kings and gods

A quick excerpt from THE WOUNDED KING, the first book in The Martuk Series, Vol. 1, A Collection of Short Fiction (available now for pre-order):

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“Yes, soon,” she said, her ample flesh shining with oils and unguents beneath a thin layer of cloth as she sat back on a low chair of polished wood.

“A king, a great king, is dying. So, yes, the Gods will come forward and swallow our sun. And the Dark Gods, those who obey me, those who listen when I call, will come and fight and return it to us. As they always do.

“You’ve seen this how many times?” she asked as she turned to me.

A young girl with dark hair and even darker eyes kneeled in front of Mother, cradling the woman’s large feet and, a small knife in hand, set to work.

I shrugged, unable to respond.

She watched me, waiting for an answer.

“But the Priest,” I said, my clumsy tongue reaching for words it couldn’t find. “The Elder. He said the Dark Gods come when he calls, when the sun is swallowed, and –”

The girl waited as Mother shook with laughter.

“That silly old fool.” Tears ran down her cheeks as she fought to catch her breath. “As if the Gods would listen to a barbarian from the mountains.”

She snapped her fingers, the girl returning to her work, the knife cutting the delicate nails, the polished stone beneath littered with the slender shards.

“Do you believe he has more power than me, a God? He is old now, yes, and with that comes some power, of course, perhaps. But do you believe he could rule over one who is supreme? One who cannot die?”

Her eyes had narrowed, challenging me to disagree, to doubt.

I simply shook my head.

“What can he do?” she asked.

“Call the Rain, or so he says. Foretell the futures of worthless strangers. Maybe he can make a potion to bring you love or give you health or, I don’t know, make you a great warrior. Does it matter?

“The Gods, the Dark Gods, mind you, listen to me, one of their own. They come when I call. They rule when I say they can rule. And they, at this moment, are taking the King as their own.”

“The wine is poisoned.” The words came from me, careful and quiet.

“The wine is blessed,” came her own words, wrapped in dangerous delusion. “He is healthy and strong. A fighter. But the sun will soon disappear and the Gods, the Dark Gods, will demand a gift for its return.

“Is he not the greatest gift we can give? Greater than any of those nameless souls who stumble through the city?

“Even if we were to bleed them, all of them, and offer an ocean’s worth of blood, there is nothing greater than a King. It is his time to pass Beyond the Veil. His time to leave this life and his time to join the others in giving us what we need to rule, as Kings and Gods.”

“And the gifts we give …”

I hesitated, not sure how to say what needed to be said.

“During those quiet times, those secret times, in the night, the dark …”

I stopped again.

The girl, her head still bowed, ignored us, the fragile bones falling as they were sliced away, one by one.

Mother watched me, a small smile at her lips.

“In front of the fire, with the Priests …” Another pause as I glanced at the girl.

“Why?” I suddenly asked, the word tumbling out before I could catch it.

“Why what, Almost King?”

I held my tongue, my eyes on the unwilling witness to what we said.

Realizing this, Mother leaned forward and snapped her fingers in the girl’s face.

The young beauty looked up and, with a signal from her Master, moved the hair back from the side of her face.

Her ears had been cut off, the gaping wounds stuffed with linen and wax.

And with another snap of the fingers, she returned to her work.

I felt sick, then, the tears welling up in my eyes.

“Why must it be me?” I asked as I blinked, and then blinked again. “Why must I be there?”

“Becoming a God is a gift.” She gave a deep sigh as she laid back. “A great and very rare gift, yes. But a gift. And there’s a price, as there is with anything given. Power that great demands something in return. Something to be paid first.

“The path to becoming a God is not an easy one, nor should it be.” Her eyes once again watched mine.

“And what price did you pay?”

“To become a God?” She grew silent as she watched the wounded girl’s hands skillfully wield the knife, the bones trimmed and sliced and discarded by the sharp edge.

“There were others before you,” she said, her voice quiet. “Other boys, other girls. Babies. Children. Others, unlike you, who gave themselves. Who gave their lives, their essence, who they were, so that we, you and I, would be who we are.

“The first, a girl, a beauty who had only breathed three, maybe four moons. She was taken ill, this girl, her flesh red and blistered, her breathing thick, her tiny chin stained with blood as she coughed and coughed. Her eyes swollen shut as she cried. Only three or four moons.

“There was no hope, they said. There was only one thing to do, they said.

“And they lit a great fire and handed me a knife and then gave to me this precious bundle, her eyes not yet opened.

“My daughter.”

She stopped. The girl now massaged her feet, the nails cut, a flat stone having smoothed the rough edges of her heel and the soles of her feet.

“Her blood blessed me, her gift in the wine. She still lived with me as long as the wine lived. And sip by sip she was there with me, still. A comfort.

“She’s a part of everything now, you know.” She took my hand in hers, a small smile again on her lips.

“Yes, they burned away her flesh, they did, in the great fire, and took the bones, the tiny bones burned black, and broke them, smashed them, and then ground them to dust, and gathered them in the finest linen and brought them to the Temple.”

“To the Temple,” I said.

A nod from her. “She still lives there, in the stone, between the stone, the bones broken and ground into dust and added to the stone, the space between the stones, her blood, that blood not in the wine, pressed between the stones with her bones, her Spirit not Beyond the Veil but here still, with me, in my heart, still.”

Sitting back, she closed her eyes as the girl gathered the clippings from the floor.

“In the stone, in my body, her blood in my blood, in the wine, still with me. She was the first, but others followed. Others not from my flesh. Not from the flesh of the King, the First King.

“But some were, of course. Yes. Those who seemed healthy at first, but then wouldn’t sleep. Or coughed. Those who were fitful, unhappy. Who cried and cried and cried, as if begging for release. She was the first, my daughter, the first to offer a gift, but others followed.

“And they always agreed, they did. Urging me to act, urging me to move forward. To bring their crying bodies, their little bones, to the great fire and release them, release their blood, give themselves to the power of the Temple, to me.”

“They?” Though I knew what she would say, I feared her response.

“The Priests. The Elder. They always agreed, always said ‘Oh yes, absolutely, yes’ And I trusted them. I still do, though my power is greater, much greater. The power of a God, not a mere Priest or Elder.”

The girl returned, the clippings at the bottom of a heavy stone bowl, a blunt stone on its rim.

Taking it, Mother balanced the bowl on her lap, the delicate slivers soon ground to dust.

“But you?” she asked as she scooped the fine powder from the bowl and, her fingers stained dusty pale, washed them in a glass of wine. “You were silent, you were healthy, you lived. The Priests, they insisted, but you, no, you I kept. You I loved. You, I knew, would rule and rule well.”

She paused, the wine in hand as the girl wiped her fingers clean.

And then she drank.

“I released their tiny souls,” she said as she passed the empty cup to the girl, “so that, together, you and I, we would sit with the Dark Gods.

“I burned them so their power would be trapped, feeding us, their strength now ours. The Elder promised that, with their bones forever in the stone, they would always be at our mercy to help us live, help us rule. Life Everlasting ours so that we’ll never need to join those useless ones Beyond the Veil.

“His barbaric magic from the hills trapped those in the stone, the ancient prayers guiding them to their fate, their power ours.

“But now you need to pay. If you’re to become a God, to rule, then you, too, will need to burn the flesh and grind the bones and give to the Dark Gods what they hunger for.”

She paused, her hand on mine, comforting me.

“The first …”

She stopped.

“Oh, my beautiful boy, you don’t forget the first. It lives with you always. A shadow on your heart, in your soul. But it gets easier after that.

“Much easier.”

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Available June 20th

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a horror reader’s nightmare come true

“Equal parts deceptive beauty, haunting darkness and shocking brutality. Jonathan Winn’s prose drags you, the reader, through a gauntlet of experiences. It’s a horror reader’s nightmare come true.” – Zakk, The Eyes of Madness

The Martuk Series, Vol. 1,  A Collection of Short Fiction

Available June 20th. Pre-order now. 

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like no other author I’ve read

“Powerful and brutally honest. Assassin’s Creed meets a darker and more ancient mythology. Winn sees the world like no other author I’ve ever read.”

– Joe Mynhardt, Publisher/Founder, award-winning Crystal Lake Publishing

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Available June 20th (click for pre-order)

 

an easy lie

In the silence of the Temple, they spoke.

A murmur, a sigh, an awakening, a cry.

Mother …

Father …

King …

I moved my cheek from the stone, the pain of the whispers too great to bear.

Although night, the workers — slaves, prisoners of war, many of them mere boys — still pulled and pushed the immense blocks into place, the already overwhelming Temple forever expanding, a veritable mountain of stone at the edge of the city.

For many of them, this was all they knew, their lives after capture, after defeat, one of constant work, nonexistent sleep, and death, quick and inevitable.

Above them all, the Priests watched.

And here, under the light of an almost full moon, the pain, the rage, the powerless despair of all those trapped and troubled bones in the stone surrounded me like a fog.

In the quiet, safe in the dark, far from those who watched and those who worked, I pressed myself to the cool rock.

I would listen.

Cry …

Whimper …

Sob …

Yes, I feel you.

Wound …

Suffer …

Die …

I pulled away.

Die …

King …

Die …

“They know you.”

I turned.

A small woman stood behind me, her long hair as silver as the light bathing her, the years in her face softened by the glow of the moon.

I glanced around for my guards. But, no, I had left them hours ago, ordering them away before I climbed the hill to the Temple.

“Your guilt needed solitude,” she said. “Your shame too great to share, yes?”

She waited.

I nodded.

Yes.

“And this is why you, the Almost King, stand here now, at this hour, under the moon, listening.”

She stepped closer.

Though draped in woolen, the rough fabric scarred by clumsily mended rips and tears, her feet bare, her wiry frame alarmingly thin, she carried herself with an unapologetic sense of majesty and dignity and strength as she moved near.

“Is your power worth all that death?”

“No.” The answer came from me, quick and unthinking. “No.”

“And yet it is not something you can deny, this power. This crown. It will be yours regardless of what you want or what you do. Or what I do. Born into this, you are as trapped as those in the stone.”

The tears threatened to come. I blinked. And blinked again.

“The most powerful of men,” she said, her voice gentle and kind, “utterly powerless to change what must be changed.”

Watching me, she grew silent as if she, too, were listening.

She turned her head, her gaze on the workers in the distance, the sweat on their skin shining under the glow of torchlight.

“Your mother is one with the Dark Gods, yes?”

I hesitated.

“There’s no need to answer.” She continued to watch the nameless who toiled under the gaze of the constant moon. “It’s commonly known, understood. We barbarians, as she calls us, here in the city talk of her and the Priests and their ancient religion. Those beliefs from the Time of the Moon. Of their worshipping those who must be paid in blood, in flesh, in fear. In the tears and cries of those they slaughter.”

“This is known?”

Looking at me, she continued.

“It is also known, and spoken of, that once these souls are bled and lifeless and useless, they burn –”

“Stop. Please.”

She stopped.

It was my turn to watch the strangers pull and push, the thick, braided rope threatening to split and shred under the weight of the stone.

“The gift you must give,” she said, my mother’s words echoed in hers.

“Is something I regret.” I refused to look this stranger in the eye. “Something I wish I didn’t have to do. Something I wish I had never done.”

“But it’s done.”

I looked at her.

“She’s a very powerful woman, your mother. Not many can deny her. Not many dare. Those who do …. ”

She grew quiet, the thought unfinished.

“And the Priests?” I asked. “What of them? Do the people talk about the Priests?”

“Yes, they do. And they understand what you and your mother do not: these men, these Priests, are more powerful than you know.”

“She believes she’s a God.”

“An easy lie for them to feed her. And her mind …”

Hesitating, she looked for the words.

“Her mind is wounded and hungry. Desperate for comfort, the grief, the guilt, the horror of what she’s done still at war with the tender delusion of her immortality.”

“She struggles.”

“And eats.”

Confused, I watched her, her eyes almost silver under the light of the moon.

“The bones are in the stones, yes?” she asked.

I waited.

“And what of the flesh? The flesh you burn before they grind these bones?”

She stopped, watching me before asking again.

“What of the flesh?”

— an excerpt from The Martuk Series, A Collection of Short Fiction, Vol. 1

COMING SOON

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nightmare come true

The Martuk Series: A Collection of Short Fiction, Vol. 1

“Equal parts deceptive beauty, haunting darkness, and shocking brutality. Jonathan Winn’s prose drags you, the reader, through a gauntlet of experiences. It’s a horror reader’s nightmare come true.” — Zakk, The Eyes of Madness

The-Martuk-Series-cover-CROP-2

COMING SOON

powerful and brutally honest

The Martuk Series: A Collection of Short Fiction, Vol. 1

“Powerful and brutally honest. Assassin’s Creed meets a darker and more ancient mythology. Winn sees the world like no other author I’ve ever read.” – Joe Mynhardt, Publisher, Crystal Lake Publishing

COMING SOON

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