Hi, I’m Kat Caffee, author of The Followers of Torments saga : Out of the Darkness, Remember the Shadows, Into the Sunlits, And Keep this In Mind (expected release date 2017), I am You while You are I (expected release date 2017) and the companion novellas: Beslynx Spiritwalker, Akantheldama Intu, Raonal Tiornestake (expected release date 2017), and Celecanepo Rahadeyah (expected release 2017) and I’m your host for this stop in the Hunt.
If you would like to find out more about the Hunt, please click here – http://vfcscavengerhunt.weebly.com/
Somewhere on this page is a hidden number. Collect all the numbers from all the authors’ posts, and then add them up. Once you’ve added all the numbers, and if I am your last author, please head to the official website and click on the ENTER HERE page to find the entry form. Only entries will the correct number will qualify to win.
The author I’m pleased to be hosting for Virtual FantasyCon’s Blog Hop Hunt today is Marc Royston.
MARC ROYSTON, AUTHOR
Marc Royston was born in Atlantis but currently lives in California. He talks to himself a great deal and frequently yells at his computer. As the author of numerous teleplays, screenplays, poetry and fiction, he began his writing career at the age of 6. His earliest drafts were composed in crayon on whatever surface he could find (whether paper, wall, or floor – and even the occasional passerby).
As a writer of speculative fiction (Fantasy, Horror, and SciFi), Marc Royston spends much of his time exploring alternate universes which reflect our own. Through tales of magic and legend, he delves into the intricate foibles of human relations amidst the conundrums of modern society.
Quote: “I seek to take my audience on an emotional roller-coaster ride, a journey of laughter and tears and every sentiment in between. I immerse myself and therefore my readers in worlds as familiar as they are wondrous and strange.”
Hecate’s Faun (available NOW in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon.com)
The Wizard Ignites (Volume I of A Wizard’s Life) (in pre-publication from My Boy Publishing).
The Story of Méabh (current work-in-progress)
My Boy Publishing
(dark fantasy/historical fantasy/gothic horror/magical realism)
While Savannah burns on the horizon and the final battle of the Civil War is fought, an old woman discovers the corpse of a satyr floating in her pond. When a confederate officer arrives and claims the body is a demon, the homicidal ghost of the old woman’s daughter instigates a night of horror and recrimination while crimes long hidden and secrets too terrible for the light of day are revealed.
Amazon Rating: Five of Five Stars.
“Captivating” “Well-Crafted” “Great prose” “A great buy for lovers of the gothic horror and magical realism genre” – Albedo One, “Ireland’s longest-running and foremost magazine of the Fantastic”
BUY NOW AT: Amazon.com
Excerpt from Hecate’s Faun
The world awoke to a shock of silence. Ash no longer fell. Patched by sinuous dunes of snowy cinder, the landscape began to brighten. A smoky bruise veiled the dawn. Behind the morning’s haze, God’s angry eye, red and glaring, slowly climbed. Infinite clouds filled the sky. Here and there, cerulean rifts gradually pierced the grey. Out every gap, a shaft of radiance erupted. Without exception, one-by-one, each beam extinguished, as if what they lit below was too repugnant to be witnessed.
Synchronous to the break of day, warmth swelled upon my back.
I don’t know when the dead had withdrawn, but I was grateful not to weather their censure. Still, although they were unseen, I felt as if they listened.
With gritty scrapes, my shovel bit the earth. Heels-to-hip, the pit in which I stood consumed me. Above, a little knoll piled higher, growing with my shovel’s every swing.
Adjacent to that mound, my petticoats lay where I had discarded them. A muddy crust stained the frills in shades of bile-yellow. The rags looked like a carcass with a ruptured chest. Arches of each hoop’s broken ribbing jutted between the folds. Ivory-white, the curves of whalebone starkly contrasted against the upturned earth.
Despite the split in the crotch, I still wore my drawers under the remnants of my skirt. Except for the last button before my waist, my bodice flapped free. When I leaned over, my chemise sagged, and my shriveled teats peeked above the neckline.
But I didn’t concern myself with modesty. I concentrated on my labors. And Gigi hummed a lullaby that I favored when I was still a girl.
I heard a stiff snap. From the edge of my spade, a slight tremor ran up the handle and through my fingers.
Abruptly, Gigi’s ditty ended.
“There you are, my darling,” I said. Triumphant, I smiled.
Slanting rays of sunlight now grazed my shoulder. Inch-by-inch, an aura of red crept down the hollow. Slowly, the infection of the tainted dawn descended. Hugging one wall, the roots of an oak that had been toppled long ago branched like the gristle in a slab of jerky. Their shadows warped and crawled. Plastered by clumps of soil and tarnished by decades of seeping rains, moldering layers of bone emerged from the other sides. Here, an arm; there, a foot; phalanges and a pelvis.
Delicate and white, the side of a skull, smaller than my fist, bulged out the muck at my feet. Even after all these years, a few shreds of a burlap shroud still remained.
“Sweet pea,” I said, “Momma has brought you a friend.”
To purchase your paperback or ebook edition, go to: Amazon.com
THE WIZARD IGNITES
Out of an Inferno, a wizard’s life begins.
Accused of being a witch and of murdering the girl he loves, a naïve young farmer faces the terrible cost of his gift for magic. While on trial for his life, Götling unravels a web of intrigues spun by wizards, gods, and royals. If he can overcome his persecutors and gain admittance into the Academy of Arcane Arts, Götling might yet learn to control his fiery power and become the instrument to decide all wars.
The Piper of the Dead invades the Empire. The Shadow Queen and her demon army prepare to escape their long imprisonment. And an insane goddess plots to overthrow her peers.
The time foretold has come. Afire, a reluctant hero rises into legend.
The Wizard Ignites, an adult epic fantasy, was a Short List Finalist, Novel-In-Progress, in the 2011 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition.
Excerpt from The Wizard Ignites
BY TOOTH, HORN AND CLAW
“All men must heed a calling. Duty comes dressed in various uniforms and is not always heralded by horn and drum. The moment of summons may be clear and immediately comprehended or it may be subtle and grievously dismissed in confusion. The calling describes a path and sets forth a lifetime of action. It demands correct decisions and appropriate responses. It molds a man, and with his shaping it may change the whole world. History is made. Borders are broken. Civilizations rise and kingdoms fall.”
Books of Hieronymous, Vol. III, Sec. Two, Ex. Thrity-seven (Cologne Ed.)
Gentle, the breeze whispered, carefree and clueless. Taut, the bowstring stretched.
Summer harvest was but days away. It was a happy time, an excited time. For miles around, separated only by the loose stone walls which marked farmland boundaries, fields of wheat and fields of barley and fields of hops and fields of hay and orchards of all the varieties of crops one might desire were ripe for picking. Broken only by green islands of fruit-laden trees, a sea of copper, ochre, tan, and beige undulated lazily in a warm breeze.
To the northeastern edge of the lands of the tenant farmers were the Graf’s hunting grounds, a vast and towering forest resting atop a low plateau which swelled above the countryside.
In that forest, three figures hid behind the brush.
“Götling,” Unther whispered, hissing his admonishment. With a raised palm, he demanded silence.
A fine buck stood wide-eyed and motionless within a copse not more than sixty feet from the trio. Grass hung from the deer’s lips as its jaws froze in mid-chew. Immediately, its ears swung forward. As it sniffed the air, its nostrils flared.
Without blinking, the deer faced the underbrush wherein the three youths crouched in camouflage.
Its 4 ears twitched.
No one moved.
Cautiously, the buck resumed its chew. Suspicion gave way to hunger.
Götling glared at Unther. He lowered his bow. Under his fingers, the bowstring eased.
Yes, your lordship.
The retort rested heavily upon the catapult of Götling’s tongue. If Unther let slip so much as one more word, Götling would not hesitate to launch such a hailstorm of rebuke as would send his overbearing friend fleeing for cover.
Who does he think he is?!
But Unther was fixed upon the deer. He held his mouth closed and kept his hand raised.
Infuriated, Götling squinted. He glanced to Muella.
Muella held her breath. Her eyes locked upon the stag and did not veer.
Götling frowned. What choice did he have?
Fuming, he swallowed the brick of his ire, a load both dry and rough, scraping his gorge clear to his gut. At the bottom of his belly, the weight crashed and then sank.
Unther was rude, cocky, and arrogant. That was nothing new. But he was particularly obnoxious whenever Muella was around.
Götling was past tired of it.
With a length of sweet-leaf clenched between his teeth, Götling frowned at his chunky cohort’s raised hand.
He’s the noisy one—not me! I haven’t moved a muscle. If he’d shut up and stop breathing so hard, we’d be invisible.
Why Unther would bother trying to impress Muella was beyond Götling’s understanding.
Of late, Unther acted stranger than reason could account.
The three had known one another since when they were first cradled in their mothers’ arms.
For as long as memory, Muella had been almost as much a stick figure as Götling was now. Fifteen years old, the same age as the two boys, she was only recently starting to bud as a woman. Curves developed that had not been present before.
Götling found himself distracted in ways he could not fathom.
Yet, not all things had changed. While Götling was just beginning to experience the pimples of youth and bore a mane the color of tar that hung down his back, Muella was still speckled with freckles all over her nose and cheeks with a tad more brown in their red color than in her scarlet pigtails. She still giggled at the silliest of things, and she still liked sewing and dolls. Her laughter was still infectious. As always, she was in the way more often than not, talked all the time, and hung around like an annoying gnat.
She’s a girl. What more is there to say?
Götling chewed pensively on the blade of grass, his gaze transfixed by the line of Muella’s hips. He blinked once, frowned, and looked back to the deer.
Unther slowly strung an arrow in his bow and silently peered down the shaft as he set aim to target. He closed one ice-blue eye as a thin trail of sweat trickled over his blond brows.
Things would have been better had Unther not been such an awful shot. Yet, Unther had asserted that any game they found today would be his dibs.
“Whatever we find, don’t you touch it,” he had said in that surly tone of his that many found so grating. “One round. That’s all I need.”
“You know I’ll have to drop it,” Götling had testily replied. “Deer or boar, hare or fox, you’re just going to scare it off—or you’ll impale it with some ghastly wound and send it running. I can’t handle chasing down yet another of your maimed victims to put it out of its misery. The screams of your last ‘kill’ still haunt me.”
That exchange did not go well. What Götling had to say did not matter. Unther could not be dissuaded.
It was not that Götling disliked hunting. He just did not particularly enjoy it. Moreover, he was not all that fond of red meat. He preferred fowl or fish. Better still, a bowl of berries or a plate of steaming vegetables pleased him most.
Besides, there was plenty to eat at home. There were still untapped barrels of grain from the autumn harvest, wild mushrooms which Götling loved so dearly, and salted pork and dried fish. Chicken could easily be had. Eggs were a daily breakfast, along with wheat-cakes and a nutty apple sauce that had been allowed to slightly ferment so as to give a warming punch. Pa had been bringing in pheasant for weeks. Duck were already flocking at the lake little more than an hour’s hike away. There was no real need for this pursuit.
Even more to the point, poaching was illegal, and Herr Graf was not known for being any more forgiving than any of the rest of the nobility. If caught, the three minors could expect a beating at best—and a hanging at worst. Plenty a farmer risked it in the cold months if reserves ran dry, but this was not that time. Even if one really felt pressed for meat, most hunters would wait for a buck or a doe or even a wild boar to emerge from the forest to graze at a pile of seed set out as bait. Outside the forest, anything was fair game. Inside the forest, everything belonged to the Graf. For that reason, most poachers would hunt only at the forest’s edge and drag their kill back to a field before dressing it.
But the trio was too far in to drag the weight of a dead buck all the way out.
Outside of winter, it was rare that the Graf’s gamekeeper ever caught a poacher. Still, the three youths would have to keep a careful eye for dust rising from the hunting trails and for any birds taking sudden flight. The danger of getting caught was part of the thrill of this particular dare. But Götling well knew and argued that the whole affair was madness.
Muella had been singularly non-committal over the outing.
“Whatever is fine with me,” she had said. Her eyes twinkled. Muella was always up for mischief.
Götling found her amusement irksome. But over the past six months or more, Götling found himself increasingly irritable in Muella’s company. She annoyed him almost daily, even when she was not around.
She constantly teased Götling, and she always wore an unsettling smile like she knew something that Götling did not.
Götling was not certain whether it was her teasing or her smile which bothered him most.
The heart of the deer centered in Götling’s eye. He held his bow with his arrow still nocked, but he did not raise it again lest Unther pitch a fit.
Götling had only to wait for Unther’s inevitable miss and then it would be up to Götling to chase the thing down and finish this fiasco.
He could hardly wait to rub Unther’s nose in the failure.
The deer tensed. It was that millisecond in which the animal would flee, having caught human scent, heard their movements, or just generally having been spooked by some preternatural instinct.
Götling held his breath. Now or never … Now … Now … Now already!
The buck bolted.
“NOW!” Götling yelled.
Unther flinched. His chest expanded. With shaking hands, he drew his bowstring.
A sharp twang and a piercing swoosh followed in the instant.
Deep into a tree, Unther’s arrow struck. Splinters of bark flew.
In the same instant, the white tuft of the buck’s tail disappeared into the forest brush. Silently, the deer merged with the wilderness and was gone.
Unther leapt to his feet and flung his bow to the ground. Saliva flew from his lips. “Of all the stupid …. How could you do that, Götling?!” Unther’s jowls shook.
“What?” Götling scowled. “What are you talking about?” He spat out the blade of grass.
There had been no chance for him to raise his bow in time and fire a volley before the deer was spooked and gone. He was not about to take the blame for this. Not for this!
Fueled by anger, Götling’s ears burned.
Mocking, Unther yelled, “Now?! Are you serious? Now?!” He shook with rage. “What’s with the shouting? I know when to shoot. I had him. You frightened him off!” His face redder than a polished apple, Unther stared at Götling. His hands balled into fists.
Defiant, Götling stared back.
Muella giggled. She glanced from Unther to Götling and back again. “It’s not his fault. I sneezed. Not him. I’m sorry. It’s my fault.”
Unther sputtered. “It wasn’t you. He yelled. He did it on purpose.”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Götling said with a sneer. “You wouldn’t have hit it anyway.”
He did not like being forced to defend himself—particularly when he had done nothing wrong. From where he kneeled, he rose to his feet. Absurdly tall, he towered over Unther.
His temper took over his mouth. He knew it was the wrong thing to say, but he heard himself say it anyway:
“Even if it was tied up and laid on a plate.”
Unther’s eyes flared wide. His chin jutted forward, and he took a step closer to Götling so that the two were only inches apart. “Take that back.”
More foolhardy than brave, Götling said, “Your only chance would be if you used a fork.”
Unther seethed. “Take it back,” he warned, slow and firm.
Too clever for his own good, Götling concluded, “Of course, if you did, then Muella and I wouldn’t have even seen a bite.”
Snarling, Unther put both hands on Götling’s chest and shoved.
Muella gasped. “No! Gods! Stop it!”
Götling staggered back. Surprise swept over his face. Fury quickly followed. He dropped his bow and arrow.
Muella dove between the two. With arms stretched to either side, she held them apart. “That’s enough! It was my fault, and I said I’m sorry. Would you two listen for once? Stop this.” Into each boy’s face, she yipped. “You don’t really want to fight do you? Your parents would surely tan you both—and I wouldn’t talk to either of you for a month.”
Unther choked. “But he—”
“Enough!” Muella commanded. “That’s it!”
The idea of Muella not speaking for a whole month was not altogether unappealing to Götling. But she was right. They should not fight. They were friends. It was silly. And their parents would skin them both upside down if they did.
And yet—his anger boiled beneath his collar. Like a nervous steed frightened by a clap of thunder, his speech broke loose of its rein. His tongue galloped. There was no stopping it.
“If you’d stop showing off for Muella all the time, maybe—”
It was as far as he got before Unther’s fist rammed Götling’s breadbasket all the way to Götling’s spine.
Unther’s rush tossed Muella to the side. Ass-first, she struck the ground.
A short “Unnf!” was all Götling got out before Unther tackled him.
“Me show off?!” Unther sat atop Götling’s flattened belly. Unther hammered at his thin friend. Götling crossed his arms in front of his face to shield himself from the blows. “You’re the one always showing me up,” Unther bellowed. “Always smarter. Always better. Making me look stupid. You’re the one showing off for her!”
Muella’s mouth hung slack. However complimentary it may be to have two males competing for her, let alone for them to be so enamored that they would actually fight for her favor, she certainly was not to be knocked down. If she had been a tea kettle, steam would be coming out of her nostrils. Without her intervention, this might get out of hand.
Boys could be so dumb.
Muella scrambled on all fours to reach the struggling pair. She tugged on Unther’s arm.
Her dress—emerald green, her favorite color, sewn in secret by her mother, her one present at her last birthday, and the nicest thing Muella owned—was now covered in dirt.
“Stop it!” she screamed. “Stop it, right now! You both are being such idiots.”
“I’m not an idiot!” Unther shouted. “He is!” Unceasing, he punched at Götling’s arms.
“A fat idiot,” Götling shouted. “You’re crushing me, fatty. Knock it off!” Something dark stirred deep in Götling’s eyes, like a monstrous serpent swimming up from the black of an ocean’s abyss.
“Both of you, stop it!” Hunched over, Muella rose. She strained to drag Unther away, a mouse tugging at a bull. Unther did not budge.
“Respect me!” Unther thundered. “You hear? Don’t think I don’t know. I see how you look at her.” Along with Unther’s knuckles, each word rang into Götling’s bones. “She’s mine! She’s mine, and you know it!”
In disbelief, Götling choked. “What?” he gasped. The dark in his eyes retreated with a silent fizzle. Beneath Unther’s raining blows, he scoffed, “Yours? Muella?” He laughed. “Take her. Cripes, I’m not fighting for her.” With his face still shielded by his crossed arms, he chuckled. “You think you’re one of those romantic knights jousting for your lady’s honor or something? Get your lard-ass off me, you fool.” Laughter rolled from Götling’s lips.
Muella dropped Unther’s arm. She stared at Götling. Her cheek twitched.
Unther paused in mid-swing. Götling’s unrestrained laughter shook through Unther’s thighs. In sympathy, Unther’s prodigious gut jiggled.
Götling laughed so hard, he snorted.
At first, Unther did not know how to react. It seemed the best course of action to continue punching till his brain caught up—so, he did.
What did Götling say? Take her? He’s not fighting for her?
His best friend was no traitor. Stupid Unther was being Stupid Unther yet again.
Stupid, stupid Unther.
Unther’s fists stopped in flight. His arms hung in the air, making him look like a boxer posing for a portrait.
The pudgy boy chuckled—softly at first, then building to a full guffaw.
“A knight, eh? Guess I do at that,” he confessed sheepishly, coughing it out before laughing again with Götling.
Stone-faced, Muella scrambled to her feet.
Götling lowered his arms.
He and Unther looked at one another.
Eyes twinkling, they paused—and then laughed as though each was the funniest thing either had ever seen.
In the moment, they forgot Muella was even there.
Her hands on her hips, Muella glared down at Götling. “So, that’s it. That’s the way you feel is it? Götling Hans Velsing: for you, I’m not worth fighting for. You care as much for me as you care for your morning piss.” She hesitated and bit at her lower lip before shifting her gaze to Unther. “Unther Grausse von Schüzzelwanst: for you, I’m something you think you can win in a brawl. A bauble at a market fair with no word to say for herself. No feelings at all.” Muella spun about on her heels, and stalked away. Her arms swung at her sides.
“Beat each other up. I’m through with both of you!”
She broke into a run.
The boys did not see the tears, but they heard her crying as she disappeared into the forest.
Muella sobbed, wracked with heartbreak.
“Wait, Muella!” Unther pled from atop Götling.
“What was that about?” Götling asked in dismay.
Unther shrugged, equally perplexed. “How am I to know?”
They chorused together: “Girls.”
“Get off me, lummox,” Götling said.
Unther rose, ran his fingers through the silken tresses of his golden hair, and then offered a hand. “Whatever, Stick.”
With Unther’s help, Götling came to his feet. “We’d better go after her.”
“Yeah,” Unther sighed.
The boys dusted themselves and collected their gear.
Unther gazed about with a churlish frown. His sense of direction was never much good. He only had to look away to lose his bearings. Retrieving his bow and arrows left him disoriented. “Which way was it?” he finally asked, annoyed with himself.
Götling pointed. “That way.” A swath of freshly stomped grass marked the trail.
Unther grunted. “Not too fast or she’ll think she has us at her beck and call.”
Götling nodded his agreement. “No doubt.”
The pair began walking.
Götling peered at the heavens.
In the distance, the sky was dark and streaked with rain. A storm hung over the distant mountain range, the peaks of which were hidden behind the treetops.
Odds were the storm would beat itself dry upon the slopes and evaporate under the warmth of the sun. Regardless, summer rain was always pleasant and made all the more special for its rarity. Neither boy would grudge it if it came, and neither worried about it.
Throughout the forest, butterflies fluttered. Birds sang. So thick they could be tasted, the heady smells of growth filled the air. Directly above, a pristine sky of bright blue smiled down a blessing. The hot sun burned all cares away.
It was a good day to be alive.
Götling was not a woodsman per se, nor was Unther. But Muella’s trail was not hard to follow: a broken branch here; a crushed bit of moss there; an overturned rock further on.
The boys briskly made their way, but they did not run.
Götling punched Unther’s shoulder.
“Ow!” Unther blinked.
“Don’t complain. I can hardly raise my arms. You hit like an anvil.”
Unther laughed. Götling shook his head, grinning.
Many a summer day had gone by when the boys walked together. And winter day. And spring day. And fall day. Going back as far as memory.
They knew each other’s likes and dislikes, and their rhythms and quirks. They shared secrets, plotted mischief, and gave each other counsel. They tussled, as boys are wont to do, and they protected each other when either was threatened.
There were other children in the surrounding farms and even a few with whom the boys socialized and with whom they played their games in the small village where they picked up supplies. However, neither of the boys related to any of these other children with the ease and familiarity they felt for one another.
Unther watched for Götling’s flares of temper, which could be startling if one knew only his quiet side, and Götling patiently explained whatever Unther could not understand—whether it be about how to count livestock or how to interpret the scriptures of their faith or when to plant what or about anything at all.
That is, Götling would explain things that he understood, but it was becoming clear to Götling that he did not understand everything, and there were hints that life and the world were both bigger than he had ever imagined.
Muella fit in well with the duo. There were other girls around, but while Muella liked frilly activities, she was also a tomboy. She was often the first to take the dare to climb a crumbling ruin or to dive from a dubiously safe branch into a newly melted snowfall or to engage in any number of other equally hazardous pranks.
Whenever her family lost track of her, it was almost a certainty that Muella was to be found in the company of the boys.
Initially, this was due to the fact that there were no other children close by of an age with whom she could play. Later, the camaraderie became cemented—in part because Muella would otherwise have had little companionship. Her siblings had moved away either in service to the Empire or had taken residence elsewhere under the bonds of matrimony.
As Götling and Unther grew, Muella became their constant companion and formed a lasting bond to each of them.
There was a time not so long ago when either or both of the boys would tease or ignore Muella, and she would run off weeping like she did now. However, both Götling and Unther were typically plagued by the guilt of their abuses, and they were always shamed by their parents. Steadily, their ways had changed. A maturity ripened in each of the youngsters. Such discord was nowhere near as frequent as it once had been.
Anymore, Götling just felt awkward around Muella, like his hands did not know what to do. His tongue vacillated between states of paralysis and states of idiocy. His body reacted in ways he could not understand, and his feelings were a deeply mystifying tangle of confusion.
But what would he have said to her anyway? It wasn’t like …. No. That was an idea too far beyond the pale to be indulged.
Götling shut the thought away.
It was different with Unther. Unther’s brashness and bravado forever brushed aside an endless series of stupid deeds and stupid words. Stupid Unther, Unther would call himself.
But, there was something different about Unther as well—and Götling could not place it.
Unther never acted quite so viciously toward Götling as he had done today. He was violent toward others, even cruel, and sometimes sadistic to a degree that upset Götling and which Götling struggled to comprehend.
But Unther had never raged on Götling as he had done today.
Götling looked at his friend. He could almost hear the gears grinding in Unther’s mind. The blond boy’s thoughts were caught up in something sticky, as they frequently seemed to be of late.
Götling found he too was often befuddled these days, but he could not really say why. It was period of multiple confusions. There was a sense of boyhood ending and of manhood beginning—a restlessness. Götling knew that he would continue cultivating his father’s farm and would one day assume custody and run the homestead as his own, and the same would happen for Unther and Unther’s father’s farm. This was as it had been for the families of farmers for many generations. There was a comfort in that, but Götling also felt a discomfort, as though he were intended for something else and the pastoral life he had known was not really his to live.
Were these borrowed days?
He loved this life, but the nightmares he had over the past several months were of being forced to leave it behind.
He wondered if these forebodings came from the actions of his mother, a priestess to the goddess Freo.
His mother had violated the orders of her Abbess. She had been ordained to roam the Empire and to preach the faith of the goddess.
Instead, she remained in the countryside and settled down and married a simple, plain-spoken farmer—the man who, with the couple’s joining, eventually became Götling’s father. Perhaps it would fall to Götling to atone for his mother’s sin by losing the sedentary life he loved so well. Perhaps he was destined to live a life of wanderlust as his mother had refused.
Maybe his unease simply came from a mind made more imaginative by the rare skills of reading and writing. His mother had educated him into literacy while his father sat by the hearth, bemused and believing it a useless enterprise.
Perchance this sense of ill-winds blowing was born out of the concepts of freedom and adventure which Götling acquired from the enlightening perspectives of authors who had been places and seen things and thought thoughts to which no humble peasant might otherwise have been exposed.
When she first arrived at the village, Götling’s mother had brought her library with her, a precious collection of half-a-dozen tomes. Long ago, Götling had absorbed every word.
Perhaps Götling’s disquiet came from the descriptions of foreign lands within the now dog-eared pages of the few volumes which he or his mother was able to acquire from those merchants who were on their way to the big cities to peddle such wares.
It was possible he would never discern the source of his unease, but he did know that he would always love this land and this life, and it was very good to be walking with his friend.
They strolled quietly for several minutes before either spoke.
“Harvest Festival will be next month,” Unther said, his gaze set to the ground.
“Yeah, good times. I bet I can still beat you in the foot race.” Götling periodically tightened his stride so as not to outpace his shorter-legged friend.
Unther grinned. “You could beat a horse.” They both laughed. “I’ll take you in the wrestling.”
Silence stretched for several more minutes.
The moist underside of an overturned rock beckoned them along Muella’s trail.
The boys knew Muella’s habits. Upset, she would run for quite a distance. They would find her up a tree with her face all wet and bloated. With a string of apologies and promises, they would have to coax and plead to get her down. Most times, like now, they would not really even know what it was they were apologizing for, but it always seemed to satisfy her. After she had a chance to scold each of them, the three would be as one again, and all would be well.
Unther cleared his throat. “There’s a dance.”
Götling shrugged. “So? There’s always a dance at festival.”
Unther cleared his throat again. “I’m going to ask Muella to go with me.”
The ground must have been particularly uneven, because Götling stumbled. His toes went numb and curled beneath his foot. His stomach turned cold.
Awkwardly, he regained his balance. “Oh?” he said.
“Yeah.” Unther beamed. “You ever notice how pretty she is? And smart?” He bubbled. “I tell you, Göt, she’s just about—”
From the woods ahead, the screams of a girl in terror shook the forest.
Birds took raucous flight.
A bellow crashed outward, so loud and deep the forest floor trembled. The guttural cry seemed to shake the leaves from the trees.
The maiden’s screams continued—wordless and beyond reason.
“Muella?” Unther rasped. “Muella!”
CURRENT PROJECT (In Progress):
STORY OF MÉABH
(Gothic Horror/Dark Fantasy/Magical Realism)
What is the price of eternal love? What would you pay to keep it?
A deluge hammers. Lightning cracks the heavens. From a distant church, carols fracture upon the wind. And a child is about to die.
Before the storm has ended, an elderly solicitor must unravel the link between a tragedy of over Two thousand years ago and the murder that his client must commit tonight.
The answers rest within the tale of two sisters. Slaves since capture— in a time when the pagan faith was the only faith and the Celtic gods prevailed—Ailla and Méabh flee from the cruelties of their masters and journey to find freedom in an uncharted land.
But will their depraved guardian catch them first? Will the Bloodsmen reclaim them?
The Story of Méabh is the tale of a loss that could not be endured, and of a diabolical contract that has reached across millennia.
Facing the powers of the Cailleach Beara, the hunger of the Dark Fae, and the awesome weight of history, how can Sir Thomas save Mrs. Tendercroft from the inheritance of her fate? How can he stop her from sacrificing her own child?
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Excerpt from Story of Méabh
“That would be murder, madam,” he declared. His words dripped like slowly melting ice. Wintered by his censure—even more than by the inclement season—the atmosphere plummeted to a chill. The hearth’s fire struggled to compensate. Flames flickered and popped, as if complaining.
Being a solicitor whose clients included the Court of St. James, captains of industry, and some of the most prestigious houses of England, and as a senior partner in the distinguished firm of Sedgwick, Peet, Havershim & Wilcox, Sir Thomas wore his dignity as tightly as any crown at coronation. Prim and composed, yet out-of-place, like a statue that has been uprooted from the garden and then propped in the drawing room by mistake, he stood within the entrance to the chamber. If not for the privilege of affluence, no matter the nature of the concern, he never would have granted this consultation. At the hour customarily reserved for his supper? In the quarters of a lady, without any chaperon to bear witness? And on the most sacred night of the Christian faith? No, no, it would not do. Not even for so lovely a vision as stood opposite him at the window.
But she’s so damned rich. Sir Thomas blinked wearily from behind his spectacles. His temples throbbed. His shoes constricted. Even his bony, old ass ached. He should be at home, relaxing, sharing in the camaraderie of family and friends and enjoying the fruits of his labors. Throughout his long career, fast approaching its conclusion, he had shrugged aside the eccentricities of the elite. As a rule, the blue bloods and the nouveaux riches alike were absurdly self-absorbed. And Sir Thomas had made his fortune covering for their transgressions. One learned to ignore a great deal when the bills were amply paid. But this ridiculous assertion, this farce now proposed, this … this …… alleged execution—for it could be called no less—why, it really was too much to ask of him. Most particularly on the brink of the Nativity, when the faithful would gather in congregation and the less-than-faithful would indulge in bouts of good cheer. By any definition, whether of God or Man, the lady’s professed intention was a blasphemy.
As blue as the hearts of glaciers, Sir Thomas’s eyes counted measures of condemnation. Blink, blink, blink. At each close, the woman before him ratcheted lower in his regard.
“Murder?” Mrs. Olivia Morgaine Tendercroft arched her brow. “You sound so certain.” Behind her pressed lips, twin filigrees arched in coral pink, Mrs. Tendercroft struggled to suppress a grin. But her tone trumpeted contempt.
“Indeed it would,” Sir Thomas replied. Had there been a thermometer, the mercury would have trembled.
Mrs. Tendercroft sighed. She shook her head. “Well, we can’t have that, can we?”
An awkward pause ensued. Sir Thomas cleared his throat. “Mrs. Tendercroft—”
At a whirl, the lady’s wide skirt swished as she briskly turned and walked away. She clasped her hands atop her belly, a shallow flatland cinched beneath the ribbing of her corset. Subtly, the corners of her mouth upturned. In the grey light streaming through the window, her complexion denied any accurate reading of her age. Sir Thomas would have guessed her to be no older than twenty-two. But the maturity of Mrs. Tendercroft’s demeanor soared high above her youthful aspect, and her estate’s files contradicted her appearance by several decades. No doubt a lapse in our records. One of my clerks shall have to do an update.
“I beg to differ,” Mrs. Tendercroft interrupted. When she placed her fingers atop the casement and leaned toward the glass, her eyes, sharp and hazel, looked past the ripples that slithered down the dewy panes. Eagerly, her gaze wandered.
Over the cobblestones below, a horse-drawn carriage clopped. Similar cabs and several wagons traveled around the grassy park. In their fineries, their top hats and their bowlers, their mufflers and their minks, the well-to-do strolled up and down the avenues. The season’s cold fogged their breaths and urged their steps to quicken. Slick from the passing rain, the sidewalks glistened. A couple hailed a hansom, whether on their way to the opera or to a ball or to some other gay fete. Conspicuous for her tawdry attire amongst the trappings of prosperity, a cockney sold servings of pickled whelk from her pushcart. The caterwaul of her spiel could be heard even from a distance. Still dressed in their school uniforms, children splashed through puddles of ink while their nannies cajoled them to behave. Inside the Green, off the paths, a pack of unattended urchins scampered across the dew. The grey skies had yet to fade, but the drizzle had finally retreated, if only to recover strength. London was now privy to the last hour before dusk began to sink—when the lanterns that capped the many posts would be lit, and the city of night would awaken.
Just above the treetops, the sun’s glow filtered through the haze.
Mrs. Tendercroft squinted at the muted glare. “Sacrifice is by definition sacred,” she avowed in a hoarse whisper. “The act could not be anything as vulgar as penny dreadful homicide.”
“Madam, infanticide for any motive, even as a matter of religious conviction—”
“I do wish you would have a seat,” Mrs. Tendercroft snapped. “You’re hovering.” The hounds of her rebuke barked echoes from the corners of the high ceiling and then chased their tails out the door.
Sir Thomas startled. Nonetheless, his composure returned as quickly as water to a sponge. “Your pardon.” An arthritic buzzard, ungainly and uncertain, he squatted onto the divan in the middle of the opulent chamber. On the cushion’’s edge, at the corner nearest the hearth, he perched as if ready to take flight at the slightest provocation. “This is all rhetorical, is it not? You don’t mean to imply—”
This time, Mrs. Tendercroft did laugh—long, openly, and derisive. “Oh, but I do.”
Although he did not grimace, Sir Thomas squirmed. A subtle blush inflamed his cheeks. “I see.” Enlarged by his spectacles, his round eyes blinked. “Dear Madam, if my counsel is to be at all effective, you had best divulge the specifics.” He held up his hand to forestall any possible objection. “Discretion is paramount to my profession. Although you and I have never met in-person prior to this occasion, your family’’s interests have been in the keeping of our firm for many years. Since your forebears, isn’t it?” He waved his hands for effect. “How long have we been your champion, even as you dwelled abroad?” Grandfatherly, he broke into a crooked smile, an expression ill-suited to his mien—howsoever intended to lend comfort. “What’s more, this conversation is protected against disclosure. Please believe: I am your advocate in all matters of law.”
Patiently, Mrs. Tendercroft smiled. As a parent might when speaking to a child too young to understand the complexity of an adult concern, she said, “It is not freedom from prosecution that concerns me.” She turned her back to the window. From beneath her long lashes, her eyes lifted like the dawn of two smoldering suns. “It is freedom from opinion. You see, you must listen to me entirely if you are to comprehend. And you are right: justice can only be served if you see the picture from edge-to-edge and not merely by its frame.”
Sir Thomas cocked his head. He blinked. “Opinion?”
Mrs. Tendercroft pivoted and looked once more out the window. Fluid shadows trickled down her face. “You shall think me mad.”
From outside, the calls of the various street vendors drifted. Distant, a crash of thunder rumbled.
Sir Thomas considered. “Madness is not the worst defense ever raised.” He frowned and looked his client from head to toe, weighing the unlikelihood of a lady of such standing being involved in anything as dastardly as implied. The proposition ran counter to good breeding. Oh, the rich had their faults to be sure, he knew that very well, and they committed their own brands of blunder. But it was unthinkable for one to descend to any act nearly so heinous. Too barbaric for reason to countenance. Certainly nothing of the sort had occurred within Sir Thomas’s memory, or even in the modern age. Besides, it would not be the first time that a woman of society——lonely, bored, or simply spoiled rotten—had indulged in a moment’s fancy for reason of a few hours’ company or had convinced herself that a hallucination induced by some form of opiate, whether inhaled or ingested, had actually been a reality. During fits of vapors, women saw angels, conversed with ghosts, or became convinced of all sorts of nonsense. But this woman seemed so grounded. And she was too comely to lack companionship, least of all to the point that she would need to finagle conversation from a scraggly bird as old or as unappealing as Sir Thomas.
“It is not for me to judge you, Mrs. Tendercroft,” the solicitor advised. He scratched the smooth skin atop his head. “Only to negotiate on your behalf——or to litigate, should it prove necessary. I must precisely understand your situation.” He paused. How best not to be indelicate? Long and slow, he inhaled. “Now, normally we would confer with the husband—”
Mrs. Tendercroft continued to watch the street below. “I am unmarried,” she interjected—her voice, petals of razors, melodies floating in the air.
She smirked. “A marriage in title only. We parted long ago.”
Sir Thomas blinked. “And yet, I believe you implied that the alleged child is yours.”
“I did,” Mrs. Tendercroft replied. Her eyes held steady, staring out the window.
“Ah.” Sir Thomas averted his gaze to his hands. His palms rested on his knees, anchored as per usual when absent of purpose. The tendons on the backs of his hands stretched in relief, pronounced beneath the speckles of his wrinkled skin. “And so, this … child. Out-of-wedlock?”
Mrs. Tendercroft pressed her forehead against the glass. Her brows furrowed in concentration as she watched the children cavorting in the park. “You jump too far, Sir Thomas. This story is not to be so plainly manufactured. You must rewind your steps and retreat much farther into history if you are to find the beginning to my tale. Otherwise, you will never achieve any sense.”
Sir Thomas scratched his head once more. Late for supper, yet again. And this time, on Christmas Eve. His wife would nag him until his ears bled. Not that his presence would have made any difference to Mrs. Havershim’s evening. She would be keeping company with her mother, dreadful as the old badger was. There would be the usual gadflies and hangers-on, and the usual meaningless chatter, and the litanies of irksome complaints. There would be hours of gossip. Aches and pains, both new and old, would be compared with a gravity normally reserved for matters of international consequence. Explications of medical procedures would follow in due course, recounted with excruciating detail. Stories so old that their hair fell out well before Cromwell opposed the Crown would be retold exactly as a thousand times before. There would be the customary do-you-remember speculations, inane to begin with, and now chiseled into memory deeper than the inscriptions on a mausoleum. The only hope for escape might be a game of billiards with one decrepit blighter or another. And maybe a snifter of brandy. Slip out to the balcony for a cigar just to find a moment’’s peace. The holiday’s charm was lost on Sir Thomas. He and his wife never had a child—nor was there much occasion to beget one. As far as his better-half would have it, the function of the boudoir was restricted to repose, and carnal desires were suitable only to beasts. Much to Sir Thomas’s regret, there never had been any progeny for him to entertain. Never any of his own to make the season worth celebrating. And now, as a consequence, no grandchildren either. None to pull on overflowing stockings. None to gawk at a decorated tree. None to bounce on his knee as they squealed with laughter. For the elderly solicitor, the holidays were just an annual nuisance. A ritual of agonies to be endured. Still, he would have liked to unwind. Put up his feet. Rest his back awhile.
But Mrs. Olivia Morgaine Tendercroft was too wealthy for him to snub, even on this occasion, and her family’s name was far too established. Her holdings in but a smattering of the domestic financial institutions, not to mention those in the foreign exchange or in other accounts abroad ….
Surrendering to what-must-be, Sir Thomas slid from his perch and pressed back into the upholstery behind him. He crossed his spindly legs, adjusted the pinch of his trousers, and folded his hands in his lap. “Very well.” He gestured for Mrs. Tendercroft to continue——even though her back was to him. “I am your captive. Relate your account however you will.”
Mrs. Tendercroft closed her eyes and sighed. “You fail to understand me. I do not exaggerate when I refer to history. My tale begins long before the Vikings first raided our shores. Long before the legions of Rome ever set foot in Britain. When this great city was not even a settlement of wood and mud. Just a few scattered huts. Bands of savages painted in woad and running naked into battle. When we were hungry. And free. It was an age so primitive that the secret of iron had barely been discovered. A time of a different faith, when gods and men walked together, and mortals touched divinity.”
Outside the window, a hawk flew by, screeching as it vanished. Under the light of the sinking sun, the bird’s silhouette swept across Sir Thomas’s face and briefly dipped his eyes under a wink of black.
A creeping sneer cracked Sir Thomas’s mouth. His crooked teeth unveiled. “I don’t wish to rush.” Blink-blink-blink. “But the shadows grow long. The day cedes its ghost. If there is a question of life and death, if a child is at stake, if a constable is required, if we are to file any papers—” Through his mouth, he drew a deep breath. “Madam. Perhaps, you could just tell me. What has happened?”
Mrs. Tendercroft traced her finger along the pane beside her cheek, scoring trails through the damp film. “Nothing could be more relevant. You must understand the circumstance—and the motivation.” She chuckled. “I owe that much.” And still the weeping shadows slid off her brow. Over her eyes and down her cheeks, undulating rows of grey slowly processed—waves slugging through time in step to a silent lament.
Distracted by a motion at the corner of his sight, Sir Thomas had turned his gaze elsewhere. His scowl deepened.
Amongst the timber piled adjacent to the hearth, a spider’s web juddered. At the edge of the sparkling threads, the predator laid her eggs. Busily, she weaved her brood secure. Beads of translucent white glistened in synchrony to the flicker of the flames.
Blinking while he perspired, Sir Thomas ogled.
Sphere by sphere, the gelid mass assembled.
“Long ago, in a place not so far from here,” Mrs. Tendercroft began, “two sisters foraged for their breakfast ….”
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