Monthly Archives: January 2017

Raven’s Run 82

“Tell the Senator that you did your best in an impossible task. What else could he expect?”

“I’m worried about Raven.”

“Don’t be. If we couldn’t find her, neither will Skinny and Davis.”

Susyn toyed with a piece of lettuce. “I need to call California. I can’t abandon the chase without talking to the Senator.”

While she was gone, I drank coffee and watched the gondolas and vaporettos slip past on the Grand Canal. Eventually, I stole one of her lamb chops.

When she returned, she was much subdued. She said, “The Senator asked me to get some more information from you before you disappear.”


“Raven’s assailants – why do you call them by those names?”

“One called himself James Davis when he tried to strike up a conversation with Raven in Bermuda. We assume that it is an alias. The other one was skinny, so I call him Skinny. I don’t know him by any other name.”

“How many times did you see them?”

“Twice. Once when they were throwing Raven off the cruise ship . . .”

“You actually saw that!”

“Through binoculars. I was half a mile away. We talked about this before.”

“I want to get it absolutely straight to tell the Senator. Could you identify the two?”


“From that far away.”

“No. But they came at us again in Marseilles, and I got a good look at them. They were closer to me than you are right now.”

“So you could pick them out of a line-up?”


“Or a mug book?”


Her brows had drawn together, and there was a strange intensity in her violet eyes. She sighed, then made a wry mouth and said, “I guess if you have to go, you have to go.”

“My train is leaving in an hour.”

“Then we’d better get back.”

She paid while I waited, then we stepped out. The streets were less crowded than before. Beyond the street, near the canal, all was inky darkness, and I could just see figures silhouetted against the light reflecting off the water.

“Let’s look at the canal one last time,” she said, and caught my right arm in a passionate grip. We moved into a patch of darkness, toward the water. A figure waiting there moved aside.

“Now!” Susyn hissed in a new and strident voice. Her grip on my arm tightened and she let her knees go slack. I was pulled off balance, and before I could jerk her upright, the figure who had moved aside, lunged forward and jammed the cold steel barrel of a pistol into my throat.

A stray flicker of light caught his face. It was Davis. more tomorrow



I am breaking with my four days a week posts from January 23 through January 26. This filler will stay in place until January 30. Raven’s Run will continue to appear in Serial.

Every two years my wife and I coordinate a big quilt show put on by her guild. It consumes most of December and January. Last week was hectic, last weekend was insane, and this week will be spent putting away everything that got dragged out for the show. The brain is on hiatus.

Next week, back to normal.

291. Menhir, a winter’s tale 12

This the last installment of a twelve part excerpt from Valley of the Menhir. Check December 29 for an introduction to the novel.

To threaten to remove him from the only home he had ever known. And to make that threat openly here, in his own hall, in the presence of his wife and children. To Dutta, it was world shaking. No one had ever threatened him so. He had not known, not at the bone where knowing is real, that such a threat was possible.

Marquart turned on his heel, and strode out of the house, calling for his kakai. Never mind the long cold ride. If he stayed here, he would kill someone. Probably Dutta.

Marquart was shaken. He had meant the things he said, but to have said them as he did, and where he did, and when he did was foolish. It was bad strategy. Marquart prided himself on forethought and cold consideration; where now was the warrior who had taken Port Cantor with cool efficiency, unhurried even by Limiakos himself?

He had acted like Beshu.

#             #             #

Baralia trembled at the outburst, clasped her translucent hands together, and almost whimpering with joy. At last. At last, a crack in the armor.

It was not just rage. It was not just that Limiakos had sent Marquart into exile and made him small. Marquart was a God, with all the power of a God locked up inside him, and he did not even know it. He was agemate to Argat. His mother had been human, his g’mother had been human, his g’g’mother had been human, but none of that human heritage had diluted his power. Rem’s blood ran in him, and the Shambler’s blood ran in him. Only his ignorance, caused and enforced by Hea Santala, kept him from his power.

That frustrated power was now threatening to burst into a flame of rage. And Baralia stood ready to fan that flame.

The excerpt ends here but, of course, the story does not. The son Dael is carrying will be Tidac whose coming will signal the massive changes which Hea could not foresee, and has failed to control.  Further, deponent sayeth not. You’ll just have to wait.

Raven’s Run 81

Raven was in danger, but I had no way to find her. No leads at all. The chances of her being in Venice were infinitesimal. Either Eric would have known that he couldn’t play here, or they would have found out immediately and left. Of course, Raven could have put her plastic to use and paid their way, but I couldn’t see Eric going for that. Nor did I think Raven would support a man for long.

I got up and paced the room. It was over. Susyn could do what she wanted, but she might as well go home and wait for a call from Raven.

Large changes were taking place in Europe that summer, especially in the Eastern bloc. By training and by passion, those events were my destiny. I had loved a woman and had lost her – nothing new in that. I had a life to get back to.

If I was out, I wanted all the way out. I took a ten minute walk to the Ferrol and a twenty minute wait in line to buy a ticket. The train was leaving at five minutes past midnight. 

I returned to the hotel. Susyn was still not back at the room. On impulse, I packed and left my backpack with the concierge.

It was past ten PM and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Now that I was financially on my own again, it was back to stand-up sandwiches. I went looking for one. The man behind the counter took a sandwich off the stack in the cooler and put it into one of those waffle iron heaters they only use in Venice. It came out crushed, with dark crisscross burns across the bread, and it tasted fine.

I walked back toward the hotel with a feeling of freedom. Susyn was sitting in the waiting room, angrily rolling my note back and forth between her fingers.

*       *       *

We went to an outdoor cafe where she ordered dinner and I had coffee. The note had told her I was leaving, but she had to hear it from me. 

“It’s a dead end, Susyn. They hustle street musician so fast there isn’t time for an echo. If you want to hire some local troops to sit in the train station with a photo of Raven, go ahead. But you might as well be in Munich or Copenhagen or Brussels. The only thing we know is that somebody said that Raven said that she wanted to come to Venice.”

“You said you could find her.”

“No. I said that I knew how to go about finding her. I didn’t guarantee success.”

The waiter moved in with a plate of food for her, but she only picked at it. I went on, “We did it right. We followed the only course of action that stood any chance of success. And we almost caught up with them in Montreaux. An hour earlier, and we would have made contact.”

“What am I going to tell Senator Cabral?” more tomorrow

290. Menhir, a winter’s tale 11

This is one installment of a twelve part excerpt from Valley of the Menhir. Check December 29 for an introduction to the novel.

In Marquart’s eyes, Dutta was a child.

Three cousins with their wives and children, an uncle, a g’uncle as well; Dutta introduced them to Marquart. They acknowledged him politely, looking up from their well filled plates, from the table groaning with food. Ruddy round faces; these were the g’g’g’g’g’sons of the conquerors who had moved into the valley two centuries ago. The copper skinned serfs were descended from those who had lost that ancient battle.

Soft, round, polite, secure; with no thought that they were the scourge of the serfs who starved so they could eat.




Marquart felt anger building. He knew that he must control it. He feared that he could not.

In the center of the table was a silver platter, holding most of a jaungifowl, swimming in its own gravy and surrounded by mounds of soaked breads. Marquart picked it up above his head and slammed in back, inverted, onto the table. Meat and juices, bread and fruits flew in every direction, splattering the shocked diners.

There were growls and shrieks that died to silence when they all looked into Marquart’s eyes.

He wanted to shout at them all, to tell them what he had seen today at the firesides of the starving serfs, but there were no words. Twice he tried, and twice the words died in his throat, strangled there by the vastness of his anger.

Dutta approached the table, saying, “Sire . . .?”

“You feast,” Marquart managed to say, “while your serfs starve.” The words rumbled up from deep within him, and he realized that he was pounding the table.

Dutta stepped back in shock and confusion. Marquart continued, “You will not feast again this winter. You will eat sparingly and you will distribute food to your serfs. As your Lord, I charge you with this. And by next winter, half these worthless ones will be gone from your household. You will find a place for them out of the valley, and you will see to it that the food they would have eaten remains in the hands of your serfs. Do this, or I will come here and take your lands away from you, and give them to someone who can carry out my orders.”

He had felt Marquart’s displeasure before, at Midwinterfest, but now his anger was like a flame. Marquart had told him — had told them all — to clear out their households. It had seemed to unreasonable to take seriously.

But to threaten to remove him altogether from the only home he had ever known! That had been home to his father and his g’father before him. And to make that threat openly here, in his own hall, in the presence of his wife and children. continued tomorrow

Raven’s Run 80

Venice came into sight. She had lighted herself for the night. Gondoliers were hawking their services at the water side and the evening press of tourists filled the streets. I worked my way back to Plaza San Marcos, dodging pigeons in the square and looking for street musicians. There were none.

Twenty minutes later I found out why. A bearded youth with guitar set out his empty guitar case and began to play. Three bars into his first song, a police office tapped him on the shoulder and sent him on his way. Venice is not like the rest of Europe and it does not want its uniqueness diluted by such commonplaces as street musicians.

If Eric knew that – and Colin said he has been on the circuit for years – then he and Raven would never have come here. I was wasting my time.

*          *          *

I wanted to sit down to think about it, but you can’t sit down in Plaza San Marcos without paying a fee. Try any of the hundreds of chairs that line the edge of the Plaza and you will find a waiter insisting that you order or move on. 

Venice is a lovely old lady, slowly dying of inner rot. Tourist Venice is her defense against the hordes who invade her every year. From the time you step off the train, every restaurant, every boat ride, every souvenir shop is designed to move you swiftly from the Ferrol to Plaza San Marcos and back again, lighter of cash, and out into the real world again.

You must fight past her defenses to see the real Venice behind the merchant’s mask. Fortunately, it is easy. Find any well marked street, find a sign that says turn right, and turn left instead. You will be in another world.

The streets where the tourists are led are narrow and crowded; when you leave the beaten path, the streets give solitude. I sought that solitude now, weaving through back streets, crossing narrow bridges over narrower canals. Under clotheslines with dripping wash where stray cats nod benignly from their broken stone wall thrones. Where children play. There are children in Venice. You can see them if you leave the gaudy human snake that slithers from train station to Plaza San Marcos and back again.

*       *       *

The search was over. It had been a two week vacation from acknowledging the fact that I would never see Raven again. Now that reality had to be faced. And another reality – the sure knowledge that I did not want to repeat my bedding of Susyn. Not tonight – nor tomorrow, nor the day after. If there was a train out tonight, I would be on it. Not to Paris or Marseilles. Certainly not to Oslo, but to some place the two of us had never discussed or planned for. For Brendisi, perhaps, and then to Greece. Anywhere that was not associated with the name Raven.

When I got back to the hotel, Susyn was not there. She had left no message in the room and no message at the desk. I stretched out on my bed – still unused – and thought some more about my situation. Nothing changed. more tomorrow

289. Menhir, a winter’s tale 10

This is one installment of a twelve part excerpt from Valley of the Menhir. Check December 29 for an introduction to the novel.

“Beshu, Father,” Marquart said aloud, “are you alive or are you dead? And wherever you are, are you laughing at me now? Damn you!”

Beshu had had ambition. Beshu had gone to war to become large; he had won much, had gained lands, a title, lordship of a small demesne, sons. And he had lost it all again, through that fierce temper he could not control. He had won battles at such a cost that soon no soldiers would rally to his banner. And when men would no longer follow him, he had disappeared, leaving his sons to be raised by an old mate-in-battle.

It was fifteen years now since Marquart had had word of his father Beshu.

Marquart had gone into the world determined not to make Beshu’s mistakes. He had studied the craft of war, he had used his men carefully, he had cultivated the reputation of one who used guile in battle. Men had flocked to his banner.

And for that, Limiakos had cast him into this outer darkness. Alive, and likely to live long, but condemned to smallness.

He ground his teeth and cursed to the empty sky. He thought that no one heard him. But Baralia heard.

#             #             #

By the time Marquart had disbursed his other bags of life saving grain, it was late. The sun was low in the west. He could get back, cold and late, to his own manorhouse, or he could divert to the house of Dutta. He chose to do the latter.

As he approached, the soldier in him found Dutta’s house lacking. Marquart rode right up to the door and kicked it from the saddle. A servant looked out, greeted him briefly and went to get his master. When Dutta came to the door, he looked puzzled to see Marquart, mounted and alone.

“Dutta, if I were your enemy, I would have your house down around your ears before you even knew it. Not one servant challenged me as I approached.”

“It’s cold out, and late. Who would be out now?”

“I am. If armed brigands came down from the hills, they would have you out of your house like a crab’s meat out of its shell.”

“But, Lord Marquart, there haven’t been armed brigands in our hills for twenty years. Here, get down and come in. We are just at table.”

Marquart swung down. Servants took his kakai away as he followed Dutta back inside.

Dutta inquired why Marquart was out so late, introduced him again to his round faced wife and stripling sons. He was absurdly pleased to have Marquart in his house. His reaction was genuine; Marquart did not doubt that, but it only irritated him further. Dutta was of the age of manhood, with responsibilities and a wife and sons. But in Marquart’s eyes, Dutta was a child. continued tomorrow