Tuesday, February 24, 2009

DANIEL'S DEN by Brandt Dodson; a FIRST Look

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Daniel’s Den

Harvest House Publishers (February 1, 2009)

[Look for my review of this book tomorrow. I don't want to just write a couple of sentences here: it deserves more than that. ]


Brandt Dodson was born and raised in Indianapolis, where he graduated from Ben Davis High School and, later, Indiana Central University (now known as The University of Indianapolis). It was during a creative writing course in college that a professor said, "You're a good writer. With a little effort and work, you could be a very good writer." That comment, and the support offered by a good teacher, set Brandt on a course that would eventually lead to the Colton Parker Mystery Series.

A committed Christian, Brandt combined his love for the work of Writers like Chandler and Hammet, with his love for God's word. The result was Colton Parker.

"I wanted Colton to be an 'every man'. A decent guy who tries his best. He is flawed, and makes mistakes. But he learns from them and moves on. And, of course, he gets away with saying and doing things that the rest of us never could."

Brandt comes from a long line of police officers, spanning several generations, and was employed by the FBI before leaving to pursue his education. A former United States Naval Reserve officer, Brandt is a board Certified Podiatrist and past President of the Indiana Podiatric Medical Association. He is a recipient of the association's highest honor, "The Theodore H. Clark Award".

He currently resides in southwestern Indiana with his wife and two sons and is at work on his next novel.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 324 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736924779
ISBN-13: 978-0736924771


The dance of the blind.

Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:5

Daniel Borden was a happy man. He was in control of his life and he had all that he needed. He was secure.

That was about to change.

On Tuesday, April 5, Daniel rose an hour before sunup and drank a chocolate-flavored protein drink before dressing in red running shorts, light gray T-shirt, and New Balance running shoes. The shoes were less than a month old, but had already carried him more than a hundred miles. They were comfortable.

After dressing, he stretched by putting one foot against the stairway banister and bending at the waist, bouncing slightly, until the tightness in his leg receded. He then alternated legs and performed the maneuver again.

When his stretching was done, he did a hundred sit-ups followed by a hundred push-ups. Although the intensity of the calisthenics was unusual compared to the number for an average man, Daniel was not particularly muscled. Instead, he had the lean sinewy build of an Olympic gymnast. At thirty-five, he looked ten years younger. And in fact, he felt ten years younger too. He attributed his good health to a disciplined lifestyle.

When his warm up was complete he called for Elvis, the two year old black Lab he had adopted from a local animal shelter. The dog had been lying patiently on the comfortable over-stuffed sofa watching with detached interest as Daniel worked through his morning routine. But now it was time to run and Elvis liked to run.

On hearing his name, the dog leaped off the sofa and trod to his master, waiting patiently as his collar and leash were snapped into place. The leash was a requirement of Bayou Bay's restrictive covenants, one of the many features that attracted Daniel to the highly regulated New Orleans subdivision.

He opened the door. “Let's go, boy.”

They left the house and crossed the short expanse of lawn, beginning their run by heading north, a route they often took and that would return them to the house three miles later. They ran at nearly the same time everyday and were familiar with the predawn rhythms of the neighborhood.

Newspapers were delivered between four and five each morning, the garbage collection occurred on Monday, and the Brightmans, who lived several doors down from Daniel and who tended to rise nearly as early, were usually drinking coffee in front of their open dinning room window by the time Borden and the Lab passed their house. The neighborhood ran with the precision and dependability of a Swiss time piece.

Except this morning.

As they began their run, Daniel noticed a black panel van setting curbside less than two doors away. There was nothing particularly suspicious about the van, but it hadn't been there yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that. In fact, in all the months that Daniel had been running through the neighborhood he had never seen the van.

It didn't belong.

He paused to take a second look, when Elvis distracted him by pulling on the leash.

“Okay, okay. Sorry. Geeshsh.”

The morning air was still cool and dew had settled over the lawns giving them an almost aluminum sheen in the waning moonlight.

To the east, over the crest beyond which the city lay, a warm hue was beginning to illuminate the horizon as the sun woke for its ascent. It wouldn't be long before it would break the horizon, painting the sky over The Big Easy in a dazzling array of colors that would impress even the most skilled artist. Then the city would come alive as school children boarded buses, DJs took to the air waves, and rush hour traffic began to form.

But the neighborhood was quiet at this hour, which made for a quiet, peaceful run. Only the pounding of Daniel's feet, his own breathing, and the jingle of Elvis' tags broke the silence. It was a tune with which they had become familiar since Daniel acquired the lab, and it provided him a sense of stability that only the familiar can provide. And Daniel reveled in stability.

His need for the familiar, for the stable, as well as a passion to escape the near poverty conditions he had known as a child, had driven his career choice. As an investment analyst with one of the largest investment houses in the country, he learned that despite the ups and downs of an often volatile market, Wall Street could be relied on to do the one thing it does best--make money. Even in the most difficult of times the market could be depended on to correct itself. And it was the market's natural return to stability that convinced him most investors can control their financial futures if they were willing to make the hard decisions. The market may be unstable at any given moment, but the share holders needn't be. If they were willing to ride out the current travails, history showed they would have an excellent chance of recovery. If they had neither the stomach nor the time to wait for the inevitable market correction, they could sell and reinvest in another, more stable vehicle. True, they may suffer a loss, may even absorb a significant loss, but such were the realities of investing. But the truth underlying the matter is that the investor has the upper hand, even if exercising that option cost them in the short run. Far different than most, who viewed the market as a speculative ride, driven by greed and underwritten by risk, Daniel saw the market as the one place where savvy investors could control their destiny.

And Daniel needed to have control.

The runners approached the first turn in the road. This one would take then to the west, along Worth Street.

Daniel breathed deeply. The air was cool, invigorating, and renewed him in ways that made him feel lighter, as unbound by earthly constraints as the freedom that comes with unchecked flight. It was as though he could leave the earth and return at will.

As dog and master rounded the corner, Elvis began to tug at the leash, a clear sign that it was time to separate the men from the dogs.

“Want to run, huh?” Daniel said.

The dog woofed and pulled harder.

Daniel stepped up the pace, slow at first, but then faster as Elvis maintained his cadence effortlessly.

“Show off.”

Daniel had adopted the dog shortly after moving to New Orleans. Growing up as an only child whose parents moved frequently, more often than not to stay a step ahead of the bill collector, Daniel had often been lonely. Over time, his loneliness led to isolation. He had few friends (none who were particularly close) and was always the last one selected when choosing up sides.

And the abyss of loneliness was further deepened when, more often than not, his father was passed out on the sofa when Daniel came home from school and his mother was at work trying to earn enough money to keep the family in the same house for a single school year.

On those days, Daniel would go to his room and imagine himself a successful man who others admired and respected. He imagined himself traveling to places he'd never been, and would likely never see.

But on other days, when his father was not unconscious and his mother was home, he would try to earn their attention by initiating conversation or taking the lead in washing the after-dinner dishes. And when their favor didn't come Daniel would go outside to mope, or back to his room, feeling as discarded as the beer cans his father carelessly tossed about.

Daniel wanted a dog. Someone who would be glad to see him when he came home from school and who would lay on his bed at night, eager to hear about the day's events. But the realities of his parents' financial straits denied their son this one extravagance. “Dogs cost money,” his father said. “And if you take a look around you'll see that money ain't something that we have just laying about.”

So Daniel spent most of his time alone, dreaming of the day when he could make enough money to have a dog of his own--and take control of his life. And maybe, even make his parents proud.

Growing up alone, gave Daniel ample time for study.

After high school, he attended Ole' Miss on an academic scholarship and excelled in academic achievement. But his father often chided the boy for not wanting to work with his hands and his mother told him he might be reaching for heights that were beyond his ability. The desire to gain their approval began to wane, though, as he grew into manhood and became increasingly independent. But when his mother suddenly died, all desire to gain his parents approval died with her.

He left for Chicago shortly afterward, leaving his father to bury his grief-- real or genuine--in the same way he had buried everything else.

Later, when Daniel earned his MBA, his father did not attend the graduation ceremony, did not call, did not even send a card. The father son relationship officially ended, long before his father died in an alcoholic stupor three years later.

After graduation, it wasn't long before Daniel secured a position with the Chicago office of Capshaw-Crane and began to focus his efforts on climbing the ladder of success. At times it seemed inevitable that he would miss a step, slip up, and fall back to the disaster of his childhood, landing solidly on a pile of empty beer cans in a house of despair. But like the market, he would make the corrections necessary to maintain balance--even if not perspective.

Elvis woofed.

“Not fast enough, huh?” Daniel ran faster; the Lab kept pace.

Borden's concentration on the things in life that were important, on his career, his health, and his financial stability had clearly paid off.

Growing up, he had been lonely. Now he had Elvis. Growing up, he had been hungry. Now, although he chose not to indulge, he could dine in the finest restaurants in a city known for its unique culinary style. Growing up, he had lived in squalid surroundings, awakened as often by the sound of mice playing in his room as he was by his parents' seemingly never-ending arguments. Now he lived in Bayou Bay one of city's premiere residential areas.

Daniel had taken control. He was secure.

Until he noticed the van, again, parked alongside the street with its engine idling and exhaust spewing from the tail pipe. There was no doubt that this was the same van that had been parked on his street, just a few doors down from his house.

“We've seen that before, haven't we boy?”

Elvis continued to pull on the leash. The van was parked along the same side of the street as which they ran, with its nose pointed westward. It was a black panel van with a single red pinstripe encircling it.

It didn't fit. Didn't belong. And yet, here it was, a mile from where it had been parked just a few minutes before.

“This way, boy,” Daniel said, heading for the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street and away from the idling vehicle.

Elvis followed his master's lead, giving him a confused look, but maintaining the pace that would soon bring them parallel with the van. From his vantage point, Daniel could see that the side windows were covered in an opaque film that eliminated any chance of observing who was inside. But as they came alongside the van, Daniel began to slow, finally coming to a complete stop. Elvis gave his master another confused look.

“What have we got here, boy?” Daniel said, leaning forward, straining to get a better view of the van.

A low growl began to form in the dog's throat. As though he had just discovered the out of place vehicle and the possible threat it posed.

“You too?” Daniel said. “I don't like the-“

“Black Lab,” a voice said.

Daniel spun around to find that Elvis was facing to the right, opposite of where the van was parked.

“They're nice dogs,” the voice said. “I used to have one myself.”

Daniel focused on the shadows to his right. Barely visible, but silhouetted against the yard light behind him, a tall man emerged, dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe. He was carrying a garbage can.

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn't mean to startle you.”

Daniel exhaled. “That's okay. It's just that my dog and I never see anyone out at this hour.”

The man set the garbage can down at the curb. “And you wouldn't have this time either, if I could've remembered to do this the night before.” He reached to pat Elvis on the head. “The wife and I are leaving for vacation today and I needed to get this stuff out so it wouldn't pile up. We're going to be gone for a couple of weeks.”

The van pulled away from the curb with only its parking lights on. Daniel made a note of the license plate.

“Do you know them?” Daniel asked.

The man turned to watch as the van disappeared around the corner.

“No, can't say I do. But I wouldn't worry.”

“Why's that?”

He stooped to pat Elvis' head again, before extending a hand. “Hubert Johns.”

“Daniel Borden. And this is Elvis.”

“Elvis, huh? Well, he's sure a beauty. Aren't you boy?” He scratched behind Elvis' ear.

“Why shouldn't I worry?” Daniel asked.

“I'm head of the neighborhood crime watch. If there's anything going on around here, I'm usually the first to know.”

“Are there things going on around here?”

“You mean like burglaries and that sort of thing? No, pretty quiet. And we try to keep it that way.” He nodded to the house across the street. “There are some kids that live there. Teenagers. But they're good kids. A little loud sometimes with their music and all, and their mother lets them keep some pretty late hours, but they've always been polite.” He patted Elvis again. “Most likely the van was some of their friends.”

“Yeah,” Daniel said, feeling a little foolish. “Probably some friends of theirs.”

The man put both hands in the pocket of his robe. “You okay? You sound kind of rattled.”

Daniel laughed. “I'm fine. The van was just sitting there with its engine running. It unnerved me a bit, that's all.”

“I don't remember seeing you at the meetings. Are you a member of the watch?”

Daniel shook his head. “No, I'm afraid not. I tend to keep pretty busy and I don't have-“

“Don't have what? Time?” Hubert chuckled. “I was a cop for thirty years. If they were up to something, I would've noticed it. After thirty years of dealing with every piece of garbage there is, you get to a point where you can smell trouble,” he tapped his nose. “Know what I mean?”

“I guess so.”

“You ought to consider joining the neighborhood crime watch. You never know when you might be a victim.”

“I'll sure think about it.”

“You do that.”

Elvis began to tug at the leash. There wasn't a lot of time left to run and Daniel was wasting it.

“Well, it was nice to meet you,” Daniel said. “Sorry that we haven't met before.”

Johns nodded as he looked about the neighborhood. “Too many people keep to themselves. That's never a good thing. Two people working together are always better than one working alone.”

“Right.” Elvis began to pull hard on the leash.

“But I wouldn't worry about that van. Probably just some kids smoking dope or something.” He nodded toward the eastern horizon. “Besides, the sun is coming up now. If it was somebody that was going to do something, they waited too late.”

Daniel watched as the glow that had just started when he left the house, began blossoming into a new day. “Yeah. Probably nothing to worry about.”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

TUCK: Final Look at Stephen Lawhead's Robin Hood Legend

If there is one legendary hero known to nearly everyone in the Western world, perhaps in the entire world, it is Robin Hood. Robin and his band of Merry Men, along with the fair Maid Marian, have been the heroes of numerous movies, novels, and ballads for hundreds of years. Indeed, the only legend that has been more proliferate is probably that of King Arthur and Camelot. T. H. White even had Robin show up in his tale of Arthur, The Once and Future King. Surprisingly enough, or perhaps not, the tale varies enormously from one source to another. At one time or another I wondered which version was the closest to the real one; now I wonder if it's all a conglomerate of different bits of true history in the first place, mixed with generous portions of imagination. In different sources the time period and ruling king changes, some of the characters change, and sometimes the location varies. Robin's social class and circumstances vary, and there are several versions of his last days.

In the King Raven trilogy, Stephen Lawhead creates his own version of Robin Hood, this time placing him in the 12th century under the rule of William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror. This Robin is actually the rightful heir to a fiefdom in The March, a band of Wales that is on the border with England. Tuck is the third volume, this time following Friar Tuck's role and adventures in the whole story. Written in third person omniscient, the narrative will sometimes wander to Robin or other characters, giving the reader a panorama view of all the players and their activities and conversations. While Robin is still the leader and main hero, this time Friar Tuck's role is brought much more to the forefront. His contribution to the final denouement is crucial; more than that I dare not say lest I give away the finale. Friar Tuck is much more well developed as a character in this novel than in most stories; he is usually presented as the somewhat jolly gourmand who is fond of ale and food, but he seems a bit questionable in his true piety and devotion to God. Happily, Lawhead's Tuck has a deeper relationship with his Lord and does seem to want to follow God. He is in contrast to the rich, powerful and power-hungry Abbots and Bishops that scheme to take land and money from the true Britons and Welsh people. Tuck is a servant, a simple priest as he says, but he knows his scripture. Tuck has great depth to his character. Time and again, Robin puts his trust in Father Aethelfrith (Tuck's real name) to perform tasks could affect life or death for the whole group of followers in Robin's camp.

There are the familiar tales of broken promises and subterfuge on the part of the sheriff, the greedy Abbot, and the king, as well as many daring exploits with Robin and his Grellon winning against impossible odds in skirmish after skirmish. One difference in this story, though, is that the forest dwellers recognize that the successes come from the intervention of God. They feel certain that their cause is just, so therefore God is on their side.

Above all, Lawhead presents a convincing case for his version of Robin Hood's story, why it might be the true story and how the other versions may have evolved over time. His use of a ballad of Rhi Bran y Hud and his Grellon cradles the narrative in the form that our earliest known versions came from, the ballads of early minstrels. With an abundance of Celtic, French, and Welsh language thrown around, coupled with detailed cultural ambience that appears to be authentic of the time and the Welsh and Norman peoples, the tale of King Raven (it has to do with a translation like Rhi Bran, which led to Robin donning a terrifying big Raven costume to frighten enemies) sounds plausible.

Those who love legends like Robin Hood and King Arthur will devour Tuck as well as the other two books in the series, Hood and Scarlet. I am sure it would be better if the books could be read in order, but I personally haven't read the first two, and I found it easy enough to follow without the background. Perhaps for someone who actually knows nothing of Robin Hood, it could be confusing to start at the last book. Tuck will appeal to those who thrive on digging into the truth behind any fictional history. I found myself looking up a lot of the words at first, mostly Welsh words. It's something I enjoy. Little touches like a pronunciation guide and a map added to my personal enjoyment in reading. Many extra touches enhanced a story that was already outstanding. It won't appeal to everyone: for one thing, it is over 400 pages long. The style is almost scholarly at times, very much in keeping with the older tales that we have already in our libraries. It only seems appropriate. Tuck is neither a simple read nor a quick one, but it is well worth the time for those who will undertake a new telling of Rhi ban and his Merry Grellon of the forest band.

You can read a sample of the book and a bit of the author's biography in my most recent posting.

FIRST Chapter: TUCK by Stephen R. Lawhead

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:


Thomas Nelson (February 17, 2009)


Stephen R. Lawhead is an internationally acclaimed author of mythic history and imaginative fiction. His works include Byzantium, Patrick, and the series The Pendragon Cycle, The Celtic Crusades, and The Song of Albion.

Stephen was born in 1950, in Nebraska in the USA. Most of his early life was spent in America where he earned a university degree in Fine Arts and attended theological college for two years. His first professional writing was done at Campus Life magazine in Chicago, where he was an editor and staff writer. During his five years at Campus Life he wrote hundreds of articles and several non-fiction books.

After a brief foray into the music business—as president of his own record company—he began full-time freelance writing in 1981. He moved to England in order to research Celtic legend and history. His first novel, In the Hall of the Dragon King, became the first in a series of three books (The Dragon King Trilogy) and was followed by the two-volume Empyrion saga, Dream Thief and then the Pendragon Cycle, now in five volumes: Taliesin, Merlin, Arthur, Pendragon, and Grail. This was followed by the award-winning Song of Albion series which consists of The Paradise War, The Silver Hand, and The Endless Knot.

He has written nine children's books, many of them originally offered to his two sons, Drake and Ross. He is married to Alice Slaikeu Lawhead, also a writer, with whom he has collaborated on some books and articles. They make their home in Oxford, England.

Stephen's non-fiction, fiction and children's titles have been published in twenty-one foreign languages. All of his novels have remained continuously in print in the United States and Britain since they were first published. He has won numereous industry awards for his novels and children's books, and in 2003 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Nebraska.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $26.99
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (February 17, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595540873
ISBN-13: 978-1595540874



Wintan Cestre

Saint Swithun’s Day

King William stood scratching the back of his hand and watched as another bag of gold was emptied into the ironclad chest: one hundred solid gold byzants that, added to fifty pounds in silver and another fifty in letters of promise to be paid upon collection of his tribute from Normandie, brought the total to five hundred marks. “More money than God,” muttered William under his breath. “What do they do with it all?”

“Sire?” asked one of the clerks of the justiciar’s office, glancing up from the wax tablet on which he kept a running tally.

“Nothing,” grumbled the king. Parting with money always made him itch, and this time there was no relief. In vain, he scratched the other hand. “Are we finished here?”

Having counted the money, the clerks began locking and sealing the strongbox. The king shook his head at the sight of all that gold and silver disappearing from sight. These blasted monks will bleed me dry, he thought. A kingdom was a voracious beast that devoured money and was never, ever satisfied. It took money for soldiers, money for horses and weapons, money for fortresses, money for supplies to feed the troops, and as now, even more money to wipe away the sins of war. The gold and silver in the chest was for the abbey at Wintan Cestre to pay the monks so that his father would not have to spend eternity in purgatory or, worse, frying in hell.

“All is in order, Majesty,” said the clerk. “Shall we proceed?”

William gave a curt nod.

Two knights of the king’s bodyguard stepped forward, took up the box, and carried it from the room and out into the yard where the monks of Saint Swithun’s were already gathered and waiting for the ceremony to begin. The king, a most reluctant participant, followed.

In the yard of the Red Palace—the name given to the king’s sprawling lodge outside the city walls—a silken canopy on silver poles had been erected. Beneath the canopy stood Bishop Walkelin with his hands pressed together in an attitude of patient prayer. Behind the bishop stood a monk bearing the gilded cross of their namesake saint, while all around them knelt monks and acolytes chanting psalms and hymns. The king and his attendants—his two favourite earls, a canon, and a bevy of assorted clerks, scribes, courtiers, and officials both sacred and secular—marched out to meet the bishop. The company paused while the king’s chair was brought and set up beneath the canopy where Bishop Walkelin knelt.

“In the Holy Name,” intoned the bishop when William Rufus had taken his place in the chair, “all blessing and honour be upon you and upon your house and upon your descendants and upon the people of your realm.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” said William irritably. “Get on with it.”

“God save you, Sire,” replied Walkelin. “On this Holy Day we have come to receive the Beneficium Ecclesiasticus Sanctus Swithinius as is our right under the Grant of Privilege created and bestowed by your father King William, for the establishment and maintenance of an office of penitence, perpetual prayer, and the pardon of sins.”

“So you say,” remarked the king.

Bishop Walkelin bowed again, and summoned two of his monks to receive the heavy strongbox from the king’s men in what had become an annual event of increasing ceremony in honour of Saint Swithun, on whose day the monks determined to suck the lifeblood from the crown, and William Rufus resented it. But what could he do? The payment was for the prayers of the monks for the remission of sins on the part of William Conqueror, prayers which brought about the much-needed cleansing of his besmirched soul. For each and every man that William had killed in battle, the king could expect to spend a specified amount of time in purgatory: eleven years for a lord or knight, seven years for a man-at-arms, five for a commoner, and one for a serf. By means of some obscure and complicated formula William had never understood, the monks determined a monetary amount which somehow accorded to the number of days a monk spent on his knees praying. As William had been a very great war leader, his purgatorial obligation amounted to well over a thousand years—and that was only counting the fatalities of the landed nobility. No one knew the number of commoners and serfs he had killed, either directly or indirectly, in his lifetime—but the number was thought to be quite high. Still, a wealthy king with dutiful heirs need not actually spend so much time in purgatory—so long as there were monks willing to ease the burden of his debt through prayer. All it took was money.

Thus, the Benefice of Saint Swithun, necessary though it might be, was a burden the Conqueror’s son had grown to loathe with a passion. That he himself would have need of this selfsame service was a fact that he could neither deny, nor escape. And while he told himself that paying monks to pray souls from hell was a luxury he could ill afford, deep in his heart of hearts he knew only too well that—owing to the debauched life he led—it was also a necessity he could ill afford to neglect much longer.

Even so, paying over good silver for the ongoing service of a passel of mumbling clerics rubbed Rufus raw—especially as that silver became each year more difficult to find. His taxes already crushed the poor and had caused at least two riots and a rebellion by his noblemen. Little wonder, then, that the forever needy king dreaded the annual approach of Saint Swithun’s day and the parting with so much of his precious treasury.

The ceremony rumbled on to its conclusion and, following an especially long-winded prayer, adjourned to a feast in honour of the worthy saint. The feast was the sole redeeming feature of the entire day. That it must be spent in the company of churchmen dampened William’s enthusiasm somewhat, but did not destroy it altogether. The Red King had surrounded himself with enough of his willing courtiers and sycophants to ensure a rousing good time no matter how many disapproving monks he fed at his table.

This year, the revel reached such a height of dissipation that Bishop Walkelin quailed and excused himself, claiming that he had pressing business that required his attention back at the cathedral. William, forcing himself to be gracious, wished the churchmen well and offered to send a company of soldiers to accompany the monks back to the abbey with their money lest they fall among thieves.

Walkelin agreed to the proposal and, as he bestowed his blessing, leaned close to the king and said, “We must talk one day soon about establishing a benefice of your own, Your Majesty.” He paused and then, like the flick of a knife, warned, “Death comes for us all, and none of us knows the day or time. I would be remiss if I did not offer to draw up a grant for you.”

“We will discuss that,” said William, “when the price is seen to fall rather than forever rise.”

“You will have heard it said,” replied Walkelin, “that where great sin abounds, great mercy must intercede. The continual observance and maintenance of that intercession is very expensive, my lord king,”

“So is the keeping of a bishop,” answered William tartly. “And bishops have been known to lose their bishoprics.” He paused, regarding the cleric over the rim of his cup. “Heaven forbid that should happen. I know I would be heartily sorry to see you go, Walkelin.”

“If my lord is displeased with his servant,” began the bishop, “he has only to—”

“Something to consider, eh?”

Bishop Walkelin tried to adopt a philosophical air. “I am reminded that your father always—”

“No need to speak of it any more just now,” said William smoothly. “Only think about what I have said.”

“You may be sure,” answered Walkelin. He bowed stiffly and took a slow step backwards. “Your servant, my lord.”

The clerics departed, leaving the king and his courtiers to their revel. But the feast was ruined for William. Try as he might, he could not work himself into a festive humour because the bishop’s rat of a thought had begun to gnaw at the back of his mind: his time was running out. To die without arranging for the necessary prayers would doom his soul to the lake of everlasting fire. However loudly he might rail against the expense—and condemn the greedy clerics who held his future for ransom—was he really prepared to test the alternative at the forfeit of his soul?

Part I

Come listen a while, you gentlefolk alle,

That stand this bower within,

A tale of noble Rhiban the Hud,

I purpose now to begin.

Young Rhiban was a princeling fayre,

And a gladsome heart had he.

Delight took he in games and tricks,

And guiling his fair ladye.

A bonny fine maide of noble degree,

Mérian calléd by name,

This beauty soote was praised of alle men

For she was a gallant dame.

Rhiban stole through the greenwoode one night

To kiss his dear Mérian late.

But she boxed his head till his nose turn’d red

And order’d him home full straight.

Though Rhiban indeed speeded home fayrlie rathe,

That night he did not see his bed.

For in flames of fire from the rooftops’ eaves,

He saw all his kinsmen lay dead.

Ay, the sheriff’s low men had visited there,

When the household was slumbering deepe.

And from room to room they had quietly crept

And murtheréd them all in their sleepe.

Rhiban cried out ‘wey-la-wey!’

But those fiends still lingered close by.

So into the greenwoode he quickly slipt,

For they had heard his cry.

Rhiban gave the hunters goode sport,

Full lange, a swift chase he led.

But a spearman threw his shot full well

And he fell as one that is dead.


Tuck shook the dust of Caer Wintan off his feet and prepared for the long walk back to the forest. It was a fine, warm day, and all too soon the friar was sweltering in his heavy robe. He paused now and then to wipe the sweat from his face, falling farther and farther behind his travelling companions. “These legs of mine are sturdy stumps,” he sighed to himself, “but fast they en’t.”

He had just stopped to catch his breath a little when, on sudden impulse, he spun around quickly and caught a glimpse of movement on the road behind—a blur in the shimmering distance, and then gone. So quick he might have imagined it. Only it was not the first time since leaving the Royal Lodge that Tuck had entertained the queer feeling that someone or something was following them. He had it again now, and decided to alert the others and let them make of it what they would.

Squinting into the distance, he saw Bran far ahead of the Grellon, striding steadily, shoulders hunched against the sun and the gross injustice so lately suffered at the hands of the king in whom he had trusted. The main body of travellers, unable to keep up with their lord, was becoming an ever-lengthening line as heat and distance mounted. They trudged along in small clumps of two or three, heads down, talking in low, sombre voices. How like sheep, thought Tuck, following their impetuous and headstrong shepherd.

A more melancholy man might himself have succumbed to the oppressive gloom hanging low over the Cymry, dragging at their feet, pressing their spirits low. Though summer still blazed in meadow, field, and flower, it seemed to Tuck that they all walked in winter’s drear and dismal shadows. Rhi Bran and his Grellon had marched into Caer Wintan full of hope—they had come singing, had they not?—eager to stand before King William to receive the judgement and reward that had been promised in Rouen all those months ago. Now, here they were, slinking back to the greenwood in doleful silence, mourning the bright hope that had been crushed and lost.

No, not lost. They would never let it out of their grasp, not for an instant. It had been stolen—snatched away by the same hand that had offered it in the first place: the grasping, deceitful hand of a most perfidious king.

Tuck felt no less wounded than the next man, but when he considered how Bran and the others had risked their lives to bring Red William word of the conspiracy against him, it fair made his priestly blood boil. The king had promised justice. The Grellon had every right to expect that Elfael’s lawful king would be restored. Instead, William had merely banished Baron de Braose and his milksop nephew Count Falkes, sending them back to France to live in luxury on the baron’s extensive estates. Elfael, that small bone of contention, had instead become property of the crown and placed under the protection of Abbot Hugo and Sheriff de Glanville. Well, that was putting wolves in charge of the fold, was it not?

Where was the justice? A throne for a throne, Bran had declared that day in Rouen. William’s had been saved—at considerable cost and risk to the Cymry—but where was Bran’s throne?

S’truth, thought Tuck, wait upon a Norman to do the right thing and you’ll be waiting until your hair grows white and your teeth fall out.

“How long, O Lord? How long must your servants suffer?” he muttered. “And, Lord, does it have to be so blasted hot?”

He paused to wipe the sweat from his face. Running a hand over his round Saxon head, he felt the sun’s fiery heat on the bare spot of his tonsure; sweat ran in rivulets down the sides of his neck and dripped from his jowls. Drawing a deep breath, he tightened his belt, hitched up the skirts of his robe, and started off again with quickened steps. Soon his shoes were slapping up the dust around his ankles and he began to overtake the rearmost members of the group: thirty souls in all, women and children included, for Bran had determined that his entire forest clan—save for those left behind to guard the settlement and a few others for whom the long journey on foot would have been far too arduous—should be seen by the king to share in the glad day.

The friar picked up his pace and soon drew even with Siarles: slim as a willow wand, but hard and knotty as an old hickory root. The forester walked with his eyes downcast, chin outthrust, his mouth a tight, grim line. Every line of him bristled with fury like a riled porcupine. Tuck knew to leave well enough alone and hurried on without speaking.

Next, he passed Will Scatlocke—or Scarlet, as he preferred. The craggy forester limped along slightly as he carried his newly acquired daughter, Nia. Against every expectation, Will had endured a spear wound, the abbot’s prison, and the threat of the sheriff’s rope . . . and survived. His pretty dark-eyed wife, Noín, walked resolutely beside him. The pair had made a good match, and it tore at his heart that the newly married couple should have to endure a dark hovel in the forest when the entire realm begged for just such a family to settle and sink solid roots deep into the land—another small outrage to be added to the ever-growing mountain of injustices weighing on Elfael.

A few more steps brought him up even with Odo, the Norman monk who had befriended Will Scarlet in prison. At Scarlet’s bidding, the young scribe had abandoned Abbot Hugo to join them. Odo walked with his head down, his whole body drooping—whether with heat or the awful realization of what he had done, Tuck could not tell.

A few steps more and he came up even with Iwan—the great, hulking warrior would crawl on hands and knees through fire for his lord. It was from Iwan that the friar had received his current christening when the effort of wrapping his untrained tongue around the simple Saxon name Aethelfrith proved beyond him. “Fat little bag of vittles that he is, I will call him Tuck,” the champion had said. “Friar Tuck to you, boyo,” the priest had responded, and the name had stuck. God bless you, Little John, thought Tuck, and keep your arm strong, and your heart stronger.

Next to Iwan strode Mérian, just as fierce in her devotion to Bran as the champion beside her. Oh, but shrewd with it; she was smarter than the others and more cunning—which always came as something of a shock to anyone who did not know better, because one rarely expected it from a lady so fair of face and form. But the impression of innocence beguiled. In the time Tuck had come to know her, she had shown herself to be every inch as canny and capable as any monarch who ever claimed an English crown.

Mérian held lightly to the bridle strap of the horse that carried their wise hudolion, who was, so far as Tuck could tell, surely the last Banfáith of Britain: Angharad, ancient and ageless. There was no telling how old she was, yet despite her age, whatever it might be, she sat her saddle smartly and with the ease of a practiced rider. Her quick dark eyes were trained on the road ahead, but Tuck could tell that her sight was turned inward, her mind wrapped in a veil of deepest thought. Her wrinkled face might have been carved of dark Welsh slate for all it revealed of her contemplations.

Mérian glanced around as the priest passed, and called out, but the friar had Bran in his eye, and he hurried on until he was within hailing distance. “My lord, wait!” he shouted. “I must speak to you!”

Bran gave no sign that he had heard. He strode on, eyes fixed on the road and distance ahead.

“For the love of Jesu, Bran. Wait for me!”

Bran took two more steps and then halted abruptly. He straightened and turned, his face a smouldering scowl, dark eyes darker still under lowered brows. His shock of black hair seemed to rise in feathered spikes.

“Thank the Good Lord,” gasped the friar, scrambling up the dry, rutted track. “I thought I’d never catch you. We . . . there is something . . .” He gulped down air, wiped his face, and shook the sweat from his hand into the dust of the road.

“Well?” demanded Bran impatiently.

“I think we must get off this road,” Tuck said, dabbing at his face with the sleeve of his robe. “Truly, as I think on it now, I like not the look that Abbot Hugo gave me when we left the king’s yard. I fear he may try something nasty.”

Bran lifted his chin. The jagged scar on his cheek, livid now, twisted his lip into a sneer. “Within sight of the king’s house?” he scoffed, his voice tight. “He wouldn’t dare.”

“Would he not?”

“Dare what?” said Iwan, striding up. Siarles came toiling along in the big man’s wake.

“Our friar here,” replied Bran, “thinks we should abandon the road. He thinks Abbot Hugo is bent on making trouble.”

Iwan glanced back the way they had come. “Oh, aye,” agreed Iwan, “that would be his way.” To Tuck, he said, “Have you seen anything?”

“What’s this then?” inquired Siarles as he joined the group. “Why have you stopped?”

“Tuck thinks the abbot is on our tail,” Iwan explained.

“I maybe saw something back there, and not for the first time,” Tuck explained. “I don’t say it for a certainty, but I think someone is following us.”

“It makes sense.” Siarles looked to the frowning Bran. “What do you reckon?”

“I reckon I am surrounded by a covey of quail frightened of their own shadows,” Bran replied. “We move on.”

He turned to go, but Iwan spoke up. “My lord, look around you. There is little enough cover hereabouts. If we were to be taken by surprise, the slaughter would be over before we could put shaft to string.”

Mérian joined them then, having heard a little of what had passed. “The little ones are growing weary,” she pointed out. “They cannot continue on this way much longer without rest and water. We will have to stop soon in any event. Why not do as Tuck suggests and leave the road now—just to be safe?”

“So be it,” he said, relenting at last. He glanced around and then pointed to a grove of oak and beech rising atop the next hill up the road. “We will make for that wood. Iwan—you and Siarles pass the word along, then take up the rear guard.” He turned to Tuck and said, “You and Mérian stay here and keep everyone moving. Tell them they can rest as soon as they reach the grove, but not before.”

He turned on his heel and started off again. Iwan stood looking after his lord and friend. “It’s the vile king’s treachery,” he observed. “That’s put the black dog on his back, no mistake.”

Siarles, as always, took a different tone. “That’s as may be, but there’s no need to bite off our heads. We en’t the ones who cheated him out of his throne.” He paused and spat. “Stupid bloody king.”

“And stupid bloody cardinal, all high and mighty,” continued Iwan. “Priest of the church, my arse. Give me a good sharp blade and I’d soon have him saying prayers he never said before.” He cast a hasty glance at Tuck. “Sorry, Friar.”

“I’d do the same,” Tuck said. “Now, off you go. If I am right, we must get these people to safety, and that fast.”

The two ran back down the line, urging everyone to make haste for the wood on the next hill. “Follow Bran!” they shouted. “Pick up your feet. We are in danger here. Hurry!”

“There is safety in the wood,” Mérian assured them as they passed, and Tuck did likewise. “Follow Bran. He’ll lead you to shelter.”

It took a little time for the urgency of their cries to sink in, but soon the forest-dwellers were moving at a quicker pace up to the wood at the top of the next rise. The first to arrive found Bran waiting at the edge of the grove beneath a large oak tree, his strung bow across his shoulder.

“Keep moving,” he told them. “You’ll find a hollow just beyond that fallen tree.” He pointed through the wood. “Hide yourselves and wait for the others there.”

The first travellers had reached the shelter of the trees, and Tuck was urging another group to speed and showing them where to go when he heard someone shouting up from the valley. He could not make out the words, but as he gazed around the sound came again and he saw Iwan furiously gesturing towards the far hilltop. He looked where the big man was pointing and saw two mounted knights poised on the crest of the hill.

The soldiers were watching the fleeing procession and, for the moment, seemed content to observe. Then one of the knights wheeled his mount and disappeared back down the far side of the hill.

Bran had seen it too, and began shouting. “Run!” he cried, racing down the road. “To the grove!” he told Mérian and Tuck. “The Ffreinc are going to attack!”

He flew to meet Iwan and Siarles at the bottom of the hill.

“I’d best go see if I can help,” Tuck said, and leaving Mérian to hurry the people along, he fell into step behind Bran.

“Just the two of them?” Bran asked as he came running to meet Siarles and Iwan.

“So far,” replied the champion. “No doubt the one’s gone to alert the rest. Siarles and I will take a stand here,” he said, bending the long ashwood bow to string it. “That will give you and Tuck time to get the rest of the folk safely hidden in the woods.”

Bran shook his head. “It may come to that one day, but not today.” His tone allowed no dissent. “We have a little time yet. Get everyone into the wood—carry them if you have to. We’ll dig ourselves into the grove and make Gysburne and his hounds come in after us.”

“I make it six bows against thirty knights,” Siarles pointed out. “Good odds, that.”

Bran gave a quick jerk of his chin. “Good as any,” he agreed. “Fetch along the stragglers and follow me.”

Iwan and Siarles darted away and were soon rushing the last of the lagging Grellon up the hill to the grove. “What do you want me to do?” Tuck shouted.

“Pray,” answered Bran, pulling an arrow from the sheaf at his belt and fitting it to the string. “Pray God our aim is true and each arrow finds its mark.”

Bran moved off, calling for the straggling Grellon to find shelter in the wood. Tuck watched him go. Pray? he thought. Aye, to be sure—the Good Lord will hear from me. But I will do more, will I not? Then he scuttled up the hill and into the wood in search of a good stout stick to break some heads.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A FIRST Look at A LEVER LONG ENOUGH by Amy Deardon

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

A Lever Long Enough

Taegais Publishing, LLC (January 12, 2009)


Amy Deardon is a skeptic who came to faith through study of the historic circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus. This is her first book.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $15.95
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Taegais Publishing, LLC (January 12, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0981899722
ISBN-13: 978-0981899725

I'm sorry to say that I haven't been able to read this book yet, but I intend to order it as soon as possible. It's one of a few that have captured my curiosity at the moment. The buzz about it has all been good. When I finally do get a copy, there will probably be a review to follow.


“Give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and single-handed I can move the world.”

—Archimedes of Syracuse

287-212 B.C.E.


The ancient Qumran Mountains were hard and dusty, fists of rock pushing upwards to strike the face of the sky. As the helicopter trailing the two paragliders banked to the left, Benjamin watched the lead figure closely. Sara soared between two peaks, smooth, so smooth, as she dodged a cliff and spun another turn in her ascent.

Benjamin shook his head. “She flies that thing like it was a part of her.” He saw his pilot, Caleb Mendel, glance over at him.

“They’re looking good,” Mendel said. The earphone in Benjamin’s helmet crackled, the voice tinny and mechanical from the transmitter.

“I’m pleased.”

The two paragliders dangled about twenty feet below the arched cloth wings, the fanned lines passing in a spread to their hands, but Sara flew far ahead—silhouetted against the next cliff now, too close to it. Even as he watched, she executed another sharp turn and dove down, circling out of it and up again as the giant fan strapped to her back pushed the wing’s edge forward. Benjamin let out his breath.

“She sure likes to cut it fine,” Mendel said. “That gust of wind almost knocked her against the rock.”

“She’s all right,” Benjamin replied.

There were three and a half days until FlashBack.

The pilot touched the controls, and Benjamin felt the slight dip as the helicopter rolled to the right on a longer trajectory to keep from staying ahead of the gliders. Thumpa thumpa thumpa…he felt the vibration as the rotors of the helicopter shook the pod. They were going around the turn now and the waters of the Dead Sea spread out before them, glinting red in the late sun. Several small boats floated near a trawler—Benjamin knew they were searching for the weak signal of a nuclear battery.

He was thinking of FlashBack, and the time machine.

Mendel glanced over at the trawler. “It doesn’t look like they’re wrapping up yet. Can they continue to search in the dark?”

“Not as well, but they will. If they find the data now, it will let some pressure off.”

He shifted in his seat. The men on the boats were searching for the data capsule that he wouldn’t deposit in the Dead Sea for another week, yet it may have been there since before the Roman conquest of Jerusalem. It was unclear how the time strands worked.

“If it’s there, it could have corroded through,” the pilot said.

Benjamin shook his head. “Unlikely.” The titanium capsule was sixteen inches in diameter with extraordinarily tight seals. More probable that it was masked from detection by a two-thousand-year-old coating of deposited salt.

He turned his attention back to the soldiers riding on the air currents. How different would it be when they went back?

“Let’s finish up,” he said. The sky was bruising dark as the sun fell, and the gliders still had a good ten minutes to go before they landed.

Rebecca Sharett, behind Sara, was having trouble keeping to a smooth course. Benjamin knew that she wasn’t confident in the air, but really, it wasn’t critical, since they would use the paraglider only as a desperate measure to deliver the information capsule so that it could be carbon-dated. It was treacherous, that was for sure.

Sara cornered another turn, and Benjamin smiled despite himself. She was so smooth. Not just this, but everything to which she touched her hand, or her mind. Lately she seemed to be in his awareness more and more—

Don’t think about her.

The helicopter turned course, following the gliders through the hard range. There were long shadows over the terrain.

“One more line of mountains,” Mendel said.

“Excellent time,” Benjamin replied. “Sara would be running under three and a half hours if she weren’t turning back all the time to wait for Rebecca.”

From the top of his helmet, the pilot pulled down infrared goggles against the growing dark. Full sunset now, deep shadows merged to black on the ground. Benjamin reached for his own set.

They flew on.

To the west the city lights of Jerusalem scattered the infrared image to a green shadow on the periphery of his vision. As they topped the last ring of mountains, he watched Sara glide several hundred feet farther, turn off the fan’s engine on her back, and begin her landing cone of intention. He shook his head. Despite the darkness, Sara barely slowed. She was going to get herself killed.

The new Israeli military complex loomed ahead: multiple buildings guarded by a wickedly sharp perimeter fence and towers. It had been locked down for the past week in preparation for FlashBack. He watched the pilot flip on the microphone to receive clearance for landing in the restricted airspace.

“We’re set,” Mendel said after a moment. “They’re putting on the lights now.”

The helicopter jostled in the air current, and Mendel pulled up on the controls. “Wind’s picking up.”

Benjamin glanced at the lights of the complex, then back at his soldiers. Sara touched down, the cloth wing collapsing behind her like a giant blanket. The two men on the transport vehicle ran forward and began pulling out the wing before she’d even unclipped the harness. Rebecca began to circle. The helicopter whipped through one last circuit as Mendel began their own landing sequence.

Then the pilot made a sudden move.

Benjamin looked over. “What is it?”

The pilot stared hard at the residential building through his infrared goggles, as if trying to see the afterimage of something fleeting. Benjamin hadn’t seen anything himself.

“I’m not sure,” Mendel said slowly.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

VENGEANCE by Donna Dawson


Vengeance is mine,I will repay, saith the Lord. (Romans 12:19)
. Without a doubt, others will remember this verse as they read Vengeance by Donna Dawson. Unfortunately most people aren't content to leave it to the Lord to repay their wrongs. The whole story in this murder mystery grows from ultimate acts of vengeance committed by men who were victims of great atrocities. The hurt had festered deep in the hearts of these men, fed by the hatred of those who had wronged them and their families. In fact, the main evil doings went back as far as the Vietnam War, so from childhood the mastermind of the assassins had patiently planned his ultimate revenge, a revenge that he felt fit the crimes.

FBI agent James Kirk Benedict has just completed a hard case, rescuing a little girl who was traumatized by a kidnapper who abused her while she was in his custody. The case is still fresh on his mind, and he still has some paperwork to finish before putting it to rest. But it's time for his vacation, so he takes the paperwork with him on a cruise ship bound for Hawaii. Benedict looks forward to finishing it quickly so that he can make the most of this vacation and relax a bit. It isn't long, however, until other guests on the ship start dying: horrible, quick, painful deaths that leaves their skin and organs in turmoil even after they are dead. Is it a plague of some sort? Is it contagious? Benedict finds himself investigating a series of horrific deaths that cause concern for every passenger on the ship. Including himself.

Meanwhile, his girlfriend Julie, a psychologist working with the FBI, is patiently and prayerfully working with the victim of the kidnapping, trying to bring her back to “normal” after the ordeal she has suffered. It's a heart-breaking and delicate case, but at least she is able to discuss some of it with James when he makes his nightly call to her. Of course, James' news disturbs Julie. Her concern for James makes it more difficult to concentrate on the needs of the little girl, but the great thing is that the parents are worried enough to let Julie talk about God with her young patient. Julie knows that the most complete healing is only possible if God is part of the cure.

Vengeance is a murder mystery that fits the bill for anyone interested in such stories. A warning for younger readers and their parents: there is lots of gory and ugly details of the ravages of the poison that the victims come in contact with. In this case the sordid details are integral to the story, but be forewarned. While we are privy to the thoughts and motives of the main murderer from the beginning of the novel, he is not revealed until near the end of the book. I was a bit surprised by the revelation, even more so by his accomplice. Suffice it to say that there are enough red herrings and tidbits of information scattered throughout the book to make me change my mind several times about who I thought was the culprit.

Within the main story are a few others, a nice twist that keeps it all interesting. There is the romance between James and Julie. It is refreshing to read about a romance that is pure as these to devout Christians display a dedication to the principles of Christ in their relationship. Then there is the case of the little girl that Julie is actively engaged in. She becomes more emotionally involved than she should be as a professional, but her faith in God plays an important role.

The reader is introduced to a lot of nasty history from the Vietnam War, a side of the war that adversely affected untold numbers of allied soldiers and civilians. While we cannot condone the cruel acts of revenge enacted, as frail humans ourselves we can understand what led him to such lengths.

Overall, Vengeance is a mystery novel that will hold your attention and possible make you think about a few issues, both spiritually and mentally. It has a sense of humor that breaks the tension now and then (like the fact that our hero was named James Kirk after the Star Trek captain). It is well worth reading, especially on these snowy days when so many people are stuck at home.

Read a free excerpt from Vengeance

Purchase Vengeance from Barnes & Noble or Amazon

Visit Donna's Website

Check out these other member blogs this week for more info.