Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spiritual Cancer, Gunpowder, and Fleabites: The Anatomy of a Fall

"His pride led to his downfall."
The Way to Fall: II Chronicles 26:5, 16 (excerpt from STAND FAST, by Douglas Bond)                                                                         
Uzziah’s downfall
            “As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success,” the inspired historian records of young Uzziah. And was he ever successful! A warrior king almost on a par with King David, he defeated the mighty Philistines and demolished the walls of their principle cities, and waged successful campaigns against the Arabs and the Ammonites. No other king could boast of so disciplined an army and of such deadly war machines--catapults and mechanized equipment for firing arrows. For his army and weaponry, even for advances in farming, Uzziah was the envy of ancient kings.
But something was not right: “As long as he sought the Lord…” With those words, the chronicler hints that Uzziah is not going to stay the mark. This young king had humbly sought help from the Lord and “was greatly helped.” But here’s the rub, “after he became powerful his pride led to his downfall” (II Chronicles 26:15b, 16a).
So it will be with you if you do not persevere in seeking after God. On the heels of urging you to seek the Lord early, I wonder if some young men jump to the conclusion that seeking the Lord is a youthful activity, that if you do enough of it in your youth you can live off the interest in your adult life. No way. Seeking the Lord is a continuum. It is daily rising up and calling him blessed. It is hourly vigilance over besetting sin. It is daily diligence in the Word and prayer. It is humble worship, seeking the Lord in his house on the Sabbath day. Genuine seeking is always in the present perfect tense--continuing, pressing on, straining every spiritual muscle after Christ—all things Uzziah stopped doing.
Continue doing these things and you will have success. God does not make idle promises. You will succeed in mortifying sin, in effectual prayer, in heartfelt worship, in humble service, and at the last you will have the celestial success of Satan conquered and heaven won. Forget riches and fame—there’s no greater success.     
            But many men—young and old—are brought low, like Uzziah, because when they gain a measure of success they become proud; they fail to give God credit for his gracious work in them, his gifts given to them, his successes. 

Sports and pride
Moments before the 500 meter US Sprint Kayak Nationals final I asked one of my sons what his race strategy was. “I win, they lose,” he said with a grin. He’s a big Ronald Reagan fan and likes quoting Reagan’s Cold War strategy. Two days earlier he’d lost the 1000 meter sprint to a Hungarian-born paddler by 4,800ths of a second and was absolutely determined not to cut things so close. He did win the 500 and by a bigger margin. And then the monster pride rears his ugly head.
Competitive sports, young men, and pride are a union forged in hell. If you are an athlete—or the father of one--you must particularly beware of pride. Why? Because, as C. S. Lewis put it:

Pride is essentially competitive—is competitive by its very nature. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. It is Pride—the wish to be richer than some other rich man, and (still more) the wish for power. For, of course, power is what Pride really enjoys.
Most young men love competition. Men thrive on it. And we love power. We love being strong and being in control of people and situations. Many great things have been accomplished by powerful men straining to be the best. Consider General Bradley’s quip as George Paton led the 3rd Army in victory after victory, ever deeper into German-held territory in WW II: “Give George another headline and he’ll be good for another thirty miles.” It’s embarrassing, but we’re inclined to do more if we’re getting lots of credit for doing it. Feed our pride and we’ll conquer the world.
Unlike war, where pride might motivate a young man to do great deeds that benefit others, in sports young men are easily consumed with shameless self-interest. Listen to the boasting of professional athletes. Watch the swagger of the varsity basketball jock. See the jutted chin and hauteur of the All-American quarterback. Gaze in disgust at the unabashed self-conceit of the running back as he struts and preens in the end-zone. Listen to your teammates. Hear your own words. Look into your own heart. If you are a competitive athlete, beware of pride. 
“If sports are supposed to build character,” wrote Brad Wolverton in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “recent evidence suggests that college athletics is falling down on the job.” He cites a study of the moral reasoning of 70,000 college students conducted over two decades. The result? “Athletes have significantly lower moral-reasoning skills than the general student population.” Moral reasoning—what the ancients called virtue--leads you to use your strength and skill in the interest of others. Competitive sports can flip things around. So impressed with your own athletic prowess, you sneer in disdain at others. Gradually, you begin to think of yourself as a worthy object of the most devout—and disgusting--self-worship.
Once on your knees before yourself, the absurdity of it all never occurs to you. How ridiculous for you to be puffed up over strengths and skills God ultimately gave you! But seeing your pride for what it is requires a changed heart.
Only a grateful heart will keep the nonsense of your pride in check. Just when you’re swelling up at your victory, offer thanksgiving that God gave you a healthy body, that he gave you the opportunity to develop your skill, and if you’re really good at it, the particular talent that sets your performance above the pack. Remind yourself that this is God’s doing.
Then brace yourself like a man. The devil slithers near. “Yes, but you’ve worked hard—harder than the rest,” he hisses in your ear. “You’re first on the water and last off every workout.” Stop your ears. The devil woos with “honest trifles.” Believe him and, as Shakespeare put it, he will “betray you in deepest consequence.”

Insanity from hell  
C. S. Lewis has little good to say about pride. “It comes direct from Hell,” he wrote. “Pride is spiritual cancer; it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” He’s just getting warmed up. “The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves.” He argues that all other sins “are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
In one of the Bible’s classic passages on pride, the prophet Daniel records the history of how pride ate up the common sense of another great king of the ancient world. Nebuchadnezzar designed and built the magnificent hanging gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the world. It was a splendid sight, and Nebuchadnezzar was intensely proud of it. Like Uzziah, Nebuchadnezzar grew so proud that he gave himself credit for the splendor of his entire empire. Seizing glory that belonged to God, and setting himself up as God, he personified pride, “the complete anti-God state of mind.” For this, Nebuchadnezzar became a madman, more like a wolf than a human.
For a just God, the punishment always fits the crime. No punishment could have been more fitting for this proud man. Pride dehumanizes a man. You are most human when you are closest to God, when you acknowledge his ways, when you bow before his sovereignty, when you say that God does what he pleases, that his kingdom is an eternal kingdom, when you say, “Heaven rules!” But pride makes you see things upside down and inside out. Pride, like insanity, grossly distorts reality. 
Nebuchadnezzar’s self-conceit made him believe the utter nonsense that he had made himself, his strength, his intellect, his very life. Believing the ridiculous notion that you have accomplished anything by your mighty power, for “the glory of [your] majesty” is nothing short of insanity.
Thus, God punished Nebuchadnezzar by letting the full impact of his pride come down on his head. Chained to a stump, eating grass like a beast, Nebuchadnezzar finally learned that “Those who walk in pride [God] is able to humble” (4:37). Finally, he learned that “Heaven rules” (4:26).
Nebuchadnezzar’s son Belshazzar, however, didn’t get this. Fathers train sons, alas, more persuasively by our vices than by our virtues. Son Belshazzar lost his entire kingdom to the Medes and the Persians--and his life--because “[he] set [him]self up against the Lord of heaven,” and because he “did not honor the God who holds in his hand [his] life and all [his] ways” (5:23).
Walk in pride and you lose your common sense. Persist in pride and you become a madman. Press on in pride and you end up where pride began: hell. God resists the proud. He gives grace to the humble. Walk in humility--or prepare to eat grass.
Know it all
 Anglican bishop J. C. Ryle called pride, “the oldest sin in the world. Satan and his angels fell by pride. Thus pride stocked hell with its first inhabitants.” Ryle warns that, next only to Satan and his angels, “Pride never reigns anywhere so powerfully as in the heart of a young man,” and it puts young men in particularly dangerous positions. “Pride makes us rest satisfied with ourselves, thinking we are good enough as we are.” And when you think you are good enough as you are you are in deep weeds. You fail to be teachable. Why bother learning when you’re smug and satisfied with yourself?
Lewis in the opening letter of Screwtape Letters gives demonic lesson one in tempting a young man into hell: “Best of all, give him the grand general idea that he knows it all.” This is an easy sell for him. It’s a strategy that has worked exceptionally well for the devil over the millenniums and it continues to work on your soul. But it’s a temptation entirely dependent on your pride. We love believing this lie.
Similarly, Ryle argues that pride “closes our ears against all advice.” How many times have you resented your father’s advice this week? You feel like you already know what’s best for you, so why listen to his advice. I remember this resentment at the words of my father. You’ve got to get over this, and Ryle offers particularly valuable advice to curb this foolish expression of your pride. Don’t close your ears to it.

Do not be too confident in your own judgment. Cease to be sure that you are always right, and others always wrong. Be distrustful of your own opinion when you find it contrary to that of older men than yourself, and especially to that of your own parents. Age gives experience and therefore deserves respect. Never be ashamed of being a learner. The wisest men would tell you they are always learners, and are humbled to find after all how little they really know.

I recently watched and listened to a twenty-two-year-old fool publicly dress down a man of fifty at a regatta where everyone was supposed to be having fun. It was shameful. But you would never do that. Not out loud, maybe. But how often have you responded to advice with internalized smart-mouthed, know-it-all comments? True, it’s better manners not to speak disrespectfully, but the pride is still there deeply rooted in your heart. Being a Christian man is about rooting it out.

Pride and gunpowder
“To be proud,” continued Ryle, “is to be more like the devil and fallen Adam, than like Christ.” But you’re called to be like Christ who was born in a barn, became friends with sinners and sick people, washed his disciples’ feet, was despised and rejected by the big shots of his day, finally submitting to the most ignominious suffering and death for our salvation. If anyone had a right to be proud, it was the second member of the eternal Godhead, but Christ was not proud.
Neither was his follower John Newton. When Newton took up his ministerial duties and moved into the Old Vicarage in Olney, in 1764, he rearranged his garret study. Instead of looking out on the lovely river valley and the fourteenth-century gothic church, he looked on the rows of tenement houses where the needy of his parish lived and worked. Soon the upper-crust in Olney resented Newton: He was too busy with the poor to attend them when they held court at their fine dinners and balls. They despised a minister who refused to fawn on them like Jane Austen’s ministerial caricature Mr. Collins, who made himself a laughingstock by constant gushing over his venerable patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourg.
In Newton’s day the ministry was a way to schmooze with the rich and famous, things Newton never did. But he knew many ministers who did and so gave this advice to a young pastor: “It is easy for me to advise you to be humble, but while human nature remains in its present state, there will be almost the same connection between popularity and pride, as between fire and gunpowder: they cannot meet without an explosion, at least not unless the gunpowder is kept very damp.”
How do you keep your pride damp? By having the same mind as Jesus. He came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” Be honest about your powers. Christ’s are infinite and original; yours are derived and pathetically finite. He is God; you are not. Yet, Christ was humble, and he calls you—who have no right to be proud—humbly to follow in his steps. And best of all, he enables you, by the grace and power of Jesus, to grow in the grace of humility.

Be little
Irrational as it is, many Christian young men swagger on in their pride. They speak condescendingly to parents and teachers. They are rude. They are so “wise in [their] own eyes” (Proverbs 26:12) that they strut as if they know it all.
But maybe you are bright, gifted, talented, strong, and highly capable. Compared with the rest of teenaged young man on the planet, most of you are highly privileged. Some of you believe it when your grandparents gush at how gifted you are. Maybe you are gifted. So how do you avoid pride?
            Listen to humble, gifted tinker John Bunyan in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners as he addresses the gifted young man’s sin. “Gifts being alone [are] dangerous because of the evils that attend those that have them—pride, desire for vainglory, self-conceit.” He warns that if a young man rests in his gifts and not in the grace of God he will “fall short of the grace of God.” A wise young man “has cause also to walk humbly with God and be little in his own eyes, and to remember that his gifts are not his own, but the church’s, and that by them he is made a servant to the church.” There’s that word again—servant.
Avoid pride by humbly using your gifts, great or small, to serve others in Christ’s name and by his grace. And for the rest of us who may not be so gifted, Bunyan memorably concludes that “Great grace and small gifts are better than great gifts and no grace.”
Talented, gifted as you are, you are not nearly as great as the devil wants you to believe. The devil loves pride because pride makes you an idol worshiper—with you as idol. He’ll do anything to keep you from worshiping the living God, giver of all gifts.
Swollen with pride at his success, Uzziah forgot all this. “His pride led to his downfall.” Not content merely to be king, Uzziah usurped the priestly role, was struck with leprosy, and “excluded from the temple of the Lord.” Young men, walk humbly with your God. Gratefully appreciate your gifts and the gifts of others as if they were gifts of God—which they are. Humbly “serve the Lord with gladness,” knowing your great daily, hourly, moment-by-moment need of the preserving grace of Christ who promises to complete the good work he has begun in your heart. Keep your eyes on his strength, not on yours.

Monday, April 27, 2015

My interview with friend and fellow author ROBERT TRESKILARD

April 24, 2015
Bond: At what age did you realize you wanted to write? And if I may ask, what was the first creative thing you remember writing?
I realized around age 9 that I enjoyed creative writing, and my first story was called “Space Mouse”, inspired by Beverly Cleary’s THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE. Storytelling merged with my interest in art, however, and soon I was creating my own superhero comic books.
Bond: …and now you’re creating the artwork for your own book covers, right? Tell us more about the art and graphic design for your book covers (right down to crafting the sword for the cover prop?).
Actually, I haven't done the artwork for my own novels, and although I have submitted ideas to my publisher, they haven't been used.  Overall, though, I'm pleased with the way their covers have turned out ... very bold images with rich colors (I think Robert's being overly modest here; I'm convinced that his 'ideas' have contributed hugely to these covers). And though the sword on the cover is mine, yes, I ended up having to purchase the iron part of the blade because my forge is too small to heat treat a blade that long. I did design and bronze cast the guard & pommel, though, as this is my estimate of what a 5th century Excalibur might have looked like.
Bond: Zondervon has a great deal in you. I don’t know any other author who has the degree of artistic ability you have to help create such fine covers. Back to another question about your writing. Which authors have had the strongest influences on your writing?
Tolkien and Lewis are first of course, as I read them in my early teens, but later I added Andre Norton, Heinlein, Stephen R. Donaldson, Michael Moorcock, and George R. R. Martin, among others. These were all read during the years around my conversion to Christ, and my imagination was being baptized as well as blossoming, so to speak, as I submitted that area over to God. Eventually I turned to Lawhead, Peretti, Bodie Thoene, Sutcliffe, Walter Wangerin Jr., Lloyd Alexander, and many others. Stephen Lawhead, though, more than any other, has brought me deeply into the Celtic past and inspired me to write my own version of the Arthurian legend.
Bond: For the next question, what’s your view on e-books and the new publishing revolution?
All I can say is that it was fairly inevitable—everything is being digitized, so why not books? The real changes will be demographic, I think, as these younger generations grow up without the strong preference for physical books like we have, and this will cause a tipping point where the economics of printing won’t make sense as a standard way of publishing. We’re talking probably 20 to 30 years out, but it will come.  Print books will always be around, though, but they will be more of a novelty, and that will be a sad day.

Bond: How would you finish the following sentence? At the end of my life, I want people to remember me and my writing as…?
I’d have to separate those two.  Those that know me personally will have a different view than those that only knew me through my writing.  For those that have known me personally, I would hope to be remembered for my kindness, generosity, and wisdom (gained through the hard knocks of life). For those that have enjoyed my writing, I would hope to be remembered as someone who provided entertaining tales that gave the reader hope and courage to trust God no matter what is thrown at them.
Bond: If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be? And, knowing you, I must also ask the follow-up question of what would you have for dinner?
Ooh, that is a hard one, and I think I’m going to have to bend the question a bit and make it three meals, not three people. 
For the first, I would like have a meal with Lewis and Tolkien, but not just them, but rather with the entire Inklings, because it is there, amongst friends, that I think that they would be relaxed and I could observe and know them better.  Maybe this comes from that fact that I’m more of an observer than a socialite, and I think that if any of them had to sit down with just me it would probably be an awkward affair with a lot of silverware clinking and not much meaningful talk. 
The second would have to be St. Gildas the Wise, for it is the bane of every Arthurian author, researcher, and aficionado that this man wrote so little when he knew so much! Born the year that Arthur’s last battle on Mount Badon occurred, he would be able to settle once and for all the great questions that have caused so much ink to be spilled about Arthur and the time period.
The third would have to be a meal with Rich Mullins and Keith Green—two flawed, humble, and prophetic musicians who have both influenced my own walk greatly, both taken home in their youth.
And about what to eat with these men of history? I think I would let them choose their favorite foods, and thereby learn that much more about them and their culture.
Bond: If you had to choose one place to live other than St. Louis, where would it be? Britain, Scotland, France, Switzerland, or _________? Or would you create your own world to live in?
I would probably live somewhere in the British Isles … perhaps Cornwall where my ancestors came from and the nexus of my novels … perhaps Scotland … perhaps the mountains of Wales … perhaps beautiful Cumbria … perhaps Ireland.
Bond: Do you have a favorite piece of writing (novel, non-fiction book, short-story, article, poem, or ? that your immersed in and you’d be willing to tell us about?
To be honest, I’ve been mostly immersed in music lately … the music of Keith Green, the music of Andrew Peterson, and the soundtrack of the latest Les Misérables. 
Keith Green’s music brings me back to my youth, the days of my conversion—and it is good to look back and feel again the freshness of the Spirit.
Andrew Peterson’s music grounds me firmly in the present and how I live my life here and now, with my longing for home and heaven, with my struggles, with the beauty of nature and the hopes for tomorrow. In particular, I listened to him for hours on end while I was tearing my lawnmower’s engine apart and rebuilding it. During that time I concluded that if one wanted to know me, that they needed to know Andrew’s music.  It not only expresses the current state of my heart, but it also is making me into who I am and who I want to be.
Now that I am fast approaching 50, Les Misérables, as a story, has got me thinking deeply about the eventual, God-timed end of my own life and how I will be known after I am gone. What is my story? One can aspire to much worse things than to be a forgiven man who loves sacrificially.
Bond: It sounds like I’d better get out some Andrew Peterson music! As a follow-up to that, have you ever found yourself weeping while writing?
Definitely. The suffering and deaths of any of my characters deeply affects me, and if I am not deeply affected, then I’m not in the place I need to be in order to write their story. How can I expect my readers to be moved if I am not? 
Spoilers here …
In MERLIN’S BLADE, I wept when writing about Uther’s murder, and also when Owain died.
In MERLIN’S SHADOW, I suffered right along with Merlin as he mourned his own disfigurement, was enslaved, branded, and betrayed.
In MERLIN’S NIGHTMARE, I drank Merlin’s greatest fears to the dregs as he faced the death of his family, the destruction of Britain, and the living embodiment of terror—a werewolf.
Bond: Could you comment on the importance of being persistent and having a long term goal in mind in your writing? I know that you wrote and wrote and wrote and had several rejections before you landed such a fine fit between writer and publisher. Advice to young writers who would like to see what they have written in published print some day?
One must not only write persistently, but learn in the process.  It does no good for a beginner to keep on writing if they’re (a) not getting advice from others on what is not working and what is not, (b) reading lots and lots of books on the craft of writing, and (c) rewriting, again and again, until they get it right.
For me, I had nothing but rejections for four years, and this was after three years of learning the craft to the point that I foolishly thought I was ready to submit proposals to agents and publishers. I had more work to do, more advice to get, more refining, more rewriting. I was close, but not there.
My advice to any young writer is to avoid the easy route of self-publishing if you can until you become published traditionally.  That way you know you’re not jumping the gun and short-circuiting the long, slow process of learning.
Bond: Do you have anything new in the works? Any secret projects?
Yes, I am working on Book 1 of the Pendragon Spiral, tentatively titled “ARTHUR’S BLADE”.  This book picks up within an hour of the end of MERLIN’S NIGHTMARE, so there will be a strong continuation between the two series.
Currently this new series is not under contract, but my publisher, Blink YA Books, is looking at it and should have a decision in a month or so.
Bond: Share with us a sneak preview, if you are are willing
Happily! I’d like to share the brand new prologue to ARTHUR’S BLADE.  This is so new, in fact, that it replaces my previously written prologue, and is not even in my sneak preview which I put online a few months ago.  Here it is:


The fortress of Mórgana
The Lyhonesse Peninsula, in southwestern Britain
Spring, in the year of our Lord, 493

Eeta dragged the sheep’s carcass closer to the tunnel as cold sweat trickled down her neck. Just do the job, she wanted to tell herself, and then she could go back home— but there was no home. No family. The raven haired lady named Mórgana had slain them all and burned down their house. If only her da’ had let her go then maybe they’d all still be alive. She could still remember that last dyin’ breath of her sweet mama.

“Faster, you Eirish brat!” Mórgana yelled.

Eeta looked up, tears springing once more from her tired eyes. “I’m doin’ the best I can!”

The lady slashed out with her white-boned knife, and all Eeta knew was the spark of ghostly light, the searing pain on her forehead, and the scream that fled her like a cat clawing its way out of her throat.

“Get up, whelp!”

 Eeta curled into a thrashing ball as the pain intensified. She was only fourteen winters old. Why was this happening to her?

“If you do not, I will throw you in without the morsel.”

Climbing to her knees, Eeta placed one hand on the cold hoof of the sheep. Grabbing on, she began to pull at the dead thing, every moment afraid the lady would strike her again. Pulling, yanking, sliding—slowly the sheep moved toward the tunnel’s entrance, and all the while Eeta’s knees burned and bled upon the sharp gravel riddling the floor.

“Now. In there. Alone!”

Eeta looked into the tunnel. Silence. Darkness. Cold. Yet the air had a strange smell to it, like something dead was breathing in … and out.

“Why?” she cried. “What is tha’ place?”

“You are being presented as a servant,” Mórgana said, her black hair long and dank, highlighting the paleness of her skin and the strange white and red torc entwined tightly around her throat. “If you are selected, then you will live. If not, then you will die as soon as another can take your place. Drag it in or I will kill you now.”

A colorless flame filled the lady’s eyes, making Eeta’s breath catch in her throat. Her hope drained away of avoiding the dark tunnel, and so with nothing left, she tightened the cords of her heart and wove within it the courage of her ancestors. Her grandfather had been a chieftain of Erin, and had fought wild bears and slain many enemies. She could do this, couldn’t she?

She stood, trembling, and pulled the sheep into the tunnel until the darkness swallowed her. She tried to listen between each heave, but the blood thumping in her ears hid even the echo of her own sliding, shaky footsteps. Yet her skin felt suddenly cold and the impression of a vast space opened up around her. A gasp escaped her lips and the sound slipped away, dying on the chokingly sweet air.

How far should she go? Two more long pulls and she would run back to the reassuring light of the torches … and Mórgana. But the gravel became slick and she slipped and gouged the back of her knee on a rock, stifling a yell at the throbbing pain.

“Art thou … hurt?” came a deep, menacing voice.

Eeta froze.

It was above her. Moving. A flap in the darkness. A footfall. Scraping gravel.

“I smell … blood.” said the voice, and there was a sickening sound like the snapping of teeth. It was now blocking her escape.

“Wh-who are ya?” she said, her throat dry and utter dread sinking deeply into every bone, every quivering muscle.

Orange, slitted eyes opened and glowered at her from the darkness. Green flames flicked and rose from the creature’s nostrils amidst curling smoke. The momentary light had revealed clawed limbs holding up a curling body … a lizard … a white dragon!

Eeta screamed, her hands frozen to the hooves of the sheep carcass.

I am death,” it said. More flame revealed a long forked tongue sliding among its needle sharp teeth. “Art thou, perhaps, supposed to become my new servant?”

She yanked her blood-soaked hands off the sheep and scrambled backward.

The dragon’s face slid closer and its eyes bored into her own.  “Art thou … scared of me?”

The courage of her ancestors frayed and ripped, and Eeta found herself shrieking as she curled up into a ball. She was going to be eaten! Run, she told herself, but it was so dark … where? It would catch her.

The rough coils of the dragon curled across her waist, sliding around until she could feel the dragon’s ice-cold breath on her neck—in, out, sniffing. The jaw slid open. She could hear a hiss deep in its throat. So close…

The end of the dragon’s tail coiled around her throat, and she saw by the flickering flames a long orange spike—like a stinger—slide out of the tip, and from the point oozed a black liquid.

“Shall I make thee my new servent—one unlike all those who came before you?” the dragon whispered, its slitted eyes narrowing.

She began to bawl, wheeze, and screech, wanting to call for help, but only mumbling senseless mews.

The stinger hovered over her neck for a moment, and then retracted, the tail uncoiling. “Get thou gone…” the beast said, the stink of its mouth foul. “Whoever chose thee … chose wrong. I shall not have a blubbering fool to serve me. Pride, strength, and fearlessness. These are what I need. From now on I SHALL MAKE MY OWN CHOICE!”

At this it roared, and Eeta’s whole body convulsed with frozen pain. And as she fought to breathe, a dizziness swarmed inside her head like a hive of bees, making the darkness lurch.

The cave, the dragon—they all melted away.

A vision took her.

It was night, with a hazy moon smothered by gray, bulbous clouds. Eeta was kneeling on the shore of a wide expanse of water, and the hushed chirrups of insects and frogs infused a damp peat-smelling fog that covered the deep. She ran her hands anxiously over the moss that was pressed under her shins, and then touched the rushes growing at her side, trying to assess if this was real—until she looked up.

There amidst the fog she beheld a white ship, magnificent of sail, and upon its deck stood three queens crowned with silver circlets, simple and pure. They carried oil lamps that dimly lit the body of someone who lay upon a bier of birch and willow branches.

Together they chanted a lament, their voices carrying over the water, clear but sad:

O woe, alas, we pray and call,
The dark has cast a blackened shawl.
Our light, our light, is dim and small,
And doom has come to one and all…

Bond: Robert! This is so moving. I love the authenticity of your dialogue, your powerful sense of place—soo much amazingly wonderful writing going on in just this short expert. Thanks for sharing it with us! Check out more of what Robert is writing at