Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Runaway - Part Two

Hello again, fellow digressors. So you may have noticed that while you've been seeing a bit more of me lately, it's mostly had to do with Jill Williamson's new eBook, 'Darkness Reigns' and how much you need to check it out. Hopefully that's settled well with you, but just in case, I'll post something that's been a long time in coming... 

......Writing music recommendations! 

No, not really. But since I mentioned it, I did purchase a couple of albums of orchestral/trailer music over the past several months, and they're both amazing. The first is 'Magnus' by Audiomachine and the second is 'Classics: Vol. 2' by Two Steps From Hell. I also have 'Classics: Vol. 1' and it is an equally worthy offering, and I would very much like to buy Audiomachine's 'Phenomena'. Here are their lovely album covers for your consideration. 

Y'all who are writers or just like awesome orchestral music to make your brains work better or make your day feel more epic should check it out. There are one or two tracks that aren't my favorites, but considering how many tracks there are in all four put together (ninety, in case you were wondering), for all of them to surpass my expectations would be quite a remarkable feat. Overall, I'm in love with the albums and have found them very useful in making my brain work and getting the inspiration going for me to write. 

Hang on -- you say you were expecting something else from the post's title? What, my music recommendations aren't good enough for you? You don't like epic orchestral scores that get your blood pumping and brain cells firing? 

Well, phooey, then. I guess I'll just get on to the point of my post: A while back (a long while, I'm afraid) some of you voted in a poll regarding which short story/novella I should keep posting on the blog. The choice was between 'Street Rats' (the protagonist being Talsyn Lethar from 'The Merchant's Son') and 'The Runaway' (the protagonist being Jorthen Lavahr from 'The Follower'). And the winner was... 

The Runaway.

Never fear, those who were gunning for 'Street Rats' -- it's entirely possible that one of these nights, I'll get tired of my main projects and, in a fit of rebellion, write another installment in that story and post it here. I can guarantee that my brain will keep plotting it and imagining how I would introduce it to you and explain it on the back cover of the paperback and conduct my author interview on television... 

Wait, I'm getting sidetracked again. You really should warn me when I start doing that. I get little enough done as it is. I haven't even addressed the lovely people who have at some point nominated me for blog awards (Annika at Writer And Proud and Adriana over at The Librarian Files, who are both more faithful bloggers than I am; you should check them both out right now, if you haven't already). I do desperately want to catch up on all that (and also on the stuff my best friend Sierra over at Words on My Page has tagged me for). I just need to track down all the places where they linked me to details about the awards/events, then follow their instructions. Maybe I'll do it all in one big post... The hard part will be in tagging other bloggers; I guess I know a few, but I tend to forget their addresses when it counts. 

Anyways, without further ado, I shall end your long wait (for a continuation of the aforementioned story, that is)... 

The Runaway - Part Two
It took four men to haul the stranger into the building, two to catch his horse, and yet another to fetch the base physician, but within the space of half an hour, all was accomplished, and Jorthen stood by as the physician, Geram, bent over a musty cot and examined their runaway's injuries. Jorthen flinched at the sight of some of the burns, but the greying man before him remained stoic and steady as he checked the boy's breathing, his pulse, and, for whatever reason, his teeth. The gangly stranger before him did not stir for any of it. 
Jorthen held his tongue for a few minutes, then cleared his throat. "What do you think?" 
"Eh?" Geram glanced at him, then waved a hand dismissively. "I've only just begun my examination. I have nothing to report as of yet." 
"Nothing?" Jorthen frowned and stepped forward to get a better look. "Can you at least tell how severe his wounds are? Will he live?" 
"I've seen nothing to warrant either a yea or a nay on that subject, Master Lavahr. I'll thank you to wait outside while I examine my patient." 
Jorthen worked his jaw and fought to keep his tone neutral. "He may be injured, but for all we know, he could pose a threat if he woke and didn't understand what was going on or what your intentions were. If need be, I can speak to him in his own language." 
"Don't see how you couldn't keep watch from just outside the door," Geram grumbled, shaking his head. He sighed heavily. "Fine, then. If you must be here, you can at least make yourself useful. I need his tunic removed so I can check for burns in more vital areas than his face and limbs." 
Jorthen nodded. He had assisted physicians in such tasks before, but as Geram used a knife to cut the boy's tunic free from his body, Jorthen's flight instincts threatened to carry him out of the room. Hardly an inch of the boy's body was not bruised, cut, or burned, but his back was the worst. A large portion of the flesh was branded varying shades of red, purple, and even black where something must have struck and charred him. Jorthen glanced away to compose himself, then took a deep breath. "What should I do?" 
"Just get me the burn medicine from over there." Geram nodded towards a shelf on Jorthen's far right where a myriad of bottles sat. 
Jorthen walked over to the shelf and examined the bottles, but the harder he stared at the scrawled words on the labels, the less he was able to read them. He found one that he thought said something like 'Burns' and carried it over to Geram. 
Geram took a look at the bottle and grunted. "Give me that," he said, snatching the bottle from Jorthen. He strode over to the shelf and started searching for the burn medicine himself. 
Jorthen swallowed his frustration, then forgot it entirely as he looked again at the boy, who now lay on his stomach, still unconscious, tortured back exposed. He noticed a set of strange, claw-like scars running parallel to the boy's spine, all of them darker than scars would normally be and shaped as though they were new, though he could see no other sign that they were. He frowned. "Those marks along his spine... Did those come from the fire?" 
"Scars and birthmarks don't concern me," Geram said, pushing past Jorthen with the proper medicine in hand. "Only the wounds that still stand to cause trouble." 
"But these," Jorthen began, then trailed off as he remembered that Geram likely wouldn't listen anyhow. He glanced down at the Shamindo boy again and took a deep breath. "You know, maybe I'll just step outside after all. Call me if you need anything." 
"Go, then," Geram said indifferently, and popped the cork of the medicine bottle without so much as glancing at Jorthen. 
Jorthen hesitated a moment longer, then glimpsed the boy's injuries again and found his motivation to leave renewed. A moment later, he was out in the hallway with the door shut behind him. He nearly collided with a small band of male recruits who tried to peer through the doorway before he shut the door. "Back to your duties," he said. "There's nothing to see here." 
"Is it true they caught a Shamindo spy?" A dark-haired, light-eyed boy at the edge of the group stared wide-eyed at the door as if the injured runaway might leap out at him with his teeth bared. 
Jorthen resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "No, it is not true." 
"How do you know?" One of the taller boys crossed his arms defiantly. "You only just found him, didn't you? Everyone knows Shamindo strays aren't to be trusted." 
"There are no spies here," Jorthen said. "Your superior officers will conduct an interrogation as soon as possible, and then we'll decide what to do with him." 
A chorus of protests broke out at his words, and more recruits joined the group either to protest or simply to watch the spectacle. "But how do you know he's not--" 
"Is it safe?" 
"Maybe he's an assassin, here to take out our alchemy instructor." 
"No, he's a horse thief, didn't you hear? He's here to steal our animals." 
"Maybe he's here to steal our secrets." 
"Or our lives." 
Jorthen clapped his hands hard, and the sound echoed through the hall. "That's enough," he shouted. Once the chatter had died down a bit, he scanned the crowd. "The situation is being handled, and I will update any genuinely concerned parties later when I have some actual information to give them. Until then, back to your training, or patrols, or whatever you're scheduled to do at this hour. Go." 
A discontented murmur spread throughout the crowd. but one by one the recruits dispersed and resorted to whispering their suspicions between themselves. 
Any thoughts of returning to his room to retreat from the stress of dealing with people were forgotten now as Jorthen centered himself in front of the door and clasped his hands behind him to keep a lookout. Perhaps none of the recruits meant any harm, but if Geram had been frustrated by one lieutenant captain hanging about while he worked, the fallout from several curious teenagers and twenty-somethings milling about watching him would be nigh on unimaginable. 
Whoever this boy might be, whatever reason brought him here, he deserved treatment from a focused physician, not one who turned away every few seconds to order people to back away. 
Jorthen stood still at the door for a quarter of an hour with little disturbance, and he considered turning back to check on Geram's progress. Footsteps echoed down the corridor, and he groaned inwardly. Why could the recruits not mind their own business for a few hours longer? 
But then he recognized the steady strides, measured, calculated, moving at a peculiar but repetitive interval, setting the bearer apart while still marking him as someone who knew exactly where he was going and why. 
Jorthen fixed his gaze on the wall directly across from him and instinctively tipped his chin up a fraction of an inch as a cold, familiar numbness crept into his fingers. 
Atrin Lavahr strode into his line of sight and brought his hands behind his back, icy blue eyes narrowing beneath dark hair carefully styled to fall over the faded scar on the right side of his forehead. "And just where have you been?" 
Jorthen swallowed and glanced off to the side before meeting Atrin's eyes. "Something came up. I had to help." 
"You were expected at a meeting regarding the age of recruitment and whether or not it should be lowered in the near future. It ended twenty minutes ago." 
Had it? Jorthen had no memory of such a meeting on his schedule, but then, the entire day been a blur since he'd woken up that morning with aching limbs and a fog in his head. He nodded once. "I apologize. The situation was... rather urgent." 
Atrin studied him for a long moment, mulling over his excuse. "And that situation is?" 
"A Shamindo boy showed up half-dead on a horse. I had to get him to Geram and ensure that no-one got in the way." 
"You had better concern yourself with more important matters than a thieving foreigner and his ailments, Lieutenant," Atrin said, then sighed and looked down the hall to his right. "I have another meeting to attend. We'll discuss your failure to fulfill your duties later." 
"I may be busy later," Jorthen said. "We still don't know who the boy is or what's to be done with him." 
"Fine, but get that all handled soon so you can get back to the work you're supposed to be doing. Understood?" 
Jorthen nodded. "Understood, sir." 
Without another word, Atrin turned and strode off with his usual gait in the direction he'd chosen. As usual, he did not bother looking back, and Jorthen did not bother trying to bid him farewell. With Atrin's absence, the feeling had begun to return to his fingers, and he found it easier to breathe without aggravating the old pain in his chest. He had been stupid for neglecting his duties without permission, but it might have been equally stupid to attempt to deal with a crowd of officers and dignitaries on a day like today, when neither his mind nor his body seemed willing to work the way they should. 
No sooner had he gotten used to the near silence than he heard a crashing noise behind him, followed by a thud against the door and a raspy voice screaming in Shamindo between hacking coughs. 
Geram's voice called over the chaos, "Lieutenant, you're needed in here!" 
Of course he was needed now. When else? 
Jorthen grabbed for his shakahn, then thought better of it and left the shortsword sheathed. If he was lucky, he would not have to draw it. He gripped the door's handle and ducked defensively as he pushed the door open and entered. A bottle flew past his head and smashed against the doorframe. 
As might have been extrapolated from the sounds he'd heard a moment before, the Shamindo boy had awoken and was less than calm about the situation. 
Jorthen grabbed Geram by the arm and pulled him out the door, then closed it quickly behind them and held it shut. The boy on the other side banged on the wood and tried to pull the door open, but a coughing fit stopped his efforts mere moments after he'd begun trying. 
"He tried to bite me," Geram said indignantly. 
"Come again?" Jorthen said, keeping hold of the door handle just in case. 
"I was tending the boy's wounds, and I'd nearly gotten far enough to come out and call for you, but no sooner than I'd turned around, he woke up and started hurling things at me. When I tried to sit him down again, he lunged at me and showed his teeth. Look what he did to my arm!" 
Jorthen glimpsed a row of scratch marks on Geram's arm, not very deep, but certainly recent. "Do you have any sedatives we could use to subdue him?" 
"Aye, but it'll be a miracle if he hasn't hurled it across the room by now." 
The sounds within no longer consisted of screams or pounding, nor even of bottles crashing against the wall. Instead Jorthen had to press his ear to the door to hear a series of gasps and coughs, along with a rustling sound he couldn't place. 
He glanced at Geram and straightened. "I'm going in there." 
"Suit yourself," Geram grumbled. "I'm going to call for more men to subdue him." 
"Hopefully it won't come to that," Jorthen said, then took a deep breath and slowly opened the door. 
The rustling stopped as he set foot into the room, and he halted. "It's all right," he called in. "I'm not going to hurt you. Do you understand me?" 
No answer came, but the gasping reduced volume to an uneven wheezing punctuated by the occasional light cough, and the rustling resumed. 
It was better than having a bottle thrown at him, he supposed. Jorthen stepped carefully over a pile of glass shards and turned with his arms raised in a peacemaking gesture. "We met earlier. I mean you no harm." 
He spotted the boy in the corner beside the examination cot, knees drawn to his chest, arms wrapped around his legs, wild green eyes staring up at Jorthen as their owner continued to gasp for breath. He looked even more defenseless with his tunic gone, and from this angle Jorthen could see marks on his head where either the fire had caught him or something else kept his hair from growing normally. But however harmless he appeared, provoking him could be dangerous, as recent events proved. 
"It's all right," Jorthen repeated, slowly moving his foot to push the door closed. He stepped forward and lowered his hands to his sides. "Take slow, deep breaths, all right? Cough if you need to. There's plenty of air in here." 
The boy's eyes flitted towards the floor directly in front of Jorthen's feet. Jorthen looked down and found a rather large shard of glass right where he would he stepped had he moved forward again. He swept the glass off to the side with the side of his boot. "Thank you. I almost missed that." 
The boy tensed as the glass shard collided with the leg of a nearby table, and he rocked more fervently, creating the rustling noise Jorthen had heard from outside. 
He wanted to give the boy more space, but he had no idea how long it would be before Geram returned with men who would not be so careful about dealing with him. He shuffled forward another step, swept aside another set of tiny shards, and knelt carefully, resting his hands on his knees where the boy would easily be able to see them. "...I'm Jorthen Lavahr. Can you tell me your name?" 
The boy looked at Jorthen's hands, then at his face, then at his hands again, distrust in his eyes. 
"Look," Jorthen said. "I don't know if you can understand me, but..." He hesitated. "...Sal treyn? Sri treynin Jorthen Lavahr." 
The boy's throat bobbed, and at last he spoke, his voice faint and excessively raspy. "Heard you the first time." 
Jorthen sighed, checked for glass behind him, then shifted to sit in a cross-legged position. "So you can answer me, right? Can you tell me your name?" 
The boy tucked his chin behind his knees and shook his head, dropping his gaze to stare at the ground. 
"All right, then. Can you tell me how old you are? Are you fifteen, sixteen?" 
"Seventeen," the boy rasped. 
Jorthen nodded. "Good to know. If you can't tell me your name, is there something I should call you?" 
The boy tried to speak again, but his words were lost in another hacking fit. Jorthen waited until the fit subsided, and at last heard the boy whisper, "San." 
Jorthen managed a faint smile. "Good to meet you, San. You can call me Jorthen." 
If San heard him, he didn't acknowledge it before Jorthen heard footsteps outside the door behind him. He tensed and called over his shoulder, "Don't come in." 
San flinched at Jorthen's volume and pulled his knees more tightly to his chest. 
"Sorry," Jorthen said more quietly. "Listen, San, I'm just going to get up and tell the people at the door that we're all right in here. I'll move slowly so you can see everything I'm doing. Deal?" 
San didn't look up, but his head bobbed briefly in a nod. 
Good enough. Jorthen stood carefully and made his way to the door, then opened it a crack and spoke softly to the people on the other side. "You can go back to your posts. I have the situation handled." 
The soldier directly on the other side looked baffled, then irritated. "You sent old Geram halfway across the base to summon us just to tell us to leave?" 
It was just like Geram to shift blame, Jorthen thought, but he overlooked the fib for the moment. "I apologize. If you want something to do, inform my father and co-instructors that I won't be part of the sessions this afternoon. Send them my apologies." 
"Lieutenant," one of the other soldiers said reprovingly. 
"If you'd rather come in and deal with the boy I've only just succeeded in appeasing, be my guest." 
The men on the other side of the door went silent, then one of them muttered, "Apologies, sir. We'll be leaving now." 
Jorthen rested his forehead against the open door and allowed himself a moment to relax. He heard shuffling and opened his eyes to see Geram's withered, wary face peeking into the crack. "Is he tamed?" 
"He's calm," Jorthen said. "If you want to come in, give me time to warn him first." 
Geram nodded and took a step backwards. 
Jorthen shut the door quietly and turned back to the figure huddled in the corner. "San, the physician needs to come in to clean up and finish treating your injuries. Is that all right?" 
San's eyes flickered and widened slightly, and he shook his head wildly, then sped up his rocking. 
"Hey, hey." Jorthen approached him and knelt again to match his eye level, then forced himself slightly lower. "I'll stay right here the whole time, all right? I'll make sure he doesn't hurt you." 
San gulped again, and in the same faint, raspy voice as before, he said, "Not a baby." 
Jorthen's mouth twitched to the side. "I know you're not. But I also know you're nervous and in a foreign environment. It's understandable not to trust anyone. But do you think you can trust me enough to let the physician in?" 
San's eyes rose briefly to meet Jorthen's, then dropped again, and he nodded almost invisibly. 
Finally, Jorthen thought, then turned his head to call just loudly enough to be heard by aged ears, "Geram, you can come in now." 
Now if they could just get through the rest of the day without anyone getting bitten, scratched, or hit by objects being flung through the air, the day would be at least a marginal success. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Review of 'Darkness Reigns' (The Kinsman Chronicles #1.1) by JillWilliamson

Hello again, fellow digressors! I apologize for disappearing over the last few days. Between finishing NaNoWriMo, dealing with Lyme stuff and a possible flu bug, and an encounter with peanuts and Benadryl, I've been a bit lazy. I didn't even manage to show you the countdown graphics for 'Darkness Reigns', but I suppose they're obsolete now, because... 


Some of you may have pre-ordered a copy already, but for those who didn't, you can snag it for your e-reader at any of the following retailers: 

Am I forgetting something...? Oh, right! I promised you all a full review when the book officially came out, didn't I? Well, here it is. 

First off, I read a digital ARC of this book which I received in exchange for an honest review. Honesty is important to me, and I have given less-than-glowing reviews of review copies before, so trust when I say that the following opinions are in no way coerced.
I've been a fan of Jill's books basically for as long as I've been aware of their existence. 'By Darkness Hid' was the first one I put on my wishlist, and also the first one I read, so the world and the characters are very close to my heart. I'm a die-hard fantasy fan, and especially Christian fantasy, which Jill writes masterfully. So I was, shall we say, rather intrigued when I found out that Jill was going to release another fantasy series. I was just a bit excited when I got the opportunity to read the first installment before its public release.

Okay, so maybe I had to do some repairs on the roof after I flew up through it. Sue me.

Bottom line, Jill did not disappoint with this one. One of the most important things to note, especially if you're coming to it as a 'Blood of Kings' fan, is that while it shares some elements with her other books, it is different in a few ways. First, 'The Kinsman Chronicles' is set hundreds of years prior to 'Blood of Kings' and therefore the setting is very different. Second, Jill usually writes what she calls "weird fiction for teens", whereas 'The Kinsman Chronicles' is geared primarily towards adults. As such, most of the characters are older and deal with different concerns, the most notable of which stem from the corrupt nature of the culture in which they've been raised.

The story is set primarily in Armania, a land ruled by a corrupt king who makes sacrifices to false gods and keeps several concubines, as well as multiple wives. This is considered normal for nobility in their culture (as was once the case in Israel when the people forgot Jehovah, and strong parallels may be drawn here). One character seems to be the victim of prior sexual abuse, though nothing is explicitly stated or shown, and characters practice dark arts through power drawn from dark spirits. As such, caution should be exercised when considering the book as reading material for less mature audiences. However, I should note that the author handles all these potentially problematic topics with care and restraint, and so puts the proper perspective on the characters' actions and lifestyles without allowing the story to become steeped in inappropriate scenes.

In my opinion, while the more awkward topics might make one squirm a little (the main reason I'm giving it 4.5 stars, though unfortunately there is no way to do that on most review sites), the darkness sets things up well for a future turning point when the characters find Arman (God) and make a change in their lifestyles. Have you ever heard the story of someone who was a slave to crime or passion or some other sin, only to experience a miraculous change when they gave their lives over fully to Christ? Those testimonies hold a unique power because of the sheer contrast they elicit between the darkness and the light. As such, I do believe it is important and necessary to show where the characters stumble (though with care, of course) to lay the groundwork for things to come.

The characters, imperfect as they are, are multi-dimensional and relatable. I especially enjoyed reading scenes with Wilek and Trevn, the Armanian Sars (or princes). Their personalities are different, but I found them equally relatable and might have a hard time deciding whom to root for should it come to a choice between one or the other in a future book. The story starts a bit slow as Jill sets everything up, but I didn't find that to be a major issue. The slower start gave me time to connect with the characters and get into their world in a way that a faster beginning would not have allowed. The world-building is superb as ever, with all due context given for the details of the immersive environment created for all the characters involved, without bogging the reader down in unnecessary info-dumps.

All in all, I'd say this is a good start to the series, and worth the read for discerning readers who enjoy epic fantasy. I'm excited to see how the rest of the series goes. 

Interested? As I said, it's a free download, so go check it out! In the meantime, here are the other countdown graphics which I failed to show you prior to the release date. Also, come join the Facebook party that's going until 9 p.m. Pacific time! There are Q&As and giveaways and we would all love to see you there. The link is in the comments. Enjoy, and happy digressing. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Exciting News for Jill Williamson Fans (And Mine, Too, I Suppose)

Hello there, fellow digressors. I return to you after months of being on the run after, unfortunately, faking my death. I would tell you why that was necessary were it not for the fact that telling you as much would mean I would have to kill you. 

Wait... Maybe that was just a dream I had after falling asleep trying to explain why I was gone for so long. Well, either way, I'm sure the government will be swooping down on me soon, either to change my identity or to arrest me for my serial-killer-esque search history. 

Anyways, I have big news for all of you who are familiar with the works of my favorite author, Jill Williamson, and particularly her 'Blood of Kings' trilogy, of which I reviewed the first book here.  

On December 1st, Bethany House Publishers will release 'Darkness Reigns', the first installment in a NEW FANTASY SERIES from Jill. That's right -- there are more Jill books on the way! 'Darkness Reigns' is a free eBook, and makes up the first third of 'King's Folly', the first book in 'The Kinsman Chronicles'. There will be three eBooks, and then the paperback of 'King's Folly' will be released in April of 2016. You can preorder 'Darkness Reigns' for FREE here and read it as soon as it hits the market!

But first, let me clarify -- 'Blood of Kings' was written for teens (and it was beautiful). 'The Kinsman Chronicles' is written for adults, and thus the content is somewhat more mature. I've been reading an ARC of 'Darkness Reigns', and let me say that while it is an excellent book and well worth reading so far (I'll post a full review when I finish it), it is very different from the related 'Blood of Kings' trilogy, largely due to the fact that it takes place hundreds of years beforehand, in a darker time when Achan's ancestors lived in a different land and lived less than godly lifestyles. The culture of the realms which the characters occupy is entrenched in idol-worship, and the king who rules over Armania in particular (where most of the main characters reside) is a corrupt man, and his corruption is reflected in the debauchery of the court and society at large. Parallels can be drawn between the rule of the Armanian king and the rule of the kings of Israel when the people forgot Jehovah and strayed to worship false gods. There are things such as human sacrifice, women calling upon dark spirits to gain power, and the presence of concubines and multiple wives taken by the king and various nobles. As such, caution should be exercised when considering the series as reading material for, say, young teens or anyone who does not appreciate a measure of darkness (restrained, of course) to provide contrast to the light in their fiction. 

Now, that being said, where there is great darkness, there is great capacity for the light to shine through and to shine all the clearer. After all, many a testimony has been given by a person who lived their own life in such darkness and found the light when they came to Christ, and I myself believe that these testimonies would not hold such power were it not for how much they did and went through, and consequently how much change God wrought in their lives. (Hey, I had a demon-possessed character in my first book and he tried to kill people. If that's not dark, what is?) And Jill, being a responsible author, handles the darkness in such a way that, while it is uncomfortable witnessing such a corrupt society, gore is kept to a minimum and the inappropriate relations which do occur happen behind closed doors rather than being flaunted for the reader to witness. Hence, Jill's careful handling makes what is admittedly a different read from her other books still very much worth the reader's precious time. The characters are multi-dimensional as ever and their stories are riveting. I can only imagine how powerful the transition will be when the characters (I don't know which ones yet) find Arman and allow Him to transform their lives. I, for one, am excited to see it happen. 

Oops. Did I just post a full review of the book before actually getting to the end of it? Well, I guess I am rather far into it. Still, I will update the review when the time comes and, hopefully, have more to add than I've already given.

At some point, I will endeavour to sketch portraits of the many lovely characters residing in the book, though I might have a little diffculty doing justice to their faces. (Incidentally, if anyone has any advice on how to sketch darker skintones without making them look splotchy, I would not say nay to such assistance.) 

All right, now to the goodies (virtual though they may be). Jill has, at the link below, posted a chart of the five realms in 'King's Folly' and written summaries of them. I definitely recommend checking out the list to start getting into the mood for when the first installment comes out in FOUR DAYS. 

Speaking of which, I do happen to have these lovely graphics, created by Jill for just such an occasion (although technically the first one was supposed to be for yesterday)... 

OH. That's right -- there's also going to be a Facebook party to celebrate the book launch, and you are all invited to attend. (I will post details about that as well when I post my review of 'Darkness Reigns'.) 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to finish reading this awesome book I've been going through, and also trying to finish the first draft of 'The Sehret Chronicles: The Rescuer'. Yes, you heard me correctly -- the end is in sight! I've just hit page 225 in the manuscript, and I'm already working on figuring out how to end this thing. (My writing process is complicated, but suffice to say, I'm making up nearly everything as I go along at this point, and it's resulting in quite a lot of plot twists. Anyone particularly attached to my characters and concerned for their wellbeing should probably be afraid of this stage of my process.) 

So what have you all been up to lately? Read any good books? Besides 'Darkness Reigns', I recently read 'Unwind' by Neal Shusterman. It's a dystopian novel, the first in a series, and while the premise may seem a little disturbing (basically, the pro-life and pro-choice people went to war and ended up making peace under certain conditions which allowed for teenagers to be "unwound" at their parents' orders), it's a really compelling story and worth the time to read. I've actually moved on to the second book, and the trend of haunting awesomeness has so far continued. It's nice having the brainpower to read books again, after a long period of being too foggy or distractible. Maybe that's why I've only recently gotten into the groove of writing again, since reading fuels my passion for writing. 

But, as ever, I digress. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Update On The Short Story Situation

All right, fellow digressors, here's the situation: A while back, I resolved to post the openings to several short stories and give you all the chance to vote on which one I should continue. I posted the first scene of two of them, then never got around to the others. Quite honestly, I would love to just run back and forth between all the possibilities and write them all and share my babies with you for your entertainment. (Yes, my characters are my babies. My very tortured babies.)

However... I am seriously behind in my primary project, 'The Sehret Chronicles: The Rescuer', and with how my health is, it's hard to do much of anything, so I'll be hard-pressed to get this book done by the end of the year. As you might have guessed by the sporadic nature of my posts, my brain is not the most reliable one in the world, and if I try to keep up with too many things at once, I'll just fall further behind in everything.

SO. Here's the deal. I find myself rather attached to both of the short stories I've already introduced, 'Street Rats' and 'The Runaway'. I think if I picked one of them, I might have a chance at making at least some progress with it, though I know at this point that to promise to churn out a scene every week would be unwise and unfair. Which one I would prefer depends on the day. 'Street Rats' gives me the opportunity to show a whole different side of a couple of my favorite antagonists (THEY WERE JUST BABIES, OKAY?), and that appeals to me. However, 'The Runaway' would give some insights into both Jorthen and Sohrem, and maybe set things up a bit for the books that take place after it chronologically. I also have a better idea of the plot for 'Runaway', so it is possible that I would put out scenes more reliably if I chose it.

But I miss Tal so much... Yes, I know I'm insane. He's still my baby, even if he did get a little... erm... messed up. And baby Siran is adorable. I love their early relationship, before things started to go really wrong.

...But I digress once again. Here's the bottom line: I want to write these. But it's probably best that I go with only one of them for the time being. SO. If it were up to you, which story would you like to see continued? In case you missed them earlier, or in case you'd like to review, here are the links to the opening scene of each:

So (yes, I like that word)... What do y'all think? Yes (I like that word, too), I do actually want to know what you think. I am an extremely indecisive person and a people-pleaser, so I'd like to be sure that you all have input into whatever I do here. I mean, sure, writing these things is fun, but I'd like to make sure other people enjoy them and not just me.

ANYWAYS. I hope I've explained the dilemma clearly enough. Feel free to ask clarifying questions about the stories or whatever below. Go!

Friday, May 1, 2015

An Open Letter to Those Who Feel Left Behind

(Hey, fellow digressors -- I'm alive! I bet you were starting to wonder, huh? I've actually had this post mostly written for a while, but I'm only posting it now. Sorry about that. Just so you know, I do intend to address the short story situation, as well. And I'm sorry if the formatting is off; I'm using the Blogger app on my phone. That will probably drive me crazy until I can get to my laptop and fix it. Sorry, OCD/OCPD people; I never meant to cause you pain... *ahem* But I digress. 

[UPDATE: I fixed it! Yay! ...I shall let you read now.]) 

You're not sure when it started, exactly. Life was normal -- even if it wasn't always perfect, it was fairly predictable. Then something started to change. Maybe a friend moved to a different state or went off to college. Maybe a sibling went off and got married. Maybe you were diagnosed with a long-term illness. Whatever it was, when it came, you thought you would learn to deal with it. You and that friend would keep in touch often, the sibling would meet with you for lunch once a week, and all your friends assured you that your illness would not change anything between you. You exchanged e-mail addresses, agreed upon an ideal day of the week on which to meet, and started treatment for that illness, confident (or at least hopeful) that things would return to normal soon. 

But sometime between then and now, something has shifted. You no longer feel the security you once did. You don't hear as much from that friend or that sibling, or you find yourself incapable of fulfilling what most people consider to be basic tasks. Oh, sure, all around you life goes on. But somehow you just don't feel like you're part of it. You've begun to feel disconnected from your friend or sibling, or you feel stuck in a rut of lying in bed all day while everyone else works, goes to school, gets married, or just keeps chugging away at [insert ideal "normal activity" here]

And here you are, standing (or sitting, or lying) right where you were when it all started, stuck. Fading into the background. Left behind. 

This letter is for you. 

On August 28th, 2012, I rode with my mom to a doctor's appointment. In my lap, I held a notebook, and on my way to see the doctor, I scribbled all the symptoms I could think of that had plagued me for the past couple of years. I can remember a few of the items now: Fatigue. Brain fog. Memory problems. Arthritis. Muscle aches. Depression. Sensitivity to light. The list went on. Part of me thought it was ridiculous, that at least some of these symptoms had to be in my head. There were too many, and no-one had fully explained them. 

Well, I supposed, someone had. Upon describing some of my symptoms to a friend, they asked if we had investigated the possibility of Lyme Disease. Being a chronic Lymie herself, she was well-acquainted with the disease and even knew who we could visit to get it tested. By then, I had been through several tests, most of them involving blood work, one of them involving electrodes stuck to my chest for a day to measure my heartrate. Although this physician was fairly new to us, we figured that we might as well visit him and try to get some answers. And anyways, his blood tests only involved a prick of the finger rather than a needle stuck into the arm, and for me, the less invasive the needle, the better. (Needles. Blech. I can't even type the word without shuddering.) 

So we walked into the small practice where the doctor worked, and I held tight to the list of things that had plagued me over the recent months and years (more specifically, the past year and a half). We walked into his office and sat down, asked our questions, and I handed my lengthy list over to him. I remember that he told me the list was consistent with Lyme, but of course he would have to check my blood to make sure. I held out my hand, and he pricked my finger and smeared a drop of blood onto a glass slide. I had to look away, of course. I've never been good with blood. 

As you've probably figured out by now, it wasn't a normal test, where you take vials of blood and ship them off to a lab and test for a hundred different strands of disease. This was much simpler. You take the blood and put it under a dark field microscope, and then observe the cell activity and look for parasites. (And believe me, it is effective. It's just different, is all.) The doctor took a look, then switched on a small television set connected to the microscope, indicated all the telltale signs in the bloodstream, and confirmed our suspicions. 

I had Lyme Disease. And by his estimation (combined with our own accounts of when my symptoms had become noticeable), I'd had it for about a year and a half already without treatment. So not only did I have Lyme, but it was late-stage, chronic, and had gotten into my brain and nervous system, wreaking havoc there. 

Strangely, when I got the diagnosis, I did not panic. I did not cry. I did not even wonder much about how this might impact my life in the near future. I just thanked the doctor, went to the car with Mom, and while she stepped into a grocery store, I sat in the car and vented my thoughts and feelings into a document on my iPad as I came to terms with my new identity: 

"I have Lyme disease.
I have been diagnosed with Lyme disease.
I am a Lyme patient.
I am a Lyme sufferer.
I know what's wrong with me.
I know why I've been sick for the past two years.
I know why I've had to quit karate.
I know why my peanut allergy has become life-threatening.
I know why dairy makes my stomach upset, and gluten makes my head heavy.
I know why I'm depressed.
I know why my liver is on the verge of collapse.
It's not my fault.
I have Lyme disease.
I know why a debilitating fatigue sometimes sweeps over me, making it impossible to work.
I know why I'm always sick.
I know the name of my disease, the name of my tormentor.
I have answers.
I have closure.
I have peace.
I have Lyme disease."

In my eyes, at that moment, everything was a little brighter. Sure, I was sick, but we would soon make the illness go away, and I could return to life as normal. I would keep going to church and drama ministry group, and soon I would be able to help around the house again without ending up on the couch. People would look at me no differently from before, and within a few months, I would be normal again. 

Two and a half years later, still Lyme-ridden and depressed, anxious, foggy, etc., I've begun to feel stuck. I'll admit it. Yes, when I really think about it, I can point to ways that my illness has blessed me even as I've suffered from it. It's mellowed me, made me care more, and forced me to slow down and take things one day at a time. It's given me no option but to trust God with all that I have and am, and it's taught me to reach out to others and not wallow in my own problems (though I can't say I always succeed in this). 

But I am not perfect. I am human. I have a mind that likes to twist everything and make me feel all the things that are least helpful to my recovery or to my ability to serve God. I have a body that gives out on me randomly and nerves that wreak havoc with my ability to function in public or even sometimes at home. I smile to the world, while inside I'm just hoping and praying that soon I will find relief. I walk into stores, and people stare at my cane, then look away when they realize I've seen them. I throw myself into helping with a project, then try to avoid people's frustrated gazes when five minutes later I have to retreat to my room to collapse. I tell others to hold on and find hope in God, while inwardly I'm screaming and pleading with God to give me even a glimmer of that hope which I pray I've been able to pass on to others. 

Oftentimes, I feel alone. I feel scared and tired and hopeless. Sometimes I stare at my bottles of supplements and just think, "Why am I still taking these? I've been taking them for years, and I'm still sick. It's still costing my family money. What's the point?" 

And when my mind takes that turn, it also likes to dwell upon all the things I haven't done. I wanted to go to college. I'm too sick to go and probably wouldn't have the necessary concentration, either, even if my treatments hadn't made finances complicated. I pictured myself as a stay-at-home mom. I guess at this point I'm open to marriage, but since I'm almost never out in public, I've sort of accepted that men are unlikely to notice me (not that this is an entirely bad thing; being single leaves a lot of opportunities open), and I'm not sure I'd be able-bodied enough to keep up with the responsibilities involved in having my own household, much less in having and caring for kids. I want to get a job and be able to contribute to the family finances so I don't feel like a freeloader. Well, I do have a job, but it's not all that lucrative, and since it's basically freelance work, it's not all that regular of a paycheck, either. 

And then I look around me at all the people who are moving on with their lives and doing all these great things for God and others, and I feel left out. I feel invisible. 

I feel very left behind. 

Maybe you've been there. Maybe you still are there, and it hurts. You wish you didn't feel this way. You see others in situations worse than yours and feel like a whiner if you so much as open your mouth about your own problems. Part of you knows and understands that not everyone does life at the same pace and that it's fine for others to move on with their lives while yours is apparently in intermission. 

But then there's another part of you that wants to run after everyone and yell, "Stop! Wait for me! I don't want to be left out anymore!" 

I guess what Theodore Roosevelt said is true: "Comparison is the thief of joy." 

I know it's hard not to compare our lives to others' when we feel stuck and miserable, but it really gets us nowhere. For me, it just makes my depression worse and makes me want to try less. 

But for me, at least, at the heart of all this comparison is not necessarily jealousy or anger, though those do play their roles. For me, it's more that I feel like everyone else is doing what they're supposed to be doing, and I am somehow inadequate. I should be moving on and pushing through all my difficulties. Yes, I try to serve God where I am in the ways I can manage, but some part of me feels like that doesn't matter when I can't keep up with the everyday stuff that everyone else is doing. 

Okay. Let's stop right there. Enough of my pity party. What does the Bible have to say about this? 

"For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. 

For which cause we faint not; but though our outer man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. 

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 

While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." 

- 2 Corinthians 4:15-18 

Sometimes life is hard. Crazily hard. Unbearably so. Sometimes people get busy, health declines, and things start to look bleak. Sometimes you find yourself standing on the tracks, staring after the train of life as it pulls out of the station, and wonder why you didn't catch it in time. But God will make a way. Even if that way means trudging through the wilderness with sweat pouring from your brow, and even if no-one else you know takes exactly the same route or shares in your struggles, God will be there to help you keep moving at the proper pace (not the one everyone else is keeping), and He will give you rest when you finally reach the destination He has ordained for you. Maybe you can't see it now, but remember: Things are always harder to see clearly from a distance. When you get there, it will all become clear, and the struggle will be worth it. 

Recently I discussed marriage and parenthood with my mom, and expressed to her how unnerved I was by the idea of enduring childbirth. I mean, yeah, if I do get married, kids would be nice, but there has to be a reason why mothers scream and cry and curse the day they met their husbands as they bring their children into the world. She told me (not word-for-word, because I have a terrible memory), "When the labor is over, and they lay this cute little baby in your arms, and you realize that it came from you and your husband, the pain is left behind, and you wouldn't trade a moment of it for the world." 

So next time life gets hard and you feel left behind, just hang on and keep pressing forward. Don't worry about the pace; you'll get there eventually. You may not like where you are right now, but with God's help, you will reach your destination, and never again will you be left behind. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

'The Runaway' - Part One

Hello yet again, fellow digressors. How was your weekend? Mine was a little busy, but not too bad. I got a copy of Microsoft Office on my laptop at long last, which should make my life as both a copy-editor and a novelist a lot easier. This makes me happy. However, because the program took time to install, and because I needed time to play with and get used to my new toy, I'm delivering this next short story opening a day or two later than I intended. (The opening for the first story, 'Street Rats', is here, in case you missed it.) 

Anyways, some of you may remember Jorthen Lavahr from 'The Follower'. Despite any mistakes he might have made, he still seems to be well-loved by readers, and it's been quite interesting trying to develop his backstory, especially as he tends to come across as 'Mr. Perfect'. As you are probably aware, no-one is truly perfect, and we all have secrets, some bigger than others. So, without further ado, here is the next short story... 
The Runaway
Reshan Territory, North-East of Jaern – Outerlands
Eleven years before the events of ‘The Follower'

There was a time when Jorthen Lavahr would have done anything for his father. If Atrin gave him an order, Jorthen would keep his mouth shut and obey, no matter the consequences. If someone from the outside asked him, he would say that hadn't changed.
But here, with the campfire crackling before him and Atrin plotting a course with their map a few feet away, Jorthen couldn't keep his mouth shut any longer.
“...I don't want to go.”
Atrin looked up briefly from the map, then went back to it without so much as looking Jorthen in the eye. “You'll go. The Council is expecting your arrival.”
“They're all older than me. I'm not supposed to join until I'm sixteen.”
“Ordinary people join at sixteen.” Atrin reached for his canteen of water and took a brief swig before speaking again. “We are not ordinary people.”
Jorthen swallowed. “What's so bad about being ordinary? What about...” He hesitated, but the question escaped him despite his efforts to be quiet. “...What about Amra?”
Atrin threw his prodding stick into the fire. Sparks leapt up from the coals upon impact, and Jorthen cringed to avoid them. He raised a hand to shield his eyes, but a hot look from Atrin made him slowly lower it and straighten his posture. 
Atrin ground his teeth and raised his eyebrows slightly. “I believe I remember telling you not to mention her again.” 
The evenness of Atrin’s tone made Jorthen gulp. His tongue felt thick, but he concentrated enough to make it work. “Sh-she…” No. No stammering. Stammering was a sign of weakness. He cleared his throat. “…She’s my friend. I barely got to say goodbye.” 
“You’re lucky you even got a moment with her. I should have made all the preparations myself instead of giving you time to bid goodbye to the local rabble.” 
Jorthen tensed. “Amra isn’t rabble.” 
“Look, I’m going to say this once more, and if you bring it up again, there will be consequences. Are you listening?” 
Jorthen’s muscles quivered, but he managed to nod. 
Atrin’s blue eyes burned into him. “That girl is beneath us. Always has been, always will be. Forget her.” 
All Jorthen could do was stare, unable to even avert his gaze. His mind seemed frozen, and with it every other part of him. Maybe that was why he shivered. 
Silence stretched, and Atrin picked up another stick and fiddled with it in what seemed like a casual manner. He snapped off a deviant twig that had sprouted from it and eyed Jorthen again. “You hear me, boy? No son of mine will run off with an herbalist’s daughter.” 
Jorthen wanted to retort, to ask what was so wrong with caring for an herbalist’s daughter, especially since that herbalist had kept him alive these fourteen years. But he withered under Atrin’s gaze, and he lowered his eyes to stare at the grass and mumbled, “Yes, sir.” 
“And hold your head up.” 
This command Jorthen rejected. Instead, he worked his jaw and glared at the coals of the fire before him. Half of him hoped Atrin would not notice, but the other half knew he would, and relished the rush of adrenaline that came from that knowledge. 
“…Go to the tent and wait for me.” 
The adrenaline faded as blood drained from Jorthen’s face. His mouth went dry, and he swallowed hard as his thoughts scattered. Atrin was taller than him. Even if Jorthen turned out to be the faster runner, his heart would likely betray him and take him to the ground long before Atrin gave up. 
A Lavahr never gave up. Never quit. Never showed weakness. 
“Did you hear me, boy?” 
Numbness overtook Jorthen as he rose to his feet and stumbled towards the tent. If he was lucky, by the time he got there, he would be completely devoid of feeling. He would no longer care. By the time Atrin arrived, he would no longer feel pain, either physical or in that corner of his mind where Amra Sheram’s freckles and glittering brown eyes taunted him. 
But he had never been lucky. So numbness would have to be enough for tonight. 
Reshan Guard Military Base, Jaern – Reshan Territory
Eight years later

Lieutenant Cpt. Jorthen Lavahr strode down the hall and ignored the looks his frenzied stride drew from others. Well, perhaps it would not have seemed frenzied had someone else used it, but the uneven rhythm and the way he leaned forward to gain momentum were so unlike him that only a few around him neglected to move out of the way. A young recruit with silky raven hair smiled and stepped forward as if to intercept him, but he ignored her. He barely felt the impact when his shoulder connected with that of a passerby, and it only occurred to him as he entered the echoing stone foyer a few feet ahead to mumble an apology. He spotted a door ahead as it swung open and some officer he couldn’t identify entered. He should have been able to identify him. Perhaps he was from another province? 
What did it matter? Jorthen caught the door before it could swing closed and stepped through it. 
Jorthen’s feet halted even as his mind raced forward and tried to plot a course to the nearest solitary place. He took a deep breath and ignored the ache growing in his chest as he turned and smiled at the recruit behind him. “Yes, Haren?” 
“Sorry to disturb you, sir.” Ardran Haren’s copper hair fell into his eyes, and he brushed it out of the way as he straightened his scrawny shoulders. “Permission to make a request, sir?” 
Ardran’s sudden change in posture reminded Jorthen to square his own broad shoulders, though he didn’t bother with the dark chestnut hair that likely fell over his own forehead. He put his hands behind his back and managed a slight chuckle. “Ardran, if you want to make a request, then make it. An overture isn’t necessary.” 
Ardran’s cheeks flushed red, and he ducked his head briefly. “Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. Um…” He wiped his hands on his tunic, then quickly folded them behind his back as if to copy Jorthen. “…I… would like to file a complaint, sir. A-about my roommate.” 
One of these days, the recruits would learn the difference between a request and a complaint. Jorthen nodded. “Find Inspector Brehn. He should be in the northern training room.” 
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” Ardran turned and sprinted a few steps before halting. “…Uh, what should I tell him, Lieutenant Lavahr, sir?” 
You can tell him to keep you busy for a few minutes so I can get out of here. 
Jorthen blinked and reined his thoughts in again to form an answer. “Tell him what you just told me – that you want to file a complaint against your roommate. And give him whatever details he asks. Understood?” 
“Yes, sir.” Ardran nodded again and halfway turned to go, then hesitated again. “You don’t look well, sir. Should I call for a physician?” 
Abomination. Was it that obvious? Jorthen forced another smile that he hoped looked real. “I’m fine, Haren. Now you’d better hurry if you want to catch Brehn. I think he’s scheduled to meet a lady friend in about twenty minutes.” 
Ardran’s blue eyes widened. “Yes, sir.” It took only half a moment for him to forget entirely about Jorthen’s appearance and to sprint off towards the northeast section of the base. 
And people thought women were the only ones with ears for gossip. 
Jorthen glanced around to be sure no-one else was approaching, then turned and walked out of the building, pulling the door closed behind him. 
Outside, the town seemed to be made of all brown materials, and even the grass that sprouted up between cracks in the walkway seemed to have aspirations of turning to match that palette. The military base’s grey stone set it apart, as did the splash of color from the Reshan standard that waved from the battlements. Jorthen set his sights on the green of the grass at the edge of the town square and headed that way. Out here, people still recognized him, but as none had any immediate business with him, he met with no delays. 
He did not know how long we walked before spots crept into the corner of his vision and crouched to lower his head between his knees. From there, he rocked back into a sitting position, closed his eyes, and focused on breathing evenly. His pulse still raced, but with some effort, he made it slow and even out into a less painful rhythm. The adrenaline that had charged his flight drained slowly from his muscles, leaving him fatigued and aching for bed. But it was only midday, and he had two batches of recruits left to wrangle before his scheduled activities ended and the paperwork began. Not to mention any meetings he hadn’t known were coming, or any more impromptu questions from the recruits who already knew him. 
He had a good mind just to sit here for the rest of the day and pretend he’d been in some secret meeting the whole time. 
If only Atrin Lavahr had not been sitting in one of the southern meeting rooms at that very moment, likely prepared to launch a full investigation should Jorthen not return in time to perform every one of his duties. 
Jorthen raised a hand to his right temple and rubbed it, trying to rid himself of the headache growing there. How had his life come to this? When he’d joined up eight years ago, he’d managed to convince himself that the Guard would serve as an escape. True, he’d left some things behind, but at least he would be away from Atrin, except for the inevitable visits here and there. He could be independent. He could make something of himself. 
And he was something now, all right. He was twenty-two years old, easily over six feet tall, and strong. He could put on a brave face in any situation, and there was hardly a woman in Jaern who would not revel in his attentions. Even those who did not particularly like him could not hate him, such was his charm and his skill as a diplomat. 
And in this moment, he hated it. He hated all of it. Because it had all come from Atrin. He orchestrated everything, pulled strings to get Jorthen in before he was technically of age, conditioned him by various methods to push through anything, and constantly reminded him of any shortcomings he still needed to eradicate. There was not an aspect of Jorthen’s life that did not smell of his father’s influence. 
But then, had he ever really expected that to change? 
A rhythmic pounding fell on his ears, and he opened his eyes. His vision was still blurred, but if he squinted, he could see something on the northern horizon, a dark shadow in the distance, growing nearer as the pounding grew louder. A horse and rider? 
He stood and fingered the shakahn at his belt, just in case, but kept his mouth shut and his eyes on the figure in the distance. It could be a scout returning with news from one of the Reshan-Shamindo bordertowns, perhaps, but if so, why did he ride so hard? And as the horse approached, Jorthen could see that it was far from a war steed. It looked to be more of a packhorse, really, its shaggy grey coat littered with dirt and flecked with sweat, stride faltering as if it could not take much more running. 
And the skinny rider’s black hair, pale skin, and ragged clothing sent the word Shamindo ringing in Jorthen’s head. 
His pulse spiked again, and he pulled his blade free of its sheath. “Guards!” His voice came out hoarse, so he cleared his throat and called out again. Voices from the town behind him proved that someone heard him. If it came to a fight, he would have backup. 
At the disturbance, the grey horse tossed its head, released a shrill whinny, and stumbled to one side, then toppled, throwing its rider into the grass some yards away as if he weighed nothing. Jorthen dropped into a fighting position, but when the rider did not rise, he strode forward and tried to get a better look. The fallen horse paid him no mind as its lungs heaved in an attempt to catch its breath, but he leaned down to pat its neck as he peered at the rider nearby. He had landed facedown, but from here Jorthen could tell that he was small, barely a man if he was one at all, and that he carried no weapon. Jorthen slowly lowered his own weapon and froze as he spotted burns on the arm that was not pinned beneath the rider, and charred holes where fire must have caught his clothing. 
Jorthen kept still for a moment, then sheathed his weapon and knelt next to the boy. He touched his shoulder as lightly as he could and turned him over onto his back, then recoiled slightly at the sight of more burns on his face and neck. If treated, they should heal without leaving scars, but how had they gotten there? How much more of his body was burnt? Jorthen heard footsteps behind him and called over his shoulder, “He’s injured. Find a physician.” 
One of the newcomers repeated the order, and someone else sprinted back towards the base. Yet another person knelt beside the fallen horse to assess its condition. Jorthen stretched out a hand to feel for the Shamindo boy’s pulse. 
The boy gasped and jerked away from Jorthen’s hand as his eyes flew open. Jorthen started, then held up his hands in a placating gesture. “Easy, easy – I’m not going to hurt you.” 
From behind him, someone called out, “Shamindo! He’s a Shamindo spy!” 
“Quiet,” Jorthen snapped. He looked at the boy again and offered a hand. “Come on. We’ll get you some help.” 
The boy shook his head and tried to scramble away from Jorthen, but fell to the ground again, his green eyes wide, emaciated body trembling. The burns covered his hands and arms, and his tunic was singed halfway into oblivion. He could not have been much older than sixteen. 
Jorthen swallowed hard. “…Easy,” he repeated, and extended a hand again. “I’m Jorthen Lavahr. Let me help you.” 
The boy blinked at him, uncomprehending in his panic. All at once his muscles went loose, his eyes glazed over, and Jorthen barely moved forward in time to keep him from hitting his head on a rock as he fell unconscious again. 
Jorthen cursed under his breath and glanced at a Guard recruit as the boy stepped up beside him. “Help me get him to the base.” 
The boy nodded, and with little difficulty they lifted the Shamindo and headed for the military base. Until this point, Jorthen had managed to focus his distractible mind on the matter at hand, but as they walked, he could not help thinking, Won’t Atrin be thrilled when he finds out about this?