Guest post spotlight on author Rebecca Gomez Farrell to celebrate her new release Wings Unfurled.
Title: Wings Unfurled
Author: Rebecca Gomez Farrell
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Release Date: December 6, 2022
The vicious claren that used to plague the reunited countries of Medua and Lansera are long gone. So what are the new dark patches appearing in Lady Serra’s second sight? She rushes to King Albrecht to report the danger, only to discover that he’s ailing and Vesperi, Prince Janto’s wife, has fled far to the north to grieve her disappeared daughter. Vesperi still wields the silver flame, possesses all the authority she’s ever wanted, but nothing can heal the wound of a missing child.
When the silver moon Esye begins to fade, a gnawing fear preys on her for the first time since she escaped her father’s cold rule. Ominous creatures once thought mythical are now rampaging through the countryside. Janto sends Serra to investigate. But without her friendship and Vesperi’s love, he fears he cannot slay this challenge. He failed to find his own daughter, after all. To save the Lanserim, the legendary bird with three heads must fly again. Will Janto, Vesperi, and Serra find the strength to raise it? Or will this menace, with the might to drain a moon, devour them first?
Guest Post: What’s The Worst Advice You’ve Ever Received?
The worst writing advice I’ve ever received is to “break the rules.” I clearly remember the first time I
attended a panel on speculative fiction. All three writers on the panel were asked if they had a favorite
piece of writing advice, and each one proceeded to say that they didn’t follow the rules, with a mix of
sheepishness and pride.
Writers often fancy ourselves rebels. Many of us were avid readers in childhood, and we naturally
absorbed writing rules without having a name for them. It’s common for a writer to feel as though they
just know what makes for good writing. Most successful authors, however, recognize that writing is a
process of constantly learning how much we can improve, once we get started telling stories.
What are the writing rules? You probably know some: show, don’t tell; revise out weasel words, don’t
head hop; avoid passive phrasing. These are great rules to study and practice! For a time, I applied those
rules faithfully, learning a lot about what makes good writing in the process. After a few years, I had a
eureka moment—I’d been adhering to the rules too strictly! They are valuable tools, but a true
craftsman understands not only what tool is right for the job, but when it’s needed. Only when a writer
truly appreciates their nuances can they break those rules with style.
What those authors failed to mention on that long-ago panel is that they could break the rules because
they understood them. They had learned why each rule existed, and thus, they knew how breaking them
would jar a reader’s expectations and create the most impact. So yes, writers love breaking the rules!
But good writers know when to do so, and when to follow them instead. Finding the right combination
makes the worlds they imagine more alive for the reader.
Serrafina Gavenstone could not believe her eyes. Gone was the comfortable armchair that had stood guard in this hall for nearly two decades, outside the door to her old bedroom. Her dear handmaid, Bini, had sat there so many times during Serra’s childhood, waiting to be called upon. A bare chair of blonde Wasylim wood rested in its place on the stone floor.
Serra shook her head, blinked three times, and only then was certain she viewed reality and not the spiritual realm, which was always a distinct possibility. She had the sight, a supernatural gift from Madel, Lansera’s goddess, who inhabited that other plane of existence. Serra could slip the sight on faster than reading glasses. With it, she could glimpse Madel’s realm and its color-rich gossamer that overlaid reality like a decorative veil over a gown.
Such a small change, that chair, but it added to her unease. Lately, dark patches flickered at the edges of her sight. Which was why Serra had come to Callyn—to tell the king. Any such change in her vision could be a sign of a threat emerging, as the claren scourge had six years ago. Claren swarms had attacked the peoples of Lansera, consuming all beings from the inside out and leaving husks of skin in their wake. They’d been invisible to everyone but Serra, as they’d come from the spiritual realm.
“Can I help you, Lady . . . ?”
A young man touched Serra’s shoulder, a castle servant she had not met in the months of her latest absence.
“Mar Gavenstone,” she corrected him, then shushed him as he gaped at her name and form of address. “Not ‘Lady Gavenstone,’ that’s my Aunt Marji. Just ‘Mar’ suits me fine. Not Seer Serra, either. That’s plain silly.”
His color returned to a healthy shade. “Well, yes, all right then. Can I help you, Mar Gavenstone?”
“I’m here to see King Albrecht. Please tell him I’ve arrived.” She shook her head then touched his arm. “You must tell him it’s Lady Serra, not Mar Gavenstone.” Chagrin colored her cheeks. “I shouldn’t have corrected you in the first place, I’m sorry. It was just a . . . a wish.” The king would admonish her, again, for not taking up her claim to Gavenstone Manor, the ruling house of the nearby Meditlan region. Serra hadn’t lived there since she was eight, when her parents had drowned and the royal Albrechts had taken her in to foster. “I’ll wait right here. No refreshment is required.”
The servant clasped his hands together and raised his elbows to her, holding the gesture long and high enough to indicate the appropriate amount of deference. Then he hurried off across the courtyard. Were it spring, Serra’d steal away to the queensgarden to wait. Walking the spiral labyrinth through its fragrant balac vines had brought her peace many times in her childhood. But it was winter, and the branches were bare.
The bejeweled tapestry on the wall had also disappeared, she noticed. A simpler, but perhaps more appropriate, rug of woven feathers hung in its place. It displayed the form of the mythical three-headed bird of creation that had protected Lansera from the claren. As the seer, Serra had been one of the bird’s figurative three heads. Janto Albrecht, the prince and her former fiancé, became the slayer and second head after defeating the legendary silver stag in the flesh. His wife, Vesperi, was the weapon and the third. Her silver flame could burn through a claren swarm in seconds.
Janto had dubbed their trio the “hunting party” soon after they’d begun systemically clearing the countryside of claren. The task complete and people saved, he and Vesperi had returned to Castle Callyn four years ago. Serra had too, for a time. But her life had changed so completely from the one she used to dream of within these walls, that home no longer applied to them.
“Serra, I am so glad you’re here.”
Janto swept her up in an engulfing hug that lasted longer than perhaps appropriate.
“Put me down!” she scolded with a smile. Though it’d been six years since she’d released Janto from their engagement, Serra remained ever vigilant of appearances. “What if someone starts a rumor about the prince seeking comfort away from the princess?”
Vesperi was from Medua, a region of Lansera that had been its own country for two generations. The advers, false priests of a fake god, had ruled the Meduans through fear. Brutality was prized, and placing one’s self-interest first? A virtue. Their people had been reunited since the clarens’ attack, but the Meduan and Lanserim ways of life had grown so far apart, some doubted they could ever truly be one again.
“I’m just so glad to see you,” Janto said. His hand trembled. “Father’s . . .”
Tears brimmed in Serra’s eyes before she knew why they came. “What’s wrong?”
“Father’s sick.” Janto stared at the stone floor. “Very sick.”
“No.” He couldn’t be sick. She was here to seek his guidance. King Dever Albrecht’s stalwart competence had calmed so much of the political upheaval since the Conjoining, the day their claren hunting party had toppled Mandat Hall and reunited the two countries. He was their steadfast waypost. She needed him. They all did.
What shall we do without him?
The words slipped out from a smooth-tongued voice beside her. Serra turned her head to find an empty hall. A thought? But it had sounded so corporeal.
Your fears are very real.
Serra gasped. The voice again. Her sight revealed nothing but the dark patches encroaching on her vision of Madel’s realm. They’d shifted some, looked more like pockets that puckered open and closed before evaporating.
“Serra, are you okay?” Concern flooded Janto’s amber eyes.
Surely, her worries had merely made her imagine it. “I’m fine, I promise.”
With a finger, Janto lifted her chin. “I’m so glad you’re here. He’s not doing well. You . . .”—he choked back tears—“you should see him right away.”
Serra nodded, her mind racing. “Will Vesperi be there?”
His answer held a bitter edge. “No. She’s not at Callyn. Hasn’t been in two months.”
“What? With the king sick . . .” Serra’s protective impulses bristled. For the sake of their people, she’d brokered a truce with Vesperi long ago. But getting along with Meduans, and their often brash and selfish ways, could be a challenge. Serra’s own romantic life proved that—she’d broken up with Lorne Granich, the son of a Meduan lord, for the fifth and final time just a few months ago.
Janto gave her a warning glance. “It’s complicated, Serra. After Izzy—”
Of course. Learning the king was sick had pushed her goddaughter’s disappearance to the back of her mind. Not being a mother herself, Serra could not, and would not, hazard a guess as to the complicated emotions Vesperi and Janto felt. Whatever was going on with Serra’s sight could wait—she was here, and the Albrechts needed her.
Perhaps the darkness in Serra’s sight had been Madel’s way of impelling her to come.
Janto led her past the throne and council rooms. Memories of the king in both sprang to mind, especially the day he had guided their hunting party down the path toward toppling Mandat Hall, the seat of the advers’ power, which had enabled the Conjoining. Vesperi’s absence at the castle spoke volumes—if even Janto, their prince, couldn’t get along with his Meduan bride, how could the rest of the Lanserim?
Serra pushed the memory of Lorne’s pale blue eyes, flashing with betrayal, from her mind.
He is unworthy of you.
The thought was as insidious as the beating of claren wings. Still, she’d tried to convince Lorne it was true. That last day together, his flaxen hair swept up into a handsome bun and his jewels freshly shined, he’d proposed spending their futures together, perhaps even marrying, though he hadn’t pressed that far. She’d panicked, couldn’t picture that future, any future, really. Not since she’d sacrificed the one she’d had as a child of marrying Janto and becoming queen.
Such a coward, Serrafina.
That was much closer to truth than the voice had come before. Her spirits drained as Janto gripped her hand and they bypassed the stairs leading up to the king’s study. To not be at his desk, Dever Albrecht must be gravely ill. He rarely kept to his quarters in daylight.
Her throat tightened, though Janto’s hand felt as reassuring in hers as it always had. She noted fresh archery calluses on his fingers. From the courtyard, sunlight streamed into the walkway and highlighted his strawberry-blond curls and the green cast of his warm brown skin. The angles of his muscles had sharpened, no doubt from the months he’d spent scouring the mangrove swamp between Wasyla and Rasseleria for Izzy. No one had found a trace.
“I’ve had a letter from Ryn Cladio,” Janto said. Ryn Cladio was the highest priest in the Order devoted to serving Madel. “He speaks of strange animal corpses found in the marshlands—”
“Not the claren returned?” Serra gasped. It had been two years since any reports. She’d seen none in her recent scourings.
“Not the claren. The bodies are intact, but long decayed. They’ve identified horns thus far, and many hooves—too many for the number of carcasses.”
Extra legs? And horns? What new madness did they have to contend with, and with the king sick?
“He sent me a couple lines of verse, too. Said an old tome he was unfamiliar with had surfaced in the rooms beneath Temple Enjoin. The ryns and rynnas are stumped as to what to make of its old alphabet. He’s sent me what they translated thus far. I’m hoping it sounds familiar to Father.”
Serra said nothing in response. Their fulfillment of the silver stag prophecy had quelled whatever doubts she had about the power of old rhymes and chants.
Against the wall outside the king’s quarters hunched the normally erect form of Ser Allyn. To see the king’s most trusted advisor in any state but composed? Serra’s throat clenched.
“Lady Serra,” he raised his elbows in greeting, “I am glad you’re here. The king will be pleased to see you.”
“What are you doing out here, and not inside, Ser Allyn?” Janto asked.
“I shouldn’t intrude, my prince. Not on the time you have left.” He held himself tall, composed, though he choked on the words.
Serra paled. Is the king so far gone as that?
“Allyn, don’t be ridiculous. You are coming back inside with us. With Father.” Janto reached for his arm, but the advisor stepped back, his form rigid.
“I couldn’t.” Tears formed in his eyes, though he tried to blink them away.
“Nonsense. You are family as much as I,” Serra interjected, and Janto nodded.
Ser Allyn made a desperate sound, like a woranbird that had lost its mate.
Janto clutched his shoulder. “Consider it my first command, if you must. But there is no one else Father would rather have by his side, in death or in life.”
He assented, allowing Janto to wave him in.
“Oh good.” Queen Lexamy’s golden voice filled the room as Ser Allyn entered. “I’d begun to worry you thought we could handle this without you.”
The queen smothered the advisor in a hug, dimpled arms reaching easily around his slender figure. Then she caught sight of Serra, and heavy wrinkles smoothed from her brow. She held out her other arm, and Serra filled it with gladness.
The embrace ended, and Serra slipped into a chair beside the queen. A beam of light highlighted her dusky skin and exposed smears of moisture from recent tears. Janto moved to close the curtain, as the same light fell against the king’s closed eyes.
King Dever Albrecht spoke in rasps. “No, open them more.” Instantly, all attention was on him. “I want to see my daughter.”
Serra could count on one hand the number of times he’d called her that. Most of them had come in the years since she’d left Janto at the altar. The king had known Serra, orphaned and rootless, needed assurance that they had not parted ways, that she was part of the Albrecht family in spirit, though not in name.
She leaned over him as his eyes, the same color as Janto’s, fluttered open.
“Still not in your rightful hold, I see,” he said with a wet cough.
Many times, Serra had described King Dever Albrecht as stern. But today, his voice held humor. She shook her head. To return to Meditlan, walk its halls devoid of her family, was another future she could not imagine. They’d all passed away, except for Aunt Marji and her husband, Jehos, who ruled in Serra’s stead.
He patted her hand. Perhaps the need for performative command had shrunken away with the fat on his bones. He was far too thin, and that, too, was hard to take in. Her eyelashes wet, Serra kissed his cheeks. The warmth in them gladdened her.
“What are you doing in this bed?” she teased. “Don’t you know you’re supposed to be the strong one?”
The king laughed, and it rattled down his throat, coins tossed in a well. The queen reached for something in a nearby chest—a honey and eucalyptus candy, Serra guessed. It would soothe his throat. The queen had encouraged Serra to study herbology in Oost, and Serra practiced it now in her travels.
“Oh, Serra, you have always been the strongest of us.” The king winked. “Don’t tell my son.”
-He does not know you as well as he thinks.
Serra pushed the harmful thought away; there were more pressing issues at hand than her own failings. She peeked up at a smiling Janto. “I promise.”
This man had acted as her father for most her life, given her structure and discipline. Once, he’d trusted her with his son’s heart, and after, with their people’s lives. But he wasn’t prone to such sentiment as now flowed from his lips.
“I am so glad to have raised you, child.” He leaned forward and she ducked down so he could kiss her forehead.
“Father, I have received a letter from Ryn Cladio,” Janto started.
“Oh?” The king struggled to straighten against his pillow. The queen helped him rearrange himself.
“He believes Madel revealed a set of old verses to him—they have had odd sightings in the marshes, and—”
“People have had odd sightings in marshes for millennia,” the king jested. Then he groaned, and Queen Lexamy dunked a towel in iced water to wipe his sweat. Serra wondered that he took Janto’s news so lightly. He normally treated anything to do with the Order with the utmost seriousness.
“May I?” Ser Allyn asked, and the queen handed him the rag. “I used to, when we were children. Do you remember, Dever?”
“Allyn,” the king’s voice grated, gravel crunched underfoot, “of course I remember you taking care of me. Although I had a few years on you.”
Ser Allyn chided, “Two at best. You’ve always been so proud of that age difference.”
The king smiled, though his eyes fluttered closed.
“Father, the verses—”
“Yes, yes. I’m sorry. What are they?”
Janto retrieved a rolled parchment from his cloak. Serra tried not to reflect on why he pushed the issue—it was clear enough in the weariness that lined the king’s face. I have been gone too long. To be this far advanced, King Dever must have been sick for months.
“When leaps the mighty cantalere, the dark brother drains his foes,” Janto read. “Ryn Cladio says the carcasses they found in the swamps might be canteleres.”
“Cantaleres!” the queen gasped. The mythical beasts were rumored to have three pairs of legs and mighty horns for spearing their prey. Serra shivered, remembering the bedtime stories that her handmaid Bini had read to her of the fields of slain rabbits left behind by their rampages. After the claren and the silver stag had proven real, most Lanserim had little doubt that other legendary creatures might be as well.
“Father, I’m thinking of asking Sielban for his interpretation.” Janto regarded the king with a mixture of concern and impatience. “I can think of no other person in Lansera who has Madel’s ear, if you have no ideas, and neither does the Order.”
The king stirred. “You must not bother Sielban. His focus must be on the murat. It’s a sacred calling, training our boys into men—he must not be distracted from his task.”
Janto had slain the silver stag during his murat, an annual competition between young men on the remote island of Braven in the northern sound. The long-lived Sielban was Braven’s sole year-round inhabitant. Janto, and many of the others who had been there, spoke of the Rasselerian with reverence. He argued, “But Sielban will have no task, for there will be no men to train if Lansera is in peril.”
Vexation animated the king, and he rose half up in bed. “The Albrechts have never bothered Sielban for advisement. Do you think I have not been tempted? Son, you must have faith Madel will show you Her plans, as She has always done for me.”
He grunted again, an anguished sound so unlike him, Janto rushed to his side. They all did, joining hands. The king deflated against his pillow. “Time’s close.”
“Don’t say that,” the queen tried, a useless sentiment. Serra breathed deeply, comforted by the familiar smell of the Meditlan cloves studding the necklace she wore. She prayed time might somehow be frozen and the king’s words proven untrue, but she feared he was right.
“Madel hasn’t seen fit to hide it from me,” he continued. “That’s why I’m not as concerned as you’d like about these supposed cantaleres, son. I know we are in Her hands.”
He gestured for a drink, which the queen provided, pressing it to his lips. “She’s given me a new vision.”
Once before, during his own murat, Madel had granted the king a vision. He’d held onto it for four decades, dreaming of a better future for their peoples. Through the fulfillment of the silver stag prophecy and the Conjoining, that dream had come true.
Might this mean something bigger being asked of Serra, Janto, and Vesperi? That potential was part of why Serra didn’t want to be tied down to anywhere or anyone. Dangers could arise at any moment, sacrifices be asked. Is that why I broke it off with Lorne?
A safe choice. Better to spare yourself that pain.
Serra agreed, accepting the thought as her own. It eased smoothly into the swirl of her emotions.
“Go on,” Janto prodded his father. “Share it with us.”
Serra rested her chin in her hand. The king struggled to raise himself higher on his pillows, so Ser Allyn gave him an extra lift. Gray stubble grizzled the king’s face. The queen tilted the water glass again to his lips.
“I saw a land covered in mist,” he said. “The mist shifted over its surface liked smoke captured in a glass. The most brilliant colors flashed through it—shimmers from heaven, I thought. Purples and oranges and greens and every color in between, maybe even ones we have no name for.”
Madel’s realm. Hearing someone else describe how it looked was surprising—and surely a sign his vision was from Madel and not the ravings of a sick man, Serra hoped.
“I felt peace gazing at the mist’s graceful movement in harmony with the land. But something grew beneath the mist and deepened into an abyss. It had been there all along, I think, blending in. This abyss drew the mist’s colors into it, and as it did, those shimmers of heaven arced like lightning over the land. The life the abyss had consumed flashed from within it, and somehow, its darkness blinded me.”
Could he be talking about the darkness she’d seen? Relief washed over Serra. Her burden might already be known to the king. He would know what to make of it.
“When I could see again, the mist was gone, and the colors and the abyss. I could see down into our world, recognize it as Lansera from our maps. The sight grieved me at first; its trees were barren, though no snow covered the ground. The world was ravaged worse than how the claren would have left it—”
Serra and Janto exchanged glances.
“—worse even than the plain of Orelyn before Turyn’s Peace. At least the corpses left in that battle’s bloody wake had offered proof that people had once been there.”
The image was frightening—what could be worse than such carnage? During the Meduans’ rebellion, a thousand warriors had died on that plain. To avoid any further loss of life, King Turyn, Dever’s father, had brokered his peace and ceded the rebels the land east of the mountains to live how they wished, outside of Lansera’s governance. And thus, Medua had come to exist.
King Dever continued, pale, but his fervor energized him. With her sight, Serra glimpsed the familiar electric blue of Madel’s presence enveloping him like the mist he’d described. As always, it both awed and heartened her.
“As I scanned the land,” he said, “silver sparks crackled over its surface. Not all in the same place, nor at the same time, but twinkling into existence and flaming strong. One at Mount Frelom, another at the Perch. More from the Lorvian riverlands to the Rasselerian huts. Even on the Deduin plains, though no ice was left to mark them as such. As the silver rays strengthened, they flowed together into one big light. I had to turn away from their brilliance.
“A hand graced my cheek, and I peered again at the world. Lansera and the colorful gossamer had been restored. My fear melted away. All was not lost. All would be as it was. Madel finds a way.”
The king closed his eyes, and his smile conveyed his peacefulness. The blue glow subsided. But the vision had not calmed Serra’s fears. If this was indeed a prophetic vision, and she had no reason to doubt it, then Lansera was under a great threat, one also affecting Madel’s realm or why else the dark patches in her sight?
A threat that will bring a future not worth the living.
She did not want to think such dark thoughts. But a quick perusal of the others’ countenances confirmed she was not alone in that reaction. She opened her mouth to share what she knew, but Janto first kneeled by his father’s bedside and clasped the king’s forted hands.
“Father, what do you make of this vision?”
The king did not stir. Queen Lexamy caressed his hair. “My love,” she said gently, loathe to disturb him, “we do not understand this vision as you do. Can you share what Madel intended us to make of it?”
Serra wondered how it felt to love someone that deeply.
The king coughed as though woken from a nap, and his eyes fluttered open, one at a time.
“No?” he said, “I had thought its meaning obvious.”
Serra gave a pained laugh. “I’ve learned, my king, that what the devout find obvious can sometimes take a while for the rest of us to understand. Some never do, I fear.”
“Hm,” he considered. “It was Madel’s hand that touched my face. She was telling me not to fear what might come after my death. Life would go on, the country return to itself.” He chuckled, “I have sometimes given myself too much credit for Lansera’s prosperity. It is Madel who sees to that.”
Perhaps. But Madel chooses Her servants well. Or at least Serra believed as much when she felt confident in her own abilities. That confidence had yet to be strong enough to send her back home to govern Meditlan. Not that I want to.
“But what of the mist and the colors, Father?” Janto asked. “And the silver? Is Vesperi to play a role in this future?”
Serra could hear Janto’s yearning. Who else but Vesperi could the silver refer to? She possessed the flame.
“I have no doubt she will,” the king answered. “Unless you think a queen holds so little sway over her people?” He gave his wife a peck. Then he poked Janto’s side with more vigor than Serra had thought he still possessed. “Maybe the vision was to encourage you to bring your wife home. We don’t need to interrupt Sielban’s work to see the need for that.”
Serra suppressed a scoff. Vesperi loved Janto, which was why she’d gone away, no doubt. The Meduans who wanted to be better people, to resist their ingrained behaviors and become more like the Lanserim, recognized that their impulses were sometimes best dealt with away from those they risked hurting. She’d seen Lorne do the same many times. Is that why he hasn’t tried to contact me? That he’d yet to extend an olive branch had surprised her. Not that she’d accept it.
“I hope the vision comforts you, Father,” Janto said. Serra prayed the king missed the pity those words conveyed. They were the words of a son who didn’t accept his father’s interpretation but believed Madel capable of giving a dying man reassurance that those he left behind would be fine.
The king nodded, hands coming back to his chest. “And it will comfort you when needed. When things seem grim, know Madel has us in Her hand. She will bring balance again.”
What sort of balance could there be without the king to lead them?
One syllable, yet the smooth, fluid voice that spoke it reverberated through her head. King Dever Albrecht was dying. Serra could imagine nothing darker lurking on the horizon than that.
Rebecca Gomez Farrell refuses to say “Bloody Mary” three times into a mirror, though she’ll write stories about the people who do. She lives in California’s East Bay with her tech wizard husband and two feline co-workers. Her epic fantasy duology, which includes Wings Unseen and Wings Unfurled, is published by Meerkat Press. Becca’s shorter works have appeared over thirty times in magazines, websites, and anthologies including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, It Calls From the Sky, PULP Literature, and A Quiet Afternoon 1 & 2.
Becca is the communications director for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA). She helms a local chapter of the national Women Who Submit Lit organization, which encourages all writers who identify as women and/or nonbinary to submit their work out for publication. She also co-organizes the East Bay Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Meetup Group and administers several discussion groups for women, nonbinary, and Bay Area writers.
Over the past decade and a half, her food, drink, and travel blog, theGourmez.com, has influenced every tasty bite of her fictional worldbuilding. Her replicator order is “Absinthe verte, one cube.”