Poisoned Saints Series
Poisoned Saints is a series of stand-alone paladin novels linked by being set in the same world and also linked by all featuring paladin characters. As this theocratic world has many orders of paladins, I think you'll find the various iterations enchanting. Each Aspect -- or paladin order -- has their own idiosyncrasies and how they play out when trouble comes is the catalyst for many stories.
These books are adult fantasy -- adult for theme and voice, not for explicit content. Like my young adult books, these are safe for readers who wish to steer clear of those elements.
Actual hardcover design for under the jacket!
OF DEEDS MOST VALIANT
Eleven paladins walk into a monastery. Only one knows it's a trap.
When Victoriana Greenmantle is summoned to represent her paladin order in an unusual quest, she's out of her depth from the very beginning. Victoriana has only just been made a paladin and she has none of the resources or experience that the others have. On top of that, she has no idea how she will fulfill her orders -- to find and claim for her superiors the God's own Cup of Tears.
Her rivals are stronger, smarter, and more experienced. They want this just as badly as she does. And one of them might not be a paladin at all.
When Adalbrand Von Menticure arrives at the monastery with the other paladin representatives he sees the obstacles before him as one more way to dedicate himself to his healing arts. What he does not expect is murder. Or the young female paladin who keeps insisting that they have a traitor among them. Or how she makes him start to feel things that have long been forbidden.
Together, these two unwieldy allies must discover who the traitor is, how that one is killing the others, and whether the Cup of Tears is really worth the bloodshed and danger within the monastery walls before time runs out and they are trapped forever.
A complicated mission, you say? Oh, but it gets worse, because forbidden love is slowly stalking them both, complicating everything, and leaving them each more vulnerable than they can afford to be in the face of a danger worse than either of them ever imagined.
Will this pair find strength in their strict discipline and careful practice in time to escape, or will they fall before the twin daggers of a rogue killer and an attraction more deadly than the simple risk of death?
What to expect from Of Deeds Most Valiant:
Adult Epic Fantasy
darkly humorous, romantic, mysterious
- epic fantasy setting
- closed location puzzle plot
- paladin class deep-dive characters
- theocracy worldbuilding
- strong romance side-plot
- intriguing side character
- don't kill the dog!
- knights competition
- no way out
- cinnamon roll love interest
- demon hunter
- chivalry is not dead
Author's Note: this is a rough draft and subject to change during editing. It is presented merely for your enjoyment and to spark interest in the project.
I fiercely opposed killing the dog. I was not entirely sure I could commit so black a deed.
“Now you do what I say, unholy fiend,” I growled, as I jammed his snapping jaws into the wet clay. The dog scrabbled hard against the ground, his claws tearing gouges into the hardpan just as they’d torn gouges through my flesh. Fury pounded hot through my limbs, granting me strength to hold him in place. It was a burning brew as it mixed with my hot tears.
I cinched the chain tight around the dog’s neck. Already it was slick with spittle and blood.
Here’s my advice, never fight a dog unless there’s no other choice.
The dog’s — Brindle’s — body thrummed under his short fur and his wild eye rolled up, searching. The moment it met mine, he snapped again and I had to lean even harder onto his round skull with my greave to hold him in place. This was a battle of will alone and I wasn’t sure which of us was winning.
He barked roughly, teeth snapping at air, and strings of drool flying outward like seeds of a blown dandelion. They clung to the pewter earth, adding to the churned slickness of the clay.
Of all the places to fight three opponents, I’d chosen the worst. If you could call it a choice. I didn’t feel particularly like someone who had been offered options.
I was trembling straight through when I finally eased back. I’d managed to rig the chain through the metal loops on the long pole. It had been a lantern pole affixed to my paladin superior’s saddle before I forced it to serve this way. That might be why his horse continued to throw dark looks my way from where he hid among the shadows of the surrounding trees.
Yes, I know, Dandelion. I’m a traitor to us all. By all means, judge away.
Brindle swung to snap at me, stymied by the pole, but undaunted. I jammed it hard against him, a reminder that just because he couldn’t reach me didn’t mean I couldn’t reach him. I took each step backward with absolute caution until the length of the pole was between us.
My breath sawed through the sudden stillness of the evening, loud and uneven.
How long can you keep this up, Victoriana? What will you do with poor Brindle when you finally stop to bury my remains?
Yeah, there was a voice in my head talking to me. And it knew my name. This was a new development and I was not grateful for it. It might be part of our creed to “accept with gratitude that which we do not understand” but I’d never really been very good at keeping the creeds.
I was pretty sure it was some kind of shock or trauma or something that had me hearing my mentor’s voice in my head when he was very clearly dead.
Well, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not quite well, but I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say “dead.”
I spared a miserable glance for the corpse whose voice echoed in my mind. Sir Branson lay sprawled in the clay not far away, limbs akimbo, my longsword pinning him through the chest, and quite neatly to the ground. Which, I might add, had done little to stop him when he tried to tear out my throat before the demon leapt out of him and into his beloved dog, Brindle.
Remember when I said I was fighting three opponents? That’s them.
One mentor. One dog. One demon.
There were swirls of clay all over Sir Branson’s armor and thick tracks and whorls scored into it around him, as if a potter had been forming a pot and set him in the wall of it as a grisly stamp. I’d seen worse things pass for art in our time journeying through the great cities. But I’d never seen anything that wrenched me in two like this did.
And beyond my mere sorrow, this was terribly unholy.
I made the sign of the Aspect of the Forsaken God — a holy tap of knuckle to forehead and then sword arm.
God forfend my spirit be stained by communing with the dead.
God forfend the demon jump to me next.
I’m doing my best to prevent that, dear girl, but if you’d stop with all the doom and gloom, I’m sure it would be easier. You’ve cast out demons before. Just do it again, quickly now, my cheerful — and very dead — paladin superior Sir Branson said in my mind.
He’d been a Vagabond Paladin of the Forsaken Aspect in life and now, even in death, he did not seem to have a set course to take. It was disheartening, really, to think that I might suffer cold and loneliness all my life only to have it continue past the gates of death.
Well, I’m not exactly staying here for me. It’s just that I may possibly, sort of … well, it pains me to admit it, but I may have skimped just a little on your training and this death situation has brought that screaming realization to the forefront and it feels just a tad irresponsible to sidle off now.
The dog crouched low, growling with a vibration so deep that I felt it more in my bones than heard it in my ears.
“Are you still in there, Brindle?” I coaxed. Who knew, maybe there was an epic dog-versus-demon battle going on within. Maybe the dog would win. He’d nearly beaten me. “Who’s a good boy?”
A flash of red rolled through the dog’s eye and then an eldritch voice — the demon, no doubt — replied, “NOT ME.”
Send the denizen to hell, girl. One deep strike to the throat of the dog!
Sir Branson was very confident for a man I’d been forced to kill. If he couldn’t cast out the demon, how did he expect me to do it?
Well, I didn’t want to murder a human. A dog is different.
Was it though?
I hesitated. It should be stated most adamantly that I am not a dog murderer and did not wish to become one.
You really have no option here, my squire.
I had some option. Seeing as I was the one holding the sword.
It chewed the face of thine paladin superior off entirely. And I liked that face. It greeted me nearly every morning in my cup of tea.
I’d rather not be reminded that the man who raised me had lost his face. Grimly, I glanced again at Sir Branson. He was, indeed, missing a face. It was never his best attribute, but it’s hard to function as a human without one.
The dog sat on his haunches and whined.
“I don’t suppose you’ll dig the grave?” I asked him hopefully. I was bleeding far more than I liked. My blood alone might soften the clay — though not enough to make any headway. In hardpan like this, I’d be digging all day. With a demon-possessed dog watching me and a dead man talking in my head.
Don’t you fuss. I’ll be right here the whole time, Sir Branson said gamely.
“Go with the Rejected God, Sir Branson,” I intoned the sacred words, trying to dismiss his ghost while swallowing bile. Look, don’t judge, it’s hard to give last rites to a man with no face.
I stumbled over to his horrific corpse and made the holy sign on the place where his forehead used to be and where one of the bends in his arm that I was relatively sure was the elbow was located. I touched a second one just in case. The God would forgive me … I thought.
“Blessed Lord take from me this knight, consecrated by water most holy, dipped in the cold of sacrifice, given now into thine —”
Curses. Wait. I’m not taking last rites!
“You are extremely dead, and you should take Last Rites,” I said aloud to the miserable corpse. I refused to speak with him in my mind. He had no right to be in there with me.
I shot a sad look at Brindle. We were both possessed. He, with a demon. Me, with a dead knight.
Except I will continue to remain with your mortal coil, though I am bereft of my own. I’d hardly abandon you when you need me the most. Like I was saying … there are things I forgot to mention that you probably should know …
I closed my eyes and sucked in a long inhale. It was how I handled frustrating situations — that and prayer — although this time I got a nice whiff of dog and death for my trouble. Wonderful.
“Rejected God, I beg thee send to me some means by which to bury Sir Branson,” I prayed aloud.
Good. Prayers. This is excellent. Your faith is unblemished!
He sounded so cheerful at this that I didn’t want to point out that desperate prayers were hardly a measure of godliness.
I had three problems now.
Fine, I had four problems now.
First, I had a demon-skurl to deal with.
Second, I was bleeding badly from multiple lacerations and they needed to be cleaned and tended.
Third, my former paladin superior was now a paladin excisis and he was haunting me.
I must prioritize.
I squatted down on my haunches in front of the dog.
“Perhaps we could make some sort of a deal,” I said coolly. “I have you by the neck, after all.”
“AND I HAVE YOU BY THE BALLS,” the demon laughed — or at least, I took that stone-crunching sound in my brain to be a laugh.
“How unfortunate for you, as you’ll find that means you have nothing at all,” I said acidly. “I could kill you right now, but I’m fond of the dog.”
Kill it! Kill it now!
“SILENCE REVENANT! LEAVE ME WITH THE MORSEL.”
I paused. Was it possible that the demon could hear Sir Branson and Sir Branson could hear the demon? The only thing worse than two voices in my head were two arguing voices in my head.
“Wuff?” Brindle asked, tilting his head.
I find myself in an embarrassing position, Sir Branson said in a tone I had never heard when he was alive. It seems I can no longer possess my body as it has expired.
“Indeed,” I agreed. “I bid you farewell as you enter the heavenlies. Go now, with my blessing and gratitude.”
“Did you just say cough instead of coughing?”
Dogs, it would seem, don’t cough on command.
I blinked at the dog. He blinked at me. One of his eyes was still glowing red, but the other … the other shone with a heavenly light. And it was the watery blue of an eye I’d looked into every morning over breakfast for the past ten years.
The curse I said next was not ladylike at all. So, it was fortunate I was no lady.
Though you are a supplicant squire of the Paladins Rejected and as such it befits you to act in way both godly and dignified. Sir Branson always sounded more formal when he was miffed. Additionally, you know I don’t like that word. And I have asked you not to use it in my presence. Repeatedly.
I glanced at my dead paladin superior who looked anything but dignified. It would be best not to speak of what happened to corpses upon the flight of the soul to glory. That he was a knight, remained obvious in that armor. The holiness, however, had evaporated with his soul.
I turned my eyes to Brindle. A dog now possessed of three souls: his own, my dearly departed mentor’s, and a demon of questionable origin.
And that reminds me, Sir Branson said stiffly, you have five problems.
Wow. I now had more problems than I did gold coins.
There are four gold coins in my left boot.
Tonight, you must stand vigil and accept my cloak as my heir apparent, the anointed successor chosen by the God and journey. Well, I say stand, but you must kneel in vigil throughout the night until the first blush of dawn.
“Great. Great. Great,” I said as if considering.
You should probably take the cloak now. If you can wiggle it out from under me.
He paused as if waiting for me to obey and when I didn’t move he went on.
And if the Aspect of the Rejected God speaks to you on this night and puts his mark on you, then you, too, will be a paladin blessed in the Holy Order of Vagrant Knights — the Paladins Rejected — and I’m sure he will, so no need to be skittish about that. It will work out, is what I’m saying.
If it wasn’t obvious by the fact that all my armor was sub-par and my cloak was ragged, or that little hint about the distinct lack of gold, my master and I were beggar paladins. Knights Vagrant. The God’s Own Rejected. Vagabond Paladins, Etc. Etc.
Only, Sir Branson was God-touched. He was a paladin called to the small places of this world and if I were lucky — wait, we are not to say lucky — If I were blessed then I could be one, too. And I could join him in everlasting poverty and duty. Which might sound like hell to some people, but what can I say? I signed up for this. I actually want it. And if that didn’t make me God-touched then who knew what will.
Okay, problem one. Nightime. I limped to where the gnarled, ghastly trees edged the clay river banks, hauling poor Brindle with me.
“Were it my choice, I’d set you free, Brindle,” I told the lanky dog. “But I do not know who controls your furry form and I do not want to have to kill you, too. Gifting death to Sir Branson was bad enough.”
I think I nearly have the dog under … aislhtrpoetn.
I gritted my teeth, falling to my knees as the two voices screeched over one another, whatever they meant to say, lost in the tides of their private war. The sound was like the tearing of metal — a sound I’d heard once when the massive Oakencrest drawbridge closed over one of the Oakencrest guard, pinning him in it’s great jaws and tearing his steel plate chest guard in twain. I will not say what it did to his remains.
The pain in my head from the sound split it so hard that I forgot momentarily that I had a dog to mind and I dropped the chain, covering my ears as if I could block out the internal maelstrom.
Beside me, Brindle sat down, whined, and then shuffled forward, shuffling a little further and a little further until he could lick my hand.
When — at last — the screeching subsided, I was gasping and trembling. I blinked, the world buzzing with the sudden absence of sound. Brindle put his round head into my lap.
Well. I guess it was the dog in charge of the body.
So, that was nice.
It’s hard to control another creature’s body for long even if one possesses it. Drains the strength.
I froze. The voice that had spoken just now was neither Sir Branson’s nor that of the demon-skurl but some terrible combination of the two and it rang in my head with the terrible certainty of a hanging-day bell.
“Which are you?” I asked shuddering.
Which indeed, the voice replied and then followed it up with, I’d think you would know, even if our voices have somehow merged into something new.
“How would I know?”
Well, you could hardly confuse the thoughts of a most holy paladin and a demon.
It would seem that I could easily mistake them. I did not know which was speaking to me now. This was like one of those puzzles where two keepers guard two gates and one always tells the truth while the other always lies and the puzzler must form the perfect question to discern between the two. I did not yet know the perfect question, but at least Brindle wasn’t currently trying to kill me.
I can tell you’re very upset and that’s understandable. Maybe you should take a moment.
I didn’t have a moment. I swiped away the tears still wet on my face. Useless things. They hadn’t protected any of us. Not the dead knight, not his devastated squire and not the dog currently infested with a demon.
Brindle snuffled against my palm and I pet his head absently.
“I suppose this will go more quickly now that you’re not about to rip my throat out,” I told him. “But what am I going to do with you?”
Obviously, you must keep him by your side.
Devil or Branson? Branson or devil? Either way he wasn’t wrong. Demons can jump to other creatures — a fact I had been made well aware of when this one hopped from the beggar who had found us on the derelict bridge over the Wendilclay River and into Sir Branson, and then from Sir Branson into the dog.
The beggar was dead, too, or I assumed he was, since Sir Branson had been trying to cast the demon from him and been dragged waist-deep into the water by the ravaged man. When the demon had leapt from the beggar to Sir Branson, my mentor had drowned the poor soul he’d been trying to save, before coming after me. The poor beggar’s corpse had washed down the river. Were I not bleeding from multiple places I would be honor bound to find it and offer last rites.
I was harder to kill than a beggar was, though, and I didn’t bother with trying to cast the demon out.
I'm starting to suspect that you shouldn’t cast the demon out.
That had to be the demon.
I was terrible at this game.
Well, from what I can tell now that I’m elbows deep, as it were, had you tried to cast Hxyaltrytchus out, he would have leapt from me to you, necessitating that I slay my supplicant squire and that is not a thing a man gets over easily.
I glanced over my shoulder at the broken corpse behind me. He was not wrong on that last point. Abruptly the tears tried to surface again. I throttled them with all the heartlessness I had left.
There. There. It will be fine. I’m not really gone, am I?
But I was wasting time, even if I’d finally brought my shaking hands under control. With haste, I gathered the dead wood along the edge of the forest and then hurried to light a fire.
Problem one under control.
Problem two. I was still bleeding badly and now it was making my vision shiver and darken and if I did not deal promptly with that, then I may find I’d dug a grave only to collapse dead in it myself.
That would be such a waste.
Thank you, Sir Branson.
Forsaken take it!
Listen, it’s all in the tone. When I speak, it’s in a humorous tone and when he speaks you can hear the clang of hell’s gongs in the background.
Hell had gongs?
Did I forget to teach you that, too? I hope I remembered to warn you against going to hell.
He’d done that often.
Well, he said with the air of one holding up his hands in innocence, that really was the main thing.
Removing the trappings of a knight or paladin requires patience and laborious care. Fortunately, we vagabond paladins do not wear quite as many accoutrements as some of the other Aspects are known to do. I didn’t regularly wear a helm and wasn’t wearing one now, but the light breastplate I usually wore was removed, along with my pauldrons, and gauntlets. This way I could get to my wounds.
Sir Branson had the same advantage I had when the two of us faced off — both were well aware of the other’s strengths and weaknesses. After all, he’d literally taught me everything I knew. And I’d lived with him for a decade.
He’d taken advantage of that to bleed me with neat cuts in every vulnerable spot. I’d taken a different approach and simply jammed my sword straight through the mend in his breastplate that I knew was there from polishing it for him every day. I’d put all my weight behind the blow and all my prayers for his soul behind the force that kept going right through his body. It was a tidy death in the end.
But not before the end. I swear I thought we’d end up beating each other to a pulp until both were nothing more than feasts for crows, and all we’d left behind us were some very unusual designs in the hardened clay. That would have been tricky to explain.
Anyone, really. Take your pick.
When I’d been taught my commandments at the knee of my mother and she’d taught me that murder was a great sin, she had waxed eloquent on the family of the victim mourning his loss, on the great guilt one must bear, and the stain upon the soul. I think she felt she’d impressed the need to not be a little death windmill upon me with great effect although she had been disappointed that I was less moved by holy fear than she would have liked. Now, I think she may have missed a great opportunity. If she’d told me that I’d have to discuss the murder with the victim afterward, she’d have had the terrified devoutness for which she’d been angling.
It is rather inconvenient, isn’t it. Can you not cast him out and leave me here alone?
Demon. That time I knew it. Sir Branson could leave any time he wanted.
“Really?” I muttered. I would need to clean and stitch these wounds. And water and thread were both with my horse. “Are you trapped in there, Sir Branson?”
Not trapped, exactly, though it may seem somewhat undignified that I remain.
He was worried about his dignity when he’d already lost his face?
An apt metaphor to be sure. But I really don’t feel I can abandon you at this gesture. And I do think I might be able to keep the demon in check. For a time.
“Just stay,” I told Brindle miserably, making the sign with my hand. I hoped he’d listen.
I could hear my horse snuffling just past the tree line. She was a good mare, Halberd, well trained in what to do in a crisis. We saw a surprising number of crises as vagabond paladins. Beggar demons were really just the tip of the spear, though this time the tip had stuck deep, and Halberd had followed her training and stayed close by but away from danger.
I found her cropping up small plants and trailing her loose reins not far into the forest. She rolled an eye at me and gave me a horsey snort. To my humiliation, I buried my face in her mane for a moment before leading her out to the fire. Touching another living thing that was not currently possessed by a demon was more of a relief than I would have credited.
Cleaning and stitching your own wounds is not for the faint of heart — a lesson Sir Branson had taught me my first week with him when I’d slashed my arm with his knife, and he’d handed me a sewing kit and started to brew a cup of tea.
“It works best if you can keep from fainting,” he’d said helpfully as he’d sipped his lavender tea. “Tea helps, too.”
“To clean the wound?” I’d asked.
“Oh no, for the nerves. Your stitches are too wide just there. Closer will give you less of a scar.”
I never said Sir Branson was a saint. He most certainly was not that, though he said his prayers very regularly, gave to the poor — ironic, since there were few poorer than us with our vow of poverty — and kept to the precepts of the Aspect of the Rejected God. Or at least, I thought he did. Since he’s the one who taught them to me, I could be all wrong and I’d never know.
That day he taught me two important lessons, though. How to stitch your own wounds, and that you can’t even rely on kind people to be there when you really needed them.
I’d help, but I’m afraid I’m missing the thing you’d need most. Opposable thumbs.
I was nearly done stitching. One of my shoulders was quite tender. One of my legs didn’t like taking my weight, but could do it. As far as the paladins of the Aspect of the Rejected God were concerned, that was fighting-fit.
We don’t take whiners or the callow. Or people who are too picky about who we do or don’t take. Or anyone overly fussy about dietary restrictions.
Maybe it would be nicer if the demon spoke more.
When I leap from the dog to another human, I will flay you slowly and then roast you alive over a pit of coals, little morsel, tasty snack, tiny bite, delicious … oh yes, delicious …
On second thought, Sir Branson was clearly the more cheerful of the pair. But that did leave me with a problem. If I couldn’t bring Brindle near people, then I would need to kill him, too, or vow to live far from humans for the rest of my life.
But that was a problem for tomorrow morning. Right now I needed to dig.
Right now you need to stand vigil, my girl. Night falls. Fail to stand vigil this night and all chance of being touched by the God will be lost. You will be forever supplicant and never paladin — forever unblessed. Your fate will be like this demon — to wander the earth with no hearth, no
home, no purpose, no reward.
Great. I guess I was standing vigil.
On your knees, of course.
On my knees.
I’d best get on with it.