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)

a world screaming

From the blood drenched depravity of The Wounded King, the ancient curses of The Elder and the heartbreaking betrayal of Red and Gold, we now follow The Tall Priest as he meets the boy who will soon become the immortal Martuk.

It begins with blood.

Ordered to bring the famous Seer from the Mountains to the Elder, the Tall Priest quickly discovers a world outside Uruk’s massive gates. A world alive with the impossible. A world screaming, warning him of the unseen darkness shadowing his every step. Of the horrors of a past that still live. Capturing. Trapping. Feasting. Horrors the Seer is desperate to fight, her only hope the Tall Priest taking her beloved son far from danger and saving him from certain death.

Once home, betrayed by the one he loves, his end ignominious for one so powerful, the Tall Priest waits for death. Blinded and mute, fearing an end that never ends with Those Bones in the Stones, this is the story of a heart broken by unimaginable truth. Of honesty and kindness met with torture and death. Of how unconditional love results in the prison of timeless immortality.

This is…The Tall Priest.

 

martuk-series-crop-feb2017
coming soon