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New Release: The Merchant Witch – K.L. Noone

The Merchant Witch - K.L. Noone

QSFer K.L. Noone has a new queer fantasy book out (M-NB): The Merchant Witch.

Sometimes heroic swordsmen need money. So Aric and his half-fairy partner Emrys have accepted a job protecting a wealthy cloth merchant’s caravan. But the job’s more complicated than it seems.

Em’s fairy father is hunting them, and Em’s trying not to draw attention by using magic. Their client, Lady Caris, has demanded that Em stay in a simple single-gendered human form and not shapeshift — and Aric can see his partner growing more uncomfortable day by day.

On top of that, their client’s hiding a magical secret … and a dangerous enemy.

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“I did want to talk to you.” Em’s eyes were serious about the practical concerns of their job, but under that the reprieve, the exhale, the freedom lay like joy amid pleated silk. Aric had done that. He played with a spike of Em’s hair, and felt the matching joy in his own chest.

Em said. “I’m even less sure I trust our employer. She wanted to have a chat with me, today. About magic. Questions about what I could do, how I’d learned it, whether I’d know if someone was using magic. Not exactly personal, but she had some sort of answer in mind. I’m not certain I was satisfactory; I tried not to be.”

“Good thing everyone knows you’re not the talkative one.”

“I can be!”

“Only when you like people.” Or when playing a role, befriending fellow caravan guards. He traced the swoop of Em’s ear. “You said you did like her, kind of.”

“I do, even if I don’t trust her.” Em shrugged a shoulder while lying down, economical. “Someone who’s so good at what she does, who knows what she wants and who she is, moving through the world like that … you have to admire the certainty. And she’s ruthless but fair; everyone I’ve spoken to says so. She’s good to her people. And … as much as she doesn’t trust magic, and of course so many people don’t … she’s not afraid of me.”

That might mean confidence, or arrogance, or an interest in power, or any number of motives. It was nice, though, not to be eyed with suspicion; and Aric did not look at the long-faded scars along Em’s arm, though he knew they were there, and he touched Em’s cheek, hand gentle. “Did she ask you to do something for her?”

“No. At least, not yet. She did ask whether I was happy with you.”

“I hope you said yes.”

That quicksilver smile leapt again. “I said very. Emphatically. She looked surprised. I think she thinks you’re mostly the muscles.”

Aric flexed a bicep, as best he could while holding his other half in the post-sex euphoric glow.

Emrys laughed. “Not that I don’t appreciate that. I also told her I was trying not to use it — magic, not your muscles — as much as possible, right now. I didn’t say why; she asked whether it was habit-forming, like sweet poppy, if you practice too much. Not exactly, I said, and we left it at that, and that was when she wanted to know about you.”

Most kinds of power, enchanted and not, could be addictive, but that wasn’t the problem; Em was half magic, after all. Aric traced the arch of one dark eyebrow; his partner liked being petted. “Have you felt anything else?”

“Not since we crossed the Aldfleet. That doesn’t mean he’s not looking. I don’t like not knowing.”

“Is it helping, not doing much?”

“I think so … I’m not drawing more attention, at least …” Em made a face. “Since the Spine, those ghosts …”

Since Emrys had — to save a town, open a mountain pass, and free an entanglement of lonely angry spirits — opened a door in the air, and sent those spirits onward. With blood, and a stone circle, and a casual use of world-changing power.

Em had said it was more like easing that door open a crack: not a wide swing, but a hopefully unnoticed nudge. Aric, who’d caught his partner as Emrys collapsed, had found himself waking in the night, more than once, to watch Em’s chest rise and fall: deep reassuring breaths.

“I know what that feels like,” Em said. “So do you; even you felt it. My father does like to shout.”

To shout, to glare, to bring all that fairy-lord attention to bear on them like searing white light through a focus-glass. Em’s father wanted his child back, now that that child was grown and powerful and useful. Emrys did not know precisely what might be wanted; Em and Aric had agreed that they did not desire to find out.

Emrys couldn’t not be magic, but had been trying for smaller, less visible, expressions of it. No ghost-portals. No major healings. More throwing-knives and woods-competence, fewer lightning-whips and charged swords. At the moment, during the long days, not even much shapeshifting.

“But this won’t last,” Em said, and then looked surprised; the surprise slid into a more physical reaction, still fairy-edged but with the jawline, the hips, the flatter chest, that Em tended to wear when feeling more masculine. “I … don’t know why I said that.”

“You’re not usually a weathervane.”

“I’m not a good diviner or far-seer. I spent so long trying not to –” Em shook his head. “I don’t know what that was. Something just said so, right then. Instinct.”

“I trust you. Will you have to use it? Lady Caris, maybe?”

“Yes — no.” That answer got interrupted by another headshake, more frustrated. “I said yes but I don’t know why. If this is what not using the power feels like — random ideas that I apparently have to say out loud — I’m going to have to melt down a rock or two.”

“If it’s that or be talkative. No, seriously, it’s not hurting you, is it?”

“No, it felt like an answer. The way you know a track, or the price of that terrible cloth. You asked, I knew. I don’t like it.”

“Something soon?”

“Tomorrow, I think … oh, thank you for that. Did you have to?”


“No, it’s helpful. I’d’ve told you to ask. I think it’s gone, actually, something feels … like less pressure. Our employer was looking at the river. The bridge.”

“You think something’s going to happen on the bridge?”

They both paused; Em let out a huff of breath, not exactly amused, after a second. “No, sorry, I don’t know. Or it was the wrong question. Is it raining again?”

Author Bio

K.L. Noone teaches college students about superheroes and Shakespeare by day, and writes queer romance – frequently paranormal or with fantasy elements, and always with happy endings – when not grading papers or researching medieval outlaw life. She also likes cats, craft beer, and the sound of ocean waves.

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