While we mostly went to Germany for personal reasons, such as family bonding and revisiting places we loved when we lived there, we also went as tourists and made sure to hit some of the big tourist spots.
First was Heidelberg, where we went the same day my sister and I and our husbands took an unscheduled side trip to Kaiserslautern, so we got there later than everyone else. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny spring day and Heidelberg was packed. We met up with the rest of the family in the main market square, where there was a gin-tasting festival going on. So it was pretty lively there. My parents had staked out a table in the square for refreshments and people-watching and a central meeting place, and just for enjoying the lovely day and the beautiful surroundings.
Of course, in Heidelberg, the thing to see is the castle. Throngs of people were making their way up the steep path to the castle. I wasn't feeling up to that, especially after walking all over Kaiserslautern earlier that day. There's a tram that goes up to the castle, but it was out of order. So I decided to forgo seeing the castle. I told my husband to go up and see it even if I couldn't, but he assured me he'd rather stay with me and just enjoy being in the city <3 We had a wonderful lunch (it was so warm we decided to go inside one of the restaurants instead of eating out in the square), then walked across the bridge and enjoyed the view of the castle from the other side of the Neckar River. There are also some really nice big houses on the other side of the river. My husband works in real estate law, so he was just as interested in the houses as he was in the castle.
The next day, after our night in Karlsruhe/Durlach, we headed down into the Black Forest and the Vogtsbauernhof Museum. This is an open-air museum where a number of old Black Forest farmhouses have been moved and rebuilt. You can go in the houses and look around; there are some museum-type displays in them about different aspects of farming and life in the Black Forest, but my favorites are the rooms that are set up the way they were when people were living in those houses.
The way the houses are set up, the people live on the first and second floors on one side, the other side of the house is the barn. Or on some, the barn is on the bottom level and the people live on the next floor up. The houses are built to butt up against a hillside (the valleys in the Black Forest are very deep and narrow), and there's a driveway that goes up to the top floor so they can put the wagons up there. The houses look quaint and pretty on the outside, but inside they're low-ceilinged, dark, and cramped. And they don't have chimneys, so all the smoke from the fireplaces and stoves in the kitchens (some houses have two kitchens) would go back out into the house. But then you come to the room in the corner, kind of a parlor with benches to sit on and a big table and windows all around the two outside walls, and that was very pretty and cozy. I don't think I would have liked to live in one of those houses, but I'd love a room like that.
There weren't just farmhouses at the museum. There were cows, a breed found only in certain parts of the Black Forest that nearly died out but are being bred again at the museum, some geese, and a goat that was kneeling on its front knees to get at the grass. I don't know if that's a goat thing in general or just a quirk of that particular goat.
We ate lunch at the cafe at the museum and, of course, being in the Black Forest, had Black Forest Cherry Cake. Made the authentic way, with kirsch. We're not drinkers, and it was a little too boozy for me. @_@ On my to-do list now that we're home: make a non-alcoholic Black Forest Cherry Cake.
Of course, tourists gotta buy souvenirs. So we stopped at this veritable palace of souvenirs, House of Black Forest Clocks. And we bought stuff. Lots of stuff. (The store doesn't just have the expensive handmade wood items that are on the site; it also has t-shirts and dolls and toys and stuff like that.) I didn't buy as much stuff as some people did (R&C even got one of their handmade cuckoo clocks), but I still bought stuff for the kids and grandkids. Bonus: the shop will ship your purchases for you, which was great because in order to fit 10 people's luggage in two cars, we were restricted to one carry-on size suitcase each, just big enough for two weeks' worth of underwear and enough clothes to get by.
A couple of days later (yeah, I know I'm skipping some things; I'll come back to them in a later post), we went to what is arguably Germany's biggest tourist attraction, "Mad" King Ludwig II's fairy-tale castle, Neuschwanstein. Built 1869-1892 (Ludwig died in 1886) as an idealized, romanticized version of a medieval castle, Neuschwanstein is also very much a tribute to the operas of Richard Wagner; Ludwig was a patron and ardent admirer of Wagner. My dad, a huge Wagner buff, opined that Ludwig (who never married) was in love with Wagner, while Wagner was in love with Ludwig's money.
Even though it isn't authentically medieval, the interior of the castle is filled with breathtaking, lavish art, including murals of scenes from the medieval legends that inspired Wagner's operas and a wide variety of other cultural influences, like the Byzantine-influenced throne room that looks more like a cathedral interior. It also had a state-of-the-art (for the time) electrical system for summoning servants to and from various rooms, hot and cold running water, and the first (or one of the first) telephones in Bavaria. And the physical setting can't be beat.
I wasn't up to the hike up the hill to the castle, so we caught a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. That was fun :) I don't know much about horses, but I could tell these were some very powerful, muscular horses. Writing note --> The Uurikhani horses in The Lost Book of Anggird are very much like these horses.
The tours of the castle are very scientifically scheduled every five minutes. You get your tour number and time on your ticket, and there are kiosks on the ground outside the castle that show which tours are coming up next. When your tour is coming up, you get in line before it starts and scan your ticket to get through the turnstile. I suppose if your miss your tour time, they might still let you in, but I wouldn't want to test it.
The tour involves hundreds of stairs (not all at once, thank goodness). I didn't know if I would make it; after almost a week of traveling and sightseeing, I was feeling pretty worn out by this point. But I made it. I was pretty proud of myself :D We did take the carriage back down, after a stop at a snack stand for some "quark balls," fried donut-like balls of dough made with soft quark cheese. (My dad is a physicist, so to me, the word "quark" in the context was kind of funny.) They were so good. Worth the drive to Neuschwanstein and the journey up the hill just for those.
Ludwig didn't live to see Neuschwanstein finished. More and more he retreated into a fantasy world, sleeping at day and living life by night, alone in his castle. After a series of financial and political disasters, he was found dead at age 40 in a nearby lake along with his doctor. Only seven weeks after his death, the castle was opened up to tourists. Which seems really sad to me. He's called "Mad," but maybe he was just a dreamer born into a position where dreamers didn't fit in, longing for a beautiful world at odds with the real world. Schlocky and touristy, maybe, but Neuschwanstein is definitely worth seeing for its own beauty and the story behind it.
Next time: Going for Baroccoco *rimshot*
We interrupt the travelogue for this quick announcement:
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(I'm going to start trying to get these out faster so it doesn't take another month and a half.)
The next stop on our itinerary was Heidelberg, home of the famous castle and university. But my sister and I decided we wanted to take a side trip to Kaiserslautern. As I said in the first post in this series, when I was growing up, we lived in Germany twice for a year. Kaiserslautern was our home the second time we were there, in 1978-79, and my sister and I were old enough to have many fond memories we wanted to revisit. Our brothers weren't interested, so my sister and I and our husbands took over the 4-person van and headed out on our detour while everyone else went straight to Heidelberg.
Kaiserslautern isn't a town you're going to find on any tourist guides. It's a university town, and there are a number of military bases in the region, but otherwise it's just an ordinary small city, some business, tech, and industry, but nothing that most people would think is very interesting. But one of the most memorable things about that year is the amount of freedom I and my siblings (except my youngest brother, who was only 6) had. I was doing at-home study for my junior year of high school that year. I would do my schoolwork in the mornings, then take off to spend the afternoon exploring.
Kaiserslautern has at least three really cool old churches, vibrant pedestrian/shopping areas (where I had lots of fun spending my allowance), squares surrounded by charming old buildings, and even its own ruined castle! Just an ordinary city, off the beaten trail, but there was something interesting to see around every corner.
Behind our apartment building was the Stiftskirche, built 1250-1350. There was a Christmas market in the square here, with booths selling decorations and crafts, and vendors selling roasted chestnuts, something we'd never had before. Yummy! Every Christmas, I still bring out the small wooden nativity scene I bought here.
St. Martin's, built 1300-1350, across the main street from our apartment, where my youngest brother went to Catholic kindergarten under the tutelage of Sister Petronius. We're not Catholic, but it certainly built character.
Martinsplatz. I love this little plaza near St. Martin's with its fountain and charming old houses
Ruins of the castle built in 1152-1160 by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Kaiserslautern was his favorite hunting retreat. Kaiserslautern is also noted for its modern high rise city hall, built behind the castle ruins.
Me and my sister (she's the cute one!) looking at the apartment building where we lived. Note the old half-timbered house squeezed in among the modern apartment buildings. Little surprises like that everywhere we went in Kaiserslautern.
It was so much fun revisiting these places we remember and showing our husbands the sites of so many great memories. We were kind of feeling our way around, not exactly sure of how to get where we wanted to go, then we would spot something familiar and get all excited. Everything looked almost exactly the way we remembered, except the apartment building was painted different colors now, and the McDonalds in the alley behind the building was gone, and I'm pretty sure that GameStop wasn't there in 1979.
After that we went to Heidelberg and caught up with everyone else there (I'll write about that in my next post, Tourist Stuff), then from there we all went to Karlsruhe, the city where we lived in 1970-71.
Karlsruhe is another university town, and it's especially noted for its beautiful palace built in 1715 and the extensive park around the palace. This is also near the university where my dad worked that year, so we spent a lot of time visiting the palace and playing in the park. I don't remember Karlsruhe as well, but still have some good memories. We explored the park and had ice cream at the Schloss cafe, and the four of us kids posed for pictures in the exact same place in front of the palace where we got pictures taken 40 and almost 50 years ago.
That year, we actually lived in a cute little town just outside Karlsruhe called Durlach. There's a trolley line that goes from Durlach right to Karlsruhe and we used to ride on that a lot. Durlach has gone up upscale since we were there last. We stayed in a very quaint but nicely modernized hotel, Hotel zum Ochsen.
The restaurant at the hotel was pretty fancy and getting ready to close by the time we got there, so we didn't eat supper there. My husband and I went out exploring and found a hip little place called Judy's Pflug, where we had a yummy dinner of traditional German food. The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel (included with the room, like at all our hotels) and it was epic. German breakfast is awesome, with the brotchen that aren't like any other rolls in the world, and butter and jam and meat and cheese and fresh fruit and yogurt and muesli (with chocolate chips!) and juice and hot chocolate... And here the waiter kept bringing out extra stuff; I especially remember the creme brulee. We ate and ate and would have eaten more, except we had a very important engagement to go to.
There was a German family in Durlach we became especially close to when we lived there. We attended the same church as them, their younger daughter and son were the same age as me and my next-younger brother, and their older daughters became our babysitters. They took us under their wings, showed us around, and helped us feel at home. The parents have passed away and three of the kids are living elsewhere, but the daughter who's my age still lives in their old (centuries old?) house with her husband, dog, and cat. She's an artist, and she and a group of other artists have an art gallery. That morning, she was kind enough to open the gallery just for us so we could have a look at the current exhibit. It was great to get to see her again and see what she does :)
After this trip down memory lane, remembering our two years of living in Germany, it was back to being tourists.
Next time: Places Tourists Go. We'll catch up with Heidelberg, and then head into the Black Forest and over to Neuschwanstein. (For my family members who are reading this, I know I'm skipping around a bit. I'm trying to organize these posts into themes, but I won't leave anything out!)
Kyra's Excellent Adventure, Part 2: Fun with Navi, or, Wait, where are we? (see Part 1 here)
After Mainz, we left to go to our hotel a ways down the Rhine River, where we would leave from the next morning to go to Koblenz to board a boat for a cruise up the Rhine. Two things to know as I write about our adventures:
1 - We rented two mini vans. One would carry up to five passengers plus most of the luggage. This was the lead car, with my dad as main driver and navigator, taking turns with whoever else wanted to drive. The other would hold up to seven passengers plus whatever odds and ends of luggage didn't fit in the lead car. This eventually became known as the party van. My brother-in-law, my husband, and my youngest brother and his wife took turns driving this car, with volunteer navigators.
2 - Our navigation went by maps, GPS navi, road signs, and my dad's memory of routes he'd driven several times before. There were a number of times when these four things did not agree with each other nor did they match up with what was actually going on with the streets. For one thing, there was road construction EVERYWHERE.
So, when we were ready to move on from Mainz, my parents went with J&Y in the lead car to pick up J&Y's luggage from the train station (remember, J&Y had come in the night before from Australia and took a train from Frankfurt to Mainz) while the rest of us, me and my husband, my sister and her husband (B&M), and my youngest brother and his wife (R&C) hit the road, my brother-in-law at the wheel. The fun started with trying to follow directions to the bridge we were supposed to use to get to the other side of the Rhine. We got to it only to find a mess of construction and the road closed. Well, find another bridge! Then as we drove past, we saw that actually only half the bridge was closed and you could get onto it if you found the secret entrance. So, following the GPS, we found a circuitous route back around (including the directions "turn left then immediately turn right", that immediate right turn being across three lanes of heavy traffic. My b-i-l, being an intrepid sort, went for it and made it).
So we're across the bridge and on the right-hand side of the river, where we're supposed to be. We put the name of the hotel into the GPS and went on our merry way, spotting castles high over the river right and left. Seriously, it was like driving through a history book. Much old. Very castles. So history.
After we'd been driving a while, the GPS said "Turn left." Well, we can't turn left; there's a river there. But as we drove past, someone in the car realized there's a ferry ramp there, as well. And on the other side of the river is a town with what looks like our hotel. So the GPS had it right! Though we couldn't figure out why we were supposed to take that bridge in Mainz to get to this side of the river when our hotel was on the other side. (Remember, at this point, we're very sleep-deprived.) We turned into the ferry parking lot and when the ferry came back across the river a few minutes later, we drove on and paid our fee, and set sail towards our hotel.
When we got there, the desk clerk couldn't find our reservations. Then she said, "Oh, there's the Hotel With Almost Identical Name on the other side of the river, about 10 km farther down. That must be what you're looking for!" She helpfully wrote down the Almost Identical Name of the other hotel and its address, and we left and got onto the ferry again. By now, we were all going on 30+ hours of no sleep, so this seemed like the most hilarious thing ever. I'm sure the ferry pilot thought we were all losing our minds.
Anyway, back on the right side of the river, we did eventually make it to our hotel, where Mom and Dad and J&Y were waiting for us. Considering how sleep-deprived we all were, it's kind of surprising we didn't end up in France or somewhere.
After a good night's sleep, we loaded up the luggage in the cars and drove to Koblenz. Due to a combination of factors, we got an impromptu scenic tour of Koblenz while looking for the place to get on the boat. We could see the boat on the river, but there didn't appear to be any way to get to it by car. Finally we just stopped on the street and walked over to the ticket booth. The eight of us kids and spouses would be going on the river cruise, while Mom and Dad drove the cars down to the town where we would disembark. I'll admit that after our adventures so far, I felt a little trepidation about letting my 80-year-old parents drive off by themselves, with all our luggage, to find their way to the next town on our itinerary. But with the tickets bought and paid for, there was nothing to do for it but wave goodbye and board the boat.
It was kind of cold and rainy that day, not very good weather for riding up on the sun deck, though some of the more hardcore members of our group spent a good amount of time up there anyway because that was where you could take better pictures. The inside of the boat was very comfortable, nice tables and chairs and full restaurant service and big picture windows. So we cruised in style and comfort, watching the cliffs and castles and vineyards and quaint little towns slowly drift past, getting caught up with each other, and occasionally venturing out into the elements to take pictures. A fine, relaxing time.
After 6 hours, we disembarked at Bingen and found Mom and Dad waiting for us. They made it without any problems, even stopping to do their own sightseeing along the way.
After that, we went to Worms (the W is pronounced V, of course), which has another awesome old cathedral. Our hotel, notable for the very cheerful and helpful proprietress, was conveniently located almost right next door, so we were able to rest up and then go look at the cathedral at our leisure.
It was the same as at Mainz. I stepped into the cathdral and the size, the sense of age and grandeur, took my breath away.
Next: A day of nostalgia.
In my last post, I mentioned I was about to do some traveling. Well, I'm back now, got back last week from an amazing 2 weeks of traveling around Germany. I'm exhausted, still a little jetlagged, and sick with the probably inevitable airplane cold I picked up on the way home, but it was wonderful and I'm excited to tell you about it. Since I'm an author and this is my blog for my readers, I'll relate some of the experience to my writing, but mainly this is an excuse to get my journaling about the trip done, tell some fun stories, and show you some of my pictures :-D
To start with, let's go back 100 years or more. My father's father was born in Germany, in an area that later became part of East Germany. He and his parents emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1920s, but most of their relatives remained behind in Germany.
Fast forward some 50 years. My father had the opportunity to spend a year in Germany as a visiting professor, in the early 70s and then again in the late 70s. So growing up, I had the amazing experience of living in Germany twice for a year, as a child and then as a teenager.
Since then, my parents have returned a number of times to work, sightsee, and visit friends and relatives. I hadn't been back; between one thing and another, mainly health issues and anxiety issues related to travel, I figured I would probably never go back. Then last year, my parents turned 80 and decided it was time to keep a promise they'd made to my youngest brother and take us kids back to Germany, along with our spouses. (Yes, my parents are amazing that way. I wish I had their energy. A few months before this trip, they went on a cruise to South America and Antarctica.)
When my parents told me and my husband about the plan, I was excited but also terrified. I'd been afraid of flying for 40 years. I could get on an airplane if I really had to, but I would be sick with fear and have nightmares for weeks before. --> Writing note: when I write a character who has to do something hard and terrifying and they do it anyway, this is part of where that comes from.
But I really wanted to go on this trip, and I wanted to look forward to it instead of dreading it, so I set about dealing with my fears through a variety of methods - spiritual, behavioral-cognitive, educating myself about flying, getting myself accustomed to the idea of flying. One thing that really helped was on YouTube there are lots of videos posted by people who travel a lot, who take videos out the airplane window as the plane is taking off and landing. I watched a ton of these for exposure therapy. The fear didn't completely go away, but I managed to reduce it quite a lot, to the point where I could manage it.
And I did it. I, along with my husband, got on an airplane and flew to Dallas, then got on a really big airplane in Dallas and flew to Frankfurt. My parents and my sister and her husband (B&M) were already there, and my youngest brother and his wife (R&C) arrived just as we did, and meeting them there was just amazing. The coolest family reunion ever. We collected the luggage and the rental cars and set off for Mainz, where my other brother and his wife (J&Y), who had come the night before from Australia, would meet us.
In Mainz, we went right to the center of town, where the cathedral is, and met J&Y there. My husband and I were starving, so we found an outdoors table at one of the restaurants surrounding the square and ordered schnitzel for lunch. In my mind, this was one of the consummate German experiences I remembered the best, eating at one of the tables that spill out from the restaurants and cafes onto the plazas. And it was as awesome as I remembered.
Once we weren't starving any more, we went to take a look at the cathedral. I loved the medieval cathedrals the previous times we were in Germany, even to the point of educating myself about the different architectural styles and features, and when I stepped inside I was struck just as strongly as before by the enormous size, and the grandeur and majesty and age, of the cathedral. It was one of those moments when reality and what I remembered/hoped for matched up perfectly. It took my breath away and left me awestruck, and it was just as great to see my husband having the same reaction. --> Writing note: the Shrine in Sarya's Song is modeled after the Romanesque cathedrals of Mainz and Worms.
Some bits of news for April:
First of all, "wide" in the indie author world means making your books available at stores besides Amazon (as opposed to being in Kindle Select/Kindle Unlimited, which requires being exclusive to Amazon in 90-day periods). With brief exceptions, I've always been wide with all my books, and now I'm more committed than ever to nurturing my readership worldwide at a variety of stores. So, if you look at the buy links for my books (for example, on the Daughter of the Wildings page), you'll notice some changes (assuming you've ever looked at them before). Rather than a single Amazon link, I now have links for the main Amazon store, which serves the U.S. and other territories (fyi, this is my Amazon affiliate link), direct links for the Australia, Canada, and UK stores (the next three biggest for my readership), followed by an Amazon International link. This will (or should) automatically redirect you to the correct Amazon site for your country.
Following this is Barnes & Noble (which unfortunately I believe is U.S. only), Google Play (international), iTunes and Kobo, which are both global links that will take you to the correct store for your country, Smashwords (international), DriveThruFiction (international?), and More Stores. This is where it gets cool - this last link will (or should) take you to Books2Read.com, where you can select your preferred store from among 15 or so, including the main stores and a variety of international stores such as Indigo in Canada, FNAC in France, and Thalia in Germany. So, no matter where you are in the world, I hope you'll be able to find my books at your favorite ebook store. And, just as a reminder, for paperbacks, international readers can find my books at Book Depository and receive free worldwide shipping!
Next, the Defenders of the Wildings revision is coming along. I'm not where I meant to be by now, but I always overestimate how fast I can work and underestimate how much work needs to be done. Book 1 is out to the beta readers right now; I did take the time to do a second edit on it before sending it out, because that book was a mess. It's three books combined into one, and at different times in the drafting process those three books were in different orders. But I was pleased when doing that second edit to discover that it wasn't as bad as I was afraid it was! So we'll see what the beta readers say. I'm hoping/aiming for a release in July. We'll see.
Unfortunately, the artist who did the covers for the Daughter of the Wildings series turned out to not be available to do the Defenders covers. I've commissioned another artist, and work on the covers will start in late April. So watch for a cover reveal coming up in a few months! (Psst: subscribers to my newsletter will get the first peek.)
Finally, speaking of wide, I'm going to be widening my horizons with some travel this month. So I probably won't be posting again until the end of the month; watch for pictures as I show you where I've been!
March 22-26: On Kobo and Smashwords, get the Love and Magic box set (contains Urdaisunia, Chosen of Azara, and Sarya's Song) for 40% off the regular price of $6.99!
(First, I don't know why the date says 3/15; I started the draft that day but I'm posting this on 3/21. Anyway, on with the post.)
When Silas met Lainie:
“You need any help?” he asked the girl.
“No, thanks.” She got to her feet, brushing dust off her pants. She also wore a gunbelt with a holstered revolver; Silas had no doubt she knew how to use the gun. “I better get on with my errands before they start shooting again. Hey, Gobby!” she shouted at the group of arguing men in the street. “The same thing from my Pa! He ever catches you on his land again, he’ll shoot you so full of holes you can piss from ten places at once!”
The bearded man’s face broke into a leering smile. “Miss Lainie, you tell your Pa for me that this land ain’t owned by no one an’ I’ll drill wherever, whenever, an’ –” he leered more broadly “– whoever I want.”
Miss Lainie responded with a rude gesture. Gobby went red above his beard, and the men from the Bootjack laughed. One corner of Silas’s mouth quirked up; he liked a woman with spirit.
He offered her his arm. “I’d be happy to escort you while you do your business, in case there’s any more trouble.”
She eyed him head to toe, her gaze lingering on the large revolver holstered at his left hip. Though firearms were considered anti-magical and were therefore forbidden in Granadaia, no mage hunter would last a nineday in the Wildings without one. Silas had specially modified this piece himself; mundane bullets alone couldn’t be depended on to take down a strong and highly skilled mage.
“My Pa don’t like me going around with strange men,” she said.
“Well, then. I’m Silas Vendine.” He added the usual name-slip charm as he spoke his name, to make it harder to remember, though it didn’t always work very well with other mages. Then he grinned at her. “I may be strange, but at least now you know my name.”
Want to know what happens next? Download Beneath the Canyons for free as part of the amazing giveaways below!
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This is posted elsewhere on the site, but just in case you never make it that far into the site, here's the first chapter of Beneath the Canyons (newly re-re-edited edition):
BITTERBUSH SPRINGS. FROM Silas’s vantage point in the rocky hills to the east, the town didn’t look like much, just a dozen or so wooden crates laid out in rows, brown and quiet in the hot summer sun. He reached out with his mage senses towards the town and the valley beyond, seeking the strange magic he had followed here.
There it was, strong, for him to have sensed it from several days’ distance, dark and alien, but at times mixed with flashes of more familiar kinds of power. A hell of a lot of magic for a place where no mage would dare show himself openly.
No doubt about it; something strange was going on in the Bitterbush Valley. And, with any luck, there would be a nice, big bounty in it for him from the Mage Council.
If not, some serious belt-tightening lay ahead of him. Five years of making a good living hunting renegade mages in the more settled eastern part of the Wildings had been shot to all the hells when a passel of greenfoot mage hunters flooded through the Gap from Granadaia, looking for quick, easy fame and fortune. Mostly what those amateurs had managed to do was chase away the smartest and most dangerous rogue mages, the ones who were worth the highest bounties.
With his money running low, Silas had come west to the more remote parts of the Wildings, hoping for better hunting. Rumors of a mining rush in the Bitterbush Valley had caught his ear, and not long after he set out to follow the rumors, he had sensed the bursts of unusual magical power coming from the area. It made sense; a mining rush was indeed just the sort of thing a rogue mage might try to horn in on, looking for quick riches. Though that darker power didn’t feel like any ordinary mage.
Silas surveyed the valley again. It looked like good cattle country, grassland bleached gold in the hot, dry weather, well-watered by seasonal washes and a handful of running streams. A number of ranch compounds and farms lay scattered the length of the valley from north to south, and herds of cattle and sheep roamed the rangeland. All signs of prosperity that might also provide tempting opportunities for a renegade mage.
Silas settled his hat firmly on his head, made sure his revolver was loaded, and checked that the shield inside him concealing his power was solidly in place and seamlessly camouflaged. It wouldn’t do to let the rogue mage, if there was one, know that another mage had arrived in town.
His Island-dark skin was another matter. It could give him away to both mages and mage-hating Plain settlers as a member of one of the elite Island mage families back in Granadaia, but there was nothing he could do to change that. Anyhow, his skin wasn’t so dark that it couldn’t be mistaken for a deep tan, and during his years in the Wildings, he had grown adept at passing himself off as a descendant of the servants and slaves the Island mages had brought with them to Granadaia.
With an earnest prayer to the Provider for good hunting and a fat bounty, he nudged Abenar, his big gray speckled gelding, into a walk. Keeping to the trail marked by stakes hung with white feathers, indicating safe passage through the A’ayimat-controlled hills, they headed down the pass.
As the trail descended into the valley, it turned into a road that crossed the valley from east to west. Silas followed the road into town, where it intersected with a second road running north and south, then stopped to get his bearings.
On the north side of the crossroads, two saloons, the Bootjack and the Rusty Widow, faced each other across the street like two gunfighters squaring off. Laughter and a discordant jangling of competing hammerboxes spilled out of the saloons. The Rusty Widow and the bank both boasted tall false fronts and fancy painted signs that looked brand new. In an empty lot southeast of the intersection, a large sign proudly proclaimed, Future Site of the Bitterbush Springs Grand Music Hall and Variety Theater. Towards the north end of town stood a half-built building of imposing size.
It looked like a large amount of money had recently come to town, more evidence of the mining rush – and more bait for renegades.
Silas turned right and rode up the street in search of stabling and a place to stay. Next to the Rusty Widow Saloon stood a two-story building, also sporting a new false front with Mundy’s Boarding House painted on it in elaborate letters. A big sign in the front window read, Rooms to let. 2g per nineday.
Silas let out a low whistle. Two gildings a nineday was an enormous sum for a room in a boarding house in the Wildings, especially this far west. This was going to make a bigger dent in his funds than he’d planned on.
The saloons probably had rooms to let on their upper floors as well, but those were likely to be just as expensive as the boarding house, not to mention more distracting. Not that Silas was averse to enjoying the amenities to be found in such establishments, but for now he needed to concentrate on work. And since there didn’t appear to be a hotel in town, the boarding house it would have to be.
On the other side of the boarding house stood a stable, where a boy was tossing pebbles into a circle scratched in the dirt of the yard. Silas rode over and gave the boy a penny to watch Abenar and his belongings for a moment. He took note of the smithy behind the stable; Abenar badly needed new shoes. Silas hoped getting a horse shod in this town wasn’t as expensive as renting a room in the boarding house.
He pulled on his long brown duster, which he had shed in the heat of the day and draped over the saddle behind him, then walked back to the boarding house to inquire about a room.
A crash from inside the saloon across the street caught his attention. He turned to see a big-bellied, bushy-bearded man come flying backwards through the swinging doors of the Bootjack. The man landed on his back in the street, then leaped to his feet with surprising speed for a fellow his size. A second, much thinner, man charged out of the saloon and plowed into him, knocking him down again. The two men tussled in a cloud of dust, rolling along the street until they came to a stop in front of the boarding house, the skinny man pinning the bearded man face down with a knee in the small of his back.
“I ever catch you digging on my land again, I’ll draw an’ quarter you an’ chop you up for dog feed!” the skinny man yelled. “You hear me, Gobby?”
In a blur of motion, Gobby twisted out from under the other man and dropped him with a blow to the jaw that sounded like an axe thunking into wood. “You threatening me, Redlun? Cause if you’re gonna threaten me, you better be ready to back it up!”
“Yeah, he’s threatening you,” said a man with an extravagant mustache who stood in front of the Bootjack. His right hand dropped to the holster at his hip and came up holding a six-shooter aimed straight at Gobby. “An’ I’ll back up his threats for him.”
Bullets were about to fly. Silas’s first instinct was to throw a protective shield around himself, but he suppressed it. The bullets dropping harmlessly to the ground, slowed by their passage through the shield, would give him away to any other mages who might be around and to the Plain folk of the town. He had more important things to do than deal with a bunch of Plains trying to hang him. Instead, he stepped back into the shadows of the covered wooden sidewalk in front of the rooming house and edged out of the possible line of fire. Without knowing anything about the dispute, he would do better to not get involved.
A handful of men burst out through the swinging door of the Rusty Widow, the saloon next to the boarding house, and stood clustered on the sidewalk, watching. Gobby, now also holding a gun, got to his feet and turned to face the mustached man across the street. “Well, Winnard? You think you can beat me?”
“I can –”
A gunshot exploded from the group in front of the Rusty Widow. Winnard tumbled back against the wall of the Bootjack and collapsed, blood spreading across the right shoulder of his shirt. More men came pouring out from both saloons, and wild gunfire erupted. A handful of stray bullets hit the wall of the boarding house next to Silas; he dove aside, holding onto his hat, and hit the sidewalk.
From up the street came a wild burst of magical power, panicked and uncontrolled, strong enough that Silas could feel it even through the shield on his own power. It felt familiar; he recognized it from the flares of magic that had led him to Bitterbush Springs.
He started to raise his head to try to spot the mage, then a bullet split a board in the wall of the rooming house not one arm-length above him. He pressed himself even flatter against the boards of the sidewalk as the shootout went on, praying to the Defender that the gunfire would stay away from the stables and Abenar.
Then, for no reason Silas could discern, the shooting stopped. “What’s all this, boys?” a deep, resonant voice called out into the sudden silence.
Silas raised his head. Three men lay sprawled in the street. One was writhing in pain, the other two were still. The shooters who were still standing had all lowered their guns and were looking at the Rusty Widow. Silas turned his head to follow their gaze.
A tall man with a hearty build, handsome, pale face, and luxuriant black mustache was standing in front of the saloon. He wore a finely-fashioned black suit and black flat-brimmed hat. Two house ladies bedecked in lace and ruffles appeared behind him, clinging to his arms and peering around him into the street.
“Redlun an’ Winnard threatened me, Mr. Carden, sir,” Gobby said. “Me an’ the fellas was just defending ourselves.”
Silas stood up, making sure his hat was still in place, and brushed dust from his long brown coat. He kept close to the wall, in the shadow of the overhang, curious about this man who had the power to stop a gunfight just by appearing.
The black-suited man turned and put his arms around the house ladies. “Go back inside, my dears. No need to worry yourselves.”
The ladies retreated into the saloon, and Carden stepped down from the wooden walkway into the street. He stopped in front of Gobby, shaking his head. “Don’t tell me you went into the Bootjack again, Gobby,” he said in a genial tone. The crispness of an educated Granadaian accent underlay his informal Wildings speech. “You know damn well that’s rancher territory. You’re stupid enough to keep going in there, you deserve whatever you get.”
“When are you gonna start paying us for the ore that was taken off our land, Carden?” shouted Winnard, the wounded man in front of the Bootjack. The right side of his shirt was soaked with blood, but judging by the anger in his voice, he was a long way from dead.
“If you have a difference with me, Winnard, I’d be happy to discuss it peacefully,” Carden replied. “There’s no need for anyone to be shooting anyone else.”
Two men helped Winnard up, then they and several other men from the Bootjack walked over to Carden and started arguing with him. Gobby and some of the men from the Rusty Widow joined in. A whip-thin, bandy-legged man with a silver sword-shaped badge pinned to his shirt came over as well, but he stood back and remained silent.
Silas couldn’t make out what the men were saying, but their argument wasn’t what interested him the most at the moment. Taking care to avoid attracting any attention, he walked up the street towards where the burst of magic had come from.
If you want to read the rest of the story, Beneath the Canyons is available to download for free - yes, that's F-R-E-E! as part of these fabulous giveaways:
As I mentioned last time, my 5-year publishing anniversary came and went last month. Feb. 11, to be exact, the day I published Urdaisunia. Here it is with its original cover, which I made with a piece of stock art in Photoshop Elements 5. Not too bad, considering the knowledge and resources I had at the time.
In the last five years, I've met some amazingly kind, helpful, and talented people. (You can see links to some of their websites in the sidebar.) Technically, I suppose authors are in competition with each other, but the indie author community is the most cooperative and supportive competition I've ever seen, with so many people willing to share resources and tips, band together in marketing, and help each other along.
Sales-wise, I'm not where I hoped I would be at this point. But I've been correcting some things that might have been holding me back, and making new plans for moving forward.
Some things I've learned in the last 5 years:
What lies ahead?
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