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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Connecting With Readers


When authors gather it seems there is always someone, often new to writing, who questions why a well-written novel (like his or her own 😁) fails to make significant sales, while a novel written in an unorthodox style or rudimentary pros can be a best-seller. Of course, many factors can influence a novel’s success; like if your book was featured in Oprah's book club, but I think for a novel to be successful, it needs to connect emotionally with an audience.

When I read the first Harry Potter novel, “Sorcerer’s Stone”, I was taken aback at J.K. Rowlings’ writing style, thinking it was below my grade level. I read the story long ago and remember little of the plotline. However, I do remember that Harry had to sleep in a tiny room built under the stairs, and live with foster parents that treated him poorly. I remember a young orphan, trying to piece together his life, while malevolent forces were gathering around him. Rowlings masterfully seeded the story with brief glimpses of his parents and and the mystery surrounding them. Like millions of readers of all ages, I was entranced in the story.

Another book comes to mind, “News of the World”, by Paulette Jiles. In this story Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is a professional newspaper reader who, shortly after the civil war, goes from town to town in Texas reading the News of the World,  newpaper aloud on street corners, collecting dimes from his listeners. After a reading in Wichita Falls, he is asked to take a young girl, who had been captured and raised by Kiowa Indians back to her only relatives in San Antonio. The young girl speaks no English and identifies completely with her Kiowa upbringing. The trip to San Antonio takes several weeks and they encounter many adventures that serve to break the barriers between the hardened ex-army officer and savage girl. When he finally drops the girl off with her uncle, the Captain realizes that they would be an abusive family and in a crowning moment he steals the child back and fosters her himself.

At first, I found the writing to be strange. The syntax and style echoed rural Texas. Much of the punctuation was omitted, including quotation marks. Those thoughts were short lived. Paulette Jiles welds together a touching and exciting relationship between the unlikely travelers that had me eagerly turning the pages. 

Writing fiction is a creative exercise and there are infinite ways for authors to put words to paper. It is just— that sometimes the words reach out touch the reader. For this, I can only offer that you must feel the emotion as you write it. I read somewhere: “If you don’t feel it, no one else will.” I took that to mean: if you don’t get a tear in the eye or lump in your throat as you write, neither will the reader. And this isn’t just for sad stories. Your comedy better make you laugh and your action better get your heart racing. Feeling the words deeply yourself is your chance of reaching out to a reader. I used to joke when I was writing commercial brochures that I was really writing poetry. It just wasn’t in verses and didn’t rhyme. Okay, it also wasn’t very emotional either, but I was trying to connect with a inreader. Now that I have learned this valuable secret; do I have a best-seller? No. But I believe these words and I am feeling the dream when I write and enjoying it.

William H Russeth 

Check out my books on Amazon.  





Friday, June 29, 2018

Why I Write Romance Novels

Writing is so much fun. If you’re thinking of writing a book, one of the first things you’ll need to do is pick a genre.  I picked romance.  Out of all the genres out there, why did I pick romance?  Lots of people write romance.  
Well, I picked it for several reasons.  I think that first of all, most folks are fighting some kind of battle in their lives.  Maybe they’re in a relationship that went bad, and they’ve lost the one they love.  Whether it was by divorce, death, or just walking away, it tears a huge hole in someone’s heart. Maybe the problem is health-related. Someone has to accept that there are now limitations placed on them.  Have you ever dealt with unemployment?  How do you feed your children with no paycheck?  My romances always have a happy ending which gives us hope that tomorrow things will be better.  We can believe that ‘this too shall pass.’   
Remember what happened at the end of Gone With the Wind?  Scarlett lost Rhett and collapsed in tears, but then she decided to go home to Tara where she can think of a way to get Rhett back. Human beings are designed to hope. 
I also think that romances possibly satisfy our craving for justice.  In the real world, things don’t always end happily.  Children are abused, the missing teen is never found, or our possessions are stolen.  In the vast majority of romances you know the bad guys are going to get what’s coming to them.  My heroes and heroines sometimes face determined villains, but you can rest easy in the knowledge that the bad guys will never win.  
Last, I write romance because I’m a romantic at heart.  I just adore a good love story.
Readers, what about you? Why do you read romance?  Leave a comment and tell me what you think.  


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Rewrite and Editing Software

I've been sitting on my work in progress for more than two weeks and haven't lifted a finger on the keyboard to give it a second look. 

I know some folks who have waited months, perhaps even a year or so, before going back to a first draft. The longest period for me was five months.

I'll probably venture back into the manuscript very soon. While I haven't looked at it, there has been some mental activity about the novel, the third book in my John Ross Boomer Lit series. And I have done some research as well, taking down a few notes so I can hit the manuscript running when the time comes to begin serious rewrite.

I've also looked into to some editing tools to supplement what's already installed on my computer. I'm giving serious thought to the Hemingway App program. It appears simple and easy to use, things that I find very attractive at this point in my life. And it's affordable at $19.99, which makes it even more attractive to my frugal eyes. If I decide to splurge, I'll let you know how it works out.

I've read about other programs but they seem to do more than what I want for my manuscript. I keep handwritten notecards and notebooks (even a few scribbles on Post-it notes) about characters, places, and other items that I can easily access. 

Furthermore, I don't like going back and forth within a program. It might be an age thing (you know, light on tech savvy) but I don't want all the bells and whistles. I did try a program a few years back that was more trouble than what it was worth (and it was free).

You can call me old fashion, and you'd probably be close to the mark. I get more that way as the weeks, months, and years fly by. 

Here are a couple sites that rate programs: Click here for a list of top 10 creative writing software programs and click here to see a top six list. 

Any recommendations out there?  

Until the next time . . . 

 


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

I love to write SciFi

I've read many genres, and have written in several genres in both fiction and non-fiction, but my favorite is science fiction. It lets my mind think about current problems or notions in society as I write, and expand upon the concept to see what they might develop into in the far future. I've noticed a lot of science fiction does this by giving a warning we should be careful of what we wish for, but also giving the message we can achieve a goal if we strive for it. For instance, the inventor of the mobile phone, Martin Cooper, said he was inspired by Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek. Star Trek also displayed personal computers, laptops, bluetooth earbuds, GPS capabilities, and wide screen TVs. However, I'm still waiting for the instantaneous teleportation.

Right now current science and technology are evolving at an unprecedented rate and in many instances only speculation exists on what it might develop into in the future and how it will affect humanity. Not all of it leads to good news. Science fiction is largely, for me at least, basing the story on some aspect of that science. 

The genre has problems. In some scifi I've read the 'science' transcends into fantasy rather than real or probable in the future of science. That is okay, I guess, because nothing is more fantastical than quantum physics and some of the theories proposed like the present possibly affecting the past.

Some readers ignore or scoff at scifi because it is only 'imaginary.' Yet thousands of years ago when oral story-telling first started, the story tellers had moral and mental growth messages about life even though they didn't know about psychology. Many of the characters found in fairy tales and mythology are beyond human, but the listeners/readers found them real, and learned how normal humans interacted with these deities and monsters. Today these stories are known to have strong psychological messages. Psychologist Carl Jung suggested many of the characters from these tales lived in our subconscious, which Joseph Campbell expanded into literature. Characters like the hero, the shadow, the anima/animus (gender orientation), the  mentor, and the trickster. The same ideas affect most literature, including science fiction.

I think that is what science fiction should do: give warning and hope, expand the reader's 'normal' scope, and relate what is human. Of course, my scifi always has an element of romance, because humans remain human even in the future, as they have during the past thousands of years. If they didn't, then they would be a different species altogether.





Sunday, June 24, 2018

Why do I write?


I often get asked, why do I write? It's certainly not for the money! Just like in any entertainment industry, only a few make top dollars, and most labor in obscurity. But I keep on writing. Why? I guess the quick answer is because I enjoy it. I love to act as a conduit and allow the stories in my head to flow outwards into an existence of their own. It's a great feeling.  Sometimes I'm even surprised by what I write, when it wasn't what I planned, but still works well in the story.

When I was a kid, I was a voracious reader. I devoured anything I could get my hands on, including all of Shakespeare's play when I was in grade school. Greek mythology was my first love, especially Edith Hamilton's translations. Mom always figured that she didn't need to censor what I read. If it was too mature for me, I wouldn't understand it...or I'd ask her about it. I read The Godfather in one 24-hour period when I was in 7th grade. First time I ever read sex scenes! Phew!

All of that reading meant that I often lived more in my mind, than in real life. I don't remember a time when I didn't have voices in my head telling stories. I figured that everyone walked around with characters telling them about their lives, as mine did whenever I sat still long enough to listen. Or before I went to sleep...or when I woke up. Eventually that developed into having dreams that gave me entire story arcs, which has been the impetus for a few of my published novels.

Mom told me she'd often hide inside the house, behind the open front door, when I was playing with my Barbies on the front stoop. I'd set up an apartment for them there, and with friends and their dolls, or alone, I'd have them act out the scenes I had in my head. Mom said she'd have to run further into the house to keep from me hearing her laughing at the outrageous things I had my dolls doing and saying. I was very much into romance, and spies, and romance. So what do I write? Romance...and sometimes spies.

Book 1
Book 2
My Wings books are the Reyes Family Romances, classified as contemporary erotic romance, which means there's a real story and inter-personal relationships, as well as behind-the-bedroom-door views of the good sex necessary to cement a good marriage. I wrote one book, then the best friend of the heroine demanded her own HEA (Happily-ever-after). Then the rest of the family I had created wanted to tell their love stories as well. Two generations of Reyes family members meant that I've already written six books, and have at least two more in my laptop waiting for me to
                                        have more time.

When I don't write, I feel incomplete. And the stories build up in my head. I  
work 2 teaching jobs during the school year, and have little to no time to write. I get frustrated, especially when I dream up a new story arc. Then I have to carve out time by ignoring my husband and family for a few hours, while I type away in my laptop. They get irritated with me. So it's either the voices yelling noisily at me, expressing their desire to be let out of my head and into the minds of readers...or my family grouching about me being an absentee wife and mom. Sigh...if I could just learn to give up sleep, I could get so much more writing done!

My fervent wish is that the well never runs dry. I hope to continue writing until I'm too old to type in my laptop. Then if the voices are still loud, I'll hand-write them on napkins, if I have to. Because once their story is written down somehow, the voices for that particular story quiet down. But what I've found is that the side characters then begin to grumble about wanting their stories told also. That's why I've written 4 series' of novels already, and I'm working on a new series right now. The first book is done, and I've submitted it to a couple of places, while I work on the first of two sequels that I already know the story arcs for. Yes, my head is a noisy place, but I like it that way.

To find out more about my books, visit my website: http://www.fionamcgier.com



Monday, June 18, 2018

Using Google to develop character names.


I don’t know about you but I am always mindful that lawyers seem to lurk around
every corner these days waiting to pounce on the unwary.

When I need to create a new character for my sci-fy novels I put the name into the
Google bar and see what it throws up.  Usually the name is used. (ie There are several famous people who share the future character’s name.)

I try to avoid “used” names for reasons stated above.

Next – Reverse the name (Surname becomes first name and first name become Surname) and pop it back in the Google bar.

Very often the reversed name then draws a blank and could be useable.

To be safe I will then remove or alter a few letters in the proposed name.  After testing the amended name in Google again, I usually develop a weird enough name that is unlikely to create an opening for the legal mind to query.

Andrew R Williams

Author of

Arcadia’s Children: Samantha’s Revenge - Wings
A Practical Guide to Alterations and Extensions - Spon
Domestic Building Surveys - Spon


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Short Story: Feast of Lughnasa


I wrote this short story a few years ago to enter in a competition that was being judged by Jack Whyte, who is a renowned author of Arthurian fiction. Since I admired his stories and relished
bringing myths to life myself, I thought my work might have an edge in the competition. I did not win any awards, but the story turned out to be a prequel to my third novel, “Swords of Artaius.”

It is a story set in Europe, circa 200 BCE, before the Roman conquest, when Europe was ruled by a myriad of Celtic and Germanic tribes. The protagonist started in the first novel, “Fires of Belenus,” as a young, naïve clansman charged with saving his love from the sacrificial fires of Belenus. In the second novel, “Cult of Camulos,” he evolves into Artaius the Bear, the most revered warrior in Celtica. But this esteemed rank comes at a high price. When he is angered, he lapses into an uncontrollable rage, much like the great Cu’ Chulainn in Irish folklore. This story starts the adventure of the third and last book in the series, where he saves his tribe from invasion, is tamed by love, and comes to grip with his anger. 

The short story “Feast of Lughnasa” touches on two timely topics: excessive force and sexual abuse. The main characters, Lughin and Artaius, might evoke some discussion with regard to the evolving perception of sexual abuse and excessive force at work in our culture today. 



The Feast of Lughnasa

Artaius tapped his foot to the music and watched the young men and women stepping high and twirling to the lively jig played on pipes and harps. The percussion of skin drums reverberated against his chest. He belched loudly and moved his hand to his stomach to sooth the irritation of hunger.
Bruchar leaned over to his ear. “Something to eat would ease our stomachs. How long must we wait for the ard-ri to appear? What hospitality is this? It’s the middle of the night and no meal is served.”
 “It is Lughnasa and rituals must be followed,” Artaius, answered. “The feast cannot start until the ard-ri arrives and is re-born to lead the tribe another year.”
The feasting hall was jammed with the family and retinue bound to the ard-ri. Smoke from hearth fires hung in the air adding tangy aromas of roasting pig and bubbling stew. Bruchar inhaled hungrily, squirmed on the bench, and stood up.
“Where are you going?” asked Artaius.
 “To find something to eat”
“By the light of Lugh, you cannot.”
“Watch your tongue, unruly cur. I am your chief.”
 “Chief or not, you must be patient. We are honored guests and sit in the place of highest honor; closer to the ard-ri than his favored clients, even closer than his blood family. In honor of our alliance, we must show respect and wait.”
Bruchar sat down and expelled a breath. He slapped Artaius across the back and laid a monstrous paw across his shoulder. “You are too young to be so wise.”
 “Young?” Artaius smiled and shook his head. “Have you noticed the gray in my mustache?”
Bruchar reached over and grabbed one of the braids dangling below Artaius’ chin, held it up, and said, “Silver tipped like an old bear. You still have a few good years. The most dangerous bears are older, wise to the hunter’s tricks. Look at me.” Bruchar grabbed a lock of his own hair. “My head has turned gray as ash; yet, I can run down a pig faster than any whelp at this great feast.”
Artaius noted Bruchar’s wild mane, flowing over his shaggy bearskin cloak. Pungent smells of musk and sweat surrounded it. He smiled to himself at how ironic it was that he and not Bruchar was the chosen one, Artaius the Bear, the Right-hand of Camulos. It was Bruchar who had the countenance of a bear.
A young woman approached with a pitcher of beer. Bruchar eagerly extended his cup. He pulled her close. She smiled tactfully and tried to pull away.
“Let me go. I have many to serve.”
 “A fair lass like you should be looking for a husband of high station,” Bruchar said, and pulled her closer.
“I am wed. Now let me go!”
 “Ach,” Bruchar answered, “are all the young beautiful lassies taken? A kiss then, to make an old man feel young.”
She looked to Artaius in desperation.
 “He means no harm,” he answered. “Would such a small favor be such a great price for your freedom?”
She leaned close to the grizzled chieftain, closed her eyes, and wrinkled her nose. Her lips moved to Bruchar’s cheek. He groped her breast. Beer splashed as she jerked away, slipped, and fell to the floor.
Artaius jumped to his feet and extended a hand. “Let me help you.”
Ignoring him, she stood up by herself, brushing dust and beer from her skirts.
“You might have helped when I needed it.”
She stood tall, slender as a willow, and tossed her long blond hair behind broad shoulders with a haughty jerk of the head.
Artaius studied her fine features and pale blue eyes. “Are you Germani?” he asked.
 “You will have to ask my mother. Now let me go so I can finish and join my husband.”
Artaius persisted. “At least, give me your name. When I tell the story, you will get proper credit for soaking Bruchar, High Chieftain of the Brigantes, with beer. Truly, he meant no harm. You must understand. Bruchar is lonely. He has but six wives.”
She smirked, shook her head, and answered, “I am Lughin, daughter of Dubglas and wife of Osbert, Clan Coel.”
Artaius caught her pale eyes within his own while pronouncing her name slowly, “Loo-een.” Named for a god, a bit pretentious, is it not?”
Lughin shrugged. “It is what my father called me. I was born during Lughnasa. She beamed. “I am the light in his life.”
 Artaius could not help returning a smile. He noticed the faint yellow remnant of a bruise on her cheek and another mark near her wrist. “And this Osbert, your husband, what could he have done to win the heart of the fairest flower in Lugdunum?”
“He is tall and strong and fearless beyond words.”
“And is he kind?” Artaius asked.
Lughin’s eyes widened but her brows narrowed.
“He is kind and treats me fairly.”
She turned and rushed away into the haze and the crowd.

~*~
 Drums pounded and people rushed to clear a path through the center of the crowd. Druids dressed in deerskins with antlers fixed on their heads opened the large oak doors at the far end of the hall. Artaius closed his eyes, relishing the gush of cool air as the doors opened. 
The ancient druid, Mogh, led the procession through the doors, hunched over, grasping his twisted oak staff for balance. After a few steps, he paused, to catch his breath. Two druid brothers moved forward to his side, ready to render aid. Mogh resumed his journey, down the aisle towards the high chair of the ard-ri. A procession of hooded druids followed, clad in plaid robes, woven of many colors. 
As the wizened magus approached his dark eyes were lost in shadows cast by bushy brows and the swags of flesh beneath them. A long mustache and wispy beard dangled below his chin, woven with bright colored ribbons and beads. Silky white hair framed his face and flowed over his shoulders. He did not raise his head as he approached Artaius or Bruchar, but they stood up and bowed reverently before, Mogh, Grand Maighstor of Celtica and Albion.
At the end of the procession, six druid brothers entered the hall, carrying the ard-ri, lying on a large oval shield. They held him high, on their shoulders.
Bruchar nudged Artaius. “At last, Cingetorix arrives. We will dine shortly.”
Cingetorix posed like a fallen warrior, on his back with his arms folded across his chest. His whitewashed face and blackened his eyes, nose, and mouth gave him a skull-like appearance. Nestled under his arm, a bronze helmet gleamed. The bearers lowered the shield and Cingetorix on the floor before Mogh, who was chanting an invocation to Lugh, the great father. He stepped forward and the crowd hushed waiting for him to speak.
“Another year has past.” His voice was as gnarled as his oaken staff. “Our harvest has been plentiful and our tribe has prospered. It is time for our elders to pass judgment on Cingetorix, Ard-Ri of the Ambarri. An attendendant retrieved the gleaming helmet from Cingetorix’s side and handed it to Grand Maighstor, Mogh.
Mogh spoke, “Council, cast your lots in the helmet of Cingetorix, a white token for his rebirth or black token for his death.”
The council emerged from the crowd, elder men of distinction, displaying their status with silver torques gracing their necks and lavish plaid sagus capes about their shoulders.
Each stone rang loudly as each man passed by Mogh and dropped his token into the helm. Seven times the hollow ring echoed through the great hall. When they finished, Mogh moved the helmet close to his chest, reached in, and counted the tokens with his claw-like fingers. He handed the helmet back to the attendant, slammed his staff on the floor seven times, and proclaimed, “Seven white stones are cast. Cingetorix rules for another year and a day!”
The crowd cheered and Mogh passed his staff over the prone body before him. Cingetorix came to life, sitting up slowly and then rising to his feet. His tribesmen roared approval. Mogh’s shaky hand offered Cingetorix a potion. The ard-ri grabbed the beverage and drained the cup, pouring much of the contents down his chest. He handed the mug back to Mogh, bowed to the Grand Maighstor, and faced his people.
“I am Cingetorix, Ard-Ri of the Ambarri, born again and ordained to lead the tribe, by the Light of Lugh, for a year and a day.”
Mogh stepped forward, raised his staff, and prayed. He spoke with deep gravel-laced tones.
“Blessed be Lugh, your guiding hand
For bright sun that warms our land
For green forests filled with game
For ripe harvests o’er golden plain
For salmon swimming in river’s roar
For black iron from fiery forge
Guide us gently with your light
Blessed Lugh, renew our life”

Cingetorix stepped forward, bowed before Mogh, and addressed the crowd.
“Tomorrow, at first light, Mogh will sacrifice our finest bull to honor the Great Father. Then we shall drink and feast on the meat until there is no more.”
The tribesmen stomped their feet and cheered, musicians pounded drums, and sounded pipes with approval.
Cingetorix stood before his people with his painted face and gleaming mail shirt while a druid placed a golden band on his head. His wife, Esme, rose from her chair, bowed deeply, and threw her arms around him, kissing him passionately, disregarding the pitch and white wash smearing her face.
Bruchar nudged Artaius. “Would they really kill him, if the elders voted against him?”
Artaius, answered, “If crops fail, or if he was weak in battle, the ard-ri would be sacrificed to Lugh.”
Bruchar grunted and nodded approval.
Cingetorix turned to Artaius and Bruchar. Artaius stood, bowed, and flexed on his knee deeply, but Bruchar stood rigidly and only nodded his head in respect. Cingetorix accepted the attempt at courtesy and extended his hand to Bruchar.
Bruchar clasped Cingetorix’s hand with both of his. “Brigantes pledge loyalty and allegiance to the Ambarri for a year and a day.”
Esme handed them each a cup of strong mead. They drained the liquor and extended their cups for refills.
Cingetorix turned to the crowd raising his cup and stood motionless until he had the hall’s attention. “Tonight, we are honored with the chieftain of our faithful allies, the Brigantes. He is accompanied with his most revered warrior, Artaius the Bear, the chosen one of Camulos, slayer of Ualu, scourge of the Teutoni, and now protector of the Brigante.”
Artaius looked to Bruchar. After receiving a nod, he stepped forward, unsheathed his sword, and extended it high above his head. Silence ensued as the Ambarri tribesmen perceived the soft aura glowing around the blade, Clach na Adair, in the dim light.
“People of Lugdunum,” Artaius spoke, “I pledge this sword, forged by my father’s hand, to protect the Ambarri as it does the Brigante. It is a sword forged from heaven’s fiery gift and earthly iron. As these elements were hammered together to form one strong blade, Ambarri and Brigante will be joined in friendship and trade.”
Artaius sheathed his sword. Cingetorix came forward, wrapped his arms around Artaius, and kissed him on both cheeks.
“Fill your mugs,” he roared. “We drink to our brothers, the Brigante.”
“Our friends and allies, the Brigante,” the crowd repeated.
After finishing the toast, Artaius returned to his seat next to Cingetorix. Pipes and drums resumed. Tribesmen began to congregate around the hearth in anticipation feast.
When everyone seemed in the proper place, Cingetorix stood once more.
“Let the feast begin by honoring the foremost warrior, with the first cut of meat.”
Artaius did not answer or rise. Silence encompassed the hall. Heads turned and fixed on him. Cingetorix turned to the warrior. Artaius felt Bruchar’s sharp elbow in his side.
“Artaius, the Ambarri wait for you to take the first portion.”
Artaius exhaled with dismay. “Can they not start without me?”
“You are the pre-eminent warrior, of both the Ambarri and Brigante. They honor you with the privilege. Now you must show respect. By the Light of Lugh, will we ever eat?”
Artaius rested his cup on the bench, and headed toward the large pig roasting on the spit. The crowd separated when he approached, forming an aisle to the hearth. The savory aroma of the roasting pig awakened his appetite.
 “Perhaps being first in line is not such a bad thing after all,” he called over his shoulder to Bruchar.
“We will suffer through it together,” Bruchar, answered.
When his attention returned to the hearth, a dark figure, framed in firelight, blocked his path. Artaius looked up into squinty eyes, glaring angrily down on him. Firelight rimmed the ominous dark face and his wispy red hair glowed like roasting embers.
The dark menace challenged, “Why should Artaius, who is not Ambarri, be honored with the choicest cut of meat?”
Artaius stepped back. Even Cingetorix froze in his chair. The hall was silent and static.
Artaius sucked in a deep breath. “You are right. I am unworthy and do not deserve the honor. Tonight, in honor of Lugh and the people of Lugdunum, I bequeath the honor to bravest Ambarri warrior, who must be standing before me. Only the bravest warrior would dare challenge Artaius the Bear. Son, take the choicest cut and call your family to share it.”
The man’s biceps bulged under his linen shirt that stretched tightly over his massive chest. He smiled smugly to his cronies, a group of drunken youths, laughing and encouraging their brash companion.
The challenger returned his attention to Artaius. “You bequeath the honor to me? I thank Lugh for small favors, but I need none from you.”
“Son--accept the honor.”
The upstart whipped a dagger from his belt. “Honor is won with blood!” he yelled, and slashed wildly.
Artaius looked down at the streak of red soaking through his rent shirt. The wound was a scratch, but it bleed profusely. He felt the skin on his forehead tighten, and a pulse pound inside his head. 
“Son, please …”
 “Is the great Artaius the Bear losing his courage?”
The youth unsheathed his sword. With the dagger in one hand and the sword in the other, he pointed both weapons at Artaius’ heart.
The voice was distant to Artaius. His attention focused on the tightness of his own lips, stretching into a wretched sneer and the pressure of his eyes bulging from their sockets. He raised a hand to the throbbing vein on his neck and gave his young antagonist one last look of dismay.
Artaius fingered the shallow wound across his chest. Glistening with crimson, he drew his hand to his lips and sucked away the blood.
“Is it blood you want?” he rasped.
 The upstart’s eyes widened and his mouth gaped. He stepped back -- too late.
“Blood you shall have!” Artaius ripped his sword from its scabbard. Light flashed off the blade and the youth’s sword flew out of his hand. Cleft in two pieces, it clinked and clanked across the stone floor.
The second stroke sliced deeply into the youth’s side and the dagger dropped.
The third stroke slammed down into the soft mop of glowing red curls.
Blood and brains splattered onto Artaius’ face and rained down on the crowd. He raised his arm to strike again.
Bruchar restrained him.
Regaining awareness, Artaius’ eyes fixed on Lughin standing at the edge of the crowd. Splattered with blood, she buried her face in her hands.

~*~
 Artaius found himself on the bench next to Cingetorix’s chair. The music had resumed, but nobody was dancing. An unsettling ambience of anxious voices and commotion surrounded him.
“He is possessed by a demon!” Cingetorix exclaimed.
 “Not possessed,” Bruchar, answered, “It was a fit of temper, a warrior’s trance, nothing more.”
“He did not have to murder the boy,” Cingetorix retorted.
“The ferret attacked without provocation. Any man would have taken him down, including me. He had no choice,” Bruchar said.
“No choice? He disarmed the lad with his first stroke. There was no need for murder.”
Cingetorix fell back into his chair, dragging his fingers through his hair.
 “He was a foster son from the Senones tribe and under my protection. The blood of high chieftains was spilled. Even if we pay compensation, his family will never let it go.”
Bruchar raised his hands in disgust. “The fight was fair. If they want revenge, send them up the mountain to fight Brigantes. We will settle any grievance they may wish to press.”
Artaius felt the soft arm of his wife, Alicia, wrap around his neck. She offered him a potion. The warmth of her bosom and familiar scent of lilies soothed him. Maureen, his other wife stood plain and tall, beside them.
“I need drink,” he said. “Fetch me a large mug.”
Maureen headed to the vat of beer across the hall. Gathering his senses, Artaius leaned towards Cingetorix.
“Ard-ri, I am sorry this trouble. I meant not to hurt the lad—too many battles and too many duels—the blood-lust comes too quickly.”
 “What has happened to you?” Cingetorix’s eyes pierced deeply into Artaius. “Never have I seen rage encompass a man so completely. Where is the boy that I played with as a youth; the timid cousin, who would rather hammer iron than fight?”
 Artaius dragged his hand across his mustache and shook his head slowly, then his brows nitted, and his hand moved to the pommel of his sword. “I am what I am. I have been blessed by Camulos with the warrior’s trance.”
 “Of course,” Cingetorix said pulling back nervously. “The boy cast his own fate. I meant no offense. Accept my apology for the trouble the upstart caused. It is just that it is going to be awkward because he was of such high rank and noble birth. The Coel clan is ruthless and vengeful. I doubt that we will be able to reason with them. They will not rest until your head or mine hangs from a saddle.
A man pushed his way through the crowd and bellowed, “I will not return a single coin of the bride price. It is not my fault that fool challenged Artaius the Bear.”
 “Dubglas, be reasonable,” Cingetorix answered. “Consider we are dealing with Clan Coel.”
“I do not care. It is a matter of honor. I am your client and call on you to protect me.”
 “Dubglas?” Artaius repeated the name to himself. “And would you be the father of Lughin.”
“You know my daughter?”
“She served me tonight. That is all.”
The image of the blood-splattered women with her face in her hands filled Artaius’ mind. “And this Osbert was her husband?”
“Aye, he was. And I am not paying a single coin for a dead husband. They were only wed a few days.”
Maureen returned with a mug of beer and handed it to Artaius. He pulled her close and whispered in her ear. “Was I a monster?”
She pressed her lips tightly. "Close enough".
Artaius gently stroked her pox-scarred cheek with the back of his hand.
He drank thirstily, and handed the mug back to Maureen, indicating he needed another.
 “Two mugs this time,” Bruchar chimed.
 Mogh approached the ard-ri’s chair. His deep-set eyes came to life.
 “Grand Maighstor Mogh,” Cingetorix asked, “what am I to do? The boy challenged Artaius.”
“Cingetorix,” he said, “be at ease; the fight was fair. I will attest to it.”
~*~
 The rain stung Artaius’ face, not the gentle spring rain that refreshes, but the icy, penetrating rain that bodes of a long winter. He pulled his hood forward over his face and turned to Bruchar mounted on the horse next to him. Bruchar’s shaggy bearskins were soaked, matted, and shiny. They looked more like sealskins. Bruchar pulled up the bear's head hood that topped his cloak. Fangs and nostrils framed his face. Their wives were settled and snug in the enclosure of the wooden wagon beside them.
“We cannot leave,” Artaius said. “I keep thinking about Lughin.”
Bruchar retorted, “It was not your fault. Her rabid husband got what he deserved. You merely defended yourself.”
“I lost control and killed the boy needlessly and made Lughin a widow.
“Camulos blessed you with the warriors trance and you resent it. No good will come of this remorse.”
Footsteps splashed behind them. Lughin approached them from across the yard.
“Artaius,” she called out, “Artaius, I must talk to you.”
Artaius jumped down from his horse to meet her. Strands of limp hair streaked across her face, framed with a woolen shawl. She extended her hands. Artaius took them into his own hands and held them firmly. They felt cold.
Artaius spoke,“Lughin, I am so sorr….”
“Say nothing, it was not your fault. Osbert was rash and abusive. He beat me over the most trifling things. I could not leave him, because father spent the bride price to pay debts. We had no way to repay it. When I heard you would be here for Lughnasa, I told Osbert many times that he was not man enough for me and no match for the likes of Artaius the Bear.”
Lughin’s eyes welled with tears. Her arms wrapped around Artaius and cinched up tightly. “I had no choice; punish me if you must.”
Artaius looked into the innocent eyes. The urge to embrace her was overwhelming, but he stiffened and pried her arms away and burst out laughing.
“Bruchar,” he called out, “she thinks she put Osbert up to it—goaded him into challenging me.”
“No,” Bruchar called back. “Taranis strike me down. I do not believe it.” Bruchar’s deep roar of laughter resonated above the rain.
“Stop it, stop it!” Lughin screamed. “If I did not do something, he would have tormented me for my entire life.”
Artaius abruptly stopped laughing and he put his hands on her shoulders. Lughin broke down. Tears streamed from her reddened eyes; her lips quivered.
“I never thought you would kill him!” she exclaimed.
Artaius embraced her tightly.
“Men like Osbert need no excuse start a fight. It is sad Lughdunum lost a brave warrior, but it is the way of the world.”
“Artaius felt a spasm of grief quake from within her and tears flowed again.
Artaius released his embrace and remounted his horse.
“It’s done. Live with it.”
Bruchar clicked his tongue and the wagon start moving.
 “I am glad he is dead.” The venomous words softly hissed from her lips. Artaius turned sharply, not sure he heard them correctly. Lughin walked away, a ghostly shape fading into into the fog and rain.

The End


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