Another Excerpt from “Dreams of Fire and Gods: Awakening”

Okay, so last night I was in a romantic mood and posted one of my favorite scenes in the developing relationship between Sael and Koreh — something humorous, with a dash of sex thrown in.

This morning, I woke up and realized that this may have given people the wrong idea about the book.  It isn’t just a silly gay sex romp with a thin veneer of fantasy painted over it.  It actually has a very detailed world, with a complex mythos and warring factions of gods in it, along with a war between the emperor and Sael’s father, Vek Worlen.  (Vek is a title given to the emperor’s regent in the eastern half of the kingdom.)

So here’s a scene that hopefully appeals more to fans of the fantasy genre:

In the darkening twilight, the forest seemed to close in on him, until the sounds of Sael’s chanting grew muffled and far away.  He could feel what Geilin had talked about — that there was something wrong with this place.  But Sael’s spellworking disturbed him even more.  He’d as soon wait until it was over, before returning to camp.

Koreh smelled the creature before he saw it.  A rotten smell, as though he’d stumbled upon the carcass of a dead animal.  He screwed his face up in distaste, nearly gagging on the stench as he searched the underbrush with his eyes for it.  When he turned around, he saw something huge and monstrous lumbering towards him out of the shadows.

It creaked and rustled as it moved, like old bare branches swaying in the wind.  Its hide was a patchwork of matted, rotting fur — wolf, bear, elk, a dozen others Koreh couldn’t identify — held together with dirt, dried leaves and pine needles.  And as it drew nearer, Koreh could see bones jutting through in places.  Its head was the skull of a bear, with great hollow eye sockets and monstrous fangs, yet it was crowned with the antlers of a great stag.  From somewhere deep within its hollow chest, came a rasping, menacing growl.

Koreh backed away, aware that the thick brambles behind him would make it impossible to run in that direction.  He wondered for just a second how the dried, dead thing would fare against one of Geilin’s firebolts.  But the old man was too far away, even if he were up to fighting the creature.  Koreh would have to save himself.

But there seemed to be some kind of…force emanating from it — an almost palpable aura of dread.  Koreh felt certain that it wasn’t just his own fear holding him rooted to the spot.  He’d never felt terror this intense in his entire lifetime; it was paralyzing him.  He wanted to drop into the earth and escape, but he was unable to make his mind obey.

He knew he was about to die.

Would the thing eat him?  Did it even have a stomach?  Perhaps it would somehow incorporate him into its body.  Koreh had heard tales of demen with animal bodies, but the heads or faces of men.  If he hadn’t wanted to scream before that thought passed through his mind, he certainly did now.  But no sound would come from his mouth.

Suddenly two things happened at once.  The beast charged, letting out a horrible bellow, and the leaves on the forest floor in front of Koreh swirled upwards, as if caught in a whirlwind.  Within the leaves was a dark shape, like the figure of a man, but impossible to see clearly.  It seemed to be wrapped in a cloak made entirely of shadows.  Koreh couldn’t tell if he was looking at something solid, or not.  In places, it seemed almost transparent, and the leaves seemed to pass through it, as they fluttered through the air.  The figure slid silently up out of the ground, whirling around to strike at the monster with a shimmering staff.

Frozen, Koreh watched the butt of the staff thud against the beast’s skull.  The staff, at least, was solid and there was a resounding crack that sounded far too loud to be mere wood against bone.  The creature’s skull blazed with a shimmering blue fire.  It roared in pain, swinging its great antlered head in a deadly arc.  But there was nothing for the antlers to strike.  The sharp, jagged points swept through the shadowy cloak without ever tearing or snagging it.

In the next instant, two other figures rose up out of the forest floor, in swirls of dead leaves and twigs and dark cloaks.  They surrounded the beast, striking at it quickly, as it thrashed about in pain and anger.  Wherever the staffs struck its mottled, patchwork hide, blue light flickered briefly.   The light lapped upward like flame, but left no scorch marks.  The creature was clearly suffering great pain and as it writhed and thrashed about, Koreh felt a momentary flash of pity for the thing.

Then its legs gave out beneath it and, with a great rasping exhalation, it tumbled over and lay still.  Just as quickly as they had appeared, the shadowy figures spiraled down into the leaves and dirt, and vanished.  They might never have been there, save for the corpse they’d left behind.  And that looked as if it had been dead for weeks, if not months.

Koreh was shaking.  Somehow he’d managed to hold onto the wood he’d been gathering, though he hadn’t been conscious of clutching it.  It was rapidly growing dark now and he wanted nothing more than to run back to camp.  But some perverse sense of curiosity made him approach the dead thing.

It lay absolutely still.  Cautiously, Koreh kicked the massive bear skull with one foot.  The head came loose from the neck with the sound of rotted parchment tearing and rolled away from him, coming to rest with one of its antlers propping it up.  Empty eye sockets stared back at him.  But apart from that, the creature did not move.


Trying to Finish Book Two of “Dreams of Fire and Gods” (and an excerpt from Book One!)

So this is my first official writing deadline, since I became a published author.  I promised my publisher that I would have Book Two of my Dreams of Fire and Gods YA fantasy trilogy done in two months.  It’s coming along, and I haven’t run into any serious stumbling blocks (having an outline really helps!), but it’s not going as quickly as I’d hoped.

The day I stayed home sick with a migraine this week was my most productive day, yet.  (And yes, I really did have a migraine.)  I think it’s becoming clear that I can write at a good pace, as long as I have the time.  But of course, all writers with day jobs lament the lack of time they have to write.

But it just occurred to me that I haven’t posted any excerpts from the first novel yet, so just to whet everyone’s appetite (I hope), here’s a short scene from Dreams of Fire and Gods:  Awakening, which I believe is going to be released some time in December.

In this scene, our two young heroes — Sael, who is the son of a nobleman, and Koreh, a peasant — have to pretend to be married in order to get a private room in a tavern, rather than sleep in the common room.  They are with Geilin, the sorcerer to whom Sael is apprenticed.  There are two words in this scene from the language they speak in the kingdom:  nimen, which can mean a spouse of any gender, and ömem, which refers to a special type of seeress (and a healer, in the context of the scene).

Married!  Sael realized, of course, that Koreh had just said that so they could have a bed to sleep in, in a private room, and for that he was grateful.  But now he couldn’t get images of him and Koreh sharing the bed – as nimen – out of his mind.

Not that Sael really had any idea what that was like.  Some of the girls back in the capital had flirted with him on occasion, but he’d never had any interest in pursuing anything with them.  No doubt Koreh had plenty of experience.  And Sael also had no doubt that Koreh reveled in coming up with ways to embarrass him.

Will he try to…do something?

Sael’s stomach was in knots, just thinking about it.

The innkeeper had noticed that Koreh was injured, which wasn’t much of a feat — the entire right side of Koreh’s tunic and breeches, from his stomach to his knee, was soaked with blood.  He knew of no ömem who would take kindly to being dragged out of bed, at this hour of the morning.

“Me wife, though,” the balding, grizzled man told them, “ain’t so bad wi’ a bandage.  She kin fix ya up – leastwise ’til mornin’.”

The man’s dialect baffled Sael, but Koreh and Geilin seemed to understand him.  His wife came out of the kitchen, when he called for her.  She then clucked over Koreh’s wound for a few moments, before dragging him out to the kitchen, where she could clean it properly.

Koreh returned with the bloody tunic in one hand and a fresh linen wrapping about his middle.

“Goodwife,” Geilin said with a bow, “We are indebted to you.”

The woman smiled warmly and replied, “No’ at all.  But I hope ye know better than t’ go near them ruins, now – ‘specially at night.”

Geilin raised his eyebrow at this, no doubt wondering just what Koreh had told her.  But he smiled and replied, “I think we’ve learned our lesson.”

The woman led the three companions upstairs to a small room with two beds, and left them, after lighting the tallow candle on the nightstand.

The beds were small, but large enough to accommodate both young men in one, and the blankets looked fairly clean.  The single nightstand between the beds had a chamber pot under it, which Sael desperately hoped nobody would use in front of him.

His anxiety at sharing a bed shot up sharply when Koreh shucked his breeches, tossing them onto the floor with his tunic.  Since he had no undertunic, that left him stark naked, yet again.

“You aren’t sleeping with me like that!” Sael practically shrieked.

Koreh had been about to crawl under the blanket, the night air being a bit on the brisk side.  He stopped and glanced over at Sael.  “Why not?”

“Don’t you have any modesty, at all?”

“No,” Koreh replied, sounding irritated, “And I have no intention of sleeping in those blood-soaked breeches.  They’re sticky and they’re already getting stiff.”

Sael turned to Geilin with a pleading expression, but the old wizard merely shrugged.  “He does have a point.  I suppose you could loan him your undertunic, if his nudity makes you uncomfortable.”

“But then I’d be naked!”

“Well, yes,” Geilin agreed.  “I suppose it’s a matter of which makes you more uncomfortable:  Koreh being naked, or you being naked.”

Sael wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that.

“I suppose,” Geilin went on, “that I could loan him my undertunic.”

The thought of seeing Geilin naked was even more disturbing to Sael than either of the other possibilities, so he grudgingly replied, “Nevermind.  He’s been running around naked half the time, anyway….”

Koreh slipped under the blanket and gave Sael a cocky grin.  “Come to bed, nimen,” he said, patting the mattress beside him.  “Help me warm up.”

“Drop dead.”

Geilin stripped down to his undertunic and lifted the covers on his bed.  “Sael, it’s very late.  And we’re all very tired.  Get into bed, please, so I can blow the candle out.”

Sael removed his outer tunic and breeches, glad that his linen undertunic went down to his knees.

“He’s probably going to grope me, while I’m sleeping,” he muttered, as he climbed into the bed.  Koreh shook his head and sighed, then rolled away from him.

Geilin said, sleepily, “Koreh, keep your hands to yourself.”

Then he blew out the candle.

The room wasn’t completely dark.  The rippled glass panes of the solitary window let in a pale gray light from the Eye of Druma outside.

The bed was already warming up from Koreh’s body and Sael had to admit it felt good.  He was exhausted.  But just as he settled in, Koreh said quietly, “What?  No goodnight kiss?”

Sael groaned.

“Freedom of Religion” and Same-Sex Marriage

Recently, as the result of the Chick-fil-A controversy, I’ve found myself involved in arguments I’d rather avoid.  But one particularly angry person tossed some arguments at me that I feel need to be addressed — not because he’ll ever read this blog, but because people who might read this blog will no doubt come up against these arguments in the future.  (They’re very popular.)

Now, I’m tolerant of differing points of view, but illogical arguments drive me crazy.  Illogical is illogical, regardless of the motivation behind it.

So let me address a few points.

First of all, we need to make something clear:  there is a big difference between being a “Christian country” and being a Christian-dominated country.  In the last poll I came across, something like 70% of the people in the USA identify as Christian, so clearly this is a country dominated by Christians.  Likewise, most of our Founding Fathers were Christian (though not all).  But that doesn’t make the United States a “Christian country.”  Some of the original colonies had very strict laws about attending church services and regulating “Christian behavior” on a number of levels.  But other colonies did not, and when the entire country was finally mashed together, those laws fell by the wayside (at least on a National level).

The US Constitution does not dictate that people must be Christian and in fact about 30% of the citizens in the country are not.  If we look at the Ten Commandments, as laid out in the Bible (both versions), the first, second, and third commandments are completely absent from our Constitution.  It isn’t illegal to worship other gods.  It isn’t illegal to worship idols.  And it isn’t illegal to completely forget the Sabbath.  If the country had been designed as a “Christian country,” then these would hardly have been left out.

Therefore, the United States of America is merely a Christian dominated country and not a “Christian country.”

When people haul out the Christian Bible as their reason for opposing same-sex marriage, they need to be reminded of this.  Their argument declares that God Himself defined “marriage” as being between one man and one woman.  (I won’t even go into why I think this is false, even within the context of the Bible.)  Therefore, we should accede to His divine will and forbid same-sex couples from marrying.

Closely tied to this is the belief that marriage has always been a religious institution and not a civil one.

If the only valid marriage in the USA is one sanctioned by the Christian God, then how is it possible that two people who don’t believe in that definition of God — say, Wiccans, or Scientologists, or atheists — are allowed to marry?  If marriage in this country is a religious institution, then why do we allow atheists to marry?  Why do we allow people to be married by a Justice of the Peace, rather than a pastor or priest?

The answer is simple:  marriage has never been a religious institution in this country.  It is a civil institution which all American citizens have a right to.  You have the right to marry, whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Wiccan, atheist, or what-have-you.  Your religion does not determine your eligibility to marry in this country, because it isn’t relevant to civil marriage law.

It is true that clergy were granted dispensation to conduct marriages in the USA, probably dating all the way back to its founding.  But perhaps you’ve noticed that even a Christian couple needs to apply to the government (via the Town Hall where they live) in order to get permission for the church to marry them.  This is because marriage is a legal institution that determines legal relationships, for purposes such as inheritance, property ownership, insurance, Social Security benefits, etc.  Your pastor, or Rabbi or High Priestess is simply performing the ceremony as a proxy for the state.  He or she may also being doing it on behalf of your god or goddess, but the government isn’t concerned with that.  The government is merely concerned with your legal marital status for the purposes mentioned above (and taxes).

So when it comes right down to it, if somebody wants to insist that his religion disapproves of homosexuality (to put it mildly), then yes he certainly is within his rights to believe that and to say it.  But when somebody tries to tell me that laws should be passed which will force everybody in this country, including the 30% who aren’t following his religion, to obey the dictates of his Bible or his God…well, that’s another matter entirely.

If a Christian couple (male and female) went to a Jewish synagogue and demanded that the Rabbi marry them, the Rabbi would have  every right to say, “No.  You have to be Jewish, before I can marry you.”  But that’s entirely different from that Rabbi insisting that everybody in the entire country be Jewish, before they’d be allowed to get married.

Likewise, Christians should not be insisting that the law force everyone in the country to adhere to Christian mores, regardless of the fact that they are clearly in the majority.  What about those religions that have no issue with same-sex marriage?  They do exist.  My husband and I were married by a pagan priestess.  Other same-sex couples have been married by Unitarian churches or simply by Justices of the Peace.  (And now, of course, there are Christian churches performing same-sex marriages in some parts of the country.)

In other words, if a minority religion believes in same-sex marriage, Freedom of Religion is not served by making it illegal for any church or JP to perform same-sex marriages.  This is why the Constitution does forbid any one religion from dictating the law to rest of the country.  Being in the majority does not invalidate this.