How it works
A digital copy of the book and my eternal gratitude for helping to make this dream a reality!
YOU DO NOT GET A PHYSICAL COPY OF THE BOOK WITH THIS TIER
A physical copy of The Yoga of Strength when it is published! You will also receive a digital copy of the book.
1 copy + ebook included
A signed copy of the book! Who knows, it might be worth something someday. ;-) You will also get a sticker of the cover and a digital copy of the book.
1 copy + ebook included
Three signed copies of the book! You will also get a 10x13 art print of the cover signed by me with a personal message!
3 copies + ebook included
5 signed copies of the book! I will also write a short fairy tale or myth about a popular figure of your choosing! The figure must be in the public domain (think Hercules, Robin Hood, Loki) and we will collaborate on certain aspects of the story, at my discretion. We will make sure the process is fun! I will retain all rights to the story. You will also receive all of the lower level tier rewards (digital copy, signed print, sticker, and acknowledgement)!
5 copies + ebook included
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10 signed copies of the book! You will get a t-shirt! You will also receive all of the lower level tier rewards (digital copy, signed print, sticker, acknowledgement, and short story collaboration)!
10 copies + ebook included
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20 signed copies of the book! You will also receive all of the lower level tier rewards (t-shirt, short story collaboration, sticker, signed print, digital copy of the book, mention in acknowledgements section) plus a 10 x 13 plaque mounted print of the cover!
20 copies + ebook included
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25 signed copies of the book! You will get all of the previous items (t-shirt, short story collaboration, sticker, plaque-mounted print, signed print, digital copy of the book mention in the acknowledgements section) plus the author will cook you a curry dinner to eat with him at his house! He has been told that his curry rivals the professional stuff (or the people he cooks for blow smoke - you decide!)
25 copies + ebook included
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Book One of The Yoga Trilogy
The story of a coward's transformation into a champion on the backdrop of a fantastic world of knights, mages, mythology, philosophy, treachery, and jaguar spirits. Not necessarily in that order.Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed pszr.co/TXsoy 4739 views
|Fantasy Spiritual Fiction #1 in Fantasy|
|St. John's, Canada|
|5 publishers interested|
The Yoga of Strength is the story of a coward who sheds his self-centredness and fear to become a champion guided by his highest purpose. Weaving together motifs from mythology, high fantasy, visionary / spiritual fiction, and lessons from the philosophy of yoga, the book follows an initially unlikable noble-born squire named Andrew Cardiff on the eve of his induction into the Yellow Order, a brotherhood of knights that serves King Janus of Thrairn (a fictional realm with real-world spiritual symbols interspersed throughout). Caught in a purely physical view of reality, things start to change when magic begins to seep into his world.
While we in the West usually associate ‘yoga’ quite simply with a series of physical poses, it is much more than that. It is an ancient system of philosophy and practice from India with the goal of spiritual awakening, and it can be applied to anything we do in life. The word ‘yoga’ means to ‘yoke’ or to ‘unify’: mind, body, and spirit. The word ‘yoke’ is more appropriate in this case, calling up imagery of oxen being lashed to a cart, because Andrew’s journey is no peaceful contemplation of the nature of reality. It is about a man who steps into the fire, a dangerous crucible that calls upon all of the courage that he did not know was present in the depths of his heart.
Want more? Visit andrewmarcrowe.com/courage/ for a discussion of what The Yoga of Strength really means.
It is the first book in a planned trilogy. This book's exploration of the divine masculine is followed up by the second book, The Yoga of Pain, which focuses on main character Kathryn’s journey and delves into the divine feminine. The final book in the series, The Yoga of Connection, finds Andrew and Kathryn whole and united against the darkness that seeks to destroy their homeland.
Andrew is not a likable person at the beginning of the tale. He spends his money on ale and prostitutes and is arrogant about class, though he hates himself and considers himself to be a failure and embarrassment. Before he sets off on their first journey as a knight, to a desert kingdom called Erifracia, Andrew suffers an attack by a jaguar, an animal who opens Andrew’s eyes to an unknown magical world that had been simmering just below the surface of reality his entire life. The magical beast enchants Andrew with a curse that dogs (or is it cats?) him throughout the novel – but is the curse really a curse?
Mirroring Andrew’s own internal struggles, all is not well in the land. Spectres of grief from Andrew’s past bubble up into the present and he must finally close the book on the death of his mother. His best friend and fellow knight, Simon, suffers sexual trauma at the hands of a commanding officer and he handles it terribly. A beautiful mage named Kathryn herself is a wildcard, an ally with a mysterious past and an enigmatic relationship with the king. Thrairn tumbles towards war and Andrew eventually finds himself an enemy of the Crown and embroiled in a plot cooked up by two magic users from a secret group of wizards called the Red Tradition. This pair that seeks to raise the dead, release demons of chaos into the land, and depose the king by any means necessary.
Through trials and tests that are heaped upon him by circumstance and the spirit of the jaguar, lessons that take him to the edge of his own mortality, Andrew begins to realize his own inner strength. He learns the value of trusting one’s self, the price of lust, the power of forgiveness, and the true nature of reality.
Can Andrew complete the jaguar’s training and unearth his own power before the world falls to ruin?
The Yoga of Strength is at its core a tale about the realization of the divine masculine, but the realm is still in danger at the close of this novel. There is some resolution of Andrew’s personal story, but it leaves many unanswered questions: what are Kathryn’s motivations? What will become of Simon? How will the whole world survive the monsters that the mages have unleashed on the land?
Chapter 1 – Separation
Chapter 2 – Downward Motion
Chapter 3 – Freefall
Chapter 4 – Terminal Velocity
Chapter 5 – Drag Force
Chapter 6 – The Sudden Stop
Chapter 7 – Survival
Chapter 8 – Devastation
Chapter 9 – Amongst the Wreckage
Chapter 10 – The Storm
Chapter 11 – Respite
Chapter 12 – Whetstone
Chapter 13 – Shedding Skin
Chapter 14 – Every Soldier’s Due
Chapter 15 – The Covenant
Chapter 16 – Skimming the Depths
Chapter 17 – Nox
Chapter 18 – Pressure
Chapter 19 – Three Things
Chapter 20 – Freedom
Chapter 21 – Crossroads
Chapter 22 – Fate
Chapter 23 – Regret
Chapter 24 – The Trail
Chapter 25 – Dichotomy
Chapter 26 – Vulture
Chapter 27 – Mountain
Chapter 28 – Luna
Chapter 29 – Strength
Chapter 30 – In Your Blood
Chapter 31 – The Road of Red
Chapter 32 – When Things Changed
Chapter 33 – Escape
Chapter 34 – Mahadeva
Chapter 35 – Anima
Chapter 36 – Ancestors
Chapter 37 – Piety
Chapter 38 – Regency
Chapter 39 – Atika
Chapter 40 – Moksha
The Yoga of Strength is the first book in the framework of a larger story told through a trilogy, like many series within the high fantasy genre, hearkening back to the seminal Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. Unlike the hobbits and humans in LOTR, however, the hero of my story is unlikable, at least at the beginning of the story. There are many references to real world spirituality, which calls to mind the Broken Empire or the Red Queen’s War trilogies by Mark Lawrence. Fans of fantasy fiction generally should find something to like within this story.
Woven into the story are many parable-like discussions about life, and it was very much influenced by The Pilgrimage and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and Demian by Herman Hesse also played an influential role in the story’s inception. In many ways, the story itself is a fable. Fans of spiritual / visionary fiction would find some nuggets of worth within this tale. Yoga enthusiasts should also be happy with the themes in the story.
Finally, there is a heavy mythological influence on the tale. In addition to general Greek and Roman mythological themes, the Odyssey by Homer and the retelling of Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, as well as Hindu mythology in general, all played a part in this story’s creation. Fans of the classics should appreciate the content of this story.
Generally, this story deals with some adult themes and is certainly not suitable for children. The language communicates the darkness appropriate for the characters in the story. My own style is quite heavily influenced by the works of Irvine Welsh, which are safe to describe as gritty and uncensored.
The Yoga of Strength is an interpretation of the hero’s journey and the plot is quickly paced and balanced against the more philosophical and slower points in the story. Anyone with a penchant for knights, mages, dragons, and castles should find plenty to like within.
Born and raised in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Andrew Marc Rowe grew up with a kind introspective lawyer for a father and a warm outgoing sports enthusiast for a mother. He has three siblings, all born within eight years of each other, and the quartet remains close to this day. Despite his mother's best efforts to get him out of the house, he spent most of his free childhood time locked in a basement dungeon with fantasy books, video games and a small tight-knit circle of friends.
When adulthood struck, Andrew gradually began coming out of his shell, traveling to locales as far flung as France, Germany, and South Korea before finally returning home to buckle down and pursue a law degree. All was not well in the realm, however, for upon completion of law school, Andrew found himself in a downward spiral of anxiety and depression.
Andrew's trail upwards began in earnest after a pair of life-changing trips to Peru sent him on a return mission to repair the parts of his life that were broken. His journey culminated in marriage to his soulmate, Ashley, and the birth of his daughter, Iris.
His first three books, The Yoga Trilogy, are Andrew's attempt to marry the thematic threads of the fantasy and mythology he so loved in his youth with the spiritual fiction and yogic philosophy that provided the respite he so sorely needed in his adult years. When he was a child, the former, like the works of Homer and J.R.R. Tolkien, allowed magic and adventure to flow into his world, giving life colour by dint of the strength of his imagination. The latter, like the works of Paulo Coelho, Hermann Hesse, and, well, Patanjali, were balm for his soul during those darker days. His humble intention with his work is to create a colourful chimera of adventure, magic, and spirituality.
The cover artwork for the book has been completed, as has my author website promoting the book and Publishizer campaign (andrewmarcrowe.com). I also have a Facebook page, a Twitter page, and an Instagram account. I will post the Publishizer campaign to reddit on the fantasy and fiction fora as permitted by moderators.
I have purchased a sponsorship on the It’s All Happening podcast with Zach Leary, a podcast focused on, among other things, yoga and consciousness. The advertisement will be run during the early part of August (the preorder month) on the first podcast of the month.
I hired a graphic designer to help create promotional material for the Publishizer campaign. The promotional campaign began on July 1, 2018, with a Publishizer campaign to start on August 1, 2018. I have been posting flyers around my hometown of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada and surrounding areas. During the month of July, anyone who signs up for my mailing list will be entered into a draw for a plaque-mounted print of the cover. This will occur again in August I have engaged in some paid advertising through Facebook since July 1 and plan to continue with this throughout August.
On my website, I have reviews of advance drafts of the book (they are all there - I did not pull any 'bad reviews.') I am releasing the prologue and the first three chapters of the book on my website in order to whet the appetites of prospective readers. I have already received quite a bit of excitement at this point (halfway through July) with people asking me when the next chapter will be released and if they can simply read the second draft.
A popular local yoga studio in St. John’s, Moksha Yoga, has sent out a notice to its members twice as part of their monthly newsletter prior to the pre-order drive, once at the beginning of July. The studio will send out the e-mail again at the beginning of August. Cognizant of the power of word-of-mouth promotion, I will make efforts to get the word out to friends and family through e-mail lists and personal messages.
The Pilgrimage – Paulo Coelho – A novel told from the first-person perspective that chronicles Paulo Coelho’s trip along The Road to Santiago de Compostela, a popular pilgrimage route from France to Spain. It seems autobiographical, with heavy references to Christianity and the Knights Templar, but it is fiction, in that the story is a blend of real life and the fantastic. The Yoga of Strength’s references to real world mythology and spirituality makes it somewhat similar to The Pilgrimage. It can be distinguished, though, as The Yoga of Strength leans more heavily on fantasy and the story of The Yoga of Strength is purely fictional (in spite of the author and the main character sharing the same first name).
The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho – A book that is an excellent blend of parable and story, The Alchemist is the story of a shepherd boy, Santiago, and his quest from Spain to Egypt to find the pyramids of his dreams. The story is instructive in how to live one’s life to the fullest. It follow’s Joseph Campbell’s map of The Hero’s Journey very closely, which can be said about The Yoga of Strength to some degree. There are a number of similarities to The Yoga of Strength, although The Yoga of Strength is less of a parable and more focused on the plot than The Alchemist. The Yoga of Strength is also more metaphor-heavy than The Alchemist, which is a little more direct and literal.
The Broken Empire Trilogy – Mark Lawrence – These books tell the story of anti-hero Jorg Ancrath from a first-person perspective, similarly to Andrew Cardiff in The Yoga of Strength. He is a warrior who leads a band of outlaws and is objectively a much nastier person than Andrew, although this is related to a history of trauma, as it is with Andrew. The trilogy is set in a future world where some cataclysm has sent the world back from advanced civilization to a form of swords and feudalism, with a dash of magic thrown into the mix. References to Christian religious symbols are present in the story, whereas The Yoga of Strength’s references are to various mythologies as well. One of the story’s antagonists is a necromancer who raises the dead, similarly to The Yoga of Strength. It can be distinguished, however, on the basis that it is less a fable than The Yoga of Strength and the Yoga Trilogy focuses on two different characters, whereas Jorg is the focus throughout.
The Red Queen’s War Trilogy – Mark Lawrence – This series told in the first-person perspective relates the story of Jalan Kendeth, a prince in a royal family in the fictional same post-apocalyptic future as The Broken Empire trilogy. Prince Jalan is called out of his small world of lasciviousness and drunkenness by the circumstances of fate. Like Andrew in The Yoga of Strength, he suffers a curse that forces him to take action, though in this particular story it binds him to Snorri ver Snagason, a much more traditionally heroic character. It is a bit more light-hearted than The Broken Empire trilogy. Jalan thinks himself a coward and makes fun of himself consistently throughout. It is clear that Jalan has a pretty low opinion of himself but he demonstrates himself to be a hero through his actions. These similarities – noble birth, a curse to spur the hero to action, and the sense of his own cowardice – makes the series an appropriate comparator to The Yoga of Strength. It can be distinguished, again, because it is less of a metaphor and parable than The Yoga of Strength.
Steppenwolf – Herman Hesse – This book tells the story of Harry Haller, a middle-aged, self-conscious and serious intellectual who is unhappy with reality and thinks himself better suited to life as a lone wolf of the steppes. He thinks of his mind in terms of having a human half and a wolf half and there are frequent references to this schism. He contemplates suicide as a way of escape. Harry then meets some people who introduce him to the world of sensual pleasures, an introduction which brings him out of his shell but he remains unhappy due to a lack of spiritual character to his life. Reality starts to get funny as magic enters his world and the depths of Harry’s mind are plumbed. Harry fails to learn his lesson at the end of the book but it seems clear that he is on the path to his own self-realization. There are many parables and lessons about life throughout, with oblique references to Eastern mysticism. This is very similar to The Yoga of Strength, except that Andrew succeeds in his quest to become whole.
Demian – Herman Hesse – This is the story of boy Emil Sinclair and his relationship with Max Demian, another kid who seems to have it all figured out. Emil Sinclair is well and totally mired in the physical world and the story visits him at various points in his life as he gets older. Fulfilling the role of the guru, Demian is a beacon of light who probes many of the weaknesses in Emil’s worldview. Emil travels the road through hell, a worship of the physical world that is not sufficient for the spiritual seeker. He is eventually reunited with Demian and, after learning several lessons, is sent to war, where he finally bridges the gap of his own soul. Demian’s purpose being fulfilled, he tells Emil that everything that he needs is within him and says goodbye. The Demian or guru character is fulfilled in The Yoga of Strength by the spirit of the jaguar, who constantly pushes and tests Andrew until he finally becomes unified as a whole individual. There are several religious mythological references, including ones to Christianity and Gnosticism, throughout, similar to The Yoga of Strength.
The Odyssey – Homer – This is the classic tale of Odysseus on his ten year journey home to Ithaca from the end of the war in Troy. A stranger in multiple strange lands, Odysseus and his men hop from island to island where they are faced with trial after trial until they finally get home and Odysseus is forced to liberate his home from suitors vying for his wife Penelope’s hand. There are many lessons about life told through metaphor at his various stops along the way. Similarly, Andrew’s character travels to alien land Erifracia early in the story and spends the majority of the book trying to get home to the city of Isha in Thrairn.
Chapters 2 and 3 can be found at andrewmarcrowe.com.
If you had told me that I, a lay-about squire with no ambition beyond draining tankards and laying on the hay with paid tavern wench after paid tavern wench, was to be called into the nave of the Blue Cathedral on the morning of my twenty-fifth birthday for initiation into the King’s elite Yellow Order, well… I probably would have believed you. After all, my father was Sir Peter Cardiff, one of the most respected generals in the whole of the kingdom. And Sir Peter Cardiff commanded the Yellow Order.
On the eve of that birthday, I recall stumbling home after a day of training with the rest of the squires, bloodied and bruised and wondering whether or not a change to another vocational discipline was in order. I would say that Eric Wellan, the squire with whom I was training that day, got it as good as he gave, but that would be a lie. I took a severe beating and barely managed to touch his shield with my training sword, let alone land a blow.
As I trudged along the muddy brown dirt of the path near the homestead, I contemplated talking to my father about laying down the sword and taking up the priest’s robe. Not that I had a great thirst for sermonizing and benedictions. But something - anything - would be better than this.
Ha! The thought of it! To ask the great Sir Peter Cardiff if he would allow his son to abandon his military training and deal in scrolls and censers instead. I would have been more likely to receive a series of lashes in the yard and weeks of thin gruel on the table than anything that even smacked in the slightest of support.
It was with these dark thoughts of defeat that I ambled along the fields of the Cardiff estate, ignoring the serfs as I wound my way through the path that crisscrossed the waves of nearly-mature grain stalks. They were no doubt smiling at me solely in light of my position as the Lord’s son, not for any great love of the rake that walked before them. After what seemed like ages of plodding, I finally crossed the threshold of my father’s rather unremarkable cottage.
I could never understand how a man with my father’s wealth, accumulated over decades of successful border campaigns on behalf of the King and indentured servitude from the peasants who tilled his fields, would choose to live in such a small and boring hovel. I heard my mother, when she was alive, henpeck my father to no end about building a bigger residence near some of the fallow land close to the forest. My father would just respond with a hostile silence or change the subject, usually to some mind-numbingly boring monologue about the ever-present threat from neighbouring Liseria. I was bent over, unlacing my boots, when he started at me.
“I see you have had another lesson from the greatest teacher: pain.”
I ignored him and finished the labour of undress. I winced from the stinging of the bruises, but I refused to cry out, to give the bastard any satisfaction. Unfortunately, that kind self-denial only generated pride in the twisted old man. Not that he ever had much call to be proud of me. I felt rage burn in my cheeks. After what seemed like an eternity of discomfort, both from the aftermath of the beating and from the piercing gaze of my father as he stood there, immobile in his judgment, I finished and rose to face the man.
“You received this missive from the rectory this afternoon.”
He handed me a piece of folded parchment. A relief of the Blue Cathedral of Isha had been pressed into the glob of wax that formed the seal.
A seal that had been broken.
Rather than engage in useless indignation with my father, I bit my tongue, unfolded the paper, and read the words on the page. I was to ascend to knighthood. Tomorrow, no less.
“You have been given a great honour, my son. I am proud of you.”
It was the most emotion I had seen out of the man for the entirety of my life. I would have reacted with some measure of surprise and wonder, if not for the anger boiling in my chest.
“Proud of me? Me? I just received a humiliating beating from the most useless of all the squires in training on the grounds today. Most useless, of course, next to me. My sword did not once touch the man. And he’s seven years my junior!”
I did not pause for long enough for my father to interject. Instead, I began to pace.
“You want me, your cowardly son, the oldest squire in training, the failure who gets passed over year after year, to finally come be with you on the fields of battle? To perhaps join you in a border skirmish against Liseria, so what? That I might make you proud? I will only disappoint you, and you know it! I hoped you had realized this and were preparing to give me a position as provisioner or to tend to the sheep or something more in line with my ‘talents.’”
My skin was burning and my chest began stinging, but I pressed on.
“But maybe that’s not it. Maybe you know that I am a useless shit and you are counting on it. It would be perfect for you if I had my head caved in by a Liserian mace or chest peppered with their poisoned arrows. With mother gone, and me to join her, you will be free to remain alone in this place, hoarding your gold and telling your terrible stories. Only whose ear will you bend, with me gone? Will you bore your serfs? Yes, perfect, that will give you opportunity to discipline them if they make the mistake of letting their boredom be known. Or maybe you will preach your drivel to the sheep and cattle. Beasts cannot demonstrate any dissatisfaction with the braying of a tired old widower.”
When I came back to reality, I realized my left fist was clenched at my side and my right finger was pointing at the man who stood across from me on the wood of the cottage floor. Behind him, I noticed the eyes of my mother staring out from a portrait on the wall. The anger dissipated. I let my arm drop. Shame now crept in to burn my face.
My father, characteristically silent, stared at me. Where I expected my rage to be returned in kind, or at least a fuming passive aggression in answer to my anger, there was only sadness in his eyes. After a little while, he spoke.
“I have always been proud of you, my son. It may be difficult for you to see that at times, but it is truth. I know that life has been… different, since your mother passed. It has been hard for me, too. I would give away all of my wealth and fortune to have her back again.”
My cheeks and chest were aflame again. I would be needing some ale, and soon.
“If you truly feel this way, I will speak to the Bishop. We will cancel the ascension ceremony and I shall make you a member of the supply train. You are right: you have always have been a good hand at tending to the cattle. Perhaps you can find your peace there so doing in the rear guard.”
There it was, a kindness offered up by my father. A mercy that I had neither expected nor for which I had hoped. I wanted so badly to agree to the proposition. And yet, now that escape from the hell of military life was before me, I couldn’t bring myself to welcome it.
“No, father,” I said, my head hanging in shame. “I will take the knighthood. I will redouble my efforts in training so that I am prepared for combat, whatever may come.”
I pulled on my cloak and beat a hasty retreat from the cottage, down the path and into the city. The sun was setting and I was hurrying to avoid having to deal with any of the lantern-lighters on the main road. I paused before pushing open the great oak door of the Green Dragon, long enough to make sure that the hot tears were off my cheeks and I had composed myself.
They would take my money and give me service, but the wenches were never happy to see sadness upon a man.
There is a page missing from the text of my life, though scraps of the words written thereon still come to me unbidden from time to time. I know that this page deals with dissolution, an unraveling of self from semi-formed tapestry of youth to a mess of filament lying disheveled on the tavern floor. More bruises were added to my collection, though I was not sure who the assailant - or, more likely, assailants - were. What I do know is that I awoke to a splash of water on my face that smelt of day old piss on the morning of my birthday, with a pain in my head like I had been stabbed, groggily blinking my eyes awake to Rolf the tavern keeper’s ugly face. He was holding a bucket in his hand and a furrow on his brow.
“You may be a Lord’s son, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you sleep on my floor any longer.”
I rolled over, away from the prickly bastard, towards the front of the tavern. I settled in for a moment, hearing the tavernkeep make a displeased grunt and walk away on creaky floorboards. Once it could not be helped anymore, I opened my eyes. Shafts of sunlight were penetrating the front windows, catching motes of dust in the air and striking the worn wooden slats near the first row of tables.
“Fuck, what hour is it?” I said, turning back to the unpleasant lowborn man. He had returned to his position behind the bar and was wiping the wood with a cloth that was fittingly maggoty for an establishment like his.
“I haven’t been out to check the sundial since the cock crowed at about quarter after six, but I dare say three hours have run down since then.” He let glee break out on his face, smiling a mouthful full of broken brown teeth. He waited for some reaction for me before pressing on. I gave him none.
“I heard you telling young Carla that you were to be inducted into your father’s Order this morning.” His smile grew wider.
“That is, before you puked ale up on yourself and collapsed from the bar. And before you woke up to tell the Miller brothers that their sister Theresa may as well trade in her shite singing voice and her poorly plucked harp for a harlot’s tights and sell her goods to the sailors down on the docks. ‘Course, you were already black and blue before your face made mates of their boot heels.” His grin looked as if it were going to stretch his face apart.
“Best check your trousers, lad. There’s a stink upon you that is better suited to a privy than the confines of this fine establishment.” He laughed then, a hideous braying sound that reminded me of the donkeys the serfs kept on the estate.
“Even less so to the halls of the Blue Cathedral.” He barely managed to choke the words out between guffaws.
I inhaled deeply, seeing red and willing it away. The trumped-up whoremaster was right. If I had not shit myself, someone must have shit on me. I looked down and noticed the crust of vomit on the lapel of my jerkin. The last jerkin that my mother had made for me, still beautiful after a decade of hard use, soiled with filth. Disgust ran through me. I shifted to get to my knees, the vice of hangover’s grip crushing my skull. A mucky feeling in the seat of my pants was matched by a cold wetness on the front. I staggered in a final effort to stand.
“Bugger the Christ-man, I’ve got to get to the Cathedral,” I breathed to myself.
The ceremony was scheduled for ten o’clock. And I was a mess. I looked up at Rolf and sized the peasant up. He had the same dimensions as me, a fat bastard, though he looked a bit shorter. Still, I could not show up in the rotten clothes that clung to me. I would not be spared the whip this time.
“Go into your rooms and get me some trousers, a fresh shirt and a jerkin.” I placed my hand on my hip. Mercifully, and inexplicably, given my state, my coin purse was still attached to my belt. It had yet some heft to it.
“You know that I will pay you handsomely for your rags, Rolf. Just get me some damn clothing.”
I half-walked, half-ran down the road leading into the city. I did not want to sprint, which would have gotten me to the Cathedral quicker. I was, after all, a pudgy oaf. I knew my limitations when it came to my physical abilities. Looking a sweaty wreck in front of the mocking gaze of the citizenry as I took the Yellow would be bad enough, but moistening the flesh around my groin with overexertion would only bring the odour back. I hadn’t had time for a bath and I was already late. Besides, Rolf’s breeches bound the meat of my legs tight. I could no more run than I could hit Eric Wellan with my sword.
As the dirt of the outskirts turned to the cobblestones of the city proper, I thought about my father. Without a doubt would be angry to see his second-born dressed in the ill-fitting dress of a tavernkeep at this holy ceremony, even more furious to learn that it was because I had made a filthy mess of my own garb. I vowed to keep that detail hidden from the man, if I could. Thankfully, this was also a day of pride for him, something that might blind him further to the truth of his wastrel son. I would almost certainly escape his lashes, even though he was certain to have comments about my appearance. Rolf’s shirt and jerkin did not fit down my torso, leaving a stretch of belly poking out like a thin roll of bread.
Thoughts of bread reminded me that my stomach was churning with bile. I needed to eat. Fortunately, a portly baker had just set up his table along the cobbles of Roan Street, just minutes away from the Cathedral. Stopping a few feet away to retch into the gutter, I snatched up a couple of sizable brioches, flipped the man payment, and asked for some butter.
“Butter?” came the incredulous reply. “You knows we don’t have that ‘ere, sir. P’rhaps you can attend to Mr. Ivory’s shop, just over there.”
The baker pointed down the street to the wood of the dairy farmer’s market stall. I snorted, threw a couple of gold pieces to the baker, and walked over to Ivory’s.
“Butter,” I said, slamming a coin onto the wood of the stall.
Moments later, I was slathering the brioches with the contents of a small crock. I mashed the bread into my face, the din of my heavy breaths echoing in my skull. I stopped just outside the heavy doors of the church and struggled to get the second loaf down my gullet. Damnation, I thought, I should have asked Ivory if he had any milk as well.
I turned to face the voice resonant with incredulity. It was my older brother, Gerard. He was, of course, immaculately dressed in his leathers and chain mail, with the tabard of the Yellow Order flowing down over his chest and groin.
Ah, the tabard. When I was younger, I would admire the great yellow dragon on white field crossed with black sword and mace. It was quite obvious on my father’s chest and back as I watched him from the window in the living room of our cottage. He would be coming home for days or short weeks or going off on campaigns for months at a time. I used to hate to see him leave.
Now I wished I never had to see him again.
And here before me was Gerard, my brother. A golden boy in the truest sense of the word. The close cropped blond hair, blue eyes, and beautiful aquiline face stood in stark contrast to my mess of mousy brown, matching chestnut eyes, and evident corpulence. He was father’s first born, and to call him his favourite was among the least necessary statements in the small piece of the world we lived in. How could he not be? When he spoke, his voice never faltered. He was well loved by both the men of the Order and the women of the city. He never had to pay tavern wenches for sex - he got it for free from unmarried girls. And to top it all off, the bastard was a brown-noser, always pretending to one kindness or another.
“Are you alright?”
There was feigned concern in my brother’s voice as we stood before the doors of the Blue Cathedral, with a matching expression on his face. Christ-man damn him, I thought, searching for the lie. I decided that it might not be a feint. Was the great Gerard Cardiff actually concerned for his failure of a brother? Had I really fallen that far?
Still, fuck him.
“I am fine,” I snapped, placing my hand on the great ring of the Cathedral door. Before I had a chance to yank the damn thing open, my brother placed his hand over mine.
“Please come with me,” he said. “I will get you some clothes that fit. You cannot go in there looking like that.”
There was no scorn in his voice, only sadness. How I wished for scorn. I recall thinking that disgust from him would have been preferable to the pity that this son of a bitch offered up to me, like table leavings for a crippled hound. Nonetheless, a change of clothing would reduce the risk of my father whipping me in spite of the auspiciousness of the occasion. I was never in the mood for corporal punishment. I followed my brother away from the doors of the cathedral.
Thankfully, the barracks of the Order were only a couple of blocks away. I tried to spend those few minutes in silence, but Gerard was not having it, even in light of my clipped responses to his questions.
“Rough night last night?” he asked, grinning at me.
“Eh, yeah, you could say that,” I responded.
I never liked interacting with my brother. This comrade routine was not new. In fact, it had become tiresome. When we were younger and training together, the bastard used to strike me with his practice sword when I was not looking and make light of my fatness with the smith’s sons. Not for long, though. He ascended to knighthood within a year and left me rolling in the wind like the obese shit that I was. Soon after he became a knight, though, he changed his attitude toward me entirely. The shift was seismic enough that I was not buying his wares. This was some put-on for the benefit of those watching our interactions. But I had to admit that did not explain his continued kindly demeanour in our private conversations.
“Today’s the big day, brother!” Gerard said, ignoring my reticence to engage with him and slapping my back in an entirely unwelcome way.
It was at times like these that I thought of my mother. How I missed her! She always had a patient ear for me, ever since I was a little boy. I would return home to the hearth every night to tell her about my life, all the pleasant times out in the meadows alone, away from the insults delivered by my peers for the state of my physical body, a body which deteriorated further into fatness as the years passed and I exited childhood. The pleasant times grew fewer and the storm clouds multiplied with the advance of time, and yet at the end of my day, my mother always had a smile for me and a sweet pastry freshly baked in the stone of the hearth.
She had been my sanctuary, and she was gone! I had been left to pick up the pieces with a cold father and a brother whose mere existence rubbed my nose in the fact that I was a letdown.
“Big day for what?” I barked. “This is no honour, this grant of knighthood. I did not earn it. I still have yet to pass any of the tests, yet here I am, being knighted.”
“Details! If you are really concerned about your combat abilities, I can help teach you. I want that distance that has grown between us to come to an end. So would Mother, were she here. Think about it.” Still my brother smiled at me, his arm on my back. “What fun we will have together!”
“I do not want your fucking help, do you not understand that?” I fumed. “Ever since Mother died, I have been glad. Glad that Father has given up on me. Glad I do not have to hear him tell me every night that I should be spending less time shut up in my room or at the tavern and more time with you here at the godsdamned barracks or practicing on the field. I am not a knight, I have never been a knight, and now our dear father has used no small measure of guilt to goad me into accepting this terrible joke of a position in the ranks.
“I will die out there, do you not understand that, brother?” I asked, the fire dimming in my voice. “I cannot fight. I am fat, useless, and a failure. I have spent seven horrendous years in training to your single one that saw you breeze through every test put before you. You were better than me in a month than I remain to this day.
“I just wish I was like you. Worthwhile, not worthless.” A tear started to well up in the corner of my eye. I willed it back into my head.
My brother’s face grew serious. “You have such worth already! Such worth. That said, of course I understand you, brother! Of course, of course I do! But let me tell you: it is not drinking and whoring and showing up a complete mess that will get you through this. You need to practice. The practice is rough, brutal stuff. I went through it - do you think it was easy for me? The hardest things always look easy from the outside. You have no idea what went on in here throughout the process,” he said, pointing at the side of his skull.
“The only difference between us is that I did not dally between childhood and becoming a man. The things I had to drop! To let go of the world… You do not know the price of what you seek. But the debt will be paid before you are through.”
The last few words my brother uttered were choked with emotion. Was the chosen one about to cry about succeeding as a knight? The stones on the bastard.
We arrived at the barracks, having each shut up during the last steps of our short journey. We crossed the red dirt of the sparring grounds, into the pavilion that housed the men. Mercifully, the place was deserted. Everyone was at the Cathedral, listening to Bishop Mountpence drone on throughout the morning service that preceded the consecration of any new military man’s service to the King.
“Now,” he said, “You need a proper set of clothes. Come this way.”
There was a grin on my brother’s face again, and I hated him for it.
The living quarters were made with dark wood dutifully chopped by the woodsmen of the city in a forest far off in the east. One morning when I was a child, my father had told me all about it, boring me to the point of the tears in the toast that lay before me on the breakfast table. Apparently, the black-grained wood was some form of ash that could withstand the heat of a dragon’s breath. I did not believe a word of it - neither the dragon nor the idea that something that we use to keep our hearths warm could be invulnerable to flame.
Dragons. Imagine if were true!
I would be untruthful if I said the idea did not tug at some part of me. After all, I grew up reading stories of knights and dragons. But I knew it had just been my father lying to me for a reaction, a perverse action on his part to make me feel like a fool, all in the name of building character. I examined a wooden slat running across the wall. It did not look much different than the wood that father had chopped on our estate to build our miserable little cottage, simply a bit darker. What rubbish his stories always were! A practiced liar was my father, nothing more.
“Here,” my brother said, thrusting a stack of folded clothing into my arms. “These were supposed to be a gift for after you were inducted into the Order, but I guess you need them now. Matthew had your measurements in his file from the last time you were here.”
I looked down. An ornate green leather jerkin sat atop a brown shirt and brown leather pants. The cloth of the jerkin was stitched with silver and brown thread, a sword pointing down and a dragon encircling the blade and running all the way up to the top of the hilt. Matthew, the tailor, had not measured me for clothing for months. My gaze rested upon the belly that protruded. I was drinking freely of the ale. Had I become fatter since then?
“Thank you,” I said, looking up at my brother. “This is a kindness I was not expecting.”
“Ah, do not get all weepy on me,” Gerard said, still smiling. “Go get changed. I will be waiting out in the yard.”
I walked into one of the rooms of the barracks. It was as spartan as you would expect for a knight’s quarters. There was a small bed with one of the thinnest mattresses I had ever seen atop it, covered with a white sheet tucked under a yellow blanket. Next to the head was a small night table. Under the bed, a chest built from the same wood as the rest of the structure was only partly hidden from view. The knights could not have what meagre bits of wealth they accrued from years of wage slavery in service to the King destroyed by dragon fire, I mused wanly. I realized that that very night night, I was to sleep in one of these bunks. The pounding in my head returned and I thought I was going to retch.
Why was I doing this? It was suicide!
Eventually the moment passed. I slipped on the clothing. I was surprised to find that there was no struggle. It slid over my bulk without any effort at all. I thought I had gained weight since last the tailor had measured me. My tits certainly looked bigger than they had been. Yet here I was, dressed in what can only be described as perfectly tailored new clothing, nothing stretching to accept me. I exited the room to find my brother waiting for me out in the yard again.
“From tavern wretch to the squire on the threshold of greatness, I bow to you,” Gerard grinned and made a mockery of the gesture.
That arse! Every time, when I let myself get carried away and think some form of kindness of spirit has attached itself to his being, he proved the lie of it. I shot him a glare and spit out words of thanks for the clothing.
We passed the sundial on the way to the Cathedral. The morning’s service would soon be finished. Picking up the pace, Gerard shot out ahead of me, breaking into a half run. My headache pounded in the morning sun. Sighing, I kept up the pace and felt the sweat start to form on my skin and my breath leave me.
“Damn it all, Gerard, slow down!”
He turned around to smile at me, then picked up the pace. He started to trot, then broke into a run. I tried to follow, wheezing my way on for a while. I stopped, screamed, and gave him a vulgar gesture meant to signify a loose woman’s vagina.
“Go then, you son of a bitch,” I said to him. “You are no brother of mine. You think you can buy me off with gifts of new clothing? That you can give me a few scraps and then kick me like a dog when I am down?”
“Andrew, you live life too seriously,” he said, laughing. “I was only trying to make sure that you get to your own ceremony on time.”
“Yes, I will arrive a sweaty mess, eliciting pity and scorn from the congregation. Meanwhile, you, my brother who runs miles every day, will look as good as the morning sun. All the women there will want to fuck you as you stride up to the pews reserved for members of the Order. What few women will be in attendance for my consecration, anyway.” My words grew vicious again. “Too bad for them that you will cast them aside for buggery at the barracks with your brothers-in-arms.”
Gerard began to laugh again.
“Why would I not laugh when what you say is funny?”
We walked the rest of the way in silence. I gratefully noticed that, in spite of the hangover haze, as I had remembered to give my arse a proper wiping while I was at the barracks, no stink wafted up as I felt the sweat slide down my legs.
Christ-man, life had to be better than this.
I gazed at the Blue Cathedral as we approached. It was on the corner of two streets in the core of Hightown, that part of the City reserved for the wealth and nobility. The building seemed to emanate out of the cobbles, the steeple stretching far above the large noble mansions that were erected next to it. The face of the building was made with a light blue marble, blue marble that housed stained glass images in the windows. Stained glass that depicted images of brutality: knights running swords through demons, blood spurting out on their mail, men savaging each other in a similar fashion, a man nailed to a cross and bleeding to death. Above the glass, I could just barely make out a crow taking flight from the cross at the top of the spire.
Why did a place holding itself out as a house of peace project such vicious images onto the city? Christianity, my parents’ faith, seemed horrible, especially compared to what little I knew of the other holy traditions in the city. But I had passed through their places of worship from time to time and had sometimes listened to them speak or watched them in prayer. Some men from the east, who followed a fat jolly god, seemed content to just burn incense and sit down with eyes closed. Others imbibed potions to give them visions of demons, a practice that sounded completely horrific and without any merit at all. Still others simply sat in huts with crackling fires until they reached the point of passing out. And they all proclaimed to know the truth of existence, one god or another with salvation up its sleeve. It was all shit, of that I was certain. The only world that was real was right in front of me, even if that world heaped insult after insult upon me.
Grinning, my brother pushed open the doors of the Cathedral, and ushered me in to the darkness.
Chapters 2 and 3 can be found at andrewmarcrowe.com.
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