Hello Readers : )
I’m glad to bring to you a special sneak peek into author Jamie Marchant’s novel, The Goddess’s Choice.
The crown princess Samantha fears she’s mad; no one but she sees colors glowing around people. The peasant Robrek Angusstamm believes he’s a demon; animals speak to him, and his healing powers far outstrip those of his village’s priests. Despite their fears, their combined powers make them the goddess’s choice to rule the kingdom of Korthlundia.
In my sword and sorcery novel, The Goddess’s Choice, Samantha’s ability enables her to discern a person’s character through their multi-colored aura, and Robrek’s makes him the strongest healer the kingdom has seen in centuries. But their gifts also endanger their lives. Royals scheme to usurp the throne by marrying or killing Samantha, and priests plot to burn Robrek at the stake. Robrek escapes the priests only to be captured by Samantha’s arch-enemy, Duke Argblutal; Argblutal intends to force the princess to marry him by exploiting Robrek’s powers. To save their own lives and stop the realm from sinking into civil war, Robrek and Samantha must consolidate their powers and unite the people behind them.
The Goddess’s Choice is based on a Norwegian fairy tale, “The Princess and the Glass Hill.” Though my favorite fairy tale as a child, it disturbed me that the female character has no name and no role other than being handed off as a prize. My novel remakes the crown princess of Korthlundia into a strong heroine who is every bit as likely to be the rescuer as the one rescued.
Reliquary Press: http://www.reliquarypress.com/Reliquary_Press/Welcome.html
“Please, no!” Robbie Angusstamm screamed as his father’s heavy strap came whistling down on his bare back. He tried to yank his hands free, but his brother Boyden held them tightly against the dining room table. Sulis curse it! Why do I have to be such a worthless weakling? He promised himself he wouldn’t scream again, but he screamed just as loudly the next time the strap hit.
“Sleeping by the river in the middle of the goddess-cursed afternoon! How many times must I beat you before you learn responsibility, boy?” His father brought the strap down even harder.
“I didn’t mean to!” But Robbie’s explanation turned into screams of pain as the strap landed again and again.
Robbie let out a humiliating whimper when his father finally stepped away and Boyden let go of his wrists. Robbie clutched a chair for support and struggled to hold back his tears. By the goddess, don’t let them see me cry.
His father towered over him, red-faced and scowling. “Learned your lesson, boy?”
“Yes, sir,” Robbie said, ashamed of how pathetic he sounded.
“I’m not going to have to send your brother looking for you again, am I, boy?” Angus Camlinstamm loomed over Robbie, making him feel even shorter than he was.
“All right, then. Stop lazing around like a fool and get your chores done.” Angus hung the strap on its peg by the door. “If you finish before dinner’s over, I may consider letting you join us.”
Like that will ever happen! Robbie clutched at his empty stomach, knowing he’d get nothing to eat before breakfast. He pulled his shirt carefully over the welts on his back and stumbled toward the back door.
As he passed through the kitchen, one of the servants quickly drew the star of Sulis in the air to ward off his evil. He hated it when people did that, but how could he blame them? He caught his reflection in the shiny pots that hung from the kitchen wall. Dark black hair, the color of night and demons. Green eyes, unlike those of the children of the goddess. Skin, darker than natural. He was also so short his brother called him a worm.
Robbie stepped outside and drew two large buckets of water from the well. He staggered toward the barn, the weight of the buckets bending him forward and pressing his shirt against his back. Praying none of the servants or farmhands would see him, he set the buckets down and emptied some of the water. His father would beat him again if he knew, and Boyden would laugh at his weakness. Boyden could carry hundred-pound sacks of grain as if they contained feathers. Boyden was everything their father wanted in a son.
Boyden hadn’t killed their mother.
When he reached the barn door, he shouted for Allyn or Darien to open it, but no one came. The two farmhands were supposed to help him with the animals, but this wouldn’t be the first time they’d used Robbie getting in trouble as an excuse for taking the night off. They knew he wouldn’t risk another beating by telling on them.
Robbie sat the buckets down to open the door. The barn was large, with plenty of room for the dozen cows, ten horses, and four mules as well as for the large pig and her half-dozen piglets. When he entered, the cows mooed happily. The horses and mules neighed and stomped their feet in greeting. A bird whose wing he’d mended flew down from the rafters and landed on his shoulder. It nibbled his ear affectionately. The animals’ joy seeped into his body like a warm, living current, strengthening him against both exhaustion and pain. Animals couldn’t sense the evilness in his soul. Only here was he loved.
The animals’ welcome quickly turned to cries of thirst. He cursed himself for making them wait so long for water. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep by the river, but he’d been up most of the night helping a neighbor’s goat with a difficult birth. “It will be alright. Robbie’s here now. Just be patient, and I’ll get water for all of you.” The animals all quieted. They knew they could depend on him.
It took several more trips to the well to get enough water, and by the time he’d finished, his head was swimming. But he was far from finished.
He started in on the milking, and the large, gray-striped barn cat twined around his legs, mewing for attention. “Hello, Ronan. Taking care of the mice and rats for me?”
:Of course.: Ronan licked his paws as if getting the last taste of a recent kill. :Good hunting.: Robbie didn’t exactly hear Ronan’s words; it was more that he got an image or feeling from the cat’s mind. He didn’t know why he could understand animals; he’d always been able to. Perhaps it was another sign of his demon blood.
Robbie placed the milk in the icehouse. He then turned to cleaning the stalls and feeding the animals. When he entered Wild Thing’s stall, the mare neighed. :Wild Thing stomp father bully to mash.: Robbie hugged his horse around the neck.
With Wild Thing, communication had always been particularly strong, and her mind seemed much more complex than other animals’. He supposed this was because Wild Thing wasn’t a normal horse. Four years ago he’d found the days-old foal out on the plains, near the body of her dead mother. She’d been half-mad with hunger and fear. Her brilliant coloring, somewhere between chestnut and auburn, and the stars on her chest and forehead made it obvious she was a Horsetad. The herd of wild horses roamed free on the plains of Lundia, and people said they could never be tamed. The origin of the Horsetads was highly debated. Ages ago, some said, Sulis herself had ridden her chariot in the land, and her horses had mixed with those of earthly origin. Others said the Horsetads had escaped from the seven hells and their demon masters and were forever unwilling to allow anyone to master them again.
Robbie rubbed his face against her, choking back a sob. “Wild Thing, girl, why can’t I do anything right? Why did I have to be born evil?”
Wild Thing stomped her hoof. :Not evil. Robbie good.:
Robbie knew she was wrong, but he didn’t argue. Wild Thing might well be a demon herself. Many in the Valley thought so.
It was very late when he finally stumbled up to bed. Despite his hunger and the pain in his back, he was so tired he fell almost immediately asleep.
* * *
Early in the morning, Robbie stirred. When he tried to sit up, his back protested. But he knew the pain wouldn’t last too long. His demon blood made him heal more quickly than normal people. He struggled to his feet and carefully got dressed. He brushed the tangles from his long, curly hair and tied it back with a strip of leather. He felt the smoothness of his face, wondering if he’d ever grow a beard. At sixteen, a lot of boys had at least some hair on their faces. Then again, he’d never heard of a demon with a beard.
As he left his room, the pain of an injured animal pressed against his mind. He hurried outside and heard a faint mewing. He followed the sound around to the back of the barn and found Ronan covered in blood. Robbie knelt beside the cat and stroked his head. “What happened to you, boy? Don’t worry, Robbie’s here.” Robbie cradled the cat in his arms and carried him inside the barn where he kept his medicines.
As Robbie examined the injury, he sighed in relief. “It’s not as bad as I thought, my boy. Some of this blood isn’t yours. Got a few licks in yourself, did you?” Ronan mewed feebly, and Robbie saw an image of Ronan fighting several overgrown rats. Robbie cleaned the wound carefully. Then he treated it with one of his salves. Robbie couldn’t explain how he knew how to make his remedies. No one had taught him. Certain plants just seemed to make good medicines, and certain medicines felt as if they’d help a particular problem.
As he rubbed in the salve, a trickle of energy moved through his fingers into Ronan. The sensation resembled other men’s descriptions of the pleasure to be found with a woman. Ronan’s wound began to heal. Holy Sulis, what is this I do? If being a demon feels this good, maybe I shouldn’t mind being one!
By the time Robbie finished bandaging the wound, Ronan had drifted into a peaceful sleep.
* * *
After completing the morning chores, Robbie found his father outside the barn talking to Cullen Bevinstamm, a neighboring farmer. “Angus, you know all my money’s gone into seed, but I’ll pay you a tetra at harvest.”
Angus scowled. “How do you know you’ll even have a harvest? Do you have any of your wife’s preserves left?” Cullen’s wife was rumored to make the best preserves in the Valley, not that Robbie had ever tasted any.
The man nodded, glancing nervously at Robbie. “Yes, I think there are four or five jars.”
“Send all you have back with the boy, and I’ll wait for the money.” Robbie’s father stomped back to the farmhouse without even looking at him.
Cullen licked his lips nervously, and Robbie looked down at his feet, feeling both angry and ashamed. He hated it when people were scared of him, but he knew they had reason to be. “You have a sick animal?” he asked, still not meeting the man’s eyes.
Cullen backed farther away as he explained what was wrong with his plow horse. It sounded like the lung sickness. Robbie fetched his supplies and saddled Wild Thing.
On the ride to his farm, Cullen stayed far away from Robbie and said nothing. Robbie tried not to mind. Farmers came to him because he was far better at treating animals than anyone else in the Valley, but Robbie knew they wished they had another choice.
When they neared the farm, Cullen rode a little closer. “Just so you know, I’ve sent my wife and children to her sister’s for the day.”
Just what do you think I’d do to them? I’d never hurt a woman or a child. I’d never hurt anybody. But even as he thought it, he knew it was a lie. Couldn’t his demon blood cause harm even if he didn’t mean it to? It had killed his own mother.
They dismounted in front of Cullen’s small stable. The farmer led him inside, still careful to keep his distance. As soon as Robbie entered, his lungs tightened, making it difficult to breathe. A bay gelding coughed and wheezed. Robbie touched the horse to be sure of the extent of the illness. “He has the lung sickness, like I thought,” Robbie said.
He had the man light a brazier, and he set about brewing a remedy for the horse. “I’ll give this to him now, but he’ll need the dose repeated three times a day for a week. Come fetch me again if he’s not acting better in a day or so.” As he put herbs of differing amounts into the mixture, he explained the process to the farmer.
“Sounds a bit complicated,” Cullen said. “I’ll fetch you some paper and ink, and you can write it down.”
“I have better things to do than writing down remedies,” Robbie snapped. He wasn’t about to admit he was too stupid to either read or write. Father Gildas hadn’t allowed him to attend the temple school, claiming the knowledge of the goddess shouldn’t be shared with the seed of demons.
* * *
Just after noon, Robbie started back to his father’s farm with three jars of strawberry and two jars of peach preserves in his saddlebags. He felt lightheaded, and his stomach ached with hunger. Cullen hadn’t offered him so much as a piece of bread, and because of Ronan, he’d missed breakfast. By the time he reached home, the noon meal would be over.
As he took a shortcut through the woods, he got out one of the jars of preserves. “My girl, do you think my father would ever know there were five jars instead of four?”
Wild Thing’s ears flicked in answer. :Robbie hungry. Wild Thing hungry. Nice grass there. Nice jar thing here.:
Robbie knew Wild Thing was suggesting they stop at the abandoned stable up ahead. He’d found this stable when he was twelve, during one of his wanderings through the woods looking for plants for his remedies. The stable consisted of a small barn with four stalls and a fenced-in paddock with grass for grazing. A small stream ran alongside it, and it had been in surprisingly good condition for an abandoned structure. He’d fixed it up to use as a private retreat. He stopped beside the stream and opened the jar and reveled in the sticky sweetness of the fruit; it was the best preserves he’d ever tasted. He made sure to wash any sign of the preserves from his hands and face before heading home.
* * *
In Robbie’s dreams that night, the demon lady came to him. He’d dreamed of her for as long as he could remember. She always dressed in brightly colored, loose-fitting clothing; tonight she wore scarlet, trimmed with bright silver braid. Like him, the lady had black hair, green eyes, and dark skin. As a child he’d longed for sleep, where he could curl up in her arms and listen to her stories and songs. But as he’d gotten older, the dreams had begun to trouble him. If demons loved him, didn’t it mean he was as evil as people said he was?
Tonight she approached through a fog of mist, sunlight forming a halo around her. She gathered him in her arms. “I love you. You won’t always be alone.”
About the author:
I live in Auburn, Alabama, with my husband, son, and four cats, which (or so I’ve been told) officially makes me a cat lady. I teach writing and literature at Auburn University.
My first novel The Goddess’s Choice was released in April 2012 from Reliquary Press. I am hard at work on the sequel, tentatively titled The Soul Stone. My short fiction has been published in Bards & Sages, The World of Myth, and Short-story.me.