The Shieldmaidens 1: T Part 1

And I bow as I step onto the dance floor, and the strings strain, and the bodies around us move. Bodies of abusers and saviors. Rose dances with Olsen, Destiny with Tiger. The music plays, we all twirl, and I take each of the next stories out onto the floor. The waltz is the most proper. The waltz has the arms wide, the circle, the spinning. The waltz doesn’t pull in close and breathe in the ear like I do with my wife. The waltz doesn’t get “tangled up and tango on.” The waltz holds back. It looks into the eye, holds at a distance, and the waltz appraises. The waltz appreciates.

There’s a scream across the battlefield as a hundred thousand warriors of bullies and abusers roar hatred in my direction. The Round Table lines up behind me. They bang sword on shield. You are about to read about the women standing along my side. They form the front ranks now. And when the horns blow and I collide with my abusers, it will be The Shieldmaidens waltzing with my enemies and dancing beside me as the blood and the hate flies.

I introduce you now to the women of my life and my past. I introduce you now to The Shieldmaidens.

You need a reminder, so I will give you one.

T was Less’s friend and she came to pick Less up once. I was in seventh grade with no real friends and bored out of my mind. Bruise was with her, her big brother, and we got in his silver Camaro and blazed away into the night.

When I was a sophomore, I was dating T’s friend Scratch and T handcuffed us together that Halloween and took us to a football game. We watched about half of the game before going back to Scratch’s trailer, where Shadow and Scratch went into the night down a long road to Robert’s house.

T was the girl I kissed when Scratch came back to celebrate my graduation. We didn’t end up going any further than that, and that was the last I heard from her until one night in 2011 when I was on the phone with Heart. Heart had married Bruise and there had been a death in the family. Heart was with T one night. I was on the phone with Heart and heard T was in the background.

“Tell her I said hi,” Shadow said.

Heart came back with, “She said hi back, and how are you doing?”

“Tell her I expect awe and reverence from her,” Shadow said. I don’t know if that was the lead up but that is eventually what he said.

“She told me to tell you that is all she ever gave you. Of course you get awe and reverence,” Heart said.

Well I had Heart give her my email address, and a few days later, I got an email from T.

She told me that she was married, living in Illinois, and she had two kids. They were teenagers at the time, they are grown now. She told me the love story of her and her husband. Then she asked about my work.

She was an avid reader and she heard I was writing books. I told her a bit about my work, my world, and the books I had written, and she asked if I would send her some.

I sent her the shorts that ended up comprising the bulk of Legends of Perilisc. She wrote back that they were pretty good and she would be interested in reading more if I would share.

At this time in my career, I am shouting into the dark. I had written Chaste. A few shorts. Liefdom. A book with the working title Eastgate and The Perpetual Child. I had no hope of getting my work out because I was not good enough, and I felt discouraged every time I thought about the stack of books I was building and doing nothing with.

To be honest, I was about to quit.

Heart had been reading my books and she had told me how good they were and how much she liked them, but one person reading my work is not enough. I felt like I was writing and throwing it all in a void where nothing would come of it and no one would ever see it. I was falling apart, and the idea of someone reading my work was exciting. I could finally breathe.

“My work is pretty dark,” I told her. “You might not like it.”

“Send it,” T said. “I’m a pretty dark person.”

Afraid to scare her away, I sent her Liefdom. It was still in its bloody and raw stage having gotten beat to hell by Genius. T read it and came back praising it. Liefdom is a pretty dark book and I was surprised she had enjoyed it.

She is training to be an RN and she has taken all of the classes and is now working terrible hours and studying for the certification test. I don’t know what its official name is, to be honest.

She shouldn’t have had time to read, but she was making time and when she asked for more, I gave her The Perpetual Child. She devoured it in two days and asked for more.

“You are really a very good writer. I would say one of my favorites,” T said. “Can you send me more?”

I had only one thing left to send. I almost told her that was all, but as big a mess as Chaste was, and as long as it did not need to be, I was still proud of it.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been. The rough draft was 776 pages long. The final was 229. But even with all the utter nonsense that littered it, I still figured it was something that I might make something of some day. I sent it to her knowing it was too long, knowing it was too dark, knowing it was not ready to be seen by anyone, but still she asked for it after I told her all of that. I sent Chaste to her as I winced and damn near crawled under my bed.

She came back raving. “I was wrong. You are my favorite writer. Chaste is my favorite book I have ever read. It is amazing!”

I sure didn’t expect that. I asked her if it was too dark and her answer blew my mind.

“I am a nurse,” she said. “I am around darkness all day but never able to acknowledge it. I have to remain positive even though I want to scream. The patients I get will just vanish one day and I can’t ask if they went home or died. HIPPA law demands that I don’t ask about the things that happen on a shift I am not working. Nurses are around death all the time and we have to just keep moving,” she said. “Seeing darkness and being able to acknowledge it is intoxicating. It is a release that I don’t get at work. It feels like breathing.”

One night when she was about to quit, when the pressure got too high, and the true horror of her job was spanned out before her, she told them she had to have 20 minutes. They had to give her 20 minutes. And she went into a conference room. She closed the door, wanting to scream, and pulled out her Kindle. She read the new work I had sent her. Intense shit with Aaron the Marked. And it worked. It was all she needed to put her back in the right head space. She was able to be a nurse again. And in some small way, Aaron may had saved a life.

She ended up reading Chaste about eleven times. The rough draft, with all of its typos and its horror. She memorized parts of it and she loved the villain. No one loves that villain, but T did. Chaste made a huge impression on her.

T’s response to Chaste is most likely the only reason I published it at all. She told me over and over again how important a book it was, and over and over again she told me to not give up on it.

When I started to do the rewrites, I kept her apprised as to how it was going. Every time I told her how much I was cutting, she freaked out a little. She said she was terrified of what it would look like when I was done with it. And she would not even read the new draft until it was completely finished.

I gave it to her expecting her to hate every moment of it and maybe yell at me that I had ruined it.

But she came back. She told me it was good enough for her and she gave it her seal of approval, which I needed. I would not have published it at all if she had not given me the nod. She asked me to promise her that I would never ask her to delete the original. Said it was too dear to her to get rid of.

I promised her I would let her keep it exactly how it was written the first time. Typos and all. To be honest, there are things in that draft of that book that I changed and did not end up keeping. Parts of the world that have not been revealed yet. There are races that no longer exist and lore that I have either gotten rid of or have changed completely.

The rough draft of Chaste has secrets no one will ever know. It has ideas no one will ever hear. And there are things about it I decided I don’t want anyone to know. They can draw too many conclusions about my past and too much is said that ties back to my life before therapy and an age of my history that I will never tell anyone.

T knows secrets that only Bekah knows and will ever know.

She rereads that book every now and then and it comforts me to know that someone has it. It’s like I have a keeper of an old world. A darker world than anyone has ever seen before. An ancient keeper of secrets who will hold on to Chaste covetously and watch over it.

Now Heart read it, too. She has ridden wild into that dark canyon. But she read it once and never went back to it. She has forgotten all the crevasses and the pits.

T has kept it secret. She has watched over that section of my world that no longer exists.

I told her in 2012 that I would never write Sob’s revenge book. The character was wronged terribly and she vows in Chaste to have revenge. She has to plan it and work it carefully but she promised to have her revenge. The idea was very dark and I knew that it would be tricky getting all the intrigue into the book that it would need. It was a project I was not interested in delving into, and I had sloughed it off.

But T told me I could not do that. She said Sob had to have her day. Sob was, at the time, her favorite character and she said she could not live knowing that those who hurt Sob had not been punished.

I decided I could put that book off long enough for T to forget about it, and I could move on from there.

T did not ask about it again, but many times she said that Sob was her favorite of my characters. After a few years had gone by, I finally decided T was right. Sob’s story needed to be told. I wrote Mestlven in a few weeks. The book just flew out of me. And my promise to T was fulfilled.

When I had finished the book, T came down to Heart’s tattoo studio and got a tattoo of Sob’s hair pin stabbed through a red rose. She got it on her calf. She was the first to tattoo an image from my world onto her body.

I am honored by that and humbled. I look at T with awe and reverence.

This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep. 

Vol. 1: Teardrop Road, is available here on Amazon.

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