There can be no mistaking that 2020 has been a most unusual year.
I believe Robin Lythgoe and I started our Quills posts in 2013. Later, Parker joined us. I do recall times when we’ve not all been able to put a piece together for our joint-post, but I do not recall a month when we did not post at all—until last month, that is. June 2020 came and went too quickly, and too many personal issues held us up. Consequently, we had no post last month. We are pleased, however, to be with you again, and just in time to wish America a very, very, very Happy Birthday, indeed!
The topic we chose this month was to put together a character sketch. I am currently in the process of introducing someone new, Athan Eamon, in Volume 4 of The Oathtaker Series, (for now, entitled, Blue Gloom), so I thought I would use Athan as a subject. I’ve known about Athan for a long time, although I was uncertain as to when he would actually show up. Then, wouldn’t you know it, a door opened and … there he was …
What follows is the beginning of a rough character sketch for Athan, and beyond that, an excerpt from my current work-in-progress. Keep scrolling from there, and you will find what my fellow Quills have for you!
There is still much for me to discover about Athan and so, his sketch is an ongoing endeavor. Even so, some of the key elements are set out above, while others will make their debut in due course. Also, it is still possible that any of the above can change.
Below is a small clip from Blue Gloom, shortly after Athan arrives on the scene, although it too, could change in any number of ways. I hope you enjoy!
Excerpt from Blue Gloom, a Work in Progress
After much contemplation, Lucy finally determined she would allow Athan to accompany her and the twins—but only if he would allow her to retain Ignis until she learned more.
The first opportunity she had to address the flits out of his hearing, she instructed them to stay as close as possible, but to remain hidden from the man’s view at all times. They assured her they could do so.
As darkness fully descended, the foursome finished tying their belongings to their saddles. Then, as quietly as possible, they made their way out of the village, keeping to the main roadway.
Only two moons shone. One, a waning crescent, already neared the western horizon, as a consequence of which, its light would soon be lost. Fortunately, the other, in its third quarter approached the zenith, thereby providing sufficient light for traveling.
So as to keep an eye on Athan, Lucy insisted he lead the way. Then she followed, with one twin to each side of her.
For nearly the distance of a league, they spoke not at all, but finally, Eden turned to Lucy.
“He doesn’t look unhinged to me,” she whispered.
“Nor to me,” Reigna said.
“I am not mad, as thee intimate,” Athan said over his shoulder, clearly having heard them. “I admit that I was, but I am no longer. Thou need not fear me.”
Reigna urged her mount forward.
Fearful for her safety, Lucy quickly followed suit, Eden in her wake. Moments later, the four rode side-by-side. Lucy situated things such that Athan rode to her right, while the twins both rode to her left.
“Convince me,” Lucy said to the man, “that you are who you say you are, and that you are not mad.”
“I know not how.”
She sighed and bit her lip, in thought. Then, recalling how she’d seen Mara operate from time to time over the years, she said, “Why don’t you tell us your story.”
“Oh!” he exclaimed. “It is not possible, as it is an exceedingly long one, indeed.”
“But of course, if thou insist, Madam Lucy,” he said.
“Where shall I begin?”
Again, Lucy thought back to her experiences. Then she repeated what she’d often heard Mara say: “I suggest you start at the beginning.”
Athan sighed and then nodded as he pulled out from his pack, a cloth bag about the size of his palm. He untied its leather string, then reached his fingers inside. A moment later, clearly having removed something from the bag, he drew his fingers to his mouth.
“What is that?” Lucy asked.
Pulling back lightly on his reins, as his mount had been pulling ahead, Athan laughed. “Ahhh, ’tis nothing that need worry thee. ’Tis simply a nugget of hard, dried maple sugar. I did not stop earlier to dine, nor did I imagine traveling through the night, but now I find myself in need of a bit of sustenance, which I know maple sugar shall provide me.”
“Hand the bag to me,” Lucy said, reaching his way.
Athan pulled the tie closed, then dropped the bag in her palm. “Please, help thyself,” he offered.
She opened it, sniffed at its contents, and then, satisfied, returned it to him.
“You should have said you needed to eat,” she scolded. “There was plenty of food back in Snoring. But the only provisions we have with us are packed away—and in truth, I’d as soon not stop to get them out. We need to make up for lost time, accomplish what we set out to do, and return home as quickly as possible.”
“Concern thee not,” Athan said as he dropped the pouch into a pocket of his tunic.
“I won’t. Still, I admit I do not understand your claim as to the power of that sweet to sustain you,” she commented.
“No?” The expression of shock on his face was clearly visible in the moonlight. “Thou ought try it sometime. It has the power to make one feel . . . satiated. If only for a brief period.”
He grinned, then said, “Well now, if I recall, I was about to tell thee my story.”
“Yes, do!” Eden encouraged him.”
“Very well then, my tale begins where I was born, on the outskirts of a little town in the hinterlands.” Delivering each word with a flourish, he sat up straighter, pulled his shoulders back, and then added, his voice soft, rhythmic, and possessing a nearly trance-like quality,
“It was there I learned what the word ‘yonder’ meant.”
“Excuse me?” Lucy interrupted him. “Not that far back! Goodness, if it was possible to recall one’s birth, I fear you’d have started there.”
Once more, Athan laughed. “Ahhh, I had determined that might be a bit too far back—although I would be happy to tell thee of my first glimpse at the attending healer—or even better, of my joy at finding my mother’s breast.”
Eden giggled, following which Reigna joined her.
The full emphasis of Lucy’s glare at them, failed in the semi-dark. Then, “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said to Athan. “You can’t possibly remember that. And if you say you do, you will convince me that you are, indeed, quite demented!”
Athan glanced her way. “Thou would have me lie?”
Once more, Eden giggled.
“No!” Lucy exclaimed in response before addressing Eden. “Stop that,” she scolded her.
“Ahhh, very well then,” Athan said, “I shall begin again—although thou might appreciate knowing the attendant healer at my birth— Well, goodness, but she was a sight! With eyes of two distinctly different colors, wrinkles like craters, lips so thin as to be nearly nonexistent, and—” He waved his hand. “Ahhh, but no mind! Perhaps instead, I ought tell thee of my charge?”
“Oh, yes!” Eden said.
“Ahhh. That is good, then. Now my charge, as thee well know, was a seventh. A seventh seventh, to be precise. Thus, and as thou all canst see, I have not aged for some centuries.”
Lucy glanced his way. “It would be the only explanation for your longevity, yes. Although if you tell truth, then clearly you had some years on you when you took your oath. That is, you were not a young adult at the time.”
“Indeed, ’tis as thou says. I had lived just four decades, was married and had a family. But I lost my beloved wife, infant daughter, and young son in a house fire. I tried to save them, but—” Athan paused to clear his throat, brushed the scar on his face, swallowed hard, and then continued. “’Tis true what they say, that time reduces pain, but never does it remove it entirely . . .
“Anyway, after spending a year or more wishing I had perished with my family, I determined I would not allow myself the luxury of loving another—ever again. I determined that the pain that could come of another such loss, was too great, indeed. Thus, I reasoned it appropriate for me to become an Oathtaker. I knew, you see, that once I took an oath and was sworn to the protection of my charge, I could not commit to another for so long as my charge lived.” With that, Athan went quiet.
Several long seconds later, Lucy glanced his way. “So you trained to be an Oathtaker,” she said. “Then what?”
Athan nodded, “I did, yes.” He took in a deep breath and then started in with his story in such fine detail as to seemingly invite his listeners to experience the events firsthand.
“Taking in the view from the hilltop behind Redgrove,” Athan began, “left one feeling as though Ehyeh had created the grandest canvas, then sat to paint His most glorious landscape, in colors and shades and hues that transformed as day progressed to night, and then circled back round to day once more. Above, the sun shone so brightly on roiling clouds piled high as mountains, that one might experience temporary blindness if he looked skyward for the span of more than a few fleeting heartbeats. Below, the vista encompassed immeasurable distances.
“It was such a view I had been enjoying that day. Half hypnotized with the glory I beheld, I would have missed the events had the panorama before me been a scene of rushing people or things, or had the wind been moving in the grassy meadows or through the treetops. In such event, I could not have discerned what transpired. But instead, the landscape was calm, serene, with a breeze, nonexistent. The birds had quieted for the late afternoon hour, and not even a lone hawk circled above by way of distraction. Thus, the singular place where movement occurred, was the one place across that grand vista, that caught my attention.
“There, in the nearish distance, rode three men. The sun glinted off the weapons they carried, whilst their dress identified them, most assuredly, as cutthroats, all. Soon, they dismounted, then slithered toward a group of travelers—who I guessed to be a peddler and his family, stopped to fix a wheel on their cart.”
Athan paused momentarily, then continued, “I watched transfixed as the criminals took cover in the brush surrounding the travelers. I was too far away to be heard. Nevertheless, I shouted for all I was worth and waved my arms madly, in hopes the travelers might see me. In truth, I could not have reached them in time to render my aid, even had I possessed the speed of a pronghorn.”
Once more, Athan paused. He cleared his throat and then said, his voice low, “And so, I was left to witness the worst. I assume the men used some prearranged signal, perhaps a bird whistle. Then the one who led the pack, with a double-edged sword in one hand and a battle-axe in the other, stepped out. While my heart beat but a handful of times, those men beheaded the peddler, then completed the slaughter of his family.”
Athan, pulling his shoulders back, exhaled audibly. Then, “I looked away,” he said, “but the images pestered me nonetheless, refusing to leave me. When I turned back, I saw yet another traveler, a lone young man, not terribly far from the bloody scene and, unfortunately, headed that way. He appeared about the age of the son I had so recently lost . . . Turning back, I watched as the criminals rifled through the belongings of their most recent victims, searching out anything of value. I knew in that moment that I had to hurry if I hoped to assist that young man.”
“Oh!” Eden exclaimed. “But weren’t you afraid of encountering those murderers?”
“I was not. Indeed, I had made a practice of interfering in such events. Countless times had I narrowly escaped what should have been my certain death. Yet I lived on.”
“But why?” Reigna asked. “Why would you court such danger?”
“See thee not, young one? I had nothing to lose. Nothing and no one to live for. No one to miss me. No one to mourn the loss of me.” Athan drew quiet for a long moment.
Finally, he continued. “But something about that young man drew me, cried out to me, begged me, demanded a response of me . . . Something of his certain predicament pressed me to run to his aid. As I said, I’d frequently sought out dangers, but in that moment— Well, the feeling that came over me could not be compared to any other. I could not then, nor could I today, hundreds of years later, describe it—except to say that it was of Ehyeh.
“And so, keeping my eyes firmly ahead, I ran down the hill and toward danger, hoping I might interrupt the otherwise certain meeting of that young one with the murderous trio whose evil I had just witnessed.”
I hope you enjoyed that!
Now, let's see what P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse, has for us!
I see that Parker has jumped right into the crux of his character description, so here goes. (Be sure to click on the link for more.)
At first blush, you would think the beard is his defining feature. He growls any introduction through a tangle of grizzled brush that looks like it would have taken high marks at a ZZ Top concert. The little bit of skin that can be seen behind his face wig is a cross between bark and old leather. He only introduces himself as "Doc." Combined with the gray streaked through the beard you get the hint that he might have already come home from Vietnam when Pink Floyd formed in 65'. A faded bandana that could have been blue with stars on it at one time holds back a mop of hair. An old hippie. Except then you see a flash in his eyes. Almost black in the shadows, but with an unsettling spark. Cunning. Intelligent. Watchful. This is no peace and love and weed hippie. A live-and-let-live Big Lebowski.
This is a fighter. A hunter.
Robin Lythgoe! Robin! Oh, there you are. Well? What have you for us today? I can't wait!
I see that you, too, jumped right into your character. Thank you!
KipKap… What would you like me to tell you about him? We are friends, I think. Some people find that distinction uncomfortable, for he is also a foreigner to our world. The term “demon” is insulting, for he is no such thing, though that is what he is labeled by most. He possesses a sublime sense of subtle humor, a keen mind, and a remarkable tolerance for idiots. This is, perhaps, what makes us so compatible.
'KipKap’ is not his proper name. When he says it, it’s longer. He makes the K’s more guttural and the P’s more spitty, which I find altogether too messy for my mouth.
“Did you name him?” Tanris asked…
We are a bit late this time around, but here we Quills are, returning to what I think has become our favorite type of post. Specifically, we each created a flash fiction tale for the same picture. This time, Robin Lythgoe selected the inspiration. Here it is:
I did not find a title for this pic, but it is offered by Maria Eduarda Tavares. (You'll find it here.)
It seems we Quills couldn't even agree on whether the pic was of a boy or a girl. I thought it was a boy when I first saw it. Robin wrote about a girl. And I'm not sure Parker ever did commit ...
I almost went with a story that would have been under ten words long (which I will share with you later), but in the end, after much ado, I came up with a story that is still (title and all) under 500 words. Here goes!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
Now, for my third opening line, which as I mentioned, is from one of my own stories. (For fun, I’m actually going to give you the first two sentences.) Here goes!
It almost tickled, the way it ran down from behind her ear and across her neck before dripping from her hair, its crimson warmth collecting in a puddle before her. The pain nearly unbearable, and unable to move, as a weight pinned her to the floor, she watched the glistening ruby pool grow.
If I had not included my own line here as my third choice, I might well have included either of the following quotes, also from terrifically good stories.
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
— Ana Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.
— David Copperfield, Charles Dickens.
Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.
— When We Were Grownups, Anne Tyler
I begin with writing the first sentence—and trusting to Almighty God for the second.
— The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen, Laurene Sterne
This time around, Robin Lythgoe, selected the picture that we used for inspiration. It is always great fun to read the wildly different stories the three of us come up with to go with the chosen picture for these posts, so prepare yourself!
Below is the photo.
We Quills all seem to view the parameters of flash fiction a bit differently. My personal goal is to stay within 1000 words - if at all possible. Today, I've managed to do just that - coming in, I believe, at 998 words, title and all! But before I share my flash fiction story with you, I'm anxious to read what my fellow Quills have for us all. (Make sure you follow the links for each of Parker and Robin to get the full story for each.)
The Standing Stone
by P.S. Broaddus
Copyright P.S. Broaddus 2019
The Judgment Stone
by Robin Lythgoe
Copyright Robin Lythgoe 2019
You can safely imagine that those who escape leave the surrounds and never return. You might also imagine my astonishment at being arrested, tried, and found guilty of something called “High Thievery.” I’ve never stolen a thing in my life, unless you count a nap now and then. Well, I have helped myself to apples in the orchards I pass on my way between towns… But a face? How does a person steal a face?
Here goes . . .
by Patricia Reding
Copyright Patricia Reding 2019
A clicking sounded out, as something brushed her cheek.
Lorna’s eyes flashed open. She bolted upright, then turned to the source of the touch. Although semi-dark, there was no mistake.
“Onyx!” she cried, recognizing her long time companion, a snowy owl that had adopted her shortly after her father’s death. She wrapped her arms around his neck and combed her fingers through his soft fur-like chest feathers.
He cocked his head.
“Wait.” Lorna got to her feet. Looking about, she found herself in a room roughly the size of Archwarden Elowen’s shoe closet. Bare of any furnishings, through its single large open window, a sliver of grey light shone. Whether predawn, or eventide, Lorna could not tell.
As she stepped closer for a better look, Onyx perched on the sill.
Looking out, Lorna found herself several stories high. Below, and spread nearly to the horizon, sat a forest. At its outermost point, glimmered a blue light, instantly recognizable as the Codex Capital where the Archwarden resided. To its north, sat Avoncaster Sea. There was no mistake then. Lorna was in the Arcane Tower, home of the evil Wizard Odell, best known for his shenanigans at playing games with time.
Lorna tried to conjure up more details, but few came to mind. She did remember being carried away, and dropping in and out of consciousness for a time thereafter. She also vaguely recollected having been left in the very room in which she now found herself, and she recalled how immediately after that, Onyx flew in through the window. But from that moment, she’d lost all consciousness. For how long, she knew not, but she surmised that her pet had not left her side all the while.
Onyx hooted, interrupting her reverie.
Turning to the opposite wall, Lorna found an arched door. Hoping she wasn’t too heavily guarded, she decided she’d have a look.
Unsheathing her knife, she tentatively approached the door, then reached for its handle. To her surprise, it turned.
She cracked the door open and peeked out.
With Onyx at her side, Lorna wasted no time. She made her way out of the castle, then sprinted off, into the night.
Lorna stood at a distance. She sensed something out of order, but couldn’t place what.
Quietly, she made her way through the brush that surrounded the outpost. Approaching the stone pillar, in hopes her comrades had left a message there, she looked skyward at Onyx, gliding overhead. Then, what had troubled her earlier, suddenly became clear.
The night sky was all wrong. She, Kit, Margrave, and their cohorts, had set out for Dawson’s hideout in the early spring. But the constellations told her that autumn approached.
She spun toward the sound.
Before her, stood Wizard Odell.
“So, the great Lorna Rinn, the Archwarden’s chief defender, finds herself in a spot,” he mocked.
“I see you’ve been up to your games again,” Lorna said, “toying with time.”
The wizard grinned.
She frowned. “Look, the last I remember before awakening in Arcane Tower, it was early spring. But I see that autumn approaches.” She sighed. “I suppose that explains why my pals are not here to greet me. They could hardly wait a half year for me to show up.”
“What’s so funny?”
“Oh, my dear,” he cooed, “you are not a mere six months off.”
“No, my dear, you are sixty years off—give or take. Your Archwarden Elowen is newly born—an event her father celebrates with a festival.”
Lorna’s heart pounded. If what the wizard said was true, she didn’t know another living soul. Even her parents didn’t yet exist.
“Undue this!” she cried.
“Mmmm … I think not. But you’re lucky, you see. Since your pet here,” he gestured toward Onyx, “stayed with you in my tower, he also was ensorcelled. So, you are not wholly alone. And of course, one day, you will return to the loved ones you left … ahead.”
Without more, the wizard, smiling, stepped away and disappeared into the night.
Lorna sat quietly for a time. Then, finally, she addressed Onyx. “He didn’t win, you know. Evil never does. His mistake? Sending me back in time, not forward. Now I can undermine his plans, circumvent the efforts of those who would help him, perhaps even before they come into existence.” She stood. “Well, come on then, Onyx. We’ve work to do.”
Robin's site is here.
I’ve come back to Sherakai’s story—I figure it makes sense since his first book, Blood and Shadow, is currently part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO). Hosted by Mark Lawrence, author of The Broken Empire series and other books, a total of 300 books are judged by 10 bloggers. Am I nervous? (Gulp!) Mostly, I try not to think about it. There is some serious competition in the running!
Since we already caught a glimpse of things in my previous post about him, I thought I’d share some images from the second book of The Mage’s Gift. In Flesh and Bone, Sherakai receives…
Parker's site is here.
I'm a particular fan of simple sketches. I have a collection of them, some commissioned, some that were done by readers. I think that's something I wish I could do as well, but my sketch art is little more than a series of stick figures ...
I’ve chosen to sprinkle a few pics throughout my post today, all relating to the same part of the storyline from Oathtaker, The Oathtaker Series Volume One.
Making their way through the streets and byways of the City of Light, the travelers slowed their pace as they neared sanctuary. Crowds meandered from one street vendor’s stall to another, all the while trying to steer clear of the thousands of crows that had descended on the city. Food smells, both savory and sweet, filled the air: roasting lamb, fresh bread, cinnamon sprinkled almonds, sweet fruits, and fresh herbs.
Lilith … rode ahead, seemingly oblivious to the black varmints flying overhead.
Velia frowned at the flock. It seemed to grow by the minute. It called to her mind an old childhood verse:
Black and loud
Like a cloud,
Come the crows
Occasionally one swooped down to snatch food from the hands of a babe, or pecked someone who tried to keep his food away from the winged thief so hard, that the person’s hands bled from the assault.
Lilith glanced at the crowds. Dressed in nondescript brown, and with her hood up, no one recognized her. She motioned for Velia to pull up.
“Where to?” the Oathtaker asked.
“Just there.” Lilith designated with a nod, an inn situated on a corner. The Home Place, read its welcome sign. Already crows lined the ridge of the roof and sat on the veranda’s railings that ran the full length of the building. When she lifted her arm, one of the flock landed on it. The creature looked her full in the eye. She stroked the animal, then raised her arm into the air to push it off again. With a caw sounding distinctly like a scream, the vagrant flew away. It landed, seconds later, at the apex of the building.
“Say, I’m curious, have the crows been over this way?”
“Crows?” Ezra asked.
“Yes, it’s the strangest thing. A murder of them invaded the city earlier today. I saw them causing no end of problems in the main square when I made my way through there a short time ago.”
“Now that you mention it, I saw a few earlier today.”
“I hate those birds,” Nina said.
Me too,” Erin agreed.
“Well . . . use care when they’re around,” Jamison cautioned. “They’ve attacked a number of people in the city. It might just have been rumor, but I heard that one guy lost an eye.”
In the center of the city, the vendors remained on alert. Many in the crowd carried things overhead to keep the crows from their faces. Mara couldn’t recall ever having seen the creatures behave quite so aggressively before, but she felt she had a new understanding for why a group of them was known as a murder.
As she stepped off the veranda, a crow chased at her heels. She danced around it. When she couldn’t get free of the beast, she kicked it with all her might, finding intense satisfaction when it hit the side of the building and fell to the ground. She hoped it never moved again.
She rushed to the stables as more birds darted at her.
Check out Patricia's blog articles, interviews of other authors and book reviews here.