Writing Prompt: Sound the Alarm

Complete this thought: “I wish an alarm would notify me whenever…”

…I start to doubt. We’ve all been there. Suddenly finding ourselves in a season of hindrance, questioning our every move. And it’s all because of five letter word that even has us questioning how to spell it: doubt.

Doubt will sneak up on you like a slithering snake. You’re walking tall, sure of your steps and where you’re going in life and then something happens. Someone makes a comment. You don’t get that job interview. You lose a contest. Or maybe the bills go up. You think you brush it off, but that’s just the snake’s first coil around your legs. Next thing you know, something else happens. Someone doesn’t text back or answers your call. Your submission fell through. Something at work goes askew. Maybe you realize you haven’t been talking to some people as much as you use to? And doubt wraps another coil by saying they’re avoiding you. Instead of correcting the doubt, you step away and avoid the people you think don’t like you.

That’s how doubt gets you. It trips you up by making you isolate yourself. And when you’re alone, it pulls you down by filling your thoughts with what it wants you to hear: “you’re not good enough. No one likes you. You shouldn’t try. You’ll just fail.” And when you give in, it tightens it’s coils. You’ll have no room for motivation. No room for passion or to keep trying for dreams. Doubt will hold your heart captive and won’t even let you scream.

I wish an alarm would go off when doubt gets too close. I’d face the snake and cut off it’s head before a single word could hiss from it’s lips. Being wrapped in doubt is no way to live. It’s lonely. It’s dark. It leaves you timid as if every step you take is on ice about to crack. So, what do you do when you’re wrought with doubt? When it’s coils even cover your mouth? You could wait for someone to pull you out, but in today’s world, not many would notice. So, when doubt holds your tongue: bite down and bite down hard.

Sometimes, you’ve got to fight battles by yourself and be your own knight in shining armor. If you recognize your wrapped by doubt, fear, or any other form of Darkness, then steel your buns and fight your way out or fight your way to an ally. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds easy, but it’s not. When doubt realizes your fighting for freedom, it’ll try harder to hold you in place. When you try to admit your struggles to a friend, doubt will try to silence your tongue by telling you: “you’re bothering them. They don’t have time for you. They can’t help you. You’re just being dramatic.” Or it will release that automatic “I’m fine” when someone asks how you are. If you try to pursue your dream, it’ll remind you of your most recent failure to make you put it off and put it off indefinitely. But, you can choose to fight back! Admit your struggles to your friend. Take back the automatic reply and when failures come to mind, remind yourself what happens when you have victory.

In my experience, there are many ways doubt will try to hold you down, but it’s favorite scheme is by using lies. It’ll tell you you’re not important when you’re truly one of a kind. It’ll tell you no one likes you when you couldn’t be more loved. It’ll tell you you’re not good enough when your passion makes you worthy. It’ll tell you you’ll never succeed when there’s a plan for every life.

In my opinion, the best way to fight doubt is with truth. Remember what’s true and doubt will have a hard time arguing with you. Pull from your experiences if you have to. When I struggle with doubt, I remember a quiet time in the library. I was shelving books and was almost swallowed whole by doubt and Darkness. A prayer was my only defense and when I looked up, I saw hope. That hope was a promise I hold onto that the best days are yet to come.

Truth is quiet while lies are loud. So, you really have to listen to know and remember what’s true. Once you have that truth that you’re capable, you’re important, and you’re loved, speak it into existence. Have you ever tried to talk and think at the same time? It’s rather difficult and your words will usually get mixed up. So, imagine how hard it would be to listen to the thoughts of doubt when you’re speaking words of truth? Scream them if you have to just to shut that snake up. Doubt won’t be able to do a thing.

Yet, there’s still no physical alarm for when doubt comes to town. You have to be vigilant for yourself and others. Recognize when doubt slithers in and cut off it’s head as soon as it parts it’s lips. If you’re caught in doubt now, I encourage you to fight for freedom. It’ll be hard and the battle may be long, but victory is worth it. You’re worth it.

An Empty Chair

Such festivity fills the air!
When family comes from far and near.
To celebrate the Good News and hopeful New Year!
There’ll be chatter and catch ups and so much to hear.
A garage full of laughter and cheer.
Food’ll stretch the tables and let’s not forget the beer!
We’ll all be together, a large family, that’s clear.
And so far, by one, we grow each year.
Such bustling and busyness, let me be sincere
It gets hard to notice what’s not here.
There’s the tree, decorations, and bundles of winter gear.
Talk of sports, and dreams, and cousins furthering their careers.
Everything’s in place, there’s nothing to fear.
Except a brief mention that draws forth a tear.
Many families know and no one will sneer
at the grief that comes this time of year.
For some, it’s okay, we’ll all persevere
But for others that grief just only interferes.
With joy, and hope, and the festive frontier.
It’s hard to celebrate after someone disappears.
So, here’s to the hearts hollowed out like a sphere.
Here’s to the families laden with drear.
They set up a place, not tucked in the rear,
but somewhere everyone would have to adhere.
Pay respects and remember our loved ones with care
Those who should be sitting in that empty chair.

As a Fellow Knight pt. 7

The castle was lit up with the late festival feast. Drunkards danced the streets and their off-tune jolly songs filled the air. Dionna found herself a burly, hairy man to dance with while Aledon was taking advantage of the festival’s lax nature to show off some magic. I just kept watch. I watched the crowds ring joy through the streets. I watched the knights ride their steeds to the castle to share the King’s feast with other nobles. I saw women swooning and young men thinking they could do anything. There’s a poor sap bent over a barrel, throwing up his insides and a couple women slapping over-extenders across the face.

But the one thing I didn’t see was Sir Gavin.

Sir Gavin’s squire had everything of theirs packed up like they were leaving the city tonight; but they were still sitting on the edge of the festival, swaying along with the tunes while waiting. I figured the resurrected knight would back on his feet and enjoying the boisterousness of the festival, but where was he?

I couldn’t ignore it. His absence gnawed at me like a rat to a bone. Maybe enough time has passed and I should go check on him? But then, maybe not enough time passed and I would just be intruding? I huffed. I wish the Fairy Queen had told how much time to give.

I still remember how Sir Gavin looked when the Fairy Queen brought him back to life. He was so dazed and down right terrified. Now that I think of it. His words to Sir Duncan earlier didn’t have their usual fire to them.

A sigh slipped from my lips. Dionna and Aledon were occupied and we already discussed things. They agreed, but I had to strike deals with both of them that I’ll worry about later. If they noticed I was missing, they’d know where I slipped off to. I headed toward the lists. Likely, the Horse Master had everything taken care of by now and I was right. The list field was only lit by moonlight with the festival moving to the more vibrant areas of the city. No one stopped me from walking out on to the field and it gave me thrills just standing there. I wonder what it would be like to be in a tournament someday?

My thoughts were cut off when I spotted candlelight flickering in the armory. I quietly approached. I didn’t want to risk running into any couples having a bit of fun while the security was low. I made it to the edge of the doorway and I had yet to hear a thing, so I allowed myself a peek inside.

Sir Gavin was sitting on a bench in the midst of the weapons and armor. His gaze was directed downward. His sword was still in hand and his armor was still donned, but he the look in his eyes…it was as if ghosts consumed him. After all the arrogance, pride, and rage he displayed in the joust earlier, it was near unnerving to see him so defeated now. I stepped inside the doorway. “Contemplating your death, Sir Gavin?”

He actually started and his sword stiffened in hand. Yet, when he saw me, he let his tension out with a huff. “What do you want? Come to tell me you regret giving me your favor?”

“You’re lucky the Fairy Queen and her maidens had enough pity on you to bring you back.” I stepped further into the room, ignoring the rudeness of his tone. “Most people in the city would disagree with their choice.”

“I think you mean all the people in the city would disagree,” he scoffed. “You’re not supposed to be back here.”

“And you’re not supposed to keep your squire waiting this long.”

He gave me a look of annoyance, but didn’t say anything. As I feared, all his bravado had gone away. When he continued the silence, I asked: “What was it like?”

“What was what like?”

“Death.”

He wouldn’t look at me. I swear I saw his hand tremble.

“I, myself, felt no pulse from you.” I walked to the edge of the bench. “But the fairy’s magic brought you back a few minutes later. You’re the only one alive who’s seen the other side and returned.”

“Well, there ain’t much to see!” He suddenly stood up and stepped away. Still, he wouldn’t look at me. “There’s no glory! No light! No heaven! Just fire and pain! All your beloved knights are following their wretched code and it won’t be worth it in the end! Mark my words!”

“Perhaps because their following it then it will be worth it?” I stared at him in surprise. No heaven? Just fire and pain? Had he seen…? After the way he acted today, it shouldn’t surprise me, but it did. No one truly deserved that…did they? “After what you saw, you should be giving the Code of Chivalry a chance!”

The way he squinted at me made me feel like I was suddenly the village simpleton. “What was your name again?”

I kept my head up. “My name is Naviro.”

“Naviro.” I wasn’t sure I liked the way he repeated my name. Sir Gavin suddenly stepped back and a rude laugh escaped his lips. “Oh, yes. I know who you are.”

I furrowed my brow. “Excuse me?”

“What?” He scoffed. “Did you think you could save a bunch of people from the monsters in the woods and no one would know your name? You name is more respected than my noble house!”

I shook my head. “I think you’re confused, sir.”

“And I think you’ve been hiding in the woods too long.” Sir Gavin tossed his sword against the bench so it would lean against it, but it just clattered to the floor. “I did the work! I’ve slain monsters! I won my lord’s battles! I’ve bested every man in my kingdom! Yet, when I come here, my name is spat in the dirt! How knightly of this kingdom to send me straight to infernal torture and instead praise the woman in the woods!”

“Just because you follow parts of the code doesn’t make you a knight.” I couldn’t believe his words. “You can’t pick and choose just the slaying and defeating, you have to follow all of it! That’s how knights earn their respect! That’s how the people know they can trust them! You stand for the good of all when you swear to the code, not what’s good for yourself!”

There was that look again, like he thought I was out of my mind. “How would you know all that?”

“I’ve studied the Code of Chivalry since I was a child.”

The brightness of mockery lit up his face. “Well, what do you know? The woman in the woods is a knight wanna-be. Well, face it, my lady, you can’t be a knight. You’ve got too much on your chest for that!”

I ignored his rude look to my torso. “I at least have more honor than you do.”

He scowled. “Well, good for you! Bet you’re thrilled I failed, eh? Some men just can’t make it as knights and fate’s already decided that I’m bound for brimstone and sulfur!”

“And yet, you’re not there.”

My bluntness caught him by surprise. “What does that matter? I’ll be there eventually.”

“The fairy’s magic gave you a second chance, Sir Gavin. Dying on that field gave you a look into the end result of the life you were living. Now is your chance to change that. If you follow every part of the code wholeheartedly, I know your end result will change.”

He shook his head and by the stretch of his lips, he doubted my words. “Not everyone will think like you. Sir Duncan. Your King. Even the peasants. They’ll never see a redemption for me.”

“Then let them be blind.” I shrugged and stepped closer, holding out hope that maybe he’d listen. “Let them be blind for as long as it takes. Just do the good works and let your actions speak for themselves. In time, those who matter will see your redemption.”

He quieted in contemplation of my words. My heart was pounding and I found myself praying he would consider a path of redemption. He was skilled and he could do tremendous amounts of good with those skills. Eventually, he sighed. “And how would suppose I’d start?”

“Join my companions and I.” I couldn’t believe how quickly those words that came out of my mouth. I had discussed it with Dionna and Aledon. They agreed to let this brash, arrogant, and battle-seasoned knight come with us. He could really help us clear the monsters out of the woods—and I’d certainly feel better against a dragon with him in the group. “Help us help people in the woods. I think you getting away from the cities for a while would be beneficial for you. There certainly won’t be anyone for you to impress out there.”

He chuckled and the tease he had in his eyes on the lists sparked. “Save yourself, of course.” I tried not to flush. When I didn’t respond, Sir Gavin took a deep breath. “So, you want me, a knight of nobility, to go prancing around the woods with you and your motley crew? How do I know this isn’t some ploy to kidnap or rob me?”

I frowned. “You mock me, sir.”

He raised his hands. “A mistimed jest, I assure you.” He took a deep breath and seconds passed as he contemplated my offer. I knew he didn’t have any other options. He couldn’t go home after losing to Sir Duncan. I found myself hoping he would agree. Perhaps death scared him so much that he would be willing?

“I could teach you the Code of Chivalry,” I offered when his silence continued. “By following it, other knights would recognize you as one of them. Just imagine the look of Sir Duncan’s face when he realizes a man like you is capable of redemption?”

“Teach me?” I was hoping he’d focus on my comment about Sir Duncan, but Sir Gavin huffed again. I wasn’t sure what to make of his expression. He seemed annoyed and amused, insulted and desperate. He walked up to me and my heart picked up at the close distance between us. The ginger curls of his chest hair were poking out of his doublet. “A knight can only train a knight and here you think you could teach me as a fellow knight?”

“I never said I was a–“

“Shut up.” Sir Gavin’s tone confused me. His words were soft and I sensed yielding in them. “You are more a knight than I, Lady Naviro. I would be honored to join you and your companions if you would have me.”

I breathed in relief. “We would be happy to have you.”

“You must allow me to return the favor someday!” Sir Gavin stepped away and retrieved his sword from the floor. He sheathed it. “If–by some miracle–you turn me into a proper knight and save me from eternal fire. Then I should see you titled equal.”

I couldn’t keep the shock from my face. Did he mean…Certainly he couldn’t…Would he really do that for me? He. Sir Gavin, the brash and the brutish. Would he help me earn a knighthood for myself? I quickly shook my head. That was preposterous thinking. If he earned a place among fellow knights and then supported naming me as one, he would throw all his hard work at redemption away. “There is no need for an attempt at flattery, Sir Gavin. I’ve already told you; you could come along.”

He gave me a partial bow. “But I do not wish to make you regret your faith in me.”

I raised my eyebrow. “We’ll certainly see about that. We’ll be leaving for the woods at sunrise. Meet us by the main gate.”

“I will be there. Thank you, my lady.”

I only gave a nod in reply as I turned back for the door. Sir Gavin was looking over his sword when I stole a glance over my shoulder at him. He had a lightened look in his eye compared to the dark and hollow one he had when I arrived. Perhaps I gave him a little bit of hope? The thought made me smile. I slipped back into the night and realized my heart was still pounding. Yet, something kept me from going too far. I bit my lip and decided to go back.

“Sir Gavin!” I slipped back into the doorway. He was in the process of removing his armor. When I called his name, he stopped and I got his full attention. “I thought you should know,” I said slowly, finally meeting his eyes. “I don’t regret giving you my favor today.”

He genuinely smiled.

~The End~

The Gift of Books

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone! Tis the season of hope, joy, peace, and gift giving! Some people know exactly what they want to give to everyone on their lists, but others…well, we’re last minute shoppers. So, to help all of you scrambling to come up with ideas. May I suggest you buy them a book?

“Ugh, a book? Who reads books anymore?” Well, a lot of people, and if you ask me: the world could use more readers. A quick google search will tell you that there are a BUNCH of benefits to reading! It improves mental stimulation, decreases stress (and Lord knows these are stressful times), increases knowledge and vocabulary, empowers you to empathize, fights depressions, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, aids sleep, and prevents cognitive decline as you age. That’s a lot of benefits!

“But, Nikki, what if the person on my list doesn’t like reading?” I believe, the answer to that is that they just haven’t read enough. Sometimes, people don’t like reading because they never really cared for the books they read in the past. Take all those books we were forced to read in school: Fahrenheit 451, Lord of Flies, and Shakespeare. No offense to Shakespeare, but those stories aren’t exactly fun and easy to read when you’re in the confusing age of young adulthood. If you were to gift the person on your list a book that sweeps them away in a way that school books couldn’t, they might start picking up others to read. It never hurts to gift a book, because a book doesn’t expire or go out of style. It doesn’t need batteries, or extra downloads. They won’t glitch or fade. A book will always be waiting for someone to open its pages and delve into the adventure within.

“Ok. So, what book do I buy?” Easiest answer: your favorite book. Everyone can think of at least one book that they enjoyed reading. So, if you enjoyed it, why not share it? You could pass that story on and support the author. If you don’t want to do that, just think about what the person on your list is into. What movies or shows do they watch? What activities do they like? Based off of all that, you could narrow down a genre for them: fantasy, sports, mystery, sci-fi, romance, etc. You could even gift a book you’ve never read before! I know I would enjoy finding out someone put in effort to find me a book based off my likes.

So, give the gift of books this Christmas. I do have a Book Review page if you’d like to browse some of the ones I’ve read–I apologize for not updating it in a while. I’ve featured a few of the books on my shelves in the cover photo of this web post. Otherwise, go support your local bookstore and browse the shelves for that special, unique gift for all the loved ones on your list.

As a Fellow Knight Pt. 6

The crowds departed Sir Duncan gathered the people’s cheers with arms open wide–I swear his head grew two sizes because of it. Meanwhile, Sir Gavin’s corpse was staining the field red. No one bothered with it. Not with all the attention all on Sir Duncan’s victory.

“I’m sorry, Naviro.” Dionna laid her hand on my shoulder. “I know you fancied him.”

“I didn’t fancy him,” I muttered halfheartedly. I felt hollow and disappointed like a light I envisioned was suddenly snuffed out. “I just saw great potential in him.”

“We should go,” Aledon glanced around. “Get your mind off it. It’d cheer you up to slay a monster in the woods.”

“No.” I furrowed my brow. I couldn’t help but notice how no one was bothering with Sir Gavin’s body. Everyone was either departing or celebrating Sir Duncan. There was no regard for the dead man on the field. I bet they plan to throw Sir Gavin’s corpse in the castle moat as if he was some unnamed peasant. For all his wrong doings, he deserved better than that. He was a knight after all. “Cover me.”

“Naviro!”

I hopped the list posts and went to Sir Gavin. He was facedown in the dirt and when I rolled him over, blood still seeped from the wound in his gut. His face was paled and his eyes were frozen in a state of glaze shock. “You should’ve listened to me,” I sighed softly. He was heavy. I’d have to get Dionna’s help moving him. Maybe Aledon could steal one of Sir Gavin’s banners and we can build a pyre for him or bury him in the woods and mark his grave?

“Were you a friend of his?”

The sudden voice behind me sent a jolt of start through my nerves. The Fairy Queen and her maidens hovered in the air just over my shoulder. A few city guardsmen stood protectively around her. Regardless of who you are, you can’t deny the beauty of the Fairy Queen. She was about as tall as my forearm with stained-glass like wings. Flower petals made her gown and her crown was adorned with tiny crystals.

I stood up quickly. The surprise of her addressing me almost stole the words from my lips. “Your Majesty.” I bowed my head. “It is an honor.”

“Were you a friend of his?” She repeated kindly.

I shook my head. “I just met Sir Gavin today.”

“And yet, others who’ve known him years longer do not show the same affection toward him as you do now.”

Blush dusted my cheeks. I might’ve chosen another word besides affection. “I did not agree with the manner of this joust,” I admitted. “Sir Gavin was undoubtedly skilled. His life could’ve held greater meaning. Instead, he died over pride.”

The softest of smiles graced the Fairy Queen. “I could not agree more.”

“Your majesty!”

To my dismay, we caught the attention of Sir Duncan. He shot a distrusting look at me before flashing a charming smile at the Fairy Queen. “Come, your grace! Let us celebrate the triumph of honor this day. I am told my king has prepared a great feast!”

“You go on ahead, Sir Duncan.” The Fairy Queen was kind in her refusal. “I am still needed here.”

Sir Duncan’s brow furrowed and I caught deeper suspicion in his eyes. “Still needed? Your majesty, the joust is won. You’ve no need to soil yourself on the dead.”

It irked me how he wouldn’t even bother to look at Sir Gavin’s corpse, but before I could speak, the Fairy Queen interjected. “The dead should always be tended to, Sir Duncan. Especially when there is at least one left who cares.”

Sir Duncan looked at me and how I held Sir Gavin’s body out of the dirt. Anger flared in his eyes. “This is not why my king asked you here,” he told the Fairy Queen.

“Your king does not dictate what I can and cannot do.” The queen looked at me and nodded to the body in my arms. “May I?”

I furrowed my brow, but nodded and moved from Sir Gavin’s corpse. Sir Duncan tensed and a scowl of anger tainted his face. I got the feeling the Fairy Queen was here for more than just to support Sir Duncan in the joust. She fluttered down to Sir Gavin’s body, hovering right over it. Then, her maidens formed a circle around her. Sparkles of silver and gold glittering magic swirled from their finger tips as they began a slow dance in the air. The Fairy Queen started to hum.

The magic seeped toward Sir Gavin’s body like a glistening veil. An aura of warmth breathed off it. I’ve never seen fairy magic at work before and finding the words to describe it was difficult. It was humbling and brilliant. Joyful and soft. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder what good this magic could do to the dead.

A bright flash blinded us. I had to shield my eyes, but when I looked back Sir Gavin was gasping for breath! I couldn’t believe my eyes. He had been dead! There’s magic strong enough to reverse that?! Sir Gavin sat up straight as if the whole world was on fire; yet, the wildness in his gaze calmed the longer he looked around. For the fleeting moment he met my eyes, I saw fear in him.

The Fairy Queen faltered and had to be supported by one of the guards. With a spell like that, I wasn’t surprised she was tired. Yet, a warm smile graced her face. “Welcome back, Sir Gavin. Any longer and I would not have been able to save you.”

“You should thank the Fairy Queen!” Sir Duncan snapped in anger when Sir Gavin remained silent. Disdain settled on Sir Duncan’s face. “She should have left you where you fell.”

“But she knows the value of mercy!” I spoke up quickly. With each passing moment, I grew the suspicion that perhaps the real reason the Fairy Queen was asked here was to resurrect Sir Duncan should he have lost the joust. I reached for Sir Gavin to help him up. “Are you alright?”

To my surprise, he pulled away as if I was plagued. Sir Gavin climbed to his feet on his own. He brushed himself off and hesitated to inspect the wound that killed him. It was healed over as a dark scar.

Sir Duncan took one look at Sir Gavin’s scar and scoffed. “Let’s hope next tournament you’re more considerate of honor. I am not unwilling to reopen that wound should you ever defile this field again, Sir Gavin.”

Sir Gavin matched him with a glare. “You won’t get the chance.”

I stepped between them. “The gauntlet is satisfied,” I stated sternly. “Sir Duncan, don’t you have a feast to attend?”

Sir Duncan gave me a hard stare. “Yes and I’d rather neither of you–” He cut off when he looked past me and a growl escaped his throat. “That ungrateful…!”

I followed his gaze and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Sir Gavin walking away. He was walking away! He didn’t thank the Fairy Queen. Didn’t acknowledge much of anything. He just departed from the lists!

“You’ve wasted your magic.” Sir Duncan looked right at the Fairy Queen. “He will be the same as before.”

“Time will tell.” The Fairy Queen watched after Sir Gavin. “And time is what some need right now, but too much time can lead to the dark.” She looked at me. “After some time, it always helps to have a friend.”

I swallowed at her words. Did she want me to be there for Sir Gavin? The knight didn’t listen to me. He mocked me. He just recoiled from me when I tried to help him! Yet, I knew she was right. Sir Gavin would need someone and I was the only one who cared enough to consider helping him. There was no telling how escaping the grave effected him. He must be ashamed for losing and embarrassed that he needed saving from a creature smaller than his arm. Not to mention there was no telling what he went through in those few minutes he was dead. I recalled the fear in his eyes when he first woke up.

“Thank you.” I dipped my head to the Fairy Queen. “On behalf of myself and Sir Gavin.”

She smiled softly. “Make sure he does not waste this fresh chance at life.” She nodded to her maidens and guards before departing from the field. I watched her go with a smile. I hardly understood Aledon’s magic. Who knew there was so much more it could do?

“You’re putting your favor in the wrong knight.” Sir Duncan spoke at me when the Fairy Queen was out of earshot. “Sir Gavin will not amount to anymore than he’s already proven.”

“And you amount to less than what people believe.” I matched his hard stare with one of my own. “Go back to worrying about your own image, Sir Duncan. Since you don’t care about the redemption of others.”

He stepped toward me with a darkened scowl, but I refused to be intimidated. “Some cannot be redeemed. I suggest you heed my warning now or learn the hard way.”

“I do what I want.” I held my chin up. “Farewell, Sir Duncan.” Without another word, I walked away and in the direction of my companions. Sir Duncan once told me long ago that I couldn’t become a knight. Well, I didn’t listen to him then, so I’m not going to listen to him now. I’ll wait a while, then speak to Sir Gavin. In the meantime, I need to speak with Aledon and Dionna. I hope they’ll be openminded about what I have in mind.

Where Has the Year Gone?

Hey everyone! Can you believe it’s already December 1st? The weather is getting colder (depending on where you are), Christmas and other Holiday decorations are starting to go up, and the year is coming to a close. Honestly, I feel like it should still be summer, but I’ve also never liked the cold.

It kinda sucks how time goes by so quickly. There’s only a month left in the year and depending on who you are, there’s still so much you want to get done before the new year. How many to-dos have you crossed off your list? I certainly have a bunch. Well, instead of focusing on what little time you have to finish things, I have a question for you:

How was your year?

I think we can all agree that 2021 was much better than 2020 and that in itself is a cause for celebration. What about beyond that? Did some big, life changing event happen for you this year? Did you get engaged? Have a baby? Get a new job? Retire? Buy a new car or move to your own place? If not, then you must have been enjoying the little things. Or maybe you were just working on your New Year’s resolution?

So how many of you winced when I brought up the resolutions?

That’s a long time ago, wasn’t it? Way back in January many of us set resolutions that we would get done this 2021. If you’ve completed yours, yay! Good for you! If not, well, join the club. My new year’s resolution was to write every day, a page, a paragraph, a sentence, something. Plus, I wanted to finish the new first draft of my sequel. Sad to say, neither of those things happened, but I’m not upset. If you write everyday, you risk burning yourself out and no writer wants that. And as far as my sequel, I’m making some changes to my first novel, so I shouldn’t be working on the sequel again until those changes are complete. I don’t know what your new year resolution was, but I do hope you’re not beating yourself over it. Sometimes plans don’t work out for a reason, but if that resolution is something you want, then continue to strive for it. I’ve already determined my 2022 resolution and surprise, surprise, it has to do with writing.

But enough about next year. I dare you to reflect on this past year. What’s one good thing that happened you each month of this year (excluding December, of course, since it just started)? I dare you to write it down and give yourself a visual list of a happy year. If nothing big happened in a month then write something small. Something that made you smile like you got a new video game to play or craft to make, or you tried a new recipe that turned out delicious. Maybe you visited someone or had lunch with an old friend? Whatever it was, write it down. Maybe next year you could make that list better?

Now, I get that memory may not be on your side when trying to think of what happened in January. I make it easy for myself and I keep a journal of my day to day activities, but fuzzy memory doesn’t mean you can’t participate. I’ve included my list below. Maybe it’ll give you ideas for yours?

Nikki’s Happy Side of 2021

  • January: started building my Twitter author platform
  • February: I got a shiny Mewtwo in Pokemon Go and painted sunrises
  • March: I was featured on someone else’s blog
  • April: started a new draft of my sci-fi novel
  • May: I somehow ended up on my cousin’s party bus, but it was a lot of fun.
  • June: Family Lake Week and interview with Julie Lessman
  • July: My birthday month
  • August: Bought a brand new car!
  • September: Renaissance Festival!
  • October: Ren Fest again, and Halloween!
  • November: North Carolina Writing Workshop gave me new ideas to improve my novel!
  • December: CHRISTMAS

As a Fellow Knight pt. 5

The stands were full. More people arrived to witness the joust to the death than any of the jousts before. Dionna, Aledon, and I struggled to find a seat, but eventually gave up. We were left to stand near the Noble Court.

“I don’t understand why you want to watch this.” Dionna commented for the hundredth time. “Neither of them listened to you, so we should be protesting this by not attending at all! Better we just swing by the tavern for good food then go back to the woods.”

Aledon leaned forward on his cane. “Aren’t you curious who will triumph, Dionna?”

Dionna huffed. “I’m not at all interested in seeing a man die, Aledon.”

“I hold hope one of the knights will reconsider.” I cut into the conversation, but my main focus was trying to see through the crowd. I wanted a good window to view the lists. “Maybe they thought over what I said?” I didn’t even have to look to know Aledon and Dionna exchanged doubtful looks.

The Noble Court was filing in to the fanfare of horns. Yet, to my surprise, the King was absent. I figured he would be here to support his most trusted knight, but in his stead was the Fairy Queen of the Southern Woods and her maidens.

“That’s something you don’t see everyday.” Aledon followed my gaze and intrigue filled his tone. “I thought the Fairy Queen never left her kingdom. Why is she here for a joust?”

“They say Sir Duncan saved their lands,” I commented quietly. “Maybe that’s why she’s here?”

Dionna shook her head. “She chose a terrible event to leave her kingdom for.”

The fanfare of trumpets sounded again and the Knight Marshal returned to the lists. He had to wait several moments for the cheering crowd to die down. “Good people! Welcome back to this field of noble sport! Earlier today, during the King’s Tournament, Sir Gavin displayed dishonorable conduct upon this very field! His opponent, the noble Sir Duncan, thus threw down the gauntlet in a challenge of honor! Sir Gavin has accepted, but the stakes have been raised! Upon this very field, Sir Duncan and Sir Gavin shall joust to the death!”

The crowd went into an uproar and I had a hard time not rolling my eyes. Blood would be spilled over pride. “This is wrong,” I muttered bitterly.

“Do not try to do anything stupid.” Aledon shot me a warning look. “We have quite the life slaying monsters in the wood. I’d rather prison for any of us not ruin that!”

“I agree with Aledon.” Dionna laid her hand on my shoulder. “Let things play out. We can save more lives in the woods than we can here.”

I hated that they had a point, but I kept my mouth shut.

Swear to us that you’ll not intervene!” Aledon said suddenly.

I stared at him. “What?!”

“Swear it!” Dionna repeated. “And we’ll believe you. Neither of those knights’ lives are worth ruining what we have.”

Aledon tapped his cane. “I can always charm your boots to the ground to keep you put, Naviro.”

I frowned at both of them. Of course they would do this! They wanted me to swear because I never go back on my word. I didn’t know if I should be angry that they didn’t have my back on this or honored that they enjoyed what we had enough to stand against me for it. It just proves we’re the only friends we have.

“Fine,” I relented. “I swear I won’t intervene.” Intervening would just insult Sir Gavin, Sir Duncan, and the Fairy Court anyway…

My companions exchanged satisfied glances. We looked back toward the lists.

“Allow me to introduce your champions, my good people!” The Knight Marshal moved to the middle of the field. “Riding in green and gold, a hero to this very city! I give you, Sir Duncan!”

A trumpeting fanfare blazed and Sir Duncan came riding out on his black stallion. He raised his lance high and the roars of the crowd raised with it. Sir Duncan circled the lists once and stilled on the far right side. He held his head high as if he already won the day.

“And now, riding in black and purple, whose dishonor as tainted this very field, I give you: Sir Gavin!”

The amount of protests and sounds of disapproval that came from the crowd surprised me. Sir Gavin rode out much like Sir Duncan, but the good people withheld their favor. I searched the crowd for the ruffians and thugs who supported Sir Gavin in the tourney, but if they supported him now, they kept themselves hidden. Sir Gavin looped the lists once. He kept this head high as he rode past and I wondered if he’d spot me in the thick of it. He didn’t.

“Sir Duncan! Sir Gavin!” The Knight Marshal continued. “The two of you have met this day after an offense of honor. You’ve agreed to settle this dispute by a joust to the death! Does this still stand?”

“Aye!” Sir Duncan dashed my hopes of reconsideration in a millisecond. He sat forward on his horse, staring down Sir Gavin as if an ogre stood in his path. “Sir Gavin has defiled the Code of Chivalry and acted with disgrace upon this field. As punishment for his sins, I shall prove to the world once and for all that honor, dignity, truth, and grace of the Code of Chivalry shall stand triumph over evil every time!”

The crowed roared with their support, but Sir Gavin simply rolled his eyes. “You are all talk, Sir Duncan!” The tone of Sir Gavin’s voice soured my lips. I’m pretty sure he was feeling the wine. “This day’s end will see your blood spilt! The whole kingdom will know that your code and your God have forsaken you!”

“You’ve both made your choice.” The Knight Marshal quieted at the proclamations of the knights. I began to suspect that perhaps he didn’t agree with this as well? “Brave knights, bare your arms. Good people, this is no match for innocent eyes. Upon this field, a man will die.” He faced the court. “Fairy Queen, shall we commence?”

The Queen didn’t say a word, but she had been eyeing the knights through the introductions. I suspected her favor laid with Sir Duncan. She nodded.

“Knights, seek out your favors.” The Knight Marshal continued. “For one of you, these shall be your last. May they grant you the luck you need to win the day.”

Sir Duncan received favors from multiple ladies in the court, but it was Sir Gavin that I was watching. He scanned the crowds and walked the length of the lists, but there was no one to offer him favor. When he came back down, I caught his eye. A smirk curled his lip. I looked away.

“Knights, ride forward!” The Knight Marshal raised his hands to summon the two riders to the heart of the lists. “Salute each other.”

Sir Duncan offered a salute out of duty; yet, Sir Gavin remained straight on his horse and denied Sir Duncan that respect. The crowd hissed in protest.

“Salute the court!”

Both knights offered a salute to the Fairy Queen then rode to opposite ends of the lists. I felt like a stone was lodged in my stomach. Dionna had pulled out her dragon book to read and Aledon was picking muck off his cane out of boredom. The crowd was cheering. They wanted to see unbridled action. My heart pounded. I wanted to run out and stop this, but I gave my word to Dionna and Aledon and I felt nothing would come of me getting in the way. They’d just haul me off to jail and continue the joust. I sent out a prayer as the knights fell into position. Let mercy win the day.

Sir Duncan and Sir Gavin rode at each other at full gallops. The smack of lances on shields had many in the crowd wincing, but neither knight was moved from the saddle. I bit my lip when they reached opposite ends. The moment they locked eyes, they charged again.

Sir Gavin’s lance shattered against Sir Duncan’s shield and the older knight faltered, but did not fall. He lost his own lance from hand and had to collect another from his squire. As soon as he had it, he turned his steed and galloped at Sir Gavin again. I slowly shook my head. There was no pause between the two men. No hints of doubt or hesitation. After each pass, they turned and passed again. A couple more broken lances and I determined that sheer willpower was keeping the two knights in their saddles. I flickered my gaze to the Fairy Queen and the Knight Marshal, but my hope that they would intervene was all in vain. They simply watched the fight for any signs of dishonorable acts.

The shattering of another lance echoed the lists. Sir Gavin’s shield arm buckled under the force of Sir Duncan’s blow and the younger knight was thrown off his saddle. I caught my breath. Sir Gavin appeared dazed by the fall. He struggled back to his hands and knees. To my relief, the Knight Marshal ran onto the field to separate the two knights.

“Sir Gavin is downed!” The Knight Marshal called to Sir Duncan before the older knight could pass again. “Sir Duncan, you have the option to continue facing Sir Gavin from horseback or face him on foot.”

Sir Duncan tore his helmet off. “I shall face him on ground of equal footing. It is the only honorable way!” He dismounted and exchanged his horse for a sword. The Knight Marshal remained in between the two knights until Sir Gavin was back on his feet with sword in hand. All three men appeared pretty battered to me.

Swords rang the moment the Knight Marshal removed himself from the field. There was anger in Sir Gavin’s eyes and fury within Sir Duncan’s. Sir Duncan made good use of his shield until Sir Gavin managed to rip it from his arm. Sir Gavin then threw down his own shield and the two men danced a deadly waltz. The two knights appeared equal in their skills, but what I noticed first was Sir Gavin. His form was strong, and his footwork secured. It surprised me not that he was knighted for his skills, but what did surprise me was that he fought honorably. He didn’t throw dirt or play other tricks like earlier in the day. He faced Sir Duncan head-on and equally. For some reason, that gave me hope.

The knights’ swords rang again then Sir Gavin nimbly dodged back when Sir Duncan lashed out. Sir Gavin lunged forward with a jab, but Sir Duncan deflected. The whole arena was fastened on the edge of its seats. When Sir Duncan ill-timed strike was caught in hand by Sir Gavin, many lungs sucked in a breath. Sir Gavin hauled Sir Duncan over his shoulder and onto the ground. He would’ve pierced him through had Sir Duncan not rolled away fast enough. When both knights were on their feet, they clashed again. Their swords sparked like sharpening metal and with a move too fast for my eye to register, Sir Duncan twisted Sir Gavin around and sank his sword deep into Sir Gavin’s gut.

Whether the crowd cheered or gasped, I could not say. Horror paled my face the moment the blade made contact. Sir Gavin failed to register what occurred until his blood seeped into his own hands. He dropped his sword and when he looked up, he found me in the crowd. I shoved forward to reach him, but Aledon and Dionna caught my wrists before I could breach the lists fencing. The whole city supported his death, I hope he saw that I didn’t.

I hoped that if I held his gaze, he would be fine. He would recover like many knights had after a battle. Yet, Sir Duncan sliced his sword out of Sir Gavin and I think I screamed his name when Sir Gavin fell to the ground.

To Be Continued…

Grateful Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is tomorrow! I know a lot of people are super excited for the food: deep fried turkey, seasoned mash potatoes, casseroles of all kinds, honeyed rolls, and sweet potatoes seasoned with pecans–makes my stomach growl just thinking about it! So how did we get so lucky to have a day like this?

Everyone knows the story of Thanksgiving. Pilgrims, sailing on the Mayflower, left England in September 1620 to seek a new land where they could practice their faith freely. The trip took roughly 66 days and their first winter in the new land was savage enough that only half the original passengers survived to see spring. That’s when they got a visit from the Native Americans. A man named Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate corn, harvest tree sap, catch fish, and basically survive. He even helped them form an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local Native American Tribe.

All that led up to November 1621. The Pilgrims threw a feast after their first corn harvest and they shared their food with the Wampanoag. According to History.com, the festival lasted for three days! Could you imagine celebrating Thanksgiving for three days? In this day and age, there would be SO MUCH FOOD and that’s what a lot of people would focus on, but in the time of the Pilgrims, I’d gather it was all about the thankfulness. Think about it: these people had just come to a new land with nothing but the Mayflower and their faith. After a dangerous voyage, half of them were wiped out through the winter. They must have had very little hope, a whole lot of doubt that they did the right thing in leaving, and their faith must have been shaken. Then, like a miracle, these strangers appear and teach them how to survive. The Native Americans didn’t have to help them. They could’ve let the Pilgrims figure it out for themselves (which probably wouldn’t have gone so well). And yet, because they helped, the Pilgrims survived and we now have the country we have today. The Pilgrims’ faith was probably restored and because they were so far from want, they celebrated with the Native Americans for three days. I mean, if you thought your future was all doom and gloom and then a few months later, you’re celebrating a bountiful harvest and suddenly your future doesn’t look so bad, you’d probably be partying for three days too.

That’s what I wish people would focus more on for Thanksgiving. Not the food or the jump straight to Christmas, but the fact that miracles can still happen. Hope is still out there and despite how doom and gloom your current situation or the future may seem, there’s something to be thankful for. Whether its strangers who appear out of nowhere to help you survive, friends and family to laugh and love, the job you have to support yourself, or even the small things like being healthy, having a roof over your head, or having a dog who’s forever loyal to you. There’s that saying of “count your blessings” and I think Thanksgiving is a good reminder to do that.

So, tomorrow, while you’re stuffing your face with all the delicious food, take a moment to pause, look around, and be thankful. I’ll thank God for all that I have, you can thank the universe, fate, whatever you believe in. Just as long as there is gratitude in your heart, my post has done its job.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I’m grateful for all of you.

D&D Character Backstory: Nuray Solana

The House of Solana is a proud and noble bloodline that produces heroic and powerful knights, paladins, and warriors in every generation. They live in Alderheart and are known throughout the land for their goodness. Each one awaits the day the wind would bless them with it’s touch. My name is Nuray Solana. I was born in this bloodline and I have been wind-touched since birth. I am the covet of my family. We are Strigs, owl-people, and my feathers are patterned with the way the wind blows under the nightly moon. Because of this, my parents were thrilled. They foresaw a mighty destiny in me and believed I would become a great hero of legend.

Starting the day I could walk, my parents placed a weapon in my hands. I was put into training immediately that I may defend myself and others, and become a great warrior like my ancestors. My mother wanted me to be a knight like her. My father wanted me to be a paladin. I trained hard to please them and every day I was taught to rely on my Wind-Touched blessing. The wind is what guides my family. We follow it to those who are in need. No matter how hard I trained, I could not put my heart into my lessons and it did not help that my sister humiliated me at every turn. My older sister. She wanted to soil my favor with our parents. She hates that I’m wind-touched. She straight up told me she wished I was dead. I just wanted us to be friends. 

I’ll never forget the day I first heard a troupe of song and dance. A traveling caravan came to our proud neck of Alderheart and graced us with beautiful music and stories of adventures. I fell in love with the harp, the drums, and the flutes. It gave me more inspiration and hope than training with a sword had ever done. I decided that day that I wanted to be a musician and storyteller like the leader of the troupe; however, I made the grave mistake of telling my parents. 

My parents just stared while my sister laughed. She laughed so hard that tears rolled from her eyes. I don’t lie to them and they know it. So, when my parents heard the words out of my mouth, nothing came to their beaks. My father then told me in a calm and icy voice to go back to training. They made me train until late in the night as if they were trying to train my new dream out of me. But all they did was break my heart. I was not allowed to speak of the traveling troupe. I was not allowed to sing or play an instrument of any kind. My parents became stricter with me and I was forced into a routine schedule to keep me on the path of warrior. I cried myself to sleep at night. My parents’ discipline only made me hate fighting.

It was sister who was my saving grace. Though I know her reasons were selfish, I care not. She slipped into my room at night after hearing my sniffles through the walls. She bundled me in her arms and actually started to sing. It was a song about the Wind and how it guides those who school upon a winding path. I wanted that life. A life of freedom upon the open road. Not knowing what laid ahead and no schedules to maintain. My sister then gave me something wrapped in bundled cloth. It was an ocarina. One that was supposed to be presented to me when I was marked Wind-Touched. I had the cloak, the symbol, but my parents forbid the priests from giving me a wind played instrument. I cradled the ocarina and was going to hide it, but my sister encouraged me to leave. Sneak out in the midst of night and begin an adventure on the open road. As foolish as it sounded, I knew it was now or never. My parents would take my ocarina away if they ever knew I had it. So, my sister helped me pack and I set out into the word. 

I challenged myself at every turn and I never share that I’m from the House of Solana–I will be known for my heroic tales and become a leader and a warrior in my own right instead of piggybacking off the legacy of my family. I followed the wind to my next destination and I discovered a troupe of bards. I learned from them. Learned to play my ocarina and their instruments. As we journeyed, I learned how to make instruments of my own. I crafted a harp, a drum, and failed to make panpipes, but one of the bards: Swifty, a gerbean, gerbil person who I consider a good friend, made it correctly for me. We parted when the Wind pulled me away and I traveled from tavern to tavern, playing music and singing stories for coin. The Wind then called me to Meadowfen and I played in the tavern for a couple days. I didn’t know why the Wind wanted me here until a task was presented me to and I gained the company of three unlikely friends. 

It is with them that I travel and explore and adventure! We’re on a noble quest to save all the land. However, I’m terrified of the place this quest deems we go. My friends don’t know who I am or where I come from, but I’m afraid they’ll find out. Our journey begins with a letter back to Alderheart.

Querying; Notes from a Workshop

Hey everyone! I attended the North Carolina Writing Workshop over the weekend and I want to share a few of my favorite notes from the events. The event was set up by Brian A. Klems and hosted a lot of fabulous agents and editors. Brian’s pretty much the expert for getting these workshops running, so if you if you’re interested, follow him on twitter at @BrianKlems.

Now, onto the notes!

When Querying:
  • Make sure your novel is finished and edited. Agents can’t sell something that isn’t complete and they have no guarantee that you’re even going to finish it, so make sure your book is in its best shape before you start querying.
  • Do your research on agents. You don’t want to just hook an agent. You want to hook the right agent for you. Look for someone who enjoys your genre. Someone you’ll get along with, may share your values, and cheerlead your ideas. Know how you’d like to communicate with your agent. If you want someone more inclined to call, text, or email.
  • Err on the side of professionalism.
  • Query multiple agents. Consider it like your job interviewing. You’re not going to stop at one job, you’re going to keep applying to multiple places, so keep querying to multiple agents. If you do get an offer of representation from one agent, let the others know.
  • Easiest way to remember to write a query letter is to follow “The Hook, the Book, and the Cook” guideline.
    • The Hook is your awesome intro. Something to snag the agents attention right off the bat.
    • The Book is the summary and details of your book. By details, I mean wordcount, genre, and comparison titles. When you go into your summary, remember not to spoil your book’s ending. You want to leave the agent wanting to know more. I’ve been advised to include the main character’s emotions throughout the summary, so the agent can connect with the main character and then end on a Hero’s Dilemma: revealing two (or more) options my main character has to pick from to achieve his goal, but I won’t give away which option he makes.
    • The Cook is you. Credentials are important for Nonfictions writers, but for fiction, a great writer can come from anywhere. Give a little about your writing accomplishments or history and then jump into hobbies. I’ve been advised that the bio should only be 2-3 sentences.
    • Make sure to personalize your query letter to with the agent’s name because “Dear Agent” tells them you’re not serious about signing with them. If you can give a personal reason behind why you’re querying that particular agent then do it. Otherwise, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.
  • Follow submission guidelines. Send whatever the agent wants and nothing more (unless they request it). And remember to make sure your pages are double-spaced. I’ve been querying for two years and did not know that…
  • If you’ve queried an agent before and they rejected you, it’s advised to not query that agent again. If you’ve made improvements on your novel since the last time you query that agent, it doesn’t hurt to query again, just be courteous enough to let the agent know you’ve queried before, but are resubmitting your work after improvements. Who knows, they might change their mind?
  • Try to be easy to work with. If you get the interest of an agent, don’t be a stone wall to any and all feedback they suggest. You’ve also got to be understanding. Agents have busy lives too. Just because they asked for your full manuscript, doesn’t mean they’re going to get it back to you in a day or even a week. You gotta be patient.
  • Don’t let criticism get to you. You gotta have thick skin toward it because it will never go away. It goes unsaid that not everyone will like your book. There are over 7 billion people on the planet. Odds are someone isn’t going to like it, so let that criticism roll off your back right now.
  • Keep writing during the query process. It’ll save you from going crazy while waiting for responses. Plus, it’ll help you get going on the next book so you’ll have something for after your first book comes out.

Lastly, my favorite piece of advice from the workshop this week:

Don’t write to trend. Write the book of your heart.