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Title: Gods of War: Casto
Author: Xenia Melzer
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Aaron Anderson
Release Date: 06/21/2016
All is fair in love and war. Or is it?
On the world called Ana-Darasa, the gods of war engage in a desperate search for their lost hearts while waging a battle against the Good Mother for supremacy. But theirs is not the only struggle as dominant men, powerful rulers, and demigods clash, fiery passion erupts, and destinies are shaped on the battlefield and in the bedroom. In a war between pride and love, no victory is ever simple.
All is fair in love and war. Renaldo has lived happily by that proverb his entire life. But he has finally met his match, and he’s about to discover how unfair love and war can be.
When demigod and warlord Lord Renaldo takes a beautiful stranger captive during an ambush, he is delighted to have found a distraction that will keep him entertained during the upcoming siege. Little does he know, Casto is keeping more than just one secret from him. Slowly, Renaldo gets sucked into a turbulent roller-coaster relationship with his mysterious prisoner, one that begins with hatred and soon spirals into a whirlwind of conflicting emotions. And when it seems that things can get no worse, an old enemy stirs right in the heart of his home.
Determined to keep Casto by his side, Renaldo has to find a balance between the capricious young man and his own destiny as a ruler and god to his people.
Female Characters in Casto
When Renaldo and Casto became the main lead of Gods of War I was pretty preoccupied with them and some other M/M pairings for a while. Everything was shiny and new and I really enjoyed exploring all the possibilities that I had been offered story-wise. But then the first couples were established and I realized that there was just too much testosterone flying around. I needed some down-to-earth, strong-willed female characters to create a counterpart and balance for the story. Since it was clear that the main focus of the books would definitely be the M/M pairings, I decided to create a set of female secondary characters that would not only keep things interesting but also provide me with some good twists and a catalyst for certain situations.
In my story, the world, Ana-Darasa, was created by two sisters, Ana-Isara, the Empress of the Dead and Ana-Aruna, the Source of Life. The rather basic symbolism appealed to me because linking the goddesses to the two main principles of life made them aloof enough to have them as an overall arch in the story. After they have created the world and the humans, the La’ides, they teach them how to live and use magic. After some time, the La’ides realize that the magic is running out and they ask Ana-Isara for help. She decides to give them two leaders to replace herself and her sister and becomes pregnant. But since she is essentially Death, she can’t bring forth life. That is her sister’s forte and together, they have Canubis and Renaldo. As the story unfolds, the role of the Mothers becomes more defined and their relationship with Renaldo and Canubis shows edges. Being a grown-up man and warrior and a son at the same time is difficult enough as it is. Mix in the divine aspect and the fun can begin.
Renaldo and Canubis love and respect their mothers deeply, but they also struggle with the fact that Ana-Isara has degraded them to demigods as a punishment for the unfaithful La’ides. And that, of course, makes the interaction between the demigods and their followers difficult as well. I always wanted my main characters to be twisted and layered and with the mother-son relationship I have a good way of making those twists logical in addition to infuriating.
Mothers are an important part of anybody’s life, but so are spouses. Canubis is mated with Noemi Amerasu, a snake witch and healer who appears to be reasonable and friendly when in truth she’s a woman with an iron will and powers that should not be underestimated. Canubis, as well as Renaldo, is a so-called ‘alpha male’, a man who always gets his will and is used to people doing what he wants simply because it’s him who wants it. He needed a mate who is strong enough to accept him as the dominant part of the relationship and at the same time persistent enough to get her will when she thinks she’s right. Noemi is a highly intelligent and fiercely loyal wife to Canubis who makes him stronger and a better ruler for his people. She is also compassionate and sneaky when it comes to dealing with the dominant nature of her husband.
Apart from Noemi, the most interesting female character is definitely Hulda, Mother Superior of the Sisters of the Night, an order of assassins. I do admit that I created her as a kind of feministic idol in the best tradition of Marion Zimmer Bradley. Hulda is a beautiful woman, a trained killer who can take on any man, a witch with the power to step behind time and a true libertine. She is married to Wolfstan, the armorer of the Pack, but she has a very colorful past with many partners from both sexes, including Renaldo and Canubis. She always takes what she wants, she never regrets her actions and she knows herself well enough to trust her instincts. Since she is a born ruler, she is an important counterweight to Canubis and Renaldo for whom she acts as an older sister, ex-lover with no bad feelings attached and advisor. Unlike Noemi, she’s comfortable with her power and the responsibilities attached to it.
Of course these four are not the only female characters, but for the story, they are the ones with the most impact. I tried very hard not to make them and their relationship to the men stereotypical but to get a healthy dose of what the interactions between the sexes are really like. And, yes, I did attribute them with traits I wish my daughters and all women to have. Feminism is so much more than just rejecting the patriarchal system.
At the stables, a small crowd had gathered at Lys’s paddock. The reverential murmurs died as soon as Renaldo stepped toward the fence. Lys immediately sauntered to Casto, greeting him with a soft nose kiss. Casto fondled Lys’s broad forehead, and his voice was friendly, almost playful.
“Good morning, Lys. Are they treating you well?”
A satisfied snort was the answer. The stallion was obviously content.
From the crowd, Kalad emerged and took his place next to Renaldo. His brown eyes glittered. “Your plan has worked?”
“Which plan? Are you talking about my meager hopes that the stallion would stay close by? If so, then yes, I was lucky.”
“As lucky as your slave when he sent me off my horse. You’re well matched.”
“I don’t need luck to get you on the ground.” Casto’s voice was as cold as ice.
Kalad spun round in utter surprise. “He speaks our language?”
Renaldo flashed a huge grin. “Yes, he does. And not too badly, as you can see.”
“What a happy coincidence. I stick to my words. It was your lucky day when you beat me.”
Casto’s chin went forward, his blue eyes boring into Kalad as if he was an interesting insect that had just shown some curious behavior. Surprised, Renaldo realized that despite his youth, the slave was able to defy Kalad. Casto did not show any fear challenging a man who had every reason to resent him and who definitely ranked higher than Casto himself. This self-confidence, which had nothing to do with desperation but was clearly born out of habit, showed another piece of the jigsaw puzzle that was Casto.
Casto’s next words just served to emphasize this impression. “As I said, luck had nothing to do with it. Your riding skills simply aren’t good enough to make you a serious opponent for me.”
Everywhere around them were sharp, shocked intakes of breath. Never before had a slave dared to give back talk to one of the lords in such an insolent manner.
Kalad’s eyes narrowed. It was hard to tell whether he was amused or annoyed by the blatant insolence his leader’s slave was showing. “You can, of course, always say so. Show us some proof.”
Renaldo shot his brother-in-arms a warning look. “That won’t be possible, Kalad. Lys hasn’t got a saddle yet, and by the look of him it’ll take some time to fit one for him.”
“I don’t need a saddle to defeat the likes of him.”
Renaldo was indecisive, and his gaze wavered between Kalad and Casto, who were both now clearly angry and agitated. It did not seem as if either of them would give in. He sighed. There was only one solution to situations like this one.
“Okay, you can duke it out. After that, I don’t want to ever hear a word about it again, am I understood? And nobody is to get seriously hurt, which means blunt weapons. When I call an end to it, you will both comply without any back talk, are we clear?”
Both men exchanged a glance before showing their consent with nods. Kalad ordered a slave to bring his horse. While they were waiting, he turned back to Casto.
“Three rounds. The one to first score two hits wins. We fight within the training area. Leaving it means instant defeat.”
Casto shrugged. He did not really care about the fine detail because there was no way he would lose against Kalad. “Agreed.”
Kalad’s horse was a lively chestnut stallion with an elegant head and long legs that screamed runner. Kalad got in the saddle and looked expectantly at Casto.
Lys appeared next to his rider, looking unappreciatively at their opponents. In one graceful movement, Casto mounted the bare back of his horse, shooting Kalad a challenging look over Lys’s ears. He knew he was acting recklessly, that the most important thing at the moment was to keep a low profile, but Kalad’s careless arrogance rubbed him the wrong way when he was still angry about the weakness he had shown to Renaldo the night before. He simply could not, and would not, let that braided desert dweller get the better of him.
He patted Lys’s strong neck in an attempt to reassure them both. The stallion was not happy about this fight that could so easily expose them, but like his rider, he would never avoid an open challenge such as
Kalad had presented. They just had to be careful not to arouse too much suspicion.
At the entrance to the training area, Renaldo handed each man a blunt sword. They received them with grim expressions and took position facing each other. The news about Renaldo’s new slave and Kalad having a match had burned through the camp like wildfire. Canubis himself had come to the stables to witness the outrageous event. The air around the training area was buzzing with the whispered comments of the quickly growing audience. The tension, between not only Casto and Kalad but also among the spectators, was palpable.
When Renaldo gave the signal, the two men on their eager horses charged without hesitation.
Kalad, who did not intend to give Casto time to think for even a moment, tried to distract him with a quick blow to his head, but Casto ducked gracefully under the swishing sword. In the same movement, he let himself fall down on Lys’s right side, causing the audience to hold their breath and Kalad to perk up, since it looked like Casto had lost his balance while riding without the aid of a saddle. Instead of falling, Casto’s feet only touched the ground lightly before the momentum of Lys’s movement catapulted him back up. Lys spun around with surprising speed, enabling his rider to counteract Kalad’s next attack.
When he realized that the slave had not fallen off the horse but instead executed a standard maneuver, Kalad reacted quickly in order to get him off-balance. But Kalad had gravely underestimated the speed with which Lys shot forward. Casto pressed his body against the stallion’s neck, avoiding the wide swing of Kalad’s sword. He thrust his own sword straight forward and was satisfied when the blunt edge made contact with his opponent’s rib cage. It wasn’t a serious thrust, not one that would cause any damage, just hard enough for everybody to see that he had won a point. There was no use pushing his luck any further than strictly necessary.
“One!” Renaldo’s voice rang out like a bell.
Kalad’s eyes narrowed in anger. He had not expected a quick victory, not after he had witnessed the young man’s riding skills firsthand back at the oasis, but the determination with which Casto fought took him by surprise. He knew that he had egged the slave on,
forcing him into this confrontation at least partly against his will. Kalad loved to tease, especially arrogant, conceited people like Casto, and if he was honest with himself, he also wanted to get back at the man. Being defeated twice in such a short time did not sit well with Kalad’s pride as an Emeris, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to let off some steam. Although it was not very nice or honorable, Kalad also calculated that a slave would not dare to go all out against a high-ranked member of the Pack such as him. It had seemed like a safe bet, but now it looked as if he had miscalculated. In front of so many witnesses, he did not want to lose face again, and so he forced his own horse to bump into Lys.
This time Casto was unable to dodge him because his leg was caught between the two horses. Kalad tried to stab him, aiming for Casto’s chest. He missed the first time, but managed to score when he drew his sword back. A triumphant light gleamed in his eyes. This would show the boy what it meant to go against an Emeris!
There was no mistaking it! The Angel of Death was clearly enjoying this little fling between his new slave and his brother-in-arms.
The stallions danced nervously around each other then, each waiting for the other to make a mistake and determined not to disappoint their riders. Lys was angry that Casto had been hit.
Casto tried to calm him down. “Easy, Lys. You heard the Barbarian: no serious wounds. We’ll get into trouble if those two get killed.”
The stallion shook his head in indignation. He was in full battle mode now and had a hard time controlling his temper. Suddenly he made a huge leap sideways, causing Kalad’s surprise attack to fail, and this time Casto didn’t wait until the warrior gathered himself again.
With his ears pressed flat against his skull, Lys rushed after the chestnut stallion, urging him against the fence with his powerful body, thus forcing Kalad to lift his leg so that he wouldn’t be smashed between the angry horses and solid wood. This gave Casto the opportunity to send him to the ground with one well-aimed blow.
Unable to regain his balance, Kalad landed right in front of Lys’s hooves, forcing the stallion into a bizarre maneuver to avoid trampling the fighter.
“Two!” There was a hint of malice in Renaldo’s voice while he watched two men catch Kalad’s stallion.
Casto, still mounted on Lys, looked down on the fallen warrior with an impenetrable gaze. There was no telling what was going on behind those clear blue eyes, whether the young man was happy, or shocked, or afraid of the consequences of this unthinkable deed. Any sensible slave would have allowed Kalad to win, just because he was a master and had the means to make their life hell if he so wished. But then again, any normal slave would not have had a chance of defeating the warrior in the first place.
Silence descended, and it was almost as if all the spectators were holding their breath at the same time. Nothing like this had ever happened before. It was so unbelievable that most of them had difficulty comprehending it. A slave beating an Emeris in open combat. People’s minds reeled.
As if unaware of the sudden change in atmosphere, Casto jumped down from Lys’s back, went to Kalad, and offered him his hand. The warrior took it with a broad grin that shattered the tension.
After a moment’s hesitation, Casto smiled back. “I told you, I wasn’t just lucky.”
Xenia Melzer has three paperback copies of ‘Casto’ to give to lucky commentors on this post. They will be signed and the winners can decide what I should write as a dedication.
Contest ends 1 week from posting.
About the Author
Xenia Melzer was born and raised in a small village in the South of Bavaria. As one of nature’s true chocoholics, she’s always in search of the perfect chocolate experience. So far, she’s had about a dozen truly remarkable ones. Despite having been in close proximity to the mountains all her life, she has never understood why so many people think snow sports are fun. There are neither chocolate nor horses involved and it’s cold by definition, so where’s the sense? She does not like beer either and has never been to the Oktoberfest – no quality chocolate there.
Even though her mind is preoccupied with various stories most of the time, Xenia has managed to get through school and university with surprisingly good grades. Right after school she met her one true love who showed her that reality is capable of producing some truly amazing love stories itself.
While she was having her two children, she started writing down the most persistent stories in her head as a way of relieving mommy-related stress symptoms. As it turned out, the stress-relief has now become a source of the same, albeit a positive one.
When she’s not writing, she teaches English at school, enjoys riding and running, spending time with her kids, and dancing with her husband. If you want to contact her, please visit either her website, www.xeniamelzer.com or write her an email: email@example.com
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