C.H. Valentino tagged me in a blog hop. I’ve never really done one of these before, so here’s hoping I don’t screw the whole thing up beyond all recognition. C.H. Valentino is an AWESOME person and author, and you can find her blog here and buy her book Poison & Wine here, which I heartily recommend.
Q: What is the name of your fictional character? Is she fictional or a historic person?
Loren Nelda, of the Birchwood Forest in the kingdom of Selvan. (Hint: she’s entirely fictional).
Q: When and where is the story set?
You could say long ago and far away, but that presupposes it takes place on Earth — a pet peeve of mine within the fantasy genre. Most fantasy (including Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Sword of Truth, Wheel of Time et al.) draws heavily upon conventions in our world — and yet one look at the maps and you know they don’t take place here. Therefore, how can we say when they happen?
Q: What should we know about her?
Loren is shrewd, savvy and self-reliant in many ways — and an utter fool in others. The life of a peasant girl in the forest necessitates a certain sense of reality. You can’t spend all day daydreaming if you want to eat and keep a roof over your head. But after years of torment from her abusive parents (the father, physically, and both, psychologically) Loren has constructed a fantasy world all her own — one she won’t let anyone break down.
Q: What is the personal goal of the character?
A voracious fan of stories brought to her village by the old peddler Bracken, Loren has come to believe that the Birchwood is the only place such torment can exist. Out in the nine kingdoms, she firmly believes, she’ll find her place as a character of wit, charm and dashing derring-do. She’s long dreamed of becoming a famous rogue, able to infiltrate any castle, stealing through shadow to steal rich oppressors blind.
Once she leaves the forest, she discovers of course that the world has little patience for derring-do or dreams. And yet, despite every hardship thrown her way, Loren refuses to let go of her dream. Perhaps it would be rational to do so. Perhaps she’s delusional. But through a combination of courage, wit, and a little bit of luck, she just may emerge as the Nightblade she’s always dreamed herself to be.
Q: What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?
Because of who she is and what she wants to do, Loren finds herself falling in with less-than-reputable folks. The first person she meets outside her village is Xain, a wizard on the run from the law. After that, it’s the merchant smuggler Damaris, and then the pickpocket ringleader Auntie. From all of them, Loren swiftly learns that crime hardly attracts the noblest of practitioners, and there is no honor among thieves. She’ll face challenge after challenge to her integrity and the standard of honor she’s created for herself — and those challenges will most likely last the rest of her life, however brief that may be.
Q: Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
The book is published! It’s called Nightblade, and it’s a serialized adventure with a new episode released every Friday. You can download the first episode for free on all platforms right here. The first volume, consisting of eight episodes, will release on September 5th.
Loren imagined she could feel her father’s eyes on her back as she ran. Her steps came faster and faster still, but soon Xain began to tire and flag behind her. She had to slow her pace to match him, and every step seemed an irredeemable loss.
“You must hurry,” she said. “He will find us.”
Xain did not bother with an answer. He could move no faster, and they both knew it. After a time his ankle caught upon a protruding root and he stumbled, and in that moment her father struck.
He leapt from the shadows between two thick oaks. His hand lashed out, cracking against Loren’s cheek. She fell to the ground with a cry and struggled up before he could pin her down. But he did not come for her. When she rose she saw him atop Xain instead, wrapping an arm around the thinner man’s throat. Xain’s face turned red and edged toward purple. He fought to bring a hand around, scrabbling for her father’s face, but her father caught the hand and twisted it, prompting a screech of agony.
Hearing that cry of pain, Loren’s mind turned to ice. Never had her father hurt another in her presence — except when he fought her mother, and Loren only wanted each to hurt the other as much as possible. But now her father threatened to crush the life from her one chance, the only man who Loren had ever truly thought could save her from the life of pain and obscurity she feared.
Icy rage turned white-hot, and Loren drew the dagger. She leapt at her father with the blade held high. But her father saw her coming and released Xain, scrabbling to his knees and away from her wild swing.
He rose and roared like a bear brought to bay. The sound dampened Loren’s sudden burst of fury, and she hesitated a moment. That moment was enough, and like a snake her father lunged. One hand gripped her wrist to hold the dagger helpless. His other hand curled into a fist that he drove into her face.
Stars erupted at the edge of her vision, and Loren doubled over. Her father squeezed her wrist until the dagger dropped to the grass, then let her follow it. She gasped at the pain in her eye, blinking as she fought to clear her vision.
“Spawn of soiled seed,” said her father. “You have been a plague and a pox upon me since the day you first clawed air into your lungs.”
He kicked her. The hard leather of his boots felt like a tree trunk. She screamed, trying to roll away, but he only kicked her in the back.
She could not see. She could not think. Where was she? Who was this man, and why did he want to hurt her so? Why did some part of her mind scream that he should love her, pick her up and cradle her in his arms and promise to take the pain away? Instead he only gave her more.
Her eyes fell on Xain, who crouched several yards away. The wizard’s lips moved, and his eyes began to glow. He held a hand curled at his side, and Loren saw the flash of fire within it.
“No!” she cried. “Don’t kill him!”
Xain froze. His lips stopped moving, and the fire wisped out in his palm.
The shout drew her father’s gaze. His ugly, beady eyes fell on the wizard, and his lips split in a grimace, revealing spots of blood.
He leapt catlike upon Xain and bore the wizard to the ground. This time he wrapped his hands around Xain’s throat, digging his fingers in deep. Xain’s eyes bugged forth as though they would burst from their sockets. He gasped a phrase, and blue lightning sprang into being, but it vanished before he could unleash it.
Loren’s heart broke. Xain would not have been here if not for her. He might have died on the way to Cabrus, and he might not. But she had brought him to this place and then brought her father’s wrath, and now Xain would die for it.
She could not allow it. She saw the dagger lying near her fingers, and thought of her childish dreams. Nightblade could not allow it.
She fought to her knees. Her bow still hung on her back, and by some grace of the gods its string was whole. Her fingers felt like wood, but she forced them around the bow’s haft and pulled it free. Shakily she brought an arrow to string and half-drew, then took two stumbling steps forward. This time her father had eyes for nothing but Xain.
Loren kicked as hard as she could, and something in her father’s face broke under her boot heel.
He fell away, rolling over and over to put distance between them as he screamed in rage. In a blink he regained his feet, but there he paused. Loren’s arrow rested at full draw, aiming straight for his heart.
Slowly, her father’s hamfist hands came up on either side of his head. For every inch they climbed, the fury in his eyes redoubled.
“No more,” said Loren. It came out as a whisper. “No more will you torment me. I am leaving, father, and I mean never to return.”
“You mean to defy me?” said her father. “You will do your duty as a daughter or —”
She pulled just a little harder on the bow, gaining another inch of draw. Her father’s voice fell to silence.
“You have never done your duty as a father,” she said. “I feel I owe you nothing.”
“You owe me everything,” he said. “I could have killed you in the cradle. I could have killed you when I woke up today, and moved my bowel on your corpse. I made you, and now I see I made you worthless.”
“Then when I leave you shall suffer no great loss,” she said.
She felt that his words should have stung, but she was beyond them. They were only a stronger flavor of the same things he had said all her life. And in this moment, now that another fate beckoned her, she stood under his sway no longer.
Xain had finally regained his breath, and he came to stand at her side. He muttered, and as his eyes glowed white a ball of lightning hovered in his grasp.
“You think you can escape me?” her father said, changing tack. “I learned these lands years before I spilled you between your mother’s legs. Nowhere in Selvan can you hide from me. Ready yourself for sleepless nights by a bright fire. For if you close your eyes in sleep, if for even a moment you let yourself sit in darkness —”
Loren loosed the shaft. It sank into her father’s thigh. He collapsed to the ground without a scream, but with a gut-deep grunt of pain.
“Chase us now,” said Loren.
She turned and walked away from him, stopping for only a moment to retrieve the dagger and replace it in its sheath. She did not turn to see if Xain followed her, but after a moment she heard footfalls behind her.
Her father’s hateful screams followed them for a long while, long past the time when she could no longer understand the words. Finally the sounds died away just as they reached the flat plain between the forest’s edge and the King’s road to the south.