Tristan & Isolde…a match made in heaven. News of their wedding spreads but sadly, it’s a bit premature.
artwork by WLOP for his creative series
The Knights with No Lords
Chapter 15 – Crush
By Rock Kitaro
“Yes. Is it truly so surprising?” Isolde chuckled. “Political marriages date back for centuries. You’ll probably be bound to one yourself someday. To keep the hounds at bay, the belligerents in line, a show of unity in which both factions have a vested interest for the sake of diplomacy. A preemptive strike to conflicts without the common side effect of bloodshed and mayhem. It’s ideal, really.”
It was a hazy day. The same as before, except it was getting colder as autumn said goodbye. Gawain and Princess Isolde were alone on the breezeway three stories up in the Western Ward. From their position they could see the training grounds below. There were more soldiers than usual. Apparently everyone had the same idea, to shake off their anxieties through the burn of rigorous exercise.
While Constantine and Gaheris practiced their archery, Pellinore and the Black Bloods displayed an unusual amount of goodwill as they volunteered to help train the more inexperienced soldiers in close-quarter combat. Over 300 men had separated into groups of eight and took turns in freestyle sparring sessions. The Black Bloods watched and pointed out flaws. Pellinore was the loudest. He yanked older men and screamed in their ears.
This went on for some time…until Agravain grew weary of his spit-flying insults.
Agravain charged Pellinore, determined to even the score from their last bout. Everyone stopped what they were doing and cheered them on. Even Toothless Kersey and the lancers took a break and brought their horses over. Pellinore was taking it easy on the fourteen-year-old at first, but more and more, Agravain gave him no choice but to clutch his claymore with both hands. It was amazing, like a choreographed dance of aggressive swings and silver flashes. Agravain was smirking. A flustered Pellinore was beginning to sweat.
“Like a damn jackrabbit!” grunted Pellinore. He was about to say more but Agravain was on him.
Isolde giggled before she realized Gawain was barely watching. His eyes were on the match but his sights were on the future.
“Yes?” Isolde said as she leaned into his shoulder.
“You say ideal but that would suggest…I dunno. I suppose you’re right. I just, I guess I never dreamed we’d reach a point where our houses could ever be joined as one.”
Isolde picked up on his skepticism and reacted with a twitch. “Because we devils are so treacherous and evil?”
“Forgive me but I do recall being enslaved and abused for a number of years. And that’s putting it lightly.”
“Yes and why do you think that is? You assume we have nothing better to do than lock you simple people up in chains? Don’t make me laugh. My father was murdered by pirates flying under your Tintagel banners. They sacked his ship and killed him and my uncle. I’ll never forget the sight of crows picking at their bodies. It was your people who forced my mother to take slaves and engage in wholesale annihilation. Or did you think our clans stayed loyal out of the goodness of their hearts, that they’d follow a woman into battle out of respect for my father or silly things like oaths and honor! No, Gawain. A ruthless show of force was necessary to keep my mother’s kingdom from falling apart. And yes! We’ve turned a profit by pitting warlord against warlord. But it’s more so to keep them occupied. If they’re too busy defending their own, they won’t think of invading ours.” Isolde declared with tears glossing over.
“I never knew,” Gawain uttered.
“Well of course you wouldn’t, my handsome little crow. Algayre and Morholt are vile creatures, sure. But you shouldn’t judge us by our worst. I bet they think we drink from the blood of goats and pass our children through fire out of sacrifice to some pagan god. You’ve sheltered with us for years. You of all people should know that we’re not so different, our houses. One could even argue that we’re equal but opposites. It’s all this blood for blood that needs to cease. Otherwise, we’re stuck on a perpetuating cycle, doomed to repeat the sins of our fathers for generations to come.”
Gawain smirked. “Who knew you gave so much thought.”
“We are heirs to the throne, you and I. The legacy of our kingdoms rests on our shoulders. Down there, they will never know what it’s like to make difficult decisions for the betterment of an entire nation of men, women, and children, to govern. They are free to live for the here and now while we are forced to sacrifice the present for a more prosperous future. A wise man once taught me that.”
“Merlin the Magician, back when I was a little child and too stupid to remember which dress to put on. For some reason, I never forgot those words,” Isolde said as she gazed off in the distance.
Pellinore and Agravain were still going at it. It was good to see everyone in good spirits. Gawain stood up to stretch out his back. He started smirking at the next subject he wanted to broach.
“So a marriage then. Given your history, I do wonder how well you’ll get along with Tristan.”
Isolde smirked and batted her long eyelashes. “You girl!”
“What?!” Gawain chuckled.
“If you want to know, just ask. I’m not Morgan. You don’t have to walk on eggshells around me,” Isolde assured him.
“Alright, fine. Do you want to marry Tristan?”
Isolde’s blue eyes widened with excitement as she stood up and arched her back against a stone pillar. And as she inhaled through the nose, moaning at the thought, she suddenly erupted with joyous laughter.
Gaheris and Morgan hash out their childhood grudge and once again, a furious Tristan stands in their way.
Then we join Gawain …the very lad Morgan so desperately wants to rescue. He’s riding in a convoy with his Hibernian captors, led by the 21-year-old Princess Isolde herself. Even though he’s assigned to be her bodyguard, Isolde makes it clear that if he tries to flee, she’ll put an arrow through his back. Gawain knows she’s capable of it.
artwork by Wojtek Fus
Chapter 4 – Fool Me Once By Rock Kitaro
Iron – “Rock Bottom”
In the dead of the night, the torches were doused. Calm had settled. With just the pale moon reflecting off of the wet stone walls, Morgan led the brothers Agravain and Gaheris through the slums of Tintagel. The strong stench of urine and ale was nauseating, but they expected no less from the plebs.
Drunken sailors were passed out on almost every corner. For some reason, a black crow kept following the trio as if it was keeping tabs on them. It made sure to perch on every business sign before releasing a piercing caw, stiffening the hairs on the back Gaheris’s neck. He was very much tempted to shoot it down.
Instead of riding their horses, they guided their steeds by the reins, walking them ever so slowly to mind the clacking of the hooves. All three were covered in dark wool hoods.
Morgan, the determined seventeen-year-old enchantress with her obedient horse, Vebby.
Agravain, the emboldened fourteen-year-old armed with two Roman broadswords sheathed under the round shield on his back.
And Gaheris, the annoyed fifteen-year-old archer who wasn’t entirely on board with Morgan’s plan. He felt it lacked sufficient details. Well…either it lacked details or Morgan was deliberately withholding them.
Leaving on a moment’s notice, Gaheris had no choice but to steal back the handcrafted bow he made for King Mark. His quiver was jam-packed with razor sharp arrows. A lightweight short sword was strapped to his waist. And as that gut-wrenching feeling began to churn in his stomach, he chuckled with a hopeless smirk.
“What’s that, Constantine? Oh it’s funny you should ask. I’m only about to sneak out of one of the most impregnable fortresses the world’s ever seen. Why, you ask? That’s funny too. You see, whenever someone promises the liberation of my brother, I’m almost bound by sacred oath to venture forth. Ogres, you say? Errant knights and elfish demons galore? Nah, I’m not scared of all that. It’s my brother, you see. He’d want this. He’d want me to venture forth and–”
“For crying out loud, Gaheris! Do you want get caught or don’t you?” Morgan snapped.
“You don’t get to talk to me like that. Just keep walking before I change my mind. And why such haste? I’d feel a lot better if we had more time to prepare,” Gaheris grumbled.
“It must be tonight. The rest of the lords will be returning home in the morning. It’ll be buzzing with activity so no one will think to look for us. This will give us enough time to make distance before they figure out we’re gone,” Morgan whispered.
“Well it’s a good thing we arrived when we did, isn’t it. Or did your foresee such events and expect it? Wait, am I under a spell right now? Go on. Tell me. I won’t get mad. I promise,” Gaheris sulked.
“Such spite and for what?” Morgan said, rolling her eyes.
“He still blames you for killing Merlin,” Agravain snickered.
Gaheris let out a harsh guttural growl.
Morgan sighed, “Honestly, Gaheris. That was years ago. Won’t you forgive me?”
When he didn’t respond, she glanced over. His frown made her spit with laughter.
Gaheris threw up his hands. “That’s it. I’m out!”
“Wait! Stop!” Morgan whispered as she tackled Gaheris and Agravain into a pile of hay.
Two patrol officers were passing by. It was odd. They heard the muffled noise of but completely overlooked the fact that they were three idle horses left unattended to. It was their duty to return them to the stables on the other side of the castle, but that must have been way too much trouble. The patrol continued on and pretended not to see them.
As soon as the patrol was out of sight, a disgruntled Gaheris emerged from the hay and began pulling straw from his hair. “All I’m saying is Merlin didn’t deserve to die. It was childish.”
“Well. In my defense, I was a child,” Morgan noted.
“No! You knew better!”
“It was just a stupid dog!” Agravain stressed.
“You’re on your own. Good luck!” Gaheris said with the snap of his fingers.
Agravain latched on to Gaheris’s shoulder and quickly realized Gaheris was serious by the way he yanked himself free. Morgan hurried over and stared up at Gaheris with remorse in her eyes. She pouted and released something of a whimper. Gaheris knew it was an act but appreciated that she was at least trying.
“I’m sorry, Gaheris. Truly, I am. Please come with us. We could use your strength, your cunning, your guile.”
“Tell me, why do you care so much? He’s not your brother. He’s barely a nephew.”
Morgan squinted as if she was prepared to slap him. “How can you possibly say that? I love your brother as I love you. We’re family. If you or Aggie were captured I’d make the same fuss. Honestly, I never knew you to be so heartless.”
Gaheris turned to Agravain. “And you’re set on this, are you?”
“It’s been too long, brother. I know you feel the same. It’s time for Gawain to come back.”
Brooding in the shadows, Morgan begins plotting her escape from Tintagel Castle. Under the watchful eye of Tristan, this is easier said than done. Then, a glimmer of hope shines through in the form of two teenage boys fresh from the battlefield.
Gaheris is an inquisitive playboy while Agravain’s an arrogant upstart who’s quick to draw his sword on even the slightest offense. The two make up Gawain’s little brothers and they’re the only ones Morgan can depend on to help her escape. Just be careful. There’s more to these brothers than meets the eye and the last thing you want to do is call them orphans. The castle lads find this out the hard way.
Chapter 3 – The Violent Orphans By Rock Kitaro
SIMS – “Crows” (Gaheris and Agravain’s theme)
It wasn’t the first time Morgan was laughed out of a room, but still, it was getting old. The blatant disrespect for authority was no longer cute and she knew it. For two days, Morgan kept to the darkest towers where no one could find her. The cackle of Tristan’s laughter haunted her. She couldn’t shake the sight of his cold blue eyes staring down at her wherever she went. It was maddening.
In the depths of her despair, she wrote poems and limericks, scribbling down all the harm she wished upon him. She made a list of all the times the lion had foiled her plans and designed a punishment for each incident.
For hours, she stared at the ceiling from the stone cold floor and fantasized about beasts feeding on his carcass. She dreamt about his lengthy crucifixion. She smirked wondering how loud he’d scream if he had to burn at the stake. Such thoughts were therapeutic. It seemed to be the only way to pacify the screaming Furies chained within the depths of her heart.
For two nights, Morgan sulked in the shadows of the royal banquet hall. It was here that the Council of Gold Clovers held their lavish feasts, joking and laughing as if they weren’t just at each other’s throats mere moments earlier. Musicians played their fiddles and flutes. Squires dazzled their maidens. Wine drizzled from beards and wives dined on gossip.
The tables were arranged in a U-shaped formation with the king’s platform raised directly in the center. King Mark, Duchess Igraine and house royalty lauded Tristan for his bravery. Morgan watched it all with her back against the wall, glaring with torchlight blazing from her eyes. Their laughter made her sick. Their smiles made her snarl. She remembered a hundred dirty old men laughing at her, how Tristan called her insolent and mistempered.
She crossed her arms and grumbled, “You want mistempered? I’ll give you mistempered.”
While everyone was asleep, Morgan confined herself to one of the storage closets. Her tiny book of spells and potions were written with coded languages and symbols, made legible only to those trained in the arts of Lake Avalon. For hours, Morgan would grind crystals and brew concoctions in a black cauldron. She poured these shiny potions into small milky glass vials, tiny enough to fit into the pockets of dagger sleeves she planned to strap over her shoulder like a bandolier. If the men weren’t willing to save Gawain, Morgan was prepared to do it herself.
The third night…
It was the third night since Morgan was humiliated in front of the Council of Gold Clovers. It’s been three days since she saw the vision of Gawain chained in a ship. It was the final night of feasting, after which, the lords were scheduled to depart in the morning and return to their domains.
Again, Morgan stationed herself in the solace of the shadows. Then the giant doors of the banquet hall opened. The herald announced a new visitor. No one was paying attention. The music and revelry was so loud that no one heard.
“From the Kingdom of Lothian and Orkney, I give you Duke Tiburne and his companions, Gaheris and Agravain!” announced the herald.
A smile slowly surfaced for the first time in so long that Morgan’s cheeks began to hurt. The loud crash of shattered wood got everyone’s attention. King Mark’s longtime herald was a large man, well over three hundred pounds. And yet, a fourteen-year-old pup of a lad was now standing over him, having just broken a chair across the herald’s back.
“That’s not how you say my name, you idiot. It’s Agra-vain. I’d commit it to memory if I were you.”
“Vain, you say? You have it right!” Jonah of Mon scolded.
Agravain looked the baron up and down before walking on, as if he didn’t have time to address every shit stain he happened to come across.
Here, we’re introduced to the prestigious King Mark of Tintagel. Morgan interrupts his annual conference, begging the king to send an emissary north to rescue Gawain. While King Mark is sympathetic, there’s one person who stands in Morgan’s way.
23-year-old Tristan is the Champion of Cornwall, the strongest fighter in the kingdom and an unspoken big brother to the youngsters. In Tristan’s own words, “I’ll not risk the lives of my men based on the whims of a mistempered brat playing at alchemy!”
Of course, Tristan should have known better. As if Morgan’s about to accept “no” for an answer.
Chapter 2 – The Lion of Dumnonia by Rock Kitaro
“Aria” by Susumu Hirasawa –
“YOU, SIR, ARE A COWARD!”
“I DARE YOU TO SAY THAT AGAIN!”
“EVERYONE SIT DOWN! NOW!”
“YOU CAN’T REASON WITH THESE MEN! THEY’RE NO BETTER THAN ANTS WITHOUT A CAUSE!”
“I GOT YOUR CAUSE!”
All class and decorum went out the window hours ago. Spit flew from beards and bugling eyes looked like they were about to pop out of their skulls. Ambassadors from over thirty volatile kingdoms had convened at Tintagel Castle. It was the final week of August. For eight years, this “Council of Gold Clovers” congregated in an annual attempt to resolve differences with diplomacy. With the honorable King Mark presiding, the initiative was supposed to spark hope for a greater future.
However, as of late, the council had turned into nothing less than a competition of who could talk the loudest. Empty words and false promises were passed out like playing cards in a pub. Their resolutions were always unrealistic and there was a running joke that the only reason why people kept coming back was to gorge themselves on the food.
The throne room was large enough to shelter an army of 2,000, yet for some reason it felt congested. Over 150 disgruntled knights, barons, and chancellors had broken from their assigned tables and were now separated in conspiring huddles as if anarchy was in the works.
The day started with everyone dressed in their second-best suits, but by noon, they all looked like sweaty peasants from having stripped off their outer garments. Collars and capes of all colors were discarded like dismantled decorations. Spilt wine lined cracks of the floor. Daggers were driven through tables. It was as if a tornado had ripped through the room and the look on King Mark’s face was priceless.
Mark, the King of Tintagel, just sat there on his gold throne with his head held up by his fists. The black banners hanging above his dais displayed the sigil of fifteen gold coins in an upside-down triangle.
Four knights in full metal armor stood behind the king with their hands resting on the pommel of massive swords. Sixteen servants waited in the wings, ready to tend to the king’s every need. Unfortunately, what the king really needed was some sense of civility, not these animals looking to exert their dominance.
In spite of his position and the veneration bestowed upon him, King Mark’s appearance was far from impressive. He was nearing fifty, shorter than most with a potbelly, bristly hair, and a thick black beard that concealed whether he was smiling or not. Perhaps King Mark’s most endearing feature was his sympathetic gray eyes. He was relatively soft-spoken and hardly yelled, even on the battlefield.
To his left was an empty chair reserved for his wife. However, the queen passed away decades ago and King Mark had yet to remarry. The chair to his right was occupied by the Lord Chamberlain, Sir Cador, a no-nonsense taskmaster. Cador was also Duchess Igraine’s cousin by blood and a strict but doting father to the sixteen-year-old Constantine.
The bickering was unbecoming but everyone knew the topic of discussion would produce such reactions. The main grievance on the tip of everyone’s tongue was the ceaseless terror by the Hibernians.
Unlike Britannia, which was fractious and split with a myriad of formidable warlords, Hibernia was a singular powerhouse of unified clans just beyond the Celtic Sea. It was home to some of the deadliest warriors the world has ever seen. She was a seafaring nation, ruled by a matriarch whose fame and reputation was almost revered and worshiped as the pharaohs of old.
Her name was Iseult, Queen of Hibernia. She benefited from the division and strife amongst the British, fighting for the kingdoms that paid the most. In her web of lies, Iseult orchestrated a number of political murders and framed rival generals, effectively pitting them against each other like pawns on a chessboard. The blood money was steady revenue that made Queen Iseult one of the wealthiest women in the world. She’d promise loyalty and discretion but at heart, the Hibernians were loyal only to Hibernia.
During Iseult’s near thirty-year reign, Cornwall has remained Hibernia’s main rival. Back in the day, King Mark had some powerful allies on his side. Big names like High King Uther, Duke Gorlois, King Leodegrance and even the sorcerer Merlin. But due to a series of unfortunate events, Duke Gorlois was murdered, Uther died, Merlin parted ways, and Leodegrance had to defend own kingdom against legions from an usurping King Vortigern.
Hoping to capitalize on the chaos, Queen Iseult launched a massive siege upon Tintagel Castle. King Mark prevailed in his defense but it cost him dearly. Two thirds of his army was devastated and thousands of villagers loss their homes in the crossfire.
That was nearly sixteen years ago. Queen Iseult’s hatred never faded. Systematically, she’d send hunters across the sea to kidnap sons and daughters from indiscriminate villages. They were brought back to Hibernia and forced to slave labor.
Bereaved parents fell to their hands and knees begging the courts to do something, anything to bring back their children. It was a reoccurring nightmare. To date, all sixteen rescue attempts were crushed at sea. The one vessel that managed to reach Hibernia’s shores fell prey to a massacre that was so barbaric it was omitted from the scrolls.
Thus, the Council of Gold Clovers debated. They argued. They pointed fingers and accused one another of cowardice.
“Are your knights not brave enough?”
“Where’s your courage?”
“Where were you when my daughter was swept off in the night!?”
“I dare you to say that again!”
“You sir, have no class!”
“To hell with you and your antiquated, highborn sensibilities!”
“Let’s see your tongue wag after I’ve split it with my ax!”
“I have five arrows thirsting for your blood!”
“Don’t tempt me!”
“LET’S HAVE IT!”
It was all the same with no end in sight. Duke Guinea slammed his fist on the table every time he felt someone was “missing the point.” The loud bang caused Sir Cador’s shoulders to jerk forward like a pit bull on a leash. King Mark would notice and smirk. The mild amusement was about the only perk King Mark derived from the meetings.
An unexpected knock began to crawl over the overlapping conversations. Initially, no one heard it but its persistence began to annoy the competing speakers. The double doors croaked open.
To the king, Morgan was a sight for sore eyes. As soon as he spotted her in that cotton pink dress he was immediately filled with joy. The cluster of old men glowered down at her as she weaved her way to the throne. She wanted to present herself as a young lady should, humble and modest. But no matter what, she couldn’t stop herself grimacing at the nauseating stench of wine and sweat.
Morgan le Fay has a vision. In the middle of a storm, she sees Gawain shackled and bound aboard a slave ship. At last, he’s coming back to Britannia. It’s been four years since she lost him and now she wants him back. But what can a teenage brat known for her mischief do? Who will believe her after all the craps she’s pulled in the past?
PVRIS – Chandelier (Sia Cover)
Chapter 1 – The Vision By Rock Kitaro
“It feels like I’m sinking. There’s a swarm of bees in my stomach. The trickle in my ear is nauseating and for some reason these stupid flashes of light blur the lines every time I come close to making something out. Honestly… It’s all beginning to get very aggravating.”
A tempest unleashed hell over the vast turbulent seas. It should have been pitch black, but blinding cracks of lightning stretched as veins for miles. Gale force winds howled like demented ghosts over the abyss. Stone-black waves with white crests moved like snowcapped mountains swaying in restless aim. Torrential rains made visibility poor and the dark clouds appeared to be getting closer and closer as if to smother the earth in her sleep.
It was madness to be caught in such hazard, and yet, there! Cruising down the valley of two massive waves was a single frigate carrying the fate of over seventy souls.
A brave crew of twelve wrestled with the riggings. A bearded captain and his second-mate manned the rudder from the wheel deck. They were approaching the Isle of Man, a massive iceberg of an island responsible for more shipwrecks than serpents or sorcery. Navigating through the veils of heavy rain in the middle of the night should have been next to impossible. Yet, there they were.
Prayers whispered below deck as teeth rattled and toes curled. Deafening blasts of thunder kept everyone wide awake. No one wanted to be asleep should the ship capsize or ram against any number of protruding rocks that breached the surface like siege defenses. Falling overboard or being swept out to sea spelled instant death. It didn’t matter if they held hands or clung to floating chunks of wood. In this deluge, drowning was inevitable.
There was royalty on board, a princess accompanied by three of her maidens. Oddly enough, while the maidens trembled with trepidation, the princess remained poised with a hardened sense of determination. She wasn’t about to let herself drown. Even if the ship did sink, there wasn’t a single doubt in her mind that she’d find some way to survive. It’d make for a good story and maybe even convince her people that she was more than just some dainty little girl.
Out in the main hold, disgruntled soldiers with broad shoulders and thick beards sat with their backs against the wall. They spat and grumbled all sorts of blasphemies, begging for the worst to be over. Cold water leaked through the cracks, extinguishing all hopes of lighting fires. It was so dark that they could barely see the hands before their eyes. Tormented horses neighed as they struggled to break free. Someone needed to calm them down but no one was willing to risk getting crushed.
And there, past the horses, past the sacks of grain, and gold, and shields, and armor…was a single slave, shackled and chained upside down to the ceiling as if he posed a formidable threat to his masters. Every time the ship jerked, his shoulders would bang against the wooden hull, causing him to wince with intense pain but he never screamed. Nor did he cry out for mercy or ask for help. He was so young, but strong and full of pride that he kept buried deep down inside.
This young slave was dressed like a soldier but marked by a patch of mustard brushed across the chest of his tunic. After slamming against the hull once more, the slave finally opened his eyes. His long hair was brown and curly like that of a Saxon. His skin was olive as if he hailed from the Italian peninsula but those eyes… In his eyes she saw a myriad of herbal hues, mostly jade with a burst of auburn.
Water dripped to his face but the young man didn’t blink. He peered through the cracks, slowly hypnotized by rolling clouds that made it seem as if the ship was already submerged. Lightning struck. He saw it and immediately felt the boom of thunder rattling his core, detonating a migraine he tried so desperately to shake.
It was then that hopelessness crept in. Whatever dignity or confidence once engrained in this young man had deteriorated to the point that he could only think of one thing, one person, a single source of bliss that carried him far away from the pain and sadness. As his jaw slacked and the cool air tickled his parched throat, the young man whispered.
Everyone’s heard of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. But what if I told you that before they were the shining examples of chivalry and virtue…they were a bunch of hot-blooded youths ready to sword-up and throw down with the best of them. And in a dark world where nearly every kingdom is plagued with death and destruction, Britannia is fertile to give birth to legends.
17-year-old Morgan le Fay is strong-willed enchantress who knows she’s destined for greatness but feels shackled by the expectations of being borne a lady of the court.
Her only friend in the world is the self-sacrificing, Gawain, an adopted prince who everyone seems to think will be the next Spartacus. However, four years earlier Gawain was abducted and enslaved by Hibernians, the sworn enemy of Cornwall.
Spurred by a prophetic vision, Morgan defies the king and treks into enemy territory to get him back no matter the cost and she’s not alone. She tricks Gawain’s little brothers the violent Agravain and pretty boy Gaheris into coming along. And Tristan, the Champion of Cornwall, is about ready to wring her neck when he finds out she escapes the palace.
After clashing with the likes of Vikings and conniving kings, the upstarts finally rescue their prize but the battle was far from over. Morgan’s world comes crashing down when it appears that Gawain has fallen for one of his captors, the beautiful Princess Isolde.
Consumed by rage and betrayed by her own magic, Morgan unleashes a treacherous scheme that sends Cornwall headlong into the throes of war. And in spite of all her deceit, designs, and destruction, Gawain still loves her. His duty as an older brother and heir to the throne demands he hold her accountable. In the end, Gawain and Morgan come to the same conclusion. If they can’t live with each other, one of them has to die.
“The Literary Tempest and Combative Seas” A Stage in the Sky Update by Rock Kitaro Date January 23, 2017
DNA ft. Suzanne Vega – “Tom’s Diner – Long Version”
If this is your first time here allow me to introduce myself. My name is Rock Kitaro. I’m an author specializing in the themes of revenge, rivalry, and rebellion. However, I’m thinking about adding romance to that list because “love” is almost always the main source of motivation for my characters. They just don’t know it. Neither do I.
I haven’t reached my goal of signing with a traditional publishing house yet, but I will. And when I make the best-sellers list you can look back on this piece as a proof of perseverance. I hope it encourages others who are coming up to plan on running the marathon, don’t quit after the sprint.
Allow me to begin by saying that the reason why I’ve exercised restraint in posting so much this past year was because I thought it would be prudent to say as little as possible. Ever since I was 23, I’ve committed myself to succeeding as an author in the publishing industry.
I’ve sacrificed weekends, holidays, vacations, money, and heart-felt relationships to get this far and I don’t want to ruin it by shooting myself in the foot. I thought that being an artist meant freedom and liberty through self-expression, but that’s a problem if your opinions aren’t welcomed by those whom you need to progress in this industry.
It’d be one thing if I was a non-fiction writer in which my platform was built upon provocative opinions as if that’s exactly what you were going to pay for with my books. However, I am a fiction novelist. I have to present myself to agents and publishers as someone worthy of investment. Allow me to explain.
“Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan” – popularized by John F. Kennedy
They say that silence is a sign of consent. I don’t think so. I believe that a wise man knows when to exercise patience, bide his time, and strike when the time is right. At present, the scene is chaotic. The waters are rough. Those who sail these seas are bound to get lost, stranded, or shipwrecked. Some have made it though. Some because they had head start. Others, because they don’t mind riding the waves created by the first adventures. And there are those who have emerged because they’re that damn good, far better than myself. Like, Roshani Chokshi. Her writing is ridiculously beautiful. And that’s alright. That’s okay.
With so many every day bravely joining the fray, I can’t help but wonder if my patience is really a sign of cowardice. As I get older I see my peers entering the next stages of their life while I continue on this road I’ve been traveling for seven long arduous years. Then, I think of the scene from HBO’s “Rome” where a young Octavian says, “The graveyard is full of middling swordsman. Best not to a swordsman at all than a middling swordsman.”
When I started self-publishing in 2011, I had no idea what I was up against. I didn’t think of trends or what was in-demand for the market. I simply wrote what I wanted in my own voice with the hopes that others would like it too. I had no idea about the highly selective nature of agents or publishers. I assumed that if you created a great, original story and show them something new, you’re in.
I won’t go so far as to say I was naïve, but I will say there’s more to it than that. It appears that after the success of books-turned-movies franchises like “The Hunger Games,” “Twilight,” and the “Maze Runner” everyone and their mothers have flocked to the publishing industry with the next best idea.
In 2012, when I self-published“The Three Kings of Ybor,”my e-books were just seven of 300,000 published that year on Amazon Kindle. I predict the number has only increased over the years as Hollywood continues to blast trailers that start with that deep husky voice saying, “Based on the best-selling novel.”
This isn’t a complaint. To realize what you’re up against and state it clearly shouldn’t be considered complaining. It makes things difficult but not impossible. In fact, it only makes the reward of success that much sweeter. If Lord Byron’s climb to success was but a hill on the beach, then mines will be to the top of Mount Everest. And beneath my feet will be the millions of books published by those shipwrecked, stranded, and lost.
But still…just as one wouldn’t climb Everest in the middle of winter, it’s best not to join the arena when destruction and obscurity is certain and swift. Until then its best that I build my ships, fortify its defenses and stock up for a voyage in which I might not reach land for many years. And build, I have.
By the end of 2015, I finished my flagship masterpiece called, “The Pierce Syndicate.” I promoted it to Literary Agents for a just a little over a month. This isn’t nearly enough time for me to call it a viable campaign, but something happened to me.
I confess, I became doubtful. Not because my story wasn’t ridiculously awesome but because “The Pierce Syndicate” is a huge project, well over 46 chapters and separated in two volumes. I put myself in the shoes of an editor at a traditional publishing house and asked “why would I take a chance on such a big project from a new author?”
The answer is, I wouldn’t. Not without recommendation. Especially these days where the entertainment industry leans heavily towards pop culture, an area I don’t like to be associated with.
Thankfully, God took pity on me. In the depths of my doubt, I honestly feel that the greatest creator noticed me standing alone under that single lamppost in the night’s freezing rain. He saw me look up to the sky and ask him, “What should I do?”
I think he smiled. Because in the span of a three-day weekend I dreamt of a new story in its complete entirety. I couldn’t believe it. The entire story, beginning, middle, and end just hit me like an epiphany. If that’s not a blessing, I don’t know what is.
In February of 2016 I set about writing “The Slave Quarters,” a crime mystery featuring my characterCloud Beaudry and his bundle of sunshine, the conniving ghost Maggie. I’m afraid of writing the plot here because it’s never been done and I don’t it to be stolen. But the coolest thing about this story isn’t even the plot. It’s the first-person narrative in which you’re put in the shoes of a very manipulative (for a good cause), misanthropic detective who’s chalk full of hidden agendas and ulterior motives. I think that’s what makes him so human though. Because I believe almost everyone has ulterior motives. The only difference between Cloud Beaudry and most people is that he’s aware of it. It’s very entertaining, just wait and see.
The “Slave Quarters” took me only three months to write from beginning to end and it was the coolest thing about 2016 by far. I enjoyed it so much. I’ve never been on a cruise. I’ve never been to Disney World. But if I had to pick between a cruise, Disney World, or spending three months writing that book, I’d gladly choose writing the book. Because I am able to travel through time and space. I smell, hear, and see things that don’t exist, that haven’t happened. My ability is that good. Articulating it is always what I have room to improve on.
By July 2016, I started querying it to Literary Agents. This was a campaign that lasted from July till the end of October. And while I know this is a process that every author has to go through, it wasn’t enough for me. The period of July through October is four months. To spend four months of my life just mailing query letters and receiving rejection after rejection (which is to be expected) would drive me insane. I needed to keep creating, keep writing, keep building more ships! I needed more cowbell!
Thus…by the end of July and after reading the “wish-list” of over 100 literary agents who clearly want strong female protagonists or stories centered around women as the main character, I revisited a dream project that I conceived back in 2009. Lol, again, this is an original story that hasn’t been done and the last thing I want is for someone to read this and steal my characters, thus ruining a genre that I’m hoping to resurrect.
I will say that the title is called “The Knights With No Lords”. The main character is a strong female protagonist, but if you know me, then you know I’m a practitioner of the Byronic model. My characters struggle with a sense of what’s right and wrong, mainly because their dark selfish desires are obstructed by the knowledge of what’s good and decent.
I confess, “The Knights With No Lords,” is probably the toughest project I’ve ever worked on because the female lead is seventeen. I already told you about my imagination. Sometimes I have to go places I don’t want to go in order to write emotional dialogue that feels true. When it comes to the romance, I drew on my own personal experiences. While frustrating, it’s also funny as hell. There’s always some virtue or personal conflict preventing me from being with the woman I want. Again, not pleasant, but still entertaining nonetheless. It’s led to thoughts like this:
“If good girls fall for the bad guys, then who do the bad girls fall for?”
I’ve presented that question to a friend of mine and he said, “nope. The bad girls still fall for the bad guys.”
Haha, I don’t know. Either way, “The Knights With No Lords” explores the idea. I’ve finished it just before Christmas and I’m now in the process of editing it. I’ve even enlisted one of my closest friends to help on that endeavor. By April, I plan to have it copyrighted to start sending it to query agents.
We’ll see if my female protagonist is good enough to win the hearts of those agents. And I do feel a little sad in saying that. Part of me acknowledges that I wrote this book for agents more so than the reader. But maybe that’s what I needed to do all along. Either way, I won’t stop building my ships. My android and thumbdrive is full of premises and projects just screaming to be developed. It’s all a matter of patience, diligence, and perseverance.
That’s the main thing I wanted to share with you. I haven’t been posting on this website in a long while because, as you can see, I’ve been a busy man. And I know there are producers and agents who would say, “But still. You gotta keep giving people something. You have to keep your online presence known.”
And to that point I won’t say I that disagree…but more so I just have a greater deal of self-respect for my work. I’ve come a long way from launching vessels that wind up lost at sea. Twitter and Facebook may have been a viable marketing platform in the past, but now it’s
oversaturated with peddlers of their products.
If you tout your own work it doesn’t have the same strength as someone else saying on their feed, “You gotta check out this author!”
In my seven-year journey I’ve been through the trials and errors. I’ve marketed myself through social media for at least two years and you need money to advertise and draw customers to your books. You really do have to spend money to make money and I’ve racked up a debt. I’ve done crowd-funding campaigns. I’ve reached out to my family and friends. I’ve contributed to other blogs, supported other authors, and made myself a part of writer communities.
Again, these aren’t complaints. Football players practice in the sweltering heat to prepare for Sunday. Olympians train and sacrifice so much just for one summer to reach gold. Singers and actors exercise discipline and practice for their roles. If you make up your mind to do something and fully commit yourself to it, you’re going to have to work hard and it won’t happen overnight unless of course you know someone or wore born into money.
There have been so many times I’ve thought about quitting. The pressures of life, commercialism, societal expectations, familial responsibilities, devotion to God, intimate relationships, and the tense corporate ladder that I’m expected to climb. It’s like they’re all a bunch of Apaches firing arrows at me as I ride my steed with no cover in sight.
If you were to ask why am I trying so hard…because there are a multitude of authors who have succeeded and maintained healthy relationships with spouses, children, and cool circle of friends. They’ve attained that proverbial balance that people keep telling me about. So why can’t I?
The easy answer is that I’m just different. I wrote another article about that so I won’t get into it. I will tell you there’s a quote from Pres. Theo Roosevelt that resonates deeply with me. He wrote: “Dark care rarely sits behind the rider whose pace is fast enough.”
Pres. Roosevelt wrote this after his first wife and his mother died in the same night. To cope with the pain, he ventured into the Wild West and kept himself busy with the rigors of frontier life.
I dare not compare my pain to Roosevelt, but there is pain in my heart. That’s why I can’t even go on vacation for more than three days before the angst surfaces. I wonder if this is the case with other workaholics. For me, keeping my mind focused on a story or project keeps my mind from wondering about old flames. It’s morphine to regret, loneliness, and despair.
I recently told one of my exes, someone who’s still one of my best friends, that I see her face everyday. I know that sounds creepy by today’s standards, but she understood and was touched. And I wasn’t lying. When I think about my exes, or enemies, or failures and embarrassment, the emotions rush over as if it’s happening all over again.
Oddly enough, this doesn’t work so well with the positives for some strange reason. For the positives, I have to seek in the real world what I’ve done and remind myself of how far I’ve come, or those who do support and love me. I’m not sure why I’m like this. But it doesn’t matter.
At this point, I’d like to point out that I’m not a miserable person. In spite of all the pitiful sad stuff I just told you, I really do like the man I’ve become. I’m tall, strong, caring, and generous. The few friends who have stuck with me over the years, I treat like jewelry because they are rare and extremely valuable. I laugh at just about everything and I have a strong relationship with Jehovah our heavenly father. I started reading the bible from start to finish about a year and a half ago and I’ve just started 1st Timothy.
Also! I’ve taken up boxing. It’s tough but I enjoy it. If you scroll down, you’ll read one of my essays about how I used to weigh 378lbs. Now I’m down to 215. I can run, jump, and fight like a son of a gun. So don’t pity me. I have my scars just like everyone else but I wear them like a champion! Not to mention, God’s blessed me with the ability to turn my negatives into a positives. Even when I step into the boxing gym, depleted and fatigued from the work-out the night before, all I need to is think about certain group of people and I’m Mike Tyson in his prime if only for an hour.
It’s like my life is a steamroller. To keep going I have to chuck coal into the furnace. With all the times I’ve stumbled and fallen down, my fuel supply if infinite. I have no doubt that I really am going to live life till the wheels fall off. But still…I plan to live life my way, seeking first the kingdom of God. We can’t all be party animals and thrill-seekers. Not all men are in it for the thrill of the chase. Some of us like to stay put and build.
There’s one other subject I’d like to discuss. It’s about Facebook and I’m sure I’m not alone in saying what I’m about to say.
Facebook has become a platform of pictures and political correctness. In 2016, I’ve posted hundreds of thought-provoking questions and theories that get little to no interaction. But let someone post a picture of their vacation, their material things, their visage (as if we forgot what they looked like yesterday) then people flocked to that with likes and comments.
People say, “You shouldn’t expect praise or likes or…”
All of that’s bullshit. Why post anything if not with the hopes that someone in this expanded universe would see it? There’s nothing wrong with admitting you hope people will like what you put out, and what’s worse than people not liking it, is people completely ignoring it. And as an artist, I refuse to rehash old gems once I’m published as if I just thought of something new, when in reality, I’ve had it for years. For that matter, I’ve decided on my 30th birthday to stop posting on Facebook. I’ve decided to stop scrolling down Facebook to see what my friends and family are up to. And dude, I’m telling you…it’s done wonders for my health.
If you try it, you’ll find yourself washed with that nostalgic freedom, to a magical time where you only found out what people were up to when they friggin told you. Ignorance is a bliss! A magical bliss where you can walk to work and smile at other humans without worrying how they feel about some stupid current event/fad/trend/movement.
It really was one of the best decisions of my life and I’m lovin every minute of it. So while everyone is riled up on a daily basis about what’s going on in Washington DC, New York, or Los Angeles, I sand down the rails of my ships and check the hulls for leaks. I smile knowing that I’m drawing closer to God and wait patiently till the day that I cast off.
“But Rock. What if that day never comes? What if the seas stay rough and only continue to get worse? Don’t you think you’re wasting time? You’re going to waste your life waiting forever. There will never be a perfect time. You need to just go for it!”
I smirk, wipe the sweat from my forehead, and peer outward to those dark stormy clouds.
“You might be right. Knowing me, at some point, I am going to say fuck it and just go for it. Maybe I am wasting time building all these ships that might never see the open seas. My ambition isn’t so dulled that I’m contempt with having these magnificent pieces linger away despite the immense pleasure I’ve derived in constructing them. I guess that’s what you should look out for.”
“In the thick of the chaos as ships become tangled with ships, and cannons blare, and the torrential downpour becomes so heavy that you can barely see the light of day, look out that you’re not caught in the way of my formidable fleet. At least you’ll be able to hear me coming. I have a tendency to laugh out loud when I’m scared out of my mind.”