Tuesday, August 23, 2016

First Excerpt-- The Black Dream Book One: Servant of Dis

After the Ilian War, Tamsen Ka’antira settled into ruling the Elven Realm with her husband, Brial at her side. But when a diplomatic crisis occurs between Ansienne and Hippolytos, Tamsen and Brial are lured out of Leselle into the treacherous currents of human politics.

Tamsen realizes these escalating events are driven by something inimical—something determined to bring the Elven Queen from behind the magical barrier that protects her realm. Whispers of new sorcerers and upheaval among the gods soon coalesce into a single frightening truth. The peace the gods had granted to Tamsen is over, and the rising threat will turn erstwhile enemies into allies.

Only the greatest danger could persuade the Elven Queen to serve the god that once threatened the existence of her entire race. If Tamsen becomes the servant of Dis, the peril overshadows not just the mortal realm, but the realms of the gods.


“Your Majesty?”
I looked up from the pile of parchment that had been baffling me for hours. Bryse hovered in the doorway.
“Yes? What is it?”
“The scouts have sent word that a visitor is approaching Leselle,” she said.
“Who is it?”
“They didn’t say. They said that whoever it is, he is human and riding his horse hard for the city.”
“That can’t be good.” I sighed. “Are the children in bed?”
“Barely,” she replied, her eyes twinkling.
I grimaced. Although the twins were reasonably obedient for eight-year-old boys, Tamarisk was a handful.
“I’d best go down and see who it is.” I stood from my mother’s writing desk and reaching for my cloak.
“Of course.” Bryse curtseyed.
I pulled the hood over my head as I descended the stairs from my little study to the warm central room of our house. As I donned my gloves, I passed the nursery where our children slept, the telltale sounds of regular breathing reassured me that they were truly asleep. I laid a hand on the guardians who warded our home. Instantly, they slid aside, rearranging the disguising trunk of the colossal tree, and I ducked outside into the swirling whiteness of the storm.
The streets of Leselle were silent and empty, due not only to the lateness of the hour but also to the bitter wind that accompanied this early winter storm. I kept my head low as I negotiated the broad snow-covered branches that served as streets in this ancient city. Only in the Elven forest could trees grow to such a size as to support an entire city.
Leselle was built within the protective limbs of six towering oaks, trees so ancient their origins were lost in the dim beginnings of myth. Once, this lovely city had been leveled—razed by Elven mages to prevent its despoiling by my so-not-mourned uncle, the Duke de Spesialle. At my crowning, the Virgin Huntress had resurrected Leselle to stand as the jewel of the Elven Realm once more.
The only bad thing about it was trying to descend icy tree branches at night.
I slid the final few feet to the city gates where Malvern, one of our most experienced scouts, saluted. Behind him, a shadowed form stood next to a steaming horse whose head was lowered.
“What is it?” A tingle of premonition suddenly raced across my mouth.
The cloaked man lifted his head. I looked into the tired face of Mylan de Phoclydies. Although we were nearly the same age, his face had aged. He wasn’t much older than thirty-five, but deep creases lined his stern face, creases, I knew, that were placed there by the death of Anner de Ceolliune on the Ilian flood plain over a decade earlier.
“Mylan!” I rushed forward to embrace my old friend. I threw my arms around his neck and hugged him hard. He was smiling when I pulled back, but shadows lingered behind his eyes.
“We’ll go up to the house,” I said quietly. “Malvern, find Prince Ka’breona and my uncle. I think they’re down here somewhere. Send them up immediately.”
“At once, your Majesty.”
I linked my arm through Mylan’s, and we began the climb through the thoroughfares of Leselle. “It’s good to see you, old friend,” I said.
The young scouts behind us led Mylan’s exhausted horse to the stables Brial had built on the lower outskirts of the city.
“What in the world possessed you to come to Leselle in this weather, and nearly riding a horse to death in the process?”
“We’ll wait,” he said.
His voice was much deeper and more resonant than I remembered. I hadn’t seen Mylan for three years, not since the funeral of Hyagrem de Silenos in Geochon.
We hurried through the snowy streets, and I opened the guardians to escort my guest into the warmth of our home.
We preferred to live simply in Leselle. Nothing really indicated that this home was the residence of the royal family, save perhaps the shelves full of books that few Elves would own. I removed Mylan’s heavy fur cloak and pushed him onto a couch before the heaped Elfstones glowing on the hearth. I added cinnamon and nutmeg to a tankard of wine and heated it with a thought. One of our servitors appeared with a tray of cheese, bread, and fruit as I handed the hot drink to him. I dismissed her for the evening and served the Earl myself.
His green eyes were dulled with fatigue as he thanked me. I sat on the couch opposite after pouring myself a glass of wine. The guardians slid aside, and Brial strode into the room. A wide grin split his face as he walked toward his friend, arms outstretched. Mylan rose and the two men embraced, Brial almost dwarfed by the greater bulk of the human knight. Behind them, Wilden Ka’antira, my uncle and the last male of the Ka’antira line, smiled. When Brial pulled away with a hearty slap on Mylan’s back, Wilden stepped in and clapped Mylan’s shoulder.
Brial came to my side, and his smile faded as he looked into my face. “What is it, cariad?”
“I’m waiting for Mylan to tell us.” I turned my attention back to the man who had fallen back into the cushions of the couch.
“I came to fetch you two,” Mylan said gruffly. “You are needed in Geochon.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“There’s trouble over the Spesialle succession.”
“Why didn’t Mariol come to tell us, then?” I asked, puzzled.
“Mariol sent me to you. Dantel de Tizand is doing everything he possibly can, but—” Mylan spread his hands. “There are complications. If Dantel knew I was here, he’d probably throw me into a dungeon. The Council is divided.” Mylan’s voice hoarsened. “I have come, not for the Elven Queen, but for the Countess of Asphodel. Dantel needs friends, and you are probably the only two that can help.”
“Naturally, we’ll come,” I said. “But what could be the problem with the Spesialle succession? Rontil has held the duchy for over ten years.”
“Rontil has finally chosen a wife.” Mylan spoke carefully, as he always had when he was concerned about my reaction.
Of all the dear friends I’d made while on the Huntress’s game, he was the one whose good humor and high spirits had remained intact. Whatever he’d come to tell me, he was worried about how I’d take it.
“Well, that’s good isn’t it?”
“Not necessarily,” he said. “The wife he’s chosen is Alcmene, the sister of Queen Antiope.”
I sat back in my seat, thinking quickly. Thirteen years ago, Alcmene and her sister, Admete, had been sweet-faced little girls. They would be fully-grown warriors now who stood in line to the Hippolyte crown behind their older sister, Antiope. Antiope was still without an heir; the only child she’d borne was the posthumous son of Anner de Ceolliune who could not inherit the throne of a fabled race of female warriors. The political ramifications were obvious—and threatening to those who didn’t understand the terms of the Geochon accords as well as I did.
Brial let out a long whistle. “That’s an awfully big army for an Ansienne Prince to lay claim to. At least, that’s what the courtiers probably think, isn’t it?”
“You’ve got it,” Mylan said. “It doesn’t matter how many times we tell them that men are just a convenience to Hippolytes, the stupid Council doesn’t listen. All they can think of is Rontil sitting in Spesialle and his wife’s sister controlling the legendary legions of Hippolytos and what a huge military power that alliance forges.”
“How did they meet?” I asked.
“They met when Antiope paid a visit to her son,” Mylan wrapped his big hands around the tankard, as if he was trying to warm himself. “She and Mariol agreed to meet in Spesialle, so Mariol took Anteros down to Rontil’s palace. Antiope brought her sisters along and, well, you know Rontil. One thing led to another, and the two became betrothed.”
“How did Antiope take it?” Brial asked.
“She seemed to be all for it at first, but when word of the Council’s uproar reached her, I guess she forbade the whole thing. As a result, the girl took off and now is lodged firmly in Geochon while the whole thing plays out.”
That premonition was back again. I rubbed the back of my newly tense neck. “Where?”
I was afraid I already knew the answer.
“Alcmene is staying with your cousin,” Mylan said blandly. “For some reason, Cetenne thinks this whole thing is funny.”
So without my knowledge, Cetenne has involved the Elven Realm. No wonder Mylan is being so cautious.
I rolled my eyes to the heavens and let out a long-drawn sigh. “By the gods! Why didn’t Mariol come to tell us sooner? We could have headed this whole thing off weeks ago.”
Mylan’s expression darkened. “Mariol couldn’t come, Tamsen. He’s dying.”

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Time to Abolish Political Parties

So here we are, America, less than four months from the general election for the President of the United States, and our political system is a disgrace. The recent WikiLeaks exposure of Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign emails has unleashed an online outrage against both – and against the mainstream media that colluded with them to manipulate our electoral system and defeat Bernie Sanders in the primaries.
Those same emails display the contempt with which both hold the American people, particularly dismissive of and prejudiced against the Latino and LGBTQ communities. Sunday’s resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz hours before the Dems’ national convention began was inevitable. What was shocking to many was that Clinton promptly hired her as “an honorary chair” of her campaign – thereby demonstrating how out of touch Clinton is with the American public. As I write this, thousands of people have taken to the streets in Philadelphia to protest, and the DNC is literally constructing a fence to protect delegates from the protesters.
Meanwhile, Republican nominee Donald Trump has been handed the keys to the Oval Office on a silver platter, while Libertarian candidate, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein are stuck on the fringes of the election, without access to the media (who all apparently are being monitored and coached by the DNC) and not even invited to participate in the presidential debates, where the United States will be offered a choice between the embattled Clinton and her corrupt party and campaign and Trump, who may be the only presidential candidate in history who is more unlikable. Normally, neither of these candidates would be electable. Now we are confronted with a choice that frankly should never have existed.
Full disclosure: I’ve been extremely critical of the party system for a long, long time. I’ve voted for a major party candidate once since 1996. I’ve listened to countless harangues about how I’m “wasting my vote” or how my voting priorities “gives the election” to an undesirable candidate. For years, my opinion that the party system is inherently malignant to American interests has been laughed off as some sort of radical position.
And yet, here we are with undeniably the two worst major nominees for President in history, and suddenly Americans are wondering how we got here. How is it possible that Donald Trump managed to gain the GOP nomination when a year ago everyone thought his candidacy was a joke? And how is it possible that Hillary Clinton’s nomination was secured through a collusion between the Democratic National Committee and the mainstream media to rig the state primaries and caucuses in her favor?
How did either of these candidates gain the backing of major political parties when their history is peppered with disdain and condescension for the citizens they purport to represent?
You have to go back to 1828, and the horrific presidential campaign between Andrew Jackson and incumbent John Quincy Adams, to find anelection as divisive and corrupt as the one we face now. Interestingly, that election led to the creation of what became the two political parties we have now. And with an American political system already renowned for mudslinging, that campaign sank both parties into a cringe-worthy morass of scandal and corruption.
But this election bids fair to eclipse the 1828 campaign twice over.
America is, primarily, a nation of moderates. But our elected representation isn’t. Our country is governed by an explosive blend of far-left and far-right politicians, whose representation of their constituents is compromised before they ever even take office. In their drive to be elected, candidates require the financial and organizational support of a party. In exchange for that support, they are compelled to run on the principles and party stances as set forth in their party platform. The Republican Party platform can be found here, and the Democratic Party platform here. Take a look at them: As a voter it’s essential that you know what you’re voting for.
Because you aren’t voting for people. you aren’t voting for someone you feel will represent you best. You’re voting for that party platform, and anyone you elect is bound to follow those principles. Oh sure, your local Representative may tack on some funding for a new bridge in the pork attached to major legislation. The platforms don’t cover things like bridges or road repair.
Technically, the U.S. has a multi-party political system, but there have only been a couple of viable third-party candidates for anything since the end of the Civil War. In fact, in our current Congress, there are only two independents – and they caucus with the Democrats. That’s it. There are no members of the House who are independents. Statistically, that’s kind of horrifying. Our representation on the national level is comprised almost entirely of people bound to those platforms: 248 Republicans and 192 Democrats in the House of Representatives, and 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and the two independents in the Senate. Our legislature is ripped in half with direct opposite goals and priorities, and there is very little crossover.
As a people, we all have differing points of view. I am an independent moderate. I tend to be more liberal on social issues, moderate on foreign affairs, and conservative on fiscal issues. With third-party candidates rarely able to garner enough support on the state level to get onto the ballot, those other points of view rarely make it to the Senate or House floor. In the presidential race, America is handicapped by an electoral system that’s literally winner-take-all. American presidents have to have only a plurality of votes, and there is no consolation prize. Originally, the candidate with the second-most number of votes was elected Vice President, but all it took was a couple of contested elections between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to inspire the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, which gives us the system we have today. The election of 1800 was particularly horrible, with Jefferson and Aaron Burr both receiving the same number of electoral votes. The Twelfth Amendment worked fine for a time – a time in which fewer than 10% of the American population was permitted to vote.
But that’s no longer the case. In a nation of some 320,000,000, the system no longer works. The choices no longer represent the cross-section of the population, and during this election cycle that fact has been hammered home with a hydraulic jackhammer. As a country, we can no longer afford the restrictions inherent in party politics. We can no longer afford a system in which better candidates are repressed by an all-powerful political entity that is not elected by the people. We can no longer afford a system that disqualifies candidates from major political office because of their stance on a single hot-topic issue. We can no longer afford for single-issue PACs and lobbying organizations to dictate American policy that runs contrary to the will of the American people.
Last week, we watched the circus that was the Republican National Convention. This week, we are witnessing the almost-certain fiasco of the Democratic National Convention. Then, we will emerge into a political season that will only increase the unrest and divisiveness our nation is currently struggling with. And while we struggle with a terrible choice between Clinton and Trump, potentially better candidates will be ignored by the mainstream media, denied invitations to debates where the American people can actually learn about these candidates, and ignored by both the major parties as not worth bothering with.
And those of us who refuse to vote either Democratic or Republican will be the ones who “gave the election” to one or the other.
At this point, it doesn’t matter who’s elected in November. Either candidate will be an unmitigated disaster in the Oval Office. But what we need to start doing now is creating the movement necessary to destroy the absolutism of party politics in this country. Let candidates stand on their own merits and their own principles. Deny mega-lobbies that represent a tiny fraction of the citizenry the ability to fund or interact on a policy level with either candidates or elected officials. Keep corporate money out of politicians’ hands. Give the American people a chance to go to the polls and vote according to their conscience, instead of herding them like sheep toward one side of the aisle or another. 
Because I have to tell you this: The majority of the people I know could give two hoots about creating a national infrastructure bank, but do care about 401k legislation. Those of my associates who are pro-life are usually anti-automatic weapons. The ones who are pro-immigration restrictions believe in equal civil rights for LGBTQ Americans.
But they don’t get to reflect that in their voting choices. They are forced to determine their choice based on the single issue most important to them. So if they’re in favor of stronger gun ownership legislation, they have to compromise their beliefs on abortion rights – and vice versa.
Our system inherently makes citizens settle for ideological beliefs that do not reflect their own.
Abolishing political parties across the board is the only way to stem this destructive tide, and we cannot wait much longer to do so. And since Adams and Jefferson got us into this mess, it seems only fitting to close out with a pair of quotes from them that apply only too well to the political system that evolved as the result of their rivalry.
From John Adams, second President of the United States: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
And from Thomas Jefferson, the third President: “Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence.”
The Founding Fathers were oddly prescient at times. If you think about the system that led Donald Trump to the threshold of the most powerful position in the world, and the corruption that has elevated Hillary Clinton to her party’s nomination, you have to wonder if they weren’t psychic. Because if we don’t do something to resolve this national horror, America will lose everything – including itself.