Novel Monday: Crafting Home – Chapter 1

POD Crafting Home Ebook Cover 06
Description:
Everyone has plans for Haruka’s life. They assume she’ll marry her best friend Shahzad, youngest son of Lord Bilal of Breding Manor. They assume she’s a pretty face with no mind or will of her own.

Fatima’s plans for her life had fallen apart around her ears. Her father and twin sister Zainab were at each other’s throats, no matter how Fatima tried to keep the peace.

Then Fatima’s father, Count Rafi, offered her hand in marriage to Haruka with the assumption that Haruka would be delighted to accept. After a swift, firm denial, it was up to Haruka and Fatima to craft a future together that held not just their happiness but their families’ as well.

Crafting Home is a sweet romance where patience and determination bring the rewards both girls seek.

Crafting Home
By Meyari McFarland

1. Patient

Haruka hummed an old clay-pounding song that Father had taught her as a child, letting the rhythm of the song give her a strong stride up the steep hill. She carefully shifted the heavy willow basket of soap, preserves and second-hand clothes she carried as Shahzad, eyes locked on his directions, turned first left, then right, then went left again.

Which was just like Shahzad, really. This section of Breding Village was older, with narrow cobbled streets overhung by heavy Japanese-style roofs. No one bothered with street numbers or putting out house names here. They all knew each other. This part of town had been in existence nearly as long as there had been Japanese sailors crossing the ocean to trade with the native Snohomish and Salish tribes and the houses here showed their hundreds of years.

The street was rutted from generations of feet pounding the cobbles down into the mud. Every roof had moss growing on the tiles and ferns growing in the gutters. The lime-washed earthen walls were grey rather than white, darker at the base from driving rain splashing off the street, dark and as comfortable as an old quilt wrapped around you during a surprise winter snow storm.

“This way,” Shahzad finally said, pointing up the street, Bell Street for the tiny Buddhist temple and it’s heavy bronze bell at the top of the hill. “I think.”

“Mm-hmm,” Haruka confirmed. “Watch your feet on the stairs, Shahzad. It’s slippery this time of year.”

He nodded, picking his way carefully with his eyes mostly on the directions instead of his footing. Fallen pine needles mixed with large wet brown maple leaves made that a bad idea but Haruka didn’t scold Shahzad. He’d slip or not. She rather expected that he’d slip. He usually did on these trips to tend his patients, especially on rainy days.

It was raining, of course, but she didn’t mind. Instead of a harsh, hard rain that one would expect at this time of the winter, driven by wind and storms from the far north, it was a mild, warm rain that felt more like spring than days before midwinter solstice.

The warmth wouldn’t last long. Already the wind had shifted from the south to the north. Around them, the air had a chill to it that made Haruka’s breath occasionally puff out in clouds of steam. The clouds overhead moved quickly across the sky, skittering like mice sensing the cat approaching.

Behind the fleeing clouds, the sky was brilliantly blue, that cold, hard blue that seemed to glitter like frost in the early morning. The cold hadn’t hit yet but it would soon and Haruka could only grin at that. Winter at last after a fall that seemed determined to be milder than any on record.

Haruka was ready. She had heavy wool tabi that Shizuka had sewn for her, a lovely thick hapi-coat with cotton batting quilted between the layers from Keiko and her kimono was the warmest, thickest cotton one she had, the one that she’d stitched extensively with Sashiko patterns of waves, wattle fencing and cranes for last year’s severe cold. Better still, she’d topped the kimono with a lovely pair of hakama with embroidered plum blossoms that she’d made herself this year. Her nose tingled a bit from the rising chill but Haruka truly didn’t care. Nice deerskin gloves and boots kept her extremities warm enough that the cold could come if it wanted.

Besides, both she and Shahzad had hats, broad woven reed hats gifted to them by Duke Laughing Seal the last time he came through, that kept enough of the rain off that she wouldn’t have minded a downpour. Though it would have made the cobblestones extremely slippery to walk on and that was never a good thing with Shahzad’s tendency to walk into things while concentrating on other thoughts.

Like directions.

“You’re happy,” Shahzad said as he checked his orders and then nodded towards the alleyway that led up to unlabeled Orca Way, so named for its winding path like the curved spine of an orca breaching, dorsal fin thrust high into the air, as the street wound around the temple. “This way. I think.”

“This way,” Haruka agreed. “Then up the stairs and the client’s house should be on the right.”

“How do you know the city better than I do when I’m the one who’s the doctor going out every day?” Shahzad asked with a little grin.

Haruka wrinkled her nose at him. She didn’t bother answering the old, old joke. Shahzad’s sense of direction remained the worst of anyone Haruka knew. He could, and did, reliably get lost rambling around Bilal Manor despite having been born and raised there. Haruka, on the other hand, never got lost no matter how much Shahzad tried to turn her around. All she had to do was look at the sun and the sky, feel the breeze on her cheeks, and she knew which way was home.

Shahzad went first, muttering thoughtfully as he stumbled over slightly heaved cobblestones or slippery spots. Or once his own feet. His bag of medical supplies nearly tripped him as he started up the worn stone stairs, each one a slab of slate as long as her arm, set to give treads that were just a hair too short for Shahzad’s boots. Haruka shook her head and followed him, nodding approval when he finally tucked the directions away and took the railing.

“I can hear you thinking at me,” Shahzad complained.

“I didn’t say a single word,” Haruka said. She laughed when he grunted. “Well, I didn’t. But I am glad that you decided to use the railing.”

Shahzad groaned. “Why do people think we’re perfect for each other?”

“Because they think that two people can’t be the next best thing to siblings without some level of romantic attraction,” Haruka said so promptly that Shahzad laughed. “Goodness, we’ve talked about that a million times.”

“Very true,” Shahzad sighed. “You’re practically my twin.”

She nodded and then willed Shahzad to turn right on Orca Way. He looked both ways, pulled out the directions and then headed right. Haruka stayed at the top of the stairs, humming quietly until Shahzad turned around and came back, cheeks burning. As he passed, Shahzad stuck his tongue out at Haruka. She grinned and returned the favor, giggling as she followed him up Orca Way towards the client’s house, just a few yards away.

It was a small house, too, just ten feet by twenty with a heavy Japanese-inspired roof overhanging a broad porch that probably doubled as sleeping quarters during the summer. The little garden, protected by a waist-high wattle fence, held scrubby cabbages, overgrown herbs and a wan little plum tree that looked as though it had never flowered once in its entire life. But there was a lovely coat of moss over the rest of the ground so it looked green and lush despite the fairly obvious black thumb of the owner. Someone, possibly a family member, had put out a shingle with the family’s name, Yasuda, scrawled in Kanji and Pakistani, side by side.

“This is it,” Shahzad murmured. “I do hope it’s not another case of influenza. We’ve had too many this year.”

“I know,” Haruka agreed. “I wish it was easier to get everyone inoculated.”

Shahzad nodded as he tied on a many-layered cotton face mask and then tied one onto Haruka’s face as well. She wiggled her nose once it was in place, nodding that it was secure enough. If there was one thing Haruka had learned while helping Shahzad in his medical practice it was that taking precautions was always a good idea. The masks weren’t perfect protection against infectious diseases but it did help reduce the chances that they would get sick.

Which, as it turned out, was a pointless worry. Shahzad knocked on the door, jumped as the occupant immediately opened it and then sighed as he saw the very large, very bloody bandage wrapped around the poor man’s hand.

“Accident?” Shahzad asked.

“Yes,” the man grunted. “Come on in. Not much here.”

“That’s why I brought supplies,” Haruka said cheerfully enough that the man sort of smiled at her.

The next hour was uncomfortable in all the ways that Haruka had gotten accustomed to in the last two years since turning sixteen. Kosuke, the owner of the unfortunately black thumb and a lovely wood-chopping injury, spent most of his time being stitched up staring at Haruka. Given his expression, Haruka would have thought that the man was starving and she was the first food he’d seen in years.

She soundly ignored Kosuke’s pointed attention. Really, it wasn’t as though she could do anything else and still be polite. Instead, Haruka looked around and decided to make his life a little bit better. Haruka started by cleaning the man’s incredibly filthy kitchen, sweeping out the ash-filled stove and washing his single bowl, plate and one set of cooking tongs. Since she had wash water set up, Haruka set to work washing the clothes Kosuke had bloodied even though they’d be a long time drying with the rain outside. Finally, as Shahzad slowly, meticulously, stitched Kosuke’s wound shut, Haruka started up a small fire in the man’s heater.

“Such a lovely heater,” Haruka murmured once the fire snapped and roared inside the cob funnel. “Mass heaters are so efficient.”

“Oh, is it?” Shahzad asked, only glancing Haruka’s way. “Nice. I still wish that Ammad and Nabeela would agree to add those to the manor. It gets far too cold up there.”

“A good large one,” Haruka said. “I think that the flue goes under the floor for most of the building.”

“Does,” Kosuke grunted. He looked rather sour when Haruka glanced his way. “Better than an open fire smoking the house up. Friend helped me make it this summer.”

“Good friend,” Shahzad said. He tied a bandage around Kosuke’s hand, nodding that he was done. “Now, you need to keep that clean and dry. Send a message up if you have any signs of infection. I think it’s clean enough that the antibiotics should be enough but you can never be too careful, especially with the cold weather starting up.”

“You’ve got plenty of preserves, too,” Haruka said, holding the basket in front of her chest to block Kosuke’s pointed stare. “If you need more, do ask. We’ll send some down from the manor.”

“You deliver them?” Kosuke asked just a hair too hopefully.

“Oh no,” Haruka laughed, shaking her head and smiling despite the desire to run right out of the little house. “I just go with Shahzad to make sure he doesn’t get lost. No sense of direction at all.”

Kosuke grumbled for a second only to go quiet and still as he turned to stare at Shahzad who immediately set to work repacking his medical bag. Haruka laughed quietly, head turned away, as Shahzad’s cheeks went redder and redder. After a moment Kosuke turned to Haruka, eyes wide.

“Lord Shahzad?” Kosuke asked. “Lord Ammad’s younger brother? I had a lord stitch up my hand?”

“The same,” Haruka said, laughing in earnest at Shahzad’s groan. “Though he much prefers to be called Doctor Shahzad. He doesn’t participate in ruling Breding Manor anymore.”

“Then you’re the girl,” Kosuke sighed, his mouth twisting into a rueful smile. “That Haruka Sweet Fern that’s engaged to him.”

This time Haruka groaned. “We’re not engaged. That would be like marrying my twin brother. Heavens, I wish people would get over that.”

Kosuke immediately perked up only to glower as Shahzad shook his head no. And that, honestly, was one of Haruka’s favorite things about Shahzad. He was absolutely terrible at romance, to the point that Haruka expected him to live his entire life without getting married, but whenever someone make Haruka uncomfortable he was right there, protecting her.

“What do you mean no?” Kosuke growled.

“She’s destined for a duke or a count,” Shahzad replied. He grinned at Haruka’s choked noise. “You’ve had Duke Laughing Seal’s sons after you for two years and Count Rafi Bright Sun offered to marry you to his twin daughters yesterday. I don’t care what you think, Haruka, you’re going to marry high.”

That, at least, got Kosuke to stop staring at Haruka. He was even marginally polite as they left, bowing and thanking them both for the care. Haruka held her sighs in until it was time to tug Shahzad away from the stairs down to Bell Street so that they could take the shortcut behind the temple over to the main road from the port up to Breding Manor. With the clouds scudding south and the wind picking up, getting inside before the temperature dropped too dramatically would be wise.

“He didn’t mean to offend,” Shahzad murmured as Haruka took the lead.

“I know,” Haruka sighed. “No one does, really. They all just see my face and assume that they have a chance without getting to know me first. It’s annoying, that’s all.”

“Sometimes I wish I was interested,” Shahzad said. He smiled wryly when Haruka stared at him, shocked. “Just because then people might leave you alone.”

“If they get too bad I’ll hit them,” Haruka declared. She grinned at Shahzad’s snickers. “Keiko and Mother have done a lovely job teaching me to defend myself. It’s all right. I have more problems with peasants than nobility. I hate turning the peasants down harshly.”

“It’s easier with nobility,” Shahzad agreed. “They expect it, I think. The peasants, not so much.”

The wind abruptly wailed around them, tearing up the street to rip at Haruka’s hapi-coat, hakama and gloves. Shahzad stumbled, falling to one knee. He staggered back to his feet, staring out over the sound for a long moment. Then he looked at Haruka, looked up at Breding Manor on the hill and started to run.

Haruka grabbed her hat and then ran after him. “Wait for me! No, not that way, Shahzad! Go left! Left!”

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Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 18 (Conclusion!)

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

18. Temporary Parting
Tamami licked her lips, temporarily clearing them of the raindrops that had fallen on her face as her crew loaded up the canoes for the trip home. The rain tasted salty, legacy of the sweat beading Tamami’s face. Even with the crew murmuring to each other as they worked to properly balance the canoes, Tamami could hear the rain falling on the sound around them. It shimmered like a Guji’s bells.

“There she is,” Rina murmured.

“We’re loaded?” Tamami asked.

“Almost, but that wasn’t what I was talking about,” Rina said. She nodded back towards Breding Manor. “Look.”

That was when Tamami picked out the sound of geta marching slow and deliberate down the cobbled street that led up to the dock. Tamami turned, her heart catching as she saw Keiko, clad all in indigo blue with a brilliant red umbrella, stalking towards them.

She looked powerful. Unstoppable. Intimidating in all the best ways. Tamami grinned, patted Rina’s shoulder when she laughed, and then hurried through her amused crew to the end of the dock. Even there, Tamami had people grinning at her. The locals who helped transport things onto boats and canoes looked at Tamami as if she was every bit as obvious as she felt.

“I didn’t expect you to come in the rain,” Tamami said.

Keiko snorted. “If people stayed inside when it was raining nothing would ever be done in Ambermarle. You will visit.”
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Free Fiction Friday: Bringing the Rains

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Refugees from a drought that destroyed their homeland, Lesedi and her family settled in a new land with a whole new climate. Lesedi struggled to find her place not only in this new society but also in her family’s weather magic. One rainy day brought Lesedi despair and hope that she never expected to find.

Bringing the Rains is a poignant fantasy short story about gender identity and finding one’s path when everything changes.

Bringing the Rains

By Meyari McFarland

Black speckled with red, gold, green and blue in vivid stripes that zigzagged down the length of the cloth; Lesedi bit her lip until blood bloomed in her mouth as she ran her fingers through the precious stash of drapey soft fabric from Before. Before the rain stopped. Before their fields dried up, consumed by the sands. Before they’d been forced to flee to a new home in a too-wet country by the sea.

None of the fabric would do. Too dark with a black background, too bold with the lightning stripes. The one swathe of pale yellow and cream had been Masego’s swaddling cloth and that was too small. Lesedi couldn’t use that even if it felt perfect. There had to be something that would work in their stash of fabric.

Their little house, round to catch the God’s power raining down, short not to offend the spirits of the land, was cold, so very cold. Rain battered against the roof as if it wanted to wash Lesedi’s fears away in a flood of cold, harsh droplets that purified through everything except for her flawed soul. Grandmother Sethunya hummed as she carefully cut into one of the other pieces of fabric, chopping the warp and weft as casually as a woodsman chopped a tree down here. Mother Refilwe grumbled under her breath at the sacrilege of actually cutting fabric as she worked to weave a new piece of fabric from the thick wool thread that Masego had bought from their closest neighbor.

Wool. It wasn’t the wool that Lesedi knew, spun fine and thin, delicate as a spider’s web. This was thick, rough scratchy thread that would trap heat next to the body instead of letting it slip away into the slowly rising air, carrying your sweat up to the sky to join the clouds overhead. Lesedi shivered, her hands clenching in the green and blue striped fabric. Warmth, keeping it close, hoarding it against your skin against the cold rain and frigid wind that blew off the ocean made more sense in this new land, this new place with the people that had taken them in and given them homes.

“Do you want that one?” Grandmother Sethunya asked. “It would look lovely on you.”

“No,” Lesedi said. “It’s not right. I need something lighter.”

Silence echoed through their little house. Women didn’t wear pale colors. Men did. Women wore bright red and gold, blue and green, to attract the spirits and entice them to give aid to the family’s spells. Men, magicless beings destined for fighting battles and hauling loads rather than bringing the rains, wore pale yellow, cream, light tan.
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Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 17

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

17. Rukhsati

Ammad stood by Nabeela’s side at the head of the great hall, the only room on all of the Breding Manor that would hold everyone that wanted to see the rukhsati. Granted, this wasn’t the final stage of Nabeela and Keiko’s wedding. There was still the wedding feast, the honeymoon, and then the procession around the province to every village so that the people could meet Shizuka and know their new Lady.

But it was the point at which Shizuka left the Yasuda family legally, becoming a member of their family instead. And that was something that virtually the entire village wanted to see, as well as the gathered nobles and family members. Everyone in the village knew Shizuka. Her medical training had given her a chance to form friendships with every single person there, not to mention a huge number of sailors and travelers she’d met as they passed through and needed medical care.

It made the great hall seem small, almost cozy. Shizuka had insisted on putting out a long red carpet to define where she would walk with her parents and sisters. Then she’d had the servants put down cushions for the children, low folding stools for older people to sit on. Behind that there were a series of risers that allowed those standing to actually see what would happen rather than having to peer around people’s shoulders. Non-traditional in the extreme but Father had granted Shizuka’s request without complaint.

“I’m going to have a heart attack,” Nabeela whispered.
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Free Fiction Friday: Jade Claws

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Madoka did not know what in the little village had compelled so much attention. Despite Madoka’s intention to spend no more than a matter of weeks, Madoka had been in the village for several years. It had been long enough for Madoka to watch little Hoshiko grow from a babbling toddler to a shy near-adult.

The quiet period ended when Hoshiko’s uncle decided that rape was an appropriate method of proposing marriage. Madoka abandoned the human disguise that had concealed Madoka’s true form to teach him and Hoshiko’s parents their mistake. Doing so sparked a change in Hoshiko that revealed exactly what had kept Madoka in the village for so long.

Jade Claws is a tale of dragons in ancient Japan and discovering that the mistakes of the past do not have to be transmitted to the future.

Jade Claws

By Meyari McFarland

“Thank you very much for the mushrooms,” Hoshiko said to Madoka.

She smiled shyly up at Madoka as she took the basket full of mushrooms that Madoka had harvested up on the mountain. The occupation gave Madoka reasons to be away from the village. That was always welcome. A single woman living on her own brought many strange looks and harsh comments in this culture. Madoka truly didn’t care but cultivating an air of oddness and unapproachability always mad life among humans easier.

Madoka smiled and patted Hoshiko’s head even though Madoka could smell Hoshiko’s uncle around the corner of the farmhouse. The child certainly wasn’t responsible for her family. She was just another victim like her mother. It was sad that all the brightness and joy Hoshiko displayed would be beaten out of her in only a couple of years. Human lives were so very short.

Paying attention to them was foolish. Madoka’s departure had already been put off long enough that she’d watched Hoshiko grow from a babbling toddler that clung to Madoka’s kimono into a coltish young girl who’d already learned not to speak any more than she had to. It was sad but it was the natural order of a human female’s life in this part of the world. Truly, Madoka wasn’t sure what had bound Madoka to this place for so long. Madoka rarely stayed among humans for more than a few weeks at a time.

Hoshiko hurried off with the basket of mushrooms, carrying them to the tiny root cellar the family had carved into the mountain. As soon as Hoshiko left, Kenta, Hoshiko’s uncle, slid around the corner of the farmhouse. He slouched and stared at Madoka, piggy eyes dull, lips twisted in a leer.

“You,” Kenta slurred. “Come here.”

It was a blatant order that Madoka raised one eyebrow at. The scruffy bearded man had eyed Madoka every time they encountered each other. No action had been taken thus Madoka had not found it necessary to rip the man’s head off.

“Come here!” Kenta snapped.

He strode over and grabbed Madoka’s arm, twisting it in a move that was clearly intended to be intensely painful. It didn’t hurt. Madoka’s human form was considerably weaker than the true form, the scales hidden under the skin and tail but a narrow hidden whip under the drape of Madoka’s kimono. Still, Madoka was too tough to be harmed by a man like Kenta.

“Mine,” Kenta growled. He stank of cheap sake.

“No,” Madoka said, chuckling at the sheer thought of it. “I am not yours.”

“You need a husband,” Kenta snapped. “Impertinent woman!”

He shoved Madoka towards the wall of the farmhouse. His brother Daiki appeared, one hand wrapped around Aiko’s, Hoshiko’s mother, neck as if he intended to snap her spine if Madoka didn’t accept Kenta’s ‘proposal’. Aiko bit her lip and looked away, shaking in her sandals.

Madoka went with the shove, looking towards the horizon. A smile stretched Madoka’s lips a bit too far for humanity but nowhere near as far as her mouth would stretch soon. The sun was setting over the mountains. In minutes the entire farmhouse would be sheathed in darkness. Kenta slammed his hands into Madoka’s shoulders, pinning Madoka to the wall.

“Mine now,” Kenta said. He licked his lips and then leaned in for a kiss.

“No,” Madoka hissed, hands set in the center of his chest. Madoka’s claws waited under the fake human nails for the moment when Madoka could change. “I am not yours. Let me go or I will kill you, Kenta.”

Kenta laughed at that, drunken bravado making him look at his brother. The sun slid behind the mountain peak. Color left the grass beneath Madoka’s feet. The sky went gold then bloody red. Appropriate, Madoka thought, as Daiki snorted and shook his head at Madoka’s supposed foolishness.

“Submit,” Daiki told Madoka. “Or die.”

“Death,” Madoka purred. “A suitable option but not for me. You were a fool to allow him to attempt this, Daiki.”
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Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 16

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

16. Apology

Keiko’s pulse pounded in her ears as loudly as Mother’s tribe’s drums during a ceremony. Her mouth was dry as bone but the anger that had led to Keiko striking Lady Cantara had drained away, trans-forming as it left into a blood chilling realization that if she did not continue this path, if she did not fight for her right to choose her own future, she would be forced into a marriage that neither she nor Lord Ammad wanted.

It was so obvious. Whether it truly was Lady Cantara spreading those noxious rumors about Keiko and Lord Ammad or not, everyone at the wedding had accepted them as self-evident. And that could not be allowed to continue.

Mother’s many lessons on fighting, on holding blades from dagger to sword length, cascaded through Keiko’s mind. It would be better if she had a staff or naginata, at least a spear, but Lady Cantara wasn’t that much taller than Keiko. She could still stab the foolish woman or break her kneecaps.

If it came to that, of course. The longer the silence stretched, the more fiercely Keiko glared, the paler Lady Cantara and Firas became.

She could hear someone slowly making their way across the ballroom, shoes quiet as slippers but murmured apologies and requests for people to move very, very audible with the silently watching crowd. Whoever it was had better stay out of it, though. Keiko wouldn’t let anyone other than Mother or Father stop her at this point.

“You…” Lady Cantara finally said. She had stop to swallow hard when the word cracked as it came out her mouth. “If I have done something to offend you somehow then of course I apologize.”

“That is not an apology,” Keiko declared. She pointed the dagger at Lady Cantara, glaring down its length. “You know that you have offended. You know that you transgressed. You will apologize properly.”
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Free Fiction Friday: Ghosts of the Dead

POD Ghosts of the Dead Ebook Cover 05

Description:

Survival was hard enough but when your space station was half destroyed and the population was slowly trickling away it became even harder. Paulina lived with the scars of the accident that had nearly killed their station. She wasn’t sure if she could live with the plan her lover Tina and their friends had come up with to revive the station’s failing future.

It was hard enough to live with the ghosts of the dead in her heart. Paulina wasn’t sure she could stand to be surrounded by them all the time.

Ghosts of the Dead is a near future SF story of recovery from disaster, regaining your strength and moving into the future.

Ghosts of the Dead

By Meyari McFarland

1. Water Damage

“Ugh,” Paulina complained. “It stinks.”

“The whole station stinks,” Tina said with a shrug that was anything but casual. “Will until the filters are all replaced.”

That was true enough that Paulina didn’t reply. The smell of smoke and melted plastic had almost gotten familiar in the last couple of months. It lingered on Paulina’s tongue, stained the back of her nose until the burning seemed normal.

Nothing was normal, not anymore. Too many people were dead. Too many had fled the station with what little they could salvage. Paulina had a moment of vertigo as she remembered the burnt and twisted wreckage of the other half the station drifting away with Keiko Lewis still chattering away about keeping people safe.

She’d died. Her body was still in the wreckage a few thousand klicks away. She wasn’t the only one ‘buried’ in vacuum. Paulina shut her eyes against the rush of faces she’d never see again. So many people had died but Paulina had been left behind to struggle on through life. The too-familiar sourness of vomit rose at the back of her throat, threatening to spill Paulina’s meager mushroom and spinach piroshky out onto the stained carpet covering the floor.

“It smells like mold,” Paulina said once she’d pushed the nausea down again. “We can’t buy a place that’s full of mold, Tina.”

“We can fix it,” Tina replied as she pushed the theatre’s double doors open so that they could see the stage and seats.

“Sure’n it’s a beautiful sight,” Boss Johnson said in the back of Paulina’s head. His accent was as off in memory as it had been in real life. “Perfect place to take a lovely lady fer a night of fun.”

Paulina cringed away from the flashback. She didn’t want to remember. Her first date with Tina had been to see an amateur production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in this theatre. Tina had grinned when Paulina marched up and asked if she wanted to go. She’d been so nervous that she’d almost shouted it, much to the amusement of her and Tina’s coworkers out on the Docks.
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Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 15

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

15. Fury

Tamami glared indiscriminately at the other guests. Walking across a room should not be an exercise in irritation. Between the many, many guests carrying noxious plates of food and the endless comments about how nice it was of Tamami to keep Keiko company while she waited for Lord Ammad, Tamami was on the verge of stabbing people. A lot of people. If she heard another comment it might push her over the edge.

Worse, the comments visibly upset Keiko but no one seemed to notice or care. She went red, mouth going tight and nostrils flaring, at first. Then as the comments continued, Keiko had glared. By the time they reached the corner of the room farthest from the buffet table, Keiko’s eyes were locked firmly on her shoes and her hands were clenched so tightly that the knuckles were white.

“I could stab them,” Tamami commented.

“You shouldn’t tempt me with offers like that,” Keiko replied without looking up. “It is entirely too tempting to encourage you to do exactly that.”

“Are you ever looking up?” Tamami asked.

“Someday, perhaps when the stars fall from the sky and the sea dries up,” Keiko said in the exactly same dry, angry tone, “I may consent to meet people’s eyes again.”

Laughter startled Tamami, a single bark that brought a twitch of smile to the corner of Keiko’s mouth. Across the room, Tamami glimpsed Lord Ammad and Rina through the shifting bodies. They appeared to be heading towards Keiko and Tamami. Both had similarly annoyed expressions. The crowd shifted again and Tamami groaned.

“What?” Keiko asked, actually looking up finally.

“Lady Cantara, on a mission,” Tamami grumbled. “I think I’ll start stabbing with her.”
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Free Fiction Friday: Cloud Cover

POD Cloud Ebook Cover 04

Description:

The mission went wrong from the beginning. Leto and her messenger dragon Cloud Song were left scrambling to make sure that the plans they’d stolen from the enemy camp made it home to their commanders. At first, Leto thought that their team would be able to get out together.

Then a patrol found them and Leto had to flee on Cloud Song’s back. If they could just distract the enemy dragons then their team might survive. Leto directed Cloud Song ever higher into the sky in hopes that they could lure the pursuit away.

Cloud Cover is a tense fantasy adventure set in an alternate ancient Greece with dragons.

Cloud Cover

By Meyari McFarland

1. Fight

Sweat dripped down Leto’s upper lip, pooling and then sliding onto her lips. The night smelled of crushed fern and brimstone from the dragons waiting on the rocky outcrop to their rear. It was hot enough, even this late at night, that Leto felt as though she lay in a warm bath. Underneath her, the grass had long since wilted. It had been cool, faintly scratchy, when she first lay down to scan for warriors following them up the pass but now it was flattened into the dirt.

This had turned into a disaster sometime around the point that Leto was spotted sneaking out of the enemy camp with their new fortification plans. Running for her dragon’s back had only led to their whole group being discovered. They’d barely escaped twice now. Another round might lead to their deaths.

She licked the sweat off her lip. The salt made her throat hurt. Water would be so nice right now. It’d been hours since she’d gotten a drink of water and would be hours more before they made it home. Yes, there was a water skin hanging on Leto’s saddle but Cloud Song had flitted up to sit with the other dragons. Leto would just have to wait until they were home for a drink.

If they made it home.

Sotiria had been curt when she’d told them the risks that evening. Going out at night was bad enough but their mission was twice as dangerous as any normal mission. That was why Kalypso and Ismeme were along. Their dragons were huge compared to Leto’s, hardened battle dragons with dense scales and long horns scared by combat. Leto’s dragon Cloud Song looked like a hatchling next to them but then she was a messenger who was built for speed.

Even Medeia’s dragon Shadow Spear was bigger than Cloud Song. She was outgrowing the legginess of youth and filling out into the sort of dragon who worked best at building nests and raising children. Medeia had said that this was her last field mission. Both Medeia and Shadow Spear were looking forward to having babies to raise in the near future.

All of them were larger and more mature than Leto, just as their dragons were larger and older than Cloud Song. They were the weak links of the mission, the two most likely to make mistakes, the two most likely to get them all killed. Leto curled inwards as she vowed not to make another mistake like the one that had gotten her spotted. She wouldn’t be the cause of the others’ deaths. She couldn’t bear that.

“Can’t see anything,” Kalypso whispered to Leto. “You?”

“Nothing,” Leto replied equally quietly. “The cloud cover is too thick. No moon light.”

“Should we move further out?” Ismeme asked.

Even in the darkness Leto could see Ismeme gnawing on her lip. She touched Ismeme’s forearm, sweat coating her fingertips, to calm her. Ismeme’s teeth flashed in a momentary grin. It was too dark to see if the smile was pleased, sheepish or cocky.
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Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 14

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

14. Connections

Ammad smiled as he made his way through the crowd towards Father. The formal announcement of the nikkah naama’s terms, including the money bestowed on Shizuka for her support, had gone flawlessly despite the disaster with Their Majesties’ representative and the miso. Mori had been quite gratified to learn that his support was included in the contract. Gentle Rain had beamed at the offer of a job handling Breding Manor’s books. And even though Keiko had shown up last for the actual signing, she’d been visibly delighted by everything that Nabeela and Shizuka had agreed upon for their marriage.

His face ached, stiff and painful from his fixed smile. Sixteen comments about his ‘private dinner with Keiko’ and counting had him on the verge of bellowing at them all to get out, wedding or no wedding. As one of the guests, a friend of Duke Laughing Seal’s who had sailed up specifically to wish Shizuka and Nabeela the best, caught Ammad’s elbow, Ammad swallowed down the anger and tried to make sure his smile wasn’t completely stony.

“It appears your lovely lady is here,” Falling Star said, nodding towards the door to the ballroom.

“She isn’t my lady,” Ammad said, automatically glancing that way. He turned and looked again because yes, Keiko was there along with Haruka but it was Rina trailing in behind Lady Tamami who caught his attention.

Her kimono was a luscious rose that made her dark skin glow. She’d topped it with golden hakama that moved around her much like Nabeela’s best skirts, the ones that shifted and danced as if they were alive. Keiko and Haruka moved towards the windows with Lady Tamami but Rina scanned the crowd as if looking for someone.

Their eyes met across the room. Ammad’s heart clenched at the way Rina blushed, ducked her head and then raised it again, slowly, staring into his eyes as if she wanted to memorize him standing there with his mouth open. He snapped his mouth shut, waving at Falling Star’s puzzled question about what he’d seen that made him look that way.
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