Novel

Following Orders: Blood on My Hands

Today’s post is a combination of a short story and look into the pre-novel life of one of my characters in Following Orders.

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Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

I gazed out at the courtyard as panic swarmed in my chest. Those arrow wounds were not from a crossbow and they all knew it. How long did I have before they reported to King Artimus and he made the connection to me? Not long.

What to do, though, what to do? I pulled myself away from the window and paced the room, cape billowing behind me.

“Glen, dear. Do calm down. It was only the first battle. At this rate, you’ll be in a frenzy before the war is over.” My mother sat with her embroidery across her lap, stitching tiny red flowers in a field.

I paused in front of her. “Yes, but how many have died already?” And because of me, I wanted to add. But I couldn’t bring myself to say that to my own mother.

“And many more will die. That is war. We must choose to be grateful that we are still here and still together. The king hasn’t sent your brother out yet and that is something which we must appreciate.”

I paced back to the window sill and clenched it so that my knuckles whitened. King Artimus had gone down to meet his men in the courtyard. The captain spoke with him, holding an arrow. A desert tribe arrow. King Artimus glanced up to where I stood in the window and I jumped back, wanting to be sick. He knew.

I had thought to bring peace between Aronway and the desert tribes. They had received me royally and I had convinced King Artimus’s court to welcome them as well. Treaties were outlined. I spent my days glowing with pride and pleasure. Then the chieftains had returned to their people, supposedly to help their land through the harvest season. They were to return at first frost. But they had returned much earlier and with weapons in their hands. I had no doubt the blame for this war would lay directly at my feet.

I had minutes at most. What to do? If I stayed, execution likely awaited me. If not that, then exile at least.

My mind settled on a quick decision. I didn’t take the time to question it, but swiftly bent to kiss my mother and strode out of the room.

Every soldier I passed on the stairs or in the corridors made my heart pound harder. Were they the ones sent to arrest me? But I made it to the kitchen door and out to the stables.

It was quick work to saddle my mare, despite my shaking hands, and I led her by the bridle to the side gate. The guards there didn’t move as I passed through and I mounted only once I was out of their view. I had to keep a steady trot through the city. It was too crowded to gallop and I didn’t need to attract any suspicion.

But once I was in the bright country, I kicked my horse into a gallop, my tears flying from my face in the wind. As I rode, I couldn’t help it: I looked back.

Kira

Following Orders: Homecoming Snippet

The main character of my current project is named Will. Will lives in Camelot under the rule of the royal Penndragon family. This week’s post is a piece of Will’s history – part of why he is the way he is.

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Photo by George Becker from Pexels

I had been eight years old, half my age now. Even then, I had chores around the castle and our small home inside the walls. I was sweeping dirt out the front door when they came.

No one moved as the men trickled in. Seventy, maybe eighty. Of more than two hundred. They walked slowly, supporting one another and weighed down under armor and packs. A few stumbled and were helped up by their comrades. Bystanders eventually began helping, taking over the support of the wounded so the exhausted could have a break.

I and a few other children dropped whatever we had been doing and ran to the group as they went to the Great Hall. We darted through the men, each looking for a different face. A few gave cries of delight and hugged their fathers in a grip that said they wouldn’t let go. When they were strong enough, the men smiled and picked up their children. Others winced from the pain and carefully pushed their children away, tears on their faces, but joy in their eyes.

The last of us kept looking. Every face, every soldier. Some of the men shook their heads when they saw me. Others looked away and some smiled faintly.

I searched the whole group. Where was he? Where was he? I started running through them, looking at everyone twice, three times.

The last of them shut the door to the castle and I stared up at the wall of wood. No. I had just missed him. There wasn’t any other explanation. There couldn’t be.

I tried to convince myself of that, but I couldn’t quite do it. So I ran to my secret cave, a crevice in the outer wall of the castle that I believed was all my own. Once wedged inside, it was difficult for anyone outside to see me. Those who did ignored me, unconcerned with what a little boy was doing.

When I woke up, Sir Manchmal sat just outside my cave, back against the wall. His eyes were closed, but I could tell he wasn’t sleeping. Something seemed different about my uncle though. He didn’t look happy any more and he cradled his right hand against his chest.

He opened his eyes at my movement. “Will.”

The gentleness in his voice was too much and I looked away, swiping the tears from my eyes.

“When is he getting home?” I asked in a flat voice.

Sir Manchmal ran his left hand over his face, sighing hard. “We both know he won’t, Will. I’m sorry.”

I curled up into a tight ball on the ground and didn’t answer.

“He fought like a man, just like he taught you to be. The officers made sure he was buried with honor.” We both knew the words didn’t matter.

A half hour passed and I cried silently. The tears slid down my nose and dropped into the dirt. I wouldn’t let Sir Manchmal see me like that though, so I stayed in my cave.

“Your mother needs you, Will. She’s sad too.”

I sniffed.

“Now that your father is gone, you’re the man of the house. Can you be that?”

I sat up. “Yes.”

“Good. Then I also want you to be my squire. I’ll train you up to be a great knight and a great man, just like your father. Alright?”

“He wasn’t a knight.”

“No, but he lived like one.”

Kira

Following Orders: Princess Elaine Penndragon

 

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Photo by Rene Asmussen from Pexels

Today, I thought we’d do something a little bit different and meet one of the main characters of the novel I’m currently working on, Following Orders.

Now I’ll be interviewing Her Highness, the Princess Elaine Penndragon of Camelot about herself and some of her background. Please enjoy.

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Good day, Your Highness. Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with me.

It is my pleasure. I’ve never had the opportunity to speak with a scribe for any purpose other than a lesson on history or politics.

I’m sure those are very dull indeed. Today, I thought you might be willing to answer a few questions about yourself? For your subjects’ sake?

My subjects? I don’t know what they think so interesting about palace life, but I suppose so.

Wonderful! My first question is about all of the balls and dinners your father hosts as king. What is your part in them and do you enjoy them?

Ah, yes. All of the fancy events. You asked about my part in them? Well, as the king’s only child and heir, it is my task to learn the names and interests of every diplomat, nobleman, and ambassador in Camelot. If they are to be my court one day, I must know their strengths and weaknesses, know them as people. And, of course, know their loyalties.

Besides that, as I am of marriageable age, I must dance with every eligible bachelor in attendance. Most of them are of no interest to either me or my father, but we mustn’t offend anyone. You never know who may end up as the future king of Camelot. It is my job to be the most beautiful and charming woman there to every single guest.

As to whether I enjoy such things, I don’t mind them. They do become tiring, especially when too many are held in a row. But I suppose that’s to be expected.

You mentioned that most of the young men are of no interest to you or your father. What do the two of you look for in the next king – and your husband?

All the usual traits I suppose. He must be strong and brave and all that, but he must also have a brain in his head. My father is not going to hand over Camelot to some halfwit. He would not send me or his people to such destruction. Other than that, he must have all the general qualities that make a king beloved by his people.

And what about you? Don’t you want to marry someone who will love you?

That’s the question, isn’t it? Who I marry is not up to me, ultimately. As part of the royal family, I have a duty to Camelot before myself. I would like a kind man who loves and whom I love, but that is not nearly as important as what is best for the kingdom. Besides, I’m told that people sometimes grow to love each other. We’ll have a whole lifetime to become fond of one another, whoever this man turns out to be.

Didn’t your father and mother marry for love?

Ah, yes. The famous story of Arthur and Guenivere. Has that become popular again? Nevermind. It was a different time back then. My father was free to marry as he chose because he had Camelot so firmly secure as one of the strongest kingdoms around. And he chose my mother – a commoner – endearing himself to the people practically overnight.

You don’t seem to hold much love for you mother. Is there a story behind that?

What impudence! That is none of your concern and I do hope you don’t speak to everyone you meet in such a rude manner. As it is, I am feeling gracious today and will give you a partial answer. I know that it is no secret that there is very little love between my mother and me.

Between just the two of us, I believe she is jealous of me. I hear from some of the older women that after my birth, my father devoted far more attention to his new daughter than to his wife. She wasn’t used to the relative drought of his affection and, as his doting on me continued, her bitterness toward me grew as the years moved on. We don’t speak often.

Now, are we through? I have one of those dances you were speaking of to prepare for tonight and my hair takes a dreadfully long time to complete.

Thank you for your time, my lady. I hope you enjoy your evening!

Kira

Book Review: The Prisoner of Zenda

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And now you see why I don’t usually take my own photos 🙂

After my post of a few weeks ago bemoaning the depravity of today’s literature, let me assure that there are indeed still excellent books in the world. Books that spin a tale of adventure and keep you up far later than is right (oops). The Prisoner of Zenda is one such book.

Rudolph Rassendyll is a typical young man with too much money, not enough ambition, and a peculiar connection to the royal family of Ruritania from several generations back. He is floating through life with ease – much to the frustration of his industrious sister-in-law. She takes it upon herself to nag him into becoming an attache to Sir Jacob. Rudolph takes it upon himself to go on a different trip entirely, visiting friends and going to see the coronation of the new King of Ruritania.

Once there, he stumbles upon the new king and his two closest advisors – Colonol Sapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim. The four spend an evening of celebration together which ends with much less joy than when it started. Rudolph is thrown into a role he never imagined having and holds the fate of all Ruritania in his hands. He must struggle with the king’s brother, Black Michael, to defend the throne, while keeping up appearances with the rest of the court – especially the Princess Flavia. And through it all, he must remember who he really is, though the rest of the world thinks him someone else.

Anthony Hope’s story of Rudolph’s misadventures in Ruritania is fast paced and written with the beautiful yet easily comprehensible language that seems only to spring from the 19th century. The style of the writing led me to be wrapped up in the fictional time and place of Ruritania and I even learned a new word:

compunction: a feeling of guilt or moral scruple that prevents or follows the doing of something bad (according to Google)

I won’t bore you with a lecture on why I love Anthony Hope’s language so much, but I will say that it was refreshing to have to work a little bit to stay engaged in the book. And the excellence of the story itself provided plenty of reward for the minimal efforts it required.

The Prisoner of Zenda holds within its pages an adventure novel, a romance, and a story of personal struggles and growth, all woven perfectly together to create one unified tale of a man thrown out of his own world and into one where much more is required of him. And, (maybe this is also typical of books of this time period) it was clean. I had no fear that The Prisoner of Zenda would take a dark or disgusting turn. It was a thoroughly enjoyable story from start to finish and one that I am glad to have read.

Kira

What’s your favorite adventure story?
Have you read any older books lately?

Why I Write

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Writing is my passion. That’s easy enough to see (and if you can’t see it, I will gladly tell you about it for a full three hours). I’ve loved to write for longer than I can remember, though some of my earlier ventures barely qualify as actual “writing.” I’ve poured a lot of hours into studying and practicing my craft, striving to become better and better. And there’s a reason for that. I want to share with you why I write and why I feel that it is such an important thing.

I’m sure that everyone has been to a library or bookstore at least once. Did you visit the teen section while you were there? Let me describe it for you.

Most every teen section in every library and bookstore is the same. As soon as you enter it, the books become darker – the covers are black, often with spidery silver lettering across them. There are lots of depictions of aliens, vampires, and “hot” teenagers locked in each other’s arms. If you open the books, you will get exactly what you bargained for. Dramatic betrayals, hopeless depression, and endless love triangles (or squares) fill hundreds of pages. All of them are gripping and keep readers turning page after page. But none of them are redeeming.

The Bible teaches that the things we think about are what will shape our hearts and, thus, our lives. Millions (if not billions) of people are consuming these sad excuses for books every day and having their minds conformed to the ideas and beliefs threaded through them. And every day more and more are being written, printed, and released to the population.

I write to fight against that.

It is my goal to create masterpieces that glorify God and present good stories. Stories that don’t end in tragedy and promote sin. I want my books to be of high quality and of high moral value. In a world that is so depraved and lost, I write to offer light and hope because I know the only true Source of that hope.

My explanation for why I write is not a long or fancy one. It is simply a desire to bring light to the shelves of libraries and bookstores so that teenagers are reading better literature than Twilight and thinking about things more redeeming than The Fault in Our Stars.

I believe that Christians who write have a responsibility to do that – to bring that light to readers through their work. And I pray that I do that with every word that I put on a page.

Kira

Why do you do what you do?
What keeps you going in the face of obstacles?

Adventure Novel (part 2)

You can read part one here.

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“Good, because we need to get down to work.” Jackson went to a small dresser on one of the walls and pulled open the top drawer. It, like everything else in this forgotten corner of civilization, was covered in dust. I sneezed.

Jackson crossed back over to me and held out a small round thing, roughly the same color as my skin. I took it and turned it over in my palm, examining it.

“It’s an earpiece. Put it in and get going. You’re going to be late for work.”

I shot him a look that said I definitely was not okay with this, but did it anyway. He checked to make sure it was in correctly, then spoke into a little microphone on his wrist.

“Testing, testing.”

I jumped when it came through loud and clear on my earpiece.

Jackson grinned. “I guess it works. You won’t be able to contact us, but Kat will be outside if anything goes wrong. Now go.”

“You still haven’t told me what you want me to do yet.”

He pushed me gently toward the staircase. “I’ll talk you through it. Just go.”


I was only a few minutes late, but Mr. Helsing’s secretary shot me a concerned look anyway.

“Morning, Natalie. Have they already started?”

“Yes. Here, bring in the coffee order and maybe you won’t get as many glares.” She handed me a styrofoam tray of coffees which I balanced with one hand while edging my way into the meeting.

Everyone turned to look at me and Mr. Helsing stopped midsentence. “Ah, Megan. So nice of you to join us.”

“Sorry I’m late.” I set the coffee in the middle of the conference table and six people turned to grab their drinks. The attention was no longer on me and I slid into a chair at the end of the table.

“As I was saying,” Mr. Helsing continued, “profit has spiked this past year due, I believe, to our marketing efforts.”

“Megan.” Jackson’s voice in my ear made me jump and everyone turned to look again.

“Sorry. Just remembered I forgot to feed my cat. Please, don’t mind me.”

Mr. Helsing gave me a very disapproving look before continuing once again.

“Megan, the virus is on a flashdrive in Mr. Helsing’s office. I’m told it’s in the top drawer of his desk. You’ll need to find a way to get in there, take it, and get out. You have two hours.”

In his office? And how did Jackson know where it was?

I pretended to listen to the meeting as my mind scrambled for an excuse to leave.

“One hour, Megan.”

I had to get out before Mr. Helsing went back into his office.

“Thirty minutes.”

Time for action.

I stood, once again attracting the attention of everyone in the room.

“Megan, is there a problem?” Mr. Helsing crossed his arms and glared at me.

“No sir. Sorry. I’m just not feeling well today. I think I need some water. I’ll be right back. Please, go on without me.”

“Be quick about it. We’ve got a lot to go over and I don’t want you missing it.”

“Yes sir.” I left in a hurry and went back out to the lobby. “Natalie, Mr. Helsing wanted me to grab something from his office for him. Could I have the key please?”

“Sure. What is it?” She handed me the key.

“Just a flashdrive. Thanks.”

I unlocked the door to Mr. Helsing’s office and stepped in, holding my breath.

Top drawer.

I opened it carefully and stared down at five flashdrives, all the same color.

“Can I help you find it?” I startled at Natalie’s sudden appearance in the doorway.

“Um, no thanks. Got it right here!” I held up one of the flashdrives and smiled, using my other hand to slip the other four into my pocket. I shut the drawer and slipped out past Natalie. She closed the door and locked it.

I headed toward the front door.

“Don’t you need to be getting back to the meeting?”

I stopped. “Oh, um…some of the drinks were missing. I’m just going to go around the corner and grab them real quick. It’ll only take a minute.” I offered her a reassuring smile and walked out the door, breathing a sigh of relief.

Kat caught up to me as I walked toward the base. “Do you have it?”

“I’ve got five. They’re all identical.”

“Well we’ve got to hurry. Time’s running out.”

Back at the base, Jackson had pulled up a computer and snatched the flashdrives from my hand as soon as I held them out. He began plugging them in and searching.

“Three minutes, Three minutes…” he muttered.

At number four, his eyes lit up. He began typing furiously.

Kat checked her watch. “Jackson…”

“I know, I know.” His fingers flew across the keyboard. I looked at my own watch, watching the seconds tick down.

Five. Four. Three. Two.

“Done!”

Jackson heaved a huge sigh of relief and sank back into his folding chair with a grin. “We did it.”

“And all thanks to you, Megan.” Kat smiled at me.

I smiled back. Just like in an adventure novel.

Adventure Novel (part 1)

You can read part two here.

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“Honey!”

I glanced over my shoulder as I continued to push my way down the busy street. Who would be yelling above the crowd so loudly?

A tall woman with dark hair looked delighted to see me. She must have been the one who called out. I turned and kept walking, faster now that a lunatic was following me. Only a few more blocks to the office. No problem. Besides, police officers were all over the city. Right?

Only a few steps later, an arm wrapped around my shoulder. It was the woman. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” she exclaimed.

I made a face and started to squirm away, but she tightened her grip and lowered her voice. “Come with me. Quickly – there’s no time.”

I obeyed in spite of myself. Surely there would be a police officer soon. I could call out for help as soon as I saw one. But my gut told me that wasn’t why I was going along with this black clad woman. No, it was the adventure novels. I was addicted to them and this felt like something out of the first chapter.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Shh. No time for questions. You’re my little sister and they have eyes everywhere, so act like it.”

I continued to trot to keep up with the woman’s hurried pace, trying to get a good look at her. She wore a black leather jacket and dark jeans tucked into combat boots. And was that a gun in her belt? Suddenly this wasn’t so much fun.

“Who are you?” I pulled away from her, but kept walking.

“Katrina. You can call me Kat. I’ve been watching you, Megan, and I think you’re going to be very helpful.” She raised her voice. “Well, you really ought to tell me if you’re going to leave without me in the morning. You had me scared half to death!”

“I’m a grown woman. I can come and go as I please!” I answered.

She shot me an appraising look. “Very nice,” she breathed.

“How do you know my name? And where are we going?”

“To the base.” She took a sharp right, shoving a path through the crowd and entering a tiny secondhand shop. The furniture and clothes all looked as if they had come from the twentieth century and my allergies instantly flared up at the dust.

I followed Kat through the deserted shop and down a narrow flight of stairs into the basement. The room was lit by a single lightbulb hanging over a card table. A teenage boy sat at the table, leaning back in his chair and shuffling a deck of cards.

He stood abruptly when we came in. “You got her then? No problems?”

“No problems,” Kat confirmed.

“Good. Have you briefed her?”

“Nope. Didn’t want them hearing anything.”

“Good call.” The boy turned to me. “I’m Jackson. Kat and I have been watching you for some time now. We need your help to save the world.”

I raised my eyebrows. “To save the world? Nice try, kid. Look, I’ve got to get to work. I don’t have time for this.”

“Then why’d you follow Kat?”

I glanced away, knowing he had won this round. “Fine. What do you want? You have five minutes.”

Jackson nodded to Kat. She turned to face me. “Your boss – Mr. Helsing – he’s trying to take down the entire banking system of America.”

I rolled my eyes. “Hilarious. Did John put you up to this?”

Jackson stepped forward, looking me straight in the eye. Somehow, his gangly teenage limbs didn’t detract from the seriousness of his face. “This is not a joke, Megan. He has a virus that will destroy everything holding the financial world together. We need you to get it for us.”

“Why would he even want to do that? He’s one of the richest men in the city – wouldn’t that undermine everything he’s done?”

“No. I don’t have time to explain all of the details to you. This virus is set to go live in three hours. Are you in or out?” Jackson held my gaze. Kat stood with crossed arms a few feet behind him.

I scoffed. “You expect me to drop everything and spy on my boss for some lady I just met and her teenage sidekick?”

Neither of them answered.

I glanced between their faces. “Fine. I’m in.”