Monday, March 31, 2014

Monthly Reading List: March

And so ends another month of great reading!

Halt's Peril (#9, Ranger's Apprentice Series, John Flanagan)

Ranger's Apprentice! How could I forget the Ranger's Apprentice series that I have yet to finish??
Halt's Peril delivers. One might think that the story might begin with Halt getting shot (as the jacket blurb spoils for us) and spend the whole time focusing on Will and how he would manage without his mentor.

But no. Halt doesn't get shot till around chapter eight or so. Which gives Mr. Flanagan ample time to do what he does best: establish his cast of colorful characters so vividly you can almost smell them.
This book feels almost like a culmination of the story arc that started in Book 5 with the Sorcerer of the North and was briefly interrupted in Book 7 with Erak's Ransom. We see familiar characters from the last 3 books, namely Tennyson, the unscrupulous "prophet of Alseiass" whom we met in "Clonmel", and the healer Malcom from "Sorcerer" and "Macindaw." Horace joins the Rangers in their quest to discredit Tennyson once and for all, after all the grief he's caused. The bonds of friendship are sound, and the theme of sacrifice and true strength and courage rings throughout. I laughed, I held my breath—and I can't believe it's ending soon.

Along Came A Spider (#1, Alex Cross series, James Patterson)
I decided to start yet another thriller writer who I've seen over and over again, James Patterson. I started at the very beginning of his two most famous series.
Along Came A Spider introduces us to Alex Cross, a psychiatric doctor often called to help on cases where the criminal is obviously troubled. And boy, does this dude have a problem! His style of kidnapping is to bury his victims—young children—alive in a remote location where there's not much hope that they'll be found before they're dead. It's up to Alex to get inside the kidnapper's head to first figure out his identity, and then where he has taken the children of some prominent government officials, and why.
That being said, I didn't much appreciate the intensity of said psychopath. I felt disturbed more often than intrigued, and the compulsion to finish was driven more by frantic desperation for a resolution than actual interest in the story. Alex himself did not much strike me as a very strong character. I don't think I will be pursuing this series any further.

1st to Die (#1 Women's Murder Club series, James Patterson)
What part of "a lady detective, a medical examiner, and a persistent reporter decide to form a Murder Club" isn't intriguing?
This book had so much going for it—and yet from the first crime scenario, I discovered it was a serial killer whose preferred MO involved mutilating the bodies in ways I never thought possible—which Mr. Patterson seemed to enjoy describing in minute, graphic detail.
The characters happened to be marginally interesting (at least enough for me to actually want them to catch this sicko) which is why I kept reading it—but every time the killer struck, I skimmed pages while my stomach turned.
I'm giving the sequel one more chance, in the hopes that it was sheerly the nature of the crime chosen for the first book that made it so revolting. We'll see if the characters get any more interesting—or maybe I discover an author who just plain can't write female characters.

G is for Gumshoe (#7, ABC Mysteries, Sue Grafton)
Grafton does it again with a rousing mystery full of bizarre circumstances and outlandish perils to entertain the mind.
In this mystery, Kinsey receives two messages in a single day. The first is an elderly client asking her to investigate the whereabouts of her own mother, whom she hasn't heard from in a long while. Kinsey knows it will be simple; for a PI who is a pro at sniffing out paper trails and false identities to find people who want to hide, how hard could it be to find a near-senile old lady?
The next call she gets informs her that a mobster she helped incarcerate a few years prior has put a hit out on her—several dangerous killers are out for her blood. Hence, her friend in the police department has issued her a bodyguard to follow her 24/7 and approve activities outside her house—something that severely cramps Kinsey's mode of operation! How can she hunt down leads when she can't investigate by herself? Will the Irish mob get her before she can solve the case?
A cast of colorful characters, an intriguing mystery, and a rather entertaining literary reference—There were one or two cringe-worthy scenes that contributed little to either Kinsey's character or her case, but barring that, a delightful read!

Council of Mirrors (#9, Sisters Grimm series, Michael Buckley)
Finally! The last book in the Sisters Grimm series! Not in the sense that I've been waiting for a very
long time—rather, I am glad that I can now quit that series with impunity.
Granted, this series had its warm-fuzzy moments, however rare or brief they were. But I never really quite got into the story, nor did I feel any sort of support or attachment to any of the characters.
Council of Mirrors was an ending that never rose above the level of the rest of the series. I am only grateful to be done with it. For once, I've read a series that might actually be entertaining only to ages 8-10. And even then... There are more worthwhile things to read at that age.

The Sixth Man (#5 King & Maxwell series, David Baldacci)
It wasn't till I checked it out and brought it home that I realized "Wait... Edgar... That's the guy from the TV series!"
Sure enough, this book was the one on which the pilot for TNT's short-lived series, "King & Maxwell" was based. Reading the novel as part of a series, instead of the beginning, provided an interesting new perspective on the two characters. Not only that, but it quickly became evident which parts of the original novel were changed for the TV series—and upon reflection I may have figured out a likely explanation as to why that would be.
The mystery was tight, complex, and very intriguing, but Baldacci infuses his characters with plenty of heart. The relationship between half-siblings Kelly and Edgar is heartwarming and tender. The fact that Edgar doesn't say a word until something like Chapter 40 is a unique way of presenting a character. We get inside his head before we "hear" what he has to say. A great book, and a great author. I can't wait to read the next one!

Allegiant (#3 Divergent Trilogy, Veronica Roth)
At long last, I found a copy of the last book in the Divergent series! I had read the first six chapters at an airport bookstore during a layover a few months back, but Allegiant didn't hit library shelves till recently.

The thing I find most intriguing about a book is when the title adequately describes the focus and theme of the novel. In Divergent, we find out about the class called "Divergent" that are outside the faction boundaries and therefore not as easily manipulated or controlled. Insurgent centered on the group that arose, committed to overthrowing the faction system and instituting a system akin to total anarchy, as a reaction to the stern regulation of the factions.
Allegiant deals with the fallout from the rebellion, and a group that calls themselves the Allegiant, who know the truth about the society that once lived by faction: they were part of a genetic experiment, collected into a single US city and closely monitored by the Council, whose job it was to discover whether genes could be used to correct "damaged" personalities. Those with more damage are more suceptible to chemical alterations. The "genetically pure" do not have the discrepancies that would make them vulnerable. It is the "damaged" ones that are viewed as the inferior race—and also the members of the Allegiant, whose aim is to strike back against the Council and prove themselves "worthy" of respect.
But does violence truly warrant respect? If you do as I say because otherwise I will kill you, is that actually respect or is it fear and coercion?
The book closes with the quote: "We are all damaged, every one.... But we can mend. We mend each other."
I love this series; I love the way it made me think, I love the continuous message of hope, I love the characters. It was awesome.

Once Upon A Time Fairytales (Cameron Dokey)

Have I mentioned how much I love fairytales? Especially ones that are well-done and take themselves seriously. From the original Grimms' Fairytales to Regina Doman's Fairy Tales, Re-Told and Marissa Burt's wonderful adventures in Storybound, fairy-tales to me are pretty things, like a soft-colored, peaceful painting, or a sun-catcher made of wire and strung with glass beads: delicate and awe-inspiring in a quiet sort of way.
Cameron Dokey's Once Upon A Time Fairytales are no exception. She has taken the stories we all grew up hearing and expanded them, adding new and unexpected insights and fresh perspectives that rejuvenate the old stories into a new timeless tale. And just like the old tales, there is a valuable lesson for each character to learn.
The two I read this month were for the stories of Beauty and the Beast and for Jack and the Beanstalk. They were both delightful stories (a bit girl-powered, but oh well). In the first, Belle is the youngest of three sisters who are far more beautiful than she is, and she takes her father's place to stay with the Beast because she is the only one who can free him from the enchantment in a way one would never expect. In the next story, Jack has a twin sister who is the level-head to his impulsiveness, and they find out that their mother is royalty from the World Above and must brave many dangers (the least of which, interestingly enough, are actually the giants) to reclaim their inheritance from the man who stole it and killed their father. I enjoyed every minute spent reading these, and I will certainly be on the lookout for more!

So how about you? What amazing reads did you discover in the month of March? Leave a recommendation in the comments!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 5

             There was little doubt in Cramwell’s mind as to the identity of the kidnapper now; he had mentioned “news.” That was careless of him, but then, how could he know that Cramwell would solve it so quickly? He probably had no idea that Cramwell was wise to his methods. No doubt he assumed Cramwell was still scared. Cramwell had him fooled; but there was another matter that bothered him. He had also mentioned “harm.” This took the kidnappings to another level; Cramwell had frequently comforted himself with the idea of the victims all sitting together in a dark attic or basement somewhere in town, frightened and disoriented but otherwise unscathed. Would all this change now? Was he getting bored waiting for Cramwell to pull himself together and do something? Cramwell set his jaw grimly; he wouldn’t keep his adversary waiting. After all, he had said where he would be and when. How would it be if Cramwell went to the rendezvous—but not alone?
            For the second time that day, Cramwell did not go to the library. Instead, he visited the police station of Precinct.
            The woman in the lobby was shocked to see him, for she knew Cramwell Fornberg as well as anyone, and that was by sight alone.
            “Can I help you?” she asked dutifully.
            Cramwell fixed his strange blue eyes on her and laid the latest newspaper with Colby’s picture and last known location on the desk in front of her.
            “I know who did it,” he stated confidently.

            Mr. Mavis stood outside the grocery store and watched the library carefully. He stood there until just before four o’clock, but for some reason, he never saw Cramwell come out.
            He wanted to confront the man. Evidently Cramwell knew more than people realized; his erratic behavior had not emerged before people started disappearing. Could he have done something to cause the abductions? For even Mr. Mavis was beginning to believe that a waitress or a young boy do not just run away; there had to be a mastermind behind it. What if it was Cramwell Fornberg himself?
            As the clock struck four, Mr. Mavis decided to go into the store and wait for Cramwell to come. He waited behind the high shelves of canned goods, because he knew that Cramwell would come there for soup, as he always did.
            Sure enough, as soon as the last chime died down, the entrance bell beeped and Cramwell Fornberg shuffled into the grocery store. Mr. Mavis waited patiently, unmoving. At last, the cane appeared, followed by the man himself. Mr. Mavis saw the queer blue eyes lock onto him.
            “Mr. Fornberg,” Mr. Mavis said in a low voice, “I need to ask you a few questions concerning the recent abductions.”
            Cramwell did not respond. He selected his soups and moved toward the register. Mr. Mavis followed him.
            “Cramwell, how much do you know?” Mr. Mavis asked bluntly.

            Cramwell stopped, turned to look Mr. Mavis full in the face, and informed him in no uncertain terms, “I know everything.” He turned heel and strode out of the establishment. Mr. Mavis still followed him.

            “What do you mean?” Mr. Mavis wanted to ask, but just then he found himself surrounded by the Precinct Police force, and an officer pulled his hands behind his back and stated, “Mr. Mavis, you are under arrest for the suspected abductions of Clarissa Forquist and Colby McKee, et al, with intent to harm.”
            “Intent to what?”
            “You have the right to remain silent—“
            “I don’t understand, why are you—“
            “Anything you say may be used against you—“
            “What is the meaning of this?”
            “You have the right to an attorney…”
            Cramwell stood on the curb and did not watch as they took Mr. Mavis away. They would put him in lockup until they either got a confession or something happened to prove his innocence. Cramwell was fairly certain the latter would not happen, but he wasn’t so sure that the former would, either. He climbed up Fornberg Hill with a markedly lighter step. If he had assumed correctly, the third kidnapping would not happen. Whoever the victim would have been, he had been the one to save his or her life before Mavis had the chance to take it. And the victim would probably never know of it.

            The next morning, Cramwell looked forward to opening his paper and seeing that his life had returned to normal. Sure enough, “MAVIS IS LEAD SUSPECT IN RECENT KIDNAPPINGS” heralded the events that Cramwell Fornberg had instigated the previous evening. The article never mentioned his name, just as he requested. Cramwell resumed his old routine—though after spending nearly a week doing things completely outside his habit out of fear, he found they were less terrible and threatening than he had originally thought they would be, and he didn’t mind behaving like a man who held his head up and glanced at the people he walked by, instead of the morose turtle afraid to poke his head out of his shell. Cramwell had rid the town of the one thing he feared most; the rest of the world couldn’t hold such terror for him anymore.
            He strode down the Hill, head erect, but his demeanor was as defensive as ever. His eyes discouraged anyone from speaking to him unless he spoke first, which he certainly would not do. He walked in and sat at his booth in the café. Beth took his order this time, and Cora brought his coffee. Cramwell watched the people coming in and out of the café. There was Sheriff Zander; Jason Plattner showed up and ordered a triple latte with a cinnamon roll. The Gardner family showed up and ordered breakfast. Cramwell never realized he had overstayed until he glanced out the window and saw that the clock above City Hall had nearly reached ten o’clock. Something was missing, he knew it; but what?
            Cramwell stood, and suddenly he knew: Alivia, the woman with the red umbrella. She usually came in around nine-thirty, when Cramwell was leaving. He had not seen her today, he was sure of it. He would have remembered the umbrella. Had she been—
            Cramwell shook his head; absolute nonsense! Mr. Mavis was in lockup, so if it wasn’t him—why did every sort of disappearance have to be a kidnapping anymore? She was probably ill or out of town—or something. Cramwell left for the library, keeping an eye out for that red umbrella. The whole walk to the library, he never saw it. He stopped in front of the library and shook his head again. What was he doing looking for a red umbrella when the October sun shone high in the sky? Cramwell sighed and shrugged. That umbrella was all he knew of Alivia Rogner. She would be harder to spot without it. He would have to accept that she might be somewhere else in town, without that umbrella.
            Four-thirty came, and Cramwell stepped out of the grocery store with a full basket, still thinking about—no, worried now—Alivia. It upset him dreadfully when matters in his life were not the way they had always been; one thing out of place, and it felt like everything was out of control. He tapped his cane in consternation and began walking across the square toward Fornberg Hill.
            A flash of red caught his eye and he stopped in his tracks. Alivia’s umbrella! There it was, next to the diner! Cramwell quickly moved to that spot—as quickly as he could, that is, with his cane. Yes! It was certainly the same umbrella, leaning against one of the black metal tables set outside the diner. Cramwell picked it up and brought it inside. Was Alivia there?
            Mrs. Preston was shocked to see him, but she didn’t let on. “Hello again, Mr. Fornberg!” she said as he walked in, “What brings you here?”
            Cramwell said nothing, but showed her the umbrella.
            “What’s this?” Mrs. Preston took the umbrella, “Alivia’s umbrella? Why, yes, she was here about two o’clock. How strange! She never goes anywhere without this umbrella, rain or shine! She uses it for a cane when she’s not walking in the rain!” Mrs. Preston giggled, “Bless me! That rhymed! I certainly didn’t plan it that way, you should know.”
            “Have you seen her since then?” Cramwell asked, knowing full well that this was probably the first time in years Mrs. Preston had heard him speak.
            He noticed she took a long time to reply; she probably knew that, too. “Well, um, no; but she is usually home for dinner. I’ll call her on the telephone.”
            Mrs. Preston rushed to the tiny office at the back of the diner and dialed a number. After waiting for several minutes without speaking, she hung up the phone with a frown. “That’s so very odd!” She mumbled, “There’s no answer, not at her house, nor on her cell phone. Where could Alivia be?”
            Cramwell’s stomach sank again; he knew good and well what the papers were going to say the next day. He picked up the umbrella again. “Never mind,” he said, “I’ll take this with me.”
            “All right, Mr. Fornberg,” Mrs. Preston replied, “Goodbye.”

            Cramwell stumbled out the door and onto the sidewalk. Alivia was gone! It had happened again! Cramwell remembered Mr. Mavis, who was no doubt sitting in lockup this very minute, because Cramwell himself had put him there. Did Mr. Mavis have a man on the inside, or was he completely innocent? There could have been a perfectly harmless explanation as to why the two notes—the request and the threat—had been written with the same pen: it could have been because the pen was on the counter at the diner. The two men didn’t have to even know each other to use the same pen if the pen belonged to the same establishment visited by them both. Cramwell set his hat and started off for the Police Station. He would need to see Mr. Mavis, though what exactly he intended to do about the situation was still a mystery to the man.

            Mr. Mavis sat on the cot in the small lockup cell with his head in his hands, thinking furiously. There was not much else for him to do. Why had Cramwell Fornberg played him like this? Was it because he was guilty, or because he thought Mr. Mavis was guilty? If he was guilty, how could Mr. Mavis prove it? If he wasn’t, then who was the real culprit?
            These questions and countless others had kept Mr. Mavis awake during the day. The police had questioned him endlessly, and Mr. Mavis had answered each question so fully there could be no doubt of his innocence, but since Cramwell Fornberg had made the accusation, the police could not fully release Mr. Mavis until Cramwell Fornberg dropped the charges. Mr. Mavis thought of his wife, and Karthey and Derrik. The cops had let him call his wife shortly after arriving at the station, but that was all. They knew he was arrested, they knew Cramwell Fornberg was responsible, but they didn’t know why or when he would be released. Mr. Mavis himself did not put much stock in the hope that he would be released at any time in the near future. If he knew Cramwell Fornberg, and if Cramwell Fornberg thought that the man who was behind the kidnappings of late was safe behind bars, Cramwell would resume his normal daily routine, which never carried him past the police station at all. Why would Cramwell—

            “Cramwell Fornberg to see you, Mavis,” Officer Hammer announced, and through the door trudged the man himself!
            Mr. Mavis sprang to his feet. “Please, sir,” he said, remembering to maintain a respectful tone with Precinct’s most powerful and volatile resident, “Please! You have to drop the charges! You know I am innocent!”
            Cramwell stood across from Mr. Mavis, silent and unmoving. Officer Hammer watched this man in awe. He looked across at Mr. Mavis, the slick journalist that more than once had exposed Hammer’s mistakes, faux pas, and impulsive decisions when writing articles on the officer’s various cases. Hammer resented this; moreover, he saw an opportunity to elevate himself in the perception of Cramwell Fornberg—whose perception, in turn, of the whole town no doubt came from the papers that had been so unkind to Hammer—while meting retribution out on his enemy. Hammer resolved to become the mouthpiece of Cramwell Fornberg.
            He leaned close to the cage, “How much do you know about the perpetrator, Mavis?” Hammer growled, “How can you say you’re innocent, when just today we have received word of another abduction?”
            “Another one? Who was it this time, officer?”
            Hammer glanced at the silent Cramwell and saw a glint of what he thought to be outrage in his eyes as he watched the prisoner. Cramwell’s mouth was set in a fine line.
            “You know good and well about Alivia’s disappearance, I think, Mavis!” Hammer accused, “You’re not the sort of journalist to miss out on a good scoop, now, are you? And the fact that the abductions have all run the first page—written by you, sir!—well, that’s more than a coincidence, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Fornberg?”
            Mr. Mavis clung to the bars of his cell and frantically begged his accuser, “Please, Mr. Fornberg! I don’t know Alivia very well at all! I had no idea she had disappeared! And if I have been in lockup all day, how could I have been the one to arrange her disappearance?”
            Hammer was just warming up to his role as mediator. He stuck his face in between the men now, continuing to beat Mavis back with questions. “Are you in league with the man who took her? Do you have connections with the kidnapper who is abducting the citizens of Precinct one by one?”
            Mr. Mavis shook his head, “Look, all I know about those kidnappings is everything I printed in the articles. I’m not the guy who took them! I have nothing to hide! Please let me return to my family!”
            Cramwell remained silent and unmoving as he reflected that he could allow him to return, at a mere word; but he also knew that he had a reputation to maintain, one of a hard, unforgiving, strange, masterful man. Obviously he held quite a bit of power over these people, considering the way they all tender-footed their way around him, and the respectful, pleading tone Mr. Mavis used even now. Cramwell held all the cards in this game; he might as well play them.
            What he hadn’t counted on was Hammer’s apparent quarrel against Mavis. The man was absolutely relentless in his onslaught of the journalist.
            “Why are you so concerned with Mr. Fornberg, then, Mr. Mavis?” he demanded, “You arrange a meeting in the place and time you knew he would be, yet all you seemed to want to know is how much information he had on the kidnappings. Why wouldn’t you ask more about him if you didn’t already know everything about him? And if you know all about him, then what is preventing you from pinning suspicion on Mr. Fornberg, merely because you are the only one in town who fancies himself familiar with a man like him?” Officer Hammer glanced back at the stony, well-dressed man before threatening, “I don’t know but that he might think you better off as a permanent resident in his house till we get this whole mystery straightened out, just to keep an eye on you.”
            Mavis frowned at Officer Hammer, “Since when were you so close to Mr. Fornberg that you knew how he thought?” he responded.
            Hammer considered this as he looked back at Cramwell’s face; the expression had not changed, or, if it had, changed for the worse. Cramwell frowned slightly now, as if disliking the idea of anyone coming into his domain (really, Cramwell was pondering the wisdom of Officer Hammer’s suggestion; perhaps at his house, he could win the confidence of the journalist, and the two of them could solve the mysteries together).
            Officer Hammer sighed, enjoying the total despair on his enemy’s face. “Well, you’re right, I suppose, Mavis; perhaps it is better for you to stay here in lockup for the duration of the—
            “Release him.”
            Both Hammer and Mavis jumped at the sound of the voice. They looked over to the only other person in the room—Cramwell Fornberg.
            “Sir?” Officer Hammer gasped shakily, not wanting to believe the clear, cutting voice had come from The Cram himself.

            Cramwell gestured mildly toward Mr. Mavis. “Release this man; I’ve decided to drop the charges. He is free to return home and bid farewell to his family, and then he must report to my house by eight o’clock.” His words were short and cutting, as if he was unused to speaking to another person. He turned and walked out of the room without waiting. On his way, he heard the officer behind him unlock the door and inform Mr. Mavis, “You’re free to go.”
            Cramwell kept his pace even as he walked out the door. Mr. Mavis ran up and caught his arm as he stepped out onto the sidewalk.
            “Thank you, Mr. Fornberg,” he gasped.
            Cramwell didn’t trust himself to look at him, “Remember our deal, Mr. Mavis,” he responded evenly.
            “I will,” Mr. Mavis promised. He didn’t see that he had a choice.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 4

Down on the other side of Precinct, Karthey looked up as her dad came home from work and pulled off his red silk tie. She smiled as he hung his black jacket over a hook and sank into his favorite red easy-chair. Red was his favorite color. Karthey brought him his slippers, and he squeezed her hand gratefully as he tucked his feet snugly in them.
            “How was work today, Dad?” she asked him, pulling a little footstool up by the easy-chair to sit on as she talked with him.
            “Nothing out of the ordinary, Karth,” Mr. Mavis replied with a shrug, “Except I didn’t see Cramwell Fornberg at the library this afternoon. Victoria said she saw him coming out of City Hall.”
            Karthey stared at the fire as she tried to comprehend what her father was telling her. “Cramwell didn’t stick to his usual schedule?”
            Her dad shrugged, “Apparently not; I wonder what he could be doing in City Hall, of all places?”
            Karthey’s hazel eyes sparkled and she laid her red head on her father’s knee. “You’re the journalist,” she teased, “You should figure it out.”
            Her father shook his head and turned the dial on the radio sitting on the table next to him. “Really, that is far too much thinking for my poor old brain right now. What with the disappearance of the girl from the diner, we’ve just got to wonder what’s going to hit this town next.”
            Karthey shivered and pulled her knees up to her chest. “Have the police found anything yet?”
            Mr. Mavis shook his head, “Nothing; there’s not even any leads as to who did it; they’ve ruled out the possibility of her running away. Everyone who knew the girl said she wasn’t the type. She was too happy, too content with her situation.”
            Mrs. Mavis poked her head into the living room. “Come into the kitchen, everyone! Dinner’s ready!”
            Derrik poked his head out of his bedroom door, where he had been deeply ensconced in a bean-bag and sealed from the world behind noise-canceling headphones as he played his video games. “Did somebody say dinner?”
            “Come on, son,” Mr. Mavis chuckled. The family gathered at the table, and for a time, the day’s mysteries did not hold such an awful sway over them.

            Cramwell woke the next morning with a thrilled sensation that set his heart thumping. He went about his daily routine with unusual energy. He actually smiled at his reflection as he placed his hat squarely atop his head—and did not pull the brim low over his face. He would need a clear field of vision for his reconnaissance mission today!

            Cramwell Fornberg kept his head slightly bent as he traveled down the hill toward Precinct, but he did not focus on the ground as he once did. Instead, his quick eyes flicked to the faces he passed by, and every so often, he recognized a face from those he had so painstakingly studied the evening prior. Just on the way to the café, he saw Bernadette Marley, Jason Plattner, and Dorothea McKee and her three children David, Marsha, and Colby.
            In the café, Cramwell carefully noted all the staff. He saw Sheriff Zander walk through the doors no less than two minutes after he placed his order and took his booth. He saw Cora, Darla, and the other waitresses Sydney, Mabel, Whitney, and Beth, all moving around the main area taking orders, refilling cups, and clearing dirty dishes. He knew from his studies that since these six were out front, that left five others whom he could not see behind the counter and in the kitchen. Nine-thirty struck much sooner than it usually did (he felt), and once again, as he stood (slower this time than the day before), the woman with the red umbrella came through the door. Cramwell left the café behind her, and set off toward his next customary location. En route, he identified William Bravstein, Timothy Dartmouth, and Jeremiah Morgan—all municipal employees at City Hall. At the library, Cramwell realized for the first time that every time he checked out a book, it was taken, stamped, and returned to him by either Cecil, Taylor, Zack, or Kayla. Cramwell was so intent on recognizing people that he did not once think about the threatening messages and their very real consequences, nor the most recent message, with its victim yet unknown.
            Twelve o’clock, he walked over to the diner. Mrs. Preston greeted him yet again with her usual cheery salutation.
            “Well, Cramwell Fornberg! My day just wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t see that charming hat of yours breezing through my doors halfway through it!”
            Cramwell said nothing, only glanced at her briefly as he grabbed his bag and left. At the park, he passed by Frank Beskitt near the entrance and made for his customary bench. His sandwich tasted better today than it ever had before. Halfway through eating his chips, he heard a voice.
            “Colby! Colby! Come here right now, young man! Colby!”
            Mrs. McKee wandered into the park with her two older kids firmly in tow. “Colby!” Periodically, she would stop and ask a passerby, “Have you seen my son Colby? I can’t think where he’s run off to!”
            Presently, she happened to stop someone near Cramwell’s bench, and he heard every word, though immediately afterwards he fervently wished he hadn’t.
            “Have you seen my son, Colby?” Mrs. McKee asked. “I just stopped in at the grocery store, and I must have lost him in another aisle, but when I went to look for him, I couldn’t find him. He must have wandered out and gotten himself lost. Have you seen him? He is only eight years old, about four feet tall, and wearing a red jacket. Have you seen him?”
            Cramwell tried continuing to eat as he listened, but as she finished, he found he couldn’t swallow his cookie. His mouth went dry, and the crumbs clung to his gums and clogged his throat. “Now you see him, now you don’t…” He had identified Colby McKee today, had he not? Cramwell was certain the boy would still be missing tomorrow. He knew exactly what had happened to Colby, but nothing would induce him to ever reveal this to anyone. Who knows but such an action would only implicate himself, with the way people were scared of him already!
            Cramwell hastily tossed his empty sack and half-eaten cookie into the nearest trashcan and rushed off to the library again. The book Cromwell—returned to its original state, sans the extra letters and coded message—taunted him from its shelf, even though Cramwell spent the next three hours in the Nonfiction section. At four o’clock, he went to the grocery store—only to remember again that this was the last place little Colby had been seen. Cramwell was so distracted by the things he so desperately wanted to forget that he bought quite all the wrong things that day. As he perused his basket on his way back up the Hill, he supposed he would have to make the best of the random items he had just purchased. For it was one thing when someone disappeared from a crowd of total strangers; quite another when you knew that someone’s name, out from all the others! And what were daily provisions compared to that? Cramwell miserably dined on steamed cabbage, baked beans, boiled potatoes and fish sticks that night. It had happened again! There was no outsmarting this kidnapper, this insidious, cipher-spouting bogeyman that purported to haunt the citizens of Precinct, but actually made his mark terrorizing the soul of Cramwell Fornberg, the man outside of Precinct and all of its doings! What had he done to deserve such a cruel fate? What would he do now?

The Cramwell Fornberg who wearily stumbled out from under the covers at the eighth chime was quite possibly the polar opposite of the one who had sprung out of bed with such vivacity only twenty-four hours previously. He had not slept very well the previous night. The abductions were beginning to wear on him, to invade his slumber with terrifying nightmares of places where one by one everything and everyone disappeared, and Cramwell was left alone in an empty, swirling void. The solitude, once so comfortable and consistent, was now a constant reminder that someone was stealing people—but not without warning Cramwell first. It swirled about him as he warily picked up the newspaper and completely avoided the first page, which he knew gave the circumstances about the mysterious disappearance of Colby McKee, the eight-year-old in the red jacket who lost his way in the grocery store. Sadly, nothing else in the entire paper seemed to matter. He read every article in the remainder of the paper to Marble Jelilah, but every time he turned the page, her face stared back at him as if catching him in a lie, or keeping secrets; Jelilah always knew when he was keeping secrets. He could never really keep secrets—or keep it a secret that he was keeping a secret—from her. She always knew, that wonderful, wise Jelilah!
            He trembled as he ordered his coffee from Whitney, and Beth brought it to his table. Just a few days ago, he had been relieved to see no codes; now everything had a hidden meaning to it! The way Cora moved past certain tables with waiting patrons and stopped at others; the number of patrons using spoons or not; how many ate their meals at the café, and how many stopped in for their morning coffee. Sheriff Zander came in two minutes after Cramwell ordered his coffee, just like he did the day before. Cramwell deduced he must come in at the same time every morning, just as Cramwell himself did. The woman with the red umbrella—her name was Alivia Rogner—came in before Cramwell realized he’d overstayed. How many people watched him leave, he wondered, and which ones actually took note? Was the kidnapper among them?
            He rushed outside and started for the library; a man in a black suit and a bright red silk tie brushed past him. Cramwell stopped in his tracks. Red silk tie! He had seen it the first day! He looked up; it was only Mr. Mavis, a journalist for the Precinct Daily. He had been the one to write the missing persons articles that claimed the front-page slot every time. Cramwell mused that he had never seen that name on the front page ever before, yet according to the census, Mr. Mavis had been writing for the paper for a while. Feigning abductions would certainly be a convincing—albeit juvenile—opportunity for fame that is every journalist’s dream, no doubt. Would Mr. Mavis be one to take such an opportunity?
            Cramwell traced the direction he saw the man come from; he had just left the diner. Cramwell checked the clock at the top of City Hall; it was nearly noon. He had spent far too long at the diner, and now he had wasted more time standing on the sidewalk thinking. He might as well get his lunch early today.

            Cramwell duly marched into the diner. Mrs. Preston was genuinely surprised, but she kept up her sunny banter.
            “Well, Mr. Fornberg! Mr. Mavis said he thought you’d be in here a little early today. He left something for ya in your bag. Here it is,” She handed him the white paper sack.
            Cramwell took it, staring at it warily. Mrs. Preston laughed, “Don’t be so worried! It’s only a message!”
            She meant to reassure him, but her words only made him more concerned. So Mr. Mavis was the one leaving him messages? It made perfect sense; Mr. Mavis could have the coveted front page with the abductions, and he out of everyone else in the town Cramwell could think of would know the habits and affinities of Precinct’s resident recluse. As a writer himself, he would know about books and, very likely, codes, to be able to give Cramwell what he probably intended only to be a good scare, unaware that it would balloon into a wanton terror for the timid man.
            Cramwell did not so much as open the bag until he reached his secluded bench in the park. Carefully, he peeked inside. Sure enough, two messages waited in the bag for him, written, he noticed, with the same pen.
            The first said,
We Need To Talk. Grocery Store, 4 o’clock.

            The second was the old familiar encoded message:


            The Typewriter Cipher! Cramwell wasted no time solving it, and read the result with a sinking heart.


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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 3

             The next day was completely like any other day. Cramwell retired that night thinking that perhaps the napkin and book incident of the previous day had been just a fluke, almost a dream, but certainly not reality! The following morning at eight o’clock, Cramwell awoke as usual, put on his dressing gown, and calmly paced measured steps to the front door to retrieve his morning paper. He tucked it under his arm and headed straight for the kitchen, as he always did.
            Cramwell brought his breakfast to the table and kissed the marble face in front of him.
            “Good morning, Jelly,” he whispered. He unfolded the paper and began to read.

            “HAVE YOU SEEN ME?” The headline screamed. Beneath it was a picture of a young girl with wavy brown hair, blue eyes, fair skin, and freckles. She was smiling.
            “MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OCCURS AT CAFÉ,” the newspaper termed it. “Clarissa Forquist had just finished her shift at the local café, and told her remaining co-workers that she was going straight home, which was about a twenty-minute walk away. Reportedly ten minutes after Clarissa left, friend and acquaintance Darla Munroe noticed that Clarissa had left her favorite scarf—a red-and-white-striped wool knit—hanging in the break room. “I knew she would have been halfway home by then,” Darla says, “So I waited another fifteen minutes or so, and then called her house.” But Clarissa never got the call; authorities have searched the house and found no sign that Clarissa Forquist ever made it home that night. She was last seen on the corner of Summer Street and Fifth, by a passerby on their way to the tavern, just minutes before eight o’clock PM. If you have seen Clarissa at any time within the last twenty-four hours, or if you see her, please don’t hesitate to call the authorities.”

            “Someone will disappear at eight….Where is Jane? Look At The Clock! Where is Jane? Can Dick Find Jane? Where is Jane? Where is Jane?”
            Cramwell pushed his unfinished bowl of oatmeal away. He suddenly had no appetite. His stomach knotted up and twisted inside of him, so wracked with guilt was he. Guilt over what? He had been warned! He knew someone was disappearing, but it had all seemed so petty when people were invisible to him anyhow! The clock struck nine. Cramwell didn’t have the heart to touch the paper again, for every picture was pretty, young Clarissa, so much like his beloved Jelilah! Every headline pestered him, “Have you seen me? Didn’t you see me? Were you even looking? You sit there at the café where I work for half an hour every day, have you ever seen me?”
            Cramwell sat at the table until he heard the clock strike half-past-nine. He mused that he would begin heading down into the town right about now, and the first place he would go would be the café—could he still bear going there, with what he knew now? Cramwell knew he would have to try; what else could he do besides that which he had always done?
            Cramwell got dressed, grabbed his hat, cane, and basket—then upon impulse he grabbed a notebook, too. Who knew if another napkin awaited him in his booth? He would be prepared this time!

            Cramwell found it relatively easy to behave normally in the café. Of course people were whispering all around him, but then, people always whispered all around him. Cramwell checked the stack of napkins immediately upon entering his booth, but none of them bore any markings whatsoever. Perhaps it was just the once, he thought with no small sensation of relief.
            Once the half-hour was up, Cramwell finished the last swallow of coffee and rose from his booth. As he was getting up, one of the waitresses came by to wipe the table and clear his cup; her nametag read “Cora.” Cramwell suddenly realized that Clarissa may have cleared his cup on many mornings, but since he did not know her name, she was “just another person” to him until she disappeared. It gave him a sense of power to be able to name now at least two people in the town of Precinct: Clarissa, and Cora. Cramwell stopped with a whim of perhaps getting a glance of Cora’s face, but just then a woman blustered through the door carrying a bright-red umbrella, and nearly tripped over Cramwell’s cane. Before the woman could react in surprise or inconvenience, Cramwell left the establishment and hurried to his next rendezvous, the library.
            There were still no new codebooks, so Cramwell returned to the Fiction aisles to search for all of Jelilah’s favorite authors.
            He stopped short when he saw his own name—irregular as it was—spelled out clearly on the spine of one of the books. The real title of the book was Cromwell, and it happened to be a book based on the life of Oliver Cromwell, but a piece of paper with the letter “A” had been cleverly affixed over the “O” to spell Cramwell. A sinking, dreadful feeling came over Cramwell as he slowly, reluctantly pulled the book from the shelf.
            Sure enough, taped on the front cover was a piece of paper with another code! This one was full of numbers.


            Cramwell pondered what the numbers could mean. A simple book code, perhaps? The typical pattern for such a code, he knew, very often followed the “page-line-word” form. He turned to the fifteenth page of Cromwell, and sure enough, the third line began with the word, “Now.” The book was his key! Cramwell flipped madly back and forth through the book, writing the designated words out in his notebook. Finally, the page before him displayed the entire message:

            Now you see him, now you don’t; someone you notice today will not be there tomorrow.”

            Cramwell rubbed his furrowed forehead in consternation. Another warning! How would he prevent the abduction this time? Besides, the kidnapper had upped his game already: he had addressed Cramwell by name. Whoever it was knew Cramwell, knew his love for codes—but did not know how few people Cramwell actually noticed, evidently. This time, Cramwell had a plan. He jumped up from his chair with alacrity and promptly stumbled over a long, straight object. A child’s red umbrella; Cramwell kicked it aside with a sneer and walked out the door.
            After picking up his bag of lunch at the diner, he set out to the City Hall instead of the park. He kept his head down and his eyes averted as he requested from the receptionist the most recent town census records.
            Danielle, the receptionist, found this sort of request extremely odd and totally abnormal; but, then again, this was Cramwell Fornberg, widely regarded as the oddest and most abnormal person in town, if not the whole country. In addition, the Fornberg Estate had funded a large part of the businesses and establishments in the town. Cramwell Fornberg was not one to be refused much of anything in a town like Precinct. She scanned a copy of the census records, carefully bundled it all in an envelope, and handed this packet to Cramwell.
            He accepted it without acknowledging her, and departed to the park to eat his lunch.

            Cramwell was moderately pleased with himself. Armed with this list of names, he would be able to know every resident without having to notice them personally. So far that day, the only person he had actually noticed was Cora, the girl at the diner. Would the kidnapper take another diner waitress? Surely not! Cramwell was nearly confident that this would be a kidnapping the perpetrator would want him to assume was totally random. Cramwell picked up his daily groceries and returned to his house. He feasted on roast chicken and rice, fully assured of the success of his plan.

            After dinner, Cramwell settled into the library with a map of the town, and the census records. He made a list of all the places he visited during the day (since the kidnapper seemed to have prior knowledge of Cramwell’s daily habits, to leave him clues where Cramwell could find them), and referenced that with all the names on the list of people who worked in those establishments.
            No less than fourteen individuals worked at the café, twenty at the library, twelve at the diner, and six at the grocery store. The rest could likely be seen at any time during his walk through the Square or during lunch at the park. He looked carefully at the pictures accompanying the names of most of the people (predominately the adults, not so much the children). Every face was completely unfamiliar to him, but he made a point to match each name with the face, so he would know whom to expect without having to see them. He would outwit this kidnapper at his own game!
            As he charted out the people he would need to expect in each place he visited, Cramwell thought about the kidnapper. Why would anyone just begin abducting people? Was it someone who had lived in the town for quite some time now? How long had he lived there before he began this terrifying onslaught of not only absconding with innocent, everyday people but at the same time spooking the living daylights out of the town’s most reclusive resident with the mysterious, eerily specific, cleverly encoded messages?

            Cramwell thought about the message: “Now you see him, now you don’t…” Of course! The message always contained a hint about the gender of the victim. This time, it would be a male! Cora was safe, Cramwell was sure of it. He resumed his careful studies, determined that none should slip by him the next day.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Works-In-Progress Wednesday: The Process

I am in the process of rewriting Laurel of Andar. Of course, you've heard about this for the last couple weeks.
I just thought, for this week's WIP-Wednesday, I'd give a glimpse into exactly how much goes into writing, and--just as a special treat--show you how it gets from "bad" to "better."

The Starting Point: This is how it started--short "vignettes" of conversations amid lengthy paragraphs explaining the setting and cultural context very much in the manner of, as one friend put it, "a history textbook." DRY. AS. A. BONE, with very little character interaction and almost nothing of actual pertinence to the story as a whole. Principle: world-building is necessary and can be very interesting, but as far as history that does not directly involve the present characters, let them be the ones to refer to the parts that are relevant. There is no need to "info-dump" on your readers. Ever. Even if it's cool stuff.

One day, when Laurel was still very young, an adolescent of only twelve djenu by Elvish standards (for a single Elvish year, called a djen, was equivalent to about five years by the reckoning of Glastor), King Polograth received word that an army approached his kingdom from the direction of Medrosk.
King Polograth was the youngest of a long line of kings who had ruled Glastor. He did not, as he was wont to suppose, ascend the throne by his own merit. He merely became king upon his father’s death. Each generation of kings was lazier than the last, so by the time Polograth received the crown, only the royal council of Glastor knew what went on outside the palace walls, and they knew how to appease the petulant young king and give the impression that his whims were being entertained while not oppressing the people beyond their capacity. Polograth merely spent his days giving feasts for his chiefs, musing over a grand map of his kingdom, and dreaming of the day when his son Polograth II, now an infant, would ascend the throne, for he resolved that he would yield to none other. Polograth was a hot-blooded man, but Glastor rarely went out to conquer other lands; rather, the selfish Polograth focused his military energy on the single most impressive (once the most profitable) feature in the whole kingdom: the vast, lofty Mt. Horbaroth.
When Polograth's great-grandfather’s great-grandfather, Meledoth, first became king, the only profitable occupation was agriculture. Then a visiting band of hunters from a neighboring country requested permission of the king to hunt omorni (bipedal herbivores somewhat like bears) on the mountain. To the arrogant, naive king, Mt. Horbaroth was nothing more than a feature of the landscape named after his great-grandfather when the son of Horbaroth took possession of it. He granted permission, and when the hunters returned not with meat but gold and jewels, Meledoth realized his mistake. Forthwith all outsiders were banned from Mt. Horbaroth, and for a time Meledoth had a part of his people (the ones who did not have a skill for any trade, at first) sent to the mines of Mt. Horbaroth.
The king enjoyed plenty of wealth from the mines, and by the time he died he left his son a kingdom ten times richer. Through the reigns of the successive generations, (who only reigned a few decades each before dying one after the other), the resources of the mountain were gradually depleted. In order to continue the steady flow of riches, the miners would need to venture deeper into the unknown darkness. This opened an opportunity for the fearless adventurers who found the small country not exciting enough. They willingly ventured ahead in the tunnels, to trap or restrain or kill any dangerous creatures there-- but few returned. Those who did were badly maimed, wounded, or frightened, bearing wild stories of mammoth lombrels that formed out of the darkness itself, and ferocious Hiromorni that struck before their victims heard their approach.
By the time Polograth claimed the crown, when Laurel was about two djenu old and Polograth himself was only about seventeen, the Glastorians had ventured as far as they dared, and he observed that there were still a few veins left in open parts of the mountain. Rather than mine the last few jewels and have done with the mountain, young King Polograth entertained the fear that, if he chose to do this, maybe an outsider would find a way to go further into the mountain than his miners, and would "steal" his riches from him. Hence, Polograth declared the mountain closed to everyone; the royal council put sharp-eyed watchers all around the base if the mountain. The only beings allowed in and out of the mountain were the Elves from Andar, who by now had formed an excellent reputation with the authorities. The council knew the Andarians—their name for the Andaru, because they refused to use the term those elves used themselves—were rich enough on their own, and the Elves swore not to mine any jewel or metal from the mountain.
Closing the mountain attracted the attention and the animosity of the outlying countries. Polograth found himself now constantly beset by enemy troops, all seeking to convince or force their way into the mines of Horbaroth, which only grew richer in the imaginations of those who could not enter them.

Such were Polograth's suspicions now, twenty years later, when the messenger told him that one of the watchers spotted the army of Medroskans headed for the mountain.
He stood out of his throne petulantly. "Those sneaky wraith-sons! I will teach them to attack our country." he waved at the messenger, "Alert the Andarian regiment and the special guard; they will fight the Medroskans."
The messenger hesitated, "Won't the Elves in such an army outnumber the men at least five to one, sire?" he asked.
The king sat back on his throne, "Dare you question me?" he barked; his temper grew short indeed when his blood was up. "It will be all the better for us if that is true, because the Elves are better fighters anyway. Go, do as I have told you to!"
The messenger obeyed the king.

Golon frowned—a mere crease in his brow—when he saw the summons from the king.
Nareandor shook his head. “We promised our steel ‘as needed,’ to fight in a larger war, or when Glastor lacked warriors, not so some slovenly sovereign could send us out on pure whim to save the hides of his own men!”
“All the same, my son,” Golon responded gently to him, “we have made an agreement with Glastor, and we must obey it’s king, even King Polograth.” He continued, consulting a map before him. “We will encamp in the Field of Massregent, between Belanta Valley and Mt. Horbaroth. If we can keep the Medroskans away from that area, there is little chance they will find anywhere else to invade Glastor on this side of the kingdom.”
"But, uncle," Nareandor still protested evenly, "why do we risk our necks for these humans? Why could we not remain as merely healers, and leave the fighting to their own men? They take advantage of our skill at every turn!"
Golon sighed at his nephew, "We have given our word," he reminded him again, "and we must keep it, no matter the cost."
Golon turned to the captain of the Royal Guard of Andar, an elf named Imadan. "Let all the regiment meet me outside the east boundary by sundown."
Imadan bowed, "What of the children who have none else to care for them?" he asked, glancing significantly in Nareandor's direction.
"Let one of the houses for the time being be converted into a dormitory for the children, and let five or six elf-matrons watch over them all until we return," Golon decided.
"It will be as you command, milord," Imadan replied.
For the rewrite, I knew I had to strip everything down to bare bones--but I still wanted to communicate the same information, just in a different, more personable way. To help me remember, I typed out a paragraph that listed all the events I wanted to relay, and some possible ideas as to how I could communicate the information without sounding like a textbook. I had understood the concept of showing not telling a few weeks before, now it was time to apply it.
Golon and Nareandor discuss the summons. Nareandor wants to let the enemies take the mountain, but Golon cautions him against it, and calls for more respect for their authorities, no matter how unjust. Imadan brings in a young cadet who had been spying from a hidden corner. It is Moraenor, and he wants to join the Andarian regiment and “apprentice” under Nareandor. Golon thinks it’s a great idea, Imadan has his reservations, but Nareandor recognizes what his uncle sees, and agrees. There is only one more matter to discuss: what to do with the children—specifically Laurel, who does not have a mother, and there will be no family to care for her. Golon suggests she be placed in a dormitory for orphaned children.

And Now, How It Finally Ended Up:

One day, when Laurel was about twelve djenu old, and still an adolescent by their standards, King Polograth, in his high, opulent castle on the southernmost end of the kingdom, received a disturbing message: The king of Medrosk to the northeast had declared war on Glastor and even now, an army marched toward Mt. Horbaroth.

“Those sneaking wraith-spawn!” he seethed to the messenger. “I will teach them to invade my kingdom! Send for the Andarian commander!”
The messenger bowed and strode from the Great Hall. Polograth signaled to a servant.
“Bring me something to eat,” he grumbled. Agitation always made him hungry.
The messenger returned soon thereafter, bowing low before speaking.
“Your Majesty, Commander Golon has not yet returned from his regular visit to the Andarian Quarter.”
“Oh, he hasn’t, has he?” snarled the king. “Who does he think he is? These refugees have no king of their own—I am their king! Perhaps the commander needs to be reminded of this…”
A servant returned from the kitchens with a plate of sandwiches for His Majesty. King Polograth waved her away, but the messenger still remained, awaiting his orders.
“Ah well,” Polograth sighed, “I need him now, there’s nothing else for it. Here, messenger, write down this summons: By order of King Polograth of Glastor, the Andarian Commander Golon is to muster the Andarian Regiment and the Glastorian Special Guard in the defense of Mt. Horbaroth immediately. Dispatch a runner to deliver the summons.”
The messenger paused in his transcription of the King’s command.
“Sire, if I may,” he said hesitantly. “The Elves of the Andarian Regiment outnumber the men of the Special Guard at least five to one. Would it not be more judicious to reserve the strength of the Elvish refugees for larger battles, and send more men in defense of their country?”
The king pushed the tray of sandwiches away and leaned forward, his round, red face flaming with anger. “Did I make you my councilor?” he demanded. “The Andarians are under my command! I shall do as I please with them! Even if they are so many, they are refugees—we can afford to lose a few, as opposed to true citizens. Besides, everyone knows they are better fighters and rich enough in their own right. I will not have to fear them stealing from my mountain. Now go! Do as I have commanded!” King Polograth applied his signet to the soft wax seal and gave the paper to the messenger.
The messenger bowed and left the king to fret about the state of his riches.

On the other side of the city, in the gated community known as the Andarian Quarter, Nareandor and Laurel sat by the fountain in the middle of the square talking of the history of Andar. Golon had stepped away to confer with a royal messenger sent from the castle, and when he rejoined them, there was a glint of concern on his face that Nareandor knew meant trouble. He stood and looked to his daughter.
“Well, Laurel, that’s enough learning for today,” Nareandor kept his tone even, almost light. “Go do what you like to amuse yourself.”
Laurel’s face brightened. “May I go play in the City, Father?”
Nareandor’s eyes shifted automatically to his uncle’s face.
Golon gave no indication of displeasure beyond a slight pressing of the lips.
“Not today, Lairen,” Nareandor answered. “I would like you to stay within the gates for now. Perhaps later we can go out together.”
Laurel’s expression dimmed. “Very well, Father,” she sighed, and walked slowly toward the park at the back of the Quarter, where the other Andarian children gathered to play.

When she was safely away, Nareandor turned to Golon, who showed him the summons without a word.
Nareandor’s eyes burned with outrage as he read the summons and understood its meaning.
“So!” he seethed, “The Fat King would send us out to fight instead of his own armies, merely to defend his pleasure!”
“It is unwise, yes,” Golon said, “but nonetheless, we must obey—and we must do so with respect for King Polograth as our ruler.”
Nareandor shook his head. “He is not our ruler, Uncle.”
“We pledged allegiance in return for sanctuary—or do you not remember when we first arrived in Glastor?”
“I remember, Uncle—but we pledged our allegiance to King Meledoth and our steel ‘as needed.’ Do you not recall how Glastor was at first? A kingdom of farmers, not fighters!”
The corners of Golon’s mouth twitched. “Generations later, and they still cannot fight, which is why we have been summoned.”
“Uncle, we are always summoned when the mountain is in danger! Every generation from Meledoth to Polograth has gotten richer and more indolent than the last because of those accursed mines! Surely after three centuries there cannot be many veins left in the mountain. Why not let the enemy countries invade and claim it?”
Golon laid a hand on his nephew’s shoulder. “Careful, Nareandor; you speak treason! Do you not see that whoever holds the mountain holds the kingdom? If we refuse to defend Glastor and allow other nations to take over the mines, it will only be more difficult to prevent them from taking the outlying villages and eventually besieging the City itself! Do you think that another nation would allow us to live in such seclusion as we currently enjoy?”
Nareandor knew enough about the kingdoms of Murinda to know this would not be the case. On a continent where races bled across national borders, the solidarity and patriotism of the Andaru would certainly be frowned upon as “intolerance.” He felt the fatigue weigh on his shoulders, but he squared his frame, picking his head up and looking his uncle in the eye. “What would you have us do, then?”
Golon beckoned to his nephew and walked around beside the large mansion, to his private quarters at the back of the house. Standing before the door was a stalwart Elf with smooth, dark hair, staring straight ahead with piercing green eyes—and yet evoking the feeling that he knew exactly what was going on all around him, though he kept his eyes on one spot.
The Elf bowed low when Golon approached, so that the edges of his purple cloak brushed the ground.
Rethanar,” he murmured. “My liege.”
“Thank you, Captain Imadan,” Golon replied. “I do not know what we would do without your unflagging faithfulness.”
The two Elves passed inside, and Imadan resumed his post.
Nareandor shook his head. “If hellbeasts from the depths of the Kidorlaithe came charging at our door, still Imadan would remain, long after their flames died.”
Golon nodded, sharing a smile with his nephew. “This is true; I have but to ask of him, and it is done. But come, let me show you what I have planned for the defense of Glastor.” He pointed to a map he had spread on the table. “We will encamp in the Field of Massregent, between Belanta Valley and Mt. Horbaroth. If we can keep the Medroskans away from that area, there is little chance they will find anywhere else to invade Glastor on this side of the kingdom.”
Nareandor nodded; Glastor City was safely tucked in the southernmost boundary of the kingdom, too far away from the coast to be assailed from that side, and only a small opening—Massregent—where their enemies could prevail upon Glastor without inviting the wrath of another country. If they could hold the Field, they would halt the invasion—but there was always the chance that the enemy was becoming more bold and more devious.
“Uncle, what do we know of Medrosk? Are not their soldiers arming themselves with the black powder, as the Glastorian regiment has done?”
Golon nodded, “It seems as if all the humans on Murinda are suddenly set upon with the urge—“
A shout and the noise of blows being exchanged interrupted their discourse. Imadan soon entered with a younger Elf in a firm headlock.
“My lord,” he cried, “I caught this one concealed in the hedges by your lordship’s window, where he no doubt thought to observe your movements and overhear your conversation.” He threw the Elf on the ground at his commander’s feet.
Golon folded his arms and stared at the young spy, but Nareandor permitted the flicker of a smile around his lips. Golon noticed this and glanced at his nephew.
“Do you know this one?”
Nareandor reached out and helped the Elf to his feet. “Indeed I do, Uncle. This is Moraenor, who has recently joined our ranks as a cadet.”
Moraenor’s lips tightened as he faced his superiors. He hung his head, knowing well the fate for spies.
“Well?” Golon demanded sharply. “What have you to say for yourself? Why were you spying on us?”
“Please,” Moraenor begged, still not meeting the commander’s gaze, “I did not intend to spy—I was on my way to speak with Captain Nareandor, and when I heard mention of garrisons and battles, I hid myself—and then your guard caught me.”
Why was it necessary to speak with the captain so privately in the first place?
Sir, it was my desire and purpose to speak with the captain on a personal matter, a carbeddacheme.
Apprenticeship? You came to Captain Nareandor to seek apprenticeship?
I did indeed, sir. I have spent my cadethood in the earnest study of the Andare Ardjedere, which I am told is still rigorously maintained among the Royal Guard. I believe I have what it takes to be your lieutenant.
Golon glanced from this self-assured young Elf to his nephew. He saw that same spark in his eye that Nareandor had shown when he wanted to do anything unconventional—such as marry a Half-Elf or make an untried cadet his lieutenant just before a battle.
As a matter of fact, I have no objection to your offer, Moraenor. You will be my lieutenant; where I go, you go. Report with the Guard at the edge of the City by midafternoon, and we will march to Massregent come nightfall.
Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!
Golon waited till the eager young Elf departed. He and Nareandor bent over the table as if to study the map together, but they both knew the coming battle was the furthest thing from their minds.
Are you certain you did the right thing?
Uncle, I have been observing Moraenor's training longer than he realizes. I have seen him to be trustworthy, loyal, and faithful to the point of belligerent.
Who does that remind me of?
You see my point, then; I have been wanting someone like Moraenor to oversee personally, as a way of leaving a legacy when you and I can no longer join the Guard in battle.
Golon fell pensive. He had taught his nephew well—even though it was difficult to see at first glance.
Speaking of legacy, what is to be done with your daughter?
Nareandor crossed to the window and looked out to the square where the young Elf-children played. The girls sat in a circle, placidly weaving baskets and blankets out of grass blades, or dressing their dolls in flowers. The boys sparred with fallen branches or climbed the gnarled trunk of the old oak tree that shaded the back of the Quarter. Two or three of them stood in a group, staring up at something happening higher in the tree. Nareandor followed their collective gaze. A familiar bright-green pinafore fluttered among the leaves. Nareandor winced as Golon joined him.
"She cannot be allowed to continue living in this wanton manner," Golon cautioned his nephew.
Seeing the sunny face suddenly peek out from the foliage reminded Nareandor of the face he loved almost as much but would never see again.
"What would you have me do?" he demanded bitterly. "Send for Lyberedd again?"
"Laurel is no longer a young child—"
"But too young to be left alone!"
"And I seem to recall when I passed through the town last that Lyberedd thanks the Fates to never pass through your door again!" Golon chuckled.
"You laugh," said Nareandor, "but what else am I to do? There has been no other woman at the house since Lyberedd nursed Laurel—"
"Nor should there be," said Golon. "It is not proper for an unmarried maiden to reside at the house of an unmarried Elf. "
"Then I am to leave Laurel in the care of the household servants?"
Golon shook his head. "Perhaps I can find someone willing to take her in while we are gone. Imadan!"
The Elvish soldier entered and awaited his orders.
Golon nodded to him, "Please inquire at the home of Matron Fynnalia and Mistress Noellewynn if they would be willing to care for the daughter of Captain Nareandor during this absence."
Imadan bowed and departed to carry out his commander's wishes.
"Fynnalia?" Nareandor asked. "Would she not be the likeliest to refuse such a request?"
"On the contrary, Nareandor, I'm afraid she might be the only Andara willing to accept. We both want Laurel in good hands, do we not?"
Nareandor sighed. "Fynnalia it is, then."

So there you have it, a rather effective process for rewriting. What do you think?