Character Profile: Bart, the Knocker

Bart, the Knocker, appears in the Assassin Chronicles books along about book 5 or 6. He’s a faery creature who lives in a cave on the face of a cliff overlooking the sea in the underworld. He loves beer, ale, wine and smoking his pipe. To say he is very laid back doesn’t quite cover him. He likes to take it easy, but he does love to play checkers and collect shiny things. Unfortunately, for him, he is a bit slooooooooooow. His general appearance might remind you of a dwarf, short and stocky, indeterminate age, long beard, pointed cap, suspenders and hob-nail boots. Not much on fashion. Normally, he doesn’t care to get involved in things, but as keeper of the Four Horses of the Apocalypse, his life is entwined with the Order of the Red Cross of Gold whether he likes it or no. He’s none too friendly as faeries go, but he can become a trusted companion if you gain his trust or call his bluff.

I found an interesting article about these so-called “Earth Spirits” which gives a good job description for Knockers. He gets the name ‘Knocker’ from his normal occupation as a miner. Of course, Bart doesn’t have to mine for his living, though his ‘brothers’ may have to work for a living. Knockers are thought to make the odd knocking noises heard in mines just before cave-ins. However, it seems to be a matter of debate whether the knocks are meant to warn the miners to get out or perhaps the knocks might actually cause the cave-in. Either way, suspicious miners generally do not ignore these noises since their lives may depend on it.


This little fellow adorning a garden gate reminds me of what Bart, the Knocker, might look like. Here is a short excerpt from Book VI:. The Dragonslayer where we first meet Bart:

Bart was deep in the cave, lying on a rock with his feet propped against the wall, his hands clasped over his heart and his pipe clenched between his teeth firmly. He was practicing winking. One had to keep in practice. He scowled deeply and then winked his left eye for several seconds. When he was pleased with his success, he opened both eyes and then concentrated on winking his right eye. Just as his right eyelid began to droop, the sounds of approaching footsteps echoed down the passage and he sat up quickly. A cloud of dust drifted lazily in front of him. Visitors? So soon? He’d just had visitors not more than twenty years ago. Why would someone be bothering him again so soon? And just when he was beginning to get good with his left eye! They probably wanted to eat his bread and butter and drink the last of his beer.

He shook his head and ran his gnarled fingers through his long black beard, scaring away three black and orange spiders and one field mouse. Picking up his hood from beside him, he shook off the layers of dust on it and pulled it over his head. His black eyes glowing with anticipation, he slid from the rock and brushed off the spiderwebs that had accumulated on his black tunic. He tugged on his vest, hitched up his pants and stomped his boots to wake up his toes. He waved his hand over a small pile of dried driftwood and seaweed and a greenish, blue fire sprang to life, illuminating the interior of the cavern. The light reflected from a thousand crystal stalactites in the ceiling, casting dancing shadows on the walls and in the depths. The stalagmites on the floor were draped with all sorts of accouterments. Most of them were useless, but interesting pieces of flotsam and jetsam that he had collected from the beach. They gave the cave a cozy feel. The dwarf brushed at his knobby knees again and then sat down on an upended wooden churn to wait for his unexpected guests to arrive. He crossed his arms over his chest, then crossed his legs. He sat very still.

Sam and Lucio eventually found their way to the chamber where Bart was waiting for them.

“Ho, there!” Bart stood up when they entered. “How goes it?”

“Oh, it goes well as well it might, Bart,” Sam answered the greeting, smiled at the dwarf and set the baskets on the floor in front of him.

“And who’s thot ye have withee?” Bart narrowed his dark eyes at the Italian. “’e looks loike a mon.”

“Aye, that he is,” Sam told him as Lucio dumped the heavy cask of beer on the floor. The resounding boom echoed down through the passages. “Lucius of Venetia, Knight of the Golden Eagle, venerable son of the Doge of Venice, Chevalier d’ l’Aigle d’Or, Poor Knight of Soloman’s Temple, Keeper of the Secrets of Isis and Osiris, Diviner of Souls, may I present Bart….” The elf called the dwarf’s full name and Lucio bowed his head to the dwarf.

The dwarf was dressed entirely in black and wore a gold dagger in his wide belt. The black hood on his head ended in a long red tassel at the point and sported a long, black feather on one side. The dwarf’s craggy face was accented by heavy shadows and only his long nose was clearly visible in the eerie blue light provided by the fire. His eyes seemed to glow literally like red coals in the deeper shadow under his hood. His voice was amazingly deep for one so small.

The dwarf bowed his head minutely and then stepped forward to knock on the keg with his gnarled fist. He produced a shiny silver hammer from one of his pockets and tapped the keg in several more places, listening intently to the sounds.

“And beer, ist?” he asked when he looked up.

“And milk and eggs,” Sam added. “Lucius di Venetia has traveled long times and hard paths to honor you with these gifts. And to honor himself with your presence.”

“And well he moight do,” Bart muttered and plucked one of the eggs from the basket. He eyed it closely. It was speckled and about half the size of a chicken’s egg. “Wot’s th’ occasion? Did I miss me birthday again?”

“No, not your birthday this time, Bart,” Sam told him and sat down cross-legged on the floor. 

Guest Post ~Tracey Alley, Author

Today’s guest post is from Tracey Alley, author of Erich’s Plea, Ursula’s Quest, Slade’s Destiny and the Kaynos History Tales.

I’m certain that practically everyone has heard the parable of the Scorpion and the Frog so bear with me while I repeat it for the few who don’t know it.  9238434_orig

“The land is flooding and the only way out is to cross the river.  A scorpion says to a frog “take me over the river on your back please” and the frog replies “I can’t.  You’re a scorpion and you’ll sting me”.  But the scorpion pleads his case by saying “I wouldn’t do that because then we would both drown.  Trust me and take me over the river on your back.”  The frog can see the logic in the scorpions argument and agrees to take the scorpion across the river on his back.

Half way across the river the scorpion stings the frog and they both start to drown.  The frog cries out “Why have you done this?  Now we’ll both die?” and the scorpion replied “Sorry, it’s my nature.”

It sounds silly but it really represents a very valuable,  important lesson that all of us must learn at some time in our lives.  The simple fact is that human beings can pretty much be divided into two groups – scorpions and frogs.  Life can be very, very hard for frogs – it’s their nature to be helpful, kind and giving.  This means they often get hurt and sometimes, a lot of times, they get hurt very badly simply because there are scorpions amongst us.

The scorpion is a ‘what’s in it for me?’ type of person, while the frog is a ‘what can I do for you?’ type of person.  Thus you can see how easily a scorpion can take advantage of a frog.  They are also, by nature, very credible chameleons who do not show their true colours immediately and can easily pass for a fellow frog – to push that metaphor to the limit 🙂 – thus they can use and abuse other people until finally the real frog realises he’s been stung.  And that hurts.

These people will act like your best friend [or lover, room-mate, neighbour etc] and they will, initially, seem incredibly believable.   Depending on how good these people are at disguising their true nature they can fool you for a very long time – slowly but surely bleeding you dry emotionally, financially or otherwise.  And when you finally feel the sting and realise how you’ve been used the pain and hurt is quite devastating.

We all instinctively want to believe the best in people.  If we’re a frog – it’s in our nature.  Unfortunately not everyone is worthy of trust or respect or love.  By no means is it a bad thing to have a generous and giving nature.  To want to help people, to want to have relationships – these are good, wholesome desires.  What we do have to learn, eventually, though is to be a little more discerning about other people.  I don’t mean we should become cynical – that only means that the scorpions amongst us have won.

Instead just watch people’s behaviour and really listen to what they say.  All people, no matter what our nature, ultimately give ourselves away.  Our realattitudes, thoughts and desires will be shown in the things we say and the way we behave.  Having a little protective shell around your heart will go a long way towards helping you to not only recognize the scorpions but to avoid being hurt by them.  And always remember – you can never change another human being, you can only change yourself and the way you choose to respond.

So to all my frog friends out there – be careful who you give your heart to and keep an eye out for scorpions both for yourself and for the other frogs you love 🙂

See more of Tracey’s writing at “Tracey’s World”, her blog and see all of her books here at Tracey’s Novels

Sample Sunday ~ 12.23.12

This week’s sample is from Hesperian Dragon, the third book in the Assassin Chronicles series. The series consists of thirty books concerning the adventures of a group of semi-immortal Templar Knights left over from the Crusades waiting around for Armageddon.

The books are available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Nobles and in paperback from Amazon.

Mark frowned and then continued his pacing. He stopped again. “The Master shielded… used magick to keep the memory of it from him. He was afraid it would make him insane…” his voice trailed off and then he looked up. “There was something… else.”

Merry was horrified. There was so much she did not know about her Brothers and how could she ever hope to understand them? Even Simon.

“John Paul said but thou art he who took me from the womb,” Mark repeated the words again and went back to pacing. “Someone in that Council room knows where Simon came from. Someone took him from the womb.”

“I don’t understand at all, Mark. Someone on the Council delivered Simon when he was born?” Merry frowned at him. “What does that mean?”

“It would mean that Simon was delivered by the knife. Someone cut him from his mother’s womb. What you would call a cesarean section,” Mark told her in aggravation as if she should already know this.

Merry frowned deeply and placed her hand over her mouth. Scenes of bloody horror danced through her head. When was Simon born? In the fourteenth century? A C-section in the Dark Ages? Or was that the Renaissance? She didn’t know and didn’t care. Anesthesia was a modern medical miracle.

“I’m sorry,” Mark said suddenly and stopped once more. His expression softened “I should not be telling you this. I’m an ass.”

“Why should you not tell me?” she asked, though she did not want to hear more, she had to know. “I am not that squeamish though I know it must have been painful for his mother.”

“It isn’t proper and yes, it would have been fatal more often than not. It was used only as a last resort to save the child. The mother did not usually… survive… and was more likely dead before they cut her…” his voice trailed off and his complexion darkened. He remembered the time.

“Don’t you think I need to know these things?” she asked. “Why do you insist on keeping all these things to yourself? Does anyone else know about him that you know of? Listen, Mark, I will not say a word to Simon. I swear it! What would I say, for God’s sake?”

“Sir Philip was with the Master when Simon was found on the doorstep so to speak. He must know something,” Mark told her almost reluctantly. “But you must never tell it, Merry. Simon would not appreciate me telling you what he doesn’t even know himself.”

“He will never know it from me, Mark Andrew,” Merry assured him. She glanced at the clock on the mantel. Surely the others would be arriving soon. Perhaps the Grand Master would know how to wake Simon. He would be certainly be unhappy to hear what had happened and she did not want to be the one to tell him what had transpired concerning Elizabeth.

Bruce came in to announce that lunch was ready. They had missed breakfast and the cook would not hear of them missing lunch. The old man refused to take no for an answer even in the face of his Master’s anger.

Mark agreed to eat after a bit of cajoling and they ate in deep silence at the kitchen table. The meal was almost over when someone knocked loudly on the front door. Mark Andrew rushed from the kitchen to the foyer to answer it personally, expecting the Master.Image

Von Hetz stood on the steps looking like a vision from hell. His long, dark hair hung in his face, his cheeks were sunken, his eyes surrounded by deep shadows.

“Brother Simon,” he said without preamble.

“This way,” Mark answered without question and led him down the hall. The Apocalyptic Knight’s appearance was unexpected, but not unwelcome.

The Ritter bade them wait in the hall while he went in the room and closed the door.

A few minutes later, he emerged from the room and stood silently for several long moments in the dim light. Merry shuddered. He looked even worse than before.

“You knew of this?” the Ritter addressed Mark Andrew.

“What?” Mark Andrew answered with a question and frowned at him.

“Of this… woman?” the Ritter’s voice sounded hoarse and raspy.

“I only just learned of it this morning,” Mark Andrew answered. “I knew her when she was… alive.”

“You knew of Simon of Grenoble?” the Ritter tilted his head up slightly and narrowed his eyes at the Knight.

“Yes,” Mark nodded.

“You know who his father is?” Von Hetz continued to eye him steadily.


Von Hetz seemed to relax almost imperceptibly, then turned his eyes on Merry. “How did the girl get in the house?”

“We invited her in,” Merry told him. “She was on foot. We had no idea that anything was wrong.”

“How long has she been here?” he asked.

“Two days,” Merry whispered. The Knight of the Apocalypse truly scared her. “I swear, Brother, I had no idea. Simon wanted to turn her out. It was my fault.”

The Knight seemed about to explode and then his features relaxed completely as he seemed to come to grips with something internally. Mark cleared his throat. He would not see von Hetz treat Merry less than respectfully. Not in his house. If the man had some idea of taking her mind by force, it would be over his dead body.

“And do you have any idea where she is now?” Konrad asked finally.

“No. She was gone this morning,” Merry answered a bit louder.

“She accomplished her mission,” he told them with some measure of resignation. “Brother Simon does not want to wake up. He wants to die. Before he can come back to us, he must face his nightmare. There is nothing I can do for him.”

“But why?” Merry looked at Mark. “It was not his fault! If the girl was… evil, and he didn’t know…”

“Ignorance is no excuse, Sister,” Von Hetz told her. “Believe me, I know. Evil spares none. Not even children. She has caused him to relive something he never knew. Her reasons are her own. I cannot fathom her mind. I dare say she has no mind of her own. Perhaps she wishes simply to hurt or destroy those close to Sir Ramsay or all in proximity of the chapel. I cannot say. I did my best to banish her and thought it done.”

“You know her?” Mark Andrew eyed the tall man suspiciously.

“I do,” Von Hetz nodded. “I would speak to you alone, Brother.”

Six Sentence Sunday ~ November 18, 2012

“… Do you understand the crimes of which you stand accused, Lord Nanna?”

Meredith stared at the judge in shocked silence.

“How do you plead to the charges? Guilty or innocent?”

“I… I… I…” Meredith glanced at Marduk and he frowned slightly. “I must throw myself on the mercy of the court, Your Honor.”

The Red Cross of Gold XXIX:. The Perfect Sun $3.99 for Kindle on amazon.

For other eReaders on Smashwords $3.99

Sample Sunday ~ November 11, 2012

Here’s a sample chapter from Hounds of Oblivion. Genre: Horror Available at Amazon for Kindle and paperback and Smashwords for other eReaders. 

Pontiac Drake backed his old truck into the little shelled slot beside one of the concrete slab picnic tables at Clementine Park and got out slowly, easing his creaky back upright and shaking out his bad knee before hauling his fishing tackle box from behind the seat.  He reached over in the bed of the truck and picked up his rod and reel, tackle bucket/seat contraption and limped off toward the little fishing pier on the over-sized pond, Lake Clementine, named after the young lady with big feet from the old folksong.

He stumped halfway down the pier and plunked his bucket and box down.  The day was perfect for a little white perch fishing.  Not a cloud in the sky, no wind and a fresh snap in the October air.  Drake didn’t get to go fishing much anymore.  He was getting a bit too old to brave the harsher elements and he couldn’t take the heat of the Texas summers.  But today, was perfect.  In fact, his wife had insisted he get out of the house and go do something rather than mope around in the work shed, hammering on stuff and making noise.  She was busy making homemade deer sausage with her daughter-in-laws and he could at least look forward to some good eating over the winter.  His two sons had bagged four good sized deer already.  One eight-pointer, a six-pointer, a four-pointer and one doe.  His youngest had killed a nice turkey and his eldest had taken a goodly number of squirrels.  Yep, the holidays would be good this year. 

He checked his line, baited his hook with a fat nightcrawler and threw it out about twenty feet.  He didn’t expect to catch much, but if he could drag in a couple of nice specimens, he’d have fried fish for supper.  Within a few seconds, he had some healthy nibbles and then he pulled in a good two pounder that fought like four pound bass. 

He pulled his leather glove from his pocket and grabbed hold of the perch, avoiding the sharp spines on its back and disengaged the hook from its upper lip and slipped on the stringer.  When he reached for his nightcrawler box, he was surprised to see that the worms had all crawled out of the little paper carton and were wiggling around in the sun on the wooden planks. 

“Well, damn me,” he said and frowned at the worms.  “You lost your wormy little minds?”

He plucked them up and put them back in the dark soil in the carton and threaded the last one on his hook.  Just as he was about to throw out his line, a nerve-wracking howl went up behind him.  His entire reel left his hands and landed in the water about eight feet from the pier.

“Shit!” he said and swiveled around on the bucket seat to look back toward the shore.  Seeing nothing there, he frowned at the water.  He could see the handle of his rod just under the surface when he squinted at the water just right.  The pond couldn’t be more than a couple feet deep where his rig had landed.  He looked forlornly at his rubber boots, knowing quite well that they were far too short to keep his feet dry if he waded out.  He’d have to take them off. 

A few minutes later, he was grimacing in disgust as his bare feet sank in the cold, sandy silt at the bottom of the pond.  Even though he had rolled his pants up above his knees, he realized they would still get wet if his feet kept sinking in the mud.  He sighed and slogged on toward the spot where his favorite rod and reel rested in the brown water. 

After a little searching and squinting, he located the rod and pulled it out of the water.  He started cranking in the line and then stopped as he felt a distinctive jerk.  He’d landed something while his rig had been sunk.

“Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit!” he said as he started reeling in his catch.  This one didn’t fight much, but it definitely didn’t want to come out of the water.  His hopes sank when he figured he had hooked a snag or a turtle.  As he reeled it in, the tension on the line reached the breaking point.  He punched the release tab on the reel and let out some slack before reeling in again, not wanting to lose his rig so soon.  His perfect day was turning to shit.

He looked up, expecting to see an old limb sticking out of the water and froze.  His mouth gaped open in shock at the sight of what he saw emerging from the quiet little pond.  A scream welled up in his throat, but came out as a strangled gasp.  He stumbled backwards, away from the dark shape walking steadily toward him. 

At first, Drake thought he was hallucinating.  There was no such animal in his entire imagination as the thing rising up from the water.

He turned around and tried to run through the squishy pond sediment and water, forgetting to drop his rod.  The string wrapped around his body and impeded his progress even more.  The thing behind him howled and yanked on the line.  The six pound test monofilament cut into his arms and pulled him over backwards.  He shouted for help as his back hit the cold water and his body sank in the lake, sending up a huge splash. 

Panic gripped him as he struggled to regain his footing and he felt clam shell and small rocks cutting into the flesh of his feet.  His head cleared the surface and he drew a deep breath, blowing water out his nose at almost the same time.  Water ran into this eyes and he blinked rapidly, trying to get his bearings.  He looked about quickly and saw no sign of the horrid beast.  It was not in the water or on the shore.  His weatherworn heart threatened to beat its way out of his chest as he half-walked, half-crawled back to the pebbly beach.

It had to be hallucination.  Perhaps a side effect of one of the new medicines his doctor had put him on the week before.  He clambered up the bank and hobbled back down the dock to his gear and sat down, fully disgusted with himself.  If he went home soaking wet without his rig and one fish, everyone would be asking stupid questions and he couldn’t possibly tell them what had happened.  They’d never let him out of the house alone again.

 He sat for a long time, trying to dry out, shivering and glancing about, still upset about the hallucination.  When he had sufficiently recovered and put his boots back on, he was feeling better about life in general.  He would just say he had to wade in after his reel, but hopefully, he had left a shirt in the garage and he wouldn’t have to tell them anything except the fish weren’t biting. 

Back in his truck, he headed home without his favorite rod and reel, but no one had to know about that either.  He had a dozen more to take its place.  Some of them never used before, still in the wrappers.

About a half mile from the main highway leading back to town, he saw a Red-Tailed Hawk perched on a power pole and leaned forward to look up at the beautiful bird as it took flight into the forest.  Returning his eyes to the road, he slammed on the brakes, yanked the wheel to the left and skidded into a ditch.  The old truck bucked over the shallow drainage ditch and smacked the bumper hard against a pine tree.  The airbag inflated, squishing back against the seat, but did not immediately deflate.  Cursing his luck, Drake fumbled in his pocket for his knife and punched the bag angrily with the blade.  Blood poured from his nose and his vision was blurry from the sudden blow.  He checked himself over quickly and climbed out of the truck. 

He limped around the truck, calling “Hey! You all right?!” 

But there was no one in the road.  No one anywhere.

He looked up and down the road, frowning.  Hallucinations! He would lay off the pills and get back to the doctor on Monday.  This was bullshit!  He would give the doc a bill for his rod and reel, too.

He already knew he had major problems from the hissing sound coming from the crumpled hood and the smell of hot coolant as it sprayed onto the motor from busted hoses.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” he cursed and looked around.  He didn’t like using cell phones, but his wife insisted he carry one, all the same.  Just in case, she said.  This was certainly a ‘just in case’ situation.  He tried the phone, but naturally, he had no signal.  Too far from the highway.  Nothing to do but walk up to the highway and check the phone there.  If he got lucky, someone would come along and give him a lift into town.

About 100 yards from the highway, he heard the howl again.  Something was in the brush off to the left.  He could hear it crashing through the undergrowth.  Whatever it was, it was big.  His heart rate kicked up and he tried to put a little more energy into his step.  He moved along fairly rapidly for an old man, but he kept looking off to the left, trying to see what was pacing him or if it was just an illusion.  The howl sounded like a dog, but not really.  Drake had never been a superstitious fellow, didn’t believe in ghosts or angels or vampires.  He watched a lot of television at the gun shop when business was slow and that was most of the time these days so he had seen his share of the weird stuff that passed for good television. 

The one thing that popped into his mind was chupa cabre.  He’d seen some weird looking things in his day.  When he had worked for the power company, the rural routes could be pretty ominous on stormy, rainy nights.  Animals seemed to just have death wishes on such nights.  He didn’t know how many times he had run over deer, foxes, dogs, cats, raccoons and armadillos in his bucket truck while out looking for downed power lines or thrown breakers.  His logical mind told him that this was just a continuation of the hallucinations, but his instinct screamed at him to run.

Pontiac couldn’t run anymore.  He hadn’t been able to actually run in years and he didn’t know how many times he had hoped and prayed nothing ever got after him now because it would surely catch him.  He hurried as best he could, keeping in mind his two bypass surgeries, not wanting to experience a third anytime soon.  The howling and crashing in the brush continued to keep pace with him.

He could see cars and trucks passing on the highway up ahead and decided his best bet would be to actively try to wave someone down for help.  He trudged on, each step becoming more and more heavy, his pace slowing. 

When he reached the highway he checked his phone.  Two bars.  He turned toward town, slowed to a drag and punched the key for his home.  He smiled at the sound of his wife’s voice on the other end and then watched in astonishment as his hand with the phone clutched in it, went flying through the air, trailing a stream of bright red blood behind it.  Unsure of what had just happened, he turned his head to the right very slowly, still in shock.  The late morning sun flashed off of something metal and he squeezed his eyes shut. 

His body jerked sideways and he looked down in time to see what appeared to be a hook embedded in his stomach.  A garbled scream erupted from his mouth along with a gout of blood as the bronze hook ripped through his skin and spilled his intestines onto the ground.  Drake swung his handless right arm at the dark shape beside him, spraying more blood in a wide arc in front of him.  He leaned his left hand on his bad left knee and went down hard on both knees.  Strangely, he felt no pain in his arm or his stomach, but the pain from his crushed knee shot up his thigh and exploded behind his eyes as they bulged from his head at the sight of the gray and white tubes lying in a steaming pile in front of him. 

No hallucination could have done this to him.  He still had the presence of mind to question what he was seeing.  He couldn’t die like this!  He was too old!  With grim determination, Drake pushed himself up shakily and held up his right hand in front of his eyes, but there was no right hand, only a bloody stump, still pumping his blood out on the ground.  The howl erupted right in his ear this time, and he jerked his head around in time to see the face of his murderer. 

The scream that came from looking in the gleaming black eyes of death was cut off abruptly when the serrated blade smashed into his neck, cutting through the veins, arteries, cartilage and bone as if he were made of Papier-mâché.  He blinked twice as his head flew through the air, slowly turning in a complete circle.  In his last coherent moment, he wondered why the thing was pulling his hair.

Sample Sunday ~ The Knight of Death

The Knight of Death is the first book in an epic fantasy series: The Red Cross of Gold. The series contains 30 books with 29 published and only one to go. The setting is mainly contemporary, heading into the future with flashbacks to the past and forays into fantasy time.  The books are available at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, KOBO.

At last, the imposing figure of the Templar Grand Master, dressed in a charcoal gray business suit, entered the room and stopped at the head of the table. His faded blue eyes were large and watery as if the sunlight bothered them, and on his head was a rather untidy mop of thinning, red hair. The men standing around the table watched him apprehensively as he surveyed each of them individually as if assessing them for proper attitude. He nodded in approval, and then sat in his chair causing them all to follow suit. At once, a tall, thin boy dressed in neatly pressed brown slacks and a white shirt brought a crystal decanter and filled his glass with dark red wine.

The Master drank from the goblet and clunked it loudly on the table in front of him. The meeting had been called to order almost an hour earlier by the venerable Seneschal, Philip Cambrique, Chevalier d’Orient, the Knight of the East. They had been forced to wait as always, just so Master d’Brouchart might impress upon them their subordinate positions.

He held out one meaty hand toward the empty chair on his left, and the young man stepped forward again. He reverently picked up the empty golden goblet and presented the cup to the Master, who accepted it with equal gravity. The young valet poured a bit of wine into the cup and stepped back quickly as the man up-ended the goblet in front of the empty chair, spilling the wine across the gleaming surface.

A murmur erupted around the table, and a muffled “No!” sounded from the far end of the long room, where eleven apprentices sat in two rows of heavy, medieval-style armchairs. Each of these fellows, ranging in age from fifteen to fifty, was there at the beck and call of his Knight, with the exception of one: Christopher Stewart had no Knight present on this day. His Master was the reason for this unscheduled meeting.

The ‘no’ had inadvertently erupted from his lips, and he had received a punch in the ribs from one of the older apprentices sitting behind him for the mistake. Apprentices did not speak, unless spoken to in Council. He looked about the table, searching for a sympathetic face and found the formerly dozing Italian Knight gazing at him with a peculiar expression on his face.

 “Sirs, Most Respected and Honored Brothers and Fellows,” d’Brouchart began his address in French. “You are all aware of the need for this assembly, the nature of our emergency and the grievous news, which has reached us from abroad.”

A stilted silence greeted him.

“Brother Dambretti.” The Master turned his watery blue eyes on the Italian sitting halfway down the table on his left.

“Your Excellency,” Dambretti answered and tore his gaze away from Christopher with the hint of a smile sparkling in his dark eyes.

“What news?”

Lucio Dambretti, Chevalier l’Aigle d’Or, the Knight of the Golden Eagle, pushed back his chair and the legs grated on the floor, echoing against the white marble panels covering the walls. He stood to address the assembly, glancing at each of them before beginning, indicating his ‘news’ concerned them all. He was tall, but not too tall and dark of complexion. His black, curly hair was cut short. A frown creased his brow and crinkled the pale scar on his left cheek.

“My news is no news,” he said slowly in perfect French, not his native tongue. “Brother Ramsay has not communicated with my office in over forty-eight hours.”

“What of the world?” The Master asked another question of the Knight.

“The world remains in balance, Your Grace. The wars progress, and the peace negotiations continue, though without much success. A new uprising is brewing between the Musselmen on the West Bank and the settlers, but should not break for another week or so. There is nothing noteworthy to report from Persia. The Gauls, as always, deny everything, and the Germans are innocent as usual. We have heard nothing from the Russians lately, and, even if we did, they would blame the Americans. My concern lie with the Chinese, Sir. I believe our little yellow friends are practicing global feng shui, if you will, and are currently investing heavily in the western colonies. What they intend is…”

At this, one of the men across the table from Sir Dambretti pounded his fist against the wood, demanding attention, effectively cutting off the Knight of the Golden Eagle’s report.

The Grand Master turned his gaze wearily on the man dressed all in black from head to toe. The Knight’s face was weathered and heavily lined as if he spent a great deal of time outdoors. His long hair was streaked with silver. His black eyes, deep set and somewhat sunken on either side of his long nose, burned with a smoldering fire. He locked eyes with the Grand Master for several long seconds before capitulating. The Master was not ready to hear from Konrad von Hetz, Knight of the Apocalypse who sees, harbinger of doom and gloom. They had enough problems already.

“Hold, Brother von Hetz,” d’Brouchart said in a low voice, but he was finished with the Italian, whose comments had already caused a few raised eyebrows from the French Knights at the table. “I would hear from the Chevalier d’Epee, if you please, Golden Eagle. We will discuss Cathay some other time.”

Dambretti smiled tightly, nodded briefly and resumed his seat as another man stood; a tall, thin man with hazel eyes and wisps of blond hair on his balding head.

“Your Eminence.” Thomas Beaujold, also known as the Knight of the Sword, bowed slightly to the Master, and then glanced at every other pair of eyes at the table, lingering when he encountered the Italian’s steady gaze. “Pardon my bluntness, Brothers, but the Order of the Rose continues to bloom, especially in America.”

His expression revealed his obvious disgust at even having to pronounce the name of the Order of the Rose.

“It seems we may have underestimated their importance by a considerable sum. That we have ignored them merely because of their androgynous structure may have been a supreme act of pride for which we will now all pay dearly. This latest development calls for urgent, mayhap drastic action, no less than an undeclared state of war.”

“Preposterous!” The exclamation, totally out of order, emanated from the Chevalier d’Epee’s right, where a very sturdy man with curly brown hair and dancing blue eyes stared up at him in dismay.

“How so, Brother Argonne?” The Master allowed the breach of protocol in light of the gravity of the situation and recognized the Order’s historian. Sir Beaujold yielded the floor reluctantly to the Knight of the Throne, the Council’s historian.

“Your Grace. Brothers.” The shorter man rose from his chair to address the assembly. “Historically, all such androgynous orders are but ephemeral deviations. No order permitting women as members has survived, not since the elder days, and especially not in these so-called orders are nothing more than groups of businessmen and merchants masquerading as Knights of Christ. This profane rejuvenation of the Order of the Rose is nothing more than a social club for sexual perverts and libertines. A band of false knights dabbling in alchemy and the black arts. They worship Venus and Aphrodite, while devoting themselves to licentious activities and corruption of the moral codes of our honorable Order. They are hardly a formidable foe.”

“The idea of war, declared or undeclared, is ludicrous. They will fade and go the way of all pretenders, given time. It is my concern, begging Brother Thomas’ pardon if I may, that we are concerned with this matter at all. Begging his pardon again, I submit to you, they are of no concern. However, concerning Brother Ramsay, our concern should be centered on his redemption, rather than focusing on his association with this spurious order, notwithstanding our concern with the Chinese threat, of course.”

“Of course,” the Italian muttered, but had to smile at the normally stodgy historian’s attempted contempt.

The Knight of the Throne, whose sole duty was recording and maintaining the Order’s archives, glanced nervously at the Chevalier d’Epee, who glared at him angrily, as the Ritter von Hetz’s fist pounded the surface of the table again. His adherence to the archaic method of gaining attention grated on the Master’s nerves. Of all the traditions, which had fallen by the wayside, why did he always insist on retaining the most irksome ones? The Knight of the Apocalypse would not be denied.

“Brother von Hetz?” The Grand Master gritted his teeth. “What have you to say?”

Sir Argonne sat down, and the Knight of the Apocalypse who sees unfolded his considerable height from the chair. He addressed the Grand Master with utmost gravity, and then stared darkly around the table, causing the rest of them to shift uncomfortably in their seats.

“My Brothers.” His voice was deeper and more resonant than the Master’s. He did not speak to them in French, but in his native German, disdaining the use the common language normally reserved for Council.

“Behold! He was brought forth into the presence of a female like unto the great Whore of Babylon. She has ensnared our beloved Brother, the Chevalier du Morte, in her chaotic web of deceit. She has profaned his body with fornication. She has whispered the foulest heresies unto his ears, proclaiming she is at once High Priestess, as well as, High Priest.”

He paused and waited as another round of murmurs circled the table. When his Brothers grew quiet, he continued. “She has taken knowledge of both male and female in unholy union and she has murdered one of our own. She has given our beloved alchemist the liquor of the traitorous Anthony of Sardinia and has blinded him both physically and mentally to the truth of his purpose, the obedience of his vows and the fulfillment of his duty. She has brought him unto ruin and laid claim to his immortal soul through treachery and guile. She has set herself up to be Grand Master and lusts after the Mystery of Life.”

Another murmur started and quickly rose in pitch as the Knights made louder and louder declarations of disbelief, protest and/or anger. The Seneschal pounded the table for order in vain until the Knight of the Apocalypse finally stepped up on the table and raised both arms to the ceiling, throwing his head back. His long dark hair fell in strands down his back as he turned in a complete circle, causing the men to cease their babbling in fear of what might happen next. The dark Knight stopped and dropped his head forward, looking directly into the eyes of the Italian Knight before speaking. “He lives, he dies, he lives again. He lives, he dies, he lives again… for her pleasure. I am become a stranger unto my brethren. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.”

The Apocalyptic Knight ended with a scriptural quote and every eye in the room widened in horror at the meaning of his words. He lowered his arms and sank down upon the table, sitting in the center of the insignia with his arms crossed over his chest and his head down.

“I am the Knight of the Apocalypse who sees,” his voice trailed off as if he were going to sleep in the middle of the table.

His words seemed to echo in the marble enclosure much longer than they should have. The Knight of the Apocalypse’ fervor and pronouncements always left them breathless, puzzled by his cryptic riddles and shaken by his power to instill fear in their hearts. Even unto the hearts of the immortals. But these words, with the exception of the last scripture concerning wives, were not couched in riddles or vague innuendo. These words were as clear as spring water, and their meaning held a shocking revelation. They had lost their Knight of Death… to a woman, no less. The thought was inconceivable to everyone at the table with one exception.

Sir Dambretti was visibly shaken by the archaic manner in which the Apocalyptic Knight delivered his oration and the fact that the last, most enigmatic phrase seemed to be directed at him, personally. The Italian thought von Hetz’ use of the High German language, which was very difficult to understand even for seasoned linguists, was merely an attempt to intimidate them. Surely his grave pronouncements were a bit exaggerated and what had he, Lucio Dambretti, to do with wives? He had no wife!

“Bother Simon,” the Master’s voice softened somewhat as he addressed the youngest of the assembly when silence returned.

The man, who looked to be about thirty years old, stood nervously to address the group, never taking his eyes off the dark figure sitting on the tabletop. He was Simon D’Ornan, Chevalier du Serpent, Mystic Healer, Father Confessor for the Brothers and the Master’s favorite amongst the Council Members.

“Your Excellency.” He nodded to the Master and then bowed his head politely to each of them, smiling nervously, and then returned his attention to the Master, frowning. He had prepared no statement. He said nothing further.

“Is there a chance for healing? Is it possible our beloved Brother Ramsay is not lost to us?” D’Brouchart asked him.

“If by ‘liquor of the traitorous apprentice’, Brother Konrad means the potion of which the apprentice, Anthony, was capable of preparing, it is possible he is lost in a manner of speaking. However, I have no firsthand knowledge from whence to draw any valid conclusions. This potion is something beyond my sphere of understanding. You, Sir, would be more inclined to know of these things. Concerning Brother Ramsay, it is a most unusual circumstance. I would have to examine him in person, Your Eminence. It is unlikely Brother Ramsay would allow such an exam, as you all know. He is not and never has been the most amiable of Brothers among us. The very nature of his mission affects his demeanor profoundly. I believe the weight of his office lies heavily on his soul.” Simon licked his lips and glanced at the Knight of the Apocalypse again before continuing in a lower voice. “As for Brother Konrad’s prophecy, I hardly think Brother Ramsay would engage in such… such… licentious behavior, if he were in a normal frame of mind.”

“But what is normal, Brother?” Louis Champlain, Knight of the Golden Key, asked the question very quietly from across the table.

“Then there may be a chance for recovery?” The Master asked, ignoring Champlain’s question.

“Possibly,” d’Ornan answered gravely. “Anything is possible through God.”

“He has broken his vows!” Beaujold stood suddenly without being recognized. “He must be destroyed. He is the Knight of Death. He alone of all of us could bring about our destruction. He is Master of the Key to the Bottomless Pit, lest you all forget.”

“He is not himself,” the voice of Konrad von Hetz startled them, when he raised his head, and then slid from the table and back into his chair.

Most of the apprentices jumped at his sudden reanimation, and one of them coughed loudly. Of all the assemblages they had attended, this animated behavior on behalf of the Knights was unprecedented in the presence of the Master. They had to wonder what would happen in the Council if something of enormous proportions should occur.

“He has been evilly influenced by powers beyond his control,” von Hetz concluded. It seemed he might smile at the commotion he caused, but it was only an illusion.

“He must die!” Beaujold glared at the Apocalyptic Knight and pounded one fist on the table to emphasize each word. The nearby goblets jumped on the lacquered surface, sending the nervous valet hurrying around the table, wiping at the spilled wine and beer, which sloshed out.

“Enough!” The Grand Master stood up and the men fell silent. The Chevalier d’Epee resumed his seat angrily, and the Healer sat down quickly as well, blinking rapidly, looking as if he would be ill. “The man is our Brother until proven otherwise. You will remember that, Chevalier Beaujold. If there is a chance of recovery, I want the opportunity to be had. He will be afforded the right to repent and be saved. Repent and be saved! Thus sayeth the Lord God Almighty!”

Each of the men and all of the apprentices crossed themselves and said ‘Amen’.

“Sir d’Ornan, Sir Beaujold and Sir Dambretti, you three will go to Sir Ramsay and bring him back. Tomorrow, you will leave for America. You will bring back our Brother by whatever means necessary. Sir Barry will see to the needs of your journey. Chevalier d’Epee?”

Beaujold bowed his head. “Yes, Your Eminence.”

“I trust you are up to the… mission? Perhaps I should call it a crusade as, indeed, the very fiber of our Order is in jeopardy at the hands of these… infidels. You will find Chevalier Ramsay a challenge, if he is unwilling to return with you.”

“I am prepared, Your Excellency.” Beaujold raised his eyes to look into the face of the Master with just the slightest a hint of defiance.

“You had better be,” the Master said doubtfully. The man would need his courage and perhaps his arrogance, as well, if he were to encounter the Knight of Death in a foul mood. Beaujold was an expert swordsman and strategist, though something of a hot-head, but he’d never gone against Ramsay. They were, after all, usually on the same side.

Another of the Knights at the table cleared his throat. William Montague, the most recent addition to their assembly indicated his desire to speak as his discreet British manner required. He was a quiet, reserved gentleman about forty years of age, dressed in a dark business suit. He had been an apprentice until 1944 when his master had been killed in Italy during the second Great War of the century. The Grand Master excused his strange, modern ways and beliefs, but had little faith in his untried abilities in the field. He was a good enough accountant, but had tasted little of the rigors of the battlefield other than his service in the RAF during WWII.

“Excuse me, Your Grace.” Sir Montague stood up.

The Master looked at him as if he had never seen him before, and then nodded. The Knight of the Holy City cleared his throat and spoke in perfect, well-refined English, also disdaining the French as his well-bred British upbringing demanded.

“The treasury is not what it used to be. Not that we are straitened by any means, but if we were to incur considerable expenses such as those recently discussed with Sir Dambretti for additional support facilities in Jerusalem, and expanded operations in Bhutan and Nepal, it may well deplete our reserves in short order. I would like to expand upon one item in particular brought up by Brother Beaujold, Your Grace, and that is Sir Ramsay does, indeed, keep the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone, as well as, the Key of Death. It has been over twenty years since he has added even one gram of gold to the coffers. Of course, he never lets us run short, but, as you know, we live… rather well. If anything should happen to him and the secret were to be lost… need I say more?”

Montague eyed Beaujold thoughtfully. Montague’s Master had been Beaujold’s friend, as well as, his Brother. They had both been present when Ramsay had dispatched Beaujold’s former Master into the ether. There had been no other choice. He would never forget it, but he also would never forget the scene between Ramsay and Beaujold after the ceremony. At the time, he had thought they were going to kill each other had it not been for the intervention of Dambretti and d’Ornan. Things had never been right between them afterwards. Montague felt the Master’s decision to send the Knight of the Sword to bring Ramsay home was an error in judgment. He doubted seriously Ramsay would be afforded a fair hearing, if Beaujold had anything to do with it, and he was sure only one of them would return with his head attached to his shoulders.

Both Books I & II are available in one volume for a discounted price of $3.99 here:

Most of the books are available in paperback format from Amazon.

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.