Springtide Harvest passed the basic requirements of being a proper indie novel and its author not being incarcerated (for some reason). I did it!
Seriously, at this stage you pays your money and, I suspect, so long as your book is a proper book, not a leaflet or bot-written nightmare, plus a few other conditions, they put you through to the culling.
Let the editorial bloodbath begin!
How it works
There are three rounds, sixty-five prize-winners, and one authorial champeen. In each round, books are judged based on:
The panelists' overall opinion
The first round focuses on the first 2,000 words.
The panelists read the first 10,000 words. Finalists will be listed on the official website and social media. The top 65 semi-finalists receive prizes a Spotlight Tour.
Round Three—FINISH THEM!!
Each novel is read and scored by several panelists and the top fifteen ranked by cumulative scores. The top fifteen all receive prizes ranging from a badge, Mini Blog Tour, and promotional bookmarks to €1,000 in cold, hard cash, a trophy, badges, honours, kudos, and an Ultimate Blog Tour. Not too shabby!
Ultimate Blog Tour: A 15-20-day tour with 60-100 bloggers participating
Standard Blog Tour: A 10-day tour with 25-50 bloggers participating
Mini Blog Tour: A 5-day tour with 10-20 bloggers participating
Spotlight Tour: A 1 day tour with circa 10+ bloggers 'spotlighting' the book
Like I said: Not too shabby!
Will my first 2,000 words draw in the judges or condemn me to ignominious defeat? Only time will tell. Though, why wait, when you can judge for yourself?
by J.D. Mitchell
Chapter I—Rake’s Progress
Haskell fled the dockside tavern with the girl in tow. He led her, laughing, across the shadowy quay to an alcove in a stone-fronted warehouse. Her face was stained a ghostly blue in the light of an arcane lamppost, its dancing azure flame held within a twisted iron frame. She was beautiful, and her eyes sparkled with desire.
If only he could remember her name.
Gwen? Keila? He was so good with names but couldn’t remember hers. “Admit it,” he whispered. “You’re a nymph crawled from the sea to tempt me.” He stooped and brushed his lips along the slope of her neck.
She giggled and gazed at him greedily, lacing her delicate fingers over his bloody knuckles, cut against the bony face of a sailor in the tavern. Sailors didn’t like tall Southron folk, even one born in the High City. The girl, though, didn’t seem like a regular of such seedy dockside establishments. She had nursed her drink, not gulped it, and the weave of her dress was too fine; not as fine as Haskell’s white tunic or short, oxblood surcoat, but neither was it commoner’s rough-spun. No, she had to be a shopkeeper’s daughter out for a bit of adventure.
He was happy to oblige.
“I… never—” she began. He drew her close and kissed her, grabbed a fistful of her hair, and kissed her throat. She moaned, her breath hot in his ear, and fumbled for his belt. He slid his hand up her skirt. Her eagerness was an elixir to him, a validation he could find nowhere else.
“Feckless scoundrel. I knew I would find you here,” Master Slade said, his reedy voice dripping with venom.
Haskell sneered over his shoulder, his passion sinking like a man drowning at sea. The girl gasped and huddled against him.
Master Slade, bent by age, wore a mantle of dignity over his fine robes and a look of contempt on his sagging face. Behind him, the tidy rigging of moored ships glowed in the lamplight like the corded webs of titanic spiders. “Imbecile. I told you to work out those invoices by moonrise.”
The girl ran. Haskell reached for her, but the silver pommel of Slade’s cane rang off the wall in front of him. She vanished around the corner.
“Damn it, Master, she—”
“Was your true love? I suppose you left your coin purse in the tavern?”
Haskell clutched the cut purse-strings at his waist. He grinned. She was good but hadn’t needed to rob him; he would have taken her anywhere, bought her anything just to have her. It didn’t matter if her desire was hollow, that she gave it at all was enough.
Slade’s cane hammered Haskell’s jaw, the pain a flash of light and a vibratory thud. He went sprawling onto the cobbled street. Slade shook his cane in Haskell’s face. “You bring only shame on your family, waste every opportunity—”
“Opportunistic thievery,” Haskell muttered while fingering his jaw.
“What?” Slade growled.
“Usurers and moneylenders have nothing on you, Master. I delivered your message to Joshua, that was enough work for me.” The memory was bitter: old Joshua’s chin trembling with indignation as he crumpled Slade’s message. In a fortnight, his ships would be auctioned to pay debts that had come due at just the wrong moment. Slade had arranged everything as neatly as his ledgers, and Haskell’s father had bribed the right people. It was a brilliantly contemptible scheme.
Haskell looked out over the mirrored water of the bay. Khul, the High City, was overflowing with corrupt merchants and preening, backbiting nobles. The cheating, the gossip, the thievery cloaked as business; it was a game they happily played with other people’s lives.
The thought of returning to his cramped office and hunching over the tiny desk in Slade’s rat-infested warehouse, of enduring the incessantly dripping ceiling—each drip a steady measure of his wasted youth—was too much. Penning today’s transactions would make the sordid business real; worse, it would make him indelibly complicit. He wouldn’t do it. Not tonight. Maybe never again.
Slade looked skyward and sighed. “It’s Joshua’s fault—I can’t be held responsible for the fool’s lack of fiscal foresight. Have I taught you nothing? Gods know I’ve tried where your father failed.”
“Father’s nothing. My grandfather—”
“Your grandfather was a shiftless rake, like you.”
“My grandfather was a hero. He broke the orcs. They wrote songs about him. You and father are cowards. Cheats.” He pointed to the corner around which the girl had fled. “At least she had the courage to face her mark, not rob him via messenger.”
Slade drove his cane into Haskell’s chest, its silvered end driving between his ribs, as if the grizzled shipwright was trying to pierce Haskell’s heart. “I will beat sense into you, boy, or kill you trying.”
Something splintered inside Haskell. Not in his head or chest—something lower. Deeper. A creeping fire filled him, its heat making him shake and filling his mouth with ferric rage. He looked up, slowly, along the haft of Slade’s polished cane, past the wrinkled, calloused hands, and into the old man’s hateful eyes. The iron heat only grew.
He swept Slade’s cane aside, the implement clattering away into the night, and rose above his shrinking master. Haskell became a puppet of rage, his limbs jerked to violence by strings of loathing. In a half-crazed moment, he repaid years of Slade’s brutality. He struck his old master without thought of consequence, only justice, and in a heady outpouring of hate, drove him to the water’s edge.
And over the side.
* * *
Haskell ran uphill. He didn’t know how he got there, only that he had left behind the squalor of the docks. He was surrounded by the stately homes of merchants and artisans: foothills of opulence below soaring granite mansions, each a pale mountain in the light of the waxing gibbous moon.
He stole into a cobbled backyard and glanced around, breathing hard and massaging his throbbing jaw. At least the shaking had stopped. The old bastard was probably alive. Probably. Part of him didn’t care, but the City Guard would. They would be after him soon.
He crept to a shed abutting the house’s back wall and gazed at a dark, second-storey window. It was high, but he could reach it. He had before. Its owner was a trader who had risen to prominence on the necks of better men and women: Haskell’s father. Everyone would be asleep.
He clambered onto the shed, its mossy, slanted roof creaking under his weight. Reaching up, he blindly worked his stiletto between the windowsill and catch. He twisted the slim blade up and down, left and right, the window groaning as cold steel splintered old wood. A sharp crack echoed in the yard as the blade and latch broke.
The jolt caused his heel to splinter the weather-softened roof, and he tipped backward. Flailing for balance, he caught the frame with his fingertips, gripping the carved stone with his nails to stay upright. He steadied himself, looked at the fractured dagger, and swore. The stiletto had been a gift from his sister when he left to apprentice under Slade. She had been his only ally in the family after their mother died, the only one to treat him with anything but scorn. He set the broken dagger on the shed’s roof. None of that mattered now.
He hauled himself up, held his taut body in place with one forearm, and pushed the window open with the other. He reached into the room and tumbled inside. His heel rattled the frame and his arm collided with a side table, knocking a heavy wood carving onto the floor with a bang. He grimaced but remained still.
Nothing stirred in the house.
He pulled himself up by the edge of a large mahogany desk. His father had stacked ledgers on the desktop, one slim volume open for review over morning mead. How many times had he faced the disapproving man over that desk? A hundred; a thousand? He rifled the desk drawers, taking in the study as he worked. Two wing-backed chairs faced the desk at a fastidious angle and the walls were lined with glass-fronted bookshelves, everything meticulously arranged to convey wealth and authority.
Only he couldn’t find the bloody wealth.
“Where is it?” he hissed while rattling the last locked drawer. It had to be inside. He growled and swept the stack of ledgers to the floor.
Haskell stalked to the wall, from which he took a long sword in a battered scabbard. He drew the weapon, pausing to admire its sharp, oiled blade in the pale moonlight. He ran his thumb over the cross-guard, its metal worn by his grandfather’s hand, and admired the protective runes inscribed along the blade and the blood-red garnets in its pommel. Haskell, Son of Eskil the Younger, Son of Eskil Orc-breaker. A proud lineage, at least from the outside.
He reversed the sword and worked its tip into the locked drawer.
“I don’t think grandfather would take kindly to you abusing his sword, though he would approve of your motive,” his older sister chided from the doorway.
Haskell glanced up and frowned; though of all the household, he was glad it was Hilda. Her dark braid trailed down the front of a fine silk nightgown. Her face was hard, but her eyes sparkled with amusement, like she was silently laughing at a private joke. They undercut, very slightly, the cold precision she inherited from their father. She gripped a long dagger in her right hand and looked more than capable of using it.
“Where’s the bastard keep his coin?” he demanded.
“Our father keeps his coin in that very drawer, but I will not have you ruin such fine furniture.”
Hilda padded across the carpet and took Haskell’s chin in her left hand, turning his face to examine his bruised jaw in the moonlight. At six feet, she was taller than most men, but Haskell had surpassed her years ago. She shook her head and pushed his chin aside. “Four years of apprenticeship to a worthy shipwright, yet you persist in your disobedience. Or was this another backroom brawl?”
Haskell scowled at her insight as much as her respect for Slade. “Worthy? He teaches more about brutality than ships.”
Hilda sighed. “The world is harder than your master’s cane.”
“I know that.”
“You know nothing,” she muttered. “Father—”
“Is a coward.”
Hilda shook her head. “He is hard but sensible. You, however, bludgeon your way through life. The world will never match your naïve view of it, Haskell.” She swept across the room and opened a bookcase. Running a finger along the spines, she removed a volume on noble houses and retrieved a small silver key hidden between its pages. She tossed the key to Haskell. “This is a mistake and the last time I help you.”
He caught the key and scowled. “It’s different for you—you’re his favourite. You play his games. I…” He kicked a piece of chalk that had fallen on the floor; it skittered past the carving he had toppled. Fangs filled the oaken dragon’s gaping jaws, its tongue curling up to lick its nose. Intricately carved knotted lines formed its scales, paint clinging to the recesses. Its raised surfaces were hard worn by the wind and waves of the briny sea.
Haskell had adored the heavy sculpture as a child, had run his little fingers over its details. He had imagined the prow it once adorned, the fierce raiders crowding the deck of its longship. He would sneak into his father’s office, take down his grandfather’s heavy sword, and dream of life outside the city, of winning renown fighting orcs and trolls. He had begged to be told tales of how his grandfather had ceased raiding to fight, of his battles and adventures, his highs and lows, but Haskell’s father wouldn’t spoil his boy with worthless words or wasted affection. His family wanted to bury their past. They were merchants now, not brigands. He heard those very words in his father’s disdainful baritone.
He picked up the carving in both hands and set it on the open ledger, its weight crinkling the fine paper. He stooped and inserted the silver key into the locked drawer. It turned with a heavy, well-oiled click.
“You cannot stay in the city after this,” Hilda said. “What life will you make for yourself?”
He lifted a sturdy leather pouch from the drawer, heavy with gold and silver that clinked softly inside. “I’ll go to the borderlands with one of the caravans. To Branthall. I’ll be out of Father’s reach there and sign on with the Questers Guild.”
Hilda scoffed. “As a mercenary? There is no glory left in the borderlands. The old wars are over, and the Questers Guild is a relic for drunks and failures.”
Haskell rammed his grandfather’s sword into its scabbard. “Then I should fit right in. I’ll make my fortune honestly, fighting Darkwood monsters like grandfather did.”
“You only know half his story. Grandfather could be cruel, especially to Father.”
Haskell buckled on the sword and pouch. “You and Father wouldn’t tell me.”
“He fears you will become his father. You’re certainly wilful enough.”
Haskell put one leg through the open window and sat heavily on the sill. She didn’t understand. How could she? They didn’t want the same things. He didn’t fit in her world.
“What will you do when you run out of coin?” she asked.
Haskell slapped his thighs and flashed her a cheerful smile. “I’ll just keep the coin flowing.”
Hilda laughed despite herself. “You’re a fool, Haskell.”
“Don’t let Father miss me too much.” He flashed an impish grin and slipped away.
“He will only miss his coin,” she said.
Haskell jogged through deserted moonlit streets. He had to get through the gates before word of his theft and assault spread. With one hand on his new pouch and the other steadying his sword, he was sure of only two things: the road would be long, and there was no going back.
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