I wrote the first sketch for Dolet about four years after my husband’s death in 1996 from Parkinson’s disease. I knew a good deal about interesting figures from the sixteenth-century in France, since that was my main research-field. I had published three scholarly books on François Rabelais (1494 [ca]-1553) and a novel in French translation (Longs désirs) based on the life of Etienne Dolet’s contemporary, Louise Labé, a Renaissance poet from Lyon, France, whose sonnets were translated into German by Rainer Maria Rilke.
Etienne Dolet (1509-1446) intrigued me because his personality reminded me of my husband Kurt’s. Neither man could hide the truth; both told it baldly to friend and foe alike, no matter the consequences. Both were basically good-hearted and were amazed that people, especially Americans, took such bluntness amiss. Despite that, both had faithful friends who stuck by them until their deaths.
A large part of Dolet, the novel, was written at the Hambidge Center for the Arts and Sciences, a beautiful artists’ retreat in the Smoky Mountains of northern Georgia.
Since I could not interest an agent in the book, I tossed the manuscript into a drawer, where it resided for the next thirteen years. One day, a friend asked me about the art of printing in the sixteenth century, and after that conversation, I pulled out the manuscript and recognized its potential. All those years ago, I had sent the rough draft to a highly qualified friend and colleague, Professor Kenneth Lloyd-Jones of Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, who was a recognized authority on the sixteenth century, and who had written articles about Etienne Dolet. He read the manuscript, made suggestions that improved the work, and encouraging comments, one of which I reproduce on the back of the print version of the novel. Sadly, Kenneth died six years ago, like my husband Kurt of Parkinson’s disease, and so will not see the work in its completed form.
A few months ago, I set about re-writing and expanding the manuscript, and corresponded with Kenneth’s widow, Miriam G. G. Lloyd-Jones, asking her permission to quote her husband, which she kindly granted.
The lesson to be taken from the ‘story behind this book’ is simply this: Don’t give up on a manuscript that you shelved long ago, thinking it unpublishable. Something on which you spent so much love and labor is always worth a second look. After all, Horace says that an author must let his writing lie for ten years, then go back to it. After that length of time, you will be objective and able to see both its flaws and its virtues. Then, correct it and publish!
Genre: Nonfiction Novel; Historical Fiction
Author: Florence Byham Weinberg
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Read Chapter One
Amazon / OmniLit / Twilight Times Books
About the Book:
Dolet depicts the life and times of Etienne Dolet. Etienne, who told the bald truth to friend and foe alike, angered the city authorities in sixteenth-century Toulouse, fled to Lyon, and became a publisher of innovative works on language, history, and theology. His foes framed him; he was persecuted, imprisoned, and ultimately executed by the Inquisition for daring to publish the Bible in French translation.
What readers are saying:
“[Dolet] …I read it all with pleasure, and delighted to see names that I have known for some time coming alive as “characters,” albeit fictitious ones. I especially liked the way in which you brought out the sense of community, of being a band of brothers that so many of those amazing people shared.”
~ Kenneth Lloyd-Jones, Professor, Trinity College, Hartford, CT
About the Author:
Florence Byham Weinberg, born in Alamogordo, New Mexico, lived on a ranch, on a farm, and traveled with her military family. After earning a PhD, she taught for 36 years in three universities. She published four scholarly books. Since retiring, she has written seven historical novels and one philosophical fantasy/thriller. She lives in San Antonio, loves cats, dogs and horses, and great-souled friends with good conversation. Visit her website and connect with her on Facebook.
The idea for Hidden Shadows began when I discovered an isolated, rugged section of the Texas Hill Country called Willow City. I loved the craggy, impossible hills, the deep canyons, the low-lying meadows. It felt as though I had been tossed back in time. Not a house was in sight, not a single barn. Homes were hidden at the end of trails slashed through the woods or climbing up the hillsides. The only breathing creatures I saw were the four-legged kind penned in pastures, several deer dashing across the road, and an armadillo.
A character had come to my mind earlier, wanting to be heard. Perhaps here is where Cassie needs to be, I thought – somewhere peaceful and isolated, to heal the troubles in her heart. But what troubles? It came to me then, what she was trying to tell me: she was drowning in grief, and needed to be restored.
I’ve met remarkable women who suffered incalculable loss, and yet somehow survived, and lived each day with joy. I marveled at them, at their courage, their spirit. And I asked myself, “How?” What did they endure in private, what interior battles did they wage? What dwelled in their spirit that made them victorious over such sorrow? And I’ve met those who did not endure, those who forever walked in the shadows of grief. And I asked myself, “Why?” Why do some souls shatter under the weight of it, while others survive? Because I’ve experienced grief myself – who hasn’t as the years collect? It’s part and parcel of life – the need to write about it must have been there, lurking inside me, silent.
So Cassie would move here among the hills and face her inner demons. But in what kind of house? I’ve always been fascinated with old country houses – the sort that are scattered thought the small towns of Texas, sporting wrap-around porches and a weathered “come on in look.” I thought it would be something akin to this – until I visited the old stone German homestead displayed at the Pioneer Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas. And I knew Cassie had to have both, conjoined like twins.
These elements were, in a small way, inspiration for Hidden Shadows. But there’s more, much of it unknown to me – the secret part of ourselves that reveals itself as we write.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Linda Lucretia Shuler wrote her first story when she was six, Koko the Monkey, which she still has tucked into a drawer. Since then her stories and poems have appeared in anthologies and literary journals, and a handful of her plays have been produced in schools and community theatres.
Linda received a BFA in theatre from the University of Texas, and an MA in theatre from Trinity University while in residence at the Dallas Theatre Center. She taught theatre arts in college and high school for three decades, loving every moment and directing nearly a hundred plays in the process. She also wrote theatre arts curriculum K-12 for Houston ISD, conducted numerous workshops, and performed in community theatres.
Hidden Shadows, Linda’s debut novel, takes place in Willow City, a ruggedly beautiful section of the Texas Hill Country less than three hours from her home in San Antonio. Several other manuscripts are in the works, reaching across the genres. These include a prequel to Hidden Shadows, plays, and a collection of poems and a half-dozen different story ideas demanding attention.
Linda enjoys participating in Toastmasters, writer organizations, critique groups, and book clubs. She continues her love of theatre, delights in watching the birds flocking outside her office window, and is an enthusiastic fan of San Antonio’s championship basketball team, the Spurs.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Title: Hidden Shadows
Author: Linda Lucretia Shuler
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Amazon / OmniLit / B&N / Twilight Times Books
Cold In The Shadows is the fifth book in the bestselling, award-winning COLD JUSTICE SERIES by Toni Anderson.
Cold In The Shadows
Release Date: Nov 24th, 2015
CIA Officer Patrick Killion is on a secret mission to hunt down the ruthless female assassin hired to kill the Vice President of the United States. The trail leads him to the Colombian rainforest and an earnest biologist, Audrey Lockhart, whose work on poison dart frogs gives her access to one of the deadliest substances on earthâthe same substance used to murder the VP. â¨â¨When Audrey is attacked by the local drug cartel, Killion steps in and hustles her out of harmâs way, determined to find out what she knows. His interrogation skills falter somewhere between saving her life and nursing her back to health as he realizes sheâs innocent, and he ends up falling for her. Audrey has a hard time overlooking the fact that Killion kidnapped her, but if she wants to get her life back and track down the bad guys, she has to trust him. Then someone changes the rules of their cat and mouse game and now theyâre the ones being huntedâby a cold-blooded killer who is much closer than they think.
COLD JUSTICE SERIES:
The bestselling, award-winning Cold Justice Series centers around agents from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit-4 (crimes against adults), and spin-off characters from the books. Each book stands alone with a different hero and heroine being the focus of the story. Characters crossover so readers might get the best experience by starting at the beginning!
Books from this series have won the New England Readers' Choice Award, the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award, the Heart of Excellence, the Aspen Gold Reader's Choice Awards, and Book Buyers Best Award for Romantic Suspense.
BIONew York Times and USA Today international bestselling author, Toni Anderson, writes dark, gritty Romantic Suspense novels that have hit the Amazon and Nook Top 10, and iBooks Top 50. Her novels have won many awards.
A former Marine Biologist from Britain, she inexplicably ended up in the geographical center of North America, about as far from the ocean as it is possible to get. She now lives in the Canadian prairies with her Irish husband and two children and spends most of her time complaining about the weather.
Toni has no explanation for her oft-times dark imagination, and only hopes the romance makes up for it. She's addicted to reading, dogs, tea, and chocolate.
If you want to know when Toni's next book will be out, visit her website (http://www.toniandersonauthor.com) and sign up for her newsletter. If you want to read other fascinating stories about life in a city that, during winter, is sometimes colder than Mars, friend her on Facebook: (https://www.facebook.com/toniannanderson).
Toni donates 15% of her royalties from EDGE OF SURVIVAL to diabetes research--to find out why, read the book!
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:
According to Patrick Killionâs favorite data analyst at the Agency, he was a half-inch short of being the perfect romance hero. As long as the inch she was talking about was his height and not his dick, he didnât give a ratâs ass.
Today, at a measly five foot eleven and a half inches, he towered above the locals. His height, combined with his sun-bleached blond hair, meant he definitely did not blend in with the Colombian population. He didnât bother to try.
The CIA dealt in threat assessment and probability levels, manipulation and human intel. Lockhartâs appearance, expertise, hidden Cayman Island bank account, and the fact she was in the right place at the right time for Vice President Ted Burgerâs murder, made her his number one suspect. So, despite FBI ASAC Lincoln Frazer telling him to back off yesterday, he was still following her. He couldnât walk away.
Last night heâd shaken the tree to see what fell out.
He ignored the twinge to his conscience. Heâd been a little rough. He hadnât wanted to risk her getting the drop on him. He had given her a get-out-of-jail-free pass and probably saved her lifeâthat should count for something.
Except she hadnât behaved as she should have. She hadnât called her employer. She hadnât grabbed a bag and run. Instead sheâd reported the assault to the local cops and had gone in to work today. Maybe sheâd been busy destroying evidence or delaying until the last possible moment before she made a mad dash for some small private airfield. Maybe she was overconfident about her abilities. Or maybe she was innocent.
It was the last âmaybeâ that bothered him.
As he stood in line for a ticket to the ecological park, a pretty redhead in a strappy top and high-heels eyed his neon orange T-shirt and red plaid shorts with a distasteful grimace. Heâd committed a class-A felony and the fashion police were about to convict.
âAirline lost my luggage.â Killion raised his palms in a pitiful shrug, putting enough misery into his travel-worn appearance that the womanâs expression immediately shifted from disgust to empathy.
âThat blows. How long ago?â
âTwo days now. They swear theyâll get it to me sometime todayââ
She gave a disbelieving snort. âYeah, they once lost my luggage on a trip to Mexico and by the time it arrived I was getting on the plane home. Worse, they refused to reimburse all the clothes I needed to buyâ¦â
Off she went, and he was in. Phase one of this mission accomplished. He walked into the conservatory as part of a group of American tourists, rather than as a single white guytraveling alone. They milled loosely about, looking at Lepidoptera specimens that fluttered about like giant-sized pieces of confetti.
A family of sevenâfive women who all looked like theyâd rather be at the mall, an older man, and a teen who read every piece of information like he was cramming for a test. Killion stayed close to the stacked redhead because he looked like the kind of guy whoâd stay close to a stacked redhead, but he also chatted to the others in the group, gleaning information. They were down from Florida, visiting family over Christmas. The Americans had arrived in a large minivan with an armed driver, but the driver stayed with the vehicle so they werenât too worried about security. In this country, staying in one spot for any length of time meant you attracted attentionâand not the, âOh my, donât you have pretty eyesâ kind of attention.
It wasnât a good thing.
Hot sun bore down on the forest canopy that shaded the ecological park. The small interpretive center affiliated with the Amazon Research Institute attracted local schools as well as the occasional tourist, but it was Monday, January 5 and schools were closed until after Epiphany. The place was deserted except for this little band of intrepid explorers. The ground steamed and sweat beaded on his skin as his adopted people wandered slowly from enclosure to enclosure. A rivulet of perspiration soaked into his shirt.
A huge yellow butterfly drifted over his head and landed on a piece of cut fruit on the feeder tray. The redhead barely contained her squeal of excitement and took twenty pictures with her little point-and-shoot. Killionâs point-and-shoot dug into his spine and held fourteen rounds. Their group finally headed into the amphibian enclosure where decaying damp earth mixed with traces of ammonia, and the musk of rotten leaves.
Welcome to the jungle.
His new friend grabbed his arm, pointed. âArenât they cute!â A minuscule, neon-yellow frog was stuck on the side of a glass tank.
âThey may look cuteââsaid a familiar voice with just the barest hint of a Kentucky twangââbut one golden poison dart frog contains enough toxin to kill ten-to-twenty grown men.â Dr. Lockhart wore spectacles on a string around her neck and reminded him of the class nerdâthe one all the guys had secretly lusted after but had been too intimidated to ask out on a date. The professor had unusual violet-blue eyes that showed clear signs of a sleepless night. He would have felt guilty, but more than one person had told him he was a heartless bastard who didnât have a conscience. A sociopath by any other name.
He didnât give a shit, so they were probably right. Hell, she should be thanking him. Being tied up and threatened sure beat the hell out of a trip to a Black Camp or a lifetime in prisonâand those were the more civilized options.
Audrey Lockhart wore ubiquitous jeans over Birkenstocks and a tight white tank top that molded her breasts in a way that left little to Killionâs undeniably vivid imagination, all topped off with a thin purple shirt that she left open. She wasnât carrying a weaponâunless she had a frog in her pocket. âIâm Dr. Lockhart, I study anurans and my specialty is the family Dendrobatidaeâpoison dart frogs.â
For all intents and purposes she appeared to be exactly what she said. A scientist, dedicated to her research. He rarely trusted appearances. Thatâs what data analysts, surveillance, and background checks were forânot to mention interrogation.
âI thought captive ones werenât poisonous?â Killion pointed to a little guy about an inch long that was sitting at a precarious angle on a large green leaf. The creatures didnât look realâthey looked like miniature plastic toys. They certainly didnât look like the deadliest creatures on the planet. He placed his hand lightly on the redheadâs back, and she sank against him, proving her taste in men was as terrible as his taste in clothes.
The professorâs eyes ran over him and his new squeeze, then away, dismissing him as just another tourist.
She didnât recognize him from last night. There was no obvious guile in her gaze. No deception.
âYouâre right in that individuals bred in captivity have no toxicity, but these specimens were pulled straight from the nearby rainforest where they are endemic and, trust me, you wouldnât survive a close encounter.â Her voice was husky, sexy enough to raise his awareness of her as a female rather than a target.
Heâd always had a thing for voices. And nerds.
She continued, growing more serious, âIt takes years for them to lose their toxicity, and even touching a paper-towel that has been in contact with the skin of these particular individuals can kill you. They are extremely dangerous.â
âDeath by frog.â His smirk didnât reach his eyes. âBet that ainât pretty.â
The redhead laughed. The professor did not.
âWeâre very careful how we handle them.â She looked stern now, like she was the teacher and he was the naughty schoolboy. And there was his vivid imagination going nuts again.
âHave you ever seen someone die after touching one?â asked his new friend.
âThankfully, no.â The professorâs gaze was open and sincere.
What did he expect? Skull and crossbones instead of pupils? Heâd been with the Company long enough to spot an operative with one quick glance, but this woman was an enigma. Either she was an incredible actress, or he was way off base in his assessment of the facts. Hell, maybe she was just another enviro-nut trying to save the planetâor, in this case, frogs.
âDo they taste like chicken?â he joked.
Those violet-blue eyes flashed. âI donât know,â she bit out. âWould you like to try one?â
Her fiery response was hot as hell, but obviously she didnât appreciate his sense of humorâheâd been told it was an acquired taste. He didnât look away, instead used the opportunity to study her carefully. Her gaze was determined, but he could see fear at the edgesâfrom the scare he gave her last night? Or did she live in constant fear, waiting for her time between the crosshairs? He didnât figure being an assassin was particularly good for your long-term health. Someone, somewhere was always trying to tie up loose ends.
MEET THE COLD CREW
Please welcome my special guest, S.W. O’Connell, the author of the Yankee Doodle Spies series of action and espionage novels set during the American Revolutionary War. O’Connell is a retired Army officer with over twenty years of experience in a variety of intelligence-related assignments around the world. He is long time student of history and lover of the historical novel genre. So it was no surprise that he turned to that genre when he decided to write back in 2009. He lives in Virginia. He’s here today to chat about his second novel, The Cavalier Spy.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Cavalier Spy. When did you start writing and what got you into historical fiction?
As a retired Army intelligence officer, I always imagined I’d write some kind of spy story. Many people in the business have that fantasy. I’m not sure why, but many of my colleagues over the years mentioned they had a spy novel they were “working on.” Well, I didn’t. Too busy with other things. Like catching spies. Protecting America’s secrets, and taking kids to soccer games. But as my years of service drew to a close, the opportunity to consider writing gradually emerged. As long as I didn’t write about contemporary things. I was once offered the chance for a deal by a big time NY literary agent if I would write about my recent work. But that is a bridge too far for me.
But I am a history lover with a history degree and had devoured historical novels over the years. So that is what got me thinking in that direction. My long held field of interest , historically speaking, is the Napoleonic Wars. But who, at least in the USA, knows of or cares about Napoleon? So I thought of a likely venue that most Americans had some inkling about: the American War for Independence. After all, everyone carries a picture (or two) of George Washington around in their wallet, right? Now, truth be told, there are a lot more Civil war aficionados then Revolutionary War, but I thought that I could maybe buck one trend and set another. So in 2009 I began the long, dark process of… writing.
What is your book about?
The Cavalier Spyis the second action and espionage novel in the Yankee Doodle Spies series. Set during the final months of 1776, it is about young Continental Army officer, Lieutenant Jeremiah Creed, and his efforts to make his way in a world of war and espionage. After agreeing to serve General George Washington as an intelligence operative, he has to mould a small band of young men literally “on the fly” as the Continental Army is hounded by the British from New York and then across New Jersey. Along the way, he manages to torch New York City, recruit a new band of rogues as spies, figure out how to penetrate the British Army, and… I can’t say. Creed is not an expert spy – so he improvises along the way.
Spoiler alert: I use a portion of the book to reveal how Creed came to America – he is an immigrant, as were so many who served in the Revolutionary War. The story is one of hardship as the struggle in the Jerseys was bitter and vicious as whole communities were torn apart, as was the cause for independence. This is also a tale of George Washington, the ultimate spymaster and commander, as he improvises to keep his army and the American cause from falling apart. In the end, Creed matures in his role along with his master and they, together, improvise a vital victory for the Americans and keep the rebellion alive.
What was your inspiration for it?
Well, my inspiration for The Cavalier Spy was my first novel in the series, The Patriot Spy. And that has an interesting genesis. One would normally begin a Revolutionary War story at the beginning, say at Lexington and Concord. Or maybe at the siege of Boston, perhaps when George Washington assumes command and the Continental Army is formed (June 1775). Well, that was my original plan. However, I suddenly recalled an event that happened when I was a boy – somewhere around nine years old. I am from New York. At the time we were in Brooklyn and my father took me to Prospect Park. As a boy I loved going there in those days. They had a zoo, a lake, a riding academy with bridle trails. There was one of those old fashioned carousels too with the brass ring and all. Just a lot of fun things for kids.
But one day, my dad took me over to a monument tucked away from all that. He told me the story of how, right near where we stood, George Washington’s army was cut off while trying to defend “Long Island” from the invading British and that the Maryland Regiment sacrificed itself in heroic combat to save the Continental Army. He closed his tale with the comment, “And every year the Maryland National Guard lays a wreath at the monument.” My dad at the time was an infantry company commander in the New York National Guard, in an outfit called “The Fighting 69th. I think that is why the story appealed to him. Guardsman to guardsman, so to speak. So I decided to begin my tale at that battle. As I began my research (remember, I’m a Napoleon guy) I learned the battle was America’s first battle as a nation, as the colonies declared themselves “to be free and independent states” shortly before the campaign. A fitting place to begin, I thought.
What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?
Making time to write is always the biggest challenge. And staying “normal” while writing is more difficult than I thought it would be. Living a normal life. If I didn’t have other commitments, I think I could be overwhelmed by the writing life. It is like a drug, once you get going. So many things to write-so little time. So, in my situation, I have to take chunks of time and “go to the mattresses” in a blitz to knock out chunks of the story. A lot of people look at me with eyes agog and say, ‘How DO you have time to write?” My flip answer is, “You’ve never seen me golf!”
As to the writing itself: I have the advantage of weaving my fictional plots and characters into actual historic events. The history necessarily drives things. For example, Creed has a love interest, but she is separated from him by war (she’s stuck behind British lines) so their relationship becomes hard to maintain. Sort of like Horatio Hornblower and Lady Barbara in C.S. Forrester’s famed Napoleonic naval books. The other speed bump is social media. Today, an author needs that presence. I had to learn how to use Facebook, Twitter and develop a Blog. So as not to make them into exercises in shameless self-promotion and narcissistic banter, I tend to focus on giving my followers and “friends” nuggets on the American Revolution. Not that I don’t hype my writing. I just do it on selective occasions.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
A good yarn, but with enough of the history that they’ll learn something about the American struggle for independence. Not just the politics but what it was like to be in armed rebellion against the most powerful monarch on the planet with no army to speak of. Understanding this war is necessary to understand America. More so than the Civil War. But I also want people to like the characters – both the good ones and the bad ones. I try very hard not to make the British caricatures. They have a job to do as well. They are doing their duty to their rightful king by suppressing an unspeakable rebellion, usually, within a code of honor. The Americans are fighting for something more nebulous – a cause. That makes it more difficult for them. The fictional characters portray both side plus those caught in the middle. The silent majority if you will, who merely wanted to get on with their lives.
Did your book require a lot of research?
Yes – but I love history so research to me is recreation. I guess I have read about thirty books or so-on the War for Independence and looked through about as many. For specific things I need that are not in the books, I use the internet. I do get out to as many of the locales as possible but Google Maps comes in handy too.
What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?
I walk my dog, Jeb. A two mile plus walk usually clears the mind. Or I go to the gym and pump some iron. Since these are historical novels I have the advantage of using the historic events to my advantage. I craft fictional plots and weave them through the actual historic events. I mix fictional characters with real ones. This helps move my idea mix quite nicely. Also, when the fictional plot is stymied, I can press down on the history pedal a bit and get through the log jam. Or, I can go walk Jeb…
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
I try very hard to stay in the moment… to be in the story myself. I try to imagine the actions and reactions of each character and re-live them on the keyboard. I often go back through these several times. I grew up on swashbuckler books and films so these are in many ways the best parts.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
Nausea might be a better word for me! It is hard work. It is good work and rewarding work. But it’s not easy. Many people think it is.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
I usually write in what I would term “grand spurts.” I have no set timeline. A grand spurt is anywhere from two to ten days of six or so hours a day. It can be days, weeks or months between grand spurts. I think that may help the muse recharge. And it doesn’t make writing feel like a job, which it in fact, is.
What was your publishing process like?
I found it a long process and an interesting one. As the writer, I create the manuscript. But the publisher creates the book. I received a lot of great guidance from the publisher. Their editors were very good. I learned to pay attention to their edits and often very sage comments. Consulting on the covers was fun. Working with the map makes is also fun. My first novel’s map was done by a real map maker. But with The Cavalier Spy, I went with an artist to give it more of historical sketch appearance.
How do you celebrate the completion of a book?
I really don’t. In fact, I didn’t even think of celebrating. First of all, completing a book is draining: mentally, physically and emotionally. Once I have recovered from all that, I go right to the next book.
How do you define success?
That’s easy for me. If only one person sincerely tells me they enjoyed the book, I feel I have done my job. When they ask when the next one is coming out, I feel I have exceeded my wildest expectations.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
I like telling the stories: the history; the characters; the events; and the plots. These are stories I want to read. It thrills me to craft them for others. It’s a real kick in the head (apologies to Dino).
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?
Oh absolutely! I have a blog called Yankee Doodle Spies on Blogspot. I post about twice a month. I have a piece on my latest novel but most of the posts are stories and musings about the American Revolution centered on People, Places or Things. I try to keep it whimsical and include visuals whenever possible. My Facebook presence is two-fold. I have a Timeline as S.W. O’Connell but prefer folks to go to my Facebook Page called Yankee Doodle Spies. The page includes daily posts on historic events, usually a “this day in the American War for Independence” type of piece. I share from other Rev War sites and include my own original content that I call, The Rev War Minute. I’d love to have as many people as possible “Like” the page and follow it. My Timeline has more time sensitive information such as Revolutionary War events upcoming or my musings on things. My last and very recent venture is Twitter @SWOConnell. I Tweet out snippets on the day’s Revolutionary War events, often with a visual. Every few days I’ll tweet about my books. I am on Pinterest as well but have posted very little there thus far.
Where is your book available?
The ebook version of The Cavalier Spy is available for purchase from Amazon Kindle, Apple iBookstore, BN Nook, Kobo Books, OmniLit, etc.
The print version of The Cavalier Spy will be available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble Bookstores, Brodart, Coutts, Davis-Kidd Booksellers, Emery-Pratt, Follett, Ingram, The Book Despository, The Book House, etc.
Title: The Last Wife of Attila the Hun
Genre: Literary/Historical Fiction with a Legendary Component
Author: Joan Schweighardt
Publisher: Booktrope Editions
Purchase on Amazon
About the Book:
Two threads are woven together inThe Last Wife of Attila the Hun. In one, Gudrun, a Burgundian noblewoman, dares to enter the City of Attila to give its ruler what she hopes is a cursed sword; the second reveals the unimaginable events that have driven her to this mission. Based in part on the true history of the times and in part on the same Nordic legends that inspired Wagner’s Ring Cycle and other great works of art, The Last Wife of Attila the Hun offers readers a thrilling story of love, betrayal, passion and revenge, all set against an ancient backdrop itself gushing with intrigue. Lovers of history and fantasy alike will find realism and legend at work in this tale.
THE LAST WIFE OF ATTILA THE HUN
by Joan Schweighardt
When I was a young girl living at Worms, there was nothing I delighted in more than song. And of all those who lifted their voices in our great hall, there was none who did so as beautifully as my brother Gunner. Were he beside me now, he would rebuke me for the method that I have chosen to relate my story to you. He would insist, instead, on fashioning a melody for my words and singing them to you from beginning to end. He would begin modestly, singing, as he always did, that he had no talent for melodies, but entreating you, nevertheless, to remember his words. And, friend, as there is no bird, no summer breeze, no sweet stream lapping or soft rain falling that could compete with Gunner for one’s attention, have no doubt that you would have remembered them. He would have looked into your eyes while he sang and touched you in a deeper place than he ever touched a man or a woman when he went without his harp.
Though I can never hope to emulate his elegance, let me begin likewise, telling you first that I have no talent either. This thing, this process of setting down one word after the next on parchment, is new to me, and, as a friend once stated, tedious. And in spite of all the pains that I have taken to learn it, I find that I am apprehensive now because I cannot look into your eyes as my brother would have, because I cannot hope to touch you in that holy place where the hearts of all folk are joined together. Still, I would have you remember my words.
The City of Attila
I fell to my knees at the stream, so eager to drink that I did not think to offer a prayer until afterward, when I was satisfied and my flask was full. I was exhausted. My skin was parched and I was filthy; but according to the map my brothers had given me, I was very near my destination. I continued on foot, pulling my tired horse behind me.
I had not had a full night’s rest since the terrain had changed. The land was flat here. There were no caves or rocky ledges where I could shelter myself. The forests, so sacred to my people, had long since been replaced by endless grasslands. As I trudged through them, I felt that I had left more than my loved ones behind.
When the sky darkened, I used the single live coal I carried from the previous night’s fire to light my torch. I was sure that the light could be seen from some distance. I expected at every moment to hear the thunder of hooves beating on the arid earth. But on and on I walked, seeing no sight other than my own shadow in the gleam of the torch light and hearing no sound but that of my horse plodding along beside me.
When the sun began to rise, I saw that there was a sandy hill ahead, and hoping to see the City of Attila from its summit, I dragged myself on. But the hill was much farther away than it had seemed, and it took most of the day to reach it. And then it was much higher too, the highest ground that I had seen in days. My horse, who was content to graze on grassy clumps and to watch the marmots who dared to peek out of their holes, made it clear that he had no desire to climb. I had to coax him along, and myself as well, for now I was afraid that I would reach the summit and see nothing but more grass stretching out to the far horizon. I imagined myself wandering endlessly, seeing no one, coughing and sneezing in response to the invisible blowing dust, until my food ran out and my horse gave way.
I crawled to the top of the hill and looked down in amazement at the camp of make-shift tents below. In front of one of them a fire burned, and the carcass of an antelope was roasting over it. There were many men about, perhaps two hundred, all on horseback except for the few tending the fire.
It was not until I heard the war cry that I knew for certain that the scene was real and not some trick of my mind. I had been sighted. The entire company was suddenly galloping in my direction, a cloud of dust rising up around them. I forced myself to my feet and spread my arms to show that I carried no weapon. When I saw that the men were making their bows ready, I dropped my head and lifted my arms higher yet, to the heavens, where, I hoped, the gods were watching carefully.
Part of the company surrounded me. The others rode past, over the summit. When they were satisfied that no one was riding behind me, they joined the first group. Upon the command of one of them, they all lowered their bows. I began to breathe again. A murmur went up, and while I waited for it to subside, I studied their horses. Of the two that I could see without moving my head, one looked like the ones the Romans rode—a fine, tall, light-colored steed. The other looked like no animal I had ever seen before. Its legs were short and its head was large and somehow misshapen. Its matted mane hung down over its stout body. Its nose was snubbed and its eyes bulged like a fish’s. Its back was curved, as if by the weight of its rider. Yet its thick neck and large chest suggested great strength.
The murmur abated, and the Hun on the horse I’d been scrutinizing cried out a command in his harsh, foreign tongue. I looked up and noted that he resembled his horse. He was short and stout, large-chested, his head overly large, his neck short and thick, his nose snubbed. The only difference was that while the horse had a long mane and a bushy tail, the Hun’s hair was thin, and his beard, if one could call it that, was thinner yet. He seemed to be waiting for me to speak. I stared at the identical scars that ran down the sides of his face, wide, deep mutations that began beneath his deeply set eyes and ended at his mouth. “I’ve come to seek Attila,” I said.
The Hun, who appeared slightly amused, looked to his companions. A murmur went up again. While they debated, I took the opportunity to scan the other Hun faces, all hideous replicas of the one who had spoken to me. Of course, I had known the Huns were strange to look upon. Although I’d been hidden away during the siege, I’d had a description from those who had seen the Huns and survived to tell about them. In fact, there were some among my people who mutilated their own faces after the siege, believing this would make them as fierce as their attackers. Still, none of this had prepared me sufficiently to look upon them with my own eyes. Some wore tunics and breeches, not unlike the ones my own people wore. Others wore garments made entirely of marmot skins. With some on Roman horses and others on Hunnish ones, some dressed like Thuets and others in skins, they looked like no army I had ever seen before. Their confusion over how to respond to me only heightened the impression of disorder.
“Attila!” I cried. My brothers were sure I was mad, and when I heard my shout I thought they must be right.
The startled Huns stared for a moment, then they took up their debate again, their voices louder and more urgent than before. Finally the leader nodded, and the man whose argument he had come to agree with rode to my side and took my horse’s reins from my hand. While he started down the hill with the horse, another Hun poked me from behind with his riding whip to indicate that I should follow. Half of the men began the descent with me. The other half stayed on the summit, looking off in the direction from which I had come.
I was brought to the fire, where I reiterated my desire to see Attila. One of the Huns pointed beyond the tents. I followed his finger. There were a few dark clouds converging on the eastern horizon. “Can we ride?” I asked, pointing to my horse. The Hun gestured for me to sit. The meat had been removed from the fire and torn into pieces. The horseless Huns were distributing it among the riders. One of them brought a piece to me, and another brought me a flask of what smelled like Roman wine. I ate the meat—which was tough and bland—and kept my eyes fastened on my horse and the sack that hung from his side. I tasted the wine and, to the amusement of the Huns who were watching, quickly spat it out—for this is what I imagined a woman who had grown up alone in the forest would do.
After the meal, I stood and pointed east. “Take me to the City of Attila,” I demanded. Again, my words caused a stir.
Then one of the Huns said something which quieted the others. He gave a series of commands, and one of the listeners slid off his horse and reluctantly offered me the reins.
I hesitated, unsure what to do about the sack. Gathering courage, I led the Hunnish horse past my guards and over to my own horse. I reached for the sack, but a stout Hunnish arm cut me off. “For Attila,” I said. The man who had stopped me looked to his fellows. Again there was discussion, and after a moment, a decision. The arm withdrew. I swallowed and removed the sack from one beast and secured it onto the other. Then I mounted the Hunnish horse and settled myself as best I could on its hard wooden saddle. The Hun who was to be my escort came forward. Someone furnished him with a torch, and, also, what sounded like a lecture.
Riding at his side, I considered how easily it had gone. The Huns might have insisted that I stay the night in their camp. Or, they might have made me leave the sack behind. And there was much worse that I could think of, too. If I had felt bold before, I felt even bolder now, and, indeed, quite mad. I was already imagining the expressions that would appear on my brothers’ faces when I was home again relating the story.
The comical-looking beast beneath me was as fast as he was strong. He galloped along as if riderless, keeping pace with the Hun’s horse and seemingly oblivious to my touch on his reins. I lowered my head onto his thick dirty mane, and keeping my arms tight around his neck, closed my burning eyes. After a while, the horse’s steps became shorter, choppier, so that I knew the terrain had changed. The grasses were higher now, like the ones I had ridden through some days earlier when the trees had first begun to thin. I relaxed and gave way to the muffled sound of the horses’ hooves. When I opened my eyes again, I thought to find myself riding beneath the stars with the moon on the rise to the south. To my astonishment, the sky was pink, and it was the sun that was rising. My arms, which were stiff and badly cramped, had kept their vigil all through the night.
My companion laughed heartily when I lifted my head. And thinking that my riding and sleeping on horseback would make a fine story for Attila’s ears, I laughed as well. I imagined myself explaining that valkyrias did this all the time. I had trained my mind on the powers I would feign to have for so long that my uncanny slumber made me feel I had actually come to possess them.
Soon enough, the City of Attila appeared on the horizon—a vast tract surrounded by a high wooden palisade. My escort stopped to point it out, and I checked myself for panic. When I was satisfied that I felt none, I nodded, and we began to ride again. Before long we reached the city gates and the men who guarded them. My escort stayed at my side only long enough to deliver his message to the guard who rode to meet us. Then he turned and rode off, taking with him the story which I had hoped to hear repeated to Attila. The gates were pulled open. My new escort led me in.
Activity was everywhere. Clusters of men on horseback were engaged in conversations. Women walked among them carrying baskets or vessels on their heads. They were trailed by small children while older children sat in circles on the ground laughing and teasing one another. Most were Huns, but there were others who were clearly Thuets. And there were some, especially among the children, who appeared to be half and half. The Hun women, like their men, were short and stout. Many were quite fat. Only their lack of facial scars distinguished them from their male counterparts.
Mud and straw huts dotted the landscape. Beyond them, in the distance, was a second wooden palisade, its circumference so great that it appeared to take up half the city. As we approached it, the gates opened. We entered a long tunnel from which I could hear the pounding of feet overhead. There were other smaller tunnels leading off to the left and right, but their doors concealed the chambers they led to.
When we came back out into the daylight, I saw yet another palisade—this one set back on a high grassy mound. Like the city walls and the first inner palisade, it was circular, with wooden towers protruding at intervals. From each tower, guards looked down. “Attila’s palace?” I asked my escort, though I knew the answer even before he nodded.
There was as much activity here as there had been within the first palisade, but my gaze fell on the group of men who tarried on their horses nearest Attila’s gate. This group was more richly dressed than others I had seen. Many wore arm rings and finger rings. Some even had precious stones sewn into their shoes. It was the most heavily jeweled among them that my escort seemed to be eyeing as we approached. Thinking this man must be Attila, I took a deep breath and prepared myself to speak the words I had so thoroughly rehearsed. But when he turned toward me, I saw immediately that he could not possibly be Attila. He was not even a Hun. Though his face was as deeply scarred as those of his companions, he was clearly a Thuet. I had felt no emotion seeing the other Thuets in the village, because I took them to be prisoners, men who had been forced into Attila’s service. But the jewels and dress on this one indicated that he was pleased to live among the Huns, that he had earned Attila’s favor. He glanced at me. If he saw the involuntary look of disdain that crossed my face, his expression did not reflect it. He listened to the words of my escort, then jerked his head to indicate that I should come with him.
To my disappointment, he led me away from Attila’s gates, off to the southwest of his palisade, past a good many more huts and through a large open field and very nearly to the far wall of the inner palisade. There were only a few huts ahead of us now, and unlike the others that I had seen, they were spread apart and faced west rather than east. The one the Thuet took me to was the most isolated of all. But it was built up on a small knoll, and I could see the vast stretches of grassland beyond the tops of the inner palisade and the city walls just behind it—a boon for a woman who had never before found herself enclosed within so many fortifications.
The Thuet motioned for me to dismount. My legs were weak, and I had to hold on to the Hunnish beast to get my balance. When I was able, I made a move toward the sheepskin curtain that covered the doorway of the hut, but I hesitated when I heard voices inside. The Thuet heard them, too, and in what seemed one motion, he jumped from his horse and threw back the curtain, exposing a young couple. In the Hunnish tongue, he admonished them harshly, his riding crop held threateningly over his head. Holding their garments in front of them, the couple backed out of the hut and bolted. The Thuet lowered his whip and laughed as he watched them flee bare-assed across the open field. Then he turned back to me, his expression fierce again. “Get yourself inside now,” he shouted.
I stepped into the hut, and holding the curtain open, watched anxiously as he cut down the sack from the side of my horse. I told myself that I should be pleased to be in the company of one who spoke my language, but my hatred persisted. He threw the sack in carelessly, so that it fell just short of my feet. Then he entered, drawing the sheepskin curtain behind him so that only a little daylight streamed in.
I looked around in the dim light. There was no window, no hearth. A pile of skins were thrown into one corner, and more skins lined the four walls. “I have come to seek an audience with Attila,” I said.
“I must see Attila,” I reiterated. “I’ve come a long way—”
His hand sliced through the air. “You are not to leave your hut,” he said in a voice that was unnecessarily loud in the tiny space. “A guard will be posted at your door day and night. You are not to attempt to speak to him. You are not to speak to anyone. If you try to escape, you will be killed. Do you understand?”
I did not. His declaration was a contradiction to the ease that had brought me this far. I took a step toward him. “What is your connection to Attila?”
He laughed, then sobered abruptly. “I am Edeco, second in command,” he boasted.
“Then let me speak to the man who is first in command,” I hissed.
Edeco drew his lips back, exposing his teeth. His hand came up from his side slowly, and I lifted my head, bracing for the impact. But his hand faltered and hung in the space between us, quivering for a moment. Then it dropped. He turned and went out.
I stood where I was, considering our exchange. At first it seemed to me that things had changed now, that my run of fortune had come to an end. But then I realized how tired I was; my slumber on the racing horse had done little to relieve my fatigue. Perhaps it was best that my audience with Attila be delayed.
I took the sack from the earthen floor and hid it beneath the pile of skins. Then I took a skin from the top and spread it out and lay down. I fell asleep almost immediately—and found myself in the forest behind my brothers’ hall, walking among the birches.
Someone called out my name, and when I turned, Sigurd was coming up behind me, leading his steed. I ran to him. When I was safe in his embrace, I cried, “Oh, Sigurd, I have been so afraid! I am so glad to have found you. Things will go well enough now. You will not let me face Attila alone, will you?”
He smiled. “I will not,” he said. “I’ll be at your side every moment, as I have been all along, whether you knew it or not.”
I clung to him, my heart almost breaking with emotion. “I have the war sword,” I whispered. “I plan to give it to Attila.”
“Let him have the cursed thing,” Sigurd answered. “For all that it shines like the sun, it brought me nothing but trouble.” There was a warm honey-like scent in the air; it seemed to emanate from Sigurd.
“But if the thing is truly cursed,” I asked, “how is it that it had no effect on me in all the days that I carried it at my side?”
Sigurd only smiled. “Have you thought by what name you will call yourself here?” he asked.
“Brunhild,” I answered.
“It will bring you bad luck to call yourself after someone who loved you so little,” Sigurd replied. “Why not call yourself Ildico?”
“Ildico,” I repeated, and I recalled that Ildico had been the name of the valkyria who had befriended my mother many years ago, the same woman who had brought my eldest brother into the world.
“Ildico,” I said again, but this time I spoke aloud as well as in my dream, and the sound of my voice awakened me.
I remained motionless for a long time. I had dreamed of Sigurd many times since I had regained my health, but always he was at some distance, riding among other men. Or, if he was close, he was silent and oblivious to my presence.
I gave up the notion of falling asleep again and sat up. He was with me; he had said so. No matter what dangers lay ahead, I would be satisfied if sleep would sometimes bring me the sight of Sigurd’s face and the feel of his embrace, from which my skin was still tingling. But the dream puzzled me, too. Ildico: I had never thought to call myself that. And why had I told Sigurd that I was afraid when I felt no fear? When my madness lingered and made me bold?
The curtain was drawn aside. A Hun woman entered carrying a bowl of meats and breads, a cup, and a large wooden vessel of wine. She set everything down and left without once looking at me. I got up and rushed to the curtain, but she had already turned the corner of the hut. I saw only the guard who had been posted outside, and the sun, which was low in the western sky. I had slept for some time.
I ate with vigor, in a manner that I would have once scolded my brothers for. I was determined not to touch the wine, but as I had no water left in my flask, I took a sip. It did not taste nearly as bad as it had the last time I had tried it on Burgundian lands. I drank more.
When the curtain opened again not long afterward, it was the Thuet, Edeco. He left the curtain open behind him and sat down across from me. I studied his face and sipped at the wine, which made me feel light-headed and even more impudent. “Have you come to hear me speak?” I asked.
Edeco laughed. “I did not come to clear away your crumbs.”
I ignored his sarcasm. “Then I will tell you what I tried to tell you before. I have come a long way, riding for days, to see the face of Attila. I have eaten, I have drunk, I have rested. I would be pleased to be brought to him now.”
Edeco threw his head back and laughed so heartily that I was forced to think of Gunner, who also threw his head back when he laughed. Then Edeco’s face changed. “Why should he see you?”
“I carry a gift for Attila,” I said.
“Attila receives many gifts, most so large that they must be carried in carts pulled by oxen and guarded over by many men.”
“Mine is greater.”
“Show it to me.”
“I’ve told you about it. I will show it only to Attila.”
Edeco jumped to his feet, his blue eyes flashing. As there was only one place in the tiny hut where a person might hide a thing, he went directly to the skins and cast them aside one by one until he had uncovered the sack. Then he turned it upside down and shook it so that its contents—my cloak, the wooden bowl that Guthorm, my dead brother, had once played with, and the straw concealing the war sword—tumbled out. Edeco fell to his knees and tore at the straw until some part of the blade was revealed. Even in the dimming light it blazed, as if excited by his agitation. He swept the rest of the straw aside hastily. Then, with his eyes swimming in their sockets, he ran his fingers over the hilt, tracing its intricate engravings. He turned to me and saw, no doubt, my self-satisfied smile, and he immediately lifted his hand from the thing. He cocked his head as if considering something. Then he came back to sit in front of me, though his eyes continued to stray toward the sword.
I got up slowly and placed the war sword back in the sack. I gathered up the straw and shoved it in after it. Then I put the sack in the corner and covered it over with some of the skins. As I went to sit again, I found, to my disgust, that Edeco was just replacing my wine cup. His hand was quaking. “A thing of great beauty, is it not?” I asked.
He looked away. In profile, the deep scar across his cheek looked even more hideous. I seemed again to smell the warm honey scent that had come to me earlier in my dream. Sigurd had to be there, invisible but beside me, just as he had said. The notion made me giddy. Edeco turned back so sharply that I wondered if I had unwittingly laughed aloud. “Who are you?” he demanded.
“Ildico.” The power of transformation seemed to lie within the word itself. I was glad Sigurd had suggested it.
“Who are your people?”
I looked aside. “I have none.”
He took my chin and jerked my head toward him. I was pleased to see my composure reflected in his eyes. “I’m a Thuet!” I sneered.
“I can see that for myself.”
“I was separated from my people when I was a child,” I went on. “A band of Romans cut us down while we were traveling. They killed my parents and my brothers and would have killed me, too, had I been older. But I suppose they did not feel it necessary to redden their swords with a small child’s blood when she would likely starve or be killed by some beast anyway. But as you can see, no beast crossed my path. And I did not starve, either.”
Edeco laughed and let go of my chin roughly. “You look half-starved to me.”
“Aye, half. I ate roots and berries. I grew. I learned to steal from the Thuet tribes I came across in my travels. I learned to hunt. There was no excess, but there was enough. And so you see me as I am.”
Edeco searched my eyes. “If there were other Thuets about, why didn’t you show yourself and beg for mercy?”
“When I was younger, I did not because I was afraid. Having seen my people put to death before my eyes, I had no notion of mercy, and I would not have known how to ask for it anyway since I had no language skills then. As I grew older, I did show myself to other Thuets. I stayed with various tribes from time to time. I learned my language and more. But I longed for the way of life I had become accustomed to.”
“How did you come by the sword?”
I sighed and glanced at my wine cup, contaminated now by this Thuet who was a Hun. “It is no ordinary sword. You have seen that. It was fashioned by Wodan himself, back in the days when the gods roamed the Earth as freely as people do now.”
Edeco’s eyes widened. “How can you be certain?”
“The man it once belonged to told me so.”
“And what man is that?”
“He was called Sigurd, a Frankish noble. Perhaps you have heard of—”
“I have not. Tell me how you came by the thing.”
I stared at him. These matters I had planned to save for Attila’s ears. Now I feared that if I told too much to Edeco, Attila would be satisfied to have the story second-hand. But as it was clear that Edeco would not retreat until I answered him, I explained that long ago the gods had lost the sword to a family of dwarves, and that one of these dwarves, wanting the sword for himself, killed his father. To keep his brothers from confronting him, he changed himself into a dragon and took the sword off into the high mountains. Then, years later, one of the dwarf-dragon’s brothers, Regan, promised the sword to Sigurd if Sigurd would accompany him into the high mountains and help him to avenge his father’s death. I made no mention of the rest of the gold. Nor did I mention the curse.
Edeco heard my words with interest, taking his eyes from mine only long enough to raise the wine cup to his lips now and again. Once, when I hesitated in my discourse to catch my breath, he passed the cup to me. I put my hand up to renounce it but then thought better of it and drank, the shared cup being an emblem of camaraderie. Edeco smiled then, and I was satisfied to think that I might easily deceive him into believing that I had come to the City of Attila as a friend. “And how did you come to steal the sword from the Frank?” Edeco asked.
“I did not steal the sword from Sigurd,” I answered. “After he was dead, I stole it from the man who had gotten it from him. Sigurd loved me. He would have wanted me to have it.”
Edeco squinted. I sighed. “You see,” I explained, spurred by his disbelief to give more details than I might have otherwise, “Sigurd returned from the high mountains with only his horse, the sword, and the heart of the dragon. His companion, the dwarf, changed his mind about giving Sigurd the sword when he saw again what a glorious thing it was. And since the dwarf had bought Sigurd’s assistance with the promise of the sword, Sigurd had no choice but to slay Regan.
“I found Sigurd, forlorn because he’d had to kill an old friend, at the foot of the high mountains, not far from the cave where I lived at the time. He was tired, and confused about what he should say to the Franks concerning Regan’s death. Although Regan was not a Frank, he had lived among them for many years, and the Franks loved him. Sigurd was afraid that they would demand the war sword as his man-price when they learned that Regan was dead. Thus he was only too glad to return to my cave with me until he had settled his mind on the matter. He lingered, and I wrote a rune outside the cave to keep the Franks at bay in case they should be looking for him. This rune-wisdom was taught to me by a peasant woman with whom I stayed for a time and made potent by the gods themselves when they determined that I should become a valkyria.”
I hesitated, but Edeco made no comment on my avowed enlightenment. It occurred to me that perhaps being a Thuet who was not a Thuet, he knew nothing of such matters. “We were well matched,” I continued, “me a valkyria with the power to alter events and Sigurd the man who slayed the dragon. And thus it happened that our admiration for each other grew into something more. But before Sigurd and the dwarf set off on their quest, Sigurd had betrothed himself to a Burgundian woman for whom he no longer cared. Still, being a Thuet, he did not like to defile his betrothal vows. And so it was that our intimacy only served to confuse him further. Thus he stayed on with me, vacillating, making himself ill with worry.
“At length, he reached the decision which a man of his word must. He would return to the Burgundian woman, to let her know that he was safe, and then he would ride to the Franks and tell them the truth about the dwarf. But until he had the Franks’ reaction to this news, his desire was to keep the sword hidden. He decided to leave it with the Burgundians, for safe-keeping. Even then I felt that his decision was less than wise, but I was so in love with Sigurd that I mistook my premonition for envy and made no attempt to stop him from doing what he felt he must.
“He’d been safe enough with me, but my powers are mine, and once he was away from me, I had no means to lay them on him. He saw the Burgundian woman, left the sword with her brothers, and then he went home to inform the Franks of Regan’s death. Later he returned, as he felt he had to, to marry the Burgundian. But shortly after their wedding, her brothers began to behave toward him in a manner which was insulting. The elder of the two complained that Sigurd should have offered the war sword to him as part of his sister’s bride-price. Sigurd’s wife likewise became greedy. It was not enough for her to be married to so great a man, a dragon-slayer. She once heard him call out my name in his sleep. And when he reddened the next morning when she asked, ‘Who is Ildico?’ she became enraged. She conspired with her brothers against him. But he grew wise to their conspiracy, and one day he rode out to see me, to tell me all of this and to ask my advice. I looked into the fire that was burning at the mouth of my cave, and I saw that Sigurd’s wife and her brothers were set on killing him, that his life-blood would be spilt as soon as he returned to them. I told him he must never return. But Sigurd’s wife was already heavy with their child, and though he had every right now to break his vows to her, he had no mind to give up the child. He wanted to go back, to offer the sword to his wife’s brothers in return for his life, and then, once his wife had delivered the child, which he hoped would be a son, to steal the child and the sword and return to me. I begged him to see that it was more than the sword these folk wanted. They wanted the glory that Sigurd would have attained, had he lived, in retrieving it. They wanted Sigurd dead so that they could say that they were the ones who had gone off into the high mountains…
“When I told him this, he shook with rage. He could get used to the idea of giving up the war sword, but to know that the brothers would bask in the glory of his acquisition was too much for him. He was set on returning, now to kill the brothers who would do this to him. I begged him not to go. He went. He was killed.”
I hung my head and waited. At length, Edeco spoke, “How did you come to learn of his death?”
I lifted my face so that he could see the tears that had sprung to my eyes. “I knew because I knew. I had foreseen the event in the fire, and I saw it again later, on the walls of my cave as I lay thinking of Sigurd and wishing him back by my side. I knew, but I was numb with sorrow, and for a long time I did nothing. Then, more recently, I came across a tribe of Thuets, Alans, who were traveling to the Western Empire. They spent one night in my cave, and the one who had a harp sang the song of the war sword as he had learned it from the Burgundian brothers.
“I set them right of course, and they promised they would sing the true version thereafter. And when they were gone, I made my plan. I found my way to Burgundian lands, and, at night, when I felt certain that all within were sleeping, I entered the hall of the brothers and found the sword—no difficult task. You saw yourself how the thing catches light in a way which only an enchanted thing may do. The proud brothers had not even thought to hide it. It was there on the wall above the high seat. I took it down noiselessly, and as soon as it was in my hands, I felt how it was thirsty for blood, how it was made to be sated. You know this, too! I saw your face when you touched the thing! It was all I could do to hold myself back from taking it up against the brothers and the woman as well. But I understood also that this sword, Wodan’s war sword, was meant to cut down armies, not a few insignificant Thuets who would suffer a greater loss than life when they learned the thing was gone. I stole a horse. I rode feverishly. You know the rest.”
I sat back on my heels and drained the rest of the wine from my cup. I could feel Edeco’s eyes on me, burning with wonder. I was burning, too, with pride and something more. I had imparted my tale with vigor. It differed from the one that I had rehearsed with my brothers before my departure, yes, but it was no less a marvel. I had not meant to mention the Burgundians by name, and I could not think why I had done so, but I did not see how it would matter one way or another. And most of all, in spite of all my fabrications, I had managed to be true, or nearly so, to Sigurd. His name and his glory were secure, even here, in the City of Attila.
I set down the wine cup and glanced at the doorway, graced now by the lower edge of the descending sun. The light pouring in was golden.
“Why Attila?” Edeco asked softly.
I was prepared for the question. “Have you heard nothing?” I exclaimed, falling forward and planting my palm on Edeco’s knee. “I grew up in the forest alone, living on what I could steal! I stayed here and there, yes, but only for short periods of time, and not one of those I stayed with ever loved me or considered me one of his own. And, in truth, I preferred my aloneness, until I met Sigurd. Only then did I come to learn what it means to walk in the shadow of a great man, to be called friend by someone whose powers are equal to my own!
“Sigurd is dead, and I will never love a man that way again. But I have come here to seek the company of another great man, to lend my powers to a man who is, perhaps, in his own way, even greater than Sigurd. And I have brought with me the thing which only a great man may possess, the likes of which would cause chaos in the hands of a lesser man.”
I jumped to my feet and tossed aside the skins as carelessly as Edeco had earlier. I reached into the sack, and spilling straw everywhere, pulled forth the war sword and held it up by the hilt. When I turned with it, the hot red orb of the sun was lower yet, filling the space now between the top of the doorway and the high palisade beyond it. And thus the sword became a torch in my hand, a wild, flashing thing which put the sun’s light to shame. Edeco, who had bounded to his feet as well, abandoned his pretense of indifference now and let his mouth drop open. He drew back and shielded his eyes from the sword’s fierce glare. Was it an accident, I wondered in my boldness, that the sun had chosen this moment to set? I had seen that it was setting, but I had made nothing of it; I had not planned to retrieve the sword. Again the warm honey scent permeated the little hut, and I fancied that it was Sigurd who had compelled me to take up the sword at just that instant.
My triumph made me giddy. I heard myself laughing wickedly, as the valkyria Brunhild might have done. In response, Edeco’s expression became even more bewildered, his bright blue eyes darting feverishly from me to the sword to the sun and around again. I felt his fear, his awe. I watched, amused, as he struggled to strike an attitude. His eyes still dancing, he brought his hand up from his side and growled, “Give it to me.”
I drew back. “I will give it only to Attila.”
“I will give it to him for you. You have my word,” he said more gently. “Give it to me. I do not want to have to hurt you.”
I laughed in his face, for as I had the sword, the notion was absurd. But the guard, who had halted his horse to learn the cause of the commotion, had seen the thing now, too. I lowered the sword and handed it to Edeco. He took it up as if it were a fragile thing. The guard saw the exchange and began, reluctantly it seemed, to pace again.
“Attila returns tomorrow,” Edeco said, his gaze sweeping along the length of the sword. “I will keep the sword until then. I will tell him all that you have told me. I have no doubt that he will send for you.” He gestured for the sack.
As soon as he was gone, I spread out the skin I had slept on earlier. I was anxious to see Sigurd again, to discuss with him what I had said and done, if only in a dream. His scent was still heavy in the hut; I had no doubt that his phantom would still be available to me. I lay down and closed my eyes, but my mind was racing, and I could not fall asleep. In spite of my efforts to empty my mind, it bustled with my image, with the way I had spoken, the way I had planted my hand on the Thuet-Hun’s knee, the way I had pulled forth the sword and held it up, as if to silence the setting sun.
I saw myself over and over again as I imagined I had looked to Edeco, a small, thin woman laughing sardonically and holding light itself in her grasp. My only regret was that my audience had not been Attila. I marveled at how evil I had become, at how much I had enjoyed my wicked charade.
But the evening progressed, and, gradually, my conceit was shaded by another perspective. I had drunk from the same cup as my enemy. I had laid my hand on him as if he were a brother. I had despised the Huns all my life, and yet I had spent a time conversing with one—for he was a Hun in mind if not in blood—and it had never once entered my thoughts that this Hun, this Thuet who was a Hun, might well have been in Worms when the blood of my people flowed like a river. When I had held the sword up to the sun, I had felt an impulse to strike Edeco with it, but not because he was my enemy. The truth was more that in holding the thing, I had felt myself an extension of it—and thus had been overcome with an urge to experience its power.
The night was slipping by. I could sense the sun yearning to rise again, and still sleep evaded me. The honey scent was gone now, and I wondered whether I had only imagined it earlier. What force had caused me to mention the Burgundians like that? Would it really make no difference? I had taken some pleasure in marking my brothers as villains. How was that possible? I had even taken pleasure in tainting myself.
Perhaps it was not madness after all that had made me feel so emboldened, so oblivious, so giddy—all feelings that eluded me now as cunningly as sleep. Perhaps, I thought, the curse had found a way to reach me. Since the time I had first received the sword from Gunner’s hand, I had amused myself by thinking that I was too good, too much a true Burgundian, to be contaminated. Now I wondered. Now I was ashamed.
I crawled into the corner and trembled with humiliation. I felt alone, afraid, as if I were a marmot without a tunnel on hand, separated from its colony by time and space and allegiance. I was sick with longing for Sigurd, and I tried with all my being to conjure up his presence again, to detect once more his honey scent. But I smelled nothing but my own fear. And soon I came to suspect that the illusion of Sigurd’s presence, like the illusion of my valor, which had been building for days and days, had been yet another trick of the sword. I was sick with fear and self-loathing. I gagged but could not vomit. And when I had spent myself and finally fell asleep, I dreamed of nothing.
THE DEAD LETTER SYNOPSIS
It is 2001 and the police constable's girlfriend is murdered in a fit of jealous rage. When the constable realizes what he has done, he manages an elaborate cover-up. Only one person knows the truth. Flash forward to 2012. Anne Brown is still running her late uncle, Bill Darby's, detective agency after spending four or five years as his assistant. One day, the postman delivers an eleven year-old letter. The letter is addressed to her uncle from a woman named Carolyn Jollimore. She says she has evidence about a murder and begs for help from Darby. But Bill Darby is dead. And when Anne looks up the letter's author, she finds that Jollimare too is now dead. Troubled with the evidence at hand, Anne must decide if she should investigate this eleven-year old murder.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Finley Martin was born in Binghamton, New York and grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He received a B.A. degree in English at the University of Scranton, and during the 1960âs he served as an officer with the United States Marine Corps at posts in America, the Caribbean, and Asia.
After he returned to civilian life, he worked as a free-lance writer, p.r. consultant, and photographer and became public relations director at International Correspondence Schools.
In the 70âs he received an M.A. from the University of Ottawa and a B.Ed. from the University of Prince Edward Island. For many years he taught English literature at high school and writing courses at university. He has also worked as a truck driver, labourer, carpenter, boat builder, and deckhand aboard commercial fishing vessels and passenger ferries.
During his writing career he published numerous magazine and newspaper articles, poetry, and short stories in Canada and the U.S. He produced a mini-series for CBC Radio and has given numerous poetry readings.
He authored three books: New Maritime Writing, Square Deal Pub., Charlottetown, PE; A View from the Bridge, Montague, PE; and The Reluctant Detective, The Acorn Press, Charlottetown, PE.
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Excerpt from The Dead Letter
âAll right, Iâm having an affair. So what? You donât own me.â
Simone Villier hooked her thumbs under her waistband and rotated her hips slowly back and forth as she adjusted her skirt. She evoked an uncommon sensuality, and she was aware of its effects -- carnal glances from men, and the confused mix of disapproval and guilty envy from women.
Constable Jamie MacFarlaneâs fingers gripped the web belt that held his service pistol, handcuffs, night light, and radio, and listened in disbelief. Like many other men around Charlottetown, Jamie MacFarlane had been drawn to her, but his advances had had greater success, and they had engaged in a fiery and tumultuous romance for eight months.
Now it was over. And tonight her alluring moves, which once had thrilled him, felt hollow, taunting, and cruel.
âWho is it?â he asked.
âIâm not going to tell you who it is. Itâs none of your business.â
Simone looked away. His jealousy pleased her. Then, to fill the silence, she straightened a few items on her office desk and hoped that Jamie would stomp off into the night and be done with it, but he didnât. He remained. He said nothing. The silence was uncomfortable. She ignored him and stared out the second-floor window of her office into the darkness of the harbour and focused on the beads of light that framed the skyline of the city of Charlottetown.
Then Jamieâs hand slammed the top of the desk, and his voice snapped like a bullet.
âI want to know! Who is it?â
âScrew you!â she said
He grabbed her shoulders and shook her. Her eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed with anger, and she pulled away and circled behind her desk. Jamie didnât follow.
âThen why! Tell me that,â he demanded.
âWhat difference does it make?â she asked, her tone quieter now. Tired, but not conciliatory. âWeâre over. Finished. It was a laugh for a while. A few great times even. Now itâs done.â
âItâs not over ... not 'til I say it is,â he said.
âYou sound like a spoiled kid. Grow up.â Simone grabbed her jacket and strode toward the door, but Jamie blocked her way.
âYouâre not leaving until I get an answer. Why?â
âYou want to know why? Okay. Here the story. You were cute, but not cute enough. Is that reason enough? You were charming, but it wore so thin I could see right through you. Is that enough? No? How 'bout you work all the time! Youâre not fun anymore ... and havenât been for a long time. Is that enough? Plenty enough for me, anyway.â
âYouâre just a tramp!â
âAnd what are you? You think that cop uniform makes you some big shot? Youâre not. Youâre nobody! A big mouth with pocket change.â
âSlut!â he shouted
âLoser!â she said. âOh ... and hereâs another reason! Iâm pregnant ... and before that idea starts rollinâ around your empty head, itâs not yours.â
The muscles in MacFarlaneâs jaw flexed.
âThree months or so.â
âYouâve been banginâ him ... and me ... for the last three months. Who is he?â
âOh, itâs been a lot longer than that. And you donât need to know. Itâs none of your business.â
âWho is he?â he shouted. âDo I know him?â He grabbed Simone and shook her hard until her head snapped back and forth like a broken toy and her face blanched. âWho is he? Who is he?â
She struggled in his grip like a frightened dog, squirmed and writhed. Her strength and tenacity surprised him. His hands slipped as the point of her shoe caught him sharply on the shin. Simone broke away. Her right hand swiped painfully across his eye. As she took a step back, his one hand rose to his eye, and his other dropped onto the top of the desk. It fell on a heavy metal three-hole punch. With an emerging hatred, he swung the club-like machine above his head and struck, down and diagonally, across her skull. The bone sounded with a sharp crack, and Simone fell to the floor.
She remained motionless but for her eyes, which were closing slowly, like those of a cat drifting into sleep.
MacFarlane felt for a pulse. There was none. He walked to the door and flicked off the light. He started to leave, but the sudden darkness swept over him like a wave. It smothered his panic and dampened his anger. It also woke him to the realization that Simone was dead, that he had killed her, and that the murder weapon was still frozen in his hand.
He lingered a few more minutes in the dark until his heart slowed and his thinking cleared, and the only sound that filled his ears was the clack clack clack of a cheap wall clock beating away at the minutes.
By the time he flicked the light switch back on, he knew what he had to do. He wiped his fingerprints from the doorknobs and switches and desk. He cleaned his prints from the three-hole punch and dropped it near her body. Simoneâs purse lay on the desk. He dumped the contents and took her wallet and cellphone. He yanked a gold necklace from her neck and slipped a sapphire ring from her finger. He stuffed all of it into a pocket of his uniform, crept into the stillness of the hallway, and descended the fire stairs to a side street exit.
Someone will have to pay for Simoneâs killing, he thought.
Title: I Should Have Stayed in Morocco
Author: Stephen Caputi
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Read the First Chapter
Purchase from Amazon / OmniLit
About the Book:
Stephen Caputi’s memoir, I Should Have Stayed in Morocco, is not just another forensic account of billionaire Ponzi-schemer Scott Rothstein’s life. Caputi opens his heart and soul as he takes the reader on a journey through two decades rife with personal experiences, misadventures and wild escapades with Rothstein, climaxing with their now-infamous ramble in Casablanca. It’s a frighteningly true story of how friendship and loyalty was dedicatedly served to a master-manipulator, just to be rewarded with deceitful betrayal and a prison sentence.
PROLOGUE Amtrak Station, Deerfield Beach, FL
February 5, 2012 – Super Bowl Sunday
“You fucking idiot, you should have stayed in Morocco,” I muttered under my breath to nobody in particular as I collapsed my forehead onto the headrest of the empty seat in front of me. I’d boarded the train at 7:04 a.m. yet still had my foot wedged intentionally in front of the door-closing mechanism to prevent the door from shutting—a feeble attempt to prolong an already excruciating goodbye scene. It had turned into a real-life enactment of one of my all-time favorite movie scenes from Casablanca.Only it was playing in reverse.
It was me, the nightclub owner who was departing on a train, not Ingrid Bergman boarding a plane. It was my girl Elizabeth who was being left behind, not Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick. She was crumpled up on a wooden bench just outside the train door, shedding the tears that can only be caused by the separation or death of a loved one. A distinct, sickening anguish shared by both of us.
It was like being conscious during a nightmare, only in this case the nightmare was real. Watching it unfold as if it were on the big screen added a surreal element to what was already a disjointed, fragmented scene, like a living 3D Picasso. My actions felt animated and somehow rehearsed, but the pain was real. I withdrew my foot and watched her from the window. The reflection staring back at me in the dual-paned glass presented another distorted Picasso-like image. The final minutes on that platform dragged on in slow motion, yet my heart was racing. A lifelong movie aficionado, I could only hang my head in recognition of the ironic, film-noir quality that my departure—and my life—had taken.
The horn sounded and the train began its slow roll, creeping up the track. The last thing I recognized before my eyes glazed over completely was a blurry wave and a futile kiss goodbye blown in my direction. I was going directly to jail, without passing GO or collecting $200. As a matter of fact, my entire net worth couldn’t even equal that figure. The $173 in my wallet and the shirt on my back were the only things I had left.
To make matters worse, I had manifested a blinding headache from fighting back the tears, resisting the urge to break down. I’d promised myself beforehand that I would stay strong and not crack. I was en route to FSC (Federal Satellite Camp) in Jesup, Georgia, a federal prison camp where I would self-surrender. After not working for three years, courtesy of the U.S. Marshals, my resources had dwindled, forcing me to sell my beautiful home in Forest Lake Estates to pay my huge legal fees. It had been my dream to gift my daughter the house where she’d been happily raised during her childhood. I was crushed. My destruction was now complete.
“I… I should have stayed… should have stayed… in Morocco,” I whispered again in staccato, my voice fading as I began to choke on my own words. Not long ago I’d been lounging in a suite at the Golf Palace in Marrakesh, staring at $16 million in cash and over $4 million worth of designer watches sitting on the floor at my feet. When I left Morocco, my bank account at the Banco Popular held a cool one million U.S. dollars. But no… I had to do the right thing… my father’s mantra ringing in my ears… and at least try to help recover the money stolen by my crooked partner, Scott Rothstein. People had been hurt, and I had been used and manipulated like a puppet in one of his colossal schemes. I was disgusted with myself. How could I have let that happen?
At the beginning of the government’s inquisition, I was optimistic that they would uncover the truth; I had never stolen anything from anyone, EVER, and this incident was no exception. I planned and expected to be grilled by men of intelligence that cared about the truth, men who would understand that I’d been duped. I’d been tricked by a master manipulator, fooled into believing him the same way everyone else did — includinghigh-ranking people in government: 2008 Republican Presidential nominee John McCain, Senator Arlen Specter, Governor Charlie Crist,Sheriff Nick Navarro, and even one of the most seasoned, intelligent and calculated businessmen on Earth: The Don.
They trusted him, as I had. Most of the “big shots” that Rothstein associated with took money from him in some way, shape or form… but I didn’t. Why was I held to a higher standard? I considered myself to be nothing more than an inadvertent participant. Little did I know that my lack of “knowledge and intent” to commit a crime was not a relevant defense. Only law enforcement was allowed the luxury of having the defense of non-intention when it came to committing a crime. The powerbrokers in their ivory towers protected their backsides when they changed the laws to facilitate more, quicker and easier convictions. In my case, the prosecutors’ hands were tied by laws that precluded them from applying more than a cursory dose of discretion, intelligence and common sense. I knew they were just doing their jobs within the framework they’d been given, feeding a steady stream of bodies into the insatiable Perpetual Prisoner Money Machine. They were blindly carrying out the orders of the taskmasters, the sociopathic Suits on Top (“SOTs”), regardless of the inhumanity of it. Wasn’t that what I did with Rothstein — follow his orders?The scary truth was that they had the power to punish me even more than they did. They could have destroyed me completely, but to their credit, they chose not to. Thank God! But in the moment, it provided no solace.The system was a beast.
This robotic process seemed to be no more than an unfortunate series of consequences resulting in the conscienceless destruction of people and families… by the millions. In practice, bona fide justice had been diminished, now relegated to being a random, inadvertent and often incidental byproduct of a perverse and calculated criminal justice system. Enforcement of written law had somehow become more important than the concept of law, and the concept of “equal application of justice” had been downgraded to a buzzword. I didn’t have $300 million dollars to stroke a check to the Feds to get them off my back like others did. In other words, I was totally fucked.
In retrospect, I was incredibly stupid for having given the remotest consideration to the possibility that the government would care even one iota about anything other than my conviction. That’s what I should have been convicted of, being naïve enough to think that doing the right thing would save me. Dumb-ass! I deserved a 60-month sentence just for thatalone. By the end of eighteen-months of legal “processing,” my frustration level had crescendoed to an all-time high—with myself, the system, and of course my ex-partner Rothstein.
Regardless, the unthinkable had just happened; my last day had finally arrived. Every day for the past two years I’d wake up thanking God for giving me one more day of freedom. Now it was over.
My nightmare had inauspiciously begun on Halloween night a little over two years ago in 2009, when Liz and I boarded the Air Marac flight to North Africa. I became numb just thinking about that day. My ears started ringing… tinnitus on steroids. My mind began to race, flitting from one thought to another every few seconds. My heart palpitating, I wondered if I was about to have a heart attack. The coffee had turned to acid in my empty stomach and I needed to throw up.
I SHOULD HAVE STAYED IN MOROCCO.
* * *
Two hours down the tracks I began to calm down. The train was approaching Orlando, which conjured up images of countless road trips that flickered like a slideshow in my mind’s eye. Vivid recollections of dozens of softball tournaments, celebrations and award ceremonies, deep laughter that turned to tears, cheap motel rooms and lumpy beds. I envisioned a virtual collage of theme park adventures flashing before me. Sounds of children screaming on the thunderous rides, and the smell of cotton candy that had to be eaten quickly before it melted in the torrid, sopping central Florida heat. Every one of them a memorable clip in a long-running highlight film of experiences with the crown jewel of my life, my little girl Lucy.
For a few fleeting moments I was freed from my ragged emotional body, floating with her through Disney’s magical It’s a Small World Fantasyland boat ride. It was the ultimate kids’ dream to see in real life what had previously only been imagined; to see the animated munchkins, toy soldiers drumming, talking lollipops and flowers, singing puppets and other characters come to life. She looked up at me in what may have been the first wave of realization of her young life and blurted, “Daddy, it’s my birfday and we’re at Disney World! Thank you, thank you, Daddy!”
She’d gazed up at me with her big, brown, loving eyes, a look that could only come from a three-year-old who adored her father, hugging me tight before beaming herself back into that Small World. Life had awarded me with a perfect moment. For fifteen seconds, everything had synchronized into a pure consciousness of love, appreciation and contentment shared between two connected souls. It was as close to perfection in this world as I’d ever felt, before or after, and I lived it again as if it had happened just earlier that morning.
As my reverie melded itself into the background of ambient train noises, I was pulled back into the real world. My solar plexus reflexively tightened as I unwillingly began to re-live the gut-wrenching departure scene that I suffered just a few hours ago. Wasn’t once enough?
It was no wonder that countless men had been driven to madness over the ages. History taught us that every man, no matter how stalwart, had his own personal breaking point. I didn’t want to think about it but couldn’t stop replaying the morning’s episode. As my old buddy Murph used to say, it was all over me like an eighty-pound fire ant. A scant few minutes ago I had been relishing moments from the highlight reel of my life, but I had become queasy again. Was there some kind of cosmic law governing the balance of energy that required a corresponding moment of negativity to countersink every moment of elation?
The pendulum was swinging heavily in the wrong direction. I wasn’t cut out for this; this was not my life, it couldn’t be! I’d been so happy for so long. Happiness was my natural condition, the default. How could that all be over for me now? What a wretched state; how could anything get any worse?
Oddly enough, a little voice inside my head whispered right back. “That’s what you think!” What I’d said to myself was the cosmic equivalent of sticking one’s tongue out at Satan himself, hissing, “I dare you!” Although I had no idea what powers governed forces like this, I did know that they were for real. Words do have power when they’re linked to emotions, and I proved it the hard way. A lesson learned: never tempt fate.
* * *
Self-pity is an exasperating, exhausting activity. My mind was shot after a few hours of thrashing myself, second-guessing every choice I’d ever made—especially the ones that created the conditions that lead to my current predicament. The incalculable complexity of the intricacies and dynamics at play combined with my legal woes and huge personal issues, such as losing my home and going broke, were throwing me into another mind-spin; more self-recrimination, guilt, trauma and pain.
I hated being miserable—more than most people. I forced myself to draw the line right then and there, and to stop thinking, at least for the time being. I collected myself, giving myself assurance that I was indeed okay for that exact moment. I’d have to forget the past and the future and force myself to stay in the moment. I understood the concept, but convincing myself of it was another story.
Focus. I was taking a nice ride through rural Florida and everything was fine. I was safe, warm and comfortable. I forced myself to relax and appreciate my immediate conditions. Nothing else was relevant. Perhaps things would stabilize for me now that I’d already sunk to the bottom of life’s apple barrel. I was just convicted of a white-collar felony, not as scathing as a convicted drug dealer or child molester. But, yes they were felons, too! Once inside we were all the same.
Perhaps I could actually survive this experience and someday emerge to join the normal rank and file of the community. Reality clawed back; it was too soon to begin plotting my comeback. I hadn’t even arrived in prison yet. I silently mouthed my favorite all-time managerial quote: “One disaster at a time.”
The soothing smell of comfort food wafted down from the dining car, so I jumped out of my seat and headed for the bar. I figured I could use a couple of Grey Goose Bloody Mary’s right about then. Ordinarily, setting the Goose loose this early in the day would have been unthinkable. As a businessman I needed to be lucid during the day, but under the present circumstances, it would be forgivable… and just might help right the ship. At least for now.
One of my three lifelong college buddies from Cornell University would be picking me up at the train station in Jesup in seven hours. He insisted on treating me to one last supper before depositing me at Hell’s doorstep. Certainly he wouldn’t judge me for drinking all day, especially since he would have polished off at least a twelve-pack on his way from Atlanta. He was from an athletic fraternity whose primary focus was drinking and I belonged to a drinking fraternity whose primary focus was athletics. The perfect match both on the field and off.
I felt extremely fortunate to have a few real friends left in this world. I’d pretty much been abandoned by everyone I’d ever known as soon as I lost the ability to do something for them. I was suddenly persona non grata after I lost my business and my status as a nightclub owner. As soon as I was considered to be “in trouble with the law,” my phone went dark—right when I needed support the most. On the bright side, at least I could tell who my friends were. My mind went temporarily blank as I threw back the first vodka.
I wondered what Elizabeth was doing and allowed my thoughts to revisit our last moments together once again… in more detail and even more emotion than before. Then twin daggers seared through my temples as my thoughts turned to my Lucy. Goddamn it!
Donald Joiner, a Georgia native, is a veteran who served during the Korean War era. He is a retired public school superintendent who a lifetime student of history having once been a history teacher. He is a father and grandfather and has been married for fifty-two years. Before 'The Antioch Testament,' he authored two books about antebellum churches in Georgia. He's here today to chat about his book and his writing process.
About this book:
When The Antioch Testament opens, it’s 2004 during the insurgency in Iraq. An American army patrol manages to rescue a frightened group of Iraqi Christians fleeing Islamic militants. The refugees’ severely wounded leader, a priest, carries with him a mysterious bundle the group has brought with them from a northern Iraqi Christian monastery. As he clings to life, the priest insists on handing over the carefully-guarded package to the American army chaplain. When the bundle is unwrapped, Army chaplain Charles Monroe finds a large, scuffed, leather-bound ancient manuscript written in an unknown language. Fearing for the manuscript’s safety in war-torn Iraq, the chaplain arranges to have the manuscript sent to Augusta, Georgia, his hometown. Eventually, the manuscript winds up in an Eastern Orthodox monastery where internationally- recognized linguists begin the arduous task of interpreting it. What the linguists discover is absolutely astonishing: the manuscript is a first century AD testimonial in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, describing what happened to Jesus’ apostles after his Resurrection. But time is running out. Unbeknownst to the interpreters, a fanatical Iraqi insurgent organization is bound and determined to retrieve or destroy the ancient manuscript before its secrets can be revealed. Some secrets may be worth dying for—but these secrets might even be worth killing for.
Imaginative, inventive, and intriguing, The Antioch Testament explores the lives of the apostles after the resurrection. A thoughtful and thought-provoking page-turner, The Antioch Testament is a carefully-crafted page-turner with a pulse-pounding plot, and engrossing storyline.
Mayra Calvani: Please tell us about 'The Antioch Testament,' and what compelled you to write it.
Donald Joiner:I’ve always been intrigued by the remarkable transformation that occurred among Jesus’ apostles after his Resurrection. The bible tells us that before that event they had a motley collection of fishermen, laborers, and revolutionaries seeking to drive out the hated Roman occupiers and the restoration of David’s earthly Jewish kingdom. The New Testament tells us quite a lot about them before the Resurrection, but very little afterward.
What happened to them? Where did they go? What did they accomplish? How did they die? From the fragmentary evidence left to us in early Christian traditions, I decided to tell the rest of the story. 'The Antioch Testament' is a work of historical fiction, but it is based on early church traditions.
M.C.: What is your book about?
D.J.: When the story begins, it’s 2004 during the height of the insurgency in Iraq. An American army patrol manages to rescue a frightened group of Iraqi Christians fleeing Islamic militants. The refugees’ severely wounded leader, a priest, carries with him a mysterious bundle the group brought with them from an ancient Christian monastery in northern Iraq. Barely clinging to life, the priest insists on handing over the carefully guarded bundle to an American chaplain stationed at the army base.
When the bundle is unwrapped, the chaplain finds a large, scuffed, leather-bound ancient manuscript written in an unknown language. Fearing for the manuscript’s safety in war-torn Iraq, the chaplain arranges to have the manuscript sent back to the states. Eventually, the manuscript winds up in an Eastern Orthodox monastery where internationally-recognized linguists begin the arduous task of translating it.
What the linguists discover is absolutely astonishing; the manuscript is a first century AD testimonial in ancient Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, describing what happened to Jesus’ apostles after his Resurrection. But time is running out. What the linguists do not know is that a fanatical Iraqi insurgent cell is bound and determined to retrieve or destroy the manuscript before its secrets can be revealed.
M.C.: What themes do you explore in 'The Antioch Testament'?
D.J.: A primary theme was to demonstrate the incredible sacrifices made by Jesus’ apostles in order to be obedient to his last command that they carry the Good News to the far corners of the world. Another theme was show the persistence of a severely wounded army chaplain to preserve the ancient manuscript, have it translated into modern English, and to share it with a largely disbelieving world.
M.C.: When do you feel the most creative?
D.J.: I am generally more creative in the mornings, but sometimes the mood strikes me to write all day.
M.C.: How picky are you with language?
D.J: I admire well- phrased language. Frequently in writing I’m stumped looking for the right word or phrase. I’ve been known to spend a lot of ‘down’ time waiting for language inspiration. Often I go back to my finished work and rewrite something that looks and sounds better. Perhaps that’s why it takes me so long to write!
M.C.: What’s the happiest moment you’ve lived as an author?
D.J: When my pictorial history book, Faith of Our Fathers, was selected by the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council for their 2014 award for local history advocacy.
M.C.: Is writing an obsession to you?
D.J.: No. Sometimes it is a pleasant experience, but other times it can be sheer drudgery.
Detroit’s eastside has seen its share of horrors. Once-proud factories gutted for scrap. Whole neighborhoods burned out and boarded up. Nature drained of color. But nothing like this: a thought-virus that turns the city’s dogs feral and its underclass into jackal-headed beasts.
The city erupts in chaos and nightmare violence. Communication in or out is impossible. The skies fill with lethal drone copters and airships bristling with heavy-duty cannon. Abandoned to their separate fates among hordes of monsters, the few surviving humans must find a way to elude the military blockade preventing their escape or to defeat the virus at its source—before government forces sacrifice them all.
Breakneck action, rogue science and deft portraiture combine for a grand and gripping tale of urban terror.
Lately I've been reading books outside of my typical genres of interest, and NIGHTSCAPE: CYNOPOLIS is no exception, but I thought it would be something fun to read around Halloween. I have to say, it was different for sure, and I wasn't disappointed. This book was a combo of apocalyptic fiction, horror, and supernatural thriller. This book has some political undertones about capitalism, racism and more. Detroit is at an all-time low, which lends itself to further damage when a virus is released that turns humans into beasts with a thirst for violence and destruction. Meanwhile, the government stumbles in its reaction and winds up killing more with their idiocy.
This was a great book, packed with action and I found myself enthralled as I followed along with the characters fighting for survival. I would definitely consider reading more from this author and highly recommend for fans of books with dytsopian, apocalyptic, supernatural elements.
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David W. Edwards is the writer, director and producer of the feature film Nightscape and author of the novels Nightscape: The Dreams of Devils and Nightscape: Cynopolis. He attended the University of Southern California's prestigious screenwriting program and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in English Literature while working for a variety of Hollywood production companies. He's the founder and former CEO of a successful high-tech market research firm, and a former two-term state representative. He currently lives in Hillsboro, Oregon with his family.
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