Many miles west of Wellman, through the northern regions of the Bryn Mountains, beyond the Plains of Shole, lay the city of Shole itself. The largest of all the cities in the Lowlands, it was also the oldest, built by Homsoloc and his sons. Placed on an immense plateau, it overlooked the region around it for miles in all directions. It was a fortified city, originally built for the sole purpose of defense. Made of stone at its center, it had withstood sieges, fires, and the fiercest weather the Lowlands had ever seen. The rock wall that surrounded the city limits, standing four feet high, had witnessed it all. The architecture of Shole was like that of a large puzzle, as if its builders had more than once considered it incomplete. But with each passing decade it had grown larger, its citizens adding yet another section, slowly filling the plateau. Settlers now also inhabited the region surrounding its soft slopes to the north and the east.
Still further west, on the opposite side of an expansive valley of wooded terrain stood the Black Mountain. It rose into the sky like a scar on the landscape. Once a flourishing wilderness, the woods immediately surrounding the mountain were now dead and colorless, like a pile of ashes in the midst of a healthy green field. The very mountain itself had died and hardened. On its peak and along its slopes lay the twisted forms of trees, like men left dead on a battlefield.
At the foot of the Black Mountain there stood a large gate, a lattice of long, sharp spears. For hundreds of years it had remained unchanged, maintaining the dark color of the ore from which it had been forged. Joining together an arching stone wall that ran to the north and south, the gate faced the city of Shole like bared teeth. The wall, standing ten feet tall and five feet thick, curved back toward the Black Mountain in the shape of a crescent, forming a large courtyard of dust, gravel and rock.
On the other end of the courtyard was a pair of guards, each armed with a large battle-axe, standing watch at the entrance of an enormous cave. They were soldiers of Mornoc set apart for their size and strength to be the guardians of the Black Mountain. They wore no helmet but had full heads of thick black hair pulled back from their eyes and tied behind their heads. A fierce, but stolid expression was written on their faces. The chain mail shirts they wore were impenetrable, heavier and thicker than any known to man. Even so, they seemed more ceremonial than anything, as these soldiers were not likely to lose a fight hand to hand.
The cave itself had a roughly hewn entrance, but the floor of it cut deep into the heart of the mountain like a well-worn road. Once the mouth of the cave and the light of day were lost from sight, pairs of torches were set in either side of the cave wall at intervals. Despite these lights to lead the way, it was an unearthly, suffocated place.
Like the main road to a hidden city, smaller tunnels branched off of it, leading to the far recesses of the mountain. Some of these passages were watched by an armed guard while others were merely marked by a lantern.
As the tunnel continued, in time, it gave way to several sets of stairs carved into the floor, leading to higher ground. At the top of these stairs the cave walls opened up into a great hall and the ceiling doubled its height. In this hall, an elaborate array of torches lined the inside of ten massive columns carved from the walls, five to the right and five to the left. On the opposite side of each column hung another lamp lighting the face of the walls and the entrances to yet more tunnels, running to more rooms within the mountain. In the center of the hall, three monstrous chandeliers hung from the ceiling, lighting the way to the far end.
There, with a king’s court all to himself, Mornoc, the father of rebellion and pride, sat on his throne. Positioned against the far wall, facing east, it was cut from the stone floor. Its arms yielded to the shape of his grip and its seat and back to the posture of his body. The right arm of this throne was carved in the shape of a large hand, clenched in a fist. Resting in its grip was Mornoc’s spear, over ten feet long and razor sharp.
The fine garments that would normally have adorned such a magnificent throne were instead carved into it; no ornament of cloth, gold, or jewel was present. Without a single crack or fissure, it displayed such decorations in its surface and structure. But it was colorless. Mornoc himself wore robes in shades of gray and black. Even his skin color was a dingy gray, and his bald head did not shine in the glow of the lamps. His face was worn, lined by centuries past, wrinkled by bitterness and a desire for revenge. His eyes were gray, cold, and piercing.
Staring at the other end of the hall and drumming his fingers on the arm of his throne, Mornoc wore a smug smile. His dirty nails clicked loudly in a slow and ominous rhythm. It was not joy or happiness that moved the corners of his mouth, but expectant malice. Content to remain silent in his hall, he was waiting, patiently waiting.
“One day soon. One day soon . . .” Mornoc whispered to himself. “I will have mine.”
With these words he jumped down from his throne and began to pace back and forth. With both arms held behind him, his robes flowed loosely, barely touching the floor. Turning sharply at the base of one column, he headed back toward the other with a measured pace, following a clear path he had worn into the stone floor. And every time he turned he would look toward the entrance. The guards stationed there remained at attention, not daring to observe the movements of their lord.
Pausing, he brought a hand to his chin. Staring into the thin air in front of him, he muttered under his breath, “I will have mine.”
He did not look upon the splendor of his hall or the size of the chandeliers above. His eyes were peeled on the one thing he had failed to attain so long ago. “I will have my own name, my own kingdom, my own . . .” His thoughts trailed off once again to a place he could not go. Scowling, he released his chin and clenched his fist. “I will have mine!” he said in a deep, suppressed yell. His words pulsed off of the rock walls. With a huff he returned to sitting on his throne and staring at the entrance to his hall.
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Several miles south of Oak Knoll, a lone traveler ran through the woods carrying a lantern. The glass bowl covering the wick was blackened at the top from the night before. His dress was black and on his back was a pouch full of short spears.
Moving swiftly, he made his way along a subtle trail, through thick woods at the base of a rocky hill. His gaunt face betrayed some of its youthfulness, but it spoke also of an unnatural strain. He followed the trail to the lowest point of the woods and there entered a cave. In the entrance he lit the lantern he’d been carrying with one that hung from the cave wall. Crouching slightly, he followed the cave into the heart of the hill.
At thirty yards, the tunnel gradually began to open up, heading into the earth. As he continued, the jagged walls began to grow moist and the air grew warmer. In sections there was a steady trickle of water along the floor at the base of the walls. Deeper and deeper he went, leaving the sun behind. Taking one last turn, he hung his lantern on a nail in the rock, the beginning of a long row of lanterns of all shapes and sizes. From there he followed the lights to a place where the cave opened up into a large chamber.
In the middle of the cave a long stone table was lined with men of a similar dress, feasting. It was an underground banquet hall lacking all of the fineries expected at a banquet. The square room was well lit by a massive candle chandelier that hung above the table and several lanterns that hung at each doorway and along the walls. The air was filled with the smell of meat, ale, and burning oil.
At each of four entrances, one on each side, a guard stood at attention. Above one of these doors, etched in stone, was the name “Casimir.” Ignoring the guards, the returning scout walked up to the table and joined the feasting.
Every man at the table wore a pouch of short spears on his back, black clothing, and had dark hair and eyes. The only things that set them apart were their facial features, length of hair, and height. They were all thin and haggard, like men near death, but there was an apparent ferocity about them all.
The scout took his place at an empty spot on one of the wooden benches and immediately tore into the first piece of meat within reach. All of the meat was in the form of whole carcasses, just cooked, but quite rare. Lining the table were pitchers of cold ale, earthen cups, and tin plates. The sounds of feasting permeated the atmosphere.
“Did you bring his lantern, Selcor?” a scout asked the new arrival in a guttural voice.
“Yes,” Selcor replied over a mouthful of meat.
They both focused on their food for a minute or so longer before Selcor added, “I made him bleed, but he escaped.”
His companion paused to contemplate the words then washed down his food with some ale. His bushy hair hung over his forehead in wavy strands. Wiping his face with his sleeve, he opened his mouth to speak again, but was cut off.
“Hail, your Mallith!” A voice cried from the other end of the table. The command echoed loudly through the chamber, ringing into the tunnels.
All in attendance rose to their feet on the outside of their benches and turned to face the entrance at the far end of the table, the one with the name “Casimir” carved above it. Some spit food out of their mouths onto their plates, or swallowed what was left to more quickly assume a position of attention. Once there was complete silence and every one of them was on their feet, a great gangly figure walked through the stone doorway and paused just under the light of the lanterns to his left and right.
A black robe covered the form of a man no less than eight feet tall. He stood slightly bent over but with square shoulders. In his right hand he carried a long club with a heavy metal sphere on the end, adorned with five large spikes. His long black hair was lined with thick strands of gray and his beard was kept short, appearing just as dark against his pale skin. There were scars on his cheeks running down from his eyes like tears, and his hands and forearms were scarred in a similar manner, as if burned. Like all of those present, he too carried a pouch of spears on his back.
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence. The giant slowly extended his right arm, holding the club out in front of him. In unison all of the men at the table pulled a spear from their pouches, saluting him with the point of their weapons.
“Casimir!” they all bellowed in one voice.
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A waning moon, dimmed by thinning clouds, cast its faint glow on the wooded landscape below. The leaves of the trees were once again falling, coloring the forest floor in shades of orange, red, and brown, permeating the air with their scent. The changing temperatures gave rise to a mist from the earth’s warm surface that hung suspended, still as stone. The crack of a stick was as good as a shout.
Through such a scene a young man swiftly made his way on foot along a well-used path. His steps were sure and he traveled the path with a seeming knowledge of every twist, dip and turn to the very texture of its surface.
Steadying the sword at his side with his left hand, Corred swung the other to match his gate. Little could be heard of his travel apart from the sound of his breathing and the occasional crunch of leaves. The color of his clothes matched the season in drab shades of brown and olive. The hood of his shirt hung loosely, allowing for better vision. His dark brown hair fell to his shoulders, and though his features were not distinguishable in the dark, the length of his stride spoke of his youthful strength. And though he traveled without a companion, Corred was not alone.
From a higher point in the woods, against a thicket, a silent figure bent low to the ground to hide his outline. He was carefully watching Corred’s path. His dress was black, matching dark eyes and on his back hung a pouch full of short spears. His hair was just as dark except for a few blond tips still clinging to black roots. Crouched motionless, he looked ahead, seeking a point of ambush. Once located, he quickly turned back into the thicket to carry out his attack.
As Corred made a turn in the path, he heard the snapping of a twig in the distance. His attention was drawn to the hill on his left, but there was no motion to accompany the sound. His pulse quickened and his senses grew more alert with each step.
Moving with the agility of a predator, the dark figure exited the opposite side of the thicket and stood behind a tree to wait. As he slowly raised his hand to the pouch on his back, his long fingers felt one of the spears, and stayed there. For a brief moment the light of the moon revealed the hunter’s features: hollow eyes, gaunt cheeks, and a sinister glare. His wide, black eyes absorbed all of the light available, shifting to and fro in search of his quarry. He walked his grip down the shaft of the spear when he heard the crunch of leaves to his right. Several seconds passed. Then, from his periphery, he spotted Corred running through the brush fifty yards out of range. Cursing behind clenched teeth, the hunter flew down the hill and pursued his target along the very path he had been watching. The spear was now in his hand, held at shoulder height, ready for release.
His pursuer now flushed from hiding, Corred fully realized the source of his alarm. Pulling his sword, he hit the full length of his stride. Fear threatened to take over, but he fought the panic and searched for a possible advantage. Ducking under the lower branches of an evergreen, Corred picked up a rock in his left hand. As the gap between he and his attacker lessened, Corred gripped his sword all the tighter. In the darkest part of the woods, he stopped on the face of a leaf. Rolling the stone ahead of him, he slipped behind a tree.
The hunter quickly released his spear in the direction of the sound, burying it in the stump of a fallen tree. Slowing to a standstill, he listened quietly while pulling a second spear from his pouch. After a moment of silence, he backtracked toward the place he had last seen his prey, stepping lightly. A low, angry growl escaped his throat.
Every muscle tensed and ready, Corred waited for the opportune time to either attack, or run. As the burning in his chest subsided, and he began to catch his breath, he listened carefully for his enemy’s movements. A minute passed before he again heard the crunch of leaves. At the snapping of a twig, now further away, he drew a deep breath and took off at a full sprint, aiming for the main path out of the woods. Within a few steps another spear flew just behind him, skipping across the forest floor.
Pushing so hard that he barely touched the ground, the hunter attempted once more to catch his prey. But this time, the intensity of his pursuit seemed to be well matched by his target’s flight. Unable to keep pace, the hunter hurled a second spear down the path with the full force of his body behind it. It found its mark.
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From Thanksgiving until Christmas I will be sharing some excerpts from "The Reaper's Seed," both Book 1 and Book 2 to entertain, to tease, and hopefully entice some of your to give the story a try.
"The Reaper's Seed: The Sword and the Promise," Chapter 1:
The boys slowed their pace as they arrived at the small gathering, catching their breath as they began to observe all who were present. The group consisted of a range of ages. Though it was mostly men, the women and children there were given the seats closest to the fire. Quietly the boys made their way around to a long, flat rock set at the base of a tree where an old man sat at the head of the group. There beside him, they took their place on a log at either side.
In a soft voice he welcomed them. “I am pleased to see you both here. I trust your uncle’s directions served you well. Did you have any trouble finding your way through the woods?”
“No, sir,” the older of the two responded quickly. “We did quite well along the path. It wasn’t hard at all.” He beamed at the chance to give a good report of himself.
His younger brother made sure to join in the response, though it was an echo of what had already been said. “No, sir, we had no trouble at all.” He was still out of breath as he pulled his hood up over his head tightly and shifted in his seat. In the light of the fire, an unsightly scar on his neck became visible. Having worn it since birth, he had made a habit of wrapping his hood a little tighter than was necessary to hide it from view.
“Bravery begins in the small things,” the old man said. “Not many boys your age come to these meetings.” His long gray hair swayed in the breeze, which was stronger up on the hill, and his beard moved in rhythm with his words. “Very well. I am proud of you both.”
“Thank you, grandfather,” the older of the two replied. “We just can’t wait to hear you tell the Story. We have never heard it told at Hill Top before.”
“Well, Corred, tonight you will. The Story makes us who we are and gives us direction for the future.” Turning to his other grandson, he placed his large, calloused hand on his head. “Androcles, it is also time you learned what all men must know.”
Androcles smiled widely, content just to stare up into his grandfathers eyes for as long as he could.
Waiting for the group to continue gathering, the old man sat with his arms resting on his knees, patiently warming his hands by the fire. His broad shoulders hung low in such a position but it was clear by their width that he was not lacking in physical strength. The cloak he wore was one of distinction, set apart from his ordinary dress, for he was a wise man, once a warrior. Less remarkable were his shoes, made of animal skins and wearing thin near the toes. A long sword lay at his feet. Its leather and metal scabbard was adorned with various carvings, and the butt and hilt were bright silver. The handle was fashioned from a type of dark, grainless wood that appeared timeless, not at all worn by use. As he sat observing the crowd fondly, his heavy brow shaded his eyes, which were only revealed by the flicker of the flames before him. His whole appearance spoke of old age, except his eyes. Though the face surrounding them was weathered, wrinkled and scarred, his eyes were young and bright, as if the years he’d lived had only deepened their color.
The light of the fire danced also among the branches of the tree that hung over the group. Its twisted form marked the landscape, standing alone, scarred by lightning, abandoned to the sun. Apart from the vines that climbed the base of its trunk, it had not a single leaf to rustle in the wind, but its roots were as firm as rock, part of the hill it stood upon.
The old man called the group to attention. “Thank you all for coming,” he said with a nod. Trying to make eye contact with as many as possible, he greeted them, some by name, but all with, “Peace, be with you.”
He was greeted in turn. “Peace, be with you, Creedus Corred.”
Corred took it all in, crossing his arms over his knees. Pulling his hood up onto his head where it hung loosely, the light of the fire revealed the whole of his face. He not only shared his grandfather’s name, but his features, and most of all, his deep blue eyes.
Looking around at the group and then back at his grandfather, his mouth half open, Androcles, on the other hand, looked very little like his grandfather. With green eyes and curly blonde locks, he was short, even for his age. Brushing some hair from his eyes he leaned forward to get a better look at his grandfather’s face.
When the group had fallen silent again, and all eyes were on Creedus, he began . . . . .
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There is something funny about saying that I am now the author of a epic fantasy series, simply because Book 2 is now for sale to the world. I've been the writer of an epic fantasy series for years now. In fact, I've been somewhere in Book 3 for probably 3 years. As I've written about before - that's just kind of life as a part time writer. Call me a "Jaff of All Trades."
But, this is a milestone, and I don't want to shrug it off. I do feel a sense of accomplishment. I am proud that I have followed through with publishing this story to properly share it with my family, friends, and beyond. But you know, I guess it's like most accomplishments: all it's done it prime the pump.
The Reaper's Seed is calling to me, it's voice strengthened every time I hear from someone who has read some of it, and really enjoyed it. I'm on a journey with my many characters, and their story must be told.
On to Book 3!
I have lived by quite a few tenets in my life, some have stuck and some have faded. Having been an athlete at varying levels of intensity and competition now since age 7, one tenet that has endured is this: “The hungry wolf hunts best.”
Meaning, the more you want it, the more you will be inclined to up-and-go get it. Hunger breeds necessity. And hunger can make you do both great and desperate things. In the world of sports, it can drive you to greatness, or it can drive you to ruin: injury, cheating, burn-out, despair. Growing up a swimmer, I got used to training for 6 months at a time with one competition in focus. And, as it would happen, I finished more seasons than not, hungrier than when I started. That could say something about my personal temperament, but brushing up against your goals has a way of stoking the fire in the belly. The times I fell short, it left a less pleasant hunger pain, but hunger for success none-the-less.
I have found writing to be similar. It’s been a while since I last wrote here, and that post was all about the haunting I feel from my desire to write, especially when I don’t feed it. Well, since beginning the big push (big for me anyway) to market Book 2, “Into the West,” I’ve been feeling a lot like a hungry wolf. Not crazed, but lurking, sniffing the air, looking for some success to satisfy my hunger.
Having dwelt on this for a while now, I have decided that I like the feeling of being hungry. I even like it physically. Who really enjoys a meal when they aren’t hungry? The most mundane food in the world can taste like ambrosia when you have been cold and hungry for a while. Hunger makes me feel alive. I like that.
Writing right now feels like hunting, and finding readers and selling books looks like food. But that’s okay, because I like hunting, er … writing. In fact, I’ve been doing more writing of various kinds in the last few weeks than I have in ages. Blog posts (I started a new one – warning, it is political, though quite sincere), essays for competitions, meditative writing for myself, and “The Reaper’s Seed.”
But don’t worry, I’m a nice wolf.
Does anyone else ever feel pulled between loves?
This has been a feeling for me for a few years now. (It wasn't always so.) I have a lot of good things in my life, all of which are truly enjoyable, and many of which seem to fall on the same tier of priority. So, to review the hierarchy: God first, wife second, daughter a close third (because putting my wife higher serves my daughter most), extended family next, then day job and . . .
Exercise, food, gardening, writing, side-ventures of entrepreneurial nature, community service, home/yard maintenance, followed by an extra dose of exercise when the weather is nice.
Yeah, it's a crowded step.
In regards to exercise, I grew up a swimmer and will always love swimming. It wired in me a desire and love for pushing my body and mind to the edges of physical endurance. Later on I learned to run when I met my Lania. Next a friend nudged me into buying a bike and trying a triathlon - which honestly didn't take much nudging. Then there's food, which I've become more and more fascinated by - nutrition we're talking - as I've grown older and become more interested in endurance, natural living, and wellness in general. This sort of led to gardening, which awakened some inner farmer that now controls a rather substantial part of my psyche. Who knew it, but I really get a kick out growing things, and then eating them. Lania and I serve at the Honey Brook Food Pantry - because people should not go hungry around us, and more importantly, a love for neighbor has hands and feet. I have side investments that require some upkeep, a small business idea that I am actively building with family and friends, and then there's this writing thing.
Which of these things is better than the next? You probably get the idea, or rather, feel it. It's like lots of little lovely hooks in different parts of my heart, mind, and time that don't always take turns pulling. One of these hooks is a real stubborn one: story.
I feel the constant draw of stories that have begun in my mind, but only half the time do I answer the call. Sometimes I can't, other times I just won't, because its sunny outside, or it's time to plant the Fall crop of carrots, beets, and peas. But I will say, it pulls at me quite consistently from among the hobbies (which is what they are in the end). I have more writing projects in my brain folders than I will probably ever be able to get to in this life. I also think, or rather know, that when push comes to shove, a lot of these hobbies are going to be pushed aside to make room for writing stories.
For now the wrestling continues. The goal right now, it to wrangle myself into submission for long enough to pull the trigger on Book 2, "Into the West." Originally planned for this summer, the publish date is now "Fall." What can you do with so many loves?
For those who don't know, I have a day job. That's probably pretty obvious by everything I've said thus far in my blogs. The idea of being a full-time, self-sustaining author is in fact that: an idea. Likely, it will remain an idea, and never break into the world of reality. Which is fine, as this is a gifting that I greatly enjoy as a hobby right now.
A few weeks ago I made my first attempt at asking for some publicity. It took me a while. I haven't lived my life asking for attention. If anything, I've lived my life avoiding it. Introverted? Certainly. Well-taught by my parents to be humble and modest. Definitely. But then, I decided to self-publish a novel. Six months later, I'm a long way from being comfortable with promoting myself. I'd so much rather hide away and keep writing. But what would be the point? No one would ever read it.
Last Wednesday I drove up to Kutztown University to join my cover artist, Phil Gemmell in meeting a correspondent from the Berks-mont News. Laura Dillon met us in a fantastic little eatery called Betty's, and we told her all about what we're doing.
It was straight forward, natural, Laura was very cool, and with some recorded notes, she was off to write her article. It was easy, it was fun, and it was small. I don't think the handful of patrons eating around us even took notice. Today, I went to Berks-Mont News and saw this picture with the headline, "Honey Brook author collaborates with Kutztown University student on redemption novel series."
As I've mentioned a few times lately, I've been thinking about seeds. They are so stinkin' small before they go into that dirt, get wet, get warm, and then do great things. They also can't do anything on their own. They need good dirt, water, sun, and air. But most importantly, they need their Creator.
I don't know how many people will actually see and read the news article, let alone become interested in "The Reaper's Seed," but it has all the potential of a gentle rain shower on a young plant. It's another little effort in a bigger picture. I've been given this desire, even gift, from God, and it's meant to be shared. Phil too has an amazing gift, and together, we are doing something small to share these gifts with the people around us.
"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth." (1 Corinthians 3:6, ESV)
A lot of things have me thinking about seeds right now.
There's "The Reaper's Seed," which was the catalyst for this very blog/website. The story has themes of seeds, sowing, harvesting and reaping woven into it's fabric on multiple levels. The story itself is meant to plant seeds of wondering about the human condition, rebellions, reconciliation, and ultimately out standing before God along these lines. I try to plant the idea of reading "The Reaper's Seed" with people as I get the chance. I even dream of thousands reading and enjoying it. All it's going to take is a few well placed seeds, some work, a lot of patience, and God to grow it.
Then there is the arrival of Spring. On a small scale, part of me is a farmer. I may just love gardening. I get a kick out of growing my own food. The satisfaction that comes from watching a messy piece of my yard turn into an edible little paradise in just a couple of months makes me smile through and through. All it takes is a few handfuls of seeds, a little work, a lot of patience, and God to grow it.
Next, there's my gorgeous little girl, Emiliana. In this case, she is the seed. She is the miracle of new life is crawling around my feet, smiling at me, giggling, whining, crying, making wonderful little messes and learning something new every day. I have the awesome privilege and responsibility to love her, discipline her, train her, teach her and protect her every day. All it's going to take is some hard work, a lot of patience and God's growing power.
Most importantly, there is the grand sweeping arch of my life: what kind of seeds am I sowing? The above topics factor in, but it goes beyond them even, to encompass so much more. And the more I ponder things like this, the more I see how much of life is about have the right seed, sowing it, working hard, being patient, and trusting God's growing power.