Friday, May 18, 2018

THE RECKONING Cover Reveal and Prologue!

Hello everyone!  Earlier this week, I sent out my May newsletter which included the cover reveal and prologue for The Legend of Oescienne - The Reckoning!  In case you missed it, here they are!  The projected release date is June 16th, so mark your calendars and here's to hoping this final project stays on schedule!  And now, I present to you, the prologue for the final chapter in the Legend of Oescienne series.  Happy reading!


The Birth of a Leader
 Copyright (c) 2018 by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson

 cold breeze whispered across the vast tundra, ruffling the short, tough grass that grew there.  With the frigid sea and even colder mountains to the north and west, the gusts that danced across the Great Red Tundra of Ghorium made even the summer months almost unbearable.  And it was that relentless wind that now battered at the minds and nerves of the company of warriors who tried so desperately to capture what few precious moments of rest they could.  At some point in the night, however, exhaustion had finally won out.  Only a few hours stretched before dawn, and the war encampment was silent, not a single living thing stirring.  All, that is, except for the young soldier.

He lay there, listening to the low wailing of the wind as the stench of burning bodies and the freshly spilled blood of the battlefield stung his nose.  Not even the persistent cold had dampened the horrible smell, and it clung to him as assuredly as the red lichens clung to the broken rocks scattered across the plain.  Something else, however, had woken him from his fitful sleep, but he could not tell what.  A stray gust howling down the shallow river bed?  The sudden snort from one of his comrades fighting against dark dreams?  Or maybe a tundra predator, slinking through the night searching for an easy meal.  That last thought had him shivering.  The animals that dwelled in this part of the world were dangerous, no matter their size.  Yet, with plenty of fallen allies and enemies nearby, it made no sense for a predator to be hunting for live food.

The young man shifted, knowing these weren’t the reasons for his restlessness.  He had realized early on that his motive for traveling to Ghorium to fight the evil brewing there went beyond the typical duty any normal soldier was called to perform.  True enough, he had ventured east with his friends and allies to do his part in wiping the Tyrant and his accursed soldiers from the face of Ethöes.  But now that he had endured the horror of the battlefield, watched those same friends die beneath the enemy’s power and wrath, there was only one thing left he could do, if he wanted a chance for even the slightest glimmer of hope.

His was an important mission, one he had made in his heart mere hours ago.  One he could share with only a scant few he had sworn to secrecy.  A call to duty that required him to rise early and sneak away before his remaining friends realized he was gone. With swift efficiency, the warrior climbed to his feet and made ready for his task.  The sun was still hours from rising, but he used his instincts to guide the way as he tread quietly over the soggy, semi-frozen landscape of the northern wastes of Ghorium, trying desperately to block out the soft moans of the dying men, dragons, and beasts scattered for miles around him.  The haunting images lingering from the previous days rose up to torment him as he made his way ever northward.  With a shudder that rattled his teeth, he shook off the worst of them, playing his plan over and over again in his mind.  He had to succeed.  He must.  If not, then all would most definitely be lost.  After all, his plan wasn’t a complex one.  He just needed to buy them time.  Just a little more time …

Somewhere across the distance, a man screamed.  A final lament to Ethöes to spare him the pain of his passing?  A plea to give him a little more courage, a little more strength, so that perhaps he might rise at dawn to fight again?  Or perhaps just another tired soldier haunted by his own demons.  Whatever it had been, the spine-tingling screech stopped the young man short, his heart thundering in his chest, adrenaline coursing through his blood.  After several seconds, his feet fell into a quick pace once more, his body crouched low.

The dim light of several small fires, some kindled by the soldiers to keep warm, others the evidence of the Morli attack from the evening before, acted as beacons leading the way to the outer wall of Vruuthŭn, the black city where the enemy waited.  Vengeance and the driving need to help the people of Ethöes pushed him, where fear and fatigue would have caused another to give in.  With a single-minded focus, he climbed over one berm after another.

Finally, he reached his first destination: a larger pocket in the otherwise monotonous landscape.  Here, several of the men, fellow allies fighting for his cause, slept.  They all wore stained and tattered uniforms, some of them too old and gray to wage war, others younger than himself.  But they were here, along with countless others like them.  Fighting to defend their freedom, the freedom of Ethöes, even if they ought to be home in their cabins smoking a pipe by the fire with their grandchildren, or out pulling harmless, midnight pranks on their neighbors.  These men rested fitfully, their bodies tired but their minds always waiting for the next attack.

As he studied them, the soldier’s eyes fell upon a young man about his own age and height.  Perhaps it was the fact he lay curled up near the center of the group that caught his attention, or maybe it was that even in the dim light of predawn, he could see that this young man resembled him.  For several seconds, he studied the sleeping warrior, noting his dark blond hair and strong features.  He was perhaps a few inches taller than himself and a bit broader in the shoulders.  When they were both awake, standing side by side, people believed them to be brothers.  A smile curled at the corner of the soldier’s mouth as memories of their youth played through his mind.  The two of them had grown up in the same province, though they had come from very different families.  That fact hadn’t kept them from getting into mischief together, however.

Sighing against the remorse that threatened to push aside his determination, the soldier pressed his hand to his own chest, splaying his fingers.  The young man asleep on the cold ground below him was dressed in the simple rags of a stable hand, while he wore the fine clothing of a prince.

But war has made us equals, he thought.  Though I have always believed it, and so have you, war has so bitterly made it fact.  For no man, prince or peasant, can escape death, my friend.

A soft exhalation of breath snapped the restless soldier’s attention back to the present.  One of his comrades had awoken, his dark eyes trained on the young man standing over him.  He nodded once to the warrior, and the man silently roused five others.  The rest of them, including the sleeping figure in the middle of the group, were left undisturbed.  Seven fighters ghosted away from their makeshift camp and headed toward the base of the city a few miles away.  As they marched, the men gathered more willing fighters, those who woke to find the small party pressing forward with purpose, their own spirits inspired by the sight of the young warrior clad in armor emblazoned with the royal crest of Oescienne.  He could not turn them away, not when he sensed in them the same driving need to destroy the demon king who wished to enslave them.  This was it, he knew in his heart.  This was their final stand, and they would take it alone if they had to.  If they were lucky, if Ethöes smiled down upon them, their attack would come as a surprise, and they would gain the advantage while the rest of the army slept.

The sun peeked above the horizon in the east, a brilliant eye of red, its light a burning condemnation; an omen for what they were about to face.  At some point along their short journey, someone offered horses.  The young soldier took the reins and mounted blindly, his mind focused on one thing and one thing only.  He must destroy Cierryon, the monster who had killed his king.

The frozen fortress loomed in the distance, an impenetrable castle set high atop a mountain and guarded by a city full of enemy soldiers and Morli dragons.  He knew the odds were against them, but he was so very tired.  Tired of the pain.  Tired of the ache in his chest.  Tired of being surrounded by death and hopelessness.  He could endure it no longer.  So, he had decided to face this enemy on his own, with only those he trusted most by his side and those ready to scream their final battle cry.  As the rest of his army slept on, their dreams as black as his own, he guided his horse swiftly and silently across the barren landscape, the frozen mountains rising like the demonic visage of the god Ciarrohn in the distance.

Without warning, the scene shifted, and the young soldier was falling.  He braced for impact, wondering how he had been unseated from his horse, but the ground never came up to meet him.  Instead, he plummeted through a black void, and in a fierce moment of fear, he wondered if he’d been struck by an arrow shot from one of the Tyrant’s men.  Was this death, then?  He had so desperately hoped death meant the end of agony and fear, but the terror was just as strong now as it had been earlier.

Flashes of memory bombarded him as he fell, memories of the several bloody battles he’d fought so far.  Visions of his friends dying beside him, struck down by sword, spear, and axe, or incinerated by a blast of fire from one of the hideous Morli dragons overhead.  The Korli dragons on his side fought fiercely, but they were no match for the numerous Morli.  He screamed against the horror of it all, wondering what he had done in his mortal life to deserve such a tormented afterlife.

His body twisted in the void, and new memories flickered before him, only, these recollections hadn’t happened to him yet, had they?  Familiar, so very familiar, but so distant they seemed to be the afterthoughts of dreams from long ago.  His head filled with the sounds of metal clashing upon metal, the screams of men and horses and dragons.  He spun around and around and around, lost in this place that did not exist, until finally he caught a petrifying glance of the wicked, shadowy face of his enemy just as a searing pain sliced down the side of his face and neck.


Far away in Lidien, in a manor house nestled in the hills above the city, the Tanaan dragon Kehllor woke gasping for breath, only to curse when his head came into contact with a stone wall.  Growling, he lashed his tail in frustration, then gave a great sigh of relief.  Good.  Despite the slight headache his thrashing had caused, it had only been another dream.  There was no great battlefield littered with corpses, no relentless, ice-laced wind barraging his senses, no terrifying monsters manifesting around him.  While he waited for his blood to cool and his pulse to slow, Kehllor puzzled over the nightmare that had torn him so rudely from his rest.  He had no idea where the dream had come from, but it wasn’t a new one.  Well, that wasn’t entirely correct.  The scenes in this one differed from the others, but the theme had been a recurring one over the past several nights.  But why he would walk in that world as something other than a dragon was beyond him.  Pushing a blast of hot air through his nostrils, he tilted his head as he considered it.  The others in the dream, the ones that looked a lot like elves, seemed familiar somehow, but like the memories that haunted his sleep, he could not place them. 

A new sound, this one real and not imagined, disrupted his thoughts.  It was a soft rapping of knuckles against a wooden door.

“Master Kehllor?” a timid female voice inquired.  “Are you well?”

Ah, yes.  The dragon blinked rapidly, the sharp edges of the nightmare growing dull as his surroundings took shape.  A spacious, sparsely decorated study rose up around him.  There was a desk, large enough to accommodate a dragon, a small fireplace in one corner and bookshelves lining the walls on one side.  The space was comfortable and welcoming, despite the fact it did not belong to him.  This was the home of the dragon Raejaaxorix, and he had recently become its new tenant.  And clearly, he had fallen asleep in the study late the night before instead of making his way to the much more appropriate sleeping chamber.  That explained why he’d smacked his head against the wall in his haste to escape the dream.

“Master Kehllor?” the woman asked once again.

“I’m f-fine,” he managed, his voice a bit raspy.

“I heard sounds of distress,” the housemaid announced, her muffled words growing louder.

Kehllor gritted his teeth.  How embarrassing.  Hopefully, the woman hadn’t been too disturbed by his night terrors.  She had lived in this house with Jaax before him, after all, so surely she was used to dragonish ways.

Clearing his throat, Kehllor responded, “I’m well, Neira.  I have bad dreams from time to time.  Nothing to concern yourself with.”

There was a long silence, then what sounded like a huff of breath.  “Very well.  If you insist.”  The shuffle of the Nesnan woman’s footsteps heading back down the hall brought Kehllor some relief.  He wasn’t much one for holding long, or even short, conversations.  And the last thing he wanted after waking up from such a disturbing dream was to take part in a heart-to-heart with the overly-concerned housekeeper.

Kehllor struggled to shake the last vestiges of the dream from his mind.  The memory of it had faded, but the sense of unease clinging to his scales lingered.  Only time would take care of that, Kehllor thought, so he sat up and stretched his muscles, sore from spending the previous day checking the borders of Lidien with a few other dragons active in the Coalition.  It was now his duty to ensure the Crimson King’s soldiers stayed beyond the city’s magical boundaries.  They had moved in close, frighteningly so, but as far as Kehllor could tell, the ancient magic keeping their enemies at bay held, and no one had breached the walls.  He only hoped those boundaries remained strong.  Yet as much as he wished for the Tyrant’s loyal servants to disperse and be on their way, he secretly thanked Ethöes every day they continued to prod at the enchantment surrounding the city.  The longer they stayed distracted by Lidien’s power, the more time Jaax, Jahrra, and Ellyesce had to get as far away as they could.

Kehllor furrowed his brow as he counted back the days since his friends had fled the city.  One, maybe closer to two, months ago.  Surely they were in Nimbronia by now.  Had the trip been an easy one?  Or had some of the Tyrant’s soldiers slipped away to pursue them?  Kehllor could not know for sure.  If they could just reach the city of the Creecemind dragons before the Crimson King’s army caught up with them, then they would be safe once again.  At least for the time being.

The sweet melody of a songbird drew the golden dragon’s attention away from his reverie, and he glanced toward one of the study’s windows.  The diamond-paned panel was cracked open and through it he spotted the small creature, a heartsong sparrow, singing its hymn to the waking world.  Despite his troubled thoughts, Kehllor couldn’t help a reptilian smile.  He hoped the bird’s presence was a good omen.

The feathered creature finished one more chorus, then with a chirp, it leapt from the redwood branch it had been resting on and flitted off into the forest surrounding the hill.  Kehllor peered beyond the treetops and caught a glimpse of the great bay, the distant peninsula growing less gray as the morning’s sunlight flooded the world.

Taking a deep breath and letting it out through his nose, Kehllor stood and exited the study as quietly as he could.  If he remembered correctly, the Coalition would be meeting later in the morning, and his presence would be expected.  The Coalition of Ethöes had been convening more often of late, and although he loathed being around so many arguing and angry people, he understood the necessity for their frequent gatherings.  Jaax, their previous leader, had given up his position in order to flee the City of Light with Jahrra, the human girl foretold by the Oracles.  And they had not gone without a nice dose of controversy.  Before leaving Lidien, a rumor claiming Jaax to be a liar and his ward to be a fraud had spread like wildfire through the city.  And Shiroxx, the very dragon who had fostered Kehllor for so long, had played the lead role in stirring the pot.

Kehllor’s upper lip curled in disgust.  He knew the red Tanaan dragon was somehow responsible for spreading the lies, but he couldn’t prove it.  Besides, before leaving for Nimbronia, Jaax had dismissed her from the Coalition.  Unfortunately, he hadn’t dismissed her co-conspirator, Rohdann.  Although not as ruthless as Shiroxx, the black Tanaan dragon was her puppet.  He would do anything she asked, and he had a knack for turning suspicion away from himself.

The savory scent of cinnamon and butter distracted Kehllor enough to forget about Shiroxx and Rohdann and all his other worries for the time being.  He stepped out into the hallway and headed for the common room.  A fire burned brightly in the great hearth, and soft morning sunlight spilled in through the south-facing windows.  The common room was quite large, providing plenty of space for a dragon and his company.  Long tapestries, thick carpets, and stuffed furniture for the non-dragon guests decorated the space tastefully, complimenting the green-flecked flagstone floor and granite walls.  Kehllor took a moment to appreciate his current position in life.  For so many years, he had been under the thumb of Shiroxx, owing everything to her simply because he had not known any better.  He couldn’t remember much of his past before the red dragon found him wandering the desert region of the south.  Some traumatic experience had erased it from his mind, and if not for Shiroxx’s kindness, he’d have no life at all.

No, he corrected himself bitterly, it wasn’t out of kindness that Shiroxx found me and took me under her wing.  I’ve been nothing but an instrument to her.  A tool to be used to get what she wants.

It had taken Jahrra’s patient persistence to teach him that not everyone was his enemy and that there were such things as real friends to be had.  Despite all he had gained and learned in the past year, however, he couldn’t help but wonder where he had come from and what his life had been like before forgetting it all.  The dream, still lingering in the recesses of his mind, pushed its way forward once more.  He wanted to forget it, for it only made him anxious, yet he was also determined to puzzle it out.  Where had he been in that strange nightmare?  And why had he witnessed events from another’s eyes?  And what had been that terrifying presence he and his companions had been so determined to defeat?  Perhaps it was a vision of the past, or more likely, the future.  Could he be some sort of seer and not even know it?  And if that was the vision of the future, whose eyes had he been seeing this future through?

A cold dread filled his stomach as a new revelation occurred to him.  The demon in the dream.  Could it be the enemy that the Coalition, that Jaax and Jahrra, wished to defeat?  A terrifying visage of the Crimson King, perhaps.  Or more precisely, the demon-god who possessed the Tyrant’s body.  Why on Ethöes would Kehllor be dreaming about a battle with Ciarrohn?

With a shudder, the golden dragon cast the disturbing thought aside.  He would eat whatever wonderful breakfast Neira was preparing, then he’d venture into the city to listen to another long session of Nesnan and Resai diplomats bickering with one another.  The very thought made his back teeth ache.  He grew weary of staying put and doing nothing, but Jaax was counting on him to lead the Coalition.

“But we are getting nowhere,” he whispered aloud to no one.

Kehllor went over the past several Coalition meetings in his head, sifting through the information pouring from a variety of sources outside of Felldreim.  Checking the borders for weaknesses took off some of the edge, but as the dreams grew more vivid and more frequent, and as more evidence of the Tyrant’s growing power leaked in, Kehllor was beginning to feel trapped.  He was aware of the armies being forged throughout Ethöes, troops of soldiers and farmers and merchants alike, willing to fight against the evil growing in the east when the time came.  Anyone and everyone ready to defend the last threads of freedom the world possessed.  He also had an idea of their numbers, and those weren’t too impressive.  And there was no guarantee Jaax and Jahrra would convince the Creecemind to join their cause.  Without the ice dragons of the north, the Coalition and her allies stood no chance against the Crimson King’s army and his Morli dragons.

Kehllor ruminated over breakfast, then all the way to Essyel Hall in the heart of the city.  By the time he reached his place at the head of the massive meeting room, an idea had begun prickling at the back of his mind.  It was almost ludicrous, but the longer the Coalition’s new leader considered it, the more appealing it seemed.  He had spent much of his life in the southern part of the continent and had come to know the people who lived there.  People the rest of the world ignored.  But maybe, just maybe, these people understood the threat Cierryon posed as well.  And just like that, a plan blossomed to life.

“This could be the answer to our troubles,” he whispered under his breath as the great hall filled with boisterous Coalition members, “especially if it works.”

~ The epic conclusion arrives this June! ~

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Get to Know the Authors of Phoenix Comic Fest Booth #696

Hey everyone!  This Memorial Day weekend I'll be hanging out with some of my favorite people at Phoenix Comic Fest - fellow authors Jacob Devlin and Katie Salidas!  Before the event, I thought you might like to learn a little bit about these amazing authors, so I asked them five questions to help us all get to know them a little better ;) ...



When Jacob Devlin was four years old, he would lounge around in Batman pajamas and make semi-autobiographical picture books about an adventurous python named Jake the Snake. He is the author of THE CARVER and its two sequels, THE UNSEEN and THE HUMMINGBIRD. When not reading or writing, Jacob loves geeking out at comic book conventions, spoiling his niece, and blasting Italian rock music in his car. He does most of these things in southern Arizona.

1) Where are you from?
I've lived in Southern Arizona most of my life, but spent a few wonderful years in Virginia and consider it like a second home as well.

2) What do you write?
Most of my work (and everything I've published thus far) is MG/YA adventure fantasy. Usually my writing bends a fairy tale or legend somehow, and there's always a strong emphasis on familial love.

3) What are you working on right now?
I'm revising a middle grade adventure fantasy about two siblings who have to hunt down a dragon to rescue their uncle, a famous survivalist who knows everything about bears and nothing about leathery winged beasts.

4) Why do you write?
My mom used to read to me when I was in the hospital with Lymphoma as a
6-year-old, and every book was an escape. It still is for me. Reading, writing, creating opens up spaces for people of any age and any background to grow, heal, or dream.

5) Tell us some of your favorite things ...
Food. Especially brinner. I swear I eat breakfast for dinner more than I eat breakfast for breakfast.
Going to the movies! Especially if it's a new MCU movie.
Traveling and seeing new things.



Katie Salidas is a best-selling author known for her unique genre-blending style that led the award-winning Paranormal Dystopian Thriller: Dissension.

Host of the Indie YouTube Talk show, Spilling Ink, nerd, Doctor Who fangirl, Las Vegas Native, and SuperMom to three awesome kids, Katie gives new meaning to the term sleep-deprived.

Since 2010 she’s penned four bestselling book series: the Immortalis, Olde Town Pack, Little Werewolf, and the RONE award-winning Chronicles of the Uprising. And as her not-so-secret alter ego, Rozlyn Sparks, she is a USA Today bestselling author of romance with a naughty side.

1.) Where are you from?
Las Vegas

2.) What do you write?
Paranormal & Urban Fantasy

3.) What are you working on right now?
Super Secret project that will be revealed at Phoenix Comic Fest….

4.) Why do you write?
Because I have to tell a story.

5.) Tell us some of your favorite things ...
Raindrops on roses
And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things…..



Monday, April 23, 2018

NEW Legend of Oescienne - The Reckoning Snippet!

Howdy eager readers!  I know many of you have been waiting patiently for the release of the fifth and final book in the Legend of Oescienne series.  I have a date in mind, but I'm still keeping hush-hush about it until I get all my files back from my fabulous Beta Readers and my marvelous editor.  Once I get a chance to look at their suggestions, I might be able to lock in on that release date with more confidence.  Until then, I have another snippet for you!  Now, if you are signed up for my newsletter, then you should have received this sneak peek last week, but in case you missed it, here you go!  This is a scene featuring dialogue between our two main characters, Jaax and Jahrra, and I feel it sets the tone for a good portion of the book.  Enjoy and feel free to leave a comment telling me what you think!
- J.E. Johnson

The Legend of Oescienne
The Reckoning
Copyright (c) 2018 by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson

Snippet from:
Chapter Five
Rest, Revelry, and Rumination

As the evening stretched on, and as the elves began weaving their tales, Jahrra found their camaraderie did nothing to take the edge off her own restlessness.  After only two stories were shared, she stood up and moved to stand casually near the edge of the great circle of light cast by the bonfire.  When the third storyteller reached the exciting part of his tale, she slipped deeper into the darkness and headed toward the river’s edge.  A large rock ledge stretched out from the tall bank of the Hrwyndess and hung over the rushing water some thirty feet below.  She stepped out onto the slab of stone and turned her face upward.  Closing her eyes, Jahrra breathed in the rich, cool air and let the light of the silvery moon bathe her face.  What she wouldn’t give to take all her racing thoughts and shove them into a box where they couldn’t escape, if only for a few minutes.

A soft rustle broke into Jahrra’s moment of solitude, but she did not jump.  Instinct, or maybe just years of experience, told her who approached.

“You are missing some very good stories,” Jaax drawled from behind her.

Jahrra turned and gave him a half smile, not putting much effort into it.  So much for avoiding her friends for the rest of the night.  The fire some fifty yards away had grown larger, she noticed, taller than the dragon cast in shadow standing so close by.  Ale and more food was being passed around as well, and where she had left Dervit, some of the younger Hrunahn warriors had moved in.  From what she could tell, it was the limbit who was weaving the tales at this point, not the elves.  The upward curve to the corner of her mouth was more genuine this time, though her moment of joy did not last.

Jahrra turned back to face the rushing river below, not in the mood to take part in the merriment.  “I’ve heard all of Dervit’s tall tales before,” she replied.

Jaax arched a brow, attention narrowing in on his ward.  “Even the one about the piglet stuck in the fence?”

If the Tanaan dragon had hoped to cheer her up with his light tone, he was mistaken.  Jahrra continued to stand there on the ledge of granite, arms crossed, the heel of one boot propped up against a small boulder.  He knew when to leave her alone, and when she needed someone’s quiet presence.  In this case, it was the latter, though Jaax wasn’t too keen on remaining silent and Jahrra would never admit she needed him.

“You seemed rather withdrawn during dinner.  Care to talk about it?”

Jahrra shook her head, the river below mimicking her current mood.  Now he wanted to talk?  Despite her obvious desire to be left alone, Jaax wasn’t about to give up so easily.

“Jahrra,” he pressed, tone harder than before, “talk to me.  In a matter of weeks we’ll be in Dhonoara, preparing for war.  If anything is bothering you, now is the time to broach the subject.”

All he got in return was a derisive snort.  As if she didn’t already know all of this.  When he drew breath to speak again, Jahrra turned to look at him, the barest hint of desperation and fear dominating her expression.  The dragon went utterly still, his eyes holding hers.  He would not look away, not until she spoke her mind.  She needed to say whatever it was that bothered her, but whatever it was needed to be removed the way a thorn must be drawn from the skin.

“I can’t celebrate with you and Ellyesce and Dervit.  I can’t sit by that fire and laugh and joke and tell stories with the elves of Hrunah.  I don’t know how any of you can.”

There, she’d said it.  It hadn’t been about Ellyesce’s secrets earlier, and it hadn’t been about Jaax’s continued insistence on keeping her in the dark.  Those had only been catalysts to her fear; excuses for her to purge her soul of the dark emotions lingering there.  Only, her argument with Jaax and Ellyesce hadn’t assuaged her restlessness.  Not at all.

Jaax lifted his head, all humor gone from his face.  When he spoke, his voice was pitched low, but a gentle patience suffused his words.  “You cannot celebrate because you are having a hard time envisioning a future that will bring happiness.”

Jahrra whipped her head back around, then bent to pick up a stone.  She drew her arm back and launched it into the turbulent water below.

“We are walking directly into war, Jaax.  Death is almost guaranteed, especially for us.”  She indicated herself and her dragon guardian with a wave of her hand.  “The Crimson King will know of me by now, and he’ll know you travel with me.  I’m guessing he’ll know who Ellyesce is as well and Dervit ...” she trailed off, took a shuddering breath, then pressed on, “Dervit has been incredibly lucky so far.  All of us have been.  I don’t know how much longer our luck can hold out.”

Jaax hummed low in his throat, but said nothing.

“I don’t mean to sound cynical, and I hate that I’m fixated on what could go wrong, but the closer we get to whatever destiny Ethoes has planned for me, the more it grates at my nerves.”

“Jahrra, you have every right to feel that way.  And even though your destiny seems to have been preordained, you still have a say in which choices you will make each day.”

Jahrra sighed, then fell into a crouch, arms wrapped around her knees.  She wanted so badly to cry, to purge herself of the fear, pain, and anxiety, but she fought against that weakness.  Her next words were so quiet, Jaax would have missed them over the rush of the river and the boisterous laughter of their elvin friends had he not possessed the sharper senses of a dragon.

“I don’t want to die,” she murmured.

Fear and fury and wrath wrapped their steely bands around Jaax’s heart at the tone in her voice.

“Don’t worry, Jahrra,” he vowed, moving closer to her.  “I won’t let you die.”

When he was near enough for Jahrra to reach out and touch his shoulder, Jaax settled down upon the ground, his clawed fingers curling around the edge of the steep riverbank.  The moonlight shone down through the gap in the trees, staining the world in shades of cool white and shadow.

“Can you make that same promise about yourself?” she finally asked.  “About Dervit and Ellyesce, too?”

Jaax shook his head ruefully.  “No, I cannot.  But I will promise to do everything in my power to defend you and our friends.  You have my word on that.”

She turned her head, blond hair slipping from her shoulder, the pale moonlight above turning her eyes to silver.

“And you have my word that I will do the same.”

As the revelry carried on behind them, Jaax and Jahrra sat in companionable silence, each lost in their own thoughts as the peace of the night wrapped around them, sealing their words together like an ancient vow neither time nor distance could ever break.

Monday, March 19, 2018


Hello Everyone!
I haven't posted here in a while, but I've been busy with writing and all my other authorly jobs of late, but I hope you'll be pleased to hear I plan on having the fifth and final book in the Legend of Oescienne series out by the end of this summer (hopefully much sooner!).  I don't have an exact date yet, but I'm getting close to finishing up the first read-through draft, and after that, things should go a little more quickly (depending on my editor's and Beta readers' schedules, of course).  BUT, my awesome cover artist, Randy Vargas, has already begun work on the final cover and I've seen the rough draft (I love it!), so things are starting to get real ;).  It's been a very long journey, and writing this final book has had its ups and downs (and is still having them), but in the end, I hope to offer you all an epic, and satisfying, conclusion to the series.  Only time will tell!  For now, here is the quote and a snippet I shared in my newsletter last week.  Happy reading and stay tuned!
- Jenna

Copyright 2018 by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson
* * * * *
Denaeh waited in the rocky outcropping above the campsite, her brilliant red cloak hidden behind a thicket of holly bushes as late afternoon light cut swaths through the lingering mist.  Night was approaching, bringing with it the cold, and she had so badly wanted to kindle a fire to keep warm.  But being so very close to Jahrra and her travel companions, she couldn’t risk being found out quite yet.  Practically on their heels or not, she still did not know the identity of the third member of their party, the one with powerful magic who had been cloaking himself, or herself, since the Mystic first realized her quarry did not travel alone.

You will know soon enough, she thought grimly.  As much as she wished to uncover this stranger’s identity, part of her quailed at the knowledge.  A mage that powerful could prove a true threat to her, and if this individual held the same opinion of Mystics that most did, then she had good reason to fear openly joining their party.

Above, Milihn let out a quiet complaint.  Denaeh tilted her head upward and pursed her lips.

“I know, old friend,” she murmured.  “We won’t be traveling alone much longer.”

Or, she added to herself with a touch of foreboding, we’ll be dead and won’t care.

Sighing, Denaeh closed her eyes and cast her own magic out, the way she had done outside of Cahrdyarein and Nimbronia, using the elements to spy on the three travelers.  Only three now because Jaax had taken a different road.  At least she could find comfort in the fact that the brooding, tiresome dragon wouldn’t be present when she finally made contact.  Knowing him and his shifty moods, he might just as soon burn her to a crisp before giving her a chance to speak.

Tucking such dismal thoughts away where they couldn’t pester her, Denaeh returned her attention to the present.  Her power tripped over tree roots as it headed downhill, zipping through veins of frozen water and creeping through solid stone.  Eventually, it found the campsite she sought and Denaeh was given a murky view of a tiny crevasse in the mountainside.  It was a good location to pass the dark hours of the night: veiled from the game path by trees and shrubs, as well as several tall slabs of granite.  Black, charred wood still smoked in a rudimentary fire pit and sleeping rolls littered the ground nearby.

Denaeh got the impression that all three inhabitants had gone off into the surrounding woods to hunt, scout, or take care of the typical evening ablutions.  A further push of her magic proved as much.  Jahrra was down by the creek, trying to get clean, her limbit friend nearby fishing for trout.  Once again, she could not sense the third member of their party, but she imagined he was checking the perimeter of their camp.

“If you want to search their packs, now’s the time,” the Mystic muttered to herself.

Taking a deep breath to bolster her nerves, Denaeh descended the hill swiftly, stepping carefully to avoid tripping or making too much noise.  Milihn glided past her on silent wings, searching for a perch so he might act as lookout.  It took her nearly ten minutes to reach the floor of the narrow canyon and, casting one more sweeping glance behind her, she slipped into its mouth.

A soft whicker drew her every muscle tight as a bowstring, but she relaxed when she noticed a trio of horses eyeing her curiously from where the canyon walls split to form the crevasse.  No, not horses.  A pack horse and two semequins.  One was a brilliant, solid white, his intelligent eyes assessing her.  The other she recognized immediately.  Breaking into a smile, she approached them slowly, clucking her tongue and holding out her hand.  The marble gray pressed his velvety nose to her palm and inhaled.

“Hello, Phrym,” she crooned, scratching his forehead as he rumbled deep in his chest.

Careful not to dally too long with the horses, Denaeh turned and started rummaging through the packs.  It was horribly invasive of her, but she was hoping to find something, anything, to reveal the identity of the powerful mage.  The first pack she went through held dried food items, the second, clothing.  Shirts and vests and pants Denaeh judged to be Jahrra’s.  The third bag contained tools and utensils used to prepare and cook camp meals.

Frustrated but undeterred, Denaeh turned back to the horses.  Their saddlebags were piled nearby along with some larger cases the pack horse must carry.  Swiftly, Denaeh rifled through those as well, finding spare weapons, more spare clothes (including some fine dresses that must belong to Jahrra), as well as more extra food.  She moved onto the saddlebags, aware of the time draining by.  If she didn’t wish to be discovered this day, she had to move fast.  The first set of saddlebags were Jahrra’s.  They held some leather-bound journals full of her sketches of animals and plants, as well as other small treasures.  She swiftly moved through the others.

Finally, Denaeh picked up the last set of bags, taking only a brief moment to appreciate the intricate design worked into the leather.  She unsnapped the button and something solid and rectangular fell free, nearly crashing upon her toes.  Curious, she set the bags aside and lifted an age-stained, wooden box.  The Mystic brushed her fingers over the carved pattern, her nerves prickling a little.  There was something terribly familiar about this box, but she couldn’t say what.  A small golden hook looped through a metal latch kept it tightly shut.  With deft fingers, she flicked the clasp open and carefully lifted the lid.  The hinges creaked a little, but not so much to cause alarm.  What was inside the box, however, stunned her.  Astral cards, and not a false set.  As she picked them up, gingerly shuffling the beautifully painted cards between her hands, she realized the magnitude of this find.  These were real Astral cards, at least two or three centuries old.  Maybe older.  As she gazed upon them in awe, drinking in the rich artwork, she noticed a small mark in the bottom left corner of each of the inner faces of the set.  She narrowed her eyes, then felt her heart kick up its pace as recognition pulsed through her, along with an ancient, zinging current of magic.  Very familiar magic.

She dropped the deck, both hands flying to her mouth as her eyes widened in astonishment.  She knew these cards.  She knew them.  Not just a very fine set of old Astral cards, but a gift bestowed upon someone a long time ago.  A gift both to show a deep appreciation for the intended as well as a way to convey an even deeper regret.  She fell to her hands and knees, frantically raking her fingers through the leaves in search of the box and its spilled contents.  Memories and emotions spun in Denaeh’s mind, but before she could calm her whirling thoughts long enough to consider what this all meant, before she could grasp one of those frantic memories and pin it in place to study it more closely, she was interrupted.

The familiar creak of a bowstring being drawn taut was the only warning that she was no longer alone.  Instantly, her every movement stilled, the hands pushing aside the leaf litter below halting to a stop.  Even her slow breaths came to a standstill as her heart pounded against her ribcage.  How had she been so easily caught off guard?  Her magic was unfurled, giving her input from at least a half mile in every direction, aided by the powerful mage diamond tucked into one of the hidden pockets of her bodice.  Yet, somehow this person had gotten the better of her.  So Denaeh waited, her heart pounding in her ears, as the archer made up his or her mind whether or not to let their deadly arrow fly.
Look for more snippets and quotes in the coming weeks and months on my Facebook page!

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Brand New Short Read from Jenna Elizabeth Johnson!

Hello Readers!  It's been a long time since I posted anything new, but I hope this will brighten up our day.  I entered this short tale into a writing competition, but alas, it did not win.  Good news is I can now share it with you.  My goal is to eventually write a collection of faerie tales set in the Otherworld and starring new characters from Eile.  Soot and Stone (featured in the Once Upon A Kiss anthology) is one of those faerie tales and The Curse of Inis Seacht is another.  Now, without further ado, here is your faerie tale!  Happy reading!
- J.E. Johnson

Once a year, Aneira's village is visited by the Collector, a man tasked with gathering an annual tithe from the people of Inis Seisear.   Always hidden beneath a heavy, hooded cloak, it is common knowledge that this unwelcome stranger hides a hideous visage.  Not that it matters to Aneira.  She is blind, and despite the unquestionable love of her parents, she is tired of their overprotective ways.  When her family's tithe goes missing, she volunteers herself as payment instead, unsure of who this Collector really is or if he is as kind as his unusual glamour suggests.  What Aneira discovers on the island of Inis Seacht, however, is more than her chance at freedom, but a terrible curse she may or may not have the power to break.


A Fae Tale of Eile

by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson
Aneira stood her ground as the rest of the villagers scattered like mice disturbed from their nests.  It was mid-afternoon on Samhain, and that evening they would light the great bonfire at the stone circle and offer up their thanks for a bountiful harvest.  But not before the tithe was paid to the creature who had come to collect his goods.  Just as he’d done every year before, the Collector had arrived at sunset, crossing the dark waters of Lake Ohll in his sturdy boat to demand payment from the poor villagers.  Aneira had never feared him, even as a girl, even when the cloak he wore covered his entire body, face and all, sending all the other girls into fits of hysteria as they imagined what gruesome visage might lie beneath that hood.  She did not fear him, perhaps, because she had never feared anything.  Even when her eyesight began to fade away at the age of five, and even when her own glamour did not begin to manifest until two years ago.
Aneira’s glamour was different than that of her peers, being both a gift and a curse.  Although her blindness caused her to walk in a constant fog, her natural Faelorehn glamour offered her a different perspective of her world.  In her mind, people, animals, plants and even objects appeared as blossoms of glorious color in her head.  And the kinder of heart, the more pure of spirit the person or being, the brighter their aura appeared to her.   So, perhaps that was the true reason behind her lack of horror regarding the Collector.  This creature, this mangled and disfigured stranger who was feared by all, had the brightest essence she had ever seen in a living thing.  Despite his outward appearance, and his harsh words, true goodness burned within.
It was Aneira’s father who stepped forth when it was their turn to pay the tithe.
“P-please, sir.  We had a wealth of honey set aside for you, collected from our own hives, but this morning when I went to gather the jars to bring into town ...”
His voice trailed off, his throat closing around the words.
“They were gone, sir,” Aneira’s mother cried.  “We searched everywhere.”
The Collector growled in response, “All must give payment.  No exceptions.”
The crowd passed around hushed exclamations, backing away from this creature.  They had paid their tithes and only remained to see what became of Aneira’s family.
Aneira squared her shoulders and stepped forward.
“You must take me, as payment.  I am my parents’ only child, truly more valuable to them than any trinket or harvested crop.  We cannot afford to give you any of our extra stores in place of the honey, or my family will go hungry come the winter.”
The young woman’s voice trembled as she spoke, but she refused to back down.  She sensed the man standing before her, tall, strong, oozing menace.  But that part of her mind that could see into the hearts of others painted an entirely different picture.  A soul as brilliant as the sun, as multicolored as a spring day in Eile, radiated past all the layers of darkness and menace.
“Very well,” the man replied.  “My boat awaits on the shore.  Let us leave before true dark sets in.”
Aneira’s mother rushed forth.  “No!  Aneira!  You mustn’t go with him!”
“I will not allow it!” her father added, anger and disbelief tainting his voice.
Aneira turned to them and clasped their hands.  “I must.  The creature says we must pay a price, and we have no other thing of value to offer.”
Before her parents could protest any further, Aneira broke free of their hold and hurried after the Collector, his brilliant soul a guiding light along the dark road.
* * *
“What is your name?” Aneira dared to ask from her corner of the boat.
They had reached the dock ten minutes after leaving the village square, the Collector climbing in and waiting for her to join him.  Aneira, although feeling a little nervous, carefully navigated her way into the unsteady structure before finding her seat.  Now, they were on their way to his island, or so she presumed, and the silence between them was more awkward than she liked.  Only the lap of the water against the boat’s sides and the breathy gust of wind greeted her ears.
“Quinlan,” the man finally said.  “My name is Quinlan.”
Aneira tried the name out on her tongue.  She liked it.
“I am Aneira,” she replied with a smile, her eyes narrowing as she attempted to bring the stranger’s form into view.   Sometimes, if she tried hard enough, she could make out the physical shapes of people and things with her eyes.  Ah, and there he was.  A dark blur of cold solitude.  Like a storm cloud brewing over the lake.  Before Aneira could think of any other questions, the boat came to an abrupt stop, nearly unseating her.
“Your island was the last one I visited,” Quinlan said, standing and stepping out of the boat.  “It is the smallest, besides my own.  Now, what can you do to earn your keep here?”
Aneira made to stand and almost fell into the water.   If not for Quinlan’s quick reflexes, she would have.
“Be careful,” he snapped, his voice low and gruff.
Aneira felt herself being jerked forward and she let out a small yelp of protest before her feet crunched against the gravel below.  Icy water lapped at her boots and the hem of her skirts, but before she could grumble a complaint, Quinlan was pulling her forward, his movements jerky and rough.
“You’re hurting me!” she hissed, yanking her arm free.  “Have you no manners?”
“No,  I do not.  I would think, having lived in the island chain all your life, you would’ve caught on to this fact long before now,” Quinlan replied bitterly.
Aneira glared toward the bright source of light taking up all the space in her foggy mind.  What in Eile made this man’s spirit shine so brightly?
“Perhaps that is what I can provide for you.  Lessons on how to behave in a civil manner.  You clearly lack in that area,” she quipped, unafraid of what ire she might be calling down upon herself.
Quinlan merely snarled and took her arm again.  Aneira made to resist, but his grip was gentle now, and he didn’t drag her along, only guided her.  They walked for about a mile, leaving behind the shoreline and finding sturdier ground.
Aneira drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly.  “Would you mind describing the scenery for me?”
The Collector’s steady stride faltered, and his steps slowed.  Good.  Aneira was growing weary of his relentless pace.
What he said next surprised her.
“How long have you been blind?”
His gentle tone was unexpected, a crack in that menacing wall surrounding him.
“I started losing my eyesight almost fifteen years ago, when I was five, just after my parents and I moved to Inis Seisear,” she admitted.  “My glamour manifested very late, much later than most Faelorehn, and when my sight began to fade, my parents thought I’d been cursed with a geis by someone.”
She grinned a little, then went on, “I was a headstrong girl.  The older children who liked to torment me and the others soon learned that I tolerated none of their nonsense, so I’ve gained a few enemies over the years.”
Quinlan stopped and turned to face her.  She couldn’t see it, but she could feel his focus shifting toward her.
“So, you’ve always been a brave woman, then?  Standing in the face of fear and daring it to defeat you?”
“No.  I’ve just never had much patience for intolerance, cruelty, or bullies.”
Quinlan’s bright aura pulsed before her, not enough to cause alarm, but just enough for Aneira to take note.  She wondered what it meant.  Before she could voice her concern, however, Quinlan was leading her away once more.
“Heather and holly and hawthorn grow mostly on my island.  We will climb a short hill to my home, then you can rest.”
It took Aneira a few moments to recall the start of their conversation, and she smiled as that hairline crack widened just a bit more.  Before she could press Quinlan with any more questions, he was leading her up the hill and into the welcoming darkness of his home.  Her home now, at least for the next year.
* * *
Aneira didn’t know what to make of the inside of Quinlan’s home.  The darkness that enveloped her soon disappeared as he brought a banked fire back to life, the delicious scent of wood smoke quickly overpowering the hints of dust, leather, sandalwood, and lavender tainting the air.  The floor beneath her boots was stone, but as she stepped carefully about the room, she detected rugs spread upon the ground like autumn leaves peppering a forest floor.
“There is an extra bed in the attic upstairs.  It should be large enough for you.  I reside in the room down the narrow hallway.”
Aneira found her room without trouble, following the stairs up into the small attic.  She also discovered a bay window with a bench, her fingertips sinking into soft cushions and brushing up against cool glass.  With nothing else to occupy her time, she collapsed onto the narrow bed and tried not to think about her parents crying after her.  She loved them dearly, but they had never once given her the chance to prove she could be independent.  This was her chance, even though she was at the mercy of the Collector.  Some deep-seated instinct, her glamour perhaps, convinced her she would find what she was looking for here, with a man whom all the others despised.
Aneira drew in a deep breath and curled beneath the soft blankets.  Not such a bad place after all, this secluded stone cabin.  In a few minutes, she was fast asleep and dreaming of waves and monsters, and brave maidens defying them both.
* * *
Aneira woke the next morning to the muffled sound of voices.  Two, no, three deep, masculine voices.  At first, her heart thudded in her throat, and then she remembered where she was: On Inis Seacht, the Collector’s island.
Stretching out of bed, she crept downstairs, using her hands to guide the way.  A soft breeze wafted in through a window somewhere, and as Aneira drew nearer, the voices became more clear.
“There should be more,” one man groused.
“What I have supplemented should suffice.  It should be more than enough,” the Collector replied gruffly.
“That is not what we’ve come to expect.  Not what the Morrigan has come to expect,” a second man added.
“It is all the goddess will get this year.  Good day, gentleman.”
Quinlan’s sharp rebuke surprised Aneira.
The crunch of boots on gravel and barely discernible muttering drifted away just before the door squeaked open.
Aneira gasped and whirled around to face the opposite wall.
The Collector’s bright essence filled the room, and she squinted her eyes, even though it did nothing to dim his light.
“Spying on me?  Is that why you insisted on taking the place of your parents’ tithe?”
“I wasn’t spying!  I heard voices and came downstairs.”
“Never mind,” Quinlan bit out.  “Do you know how to cook?”
Aneira squared her shoulders and faced the brilliant light that was the Collector.
“No.  My mother refused to teach me.  She feared I might injure myself around the fire and hot stove.”
Before Quinlan could make a reply, she hurried on, “I wish to learn, though.  I’m sure I will learn fast if you would just show me.”
A long, terrifying pause, and then the Collector spoke.
“Very well.  We’ll start with building a fire in the stove, then move on to boiling water and making simple broths.”
Aneira almost cried with joy, but quickly tamped down her delight so as not to appear too eager.  For the rest of that day, Quinlan patiently walked her through the process of preparing a simple meal and by mid-afternoon, she had even managed to brew a fresh pot of tea for them to share.
The days passed by quickly this way, with Aneira learning how to prepare the daily meals and picking up new skills along the way.  Besides cooking, Quinlan taught her how to mend tears in clothing, light and bank the fire in the hearth, and keep the stone cottage neat and tidy.  With her fingertips and the speck of vision she had left, Aneira learned her way around the cabin and took pride in helping keep it organized.  The autumn days grew shorter, and if the weather was mild, Quinlan would take her with him to harvest mushrooms, berries, and chestnuts from the grove on the northern side of the island.
“I miss seeing the autumn colors the most,” Aneira admitted, as they began their trek back to the cabin one afternoon.
“Then, let me describe them to you,” Quinlan offered.
Aneira listened intently as he painted a brilliant image of gold, crimson, and ochre within her mind.  Despite the chill weather and being away from the village she’d called home for many years, her heart was light and happy.  Free.
As they neared the base of the hill, the Collector reached back to take her hand so she might not trip on the walk up.  And for the first time since coming to this place to live with him, she appreciated, and savored, that small contact.
When they reached the garden and stepped through the stone gate, Aneira slowed her steps, causing Quinlan to pause with her.
Like always, she could not see his face, but she studied that bright spirit burning before her.  Aneira reached out to touch his face, craving more than that comforting grip on her hand, but Quinlan hissed and pulled away.
“Do not touch me!” he growled, whipping his cloak aside and leaving her in a hurry.
Aneira stood out in the garden until the light of the world dimmed around her.  Long enough for the tears to dry from her face.
* * *
The winter months soon nipped at the heels of autumn, the ice and snow and cold winds from the mountains to the north blowing their frosty breath down upon the lowlands and over the black surface of Lake Ohll.  Aneira spent most of her time cooped up in the cottage with Quinlan, continuing her various lessons.  The enigmatic Faelorehn man never mentioned her attempt to brush her fingers against his face, and she kept it tucked away as well.  It did not do to dwell on disappointment, and the last thing Aneira wished to do was broach a subject that would only drive a wedge between them.
Eventually, winter melted away into spring, and Quinlan started his wanderings again.  Aneira was able to follow him with her glamour, stretching her magic out far enough to find his, a firefly flickering on the edge of her consciousness.  While he was gone, she would practice all the new tasks she’d learned, or wander out into his walled garden and tend to the young plants there.
One afternoon, Quinlan returned to find her kneeling in the onion beds pulling weeds.
“What are you doing!?” he shouted, crashing through the gate in his haste to reach her.
Shocked, Aneira fell back, her muddied hands held up before her.
“I’m taking out the weeds!” she insisted, her sightless eyes wide.
Before Quinlan could roar at her again, she added, “I can tell them apart from the vegetables, I swear it.  Their spark is different from the onions, cabbages, and turnips.  See for yourself.”
She groped around on the ground, scooping up the discarded plants she had pulled free of the earth.
Quinlan took her hands in his, his touch gentle despite his earlier outrage.  Aneira was reminded of the day he pulled away from her and tried not to shiver.  His fingers were rough, his palms scarred.  She allowed her glamour to flow free, and the blazing torch that was his soul flared before her.  Warm, brilliant, and blinding, in its own way.
“Forgive me,” was all the Faelorehn man said, before dropping her hands and disappearing into the cabin.
Aneira stared at the spot where he had been standing, wondering if he would ever see her the way she saw him.
* * *
Quinlan did not protest Aneira’s time spent in the garden from that day forth, and Aneira found the small patch of earth to be a place of healing solitude.  She could breathe in the scent of wildflowers, listen to the trickling of a small stream somewhere on the other side of the wall, revel in the sound of birdsong filling the mighty oak that offered shade on particularly warm days.
During those long evenings, after the meal was prepared, Quinlan would sit in his large chair and select a book from his collection.  He most often chose the fae tales to read, and upon Aneira’s insistence, he would read them aloud.
“I never learned how to read,” she told him as she prepared the fire, for the nights were still chilly.  “That was the one thing I never insisted on learning to do.”
There had been no point, after all.  Her eyes were not strong enough to discern the words on a page.
“Then, I shall read every story aloud, so that no matter where you are in the cottage, you will hear them,” Quinlan replied before beginning.
Aneira paused in her chore, the kindling she’d been arranging in the hearth dropping into the ash below.  Quinlan’s words made her smile, but before she could linger over them, he delved into a story of adventure and intrigue.
When he finished the tale, Aneira took a deep breath and said,  “Tell me another story, Quinlan.  Tell me why you live alone on this island.  Why you travel to the others once a year to strip us of our surplus of food and goods.  I have seen your soul.  I have been here nearly a year, and you’ve made a valiant effort to hide your true nature from me.  But I have seen your goodness, despite my blindness.”
She touched a hand to the corner of one eye, smiling despite the tightness in her throat, hoping he watched her face.  Praying he could read her emotions as well as she had learned to read his.
“I can see everything that matters, because I do not have my sight to distract me.  I can feel everything.  So, tell me.  What curse has befallen you?”
Quinlan was quiet for a very long time, the only sound in the room being the crackle of the fire.
The whisper-soft sound of the Collector rising from his chair was swiftly followed by a curt, “The evening grows late.  I bid you good night, Aneira.”
Before she could formulate a reply, the overpowering glimmer of her reluctant captor’s aura faded away down the hall before finally blinking out behind his bedroom door.
* * *
“Autumn has come to greet us once again,” Quinlan said absentmindedly one late afternoon as he and Aneira tended to the small garden behind the stone house.
It had been several weeks since Aneira had asked after his geis, his curse, and although he had been polite and continued to teach her and guide her in the many tasks around the cottage, he had been careful to keep his distance.  And now Samhain was a day away.  She’d been with him so long, and yet, she still had no idea what he looked like.  And that had nothing to do with her blindness.  Feeling bold, Aneira stood from the flower bed she’d been weeding.
“May I touch you?” she asked, her voice strong, her spine straight as she lifted both her arms.
The request shocked Quinlan, and he jerked back slightly, away from Aneira’s reaching hands.
“Why?” was his gruff reply.
“It’s how I see things, well, the physical aspect of things,” she answered, her mouth cut in a stubborn line.
“Very well,” Quinlan finally conceded, standing absolutely still, his hands balled at his sides.
Aneira smiled, her beautiful gray eyes bright as silver, despite their malady.
She reached out, running her fingers along Quinlan’s rough cheek.  The first brush of Aneira’s touch against his face had Quinlan’s eyes drifting shut.  His heart pounded in his chest, and his breathing deepened.  He had never been touched before, not like this, and it took everything in him to keep from reaching out to her and doing the same.
Her fingers traced the various scars marring his face, ran along the ridges of his cheekbones, and traced the bridge of his nose before coming to rest upon his lips.
Aneira released a deep sigh, and Quinlan tensed, ready for the disgust, or worse, the kind words of pity to fall on his ears.  But that was not what happened.
“You are beautiful, Quinlan.  I know you feel your face and your body have been ruined and made hideous, and I know that is what the islanders say about you, but it isn’t true.  I may not be able to see you with my eyes, but I can see you with my glamour.  It has this uncanny ability to reveal a person’s true worth to me.  Since that first day you came to my village and took me away in place of my parents’ offering, I could see your soul.  I don’t know why, but I do know that you are not the monster the villagers have always painted you to be.”
A hot tear spilled from Quinlan’s eye and trailed down his mangled face.  In that moment, he wished he had Aneira’s gift.  He wished he could see her spirit the way she saw his.  He imagined it shone like the brightest star in the winter sky.  The thought, to his surprise, wasn’t all that daunting.  But the sentiment behind it frightened him.
“You cannot stay here any longer, Aneira.  You’ve paid off your family’s debt.”
Quinlan’s voice was clipped, though it shook ever so slightly.
When Aneira answered, her own tone wavered.  “What about for this coming year?  And the next?  Surely my parents are in the same situation as last year.  How will they pay their tithe if I do not stay?”
“Then, I will not ask it of them,” Quinlan replied, his tone hard, unyielding.
Aneira drew breath to argue, but the Collector snarled, “Enough!  I leave to gather what is owed to me in the morning.  When I return, you will not be here.”
With a swift flick of his cloak, Quinlan turned on his heel and walked back to the cottage, leaving Aneira to shiver in the cold shadow of his absence.
* * *
The next morning, Aneira woke to the sound of frantic voices.
“She must be here somewhere,” someone said.
“Locked up in that ramshackle cabin, or perhaps tied to that sickly oak tree.”
Tears spilled down Aneira’s face.  The cabin was not ramshackle, and the oak was not sickly.
“We must get her out of here before that monster returns,” a third voice hissed.
“What is it he said, Harold?  That the girl had outlived her welcome?  More of a drain on his resources than any help?  Disgusting, that beast.  Perhaps he is as blind as our Aneira to not be able to see her beauty.”
Pain lanced Aneira’s heart, but she had no other choice but to meet these villagers, her old friends.  Quinlan wanted her gone.  With a heavy heart, she stepped from the cabin and walked down to them.  She could sense their sparks of life, nothing compared to the blazing inferno that burned beside Quinlan’s heart.
He is tired of your chatter and nonsense, girl.  It is time to return home.
The village of Inis Seisear was overjoyed upon seeing Aneira’s safe return.  Her parents rushed out to greet her, her mother raining down kisses and her father checking her arms and neck for any injuries.
“You are unhurt?” he asked, disbelief in his voice.
“I’m not hurt,” she replied.
Except for my heart.
That evening, the Collector of Inis Seacht returned, demanding his tithe.  This time, more than required was brought forth, for the villagers feared the creature might make off with their sons or daughters since Aneira had been returned.
Aneira stood at the back of the crowd, her father all but demanding she remain home for the event.
“I will go,” she insisted, still as stubborn and headstrong as ever.  She would see him again, even if it was only that bright, burning soul of his, and even if he had no desire to see her.
And so, she accompanied her parents into town.  She had watched the pale glowing bits of light that represented her friends and family, and had drawn in her breath when Quinlan’s brilliant burst of luminosity outshone them all.  It seemed brighter now, more vibrant.  A happy essence glad to be rid of her, perhaps.
The bounties were given over, and the townsfolk retreated to their own bonfire to celebrate the Samhain festival.  While she watched the bright flames glow within her fuzzy vision, Aneira realized she’d never gotten Quinlan’s story from him.  When she mentioned this to her mother, the other Faelorehn woman quickly rattled off the tale to her curious daughter.
“Oh, the story goes that he got onto the wrong side of things with the Morrigan, and not only did she disfigure him, but she placed a geis on him to remain on that island for all his days, only allowed to leave once a year to pester us for our goods.”
That night, as Aneira lay awake in her own bed, her mother’s words and her own observations over the past year tumbled around in her head.  If Quinlan was a selfish person, his glamour would not burn so brightly.  A memory, a year old now, surfaced in her mind.  The sound of voices outside the Collector’s cabin.  Their complaint that there hadn’t been enough . . . enough what?  And then Quinlan’s own words joined the others: “What I have supplemented should suffice.”
Aneira’s mind churned as she recalled other details: How Quinlan spent most of his days wandering about the island, how he kept a garden and harvested wild nuts, fruits, and other goods.  How he worked the way her fellow neighbors did, growing crops and storing them away.  Why would he make the effort if the tithe provided him with all he needed throughout the year?
Aneira threw aside the sheets and bolted to her wardrobe.  With deft fingers, she laced up her bodice and tied her skirts in place.  Grabbing a shawl, she crept to the door, opening it and closing it as quietly as she could.  She slinked downstairs and out the kitchen door into the freezing night.  Cold air stung her cheeks and coated her lungs, but she did not turn back.  Gradually, she picked her way through the sleeping village, reaching the docks ten minutes after leaving her home.
She felt for a sturdy boat, then climbed in, unlooping the rope along the way.  She picked up a paddle and closed her eyes, letting her glamour flood her senses and stretch out far beyond her body.  There, across the icy, black lake, she detected a tiny, but brilliant, spark of light.  Quinlan.  With dogged determination, she dipped the single paddle of the boat into the water and pushed off from the dock.
* * *
Quinlan was just about to retire for the night when a tentative knock sounded on his front door.  He had been reclining in his favorite chair, a book of fae tales opened on his lap, when the interruption came.  It was probably a good thing, because his thoughts weren’t lost in the story like they ought to be.  No, he was too busy thinking about the delivery of the goods he’d made to the Morrigan’s soldiers, the fuel that kept the geis burning, the payment that kept the greedy goddess away.  The battle-worn Faelorehn men had been waiting at his cabin when he’d arrived earlier that evening from collecting the tithes, and relief so strong it had nearly brought him to his knees had washed over him.  Aneira was gone.  Her people had answered his summons and had come to take her away.  These horrible men and the goddess they served would never learn of Aneira and her gifted glamour.  They would never be able to harm her as they’d harmed him.
The knock came again, and Quinlan frowned.  Perhaps these were the soldiers returning to demand more payment.  He would give them whatever they asked, so long as it got them away from his islands and the secrets they held.
The Collector rose and crossed to the door.  But the face that greeted him on the other side sent both a wave of shock and joy through him.
“I wanted you to know,” Aneira said, her tone slightly breathless, “that it was my choice to leave my village last year and mine alone.”
Bewilderment soon outshone the Collector’s other emotions.
“You sent me away because you thought I was being punished, but I wasn’t.  If I hadn’t wanted to leave with you last Samhain, nothing could have compelled me to do so.  I am a stubborn young woman, if you recall.”
Quinlan’s brow pinched in puzzlement, but as he stood there turning Aneira’s words over in his head, it grew suddenly clear to him.
“Your parents did not misplace their tithe,” he said, his voice soft and level.
Aneira nodded, smiling with the first signs of shyness Quinlan had ever seen in her.
“No.  As much as it pained me to do so, I took our year’s supply of honey and dropped it in the lake.  I was tired of being looked over, tired of being pitied and treated as if I might break into a thousand pieces if I so much as tripped over a stray stone in the street.  I felt trapped in that village, Quinlan.  I had to get out, by any means necessary.”
“Even if it meant spending a year of solitude on an island with the likes of me?” the Collector asked.
Aneira shook her head again, her pale gray eyes brimming with tears.
“And what of you, Quinlan?  I heard you the morning after Samhain.  I heard you speaking with those men, the Morrigan’s soldiers.  The tithe you collected from all the islands, you handed it over to them, didn’t you?”
Quinlan remained silent.
“This is why you still farm and harvest from the land.  It is because you still need to provide for yourself.  The tithe was not for you, it was for them.  I think it is time for you to tell me your story, Quinlan.  No more excuses.”
 With a heavy sigh, the Collector stepped aside, inviting Aneira into his cottage.  When they were both comfortably seated, he began his tale.
“Many years ago, the Morrigan sent scouts to these islands to recruit soldiers for her armies.  I was young then, about your age, and fancied myself brave.  I was trying to impress the young women of my village, so I told the soldiers to look elsewhere.  My glamour was strong, and I was able to resist their attempts to make off with the men and women old enough to serve the goddess of war and strife.  Twice more they returned, each time warning me the Morrigan would curse me with a geis should I not comply.  Feeling confident in my magic, I sent them away again.  The next time someone came for us, it was the Morrigan herself.”
Quinlan paused to take a breath before he continued.
“She flew into the village square in her raven form, transforming into a woman before touching the ground.  Her dark glamour was terrible and stronger than anything I had ever felt.  In that moment, I realized what a fool I had been.  Before I could beg for mercy, she swept her magic over me, scarring my face, arms, and hands, claiming that if not for my pride, I would have listened to sense and joined her cause without a fight.  She left me there, damaged and screaming, unable to break free of the hold her glamour had on me, as she took not only those old enough to fight, but all the people of our islands.  She told me that I would be left to guard this place, and if people decided to move in again, she would come and take them, like cattle to the slaughter.”
Quinlan paused for a moment, but Aneira didn’t dare speak.
“But the goddess of war is cruel, and she told me that I could stop this from happening.  I could continue to refuse and resist her, if I wished, but she would take her payment in one form or another.  I was disfigured now, she reminded me, and I could use that to my advantage.
“You can continue to protect your flock, little shepherd, but in order to do so, you must take from them every year something of value.  They will fear you, because of what you have become.  They will grow to despise you and they will cast you out.  And every year, on Samhain, you will visit these islands and demand payment from them for my sake.  Or, you can let me recruit from their number each year.”
“I chose to ostracize myself, for it was because of my pride that my family and friends were torn from me to be used in the Morrigan’s bloody battles.  I deserved to be set apart, and I would take on the role of the cruel monster who demanded payment from them every year because I didn’t want them to suffer the same fate as those before them.  And because I deserved to be hated and despised.”
Silence, dark and heavy, fell over the room, and it took a long while for Aneira to find her voice.
“You’ve saved us all, Quinlan.  You resisted the Morrigan’s demand and because of it, we remain safe from her evil grasp.”
“And I remain cursed, destined to live out my mortal existence alone on this island.”
His tone held bitterness, but not regret.
“You do not have to be alone anymore, Quinlan.  I can see past that wall of anger and bitterness you have built up around yourself.  My glamour can see you, and you are one of the most selfless men I have ever known.”
Aneira reached out to touch his face, and for once, he did not protest; he did not pull away.  His skin was rough and smooth and warm, just as she remembered.  Aneira smiled, tears forming in her eyes.
“I do not deserve you,” Quinlan murmured, his voice rough, as he turned his face into her touch.  “I could never deserve you.”
“Perhaps not, but you need me, and I need you.  It’s time we stop fighting what brings us the most joy.”
She leaned into him, encircling his waist with her arms, pressing her ear to his chest.  His heart thrummed strongly beneath his tunic and when he stood from his chair, his arms tightening about her to pull her close, happiness radiated from her in brilliant waves.  And that beautiful light that made up his soul shone so bright, it encompassed them both.