Sunday, June 23, 2013

Coupon in exchange for sharing Winter Queen's release. Pretty good deal, right? :) by Amber Argyle

It's Winter Queen's release day! The journey for this book began years ago--it was actually the fifth book I ever wrote, right after Witch Song.

I've included the first chapter below as well as a coupon as a way of saying thank you for your continued support and friendship.

In exchange, I ask that you share something about Winter Queen on social media (blog, facebook, twitter--the more the better!) on it's book birthday.

Subscribe here for 20% off.

I could also use some more reviews, especially on Amazon (I'd like to see at least 20, and one-liners totally count!). 



The reviews are coming in, and they're overwhelmingly positive!
Amber Argyle


1. Clan Mistress

Ilyenna’s horse danced nervously beneath her, the animal’s hooves clicking against the snow-covered stones that coated the land like dragon eggs. Reaching down, she patted her mare’s golden neck. “Easy, Myst. What’s the matter, girl?”
“There.” Her father pointed at the base of a forested hillock not fifty paces beyond the road. Ilyenna saw the shadowed form of a large animal.
Bratton soundlessly pulled an arrow from his quiver and nocked it. “Bear?” He directed the question at their father.
The word stirred currents of tension in Ilyenna’s body. The cold stung her cheeks and formed a vapor no matter how shallowly she breathed. As she glanced up and down the road, her hand gripped the knife belted around her bulky wool coat.
“I think it’s a horse,” Bratton finally said.
Ilyenna eased her mare forward for a better look. It was a horse—a bay. “Then where is his rider—” The words died in her throat when she spotted a motionless gray lump at the horse’s feet. Without thought, she rammed her heels into her mare’s ribs.
“Stop!” her father cried at the same time Bratton called, “Ilyenna!”
But the healer in her couldn’t be denied. In three of the horse’s strides, she was in the forest. She pressed herself flush against Myst’s muscular neck. Still, larch trees managed to slap her, leaving the sharp scent of their needles in her hair and clothes. Clumps of snow shook loose from their sagging boughs, falling across her horse’s mane and into her face. Yet Ilyenna barely registered the icy shock.
The other horse shied away. Myst tossed her head and balked, but Ilyenna didn’t have time to hesitate. She jumped from the saddle, and her heavy boots sank into drifts up to her thighs. Grateful for her riding leggings, she struggled toward the man, whose face was blue with cold.
Her heavy riding skirt spread around her as she knelt beside him. Strangely, even in this frigid weather, he wore no coat. Beneath him, the white snow was stained crimson. An arrow shaft stuck out of his left side, and his mouth was coated with bloody foam.
A quick assessment revealed the arrow head had passed completely through his chest, but the shaft was still lodged inside him. Ilyenna couldn’t imagine riding in that kind of pain. Each of the horse’s strides would’ve reopened the wound and spilled more blood.
Fear rose in Ilyenna’s gut, and she wondered what had driven this man to ride himself so close to death. The lump rose higher when she recognized the knots in the stranger’s clan belt. “An Argon,” she announced as her brother and her father reined in behind her. Instantly, her mind went to the Argon clan, and her brother’s best friend, Rone.
At the mere thought of the boy from her childhood, a hundred memories came unbidden. Memories she wished to banish forever. But over the last six years, that had proven impossible. She bit the inside of her cheek, forcing herself to concentrate as she pulled her sheepskin-lined mittens from her hands and probed the man for additional wounds.
“You can’t just run off,” her brother growled as he dropped beside her. “What if his attacker was still here?”
Ilyenna kept her expression neutral. Even though she was seventeen, her brother would never see her as anything but a child—one incapable of caring for herself, let alone their clan. Thankfully, the calm sureness that always accompanied her healing steeled her voice. “He’s not breathing well. Get him on your knees.”
Despite his obvious annoyance, Bratton quickly obeyed.
“Why would an Argon appear in Shyle lands with an arrow in his side?” she murmured as she worked to stop the bleeding.
Bratton’s grip tightened around his axe hilt as his gaze probed the forest. “Only Raiders would attack the clans.”
Ilyenna suppressed a shudder at the mention of the Raiders, men who survived by pillaging and enslaving those they conquered.
“Raiders don’t come this far inland,” her father said. He handed his coat to Ilyenna, who draped it over the man. Her father pointed to the arrow that rose and fell with each of the Argon’s labored breaths. “Besides, I saw a Raider’s arrow as a boy. This isn’t one.”
“Then whose arrow is it?” Bratton asked.
Ilyenna eyed her brother carefully. There was something odd about his expression, as if he suspected more than he was saying.
Her father frowned. “It looks clan made.”
Neither Ilyenna nor Bratton had a response for that. It was an impossible thought. The Clans didn’t fight among themselves; they banded together to fight against outsiders. Pressing her ear to the injured man’s chest, she listened to a sound like the gurgling of a gentle stream. She sat back on her heels. “His lungs have filled with blood. He’s drowning.”
Even as she said it, the urge to fight against death pulled at her, though she knew all too well how useless fighting it was. All things served the Balance. Life and death were no different. Though Ilyenna’s calling was to battle for life, without death, there would be no birth.
Her father bent down and gently shook the man’s shoulder. He moaned softly before settling back to his labored breathing. The death rattle. Her father looked at her questioningly. “Should we take him to the clan house?”
She shook her head. “You know he won’t make it.”
With grim determination, her father leaned over the man and shook harder.
Had something happened to the Argons? To Rone? Ilyenna had to know. She applied pressure where the wounded man’s thumb met his palm. His lids fluttered, revealing the whites of his eyes. She pinched harder. His eyes opened wide.
“Who did this to you?” Ilyenna’s father asked.
The Argon’s gaze focused on his face. It was clear he didn’t understand.
Ilyenna brought her face so close she could smell the blood on his breath. She gently brushed his hair from his forehead. “You’re in Shyle lands.”
The man snatched her hand, his icy grip surprisingly strong. “I didn’t fail?”
Ilyenna wasn’t sure what he meant, but she shook her head anyway. “No. You didn’t fail.”
He guided her hand to his pocket. She reached inside and pulled out a piece of rolled vellum. Her hands shaking, she slid off the leather band and unrolled it. The dying man echoed the words she read, “The Tyrans attacked us during the night . . . Clan Chief Seneth sent me to call for aid.” The man seemed to be fighting to keep his eyes from rolling back. “So much dying . . .” The words strangled from his lungs with his last breath.
Death had claimed another. Somewhere, a child filled its lungs for its first squall. Ilyenna handed the vellum to her father, then closed the fallen man’s eyes and rested his hand on his axe hilt. “So passes a warrior,” she said.
“So passes an Argon,” her brother and father replied in unison.
After gently laying the man’s head back on the snow, Bratton leaned toward her father and read the note with him. A plea for aid that was written in Seneth’s own hand. It affirmed the truthfulness of the dead man’s words.
The Tyrans had attacked the Argon clan.
Bratton shook his head. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Ilyenna couldn’t understand either. Undon, the Tyran clan chief, might be renowned among the clans as a dangerous man with a short temper, but this was far beyond killing a man in a drunken brawl. This treachery made him and his Tyrans even worse than Raiders.
She studied her father and brother, like twin images in a mirror. The only real difference was their age. Both men had the clan’s typical blond hair and blue eyes. They even had the same braying laugh.
Ilyenna had inherited all of her mother’s foreignness, right down to her dark brown eyes and black hair. Tears pricked the back of her throat. Her mother—the other half of her mirror—was dead, and it was her fault.
Her father gently retrieved his coat, then hauled himself into his saddle. Bratton wasn’t far behind.
“Hurry, Ilyenna. We’re near the border. It’s not safe.”
She heard the warning in her father’s words. If the Argons had been attacked, the Shyle could be next. Even now, the killers could be close. But her eyes stayed fastened to the dead man. One death, one moment, and the peace of decades had been shattered. “We should take his body.”
“We’ll come back if we can,” her father said sternly.
She squeezed her eyes shut. Her father was right. But the man had died trying to find help. He deserved better than for the wolves to pick him apart. “I’m sorry,” she mouthed, hoping his ghost would hear and understand, that he wouldn’t come for revenge against her family for this insult.
“Ilyenna!” Bratton snarled.
She turned and shoved her foot into the stirrup, then pulled herself into the saddle. Myst pranced impatiently. Ilyenna leaned low over the mare’s neck to shield herself from the wind that whipped away warmth and breath.
This deep into winter, the only passable path to the village was an ancient, snow-packed road that cut through the heart of the Shyle. They galloped along it, only pausing to maneuver through herds of sheep—their dense wool proof of the high mountain’s harsh winters—or to send other men off to warn people living deeper in the canyons and along the mountain bases.
Why had the Tyrans attacked the Argons? Ilyenna thought again. What if Rone was already dead? She’d hardly seen more than a passing glance of him in years, but for some reason she feared his death the most. Other Argon faces flashed in her mind—people she’d met over years of feast days and hunts. A growing sense of fear settled over her like a cold, wet blanket.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw their small village, nearly fifty homes built beside the river. Behind Shyleholm, the rolling valley floor gave way to massive mountains. Village lore said the mountains were actually the last of the rock trolls—creatures who had died gripping their legs, their snow-mantled heads and shoulders rising above the tree line.
The village houses were made of river stones made shiny from generations of hands. Chimneys on the split-shingle roofs exhaled wisps of smoke, and the acrid scent mingled with the smells of cattle and sheep.
The Shyle survive, Ilyenna thought. Whether it be Raiders or border disputes or disease, they survived and would continue to survive long after death had claimed her.
The sheepdogs heard the riders first. The dogs ran out of barns and yards, yapping shrilly. Just before the clan house, Ilyenna’s father grabbed the warning bell’s rope and gave it a mighty pull. Men hefted their axes, grabbed their shields, and started running. Women, their blond hair pulled back into tight braids, left their carding and spinning, picked up a child and their skirts, and hurried after the men.
With the clang of the bell still ringing in Ilyenna’s ears, her father cried, “On our border we found an Argon near death. He carried a message signed by Clan Chief Seneth’s own hand. The Tyrans attacked them in the night.”
The women gasped and the men exchanged hard looks.
Ilyenna felt the same apprehension. While individual clans ruled themselves, they followed the verdict of the clan chiefs that made up the Council when conflicts arose between clans. This act by the Tyrans could spark a war.
“What is the Shyle’s answer?” her father went on. “Will we allow Clan Chief Undon and his clanmen to kill our closest neighbors and friends—clanmen who’ve provided us succor in hard winters? Clanmen who saved us from the Raider invasion of my boyhood?”
Pride swelled in Ilyenna at the sight of her father, still so strong and capable, though well into his middling years. The clan loved him dearly, for he had loved them first, never asking for more than he was willing to give.
“No,” came the men’s response.
He nodded grimly to her brother. Bratton nodded back. Tradition dictated they both turn to her. “Clan mistress?”
Ilyenna felt nearly seven hundred pairs of eyes turn to her. Wishing her great-aunt Enrid hadn’t recently passed the full duties of the clan mistress to her, Ilyenna folded her arms across her middle to keep them from shaking. Her fingertips traced the embroidered knots on her leather clan belt. One knot for herself, one for every member of her family, and one for her clan. Each built upon the one before in a long, sinuous line, with no beginning and no end. Life perfectly balanced. “We will hold the lands until your return.”
The saying was more a custom than a reality. The women hadn’t needed to fight for their lands since Ilyenna’s grandmother’s time, when all the men were away at war and a party of Raiders had invaded their valley. But the words still rang true. Each woman carried a knife and knew how to use it. If it came to it, they would fight.
And Ilyenna would lead them.
Her father hefted his axe, pointing it skyward. “Then the Shyle rides!” With a shout, the men ran to prepare for battle, leaving Ilyenna to give the orders to those who remained, as a proper clan mistress should.
She nervously faced the women, children, and crippled men. Every face was tight with fear. Winter was a difficult time for fighting. If the men survived the battle, they still faced hunger and exposure.
“Sound it, even if you don’t feel it.” That’s what Ilyenna’s mother had always said.
Ilyenna threw her shoulders back. “Clanwomen! Food must be packed, and flint and tinder, and blankets and spare clothing. Boys, saddle the men’s horses. Any extra, load with packsaddles. Girls, go into the woods and find roots, moss, and bark for poultices. Prepare bandages and slings. Dig in the mud around the river to see if you can find some leeches. And keep your knives with you.” She added extra emphasis on the last. “Off with you. Be quick.”
The women snatched the youngest children and raced for their homes, while their daughters took to the forests. The boys headed for the barns, their eyes gleaming with excitement. Ilyenna let out a breath of relief and almost managed a smile. Her mother had been right. Sound like a clan mistress, and the clan will treat you like one.
Otrok scrambled through the crowd toward her. He was her tiam, in principle little better than a slave, but she treated him like a brother. Dancing from one foot to the next, he said, “Mistress, you want to send the horses?”
She leaned down and spoke low, “Bring me two with packsaddles. Give three more to anyone who really needs a horse.” She glanced at Larina Bend, whose family always demanded more than they ever needed, and back at Otrok. He was a smart boy. He’d know what she meant. With a grave nod, he raced toward their barn.
Ilyenna turned toward the clan house. It was easily four times the size of any other home in the village. The clan house was a place for feasting and upholding the law, but it was also Ilyenna’s home. She went past the hall’s entrance to the smaller kitchen door. Great-aunt Enrid was hauling supplies from the cellar to the rough wooden table that was older than Ilyenna’s great-grandfather.
“The Argon you found, was he someone we knew?” Enrid asked, her expression tight with worry. She was trying to knot a cloth over handfuls of dried meat, but her gnarled fingers weren’t cooperating.
Ilyenna gently took the bundle and tied the cloth. “I think I recognized him, but I couldn’t remember his name.”
Enrid moved to wrapping loaves of bread in cheesecloth.
When they had almost finished, Otrok poked his head through the kitchen door.
“Larina give you any trouble?” Ilyenna asked.
He came inside. “Some, but I told her you’d already promised the horses to the Hiders and my father.”
That would leave her twelve horses in case she had to evacuate. She ruffled his shoulder-length hair. “Good boy.” Otrok moved to help them scoop up armfuls of supplies, haul them outside, and stuff them in the pack saddles. But his face remained troubled.

“Ilyenna, I don’t understand,” he finally said. “You told me the clans are like a family, each clan brother to the next. Why would one clan attack another?”
How could she explain war to one so young? She shot a pleading look at Enrid. But months ago, her great-aunt had claimed she was too old for clan-mistress duties. She simply nodded toward the boy with her customary “You’re the clan mistress now—you handle it” glance.
Holding back a sigh, Ilyenna heaved some rolled blankets onto the back of a saddle and used the straps to tie them on. “Otrok, sometimes people do bad things.”
His brow furrowed. He was no more than ten, but his soul often seemed much older. “But why would the Tyrans attack their brothers?”
This time, Ilyenna let her sigh escape. She bent next to Otrok and put her hands on his shoulders. “You remember what we talked about . . . with your father.” Otrok’s expression turned wary. She continued carefully, “Sometimes people hurt each other—even people who should be family—and there’s never a good reason for it.”
Otrok pursed his lips and nodded. He would understand that all too well. It had taken Ilyenna weeks to nurse him back to health after the last beating his father had given him.
She looked up to see Otrok’s older brother run toward her through snow dusted with hearth-fire ash. He wasn’t old enough to trim a beard—not yet old enough to fight, and yet too young to leave behind.
She looked past him, searching for the boys’ father. As usual, Dobber was drunk. She’d had him at the beating pole not two weeks past for altering some sheep’s earmarks to look like they were his. Perhaps he’d manage to kill her horse, giving her an excuse to take his other son as her tiam as well.
Without a word, she handed Otrok’s older brother the horses’ lead ropes. “Be careful.”
He grinned in response and led the horses to a group of boys clustered beside the packhorses. She bit the inside of her cheek. The men might use the boys in the fight, but only if no other choice remained. Ilyenna hoped it never came to that.
She felt a strong hand on her shoulder. “Remember, Ilyenna, the Shyle are strong as stone—”
“And supple as a sapling,” she finished for her father. Had it really only been a few hours since they’d left the dead Argon? Ilyenna hated the tears that threatened to reveal just how frightened she was. Clan mistresses weren’t supposed to be frightened. “Let me go with you. You’ll need a healer.”
He withdrew his hand. “You’re our clan mistress, as was your mother once. Your place is here.” He stepped closer and whispered, “And clan mistresses don’t ask for things they shouldn’t.”
It was a soft rebuke, but one that stung anyway. Glad she could blame her reddened face on the cold, she tried to memorize his features, the smell of him—pipe smoke, horses, and leather—and the rough texture of his hands.
He mounted Konj. “Send any straggling warriors that come from the outlying homes after us.”
Most of the Shyle moved into town for the winter. Only the poor risked the isolation of a harsh winter alone.
His eyes searching, Bratton absently nodded his goodbye and took off. Ilyenna could only guess he was going to say goodbye to Lanna. If their budding romance continued, Ilyenna suspected they’d be married by summer.
Her father sent the scouts out and motioned for the bulk of the men to follow him. The boys brought up the rear, bringing the packhorses and acting as errand boys and healers.
Nearly four hundred of them and not one looked back.
In utter silence, Ilyenna and the women watched the Balance leave the village with the men. Men and women were on opposing sides of the Balance. When they came together, they connected both ends of the Balance in a perfect circle. The Link. Now, every male out of boyhood and beneath old age had left.
The Balance would be off. Bad things happened when the Balance was off.
Ilyenna shook her head. She needed to keep the clan busy, keep their fears buried under a heavy load of work and exhaustion. “You’ve poultices to make, food to prepare, carding and spinning to do.” None of the women seemed to hear her as they stared after their men. “Move to it!” she shouted.
That brought a satisfying round of jumps and purposeful strides. As Otrok passed her, Ilyenna caught his arm. “Round up two other boys. Use some of the horses we have left. Take turns watching the road at the mouth of the canyon. If you even think you see a Tyran, ride here and don’t stop for anything.”
She hated to ask sentinel duty of one so young that even the men had left him behind. But Otrok’s small size would give him many advantages. If he had to run for it, his horse wouldn’t tire so quickly, and even the clumsiest Shyle boy was quieter than a deer and left fewer tracks. Besides, he was the closest thing to a warrior she had left.
Otrok’s big eyes opened wider. He wet his lips with the tip of his tongue and squeaked, “Yes, Clan Mistress.”
It was a risk she had to take, for until the men returned, the safety of the Shyle rested in her hands.
Copyright © Amber Argyle Starling Publishing, All rights reserved.

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