Many years ago one of those goofy email quizzes came my way where you’re supposed to answer these generic questions then send it on to x many of your friends to get to know them better. 99% of the time sent them straight to my trash bin, but my wife (girlfriend at the time) sent me that I decided to do. The question that sticks out was what was my worst fear. It didn’t take much time to answer it honestly: I fear failing. My steadfast belief is that I’ll never fail anything in life for lack of trying.
The sands in my life’s hourglass have poured long enough that I’m either getting wiser or more cynical. I had a touch of a personal epiphany while writing Devil’s Icebox a couple of weeks ago. What I came to realize I posited as coming from the main character – and at the time it did – but it came from me as well. I wrote about fear and personal limitations. Tonight in the gym I believe I ran head first into that very same inhibiting wall.
In my “prime” (before I tried to rip my arm off at the shoulder), I could bench press over 400 pounds. RAW. That means without assistance from a shirt. I never had the chance to prove it in a power lifting meet due to the aforementioned incident while attempting multiple reps at 415. My best squat was 475, again without a squat suit. These days, a little over two years later, I fluctuate between being able to bench 315 and 350lbs (I did 365 with my assistive bench shirt). I can still work up to my max in the deadlift (550), and I’ve come close to 475 in the squat, but that factors into what’s stopping me these days.
My head is stopping me, I think. Having been through a catastrophic injury I have a sense of mortality about my joints / muscles / bones / whatnot. I am afraid of doing the same thing or worse to myself. I’ve come a long ways but I can’t trick my brain into recruiting 110% like I used to. Without that extra oomph, I can’t get where I want to go. I can’t even make the same kinds of gains I used to make. Is it wisdom gained from mistakes that stops me, or is it fear that’s holding me back from achieving what I want to?
Whatever it is, it’s upsetting and disappointing. Perhaps it’s a flavor of what the high school football star who turned into a used car salesman feels. The flip side of the coin is that it only applies to extreme weight lifting and not my desire to branch out and try other things (case in point my wife wants to make sweet potato black bean quesadillas in the near future and thought it sounds rather unpleasant to me, I like to try new things). I’m afraid of tearing muscles in my legs so I don’t squat as hard as I should. I’m afraid or ripping a pec so I don’t push myself on the bench. I’m afraid of losing my balance and falling so I don’t power clean as much as I probably could. Quite honestly, it sucks. But at the same time, I’m still walking without a regular limp.
For tonight at least it’s back to writing. We’ll see what the gym brings the next time I bring it to the gym.
To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.
I’ve had this revelation a few times now, but this year it’s never been more true. I’m in a particularly productive place these last few months, having published four books so far this year and having two more in the process. Writing definitely takes up the majority of my time for each project, but keep in mind that majority only means it’s a greater percentage than any of the other slices in the pie.
The things I never thought or knew about getting into writing was all of the other work involved. Writing isn’t just a fire-and-forget process. Sure, I’ve got some talented people that help out between editing and cover art, but each book is my baby. I’m responsible for what the world sees, and if I want to be successful, I have to make certain that each one is as good as I can make it. I haven’t had this talk with any other writers, but I’d be astonished if they didn’t feel similarly – or at least the successful ones.
I figure writing takes about 60% of the time a book’s being worked on. 30% for editing and cover art (typically simultaneous), then the remaining 10% for final editing and releasing. And that doesn’t cover the other aspects of being a successful writer…
So let’s take an example: I finished Voidhawk – The White Lady earlier this year. I believe it took me about 4 weeks to write it. Yes, it’s a full length novel. I’ve been throwing down anywhere from 2k to 8k words a day when I write. It spent another couple of weeks with an editor and a couple of weeks with the cover artist. After I received the edited version back I had to go through it again, make the corrections, and do my own final review. No matter how good an editor is, they miss something. Maybe they miss an auto-correction MS Word did or maybe they attributed some awkward wording to the writer’s style. In either case, I’ve never once found a fully edited manuscript that didn’t need another touch up. Heck, I still find mistakes when I go back to do some continuity checking on books (and yes, I fix and upload those errors immediately).
So with The White Lady I spent 4 weeks writing, then another couple of weeks waiting, then another week editing. That was a very streamlined process. I’ve got some great people working with me who can really turn things around. Major kudos to them. But here’s one of the reasons why: I pay them. I pay them and I pay them on time, every time. The faster they work, the more work they get and the more money they make. People who work for free can do a good job, but the odds are they aren’t dedicating the kind of attention to it that I want. This is a professional product, shouldn’t the people working on it be professional too?
After The White Lady I worked on Devil’s Icebox, the long awaited sequel to my paranormal novel, Dark Earth. That one rolled off my fingers too, but it’s looking at about 4 weeks for editing and cover art. Then another week or so for me to go through it again. My hope is to release it in mid to late April. But while it’s being edited I’ve been busy…
Squatter’s Rights, part 5 in Vitalis, my futuristic sci-fi series, was my fastest book yet. Granted, my Vitalis books are novellas rather than full length novels, but it still only took me 5 or 6 days to write it. Nevertheless, it’s in an editors hands waiting for the red pen of love. Valerie McCarty, the editor for my Vitalis books, confirmed that she might even get it done this week. I’m not sure the cover art can happen that quickly! I’d love to launch Squatter’s Rights in early April, but we’ll see how things go.
What’s next? It was supposed to be the third book in my Wanted series. I’ve got a lot of ideas for it, but I haven’t found the right one to really pull me in and make it worth reading. Oh sure, I could write something and it would be entertaining with those characters, but that’s not good enough. Wanted and Ice Princess were really good books and I won’t settle for anything less than top shelf material for the third book.
Instead I started up something new last night. It’s a new series called Lost Treasures that takes place in my Dark Earth setting. Lost Treasures is approximately 10 years after Dark Earth, but the relationship to the other books (Dark Earth series or The Lost Girls series) will be minimal. I’m living out my childhood fascination with Indiana Jones in this one and so far, I’m expecting the book to be a lot of fun! All told, I expect this one to take 4 – 6 weeks to write, then the editing process. My Dark Earth setting editor might not be able to get to until July, but she’s the best and worth the wait.
Those other aspects of being a successful writer I mentioned? That’s the time spent making modifications to previously published books (edits, links, etc.), setting up marketing / advertising / promotions, blogging, and working with peers to make good things happen. It usually doesn’t cost all that much in dollars, but the cost in time can be overwhelming. Especially if you’re crazy enough to release multiple books in a short time frame like I did this year! Special thanks to my wife for putting up with the chaos I’ve put us all through getting these things out there. She’s an amazing women and no, she doesn’t have any sisters.
To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.
This probably will make no sense if you haven’t read my prior posts leading up to this one. So far there are two posts, feel free look them up, they have the keyword “Betrayal” in the title. Now, without further delay, here’s the next chapter in Betrayal’s Hands…
“My Lady General,” one of the Nordlamar scouts called, hurrying up to her as she walked from one tired unit to another.
Shar stopped and returned the scruffy looking young man’s salute. “What news?”
“Captain Promus lives, General!” His voice betrayed both his excitement and his anger. “As do many of her soldiers. They’ve been taken prisoner and I witnessed them being branded as slaves. They were breaking camp—I fear they return to Aradmath, to Duth Darek.”
“Damnation,” Shar muttered, her soaring hopes crashing to the ground. “Which camp? What is their standard?”
“Makan, Lady,” the scout said. “His forces were the ones to capture hers.”
Shar scowled and looked off in the distance towards the smoke that rose in thin spires from the enemy campfires too numerous to count. The soldier read her mind and spoke without being bidden, “They’re far behind the lines, General, they are lost to us for now.”
“Damn,” Shar muttered again, but nodding her head at the scout’s wisdom. After all, he’d seen the situation, she had not.
“Send word to the Captains, I want one warrior from each; their sneakiest, dirtiest, and most dangerous,” She told him after a moment. Then she nodded her head, determined in her course. The scout saluted and was off, hurrying to do her bidding.
“Soldier,” she called after him, halting him in mid stride. “Refresh yourself first, you’ve the look of the wild in you.”
The scout smiled thankfully and hurried off towards the mess tent, already imagining the wonderful smell of baking bread and stew thick with fish, meat, and vegetables.
“I’ll get them back one way or another,” Sharlotta muttered to herself after he’d left. “You just hang on, Anna, and don’t get yourself killed!”
* * * *
The caravan rolled slowly up to the imposing East Gate of Duth Darek. Sentries posted on the walls had been alerted by the advanced scouts about the arrival of the baron and his troop. Inside the gates the caravan split into two, the baron and his family moving towards the wealthier inner city. The slave cages and the bulk of the soldiers went south to the auction square and slave pens.
Anna looked out from her cage at the city, trying to note the twists and turns they took as the caravan wended its way through the buildings. The outer sections, near the gate, were filled with downtrodden buildings often in need of repair. The further in they went the nicer the buildings and the people looked. Soon enough the buildings began to show signs of abuse and neglect. It was then that she noticed the stink of unwashed humanity mixed with death and decay. The final ingredient in her nasal assault was the bitter sting of lime, no doubt used to dispose of the dead.
Before the slave pens and the auctions square were fully in her sight, a warrior dressed in Baron Makan’s livery rode his horse back along the line to her wagon and its escort. “You’re to take this one to the house and have her bathed.” He ordered the driver and the escort warriors. With a nod, the wagon turned off and Anna could only see her soldiers for a moment more.
They moved along the twisting streets among the buildings of unwashed grey stone for what seemed like an interminable amount of time. Anna crouched low in her cage and tried not to give into self-pity. Eventually, the driver of the wagon pulled up and stopped before a large house, as grey and featureless as all the others in this district. Her captors approached the door to the cage, one unlocking the iron padlock with a key from around his neck. She fought them as they dragged her from the cage. Fierce as a wolf defending a litter of pups, Anna was nevertheless hauled out of the cage. She was moved, still struggling and kicking, into the house and through the halls to the bathing room. She could feel eyes upon her, but she saw no one as she moved through the building. Forced into the bathing room, she could see a large tub and smell overpowering perfumes. Anna found herself unceremoniously dropped into the tub.
Sputtering, she surfaced to find herself the subject of a group of strange women dressed in simple robes devoid of any real color. They descended on her en masse, attacking with brushes and soap. Her hair was pulled as they scrubbed at it with flowery shampoo. She attempted to fight back, only to find herself pushed under the water until her breath nearly gave out. When she again surfaced, she was gasping and too weak to do more than cooperate. The women finished her bath quickly and efficiently, washing her everywhere.
Once she was bathed Anna was wrapped in a towel and returned to the soldiers. The eldest of the women looked to the oldest of the warriors. “Put her in the end room at the top of the stairs. I think you’ll find that everything you need is there.”
The warrior nodded, turning and gesturing to the others to bring the still fighting Anna. Up the wooden stairs they went, moving along the long balcony past multiple entrances. The sounds coming from behind a few of the doors that hadn’t been properly shut clued her in to the purpose of this house. The door at the end of the hall was opened by the older soldier. He entered the room and watched the others as they escorted Anna inside. Against the far wall was a large solid bed with heavy posts at each corner. Attached to each post was a chain and manacle. Anna’s eyes grew wide as she realized her captor’s intent. She renewed her attempt to escape with vigor. Laughing, her two escorts pushed her down onto the bed. The free man attached the first of her flailing hands to the appropriate bedpost.
Screaming in anger, Anna swung her other fist, hitting the warrior in the side of the head. His tooth bloodied her fist, but she had the satisfaction of seeing his pain. The warriors made haste to chain her limbs to the bed. One of the younger ones draped a sheet over her naked body, and all three left the room. Anna heard a key turn in the lock, and then footsteps down the hall.
Baron Makan led the convoy of his family through into the luxuriant architecture of the inner city. The closer they came to the palace, the larger and more ornate the houses became. They stopped in front of a nearly palatial estate. As the carriage pulled to a halt, the Baron rode back along the lines to speak to his wife.
“Lady, I will be out for most of the evening, I have several meetings to conduct. Don’t wait supper on me.” Nodding brusquely, he turned his sturdy horse and rode off towards the city.
The baroness sighed. She rightly assumed that his ‘meetings’ would be conducted in the gaming parlors and brothels of the outer city. She longed for the days when she held his interest. After the birth of their last child it was rare that he visited her bedchambers, and romance was nearly unheard of even then.
Baroness N’meria let a servant assist her in departing the carriage and looked about, wondering where Karoak, the captain of their home guard, was. He’d been the most recent of her servants to sooth her loneliness on many nights and she was beginning to feel forgotten and undesirable. If Makan would simply remember his love for her sh’d gladly give up her lover and return to his arms, but it seemed the older and the more influential the King’s Baron became, the less of his past he cared to remember.
“Lady T’leren, Lord’s Baron Darleth dep Katal called upon you while you were out,” another servant said.
T’leren’s face almost remained impassive. After a very brief pinching of her eyebrows she smiled and thanked the servant. “I shall have a letter sent to him right away,” she said, inwardly dreading the experience.
“Nonsense, daughter, you should visit him! Yes, on the ‘morrow, I think. A good night’s rest and a bath and then we shall head out for there,” the Baroness said.
“Shouldn’t we wait for father?” T’leren said quietly, hoping.
“He worked hard for this union, of course he’ll approve.”
T’leren smiled again, hiding her sigh of discontent. She had no interest or desire in the ruthless Baron. Her mother might have high hopes for her, but her mother was a hopeless romantic and a hypocrite. T’leren knew full well that she was having an affair on her father; many of the staff knew of it. In fact, rumor had it that over the years more than a few of their servants had taken their turn at warming her bed.
Yet all the while the baroness proclaimed such virtues as undying love and eternal companionship. Not for the first time, T’leren dreaded her future and wondered what could possibly be worse than to live in such slavery.
An image of the caged woman, naked and shameless, came to her mind then. T’leren shivered and realized that there were indeed worse things. The chains she dreaded weren’t the ones that the Nordlamarian wore. Then again, thinking of the many nights she had witnessed her mother hiding her tears at her father’s actions, she wondered whose servitude was worse.
* * * *
Shar stood on the wooden tower and watched as twenty sweat-stained warriors fought against another twenty. She marked several of them as they were defeated. Soon only a handful remained, defenders of the scenario that they’d established. It was the fourth one of the day, and she was keeping a list of each soldier’s performance.
“Regul,” she said, turning to the older sergeant standing near her.
He turned to her and said, “yes, General?”
“Narrow it down to thirty by tomorrow morning, then give them two days off. Keep an eye on them. I only need twenty, the rest are to be returned to their units.”
“My Lady,” Regul acknowledged, saluting her with a fist to his chest. “I can tell you now who will lead them, he is a scout named Corillius Argondiir. I believe you know him.”
Shar nodded. Corillius was her cousin, the son of Bethel Promus, her aunt on her father’s side. Cor was also the grandson, through his father’s side, of Argondiir Fireeye, the chieftain of the Nordlandiirs when her people had fled Aradmath in secrecy. They had joined forces and created a new nation. She knew her cousin well, but not as well as Anna did. They had grown up together and fought and played together. He would see her free or he would not return.
Shar watched a moment longer and then turned and walked away. They truly were a dangerous group of people, she admired their skills and their dedication. They could sneak through the sparsest of cover as silently as a shadow, spring up and strike without warning, then be away before anyone knew they were there. She needed them, her sister and her warriors were in trouble and well on their way to Duth Darek.
In three days they would be on their way to getting them back and avenging their fallen. Shar only wished she could go with them. The mantle of leadership was more responsibility and duty now than it had ever been in her life, and not for the first time she wondered when her duty to her people would be served.
To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.
I was a sarcastic and pessimistic punk as a teenager. Nothing was ever good enough and the world owed me. I can admit it and in a few years I expect the majority of today’s teenagers will admit the same thing (not about me, about themselves). I’d wager it’s gotten a little worse these days than it used to be – so does that mean I was ahead of the curve?
It took me some terrible events and rough times to pull my head out of my ass, but these days I’ve actually adopted some outlooks on life that would make the teenage me would cringe in horror. I don’t claim a monopoly on stupid mistakes though – I think we all have our unique levels of stupidity that we have to go through to get where we need to go. As a parent it makes it that much harder to know our children will one day be foundering until they figure themselves out and there’s precious little we can do, other than trying to prepare them as best we can for what will come.
But I’m not here to wax away on the past or on how child-rearing. Far from it, I’m hear to say that hard work and perseverance can pay off. It’s not paying as well as I’d like it to, but I see improvements all the time and I can attribute those improvements to the actions I take to try and influence them. For example, just yesterday I set a personal best on book sales, and it blew my socks off. I sold over 100 books on Amazon in the United States in a 24 hour period. My average isn’t anywhere near that, but it’s been steadily increasing. Seeing that number caused a double fist pump and I was even tempted to go for an air guitar solo. Somehow I refrained.
My fellow writers want to know what I’m doing to generate these kinds of sales. Or at least the ones who aren’t selling as many want to. I can’t blame any one thing specifically, but that’s because I’m doing so many things. Writing is the biggest one, I’d wager. I’m trying very hard to not let a month pass without a book being published by me this year. I’m not sure that’s going to be possible much beyond April, but so far / so good.
I’m also doing everything I can to make it as easy as possible for my readers to find my other books. From links on blogs and my website to links in my ebooks to sequels and other books. I’m still surprised to get emails from people asking if I’ve written a sequel to such-and-such when I’ve included a link to it or a snippet about it in the book they just read. I’ll be damned if I’m going to blame my readers though, itjust tells me I’m not doing a good enough job of letting people know. First thing I do when I get those emails is take the time to correspond with that person and share with them as much as I can. My readers are important to me, I want them to know how much I appreciate them and if that takes 10 minutes of my time then so be it, it’s 10 minutes well spent.
In other realms I blog and I tweet in hopes of sharing news about myself and my writing. The evidence indicates that it seems to help. Although I spent about two months with some broken Twitter apps that were not tweeting for me and I still saw sales steadily improve. I love Twitter and the people on it, but I don’t think it’s the end all to advertising and promotion that some would suggest.
I’m excited these days for another reason too – I just finished the rough draft for Devil’s Icebox, the much awaited sequel to Dark Earth. I loved writing it and I’m looking forward to writing the next one as well. But first I have to work on another project, part 5 of my Vitalis series (Squatter’s Rights). I was worried when I started it, fearing I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. I’ve got plenty of ideas but getting them on paper was the tricky part. It turned out I was unnecessarily concerned, once I started in on it the words just started flowing. At the pace I’ve set I hope to finish it by early April, if not sooner. Yeah, it’s going that good!
After that I’ve got my work cut out for me. Book 3 in my Wanted series is scheduled and I know people are expecting a lot from this book and I intend to deliver. I have to struggle on a daily basis to not think about it – my brain wants to start working on it but I’m not ready for it. If I lose control then I’ll get my projects screwed up and no good will come of it. That, in my opinion, is one of the big secrets to writing success – self discipline. Writing is a job. It’s a fun job, but it’s still a job and failing to treat it responsibly will lead to being out of work.
So stay tuned my friends, I promise some great stuff is happening and, if I have my way with it, it’ll be happening on a frequent basis!
Regular readers of my blog know that I don’t recommend writers read the reviews written on their books, or if they do, to do so sparingly. Well, taking my own advice it’s been a while since I dared check for new reviews on my books. What I found surprised me…in a good way!
Wanted, my near future sci-fi book that’s free for the Kindle, wracked up 15 stars in only 3 reviews last week! It got praise such as, “I enjoyed the whole book because the author really made these characters come to life for me.”, “This book was exciting and couldn’t lay it down for long before I picked it up again.”, and “I read this in 2 days, as I could not wait to see what happened next.” Talk about feeling all warm and fuzzy!
There was something else from last week in there too: The first review for Voidhawk – The Elder Race (also 5 stars). This one really excited me because the book’s been out there forever, sold hundreds of copies, and only know gotten it’s first review. Here’s a snippet of the review: “It combines 18th and 19th century technology and attitudes with, hell, I don’t know, 23rd century space travel? Nevertheless, the characters suck you in and you start to get into the relationships and all of a sudden you are buying into the whole deal.” Pretty cool, if I say so myself!
This weekend my wife went to visit some friends in another state. It turned out to be a drama filled adventure all its own, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about me being equal parts devoted parent and dork. My children are 5 and 3 at the moment and I decided that it was time to introduce them to one of the staples American cinema culture: the Star Wars series.
First my thoughts on the series. I saw the first one (episode IV) in the theater when it came out. I was almost young enough to not know any better. The one thing that stuck with me was, “These guys are flying through space, why do I keep hearing the space ships?” A few years later Episode V came out and the part that really killed it for me was when Luke was hanging upside down from Bespin City waiting to be picked up by the Millenium Falcon. Gas clouds aren’t known for their breathable atmospheres. Yes, I was a dork even as a kid. To be honest, I was a Star Trek fan more than Star Wars. I loved the science behind it and how they tried hard to make everything make sense. Not so in Star Wars – and to a young kid such as I was I didn’t know the difference between space opera and science fiction.
I won’t share my thoughts on the first three episodes when they came out and I saw them as a cynical adult.
Now, as a father, I have fresh thoughts to share. In episode I the acting was questionable at times. At others it just plain sucked. The story was entertaining, but am I the only person who thinks it’s kind of creepy that someone old enough to be elected the ruler of a world feels so strongly about a kid that when he shows up on her doorstep 10 years later (still not really an adult) she falls head over heels for him? I think most civilizations have laws against that sort of thing.
So in episode II I think we have the best of the three prequels, from an entertainment perspective. I’d love to rip that goofy rat tail off of Annakin’s head, but that’s just a personal preference. To really complete the picture Obi Wan should have been sporting a mullet. In this book we begin to have the force explained to us, and how the Jedi are so “good” because they fight to have no feelings or attachments. In fact, it’s considered downright respectable to have no ambitions in life. I’m surprised the Jedi council didn’t consist of a bunch of people slumped on couches passing a joint around.
Enter episode III. Annakin is a whiny bitch more or less throughout the movie. In fact he ruined Darth Vader for me. Yes, Darth Vader was previously my favorite character in the entire series. When Annakin switched sides it was more than just lacking, it was insulting. He gave no real reason for the switch, he just put on his knee pads, knelt down, and offered to service the emperor. Leading up to it we learned more about the force and the Jedi. I have to say that, given how the Jedi are supposed to forsake all things in life except for being mindless sheep, I’d go the sith route too. I can’t imagine any desire to visit destruction on people at large but a person without ambition and goals is little better than a boat anchor. And the way senator Amidala punched out because of a broken heart in spite of the fact that she just had twins? That’s pathetic! Cowardly, selfish, and ultimately the kids got lucky they didn’t have to live with a mother like that. As for Natalie Portman – by Episode III I thought she’d really grown as an actress and was doing an excellent job.
I haven’t had the kids watch IV, V, and VI yet but we’ll get around to that sometime. It’s not because I want them to love the movies (although it was cute as hell when they both picked up toy swords so they could pretend to be fighting in the beginning of the clone wars at the end of episode II), it’s because I figure other kids may be and I don’t want them to feel ignorant or left out. As a parent I’m not sure I like a lot of the messages I see the movies portraying to kids. I want my kids to be motivated and ambitious. I don’t want them trying to choke their classmates across the room if they have a disagreement, but I also don’t want them trying to not care about anything so they can make sure they’re not going to turn into a bad person. Fear is a great thing, it teaches us lessons and helps us to grow. Being afraid is not a bad thing! Overcoming a fear is what makes a person a hero.
All in all, I think George Lucas did a great job of providing mindless entertainment, but a lousy job at telling a story. I’ve always felt conflicted about Star Wars. I enjoy the setting and the opportunities but I feel it’s been done an injustice in the way its been portrayed. I even started a Star Wars story once (writing, not reading), but I gave it up for fear of any IP or copyright concerns. Some day I’d still love to go there, but that’s a matter requiring releases and reassurances that I wouldn’t have my ass sued off.
Here is the next part of Betrayal’s Hands, officially title, “Chapter 1″. It’s rather long for a blog post but I wanted to get as much in as possible to make sense. Enjoy it and stay tuned for next weeks addition!
Annalyse woke to a bucket of dirty water being dumped on her face. She coughed and tried to wipe it out of her eyes. Her hands were bound, however, and she realized she had no idea what had happened to her since the chariot went down. A throbbing ache at her left temple alluded to a violent reason for her memory loss.
“Listen up you scum!” A deep male voice growled from her right side. As Anna began to focus, she could see the owner of the voice standing upon a rough wooden platform before them. He was dressed in the trappings of Aradmath nobility. He was accompanied by several warriors, further testimony to his rank.
“I am King’s Baron Makan dep Nathmar, and all of you northern beasts belong to me!” He raged, spittle flying from narrow, cruel lips, as he shrieked at them. “My soldiers captured you in your pathetic attempt to surround the great armies of Aradmath, and for your treachery to Our Kingdom, I should have you all executed!”
His hard eyes grew more narrow as a thought occurred to him. “As a matter of fact,” he rasped, “I believe I’ll do just that with a few of you, as an example of just how worthless you are,” Makan paced up and down the platform, eyeing up the prisoners. Each and every one of them able to do so glared up at him, the seething hatred in their eyes aimed at him and everything he professed to stand for.
“That one, that and that” Makan said, pointing to the three random prisoners that were unfortunate enough to have caught his eye. He chuckled, an insane little sound, and smacked his meaty hands together, “Yes, I do believe I will enjoy this. Squashing bugs.” He grinned again, drawing more antagonism from the ranks of captives.
“Leave them be, pig!” Anna shouted, struggling valiantly to rise to her feet.
A hulking guard stepped to her side and casually punched her in the face. He followed it up with a growl, “Silence! Hold your tongue bitch, or I’ll have it cut out!”
“Wait,” Makan said, marching over to get a closer look at her. Anna raised her head and glared at him, blood running freely from her broken nose and split lip.
“Who are you that you think you can speak to a King’s Baron that way?” He demanded.
“Annalyse Promus, Captain of these honorable soldiers!” Anna spat blood in Makan’s general direction, hoping to draw his rage against her.
“You have spirit, wench, something I’ll not tolerate in my slaves. Perhaps I should have you killed as well,” Makan said, eying her and considering his options.
“No, I have a better idea. Bring her up here, Guard.” He grinned again, gesturing to the makeshift stage his men had build for the executions.
The guard untied the harsh ropes from her wrists and ankles and dragged her up the stairs and onto the platform. Although her hands and feet were nearly numb from lack of circulation, she fought to make his job difficult. When he tried to strike her again, she ducked the blow and brought her joined hands into the side of his head. The heavy guard stumbled forward and Anna was on him like a cat, scrambling to pull his heavy sword free from its sheath.
Before she could fully commandeer the weapon, another guard had his hand atop hers. His other arm wrapped around her neck and pulled her to him, choking her. Anna managed to sink her teeth into his forearm, drawing blood and causing him to curse. The first guard had recovered and tapped her smartly on the head with the pommel of his dagger. Stunned, Anna went limp and fell to the ground.
“Yes, you definitely need to be broken,” Makan muttered, listening the cheering her soldiers were giving her from their bonds.
“Bind her to that pole,” Makan ordered pointing to a thick wooden beam that stood as a support for the hangman’s noose that hung over head.
Still stunned and unable to comprehend, Anna was dragged over to the timber and lashed to it. She was given no freedom of movement and scarcely enough slack to breathe. Her head hung low from the concussion but another bucket of scummy water flung upon her helped rouse her. She lifted her head up, eyes squinting from the pain in her head, and turned her venomous gaze upon Makan.
“Watch and learn, you foolish female,” Makan said to her, gesturing as three struggling Nordlamar warriors were led onto the deck and secured in various devices.
The first one, a grizzled old woman named Gretta, a pureblood northlander, struggled and spit on the guards who held her. They tied her kneeling and chest down to a stump, with her head laid across it. The second was a man by the name of Marcus, someone Anna had always been able to rely upon for his cool head in battle and keen aim with a spear. His head was placed in the noose and his feet upon another, smaller block of wood. The final prisoner was Valus, the young lad whose eyes were filled with fear.
Upon seeing Valus being tied to another headman’s block, Anna’s blue eyes grew wide and the blood of fury rushed to her face. “Leave him be, he’s just a boy!”
One of the guards standing next to her slapped her, hard. Her ears rung from the blow, but she used to pain to focus herself. Makan stepped over to Valus and looked down at him.
“Old enough to fight for the treacherous barbarians, old enough to die like one.” Makan laughed bitterly, “I’ve a daughter that looks to be his age,” he commented casually, “but I know enough to keep her safe from harm and on the winning side. She sides with those that the gods favor!”
The guards around cheered and saluted Makan as he smiled triumphantly. “Besides,” Makan continued. “You barbarians let your women fight with your men, another sign of your blasphemy and the disfavor of the Gods. The younger we can kill you beasts, the less chance you have to breed more!”
More cheering ensued. Anna struggled at her ropes, tearing at her skin where it rubbed her raw. She refused to relent, despite of the futility of her efforts. Her eyes were locked with those of Valus, who saw her actions and smiled.
Anna stopped, shocked by his expression. Valus’ smile reached his eyes and the fear left them. He nodded as much as his positioning would allow, letting her know all was well. He would meet his death with honor.
“What, has the fight been taken from you already?” Baron Makan said, looking at her and sneering. “The priests are right, you women truly are without souls to be cowed so easily!”
His insult was answered with appreciative laughter from his underlings. Anna kept her eyes locked on Valus then slowly turned her head to behold her captor.
“No,” she said when the laughter had died down. “I was admiring how much of a man that boy is, more than you will ever be.”
Makan’s cheeks flushed with anger and he clenched his fists. Angrily he held his hand up to stop the guard beside her from punching her again, then turned to the three captives and, one by one, made the gestures that started the execution in motion.
Gretta’s head rolled across the deck, severed by an axe, and was joined in bare moments by Valus’. Only valiant Marcus took some time to die, twisting and jerking from the rope that slowly strangled him after the guard had kicked the log out from under his feet.
When Marcus was finally still, Makan turned back to Anna and saw the rage in her expression. “Good, I was hoping you had some fight left in you,” he told her.
“Untie her and strip her, then tie her where the boy was,” Makan demanded.
Anna’s eyes narrowed, but she had no choice as she was approached by three of the heavyset guards. Her soldiers cried out in despair, but were silenced in as heavy-handed a manner as possible. In moments, her clothing was torn and shredded and laying on the wooden planks around her, Captain Annalyse Promus was tied to the same battered stump where Valus had lain only moments ago. Her cheek was laying in his blood, the coppery scent of it rising to her nose and nearly causing her, a seasoned veteran, to retch from anger and fear.
“Kill me, you pig,” Anna taunted him. “Kill us all, else one of us will return and take the precious daughter you spoke of from you. Then we will torture and kill your wife, and then your other offspring. We’ll butcher every member of your honorless family until you alone remain alive, then we’ll come for you too.”
“Oh,” Makan replied, chuckling. His hands moved to his belt and he unclasped it. “I’ve no intentions of killing you, yet. First you need to be taught your place.”
Anna’s soldiers gasped in outrage and shock as Baron Makan moved behind her and proceeded with his intentions. She gritted her teeth and forced the tears from her eyes as he thrust into her brutally. His rape was savage and quick, and then he staggered away from her.
Unable to see him, Anna nevertheless spoke in a ragged voice, “That was pathetic, you pig! I would wager that your children aren’t even your own if that is the best that you can do.”
Makan’s cheeks flushed again at her crude insult. He considered beheading her himself for her impudence, but a better idea came to him instead. “Have your way with her, men, and keep her alive, but waste no energy being gentle with this heathen bitch!”
He watched for a short while as the guards took advantage of his generosity, one after another thrusting themselves into her broken body in every perverse way possible. He watched her until her pain and hatred began to fade from her face, being replaced by a blank stare. Laughing aloud, he turned to his other prisoners, who had long since been beaten into being quiet.
“Learn your lessons well, and perhaps you’ll live long enough to redeem yourselves in the eyes of King Doremath,” he told them. Then he laughed cruelly at the absurdity of his suggestion. He turned and left the field, heading to his tent.
* * * *
“My Lord, a carriage arrives from the south bearing your flag.”
Baron Makan looked at the messenger, a squire barely in his 14th summer. He squinted, annoyed at the interruption, but rose from his chair and followed the boy from the tent he used as his field office. Sure enough, in the distance he could make out his standard flying from a carriage that approached the camp. He saw a full squad of knights riding with it as well.
“Damnation,” he muttered, turning and heading back into his tent. “That fool woman has no business being out here.”
“My Lord?” The squire stammered, concerned.
Baron Makan looked at him, surprised to see him still there. “Nothing lad. Go about your duties, I’ll tend to my wife when she gets here.”
“No, wait,” he said, stopping the boy in mid salute. “Take this wretched wench of a slave and put her in a cage outside, just as she is.”
“Yes, Sire,” the boy said, not daring to doubt his leaders wisdom. He expected the slave to freeze, if she were imprisoned naked for very long. They were far to the north from their own warmer lands in the south, so far north that many of them remained chilled around the clock. He didn’t know how anyone could live in such cold weather.
He went to the woman and grabbed her about the arm. She rose woodenly and followed him as he took her out of the tent. Makan watched her go, his thoughts distant. What would his wife possibly be doing visiting them out here? His mind also went to the vow spoken by the slave girl that he had just banished from his tent; she’d said that his family would be killed one by one with himself saved for last. He shook his head. A slave’s empty threats, made by one both a savage and a liar and female at that!
Makan chuckled and finished writing the report on his victory over the savages. He put his mark upon it and gestured for one of his servants to fetch him more wine. He pulled out a fresh piece of parchment and sighed, then begin putting quill and ink to it, writing another report. Makan longed for the days of glory, when his father, King’s Baron Nathmar, had been in charge and he’d simply led his father’s men at arms into battle.
Baroness N’meria ap Makan held out a white gloved hand to the young squire who opened the carriage door for her. With his assistance, she stepped carefully down from the conveyance, mindful not to set a dainty booted foot into a puddle just outside the carriage door. Once both feet were solidly upon the ground, she gestured imperiously that her daughter, Lady T’leren be helped also to step down. Once both ladies were out of the carriage, the squire motioned for the driver to remove it from the center of the camp. Shooting him a disdainful look, the baroness took her daughter by the hand and, dragging her in her wake, moved gracefully to the tent flap. She stood impatiently, waiting for the squire to catch up and open the door, when her eye was drawn to movement just outside the field of her vision. Turning, she gasped in shock to see the heathen woman suspended in the cage. Her gloved hands moved quickly to cover her impressionable young daughter’s eyes, but not quickly enough. T’leren had had a good look at the naked, disheveled and bruised woman. The thing that really struck her, however was the eyes. They’d changed from a look of blankness, of uncaring, in a split second to a look of absolute hatred. The girl’s shiver had nothing to do with the cold.
Their arrival at his tent flap having been anticipated, Makan sighed. He lingered long enough to be sure they’d experienced the cold before he bid them enter. His wife brushed in, pushing past the servants to stand glaring at him somewhat impatiently. Makan found himself preferring the sullen brooding of the slave girl, she’d at last finally been beaten and abused into her rightful place as his property. His wife, seemingly, would never accept such a role.
“What brings you to such a savage place, lovely N’meria?” Makan said while rising to his feet. He paused when he saw his daughter enter the tent behind her, his face flushing in anger, and again his mind flashed back to the vow made by the woman in the cage outside.
“Why have you brought our daughter to this place? At one time I believed you to have an ounce of common sense. I am finding this more and more unlikely! The battlefield is no place for women, you should return to your salon and your embroidery!” He raised his hand as though to strike her, and she flinched, just a bit, but enough to let him know that she had some fear of his anger. Lowering his hand, he turned away from her and muttered, “I’ll not waste my strength.”
Turning to the page who stood just inside the tent flap, he growled, “Alert the men, we will be returning to Duth Darek as soon as they can muster.” The boy scurried from the tent, hurrying to do his duty.
Shortly, one of the ranking warriors appeared at the tent. “What do you wish to do with the captives, M’lord?”
Makan took a moment to consider. “Load the cages on the wagons, we’ll take them back to the slave market and make some money from them. Prepare the brands, and we’ll make sure that this is a day they don’t soon forget.” The Baron laughed, a humorless cackle, totally devoid of human emotion.
“Lady, you will remain in this tent, and keep your daughter here also. I’ll not have you mixing with the common warriors, or the slaves. They are dangerous heathens, as like to take off your head as look at you twice.” With that the baron stalked out of the tent. His mind had moved beyond what had brought her in the first place.
* * * *
Anna watched with hatred burning in her eyes as the Baron walked out of the tent to the places where the prisoners were staked. His men were readying a single fire, piling on wood, making the embers glow hotter and hotter. One man brought out a strange metal contraption from one of the wagons. It appeared to be a cage of some sort with heavy leather straps on the back of it. The purpose of the object became somewhat clearer when the first of her remaining soldiers was grabbed by two Aradmath warriors, and the cage fitted over his head. The leather straps were buckled tightly to the post behind him, rendering him unable to move his head away from them. Anna frowned, wondering what new torture the Baron planned for them. Her breath caught in her throat, strangling a scream as one of the enemy warriors brought a red hot glowing brand from the fire and applied it to the still conscious soldier’s left cheek. The screams and the sickening smell of burning flesh caused spots to swim in front of her eyes. The cheering of the enemy locked into her heart a hatred of these creatures, a burning need to free herself so she could wreak vengeance upon them. Throwing herself at the bars of the cage, she screamed, a primal sound, ripped from her body by raw emotion.
Baroness N’meria and her daughter remained where the baron had left them, inside the tent. At the screaming, the baroness turned pale. She released her daughter’s hand, and sank down on the baron’s plank bed. The sudden scream from just outside the doorway drew T’leren. She moved, captivated towards the tent flap. Peering out, she saw the crazed heathen woman throwing herself at the bars of her cage, and wondered for a moment what she had done to be put in such a prison. The sight became too much for her, and she too joined her mother on the cot.
One by one, Anna watched as her remaining soldiers were branded with Aradmath’s ‘S’ for ‘slave’. The rope holding her cage was cut, and she fell as the cage hit the ground hard. Pulled from her prison by the two men, she was lashed to one of the posts, and for all her fighting, the cage was placed upon her head as well.
“Well, my little heathen, perhaps you have not yet resigned yourself to life as my property?” Anna looked up to see the leering face of Baron Makan. “This will be another step to breaking you…” He held out his hand and took the brand from one of his men. “I will personally deliver you into slavery, and it is by my hand that you are mine!” With that, he pressed the burning brand to Anna’s left cheek. She screamed hysterically with the pain for a moment, then blissfully passing into unconsciousness.
“I’d hoped for more screaming.” The Baron complained as Anna slipped from the waking world. “Load her cage onto the wagon. Deliver her to my private playground upon our return to the city, and have her bathed. Even I will only stoop so low.” The Baron laughed at his own crudity and went to collect his family for the return journey to Duth Darek.