Today we are the first stop on the Sand and Ruin and Gold blog tour. Please join us in celebrating a happy book birthday with Alexis Hall!
Hello, and welcome to my fourth ever blog tour (I really do have to stop counting), celebrating Riptide Publishing’s release of Sand and Ruin and Gold. Yay! Thank you so much to Smart Girls Love Scifi for hosting me. And, to you, dear reader, for stopping by. If you’d like to come with me and keep me company on my virtual wanderings, you can find a full listing of when and where I am here on Riptide’s tour page.
I’m trying something a little different with this blog tour. Since Sand and Ruin and Gold is a short story, and I tend to feel that explaining short stories takes the fun out of them, instead I’m going to be posting, well, a completely different story. It’s set in the same world so I guess you could call it a kind of spiritual sibling. If you like it, you’ll probably like Ruin. If you don’t … then … um … you probably won’t. Sorry.
This is Part 1. You’ll be able to find Part 2 over at Joyfully Jay on the 23rd. If you get story lost (not that all those who wander are lost) you can catch up on the RP tour page which, once again, is here, or you can swing by my blog where I’ll be attempting to keep track of everything.
Oh, and there’s a giveaway. Nothing very dramatic I’m afraid, as I don’t have any mermaids in my possession right now, but if you want to enter the Rafflecopter below, I’d be delighted to offer a book from my backlist, in either hard or soft copy.
Draconitas Part 1
“Oh my,” said the yellow-eyed man, gazing down at the prince, “you are in a pickle.”
And as the prince stared back at the yellow-eyed man, the chains cold and rough upon his wrists, he knew he was going to die.
In those days, there was a ceremony of kingship, for we were done with leaders who bought their thrones and knew nothing of pain. We sent our princes to the harsh wastes that lay beyond the ruins of the world that was, and they returned to us changed, scarred, tempered into men who could fight and kill and rule.
But this prince——the one who saw himself now, a twist of mortal nothing, in two unblinking, slit-pupiled eyes——was not made for wild lands or hard times. He was a sweet thing, a gentle boy who’d grown into a dreamy adult. His manners were shy, his habits solitary. His deepest pleasure was searching through the archives for scraps of poetry and fragments of half-forgotten stories. He would have made a terrible king, and he knew it.
He had no great strength or skill at arms. So it was mercy, really, to offer him the Trial of Stone, rather the Trial of Steel or the Trial of Blood, though none had attempted it for years. Things were whispered about that place: the hollow temple with its columns of grey-black, coarse-grained sandstone. But it was impossible to tell where rumour ended and belief began. These were cold times. We thought the elements would take him.
But when we returned after the designated time, he was gone: his chains ripped from the crumbling stones.
The yellow-eyed man smiled with too-sharp teeth, and leaned in, wisps of smoking rising from his nostrils. “Are you a virgin, love? I haven’t had a proper virgin sacrifice for centuries.”
“You’re going to kill me.” It was not a question. The prince knew better than to plead with monsters.
“Oh, I don’t kill virgins,” protested the yellow-eyed man, affronted. He put his mouth against the underside of the prince’s jaw, his breath a blast of heat. “I fuck them first.”
The prince’s pulse was wild and thready beneath the sinuous caresses of a forked tongue. Fear swirled with some other, less immediately forgivable reaction, and in his panic he forgot his determination to bear his fate with dignity and pride, and begged. “Please don’t.”
The yellow-eyed man pulled back. “Pardon?”
“Can’t you just kill me, and have done?”
“Excuse me, but don’t you know who I am?”
The prince looked at the yellow-eyed man in his tattered jeans, with his bare feet, his long nails, and his torrent of tangled scarlet hair. “You’re a dragon.”
The yellow-eyed man pouted, flicking back his flame-bright tresses. “Not just any dragon. Even among my kind, I am greatly admired, and we are not inclined to trouble ourselves with admiration for others. Among yours I am practically famous. You wrote about me, when such things were done. Why, you should be honoured to be ravaged and devoured by a dragon as magnificent as I.”
“But,” wailed the prince, tugging at his bonds, “I don’t want to be ravaged or devoured.”
“You lot never do. Such lack of imagination.” For a moment or two, the yellow-eyed man stood and watched him struggle. “The chains are a nice touch. Attention to detail, I like that. If I let you down, are you going to try and run away?”
The prince had every intention of running away, but he still had enough honour left him to balk at lying. So he kept his peace.
The yellow-eyed man huffed out a sigh, singeing the ends of prince’s hair. “If you run away from me, I shall find it very boring. Do you want to know what I do to creatures who bore me? I unleash my breath upon them until they are nothing but stripped bone, and then I crush the bones until they are ash. Do you want to be ash, love?”
The prince shook his head slowly. His world seemed, at that moment, inescapably narrow: wherever he turned, it was full of things he didn’t want, each as terrible as the last. The whole, sinewy length of the yellow-eyed man pressed up against him as the dragon stretched up to pluck the chains out of the stone. Despite the circumstances and the company, the sheer relief of freedom, the respite from physical discomfort, made him feel instinctively rescued. “Why?” he asked, as he tried to ease the stiffness from his arms and shoulders. “Why are you doing this?”
The yellow-eyed man shrugged, but his gaze slipped away from the prince, lingering instead on the cast-iron horizon. “By the time you know, you won’t care.”
“Is this your temple? Is that how you knew I was here?” For some reason it felt important to know these things. To not die in ignorance.
A hissing laugh. “This isn’t a temple, it’s a folly. Fitting don’t you think? An empty monument to a man long forgotten. ”
“How do you know?”
“I’m a dragon, love – I know everything. But you like these things, don’t you? Pebbles from the shores of time.”
After a moment, the prince nodded. He was not accustomed to speaking openly of his preoccupations. Nobody had ever challenged him over them, but he knew they were strange. That other people did not pick over detritus.
The dragon blinked. “Whatever for?”
Forgetting himself, or perhaps too frightened to be cautious anymore, the prince surrendered to irritation. “I thought you knew everything.”
“Oh, look who found his bollocks.” The yellow-eyed man grinned at him, apparently pleased. “I do know everything, but if I don’t ask questions, I don’t elicit answers, which means I don’t get to talk, which means I don’t get to hear the sound of my own voice, and you don’t get to marvel at how terribly clever and fascinating I am.”
“What’s the point, if you’re just going to kill me?”
“I’m sure some would find that all the more reason to indulge me.”
“Fine.” The prince sighed. “But, honestly, I don’t really know what I’m looking for in the past. Meaning, I suppose.”
The sharp edges of the wind spun the dragon’s mane into ribbons of fire as he laughed into the silent spaces of the world. “For such a messy little race you have a pronounced capacity for hubris.” He turned and in the slits of his yellow eyes, the prince saw a deep and infinite nothing. “There is no meaning, love. Now, isn’t that a time saver?”
The prince just stared. The yellow-eyed man sounded very certain indeed—careless, in fact, in the way people only were with the most obvious and indisputable truths—but even the possibility that he was right was too vast and cold a reality to grasp.
The yellow-eyed man shifted impatiently. “If you’ve quite finished resigning yourself to cosmic irrelevance, how about I whisk you off to my lair? I’d like to show you my hoard before I defile you.”
Maybe everything was meaningless. “Oh, all right.”
Don’t forget to check for Part 2 over at Joyfully Jay on the 23rd.
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the twenty-first century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret. He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a seventeenth century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car. He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.
About Sand and Ruin and Gold
Once upon a time there was a king of a fallen kingdom. He was just and he was beloved. Or so the numbers said. One day, he gathered together the greatest, wisest minds in all the land—not sorcerers, but scientists—and he bade them fashion him a son. A prince. A perfect prince to embody his father’s legacy.
The scientists each brought the prince a gift: beauty, strength, ambition, intellect, pride. But they must have forgotten something because when he saw the mermaids dance at the Cirque de la Mer, he ran away to join them.
For a year, he trained them, performed with them, thought he was happy. For a year he thought he was free. But then Nerites came: A merman who refused to be tamed. A captive from another kingdom. A beast in a glass cage.
The old stories always end with happy ever after. But this isn’t one of the old stories. This is a story of princes and monsters.
You can read an excerpt and, y’know, cough, buy the book if you want at Riptide Publishing.