I love Amazon’s ebook Kindle program; it allows me to make available previously printed and unprinted material. This is Crusader Faith, a theological action fantasy.
I love Amazon’s ebook Kindle program; it allows me to make available previously printed and unprinted material. This is Crusader Faith, a theological action fantasy.
In which we learn just how dry British humor can be when coming from a master
Writer’s note; this story took place more than ten years ago, so many of the details have faded. However, you will get the gist of the story and the punchline is accurate to the last detail.
My roommate Andy, I, and our gaming pal, Rich had acquired tickets to see the premiere of the television adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel; Neverwhere. We traveled to Boston, where Gaiman himself would introduce the show and we would watch several episodes.
Mr. Gaiman told the sold-out venue that after the intermission he would be hoisting a few at a nearby pub and signing autographs. Andy and I agreed that this was more interesting than watching a show we would no doubt be able to see at some point in the future, but drinking with Neil Gaiman probably wouldn’t happen again. So, we left Rich (who wanted to watch the second half) and went to the pub.
After we cozied up to the bar, we talked to his agent (or US representative) and he showed us his newest novel (whose title escapes me) and he was excited that it came in a variety of limited-edition covers. Andy scoffed full of derision and exclaimed, “That’s just a marketing ploy to make extra sales. Stupid fanboys will collect every cover!” He thought he was particularly insightful. Or clever. Or smart. He certainly thought he was smart.
I agreed and filled with self-righteous indignation; we turned back to the bar and found Neil Gaiman standing there with a very smug British smile on his face. Andy removed a book from his coat and after some small-talk (Did we like the show, how did he like America? etc.) presented it to Gaiman to have signed. Neil courteously signed Andy’s book and bid us farewell as he turned to the other fans demanding his attention.
“What did he write?” I asked, craning my neck to see the autograph.
Andy’s lips were squeezed together tightly and he had a look like he was going to sneeze. He opened the title page of the book and there it was- Neil Gaiman’s personal message to Andy.
Mind the gags.
“I guess he heard you,” I said.
My graphic novel is now available as an exclusive Kindle ebook as well as in print. Check it out for free as part of the lending library, or better yet add it to your collection!
One Syllable Sex.
A look. A smile. A flirt of a word.
Right or wrong? Why care?
Shirt and bra. Fell to the floor. Pants. Skirt.
Be gone. Fly to the sky.
Lips to neck. Neck to ear. The crest of her breast.
Lips meet in fur.
Must have you. Must be had.
Sweat and skin. Need it all.
Love. Sex. Fun. Heat.
One more time?
The boy moved with skill and ease through the maze of streets and buildings that surrounded Ashemark. He felt different after a meal, a bath, and now a purpose. The one-eyed northerner had sent him out to find a woman named Summer. The way he described her, one might think she was the most beautiful woman the gThe boy moved with skill and ease through the maze of streets and buildings that surrounded Ashemark. He felt different after a meal, a bath, and now a purpose. The one-eyed northerner had sent him out to find a woman named Summer. The way he described her, one might think she was the most beautiful woman the gods had ever sent to Westeros. The boy wondered what she could possibly see in the weathered and scarred ruffian that had employed the seven-year old boy. He ran his fingers through his shampooed black hair and considered Grayne. I like him. Haven’t had a decent bite to eat since I came out of me mum’s belly, he thought. Ugly as the winter is cold, but he done all-right by me.
He didn’t know the name of his master, but old ‘one-eye’ (as he called him, in his head) had given him an area of the city to look for her. He had been told to ask questions, but to keep a low profile. He knew a few back alleys where he could find other street people to ask about the beautiful Summer. His wife? If she was as beautiful as he heard, she wouldn’t be too hard to find.
If she was so beautiful, why would he leave her?
It was deep into the afternoon, the sun was setting and the street-child grew hungry. He was able to purchase a half-loaf of bread and some fruit juice with which to wash it down. His clean clothes, and combed and washed hair had made it more difficult to get the information he needed from the dirtier types in the city, but he never would have been allowed to buy bread looking the way he had yesterday.
The sun was setting as he reached the end of his quest; a small flower shop set right against the castle wall. The boy was naturally uneasy this close to the garrison and the Lord and all them royal mucky mucks.
He made his way in the front door. The smell of flowers were a chorus of smells to his nose, causing the boy to sneeze as soon as he entered. He heard light footsteps, and suddenly the woman his new master had described was before him. The boy looked up at her and instantly knew it was the Summer he sought. Everything was as he described, from her curly red hair to her plump red lips. He was dizzy, perhaps from the intoxicating flowers, from the long walk or from her beauty. He was unsure why, but his head certainly reeled. He struggled with a response to her genuine warm smile and her question of, “How can I help you, little man?”
His mouth hung open as he struggled with the words. He knew he had succeeded at finding Summer and was already planning on what to say to his one-eyed northern master. He knew the man would be happy and that made the boy happy. He tried to say something, but the beautiful Summer kept smiling and that just made him dizzier. “Can I help you?”, she asked, but not to him.
The smell of roses and chrysanthemums vanished, replaced by leather, steel and body odor. The boy hid behind a large vase filled with flowers that was as tall as he was and risked a glance at the three armed and armored men that entered the humble shop. Their armor was patchwork leather poorly sewn together, and their blades were not castle-forged steel, but they were obviously dangerous, especially to the unarmed woman. Two of the men strode into the shop and secured the back door as the third stood menacingly. The boy moved to the opposite side of the giant pot, preventing him from seeing Summer, but making it harder to be seen by the men. His heart raced and he felt bile rising in his stomach. I have to protect her. For One-Eye’s sake.
“Nice shop you have here, Summer.” the boy heard the third man say.
“I am here by the grace of his lordship,” she said threatening them with her powerful patron. “There are many guards in the area who will be here in a flash, if I scream.”
“Then I will have to silence you,” the boy heard the man’s reply, and then a struggle. When he heard her muffled scream, he leapt out from behind the massive vase and rushed up Summer’s side. He latched on to the man around his waist and bit down on one of his arms that was struggling to keep Summer from screaming. The man cried out despite himself and thrashed outward against the boy, flinging him with a crash of glass and steel into a display of vases and flowers.
Free of the melee with the man, Summer began to scream. Her shriek threatened to alert the entire Westerlands, until the ruffian silenced her with a punch to her gut that brutally forced the air out of her lungs. As she was bent over from the punch, the ruffian followed with a two-fisted haymaker to the back of her neck. The boy heard a sickening crunch and then the sound of her collapsing to the floor like wet meat.
Bloody but still alive, the boy struggled to his feet, preparing to battle the three hooligans and save his master’s woman. With a shout, he lunged at Summer’s abuser, but the boy was scooped up from behind by one of the thug’s partners, before he could soundly thrash him. He was held in the air, kicking and screaming in an attempt free himself and save the woman.
The boy stopped thrashing when the man who downed Summer grabbed him by his clean black hair and holding his head still, promptly slit his throat.
(Spoiler alert- if you haven’t seen Braveheart or Turner and Hooch, read the Bible or watched the final episode of How I Met Your Mother, you may be bummed out by this essay. Go back and absorb all those stories, then return and read my blog. (Oh, Game of Thrones, too.)
Our society has been conditioned to expect, nay demand, a happily-ever-after conclusion to our stories. Perhaps it is the drudgery of our day-to-day lives that makes us crave the culmination of all loose threads of every movie and television show. Not unlike Pavlov’s dogs, we expect our reward when we have been good little viewers. However, this is a recent development in storytelling. Characters in legends of old didn’t get to ride off into the sunset. Don’t read any Greek or Roman myths, or many Shakespearean plays, if you plan on getting all upset about the lack of a proper ending.
Ask Tom Hanks what was wrong with the ending of the ‘80s buddy cop flick Turner and Hooch and he will tell you they shouldn’t have killed the dog. Why? Afterall, the dog died heroically jumping in front of a bullet meant for Tom Hanks. Moviegoers hate seeing a dog die. Period. Ask my twenty-something friend, Jamey what was wrong with The Empire Strikes Back and he will tell you he didn’t like the unhappy cliffhanger ending. I would argue that the ending was intended to lead us to the final chapter in the epic tale, but he can’t have that. He needs a neat wrap-up to any story he reads or watches, preferably tied up in happy-ending ribbon. I wonder what he will think if the How I Met Your Mother finale when it comes out next year on Netflix.
There are many popular books and movies with tragic heroes. Braveheart won Best Picture despite its hero dying at the end. The Bible’s main character is murdered, but like many comic book super heroes comes back after a short hiatus. Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire is immensely popular, despite, but possibly because the most distinctive ‘hero’ is beheaded in book 1 (or season 1, for those of us who prefer our books in video form). Maybe these stories come with the built-in realization that characters might die. That doesn’t stop my ex-wife from fast-forwarding through the “sad parts”.
I have followed the adventures of Ted and the gang since the beginning of How I Met Your Mother, and I made the mistake of reading the general populace’s and professional reviewers’ reactions to the final episode. In a nutshell, people were mostly upset by the lack of a happy ending. Viewers were choking on their own bile that the ‘mother’ died, and that Ted went back to Robin with the famous blue horn. Simply put, the ending was not pretty. Robin and Barney were divorced, the gang was having trouble getting together en masse, and the mother of Ted’s kids, whom we had just gotten a glimpse of, and perhaps began to like, was dead.
Like I said, ugly.
Truly, there are no ‘happy endings’ in real life, and perhaps we seek that in our fictional stories. In the real world, no one lives happily ever after, unless we end the story at a particular happy moment. However, it’s a direction that the storytellers take, to assume the recipients of said tale are adults and they understand that we take our happiness where we can get it, and an ending will always be made sadder by the happiness that led up to it. How I Met Your Mother did something brilliant by silencing the demands for a reunion episode.
I believe we need to break away from this predictable method of storytelling and learn to accept the journey to its end and not be so disappointed by a sad ending. To quote Dante from Clerks, “That’s what life is; a series of down endings.” Perhaps, he is a bit pessimistic, but I agree. If the characters from How I Met Your Mother kept going to McClaren’s every night ,as a group, I would have felt cheated. The show attempted to show, albeit exaggerated, realistic characters, ones to which we can relate. The show reflects real-life relationships (to a degree) and those relationships change over time. People die. They have kids and get married. That’s real life. The only people who live above a bar and still go there every night for a decade are called alcoholics, and I don’t want to watch that show.
If you are upset about how a story ends, just shut up. Yeah, I was annoyed about how Seinfeld ended, and the last season or two of Friends and Scrubs were one or two too many. We’re adults, and as such we need to understand that the only happy endings in life are in fairy tales or Asian massage parlors.
A foggy day threatened rain as Grayne entered the small city surrounding Ashemark castle. Sellers shouted loudly hawking wares from vulnerable carts, desperately trying to make sales before the weather worsened. The weary northerner bought some cooked beef conveniently placed on a stick. He needed to find a place to stay with the few coins he had remaining. An able-bodied man, especially one with the heartiness of Grayne, was able to make coins as needed, taking unpleasant jobs. He had mucked stables, unloaded ships, and picked cotton so frequently that he had forgotten any details of the labor. He had learned long ago, in the care of the torturer Farzan, to shut his mind to any unpleasantness.
He finished the meat and threw the stick into an alley that was already covered in trash. An urchin, no more than seven years old rushed out of the alley and began to accost him, touching him, complimenting him, and asking for money.
Grayne threatened a back-hand and the child closed his eyes and cowered. Opening a single eyelid to see if Grayne was going to beat him, he instead became alarmed. “Ser, hide your blade.”
The northerner eyed him with suspicion and the child, with renewed urgency and wild desperate eyes said, “Ser, weapons are not allowed so close to the castle! You must hide it, or expect to spend a night in the jail.” The boy pointed at Grayne’s sheathed blade.
Thinking on it, he didn’t remember seeing a single weapon upon entering the crowded city. He cursed himself for being so dense as looked around for something with which to hide the blade for the idea of a night in any cell filled him with unease. Seemingly sensing the man’s thoughts, the urchin told him that he might know where there was a bedroll that he could use to hide the blade.
“What would you ask for such an item?”
“I ask only that I be your squire, ser knight. I would carry your bedroll,” he said with a deliberate wink, “and show you around the city.”
“I don’t need a vassal, boy. I could simply pay you for your information and assistance,” said Grayne looking around and moving into the more concealed location of the trash-strewn alley.
“My terms are non-negotiable, ser.” said the boy, clearly sensing Grayne was a foolish foreigner and ripe for the plucking. “I could use the money, but I would also enjoy sleeping indoors for bit. How long will you be in town, ser?”
He ignored the question and said, “Agreed, fetch the bedroll, boy and we will talk further.”
The child jumped excitedly into the air before turning on his heels and rushing deeper into the alley.
Grayne scrunched his face and looked into the sky upon feeling a few drops of rain.
The boy returned promptly holding a dirty, but dry, thick green blanket. It was obvious to the man that this was the boys home. Grayne took the scabbard off his belt and wrapped it in the child’s bedroll, completely concealing the weapon, albeit suspiciously. He handed the rolled-up sword to the boy and the child held it awkwardly in his outstretched arms. He knelt before the boy and his single grey eye locked with the boy’s own brown eyes. That child’s dirt-caked face was flushed of color from fear of the menacing man. The boy could not look away as the threatening northerner said with frigid sincerity, “If you betray me, I will kill you.”
Suddenly, it came into view. A gigantic castle which was the seat of Marbrand power jut out above the small city below. The Ashemark, as it was called, was the solid stone centerpiece of a bustling city that surrounded the keep. As the city’s radius ended, the landmarks changed from businesses and houses, and became farms and hovels. Grayne had barely reached the perimeter of farmlands and could barely make out the stronghold in the distance. A feeling of uneasiness came over him, after months of travel, he had reached his destination.
The northern warrior who had survived so much took a moment to steady himself. He took a deep breath and as his eyes surveyed familiar landmarks his mind drifted back in time to the reason he had returned, to the reason he had been able to survive the horrific ordeals of the past five years.
“By the Crone. the Maiden, the Stranger, the Smith, the Warrior. The Mother and the Father, I take you on this day and for all my days.” Grayne and Summer looked into each other’s eyes and recited the vows of marriage in the secret grove outside town, but under the blanket of stars and the watchful eyes of the new gods.
The priest performed the blessing, and quickly and quietly left the young couple alone in the forest. A warm breeze rustled the leaves of the trees. Grayne took his young bride in his arms and kissed her full lips passionately. His large hands pushed back her auburn hair and he gazed with adoration into her grass-green eyes. His strong arms encircled her and he felt like he should never let her go. He held her for many long moments and she was relaxed in his powerful protective embrace.
“Let’s run away. Let’s leave this place and never come back,” he said as he stared at her with aggressive sincerity. “We will be safe. We have nothing here.”
For a moment Summer smiled, but then that smile turned to a frown. “We can’t! I know you, Grayne. You aren’t a deserter. I don’t give a damn about this war or House Marbrand, and I know you don’t either! But, your word is important to you.”
Grayne’s steel grey eyes were like battering rams as they crashed through Summer’s resolve. She shook her head and turned away. Grayne jumped in front of her and demanded, “Let’s go! We will be a dozen leagues from here before they know we’re gone!”
Summer kissed his lips and said, “You’re not afraid of anything.”
“I’m afraid of losing you,” he said as he kissed her plump red lips again.
“You won’t. I will be here when you get back. I promise,” a tear rolled down her cheek.
“What if I don’t come back?” he said, knowing the uncertain nature of war, though he had never been in a real battle.
“You will. I know you will.”
“I don’t want to go.”
“I don’t want you to go, either. Just promise me you will come back to me.”
“I promise,” he said resolutely.
And their lips met with frantic passion. A desperate urgency to their desire overcame them as their love became a pure primal force. There in the forest beneath the stars and the old gods and new, they became husband and wife.