- November 7th, 2015
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Posts Tagged ‘Ripples in the Chalice’
This is the final analysis of my Kickstarter experience.
Though I learned a lot and and I can say I dared to venture where few do, it still did not go great. With only $902 from 25 backers, I only reached 13% of funding.
Much feedback I received pointed out that maybe I was asking for too much money. I’m not entirely in agreement with that, because the amount I was asking for was actually less than the successful campaigns I modeled mine after. What that tells me, and some folks have supported my reasoning, is that for publishing-related Kickstarter projects to be successful you need to already have a fairly large fan base. Though I have loyal readers who leave great 5 star reviews, I don’t have a huge number of them. I had hoped that after my personal support group who were able to contribute (and just about everyone I expected did), the well spring of supporters reached through viral marketing would kick in. It did not. Outreach through social media, or any media for that matter, is a very contentious topic on what works and what doesn’t. In my past few posts I outlined what I did and the adjustments I made based on feedback. You can take from it what you will (however, the way things are these days, my information may very well be outdated and “quaint” before long).
The only thing I can think of which I didn’t do a lot was direct email people on a frequent basis (weekly was what most people suggested). Others who had done Kickstarters told me that even after their campaigns were over they still had plenty of friends and family who hadn’t heard of their project. I’m finding that to be true too, despite having felt like I’d spammed it to death beyond good taste. A bit of advice I got from a guy in a NaNoWriMo group was that I needed to be absolutely obnoxious about getting the word out. He must have been right. Another thing I didn’t do that maybe I should have was to try the $5 “boost” on Facebook that allegedly gets your message in front of 100% of your followers. For $5 it just might have been worth it at least once.
Some interesting stats from my experience:
The average contribution was $36.08.
32% of backers were complete strangers (as far away as Sweden, Ukraine, and Brazil) and they were most likely to be the ones to leave personal messages.
32% of backers were from my primary writing community NIWA (though you could argue that they should be categorized under my “friends”, but I wanted to distinguish how important it is to have a writing community when you’re a writer).
36% of backers were friends and family.
Kickstarter has already encouraged me to re-submit and others have suggested I try another crowdfunding site like IndieGoGo who let’s you keep the money you do raise, but right now I’m feeling beat up, exhausted, and need to apply my energy towards other more pressing matters in my life. I will finish my book, however daunting it maybe, but it will get done.
My last duty was to send personalized emails to all the backers, then send a general update thanking everyone. You can bet when my book is done, I’ll be contacting those people to let them know.
Hello all, I’ve launched a #Kickstarter campaign (In case you didn’t know, Kickstarter is a crowd funding website where you announce a project, and interested parties donate money to support it). I’m using it to fund the editing of my up-coming book, #RipplesintheChalice, and all the odds and ends that go into the initial promotion of it.
I’m not necessarily telling you about this to ask for your money (though that would be cool too), but more to share with my writing community my experience so that you can learn from it and/or share with the community how your Kickstarter campaign compared.
Andy Bunch did a wonderful write up on the NIWA forum (https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en.#!searchin/niwahome/kickstarter/niwahome/nFvSK0OhJo4/0IO9sqDxJC0J ) that explained the ins and outs of Kickstarter and how to best go about making a successful campaign. After reading that, interviewing Ripley Patton on her campaign, and analyzing 10-15 successful campaigns (or campaigns well on their way to being funded) on Kickstarter’s website, I came up with my own game plan.
Each Kickstarter Campaign Page has essentially the same elements and format in their write up. They include:
According to Kickstarter’s own FAQ, campaigns that have promotional videos as opposed to those that don’t are close to 50% more successful. After looking at the quality of the videos of existing publishing-related campaigns I noted that they all had one thing in common: with a few exceptions, most of them sucked. I felt if I was going to put in the time and effort I was going to have a video and it wasn’t going to be embarrassing. I approached my cover artists (who also does great video work…he made my first book’s movie trailer video) I proposed that if he put in a few special effects and music for free that I’d include in my campaign budget money for a future movie trailer project for book two. He agreed. His work, combined with my speech and some humorous elements, created a video that, if nothing else, stands out from the crowd. And doesn’t totally suck (a little silly maybe, but not suck). The video includes flashy images of the cover art of my book, samples from the first movie trailer, and images of my editor’s website to ensure viewers that I have thought this all through. My speech is clear, concise, and summarizes the text that makes up the body of my Kickstarter page. I made the speech around 4 min 15 sec, which is about average among the videos I researched. You don’t want it too long and lose your viewers attention, but you don’t want it too short and vague either. I took my time making the speech, recording take after take on my iPad until I got it right. I hate the sound quality of my voice, but others assure me it’s not that bad. The music in the final video helps cover up any distracting background noise the iPad picked up. I dressed nice and chose an appropriate backdrop (book shelves full of books). I wrapped the video up with a thank you and a call to action. Unfortunately, in the process I learned that recording on an iPad in the vertical position creates a video in a vertical format which does not fit well in the square frame of Kickstarter and YouTube. Try as I might, after internet searches and conferring with friends and associates on how to fix that, I found I basically would have to do it all over again. Fortunately, after previewing it with many people, they said the formatting issues wasn’t that big a deal. So I decided to go forward.
I explained my background, complete with information and pictures of my past success with my previous book (screen shot of Amazon ranking, quotes from reviews, etc), and what my hopes are for my current project for which I’m asking help. I told backers, as Kickstarter does in its own introduction, “Once upon a time all art was funded like this and you’ll be continuing that tradition while getting more than just a little satisfaction.”
When asking for funds, it is good to know how much you’re asking for and if it is realistic for the scope of the project. If it is not realistic, you’re not likely to get any backers. Also, you’ll want to spell out the budget, as your potential backers have the right to know how you will be spending their money. They deserve to know if you’re frugal, extravagant, or just plain foolish. It’s ok to be any of these, so long as you explain why. There are backers for the cautious and their are backers for risk takers, but you have to answer to them. You need to tell them your game plan. I’m asking for $6,600, which is also middle-of-the-road for publishing-related projects (there are some that are $20,000+ … and they get funded!). I spell out the costs and what the benefits are for paying them (especially the editing and I emphasize to potential backers; “…I want to make a product that is as professional and entertaining as possible…a product that you will be proud of).
Hand in hand with the budget is your explanation to potential backers how you will wisely spend their money. I did this by sharing details, links, and pictures of my editor and her website and my artist and samples of his work. I explained my marketing plan once the book is ready to maximize its chances for success. When backers click the final button on supporting you, they must be left feeling, “Yeah, this was a good idea and I’m glad to help.”
Not only do backers get the satisfaction of contributing to the arts, they usually get something tangible as well. I looked at what other publishing projects were doing to reward their backers and decided to go with an escalating reward system that matched increasing funds from donations. All backers, even small ones, get recognition in the back pages of the book. From there, backers get either an ebook of my first book, ebooks of both my first and second book, then the paperback of the first book, then both paperbacks (high level backers get their reward level plus everything that came before). High level backers get recognition on the dedication page. A backer of an outrageous amount of money ($1,000+) would have the entire book dedicated to them. I plan on having paperbacks for international backers sent from the UK’s Book Depository with free shipping.
I explained to potential backers that, unlike many book projects that are not even started, my cover and book are all done (and I show a screen shot of my laptop with the words “The End” at the end of the manuscript with the word count dialogue box up) and I only need the final editing and formatting done. That being said, any number of unforeseen things could slow the process down or stop it altogether (I could die suddenly from a bear attack. You never know).
That’s the summary of my Kickstarter. You can see the final project here.
Finally, in addition to any feedback or comments from you, I’d like to ask that if nothing else you tell your friends about my project to fuel the viral-ness (is that even a word?) of the “Ripples in the Chalice” Kickstarter.
Also, consider being a backer at even $1, $5, or $10. That may sound like a pointlessly small amount, but even small amounts like that will register as activity on my Kickstarter campaign, and an active campaign is far more appealing to potential backers than an inactive campaign.
Thank you very much,
Listed below are teasers from each completed chapter of Ripples in the Chalice, sequel to Echoes of Avalon.
Chapter One and the Prologue can be found in their entirety at adamcopelandsite dot com under the tab labelled Ripples in the Chalice.
As he introduced Aimeé to her by name, Aimeé got a better look at her. She was shorter even than herself, and petite, but strong in a sinewy way. Aside from the silver streak, her hair was the same raven-black as Patrick’s. Most striking of all were her eyes. Set in a beautiful porcelain face with sharp features, were eyes that were an extreme version of Patrick’s. Whereas his were hazel with gold flecks, hers were starkly green with gold halos about the pupils, almost unsettling in their alien beauty.
“Aim-ai…” the woman sounded the name out slowly, trying out the syllables. She smiled and looked Aimeé up and down in a fashion only one person in a man’s life possibly could.
“Aimeé, my mother, Talisia,” Patrick said, almost nervously.
“I’m afraid his Eminence is going to be very disappointed,” Patrick said stoically, taking up his mug of ale and sipping.
“I made a promise to return the cup. It was a mistake of mine to let Father Hugh talk me into letting him keep the cup to be adored in the church while I was away. I should have returned it right away to the cave from where it came. It needs to go back. I made a promise to its guardians. No one, not even a cardinal and his army, is going to stop me from fulfilling my oath.”
Patrick expected Marcus, a senior Avangardesman, to chastise him for his insubordination. Instead, a shock of a different sort crossed the man’s face.
“That’s right,” Marcus said distantly as if thinking out loud. “You don’t know yet.”
Patrick frowned. “Know what?”
“The cup, it won’t move.”
“What do you mean, ‘won’t move.’”
“Just that,” Marcus took a drink. “It won’t allow itself to be touched. Anyone who tries, their hand passes right through it.”
“Seriously, had I known all the paperwork involved with being Steward, I’d run off too,” Corbin continued, pouring himself a goblet, “and why they gave the position to me is a mystery. They need to give it someone like you…someone who can read and write. Most of this job is all this confounding paperwork and record keeping and report writing. It’s enough to drive a man mad.”
He gestured at the pile of paper on the desk with the goblet and spilled red liquid in the process, staining some of the paper.
“Is that what the monk is for, to help with the reading and writing?” Patrick asked, addressing the quiet young man with shaved pate and dressed in simple brown robe.
Patrick took a sip of his wine.
“Aye,” Corbin replied, taking a gulp from his cup. “Useless wanker.”
“Perhaps the wanker would not be so useless if you’d show up for our appointments more frequently, as well as offered me a cup of wine every now and again,” the monk suggested with a hint of a smile.
“Bugger off,” Corbin objected. “You’re lazy whether you have wine or not. I was supposed to be down at the harbor this morning with rest, but no thanks to you tonight’s dinner arrangements are still not done.”
Despite his pretenses, Corbin poured the man a cup.
“Excuse Sir Corbin’s manners, I’m Brother Anton,” the monk said, extending a hand to Patrick when he stood to accept his drink.
“I’m perfectly aware of Sir Corbin’s manners,” Patrick said, taking Anton’s hand. “Pleased to meet you, I’m Sir Patrick Gawain.”
“So I gathered: Knight of Cups, Savior of Avalon,” Anton raised his drink.
Corbin rolled his eyes and blew out his lips, “Oh, please! Don’t encourage him. The man was lucky, wandering outside the keep while the rest of us were having spells cast upon us. I’d be Savior of Avalon too if I’d decided to go on a drunken, naked bender in the woods that day.”
“Well, you certainly go on plenty of drunken benders, maybe your turn will come soon enough,” Patrick laughed.
“Nacht! Watch your language. I’m a respectable man now. Don’t go spreading rumors,” Corbin protested, taking a drink.
Patrick looked at Anton and said in an exaggerated whisper, “We’ll talk.”
Corbin gave Patrick an obscene gesture with one hand while expertly continuing to drink with the other.
“Speaking of cups,” Patrick said, tone turning serious. “I’m sure you realize why the cardinal is here.”
Corbin leaned back in his chair and placed his feet on the desk.
“Aye,” Corbin exhaled, eyes widening briefly as he focused on a spot on the wall. “I foresee a storm coming.”
“What do you plan on doing about it?” Patrick asked.
“Do?” Corbin replied with a raised eyebrow. “I’m going to be thankful that Wolfgang, Father Hugh, and Mother Superior are here to deal with the matter.”
“Corbin, as Keep Steward and Captain of the Guard surely you have some say in the matter. We have a duty to return the cup,” Patrick protested.
“We wouldn’t have to worry about any of this if you hadn’t brought the blasted thing here in the first place,” Corbin scowled, but then his demeanor turned soft as he added, “though I understand why you did it. And the girl? Did you give her a happily-ever-after? Did you have a lovely homecoming and wedding?”
Patrick slumped in his chair as he said, “No, she will not marry me.”
“What?” Corbin almost shouted. “The lass is offered the opportunity of a lifetime, and she doesn’t take you up on it? Why?”
“There is a…complication,” Patrick responded, and waived Corbin off when his expression asked for more details. “I’ll explain in good time, but let’s just say for now that it boils down to the fact the girl has a measure of pride and finds my level of commitment…lacking.”
Corbin scoffed in his goblet as he finished off the last of his wine.
“Nonsense, just hit the girl upside the head with the flat of your sword and drag her to the nearest altar. That’s what I would do,” he suggested.
“That would probably work for you and the quality of women I’ve seen you with,” Patrick laughed, and took a drink. “But Aimeé has been forced to do many things in her time. I will not be another villain in her life.”
“Sir Patrick Gawain,” Corbin said whimsically, looking the Irishman up and down. “You’ve never done anything simply, have you? Uncooperative magic cups, conspiring cardinals, and sassy lasses.”
Patrick drained his goblet, then asked, “I hate to harp on the issue, but what is the official Greensprings and Avangarde stance on the cup?”
“It appears that it is up to the cup,” Corbin replied. “It can’t be grasped. No one has been able to touch it since shortly after you left. It just sits there on the altar where you left it.”
“And if someone could suddenly grasp it?” Patrick continued.
“Or, if it were suddenly to disappear?” Patrick added.
“Then I’d say it was God’s will,” Corbin smiled.
The Captain of the Avangarde joined the Irishman in standing.
“Live strong,” Patrick said, beating his chest.
“Fight stronger,” Corbin returned, and they clasped forearms.
“Don’t think me villainous,” she said forming her lovely lips into a pout. “I merely want what’s best for everyone. I want everyone to be happy.”
She leaned forward, pressing her body against his as she reached between his legs and firmly grasped the neck of the wine skin that he held there. She lingered in the movement just long enough to make him uncomfortable, and to arouse feelings that have stirred men’s nature since the dawn of time.
“I like people,” she said, sliding the container from his thighs. “I like men, just as men like their swords. Men take care of their swords. They sharpen them and they oil them. Is that so bad?”
She took a sip from the skin.
Patrick could feel heat rising in his cheeks and he plucked at his collar to relieve the feeling of constriction. He swallowed hard.
“Perhaps we should be returning to the hall,” he suggested, standing.
Lilliana laughed, taking the hand he offered, and said, “As you wish, my gallant knight.”
As she placed her hand in his to rise, Patrick truly noticed for the first time her hands that were largely hidden by the lacy gloves she wore. The fingerless articles of clothing revealed her digits that ended in extremely sharpened nails. The gloves ended at the wrists and he could see that her forearms were muscular and lined with veins, as if from a lifetime of washing clothes.
He tried not to stare, and wondered why he hadn’t noticed earlier.
Right, that’s why, he thought, his gaze suddenly drawn to her heaving bosom, the garnets glittering even with only the pail moon and starlight.
He could feel heat rising in his face again as he looked away.
She laughed lightly and slipped her arm into his as they walked down the path back to the hall, following the sound of festivity.
“You have to admit,” she said. “That the cup is better served in the cardinal’s hands. It belongs out in the world, not hidden on a secret island.”
“My heart says otherwise,” Patrick said simply.
“Ah yes, your heart, your duty, and your honor,” she shook her head. “Men and their ‘honor.’ Consider this: the cardinal is an ordained successor of the apostles, and it was to the apostles that Jesus declared, ‘What you loose on earth, you loose in heaven.’ If the cardinal demands that the cup leave with him from this place, are you not honor bound to let him? What think you, Sir Knight?”
Patrick rubbed his temple with his free hand, saying, “I think I’ve had too much wine to drink this evening and would rather discuss this another time.”
“You may very well have that opportunity tomorrow morning,” Lilliana said. “As I understand it the Board of Benefactors wants to meet in the church just after morning mass to see if you can grasp the cup.”
Patrick only slightly stuttered in his stride at the news.
As they entered the little courtyard in front of the main hall they could see that the soiree was largely over. People were already dispersing for the evening. Patrick froze at the sight of Sir Jon and the Lady Katherina leaving arm-in-arm.
“Is that who you were looking for earlier in the garden?” Lilliana asked, her gaze following Katherina.
“No,” Patrick growled.
“She’s quite lovely,” Lilliana said with a mischievous glint in her eye. “Perhaps you were trying to marry the wrong one.”
“Perhaps a discussion for another time,” Patrick said formally, but coldly.
Lilliana changed the subject and said, “Can the cardinal count on your support tomorrow?”
“I have my doubts,” Patrick responded, trying to be as vague as possible.
She reached to Patrick’s face and stroked his high cheek, probing his hazel eyes with her amber one’s.
“We’re not going to be friends, are we Sir Patrick?” she said.
Sir Patrick gently took her hand and kissed it, replying, “It’s not looking good.”
The sound of boots coming across the floor was inevitable.
Lucan managed to avoid the Cardinal Guard for most of the day, but it was only a matter of time before they found him in the last place soldiers would look.
He sat as far away from the entrance as possible, bent over an ancient tome. A single candle illuminated his corner of the library that could only be reached after traversing the maze of shelves.
There were worse places to hide, Lucan thought, as he was actually enjoying his stay in the room. The library was a rare treasure, perhaps one of the most extensive he had seen, and in an unknown castle on a legendary isle, of all places. It was a shame that the guards came when they did. He wanted to finish the tome, a copy of a work of Homer, he had randomly pulled off a shelf.
When the soldiers found him, his back was to them. Even so, judging from the footsteps and their breathing he could tell there were three of them.
“Signore,” one of them said, the hint of a triumphant sneer in his voice at having found the fugitive relic expert. “It pleases the cardinal that you come with us.”
“It does not please me,” Lucan said tiredly. “I will be along shortly. I want to finish this book first.”
Lucan smiled, feeling the men look at one another in disbelief.
“Signore Lucan,” the lead guard sneered. The sound of swords slithering from leather scabbards filled the air. “You will come with us now.”
Lucan sighed heavily, closed the book, and leaned toward the candle.
“This isn’t going to happen the way you pictured it,” he said, and blew out the candle.
“Sir Patrick,” Teodorico gently added, his demeanor softened suddenly and took on a paternal tone. “Your concerns have been duly noted. You have performed a great service, and we thank you for it, but you role in this story is finished. The fact that the cup does not allow itself to be touched, let alone returned to the cave, is testament that these ‘guardians’ were merely putting you to a test. I strongly suspect once this esteemed council reaches a resolution, the cup will allow itself to be transported once again. Go in peace, my child.”
He made the sign of the holy cross.
Patrick had to admit the cardinal made an imposing figure standing there with the crosier in one hand, his pectoral cross glinting, and speaking with authority.
Patrick bowed, saying, “As you wish, your Eminence.”
He turned to leave, but paused when William Malmesbury once again spoke up.
“Sir Patrick,” he said. “Why then did you bring the cup to Greensprings?”
Patrick made eye contact with Aimeé who still stood at the center of the room.
“To save the girl,” Patrick almost whispered.
“And why was that so important, that you would disregard the warning of these guardians?” William continued.
Patrick did not answer right away, watching Aimeé’s eyes flare, moisture starting to glisten in her green eyes.
“Because I…” he swallowed hard. “…because I felt it a shame that she should perish after having played her part at saving Greensprings. I wanted to correct that.”
The brief shining light in Aimeé’s face extinguished and she squeezed her eyes shut as if she had been stabbed in the heart with a dagger. Evidently that wasn’t the answer she was hoping for.
Patrick all but ran from the chamber then, not waiting for any more questions to be posed of him. His boots echoed loudly in the now quiet room as if mocking him with the fact that all eyes were on him.
When morning crept into her servant’s chamber in Greensprings Keep, something other than sun beams caressed Aimeé’s face. An airy hand brushed across her cheek, accompanied by a sound that reminded her of children playing in the distance. When it had happened for the third time, and sleepy attempts at brushing it away with her flailing arm failed to make it stop, she decided to wake in earnest.
Her eyes fluttered open to the sound of fading giggles.
She raised her head and looked about the small chamber she shared with Clare and Anna and saw nothing but an empty room. She groaned, realizing the others had already rose for work, allowing her a few moment more sleep knowing the pregnancy was growing difficult for her. It was kind of them, but if she was late too many more times for her duties it could become a problem. So far, she had only confided in her two closest companions about her condition, waiting for the right time to break the news to Rosa Maria, the head of the kitchen staff.
She moved her head from side to side to catch the morning culprits that had been playing with her face. The little room, used for overnight stays by servants from the village when they had early morning duties, had no little playful visitors.
She stared at the ceiling trying to muster the courage to get out of bed despite how rotten she felt. She had stayed a thousand times in this room and had stared just as many times at the ceiling, noting the swirl patterns in wood, picking out shapes. Here an old man’s wizened face, there a puppy, and there a tree. But this morning her brow furrowed in curiosity when she noticed something new on the surface.
There were tiny hand and footprints, and the longer she stared at them, the more they faded as if they hadn’t been there.
In less than fifteen minutes the men were bent over, hands on knees, sweating and muddy. Though they had started out using the technique of the day, the melee quickly devolved to the standard battlefield free-for-all.
Oh well, Patrick thought as he officially called the exercise to a close, that is why we practice.
“Cheers,” he said, then addressed the squires. “You lads did well enough, you’re still standing I see. Well, almost all of you.”
Knights pulled Josef out of the mud where he had left an imprint like a cookie-cutter.
“Thank you Sir,” Charles smiled, though he had a large welt on the right side of his face.
Jakob also voiced his appreciation, and added, “Do you think we’re ready to slay some villains, then?”
Laughter rippled through the veterans.
Patrick froze and leveled a serious gaze at the boy.
“If you’re looking to become a knight just to whack away with your sword, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons,” Patrick said. “Vanquishing villains, slaying dragons, and rescuing maidens is all fine and good, especially in stories, but the reality is far more unpleasant.
“When you have spent a thousand hours on night guard duty, in the cold, with boredom as your only foe, you will feel differently. When you have lived in a muddy ditch for months on end during a siege, you will feel differently. When you have had your friend’s brains—perhaps Josef’s here—splattered across your face during combat, you will feel differently. You will come to question your chosen profession. You will question your faith.
“As a knight, you take an oath. To protect the week, to be without wickedness, to fight for God, Truth, and Justice. These are words that are announced publicly, in front of family, friends, and above all, God. Too many knights say these words, then fail miserably to uphold them, to all our shame. Who wants to protect a common beggar from common bandits? Where is the glory in that? Who wants to fight for a lost cause? What is the sense in that? Who would work only for good deeds? Can good deeds fill your purse or your stomach? Yet all these things a knight is expected to do.
“Don’t seek glory. It will seek you—after you have earned it. Don’t seek treasure. It will come as God wills it.”
Patrick stopped his discourse, noting that all were listening intently, not just the squires. Even Geoffrey paused in removing his padding.
Patrick swallowed hard, not having intended to draw a wider audience for his rant. He relaxed when he glanced over at Corbin and Wolfgang who smiled in approval. Even Sir Hugh made eye contact with him and gave a firm nod.
The squires nodded solemnly.
“Live strong,” Patrick finished by addressing the crowd, beating his breast.
“Fight stronger,” came the collective response.
Everyone’s attention turned in the direction that had captured Katherina’s concern.
Chansonne approached Siegfried, and the big black horse commenced to stomp the ground and agitate side to side, whinnying and braying.
“Chansonne, get away!” Patrick cried, rushing forward.
As far as warhorses were concerned, Siegfried was a gentle soul, but he was still a massive courser bred for battle and even the lightest of incidental contact could crush a child.
Patrick’s fears for such an outcome soared when Siegfried fully reared on his hind legs and pawed the air. The girl didn’t seem the least bit disturbed by the horse’s display, but merely watched impassively.
Patrick’s heart nearly stopped when Siegfried’s hooves came down, but then Patrick pulled himself up short in shock as he watched the large horse strike the ground before the child, continue forward, then dip his head as he fell to a knee, bowing.
Even as those behind him gasped, Patrick regained his composure and approached the girl and horse. Siegfried rose again, which seemed to disappoint Chansonne who had been reaching out to touch the horse’s head.
“Would you like to pet him?” Patrick asked, bending down and holding his arms out.
Chansonne nodded and allowed the knight to pick her up and hold her near Siegfried’s muzzle. His nostrils flared as he snorted, but otherwise seemed to enjoy the affection.
“I had no idea he could do that. He must like you very much,” Patrick said, then scowled at the horse. “He never did that for me. Just the same, you should be careful when approaching him. He may not see you and accidentally step on you. You’re about the size of one of his feet, you know?”
Chansonne’s impassive face twitched with brief flashes of smiles.
“Yes indeed, he likes you very much,” Patrick continued as the girl’s hand lingered on Siegfried’s soft nose. “Given the chance I’m sure he’d protect you…keep you safe. He’s done that for me many times. Saved my life from a monstrous talking wolf, he did.”
“Listen up!” Geoffrey addressed the room that had fallen deathly quiet at the drama. “I have spent a great deal of time with these children, the candidati as they are known, and I can tell you that they are no monsters. Different than you and I, certainly, but not foul creatures of any sort. All harassment of them will come to an end now!”
He leveled a serious gaze about the room, eyes coming to rest on the frequent perpetrators who taunted the children.
“Or you will have to deal with me. Is that understood?” he added by gripping his sword tightly about the hilt.
A murmur rippled through the room, and as the disgruntled Cardinal Guard filed out one door, Sister Abigail, Sir Patrick, Aimeé, and Katherina rushed in through another with concerned looks.
All the children save Emilie had calmed. She continued to sob in Candace’s arms.
“What’s wrong with her?” Geoffrey glowered, still hot under the color from the confrontation.
“He called her ugly,” Candace said. “It would have been better if he had just called her a monster.”
“Ah bloody hell,” Geoffrey rolled his eyes. He kneeled on the floor next to the child on her bench and grabbed her about the shoulders. “Look at me,” he said, making a stabbing gesture at his eyes with a pair of fingers for emphasis. “You’re not ugly, you hear me? There are all kinds of beautiful in the world and your one kind, see? By that reckoning you’re the most beautiful girl in all the world, no questions asked.” Geoffrey stood and announced the next loudly to the room, gripping his sword again, “And if anyone has a problem with that, they can talk to me.”
Emilie’s sobbing transformed to giggling.
“You won’t hurt anyone just because they call me ugly,” she said.
“Like hell I won’t,” Geoffrey insisted, scowling.
“You won’t kill anyone, though,” Emilie laughed.
“Well, perhaps not,” Geoffrey conceded, but addressed the room again loudly, “But I’ll certainly pull some ears!”
This elicited more giggles from the girl.
One of them flittered up to Aimeé’s face, growing in size when it did.
It turned into a little winged girl, held aloft by a pair of furiously beating gossamer dragonfly wings. A dimpled smile beamed from a sharp-featured face and a tiny mop of yellow hair sported flowers and twigs above brown almond eyes and thin arching eyebrows.
“Fairies,” Aimeé gasped.
The spindly creature swooped over to Aimeé’s ear and hummed loudly.
“What’s that?” Aimeé asked, frowning and tilting her head to one side as if the gesture would help her understand. “Stay here? Of course.”
The creature hummed some more, then fluttered away, shrinking to the size of a tiny mote again.
“Thank you Talia!” Aimeé called after it.
“What did she say?” Katherina asked, sitting beside the starry-eyed Chansonne as the creatures departed, disappearing into the night. The natural starlight returned to join the moon to cast dark shadows from the nearby trees.
“She said we need to stay inside the stone ring,” Aimeé replied, “it’s not safe during the night, and they won’t take us to Greensprings. We should wait until morning to return.”
“Will the monster come back?” Katherina asked, looking around.
Chansonne also hugged Aimeé tighter, casting a fearful glance at the ravine and trees.
“Maybe, but the Fey Folk will be near,” Aimeé replied.
“She said all that?” Katherina asked.
Aimeé grimaced, saying, “You know, now that I think about it, I didn’t understand a word she said. It’s as if I felt her words, rather than heard them. But I’m certain we’re safe…so long as we stay here.”
“No argument here,” Katherina said.
Chansonne shook her head and grunted.
“We’re going to be fine,” Katherina cooed to the girl, “if it comes back I’ll sing again, or the fairies will come back. Did you see what I did earlier? I sang. This place gave my voice power, like your voice has power all by itself. Did you see how I controlled my voice? Directed it? You can do the same, if you concentrate.”
Chansonne blinked and nodded, and there was the hint of a smile.
She laid down in the grass and pulled Katherina down with her. She then reached up and did the same to Aimeé and pulled their arms across her, forming a protective web.
“Morning will come soon enough,” Katherina whispered, feeling Chansonne’s still rapidly beating heart, “but I’ll sing you a song to make the bad things go bye-bye.”
With that, Katherina gently murmured repeatedly:
Hush little sister don’t you cry,
because in the morning we’re going to go bye-bye,
But first we’re going to close our eyes
In the morning the sun will rise
We’ll be home when it’s high in the sky
But first we have to close our eyes
So hush little sister, don’t you cry
Eventually, Chansonne’s little rabbit heart calmed and she fell asleep, as did the women.
When morning came, and a hundred knights descended on the scene, the women were still entwined in each other’s arms.
A thunder of hooves shook the ground, kicking up earth, as each force took up a line in the field where a young man stood with a flag. There the horses either reared and pawed at the air, or stomped the earth. All snorted and brayed in anticipation of the charge. Their flanks flashed in the sunlight as brightly as the silvery chain mail and polished helms of the men who sat on them.
On one side were the black surcoats and white swans, on the other were mostly red surcoats and a smattering of other colors. Many of the lances were adorned with trailing pennons of various hues. All the Avangarde used the same kite-shaped shield with swan emblem, whereas the opposition used a variety of shield types with each individual’s heraldry. Patrick had to admit, if nothing else, the Avangarde looked much smarter. He hoped that translated into victory.
First came the flocks of carrion birds that swirled like a noisy black cloud against the setting sun. Then came the drummers; a long line of footmen beating methodically at their instruments who moved to the side to let the seemingly endless procession of mounted men and infantry pass. They carried banners with a simple insignia of a field of half black and half white. In the fading light the men looked more like black ants, though highly regimented ants that formed neat squares. The drums tapped away as the field along the tree line grew thick with them. A lone figure leisurely rode forward and took up a position on a hillock and regarded Greensprings.
Patrick squinted at the figure, trying to make out his features, but the fading light made it impossible from this distance. Yet, something about him seemed familiar.
“God, how many are there?” Corbin whistled. “The sooner we can take an accurate count, the sooner we can distribute our defenders.”
An idea came over Patrick and he looked down into the courtyard.
“Brobrosius!” he called to the little man who played with the candidati.
“Yes,” Brobrosius answered, looking from under a cooking pot on his head. He stopped waving the stick around he had been using as a sword, and added, “I’m taller than you.”
“Right, quite so.” Patrick didn’t even bother contesting the point any longer. “Would you be so good as to come up here and help us with something?”
Without hesitation Brobrosius broke into a run and mounted the stairs. The other candidati were close on his heels. Patrick shook his head, not expecting the whole lot to come.
Brobrosius stood next to him breathless and saluted.
“Brother, can you tell us how many people are out there?” Patrick asked, jerking his head in the direction of the enemy who now milled about setting up encampments.
Brobrosius took a glance, looked back to Patrick and said, “two-thousand four-hundred and thirty eight, plus one-thousand sixty-two horses. So how can I help?”
Corbin coughed and his eyes bulged for a moment.
“You just did, Brobrosius, thank you,” Patrick patted the man on the shoulder, “and bye the way, you’re taller than me.”
A huge smile spread across Brobrosius’ face and he saluted.
Candace, however, was not so pleased and moaned as she looked out on the field of gathering darkness.
“What’s wrong child?” Corbin asked.
Candace continued to moan.
“Candace?” Patrick interrupted.
Candace’s head snapped in their direction and she put a finger to her lips.
“Shh,” she whispered in a frightened raspy voice, “the bad man is coming.”
“Be careful what you say around this one,” Philip called to the crowd with a smile, “he speaks the tongue and we don’t want too many of our secrets slipping out.”
There was laughter and a smallish dark complexioned man with a well manicured goatee approached Bisch and put a friendly arm around him.
“No worries,” he said with a laughing Spanish accent. He produced a dagger and held it to Bisch’s throat. “I will cut that tongue out before any secrets escape.”
There was more laughter, but Bisch found none of it amusing as so violently pushed the little man away. He went sprawling, but proved very spry as he popped back to his feet and rushed Bisch who rose to meet the attack.
A mix of laughter and concerned agitation erupted in the crowd. Corbin stood and not for the first time reached for his sword which was not there.
Philip, however, stepped in and grabbed the little Spaniard by the wrist and violently twisted it, taking the dagger away. He roughly pushed him aside and glowered at him.
“Diego, listen up!” Philip yelled at his comrade, pointing the dagger at him. “These people are under my protection.” Philip then turned round and round and addressed all the Lost Boys, gesturing with the blade to make his point. It was then that Corbin realized for the first time that Philip’s eyes were a brilliant green and they blazed in the fire light. “No harm will come to them while they are here! This is my word! Tonight, we feast! Tomorrow, we kill each other like civilized men!”
“Patience, Sir Edmund,” Sir Waylan said, “there will be plenty of opportunity for fighting, I’m sure. Be careful for what you wish.”
Edmund grumbled and kicked at a stone on the practice field. His companion men-at-arms chuckled more and patted him on the back.
“He is right though,” Sir Waylan said as he and the rest turned around to continue their vigilance of the orchard behind the keep, “I’m about to die of boredom while everyone else has all the fun up front.”
Morning sunlight kissed the white and pink apple blossoms that swayed gently in the breeze, creating a canopy of flowers that undulated hypnotically in the chill morning air.
“It is as you say—patience,” Brian replied, then squinting into the trees, said, “Do you see something out there?”
“Just wishful thinking,” Waylan responded wryly.
“Look! There!” Sir Peredur cried.
Tension knotted their stomachs as a hundred and fifty eyes followed Peredur’s pointing finger, searching the tree line for movement.
The knots in their stomachs unclenched when a deer bounded from the trees.
“Damn animal…” Brian started to mumble, but stopped when another deer appeared, then another, followed by rabbits, and all manner of birds.
“What the…” Waylan said, then the arrows came.
A half dozen men to their left and right sprouted feathered shafts from their chests and slumped with gurgling cries. One man fell from the catwalk into the practice field with an arrow protruding from his face. Volley after volley whizzed from the apple orchard like a deadly swarm of angry thrushes, followed by the collective cry of men as they poured from underneath the tree canopy. What seemed like a thousand men in black armor and clothing spilled against the keep walls like oil.
Coughing, Patrick sat up and lunged at Lucan’s leg and latched on to it. Lucan dragged him for a step before turning.
“Damn you, Gawain,” he growled, “you’re a persistent fellow, I’ll give you that, but you must let go.”
With that he viciously kicked Patrick in the ribs and sent him rolling. Patrick used the momentum to roll to his feet and pull out his dagger.
“Too much has happened,” Patrick wheezed, wavering on his feet, “and too many people have died already for you to just walk off with it.”
Lucan raised the strange piece of metal and replied sadly, “I’m sorry Sir Patrick, but if this is how it has to be, then so be it.”
He lunged forward and swiped. Patrick bobbed and dodged and they circled each other, coming together in brief but fierce clashes alternating between slashes, jabs, and fist blows. Each of them made little progress in penetrating the other’s defenses, expertly blocking with forearms at just the right moments.
Patrick’s vision swam from his previous injuries, his breathing labored, and he had no doubt the special nature of Lucan’s blade held the advantage and would cut through his armor like soft butter. He had to do something soon.
Patrick swung relentlessly with his sword at Philip, causing him to stagger back. Though Philip still reeled in a daze from Chansonne’s attack, he still managed to put up a stiff resistance. After he had fended off several blows, Philip regained his footing and began to give as good as he got and soon thereafter Patrick found himself on the defensive. Before Philip could pick up too much momentum, Patrick snatched a glance at the battle around him.
Brian had just dispatched one opponent and another was about to engage him and Bisch windmilled his two-handed sword against three Cardinal Guard. Corbin almost stood over their objective, but had paused to brace himself against the onslaught of bodies that surged towards them.
Inwardly Patrick cursed their luck, then grunted outwardly when Philip took advantage of his distraction and planted his boot in Patrick’s gut, sending him sprawling backwards. In a heartbeat Philip stood over him, filling most of his field of vision. Even so, Patrick could still see that a wave of Lost Boys and Cardinal Guard overwhelmed the area.
“Goodbye, Patrick!” Philip cried, raising his sword. His green eyes blazed with fury.
Before the blade could come down, Philip was hurdled back in a shower of splintering wood. A flash of horse’s flank shot over the top of Patrick with a rider whose surcoat colors were not black.
“Jakob,” Patrick murmured thankfully.
Mounted Avangarde raced through, breaking up the press of enemy that had just descended upon them. The scene became chaotic as mounted Avangarde engaged the enemy on foot and Patrick had to swing wildly to make room just to breathe.
Jakob wheeled his horse around and tossed aside a broken lance. He drew his sword and started to fight his way back towards Patrick.
Nearby, Philip stood as he ripped off a severely dented shoulder guard and brushed off lance-splinters. Before he could bend over to retrieve his sword, a battle cry grabbed his attention.
Josef rode at him from the other direction with lance leveled at his chest. Rather than run or duck, Philip crouched and waited with steely nerves. When the moment was just right, he side-stepped and dropped his weight on the shaft of the passing weapon, cradling it underneath his arm. The maneuver caused the tip of the lance to ground into the earth.
Even before Patrick could form the thought, Let go! Josef was lifted out of the saddle and into the air. The young knight came crashing down, his helmet bouncing away.
Knowing what was coming next, Patrick cried out and redoubled his efforts to fight his way past the five men that separated him from Philip and the boy.
Aimeé came up to her knees and looked around in wonder at the lights that lit up the forest. Blues and whites danced and pulsated around her, casting her in an ethereal glow. Beautiful, but indistinct music and singing filled her ears. With blood dripping past one of her eyes from her scalp wound, she thought perhaps she had hit her head too hard. She thought perhaps she was imagining all this, but then one of the motes approached her and transformed into a familiar face.
“Talia!” she cried happily.
The little fairy girl buzzed to Aimeé’s ear as her comrades also revealed themselves. They formed a Fairy Kingdom carousel that rotated around Aimeé, comprising all manner of tiny creatures.
“What’s that?” Aimeé said, leaning her head to one side to hear better. “Yes, yes, a very bad man. No, no, I think he was the only one here, but there are many more out there, and they are going to do bad things to my friends if I don’t find the end of the rainbow. Can you help me?”
Talia danced away and did a loopy-loop in the air, urging her to follow. Aimeé stood and followed the beat of dragonfly wings. When they had gone a fair distance, Talia pointed out into the darkness.
“It’s this way?” Aimeé asked.
Talia nodded, buzzing a positive response.
With that, she flew to Aimeé’s cheek, gave the tiniest of kisses, and shot away like a miniature falling star. In the blink of an eye, the others were gone as well, leaving the forest almost completely dark.
“Wait,” Aimeé called after her, “I don’t see the way.”
No sooner had she said that then the ground at her feet lit up. Glowing flowers sprung up in the shape of a footprint. They grew out of the green moss, winding and twirling as they grew to finger’s height. Another batch grew in the shape of another footprint, then another, and another, leading in one direction like an invisible guide.
She followed them and sure enough they brought her to a pile of gray rocks with a clear cave entrance. The footprints ended there.
Aimeé tentatively approached and peered into the darkness. A torch flared to life at the entrance, then another further down the tunnel, then another. She followed the path lined with breezy cobwebs and ancient hand paintings.
Just as he was about to relinquish his spiritual resistance, sighing out the last of the mist his body had to offer, a white light from the corner of his vision lit up the sky.
The black, gray, and red swirling mass of membranous bat wings, serpent tails, and scales slowly gave way to an encroaching brightness of feathers, shining armor, and flashing swords that brought natural sunlight with them. The opposing forces collided with a ferociousness that rent the heavens with thunder.
Her smile was the biggest he had ever seen, but it quickly flickered to sadness.
“I suppose you’ve heard by now what is to become of Greensprings and Aesclinn,” she said. “What will we do?”
“Everything is going to be fine,” Patrick said. “God has it all planned out.”
“As long as there are no cups, spears, demons, demigods, or what have you in our future, I will be happy,” she said.
“No worries there,” Patrick replied. “The cup was my fault, God simply made the best of the situation. He taught me a lesson from my mistake.”
“And what was that?” she asked.
“Faith is in the heart, not in a cup,” Patrick explained. “Relics are fine and good, and so are miracles, but if you want to truly witness the power of God, then look for it in the everyday things. Look for it in the love between people. Look for it in the cry of a newborn babe. Look for it in kindly acts.”
Aimeé kissed him.
“Hello again my love,” she whispered. “Just a couple more nights, then your suffering will be over.”
He fought feebly, but her knees planted on either side of him prevented him from squirming. She easily pulled apart his frail hands that covered his mouth.
“What’s wrong my love? Don’t you like it when we kiss?” she said, her yellow eyes flaring in the dim light. “I told you long ago the price for failure would be steep…and I do need to feed.”
She leaned closer and her embrace smothered his scream.
Her wings folded about them like a flower’s petals closing for the night.