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Monday, October 13, 2014

High Mage now outselling Game of Thrones . . .

Well, in one small category: Sword and Sorcery.  And only four or five of his books.  I still have one ahead of me.  Still, anytime you can out-sell the juggernaut of fantasy, you should take that bow.

Also, despite my wife's better judgment, I've accidentally written three chapters of Hawkmaiden.  Success is going to my head.

Thank you all.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Final Version Of High Mage Now Up


All corrections have been made.  The map is included.  If you've been waiting for the final before you buy, this is it.  Any additional corrections you have, feel free to email me.

Thanks for the great response!  Any time your weekend starts with 8-9 five star reviews, you kind of start thinking maybe it didn't suck.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

High Mage Up

3rd Ed: It's up.  You may find it here:

Will have a slightly-more-edited version up this weekend (minor stuff).

Thanks for your patience.  Please feel free to let me know if it sucks.

I just hit the submit button.  A few notes.

I am awaiting the last 10 chapters from my volunteer proofreader.  I'm going to go ahead and publish without the final corrections, and make an update in a few days after some sleep and a fresh review.  Plus I need to add the new map, which isn't quite done.  SO . . . either hold off buying or read slowly.  Honestly, the corrections will likely be minor.  

Also thanks to the fans who caught my cover faux pas before press.  Fixed. Grateful.

High Mage weighs in at 209,000 words dripping wet, so it's a wee bit heavier than Knights Magi, in more ways than one.  While it is certainly not the end of the series, it is, in its way, the end of the first cycle of Min's life.  

But there are more Spellmonger books planned - a lot more.  Hawkmaiden next, and the rest of the short stories I've promised, but then we plunge into a new era on Callidore.  

And I'm keeping pricing at $4.99 for now.  It's worth five bucks.  

Whiskey.  Sleep.

ED: After too much whiskey and too little sleep, Amazon kicked it back on a technical issue. It's been resubmitted.  Thanks for your patience.

2nd ED: Just got the last of the corrections for the last 10 chapters back from the proofreader (YOU ROCK, TIM!) Will be making them shortly, but they probably won't be live until Saturday or so.  Just thought I'd mention that.

Here's a little taste, to keep you from starving to death while you wait: the opening scene from the prologue.  If you want to wait, stop reading . . . NOW.

(Really?  Okay, keep going.)

Gavard Crossing, Northern Gilmora
3rd Year Of King Rard I’s Reign

The waters of the Poros River were swollen with the spring thaw as we gingerly walked over the long plank that was the last functional remnant of Gavard Bridge.  The river was wide and deep, but with the weight of the melting snows from the far-away Minden Range, the Poros was surging just a few fee shy of the bank.  The plank under my boots was a comfortable two feet wide, but the rush of the water below, the sound of it angrily splashing against the bridge’s footings, reminded me that one incautious step off of the plank and it would all be over.  With as much armor as I was wearing, I don’t think even magic would have saved me from a watery doom.  One misstep, and it was over.  

That summed up this whole situation.

I make a point of paying attention to when the gods send me these little metaphors. 
The grand bridge itself wasn’t destroyed, it was just inoperable.  The wide section that used to be raised and lowered to permit barge traffic through had been allowed to fall into the river below.  That wouldn’t necessarily stop the massive column of goblins, trolls, siege worms, and assorted turncloak humans who had joined the Dead God’s armies.  A hundred and fifty thousand of them, by Sir Festaran’s estimate.  The column was packed with siege equipment, the goblins’ version of catapults, trebuchets, scorpions and the like.  There was a lot of heavy equipment there.  But goblins don’t like water.  They had to take the bridge.  And getting across one little bridge wouldn’t be that difficult, even for the goblins’ inept engineers.

Trying to do that while two thousand human and Alka Alon archers were pouring arrows down on you like a heavy rain might prove challenging, however.  That was the plan.  The banks and townlands on the south side of the river had been heavily fortified in the last two weeks.  Hastily-constructed redoubts concealed vantage points that would allow hundreds of men to fire at the attackers from relative safety.  Just behind them a dozen catapults and other artillery were ready to lob rocks and spears at the foe.  And amongst them all were scattered nearly a hundred High Magi, who had built a formidable defensive spellwork that would confound any attempt to cross the bridge.
I was really hoping it would be enough.  Goblins – gurvani, the short, nocturnal humanoids who had gathered an army and invaded human lands – were strangers to the littoral arts.  Humans love boats, and the Riverlands allows relatively speedy travel and trade across three Duchies.  But goblins saw rivers as a place to drink.  They didn’t use boats, they didn’t swim, and so far in our battles they had rarely tried to cross a river they couldn’t wade comfortably.  Goblins were land creatures exclusively. 

That gave us an advantage.  As the column that had burst forth from the Umbra a few weeks ago wound its way south, down the Timber Road until it became the Cotton Road, it had avoided any large rivers along the way.  They acted as convenient walls for the advancing army, funneling them toward a small number of possible destinations.  We’d used that information to craft our defense. 
Gavard was strategically important – because of that bridge.  We’d destroyed nearly every other bridge crossing the Poros, save three, to limit their options.  The goblins had chosen Gavard to cross the Poros, so that’s where we set the thickest defense against them.  And if our stout defenses at the bridge gave way, there were over ten thousand professional fighting men in the castle behind me, looming over us like a great circular wedding cake.

As dusk fell and the vanguard of the column approached the village on the other side of the river – unimaginably named Northbridge – a flag of truce and parley had been spotted by our scouts.  After consideration I had the responding ensign flown.  I didn’t know why Shereul’s minions wanted to talk, but I was willing to satisfy my curiosity. 

I had chosen a special party to meet them, too.  Rondal and Tyndal accompanied me as bodyguards, of course, their new mageblades and battle staves in hand and a dangerous look in their young eyes.  Lorcus insisted on coming, and I wasn’t about to stop him.  .  The Remeran warmage had become a valuable lieutenant and troubleshooter for me in the last few months, and I appreciated his insight
Commander Terleman was with us too.  My old army buddy from the Farisian campaign had matured perfectly into his role as commander of the Royal Magical Corps.  He’d done a remarkable job getting things organized in advance of this battle, working with the Warlord, Count Salgo and the other mundane commanders. 

Acting as Herald for our side was the indomitable Sire Cei, looking powerful in his new armor.  Like mine, it had a breastplate made from the hide of the dragon he’d slain at Castle Cambrian.  Unlike mine, the hide had been also been used to protect his arms, legs, and groin.  As the hide was not just ridiculously tough but also fiendishly difficult to hook a spell into, it provided as much magical protection as mundane.   In his hand he bore the Royal Standard.  At his belt was the new warhammer I’d given him a few nights past, when Master Cormoran had finally delivered it to me.

That warhammer was special.  Cormoran and I had discussed its design and construction for nearly a year.  The head was made from meteoric iron and other alloys, and the handle was specially designed, fabricated and enchanted to be able to not just withstand the energy from Sire Cei’s magical talent, but channel and amplify it without destroying the weapon or knocking Sire Cei off his feet.  He had tested it all day yesterday, pulverizing boulders with a flick of his wrist.  He had dubbed the weapon Thunderhead.  Cormoran had even crafted a dragon’s head on each side of the head.  Sire Cei looked every inch the Dragonslayer.

Near the end of the makeshift bridge my foot slipped, ever-so-slightly.  My warstaff automatically flew up to balance me.  I was never in any real danger, but the jolt of adrenaline surged through me like a lightning bolt.  The chaotic waters of the spring flood beckoned below.  I took a deep breath, and made the last few steps without incident, finally standing on solid stone, not ephemeral wood.
Captain Arborn was there to greet me on the other side.  The tall, serious-looking Kasari ranger had his bow out and strung, but no arrow nocked.  The signature green mottled cloak of his people was thrown back over his shoulder, exposing his business-like longsword and the raptor embroidered on his breast.  Hundreds of his rangers had scoured the country north of the river in the days leading up to this one.  Now they had mostly pulled back to positions south, or had settled into blinds in Northbridge to await the arrival of the enemy.

“Our guests have arrived, Spellmonger,” he said in a low, husky voice.  His eyes flashed left and right as he checked on hidden signals his men had put into place.  “A party of twenty, on horse.  And hound.  Fell hound,” he added, a curl to his lip.  The Kasari hated the giant mongrel dogs the Dead God’s priests had bred to his service as carnivorous cavalry.  They had hunted the canine scouts relentlessly.  The dogs were fearsome enemies, in addition to the damage their riders could do. 
“How far back are their reinforcements?” I asked as the others crossed behind me.

“There is a unit of six hundred, a quarter mile back.  A half mile up the road is another two thousand.  Light cavalry and light infantry.  The vanguard,” he explained.  “There are still miles of goblins behind it.”

I nodded.  I knew that.  Better than he did.  The column of angry gurvani and brutal trolls stretched out for twenty miles as it made its way south.  On either side roving bands of light infantry scoured the countryside for forage, loot, and to spy any resistance to their approach.  At its center was a huge line of siege beasts, massive six-legged creatures like giant armored worms with fifteen foot spikes protruding from their noses.  The goblins were using them as portable redoubts and draft animals.  I hadn’t seen them in battle yet, but they promised to be highly effective.  Long trains of wagons and carts were towed behind each one.

And they were all headed for this very spot.

“And the flag of truce is still being displayed?” I asked.

“Aye, Spellmonger,” the ranger captain agreed.  “I have thirty men with arrows nocked, ready to draw and loose at the first sign of trouble.  A hundred more can be summoned with a horn call.”
“The gurvani are not in the habit of breaking truces,” I pointed out.  “At least thus far.  I hope they will not be needed.  Yet.”  Arborn grinned and stepped in place behind me as we walked across the rest of the bridge toward our parley in Northbridge.  The goblins native notions of warfare were fairly primitive, before the Dead God united their tribes in the purpose of slaying every human being on Callidore.  But as they had fought against us, they had begun fighting more like us.  Part of that was the influence of their human confederates, voluntary and not.  Part of it was the gurvani genius for adaptation.

Their party waiting for us in what had once been Northbridge’s market square.  It was smaller than the one we had passed through in Southbridge, more of a farmer’s market for local produce than a full-fledged town market.  It had once been prosperous.  Now the hard-beaten dirt hosted a small pack of very large, bloodthirsty hounds.

It was the first time I had seen the animals my apprentices had dubbed Fell Hounds, but I found their description apt.  They were thrice the size of ordinary dogs, as large as a donkey or pony.  But these beasts had a far wider stance than graceful equines.  Their paws were as big as pie plates, with blackened claws stained with the dust of the countryside and . . . other things.  Their fur ranged from brown to gray to inky black, and their lolling tongues and wild eyes seemed to reach everywhere in their vicinity.

Upon their backs clung riders, mostly smaller gurvani scouts bearing javelins, short bows, bucklers and long curved swords.  They rode those beasts masterfully, if entirely unlike how a man would ride a horse.  There seemed to be genuine affection for the goblins by the dogs, affection shared with a marked belligerence toward us humans.

Among the dozens of dog-borne scouts were a cluster of real horsemen.  I noted the black banner one of them bore before I saw their figures through the twilight gloom.  It was on a long and viciously barbed war lance with a head of sharpened iron.  The knight who carried it was a man, dressed in well-forged blackened armor, a mantle of sable on his shoulders.  Even through the gloom and the armor I did not need to see his heraldry to tell who it was: Sire Koucey.  Former lord of Boval Vale, now tormented lieutenant of the Dead God.

Despite his dreadful armor he looked ghastly.  The horrific burn scars he had gotten at Timberwatch had hardened into a slab of chaos that was only vaguely recognizable as human.  But he bore himself as proudly as a Duke on his big mount.

Next to him on a painted destrier was a taller figure in light horseman’s armor.  A shield was strapped to his arm that told him out as the mercenary we knew as Buckler.  As far as I knew, this was the first time anyone had seen his face and survived.  He had decidedly Imperial features, under his helmet, and the nastiest sneer I’ve ever seen on a human being.  This was a man who held the world in contempt.  I could see why he was working with the bad guys.  I’m not certain if the good guys would ever have taken him.

A third human lord stood in attendance of Koucey, bearing their truce banner, and there were a few more cavalry troopers milling around behind them.  The rest were hound-mounted goblins.  A few were clearly important, like the priest who accompanied them.  He, more than Koucey, seemed to be in charge of their expedition.

The gurvan had eschewed armor of any sort in favor of a long black robe with a pointed hood, almost like a monk’s robe.  He bore a twisted wooden staff in one lye-bleached paw.  It pulsed with magic, and I was on my guard.  Two more priests and a vicious-looking cavalry gurvan stood nearby, their mounts sprawled on the cool flags, panting while they waited.  They looked impatient.

“Hail, to the invaders to our land!” called Sire Cei, our herald.

“Hail, defenders of Gilmora,” Sire Koucey answered, his voice deeper and more sonorous than I recalled.  “Is that you, Sir Cei?”

Sire Cei, now, my lord,” my castellan informed his former employer, stiffly.  “You look . . .” he said, trailing off as he searched for a diplomatic adjective.

“Like the meat the cook burned for dinner?” laughed Sire Koucey, bitterly, as we came within a few yards of their party.  “Thanks to the Spellmonger, aye.  Yet I am the fortunate one.  Thousands were burned far worse than I.”

“Casualties of war,” I shrugged.  “It was a well-fought battle.”  Was he really trying to make me feel guilty for conjuring a fire elemental?

“As will today’s,” the mercenary I knew as Buckler said, sharply.  “You hold that town?” he asked, gesturing and spitting.

“Tenaciously.  And the castle beyond,” I agreed, evenly.  “Nor am I likely to yield either one lightly.”
“I would hope not,” agreed the man.  “Far more sporting that way.”

“Your name, Sir?” Sire Cei asked, sharply.

“Sire Ralun, knight of the Penumbra,” he said, haughtily.  “In service to His Majesty, King Ashakarl, direct descendant of Shereul the Old God.”

“Traitor to your kind, you mean,” growled Sire Cei.  “You serve an inhuman beast who consumes human flesh.  A puppet king of an evil tyrant, ruling over a conquered land with slaves for subjects.”

“One might say the same of your own monarch,” Sir Ralun sneered.  “I am as good a knight as you, Sir, though I serve a different master,” the dark warrior said insistently.  “Perhaps we shall cross swords this day.”

“Then it will be your last time doing so,” warned my castellan.

“You know not whom you taunt, my dear Ralun,” the goblin priest said in perfect Narasi.  “This is clearly Sire Cei, the Dragonslayer.  He who struck the fatal blow to the beast at Cambrian Castle.”

“I have that honor,” acknowledged Cei, stiffly.  Despite being an ideal knight in many ways, Sire Cei was not comfortable with his new fame.  Particularly hearing of it from the mouths of his foes.

“Then I doubly anticipate the fray,” Sire Ralun laughed.  “Once we cross the river, look to your sword, my friend.”

“As to making that crossing, you may find yourself delayed,” I suggested. 

“By that rabble?” snorted Ralun, nodding toward the Kasari rangers skulking about behind us.

“They are more formidable than they seem,” the goblin priest assured him.  “Those are Kasari, the ones who trouble us so in the north.  Nor are they the only defense, Ralun.  The place reeks with magic.”

“And warriors,” I added.  “Warriors fighting to defend their homelands.”

“I care not why they fight,” grunted Sire Ralun.  “They can die for whatever cause they wish.But die they will!”

“I have been placed in charge of the forces of the vanguard,” Sire Koucey said, patiently.  “And it is, indeed, our intention to cross this river, Spellmonger.”

“And it is our intention to resist that action,” I countered.   “If you are wise, you will turn around and head back into shadow.”

“We prefer to bring the shadow here,” the priest said.  “I am Kagathag.  Priest to His Majesty Ashakarl, devoted to the Old God.  Your ways are well known to us, mage.  We know about your stolen shards of our lord’s grace.  We care not.  Cast your puny spells.  The power of the Old God shall prevail!”

Sire Koucey’s eyes twinkled.  This sort of volley of threats was a standard part of battle, and he enjoyed the ritual.  I suppose he had to take his pleasures where he could find them these days.  “It would be best if it was you, my lord Minalan, were the ones to lay down your arms.  You could spare yourselves a great deal of bloodshed today.”

“We’ve been preparing for this for over a year,” I countered.  “We’d be disappointed if we didn’t at least try.”

“Then let us not disappoint you,” Sire Koucey said in his rattling voice.  “That is all we came to demand.  If you wish to defend, we will be obliged to attack.  And destroy you utterly.”

“Not tonight.  You do not have the forces here yet  to assault the bridge,” Tyndal pointed out, unhelpfully.

“You have no idea what forces we have at our disposal,” Ralun the Buckler said, mockingly.  “Go back behind your river, cowards.  The gurvani have shown me true warfare, and by the Old God’s grace I shall give you a lesson in it!”  He added something in gurvani, to which the scouts responded by screaming warcries quickly echoed by their mounts.

“If the formalities are dispensed with, then,” I said, in a bored tone of voice, “then I ask only that you allow us to return behind our lines before you begin your assault.”

“But of course,” agreed Koucey.  “We are not uncivilized.  The truce was fairly observed and fairly discharged.  You may return to your lines, across your plank, and we will refrain from firing for an additional ten minutes.  We would not want it said we attacked you before you were ready to receive us.”

“Stupid humani preening,” snorted the gurvan in cavalry armor.  “Get gone, and prepare to meet our blades!”  He showed his fangs in an effort to look fearsome.

I glanced back over my shoulder at the raging Poros.  “Not unless you brought a barrel to ride across on.  But good luck with your assault, nonetheless.  It is our honor to slaughter you.”

That brought an amused (if ghastly) chuckle form Koucey and Ralun and the unnamed knight, but only scowls from the gurvani.  I guess you had to be human to appreciate it.

“That . . . went . . . surprisingly well,” Arborn admitted as he led us back across the plank.  It was starting to get dark, now, which didn’t make the churning waters any less sinister below my feet.  I cast a magelight, even though it might attract sniper fire.  I wasn’t about to accidently fall in the river in the moments before a major battle.  My pride couldn’t take that.

“I really didn’t expect it to be much more than that,” I agreed.  “Just a formality.”

“Why warn your foe, though?” Tyndal asked, shaking his head.

“We weren’t just warning them we’re here,” I pointed out, “we were able to make some determinations about their strategy from how they presented themselves.  Whether they’re weak or strong—”

“Definitely strong,” murmured Rondal, glancing back over his shoulder at the pacing hounds and pawing horses.

“Whether they will be attacking magically or mundanely—”

“Looked like both, actually,” Tyndal muttered, to an assenting nod from Lorcus.

“And whether they might be able to be bought off,” I finished, weakly.

“No, I did not receive that impression, Sire,” Sire Cei informed me, after a moment’s reflection.

“No, me neither,” Lorcus agreed.  “In fact, they seemed quite resolute.”

“Determined, even,” agreed Arborn, as he crossed the last bit of distance.

“Impassioned, perhaps?” offered Terleman.

“I think we’ve made quite enough observations,” I decided, quietly, as we passed by the crossbowmen reclined behind barricades.  “Yes, they’re going to attack.  Yes, we’re going to defend.  No, they’re not going to cross this bridge,” I added, a little more loudly, so that every man in earshot would hear it clearly.  



High Mage cover blurb

Just to get you that much more excited, here's the blurb for the cover.  Actual cover still languishes in the pits of despair, but I'm sure I'll get something slapped together.  I've mastered the first 20 chapters, should have the rest done soon.

And no, I'm not precisely aware of just when "soon" might be.

Here's the blurb:

Rock Star!

Things were starting to look up for Magelord Minalan the Spellmonger – the magic mountain in his domain not only made him a wealthy man and the most powerful mage in history, it also produced a lode of magical gemstones with unique properties – properties the Alka Alon, the masters of magic on Callidore, are fascinated by.  When Minalan gets his chance to trade some of his magic rocks for irionite, he finds himself in a position to raise hundreds more magi with the stones . . . making them High Magi.

But as valuable as that bargain is for prosecuting the war with the Dead God and his sinister armies, such power comes with a hefty price.  Every new High Mage Minalan raises presents potential new problems.  The Magelords have inspired fear in their neighbors.  The warmagi invent deadly new spells.  The lower orders of magi are getting restless.  The mage-led Sevendor Town wants a new charter.  King Rard and the royal court are pressuring the nascent Arcane Orders politically.  Some magi are crossing the Penumbra and taking stones from the goblins, as well as taking their service.  And some are just starting to get a little crazy.

It makes a nice, normal little raid on his lands seem refreshing in its simplicity.

In trying to balance the needs of the war with the needs of a well-ordered Order, Minalan finds himself making compromises, cutting deals, and bargaining what power he has in a high-stakes game where Chaos seems to be the only player who knows the rules.  The temptations of his position and the power he wields are great, but so, he discovers, are the responsibilities.  But when his patience seems nearly exhausted and his alliances seem ready to crumble, a massive army emerges from the shadowy realms and strikes south, forcing the High Magi to rally around the Spellmonger in defense of the kingdom. 

As the genocidal goblin army marches toward the once-prosperous cottonlands of Gilmora, Minalan and his High Magi must defend a single bridge against them at all costs.  And they are ready to.  But the plans of magi count little when the powerful and subtle mind of the Dead God opposes them.  For when the die is cast and the first blow is struck, it becomes clear that nothing is as Minalan had foreseen.  As disaster looms for the humani kingdom and even the Alka Alon are threatened, only a desperate appeal to divinity, a dangerously risky adventure and a little classy enchantment offer any hope against calamity.  For the day has come when all that stands between ruin and survival is the bravery and cunning of the Spellmonger and his High Magi!

ED: And here's the first run of the shitty cover: