A Constantinopolitan wedding

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A Thursday throwback teaser from The Bones of the Earth

By Scott Bury

Ancient Constantinople in its day. Image source: History.com

This week’s teaser is from the novel set in the late sixth century CE, in the capital of the Roman Empire.

Javor wandered around the wedding hall, looking at the mosaics on the walls, nibbling on cakes and drinking wine. It was becoming decidedly hot.

The music changed, and people started moving about quickly with a sense of purpose. One of the entertainers, a thin man with a long, emaciated face and a crimson robe, stood in the middle of the floor and began chanting. The wedding guests formed two concentric circles around the chanting crimson man, women on the inside circle, men on the outside.

Javor watched them, bemused and sipping wine, until a giggling Xenia skipped up from behind him, grabbed his robe and tugged him toward the outer circle. Javor resisted until two burly young men at Xenia’s bidding hooked his elbows in theirs and pulled him into the men’s circle.

Javor did his best to keep up with the circles as they danced one way, then the other, but he couldn’t match the footsteps. They danced around the women, first left, then right, then left again, in time with the musicians and the chanting of the crimson-robed man in the centre, who clapped his hands in time to the music. The women danced in the opposite direction to the men, their skirts swaying.

5th-7th century Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire fashion
Source: Pinterest

They unlinked arms, turned around and re-linked their elbows so that they faced the men, their backs to the chanter, and danced back and forth. Javor looked for Xenia and found her beaming back at him. She smiled in that way that only beautiful young women can smile at susceptible young men and skipped away with her circle, and then all the women turned around again so that they faced into the centre of the circle, their backs to the men again.

Javor realized all the men were turning, too. He stumbled and did a few steps left, then right, bumping and jostling Xenia’s friends—cousins? bodyguards?—as he tried to follow them, but he couldn’t predict when they would change direction.

They turned again to face inside the circle, and the women’s backs. The women turned again. Javor felt disappointed that could not see Xenia’s face before the men turned around one more time, their backs to the women. After that, all he could do was try to follow along with dancing left and right, turning into and then out of the circle.

Finally, the music reached a climax, the chanter cried out one last time, and the dancers stopped, men facing the women. They bowed to each other. Xenia was almost a quarter of the way around the circle from Javor, and she didn’t seem to be looking his way until just before the music started up again, when she smiled at him.

The music started again, a little slower, and Javor followed along to the left and right the best he could. There was no turning back and forth this time, but a lot of stately, formal steps. Javor started to feel a little proud of his ability to mimic the others when the music stopped.

He was out of breath and sweaty as the groom. He unlinked from the burly brothers and stumbled to the buffet table for a drink of wine, then to the open door where a cool breeze was blowing in.

A small group of men stood on the outside steps, holding drinks and chatting good-naturedly. Briefly, Javor wondered if they were laughing at him. He took deep breaths, trying to cool down and wondered where his friends were. He couldn’t see anything in the hall but the dark, scowling face of a young man with a wispy black beard. His hair was black and curly, his eyebrows thick and black and bunched together, and the top of his head came up to Javor’s shoulder.

“What’s wrong, barbarian, don’t you like our dancing?” His words were slightly slurred and he seemed to waver back and forth in front of Javor. Is that because of him or me?

 “I just came out to cool off. It’s hot in there.”

Byzantine nobles

“So we’re too hot for you, is that it?” The dark man stepped closer. Javor felt his amulet stir.

“No, I just want to cool off,” he replied, looking down into the strange man’s eyes. “Maybe you should, too.”

“I saw you liked Xenia.”

This must be Vlassis. “She seems very nice.”

“She’s taken.” Javor noticed what seemed to be tiny bubbles of foam at the corner of Vlassis’ mouth.The amulet started to vibrate softly. Javor turned slightly to see two other young men in dark tunics trying to move unseen behind him. They had removed their dressy robes and dalmatics. They lunged forward, each trying to grab one of Javor’s arms. Before they could, Javor stepped ahead and grabbed Vlassis, wrapping one arm around his neck and twirling him around so that the shorter man became a shield between Javor and the attackers. They collided with each other. One fell, tangled in the other’s legs, and brought his partner down on top of him with an “oof!” Other men on the steps chuckled at their antics.

“Let me go, you barbarian!” Vlassis yelled, choking. He cursed. Javor pulled the small man’s arm up behind his back. “Get your filthy paws off me, you stinking barbarian!” Vlassis cried out again.

The Bones of the Earth

The Dark Age, eastern Europe: the earth has decided to rid itself of humanity with earthquakes, volcanoes and new plagues. Civilizations, even the mighty Roman Empire, crumble under the pressure of barbarian waves that are fleeing worse terrors.

Rejected by his own people, pursued by a dragon, young Javor heads for Constantinople, the centre of civilization, looking for answers to the puzzle of his great-grandfather’s dagger and the murder of his family.

Author Scott Bury has just completed writing the sequel to The Bones of the Earth: The Children of the Seventh Son. In anticipation, he has released this vignette of life in Constantinople, the greatest city of its time.

Scott Bury

can’t stay in one genre. After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

He has several mysteries and thrillers, including Torn RootsPalm Trees & Snowflakes and Wildfire.

Scott’s articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.

He has two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a loving wife who puts up with a lot. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Learn more about Scott on his:

Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

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Focus Friday: Launch day for Toby Neal’s newest, FIRE BEACH

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This is a particularly exciting post, because today, Friday, October 17, is launch day for Toby Neal’s newest Lei Crime novel, Fire Beach!

FireBeachCover

 

Proverbs 14:11

A wise woman builds her house; a foolish woman tears hers down with her own hands.

Chapter 1

“Fire is poetry. Flame is destiny.”The Fireman smiled to himself as he said the words out loud, tasting the way they sounded.

Heading for an ignition site brought that poetic side out in him. Next to him, on the floor of the battered old truck, a rusty gas can rattled as he drove down the deserted sugarcane-hauling road. Harsh red dust rose from the potholed dirt as Maui’s strong trade winds kicked up.

He’d chosen a cane field they’d be burning in a week or two, yellowing since the company’d stopped watering it, fifteen-foot flowering tassels of mature sugarcane waving like mares’ tails.But if he burned it first, the cane company would lose their harvest, two years of work, and thousands of dollars.

The Fireman pulled the dust-covered truck over at one of the points of origin he’d chosen. He splashed the area with a mix of diesel to cling to the sugarcane, plus gas for ignitability, and tossed a match. He jumped back into the truck, feeling that kick of adrenaline, and floored it to the next ignition site, where he repeated the process. And a third time.

The Fireman looked back down the road into the wall of rising flames. It was catching faster than he’d planned. Maybe this one would jump the highway, really put a thrill into the Road to Hana for the tourists.

He stood there and savored a feeling of power as crackling energy released all around him. The sweet-smelling, burnt-sugar smoke soared into the higher elevations and hit colder air, coalescing into mushroom-cloud shapes. White cattle egrets flew in, landing in the road to feast on fleeing insects. A familiar roaring filled his ears as the heat fanned his cheeks.

The fire was a creature of beauty. He extended a hand to the fire, enjoying the multisensory experience he’d unleashed—and a back swirl of wind blew a tongue of flame to sear that hand like the lash of a whip. He howled in pain and hurled the gas can he was still holding into the oncoming inferno before it could blow up in his hand.

He leaped into the truck, threw it into gear, and peeled away. He couldn’t help ducking as the gas can exploded behind him with a boom! He floored it and pulled away, bouncing crazily down the potholed dirt road toward the highway. He lifted his hand, seared across the back in a stripe that looked like raw steak.

He licked the burn, tasting ash and blood. “Bitch. How I love you.”

Behind his racing truck, the wall of flame swept forward into the field with a crackling scream like a thousand demons in chorus. Insects, birds, mongooses, and more fled in futile terror before it.

 

Lieutenant Michael Stevens picked up a call at his office in Haiku. “Bro, it’s Jared.” His little brother’s voice sounded amped up and hoarse. “I thought I’d better call you. You know that cane fire this morning?”

Jared was a firefighter at Kahului Station, recently transferred to Maui to get away from the holocaust of summer fires in LA—but from what Stevens could tell, Maui hadn’t been the mellow posting Jared was hoping for.

“Yeah, I saw the smoke. Smelled it, too. Thought they were just doing a scheduled burn.” Maui was one of the last places in the United States still growing and harvesting sugar. The plantation operated at an annual loss, in part because of the vast amount of water and resources it took to produce even a single pound of “white gold.” The harvesting process was also pollution-heavy. It began with burning fields to get rid of excess leaves, leaving the stalks behind, heavy with syrup, to be processed.

“No. We think it’s another arson case.” Jared coughed. “We’ve almost got it contained. Remember, I told you there have been at least three of these arson cane fires in the last month. Anyway, there’s a fatality. Tourists found a guy on the side of the road, crispy as a chicken wing.”

Stevens winced inwardly, trying not to imagine what “crispy as a chicken wing” looked like in human form. Likely he’d get to see firsthand. He stood, reaching for the shoulder holster hung on the wall to strap into. “So if it was arson, it’s a homicide.”

“Right. I thought I’d give you a heads-up since it’s in your district.”

As if on cue, his radio crackled with the call to respond. “Thanks, Jared. If I don’t see you at the scene, I’ll see you at dinner tonight. Still coming, right?”

“Right. I’ll bring dessert.” Jared had begun making weekly visits to have dinner with Stevens, his pregnant wife, Lei Texeira, their son, Kiet, and Lei’s dad, Wayne, who lived with them and provided child care.

Stevens hung up and stuck his head outside his office to holler to his veteran detective. “Ferreira! Ten-fifty on Hana Highway!”

About the book

Hawaii is cane fires, lush jungles, and feuds that won’t die until everyone’s dead.

Detective Lei Texeira stalks the shroud killer on her own terms as Michael Stevens finds himself engulfed in the flames of a case with tangled consequences. In this eighth of the bestselling Lei Crime Series, Lei and Stevens find out just how far hate and love will go.

“Toby Neal’s Lei Crime Series is a wonderful achievement in consistency and style, introducing us to a rich landscape filled with memorable characters. Eight books in, I’m already anxiously waiting for number nine!” Detective (Ret) David Swinson, author of A Detailed Man

Find it on Amazon.

About the Author:

TobyNealToby Neal was raised on Kaua`i in Hawaii. She wrote and illustrated her first story at age five and credits her counseling background with adding depth to her characters–from the villains to Lei Texeira, the courageous multicultural heroine of the Lei Crime Series. “I’m endlessly fascinated with people’s stories.”

 

 

 

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