endless and forever and constant

Ah, stumbled upon this the other day.  A chat with the titular Martuk . One of my favorite interviews. It ran a few years ago when I was releasing Martuk the Holy: Proseuche, the sequel to Martuk the Holy.

Always loved this one.

***

He glanced around the cafe. Noticed the group of German tourists scanning their maps, a jumble of shopping bags at their feet. The mother chatting on her cell phone, her eyes fixed on the baby sleeping in the stroller. He watched the waitress, an older woman with thick hips and thin arms, as she leaned on the counter. And the young couple tucked away in the corner, their fingers clutching stout porcelain. “I’ve watched the world change,” he said. “Civilations rise and fall. Whole worlds end. Yet it still remains the same. Always the same.”

For a moment, I’d forgotten who he was, this Martuk. Had forgotten about his birth in the sun-blasted Zagros mountains one thousand years before Christ. Had forgotten the centuries he’d seen. The bloody chaos he’d caused and the agony he’d endured. Reminded myself that this was a man who’d had a long life, a long immortality, even before something as unremarkable as a cup of coffee even existed.

I gave him a moment. “If I may, why the second book?” I said. “Why Proseuche? Was it something as simple as the story continuing?”

“Nothing’s that simple.” He finished his espresso in one final swallow, his finger raised to order a second. A small nod from me, and a second finger lifted to indicate two. “Writing doesn’t excorcise the ghosts. It emboldens them.”

“So why write?”

A moment of silence followed by a brief shrug. “Who am I without my ghosts? In this world that changes yet remains the same, they are one of my few constants. Their anger, their rage. Their fear and regret and sorrow. These things, I know them. They are familiar. Even here, even now, they walk with me.

“They are amaranthine. A word I now love, by the way,” he said with a grin. “Endless and forever and constant.”

***

Not only will this push the envelope, it will guild that envelope in gold, hone it to a razors edge and use it in a beautiful & brutal ceremony. It so heavy and beautiful and I loved every moment of it, Martuk is going to strike nerves.”

– Zakk @ The Eyes of Madness

 

Proseuche_Cover-FINAL

Advertisements

Interviews with Eidolon – Colton

To say he was handsome was an understatement.

Of course, I’d seen him on campus. The infamous son of a disgraced Senator. The golden boy banned from the Ivy League and thrown to the almost-but-not-quite community college wolves. A walking myth surrounded in stories.

Torture. Rape. Walk-in freezers that became prisons for unsuspecting girls dazzled by the name. Suicides and heartbreak. Immense cash payouts that silenced tongues, stole words and suffocated any threat of prison time. And at the center of it all stood this gorgeous, notorious, dangerous enigma.

Now this enigma stood in front of me.

My iced coffee sat in front of me, my book to the side, oversized purse on the floor tucked between my feet. The cafe wasn’t full. There was no crowd jostling. Nor was there a need to partner up with a stranger just to find a place to sit. There were tables free. Pockets of privacy to claim, a canopy of ominous clouds and the threat of sudden heavy rain keeping most safely at home.

Yet this “Colton the Cruel” – as one paper had blared in a garish headline during the height of his scandal – stood, coffee in hand, seeking sanctuary and, it appeared, my company.

“May I?” he said before flashing an impossibly white smile, the blue of his eyes damn near mesmerizing.

Intrigued by the Why of this What – him choosing me – I nodded. Besides, if I could get him to sit for an interview, actually get him on-record, not only would a second-year journalism student do what dozens of “real” reporters couldn’t, I’d also prove my dismissive, arrogant, idiot professors wrong.

Hell yes, he can sit with me!

Small talk ensued. An interesting dance that flirted with flirtation, edged back to the predictable safety of the weather, classes, school, life before creeping again toward the hopeful light of imagined kisses and secret fantasies, white teeth flashing, his blue-eyed gaze intense and hungry.

Yeah, this guy was good.

“So, you transferred from-”

He waved my question away. “Eh, no biggie.” A shrug, a sip of coffee, his gaze steady and sure. “Wanted something a bit more intimate. More real.” He returned the coffee cup to its place in front of him, his hands resting on the table, his long fingers pausing within reach of mine.

“You’ve heard about me,” he said. His deep voice was low, the words almost a whisper. “None of it’s true.”

I sipped my own coffee, the ice having long ago melted into a watery, sugary disappointing memory of what coulda-shoulda-woulda been. I avoided his eyes knowing there would be the hint of tears. Convenient vulnerability designed to elicit sympathy.

“What isn’t true?” I said. “I’ve heard a lot, some of it good, some of it a bit more unbelievable.” I slurped from my straw. “So, be more specific. What exactly isn’t true?”

He grinned. “The bad stuff?” Propping his elbows on the table, he leaned forward, rounded shoulders and firm biceps bulging through the short sleeves of his designer shirt. “I like you.” The fingers, once more claiming the middle of the small table and edging closer. “I’d like to see you again.” He ducked his chin to his chest, the eyes lifting to catch and hold mine, a small grin on his lips, the glimmer of an Arctic white smile barely, just barely, peeking through. “If that’s okay.”

I almost laughed. And I was tempted, truly tempted, to allow myself the dangerous dream of being with him. Of tasting those lips, feeling those strong arms around me. The weight of him on top of me, his breath on my cheek. Despite the stories and my friends’ inevitable warnings, part of me found itself thinking ‘Why the hell not?’

“You know, I live nearby,” I heard him saying. “Right around the corner.” His fingers finally touched mine.

That’s when I saw it. The cruelty in the blue. The psychotic savagery in the Arctic white. The threat of harm, perhaps death, in the grip of those long fingers and strong arms. The dark malevolence of the casual charm and carnal need.

All those stories, the myth, the uncatchable enigma, it all suddenly carried the weight of truth.

I quietly pulled my fingers from his. He reached, reconnected. Insisted I receive his unwanted gesture. Here in a public cafe, fellow students scattered among neighboring tables, books out, phones in hand. Baristas lingering at the register. Here in public, he forced me to accept his advances knowing he was immune from consequence. Knowing he, even as an infamous son of a disgraced Senator, was still inoculated from the rules that governed everyone else.

Despite all he’d endured, all the consequences, the very real price he and his family had paid, the ruin and disrepute, he couldn’t stop himself.

He was sick.

I stood. Gathered my bag from the floor and slung it over my shoulder. Spotted the nearby garbage can for the watery latte. Fished the small umbrella from the outer pocket of my purse, my eyes avoiding him.

He’d stood, misinterpreting my actions. Was slugging back the last of his coffee.

“I gotta go,” I said, my hand out for his to shake. “Class.”

Ignoring the gesture, he put his hand on the small of my back as he tried to guide me from the table toward the door.

I resisted. Gave a small smile. “No, no, no, I gotta go.”

“I’ll walk you.” The hand pressed, insisting we leave.

I moved away from it. “No, thank you.” My eyes caught his. Stopped. Held his gaze. Showed me to be defiant and strong. Not to be led or cajoled or controlled. “I’m fine.” A pause. “Some other time, perhaps,” I said, both of us knowing it was a lie.

Outside, a sudden storm pelted the sidewalk.

He laughed, the sound feeling small and unsure despite his small smile. “But I don’t have an umbrella.” Moving close, he tried to press against me.

My hand rose to his chest, stopping him mid-step. “Then you’ll get wet,” I said, my lips not smiling, my tone unapologetic and clear. “You’ll survive.”

And I turned and left, the door closing behind me as, umbrella up, I walked, quickly, truly afraid for the next girl he met, and charmed, and destroyed with his steely blue gaze and perfect smile.

But I was afraid. Haunted by the thought that, between here and his place around the corner, there’d be some innocent, unsuspecting girl with an umbrella eager to save this Prince Charming from the rain.

And, alone in the rain, each calm step moving me further from the nightmare that could’ve been, I wept for her.

***

Learn more about Colton Carryage from “Click” in Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast

***

“Jonathan Winn’s writing is solid and assured, and EIDOLON AVENUE: THE FIRST FEAST is a big, sweeping, fantastical and exotic work that is as engrossing and thrilling as it is disturbing and horrifying. Winn is definitely an author to watch.” – Greg F. Gifune, author THE BLEEDING SEASON

“The strength of Winn’s writing is the excellent characterization – the unusual inhabitants of those five apartments are the stories. Put a magnet on a note with Jonathan Winn’s name underlined on the fridge, then watch for his byline. Recommended.” — Gene O’Neill, THE CAL WILD CHRONICLES, THE HITCHHIKING EFFECT, AT THE LAZY K

 

Eidolon-Click-crop

 

 

Interviews with Eidolon – Bullet

He fidgeted.

Fingers drummed the bar. Legs bounced as he sat on the stool. His clean-shaven head turned to glance across the bar to the door, turned back to me only to turn, quickly, a moment later, his dark eyes always on the move as if anticipating the arrival of someone or something.

A handsome man, despite his face being marked with a story’s worth of scars, the dingy white tank top he wore did nothing to hide his tattoos. A kaleidoscope of color and shading and sharp lines beginning at the wrist to spread up his forearm, reach along his muscled bicep, crawl across his strong shoulder to wander, out of sight, down his chest or wrap around his neck to spill down his back.

His name was Bullet. Or so he’d told me earlier when we’d found ourselves pausing at the curb before crossing the street together. “Why Bullet?” I’d said. He laughed. “My dad said I was dumber than shit. Musta been born with a bullet to the brain. So, it stuck, ya know? Bullet.” And we walked and talked, laughed, until our paths parted, me the pretty blonde turning left, he the tattooed bruiser disappearing right.

Two days later, another curb, another crossing, a shared smile at the surprising reunion, both on the same path, both with an afternoon free. So here we sat at a corner dive on Eidolon.

He’d agreed to an interview. A chat, really, the earlier mention of that bullet to the brain-comment from his dad intriguing me. I wanted to understand how a child grows with the weight of that kind of flippant cruelty. And this twenty-something dude with the large-breasted mermaids circling the shipwreck on his arm seemed like the best guy to ask.

But his fingers drummed the bar. His legs bounced. His head turned, again and again, his eyes forever glancing to the window and toward the door. Even the two beers he’d chugged and the microwave pizza he’d inhaled – one of three items on the bar’s excuse for a menu – had done nothing to calm him down. To say he was more than a little preoccupied was an understatement.

“We can always do this some other time if you-”

He turned to the door. “You feel that?”

I didn’t feel anything. The sun sometimes slipped behind a canopy of grey but the afternoon was neither hot nor cold. There was no draft to speak of. “Feel what?” I tried to catch his gaze.

“That…whatever the fuck it is,” he said, turning back to me. “I don’t know, man, but, shit, it’s driving me fuckin’ crazy.”

“I don’t feel anything. We can move, if you-”

“Nah, man, it ain’t like that. It ain’t no fuckin’ breeze or shit. It’s…” He turned back to the door and then back to me, his head ducking as his fingers rubbed his eyes. “I can’t get away from it. It, like, follows me or shit. Fuck.”

From the drumming fingers and bouncing legs to the hunched shoulders and dark circles under his eyes, he seemed stressed. Hounded, even. By what?

“Talk to me,” I said, swiveling my stool to face him.

“Man, it’s fate or something, you know?” He stayed still, his hand shielding his eyes as fingers and thumb massaged opposite temples. “You do bad shit, fucked up shit, you screw the fuck up, you pay. Always. That’s always the way. You pay and you’re done. Finito. Finished. End of story, man.”

“But haven’t we all done bad things-”

“Fuck,” he said, snorting with laughter. “I’m a good guy. I mean, you ignore this-” He gestured toward the tattoos, “And I’m good as fuckin’ gold. Scout’s honor or some shit.”

I grinned. “Or some shit.”

He sighed. “But yeah. Of course there are things I regret. We all do, you know? But there’s one thing, one big thing, I regret. Still. That keeps me the fuck awake at night, you know? Still.” A pause as he squeezed his eyes closed. “Every fucking night.” He shook his head. “Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”

“Tell me what you feel.” I thought of touching his arm, hoping to comfort, but decided against it. “Even if you don’t know, try. Try and tell me why you keep looking to the door.”

Eyes still closed, fingers and thumbs still on his temples, he spoke.

“I live across the street. Some shit hole. But, fuck me, every time, every goddamn time, I walk into the building or my pad, man, it’s just fucked. Not, like, the way it is. I mean, a shit hole’s a shit hole, right? It ain’t no mansion and I sure as hell ain’t no maid. But what I feel, it’s more…Fuck.” He paused. “It’s like I’m being watched. Like, in the walls or something. It sounds crazy, yeah, but, fuck, maybe I’m crazy. But there’s, like, the sound of…” He looked at me. “Slithering. Like snakes or serpents or something. In the walls. In the ceiling. In the boards. Under the floor. Below me.” He shook his head. “Is that a word? Slithering?”

I nodded. “Yeah, it’s a word.”

“Pretty and smart,” he said with a small grin. “Love it.”

I smiled. “You said it sounded like snakes? In the walls?”

He bolted upright. Turned away. Refused my gaze. “Fuck no, man. No way. Rats, maybe. Not snakes, though. That’s not what I meant. That’s just too fucked. Fucked, man. No way. No fuckin’ way, man.”

“You’re right,” I said quickly, but he was already sliding from the stool, bouncing on the balls of his feet, his hands checking his pockets, brushing the legs of his wrinkled, stained jeans, running over his too-thin torso, his gaze refusing me. In his mind, he had already left. “Definitely rats,” I said. “You should tell the-”

He stopped, his eyes on the window. A moment later, he walked the several steps to stand at the dingy glass. I followed to stand beside him.

“You ever get that feeling that it’s all done. That even though it ain’t obvious and everything seems fine or some shit, that it’s just over?”

“What’s over?”

He turned to me. His eyes looked wet, though I chose to doubt it was the advent of tears. “I dunno.” He sniffled. “Everything?” He shrugged it away. Looked back out the window to his building down the street. “Fuck it, man. Everyone’s gotta pay the piper someday, yeah?”

And he left, barging out of the bar to lope across the street before slipping behind the dented metal door, drawn back to that inescapable shit hole on Eidolon Avenue he called home as the sun ducked behind a canopy of gray.

***

Learn more about Bullet in Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast

***

“Lyrical, poetic, and devastating, Jonathan Winn’s Eidolon Avenue is everything good horror should be.” – Kealan Patrick Burke, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Turtle Boy, Kin, and Sour Candy 
 Eidolon-Bullet-crop

as the gods ate our sun

In honor of the upcoming “Great American Eclipse” August 21st, I thought I’d offer an excerpt from my book The Wounded King (blurb below) where – surprise surprise –  there’s a total eclipse! And in ancient Uruk one thousand years before Christ, if the sun disappeared during the day, it was never, ever a good thing.

Certainly wasn’t for the Wounded King.

Enjoy.

***

There was no crown.

They surrounded the city, their swords raised, their shields ready.

They kneeled in the streets, young and old, their hands clasped in prayer, the words, the pleas, the begging, the cries, spilling from their lips.

High above, I sat, surrounded by Priests, an orphan.

A King.

And soon the day would grow dark as the Gods ate our sun.

I was told there were stories.

It was said my mother, the Queen, had flown down the countless steps of the Temple that day, her gown in flames.

It was said my mother, the Queen, was herself in flames, her arms, her legs, her head and lovely hair, all on fire as she ran through the streets that day surrounded by screams.

There were even those who said they heard my mother, the Queen, call to the Darkness to save her that day, the words lost in the terror of her torment.

And then it was said she, my mother, the Queen, had stopped in the marketplace, a great torch alight with massive flames, and simply fallen, crumbled to ash before the winds lifted the pile and scattered it to the sky, a delicate cloud of grey carried far from the city and deep into the mountains.

Yes, there were stories.

Those barbarians in the streets also said the Old Woman, the Ancient in the Temple, had called on those Gods older than the Dark Gods. Willed Them with secret words to do her bidding, her power so strong, so deep, that it conjured a Great Thunder which rattled the stones of the city and shook the very ground itself.

And there were those who had lived long and seen much who said she, this Ancient, had shouted prayers not heard since the Time Before the Moon, her power so fearful it made my mother burn. So ancient it called the deadly flames from deep within the poor Queen’s soul.

Then she had grown wings and flown away, this Old Woman, escaping the Elder yet again.

Yes, that’s what they said.

But then there were those who insisted that, no, she had not grown wings. The Old Woman had instead called a great daemon, a lesser Dark God perhaps, who had stood behind her, looking like a man, quite like a man, yes, but who then unfurled his wings, great feathered wings, which rose high to arch above his head, the tips meeting in the air.

It was he, this winged daemon, who had lifted her out of the Elder’s grasp. Who flew her out of the courtyard, away from the Temple, and into the sky.

That’s what was said in the streets of this great city.

None of it mattered.

I was now King.

I was now alone.

And the Gods were going to eat our sun.

They stood near, the Priests, the Elder watching me.

The Army had not supported his desire to rule. They had loved my father, the First King, a warrior like them. They had respected my brother, the Dead King, a man who had fought alongside them in many a battle. With more power than mere Guards, and less likely to do the bidding of the Priests, these true warriors, this Army, would ultimately decide who ruled.

And it was to be me.

The Elder’s victory had been short lived.

A din rose from the streets outside.

The Priests turned to the open walls, a rustle of expensive fabric as they peered below.

Incense choked the air as the prayers grew, the day growing dark. From the walls, swords beat shields and warriors screamed and shouted and cried and bellowed as the light dimmed, the sun in a celestial war with the approaching darkness.

Of course, It was here.

Were I to close my eyes, I could smell It, sense It, feel It, the moist heat now gentle as It stroked my arm.

Beneath the feet of those many men in red and gold, It waited. It moved when they moved, stopped when they stopped. Waited, Its knowledge secure, trusting Its victory was near.

They surrounded me, they did, this prison of red and gold.

I glanced at the wine in my hand.

The skin on my arm grew warm as it blushed. A small red blister appeared, wept, and then disappeared, the tender, round wound sinking into the flesh.

I am here …

It spoke.

I have always been here …

The shrieks, the cries, the prayers, screams and shouts from below swallowed us while swords clanked and warriors bellowed and day turned to night.

The Elder watched me.

I will never leave …

I thought of my father then, his eyes sunken and bleeding. Not even a great warrior like him could win this fight.

And of my brother, a greater warrior still, his tongue thick, his teeth blackened, his eyes sealed shut with dried puss as he sobbed, his hand on mine.

And I thought of my mother at one with the Darkness. Robbed of her health, her sanity, her soul. Haunted by the regret that was her life as she ran, burning.

What could I, an Almost King, a Pretend King, do?

The barbarians below erupted in a full-throated panic as the dark deepened.

I was no warrior.

Those on the wall shouted and threatened, swords raised high.

I could not fight.

The Priests calmly waited.

I put the cup to my lips.

You are mine …

And the whole world screamed as the sun went out.

***

The Wounded King Final - cover

A sacrifice. A dying King. Bones in the stone, blood in the wine. A Queen consumed by the Darkness.

From ancient Uruk, The Almost King tells his tale. Of The Elder and his cunning Priests in their robes of red and gold. Of an Old Woman who can call the power of the Dark Gods. Of his mother, the Queen, and his dying brother, the King.

And of the Darkness, an evil from before the Time of the Moon. Inescapable, its hunger never-ending, its shadow fed by the Priests, slowly overwhelming his family.

Drowning in a sea of red and gold, the Almost King battles an unwinnable war as he navigates the wreckage towards his fate as … The Wounded King.

***

The Wounded King is the first in The Martuk Series, a collection of Short Fiction based on characters from the full-length novel Martuk … The Holy.

beautiful brutal razor’s edge

Here’s what one review said about The Wounded King:

““The Martuk Series” of novellas… really captivated me…with an amplified sense of brutality and pain, there’s dark stuff here kids, all the way around. And I am on pins and needles for the next entry in “The Martuk Series”, “The Tall Priest”.

Not only will this push the envelope, it will guild that envelope in gold, hone it to a razors edge and use it in a beautiful & brutal ceremony. It so fucking heavy and beautiful and I loved every moment of it.”

So head on over and pick up The Wounded King, the first in the series, FREE now thru Sunday, March 12th, 2017.

The Wounded King Final - cover

 

the clattering clank of tiny bones

Since Amazon cut off the sample before it got to the text, I’ve included an excerpt here from The Tall Priest:

One

I was blood.

The taste of it raced ‘round my teeth and flooded my throat. The warmth of it fell from my eyes and stained my cheeks. The red of it dripped off my chin to wander along my neck and down my chest.

I’ll give you my son, she’d said, the Seer from the Mountains. Leave me here to do what must be done and I’ll give you my son.

Her words the darkest of shadows clouding my calm, I’d returned to Uruk that morning, the Seer’s son, an unexpected charge, in hand. Soon I’d stood in the Temple, my explanations useless, The Elder’s rage quiet and terrifying. Moments later, I, a powerful priest in a land of powerful priests, had been dragged across the stone to face my fate.

Now I kneeled, a powerless man in a prison of wood and stone, broken and bloodied in the dead of night.

By morning I’d be a corpse.

I’ll give you my son.

Those words, heavy with heartbreak, had come from the Water first.

Days ago in a small room hidden far beneath the Temple, I’d stood with my beloved, The Elder, as the shimmering pool had whispered

Blinded…

Silent…

Bleeding…

“Don’t. Please,” The Elder said as I’d waited, gripping the edge of hollowed stone, my face dipped low as I silently called to the Gods.

The Veil…

The Darkness…

It comes…

the Water whispered, answering me, the words caressing my cheeks.

He’d begged and pleaded, the Elder, this most powerful man in a city of powerful men. Implored me to turn away. Allow the Water to hold its tongue. Keep its secrets. “It’s dangerous and I can’t bear to lose you,” he said, his voice thick.

“I need to speak with the Gods,” I said, braced with uncommon courage. And I’d ignored him, leaning forward, blade in hand, to slice, to watch, to see. To listen and hear, the blood dripping from my wrist the key unlocking my fate.

And the Seer from the Mountains had appeared in the shallow bowl, the words

Take my son

falling from her lips.

These words, these three syllables, soon to be spoken a three nights walk from Uruk where she, the Seer, and I would stand, watching, under the shade of trees.

Take my son

Hearing her, I’d pause.

For that the guards put me in chains.

More words would be spoken on that path a three nights’ walk from Uruk, a darkening sky above. Of dangerous shadows and ravenous demons. Of monsters and magic. Of battles being fought and wars being lost. Here. Now. Unseen yet all around.

My heart, my gut, trusting her, I’d listen.

For that I lost my eyes.

Days later, now days ago, the tears wetting her cheeks as she stood, silent and waiting, her story at an end, my heart heard

…my son

And, against logic and reason and rules, braced with yet more uncommon courage, I’d relent.

For that the guards cut out my tongue.

Learning I’d heard and listened and trusted, my secret beloved, The Elder, had grown dangerously quiet. Discovering I’d acted against logic and reason and his rules, he betrayed me. In response to my misplaced courage, he ripped out my tongue, robbing me of my words, my knowledge, my secrets. And then, my eyes dug out and tossed to the hounds, those two words

…my son

finally took from me the pleasure of seeing the sun, the moon. The once-adored face of the love who betrayed me.

The Water in a small, secret room far below the Temple had spoken of that, too.

As had the sky, the earth, the forest, the stones…

Days ago.

Now I turned. My long legs tucked under, I rested on my knees, the cold stone of the cell burning my shins. In the dark of blindness, I heard them. Other prisoners. Their sighs and whimpers, tears and whispers. Heard the shuffling of thin fabric and the shivering of bare flesh. Felt the Silent Other, a stranger to me, waiting, watching. Drawing near, slow and patient, from the other end of the earthen hall.

A Silent Other I’d glimpsed when my eyes could still see, though I stood in the shade of trees under the gathering grey of relentless clouds. He haunted me still, this Silent Other, this stranger. His dishonest smile cutting through the terrifying darkness. The leather cloak falling from his shoulders hemmed with the clattering clank of tiny bones.

I swallowed the memory away, the blood from the still-bleeding root creeping down my throat. It still stung, that stolen tongue, though the burn in my missing eyes had given way to an exhausted thump, thump, thump.

Had I tears, I would have wept. For all I’d lost. All I’d never have. For mistakes and regrets. Lies. Betrayal. The ache of a broken spirit.

For my stupid willingness to abandon reason and peer into an endless wall of black.

But I’d been warned.

Days ago.

Silence

the earth had whispered.

Darkness

the trees had echoed.

Death

the sky had promised.

I’d been warned.

 

TWO

“It’s said she Called the Rain,” the Fat Priest said. He leaned, red-faced and sweating, against a boulder. “And that she battled a demon or something.”

I’d grinned, willing him silent, eager for the sound of the breeze snaking through the branches or skimming over the grass. The blessed silence of a bright sun warming my skin. The private joy of crisp air in every breath.

“A darkness,” I said instead.

“A what?”

“A darkness,” I said again, my voice louder and perhaps too harsh. “She battled a darkness, not a demon.”

“Stupid peasants.” The Fat Priest said. The rolls of flesh circling his neck jiggled as he chuckled before stopping to choke on a fit of sudden coughs.

I looked away. Ignored my travel companion, still resenting this pairing forced on me for this most important of tasks.

“Six days,” the Elder had promised. “In six days you will be home.”

And so the Fat Priest and I left when the moon was still high, walking into the shade of the thick trees outside Uruk. Stumbled up the trails into the deeper dark of the hills where the stars could no longer light our way. Struggled past the boulders and the stones. Angled past the vines and climbed over the immense roots of massive trees. Made our way, step by lumbering step, into the ancient mystery of the mountains as night relented and morning came.

All for him, The Elder.

And for her.

The mother of this young man who could speak with Those Beyond the Veil was coveted and desired. “Do you think she Called the Rain?” the Fat Priest said as his pudgy paw mopped the sweat from his brow. “Probably not,” he then said, answering his own question. He wiped his hand on his robe. “All this work, all this walking, hot sun, steep hills, bugs and who knows what watching from the trees, and all for nothing.”

“And if you’re wrong?” I said, my eyes on the distant hills awaiting us.

He grunted, the sound not quite a laugh, but not daring to be disrespectful.

“I do know this,” I said, keeping my temper in check as I refused his gaze. “It is said by those who know of such things, travelers and traders, those who’ve sat and supped and broken bread with her, that this woman speaks with Those Beyond the Veil.” I looked to him. “She has a rare and powerful gift given by the Gods.”

The Fat Priest watched me, his hand rising to shield his small eyes from the sun. “Is that so?”

I nodded. “If this is, in fact, true…” I stopped.

I took a breath. Steadied myself. Willed myself not to smile, the desperate ambition of this simple man an instrument almost too easy to play. “If this is true,” I then said, “think of the glory that awaits. The eager affection of those painted women in those dark alleys known only by a select few. The ample reward, the coin, the respect, that’ll be showered on you from the most powerful of priests.”

He watched me, the small eyes narrowing to mere slits atop the rounded, reddened cheeks. “Who are you?” he said. “The Elder favors you. Why?”

Pushing forward from the stone, he rose with a grunt to take a lumbering step toward me. “It’s said you have access to him that others don’t.” He paused, the hand again rising to block the sun. “How did you get that?” Another step, the eyes still narrow. “Tell me.”

“I serve the Gods, the king.” My heart was racing, my throat dry. “I do as you do, my friend.” I offered an easy smile. One that was ignored. “I cannot say why the Gods, or the Elder, favor me, if, in fact, as you say, they do.”

Feeling the Fat Priest’s jealousy, perhaps even anger, I could not tell him the truth. Could not share the beginning.

How The Elder and I came to be was my secret to keep.

***

The Tall Priest 2.1-FINAL-COVER

available now

And pick up The Wounded King, the first installment, for FREE

(March 10th thru March 12th)