Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A re-write of Roland of the High Crags

I've been tinkering. I've been re-imagining the story line of an old book/series of mine. The book, Roland of the High Crags, has been around for a dozen years or more. Self-published, it suffered the fate that the vast majority of self-published novels go. That being maybe seven or eight people read it and it died a quiet death in oblivion.

Well I want to resurrect the series. So I've added about a hundred more pages to it. And I've changed the beginning, and frankly, the entire arc of the story line. To me the rewrite makes it darker, more foreboding, and altogether better all the way around.

I hate giving up on an interesting character.

Of course, I still have one problem; how will it be published? Since it was self-published, practically no agent or big publishing house will touch it. So do I self-publish again.

A conundrum to be worked out.

But I thought I'd share the new opening to y'all. Maybe you would so kind to let me know what you think of it. Enjoy.

In my Own Hand I write the History of the Great Struggle

The moonlight streaming through the narrow slit for a window is strong tonight. Its eerie silvery light filled with mysteries yet to be discovered and the ghostly whispers of voices yet to be heard.  And peace.  A breath of quiet, still, peace I have not felt for quite some time. I have been in this cell for oh, so long. Years.  Decades.  Perhaps centuries . . .I cannot say.
But it's time, brother.
Time for me to leave the confining space of this narrow dungeon cell.  Time to elude my captors and again take up the sword and shield. The fight will continue.  What was . . .  will be again.  The promise of futures lost perhaps ready to be born again.  There is no escaping the cycle.  Years of solitude, of captivity, have only made me stronger. Aye, brother . . . my body is old and frail.  White is the color of my hair now.  The wrinkles of age on my face too numerous to count. My bones creak and groan every time I stir from my bed. But the soul, brother . . . the soul within this ancient casket of flesh and bone remains strong! And for as long as my soul lives . . . 
How long have I been in this dungeon cell I cannot say.  I gave up counting the days and years long ago. Suffice to say it has been at least one life time.  Perhaps two.  This narrow slit deep in the bowels of some ancient fortress long forgotten, its walls made of stone streaked with a rare metal which limits my wizardry powers, has counted with me many summers and winters passing.  Patiently I have waited for this day.  I endured. I survived.  I fought back the pain of my captor's torments. I fought the long hours of unbelievable silence which pushed me close to the edge of the abyss called insanity.  For years I heard not the sound of a human voice. I endured in this cell of infinite solitude.
I gather strength standing in the light of a full moon.  Now, in my old age, it is the white light of a full moon that soothes the troubled waters of my soul and quietly infuses me with a sublime, almost sensual, feeling of strength hard to describe.  Years ago, while still a young man, I would never have admitted such a truth.  My training, my religious order, would have frown upon these words and would have forced me to recant.  But not now, faithful servant.  Not after all these years of abandonment and solitude.
Know you, pilgrim, I am, or at least at one time long, long ago, a Bretan monk. A Bretan warrior-monk.  I wear still the yellow robes of that ancient order with deep humiliation and love.  Even though . . . even though in the eyes of my kind, both brothers and sisters of the order, I am an Apostate. A feared and loathed disbeliever who has taken up the sword against his faith.  Against the teachings of the Bretan.
They will tell you, my Bretan brothers and sisters, that it was I who brought this Great Evil among us.  It was I who, when given the chance to destroy this Great Evil long before she became what she is today, I failed in my faith and allowed her live. To not only live, Pilgrim, but to thrive!  To grow in her strength and powers of the Netherworld through the training and technique of a Bretan wizard.
For she is indeed a formidable power.  Her command of the Netherworld magic is beyond comparison.  She lives in both worlds.  Both here in the Middle Kingdom where all our souls still wrapped in these caskets of flesh and blood reside in, and in the World of the Dead as well. The Netherworld. Lives in both at the same time. Aware of both; interacts in both dimensions, all at the same time. No mortal wizard or witch before her has ever accomplished such a feat.
How many have died because of Her?  How many empires have fallen?  How many loving families ripped asunder?  Millions.  Hundreds of millions. And she still reins over the many.  Because of her, a great imbalance permeates throughout the Great Cycle which both the Neatherworld and the Middle Kingdom revolve around. An imbalance that must be corrected. Must be corrected if this Universe as we know it is to remain intact and operate like the great mechanism it is.
But she is, Pilgrim, not the She whom I raised. She is a different soul.  A She from some far distant Past who, when the opportunity was offered to her, stole the one whom I raised with love and tenderness and patience and imprisoned her as well.
Aye brother . . . aye.  It is something beyond knowing, beyond belief, that which I scribble hurriedly on this parchment.  A She from a different Past, you say?  How could this be?  What Dark Magic is being laid bare here? How could someone from the Past, someone long since dead, return to the Now and replace the living?  But it is so, Pilgrim.  It is so. And it falls upon my shoulders to rectify this Great Schism and bring back the Laws of Order and Tranquility from the Rules of Chaos and Darkness.
It begins tonight, my brother.  Tonight . . .when the full moon hurls its first bright beams of pure light through the bars of this narrow dungeon cell. When the shaft of soft silvery white light touches the stone floor I will step into its sweet embrace I will . . . I will . . . 
But before this happens.  Before the struggle begins anew, I will hurriedly scribble a few lines of what took place before.  I will write a short History of the Struggle with the forces of Chaos and those entities whom reside in the Netherworld.
I am Bretan, brother.  Once known as an honorable warrior-monk and wizard.  I am Roland.  Known as Roland of the High Crags. 
This is my story.


The devout know the terrible truth.  Evil cannot be destroyed.

- From the Book of St. Albans-

Holding a large burning torch held over my head and slightly in front of me I slowly moved up the stone steps of the monastery’s ancient East Tower, disregarding the frigid winter’s grip whistling through the tower’s massive stone walls in some somber summoning of the dead. Outside a winter storm screamed and moaned and howled in rage. Snow, in vast clouds of white fury so thick one could be buried from nape to toe in a matter of moments, would soon add another four or five feet of snow to the already prodigious amount which filled the narrow valley below the monastery.  Winter in these mountains were deadly. Neither man nor beast dared to leave their warm hovels or protected caves when such a storm slipped over the ice capped mountain tops and sank down into the valley. Even here, in this ancient Bretan monastery built on the side of a tower cliff, clinging to the hard granite walls of the cliff like some ancient monster refusing to die, the ravages of the storm outside could be heard clearly.
But I was not ascending the spiraling stone steps in the East Tower to observe the storm. Another dread compelled me to leave my cubicle, warm and comfortable with a brazier filled with glowing red coals for a fire. The mass of blankets and coarse cotton sheets which softened the hardness of the cold slab I had been sleeping on moments earlier, a cold stone slab like that all Bretan monks slept on in their cubicles here in the monastery, nevertheless had been warm and luxuriant to me.
For you, Pilgrim, the idea of sleeping on hard stone only marginally softened with blankets and a thin pad, may seem barbaric as you read these words sitting in the comfort of your favorite chair beside a burning fireplace. But for a warrior-monk like myself, sleeping quarters which I had only moments earlier occupied, was a luxury rarely experienced by me. It had been years since I last slept in his monastery. The premonition which stirred me out of my deep sleep and compelled me to dress and find my way to the East Tower suggested I might never have the opportunity offered to me again.
In the clinging darkness of the tower, the oldest bastion of strength built in the Bretan monastery called The Knave, the feeling of approaching evil pulled me out of my slumbers and sent me here. Above my head the large burning torch hissed and sputtered glowing embers into the darkness yet created a large enough bubble of illumination which enveloped like some protective coat of armor. Together the torch and the bubble of light slowly ascended upward toward the deserted top most chamber.
In my chest I felt the stirring. So faint, I told myself I might be imagining it. But no, Pilgrim. I was not imagining it. Far away some great Evil was stirring. A powerful force of dark malice a Bretan warrior-monk and wizard such as myself could not dismiss. All my life my Bretan training, the teachings of this ancient order, compelled me to confront Evil whenever its viper’s head revealed itself from out of the darkness. For years I roamed the snowy crags of the High Kandris, and dwelled among the clans of the foothills, placing myself in front of those too weak, or too old, or too young to stand before Evil themselves. That is the way of a warrior-monk. A warrior-monk of any religious order. Their calling, their sworn sacred oath, compelled them to protect the weak and the helpless from those who wished to prey upon them.
But this Evil, Pilgrim. This stirring of dark fury awakening itself in some distant land felt like no other Evil I had ever encountered. My wizard’s Inner Eye sensed a power of immense strength. A fury based in not of this world, this world of the living. But instead I felt the threads of otherworldliness, of the Netherworld, entwined into this fury.
A specter of Evil escaping from the Netherworld and immersing itself into the land of the living? A vile creature of immense power. Such a force would be cataclysmic in nature for both Human and Dragon kind. If my fears were true, this creature of the otherworld had to be found and destroyed as quickly as possible.
At last I stepped onto the wooden flooring of the upper tower’s upper chambers and paused. The head of the stairwell was a long but narrow alcove used now for storing heavy crates filled with whatever flotsam a massive monastery as large as The Knave needed to store. But the greater half of the floor was walled off from the stairwell with heavy timbers. A large half-oval shaped door of ancient oak usually sealed off the rest of the floor from the curious and the foolish. But now, as I stood with torch in hand, I saw the heavy door was partially open. From within the large room on the other side of the wall I saw the distinctive flickering light of torches such as mine cutting through the room’s darkness.
And in the dust which had gathered for generations lying on the flooring I now stood on I saw the distinct clutter of footprints, three sets of prints in total, informing me I was not the only one to make this solemn journey in the dead of night. As least three people were standing in the room on the other side of the open door.
I felt their invisible auras burning brightly in the invisible spectrum and recognized them instantly. Clovis, the monastery’s eldest Magi and abbot of the monastery. Malinitrix, the monastery’s Master of Arms and Keeper of the Faith. And a younger, brighter, aura. That of a recently sanctified warrior-monk by the name of Golida of the Golden Hills. Without hesitation I ducked underneath the rounded entrance of the open door and stepped into the large room with my fellow Bretan monks.
It seemed as if the abbot, master of arms, and the young warrior-monk had been expecting me. All three held torches such as I held over their heads. All three nodded silent greetings to me as I stepped into the room. Clovis, in a heavy robe of deep yellow trimmed in dark blue and belted around his waist with a blue and silver thread sash, smiled faintly as he nodded toward me.
Malinitrix was dressed the regalia of a typical, but simple, Bretan warrior-monk. A half coat of fine chain mail underneath a heavy yellow full length surcoat. Leather trousers with fur lined boots on his feet. Around his waist a wide belt of thick leather needed to hold the typical Bretan forged straight sword. Golida, the youngest member of this troika, dressed very similarly as the master of arms.
“Roland, I knew you would come. I see in your face the same concerns we have. A powerful force journeys toward the High Kanris. A force which does not bode well for those who are misfortunate enough to stand in its way as it moves through the night.”
The abbot’s voice was soft yet filled with resonance. The voice of a man in full mastery of his mind and body. A voice of a seasoned warrior. A seasoned general. Once, years back, this man and his monastery, protected me and hid me from those who wished to destroy me. Another time. Another dark moment for anyone who claimed to be Bretan.
But what I felt in my soul was a danger far, far greater than any I had ever felt stirring in me before. This danger was so intense. So powerful. It could mean only one thing. Old enemies had risen from the grave and were now gathering their force to descend upon us. Descend on not just we of the Bretan faith. But upon all of Mankind. As I gazed upon the faces of each man standing around me I could see they too felt the same.
“We have not seen their kind this close to the High Kanris in generations,” Clovis spoke in a strong voice filled with worry. “The Dragon clan, our ancient foes, have decided to gather again under the banners of a strong leader. Their desire, of course, is to fulfill Dragon prophecy.”
“Who, Blessed Father?” Golida asked, his young face of untested youth glowing in the flickering torch light
“Clan Hartooth,” I said, frowning. “The First Clan.”
The man-child, for in truth Golida was but a young warrior yet to be to be sent out into the Middle World, this land of the living we humans currently occupied. He had just completed is training here in The Knave. A promising, skilled, young warrior-monk. But who had yet to face his first life-and-death battle with the creature of the dark who inhabited this realm.
“I thought the Hartooth had been destroyed long ago?” he whispered, growing pale, as he glanced first at the abbot and then at me. They still exist?”
“Yes, my son. In growing numbers. Like a living plague they have decided to come out of their ancestral lands and consume any and all who stand in their way. Dragon clan, or Human kingdom, it does not matter. I fear they are marching toward the High Kanris. The last bastion of Humanity.”
“To defeat us and make us into servants and slaves?”
“No, Golida.” Malinitrix growled like a bear as his dark eyes lifted up and stared at me. “To fulfill prophecy as Roland has said. To destroy us all.”
Goldia’s eyes widened. What color drained from his face drained. More ghost than human, he stared at the monastery’s abbot in despair.
“We feel their growing strength. We are aware of their desires. We must make preparations. Each of us know our duty. But first, before we can truly plan, we must know of their strengths. Their intentions. And if any, their potential weaknesses.”
The eyes of the three monks fell onto me. I felt their auras. Each had raging emotions within their chests which they could barely contain. Anger. Fear. Rage. Hate. And loss. Infinite loss at what was to come. Especially the raw color of genuine loss as they stared at me.
` “Roland. You are our most celebrated warrior-monk. You are also our most powerful wizard. What few of your kind are left to the Bretan are scattered far and wide across the High Kanris. On your shoulders must fall this responsibility. We must know our enemy. We must confront this Evil. We must gain time in order to rally our strength. You, my son, must find us a way to fulfill all these requirements.”
“I understand, Blessed Father. I will leave just as soon as the storm breaks.”
A wave of immense pain swept across the vibrant but invisible aura of the powerful Bretan warrior. He knew what he was asking me to do. He knew what perhaps would be my ultimate fate. But it had to be done.
I smiled. Unexpectedly. Spontaneously. 
Surprising both Malinitrix and Golida. They too understood what my fate would ultimately be. They knew my mission was a journey toward death. What challenges were waiting for me to confront no man, not even a wizard of some modest renown as I, for some reason held in esteem, could withstand. The Hartooth were coming. The First Clan. Their military prowess and Dark Magic legendary. They were, as tradition dictated, supposedly invincible.
“What will come, will come.” I quipped, quoting an old Bretan saying, yet still smiling.
The Blessed Father smiled weakly. Stepping forward he placed a calloused, dry hand on my shoulder and squeezed it fondly.
“You have always been the quite rebel within our ranks, Roland. You have questioned almost every tenet we Bretan have professed as true. Challenged almost every master and teacher whom you have encountered. Others in our ranks have always looked upon you with suspicion. Are you a true Bretan monk? Or someone who chants the mantra but believes none.
But I have never doubted you, my son. Your service to our cause has never been doubted by me. Your commitment to our cause unflagging. I fear for you, my son. What lies before you is filled with terrors and danger incomprehensible to any of us. But I also know this. If there is any Bretan monk who could face the impossible and survive and survive, it is you. Go with my blessing, my son. Confront the ancient enemy and defeat them. Survive, Roland. Survive and return to us. Our fight is just beginning.”
Clovis smiled sadly and then, slipping hand from my shoulder, stepped around me and quietly made his departure and left the room.  The two Bretan warriors stepped up, laid hands on my shoulders, smiled, and silently departed as well. Alone in the large room, the rage of the storm clearly audible seeping through the stout stone walls, the artic cold of the room gripping me more firmly with its cold fingers, I was left alone with nothing but my own thoughts to keep me company. 
War was coming. War of unimaginable destruction and death. And Evil. An old, ancient Evil whom the gods, both Human and Dragon, foretold would arise from out of the dim memories of both species. An ancient Evil with bloody fangs and the stench of Death wrapped around its hideous body like some Cloak of Invisibility. A prophecy no Human nor Dragon would be able to turn aside or defeat.
What was I to do? How could I, a monk and warrior, trained in the arts of Bretan magic, supposed to defeat this abomination? Prophecy clearly said no magic of Human nor Dragon could possibly stand before it with any glimmer of hope in defeating it. This Evil was older than the first Human. Older than the first Dragon. All these years it had laid dormant. Bidding its time. Waiting for the right moment to lift itself up out of the Darkness and fulfill its prophecy. Humanity would perish. Dragonkind would reign over this land from pole to pole. And, if you believed in the prophecies, there was nothing . . . nothing . . . powerful enough to defeat it.
Nothing, Pilgrim.
If . . . if you truly believed in the prophecies.
Which, silently, acknowledging it only to myself, I did not.
But we would see. Ultimately, the test would come. Were the prophecies true? Or did yet a glimmer of Hope still beat in the hearts of those who were trained to defy Evil in all its forms.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Chapter Four of new novel, Lenny

So I told you a few weeks ago I was working on a new mystery novel/character/series called Lenny. I'm about 150 pages into it now and hope to have it done in late May or early June. Or maybe August. Oh hell, I'll get it done before December . . . you can bet the house payment on that.

But today I thought I'd share Chapter Four of the novel. The first time we see Lenny (full name, Leonard Leonidas) in action. Now you have to remember something; this novel is set in the mesquite country of West Texas. If you're never been to Texas, just remember this. That part of the world is basically flat semi-desert country filled with mesquite bushes large enough be considered trees, Texas Longhorn where the bulls come equipped with a set of horns that can measure up to three meters from tip to tip. And oil.

But damn few people. Its wide open and empty out there. So murder is rare out there. Mostly.

Here it is. Chapter Four

Two piercing shafts of white light cut through the inky night like surgical scalpels, revealing an alien world of vast loneliness. West Texas flatland surrounded the fast-moving truck as it rolled down an arrow straight country road, the truck’s high beams barely able to cut through the clawing darkness. But the driver in the heavy Dodge short-bed crew cab knew where he was going. Knew the territory. It was a quarter to midnight and he was eight miles south and west of Ballard, traveling down as county maintained dirt road at high speed, throwing up a massive dust plume behind him in the process.
Inside the truck with him was Maria Fuentes and her three sons, Mark, Rafael, and Daniel. Maria was a third or fourth cousin. Hell, nobody in the family was exactly sure how the family tree twisted and turned in connecting her familial ties with his. And frankly, it didn’t matter. Maria was family. She, and about thirty other members of the family had all come together at the Leonidas house to welcome him back.
Now, almost midnight, he was taking Maria and her boys back to their ranch out into the county. Down a dirt road hardly ever used and about as empty as a West Texas road could get at this time of the night.
Glancing over at sleeping Maria Lenny couldn’t help but smile. In high school she was the best-looking girl in her class. Now, some twenty odd years later, and even after having three boys, she still was the best-looking girl he had ever laid eyes upon. She had smooth, dark brown skin. Flowing brown hair falling just to her shoulders and the largest almond-shaped brown eyes he had ever seen. Tonight, slumped down in the first seat, her head turned toward him and resting on the backrest of her seat, part of her hair partially hid her lips from him in the glow of the truck’s instrument lights. She was still something special to look upon.
Behind them, in the truck’s rear seats, her three boys were all splayed out across the backseat, somehow defying gravity as they slept but still buckled up in their seat belts. The boys were ten, seven, and five years in age. All full of piss and vinegar. All with naturally infectious grins which lit up their faces every time someone looked at them.
Their husband and father was missing. Missing for over a year. Maria married a high school sweetheart by the name of Donald Parker. Donald and his parents had a big ranch out just south and east of Ballard. A ranch close to three thousand acres in size. One Sunday morning Donnie saddled up a horse so he could ride out into the ranch’s backcountry to check some cows who were calving. Rode out smiling and waving at Maria and the kids. Riding high in the saddle proud and strong and full of life. But never came back.
His horse came back. But not Donnie.
There was a smear of blood on one of the stirrups. Apparently, the horse came back wet and lathered up as if he had ran for miles in panic. The sheriff’s department and about twenty ranches around the country mounted up and rode the back country in search parties hunting for Donnie. But nothing was ever found. Donnie disappeared as if the sage and mesquite country of West Texas just swallowed him whole, leaving nothing behind.
Donnie’s disappearance devastated Maria and the boys. Maria became a recluse. She hardly ever drove to town. Rarely answered the door when neighbors came over to visit. She stayed in the rambling ranch house, taking care of the boys and making sure they got on the bus and went to school. She hired three of her cousins to come in and run the day to day operations of the spread for her. Older cousins, seasoned vaqueros, who knew the ranching business forward and backward. But Maria rarely left the ranch.
Until tonight.
Tonight she and the boys drove into town in the pickup to attend Lenny’s homecoming. Tonight, for the first time in a year, she found herself laughing at old family jokes and enjoying long conversations with the family as her boys, along with about a dozen or more of their cousins, romped around the house playing all kinds of crazy games. And tonight, for the first time in a long time, she drank some wine. Too much wine. When the party began to break up, Lenny volunteered his services to drive her and the boys home in their pickup. Maria agreed, telling Lenny he could use the pickup to drive back the thirteen miles to town. She’s send her cousins over to pick it up later.
So Lenny, in the silent of the pickup’s cab, sat behind the wheel of the Dodge and drove while Maria and the boys slept the sleep of tired souls.  The dirt road ahead of him stretched out straight and true for miles on end. In fact, it was said, all the way to Mexico. It was an empty road. Rumored to be used by Coyotes, professional human traffickers, smuggling in Mexicans sneaking into the US. And various drug cartel runners bringing in shipments of cocaine and heroin.
Of course, it was obvious. If the rumors were true, as most suspected they were, everyone knew what happened to Maria’s husband. He rode off into the back country of his ranch and saw something he shouldn’t have seen. Probably drug smugglers bringing in a shipment. Saw them. And died for it. His body would never be found. No one would ever know for sure what happened to Donnie. But everyone in Ballard County was pretty sure what happened to her husband.
Thoughts like this occupying the moment, Lenny drove with one hand on the wheel and stared off into the night. Come over a hill something caught his attention. A flash of light sweeping vertically across the sky. A streak of light which lasted only a half second before disappearing. Off to his left. Off the road and out in the mesquite bushes. Unconsciously slowing down he stared off toward his left waiting to see if he caught another glimpse of the strangeness.
He did. Just a fraction of a second. But this time the beam of light was horizontal. The light moving from the south and sweeping around to the north. As if someone with a flashlight was looking for something in the thick darkness. Automatically he let up on the accelerator and stabbed lightly on the brakes, slowing the big truck down. He also stretched forward and clicked off the headlights. Bringing the truck to a slow halt he stared off to the left, a severe frown on his face.
“Lenny? What’s wrong?”
Maria’s voice, thick with sleep, as she stirred from her seat and sat up half in alarm.
Lenny glanced at her and smiled, a hand reaching out naturally and brushing some of her hair off her cheeks.
“You up to driving home? Think you and the boys came get home tonight without too much trouble?”
A curtain of panic slid across Maria's brown eyes as she sat up straighter, glancing first at her boys in the back seat, and then back to Lenny. She wanted to ask questions. Wanted to hear what had spooked her cousin enough to stop the truck in the middle of the road. But she didn’t. She saw Lenny’s face. Saw the server slash of lips set firmly on his lips. So she just nodded silently to Lenny as Lenny reached down and for the door latch and opened the door.
“Drive for as long as you can without turning on the lights, Maria. Drive without lights until you go over that little rise in the road. And then go home. I’ll call you tomorrow. Okay?”
Maria, looking at her boys again for second, looked back at Lenny and nodded. Hurriedly she opened her door and got out of the truck and hurried around the back end to the other side. Lenny held the door open for her and closed it after she slipped in behind the steering wheel. He waved as he stepped back. Maria, very frightened, looked pleading at Lenny and then looked down the road and reached for the truck’s gearshift.
He watched her drive away. Without headlights. Only the black shadow of the truck’s mass in the darkness disappearing down the road. Not even the tail lights revealing her presence.
Only when the truck went over the slight rise in the road and disappeared did he turn one hundred eighty degrees around and stare off into the darkness.
            Someone was out there in the darkness with a flashlight. Someone who shouldn’t be out there at this time of night with a flashlight. He wanted to know who it was and why were they stumbling around in the darkness so awkwardly. Stepping off the road quickly he bent down and slipped through the prickly stubbing’s of barbed wire fence and stood up.

            Someone was out there in the darkness. Someone who possibly needed help.