This piece gives me chills. I just wish it was longer and didn’t end so abruptly. I give you: Two Steps From Hell, “Protectors of the Earth” from their album, “Invincible.”
I downloaded the MP3 version from Amazon, in case anyone’s wondering.
I still don’t know if this current WIP is going to be a short story, or if I want to take it to full length novel. It’s funny how I have real life models for some of the characters, but not the main character, my protagonist. Sigh. Back to it.
I wonder if the CD cover is available as a poster…
Because I just want to throw things every time I think about this.
Since I’ve known Carol, she has had pretty long hair, most of the way down her back. Although I didn’t think this was a particularly good look for her at her age, it was none of my business and never said anything.
A couple weeks ago Carol arrived at the bus stop in the morning (the Grump had dropped her off) with short hair. I mean, a good 12″-14″ gone. It was just brushing her shoulders now, with some barely detectable layering worked in. Not a great cut, but I know she couldn’t afford a high-end stylist so like most of us has to take her chances with those no-appointment-needed places.
In explaining the sudden change, Carol said, “Last night while we were sleeping The Grump (no she doesn’t call him that) rolled over onto my hair and I couldn’t move. So yesterday when he picked me up (from work) we started driving someplace, and I asked him where we were going. He said it was a surprise.”
So without asking her, he drove her to get her hair cut at one of those strip mall hair cut places. What a guy.
I ask you. And yet somehow it never occurs to her to tell him “No, I don’t want to do that.” Maybe it’s due to her religious beliefs, and feels he’s head of the household and she shouldn’t argue with him. Which makes me want to throw more things. I don’t really know, that’s pure speculation. She’s never actually said anything to that effect. Maybe it’s just easier to go with it than get into a huge argument. But she clearly wasn’t all that happy with the way the cut turned out. She kept fussing with it, saying she didn’t like the layering, and it wouldn’t lay the way she wanted, etc.
I have never in my life known any woman who let a man tell her when or where to get her hair cut. I would have had to kill him, but that’s me. But, I kept my mouth shut about it. If she’s content to live this way, who am I to mouth off and make her feel unhappy? She’s not going to leave him at this point in her life, so why bother.
But I will never understand it.
Having no other content to put up here lately, I thought I’d post a snippet of a story I’m working on and see what you 3 think of it. This is actually quite terrifying, putting it out there like this. I don’t even have a title for it yet. Oh what the hell, here it is.
“Not many women choose this life,” he said, watching her clean the blade of her sword. The steel was smooth as glass, not a ripple in the metal. He’d never seen such a beautifully crafted blade.
She knelt on one knee in the mud by the body of the man she had just cut down in battle. “I’d hardly call it a choice.”
He dismounted from the enormous black horse. “Ah. Like so many of us. Sometimes the gods choose for us.”
“The gods and a bastard of a father who beat his children. He was my first kill.” She stood up, taller than he’d expected, broad-shouldered for a woman.
His mouth curved up on one side in a sardonic smile. “Self-defense is a basic skill for a warrior. The gods started training you early.”
“What is it with you and the gods, old man?”
“They’ve brought me victorious through many a battle.”
“And you don’t think that was any credit to your own skill?”
“Oh assuredly. But they set me on the path to learn what I’d need.”
She snorted. “All right, old man, if it gives you comfort at night.”
It was his turn to smile. “Old man? My hair may show many winters, but my arm will match yours in battle yet.”
She looked him up and down. His arms were as thick as oak branches, taut and strong, hardly flagging into old age. And then she saw the rank insignia riveted to his armor. He was the highest ranking general she’d come across since the war began. “No disrespect intended, General…?”
Her smile faded. He was more than a general, Vercingetor was the legendary commander of all the armies. And here she was sassing him. She laughed self-consciously. How could she not have recognized him? One didn’t expect to see the prime commander wandering around a battlefield unescorted. She saluted, wondering if it was already too late to salvage her career in the army. “My deepest apologies, General. Your presence here is a surprise. How may I serve you?”
“Apology accepted, Captain Lassuni. Since our work here is done,” he said, sweeping his glance over the battlefield where the crows were already arriving to scavenge the dead, “join me for some food, and we can talk.”
“Sir, I need to check on my troops.” Gainsaying the top Commander was probably error number two that day, but her duty to her own troops weighed on her. She couldn’t just go off for food and wine and leave them.
“Of course. I’ll join you,” he said, and mounted his horse once again. He sat and waited for her to retrieve her own mount that had wandered off during the battle. Once in the saddle she kicked the horse’s flanks, urging the animal to a canter.
“This way, General,” she said, and rode up the hill that hid their encampment.
They reached the top side by side, and reined their horses to a stop. Smoke from cooking fires and the smell of blood of the wounded scorched their nostrils. The wind was picking up as dark clouds moved in from the north. Just what they needed, Lassuni thought darkly. The wounded were suffering enough without cold rain and snow coming down on them. She urged her horse down the hill, nearly forgetting the presence of the army chief. She wasn’t too worried about him, though. He could figure out on his own what to do. All she could do now was her duty to her troops.
They rode down the line of tents, many of which had become camp hospitals, stopping now and then to have a word with some of the field doctors. None of the soldiers in the camp seemed to notice Vercingetor any more than she had, which made her smile inwardly. She didn’t know why this pleased her so much, only that it did. She suspected he was as arrogant and full of himself as most high-ranking officers were, probably moreso. Not that he hadn’t earned his fame the hard way, but most of them forgot the hardships suffered by the field troops once they got so high and mighty. And she hated them for it. She watched him out of the corner of her eye to see how he reacted to his anonymity. Annoyingly, he seemed to take no notice and said nothing as she spoke with some of the soldiers, simply observing from his saddle, not even offering an opinion. Finally she gave up worrying about him. Dismounting, she handed her horse off to her aide. She ran a hand absently through her chin-length, rough cut hair. She entered her tent where fatigue stole up and embraced her, and for the first time she felt the strain of the last few weeks. Forgetting the presence of the Supreme Commander, she lowered herself into her chair and called for wine, and two cups.
“My compliments, Captain. You have an excellent unit,” Vercingetor said. He had followed her in, but remained standing as if waiting for an invitation to sit.
Lassuni grinned, just a little, then started to stand again. “Forgive me, General…”
He waved his hand at her. “You’ve earned that seat, Captain,” he said. He turned and looked around the tent, then pulled up a second chair to sit near her. Lassuni shifted ever so slightly.
“Forgive me, General. I’m not accustomed to superior officers doing for themselves,” she said. But even that was half bait to see how he’d take it. What was it about this man that brought out this childish desire to provoke?
Vercingetor gave no indication that he felt in any way slighted or that she was being insubordinate. Peculiar. By now her aides were entering bearing plates of food and flagons of wine. As they refreshed the fire she began to thaw a little from the numbing cold of the gathering night, and started removing her armor. Vercingetor took a mouthful of the roasted meat and a swallow of wine, paying no heed to her. She shrugged and allowed her aide to finish taking the armor off.
“Tomorrow,” Vercingetor started, “we’ll cross the Ringossa Valley, and advance into Segora Province. Your troops will need to rest some before we can finish the push into the capital city.”
“We’ll need reinforcements before we can engage the rebels there. We suffered too many casualties today. I can’t move my forces for at least a week.”
“Precisely. You’ll leave your squadrons here, and take command of the Ninth Division. They’re stationed just beyond that ridge to the north.”
“Sir?” She finished swallowing a mouthful of food. “You want me to lead the Ninth?”
Now Vercingetor smiled. “Did you think I just stumbled on you by accident today, Captain?”
“Surely there are other officers more qualified to command the ninth.”
“More senior, certainly; more qualified – not that I’ve seen.”
For a moment she could hardly speak. The Ninth was a legendary elite unit, undefeated on the battlefield. To be handed command of such a unit was unheard of. Only the most skilled warriors were assigned to serve directly under the military’s highest commander.
“But sir, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to promote one of their own to command?”
He swirled his wine while watching her. “Perhaps. Under normal circumstances. At the moment I need some of them elsewhere, and after what I witnessed on the battlefield today, I believe I can trust you to carry this burden. Your regiment scored a decisive victory, your troops fight fiercely for you. I need officers who can inspire their troops like that.”
“But who will take over my regiment?”
“Captain, are you trying to tell me you’re refusing this promotion?”
She swallowed hard. “No General, not at all.”
He was handing her a position beyond anything she’d hoped for and she was acting like a mother hen. True, she had brought these troops up from nothing, turning them into one of the most feared and best trained units in the empire, but fate it seemed had decided it was time to move on.
“Your devotion to your troops is commendable, Captain, but I need you elsewhere right now. Be ready to leave in the morning, if you please.”
“Now, if you’ll direct me to a tent I can use tonight, I’d be most grateful.”
Once Vercingetor was settled, Adovana Lassuni assembled her officers in a hasty council to pass on the news. Her top lieutenant openly blanched at the news, until she informed him he was receiving a field promotion to captain.
“You’ll assume command immediately,” she told him. “I ride out in the morning with the supreme commander. There’s no time for a formal change of command.”
“It’s been an honor to serve with you, Captain.” Lieutenant Satonos stood at attention as he spoke.
Lassuni nodded. “Thank you. And may I be the first to congratulate you on your promotion, Captain Satonos.” Each placed their left hand on the other’s right shoulder in salute.
More to come…
:::aside to Jason – If you read this, I haven’t changed my mind about wanting the cover:::
I’m having wild swings of emotion these days, due in part to the change of jobs coming up. I have one week left at my current job, after which I will start at the new job at my former company. For a few moments in the office the other day as I was training one of my co-workers to take over one of my job functions, I had a feeling of competence that I haven’t really had for the last two years. This place has done such a number on my self-worth I’ve begun to think of myself as an incompetent screw-up.
Now, however, trying to pass down what I know to others to hand off everything I do (and you should have seen the list of job functions my supervisor was trying to figure out how to parcel out among the others) I realized how much I DO know about my job, and how impossible it will be to transfer all of it. And that’s only with this one particular task. The office manager has been particularly nice to me the last few days, not sure what that means.
Big Boss, however, has been as cold to me as ever. She knows I’m leaving and hasn’t said more than a ‘good morning’ when she arrives in the office. She’s out of town all next week, so I will never see her again. If I had any doubts about this being the right move for my mental health, that removed them. Financially this may not be the best move, but there are more important things.
So now I’m having second thoughts about this whole book thing. Can I really do this? Should I? I’m still editing. And rewriting. And terrified, basically. I don’t know where people get the confidence to go ahead with these things and market their books (relentlessly) online. Moments of “Why not?” alternate with “Why bother?” Despite some aperiodic Leonine bravado, I am a mouse at heart.
Maybe my psyche’s not as strong as it once was. The older we get the more we realize how little we know. I think I’ll go write and play with my imaginary friends.
This is kind of long because I feel it necessary to illustrate fully the character of the titular subject.
I mentioned one of my fellow bus riders, Carol, in the ghost post. Carol’s been married to her husband since the dawn of time. It’s not always rosy between them, in fact for awhile they seemed to be going through a bit of a rough patch judging by Carol’s demeanor at the bus stop in the morning. She vaguely alluded to the fact that I was single and sometimes she wished she was (she was pretty cranky that day). I really think she was angry enough at him during those days that, had she had the means, she would have left him.
It was a long time before I met her spouse – let’s see, what shall we call him? Let’s call him The Grump – and honestly, the woman is a saint for living with him all these years. She’s even told me that none of their neighbors like him and avoid being outside if he’s home and outside anywhere.
Back when I first met her, Carol was driving a car borrowed from a family member. The Grump was driving a spiffy new rig (“rig” of course being redneck-speak for a pickup truck) they had bought all shiny and new not long before. Well, eventually the day came when The Grump lost his job, and that of course led to them losing the truck. Not long after, the family member whose car Carol had been driving needed their car back. So they were down to an old Ford Explorer that needs some TLC from a mechanic. With The Grump out of work, he had the use of the Explorer all day, and was driving Carol to the bus stop most days. Many days he’d just take her all the way to work. I think it was an excuse for him to get out of the house. Despite The Grump’s lack of employment, and Carol having no wheels to get herself around, The Grump spends HUNDREDS of dollars a month on all kinds of crap (just the other day it was a box of assorted wood for I’m not sure what that he had picked up at some garage or estate sale), not to mention all the gas driving around and up to Seattle for a “Tool Club”. It’s a group of old geezers who like to buy and sell antique tools. Was ever a club more aptly named?
The Grump is a member, and Carol has to go along and collect the dues and spend the day wherever the meeting is because The Grump “likes to spend time with her.” So she sits and reads a book most of the day while he’s off looking at items with the other grouchy old goats.
And they just laid out a fortune for new brakes on the Explorer, when it was discovered they were down to metal-on-metal. Carol wasn’t sure how they were going to buy food after that, but by god, The Grump is always out buying more crap at garage or ‘estate’ sales.
Since The Grump has been working a little lately and interviewing for jobs (and therefore of course he gets the car), Carol has had no way to get to the bus stop, so I’ve been picking her up in the morning and driving her to the park-n-ride where we catch the bus, then taking her home again in the afternoon from the park-n-ride. She doesn’t live far so it’s no problem. She and The Grump have often given me rides home from work to avoid having to take the bus on days when The Grump comes to give Carol a ride. This all sounds great, except then I’m subjected to country music in their car, and having to listen to The Grump regale me with his tales of accidents and run-ins with the police and his opinions on everything. If it costs the public any money, he’s against it. Laws seem to exist only to suck money out of people and be a hindrance to life. He beat up a bus driver once who’d hit his car, but of course The Grump was held at fault for ‘violating the civil rights’ of the driver (who evidently was black). He can tell you that seat belts cost as many lives as they save. He can tell you of the corruption of the police, and city building code scams designed to suck money out of honest citizens.
So you see why I call him The Grump.
Anyway, I ended up getting a ride home with them a couple of days ago. I was being quiet as I normally am in their car while The Grump holds forth on his grouchy tale of the day, when suddenly the conversation turned to a member of their tool club. As Carol tells it, this tool club guy is super-polite (a foreign concept to most of these old buzzards, it seems) and all the wives of the men in this club are trying to hook him up with their young daughters. The Grump says they rib him about being “A-mish” because he’s so nice. So then he suggests I need to meet this guy.
“Why?” sez I.
“So you can get free membership in the club,” sez Carol.
“Why do I want to join this club?” I ask.
She laughs and shakes her head. “You don’t.”
Damn straight, I’m thinking.
That was the end of the conversation but this made me realize they must have been talking amongst themselves, deciding I need a MAY-UN in my life (because really, who doesn’t want to be miserable and make excuses for a foul spouse?) and thought up this little scheme to match-make me and Mr. “A-mish” dude.
Now, let’s just leave aside for a moment the fact that this would be a TERRIBLE match, and focus on how people can not get their heads around the idea that a single woman could be happy with her life. I don’t have to put up with anybody’s bad tempers or moodiness, or smoking, drinking, drugs, gambling, or spending money on crap they can’t afford. Why is it people can’t stand for a woman to be single? Why does being single = failure for a woman?
Carol opines on a regular basis about how every weekend they’re busy doing stuff that The Grump wants to do and she never gets time to herself or to do what she wants.
“Because he likes to spend time with me,” she says. Same reason he drives her to work, instead of letting her take the bus.
Now some of you may be thinking it’s charming that he still wants to spend time with her like this after so many years of marriage, but I’m seeing this as a control issue. She doesn’t even like to take a day off during the week because if she just stays home to relax or catch up on things, he’ll be around bugging her to go do things and she won’t be able to do anything she wants to do.
At my last job, Overseer (whom some of you will recall) even tried to give me advice for finding a MAY-UN. He informed me one day, unbidden, that his wife advocated making a list of desirable qualities that you want in a partner. Somehow this would set events in motion throughout the cosmos to manifest whatever you were looking for. And yet people say they don’t believe in magic. Trust me, I shut him down very quickly on the subject.
I understand relationships are a series of compromises, but they never seem to be equal. I don’t think Carol and her husband are an uncommon example. But, I never say anything critical about The Grump or their marriage, it’s not my place. I simply choose not to live my life that way. I wish other people would extend the same courtesy to those of us who are, for whatever reason, single. And I sure as hell don’t need people like The Grump interfering in my personal life.
My time lately has been concentrated on researching book covers: designs, designers, how-to, software, stock photos, pre-made vs. commissioned. What I’ve decided is since I want to give the book its best chance possible I am going to commission cover art. My reasons are thus:
1. I want good art that will stand out, and won’t make me feel embarrassed to show someone, like these would. (Fair warning: you may need trauma counseling after viewing that site.)
2. The book is the first of what I hope will be a trilogy. I want a cohesive look, rather than a mish-mash of different styles so I’m hoping to be able to have the same artist do the covers of the next books as well.
3. Design programs like PhotoShop or GIMP have a steep learning curve. If you don’t already know how to use them, it’s not likely to be something you can learn to do well in a weekend (unless you’re a whole lot smarter than I am). I suspect it would take years to achieve the level of mastery I’m after. I got as far as downloading GIMP and was flummoxed. As much as I love playing around with it, I have no idea what I’m doing and the effort would be amateurish at best. Again, the embarrassment factor.
4. I love really good cover art. Most of the pre-made covers are formulaic, or just not quite right and make me want to tweak the design this way or that, even if the art isn’t bad. I don’t want to settle for something that’s almost there.
5. I’m not an artist and know only the merest basics of design principles.
What can I say? Champagne taste on a beer budget.
It will cost more money, but people do judge books by their covers (I know I do) and those cheesey, bad CGI covers with ugly fonts are a turn-off to me, so probably are to most other people as well. I’ve solicited information from three or four artists online (and dismissed others out of hand due to their prices) and am pretty well focused on one. It’s not that I begrudge these people their rates, god knows a real artist with real talent deserves to be compensated for their work. I simply can’t come up with that much money right now. And high prices are also no guarantee of talent, as you can quickly discover. I trolled the internet for a couple of weeks, looking up all kinds of artists, checking out the DIY options, pre-made offerings. This, I believe, is the best course.
The whole process is kind of taking my breath away, and my heart beat faster. This is really happening. Unless I chicken out and decide not to do it. I’ll probably just quietly put the book up on Amazon and hope no one notices…