Hi peeps, we have Xenia Melzer stopping by today with her upcoming fantasy release Ummana, we have a brilliant guest post and a great excerpt, so check out the post and enjoy! <3 ~Pixie~
In war, loss is the price of victory, and the cost of love is sometimes pain.
After Renaldo and Casto finally celebrate their marriage, the time has come for revenge against the followers of the Good Mother who tried to kill Casto—though this time, the Gods of War won’t use bloodshed to take Medelina.
As a member of the Confederation of the Plains, Medelina answers to Ummana, the head of the alliance… and Casto is heir to the throne of Ummana. Accompanied by their most capable mercenaries, Canubis and Renaldo travel to Ummana to make Casto king.
They’ll face the Council of Elders, Lord Aran, Casto’s father, and Princess Anesha, Casto’s sister—none of whom are happy about the king’s return. For Casto, the city is a reminder of a terrible childhood, and Renaldo can only helplessly watch his beloved fight a seemingly hopeless battle.
Through trickery and political scheming, vengeance against the Good Mother is finally within their grasp—but their success might be bittersweet. Not everyone will return to the Valley with Casto and Renaldo.
Release date: 4th July 2017
Pre-order: DSP Publications ebook | DSP Publications paperback | Amazon
After Love and the Stubborn was released, I got many comments on how badly Sic was treated in the book, how unfair it was, and how cruel. And readers were right. Sic’s journey is a thorny one and I often have problems writing it down because I feel sad for him, especially knowing what still lies ahead.
I can’t say too much about what is happening in Ummana (don’t want any spoilers), but I want to assure my readers that things are starting to look better for Sic.
So why do I put him through so much pain and injustice? To me, Sic is my purest character, one who has been dealt the worst hand possible right from the start and who still manages to retain an optimistic innocence the other characters lack (perhaps with the exception of Daran, but he comes from a different background). He hasn’t become hard and bitter like Casto, who lashes out at the slightest provocation. To me, Sic is a study in how far forgiveness can go and if it can make a person happy.
The society we live in has punishment measured. If you do that, the punishment is a certain amount of money to be paid, or a certain time served in prison, or even death in some countries. What kind of punishment fits a crime is constantly discussed and negotiated. In medieval times, (and till today in some states) a thief loses his hand when caught. From our modern point of view this is barbaric, especially when the thief only steals because he or she is hungry and desperate.
Punishment is – usually- regulated by the government, which is a good thing. If people were to decide about punishment themselves, the same crime could end with the loss of a limb or a pat on the head and instant forgiveness, depending on the character of the victim. Some people would happily have a thief’s hand hacked off for stealing from them, others would feel pity and perhaps even try to help better the thief’s situation.
My point is that people deal with violations differently, according to their character and experiences in life. Some people forgive easily, because they don’t have it in them to hate, others can hold a grudge over a minor incidence for their entire lives.
Ana-Darasa is a brutal world. I don’t sugarcoat slavery, because it is bad and I always feel that writing about it as if things are basically okay because all the masters are bound to a code of conduct is, to me, a lie. There are brutal masters and indifferent masters and kind masters. Most of the slaves in the Pack are not happy with being slaves, but their lives are bearable. Daran is happy, because his masters spoil him rotten and he’s in love with them. To him, becoming a slave meant the end of all the worries he had. Casto is an impossible slave. He’s the type who isn’t bound, even when he’s wearing chains.
Sic has grown up as a slave and knows no other life. That he was saved by Noran when he was a child only complicates their relationship. And yes, the things Noran did to him were horrible and wrong and I hated writing them down. They are both prisoners not only of the society they grew up in, but of their character and life experiences as well. And what they have gone through until now will shape all their future decisions in the series. Many of those decisions are important to the plot, which is why I put such emphasis on the things that happened to Sic.
His journey has just begun.
THE DAY the Pack celebrated the wedding of Lord Renaldo, the Angel of Death, with his heart, Prince Castolus of Ummana, dawned in splendid glory. The sun’s rays cut through the chilly air like swords ripping an enemy’s body apart, and they transformed the snow into a sparkling carpet of diamonds.
Excited anticipation ruled over the huts, the stables, and the main building. Even the slaves were affected by the nervous energy permeating the morning.
In Frankus’s chambers, Casto stood in front of a huge, almost man-sized mirror and studied his body that, in only a few hours, would be scarred in the most barbaric way imaginable. Behind him, Frankus was busy arranging all kinds of oils and ointments on a table. While doing this, he kept rambling on in hushed tones.
“I explicitly told you to drink some wine so you could have a good night’s rest. But why listen to somebody who’s had as much experience with weddings as me? You had to brood the entire evening, as if today wasn’t the happiest in your life. You probably wanted to put my skills to the test, didn’t you?”
Completely unfazed by the scolding, Casto kept staring at himself in the mirror. Since he had fled from Ummana, his body had changed dramatically. During his year on the run, he’d still resembled a child, with the long, slender limbs of a newborn foal, though showing signs of his later build. After the Barbarian had taken him prisoner, the awkward adolescent body had transformed into a muscular, elegant weapon already forged in battle.
His skin was still as flawless and soft as back then, the studs in his flesh the only difference. Of course Frankus was right; he had seen better days, ones without those dark circles beneath his eyes that told of a night spent in useless musings. Then again, how often did one marry a god? If anything, those circles were well-earned.
Frankus pushed him away from the mirror, prying him from his useless pondering. “To the bath! You’ve got half an hour to clean yourself. Then we’ll see what I can make of this disaster.”
Without a word of protest, Casto obeyed Frankus, knowing that the man was probably even more nervous than Casto himself. The wedding was important in more than one respect, and Frankus was aware of all the implications that came with it.
The warm water managed to soothe Casto a little, and his thoughts went back to the day he fled from Ummana.
Most of his memories about that night were blurred because he had been so emotionally high-strung, not knowing what would become of him when he left the only home he’d ever known. The one thing he could remember clearly was the agitating mixture of wild triumph and utter fear swamping his senses as Lys galloped through the storm he had summoned.
At that time, Casto had been used to the feeling of being powerless. His father and Voltara, the torturer, had seen to that. While the gusts tugged at his cloak as if they wanted to tear him apart, Casto had experienced what it was like to control such powers through his connection with Lys. The ambiguity of those emotions left a deep impression on him, one that had influenced his actions more than he wanted to admit.
Now, too, he felt as if he were riding a storm, but this time he was alone, without Lysistratos to calm and protect him. And it wasn’t an escape either, or at least, not a proverbial one. It was a step—no, a leap—into a whole new life that would permanently sever him from his past. Perhaps it would even banish the demons still haunting him—or so Casto hoped.
At the end of that day, he would be the mate of a barbarian god from the North. This fact would shape and change everything Casto had ever been, his entire personality. His whole identity was going to be created anew, not by him, but by the people around him. By the way they looked at him. It hadn’t been easy becoming who he was, and Casto wondered whether he could make that change a second time. He was deeply afraid of losing himself to the Barbarian, of drowning in a different kind of helplessness.
Renaldo was just too much of everything, too intense—which was also the reason Casto loved him.
When he was honest with himself, all these thoughts were idle, an endless repetition of fears that he hoped to escape today. Becoming the mate of a man as overbearing and dominant as Renaldo would help him slay those demons from his past. Determined, Casto left the bath to let Frankus take care of him.
An hour later, Kalad and Aegid arrived to escort Casto to the main hall. The desert warriors were wearing identical clothes dyed in a vibrant dark green, their personal color. The seams of their shirts, as well as the jerkins, were embroidered with golden threads; their heavy coats and black boots were lined with otter fur. Both men had superb ceremonial swords tied to their hips and golden vambraces decorated with emeralds strapped to their arms. They bowed to Casto, and he was almost sure they meant it. With those two, one could never tell.
“You’re stunning, Casto.” Kalad’s voice was full of unrestrained admiration.
Casto wore dark blue silk trousers that caressed his body like a lover’s touch. His black boots, dyed blue at the seams, were made from mountain deer leather lined with rabbit fur. The cream-colored shirt and dark blue jerkin with golden embroidery told Renaldo’s story in the runes of the Ancients, and were also made of silk. Casto’s eyes, highlighted by kohl, looked almost innocent in this getup. His wheat-blond hair was tamed by a broad leather strap, and the ends dipped in gold dust made the light explode every time he moved.
The contrast between Casto’s stunning appearance and his contradictory character posed a deception Aegid deemed fitting on this important day. It emphasized how perfectly suited the young man was to become Renaldo’s mate.
“Just now I’m regretting we weren’t able to defeat Renaldo five years ago.” There was a hint of longing in Aegid’s voice.
“My words, brother.” Kalad grinned.
“Perhaps you want to rethink your decision, Casto? We would take good care of you.”
Only a few weeks ago, that saucy comment would have made Casto furious for two reasons: that he was regarded as a trophy, and the implication that back then he had chosen slavery freely. Luckily for Kalad, Casto had learned to see the words for what they were, a compliment wrapped in good-humored banter.
He bowed to them in mockery. “It would be my pleasure. But it would be your task to explain to a notoriously short-tempered and jealous god why the object of his desire has chosen to elope with two male hookers.”
The desert brothers made indignant faces.
“Uh, that hurt. Hookers? I’d call us sexually open-minded.” Kalad grinned when he said this, fully aware of his and Aegid’s reputation.
Casto snorted. Kalad’s and Aegid’s promiscuity was legendary within the Pack. “Please, when we first met, you were changing your bed partners so fast you didn’t even bother learning their names. You were worse than the Barbarian!”
“That’s not true—not entirely.” Kalad managed to let his voice sound hurt, although the twinkling in his eyes betrayed his amusement. “And since we’ve met Daran, we’re fidelity incarnated.”
“It’s the truth!” Aegid came to his brother’s aid. “The little thief is special in many ways. Ever since we got him, I haven’t longed for diversion.”
Casto rolled his eyes. He would never admit how much he enjoyed their relaxed bickering. Among all the warriors of the Pack, Kalad and Aegid came closest to what Casto would have wished for as brothers. “All right, I understand. You’re the embodiment of sexual fidelity and devotion. Nevertheless, I have to decline your generous offer. I’m fully occupied with one self-righteous Barbarian and have no intention of trading that for double trouble. It’s my pleasure to leave that honor to Daran.”
Kalad and Aegid started laughing out loud. Their amusement was like a breath of fresh air to Casto’s tense mood.
“Then we better get you to your barbarian while you’re still determined. I’ve no intention to chase you through the snow should you get cold feet.” Aegid sounded a little too serious for comfort.
“Those I already have. Why does it have to be so cold today?”
Casto hadn’t planned to start lamenting, but he still resented the cruel irony that made the days with the most radiant sunshine those where the cold was especially biting. It almost seemed as if nature itself was having a good laugh at his expense.
Aegid and Kalad nodded in silent agreement. Aegid grabbed Casto’s wrist. “Let’s go. The sooner we start moving, the sooner you’re in the main hall, and if nothing else, it’s warm there.”
Beaten by this valid argument, Casto followed them out into the cold.
Xenia Melzer is a mother of two who enjoys riding and running when she’s not writing stories. She doesn’t like beer but is easily tempted by a Virgin Mojito. Or chocolate. Truffles are especially cherished, even though she doesn’t discriminate. As a true chocoholic, she welcomes any kind of cocoa-based delight.