I knew it was coming. It had been a long time so it had slipped to the back of my mind but I knew it was coming still. The second part of the bill for my wife’s surgery last November arrived. Like it contained the plague, I shuddered to open it. When I saw the total I was floored. What’s worse is the price it was before insurance. Now it’s time to pay this at the expense of a credit card. But this is but the set-up. The knock out is yet to come. My wife needs another surgery in May which should cost the same amount. Before I begin my pity party, there are a lot of people who have it a lot worse than me. When my Mother-in-law had brain cancer she needed a shot every month and that alone cost more than $1000 a piece with insurance. Many people with health care are suffering from copays and deductibles. That only refers to the people with insurance. Those without insurance are in far worse straights. They are charged with the whole bundle with no way to pay. This is a broken system that can’t go on this way. Congress needs to make a change for everybody so that a trip to the hospital doesn’t mean bankruptcy for some people. I don’t propose to have the answers but we elect these people to look after our best interests and it’s time they did. I’m not usually political but this one hits close to home. That’s my opinion
“Well Brodker, you have a guest. He talks a might boldly when the odds are twenty to one, but every fool is entitled to be heard. Very well, half-breed. I am Jamon Flageron. I am the Captain of the Blood Brotherhood claiming lordship over the Great Eastern Forest and the majority of the Unclaimed Territory.”
Linvin flicked his shoulder to expose Falconfeather hanging on his back. “I have heard the same sort of claims from members of the Knife’s Hand bandits, Flageron. They are empty words spoken from empty minds.” He casually moved his shield to a defensive position.
“You speak of the Knife’s Hand, stranger? We scared them almost completely off this plain. You obviously don’t know what you’re talking about. Who do you claim to be?”
Linvin glanced at the melting frost on the grass as he reached for Falconfeather. “I have not time for this,” he boldly stated and produced the staff from his back instead. It instantly extended to its full length. He stomped it on the ground and yelled, “I am Linvin Grithinshield, Fool! I am Master of the Red Sapphire and I have no time to mess around with you. Be gone before I exterminate you all.”
There was laughter from all, but Jamon Flageron. Then a crossbow bolt flew through the air and bounced off Linvin’s shield. No one was laughing when they saw Linvin’s reaction.
He surrounded his body in red magic and followed the line of fire back to the person still holding a crossbow pointed at him. Linvin pointed the staff and red flame leapt from the gem, striking only that man and instantly incinerating him in his saddle. The man’s horse never moved as it felt nothing.
Linvin rose into the air before them and condemned, “I thought you were worthy of a chance for life, but you have proven otherwise.” With a wave of the staff all the riders were lifted from their saddles and suspended in the air. “You shall now feel the terror you have inflicted on decent people. You are no different than Bloxor of the Knife’s Hand. He and his men crossed me and were also given a chance to live. They too, chose destruction at my hand. It is for that reason that the prairie has been free of them. Three times they tested me and three times they failed. I dare to hope that killing you will end your band’s terrorizing of the settlers.”
Jamon Flageron had heard of Linvin and he was terrified. “Wait…wait…Great Magician. There are more in our brotherhood than just my company. If I am alive I can change our ways. If I am dead, a new leader will be chosen and the pillaging will continue.
Let me show you my sincerity.”
“Men, throw down all your weapons, now.” Bewildered, the men dropped their swords, axes, maces, and spears to the ground.
Linvin looked at the pathetic pile and shook his head. “If that little stack represents all your weapons, then you are weak indeed.”
Flageron barked at his men and said, “I meant all you weapons. Lose every single last one, quickly.” The men discarded hidden knives and short swords among the growing pile.
At last Flageron spoke again. “I know of you, Grithinshield. You live by a warrior’s code. No matter what you think of us, you will not kill unarmed men. You must set us free.”
Linvin squinted and made a sudden motion with the staff. All the men were hurled to the side of the horses where they crashed to the ground, inflicting serious injury. Then Linvin made all the weapons collect into one pile. With a squeeze of his staff the weapons all turned to dust.
Linvin landed and walked over to the horse belonging to the man he killed. He took it by the reins. Then he walked it over to Brodker and handed them to him. “Keep this horse safe until I return. His former owner no longer needs it.” Brodker was stunned by the events and simply nodded.
Next Linvin walked over to Jamon Flageron and picked him up by the front of his shirt with his mighty hands and held him in the air. “I am letting you live against my better judgment. Do not make me regret it. If you ever bother these farmers again I will hunt every last one of you down and snuff you out like a candle. Am I perfectly clear?”
Flageron’s leg was wounded and he was in great pain. “We are clear, Mr. Grithinshield. Neither me nor my men will ever bother them again.”
Linvin dropped him to the ground, inciting a scream of pain.
“And be sure to leave the rest of the farmers alone as well.”
Slowly, the members of the Blood Brotherhood mounted their steeds and rode off to the south. Linvin watched till they were out of sight. He lamented that Flageron was right. He could not bring himself to kill unarmed men, in spite of their ill intent.
I was asked the other day how I come up with characters. I look at the whole book as a meal. You need certain items to set up the plot. Others will be needed to main events in the story. These are your entrees. Then you surround them with filler or side items. These are the side dishes to the meal. One ingredient you need for both the entrée and the sides are the characters. It’s the garlic in Italian food. It pretty much goes in each recipe. So you sit down and ask yourself, “What do I need this person to do?” Then you list what you need for them to do. Put the list together and you have the makings of a person. Add some dimension to them and you have a character. The more important they are, the more depth you give them. A person giving directions might get a general description while your main character getting those directions was well described in the beginning and their character continues to be developed. Make your story like a meal and your characters will come out perfect every time.
In a great circle covered in sand were four men. At the very edge sat a frail old man devoid of hair other than a long, pointed white beard on his face. Murky cataracts obscured nearly all his vision as evidenced by his cane and lack of focus on the others. He sat with his legs crossed in silence.
The spectacle revolved around the combatants on the sand. A young man of great stature stood in the center of the circle. Standing taller than Mandrean, sweat rolled down his chiseled bare chest. Holding a wooden sword with both hands, he gasped for air to accommodate his excessive exertion.
On either side of the boy were Imperial Guards who also bore no armor. They were identifiable by their uniforms. Similar swords were in their hands. The one directly before the boy jerked to the side and then lunged at him. Spinning out of the way, the boy was struck in the arm by an attack from the soldier behind.
“Sloppy,” yelled the old man. “Acreas you must anticipate the attack. See it before it comes.”
Acreas rubbed his bicep where the strike had fallen and yelled back. “Master, he was behind me. How can I see something if my head is turned the other way?”
“I cannot see anything in that circle but I knew it was coming,” the old man scolded. “Seeing is not only with your eyes. True sight is in the mind. Use that sight and you will be victorious. Ignore it and you will die.”
Angered but undeterred, Acreas re-engaged his opponents. He struck at one and forced him on his heels. Then he turned around and parried a low strike from the second man. While he was successful at blocking the sword, Acreas failed to realize the intention of the attack was merely to leave his body defenseless. The soldier immediately punched him in the face and sent the towering youngling to the ground. Before Acreas could collect himself, the soldier stabbed his sword into the sand by the boy’s head. “Kill,” the soldier cried.
Acreas stared at the victor with furious anger. For his part, the soldier looked unimpressed. He held out his hand to help his victim to his feet. The boy took his hand and regained his footing. As soon as the soldier turned around, however, Acreas struck the pommel of his sword into the back of the man’s head. The blow staggered the soldier but did little more than earn his wrath.
Slapping the sword out of the way, the soldier again connected his fist with Acreas’ face. For his part, the boy returned the attack and the two were quickly wrestling on the ground. The other soldier took a drink from a bucket of water and happily watched the entertainment.
The old man struck his cane on the ground. “Enough,” he yelled. Both men respected the statement and separated. “Acreas, you allowed pride to motivate your attack. That is never wise. Then you attacked him in a dishonorable way. That is never acceptable.”
“Well there is more than one way to fight, Master,” Acreas snipped.
“Yes,” said the master. “There is the right way and the wrong way. You are clearly demonstrating the wrong way.”
“It works for me,” said Acreas.
“If that is true, my student, then why are you the one with all the bruises. You do not use your mind and you fight with no honor.”
“Honor?” scoffed the pupil. “Where is the honor in fighting two against one?”
The master shook his head. “I am not training you to fight duals. I am training you to reach your potential as an elite warrior. Such men rarely see odds stacked in their favor.”
The origins of Valentine’s Day are as numerous as conspiracy theories about area 51. The most popular is that it was named after a saint named Valentine. There were in fact 3 saints named Valentine and they were all martyred. One was alleged to have signed a letter, “From your Valentine.” Other than that, one is as likely to have spread the holiday as any other, but it is unlikely. A more plausible explanation is that the Christian church chose the date for St. Valentine’s feast day on the same day as the Roman pagan festival of Lupercalia, a festival of fertility. I’ll skip the gross part but all the single women would put their name on a stone and place it in a large urn. Then all the single men would pick a stone blindly and he would be paired with that woman for the next year. It often resulted in marriage. Today we have modernized the day like every other holiday. For the man he sees an opportunity to show his significant other how much they mean to him. This can involve candy, cards, flowers, jewelry and of course a meal at a nice restaurant. It’s all about making that person feel special. In turn they’ll make you feel special too. It’s funny though. As you age together you find you don’t need all that stuff to make each other feel special. Just some flowers and a card will do the trick. You know how much you love each other. In the end, that’s what this day’s come to mean. This is that day when you’re remined to stop your busy life and say, “I love you.” If you are lucky enough to have a special person in your life, cherish them, not just today but every day you are lucky enough to have them.
It was a cold and dreary night. Even for the rainy season in the subtropical nation of Sartan, the air was damp and chill. It was the sort of night when children volunteered to stay indoors and pets refused to set foot out of the house. Such were the conditions in Fraylic, the capitol city of Sartan, when a lone figure strode boldly down the center of the street in the area known as Old Town. In the largest city in the medieval world of Lavacia, the original stone boulevards had decayed over time leaving grooves, cavities and numerous signs of neglect. The buildings bordering the street fared no better. Time and lack of maintenance had left the once-pristine neighborhood in a dilapidated state, giving shelter to those without means and those without conscience.
The fine mist had settled into an icy fog which clung to the ground and swirled as the figure passed its folds. Even in the poor lighting, it was clear that the individual was a markedly tall man, with broad shoulders and a thick build. A gray woolen cloak covered him from the top of his head to his feet and was buttoned closed in the front. The sound of his boot heels unabashedly striking the ground was the only sound, save for the trickle of water running down the sides of the street. Then a second set of heels sounded on the road ahead of him. Moments later, a man of normal stature skulked into the street and came to a stop at its center, where he turned toward the oncoming person and folded his arms.
The first man came to a stop not more than ten paces away from the one blocking his path. Then he spoke. “You certainly chose an obscure place for this transaction, Mr…”
The second man answered. “My name is of no consequence here, but yours is Dirk Grithinshield. I suppose you would have preferred to do business in your sizable store in the merchant district, but I find this setting more to my liking.”
“Your odds are better as well,” Dirk commented dryly. “You can tell your men surrounding me to come out. We are alone, and I already know where they are hiding.”
“You are mistaken,” the man said halfheartedly. “The agreement was that we each come alone.”
“Indeed, that was the arrangement,” Dirk confirmed. “You can tell that I have not been followed. However, I can see the breath of your men hiding there, there, there and there.” Dirk pointed at places in a circle around him. “It makes me wonder if you have kept your word on the rest of our bargain.”
The man waved, then four armed men stepped out of the shadows and moved closer to Dirk. “You’re observant, Grithinshield. I’ll give you that.”
Dirk sighed in a tone that suggested that the situation did not surprise him in the least. “I could inquire further about your expected deception, but I want this transaction to be over with as soon as possible. Do you have the key I seek?”
The man was angered that his actions were anticipated and that they had not intimidated Dirk as he had hoped. “I have the key, but I didn’t hear any coins jingle as you were walking. That makes me wonder if you have the money on which we agreed.”
“I am quite prepared for you, good sir,” Dirk answered. “The money is close by. Now, since you appear to have me at a disadvantage, and I am the one who has kept his word so far, you will show me what I am purchasing first.”
The man scowled and produced a golden key from his pocket. Begrudgingly, he tossed it to the waiting right hand of Grithinshield. Dirk ran his fingers down its length and looked at its handle in detail. Then, he tossed it back to the man who caught it in midair in an effort to defend his face.
“That is a poor attempt at a forgery,” Dirk said sternly. “Not only is the key warped, but you can see a glimpse of the iron underneath, where it was held as it was dipped in a coating. The key I seek is solid gold. Your credibility is dwindling by the moment and I am mildly annoyed. Show me the real key, if you have it, or you will not see a single gold pharring.”
The man became angrier, but not being a fool, he had to give Dirk his due. Reaching into another pocket, he produced a different key and threw it to Dirk as his men closed their range. Dirk again caught it with his right hand and looked it over as before. He spent more time examining it than the first key. “Exquisite,” he noted. “The craftsmanship is as fine as any forgery I have ever seen. Whoever made this for you should be commended.”
The man became furious. “Are you calling me a liar?”
Dirk tossed the key back and answered. “You just heard every word I said and at no time did I call you a liar. I merely stated that this is a forgery. The good news is that it is an exact casting of the original key. That means you or whoever made that have or had the real one at some point. My guess is that you have at least one more buyer in line and that you seek to maximize your profits. It is a bold plan, but one which will not work on me. Now I will ask you one last time. Toss me the real key or I leave and you get nothing.”
The man began to curse to himself, as Dirk had clearly seen through the ruse. After he found himself exasperated, he removed a gold chain from around his neck. A key hung from its links. With disgust, he threw the chain to Dirk.
After only moments of examination, Dirk proclaimed, “This is what I came to purchase. You have finally held up your end of the bargain. So I shall hold up mine. Among the refuse on the right side of the street, is a sack with your money under an old crate. I scouted this area earlier and placed it there.”
A quick search by the nearest man found a hefty sack filled with gold. The man nodded the substantiation of the sum to his leader. “It seems you have lived up to your end of our accord. I can see how you earned the nickname of ‘The Honest Trader.’”
“Such titles are hard to achieve and even harder to maintain,” Grithinshield noted. “All the fine words in the world will not make up for you having a reputation for impropriety. We made an arrangement and you eventually fulfilled your part, so I fulfilled mine. Our business is concluded. I bid you good night.”
The leader drew his sword. “If only it were that simple Grithinshield. You’re a smart one, there’s no denying that. For example, you were right that there is another buyer interested in that key. Since I have your money now, I will be requesting you return the chain and key to me. My admiration for your abilities compels me to let you live if you do so. But in the end, why should I be satisfied with one fortune when I can sell the same item twice and have two hoards? You were foolish to come here alone.
It’s cold and flu season. Millions of people are dealing with running noses, headaches, chest congestion, fever, throwing up, diarrhea and a host of other painful symptoms. Every year I hear, “This year’s the worst” from people. And to their credit, if you have some form of this affliction, that point of view is easy to see as you feel like death. I’m sure you each have been through some form of this illness and can relate. No I am not here to tell you of a miracle cure. If I was I would be in the wrong business. No I am here to announce that after all these months of staying healthy I am slowly succumbing to this mixed illness. Right now it has struck my stomach and is churning it up to the point that I no longer wish to take food. I have pressure in my head causing a nasty headache and chills are starting. It doesn’t make any sense. I received a flu shot, I take supplements including Vitamin C. My diet includes fruit. I try to stay away from sick people. Yet here I am. My body’s fighting it but it’s getting worse. I went through the pharmacy and found no cures. Then I was reminded of something the comedian Chris Rock once said. To paraphrase, drug companies don’t make money by curing illnesses. They make money by treating illnesses. That’s why their research is concentrated on treatments. The worse I felt and the more sense it made. Comment on what you think of that. In the meantime, I’m going to get in bed.
Until next time.
I just finished reading a book to review for my writing pal, Todd Embry. He wrote a very good Science Fiction novel. I thought I would share the review with all of you.
I was given a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. IF you like Science Fiction, this book’s for you. It has mystery, sex (tasteful), lots of fun gadgets, space exploration and my personal favorite, fight scenes. A seemingly harmless planet is discovered by two brothers. That’s about where the good part of their story ends. Years later a group of mercenaries visit the planet to look for valuables of a long-lost civilization. They find more than they bargained for! You have members of the crew falling in love and enemies from without trying to destroy them. It’s a solid read and was a pleasure to review.
Fantasy fiction is my passion. This series embodies my love for a good story and action. You will find it to be many things, but not boring! Read what you love and love what you read...