Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 40

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 39

He also had the growing impulse to cry, something Leonard hadn’t done in many years; he wasn’t ashamed by it, though. The growing stress and frustration of the overwhelming unknown of the past two days was enough to make anyone weep, not to mention Leonard’s multiplying qualms and Wolfhart’s harsh, if true, words.

Leonard pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes, resting his elbows on his now pulled up knees, the back of his skull pushed up against the cool stone of the wall. He wanted to melt into the surroundings, maybe become a piece of furniture…useful furniture…

He thudded his head against the wall, trying to knock those thoughts from his mind, but more just seemed to creep in through the cracks. With a frustrated growl Leonard wrenched his hands away from his face and dejectedly glanced around the room.

Its homey feel seemed to have left with Wolfhart. The shadows looked more menacing than sleepy sweeps of a painter’s brush along the walls; the walls themselves now seemed to crowd him instead of enveloping him like a cozy blanket.

The glint of his sword’s hilt caught Leonard’s eye. He ruefully wondered if it would do any good to practice the few things he’d learned. Wilhelmina had said that endurance and muscle memory were some of your greatest assets in a fight.

Leonard soon dismissed the idea; it was entirely too likely he would hurt himself or destroy something in the small space of the room, not to mention he highly doubted Wolfhart would be impressed by any number of hours Leonard may put into practicing at this point. He also had a notion that Wolfhart would find fault with him even if Leonard had been a skilled fighter, but it gave him not comfort.

He wrenched his gaze from weapons and Wolfhart from his thoughts. Leonard’s gaze shifted around the room again, looking for a focus for his mind as much as his eyes.  Sometimes he followed the creases where stone met stone from one corner to the next. Eventually this calmed him enough for pieces of other recent conversations to bubble up.

Such as Coppa calling Leonard his mate and a good man, words that warmed Leonard’s heart in his disheartened state; Coppa’s imploring Leonard to make his own mind up about things. Leonard mulled that one over that for a while. He settled on wishing that Coppa had stayed to explain further, if not to deter less welcome company.

Leonard’s thoughts turned to Ursa. He would have preferred that even she had stayed longer too. She wasn’t the most welcoming of people, but even she seemed to have the makings of a friend; she had vowed to help him after all, whatever that specification was supposed to imply.

Leonard’s shoulder warmed where Ursa had squeezed it, like she had only just removed her hand. Leonard moved his hand to that shoulder, imagining giving Ursa’s hand a grateful squeeze of his own. It brought him more comfort than he expected, enough to further loosen the cords of despair compressing his chest, giving hope more room to maneuver and grow.

2222280886_19e35421c8_z
photo from Flickr by IceBone

He had no idea how long he’d been sitting on the hard floor, but it was long enough that

his limbs were starting to ache and protest. Leonard rose slowly to his feet, letting his body stretch itself from its previously crumpled form.

 

He stepped away from the wall and took a deep breath as he stretched his arms behind his back, the muscles of his chest pulling as his back cracked, easing some of the tension that had been there. Then he shrugged and shimmed his shoulders to loosen them as well.

Finally, Leonard felt like he might be in a place to make some decisions, and maybe work out a plan.


Click here for part 41!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 39

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 38

6029205921_f3851cffcf_z.jpg
photo from Flickr by Andria

“Do you know how to use these?” Wolfhart gruffly asked, holding up the sword then using it to point to the weaponry. He continued to rotate the grip in his hand, occasionally swiping the air with lazy strokes.

Leonard kept his eye on the sword’s tip, but his heart relaxed enough that he could take in air again, perhaps even let out some words.

“I uh- well I’m not exactly skilled, but I learned some basics. Haven’t had much time to practice, though,” Leonard admitted, unsure if he was being wise but feeling it would be useless to lie to someone with Wolfhart’s expertise; Leonard’s inexperience would be evident in seconds if Wolfhart asked him to spar…or decided to test Leonard by surprise, which he feared was more of Wolfhart’s style.

“You’re honest. I can appreciate that,” Wolfhart’s deep voice rumbled, his head nodded once. “And you’re under no illusions about your skill. Good.” Something chilly crept into Wolfhart’s voice.

Leonard was painfully aware that Wolfhart still had the sword, now holding the blade against the palm of his open hand, peering closely at it from different angles. He took another swipe at the open space between him and Leonard before replacing the sword in it sheath with a swift snap and leaning it against the wall again; Leonard tried not to sigh audibly in relief.

“What do you think you are doing here?” the burly man asked as he turned away from the weapons.

“What do you mea”- Leonard began in polite confusion before being cut off.

“What use will you be to anyone?” the man gruffly questioned. He took a menacing step towards Leonard, who couldn’t resist backing up until he met the wall. Wolfhart moved closer until he was essentially towering over Leonard, blocking his view of everything in the room except the intimidating figure only a breath away.

“Well?” Wolfhart demanded.

Leonard felt like a goldfish, opening and closing his mouth dumbly; words were impossibly hard to find and form.

“As I thought,” Wolfhart said cruelly, crossing his arms and shifting so that he wasn’t as close to Leonard, no longer looming over him like a nightmare. “You are a liability. Osric will say all we need is to train you up, assign someone to look out for you, but it will make us vulnerable. If someone is too occupied making sure your neck isn’t snapped, they’ll miss something.

“Lettermans serve two basic, essential, purposes,” Wolfhart continued, holding up a finger for each point. “To travel between worlds, and inform. You can do one. But an ignorant Letterman is nigh useless. One that can’t even fight, well….”

Leonard felt Wolfhart’s words like a whip’s stinging lick. He wanted to protest, defend himself, say something, but the harsh words sounded too much like Leonard’s own fears to merit rebuttal. He settled for trying to keep his heartbeat steady and doing his best to swallow his hurt.

More than anything at that moment, Leonard wanted to be alone.

Whether he sensed Leonard’s desire, accomplished what he’d set out to do, or he’d merely finished his ruthless say, Wolfhart’s beard twitched in what might have been a smirk, and he turned towards the door. The hinges groaned as it opened.

Standing in the entryway, Wolfhart waved mockingly and said, “Thanks for the pleasant chat,” before exiting and pulling the door closed with a resounding thud.

Leonard’s knees shook and he collapsed to the floor. His stretched his legs out in front of him as he miserably recounted Wolfhart’s words. At each repetition, Leonard tried to insert a string of replies regarding his usefulness, that he could learn to fight, that he wouldn’t be a liability, but each sounded flimsier than a straw man.

He leaned his head against the wall, shut his eyes, and tried to suppress the urge to scream.


Click here for part 40!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 38

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 37

It was instead, a young woman with white eyes and skin to rival Ursa’s in its paleness that barely reached Leonard’s navel. She had a simple smile on her face and held out a tray with a annie-spratt-227757.jpgmodest meal and a mug of some liquid with a sweet scent; the refreshments that Osric had said would be along.

“Uh- Thank you,” Leonard said with an uncertain smile as he reached for the tray, unsure if she could see him.

Her dainty fingers released the tray into Leonard’s hands. He was about to turn and place the tray on his bed when a voice as soft as feather pillow halted his movement. “Dip in the tea, much tastier,” she said with a big smile, pointing without looking at what appeared to be a large hunk of bread on Leonard’s tray with.

“Thanks,” he replied lamely, returning her smile. She saved him the struggle of finding something else to say by turning and skipping down the black hallway, seemingly without a care. She too was soon swallowed by the darkness.

Leonard shook his head with a chuckle and shut the door with his foot after reentering his room, his hands occupied with holding the tray level; the mug was filled nearly to the brim and in danger of spilling over.

He lowered the tray carefully then took a seat beside it with equal caution and examined his meal. Besides the bread, there looked to be a couple of pieces of some sort of dried fruit that Leonard had never seen before and was sure did not grow on his own world.

Leonard tore off a piece of the bread, then tore it in half. He popped the first piece into his mouth and chewed the rough and mostly tasteless morsel, unable to keep from making a face. He looked at the piece in his waiting hand and dipped it into the mug while he swallowed the last bits in his mouth, hoping his delivering friend was right about the tea making it better.

With a shrug, Leonard ate the other piece; the difference was night and day. The sweet scent of the tea translated to a rich and satiating flavor that tickled Leonard’s tongue. The bread had soaked up the tea the way sponges do water, making each bite a rush of flavor. He broke off another piece and dunked it, grateful to his unnamed benefactor of a more pleasant meal.

Leonard was reaching for the mug, intending to try a sip of tea on its own, when another knock shook the door. For a brief moment he thought it might be Osric, but the rattling of the door from the force of the knocker convinced him otherwise.

He rose slowly and inched towards the door, which continued to shake from another forceful series of raps. Leonard cleared his throat and took a deep breath before pulling the door open.

Wolfhart’s untamed and alarming appearance loomed in the doorway, pushing the door open with a boorish shove. Leonard was forced to step back to allow him in or be shoved backwards. Wolfhart closed the door with a heavy thud, surveying the room briefly before turning to Leonard.

“You know, it’s more polite to wait for an invitation before entering someone else’s room,” Leonard said, unable to help himself as the mountainous man glared at him.

After a solid minute of hard staring, Wolfhart severed eye contact and turned to the weapons tucked in the corner. Leonard’s heart beat faster as the other man pulled Leonard’s sword from its sheath. Wolfhart weighed it in his hand, shifting it deftly from one hand to the other.

Leonard’s heart found its way into his throat.


Click here for Part 39!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 37

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 36

Though he had not asked Ursa to stay, Leonard was so surprised at her cavalier entrance as if she belonged there that he shut the door as if he’d invited her in himself. He was still trying to shift his thoughts from Coppa’s enigmatic visit when Ursa demanded his attention.

“So you’re the Letterman, huh? How long did you say you were in Palloria before coming here?” Ursa was right next to Leonard as he turned from the door, causing him to jump half a step back. They were standing so close he could feel the warmth of her breath as surely as he could feel the weight of her stare.

Being nearly the same height as Osric, Leonard had to look up slightly to look Ursa in the face. He took another causal half-step back, the better to take in the overwhelming presence before him. She stood with her legs wide, anchoring her to the spot like she expected someone to attempt to thrust her from it. Her arms were crossed in their characteristic shield over her chest.

“Well, I was there for an evening, maybe later afternoon or so….stayed there overnight, and then came here first thing in the morning,” Leonard answered. He reminded himself that he’d done nothing wrong and had no reason to be defensive, but Ursa’s accusatory scrutiny made him uncomfortable.

“And how long have you been corresponding in some way with anyone from Palloria?” from her tone, and a shrewd look that reminded him of Wilhelmina, it was evident that Ursa believed she’d caught Leonard in some sort of falsehood.

He was surprised to find that Ursa’s skepticism of him hurt and tried to brush it off; they were practically strangers, after all. He also declined to remind her that Osric had given everyone a brief summary of his and Wilhelmina’s arrival.

“A day? I got a letter on my route yesterday, which led me to a pond, that was afternoon my time, and the pond took me to Palloria. As I said, I was there for the afternoon, the evening, and the earlier morning hours, and have been here ever since.” Leonard tried to keep his tone even, hoping to invite conversation that would sow a seed of confidence instead of suspicion.

Ursa did not relax her posture, but her face took on a shape that Leonard was unfamiliar with at that point; she softened the most austere edges of her expression; her lips were no longer the flat line of a tug-of-war rope being pulled at both ends, her eyes no longer narrow slits with daggers at the ready. She almost looked like a different person, certainly a shade more approachable without the threat of decapitation emanating from her.

Before speaking again, Ursa examined Leonard by sight from head to toe, like she was searching for something tucked into a pocket or behind his ear. It gave Leonard to urge to start patting his pockets for something he hadn’t realized was there.

“Why did you decide to come?” her tone was not unkind, more concerned or curious than derisive. Her head had a slight tilt to the side.

Leonard was stunned into silence for a few seconds. He would never get used to the question when it had such an obvious, humane, answer. “I was asked for help…”

Ursa nodded in approval, though Leonard had the impression that he’d somehow answered more than the question she’d voiced. She uncrossed her arms and reached out to put a sizeable hand on Leonard’s shoulder.

You, I will help,” she vowed, voice low and sincere. Her fingers gripped his shoulder with a gentle squeeze before retracting. “Keep sharp, we’ll get through this, yet,” she added before turning on her heel and pulling open the door.

“What’s that supposed- Wait!” Once again Leonard found himself scrambling to follow his visitor into the hallway, throwing out words like hooks in hopes of reeling them back. But Ursa would not be caught; by the time Leonard had stepped into the dark hall, he’d lost sight of the ghostly figure.

Leonard scratched and shook his head. Giving way to his frustrations for a moment, he reentered his room and shut the door with considerably more force than was necessary. Leonard crossed his arms over his chest and leaned heavily against the door.

He had only just started to review his recent brief and strange conversations when another knock interrupted him. Leonard jumped away from the door, the vibrations from the would-be entrant giving him as much of a start as the interruption.

With a steadying breath and a sigh, Leonard went to open to door. Surely it would be Osric this time.

He was wrong.

26014268681_b28e6dfbd6_z


Click here for Part 38!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 36

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 35

2222280886_19e35421c8_z
photo from Flickr by IceBone

 

Leonard turned away from the door, resisting the temptation to pull on the circular handle to be sure it would open. He focused instead on the walls, littered with shelves of books and papers, and the single-person bed tucked into the far corner. None of the texts or furniture had the opulent touches that were present in the various rooms he’d seen in Palloria; it made the room friendlier to Leonard.

There were no windows, and the only door was the one that Leonard had entered through. The chamber was lit by an oil lamp attached to the left wall, just over the foot of the bed; the bedframe was some strange dark wood that Leonard could not name, and the mattress a well-worn but cozy enough affair, which Leonard sank down onto.

He set his pack on the mattress behind him when he noticed his bow and weapons belt leaning against the wall, all its occupants in their places. He was up on his feet seconds later, reaching out to touch the hilt of his sword, the curved edge of his bow, to be sure they were his. Once satisfied that all was accounted for, Leonard turned his attention to the books.

He ran his fingers over the spines cluttering the shelves creaking from their weight. Most of them were in languages he could not read, some of them he could not recognize at all. Leonard paused to scan the titles of those he could decipher; most looked to be history books, atlases, or notes on flora, tools, and weaponry. There were a couple of titles that might have contained some form of fiction, but a knock on the door pulled Leonard’s attention away.

His heart sped up. He hadn’t even had a chance to wonder what Osric might want to speak with him about, yet.

The knock came again, this time in a friendlier rhythm, as if it was trying to convince him to open the door.

Leonard took the two short steps to reach the door, pulling it open an inch with a perspiring palm. Instead of finding stately Osric, Leonard found Coppa’s youthful grin.

“What are you doing here?” Leonard asked, holding the door further open in his surprise. He poked his out into the hall a moment and saw that it was empty, except for the sharp-featured, slightly-freckled face in front of him.

“Well, I-I fancied a chat with yeh, a brief one, if you don’ mind.” Coppa grinned sheepishly, his eyes flickering to the open space over Leonard’s shoulder. The sincere expression in his face settled things; Leonard stepped back and gestured Coppa inside.

With two people now in the room, it was considerably smaller and no longer looked able to contain much in the way moving bodies. Leonard shut the door and propped himself on the narrow foot of the wooden bad frame; it supported his weight without protest.

Coppa tucked himself up against the many shelves lining the right wall, across from Leonard, but within arm’s reach in the enclosed space. His tipped ears peeked out beneath his auburn hair, but there was a downward tilt to them.

“So, what did you want to chat about?” Leonard asked as he leaned forward with an elbow on his raised knee, foot propped on the lowest rung of the bedframe under him.

“I noticed you didn’ say much earlier and, well, I wanted to see what kin’a chap yeh are, since we’re set to be workin’ together and all,” Coppa said with a nervous chuckle and a smile that reminded Leonard of a child’s. The young man seemed genuine, searching Leonard with a curious expression on his face.

“Is there something in particular you wanted to know?” Leonard asked, unable to suppress his amusement at his unexpected visitor.

“How long yeh known the Lady Pond?” Coppa tried to sound nonchalant, riffling through the pages of a randomly selected book while pretending not to be waiting for Leonard’s response.

“Not long,” Leonard replied warily, following the auburn-haired imp’s every movement in search of explanation. When he seemed in no hurry to reply, Leonard added, “Is there a reason you ask?”

Coppa’s eyes leapt from the page and locked onto Leonard’s; it was then that Leonard noticed that not only did Coppa have green and yellow eyes, but his pupils were vertical like a cat’s. He wondered how he’d missed that before.

“Look, I like yeh, Leonard. I think you’ve the makin’s of a good mate and”- Coppa began, but Leonard interrupted, unable to help himself.

“I thought you came here to see what kind of person I was.” Leonard smiled as he said it to make it clear he was joking.

Coppa returned a pained smile that had more than a spoonful of pity sprinkled over it. “Leonard, I think you’re a genuinely good person, comin’ all the way here to help strangers…yeh don’ even have a clue what this place is like yeh- well, lads don’ generally volunteer for Krosis duty if they’ve another place to go,” he said pointedly.

He licked his lips before continuing, the book he’d been pretending to look through clutched absentmindedly in his hands. “What I’m tryin’ to say is, I believe why you’re here, and I’m here because of that.”

Leonard felt a pinch in his forehead from his furrowed brow as he tried to decipher Coppa’s words into something that made sense. He was saved the need of forming a question just yet, because the other man continued.

“You’re probably drownin’ in information so I don’ blame yeh if you’re ready to go along with whatever the Lady says, and I’m not tellin’ yeh to necessarily go against her or anythin’! I’d just like to encourage yeh, as a mate, to listen. Listen and make your own decisions.” Coppa finished heavily. His strange eyes glowed, giving him the appearance of a misshapen ginger cat.

Leonard was still absorbing these words when Coppa spun and replaced his pilfered book before making for the door.

“Wait, you”- Leonard said in a rush to his feet, grabbing Coppa’s shoulder to prevent him from slipping into the hallway.

“Please, just think about what I said. Have to go for now, but I’m sure we’ll talk more soon,” Coppa said, cutting off Leonard’s words. He clapped Leonard on the back convivially before breaking the hold on his shoulder and gliding into the hall.

Leonard thought about going after Coppa, but as he pulled the door further open, he found the hallway completely deserted. Shaking his head, Leonard closed the sturdy door again and returned to the bed.

He was starting to wonder if the encounter had been some strange dream when another knock shattered the silence; this one was not a friendly knock. Whatever had happened before, it was certainly not Coppa on the other side of the door this time.

After a second’s hesitation, Leonard retraced his steps to the door. He grabbed the handle, bracing himself, then pulled it open.

The pale and disgruntled Ursa met his surprise with a shove of her shoulder as she invited herself inside.


Click here for Part 37!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 35

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 34

No one spoke for a moment, absorbing the news. It was abruptly broken by a snide tone.

“And what reason have we to believe that?” Ursa snapped as she sat back in her chair, arms locked over her chest in a vice grip.

Osric took his time answering. In that period he continued his staring contest with the table, not looking up as his fingers tapped inconstant rhythms against the wood. Eventually, voice gruffer than usual, he said, “There is reason to believe that Etta is the one responsible for poisoning Wilhelmina as a child. There wasn’t anyone else who traveled between here and Palloria, except the Letterman.”

Leonard noticed that almost everyone’s attention shifted momentarily to him. He tried not to squirm out view.

Osric noticed too and plowed on. “Lacking other possibilities and motives, we should review what we’ve heard from Etta and compare it with what we know to be true from own eyes and knowledge.” He made a point of locking eyes with Wolfhart for the space of a breath.

“From there, we can attempt to choose our course of action,” Osric finished with a look around the crowded table. Most everyone seemed to be pondering this information with subdued expressions and the occasional shadow of reservation.

Ursa, on the other hand, looked like a natural disaster about to unleash its fury. Her pale face was turning a brilliant pink that was soon becoming a mottled reddish hue. Leonard was put in mind of a volcano preparing to unleash molten rivers onto the unsuspecting landscape.

She launched herself to her feet, mouth open and ready to spew lava-coated words. Osric mirrored her motion and quelled her with a harsh stare. “Go to the armory, work out your anger. You and I will talk later.”

Ursa scoffed and tried to speak again but Osric cut her off “- I promise, I will listen to all of your thoughts and reservations. I swear I will take them into consideration as well, and then we can all reconvene at a later time. But for now, Ursa, I need you to go, or I can see that we will get nothing done.”

It was evident by the pained expression on his face that this decision bothered Osric, but he would not be swayed. Ursa eyes were bright and terrifying from the wrath she was holding in. Leonard expected her to detonate any moment. Instead, she silently fumed her way around the table, passing Wolfhart and Nox, furthest away from Wilhelmina, and through the door without a look back.

There was a moment of silence while most of the tension in the room dissipated like a kettle’s scream as it’s removed from the heat.

Leonard peered around the table; Wolfhart kept darting borderline mutinous looks in Osric’s direction, but remained otherwise silent and unaffected; Nox and Xandi remained as they’d always been, calmly observing with muted expressions making it impossible to discern their possible thoughts; Coppa looked bemusedly around the circle of faces, searching for at least some of the same answers Leonard wanted; Wilhelmina was the only one who seemed to be swallowing a distorted version of joy, tucking it away behind her mask of thoughtful consideration with only a mild slope of her lips to suggest otherwise.

It was again Osric that broke the silence. He cleared this throat and said, “We all have stakes in this. As I’ve said, we must work together, be willing to trust each other. Everyone is encouraged to speak their minds and share their voice, but in the right time. Outbursts will serve no useful purpose, and we cannot quibble as we go over every little thing.

“So, to the matter at hand,” Osric turned to Nox and Wolfhart. “Let’s start with you. Where might we be vulnerable given this new information, and what do we know for fact about our current situation and intel?”

It wasn’t long before Leonard was lost and overwhelmed by the waves of information that crashed into him. It was all the more difficult to keep everything straight given his utter lack of knowledge and context.

He felt like a mannequin overseeing the others’ conversation, unable to contribute or do more than dumbly nod along as if he understood what was going on. Osric occasionally smiled at him in a reassuring way, but Leonard didn’t know what exactly he was being assured of; so, he continued to look at whomever was speaking, glance around at the others’ faces, and either nodded or shook his head in minute movements as the conversation wore on.

All sense of time was lost to Leonard, as much from being in a foreign world that moved at a different pace as from his lack of an adequate timepiece. Eventually, enough had passed that Osric at last brought attention to it.

“I think we could all do with some peace and refreshment. Some nourishment and time to reflect,” he said as he rose from the table.

“I will show you both to rooms,” Osric directed at Wilhelmina and Leonard, who stood and swung bags over their shoulders. To what remained of the original table group he said, “I’ll find and speak with you all individually soon.”

Leonard’s stomach clenched and churned with every step as he followed Osric through the labyrinth of dripping stone hallways; the dark and gloom was only marginally chased away by the flickering torch in Osric’s hand. Leonard’s mind was buzzing with doubts, nagging him about every scrap of information that had been discussed but he couldn’t properly recall; peppered with questions about what he was still doing there and whether he would become more asset or liability.

“Here you are Leonard.” Osric’s voice surprised Leonard as much as the abrupt halt, which caused him to crash into Osric’s solidly built frame. Waving off Leonard’s apologies, Osric opened the door and gestured Leonard inside.

The room was considerably smaller than any of the rooms Leonard had seen in Palloria; it wasn’t much bigger than a sizeable walk-in pantry, but it had a surprisingly homey feel to it just on walking in.

“Someone will be along shortly with something of sustenance. And I will be in to speak with you privately at some point, if you don’t mind.” Osric waited for Leonard’s nod of approval before reaching to pull the door closed. Looking over Osric’s shoulder to Wilhelmina standing in the hall, face cast into deep shadow from the low light, Leonard noticed a withering glare directed at her brother; it seemed she was less than pleased at the prospect of Leonard and Osric speaking alone.

But it was gone in a flash, and Leonard wondered if it might have been a trick of the light, because Wilhelmina gave him a small but encouraging smile and a small wave before the door hid her from sight.

26014268681_b28e6dfbd6_z.jpg


Click here for Part 36!

 

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 34

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 33

“Your sister?” Coppa exclaimed, his eyes roving over Wilhelmina as if looking for someone he’d once known.

“The Letterman,” Xandi intoned with another thin smile, her voice slow and deep, rich like a decadent dessert.

Silence fell over the motley band, giving Leonard the impression of the calm before a storm. He was not wrong.

In a surge of motion and sound, as if a match had struck and caused each to explode into action, Coppa, Ursa, and Wolfhart rose from their chairs, voices crashing into and over each other to be heard.

“-didn’ you tell us your sister was-“

“-is the meaning of –“

“-far more of an explanation-“

-was all that Leonard managed to catch in the swarm before all three abruptly halted. Wolfhart looked most abashed by his outburst. His eyes darted to his father, who remained calmly in his chair, observing Leonard and Wilhelmina with a new, searching look. Wolfhart slowly sank into his seat, recovering his statuesque posture, a red tinge creeping up the side of his neck.

Coppa looked sheepish and scratched nervously at the back of his head, also taking his own seat again. He gave Osric an apologetic smile before resuming his surveillance of Wilhelmina, igniting Leonard’s curiosity about the young man’s persistent interest in her.

Of those that had taken their feet, only Ursa remained standing. Shea rolled her eyes again and crossed her arms over her chest, leaning heavily to one side so that her hip jutted out. She looked bored, but her narrowed eyes told a different story.

“There is much to discuss, and though we must work swiftly, we cannot be hasty in our actions, but the time has come, my friends. The truth must come out and we will put an end to the destruction, and the portals, once and for all,” Osric emphatically imparted to the room, looking each in the eye in turn.

Most everyone in the room seemed to take heart from Osric’s words, but Leonard noticed that neither Ursa nor Wilhelmina appeared altogether pleased by them. It gave Leonard an uncomfortable sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Here’s as good a place as any so….” Osric gestured to the open chairs at the far end of the table.

Wilhelmina brushed past Leonard and her brother and took the open seat at the head of the table, smoothly swinging her pack from shoulder to lap in one easy motion. She settled back in her seat and smiled at Ursa, who looked like she’d swallowed something vile.

Without missing a beat, Osric walked around Wilhelmina to take the open chair on her left that would place him between her and Ursa. He gave her a reassuring smile before sinking into his seat, waiting for Ursa to follow suit, before waving Leonard over to take the last empty place around the table.

Leonard hoped he didn’t look as much of an imposter as he felt. Sitting among proven fighters and magic wielders, those with formidable skill and power that would be useful in the days to come, Leonard feared he had already served his only purpose, and that his presence would all too soon become obsolete; this left him all the more confused and swimming in convoluted emotions and thoughts, torn between the desire to be safe at home where things made sense, and being able to help the obviously dire situation.

“I realize we all have questions and feel our own are the most pertinent,” Osric began, cutting off Leonard’s more self-deprecating thoughts and redirecting his attention to the moment at hand.

“But I ask that you be patient. Everyone will have a chance to speak. Collectively, I believe we have the same, if not similar goals, though perhaps with different motivations. As we move forward, we must be open with each other, willing to trust each other, if we have any hope of seeing this through.” Osric ended with a pointed look at Ursa, who sat with a sour look on her face as if she’d sipped old milk.

“Do we blindly trust those with a supposed Letterman, now? Disregarding our own eyes, ears, and intellect?” Wolfhart asked in a low, challenging tone.

Osric’s face hardened as he leaned over Ursa to better look the other man in the eye. “Do not spin my words into your own malformed creation, Wolfhart.”

Sitting back in his seat, Osric continued, addressing the entire group, “We have reason to believe that we have been given false information, and so we must reevaluate what we know to be true, and what should be called into question, before we can act accordingly.”

A strained moment passed while the information was absorbed, burrowing into their hearts until the stillness was broken.

“Whose words are choosing to doubt?” Nox calmly inquired from his place at the head of the table, opposite Wilhelmina.

Osric looked uncomfortable, dropping his eyes to the table and taking a steadying breath before returning his companions’ gaze and replying in a low tone, “Etta.”

6601221667_c8d8aea40c_z.jpg
photo from Flickr by Mustafa Khayat

Click here for Part 35!

Review Corner: Boy: A Journey by James Stryker

While speaking with James Stryker after I had finished his debut novel Assimilation, he told me about his latest (then upcoming) novel, Boy: A Journey.  After reading the description on his website, I was very much interested in it as well.

A snippet of it is: Everyone knew about Jay’s hidden transgender past — except his son. Now that his father is gone, Luke must seek the truth to understand the man he thought he knew. (click here to read the rest)
boy a journey.jpg

James Stryker was gracious enough to honor me with a copy of Boy: A Journey in exchange for an honest review. So, I eagerly dove head first into the novel, soon realizing that I would need to break from it over the holidays due to the sensitive and heart rending nature of the story and the events in it.

The first chapter includes the brutal and graphic death of Jay, Luke’s father, in the midst of yet another fight between father and son. The room became quite…dusty…during the first chapter, of course being the cause of my watering eyes…

crying gif.gif

When I was able to collect myself (and *ahem* find a less dusty room) I returned to the story to learn what happened in the aftermath of Jay’s death.

Boy: A Journey is told in three perspectives. We’re first introduced to Luke, the King of Brats, Luke the “Wronged”; the next chapter, we meet Tom, the man dying of cancer holding secrets to his chest like precious gems, in love with Jay and hiding in the wings; and finally, we have the perspective of Ginger (real name Jake), Luke’s brother-in-law and the man stealing Beau away from possessive Luke (he and Beau are twins, after all).

Unfortunately while reading, I ran into some similar issues that I had with Assimilation regarding pronouns and how time passes. For instance, it could be difficult at times to know for sure who is talking or being talked about. This was especially true when there were more than two people in the conversation; it got a little confusing on occasion.

There was also a lot of jumping back and forth in time without clearly seguing the reader through the time shifts; this made the car ride home with Luke and Jay in the first chapter a little confusing and difficult to get through, in particular.

Some chapters repeat blocks of time from different people’s perspectives, but it’s not always stated or made clear that that’s what’s happening. This left me with a discombobulated feeling. I think if chapter intros were used more consistently and effectively (which may or may not be the case with the final published version, I’m not sure), this problem would be mostly resolved.

Before I go too much further, there is one major detail (or set of details) that I wish were perhaps different: three important characters have the names Jay, Jake, and Jackie…even by the last page, this still messed with me. The names are so similar it took me way longer than it should have from the beginning to place who each character was every time I came across them. I became frustrated with momentary mix-ups more than a few times. It was easier when Jake was called by his nickname, Ginger, but then it would throw me off when I saw “Jake” used again.

Nevertheless, the story drew me in for the most part, despite Luke’s obnoxious and occasionally cruel asides. I did, however, spend a healthy portion of the book wondering why I was reading so much from Luke’s perspective; the giant chip on Luke’s shoulder leaves him with a skewed version of events in his life, all of which are compounded by the unexpected revelation of the secret Jay had kept most vigilantly from his son, and the fact that Luke is the last to know. It’s hard to understand how Luke came to be this much of an ass.

In the aftermath of Jay’s sudden and traumatic death, Luke’s focus is still mainly himself. He may be affected by the loss of his father, but the reasons are far more egocentrically based than truly mourning his dad; he cares more about trying to rattle and humiliate Ginger (his brother-in-law) at Jay’s funeral than he does giving his last respects and saying goodbye to his own father. Even his eventual tender moments towards his mother and sister are all about playing Luke’s most important role, that of “perfect” son and brother.

Everything comes to a head when Luke finds out that there’s a secret and everyone else was privy to it except him, and he believes, his twin, Beau. When Luke finds out that Tom, a virtual stranger to him, knows and has some connection to Jay and thus the secret, he arranges a meeting in hopes of manipulating answers from him. The meeting, however, is brief as Tom quickly realizes that Jay has not told Luke everything and that Luke is fishing. The disastrous encounter prompts Luke to confront his mother, Jackie, and demand the truth from her…the night of his father’s burial.

There are a couple of things I would I like to comment on concerning the conversation where Luke is told of his father’s transgender past and the ending, but I don’t want to give anything away to anyone who wants to experience it for themselves (I definitely recommend that!) So just in case you don’t know the drill, scroll down until you see the kitten under the flannel, it will be safe after that.

Spoiler-Alert-Discussion

No matter what Luke’s justification is to himself, or anyone else, he is incredibly cruel with some of the things he says after the revelation of his father’s past, and Tom’s contribution to his and Beau’s existence.

The best part, though, are Beau and Jackie’s reactions; I loved the ferociousness with which Beau and Jackie defend Jay being a man and Luke’s real father. They rail against Luke and his ignorant and disgusting comments with passion…my heart swelled. Even though it was violent, I have to say I also enjoyed the detail of Ginger noticing Beau moving her wedding ring so that she smacked Luke with it facing him.

Another moment that tugged at my heart strings, and was incredibly sad to read, was Tom’s hallucination of Jay taking care of him, when it is really Luke. I almost cried.

As far as the end goes, one thing that I wish had been done differently was the apology and reconciling conversation between Luke and his family. I’m sure it would have been incredibly difficult to write, but as a reader, it seemed to resolve relatively easily. One long phone conversation after months of nothing, and things are on their way to being better. Not entirely fixed, but better, and mostly forgiven. Though it was obviously painful and difficult to get there for the characters, it still felt a little too easy of a makeup. I think it would have made the book a little stronger to further illustrate this pivotal conversation between Luke, Jackie, and Beau.

kitten-flannel-safe-from-spoilers

Yes, is safe now.

There is only one other matter I have an issue with and feel I must comment on, and that’s the way Tom talks about the pain medication he is given for his cancer. To read Tom’s experience, it’s incredibly easy to get pain medicine when you need it, which is not necessarily the case, regardless of a doctor’s willingness to prescribe.

For a man that likes to comment on being put upon and listing all the things he has to go through, Tom doesn’t once mention the debacle of having to go pick up his higher dose pain prescriptions himself from the doctor’s office and then taking them to the pharmacy to be filled; a doctor cannot call in a prescription for pain medicine that is classified as a narcotic, they have to have the physically written prescription in hand, and the ID of the person picking it up/who it’s for. I know this from personal experience. And believe me, it’s not fun.

Both to keep to Tom’s character, as well as to accurately and responsibly depict something concerning pain medicine, it’s something I would like to see done a bit better.

All around, even though I wanted to strangle Luke on more than one occasion, it was an unexpected journey to experience, and one I enjoyed reading overall.

My favorite aspect of the book is the “good deeds of truth,” doing something for the sake of someone else without any benefit for yourself. In general, it’s a beautiful sentiment that I wish more people understood, shared, and practiced. In the book, it’s one of Jay’s pillars, especially in concerning his care of the dead; Jay and Ginger are morticians, they care for the dead with love and respect without being repaid in anyway by the person they care for. There is no benefit but to respect another human being’s life.

I heartily recommend this to anyone looking for an LGBTQ+ related read, but only if you can handle some sad and difficult scenes. It’s hard for me to say who might enjoy this book, it has cancer, death, and transgender man holding onto a secret, but it also has a lot of heart and an ending that won’t make you want to throw it across the room, though you might tear up.

It’s safe to say that I’m a fan of Stryker’s writing style and his stories are intriguing. I will be eagerly awaiting and anticipating his future releases. You can get a copy of Boy: A Journey on Amazon or B&N , or visit James at his website.

You Might Also Like:
Assimilation by James Stryker
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 33

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 32

He took barely two steps until he was looking down on Leonard and Wilhelmina, surveying them with a glare. Standing this close, Leonard was acutely aware of how tall the other man was, who seemed to even have an inch or two on lanky Osric. Leonard was eye to chin with him.

Leonard swallowed with difficulty as the hazel eyes of the older man continued to bore into him. A scar ran down the right side of the man’s face, growing out from his gray hairline in faded scar tissue, down until it met the curve of his chin. Leonard found himself wincing at his earlier rush for action, the judgmental way he’d viewed Osric’s response, even if the words “come up with a plan” still sliced at his nerves like razorblades. He swallowed again, and still there was only silence to accompany the unyielding gaze.

At last, the man’s lips parted to release a grave and gravelly voice. “Would you so willingly and recklessly send friends, family to be tortured, killed, when you knowingly lack information and possible tools necessary to be of any help?” there was no accusation in his voice, which surprised Leonard. Instead, there was only a deep and weary sadness clinging to space his words had taken up, and in the forest of his eyes.

Leonard’s insides withered. He felt like an impulsive teenager trying to race off and save the day, or someone too young to understand the importance of patience. Though he was tempted to point out that his family was one of the ones taken, as Leonard looked at Wilhelmina, and even Osric and the strangers in front of him, he knew he’d never be able to send them into danger…at least not without knowing it would be worth it, which it would have to be.

The older man nodded silently at some change he saw in Leonard’s face before turning his hard gaze to Wilhelmina. Leonard looked over as well and saw her standing with her arms crossed and jaw set, but her face had a crumpled look to it that illustrated her own second thoughts.

“Good. When there’s plan, I will help you,” he said approvingly with a nod before turning and reclaiming his seat. The younger version with black hair did not look pleased.

Osric beamed momentarily at each face in the room, then clapped his hands together and said, “Well then, let’s have introductions. Then we’ll work on that plan.” The last part Osric said to Leonard pointedly, and with a sincerity that moderately calmed the urgency in Leonard’s veins.

“Here we have,” Osric started, nodding in the direction of the gray head, “Nox, his son, Wolfhart. Both are the best strategists and fighters this side of Krosis.” The woman with white-blonde hair rolled her eyes while Nox inclined his head in acknowledgement, but his younger version remained as still as a statue, complete with stony expression.

“That lad there is Coppa,” Osric gestured, with a tilt to his lips, to the chestnut-haired young man, who looked like a mischievous character, emphasized by the slight point to the tip of his ears.

“Coppa has a knack with any kind of technology, and can engineer or fix almost anything.” Coppa rubbed the nails of his left hand against his tunic then blew on them with a carefree expression and an impish wink. Leonard thought he heard Wilhelmina chuckle softly.

“Coppa is also studying with Xandi,” Osric continued, this time pointing to the woman with her hair wrapped around her. “Xandi is a gifted sorceress.” She gave them a thin smile as she stroked the black river of hair that flowed across her chest. It was impossible for Leonard to tell how old she was; every time he blinked, her features appeared older or younger, never constant enough to form a true mental image of what her face looked like, but always with the same regal countenance. Leonard’s mind filled with questions and curiosities he wished to ask her about, but his attention was recaptured by Osric speaking again.

“Last, and certainly not least, we have Ursa. Her stealth and reconnaissance abilities are unmatched. She’s also an excellent, experienced fighter, particularly close quarters.” Ursa looked much happier after her own introduction.

“Everyone,” Osric said to the group around the table, “this is Wilhelmina and Leonard.” There was a pregnant pause, the seated occupants looking expectantly from one face to the other before settling back on Osric’s.

He took a deep breath before saying, “Wilhelmina is my younger sister, from Palloria, and Leonard, is the Letterman.”

From the expressions around the table, it was most unexpected news.

lamp.jpeg


Click here for Part 34!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 32

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 31

StockSnap_N1HRJDNGGA.jpg

Leonard drew comfort from the hand tucked in his that pulled him along since the owner seemed to know where they were going, or possibly could see better in the dark. Whatever the reason, Leonard was glad that Wilhelmina was undeterred by the pitch black hallway leading them to further into the unknown.

For a while, Leonard could only hear the shuffle and tromp of their paired feet, which echoed slightly off the walls. At some point it sounded like there was a soft, steady, drip to be heard between the footfalls. There was a dank quality to the air the farther they walked, and eventually a gentle downward slope to their path that caused Leonard the slightest hesitation when placing his feet.

They’d been walking long enough for Leonard to start wondering whether they were in a corridor or a tunnel when a dim and distant light could be seen up ahead; between their steps also came the steady rumble of voices that grew louder as they neared.

Leonard’s pulse quickened at the sound. Wilhelmina’s fingers twitched in his hand.

The darkness of the passage they’d been traversing had acclimated Leonard’s eyes enough to the dark that he was partially blinded when they found themselves outside of a room with an open door as the source of the light. His head gave another nasty throb, reminding him of its recent contact with stone.

They could hear the voices more clearly now, but it seemed like there were at least two people speaking at once at all times, though the pairings seemed to change. It made the tangled mess of words difficult to separate and absorb into any meaningful message.

Osric halted at the door to give Wilhelmina and Leonard a measured look before squaring his shoulders and entering the room with a low, “this way,” to them.

The many-tongued conversation paused immediately when Osric stepped into the room. His presence was soon followed by a raucous greeting, which abruptly ceased the moment that Wilhelmina and Leonard appeared at Osric’s shoulder. At some point, Wilhelmina reclaimed her hand.

Leonard squinted marginally, resisting the urge to raise his arm and shield his eyes from the blinding light. The room looked far smaller than its dimensions suggested, the space largely filled with a battered but sturdy looking table surrounded by mismatched chairs in similar condition, most of which were occupied.

Five pairs of eyes grew wide as they surveyed Wilhelmina and Leonard. They looked to be of a variety of ages; the oldest seemed to be a man sitting at the corner of the table with gray hair knotted at the base of his skull; the youngest appeared closer to Wilhelmina’s age, a man with chestnut hair and sharp features who had turned in his chair to gape at them.

There were three men and two women. The remaining man looked like a younger, wilder version of the eldest, his long hair dark and untamed, left to entangle itself in the scruffy beard that reached his chest. The women looked like inverses of each other; the younger had hair so blonde it looked white, cropped short in a fashion similar to Osric’s and blending into translucently white skin, giving her a ghostly appearance; the other had her long, black hair plaited and wrapped around her shoulders like a scarf with golden beads threaded through it, her dark skin emanating with an ineffable glow.

Osric held up his hands to deter interruption. “My companions do not understand why nothing has yet been done about the information we recovered regarding the portals and the taken.”

Though obviously riddled with questions and shock at the unexpected arrivals, Osric’s statement had an even more surprising effect on the seated group, which seemed to push all focus on who the visitors were from their minds.

The man with iron gray locks rose slowly from his chair.


Click here for Part 33!