Book Blitz & Excerpt: Empire’s Legacy + Giveaway

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Empire’s Legacy
by Marian L Thorpe
Series: Empire’s Legacy (#1-3)
Published: November 6, 2019
Genre: Historical Fantasy, Low Fantasy
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 725 (Print Length)

Lena is a skilled hunter, but beyond the need to kill for food, weapons are a man’s domain – until one day a soldier arrives in her village, pleading for fighters. Accepting his challenge, she steps into a new life, one of battle, intrigue and politics, where actions have deadly consequences. Her survival – and that of her country – depends on her prowess with knife and bow, her quick wit, and a journey into unimagined lands to confront a lost Empire of immense power.

CW: Rape, Threatened miscarriage, Violence Possible Ultimate Tour Experience ticket(s): Represent, It’s All About the Journey, That Ship Has Sailed, Love Actually, I’m Not Crying You Are Crying, Storyteller in the House

Excerpt:

When Fél had led us into the village—if a cluster of huts was a village—we had been fed, clothed, stared at by children and adults, questioned. Fél, acting as our translator, convinced the headwoman to give us an empty hut at the edge of the village: it was dilapidated and damp, its mud-and-wattle walls crumbling, but easy enough to repair. I suggested we simply pitch our tents inside it, out of the wind. The work of repairing the building seemed too much for a brief stay.
Fél had shaken his head when I proposed this. “There is nowhere for you to go, Lena,” he had said. “Today’s weather is just the start: snow will come in the next week, and then a hard and killing frost, turning the ground to iron. And then more snow. Autumn Festival will barely be over in the Empire when it is winter, here.”
I had not known what to say. I had expected to travel for—how long? I hadn’t thought about winter, not really, expecting that once we had left the mountains behind we would leave the cold behind too. I thought how stupid that was: even the grasslands south of Tirvan were fierce and inhospitable in the winter. But how should I have known to expect a winter that came so soon?
“But can we stay?” Cillian had asked. “Can your people support two more mouths over the winter?”
“You can hunt, can you not?” Fél had replied.
“Yes, for small game,” Cillian answered. “Lena is experienced with larger animals.”
Fél sat back on his heels beside the fire. “The women of the Kurzemë do not hunt. That is a man’s job.”
“But I will not be a woman of the Kurzemë,” I said. “We need a place for the winter, not permanently.”
“Where will you go, in the spring?”
“East, across the plain,” I answered.
“Into the dead lands?” he asked. “We do not go far into them, only to a meeting place in the summer. There is little there to sustain life, and stories of huge bears on the plain.”
I glanced at Cillian. “What lies beyond the mountains and the seas,” I said softly.
“That story?” Fél said. He shrugged. “They are your lives. If you can hunt, you can stay. I will try to explain, to Grêt, the headwoman.”
“Lena.” He turned to me. “What skills have you, so I can be precise?”
“I fished, at Tirvan,” I said. “I am good with the hunting bow and the bird bow, and I can wield a sword. And a knife, in warfare or defense.”
“None of which are women’s skills here,” he replied. “Is there nothing you know that belongs to the skills of women, of hearth or healing?”
“A little of healing,” I said. “My mother was a healer and a midwife, but I was not her apprentice. What I know is very slight. And all the things I can do are skills of women, in the Empire.”
“Perhaps,” Fél said. “But you are not in the Empire any longer, nor will you ever be again. That may sound harsh,” he added, “but it is only truth, and a truth which you must accept. So you both must begin to learn the skills of a new life.” He stood. “I will speak to Grêt.” He turned to go, then hesitated, looking down at where we sat. “Are you together? Paired?”
“No,” I said. “Travelling companions, friends, nothing more.”
“Better that you let it be thought you are together,” he said, “if you do not want the attentions of every unmarried man here. Or woman,” he amended, looking at Cillian. “Grêt already assumed as much when she offered the hut: I suggest you do nothing to change that assumption.”

The hut, built of woven willow branches between upright posts, packed with mud and hair, needed a lot of repair. Fél brought his wife, Kaisa, and between them they taught us how to weave the branches and add the mud. Cillian proved adept at the weaving, his long fingers interlacing and twisting the thin branches rapidly and precisely. I packed mud and wool.
Grêt, the headwoman, had made Fél bring me to her. She had listened in silence, then spoke to Fél for some time. I didn’t think she sounded happy.
“Grêt says,” Fél told me, “she has heard of women like you: you belong to the huntress. She’s a goddess, here,” he added. “You can keep your weapons and use them, but there will be a price. You will not mix with the other women, although you will guard them, sometimes. If you do a man’s work, you must act like a man.”
“Which means?”
“You will be expected to hunt, and guard the sheep, and guard the women if they go far from the village. There are wolves here, and bears and other dangerous creatures. You will not join in the women’s rituals.”
Grêt shot another question at Fél. “She is asking about Cillian. Why he would want a woman like you, who does not tend his hearth and bear him children.”
“Tell her she must ask him.” I wasn’t going to try to invent a story for him.
He walked back to our hut with me. “You will need sleeping furs,” he said. “We have extras; Kaisa will bring them to you. She will not shun you, but she will need to be careful, or the other women will shun her too. You are choosing a hard road for the winter, Lena.”

Grêt may have said I would hunt with the men, but the men had other opinions. Especially Ivor, I learned: he refused to have me with him. Eryl, a man of Cillian’s age who seemed to be in charge after the aging headman, Ludis, simply shrugged. “You can hunt with me, or Audo,” Fél told me. “I am going to show Cillian our bow tomorrow; come with us, if you like.”
I considered. Cillian’s status here mattered, too. “No,” I said. “Perhaps I’d better not. Is there something else I can do?”
“Audo always likes company when he checks his snares,” Fél said. “He’s slow, you realize. Up here.” He tapped his head. “But you can go with him.”
Two heavy furs lay inside our hut when I returned, dark, shiny fur. Bear? I dragged them over to the sleeping platform. No-one slept alone here in the winter, Fél had said casually; children were sent to sleep with the elderly and unmarried youngsters shared beds with brothers and sisters or cousins. I was glad that Cillian and I were used now to sharing sleeping space. Even a few weeks earlier, he would have been uncomfortable.

For the first ten days I wondered if we’d made a mistake. The mild days suggested we could have kept moving. But overnight the weather changed: we woke to find snow up to our ankles, and more falling. After that, it was clear we had to stay.
Fél continued to act as translator and mentor, guiding us both through the expectations of the Kurzemë’s daily life. He had taught Kaisa, his wife, some of our common language, so she too could speak to us, a bit. But, unsurprisingly, Cillian began to learn the language quickly, and when at night we discussed what we’d learned about the Kurzemë, he taught me new words, so that I too began to understand what was said and could ask and answer questions.
Cillian had adapted to the larger hunting bow with ease. For someone who hadn’t touched a bow until only a few months earlier, he had become proficient rapidly, to my private chagrin: I thought he might be as good as I was, and I had taken years to be skilled. He joined the hunting parties regularly, for deer at this time of year. The carcasses were brought back to be butchered by the women, the meat being smoked for winter food. I could help with this, and did, to Grêt’s grudging approval. I had no skill in working the hides, although my secca, sharper than the women’s knives, proved useful in cutting the skins.
The grain harvest was another place I could contribute, joining in stooking and tying grain: scything was a skill I had never mastered. Nor could Cillian, to Ivor’s derisive laughter, although I noticed he found reasons not to spend much time at the hard, back-breaking work. Even children gleaned grain from the cut fields, the older boys killing both the rabbits and rats that lived among the stalks with well-aimed stones thrown from leather slings. As at Tirvan, the autumn hunt and harvest were a time of communal labour, punctuated by evenings of food and merriment. It had a familiar feel that both reassured me and made me remember what I had lost.
Only one thing, or rather, one man, made me truly uncomfortable. I could handle being an outsider, not really accepted by either the women or the men. Ivor, however, was another matter.
The problem had begun with guarding the sheep. Eryl led the guard; Ludis was too crippled and infirm now. He had asked me to join the men near the sheep pens one afternoon: a wolf had been seen, unusual at this time of year. He strode up beside me, his broad, open face smiling. He carried two bows and two quivers of arrows.
“Grêt tells me you are to guard,” he said. “I thought, maybe Lena needs a bow. I know you have one, but it is meant for birds, yes? So I brought one for you to use.”
“Thank you, Eryl,” I said. “That was thoughtful.”
“You should shoot it a few times, get used to it,” he suggested.
“I will,” He was right: with an unfamiliar bow, I wouldn’t be much use. Several other men and a couple of older boys had grouped themselves around something on the hillside. One of them, I saw with an inward shiver, was Ivor.
“Eryl, here,” one called. I followed him over to where the men stood. Eryl crouched in the dusk, looking at the ground. “Wolf scat,” he said, “fresh this morning. A young one, probably, pushed out of its pack.” He turned to me. “Have you ever seen wolf scat, Lena?”
“No,” I said, “I haven’t. All the wolves had been cleared out of our part of the Empire, although older women had stories of them raiding our sheep, too.” I crouched beside him, ignoring the other men. This was information I needed, and Eryl was the best tracker in the village. “How do you know it’s wolf scat, and not dog?” One of the boys made a derisive sound.
“Mostly from the little bones in it, and the amount of fur. And it comes to a point, see? Dogs shit more like people,” he said, “or at least like people when there’s lots of meat to eat.” He turned his head back and forth. “The wind is off the mountains, so expect it to circle around, come at the sheep from below. I want good archers down that side. You, Ivor, and you two.” He named two more men.
“Lena,” he said, handing me a bow. “Show me what you know.” There was no hesitation, no reluctance: this was a commander, assessing a recruit. I took the bow—it was of middling size, intermediate between my big hunting bow and a birdbow—found the grip, tested the spring in the wood. I felt the men watching me.
“What am I shooting at?”
“See the scar, on the trunk of that big oak?” I followed where he pointed. Ahead of me, uphill and a good distance away, a white patch gleamed in the sun. Not an easy shot, but not too difficult, either.
I nocked an arrow and drew, judging the pull. I released. The arrow hit the tree, but well below the scar. I heard a laugh. I shifted my stance slightly, thought about the wind, and shot again. This time the arrow hit the scar squarely, not dead centre, but close enough.
“Do it again,” Eryl said. I did. “Can you hit a running animal?” he asked.
“I can,” I replied. “I have hunted deer, with a larger bow. And birds and small game, of course, travelling over the mountains.”
“Then I want you down where the wolf is likely to come.” A sound of protest came from one of the men. Eryl turned. “I make the decisions, Karel,” he said.
“Eryl,” Ivor said, “the wolf will not come until dark. Shall we have a contest, to ensure your choices of the best archers are correct?” This was insolence, said to the hunt leader.
“You saw Lena shoot,” Eryl said mildly.
“A contest anyway? To pass the time?” Ivor suggested.
“All right,” Eryl said. “To pass the time. The same scar. Ivor, your idea, so you shoot first.” I wondered at this: why had Eryl given in to Ivor?
Ivor took his stand, raising his bow. A left-handed archer, I noted: not common. He aimed and released. His arrow hit the top left of the scar. He frowned and shrugged. Karel took his place, hitting the scar a bit lower, still to the left.
All the men hit the scar, and not all on the left side. Eryl, who shot just before me, hit almost exactly in the centre. I had watched carefully, not just the men, but the movement of treetops and lower shrubs in the wind. There was, I judged, a gusty wind off the hillside, unpredictable, swirling above the ground.
My turn. I nocked, drew, and waited. I watched the shrubs near the oak, still holding on to a few red leaves, leaves that showed their silver undersides when the breeze blew. When all I could see was red, I let the arrow fly.
It lodged itself in the oak immediately beside Eryl’s, to the laughter of one or two men and a string of invective from Ivor. Eryl turned on him.
“You wanted this contest,” he growled. “Your shot was worst of all. I misjudged earlier when I told you where to guard. Go above the pens, instead.”
I thought this was why Eryl had allowed the contest, but if I had been leading here, I would not have humiliated Ivor publicly. But the Kurzemë had their own customs, and Eryl outweighed Ivor by half.
We did not see the wolf that evening. Replacements came to relieve us some hours later. I walked back to our hut, the new bow in my hand: Eryl had told me to keep it. I heard footsteps behind me; turning, I saw Ivor and Karel on the path. I frowned. What were they doing here, at this end of the village? I stopped, dropping my hand close to my secca, always on my waist.
“Do you want something?” I asked.
“You are devanī, my mother says,” Ivor said. Belonging to the goddess of the hunt, it meant.
“So they say.”
“Devanī should share themselves with all men, for the good of the village and the hunt.”
“Devanī choose where the huntress’s blessings are bestowed,” I said, thinking quickly. “A good hunter has no need of her intervention.”
“Then you let Audo touch you?” Ivor sneered.
“Audo is not a hunter.” Not a good answer.
“Two boys have their manhood ceremony soon. A devanī should lie with them to make them skilled hunters.”
“You are not the vēsturni, Ivor,” Cillian said from the path ahead of me. “You trespass in areas that do not concern you.” He stepped closer, his bow in his hand.
“You tell me what does not concern me, stranger?” Ivor spat. Karel had said nothing.
“I tell you that I am the same as a vēsturni, in my own land, and that Aivar knows that. We speak of many things. Lena is devanī, yes, but she is also mine. Be careful, Ivor.” Cillian was taller than Ivor, and older, and there was authority and warning in his voice. Ivor hesitated.
“Do you forget my father is headman? You too should be careful.” He turned, stalking off into the night, Karel beside him.
“Thank you,” I said. “I’ve made an enemy there. I outshot him in a contest this afternoon.”
“Unwise,” Cillian said mildly. We had begun to walk back to the hut.
“I know. I realized that afterwards. I will try to make it look like a lucky shot if I can.”
“My apologies for claiming you as mine, Lena: I had no time to think of anything else.”
I laughed. “I didn’t mind. It’s what we want the village to believe, isn’t it?”
“I dislike implying I have control over you.”
“You did it for my safety,” I pointed out. “Why were you out, anyhow?
“I don’t know, really. I’m not guarding tonight. But I was uneasy about you for some reason, so I came to meet you.” We had reached the hut. Inside, the fire burned low, the pot of water we always left beside it steaming slightly. “Tea?” Cillian asked.
“Yes, but I can make it,” I said. We drank a steeped mix of leaves and berries. I unstrung the new bow and coiled the bowstring, putting it on a shelf before pulling off my outdoor tunic. I changed boots for indoor slippers of deerskin; beside me, Cillian did the same. I ran a hand across his shoulder. “Thank you again.”
I made the tea, and we sat by the hearth to drink it. The hut was cool, and would be cold soon, but there was enough warmth by the fire for a while. “Has Aivar said anything about what Ivor suggested?” I asked.
“No.”
“Could you ask him? I don’t want to ask Grêt. I’m not sure she’d tell me the truth.”
“I can. But you wouldn’t consider it?” He sounded shocked, I thought.
“Of course not! But if there is any such expectation, I’ll need to make up a different ritual to replace it, one I can say is from my land. I could probably handle kissing each of the two boys instead.” I sipped the tea. “There is an equivalent goddess in Linrathe, you said? Do you know anything about rituals?”
“Sorham, really, not Linrathe. I will have to think. She is not widely acknowledged, and there is little written about her. I can probably remember more about Casil’s goddess, and the Kurzemë will not know the difference.” He finished his tea. Standing, he offered me a hand up. “It’s getting cold. We should go to bed.”
We readied the hut and ourselves for the night. The hut would be cold, but not so cold that under the furs of the bed we needed to sleep closer to each other than the space demanded, for which I was glad: I still damped down desire, mostly successfully. I saw no sign that he was aware of my feelings. Given what he’d told me, I did not expect him to share them.

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Author Info

My books are historical fantasy in that they are historical fiction of an imagined world, one that is close to Britain, Northern Europe, and Rome, but isn’t any of them. A world where a society evolved differently after the Eastern Empire left, where one young fisherwoman answers her leader’s call to defend her country, beginning a journey into uncharted territory.

After two careers as a research scientist and an educator, I decided it was time to do what I’d always really wanted and be a writer. As well as my novels, I’ve published short stories, both on-line and in chapbook format, and poetry. I’ve done public readings at several juried venues, including the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. My life-long interest in Roman and post-Roman European history provided the inspiration for my books, while my other interests in landscape archaeology and birding provide background. Walking across England from the Irish Sea to the North Sea with my sister also had a major influence on the Empire’s Legacy trilogy!

I also oversee Arboretum Press, a small publishing imprint run as a collective. Right now, I’m writing Empire’s Heir, the next book in the series.

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GRAND PRIZE: One (1) physical copy of Empire’s Legacy – US/CA/UK Only
RUNNERS-UP: Two (2) ebook copies of Empire’s Legacy – International
Starts: March 9th, 2021 at 12:00am EST
Ends: March 12th, 2021 at 11:59pm EST

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Book Blitz: The Eagle & the Lynx, by Michelle James

The Eagle the Lynx

 

The Eagle & the Lynx
Destined, Book 3
by Michelle James

Historical Fantasy Romance

Date Published: February 16, 2021

Publisher: Boroughs Publishing Group

 

WE ARE OUR FUTURE

Alyssa asked Jerrik to marry her when she was eight-years-old. When he finally makes good on his promise to return when she’s old enough to wed, nothing could prepare her for what becoming his queen truly means.

Jerrik is haunted by a tortured past, and has done everything he can to avoid any ties to his parents’ mistakes. Life has other plans, and against his wishes, he agrees to assume the cursed throne that has taken the lives of his loved ones. Now a king, he must wed, and the only real choice is his best friend’s sister – the girl who has loved him since she was a child.

His bride has grown into a beautiful, tempting woman, and Jerrik succumbs willingly to her charms. But lies and betrayal surround them at every turn, and while she holds true, he makes the ultimate mistake, almost ruining an incandescent love.

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The Lion & The Swan

 

Destined, Book 1

Publisher: Boroughs Publishing Group

Published: January 2020

STAR CROSSED

A northern princess captured by pirates is sold into slavery and gifted as dowry to the cruel father of a prince betrothed to a woman he despises. So is the lot of Oona, the Swan, an exceptional singer and dancer, stolen from her father’s ship along with her sister, the Dove. Of all the horrors that awaits them, including training to be pleasure women for the brutal king, Oona never would have believed his son, Asad, the lion, Prince Black Mane of the Southern Great Valleys, would capture her heart. Any contact or familiarity between her and the prince with the glowing amber eyes, guarantees a flaying, if not death, and Oona, grief stricken over the prospect of never again seeing the prince for whom she has fallen, must get her sister home, or the delicate Dove will surely perish at the hands of the despicable king.

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The Stallion & The Tigress

 

Destined, Book 2

Publisher: Boroughs Publishing Group

Published: September 2020

A BATTLE OF HEARTS

Bastard son of a king, Aleksandr has scrimped and saved to attend the races at King Asad’s City by the Sea. Nothing will stop Aleksi from returning home with a string of fine horses, a sizable purse of gold, and an easy tempered wife who will bear his children. What he finds is a spitting tigress with unparalleled beauty, a will of iron, and a mare she assures him will beat his stallion. She’s also the king’s pampered, spoiled daughter and is off limits. But that doesn’t seem to matter when passion burns so hot propriety is ignored and all the rules are broken.

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About the Author


Michele James lives in a southern California beach town with her understanding husband, two lazy house cats, and two crazy cattle dogs. She is the proud mother of two fully functional adults, and is Oma to the world’s most adorable grandson.

A mostly retired veterinarian technician, she enjoys reading everything from cereal boxes to serious tomes, watching movies without commercials, cooking, gardening, walks on the beach (especially in winter), and practicing yoga.

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Spotlight & Excerpt: Legacy of the Mask + Giveaway

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Echoes of a Song
A Legacy of the Mask Tale
by A.L. Butcher
Genre: Historical Fantasy

 

A dozen tumultuous years after the dramatic events at the Paris Opera House Raoul, Comte de Chagny is still haunted by the mysterious Opera Ghost – the creature of legend who held staff at the Opera House under his thrall, kidnapped Raoul’s lover and murdered his brother. In Raoul’s troubled imagination the ghosts of the past are everywhere, and a strange and powerful music still calls in his dreams.

Madness, obsession and the legacy of the past weave their spell in this short, tragic tale based on the Phantom of the Opera.

Approx 8000 words.

Winner of the NN Light Reviewer Award for Fantasy 2019.

 
legacyofthemask - excerpt

The Angel of Death stalked the De Chagny’s so the whispers said. Maybe it was true. For once the Angel of Death had been a man. A masked man of magic, of music and of murder. The Angel had many names, and many guises; Raoul had once laughed scornfully at Christine’s infatuation with the Angel of Music. But now he understood the terrible bewitchment, for it was his now to bear. This man, this ‘Phantom’, who at once was angel, ghost, maestro, architect, and magician had held them all in his not insubstantial power. Erik – so he called himself – had almost brought the mighty Paris opera house to its knees. Erik’s opera house, so Christine had told him. And in those desperate nights, at least, it had been true.

Raoul pulled out the hidden drawer beneath one of the shelves and read the newspaper – now yellow and faded – as he had every night for three years like a consuming obsession. First the accounts of the ‘accidents’ at the opera: the terrible night the chandelier had fallen killing an employee, the apparent suicide of a stage hand and the murder of one of the foremost tenors. Wild stories abounded about an ‘Opera Ghost’ who’d managed to fool the managers into parting with a fortune, terrified the corps de ballet and whose face was so terrible to behold that any who saw it would die, but who sang with an angel’s voice. The truth was not something that bothered the Paris Tribune too much, but the truth could be strange beyond reason. And the Surete could hardly believe the wild stories of masked men and angry ghosts. They’d searched and asked questions, and considered a cuckolded husband or an angry father, but no perpetrator had been found. The case dwindled into obscurity. Months and years went by and other cases took prominence and now few remembered one death in a city where murder was common and adultery more so. Peering at the faded print in the bad light Raoul found the part he sought in the letters of the city’s more reputable rag.

“Erik is dead,” Raoul said it aloud. Three words. Three words which had haunted him these twelve years.

 

Tears and Crimson Velvet
A Legacy of the Mask Tale

 

Madame Giry finds herself embroiled in the tragedy unfolding at the Opera house; mystery and murder stalk the corridors and, it is said, a ghost haunts the place. Giry knows the truth, for she recalls the caged man she met so many years ago. This is her story, their story.

When murder and mystery begin at the Opera House one woman knows who is behind it, and what really lies beneath the mask. Secrets, lies and tragedy sing a powerful song in this ‘might have been’ tale.

Winner of the NN Light Book Heaven short story award 2020.

  
legacyofthemask - excerpt

Part 1 – The Palais Garnier -1890s

Madame Lise Giry unlaced her shabby black boots and stretched her aching feet onto a threadbare footstool. Her room was cold, the stone walls leeched heat and the hangings did not compensate much. Lise felt cold within – this was the cold of deadly knowledge and sadness. It ate at the soul, and the heart but Lise remained within these walls. She had a duty to do so, but it was not so simple. She had a promise to keep.

The last opera of the season was always the most exhausting; so many expectations, trepidations and often mistakes. Already highly-strung artistes were at breaking point. Even the soloists were not on top form, with Babette tripping during her dance and her partner straining a muscle trying to compensate. The corps de ballet was flighty and nervous, and Lise couldn’t blame them for that. Recent events had brought kidnap, murder and extortion. Lise thought it was like a gothic novel or one of the increasingly popular crime fictions. Yet this was dreadfully real. Terrifying. Tragic. Shaking her grey tinged head Lise let a tear fall now she was alone. She hoped next season would be more settled, at least as far as such things could be in the volatile world of theatre, with its gossip, its affairs, and its micro-world where only those within really understood. Sometimes she’d pondered on retiring and having a ‘normal’ life- whatever that might be, but deep down Lise knew this life and more importantly, this place was in her blood and soul. And there was her gentleman….

“It’s certainly been a more eventful season than usual,” she muttered to the reflection in the looking glass of her room. Madam Giry should not, perhaps, have had this room with its ebony wood and faded silken chaise; the artwork, elderly and rather faded as it was, and the mirror. Yes, the mirror! Rumours abounded about haunted mirrors, and some said they captured the soul. Lise could believe that from all that had happened these last few months. In the charged corridors of the Opera House, it was said Christine’s mirror sang and she had once disappeared through it to a beautiful subterranean palace. Dancers and theatre folk held many superstitions and strange beliefs, but not all were simply foolish tales. Even myth can have a basis in fact.

Lise wiped her eyes. Tragedy walked the passages and stairways of the Opera House. The Angel of Death dwelled here. Lise herself was not a superstitious woman; she’d seen enough to warrant a belief in ghosts, strange goings-on and mystery but knew most often there was a rational explanation. Most often but not always. She’d been raised a Catholic, but these days no answer came from above or her Bible. Once she’d been told there was no redemption. The rosary now hung on a nail behind her favourite chair, but faith is often tested. Lise had met an angel – she was sure of it but if anything, that had rocked her faith more than anything else. Angels could be damned – of that she was certain. And the angel had a name.

“Poor Erik.” The sound rose in her throat before she even realised. But it was ritual now – she spoke those words every night. Lise did not recall when those two words had replaced her nightly prayer, but they had and now she seldom bothered God.

Lise rose and felt around in the drawer of the old wooden cabinet. The note was faded, brown and barely readable but she knew each word.

A token of regard and thanks for what you have done. The Opera House requires a seamstress. Your application will be accepted.

A friend.

Any sensible person would have questioned such a mysterious offer, and Lise did but desperation and curiosity got the better of caution and she duly presented herself at L’Opera De Paris. The interview with M. Debiene had been strange, in hindsight. He’d been rather nervous and looked around him as though expecting someone to appear. No one else had joined them. No one else obvious Lise had later realised. And so she had become a seamstress and assistant chaperone. The previous incumbent had walked out, refusing to ‘work in such ungodly conditions’, and the junior seamstress had fled the following night, crying about a face in the wall. All this Lise found out quickly after she had accepted the position. Lise was desperate enough to put fear aside and so she kept herself to herself as much as her position allowed. There was no cause for reprimand, and Lise worked hard and seldom complained. It was not easy, but she’d learned, life seldom was. The salary was fair but not generous, but debts needed to be paid, and so extravagance was beyond the widow’s reach.

In the years which passed, she saw or thought she saw him, the Opera Ghost, as she went about her business. A voice echoed in her head, and a song ached her heart raw, but she could not bring herself to leave, as many others had. That song she’d heard before and found she needed it. That voice had filled her dreams. It was like a narcotic, – enchanting, addictive and potentially deadly. More than once Lise questioned what she’d seen and heard, and the gossip which filled the dressing rooms, the flies and understage.

Madam Giry had found the answer when she’d ventured deep in the bowels of Garnier’s masterpiece – the Opera House – for costumes unused for many years. Beyond substage was a lake, for the cellars went deep below the streets and pumping the water out was costly. On that day Lise had heard the song and been drawn down deeper than she’d ever been, deeper than most here knew existed. Then she’d seen him again, the pale, gaunt figure with the angel’s voice, the devil’s face and the tragic soul. That had been her answer and her curse. she knew the truth hiding beyond the lie. In those days truth wore a mask.

The man had stopped, for the ghost was a man, and looked at her with eyes that burned with a deep sadness in the pale mask which covered his ravaged face. Courage and remembrance had loosened her tongue and in that trembling darkness she’d simply said, “Erik.”

“Lise Giry. I trust you are enjoying your new role in my opera house.” His voice was soft, yet powerful; a voice which could and did ensnare souls. Yet here he was gentle but sure of himself and, it seemed, the master of this domain. His words were a statement not a question and his amber eyes burned into her soul.

“So it’s you?” She swept her hand upwards. “All this?”

“If I cannot be a man of flesh I will be a ghost. Even I cannot live entirely in seclusion.”

His eyes burned in the light of the lantern, full of hate, of resignation, full of sadness. Lise shivered, he was intense, like an animal about to strike.

“You might be surprised,” she replied, although knew neither of them would believe it.

“Fear is a powerful tool, that I know more than anything. Maybe even more powerful than love, and more enduring. If I cannot have one I can own the other. Now I command the fear and am no longer its creature. I shall rule this place with rumour and superstition and if I cannot be loved then I will be feared. Oderint dum metuant, said Atreus, and he was correct.”

Slowly she looked around, her lamplight glittered on the black water, like jewels on velvet. Lise tried to assess him –a head taller than her and shrouded in darkness. He kept to the edge of the circle of light. Erik moved like a cat, silent and deadly and she knew that thin frame held a strength and purpose which was unwaning. And Lise shivered. “You are not that person, you have good in you. I have seen it.” Her voice trembled and his laugh filled her with terror.

“I know what I am, madam. I know what the world has made me, let it rue its creation. But I am keeping you from your business.” Erik turned away from her and continued quietly, “What you seek is in the storeroom above this staircase. Do not come this far again, for it is guarded by a siren. Keep to the upper levels and you’ll be safe enough. Keep my secrets and you’ll never be hungry again. I repay my debts.”

So on that afternoon in the subterranean catacombs of the mighty Opera House the widow nodded, held out a hand in friendship and the Opera Ghost bowed his head then was gone. Her heart pounded, and her soul rejoiced, then plunged into despair. There had been murders, apparently suicides and the cursed operas. It was, so one of the managers said, good for business. The public liked gossip and there was gossip aplenty, but his co-manager, M. Debiene held the view they would be ruined. Lise held her opinions to herself.
Lise knew she should have reported what she had discovered but she could not, would not. This man had been caged once before and that sight had haunted Lise for many years. She’d promised never to let him be caged again.

Even so many years later when the bodies began to pile up Madam Giry held her tongue. She told herself it was through fear, but deep within knew that was not entirely true. She was afraid, but for herself as well as Erik. His voice held her captive, as it would many others, but she had seen his soul and could not endure the thought of it being captured again. Some souls were wild and free, the morals and laws of men failed to tame them; such souls were fearsome and beautiful, and to cage them was a crime beyond any other.

Shortly after that particular encounter, Lise had been promoted to box keeper, specifically for Box Five – the Ghost’s box – and her salary increased, and a small dressing room and chamber put aside for her use should she wish it. It was a step up from her former life, not wealthy but certainly more comfortable.

Erik was true to his word – her belly was never empty, and although her salary was not large she was not hungry or as desperate as once she had been. Her step-children had ensured she received nothing from the early death of her husband save a few trinkets and her daughter Meg, a child barely acknowledge by her siblings. Her stepson had even voiced suspicions about the captain’s death, for he’d been a hearty man and his demise had been swift and unexpected. Lise had nothing to hide, but the gendarmes asked awkward questions, and young M.Giry held some influence and so reluctantly Lise had packed what little she’d been allowed and left. But debts had a way of following and growing.

Lise knew other woman, widows and ex-mistresses often fell to earning their keep in more physical ways. Paris was rife with prostitutes of all kinds and in years past Lise had almost been desperate enough to join their ranks to feed herself; she’d survived those dark years by taking in sewing, washing, and mending, selling paper flowers and making lace. Her life was not what she’d imagined it would be, she had hoped to make a happy marriage, continue her husband’s line and live content and cherished. Lise’s mother had said she had a hopelessly romantic soul. It was true, Lise reflected. Then there was him. The angel, the ghost. She would not betray him. Could not.

British-born A. L. Butcher is an avid reader and creator of worlds, a poet, and a dreamer, a lover of science, natural history, history, and monkeys. Her prose has been described as ‘dark and gritty’ and her poetry as ‘evocative’. She writes with a sure and sometimes erotic sensibility of things that might have been, never were, but could be.

Alex is the author of the Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles and the Tales of Erana lyrical fantasy series. She also has several short stories in the fantasy, fantasy romance genres with occasional forays into gothic style horror, including the Legacy of the Mask series. With a background in politics, classical studies, ancient history and myth, her affinities bring an eclectic and unique flavour in her work, mixing reality and dream in alchemical proportions that bring her characters and worlds to life.

She also curates speculative fiction themed book bundles on BundleRabbit – for the most part the Here Be Series

Alex is also proud to be a writer for Perseid Press where her work features in Heroika: Dragon Eaters, Heroika Skirmishers – where she was editor and cover designer as well as writer; and Lovers in Hell – part of the acclaimed Heroes in Hell series. http://www.theperseidpress.com/

Awards: Outside the Walls, co-written with Diana L. Wicker received a Chill with a Book Reader’s Award in 2017.

 

 

Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
 
 
$20 Amazon giftcard,
Free Audible edition of both books (UK, US, DE),
Signed print copy (or large print – winners choice) of either book,
Free copy of Kitchen Imps and Other Dark Tales (fantasy) in either ebook, signed printed edition or audible.
-1 winner each!
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