The Lure of Power – Saulzar Codex #6

Tags

, , ,

I’m happy to announce that The Lure of Power is available! It is the sixth chapter in the Saulzar Codex – a series of short stories focusing on Saulzar, a fierce warrior battling to overcome his own past. You can learn more about the project here.

I’d love for you to stop by and pick it up. It’s a short story at 8400 words and is priced at $0.99.

How about some free reading? Here’s the same sample you’ll find on the Amazon website:

lure-of-power[full]

He dropped his pack to the ground and slumped down beside it. Leaning against the rock ledge, on the side of the mountain trail, he closed his eyes and sought his water bottle. Blessed water sloshed within. Images of the desolation he had survived flashed through his mind; the unrelenting sun, fierce dust storms, sand so hot his feet blistered through the leather soles of his shoes, a mouth so dry and cracked his gums bled.

The joy he felt at the first clear stream past the Aridad desert was more keen than memories of his mother’s warm embrace. More real than sinking a knife into the throat of a hardened murderer before it could be done to him.

He saw Boda Zadaei’s fat, seething face whenever he closed his eyes.

It haunted his dreams now as he slept beneath the azure sky, a fresh mountain breeze soft against his sunburnt skin. He awoke later, the sun past its zenith and trailing down to the distant horizon. Its heat was not so harsh here, and he took back the curses he had heaped upon it while he baked in the sand for so many days. He remembered now the joy he felt when he lounged upon a rooftop in the Warren of Sol and felt the sun upon his skin.

He stood and regarded the trail before him, following it up the mountain until he saw the dome of a distant building. If Dyuta’s disciple was to be trusted, he would find the Durrant Heil there and his flight would be at an end.

The trail was steep and narrow and sweat beaded upon his brow as he hiked. The sun was near to setting when he rounded a final bend and saw the monastery before him. He stopped in his tracks, mouth agape. The red-infused light played upon the massive stone blocks of the monastery, which reflected the light back like fresh blood welling from a wound. Its dome rose high above the ground and Saulzar had to crane his neck to contemplate its full majesty.

There were many grand buildings in Sol, but here on the side of a mountain, amidst the glory of nature, man had wrought a monument that both defied and deified nature. It rose from the cliff as if it was one with the mountain, while proclaiming that there was nothing man could not do if it were in his mind to do it.

A man approached while Saulzar stood staring, vainly trying to comprehend its magnitude.

You’ll find The Lure of Power in Kindle format from the Amazon store  If you don’t already have a Kindle or a Kindle app, I highly recommend it to you. Here are a couple of ways to get started:

Read on a device you own for FREE

Buy a Kindle

Let me know what you think of it by leaving an Amazon review or a comment on this post.

Thanks!

Twitter: @brandera33 @TheRealSaulzar

Advertisements

The Cost of Revenge – Saulzar Codex #5

Tags

, , ,

I’m happy to announce that The Cost of Revenge is available! It is the fifth chapter in the Saulzar Codex – a series of short stories focusing on Saulzar, a fierce warrior battling to overcome his own past. You can learn more about the project here.

I’d love for you to stop by and pick it up. It’s a short story at 8500 words and is priced at $0.99.

How about some free reading? Here’s the same sample you’ll find on the Amazon website:

revenge[small]

His stomach grumbled so loudly that the person next to him turned and said, “Excuse me?” just before Saulzar bumped into her.

The old lady looked at the disheveled youth with a disapproving eye, casting aspersions upon his windswept hair, grimy face, and mischievous smile, while wishing her withered old bones still held the spark of life that bubbled forth from the child.

Saulzar thought none of those things. He saw a gray-haired woman who had no idea what fun was. He stuck his tongue out at her and jogged away, darting through the crowded market with all the grace and arrogance that a boy can possess. He turned a corner and rifled through the small leather bag he had snatched when they collided. He found a couple of small coins, a scrap of cloth and a piece of string.
He tossed the bag away and pocketed the coins. His stomach growled again as he merged into the market crowd. The coins could buy fresh fruit or a few candied nuts, but Saulzar had plans for the money.

He was going to buy a knife.

He stopped at the next stall and looked with envy upon his future possession. It had been months since he first saw the serrated knife with the wolfshead hilt, and he was happy that it had not sold. The first time he saw it, it resonated with him. He asked the shopkeeper if he could see it. The shopkeeper took the knife out for Saulzar to see. Saulzar asked how much it was and choked on the price.

Four hundred danir!

He may as well covet a prince’s palace for all the likelihood that he would own it. Yet a week later, it was still there, so Saulzar began to hoard his money. He pestered Farsha Kordi, his guardian, for odd jobs. Farsha relented, and Saulzar spent all of his free time dusting the house, sweeping the floors, and cleaning their dishes. He also spent the days skipping out on his education and finding money in the market.

He had a skill for making money disappear from one person and appear in his own hand. And now, with the money he lifted today, he was only ten danir from his goal.

“Do not sell that knife. I will be back for it next week,” Saulzar said.

“I have tried hard to sell it all summer, and yet no one will buy it. Perhaps you are meant to have it, eh?” the shopkeeper said with a sly smile.

“I am,” Saulzar said before melting into the crowded market.

His stomach rumbled again, and he realized he had not eaten all day. He looked at the nearby stalls while standing on his tiptoes. He was tall and strong for his age and the added height was enough for him to see over most people.

Men in traditional Nizwi head scarves and white or black robes roamed the markets looking for books and jewels and slaves. Throngs of veiled women in flowing, colorful robes toured the market, trailing servants who bought the produce, meat, and spices for the evening meal.

Saulzar slipped in among the servants of a petite Nizwi woman who barked orders at a large, bald man. He then hissed orders at the trailing servants who darted from the pack to buy goods before returning to the ranks. Saulzar had watched these roaming packs of servants with awe and trepidation when he first came to Sol. It had not taken long for him to learn that he could slip among them, and amidst the chaos of the negotiations, steal away with food for himself.

A servant behind him made a run for a stall full of apples, papaya, coconut, and bananas, and Saulzar followed in her wake. As the list of needs was read, and the stall owner bent over backward to meet the demands, Saulzar nicked an apple and a banana. When the servant left, Saulzar fell in behind her.

You’ll find The Cost of Revenge in Kindle format from the Amazon store  If you don’t already have a Kindle or a Kindle app, I highly recommend it to you. Here are a couple of ways to get started:

Read on a device you own for FREE

Buy a Kindle

Let me know what you think of it by leaving an Amazon review or a comment on this post.

Thanks!

Twitter: @brandera33 @TheRealSaulzar

A Release From Rage – Saulzar Codex #4

Tags

, , ,

I’m happy to announce that A Release from Rage is now available! It is the fourth chapter in the Saulzar Codex – a series of short stories focusing on Saulzar, a fierce warrior battling to overcome his own past. You can learn more about the project here.

I’d love for you to stop by and pick it up. It’s a short story at 8400 words and is priced at $0.99.

How about some free reading? Here’s the same sample you’ll find on the Amazon website:

release(small)

Above his head was an ancient wall, built thousands of years before and buried beneath the scouring sand of the Aridad desert for generations. He wedged his body deeper into the crevasse, praying the rock did not pick this moment to crumble into decay, burying him under thousands of pounds of rubble.

“Is it there, do you think?” Flint asked.

“Can you reach a bit more?” Coal asked.

Sweat dripped into Saulzar’s eyes, fear pressed in with the weight of the fallen walls that he slithered between. He could feel the pulsing of his goal, waves of power that emanated from just beyond his reach. Rubble trickled down the wall, dust falling in waves to coat his face in a sticky mask.

“Farther. You got to lower me farther,” Saulzar said through clenched teeth.

Smudge replied with a strained grunt and Saulzar slipped forward another foot.

“Careful, you oaf!” Meria said.

Smudge growled, but it was out of strain, not anger. All the Wolves had adopted Meria as their own after the death of the Warlord. She possessed a ruthlessness matched only by Saulzar.

“I think the floor is another foot. Can you lower me more?”

Smudge was lying on his belly, half in the hole, with Flint and Coal holding his legs. He held Saulzar by a single arm and dangled him lower.

“Any further and they’ll all be in the hole with you,” Meria called down.

“Then you’ll have to drop me.”

“Drop you?”

“You heard me! It’s a short fall. I think I can see the bottom.”

“Can he see in the dark, I wonder?” Flint asked.

It was pitch black in the ancient ruins, but for a sickly torch casting bewildering shadows on the worn and pitted columns around them.

“Just drop me! We’ve not come all this way to lose out now.”

Saulzar had led his Wolves into the Aridad desert, chasing the rumor of a long lost necklace of untold power. Saulzar had learned of it from Omen Taru of the Durrant Heil, but it was Lord Edward who mentioned hearing of strange lights in the sky in the Aridad Desert. Caravan traders from Sol were afraid to go near the Oasis of Gielel because of the lights and because of the bones.

Thousands of bones littered the ground just north of the oasis. Ancient walls and crumbled stone marked the site of a ruined city, and the bones were thick as the grain on the Poi plain. No one could recall seeing the ruins or the field of bones before. It was as if the desert was offering them back up to the light of day.

Saulzar had a hunch about those rumors, an inkling that the rumors could be tied to what he sought. Ancient relics from another age were waking up, finding their way back into the world and Saulzar had already collected many at the behest of the Durrant Heil.

You’ll find A Release from Rage in Kindle format from the Amazon store  If you don’t already have a Kindle or a Kindle app, I highly recommend it to you. Here are a couple of ways to get started:

Read on a device you own for FREE

Buy a Kindle

Let me know what you think of it by leaving an Amazon review or a comment on this post.

Thanks!

Twitter: @brandera33 @TheRealSaulzar

The Illusion of Control – Saulzar Codex #3

Tags

, , ,

I’m happy to announce that The Illusion of Control is available! It is the third chapter in the Saulzar Codex – a series of short stories focusing on Saulzar, a fierce warrior battling to overcome his own past. You can learn more about the project here.

I’d love for you to stop by and pick it up. It’s a short story at 9400 words and is priced at $0.99.

How about some free reading? Here’s the same sample you’ll find on the Amazon website:

illusion-of-control(full)

His wolves hunted. They were concealed on both sides of the Karka, a tributary of the Poi. The river was not wide, about eighty feet where he knelt, but it flowed deep and cold. Across the river, hidden among the tall reeds that grew on the banks of the river, were Smudge, Snarl and Lefty.

“Is that it, do you think?” Flint asked, for the third time that hour.

Flint was a jumpy man, though all the time he spent building explosives gave him an excuse. Saulzar shielded his eyes against the sun and turned his gaze downstream. Flint was right.

“That’s the one.” The boat was wide with a shallow draft. It looked like a pig wallowing in mud as it crawled around a bend.

“How do you know?” Coal asked.

Coal and Flint were brothers and shared many traits, their inability to sit still was one, their penchant for questions another. Saulzar took a deep breath to keep his temper under control. Hunger, his blood-craving scimitar, flared into the gap in his mental defense, and he shook off the image of Coal’s head tumbling from his body.

These were his men. They were good men, and their company staved off the call of his sword.

“Black boat, wide body. Poles, not oars. Riding low in the water. Red flag with two white, diagonal stripes. That’s the target. That’s what I see.”

“You can see all that, can you?” Flint squinted into the sun.

“You’ve spent too much time underground, Flint,” Saulzar said.

“Or diddlin’ his pecker, he has,” Coal said. Flint swung a fist at him. Coal ducked and rammed his head into Flint’s chest. They hit the ground, throwing ineffectual punches until Saulzar grabbed both by the necks in his iron grip. They stopped struggling immediately for they knew their leader’s temper.

“Quiet,” Saulzar said.

“Sorry, boss,” Flint said and Coal echoed. Saulzar shook his head.

“Check your gear one more time and, by Joccha, stay down and stay quiet.”

Saulzar gazed across the river and saw Smudge’s ugly, squished face staring across the gap. Saulzar put his arm out to the right with his fist closed, and then flashed it open twice. Smudge copied him, and Saulzar knew that he and Snarl would do their job when the boat arrived.

Smudge had joined the Wolves a year before, running from an accusation of murder. He didn’t say much about it, nor much ever, but after Saulzar saw him fight for the first time he had Lord Edward look into Smudge’s past. He discovered that Smudge got into a bar fight with a squadron of guards that ended with the guards bloody and broken.

“S’all set, boss,” Flint said. “Now what?”

“Wait for my signal.”

The boat continued its slow journey upriver. Upon the deck, Saulzar could make out people now. Two on each side plied their long poles, pushing the boat upriver. An equal number stood on watch, bows in hand. Upon the forecastle, under a canopy, stood the captain and two armed men.

“Now?” asked Coal.

“No, not now.”

Minutes passed slowly, the mumbling of the river and the noisy breathing of Coal the only sound.

“Now?” asked Flint.

Saulzar growled in answer, low and menacing. He willed the boat faster so they could begin. Coal and Flint swatted at gnats that swarmed around their faces. Saulzar could see their agitation and hoped they could hold out for a few minutes more.

You’ll find The Illusion of Control in Kindle format from the Amazon store  If you don’t already have a Kindle or a Kindle app, I highly recommend it to you. Here are a couple of ways to get started:

Read on a device you own for FREE

Buy a Kindle

Let me know what you think of it by leaving an Amazon review or a comment on this post.

Thanks!

Twitter: @brandera33 @TheRealSaulzar

The Pain and Suffering of a Kidney Stone

Tags

, ,

So, I had my first kidney stone this month. I’ve had many sports injuries, and I naively thought that a 6mm kidney stone would be something similar. I was so, so very wrong. Below you’ll find a Facebook post that I wrote after dealing with the pain for thirteen days. The next day I was going to have a procedure to pummel that stupid little stone into oblivion.

The second half of this blog is an email I wrote to update my coworkers after the procedure was done.

It was a painful process, but I hope you find the following story painfully humorous and perhaps a bit helpful if you’re going through the same.

The Facebook Post

On Tuesday the 10th at 3am, I woke with some serious abdomen pain. Denise, my wife, has had appendicitis before, so we thought that’s what it was. We prepped for the emergency room, but by the time we were ready to go, it had faded. Denise called our doctor, and they told us to keep an eye on it and see about it the next day.

The intense pain didn’t come back, but a fever and a dull ache persisted. By lunch, we were at the emergency room and found I had a rather large kidney stone (6mm). The ER doctor was pretty sure it’d pass within 3 days, so he sent me home with some drugs and a urologist to call.

Not knowing what to expect, I went to work on Wednesday and had a decent day. It hurt some, but nothing crazy. I even worked out at the gym and played some racquetball. I followed the doctor’s orders and drank a bunch of water to get it to move.

Well, following doctor’s orders never hurt so bad. By 5am on Thursday, I took my first pain pill. By 7am, I was face down on the floor and incapable of doing much of anything. Turns out writhing is a literal thing. Thursday and Friday passed in a haze of pain, drugs and very little food.

By Saturday, it was getting better again. I rested a lot, took some meds, but figured the worst was passed. On Monday, I had my urologist appointment. He said it was good that it was moving. He also assured me the real pain was from the kidney to the bladder – I had been much more concerned about the final exit strategy, if you know what I mean. Either way, it wasn’t there yet. So he said keep drinking water, and if it didn’t pass, in seven days I would be able to have a surgical procedure to break the stone up via shockwaves.

SEVEN DAYS? Turns out a group of urologists share this very expensive machine, and they don’t always have access to it. Nor can they figure out who has it and refer me to them. Capitalism at its best. Bummer for me.

So Monday passed. I worked from home. I wrote code, I answered email, I felt good. I also drank a lot of water.

That made the stone move.

The stone moving made me very, very sad. On Tuesday, I was begging for more powerful drugs. I have since spent my days and nights on the floor. I’ve slept little. I’ve dozed a lot. I’ve eaten more than I did the first week, but mostly I’ve just waited for Monday.

The moral of this story is that kidney stones are not fun if they are over 4 or 5 mm. I actually imagine they are not fun if they are less than that. In fact, how could any sort of jagged, hard, calcium based object moving through a tube half its size within your body ever be fun?

The whole thing has been ridiculous, actually, but it’s just about over. The stone should be sent back to the nightmare abyss from which it has come, and by Tuesday, I should be good as new.

Any-who, thought you’d enjoy a Christmas story. I’m hopeful it turns into a Christmas miracle. Procedure is at 10:30 and I should be home and, mercifully, sleeping by 1pm.

Post-op follow up to my co-workers

This past Monday, I celebrated Christmas a little early by hanging out at the hospital and having a surgeon pummel my kidney stones with shock waves for an hour or so while I slept the sweet, sweet sleep of general anesthesia. I slept like a baby rest of the day, and on Christmas Eve made it outside on my own for the first time in 13 unlucky days.

I’m relatively pain free, though it feels like I went a few rounds with Tyson in his prime and couldn’t block the body blows. But as far as I know, should be good from here.

Things I learned during the last 13 days:

  1. Kidney stones are panned from the Acheron by Hades himself. Medical fact.
  2. It is possible to teach oneself to sleep on one’s stomach, if the pain is great enough and the only relief is the cold, cold floor.
  3. It is then possible to repeat that process for up to two weeks at a time, though it isn’t recommended as elbows and knees do develop bruises.
  4. The 0-10 scale of pain that the Dr. asks you when you aren’t feeling well is actually a base-10 logarithmic scale, much like the Richter scale. I reached 10 on the first day I was diagnosed, or so I naively thought for it was only a 7.
    From Dec 12 – 13, I hung out at 10 on the scale for hours at a time. I was wrong. It was only an 8.
    On the 16th, after a relatively productive day of work, and eating an entire Dominos small pizza myself (I was finally hungry!), I found a new 10 that lasted from 4pm until 5am the next day.
    Yet I was wrong again, and that was really only a 9, for in the early morning hours of the 23rd, a mere nine hours from scheduled relief of my sisyphean task, I found what a true 10 was like. I beseech Virgil that the pain I felt that morning was in fact the final circle of pain. I really don’t think I could take another level, but it’s pretty amazing what you can get through if you have to.
  5. To writhe. It’s a very real verb, and not just a literary turn of phrase.
  6. Communication mishaps are rampant in all organizations.
    To wit: On the 17th, while I thought I was writhing through a 10, which was really only a 9, my wife called the urologist to see if there was a way we could get in sooner for the procedure, for I had begun to bequeath my belongings to friends and family and that caused her great consternation.

The not-so-friendly nurse stated that if I was in such terrible torment, I could go to the ER, where they would ease my pain. This answer was not received well, and I did not take her up on her offer. I felt no desire to go to the ER once a day for the next week, at $250 a trip, just to make the pain go away.

No, I would suffer through the pain like a man: with tears, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, and terrible curses called down upon all the gods of all the pantheons that have ever existed. Pretty sure Odin would currently deny my entry to Valhalla. Sorry Odin, that was uncalled for.

On the day of the procedure, the urologist performing the procedure informs me that he had cleared his schedule on the 17th after hearing about my pain, expecting that I would be going to the ER. Had I gone, he would have put in a stent that would have relieved the pain and made the following six days bearable.

Excuse me?
That’s not what we were told. My wife can get angry, that was kinda fun to see. I don’t think the nurse had a very Merry Christmas when the doc got back to the office. He was also not happy.
At least a website error doesn’t cause physical torment for weeks on end.

  • Pain meds can cause constipation. This can lead to complications. Strong complications. This one gets pretty personal, but I’ll tell you the story if you want to know it. It’s interesting and goes way beyond what is public knowledge.
  • When that kind of pain finally goes away, it is really exciting.

So there’s the story. I hope you enjoyed it. Who made it through without having to look up the references? Anybody?

If you did enjoy the story, go buy one of mine for your Kindle. They’re a buck each, they’re fun, and they’re short – if you like LOTR or GOT or Conan the Barbarian, you’ll enjoy them.

The Bonds of Friendship – Saulzar Codex #2

Tags

, , ,

I’m happy to announce that The Bonds of Friendship is now available! It is the second part in the Saulzar Codex – a series of short stories focusing on Saulzar, a fierce warrior battling to overcome his own past. You can learn more about the project here.

I’d love for you to stop by and pick it up. It’s a short story at 8500 words and is priced at $0.99. The next story, The Illusion of Control, will be ready to go by October 1st.

How about some free reading? Here’s the same sample you’ll find on the Amazon website:

bonds(new-small)

The three men were already dead, they just did not know it. Hidden in brambles beside a dirt track, they were happily arguing about what they would find in the wagon after they attacked.

“One-ear wouldn’t have us wait here overnight just so you can fill your belly. It’s gold, I tell you,” said the man on the left.

He was going to die first. Saulzar lurked behind them, waiting and watching. His scimitar, Hunger, was unsheathed in his right hand, and its strange power pulsed through him, calling for blood. He held the sword’s desire in check, curious to know what these men were after.

“None of us know. He didn’t tell me, so that means he didn’t tell you,” said the man on the right. “We’re to look for a bald priest of Herna, that’s all I know.”

“Gold for sure. Gold offerings,” said the man on the left.

“It better be ale and food,” said the third man.

“Quiet, there it is,” the leader said.

Along the road came a wagon, pulled by two oxen. Driving the wagon was a plump, bald man, dressed in a brown, flowing robe with a blue sash. Next to him sat a wisp of a woman, black hair pulled back, an easy smile on her face as she laughed with the bald priest.

A memory pulled at Saulzar. A memory of love and laughter and joy, so foreign to the violence and savagery he had immersed himself in, that he stopped and his heart fluttered.

Jafina.

The loss of her love was raw, even months later.

He tore his gaze from the woman and focused on the men that would harm her. He would not lose her the way he lost Jafina. He leapt up from his hidden copse as the three men crashed onto the road.

Driven by Hunger, Saulzar closed on the man, who hoped to find gold, and thrust the sword through his neck. Blood sprayed, mixing with the dirt and salt on Saulzar’s face. Hunger cried in exultation and Saulzar mirrored the cry, unable to contain the joy that surged from the sword into his soul.

This is what mattered.

Hunt or be hunted.

And he was the hunter.

The other two men ran towards the wagon, oblivious to the danger behind them, all sound and fury and bluster. The priest of Herna pulled hard on the reins, and the wagon skewed to a stop. The woman screamed at him to keep going. The priest yelled and cursed at the brigands, but they did not slow.

Saulzar pursued, the sickly sweet smell of blood in his nostrils and a bloodlust driving him on. He closed on the next man, who hoped for food, in three running strides. Hunger whipped out, ripping through the man’s spine just above his waist. He fell and the irony that he died from Hunger was not lost on Saulzar.

There was but one man left to kill. Saulzar sprinted, intent on ending him before he could harm the dark-haired woman or the priest, when from the left came the crashing sound of three horses and riders as they pounded onto the road, battle cries upon their lips. Saulzar
stopped hard and parried a downward stroke from the lead rider, fighting for his life against odds he did not relish.

But Hunger had no such concerns. Here was more blood to slake its thirst. The second rider was upon him, and all he could do was slip in under the strike and drive his pommel into the horse’s flank. The horse swerved, nearly tossing its rider, but Saulzar was not watching. He was focused on the final horse. It was a rangy roan, and its brown and white legs were a blur as it pounded towards him.

You’ll find The Bonds of Friendship in Kindle format from the Amazon store  If you don’t already have a Kindle or a Kindle app, I highly recommend it to you. Here are a couple of ways to get started:

Read on a device you own for FREE

Buy a Kindle

Let me know what you think of it by leaving an Amazon review or a comment on this post.

Thanks!

Twitter: @brandera33 @TheRealSaulzar

A Price to Pay – Saulzar Codex #1

Tags

, , ,

I’m happy to announce that A Price to Pay is now available! It is the first published story in the Saulzar Codex – a series of short stories focusing on Saulzar, a fierce warrior battling to overcome his own past. You can learn more about the project here.

I’d love for you to stop by and pick it up. It’s a short story at 8300 words and is priced accordingly at $0.99. The next story, The Ties that Bind, will be ready to go by September 1st.

How about some free reading? Here’s the same sample you’ll find on the Amazon website:

The world was dull and colorless to Saulzar, though the sun was bright, the sky a brilliant blue, and reflections of white clouds danced upon the tremulous waves of the river he followed. Songbirds sang a joyous melody in worship to spring, but Saulzar did not hear. He heard only a piercing scream. The intoxicating aroma of blooming wildflowers heralded a season of bounty, but Saulzar could smell only the nauseating scent of pooling blood.

Jafina was dead.

It was his fault.

He wandered south along the river Poi, unseeing and uncaring. He had no destination in mind, for he sought only to flee the horror of her death, to find release from the burden of responsibility he saw in her blue eyes as their light faded and the realization of a life cut short flashed through them.

He brought her there.

And there she remained.

Vengeance he had sought, her death price paid in rivers of blood, but it did nothing to soothe the anguish in his soul. The mountain of dead he heaped beside her body could not bring back her warm embrace or the faint smell of jasmine when she held him close. He buried her, deep in the earth, far from the pain of the world. He built a cairn of skulls upon her grave.

But the thought of her did not relent. The dying light in her eyes would not forgive him his hubris. He was haunted by her face each day and tormented in his dreams while he slept.

He kept moving, if only on instinct gifted by the blood of wolves. He had lost much before her, though nothing so precious to him. He was young and strong, fierce and handsome, and possessed a skill in battle that few could match. He would persevere. He must carry his memory of her wherever he went and build a temple to her within his heart and within his mind.

But it was hard. Harder than being sent from his family. Harder than surviving in the streets as an orphan. Harder than learning the ways of the Durrant Heil. The pain of her death pierced him more deeply than any wound.

Yet he found a way. Day and night, night and day, through rain and sun and sleet and wind, he trudged south, the river Poi ever on his left, and mountains rising in the distance to his right.

Until there was no where left to walk. The Hadean Sea stretched out before him; a gray, endless expanse of water as dark and stormy as the rage and guilt within his mind. Saulzar looked around, struggled to pierce the haze of his torment, and found himself upon a pier at the end of a town. He saw people eye him nervously and flow around him like a rock in a stream, but he paid them no heed. Could they understand the depth of his torment? Did they bear the terrible weight of Jafina’s death upon their soul?

They did not. That burden was his alone.

You’ll find A Price to Pay in Kindle format from the Amazon store  If you don’t already have a Kindle or a Kindle app, I highly recommend it to you. Here are a couple of ways to get started:

Read on a device you own for FREE

Buy a Kindle

Let me know what you think of it by leaving an Amazon review or a comment on this post.

Thanks!

Twitter: @brandera33 @TheRealSaulzar

price-to-pay(new-small)

The Saulzar Codex

Tags

, ,

During my freshman year at Grand Valley State University, I was killing time between classes. I had a small idea in my head about a scene for a story. That in itself was a strange thing, for though I had always enjoyed writing, I hadn’t put much fiction down on paper. I really liked the couple hundred words that I put down, and over the next fifteen years, the story and the character have grown in my mind.

I attempted writing what is no doubt a large novel about the character, only to be crushed under the weight of my first attempt. Last year, I pushed farther on a different story and found a way to complete 150,000 words. There’s lots of work left to do on it, but I finally figured out how to finish something.

While I was writing Shattered, I was also reading Robert E. Howard and really enjoying the Conan the Cimmerian stories. I felt the short story style fit Saulzar, that first lonely warrior I created back in college, and in a flash of insight I wrote down an outline to twelve stories that took place before the large novel I didn’t finish.

After much mental prodding, I have started on the short stories, and I plan on publishing one a month for the next year. It’s ambitious, but I also think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I hope you think so too.

That means that A Price to Pay will be hitting the Kindle store on August 1st! It will cost $.99, and should be a quick and entertaining read. I even have a real cover for it, thanks to a very artistic friend. Check her out on twitter at @brokenbrawler.

I’ll leave you with three things.

1) Saulzar has learned how to tweet. Check him out @TheRealSaulzar.

2) Here’s the cover art for A Price to Pay

price-to-pay[halfsize]

3) And here’s that very first email I wrote that started this entire story arc. Yes, this is unedited, email writing from 16 years ago, so let’s just keep that in perspective, shall we?

The warrior rested as he reached the crest of the plateau. Before him, the harvest moon, the “Blood Moon”, loomed large and hung low upon the horizon. Behind him, he could still see the glow of the village he had pillaged just hours before. Pillaging is tiring work, he thought to himself with a wry smile, remembering perfectly well what consequently happens directly after one pillages. He understands that what he does, many consider evil. But is he not just doing his job? Sure, that’s part of it. He reminded himself that he was unable to see the whole picture, the real purpose behind his destructive tendencies. As he sheathed his blood-ripened sword, he posed himself a grisly thought, what if all this was for naught? Was the emperor he served a heartless killer, or did the destruction instituted here gravitate toward a well-meaning purpose, something that the world as a whole was too feeble minded to comprehend. If this emperor were a madman, than he, a mercenary from the north with a penchant for destruction, would be forever viewed as an exceedingly evil myth. But, if this emperor truly did have the world’s betterment in mind, then he, Saulzar, would be viewed as not only a legend, but as someone who possessed the capability to rule a great portion of the empire.

Insightful thoughts for someone who bathed and drank from the same water. Never the less, Saulzar, at the very least, was a genius in his own right. Why else would the emperor have picked him to carry out this fateful task? He mounted his steed and began to move on. He continued over the crest of the plateau and into the next valley, inevitably moving closer to the next peasant-filled village, all the while contemplating his own place in the order of the world.

The Stone Door

Tags

, ,

It’s my niece Amelia’s eighth birthday today. She asked me to write her a story about a princess in a high, high tower and a prince that came to rescue her. The prince had a really hard time finding a way up the tower.

I asked her what happened when the prince finally made it up the tower, and she told me that it turns out there’s a stair and they can just walk out! The story didn’t end up exactly like that, but it certainly had an influence. Give it a read and see what you think.

The Stone Door

Once upon a time, there lived a princess. The princess was kind and fair, smart and strong, and everyone loved her. Kings and princes and paupers begged King David for her hand in marriage. The king loved his daughter and wished her to be happy, but he knew that the man who won her hand would one day rule the land.

He thought long and hard on how he could give the princess a choice and still be sure the man was worthy. A contest! But it could be no ordinary tournament. No mere joust could decide who would marry his daughter and inherit his empire.

King David summoned Percy the Great to his chamber. He told Percy to take the princess to the Tower of Truth. Once there, lock her away and ensure that none could enter, but he who won the the princess’ heart.

The journey to the Tower of Truth took seven days. They rode through plains of tall grass, crossed swift rivers, sailed shimmering blue lakes, and climbed treacherous mountain passes. The princess gasped when she finally saw the high, high tower. The clouds hid the top from her view and she felt a wave a dizziness pass while she craned her neck to look up it.

Percy unlocked the door to the Tower with an intricate silver key and ushered the princess inside. There was no furniture or decorations in the small, round room; only a long, winding stair that spiraled up out of sight. The princess was scared of being alone in the tower, but was determined to please her father. Percy assured the princess that she would find food and water at the top of the stairs. She need only choose a husband to release the spell and leave the tower.

As the princess began to climb the stairs, the wizard stepped out and closed the stone door. He scratched his beard and tilted his head to the side while he stared at the door. His blue eyes sparkled as he snapped his fingers and muttered magic words under his breath.

The spell took shape in swirls of colors and light. The stone door sealed shut. The intricate key melded into the stone. Percy tried to open the door, but could find neither handle nor crack. The stone door was gone.

While Percy and the princess traveled to the tower, seven riders mounted seven black horses and sped from King David’s castle to seven nearby kingdoms. They carried a message: “You shall choose one man to compete for my daughter’s hand. Send that man to the Tower of Truth to prove his worth.”

Each king received the message with great joy. The marriage of King David’s daughter to their prince would grant them power and riches and prestige. The firstborn son of six kings set off for the Tower of Truth. They were young and strong; brave and handsome. Each believed in his heart that he was the one.

There was one ruler whose wisdom matched King David’s. King Henry did not send his firstborn like the other kings. He sent his youngest boy, Tristan. Tristan was not like the other princes. He was clumsy with a sword where the others were skilled in combat. He was shy and timid where the others were used to being the center of attention. He was short where they were tall, weak where they were strong. But what Tristan had was as sharp mind and a talent for words.

Tristan did as his father said and left for the Tower of Truth. He was scared of the trip for he did not ride well, did not enjoy sleeping out of doors, and was concerned he would get lost or robbed along the way. The first few days were pure terror! His body ached from riding. His fingers bled from constantly biting his fingernails. He jumped every time a crow cawed.

Why had his father picked him? Surely the princess wanted a husband who could protect her, win her glory, or bring her treasure. He could do none of those things. He was a scrawny boy with shaggy hair, no stomach for physical activity, and he felt awkward and out of place talking with other boys, let alone a beautiful princess.

Hard, nerve-wracking days passed before the tower came into sight. It was impossibly tall and made Tristan feel small. Around it were six tents and outside the six tents sat six men, each of whom looked rather confused.

Tristan dismounted and led his horse the last hundred yards to the Tower grounds. Six heads swiveled to see the last of their rivals. It made Tristan wish for a bath and a brush, preferably at home, alone, in his room overlooking the sea.

“Hello, my lords,” he said with a small bow. The six faces stared blankly back.

“Any luck with the princess?” he ventured. The faces turned away to look high, high up the tower to the lone window. Tristan followed their gaze and he imagined he could make out the twinkle of a bright eye and the fall of silken hair. He shook his head, convinced there was no chance he would win the princess’ heart.

He looped the reigns of his horse around a fallen tree and walked to the tower. He could see no door.

“Maybe she’s not there at all,” he said aloud. “Maybe it’s some elaborate hoax by King David. I bet he’s having a good laugh right now.”

“Don’t think you’re the only one who’s had that idea,” a voice said, startling Tristan.

“Sorry ‘bout that, didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”

“No. It’s – it’s fine. I’m just tired. It’s been a long ride,” Tristan said. The man facing him was much older than Tristan, he looked at least twenty-five!

“It was a long journey for us all. And once we got here, we couldn’t figure out what to do next. We were all so eager, we just rode off without thinking. I do that a lot, actually.”

Tristan laughed at the joke. “I’m Tristan, son of Henry,” he said, holding out his hand.

“And I am Jonathan, son of James, but my friends call me Johnny.”

They shook. Tristan was glad to meet someone kind. The princes he had met before were too busy worrying about themselves to notice others.

“So you’ve found no way in and no way to talk to the princess?” Tristan asked.

“That’s the long and short of it. We don’t even know if she’s up there.”

Both men raised their eyes to the window high above them.

Tristan laughed and held his head. “It’s easy to get dizzy looking straight up the tower like that.” He leaned against it while he regained his balance.

“There’s got to be a way up to her,” Johnny said.

“What’s this?” Tristan asked. He ran his finger along a ridge in the Tower. “It looks like writing.”

“If it is, it’s no language that any of us know. It’s the only marking on the Tower, but for the window way up there.”

Tristan backed up and studied the writing. The script looked familiar to him, it just was written in a strange way. Instead of left to write, it turned up and then right and then left and then down and then sideways. He followed the line of text and realized that it was in the shape of a key.

How strange!

He followed the path again, and this time he started to make out words. It was written in an ancient language that Tristan had studied. It seemed his time spent reading ancient poetry was going to pay off.

“Johnny, I think I know what we need to do.”

Tristan called the princes together.

“My lords, I have read the inscription on the Tower wall, and I believe it will help us in our quest for the princess’ hand.”

“Read it, did you? That’s a novel idea,” someone piped up. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Probably because you can’t read,” Johnny said. “What does it say, Tristan, son of Henry?”

“The inscription reads:

The door of stone
sealed by fate
opens for love alone

Reveal the door
with her heart’s desire
and live in bliss forevermore

 “For the love of the princess, what does that mean?” asked one of the men.

“I think that’s exactly what it means,” said Johnny.

“Say it plainly, Tristan?” asked another.

“We’re here to prove our worth, right? That’s what I was told. Well, our worth to the princess is what her heart desires.” Tristan said. “So, what do you think she desires?”

The princes exchanged a glance, and then Norman, son of Norman cried out first, followed quickly by the others.

“Protection!”

“Strength!”

“Money!”

“Daring!”

“Glory!”

“Beauty!”

“Well, now, there you go, my lords. One of you surely knows what the princess wants,” said Tristan. His smile faded. He could offer none of those things. “So, it’s a contest. We should behave honorably and take turns, don’t you think? Who got here first?”

“Norman was the first one here,” George, son of Edward, said.

“Can we all agree that we’ll go in order of arrival?” Tristan asked.

“That puts you last, Tristan. I don’t think that’s fair, since none of us would have a chance without your help,” Johnny said.

“Thanks, Johnny, but it’s fair enough for me. Norman, you’re up.”

Tristan walked over to his horse, unsaddled it, set up his tent, and then took a seat to watch Norman’s attempt.

Norman thought long and hard about how he could show the Princess that he could protect her. He was a tall, strong lad, with straight, black hair that reached to his shoulders and bright, blue eyes. But he was not overly smart. It was Johnny who finally tapped him on the shoulder, shaking him from his quiet contemplation.

“Why don’t you go fight some bandits and bring them back here?” said Johnny.

“Men, I’ve a great idea! I am going to fight bandits and bring them back here for the Princess to see. Then she’ll know that I can protect her. Surely, that is her heart’s greatest desire!” Norman said. Then he ran to his horse, jumped on, and rode away.

Johnny looked across the camp to Tristan and shrugged. That’s more like how Tristan expected a prince to act! They always took credit for other people’s ideas.

The other men drifted back to their tents and thought up ways to impress the princess and break the spell on the tower. It was nearly noon when Norman returned. There was a bandage around his head, and his clothes were torn and dirty, but he sat tall and proud in the saddle. Behind him were a group of ten dirty, beaten bandits.

“Well, boys, time to pack up and go home. I’ve single handedly fought these bandits and brought them here to show the princess. She’ll choose me for sure.”

He looked around confused for a moment.

“Well, now what? Tristan, what’s next?”

“Uh, well, there weren’t any other instructions, Norman. Go up to the Tower and tell the princess what you can give her?”

“Ah. I just thought of it. I’ll go to the Tower and tell the Princess what I can give her.”

Tristan shook his head at Norman.

“Princess! Can you hear me? It is Norman, son of Norman. I offer you protection. No bandit will find haven in our lands. No lawlessness will go unpunished. No harm shall be done to you, so long as I have breath in my body. Come down from your tower and join me.”

No answer came from the high, high tower, and none could see the princess in the window though Tristan thought he saw the gleam of her bright eye and a strand of her fiery hair.

“Bronnnnggg!” A deep sound rang from the tower, but the door did not open.

“I think that means you lost,” said George. “Good try though, old boy. I rather thought you had that sewn up. But, it does mean it’s my turn to give it a go. Step aside, Norman. I know what the lady wants.”

If Norman was a tall, strong lad, then George was a giant. His muscles had muscles. His head was bigger around than Tristan’s waist, and his legs were thicker than both of Tristan’s combined. George bent down and put his arms around a massive rock. None of the others could have moved it, even if they worked together, but George lifted it with ease and then hoisted it up over his head.

“See that boys? Strength!” he said. His eyes bulged, his face turned red, and sweat popped out on his forehead, but it seemed he could hold the boulder up forever. “Now, come on over, climb up my back, and get on the rock! That’s right, Norman. Climb right up. All of you. I want the princess to know how strong I am.”

So they did. Six princes climbed up George’s back and crammed together on the rock. George wasn’t even breathing hard.

“So, Princess, I reckon that’s a mighty show of strength. Don’t know many blokes that could do that. I’m strong. I’ll be strong for you. What do you say?”

“Bronnnngggg!” The tower gonged so loudly that George backed up a step and lost his balance. The six princes and the rock came tumbling down.

“Ahh, whatdya do that for, George!” said Harry, son of Patrick. Patrick’s kingdom was the richest in all the land. They mined gold and diamonds from the mountains and sold them for great profit.

Harry picked himself up off the ground and started dusting off his immaculate clothing. The threads were made of gold and the buttons were made of diamonds.

“It was a cute try George, it really was, but no princess wants a muscle-bound giant to lift things. What good does that do?” Harry turned to the tower and didn’t see the anger on George’s face, or that Tristan put a brave hand on George’s chest to kept him from beating Harry up.

“Princess! Can you hear me?” Harry cried out. “I am Harry, son of Patrick. I am sure you know my father, and what his kingdom has to offer. My dear princess, I offer that kingdom to you. A life of luxury. A life of pampered relaxation. A life without worry or fear or need. You shall have servants. You shall have clothes. You shall have jewels and castles and horses and coaches. You will have gold, rooms of gold for you to swim in! All this, I offer. What say you?”

“Bronnnngggg!” the Tower rang immediately.

Tristan was happy to hear the sound. The princess did not want protection or strength or money. Could he offer what the princess desired most of all? But what could it be?

“My turn, my lords!” Johnny, son of James, said. “I have but one thing to offer so fair a creature. And I shall show it to her face!”

He ran at the tower, took three steps up it, and then jumped. His fingers found a hold and he began to scale the tower with the skill of a spider. Johnny was a small, athletic man whose home was high in the mountains. He meant to climb all the way up to the princess and win her over with his daring.

Tristan watched his new friend with interest. Surely, the princess would be impressed by his display. Tristan wasn’t sad that Johnny would be the one to win her hand. He was a good man.

But then Johnny cried out and Tristan saw his left hand had slipped. He was holding on with one hand!

“George!” Tristin yelled. “Come quick! You’ll have to catch him!” George ran over just as Johnny fell with a strangled yell. George raised his giant arms up over his head and caught Johnny. They tumbled to the ground in a heap of arms and legs.

“Thanks, George!” Johnny said. “That could have made for a bad day.”

“Bronnnngggg!” went the Tower.

“A good show, John, but it seems the princess wants someone who plays at grownup games.”

It was Arthur, son of Alfred who spoke. All of the other princes knew of him, for he had saved his father’s kingdom from invaders many times. He was a renowned warrior, cunning general, and was destined for great things.

“I was honor bound to play by the rules, so I have been content to wait my turn and watch you fail. I believe we each knew who the winner would be and now I shall claim my rightful spot.”

Arthur walked towards the camp, went into his tent, and came back with three large flags on three stout poles. He stuck the poles in the ground, and raised his hand to the flags.

“Princess! Before you stands Arthur, son of Alfred, the Savior of Savoy. You may have heard of me. These three flags represent the glory that I shall win for you. The red flag with the wolf’s head is the standard of Mordred of Millburn. He came to Savoy at the head of one hundred of his fearsome soldiers to take our land. I beat him and took his flag.

“The yellow flag with the eagle’s head was taken from Eric Yellow-Beard. His screaming barbarians sought to plunder our livestock. I defeated him and took his flag.

“The black flag with the silver crescent belonged to Sultan Solun. He came across the great sea to steal our wealth. I sunk his ships and took his flag.

“My name is known across the land. Join with me and I shall bring glory to you. Your name will live beside mine for all time!”

The tower did not respond immediately. Arthur bowed to the other princes and walked to the tower. He reached out and touched it, hoping that the door of stone would open.

“Bronnnngggg!” went the tower. The princess did not desire glory. Arthur frowned and slunk away.

“So it falls to me to win the princess’ hand. It’s easy to see why. You’re all dressed like peasants!” It was William, son of Charles, who spoke. His hair fell from his head in golden waves. His skin was flawless, his eyebrows arched just so. His goatee was expertly trimmed. His clothing was meticulously tailored and of the highest quality. His posture was impeccable, his body perfectly proportioned and fit.

“Princess! I am William. On my eighth birthday, eight statues were made of my face. The artist sold them for an enormous sum of money. For my sixteenth birthday, my face was put on our kingdom’s golden coin. Trade stopped because none wished to part with my face! Join me, princess, and bask in my beauty daily!”

“Bronnnngggg!” went the Tower. The princess did not desire someone so vain as William.

Tristan fought down a grin. He had a shot to win the princess’ hand! But what could he offer that she had not already turned down. Protection, strength, money? Those had not impressed her. Daring, glory, beauty? It was well she did not want those, because Tristan possessed none of them.

“Well, Tristan. You’re the last hope. How will you win her hand?” Johnny asked him.

“I don’t have anything to offer. What if she doesn’t want any of us?” Tristan said.

“Poppycock! She clearly doesn’t know what she wants. When you fail, I will try again and this time she will see sense,” said Norman.

Tristan didn’t want Norman to get that chance. He realized he wanted to win her hand for himself. Tristan knew he was not like the other men. Was the princess more like him? He would tell her of the things he desired and hope she wanted them too.

Tristan ran back to his tent and brought out his lute. When he came back, he stood in front of the crowd of princes eager for him to fail. He strummed the lute, winced a little at the sound, and then tuned it. A second strum, a minor fall then a major lift, and he began to sing.

Tristan sang of family and friends, of honor and trust, of children and hope. He sang of sunsets and mountains and flowers. He sang of breakfast in bed and a hard day’s work. He sang of growing old and sharing it with his best friend.

He sang of love.

When he finished, he heard a few sniffles, then the princes burst into applause.

“That, that was b-b-b-eautiful,” George managed to say between sobs.

“Thanks, George. It’s how I feel, but I doubt it’s what the princess wants.” He turned to the tower and waited for the sound.

It didn’t come.

Instead, the writing unwound from the wall, became an intricate, silver key, and fell to the ground. Tristan picked it up and saw that there was a keyhole in the tower. With a shaking hand, he placed the key into the hole. It fit perfectly and turned with ease.

The door of stone opened.

The princes cheered!

“Well done, Tristan!” Johnny yelled.

Tristan couldn’t help but smile, then gave them a wave and ran up the stairs.

He was sweating and breathing hard by the time he reached the door at the top. He paused to catch his breath and hastily tried to make himself presentable. It was never an easy task for him. He reached for the doorknob and then pulled back. He couldn’t believe what had happened. Could it be true?

He started to open the door again, but it opened from the other side. The princess stood before him. She was a vision of beauty and grace.

“Did you mean what you sang?” she asked.

“It came from my heart,” Tristan said.

“It is in my heart as well.” She pulled him close and kissed his cheek.

Prince Tristan and Princess Amelia lived happily ever after.


~ The End ~

The Value of a Mistake

Tags

We all make mistakes. They may be big mistakes with far reaching repercussions, or small mistakes that no one else sees, but we all make them. There are two ways to react to your own mistake; accept responsibility or make excuses.

When you make excuses, you aren’t learning how to get better. You are learning how to blame others. There is no growth in an excuse.

When you accept responsibility for what happened, even if it was not your fault or there are legitimate extenuating circumstances, you can then evaluate and learn from what happened.

At Mindscape, one of our core values is Make Mistakes. Now, it helps that we aren’t brain surgeons. Our work is digital, and digital is usually easy to fix. But the reason we embrace mistakes is to help our team grow. If we yelled at our team members every time they made a mistake, first we’d go hoarse, and then we’d have a lot of people unwilling to experiment, quick to blame others, and not learning from what happened.

By allowing our team to make mistakes, we encourage them to accept responsibility for it, figure out how to fix the issue, and learn about themselves in the process.

Try it out yourself. Instead of spending time and energy looking for someone or thing to blame, just take the responsibility. Own up to it, figure out how to fix it, and move forward.

Life is too short to spend it on excuses!