Free Fiction: The Mongol’s Coffin, Chapter one

Curious about my thriller novel, Bone Guard One:  The Mongol’s Coffin?  Here’s chapter one for your enjoyment!

Bone Guard One: The Mongol’s Coffin, cover design by Jake Kerr

CHAPTER ONE

Provincial Museum

Nr Mazar i-Sharif, Afghanistan

Grant Casey dove behind the nearest statue, a huge sandstone lion with wings and curly hair surrounding a wise human face—at least, until the shots blasted its face into gravel.  Bullets and bits of stone pinged off the display cases and the concrete walls, leaving gouges and sending ricochets that stung his exposed hands and cheeks.  Grant scowled into his goggles.  He’d seen someone come this way, someone who should have been to-hell-and-gone before the shooting started, but now he didn’t dare to call out.

Along the corridor, ahead, he glimpsed a tall soldier—Nick–herding a small group of civilians out of the museum—a woman in full burka, with children, a pair of older men, looking flustered.  At the sound of gunfire, Nick placed himself between the civilians and the shots and hustled them all out of sight.  Good.

The latest barrage ended with a settling of dust, and shattered glass from museum cases glittered on the floor.  He held back a sneeze.  The statue’s head wore a mask of pock-marks .  A few other, smaller figures lay dismembered and rocking on the ground.  If they had stronger fire-power, even the stone lion couldn’t protect him.

“Chief, do you copy?”  D. A.’s voice buzzed in his ear.  Grant dare not answer

“He took off west,”  Nick replied. “Shots fired in that direction.”

“Don’t tell me the Indian’s gone cowboy on us.”  Commander Wilson, the putative leader of this supposedly joint operation.

“It’s not his first rodeo, sir.  He’s got a reason,”  D. A. answered.  “Chief, the building’s clear—team’s clear, do you copy?”

“Y’all are intel, not ops—Casey, you get your people out of here,”  Wilson barked.  “You are in defiance of orders, Lieutenant Casey, and—”

“Saving twenty-eight lives and counting, sir.”  D. A. cut in, begging to be charged with insubordination. “Chief called in the threat, you didn’t respond.  Did you expect us to sit tight while the place went up in smoke?”

“I expected you to follow orders—”

Grant snapped off his set, the argument dropping into silence.  Cautiously, he adjusted his position, settling his back to the solid stone, breathing carefully, listening.  This room sat only a corridor and a lattice-trimmed courtyard short of the entrance, where the rest of the team would be wondering, in spite of orders to the contrary, if they should come and get him now that they’d cleared the place of civilians.  Only, they hadn’t.

He caught a flicker of movement and a flash of a red heat signature in his left-hand lens, furtive, somebody slipping from the bulk of that leafy-looking column to the base of a nearby display of jewelry and tablets.  Grant tracked the movement with his rifle.

“Allahu Akbar!”  shouted a gruff voice to his right.  The shooter, seeking his compatriots.  No answer.  So the third party wasn’t his, and wasn’t Grant’s.  Civilian.

Grant jumped back to the tail of the lion, caught the flash of red, the shooter’s position.  He fired three shots and ducked away again as the shooter returned fire.

Glancing over, Grant silently urged the civilian to get the hell out while the shooter was looking for him.  Instead, the civ lunged along the display and stuck his hand over the top, snatching a jeweled diadem and pulling back, stuffing the piece into his dark tunic.  A looter, in the middle of a firefight.  Could be someone taking advantage, trying to fund a ticket out of the chaos that was Afghanistan, or maybe a museum staffer hoping to save something from the destruction.

Boots pounded up the hallway from the heart of the museum, accompanied by shouts of “Allahu Akbar!”  and a hundred other things.  Shit.  His shooter called out in reply, then the air in the room sucked dry, something boomed, and the lion exploded.  Grant dove away, toward the civ.  He ran hard, gunfire spitting in pursuit.  The civ dodged behind a wooden doorway that wouldn’t stand up to automatics, never mind the rocket they just fired.  He scooped up the civ with one arm and launched them both into the courtyard, rolling so he landed on top behind some kind of tomb. Ironic, if he bought it right then.

“Stay down!” he barked, first in English, then in Dari, the local dialect.

“Get the fuck off,” the civ growled back in accented English, shoving at him.  A woman?  Yeah, he could tell now, in spite of her genderless tunic and trousers.  The wrap slipped back from her face, revealing sharp green eyes, dusky skin, parted lips.

Women had every reason to need the cash to fund a getaway. He couldn’t blame her for taking advantage.  “Get out of here, lady. I’ll cover you.”

For a moment, their eyes locked, and those lips gave a slight quirk, then she gave a nod, and he rolled aside, taking a knee behind the low tomb, weapon in hand.  When he popped up, peppering the stone lattice with shots, she checked her stolen diadem, tossed it aside, and ran:  straight back into the chamber.

Grant ducked down again, the shooters taking pot-shots at his head, while the crazy woman flanked them, making for the same case she’d robbed moments before.

Leaning left, aiming upward, Grant fired again and heard a shriek as a bullet struck home, then he pulled back, yanking out the magazine and slamming in another.  His last.  On the other side of the lattice, the shooters snapped at each other, loud enough to hear, too soft to make out the words.  Draw their fire, or make for home?  One last civ, and she was nuts.

When the rocket roared, Grant plunged left, rolled, and pounded down the side hall to come up next to their hide-out, already shooting, turning them away from the civ.  Three heat signatures, one of them meeting his eye as he fired into the man’s chest.  The next one brought up his automatic, then he fell forward, blood spilling from his lips.

The crazy woman pivoted out of her stance, the gun still in her hand.  Okay, not the usual civilian, not at all.

Between them, the last shooter froze, glanced behind him, then shouted a stream of fury at a woman in pants and swung his weapon toward her.

Two shots, chest and head, one from each direction, and the shooter went down.

She shoved the gun into her waistband and swung around the corner of the lattice.

“Hey!”  Grant held up his off-hand to stop her.

Too late. She slipped her hands and feet into the diamonds of the lattice surrounding the courtyard and scrambled up, climbing fast to the roof and disappearing, even the patter of her steps fading in a heartbeat.

“Chief! We should be out of here–what’re you doing?”  Nick lead with his gun around the entrance at the far end of the hall.

“Finishing the job.”  Grant released his gun and stepped back, the tether keeping it handy.  Four insurgents lay in the wreckage of the museum, bleeding onto the remnants of what should’ve been their heritage.  Maybe the crazy lady had it right, taking something away, rescuing what she could from the chaos.  “I spotted a civilian, but she took off across the rooftop.”  He gestured up.

“Up there?  Fuck. You sure about that?”  Nick came up beside him, half a head taller, maybe seventy pounds heavier, a running back compared with Grant’s track-and-field physique.  “Commander’s raising Hell on the radio—you heard?”  Behind his helmet and goggles, Nick’s dark face looked grim.  “Could be bad news back on base.”

“Twenty-nine lives and this place still standing?  I’ll take it.”  Grant swept the room, listening, watching:  no more sounds, no heat signatures he could see.

“They all down?”  Nick leaned a little closer.

Grant scanned the insurgents.  The first one to fall shifted a little, moaning, his breath hitching.  A living insurgent meant a chance to get some intel and get back to doing their job.  Would it appease the commander?  Unlikely.

“Trauma kit,”  Grant ordered as he stepped over the bodies, pausing to roll a body from the wounded man’s legs.  “Lie still.  We can help.”  The words rang a bit hollow, given he was the guy who’d shot him, but it wasn’t personal.  Nick held out the trauma kit, edging into the space on the other side. The wounded man moved again, muttering, his arm underneath him as if he were trying to sit up.  Nick’s eyes flared, then he shouted, “Chief!” and launched himself over the downed man, knocking Grant aside as the insurgent’s hidden explosive went off in a shower of blood and bone.  Grant flew backwards from the thrust of Nick’s tackle.  He tumbled past the bulk of that wise, ruined lion, the stone wings fluttering in a breeze of fire, shielding him from the worst of the blast, and the even worse anointing of Nick’s blood.

 

Want to know what happens next?  Bone Guard One:  The Mongol’s Coffin is now available in e-book and trade paperback!

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The Mongol’s Coffin: Start of a new Adventure series

I am excited to announce the release of my first international thriller novel, based on my research into Mongolian history.  Don’t worry, fantasy fans, there will be an epic fantasy novel exploring Mongolia and China as well. In the meantime, allow me to introduce. . .

Bone Guard One: The Mongol’s Coffin, cover design by Jake Kerr

They used to be part of a special ops intelligence group known as the Unit—until the brass ignored their intel, and they followed Lieutenant Grant Casey into a firestorm to save a museum, and the people trapped inside.  The aftermath leaves Grant and his wingman in the hospital, and his whole team on the outs with the military.  After his discharge, Grant fuses his interest in history with his specialized training, and the Bone Guard is born.

The Bone Guard. . .where adventure and history ignite.

When Liz Kirschener discovers a musical map to Ghenghis Khan’s tomb, her scholarly life explodes into arson and gunfire.  Grant Casey brings in his team for a race to the tomb—to prevent Chinese authorities from burying it forever. This novel speeds from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Cambridge, England in search of clues—then flies to Inner Mongolia, bringing together a Mongolian singer, Grant’s ex-commanding officer and a Hong Kong billionaire with a secret past.  Mongolian traditions clash with modern priorities in a high-stakes adventure to save one of the world’s greatest lost treasures.

Now available: In e-book, or trade paperback!

Keep in touch to learn about upcoming Bone Guard Adventures!

Something to tide us all over until the release of Elisha Daemon, the fifth and final volume…

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How to deal with The Walking Dead in the Middle Ages

Here’s a fascinating bit of archaeological evidence for medieval ideas about zombies (then known as revenants)  from a great blog called The Templar Knight:

 

Source: How to deal with The Walking Dead in the Middle Ages

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Celebrating Lithuanian Independence Day, with an Introduction to Lithuania during the Middle Ages

On February 16, Lithuania, a small Baltic sea republic, celebrated its independence day.  While I do have Lithuanian heritage on my mother’s side, I was primarily reminded of the holiday by a link I received to a video by a Lithuanian tv personality teasing our new president and suggesting that if he’s putting America first, then perhaps Lithuania could be third.  The video is fun, particularly if you have Lithuanian descent, and also has some gorgeous footage of the country, especially its castles.  But I don’t intend for this to be a political post.  Rather, if you chose to watch, I would call your attention to the brief history lesson part way through the video.

Trakai Island Castle, Lithuania, finished in 1409

Trakai Island Castle, Lithuania, finished in 1409

During my period of study, the high and later Middle Ages, Lithuania was a power in Europe, and Lithuanians still regard the era from the 13th to 16th centuries as their Golden Age.  While researching for an epic fantasy set during the Mongol invasions of China, I took the opportunity to do some more reading on Lithuania as well–one of my principal characters is a Lithuanian bellmaker kidnapped by a Mongol scout during an expedition to the fringes of Europe, and pressed into service.  I’ve enjoyed incorporating a variety of cultures and clashes into that book, but I digress.

The term “Lithuania” first appears in a monk’s chronicle in 1009.  Medieval Lithuania was notoriously pagan when most of Europe had become Christian.  While one of the earlier Grand Dukes professed Christianity and received his crown from the Pope, it wasn’t until 1387 that the Grand Duchy officially became Catholic.  The ruling family also held the crown of Poland, expanding the borders by a large margin.

In spite of the nation’s conversion, the neighboring Teutonic Knights continue to press territorial claims until they were finally defeated in 1410.  After that, Grand Duke Vytautas (who is lauded in the video), completed the drive south, allowing Lithuania to become the largest state in Europe at the time stretching from the Baltic to the Black Seas.  This site has a nice map showing Lithuania’s expansion during the 14th and 15th centuries.

Lithuania in the 15th century was justly famous for its warlike outlook, and I was a bit tempted to draw it into my Dark Apostle series. What would the pagan ruler of this spreading nation think about the necromancers and magic in general?  Unfortunately, there is scant scholarship available in English into the early religion of Lithuania (aside from many Medieval sources referring to the Grand Duchy as notoriously pagan).

I did find another site devoted entirely to Medieval Lithuania, which refers to a sort of warrior cult followed by the leadership and knights, and spreading to the common people as well, which could explain the heroic ethos referenced in resources about Lithuanian mythology.  Clearly, I’ll need to make a trip to the old country to learn more!  If you’re curious, check out the top 10 sights of Medieval Lithuania.

 

 

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Elisha Mancer Launch Day! With footnotes. . .

Elisha Mancer, Book 4 of The Dark Apostle, is now available in bookstores everywhere!  And you can find sample chapters for this, and all of the books in the series, at TheDarkApostle.com  When you love it, you can click through and buy the book.

cover of Elisha Mancer, by the amazing Cliff Nielsen

cover of Elisha Mancer, by the amazing Cliff Nielsen

As you may know, this blog exists in part to serve as the footnotes and research comments for my historical fantasy novels. Herewith, are the “notes” for this volume.  I don’t think any of them contain direct spoilers, but they do serve as some indicators of the historical goodies that influence the plot.  If you are concerned about spoilers, you may wish to go read the book, then return here for more juicy details.

I hope you enjoy this introduction to the settings, characters and events from history that find their way into Elisha Mancer.

This book takes place all over Europe, including Heidelberg and Trier, Germany.  With references to some cool medieval technology like the Kranen, and a visit to one of Bavaria’s salt mines.  There’s also a stop in Koln, to visit the Bones of the Magi because, let’s face it, I couldn’t pass that up.  But there was at least one great city, Aachen, I planned to use and never did.

My visit to Aachen did help me to learn more about the Holy Roman Empire, and its two emperors during my period, Charles IV and Louis the Bavarian (whom I have called Ludwig to distinguish him from the numerous other Louis in the area. . .) Succession was often a problem, and not always, as many believe, based on primogeniture.

This book also introduces one of the Great Characters of the Middle Ages, Cola Di Rienzo, the madman who ruled Rome.

He could rule Rome because the pope wasn’t there–but kept planning to return.  The church retained a lot of power, internationally, and at its heart in Rome itself, due, in large measure, to the holy relics found there.

and this volume brings 1347 to a close, with a world-tour you may already be expecting.  But there is still one more volume to go. . .

 

 

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Health Insurance, Medieval Style

Many people in the US right now are concerned about their health insurance (among other things).  Will it change all over again? Probably–won’t it be fun to find out.  We tend to think of insurance as a recent innovation, a social good offered to citizens for commercial purposes, generally through an employer, and designed to offer peace of mind in the event of a health emergency.  However, this and many other benefits were available to medieval tradesmen and merchants through their local guild.

This tower in the London wall once served as the operating theater for the Company of Barber-surgeons

This tower in the London wall once served as the operating theater for the Company of Barber-surgeons

The guild system managed a wide variety of aspects of business during the middle ages. They developed during the 12th century in Europe, from the tendency of people in a given trade to have similar concerns, and band together to address them.

Depending on the trade served by the guild, they might offer the equivalent of today’s professional societies–the networking, mutual support and lead generation, not to mention the camaraderie of joining together with like minds.  They helped apprentices find masters and journeymen find work, not to mention conferring the honors for those at the top of the profession–maintaining professional standards.  They also offered funeral and survivorship benefits for widows and children, like many trade unions do today. Although I am not sure any union puts up dowries for the daughters of their poorer members.

In addition to services for members, guilds often performed charitable work and public service, like the famous Goldsmiths’ Guild celebration of the 15th century, which included mechanized angels blowing on trumpets to announce the procession.

Health insurance could mean payments to barbers, surgeons or physicians as needed on behalf of the ill or injured guild member, or direct payments to the member during a time when they were unable to work.   The protagonist of my series, Elisha Barber, would have been a member of the Worshipful Company of Barbers, founded in 1308 in London, and his brother, Nathaniel, a member of the Tinsmith’s guild.  Each guild had a charter spelling out the duties and benefits for members, and might specify payments for particular injuries, often relating to the profession at hand.  The dues paid by the members went to support the services they received.

While modern-day people often decry any significant change as a return to the middle ages, in some ways, they really weren’t so bad. . .

The Merchant-Adventurers' Guild Hall, York, England

The Merchant-Adventurers’ Guild Hall, York, England

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What Comes Next? Power Transitions in the Middle Ages

Today is a big day in America, yet it’s an event that occurs every four or eight years: the inauguration of a new president.  Since I’ve also been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the words of King George’s songs keep running through my head.

“What comes next/ you’ve been freed/ Do you know how hard it is to lead?”

and later on, “Are they gonna keep replacing whoever’s in charge?”

Charles IV, King of Bohemia, and Holy Roman Emperor, 1346-1378

Charles IV, King of Bohemia, and Holy Roman Emperor, 1346-1378

I thought I would mark the occasion with some observations about the transfer of power in the Middle Ages.  People often assume, and fantasy authors usually present, a medieval world in which leadership roles transferred somewhat automatically from father to son.  In the event that there was no son, some amount of chaos ensued while the potential heirs presented their competing claims–often at the end of a sword.

Edward III of England, for example, claimed the throne of France through his mother, and fought for it numerous times.  Such a claim was often made not to actually seize the throne of another country, but rather to serve as a club with which to gain other concessions, like ancestral lands or privileges once belonging to the family.  By that point, in the 1340’s, the ancestry of both England and France were so tangled through centuries of intermarriage that each monarch laid claim to the throne or fealty of the other.

In some places, the sons of a leader were deliberately overlooked, because you couldn’t be certain they were actually related to him.  In that case, the children of the lord’s sister would be his heirs.  (Ghana, for example)

At other times on this blog, I’ve noted different forms of transitioning power, some of which are less familiar to the reader of medieval fantasy, or to others more casually aware of the Middle Ages.  Mongolia’s democratic leanings, for instance, are a common feature of nomadic cultures.  Leadership claims tended to be more based on vital real-world skills like an ability to read the weather or land, to lead toward good hunting or good pastureland, to negotiate for passage or retaliate quickly for the incursions of others.  The idea of owning land and building permanent structures which might need a more permanent managerial system, anthropologically speaking, seems to arise more with the advent of agriculture rather than husbandry.

The title of Holy Roman Emperor was also by election, with the electors representing different regions of the empire (what is now Germany and Eastern Europe) as well as high-ranking church officials.  In the event that an emperor was found to be unsuitable, the electors then put forward a new candidate–whose first task, of course, was to convince the sitting emperor to give up his crown.

Even within the settled structures of medieval culture, the city-states of Italy often used communal governance, with a group of high-ranking officials taking charge and making decisions for their city and region.  Again, the economy of these city-states plays a large role in determining their governance:  their trade-based wealth required leadership drawn from those who understood the balances of import and export, investment and tariff.  And of course, those who wield significant wealth and influence often refuse to submit to mere political authority, preferring to hold the reins themselves.

Rome always held a unique position among the cities of Italy.  The theoretical seat of the church, it derived much of its prominence from the presence of the Pope and cardinals–but they fled to France when the countryside got rough, leaving the barons to squabble over the city itself.  Cola di Rienzo led a popular revolt to claim control of the city, only to (as Hamilton‘s King George would have predicted) fall into anarchy when he couldn’t figure out how to lead a state instead of an army.

And even within the traditional feudal system of transference of power to family, we have cases where women inherited, like Joanna of Naples, or governed on behalf of absent husbands or minor children, often remaining in power for a long time–as happened more than once in China.

So, will America’s transition of power lead to a new age of glory, or to a devolution into chaos, or, as seems more likely, be simply another term of checks and balances until we peacefully (if with protest) transition again?  Hopefully no one will need to get killed at the gate for us to find out.

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