Today I have the honor of being interviewed on “Carol Ann Kauffman’s Vision & Verse” blog. It’s a chance to better know me and my writing style. Check it out at https://visionandverse.blogspot.com/
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.”
At first, Twitter seemed so simple. You follow someone, they follow you back and you’re able to see each other’s posts. It seemed harmless enough. I began the habit of following back most of the people who followed me. I figured, “This person might like what I write and buy a book.” Lately though I’ve been getting a lot of follows from young women. I was glad because that was an audience I wasn’t sure I was reaching. My happiness was short-lived. I started getting direct messages asking personal questions. Was I looking for love? Was I married? Was I interested in getting married? What kinds of girls did I like? Some wanted a serious relationship and others wanted…something less serious. I used to get these once in a while but now they’re coming every day in increasing numbers. Did I get on some sort of list? Maybe I followed the wrong person back and everyone is copying their friends list. One thing’s for sure; these women aren’t interested in books! I am happily married with three children, two dogs and a cat who doesn’t like me. Now I’m afraid to follow people back on Twitter. From some of the guys I’m getting sent scams. “The government will pay you $40,000 to write a book. I got mine. I can get you in touch with the guy to get you yours.” Or then there’s “I’m a Marine on a peacekeeping mission and I need you to wire me some money.” Maybe I’m paranoid but it all seems fishy to me. It’s getting to the point where I don’t know who to follow back. I guess I’ll go with my gut and hope this cycles off.
Linvin ducked low and ran with speed and stealth. His goal was to reach the place where the search parties would join before they arrived. He made good time and reached his goal just ahead of the torches. Then he laid down flat on the ground close to the plants and covered himself with dried leaves from the stalks. Next he had to calm his breathing. It was a tactic he’d been taught as a scout during his youth in Valia. By the time the searchers came together, Linvin was camouflaged and silent.
A bright light shined over him and he thought for a moment he’d been discovered. Through his disguise he saw a Mandrean Goblin Soldier walk so close he nearly stepped on Linvin’s head. The soldier, however, had his eyes to the front where the others were gathering and paid no attention to the pile on leaves at his feet.
Several rows over all the soldiers were coming together and trampling down a grand area of corn to make room for their numbers. More and more goblins arrived until Linvin could no longer keep count.
When their number had all gathered in a circle, one called out. “Has anyone found anything?” A chorus of voices began to clamor in response. Though it was difficult for Linvin to pick out any particular voice he could hear all the answers were in the negative. After a few moments the first voice yelled, “Silence. We have been following some fresh tacks headed south. They could be the escaped prisoners we seek or they could be some farmers out trying to protect their corn from animals feeding overnight. Regardless, that is our best lead right now. So that is the path we will follow.”
“This is madness,” one of the goblins called to him. “Even if the tracks are from them, they could be right next to us and we would never see them. We should go back to the barracks and try fresh in the morning.”
“Perhaps that is how you do things in your Company,” the first voice said. “In mine, we follow the trail until it goes cold.” An argument ensued and the bickering spread to all the goblins.
Linvin’s opportunity had arrived. He waited for the goblins to begin shoving one another and then made his move. Emerging from his pile of leaves, Linvin crouched and watched the action not more than five rows away. He spied a window through the rows where he had a clear view of the action. Then he looked to the right and found another. Removing a stone from his pocket, he took great care in aiming. He flicked the rock through the air with a snap from his wrist. It passed through the corn and hit a goblin on his fingers holding a torch. The goblin shouted in pain and dropped the flaming stick. His cry went unnoticed among those fighting around his position.
When the flame contacted the dry stalks, however, the fuel combusted quickly and began to spread. Linvin wasted no time picking a target on the other side and again struck the hand holding the torch. As before, the flame hit the ground and ignited the overlapping kindling. With his work done, Linvin stayed low and ran for the hedgerow. He did not look back until he reached cover. When he finally turned to view his handiwork, he smiled with satisfaction. The fire had become substantial before the mass of soldiers realized they had fires on both sides that were spreading. With the flames leaping from one row to the next it was impossible for the goblins to try to contain. They broke ranks in terror and ran in every direction. Some had unknowingly caught fire and were spreading it across the field as they ran.
“Glorious.” Anvar commented.
“They do not even know what happened,” Linvin said as he took to his saddle. “Now is our moment. Burst onto the road and ride east with all the speed these horses have left.”
“Won’t the goblins see us?” Bander asked.
Linvin took his place in the lead and answered. “No. When it is dark and you stare at a bright flame your vision becomes restricted for a short time. You lose the ability to see in the darkness. Make sure not to look at the blaze. While they run from the flames, we will ride invisibly out of danger. Now, go as fast as you can.”
I think the heat is getting to me. Here in Nebraska we’ve been in the 90s for over a week now and there’s no sign of it letting up. I stay in the air conditioning as much as I can but you have to go outside at some point. A good number of you in the United States and Canada are experiencing the same heat wave I am. The meteorologists say it all has something to do with the jet stream. To be honest, until I reached high school I thought the jet stream referred to either the path jet planes took or those stainless-steel travel trailers (Airstreams). Turns out I was way off base. The jet stream travels from west to east and dictates who gets cool air and who gets hot air. It just depends on what side of it you are on. Right now, it’s starting really far to the southwest and then soars up the Rockies and into Canada before continuing east. I talked to my sister in Toronto, Ontario and she confirmed the heat was miserable there as well. Now I’m having this craving for ice cream every single day. I don’t know why. I don’t usually eat ice cream. It’s like the heat has triggered some gene in my body to greatly desire ice cream. Soft serve is particularly appealing. I’ve tried to curb the craving by eating yogurt or cottage cheese. It’s just not the same. Oh, well. It could be worse. There are hazardous things to your health I could want. For now, I will fight this obsession but give in to it occasionally.
As the men made a tight circle around the general, one brought his face right before Linvin’s and said, “We are the ones who took this nation from a bunch of farmers and fishermen to the foremost trading nation in the world. We are the envy of the world. So don’t think a victory such as yours gives you the right to come in here and insult us, General. Heroes come and go, but noblemen always remain.”
Linvin’s first thought was to thrash the fat bureaucrat to near death, but he showed restraint in his muscles that did not carry over to his lips.
“You are skilled businessmen, to be sure. However, your ears are so accustomed to listening for the sound of dropping coins that they do not recognize common sense. For years I have told you that the army was too small. For years I have warned that a serious invasion was on the horizon, yet my warnings and petitions to raise a larger army were ignored. We had a tremendous amount of time to prepare over the years, yet the army actually shrank.”
“No one wanted to join the army!” yelled one of the men. “Why take time from the monetary pursuits to become a soldier? There’s little profit in it.”
“And who would join the army?” asked another. “Between the merchant ships, navy, and farms, we hardly have enough people to do the work. We cannot afford to waste manpower in the army.”
“Waste!” Linvin yelled. “What waste would have befallen this country if I had failed? Every man, woman and child would have been slaughtered. Homes and fields would be burned. Any survivors would have become slaves. Now you call preventing such a thing a waste of manpower?”
“You argue against yourself,” a nobleman said. “You proved us right. All this time you have asked for more men and yet you had ample forces to complete your task. You are an anomaly, my good general.”
“And how many men fell, who would have lived, if there had been reinforcements?” Linvin asked. “How many more would have lived if they had not had to fight 3 days without rest? How many would have lived if we could have permitted the enemy to withdraw, rather than risking everything to destroy them utterly. The number is not known. What is known is that there would still be an army protecting this country instead of the few who still breathe.”
“Quiet your tongue!” snapped a nobleman. “You say too much! You see everything as black and white when there is an obvious gray area. Even if reinforcements were available, you have no idea of the cost associated with their hire and training. Those are costs, boy, that you do not see but we must live with. Think about that the next time you forget your place!”
The king hung his head and covered his eyes. A line had been crossed and the other side would be ugly.
Linvin was pushed too far. His eyes caught fire when hearing his new title. In one quick movement, he grabbed the man by the throat with a single hand and lifted him off his feet. Linvin drew him close with ease.
“Now listen to me, you pompous, arrogant sack of flesh,” Linvin said in a firm monotone. “Your life exists under the freedom I provide. Your words dictate that I remove that freedom.” Linvin’s hand began to squeeze.
“That is enough!” the king ordered. “Linvin, release him at once.”
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.”
“There was no honor in his punching me in the face?” noted Acreas. “I see no difference in our actions yet you do not chastise him.”
“He struck you in the midst of battle,” the Master answered. “You attacked him after the match was decided. Only a coward would do such a thing. I do not train cowards. You will change your ways or your training will end.”
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...