Sample Sunday ~ August 12

This is one of my favorite parts of the entire series. From The Red Cross of Gold I:. the Knight of Death. The series has 30 novels with 28 currently published on Amazon, Smashwords and also in paperback at Amazon.

The premise is Templar Fiction set in modern day Scotland, America and Italy, but there are many travels, many adventures in the Overworld, the Underworld and the Abyss. The following excerpt is the first time anything unusual (otherwordly) appears in the series, giving a hint of great things to come.

$3.99 at Amazon and Smashwords.

Maxie carried Merry into the library and deposited her on the sofa at Valentino’s instruction. She stood with her arms folded across her chest patting one foot rapidly… angrily on the carpet. “Merry!” Valentino snapped and leaned over her as Maxie retreated. He had to take care of their prisoners while he still had help. “Wake up!” She shook the young woman’s shoulder. Merry raised her head and then let it fall back, groaning and pressing one hand to her brow. “What the hell were you doing down there?” The angry woman demanded immediately. “Nothing, but trying to put right what you screwed up,” Merry told her and frowned as her head spun. She swung her feet to the floor and the woman shimmered in and out of darkness in front of her eyes. “Isn’t that just like you, Cecile? Don’t ask how I’m doing. Don’t ask if I’m hurt. Just yell at me for nothing. I was trying to stop them from taking him. I discovered him missing, and then found them all in the basement.” It was the truth… sort of. “Oh?” Valentino eyed her suspiciously. “Why didn’t you tell me first? Did you think you could handle them all by yourself? Dressed like a Renaissance princess?” “Yes! No! I don’t know!” Merry set her jaw stubbornly. She was desperate to know what had happened after she had been knocked out, but was afraid to ask. If Valentino sensed her concern for Mark Andrew, she would never tell her a thing. She knew Valentino would eventually tell her what had happened… in her own time and as long as she didn’t ask outright. “Well, it didn’t look like you were trying to help.” Valentino frowned at her. “I don’t understand how you found them in the basement. Did they make you go? I should have known something was up with Herr Schroeder. That guy wasn’t Herr Schroeder! These guys are real slick. I guess that’s how they manage to live so long, fooling stupid people like us. I should have known something was up when Schroeder tried to flirt with me. Everybody knows he’s a flaming fucking faggot. Men! I guess that one thinks he’s a bad-ass like Ramsay,” the woman muttered this last under her breath and went to pour herself a glass of water at the desk. Typical of her self-centered nature, she offered Merry nothing. “We almost got all of them. Now we have prisoners to worry about,” she announced proudly after a few moments. Her tone was one of satisfaction. “And one of them is real scary.” She grinned at Merry. “You’d better be glad he wasn’t the one who came looking for Anthony.” “The dark one all dressed in black?” Merry asked and narrowed her eyes. She would have to pull the information out of her. Play her along. “He was scary, wasn’t he?” She added, trying to egg her on. “Uh, huh.” Valentino drank the water in tiny sips as if to intentionally irritate Merry. “He’s been praying constantly since we nabbed him. Not at all like your oh-so-friendly Ramsay, huh? He has a decidedly evil aura about him. Strange, isn’t it? And Ramsay is supposed to be the Knight of Death. I wonder what this one’s secret is? It must be really, really deep, dark and mysterious.” “Yeah. I guess so.” Merry didn’t want to think about it. “Who did we miss? Are we still looking?” “Just Ramsay.” Valentino looked disgusted. “We got four. Your precious Knight made off on Raven. The bastard stole my horse! Boy, he’s really something. Now he’s a horse thief. That saddle cost twelve hundred bucks. Didn’t they used to hang horse thieves in Coryelle County? I think we got the young one who used the two weapons. He’s probably an apprentice. Too young to be a Knight, I think.” “What?” Merry frowned as her head ached miserably. There should have been five prisoners, if only Mark had escaped. There had been five Templars in the basement with him. Mark made six. She wondered how many more of them would come out of the woodwork. What had they gotten themselves into, and how would they ever get out? Valentino had no idea what she was doing. Prisoners?! Did she really think they were going to be able to outmatch these men? These guys were serious, especially the skinny blonde one who wanted Mark’s head. But not all of them seemed to want him dead. It had looked as if they were divided on the issue of what to do with him. The short blonde one might have taken his head, but the younger one and the one disguised as Schroeder seemed unwilling to actually kill him. Furthermore, the one Cecile thought was evil was definitely on Mark’s side. That would possibly be three against three if… “He took Raven?” She asked. “Yes and he took Chevaliere Davenport’s palomino as well,” Valentino moaned and poured herself another drink of water. “What will she say when she finds out? The bitch will probably expect me to pay damages.” Merry hoped the one on the palomino was not the horrid Frenchman with the thinning hair. The rude one, who had shouted for Mark’s head. “My head really hurts, Cecile.” Merry rubbed the back of her neck. “What happened to the ceremony?” “Everyone left.” Valentino moaned again. “This thing cost me six thousand dollars plus nits and now we’ve had to put it off. Everything was ruined. It took a great deal of fancy footwork just to keep Brother Sentiment from calling the constable and the sheriff. I assured him Maxie would handle it and give everyone a chance to leave before the investigation began. You know how people are. They’d never come back if they got stuck half the night answering questions. And how the hell would we explain everything to the police? Some of the guys stayed to help look for the horses for a while. I told Mr. Petrie Maxie had already called the police before he left. Oh, he was in a fine mood. He’ll never trust me with anything again. They think the horses just ran off by themselves in the uproar like a diversion or something. They also think the Templars are a gang of burglars. At least, I was able to salvage that much. The last thing we need is the constable poking around. I have to think of a follow up story. You know, I’ll have to tell everyone what happened eventually and re-schedule the Holding of the Rose.” “Well, that all sounds very complicated. I don’t know how we’ll ever get it all sorted out. In the meantime, would you mind then, if I just went up to bed?” Merry asked sweetly. “I need a nice, long bath and some aspirin.” “Of course,” Valentino said with more sympathy as she put the water down and finally showed a bit of concern for Merry by patting her head as she passed her. “You go on up now. I have to go see what those idiots are doing out there.” Merry stood up slowly, deliberately trying not to seem in a hurry, but she was desperate to get away. Her heart raced. She had to go after Mark Andrew. He had seemed awfully sick when she had seen him in the basement office. She remembered how he had staggered out of the room, and how the perspiration had gleamed on his face under the lights in the corridor. He had been half-blind and the bloody foam he had spit on the floor had been a terrible thing. There was no telling what the dark Knight had done to him in the basement. And now this other one was after him before he’d had half a chance to recover. He needed her help, and he needed it now. “Goodnight then,” Merry called after Valentino as she headed out of the library by way of the deck doors. As soon as Valentino was out of sight, Merry rushed up the stairs to her room where she considered changing clothes, but instead, grabbed a light sweater and threw it on over her gown. Creeping down the back stairs, she met no one on her way out. She went out the laundry room door into the moonlight and made a mad dash across the open ground to the stables. The gentle bay mare she called her own was happy to see her. She was ready to join her companions for a moonlight ride. Taking only enough time to put a bridle on her, Merry kicked off her shoes, cursing herself for not having at least put on her socks and boots. She hoisted her long skirt and swung onto the mare’s back. It would be easier to control her without the heels as long as she didn’t get stranded in a prickly pear patch. She rode the mare around in front of the stables, briefly looking for signs of the other two horses while the distant sounds of four-wheelers rumbling around the hills indicated Valentino’s friends were still bumbling about in the dark. Scouting was not on Merry’s list of skilled accomplishments, but the signs of two horses’ recent passing were easy enough to follow. She kicked the horse to a gallop as the sounds of jeeps and four-wheelers somewhere off to her right grew louder. They would be good for a few loops through the nearby trails Valentino had constructed for recreational purposes, and they would be gone. Of this, she was quite sure. Most of them had been up in the rocks before, riding and acting like fools whenever Cecile threw her extravagant parties. At the moment, she didn’t give a damn about any of it anymore. Her only thought was to get to Mark before the rest of them did. The further she rode from the house, the harder the trail was to follow as the ground became increasingly rocky and hard packed. Her progress slowed to a painstaking walk, and twice she lost the trail altogether and had to backtrack. In the hills on either side of the dry wash, coyotes yapped and howled at the moon, causing chills to course up her spine. It wouldn’t do to get stranded in the rough countryside, in the dark with no shoes, no rifle and no radio. She hadn’t even thought to bring her cell phone, but there was no signal out here anyway. Mark had been right about everything. Valentino was a fraud. The entire Order of the Rose was a fraud, and she had been brainwashed into thinking it was all magic and nonsense. Now, here she was, in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night, trying to save an assassin, who was being chased by a homicidal maniac with a sword. If she had any sense, she would turn around and go back to her bath, after calling the police, but it wouldn’t help matters, and she would be arrested as well. Just as Mark had said: Kidnapping was a serious crime. There was no time for further thinking when the double trail of hoof prints became an odd mess in the waning light of the setting moon. The tracks went in circles and the ground was covered with deep prints and lighter prints. The riders must have dismounted at some point. There were dark, almost black, splotches on the light-colored soil in the moon light, numerous gouges and scuff marks in the dark earth and as far as she could tell, only one set of boot prints. With a sinking feeling, she slid from the horse and looked more closely at the dark spots on the ground. She touched one with her finger; still damp. No doubt blood. The site where Mark had lain impaled with his own sword stopped her dead in her tracks. Here and there, puddles glistened in the hollows of small rocks embedded in the dry riverbed. Obviously, this was where they had met. At least one of the Knights was in serious trouble. Here she also found human footprints. Smeared and bloody. One set of bloody boot tracks and another without blood. Both had remounted their horses, nearby. As best as she could determine, it looked like one of them had turned back south and east headed toward the highway, but the other one, the bloody one, trailed off to the west toward the creek. There was only one explanation. One of them had left the other for dead. She mounted the bay and kicked her into a gallop, heading west. The blood was easier to follow and the tracks were deeper, indicating a heavier horse and rider. Mrs. Davenport’s pony was a much smaller horse than Cecile’s stallion, and Mark was at least thirty or forty pounds heavier than the skinny French Knight. She reasoned Mark had chosen the best horse in the stables, therefore, with any luck at all, it was Mark she was following… she hoped. On the other hand, if she was right, it was Mark who had suffered the massive blood loss, and that made her plight and his even greater. After an hour or so the dark spots gradually disappeared, and she had to slow down enough to look for the hoof prints again. Her mind raced and her nerves were on end as she allowed her horse to walk along slowly, while she leaned over its neck, searching the ground. Her shoulders hurt where she had smacked against the wall, and she was beginning to appreciate Lady Godiva’s troubles more and more. Horseback riding required sturdy clothes. Her flimsy gown and undergarments were far from appropriate attire, and she greatly regretted not having taken two minutes to change into jeans before leaving the house. She tried to redirect her attention from her aches and pains by laying some sort of plan. What would she do when she finally caught up with whoever was ahead of her? What if she was wrong? What if she were following the wrong man? How could he have lost so much blood and stayed mounted on a horse at all? No coherent plans of action came to mind only more questions she could not answer. Time dragged on and the horse she followed showed no signs of stopping. She felt truly alone for the first time in her life, somewhere between the comfort of her old life and the desperate situation into which Mark had fallen, without friends and no safe haven. She was being forced to make the first real decisions in her life and those decisions would have profound effects on the remaining portion of it, however long that might be. The first gray light of dawn had just begun to make the sky lighter behind her when a dark stand of cottonwoods loomed up in front of her. She had reached the creek bottom and she was a long way from home, but certainly not as far from home as Mark Andrew Ramsay. The track she was following began to zigzag lazily as the stallion finally tired and began to forage for food along the ancient river banks. It was obvious the rider was not controlling the horse’s movement any more, if he ever had been. With the growing light to aid her, she kicked the bay to a gallop and headed straight for the creek where she assumed the big stallion would go for water after such a long ride, and there would be green grass there to graze on. Merry tied her horse to a small bush on the creek bank and edged her way down to the water, very glad to be off horseback again. Valentino’s stallion had tramped around under the trees for quite some time, and she could not tell which way he had gone after he finally entered the stream. A flat rock over-hanging the gurgling stream offered an inviting place for her to sit for a short rest. Merry let her tired feet hang in the water and stretched her arms over her head, arching her aching back, trying to pop out the kinks she had accumulated on the ride. The early morning air was almost chilly in the deep shade under the cottonwoods. The headache dissipated, but she felt hollow, unable to remember when she had last eaten solid food. She was miserable, but at least she still had all her blood in her veins. It must have taken a great deal of dogged determination to hang onto the skittish stallion and make it this far with such a devastating wound. She lay flat on her stomach and dipped her hands in the little creek, splashing it up in her face and then drinking some of the sweet spring water. Any idea of running away with Mark faded with the brightening of day under the trees. The sun always chased away dreams and put the light of harsh reality into every picture. He would surely leave as soon as he could, and she would never see him again. Tears welled up in her eyes at the thought of losing him, and then she realized he had never belonged to her. If he had any real thoughts about her, he surely thought her a rotten individual, capable of anything and certainly not worthy of love, a loose woman without morals or decency. She knew a bit about history and how severe the punishment had been for adulterous women, prostitutes and common whores. His opinion of her would surely be low if it registered on the scale at all. Tears of frustration and anger joined the spring water on her face. A squirrel barked over her head and a splashing sound coming from upstream interrupted her misery. She froze with one hand shading her eyes and waited for the source of the noise to come into view. The sound was methodical and as it drew nearer, she recognized the hollow clomping of hooves against the rocks submerged in the water. No doubt, Raven was walking down stream, nibbling at the sweet clumps of grass growing along the bank. She scooted back and took cover beside it under the leaves of a tall weed laden with purple berries. The black stallion wandered aimlessly into view. The subdued light under the trees slanted through millions of translucent green leaves and the trunks of the trees cast deep shadows across the stream. Their gnarled roots formed fantastic shapes along the banks, piling up against one another in a slow, but inexorable struggle for space. A few yards upstream from where she waited, a graceful weeping willow of considerable age added mystery to the beauty of the backdrop against which the velvet black animal assumed the proportions of a mythical creature. She half-expected to see wings on the stallion’s back. The trailing tendrils of the willow partially obscured the dark rider atop the horse like a living beaded curtain of light green. He did not appear to be seated in the saddle, but rather perched precariously on top of the stallion. The horse moved out of the willow’s covering branches, and she drew a sharp breath. She had followed the right man. He sat with his knees up, his head leaning into the horse’s neck. One pale hand was visible, entangled in the long mane while the reins dragged in the water. Was he dead in the saddle? Was that possible? The horse slowly made its way toward her until a break in the trees allowed the slanting rays of the morning sun to illuminate the area like a stage provided by nature, and just for a moment, she thought she saw dozens of tiny green, yellow and blue orbs floating around him. Then the illusion was gone as the lights seemed to flee in every direction at the very instant she drew her next breath. The horse took a step or two and then stopped. The rider jerked slightly and the horse took another step or two and stopped again. Not dead. She watched in silent fascination as this process was repeated again and again. He wasn’t dead, nor was he quite asleep. It was unbelievable. He was close enough now she could see narrow, glistening stripes of drying blood running down the saddle and under the horse’s belly. This was the source of the spots she had been following along the trail. She stood up very slowly. Valentino’s stallion had always made her nervous and the feeling was mutual. He was high-strung, skittish and given to bolting at the slightest provocation. When he saw her, he stopped and took a tentative step backwards, rolling his eyes in alarm. His rider jerked again and he regained the step. “Raven!” She called softly and the horse snorted. The smell of Mark’s blood already had him spooked. She clucked to the horse like Valentino did. “Come on boy. Come on, Raven.” She held out one hand, pretending to cup an apple in it. The horse turned abruptly toward her, and she heard the rider moan softly at the sudden movement. She backed up the bank slowly, staying out of reach of the horse’s muzzle, as he came nearer and nearer, tossing his head and nickering softly. Mark made a strangled sound when the horse climbed jerkily from the rocky stream bed to the softer ground beneath the cottonwoods. “Come on, boy,” she coaxed the horse to her. “Good Boy!” She said as she grabbed the reins and the horse seemed to calm down at once. She looked up at Mark Andrew, trying to judge his condition. When Raven stopped, he jerked again and tried to make the horse go in the same manner as before, completely unaware of his surroundings or her presence. His eyes were tightly closed and his face was smeared with blood. There were ghastly clots on his hands and in the horse’s mane. She could see the hilt of the golden sword protruding from the left side of his lap. Now she had another problem… How would she ever get him off the horse? And what would she do after that? “Mark!” She called his name, but he did not stir. Instead, he jerked again to make the horse go. She held tightly to the reins to stop the stallion’s movements. “Mark Andrew!” She said louder. “It’s me, Merry!” Nothing. He was on automatic pilot. She took hold of the hilt of the sword, pulled gently, her heart lurching when she thought it might be stuck in him, might actually be the cause of his injury. But it couldn’t be. He couldn’t have gotten onto the horse with a sword stuck through him. Could he? Before she could decide what to do next, he reached down suddenly with his left hand and grabbed her wrist, simultaneously jerking upright and slamming her bodily against the side of the horse. Raven stumbled and tried to rear. Merry had to wrench herself free of Mark’s grasp and pull down on the reins forcefully to keep the horse in place. She spoke rapidly to the horse, trying to calm him before chancing a look at Mark. He was sitting straight up on the saddle with his face turned up to the heavens as if drinking in the sunlight. The colored orbs had returned. They buzzed around his head so fast they left blurs like comet tails as they crisscrossed each other’s orbits. She forgot about everything else and let go of Raven’s halter in order to step closer to the spectacular sight, but her movement caused the lights to fly off in every direction again, emitting tiny whines, whizzes and shrieks. Mark’s serene face crumpled when the pain of the movement registered on his mind, he let go a blood-curdling scream into the sky before toppling onto her, sword and all. Merry didn’t know what was worse: the scream or the tumble into the dirt under his weight. She’d never heard anything like it before in her life. When she tried to dislodge herself from beneath him, she discovered one of her silver filigreed earrings was tangled in his hair. She worked the thing loose from her ear and then gingerly pushed him over on his back. He was completely unconscious, and that was probably a good thing. The heavy broadsword had landed a few feet away; another good thing. She extricated herself carefully from beneath him and tied Raven next to the bay before he wandered off. The horses snorted and yanked against their reins, sensing her fear and agitation. The last thing she needed was to lose their only form of transportation. When she went back for Mark, the sword glittered dangerously in the dappled sunlight, and she picked it up carefully. The weapon was a fascinating work of art. Smooth and cold with the appearance of molten gold without a single scratch or blemish on its surface. The blade itself was fashioned out of three distinct pieces, woven together like braided flames. Merry had seen a number of swords in her travels with Cecile and Gavin. Gavin was particularly interested in medieval weapons, and they often traveled to festivals celebrating the Renaissance period. Gavin had even taken part in some of the mock tournaments, duels and sword fights and was forever dragging them into the shops and tents where such weapons were sold. But never had she seen such a weapon as this, beautiful and deadly at the same time. The edges were extremely thin and incredibly sharp, but there were no signs which would indicate it had ever been honed. The hilt was not separate from the blade, but made of the same smooth metal with inlaid white stone. Round discs made of the same metal adorned each end of the guard and a third disc at the end of the tang was inlaid with white stone bearing a red cross pattee embedded seamlessly in the center. There were no telltale marks or seams of any sort which might indicate it had been made of separate pieces put together. The red cross was made of something opaque, not glass, not ceramic or plastic, but red, deep red like the bloody stains on her hands. Merry was mesmerized by the feel and sight of the magnificent weapon, which seemed to vibrate in her grip, but when she thought of how many people might have felt the raw edge of the blade on their necks, she laid it quickly beside the boulder and returned to the more urgent business at hand. The hardest part of her task was next, and she was very glad he was completely unconscious when she attempted the feat. Twenty minutes or more passed while she dragged him inch by inch up the sandy bank where she propped him against the side of the weatherworn boulder. She tore off the gauzy inner lining of her gown and wet it in the creek to make a makeshift washcloth. Starting with his face and hands, she attempted to clean away the dried and not so dry blood. The stuff was everywhere, in and behind his right ear, clotted in his hair, soaked through his shirt, front and back. Even his pants were stiff and sticky. It was impossible to tell where it had all come from. Several rinsings were necessary before she could even make a guess as to the nature of his injuries. When she sat back on her heels and surveyed him thoughtfully, the overwhelming sense of relief she had felt upon finding him faded, only to be quickly replaced by another worry almost as immense: How would she get him from this stream bank to a place of safety? When she was satisfied she had done everything she could do to make him comfortable with what little she had to work with, she took off her sweater and rolled it into a sort of pillow for his head. The sun was already chasing the chill from the air under the trees as she sat down on the ground beside him. He looked deathly pale, but his chest rose and fell very faintly every two to three minutes. The silver earring tangled in his hair sparkled in an errant sunbeam and she bent over it, carefully trying to work it out of his hair without disturbing him. In the end, she picked out a lock of hair near the tangle and braided it together until she had incorporated the earring into a braided lock like an ornament. He looked like a fallen Celtic warrior with the braid in his hair. She removed the other one from her ear and wrapped the thin silver hook around the braid near the first earring. There were distinct red splotches on his cheeks and neck, growing larger as the blood renewed itself. Mark Ramsay went against everything she had ever known or believed and even in this sorry state, he spoke to her of another time and another place, reminding her of the illustrations on the historical romance novels she kept in a box in the closet under the stairs. He was her prince and she was his princess and they had always known each other… There had never been a time when she had not known him… She placed a kiss on his forehead, smoothing back the hair from his face. The squirrel barked in the tree above her again and she jumped out of her skin before slapping herself quite hard on the cheek. “You stupid silly girl!” She slammed herself verbally. “What is wrong with you? He’s in big trouble and you’re daydreaming.” With this angry self-admonishment, she began to cry hot tears of desperation. “I’m not dreaming,” his voice was barely audible. “I’m just resting. I’ll be ready to go in a few minutes. Just a few minutes.” She leaned toward him, wiping the tears away from her face, and then her shoulders drooped in disappointment. He had not opened his eyes or moved. He was talking in his sleep. She knew he did not belong here with her; he could never fit in with the ordinary people living round about Waco, Texas. Wherever he had come from, he had to go back and if, by chance, he did ask her again, she would not hesitate to go with him. In the meantime, the only thing she could do was wait for him to recover and pray it would truly only be a few minutes like he said. Someone from the house would come for them as soon as Cecile discovered her absence and put two and two together. She moved the horses to a less visible place in the grove and secured them to the trunk of one of the smaller cottonwoods. They couldn’t ride as far as town. Even if they could, where would they go when they got there other than jail? What she feared most was Maxie or the blonde Knight finding them before Mark regained his strength. Her only course of action was to get him back to the barn, find the keys to his car and get away as soon and as far as possible. She could make a better plan later. She dragged the blood-stained sword closer to her when she sat down beside him again and then placed it between them with the hilt under his right hand. It was the best she could do. She curled up next to him and laid her head on her hands. Within seconds, she was sound asleep. As soon as she closed her eyes and her breathing became regular, a dozen or more green, blue and yellow orbs, ranging in size from a few inches to more than a foot across, drifted down from the leaves of the willow tree. The orbs were ephemeral, quick-moving and silent as they danced about the Knight’s head, zooming in and out. A tiny smile played across his lips when one of them paused in front of his face.

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