October 15, 2014

The Ouroboros Key by Patricia Leslie



Prophetic dreams have haunted Dan Tenney since childhood, foretelling him of a life-changing event that is soon to take place. But before he can learn the meaning of his visions, he is attacked by a shadowy group of extremists: the Brotherhood of the Grail. 

Finding sanctuary underground, an ancient relic comes into his possession and Dan begins to understand the path his visions have laid out before him. His quest will be fraught with an otherwordly people and an event that could tip the balance in favour of human existence—or disastrously against it. The mysterious Brotherhood will do everything in their power to prevent Dan from fulfilling his destiny as the Bearer of Ouroboros.

Strange, prophetic dreams of the world’s future are a regular occurrence for Dan, but ever since he recovered from a serious, nearly fatal head injury, the dreams intensified and evolved into even more powerful, stranger visions. When a group of radicals make an attempt on his life, he is rescued by two vagabonds. He stumbles upon an ancient artifact and this unleashes a profound mystery and the truth about his future and the burden he must bear.

This dark fantasy is a unique, fast-paced read about dark secrets and powerful supernatural forces. The bonds of friendship, plenty of intrigue, and a great mystery make this a fascinating story appropriate for fantasy lovers of all ages. Definitely a fun read and a page-turner! 

October 14, 2014

First Chapters - Finding Billy Battles by Ron Yates

The real-life rogue who hung out with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. 
 Read the compelling first chapter! 




Kansas City, 1948

My full name is William Fitzroy Raglan Battles, but most folks call me Billy Battles. My good friends call me Billy “Rags” Battles. More on that later.
Let me begin by owning up to some pretty terrible things I did during my life. That way, you can make up your mind right now if you want to read further.
I have killed people. And I am sad to say the first person I killed was a woman. It was entirely unintentional, and to this day, the incident haunts me. The next person I killed was that woman’s grown son, and that was  intentional. If you decide to read on, you will learn more about these two people and how they came to die at my hands.
You will also learn about other things I did—some of which I am not proud of, some of which I am. In the course of my life, I got into a lot of brawls where I had to defend myself and others in a variety of ways. I did so without regret, because in each case, someone was trying to do me or someone else harm.
Now I know the Christian Bible says it is a sin to kill, and in some of these imbroglios, I probably could have walked away and avoided the ensuing violence. I chose not to because I learned early in my life that walking away from a scrap is too often seen as a sign of weakness or cowardice and simply incites bullies and thugs to molest you later on. There were a few individuals who tried their damndest to put an end to me, but fortunately, I was able to dispatch or incapacitate those malefactors before they could apply the coup de grĂ¢ce.
So there you have it—a forewarning about me and my sometimes-turbulent life. As the Romans used to say, “Caveat emptor,” if you decide to continue reading.
I don’t know if anybody will ever read what I am putting to paper here, but I figure I should do it anyway. A few folks have told me my experiences are fascinating because they show what it was like in Kansas and a lot of other places in the last century, when life could turn violent and capricious without warning.
As I am writing this, I am eighty-eight years old, and the year is 1948. I am not sure how much longer I will be on this earth, so I figure I had better write pretty fast before I join the Great Majority. I have been fortunate in that my memory still serves me quite well, but I must admit that for much of my life, I kept several journals, and it’s those journals that have kept my mind on the trail when it was inclined to wander off into the brush.
It’s also those journals that helped me make sense, now that I am an old man, of some of the things I saw and did during my life. It’s a funny thing, but as you grow older and you have time to look back on your life, things begin to make more sense to you. I guess that’s what they call wisdom—not that I’m necessarily a wise man. I’m just somebody who had the good fortune to see and do a lot of things—some pretty awful, some pretty wonderful—and the good Lord has blessed me, or cursed me, with the capacity to remember most of them.
There are some things I wish I could forget—things other people did and things that I did. But I cannot. Consequently, I have lived for decades with many ghosts—not the kind that appear as apparitions in the night, but the kind that grab hold of your mind and force you to remember even when you don’t want to.
I know what it is like to be a hunter of men, and I know what it is like to be hunted. I can tell you, I much prefer the former over the latter. I have known and caused terrible fear. I have experienced and inflicted dreadful pain. I have loved and been loved, and I have been, without doubt, hated by some.
But I have always tried to live my life as my mother taught me—with uprightness, reliability, and consequence. I wasn’t always successful. Sometimes my disposition turned dark, and I did things I truly regret today. I am, after all, one of God’s wretched creatures—a simple mortal with all the imperfections and deficiencies of that species.
Now, I don’t claim that my life was any more important than anybody else’s. Most folks who lived in the nineteenth century had their share of adventures—some more than others. But what I think is important is that the truth about certain things be told—or at least the truth as I witnessed it in those days. There has been so much fiction and fabrication passed along as fact about things that happened in places like Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, and so on that people today have no real idea of what really went on back then.
For example, the moving-picture people have gotten it almost all wrong—not that they were ever trying to get it right. After all, they are in the entertainment business—not the truth-telling business. They have made some folks so much bigger than life that I have trouble figuring out if they are talking about the same people I used to know or had some acquaintance with. And some folks have been either forgotten or turned into the worst kind of villains. I am not sure which is worse.
Hell, they even got a lot of our history wrong. The Spanish-American War, for example. A lot of that was fought in the Far East, and most Americans don’t even know it. I know it because I was there fighting in the Philippines. That is a dark chapter in our history, I can tell you. I was also privileged to have spent time in other parts of the Orient at a time when that part of the world was still pretty exotic and mysterious to most Americans.
And that’s not all. There was a lot of skirmishing later on down in Mexico that we were mixed up in after Doroteo Arango, alias Pancho Villa, and his little army invaded the United States back in 1915. He led the U.S. Army on a merry chase throughout Mexico and leveled an American town in New Mexico.
The late General George S. Patton (in those days just a shavetail lieutenant) even brought back the body of the commander of Villa’s bodyguards tied to the hood of his car like a big buck deer. I know that, because I was there. But I wager students today don’t read anything about any of that in school.
The folks in Hollywood and those who write books and radio programs have added so much twaddle and claptrap to things that happened that I sometimes have to ask myself if I missed something. Because what they are depicting is so far away from the truth as to be mythology. I never thought much about that until now, when I realized that all the rubbish `coming out of Hollywood and over the radio and in books and magazines and on these new contraptions called televisions is being passed off, or at least being accepted, as fact.
Sometimes we just don’t see things the way they really are until we can stand back from them and look at them with the viewpoint of time and distance. That’s what a professor at the University of Kansas once told me when I was a student there for a while back in the 1870s. I never finished my college education—a fact that troubled my mother until her dying day. Nevertheless, I learned just enough at that place to be a modest man of letters, but not enough to be a danger to anyone or myself, except on a few singular occasions. My time at college may have been the two most important years of  my life because it gave me a leg up on a lot of folks back then who couldn’t read or write or study things out in a logical way.
I was no warrior. Never wanted to be. Nevertheless, I got pushed or pulled into some regretful scraps.
I did serve a hitch in the army, and that was a true adventure. In fact, I was a scribbler, a newspaperman for most of my life. But in those days, there were no precise lines between journalists and the people they were writing about. I was just fortunate that I was able to write about what I saw and what I experienced. Not many men or, for that matter, women, in those days had that opportunity. I consider myself most fortunate in that regard.
Now that my life is drawing to a close, I am eager to put as much of it to paper as I can. Maybe someday my descendants will be able to pass it on to their children, and they to their children. Even better would be if a larger audience might read it, but I am not an author of great literary works, so I cannot expect that to happen. I guess my modest wish is that I be able to share what I humbly regard as an eventful life with those who follow me and anybody else who might pick up these pages. But mostly, I want to set the record straight on a few things and about some of the people I got to know when I was much younger.
My life started off pretty slow, like most lives do. There was nothing special about my childhood years except for the fact that I had no father and it was up to my mother to keep me on a short leash. But about the time I hit eighteen or nineteen, things got to moving pretty fast—faster in fact than I ever thought possible. It was around that time that I met some folks, some good and some not so good, who would reenter my life many times over the next several decades. And it was around that time that I began my journey down the owl hoot trail.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I had best start from the beginning.

CHAPTER 1

I don’t remember much of anything about my life before I was eight or nine. Most of what I do recall comes from conversations with my mother and her memories. There were some old letters and my mother’s diary too. But mostly it’s me piecing people, places, and events together as best I can to describe the foundation for all the years that followed. It was a strong foundation, put down by many people whom I will talk about later on.
Of course, the person who was most responsible for laying a sound foundation for my life was my mother. She was born Hannelore Kluge, April 6, 1836, on a farm in eastern Illinois at a time when Illinois was still considered the frontier. Her parents were German immigrants from Germany’s Harz mountain region. Mother was tough as buffalo hide, with strong hands that never seemed to stop working. I can still hear that little poem she used to recite whenever she thought I was behaving like a shirker:
Each morning sees some task begun, Each evening sees it close;  
Something attempted, something done, Has earned a night’s repose.  
I found out later that it came from Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith,” but as far as I was concerned, the sentiment belonged to my mother, who never stopped working until the day she died.
I was born around nine o’clock at night on February 28, 1860, in a three-room wood plank and sod house in what is now Ford County, Kansas. I was named after FitzRoy James Henry Somerset, otherwise known as Lord Raglan.
My father, who was born in England, thought Lord Raglan was one of England’s greatest heroes.
Raglan was with the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in 1814, where he was wounded.
His right arm had to be amputated. At the end of the surgery, which was performed without any anesthesia, he told an orderly to bring him his amputated arm so he could remove a ring that his wife had given him. Later he commanded the British troops during the 1854 Crimean War, where he died.
My mother remembered that the night I was born, it was so cold out that the door froze shut and my father had to climb out a window to get to the well. When he did, he had to hack through a good four inches of ice with an iron pick to get to water. He found three of our hens frozen flat against the outdoor privy. They had gotten out of the coop during the night and couldn’t figure out how to get back in.
Our house was on about 160 acres of hardscrabble prairie land near the Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail. In those days, there was nothing around there but prairie dogs, Kiowa’s and Cheyenne’s. And of course, wagons moving southwest over the cutoff from the Santa Fe Trail. Most folks who traveled through the area called it the Great American Desert because it was so barren. In 1859, my father and my mother were part of a wagon train moving west from Westport, Missouri.
They had met and married in Lawrence, Kansas—sometime around 1857, as I recall. My father’s family moved onto some pretty good land there along the Kaw river around 1852. My mother and her family had moved to Lawrence from Illinois around 1856. Lawrence was founded in 1854 by the New England Emigrant Aid Society in an effort to keep the Kansas territory free from slavery. It is said that Lawrence is one of the few cities in the United States founded strictly for political reasons. My mother and her family were ardent abolitionists, as were most of the folks who moved to Lawrence around that time. As a teenager, my mother was actively involved in the Underground Railroad that moved slaves to freedom through Lawrence.
Like most folks back then, my father’s family was looking for a better life, and the west was the place to find it. Moving west meant more land to farm because in those days, your wealth was most often measured by how much land you owned. The Battles were not folks who liked to stay in one place very long.
It’s a trait that I no doubt inherited. There was always something better over the next hill, some new opportunity. So less than a year after my father and my mother were married, the Battles decided to sell out and head west.
My father used $175 of the money from the sale of his share of the family farm to buy a new Studebaker wagon. He and mother loaded up their belongings and hooked up with a wagon train that had started out from Westport. As they got deep into western Kansas, most of the train went north along the banks of the Arkansas River toward Colorado, but my father didn’t want any part of the mountains. He and a few others chose to head southwest toward the Cimarron instead.
My mother and father didn’t get very far. They busted an axle and wheel on what turned out to be some pretty decent land, which is saying a lot because land out there is mostly rolling prairie grass, bluffs, and sand hills. In those days, you could go for miles and never see a tree. Our land had timber on it—not a lot, but enough cottonwoods and box elders to make life easier. Most important of all, though, was the underground spring that supplied us with good freshwater. I learned later that the spring was fed by the Ogallala Aquifer, which lies under parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
My father and my mother planted vegetables, potatoes, wheat, and some corn, though growing corn out there was a challenge. My father had ideas of raising cattle, and he collected enough longhorn range stock to start a cow camp. He traded with the always-unpredictable Kiowa and Southern Cheyenne Indians; and when the weather cooperated, we had enough to eat and wear. Our place became a kind of stopover for a lot of the fur traders and buffalo hunters who roamed Kansas and Colorado in those days. They always brought us meat and hides in return for my mother’s home cooking. Soon our house grew into a kind of outpost, with folks stopping by and trading for grain, hides, and other necessaries. Our farm became known as Battles Gap because to get to it, you had to pass through a long narrow valley flanked by eighty-foot limestone bluffs. To leave, you had to pass along a small rivulet that ran through another ravine.
I am pretty sure a couple hundred wagons passed through Battles Gap during the time we lived there. But even with all the wagons coming through, it was hard on my mother. The nearest neighbors were about fifteen miles away. My mother was a sociable woman, and she missed the more civilized kind of life she had back in Lawrence. I think those folks stopping by probably kept my mother from drifting into madness. It gave her something to look forward to, and most of all, it allowed her to catch up on the news, no matter where it came from. In those days, you didn’t find out anything for months after it actually happened. We didn’t learn about William Quantrill’s 1863 raid on Lawrence—in which almost two hundred people (mostly men and boys) were shot down by Quantrill’s four hundred bushwhackers—until three months after it happened. That’s when my mother learned one of her brothers and his son were two of the victims.
It was about that time that my father went off to war. He fought on the Union side. He never came back. We learned from a letter written by an officer that he had been killed just as the war was ending in 1865. He had made it through two years of fighting, including Gettysburg, only to die when a rebel sharpshooter shot him in the back while he was currying his horse. I guess that was the final blow to my mother. Even though she had managed to keep the farm going in the two years my father was gone, by 1866, it was all too much for her. I was no help, being only five or six at the time.
So she packed up what she could, and we headed east in our old Studebaker wagon. Our destination was Lawrence, where my mother’s sister, my Aunt Em, was still living. We had three mules and two horses. She sold off the longhorn stock to some of the wagons that came through and to the U.S. Army, which had put up an outpost in 1865 that later would become Fort Dodge about a day and half ride from our place just off the Santa Fe trail. My mother later told me that we stopped off at Fort Dodge. The reason was that after about two days on the prairie with that wagon and those mules, my mother could see that it was all too much for her. At the fort, she asked the captain if there was anybody around who would be trusted to help us get back to Lawrence. The captain had a better idea. Why not stay at the fort and help operate the small sutler’s general store?
Years later, my mother recalled her conversation with the captain—Pierson or Pearce, I think my mother said his name was.
“We could use an educated woman’s touch around here, Mrs. Battles,” the captain told my mother, who had attended a small college for women back in Illinois. “Why, the men out here are barely more than savages themselves— lawless miscreants without a spattering of propriety and civility. A fine, cultivated woman such as yourself would be a considerably good influence on them.”
My mother was flattered, even tempted. But while she was considering the captain’s words, she looked at me, barely six and already showing signs of turning into a little savage myself. She also was keen set on getting to Lawrence, where the rest of her family lived—including my aunt, who was now a widow lady because of Quantrill and his band of Missouri bushwhackers.
“I couldn’t possibly stay,” my mother said. “You see my boy there? Look at him. Why, he already has the makings of a coarse and rude savage, and if I stayed here that’s exactly what he would become. No, sir, I will have none of it. My man was lost in the war. I don’t want to lose my son to this rough country. I want him to be an educated gentleman.”
When the captain couldn’t convince my mother to stay on at Fort Dodge, he agreed to find a reliable man to accompany us east across the prairie to Lawrence. In those days, no woman would dare make such a trip alone, with just a boy at her side.
That man was Luther Augustus Longley. Luther was a buffalo hunter and had spent the past year or so hunting and scouting for the army. The colonel told my mother that Luther had quit his position and wanted to get back to Lawrence, Kansas, where he had family. Luther’s activities before his work with the army were sketchy. I can’t recall what Luther looked like back then; but of course, during the next several years, I came to know him very well.
Luther was a black man—the first I had ever seen. And I can recall he scared me. He had a wild look to him. His hair was frizzled, and he had hard black eyes that looked like they had been dropped into two pools of milk. He had big, almost perfectly formed white teeth that he took good care of. He brushed them after every meal, as I recall. He was a big man—probably six feet five inches tall, and maybe 230 or 240 pounds. I had never seen anybody so big in my life. Like most men in those days, he was polite to all women and elders. He had arrived with his mother and his father in Kansas City in the 1840s, which in those days was known as Westport. They had moved west from Pennsylvania and were, in that part of the world in those days, rare free black folks in Missouri, a slave state.
In the 1850s, he and his folks moved to Lawrence, Kansas. Antislavery Jayhawkers from Kansas frequently fought with proslavery Bushwhackers from neighboring Missouri. The conflict grew in 1861 after war broke out and Kansas chose to become a free state. Lawrence, the headquarters of the Jayhawkers, was the scene of several bloody encounters, including Quantrill’s raid, in which about two hundred men and boys in Lawrence were shot down like dogs and some seventy-five business buildings and one hundred private homes were burned to the ground. Luther’s family managed to survive that raid because they were well outside of town to the west and Quantrill and his boys came from the east and then retreated to the southeast after they finished their butchery.
I can’t recall too much about our trip from Fort Dodge to Lawrence, but my mother often talked about it, so I know a little of what happened. I know there were some folks at Fort Dodge who thought it was mighty peculiar that a white woman and her boy would be accompanied on the lonesome trail east by a big black man. A few of the ladies tried to talk my mother out of going, telling her that to do so would most certainly lead to some horrible kind of violation of her person.
The captain would hear none of it. “Luther is a good man—why, I would trust him with my own wife and child,” he told my mother. “You needn’t worry about what any of those clucking hens say.”
 Years later, my mother told me the trip to Lawrence from Fort Dodge—a distance of almost three hundred miles—took about two weeks. Along the way, we linked up with a few other folks who were traveling east to Kansas City. One of those families was the Tilghmans, who were on their way to Atchison, Kansas, where they had a farm along the Missouri River.
Now I don’t recall anything about that trip, but it is notable to me because of the friendship my mother had with Mrs. Tilghman. When we got to Lawrence, the Tilghman’s stayed with our family before heading out for Atchison. It would be a friendship that would have a big impact on my life later on.
Lawrence, Kansas, in 1866 wasn’t much to look at. Sure, the town had been rebuilt and the new buildings were bigger and better than the ones Quantrill and his raiders had burned down. But the town still had a “wild, unsettled look about it,” my mother always said. Still, Lawrence was where she decided to put down roots.
One reason my mother put down roots was that up on a hill overlooking Lawrence, a single fifty-foot-square building housing what would eventually become the University of Kansas had been built in 1866. It wasn’t known then as the University of Kansas but as North College.
Lawrence lies in the Kaw Valley, bordered on the north and south by the Kansas (Kaw) and Wakarusa rivers and overlooked by Mount Oread, the hill on which the University of Kansas campus is built. Early settlers called the hill Hogback Ridge, but it was later renamed after the Oread Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts. The word Oread  comes from the Greek, meaning “mountain nymph.”
Lawrence is smack between the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. The Oregon Trail ran through what is now the city and the University of Kansas campus, while the Santa Fe Trail ran just south of the city, along what are now county roads and farmland.
The streets were named after the states in the order they came into the Union, beginning with Delaware. Massachusetts Street was designated the main street because Lawrence’s founders were from Massachusetts. But any resemblance between Massachusetts and Kansas was purely imaginary, my mother used to say.
When we got to Lawrence, we settled in with our relatives. Eventually, my mother took up sewing and made women’s dresses for the local general store. Her dresses were popular with the ladies of  Lawrence—almost as popular as the store-bought dresses they could get in Kansas City, which was just about forty miles away.
My childhood years were pretty uneventful as things go. I didn’t get into much trouble, though I did cause my mother quite a bit of difficulty with a few pranks now and again. Along with a few friends, I tipped over some outhouses, stole apples from Mr. Bimbrick’s orchard, and got caught smoking cigars Bobby Kummel swiped from Filsinger’s tobacco shop. I was rightfully punished for those misadventures.
Nevertheless, by the time I was eleven or twelve, my mother was barely able to contain that little savage she was convinced was eating away at my soul. I guess I was pretty incorrigible, not having a father and all. My mother was no push over, but she also wasn’t a father who could take a son to the woodshed when events required it.
The closest person I had to a father was Luther. When I got out of hand, why, my mother would have me spend some time with him. He wouldn’t lecture me, but he would take me out into the countryside for a long day of hunting or fishing. During those times, he somehow managed to set me straight about my behavior and my responsibilities to my mother.
“You know what a hobbadehoy is, Billy?” Luther asked me one day while we were fishing. I had threatened to run off one day after an argument with my mother. I was probably fifteen at the time.
I shook my head.
“That’s a young man who has ceased to think of himself as a boy but is not yet regarded as a man. That’s what you are, a hobbadehoy. It’s a right hard time for a young man like yourself. Me, why, I am between hay and grass—that is somewhere between youth and old age. So you see, we are never anywhere for very long. We are always moving toward something. And that’s what you’re doing. Moving toward being a man. You ain’t there yet, but you want to be. And of course, most mothers are dreadful fearful of losing their young’uns. Your mother is specially dreadful because you are all she has. Can you understand that?”
I nodded. “I guess so. I wouldn’t shin out, but sometimes I feel my tether is too short.”
“You will lose that tether soon enough, and then someday when you are in a heap of hurt and trouble, you are going to reach for it and wish your mama was on the other end.”
Luther was right.
Luther taught me to shoot a rifle and a revolver. I especially looked forward to shooting Luther’s Big Fifty Sharps .50 caliber buffalo rifle. It had a powerful kick to it, and my shoulder would be pretty sore after firing a few rounds. But it was a fine piece of weaponry. Some hunters said you could hit a target at five miles, and Luther said you could fire it today and kill something tomorrow. Of course, both of those claims were just a load of prairie chips.
My mother wasn’t much pleased with my shooting lessons, but she relented because she knew Luther was shoving sense into my skull. She was hard-pressed to keep me in school. It was difficult for a boy like me to concentrate on school when every day I could see wagons moving west along the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails. I longed to join them, and there were a few occasions when I almost did. But then I thought about my mother and how it would hurt her, and I stuck it out. My mother was a stickler for school. She made sure I studied and learned my letters and numbers. But what she mostly did was read to me when I was very young. It taught me to appreciate literature and writing, and it activated my imagination quite a bit.
By 1877, I was almost seventeen, and I was eager to set out on my own. I planned to go to Fort Riley, Kansas, to join the Seventh Cavalry. It was just a year after George Armstrong Custer and his command had been wiped out at the Little Big Horn, and like a lot of young men at the time, I felt a strong need to avenge that slaughter. It wasn’t until I was much older and more experienced that I understood the deeper political and economic undercurrents of the so-called Indian Wars and the issues that led to what the world today calls Custer’s Last Stand.
Go to Fort Riley and join the cavalry? My mother wouldn’t hear of it. “You will do no such thing. You are going to get an education. I didn’t spend all those days and nights sewing dresses so you could turn out to be some coarse ruffian.”
I argued. I sulked. I threatened to run off. But that was that. I spent the next two years taking classes up on Hogback Ridge. I must admit, it was good for me. I learned some Latin, some algebra, some English literature, some German, some philosophy, a little history, and geography. But most of all, I learned that having an education back then in the west was a little like being the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. Those who could read and write and reason things out with logic had a leg up on just about 80 percent of those you ran into back then.
Then one spring day in 1879, after classes ended for the semester, I was called into the editor’s office of the Lawrence Union, where I had been employed part-time as a printer’s devil and sometimes as a reporter. The editor was a beefy, round-bodied man named Horace K. Hawes. A thick crop of shaggy white hair covered his head and spilled down over his ears. Fierce blue eyes peered at you from under graying russet eyebrows that resembled sheaves of wheat. The left side of his ruddy, pinched face was creased by a thread-like crimson scar, the result of a Confederate sniper’s bullet at Antietam.
“William, I have a proposition for you,” he said. Hawes sat behind a small wooden desk at the back of the two-room Union office. As usual, his white sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and secured with garters in an effort to keep them free of printer’s ink. He wore a dark brown vest and a blue bow tie around a high white collar. I looked at Hawes, not knowing what to expect. Was I being sacked? Hawes cleared his throat. “I have already discussed this with your mother, and she is in agreement, up to a point.”
He paused, and I was sure my mother had asked Hawes to sack me, fearing that I might waste my life as a no-account, deceitful scrivener, which was the way a lot of newspapermen were viewed in those days.
Hawes cleared his throat once again. “That is to say, she feels this opportunity would be beneficial for a lad like you. But there are some conditions.”
 I was fully confused now. What was he talking about?
 “Judging from your mute demeanor, I must assume your mother has not mentioned this to you, is that correct?”
I was still standing in front of Hawes’s desk, holding my hat and a book strap that held a volume of Shakespeare’s sonnets, an algebra book, and a digest of geographic maps.
“No, sir, she hasn’t,” I said.
“Well, my boy, sit down,” Hawes said. “We have some important things to discuss.”
It would be a discussion that would alter my life in ways I could never have imagined at the time.


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Meet the Author
Ron Yates
  

Ronald E. Yates

Ronald E. Yates is Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the College of Media at the University of Illinois. Yates was appointed Dean in August 2003 after heading the College of Media’s Department of Journalism. He joined the University of Illinois as Journalism Department Head in 1997 following a 27-year career with the Chicago Tribune as an award-winning foreign correspondent, senior writer and editor. He stepped down as Dean in September 2010 to concentrate on writing projects.


Journalism Career

While at the Chicago Tribune, Yates accumulated extensive international experience. He lived and worked 18 years as a foreign correspondent in Japan, Southeast Asia and Latin America where he covered several wars and revolutions from the 1970s into the 1990s, including the fall of South Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975, the Tiananmen Square tragedy in Beijing in 1989, and political upheavals in South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and The Philippines. He also covered wars and revolutions in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Brazil and Colombia.
His work as a foreign correspondent resulted in four Pulitzer Prize nominations and several other awards. In 1990 he received a commendation from the Gerald Loeb Foundation for an in-depth series of stories entitled: "Vanishing Borders: Trade in the 1990s" and he has also won the Inter-American Press Association's Tom Wallace Award for coverage of Central and South America. His work as a foreign correspondent was rewarded by the Tribune with three Edward Scott Beck Awards and in 1993 Yates won the Peter Lisagor Award from the Professional Society of Journalists for excellence in business writing. Before joining the Tribune in 1970 Yates served with U.S. Military Intelligence in Germany as an intelligence analyst.


Author/Speaker

Prof. Yates recently published the first book in a trilogy of novels entitled Finding Billy Battles: An Account of Peril, Transgression and Redemption. Another book based on his experiences as a foreign correspondent in Asia from the early 1970s to the early 1990s is in the works. Its working title is The Last Rickshaw Home: A Foreign Correspondent’s Journey Through Asia.
He is author of The Kikkoman Chronicles: A Global Company with A Japanese Soul, published by McGraw-Hill. He is also the author of Aboard The Tokyo Express: A Foreign Correspondent's Journey Through Japan, a collection of columns translated into Japanese. Prof. Yates also wrote and published threew  text books for use in journalism classes: The Journalist's Handbook, International Reporting and Foreign Correspondents, and Business and Financial Reporting in a Global Economy.
Yates is a frequent speaker at seminars and symposiums dealing with such diverse topics as war correspondence, international affairs, relations between Asia and the United States and the critical topic of how American companies are competing globally. He has spoken at seminars sponsored by Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, the U.S. Automotive Export Council, the International Trade Association, the World Trade Center, the Council on Competitiveness, the Competitiveness Policy Council and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, to name a few.

Professional & Academic History

In addition to his work as a foreign and national correspondent, Yates spent 1982 to 1985 in the world of senior management as the Chicago Tribune's metropolitan editor and national editor—positions in which he supervised a staff of some 240 reporters and editors.
During his tenure at the University of Illinois, Yates held the Sleeman Professorship in Journalism. He also served as a board member of the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies; the advisory board of the European Union Center; and as a member of the Illini Media Board. Yates also has taught journalism, writing and international studies at California State University, Fullerton, Cal., Orange County California Community College and the Oakton Community College system in Chicago.
While in Japan Prof. Yates wrote the popular TOKYO EXPRESS column for Japan's Mainichi Daily News and was a columnist for the Japanese edition of Playboy Magazine. He is senior editorial adviser to the China Financial Weekly, published by the Financial Relations Board and writes frequently for several Asia-based publications.

Yates writes a blog entitled "ForeignCorrespondent" that can be found at: 

His Website and authors pages can be found at:



Yates is a native of Shawnee-Mission, Kansas. He is an honors graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. He lives in Murrieta, CA., and speaks several foreign languages, including German, Japanese, and Spanish.

October 13, 2014

First Chapters - The Sun Palace by Brighid O'Sullivan

Read the first chapter of The Sun Palace, a new novel about ancient Ireland


The Sun Palace

By Brighid O'Sullivan

Prologue

West Coast of Eire/ AD 520

She never heard the splash.

The world went black but then she surfaced, though not for long before and angry black wave smashed her down once again, slapping her as if she were a stubborn child. Gripping her between its teeth, the sea engulfed her, regurgitating her between cusps, swallowing her as if she were nothing. She could not tell which way was up and reached desperately for something to hold onto. She rolled and tumbled about, becoming tangled in something slimy; arms flailing in the direction she hoped was the sky. She tried to cry out but the sea flooded her throat, a salty bitterness that choked her with each breath. She couldn't see anything before her and under water grew deaf as well, disturbing her even more than the water's icy grip which numbed her, almost solemnly.

The sea continued to churn.

She remembered it all. He'd sent her away with his most trusted friend to have the baby with the monks. She'd given birth, drank something and then woke up in the boat, her arms and legs tied together.

She wanted to kick, and did, but not without much effort. Thick cords secured her legs, the only thing keeping her thin gown from floating up to her head. She could paddle with her hands, though, for he had left a little slack when she had complained rather loudly. Her hands and arms were tied with a horse hair rope, secured above the elbows; it had left scars on both arms.

She flipped onto her back and tried to stay afloat. Once over the shock of bitter cold, she struggled to think, to get her mind clear. Surely the boat would see her, swing around and come back when he realized she'd fallen overboard. She stared up at the sun and swiveled her head side to side, trying to spot the fast disappearing craft.

I can't see it!

Her breath jammed in her throat when she finally caught a glimpse of the boat. She could only see slips of black hull as it crested each wave. "Come back!" She changed her position and tried to tread water but her limbs were becoming weak.

If I can simply float perhaps ... Certainly, he won't let me drown. He loves me too.

She had given birth only two days before, a girl, strong and healthy by the sound of her cry, but the monks had taken her away ... quick as an intake of breath and then what? Her heart quickened in her chest at the thought of leaving the infant behind. She had not seen the child in the boat before the fall and was grateful for that fact. She must be safe, in the care of the gentle monks. But who will feed her? They were men after all. How—she pushed the thought from her mind. Nothing she could do about the baby now and weren't there others things needing her energy? Survival!

The only thing she could do was float along the sea. She could see gulls overhead, and grey scattered clouds; the sun hot as a new-forged blade upon her face.

He'll come back for me, she thought. He never meant for me to drown. Then another wave smashed on her head, crushing her below a tall angry white-cap. She swallowed a mouthful; it shot up her nose, sharp as a red-hot poker. She sputtered and coughed, kicking furiously as she did so. Finally, she flipped onto her back again. Where was the boat? Which way was shore? I'm here. I'm here! The words stuck in her throat and she wasn't clear to whether she'd spoken them at all.

Delirium set in and a queer tightness tingled in her breasts. It was time to feed the infant.
She continued to thrash about, reaching the surface now and again.

Is the boat behind me? I can hold on 'til he sees me. I can! The ropes around her legs slackened giving her new-found energy and hope.

She kicked and the ropes unwound from her feet and floated to the surface. Lifting her bound hands, she pushed them from her face. The ropes flopped across the waves, mingling with long silvery weeds like old friends.

With one last snip of energy, her head above the grave, she searched the horizon.
The boat was gone!


Ch. 1

Hill of Uisneach AD 536

The water had been ice cold but Brigit was dry as bone.

She sat up on her box-bed, knees hugged to her chest, and rocked, thinking about what she had witnessed, an odd experience that had felt so very real. She was shivering, cold, and the acrid scent of peat smoke pierced her eyes like needles. Someone had died—someone close to her but who?

A wolf howled in the night and a sliver of moonlight shone from the cap hole in the conical shaped roof of the roundhouse. Specter-like shadows slithered across her palms, pale and wrinkled, as if she bathed too long in a sauna.

This was the fifth night she had the same dream though this one more intense, more vivid in crisp detail, eerily realistic. She could sense the woman's blood behind the orbs of her own eyes, slicking the back of her throat, an acidic taste on her tongue. Her long hair had been the color of oak scorched by the sun and she wore a strange garment made from unfamiliar cloth. Nearly transparent, it gave an illusion of quivering wings, the legs white stalks beneath a pale olive green gown. The woman lay dead, face up, a dark sea swirling around her, arms crossed one on top of the other bound with stiff gilded ropes. They cut into her wrists, making a pattern etched in her flesh, though it didn't pain her any longer. 

No, not now it didn't.

It wasn't death that frightened Brigit. Death was only a journey to the Otherworld. Both the monks and the Druid taught her that and she believed them. It was more the feeling the dream invoked in her that was frightening, as though she was terribly late for something important or she had forgotten to feed Finsearch, her favorite hound. For several days!

She sat up on her box-bed, which was laid carefully with rushes over otter and deer skins and reached for a wool coverlet then froze, letting it drop from her hands as she stared down at arms in shock. Angry red welts, puffed and shining as if closed-over wounds, covered her from wrist to elbow. She stared at her sleeping foster-sister across the room and then shoved her arms back down, safely concealing them below the coverlet.

The hound lay curled up by the fire, his grey matted fur rising and falling with each clouded breath. He smelled of mold and wet; small prickly briars poked from his matted grey fur. One ear twitched and he gave a little whining sound but didn't open his eyes.

From a small table, Brigit picked up a bronze flagon with a wolf shaped handle and a tiny duck on the spout. Placing one hand at the enameled base for support, the other on the handle, she poured honey-wine into a drinking cup, put it to her lips but then paused, the cup quivering in her hand. The Druid would not approve, not until she was a full-fledged druid was she allowed the pleasure of drink. The monks she had been raised with, though, drank wine on a regular basis. One thing forbidden. The other as accepted as the sun, the moon, the stars. She did not care who knew, only that she was thirsty. She shrugged and then swallowed the wine. The sour taste made her face pucker. Holding the flagon up close, she inspected the inside of the vessel but saw no breaks in the waxy lining that would explain the bad taste. She placed the flagon on the table, then turned at the sound of rushes shifting under someone's weight.

Geileis, her foster-sister stared at her from across the room, half-risen like a weed from her box-bed. Her fur coverlet had slipped partway down, revealing green swirling lines on the mounds of her breasts and her red hair sprouted in tangles. She yawned and sat up more upright, pulling the coverlet under her chin. "You had that dream again didn't you?"

"How did you—?"

"I can see it on your face, Brig."

"Oh."

"Cannot the Druid give you something to sleep?"

"Not the sleeping that's the problem. It's when I awake that the visions come."

"And the drowning woman?"

"Same as before only this time it was worse ... for both of us."

"Both of you?"

"Hard to explain. It felt like ... Like I was her ... or she was me—and we kept thinking about someone, or something we left behind, but I don't know what, and we were being urged to ... I think ... I think it has something to do with my father."

"Your father? Was he in the vision too?"

"Nay."

"Then why—?"

"You know how when you're dreaming, it seems like you're watching the scene, even if you're the one things are happening to?"

"Aye."

"Well, this wasn't like that at all. I not only felt her panic and fear, but bits and pieces of her thoughts jumped into my head. I was actually thinking her very thoughts!"

"Like memories?" Geileis asked.

"Either that, or what led to her drowning and something else ... I don't know how I know this, but I thought about my father."

"What exactly did you think about him?"

"I don't know! It's more a gut feeling I have. I'm not clear on any of this. I just know the one thing. He's the only one that can tell me. They're connected somehow."

Geileis grabbed a long woolen tunic off the back of a chair and pulled it over her head. 

"Forget the dream," she said flatly. "And if you need a tonic to sleep, we'll see the Druid about it." She struggled to pull her hair out of the garment but the long red curls were tangled in her fingers. She pulled them free with a strangled curse and several long strands dangled from her fingers. She shook them off, growling, and then gave Brigit a narrow-eyed stare. "And don't be thinking about leaving to find your father. The king is days from here and if he wanted to see you, he would have come here himself? He does know where you are."

Brigit rubbed at her arms, which pained her, still safely hidden beneath the covers. "I don't care whether he wants to see me or not. I want to meet him and besides he can tell me about my mother as well as his connection to the lady in my vision."

Geileis' face softened. "It doesn't make any difference to us who you are, Brig. You're still you."

She tried to smile but found it difficult. "I know that, Gel but I need to know, but no one will tell me about my mother. It's like she's a forbidden subject around here."

"Not forbidden; we simply don't know anything. I'm sorry."

"Hmmmph, at least you know who you are," Brighid said under her breath.

"What?"

"How am I to know who I am, if I don't know anything about my past or where I came from."

Geileis sighed heavily. "Not that again. Brigit you're the Druid's apprentice. What else is there to know? You belong with us and besides do you have any idea how far your father's kingdom is? It's days from here!" She shook her head. "Nay, you can't leave. You belong here and what if the Druid passed onto the Otherworld while you were away? Then what would we do?"

"You can find another Druid."

Geileis frowned. "You know there aren't any, Brigit." There was a slight panic in her voice. She was right, and the tribe would not survive without someone to take Amorgin's place, for even Amorgin's ordained students had moved south to study with the monks, many of them becoming Christians in the process.

Without a Druid, the sun may never return, the crops not grow, nor the beasts thrive. They were the wise-men and priests. The only intermediary between the gods and the people now, were the sickly Amorgin and Brigit ... who still had much to learn, her training not complete until she'd trained for eighteen years. So far, she had had only four before her teacher became sick.

"You're all we have, Brig."

Brigit bit her lip. Though she knew what Geileis said was true and the urge to meet her father had always been in her heart, how could she leave now? Uisneach was unusually tense after a year of poor harvests followed by the mysterious darkening of the sky that even Amorgin could not explain. Cloudy days were expected but this was something more. 

The people called it the 'veiling of the sun.'

<><><> 

Geileis wrapped a gold belt around her waist then buckled it tight. Once dressed, she dropped down onto Brigit's box-bed behind her. "Turn around," she instructed. She picked a comb up off the table and pulled Brigit's dark hair back, away from her face. "The festival will be here soon," she told her, changing the subject. She began combing Brigit's long curly hair with small severe strokes. "And the marriage-mart too," she added. The comb refused to budge and she pulled down. Hard.

"Oww! What are you trying to do to me? Pull out my thoughts?"

Geileis laughed. "It's like combing brambles," she said, separating the thick hair into three fat sections.

From the floor, Finsearch raised an inquisitive eye, flipped his long tail up and down several times and then curled back into himself. He closed his eyes once again, settling into a deep sleep.

"I don't care about the marriage mart," Brigit said. "A husband is not what I require. I am a king's daughter, and some day—"

Geileis stopped mid-braid. She swiveled her body around so that she was staring into her foster-sister's face. "I suppose next you'll be telling me your father is coming for you. Well, he isn't and you have responsibilities here." She took a deep breath. "Besides how can you possibly want to leave? If you marry outside of Uisneach, we'd never see each other again. It's time you married, Brig, and someone from our own tribe is as good as husband you can get I should think."

"I suppose you're right," Brigit said grudgingly.

Geileis tucked a tendril behind Brigit's ear. "I know you're confused and these visions are not helping, but we need you, and you belong here, with us, in Uisneach. Someday, the sun will entangle from the winter because of your songs. The harmony of the earth will prosper because of you and the trees will whisper your name on the wind."

"But not now?"

Geileis smiled. "When the time is right, so says the Druid."

"The Druid," Brigit said sadly. "He can barely see the harvest let alone pray for it. I've had to do it for him too many times and I'm not worthy. Not yet."

"Come to the fair with me," Geileis said. "I want you to see the matchmaker." She placed the comb back in a pouch and threw it on the table. "Do it for me, hmm?" She picked up the flagon and lifted the cover.

Brigit leaned over her foster-sister's shoulder before she could take a sip. "Tis tainted you know," she said.

Geileis gave her an accusing look. "We'll talk about that later. The matchmaker comes at the end of the fair. He'll hear everyone's contracts after the games are finalized. I think your chances of finding a suitable husband are good."

"I don't need a matchmaker," Brigit said firmly.

"Brig, you're too busy with your lessons to go courting." She poured more wine into the flagon. "And I hear this matchmaker can find a mate for anyone. Remember Old Lady Allanah? The one who'd buried six husbands? Had teats down to her knees and crazy as an old hen. If the matchmaker can help someone like that, she can find a husband for anyone."

"That so?" Brigit said. "With two hundred beasts what man wouldn't marry her? Besides, they say the man was really after the old crone's daughter."

Geileis flipped up her hands in dismissal. "So ... the contract was sound—and she had protection for the rest of her days." She swatted a rope of dried fish near her head, which swung from the rafters, wafting the fishy scent through the small room.

"Geileis," Brigit said slowly, calculating her next words. "I don't know if I want to marry ... at all. All my life people have told me what to do. The monks taught me to fast and purge and have piety to get closer to their God, but then they brought me here, and the Druid taught me something else ... that I am one with trees, wind and water. And all the time I have these visions of another thing entirely and I don't know what to make of what I see. I'm not sure what direction I should seek Gel, and what if I make the wrong choice?"
Finsearch appeared at Geileis' side, dark head rubbing against her leg, tail thumping on the rush covered floor. She patted the dog's head. "I don't understand you. You have the love of the gods in your hands! Any man would be glad to take you as his wife, yet you talk about marriage like it's a disease. How can you sit here and say you don't know what you want?" Her voice rose, sharp edged with irritation.

"Maybe I want something ...different, Gel."

"Different! What else is there? There is only marriage and children and filling the need the gods have declared for you. What else can you possibly want?"

How could she explain to Geileis what she could not explain to herself? She changed tactics. "I don't see you making plans for the marriage mart."

Geileis smiled; her plump cheeks rosy with health. "You know Arguis is the only man for me." She picked up the flagon of wine and sniffed at it dreamily.

"Not a thing wrong with this wine," she said, taking a long gulp. "It is sweet and predictable." She wiped her mouth with the back of her arm leaving a stain of buttery yellow on her pale linen under-tunic. "As it should be."