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Caul, Shroud and Veil
Book 1 of the Fire Raisers Trilogy
Click one of the above links to purchase an eBook.

ISBN-10: 1-55404-635-1
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Science Fiction
eBook Length: 369 Pages
Published: January 2009

From inside the flap

Canaan, a broken god, and Maia, a young FireRaiser, face the horrors behind a sentient forest fire razing the continent of Gnoss. Gnoss' divine king, Alred, is too wrapped up in his own fears to believe that his kingdom is truly threatened by a power greater than his own. These three characters collide in a battle of wills. Each is dependent on the other. Each believes he is alone to battle the demons that come from inside as well as those hiding in the darkest forests.

Caul, Shroud and Veil (Excerpt)

Chapter One

"Sirenís Flame: A bright, cheerful flame with a hidden darkness at its core. This playful fire charms veils that have spent too long in the purgatory of Shrift. When they have been tricked away from this sanctuary, the flame shows its true colors, and the siren has ensnared another foolish man. His veil will be added to her collection, to be let out, like a dog on a leash, only to do her evil bidding."

The Definitive Book of Flames

Annia cursed her ill fortune. At seventeen, she could claim the title of midwife by study only, not by reputation or experience. She had no idea how to help the woman in her care, and her ignorance might cost a life.

Kali fiBeranes Caernica was too exhausted to push anymore, but still the baby would not come. She slept fitfully now, but Annia did not have the luxury of rest. Kaliís husband, Jamos diCaernica, governor of the province, had long ago succumbed to a drunken slumber in the corner. Annia worked quietly so as not to disturb him. His large feet were constantly in her way, but that was preferable to his raging at her incompetence should he wake again.

The governorís ward, a wide-eyed child of eight, crouched by the door. Annia had banished him to the kitchen several times, but he inevitably snuck back into the birthing room. Kali was the only mother he had ever known.

Annia pressed her fingers against Kaliís throat. Her pulse was weakening. With her ear to the womanís distended belly, Annia heard the child shift, but not enough. She peered into Kaliís womb. The babyís buttocks shone like the pale winter moon. She had tried to turn the infant, causing Kali to shriek until Annia stopped for fear of hurting the child. Jamos had promised to strangle her should she try that again.

Annia could not ease Kaliís pain. Her few simple trade tools-a basin of water, precious metal forceps and bottles of salves-were inadequate to the task. She simply did not have enough experience to deal with a breach birth. She would lose either mother or child.

Or both.

Amaybel should be delivering this child, she thought. Amaybel was old and wise. She had taught Annia how to use the forceps and had turned hundreds of babies. When the call came to deliver the governorís child, Amaybel had pleaded illness, but she had not fooled Jamos diCaernica.

"She sent you?" he asked, incredulous, when Annia had reported to the birthing room.

"Lady Amaybel is unwell, sir."

"Iíll bet."

Annia did not take offense at the husbandís cynicism. Jamos was a veteran ambassador to Arrogaia. He had met Kali on his last tour of service in that foreign land. Kali came from wealth and privilege, and even Gnossin ancestry, but her ways were distinctly not Gnossin. These eccentricities delighted Jamos, but Caernican high society had been less than welcoming to his exotic bride.

The ladies of Caernica slaked their initial curiosity for all things foreign and then the invitations to tea dwindled. Soon rumors of witchcraft circulated the cityís salons. The harshest critics blamed Kali fiBeranes Caernica for everything from droughts to fires. Some gossiped that Kali spoke to animals and called the rain with demonic dances. Rumors grew into accusations. A court clerk caught Kali drawing portraits in the market square, and accused her of activities becoming a siren. Witches and demons were only tales, but sirens were well-documented monsters. They called veils away from Shrift, the haven between death and the promise of paradise. Gnossins joked about witches, but they feared sirens with conviction fueled by righteousness.

Kali was taken into custody, and Jamos nearly tore the jailhouse apart with his bare hands before the bailiffs calmed him. The magister eventually dropped the charges, as no hard evidence was presented in court, but the stigma remained. The influential matrons of Caernica shunned Kali and, despite the governorís authority, no midwife would dirty her hands on his foreign wife.

Kali roused for a moment and called for her husband.

"Hush now," said Annia. "It will all be over soon."

Kali clutched her arm.

"Tell himÖ" She licked her dry lips. "Tell him to name her Maia. The firstÖthe first daughter."

Annia cringed at the pagan blasphemy. Fashionable names for baby girls included those of the First Daughters of Gnoss, but Kali did not mean one of those. The Arrogans still revered the ancient gods and particularly the malevolent Ly. Gamhaina, the Balancer, made the first woman in Lyís image. He named her Maia.

"Mandras, get me some more hot water, and be quick about it." The boy jumped up, eager to be of some use. Annia didnít need more water, but she didnít want the boy in the room to witness what she was about to attempt. When she heard his footfalls on the stair, she opened a leather case and removed a trenchant blade. With her free hand she pushed her palm up her forehead between her brows to clear her veil. Her other hand, holding the knife, shook only slightly as she approached the bed.