The Poor Man’s Squire lived up to its name in the squalor that plagued the neighborhood below Cross Street. Located on a dirt side street it was almost lost between a slaughterhouse and a two-story brothel that leaned heavily on the smaller building. The window that looked out on the rutted street was missing one shutter and the other was hanging by just one peg. The door, a crude oaken monstrosity, was crooked in its frame allowing a cold stream of air to chill the patrons.
The group shoved through the door and were greeted with familiarity by the barkeep with rheumy eyes and skin so white it was almost translucent. His wife, the owner of the establishment, smiled at them and began wiping down the only large table in the room with a dingy rag that would have been better suited for mopping floors. The young men didn’t mind though. Their thoughts were on drink and cards rather than cleanliness.
As they waited for their beer, conversation drifted from subject to subject until it landed firmly on their upcoming assignments within the military.
Garin, the blond with the down on his chin, was the first to speak up. “Have you heard they are putting us with Foot?”
“That’s what I heard. We will be assigned to the Foot and sent to clean out the Brokenlands once and for all,” claimed a young man with a broad chest and deep booming voice.
“You’re an idiot, Carson,” Garin retorted. “They won’t send first-year squires into that hell hole.”
Loris, a lean muscled youth with eyes as blue as the ocean and hair the color of burning coals continued the subject, “All you should be sure of, is that our mothers supported Mateos as heir to the throne and though we are Traders’ sons we can never look forward to being promoted to positions of prestige as long as Rakin is King.”
The mistress of the tavern arrived with the first round of drinks and served them with well-practiced movements. Though the mistress and her trades-husband were friendly towards the boys, the squires were cautious enough stop talking about Rakin until she returned to the kitchen area.
Once she was out of earshot, those gathered at the table continued their grumbling and stared moodily at their bitter ale. Medwin banged his mug on the rough boards of the table. “You’re right Loris,” he said once he gained their attention. “But if you don’t like your situation why not change it?”
“And just how do you propose we do that?” Garin asked.
“Let’s just form our own unit,” Carson said with a wry smile. “We’ll call it ‘The Hand’ because there’s five of us, and station ourselves here at the Squire so we can protect this quality establishment.”
There was a chorus of “Here, here’s,” and laughter as the young men lifted their mugs to the idea.
Carson continued with a swagger in his voice. “And, if we fight the Burks, we have a chance to be promoted. Maybe a trader’s daughter will find us worthy as a war-swain.”
“Always thinking of romance no matter the risk,” Breaton said with a roll of his eyes.
As the joking quieted, Medwin leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Really, though, I might have a way to escape Rakin’s plans. I’ve been approached by someone who says he may have a way out for us. Why don’t we meet tonight and talk it out?”
“Wait!” Breaton growled. “You know what happened to my uncle Mateos. He crossed Rakin and now he’s dead. If Rakin finds out we are even talking about this subject our lives aren’t worth the spit in our beer.”
Medwin acknowledged Breaton’s fears with a wry smile. “We need to be careful, for sure. But if we get sent to the Brokenlands we are dead anyway. My vote is we see what my associate has in mind. We can always say ‘no.’”
Breaton shook his head in disbelief. His friends’ fear of the Brokenlands was well deserved. The rolling hills of scrub and volcanic rock that bordered Delosia and Calistar were a constant source of irritation for the governments of both countries. The people that lived within that jumbled mess, the Burks, were masters of ambush. They could surround an entire column and then melt into the scrub and rock as if they were never there, leaving nothing but the dead to tell the story. I would be a fool to discount the seriousness of that assignment. But they have never dealt with my uncle face to face. Nor have they looked into his eyes and seen the madness just below the surface.
Breaton glanced at the faces around the table. Each seemed to be agreeing with Medwin. Don’t they realize the danger they are putting themselves into? “Look, I’m not saying that we can’t explore options. We just don’t need to endanger ourselves with secret meetings and put our trust in strangers.”
“Chicken,” Medwin teased before continuing. “Seriously though, there is some sort of large engagement that the commanders are planning. If we don’t want to end up as point guard for the Foot in the Brokenlands we need to move now.”
Breaton thumped his mug on the coarse wood of the table. “No way I’m going against the assignments. It would be seen as insubordination and I’m already viewed as a traitor’s son. I’m dead if I speak up.”
His words seen to stir up some concerns from the others. Grumbling arguments broke out around the table.
Finally, Loris rapped his fist, gathering the attention of all. “As I see it, we have only two choices. We accept our assignments whatever they are or we listen to Medwin’s guy and see if he can help change our situation.”
Loris allowed the choices to sink in before he continued. “Remember, our mothers’ choices almost guarantee we will be placed in a unit that receives heavy casualties. Once the assignments are made, we will be unable to change them. We will be living in the barracks where we will be watched by our ranking officers. So once assigned, we have no options. However, if there is a way to change the assignments before we are sent to new units, we may as well give it a try.”
Breaton’s thoughts were in turmoil. Loris always thinks things through before he speaks. What if he is right and I’m dead anyway? At least I can hear out Medwin’s friend and maybe have a chance. He looked at his four friends, each quietly sipping their drinks, deep in their own thoughts.
“So, shall we raise our mugs in agreement and take the chance, or should we just drink ourselves silly?” Medwin asked, raising his pint for a toast.
One by one, the others at the table raised their mugs to meet his, leaving Breaton the odd man out. He picked up his mug, swirled the contents as he considered his options, then raised it to meet the others.
Goddess of a Mad King by Jody J Hill is an epic fantasy novel told from the viewpoints of the four main characters. The following is an excerpt from one of the protagonists:
After the morning meal, Ma’tuk took A’unvak by the hand and led her towards the small creek that flowed from the hot-spring. They walked barefoot along the streambed, allowing the warm water and rocky bottom massage their feet as they talked about the children and the winter provisions. The topic of his leaving in the morning was carefully avoided until they rested on a grassy bank.
“Aun, I know you think that I am eager to see this done. That is true.” He threw a pebble into the slow-moving water and watched the water-striders skitter away from its ripples. “This hangs over my head, leaving little room for thoughts of the future.”
A’unvak ran her fingers through her thick hair and started twisting it in a loose braid. “It is our future that I’m worried about. The dangers you will face — the soldiers, your brother, and that flying creature, how can one man overcome so many?”
Ma’tuk lay back against the grass and closed his eyes. “I must have faith that the prophecy will hold true and I will return with Breaton and Shaheen.” The image of the strange blue river flowing over their village played in his mind. He snapped his eyes open to the white clouds dancing across the sky. “Aun, have you ever seen a corruption of the Dweller’s spirit?”
Her eyes took on a distant look. “Once,” she said after a moment. “A young child of three years.” She paused recalling her experience.
“What did you see?” Ma’tuk rolled onto his side to look at her sorrow filled face.
“Her mother talked of the child’s behavior, calling it violent and evil.” Aun lay down next to Ma’tuk as if to take shelter in his welcoming arms. “They brought the girl to El’atuk to discern the Dweller’s purpose. Old Mother started a Seeing but the spirit inside the child fought back. The link between them became a bridge and the girl’s gift took hold of El’atuk and shook Old Mother until she fell unconscious.” Aun snuggled closer before continuing, “The link didn’t break though. The shaking continued and spread to the child’s mother. Old Mother was bleeding from the ear. I needed to do something.”
A’unvak’s words came faster as she relived the memory. “I grabbed the child as her mother collapsed and I felt as though a giant hand was squeezing me like a doll. I felt a tingling as if my limbs were sleeping and then my body was shaken.” She pushed her head into his shoulder, whispering the story’s ending. “I had no choice, Ma’tuk. She was killing me. I managed to free one of my hands and grab a knife….”
He comforted her with his tight embrace and planted kisses in her hair. “Aun, you have no fault. The spirit in the child gave you no choice. You probably saved Old Mother’s life and the life of the child’s mother.”
“That is what the Ancient Ones said, but I question my actions. Could I have simply put the child down? Should I have tried to carry her out of the lodge before I succumbed to the shaking?”
“You have a mother’s heart. If you knew any way to protect the others and save the girl you would have done it.” Echoing her words, he said, “You had no choice.” They lay in the late autumn sun together, enjoying each other’s presence, Ma’tuk retelling Aun’s story to himself. If one child can do so much, what can that overwhelming flow do to the Na’uk? If Shaheen and Breaton are the keys to survival, I will do everything in my power to bring them here.
Goddess of a Mad King by Jody J Hill is an epic fantasy novel told from the viewpoints of the four main characters. The following is an excerpt from one of the protagonists:
Entering the cozy little house, Shaheen started the cook-fire under a hanging pot and set some water to boil. She made sure that her father was seated comfortably across from Azeem at the table and her handcrafted mugs were filled with sweet mead. She didn’t speak, as her father and Azeem chatted casually about their work, but her mind was full of unanswered questions. What is going to happen to Miusa and the others that have been taken advantage of? When are we going to have this conversation, Father?
Her knife flew through the vegetables, preparing them for the soup pot. When their dinner was simmering over the coals in the fireplace, she pulled up a chair next to her father and looked at him questioningly, begging him with her eyes to give her some answers.
“Shaheen, my daughter, I want you to know I did the best I could,” he said in a weary voice.
“What do you mean, the best you could?” Her eyes narrowed as she predicted his answer.
Azeem quickly answered for the older man, sounding full of resentment, “It means that he brought up your questions during our allotted time instead of trying to negotiate for supplies for the journey to the Canyonlands as he intended.”
Even though she could hear the reproach in Azeem’s words, she pushed for an answer from her father. “What did the Council say about the treatment of our People, father?”
Azeem threw up his hands and taking his mug of mead stepped outside, leaving Shaheen alone with her father.
She watched the door swing shut and bit her lip in frustration. What is wrong with him? Why is he treating me like it is all my fault for these problems, instead of the Delosians? It’s like he’s blaming me for wanting to protect them.
Her father took a sip of mead and gave a light sigh as if it were an effort to answer her questions. “I requested a review of the by-laws governing the Arakesh during our contract and you were correct. There is no provision for Arakesh to be tried by the Delosian Court. However, there is a provision that states that the Arakesh community as whole is responsible for any damages done by a person of Arakesh descent.”
Shaheen started to counter this statement but her father held up his hand to halt her comments.
His voice took on a harshness unfamiliar to Shaheen as he continued, “The Delosian delegates said that the girls could work to pay off their employers for any losses they accrued.”
“But Father, our people are the ones suffering. This is wrong! It is my friends that have been soiled by the swains of the Traders. It is our neighbors that have been accused of theft without proof. Didn’t you listen when I told you what a found out?”
“Yes, I heard you. You have to understand; without hard proof I have little say in what the Delosian’s decide.
“What better evidence than my word! Why didn’t you let me talk to them? I could have told them in person everything I found out.” Shaheen dropped to her knees before her father and pleaded. “You are turning your back on those who rely on you. All the Arakesh believe you have their best interests in mind but now you have betrayed their beliefs by siding with the Delosians.”
“Shaheen, that is enough!” Her father’s voice was firm. “We are severing our ties with Delosia in less than a month. We need them to give us wagons, food, and livestock to make our journey. The last thing we need is some wayward children upsetting the delicate political balance that I have procured. You are thinking of the needs of a few individuals. You need to be thinking of the needs of your People.”
“And I suppose Azeem and the other Council members agree with you?”
“Yes, they do,” her father said with finality in his voice.
Shaheen’s face tightened with dismay as she fought the tears that were threatening to come. “So, we sacrifice a few so we may have comfort in the long run? Even if those few are my friends? What if I chose to work in the Great Houses? Father, it could have been me!” The tears broke free as she rose from the floor.
She slammed her mug against the table shattering it and spilling sticky mead across its surface and onto the floor. “You can fix your own soup,” she growled as she stormed out the door.
Azeem was sitting just outside and tried to calm her but she shrugged him off and ran without destination in mind. Her tumultuous thoughts pounded like a war drum against her skull. I can’t believe he would be so callous. He spent so much time working with the Delosians he is starting to think like them. And Azeem and the others agree with him. Delosia owes us! We have built all the beauty in this place. Just wait until we leave and they have to weave their own blankets, craft their own statues, serve their fine meals on dishes THEY HAVE MADE THEMSELVES!!
What is truth? KJ Rokova explores this question in her novel, LENTZ OF THE WOLF. A rich mythology and complex characters make this novel a fascinating read.
“Lentz of the Wolf, is a mythological fantasy set in a brand new world. Young, determined, and raised in awe of the brave legends of her peoples, Haref Veshja is on the cusp of becoming captain of her very own ship. When tragedy strikes and she is tossed from the vessel she so loves, she awakens to find herself in the mythical lands of her childhood heroes; the World Between. In trying to find her way back home, she will come face to face with the truths left unsaid, and the lies covered up as she untangles the events of legend through the stories of the survivors. Forced to reconcile bravery and cruelty in hero and villain alike to find redemption for the sins committed millennia past, her own bravery will be put to the test as she tries to heal the rift between her peoples and the World Between. That is, if she can avoid the temptation to cruelty herself.
Part coming-of-age tale and thematically inspired by the movie Rashomon with elements of mythical fantasy, Lentz of the Wolf teases out the old quote by John Barth that ‘Everyone is the hero of his own life story.’ ”
image by © 2013–2019 Naviira’s Doodles —
Goddess of a Mad King by Jody J Hill is an epic fantasy novel told from the viewpoints of the four main characters. Here is an excerpt from the villain’s chapter:
Rakin began pacing the room. “Now, Darina, my dear, would you like to explain why you felt the need to call attention to yourself this evening?” He stopped in front of her chair and grinned crookedly at her trembling body as she recoiled from him. “You don’t think I would hurt you, do you?”
She looked pleadingly towards both guards in turn. “Help me. Can’t you see he has been contaminated and must be cleansed by Braa Drusz?
Receiving no sense of sympathy from their emotionless faces, she stared at the floor and mumbled something under her breath.
“Look at me, Priestess,” he commanded. “They will not help you. They have seen a true Goddess and do not fear your Braa Drusz.”
She turned her head, refusing to meet his eyes. He could feel the energy emanating from his body as anger swept over him. He grabbed her chin and jerked her face towards his. “I said, ‘look at me!’”
She seemed to find an inner strength as she sat upright and spat out, “Look at yourself!”
Her answer made him drop her chin and step back in confusion. He looked at his guards but they stood as if made of stone. Rakin drew on the energy coursing through him and focused on the woman. Growling, he leaned onto the arms of the chair and asked, “What do you mean by that?”
Though apparently still scared she summoned the courage to ask, “Do you really not know? Can you not feel the corruption inside you?”
“You have no idea what’s inside me.” He walked to her chair, feeling his anger rising with each step. “I have been blessed by a Goddess. Can you really say you know how that feels? It is Her presence you see in me. You dare to call it corruption!”
He looked at Darina and now saw defiance in her eyes. She is trying to get me to admit to corruption. She wants me to stand accused before Braa Drusz. His thoughts leaped toward conclusions in rapid succession. If I’m found with any corruption within my body, they will sacrifice me. And if I am no longer the High Priest, Darina will become the holy ruler.
“Now I see your corruption Priestess. Your lust for power has overcome your common sense.” He instinctively bared his fangs at her and waited for her to move so he could pounce.
Fangs? He ran his tongue across his upper teeth and felt it catch on the long canines. The realization that he did have fangs shocked him into silence. As he absorbed this knowledge, he looked fearfully towards Rogert who was signing to the other man. He has sworn loyalty to me and Draa Gwyn. Will they both continue to support me now? Rogert nodded his allegiance to his ruler. The other guard was watching Rakin warily but his curved sword hung untouched on his belt.
Emboldened by their passive support, he turned back to Darina and let a wolfish grin expose the sharp protruding teeth.
Darina blanched but gathered the courage to say her piece. “You’ve been changing, Rakin,” she said. “Small things that only those that work closest to you have noticed. But we have noticed.”
He could hardly find the words to respond in the deepness of his anger. “Noticed what? That you have been spreading rumors? That you have plans to succeed me as High Priestess? How many others are part of your conspiracy?”
“No!” she snapped back. “I have no need to spread rumors. The blue light in your eyes and the very bones of your body cry out that you are corrupted at the core. You must be sacrificed before you drag others into your poison.”
“You are the poison. You and your false God.”
Her mouth fell open in shock. Then, as the realization of what he said fully sunk in, it snapped back closed in anger. Her eyes narrowed in defiance as she slowly stood to face Rakin.
“You blasphemer.” She spat the condemning words as she took a step towards him. She shifted her gaze to the guards so the accusation included them. Then, without any warning she drew a small dagger from the cleft of her bodice. “I do this for the good of all Delosia!” she screamed as she pushed the dagger into Rakin’s chest.
A lot of us are thinking of publishing a novel. When we near the finish, the question of whether we need an editor or not (you do!) comes forward. This blog post by Savannah Gilbo is the perfect navigation tool for anyone who wishes to take their novel and winnow out the errors. Hope you find it helpful.
The Words, starring Bradly Cooper, is a movie all writers should watch. IMdb has the description as: “A writer at the peak of his literary success discovers the steep price he must pay for stealing another man’s work.” However, the movie is much deeper than that. The different layers show how the very act of writing can become an obsession, trumping even the love we have for those special people in our lives.