raven nodded thoughtfully. “I have just the man.” She turned to find Aven and was once again struck by the sight of Onna. She drew in a sharp breath and then nodded for the girl to come closer. “Bring me Pyoder.”

Onna nodded and hurried from the cavern. Raven focused her eyes back on the barrister, who was once again looking everywhere but at her.

“Barrister, my fee is three gold coins and six silver coins for my services, to be split. The first half will be paid this night and the second half to be paid in three days’ time if you are satisfied with my services. If you are not sufficiently satisfied, simply write a note and have it sent to the Angelic Church. One of my men will be waiting there in three days to either receive the note or the remainder of my feel.  I also require five gold coins to be sent to the City Guard for my and my following’s protection.”

The Barrister nodded and fumbled for a coin pouch secured around his waist. “Yes, yes, of course. That is a bit more than Thief Lord Deryk’s fees, but I have heard you are good.”

Raven waited patiently as the man counted out half of her fee. By the time she had collected up the coins, Onna had returned with Pyoder. No one was better at psychological fear and terror than this man. He would do a number on the Rayly boy.

“Barrister, this is Pyoder. He will terrorize the Rayly boy for you.”

Salway turned and looked the young man up and down. He was tall and slim with a head of thick auburn hair streaked with gold and eyes as steely gray as his own. His features were rather plain and he looked, well, plain. He was the type of man who could blend in anywhere and not be seen.

Pyoder bowed his head to Salway. “It will be my pleasure to serve you, sir.”

“Pyoder,” Raven said, “Barrister Salway would like you to terrorize Balier Rayly, the son of Barrister Rayly. This must begin as soon as possible and will end in three days’ time. You are not to hurt him; simply terrorize him and put fear in his heart, so much fear that his father become more preoccupied with his son than his upcoming trial.”

Pyoder bowed at the waist to his Thief Lord. “Of course, Thief Lord. I will start plotting right away.” He turned to Barrister Salway. “It will be an honor to work on your behalf, sir.”

Barrister Salway gave a faint smile and looked the man up and down again. He had faith in Raven and hoped she would come through for him. Raven, for her part, felt a twinge of sadness, knowing Aven would just be shaking his head behind her, trying very hard to stifle a laugh. Pyoder was so cavalier and Barrister Salway was a quivering mass of nerves.

 

Raven slid a long, slender knife into it’s sheath running up the outside of her black pants leg. Straightening, she smoothed her black skin tight clothes and peered over her shoulder at Onna. She still expected to see Aven, still expected to feel him smooth away a stray strand of hair or smooth out the back of her clothes. But he wasn’t there anymore.

Onna stood behind her, her arms folded across her chest. An unreadable look was on her face and her eyes gave away nothing. Now that the girl was no longer Raven’s decoy, she was growing out her hair, so it was a touch longer than Raven’s. She wore black, but hers was a black blouse and long skirt since she would not be going out with Raven this evening. She had a golden necklace sparkling around her neck; Raven would never be caught dead wearing jewelry. No, Onna was not longer the decoy; she was the adviser and executioner.

“Aven would look at me with reproach,” Raven said softly, turning to face the girl. “You are not Aven and you may not look at me in that way.”

Onna scowled and her arms twitched, but they were already crossed as tightly as they could be across her chest. “I may not be Aven and you may have forbidden me from acting like him, but I can still disagree with this course of action. What will killing Lord Sarlik get you, Raven?”

Raven clenched her hands to flex the black leather covering them. The material silently moved with her movements. “Revenge,” was Raven’s only reply.

Without another word, Raven strode out of her bedchamber. With the scowled still in place, Onna followed.

“At least let me come with you. I’ll be your eyes and ears.”

That made Raven pause and whirl on her new adviser. “You would have me risk the life of another adviser?” Raven stepped close to the girl, almost coming eye to eye, she was so close. “You forget, Onna. Lord Sarlik killed Aven. The man could very well kill again. I will not risk the life of another adviser. Do you understand me?”

Onna pursed her lips, but nodded.

That done, Raven whirled around and made her way out of her underground network of caverns. She strode through the slums, being her own lookout for the other Thief Lords and their followings. But they must be busy this night because she sensed no one following or watching her and she came across no one from the other followings. She was alone this night, and she was thankful for that. She had a plan for revenge, and she was dangerous this night.

This night, Lord Sarlik would die.

As soon as she entered the Market District, her movements changed. Her bold stride through the slums, her own territory, became a slink as she moved from shadow to shadow to hide from the City Guard.

Instead of taking the direct route through the Town Square, she instead crossed Skywalk Promenade, dividing the Market District from The Commons. Here, three, four, and five story apartment buildings rose on either side of the narrow streets. These, as in all the other districts excepting the slums and Factory District, were cobbled with light brown, white, black, and gray stones and smoothed over so wheels had a flatter surface to travel over. It also ensured fewer wheels were lost or broken.

The apartment buildings were dark. It was, after all, well after midnight. She quickly skirted around Arel Gardens. She didn’t think she would be able to return any time soon. It reminded her too strongly of Aven and the dawn they had spent together. Never again would they be able to watch the dawn together, explore the city, or swing up onto a cloister covered with vines.

She continued her way around the city, crossing Needle Promenade, dividing The Commons from the Emerald District, where the upper class resided. These people were very wealthy, some even more so than the nobility, but they could never live in the Sapphire District; only those of noble blood could, unless they were the Parliament President.

The residences in the Emerald District were grand, but not as grand as those in the Sapphire District. Many of the homes, especially those covering extensive ground, had fine gardens, colorful and sweet smelling, an echo of the Sapphire District. These people would do anything to emulate the nobility. It sickened Raven. She never took any jobs necessitating being in the Emerald District. It was far too pretentious to her.

Finally, she crossed the Esplanade into the Sapphire District. It was quite fortunate the Sarlik Manor was just off of the Esplanade. There were fewer other manors she had to worry about, manors where people might be peeking.

Silently, Raven crept onto the manor grounds. She could hear movement, foot steps moving evenly in time. Those foot steps could only belong to the City Guard. Only they were that disciplined.

She wasn’t surprised Lord Sarlik and his daughter were being protected by the City Guard. It happened periodically when a job went bad and the nobility were spooked. But it never lasted for more than a few days.

The City Guards didn’t scare Raven. If anything, she was even more determined. She could almost taste her revenge, could almost feel Lord Sarlik’s warm, red blood spilling over her bare hands. For this, she would remove her gloves.In her mind’s eye, she could see the look of fear and horror in Lord Sarlik’s eyes as they light went out of them, just as the light had gone out of Aven’s eyes.

She grit her teeth. She had to do this. She had to get her revenge. Sarlik had stolen her best friend, lover, and adviser from her. She would steal his life from his body.

She worked silently and automatically. With surprise, she realized she was entering the manor; she had no recollection of it. Her skills and instincts and training had moved her while her mind was preoccupied. She felt lucky she hadn’t been caught.

Raven knew exactly which door would lead to Lord Sarlik. Down one hall, where Caidy’s rooms were, there was a guard, but Sarlik’s rooms were in another hallway and were not protected. It appeared the man was more concerned about his daughter than himself. At least he had his priorities straight. And it made her job easier.

She silently ghosted into Lord Sarlik’s chambers. Silvery moonlight bathed part of the sitting room, casting shadows long and tall over the rest of the room. The moonlight lit up the door to the bedroom, and Raven was glad to see it was partially open. That would eliminate the need to open the potentially creaky door.

She slipped into the bedroom and quietly unsheathed her knife. On the broad bed was a sleeping figure, the covers pulled up the chest. Lord Sarlik slept on his side with his mouth open. A soft snore came from him, but it was barely audible to Raven’s ears.

Quietly, she approached the bed and raised her knife. She brought the blade down quickly, her body shielding the moonlight from sparkling on the blade. It was as hungry for blood as Raven was.

But Lord Sarlik shifted, moved further away from her. Her blade whispered just past him and struck the bed. Cursing inwardly, she pulled the knife from the bed, but there was no way she could go back for the kill.

Lord Sarlik had come awake with a start. He gasped and his body shifted as he struggled to sit up to find out what had disturbed him. By the time he had turned himself over, his fingers brushed against the hole the knife had made, Raven was only a silhouette against the window. She vanished a moment later.

Advertisements

The One Thing Having Kids Taught Me About the Human Body (That I Probably Should Have Known)

I love that my kids are always learning and exploring and teaching me new things all the time. Their endless questions keep my brain working and Google functioning.

Now, I know the human body must grow as the child ages. I know they can’t stay little forever no matter how much I want them to.

We track how tall they’re getting. We marvel at how big their heads grow. We watch as their limbs stretch longer. Their little baby angel faces morph and their personalities shine through, evident in the naughty smile and glint in the eye.

But it wasn’t until my little girl opened her mouth one day and stuck out her tongue that I learned something new about the human body.

She was not quite one and had discovered how fun her tongue could be. She loved to stick it out, lick her lips, and lick everything in her path. She went from all hands to all tongue.

I marveled at how tiny and delicate her tongue looked. It was adorable. I stuck my tongue back out at her to get her giggling, and wondered at how much bigger it was.

I should have known it all along, but it was then that I realized the tongue grows, too!

I never paid much attention to my tongue. I never noticed it grew along with my head and face as it always sat so perfectly in my mouth. Being faced by a much smaller baby tongue had my brain lighting up.

Of course, I should have known this all along, but I’ve never given my tongue much thought; just plenty to taste. My husband probably thought I was a little bonkers (after all, he is a scientist and works closely with medical doctors), but it was new to me.

It’s amazing the things having kids teaches you and helps you discover. Now I’m finding myself studying their tongues and watching them grow. And missing those tiny little baby tongues.

Adventures in Ratio Baking: The Best Part

I love ratio baking because it requires less brain power.

Yes, not using a recipe uses less thought on my part.

Well, once I started to figure out all the math, that is. Math is my weakest area, so it took me about a month to figure out the 3-2-1 cookie ratio. Which is why I started with the 1-1-1-1 cake ratio first.

But, honestly, baking without a recipe is easier on my brain than using one. It might seem weird because, with a recipe, everything is spelled out. There shouldn’t be much thought put into it.

Well, baking with a recipe, for me, involves:

  1. Figuring out what kind of cake I want. That’s really not too hard because I always side with chocolate.
  2. Finding a recipe. Do you have any idea how many grandmas made the world’s best chocolate cake?!
  3. Making sure I have all the ingredients. I guarantee you, I do not keep shortening, molasses, corn syrup, buttermilk, coffee, liqueurs, etc. stocked. And I’m back to step 2…
  4. Hunting down my measuring spoons and cups because my kids are enamored with them.
  5. Getting out two or more bowls because recipes call for adding wet and dry ingredients alternately into a third mixing bowl, sifting the flour into one bowl and adding it into the mixing bowl, and mixing the dry and wet ingredients separately. So, read the recipe carefully first.
  6. Precisely measuring out everything (which should be done by leveling off the measuring cups with the back of a knife) and keeping track of how much I’ve added so I don’t have to start over.
  7. Mixing, which can sometimes be confusing and require adding ingredients in specific orders and certain ways. I always end up reading this at least half a dozen times to make sure I do it right.
  8. Baking. Finally! Just have to double check the baking temperature and time…

And using ratio baking requires:

  1. Deciding to bake. I’m always up for it.
  2. Taking out my scale, three bowls (one for the eggs, one for the butter, one for the dry ingredients, though sometimes I use the same bowl for the latter two), a spoon, and a knife.
  3. Weighing the eggs. It’s easiest to do them first because everything else can easily be added or subtracted to get the right weight.
  4. Weighing the butter (I use the knife to cut it), sugar, and flour (plus cocoa powder for chocolate cakes) to match the eggs.
  5. Mix. There are different mixing methods, though the creaming one (cream butter and sugar first) is the easiest and more common one. I prefer the egg foaming method of whipping the eggs and gradually adding the sugar first.
  6. Bake! For 3 eggs, a temperature of 375 degrees for 25 minutes in an 8 inch round pan works great. No double checking necessary.

Of course, starting out with ratio baking was slow. And it does take a little time to ensure equal weights, but, overall, ratio baking is faster and easier for me. There’s no making sure I have everything and double checking every number and step. There have been so many days when my daughter and I have literally walked through the door, I’ve said to her “let’s bake,” and we have cake within the hour.

My favorite part is that, by not having to reference a recipe, I’m better able to interact with my kids. I can talk to them without saying, “Hang on. I need to measure out the flour.” There’s also no more wondering if I counted the number of cups of flour right anymore, and having to start over. Instead, I spoon flour into a bowl, chat with my kids, and keep an eye on the weight. My kids even get to help dump everything in, when they’re not busy banging unused and lonely measuring cups on the counter or eating chocolate chips.

Baking with ratios is so much more relaxing. I do have to make sure I take what I need out so I don’t forget anything, but that takes mere moments. I love not second guessing myself and reading the same number 10 times. I love being able to calmly answer my oldest child’s numerous questions while scooping out flour. And, when mommy is relaxed, the only meltdowns they have involve who gets to sit on the counter next to the bowl.

So there you have it. It may not be true of everyone who ratio bakes, but I definitely find it’s easier on my brain, is more relaxing for me since I’m not anxiously quadruple checking everything, and baking with kids is a much calmer endeavor because I can offer more of myself to them.

Have you tried ratio baking? Would you?

Book Review: The Perfect Assassin by K. A. Doore

Genre: Fantasy

By day, Amastan is an apprentice scribe. By night, he is one of the Basbowen family’s newest assassins. Serving as the knife of Ghadid, the assassins only kill when there is a contract. Fortunately for Amastan, who is unwilling to take a life, there are no contracts.  Thinking himself safe from having to kill someone, he continues to train with his cousins and unexpectedly comes across the hidden body of a Drum Chief, one of the leaders of Ghadid. The Drum Chiefs decide it will be the Basbowen family’s job to find out who killed him, and the job passes to Amastan. Keeping this task a secret, Amastan discovers someone is also killing assassins, leaving their bodies hidden so their jaan will run wild through the city and take more lives. It is up to Amastan to discover the killer and survive against increasingly powerful, angry jaan who would also have his blood.

I’m one of those fantasy readers who enjoys the typical magic, dragons, and Medieval setting. Of course, I read beyond that, but I’m always drawn to them. I was intrigued by this book’s description, but a little apprehensive about actually reading it. Once I started, though, I had a tough time putting it down.

Far from the Medieval setting, Ghadid is clearly in the desert where the rains come for a season and the water must then last until the next rain season. As a desert city, it’s culture was closely tied to the sands and water, but was richly imagined. It’s not the kind of place I’d like to visit, but reading the book made me feel like I was there. I loved how well the setting, culture, and story wove together seamlessly.

I loved that the story kept moving and something new was always being discovered. Instead of getting bogged down in the history and description of Ghadid, it was woven through the narrative without being too much or too little. Doore did a great job at dropping the reader into the story and letting them figure things out as the story unfolded without everything becoming too confusing. At the beginning, I would have appreciated some description of what jaan were. I was puzzled for a couple of chapters, but it became readily apparent what they are quite quickly, especially when Amastan came face to face with one. They’re an intriguing piece, and I did end up enjoying figuring them out on my own. The mystery of what they are adds to the feeling of fear of them. I completely understand Amastan’s fear of jaan.

My one complaint would be that I figured out who the assassin was about halfway through the book. During the first half, I had no clue even though it turned out we’d been introduced to the assassin early on. Something seemed to change during the second half, though, and it felt like it was clear as day, which made me feel like Amastan must be as a dense as a brick. Either that or blinded by his unsettling feelings towards this person. It was a little jarring and somewhat annoying. Looking past that, though, in the grand scheme, it really didn’t do too much to disrupt my enjoyment. After all, the best parts came after the revelation.

The whole book is wonderful. I tried to stretch out the reading as I really didn’t want to have to think about what to read next, but I couldn’t stop picking it back up. Fantasy and mystery mingled perfectly. The setting was breathtaking and, while the mystery eventually lost steam, it kept me guessing throughout the first half. But the best parts really are at the end. If the first two-thirds were great, that last third is just amazing. The story becomes action-packed and I had to remind myself to breathe.

The Perfect Assassin is the first book in the Chronicles of Ghadid series. I loved the first book so much I want to keep my eye on this series and see what Doore turns out next.

How many cups of tea will you need?

Definitely 5 cups of tea.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy. All opinions are my own.

Raven, Chapter 10

Teryk trusted me. Perhaps a little too much. It was easy to get close to him. It was easy to slit his throat. I remember his eyes and his moving lips. They were accusing me, and all I could do was grin. I watched the light leave his eyes, and I had never felt more powerful.

-writing on the cell wall

Raven was inconsolable. She had barely made it back to the slums. She wasn’t even sure how she had done it or how she had gotten into her bed. She had lost her best friend, her lover, her adviser. Aven had meant everything to her and she had lost him.

And it was all her fault. If she hadn’t insisted on going ahead with the steal, he would still be alive and with her. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do without Aven.

Onna was the only one who dared go to her in this state. She had become volatile and prone to breakdowns in turn. she was unpredictable and often flew into rages more directed at herself than whoever she was talking to. Onna had been Aven’s chosen successor, had picked by the man she trusted most, so she allowed her former decoy near.

A gentle hand touched her shoulder, rested there comfortably. It was Onna’s touch. Just knowing that Aven had selected her to be Raven’s next adviser should something happen to her made her feel as though he were still close by.

“Raven,” Onna said softly. “Lady Almi has returned. She’s been coming for the past two nights, demanding to see you.”

Raven lay with her face in her pillows. The last thing she wanted to do was have anything to do with Lady Almi. It was her job that had gotten Aven killed.

“Send her away,” Raven said, her voice muffled against the pillow.

“Raven, she hired you for a job,” Onna said, her voice as commanding has Aven’s had been. “You need to see that job through. You still clutch that jewel setting as though your life depends on it! And it doesn’t! Aven is gone, Raven. Would he want you to wallow in your pain like this?”

Silence was the only thing that greeted her. With an exasperated sigh, Onna stood and headed out of the bedchamber to let tell Lady Almi to return again the following night.

“Aven died because of this job for her,” Raven said softly.

Onna turned and found her mistress had turned over and was now sitting up. Her eyes were haunted and her skin was pale. Bags sagged under her eyes and her lips were trembling.

“Aven knew the risks, Raven,” Onna said, just as quietly. “We all do. We all vowed to serve you until our deaths, though I have a feeling Aven would mean to serve you even in death.”

Raven turned her face away. “Aven was my best friend. He was the only one who cared about me when I was a child. He was my first source of support and my first follower. I don’t know what to do without him.”

“You go on. He would want that, and you know it. Aven knew the risks, Raven. He lived to serve you and he lived to die for you if he had to.”

Raven looked down at her clenched fist. The jewel setting Lady Almi had so wanted was clutched in her fist. Her fingers tightened around it and the jewels were pressed into her palm.

“Tell Lady Almi for wait for me. I will see her this night.”

Onna carefully studied the Thief Lord. “Are you sure?”

“Very,” came Raven’s whispered reply.

Onna turned and walked out of the bedchamber. As she left, she heard Raven whisper softly, “We will have our vengeance, Aven.”

 

Caidy had been avoiding their gardens for the past two days, ever since her father had killed that man. She didn’t know who he had been, but she guessed he had to have been from the underground for her father to kill him.

She remembered the morning afterwards, when she had woken to find her father sitting on the edge of her bed, his head down. He had a devastated look on his face, one she had never seen before, and it had frightened her.

He had told her what he had done. He had killed a man who had stolen from them. He had stabbed him through the heart. The City Guard had removed the body so his precious daughter wouldn’t be exposed to that horror.

And Caidy had been horrified. How could her father have killed someone? Even if he had stolen from them, how could her father murder someone else? How could he take another person’s life?

Her father had been afraid of this, afraid of losing his daughter’s respect. She knew it hurt him to see the accusation and tinges of hate in her eyes every time she looked at him. She couldn’t help but loathe him. He had killed someone. This feud was getting out of hand.

Sure, she knew others had been killed throughout the feud, but to know her own father had taken a life? It was unimaginable, and, yet, it had happened. Her entire opinion of her father had changed. She couldn’t help it.

For the past two days, Caidy had been avoiding the gardens, and her father. She had discovered that her mother’s jewel setting had gone missing, but that didn’t matter to her as much as knowing her father had robbed a man of his life. That was a far worse crime to her.

It’s not that she doubted her father hadn’t acted to defend himself, her, and their home. It was more of the fact that he hadn’t taken some other course of action that would have spared the man his life. The man hadn’t even had the jewel setting on him! Someone else had taken it, but Caidy didn’t care. This feud had cost them enough. What was one jewel setting to a man’s life?

Caidy hadn’t been to the Angelic Church, the one located in the Town Square, since her mother’s death. The memorial had been done there rather than at the Angelic Church in the Sapphire District. The Town Square’s church was much larger and grander than the one in the Sapphire District. The Angelic Bishop oversaw all the people of Needle City while the Sapphire District’s Angelic Minister only tended to the nobility. For what she wanted to talk about, she needed the Bishop.

The Town Square was busy in the middle of the day. People were rushing around, tending to their business, delivering this and that, searching out that person or this. She skirted the Needle on her way across the cobblestones towards the Angelic Church.

It was a large, white building with four spires at each corner. They rose up and narrowed into twisted, golden spires capped with silver balls. In the middle was a taller spire, this one twisted as it reached for the clouds. There were four stained glass windows at the front of the church and below the middle two were the wooden double doors that always stood ajar. The Angelic Church welcomed all at anytime of the day or night.

As she entered the church, she pushed back the hood of her dark brown cloak. She entered a rectangular chamber, its walls extending to either side of her. Shelves had been attached to the walls in three rows and candles flickered along them. They were lit in memory of someone who had been lost.

Off to one side, Caidy took a match and lit it on the large, stout candle that stood on a single shelf. She walked down one side of the chamber until she came to her mother’s candle. She bowed before it and lit it, something she hadn’t done in years. Usually, it sat gathering dust until either she or her father chose to visit the city’s church.

“Bring peace to my soul, Mother,” she whispered before blowing out her candle.

Tossing out the match, she headed into the main church and walked along the aisle to the front. The front of the church was rather plain with only a seat in the middle of the platform and a pulpit to the left side. Sunlight filtered through the large stained glass bearing the image of an angel with flowing blond hair and blue gown, casting pastel colors across the platform and the elderly man seated on the chair.

Caidy headed straight for the woman, ignoring all the other people who were filling the pews here and there to make prayers of their own. The Bishop opened her eyes and smiled gently on Caidy. She reached out a hand and indicated the girl could approach before resting her slender hands back onto the white silk gown she wore.

Her eyes filling with tears, Caidy went to her knees before the Bishop and pressed the golden band that ran around the hem of the woman’s gown to her forehead.

“What brings you to me, child?” the Bishop asked, her voice gentle and almost angelic. It was musical and quiet, the tones soft and welcoming. “What ails you?”

“Bishop,” Caidy began, “my name is Caidy Sarlik. My father is Lord Daisun Sarlik. My mother was Lady Mertara Sarlik.”

The Bishop smiled. “I remember your mother, child. She was a good woman with a beautiful heart.”

“Yes, she was,” Caidy whispered.

“What ails you?”

“My father, Bishop. He killed a man in our gardens two nights ago. He said the man was a thief who had taken my mother’s jewel setting, but the necklace was not found on him.”

“Ah,” the Bishop said, nodding. “Your father has committed a crime, but shall pay no penance. That is indeed troubling for a young lady who has looked up to her father since the day her mother died.”

“Can you help me, Bishop?” she implored, staring up at the old woman with pleading eyes.

The Bishop gave her a gentle smile and rested a hand on top of Caidy’s head. “I cannot, Caidy. The forgiveness must come from your heart, not mine. You know the correct course of action. You must follow your own heart, child.”

Caidy’s shoulders sagged. “But I don’t know what to do.”

“Yes, you do.”

Caidy was silent for long moments. Then she raised her eyes and looked right into the Bishop’s. “The feud must end.”

“Feuds are the way of this city, but they are not always right. I have seen them destroy many families and many have come to bloody ends. You know where your’s is headed.”

Caidy nodded. “I do. After my father, I am the only one left to carry it on. But I don’t wish to. Bishop, I am friends with the Almis’ daughter. She wants not part in it, either.”

The Bishop smiled, a twinkle in her eyes. “And you have a plan.”

Caidy started. “How do you know?”

The Bishop took a swift glance around before leaning close to Caidy’s ear and whispering, “Tyala Almi came to seek my counsel yesterday.”

Caidy blinked in surprise and stared up at the old woman. The Bishop raised a finger to her lips to indicate all secrets were hers to keep. If Lord Sarlik ever came to her to find out anything about his daughter, the Bishop would keep whatever Caidy said in the strictest of confidences.

“Caidy Sarlik, you know what you must do.”

 

Night was approaching and Lord Sarlik was most paranoid at night. Especially since he had caught that man prowling on his property. It probably wasn’t the best idea to have killed him, but it had angered him to catch a thief in his own gardens.

He had heard creaking from his roof. He had initially written them off as the roof settling and the manor being generations old. But then they had started to sound more like very soft foot falls. That had alarmed him and he had gotten out of bed. The nearest weapon he had at hand had been the knife, so he had taken it into the gardens to hunt down the intruder.

He hadn’t meant to kill him, but he had become enraged at the man’s audaciousness. His actions that night had cost him his daughter’s regard and respect. It hurt to think about, to remember, but he would protect his daughter and she would come to respect him again one day. One day she would see that his actions had been correct.

That evening he sat in his study with three City Guards. They stood before him, feet apart and hands clasped behind their backs. They were three very solid men, men who were at his command until he felt safe in his home once again. He hadn’t intended on asking for guards, but after discovering that the man had broken into his little girl’s bedchambers while she slept in that very room had upset him. He was doing this to protect his daughter, not himself or the manor.

“You know your posts?” Lord Sarlik asked.

The middle man, the oldest one, his blond hair cut very short and his green eyes vivid and sharp, nodded sharply. “We do. One of us will be posted outside of your daughter’s chambers while the other two roam the grounds.”

Sarlik nodded. “The orders remain the same.”

“Very good, sir.”

With that, the three men marched from the study, leaving Lord Sarlik to his thoughts.

Caidy was safely ensconced in her rooms. She had spent much of the day out in the city, alone. He didn’t blame her for not wanting to be around him. After all, he had blood on his hands. He’d literally had blood on his hands when he had told her what had happened. As a matter of fact, after dealing with the City Guard, he had gone straight to his daughter’s rooms and had waited for her to awaken.

He did worry about her when she went out into the city alone, but it was daylight and there were people bustling around everywhere. He hoped she would be safe enough in the crowds. No one would try anything in broad daylight. Besides, the Thief Lords operated at night. At least, Raven always did.

Sarlik hadn’t told his daughter he had known the man he had killed. He recognized the man. He was always standing at Raven’s side, but he didn’t know the man’s name. Neither he nor Raven had ever offered it.

And the only reason why the man could have been in the gardens in the middle of the night would be because the Almis had hired Raven. The Thief Lord was working both sides of the feud. It was just a job to her, but it angered him. He and the Almis were using the same Thief Lord to get at each other. The thought didn’t sit well with him.

Now, not only did he respect Raven for what she did, he also feared her for what she did and what she could do to him and Caidy.

The Devices Stay Home

My kids have free access to tablets and sometimes their dad’s smart phone (I still proudly use a flip phone, so it’s not as much fun). When we’re home.

With the exception of my husband’s phone (of course), all devices stay home as a rule. I started this as soon as our oldest child had a tablet when he was not quite 2. Since neither of my kids expects to take devices out with us, it’s never been a struggle. Actually, the rare times that we do let them bring whatever they want, they’re more likely to fill my bag with toys than devices. I’m definitely a proud mommy.

Before we were parents, my husband and I noticed the trend of entertaining kids with devices out in public. We’ve witnessed couples out to dinner, though it looked more like they were dating their devices than each other. We’ve seen kids of all ages sitting in shopping carts with their eyes glued to a screen. We’ve watched a family pass around devices at a restaurant so everyone had something. We’ve listened to children whining until their parents handed over a phone. We don’t judge, and we definitely don’t know why anyone chooses to be so connected so there’s nothing for us to judge, but we decided that wasn’t for us.

The devices stay at home because we want our children to learn to self-entertain when we’re out and about. We’re a PBS watching family and I like the message from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood about playing, singing, or imagining anything while waiting. I want my children to observe and learn about what’s around them. I want them to see how people interact and get involved with shopping, looking at things, and how to order at a restaurant. My five-year-old makes his own drink orders and says please. There’s always something to do, talk about, or play with.

The devices stay at home because we want our children to learn how to behave in public. If we’re constantly shoving a device in their faces to keep them quiet, still, or otherwise well-behaved, they’re not actually learning how to behave in public. Instead, we’d probably see more meltdowns if we leave the devices at home because they’ll have come to expect them. By not having devices when we’re out, they learn how to behave. They learn what they can and cannot do and why. They learn how to comport themselves in public, as well as what we expect of them when we’re out.

The devices stay at home because we don’t want our children to become reliant on technology. We don’t want our kids to learn that, when they’re bored, tired, agitated, or otherwise a bit unruly, they’ll get a device to entertain them. Instead, we teach them to tell us how they’re feeling and what might help them out. If they need a break or more attention or they’re just plain done, they learn to verbalize it instead of whining to get the device. They learn how to make do with what they have rather than expect a screen. It also makes them more engaged with their surroundings. Both of my children are curious about everything we come across. They want to know about everything and help with everything. They want to touch what they’re allowed to. They’re exploring their world instead of a virtual one that doesn’t actually exist.

We’ve done this for about 3 years now. My kids are well-behaved in public. They don’t have meltdowns. Sometimes our oldest will whine when we’ve been out for hours and he’s tired, but it helps us know our limits as a family so that everyone gets a little of what they want. They’ve also learned to not bother others. Usually, other people will look at them and smile and they’ll react with hiding their faces. It also doesn’t hurt that they both prefer to stay as close to us as possible. The best part, though, is they’re fully engaged with their surroundings and don’t rely on devices to entertain them. They’re constantly learning when we go out and it carries over to our next outing.

Sure, I wouldn’t mind a quiet, leisurely shopping trip or interruption-free meal. How many parents wouldn’t? But I don’t want my kids to become device zombies just because I want peace. I wouldn’t have become a mom if that’s what I wanted. I wouldn’t mind peace and quiet while out anywhere with my kids, but I don’t think that’s in their best interests, and we’d be missing out on a lot of learning moments.

The one exception is when we have to go to the hospital or doctor visits. Those wait times can be excruciating and there are so many things they can’t touch. There are also many, many other things I don’t want them touching because who knows what they would bring home. When I know we’re going to have long waits where there’s little to entertain them, I’ll permit them to bring devices, but I usually have to convince them it’s okay.

I don’t judge parents who choose to use devices with their kids. We’re just not those kinds of parents. I love that my kids don’t rely on technology. I love that they’re curious and quick to learn. I love that they like to contribute to the conversation, or take it down some really strange roads. I especially love that they know exactly what we expect of them when we’re out, and that they most definitely are well-behaved.

Life Between the Pages: Editing CAN Make or Break a Book, but Sometimes the Story Shines Through

I love reading self-published books. I never know exactly what I’m going to get. Sometimes it’s fairly standard for the genre; sometimes it’s unexpected. Sometimes the writing is quite conventional; sometimes it’s unusual.

In general, though, I’ve found the books I don’t hate and/or abandon usually fall into one of 3 categories for me:

  • Well edited, but the story isn’t compelling. Simply put, it’s not my cup of tea.
  • Poorly edited, but the story or premise is fascinating.
  • Well edited with a fascinating story.

I love the books that fall into the last category. This is Seven Unholy Days by Jerry Hatchett, The Lot of a Nobody by Dave Johnston, and The Adventure by Jennifer M. Zeiger. I love not having anything to say about the writing because it means I can just immerse myself in the story.

The books in the first category are like The Lifespan of Rabbits by Robert Tucker (review of this political fairy tale pending). They’re well-written, but I just can’t connect with the story. These are the ones where I shrug and say it just wasn’t for me.

The books that fall in the middle category stab me in the heart. There’s so much promise and I love the story so much, but the rough writing, lack of polish, and/or poor editing makes it hard to read. This is Cuteness Overlord by Mike Aaron, Life in River Hallow by Teresa Grabs, and Elithius: The Red Captain by Dominic Sceski. These are the books where editing can make or break a book, but they are also books where I can see the story shining through and think they deserve a chance.

Good editing has the power to put the reader’s focus on the story being told rather than on how the story is told. The reader doesn’t get bogged down in the mechanics of the writing or gets thrown out of the story by it. Instead, they can sit back and enjoy the story, immersing themselves into a sweeping adventure. Honestly, some readers can probably do this anyways and chalk the poor editing up to the book being self-published, but I have a hard time ignoring the writing. When the writing is really good, though, when it’s been well-edited, I don’t even focus on how it was written; I just get to jump in to the story and stay there.

Poor editing can get in the way of the storytelling. As I said before, this may not be true for every reader, but it’s definitely true for me. If I have to read a sentence, paragraph, or whole page over again because I don’t get it due to the poor writing, then I get frustrated and wonder if I’m wasting my time. If the writer can’t be bothered to ensure their writing is clear, then why should I be bothered to read it? Okay, sorry. I’m letting my general frustration show here, but I think it’s important for writers to know. Poor editing can result in a lower quality story or something that simply reads as juvenile due to a young or inexperienced writer. The story might not actually be clear to anyone other than the writer, and maybe a few close friends and family members who rave about it. As a reader, I don’t want to be continually searching back through the text because reading something makes me think I missed something. I’ll just end up confused. When I get confused, I lose faith in the story and it’s quality. And then I just stop reading. Whatever the writer had in mind might have been brilliant, but it’s all about the execution. If a story isn’t told well, it’s poorly done. Simple.

But sometimes – sometimes – the story manages to shine through the poor writing and editing. These are the books in my middle category. They are why I love self-published books.

ContraDictation by Adam West is one of these. You won’t find my review of it, and there isn’t one pending. The writing was atrocious, but the story was more than fascinating. It’s simple: contradict yourself and wink out of existence. I loved the idea so much, I just said goodbye to the writing and focused on the story. Definitely a 4 cups of tea book, but I have no immediate plans to write a review. Why? Because the author recognized his poor writing and fully intends on better editing his two subsequent books. I’m very much looking forward to their publication.

Getting past poor editing can be difficult. I know it’s very easy for me to get bogged down in it and become frustrated with the writing where I can’t give the story a fair shot. But sometimes I come across a remarkable story. It’s different. It’s unique. There’s an intriguing quality to it. My mind latches onto it and won’t let go. There’s something special about the story and the raw way the author presents it. The editing is amazingly bad, but I can read past it to find an absolute gem of a book. I live for these books.

Those middle category books have the potential to be amazing, if only the writing and editing were better. It’s books like those that make me want to be an editor (but who would trust an untested avid reader who is so busy with 2 kids that one read-through would take a month?). I want other readers to love the same gem. But readers can be tough. Mix up your tenses enough, lose plot lines, kill off an already dead character, and confuse periods and commas and they’re through. I’ve seen reviews that rave about the book despite the poor writing. But I also see an equal or greater number of reviews murdering the book because of the lack of editing.

Readers look for an immersive experience. Take that away with poor editing and they might wash their hands of it. Editing can make or break a book. Some readers can still find the gem of a story, but others can’t.

Have or know of a gem of a book? Please send it my way!

Raven, Chapter 9

Chapter Nine

I made Teryk a rich man. He gave me many spoils, but I hungered for more. What he gave me wasn’t enough. There was always more. He laughed whenever I asked for more. So, I plotted his demise.

-writing on the cell wall

The Dirty Pig Tavern was just as dirty as its name. Dirt and filth covered the creaky, scuffed wooden floor and the tables had been dusted over so many times no one really knew what the tops looked like. The chairs were more like stools now with no back to them and what cushion was left was torn with stuffing pouring out. The walls were grimy and streaked with dirt, blood, and fossilized feces. Human or animal, no one was quite sure anymore. The plates, glasses, and silverware were stained beyond belief and everyone was quite sure they hadn’t been cleaned in ages. It smelled worse than a pig sty, full of foul human and animal odors, all topped with the eternal wafting scent of alcohol. But the wine and beer were good and the food had yet to kill anyone, so no one complained. There was really no one to complain to, anyways. The bartenders and managers changed almost nightly.

The Thief Lords didn’t particularly care, though. They used the space above the bar. It was a wide open space with only the outer walls to hem them in. There was an assortment of tables, chairs, and stools scattered around. Usually they sat in chaos, but, with the Thief Lords, they marched around in a circle so the Lords and their advisers could keep an eye on each other. The fireplace at one end was, miraculously, still working and Edvin had made sure a glowing fire lit the room and exuded a more pleasant aroma to try to mask the stench downstairs. Lanterns and scented candles were settled around as well. The more light to see each other by, the better.

Edvin had taken his place opposite the stairs. There was no door; the stairs just ended and one ended up in the large, drafty space. He liked this seat so he could watch everyone else enter and they could play their staring power game with him until they had to look away to claim a seat. Ever loyal, Zyno was by his side, studying every detail with a hawk’s eye.

All the way into the slums, they could hear the Needle City Tower Clock chime midnight.  The deep sound of the gong still rang long after the strike had ended, echoing through the streets of the city. Edvin smiled to himself. The others would be arriving soon.

Aven, sans Raven, was the first to arrive. He was always the first arrival, even if it was Raven who was hosting. Raven was always the last to arrive, making a fashionably late appearance just as a noble lady might. The girl carried herself too highly, but, they did fear her to some extent. After all, she had killed three Thief Lords and had escaped numerous assassination attempts. The girl was practically untouchable. Hate her they did, but stand in awe of her they must.

Edvin watched as Aven prowled around the chairs. He always picked out the best seats for himself and his mistress. And no one dared touch Aven. It meant certain death. Of all the advisers, Aven was the most protected. Raven was always watching out for him, and they never knew just from where she was watching.

“Aven,” Zyno said, nodding in greeting.

“Zyno,” Aven returned as he settled into a chair to Zyno and Edvin’s left. The advisers never greeted nor were greeted by the Thief Lords.

They waited in silence. The only sounds were the flickering of the fire and the creaks and yells and pounds from the tavern below. They waited patiently, each hardly daring to draw a breath. Neither did they meet each other’s eyes. It just wasn’t done.

There was really only so much to fear. Weapons weren’t allowed and each Thief Lord had two of their following waiting at the Tavern’s door to check each Thief Lord and each adviser for secreted weapons. Edvin and Zyno had already been through and hadn’t been happy when Corinn’s two had been late to the tavern. It only meant a delay to the host in entering the meeting space. And it always grated on their nerves. But trust Corinn to do that every time.

Deryk was the next to enter, along with his adviser Kyna. He nodded to the others in greeting and took a seat opposite Aven. Kyna sat beside him, leaning back and resting an ankle on a knee. For a woman, the only female adviser, she acted more like a man. Her delicate feminine features and long raven dark hair, though, made her look like a delicate young woman. She was older than Raven, though, and had served as Deryk’s adviser for nearly fifteen years. No other adviser had spent so long as such. Kyna, for all her beauty and age, was almost as deadly as Raven could be. The two women, though, respected each other and had an unspoken, unsteady agreement to not hurt each other. After all, Raven respected Kyna as the first and only female adviser and Kyna secretly worshiped the only female Thief Lord in all of history. It was because of that that Deryk was always on his toes around his adviser. She was good at what she did and he trusted her, but he didn’t trust her enough to not pull a Raven and slit his throat to become the second female Thief Lord. But most Thief Lords did tend to keep their largest threat as close as possible: as adviser.

Five minutes passed before Corinn and his adviser Quin made their way upstairs. He was always trying to push it, or push Raven, rather, wanting more than anything to be the last one. No one ever saw Raven and where she came from, but they all assumed by now that she was watching from somewhere nearby, so always knew when all the others had arrived.

With a frown, Corinn flung his cloak over the chair with its back to the stairs. Quin, a large grizzled man with long graying black hair and beard sat beside his master. His keen green eyes swept over the rest of the group and he nodded to the other three advisers. He had served as Corinn’s adviser for three years and was the newest of them. He was a secretive man and Corinn never talked about him, so they didn’t know much about this mountain man. All they knew was that he was not originally from Needle City.

They didn’t have to wait long for Raven to enter. She walked in with her usual cat-like grace and made her way to Aven’s side without looking at anyone. Dressed in her customary full black, she was more like a moving shadow with nothing casting that shadow. She looked at each one of them, Thief Lord and adviser, in turn, staring at each for no longer nor no less than ten seconds. Seemingly satisfied, she settled back in her chair and let Aven watch out for them. After all, that’s what the man did best. He always looked out for her. Always.

Edvin cleared his throat. “I believe our primary concern this night is Raven’s peace agreement.”

Two other heads nodded in agreement. Raven simply watched him, her hands calmly folded in her lap, her face impassive.

“I believe,” she said, “that is what has been causing the problems between us lately.”

“When the original Thief Lords created the council,” Deryk said, “it was to ensure we wouldn’t off each other and create a single Thief Lord who would become a tyrant.”

“Very true,” Corinn murmured.

“I believe my peace agreement takes care of that very nicely,” Raven said almost off-handedly.

Edvin nodded. “It does. As Thief Lords, we naturally want to take out our competition, but we know the perils and prices for that.”

Yes, they did. They remembered the chaos Teryk’s death had thrown them into. Every other Thief Lord had screamed for blood, but the girl known as Tala had vanished into the night. She hadn’t returned until after the dust had settled and they had settled back into a comfortable routine, one Thief Lord down because they hadn’t been able to pick someone to take Teryk’s place. No one had been strong enough, smart enough, or daring enough to be labeled a Thief Lord.

They remembered when Raven had asserted herself as a Thief Lord, her following larger than Corinn’s and Edvin’s, who did not, by far, have some of the smaller followings. Two of the other Thief Lords had opposed her and thought that a mere girl couldn’t stand up to them. They had learned soon enough how wrong they were and the council was down two more Thief Lords.

The peace agreement had come out of that unfortunate mishap, as Raven referred to it as, and it had kept the peace so far. They wouldn’t kill each other. At least, not attempt any more than usual. And none of them could actually be killed without having all the other Thief Lords fall on them. Of course, Raven knew her life was in constant danger despite the agreement. The other three would do anything to see her dead.

“I,” Edvin said, “for one, have resigned the agreement as it stands. I don’t wish to be killed any more than I wish to kill any of you. We are only four when we were once seven. That is enough for me to want to preserve our ranks.”

Deryk nodded. “I agree. I, too, have signed the agreement.”

All eyes turned to Corinn. Of the three, he was the most eager to be well-rid of Raven. Though eager to be rid of the young female Thief Lord, Deryk and Edvin had been Lords longer than Corinn and knew they needed every one of them to keep order in the underground. It kept them in check and kept any one following from growing too large and too powerful. It also helped to spread the numerous followers out so they could be kept under watchful eyes. But Corinn viewed Raven as a thorn in his side, an upstart who had stolen what he viewed as his chance to be the most powerful Thief Lord. He had, after all, been Teryk’s favorite until Raven had come along.

Corinn crossed his arms. “I am not convinced. We never needed an agreement before. Why do we need one now? What has changed? We are still a council of Thief Lords. We still rule the underground. We still try to kill each other and never succeed.”

“If my man hadn’t overheard your plan,” Raven said softly, dangerously, “you would very likely have succeeded at killing me. Everyone knows I do not carry weapons into the bath houses. That is forbidden. This agreement protects my life. It protects yours as well, especially from my following. I assure you many of my people despise one or more of you and would jump at the chance to attempt to take your life. If I could do it, any of them could. This agreement isn’t just for us. It’s for our people as well. They cannot kill any one of us any more than we can kill each other’s followers.”

Deryk nodded. “That is true. And we know our followers are zealous. At a word, they would kill for us, especially another Thief Lord.” His eyes turned to Raven and a flicker of a smile touched one side of his mouth. “Everyone wants to be another Raven.”

“What say you?” Edvin asked of Corinn. “It protects all of us.”

The man only pursed his lips.

Raven looked at Deryk and Edvin. “The agreement is null and void if Corinn does not sign. All of our lives and the lives of our followers would be in danger from this point forward.”

That put a thoughtful look on Corinn’s face. Aven didn’t like it and he wished more than anything that the other three Thief Lords would force a pen into his hand and make him sign the agreement.

“Corinn,” Deryk said, his voice soft, a hint of danger laced through. “It is in your best interest, as well as the rest of ours, to sign it.”

Corinn folded his arms. “I’ll take my chances. I won’t sign.” He turned to his adviser. “Quin, we leave.”

His adviser only nodded. Quin rose and nodded to the other advisers as he preceded his Thief Lord down the stairs. Corinn left the other Lords and advisers staring at each other, each knowing the peace agreement was now null and void and all of them and their followings were in danger from each other.

 

“I don’t like it,” Aven said as they made their way through the shadows back to their caverns.

Raven sighed, a soft sound that was quickly carried off in the light breeze. “I know, Aven. But Corinn has always been slippery. It took a great deal to get him to sign in the first place. We’ll just have to be careful from now on. Very careful.”

The clock tower chimed the one o’clock hour. Raven paused in her step and turned her head in the direction of the sound. A thoughtful look came over her face. Aven paused and took one look at her before his face clouded.

“No, Raven,” he said, his voice harsh. “We can’t risk it. Not now. Wait until tomorrow night.”

“It’s still early, Aven,” she whispered, not looking at him.

Without another word, she whirled and made her way out of the slums instead of further into them. Cursing under his breath, Aven loped after her.

“Quiet,” she hissed once he had caught up to her. “You don’t want anyone to hear you, now do you?”

“Oh, now you’re worried about something happening?”

“I’m worried about something happening to you,” she snapped back. “Now, hurry up, Aven. The Sarliks should be asleep by now. That jewel setting has to be in the Lady Caidy’s bedroom.”

“We’re not even prepared for this,” he pointed out as he caught up to her.

She waved a hand. “I’ve broken into the manor before. I know what I’m doing.”

Aven frowned. “Aren’t you being a little optimistic, not to mention far from cautious?”

“Of course not,” she said breezily. “Everything will be just fine. I know which window leads into the girl’s room. And with you as look out, I’ll be just fine.”

“Are you sure about this, Raven?”

“Positive. And, remember, Lady Almi will pay quite well for this.” She chuckled. “She’s new to working with me. She’ll never know I charged her a gold coin more than I charge anyone else.”

Aven raised an eyebrow, but didn’t look at her, being too concerned at watching for lurking shadows that wouldn’t be shadows. Neither of them had weapons with them. He was afraid Raven was getting too far ahead of herself and maybe a little too cocky. Or Corinn’s refusal to sign the agreement meant she thought he had just signed her death warrant and certificate, so why couldn’t she go out on a lark?

He couldn’t blame Raven for wanting to make the most of her life, but to go into a steal unprepared? That was unlike her. He worried about her, but he loved her and admired and had trained her. He would go where she willed. Even if it made his hands shake and his knees quake.

So, he loped after her, hiding in the shadows and keeping a look out. He would rather die than let anything happen to her. He couldn’t lose a second Thief Lord, especially when that Thief Lord was the love of his life.

 

Aven crouched on top of the roof of Sarlik Manor. Raven was making her way through the manor, searching for the jewel setting. The night was dark, a sliver of moon being the only light in the sky. But he still felt exposed. There was nowhere to hide on the roof, not even a chimney.

They were ill prepared for this steal. They had no real plan and no tools. If Raven got into trouble, there was no way he would be able to help her. And with the other Thief Lords potentially on the prowl for each other’s blood, the night was even more dangerous.

Aven fervently wished she hadn’t decided to go ahead with the steal tonight. This night was more dangerous than any other. There was the usual fear that the City Guard might catch them or the home’s master or mistress might awaken. But now there was the additional danger of the other Thief Lords and their followings.

If they weren’t careful, Raven could still end up losing her life this night. But Aven would see to it that that didn’t happen.

He scanned the ground, his eyes searching carefully for any unnatural movement. Early on, in Teryk’s following, he had been used as a scout. That’s what he had been trained for as a young boy before he turned towards being a cat burglar. He had the sharpest eyes in the following and he liked to think that he still did. Nothing had ever gotten past him. And now it was even more imperative that he have sharp eyes. Raven’s life depended on it.

A soft whistle pierced the air towards his right. He crept over to the edge of the roof and saw Raven crouched near a flowering bush in the gardens. She made a slight hand movement and he gave a nod to indicate he understood.

His feet silent, he ghosted over the roof towards the tree they had climbed up and now just as gracefully climbed down. Slinking low to the ground, he made his way towards his mistress, his eyes trained on her.

A twig snapped behind him and he instantly stilled. Raven’s eyes had gone wide and a hand moved to her mouth. They had been caught.

“Stop, thief!” Lord Sarlik’s voice rang out loud and clear in the night air.

“Hide,” Aven whispered to Raven as footsteps headed in his direction.

Raven, fear etched in her face, didn’t move. She only shook her head.

“Tala, please,” he mouthed, his eyes imploring her to follow his command for once in her life. He knew he was either going to die or be imprisoned. That was fine with him. He was protecting Raven. He would protect her until his dying breath.

For once in her life, Raven listened to him and shrank into the bushes. Lord Sarlik was so focused on Aven that he didn’t even notice the bush’s movement. Raven was able to hide herself quickly and effectively, but kept her eyes trained on Aven.

Aven had straightened and turned around to face Sarlik. The lord had a long knife clutched in a hand. So, it would be death tonight.

“Give me back what you have taken,” Lord Sarlik demanded, one hand outstretched.

Aven spread his hands wide. “I have nothing of yours, sir.”

Lord Sarlik’s eyes narrowed. “Someone was in my home and you are the only one I see. Return what you have taken.”

“I have nothing of yours, sir,” Aven repeated, his voice calm, his body still.

Raven couldn’t help but quiver in the bushes. She wanted nothing more than to go out and rescue her beloved friend and adviser. But they had planned for this, and they were following that plan. Aven’s use of her birth name was their key word. If he used it, she would hide and he would take the fall. She had prayed it would never come to that, but, if it was imprisonment, they had a plan for that, too.

“Thief!” Lord Sarlik roared.

With that, he launched himself at Aven and, before the thief could move, thrust the knife through Aven’s heart. Raven’s hand flew to her mouth to hold in the choked cry that was on the tip of her tongue. Aven’s body stiffened and then fell as Lord Sarlik yanked the blade from the man’s chest. Aven fell so he could cast his dying gaze on Raven’s hiding spot.

All they could do was stare at each other, each hoping the other knew how much they loved them, as Aven bleed to death and his heart stilled. He mouthed his love to her as his eyes glazed over and he breathed his last.

The 7 Things I Do On Those Sleep Deprived Days That Could Be Hard

Motherhood is relatively easy for me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have those sleep deprived days after endless nights of waking with my almost two year old every hour of the night (teething and rainy nights are tough for her).

Those days can be challenging. I recognize that my patience isn’t where it should be and all I want is some quiet. I silently beg my kids to be fine playing on their own. I countdown to naptime and bedtime. Everything that normally doesn’t bother me has the potential to be utterly frustrating.

But I’m resourceful and know myself well enough to know my shortcomings on those days. It’s easy to snap at my kids, but it’s not fair to them. Remembering that helps me hold my tongue.

I used to be a behavioral interventionist. I used to go to work with a literal and figurative toolkit. I carried toys, games, and activities in my bag and, on those days where I wasn’t feeling 100%, I brought in the good stuff, the things the kids loved and new surprises. I also carried in my training: how to form a relationship where the child wanted to engage with me, how to handle tantrums and non-compliance, how to enlist the parents for help, and the routines and schedules that were already established.

As a stay at home mom, I wake up at my workplace. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my toolkits.

Here are the 7 things I do on those sleep deprived days that could be hard:

  1. Get dressed. I do this every day, but, on those days following the rough nights, I tend to be a little neater in my attire. I wear the clothes I used to wear to work. It reminds me I’m here to do a job. My bosses are little and demanding, but I’m the big boss, and I should act that way.
  2. Routines and schedules. My son has his schedule and my daughter has her routines. Luckily, they mesh well with each other. Sometimes I change it up, but not on those sleep deprived days. Oh, no. Those routines and schedules are key to a productive day, happy kids, and less stressed out mommy.
  3. Let the kids lead. I’m too tired to think up new activities and games, so I let my kids guide us. This isn’t too hard since my almost 5 year old has a million ideas rattling around his head. The hard part is all of it rushes out of his mouth and I have to figure out what he’s trying to say. But I let them tell me what they would like and not like to do.
  4. Bring out old or new toys. These kids practically live in a toy store. They have very generous grandparents and a dad who loves toys as much as they do. Inevitably, toys get shuffled to the side and it’s those that I drag out. They’re always delighted because they usually don’t remember these one-time favorites. Sometimes I also have brand new toys squirreled away, and these sleep deprived days are when the kids get them.
  5. Long baths. My kids love water. They’ll easily spend an hour turning into fish if I let them. That’s one less hour I spend chasing after them. They’re not always great at playing together, but they also don’t rely on me to play with them. Morning baths are a great treat and afternoon baths take up the space between naptime and dinner (and dad coming home). It makes bedtime more relaxed because all they have to do is get dressed and brush their teeth.
  6. Bake. I love to bake. Baking is easy for me and I’ve mastered baking with small children. They also love baking with me, and the little treats I give them to keep them away from the eggs. All I have to do is ask if they want to make cake or cookies and they’ll go running to the kitchen. Come to think of it, I think they enjoy sitting on the counter more than anything else…
  7. Have patience. It’s hard. I’m tired and possibly holding the last of my rope, but they still need me to be their mom. I can’t snap at them just because I’m tired. I just have to remember I am exhausted, probably fighting headaches, trying desperately to keep my eyes open, and definitely not at my best, so I make more of an effort to be overly patient and kind to my kids.

It’s not easy being at home with small children when you’re tired, sick, or otherwise not feeling 100%. Those days happen, but I don’t let myself use that as an excuse to be anything but the kind of mom my kids need and deserve. I don’t give myself the space to be okay with having mom fails left and right.

Is it hard? Yes. But seeing them cry because I needlessly snapped at them is harder.

I’m not the of kind of mom who is okay with failing or being an okay mom. I knew motherhood was going to be tough and I’m determined to rise to the challenges it presents. Just because I’m tired doesn’t mean my kids aren’t expecting me to be the same old mom as yesterday. It just means I have to have plans in place and practice kindness and patience a lot more than usual.

And, if all else fails, being authentic with my kids and telling them mommy is tired or not feeling well goes a long way.

Book Review: The Emerald Queen by J.W. Webb

The Emerald Queen: A Legends of Ansu fantasy by [Webb, J.W.]

Genre: Fantasy

Seven years after the gods have been destroyed, Queen Ariane has a Dream that has her sending Captain Garland after her cousin Lord Tamersane. Following the war, Tamersane and his wife Teret had vanished into a city in a distant land, but he is now the key to staving off a power hungry emperor, the only one who can use the mythical bow Kerasheva. Simple enough, but three ancient sister sorceresses have their own games to play with Garland, Tamersane, and Teret. Fortunately, it brings them all together in a race for the bow, but the question should be why these rival sisters want it.

Book descriptions are often a reader’s first introduction to a book. They give a taste of what you can expect and what the story is about. As a reader, I expect accuracy. With this book, I feel like I was duped, and that leads to a general feeling of resentment towards this book, so take my review with a grain of two or salt.

The description paints this as the story of a queen pitted against a power hungry emperor. As the description says:

Now she must conquer her own demons before she can face this new enemy head-on.

I can count on one hand how many times we actually see Queen Ariane, which is a shame because she seemed like the most fascinating character. I’d love to know more about her demons and actually meet the emperor as he’s only ever talked about.

Description aside, this book followed three main threads: war veteran Garland who will do as his queen bids, fallen and haunted man Tamersane who turned to drugs, and his ever-loyal wife Teret. Throughout the story, they are manipulated by the annoyingly cheerful and completely unhelpful Piper/Jynn and three sister sorceresses who are at odds with each other and do everything they can to play each character against the others as a means to an end.

Overall, I feel largely indifferent about this story. On one hand, it keeps moving and each move is logical. On the other, it wasn’t entirely compelling to me. It’s basically a really long journey into foreign lands and has the main characters on a quest while being manipulated by magical beings. Standard fantasy fare that adds little to the genre.

What I did find intriguing, and confusing at the same time, was the world. The wheel metaphor describing different times and dimensions was confusing until the end and, honestly, it felt like a stretch for much of the book, but it did create an interesting world of time and place converging. Of note, Rundali was quite fascinating with its movable forest (that I would never want to be caught in, but loved reading about). However, the world did feel a little out of focus. It was much easier to read about if I didn’t focus on trying to figure it out, especially those woods since each experience was similarly terrifying but altogether different. Described as a stand alone, it definitely can, but I wonder if I would have benefited if I had read the previous books. Maybe the world would be crisper.

I can’t not mention the writing. It kind of felt like I was reading a dialect of English. Considering the author is from England and currently lives in Georgia, that may very well be true! But it was annoying reading this book with a great deal of words like a, an, and the missing. Sure, I get what “go to table” means, but “go to the table” would have made for a smoother reading experience. There was also quite a bit of cursing and some very sex-hungry females that was a little off-putting to me, but nothing I couldn’t gloss over. Overall, the writing felt a bit coarse and rough. Unfortunately, it was annoying and impacted my reading enjoyment.

The bottom line: a typical fantasy storyline where you don’t have to read the previous books to understand it, but it might help.

How many cups of tea will you need?

Two should do the trick

Get your copy (note: The Lily Cafe is NOT an Amazon Affiliate. Should you choose to purchase a copy through this link, I will not receive any compensation.)

Thank you so much to NetGalley and the author for a free copy. All thoughts expressed here are entirely my own.