Friday, December 01, 2006
Please leave a comment on the Eye of the Oracle post below when you have posted about it on your FIRST post.
Be sure to visit at least one new member this month!
God bless! And MERRY CHRISTMAS!
It is December 1st, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and their latest book's FIRST chapter!
and his latest book:
Bryan Davis is the author of the four book Dragons in Our Midst series, a contemporary/fantasy blend for young people. The first book, Raising Dragons, was released in July of 2004. The second book, The Candlestone, followed in October. Circles of Seven debuted in April of 2005, followed in November by Tears of a Dragon.
Bryan is the author of several other works including The Image of a Father (AMG) and Spit and Polish for Husbands (AMG), and four books in the Arch Books series: The Story of Jesus’ Baptism and Temptation, The Day Jesus Died, The Story of the Empty Tomb (over 100,000 sold), and Jacob’s Dream. Bryan lives in Winter Park, Florida with his wife, Susie, and their children. Bryan and Susie have homeschooled their four girls and three boys.
To read more about Bryan and his books, visit the Dragons in our Midst Website or visit Bryan's blog.
Eye of the Oracle
by Bryan Davis
Dragons in our Midst - Prequel
Oracles of Fire - Volume 1
The Seeds of Eden
Angling into a plunging dive, the dragon blasted a fireball at Lilith and Naamah. The two women dropped to the ground just as the flaming sphere sizzled over their heads. Naamah swatted her hair, whipping away stinging sparks that rained down from the fireball’s tail.
With a flurry of wings and a gust of wind, the dragon swooped low. As razor sharp claws jabbed at the women, Naamah lunged to the side, and Lilith rolled through the grass. A single claw caught Lilith’s long black dress, ripping it as the dragon lifted toward the sky.
Naamah jumped to her feet and helped Lilith up. The dragon made a sharp turn in the air, and, with its jagged-toothed maw stretching open, charged back toward them.
Lilith pushed a trembling hand into the pocket of her dress. “Only one hope left,” she said, panting. Pulling out a handful of black powder, she tossed it over her head. “Give me darkness!” she cried.
The powder spread out into a cloud and surrounded the women. Naamah coughed and spat. The noxious fumes blinded her and coated her throat with an acrid film. A hand grabbed her wrist and jerked her down to her knees just as another flaming cannon ball passed over their heads.
“Crawl!” Lilith ordered.
Naamah scooted alongside Lilith as she scuffled over the dry tufts of grass. Sparks from the rain of fire ignited tiny blazes that illuminated their hands as they passed through the veil of darkness.
Naamah gagged but refused to cough. With a guardian dragon hovering somewhere overhead, giving any clue to their whereabouts could be fatal.
After several minutes, Lilith whispered, “I think I found the cave.”
Her hands, barely visible and clutching a small bundle of sticks, crawled over a bed of gravel and then to a rocky floor. When she finally stopped, Naamah sat up and gazed into the dark cloud behind her. She squeezed fractured words through her tingling throat. “Will the dragon follow?”
“Shachar is persistent,” Lilith rasped, “but she is no fool.” She coughed quietly, clearing her voice. “She will not risk the possibility that we’re a diversion for a more dangerous attack. If she doesn’t find us soon, she will go back on patrol.”
“What about her dragon sense? Won’t that draw her to us?”
“I’m not sure. A dragon’s danger alarm is still a mystery to me. I think since our only direct threat is to the ancient garden she patrols, her sense of protection will draw her there.”
The black cloud began to dissipate, revealing the mouth of a shallow cave, barely deep enough to keep out the wind. Close to the back wall, the women found a flat stone and built a fire next to it with Lilith’s collection of sticks. When the crackling flames began to rise, Lilith and Naamah sat on the stone to rest.
From her pocket, Lilith withdrew a small bundle wrapped in a black cloth. After untying a knot on one end, she produced an earthenware cup filled with herbs. “The way to Eden has yet another obstacle,” she said, tossing a pinch of the herbs into the campfire. “Our task will not be easy.”
Sparks flew toward the cave’s low ceiling, riding on thin strings of silvery-green smoke. Naamah breathed deeply of the aroma-saturated air, a pungent blend of camphor and garlic. She exhaled, tasting the herbs at the back of her tongue. “What could be more difficult than getting past a dragon?”
“There are forces in our world that dwarf the power of dragons. I have foreseen much that you don’t know.”
As cool, damp air chiseled away at the fire’s rising warmth, Naamah scooted toward her sister, overlapping the fringes of their silky black dresses on the flat stone. Barefoot and shivering in the draft, she wrapped her arms around herself. “Didn’t you know it would be this cold? We should have worn our cloaks.”
“It is only temporary. The cold air is a path that leads us to the garden.” Lilith pushed her long black hair off her shoulder and huddled close, her voice low. “Naamah, you must have more faith in me. My husband’s arts have allowed me to see another world, the world of phantasmal knowledge. It is the realm of future possibilities, where I can see what might happen.”
Naamah folded her hands. “What might happen?”
The bushes rustled just outside the entrance. Lilith glanced over her shoulder, her lips pressing into two pale lines as she set the cup of herbs on the cave’s floor and drew a dagger from a sheath on her belt.
“Just the wind,” Naamah whispered. “If it were the dragon, we would have heard her wings.”
“Perhaps.” Lilith’s knuckles whitened as she wrung the dagger’s wooden hilt. “But even the wind carries spirits who might expose our plans.”
Naamah waited for the color to return to Lilith’s fingers. “So … why are you counting on phantasmal knowledge when it can’t tell you for sure what’s going to happen?”
“Because our opponent is so predictable.” Lilith placed her long, thin hand on Naamah’s thigh. “Life is the ultimate game of chance, with millions of possible moves, so I only see what might happen. My choices and our opponent’s choices mesh in a tapestry through time, and I can see where some of the threads lead if I follow one or more of the thousands of patterns that fill my eyes. So far, Elohim has reacted to my moves exactly as I expected he would.”
Lilith waved the dagger over the fire. A bright, angelic creature swirled inside the rising smoke, its image warping and undulating as the draft swept it around. Inside the flames, a red dragon appeared, jets of fire blasting from its nostrils. The dragon’s blaze licked at the angel’s bare feet as it whipped around in the smoke’s endless circles. “Our plans rest on Samyaza’s shoulders, and if he fails, our doom is certain. We must prepare for that possibility.”
Naamah rubbed her hands up and down her bare arms. “How can this husband of yours give you the power to see the future? I have never known a man who could see past a bottle … or a brothel.”
“You have never known such a man, because you don’t know the Watchers.” She thrust the dagger back to its sheath. “Your men are all fools.”
Naamah pulled the hem of her dress high above her knee. “Fools, yes, but their money spends as well as yours.”
Lilith slapped Naamah’s hand and yanked the skirt back down. “Your harlotry will be the death of you someday! Sister or not, I cannot protect you from yourself.”
Naamah caressed her stinging hand and scowled. “You didn’t call it harlotry back when we were collecting wild oats together. You’ve been no fun at all since you got religion with Samyaza.”
Lilith grabbed Naamah’s shoulder and pulled her almost nose to nose, hissing. “This religion, as you call it, might just save your life. If you want to survive, you had better listen to me!”
Naamah jerked away and scooted to the far edge of the stone. “I’ll listen. Just don’t turn me into something unearthly, like that iridescent dog you keep in your dungeon.”
“That was from one of my first potions, and you know it.” Lilith sighed and reached for Naamah’s arm. “If Samyaza wins, then we won’t have to turn into anything unearthly. If he loses … well, he need not know our alternate plans.”
“Is that why you’re so jumpy? Do you think your husband’s spying on you?”
“I do feel the presence of a spy, but I doubt that Samyaza sent it.”
“So what should we do?” Naamah asked.
“This spy is of no consequence. Shachar is the greater danger, but she will leave the area soon enough, and we will press on. Until then, we have time for an important step in my plan.” Lilith lifted a thin cord around her neck and pulled a leather pouch from her bosom. She loosened the drawstring and carefully poured into her palm a dozen or more white crystals the size of cottonseeds, covered with tiny spikes that made each crystal resemble the head of a mace. “These are the seeds of Samyaza’s power. With them we will be able to plant his potency wherever we please.”
Naamah touched one with her fingertip and rocked it back and forth. “We will?” she asked.
Lilith poured the seeds back into the pouch but kept one in her palm and closed her fingers around it. “Our master will teach you how to use it soon enough, but first we must prepare ourselves as vessels—myself to wield the power and you to receive the planting.” She picked up her cup, dropped the seed inside, and stirred the contents with a slender black root, holding the cup just above the flames as the herbs melted into a thick brew. After seven swirls, she crumpled the stirrer and threw it into the mix. As purple foam rose above the brim and dribbled over the sides, she waved her hand over the top and sang in a low, mournful voice.
O Master of the midnight skies,
The god of darkness, light disguised,
Provide for me the gift of flight
And give me wings to flee my plight.
Now through the waters guide my strife,
And grant the gift of lasting life.
Regenerate my body whole;
For this I give my living soul.
And should my husband learn my plans,
O let his reins come to my hands,
For strength alone cannot compare
To woman’s last beguiling snare.
O let us be the farmers’ hands
To sow the seeds of fallen man.
The giants planted here must grow
Escaping from these lands below.
In Naamah’s womb prepare your soil.
With calloused hands we’ll sweat and toil.
O make your seeds become like trees;
To trample Adam’s hopeless pleas.
With both hands trembling, Lilith raised the cup to her mouth and took a long, slow drink. She closed her eyes and grimaced, a shudder crawling across her pale cheeks. After licking her lips, she rubbed some of the liquid into each of her palms, then extended the cup to Naamah.
“You must be joking!” Naamah said, squinting at the curling purple fumes. “I’m not drinking that!”
Lilith took Naamah’s hand and wrapped her fingers around the handle. “Just smell it! That’s all I ask. Then decide if you want to drink or not.”
Naamah tightened her grip on the handle and gazed into the cup. Thick gray liquid bubbled inside. Warm vapors and a pleasant aroma bathed her senses. As she took in the delightful smell, her throat dried out, filling her with a sudden desire to drink. Her tongue clamped to the roof of her mouth, parched and swelling. It was more than a desire. She had to drink. Now!
She guzzled the liquid, then slung the cup against the cave wall and glared at Lilith. “You tricked me!”
Lilith wagged her finger. “It was for your own good.”
Naamah crossed her arms over her chest and stared at the earthen shards. “I am going to turn into something disgusting, aren’t I?”
“The potion does much more than that. Even if our earthly bodies die, we will be able to exist in another form. As our new bodies age, we will be able to use Samyaza’s power to regenerate ourselves. But if we can get on the boat, we won’t have to worry about unsavory transformations at all.”
Naamah swung her head back toward Lilith and rose to her feet. “On the boat, you say?”
“Yes. The most obvious phantasmal thread leads to a terrible flood. Our enemy is building a boat that we could use to save ourselves, but the builders have a strange shield around it. Although normal humans can penetrate it, the Watchers and Nephilim haven’t been able to. They want to destroy it and change Elohim’s plan to flood the world. I, however, wish to find a way to get us on board in case they fail.”
Naamah paced slowly in front of her sister. “I know a man who is working on a boat. He said it is very large and well-supplied.”
“That would be the one,” Lilith replied. “But the builders are unlikely to give away the secret of the shield.”
“When he is at the market, he speaks only of supplying the boat.” Naamah stopped, cocked her head upward, and smiled. “But when he visits my room, his lips become quite loose.”
Lilith scowled. “Loose being the operative word.” She stood and slipped her hand around Naamah’s elbow. “Did this man mention the shield?”
Naamah swiveled her hips, twirling her dress slowly back and forth. “No, but if you let me sing a song to him, I can charm him into spilling his secrets.”
“Oh, really?” Lilith tipped her head upward and stroked her chin. “What’s his name?”
“Ham.” A burning pain drilled into Naamah’s pelvis. She laid a hand over her stomach but tried not to show how much it hurt. “I don’t know his family name.”
“I wish you had told me about this before,” Lilith said, tapping her foot on the ground. “We have to find this man.”
The pain stabbed Naamah again, but deeper than before, as if something had grasped her womb with sharpened claws. Still, she forced herself to keep a calm face. “If you’d let me in on your secrets once in a while, maybe I would have known you were trying to get on board.”
Lilith glanced out at the bushes again and slowly turned back. “Very well. I will tell you why we are on this journey. You will soon see how all my plans tie together.” She picked up a long stick and stirred the coals in their fire, creating a billowing gray plume. A new vision coalesced in the smoke, an angel standing next to a tree. The fire spewed a finger of flame through the angel’s hand, making him appear to have a brilliant sword that flashed as he stood guard.
“That is the tree of life, and I have long coveted its fruit.” Lilith pointed at the flame. “Here is our problem. One of the Cherubim protects it with a sword that creates a shield of light.”
“I see,” Naamah said. “Now that you have one of the Seraphim on your side …”
“You’re way ahead of me.” Lilith glanced outside and checked the brightening morning sky. “Samyaza will be there soon. I want to see him battle the Cherub and win the sword, then we can pluck the fruit at our leisure. Once he has regained his weapon, he will be invincible, perhaps even against the archangels.”
Lilith arose and, bending low, sneaked out of the cave. Naamah followed close behind, pressing her hand against her belly again. Whatever that potion was, it seemed to be turning her organs inside out.
Constantly glancing at the sky, they wound their way through a dense forest, padding softly on a wide clover path until it opened into a field. Lilith halted suddenly and stooped next to a leafy bush. Naamah leaned over her, trying to follow her sister’s line of sight. In the distance, a white glow arose above a thick, thorny hedge that extended as far as the eye could see.
Lilith’s voice softened to a low hiss. “The hedge is Eden’s boundary. The thorns are sharper than any sword, and the poison in the tips will shrivel you into a prune in seconds. The only way to enter is through the guarded gate.” She skulked to the hedge and followed it toward the glow, Naamah once again trailing her. As they drew closer, a gap appeared in the hedge, and the guarded tree came into view. Stooping again, Lilith pointed at a beautiful, white-robed angel. “His sword shoots out a beam of light that can kill us even this far away. As long as he waves it over his head, it creates an almost impenetrable shield around himself and the tree.”
Naamah settled quietly behind her and peered at the darkening sky. Black clouds boiled overhead. Bolts of lightning streaked jagged forks across the heavens. “Something weird is happening,” she whispered.
“I didn’t expect this.” Lilith’s brow bent downward. “Samyaza planned to come by stealth, not with a lightning fanfare.”
Naamah pointed toward the top of a tall sycamore tree. “I see him.”
A winged angel, bright and shining against the stormy backdrop, glided to the ground, his silver hair flowing in the freshening breeze. Dressed in white robes, drawn tight at his waist by a golden sash, he strode to the gate and spoke to the other angel in a booming voice. “Greetings in the name of Elohim.”
The Cherub nodded, waving the sword to keep the shield in place. “May our God be glorified forever. What brings a Seraph to Eden’s boundary today?”
“I have come to relieve you of your duty. You are to return to the council for a new assignment.”
The Cherub glanced up at the troubled sky. “Something is amiss. I sense God’s hand moving in the heavens, yet no messenger has alerted me of a change.”
“I am the messenger.” Samyaza held out his hand. “Give me the sword and go your way.”
The Cherub lowered the sword, and the shield blinked off, but he kept the hilt firmly in his grip. “With all due respect, my liege, what is your name?”
“I am Samyaza, prince of the guardian angels.” He took a step closer, bringing him within arm’s reach of the Cherub. “It would not be wise to continue questioning my authority. Remember Lucifer’s folly.”
The sword trembled in the Cherub’s hand, but his voice remained steady. “Your name is familiar to me, and you have the wings of a Seraph, but I am here by order of the Majesty on High, so I cannot abandon my post on your word alone. Only Michael can countermand the order.”
Streaks of darkness shot out from Samyaza’s eyes, splashing the Cherub with a sizzling, oily resin that stuck fast to his robes and spread quickly over his hands and face. The sword’s light flashed on in the blinded angel’s hands, sending a bright beam blazing into the sky. Samyaza lunged forward and shook the Cherub’s wrist, slinging the blade under the branches.
Pushing the angel to the side, Samyaza flew toward the trunk, snatched up the sword, and stalked toward the gate. The Cherub threw himself toward the sound of Samyaza’s pounding footsteps and wrapped his arms around his neck. The powerful Seraph reached back, grabbed the Cherub’s hair, and heaved him toward the tree. The resin-covered angel slammed against the trunk, knocking white fruit to the ground. Samyaza marched toward him, his sword raised.
A loud clap of thunder shook the earth. Another angel, the largest yet, burst from the clouds and zoomed to the ground, landing with a drawn sword raised to strike. “Be gone, Samyaza, you wretched liar. You will not have this tree or its fruit.”
Samyaza backed away, visibly trembling. “Michael! I have no quarrel with you. This was my sword before I—”
“Before you left our Lord and Master to satisfy your carnal desires.” Michael helped the Cherub to his feet, and with a wave of his hand, the black resin melted away. “Take the sword and crawl back into your hole with your corrupted followers. It will be nothing more than a carving knife to you now.”
Samyaza held the sword aloft, but it created no beam. Not even the tiniest spark flashed from the blade. He thrust the tip into a patch of clover and drove the sword into the ground up to the hilt, then shook his fist at Michael. “The people will follow us, not the tyrant in heaven! They want to be free of his authority, and we will teach them to follow the longings of their hearts!”
Michael waved his sword and a new, brighter shield covered the tree. As the dome swirled with radiance, the entire plot of ground ripped away from the earth, uprooting the tree and carrying Michael, the Cherub, and the fallen fruit with it. “If people want true life and freedom,” Michael said as they slowly lifted into the sky, “they will look above. Like rain from the heavens, that is the source of their deliverance.”
Boiling clouds swallowed the shimmering tree, and, for a moment, all was quiet. Samyaza stared at the ominous ceiling, slowly turning and backing away from the garden. His wings beat the air, and, just as his feet lifted off the ground, a dragon burst out of the clouds shooting twin jets of fire from its nostrils.
Black streams surged from Samyaza’s eyes, colliding with the fire. The impact created a sizzling eruption of smoky gas that spewed high into the air. The dragon pulled out of its dive and zoomed by Samyaza, smacking him with its tail before ascending again toward the clouds. Samyaza toppled, but a flurry of his wings kept him from striking the ground.
Lilith leaned over and whispered to Naamah. “Samyaza likely remembers how his master conquered the first female human. It will be interesting to see how he deals with the first female dragon.”
Samyaza yanked the sword out of the ground and stabbed it at the sky. “Does the mate of Arramos only fight when she can attack by surprise?” He turned in a slow circle, his eyes darting in all directions. “Come and meet me in single combat, if you dare!”
Shachar burst out of the clouds again, and with a great beating of her wings, she landed in front of Samyaza. “I am not a dog to be baited by a bone,” she roared.
The Seraph spread out his arms. “Yet, you are here, panting and drooling for the very bone you disdain.”
“Only to lance a demonic abscess.” She pawed the ground with her claws. “If you desire a fair fight, drop the sword and let us see who wields the greater power.”
“As you wish.” Samyaza bowed dramatically and released the sword.
“Step away from it,” Shachar ordered. “Far away.”
Samyaza marched several paces to one side and gestured toward the sword. “Satisfied?”
Shachar nodded her scaly head. “Trusting you is a fool’s game, but I will risk what I must to rid the world of its greatest plague.”
The shining angel flashed a wicked smile. “Since you are the aggressor, I invite your first volley.”
Shachar lunged at him, her teeth bared and her nostrils flaming. Samyaza dipped under her jets and latched on to her tail as she passed over. With a mighty spin, he slung her in the direction of the sword. The dragon crashed to the ground and slid next to the hilt. As she lifted her wobbly head, her eyes seemed glazed and distant.
Samyaza zoomed to her side and grabbed the sword. With a dramatic thrust, he plunged the blade into the dragon’s underbelly. Shachar let out an ear-piercing shriek and writhed in the grass. “Coward!” she screamed. “Deceiver!” She spat out a weak ball of fire, but it rolled past the towering Seraph as he backed away.
When the dragon’s throes settled down, Samyaza grasped the hilt of the sword and withdrew it from her body, jumping away from a gush of fluids. He glared at the bloody blade and dropped it to the ground. “Disgusting creatures!” With a flap of his wings, he lifted into the air and disappeared in the blanket of clouds.
Shachar opened her mouth as if trying to speak. She twitched for a moment, then heaved a final sigh as her eyes slowly closed.
Lilith and Naamah ran toward the dragon. Lilith snatched up the sword and wiped the blade on the grass. “Samyaza might not be able to use this,” she said, turning the blade over to clean the other side, “but if I can find the secret behind its flame, it could be a powerful weapon indeed.”
She propped the blade over her shoulder and strode through the gateway, now unattended by angel or dragon. Naamah followed, gazing at the devastated garden. Knotted trees with bent crowns and twisted branches plagued the endless fields of dry grass. On one squared-off plot, leggy bushes hunkered over a tangled mess of tall weeds and thorny vines. Hundreds of thistles raised bristly heads among row after row of dwarfed fruit trees and shriveled vegetables. Naamah let out a low whistle. This was no Paradise, no land of perfection, despite the claims of her childhood songs.
Lilith tramped down to the bottom of the hole where the tree once stood. She stooped, pinching a sample of soil and drawing it close to her eyes. “Not a trace. Not a root or seed anywhere.”
Naamah noticed a glinting speck in the dirt. “Here’s something!” She plucked out a smooth white pebble, barely as large as her fingertip, and handed it to Lilith. “Could this be a seed?” she asked. “It looks like a pearl.”
“It could be.” Lilith knelt where Naamah found the pebble and used her finger to stir the soil, a mixture of moist brown dirt and a strange white paste. “Here are two more.” She collected them and slid all three into her pocket. “We’ll keep them for posterity.”
“Future generations. I don’t know how long it takes to grow a tree of life, but I intend to find out.”
Lilith gazed toward a path that led into a stand of skinny oaks. “The other tree should be in that direction,” she said, pointing.
As she headed toward the wood, she swiped Samyaza’s sword in front of her as if fending off an invisible enemy or perhaps testing its weight and balance. Naamah had to jog to keep pace with her sister. Lilith’s stern expression told her it wasn’t a good time to ask questions, so she just stayed at her side, taking in the sights of loss and waste in the massive garden.
After following the path through the trees, they arrived at a glade. In the center of a circle of grass, a tree, heavy with red, oblong fruit, stood tall and lush. Lilith strode right up to the nearest branch and called out, “Lucifer, my lord and master, I bring you vital information.”
A fresh breeze flapped Lilith’s dress as she stood in stoic silence, the tip of the sword touching the ground in front of her. The wind crawled up Naamah’s legs, bringing her a chill. The pain in her stomach had settled, but a new queasiness took over. Something foul drew near, worse than a fetid carcass. Whatever it was seemed to seep through her skin and into her heart, making it slow to a few, sickening thumps.
Soon, a gentle hissing joined the shush of the wind. A long, thick snake slithered out onto the branch and rested its head near a bobbing fruit. Lilith extended her arm and pushed her hand under the serpent’s belly. Bearing scales like sun-baked leather, black hexagons meshed with olive-green, the snake crept along Lilith’s pale arm. Its tongue darted in and out from its triangular head as it spoke in a slow, threatening cadence. “If you have come to tell me about Naamah’s customer, you have come in vain. While I am in this cursed condition, my disciples sneak in through the garden’s western gate. One of my agents overheard your conversation and reported the news about this boat builder.”
“So that’s what we heard in the bushes,” Lilith said. “It was a spy.”
The snake flicked its tongue, touching her cheek with its forked points. “I send spies on my enemies and my followers, especially followers as ambitious as you.”
As the snake wrapped a coil around Lilith’s neck, she lifted her chin and swallowed hard. “And how shall we use the information, my lord?”
The snake maneuvered its head in front of Lilith’s eyes, wavering back and forth in a hypnotic sway. “I sent my agent to speak to my servant, Lamech, son of Mathushael. I have ordered Lamech to adopt Naamah into his family. Naamah’s new brother, Tubalcain, knows Ham and will offer her to be Ham’s wife.”
“His wife?” Naamah said, crossing her arms over her chest. “Ham is a regular customer, but that doesn’t mean I want him for a husband!”
The serpent’s head shot toward Naamah, its fangs extended as it bit the empty air just inches in front of her eyes. Naamah staggered backwards, catching one of the tree’s branches to keep her balance. Recoiling over Lilith’s shoulders, the serpent hissed, “Either marry him or die!”
Naamah shivered in the tree’s shadow, holding her stomach again as the fierce pain stabbed her insides.
The serpent turned its flaming red eyes back to Lilith. “Ham’s father will recognize your name, so you must change it before you meet him. We cannot allow him to know who and what you are.”
“Of course, my lord.” Lilith kept her head tited upward. “Do you have a preference?”
“Choose whatever pleases you. I will arrange things to make your new name work.”
Lilith smiled. “As you wish, my master.”
The serpent’s tongue flicked again. “I have news about the sword.”
Lilith lifted the blade. “The secret to its flames?”
“Yes. The sword is designed to detect the nature of the hands that grasp it. The flames shoot from the blade only if the hands are innocent and undefiled. Of course, the Cherub who guarded the tree of life was holy, so he was able to use the blade’s protective shield over the tree.”
Lilith ran a finger along the blade. “And Samyaza’s hands have been deemed corrupt.” She gazed at the grip, wiggling her fingers around it. “Can the sword be fooled into thinking it is being held by holy hands?”
“Perhaps. It has no thinking process of its own. It merely responds to how it was forged.”
Lilith studied the etchings in the blade’s silvery metal. “Who are the two dragons doing battle in the design?”
“I am one of them, and I struggle with a dragon who is to come, a warrior who will fight with me to become king of the dragons. Michael etched that symbol when he gave the sword to Samyaza and commissioned him to find and protect the holy dragon who would come to try to conquer me.”
“I see,” Lilith said, nodding. “So this king must have holy hands in order to defeat you.”
“Yes. But since this usurper could be a human representative for the dragons, our goal is to corrupt every family line, whether dragon or human, with the seed of the fallen ones. But, beware. Elohim has already hatched a plan to thwart ours. I know little more than a code phrase one of my disciples overheard—‘oracles of fire.’”
“That’s it? No context?”
“Only that there are two of them. Perhaps a pair of angels commissioned specifically to infiltrate our ranks and destroy our work from within.”
“I will watch for them.” Lilith lowered the sword. “And when will you become a dragon again and leave the garden?”
As the serpent slithered along Lilith’s arm, she raised her hand to the tree. It coiled around the branch, and its head turned back toward her, its voice echoing like a ghostly whisper. “When I steal the body of a certain dragon, I will be whole once more.” It crawled back into the thicker foliage and disappeared.
Naamah ran from the tree and sidled up to Lilith, crossing her arms again. Lilith chuckled and kissed the top of her head. “Don’t worry, Sister. Yours will be a marriage of convenience. We can dispose of Ham when he has served his purpose.”
Naamah turned her back to Lilith, her arms still crossed. “Then you marry him. You seem ready to betray your husband.”
Lilith grabbed Naamah’s shoulder and spun her back around, her eyes turning bright scarlet. “I’m doing this for us!”
The pain from Lilith’s grip made Naamah shake. As she stared at her sister’s fiery eyes, she felt tears forming in her own.
Lilith slowly relaxed her fingers. Stroking Naamah’s hair, she leaned close and whispered, “Lucifer has given me the means to carry out the plan that will save our lives. He knows Samyaza is not likely to cooperate, but I don’t really want to betray my own husband.” She pressed the tip of the sword into the grass. “I won’t resort to draining his power unless I have to.”
“Draining his power?” Naamah pointed at the sword. “With that?”
“No.” Lilith spread out her fingers, showing Naamah her palm. Splotches of purple stained her skin from the heel of her hand to her fingertips. “My seed concoction has many uses, and absorbing potency will come in handy.” Reaching up, she caressed one of the red fruits dangling from the tree. “Speaking of seeds” —she plucked the fruit—“I think these might also come in handy.”
“For posterity again?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes.” Lilith dropped the apple-sized fruit on the ground and chopped down with the sword, slicing it cleanly in half. Kneeling, she picked through the flesh, collecting six seeds, then, spreading out her fingers again, she let the sparkling red seeds roll around on her stained palm.
“They look like rubies!” Naamah said.
Lilith dropped them into her pocket along with the others. “Much more valuable than rubies, Sister. They are the seeds of corruption. And those who control the corrupting influence wield the power to rule the corrupted.”
Paperback: 609 pages
Publisher: AMG Publishers (September 25, 2006)
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
It is November 1st, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and their latest book's FIRST chapter!
This blog is featuring a contest to win a
copy of Nancy's new book, Coldwater Revival. Just put in a comment and you
may be the winner!
Just three weeks before her wedding, Emma Grace Falin has returned to her hometown of Coldwater, Texas, consumed by a single, burning desire. She must confront the guilt and shame of a devastating event that has haunted her since childhood.
"...What a stunning debut novel."
--Wendy Lawton, Literary Agent, author of Impressions in Clay
"An astonishing debut! Coldwater Revival is a hauntingly beautiful story made doubly so by Nancy Jo Jenkins stunning, lyrical writing. I was mesmerized from cover to cover."
--Deborah Raney, author of A Nest of Sparrows and A Vow to Cherish
AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Meet Nancy Jo...
Q. How long did it take you to write Coldwater Revival?
A. I perceived the idea for Coldwater Revival in June, 2003, and completed the manuscript in March, 2005.
Q. Tell us about your journey from writer to published novelist.
A. During my teaching career, I dreamed of the day when I could write the stories that continually swam around in my head. I didn't know at the time that it would take me four or five years of attending workshops, conferences, retreats, lectures, and of studying tapes, books and other materials before I was ready to put my newly-acquired knowledge to use, and begin writing the stories that God had prompted me to write. In March, 2004, at the Mount Hermon Christian Writing Conference, I submitted a book proposal to Steve Laube (Literary agent), and Jeff Dunn, (Acquisitions Editor) for RiverOak. Both gentlemen asked me to send them all I had written on Coldwater Revival, which at the time was 109 pages. During the summer of 2004, both men offered me a contract. My book was published by RiverOak and released in May, 2006.
Q. The agony and healing Emma Grace went through are so real. What personal experiences did you draw from to portray Emma Grace's feelings so well?
A. There was a time in my life when I suffered with depression, though it was not due to a death in the family, as Emma Grace's was. At the time, it seemed that I was in a daily knock-down, drag-out fistfight with sadness. I was truly blessed in that I was never prescribed any kind of medication to treat my depression, which proved to be relatively short-lived. But I did receive counseling, which was just what I needed to win the battle with this debilitating condition. During that time of depression I endured many of the symptoms that Emma Grace suffered through. Excessive sleeping was about the only symptom we did not share. There were times when I couldn't swallow my food, and times when I could almost touch the face of that same blackness that almost overwhelmed Emma Grace. Her sorrow and guilt were difficult scenes for me to write, and I found myself crying each time I wrote about Emma Grace's sadness and the continual ache in her heart.
Q. Emma Grace loses all desire for life when her brother dies - not eating or talking, just living in the blissful cocoon of sleep. Do you have any advice for folks who are in that dark place right now?
A. Communication was the key that unlocked the door of depression for me. Communicate with God, even if the only words you can utter are the words, "Help me." But I also benefited greatly from talking to a certified counselor; one who was trained in helping people express their pain, their needs, their fears. I hope that anyone who feels sad and lonely for an extended length of time, will contact their pastor, or someone who can direct them to a Christian counselor.
Q. Emma Grace's grandmother lives in the city while the rest of the family lives in the country. Why do you think she didn't move out to the country with the rest of the family long ago?
A. Granny Falin immigrated from Ireland to America with her husband and son when Emma Grace's papa was just a lad. This family shared a dream about their new country. It would be a place where they could find work and prosperity, raise their family, and put down roots. Even the Great Hurricane of 1900 couldn't wash those dreams from Granny's heart. Though her only remaining child lived a hundred miles away in the rural township of Coldwater, Texas, Granny could never leave Galveston. The island and the sea that surrounded the island were her home now. It was where the ashes of her husband and three children were buried. It was the home she and her husband had dreamed of during their desperate years together in Ireland. If she left Galveston and moved to Roan's home, she would be giving up the dream she had shared with her husband.
Q. Papa and Elo have a tough time showing their emotions. Elo, especially, is so hard to read in the book. Why do you think some people hole up inside themselves rather than sharing their emotions?
A. I believe we are born with a portion of our personality already deeply embedded within us. Some people are reticent to express their feelings and emotions, while others have no problem whatsoever in expressing what they feel or think. I have known many individuals who are like Elo; people we sometimes refer to as "the strong, silent type". Papa and Elo are powerful protectors and providers who waste little time and effort on words. Both of these men feel that "actions speak louder than words". Added to that is the fact that Elo feels extreme discomfort when his mother and sisters are emotionally distraught, therefore, he maintains a rigid demeanor, in part, to provide a stable link in the chain that makes up his family - The Falins.
Q. Do you have other books coming out soon?
A. Thank you for asking about my upcoming books. I'm about to submit my proposal for a novel entitileld, "Whisper Mountain". This story takes place in the early 1900's in the Great Smoky Mountains. It is the story about lost love, and a desperate woman's journey to fill the void that deprivation and loss have left in her heart. The story has elements of mystery, intrigue, murder, and of course, romance. I'm very excited about this story. I've also begun writing a sequel to "Coldwater Revival" which will parallel both Emma Grace's life after 1933, and the adventurous trek Elo begins when he falls in love.
Three weeks before I was to marry Gavin O’Donnell, I set my feet upon the beaten path leading to Two-Toe Creek. What I had to offer Gavin in marriage—my whole heart, or just a part—depended on the
decision I would make today.
As my feet tracked the dusty pathway they stirred loose soil to the air. My heart stirred as well, for the guilt I had buried in its depths smoldered as though my brother had just died, and not five years earlier. In the shadowed days following the tragedy, my disgrace had glared like a packet of shiny new buttons. I’d not thought to hide it at the time. In truth, I’d thought of little, other than how to survive. But at some point during that time of sorrowful existence, when my days and nights strung together like endless telegraph wires, I dug a trench around my heart and buried my shame.
From that day until this, I deeded myself the actor’s role, closing the curtain on my stain of bitter memories, hiding my sorrow behind a veil of pretense. But that old deceiver, Time, had neither softened my guilt nor put it to rest; only allowed it ample pause to fester like deadly gangrene. Now, as the day of my wedding drew near, my heart cried out for healing. It was, you see, far wiser than my head. My heart understood its need for restoration—before I exchanged wedding vows with Gavin. For this reason, I now walked the trail to Two-Toe Creek. To revisit my failures of yesteryear and reclaim the peace that had slipped past the portals of my childhood. Perhaps then I could give Gavin the entirety of my heart.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Coldwater Revival by Nancy Jo Jenkins (Members should have a copy already)
Eye of the Oracle by Bryan Davis (There will not be a copy of this book sent out)
Hell in a Briefcase by Phil Little (Members should receive a copy December)
Abiding Darkness by John Aubrey Anderson (Members should receive a copy in January)
Scimitar's Edge by Marvin Olasky (Members should receive a copy in February)
Wishing on Dandilions by Mary DeMuth
The Heir by Paul Robertson
Prints Charming by Rebeca Seitz
Coral Moon by Brandilyn Collins
Bad Idea by the Hafer Brothers
Tenititively scheduled for either September or October FIRST:
Solo Sashimi (Working Title) by Camy Tang
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Coldwater Revival by Nancy Jo Jenkins (Members should have a copy already)
Eye of the Oracle by Bryan Davis (There will not be a copy of this book sent out)
Hell in a Briefcase by Phil Little (Members should receive a copy soon)
Abiding Darkness by John Aubrey Anderson (Members should receive a copy soon)
Scimitar's Edge by Marvin Olasky (Members should receive a copy soon)
Monday, September 25, 2006
Guess what? The publicists for Ginger have agreed to a book contest for each FIRST member's blog post on Dark Hour! It is up to the member on how they judge which commenter wins the free book...so, comment and you might become a winner!
About the author:
Ginger Garrett is an acclaimed novelist and expert in ancient women's history.
Her first novel, Chosen, was recognized as one of the best five novels of the year by the Christian publishing industry. Ginger enjoys a diverse reader base and creates conversation between cultures.
In addition to her 2006 and 2007 novels about the most evil women in biblical history, she will release Beauty Secrets of the Bible (published by Thomas Nelson) in Summer 2007.
Ginger Garrett's Dark Hour delves into the biblical account of Jezebel's daughter and her attempt to end the line of David.
And now, a special Q&A with Ginger Garrett:
1.) First, tell us a bit about Dark Hour.
I was praying about what book to write after Chosen, and accidentally left my open Bible on the kitchen table. (A dangerous thing, since in my house, small children and large dogs routinely scavenge with dirty hands and noses for snacks!) As I walked past it, I saw a caption about someone named Athaliah and a mass murder. I stopped cold. I knew it was my story.
One woman, her step-daughter, Jehoshebeth, defied her. She stole a baby during the massacre and hid him. Between them, the two women literally fought for the fate of the world.
2.) What drew you to write biblical fiction?
The similarities between the lives of ancient women and our lives. We get distracted by their "packaging," the way they dressed and lived, but at heart, our stories are parallel.
3.) How much time is spent researching the novel versus writing the novel?
Equal amounts, and I don't stop researching while I write. I have a historical expert, probably the best in the world in his field, review the manuscript and point out errors. The tough part is deciding when to ignore his advice. He pointed out that most everyone rode donkeys if they weren't in the military, but a key scene in the novel involves riding a horse to the rescue. It would have been anti-climatic to charge in on a donkey! :) So I ignored his advice on that one.
4.) Dark Hour takes its reader deep into the heart of palace intrigue and betrayals. Were parts of this book difficult to write?
I left out much of the darkest material I uncovered in research. It was important to show how violent and treacherous these times and this woman (Athaliah) could be, but I tried to be cautious about how to do it. The story was so powerful and hopeful--how one woman's courage in the face of evil saved the world--but the evil was depressing. I tried to move quickly past it. I wanted balance. Our heroine suffers and some wounds are not completely healed in her lifetime. That's true for us, too.
5.) What would modern readers find surprising about ancient women?
They had a powerful sense of the community of women. They also wore make-up: blush, glitter eyeshadow, lipstick, powder, and perfume! They drank beer with straws, and enjoyed "Fritos": ground grains, fried and salted. Many of our foods are the same today, but they loved to serve pate made from dried locusts, finely ground. Ugh!Without further ado...here is the FIRST chapter of Dark Hour by Ginger Garrett. Judge for yourself if you'd like to read more!
(There is a prologue before chapter one regarding the birth of Jehoshebeth... Athaliah is not Jehoshebeth's biological mother.)
c h a p t e r O n e
Fifteen Years Later
HER BARU, the priest of divination, opened the goatskin bag and spread the wet liver along the floor, leaving a path of blood as he worked. Retrieving a wooden board and pegs from his other satchel, the satchel that held the knives and charms, he placed pegs in the board according to where the liver was marked by fat and disease. He turned the black liver over, revealing a ragged abscess.
Athaliah covered her mouth and nose with her hands to ward off the smell but would not turn way.
“Worms,” her sorcerer said, not looking up. He placed more pegs in the board before he stopped, and his breath caught.
A freezing wind touched them, though they were in the heart of the palace in the heat of the afternoon. Athaliah cursed this cold thing that had found her again and watched the sorcerer search for the source of the chill before he returned to the divination. There was no source of wind here; in her chamber there was a bed, the table where her servants applied her cosmetics from ornate and lovely jars shaped like animals, a limestone toilet, and in the farthest corner so that no one at the chamber door would see it, her shrine. Statues of Baal, the storm god, and the great goddess Asherah, who called all life into being, stood among the panting lions carved from ivory and the oil lamps that burned at all hours. Here she placed her offerings of incense and oil, and here she whispered to the icy thing as it worshiped alongside her.
The baru watched as the flames in the shrine swayed, the chill moving among the gods. The flames stayed at an angle until one began to burn the face of Asherah. Her painted face began to melt, first her eyes running black and then her mouth flowing red. He gasped and stood.
“I must return to the city.”
Athaliah stood, blocking him from his satchel.
“What does the liver say?”
“It is not good that I have come. We will work another day.”
She did not move. He glanced at the door. Guards with sharp swords were posted outside.
“A dead king still rules here. You set yourself against him
and are damned.”
Athaliah sighed. “You speak of David.”
The baru nodded and bent closer so no other thing would hear his whisper. “There is a prophecy about him, that one from the house of David will always reign in Judah. His light will never die.”
“I fear no man, dead or living.”
The baru continued to whisper, fear pushing into his eyes, making them wide. “It is not the man you must fear. It is his God.”
Athaliah bit her lip and considered his words. She wished he didn’t tremble. It was such a burden to comfort a man.
“Yes, this God. It is this God who troubles us. Perhaps I can make an offering to Him. You must instruct me. Stay, my friend, stay.” She patted him on the arm, detesting his clammy flesh. “I have dreamed,” she confessed. “I have a message from this God, and I must know how to answer Him.”
The baru took a step back, shaking his head. “What is this dream?”
“A man,” Athaliah said.
“At night, when I sleep and the moon blankets my chamber, I see a man. He is not as we are: he is coarse and wild. He wears skins hewn from savage beasts, run round his waist with careless thought, and in his mind he is always running, ax in hand, running. I feel his thoughts, his mind churning with unrest, and he knows mine completely. I hear a burning whisper from heaven and shut up my ears, but he turns to the sound. A great hand touches him, sealing him for what lies ahead, and speaks a name I cannot hear, a calling to one yet to be. I try to strike this man, but all goes red, blankets of red washing down.”
She licked her lips and waited, breathing hard. The baru nodded.
“You see the prophet of Yahweh, Elijah, who plagues your mother.”
The baru began to reach for his goatskin sack. He picked up the liver and put it in the sack, keeping an eye on the door as he wiped his bloody hand on his robes. She knew he was measuring his steps in his mind, thinking only of freedom from here, and from her.
Athaliah grabbed his arm. “I let those who worship Yahweh
live in peace. They mean nothing to me; what is one God in a
land of so many? Why would this God send a man to make war
on my mother and then claim me also?”
The baru narrowed his eyes. “This God is not like the others.”
“How can we be free of Him?”
The baru thought for a moment then reached into his satchel. He pulled out a handful of teeth and tossed them on the ground at her feet. She did not move.
He squatted and read them, probing them with a shaking finger. She watched as the hair along his neck rose, and goose bumps popped all along his skin. The cold thing had wrapped itself tightly around him. She could see his breath.
“There is a child,” he said. “The eye of Yahweh is upon this child, always. I must counsel you to find this child and kill it, for when it is gone, Yahweh would trouble you no more.”
Athaliah murmured and ran her teeth over her lips, biting and dragging the skin as her thoughts worked back in time. “It is my daughter you speak of. Only a girl. But even so, I cannot kill her yet. I would lose my rights as the most favored wife. I will not risk my crown for so small a prize. No, I will find another way to get rid of her, and I will deal with this threat from Yahweh as I must.”
Athaliah walked to her shrine and cleaned the face of Asherah. She could hear the baru scooping the teeth back into the bag. She turned with a sly smile, pleased that her mind worked so quickly even with the cold thing so near.
“My mother has already angered this God. We will let her have our problem. She has a talent for these things.”
He had finished putting everything back into his two sacks and edged toward the door. She wondered if he would return. He was the best she had at divining dreams and saw in the liver so many answers. She sighed and tried to think of a word to reassure him.
“A farmer may own the field,” she began, “but much work is done before a harvest is even planted. Stones are removed, weeds are torn free. We must break loose the soil and uproot our enemies so the field will be ready. On that day I will sow richly.”
He managed a weak smile.
“Let your appetite grow, my friend,” she coaxed. “The harvest is coming.”
He fled so quickly she knew her words had been wasted, as all words were on frightened men. He would never return.
He dined in a dim, private room with his advisers. The room was adjacent to the throne room, where he would one day rule, and was bare, save for an oil lamp on a low table. Cedar beams topped the limestone walls, giving the palace a sweet, smoky scent under the afternoon sun. The men sat around the table, scattered with maps, sharing a lunch of grapes, bread, wine, and cheese. Normally they would eat more, and in the dining hall, but the kitchen servants were busy preparing for the great send-off feast and it was easier to be served here.
Tomorrow, his father, King Jehoshaphat, would lead Judah’s army north toward Israel and King Ahab. Together, the two kingdoms would fight their inconstant friend Ben-Hadad to end his trade monopolies. Ben-Hadad fought alongside them against the cruel Assyrians but turned often and claimed the richest of trade cities for himself.
“There are implications, my prince,” Ethan said. Ethan was the tallest, and his skin turned red when he was angry, which was often. His temper had plagued him since he and the prince were boys, but now Jehoram no longer found pleasure in goading his friend. “If the kings succeed at Ramoth-Gilead against Ben-Hadad,” Ethan continued, “and the proposed alliance is
accepted, your father will have obligations both to the north and south. In this way, Ahab’s kingdom will be strengthened by this victory, and your own kingdom will be compromised. Judah may weaken and fall at last to a king of Israel.”
“I have married the daughter of Ahab,” Jehoram replied. “I have given their daughter an heir and promised her the crown. I have curried the favor of the north well enough. They will not turn on me, for their own daughter is at my side.” He tried to entertain himself with the food and wine while his advisers prattled on. He wondered what would be served at the feast tonight. If the servants’ exhausted expressions were any indication, the spread would be remarkable.
“That is true, my friend,” Ethan said. “But you are wrong to think this is Ahab’s war. It is a woman who is shaping this new world. Think on this: What does the powerful Jezebel desire more than to bring glory to her own name? She wants the north and south reunited so that she may one day rule them both, a queen equal in power to Solomon.”
Ethan smirked as he continued. “Everyone knows Ahab wears the crown but Jezebel rules. With Ahab and Jehoshaphat together in battle, their voices silenced for a time, Jezebel will be listening for yours. Let her know a lion roars in Judah. We will never be ruled by a woman, especially one who hides behind her husband’s crown.”
Jehoram listened, running his tongue across his lips, catching a spot of wine resting just above his lip. Ethan was his truest friend, if a man about to wear the crown had one, but he was always ready for a fight. Jehoram preferred to suffer a blow and stay with his women and wine. He sighed. “Ethan, you look into darkness and see monsters, but I see only shadows. It has always been this way.”
Ethan frowned. “We are no longer children hunting with our fathers at night. Listen to me, for I am the voice of God in your ear.”
Jehoram turned his face away and crossed his arms. Then he sighed and reached for a bowl of grapes and began to eat. He did not like an empty stomach.
Another adviser bit into some cheese and leaned in. “Mighty Ethan is right. Jezebel wants to see you on the throne because of your union with her daughter Athaliah, but she is no ally. Listen to what I tell you: Something evil here stirs the water and watches.”
“These voices of doom!” Jehoram yelled, slapping his bowl down on the table so that it spilled. “These voices and whispers, will they not cease?” He gripped his head and glared at the men. Each had but one wife and thought to advise him on his many? “You warn me against women, even my own wife, but they are women and nothing more!”
Ethan scooted closer to him. “Do not play the fool. Athaliah practices her strange magic and you slip under her spell little by little. There is still time to save yourself, and the kingdom, if you are indeed a man and king.”
Jehoram rose and adjusted his robe around his shoulders, staring down at Ethan.
“Do even my friends turn against me now?” he asked.
“I have always been like a brother to you. I desire nothing but your good,” Ethan said, rising. Jehoram held his temper and the two men glared at each other, breathing hard.
The adviser Ornat spoke. “May I address the future king of Judah?”
Jehoram nodded and sat, returning to his grapes. He glanced at Ethan and shook his head.
Ornat was new to his inner circle, an adviser Athaliah had recommended for his influence among the people who did not worship the God of Judah. She promised his voice would balance the harsh messages the others always gave. He had long, straight gray hair that always hung as if he had just come in from the rain. A magnificent bump crowned his nose, but it was the only remarkable feature about the man, a man who looked as if he were melting before their eyes.
“Good Jehoram,” Ornat began, “the king knows you are a son who is not like the father. King Jehoshaphat has conspired with your brothers to ensure you never take the throne. They plot behind closed doors, taking their meals without you. I have heard the plans from my spies among the servants.”
Jehoram felt his stomach churn at the accusation. He would not allow such ridiculous talk and raised his hand to dismiss the man at once.
The arrival of Athaliah interrupted them, and all bowed as she entered.
“Jehoram, I seek your face with a burden on my heart. Hear me and help me, my lord and husband,” she said.
Jehoram looked at her a moment, his eyes having trouble adjusting to the light that streamed in when the door had opened. She stirred something in him, as she had from her first night in the palace, rain-soaked and announced by thunder, her sheer robes clinging to her tiny frame. She came bearing boxes of shrines and gods, like the dolls of a child, and she clung to them even in their bedchamber. She was the only wife who did not submit to his will, and he had found her exotic. Now she had grown, but his exotic pet was still wild, shaking off the customs and manners he tried to teach her. He knew she hungered, but not for him. His face burned with shame.
“Speak, Athaliah,” he said.
“Your daughter has grown quite pale of late. I have seen this sickness before.”
Jehoram sat up straight. Sickness in the palace would spread
rapidly, a threat as swift and fierce as any Assyrian.
“What sickness?” he demanded.
Athaliah smiled at him, then at the men reclining.
“Of course you do not understand,” she said. “You are men. You have tended your kingdom well but neglected to see that your daughter has come of age.”
Jehoram exhaled and sat back, an indulgent smile on his lips.
“And what remedy does this sickness crave?” he asked.
Athaliah bowed before Jehoram. “She must marry, my lord.”
Jehoram waved his hand, a broad gesture. Here he could be master.
“I command, then, that she be married. If there is a commander well thought of, it would be an honor to give a daughter in marriage just before a battle.”
Athaliah nodded, just once. He felt his victory slipping away.
“I have sent word to the north,” Athaliah said, “to my mother’s house, that a nobleman from my own home who serves in the ivory palace of my mother be given her. King Ahab has sent you his favorite daughter.” She smiled. “Now let us send ours to him. It will be good for Jehoshebeth to hold your name ever before my father, Ahab. And Jezebel would relish a granddaughter so near.”
Jehoram stopped and frowned. “It is Jehoshebeth you speak of? She is a special child to me. I would not have her sent north.”
“But you have given the order that she be married. There is no one else worthy of her,” Athaliah said.
Jehoram rubbed his chin and pretended to study a map. Finally, he shook his head. “I must think on this.”
Athaliah bowed low, her eyes closed. “May the God you serve bless all your decisions, good Jehoram,” she said. She straightened and looked at the advisers. Jehoram could not bear to see their eyes upon his bride, the only territory he owned and could not rule. He detected secrets moving between her and Ornat like a sudden spring bubbling up from a dark source. Only a few found it distasteful and turned away. Ethan was the first to scowl and return his glance to the prince.
“I will see you all at the feast tonight,” Athaliah said as she left.
She wagged a finger at Ornat. “Take care of my good husband.”
Jehoram slouched in his seat and returned to his grapes.
Friday, September 01, 2006
It is September 1st, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and their latest book's FIRST chapter!
Taylor Field has worked since 1986 in the inner city of New York where he is pastor of East Seventh Baptist Church/Graffiti Community Ministries. He holds a M.Div. from Princeton and Ph.D. from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Among his previous books is the award-winning Mercy Streets. Field and his family live in New York, New York.
If you want to know more, please visit The SQUAT Website!To order Squat, click HERE.
Author interview contact is Andrea Irwin at Broadman & Holman.
All author proceeds from Squat will go to Graffiti Community Ministries, Inc., a service arm of the East Seventh Street Baptist Church on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where Field preaches.
Back Cover Copy:
In the shadow of Wall Street’s wealth, homeless citizens with names like Squid, Saw, and Bonehead live in abandoned buildings known as "squats" where life is hand to mouth, where fear and violence fester. The light in lovable Squid’s obsessive-compulsive mind’s eye is Rachel, a loving soup kitchen missionary who tells him about faith and unfaith, hypocrisy and justice, the character of God and finding identity in Him.
But among the squats and so many other abandoned lives, will such talk be enough to make Squid believe that his life may actually amount to something?
CALMLY, THE GIRL on the sofa reached out and pulled up a flap of skin on the little boy’s thin arm. It could have been a gesture of affection. But then she pinched the skin and twisted it. Hard.
“Ouch!” He whipped his pencil in front of her face once, like a club, and then cracked it on her forehead. He pulled the pencil back, ready to strike her again, crouching against the back of the couch like a cornered weasel.
The little girl wrinkled up her round freckled face but did not cry out. She looked toward her mom, who was talking to the receptionist. The boy’s mom, seated across the room, didn’t look up. She continued to look through the pages of her magazine, snapping each page like a whip.
“You could have put my eye out!” the freckled girl hissed.
The boy rubbed the two blue marks on his arm. He looked her steadily in the eyes and growled.
His mom called him over. “Come sit by me, honey, and stop making so much noise.” She patted his hair down in the back and smiled at him. She wore lots of eyeliner and widened her eyes to make even sitting in a waiting room seem like an adventure. “You’re such a big man, now,” she had said this morning as she combed his hair and helped him put on his best shirt. She was humming “Getting to Know You” even though her voice quivered just a little. She had put a lot of extra perfume and sprays on this morning. She smelled like the women’s aisle in a drugstore.
Once the little girl’s mom finished with the receptionist and returned to the sofa, the little girl started crying with one soft, unending whine.
The boy rolled his eyes and looked for a book to bury his head in.
“What’s wrong, honey?” the mom asked as she swept her little girl up.
“That boy hit me.”
A stuffy silence reigned in the waiting room except for the sound of the bubbles in the aquarium above the magazine table. The girl’s mother glared at the boy and then at his mother. The boy picked up a children’s book with some torn pages and began studying it seriously. His mom hadn’t been listening to the girl. She was still snapping through the magazine’s pages.
Finally, she threw it down with disgust and looked at her watch again. “I’m going outside to smoke a cigarette, honey,” she said, oblivious to the stares of the mother and daughter across the room. She stood up, adjusted her dress with an efficient tug, and stepped outside the office. They gaped at her departure with their mouths open, like two goldfish.
The aquarium continued to gurgle. In the following silence, the little boy became dramatically interested in the book in front of him. It had been pawed over by a lot of children waiting in this doctor’s office, and the first few pages had been torn out. The pages that remained had rounded corners and smudges along the edges. The little boy squinted his eyes in exaggerated concentration. He preferred the smudged pictures to the astonished fish eyes of the adult across the room.
He studied a picture of a man who wore a robe down to his ankles. He had a beard and a sad look in his eyes. In front of him was a young man with no beard, lying on a stone with his hands tied. The man with a beard had a knife in his hand and had his hand raised high up as if he were going to stab the boy. Out of a cloud an angel was reaching out to grab the hand of the man. The angel hadn’t touched the man yet, but his hand was getting close. The man didn’t yet know that the angel was there.
The boy forgot about the girl and her mother. The color of the man’s robe was so deep and blue. The angel’s wings were more gold than his mother’s best bracelet. The boy on the stone had a robe that was silvery-white like clouds. The sun in the background was redder than any sun he had ever seen. It was as red as a hot dog. The little boy felt he was swimming in this world of rich colors and robes, a sleepy world tempered by the sound of the bubbles in the doctor’s aquarium. The boy put his finger above the picture book, to the right of the book, and then to the left of the book. “One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three,” he whispered to himself, touching each of the three points three times.
His mom opened the door and came back in. The summer heat from outside reached in to bathe him in warmth. She shut the door with exasperation. She sat down beside him, reeking of cigarette smoke and hair spray. She adjusted his collar and gave him a nervous smile. “You’re such a big man now,” she said and patted his hair again.
The boy pointed to the man in the robe in the picture. “Mom, is that boy that man’s son?”
“I don’t know, honey.” She picked up the same magazine again and started ripping through it at lightning speed.
“What’s he doing with the knife, Mom?”
His mom gave a half smile and looked at the picture absentmindedly. “He’s protecting his boy from someone who might hurt him. Stay still, honey. Why is the doctor making us wait so long? If he doesn’t see us by twelve, we’ll have to leave. He ought to pay us for making us wait.”
The boy studied the picture again.
“That’s Abraham, stupid,” the little girl stage-whispered from across the room.
The boy looked at her and scowled. “Yeah, like you know.”
She stuck her tongue out at him and turned it upside down.
His mom backhanded a few more pages, put the magazine down, and looked him in the eyes. She beamed. “Honey, I have a surprise for you. I’ve been waiting to tell you, and I’ve been looking for the right moment. I guess no moment is really the right moment. At 12:15 today we are going to see Sammy again. He’s come back. He’ll be waiting for us at our place. Isn’t that exciting? Everything will be different. You’ll be nice to him, won’t you? Honey, don’t bite your thumbs, you’ll make them bleed again.”
The boy wouldn’t look at his mom. He stared down at the picture of the man with the knife. Then he looked up at the clock above the receptionist. The little hand was close to the twelve and the big hand was on the eight. He turned the page of the book and another page was torn out. The next page after the torn one had a picture of a man sleeping with his head on a rock. He didn’t have a beard and he looked scared. His robe was a dull gray and looked dirty, but in the background, angels were coming up and down out of the sky on a shimmering stairway.
“I want to camp out on my own like this guy does, away from everybody, away from the house,” he told his mom.
“That’s sweet, honey,” she said as she finished the magazine again and looked at her watch.
The little boy’s lips moved as he carefully scrutinized the words beneath the picture of the man camping out. His eyes got wider. He traced a word with his finger. He almost forgot where he was. “I want to be like this guy,” he whispered.
A man in a suit breezed in and talked to the receptionist. Immediately his mom sat up straighter. The man finished with the receptionist and turned around and looked for a seat. His mom widened her eyes and smiled at the man. He smiled back.
The next page of the book was also torn out. On the following page was the best picture of all. A youth was wearing a beautiful robe with many different stripes of colors. He seemed so happy and looked as though nothing bad would ever happen to him. A man with a white beard was smiling next to him in the picture. The boy stared at the colors in the book for a long time. If he focused his eyes beyond the page, the colors blurred together like rainbow ice cream. Somehow looking at it kept his stomach from hurting so badly.
“Mom, I want a coat like this one.”
His mom looked at the picture for a moment. Her tone sounded much more patient with him now that the new man was in the waiting room. “Everybody wants a coat like that, honey. You’ll get yours one day.”
The little girl stretched her freckled face up as high as she could so she could see the picture. “That’s Joseph, you toad,” she said hoarsely from across the room. “Don’t you ever go to church?”
Her mother pulled her back close to her lap and said, “Hush.”
The boy looked at the clock. The big hand was on the nine. “Mom, let’s just stay here. It’s nice and cool and our air conditioner doesn’t work at home. I like looking at the books here. I like the fish. Let’s just stay here and not go back home. It’s too hot there.”
His mom looked at her watch again. “Why are your hands so clammy, sweetie? You’re making the book wet. What’s wrong with you? Stop biting your thumb or you’ll make it bleed right before we see the doctor. Do you want to get me into even more trouble?” She smiled at the man as she got up and walked past him to the receptionist. “Could you tell me how much longer it will be until we can see the doctor? I have another urgent appointment.” She conferred with the receptionist for a few minutes in hushed tones.
The boy found an envelope in the back of the book with all the colorful pictures. It had bright green writing on it and a red border. The envelope said you could send off for more books with other stories. The boy looked up at the little girl across the room. She was yanking on her mother’s sleeve and whispering something in her ear. She was probably talking about the boy’s mom. While making sure the girl was still looking at her own mom, he carefully folded the envelope once and put it in his jean pocket.
The girl was staring insolently at him again. He wanted to do something to the book. He wanted to add a character to protect the boy from the father with the knife. He reached in his other pocket and pulled out half a red crayon. He wanted to draw a picture in the book. He wanted to put someone in there to help that angel keep that boy from getting cut, but he knew that the girl on the opposite couch would never let him get away with drawing in the book. He pulled out his stack of baseball cards as she continued to stare. He carried only Yankees. He pulled his prize Reggie Jackson card from the stack and began to place it in the book but decided against it. He pulled out a relief pitcher, Dick Tidrow. He would be a good enough guard to help the angel. Then he put the card carefully in the page where the sad man was dressed in the long robe and holding the knife. He made sure that the edge of the card was exactly parallel to the edge of the book. He knew the girl was watching him. He closed the book very slowly and with great respect. Very quietly, with just one finger, he touched three sides of the book again, three times. “One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three,” he said under his breath. He put the book down gently on the table and then put both hands on his stomach and doubled over until his head touched his knees. A groan came out of him before he knew it.
The little girl sneered at him, “You’re nuts!” Her mom held her closer and made a shushing sound.
The boy looked at the clock again as his mom plopped down on the sofa with a snort. The big hand was already past the eleven. “Mom, let’s stay here. We’ve already waited a long time. Let’s stay.”
“Straighten up, sweetie. Why are you bent over? Everything is going to be fine. Soon we will see Sammy and everything will be different. It won’t be like last time. You’ll see. Everything will be fine.” She looked at her watch again then got up to talk to the receptionist. She seemed to be talking faster and faster. Finally she marched back to her son and said firmly, “We’re going now. We’ll have to come back another day. Let’s go, honey. Straighten up and stop frowning.”
She grabbed his hand, but he grabbed the arm of the sofa with his other hand. The arm of the sofa had padding on the top, but a metal support on the side. It was just right for grabbing. She pulled and his knuckles whitened. “Come on, sweetie, don’t be silly.” She smiled at the man and the other mother. She was petite and could not get her son to loosen his grip. He was small for an eleven-year-old, but his grasp was almost as strong as his mother’s. She reached to loosen his grip with her hand, but he simply grabbed the arm of the sofa with his other hand.
She smiled sweetly to the man and said, “Would you mind helping me, please?”
He hesitated, got up awkwardly, and began to loosen the grip of the other hand. The aquarium began to rumble like a volcano, and both the receptionist and the other mother stood up. The boy was stretched out like a cartoon as the mother pulled and the man pried his fingers from the sofa. In the middle of the hubbub, the little girl came up to hold his torso, as if to protect him from falling. Where her mother couldn’t see, she grabbed the sensitive skin next to his ribs and pulled and twisted at the same time as hard as she could.
In the tussle, the book with the men in robes fell to the floor and the little girl slipped on it. The baseball card slid underneath the sofa. The receptionist picked up the phone to call someone. The other mother grabbed for her daughter. The little boy squealed a high squeal; he was a desperate guinea pig grabbed by many hands.
Finally, the man got both hands loose, and his mom dragged him by the torso and opened the door. He clutched at the frame of the door but couldn’t hold on. By that time, some people in white coats came out with the receptionist and shouted as his mom dragged him out to the steaming parking lot. His mother roared back at them with a curse. He cried and whimpered for help as he got one last glimpse of the girl looking out at him from the waiting room window. She stood with her hands on her hips and her tongue sticking out.
Until he ran away from home, a number of years later, the little boy never went back to a doctor.