Friday, August 12, 2011

From Darkness Won; Who Is My Shelter?

From Darkness Won

By Jill Williamson

Darkness trembles...

Achan prepares for war. But war against whom? Could Esek still be alive? Has Lord Nathak taken Esek's place? Or is the mysterious Hadad the true enemy Achan must confront?

Vrell has her own agenda of serving Prince Oren as a healer, but when she is stormed and lost to the Veil, Achan does all he can to bring her back. His conversations with her are strange, though, as if she has no memory of who he is.

In a land consumed by Darkness, the fate of Er'Rets hangs in the balance as Achan endeavors to end the reign of Darkness.

"A satisfying end to a ground-breaking trilogy. Can't wait to see what Jill Williamson comes up with next!"

--Kathy Tyers, author of The Annotated Firebird

An excerpt from From Darkness Won…

Get the little pilfering prince!

The soldier's wooden blade whipped toward Achan's face. He lunged back a step in his heavy armor and threw up his guard. The wasters scraped overhead. His body ached, right thigh still sore from where Esek had stabbed him with Ôwr, right shoulder tender from the cham bear's teeth.

Achan tensed his muscles anyway, pushing against his opponent's blade. His elbow exploded with pain as a different waster slipped past his armor and struck true. Grinding his teeth at the fiery throbs shooting up his arm, Achan cut down from high guard at the man on his right and thrust his shield against the soldier before him.

Yet his attackers kept a steady pace. Dozens of boots pattered over the soft dirt around him. One waster clubbed his backplate. Another nicked his shoulder. He needed more space. They were crowding him. Even their thoughts and the cheers of the crowd seemed against him.

This was supposed to be a practice fight, not a real one. Good thing they were using wooden swords.

Achan stabbed one man's chest, thrusting against chain armor. He stomped on another's foot. Block to the left. Kick a man's thigh. Parry with his shield. Left-guard to cut at open shins. Elbow to an exposed neck.

And just when he managed to push back the last man, four fresh soldiers advanced.

They bore down hard, slashing for Achan's legs and head. He crouched, blocking his legs with his shield and parrying to high guard. Wood clubbed against wood.

Shung's warrior cry bellowed from behind, but there was no time to see whether Shung needed aid.

There were too many.

But Shung's yell reminded Achan that volume was strength. He released a hearty scream of his own and threw out his shield arm, knocking a soldier back. He cut across two men with his waster. One stumbled into the dusty soil. The other danced back and retreated to the benches. This won Achan a moment to breathe. He returned his blade and shield to middle guard and glanced at Shung.

His faithful Shield was surrounded by five foes. Shung blocked two strikes and caught a soldier square in the chest with his buckler shield.

The onlooking soldiers rooted for their comrades.

"Get 'em, men!"

Go low, Zin!

"Three cheers for Carmine!"

"Take him down, Grigio!"

Make him pay. For Rennan!

For Rennan? Shung? Did you hear that? Achan asked telepathically.

Shung glanced Achan's way. Behind you!

Achan spun around just as a waster pounded the top of his head, slamming his teeth together. His knees buckled. His head rang against his helm like the clapper of a bell. He sank to his knees—head throbbing, elbow and thigh screaming—and raised his shield to protect his head.

Little Cham!
Shung yelled. On guard!

But Achan couldn't think. He needed a moment to—

A waster stabbed his left side. Another cracked against his shield. Achan cowered behind the slab of worn wood. He took several short breaths and jumped up. His shield struck his opponent's again, but this time Achan rammed it outward. The soldier fell and skidded in the dirt.

That won't do, Zin! We've got to show him a Carmine soldier is more man than he'll ever be.

Shut up, Grigio. You're distracting me.

Achan wanted to identify who Zin and Grigio might be, but he barely had time to crouch into position to deflect a blow from his latest opponent. This one came at his feet. He met it with his sword and lifted his shield high, then brought the edge of his shield down toward his opponent's head.

Missed. The shields locked together. Achan's opponent tugged him close, their faces inches apart. The man's eyes were fierce, hateful. This was no training regimen for him. Why?

A shadow flitted across Achan's vision. Too late he saw his opponent's sword in high guard coming down. He jerked his head aside. The waster whipped the air beside his head, nicking his helm.

The helm twisted, blocking sight to his left eye. He ducked behind his shield as the weight of a man knocked against it. Leather scraped against wood. Achan fell. He kept his shield tight over his head and body. Kicked out a leg.


Someone stomped on his wrist and jerked his sword away. A tug on his shield wrenched his right arm out straight. His cham wounds burned. He held tight until a waster cleaved against his arm.

His shield flew away.

Three dark outlines hovered overhead, the sky clear and blue above them. A kick to his ribs felt like a playful nudge through his armor. A mailed fist to his jaw, however…

The air stung the raw flesh where he'd been struck.

That'll teach the lily-livered geck.

What in all Er'Rets?

Achan tried to roll away, but the same mail glove gripped his throat. Squeezed. "You yield?" the soldier asked, his voice a faint breath.

Achan pushed against the man's chest with his hands and managed to croak, "No."

Stubborn little pip, he is.

You've got him, Grigio. Make him regret it.

So this was Grigio, at least. The one choking him. The pressure increased, crushing Achan's throat until his cheeks tingled. The cheers of the Carmine soldiers warbled.

Shh-ung… a little help?


Achan's vision spotted, but Shung's battle cry bolstered his courage. In one motion, the hand released his throat and his attacker fell away.

He gasped and lifted his head to see Shung dragging the soldier away by the cape. Five fresh men approached from the benches.

Pig snout. Would this never end? Achan pushed up onto one elbow and searched the dirt for his sword.

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Who Is My Shelter?

Book four in the House of Hope Series

By Neta Jackson

Gabby knows God is the God of second chances. But can she give one to the man who betrayed her?

Chapter One

The Good Shepherd painted on the wall of the Manna House Women's Shelter seemed to hover over the crowd in the multipurpose room, as if the babble of street talk, Jamaican patois, and bits of Spanish swirling around me was an extension of the motley herd of sheep in the mural itself.

Standing in front of the mural holding a plastic cup of red, watery punch, I savored the unusual painting once more. The pictures of the biblical Good Shepherd I'd seen as a kid always had a flock of clean, white, woolly sheep looking up at the shepherd adoringly. But the sheep on the wall were all different shades of white, black, brown, and tan, some with scraggly, dirty wool, some scrawny and hungry looking, others with bloody or bandaged wounds. But the thing about the mural that never failed to grab me was the Shepherd's face as He coaxed the bedraggled sheep into the pen where they would be safe and warm.

A look of sheer love.

I dabbed at my eyes with a wadded-up tissue. How I wished my mother—Martha Shepherd—could see this beautiful mural and be here for the dedication of the room that had been named after her: "Shepherd's Fold."

"Gabby Fairbanks! You blubbering again, girl? Here." Precious McGill, on-again, off-again resident of Manna House, took the plastic cup out of my hand and replaced it with a mug of steaming coffee. "You need somethin' stronger than Hawaiian Punch to prop you up today. I know, I know, we all feelin' sad that Gramma Shep be gone. But it's all good. It's all good."

I took a swallow of the hot liquid. "Mmm. Good coffee. Thanks."

The thirty-year-old single mom craned her neck, checking out the crowd. "So where's this famous artist we s'posed to meet today? Ain't he gonna show up for the dedication? I thought that's what today was all about."

I took the arm of my friend and turned away from the mural. "I'm sure he'll be here. And he's not famous yet—he's still an art student at Columbia College. I don't see his parents, so I imagine they're all still on the way." Now it was my turn to case the room. "But I don't see Lucy either. She better show up. This whole dedication thing was her idea."

Precious snorted. "Yeah, but you know Lucy. Never can tell when she gonna show up—or not. Uh oh, gotta go. Estelle's givin' me the Evil Eye 'cause I abandoned my post." Without waiting for an answer, Precious scooted through the crowd and a moment later I saw her head full of wiry twists pop up behind the snack table where Estelle Williams, the shelter's cook, was busy setting out hot wings and fresh veggies.

"Gabby Fairbanks!" hissed a familiar voice in my ear. "Where've you been? I want you to meet Chris!" Jodi Baxter grabbed my arm and dragged me right into the middle of the group of people clustered around the young artist. The story was, Chris had been a teenage "tagger" illegally decorating garage doors and El underpasses with his cans of spray paint. Until somebody recognized that the kid had real talent. "Chris, this is Mrs. Fairbanks, the program director here at Manna House. She's—"

"I know. Gramma Shep was her mama." The young black man's soft voice surprised me, and I was completely dazzled by his beautiful grin. He shook my hand, a nice firm grip. "My pleasure, Miz Fairbanks. Saw you across the room and knew who you were." He pointed to my hair and grinned even wider. "The Orphan Annie hair, like the movie, know what I'm sayin'?"

I had to laugh. "I know. Dead giveaway." I took a deep breath. "I'm so happy to finally meet you, Chris. I've been wanting to thank you. The mural—" Darn it if those rogue tears didn't come rushing to the surface and I had to fish for another tissue. "Um, sorry. It's just that the mural is . . . is . . . so meaningful. So perfect for Manna House and the lost sheep who come here." Uhh, that sounded lame. I could feel the tips of my ears turning red.

We were interrupted by Estelle banging on the bottom of a pot, followed by the voice of Mabel Turner, the director of Manna House. "Everyone, please find a seat and let's get started. We have a short program of dedication for the naming of our multipurpose room, and we also want to introduce the young artist who . . . "

Mabel continued her introductions as the crowd—current residents of the shelter, members of the board of directors, volunteers, staff, and "friends of the shelter"—obediently began finding seats in the rows of folding chairs facing the mural. Leading Chris toward the front row, I whispered, "Thanks again, Chris. I only wish my mom could see it."

"Yeah, me too," he whispered back. "Wish I could've met her. Whole time I was paintin' that mural, folks here at Manna House came by wantin' to tell me stories about Gramma Shep. She must've been quite a lady."

That made me smile. "Actually," I murmured, "she was just an ordinary woman with ordinary gifts. But that was her strength. She didn't see herself as anything special, which made everyone feel comfortable around her. She loved people and treated everyone like her best friend."

Everyone, I mused, as Mabel opened the dedication service with a prayer—even Lucy Tucker, the seventy-something "bag lady" who'd been my introduction to Manna House six months ago. My mom and Lucy had bonded in a strange, sweet way the last few weeks of my mother's life—partially because my mother could no longer take her yellow mutt, Dandy, for walks here in the unfamiliar city, and streetwise Lucy had risen to the occasion. Which was why I'd given the dog to Lucy when my mother died two months ago.

It was Lucy who'd made a fuss that Manna House didn't have a proper memorial for "Gramma Shep." Lucy who first raised the idea of renaming the multipurpose room, and who kept fussing until a brass plaque with "Shepherd's Fold - Dedicated to Martha Shepherd" had been engraved.

I twisted in my seat and gave the room another cursory glance.

So why was Lucy missing now?

Neta Jackson is the author of the popular Yada Yada Prayer Group novels, as well as the spin-off series, The Yada Yada House of Hope. She and her writer-husband Dave live in the Chicago area, which provides the setting for many of their novels. Check out their books at The Jacksons books' can also be found online at , , , and fine bookstores everywhere. (Please do not reproduce this excerpt without permission.)

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