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Unfinished

Here is the beginning snippet of a fantasy romance novel I began crafting over a decade ago. There isn’t much to follow this little introduction, but I did work out an outline of the plot and the premise behind it – which naturally involves a forbidden relationship. I haven’t decided yet whether this story takes place in the Teharan Cycle universe.

Please let me know if you think the prose has promise, or if I ought to abandon it.

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

The Ties that Bind

Adele was shaking out the kitchen rug when the man ambled up to the front gate for the first time. It had been an uneventful summer morning, much like the past twelve mornings since she and Warner had been sent to set up housekeeping in the last cottage on the road by the lake. Warner had left before dawn, as usual, presumably to go out fishing on the lake. At least, the boat was gone from its berth by the dock. 

There were pasties in the oven, her own special oatmeal recipe was bubbling in the cookpot, and bacon was frying on the stove. She could smell the aroma and hear the pop and sizzle of the bacon through the kitchen windows. All the cottage windows were still open from the night before in an effort to dissipate the sweltering heat of the previous day. Adele had come out with the rug as an excuse to escape the combined heat of the kitchen fireplace and stove. Thus far, the day promised to be cooler than yesterday, praise the Lord. She had felt a comfortable breeze blowing from off of the lake and seen the tell-tale clouds in the sky. There was dew on the grass and the leaves of the garden greens. She reminded herself to gather some greens later for a salad as she twitched and cracked the rag woven rug in the early morning sunlight.

“Good morning,” a deep voice rumbled.

Adele gasped, nearly whipping the rug into her own face. She hadn’t even heard the man’s crunching footsteps approaching along the gravel road. Now he leaned up against the garden gate, tall and dark-haired, clad in the typical leathers and cambric of a wilderness ranger. His smile was slow and lazy, like the summer afternoons of late. “I smelled something toothsome,” he continued, winking green eyes at her. “And as I’m feeling a mite peckish, I thought I’d investigate.”

“Oh,” was all Adele could think to say, clutching the rag rug up at chest-level as a shield.

The man chuckled, shaking his head slightly as he straightened. “Ah, I’ve gone and startled you. Where are my manners?” He placed one large hand against his broad chest and dipped his clean-shaven chin in a curt bow. “I’m called Hadrien.” He gestured off to his right, where the gravel road eventually petered out into the wilderness. “Have a little shack out in the wild green yonder.”

“Oh! Good morning,” Adele said finally, after taking a deep breath. Awkwardly, she smiled at the stranger, rolling the rag rug up and draping it over the front porch railing. She wiped off her hands on her apron. “I’m Adele. I live here,” she added, and immediately felt stupid.

Once again, he turned that long, slow smile upon her. “So I gathered, Miss Adele.” He spared the cottage and well-kept yard a cursory glance before returning his focus to her. “But surely not all by your lonesome, a little slip of a thing like you?”

“Of course not!” she replied. “Warner lives here, too. He’s…um, out fishing right now. He’s…” And then, feeling the danger of those bright green eyes on her, she blurted, “He’s my husband.”

The tall man’s smile widened. “Well, naturally. I had assumed that was the case.” He glanced at her left hand. Self-consciously, Adele covered it with her right.

“Um, I take off my ring when I’m doing chores,” she said, proud of herself for coming up with an explanation on the fly. “We…Warner and I just got married a few weeks ago, and I don’t want to get it dirty.” Nervously, she rubbed at the offensively bare heart-finger.

“My apologies, Mrs. Adele,” he replied, touching his forehead in a sort of salute. “That would be a none-to-subtle hint that I am keeping you from your work.” He stepped back from the gate, his eyes twinkling with amusement. “I shall bid you ‘good day’ and – ” He started to walk away.

“No, wait!” Adele called out. 

Raising a jet eyebrow inquisitively, the stranger turned back toward her.

Like a jittery fawn, Adele approached the front gate and stopped several feet away. She smiled apologetically up at the tall man. “I can’t invite you in because Warner is gone, but…if you are hungry, I could bring out some breakfast to you, Mr. Hadrien.”

He smiled. “I would be much obliged to you, Mrs. Adele.”

“Just wait right here.” The young woman dashed back into the cottage. 

“Certainly,” he murmured after her, still smiling.

Adele entered the kitchen to find that the bacon was perfectly crisp and that the pasties were very nearly cooked through. She brought out a bowl of oatmeal and a generous serving of bacon to the stranger.

“Thank you, Mrs. Adele,” he said quite seriously. “You are a very charitable young lady.” He began to eat, making appreciative sounds.

“It’s no problem.” She twisted the hem of her apron around in her hands. “I even have pasties coming out of the oven soon. So…when you are done with that, I can send a couple with you.”

He nodded, humming his enthusiastic agreement. Adele grinned, and went back into the cottage, remembering to take the rug back inside. If there was anything she had confidence in beside her scholastic pursuits, it was her culinary skills. She puttered around the kitchen, waiting for the pasties to finish and washing up the dirty dishes. Frequently, she peeked out the window to make sure that her unexpected guest still lingered. He did. 

After the pasties came out of the oven, she wrapped some in a thick towel and brought them out to the stranger. “Trade you,” she said, smiling.

“Gladly,” he replied, handing her the empty bowl and accepting the warm bundle in exchange. He tucked it into a leather satchel at his hip. “That was delicious. It isn’t often I taste real home cooking. I’ll return your property tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps I can make the acquaintance of your…ah…husband then, Mrs. Adele.”

“Yes,” she said, eagerly. “Warner should be at home then.”

The tall man smiled, saluting her again. “Until the morrow, Mrs. Adele.”

Feeling as if a proper housewife should, Adele offered, “You could stay for supper, then, Mr. Hadrien. I’ll roast a chicken.”

HIs green eyes sparkling in amusement, the dark-haired man accepted her invitation.

Adele stood at the gate, holding the spoon and earthenware bowl. She watched him walk to the end of the gravel road. Just before he entered the forest, he turned to smile and wave. The young woman smiled and waved back. The man faded away into the dappled shadows of tall trees. It was then that Adele realized what had been troubling her about him.

Not only had he cast no shadow behind him, but his footfalls had made no sound at all.

Fear Not

A Christian’s perspective on the coronavirus pandemic

My husband and I traveled to San Diego in February. By some miracle, we avoided infection by the coronavirus, even though we went through four different airports. Naturally, we were aware that the coronavirus was running rampant in China, and that there were already a few cases in the United States. Having a background in science and biology, I was a little concerned, but I admit that I didn’t think much of it. My husband certainly didn’t seem to be worried, and he followed the news more closely than I did.

All the information I heard amounted to this: 1) COVID-19 is an upper respiratory infection like a bad case of the flu that could develop into pneumonia 2) it’s lethality is restricted to the elderly and immunocompromised 3) the media is just trying to get everyone hyped up, as per usual 4) there aren’t many cases in the U.S. and 5) we’ve got this coronavirus thing under control.

“We’ll ride this out, just like we did with SARS and H1N1. This too, shall pass.”

That was the lulling siren song I subscribed to until we returned home from California. Until the reports grew ever more alarming – it was spreading like wildfire in Italy and young people were dying – and people had begun to die here, too. Here. In the invincible U.S. of A.

Far too quickly, this stealthy evil was found to be present and advancing throughout my home state. The peril is among us. If it continued unchecked, there was a real danger of overwhelming our health care system. Social distancing quickly became my new mantra, and I realized that our fragile eggshell society could crack and collapse beneath the weight of this threat. After all, I’ve always believed that – collectively – we Americans are a complacent and arrogant set of entitled brats who require humbling.

What if that is God’s will?

I guess we’ll find out, eventually, won’t we? This too, shall pass. In the meantime, I will trust in God. I pray for all our health care workers and all people in danger of contracting this virus (ahem, i.e. everyone). So far, my family has been spared, and for that I praise God. My husband and I are both still employed and working, and for that I praise God. We still have internet access so that our boys can keep up with their schoolwork, and for that I praise God. I have an outlet in my writing, and for that I praise God.

Throughout all of this, I am thankful for one other thing: so far this disease appears to be sparing young children. God-willing, this will continue to be the case until the end.

I can only pray that during these troubled times we see one another as beloved children of God, instead of as possible sources of contagion and therefore objects to be feared and avoided.

“May you live in interesting times,” indeed! I have always considered that saying as both a curse and a blessing. However, there is much to learn and much to be thankful for. There are opportunities for Christians to shine a light into the Stygian darkness.

Some words of comfort

Our savior is a risen Lord who has conquered death – namely, the fear of death. Those who believe in Jesus Christ as their savior from sin need have no fear of death, the sinful world, or the devil. God has promised us that this is the case, and he is a God who keeps His promises. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to read the entire Bible and point out a single instance where God made a promise and did not eventually deliver the goods. Keep in mind that we are creatures bound by time but that God is eternal.

This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “He took up our weaknesses and carried away our diseases.”

Matthew 8:17 (After Jesus heals a man with leprosy, a centurion’s servant, and many other people)

In all things, God’s will is done and it is good. That is a bitter pill to swallow in times like these, when we look at the rising number of confirmed COVID-19 cases online and grow even more anxious and afraid. It might seem like God has abandoned us, but He has not. Our prayers for Him to take away this horrible new evil that spreads so efficiently via asymptomatic carriers seem to fall on deaf ears. However, this is not the case. God is always listening. He is not a wishing well, but He always answers our prayers…in His time and according to His good purpose. Meanwhile, our loving Father wants us to keep talking with Him and read His messages to us in the Bible. This is an excellent time to lay your fears down at the feet of Jesus in prayer.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6,7

Good health is a blessing from God. Our personal health is neither a prize for us to obsess and fret over nor is it a possession to abuse in debauchery. God gave us the precious endowment of good health for use in benefiting others, not only ourselves. If you remain healthy and symptom-free, praise God! And then, maybe instead of hiding inside of your fortress built of 200 rolls of toilet paper with your 14 bottles of hand sanitizer, you could be looking for ways to help others less fortunate than yourself. At the very least, you could donate a few of those containers of hand sanitizer to your local hospital or clinic.

In every way I gave you an example that, by working hard like this, we need to help the weak and to remember the words that the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Acts 20:35

We are not in control. It was all just an illusion that we cultivated while things were going well. The fact is: we never were in control. God is and always has been in control of the universe that He lovingly created. It is human beings in their sinful arrogance that wrecked everything and brought death into God’s perfect creation. We have only ourselves to blame for this pestilence. Fortunately, despite our continually rebellious and arrogant nature, our loving God had a plan to redeem us all.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23

And finally, one of our pastors preached last Sunday on Psalm 42 & 43. I suggest you visit our church’s website and watch his sermon.

And here are the Psalms:

An Exile’s Prayer: Why Are You Cast Down?

Heading

For the choir director. A maskil by the Sons of Korah.

Longing for the Temple

As a doe pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and appear before God?
My tears have been food for me day and night,
while people are saying to me all day,
“Where is your God?”

I am overcome by my emotions
whenever I remember these things:
    how I used to arrive with the crowd,
    as I led the procession to the house of God,
    with loud shouts of thanksgiving,
    with the crowd celebrating the festival.

Refrain

Why are you so depressed, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I will again praise him
    for salvation from his presence.

Remembrance of the Lord

My God, my soul is depressed within me.
Therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan,
from the heights of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your rapids.
All your breakers and your waves have swept over me.
By day the Lord commands his mercy,
and at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go around mourning because of oppression by the enemy?”
10 It is like breaking my bones when my foes taunt me.
All day long they say to me, “Where is your God?”

Refrain

11 Why are you so depressed, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I will again praise him
    for my salvation from the face of my God.

Psalm 43

A Plea for Vindication

Judge me justly, O God,
and plead my case against an ungodly nation.
Rescue me from the deceitful, wicked man.
I know you are God, my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go around mourning
    because of oppression by the enemy?
Send out your light and your truth.
Let them guide me.
Let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to your dwelling.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and gladness.
Then I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.

Refrain

Why are you so depressed, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I will again praise him
    for my salvation from the face of my God.

An uplifting message from neighborhood kids.

A Book with 2 Prologues

I was kind of in shock after I completed editing the final chapter of Wyldling Snare this afternoon. I didn’t know what to feel. I just…sat there for a minute. I said to myself: “Well, there’s Revision Number Two.” I certainly never thought: “Yippee! This is actually done, now. Who wants a cupcake to celebrate?”

This was after I spent nearly three hours writing an alternative prologue that I believe is okay but doesn’t really fit into the narrative that follows. The original prologue takes place about fourteen years before the events of the novel and is roughly ten pages long (double-spaced.) It is from the point of view of a character that does not play a role in the events of the Wyldling series, but it introduces several important characters that you meet at some point early in the series, if not in the first book. The action takes place during an evacuation from a garrison town that’s about to be overrun by a vicious enemy, so the narrative is gritty, fast-paced and reeks of desperation.

The new prologue is three pages long (double-spaced) and takes place concurrently with the first chapter. It is a dream sequence from the point of view of an important character that you meet in the middle of the first novel. No names are used. It is almost the antithesis of the original prologue. There is no sense of danger or violence, only curiosity and vague yearning. I portray the scene in a mysterious fashion – the narrator is dreaming, and realizes it – but I’m not sure that it really adds anything to the story, or that the prose is compelling enough to encourage someone to read further.

Why, you ask, would I waste my time writing a different prologue – especially something I consider so-so at best? Because two out of three people who read my original prologue said it was too “dark” or “sad.” One of them – whom I shall refer to as R.M. – did not want to read any further because he claimed it made him feel depressed.

I wanted to try a different approach with the new prologue. Make it less “deathy,” or something. Well, I’m not sure that’s going to work. I’m writing a sword and sorcery type fantasy novel for young adults, not a chapter book for young children about a magic tree house. Now, I’m not dissing the Magic Tree House series – far from it; I think they’re great books – but that isn’t the sort of audience I’m writing for at the moment.

Perhaps the new prologue served its purpose, after all: now R.M. has decided that the original prologue is actually okay. Or, at least, he thinks the original is more suitable for the novel than the new one – the three pages that I worked so hard on this afternoon and enjoyed writing because I thought I was being so mysterious and clever with my descriptions without actually naming the characters.

Sigh

When it comes to critiquing and editing, I am definitely my own worst enemy.

Oh well. I’ll ask the beta readers to read both of them. They can tell me which works best for the book.

Or maybe neither will make the cut. Who says that I need to have a prologue, anyway? Jim Butcher doesn’t include a prologue in any of the Dresden Files novels and people still love reading them.

Speaking of which, I can hardly wait for Peace Talks to come out…

Apropos of nothing, here is a picture of a cat sitting on my Bible study questions so that I can no longer work on them.

Doctor thinks it is time to stop working and start paying attention to him, instead.