This is the full, unabridged first chapter of Motes. If you like what you read here and want more, head on over to Amazon and snag yourself a copy. It’s available as a paperback and in Kindle format.
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The dew-covered valley glistened with the shimmering sparkle of hundreds of highly polished silver helms. Out of what appeared at first as chaos emerged a pattern of swirling forces all coordinating their movements toward a solitary goal. The massive battle horses pounded the mossy turf with their hooves, plowing up muddy divots in their wake. Steam billowed from their nostrils as each labored breath met the chilly morning air. Riders bore down upon their steeds with relentless urgency, driving them onward into the battle that lay ahead. They must not fail.
“For Pascalina!” shouted Lord Feynhardt from the front of the mass of bristling armor, weapons and muscle.
A deafening roar from the entire company of soldiers met Lord Feynhardt’s shout a second after it left his lips. His men were committed. They would stop at nothing to attain their prize. The evil Duke of Ramshead had abducted the fair princess Elise.
The duke’s aim was clear. Feudal law would allow him to ascend to the throne of Alakel if he could marry royalty from a neighboring kingdom. The ancient purpose of the law was to promote peace and harmony within the community of kingdoms that comprised the realm of Attacalia. For centuries, the small kingdoms had lived together without conflict. The royal marriages were stately affairs and a source of great celebration for the people. It had all worked out pretty well until there was an unfortunate break in the royal line of Alakel. The reigning king had died without leaving any heirs. The line of succession fell to the eldest son of his brother. This son was the Duke of Ramshead. The duke was an evil man. He was rumored to have established trade with the enemies of Attacalia for the purpose of satisfying his own greed. He had betrayed his people while at the same time forcing their loyalty to him by way of oppressive taxation and a steel trap of government that restricted their every move. This was his right as monarch of the kingdom, but it was contrary to the ways of Attacalia and the source of much woe among the people. Now that the duke was reaching the age of full manhood, twenty-one years, he was obligated to marry into the royalty of another kingdom within the realm to retain power. If he failed, the Council of Kings from the neighboring eleven kingdoms could vote to replace him with a king of their choosing from any of the kingdoms of the realm.
The duke was clearly going to have difficulty in his quest for a royal bride. His reputation was known far and wide and no king would submit to having his daughter marry such a monster. Faced with the prospect of losing his position, the duke resolved himself to take his bride by force. The Council would no doubt protest, but the duke had forged evil alliances with powerful foes. There would be considerable hesitation to challenge his resolve for fear of ruthless military reprisals against the other kingdoms.
Elise of Pascalina was of marrying age. Pascalina was a weak kingdom militarily. She would have to do. The duke had raided the castle of Pascalina at the cost of many Pascalinian soldiers (and a few of his own as well) and carried the princess away. Now he was planning a gaudy spectacle of a royal wedding that would be a signal to all of Attacalia of his indisputable power and authority.
Pascalina, however, would not stand by idly. The Lord Feynhardt, a knight of unquestionable valor, was betrothed to Elise and the two were very clearly in love. When Elise was taken, Lord Feynhardt swore to the king that he would lead a charge to wrest her from the evil clutches of Alakel’s misguided duke. The king, desperate for his daughter’s return, granted Lord Feynhardt free rein to recruit and lead whatever force he could muster. That force was what filled the valley with their shouts.
Lord Feynhardt had chosen to launch his attack early in the morning. Alakel lay to the west of Pascalina. The rising sun would be in the eyes of the Alakelians and perhaps give the Pascalinians some measure of advantage. The silver clad soldiers charged westward through the valley. When they were about four hundred yards from the first ridge on the far side, the Alakelian army began to emerge into the sunlight. Streaming over the ridge, they carried their golden banners on large black poles. Their armor was painted red and black. Their weapons were forged in blackened metal and their faces were obscured by thick metal visors. They bore down upon their attackers with a fury born of evil, greed and malice. Terror gnashed at the hearts of the Pascalinian forces. Lord Feynhardt knew he must give the correct orders to give his forces any chance at all of penetrating the line of evil before them. Black arrows began to fall as the Alakelians reached bow range. Some of them hit their marks. The Pascalinians turned their terrified faces to their valiant leader. He had never failed them before. His cause was just. He would save them.
He was frozen.
“Lord Feynhardt!” someone screamed. “Give us our orders!”
Lord Feynhardt remained motionless. His men meandered aimlessly around him. He held fast, not moving an inch. What was wrong? What evil had gripped the brave knight?
* * *
“What the heck?” Thom said aloud to himself. “That’s weird!”
Thom Finch lay stretched out across the twin sized bed in his bedroom on the back side of his family’s house. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was streaming in through his bedroom window. Particles of dust floated around in the sunbeam. Each of these pieces of dust became a Pascalinian soldier in the fertile soil of Thom’s imagination. Thom wove a complete story around the silent dance of dust motes. Now one of them wasn’t dancing. It just sat there. For the span of a full minute Thom stared at the unmoving speck. He wasn’t sure if it was really stationary or if he was just imagining it. Thom’s imagination was powerful. He had conjured up some pretty complex and almost believable fiction from its seemingly fathomless depths. His imaginary Lord Feynhardt may very well have taken control of Thom’s reality and stopped the dust in its path. No. It really was just sitting there. It was caught in the light of the sun and fully illuminated. Thom scooted forward a little bit toward the sunbeam. Flapping himself on the bed stirred up a slight breeze that sent the dust swirling around in all directions. All of the little particles spun and twisted away and were replaced in the beam of light by neighboring specks that were previously hidden in shadows. Well, not all of the particles spun and twisted away. The one mote of dust that had been motionless in the beginning remained exactly in the spot it had been in before Thom repositioned himself on the bed. How could that be? This was one oddball speck of dust.
* * *
Thom was familiar with the concept of “oddball”. He was no stranger to the strange. At thirteen years of age, he was a pretty average kid in a lot of ways. He loved baseball – both watching and playing. He generally liked school, but hated homework. He had friends at school and a sixteen year old sister named Ella at home. He had a fairly unremarkable family life. He was just a kid. But he really wasn’t just a kid. In addition to the somewhat overly developed imagination, he also possessed artistic and musical talents that few people appreciated. Thom was a very good cartoonist. He had the ability to generate really good caricatures of friends, relatives and complete strangers that could have undoubtedly landed him a decent gig at a local carnival or county fair. He loved to draw and had more than once found himself in detention at school for doodling when he should have been learning. Thom also played piano. He had taken lessons for over two years before finally convincing his mother that they were unbearable. Thom didn’t like structured musical instruction. He didn’t really need it. He had a natural talent for music and held his own understanding about how it worked and how it should sound. He would spend hours composing original music on his little 49-key MIDI keyboard in his room. Thom’s music had an unusual quality about it. It defied categorization. It wasn’t classical or jazz or rock or country or even the hard to pin down genres of alternative or new age. It was something altogether different. It was Thom Finch music. He loved it. Sometimes entire weekends would be lost in it. When other people heard his work, they often couldn’t really say they liked it. However, they couldn’t say they didn’t like it either. It had a kind of odd presence to it that left the melodies hanging suspended in your mind long after you heard it. It wasn’t really what you would call catchy. It was more of a haunting. The music drifted and flowed in a kind of organic way that almost made it seem like a living organism. It was a real gift, but only Thom’s mother came remotely close to truly appreciating it.
* * *
Barbara Finch was Thom’s mother. At 38, she had established herself as a permanent member of the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra. She played violin. She was quite good at it. Barbara had that rare quality of musicianship that allows a person to freely express themselves with their music. She could unshackle herself from the day to day rigors of motherhood and married life and soar with the music. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was her favorite. She considered it as kind of a theme song for her life. She found herself humming it whenever she was busily engaged in some task or another. It flowed through her body as surely as her blood flowed in her veins.
Barbara loved her family with fierce intensity. She was wholly devoted to her husband Hugh and poured herself into the lives of her children. Thom was the baby. Plus he was a boy. This kind of situation can lead to a smothering, overprotective, overindulgent relationship between a mother and her son, but Barbara was careful to balance the attention she gave Thom with that she directed at his older sister, Ella. Thom was special to Barbara though because of his love of music. She had spent long hours sitting in the floor of the hallway outside his room listening to him experiment with notes, chords, melodies and transitions. It was a beautiful thing to her. Hugh didn’t understand what Barbara heard in Thom’s music, but he didn’t interfere with her enjoyment of it. On more than one occasion, Hugh had to rouse Barbara from sleep she had succumbed to while listening outside of Thom’s door. How she loved that boy. How she loved anything that he created. It didn’t make sense to Hugh, but he tolerated Thom’s artistic side because of the positive effect it had on Barbara.
* * *
Hugh Finch was an academic. He was a scientist. He held a PhD in microbiology. Hugh was 40 years old and a fully tenured professor at Florida State University. He spent a great deal of time in his lab at the university. To Hugh, a person’s success was measured by his academic achievements. Despite being married to a professional musician, Hugh failed to see any value in Thom’s art or music. Thom could have improved upon the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or composed a string of number one hits and none of it would have mattered to Hugh. On the other hand, if Thom squeaked out an “A” on a test in his science class at school then Hugh would be the first with a high five or clap on the back.
Thom wanted to please his father, but there were many times he choked back tears when Hugh made some off-hand disparaging remark about Thom wasting time doodling or making “racket” with that keyboard. Barbara seemed to always understand when this kind of thing happened. Thom could count on an extra helping of encouragement or praise from his mother any time Hugh had stepped on his feelings. Still, Hugh frowned on the exercise of too much imagination and what he called “wasting bandwidth on unproductive efforts”.
* * *
So Thom weighed his current situation carefully in his mind. He was sure that he was not imagining the stationary dust speck. It was hanging in mid-air as if it was somehow being controlled. Thom decided to blow a puff of air at it with his mouth. He pursed his lips in kind of a whistling configuration and exhaled. It wasn’t a strong birthday candle extinguishing kind of blowing – just a gentle puff. The particle wavered for about a second or two and then returned to its position. Thom watched this reaction and then blew on the speck again, this time a lot harder. For a few seconds the speck tumbled around within a small area and then returned to its former position. It maneuvered around for a little while like a puppy trying to find the most comfortable spot on your lap and then settled back down into motionlessness. All the while, the rest of the dust in the sunbeam swirled and spiraled wildly in little miniature storms generated by Thom’s artificial turbulence.
This was not normal.
Thom was bursting to share his discovery, but two fears gripped him. First, if he left to go get someone to bring into the room, he feared that the speck would disappear or be lost among the rest of the specks in the room. Nothing could be worse than dragging his mother, father or sister into his room, pointing excitedly at the sunbeam and have them roll their eyes and walk off. Well, maybe Mom wouldn’t do that, but Ella or Dad sure would. Second, this was the kind of thing that really smacked of an imagination off the leash. Dad would certainly not believe that this was really happening. He wouldn’t even look at the sunbeam to try to see the speck.
Eliot Williams, Thom’s best friend who lived only five hard pedaling minutes away would believe him. The problem with fetching Eliot was that again he would have to leave the dust to go get him. He could call Eliot, but who knew if he was even at home? No, Thom could not leave the scene. Somehow he had to catch that dust mote.