The Wraith Queens Veil by Lou Hoffman, Interview, Excerpt & Giveaway!

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Hi guys! We have Lou Hoffmann visiting today with her upcoming release Wraith Queen’s Veil, I pinned Lou down long enough to have a live interview with her, we have a brilliant excerpt and a fantastic giveaway! So check out the interview, enjoy the post and click that giveaway link! ❤ ~Pixie~

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Wraith Queen’s Veil

(The Sun Child Chronicles 02)
by

Lou Hoffmann

When Lucky arrives in Ethra, the world of his birth and destiny, he expects a joyful reunion, but the first thing he notices when he reaches the Sisterhold—his home—is something false behind his mother’s smile. In a matter of weeks, the Sisterhold becomes agitated with worries and war plans. People he trusts—like the wizard Thurlock—frequently can’t be found. His mother seems angry, especially with Lucky. Even Han Shieth, the warrior uncle he has come to rely on and love above all others, maintains a sullen silence toward him.

When Lucky’s resentment builds to the breaking point, his bad decisions put him and his friends, L’Aria and Zhevi, in unthinkable danger. Han arrives to help, but he can’t claim invulnerability to the hazards and evils that threaten at every turn. Events launch Lucky, alone, on a quest for he knows not what, but every step brings him closer to his identity and full strength. Self-knowledge, trust, and strength lead to smarter choices, but even his best efforts might not render his world truly safe, now or for the future.

Release date: 6th October 2016 

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Live Interview with Lou Hoffman!

Pixie: *Tidy’s up interview room, sweeps cobwebs from corners, checks restraints* Hey Lou Hoffmann are you ready to play?

Lou: Hi! I’m here, and ready to get his show on the road.

Pixie: Hi Lou, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview for Wraith Queen’s Veil, the second book in The Sun Child Chronicles.

Lou: Thanks for having me here, Pixie. I always enjoy these interviews, and of course I’m excited to talk about this book. It’s been a long time coming!

Pixie: It has it felt like yeeeeaaarrrrsssss but we finally have Lucky’s second story *happy dance*

Lou: Yep! Of course, if he could be here he’d probably not be quite as happy. He’s had a rough time of it.

Pixie: And with more to come! Now I’ve read Wraith Queen’s Veil (review will be posted on release day) and without giving anything away about the book I’ll just say OMG poor Han! And little Lucky really gets an adventure and a half! I have a feeling, Lou, that your imagination really took over.

Lou: Well… yes. I do have an unruly imagination. I also will pass on a share of the “blame” to unruly characters. The book sticks pretty close to the overall plan I had for it, but these people just can’t seem to leave well enough alone. They get themselves in deeper trouble. Or if I want to pretend I’m in charge, I could say this…

Pixie: *snigger* Well Lucky really does… hmmm so does Thurlock as well now that I think of it…

Lou: As I’m writing, I realize that the mess they are in is more profound than I thought it would be. For example, if a guy falls down an icy embankment into an icy sea, he wouldn’t likely get away with a few bumps and scrapes.

Pixie: *cringe* Yeah that’s… ouch!

Lou: Yes. Poor Thurlock. He’s so old and he has to put up with so much.

Pixie: *shakes head* Yes like unruly nosy teenagers

Lou: That nosiness is especially a problem for Lucky this time, but in reality, it’s not pure snooping. He needs to get an anchor, someone who is on his side. He’s just come to trust, and now those people he thinks he can depend on are all preoccupied with other things.

Lou: He’s on pretty shaky ground, so to speak, as far as “belonging.”

Pixie: That’s true, new world, new friends and his old friends all seem to be busy…. and the teenage angst sets in and Lucky just *stumbles* on his adventure…. your muse must love you 😉

Lou: Possibly my muse loves me, or maybe I offended my muse in a past life or something and now they’re getting back at me. Because as I write troubles for my characters, I sort of live the experience. And then people wonder why I (and I imagine other authors) are tired all the time. And..

Pixie: I never thought of that, it must be mentally exhausting.

Lou: LOL. Yes, sometimes it is exhausting but really I love it. Talk about an adventurous life!

Lou: You know, for Lucky, it is angst, but it’s more than that. You mentioned his “old friends” but really he barely knows them. He met them a week before he ended up returned to Ethra, the world where he was born, and he doesn’t even remember that place. He meets his mother—the vague memory of who sustained him during his three years away—but he’s instantly aware there is something not right between them. He can be forgiven for being a little clingy.

Lou: I think. 🙂

Pixie: Wow, I forgot it was only that short of time… but the way that Lucky thinks of them makes you forget. They have already made a huge impression on him, and he’s really been alone for so long that you can understand.

Lou: That’s it exactly. He had no one before he met them. He was alone in the world except for his beloved dog for a whole year before Thurlock and Han showed it. Then when they entered the picture, so did a whole world of very scary trouble. Lucky has a big drive to normalize things, and he tries to do that by letting himself be a teen, independent in some ways but part of a social construct he identifies as family. When that fails, he’s reverting to another “normal,” which consists more or less of saying, if I don’t have anybody to depend on, I’m better off on my own, in charge of myself. The problem with that thinking… Is that Lucky can’t see the human failings and limits of people he’s come to see, in a way as superheroes.

Lou: Sorry it took so long to type that…

Pixie: LOL we have all the time in the world *nods* And I DO have restraints 😀

Lou: Do you… Well, umm…

Pixie: *winks*

Lou: *blushes*

Pixie: Lucky does seem to accept that he has a lot to learn still, and does seem to want to learn… he just seems to get side-tracked if he’s ignored though!

Lou: He’s at loose ends—I think that’s the way I see him, during the early part of the story. He doesn’t know himself, he doesn’t know his world or his family, and he doesn’t see a path for himself. He knows big things are expected of him, but no way to know exactly what or how he’s supposed to “be” that.

Pixie: He is lost in what’s expected of him, I mean it’d be pretty hard for anyone of that age growing up knowing what was expected, but Lucky forgot everything before and even now only has vague memories of things. You really are mean to the poor darling.

Lou: I am. And you know, basically, he’s pretty willing. He’s drinking in all the new things he’s learning. I have a slightly humorous excerpt I can post that shows his mindset during his early weeks in Ethra pretty well, I think. It’s pretty short. Would you like me to post it here?

Pixie: Please hon ❤

Lou: Okay, here it is:

From the moment Lucky’s feet landed in Ethra, his mind spun with sensations. Everything on the table tasted too good to swallow. Every minute in the sun felt like none would ever match it. Every blade of grass greener, every drop of rain sweeter, every tree shadier than any he could imagine.
For a full month, everyone Lucky met was struck with joy at the sight of him. “Luccan! It’s really you!” they would say. Or if they didn’t know him well enough, they would bow a little—as Han had predicted—and say, “Suth Chiell, we’re so glad you’ve come home! Bless you, sir, bless you.”

“Sir?” he once asked Thurlock. “Who are they talking to?”

The wizard hadn’t even bothered to answer.

Worse yet were those who didn’t say “bless you,” but instead asked him to bless them or their children. The first time this happened, a jovial-looking, freckled mother held out a little carpet crawler stinking of dirty diaper, his face wet with drool. “Oh, sir, won’t you bless my little one? He’s a strong lad, but he’s been a bit sickly. Surely the hand of the Suth Chiell would bring him health.”

Of course Lucky had no clue how to bless anybody—and no inclination to do it. It wasn’t normal—no matter which world you happened to be in. But the first time it happened, Thurlock, who just happened to be standing watch over him—as if he needed a babysitter—took him more or less gently by the back of the neck and boomed out loud hints.

“Why, of course the Suth Chiell would be more than pleased to lay his right hand upon that child’s head—what a head of hair that boy has. I bet they’ll be calling him carrottop when he’s off to school in a few years.”

All this for Lucky’s instruction, of course. He wanted to shout, “Okay, Thurlock, I get it already. I’m supposed to put my hand on the kid’s head.” More yet, though.

“Myself,” Thurlock rambled on, “I’ve always loved the simplicity of the Suth Chiell’s blessing. What better gift to bestow than a prayer that all your days might be touched by a gentle sun. Why, I daresay this young man, the Suth Chiell Luccan, will bestow it with especial vitality.”

As if that wasn’t hint enough, Thurlock stepped on Lucky’s toe—stepped on his toe—to get him going.

“Y-Yes,” Lucky said, and then cleared his throat several times. “Yes… uh, what’s his name?” Everyone around him looked shocked, which made him want to run away. But Thurlock spoke up, and for once Lucky was glad he did.

“Luccan, I’ve always known that you would make a truly great Suth Chiell, and already at your young age, you’ve shown some wisdom. Of course the name of the person to be blessed is essential. It is astounding that no Suth Chiell before you has seen the truth of this. Please ma’am, do tell Luccan the child’s name, so that the blessing may be given properly.”

“Why, it’s Jorhy, sir. Johry Ahlson.”

By this time Luccan had all but forgotten the blessing, but he decided to wing it and hope he was right. “Bless you, little Johry Ahlson,” he said, trying to sound like the sort of person who might say that, “and may all your days be gentle and touched by the sun.”

Little Johry cried, and Thurlock rolled his eyes, but otherwise no one seemed upset, so Lucky figured all was well.

“Days be touched by a gentle sun,” Thurlock said quietly as they walked away. “Perhaps you should write it down, or practice. Not complicated really.” Lucky felt the old man was holding back from scolding him, but when he didn’t reply, Thurlock said, “Really, though, you did fine—more than fine. Were you aware of anything—an energy or…?

“Well, no, except the kid’s head seemed awfully hot.”

“Oh, good. No, that was your hand, not the baby’s head. Perfect.”

Pixie: Gotta love Thurlock!

Lou: Right! But really, see, Lucky’s overwhelmed but willing. Right?

Pixie: Yep, he’s trying to be what’s expected but he still feels overwhelmed by it all… he just needs a Lucky twist to it.

Lou: Exactly.

Pixie: Lucky seems to mature slightly as he progresses through the book, was that a natural progression or did you consciously mature him?

Lou: Lucky matures a lot during this book, in my opinion. Basically, he comes to recognize the unavoidable truths about himself, and what that means in relation to the choices he makes in life. He’s a very powerful person, and the question has always been whether he would own that and if he did what kind of difference will he choose to make in the world. Added to that…

Lou: … He can’t really choose any path or the footprint he will leave on the world if he doesn’t own his strengths and trust himself. Stepping out into the world alone *by choice* this time forces him to either man up or lay down and let events roll over him. The overall question this book asks and answers is whether he will do that.

Lou: Or I should say not whether, but which he will do.

Pixie: Yes! He also has his father’s legacy hanging behind him as well that really impacts him.

Lou: Right. I see Lohen (Lucky’s father) as an extremely empathetic character. To put it bluntly, he was a person who had endured great sorrow, had come through for the sake of others, but had allowed bitterness to stew down deep until it crippled him. What pain the man must have felt, knowing himself for what he had been and what he became, and having absolutely no one who could see past the broken shell to the hero who still, truly lived inside. In Key of Behliseth, he got a last chance at redemption, and bless his fictional soul, he took it. He made good on his oaths at last. Now, though, everybody he left behind is troubled by the evil he did (and even more so the evil that was pinned on him, whether he perpetrated it or not), and that has chain reactions in those people, like Liliana (Lucky’s mother), and Han Shieth (Lucky’s uncle and Lohen’s brother). Lucky has to deal with knowing that his father was hated and feared and did some awful things, yet… he literally owes Lohen his life from the events in KOB.

Pixie: Yes, and his actions carry great weight in WQV as well, especially with Lucky looking so much like his father. *I so am not mentioning any spoilers for WQV*

Lou: I appreciate that! But I think we can say there are still some surprises to be revealed when it comes to Lohen Chiell’s fate, and his legacy as you say. A tiny spoiler, the Black (obsidian) Blade, the magical talisman that was bonded with Lohen Chiell is part of the action in WQV, too. (Would you like another small excerpt about Lohen’s relationship with that enchanted tool? This one would be from Key of Behliseth.)

Pixie: YES! It will jog memories and maybe tantalise new readers

Lou: Okay, here we go. Remember, Lohen had come to serve the Witch-Mortaine Isa, an extremely evil woman, and she’d belittled him with the nickname, “Hench.” We join the scene here in the middle of a ritual she is forcing him to endure, at the bidding of her chosen deity, Mahl.:

 In the center of the chamber, where there had been nothing before Isa’s Dark Chant, stood a bulky, irregular shape covered with a cloth of glowing graveyard blue. Isa pulled the cover away and revealed a granite stone. Hench chanced a look at the witch, not knowing what it meant.

“Put your hands on the rock,” Isa said, more quietly than he had ever heard her speak.

“Mistress?”

“Do it.”

“Yes,” he said and limped toward it, afraid of what it might be, what new persecution the stone might hold, but certain about what the witch would do if he didn’t obey. His weak, wasted left hand fell onto the rock, and he drew in a sharp, surprised breath. He felt a current there, the faint flow of magic. Did he recognize it?

Anxious, he placed his right hand deliberately, palm down over the curve of the stone. An instant later the magic hidden in the stone recognized him and the current grew strong. Tears threatened.

This was a magic he had believed forever lost.

“You know what it is? You can feel it?”

“Yes, Mortaine.”

She paced as she spoke, like a lecturing professor. “The Black Blade, sometimes called the Obsidian Knife or the Dark Twin. Fool! You had it in your hands. But you threw it away twenty-seven years ago, from the Heights of Gahabriohl into the depths of Mardhral.” She stopped and spun to face him. “Why?”

He hedged. “The magic in it was no longer useful to me.”

“Hah!” Her laugh was sharp, cut short, but it echoed against the glass and steel of the tower. “Well, be that as it may, Hench, I have reason to believe that you can still use it. My Master believes that makes you a person of interest, potentially useful in the upcoming struggle over our precious boy.”

She smiled but looked as though she had swallowed something bitter. Hench had the unexpected notion that she was doing something not entirely of her own choosing. He guarded his face, keeping that realization, and a flare of hatred, secret.

She turned her gaze away and again raised her arms. “Hold fast to the stone, fool,” she said flatly, and then she started Dark Chant once more.

This time he didn’t fall. He knelt and embraced the stone, shivering as the magic of the Blade coursed through him, both dread and welcome. The blue granite in his arms grew icier with every repetition of the chant, but when the stone shattered, though pebbles battered his flesh, his arms wrapped around the Knife. Silence fell over the chamber like snow.

“Go, Hench, get to your place.” The witch’s voice trembled, breaking the stillness. “Take that thing from my presence.”

“Mistress.” He stood and bowed his head in her direction, his voice small but clear.

He exited the steel door and lurched down a flight of narrow stairs. Though they were musty and small—no more than a forgotten corner—Hench had furnished his quarters with cast-off comforts: torn mattress, lumpy pillow, worn gray rug. It wasn’t a home, and the feeling it gave of safety was false, but it had become his den, and he inhaled its dusty air gratefully. He sank onto the mattress and pulled a frayed blanket over him, warm and soft against the cold, bloody wounds of the lash.

Curled around the Blade, he slept, unafraid of its edge.

Lou: I have another very brief one to go with this… occurs later in KOB. A dream sequence:

 IN THE dream, Hench stands under a wide blue sky, a breeze cooling his face. He sees a woman with golden hair and green eyes like jewels. She turns toward him, smiling; surprise sparks her eyes.

“Do you hear him?” They watch a toddling boy with hair the dark red of cedar bark and skin like heartwood.

“Papa,” the child says, his first word. He reaches, asking to be held, and Hench bends low to gather him up, long-forsaken smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“Wake, Lohen Chiell.” Another voice speaks in the dream, a voice Hench has known all his life. He doesn’t wake but the bright child vanishes, and Hench’s lame hand grips only the knife. “Blade Keeper,” the voice chides and then calls him again by his true name. “Lohen Chiell, did you believe me lost? My faith never failed. It was your oath that was broken.”

Hench flies, then, to another place and time, another world. He sees mountains painted purple and umber with dawn, marching into gray distance. He stands, brown curls blowing wild in the bitter wind, at the rim of the never-fathomed canyon, Mardhral.

He listens, searches that wind, his last hope. He prays to hear in its moaning a single word, a name the loss of which is so painful he can bear it no longer. The name of the son he cannot reach, cannot find, cannot help. The name of the son he has betrayed.

The wind doesn’t speak, and the crevasse yawns wide and black and bottomless at his feet. He heaves the Black Blade over the edge. As it falls, it catches a sunbeam and turns the brilliance back on him. The light pierces his eye and burns it to dust and fume. Still the wind is silent, and he throws himself after the Blade into the bottomless canyon.

In the dream, Lohen wishes the deed could be undone. In the dream, the knife falls into his hand, and they plunge together into darkness. The Blade speaks, in the dream, telling him how he might have his wish.

“Make right the last wrong you have done, so that we might begin again.”

Pixie: Lucky does have an upward challenge, he’s been missing for years, his father is the ultimate baddie and he’s still only very young… I see an even longer journey laid out before him

Lou: Yes. there are three more books planned. The next book in the series will be called Ciarrah’s Light. After that, working titles Triad of Kayne, and then Suth Chiell’s Conquest. He does, after all , have an important destiny. It takes him a while to get there, and he needs a lot of help. In WQV, children are suffering and obviously being harmed. The story behind that is central in Ciarrah’s Light, and that is the point where the “touch of sci-fi” that is part of The Sun Child Chronicles fantasy gains importance.

Pixie: God yeah that was just horrifying and it seems to touch all the main characters as they each come across it at different times.

Lou: Exactly! Another thing that is developing in WQV is romance, but with a lower case “r”. Lucky, of course is growing up, and he learns a little bit about love. Han also has a new love interest, though, and it’s one of my favorite subplots in the series. He’s been in love for two centuries with Thurlock, which will of course never be requited. but in KOB he met Henry George, the Condor. They haven’t parted forever, mostly because Henry is a very determined man. A little writerly secret (though I’ve mentioned it before)…

Lou: Way back when I first conceived this series (years ago), Han and Henry fell in love against my wishes. Eventually, through several evolutions, Lou Sylvre stole them and they morphed into Luki Vasquez and Sonny James. 🙂

Pixie: LOL Yeah I can actually see Han as Luki… if I squint a bit

Lou: Yeah, at this point it takes very special 3D glasses to see them as the same, but the basics are there, right?

Pixie: They are, very protective and stoic.

Pixie: *nods* God I love discovering the true meaning behind stories 😀

Lou: Although, you as the reader really define that truth for yourself. All you get from me is my intention. There are a thousand thousand ways to read a story. Which is why I wish I had that many readers.

Pixie: So will Lucky find love at such a young age or will he have a first love?

Lou: At this point, I’ll say love happens for Lucky. The books will not turn into romance, but love is a very important connection (for humans in general) and will affect every thing in a person’s life, including Lucky, over the course of the series. I should clarify…

Lou: I intend these books to have an audience consisting of ages, say, 12 to 112. But specifically, I have in mind readers on the younger end of the YA scale. Those young people do not need or want sex and deep romance in their fiction, according to everything I know as an informed writer, a mother, a grandmother, and a former young person. There isn’t and won’t be any actual sex in the series, and the relationship(s) Lucky may have are included because that is part and parcel of life for a person in their teens. He wouldn’t be his whole self without them. That said, they add a lot more than passing love interest.

Pixie: I agree. I was actually going to bring up a question as to who you’d like your audience to be, I mean I enjoy reading YA but I know some people steer clear of it. What advice would you give to a reader who was considering reading WQV but was put off thinking it was aimed at young people.

Lou: I think I’d start by saying that people from teenage years (and even younger) have the ability to relate to older characters, and so I make adults important in the books. (This goes contrary to a commonly held philosophy in the YA writing world that teens only want to read about teens, and the adults should be for the most part peripheral except insofar as they—purposefully or due to being inept—cause trouble for the teens.) So, in my YA writing, there are adult characters who are in life situations that will resonate with adult readers. Also, I’ve been an adult for quite a number of years now, and I absolutely still find the echoes of my teen self when I read YA fiction, and it’s rewarding. And although I certainly want to make my writing accessible and relatable for teens, I don’t write “down” to them. In general fantasy stories have a universal readership because, to the extent they have meaning, it’s symbolic (not metaphorical). Each human reader, whatever age, creates their story from those symbols in the book. So the book an adult reader will find in Key of Behliseth or Wraith Queen’s Veil is a book for an adult reader.

Pixie: Yes an as an adult myself *shhh no laughing* I found the storyline and revelations fascinating and my inner teenager loved the adventure that Lucky found himself on because he was stubborn and wanted to get his own way… it’s the kind of story that appeals to all ages.

Lou: Thank you! (And I wasn’t going to laugh. 🙂 )

Pixie: Ha! I bet! There are some surprises in the book, as you’ve said, especially as we approach the Wraith Queen’s entrance to the story, I have a feeling that that particular story angle will bloom in the next book Ciarrah’s Light *hint hint*

Lou: Oh, yes, that may be ‘slightly’ important, and it may have ‘a little bit’ to do with that whole sci-fi aspect as well. How’s that for an oblique reference?

Pixie: Perfect! That will have people scratching their heads and maybe panting to read the book!

Lou: LOL.

Pixie: Okay we’re coming up to three hours now so why don’t we begin to wind down. Lou what have you got planned next?

Lou: Well, as I mentioned Ciarrah’s Light is in the works, and it picks up pretty much right where we leave Lucky and Han in WQV. In addition to The Sun Child Chronicles I’m fleshing out some other ideas for YA fantasy—although honestly some of these ideas are ones I’ve had fleshed out for a while, but not actually written. Nothing I can actually reveal yet but over the next months I may be able to say more. Lou Sylvre keeps hogging the computer right now. (You know her, right? Looks a lot like me, lives at my address, and tends to have a strange sense of humor?) She just finished the publishers editing process on a novella called Falling Snow on Snow which will be out this December or January from Dreamspinner. She’s finishing up a story with Anne Barwell called Sunset at Pencarrow, and working on book two of the Vasquez Security, the Next Generation series (so,the sequel to A Shot of J&B). I wish I could work while she’s working but I haven’t yet figured out how to do that. :).

Pixie: These split personalities just have no manners LOL

Lou: Yeah, that’s true, especially the other Lou. (I’m the nice one.)  🙂

Pixie: So you and naughty Lou have a lot on your plate then and we readers are extremely thankful for that 😀 So before we go is there anything you’d like to share with your readers or any other budding YA authors?

Lou: Well, for readers, first I want to say thank you. What a wonderful world it is you create, giving writers a job! And I love hearing from you any time, here on facebook, or even via gmail (louhoffmannbooks). For other YA writers, well… Those of you who came before, thanks for paving the way. Those who continue to create I’m happy to share the road (which goes ever onward). And those who aspire, go for it, keep writing, the world needs what you’re going to write. To you Pixie, and MM Good Boo Reviews, I appreciate the chance to do this interview. You made me think hard a couple of times, and that’s good for me, and plus, it’s been fun. Everybody, enter my blog tour rafflecopter, and I hope to see you around the web in the next four weeks. (I’ll soon be posting links to my tour on my blog, http://www.queerlyya.rainbow-gate.com.)

Pixie: Lou it was a pleasure, as always, (even if I didn’t have to get out the restraints) and I’d like to thank you for such an enjoyable interview. I also I want to wish the Wraith Queen’s Veil huge success and just say don’t take too long on Ciarrah’s Light because I want more of Lucky’s story ❤

Lou: You are welcome, and I will do my best. (Actually, tentative release for Ciarrah’s Light is May 2018, due to the publisher’s schedule, but we can always keep our fingers crossed. And who knows, maybe there will be something else in the interim.) 🙂

Pixie:  ❤ ❤ ❤ Let’s hope *fingers crossed*

Lou: Thank you! ‘Bye for now? It has been lovely!

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Excerpt

The weather cleared and all the snow melted, soaking the low fields and swelling the creeks and rivers almost over their banks. Fortunately, the next three days were sunny and boasted a strong, dry wind, so the land dried out and the roads were passable within a week. The weather tapered off to cool but mellow days, and Thurlock took Lucky south to Nedhra City by way of ordinary packed-dirt roads. They walked, not taking horses because Lucky had proved a dismal student for riding. They didn’t use a Portal because Thurlock reasoned an overland trip would form part of Lucky’s education, help him become familiar with the lay of the land from the Sisterhold to other parts of the Sunlands. Lucky was okay with that. He didn’t have any great love for travel by Portal, though before he knew they actually existed, he’d liked the idea. Like in Star Trek, or Stargate, or books about physics.

Besides, he liked seeing the country, finding it oddly familiar, though he didn’t really remember any of it. The way the sun, bigger than Earth’s, always stayed lower in the sky, so shadows were long at any time of day, and people became walking sundials. The way water sometimes moved up an irrigation ditch, pushed only by a bit of magic set in place perhaps centuries ago by some farmer who simply knew his craft. The absence of telephone wires, streetlamps, and liquor stores. Hoofbeats instead of car noise. Stone markers instead of street signs. Not a chain-link fence in sight.

But as they approached Nedhra in the early afternoon of their third day out from the Sisterhold, Thurlock motioned Lucky to join him on the broad, grassy verge at the side of the road, where they sat and chewed grass stalks. Which both Lucky and Thurlock soon spit out because they really didn’t taste all that good. They laughed about that, like old times, but then Thurlock returned to the serious, sometimes surly mood he seemed to be in almost all the time since they’d come back from Earth.

“Luccan, it’s important for you to understand that not everyone here in Ethra, or in the Sunlands, or even within the Sisterhold, is glad you’ve come home. When we—”

“Great! I was a little nervous about this before, but now I’m really looking forward—”

“Be quiet and listen, Luccan. I’ve no time for your self-pity. Believe it or not, others have it much worse than you.”

Lucky stared at the wizard’s sharp-featured profile, astounded that the old man would even say that to him, after what he’d gone through the last few years. “I know that, sir. I really do.”

The wizard took a long, deep breath, shook his head, and sighed. “Not ‘sir,’ Luccan, just Thurlock. And yes, I know that you do. I apologize for speaking carelessly. Nevertheless, it is important that you listen now. We truly do not have time for any kind of distraction. The Wizards’ and Scholars’ Forum will begin in about…” He stopped to check the sun’s place in the sky. “…about sixteen hours. Do you have any idea what to expect?”

“Um. Well, you’ll be in charge, sort of. My mom will be there. And Han, right?”

“Yes, all correct. And the matter under discussion?”

“The… uh… what happened in Earth, with Isa, and all that.” A thought struck Lucky at that moment. Behl’s teeth, he thought, already learning to swear like the wizard, at least in his thoughts. How could I not have thought about this before?

“Thurlock, I won’t have to get up and give a speech or anything, will I?”

“No, no, not yet, though you probably should begin getting used to the idea. Like all leaders, you will have to do a lot of talking, and at least some of it should make sense. But that’s for the future. For this time, you will mostly observe, and be observed. Those who are in your camp, so to speak, will probably mostly ignore you, but your detractors will watch your every move, hoping for fuel to use in future political debates.

“Now, most of those people are harmless, just women and men who believe themselves to be right and, consequently, you and what you stand for to be wrong. Annoying and misguided, we know, but not threatening, per se.”

“I thought you said I was, like, the ruler by birth, or something. Like a king.”

“You are. That’s exactly what some of them don’t like.”

“But, Thurlock, have you ever stopped to consider maybe they’re right?”

Thurlock chuckled, that huge, from-deep-in-the-big-wizardly-chest chuckle that had seemed by turns comforting and frightening to Lucky during their brief week together in Earth. Now it mostly surprised him.

“There you go again,” the old man said, “asking good questions. Unfortunately, now is not an especially good time to ponder them. What’s important at this moment is for you to understand that among those who oppose you are some—a few—who are not so benign; who might seek to harm you physically or—very likely—magically.” He paused and turned to meet Lucky’s eyes, as if making sure he was really paying attention. “And Luccan, when it comes to that, you may very well be surprised as to who your enemies are.”

Lucky snorted in exasperation, a feeling all too familiar when it came to dealings with the wizard. “Thurlock, before, you couldn’t tell me where I was from, you couldn’t tell me my name, you couldn’t tell me about the Witch-Mortaine Isa, and you couldn’t tell me just about anything else you knew about me. This time, please, whatever you know, just tell me.”

“I have.”

“You have what?”

“Told you what I know. There are those who don’t like you, and you may be surprised who they are.”

“But you don’t know who they are?”

“No, I don’t know.”

“Then why—?”

“So you’ll be careful, boy. Pay attention, with all of your senses. Be careful.”

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About Lou

Lou Hoffmann has carried on her love affair with books for decades, yet she hasn’t even made a dent in the list of books she’d love to read—at least partly because the list keeps growing. She reads factual things—books about physics and history and fractal chaos, but when she wants truth, she looks for it in quality fiction.  She loves all sorts of wonderful things:  music and silence, laughter and tears, youth and age, sunshine and storms, forests and fields, flora and fauna, rivers and seas. Even good movies and popcorn! Those things help her breathe, and everyone she knows helps her write. (Special mention goes to (1) George the Lady Cat and (2) readers.) Proud to be a bisexual, biracial woman, Lou considers every person a treasure not to be taken for granted. In her life, she’s seen the world’s willingness to embrace differences change, change back, and change again in dozens of ways, but she has great hope for the world the youth of today will create. She writes for readers who find themselves anywhere on the spectrums of age and gender, aiming to create characters that live not only in their stories, but always in your imagination and your heart.

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