coming July 5, 2016

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Quit Lying To Yourself--It's Theft, Not EPiracy



Stop right now and open up your Downloads folder. Take a look at what’s there. Apps, obviously.  Probably some memes and .gif files – my favorite .gif at the moment is Tommen jumping out of the window, thereby proving how King’s Landing got its name. And then most likely you have music, movie, and eBook files you’ve purchased.
But that’s not what untold thousands of people see. Many Downloads folders are full of music, movie, and eBook files that were not purchased. They were downloaded for free, from pirating sites that stole those files from the copyright holders. I chose the word “stole” deliberately. I realize that most people who download from torrent sites justify their theft by thinking, “It’s a big company. They’ll not miss my money. They’ve taken my money for years. It’s not stealing; it’s sharing.”
Well, no. It’s not. It’s theft, both legally and morally. And if you don’t think the copyright holder is missing the money, let me tell you a story.
I am in the process of self-publishing my backlist, starting with my first fantasy series. This is a reissue – the series was originally published in the late 2000s. However, I decided to get the books back on the market and to do it correctly. I paid to get each book (of the four-book series) re-edited – that was $250 per book. I paid for cover art and design ($140). I paid for formatting  ($80). I paid for promotional art and advertising ($300-$500). Each book has cost me a lot of money – almost $800 per book – money I didn’t begrudge spending because I wanted to make sure the quality of my product was as high as possible. I listed each 600-page book at $3.99, which I think anyone would agree is an extremely fair price.
The third book of that fantasy series was released on Friday afternoon. When I woke up this morning, one e-piracy site had over a thousand free downloads of it. Let’s put that into monetary terms on a personal level. As I am publishing these books myself, I make 70% royalties on each book sale. So those one thousand thefts of my intellectual property literally took $2,800 out of my pocket.
What makes this so sad is that they don’t think of this as theft. For example, from the Huffington Post article E-Piracy: The High Cost of Stolen Books by Karen Dionne:
But most file-sharers see themselves as a community. They believe they offer a useful service, and their hackles go up when authors and publishers take steps to shut their websites down. After one site bowed to pressure and removed their e-books section entirely, hundreds of users bemoaned the loss. One posted a warning: “One word to the Publishers and Authors who created original trouble — Do whatever you want you cannot Stop readers from getting free Ebooks. You people don’t stand a chance against [the] entire Internet. As Long as [the] Internet is alive, we readers will continue to share Ebooks.
Or perhaps this comment, from the article “Is Downloading Really Stealing? The Ethics of Digital Piracy” on The Conversation:
The same is not true when I download a digital file of your copyrighted property. In downloading your film, I have not excluded you from its use, or your ability to benefit from it. I have simply circumvented your ability to exclude me from its use. To draw an analogy, this seems more like trespassing on your land than taking your land away from you.
Criminal sanctions seem warranted in thefts where one person’s gain is very clearly another person’s loss. But things are not so clear when the relationship between gain and loss are [sic] more complex.
And of course there are ways that owners of intellectual property can gain, overall, from infringements of their rights. The more accessible their products become, the more people may want to consume them.
And therein lies the problem. Entitlement. Believe me when I tell you that I do not gain one single benefit if someone steals my intellectual property. A book thief isn’t trespassing on my land. He’s building a house on it and driving over my daffodils. He may enjoy my property and think it’s awesome, but that doesn’t give him the right to be a squatter – to think he is entitled to enjoy my work without somehow compensating me for it in some way. Because trust me – a book thief feels perfectly comfortable emailing me to whine about how a book ended, but will not take the trouble to rate or review that stolen book and thus provide me with some tangible benefit from his theft.
And even that would be like picking daffodils from my yard and giving them to me in a bouquet. Thanks so much.
E-pirates think they are entitled to enjoy an author’s books – books that represent hundreds or thousands of hours of work – for free. I’ve personally had people email me and ask me where they can download my books for free! I’ve had emails from readers who stole my book and then wanted to complain because the next book wasn’t out yet or because I killed their favorite character. God forbid I reply with what I’m really thinking, because then the Twitter outrage begins in 140 characters or less.
“She was so mean to me b/c I torrented her book. Never read her books again.”
Well, darn.
The IP Watchdog site is full of great material regarding copyright theft and piracy, as evidenced by this March 13, 2016 article by bestselling author Rhonda Rees called “An Awareness Crusade Against the Online Piracy of Books”:
According to the Association of American Publishers, the publishing industry as a whole has lost $80 to $100 million dollars to online piracy annually. From 2009 to 2013, the number of e-book Internet piracy alerts that the Authors Guild of America has received from their membership had increased by 300%. During 2014, that number doubled. I’m certain that in 2016, the statistics will go even higher.
I am too. All that being said:
There is a fly in the book thief’s proverbial ointment. Many of the free download links you find when you’re searching for your favorite author’s books to steal have all sorts of nasty little surprises in store for you instead of the actual book – malware, for example, or spam. A nice expensive ransomware likeCryptoLocker might cure a book thief’s criminal habits. At that point it’s either pay the hacker hundreds of bucks or lose all the files on your computer permanently. Some authors might consider that to be poetic justice, and I have to admit, looking at all the stolen copies of my book 36 hours after its release makes that CryptoLocker curse look like a nice little slice of karma.
Might make you wish you’d spent the four bucks instead.
But even if that happens, it’s not vindication for the author. Writers spend hundreds of hours working on their books, typing away in dark little rooms. We create worlds that enable our readers to escape their own for a while. But in the end, we are creating a product for sale, and rely upon those sales to keep working – to create those new worlds.
Think of it this way. What would happen if payday rolled around and your boss said, “We are a community, sharing our work with the world. So instead of paying you for your work, we’re going to give it away for free because the target market for our product is entitled to reap the benefits of what you do without paying for it.”
I can hear the riot beginning from here.
In the end, eBook piracy is a misnomer. The word “pirate” invokes imagery of courageous rebels who sail the seven seas online stealing from the rich. A Robin Hood with sails. That’s not what’s happening here. The proper term is intellectual property theft. Copyright infringement. And yes, it is a crime internationally, thanks to the Berne Convention, of which the U.S. is a signatory nation.
The author’s side of eBook theft doesn’t seem to bother intellectual property thieves, who are busily making money off clicks, malware removal, and ransomware because of illegal book downloads. But that’s not what you should be concerned with. What you should be concerned with is that intellectual property theft, if it continues unchecked, will drive your favorite authors away from continuing to write. And that would be a shame for all of us.
So many stories would remain untold.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Asphodel Meets Modern Fantasy

As I get ready to release the last Asphodel reissue, I'm starting to get excited about the publication of the sequel series. It will be interesting to see how fans of the first series respond to the second. 

Writers mature just like any other professional. As you progress, your writing changes. The Asphodel Cycle was my first fantasy series. The Black Dream is my latest. It was strange, to say the least, to revisit a world I first created as a teenager and wrote in the early 2000s. My voice is stronger, I think, and over a decade as a professional editor has made the writing tighter and cleaner. 

But just as the author matured, so too have my characters. I thought it best to keep the spread of time roughly equal to my own. So my protagonist, who was 18-20 in the first series, is 32-35 in the second, a mother of three, a ruler who's not had to deal with much turmoil since the end of the Ilian War. Fortunately, she's also an Elf so that decade hasn't really aged her all that much. 

Unfortunately for Tamsen, this second series will be punishing. 

I'm older and wiser in the ways of fantasy, and fantasy itself has changed. I literally used to get hate mail when readers thought I was being "mean" to their favorite characters.  Which, to a writer, is a great compliment. But the fact of the matter is that in old school fantasy, a group of heroes could get through an epic quest and emerge relatively unscathed. look at the Belgariad by David Eddings, for example. Only one major character was killed, and he was only dead for less than an hour. Otherwise, there were no consequences for any of those main characters except happily ever afters. 

Don't get me wrong--I love Eddings. Eddings was the first fantasy author I read back in high school, and in fact the world of Asphodel was created as a result. Not because I wanted to emulate Eddings, but because I wanted to see a female protagonist leading a fantasy quest. 

But now, revisiting Asphodel after more than a decade, I knew things would be very different. 

For one thing, Asphodel is Greco-Roman mythology re-imagined in a traditional fantasy setting. Anyone who knows anything about classical mythology knows that there are terrible consequences for mortals who oppose the gods. Tamsen has been living for a decade and a half as the most powerful mortal in the world. The only way to make a second series work is to make that no longer the case. And if her power is challenged on that level, there must be consequences indeed, not just for her but everyone. 

So for those of you asking if characters die in The Black Dream? Don't ask silly questions. Lots of people die. Lots of people are grievously injured. Lots of people suffer. 

In The Asphodel Cycle, the Huntress posed a single question: What gift can buy the redemption of the Elves? The answer hasn't changed. The answer is still everything.  And prepare yourselves--these characters will be asked to give everything they are, everything they cherish, everything they protect for a greater cause. They have to, or else there's no story. 

And, well--there's a reason this blog is called Elf-Killing and Other Hobbies. 

The Black Dream is darker, grittier, bloodier--more like the Greco-Roman world of its foundation than the fantasy idealism of its setting. The stakes are higher. The characters more dangerous...and in more danger. 

Yes, there will be consequences. Many of them. 

As a devotee of Joseph Campbell's Hero Journey monomyth, I firmly believe in the development of a hero through adversity and fear. But I think the monomyth is changing in current fantasy, and The Black Dream takes the hero's journey and goes several steps past it. 

So prepare yourselves, Asphodel readers. When Tamsen enters the modern twists of fantasy, the journey itself becomes a consequence. 

You have been warned.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Climb -- Patricia Head Summitt 1952-2016 In Memoriam

Author's note: If it wasn't for a comment this morning from Spencer Barrett, outstanding UT Vols artist, this story wouldn't have been anywhere as good. Thanks, Spencer!And the incredible art was done by UT Vols artist Jeff Page, and just so encapsulates how Vols fans feel. This is a collaboration of artists in different mediums, in celebration of the passing of an icon.


Let me tell you a story. 

I'm not a particularly spiritual person, but I strongly believe in iconography. And some days, that type of story may work better than your standard comforts of faith. Today I wanted to see an image that represented how I felt, but I'm not an artist. I wish I was, just for today. I wish I could paint what I see. I even talked to artists this morning, grasping for a way to solidify what I felt. But I'm a writer, and I paint in words. And while I *never* post fiction on this blog, today is the day I am going to break my own rule.So let me tell you a story--an allegorical tale, the kind I never tell. But be warned--the real story is far better written than this poor one. The story's title is: 

The Climb
by Celina  Summers

* * *

A red-gold sun rose one morning on a woman standing alone in a field. She looked around for a moment, confused. She wasn't used to being alone, and wasn't sure if she liked the way it felt.

What the heck am I doing out here? 

The sun was hot--Tennessee in summer hot, when the suckers are climbing the tobacco leaves and the heat shimmers over the turned, red earth like fumes of gas. The woman didn't waste time worrying about why she was suddenly in that tobacco field. She took off through the rows, her long stride snapping with impatience and more than a little irritated. Irritation was a familiar sensation, just like the red earth that was cool between her toes. The tobacco leaves slapped against her as she passed, but softly--not the slicing shear she remembered in an abrupt flash of skinny arms and stinging slashes into tanned skin. 

As she marched through the field, the sun rose higher above her--rising oddly fast, searing into her skin with a pleasant heat. In time, those long, lanky strides relaxed--her irritation faded, and was replaced by a sense of challenge. 

How big is this darn field anyway? Not big enough to scare me.

She was going to find her way out of it. 

She topped a small rise, and just ahead a line of trees interrupted the endless monotony of the tobacco field. Her steps grew faster, longer, because anyone in a tobacco field in Tennessee knows that the only promise of escape from the merciless sun and the smell of the arid, pungent leaves lies under those trees. The woman turned back for a moment, surveying the immense field with its red clay and green plant stripes. As the verdant shadow of the century-old oaks darkened the ends of the infinite rows, the clay underfoot moistened and cooled until a trail of evenly paced footprints tracked her out of the field and into the breathless silence of the wood.

She breathed easier there, under the cooling caress of the shade, but when she thought about brushing the sweat away from her face she decided not to. She liked the feel of that sweat, liked the scent of it against her skin--infused with the unmistakable sting of the tobacco field and hinting at some greater promise.

She could rest here and no one would blame her. But herself. 

A breeze rustled through the trees, and the leaves' silver underbellies gleamed throughout the wood. As she passed under them, streams of sunlight gilded the path. The entire wood was a series of contrasts--silver and gold, cool and hot, light and dark. Like an imperfect checkerboard, laid out like a promise beneath her feet. 

She liked the contrast. She loved the conflict between the elements. This all felt familiar, comfortable and beloved. She had left the dusty monotony of the tobacco fields behind, and traded it for this elemental struggle without a twinge of regret. The golden light faded and the leaves turned back into their normal bland summer green, the breeze abruptly stopped and the woods began to rise into a steep hill. She came out of the shade into the scorching blaze of the afternoon sun.

As she walked, she thought: No one has ever walked here before. I am the first. 

Animals watched as she walked by, unafraid but hesitant--like they'd never seen such a thing in their forest before. Eyes everywhere, gazes fixed on her at first with suspicion or disdain, then comprehension lightened those feral looks. Other animals--small, shy, uncertain ones--emerged from their hidden dens. She stopped, crouched low, and smiled. 

And they came running to her, eyes lit in wonder and unaffected joy. She stroked their soft fur, ruffled their feathers, and turned them all to look up the hill. 

"That's where we're going to go," she announced.

They all stared at her, and for a moment they were all frozen in shock. 

"Up," she explained. 

With that, she stood up, turned her face to the hill, and started to climb. At first, only a few of the animals came, bounding alongside her without fear. But then the rest followed, running--leaping with her, proud to be in her company and elevated because she led them. There were pockets of shade around hinting at rest and relief from the heat, but she avoided them. She embraced the heat like a long-lost friend, welcomed the trickle of sweat down her spine as she continued her ascent of the stone-tumbled mountain she was determined to conquer.

Once something loud crashed in the underbrush, shattering the silent joy of the animals and the shade that had been so alluring was now threatening and dark. The woman stopped and leveled a hard, challenging look at the beast growling at her from its den. Her animals suddenly straightened and glared at the challenging beast without fear. 

"Don't even think about it," the woman warned the beast. "And shut up." 

She turned her back and continued her climb, and the animals that followed her burst forth around her, unafraid of the predator who'd slunk, chastened, back into its dark den. They swarmed around her, raced through her legs, jumped as high as they could for her approval. They couldn't keep pace with that unhurried stride, the constant pulse of determination that fueled her long limbs, so they ran instead. As the crowd swelled around her, the animals passed her and ran up the hill that was more like a mountain. Some that had followed her took wing, and soared through the trees into the sky. 

None of them looked down, afraid to fall. 

None of them looked back. 

And all the time the crowd of animals that had volunteered to accompany her on this ascent ran harder, flew faster, soared higher--because she willed them to. 

At last, the woman reached the summit of the mountain--and stopped dead in her tracks. A grim-faced man was sitting on the rocky top of the mountain, an old Bluetick Coonhound at his feet. The dog looked up at her mournfully from smokey-colored eyes, so she knelt and scratched his ears. His fur was silky under her fingertips, and he swiped her hand with a rough tongue. 

Best dog in the world.

The man's face was craggy, his short cut salt and pepper hair receded slightly from his weathered features. He glared at her and growled, "What the hell are you doing here?"

She glared back. "Had to get to the top." 

The man relaxed slightly. "Know what you mean, but you're here too damn early." 

She stared at him for a long moment, something whispering against her mind. The connection suddenly clicked and she laughed. "Butch looks a lot like you." 

The man laughed too, as if her comment had surprised him. The hound lifted his head, his ears pricked up. The woman looked down at the now-alert dog. 

"What's wrong with him?" 

The man squinted past her, his eyes twinkling. "Nothing wrong. Smokey always gets excited when they show up." 

The woman turned around. The forest was gone; the animals were no longer clustered on the mountainside. Instead, she, the man, and the dog stood alone on the summit of the mountain. Smokey got to his feet and lifted his muzzle in a loud, joyous howl. His tail thumped hard against the side of the woman's leg, as the sun illuminated an endless field of faces--faces of girls she'd known who'd grown into legends, of women she'd known who'd worked at her side, of men whose dismissal had turned into reverence, even people she'd known only well enough to smile at when they passed on the street or in the arena halls. But there were millions of face she'd never seen, never known--all smiling, all wreathed with the same expression of awe and love. 

"You remember 'em?" the man asked softly.

"I always remember the faces." And for the first time in what seemed like an infinite climb, she did. 

"You brought 'em with you," the man said. "Brought 'em all to the top--millions of 'em you never met have all climbed the mountain because of you." 

"Not me," she replied. "Themselves." 

"One increasing purpose, Coach." The man clapped his hand on her shoulder--an approving clap that wasn't lessened because she was a woman. "You kept everlastingly on the job." 

She turned to the man with a smile, a smile unlike her usual infectious laughing grin. A shy smile, the smile of a child seeking approval from a god whose maxims she revered. He extended his hand, equal to equal. Giant to giant. 

But his eyes softened, and glittered with unexpected tears as he said quietly, "Welcome home, Pat." 

Without hesitation, she gave him a huge hug. "Thanks, General." 

Between them, Smokey howled, and a final vagrant breeze brought a whiff of the heat-baked tobacco fields as the white-hot June sun finally slipped from the sky in a blaze of orange. The sea of faces flared in front of her one last time, gilded by the last ray of light, then sank and receded into the darkness. 

The last thing she saw was the tobacco field, tiny and deserted, its green rows fading into the blood red clay--distant, but still clearly visible. The foundation. The root. The impetus that began the climb.



Requeiscat in pace, Patricia Head Summit 1952-2016


Monday, June 27, 2016

Excerpt--The Temptation of Asphodel


It's excerpt day! The Asphodel Cycle 3:The Temptation of Asphodel

Coming July 1, 2016





Book 3--The Temptation of Asphodel 

The game of the gods is speeding up, and when Tamsen and Brial find a long-lost civilization of Elves, the pattern of the gods' game starts to become clearer. After a new magic evens up the odds of the foreordained battle, Tamsen begins to feel confident—until a lethal and forbidden possibility tempts her from her path. 
But that possibility is actually the opening gambit of an ancient, dangerous deity--a gambit that signals the emergence of a new foe into the game. 
When Tamsen is drawn into conflict with immortal enemies, she discovers that the line between obedience and temptation is much narrower than she thought.
Obedience is dangerous; temptation can kill.


Love Romances and More Best Novel of 2008 Nominee
Preditors & Editors Top Ten Best Sci Fi/Fantasy Novel  2008


***
A soft knock sounded at the red door. Tergen sped to it and I sat up, all of my sleepiness gone. A tall shape entered, muffled in a long, green cloak. It crossed to the center of the room and paused.
The figure fell to its knees, pushing the cowl back with a slim hand. Elven features emerged from the shadows: dark hair fell around sharply-pointed ears and green, slanted eyes stared keenly at me. He bowed his head but not before I caught a flash in those eyes that disturbed me.
The flash of a zealot.
Regina Ka’antira, sancte me viam.” The Elf had a low, strongly-accented voice. He pulled a longbow from his side. Brial and Wilden both leaped to their feet in dismay, but the stranger laid the bow crossways on the floor at my feet.
“My Queen!” he said, a thrill rushing through his voice. “I beg you to accept the service of my bow and may the gods grant my arm the strength to defend you.”
I stared at him, stunned. The involved intricacies of etiquette came back to me and I lifted the weapon from the floor. I kissed the bow and rose to my feet. “May the gods grant you their blessings and glory in battle. Rise, revered Elder, so that I can greet you.”
The Elf rose to his feet. “I am Nige, of the house of Ka’merila, Tamsen Ka’antira. I am the Elder of our tribe, and I greet you in the name of our people.”
I was thinking quickly; I’d never heard of the Ka’merila. “I welcome the greeting of the Ka’merila. May I introduce my family and friends to you?”
Tergen brought Nige a glass of mulled wine and disappeared into the door behind the bar. Brial looked at our guest and I was surprised to note the black glitter of his eyes. For some reason, our guest had put my husband on his guard.
Brial’s voice was cool. “I was unaware that Elves lived in these mountains.”
“There were not many of us when we arrived,” Nige replied, unable to stop staring at me.
“How did you come here?” I asked, growing a little uncomfortable at his unceasing regard.
“When the Elfwars started,” the Elf began, sipping at his wine, “most of the Elves fled to Leselle. Several families who lived south of the great lake, however, found the path to the Elven forest blocked by great human armies. We built small boats and came to the feet of this mountain range. Our Elders decided to hide within them until such a time as the world was safe for the Elves once more. So, we came through the high passes and found a deep, secret place in the forests there. We have remained there ever since.”
“Why?” Brial asked. “The Elfwars were more than two hundred years ago.”
“The priestesses of the Huntress came to the Council one day and told us that we were to stay here. That is how we know your name, my Queen. The goddess told us to abide against the coming of the argent one, a scion of the house of Ka’antira, who carried the bow of the Huntress at her side. When she passed into the heart of the mountains, we were to guard her from pursuit and make ourselves known to her when she reached our tribe.”
“What did she say then, my friend?” Mariol asked, his eyes intent.
“That the coming of the Ka’antira Queen would lead the Elves once more to glory in the eyes of the goddess. She told us that the Queen would take us back to the tall trees of sacred Leselle and that our children would walk in the golden city again.” Nige’s eyes were lit with that strange fervor as he said this and I glanced uneasily at Brial.
 “Things are rather different from what you might expect, Nige. I am passing through the mountains, true, and I thank you for your protection along the way. I am bound for an unknown destination, at the far end of Tartarus.”
“We know of the purpose you follow,” Nige replied. “The goddess’s hand lies upon your journey and she catches you up in her will. Your coming is a sign to our people that our long exile is almost over.”
“Exactly how many of you are there?”
“Our tribe numbers more than thirty thousand now, my Queen. We have warded these forests in your name since we arrived.”
“Thirty thousand?” I repeated. “How did you stay hidden from us for so long?”
“The deep passes of the mountains are impossible for humans to traverse, save with our assistance.”
I took a drink of wine, in order to give myself time to think. Brial spoke up, his face set in those impassive lines that irritated me so. “Is there a path we can take that will lead us to the northern sea?”
Nige frowned. “There is such a path, but it is dangerous and difficult. Dark things lie hidden in the valleys of these mountains, and there are some places that even we do not venture.”
“If it is so dangerous, then humans would not use it. We could travel across Tartarus undetected.”
Nige shook his head. “You still would have to travel across the plateau near the great human city in order to reach the arm of the mountains that runs to the north,” he disagreed. “There is no other way to reach it.”
“How long will it take?”
“No more than a month, if the weather permits it,” Nige replied. “The season changes swiftly this year and it will not be long before blizzards block the highest passes with snow. The Council has sent me to bring you to our tribe. It is on your way and when you leave I will guide you through the passes myself. I am the eldest of the scouts and know trails through the mountains no others of our kind have found.”
“Very well,” I decided. “We’ll accompany you to the Elves of the mountains and continue our journey from there. I think it only fair to warn you that I do not have the time to delay with your people; I must be on my way quickly.”
“On the morrow, then, it will be my privilege to escort you to our people, my Queen.” When I nodded, he fell to his knees once more and kissed my hand. Then Nige rose and departed through the red-painted door of the inn.

*** 
“I don’t like him,” Brial announced less than a minute after we’d retired to our room.
“Why not? I thought he was very nice.”
Brial stared down at the burning logs with a creased brow and his arms crossed on his chest. “There is something about him that just isn’t right.”
I raised my eyebrows, poured two glasses of wine and handed one to him. “Well, we’re only following him to his people and then to the mountain pass,” I said, seating myself in the chair opposite where he stood. “It’s not like we’re moving into his house.”
“It’s just too convenient,” he muttered. “It doesn’t make sense that so many of our people would remain secret from us for all this time.”
“That is strange,” I admitted. “Of course, I’ve never met any Elves who liked to travel, except you, perhaps. When you think of it that way, it makes more sense. The feravir we encountered lends some credence to his story. Until tonight, I couldn’t figure out how an Elf came to be so far from Leselle. If large settlements of Elves live in these mountains, it explains a lot.”
“True, but still, why wouldn’t they have sent word? Any Elven scout who can roam these mountains could cross over to Leselle at the border.” He scowled. “And why would a feraviri be this close to as large an Elven city and not be taught the lore?”
“We’ll probably learn the answer to that when we meet them. Why worry about it? It’s helpful to find a guide through the mountains at this point. If this Nige proves to be as experienced as he claims, it can do nothing but lend us an advantage, don’t you think?”
Brial’s eyes met mine coolly. “You have already three Elven scouts in your party, Tamsen. One more shouldn’t make that much difference.”
“I’m not casting any aspersions on your abilities,” I retorted. “This Nige is more familiar with the area, that’s all.”
He set his wine glass down at the mantle and scooped me up in his arms, settling himself into the chair with me tucked onto his lap. “I’m just wary of accepting help from an unknown source. We know nothing of these Elves, and it triggers my suspicions that their existence is unknown in Leselle. You may be right; perhaps I am too mistrustful.”
I nuzzled the side of his throat. “I don’t think I’d love you as I do, Brial, if you weren’t the most distrustful Elf in the world.”
He laughed and took my empty goblet from me. I slanted a look up at him from under my lashes with a wicked little smile and felt triumphant when I saw the intensity starting to mount behind his glittering eyes.
“You’re trying to change the subject,” he accused, wrapping my long braid around his hand.
“It appears to be working.”
He tugged my head closer to his, his lips hovering over mine. “You are an evil woman, cariad.”
I brushed a swift, scorching kiss against his lips with a soft laugh. “After all, Brial, it has been a long time since we were in a room, with a bed—”
Brial cut off my words as he kissed me and with one easy movement, he rose from the chair and crossed the room to the bed. He laid me onto the soft mattress, his lips leaving mine only when the bed sank under my weight. I smiled and ran a loving hand along the strong line of his jaw. Then, he lowered his head to mine and I lost all awareness of anything but him.

The next morning, as we ate an early breakfast, I kept my eyes on my plate. The others were talking in low voices around me as I attempted to keep a gloating expression from my face. When I looked up, Brial caught my eyes and smiled. The heat rushed to my face and I dropped my eyes again. We were nearly done when Nige’s slender, cloaked form entered the common room.
“Are you ready, my Queen?”
I pulled on my gloves and got to my feet with a frown. “Nige, will you do me a favor?”
“Certainly, my Queen.”
“I have a name,” I pointed out. “Call me Tamsen; I get very tired of ‘my Queen’ or ‘your Majesty’ after a while. And please don’t bow to me every time you see me; it gets on my nerves.”
Nige looked at me in shock. “I could never treat you in such a discourteous manner.”
“Consider it a command, then,” I advised. “If we’re going to be traveling together, I don’t want you hung up on all this formality.”
“As you wish, my Queen.” He bowed and left the room.
“This one is going to get irritating,” Mylan noted to Anner, who nodded in agreement. Surprised, I looked at all of my companions and, to a man, they were all staring at me in disgust.
“What did I do?” I demanded.
“It’s not you, Tamsen,” Mariol replied. “It’s that sycophantic Elf.”
“Don’t you think you’re being a little harsh on Nige?” 
No one answered and I stalked from the common room with an irritated slap of my hand against my thigh.