Thursday, October 5, 2017

Reviews, "Fantasy" Writing and Fantasy Genres

Oh dear, I know - long time no post. I'm way down into working on Eirdon: Book Three of the Prophecy Series, and don't often come up for air - I also have a day job and a large pitbull/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix named Waldo who is very needy.

Just to say, I'm hoping to get a new Postcard From Mordania up over the long weekend. Possibly another couple of goodies. Once again I've been stymied in working on a novel by health issues, but the cause has been found (lousy dental work that led to the death of two teeth, serious infection and nine months of being poorly) and will be removed next week. Then I'm hoping for clear sailing for the next two books (Eirdon and The Light At The Top Of The World)!

Now, today's topic:

I can say without reservation the majority of reviews I get on Amazon and Goodreads are raves - 96% of them, in fact. So I shouldn't let it rattle me when someone gives a negative one. Usually, I don't. One person likened Weaving Man to "Snow White where the seven dwarfs are assassins and Doc is the main character" or something along those lines, which just made me laugh.

I'm a grown enough gal to know that everyone is not going to love my books. Heck, I'm well known for not liking a couple of incredibly popular fantasy series myself, even though I have read them and tried to keep an open mind (no, I'm not telling what they are.)

I can even wrap my head around the fact that some people consider giving a negative review means they should attack the author's intelligence or morals. That's the Internet for you - plenty of folks out there more than ready to turn anything into an ad hominem assault. It's a shame, but that is human nature these days. As an Internet veteran, I know this.

Still, when I read that my stories are "stupid", "ridiculous", that someone wishes something worse than a broken arm would happen to Katrin (bet they loved certain sections of Love and Sacrifice) and that Menders at the age of twenty is "a kid" (only in our Western civilization modern era is a twenty-year-old considered a child) - it makes me think.

I think two complaints that have come up in negative reviews deserve a little explanation. These are that the books aren't "steampunk" and they aren't "fantasy".

The "it isn't fantasy" argument is easy to dismiss. The books are set on a planet that doesn't exist, in a place that is Earthlike but also different, with countries that don't exist, a pantheon of gods that are alien to Earth, etc. No, there are no dragons, there are no elves, there are no fairies - but there are farlins, borags, felschats, langhurs and grundars. There are also social mores that are more advanced than ours on Earth at this time - there are social mores that are more in keeping with Prussia during the 19th century. There are ghosts and psychic communication. All "fantasy" really means is that a story is not based in our reality. I made up the society and situation of Eirdon entirely out of my head - that, by definition, is fantasy.

Now, "steampunk".

The term "steampunk" came up a while ago - the first known usage of the term was in 1987 and at the time it referenced writing that hearkened back to the novels of Jules Verne, with emphasis on steam technology but also utilizing the idea of a 19th century society having some technologies that in realtime history on Earth, were not available.

I never set out to write "steampunk" books. The original idea behind the books was a simple concept - what if people in a society similar to late 19th Century Europe were led by forward-seeing, intelligent and tolerant monarchs rather than by the inbred puppets and outright maniacs who were the monarchs of Earth's European countries in the lead-up to World War I? After all, World War I led directly to the constant warfare of the last 100 years or so, put major world powers on a permanent wartime basis, made war profiteering a lucrative industry and resulted in the deaths of millions. The people of Eirdon are at a similar point in their history - runaway nationalism, military might and war profiteering are running the show and there is a weapon invented that is cosmic in its power - and there are people in powerful positions who would think nothing of using it again and again.

So a short story was born and from that short story came the novels. When I originally came up with the storyline of The Prophecy Series, I had never even heard the term "steampunk". At the time, I was working on the stories with my ex-husband, who was the one who suggested the various technologies that are part of the books. He is an expert on the history of trains and aircraft and knows all the technical stuff I don't.

So how did Weaving Man and Love and Sacrifice end up consigned to the "steampunk" genre?

When you use Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing program, you have to assign two genres to your book. To be honest, I knew almost nothing about book genres. I was that raw. I knew about fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, romance, fantasy, etc. - sure, I've been in libraries and bookstores. I had no notion of all the genres within these categories.

I was confronted with assigning Weaving Man to two genres. One I chose was "epic fantasy", which I think more appropriately describes a book that has been referred to as "genre-bending". Then I struggled with a choice for the other genre I had to select - and finally thought of the trains, airships and boats, as well as the advance of technology that is part of the novels - and chose steampunk. There are no detailed descriptions of machines, though as the series goes on, machines and technology do become more part of the story - but what drives the story are the people, not the technology.

In reality, a story came to me and I wrote it down. I didn't worry about having it fit a particular genre. I'd rather bend the genre/label rather than bend the story and the characters. People who know me in person are laughing right now because I've never fit into a category either!

When I think about it - if the original concept of steampunk included the postulation of people in the Victorian/Edwardian era having the ability to access technologies earlier than people in Earth did in our realtime history - I'd say a crude nuclear bomb would qualify. And that crude nuclear bomb was part of the original concept for the original short story that led to the Eirdon Books. That bomb and the reasons why the people of Eirdon were able to manufacture it at that point in their history are the deep-down backbone of the story that takes four books (and one ancillary book) to tell.

So there's the beef - how books that aren't classic "steampunk" got labeled as such. Considering how much folks love them and that they've been bestsellers in the Steampunk category almost from their original listing dates, I know the gripers are few and far between.

Time to get back to work!








Sunday, August 13, 2017

Another "Postcard From Mordania"



Dive


            It was late summer, almost a year since Kaymar had come to The Shadows.
Both children had grown enormously in that time. Kaymar had stopped taking part in their games early, realizing they needed as normal a childhood as possible despite being continually watched. That did not include an adult playmate.
Instead he watched over them from various vantage points, tending to prefer being up a tree or on a wall. It gave him better visual range to see possible danger. It also gave him the advantage, should someone try to assault the children, of dropping down on them from above.
            Kaymar had hoped that, like Menders, he would grow a few inches in early adulthood, but at nineteen there was absolutely no sign of that happening. He had remained stubbornly five feet, four inches since the age of seventeen.
What he disliked the most about being small was not the disadvantage it gave him in a physical confrontation. Kaymar was so skilled at any form of fighting that his size didn’t handicap him greatly. His annoyance was his feet stubbornly refusing to grow into men’s sizes, hovering just at the brink of maturity but never edging over the magic mark that made it easy to find shoes in keeping with his age.
He’d resigned himself to having his shoes custom made. That went for suits as well, as he couldn’t abide wearing trousers that had been taken up. The proportions never looked right when eight inches had to be cut off the bottom of the legs.
            So, he was wearing a brand-new suit and pair of custom made shoes, in anticipation of going into the village with a few of the Men, who made a point of getting away once a month for a dinner, a little dancing and romancing. Kaymar had become a peripheral part of this group. Though not particularly close to any of the other men, he was welcome. He didn’t romance the local girls, though he flirted a bit and he loved to dance.
            He tensed as Katrin stood suddenly. She’d been through an enormous growth spurt during the summer and was not accustomed to her new height. She tended to get tangled in her new leg length and fell frequently. Much frustrated by this clumsy stage, she said “faw” a lot.
            She kept her balance this time and crouched back down over the crude pirate map she and Hemmett were constructing, with many arguments and “faws”, which meant the pirates were swearing. Kaymar relaxed and let his mind roam again.
            He’d hoped his recent conversation with Ifor Trantz might have led to a confidential friendship, but it hadn’t. Ifor maintained a friendly but distinct distance. There were times Kaymar regretted having confided in the huge man, though the relief he’d gained through that confession was considerable. Ifor was pleasant when they encountered each other, but treated Kaymar no differently than he did the other men, with reserve and courtesy.
Both Kaymar and Ifor moved on the periphery of Menders’ Men, not quite part of the group. It might have brought other men together as friends but Ifor Trantz was not one for such things. He seemed most content with his books, codes, work, hunting and fishing. Even when Kaymar was having a swim in the same part of the river he was suspended over now, with Ifor fishing not far downstream, it was as if he was alone. Ifor simply got on with his casting and fussing with his lures, while Kaymar got on with his swimming. If Kaymar approached Ifor directly, he would answer and be pleasant enough, but it was obvious any friendship because they were both nancy was simply not going to be.
            “Ants!” Katrin squealed. “Ants, Bumpy!”
            She stood quickly, swatting at the backs of her legs, overbalanced and fell off the big rock headfirst.
            “Stay there, Hemmett!” Kaymar shouted as he launched himself from his branch before Katrin hit the water. He’d seen the little boy ready to plunge in after his friend. One thing Kaymar couldn’t handle was two drowning children.
            He hit the water just after Katrin but she’d gone to the bottom like a stone as her little dress and petticoats floated up over her head, pinning her arms to her sides. She normally swam like a fish. Menders had taught both children to swim early, knowing that with a lake and a river nearby, the day would come where that knowledge was needed.
            The coldness of the water, even in late summer, felt like a stomach punch. He forced his eyes open, looking for Katrin. He could see her, wildly struggling in the wet folds of her dress, her face frantic and darkening. Any moment she would have to breathe.
            Kaymar swam forward, ignoring the weight of his suit and shoes, grabbed her, then kicked hard for the surface. The current here, even in this quiet hole, was intense. He was fearful that Katrin would lose consciousness before he reached the surface with her, inhale and let the water into her lungs.
            Holding her above his head, he kicked harder and faster.
He felt her break the surface, heard the loud whoop of inrushing breath, then broke the surface himself, gasping and choking on water he’d inhaled.
            Hemmett was lying full length on the rock, holding a large tree limb out over the surface of the pool, shouting to them to grab on. Kaymar blessed the little boy, his precocious size and strength and all his descendants as he held Katrin so she could catch hold of the limb.
            “All right, sweetheart, you’re all right,” he said soothingly, helping Katrin move hand over hand along the limb until Hemmett could catch hold of her fingers. With a boost from Kaymar, Hemmett managed to haul her up onto the rock and collapsed back with her held tightly in his arms.
            For a moment Kaymar was tempted to let go of the limb and sink into the water. He was washed over with a terrible lassitude that bled all the energy from his limbs. He’d saved the child, he could go now, go to Etahn…
            Katrin, caught her breath and began to wail, shocking Kaymar into action. He boosted himself onto the rock and took her in his arms.
            “I didn’t intend to wash my new suit today,” he said in a hearty tone. “That was a sudden bath, wasn’t it? Cold too.”
            She was shivering, her lips blue from shock and the icy water. He could feel her heart racing. Hemmett was standing by, shivering as well, almost as wet as Katrin was. Kaymar was shivering himself.
            “Everyone to the house,” he said, making it sound like a wonderful adventure. “We all need dry clothes and something hot to drink.”
            He managed to stand despite the terrible weariness and took their hands. He made hurrying along into a game and by the time they came in sight of the house, Katrin had forgotten her fear. The two children were chattering about the incident as if it was a great adventure, the tree limb becoming an entire uprooted oak, Katrin’s fall of some four feet becoming a headlong dive of twenty yards and the like.
            Menders had seen them coming and raced into the drive with blankets, flinging one around Katrin and making a quick cursory check of her before hurrying both children into the house, where other members of the household were bustling about with towels, hot water, dry clothing and the like.
            Kaymar stood in the drive, wondering if he was would be able to climb the steps at all. He knew shock could make him feel weary, but this was dreadful. He started dragging himself up, moving painfully from one step to the next.
            Menders dashed out the front door again.
            “Cousin, I’m sorry, I had to see to her first,” he said as he ran down to Kaymar and got an arm around him. “Are you hurt?”
            “No, just exhausted,” Kaymar managed. “She went to the absolute bottom of that hole by the big rock. Got her dress up over her head.”
            “That’s near thirty feet you dove then! No wonder you feel terrible.” Menders was incredibly strong and before Kaymar knew it, he was in the entry by the big fireplace that was always in use, feeling the fire’s warmth on his face. He held his hands out to it and was stunned to see they were dusky blue. He put them under his arms quickly, shivering at the clammy wet wool that had been a brand-new suit.
            “Here.” Ifor Trantz’s heavy voice cut through the shivering and Kaymar realized the big man was draping a warmed blanket around him. “Hold that around you and I’ll get you out of those wet clothes.”
            Kaymar didn’t protest. He would have done anything to be free of the icy clothing. He clutched the blanket around him as Ifor reached under and into it, carefully easing the sodden garments away from him without exposing him to view. Menders unlaced Kaymar’s shoes and steadied him as he stepped out of them.
Kaymar could see Doctor Franz looking Katrin over, then tweaking the end of her nose. Good, there was no damage. Hemmett submitted to a brief sounding of his chest and then pointed insistently toward Kaymar.
            Doctor Franz looked over and then stood.
            “I’d like to get you back to my office, as soon as you’re finished being undressed there,” he said, his voice hearty and warm, concern in his eyes.
            Ifor took a warmed towel from Cook and gave it to Kaymar. He rubbed his hair with it gratefully, wanting to wrap his entire head in the heated cloth.
            Someone came with Kaymar’s dressing gown and slippers. Ifor demonstrated that he could dress someone under a blanket just as skillfully as he could undress them.
            “Is this skill of yours some kind of party trick?” Kaymar asked Ifor, trying to smile.
            “Amateur theatricals as a boy, quick changes my specialty,” Ifor replied, almost smiling himself. “I’ll put some heated bricks in your bed. You’re going to need them.” He took himself off toward the Men’s Wing.
            Doctor Franz escorted Kaymar down the hall to his office, shut the door, opened the draft on the stove as far as it would go and helped Kaymar up onto the examination table. He inspected Kaymar’s lips, fingernails and toenails and then sounded his chest thoroughly.
            “Who in your family has a weak heart?” he asked bluntly.
            Kaymar blinked.
            “My father died from a heart spasm. He had a bad heart,” he answered truthfully. “But I’ve never had any trouble.”
            “Until now. Any pain?”
            Kaymar quieted his mind and listened to his body.
            “No.”
            “Breathlessness?”
            “Not now. When I came up out of the water, yes.”
            “That’s to be expected. You’ve had a serious shock and you have a bit of a heart murmur. Listen.”
            The doctor put the earpieces of his stethoscope in Kaymar’s ears and held the bell to his chest. Kaymar had the eerie experience of hearing his own heart beating, complete with a soft little hiss between the beats. He looked at the doctor anxiously.
            “And this means?” he asked.
            Doctor Franz shrugged.
            “Likely a small hole between the chambers of your heart. It’s not uncommon. If you’ve never had trouble before, short of diving into icy cold water after drowning children all the time, you should be all right. I’d like to keep an eye on it, of course. Get in a warmed bed, have some hot food and you’ll be right as rain tomorrow. I’ll check you then and we’ll see about possible treatment, though I think your life is quiet enough here to give you any support you need.”
            Kaymar nodded in relief. Doctor Franz didn’t mince words and he was truthful.
            Franz looked at Kaymar’s fingernails again.
            “There, see? Pinking right back up. That ticker of yours will be fine.”
            “I go swimming in that spot all the time,” Kaymar protested, the idea of having a heart problem sinking in. “The cold water has never bothered me before.”
            “Yes, at your own speed, not headfirst to a depth of thirty feet. I’ve seen you wallowing around down there like a baby whale. There’s been snow up in the mountains too this summer, and a melt since, so the water is probably a lot colder than it was in the middle of the season. Add to that the shock of Katrin being in such danger and I’d bet every pennig I have you dove from quite a height. All this adds up, young man.” The doctor put his stethoscope aside.       
 “Now, off to bed with you. Do not get up until I give you leave, except for the privy or if the house catches fire.”
            “I want a bath.”
            “Tomorrow. The river’s clean. I mean it, Kaymar. This is not something to shrug off.” The doctor turned toward him, looking grave. “And thank you for your selfless actions, my boy. Katrin came very close to drowning, as I’m sure you know – closer than Menders needs to know, may I add.”
            “Is she all right?” Kaymar asked sharply.
            “She will be. Needs to be in bed a day or two. Some bruises where you grabbed her.”
            Kaymar flinched, and the doctor laughed. “Nothing worth that,” he grinned. “You’ve done yourself proud, young man. Now, off to bed.”
            Kaymar had never been one for being an invalid, but found his bedbound afternoon and evening quite gratifying. People kept popping in to see him. Hemmett reported that Katrin was sound asleep and looked better. Cook plied him with various delicacies, including chicken soup laced with cream, which he loved. Menders perched on the side of the bed and chatted for a while. Haakel looked in to let him know that the planned dinner and dancing in the village had been postponed until he could go along too.
            Finally, the visits stopped and Kaymar could hear the house settling down. Cook banged the range doors shut in the kitchen after settling the fires for the night. Menders moved almost soundlessly along the Men’s Wing and then down the stairs, where he wound the enormous clock in the entryway. The after-dinner dishwashers clanked the last pot back into place in the kitchen and went toward the Men’s Lounge, chatting companionably.
            Kaymar set aside the book he’d been reading and doused his bedside lamp, more than ready to rest now his hair was dry and he was finally warm again.
            “If you need anything in the night, sing out and I’ll help you,” Ifor’s deep tones came from his room across the hall. “I’ll be listening.”
            Kaymar smiled, remembering his hallmate’s deafening snoring.
            “Thank you,” he replied, not letting his humor sound in his voice.
            He turned over in the bed, pressed his toes against the heated bricks wrapped in flannel that were the bedwarmers at The Shadows, and went to sleep.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

A "Postcard From Mordania"...

This "Postcard from Mordania" is set during the time frame of Weaving Man, when Borsen was fourteen years old and had been at The Shadows for about eight months.

Borsen’s Garden


         Motion outside his study window made Menders look up to see Borsen running down the orchard path, a basketful of small rosebushes clutched tightly in his right hand. He was trailed by Ifor, a shovel over his shoulder, moving at a stately pace.
        What in the world is Little Man doing with them all, Menders puzzled, watching as Borsen ducked into the forest on the far side of the orchard. He leaned back in his chair and let his mind begin sorting the conundrum.
           Some weeks back, at the very beginning of spring, Menders had introduced Borsen to his interest in selectively breeding roses. Menders had happened upon the art during his early years at The Shadows, when he had been faced with the enormously overgrown and neglected grounds. They were rank with scrubby and uncontrolled wild roses. Over time Menders had established a rose garden. He’d brought in standard cultivars, then became interested in producing his own varieties. He’d intended to create roses that would thrive despite the harsh winter climate of The Shadows by crossing the local wild plants with the standard cultivars.
           He’d found the process fascinating, creating several hybrids that prospered despite long, harsh winters. Kaymar, of all people, had been bitten by the rose-breeding bug and developed several exotic cultivars himself.
 A small hothouse was devoted to their interest. Some of Menders’ most peaceful hours were spent there with Kaymar and Katrin, who was a devoted rose fancier. He’d hoped Borsen would be enthusiastic, considering his love of beauty and his enormous creativity. He gave the boy a tour of the hothouse and carefully explained the process of creating a unique rose specimen.
           Borsen seemed bamboozled by the genetic charts, but was happily excited about the various colour combinations possible within a single rose. He followed Menders’ explanations with interest at first. Then he noticed several first year rose bushes that had been rejected as not carrying the desired traits for Menders’ latest project.
           “What about these little rose bushes, Uncle?” Borsen asked, bending to feel the soil around the roots of the plants. “Why, they’re all dry! They’ll die if you don’t water them.” His brown eyes behind his glasses were wide with concern.
          He listened to Menders’ explanation that the plants were being discarded with the same horror he might show if he had found a pile of babies, only to be told they would put on the rubbish pile.
             “But they’re alive,” he said in a hushed, guarded tone when Menders was finished.
          “Yes, son, I know, but many of them aren’t particularly pretty or hardy – they have what we call undesirable traits. So, we discard them,” Menders said, startled at the intensity of the little boy’s reaction.
            “I don’t think they’re undesirable,” Borsen replied. “They might grow into something wonderful if they had the chance, Uncle.”
          “I’d never have room in the rose garden for them all,” Menders tried to explain, smiling comfortingly. “Unfortunately, you have to start quite a few plants so you have a good chance of getting a couple with the traits you want. There’s no point in cultivating the ones with undesirable traits.”
          “They just need some water and to be planted in the ground,” Borsen murmured, on his knees, uprighting the little pots and setting them in rows. “Undesirable traits,” he whispered after a moment, adjusting his glasses on his nose.
         Menders managed to distract him after he’d watered the little rosebushes. They finished the tour of the rose hothouse. Menders was painfully aware that Borsen was only lending him half an ear. He kept looking back at the little cluster of rejected rose bushes.
            “May I take those rose bushes and find a place to plant them, Uncle?” he asked when Menders wrapped up quickly, knowing he’d lost Borsen’s attention. “I know a place where I could make a little garden. I’ll take care of them myself. I just hate to see them die.”
            “You’re welcome to them, son,” Menders smiled, loving the way Borsen’s eyes flooded with happiness at his words. “You may make all the gardens you wish.” He provided a basket, which Borsen filled with the undesirables, then saw his nephew out of the hothouse.
  He sighed.
           “Well, that wasn’t the greatest success,” he said to Kaymar, who had been working with his own roses during Borsen’s tour.   
           “No, I don’t think he has the mindset for it,” Kaymar agreed, lounging against his workbench, his hands in his pockets.
               “He’s certainly bright enough,” Menders frowned.
          “Oh yes – but the culling of the undesirable traits is what finished his budding interest,” Kaymar replied.
            “Yes, that really upset him – I wonder why?”
            “Oh Cuz, use your nut,” Kaymar retorted waspishly. “Borsen is nearly blind. He’s stunted. Since he was born, he’s been told by his father that he’s worthless and weak. I would call those undesirable traits, wouldn’t you?”
            Menders blinked in shock. Then a chill went down his spine.
            “I never meant – dear gods, I never pointed my explanation about why those plants were rejected at him,” he gasped.
            “I know. He didn’t really take it that way,” Kaymar answered. “But it made him think. He emulates you, Cousin. Just as you took him off the figurative rubbish heap, he’s rescued those plants. It might be good for him to be the savior of something he sees as unfortunate. At least it’ll keep him from sitting up in the tailor shop day and night, hunched over the worktable.”
            “Yes, anything that gets him active in the open air is fine with me. He can dig the entire estate under if he’s a mind to,” Menders laughed ruefully.
            The next day, Borsen turned up in Menders’ office door after completing his work hours in the tailor’s shop.
            “Uncle, may I take a shovel back to that clearing where the big tree came down in the forest?” he asked excitedly. “I’ll be sure to bring it back and clean it before I put it away.”
            “You most certainly can, but before you go, come here and have a talk with me,” Menders invited, pushing away from his desk and holding out his hands to Borsen, who came and settled contentedly on the arm of his chair. “Now, you may certainly use that clearing for a garden, but that ground has never been broken. It may be too difficult for you right now,” Menders continued. “Would you like me to have some of the Men help you?”
            Borsen shook his head.
            “That’s one thing I wanted to ask, Uncle,” he said, looking seriously into Menders’ eyes. “I’d like to keep my garden private for a while, until I’m finished working on it. Then I’ll have everyone come and see it, but for now I’d like it to be just mine.”
            Menders nodded patiently, but put his hands on the boy’s arms, which were small and spindly.
          Franz figured that Borsen might be fourteen years old now, after a year in residence at The Shadows. The boy was the size of an average nine-year-old, and very slight in build. So far there had been no signs of him maturing physically. The doctor felt that might be delayed because of his lifetime of near starvation.  As he was, Borsen could never manage the physical demands of digging that forest soil.
            “That’s fine, but I want you to have help. That has to be the agreement. I can’t have you hurting yourself trying to do more than you’re able. Working a garden with strengthen you and help you grow, but I want you to accept help with the first heavy work.”
            Borsen hesitated, then nodded.
            “I know who to ask,” he said confidentially.
            “Then use any of the tools you want except for the scythe. If there is grass to be cut, you let your helper do it,” Menders instructed.
            “And you’ll keep the undesirable roses for me and give them water?” Borsen prompted.
            “Absolutely. They’re all yours,” Menders smiled, as Borsen slid off the chair arm. Shortly afterward Menders saw him walking excitedly down through the orchard with Ifor, both of them shouldering shovels, with Ifor also carrying a pick and scythe.
            Clever little devil, Menders thought with amusement. He chose the one man who, if sworn to secrecy, will not say a word to anyone, not even Kaymar.
            It was a busy spring and summer for Menders. Several new pieces of farm machinery were delivered and put into service, with the concomitant breaking in periods. There was a nasty outbreak of putrid fever on Reisa Spartz’s estate and The Shadows was included in the ensuing quarantine, lest the infection spread through the district. This burdened The Shadows greatly, as the usual exchange of labor between the estates was not possible. The Shadows’ farmers and Menders’ Men were stretched to the limit, and Menders was needed everywhere.
            He had little chance to supervise Borsen’s project, even from afar. Ifor was not forthcoming when Menders tried to winkle information out of him.
            “He asked me not to tell what he’s doing,” was the big man’s only reply, given with a bit of sadistic glee. “When he’s ready, he’ll show you.”
            So, Menders’ knowledge of Borsen’s project was nil, limited only to what he saw the boy carrying off into the forest. Borsen was roaming the attics and cellars of The Shadows, finding the oddest castoffs. They ranged from a broken batch of Cook’s blue jars to rusted metal chairs that must have been used outdoors in The Shadows’ past. Borsen treated it all with the reverence he had given the discarded rosebushes, and was always delighted when Menders laughingly allowed him to haul away the rubbish to be put to whatever use he could find.
            Discarded roses disappeared from the hothouse as soon as they were set aside by the horticulturalists. Menders was devoting his few spare moments to a project he’d begun some time back. Over time he had bred and named roses for members of the family. The first had been “Eiren”, a lovely amber rose with a rosy centre. It had been followed by “Princess Katrin”, light gold and highly fragranced, and “Cadet Greinholz”, a big brassy red and orange. Some experimenting had finally produced the white, red-hearted, lightly fragranced “Baronet Shvalz” which had simultaneously embarrassed and delighted Kaymar when it was presented to him. Now Menders was close to producing a rose that could be named for Borsen. He had high hopes for several of the seedlings that he’d started and was only waiting for the buds to open, to see if he’d managed to realise his vision.
            Eventually Ifor no longer went along with Borsen, but the boy spent almost all his spare time away in the garden no-one else had seen. Menders had foiled plots on the part of several of the Men, to say nothing of Katrin and Hemmett, who he had caught planning a raid on the young gardener’s plantation.
            “Faw, then let’s creep back there while he’s working. Today’s one of his days in the workshop,” Menders overheard Hemmett proclaiming. He’d arrived home from the Military Academy three weeks before, to find, to his consternation, that Borsen was not readily available to share exploits and excursions.
            “I’ve been dying to know what he’s up to,” Katrin agreed. “He doesn’t know a thing about gardening, or he didn’t. He won’t say a word about it, just spends all his time back there and carts tons of junk from the attics there too.”
            “This I have to see. I’ll tell Menders we’re going for a ride and we’ll head back there,” Hemmett gloated.
            “No you won’t either,” Menders said briskly, making them both jump a couple of feet into the air and wheel around, dumb with shock. He stared them down easily and then continued.
            “This is extremely important to Borsen, and he does not want anyone intruding right now,” he said sternly. “When he’s ready to show it to us, he will. Until then I don’t want you going near there, do you understand?”
            They looked mutinous and hurt. Menders sighed.
            “Put yourselves in his shoes,” he said, moderating his tone. “Borsen has never played in his life. He’s never had anything to cherish. Whatever he is doing back there in that clearing is very important to him. He wants it all to himself for a little while. I know you’re curious – we all are – but I ask you, on your honor, not to interfere or intrude on him.”
            Hemmett nodded first.
            “You can count on me,” he said staunchly. “I won’t so much as ask him about it again. I just hope he’s not going to be disappointed if all his little plants don’t make it.”
            “I would like to help him, that’s all,” Katrin protested.
            “I know – but he needs this, princess,” Menders smiled, putting an arm around her shoulders. “Think of it as an exercise in self-control.” Katrin rolled her eyes, but nodded assent.
            Menders’ directives to the Men to stay away from the secret garden were terse and to the point, consisting of a threat not only to thrash any man who invaded Borsen’s domain, but to send Kaymar after him as well. That and the massive summer workload kept the Men in line.
            Everyone resigned themselves to living in suspense, particularly when Borsen came to Menders and asked if he could be forwarded a certain amount of his wages. The total was substantial. Menders raised an eyebrow in query.
            “I want to have some white rosebushes sent out,” Borsen explained. “We have every other color here, but not white.”
            “I’ve never dealt with white rosebushes. They tend not to be very hardy and for some reason insects adore them,” Menders explained. “But this sum of money, Borsen – it would buy a hundred white rosebushes.”
            “The rest of it is for something else I’m ordering,” the boy replied.
            “Are you sure it isn’t anything we have here? You can use any of the gardening tools or supplies that you need,” Menders smiled.
            “No, it isn’t here. It’s the finishing touch. Ifor is going to get it for me, but I don’t have enough money set aside yet. I’d like to have it for the end of summer,” Borsen explained.
            “All right then,” Menders acquiesced, handing over the sum. He knew Ifor would not let the boy do anything foolish.
            Two weeks later the weekly train blew a “goods left” signal from the halt. Menders frowned in confusion, as he was not expecting anything. The light flashed when he saw Borsen race by outside, followed by Ifor. Moments later they were bowling along the drive with a cart, headed toward the halt. The mysterious ordered item must have arrived.
            “The suspense is killing us,” Franz said from the doorway of his own office.
            “It’ll soon be over,” Cook’s voice interjected. Menders looked out of his own domain to see her coming down the hall toward them, a big grin on her face. “Little Man has just made orders for a party to be held in his garden. We have most of the things he wants served in stock, but I wanted to let you know that he’s insisting on paying for it.”
            “He needn’t do that,” Menders began, horrified, but Franz cut him off.
            “Let him, Menders. It’s important to him, as this entire project is. It gives him great confidence,” the doctor interjected gently. “He’s grown up a great deal this summer, physically and emotionally.”
            “He wanted to know if you would look out some bottles of wine that would go with his menu,” Cook chortled. “Light ones would be best, no heavy reds.”
            “May I see the menu?” Menders asked, intrigued and amused.
            “No, he said you can’t snoop,” Cook said, pocketing a list she’d been holding. “I know wines as well as you, sir, and I know what will work.”
            “Your servant,” Menders said facetiously, bowing low. Cook laughed, took a token swipe at him with her Particular Spoon and flounced off toward the kitchen.
            Two days later, the handwritten invitations appeared on every bed at The Shadows. Ifor was seen riding toward the village with a bundle of envelopes.  Menders knew instantly that the invitations had cost Borsen hours of painstaking work. Having come late to reading and writing, because of his years of uncorrected myopia and his first language being Thrun, Borsen had not developed any facility with written Mordanian. His spelling was haphazard and though he could draw easily, he found writing a chore. His cursive was cramped and awkward. It requested the pleasure of everyone’s presence in his forest garden three days hence.
            The Shadows buzzed with curiosity and anticipation. Borsen was brimming with excitement. He fidgeted and grinned a lot, disappearing off into the direction of his garden every time he had a free moment. Katrin and Hemmett were eaten alive with impatience, and Menders overheard several conversations where they worried that the forest garden would not live up to expectations, with all the excitement and secrecy having piqued everyone’s interest.
            “No matter what he presents to us, be encouraging,” Menders counseled them. “He’s new to gardening and it might not be impressive, but remember, it’s been an enormous effort and he’s proud of it.”
            Borsen was in a frenzy of worry over a rainy night, but the day of his party dawned bright, with a slight breeze. He was out of the house at dawn and made trips back and forth all morning until Menders prevailed upon him to hitch up the governess cart and use it, fearful the boy would exhaust himself before his great event. Loads of dishes, glasses and covered trays were trotted down the orchard and into the forest. Ifor rode along on one of the final journeys and was not seen again. It was assumed he was assisting with the arranging of the event.
            The hallways of The Shadows were deserted an hour before the appointed time. Menders realized that the entire household was in the process of dressing. He caught a glimpse of Franz in his best suit, tying his most extravagant cravat, and fled up to his own suite to change. He encountered Katrin and Eiren there, putting the final touches on their best outfits, with glossy upswept hair and glittering jewelry. Menders got into his best clothing, finishing off with a new top hat and the silk cravat Borsen had given him at Winterfest.
            “I need to make a stop at the hothouse and I would like to get there a bit early, just in case – well, in case Borsen needs some help,” he said, feeling some anxiety. It had been difficult not to sneak back and have a look at Borsen’s project, but he’d refrained – and now was stricken with fear that the boy’s efforts would fall flat, after all the anticipation his secrecy had engendered.
            At the hothouse, he wrapped a small rosebush in clean linen and tucked it in the crook of his arm. Katrin raised her eyebrows when she saw it.
            “Is that really a good idea?” she asked nervously. “What if – what if those little roses didn’t do so well? It would look like you were bringing something better in, wouldn’t it?”
            “I shall stow it out of sight until we see how things are,” Menders said, glad she’d mentioned it.
            They were joined by Hemmett, resplendent in his dress uniform. They walked back through the orchard, making sure that they made enough noise that Borsen and Ifor would be given fair warning.
            “Bells?” Eiren said in surprise as a soft tinkling reached them. “Where would he have gotten them? I didn’t think we had bells around, even in the attics.”
            “We didn’t, so far as I know,” Menders began – then he was struck dumb as they emerged from the trees into the clearing.
            Borsen turned away from the table which he and Cook were setting up, beamed and beckoned to them, but they were too occupied with staring.
            How could he have done this, Menders thought wildly, his senses reeling under the impact of what Borsen had created in a happenstance clearing made by a fallen tree.
            Paths of glittering white and blue curved through multiple garden beds of blooming flowers, with small ornamental trees studding the open space at intervals. Tinkling windchimes hung from the trees, ringing softly in the breeze, what Eiren had mistaken for bells.
            “Faw! Willow, these chimes are made from glass – all that old trash glass he hauled out of everywhere,” Hemmett said in astonishment. “Look! He’s ground down all the sharp edges and strung them up. I’ll be damned! Clever little bastard! The paths are stones, those white ones from the riverbed that are worn smooth and the blue in the paths are more glass. It’s Cook’s busted jars!”
            “Damn me,” Kaymar’s voice said quietly behind them, his voice quivering with amazement and reverence. For once Menders didn’t snap out a rejoinder about language. Kaymar walked around them, mouth agape. Then he seized Menders’ arm and pointed.
            “Cousin, look at that,” he whispered, drawing Menders’ attention to the centre of the garden, where all the paths led. “Now I know what Ifor sent away for, finally.” Kamar’s voice trailed off into silence as they walked forward into the glittering, glowing space, different rose scents drifting on the air.
            A white statue graced the centre of the garden, a marble copy of Dysonius’ Mother and Child. It was surrounded by the white roses Borsen had sent for. The bushes were in full bloom, so the figure of a slender woman holding a small boy seemed to be rising from billows of white cloud.
            “You’re early,” Borsen laughed, running toward them now that he was finished with the last table. “I’m glad! I really wanted family to see it all first. Do you like my statue of the lady? I was so afraid it would be broken, and Ifor and I could barely get it back here. I thought his back would be hurt, but he says that working here this summer made it stronger. Do you see how well all the undesirable roses did? Do you like the way I organized the colors?”
            Menders looked down at him.
            “Show me,” he said, holding out his hand for Borsen to take.
            He was treated to an individual tour of the place, while Eiren went to help Cook put the finishing touches on the feast provided, and Katrin, Hemmett and Kamar clustered around Ifor, who kept shaking his head emphatically and laughing.
            “I did not give him any advice on how to arrange it. I was just the grunt, doing the heavy work he couldn’t do,” Menders heard the big man protesting.
            Borsen squired Menders around the garden beds, showing him roses being trained along trellises made from tree limbs, roses encouraged to spread out as ground cover, roses positioned next to each other so that unexciting colours turned into breathtaking contrasts. Stumps and logs had been left in place, converted with some judicious carving and paint into rustic seats, with roses and flowering vines rambling about. Menders was amazed at the growth the discarded roses had enjoyed. Borsen gleefully showed him an impressive compost pile hidden behind a shed that had been built on the edge of the clearing.
            “Granddad said I could have all the manure I wanted from the heifer barn,” Borsen explained. “He showed me just how to mix it up so it composts fast. My roses get some every week.”
            Borsen’s guests were arriving, so Menders relinquished him, a bit regretfully. He could have listened to the child explaining how he’d created this magical space for much longer. Eiren came to him and took his arm as Borsen darted away.
            “To think we worried that we’d come back to dying rosebushes,” she smiled.
            “I have no doubt whatsoever that Borsen will do whatever he plans to,” Menders said, looking around at Borsen’s gathering guests.
            Ifor finally made his way through the revelers, reaching Menders’ side with a sigh of relief.
            “Incredible,” Menders grinned, shaking the big man by the hand.
            “If you could find a way to put that child on a treadmill, you could power The Shadows,” Ifor grinned back. “He’s quite the taskmaster, but I didn’t care because he worked ten times harder that I did. You didn’t know it, but he was creeping out on moonlit nights and working on things back here. Those ornamental trees are wild cherry saplings – Mister Spaltz found them on his farm and gave them to Borsen. With pruning they’ll stay small.”
            “I see many of the other plantings are forest flowers and other wild plants,” Menders replied.
            “He sees potential in everything,” Ifor nodded. “Broken jars and old stumps and discarded rose bushes. Can you imagine what this will look like in ten years?”
            Menders closed his eyes and shook his head. “It will be – beyond words,” he answered. “Those climbing roses will be everywhere. I’m sure he’ll add to it – this is just the beginning.”
            They looked across the garden to the mown grassy area that had been set up as a croquet court for the party. Katrin and Hemmett were helping several smaller children, including several of Eiren’s younger siblings and Lorein Spartz, with their mallets. Hemmett adjusted tow-headed Lorein’s grasp on her mallet handle and then laughed appreciatively as she accurately knocked her ball through the winning wicket. Borsen stood nearby, speaking enthusiastically to Lady Spartz and her husband, gesturing as he pointed out different plantings.
            “Are you forgetting something?” Ifor prodded gently, indicating the linen wrapped rosebush that Menders had left behind a tree.
            Menders blinked. “Yes. All this knocked it right out of my head,” he laughed sheepishly. “No worry that it will be misunderstood now.”
            He retrieved the parcel and walked over to Borsen.
            The boy turned, his face illuminated with delight.
            “Uncle, look at all the people!” he cried. “The priest of Galanth from the Temple and even the mayor of Artrim came! I invited them because their gardens are so beautiful. They’re gobsmacked, so they say! The priest says it will become a wonderful garden for weddings to be held in!”
            “I’m sure it shall,” Ifor smiled, ruffling Borsen’s hair.
            “What is that, Uncle?” Borsen asked, noticing the wrapped rosebush.
            “It’s a gift for you and your garden,” Menders replied.
            Kaymar noticed the presentation beginning and gave vent to a loud, high pitched whistle between his teeth, gesturing as people turned toward the noise. Menders waited as the party guests gathered around. Hemmett called for quiet and then Menders sank down on one knee, to be eye to eye with Borsen.
            “When you told me you were making a garden, I had to rush along a project I started when you first came to The Shadows,” he said. “Today you’ve shown me that you are capable of anything you ever set out to do, my little nephew. This is for your beautiful garden, to remind you that you are a joy to our home and our family.” He held out the wrapped rose bush so that Borsen could remove the linen covering.
            A chorus of admiration went up as a sturdy, but very small rose bush was revealed, graced with several perfect, black-red, miniature blossoms. The fragrance, spicy and exotic, wafted to the guests. Menders could hear Eiren and Lady Spartz exclaiming softly over the exquisite scent.
            Borsen’s eyes were brimming as he smiled, cupping his fingers under one of the blooms.
            “It has a name,” Menders said softly. “This is Borsen, High Chieftain of the Thrun.”
            Borsen’s eyes spilled over. With a swift motion, Ifor took the rose bush from Menders’ hands, preventing it from being crushed as Borsen threw his arms around Menders’ neck.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Preview of Love and Sacrifice: Book Two of the Prophecy Series




Book One

The Middle Continent

  

Prologue 


A
t the center of The Sea of Grass, Tharan-Tul, Great Shaman of the Thrun, sat on a hilltop by the dying flames of his fire. His gnarled hand smoothed an area of fine gray ash.
            He waited, listening, closing his eyes.
            They came – the whispering voices rising from the Sea of Grass. They sighed and sang of past and future.
            Tharan-Tul drew three interconnected circles in the ashes with his forefinger – Ascendance, Balance and Descent.         
           He drew his runes from their small leather pouch and passed them from hand to hand, the worn bone discs clicking together softly. His mind called to the Spirits at The Light At The Top Of The World to help him see clearly. He cast the runes across the drawn circles.
            He frowned.
The rune of the Winter Sun was in the uppermost circle, Ascendance, but the other two had fallen together in the adjacent circle of Balance. The third circle, Descent, was clear.
Not a bad sign, but unexpected.
Could Light Of The Winter Sun ascend so soon? The runes of Reflection of My Friend and Light Brighter Than The Sun had fallen under another influence, when before, all three of the chosen children’s runes had always been unified in one circle.
The whispering voices sang that this was the near future he was seeing, not the present.
Sweeping the fragile discs together into his hand, Tharan-Tul replaced them in their pouch, then erased the circles in the ash. Sitting back on his heels, he looked up at the night sky.
          The prophecy might yet come to pass, despite the division between the chosen children he had just seen. They could be reunified. There was still time.
            In the interim, there was much to be done.


The Shadows, Mordania

 1

Gladdas Dalmanthea

Visits The Shadows


I
for Trantz, former Mordanian spy, was riding home from a day of hunting when he saw a woman burdened with a particularly large portmanteau trudging along the road from The Shadows’ railroad halt. He frowned. No visitors were expected today. This was a serious breach of security.
            Ifor urged his large black gelding forward and rapidly overtook the figure toiling along in the dust of the midsummer road. As he got within earshot, it was obvious that not only was the woman toiling along, she was swearing expertly as she did so.
            “Gladdas, you old biddy,” Ifor grinned as he drew even with her.
            Piercing eyes as dark as his own glared up under heavy, shapely eyebrows.
          "Retribution for those tight shoes you sold me will begin,” Gladdas Dalmanthea, the only female freelance spy and assassin on Eirdon, snapped.
            “Gladdy, that was twelve years ago,” Ifor chuckled, sliding from his horse’s back and taking the portmanteau from her without a by-your-leave. “My back was so bad that day, it’s a wonder I didn’t sell you hobnail boots.”
            “They would have pinched less,” she retorted as he began securing the portmanteau to the front of his saddle. “Don’t think I’m going to flop around behind you on that grundar you call a horse,” she continued.
            Ifor smiled to himself and tied the portmanteau behind his saddle instead.
            “Should we leave her to cope with the dust and heat, Blackie?” he asked his very large saddle mount.
            “You call your horse Blackie?” Gladdas Dalmanthea asked sarcastically.
            “Makes sense. He’s black,” Ifor responded laconically. He remounted and crooked a booted foot for her to step onto, pulling her upward to sit sidesaddle before him. He pretended not to hear her involuntary sigh of relief. She had walked almost halfway to The Shadows from the halt on an unpaved road – a difficult journey on a hot day, particularly for a woman wearing very citified shoes.
            They were silent until they rounded a bend in the road and the great estate house called The Shadows came into view.
            “Good gods!” Gladdas Dalmanthea burst out. “Is that Menders’ little hut in the woods?”
            Ifor grinned to himself. The Shadows was as striking as it was imposing, four stories of elaborate Old Mordanian architecture. It soared against the sky, its onion-domed turrets frosted with decorative painted woodwork. Sixteen years of loving restoration and maintenance had made what was once a neglected, near-ruin into a gracious home for nearly seventy people – including Princess Katrin Morghenna, second Heiress to the Throne of Mordania
            “That’s it,” was all Ifor said.
            “It’s incredible – but not worth Menders staying out here in this wilderness,” Gladdas sniped.
            “He didn’t have any choice about it, if you’ll remember,” Ifor rebuked gently. “These days it’s far from a wilderness. You’re just grumpy because you were shuffling along in the dust. What brings you out, Glad?”
            “I thought I would take a look at the place I’m exiling some of my best operatives to for the next three years,” she responded, still staring at the house and grounds as Blackie strutted along.
            The grounds of The Shadows were at their summer best, green lawns sweeping up a gentle slope to the house. A lake on the right side of the curving oval drive shimmered in the sunlight, ringed with purple flag flowers and lilies. An extravagant rose garden nestled against the south side of the house – a dense forest of old growth trees guarded the sunlit gardens adjacent to the massive house. The display of light and shade was dazzling.
            A small, blond man sauntered out onto the massive front steps of The Shadows, shaded his eyes and stared in their direction. Ifor waved before the man darted back inside, to emerge a few seconds later with a pair of binoculars. He surveyed them and dashed indoors again.
            “Gone to tell Papa?” Gladdas sniped.
            Ifor smiled, but he pinched her waist just hard enough to get her attention.
            “Now then, Glad – we’re happy to have you, but if you’d let us know you were coming, we would have met you at The Halt,” he chided gently. “What’s more, I could have come and brought you over from Erdahn on the boat. That would have saved you the two day delay the trains have been having outside of Rondheim.”
            She groaned and he could hear the weariness in the sound. She leaned back against him. He wrapped a big arm around her waist affectionately. They had known each other for more than twenty-five years and nothing she threw could rattle or offend him.
            “You may take me back on your boat,” she finally said as they started up the drive to the house.
            The blond man reappeared with a companion who wore dark spectacles and thigh length black hair held back with a decorative clip. He peered through the binoculars held out to him by the blond fellow and laughed before he waved.
            “That is Sir Slippery Eel?” Gladdas Dalmanthea asked in astonishment. “Last time I saw him, he looked like a naughty schoolboy!”
            “It’s been a very long time,” Ifor observed. “Since before he went to deal with the Surelian Problem nineteen years ago? You haven’t run into him since then?”
            Gladdas shook her head, staring at the men she knew were Aylam Josirus, Lord Stettan, who went by the name Menders and Kaymar Shvalz, his second in command – first cousins to each other and second cousins to the Queen of Mordania.
            “No, it never came up. I spend a lot of time in Artreya now,” she answered distractedly. “And that’s Kaymar. The last time I saw him he was a child – albeit a frightening one.”
            “He still is at times.” Ifor smiled at her description of the mercurial man he had been bonded with for eight years. “I believe you’ll find that he’s quite grown up – for the most part.”
            Gladdas laughed outright and Ifor smiled. Now her visit would go well and she wouldn’t appear on the doorstep at her worst.
            Two heads popped out of a second story window – those of a golden-haired young woman and a striking young Thrun man. Gladdas glimpsed startling blue eyes on the woman and dark spectacles, like Menders’, on the man before the heads popped back out of sight and excited conversation could be heard.
            “The Princess, I presume?” she said. “I hope she doesn’t expect curtseying.”
            It was Ifor’s turn to laugh.
            “Glad, you have no idea – absolutely no idea,” he said, swinging off the horse and lifting her down to the steps, where Menders came forward and to her utter amazement, embraced her like a long-lost sister.




Love and Sacrifice: Book Two of the Prophecy Series is available on Amazon.com at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072WPSP65

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