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Christine E Schulze

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Member Since: May, 2010

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Category: 

Fantasy

Publisher:  Old Line Publishing ISBN-10:  0984476881
Pages: 

208

Copyright:  May 13, 2010 ISBN-13:  9780984476886

Amazon
Old Line Publishing

I live in Tynan, the fourth dynasty, where the dragons do provide much protection, and there is much need of it. Our dynasty is set high in the northern mountains where wild animals and avalanches are ever constant. But the tribute they require in return is so horrible, no one speaks of it. I cannot even utter it here, now, on paper. In fact, I will soon have to lay down my pen because my fingers tremble, scrawling nervous, illegible scribbles across the pages signifying the last days of my life. The unspoken truth grows all the more real, close, and unbearably frightening.

For, you see, I am the new Quelda of Tynan...

Zale. Gauthier. Varden. These three dynasties…They all sound like something out of an ancient, oriental myth or fairy tale. The concept of humans and dragons helping and living in harmony with one another, without fear. To me, that’s exactly what they are. A distant dream only read of, whispered secretly, quietly yearned for. For, you see, I am the new Quelda of Tynan.

These words echo the mystery, horror, and romance found within Schulze's fantasy novel. Along with her new husband, Chalom, Crislin must choose to embrace cruel tradition, run from it, or stand against it. The young couple's only hope is to rally the help of the three peaceful dragon dynasties of Sulaimon—but tradition is not on their side, even outside the realm of Tynan. The dragons outside Tynan's borders have been rumored as too stubborn and proud to believe their Tynanian brothers would commit such horrors as inflicted upon the Quelda. Gaining their aid is not a likely hope. Yet, any hope at all is valued in Tynan...

If they are to stand a chance of bringing cruel tradition to a permanent end, Crislin and Chalom must brave the constant, consuming blizzards of the Ever-white. They must brave the three dynasties and the challenges awaiting there. Together, they must convince the dragon emperors to allow them access to the shrines which house the sacred Aria - protective strands of music which may be able to disperse the evil from Tynan and unite the four dynasties of Sulaimon as a whole once again. Their only aid stems from a sprite whose moods are as unstable as her magic, a young minstrel, and a mysterious fox. Despite the odds, such plans are daring, dangerous, unprecedented, but fully possible - if they can escape the Wall first.
 

Excerpt
In Sulaimon, four kingdoms stretch to the four corners of that vast land, each ruled and guarded by four dragon dynasties.

To the East, across the feathery meadows, upon an island hovering not far from the coast lays the Zale Dynasty. Serpent-like dragons slither through pure ocean waters and fields, slipping so silently it looks like a gentle wind sways the tall reeds. Raised facets glitter like sapphires and diamonds upon smooth, aqua-blue scales. They are the most playful of the dragon families, the gentlest dragon rulers. They catch fish and rabbits for the people of the island and protect them from sharks, wolves, and other fearsome creatures. Serene by nature, the Zale dragons spend much time in meditation, studying peace and charity towards all. Thus they require from their human inhabitants the lightest of the required tributes. In exchange for care and protection, the Zale Dragons oblige only an annual feast which the people prepare and share with the dragons.

To the West, the treacherous, harshly windy Valther Mountains loom. On top stands the Gauthier Dynasty. Unlike the elegant Eastern palace clad in gold and light silks, a sturdy, stone fortress houses the Gauthier Dragons. They are the fiercest of the dynasties, a warring family. They do not war needlessly, though if the humans of their land were ever threatened, they would brutally defend them until death. Many a time, their strength protects the people from wild mountain beasts. Thick, leathery, long wings battle snow and ice to find those humans who lose their way. The dragons also quarry great rocks, minerals, and precious gems which their human architects build with and the blacksmiths forge into great armor, weapons, all sorts of fine things. Thus, the tribute the Gauthier dragons require every year includes some of their blacksmiths’ most excellently crafted armor, weaponry, and jewelry. The Gauthier dragons are great collectors, admiring the humans’ abilities to create such magnificent wonders despite their frailties.

Varden lay to the South in a deep and evergreen valley. It is a place of farmers, and both the dragons and humans inhabiting that land possess a gift in making things grow. The dragons bear scales which, when rubbed into the earth, fertilize the dirt with rich nutrients, helping crops grow strong, lush, and full while endowing many people with healing powers. The tribute Vardenian dragons require is an annual portion of their people's bountiful harvest. They also commission a healer to annually travel abroad, representing Varden by healing any ill they come in contact with.

These three dynasties…

They all sound like something out of an ancient, oriental myth or fairy tale. The concept of humans and dragons helping and living in harmony with one another, without fear. To me, that’s exactly what they are - a distant dream only read of, told of secretly, quietly yearned for.

I live in Tynan, the fourth dynasty, where the dragons do provide much protection, and there is much need of it. Our dynasty is set high in the northern mountains where wild animals and avalanches are ever constant. But the tribute they require in return is so horrible, no one speaks of it. I cannot even utter it here, now, on paper. In fact, I will soon have to lay down my pen because my fingers tremble, scrawling nervous, illegible scribbles across the pages signifying the last days of my life. The unspoken truth grows all the more real, close, and unbearably frightening.

For, you see, I am the new Quelda of Tynan.

I look up abruptly, pen clattering on the desk as someone knocks then peers inside. A man of my own Tynanian race. Ice blue skin and hair reveal this. My skin is white, my hair gold, a rarity among our people and perhaps another reason why I sit in this room. Such features are considered a sign of greatest purity.

Lines of resolute sorrow, regret, and deepest apology etch the azure face. Longing cerulean spheres reflect the color of my heart, frozen in fear.

“It is time, my lady Crisilin,” he mutters shamefacedly, as if wishing to be suddenly rendered mute. But I understand. He possesses no more choice than I.

“It’s My Quelda,’” I correct kindly, then add, “I remind you only for your own sake. You know you'll be put to death if you use my own name now.”

“Quelda” is a sacred title among the Tynanian Dragons. Bestowing it makes me “sacred” to them. I am no longer Crisilin. Uttering my true name is blasphemy unless used by the man who will soon be my husband, whom I will soon lie with. A man I do not even know, am totally unprepared to be with. At least he wouldn’t be ready either. Both the Quelda and her mate must be young virgins, and the Quelda herself must be her parents' firstborn. Our people marry at an early age. I never thought so before, but now it seems excessively early. Perhaps just because it is I who now face such a marriage.

“I thank you for looking out for me,” he says gently, torment still glinting in his eyes, “and I commend you for even having the ability to think of me, my Quelda. You are a brave child. If I did not have my own children to think of, I would take on your own bravery, call you by your rightful name, and risk death without fear.”

“I know, Zephire.” I place a hand on his shoulder, trying to comfort. After all, he’s been a faithful servant in the seven days I've been cooped inside my new and lavish palace quarters. He has brought food, drink, books, paper, whatever I needed or wanted. Not that I’ve been able to eat or drink anything but bread and water. Part of some “purifying” ritual the Quelda must pass through.

He lingers a few moments more, eyes yet glittering with sorrowful tears. Nothing I can say will erase nor even ease their pain. How desperately he wants to freeze this moment so we don’t have to continue to the next. I would wish this myself, save I care too much to get him into trouble. I remind him quietly, “It is time, my servant Zephire.”
He takes a deep breath, grants a solitary nod of forced resolution, then turns and walks silently down the hallway. I follow on noiseless, bare feet.

We wind up and down the familiar corridors. Our path reveals the first stop. The room teeming with mounds of straw and the spinet, a small, piano-like instrument which can spin fibers into cloth. This is one of the powers granted by the dragons to the Quelda alone. Spinning straw into gold so she may bless the Tynanian Dynasty with great riches. I wish this was all their tribute required.

The Quelda is to spin straw into gold an hour every day for the duration of her reign. When the last of the straw is spun, her rule ends. The straw always lasts for about nine to twelve months, depending.

I enter the room and start playing a melancholy tune which cranks the straw into gold. My fingers shake again. I am not just spinning straw into gold. I craft the fibers of the gown that will bear me to my death. I would say my funeral, but nothing will remain save perhaps a few shreds of gold stained with red...

The hour which usually drags by flees like a half-dead vapor this evening. The marriage so rapidly careening towards my present will start the beginning of my life’s end, and with a complete stranger. I wonder if I will even like him, if I will be able to love him. If we’ll grow so overwhelmed with fear and loneliness as the end draws nigh that, even if we don’t love each other as man and wife, we’ll cling to each other. Hold each other with a specialness only born through the warped, sacred tradition...

The door opens slowly with a gentle creak, as if the person tries to break the hard news softly, wishing for the coming truth not to be as greatly as I. It’s as if the door's faint groaning shares my agony and horror. As if the person's slow movements mean to sooth, grant me a few more precious moments.

I abruptly cease playing, stand, and look up as the person enters. A long, grey cape and hood conceal her entire body. She is my aunt, Simone, the tallest servant in the palace. None of the other women come close to her six feet and two inches. She cannot reveal herself during the ceremony. I must see no one’s eyes from the gold-spinning until when I meet my husband. She cannot speak either, but she lowers the hooded head in what I understand as a nod. I nod back and follow her from the room.

We traverse several corridors. I glance out the arched windows we pass. It is a black night, as is every night on this mountain. The blackness always seems appropriate, but now more than ever. However, tonight, the bright, white stars shine uncommonly in the blackness, reflecting what should be a glorious, pure experience yet mocking with almost tangible laughter.

We enter a room where several concealed, women servants cluster around a circular, ivory pool of water. They all nod to it. I step in. Cold waves shock my feet, traveling immediately throughout the rest of my body, providing no comfort from the frigid wind blowing through the open window. The Quelda must learn to be strong and to suffer trials with humility and meekness. I frown anyways. Why should I want to be humble for those who landed me here?

I mean the dragons, of course. The servant women have little more freedom than I and no more say. So I obey as they begin their series of nods and hand motions and other silent commands. The loose robe and gown slips from my body. I am certain not to touch the cloth into the water, lest it should need to be purified all over again. This is a process I hear takes hours. I wonder if the women would really take the time to perform the purifying ritual all over again for some simple and harmless mistake. Would they choose to get themselves in trouble with the dragons for some fault of mine just to suspend my life a few hours more? Because the Quelda is sacred; she cannot be punished.

I don’t try anything though. I allow them to scrub every inch of my body, the water wafting a scent of many different flowers and minerals, stirring memories of running through fields, collecting stones, weaving flowery necklaces with….

No. He is as dead to me now as I am to the outside world. I must focus only on the task at hand and the other who will soon be my only “he”. I must numb myself to all else. There is only to shun or to shudder oneself into a depthless, black hole…

I wonder how exactly the servants purify the water, if they host any real magic properties or if it’s all just part of the ritual. I conclude on the latter. The dragons wouldn’t risk giving us magic anymore.

At last, scrubbed raw and unable to control my extreme my husband even now. My heart beats faster as he slides too quickly through the rituals joining us in that perfect union.
At last, he steps aside, holding his hand towards the doors.

Sickness swirls in my stomach along with fear. The doors loom large and red like a wall of blood or fire. I don’t know what I fear more, what the ceremony signifies - the beginning of freedom's end, of my life as I know it, of my childhood - or the ceremony itself. Now, in this moment, the fear of the former passes away as the latter looms closer, so close it is now, my dreadful, terrifying, unknown now. I realize why this part is the hardest. I must open the door. I must reach out and grab the cold handle granting my right of passage into the life I must both face and hate.

I suddenly feel small, shy, and weak, as though the blood-red door and its brightness grow, its fire ensnaring, consuming me with hopelessness. I feel so alone and suddenly yearn for the young man I will meet on the other side. All I want is someone to cling to. I suddenly want him to at least like me, be kind to me, hold me, love me even, just as much as I suddenly want to do all these things to him. I suddenly realize why this part is hardest for the Quelda yet also the easiest. Because all I want is to run away from that door, yet knowing I can’t, open it and run to him...

I reach out, clutch the handle firmly, pull, and slip through. The door echoes loneliness as it shuts. I stand in the final stretch, the hall with the blood-red carpet. Red is not a very pure color. Perhaps it is meant to encourage the passion which cannot exist between two people who don’t even know each other. Fear even now encourages some sort of passion.
I force myself to walk down the hall, heart pounding, panic gripping so hard it grows difficult to breathe, to even see. I need to hold onto someone, something.
I reach the final red and golden door.

Stumbling to a stop, I grasp the handle and take in a last, deep breath. This is it. This is where I lose my childhood. Where I must become someone else, where my now must transform. Where I must struggle to survive, hold on to what will remain of myself. Where I must hope my soon-to-be-known husband will show gentleness, kindness, and mercy towards me, share my fear, hope, longing...

I open the door. He sits on the edge of the bed, swinging his legs and wringing his hands. A small connection races between us, his fright an instant part of mine. My first, small sign of hope. The second comes as he stands to face me, the light of the fireplace illuminating his face, his handsome curls, his sparkling but troubled eyes. I gasp, the sickness in my stomach changing to that of relief, wonder, horror as I breathe:

“Chalom.”


Professional Reviews

A unique fantasy with some beautiful literary elements
From a reviewer after reading a Bloodmaiden excerpt on Kalkion (also available at Kalkion):

I found this story to be full of gripping moments and compelling language. It introduces a lot of interesting concepts, such as sacrificial enslaved royalty. (How's that for turning the feudal system on it's head?) I very much like the author's use of first-person present-tense narrative, as well as a few other techniques not seen very often in published fiction. Their use in this work was a act of genius, as it allows the reader to feel as though they are experiencing the last days of the narrator along side of her, which makes all the feelings of hopelessness expressed throughout the story all the more real.

My one complaint might be the seeming unevenness of the writing, due to the occasionally odd punctuation or word choice. However, this is redeemed by the writer's mastery of vividly painting the world in which the characters live. And by live, I mean think, feel, dream, and, yes, wallow in utter hopelessness. Some of the descriptions are just beautiful, if not painful and sometimes morbid: "A silence, not like peace but like death...." In one scene, the author succeeds in turning the very moon into a villain with phrases like, "...the betraying light of the moon," "The moon shone bright, following us like some snitch intent on capturing and turning us in," "...fearful the traitorous moon would somehow catch the glint of our eyes and reveal us..." and, "...that wretched moon." In each passing moment, it is almost as if the reader takes each breath along with the character, for the narrator is your closest companion on a journey through her own horrifying reality.

It should be no surprise, then, that my favorite parts are where author most obscures the lines between poetry and prose. Three particular passages stick out in my mind: the opening paragraphs describing the four dragon dynasties, the ceremony of the previous Quelda, and the dream sequence. The opening paragraphs are beautifully written, with long, flowing sentences, vivid descriptions, and a literary rhythm not unlike what you might find in the first chapter of Genesis. The ceremony, although it struggles a bit at the endeavor, attempts to weave that same beauty intermittently throughout a stark picture of gruesome terror, while on its way to an important revelation about the plight of our characters. The dream sequence further showcases the authors ability to plunge readers deep into a world of color, both vibrant and swirling, and then pluck them out only to toss them in again.

Overall, I think this story is unique, imaginative, and nicely written. It contains elements of romance, fantasy and adventure, with a few sprinkles of poetry that adds up to a very satisfying combination. I look forward to reading more from this author and seeing this writing style fully developed.

Grade: A -



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