Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Mark of the King: Chapter Fourteen

This is it. This is the end of Part One. Now I really need to step on it and write Part Two!!
That being said, I probably won't post as much until, well, I don't know when. So instead of two chapters a month, it may be reduced to one. But I'll see if I can write a few short short stories here and there and post them for you guys. By short, I mean a page or two. ;)

Also, Merry Christmas!!!! Remember that Jesus is the real reason for celebrating Christmas.
Without His birth, we probably would not be here today. And I certainly would not be writing this blog. All the praise and glory goes to Him- my Savior and the Lord of my Life.

And now, I hope you enjoy Chapter Fourteen.

Chapter Fourteen

Evening arrived, bringing with it the cheer and chaos that often accompanies an eve of celebration and merrymaking. Skandar, dressed warmly in a crimson jacket, dark brown pants and boots, accompanied Sir Reuben and his family into the Great Hall. Oliver met them at the door. Taking Muriel’s arm, Oliver led the way into the warm hall. Skandar happened to glance down and barely caught sight of the hilts of Oliver’s daggers carefully tucked into his boots.
Skandar’s own hand strayed to the knife at his side, where it rested for nearly the entire evening. He acted as a man in a trance; he ate but did not taste; he spoke but said nothing. He laughed mirthlessly. His eyes darted about the room, whose colors seemed to have faded compared to several nights ago when he had gazed upon the magnificent hall from the room in the ceiling. The hundreds of people moved around him as though they moved through water, their actions slow and deliberate, graceful and smooth.
When someone lightly laid a hand on his shoulder, Skandar’s nerves snapped.
Muriel gasped, but regained her regal composure. “Forgive me, I did not mean to-”
“You did not,” he cut her off.
“Oh,” her face broke into her radiant smile. “Then I was hoping you would join me in a dance.”
“Would Oliver mind?”
“Not at all. In fact, it was he who noticed you sitting here, ‘like a raincloud’ I believe were the words he used.”
“You are not afraid of getting wet, then, Muriel?”
“Though I prefer sun, I do not fear the rain. And be careful, Skandar. You’re beginning to sound like Eoin.”
Skandar made a face of mock horror. “In that case, how do you feel about being trod on?”
The musicians began to play a simple, but lively tune. People from all over the room gathered in the center of the room, forming a large ring. Muriel took Skandar’s arm and tugged him up gently.
“You are almost as bad as Catrain,” Muriel chided him. “This one is not difficult. Come, I shall teach you.”
The circle broke to allow them in. Tentatively, Skandar joined hands with Muriel and the women on his other side.
“Just relax and follow the others,” Muriel whispered.
The music picked up, and Skandar was whisked away. He tripped and stumbled, unsure of himself at first. But slowly, he found his footing and learned the simple flow of the dance. Stepping and kicking in time to the melody as the world revolved around him, Skandar lost himself in the music. His feet flew lightly over the smooth stones when the circle spun faster as the tempo increased. Around and around the circle spun. Skandar became aware of an innate sense of joy that he hadn’t experienced in a long time. He missed a step.
Then suddenly, with a flourish the music ceased and the circle stopped. Skandar swayed momentarily, breathless and elated.
“See?” Muriel stood beside him, her cheeks flushed and her face glowing. “That wasn’t so hard, now was it?” She released his hand.
“No,” he gasped. “Never in my life have I done anything like that.”
“You have not danced before?”
Skandar shook his head and followed her away from the floor and back to their place at the table. “There were some celebrations and festivals in Tiem that included dancing; I never attended any.”
“Why not?”
Skandar shrugged. “I never belonged. And the sheriff’s men always watched me, similar to…” he stopped speaking. Where is Flynn?
  Sir Reuben and Oliver approached them and by their grim expressions, Skandar guessed something was amiss.
“Excuse us for a moment, would you, Muriel?”
“Of course, Father,” she nodded curtly and wandered away.
Outside the Great Hall, Skandar, Oliver, and Sir Reuben met four other nobles at a corner of two hallways. One was Corrthainian, the other three were Niwl.
“Pair off, each of you; scour the castle. I will return to my chambers in the case that he appears there. Do not abandon your companion for any reason.”
The men dispersed in groups of two, each heading off in separate directions. Oliver beckoned Skandar to follow.
“I’m confused,” Skandar said. “What just happened?”
“Someone is missing, several people, actually. But we are only concerned about one at the moment.”
Once in a vacant corridor, Oliver drew a dagger from his belt and his sword from his side. “I advise you do the same.”
They searched the eerily silent halls of the castle, both those familiar and unfamiliar to Skandar; from the tops of the walls to the dark dungeons, which brought back the unpleasant memory of Skandar’s first night in the Capitol. The more they searched and came away empty-handed, the more frantic and flustered Oliver became. Skandar, on the other hand, walked aimlessly after Oliver. Passing a closed door, he noticed a pool of red liquid running in the cracks between the floor stones.
He nearly passed by, but something drew him back. “Oliver?” his throat tightened, causing his voice to rise.
Oliver stomped impatiently back and hastily cast a glance at the liquid. “One of the servants probably spilled a pitcher of wine and forgot to clean it up.”
Taking a torch from the wall, Skandar waved it over the pool. Almost immediately he realized the fault in Oliver’s assumption, recalling the times he butchered chickens for Peter in Tiem. “Oliver,” his mouth dried, “this isn’t wine. This is blood.”
Skandar stared at the door, not wishing to know what lay behind, but at the same time itching to help if he could. The latter instinct won, and he kicked the door open. The wood splintered at the lock and the door crashed against the interior wall. Skandar nearly dropped the torch when he saw what lay on the other side of the door.
Hidden in the dark recesses of the chamber, a body sat slumped against the wall. Unseeing eyes stared at the door from below blond matted hair. Bruises covered the left side of the corpse’s face and blood ran from a cut below his eye. Blood seeped from a wound in his chest, just below his heart, and ran from his body through the cracks in the floor stones to just under the door.
Bile rose in Skandar’s throat and his stomach lurched. He dropped the torch, pushed past Oliver, who knelt beside him, and ran to the Keeper’s Chambers. Oliver caught up just as he reached the door. Skandar pounded on it furiously until Sir Reuben opened it wide and stepped out.
“Show me.”
The Keeper’s face fell when Oliver shone the light over the dead man’s features in the chamber.
“Is this the man you searched for?” Oliver asked.
“Aye, Sir Rupert.”
From the doorway, Skandar observed Sir Reuben cut open Rupert’s blood-soaked shirt. Inside the hem of the shirt was a pocket. It appeared to be empty. Standing, Sir Reuben rubbed the back of his neck. Then he frowned and knelt again.
“Whoever did this did not escape unscathed.”
Skandar stepped inside the room. “Forgive me, Sir, but how do you know that?”
Sir Reuben lifted Rupert’s oddly-shaped scabbard from where it lay beside his thigh. Oliver held the torch closer, and Skandar saw it was empty.
“Rupert possessed a unique, two-bladed dagger. What kind of man keeps such a recognizable weapon after killing its owner?”
“A foolish one,” Oliver noted.
“Unless Rupert wounded his murderer.”
“What do we do now, Sir?”
“Oliver, find someone to remove the body and bury it. Pay them for their silence it you must. Tell no one else; if word reached the Niwls about what has happened tonight, Rupert’s may not be the only body buried tonight. I myself will inform the king.”
“He will most likely announce it to the rest of the banquet.”
“Aye, he will. Which is why I will tell him that it was an accident in the training field.”
“And the other lords?”
“I cannot do anything for them, except warn them. They are in the hands of the True King,” the Keeper shook his head in dismay. “Skandar, come with me. Do not leave my side.”
Heart heavy and his body weary, Skandar obeyed.
They returned to the Great Hall where Sir Reuben promptly passed through the center of the room and mounted the platform upon which sat King Fendral. Catrain cast Skandar a curious glance, which he acknowledged but did not return. Such familiarity at a ceremonial feast was likely not permitted. But he didn’t care. His mind was in a fog, and his stomach felt ill. He looked down at his hands and immediately folded them, one over the other, and hoped no one noticed the blood stains. They may think it is merely wine, he thought optimistically. Or they may think it was I who murdered the knight. In that case I’ll surely be hanged or beheaded before the night is over. Fool.
The Keeper bowed curtly, and then, leaning over the table, whispered in the king’s ear. Although Skandar and most of the other nobles nearby could not discern what was said, the distressed expression on the king’s skeletal face relayed the message well enough. When Sir Reuben stepped away, King Fendral rose and raised a tremoring hand in the air. Silence fell across the room like a heavy blanket.
“A tragedy has befallen this night,” announced the king weakly. The slight shaking of his hands continued. “A brave young Niwl warrior was killed in a terrible accident.”
Murmurs of alarm swept through the crowd, followed by furious outbursts from the Niwls. All hands flew to weapons as cries of treason erupted all over the room. Ladies screamed and chaos ensued. In the momentary and timely diversion, Catrain excused herself from the table and disappeared behind the wide throne. Skandar leaned back and peered around it, but the princess had vanished. Where did she go? And then he remembered Aidan and Eoin mentioning other passages in the castle.
Meanwhile, King Fendral ordered the room to silence. Uneasy tension between the Corrthainians and the Niwls hung in the air like a thundercloud.
“The nature of the incident is unknown to me. But like our fellows from Tir O Niwl, this news has left us stricken. I am assured that he will be buried among the fallen warriors of our country as one of our own beloved brothers and sons. He will be honored.”
King Fendral lowered himself unsteadily back onto his throne. A coldness crept across the room. Although the festive music resumed, no one danced. In all, the Great Hall was eerily still.
“What now, Sir Reuben?”
“Wait,” the Keeper dipped his head in the direction of Lord Joran. On the outside, the lord appeared no sterner and crueler than usual. Skandar imagined what was going through his mind. Anger? No, anger was too light an emotion. Fury. Whatever he felt, Skandar admitted that, as always, he hid it well.
After bidding King Fendral and the other noblemen farewell, Lord Joran skirted the edges of the room and ascended the staircase, disappearing through the door at the top.
As though waiting for this cue, Sir Reuben promptly made for his wife. Skandar quickened his pace to keep up with the tall man. “Help me locate my family. Tell them the night has come to an end and that it is time we return home.”

“You fool!” Lord Joran snarled. His dark eyes flashed, burning dangerously in the dark room, and for a moment Flynn thought he must be hallucinating.
I am seeing things. Things that are not really there.
“You allowed him to see you and then you killed him. Enlighten me, Flynn. What were your orders, and do be specific.”
“Not to kill anyone,” Flynn rasped. Sweat poured into his eyes, stinging them.  He arched his back against the stone wall and clenched his jaw to keep himself from crying out. Agony flowed through his veins, beginning in his thigh and spreading throughout his body. Seeping from around the twin blades buried a short way in his thigh, blood soaked the black leather of his pants. I am fortunate the man was half-dead and lacking strength when he stabbed me. Otherwise the wounds would be deeper.
“Precisely.” Lord Joran crouched down, sitting on his heels. He balanced easily on his toes beside Flynn’s outstretched leg. “And not only did you disobey my orders, but you kept his dagger.” His hand shot out and flicked the handle of the unique weapon. Half of the twin blades that were visible above Flynn’s leg quivered. Flynn howled, every muscle in his body tense. Lord Joran clamped a hand over the knight’s mouth, muffling the sound. He waited until Flynn had stopped writhing, and then removed his hand.
 “What would you expect me to do?” moaned Flynn. Gray fog formed around the edges of his vision that, no matter how many times he blinked, refused to clear. Instead, it slowly expanded and crept inward.
“Without so much as a moment’s notice, Lord Joran yanked the dagger from Flynn’s thigh. The blades slid free with a sickening squelch, drowned out by another tormented scream from the wounded man. Flynn clutched his thigh as warm blood trickled between his fingers.
“Stop whimpering like some pathetic lady. You failed.”
With one stained hand, Flynn pressed on the wounds. With the other, he unbuttoned and removed his jacket. He fumbled around in a pocket and took from it a folded piece of leather. The leather and his hand shook when he held it out to Lord Joran.
Lord Joran snatched it from him greedily and lay it alongside the bloody dagger on his table beside a large piece of thin leather. He stood at his table and took a quill from the well, dipped it in ink, and studied the smaller fragment before swiftly and accurately copying it onto the surface of the larger.
While Lord Joran was preoccupied, Flynn tore a long strip from the bottom of his shirt and wound it as many times as he could around his leg before tying it snugly. It would have to do for now. I’ll find something to sew it up with later… He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the cold wall.
The young man groaned in response. His own voice sounded muffled to his ears.
“Listen to me, and listen to me well.” Lord Joran seemed to speak to him from far in the distance. “Take this with you.” Something soft was laid near Flynn’s limp hand. “We must move up their time table. Make them act now. Deliver a message to my son. Tell him the boy’s life is in danger. If Sir Reuben believes he can protect the boy forever, he is sadly mistaken. That will prod him into sending the boy away. Go with them. Do whatever you believe necessary, am I clear? Bring back Bródúil and the boy’s head, or it will be your own that I put on display. And Flynn?”
Flynn peeled his eyelids open. The dark room spun as he struggled to remain conscious. He poured forth one final effort into staying awake, knowing deep down it would not last long. How does Lord Joran see so well when the room is barely lit? The thought surprised him. The pain was clouding not only his vision, but his mind.
“Rest a short hour. You will need it. But I want him gone on the morrow.”
Lord Joran’s voice seemed so far away Flynn barely caught the final fragment of his speech. Giving in to the pain, he closed his eyes. Limply, Flynn’s body slumped to the floor.

In the dark hours of the morning, Oliver walked briskly down a hall on his way to the stables, a large sack thrown over his back. He neared the end of the hall, passing by an open door when a gloved hand darted out from the darkness and clamped his mouth shut. Another yanked him into the small room. He dropped the sack outside the door, struggling against his captor. Oliver struck him in the leg, and the man behind him instantly released him with a muffled cry.
“What was the meaning of that?” In the dim light, Oliver barely made out the features of his captor. At first, he assumed it was Eoin, but this man, even stooped over, was far too tall. “Flynn?” Oliver reached for one of his daggers at his side, but didn’t draw it. Instead he waited to hear what Flynn had to say. “Is it my father?”
Breathing heavily, Flynn straightened. As he did, Oliver noticed Flynn favored his right leg.
“Ah, now what happened there?”
“An accident,” said Flynn, as though it were simply that. “Nothing important. But what I have to tell you is, so listen to me.”
“That is not difficult to do, especially because you have a nasty habit of threatening people beforehand.”
Flynn grimaced, hobbling forward to check the hall and pull Oliver’s sack into the room. “This is serious, so do us all a favor and stop acting like a child.”
Oliver folded his arms and waited.
“At dawn your father will send men to capture Skandar and Sir Reuben’s family. They are to be executed, Skandar for murdering the Niwl knight and Sir Reuben’s family for harboring him. Your father has it all worked out and is at this very moment discussing it with his council of nobles. Not just Skandar and Sir Reuben will be executed; his whole family. Muriel included.”
“This is another one of my father’s schemes, is it not?” Oliver hoisted his sack over his shoulder and made for the door.
“I give you my word; I swear this is the truth.”
Oliver stopped and laughed aloud. “Your word? You have no honor! Your word is worth next to nothing.”
“Are you willing to risk the life of your beloved? I see by that bag that you already had suspicions and plans of your own. Do not deny it. You and I both know you cannot lie. You’re much too good for that,” Flynn retaliated.
“Alright,” Oliver wheeled around. His face burned, scorched by his wounded pride. “But first, why should I trust you?” And then in a moment of anger and vengeance for his pride, Oliver snapped. “I know you killed Sir Rupert.”
“The knight from Tir O Niwl who died tonight. His body was found; his dagger, missing. We have reason to believe he wounded his killer.” Oliver scrutinized Flynn’s face, waiting for the knight to betray himself. Waiting for any sign of anger. Waiting for any opportunity to kill the man who stole his father’s favor. His rightful place. To his disappointment, Flynn remained void of any emotion.
“I heard that a man was murdered. I never caught a name,” Flynn admitted. “I didn’t do it, if that is what you are implying.”
“Oh no, of course you didn’t,” Oliver scoffed. When he did, he almost resembled his father, and Flynn nearly swore it was Lord Joran, and not Oliver whom he faced. The likeness was terrifying. But Oliver was too naïve, too eager to see the good in people, even if none existed.
“How did you receive your injury?”
“As I told you before, an accident,” Flynn replied smoothly and without hesitation. “I was sparring earlier with one of the knights. We were using real swords, not blunted ones. He caught me in the leg.”
“Why,” queried Oliver once more under his breath, “should I trust you? Why should I believe you?”
“Because when your father learns I warned you, and you of all people know he will, my life is forfeit. So ask yourself this- would I risk my neck for something I was not certain of?”
Setting his jaw, Oliver studied him skeptically. Muriel’s life hung in the balance of Flynn’s words, and his own belief in them. Finally, he admitted with extreme reluctance, “I trust you. But just this once.”
The dark knight sighed with relief. “I offer my services in any way I can.”
“State your price. There always is one with you.”
“Take me with you.”
“Then I shall be forced to silence you, and your friend and your beloved will die,” replied Flynn firmly. Already a knife glinted in his hand.
Oliver groaned, frustration wrinkling his brow. “Fine.”
“Right. You do what needs to be done. I have only a few things to gather in my chambers. I shall meet you at the stables.”
Exiting the room, the two men parted in opposite directions. Noting Flynn’s heavy limp and slow gait, Oliver asked, “Will you be alright?”
“I have suffered worse.”
“One more thing.”
Flynn stopped abruptly and turned around, annoyance clearly visible in his face and stance.
“What?” he hissed.
“Where should we go?”
Flynn shuffled nearer and whispered, “I believe we should find Bródúil.”
“Are you mad?”
“Use your simple mind for once and think. We have Skandar to aid us, and when we have the sword in our possession, we can put things right in Corrthaine. The tyrant king will be overthrown, and your father reduced to naught but a prisoner sentenced to live out his days rotting in a dungeon cell. Tell me you would like nothing better.”
“And by doing so,” Oliver added slowly, “we held Skandar find his father.”
“Indeed,” Flynn agreed. “Alert your friends. We depart as soon as we are ready.”

“Muriel!” Catrain pounded on her friend’s chamber door inside Sir Reuben’s house, where the Keeper and his wife scrambled about, gathering food, supplies, anything they needed for the journey ahead. Catrain subconsciously patted the coin purse hanging from her belt. It had been quick work to bribe the guards into letting her, Aidan, and Eoin to pass through the gatehouses, and even quicker for the brothers to slip a sedative into the guards’ ale to allow Oliver and Flynn through later with the horses and remaining supplies. The guards drank the ale before the three had left, and dropped to the ground, deep in sleep. They would wake up after a couple hours, refreshed and in no small amount of trouble for their dereliction of duty.
“Muriel!” she knocked again.
The door swung inward and a bleary-eyed Muriel stepped out into the hallway. “Cat, what on earth?”
“Gather your things. Quickly. Your father and mother are doing the same.”
“Why, what has happened?”
“Plans have changed. We are no longer as safe as we believed.”
Muriel snapped awake as if Catrain had suddenly thrown a bucket of cold water over her head. “Give me a moment.”
Muriel closed her door and immediately began to gather a few sacks, which she had already filled with a few of her belongings. That chore finished, she paused and looked around her room. This was her home. And although she had been preparing herself for the time when she must leave it, the sudden reality shook her. She crossed to the window and gazed out over the dark streets. Though cold and cruel, this city was everything she had known. I don’t want to leave, she thought sadly. I don’t. But I must.

“Skandar wake up!”
Skandar groaned and rolled over. Someone shook him urgently. He ignored it for as long as he could, but eventually peeled open his heavy, sleep-laden eyelids.
“Get up!” commanded Sir Reuben. “Right now, lad! Do not delay any more!”
Skandar sat up groggily and swung his lean legs over the side of the bed. Lady Morgaine rushed into the room, a clean shirt in her arms. Both the Keeper and his wife had replaced their usual elegant attire with simple traveling clothes.
“Put this on,” she handed Skandar the shirt.
He had barely thrown the shirt on over his head and grabbed the satchel beside his bed before Sir Reuben took him by the arm and half-dragged him from his room. At the outer door of the servants’ quarters, Lady Morgaine fastened Skandar’s cloak around his neck and pulled the hood over his head. John and Eliza stood by, watching with wide, fearful eyes.
“They have everything else you will need,” she assured him and opened the door.
Before she answered, Sir Reuben shoved a long, slender object into Skandar’s hands.
“Take it. It was only just finished.”
The sound of horses’ hooves echoed through the street outside. Seven horses, led by two men, stopped before the door. Four more cloaked figures appeared from the shadows and began strapping bags to the horses’ saddles. Then they mounted, all six of them, leaving a riderless horse Skandar assumed was intended for him.
“Flee,” instructed Sir Reuben. “Follow and trust your instincts. Know your friends and more importantly know your enemies. The word of a man means nothing if his actions do not act upon them. May the True King protect you, lad, until we meet again.”
Sir Reuben and Lady Morgaine both hugged Skandar hastily and shoved him into the dark street.
“Come on, man! Don’t stand there gawking like a fool!” The voice unmistakably belonged to Oliver.
Still clutching the oblong object in his cold hands, Skandar awkwardly clambered into the saddle of the remaining horse. The second his foot slipped into the stirrup, the riders spurred their mounts and they were off; galloping through the streets, and walking through each of the guardhouses to the other sides of the walls where they took off again. When passing through one such tunnel through the thick wall, Skandar saw about five guards asleep on the floor and in their chairs. Cat, Aidan, and Eoin no doubt, he chuckled in spite of himself.
They flew through the city and before long, Skandar found himself outside the Capitol for the first time in six months. They urged their horses across the field and over a stone bridge. On the other side of the icy river, Skandar stopped his horse. Looking back, the Capitol was merely a black spot before the rising scarlet sun.
In his heart, Skandar knew he would not see the harsh city for a long time.

That's all for now! I shall continue to type up and edit The Mark of the King and post chapters when they are ready, As always, feel free to let me know what you think!
I wish you all a wonderful weekend, and if I don't post before, a wonderful new year.
"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Mark of the King: Chapter Thirteen

Oh December. The month of holiday cheer, and as always, lots and lots of stressing on my part. 
Let's not think about that right now.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, or for those of you who don't celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you had a wonderful week!! Mine was rather pleasant, but it included homemade pumpkin pie, so there's really no reason for it to have been bad.
In the meantime, I typed up Chapter Thirteen. I'm in the process of typing and editing Fourteen at the moment, but with the upcoming holidays and midterms, I cannot guarantee how soon I will be able to post it. Be sure that I shall try my very hardest as it is the last chapter of Part I!!!! You have no idea how excited I am about that. AANNNNDDD then comes the stressing because I am very slowly working my way through Part II and I haven't written much of it so posting will be even worse... 
But I am not going to dwell on that right now. Let's just be happy that you can now read Chapter Thirteen!!!

Chapter Thirteen

Flynn waited patiently in the shadows of the long corridor for his target. Reaching a hand to his back, he pulled out a hidden dagger concealed in his belt. He twisted it mindlessly, inspecting the way the flawless blade reflected and bent what little torchlight reached it.
            Down the hall, Lord Ulric’s door creaked open, and the round man stepped out. Flynn froze. From the shaded alcove, Flynn watched Ulric like a hawk, waiting for the opportune moment to swoop upon his prey and strike. He noted that the lord neglected to lock his chamber door, but that didn’t matter. Flynn knew that the item he required was not inside the room.
            As Lord Ulric ambled down the hall, his bright yellow robes flapping behind him, Flynn followed, crouching low and walking in the lord’s footsteps to avoid detection. He quickened his pace, closing the distance between himself and the lord. When he was close enough, he wrapped one arm around the shorter man’s neck, and held him tightly. Lord Ulric struggled, clutching at Flynn’s elbow and forearm desperately. But his struggles were short-lived. Flynn raised his dagger, and struck the lord in the temple with its blunt metal end. Lord Ulric uttered a slight moan, before his body went limp. Flynn released him, and he fell to the floor.
            Patting and rifling through the lord’s thick robes, Flynn spied what he searched for. A corner of a folded piece of faded leather protruded from a pocket sewn inside his cloak. Hastily, he snatched it up and opened it. Once he scrutinized its contents, he smiled in cruel satisfaction. Then his ears caught the faint sound of approaching footsteps. He shoved the piece of leather into his jacket, leapt up, and sprinted away.

            Skandar worked in the Keeper’s Chambers, rolling, binding, and organizing scrolls for Sir Reuben. The Keeper himself had been summoned away from his chambers minutes before by John. Grateful for the silence, Skandar opted to stay behind.
            “This is the first time I’ve been alone in a while,” he mumbled aloud, and tied a thin leather strap around a scroll. Setting it on the top of the pile to his left, he reached for another piece of open parchment.  The afternoon light outside faded as the sun set, and the room grew darker. Skandar rose, and tossed another log into the hearth. The light restored, he returned to his job, only to discover that he had finished the task of binding the Keeper’s scrolls. Skandar gathered an armful of the scrolls and began to place them on the empty shelves in orderly rows.
            The door opened, and Sir Reuben and another man entered. The man accompanying the Keeper was short, round, and dressed in thick layers of yellow robes. He tottered unsteadily as he walked, and cradled his head in his quivering hands.  
            “Calm down, Ulric,” assured Sir Reuben, albeit sternly.
            Skandar placed the remaining scrolls on the table. “Do you wish me to leave, Sir?”
            Sir Reuben waived a hand at Skandar, “That will not be necessary, but what you are about to hear you repeat to no one, understood?”
            “Now tell me,” Sir Reuben turned to Lord Ulric, who stood, quaking, until the Keeper directed him to a chair. “What happened?”
            “I was attacked. In the hall outside my chambers,” fumbled Lord Ulric. When he turned his head, Skandar detected a large knot visible on his temple.
            “By whom?” pressed Sir Reuben. “Did you see the man?”
            Lord Ulric Squinted as he tried to recall the unpleasant memory. He mopped his bare brow with a rag. “No. It was rather dark in the hall. I neither heard nor saw the scoundrel.”
            But I have an idea who would do something like that, Skandar remarked silently.
            The Keeper sighed deeply and tugged at the collar of his scarlet jacket. He was silent for several moments, and stared at the floor. “Did he take it?” he glanced up.
            Take what?
            Whatever is was, it was important for some reason.
            “I am glad you were not seriously injured, my friend. But we must recover the item as soon as possible. I need not remind you that if it were to fall into the wrong hands, we condemn hundreds of people to death.

            “Skandar?” Sir Reuben tapped his shoulder. The young man sat in the Keeper’s chair, staring vacantly into the wall ahead. Skandar slowly refocused, and looked lazily at Sir Reuben.
            “In a fight, lad, you’d be dead.”
            “That’s not very comforting, Sir.”
            “It wasn’t meant to be.” Not even the barest hint of amusement appeared on Sir Reuben’s serious face.
            “That’s not very comforting either,” Skandar mumbled. “Sir? About what you said to that lord earlier. Tell me the truth.”
            Sighing deeply, Sir Reuben occupied the vacant seat on the other side of the table. To Skandar, it felt odd, their positions switched.
            “You must know by now that your being here in the Capitol is no accident, especially not now. I cannot explain everything. It is far too dangerous.”
            More lies. If it concerns me, why must he hide the truth?
            “Skandar, what do you see when you are angry?”
            The question surprised him. It was so out of the ordinary that for a moment, he couldn’t answer it. His mind was still processing the question itself. Skandar thought hard, although the reason behind the question eluded him.
            “Everything changes,” he stated reluctantly. I am not even sure of what happens. How can I explain it to him? And how does he know?
            “Changes? How?”
            “The world dulls. It becomes as gray and lifeless as the walls of this very room. It only lasts for a short time; often times I barely notice it.”
            “Do you feel anything?”
            Skandar looked into the smoldering ashes in the hearth. He sank down into his chair. He didn’t understand why he reacted in this manner. From embarrassment? Confusion? Stubbornness, he titled it. Reluctance. Whatever Sir Reuben asked, he had good reason, Skandar understood. And one way or another, Sir Reuben managed to get the answer he sought.
            “Anger,” he finally admitted quietly. “Hatred. All the rage and fury I have harvested throughout my life since the day my mother died… it is overwhelming.”
            “That is to be expected. After my punishment for aiding your parents, I felt many similar emotions. I hated the king. I hated Joran. I hated almost everyone I came in contact with. I blamed them for what happened. These emotions were only intensified after Garren’s departure. I lost nearly every friend I had. And I hated everyone for it.”
            “Hated? You don’t hate them now?”
            Sir Reuben shook his head. “I learned that hatred only wounds the wearer. When a log is placed in the fire, it burns for a while, but the fire eventually consumes it and everything around it, leaving nothing more than a pile of charred ash. The thing the log once was is now unrecognizable and useless. The same is true with hate. It burns inside you for a time, using you as its fuel, and for a moment you feel alive. But it destroys you, leaving you a twisted, deformed human being.”
            Sir Reuben was right, Skandar knew. He pondered the Keeper’s words, mulling them over and over.
            How can I let it go? When all my life it is what has been driving me? Giving me a will to fight and live? Hate is the reason I must find my father. Hate is the reason I must find Bródúil. Hate is the reason that with it, I will finally be able to enact revenge on those who ripped apart my family. No. Even if it kills me in the end, I will not let it go. And I don’t care who is hurt in the process. I don’t care.
            “Father?” John and Muriel opened the door and stood on the threshold of the room. A cool draft blew in from the hall. Sir Reuben twisted in his chair and beckoned them inside.
            “Skandar and I were finishing last minute business. I apologize for making you wait,” Sir Reuben stood and pushed his chair against the table. Walking to several hooks in the wall near the door, he removed his cloak from one, and Skandar’s from another. He tossed Skandar his before fastening his cloak around his shoulders. Skandar snapped out of his thoughts just in time to catch his cloak before it hit his face.
            “Oh, and by the way, Skandar?”
            “Yes Sir?” Skandar hooked his cloak beneath his neck and pulled the hood over his head.
            “Tomorrow evening there will be another celebration. You are to come as a part of my family and as my personal guest.”
            “You mean I will be permitted?”
            “Yes. Remain close to me and do not wander off. I must do something to keep you out of the ceiling.”
            “What? I-I,” Skandar stammered, too late to make up some excuse.
            Sir Reuben smiled smugly. “And Skandar?”
            Sir Reuben raised a critical eyebrow in recognition of Skandar’s mistake.
            “Yes Sir?” corrected Skandar.
            Sir Reuben lowered his voice. “Be ready to flee at a moment’s notice. Pack your belongings and have them close at hand in your room. Sleep in your clothes.”
            Immediately after Skandar returned to the Keeper’s dwelling, he ran to his room and there discovered a satchel laid on the bed. He smiled at Lady Morgaine’s foresight. I’ll thank her later.
            Rummaging through his meager belongings, he threw every article of clothing he owned chaotically into the bag until it held no more. Skandar frowned at the bulges in the coarse material and then emptied the bag of its contents, dumping them out onto the bed.  A coin purse fell out of the bottom of the bag, landing atop the pile of his clothes with a satisfying clink. Hastily, Skandar snatched up the satchel and peered into its depths. Is there any more? But the sack revealed no other treasures other than the one he just discovered.
            Skandar carefully folded every shirt and every trouser, placing them neatly inside the satchel so they covered the coin purse. When finished, he found he had a small amount of space left at the top. He gazed curiously at the vacant space before deciding its purpose.
            Making his way out of his room and to the kitchen, Skandar discovered several small packages wrapped in parchment on the table.
            “The Lady intended those for you,” informed one of the girls. “They aren’t much; just bits of dried meat and cheese. The bread she said she’ll supply later on. She didn’t say what they’re for, though.”
            Skandar gave the girl a small nod in thanks, and tucked the packages under his arms.
            “Now get on with you, unless you wish for burned food at supper!”
             Back inside his room, Skandar packed the dried food in the satchel. He surveyed his handiwork a final time until satisfied, he tied the open top off with a long cord and placed it on the floor beside his bed. No sooner had he completed his work when John knocked on his door, announcing the time for supper.
            Meanwhile, the maid with whom Skandar exchanged words earlier beckoned the other girl into the kitchen. “Can you begin washing the dishes? I have an errand to run.”
            “Another?” moaned the second young woman. “That’s the second one this week!”
            The first girl dusted brown flour off her skirt and laughed. “I won’t be gone but a moment. Here,” she slipped a hand into a pocket hidden inside the waist seam of her skirt. Pulling it out, she dropped two large coins into her friend’s cupped hands.
            The second girl gaped at the money. Sir Reuben and Lady Morgaine paid well and fairly, but those coins were worth more than they made in a week. “Where did you-?”
            “That,” the first girl put a finger to her lips, “is no concern of yours. Now that should cover any difficulties, I think. I must be off, but I’ll be back before they notice,” she nodded toward the door separating the kitchen from the rest of the house.
            She unhooked her new shawl from a peg mounted on the wall beside her friend’s worn wrap. Draping it around her shoulders, she opened the back door and stepped out into the night, walking only a short way before stopping at a post. On it were two chalk marks. One hers, the other belonged to the man she was to meet. Quickly, she rubbed them off and continued through the streets.
            When she reached her destination, a tavern, it was a simple matter to locate the man she was to meet. He sat alone, the other visitors too afraid to step near him.
            “You’d better not be wasting my time,” he said dryly. He leaned against the back of his chair and, in an annoyed manner, flipped a loose piece of black hair out of his face.
            Composing herself, the girl whispered, “He’s going to run.”
            “That’s not new,” Flynn stood and towered over the girl. “I need relevant information. Now tell me,” he stepped nearer, and she drew back in fear. “When?” he growled.
            The girl shrugged. “Soon, I think.”
            “You think.”
            Her lower lip quivered. She cast a frightened glance around the room, knowing if she were in trouble, the other people inside the tavern would not risk the wrath of Flynn by standing up against him. His cruel and ruthless reputation preceded him. But she needed the money.
            “I can find out,” she offered.
            “You’d better,” Flynn stepped back and dropped a single coin on the table. “If you want your pretty face to stay that way.”
            “Yes, Sir.” The girl dropped her head and pulled her shawl tighter around her. She snatched up the coin and darted away.  

Can you tell that I am feeling very over-dramatic right now? That's what school does to you, I guess. Fries your brain like nothing else.
Anyway, feel free to let me know what you think!
God bless!!


Sunday, November 23, 2014

The 12 Days of Thanksgiving

Before you ask, I know that it's supposed to be "The 12 Days of Christmas." And here it is November and nowhere near Christmas. Okay, so I know we're close, but we're not that close!!! But in America, especially now, we tend to overlook Thanksgiving and skip directly to Christmas. If you ask me, that's just wrong. On November 1st every store I know of has Christmas decorations and ads out, and Christmas carols playing. Um, hello? Did I miss something or is there supposed to be another holiday here?!
For my American readers, I hope I'm not alone in this. For my readers from other areas of the world, I still hope I'm not alone in this.
So, I have decided to do a thing of what I like to call, "The 12 Days of Thanksgiving." I am going to list twelve things I am thankful for and why. Then I am going to tag other bloggers to do the same.

Bloggers: You, as I stated above, must list twelve things you are thankful for. Then you can tag as many other bloggers as you want (be sure to let them know!!). Spread the word and get "The Twelve Days of Thanksgiving" started!! You can use the photo I used at the top of this post, if you want. There really aren't any other rules other than that!

(And yes, some of these are going to be the generic answers, but just bear with me!)

In No Particular Order:

1. My Family: You've always been there for me. And you always will be there for me, I know. I love you all so much, and I've been blessed beyond what I can imagine to have the family I do. Thank you for putting up with me when I'm tired, frustrated, angry, happy, confused, and generally in a bad mood. I know you're kind of stuck with me for another couple years, but consider this a thank you and an apology. I love you so much!

2. My Friends: You guys have been there for me, put up with my obsessions over some things, seen me at my worst and my best and you've still stuck around... I'm still not too sure how that's going to turn out, but hey! You're here! So let's go be crazy and make mayhem and chaos (which really translates into "Hey! Let's all go over to ______'s house, eat lots of junk food, and binge-watch TV shows on Netflix while planning to take over the world!!!"). Don't worry. That last bit won't happen. We're all too lazy, right guys? ;)

3. My Readers: Yes, you lovely people are on my thankful list, too! Without you all, I wouldn't have a blog. You guys are my beta readers, and the people who listen to my random ramblings and my sorry excuses. And you still keep coming back for more. That's what makes you all so important to me. You're faithful, even when I have nothing to give. Thank you all for that.

4. My Teachers: I would not know anything at all without your hard work and dedication. I wouldn't know how to write, so I wouldn't have any means to have my voice heard. I also wouldn't know how to get a job, or really anything without all the time you've put into my education. I don't know what I would do if it weren't for you.

5. My Teammates: We're all in this together. Oh, no. I did not just quote High School Musical. I did!! Oops. Oh well. That's pretty much all we do in the dugout, anyway. Thank you all for being so supportive, even when I make a huge mistake on the field. Thank you for welcoming me into your lives and and for not letting me leave. Which I still have yet to figure out if that's a good thing or not... But I don't know what I'd do without my sisters on the field.

6. My Coaches: You didn't just teach me how to be a better athlete, you taught me how to be a better person and how to succeed and excel when life throws a low, outside curveball at me. If you've ever been my coach, you know how much I *love* those pitches as a batter... You've taught me that, no matter how tough things become, or if everything falls apart on me, or if I screw up massively, not to get inside my own head and tear myself apart over a mistake. You taught me how to learn from the past, but also how to let go of it, too.

7. My Books: Without which I would not be able to go on epic adventures, engage in battles of good vs. evil, and explore new worlds only accessible through raw imagination. From early on, to make me happy all you had to do was put a book in my hands and supply me with a flashlight so I could read late into the night, er, early morning...

8. My Cat: What? I'm a cat person. She's beautiful, see?
My cat, Hope <3

9. Food: hey, it was going to be on here sometime!!!

10. Music: I cannot go a day without music of some kind. How boring and dull life would be without it. It also helps me write and focus on my school work, which I should really be doing right about now... nah.

11. My Bible: Without that, I'd be lost. I would be so hopelessly lost in this world. It's a letter from God to His children. It's His message of hope and love. From Him to every single one of us.

And last but most certainly NOT least because He is by far the most important thing in my life:

12. God: He loves me, a worthless dirty sinner, so much that He died a horrible death. He died. For me. The fact that someone could love me so much to do that is incomprehensible. And it is because of that that I know that when I die, the greatest adventure anyone can ever hope to experience will begin because I will be in Heaven with my Lord and Savior. And I hope you will too.

Those things are what I am Thankful for. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving to my American readers and an equally wonderful week for my readers from other areas of the world!

Tag! You're it for the 12 Days of Thanksgiving:

Megan of Rustic Remains
Madeline of #Dreamer
Willow of The Call
Darrion of The Call
Hazel West of Hazel West's Character Purgatory
Moriah of My Own Little World
Hope Brockway of Stitches of Freedom
Hope E. of Stitches of Freedom

Your turn for the 12 Days of Thanksgiving!!!

By the way, Chapter Thirteen of The Mark of the King will be up first thing next week!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Mark of the King: Chapter Twelve

So technically, where I live at least, it is still Wednesday. Very late Wednesday. but Wednesday none the less. So I kept my promise. 
Oh man you guys, typing up what I've written so far, I realized how close we are. You see, I've broken The Mark of the King into at least two, maybe three parts. 
We are almost at the end of part one. I have about two more chapters to post until it all goes down. 
For the first time.
I may or may not post Chapter Thirteen next week. Being Thanksgiving week, things get a little hectic. But I am going to post a Thanksgiving thing next week... Chapter Thirteen will be up the week after next. 
Without further rambling, Chapter Twelve!

Chapter Twelve

Half a dozen men met behind a locked door guarded by four trustworthy knights high in a turret tower of the castle. Five were from Tir O Niwl, the sixth Corrthainian.
“Tonight is the first of many,” declared Sir Reuben. “The time is close upon us. Even as we speak, things fall into place.  Our patience is well rewarded. We need only wait a little longer.”
“So soon?” One of the men spoke up, his voice layered with uncertainty. Soft candlelight illuminated his concerned expression. “Now? When we number so few…”
“More will come!” reassured the Keeper. “Once the word spreads, and the people catch wind of our plan, they will band together. When the one we’ve been waiting for rises up and assumes his place, they will follow.
“The question now, my Lords and knights, is whether you continue to aid our plight or sit idly by and watch the Four Kingdoms desolated? The pieces you hold may very well seal your death sentences. I give you a choice: you may either relinquish your pieces to me, or you may burn them, thus freeing you from all other obligation of our cause.”
The youngest of the six stood. Barely past his mid-twenties, the man displayed an eager readiness and will beyond his fellow Niwls. “Sir, you know I would gladly give my life to protect the people of the Four Kingdoms. And if the knowledge I possess does indeed strike a blow in our favor, I consider no greater honor than for that to be my final act here on this earth.” With that, the fair knight drew a curious weapon from his sheath. It looked like any other dagger, but instead of a single blade, two razor-sharp blades emerged from the hilt. He laid the dagger on the circular table.
Sir Reuben eyed the unique weapon, and then laid his folded hands on the table. He nodded with quiet approval at the knight. “You’re a good man, Rupert. And what of the rest of you?”
“Aye,” answered one immediately, laying his sword on the table. His response was readily followed by two others.
Staring into the round face of the final lord, Sir Reuben raised an eyebrow questioningly. “What say you, Ulric?”
The large man answered, albeit reluctantly, “Aye,” and placed his sword on the table
Sir Reuben reached down to his belt and withdrew his own sword, with which he completed the circle. That finished, he leaned back in his chair and sighed.
“Each of you bring your pieces to me between tomorrow morning and the end of this week, trusting you heeded my advice and did not bring them with you here tonight. Be careful not to come too quickly, else suspicion is cast. Bide your time wisely, and watch your backs. Always, enemies lurk in the shadows.”

Catrain paced back and forth outside the Great Hall. Her mind raced with words, ideas, and possibilities, all in a seemingly endless jumble. Just when two pieces appeared to fit together, another piece rose out of the pile and obscured them. The longer she paced, the deeper her frustration became.
Outside, bells rang, signaling the end of the watch and the changing of the guard. At last, Cat thought as the large doors opened, and noblemen filed out in long lines. She stepped to the side as they passed her by. Most took no notice of her, except Lord Joran, who regarded her with stern interest. Coldly, she met his unwavering gaze, and when he had passed, tried to analyze what she saw in his black eyes. I am missing something. It’s staring me in the face, I know it. She waited until the final man had left the hall, and then slipped inside before the guards closed the doors.
She hesitated for a moment at the top of the stairs overlooking the hall. King Fendral sat alone at the large table on the platform where they feasted the night before. Even from that distance, the king's features were pale, abnormally so. He weakens overnight. The weight is too much for him to bear. The crown has finally taken its toll on him.
King Fendral wearily glanced up from the pile of parchments on his table and squinted at her with dark-rimmed eyes. With a trembling hand, he waved her down.
Catrain descended the wooden stairs cautiously, her eyes trained on the steps before her. After years of wearing dresses and long skirts, Cat had still not mastered the art of walking or moving gracefully in them. She reached the bottom, to her relief, without tripping over the thick hem. Her footsteps echoed lightly in the empty hall, the empty sound lingered long after she stopped in front of the table.
“Sire, there is a matter I wish to discuss with you. A question, actually.”
“Go on,” he answered in a thin voice and leaned back in his chair.
“At summer's end, Lord Joran brought a young man from Tiem to the Capitol.”
The king sighed, “This is not unusual. Tiem is part of the land I granted to him for his services to me years ago.”
Catrain shifted her weight from one foot to the other and twisted her fingers nervously. “Sire, he did it under the impression that you ordered him to capture this young man and train him. If that be the case, why then have you not summoned him?”
She studied the king's blank face. The only expressions she read in it were confusion and exhaustion.
“I did not know, nor did I order this boy to be brought here,” King Fendral lurched forward as a coughing fit came upon him. His body shook violently until the coughs ceased.
Catrain waited for the king to regain his breath. “He trains as a squire. His name is Skandar Edmundson.”
“Edmundson,” said the king hoarsely. His face furrowed with deeper confusion as he tried to recall the name long forgotten. “The messenger.”
Catrain nodded.
“Why bring him here?”
“That is the very question I wished to ask you. I hoped you knew the answer. I do know that it concerns Bródúil,” she studied his features closely. At the mention of the sword, her grandfather looked as though he'd been stricken.
Tears filled his cold eyes. “I sent my own son to his death because of that sword. I killed- I killed your father. I killed my son.” King Fendral trembled with the force of his hidden grief. In that moment, Catrain almost pitied the old man. “So I ended it.”
“Ended what?” she demanded, harsher than she should have, she knew.
“The quest,” he replied. “I ordered to end the quest. Some of the lords objected, yes.”
“How many?”
“Nearly all.”
“Who? Was Lord Joran among those against your order?”
The king didn't reply, but stared through Catrain with empty eyes.
Catrain stepped onto the platform and gripped the edge of the table until her knuckles turned white. “Tell me,” she nearly growled.
King Fendral appeared startled. To Cat, it seemed that for a moment he forgot she was even there. “Joran was strongly opposed, but he agreed with it soon enough.”
Catrain released the table, the jumbled pieces beginning to fall into place around the border of the picture. “Thank you,” she said quietly.
Turning, she stepped off the platform and crossed the room. Just as she mounted the stairs, her grandfather's frail voice called after her. “When does your mother return?”
“She is due from Tir Thuaidh near summer's end,” replied Catrain coolly, continuing to climb the stairs.
“Too long.” She barely heard the king whisper. His head drooped to his chest, and he sat, slouched on the throne.
But not long enough.  
“Sir Reuben?” Catrain knocked on the Keeper's door before she opened it and stepped inside. She was met by a man she recognized as a Niwl noble, and slid to the side as he passed her and departed. Briefly she made eye contact with the man when he walked by, and he bowed his head slightly toward her. She dipped her head in acknowledgment, and then waited until he was out of hearing range.
“Princess,” Sir Reuben buried a small piece of leather under a pile of scrolls, but not before Catrain caught a glimpse of it.
Another piece, she thought. In the hearth, half a dozen stout logs burned. The mesmerizing flames distracted Catrain from her purpose for meeting with the Keeper. So bright. So alive, and full of life. But that life is short, snuffed out in a single moment. Yet while living, it brings light and warmth to a dark world. Then reluctantly, she tore her gaze and her thoughts away.
“My grandfather soon will be no longer capable of the throne. You know he is ill, and the physicians have done what little they can.”
“Yes,” Sir Reuben folded his hands, laying them on the crinkled scrolls covering the table. “We are almost ready.”
“Do you have all the pieces?”
“As of this moment, one is in my possession; five I lack.”
“Only one,” she repeated for clarification. “Would it not have been easier to have had them all give you the pieces last night?”
“The more pieces a single man carries with him, the larger the target on him.”
  “Will you be ready in a fortnight?”
Catrain nodded, a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “I can be ready sooner than that. Does Muriel know?”
“Some. Morgaine and I will tell her the rest tonight.”
“Then I shall inform Aidan and Eoin, if you have not already done so.”
Silence from the Keeper told her that he had not.
Catrain started to walk out of the room, but paused with her hand on the door. “When do you expect to obtain the other pieces?”
A single log in the fire snapped, breaking in half and sending sparks showering out of the hearth. They smoldered for a moment on the stone floor, and then died.
And now slowly, the picture becomes clear.

In this chapter we learn a little more about Catrain. What do you think of her?
What do you think of Sir Reuben's secret meeting? Do you have any guesses as to what's going on? Feel free to comment and let me know!! As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Modern Canterbury Tales: The Soldier

It's Wednesday, and as I promised, here is my second Modern Canterbury Tale about the soldier.
His name is Jack Price, although I never mention it in the story. 
Yesterday was Veteran's Day, so really this would have been better to post then, but oh well. The day after still works, right?
Remember to honor those in the military who fight and lay down their lives to protect you. Without them, our world would not be what it is today.

The dreams hit worse at night. They haunt me with memories like a plague, unwilling to cease the endless torment. Often, I lie awake in the darkness of my cabin, unable to drift off to sleep. The barest whisper of the cruise ship rocking on the waves does nothing to settle the insomnia brought about by post-traumatic stress.
When all is still, I hear the faint traces of gunfire and the agonized moans of my fellow soldiers. As an army combat medic, I witnessed more than my share of anguish and death. I spent three tours in Afghanistan doing what I could to ease the suffering of wounded brothers and to ease the passing of others.
During our sixteen weeks of medical training, I and the other doctors and medics were warned that fifty percent of the soldiers we would care for on the field would die. Even that did little to prepare me for what lay ahead. After basic battle training, I was deployed.
Armed with plenty of anxiety, apprehension, and an M-16 rifle, for self defense only, I began work providing first aid and trauma care on the frontlines. Although the Geneva Conventions supposedly provide protection for medical personnel, we were fired upon frequently. Terrorists aren’t exactly known to play by the rules. On many occasions, I was forced to fire upon hostiles to protect myself, my fellow medics, and the wounded soldiers we tended. I took lives to save lives.
Half of the young men and women I attended to on the field died, most within a half hour of receiving their initial injuries. To this day, I see their faces each time I close my eyes; their fear, their pain, and their regrets evident in their battle-weary features. Many, I never met until they died. Most I never knew their names. That, I believe, haunts me greater than the war itself. The few who survived and whose names I knew, I tried to contact once I returned to the states.
One young man whose name I did manage to learn, I located upon my arrival home. As a sniper, he had been shot through the shoulder while defending me and my team during my third tour. The bullet passed narrowly between his subclavian and axillary arteries. Though he lost roughly two pints of blood by my estimate, he fought to survive. Even as we cared for him, he argued that he was alright, and pleaded with us to allow him to continue fighting. “I have to protect them. I have to protect them, please,” he begged. What set him apart from the others was his lack of fear and his passion and drive to defend his fellow soldiers. He didn’t fear death, but defiantly stared it in the face. He lived, and returned home early to his family to receive further medical treatment. Inspired by this young soldier, I continued to work with renewed vigor until the time arrived for me to return home.
For a year and a half I feebly attempted to lead a normal life. I worked, attended counseling twice a week, and immersed myself in the world. But I felt lost. I could not allow myself to sit idly by when on the other side of the world others fought and died protecting people they would never meet.
Israel, the cruise ship’s destination, is where I plan to accomplish my goals as a Lone Soldier, the term the Israelis dub those in their military who have no immediate family living in Israel. I opted to travel by plane, but as their air space is somewhat compromised thanks to terrorists, that proved difficult. That and my sister practically ordered me to travel by cruise ship on the pretense that, if I die, I should at least enjoy myself on a leisure vacation beforehand. As a successful lawyer, she provided the money, and as a soldier, I followed her orders.    
Most of my time I spend in my room or on walks along the decks of the ship; I put forth little effort to meet my fellow passengers. The moment they discover my occupation, the formalities ensue. I understand that some possess no notion of how to react or relate to a man with war experience. There are times when I, myself, am at a loss to explain the depths of my trauma and the ways it catches me off-guard at untimely moments. In the eyes and expressions of some passengers, I see malice and hatred, and although as a combat medic my duty was to save lives, I know they see me as nothing more than a murderer.
Yes, I killed people in self-defense. Yes, I knelt over too many dying brothers and sisters, powerless to stop the bleeding that drained the life from their bodies. Yes, I have seen suffering, death and horrors; experiences that scarred me forever. And yes, I am willing to endure it over again to protect and save the people I love and the people I shall never meet. I know that those people will never understand the reason behind my voyage to Israel. Theirs is for pleasure; mine is for purpose.
Meeting my traveling companions, I know, is inevitable. After all, even on a ship the size of three football fields, one cannot hide forever. If I confront the people residing closest to me in my hall, I wish it to be on my own terms. The faces of those who died in my hands haunt me each night, but more importantly, the knowledge that I never learned their names. Maybe I will rest easier tonight if I attempt to learn the names and faces of the people I shall protect as a Lone Soldier in Israel. 

That's it for now! What did you think? Please feel free to let me know.
By the way, the young sniper that got shot is a character in another story I'm planning. You can find what I've done on my Pinterest board Storyboard: Untitled. Really creative name, I know. ;)
I am hoping to have Chapter Twelve of The Mark of the King up my next Wednesday at the latest. I'll edit it over the weekend, so I'll probably have it up before Wednesday.
Oh, by the way! I got my government test back yesterday and I did really well on it! Thank you for the prayers! God bless you all, and remember, He loves you more than you can imagine, and nothing- nothing- will ever change that.