I thought I was hearing things the other day when I went into a store and heard Christmas music but it would seem the event was quite real. It isn’t even mid-November yet and stores are in full-on Christmas mode. I have nothing against stores. There is a rich heritage of retailers in my family dating back through my grandfather and his chain of luggage stores in Detroit. Retailers are not bad. This is the time of year when they can make up for all the shortcomings in sales they had during the rest of the calendar year. What is troubling to me is the way the season has gotten out of hand. It used to be Black Friday came and everyone camped out overnight or showed up at stores hours before they opened in order to get some deal they couldn’t live without. Then the madness would start at 6 or 7 A.M. with a stampede going through the doors and fighting one another for the limited quantity of the item they desired. The rest of the day was heavy shopping on good sales. That kicked off the season. It wasn’t fun for anyone but it was manageable. Retailers could have a day off with their families on Thanksgiving like they should and customers were only crazy for a few hours. Then a store (Best Buy I think) opened at 5 A.M. Another opened at 4. K-Mart upped the ante by opening regular hours on Thanksgiving Day itself. That was sacrilege. I hoped it would be a fruitless effort but I was to be disappointed again; just like all those K-Mart employees. Most of the stores came close and started opening at midnight Friday. Even that was not enough to satisfy the insatiable appetites of the American consumer so the heavyweights, Wal-Mart and Target started opening (or at least started their sales) late in the day on Thursday. They have already posted their ads on line so you can plan ahead. The Thanksgiving Holiday has been trampled like a welcome mat and ignored just as much. Soon we won’t even make a turkey. We’ll just make turkey sandwiches or subs that people can eat while in line. Then the day will come in our future (hopefully after I’m long gone) when a child in that line will ask, “Why do we have to have turkey on our sandwiches, anyway?” Back here in our own time the marketing machine has not stopped. Every day I receive emails about flash sales good for 4 hours and other sales in Pre-Thanksgiving ads. Every retailer is doing it. We’re talking about everyone from Bath and Body Works to Victoria’s Secret. Every day I get new ads. I have to check my email every day, not because I look forward to it, but in order to keep the number of emails in my inbox manageable. What began as a crazy day has become a crazy month and I can’t help but wonder how much it’s really helping those retailers. When I see an email for something on sale now I can’t help but wonder, “Will it be cheaper Black Friday, or Cyber Monday?” How many people don’t buy because they’re waiting? Even so, it must be working or else they wouldn’t be saturating the internet with their ads. What started as a crazy day has turned into a crazy month. What a pity for the retail workers.
It was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 that the two sides fighting The Great War agreed to initiate an armistice. In man’s increasingly efficient ways of killing one another that was going to be The War to End All Wars. Such a grim declaration turned out to be little more than wishful thinking. Today is the day we set aside every year to remember not just that war but every serviceman or woman who sacrificed their physical health, their mental health, their life, or hopefully just their time in order to give people like me the opportunity to write what I want when I want. What many do not know is that writers have gone to war as well. Certainly there were the Ernie Pyle’s of the world imbedded with the troops as journalists. What I am referring to today, however, are the writers we have grown up with who served. The most obvious place to start is Ernest Hemingway. He joined the Red Cross as an ambulance driver and was sent to the Italian front in 1918. There he witnessed horrifying carnage of which he wrote about in his book Death in the Afternoon: "I remember that after we searched quite thoroughly for the complete dead we collected fragments". He was later wounded by a mortar round but still managed to help several Italian soldiers to safety. For his action he was awarded Italian Silver Medal for Bravery. He spent 6 months in a hospital recovering. J.R.R. Tolkien already had a university degree but joined the British Army as a lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers in World War One. He was in the Battle of the Somme. After 5 months on the front he came down with trench fever and was discharged to England where he continued writing. After the war he formed a writer’s group that included a man with whom he would become good friends. That man he met was my favorite writer of all time; C.S. Lewis. When the Great War began, Lewis left his studies at Oxford to enlist in the British Army. He became an officer in the 3rd Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. Like his later friend Tolkien, Lewis was sent to the Somme. He arrived on September 25, his 19th birthday. He was wounded in the Battle of Arras and was sent to England to recuperate. After he had mended he was stationed there until the end of the war. He left the army to return to his writing and academic pursuits in December of 1919. These are only three of the many writers who have served in times of war. At times writers are viewed as people who sit on the sideline and criticize. Well these giants in my field all took to the field and were all wounded in the field. If such good writers survived the wars, it makes you wonder how many great ones didn’t?
Welcome to prison.
Before them was a corner tower with a black, forbidding exterior. As they came near, horrible cries and screams crept through vents and barred windows. It was as if the very rocks were warning them away.
Arrow slits were visible at all levels of the tower facing out from the walls and in toward the courtyard. Their placement on the interior was poorly chosen. It appeared to Linvin they were installed there in case of revolt or some other overrunning of the palace. If that were the case, they would be of little use. The narrow portals were placed at the edges of the semicircle where they would not easily be noticed. Such positioning preserved the powerful presence the builders desired from the tower.
It was clear to Linvin, however, the holes were afterthoughts insisted on at the end of construction. By placing them for aesthetics, the slits were woefully insufficient. There were no interlocking fields of fire for archers. Furthermore, blind spots where no arrows could reach were numerous. None was as glaring as that around the main double doors. The area had no protection.
Having seen such structures before, Linvin was unmoved by the impending doom. His family, however, shook with fear. He tried to calm them but even Anvar despaired.
The wagon stopped with the door to the cell very near to the gates of the tower. Goblin Soldiers drew their weapons and donned shields as they formed two lines from door to door. Between was a narrow path. As if ferocious beasts were behind the bars, the Captain unlocked the door and then stepped back as the cage swung open.
Slowly the elves crawled from one cell toward another. There was really no need for the precautions by the goblins. Linvin and his party were weakened and sick from hunger on the long journey. The goblins had clearly heard of their exploits and took no chances.
Stumbling forward, as if sleepwalking, they dragged their chains along the path and through the door of the tower. The goblins in line jeered and taunted them with warnings of punishment they would receive inside. Hanging their heads, the condemned elves shuffled through the doors.
Inside, the bare stonewalls were adorned only by a spiral staircase leading both up and down. Mounts above sections of stairs held lit torches. Goblin guards walked back and forth and up and down the stairs. Before them was a huge round room furnished with a lone desk and chair. Behind the desk sat what was perhaps the largest goblin Linvin had ever seen. He was taller than Linvin and easily weighed as much as the four prisoners combined. Scars peeked through gaps in his chain link armor. On his belt was a whip and beside him sat a spiked club. Even the approaching goblins escorting the prisoners were fearful as they drew near. The Captain, however, showed no such reverence.
“Sergeant Hugon...these are the Elves taken prisoner at the river crossing,” the Human Captain stated as he dropped a rolled scroll on the table. “They are not to be mistreated.”
Hugon angrily opened the document and struggled to read its contents. Then he began to laugh. Moving the parchment over to a lantern on the desk, he set the orders ablaze. “That’s what I think of your orders. I do as I please with my prisoners.”
The Captain drew his sword. Hugon stood quickly and took hold of his club. The other goblins in the tower drew their weapons and rallied behind the Sergeant. In spite of the insurmountable odds against him, the Captain held his position.
“I want you to acknowledge that you have taken custody of the prisoners,” the Captain said with his blade pointed directly at Hugon’s heart. “You will be accountable for any deviation of the orders from this point forth.”
The Goblin Master snorted and answered, “I have them now, Human. Now be about your business. I wouldn’t want you to get your pretty uniform dirty.”
The Captain looked at the jailor with disdain and sheathed his weapon. “Goblin scum,” he branded as he turned and left.
“Please spare me your destiny talk again, Anvar. I do not believe in anything that predisposes your actions away from freewill. It was my choice to go on this quest, it was not predestined.”
“You think so, do you?” asked Anvar. “Think of the steps to get where we are now. Your father acquired the staff. He sent you to the perfect place to train as a general and leader of men; the very qualities needed to make best use of the Red Sapphire. Your father died, prompting your return at the perfect time to solidify your fortune so that you need not worry about finances in your absence. You would never have taken up the quest if your mother had not been killed, making your departure necessary. The assassin did not gain hold of the staff and key or kill me. That enabled you to take up the quest.”
“Do you still see no sense of purpose in all of that? All of those events happened for a reason. You were meant to take up the quest and find the Red Sapphire. The fact that so many events happened so close together, leads me to believe that someone else is close to finding it. That someone is not meant to have it, you are!”
“And what would happen,” Linvin asked, “if the wrong person found the gem first?”
Anvar shook his head. “It is hard to say, but the end could not be good. Do you remember your father’s bedtime stories?”
“I remember him telling them to me, but I do not recall the specifics.”
“Let me tell you the details,” Anvar told him. “The Red Sapphire has been around since before time began. Whenever evil gained supremacy in the world, the stone would find a new champion to wield its power. He would use its power to take up the fight for those who could not defend themselves.”
“Such magic, could that person dispense, that he could ravage lands, lay waste to armies and strike down those who would oppress. It was just as the staff told you, ‘One can save many; one can make all the difference.’”
“The last time the gem was seen, was at the end of the last dark age. As you know, there were no written records at the time, but the last story I heard told, was that the bearer was so powerful that he could even fly! In the final climactic battle, he used the magic at his command to drop a mountain on an opposing army, utterly destroying it.”
“A mountain?” Linvin said in disbelief. “That sounds quite ridiculous.”
“Well,” Anvar said, “if you consider that the stories were told for hundreds of years, from one fireside to another, there was undoubtedly some exaggeration. Consider, if only the smallest measure of the stories were true, the power you seek could affect the course of world events. However, it may be that the power you seek could be used to serve a darker purpose, with a different master. Should a person of a diabolical nature gain such power, it could prove to be the end of our world as we know it.”
“The staff and stone know who they want to use them. They know that to effectively use that power, the bearer would have to be brave, powerful, intelligent, pure of heart, and well-schooled in military and world affairs. Such a man would even need to be wise in the ways of commerce. Through such a man, the power of the Red Sapphire would be most utilized for the greater good. How many men can you think of that match all of those criteria? I can only think of you, my boy.”
“So I ask you, after all that I have said, do you still doubt that this destiny has been laid before you?”
Linvin rubbed his chin and paused, “But it was ultimately my choice to go on this quest.”
“Indeed it was,” agreed Anvar. “There will always be a choice. The doorway may be placed before you, but only you can step inside. It is what you do with this opportunity that falls into the realm of choice. You could have chosen to hide from your would be assailants, but you chose to embrace your destiny.”
“So you are saying that everything happens for a reason, but I am the one who must figure that reason out and choose to act on it?” Linvin asked.
Anvar sifted the summation through his mind and said, “That is correct. Destiny and choice mean nothing without one another. If an opportunity is there, but you choose not to take advantage, then where are you? Likewise, if you are prepared and willing to do something, but the opportunity never appears, then once again you are nowhere. Aren’t preparation and opportunity coming together the real meaning of luck?
So as a comment about your first statement, it was indeed luck that we have the staff.”
Linvin seemed satisfied with the answer and asked, “Tell me what stories you know of the Red Sapphire. Truth or fiction, I do love a good tale.” Anvar smiled and began to regale him with tales of magic and intrigue.
Well it’s a balmy 53 degree fall day in Nebraska and both trees in the state are starting to change color. I freely admit that is an exaggeration but if you read my blog, you get my point. Just a quick point that has nothing to do with anything. None of the houses in our neighborhood have peep holes on the doors. When we built ours there wasn’t one and we had to pay extra after closing to get one installed. We live in a very friendly neighborhood and maybe it comes from all those years of living in Michigan, but you don’t open the door without looking first. That just seems like common sense. Some people have big glass windows next to the doors to look through. That lets people see into your house or you have to put up blinds. And if you look through there, the person on the other side can see you so you can’t pretend you aren’t home. I would tell my kids, “If you don’t know who is on the other side of that door and your mother and I are not around, don’t open it. Pretend you aren’t home and they’ll leave.” You can’t do that if they see you. It just seems strange. Oh well. People out here are more trusting. I should like that. I try very hard to not be political in my writings but I can say quite firmly that I will not miss all the political ads and phone calls. I’m on the “Do Not Call Registry” and I still get political and telemarketing calls. I can see why so many people have done away with their home phone completely. They are a pain in the neck and only 1 in 30 calls is actually one I want to take. I find myself screening every call. Remember the days before caller ID when you had to wait for the machine to kick on to find out who was calling? If you wanted to talk to that person you had to hurry to the phone and pick up. The person on the other end of the line knew what you were doing. Caller ID makes it so much simpler to screen. Still, I will keep my home phone as I have relatives outside the country and the cost of calling them on my cell phone is prohibitive. If I recall, it’s about .25 per minute. Just out of college my best friend entered the Peace Corps. and was sent to Guatemala. I was poor and just trying to make it as a newlywed. There I was explaining to my wife that I was going to be getting and accepting a collect call from my best friend (another woman) that night and it was going to cost me $2.00 a minute. For those of you who don’t remember the days before cell phones or deregulation of the phone company, long distance charges were ridiculous. My wife was furious but said I could only spend $20.00. So when my friend called, she had come out of the mountains down to Guatemala City to find a pay phone in the middle of the street with cars passing by and people verbally abusing her. When I picked up the phone and accepted the charges I started by saying, “I can only talk to you for 10 minutes.” Well that ticked her off for 5 of those minutes and then we were able to say a few words before the alarm on my watch went off. (Yes, I had a digital watch.) After I hung up I felt terrible. My friend was mad at me. My wife was mad at me. And I had just spent $20.00 which was hard to come by in order to feel that way. I think of that every time I consider losing my land line. What would it cost if I called Canada? Ouch. I don’t want to be that guy with the stop-watch again. I think it’s better to stick with my home phone and deal with the telemarketers.
I don’t think I would be far off base to say I am very cynical about the world. It just always feels like there’s a catch to every good deal. Today my instincts have been right twice but I am 1 out of 2 in the listening department. A good friend sent me an email that simply said, “What’s sup?” Then there was a link. My internal alarm went off telling me something was fishy but I clicked the link anyway. It took me to a pharmaceutical site. Without even reading it, I closed the window and deleted the email. That was a foolish thing to do in the first place. I should always listen to that inner voice. It is almost never wrong. Hopefully the email didn’t infect my computer in some way or compromise my email contacts. With any luck, it was just a way to get me to go to their site…but that little voice is telling me that is wishful thinking. What possesses people to do these things? Why cause so much grief for so many people? From my last talk with my antivirus people it seems nearly impossible to catch these cyber-scoundrels. I can’t understand why that is. Surely they must leave some trail to follow. As I was beating myself up for opening that link, I received an email from some banker in charge of a trust in West Africa worth 9.2 million dollars. It apparently belonged to a family that was entirely blown up in a bombing. Here’s the start, “This message might meet you in utmost surprise. However, it's just my urgent need for foreign partner that made me to contact you for this transaction. I got your contact from yahoo tourist search while I was searching for a foreign partner. I am assured of your capability and reliability to champion this business opportunity when I prayed about you.” Yeah. Ok. Nothing out of the ordinary here. I like the part where he says he prayed about it to give it increased validity because we all know bankers pick their business partners through prayer. I pray every day but in this first paragraph I already know I’m not buying what he’s selling. He wants to split the money 60/40 with me and to prove I’M ON THE LEVEL he wants me to forward my personal information to him. You have got to be kidding me. Do people actually fall for this? I received a similar letter about a week ago from West Africa in which the person claimed to need a foreign partner to help transfer over 4 million dollars to the USA because it was no longer safe for their church group over there. Wouldn’t they have some sort of parent church group to call upon rather than contact a complete stranger and promise him half your money to help with a situation they are completely unfamiliar with? Apparently Ebola makes people want to give away money. These are such obvious scams and they appear to be happening with greater frequency. Like I said, I was a fool to click the one link but I certainly wasn’t going to willingly type personal information into the computer. I’ve re-learned my lesson. Always listen to that little voice inside you.
Linvin takes the staff
Linvin was scared. All the gaps in his life had been filled so suddenly. It was only natural that he did not want to accept the answers. Anvar looked down on him with a piercing stare. Finally, Linvin capitulated, “I will go on this quest,” he sighed, as he took to his feet. “If my parents wanted me to go that badly, well, I owe them at least that.”
Anvar, once again, held out the staff. This time Linvin took it from him.
The moment he grasped it, Linvin could feel a force flowing through his body. His senses tingled and in a moment, things became clear to him. He could feel its presence washing over him like a wave. The staff was indeed a living entity. It felt like a best friend, which one had found again. He could finally understand that the staff was ‘meant’ for him.
A voice entered his head though no noise was heard. “At last we are together,” the voice said. “I am the Path of the Red Sapphire. Long have I waited for the chosen one, to come and wield me in his hand. Together, we will find the stone that will complete us both. With it, we will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. We will prove that one can save many. One can make all the difference and we will strike down the ever-growing tyranny and oppression in this world. You were chosen because you are true of heart and character. Together, we will make the difference no one else can make.”
Linvin felt warmth and satisfaction emanating from the staff. He had never experienced telepathy before and decided to try to send a message back. “How will I know where to look?” he asked. His answer was swift. “I will point you in the right direction.” Linvin’s arm involuntarily extended with the staff in hand and pointed to the north.
“What is it?” Anvar asked while nearly dropping his pipe.
Linvin listened to the staff for a moment and then answered his uncle. “That is the direction we must head, in order to find the Red Sapphire. The staff says it is a very long distance from here.”
“It spoke to you?” Anvar asked with excitement.
“Did you not hear its voice?” Linvin questioned back.
“I heard no sound,” said Anvar. He nodded thoughtfully and bit hard on his pipe. “Do you have any maps around here?” “Yes,” Linvin answered. He quickly went inside and came out with a rolled map.
They spread it out on the floor and examined the area to the north closely. The path set before them was not an easy one. It would indeed be a perilous journey.
Sartan was an ethnically diverse and prosperous kingdom. It lay in an excellent location for controlling vital trade routes. On her northern border, was a dense forest of trees known as the Thornhaven Forest. From there, things became more complicated.
Here is a new book review for "Quest for the Red Sapphire." http://readbookwormread.blogspot.com/
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...