What is Blackguards? It is an anthology featuring some of the best writers in the fantasy genre, all coming together under one cover. Click HERE to see the whole author lineup. The theme of the anthology? All stories about thieves, rogues, mercenaries, and the like.
My contribution to the anthology, The White Rose Thief, takes place after the events in The Dark Thorn and preludes my next novel, The Everwinter Wraith. It is the first of three novelettes concerning Rosenwyn Whyte, a traveling musician and former thief possessed of a terrible past best left there. Pasts have a way of entering the present and ruining futures and Rosenwyn finds that out all too sadly.
The White Rose Thief is also my initial foray into the criminal world found in Annwn, a sneak peek at a much larger—and insidious—element not seen in previous tales.
Here is an odd side story to the writing of The White Rose Thief. The scene below came to me and it was vidid, almost fully realized from the moment I conceived of it. That doesn’t happen very often for me. Imagine my surprise then when Terry Brooks sent me his 2015 novel The Darkling Child and there was an almost identical scene—similar character, similar setting, similar conflict.
I couldn’t believe it. I sent my scene to Terry. He just laughed and said, “Maybe we are too close of friends. Our work is bleeding together.”
You can listen to the opening of his bar scene HERE.
Below is the opening of the novelette, Part I of VI. I hope you like it.
The White Rose Thief
The final note of the crwth died in silence followed by raucous applause.
Rosenwyn Whyte lowered the stringed instrument and its bow, inclining her head in polite recognition. The audience cheered all the more. She sat upon a slightly elevated stage at the Raging Drunk, the largest inn and tavern in Annwn’s northern city of Mur Castell, no other musicians accompanying her. Although larger than most, the Raging Drunk was like many such establishments she often played—smoky, loud, and the odor of crowded, unwashed humanity mingling with beer grown long sour. It attracted patrons from all castes, from the wealthy sitting in the upper balconies to the vagabonds who had managed to escape the notice of burley Byl Cornwyll, the owner. The Everwinter drove all of them inside, its snow and ice an indiscriminate hardship for all while music and drunken fellowship offered the only solace.
The unnaturally long winter had been good to Rosenwyn though. Music helped people forget the terrible season and music was her trade. This night, the crowd had been large. Money emptied from pockets to fill flagons.
Not that Rosenwyn saw much of either.
“Yeh were a might amazin’ again, Rosie,” Byl Cornwyll said, having pushed his way from behind the bar through the crowd to tower over her.
“A great room, Byl, as usual.”
The owner of the Raging Drunk grinned, wringing his large hands on a damp bar towel that hung at his waist. A nervous habit that made her smile. “That was one helluva rendition of The Ballad of Gor Dwallyn. Never heard its like sung. Found damnable tears in me eyes, ah did. Had to turn away.”
“You are too big a man to cry, Byl,” Rosenwyn said, smiling, tucking the crwth safely away within its padded carrying pouch.
“And yeh are too beautiful to play in holes like this,” the other said, winking. “Do yeh have plans for tomorrow night? Another go? If these people do not see me ask, they will burn the Drunk down, ah swear.”
“I will let you know later tonight,” she said, massaging the stress from her hands.
“Yeh know where ah’ll be.”
Rosenwyn nodded her thanks. Byl made his way back behind the bar. He would pay her when most of his customers had made their way home—and beg her to stay one more night. She might accept. The Raging Drunk was one of her favorite places to play in all of Annwn. And Byl paid her better than most innkeepers, which meant she received more than just food and lodging. But not much more.
“You play with magic, love.”
Still gathering her things, Rosenwyn turned. A man stared at her with piercing blue eyes, as bold as any hunter’s. He was younger than her but that would not matter in his mind. These were the moments she hated.
“It is a gift,” she said simply. “And I work hard to improve upon it. Thank you for coming to the Raging Drunk. It helps keep me playing here.”
“I am Aron McManus,” he said. “May I buy you a beer? Or better, a meal?”
There it was. Men could be so transparent sometimes. He prized her more for her status and appearance than the woman behind the music.
“If there is one thing I already get paid in, it’s the necessities of life,” Rosenwyn said, smiling her best to defuse the situation. “And besides that, I see you coming from a town away, sir. Better for you finding another woman to entertain.”
His smile became uncertain. “If I gave you the wrong impression, I apologize. You play lovely music but it pales to your beauty. One drink. That is all.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere this night.”
Aron McManus darkened. “I think you misunderst—”
“Lady Rosenwyn Whyte!”
Both Rosenwyn and her suitor cringed as a fairy flew into their midst, its rainbow-hued gossamer wings a blur. The fey creature was no more than a hand tall, his naked body the color of damp ash. Rosenwyn did not care much for the fey. But she was pleased this one had interrupted a conversation that was about to become ugly.
Rather than talk to her though, the fairy hovered before the man and gave him a knowing grin that held no humor.
“Crotchlove, leave before this becomes painful for you,” the fairy said.
“Fairy, should I squish you right now?” he asked.
“I will only say it once.”
Aron McManus turned crimson. “Fairy, no one tells me wha—”
“I know why you stand here still,” the fey creature said, his tiny black eyes now appraising Rosenwyn. “Her hair, red as flame, a powerful shade to possess. The alabaster skin, as if it has never seen the tarnishing effects of sunlight. The blue eyes, so deep one could drown in them. That tiny mole by her sensuous lips. The sharp cheekbones and lithe figure. A worthy prize to lust after.” The fey creature magically called forth a tiny sword that flared briefly and returned his gaze back to the man. “But if you do not leave us to our business, whelp, I will start with your sight. Test me, and you will never view another beautiful woman again.”
The words held impatience. And certainty. The suitor glared, assessing his small foe; with the sword, the lightning-fast creature could be quite dangerous.
Aron McManus knew this. Rosenwyn hid her smile as she watched the man’s bravado vanish.
“I beg your forgiveness, Lady Whyte,” he said finally and, giving the fairy an angry last look, vanished into the crowd.
“Not that red is your natural hair color, of course,” the fairy continued, his sword suddenly evaporating into nothing. “White, isn’t it? Not that I care how adept you are at disguise. I rather like the red. Fiery.”
Rosenwyn frowned, chill prickling her skin. “Who are you?”
“One who was sent to find you.”
The chill became ice in her veins. “I repeat,” she said, anger rising. “This is no game. Who do you serve? That sword of yours might scare randy buggers looking for a toss in the sheets but it does not frighten me.”
“If it did, my benefactor would be greatly unimpressed by your fabled prowess.”
“You play your game,” Rosenwyn said, grabbing her instrument and deciding another night at the Raging Drunk was not in the cards. “I have my own. And they will not be dictated by the likes of the fey.”
“A redhead’s birthright. The game is about to get more interesting,” the fairy said, blocking her path by flying in front of her and bowing in midair. “I am Bazltrix. And I am here on the behalf of Lady Audeph Klestmark of Mur Castell, a woman in need of your help and great many talents.”
“Never heard of her.”
“She knows of you though. That is what matters.”
Rosenwyn hated being at a disadvantage. It was a part of her life though. Playing in taverns, surrounded by unknown people. Most of them simply enjoyed her music. Some had ulterior motives though. Bazltrix had scared off one such person but the man’s motives had been easy to decipher. The motives of the fairy and his benefactor were not.
“What is this lady’s request?” Rosenwyn asked.
“That is for Lady Klestmark to share.”
“Where is she then?”
“Outside,” Bazltrix said, his charcoal face pinched with the gravity of his request. “Anonymity is a requirement. The Everwinter offers it best.”
The tiny hairs along the back of her neck prickled warning. The area where the Raging Drunk conducted business was one of the safest districts in Mur Castell. Annwn had become more chaotic after the fall of Caer Llion though. Evil existed everywhere.
“To be alone on the streets of Mur Castell at night with an unknown woman and her fairy is not wise, I am afraid,” Rosenwyn growled, already weaving her way past the flying creature. “I think your benefactor will have to find aid elsewhere.”
“Lady Klestmark anticipated this,” Bazltrix said, flying after. He removed something from a small cloth sack on his back. He then offered the item to her.
Curiosity trumping her uneasiness at the meeting, Rosenwyn accepted the item. She immediately wished otherwise, a dark rage she hadn’t felt in a long time filling her. She held a small, diamond spider, formed no larger than her thumbnail. It caught the candle and torchlight of the tavern and glowed like a summer sun. It was a beautiful piece of art, symmetrical and flawless. There were only three in existence. And it was worth a fortune to the right people.
That did not matter though. Rosenwyn gripped the spider, its legs cutting into her palm. The present world of the Raging Drunk faded until all she saw was a past she had tried to escape and forget.
It was the Lleidr Corryn. And it once had been her sigil.
The calling token for a master thief.
“Unfortunately, someone else is not an option,” Bazltrix sniffed with indignation. “I trust you are ready to go now?”
Rosenwyn cursed her luck.
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The story of thief and musician Rosenwyn Whyte continues in Blackguards. Order your copy NOW!