Tuesday, November 29, 2011

F.A.I.R.I.E.S.: Baptism by Fire written and illustrated by M. C. Pearson

Tour Date: December 5th

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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author & illustrator is:

and the book:

F.A.I.R.I.E.S.: Baptism by Fire

FIRST Wild Card Press (December 5, 2011)

***Special thanks to M. C. Pearson of FIRST Wild Card Press for sending me a review copy.***


M. C. Pearson graduated from San Jose State University with a B. A. in art, served as a multi-media illustrator in the United States Army, earning the rank of sergeant, and spent four years as a house parent for at-risk youth. Now married over 20 years, she homeschools her two children, volunteers with her church youth group, and runs a book review blog alliance (FIRST Wild Card Tours) while writing and drawing. F.A.I.R.I.E.S.: Baptism by Fire is her first novel.

Visit the author's website.


Unwittingly chosen to join an army of fairies, who fight for the Light of the One, a teenaged girl learns about spiritual warfare as she attends a military academy with fantastical beings.


Here lies a most precious treasure,
Awaiting one Chosen to deliver.

Seek out the red cousins in the East,
For on this your greed mustn't feast.

The wealth of a species now in your hands,
Do with it as the light demands.

Give them your gift to unite,
For it is the darkness we all must fight.


"Imagination runs wild in F.A.I.R.I.E.S. Pearson brings young readers through a looking glass and into a world bursting with adventure, heroism, and fascinating creatures. Readers will be inspired to be true to the One and left with anticipation of more to come."
--Jill Williamson, award-winning author of
By Darkness Hid, and other books

"Sprinkled with delightful illustrations, and brimming with a full bestiary of magical creatures, F.A.I.R.I.E.S. is a fun, clever romp through the alternate landscape of the most magical world of all, our own. Read, and take up the call: 'Defend and Emancipate!'"
-- D. Barkley Briggs, author of
The Book of Names, and other books

"F.A.I.R.I.E.S. will appeal to readers who love the interplay of fantasy and reality. A rich cast of eccentric characters and exotic settings make this a fun addition to the folklore of the battle between good and evil."
--Mike Hamel, author of

"F.A.I.R.I.E.S. is one of those rare gems I want to tell everyone about. It's highly imaginative, packed with adventure, and full of hope. A must read for kids and for kids at heart. Even better than Narnia! I was thinking about Pearson's wonderfully memorable characters for days."
--C.J. Darlington, author of
Thicker than Blood

"Ms. Pearson's extravagant and imaginative F.A.I.R.I.E. kingdom will surely delight the young and the young-at-heart in this tale of good and evil, light vs. darkness. The fantasy-loving reader will not be disappointed!"
--Linore Rose Burkard, award winning author of
Before the Season Ends, and other books

Product Details:

List Price: $17.99
Paperback: 482 pages
Publisher: FIRST Wild Card Press (December 5, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0615530222
ISBN-13: 978-0615530222


Four thousand seasons shall pass while our swords grow rusty.

Where once one chose to divide, another shall be chosen to unite.

One changed the past, the other shall change the future.

One must emancipate the other to allow the light its dominion.

The realm, now torn, allows the shadow to abide, as humanity lies blind to its peril.

The bond of friendship must endure, for the army of shadows awaits another tear.

Dust off your swords.

Unite the realm.

Destroy the strongholds.

Foretelling of Didasko Gnome Digdeep






Off and Running

t was an accident!” Mellie yelled, not caring who heard or stared. Tears streaked her face as she fled down the Santa Cruz coastline, away from her family.

You don’t need them, a voice hissed in her ear, Escape. Run away.

Scorching sand burned at her feet and bitterness ate at her heart. Mellie pumped her legs as fast as they would go. Her feet pounded with the rhythm of her emotions, beating a tempo with the crashing waves. Run-a-way. Run-a-way. Run-a-way. Adrenaline pulsed through her veins, quickening her step.

Why did I have to be the youngest? Only 12 years old. Never smart enough. Never athletic enough. I just wish they loved me.

Once, just once, she wanted to do something that would make her sisters see that she wasn’t the stupid, awkward, ugly, little baby sister.

As she ran, she wiped away some tears with the palm of her hand. Her fingers settled on her large nose, a gift from her dad’s Hungarian ancestry.

Chelsea got the ski-slope shaped nose. I had to get Half-Dome. It just isn’t fair.

Her hand dropped to her side and she pinched at her stomach. It still had some of its baby fat.

Ugh, why are my sisters so perfect? What happened to me?

Pushing her short bangs from her forehead in disgust, she mumbled, “Maybe I’ll find treasure. I’ll be the rich one, and then they’ll have to accept me.” But she knew better. California didn’t hold any more undiscovered treasures.

The sand, hot and coarse, cut at her feet. I wish I had remembered my shoes. She wore only a black, one-piece swimsuit and a San Jose Sharks sweatshirt tied tightly around her waist.

Breathing rapidly, she began to tire. She slowed her pace to a walk and looked back across the beach. The sand was so hot that waves of heat rose from it and blurred her view. A lone seagull screeched overhead.

Her sisters were nowhere in sight.

Man, I thought for sure that Chelsea was going to chase me down and kill me.

She had to admit that it was a little gratifying to see the sand fly from her foot, covering Chelsea’s sub-sandwich and freshly oiled stomach. Grinning slightly, the tears stopped flowing. She rubbed her eyes.

Mellie looked in the direction of her sisters. “You guys can never take a joke.” Flipping her golden hair, she turned her head back toward her chosen path. She no longer smiled as she stomped her feet in the cold surf, remembering the hateful words that had been said.

“Oh, waa waa, you stupid cry baby! Go tell mommy! Maybe she’ll feel sorry for her ugly, fat baby. Why don’t you grow up? We don’t want you near us. Can’t you understand English? You are so dumb. Look at her mouth open. Oh wait, here she goes…come on, baby…cry!”

Mellie knew she couldn’t go back. They would only ridicule and torment her further. Her mom would never believe it was Chelsea’s fault. No, the evidence was on Chelsea’s side. Who was the one with the sand all over her oily, coconut-smelling body? Who was the one who had a sandwich full of sand? Mellie walked on.

After her temper finally cooled, it occurred to her that she had never walked so far alone.

How far have I gone?

A shadow passed over her, and she looked up. Nothing was there. A cool breeze from the ocean created a stark contrast to the scalding sand. She shivered but kept walking, lost in her loneliness.

Not until she stubbed her toe on a large broken clamshell did she look at the beach. A chill snaked up her back. Nothing appeared familiar. The sounds of the surf were still there, yet something was decidedly different. She felt dizzy. Looking around, she could not quite pinpoint the change. Then it struck her.

No people.

Where did everybody go?

Even though she could see no one, Mellie could swear that she felt eyes staring at her.

She looked inland across the sand, saw movement near some eucalyptus trees, but decided that the wind must have caused it.

Trees? So close to the beach?

Something shook the trees again, causing goosebumps to stand out on Mellie’s arms. Alarmed, she checked the skyline. The sun was close to setting. She hoped that the police weren’t out looking for her.

Suddenly cold, she pulled at the arms of the sweatshirt still tied around her waist. It fell to the sand. Bending to pick it up, she once again saw a blur of movement, except this time it came from a rocky outcrop by the waves. She shook the sand out of the sweatshirt and hurriedly tugged it over her head.

“Okay, I’m seeing things.” Mellie yanked at her hair, pulling it out of the sweatshirt. She stared at the sinister rocks. “Hel-lo?” Her voice cracked as she spoke louder. “Is someone the-ere? Hello?” No answer. The shadowy rocks seemed to quiver with excitement, beckoning her closer.

Hmm…probably just a seagull.

Even if it was a bird, she did not want to see it.

There’s no way I’m going over there.

The wind picked up and blew her hair into her eyes. The sand spun with the wind.

Yes, definitely time to move. I need to find a road.

She turned back toward the sweet smelling, oddly placed trees.

Mellie arrived at the base of the first, colossal eucalyptus tree. Without warning, one of the branches fell in front of her, then seemed to get up from the ground and pose its bottom stems in a military-like stance.

Mellie screamed and jumped back. “Branches don’t stand.”

“They do if they are walking sticks.” The eucalyptus branch chuckled, stretching to its full height, considerably taller than Mellie’s meager five feet.
She gasped, grabbed the branch, and threw it like a javelin, as hard as she could.

As she took off running, she heard a bark and halted. Turning, she saw a golden retriever bounding toward her with the stick in his mouth. The dog dropped it at her feet. She watched the dog run into the grove of trees and disappear before she fearfully turned back to the possessed stick.

It had already gained its footing again and stood over her. Mellie was too frightened to move this time.

A face emerged from the skinny twig and took on the characteristics of a male human, but none like Mellie had ever seen. He had hair made up in rolls as if it were a powdered, green-silver wig, the same color as the leaves that grew all around his skinny body. His face was long and his forehead high. The twiggy man smiled and said in a distinctly British, albeit breezy, accent, “Do not worry, you are safe.”

Mellie couldn’t answer.

“Ahh…I love new recruits. They are so easily addled.”

Feeling more confused than threatened, Mellie found her voice. “What? What do you mean, new recruits?” She rubbed her eyes, shaking her head. “Okay, I’m talking to a stick now. Yes, I have lost it. I have gone totally mental.”

“Oh, I say, am I to understand that I am the first to be revealed to you?” With round, leathery leaves, the branch resembled a toddler toy with rings stacked on one another.

She dropped open her mouth and nodded.

“Well, let me do this properly, then. Ahem. Mortal, made of clay, you have been Chosen to join the Fantastical, Aerial, International, Reasonably Inconspicuous, Emancipation Squads.”

“What? What are you? You look like a stick…but you can talk.”

“Yes, child,” the stick replied with a sigh. “But, I think we are quite past that by now. Have you not heard me? You have been Chosen.”

Mellie opened her mouth wider, closed it, frowned, and opened it once more. “Chosen? For what?”

“You did wish to be different? To change who you were? ’Twas an especially strong desire, yes?” The branch crossed its arms and tapped its twiggy foot.


“Dear me, this is highly unusual. You made a choice to run away from a miserable life and asked to be set free? Correct?”

“Well, I, ah…yeah. I guess so. What did you say about recruit for some squad?”

“Humph. I see that I was not understood. Yes? Let me elucidate. The Fantastical, Aerial, International, Reasonably Inconspicuous, Emancipation Squads , or shall I say F.A.I.R.I.E.S.? have accepted you into their organization. You asked. You were answered.” The branch attempted a smile, but looked impatient instead.

“Fairies? I don’t believe in fairies.” Mellie winced, half expecting him to fall down and writhe in pain until she clapped her hands.

“Quite right. You are not supposed to. If humans truly believed we existed, we would never get anything accomplished.”

Mellie laughed and looked around for a hidden camera, thinking this must be a joke. “Right. Ah…heh…okay, bud, brilliant costume,” she said, imitating the branch’s accent. “Where’s the zipper?” She reached toward him and touched a soft leaf.

The branch slapped her hand away and stamped its foot with a loud cracking noise. “I beg your pardon. I have not been a bud for over 800 springs!” He paced, his leaves crumpling, mumbling to himself about humans and why, in the One’s name, did he listen to that confounded gnome who told him that he needed to stand gate duty. With his rank!

“I’m sorry I upset you. Please, I’m very confused. I’m lost, and I just want to go home.” Mellie bit her lip.

The branch stopped mid-pace. “Home? Earlier, did you not wish for a new life? And riches? I know you wished for treasure, hmm?”

“How do you know that?” Mellie furrowed her brow. “Have you been reading my mind?”

The twig man didn’t answer her questions, asking his own instead. “Ahh, so, you admit this, yes?”

She narrowed her eyes. “Yes, but…well, this really isn’t what I had in mind.”

The branch threw up its twiggy fingers. “Oh, well, of course you did not have this in mind. After all, we are reasonably inconspicuous, especially to humans. How could you have this in mind? However, is it not superior of the One to think that this is what you would have chosen had you known about us? Anyway, ’tis irrevocable now. So, if you would just follow me, we shall get you signed in and enrolled for training.”

The branch marched off between the trunks of two large eucalyptus trees.

Mellie slid uncontrollably after the walking stick. She planted her feet firmly, refusing to budge, but she slid after him anyway. Grasping at branches of nearby trees, she panted heavily as she struggled to resist following the branch. Some kind of invisible tie connected her to him. He seemed to pull her along with his every step.

Mellie thought about her sisters and how mad they were at her. I’m dead meat if they find me. Mellie quickly gave up her battle and ran after the eucalyptus branch, barely keeping up with his stride.


The sand changed to coarse dirt, with pebbles and sticks. More and more trees filled Mellie’s vision. Bushes scraped against her bare legs and slapped her face as she moved deeper inside a forest of eucalyptus and redwood trees. She winced in pain as a razor-sharp rock sliced her foot. Stopping to nurse it, she wished once again for her forgotten shoes.

“Excuse me, sir?” Mellie looked around. She could not see the branch anywhere.

“Do not call me ‘sir’, I work for a living.” The branch peeked out from around one of the gigantic trees. “And please, try to keep up. We need to reach the gateway.”

Mellie limped up to him. “Sorry, sir…I mean…umm, what should I call you then?”

“Oh, well, we did skip that. Did we not? Yes, all right, an introduction then.” The branch man seemed to enjoy formal etiquette for he gave an elaborate wave and bowed. “My name is Regnans, family of Myrtaceae, born member of the F.A.I.R.I.E.S., Britannia Wing, rank of Master Nymph Dryad.”

“Nice to meet you, Reg…Reg?” Mellie chewed on the inside of her mouth. Never good at remembering names, she knew she would offend him with her lack of manners.

Sure enough, the dryad raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips. “Regnans.” He gave a hurt sniff, then drolly sneered. “If you find that a difficult name, you should meet the rest of my family, all seven-hundred thirty-four of them.”

“Sorry, I just…well, it is a lot to remember. It’s a nice name, though. My name is Maryellen Goodwin of Bret Harte Middle School, San Jose, California. But everyone calls me Mellie.” She stuck out her hand, intending to shake. Regnans stared at her.

“That is a strange curtsy. However, I guess ’twill do. We must get moving now. The shadows abound, you know.” Regnans made an about face and marched off faster than before.

Another hour passed, and still they strode along the forest floor. Mellie’s feet were now cut, blistered, and bleeding. She kept up as best she could with Regnans’s long stride. Whenever she tried to stop, he would pull her on with that invisible force of his.

Stupid, pompous, magical Star Wars freak.

She whimpered as she limped. Darkness and mist now covered the woods. As she was about to plead for a break, Regnans stopped. Except for her heavy gulps of air, all seemed quiet.

Regnans stiffened even more than usual. Nothing on him moved, apart from his eyes, which darted around quickly.

“All is safe, we may proceed.” He held up a twiggy finger to his woody mouth. “Please do not speak, and try not to breathe so abominably loud.”

Mellie nodded with a disgusted frown. Sweat dripped from her bangs. She tried to calm her breathing, even though her vision blurred, and her legs wobbled. Her blisters had popped by now and oozed wetness.

Regnans moved again, yet this time he took slow, deliberate steps, all the while scanning his surroundings. He walked up to a massive redwood tree and stroked its bark.

A breeze stirred up, rattling the leaves, sounding almost like spoken words. Mellie thought herself crazy again. However, the longer she stood there, the more she sensed that it really was the tree’s language, as if she had never listened to trees properly before. It said, “If you love, you will say the one true love that leads the way.”

Regnans whispered in a leaf rustling voice, “Ah-gaw-pay.”

A loud grumbling sound, as if someone awakened after a long sleep, shook the grove. The redwood tree opened two eyes, each the size of Mellie’s head, and blinked. A great fissure erupted below the eyes in the shape of a crescent, and redish-brown wooden teeth emerged. A long, knobby branch pushed its way out above the mouth and inhaled deeply.

The tree chuckled. Instead of the whispering leaves, a low, rumbling utterance of human speech came from the redwood tree. “Regnans? What brings you to my neck of the woods?” He blinked again. “And who is this? A new recruit? A human? A Chosen?”

Mellie knew she looked silly, standing there with her mouth in an ‘O’ shape, but she couldn’t move. This was simply impossible. There is no such thing as fairies!

“Yes, yes. Please open the gate, we must not dawdle here…they may be watching.” Regnans looked agitated.

A deep laugh resounded from the redwood. “Oh, Regnans. There are none who watch here.”

Regnans mumbled something about hamadryads and their pride, then proclaimed in a slightly louder voice to the tree, “We must be sober, be vigilant, because the shadow walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom it may devour.”

The hamadryad looked chagrined. “You speak true, dryad. Forgive me for acting like an arrogant seedling.” He glanced at Mellie, and with a lowered voice asked, “And what is your name, little human?”

Mellie managed to squeak out, “Mellie Goodwin.”

“Ah, ’tis always nice to have a Good Wind.” The hamadryad laughed heartily.

“Sorry to interrupt this lovely tete-a-tete,” Regnans said, “but would you please open the gate? I left Westside completely unguarded.”

An annoyed creak came from the base of the redwood, followed by a sigh. “Yes, Regnans. Agape you said, and agape it is. Go with the light, my friends.” The large, joyous eyes closed, and the hamadryad whispered in his leaf rustling voice, “Until we meet again, Good Wind.” His face disappeared, and his roots lifted and pulled apart, exposing a tunnel within his trunk.

Regnans grabbed Mellie’s hand with his rough, wooden one, and pulled her inside the opening. The tree closed itself abruptly and left them in total darkness.

Regnans cleared his throat and said, “Let there be light.”

A burst of dazzling brightness sparkled from the tunnel’s wall. Mellie glanced around and noticed a long, winding stairwell leading down into the ground.

“Shall we, then?” Not waiting for a reply, Regnans started down the steps.

Available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com.

Light Under the House by Aaron L & Donna Dawson

Tour Date: Dec. 2nd

When the tour date arrives, copy and paste the HTML Provided in the box. Don't forget to add your honest review if you wish! PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS POST WHEN THE TOUR COMES AROUND!

Grab the HTML for the entire post (will look like the post below):


It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Light Under the House

Ravensbrook Press (October 8, 2011)

***Special thanks to Aaron L for sending me a review copy.***


Aaron might be a newcomer to the creation of fiction but is not one when it comes to the arts and all things creative. Growing up in places from Seattle to South Africa, he spent a lot of his time drawing. Aaron always knew that his future lay in a creative field. In 2010, he graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in graphic design. Although the usual application of this degree is in the creation of different types of art and design, Aaron chose instead to focus his creative skills on the task of storytelling. He lives near Chicago, Illinois.

Visit the author's website.

As a suspense writer, Donna looks for the intrigue in life and she is able to share it in her role as Creative Writing Instructor for Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. "If you do nothing else you should write." The words of her Grade 12 high school teacher still ring in Donna's ears some thirty years later. Not only did she heed her English teacher's advice but she has made it into a career. With her last novel, Vengeance (Word Alive Press), receiving award winning status in two categories with The Word Guild and her new release, Fires of Fury (Awe-struck e-books), creating a buzz with reviewers, Donna continues to fulfill her teacher's request. Enjoy as you dive into a new adventure between the pages of this novel.

Visit the author's website.


The Levi family has a secret lying just beneath their house that could potentially ruin them. Light Under the House by Aaron L. and Donna Dawson, story-telling duo readers are certain to come to love, chronicles the lives of the Levi family for a generation, taking readers on an exciting and thought-provoking journey that is certain to leave them with profound lessons and meaning.

This page-turning story is set in the late 1960s during a period of cultural rebellion, with a flashback to Biblical times, as well as a flash-forward to the 1980s and the present (2005). There is an ancient evil that will stop at nothing to uncover the secret that the Levi family is hiding. The events of this allegoric novel are interwoven within several themes that create cohesion for the story. Messages of courage, forgiveness, faith, the power of consequence, and the hope of redemption are all found within the pages of Light Under the House.

This novel also tells how the hope of redemption can dwell in the hearts of people who are begging God to not let them suffer the consequences of their actions. This begging of forgiveness from a supernatural being is done in hopes of restoring dysfunctional family relationships; throughout the process of attempting to obtain peace and happiness, the Levi family encounters many trials and tribulations.

Light Under the House stands out from other novels of its genre, establishing Aaron L. and Donna Dawson as true masters of their craft. The fusion of a riveting plot with compelling characters and deep thematic elements takes this novel out of the sphere of the ordinary, catapulting it into the sphere of the true literature. The story found within its pages is certain to leave a lasting impression on readers, as it is simply unforgettable.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 362 pages
Publisher: Ravensbrook Press (October 8, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0615556035
ISBN-13: 978-0615556031


841 B.C.


Drums pounded their wicked message, bouncing off the rock faces and outcroppings of the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. The valley mourned. Rocks in various shades of gray cast shadows of slightly darker colors of that washed-out hue. The sky hung heavy with the deep slate of thick smoke. The only variation came from the stirring of light on the walls of the ravine that ran south along the west wall of the Old City. As the rock-cut reached its southernmost limits, it veered east along the side of Mount Zion. And as it headed to its destination, the Kidron Valley, it became a most accurate depiction of hell on earth.

A line of figures crept along the edge of the valley like fleas along a cur’s backbone. Many were drawn to the blessings promised by the gods of the place. Yet not all of those following the ridge path were there because of misplaced faith.

Areli smoothed his hand over his bearded face, wiping the sweat from his sun-bronzed skin. Sweat. The only moisture in this God-forsaken land. And God had forsaken it. That was evident by the length of the drought that fed the crops of dust which clung to clothing, hair, and skin. Plant life had long been dead. He sighed. Dead since the Tophet had been kindled. Now it was a refuse dump. A place to burn the corpses of criminals. A place that had returned to its original, wicked purpose. A place of worship to heathen gods.

Areli recalled more prosperous days. A time before Ahab, king of the Israelites, married Jezebel, the Sidonian princess. The new Queen Jezebel had introduced many idolatrous acts the people of Jehovah—including worshipping at the Tophet. Areli had been much younger then, yet he remembered it well.

A skittering of stone interrupted Areli’s thoughts and announced the presence of his fellow rescuers. He turned back and batted his hand at the air, signaling his brother Huri to be quiet. Huri in turn, passed the signal to their friend Kenaniah who shrugged apologetically. Huri had already lost three grandchildren to the Tophet. It had been the goad that had driven the three men to their midnight pursuits. They had managed to rescue Kenaniah’s son and had then gone on to do so for a number of others who still followed Jehovah. Even now, Uriah, the fourth of their group, was on his way to the temple mount with the child from their latest rescue.

The final rays of the piercing Israeli sun caught the gold of Solomon’s temple and turned it to brilliant hues of rust, bronze, and copper. It twinkled just above the oily smoke that was ever present in the valley. Areli frowned. Only an hour of sunlight remained. An hour in which to save his grandson from a fate that no human should be forced to face. Squaring his shoulders, he motioned to his cohorts to move on and the three of them continued their secret journey from one rock shadow to another.

Kenaniah cocked his head up.“The drums have stopped.” The words echoed in the sudden silence. A silence punctuated by the roar of the fire stove and distant weeping. “Another is lost.” Kenaniah’s whispered voice carried urgency, and Jabez nodded. He wiped at a tear of his own and held his finger to his lips. His heart pounded the rhythm abandoned by the drums. They didn’t have much time. The silence and the heat bore down on them, screaming the truth of the scene they were approaching—one more child was dead. Burned to death in the great maw of the Tophet.

Rage seared through Jabez once more as he thought back on his daughter’s foolish decision. Had he not taught her that Jehovah did not look favorably upon the cruelty of child sacrifice? Yet Shani had chosen to disobey him. Disobey her own father! A thing unheard of in Israel in his younger days.

Movement ahead caught his attention and he forced his boiling emotions into submission only to have them flare again. He wiped at his eyes with the back of a dust-caked hand. Shani. He could tell by the way she tipped her head slightly to the side. She was far enough away but he’d know that stance anywhere. So like his beautiful wife, Mahlah. And wasn’t that Mahlah’s shawl that Shani carried her infant son in? Silently he cursed the weakness of youth. His wife’s stark beauty had ensnared him and he realized only too late that she was a follower of the hated gods Moloch and Baal. He had forbidden her to bring the foul idols into his home but she had easily outmaneuvered him. And passed her love of evil onto their daughter.

Jabez increased his speed. He must reach Shani before she passed the entrance to the Tophet area. He would have called out to her but he knew she would ignore him. In her defiant state, she might even speed her gait to escape him. No, he would have to overpower her. It was the only way. And together he and his two companions would take her and the child to his home where the infant would be safe. In the times of earlier kings, she would have been stoned for considering offering her child to Baal. May his name be cursed in all the heavens and earth!

The three men dropped to the path that led to the sacrificial area and tried hard to blend in with the milling masses going to watch the gruesome proceedings. The heat pushed at them as though a living thing. Reaching out to touch them with its cruel fingers. Shani had stepped to the end of a line of women, all holding children of various ages, and Jabez felt the urge to throw up. How could a woman love her child so little? He worked to fix his features. It wouldn’t do to have someone see the rage on his face and try to stop him from interfering.

Only six stood ahead of her. Fire consumed with great speed and appetite. Their pace quickened and they elbowed past those who walked ahead of them. The drums began their chant again, drowning out the screams of the infant that had been placed into the metal idol, covering the wails of the mother who had changed her mind too late.

Jabez watched it all through the flickering light, smoke and waves of heat; he moved faster. The woman reached for the idol as it was lowered into the great pit of flames. Her mouth opened and her face contorted, and then she fainted. Searching back along the line, he caught his daughter’s face. Her deep brown eyes glittered. Was that excitement? Her brown hair was plastered to her face with sweat and the heat blew the ends of the long strands away from her body. Evil was present. Jabez could see it clearly and he shuddered. The drums ceased again and the scuffle of rocks and pebbles shouted their approach.

The crowd had thickened and many shouted to the heavens; they called out the names of various gods as they begged for rain, prosperity, and fertility. Some laughed while others cheered for the mothers willing to give their children to the flames. If only Jabez were a warrior and not a simple farmer.

Movement to his left drew his attention and he stopped, the fear of being caught drawing a new batch of sweat on his brow. Three priests of Baal stood on top a small cluster of boulders away from the main path. The boulders were wet with blood and the men were crisscrossed with gaping wounds. They held ceremonial knives in their hands and with every request, every plea, every shout, they gashed yet another portion of their bodies. For a moment Jabez stood disbelieving. He had heard of the ritual cuttings before but never had they seen the gruesome act.

Huri turned to the side and emptied the contents of his stomach. Four women had come up behind to better view the sacrifice and they stepped out of the way, giving him a strange look. He wiped his mouth on his mantle and nodded apologetically to the women. “It must have been the lamb. It tasted off. My pardon.”

The women tisked in sympathy and daintily bypassed the fouled area. When they were out of earshot, Huri growled his disgust. He was about the say something to his companions, but the drums filled the air with a crushing sound. Three children had yet to depart.

Elbowing their way into the crowd, they cut toward the line of women. A woman stood near the edge of the pit, her crimson gown stained darker red in splotches. The lengthy garment flapped against her body and billowed out behind her as the furnace’s blast maintained a perpetual scorching wind. Her hair swirled about her head in black snaking ropes. If she wasn’t truly a demon, she certainly looked the part. Jabez saw Kenaniah shudder and he nodded as though reading his friend’s mind. A terrifying picture to be sure.

The priestess reached for another idol and held it open for the next blood offering. It was made of heavy bronze and Jabez was amazed at the woman’s ability to hold it while the mother placed her infant into its hollow. He wanted to shout for them to stop. He wanted to grasp the child in his arms—all of the children—and run away. He continued to push against the flow of humanity as he edged closer to his goal. He could see the details of his daughter’s profile. Praise Jehovah that she hadn’t seen them yet. Shani watched the scene at the pit’s edge, her face emotionless. But her eyes had widened. Jabez glared at her as she took in each detail of the idol.

The front was a man, fearless and awesome to behold. On its right was the form of a cat and on its left the form of a toad. The three figures were joined to make a three-sided idol to represent the three entities of Baal. The man-form opened on a hinge at the bottom of the body—large enough for a child—and the priestess braced herself as the mother placed the child into the warm metal. The door was closed and clamped shut. Solemnly, the priestess set the idol down and attached a heavy chain to it. And then the demon woman raised hands to the sky and began to scream incantations and chants in foul languages that could barely be heard over the drums. The hideous metal beast was cranked into the air with the aid of a metal beam and the muscles of a Canaanite slave. Hand over hand, the slave lowered the monster into the pit and the awaiting flames.

Jabez stopped in his tracks. Just when he thought he had seen the worst, these people showed him that they could go even further. The drums ceased again and he was prodded into action. One more baby and then his precious little Yeseph would be next. He could see tufts of black hair peeking out of the shawl and he ached to snatch that small bundle away from the careless arms of its mother. Soon! Very soon! He could almost smell the sweet fragrance of the child’s skin—the warmth of his breath.

The drums. Again. Another hideous monster was fed. Jabez was amazed at how many idols sat behind the priestess waiting for their innocent meal. Another slave stood beyond waiting for the consumed sacrifice to be raised. The Canaanite pulled on the chain, drawing the bronzed creature from the depths. The metal glowed an unearthly hue and the second slave reached forward with a long pole. Snagging the chain, he guided the idol to a huge pot of water. Steam billowed up from the pot as the sacrifice was lowered and the chain unhooked. There would be nothing left inside. The child had been incinerated.

Twenty cubits. It was all the distance that remained. Jabez shoved harder against the crowd as his daughter stepped up to the priestess. Shani had chosen to honor Moloch. A different idol was brought forth. It had the head of a bull, its horns turned up and drawn together to meet the ring that would connect with the chain. He watched in horror as the priestess unhinged the door and his daughter set his beloved Yeseph inside. The drums! The hated drums! He lunged, breaking free of the ring of spectators, and Huri and Kenaniah stumbled into the clearing behind him.

Jabez felt his mouth move. He sensed the knotting of his vocal chords as he screamed his grandson’s name. Charging across the clearing, he shouldered his daughter aside, not caring that she fell. Gripping the hated idol by the horns, he vented his rage on the demon woman. Shouting maniacally, he wrenched at the cage and was surprised by the priestess’s strength. Her dark eyes flashed with power and lust for blood and a tug-of-war ensued. The drums stopped and Jabez could hear his brother and friend as they fought the guards and priests. The crowd began to mutter. They would have a time of it escaping with the child. They could dispose of the idol later. With a final heave, he pulled the idol free and turned to flee.

Leaping into the space between his daughter and the Canaanite slave, Jabez could taste victory as he ducked to the left, hoping to out-maneuver anyone who would follow. From out of the darkness, a clink of metal caught his foot and his ankle turned. The chain! He rolled onto his back, hoping to protect the child from the fall. Yeseph’s cries echoed from inside the metal bull, and then Jabez hit the ground hard. His wind was gone and he threw his arms wide. The idol rolled away from him. Struggling to draw in breath, he made to lunge for it again. But it was too late!

Hands clamped upon his arms and the two slaves hauled Jabez upright. He watched helplessly as some of the crowd subdued Huri and Kenaniah. Shani rose and meticulously dusted off her homespun dress. She was furious. Clearly. Jabez lifted his head and glared at her. Perhaps she would listen to him now. Now that she saw how important it was to him.

“Stop this, Shani. Do not do this evil thing.”

Gasps came from various spots in the crowd and a man shouted, “He has blasphemed the god! Moloch will punish us now! Don’t we already feel his wrath? He is burning our lands!”

“Silence!” Jabez roared the word. “Are you so foolish as to believe that this piece

of metal—” He nodded to the abandoned idol “—can make any difference in the weather?

“You think he is the god of the sun! Bah! Foolishness! He can no more keep the sun from scorching the land then I can make the sun rise in the west! He cannot bring us rain!”

The child continued to wail, clearly upset with finding himself trapped in darkness. Jabez looked at his daughter again. “Open that foul cage and bring my grandson to me. I command it as your father!” He watched his daughter straighten her skirts. Standing then, she turned to face him. He gasped, suddenly frightened by the look in her eyes. The same look as the priestess’s.

“No, Father. I will not. Your Jehovah is dead. I will not follow a weak God. I will follow a god of strength.” Reaching down, Shani gripped the horns of the abandoned sun god. At the touch she closed her eyes and smiled, lifting her face to the heavens. With a heave, she dragged the idol across the ground to where the priestess stood. The metal scraped and grated on the loose stones, punctuated by the steady wails of its occupant. Singing softly through her thin lips, Shani cooed to her infant son who had worked himself into a frenzied state. Jabez shook his head, speechless.

The priestess nodded sharply and the drums began their final serenade for the day. Jabez screamed. He thrashed and flailed, but his captors held him firm. Step by step, Shani dragged the bronze bull to the pit’s edge. The priestess made to fasten the chain, but Shani shook her head. Reaching out, she gripped the chain and worked the hook into the ring. Jabez knew she was still singing. He could see her lips moving. At that moment, the urge to kill made his body tremble. Was he so different than his daughter? Yes! As angry as he was he would never carry out the deed! He squeezed his eyes shut, praying it was all simply a bad dream—an evil vision of what might be. The drums continued their symphony, pounding out the child’s death sentence. He opened his eyes again and bellowed his rage, straining against his bonds.

Shani stepped back then and smiled at the priestess. The witch woman stepped forward and cupped his daughter’s face, her eyes tender. Leaning forward she kissed her. And then she turned to Jabez’s captors. Another stepped in to take the Canaanite’s place and Jabez wrenched free. Hope! One last hope! He flailed and stumbled his way to the edge, his eyes fixed firmly on the bull. And then Shani was there. With a mighty heave, she pushed the idol from the edge. The Canaanite saw Jabez lunge and he let go of the chain, allowing the bull to plunge to the depths.

Jabez landed on his belly, his arms reaching out over the edge. “No!” His words were lost in the roar of the flames, and the skin on his hands blistered with the intense heat. Someone tugged at his tunic and he turned to see his daughter working to pull him from the brink. His eyes narrowed into slits of hatred and he thrust her hands away. “Don’t touch me! You are no longer my child!” He hissed the words and Shani sat back quickly. Shaking his head, he pulled himself to his feet, his great chest heaving like the billows that fanned the flames in the idol smithy. Tears ran freely down his weathered face, cutting tracks through the sweat and soot and dust. He turned his gaze on the crowd. They had released Huri and Kenaniah and those two stood aside, Jabez’s sorrow mirrored on their faces. Then he bellowed to the crowd, “A day will come when you will pay for this!”

A rustle of heavy material drew his attention to the priestess. She stood there with a smug grin on her face. Jabez wanted to wrap his hands around that scrawny throat, lift her off her feet and pitch her into the pit after her beloved god. Instead, he spat on her. Brushing past his daughter he scooped his mantle and rope from the ground. Leaving his brother and friend behind, he shoved his great bulk through the crowd and away from the horror. Those gathered were all too eager to step aside.

The sun was down to a sliver on the horizon when Jabez left. The celebrating had begun. Celebrating. Bah! His daughter might just have well ripped his heart from his chest. His beloved Yeseph was gone. Jabez wound his way up toward the great city. He needed to pray. The grief tore at him and tears ran freely. He batted at his nose with the back of his hand and received strange looks from those who hadn’t witnessed the scene at the pit. To his right the priests continued their ritual, the gore of their worship making the stones around them dark and slick. Off in a grove farther down the path an orgy took place—they offered themselves to the fertility god. He snorted. No doubt they would think the useless, lifeless gods had helped them conceive. An inevitable event in such circumstances. Farther west, the cacophony of a bigger, more boisterous gathering filled his ears and he shuddered to think what took place there.

He squinted through the dark, the burnished flames of the Tophet flickering in the background—his only light to see by. It was the grove of Asherah where the revelers cavorted. Tall poles stood out against the night sky like silent fingers clawing at the stars. Again he spat. Queen of the Heaven! More like Queen of the Heathen! Picking up a rock he roared out his anger and pitched the missile at one of the posts. The celebration continued on, oblivious to his pain—his torment.

At every turn of the path in the Valley of Hinnom, abominations were acted out,

and his rage swelled as he trudged toward the holy hill to the temple. He knew what he would find there too. Asherah poles. Idols. Temple prostitutes and blood everywhere. But it was Jehovah’s house first. He would not enter. He would sit at the wall and pray. Beg Jehovah to pour His vengeance out on those who had dishonored His name. Pray for Him to hear an old man’s cries.
An hour later, Huri and Kenaniah found Jabez sprawled face down weeping just outside the western wall. They watched in apprehension as the claws of night reached up to grab the last shades of orange, pink and crimson out of the sky.

* * *

Jezebel knew she should still be in mourning—had been in mourning—until she had heard of the arrival of Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat. The name was a curse running through her mind. The man would dare to declare himself king of Israel! She pushed away from the window she had gazing from and paced. Some fool of a prophet had called Jehu away from his military post, dumped oil on him, and told him he was now king. In spite of the fact that her son and Ahab’s direct heir was already king—and had been for some time. And Joram was the right kind of king—one through which she could rule discretely. Like his father had been. Oh Ahab had his moments of fidelity to the Hebrew God, but Jezebel had quickly worked her charms to bring him back to the Baal. Back to child sacrifices.

She checked her image in the beaten bronze mirror. Flawless. Her gown of crimson shimmered in the reflection. Black paint framed her eyes and her thick hair coiled about her head in a sleek halo. She was aging but the mirror didn’t show it.

Jezebel had seen the coming and of many prophets, including Elijah and Elisha. While those two pesky prophets had slipped through her hands, she had been present for the slaughter of the others. And this new upstart would be no different. After she saw to it that Jehu paid for his treason, she would personally sacrifice this new prophet to her god.

Returning to the window, Jezebel allowed her mind to replay all she had been told. The battle against Hazel of Aram over the city of Ramoth Gilead had failed. It turned out that Joram wasn’t the military strategist he thought he was. And that idiot from Judah. Ahaziah, king of Judah, had had the audacity to come to Jezreel while Joram was convalescing from his war wounds. Jehu had followed, and Joram had sent out a messenger to ask the commander’s intentions. The rider had simply joined the hoard of soldiers at Jehu’s back. The second rider had done likewise. Joram, in his frustration, had ordered his chariot to be ready. And Ahaziah had done likewise.

Jezebel shook her head. She never would have thought it would have come to this. Joram dead. Ahaziah dead. Jehu hadn’t even been respectful of the body. Picked up and tossed aside like a carcass of meat. Naboth’s field. That was where her son’s body lay. Just as the prophet had said. The thought came on its own and she pushed it away. As for Ahaziah, news had only just reached her that he was in Megiddo and likely wouldn’t survive the night.

She looked down at her dress. It should be black and her hair should be filled with the dust of ashes. But there was no time for mourning. She was queen and absolute ruler now. Forcing her eyes back to the road that stretched away from the city, she waited for the man who wanted to call himself king.

Hooves clattering on cobblestone alerted Jezebel that Jehu and his men had arrived. But what could he do to her here? Jezreel was a fortress. She shuddered. The prophecy about Ahab and his line had another side to it. She leaned over the parapet and allowed her eyes to scan the streets for dogs. She hated dogs. They were part of the prophecy. A mangy mongrel skulked out of an alley and she pulled back into the room.

Her mind abandoned all thoughts of dogs as Jehu and his men came into sight. She allowed a leer to rest on her painted lips. For all his stature and pomp and ceremony he still couldn’t touch her in her safe haven. And it wouldn’t take her long to rally her supporters.

She leaned back out onto the sill again and called to the armored rider. “Have you come in peace, Zimri, you murderer of your master?”

A gasp reached her ears and she knew the insult had found its mark. Zimri had seized the throne of Elah not more than forty-five years back. He, too, had assassinated his master and then destroyed the whole house of Baasha. She smiled then. The jibe had more depth, for Elah had ruled a mere seven days before he was destroyed. She could wait a week for rescue and it didn’t hurt to remind Jehu of that fact.

Jehu’s face turned toward her and his voice echoed through the streets and into her chambers, “Who is on my side? Who?”

And then, to Jezebel’s horror, three of her eunuchs were beside her.

Jehu didn’t wait for an answer. “Throw her down!”

Jezebel struggled against the strong hands that clamped onto her. Screeching, she thrashed against the efforts of her servants. They would pay dearly! The stone ledge scraped down her back as she was hoisted into the air and stuffed out the window. And then Jezebel—queen of Israel, worshipper of the Baal and the dark arts, murderer of children and prophets—plunged to the stones below.

Her mind bellowed its anger and in its protest it slowed and drew all around it into deep focus. She could see every hair on each horse that pranced and milled around in the courtyard. She could see each expression on every face as she dropped. And her final awareness was of the gathering of dogs—the ones that the prophet said would lick up her blood and devour her broken flesh.