Updated: Nov 23, 2020
The novel I am writing is a three-act anthology based in an original, high-fantasy world called Wyrmshadow. I designed this world for the explicit purpose of telling the stories of its denizens. A few of my friends are already very familiar with Wyrmshadow, and they have encouraged me over the years to explore the possibility of sharing its legendary tales with others.
William Faulkner said that if a story is in you, it has got to come out.
What follows is an excerpt of the story within me.
There was, in the intersection of two well-travelled roads, a circular, grassy hill like an island of green in a sea of autumn reds and steely grays. At the corner of the Rue du Sant Renée and the Koslov Arteria, a towering structure stood as a great alabaster sentinel, casting its gaze over the horizon for miles in every direction.
It stood, stalwart, atop the grassy hill, flanked north and east by other buildings of a less spectacular variety. The structures abutted to the pearly tower were far more contemporary than their opulent neighbor.
Travelers passing through the city of Ollgarten often stopped to gawp and wonder at the building, a white, ashlar-stone construction with a steepled roof of copper that had weathered to the green-gray tone of seafoam. One approached its stately, hilltop edifice via a winding path of tightly-packed pea-shaped gravel. At the end of that path were a pair of heavy oak doors, stained black and lacquered to a mirrored sheen.
Questions were quite surely abound with regards to its nature, and of the few among the city's populace that ever went inside. However, the gentry of Ollgarten knew that this building was known as the Thousand Hands. The doors were kept sealed, opening only as a response to a special knock against a panel of polished brass that was mounted where a door handle would otherwise be.
Whenever any man or woman attempted to knock upon that metal plate, none other than they could perceive the pattern they tapped. Anyone trying to spy upon their attempt to gain entry would be rendered into a disorientation that obscured both sight and sound. The knock's pattern changed after every time anyone stepped foot within the Thousand Hands, and it was known to but a privileged few within the city.
Lukarde Alfans was one of those chosen few.
He gathered his cloak tightly against him and dashed across the street, making haste as he rushed along the swirling gravel path, coming to the entrance of the Thousand Hands. After taking every precaution neither to be seen, nor heard, he knocked on the brass plate upon the black door. He rapped his knuckles against the brass five times, quite loudly, then paused to count to three beneath his breath before knocking again three more times: soft, then loud, then soft once more.
There was a long, silent stillness that followed, and his confidence in his own memory began to falter. He recited the knock in a whisper, shook his head, and started to raise his knuckles to try again when he heard the barricade behind the door sliding up and away. She had heard him, and he breathed out a vaporous sigh. A sliver of amber shone from between the two thick oaken doors, and the smell of old cedar and a warm hearth light greeted Lukarde’s face.
The rumbling voice of an old woman called out from within, and it warmed Lukarde more than the crackling fire alight just beyond the door.
“You’ll let the chill in,” old Helaine said, peering out at Lukarde, her figure framed in flickering silhouette. “In you come, then Constable.”
Lukarde made his way through the door and turned to close it behind him. Helaine Bynsen had already crossed over to huddle herself closer to the fire. She was a bent-backed old woman, thin white hair hanging down the sides of her pale, spotted face. She smelled to him like the oldest book in a library, ancient and oddly sweet. There was a kindness to her face as she gave Lukarde a wry, lopsided smile. Those cataract-addled eyes glimmered with wisdom. Constable Alfans couldn’t help but smile back at her.
“Madame Bynsen,” he said, his voice deep and assuring. He replaced the barricade across the doors, then re-latched the heavy iron locks on either side, barring it deep within its wall-mounted brackets. “It has been far too long.”
“Indeed it has, Constable,” she replied, poking him in the back of his forearm with a calloused fingertip. “Or should I say, rather, former Constable. Is it true, all these dreadful tales they tell of you?”
He closed his eyes and sighed silently before turning to face the old woman. The russet hairs of his beard dripped rainwater down the inside of his jerkin as he frowned. “If you thought that of me, you would be a fool to have let me in. You, madam, are no man’s fool.”
She smiled and poked him again, this time in his chest. She wheezed and cackled, managing a few words between fits of hoarse coughing. “Of course, it’s all a great big pile o’ shite and the whole of the town seems all too eager to step in it. They track it into their homes, they do, and none are bright enough to think on what it is that stinks about it all.”
Lukarde nodded, his smile returning. If old Helaine had forsaken him, as had the gentry of Ollgarten, he feared he may lapse into a despair from which he wouldn’t soon find his way out.
“Sod ‘em,” Helaine said as she leaned in close, patting him just over his heart gently. He shook his head. “How dare they force a penance upon you for the sins of other men!”
“No, madam,” he said, patting her affectionately on the side of her face and moving past her to walk toward an archway built into the far wall. “My fall was orchestrated, and the good people of this city are mere victims of the same deceit. I shall not lay any blame upon them.”
“Well then leave that part to me,” she replied as she claimed an iron poker and prodded at the logs in the fireplace. "I'll not soon forgive the feckless fools who would sooner cower in belief of a lie than stand up for a man who stood so many times for them."
She watched as the disgraced former Constable approached the archway that separated the modest foyer from the room that gave the Thousand Hands its name. Lit from within by a source that always seemed to be just around the next corner, this vast space filled the rest of the building from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Lukarde had been through this room more than once, but each time the surreal splendor of it left him awestruck.
He stood in the archway, staring into the room of the Thousand Hands, and tried in vain, once more, to make sense of it all within his mind.
The floor was tiled in polished slabs of river stone embedded within a thick, black clay-like base. As one stepped upon the stones they sunk beneath their feet, only to slowly rise back into position thereafter. The first time Lukarde entered this room, he panicked a bit, feeling like he was sinking and would become trapped. This was literally the truth, in fact. One could not linger long in this room. One had to keep moving. One had to find their way.
A series of hand-hewn hardwood columns, decorated with inlaid brass plates much like the one embedded in the outer door of the building, rose from beneath the stones in the floor like tree trunks. Held aloft atop these columns were dozens of massive wooden beams wrapped and dangling with dazzling brass chains of many sizes and lengths.
Filling the space was a chaotic maze of whirring gears, swishing pendulums, and hundreds upon hundreds of clocks stacked and arranged in an intricate pandemonium. Lukarde looked back toward the modestly appointed space just within the entry, where Helaine Bynsen made her home and held her vigil. There was a rocking chair and a gusseted stool sat upon a tattered, hand-woven wool rug, warmed and lit by the fire in the hearth alone.
“How long,” Helaine asked as she approached the archway.
“Twenty minutes should suffice,” Lukarde replied as he turned and gazed out at all the swinging brass arms, hand-painted dials, and gilded clock hands which easily numbered far more than a thousand. He was sure no one had ever stopped to count them. He removed his long, rain-sodden cloak and lay it across a bannister to his left, then spun to look back at Helaine while turning up his sleeves.
She blinked a few times, clucking her tongue with distaste for the unfortunate turn of events beleaguering Lukarde Alfans. “There’s naught noble about the nobility, these days. It pains me to see you brought to this, Constable. Pains me awful, it does.”
“Helaine,” Lukarde replied with just the woman’s name, but his tone and expression said all that needed saying. She nodded after a brief pause.
“Twenty minutes,” she repeated. “Twenty golden angels for twenty minutes.”
Lukarde claimed the coin purse hanging from his belt and began to work at the drawstring. He grinned and briefly glanced up at her. “How has he been, lately, by the way?”
“Ah, same as he ever is,” she said, leaning herself against the bannister and looking at her own warped, rippling reflection in the wide, glossy surface of a great brass gear that spun slowly on its delicate axle. “You know Tymn. You can always count on him to come back around for you.”
Lukarde nodded as he dropped a stack of coins into the cupped palms of old Helaine’s quivering, arthritic hands. It gladdened his heart to hear that Tymn was still up to his old tricks. Those tricks were, after all, precisely what brought him here to the Thousand Hands to begin with.
“You sure you can afford all this,” Helaine asked, her tone warm and genuine. “That’s a lot more than your old Constable’s salary would cover, and you’ve been months out of work.”
“I can ill afford the alternative,” he said, and he was shaken by the truth as he heard it in his own voice. His head hung low, then, as a sullen mood overcame him. He was out of options. He always thought himself so damned clever. He grimly stared down to the space between his feet.
“It’s all here,” she said. "You have twenty minutes, lad. Don’t waste a second of it berating yourself, now.”
Lukarde blinked, then looked up into the old woman’s face, patting her on her cheek once more as his other hand squeezed her on the shoulder. He forced himself to smile upon her, for if all went as it must, it would be the last time she ever laid eyes upon him. He didn’t want her to remember him as broken as he was.
He then turned and began to walk into the maze of the Thousand Hands. Most of the clocks stood at least a head taller than he did, and within moments of entering the maze their reflective glass mirrors, spinning gears, and swishing pendulums had disoriented him utterly.
He pressed onward, averting his eyes from the clocks and following instead the criss-crossing shadows cast up into the vaulted ceiling high above. The pattern of shadows the overhead beams formed were the key to solving the maze. Lukarde was one of only a handful of people deemed worthy to know this place’s secret, and he felt great shame over the fact that he was about to abuse that honor.
The maze of the Thousand Hands was never the same, twice. To the uninitiated, it would be quite easy to find themselves back where they started, their coin spent on a fruitless endeavor. The glass doors of the tall clocks, the gleam and shimmer of brass atop brass, pendulums swinging, needle-thin clock hands twitching as each second ticked by… all and more comprised a challenge to the senses. Lukarde’s familiarity with its myriad of disorienting machinations did little to armor him against them.
After a misstep brought him perilously close to a dead end, he managed to make his way to the end of the maze. There, he found a great pair of ornate glass doors identical to those that covered the pendulums in most of the clocks he passed along the way, save for the fact they were twice Lukarde’s height. He stopped as he saw his reflection in the mirrored surface of the glass doors, realizing that over the course of the preceding seven months, he had become almost unrecognizable to his own eyes.
Where once he was fit and thin, he had grown thick and unimpressive. His unkempt beard and strands of overgrown hair framed a flushed, sunburnt face. His eyes, once vibrant green, seemed lifeless and gray, trapped within dark circles that betrayed his long, sleepless nights.
He took hold of the handles of each door, pulling them wide open to reveal what appeared to be a small, very private garden. Enclosed on all four sides by the backs of neighboring buildings, this peaceful space was a bounty of lustrous, bright green ivy, dotted with little white flowers. It crept up the walls surrounding the garden, bursting from beneath tall, blue-green grasses and bright yellow cattails that hugged the edges and rounded the corners of the secluded place.
The rain fell down into the garden from above the rooftops of the surrounding buildings, tapping rhythmically upon the swaying leaves of a solitary mulberry tree in the center of the secret place. It was unreachable, this garden, except through the maze of the Thousand Hands. Lukarde felt fortunate to be one of a select few to know of its existence at all. Ollgarten was translated from the elder tongue as "Old Garden," and almost none of the citizens of the city knew of its namesake. To have visited it more than once was nearly unheard of, and this was far from his first time treading upon the soft grasses of this special, sacred place.
Comprising the lion’s share of the far wall, opposite the pair of glass doors that served as the garden’s only entrance, was the great porcelain dial of a peculiar clock. Unlike within the maze that led him to the garden, this was the only clock in sight. Its hands showed the wildly incorrect time of 11:40, precisely: twenty minutes to midnight.
His boots crushed prints into the pleasant carpet of clover beneath his feet. As he approached the clock face, its second hand began to spin. The sound of it ticking away the seconds grew louder, the rhythm filling Lukarde’s mind. He felt his pulse synchronize with the beating of the clock’s heart, and the magic of this place was finally revealed.
The rain that fell from upon high suddenly stood perfectly still, suspended in place. Glistening pebble-sized spheres of water hung in the air, catching the faintest of light, dazzling like a night sky full of stars.
Hundreds of thin, overlapping layers of ivory-toned porcelain comprised the face of the clock Lukarde approached. They began to shift, spin, and slide at the mention of the name, Tymn, revealing an impossibility of tiny brass gears that seemed to shimmer with their own inner light.
“Lukarde Alfans, is that really you?” the clock replied, the exposed gears forming the shape of a wide, welcoming smile. Tymn’s voice was nauseating to experience, as it moved in reverse from within Lukarde’s ears, unnervingly. It was a deep voice, as old as earth, sky and sea. “It seems like it’s been ages. Has it? It is so hard to keep track.”
Tymn snickered at his own joke. Lukarde favored the clock with a smile, but he could not bring himself to laugh.
“I’ve come for your help, once again, old friend,” Lukarde began, and the expressive face of the clock took on a more introspective expression. “I need to get through the Ollgarten docks unnoticed, but portraits of my likeness are plastered on every wall and post in the Harbor District. I need you to hold back the Hands for me until I’ve boarded a ship that awaits my arrival at the docks.”
“I thought you a preserver of order,” Tymn replied, the brassy glow of his eye-shapes blinking in confusion. “That is why I took such a liking to you, Lukarde Alfans. Nothing I like more than order, after all.”
“I… I know, Tymn,” Lukarde interrupted, then gave a resigned sigh, his shoulders slumping. He was so very tired of keeping a stiff upper lip. “Much has happened since we last met. I trust that you’ve kept your promise to me, not to help anyone with deceit in their hearts?”
“I have,” Tymn replied, his face assuming the shape of a disappointed frown. “But Lukarde, are you not asking me, now, to help you in just such a deception?”
There was a long silence between Lukarde and the living face of time, itself. Of all the disheartening circumstances he had endured over the past seven months, this was the first time he felt ashamed of his decision. He saw no alternative, however. He knew no path forward but through deceit, which pained him greatly to admit to himself.
“I do not understand,” Tymn replied. Lukarde ran his hand over his beard and nodded.
“I know, Tymn. I do,” Lukarde came close enough to reach up and place his hand upon the warm, rainslick surface of the clock face. “Nevertheless, though I still want you to deny the use of your gifts to anyone that would use them for illicit purposes, I am hoping you can make an exception for me.”
“This makes no sense to me,” Tymn blurted out in exasperation, wholly befuddled.
“I know, it is not logical,” Lukarde said, walking toward the mulberry tree in the center of the garden and brushing time-frozen raindrops away from in front of his face. They formed a feathery, fan-like trail of suspended water in his fingertip’s wake. “Faith, my friend, is rarely logical, and that is what I am asking of you, now. Search my heart, I beg you… and have faith that helping me in this deception would be nobler than denying me your help.”
Tymn’s frown went flat, then pursed as he began to think deep thoughts on the matter. All along, tick-tock, tick-tock, the hands of the clock counted down.
Five minutes had already passed, and Lukarde would need every second of the remaining fifteen to make his way past the guard-posts and crowded boardwalks of the Harbor District. As if sensing his urgency, Tymn gave his response.
“Of course, you can always count on me, Lukarde,” he smiled widely, his open mouth of spinning gears, whirring wheels, and swishing levers eliciting the visage of an innocent, toothy grin. “You had better get going, though. Fourteen minutes and forty-seven seconds yet remain!”
Lukarde smiled in relief, then spun to rush back out of the secret garden through the double-hung glass doors. He made haste back through the maze of long-case clocks, their hands also showing the same time that Tymn’s showed: 11:47, and counting. Wherever Lukarde might have been in any part of the world, if he had looked at the face of a clock, it would show him that time. It was the time he had been granted, and he meant to make the most of it.
He snatched his cloak and bound past the paralyzed form of Helaine Bynsen, then hurriedly worked at the locks on the barricade of the thick, black door that led out into the streets of Ollgarten.
“Tymn,” he shouted back over his shoulder as he fled. “Make sure Helaine locks up behind me!”
He stopped in his tracks in the roadway, just at the bottom of the gravel trail where it met the intersection. A man atop a horse was shielding his face against the wind-driven rain in a scene frozen in time. The dim light of the man's lantern shone across the diagonal slashes of rainfall, giving them the appearance of a thousand gilded needles bearing down upon the man and his horse. Lukarde knew, from Helaine's stories of it, that Tymn could hold fast the hands of time, but this was the first time he had borne witness to the effect with his own senses. The experience left him awestruck, but as still as the moment literally was, time would only be on Lukarde's side for a short while longer.
It is my hope that what I posted above exemplifies my writing style. It is an excerpt from the second of the three acts, which follows the exploits of a police officer, a clever detective seeking a new life in the faraway Southwilds.
It is inspired by the stories of Sherlock Holmes, and unlike the first act of the novel, which is a psychological survival horror story, Lukarde's tale is a murder mystery. The third act is a culmination of the events of the first two, and each of the three acts follows a different set of characters and protagonists.
I am eager, and nervous, to hear what everyone thinks of it all. Thank you for your time, and for all you have done for me by sharing this whole journey with me.