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Oct 22, 2016

Triple Junction excerpt: The Dance of the Dead

Just in time for Halloween, Samhain, or Kala Goañv in the Breton language, an excerpt* from Chapter 6 in book 5, the final book of The Schattenreich, Triple Junction

The meandering trail through gentle hills led us into a bowl-shaped dale. A single-file of forlorn souls marched downwards from the hills opposite us. Hagen called a halt when we reached a jumble of moss-covered boulders to the right of the path.

“Just find a place to sit comfortably. We won’t have long to wait,” Hagen said.

 Heinrich slung his binioú kozh in preparation for playing, and Sebastian sat next to me, taking my hand in his.

“Who are they, Tadig?”

“Those who’ve departed but have not yet found peace.”

“What are they doing here?”

“Celebrating. And remembering. Like us. Look. A few of the Tud join us.” My father pointed behind us, to the path we had just taken.

A line of about a dozen Tud, one of several races of beings who inhabited Ande-dubnos, came our way. These were the tall ones with fair skin and long silvery hair. They stood near a group of boulders to the left of the path. A couple of them nodded to us, and they watched Heinrich expectantly.

Then I saw Ankou. He stood where the path opened out to the grassy dale, where the dead had just passed. He wore his black cloak and wielded his iron-tipped staff, his legs spread. His hair blew behind him, his skin an unearthly white. He waited until the last of the dead passed by. When they were all gathered in the middle of the downs, Ankou rapped his staff on the ground three times.

The dead began to sing. Ankou rapped his staff three more times. Some danced, but mostly they
moved amongst each other in a grim Irish wheel, touching one other as they passed, many of them turning, gazing as if searching for someone or something, the short cropped grasses not even marked by their passing. Hagen gazed in the same way. He tapped Heinrich on the shoulder.

Out in the middle of the dale, Hagen and Heinrich’s mother Isabel glided past the other souls. Her face had none of the life and hope so visible in the pictures Heinrich had shown me in Dinard, but she was beautiful, with a kissed-by-moonlight paleness contrasting her long dark hair and slender form.

Beautiful and dead. So near but so far away.

Heinrich played a few notes on his bagpipe, then stopped to sing to her in Brezhoneg, not a funeral dirge, but a song that sounded both happy and sad. Heinrich’s clear voice conveyed respect and longing.

Isabel glanced once our way and then continued her search. Was she looking for Hagen’s father Theodor? One of the dead men took her hand and led her in a slow dance. She didn’t resist. The others joined them, swaying and turning to Heinrich’s song.

Ankou kept a close watch on his flock. When one of them strayed too far towards us, he would call them back with a commanding voice that touched me in the deep place where my fear of him still lived. But what could he possibly threaten the dead with?

I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer to that question, but as I turned to ask Hagen, Ankou stood before us. He had moved across the dale in less time than it took me to open my mouth to speak, as quick as the dead men who had led us here. I turned my face away, unwilling to meet Ankou’s eyes.

His claim on me had not yet come to pass; he would have to wait. I was here with the man of my heart’s desire tonight and was still very much alive and a part of his life. Ankou bowed and reached out a hand to me. Was he asking me to dance?

I shrank back. Hagen reached me and took my hand in a tight grip. He held out a hand to ward off Ankou’s advance. “Your claim on Katarin is not yet due. What do you seek from the living?” A ring of light glowed a ghostly white on Hagen’s little finger.

Ankou bowed. “A dance to celebrate Kala Goañv and the day of your promising.”

Was tonight's joy to be the cause of hostility? Hagen couldn’t tell me about the unfinished business between them because of a geis. But if all Ankou wanted was a dance, then I could do that. I took my hand from Hagen’s and extended it to Ankou.

A light touch on my shoulder made me turn my head.

“May I have the pleasure of a dance with you, milady?” Brionne, the Tud I met at the Sea of Dreams, the night Heinrich and I made love for the first time, stood next to me. For the evening’s festivities, he wore a burgundy red suit featuring a double-breasted long-tail coat that went well with his platinum hair. Hagen smiled and nodded his head in approval.

Brionne bowed to Ankou and turned back to me. Ankou’s face betrayed no emotion, but a brief smile of acknowledgement appeared.

I gave Brionne my hand. “I’d be honored.”

The other Tud danced with us, their long arms and legs swirling, rising and falling. Ankou swiveled his head to watch us. Their enthusiasm pushed me into a frenzy, just like on Kala Hañv, the Maifest, when I ran with the Tud to honor Eduard’s passing. Here it had none of the urgency of the Wild Hunt I had fled.

I didn’t need to escape Death. Not tonight. Not yet.

Hagen joined Heinrich in his song, his voice higher but in harmony. I’d never heard him sing before. The words poured out evening a rich timbre; although I didn’t understand their meaning, the carefully contained emotion behind them seemed clear. Sebastian added his voice to the chorus, and put his arms across their shoulders. Heinrich ended the song with a few plaintive notes from his Breton bagpipe.

I curtsied low to Brionne and thanked him for the dance before turning again to the dead. The souls in the middle of the downs continued their own songs, voices strengthening and then fading away. Sobs and cries issued forth. They intensified their movements as if working up to a grand finale. At a signal from Ankou, they abruptly turned and began the climb back to where they had come from.

Hagen took a few steps closer to Ankou. They faced off, their words swallowed in a wind that swirled around them, a wind Ankou caused with a flourish of his iron rod, so that none of us were privy to their conversation. Heinrich held me around the waist.

Finished with what they had to say to each other, Druid and Death regarded each other across the short distance between them before Ankou turned and followed his flock, his long hair flowing around him. He turned once more and bowed to me before continuing on his way. Hagen started after him, a momentary sadness lingering in his expression, until Sebastian clasped him by the shoulder.

We began the trek back home.


Wishing everyone a safe and peaceful Kala Goañv

*redacted to minimize spoilers.

Illustration credits:
Spooky Forest, j. s. suley via istock
Pompeii bronze, K.-G. Hinzen
Dancing in the Moonlight, Demoncic via istock
2015 Pumpkin carved by K.-G. Hinzen


Aug 13, 2016

Sneak Preview: Book 1 of The Sundered Veil, a new Schattenreich series

Hi Dear Readers,

Time for an update.

Presenting an excerpt of the (still-in-progress) first book, The Sundered Veil. Yes, it is a part of the Schattenreich (Celto-Germanic) universe, and yes, it is a new (fantasy) series, one that takes place in the Very Near Future. Yes, there are some familiar (but older) characters and many new characters.

Yes, I am still writing it, and yes, it is just to whet your appetite.

It started out as a short story and has now reached near novel length. I'm working on it steadily and it has, much to my surprise, now outpaced my progress on other projects so much that I'm devoting most of my writing time and research efforts to finishing it. Such is life.

I've also started a visual (but chaotic) story-elementing thing over at my Sundered Veil Pinterest board.

PLEASE NOTE: Due to a technical error, the KOBO promotion for Primary Fault ended five days too soon! I've adjusted the free promotion to run from now until August 21 (the promotion may take a day to go into effect, so check back again starting August 15!). My apologies if this error caused any disappointment.


Jeremiah: The Disappearance
Nine months ago

My friends called me Jim. Short for Jeremiah. Not Jerry or Jem. Might be because my little sister could only manage 'Jimah' when she was…little. Everyone, myself included, thought it was way cute. My cousins shortened it to Jim, and it stuck. I preferred Jem because that would make me much more interesting, but was really glad no one called me Jerry.

Only three people called me Jeremiah - my father, one of my uncles and my cousin Theo - short for Theodor. Everyone called him Theo, even my uncle, his father, the one who also called me Jeremiah. Theo was named after his grandfather, who died shortly after his birth under mysterious circumstances. Mysterious, even for our family, and that was saying a lot.

I wasn't named for anyone. My dad just liked the name, according to my mother. My grandfather was also dead and, by all accounts, not-a-nice-person, and not one to name your son after. Okay with me.

Theo was late, as usual. I had anticipated that and brought my math textbook, Math for Information Technology and Dad's copy of Bronstein for reference. I settled myself in Theo's big comfy easy chair, probably an antique or something close to it -- complete with tattered knitted cotton armrest covers -- and popped open the bottle of Peters Kölsch I filched from the fridge along with an additional bottle in anticipation of Theo's arrival. A stack of firewood was piled next to the open fireplace, so I busied myself with starting a fire, hoping we would make a night of it.

I hadn't seen Theo in a while -- he'd only been home to Burg Lahn over the Christmas break for a couple of days -- and missed him terribly. I'd never tell him that, but I'm sure he knows it. He and his sisters worship their other sibling, Brevalaer, and I understood that, I really could, but Theo was my hero. I'd never made any secret about that. It was because I liked him, he was already a scientist and was mostly off doing scientist-type things with his life, and mainly just because he treated me like one of the family.

The first sip went down quick, all sparkly and cold with only a hint of hops to tickle my nose, and I automatically relaxed.

All was quiet, and there wasn't anyone else about. I had to let myself into the castle with Dad's key. Even the air had a quality of stillness I'd never felt here before -- or maybe never noticed. There was also that faint hint of violets that always seems to linger in this part of the castle. The only thing missing was…

"Hey, Jeremiah," Theo said as he sauntered into the room. "Sorry I'm late."

"No problem," I said and handed him his beer.

"A vintage Bronstein," he said with a smile and pointed to Dad's book. "Bronstein's the best. My copy's not near as cool as that one."

We clicked bottles together and took sips. He settled onto his non-matching couch next to me, right out of the IKEA catalog from five years ago, and slid his feet on the thick oak slab that passed for a coffee table, probably scavenged from the castle basement. Did I mention just how cool Theo is?

"Where is everyone?"

"They're all at one of Heiner's concerts. He's letting my sister join in for a couple of songs. A debut, so to speak. I begged off, saying I had to study for an exam retake."

"Gotcha. Although missing Jax's debut--"

"Needed them all to be gone for what's up for tonight." Theo sat back, a lock of his unruly wavy chestnut hair falling across his forehead.

His stockiness didn't hide the fact that he was fit. He had an athletic build, much closer to my uncle Heiner's than my uncle Hagen's, though he wasn't nearly as tall as either of them. Theo had an easygoing manner, not as obviously comfortable in his skin as his brother. That made me like him more, since I felt so awkward most of the time with my chunky build.

I had so often wished I were Theo in so many ways, and that was one of them.

"What's up for tonight?" I asked.

His eyes twinkled their dark blueness, enhanced by the room's dimness. My eyes, in stark contrast, were…just. plain. brown. Like my mom's. Nothing special. She's also plain. I meant to say, she's very pretty and all. Just not of the blood. Which made me a half-blood, in a manner of speaking.

Luckily, Theo didn't hold that against me, never has, always willing to help me improve my druid abilities. Even though he just called them skills. Schattenwerk. Shadowcraft, the way of doing stuff in the Otherworld. Even a half-blood like me possessed a native ability, but it needed to be directed and polished, like any ability. Like doing science or math. My dad was fully on board with the science and math, but not so much with the shadowcraft. My mother: vehemently against it.

I sighed. Theo took another chug of beer and grinned. "Not what, but when," he said. "We need to test your ability to time travel."

I choked on a swallow of beer and then wiped my mouth, laugh escaping. "Yeah. Right."

He nodded. "Walking the veil," he said. "You've heard of it?"

I nodded, hesitantly. "I've heard you guys mention it a time or two."

"It's one of those inherited things. Like curling your tongue or crossing your eyes." Theo proceeded to demonstrate his ability to do both at the same time.

"Your many talents never cease to amaze me, Cuz. So are you also good at time travel?"

He gestured with the bottle. "Nope. Not even a smidgen. I can't even walk the veil back a few minutes. Mama and Papa can go back centuries."

I couldn't fathom that. "And what makes you think I can do this walking thing?"

He shrugged. "Don't know till we try."

I leaned back; scratched at the stubble on my chin. "Forgot to shave this morning," I said.

"Still working on your game engine?" he asked with a sly grin.

My turn to shrug. "Not making much progress. But having fun getting there."

"I understand perfectly," he said. "When you're doing something you love, time just slips away."

"Another form of time travel. Okay, let's do it. How?"

He folded his legs under him in a graceful gesture that reminded me of his father. "We have to picture where we're going - you especially since you'll be the one guiding us there -- and then we mediate. It's really as simple as that." He slugged back the rest of his beer. "A couple more of these is necessary -- helps to be in an altered state -- but I'd like to try it without anything harder than a few beers."

We did that. But I had to stop in between to ask him what he really meant to do, the why. He just said, wiping a hand across his brow, "Need to find something…out. Don't want the others to know. Especially if there's nothing to it."

Based on his descriptions and what I remembered from the excavations near the Cologne Rathaus that had, after a decade of delays and mismanagement, been turned into a museum, I drew a mental picture of the place he had in mind. Somewhere between Roman Cologne and the arrival of Charlemagne, not that that narrowed it down. Much. But after some intense mediating, by some miracle, and the contents of at least a six-pack (I lost count) to pave the way while we drew up mental pictures of Cologne in the Middle Ages, we traveled the veil.

At first it smelled like old wood, alive, breathing, a subliminal whispering. Then sights, sounds and smells flew past, all distorted and too quick to sort, as if we were on a high-speed train racing through patchy bits of cold-studded fog. Suddenly it all stopped, a curious quiet surrounding us. I looked around and there it was. We had ended up next to the Roman well that Theo said was still in use during Charlemagne's reign.

Theo pounded me on the back. "Excellent, Jeremiah. I knew you had it in you." He walked up to the lip of the well and peered down. He grimaced. "It's pretty deep. This is going to be harder than I thought."

"What is?" I said, joining him and looking into the inky blackness of the well. I couldn't recall if this well was even open to visitors at the museum. If so, it wouldn't be possible to fall into it in our time. Here, in the depths of the Middle Ages, no safety net or warning signs were in evidence.

"The key to saving the veil," he said. "Without too many people getting hurt."
Before I could even ask him what the fuck, some dude with a blond braid down to his butt ran up and grabbed Theo, dragging him over the side, and the two of them plummeted into the well. I never even had a chance to react. I also never even heard an impact or any screams. I looked down into the darkness, hoping to see something and dreading to see crushed bodies at the bottom. But nothing. They were gone. Just like that.

I slid down on the cold ground and put my head in my hands. Shit, Theo. How do I get back? And my next thought, I can walk the veil. Oh yeah. I need to find time to feel guilty about that later.

The Sundered Veil, Copyright 2016 Sharon Kae Reamer, All Rights Reserved.


illustrations by: Yaroslav Gerzhedovich
(his pictures also adorn the covers of all my Schattenreich series novels as well as the header of this blog)