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Announcement and Giveaway: Iron Axe, by Steven Harper

Iron AxeQSFer Steven Harper has a new fantasy book out – we’re giving away two copies, so comment on this post with your name and email, and we’ll pick the winners on 1/12:

Although Danr’s mother was human, his father was one of the hated Stane, a troll from the mountains. Now Danr has nothing to look forward to but a life of disapproval and mistrust, answering to “Trollboy” and condemned to hard labor on a farm.

Until, without warning, strange creatures come down from the mountains to attack the village. Spirits walk the land, terrifying the living. Trolls creep out from under the mountain, provoking war with the elves. And Death herself calls upon Danr to set things right.

At Death’s insistence, Danr heads out to find the Iron Axe, the weapon that sundered the continent a thousand years ago. Together with unlikely companions, Danr will brave fantastic and dangerous creatures to find a weapon that could save the world—or destroy it.

Talfi lives in the town of Skyford with no memory of who he is or how he got there. The only relics he has of his earlier life is the battered silver medallion he wears around his neck and a vague memory of a man with red hair who haunts his dreams. Talfi has all but given up on finding out who he is and where he comes from–until a half-troll stops at the house of Talfi’s master. Trolls have connections to magic, and magic might solve his problem. On impulse, Talfi rushes after him into a world of orcs and wyrms, of gods and even Death, in order to discover his true self–and the man he loves.

Danr exited the house, stepping carefully over the pile of half-finished arrows on the front stairs. In the garden, he untied the young steer and led it out to the street. Talfi fell into step beside him. Overhead the sun continued to burn, and the headache ground back into Danr’s skull, despite his hat.

“I’ve never been to your village,” Talfi said. “What’s it like?”

“Small,” Danr replied.

“What’s its name?”

“I don’t think it has one,” Danr admitted, feeling oddly ashamed. What did he care if the village had a name or not? But for some reason, he felt a need to impress Talfi.

They walked down the muddy, wooden street. The cut logs were rough under Danr’s callused feet. People continued to stare, but not as obviously, probably because Danr was with Talfi, and staring at Talfi would be rude. No one cared about being rude to a troll.

“Orvandel is your uncle?” Danr asked, more to fill the silence than anything else.

“No,” Talfi said, a little uneasily. “He’s just very kind and tells everyone I’m a foster son, so I call him that.”

“How did you come to live with him? Are you really fostering with him or did your parents die too?” The moment the insensitive words left Danr’s mouth, he wished he could snatch them back. Danr was an idiot, and rude besides.

But Talfi didn’t seem to notice. “I, uh . . . I don’t actually know what happened to my parents.”

“You don’t?” Danr said, his surprise clear. Then he kicked himself again. A monster asking monstrous questions, that’s all he was.

Talfi, however, didn’t seem to notice. “Nope,” was all he said. They reached the edge of the village and went through the crowded gate, still garnering stares. “I mean, I’m almost certain my parents are dead. Otherwise I’d be living with them. The rest is . . . strange.”

“You’re walking down a road with a troll and a cow,” Danr said, “and you worry about strange?”

That got a laugh from Talfi. Talfi’s laugh was a bright, clear sound, and Danr abruptly realized that this was one of the few times he had heard laughter that wasn’t directed at him. It made him want to laugh himself, though he didn’t.

“You’re right,” Talfi said, grinning. “So I’ll tell you–one strange person to another.” He paused, his gaze sliding into the distance. Red-brown cows grazed in a meadow near the road, and the breeze carried the scent of manure. Danr waited expectantly.

Talfi took a deep breath. “The strange part is, I don’t remember.”

Danr raised thick eyebrows. “You don’t remember what?”

“Anything.” Talfi sighed and bunched his hands underneath his brown cloak. “I have no memories at all.”


“My earliest memory is of looking at the Skyford gate. I was wearing a ragged tunic and only one shoe and I was hungry.” Talfi was twisting the cloak now. “That was three years ago. I still have no idea who I am or where I came from.”

“Huh.” Danr tried to imagine this, but the idea of not having any memories failed him. “Do you know how to do . . . things?”

“Yeah. I can ride a horse. I can read. I can even make arrows. Someone must have taught me, but I don’t remember learning any of it.” He paused, and a raven coasted overhead with a low croak. “My skill as a fletcher was how I persuaded Uncle Orvandel to take me in, but I told him that I was an orphan with no master.”

“Huh,” Danr said again. “Have you tried to find your memory again?”

Talfi spread his hands beneath his brown cloak. “A little. One time Uncle Orvandel sent me to Meltown to buy feathers, so I was able to ask after myself–that was a strange business–but no one knew me there, either.”

The sun continued to shine overhead, but the hard rays were blunted by the kindly shade cast by the trees that lined the road, and Danr scarcely needed his hat. The steer followed placidly, and Danr wondered if it was mystified about their trip to Skyford and back. Probably not. Cows leaned toward bland and idiotic. As long as they had enough to eat and other cows to moo at, they were happy. Sometimes Danr envied them that.

“It doesn’t seem to bother you very much,” Danr said. “Living without memories.”

“What should I do, mope? I’ll figure something eventually.” Talfi dug around in the sack Ruta had given him and came up with a chicken leg. “Have something to eat.”

Danr accepted it. “Thank you. It feels like I’m always hungry.”

Talfi grinned. “I’ll bet you eat like a . . . like a . . . ”


“I was going to say giant,” Talfi sniffed.

“Sure you were,” Danr said, and realized he was grinning, too.

“Anyway, I don’t talk about my memory problems.” Talfi took out a chicken leg for himself. “Not even with Uncle Orvandel. People would think it odd.”

“That I understand.” A cold idea stole over Danr as he finished off the chicken leg. He narrowed his eyes. “If you don’t talk much about your memory, then why are you talking about it with me?”

Talfi cocked his head. “I don’t know. In your way, you’re as strange as I am, so that makes you easy to talk to. It feels good to say it aloud.” He raised the half-eaten chicken leg to the sky like a tiny sword and shouted, “My name is Talfi and I have no memories! Fuck to the Nine! Fuck to the entire damn world!”

Now Danr halted. Behind him, the steer halted as well. “You aren’t trying to play me for a fool, are you?”

Talfi brought the chicken leg down. “No. It’s truth.”

“Because sometimes people think a stupid troll will believe anything,” Danr continued. “That he’s as stupid as he looks.”

“Oh.” Talfi gnawed the meat with a thoughtful expression. “Do people think you’re a monster?”

“Don’t you?” Danr countered, and braced himself for the answer. But in response, Talfi only shrugged.

“I don’t know you very well,” was all he said. “Do you want to be a monster?”

“I don’t have much of a choice.”

“Liar,” Talfi said cheerfully. He tossed the bone away.

The monster rumbled. Danr rounded on Talfi, teeth bared. “You think I’d be like this if I had a choice?”

To Danr’s surprise, however, Talfi didn’t shrink back. “Everyone has choices. Are you cruel to animals?”

“What?” Danr said, feeling suddenly off-balance. “No!”

“Do you scare children? Eat people? Steal? Wreck things on purpose?”


Talfi spread his hands. “That’s everything on my monster list. Doesn’t sound like you qualify.”

A breeze stirred the leaves overhead. Danr licked his lips, still off-balance. He could hardly believe he was standing on an ordinary road having this extraordinary conversation. He had never talked like this in his life, not even to his mother or Aisa. But something about Talfi made him want to talk, say whatever came to mind. And Talfi was right–it felt good to say things aloud. Did this mean he truly had a friend? Danr wasn’t sure. How long did you have to know someone before they became a friend?

A cows from a nearby pasture bawled, and Danr’s little steer bawled back. “You changed the subject,” Danr said.

“I did?”

“You were talking about not remembering anything, and somehow the talk came back to me.”

“Oh yeah.” Talfi laughed again. “Funny, that. There is something else.”

Danr started walking again. The steer followed. “What’s that?”

“Wait.” Talfi flung up a hand and Danr stopped near a small boulder. The steer yanked at the rope, but Danr held fast. “Do you hear that?”

Danr listened. All he heard was the gentle sighing of the spring wind. A half-uprooted ash tree leaned a little dangerously in their direction, adding extra shade to the road. Behind them, the steer bawled and tried to pull away.

“I don’t hear anything except the stupid cow,” Danr said.

“That’s just it,” Talfi whispered. “What happened to the forest noises?”

Unease slipped quietly over Danr. Talfi was right. No birds sang, no small animals rustled in the bushes, no squirrels chattered in the trees. The young steer bawled again, and Danr wished it would shut–

A massive green blur exploded out of the undergrowth. Danr caught an impression of flat eyes and sharp teeth. He felt a sharp jerk on the rope, and the steer’s bellow turned into a bloody wail. The enormous serpent, a wyrm, snapped once, twice, and the steer was gone. The creature raised its head and a red tongue thicker than Danr’s arm flickered in the air only a yard from Danr’s head. The wyrm’s head was taller than Danr himself, and its jaws were wide enough for him to walk right inside. Green scales glittered along a thick and muscular body that disappeared into the undergrowth. The wyrm reared back its head and stared down at Danr with hard black eyes.

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Author Bio

Steven Harper Piziks was born with a name that no one can reliably spell or pronounce, so he often writes under the pen name Steven Harper. He lives in Michigan with his family. When not at the keyboard, he plays the folk harp, fiddles with video games, and pretends he doesn’t talk to the household cats. In the past, he’s held jobs as a reporter, theater producer, secretary, and substitute teacher. He maintains that the most interesting thing about him is that he writes books.

Steven is the creator of The Silent Empire series, the Clockwork Empire steampunk series, and the Books of Blood and Iron series for Roc Books. All four Silent Empire novels were finalists for the Spectrum Award, a first!


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