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And now for something completely different… ish. I’m a fantasy writer and so I’m a sucker for maps. All the best epic fantasies have them. I’m published in a genre that pulls from this world with fantastical elements and doers of great deeds, sooooooo… no maps. I mean, California? Google it.

That’s why when one of my fellow authors at our publishing house, Tirgearr, put out a very engaging and spot on blog regarding maps in fantasy novels- I just had to share. I hope you’ll all enjoy her point of view and maybe even check out her stunning novel, The War Queen. Thanks again for appearing on my blog, J.M.!!!

Here’s her two cents… ENJOY!

Why E-book Fantasy Writers Should Include Maps

 

I’m an avid reader of fantasy books. I’m also an avid writer of fantasy books. And, what the heck, I’m also an avid enthusiast about maps in fantasy books. I own a lot of the Dragonlance books. I even have a map of Skyrim hanging in my hallway and a map of Maui right above my computer.

WHY YOU SHOULD INCLUDE A MAP IN YOUR FANTASY BOOK

The answer is very obvious. You want a map to, literally provide direction for your readers who have taken a chance on you and picked up your book to read it. You don’t need a map of America if you write contemporary, because, thank goodness to our schools, we were taught where California and New York is. And, if for some weird reason you’ve never opened a book, turned on the TV, or stepped outside in your life, you can GOOGLE those locations. I know. I’ve done it. You get hundreds of different maps for America.

Let’s say I wrote a book and titled it The War Queen. It’s a fantasy book set in my own made-up world called Endendre. Now Altarn is the Lady of Blindvar, who faces opposition from Kaelin who is the Lord of Ruidenthall. Separating these two states is Luthsinia. Altarn travels out of Niesh toward Athenya, stopping along the way at Yott and Gaynord where she eventually ends up on Greatmare.

Are you wishing you had a map of Endendre yet? Did you just try googling it? Didn’t find it? Here it is.

Endendre

 

Pretty fancy. Where did I get this map? I drew it. And because my sister is a professional artist on her way to stardom, I gave the outline to her and she dressed it up to be what you see here.

BUT JM! I DON’T HAVE AN ARTISTIC SISTER ON HER WAY TO STARDOM!

That’s fine. Here’s another map I drew by hand for another yet-to-be-published fantasy book of mine:

Anthrell

Of course when this book is published, I’ll throw it at my sister to dress it up professional like. Oh. Right. You don’t have my sister. But, you DO have programs online, you have illustrators all over the internet who would love love love your business (but JM! That will cost money!) So stop buying coffee at Starbucks every morning, eat beef ramen for dinner instead of sushi, bike to work instead of drive.

The point is, life costs money. Manage your money into the areas you feel are most important. Paying someone to illustrate your map can be cheap. You might find a good freelancer on Fiverr.com to do it for you. Or, again, you can throw it into a program – even word paint – and do it yourself.

Let’s get back to why you should have a map included in your book. It’s for direction. Can you imagine reading Lord of the Rings without having the guidance of a map? Or any of the Dragonlance Chronicles? How about The Wheel of Time?

Reading should be an enjoyment for your readers. Help them read easy by giving them a visual to follow along.

DON’T HAVE THE AMBITION TO CREATE A MAP?

Maps are fun to make. Creating a map brings your story to life and you start to believe you have created a real place that exists somewhere. It’s PART of your story, and you can do SO much more with your map aside from having it in your book. What do I mean by that? You can use it as a background on your book’s webpage. It might even look as awesome as this: https://www.jmrobison.com/the-war-queen1

Or go one step further and create yourself a store on zazzle.com and turn your map into a poster to hang in your hallway next to Skyrim:

war_queen_map_poster-r9fccb7b41f4148929d1b9689b458c326_zvd_8byvr_324

A mouse pad:

war_queen_map_mouse_pad-r72ae78f70cd348678cc205b414cf4400_x74vi_8byvr_324

 

A bumper sticker:

ruidenthall_bumper_sticker-rd39e6bb64a3a4878b4d14823e83298a1_v9wht_8byvr_324

(see these items in my zazzle.com store)

And then you can use this map as a fun free giveaway for your book. Basically, you’re not creating a map. You’re creating a massive promotion for your book that will hook readers to want to come back for more.

I’d LOVE to see your maps. I invite you to post a picture of it directly onto my Facebook author page.

Now, aren’t you glad you stopped by and learned about maps? Now you have a great book to pick up, War Queen, AND a new marketing tool! You’re welcome.

Have a GREAT weekend!!!

About JM…

Born in small town Bennington, Idaho, J.M. wanted to be just like her big, story writer sister. Big sister paints now, but that initial role model was all the springboard J.M. needed to fearlessly leap into writing the novels of her heart. Getting around the world as a soldier has helped broaden J.M.’s views on cultures and personalities, and settling down as a Deputy Sheriff in Nevada for a time has helped her maintain all the fine intricacies humans are capable of which has helped define her characters into something realistic and believable. Without any prior claims to fame, J.M. is proud to showcase that hard work, even from rock bottom, DOES pay off.

jmrobison

Please do check out The War Queen- JM is with my press, Tirgearr Publishing, so you KNOW she rocks. Here’s a bit about the book:

Altarn is the first woman to hold the position of State Head in Blindvar. When Lord Kaelin, State Head of Ruidenthall, propositions her to merger with their states, Altarn believes it’s his subtle way of taking her kingdom for his own, making himself king. On the cusp of war, she rides in disguise to her last ally, Luthsinia, to ask for help.

During her journey, Altarn is ambushed but rescued by a man called Torren who offers her protection. Quickly they realize they share a mutual attraction. Upon their arrival to Luthsinia, Altarn receives news that an army has invaded Blindvar in her absence and blames Kaelin. Except it’s not Kaelin’s army, because she discovers Kaelin is in Luthsinia for the purpose of spying on her to take her land. And Torren is not who she thought he was.

Taking advantage of the unraveling situation, Kaelin kidnaps Altarn so he can take her land without her in the way and brings her to Ruidenthall. There’s a war ship on the horizon, led by a fallen angel craving mortal worship. Kaelin realizes he needs Altarn’s help to fight this army if he’s to save his kingdom. She’s forced to agree, but how will she react when he’s wounded in battle? If she lets him die, can she fight the enemy on her own? Or if she saves his life, will he still try claiming her kingdom, or try claiming her heart?

TheWarQueenbyJMRobison200

 

This post was written by Erika Gardner. She’s a native Californian, lifelong lover of fantastical adventures, and a dedicated Whovian. If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on www.erikagardner.com   Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner, “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.Or check out her contributions to the BBB Blog. Erika’s debut novel, The Dragon in The Garden can be found at Tirgearr Publishing.

 

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Dragons rock coffee’s ass. Seriously. No, really, hear me out. I’m embarking on a blog tour with the fabulous Goddess Fish Productions. So this is important. The reason being for the duration of the tour YOU can purchase my novel on Amazon for 0.99. You can’t get coffee that cheap. True story.

Please see the reviews and then purchase the adventure your summer is begging for 🙂

I don’t mark my book down very often, I think that this is the third time since it was released in February. You put something on sale too often and the whole “sale” thing loses its mojo. That said, it’s on sale this whole week! And it’s sooooooo better than a cup of coffee!!!

Here’s why…

1.) Flaming dragon breath- gives everything that longed for grilled taste. Not mention, so handy on chilly evenings,

2.) Coffee gives you bad breath! According to my fellow author, Wendy Spinale, one does not need a mint after spending time with a dragon. The same cannot be said about our clever little java cups of “joy.”

3.) You always hear it, coffee makes you jittery.

4.) Okay, dragons may make you jittery, too. Fair enough. But not MY DRAGONS. They are the champions of mankind. In this book that’s all you know… but in books two and three we see WHY dragons champion mankind… could we be… related? I know… one’s a mammal, one’s a lizard, but we’re talking about more than meets the eye. Never judge a hero by their cover.

5.) Kids love Dragons. Hello? Did no one listen to Puff The Magic Dragon?

 

6.) Coffee involves child labor. Fairly certain that’s illegal in the land of Honnah Lee

http://www.foodispower.org/coffee/

That’s… icky. And I’m NOT making light of child labor- not EVER. I am just saying though. Dragons are better. No child labor. Promise.

7.) Dragons are shiny. Shiny is better. Ohh, squirrel!

8.) Now, coffee? Coffee is not shiny.

9.) You never need to “grind” a dragon.  In fact, I strenuously advocate against it. That said, you do need to grind coffee. So much work.

10.) Everyone is trying to go green. Coffee is not green. Daisy from The Dragon in The Garden IS green.  Soooo eco-friendly! See picture for proof.

TheDragoninTheGardenbyErikaGardner-Twitterbanner

Note- GREEN Dragon.

Mic drop. BOOM!

Please check out The Dragon in The Garden

Sooooo… that happened.

 

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 This post was written by Erika Gardner. She’s a native Californian, lifelong lover of fantastical adventures, and a dedicated Whovian. If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on www.erikagardner.com   Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner, “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.Or check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.

 

Hi Folks and Happy Monday (bit of an oxymoron, that)!

As many of you know I am currently working on finding representation for my novel, Sea Strand.  In the meanwhile, every pundit, agent, editor, would-be savant on writing agrees, keep writing.  Keep working on the craft.  Get better at what you do.  Best of all, find a distraction to keep the unrelenting stream of rejection from swallowing your soul.

Being the good (okay, good-ish) girl that I am, but more importantly, the goal oriented individual that I am, I am following said advice.  I have started a new novel.  It has the working title of The Devil’s Advocate.  That title may definitely change, but let’s go with it for now.  It is based on a short story I did for our critique group, The BBB’s, group blog called The Devil’s Own.

Side bar:  many of you asked what happened to that site.  It was so fun- why did we stop? The answer is simply life.  However, BBB’s is returning.  I have lined up THREE fabulous guest authors for the coming weeks and I am collecting prompts for more fun adventures in writing.  Party people, stay tuned.

This novel is strict urban fantasy with a touch of noir.  It’s definitely more urban and less magical realism than I usually sway.  I am trying some things outside my usual writing style both in sentence structure and flow of back story versus narrative.

I need Beta Readers.  Simply put, these are fresh eyes to read the story after my critique group has made it bleed red.  If you read the fantasy genre that is great, but not required.  If you have editing skills, also great, but again not required.  You can drop out at any time.  Beta Readers merely need to show up with their honest opinions.

1.) Would you keep reading?

2.) What did you like?

3.) What gave you hives?

And that, my friends, is it.  I’m including the first chapter below for you to check out.  Plan on reading about 3,000 words a week.  Occasionally there will be more, sometimes less.  It takes me about six months to finish a book.

Who’s in?  Please comment, post on FB or Twitter, or email me privately to join the group.  THANK YOU!

Oh, and this week’s song?  As the main character is named Charlie (Charlotte) Watts and we’re dealing with things most devilish… please enjoy the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil from 1968’s Beggars Banquet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBecM3CQVD8&feature=kp

Real life inspiration for April & Gabe's place.

Real life inspiration for April & Gabe’s place.

CHAPTER ONE

After the funeral, I needed a drink.

Another time there might have been shame in that naked reality.  Not today.  It was what it was.  Grief is pure.  It is raw emotion that makes you clean.  I wanted to be where people were and I craved a drink.  Heck, maybe ten.

I needed to be numb.

Night’s dark blanket cradled the streets by the time I arrived at the Dive Bar.  The chill in the January air cut through my coat.  I longed for the California summer with its life-giving sun, but then, I longed for a lot of things these days.  Resolutely, I blotted out the memory of his brilliant smile.  I focused on the glossy wood of the varnished bar before me.

“Hey, Charlie.  You okay?” said April, one of the bar’s owners.

I met her gaze.  Her brown eyes were wide and concerned.  She and her husband Gabe were good people.  Maybe that was why so many souls gravitated to their place.  It was safe and had more than a touch of home, for some patrons, a home they’d never known or would ever know.  This was neutral territory.

I shrugged and stared at the mirror behind her– all those lovely bottles. “I’m fine.”

April frowned, her dainty dark brows drawing together, but not marring her fine-boned face. “Right, and I own a unicorn whorehouse.  They fart rainbows.”

I snorted in spite of myself. “Hey, big deal. So do I.”

“What? Own a unicorn whorehouse or fart rainbows?”

“Obviously, I fart rainbows.  Do you have any idea what the taxes are on being a unicorn madam?  Your profits are completely swallowed up,” I deadpanned.

“No pun there, right?” April set her hands on her slender hips, intent as she watched me. “Spit or swallow?”

“April!” I said.  “You are just plain nasty.” I paused. “Okay, swallow, but only on wicked Wednesdays.”

“Um, hmm,” she said, wiping the bar clean and waiting.  “What are you having?”

“Galliano, on the rocks,” I answered, slipping off my black pumps.  I never wore heels. My feet ached.  “Make them little ice chips.”

“Yep, I know.”  She was quick and spare in her movements.  The drink was not so much made as it appeared before me– a gift from the bartending elves.

It wasn’t even six in the evening yet.  The bar was quiet.  The jukebox in the corner played “All By Myself” by Eric Carmen. I rolled my eyes and turned to Gabe.  “What is this shit?”

Gabe shrugged. “It’s on automatic, no coins in it right now.”

I frowned and tossed him my phone. “’We’ll Burn the Sky.’ Scorpions. Repeat. We good?”

His expression lightened and he popped the phone into a dock.  The jukebox was silenced by a remote from under the bar. “You know I’m always good with the Scorps, Charlie.  Especially today, Sam would have loved it.”

“I know,” I said as April served me my drink.  I scrutinized the brilliant amber liquid. “He was a guitar junky.  Anything with two guitars.”

“Or more,” said Gabe, speaking more than he usually did in a week. “Iron Maiden has three these days.”

I acknowledged him with a nod and drank deeply from my glass.  The small ice chips melted into the Galliano, creating a magical elixir.  The mix of water and alcohol was just right.  Images of cut flowers, a Bible, and tears on an older woman’s face merged in my mind.  For a moment my vision blurred. I drank again. April and Gabe exchanged glances and then stepped away.  I was left with my blacker than bile thoughts.

The fabric of my lonely internal soliloquy was torn by a woman’s voice, soft and warm.  “You’re bleeding and raw, child.  Your pain is broadcasted for all to see.”

I raised my head from my glass.  A cat sat on the bar a few stools down from me.  I frowned and looked around for the woman.  Now the pub contained a couple more patrons that I recognized by sight, but no women.  It was still early.  I turned this way and that, uneasy, but it didn’t matter.  I was numb, separate.

April stepped forward. “Another, Charlie?” She pointed to my empty glass.  I nodded and regarded the cat.  It was a motley-colored long-haired.  I think people call the color “tortoise-shell,” but I am not a cat person.

“These are only Galliano, right, April?” I asked.  Grief-stricken and exhausted or not, if I’m hearing talking cats, that couldn’t be good.

She nodded. “Just what the lady ordered.”

Another drink was deposited before me and its golden elixir was really all I had eyes for.  “Careful, child, he’d not want you to drown yerself,” said the kind voice.

“Who’s speaking?” I hissed, pitching my tone low.  Even a tough as nails private investigator needed to be careful when hearing voices.  People might get the wrong idea.

“Just a friend.  None likes to see a good woman down,” said the voice.

I stared at the cat. “I am distraught with grief.  Hysterical.”

“No,” said the voice as the cat stood and stretched out long across the bar. “Ye’ grieve and I’ll give ye’ tha’ but hysterical ye no’ be.”

“Yet, I am talking to a cat?” I whispered.

“Certainly not!”

In spite of myself I relaxed a bit. “I’m not?”

“No, I’m a restless spirit, trapped in a cat.”

Drinking again, I resolved to get to bed early.  I pushed the impossible away. It had been a rough week, clearly. “You are not helping the situation,” I remarked, gripping my glass like a lifeline.  I was hearing voices.  Well, at least despair wasn’t boring.

“What’s up, Charlie?” asked April.  “Do you need to talk? A ride home? Just want to get blitzed? Look, we got you.  Anything you need.”  She extended a hand across the bar to cover one of mine in a brief, warm squeeze.  Involuntarily, I shrank from that flash of human connection.

I waved my hand toward the talkative feline, grateful for the excuse to withdraw.  My heart couldn’t take that contact right now.  Memories of happier times in this same bar, not really a dive bar, the name was a pun, flashed on the edges of my mind, fighting to break in, to incapacitate me in my own emotions.   “You got a cat?  That’s new. What’s her name?”

“Oh, him,” said April, waving her ubiquitous towel, “he showed up a week or two ago.  He’s a character alright.  Guess we need to call SPCA, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.”

“He?” I repeated as April drifted toward some newcomers at the end of the bar. “Really?”

“No, not really. That is, I’m a woman.  This body is a male.” There was a pause. “Ye’ wouldn’t believe what I’ve had to put up with.  Bath time? Ugh. Mother Mary preserve me.”

Thinking of cats’ bathing habits, a dark chuckle escaped me. “I’ll bet,” I said, barely above a whisper.

“I don’t know how the males of any species walk around with those things, the lot of ‘em.” The cat flicked its tail and leapt in a light motion on the stool to my right.

I took another sip and turned to address my unlikely, and imaginary, drinking companion. Wonder almost cut through the numbness of sorrow.  Almost, but not quite.   “A restless spirit, eh?  What does that mean anyway?”

The cat hissed and darted away as a shadow crossed the bar.  I took another sip and glanced up.  A man sat down next to me.  I had not heard or seen him approach.

“Charlie Watts?” he asked in a pleasant, light tenor voice. “Can it be?”

Setting my glass down, I frowned.  “I beg your pardon?”

“You just aren’t what I expected.”

I drank again and sighed.  Conversation felt heavy and laborious. “And what, exactly, did you expect?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of expensive fabric and the gleam of bar lights on dark gold hair.  The smell of subtle cologne tinted the air around us. “I don’t know. Someone more male, more British, more Rolling Stone-esque.”

I didn’t turn.  Feeble jokes on my name were nothing new.  My name is Charlie Watts.  Coincidentally, that is also the name of the legendary Rolling Stones’ drummer.  Believe me when I say that I have heard all the smart remarks on the subject and, frankly, they aren’t that smart.

“Aren’t you the clever one,” I said, staring into my glass.

“Apparently not.”

There was just enough self-derision and humor in the voice that I tilted my head to regard him.  “What do you want?” I asked.

Blue eyes so dark they could only be called violet met mine.  The stranger blinked and his gaze swept over me.  I had the sense that he missed very little.

“I am sorry,” he said, his tone softer and deeper.  “I did not realize.”  He frowned. “You have lost your husband?”

Before I could answer there was another searching gaze. “No, not a husband.” His voice was soft and intimate, just between us. “But beloved.  You have lost your betrothed.”

The old-fashioned term caught me off guard.  I set my glass down and truly looked at the newcomer for the first time.  My grief rose in my throat, hot and burning me with choked, unshed tears.  I swallowed and blinked fiercely.  I would not give way. Blinking again, I willed the tears away as I studied the stranger.

He was exquisitely dressed.  “To the nines” my Aunt Lottie would have called it.  His dark blue suit was sharply tailored.  He appeared to be about my age, thirty-two, but his manner said younger, while his eyes said older.  The hairs on the back of my neck rose.

In my business you survive by recognizing types.  I saw two things in this man.  One, he was an alpha, a predator. Two, he carried with him the demeanor I have only seen in the best con men, the true tricksters.  Usually, you can’t spot it in the real professionals, but given my past, I have made a study of this sort of thing.  He didn’t fool me.  Yet, factors one and two not withstanding, there was something else, call it the X factor, but not like the television show.

There was something new, something I had not seen before.

“Got me figured out?” The corners of his mouth twitched.

“No,” I said. I frowned and drained my drink.  Signaling April, another appeared an instant later.  God bless the bartending elves, I thought. “No, not yet.”

“I would like to hire you,” he said.  I hadn’t seen him order a drink, but I noticed that he drank whiskey, neat.

“You okay, Charlie?” It was Gabe, returning my phone and, I suspected, checking up on me.

I nodded.

Gabe shrugged. “Sorry, but they want to use the jukebox.” He nodded toward a group of twenty-somethings clustered around the machine.

As the first notes of Dragonforce sounded, I smiled at Gabe. “I can live with that.”

He grunted. “Beats Miley frackin’ Cyrus.”

“Amen,” said my new companion.  We all exchanged tight grins and Gabe faded into the shadows behind the bar once more.

I raised an eyebrow at the man to my right. “Okay, you pass the music test.”

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome… I don’t think I caught your name?” I watched him.  He was lean and tall.  The suit fit him well.  Another day I might have enjoyed the view.

“I didn’t give it.  It’s Nick Scratch,” he said.  He gave a half-bow from his seat.  Again, there was the whisper of the old-fashioned, a glimpse of a bye-gone era, but gone as quickly as it appeared.

“You mentioned something about a job,” I said.  My head felt light and everything was a little muted.  Maybe this needed to be my last drink.  Or maybe not. One part of my brain wondered where the cat had gone.

“Yes.” He leaned toward me. “I’ve lost someone.”

Gazing into his violet eyes, I had the spinning sensation of a kaleidoscope.  I blinked and tried to gather myself.  Shaking my head, I gave up. It was all too much today. “I’m sorry, Mr. Scratch,” I said.  “I am afraid I am not at my best.”  Reaching into my handbag, I grabbed a business card and scribbled an address.  I was proud to note that my writing was unaffected by the drinks I consumed, no matter what sideshow was going on in my head. “Could you meet me at this Starbuck’s on Monday morning, say 10am?”

“Call me Nick, please.” He drained his Scotch and stood. “I think I can manage that.  Please accept my apologies.  It was inexcusable of me to intrude upon your grief like this.”

I waved his excuses aside.  “You and the world, Mr. Scratch,” I said.  “It’s all the same.  Monday I’ll be fine, but today…”

“Was Sam’s funeral,” he finished.  Standing, he threw a hundred-dollar bill on to the bar.  “Allow me to buy your drinks.  It’s the least that I can do.”

I stared at the bill.  “I think you might be over paying just a tad,” I said.  How had he known Sam’s name?

“Then your friends will receive a generous tip,” he said. “May I walk you out?”

I had intended to drink some more and listen to the music, maybe even find that blasted cat, but suddenly, I just wanted to go home.  Empty and lonely, but at least Carl was there waiting and, despite mounting bills, it was still my place.

“Sure, er, thanks,” I said, slipping my heels back on and grabbing my things.  I waved to April and Gabe.  The cat was nowhere to be found.

The chill of the deepening night enveloped us as we stepped out onto the street, the bar’s lively hustle and bustle behind us.  Tendrils of Bay Area fog were drifting down the streets of downtown San Jose.  It was damp and cold, the kind of night to snuggle at home.

The streets were eerily silent, except for the echo of our shoes upon pavement.  Where were the cars?  The traffic lights changed for no one. Where were the people?  It was a Sunday and there wasn’t a Sharks game tonight, I reflected. Perhaps the quiet was normal.

Nick spoke in a subdued voice.  “I did not realize. I would have not contacted you yet had I known.”  He sounded worried. “Now they can see you.”

“It’s okay,” I assured him. “How could you have known?”  I blinked and thought for a second. “Who can see me?”

He stepped closer. In the pale streetlight I saw that he was frowning. “It does me no good to find my investigator only to lose her before she can embark upon her task.”

Nick grazed my forehead softly with his left hand, tracing a design I could not discern from only touch.  “Go home, sleep, heal.  You are protected.” A brilliant golden glow infused us both.

On the darkened street the bright light blinded me for an instant.  Blinking, I wiped my eyes and searched my surroundings.  Nick Scratch was gone.  I was alone in the gathering fog.

Sighing, I returned to the bar.  A talking cat, a stranger, bright lights, and all combined with alcohol?  It was apparent that there was no way I should be driving myself home tonight.  I would wait for my cab inside where it was warm.

Sam always told me, two Gallianos were fine, but nothing good came from the third.  Not ever.

Inside the Dive Bar, downtown San Jose, CA

Inside the Dive Bar, downtown San Jose, CA

This post was written by Erika Gardner.  If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog.  Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.  Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.

A few months back, when I was writing “The Dragon in The Garden,”  I had a group of wonderful people who were privately receiving chapters as I wrote them and then giving me their feedback.  They saved me some missteps, I believe, in the storytelling process.  Now as I hope and pray that Dragon sells, I am starting a new story, called “Sea Strand.”  I am setting forth the first chapter here and if you would like to be part of the critique group, please, either comment here or shoot me a private email.  As before I am keeping the group small, so let me know as soon as you can.

Here’s Chapter One, so you can decide…

Sea Strand

By Erika Gardner

Chapter One

Tell him to find me an acre of land
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Between the salt water and the sea strand
Then he’ll be a true love of mine.

–          English Folk Song

For the rest of her life, no matter where she went or who she became, Anna O’Sullivan never forgot that she was a child of sea and shore.

The windy Northern California coast filled her senses.  Anna breathed deep, tasting the salt on the breeze and smelling the sea itself.  The raucous cries of the birds and siren crash of the waves beckoned her closer.  She recalled walking barefoot, flirting between beach and surf with the sand between her toes.  The greens and deepening blues of the cool depths spoke of mysteries to be unlocked, adventures not yet had.

Gazing at the ocean from the sunny deck of her mother’s house in Half Moon Bay, Anna pushed her straight blonde hair away from her face in a gesture born of long habit.  The wind caught her wayward locks, blowing them out and upward in a wild display.  Listening to the song of the waves, Anna smiled to herself.  She had been away too long.  To those who love the water, who have the sea in their blood, there is a connection that will abide forever in their hearts.

She turned at the faint sound of a car door slamming.  Her inner happiness blossomed into a smile as she hurried through the kitchen to the family room and out the screen of her front door.  Anna ran down the porch steps to greet the tall man coming up the front walk.

“Derek!” She threw her arms around him, disregarding the foot’s difference in their heights.  Derek was one of her dearest friends from her college days.

“Anna!” He dropped his things, returning her hug with a squeeze.  Derek’s hazel eyes sparkled as he drew back to regard her, before gathering her up to swing her around in an enthusiastic embrace.

She looked past his broad shoulders at the car parked on the street.  “Just you? I thought you were bringing a friend?”

“Yep, you’ll have to settle for little ol’ me.  Brennan, uh, had something to finish up.  He’ll be along in a couple of days.”

“That’s actually better,” said Anna, walking up the steps and holding the screen open for Derek. “Now you and I can have some time to catch up. When do you think he’ll make it?”

Derek picked up his duffle bag and hooked a very long walking stick through its handles. “What’s today? Tuesday? Um… Thursday, hopefully.”  Derek’s forehead wrinkled and his brows came together in a preoccupied frown. “Hopefully,” he repeated, his eyes faraway.

“Earth to Derek?” Anna waved a hand in front of his face. “You okay?”

Derek’s expression cleared. “Right, sorry.  All good.”

“Shall we?” she asked, indicating the open door.  “Seems like a million years since we’ve hung out.”

“Way too long,” he said, his eyes fixed on hers, he moved forward.

“What’s up with the stick?”

Derek’s dark eyebrows flicked up in an impish gesture. “You know what they say, ‘Walk softly and carry a big stick.’”

“So I see. Overkill much, Derek?”

“Nah, I’ve been doing a lot of trail hiking, comes in handy.”

Inside, Anna swept one arm around the tidy family room, saying, “Welcome, mi casa es su casa.  You can throw your bag in the second bedroom on the right.”

“Yes’m.” Derek said, after he deposited his bag and staff, joining Anna in the cheerful kitchen decorated in cobalt blue and white, with a motif of the sun and moon scattered throughout the bright room. “Well?”

“What?”

“Your slave labor, reporting as requested.”

Anna smiled, going to the stainless steel frig. “Are you in such a hurry to start redoing my childhood room?”

“What? And desecrate The Shrine? God, no.”

“Good, I made sangria.”

Derek sat down at the light pine-colored kitchen table as Anna passed him a full glass.  “I love you.”

“Of course you do,” Anna said, joining him with her own drink and putting a pitcher on the table. “We can work later, and believe me, we will, but you just got here. A drink, then a walk on the beach, stat.”

“It’s been a hell of week,” Derek said, putting his feet up on one of the wooden chairs.  “I could use a drink, or twelve.”

They clinked in a quick toast. “So, why the stress?” she asked.

Before Derek could answer, the kitchen phone rang.  Its bright trill jarred them both. “I can’t believe your mom still owns a rotary phone.”

Anna made a face and held up one finger to her lips in a shushing motion. “Hello?” She sat down, holding her sangria. “Oh, hi, Mom.”

Derek waved in an exaggerated motion.  Anna rolled her eyes and said in a resigned voice, “Derek says hi.” She cupped one hand over the receiver and continued, “Mom says hi back.”

Derek smiled and sipped his sangria, listening with a bemused expression on his face to Anna and her mother. “Yep, he just got here…C’mon on, Mom. You know I was perfectly safe…Yes, I’ve been locking doors since I was five.  You brainwashed me early.”

There was a pause.

“Of course not, he’s in the second bedroom. Mom, please.” Anna turned to Derek with mock horror on her face.  He rolled his eyes, shaking his head slightly in response, then munched on a piece of pineapple from his drink. “Okay, that’s enough of that… Second bedroom, remember? Now you’re being positively parental… What did the doctor say?”

Another pause as Anna moved her fingers and thumb together and apart repeatedly in a “talk-talk” motion.  Anna sighed, frowning. “Stay off it, a shattered heel is nothing to fool around with… Tell me you’ll take it easy?…I’ll be fine… the house will be fine… I don’t see why a neighbor can’t house sit, I should be with you…no, okay, if you’re sure…Yes, I gave Hobbs tuna this morning… He’s a cat, he’ll be fine, too.”

Anna took a sip of her drink as she listened. “Hey, Mom?  So, in the process of repainting my old room I think I’ll go through my boxes.  You know, clear out some space in the hall closet.”

She held phone away from her ear as there was a squawk from the earpiece.  Derek’s eyes were wide and questioning. “Fine, fine, okay, Mom… I won’t go through your precious boxes… Yes, I promise… Promise.”

The volume on the other end of the phone subsided.  “Okay… I will, you stay off that foot… love to Aunt Bess, I bet she never thought this visit would turn out to be so long.  If you change your mind, I can be on the next plane… I love you, too, Mom.”

Anna hung up with an audible click.  Derek leaned forward.  “How’s Mom?”

“You mean other than the crushed heel that needs three surgeries, reconstruction and a zillion metal pins in it?”

“Right, aside from that.”

“Not bad, actually.  I miss her.” Anna pursed her lips in thought, taking a deep sip of her drink with one hand.  The other was behind her back.

“What got her riled up about the boxes?”

“Old argument,” said Anna, putting her glass down. “She never wants to throw anything of mine away.  We have a ridiculous number of macaroni necklaces and drawings of rainbows packed in the hall closest.  I promised I’d leave them alone.”  She took her hand from behind her back, holding it up for Derek to see her crossed fingers.

“Aw, that’s sweet…Wait, why are your fingers crossed?” Derek blinked. “Oh, so I guess you’re going through those boxes.”

“Correction, we are going through those boxes, kemosabe.”

“What’s the deal? Why did you lie to your mom? What’d Ellie ever do to you?”

“She never lets me see her momentos.” Anna shrugged.

“And?”

“I thought…well, maybe there are some pictures of Dad?”

There was a brief silence, then Anna walked out of the kitchen, down the hall to the large, double sliding door linen closet.  Derek followed close behind as she opened the doors.  They gazed at the boxes neatly stacked on its shelves. “Wow,” said Derek with a low whistle. “We’re going to be busy.”

Anna looked up at him with a grin, her deep brown eyes shining. “Yep.” She glanced down the hall at the kitchen clock, a celestial sun and moon with gold hands.  “Hmm, it’s late, quarter to five.  How about we postpone the walk for tomorrow and get dinner going?”

“And the slave labor starts early.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Feed me and I’m yours,” said Derek.

 **************************************************************************************************

Anna washed dishes while Derek dried.  Hobbs, Anna’s mom’s cat, a huge Maine coon cat with a long-haired tawny coat, slam-danced both their ankles, hoping for more scraps.  The occasional pathetic “mew” hung in the air.

Once everything was put away and the kitchen sparkled, Anna turned to Derek with an expectant air. “What?” he asked.

“I can’t believe you came,” she said.  “I mean, really?  Redoing my old room? As busy as your career keeps you, and you show up for that?”

Derek waved his hands as though he could fend off her words. “Nah, it’s just that all of us Davis alumnae have a running bet as to where the brilliant Anna O’Sullivan ends up.  I wanted to get in close and hedge my bets.” He moved his hands in a spidery, mystical motion.  “Do as I say, for then, and only then, I shall win forty bucks in the dorm pool.”

Folding her arms across her chest, Anna didn’t answer as she directed a level stare at him.

“What?” said Derek. “Hey, pretend I’m on vacation.”

Anna made a sound that fell somewhere between a snort and a laugh. “This is your idea of a vacation? Alright, crazy boy, the room and the hall closet await thee.”

Derek ran a hand through his unruly dark hair.  He strode forward to Anna’s childhood bedroom, the first on the right.  As he opened the door, he said, “Ah, yes, The Shrine.”

“I hate when you call it that.”

“But, I’m not wrong.”

Anna came to stand next to him in the doorway, gazing at the memorial to her childhood. “No, you’re not wrong.”

The room was obnoxious, Anna thought, but not only because of the mass of pink: pink walls, pink ceiling, pink drapes, pink bed covers. No, it was the trophies, medals, banners and ribbons that pushed it into crazyville.  From as early as she could remember, Anna lived at the pool, swimming in competitions since the age of four.  Although she was too slight, too short, and everything about her screamed, “sign this child up for gymnastics”, somehow, Anna was a winner.  She continued swimming in high school and college where she had dominated the nation’s distance swimming for the last decade.  Her opponents shared a universal tendency to judge her by her lack of height and reach, then to rue their short sightedness.  Anna developed a strategy which was elegant in its simplicity: ignore them and keep winning.

“No one ever taught you about moderation, did they, Anna?”

She shrugged, feeling her cheeks grow hot.  “I blame my mom.”

Derek gave her a friendly nudge. “Poor Ellianna, everyone takes their troubles out on the mothers.”

Anna rolled her eyes at him and, going out to the deck, she grabbed some of the boxes there, bringing them into the room that pepto bismol built.  Beginning with the earliest years, she began packing trophies, medals and ribbons with an OCD-worthy precision that came from years of training by her mother. Derek watched from the doorway. “And so I witness the ending of an era,” he said.  Turning he slid the doors of the hall closet open. “I presume I am on the treasure hunt to find photos of dear ol’ dad?”

Anna stopped and joined Derek in the hall. “Yeah, do you mind?  I’m better at packing, moving ahead, than…” Her voice trailed off, at a loss for words.

Derek patted her shoulder. “Than looking behind.  Don’t worry, I get it, Anna.”

“Thanks.”

She started to return to her packing when Derek stopped her. “Um, Anna?”

“What?”

“What does dear ol’ dad look like?”

Anna grimaced. “I’m an idiot.”

“It’s not that, I just didn’t bring my psychic cap with me.”

“What? Wouldn’t fit in your suitcase?”

“Nope, I packed too many shoes.”

“Again, Derek?” Anna laughed as she walked past him, towards her mother’s bedroom.  “C’mon, I have something to show you.”

Anna’s mom, Ellianna, kept her room decorated in minimalist elegance, a stark contrast to her treatment of her daughter’s.   The cool blue and gray tones mimicked the seashore outside, a skylight and the twelve foot French doors let in the sky and coast just beyond their deck.  There were few knick-knacks and only two photos.  One was a picture of Anna and her mother, Derek walked over and picked up the silver frame, fixing his intent gaze at a much younger Ellianna with her then three-year-old little daughter.  “Huh, funny.”

“What’s funny?”

“Not funny, ha-ha,” Derek said. “Funny as in odd.  This looks like part of a snapshot that was enlarged.”

“Yeah, that’s what Mom said,” Anna agreed. “She says we were with friends and had such a great day, she blew up the picture to an eight by ten so she’d always remember it.”

“But not the friends?”

“Nope, just her and me. Like always.” Anna walked over to her mother’s bedside and the room’s only other photo.  It was her parents’ wedding portrait.  “This is my dad.”

Derek put the picture he held down and came to her side. “May I?”

She handed it over.  Anna had the image burned into her memory, her parents, laughing and happy in a garden filled with summer sunshine.  Her mother’s long blond hair was swept back in a chignon and her beautiful sea-colored, blue-green eyes were fixed on her new husband’s face, close to hers.  Anna’s father had been a few years older than his bride, with dark, almost black hair and deep brown eyes, the precise shade of Anna’s own.  He had a wide, engaging smile, full of life.

“What was his name?” asked Derek, breaking the silence.

“Aidan.  When I was little I used to think he hadn’t really died.  Sometimes I would wake up, sure I heard my parents laughing in the kitchen or on the deck.  I’d go out and he would put me back to bed with kisses, a little story, but then I would wake up the next morning and it was still just me and Mommy.”

There was another pause as Derek set the photograph down with a gentle thud.  “C’mon,” he said. “I’ll know him now.”

“Right. Good. Thanks.”

Anna worked in efficient, automatic movements, taking little notice of the items that she packed, except to insure that they were organized in the proper order.  She knew her mother would want them that way and would add them to the boxes in the closet.  Her mom never threw anything of Anna’s away, preserving a whole childhood in such detail that it often embarrassed Anna.  She wondered if losing her husband so early had prompted Ellianna to want to hold on to every detail of Anna’s life, to treasure every keepsake.

She could hear Derek in the kitchen, unpacking and then repacking each box with a care that made Anna smile to herself.

She was worried about her mother’s injury sustained by falling down a flight of stairs while visiting Aunt Bess, but this trip was an opportunity.  For years now, Anna wanted to find out more about her father.  Her mother never mentioned him and Anna felt a question mark regarding her past, where she came from. No matter how wonderful and involved her mother had been and still was, she could not help but wonder, what would life have been like if her dad had lived longer?

As she labeled the next box with neat, block letters, Anna reflected on the past.  She was lucky and she knew it.  Her childhood had been a warm and loving place, her mother and Anna taking on all comers.  The poignancy of a dinner table set for two was offset by the private jokes, common interests and the lively conversations they had shared and continued to share.

The hours passed as she and Derek talked in lively tones, especially whenever he found something from Anna’s past that made him laugh, which was often.

“Macaroni necklace number forty-one,” he called.

“Told you there were a ton of them.”

“You collected model horses?  There must be a hundred in here. ”

“Of course, every little girl goes through a horse phase.  I think it’s required.”

“Hey, gross!”

“What?”

“Found your baby teeth.”

“Oh, dear.”

It took a minute for Anna to realize that Derek’s cheerful commentary was missing. Curious, she poked her head out the bedroom door to the kitchen.  Derek had a battered manila envelope open and a stack of photos was on the table before him.  Anna’s heart leapt. “Derek?” Her voice cracked. “Is it? Did you find him?”

Derek’s hazel eyes were serious as he lifted his head.  “Yeah, but that’s not what has me confused.”

“What does?”

“Who is this?” Derek held up an eight by ten photo, a picture of Anna’s father and a dark-haired little girl.  Anna knew in an instant that it was the other half to the framed picture in her mother’s bedroom.  She hurried to the kitchen table.

“Ella,” she said without even thinking.  As the name left her mouth she wondered where it came from.

“Who’s Ella?”

Anna sank into the chair opposite of him, her mouth dry and her heart pounding. “I, I don’t know, but her name is Ella.  I just know it is.”  With shaking hands she began to sort through the pictures.  They were photos of a family, complete: mother, father and two small girls.  She swallowed, continuing to look, there they were: at the beach, getting ice cream, baby photos, at Christmas, gardening, the images went on and on.

“Anna?”

“What?” She had eyes only for her precious photos.

“Look.”

“Just a minute.”

Look.”

“I said, just a sec,” she said, annoyed at the interruption. “What?”

Derek was holding up two pieces of paper. “Your birth certificate.”

“Yeah, whatever, seen it before.” Her hungry eyes returned to the snapshots, there were so many pictures of her father.  Who was this other girl?

“No, I don’t think you have. Here.” He held the papers out to her.

“Just a minute.”

“No, now, you need to see these.”

Frowning, Anna sighed and focused on the documents.  She skimmed the first, her birth certificate. “Yeah, yeah, born June 21st, female, yadda, yadda, yadda–” She stopped. Then she whispered, “Twin?”

Her eyes were huge and darkened with emotion as she raised them to Derek’s face.  He nodded. “Look at the other one.”

Anna’s eyes raced over the page, her breath caught, her head felt light. “Ella… Ella is my twin?”

“Just ten minutes older.”

No idea where this came from, it is NOT mine, but it captures the feel of the story, between the salt water and the sea strand.

My apologies for the delay in posting this. I’ve been in the Sierras with my family and just returned.  After listening to all of your advice (thank you!) this will be the last chapter of this book that I post.  I’ve decided to write the whole story and if I ever hope to publish it then I can’t have it also available online.  However, any of you who would like to receive the chapters privately please email me or comment and I will put you into the Dragon Reading Group.

Thanks to everyone who helped me with this chapter.  Your feedback and proofreading are invaluable in my continuing effort not to look like a complete dork in public.  Also, a huge special thank you to Irena Keller who is serving as my Hebrew consultant.  She is amazing!

I do hope that you enjoy this.  I’ve become very fond of Daisy.

Chapter For

     “Siobhan,” said Alex, “you need to calm down and explain what happened.”

I drew a deep breath and shuddered.  We were alone in the house: Alex, Tim, and me.  Tim had sent his extra guys on to another job saying that they were needed there more.

I accepted the glass of whiskey that Alex handed me.  He was such a traditionalist, my brother.  It was the perfect two-finger pour of scotch.  At least he didn’t offer me a paper bag.

Alex bent down to my level.  His brown eyes were wide and honest as they gazed into mine. “Talk to me.  What on earth was it?”

I shook my head.  I sat with a thud on the stepladder and exhaled.  Then I looked at Alex.  “Permission to speak frankly?”

He smiled at the phrase we had used so many times over the years. “Of course.” Then he and Tim waited.

I have to admit it.  It hurt my pride a little to have Tim there.  He knew a lot about me, but not everything.  There is nothing like a brush with the supernatural to make a person feel vulnerable.  Are you special or are you, well, something else?  I shuddered to think what my myriad of therapists over the years might have said.

“Siobhan?” asked Tim.

“I’m fine.”

“Yeah, well,” Alex looked at Tim. “You aren’t talking.  That’s not, um…”

“Normal,” finished Tim.

“You did say ‘frankly’, sis.”

“Right,” I hefted myself up and looked at the two of them with renewed affection.  “Boys, grab the bottle and two more glasses.  Let’s talk about it in the garden.

***********************************************************************************

“So, let me see if I’ve got this straight,” began Tim, once we were back out on the patio. “You have a dragon hiding in your grandparents’ garden, Siobhan can spot a lie at four hundred paces, Ian is some quasi-demon scary dude, Alex and I were just Jedi mind-tricked into walking away from our lunches without remembering a thing and I’m still stuck with the kitchen job?”

Alex and I clinked our glasses together.  “Yep,” agreed my brother. “I think that about covers it.”

Alex and I waited for Tim’s response.  He poured himself a glass of scotch and then waved it at us as he spoke. “You all,” he said, sounding indignant, “act like I don’t know a thing about this.”  He drained his glass and poured himself another one.  The he recapped the bottle and pushed it away.

“I’ve always known Siobhan was the wrong person to lie to,” he said, sighing. “Only an idiot lies to her.  It never seems to work out.”

He drank deeply from his glass and continued, “And, as to the dragon, God, you all told me about her when I was eight!”

“And Ian?” I asked.

Tim looked at Alex and then at the glass he held.  He set the glass aside and gripped one of my hands tightly in his. “Well, he is awfully pretty.”

“Screw pretty,” I muttered, “He’s beautiful and cursed. He’s powerful.  I can’t explain it.  Ian scares me.”  I wasn’t in the mood for Tim’s attempts at humor. “Look, I don’t know if you two are going to believe me, but I think something huge is happening here.”

“Can we meet the dragon?” asked Tim.

“I wish you could,” I said. “The thing is; I’m afraid that when Daisy comes back we’ll be in the middle of a war.”

“Who is she fighting?”

I peered into my glass.  I wasn’t used to drinking in the middle of the day.  “Look, guys. I know I already sound a little nutty.  I think I need some information and then maybe I can figure this out?”  I meant it as a statement, but it came out as a question.

Alex frowned at me. “How do you get more information on this? Craig’s List?”

Tim made a noise that I could only call a snort and said, “Yeah, right.  Can we go to the authorities about Ian?”

Now it was my turn to snort, although I didn’t out loud.  Instead, I spoke slowly, “A former child of therapy still clings to the notion of a dragon in her backyard and now says that the local heartthrob is a nasty, err… something, call it demonic.  That would play well with the police, right, Tim?”

“Okay, so conventional authorities are out.  Where else can we go?”

I frowned. “Daisy said she’d been here for a very long time and then in my dream she said I needed to ‘keep the garden safe’.  Maybe there is something about this spot?  What was this place before it was our grandparents’ home?”

I got up and grabbed my laptop, hoping to find some answers.  I quickly ascertained that the land deeds I needed to see were not yet available online.  Alex and Tim were both watching over my shoulder as I shook my head. “Well?” asked Tim.

“It looks like I need to go over to the city offices,” I said. “No easy answers here.”

Alex checked his watch. “Hey guys, I’m sorry, but I need to get to the café.  Call me later?”

I nodded as he gave me a quick hug. “You bet.”

As Alex left I glanced at Tim. “You don’t need to stay. I’m just a client.”

“You’ll never be just a client.  You and Alex are two of the oldest friends that I have.”  His voice dropped and he added, “Besides, I’ve never seen you so rattled, Sh’belle.”

“You don’t get to call me that anymore.”

He winced. “You’re scared.”

I grimaced as I packed my laptop into a backpack and grabbed my keys. “That’s just it.  I don’t know for sure what I’m scared of yet.”

“But, you have an idea.”

I tried to contain the shudder that passed through me, but I think that he saw it.  “Yeah, I have an idea.”

“So, to City Hall we go?”

“Yep.”

Tim drove to City Hall over on Washington Street.  It was only a few minutes away; everything is close in Calistoga.  The antiquated, but charming, white building sat on a corner.  It looked more like a fire station than City Hall.  This was only fitting as for many years, it actually had been a fire station.

We parked about a block away and walked over to the city offices.  I think Tim sensed my mood because he took my hand in his as we walked.  His warm, familiar grip felt good and I squeezed his hand in return. “Thanks.”

“My pleasure.”

We shared a good moment.  Then I heard, “Excuse me, miss?”

I turned my head to the speaker.  He was taller than me, just about six foot.  He was also older than I was, in his early forties.  He seemed to be of Persian descent and he reminded me of a desert sheikh.  At least, he had a very distinctive, noble hawk’s profile.  His hair was very black and curly.  He wore a mustache and a close-trimmed beard.  The man’s eyes were dark, but they had a shine and a sparkle radiating from them.  The small lines around them were lines of laughter.  He appeared kind and perhaps a little tired.

“I’m sorry to bother you.  Perhaps you could help me find Fair Way?  I’m all turned around.” He smiled and Tim and I both smiled back in spite of our preoccupations.  There was a touch of sunshine to his expression.

He shifted his backpack a bit when he spoke.  Something about his back, or at least the space above his back bothered me.  It shifted in and out of focus.  He saw my puzzled gaze and his smile broadened. “I always pack too much,” he said in a self-deprecating tone and shrugged.  Perhaps, I reflected, I should not have scotch at lunchtime.

“Well, you’re very close,” I answered. “It’s just about a block from here, that way.” I pointed down the street ahead of us.

“Thanks so much,” the stranger said.  His eyes met mine with such an open, honest expression that it was easy to respond in kind.  After my encounter with Ian the light that radiated from him was a relief.

He turned and walked up the street.  Tim and I continued towards the pristine white building with its cheerful flower boxes.  As we approached the city offices I saw the telltale, shimmering lines in the air.  They looked like waves of heat coming off a hot street, but it wasn’t warm today.  Tim’s hand tightened on mine and I realized in surprise he was seeing the same thing I was.

We watched as Ian stepped through these rippling waves in the air from some place unseen to where we were.  Tim’s grasp on my hand tightened.  I did not respond.  Looking at Ian, I saw again the layers of faces: fiery light, dark and the beautiful human face before me now.  My stomach turned at the sight of the darkness.

Ian flicked a glance at Tim and waved his hand as he had earlier in my garden. “Run away, forget, there is nothing here for you.”

To my surprise, Tim did not move.  If anything, his fierce grip on my hand became even tighter, to the point of pain.  Still, Tim did not speak.  His face was a study in concentration.  Ian’s perfect brow furrowed for a moment as he looked in puzzlement at Tim, then he looked at our joined hands and his expression cleared. “So be it,” he said.

Ian took a step closer to us.  Unlike earlier, his expression was not neutral or curious.  It was predatory, almost hungry.  Something had changed in the intervening hours.  I swallowed hard as my mind raced, trying to figure a way out of this.

Ian came even closer until he stood right in front of me.  I raised my face to gaze on his.  The conflicting kaleidoscope of images held me fast.  I wanted to run away, but I could not move.  Ian put one of his hands on each of my shoulders and spoke intently as his eyes held mine, “Ani roe otach, Haroa. I see you, Watcher.”

Lo, Innon!” came a powerful shout.  I turned to the sound, breaking the hypnotic spell that Ian had held over me.  The man I had given directions to moments before was back and yelling at Ian in fury. “Ani roe otcha, Innon!

Ian stepped back.  His face had become a mask of frustration and rage. “Turel, I found her. I See her.  This is my right.”

The dark-haired man I had helped put his backpack down and folded his arms. “No, for now I See her and there are laws that will not be broken. The human Haroa shall be present.  She is in my Sight and in Our gaze. You will submit or pay forfeit, Innon.”

The two men locked stares in what was clearly a battle of wills.  Then I gasped as the man called Turel began to glow.  The light, the sunshine I had seen in his eyes suffused his entire being.  For a moment I thought I saw the shifting waves above him and then I realized the area above his back and shoulders was a kind of pocket in reality.  It was a pocket of an alternate dimension.  As Daisy had once hid her bulk from my five-year-old self’s eyes in the garden, Turel hid his wings.

Turel’s light became brighter, as bright as the morning sunrise.  His face grew stern and he barked a command at Ian, “Hit’alem, Innon!” Ian shot one more longing glance at me and then disappeared.

“Holy shit,” I heard Tim whisper next to me.

I held up one hand to shield my eyes as I stared at the glory of an angel revealed before us. Turel walked over to me and cupped one hand under my chin, tilting my face up to meet his eyes.  He kissed one of my cheeks and then the other. His expression softened as he looked at my confused face. “Siobhan Isabella Orsini, my blessing is on you,” he intoned. It felt like he was performing a ritual and I wondered how he knew my name. “My name is Turel.  I am one of the Two Hundred Fallen.  We are the Observers of this war.  You have my blessing and my protection as was foretold.  For you are the human Haroa, the Watcher.  May you always See true.”  Then he pressed his lips to my forehead. “Shalom.”

“I can offer my blessing and my protection over your home,” he offered.  “Do you wish me to include your garden, too?”

I opened my mouth, but for once, nothing came out of it.  I tried again, hoping I didn’t look as foolish as I felt. “What?”

“I say unto you again, do you want me to include the garden?”

I thought of my dream and I found my voice. “Yes, I need my garden protected.”

Turel smiled and then he, an angel, winked at me. “Good girl.”

(Also known as Turiel)

A couple of my “editors” asked what Turel looked like. This is sort of the inspiration that I had in my head when I created the character. Hope that helps.

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