About Writing this Book
Treasures of Darkness Treasures of Light, Book One: Through the Dark Wood has been a long time coming. And, I know... one might say, "Yeah. And Book Two is even longer in coming," and you'd be right—a totally justifiable comment. I actually feel the same way. However, Book Two is still coming. To prove it there's an almost 70 page excerpt included in How to Be a Hero Volumes 1 & 2. But, this little blurb is about writing Book One, So, for some of Book Two, check that out. Now on to writing Book One. I've mentioned elsewhere that I never planned on this story being more than one book. (I personally dislike reading series—I really like stand alone books. Stand alone books are like a vacation. Series are like work.)
I originally expected TODTOL to be one book about 285ish pages long. When I was well over 500 pages and not to the middle point yet, I decided it was more than one book. in retrospect, I probably should have finished The Adventures of Hickory Dock right then and held off on TODTOL until I had it complete, then released it. But, such is the way we learn sometimes. Hindsight 20/20 and all that.
So TODTOL started in my brain when I was 14. I wrote the first 4 pages when I was 20ish. I got scared because it was the best writing I'd ever done (I wasn't much for good grades in English in high school). I put TODTOL on the shelf for about a decade. Then in 2006 while driving from Oregon to Southern California to visit family, my wife wasn't feeling well. So I drove and she slept most of the trip. Passing through the town of Redding, CA, I saw the exit sign for Knighton Rd. and thought, "That's a good name for a town in my story." That did it--a little inspiration, the silence of the road, the length of the journey--and the world of Treasures of Darkness - Treasures of Light exploded in my imagination. Eight hours later my wife woke up refreshed and ready to drive. She took the wheel, and I grabbed a laptop.
The very busy years between 2006 and 2012 carried a number of challenges and rewards, but afforded far less writing time than I anticipated. I used every bit of time I could spare (minus a few couple-week to couple-month sidetracks—into video games sadly, which I've given up as of a few years ago in all but in-person social settings). I wrote on lunch breaks at my day job, 15 minute breaks, time in the car while carpooling, 2 - 3 hours every Thursday night, and as many as 6 hours (and one time 11 hours) on a Saturday morning but not every Saturday.
One of my deep desires is to see my writing take off and fund more time to write.
TODTOL originated as an idea I had for a game that I shared with my mom in the kitchen lo those many years ago—wow... getting close to 30 years ago. It's morphed significantly over the years, and it is growing still. I can't wait to be able to share the tale of Zam Windwater with you in its entirety.
Stay tuned. More to come.
TODTOL, Book One:
Through the Dark Wood
SAMPLE from the book...
How do you begin a story about a boy like Zam? A man like Zam? Frankly once you’re my age all men seem as boys no matter their age. How old am I? Well... I dwell with the ancient ones, among whom few have gray hair, and I do. I am Graffeon, and I have written much of recorded history at the will of Elyon. That is how you’ve found this book in your hand now. Whether the ink has been dry for eons or you can still smell its pungent aroma, it is my truest hope that Zam’s tale will not simply entertain you, but aid you in understanding your own story.
His story begins, I suppose, as most men’s do… at his birth. It was a dark time in the land of Cairemia. His first winter was a bitter one and his entire family died. He would have died as well, but Zam’s destiny lay along another path.
Elyon sent the messenger Angeon to deliver Zam to a childless farmer—who should have raised him as a son. But, a few short years later the farmer’s own son was born and Zam became more or less a servant. He was moved from the family home to a shack bordering the fields where the sheep grazed, and there he served the family faithfully, never begrudging his place in the world. And… when Zam’s eighteenth year approached, the next chapter of Elyon’s plan began to take shape.
It was spring….
CHAPTER ONE: STRANGE VISITORS
It was spring. The late afternoon sun played over the hills like water dancing, touching down here and there, leaving wide, shadowy gaps painted by the clouds, which retreated, then returned again, only to be broken by golden light raining down upon the grasses. The wind blew from the north, rustling the cloak of the young shepherd watching his master’s flock. The darkest shadow fell for only a moment before sunlight burst through, scattering the darkness, but the young shepherd felt something.
He scanned the flock for any sign of trouble. There rarely was when he felt this way, but this time… something was different. A lamb was missing. Running to the edge of the hill, he found strange tracks circled around a small group of sheep. He frantically searched for signs of the missing lamb.
He heard bleating in the distance. His heart pounded. His master would be angry if he lost a lamb to some wild creature.
The clouds grew darker and the light ceased to dance as the shepherd ran toward the sound. The farther he ran the more light was driven from his presence, until day was as night, and only one thin shaft of light fell… on the lamb. Wind ripped through the meadow. Trees creaked and bent. The shutters of the shepherd's distant dwelling clapped, and a broken branch from a nearby tree hurtled, too closely, past him. Yet all around the lamb the wind was calm. Within that shaft of light nothing moved.
Low growls began to rise with the wind until a cacophony of creatures just out of sight deafened the shepherd. Paralyzed by fear, he stood in the dark, his gaze fixed on the lamb at the center of the hellish gale.
A flitting shape beyond the light caught the shepherd's eye. A butterfly danced, unhindered by the nightmare, circling the lamb. The animal took no notice. The insect faded, replaced by a firefly, which continued the dance. The lamb cocked its head and followed its glow as it drifted into the dark.
Shuffling in place, the lamb watched the flickering light as it passed again and again, drifting farther into the dark each time. Enamored of the firefly’s glow, it stepped partway out of the light and the shepherd screamed for the animal to stay, but no sound escaped his mouth.
The naive creature stepped fully into the dark and the shaft of light faded. The firefly’s glow—now a malignant green—grew brighter, reflecting in the eyes of a hundred unearthly beasts, each drooling for this morsel that had wandered from safety. The shepherd’s breath caught in his chest and all light vanished. Standing there amidst the storm, deep in the abysmal darkness, he heard the violence that befell the lamb—horrid rending, frantic bleating, and then—
In this, his moment of terror, standing helpless in the depths of the dark, a thin shaft of light fell, slowly expanding, growing, shrouding him with light. The wind stopped whipping. The growls fell silent. His fears began to ebb. He took a deep breath. Outside the light was a deep and evil darkness and the shepherd knew it. His heart sank, yet the light brought some comfort.
Just then, a butterfly flitted by outside the light, and terror gripped the shepherd. He looked away. None of this can be real.
He looked back, and there before him was the firefly. He shuddered, nearly stumbling out of the light. The insect's glow was captivating, tempting him to follow. A chill tore through him as he felt himself wanting to move, being drawn unwillingly toward its evil intent.
The shepherd was uneasy in the cramped confines of the light. Against his will he began to move. He shut his eyes tight, vowing to himself he would not do as the lamb had done. Fear raged inside him and the world became liquid around him. Dread and the echoes of the lamb's demise drowned him in a catastrophic noise.
Then, amid the symphony of chaos, a voice whispered, drowning all other sound. It whispered his name.
The shepherd opened his eyes and found himself standing on the low hill by his dwelling. The sun lit the meadow and all was well with his flock. He stood there a moment, shaken by the vision, slowly realizing that’s what it must have been.
A stranger appeared from just over the hill, walking toward him, wearing a smile of friendship. He was quite old, but also decidedly strong—more than six feet tall and clad as a warrior, though something in his countenance was more fit to a poet. Zam couldn't place it, but he felt somehow he knew the man.
The stranger's voice rang out clear and strong, tinged with the wizened depth of his years. “I thought I would be too late, possibly come in on a fight, when I heard all the growling, but as I should have expected, Elyon had other plans.”
Zam was bewildered, unsure whether his mind was still playing tricks or whether this man truly approached.
The man repeated, “I said I thought I’d be too late….”
Zam had yet to come to himself, so the man moved on.
“Never mind that. Are you all right, Lad?”
Reconciling the reality of the moment, Zam asked hesitantly, “Did you say… growling?”
A different sort of smile crossed the stranger’s face, the sort that follows one who is not letting on all they know. “Did I? Hmm. Odd.” And with that he changed the subject. “Are you Zam Windwater?”
Frustration and curiosity mingled in Zam’s reply. “I am. Who wants to know?” but a sudden recollection of his position in life brought a quick revision. “I apologize. I mean to say, yes, I am Zam Windwater. And I am at the service of Master…?”
The pleasant old stranger smiled again. “Messenger.”
Zam’s brow furrowed at the off kilter name. “Master Messenger?”
“No, no.” The stranger laughed. “Messenger Graffeon. I don’t use the title Master. It doesn’t suit my position. I would run the risk of getting puffed up and looking down on people, when I’m already taller than most. No. I need look no farther down on any person than the distance from my eyes to their heart... eh... head. Yes.”
“Ah….” Zam’s bewilderment seemed only to grow as Graffeon talked to him. Although he felt more at ease as the moments passed, something about the stranger engendered a sense of... of something. He was a character, smiling pleasantly at the young shepherd.
At last Zam returned to his usual polite and welcoming self. “Well, Messenger Graffeon, the sun is nearly down and there are no other dwellings but mine and my master’s for many miles upon the road. If my master’s is not your destination, you are welcome to stay the night. It's a humble servant’s shack, but I do keep it clean.”
Graffeon bowed slightly. “Your master’s dwelling is not my destination, and I gladly accept.” A sheep bleated in the distance.
Zam turned to the flock, “It has been an odd day indeed.” He looked back to Graffeon. “I need to gather the sheep and pen them in for the night. If you’ve traveled far, you may want to begin your rest. I won’t be long.”
Again the messenger bowed then turned and walked toward Zam’s home to await the kind young shepherd. Zam Windwater was about to receive quite a message.
When Zam entered his dwelling, Graffeon already had a fire going to heat the humble living space. Its glow lit the room. Two small chairs, a table, and low reclining cushions—obviously where Zam slept—were all that filled the room. The messenger was already seated at the table.
As Zam looked about, it seemed to him more restful and pleasant than it had in many years. Curiosity arose regarding his new acquaintance as he began heating some food for them to share. “It isn’t much. I didn’t know I’d have a guest.”
Graffeon smiled. “Anything will be fine. Were I not staying here this evening I would not eat at all.”
Zam thought that odd, but continued his preparations. Tentatively, he said, “Messenger Graffeon, a man in your profession must have traveled much in life.”
“Oh yes. I have traveled… perhaps even more than you would imagine. And you may simply call me Graffeon if it pleases you.”
Zam nodded. “Graffeon.” He was still somewhat unsure regarding the strange old messenger.
Graffeon smiled at his awkwardness. “As I say, I’ve been many places and weathered more than one individual’s share of nights in the middle of nowhere.”
Zam listened while he cooked, and Graffeon spoke of faraway lands. Places such as Cree, Kireoth, Turthan—none of which Zam had ever heard of—and of other places Zam would not even try to pronounce. He spoke of kings and queens he had met, noblemen and warlords, and a great battle he had once been forced to fight his way through to deliver a message. He also spoke of mysterious creatures he’d encountered during his travels. Zam had never heard of anything like them, nor of the wars and few of the places, but he was impressed nonetheless.
Setting the food on the table, he sat in the rough-made chair opposite the stranger. They continued to talk as they ate, and Zam was amazed. “You seem quite the warrior and a worthy messenger… aside from being a most excellent storyteller.”
Graffeon bowed his head humbly. “My thanks.”
As they finished the meal, Zam asked. “Are you traveling far this time? That is... to deliver your message?”
“Well, I was in Tarnanis when I received this charge, and I am very near to completing it.” There was that not-letting-on-all-he-knows smile again.
Zam was intrigued. “Tarnanis? I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of it. Though I’m certain I have not heard of a great many places that exist.” Zam smiled, just a bit sheepishly.
“But you do wish to hear of them.” Graffeon’s tone had changed.
Zam looked up. The words had gripped his heart.
Seeing the look in Zam’s eyes, Graffeon continued, “Places like Tarnanis, Gershas, Artolis—and you wish to experience them I’d wager. It’s in your countenance, Zam. You wish to travel.”
Zam couldn’t contain his exuberance. “I would love to travel!” he caught himself, a bit embarrassed. “Ah… yes, I would. The farthest I have ever been from my master’s land was to Sandrey. And though that trip is a treasured memory, Sandrey is only a small village, not far to the east, where my master’s brother lives. It was many years ago, when I was a child. I was actually befriended there by a traveler and a girl my age—Terrice—but they passed to the east, and I returned home never to travel again. I know there is much to see and learn and experience beyond this land, beyond tending sheep….”
“I do love tending them….” Zam sighed, his mind catching up to Graffeon's statement. “Yes. Adventure. But keeping the sheep safe does make me feel as though…” An emotion he had never voiced before rose to the surface, and he swallowed hard to keep it down. “As though I... am worth something....”
Graffeon’s smile changed once more, this time to one of understanding and sympathy, as he pulled a tattered book from his belt and laid it on the table, its leather binding worn from many years of use. “Worth, young Master Windwater, is truly an intriguing thing. Take this book for example. It is obviously old. It has seen much use and more weather than a sea captain. Of all my belongings it would acquire me the least money if sold. It is the least likely thing anyone would ever desire to take from me.” He rested his hand on it and said with deep reverence, “Yet, it is my most treasured possession.”
Zam leaned in, awed by Graffeon's tone. “What is it?”
“A book….” The messenger smiled, aware Zam sought a more precise answer, “A book of poems and proverbs.”
Disbelieving, Zam repeated, “Poems and proverbs?”
Graffeon patted the book. “And a few stories. But that is exactly my point! You seem surprised that this would be such a treasure to me. But I do adore this book.”
The quizzical feelings Zam had earlier were growing again.
Graffeon continued. “To a rich man your sheep would not be worth his notice unless for their wool or for a meal, but you hold those sheep in high regard. You would risk injury, even death to protect just one of them if the need arose.” He was speaking straight to Zam’s heart again.
How can he see these things in me?
“Though you were afraid today, Zam, I know you would have gladly done battle
with the creatures that tried to claim the life of your lost sheep... if you could have seen them.”
At that Zam’s bewilderment reached its peak and he had to ask the question that had been growing in his mind. “Are you a wizard? You look nothing like what I hear wizards look like, but the things you’ve said… the things you know… how? How do you know…? Are you a wizard?”
“No.” Graffeon said simply.
“Are you a sorcerer?”
“A fortune teller?”
“Not that either.”
“A prophet? A seer? Something?”
Graffeon responded with his head slightly cocked, and a smile, almost sly but jovial, curling the sides of his mouth. “Something more like that. Yes.”
Defeated, Zam asked, “Who are you?”
This was the moment Graffeon had been waiting for. He stood and bowed. It was the first time Zam had seen him stand inside the shack. His frame suddenly filled the room and he seemed too large a being to fit in such a small space. As he spoke, fear coursed through Zam, though the tone he used was pleasant.
“I am the messenger Graffeon and I have traveled farther than you can possibly know to deliver a message from my master, Elyon. Deliver it to one Zamuel Windwater.” He gave Zam a wry smile and a knowing look as he sat back down and his presence diminished to the point it had been before. “I believe he lives around here.”
“Me?” Zam was more perplexed than ever and a little frightened. “I don’t know any Elyon, nor do I know anyone in… in Tarnanis. I'm confused, and think you must be wrong, or this is some horrible joke. And I do not appreciate–”
“Worth… as I began to say, is not measured by great successes or the monetary value of a thing.” He paused and looked deeply into Zam’s eyes. “And this is not a horrible joke. My message for you from Elyon starts with this. You are valuable, Zam... you are worth something.”
Zam softened, his brow furrowing in an expression of confusion, bewilderment, perplexity.
“It's in your heart to travel and experience adventure. I am pleased to be the one to tell you, you will do both.” He produced a small scroll from his cloak and offered it to Zam. “This is for you.”
The scroll was barely as large as his hand. Zam unrolled it:
"Travel north, young one. The beasts from your vision approach your borders. They wish for you to fear. Do not fear. Leave tomorrow when the sun is above the old maple. No later. I will see to the care of your sheep. Take Graffeon’s book and the staff he carries. You will hear from me.
Zam could hardly think. Did it actually say take Graffeon's book? His most treasured possession? He stared at the small scroll a moment longer, trying to make sense of it. Something about it filled him inside… it felt true. How does this Elyon, or Graffeon for that matter, know about the vision?
Zam looked up at Graffeon and the chair was empty. He was gone. It had taken only a moment to read and contemplate the scroll. Although, it seemed it would take more contemplation to grasp how exactly it was he now sat alone. Zam looked about the shack. It had been his only home for many years. It still felt more inviting than usual, but not so much like home. The peaceful air that filled the place now felt more like the calm before a storm.
He puzzled at all that had transpired. He noted the staff propped in the corner near the door. Graffeon’s staff. The worn old book still lay upon the table. Graffeon’s book. In a daze he opened it and read from the first page:
"On this date, (The date was the day Zam was born. Though, he did not realize.)
By the request of Elyon, I dedicate this book and all its contents to Zamuel Windwater, the only surviving member of his father’s line. May he always choose right over wrong, light over dark. May this book help guide him, and may he always know his worth.
Today I’ve hewn a branch from the second tree in Elyon’s garden. It shall be a staff for Zam to use in his journeys. May it never break, and may it serve him always as I serve Elyon.
Royal Recorder and Messenger - Graffeon"
Time passed slowly for a while. Zam’s world had changed in a moment. The door to the shack had not opened. Had Graffeon stood to leave, Zam would have seen. The scroll, the message in the book, the ink on both was old and weather worn.
Zam tried to make sense of it, but trying only set his thoughts spinning. He decided sleep was required before he could attempt to sort it all out. Lying upon his cushions, he read through a few pages of Graffeon’s book—or rather his book—and drifted off to sleep.
His dreams were the most pleasant he’d had in years; filled with far-off lands, mysterious creatures and, of course, adventure.
Dathan, the golden haired son of Zam’s master—and would-be brother had life turned out differently—shook Zam awake. It was startling. Zam hadn't seen Dathan in years except as he passed by, riding off with his father, presumably to distant places. Dathan had been crying.
“Zam… I’m sorry.”
Zam blinked, shook his head, and wiped sleep from his eyes all in an attempt to determine whether this was yet another dream. Experiencing the now-familiar feeling of perplexity, he realized he was awake. “Sorry for what, Dathan?” Innumerable sorrows rushed to his heart as he spoke his could-be brother's name.
“I know my being here must cause you pain, but... I had a dream last night.”
Zam simply stared at him, trying to make sense of the visit.
“In the dream I was a little boy, Zam. I was you, when you were little... alone in this shack. My father...” he sighed. “Rather my master, had left me here, content that he had a son of his own… and he didn’t need me anymore. No. Worse. He did not want me anymore. I was no longer a son. I was a servant.”
The story was familiar to Zam and brought up painful memories. He marveled at Dathan having such a dream.
Weak from emotion, Dathan sat at the table, nearly crying as he spoke. “Zam, the dream was so real I can still feel it. I saw me... through your eyes. The could-be brother riding away with Father, smug that I was the important one.” Dathan looked up at Zam, tears welling in his eyes. “Then alone in the shack I felt the years pass. I felt the pain of loneliness, and somehow moved beyond it. I found some way to accept my life and not…” his breath started shuddering. “And not hate my could-be brother and father. I heard of my master-brother’s accomplishments and–” This time Dathan did begin to cry. “And I felt proud of him. You were proud of me?”
Zam’s eyes began to tear as he looked at his could-have-been little brother and nodded.
Dathan wiped at his tears. “But I am appalled at me, Zam.”
“You knew no better, Dathan.”
He wouldn’t hear it. “No, Zam. When I woke... I knew that somehow everything I dreamed was real, that you felt all of those things. And here I’ve sat snugly in my world, not caring an ounce for you.” His voice broke for the sadness. “And all the while you cared for me. That my father and I put you through that… I cried to know it.” He scoffed at himself. “I still cry to know it! I hate it! I know I can never make it up to you, Zam, but I must try.”
“Dathan, you behaved as you were taught to. There is nothing you need to make up to me. The simple fact of your coming here–”
Dathan’s face turned grim. “No, Zam, I must make it up to you.” He stood and motioned as if to the whole countryside. “There is danger here for you.”
Zam startled at that. “What?”
“Before the dream ended, I was watching over the flock. A lamb went missing. I searched for it, and horrible creatures came. I believed they would devour the lamb and there was nothing I could do, but I realized only too late they were there for me... for you. They seized violently upon me and I awoke in tears, my heart pounding. I knew then that I had to come to you, to take your place tending the sheep. I know in my heart that I will be safe, but if I don’t let you go, Zam, your life is in danger.”
Zam didn't know what to think. The dream was a stunningly accurate flash of his life from childhood to yesterday.
“In my dream, Zam, when the creatures had nearly reached me, a kingly voice filled my hearing and said, ‘See? The sun has passed the old maple.’”
Recognition passed over Zam’s face and Dathan saw it. “That means something to you, doesn’t it? You know my fear is justified, Zam. You must go... to save your life. Leave. Do what you must.”
Zam stood up, unsure of his next move. “What do I do, Dathan? How do I go? I am only a servant. I move at the will of my master.” He sighed.
Dathan smiled for the first time since Zam awoke. “No more, Zam. You are free. I left a letter for father telling him where I would be, that I had freed you from your service, and that I was giving you money for your journeys.” He chuckled. “He may be angry with me.” Emotion caught in his throat again. “But it’s truly the least I could do.”
Zam was dumbstruck. His whole life he had longed for a single kindness from his could-be brother, and here Dathan stood offering more than kindness: freedom.
“I don’t know what to say.”
Dathan placed his hand firmly upon his older—yet less worldly wise—brother’s shoulder. “Then simply say… if ever you return to these parts, you have no master. You have a brother.”
They stood before each other, both with tear-streaked faces, Zam smiling and fighting back an absolute flood. He nodded.
Dathan said sincerely, “I would have liked to have known you, Zam. Please forgive me for the past.”
It was a moment from Zam’s dreams, woven through with irony. I have a brother... but now I must leave. He clasped hands with Dathan. “I do forgive you, Dathan. Thank you.”
Dathan gratefully bowed his head to Zam, then said in earnest. “Now, Zam, whatever it meant the sun will have passed the old maple soon. You must hurry.” He pulled a coin purse from his belt and held it out. “Take this, gather your things, and be safely on your way.”
Zam fought overwhelming emotion as he took the purse, fastening it to his belt, and grabbed Graffeon’s book—my book. He donned his cloak, and took Graffeon’s staff—my staff.
For the first time ever, his brother embraced him.
“Fare you well, Brother.”
Holding tightly, Zam replied, “And you... Brother. Thank you.”
At that, Dathan simply smiled, and Zam set out north.
It was a glorious spring day. The wind moved through the trees like a whisper, barely audible. Long grasses lolled to and fro, and birds sang sweeter songs than any Zam could recall.
Dathan stood atop the hill near the shack, watching over the sheep, watching and waiting for the moment his father would ride up and chastise him for making “so foolish a choice.” It wouldn’t be long now. But he had done the right thing. Of that he was sure.
He breathed in the morning air and looked to the west. A dark cloud appeared, coming his way faster than the breeze and against the wind. As it approached, he saw it for what it was: a cloud of eerie green fireflies out in the daylight. They hovered a few feet above him, and his skin crawled. He had the unpleasant suspicion that these were somehow part of Zam's danger. They remained a moment as if assessing him. A moment more and they frantically swarmed him.
He closed his eyes tight and could not help but hold his breath. If he believed insects capable of emotion, he would have said rage fueled their swarming, for that’s what surrounded him. Rage. Loathing. Hatred. His mind flooded with images of the beasts from his dream. Then, as suddenly as they came, they shot away west.
Dathan opened his eyes and breathed again, his heart racing. He looked about, and the sky was clear. Though he couldn't understand what had happened, he knew the danger had passed. He was safe, and so was Zam… for now.
As Zam approached the stone that marked the northern border, he surveyed the hills and fields he’d called home for so long. Beyond lay a large wood into which he had never stepped foot. Well... here I am.
His heart beat with the thrill of the unknown. He took a deep breath and stepped beyond the marker, beaming. The wide world stood before him. He glanced back to his former home. It was no longer home. A small dark cloud seemed to hover over the hilltop, shifting and moving. He blinked to clear his eyes, and it was gone.
The sun hung directly above the old maple. He’d left just in time—for what, he did not know. But his adventure had begun. He thought of Graffeon's words. It's in your heart to travel and experience adventure... you will do both.
“Thank you,” he whispered to the air, and took another step north.