Joey, the cat who wouldn’t drink out of a bowl…
Joey, the cat who wouldn’t drink out of a bowl…
The sun was setting and the waters of the Benatoll were glowing blood-red under a pink and violet sky. As the wind rustled the pines lining the riverbanks, the splash of water filled the air, disturbing the evening hush. Athalan troops, exhausted from a long day’s march, waded through the river towards its eastern bank. They sloshed through the water without speaking a word, seeking only the comfort of warm food and a bedroll.
Farther up on the eastern bank, two men stood gazing out west across the crimson waters towards Sluguard. Their eyes, however, were not fixed on the troops, but on a spot farther upstream, where a massive cloud of dark gray smoke was rising into the sky.
It was smoke from thousands of burning bodies.
Lief shivered and pulled his cloak closer about himself. He glanced at Jurian, whose face was ashen like the smoke, and noticed that the lord’s legs were shaking. The youth instinctively moved closer to the lord and offered him his arm. Jurian accepted it and leaned on Lief for support, sighing and closing his eyes with pain.
Jurian could still hardly believe what had happened. Two days, he thought. Two days ago, Philip had been alive.
How could this have happened? Why had he been such a fool? Why hadn’t he followed his first instinct and left his son at home, safe in Castle Willington? If he had, Philip would still be alive. If he had, that wretched argument that had marked the end of their relationship never would have occurred. Things would have been all right and…
Jurian and Lief flinched and turned to find Fergus standing a few paces behind them. At the sight of the knight, Jurian immediately pulled away from Lief, drawing himself up straight.
“What do you want, Fergus?” he asked coldly.
Fergus frowned and took a step forward. “Jurian, you need to stop looking back.”
Jurian’s lips set in a thin, stubborn line. “Fergus, you do not know what it is like to lose a son.”
“No,” Fergus said quietly, “I do not. But I do know that you have other duties to attend to. Come,” he added, “Edward wants you in his tent.”
Jurian remained silent and did not move.
The lines on Fergus’ face hardened at this response. Jurian was suffering deeply, and certainly should be pitied. Yet the lord was a leader too. And leaders must not neglect their duties, no matter how overwhelmed they felt.
“Jurian,” Fergus said, taking another step forward, “come with me. The past is over and done with. It is time to…”
“No,” Lief interrupted suddenly. “Leave us alone. We will come when we are ready, sir.”
Fergus glanced at the slender youth, surprised. Lief stiffened, but did not wince under the knight’s sharp gaze. For a moment, Fergus regarded the two with his steely blue eyes. Then, without a word, he turned and strode off.
As Fergus departed, Jurian and Lief let out long sighs. “Well done,” Jurian remarked to his companion. “It takes courage to speak so boldly to Fergus.”
“I had to,” Lief replied. “I could not let him bother you.”
Jurian smiled slightly at Lief’s answer, but did not respond. Turning, he gazed back across the river at the cloud of gray smoke. As he watched the smoke billowing up into the red-streaked sky, a lump rose in his throat. Quickly, he turned away and swallowed it, lest his grief overwhelm him.
“Come,” he said wearily. “It is time to head back to camp.”
“Are you sure?” Lief murmured. “I thought that you wanted to stay.”
“I would, but King Edward needs me.”
Lief stared at him, puzzled. “But then why didn’t you go with Sir Fergus?”
“Because I’m not going to accept an order from that man,” Jurian said dryly. “He may be Edward’s closest adviser, but I am an earl, and I am not going to forget the fact.”
Lief nodded, tucking away this bit of information in his memory.
They left the riverbank and strode back towards the endless ranks of canvas tents that formed the army’s encampment. Passing through the camp, they came to the king’s pavilion, where supper was being laid out by a pair of servants. Edward was also there, pacing up and down the tent and running a hand through his dark hair distractedly.
“Ah, Jurian, there you are!” Edward exclaimed as he hastened forward to greet the lord. “Have you seen Mark?”
“No, Your Majesty. Why?”
“Because we can’t find him. The last time Fergus and I saw him, it was midafternoon.”
“I’m sure he’s fine, Your Majesty,” Jurian answered calmly. “This camp is a very large one; it would be easy for you to go an entire day without seeing Prince Mark. What do you need from me?” he added. “Fergus said that you wanted me.”
“Yes. I’d like you to join us for supper so that we can discuss plans for the army now that we’re in Gerdia. Of course, it won’t be of much use if we can’t find Mark,” Edward added irately.
“I’m sure he’ll come,” Jurian replied as he pulled out a chair and took a seat at the table.
Meanwhile, Lief, noting only four places laid for supper, assumed that none of them were for him and turned to depart. However, Edward’s kind voice cut him off.
“There’s no need for you to go. I’d be glad if you joined us for supper.”
Lief hesitated and glanced at Jurian, seeking approval from the lord. Jurian nodded a little, and Lief turned to Edward, bowing his head respectfully.
“Thank you, Your Majesty. You’re most gracious.”
A servant set an extra place at the table, and Lief and Edward took their seats. As he caught a whiff of the meat stew sitting on the table before him, Lief’s mouth watered. After a more than twelve hours’ march with little food or rest, the temptation to ignore proper manners and start serving himself was almost overwhelming.
“Now where’s Fergus?” Edward muttered as he drummed his fingers on the table. “He should have returned by now.”
As if on cue, the flaps at the pavilion’s entrance rustled. Edward started up in his chair, only to slump back in disappointment as Hadrian entered.
“Mr. Everhart,” he said dully, “what a pleasure to see you. Do you need something?”
Hadrian nodded. “I’m sorry to bother you, Your Majesty, but do you know where Mark is? I’m waiting on him for supper.”
“What a coincidence,” Edward remarked dryly. “So are we. Please, join us,” he added with a tired wave of his hand. “There’s plenty of food.”
Hadrian wavered a moment while a servant set out an extra place for him beside Jurian. Should he join them? After all, Edward might simply be acting polite and not really desire his presence.
Jurian noticed Hadrian’s hesitation. Immediately his mind flashed back to their recent, bitter argument here in this same tent. Was that why was Hadrian hesitating? He was afraid of more strife breaking out between them?
Quickly, Jurian summoned a faint smile and quietly addressed Hadrian. “Good evening, Mr. Everhart. It’s good to see you.”
Hadrian smiled weakly at the unexpected gesture of friendliness. At least someone at this table welcomed his presence. Without further hesitation, he took his seat, murmuring, “Thank you, my lord. It’s good to see you as well.”
Jurian nodded and they both fell quiet, not knowing what else to say.
At a word from Edward, the two servants departed, leaving the four in peace. A silence fell over the men, broken only by the king drumming his fingers on the table.
Meanwhile, from across the table, Jurian noticed lines of weariness on Edward’s face. Looking more closely at the king, he was surprised to see flecks of gray in Edward’s dark hair. Jurian frowned and shook his head. This campaign was taking more of a toll on Edward than he had thought.
Finally, after a few minutes’ waiting, the king lost patience and slapped his hand down on the table, startling the others. “Oh, blast it,” he exclaimed, “this waiting is no good. We might as well go ahead and eat. Fergus and Mark will just have to miss supper.”
Hadrian and Lief both cast uncertain glances at Jurian, who shrugged and began ladling out bowls of stew for everyone. They’d just started eating when Fergus strode into the pavilion. At the sight of them, the knight stopped short and scowled.
“Your Majesty, my apologies,” he remarked. “I didn’t mean to delay supper for you.”
“The food is getting cold,” Edward retorted. “We couldn’t afford to keep waiting for you and Mark.”
“So you still haven’t found him?”
“No, we have not. Blazes, Fergus, I can’t understand it. He’s a prince. Where on earth could he have disappeared to?”
“Somewhere where he knows we won’t find him. Don’t worry about him, Edward,” Fergus added. “He’ll reappear soon enough.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
Fergus shrugged. “Then we have a problem.”
Edward muttered something under his breath, while Fergus sat down beside him and spooned out a generous portion of stew for himself. For some time, there was only the quiet scraping of spoons against bowls. Then Edward broke the stillness with a sigh of frustration.
“Fergus, where did you say that castle is again?”
“Up in the north somewhere.”
“How far away is ‘somewhere’?”
“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Mark. He’s the one who drew up the map.”
“Well, that’s helpful,” Edward grumbled. “And I suppose he sketched only one copy of the map?”
“And it’s in his pocket, isn’t it?”
Fergus nodded and took a sip of stew. “Yes, I believe so.”
Edward heaved another sigh of exasperation and began drumming his fingers on the table again, unconsciously setting his tired companions’ nerves on edge.
As he listened to the repeated tap-tap of the king’s fingers on wood, Hadrian thought of how much cheerier the meal would be if Philip were there. The next moment, a wave of sickness swept over him as he recalled gazing at his friend’s body with that wretched arrow stuck in it. If only he hadn’t been a fool, if only he’d listened to Philip and not ridden his skittish horse too the battle line, his friend would still be alive.
But Philip was dead.
And it was all his fault.
Hadrian dropped his spoon and, murmuring an excuse, fled from the table. He was at the tent entrance when he bumped into Mark, who was entering. Catching sight of his friend’s pale face, Mark stopped short and stared at him.
“Hadrian, are you all right?”
“Yes,” Hadrian muttered as he tried to brush by the prince. Mark, however, caught his arm and restrained him.
“Wait, don’t go. I want you to stay.”
Hadrian nodded and reluctantly returned to the table with Mark. As the prince took a seat beside his cousin, Edward frowned at him.
“You’re late, Mark. Where have you been?”
“Checking on the troops.”
“You could have told us what you were doing.”
Mark shrugged. “I saw no need for that.”
Edward’s frown deepened as he placed a hand on his cousin’s arm. “Mark,” he said in a voice of forced calmness, “we were worried about you. You’re a prince. We can’t just afford to have you go disappearing off to unknown places.”
Mark’s eyebrow went up a fraction as he pulled his arm away from Edward and glanced around the table at the collection of empty bowls. “Yes, I see that,” he remarked dryly. “You were so worried that you went ahead and ate supper without me.”
Edward’s eyes narrowed as he gazed at his cousin’s impassive face. The king glanced at Fergus and Jurian, seeking their support, but they ignored him. Heaving a sigh of frustration, Edward gave up and leaned back in his chair.
“Have you had supper?” he asked his cousin resignedly. “There’s still some stew left if you’re hungry.”
Mark shook his head. “No, thank you. I already ate with the troops. Now,” he added crisply, “let’s move on to business. Tomorrow we’re going to begin our march to Lochem. The owner of the castle, Lord Dalburg, was an old friend of my father’s, and I think that he’ll be eager to assist us in overthrowing Merek.”
“Where is Castle Lochem?” Jurian asked. “Fergus said that it’s somewhere up in the north.”
Mark nodded and pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. He unfolded it to reveal a map of Gerdia, which he’d drawn from memory. “Here’s Lochem,” he said, indicating a spot that lay along the Benatoll. “It’s situated near this region of hills.”
“How far away is that?” Hadrian asked, leaning forward and straining his eyes to read the chart by the flickering lantern light.
“Three days’ march upstream.”
A low groan issued forth from Edward. “Three days?”
“Yes. Is there a problem with that?” Mark added coolly.
“Three days is a long march considering the heavy losses the army’s recently suffered. Perhaps we should stay here and rest the troops first.”
“No,” Mark rejoined. “We’ll take our rest when we get to Lochem.”
Jurian frowned. “And what if Lochem doesn’t welcome us?”
“But if they don’t?” Fergus pressed.
Mark’s jaw set in a hard line. “Then we’ll just have to make ourselves welcome.”
“And how will we do that?” Hadrian couldn’t help muttering.
Mark glared at his friend and took a deep breath to calm himself. “We’ll knock politely on the gate,” he replied, carefully articulating each word. “And if they don’t answer, we’ll use the battering ram.”
“Oh, I’m sure that will make us very welcome.”
Mark gritted his teeth and restrained himself from slapping Hadrian. Tucking away the map, he leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. “Tell me,” he said, casting a cold glance around the table, “do any of you have a better idea, or are you just going to keep offering excuses?”
“We’re not offering excuses,” Edward said angrily. “We’re trying to…”
“Help?” Mark cut in sarcastically. “Yes, I can see that. Listen to me,” he continued, sitting up and resting his palms firmly on the table, “your making excuses is not helping anything. We are in Gerdia now, and as the only Gerdian present here, I may fully claim to possess the best knowledge of this country and its people. Now if you wish me to lead the army, you must trust my decisions and abide by them. But if that’s not to your liking, I will gladly go on to Lochem alone, while the rest of you march the army back through barbarous Sluguard.”
There was a long silence as the others exchanged glances. Then a quiet voice spoke up.
“I’m staying with you.”
Mark’s hard gaze softened as he turned to Lief, who was sitting directly across from him. There was no mark of hesitation in the lines of Lief’s thin, tired face. Only the steady light of resolution shone in his clear gray eyes.
“Thank you,” Mark said, a smile touching his lips. “I’m grateful for your help.”
Jurian rose and addressed the prince. “Tell me your orders, Mark. I shall be happy to obey them.”
“As will the rest of the army,” Fergus added with a pointed glance at his irritated king.
The smile lingering at the corners of the Mark’s mouth deepened as he stood up and faced everyone. “The army moves out at dawn tomorrow,” he declared. “We will march to Lochem as quickly as possible. If all goes well, we’ll reach it within three days’ time. Get some rest,” he concluded. “It’s going to be a long three days.”
Jurian and Lief bowed respectfully and departed for their own pavilion. After bidding “goodnight” to his cousin, Mark also left with Hadrian. As the prince disappeared out into the night, Edward cursed and banged his hand down on the table.
“Blast it, Fergus!” he exclaimed. “He tries my patience to no end.”
“Yes. I can’t stand him. Everything he said and did set my nerves on edge.”
Fergus raised his eyebrows in a show of mock surprise. “Really, Your Majesty? I’m not sure what you mean. I thought His Highness was in an excellent mood myself.”
“Blazes, Fergus, don’t tease me!” Edward cried. “You know what I mean. The way he talked and issued orders and casually brushed off my concerns about him. It was impertinent, Fergus. Blasted impertinent.”
“Impertinent? He’s a prince. He’s not supposed to need your approval for everything he says and does.”
Edward gave another cry and slammed his hand down on the table, spilling a bowl of stew. With a curse, the king leapt to his feet, accidentally knocking his chair over. He swore again and, dropping his head, rested his hands on the table.
As he stood there, sucking in deep breaths, a hand gripped his shoulder. Looking up, he found Fergus frowning at him. Edward flushed and dropped his head.
“Fergus, I…I’m sorry,” he said brokenly. “It’s just, I can’t stand Mark and all this…”
“Edward,” Fergus interrupted, “go to bed.”
“No ‘but’s.’ You’re exhausted. Go to bed.”
Edward bit his lip and looked up at Fergus, seeking some sort of consolation in the knight’s rough face. Fergus loosened his hard grip in response, and for a moment let the corners around his hard eyes soften with a smile.
“Fergus,” Edward choked. “I…I’m so tired. I can’t…”
“I know,” Fergus broke in quietly. “Now go to bed. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
Edward nodded and blinked rapidly, hoping his mentor hadn’t spotted any hint of moisture in his eyes. The king retreated to his bedroll, while Fergus departed for his own tent.
As he stepped out into the cool night air, Fergus released a sigh of frustration and rubbed his forehead wearily. “Edward had better pull himself together,” the knight muttered to himself. “I’ll leave him with the Slugs if he doesn’t.”
© Mbaysan | Dreamstime.com – Sunset On The River Photo
All right, it’s springtime, but I thought you’d enjoy this picture of our old cat Joey sitting in the Christmas tree. Aren’t those stunning eyes?
P.S. And yes, it’s amazing he climbed the tree and didn’t bring it down. Actually, he climbed the tree multiple times. There’s nothing like coming downstairs in the morning and going, “Wait! Is that the cat in the tree?”
For the character whose world I’ve brought crashing to the ground multiple times…
When I started writing my first book, I was completely clueless. I bumbled about and wasted a lot of time simply because I didn’t know how to do things. Now that I’m onto Book 3, I’ve discovered some ways to streamline the writing process and keep myself more focused. Here they are:
1) Consult your Plot Master before Writing.
When I wrote Quest for Freedom, I tended to keep everything to myself. First, I wrote the whole book on my own before handing it over to my parents to read. Later on, I’d write a large chunk at once and then give it to Dad to check.
Now move ahead a few years. Before I even start writing, I go talk with Dad and run my ideas by him. I don’t always tell him everything, but I give him the basic plot, ask my questions, and receive his feedback.
I cannot tell you what a huge amount of time this is saving me on Book 3. Battle for the Throne is a very tightly woven story taking place over about 2.5 months. It’s essential that the basics of the story line up and click into place right from the start.
Dad has helped me not only by saying “yay or nay” to my plot ideas, but also by providing ones of his own. He’ll take a good idea of mine and help me turn it into something brilliant. I trust him so much that I’ve named him my “Plot Master Consultant”.
Now not everyone has an awesome dad to consult, but the point remains. Find someone to help you plot out your story. And don’t worry that you’ll lose all your enthusiasm for writing by sharing your ideas early on. Even though I plot out my chapters with Dad beforehand, I still tend to come up with fresh ideas for him to read about later.
Scapple is a wonderful tool. It’s a program that basically lets you enter notes on a virtual cork board, drag them around, and connect them however you want (click here for an example of how I use Scapple.) I like to use it for organizing my book, and it also comes in handy when I run a boatload of ideas by Dad. Instead of throwing everything at him, I can pull up Scapple and show him exactly where everything falls time wise in the book.
And this great program is only $15. Do yourself a favor and buy it today. You won’t regret it.
3) Leap Around While Writing
When I wrote my first book, I felt that I needed to write it in order. Big mistake. It only slowed the writing process down.
Now a wiser me leaps around freely while writing. If I get stuck on a plot train, I switch gears to something else and come back later to clean up the mess. (Bonus hint: leaping around is easier to do if you use Scapple like I suggested above.)
4) Word Count Meter
I just began using one of these when I started my current book and it has been a great help for a number of reasons. Summed up briefly:
a) It lets you keep track of your overall progress, keeping your eyes fixed on the big goal.
b) It helps you set measurable daily goals. (I’m going to write 1,500 words today, so that I bring my total up to x.)
c) It nags you. If a week passes and the color in the word count meter hasn’t increased, you’re bound to feel some guilt that will kick start you into writing.
If that’s not enough, just go ahead and look up this nifty meter from Critique Circle. It’s the ultimate in customization.
5) Completion Date
This is hard. Back in January, I had the amazing vision that I would have the first draft of Book 3 cranked out by the end of March. Then life happened.
Mom had foot surgery, my family’s van got hit and was in the shop for 6 weeks, more choir practices were scheduled as Easter approached. Add in a distracted writer (did I really need to play all those games of Rummi on the computer?) and things got a little derailed.
Now the book’s a 1/3 done, and I’m trying to get back on track. I’ve set a lower daily word goal for myself (1,500 instead of 2,000 words) and scheduled a finish date of June 30th for this first draft.
The key, of course, is to be reasonable. Do yourself a favor and don’t imitate me and think you can write a whole 500 page book within six months. You may do it, but you probably aren’t going to feel good when you finish it. (I didn’t.)
6) Set the Book Up Correctly
Change the margins in Word (if you use this program), adjust the page size, and add in the title page and other front matter. This makes it look professional and feel like a real book.
It’s easy to get lost when writing hundreds of pages. At times, you seem to be getting nowhere. Seeing your nicely formatted document fill up can give you a boost to keep going. Oh, and it also gives you a better idea of your page count.
7) Accountability Partner
If your plot master isn’t also your accountability partner, then find one. This person is essential. They are the individual who keeps harassing you (in a nice way) to produce words so that they can read your amazing book. Make use of them.
© Tomnex | Dreamstime.com – Writing A Book Photo
“Prayer of a Soldier in France” [Joyce Kilmer 1886-1918]
My shoulders ache beneath my pack
(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back)
I march with feet that burn and smart
(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart)
Men shout at me who may not speak
(They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek)
I may not lift a hand to clear
My eyes of salty drops that sear.
(Then shall my fickle soul forget
Thy agony of Bloody Sweat)
My rifle hand is stiff and numb
(From Thy pierced palm red rivers come)
Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me
Than all the hosts of land and sea.
So, let me render back again
This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.
Old, beautiful, and timeless. Also, very appropriate when one considers the first Mass reading for today for the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ. [Colossians 3:14-15, 17, 23-24]
People wonder how I write 500 page books and there is the answer: God. I’m not invincible (quite far from it), but with Him anything is possible.
© Kalozzolak | Dreamstime.com – Old Prayer Book With Wax Seal Stamp Photo