Until recently, I thought I would publish History of a Dead Man in with the 4th Sacred Knight novel. Imagine my surprise when one morning I woke up with a little voice telling me that I had to release it as its own novella? After all, why not? I am releasing a lot of short stories and novellas on their own right now. Why withhold the print edition of History of a Dead Man?
I couldn’t find a reason.
So what is History of a Dead Man? It’s a side story to the life of Saint Steigan and is meant to be read between the 3rd and 4th novels in the Sacred Knight series.
Here’s the blurb for the book (that’s what the ad on the back of books is called, a blurb):
Annae Bytherhourn’s life changes when she discovers the truth about her father and he becomes a stranger to her. His past contains terrible secrets. History remembers him as a thief, conspirator, traitor, and killer. Now he has manipulated her life to position her in as much danger as he would be in if the world found out he still lived. Can she overcome her own personal anger to leave the unbiased account of a life that needs to be remembered for a thousand years?
History of a Dead Man chronicles the missing forty or so years in the life of Saint Steigan as told by the daughter he raised. Only she knows the true story of a man who had to make hard decisions to carry on a difficult mission and become a champion.
So, in celebration of the print version now being available, here’s a sample:
History of a Dead Man
I sat on my father’s lap in the darkened room, his warm arms around me. His heart pounded and an occasional shudder ripped through him. I felt like sobbing and I wondered if he did too. Even at ten cycles old, I knew this new situation to be wrong.
Only moments before, a strange man had stumbled into the house, the door slamming behind him. Dirt splattered the stranger’s green shirt and the lacings hung loose as if he’d been too hung over from the previous night to do them up correctly earlier in the morning.
“Come here, Annae,” I heard my father’s deep voice call softly. It felt like a strong undertow current, safe and familiar, compared to the chaotic, cresting waves on the surface.
I left my seat at the square, wooden table and dashed for the room which served as my father’s library. As I skirted around the stranger, I half expected him to reach for me, but his dark, glassy eyes never left my mother as she ran her fingers through his disheveled hair. The scent of smoke and ale stirred in the air as they laughed and moved through the kitchen, heading deeper into the house, arms grabbing and tangling each other as if drowning and gasping for life.
Roused by the commotion, my dad had hobbled to the doorway and stared venomously at the embracing couple. He scooped me up in his arms and took me into the secluded room, closing the door behind us. His walking cane thumped hard against the floor as he went around the room and blew out all the candles as if pretending we weren’t even there. Then he sat down on the floor against the wall with me on his lap.
A resounding thump followed trilling laughter. I glanced toward the door, wondering if they were coming into the library too. Dad placed one hand on my head, covering my ear so the only sound I heard was his heartbeat. Was he struggling to keep me from hearing the stranger?
As the ticks deepened, he began to tap his head against the wall behind him as if he could bang out the frustration he felt. I tried to look up at him, wondering if his expression would give me an explanation for what was going on, but I couldn’t see him in the dark.
At last, he stood up awkwardly bracing himself with the cane while holding me and carried me outside to the forge house. I glanced around, awed by the blacksmithing tools and creations he had in here. Normally, I wasn’t allowed inside, but the arrival of the stranger with my mother granted me an exception, though I wasn’t quite sure why. Pliers, hammers, pinchers all arranged neatly on the wall, tables set with different size anvils, nails, horseshoes, chainmail, plate armor, swords, arrow tips.
Setting his cane against the wall, Dad opened a cupboard and pulled out a cloth sack. Inside the sack, wrapped again in more cloth, he took out a loaf of bread and handed a chunk of it to me. “Sit and eat up,” he said, then he set to work. His gait took on a more pronounced limp as he walked around unaided. Tonight, I could tell, his leg bothered him more than usual and he’d probably looked forward to spending the evening writing at his desk as he did most nights after supper. Instead, he’d been driven out here. He removed his vest, hung it from a hook on the door, and put on a leather apron which had been hanging from another peg.
The hot, metallic odor of blacksmithing stung the inside of my nose and I could barely bring myself to eat, but I did anyway as I watched my father work. His tunic grew damp with sweat as he worked over the forge and pounded away at softened metal. His short black hair was soon plastered to his head.
With the heat and my belly filled with bread, I felt my eyes grow heavy. Rhythmic tapping urged me to sleep. I wanted to stay awake, to watch my father work, to know when the man would leave our house, to know why he was there, but all my curiosities fell away like sparks blown from the bellows when Dad would stoke the forge’s fire and more warmth surrounded me.
I woke for but a moment when Dad sat down beside me and pulled me against him. I felt him slide the rolled up vest beneath my head, picking away a piece of straw stuck to my cheek.
“Little Annae, I’m so sorry,” Dad whispered into my hair before he breathed in deeply. “It should have been me.”
I woke before Dad the next morning, though my stirring roused him. He helped me to my feet, then straightened my hair with his fingers, pulling out more straw, and adjusted my clothes so they didn’t look like I’d been sleeping all night in them though I had. He licked his thumb to wipe a smudge from my face and gave me a reassuring smile as if to say it would be all right. I believed him.
I didn’t want the strange man to still be in the house.
Dad took my hand and guided me along the cobblestone walkway to the door. The morning chill vanished as warmth from the fires of the kitchen hearth greeted us along with the scent of baking bread. It suddenly felt like a regular day. The normal moment almost erased the abnormality of the night. We came into the kitchen where Mother was making breakfast. She turned at our arrival and wiped the back of her wrists hurriedly over her cheeks. Rushing to put down the knife she’d been holding, she rubbed her hands inside her apron, then dried her red eyes once more. She’d been crying for a while.
Dad released my hand as my mother dashed over and hugged me.
“I thought you might have taken her away forever,” Mom said, her hands flat against my back, pressing me closer to her.
“If you want to act like a dog, keep it out of the house and away from Annae.” He started to step by her, but hesitated. “I will not be put through that again.” He continued on to the washroom.
How could my mother and father have come to this? I knew we were different from other families. I’d seen the way my friend’s parents acted together and wondered why mine didn’t do the same, but I’d been too young to understand why mine slept in separate rooms. It was our little secret which we hid from the world behind well-chosen lies.
To the outside world, we seemed like the perfect family. A mother and father swinging their young daughter between them, all of us smiling and laughing as we headed to Cliff Park in Dubinshire for the annual Springsday Festival, the annual celebration kicking off our holiday season. Dad would participate in the sword challenge. I loved watching the young boys take on my father; none of them could ever land a blow unless he let them. Which he did; he always let the boys win. Lord Freygorio, ruler of Dubinshire, would jest about another defeat and tease my father about losing his edge, but Dad and I knew the truth: he was a great dominus and had fought in many battles for the Temple, defending the Goddess from naysayers. It’s how his leg had gotten injured and his face scarred.
My mother and I were so proud of him. Or I thought we were.
Dad made sure I had the best schooling, lining me up to become a Temple historian. It suited my intellect and penmanship, he had once told me. Little did I know that I had the biggest piece of history right in front of me.
One evening when I was thirteen cycles old or so, Dad and I were in his library after supper, as was our usual custom. I had my lessons spread out on the table before me. Dad sat at the desk nearby, two books open before him as he copied text from one into the other. I couldn’t read the beautiful scrolling writing, but I couldn’t stop watching how it flowed effortlessly from his quill.
He paused to ink the tip and saw me staring at him. “What did you learn today in your classes?” he asked with a sad smile.
“Your friend, Sapere Hyrin, came in today and spoke about the ethics of history,” I replied.
He went back to his writing. “So what did he say about the ethics of history?”
“He said that it meant we, as historians, had a job to record events like they really happened and not let our emotions cloud it. We have to be truthful and unbiased in our chronicles. He said we shouldn’t be influenced by what others would have us record.”
Dad frowned at the page he was working on. “What if that endangers the lives of those around you?”
“I didn’t think to ask that. But why would the truth endanger people?”
“Did he care to give you any examples?”
“He spoke about Saint Steigan and how he was a dominus who first transformed the Temple at Lilinar, then nearly destroyed it. Sapere Hyrin said that period of time became known as The Breaking and the Reunification in Lilinar, which is now dubbed New Lilinar to fully mark that devastating era as concluded.”
Dad put his quill down and covered his face with his hands.
A terrible thought hit me. “Were you there? Did you fight against Saint Steigan?”
Tears caught in the candle’s light highlighted the bitter pain across his face. “The Temple was in flames, walls crumbled, there was smoke everywhere. The Breaking was a terrible time to be in Lilinar. Saint Steigan put you and your mom in a wagon and got you out.”
“Why don’t you tell her the truth?” Mom’s small voice asked from the doorway where she’d been listening.
Dad slammed his hands on the desk as he stood. “Have you been conspiring with Sapere Hyrin now? You will not destroy this family!” He grabbed up his cane and started toward her. I wondered if he would strike her with it. “I have worked too hard to let you break it up,” he shouted at her.
Mom fled and shortly the house door slammed behind her. She was gone for the evening. Dad’s shoulders slumped forward and he stood there for a moment before turning back toward me. I wondered if I might get the truth, whatever it was that Dad was hiding from me. Instead, he limped over to the table and put his hands over mine. He looked like he was about to say something, then patted my hand. “’Tis time to get ready for bed. Go on.”
I knew now that Sapere Hyrin had been telling me that history contained lies because some things were too terrible to drag into the light even within families. I also had been given a mystery within my own house. What did my parents know that they were trying so hard to keep from me?