Friday, May 24, 2019

Book Giveaways, Brothers, and Weekend Humor!!!

Happy Friday Story Squad!

And Happy National Brothers Day! I love this one because, for those who don't know, I have eight brothers. Yup! That's not a typo. Eight! They're all younger than me...and taller than me. Here's a picture of them from a few years back. 

Actually, one is missing, so there's only 7 here. The guy in the Raiders shirt in the center is my dad. So, if you have a brother, shoot him a call or a text today!

Book News:

Mostly giving you heads ups on coming book promos today.


I have a promo coming up forDark Remnants and the Street Games series. I know most of you already have book 1 from joining my story squad, but during the promo it will be free and the next few books in the series will be available for $0.99. The kind of thing that will allow you to purchase the entire series for less than $5.00, but only for a day or two. The promo will be on June 13 - June 17, so still a few weeks away. I just wanted to give everyone a heads up in case they need to plan. I'll send you emails to remind you when it happens.

Historical Romance:

From June 3 - June 7, there will be a $0.99 promo on Citadels of Fire, if you don't have that book yet. Again, I'll let you know on the days it's actually happening, but just giving you a heads up for anyone who wants to buy this book on sale!


Same with this. It's actually the same promo but I'm doing two separate genres. So on June 3 - June 7, Persistence of Vision will be on sale for $0.99. I know a lot fewer of you need this book as you probably already have it, but I'll notify you anyway in case anyone wants to help me spread the word!

Still hard at work on Event Horizon (Interchron #4). Stay tuned for that release! Coming soon! 

Weekend Humor:

Did you know that I send excerpts of my WIP, Dragon Magic, to my Story Squad? Plus I have lots of opportunities to win Amazon gift cards and such. If you'd like to be part of my Story Squad, sign up at the link in the left column!

Make sure to check out the links below! Everyone have a fantastic week!


Friday, May 17, 2019

Cobbler, Questions and More! Come Eat--I Mean See!

Happy Friday, Story Squad!

Happy National Cherry Cobbler Day! I love cobbler of all kinds, but I'm good with cherry! I made this paleo cherry cobbler last night so I could eat it today. (Btw, it's also my sister's birthday today. So happy birthday to her (Erica) although I don't think she'll actually read this.)

Question of the Week:
So I'm starting a new section. Send me whatever questions you have and I'll pick one to answer each week. They can be about anything: me personally, any of my books or characters, or even something not book-related. Just hit reply and send them to me and I'll start giving you answers!

For this week, someone asked me this via email:

Subject: The hatching
Message: When will the next book come out? I really enjoyed the hatching. It's 2019 and I can't find any other book that should follow that story line. You said 2018. Are you still going to come out with a follow up?

Answer: Yes, of course! Most of you in my list already know this because you get the Dragon Magic excerpts i send every week. (But I thought it would be a great first/test question.) I'm actively working on Dragon Magic, Book 1. It's definitely been back-burnered over the past year or so, but not anymore. Even so, the first book won't be out until late this year or early next year. Thanks so much for your patience!

What questions do YOU have for me?

Make sure to send me your questions and check out the free books at the links below! Have a great weekend!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Free Books, Dragon Excerpts and Chocolate Custard! 😋

How has your week been? Happy National Chocolate Custard Day! One of my favorite things to eat. I make this keto custard at least three times per week. 

To be fair, I 1) often make it paleo by using honey or agave to sweeten it. It's SO good with honey. And 2) I know the recipe says it's a drink. For some reason, when I make it, it turns out thick like pudding, and I prefer it that way. But if you want it to be thinner, you could just add some water to thin it out. But it's super healthy, what with all the healthy fats from the avocado and coconut milk. So I was super excited when I saw that today was National Chocolate custard day! Yum!

Make sure to check out the free book links and the excerpt below! And have a great week! 


From Dragon Magic, Book 1 (Title Forthcoming)
This excerpt starts right after last week's ended.

***As always, keep in mind this excerpt is from a work-in-progress and should be filed under ARC, which means there might be some mistakes in it and there will be more editing before the final product is published.***

When Tamilla awoke with the sun to make ready for her Spark of Knowledge test, she realized she'd avoided thinking about this particular Ordeal. Well, not the Ordeal itself, but the fact that it centered around books.
In truth, the Knowledge test held the greatest potential for her. People who proved to have the Spark of Knowledge joined the librarians in the Great Dragon Roost Library. They were required to help with cataloging the great Library—a project the Roost had worked tirelessly on for over a decade now. Beyond that, they studied nearly any subject they chose. This branch of the Dragon Vigil held more members—all doing separate things with their lives—than any other branch. So Tamilla figured her chances of success with this Ordeal were better than with most of the other branches.
And yet, the incident that took place right after her seventh name day, the incident that made her feel separate and heavily judged by the other villagers, centered around a book.
When she walked outside her tidy room to the stone amphitheater, she found Bertome waiting to escort her as usual. He held out his skinny arm—still nearly as big around as her waist, yet thin compared to the rest of his bulky frame—and Tamilla curtsied before reaching out to touch him so they could communicate. "Good morning Bertome," she said politely.
Good morning, Little Tamilla. Do you feel ready for your knowledge test?
"Ready as I'll ever be, I suppose,” Tamilla sighed.
Dual sensations of mirth and soothing calm emanated from the dragon. Tamilla gave him a grateful smile, knowing he was trying to make her feel better.
Is something the matter, Little One? Bertome asked. You seem more anxious than usual. Anything I can help with?
Tamilla shrugged uncomfortably, wondering if she should confide in the dragon. She felt foolish doing so, and yet almost more comfortable talking to him than to most other people. She vaguely wondered why that was.
“I’m nervous to be around the books,” she finally admitted. “I suppose you could say I’m a bit superstitious about them.”
You don’t like books? Bertome asked.
Tamilla shook her head. “No, that’s not it at all. I’ve always loved them. The couple who raised me was very poor and couldn’t afford them.” She nearly launched into an explanation, but hesitated again.
And something happened that made you superstitious about them. It wasn’t a question. Bertome settled back on his haunches, looking as interested as his boxy, dragon features could look.
“Won’t we be late for the test?” Tamilla asked.
The test will wait on you, Little One.
Tamilla heaved a deep breath. “One night, Master Raylin’s roof needed mending. The man who raised me is the village thatcher. I went with him to Master Raylin’s home. Master Raylin is the head of the Village Council, and lives in a grand, two-story home. He showed us around and showed me his personal library. The notion of a room in a house used for something other than sleeping astounded me at the time. We all slept three or four to a room.”
Realizing she’d gotten off topic, she glanced sheepishly up at Bertome. He merely blinked at her with interest.
“Even though they only filled one room in a village house, every wall held shelves packed full of books. I’d never seen so many in one place in my life. I remember feeling utterly mesmerized. I couldn’t imagine Master Raylin used all his books or would miss one, so I smuggled a small one out with me under my smock.”
Realizing she just admitted to thievery, her eyes snapped to Bertome. She detected no trace of judgment or negativity in his features or emanating from him through their touch.
What book did you take?
Tamilla thought a moment. “I believe it was a study on the interactions between butterflies and baby dragons. I could read well enough to understand the words, but I really loved the colorful pictures.”
Tamilla felt mirth and affection coming from Bertome. The sensations urged her on.
“I am no thief. I always planned to return the book, and I did. Over the next several weeks, I jumped at every chance to visit Master Raylin’s house. I volunteered for every message or errand so I could return the book I currently had and secretly take another. Of course, being a child—only about seven years old—I wasn’t clever enough to keep up the ruse for long. One day, I mistakenly thought I could smuggle a larger tome out under my skirts. Elder Raylin’s wife caught me and screamed at me for being a thief. I panicked and ran from the house, clutching the book in my arms.”
Tamilla hesitated, sadness and shame washing over her. “If you don’t mind,” she looked up at Bertome, “I’d rather not go into the details of what happened next. There was an accident. What happened that day changed my life. It made me feel forever alienated from the rest of the villagers. I always felt they were judging me. In fact,” she added, making connections even as she spoke, “that incident led me here. That alienation spurred me to leave my village and attempt the Ordeals.”
She studied Bertome’s face. “It all centered around a book. Around my own greed for knowledge. Do you think that’s a bad omen? Will it mean ill luck for my Spark of Knowledge test?”
Once again, Tamilla felt only gentleness and positive thoughts from Bertome. I suppose you’re about to find out.


The entrance to the Dragon Roost’s Great Library sat directly beside the stone labyrinth. A large hole, open to the air, had been carved into the hillside. It stretched wide enough for three wagons abreast to fit inside, though the journey would have proven bumpy for them. A massive stone staircase descended out of sight, disappearing underground.
The individual stairs were so large that while Bertome merely stepped down from one step to the next—they may have even been annoyingly small for him—the steps stood each half as high as Tamilla was tall. Bertome once again held out one taloned finger for Tamilla to grasp as she jumped down from step to step.
After twenty-two giant steps—Tamilla counted—the passageway turned sharply to the left. Three more steps of the same height led to the ground floor, and a massive, towering underground chamber.
Tamilla’s eyes widened almost painfully. She couldn’t squeeze them back to their normal size, though. In truth, she didn’t want to. Much like the Coin Room, dozens of towering shelves were built into every wall or stood in freestanding rows spanning the room. Instead of coins, these held books, both rolled up parchments as well as actual, bound books. Spines of every color, texture, and material peered out from the shelves, begging to be read.
Yet, Tamilla knew the books within her line of sight represented only a fraction of what the library held. Rumor said it had a dozen levels, each one descending farther in the earth, and each with as many volumes again. At the distant side of the room, Tamilla noticed a railing running along the back wall. She wondered if it led to the lower levels somehow.
Despite being underground, bright light illuminated the room. Sconces holding small, merry flames flickered on the walls every few feet. Most sat high up, near the ceiling. A few sat in empty wall space down lower. All flames burnt far away from the nearest books or parchment. Still, the room felt both bright and cozy.
Hard stone stretched beneath Tamilla’s shoes, worn smooth by generations of feet seeking knowledge.
A few patrons wandered among the stacks or sat at small wooden tables positioned haphazardly about the room. The smell of parchment and dust mites tickled Tamilla’s nose, and the entire room held an air of quiet reverence.
"You’re gaping, child. Not a tremendously lady-like quality," a small, elderly voice said from Tamilla’s right.
Tamilla snapped her mouth shut. She didn’t realize it had opened wide along with her eyes. Turning, she found a tiny old woman—smallerin statured than Tamilla—shuffling toward her. One of the great Librarians, no doubt, a lifetime of wisdom peered out from the woman’s ancient, beady eyes. Yet, the round cheeks and deeply lined face made her look kind. Grandmotherly, in truth.
The woman approached with a smile. “I’m Llasnala. I’ll be administering your test.”
Tamilla dropped a low curtsy. "Nice to meet you, my lady.”
Llasnala turned and swept a proud gaze over the books. “It’s something to behold, isn’t it?”
“It is, my lady,” Tamilla breathed. "I’ve never seen so many books in all my life."
The woman gave a knowing nod. "So say most who see it for the first time." Her gaze held the pride of ownership.
Tamilla supposed if Llasnala had worked in this library for most of her life—very likely, as members of the Dragon Vigil generally stayed at their work until death took them—then in a way, she did kind of own the knowledge here.
“How does one find the book they want?” Tamilla asked, following the woman’s gaze with awe.
"No human has all the knowledge in this library in their heads,” the old woman said. “It's not possible to read so many books in a lifetime. The dragons keep it all for us. We have only to ask them for books on a particular subject, and they can point us to the right ones, and even translate them for us if need be."
Tamilla glanced sideways at the woman. "You’re cataloging them, aren’t you? Trying to create a record of the books and what's in them?"
Llasnala nodded. “We began nearly ten years ago, when the Boundary started to fail. It may take many lifetimes to finish, but we have the time. We might as well preserve the knowledge in a more convenient form for our children."
"Did you begin the project because the Dragon Council fears the dragons are dying out?"
Llasnala immediately shook her head. “Not something for you to worry about child. The dragons are many and long-lived. Even if their species is fading, it may be thousands of years before it disappears altogether. As I say, we have plenty of time." She gave Tamilla a reassuring, grandmotherly smile.
“Did a record of the books ever exist?” Tamilla asked. “Did anyone ever keep a catalog of the knowledge in the past?"
Llasnala nodded. “You are a curious one, aren't you?" She didn't look displeased. If anything, the twinkle in her eye reminded Tamilla of a proud teacher. "There used to be an extensive catalog. Books referenced by subject, title, author, year, they were written, and the materials they were written on."
"Materials?" Tamilla asked. "Aren’t they all written on parchment?"
Llasnala shook her head. "No, indeed. The majority are. Some are etched in ancient materials from before mankind knew how to create fine parchment from animal skins. That skill didn't develop until around the time the Fire Covenant was first created."
"So what are the earlier books written on?" Tamilla asked, genuinely curious.
"Various things," Llasnala said. "Some are carved into wood or etched in metal. There are a few carved into dragon scales."
Tamilla turned toward Llasnala in surprise. "How does one carve something into a dragon scale?" She asked, her voice sounding shocked to her own ears. "They're harder than diamond."
Llasnala chuckled. "That is the question, isn't it? We don't know. It's a lost skill. A lost art."
“And what happened to the previous catalogues?” Tamilla asked.
“Bazmal destroyed most of the records,” Llasnala answered. “No one has attempted to reconstruct them until now.”
Tamilla nodded. The evil sorcerer Bazmal lived and died a thousand years ago. He’d done a great deal of damage to the world during his short, terrifying attempt at world domination. All children still learned stories of him in their youth.
Llasnala turned fully to Tamilla and waved a hand dismissively. “Much as I would love to keep discussing history with someone who obviously loves it as much as I, we must begin your test. Your name is Tamilla, correct?”
Tamilla nodded, embarrassed to realize she’d never introduced herself. Worms wriggled in her stomach. She suppressed them.
"I'm told you already completed your Coin Test. Is this correct?" Llasnala asked.
"It is, lady Llasnala," Tamilla ducked her head respectfully.
"Good," Llasnala nodded. "The structure of the Spark of Knowledge test is similar to the Coin, but the way you discern the spark will be different."
Tamilla frowned. "What you mean?"
"Just as with the Coin Test, in this test, you must find a particular book. It will call to you. You can wander anywhere you want in the library, all the way down to the catacombs, if you so desire. What I meant is, when the Spark of Knowledge calls to you, it will feel different than what the Spark of Coin felt like.
Tamilla turned the information over in her head. The Spark of Coin felt like a pulsing energy. And yet, she failed the test. So perhaps what she felt had been wrong anyway.
“Can you tell me what the sensation will be when the Spark of Knowledge calls to me?" Tamilla asked.
Llasnala shook her head. "I cannot. It is something you must discern on your own."
Tamilla nodded. She hadn't truly believed Llasnala would be able to tell her. After three tests, she’d begun to get a feel for how they worked.
"Like the Coin Test," Llasnala continued, “you'll be given one hour to search for the book. If you bring me the correct volume before the hour is up, you pass the test. If not, you fail." She gave Tamilla another grandmotherly smile. "Your hour begins now.”
Tamilla immediately moved forward, striding through between the shelves of books in front of her.
During the Coin Test, she acted extremely hesitant. She wondered afterward if it contributed to her failure. Today, she decided to be aggressive, searching actively and anxiously for the book that would help her pass the test and join the Order of the Dragon Vigil.
She walked up and down the aisles, sweeping her eyes over the endless tomes of knowledge. Minutes later, she felt something
It truly did feel different than the Coin Test. Where that had felt like pulsing energy, this felt more like heat. A small, intense ball of heat. It felt like it came from beneath her shoes. It must be on one of the lower levels. Llasnala specifically mentioned the lower levels, after all. Perhaps she meant it as a hint.
Tamilla ran to the far end of the room, opposite the place she entered, where earlier she’d seen the wooden railing. As it turned out, a passage sloped downward along the far side of the room. A ramp, leading downward and invisible from the entrance as it sank swiftly below ground level. Sconces decorated the walls periodically along the ramp, but it didn’t feel nearly as light or cheery as the main room of the library.
Still, Tamilla didn't hesitate. She glanced around to make certain she didn’t stand directly in Llasnala’s line of sight, and none of the other patrons glanced her way either. Then she abandoned propriety and ran down the ramp toward the second level. After all, with three tests down and only two more after this, she was running out of tests to fail.
When she reached the second level, the ramp forked. The left branch took her onto a level path leading into the second level of the Library. The path to the right descended deeply again, down toward the third level, she assumed. Tamilla turned left. The second level, much like the ramp, looked both dimmer and emptier than the first level. Fewer sconces lit the walls here, and she didn’t see any patrons at all. Still, the second level, directly below the first, appeared to hold the same number of volumes. Vast and stuffed full of knowledge, the ceilings loomed slightly lower here, but still sat far above Tamilla’s head.
As she ventured between rows of shelves, she even noticed areas where thin lines of dust had gathered from misuse.
Tamilla focused on the heat she felt earlier on the upper level. It took her a moment to locate it again. When she did, she realized it still lay below her shoes. This wasn’t the correct level. Silently berating herself for not realizing it earlier, she made her way back to the ramp and took the path to the right, heading down to the next level.
The third level proved much like the second, except with fewer sconces and more dust. The air felt ever staler as she descended. This time, she waited on the ramp until she located the heat. It still felt like it came from below. Tamilla descended, level by level. Each level grew dimmer, as the number of lit sconces diminished. The air grew closer, the smell of mothballs and dust mites stronger, and the layer of dust on the floor deepened.
She finally reached a fork where the left branch led, as the others had, into this level of the Library. The one to the right reached into utter blackness. Someone tied a thick, dusty rope across the path, as though it were off limits. Directly in front of the rope sat a small, wooden table with two candles atop it. A single, tiny, lit sconce hung on the wall above the table. The guttering light from that sconce didn’t penetrate the darkness beyond.
Tamilla searched for the heat she’d felt before, praying she’d now feel it out in front of her, on this level, rather than down below. To her dismay, it still felt like it came from lower in the earth. She studied the roped-off passage and, for the first time, felt unsure. She assumed descending through the levels of the library was part of the test, but did they mean her to go down this far, and into an area obviously blocked off?
Tamilla hesitated, her head swiveling between the dark passage and back the way she’d come, undecided. She couldn’t be certain what level she’d reached. Eight? Ten? She’d lost count.
If she didn’t find that book, she would ultimately fail the test. Perhaps this was part of it too: finding the courage to venture into the darkness after needed knowledge. Perhaps they never lit the level below this one because no one went down there. It would be a waste of resources. Or, perhaps they purposely put the lights out to be part of her Ordeal.
Tamilla decided to be bold with this test. No reason to change her strategy now.
Picking up one of the candles—a tall, slender pillar of wax jammed into a candle saucer—Tamilla lit it from the guttering sconce and carefully ducked under the rope.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Giveaways, Excerpts, Free Audiobooks and Pretzels!!!

Good morning!
How is your Friday shaping up? So I've been totally neglecting my blog for the years? I'm going to start trying to post on it some more. I used to post mostly for writers, and I'd like to continue that somewhat. But I'll probably only do articles for writers once or twice a month. The rest will be more like book news for my books and fun things for my readers.
First, let’s not neglect our National Pretzel Day! That's right! Today, the nation celebrates pretzels, lol. Now, being paleo, I can't eat regular pretzels, but this worked out really well because, even before going paleo, my favorite kinds of pretzels were the soft variety.

And guess what? I just happen to have a great recipe for keto soft pretzels. I'd been planning to make these for dinner one night this week anyway. So I guess tonight's the night. Wish me luck! What's your favorite kind of pretzel?
Book news:
Historical Romance:
I’m giving away two copies of Citadels of Fire on Amazon. So if you haven’t yet, click HERE to enter. The winners will be chosen today (giveaway ends at midnight) and announced in the next newsletter.
If you don’t win, no worries. I will be doing another promotion on this book in the next month or so and you’ll have another chance to get a copy. But why not try for one of these two in the mean time?
Also, if you’re a big historical romance fan, join THIS FACEBOOK GROUP! It's called the "Loving Historical Romance: Readers Group."

Lots of historical romance authors post in there, and they do tons of giveaways and promos. Might be a great place to win more free books! And it’s just lots of fun in general!
Crime Fiction:
So I FINALLY got The Botanist audiobook out. You can see it HERE. The narrator, Larry Oblander, is super great!
Remember, if you don’t have an audible account, you can get this book for free. For any new account, they give you a free book. So you can open an account with a new email address and then get the Botanist for free.
If you already have an audible account, I do need some reviews, specifically on Audible for the audiobook. (They’re separate from Amazon reviews on the ebook). So if you’re interested in getting a free copy of The Botanist audiobook, put your information in HERE. I have a handful of free codes to give out. Keep in mind, the codes will be first come, first served. I only have a limited number to give away, so get yours now!
Still working hard on Event Horizon (Interchron #4). I’m looking at 4-6 weeks for the new release date. Stay tuned. But today, I have a funny transcription story for you from Event Horizon.
Most of you know I used Dragon Software to dictate my writing. I find I can write faster using this software. I basically just speak my chapters into a recorder and then the software transcribes it for me. Though this method is faster for me, it comes with its own challenges. Often the software doesn’t pick up what you say correctly, so you definitely have to go through and edit the transcription even before you edit the writing. I’ve had some seriously hysterical transcription errors. I wanted to share this one with you.
The line was meant to say:
“This spying method is new to all of us.”
The software transcribed it as:
“This spanking method is new to all of us.”
I swear I didn’t say that into the recorder. (That would be a completely different kind of dystopian novel, now wouldn’t it? 😉)

Story/Writing Tip:
I don’t know if you’ll all find this interesting, but I suppose you could say it goes to my process for writing stories.
I’ve had some interesting experiences lately involving a member of my family. For the sake of privacy protection, we’ll call him Bob and call him a “good friend.” He and his girlfriend—we’ll call her Julie—had a very tempestuous relationship and after hearing a few of their fights (not the most fun thing to listen to) I started to overanalyze their relationship and interactions with each other. (I’m a writer. I do that.)
By analyzing their behavior, I drew some interesting conclusions. Julie had stronger feelings for Bob than he had for her. How could I possibly know this from outside observation, you as? By analyzing their outside behavior.

  1. Bob always seemed angry when Julie was around, and especially if she showed up without calling. He seemed reserved and tense around her. When she wasn’t around, he was much more laid back and casual.
  2. He often treated her badly—just got angry and had mean words for her. That told me that he didn’t truly like spending time with her and didn’t really want her around.
  3. She kept coming back, despite the negative treatment, and despite others around her admonishing her that she didn’t need to put up with that type of treatment.
  4. Anytime they were alone together, they were almost instantly fighting, screaming, swearing at one another. I’m sure they didn’t do that in the presence of others in order to not make a scene in front of others, but it really shouldn’t b that way. Anyone in a healthy relationship knows that time alone should be the best of the relationship. Sure, everyone argues sometimes, but it shouldn’t be a screaming fight EVERY time it’s just the two of you.
  5. Bob started to engage in destructive behavior that had nothing to do with the relationship. Things like spending time with friends and not letting Julie know, not holding down a job, drinking more, etc. The conclusion I drew from this was that he was trying to drive her away. I couldn’t be sure until the relationship ended, but I felt like he wanted her to leave so he kept doing things he knew she wouldn’t like. I got some validation on this point when the relationship ended (and not particularly well) and suddenly Bob held down a job with no problem, drank less, and became a born-again responsible dude.
So why I am I telling you all this? I get a lot of questions about my process and how I come up with things. Obviously this relationship wouldn’t be a template for a romantic relationship in a romance novel, but I still learned a lot about unhealthy relationships from it.

I suppose you could say that by people-watching and people-analyzing, I learn a lot about human behavior and incorporate it into my writing.

(From my WIP, Dragon Magic)
Following Zendu down the staircase, she wondered if he meant to walk through the water below. He didn’t. A sharp right turn through a doorway at the base of the stairs led them into a second garden room, this one much smaller than the first. Tamilla doubted more than twenty people could fit comfortably here, and not more than one small dragon.
Here, water did not cover the floor. Rather, black soil reached all the way into the corners, with a variety of plants and shrubs shooting out of it and reaching for the ceiling. From the doorway where Tamilla and Zendu entered, a stone path, made of lovely round flagstones, all with dragons carved into them, wound through the soil and plants in a zig-zagging pattern.
On the far side of the room lay a strip of stone floor where nothing grew. It led to a larger stone staircase than the one Tamilla descended to reach this room. At its top sat a pair of heavy-looking, wooden double doors.
“May I ask where that leads, Master Zendu?” Tamilla asked pointing to the double doors.
“To the Dragon Council Chamber, where the Dragon Council conducts all their official business.”
Tamilla frowned. She saw wide double doors leading to that chamber when she first arrived. How did this lead to the same place?
Seeing her expression, Zendu smiled. “This is a back entrance. The bigger entrance is needed mostly for when the Companions wish to be present for the meetings.”
As though his words were a summons, the sound of a door opening reached Tamilla’s ears. She turned toward the sound but saw nothing other than a thick wall of green foliage. If a door lay behind it, she could not discern where.
Three men appeared on the stone path leading to the Dragon Council chamber. The first wore the armor of the Dragon Vigil guard. Tamilla recognized Sir Heatherhart, whom she met and spoke with her first night in the Roost. He kept his eyes straight ahead now, not appearing to notice her or Master Zendu.
The third man wore the same armor, obviously another guard. The man between them, whom they seemed to be escorting, had white hair and wore dusty, travel-stained clothes. He looked short—not more than a hand taller than Tamilla—and so much dust covered his shirt, britches, and cloak, he might have recently ridden through a dust storm.
A small bald spot adorned the apex of his head. His leather boots reached to above his knee and his shirt strained across his slightly rounded belly. Deep lines covered his face and he walked slowly, as though exhausted.
Tamilla wondered who he was.
The three of them reached the base of the staircase leading up to the Dragon Council chamber before the short, white-haired man froze. Frowning, he turned slowly to survey the room.
His eyes struck her as strange, though she didn’t know why. Wisdom and knowledge stared out from his face, though, heightening her curiosity. His gaze quickly fell on Zendu and Tamilla, and he scrutinized her. Not Zendu. Only her. He frowned as if studying some oddity on the road.
Tamilla dropped her eyes, and shifted her weight from one foot to another, uncomfortable being the object of such focused scrutiny.
Sir Heatherhart stomped up three of the stone steps before seeming to realize his charge no longer followed. He turned to stare down at the older man, then followed his gaze to where Zendu and Tamilla stood. When his eyes focused on Tamilla, they widened in recognition and surprise.
Without a word, the white-haired man turned and ascended the stairs. When he moved up them, Heatherhart turned and continued as well, casting one more curious glance in Tamilla’s direction. The three of them disappeared through the door and into the Dragon Chamber without a word.
Feeling distinctly unsettled, Tamilla glanced at Zendu, who frowned after the three men as well. "Odd," he murmured.
Tamilla didn’t know whether to feel better or worse, given Zendu’s reaction. If he thought it strange too, she wasn’t crazy. Then again, why did the man stare that way? Why did all these strange things keep occurring?
“Who was he, Master Zendu?” she asked meekly.
“Rider Hanley,” Zendu answered. “A dragon rider of legend. He’s traveled in the Order’s name since he was few years younger than you. Since he first bonded with his Companion. In his old age, he keeps mostly to the headquarters of the Dragon Vigil in the city. I wonder what he’s doing here.”
Zendu’s voice trailed off and she recognized genuine curiosity in it.
Zendu shook himself a moment later and turned to her. "Well, no matter. Let's begin, shall we?”
Time for the test. Time to prove herself. Tamilla’s butterflies returned with a vengeance, along with the thoughts from this morning.
“What’s the point of all this? You aren’t good for anything else.” She tried to squash them.
"I will first show you what to do and you will try to replicate it,” Zendu said. “Very simple."
Zendu walked to a nearby shrub and picked two small leaves off it. Returning to where Tamilla stood, he knelt on the ground in the dark brown soil and motioned for her to do the same.
Using his index and middle fingers, he dug a hole. Though only the size of a small coin, Zendu made it nearly a hand deep. He dropped one leaf into it—placing the other on the ground beside him, as if in reserve for a later time—and covered the first with soil.
Placing his palms, one on top of the other, atop the soil, he closed his eyes.
"One gifted with the Dragon Spark for Gardening helps the plants grow and nurtures life within the Garden,” he said, eyes still closed. "You must simply will the seedling to grow.”
“Forgive me, Master Zendu,” Tamilla ventured, feeling confused. “But it isn’t a seedling, or even a full cutting. It’s only a leaf.”
Zendue opened his eyes with a smile. “Ah, but that’s the point. It would be difficult to get such a thing to flower by conventional methods. If you can use the Spark of Gardening to do so, then you’re fated to spend your life in this garden.” He closed his eyes again. “Send your love, your positive thoughts, your nurturing, and call to it in your mind and your heart. Simply say to it, ‘grow for me.’" He opened his eyes with a smile and lifted his palms from the ground.
Tamilla, concentrating on his face and words, took a few seconds to look down. She gasped. Sprouting from the ground where Zendu’s hands rested a moment before stood a tiny green sapling. Its thin, green arm reached up from the soil perhaps three fingers in height. Tamilla even identified offshoots where it would form leaves.
"You see?" Zendu said. "Very simple."
"Simple and miraculous," Tamilla muttered, feeling awed.
Zendu smiled warmly at her. "Very true."
"So," Tamilla ventured. “If it doesn’t grow, I fail the test?"
Zendu nodded his approval. "Yes. Anything planted in the rich soil of this garden will grow anyway, in a more conventional time frame. If you have the Spark, it will respond to your call. If it does not, you simply do not have the Spark for Gardening."
Tamilla nodded. "Must I shut my eyes?"
Zendu nodded. "I recommend it, yes. Those who become master Gardeners do not do so. Eventually, you hone your magic until small tricks like this are unnecessary. I recommend it for those taking the test because it will help you to focus, feel the magic of the Garden and interact with it without visual distractions."
Zendu picked up the second leaf from the ground by his knee and handed it to her. Tamilla took it gingerly in her hand. Doing exactly as she’d seen him do, she dug a small, yet deep hole and dropped the leaf in, covering it with soil afterward. Then she placed her palms gently onto the soil.
Zendu sat back on his knees and folded his hands in his lap. Obviously, he didn’t plan to walk away from Tamilla as Brinave did during the Coin test. Tamilla supposed she needed to wander for that test, which she didn’t for this one.
"You may begin," Zendu said.
Taking a deep, calming breath, Tamilla closed her eyes.
The sound of another door opening reached her ears, followed by slow, heavy steps making their way down the stone staircase.
When she opened her eyes, Zendu frowned at something above and behind her. Tamilla turned to follow his gaze.
The old man—Rider Hanley—made his way slowly down the staircase, this time without either of his guards.
"Master Zendu,” the old man’s voice sounded gravelly, but not overly deep. “Might I observe the administration of this test?"
Tamilla looked askance at Zendu.
He frowned in confusion. "Of course, Rider Hanley. May I ask why you wish to?"
Hanley made it to the bottom of the stairs and stepped off the pathway and into the soil. “I'm visiting from the Order's headquarters to speak with the Council. They aren't ready for me yet. Spending some time in the Garden will do me good, and it’s been some time since I watched this test be administered.”
Zendu turned to Tamilla. "You're the one being tested. If you are uncomfortable, you can say no. What do you think?”
Tamilla studied Rider Hanley. A grandfather of a man, his eyes held wisdom and gentleness. If someone told her this morning a Dragon Rider would watch her take the test, Tamilla might have collapsed in a bundle of nerves. Now, staring into Hanley's eyes, she found he did not make her nervous in the least. She didn’t know why not.
"He may observe. I don't mind."
She sent all the love and nurture and positivity she could muster into the leaf hiding beneath the soil.
Grow for me. Please grow for me. I want to see you. I want you to pop up and show your lovely green face. Please grow for me.
What if this didn’t work? What if she failed this test too? Tamilla struggled to force thoughts of inadequacy from her head. They clawed their way back in. With them came Petryn’s stinging words.
“What’s the point of all this? You aren’t good for anything else."
Petryn came after Randall. She’d thought him a potential future-husband as well. Their relationship lasted less than one turn of the moon. Far shorter than her relationship with Randall. It ended abruptly the night he kissed her under the poplar tree. It was their first kiss, but he immediately wanted more, running his hands over her hips and reaching for the ties on her skirt.
At first, when she pushed him away, he laughed and simply tried to cajole her. When she rebuked him more sternly, saying she wouldn't do that until they were married, he grew angry. Putting his hands on her shoulders, he shoved her backward into the trunk of the tree. Bruises sprouted on her hands and arms the next day. "If you won’t give up your maidenhood, what's the point of any of this? You’re not good for anything else,” he’d grated.
“I…” she sputtered. “I know how to thatch roofs.” Even to her, it sounded silly.
Petryn’s laugh dripped with scorn. “The Thatchers have other children to do that. Boys with large hands. You’re too pretty to have any skill with your hands. Die an old maid, for all I care.”
He left her in the moonlight and she slid down the tree’s trunk, sobbing.
No! The entire point of coming here was to change her world, which included her thoughts. Petryn didn’t bother to address—or probably even consider—the power of Tamilla’s mind, which still angered her.
Unpleasant though the experience had been, it proved a large part of what brought her to this moment. There must be a reason life led her here.
She refocused on the leaf beneath her palms. Please, grow for me. I want to see your face. Please grow for me. Push your way up here and see the sun.
The energy of the Garden abruptly changed. Rather, it grew more intense, almost as though a wind blew through the Garden, yet it didn’t.
A soft whisper reached Tamilla’s ears. It sounded faraway and faint. Tamilla strained to hear what the whisper said. The more she strained, the louder the whispers became, as though she called them closer by sheer force of will.
She is one of them, one whisper said.
One of them is in the Garden, another exclaimed, sounding shocked.
Tamilla wondered who or what they meant.
Can she hear us? asked a third, slightly higher pitched whisper.
I don’t know. She thought that came from the second voice again.
Her eyes snapped open. Zendu’s hand rested on her shoulder. Both he and Hanley watched her closely. Tamilla peeked down at her hands, which still rested on the soil. She didn't feel anything different, but she'd been completely absorbed in listening to those voices. Surely the voices she heard proved she harbored the Gardening Spark. Looking down expectantly at her hands, she drew them away.
No green sapling sprouted from the brown soil. Tamilla’s heart fell.
Zendu gave her a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry, my child. It seems you do not have the Gardening Spark."
Tamilla's shoulders slumped.
"Oh, do not be so discouraged," he smiled encouragingly. “You have three more tests to take. I'm sure you'll do better on one of them."
Tamilla nodded, noting he’d used the same phrasing Brinave did. Perhaps they always said it to candidates who didn’t pass.
"Come,” Zendu said gently. “I will take you back to Bertome. He will escort you to your quarters."
Feeling bitterly disappointed, Tamilla rose to her feet and followed Zendu as he led her toward the door to the larger garden room.
"Curious," Hanley said from behind her.
Tamilla and Zendu turned together.
"What is it, Rider Hanley?" Zendu asked.
Hanley’s palm rested on the ground where Tamilla's had been a minute before.
"The ground is frozen."
Tamilla frowned. “How?" she asked. The fleeting thought ran through her that perhaps he referred to something beyond her control and they’d allow her to retake the test.
"I don't know," Hanley admitted. "It must have been something you did."
Tamilla realized her hopes of being allowed to retake the test made her overlook something obvious. At the start of her test, she dug into the soil to bury the leaf. The ground hadn't been frozen then. So why did it freeze by the end?
Both Hanley and Zendu studied her speculatively, much the way Brinave did several days before. Tamilla became self-conscious.
“I shall think on it,” Hanley finally said. He looked at Tamilla. “For now, you may go.”
Zendu shrugged and turned to lead Tamilla out. Tamilla followed him. As they reached the staircase and turned, she cast a glance back at Hanley. He still knelt on the ground, watching her go.

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