Sample Sunday ~ November 18, 2012

The following sample is from Book 30 of the Assassin Chronicles, Epic Fantasy Series, The Red Cross of Gold XXIX:. The Perfect Sun. It is available from Amazon for Kindle $3.99, Smashwords and other venues including paperback from Amazon.

The ragged band of Fox Soldiers stood waiting skittishly in the shade of the flapping canopy they had erected against the merciless sun. It was winter, but the seasons were skewed. Nothing had returned to normal since the floods and their hurried escape from New Babylon. They wore everything they owned on their backs and they held their automatic rifles ready to take out whatever this new threat might be.

Lucifer waved to them with his left hand and pulled the canvas bag gingerly from his sore shoulder.

“Greetings, fine warriors!” Lucifer called to them when they did not respond to his waves and Ernst grabbed his arm.

“Hold on, Luke,” he said in a low voice. “You’d best let me handle this. They don’t look very friendly.”

“Advance and be recognized!” One of the soldiers shouted to them and raised his rifle a bit.

Lucifer jerked his arm from the General’s grip, but allowed him to go in first.

“General Ernst Schweikert, Central Command Fox, Babylon!” Ernst answered the challenge and held up both hands, allowing his own rifle to hang from the straps.

“General Schweikert?” The soldiers looked at each other nervously and the name was said several times.

“Come on in, sir!” The soldier called. “We will need proof of your identity.”

“I have my papers, Corporal.” Ernst looked back at Lucifer and smiled. “Follow my lead, friend. Just keep cool.”

“Cool, yes.” Lucifer smiled and raised his own arms in the air. “A very strange greeting ritual.”

“Whatever,” Ernst mumbled and they walked into the camp.

After a tricky exchange of identification cards, orders and other official papers that now meant nothing, they settled down around the fire to share the men’s meal with them. They drank and ate and talked about nothing in particular until the Corporal asked Ernst how long before they could return to the city. Ernst had no idea what had transpired in the city. He had no idea where Omar, the Prophet, had gone or how he had found himself running for his life along a deserted highway. The last thing he remembered was being in a boat off of the coast of Ireland with Omar Kadif and his wife, Ruth.

“It might be some time before we can get the situation under control,” he told them vaguely. “Where did you say you were heading?”

“We thought to rendezvous with some of the companies that left the city ahead of us, but we are beginning to think they went north instead of south,” the corporal explained and the others nodded their agreement.

“Well, we should try to connect with Colonel Bardsley’s battalion. Is he still in Jordan?”

“Jordan?” The Corporal frowned and the others fell quiet.

“We have no battalions in Jordan, sir,” another of the soldiers answered quickly. “We don’t even know if Jordan exists anymore.”

“Yes, of course, but we have to make some sort of plan.” Ernst nodded thoughtfully. “I suppose you’re right. Well, perhaps we should head north when the sun goes down. What mode of transportation do you have?” He looked around and saw nothing, but empty rocks and the flat landscape of formerly rich farmland.

The corporal laughed and held up one foot.

“Boots, sir. That’s how we got here. Same as you.” He laughed sarcastically. “We ran out of gas before we got out of sight of the city. There weren’t many supplies left. By the time we decided to run, the good stuff was taken.”

“Then you have no command structure? No contact with HQ?” Ernst’s frown deepened.

“Are you kidding?!” One of the men burst out and then fell quiet. “No disrespect intended, sir,” he said after a moment.

“Then it would seem we are all in the same boat, sir,” the Corporal added. “We have no orders, no communications network, no transportation. No mission.”

“We are not all in the same boat as you put it, young one,” Lucifer spoke up for the first time. His strange accent and inflection caused them all to gawk at him. “I have a mission, which is quite clear from the Most High Command.”

“Oh, really?” The Corporal eyed the sergeant’s bars on Lucifer’s collar. “What mission is that, Sarge, if you don’t mind my asking?”

Lucifer stood up and held out both arms. He looked up at the sky and a beautiful smile spread across his face.

“Lo, I bring glad tidings of great news! A son will be born to you and He will be a sign unto you from the Most High. And He will be called Michael Emmanuel, the Deliverer, the Savior. You will find him lying in a manger, and He will bring a sword to cast down the Ancient One.”

The soldiers sat staring at Lucifer with mouths agape.

“He’s been affected by the sun,” Ernst shrugged and broke the silence. “It’s all right, Sergeant Ramsay. They already know that story.”

“They do?” Lucifer looked very disappointed and dropped his arms to his side.

“Of course we do, Sarge,” the Corporal said and leaned toward the General. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Say, General, sir. Is Sergeant Ramsay a guy or a girl?”

“He says he’s a man,” the General answered in like tones. “But it’s hard to tell, isn’t it?”

“Hmmm.” The Corporal nodded and then smiled at Lucifer. “Say, Sarge, we have some time before we bed down. Would you care for a shower? Bennett’s rigged one back there in the rocks.”

Lucifer frowned and glanced toward the rocks.

“A shower? You mean rain?” He asked. “I’m afraid I can’t do those anymore. At least, not yet.”

“Oh, I see.” The Corporal sighed and circled one finger around his temple in the universal sign for ‘wacko’. “Well, we’d best try to get some rest before nightfall. It’ll be too hot to sleep soon. General? We have a few bedrolls. We can share.”

Schweikert glanced at Lucifer, and then at the soldiers who were staring at him. The ‘Sarge’ seemed oblivious to them as he frowned at the water in the bottle and then made a terrible face.

“What is wrong with you?” Ernst stood up abruptly.

“I don’t know,” Lucifer looked up at him. “I think I have the same disorder Michael and Galen had.”

“Oh? And what disease was that?”

“The running off disease.” Lucifer frowned again and clutched his stomach.

“Oh! Diarrhea. Yes, well. Probably the water.” Schweikert helped his companion to his feet. “Corporal, do we have any facilities here?”

“Are you kidding, sir?” The Corporal shook his head. “We just go in the rocks like always.”

“Oh, well, then, Sergeant, just go in the rocks like always,” Schweikert said and pushed him toward the nearest likely cluster.

“Wait. Here you go!” The Corporal tossed a roll of toilet paper toward him. “Be my guest, Sarge.”

Lucifer caught the paper out of the air as a dawning realization took hold of him and he began to sweat. Another terrible thing he had to suffer in his present form. Humans were certainly messy creatures. Within the space of a few moments, the Heavenly Messenger had three lessons in human anatomy he could have done without for eons. He lost a great deal of weight and lot more dignity before it was all over, but he gained an enormous measure of humility.



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.