While rummaging through the attic, high school senior, Jack Davies, is surprised to find his never-before-seen birth certificate, revealing a startling bit of information that changes his life. The story his mother told about his birth, he discovers, is revealed to be a lie, shattering long-held beliefs and the trust he had for her. Jack becomes obsessed with discovering the truth, leading him down a dangerous path. Faced with unanswered questions and confounding obstacles at every turn, Jack finds himself deeply enmeshed in an intricate world of national security and international intrigue. Relationships are tested as his every move is tracked by a group of mysterious people. Who are they? Whose side are they on? Who can he trust? And, most importantly, who will he ultimately become?
An excerpt from Primal Calling by Barry Eisenberg
Jack walked toward the student parking lot. It was late in the day for a final exam, and he didn’t encounter any acquaintances on the five-minute walk to the parking lot. The driver of the Taurus spotted Jack entering the parking lot and turned on the ignition. Jack got into his car and backed out of the spot. His mother was expecting him home before dinner. He became preoccupied with thoughts of the important phone call he was scheduled to get the following morning.
The Taurus followed the Accord, the driver carefully staying sufficiently back to avoid arousing suspicion. After exiting the college, the Accord turned right onto Rockaway Avenue, a main thoroughfare that cut through several suburban towns. Rockaway Avenue had an eclectic mix of old shops and newer, trendy stores. A health foods store sat adjacent to a shop that sold antique toys. When Jack was a boy, he had loved to watch the Lionel train set displayed in the window. The sturdiness of the train cars and the authenticity of their appearance mesmerized him, as did the fantasy of hopping on board and being whisked beyond the confines of his community.
Jack turned onto Valley Mill Turnpike, a single-lane road that ran through a stretch of woodland. Jack was about seven miles from his home. About two miles onto Valley Mill Turnpike, Jack noticed that the Taurus behind him was getting much closer. That guy is in a big-time rush, Jack thought. The Taurus, gaining ground, was now about a car length behind. Jack gently tapped the brake to slow the car, hoping the Taurus would pass.
After a few seconds, the Taurus began to pass. Jack glanced into the Taurus as it pulled alongside. He noticed three people in the car, all of whom were staring directly back at him. It struck Jack as a look of scrutiny, as though to confirm their find. The female passenger, sitting in the front passenger seat, had a piercing, frightening gaze. She waved to Jack to stop.
Jack’s mind was racing. His fear that this group would seek him out had materialized. But he knew he must try to avoid them, lest he expose Cathy to danger. He believed he had no choice but to dodge them and call her. He also knew he should not use his cell phone.
Jack hit the accelerator and his car lurched forward, pulling in front of the Taurus. The Taurus regained speed and, again, came up just behind the Accord. The driver was clearly skilled at this activity and, at once, was able to maneuver his car beside Jack’s. Another wave by the woman to slow down. Jack needed to get away. As he fixed his gaze on the road in front, the driver of the Taurus, in anticipation of Jack’s plan to try to race ahead, pulled his car in front.
Jack was now behind the Taurus. Both cars were moving at sixty miles per hour. Jack knew that a string of about ten stores, including a gas station, was just two miles up the road. Just then, the Taurus started to slow down. Suddenly, the deceleration became abrupt, and Jack couldn’t help but get too close for comfort. He slammed on his brakes. Panic!
Jack tried to steer around the Taurus, but it shifted to the left, a deliberate attempt to prevent Jack from passing. The Taurus was slowing to a complete halt, and Jack was unable to steer past it. His only choice was to put the car in reverse and try to back out of the area. Jack took a deep breath and threw the car into reverse. The Taurus, now also in reverse, followed closely. Jack desperately wanted to turn the car around, and thought he had an opening. He spun the wheel and the car veered toward the shoulder. But Jack was no match for the driver of the Taurus. Before Jack could put the car in drive, the Taurus lunged back, tires screeching, until it was positioned directly in front of Jack.
Jack slammed the gear shift into park and bolted from the car, leaving it running, and darted directly into the wooded area behind him. The lanky man from the back seat and the woman scrambled from the car in pursuit. In the meantime, the driver of the Taurus repositioned both cars to the shoulder of the road.
Jack had no choice but to use his phone now. His hands trembled as he fidgeted for it, and the uneven terrain made it impossible to maneuver through his pockets. Then he realized his phone was on the passenger seat of his car.
The man shouted to Jack to stop. The woman, not far behind, screamed, “We’re not going to hurt you.” In the face of this madness, Jack found her tone oddly believable. Fearing no possibility for escape, Jack was left with no choice but to confront them.
He wheeled around, screaming, “What do you want from me? Who are you?”
They stood about twenty feet from Jack, separated by a small clearing in the thicket of trees.
“We are not here to hurt you. We need you to come with us,” the woman repeated.
Jack succumbed to a strange, paradoxical mix of panic and curiosity. He didn’t know these people, though he had been aware they might seek him out. But he could not reveal this awareness to them. And he didn’t know if he was in danger. “What if I don’t? You can’t do this to me.” His wobbly voice managed a trace of defiance.
“Actually, we can,” the man declared. His tone was powerful and convincing. That was it. With those three words, the man’s authority — an unequivocal dominance over Jack — became deadly certain.
Jack stood there, frozen, while the pair walked toward him. He suspected he wouldn’t be hurt, but he couldn’t be positive. He was at once consumed with energy and sapped of it.
“Where are we going?” Jack asked, relinquishing himself to a fate over which he knew he had no control.
“Back to the car,” the woman replied. “You need to come with us.”
The woman led the way back to the highway. Jack followed, not wanting to provoke the man, whose presence loomed directly behind. Along the path lay rocks and tree branches. One of these might be used as a weapon, he thought. His mind raced; is there time to grab something? But other than a small tussle with a class bully in the third grade, Jack had not been especially schooled in the ways of physical confrontation. In fact, among the best of his social talents was conflict avoidance. No, he’d surely lose out in a physical struggle.
Jack pressed the pair for information. “Who are you? What do you want from me? Take my car. Take my money. Just please let me go.” As Jack’s pleas faded, so did any semblance of his resistance, and the pair offered nothing. No hint of purpose. No gesture of reassurance. The remainder of the short walk to the car occurred in silence.
As the group neared the car, the man told Jack to get into the back seat with him. The driver and the woman assumed their original positions in the front. She turned to Jack and instructed him, “You need to call your mother. Where’s your phone?”
“It’s in my car,” he responded.
The woman retrieved Jack’s phone from his car and handed it to him. Then she advised him on what to say: “Tell her that you were asked by Mr. Dwyer to help with a project at the department tonight.” Holy shit, she knew his computer instructor’s name. “If she asks what the project is, tell her the department is planning the installation of new hard drives on the school’s computer system during the summer, and you’ve been asked to help with preparation.” Jack felt a sense of terror — she knew about that too! “Tell her you’ll be home close to midnight, but she shouldn’t worry if you’re running late.”
“Is all that clear?” the man in the back asked with stinging bluntness.
The man’s stare was laser-like. “Be convincing,” he said, which sounded to Jack like a warning.
Jack hit the call button and stared at the woman as the phone rang.
The driver, who had not turned around during the entire time Jack had been in the car, kept his sights on the road ahead.
“I got her voicemail,” Jack informed the group.
“Perfect,” said the woman. “Just leave the message and tell her you’ll be home late tonight.”
Jack delivered the message as directed. The slight hesitancy in his voice was not enough to create concern for the group.
“Unfortunately, we’re unable to answer any questions right now,” she confirmed. “But I assure you our aim is not to hurt you.” Then she exited the car, walked to Jack’s car, and got into the driver’s seat. Jack watched as his car made a U-turn. The Accord drove alongside the Taurus and stopped. The window rolled down, and the woman instructed the driver of the Taurus to follow her back to the college.
The trip back to the college was made in silence. Despite her cool assertiveness, the woman’s presence eased Jack’s fear. There was a cold, menacing steeliness without her, and Jack believed there could be harsh consequences if he showed any sign of resistance.
As they arrived at the college, Jack realized he had yet to hear the driver utter a single word. Jack watched as his Accord passed by the student parking lot and headed for the visitor lot. The majority of students at New Jersey Central College commuted to school, but about a fifth of the student body was from out of town. Parents and friends who visited were directed to park in the visitor lot. Jack knew that cars could be parked there for days without being ticketed by college security. Apparently, Jack’s abductors knew this as well.
The woman parked the Accord and returned to the Taurus. Jack observed her placing his car keys into her purse, which had been on the front floor of the Taurus. The Taurus pulled out of the visitor lot, through one of the smaller gates of the college and then back onto Rockaway Avenue.
As the Taurus left the immediate area, Jack, impelled by trepidation, dared to question his captors again. His tone was pleading. “Who are you? Why are you doing this?”
“Everything will be made clear in due time,” the woman replied, icily. “Now, please, no more questions for now.”
Jack knew the car had been heading north, but he was unfamiliar with the route the driver was taking. After what felt to Jack like a distance of about seven or eight miles, the car pulled onto a small side road. It was desolate, eerily so under the circumstances. The lanes were narrow, not much wider than the car itself, and the quick succession of twists and bends in the road made it impossible to see beyond a few yards.
The car drove about five hundred feet up the road, then pulled off onto a dirt shoulder. The woman turned around and faced Jack. Jack’s fear — this terror produced by a sense of imminent doom — caused his mind to scramble, scanning everything, anything for any possibility of escape. But there was no way out, and the fear manifested in jolts to his system. He could feel his heart beating in his chest. A strange numbness gripped his hands and descended toward his wrists. The tips of his fingers tingled and were overwhelmed by a paralyzing weightiness. A stinging electricity coursed through him.
“I can’t tell you where we are going or why. And I’m not free to answer any questions right now. I need you to wear these for the remainder of the trip, though,” the woman said, handing Jack what appeared to be a pair of sunglasses with shields that wrapped around the sides.
Jack slowly extended his hand to take the glasses from the woman and asked why he should wear them. “Just put them on, please. It’s for your own protection.” Jack sensed impatience in her voice, but with a hint of sensitivity. She was a model of efficiency. There was nothing wasted about her. Her words were delivered methodically without a syllable to spare. Her hair, shoulder-length with just a hint of a wave, had fallen back neatly into place despite a run in the woods. Jack felt his heart pulsing.
Jack discovered these were not ordinary sunglasses. They blackened out all traces of light. He had no idea where they were going.
Travel resumed. Jack felt the car make several turns in quick succession. He believed this was a deliberate strategy to confuse him. Until they had stopped, he knew they were headed north, but this jarring sequence of turns was disorienting. He knew only that there was no stretch of extended highway driving.
About twenty minutes later, the car slowed, pulling onto gravel. The front passenger door opened and the woman stepped out. The two men remained in the car. The woman opened the rear passenger door where Jack was seated. He made no move. The woman reached in and placed her hand under Jack’s elbow. “Please come with me,” she demanded, her tone firm but noticeably polite.
Jack slowly extended one foot out the door and felt a gravel incline beneath his feet. With the glasses still on, Jack was escorted by the woman for about twenty yards. He heard a door in front of him open and was told to go up one step and enter a house. The wooden floor felt like the floor in his kitchen at home. Its hard texture was offset by a suppleness that muffled the sound of shoes making contact with it.
Jack was advised by the woman that he was heading to a room in the back of the house. She led him straight for a few feet and then made a turn to the left. He surmised that a kitchen was to his right from the faint hum of what sounded like a refrigerator motor. He was also aware of the presence of other people in the house, not from voices, but from the dampened creaking of the floor. Another turn, this one to the right, then up five steps. The steps were carpeted, as was the hallway they entered on this elevated floor.
A door opened in front of Jack and he was asked to enter. The woman escorted Jack about five steps into the room, then guided him toward a folding wooden chair. Once seated, Jack heard the door to the room close.
“You can remove the glasses now,” she said.
Jack squinted as his eyes adjusted to the light. The room was almost bare and small, about ten by twelve feet. In front of Jack was a small wooden table made from lacquered pine, flimsy in its construction. A plastic pitcher of water and two plain drinking glasses sat on the table. A small puddle of condensate had accumulated at the base of the pitcher. Jack was in one of four wooden-slatted folding chairs. The room had no windows and nothing on its bleak, beige walls. The light was dim, emanating from four recessed low-wattage lights in the ceiling.
“Would you like to use the restroom?” the woman asked, her tone softer than at any time earlier.
“Please help yourself to some water if you like,” she offered.
“I’m not thirsty.” Then, after a beat, “What am I doing here?”
The woman glanced quickly at the door. Her eyes were in a constant state of alert, radiating a confident vigilance. This woman has never known panic, Jack thought. She checked her watch, then fixed her gaze onto Jack. “We brought you here to meet your father.”
Reprinted from Primal Calling with the permission of Pegasus Elliott MacKenzie Publishers. Copyright © 2020 by Barry Eisenberg.
Don’t miss this unique retelling of the Robin Hood legend!
A kingdom under assault.
A conspiracy born of anarchy.
A hero standing against tyranny.
Robin’s duty to his king sends him on an odyssey that will unfold from the streets of Paris to the banks of the Danube. From incredible triumphs on the battlefields of the Crusade, to harrowing sea voyages, to a desperate dash across the frozen landscape of Central Europe, Robin Hood must ensure that King Richard safely returns to England.
Meanwhile, the outlaws of Sherwood Forest rise again under a new leader—and she is unwavering in her pursuit of justice against the tyranny of Sheriff de Argentan. Marian endures the heartbreak of widowhood only to find strength and purpose as she leads a small band of devoted men in her quest for vengeance while she protects Robin’s legacy.
Sir Guy of Gisborne, tormented by his conscience and enslaved by the sheriff, faces the wraith-like fury of the woman he once loved. How do you find forgiveness when you have committed an unforgivable crime? He must attempt a daunting journey of redemption, while finding inspiration from an unexpected source.
And through it all, Robin, Marian, and Guy are entangled in a web of treachery spun by the King of France and his sinister advisor, Montlhéry, as the plot to dismantle the Angevin Empire and take the throne of England from the Plantagenets boldly continues.
Part two of an exciting three-part retelling of the Robin Hood legend!
Although the books in the trilogy are not stand-alone, they do not end in cliffhangers.
Prologue: A Widow’s Journey
9 April 1192, North of Poitiers, On the Banks of the Clain River
Bracing herself against a tree, Marian gasped for air, clutching her side as she struggled to catch her breath. She felt as though she had been running for hours.
“I think we lost that man who was following us,” Much shouted over the roar of the nearby river.
Allan, who was also winded from their dash along the riverbank, followed behind as they skirted the tree line of a dense forest. Bent over at the waist and panting, he asked, “Did you recognize him?”
Much peered over his shoulder again. “No, but he looked familiar.”
Finally able to speak, Marian interjected sharply, “All I care about is returning to England as soon as possible. The king commanded me to go to the court in Poitiers, and I did. I made no promises that I would stay there.”
“We are very far from home, with few coins…” Much faltered as Marian glared at him.
“You told me you knew the way,” she reminded him.
“I do,” declared Much. “I traveled between Aquitaine and the ports in Normandy many times with Lord Robin.”
She stared at him for a moment. The sound of Robin’s name struck her like a physical blow, as if Gisborne’s dagger were piercing her heart just as it had pierced Robin’s. Paralyzing anguish besieged her mind until Allan’s warm hand on her shoulder interrupted her descent into the black abyss of her grief.
“Much will guide us, and I will earn coins by performing in the towns along the way. It will take time, but we will be back in Nottinghamshire in a month or so.”
Marian gazed into Allan’s kind eyes and then Much’s troubled frown. They were both looking at her with such pity that she was overcome by an irrational fury—a toxic brew of bitterness that these men lived, while Robin lay buried in the Holy Land, crushing guilt that she hadn’t revealed her secret to Robin, and hatred for the men who had taken her husband from her: Guy of Gisborne, Sheriff de Argentan, and even King Richard. They all shared some blame in the tragedy of Robin’s death.
She recoiled from Allan’s attempt to comfort her. “We will do whatever is necessary to speed our journey,” she stipulated. “Allan will sing his ballads, and if we need to steal or beg, then we will do it. Nothing is more important than returning home and avenging…” she swallowed to maintain a steady voice, “Robin’s murder.”
The day was drawing to a close, so they made camp. Despite the chill of the spring night, it was too risky to build a fire, since Much was still worried about the man who had followed them when they slipped away from the palace.
Fortunately, Queen Eleanor had not been in Poitiers, so security around the keep had been lax. The dowager queen had traveled to England the previous month, determined to thwart Prince John’s scheme to join forces with King Philippe of France to undermine King Richard while he was away on the Crusade.
Marian had insisted on taking the first watch. She leaned against a tree at the edge of camp, hoping that she could detect the sound of approaching danger over the rustling of leaves and the whoosh of the river. At least the full moon brightened the forest, although the pale light left everything drained of color and vibrancy.
Like her life without Robin.
She willed herself to think of something besides Robin’s death. Instead, she reminisced about another full moon, now over three and a half years ago, when Robin had rescued her from the sheriff. They had pledged to marry and had later become one. It had been the true beginning of her marriage to Robin.
She desperately wanted to fill her mind with joyful memories like those of that fateful, glorious night. But again and again, the happy recollections would transform into the same horrific scene, and she would relive Robin’s death. The details were so vivid in her mind: kneeling in the gritty dirt, the soft texture of his hair against her cheek as she cradled him in her arms, and the sharp bristles of his short beard as they shared one last kiss. After his death, she had held his hand, clinging to its warmth and begging God to either restore his life or take hers as well.
At that moment, Marian had wanted nothing more than to join Robin in heaven. But with time to reflect, she realized that seeking death would not honor Robin or protect his legacy, and it could very well condemn her soul to eternal hellfire.
By the time she disembarked at Marseilles, she had dried her tears and resolved to resist the grief that relentlessly pulled her towards a chasm of black despair. She would not surrender her spirit to the melancholy allure of endless mourning.
Instead, she would take action. First, she would honor the blood oath she swore over Robin’s body by making Gisborne and Argentan suffer for their murderous deeds. Then she vowed to devote the rest of her life to ensuring that Robin’s legacy would endure and thrive. This would be her sacred mission as Robin Hood’s widow.
Chapter 1: Failure is Like the Sun
29 April 1192, City of Acre, Kingdom of Jerusalem
The sound of horses approaching him from behind caused Robin to draw his dagger and pivot to face his attackers. The distinctive cadence of galloping hooves striking the cobblestone street triggered an intense memory of men on horseback, charging towards him with their swords drawn and surrounding him as he defended the woman he loved and the king he served.
At first, it all seemed so real, but when he blinked, the attacking soldiers morphed into a trio of mounted Knights Hospitaller riding past him as they hurried down the street. Their weapons were not drawn, and they did not even glance in his direction. An embarrassed Robin sheathed his dagger and continued on his journey to the harbor.
It had been two months since Guy of Gisborne had nearly killed him. During his recovery, Robin’s existence had alternated between excruciating pain and lethargic befuddlement. Eventually, he had refused to take any more of the mind-numbing poppy potion, resisting the entreaties of the king’s physician, Ranulphus Besace.
And when the doctor informed him that he must remain in his chamber, Robin had resolved to leave at the first opportunity. As soon as Ranulphus was called away to an emergency, Robin had dressed, retrieved a bag of coins hidden in his trunk’s false bottom, and headed towards the harbor of Acre.
No doctor, not even King Richard himself, would hinder his mission.
As he walked away from the citadel, he initially felt overjoyed to be on his feet and free of his confinement. His injuries were much improved. However, as he moved through the ancient city, the tightness in his chest became a throbbing pain that frequently caused him to stop and lean against a wall to catch his breath. A sheen of cold sweat enveloped him, and his head repeatedly spun in a dizzy spiral that threatened to send him crashing onto the pavement in an unconscious heap.
Robin grimly trudged onward. At the harbor, he would board a ship where he would have plenty of time to rest from his exertions. Regardless of his pain and discomfort, there was nothing more important than traveling to Marseilles, and from there, Poitiers.
During his convalescence, the alarming discovery that King Richard had sent Marian to Poitiers dominated his thoughts. He knew that she would learn the truth, and he wouldn’t be there to explain it to her. He decided to go there without delay and beg Marian to forgive him. Then, he would return to the Holy Land and fulfill his duties to Richard.
He had sacrificed enough for his king; now he would do something for himself and his wife. He smiled at the thought that Marian was his wife. Even if she was furious with him, they were still irrevocably and eternally joined.
When Robin entered the port, he noticed that it was unusually busy. The assembled men were abuzz with conversation, and many seemed angry and agitated. He pushed through the crowd, distracted by the snippets of conversation that he overheard.
“… It happened just after midday.”
“The Assassins are famous for striking in broad daylight. They…”
Robin paused to listen, but the men moved away from him. He had heard of the fearsome Assassins; they were Saracen mercenaries known for their willingness to kill for hire. He tried to hear what others were saying. The disjointed fragments of sentences were both intriguing and disturbing.
“… stabbed him in the back…”
“… They captured one, the other was killed…”
“… died in agony. Count Henry left at once—”
This revelation caused Robin to stop in his tracks. These men were talking about Count Henry of Champagne, nephew to both King Richard and King Philippe, a trusted ally of Richard, and one of Robin’s friends.
The other men took notice of Robin’s eavesdropping, and they stopped talking as they glared at him warily. Robin averted his gaze, for he did not want to be recognized, and he continued his walk towards the ships moored along the pier. Although his curiosity had been roused, he forced himself to refocus on his mission.
Traversing the wharf, he selected the largest vessel and inquired about its itinerary. The ship was traveling to Cyprus, then Sicily, and finally Marseilles. It was perfect for Robin’s needs. He informed a sailor that he wished to buy passage, and the young man left to find the captain.
After a short delay, the captain lumbered down the gangway and approached Robin, squinting suspiciously at the thin, pale young man dressed in a nondescript, hooded cloak. He brusquely demanded, “Payment is required up front. I need to see your coins.” The scowling captain looked him over from head to foot. “What’s the matter with you? You can barely stand. I ain’t taking any sick passengers.”
Robin knew the captain was within his rights to refuse passage to anyone. He cursed the wave of dizziness that briefly seized him and decided that the best course of action would be to answer honestly. “I’m not sick; I’m recovering from a battle wound.” Robin lowered his voice, “I would appreciate your discretion, so please don’t reveal this to anyone: I am the Earl of Huntingdon.”
The captain’s reaction was unexpected. For a few moments, he just stared at Robin, his mouth agape. Then he threw his head back and howled with laughter. Now it was Robin’s turn to stare open-mouthed at the other man.
“Was this battle wound to your head?” The captain guffawed.
“I don’t understand—”
“You ain’t right in the head, and you ain’t no Earl of Huntingdon. Everyone knows he was killed months ago.”
Robin was flabbergasted. This made no sense. He struggled to respond, but shadows were creeping into the edges of his vision.
The captain continued, “Get away from me before I call for the guards. With the king’s assassination, I have more important things to do than bother with you.”
The shock of hearing such news cleared the cobwebs from his mind. Robin stepped closer to the man and questioned, “Are you telling me that someone has killed King Richard? When? How?”
The other man pushed him away, and Robin tottered before grabbing a nearby railing to steady himself.
“Get out of here, you daft fool. I’m not talking about King Richard. Yesterday, Assassins killed King Conrad in Tyre. Where have you been that you didn’t know this?” The captain studied him with heightened mistrust.
Just then, a contingent of soldiers burst onto the wharves, shouting for everyone to make way. The lead guard announced loudly that they were searching for a man who had escaped from the citadel.
Robin and the captain watched with interest as the soldiers moved through the crowd, methodically inspecting each man.
Someone shouted, “What’s this man look like?”
The man in charge replied, “He’s a fair-haired Englishman who is thin and sickly. He’s delusional and thinks he’s a nobleman.”
Abruptly, the ship’s captain waved at the soldiers and hollered, “He’s here! Look!”
Robin looked at the man in surprise, and when he looked back at the soldiers, they were now running towards him and yelling, “Hold him!”
The captain grabbed his arm, and Robin’s instincts took command. He pulled away from the man’s grasp while kicking him in the knee. Howling in pain, the sea captain released him.
Another pair of hands reached for him, but Robin ducked and sprinted away from the soldiers. He dashed into the maze of narrow alleyways connecting the harbor with the rest of the city. His heart was pounding painfully in his chest. His mouth had become so dry that he was coughing and retching, and his eyesight was growing dimmer by the moment.
He could hear the men behind him. They were getting closer and closer. Robin realized that he was crawling on his hands and knees, no longer able to stand, let alone run. And then an ebony oblivion descended upon him.
Chapter 4: The Feast of Midsummer
24 June 1192, Sherwood Forest, Near the Fortress of Nottingham
“I think we should tie him behind a horse and drag him through the village and into the forest. That would be a miserable death,” Will suggested.
Much had a better idea. “That death is too quick. I want to stab him in the stomach with a small dagger. The wound will not kill him immediately. Instead, he will live long enough for it to fester. That is the most miserable way to die.”
Little John grunted appreciatively; he liked both ideas.
The day was drawing to a close, and Marian was sitting on the ground with the three men in a thickly wooded area near the fortress of Nottingham as they awaited Allan’s return.
She was morbidly fascinated by the men’s proposals for killing Guy of Gisborne.
“Let’s cut him up, piece by piece. We’ll start by cutting off his—” John stopped abruptly.
“Cut off his what?” asked Marian. When she saw John pale and Will blush, she knew the answer to her question. She also blushed.
“What is taking Allan so long?” Much hastily changed the subject.
Marian stood and walked to the tree line of the forest, and the men followed her. They were on a hill that overlooked the river, and on the far side of the river, steep cliffs jutted out of the ground. The castle walls were perched at the top of the cliffs, and beyond the walls stood the stone keep of Nottingham castle. The tallest part of the keep was the tower where Sheriff de Argentan held court.
Marian remembered only too well her visits to that tower room. She shivered at the memory and drew Robin’s cloak around her shoulders. Upon her return to Nottinghamshire, she had gone to the old hunting lodge where she found a trunk belonging to Robin. His clothing was too big for her, but she had made a few alterations, and now she wore his clothes, including the hooded cloak that had been partly responsible for his outlaw name. Even though the clothing had lost Robin’s scent, it still made her feel closer to him.
She also had his bow slung across her shoulder and his quiver tied to her belt. She had planned to carry his sword, but it was so long that its tip dragged on the ground when the sheath was attached to her belt. The weight of the sword was another problem, so she carried a dagger instead.
At that moment, Allan emerged from the thick brush surrounding them.
“What is happening at the castle?” Marian inquired.
“Visitors have arrived for the Feast of Midsummer,” Allan reported. “I met with Kenric’s friend who works in the kitchens. He says there are many wealthy nobles in attendance, and he believes it is a meeting of Prince John’s supporters.”
Much angrily interjected, “We must kill Gisborne at once. He has no right to be breathing the same air as Lady Marian!”
John was formulating a plan. “We will wait along the road between Nottingham and Locksley and ambush him.”
The flow of ideas between the four men intensified as each gave his opinion and attempted to shout down competing schemes.
The noise became unbearable for Marian; she covered her ears and yelled, “Quiet!” She was astonished when the men stilled and gazed attentively at her. She had never commanded such obedience from men, and she was briefly frozen in shock.
Suddenly, an idea formed in her mind. It was audacious and unprecedented. But in that moment, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. Rallying her courage, she declared, “We will punish both Gisborne and Argentan, but I want them to know that their suffering is the result of what they did to Robin. And I also want to ensure that Robin’s legacy is protected. Will you follow me as you once followed Robin?”
“My lady, how can you lead us? You are but a girl. What if you are captured or injured?” Little John’s concerned, fatherly gaze caused Marian to swallow nervously.
Undeterred, she asserted, “Robin and his uncle Edmund taught me how to use weapons and how to think strategically. John, you will be my captain and assist me.”
“We are only four men. We cannot prevail against the sheriff and his soldiers,” Allan reminded them.
This instigated another round of arguing, and Marian again bade them to be quiet. She was pleased when they obeyed her without complaint. Gaining confidence, she acknowledged, “We might be at a disadvantage in numbers, but we are on the side of what is right. If we cannot use brute force to succeed, then we will outwit our enemy.”
Her words impressed the men. Perhaps she could lead them in the spirit of Robin Hood.
Little John went down on one knee in front of Marian, and the others echoed his movements. The outlaw pledged, “My lady, we are ready to dedicate our lives to serving you.”
Their show of devotion touched Marian’s heart. Realizing that the sun was dipping below the horizon, she instructed everyone to return to the small camp they had made nearby. As they left, Marian glanced over her shoulder at the sheriff’s tower. With the coming of twilight, she could see that its windows were brightly lit, and she wondered what nefarious plots were being hatched by Argentan and Gisborne.
Chapter 5: The Road to Perdition
30 June 1192, On the Road South of Paris, Near the Town of Montlhéry
The sun had descended below the horizon, although the sky was still bright with the lingering glow of a long summer’s day. Robin and André made camp a short distance behind Raimbaut and his men. They could not light a fire without alerting the other men to their presence, so they were thankful for the balmy weather. At this point in their journey, they had become weary and discouraged.
As they had expected, Raimbaut traveled to Paris, where he entered the king’s palace and remained overnight.
King Philippe’s keep was well-guarded, so they had been reduced to watching and waiting. While in Paris, Robin and André had heard vicious rumors about King Richard and his behavior in the Holy Land. It had been frustrating to listen to such outlandish tales, yet there was nothing they could say or do to counter the gossip.
On their second day in Paris, Raimbaut had emerged from Philippe’s palatial keep late in the afternoon and gathered his men before setting out on the road which would take them back to Poitiers. Robin and André were no wiser than they had been before their arrival in Poitou the previous week, and they had debated whether to stay in Paris or follow Raimbaut. They could find no easy way to slip into the royal residence, which was situated on an island in the river. Reluctantly, they chose to follow Raimbaut.
Settling in for the night, they refrained from conversation for fear that their voices would carry in the still air. They could hear indistinct sounds from Raimbaut’s camp. The men were in high spirits as they headed home.
Robin contemplated their options. Perhaps they should return to Paris and infiltrate Philippe’s court. They would need to obtain nicer clothing. But could they find a way into the court without being recognized or without their accents giving them away? Both he and André were fluent in French, but there would always be slight variations in their pronunciations and inflections that might betray them as interlopers.
He sighed. The answers which Richard sought could only be found at the French court. Following Raimbaut back to Poitiers was pointless.
“What troubles you, Robin?” André whispered to him.
“I was recalling my last conversation with Richard before we departed the Holy Land. I think we should abandon Raimbaut and return to Paris,” murmured Robin.
“Can you disclose what the king said?”
Maintaining a low voice, Robin explained, “During the regicide attempt, Richard recognized Baron de Argentan, but not from the Poitevin court.”
André leaned closer, his full attention upon Robin. “I don’t understand your meaning.”
“Richard was certain that he had seen Argentan at the court in Paris. I believe we will find the answers there.”
His brow creased in concern, André insisted, “Tell me exactly what Richard said.”
“Do you remember when Richard and Philippe were allies fighting against King Henry?”
“I will never forget it. I was serving Richard, and he was determined to force his father to declare him next in line for the throne. Even though it was ill-omened for a father and son to make war against each other, Richard was correct that England and the Angevin lands needed a clear plan for the royal succession.”
Robin elaborated, “Richard went to Paris to strategize with Philippe, and he saw Argentan standing with the advisors, courtiers, and attendants along the periphery of the room. Richard’s exact words were: ‘Argentan was just one of many men standing in the shadows.’”
Worried that he had spoken too loudly, Robin lowered his voice. “I was shocked when the king said that, for it cannot be a coincidence.”
Robin’s cryptic remarks confused André. “I have spent more time at court than I care to admit. However, what he describes sounds like a typical day at court, with advisors and attendants hovering around the perimeter of the hall, awaiting a summons from their lord. What is so shocking about that?”
To clarify his meaning, Robin recollected, “Every time I have met Argentan, he has recited some absurd riddle about shadows. Gisborne even has a sword engraved with the phrase, From Shadows to Glory. I think shadows are a metaphor for secrets, but I’m not sure.”
“You are right; we should return to Paris.”
“Baron de Argentan once told me, ‘Someday the sun will break through the clouds and illuminate everything around us. The truth of the shadows will be revealed.’ I will welcome such sunshine,” commented Robin.
With those words, the two men fell into quiet contemplation until the urgent rhythm of hoof beats disrupted the peace of the forest. André unsheathed his sword as Robin grabbed his bow and quiver, and they hastened to the nearby road.
The dark shapes of a dozen mounted men-at-arms galloped past them and disappeared around a bend in the road, and within moments, a cacophony of shouting and screaming erupted. Risking discovery, André and Robin sprinted towards Raimbaut’s camp.
Chapter 9: Marian Hood
18 July 1192, Sherwood Forest, On the Road to Nottingham
“Well, don’t you agree with me?” demanded his companion.
“Yes, of course, Sir Gervase,” Guy dutifully answered.
Sir Gervase Rainecourt was Prince John’s envoy, and he had been dispatched to Nottingham to meet with Argentan. He was the same age as John, and he was eager to remind everyone of his position as a confidant of the prince.
Guy had been tasked with meeting him at the border of Nottinghamshire and escorting him to the sheriff. Guy had also collected a bag of silver from their contact at the tavern in Dover, and he had noticed that the monthly bags of silver had decreased in weight since their return from the Holy Land.
Stifling a yawn as he endured yet another story about Gervase’s close relationship with the prince, Guy felt some gratification knowing that the sheriff would also find the man insufferable, but he would still have to curry favor with him.
Diverting John’s interest from Nottinghamshire was becoming increasingly difficult. Nearly every noble traveling to Nottingham during the past fortnight had been robbed. Marian and the outlaws took anywhere from a tenth to a quarter of whatever valuables they found […].
Gervase was still droning on and on about something Prince John had said or done; Guy had stopped listening several miles back. He glanced over his shoulder at Gervase’s men-at-arms as they marched behind the two mounted knights. The royal envoy had brought a dozen men with him, and they easily outnumbered Marian’s outlaws.
Looking forward, he tensed at the sight of two dark figures ahead. He was relieved to see that it was just an elderly couple hobbling along the road. They were swathed in tattered hooded cloaks and leaning heavily on walking sticks. Tomorrow was market day in Nottingham, and it was likely that they were on their way to sell whatever was wrapped in the bundles tied to their backs.
“Make way; we’re on the sheriff’s business,” he shouted.
The man bobbed his head, and they shuffled into the marshy ditch and tall weeds that bordered the old Roman road.
After scanning the forest on both sides of the road, Guy looked up, as if he expected Robin Hood to drop a net upon the soldiers from heaven. Sighing, he acknowledged that he needed to get more sleep.
“Look!” Gervase exclaimed.
Some thirty yards down the road, the red-headed outlaw who had accompanied Robin to the Holy Land stood at the tree line. On the opposite side of the road was the boy with the red scarf.
“Murderer!” roared Much. “You will be punished for killing Lord Robin!”
Will Scarlet said nothing, but he grinned at them and waved his scarf over his head.
“After them!” Gervase ordered. “Divide up, and bring me that forest vermin, dead or alive!”
His men eagerly started after the outlaws, who fearlessly stood there, easy prey for such trained wolves.
“Wait! You can’t send all your men after two outlaws,” insisted Guy.
Gervase agreed, and he sent three men after Much and three after Will. Once the soldiers drew near, Much and Will vanished into the forest.
Guy grew concerned that half of their men were now chasing after outlaws. “My lord, we should not tarry here.”
Before Gervase could respond, they heard a shout behind them. Turning, they saw Little John laughing and pointing his staff at them. He was at least twenty yards away, and the two elderly peasants were fearfully crouching in the ditch between the soldiers and the outlaw.
Once again, another outlaw stood across the road. He was playing a lute and loudly singing:
A rooster is a proud bird;
He tells everyone he’s king.
But although he rules a roost,
He lacks land and can’t take wing.
Guy suggested that they ignore the outlaws and hasten down the road, but the song’s insults to Prince John incensed Gervase. Much to Guy’s exasperation, he sent all his remaining men after Little John and Allan-a-dale.
Once again, when the soldiers drew close, the outlaws entered the forest, and Gervase’s men disappeared as they pursued them.
Guy glared at the other man in disbelief. “Who taught you military tactics?” he thundered. “You’ve sent all your men into the woods. Who will protect the sheriff’s silver?”
“Get off your horses and kneel on the ground. Place your hands on top of your head,” commanded a dulcet feminine voice.
Guy saw that the ‘old’ couple had dropped their burdens and pulled back their hoods. It was Marian and the Knight Templar, and they were aiming nocked arrows at them.
Olivia’s social media profiles:
Personal website: Olivialongueville.com
Project website: www.angevinworld.com
Facebook: Olivia Longueville
J. C. Plummer
J.C. Plummer (Jennie Coleen) graduated Summa Cum Laude from Washburn University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Anthropology. She later earned a Master of Science degree in Computer Information Science from Dartmouth College.
Co-authoring The Robin Hood Trilogy has merged J.C.’s passions for history, culture, and technology into one unique, exciting project.
As an author and historian, J.C.’s goal is to provide thoughtful and entertaining storytelling that honors the past, is mindful of the present, and is optimistic for the future.
J.C.’s social media profiles:
Project website: www.angevinworld.com
Facebook: Jennie Newbrand
February 1994—Lynwood, Louisiana: Flaming crosses light up the night and terrorize the southern town. The resurgent Klan wants a new race war, and the Klansmen will start it here. As federal civil rights prosecutor Adrien Rush is about to discover, the ugly roots of the past run deep in Lynwood.
For Nettie Wynn, a victim of the cross burnings and lifelong resident of the town’s segregated neighborhood, the hate crimes summon frightful memories of her youth, when she witnessed white townspeople lynch a black man. Her granddaughter Nicole DuBose, a successful journalist in New York City, returns to Lynwood to care for her grandmother. Rush arrives from DC and investigates the crimes with Lee Mercer, a seasoned local FBI special agent. Their partnership is tested as they clash over how far to go to catch the racists before the violence escalates. Rush’s role in the case becomes even more complicated after he falls for DuBose. When crucial evidence becomes compromisethreatening to upend what should be a celebrated conviction—the lines between right and wrong, black and white, collide with deadly consequences.
No Truth Left to Tell is a smart legal thriller that pulls readers into a compelling courtroom drama and an illusive search for justice in a troubled community.
NO TRUTH LEFT TO TELL
By Michael McAuliffe
The following excerpt is reprinted from No Truth Left to Tell by Michael McAuliffe, released on March 3, 2020. Reprinted with permission of Greenleaf Book Group. Copyright © 2020 Michael McAuliffe.
Nettie glided along the sidewalk in her best dress, her mother’s creation that would soon be too small. That Saturday, however, the colorful outfit still fit and perfectly complemented her wide smile and earnest stride. The dress was spring blue with flower patterns bursting open into full blossoms, quite like Nettie herself.
She stayed out of the way of the white pedestrians inspecting her with what appeared to be a mixture of curiosity and irritation. “What’s that one doin’ here?” one woman asked as she passed by. So Nettie hugged the buildings as she moved, trying to disappear against the facades. There was something big going on in the square, but Nettie couldn’t see over or through the gathering, since she was just seven years old.
She had pleaded with her parents to go with her father from their home in Mooretown, Lynwood’s section for blacks, to a nearby town while he delivered a meal to a close friend who was gravely ill. At the last minute, Nettie’s mother had wanted one more item added to the delivery from a store on Lynwood’s downtown square—an establishment that served them only from the back door off an alley. Nettie was supposed to wait in the car, but despite her father’s admonishments, the strange and festive noises drew her out into the nearby crowd where she was protected only by her look of youthful wonder.
Lynwood’s civic core was comprised of an expanse of lawn with a massive oak reigning over the surroundings. Four perpendicular streets framed the lawn, and they had been closed for several hours so people could mingle without regard to sputtering cars. The attendees had obliged the gesture by swarming the entire area by midmorning. The day’s activities appeared to originate across the street nearer the tree, allowing the spectators along the periphery to wander about with more freedom. From where Nettie was she could see the crown of the tree, and she moved in that direction as if pulled by some invisible force.
The day was hot and humid. High clouds had gathered through the morning and darkened the midday sky, but the music played on and people chatted in small groups as if they were at an annual parish fair.
After several minutes of distant rumbling a sprinkle started, and it soon developed into cascading water pouring from invisible pots in the sky. The drenching dispersed the crowd into stores and under awnings. Deserted chairs and soda bottles lay across the lawn.
The scattering of the masses created large openings around the square. What was an impenetrable wall of people became a flat, open field of vision. The oak, of course, remained right where it had begun decades before as a sapling.
Nettie couldn’t run into any of the stores like the others caught out in the street during the rainstorm. So, like the oak, she remained standing, although now she had a clear view of the square. Her dress—dripping and heavy with water—would have distracted her in any other setting, but unanswered curiosity kept her searching the square for clues about the day’s festivities.
The oak tree had long, thick branches, like the heavy arms of a giant. A braided rope was slung over one of these arms, out about ten feet from the trunk. The rope was wrapped once about the branch and secured to a large stake in the ground. The other end of the rope was fashioned into a noose, and suspended from it was the still body of a black man. The man’s neck was grotesquely angled, and the feet were bare. His hands were bound behind his back.
Nettie leaned forward like she was about to rush toward the oak. But she neither ran away nor went to it. She stared up at what had been until moments before a living, breathing person. She was frozen in place and time—alone in the moment when her world changed forever.
Her father came running from behind and snatched her up with such force that the dress ripped along a side seam. He covered her with his protective embrace and spirited her away to the car that waited in the alley. They headed straight home using back streets and little-known shortcuts, the car not speeding despite the urgency of the situation. The trip to deliver the meal basket was abandoned as her father kept swearing that he’d never go to the square again.
Nettie didn’t look outside the car. She kept her head down and stared at one of the dress’s printed blossoms, the flower part of the pattern ending at the hemline to reveal her trembling knees.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Michael McAuliffe is the author of No Truth Left to Tell and has been a practicing lawyer for thirty years. He was a federal prosecutor serving both as a supervisory assistant US attorney in the Southern District of Florida and a trial attorney in the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC. In 2008, Michael was elected and served as the state attorney for Palm Beach County, leading an office of approximately 125 prosecutors. He was known for leading the ethics reform movement in county that resulted in the creation of a permanent inspector general, an ethics commission, and new ethics code. Michael and his wife Robin Rosenberg, a US district judge, have three children and live in Florida and Massachusetts. For more information, please visit https://notruthlefttotell.com/
Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow
It’s 1905, and the Japanese victory over the Russians has shocked the British and their imperial subjects. Sixteen-year-old Leela and her younger sister, Maya, are spurred on to wear homespun to show the British that the Indians won’t be oppressed for much longer, either, but when Leela’s betrothed, Nash, asks her to circulate a petition amongst her classmates to desegregate the girls’ school in Chadrapur, she’s wary. She needs to remind Maya that the old ways are not all bad, for soon Maya will have to join her own betrothed and his family in their quiet village. When she discovers that Maya has embarked on a forbidden romance, Leela’s response shocks her family, her town, and her country firmly into the new century.
The next day my cheeks, my eyes, and my hair are as good as they’re going to be when Nash arrives just after breakfast. Instead of inviting us to his family’s for lunch, he is taking Maya and me to Gol Ghar. Everybody, from children to grandparents, loves Gol Ghar, but I wonder if he’s chosen the grain silo so that we will have an excuse to walk hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder up the narrow staircase. As Maya tells him about the good luck we’ve had with the training college’s opening, I study him.
Nash has always been beautiful: his dark skin smooth, his broad lips projecting softness, his lashes longer than mine with three coats of petroleum jelly. Beautiful, and somehow therefore gentle: the Chowdhurys have always been successful, and lucky, and generous. They have nothing to prove, and Nash, a diamond in this fine setting, even less so. And so though he’s always been tall, and always looked at each person as though they were the only one left in the city, he’s always struck me as laughing, comforting, with kindness to spare. In childhood, we hardly saw anything of him, but once we were formally engaged, he withstood the taunts of his classmates and often swung by with ices or samosas or the choruses of songs from the latest films. It was easy for him to love, and as all I’d ever dreamed of was loving someone back, he was perfect.
He’s changed: his lanky frame has tightened, straightened, and as he listens to Maya, I can see in the stiffness of his hands in his lap and of his toes, curled around the edge of his sandals, that he’s kept the tiniest portion of his attention for himself. He is still beautiful, but also…threatening? Is that the right word for the way he makes my body, still seated and composed, feel called to attention against any inclination of its own? His hair is longer, I see—his barber must only have shaved him this morning, rather than give him the accompanying trim—and this imperfection lets me catch my breath.
The carriage is pulling up to the Gol Ghar— our very own Round House, our silly English silo that once held grain and now serves as a pleasure ground for those of us too brown to make use of the club—as Nash responds to Maya’s exclamation that she’s more than ready for us to go back to school next week. “But surely…” he says.
When Nargis and Mawiyya do that to me in school—trail off in the middle of a thought there’s no chance I could finish on my own—it’s to mock me, but Nash doesn’t mock. I realize that while Maya and I have had numerous conversations about my post-marriage life and how to keep it as seamless a transition as possible, Nash and I haven’t had any. “Why don’t you run slightly ahead and check on the crowd?” I ask Maya with our shared look. We trail her, slowly, and I want to throw my arms around him again, but instead I say, “You know I won’t attend the training college from August if you or your parents don’t approve.” I start with what Maya would call a barefaced lie because I suppose that, all said and done, it’s the truth. November, really, is wedding season, but ours is to be held as soon as the weather settles. Some families need time to negotiate; ours will be efficiently put together as Papa has ceded complete control to the Chowdhurys since, as even Koyal Chachi would agree, there’s no chance of their taste being anything less than impeccable.
“Oh, no, of course I wouldn’t dream of stopping you!” he says. He actually stops, and turns to me, and reaches for my hands before he realizes, and stops himself. “Leela, I didn’t realize you wanted to become a teacher, but I should have guessed. You’ve read all of the great histories of Chandrapur, and your Sanskrit is far better than mine. I’ve no right or desire to stop you making the most of yourself.” “Well, that’s good, then,” I say. “Though if I’m being honest, I mostly just want to attend the school to make sure I’m able to see Maya every day. I’m not used to a joint household and I’m not sure I’ll be able to play a dutiful daughter-in-law without her as a sounding board.” I pause, but Nash smiles, and laughs. “And after suffering through a mixed education, I think it will be nice to have the chance to teach in the Hindu school whenever it opens.”
We have only taken a few steps, but already Nash stops, causing the mother and daughter behind us to bump into our calves and mumble apologies. “Leela,” he murmurs, so softly I have to lean in to hear, and the proximity is causing my heart to do a furious dance. But then he keeps walking.
“Leela,” he says again after a few steps. “When I was in Japan, at first it was terribly lonely. We tried to integrate, but without eating fish, we Hindu students found ourselves isolated in the canteen; without much money, additionally, I found myself unwilling to hole up and play cards with boys from Lucknow or Kanpur. I know you didn’t have it easy at Bankipore, either, with your father in trade.”
“But after the triumph against the West, it was as though divisions had melted away. Even when we were sent home, I knew I was coming back to something important, and the sight of you in that swadeshi sari running towards me solidified every commitment I’d hardly understood, before Tokyo, that I’d had. I’ve dreamt about you in red for years,” he says, and though I want to faint I press my hands to the wall and keep myself barely upright, “but for the past year, I’ve dreamt about you in white. I’m so lucky that my life partner shares my dreams, not only for us, but for the country.” Nash sees me faltering, and risks censure from the auntie behind us by steadying me, a hand to the small of my back. I am dizzy for so many reasons.
“I just cannot understand why there is no hesitation towards a communal training college that will only lead towards a communalization of the school system itself, when we’re fighting, desperately, against communalism!”
We have almost climbed to the top; I see Maya awaiting us, and when she catches my eye, she winks, but I can’t reciprocate. “It wasn’t a British initiative,” I tell him. “The Director of Schools wanted to keep us girls together, in fact, and then both the Nawab and the Maharani joined together to oppose him. There are surely more than twelve Hindu girls in Chandrapur who may have wanted to get educated alongside us, and soon there will be places, and teachers for them. Education can only help us.”
I am out of breath, but we’ve climbed Gol Ghar, and the view is rewarding enough to let me tear my eyes away from Nash for a minute. And thank heavens, because looking at this new Nash while he is deliberating is… no, not threatening. Unsettling, I decide on. I wink at Maya, and we play our usual game of identifying all of the best places: the fields, in the distance, past the river, where on the way to Gaya we always stop, much too soon, for the best roasted corn; the Rama temple with the most rambunctious monkeys; the Sikh gurudwara that is unquestionably our most beautiful building; the Khudabaksh library where the real scholars spend their days with microscopes, studying the beautifully illuminated manuscripts; the market, where one day soon we must go and see what Indian-made lingerie I will wear to start my married life.
Nash speaks up again, finally. “I’ve missed this place so much.”
There are the beginnings of tears at the corners of his eyes, and I don’t know what to say.
Maya never has this problem. “And didn’t you miss us, then? I didn’t get even one letter from you, Mister.”
She has cracked the gloomy spell, and Nash rifles through his bag until he hits upon a small wrapped package. “I thought you’d prefer the paper,” he says, handing it to her.
“You didn’t have to get her a gift,” I say, knowing what it has cost his family to send him away, and all for a trip with no degree certificate.
“But he did,” Maya says, as though he’d take it back, ripping it open willy-nilly instead of
properly, neatly. I lean over to get a better look, and am glad I did: he’s brought her stationary more beautiful than I have ever seen. The British have their formal, heavy paper to announce their galas, and I’ve coveted that often enough, but this is its opposite: thin, almost translucent, and sparkling, oyster pink with sea-green filigree adorning its edges. Maya is staring at it, and I squeeze her shoulders. “Oh, yes,” she says. “Thank you.”
She walks ahead of us on the way down, staring at it; it is a good thing, after all, that we’ve been here countless times before. Nash and I pretend to watch her, to stop her from falling off the edge, but really we are stealing glances at one another. “Thank you,” I tell him, and just for a moment, before our feet reach the solid ground, he takes my hand.
Reprinted from Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow with the permission of Galaxy Galloper Press. Copyright © 2020 by Rashi Rohatgi.
About the author:
A totally new paradigm for treating back pain
Virtually every American will suffer from back pain at some point. Dr. Jack Stern, a neurosurgeon and professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, brings relief to these millions of sufferers (including himself) who literally ache for help. Based on the latest scientific data, Dr. Stern developed a five-step solution with a multidisciplinary, holistic perspective that’s been missing from conventional back pain wisdom:
- Step One: Unlock your back’s unique pain code
- Step Two: Prepare to work with health care professionals
- Step Three: Ensure proper diagnosis
- Step Four: Embrace various pathways to healing
- Step Five: Live a life that supports a strong, healthy back
Engagingly written and chock-full of enlightening case studies, Ending Back Pain finally shares the program that’s already helped more than 10,000 grateful patients.
Ending Back Pain
by Jack Stern, M.D., Ph.D.
Excerpted from Ending Back Pain: 5 Powerful Steps to Diagnose, Understand, and Treat Your Ailing Back. Copyright © by Jack Stern, M.D., Ph.D. Published by Avery. All rights reserved.
Most feelings of discomfort in life have clear solutions. For a stuffy nose, decongestants do the trick. For a pounding headache, aspirin or Tylenol comes in handy. But what do you do about a relentlessly aching back? As most of us know, the answer is not nearly as clear-cut as we’d wish. And unlike infectious diseases that often have targeted remedies (think antibiotics for bacterial infections and vaccines for viruses), ailing backs are like misbehaving, obnoxious family members—we can’t easily get rid of them or “fix” them. They also have a tendency to stick around and bother us nonstop, lowering our quality of life considerably and indefinitely.
Perhaps nothing could be more frustrating than a sore or hurting back. It seems to throw off everything else in our body, and makes daily living downright miserable. With the lifetime prevalence approaching 100 percent, virtually all of us have been or will be affected by low back pain at some point. Luckily, most of us recover from a bout of back pain within a few weeks and don’t experience another episode. But for some of us, the back gives us chronic problems. As many as 40 percent of people have a recurrence of back pain within six months.
At any given time, an astounding 15 to 30 percent of adults are experiencing back pain, and up to 80 percent of sufferers eventually seek medical attention. Sedentary people between the ages of forty-five and sixty are affected most, although I should point out that for people younger than forty-five, lower back pain is the most common cause for limiting one’s activities. And here’s the most frustrating fact of all: A specific diagnosis is often elusive; in many cases it’s not possible to give a precise diagnosis, despite advanced imaging studies. In other words, we doctors cannot point to a specific place in your back’s anatomy and say something along the lines of, “That’s exactly where the problem is, and here’s how we’ll fix it.” This is why the field of back pain has shifted from one in which we look solely for biomechanical approaches to treatment to one where we have to consider patients’ attitudes and beliefs. We have to look at a dizzying array of factors, because back pain is best understood through multiple lenses, including biology, psychology, and even sociology.
So, why is back pain such a confounding problem? For one, it’s lumped into one giant category, even though it entails a constellation of potential culprits. You may have back pain stemming from a skiing accident, whereas your neighbor experiences back pain as the consequence of an osteoporotic fracture. Clearly, the two types of back pain are different, yet we call them “back pain” on both accounts, regardless. Back pain has an indeterminate range of possible causes, and therefore multiple solutions and treatment options. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this malady. That is why diagnosing back pain, particularly persistent or recurrent pain, is so challenging for physicians.
Some people are able to describe the exact moment or series of moments when they incurred the damage to their back—a car accident, a slip and fall, a difficult pregnancy, a heavy-lifting job at work, a sports-related injury, a marathon, and so on. But for many, the moment isn’t so obvious, or what they think is causing them the back pain is far from accurate.
The Two Types of Back Pain
If you are going to experience back pain, you’d prefer to have the acute and temporary kind rather than the chronic and enigmatic kind. The former is typically caused by a musculoskeletal issue that resolves itself in due time. This would be like pulling a muscle in your back during a climb up a steep hill on your bicycle or sustaining an injury when you fall from the stepladder in the garage. You feel pain for a few weeks and then it’s silenced, hence the term self-limiting back pain. It strikes, you give it some time, it heals, and it’s gone.
The second type of back pain, though, is often worse, because it’s not easily attributed to a single event or accident. Often, either sufferers don’t know what precipitated the attack, or they remember some small thing as the cause, such as bending from the waist to lift an object instead of squatting down (i.e., lifting with the legs) or stepping off a curb too abruptly. It can start out of nowhere and nag you endlessly. It can build slowly over time but lack a clear beginning. Your doctor scratches his head, trying to diagnose the source of the problem, and as a result your treatment options aren’t always aligned with the root cause of the problem well enough to solve it forever. It should come as no surprise, then, that those with no definitive diagnosis reflect the most troubling cases for patients and doctors.
What Are the Chances?
Chances are good that you’ll experience back pain at some point in your life. Your lifetime risk is arguably close to 100 percent. And unfortunately, recurrence rates are appreciable. The chance of it recurring within one year of a first episode is estimated to be between 20 and 44 percent; within ten years, 80 percent of sufferers report back pain again. Lifetime recurrence is estimated to be 85 percent. Hence, the goal should be to alleviate symptoms and prevent future episodes.
Excerpted from Ending Back Pain: 5 Powerful Steps to Diagnose, Understand, and Treat Your Ailing Back. Copyright © by Jack Stern, M.D., Ph.D. Published by Avery. All rights reserved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jack Stern, M.D., Ph.D., is the author of Ending Back Pain: 5 Powerful Steps to Diagnose, Understand, and Treat Your Ailing Back. He is a board-certified neurosurgeon specializing in spinal surgery, and cofounder of Spine Options, one of America’s first facilities committed to nonsurgical care of back and neck pain. Dr. Stern is on the clinical faculty at Weill Cornell Medical College and has published numerous peer- and non peer– reviewed medical articles. He lives and practices in White Plains, New York. For more information, please visit https://drjackstern.com/
From the New York Times bestselling, celebrated, and award-winning author of Empire of the Summer Moon and Rebel Yell comes the spellbinding, epic account of the dramatic conclusion of the Civil War.
The fourth and final year of the Civil War offers one of that era’s most compelling narratives, defining the nation and one of history’s great turning points. Now, S.C. Gwynne’s Hymns of the Republic addresses the time Ulysses S. Grant arrives to take command of all Union armies in March 1864 to the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox a year later. Gwynne breathes new life into the epic battle between Lee and Grant; the advent of 180,000 black soldiers in the Union army; William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea; the rise of Clara Barton; the election of 1864 (which Lincoln nearly lost); the wild and violent guerrilla war in Missouri; and the dramatic final events of the war, including the surrender at Appomattox and the murder of Abraham Lincoln.
Hymns of the Republic offers angles and insights on the war that will surprise many readers. Robert E. Lee, known as a great general and southern hero, is presented here as a man dealing with frustration, failure, and loss. Ulysses S. Grant is known for his prowess as a field commander, but in the final year of the war he largely fails at that. His most amazing accomplishments actually began the moment he stopped fighting. William Tecumseh Sherman, Gwynne argues, was a lousy general, but probably the single most brilliant man in the war. We also meet a different Clara Barton, one of the greatest and most compelling characters, who redefined the idea of medical care in wartime. And proper attention is paid to the role played by large numbers of black union soldiers—most of them former slaves. They changed the war and forced the South to come up with a plan to use its own black soldiers.
Popular history at its best, from Pulitzer Prize finalist S.C. Gwynne, Hymns of the Republic reveals the creation that arose from destruction in this thrilling read.
CHAPTER ONE: The End Begins
Excerpted from HYMNS OF THE REPUBLIC: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War, by S.C. Gwynne. Copyright © 2019 by Samuel C. Gwynne. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Washington, DC, had never, in its brief and undistinguished history, known a social season like this one. The winter of 1863–64 had been bitterly cold, but its frozen rains and swirling snows had dampened no spirits. Instead a feeling, almost palpable, of optimism hung in the air, a swelling sense that, after three years of brutal war and humiliating defeats at the hands of rebel armies, God was perhaps in his heaven, after all. The inexplicably lethal Robert E. Lee had finally been beaten at Gettysburg. Vicksburg had fallen, completing the Union conquest of the Mississippi River. A large rebel army had been chased from Chattanooga. Something like hope—or maybe just its shadow—had finally loomed into view.
The season had begun as always with a New Year’s reception at the Executive Mansion, hosted by the Lincolns, then had launched itself into a frenzy whose outward manifestation was the city’s newest obsession: dancing. Washingtonians were crazy about it. They were seen spinning through quadrilles, waltzes, and polkas at the great US Patent Office Ball, the Enlistment Fund Ball, and at “monster hops” at Willard’s hotel and the National. At these affairs, moreover, everyone danced. No bored squires or sad-eyed spinsters lingered in the shadows of cut glass and gaslight. No one could sit still, and together all improvised a wildly moving tapestry of color: ladies in lace and silk and crinolines, in crimson velvet and purple moire, their cascading curls flecked with roses and lilies, their bell-shaped forms whirled by men in black swallowtails and colored cravats.
The great public parties were merely the most visible part of the social scene. That winter had seen an explosion of private parties as well. Limits were pushed here, too, budgets broken, meals set forth of quail, partridge, lobster, terrapin, and acreages of confections. Politicians such as Secretary of State William Seward and Congressman Schuyler “Smiler” Colfax threw musical soirees. The spirit of the season was evident in the wedding of the imperially lovely Kate Chase—daughter of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase—to Senator William Sprague. Sprague’s gift to Kate was a $50,000 tiara of matched pearls and diamonds. When the bride appeared, the US Marine Band struck up “The Kate Chase March,” a song written by a prominent composer for the occasion.
What was most interesting about these evenings, however, was less their showy proceedings than the profoundly threatened world in which they took place. It was less like a world than a child’s snow globe: a small glittering space enclosed by an impenetrable barrier. For in the winter of 1863–64, Washington was the most heavily defended city on earth. Beyond its houses and public buildings stood thirty-seven miles of elaborate trenches and fortifications that included sixty separate forts, manned by fifty thousand soldiers. Along this armored front bristled some nine hundred cannons, many of large caliber, enough to blast entire armies from the face of the earth. There was something distinctly medieval about the fear that drove such engineering.
The danger was quite real. Since the Civil War had begun, Washington had been threatened three times by large armies under Robert E. Lee’s command. After the Union defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862, a rebel force under Lee’s lieutenant Stonewall Jackson had come within twenty miles of the capital while driving the entire sixty-thousand-man Union army back inside its fortifications, where the bluecoats cowered and licked their wounds and thanked heaven for all those earthworks and cannons.
A year and a half later, the same fundamental truth informed those lively parties. Without that cordon militaire, they could not have existed. Washington’s elaborate social scene was a brocaded illusion: what the capital’s denizens desperately wanted the place to be, not what it actually was.
This garishly defended capital was still a smallish, grubby, corrupt, malodorous, and oddly pretentious municipality whose principal product, along with legislation and war making, was biblical sin in its many varieties. Much of the city had been destroyed in the War of 1812. What had replaced the old settlement was both humble and grandiose. Vast quantities of money had been spent to build the city’s precious handful of public buildings: the Capitol itself (finished in December 1863), the Post Office Building, the Smithsonian Institution, the US Patent Office, the US Treasury, and the Executive Mansion. (The Washington Monument, whose construction had been suspended in 1854 for lack of funds, was an abandoned and forlorn-looking stump.)
But those structures stood as though on a barren plain. The Corinthian columns of the Post Office Building may have been worthy of the high Renaissance, but little else in the neighborhood was. The effect was jarring, as though pieces of the Champs-Élysées had been dropped into a swamp. Everything about the place, from its bloody and never-ending war to the faux grandiosity of its windswept plazas, suggested incompleteness. Like the Washington Monument, it all seemed half-finished. The wartime city held only about eighty thousand permanent residents, a pathetic fraction of the populations of New York (800,000) and Philadelphia (500,000), let alone London (2.6 million) or Paris (1.7 million). Foreign travelers, if they came to the national capital at all, found it hollow, showy, and vainglorious. British writer Anthony Trollope, who visited the city during the war and thought it a colossal disappointment, wrote:
Washington is but a ragged, unfinished collection of unbuilt broad streets.… Of all the places I know it is the most ungainly and most unsatisfactory; I fear I must also say the most presumptuous in its pretensions. Taking [a] map with him… a man may lose himself in the streets, not as one loses oneself in London between Shoreditch and Russell Square, but as one does so in the deserts of the Holy Land… There is much unsettled land within the United States of America, but I think none so desolate as three-fourths of the ground on which is supposed to stand the city of Washington.
He might have added that the place smelled, too. Its canals were still repositories of sewage; tidal flats along the Potomac reeked at low tide. Pigs and cows still roamed the frozen streets. Dead horses, rotting in the winter sun, were common sights. At the War Department, one reporter noted, “The gutter [was] heaped up full of black, rotten mud, a foot deep, and worth fifty cents a car load for manure.” The unfinished mall where the unfinished Washington Monument stood held a grazing area and slaughterhouse for the cattle used to feed the capital’s defenders. The city was both a haven and a dumping ground for the sort of human chaff that collected at the ragged edges of the war zone: deserters from both armies, sutlers (civilians who sold provisions to soldiers), spies, confidence men, hustlers, and the like.
Washington had also become the nation’s single largest refuge for escaped slaves, who now streamed through the capital’s rutted streets by the thousands. When Congress freed the city’s thirty-three hundred slaves in 1862, it had triggered an enormous inflow of refugees, mostly from Virginia and Maryland. By 1864 fifty thousand of them had moved within Washington’s ring of forts. Many were housed in “contraband camps,” and many suffered in disease-ridden squalor in a world that often seemed scarcely less prejudiced than the one they had left. But they were never going back. They were never going to be slaves again. This was the migration’s central truth, and you could see it on any street corner in the city. Many would make their way into the Union army, which at the end of 1863 had already enlisted fifty thousand from around the country, most of them former slaves.
But the most common sights of all on those streets were soldiers. A war was being fought, one that had a sharp and unappeasable appetite for young men. Several hundred thousand of them had tramped through the city since April 1861, wearing their blue uniforms, slouch hats, and knapsacks. They had lingered on its street corners, camped on its outskirts. Tens of thousands more languished in wartime hospitals. Mostly they were just passing through, on their way to a battlefield or someone’s grand campaign or, if they were lucky, home. Many were on their way to death or dismemberment. In their wake came the seemingly endless supply trains with their shouting teamsters, rumbling wagon wheels, snorting horses, and creaking tack.
Because of these soldiers—unattached young men, isolated, and far from home—a booming industry had arisen that was more than a match for its European counterparts: prostitution. This was no minor side effect of war. Ten percent or more of the adult population were inhabitants of Washington’s demimonde. In 1863, the Washington Evening Star had determined that the capital had more than five thousand prostitutes, with an additional twenty-five hundred in neighboring Georgetown, and twenty-five hundred more across the river in Alexandria, Virginia. That did not count the concubines or courtesans who were simply kept in apartments by the officer corps. The year before, an army survey had revealed 450 houses of ill repute. All served drinks and sex. In a district called Murder Bay, passersby could see nearly naked women in the windows and doors of the houses. For the less affluent—laborers, teamsters, and army riffraff—Nigger Hill and Tin Cup Alley had sleazier establishments, where men were routinely robbed, stabbed, shot, and poisoned with moonshine whiskey. The Star could not help wondering how astonished the sisters and mothers of these soldiers would be to see how their noble young men spent their time at the capital. Many of these establishments were in the heart of the city, a few blocks from the president’s house and the fashionable streets where the capital’s smart set whirled in gaslit dances.
This was Washington, DC, in that manic, unsettled winter of 1863–64, in the grip of a lengthening war whose end no one could clearly see.
Excerpted from HYMNS OF THE REPUBLIC: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War, by S.C. Gwynne. Copyright © 2019 by Samuel C. Gwynne. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
About the Author:
S.C. Gwynne is the author of Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War and the New York Times bestsellers Rebel Yell and Empire of the Summer Moon, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He spent most of his career as a journalist, including stints with Time as bureau chief, national correspondent, and senior editor, and with Texas Monthly as executive editor. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife. For more information, please visit https://scgwynne.com
Former opera singer Emma Streat has survived the murder of her husband and the destruction of her beautiful old house. Now a full-time single mother, she struggles to move forward and make a home for her two sons. Because of her detection skills, she has become a go-to person for help–so, when her rich, feisty, socialite godmother is blackmailed, she turns immediately to Emma. Soon, Emma founds herself thrust into the dark world of cybercrime. Mounting challenges take her to exclusive European settings where she mixes with top people in the financial and art collecting worlds and has intriguing and emotion-packed experiences with men–including her dynamic ex-lover, Lord Andrew Rodale. When she is targeted by a cybercrime network using cutting-edge technology, it takes all of Emma’s resilience and wits to survive and bring the wily, ruthless criminal she’s hunting to justice. Action-packed and full of twists and turns, this third book of the Emma Streat Mystery series does not disappoint!
Excerpted from Firewall: An Emma Streat Mystery by Eugenia Lovett West. Copyright © 2019 Eugenia Lovett West. All rights reserved. Published by SparkPress.
A spring blizzard was cascading snow over Boston’s Public Garden. I poured my first cup of coffee and went to the living room window of my temporary apartment. People going to work struggled along the paths, heads bent, feet slipping. I watched, glad that in a few days I’d be on an island in the Caribbean. Lying in the sun with a man. Finding out if a dynamic former relationship could be renewed.
My phone on the counter sounded its little chime. I picked it up and saw that the call was from my godmother, Caroline Vogt. She never called before noon, but today the gravelly tuba voice reverberated in my ear.
“Emma, I need you, and I need you now.”
This was demanding, even for Caroline. I took a deep breath. “Why do you need me? Are you still down in the Keys?”
“I’m back in New York and something has happened.”
“Oh God, I can’t believe it, but someone’s trying to blackmail me.”
“Just now. I was simply sitting in my bed, eating my breakfast, and the doorbell rang. Minnie went to open it. No one was there, just a note shoved under the door telling me to pay a million dollars to an account in a Miami bank. Pay it today. If I don’t, my dirty little secret will go to the media tomorrow. All the media.” The tuba voice wobbled.
I shifted the phone. Caroline’s usual reaction to trouble was assault mode. Strike back. Never show weakness. This call for help was totally out of character—and the timing couldn’t be worse.
“Look. I can see why you’re upset,” I said, trying to apply calm. “Blackmail is nasty, but it happens. The dirty little secret bit— everyone has secrets and that person is just trying to scare you. If you’re really worried, I think you should call the police or a detective. Someone who has real expertise.”
“No. Absolutely not. I won’t have strangers prying into my business. You’re the person we all trust in a crisis. You found Lewis’s killer. You exposed those virus terrorists and saved your niece Vanessa. You have credentials. You have to find this bastard before he comes back and wants more.”
“Wait. Let me think.” I pushed back my hair. No way did I want to be the family detective, involved in another crisis, but Caroline was now in her eighties, a mega heiress from Chicago, a fixture in New York society. Divorced four times, no children. I was the closest thing she had to family and she was frightened. I must go, but with any luck I could still get to that island. Spend three days sorting her out, then fly there from New York.
“I’m here. Listen. It’s snowing hard in Boston, a freak storm, but I’ll try for a flight today. Failing that, I’ll take the train. I’ll let you know. Relax, no need to be paranoid. Love you,” I said and clicked off.
A siren went shrieking down Arlington Street, the sound that signaled trouble. I sat down on the stool at the counter and reminded myself that I owed Caroline. She had been my unfailing support from the day I was born. She had taken the place of my dead mother. Fourteen months ago she had given me a stern lecture:
“You’re still young. You survived losing your rising opera career. You’ve done a superb job bringing up those two hunks of boys, but now they’re off to college. Cut the cord and let them go. You’ve got the money and the energy to do something important. Different.”
Good advice, but three days later, my husband was murdered and my world had gone up in flames along with my beautiful old house on the Connecticut River. I still had Jake and Steve, but creating a new life wasn’t easy. It was time, past time, to move forward.
I took a deep breath and picked up a pad of paper. First, call the airlines, then cancel this morning’s appointment for a haircut. Start packing.
By now experience should have taught me that one small incident can spiral into a tsunami of trouble. But no siren sounded, warning me that by helping Caroline I would be targeted by a network of cybercriminals. No way of knowing that her call would take me to many countries, lead to heartbreak, and nearly cost me my life.
Excerpted from Firewall: An Emma Streat Mystery by Eugenia Lovett West. Copyright © 2019 Eugenia Lovett West. All rights reserved. Published by SparkPress.
About the Author:
Eugenia Lovett West is the author of Firewall: An Emma Streat Mystery. Eugenia was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father was Reverend Sidney Lovett, the widely known and loved former chaplain at Yale. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and worked for Harper’s Bazaar and the American Red Cross. Then came marriage, four children, volunteer work, and freelancing for local papers. Her first novel, The Ancestors Cry Out, was published by Doubleday; it was followed by two mysteries, Without Warning and Overkill, published by St. Martin’s Press. West divides her time between Essex, Connecticut, and Holderness, New Hampshire, where she summers with her large extended family. For more information, please visit http://www.eugenialovettwest.com
A world-recognized authority and acclaimed mind-body medicine pioneer presents the first evidence-based program to reverse the psychological and biological damage caused by trauma.
In his role as the founder and director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM), the worlds largest and most effective program for healing population-wide trauma, Harvard-trained psychiatrist James Gordon has taught a curriculum that has alleviated trauma to populations as diverse as refugees and survivors of war in Bosnia, Kosovo, Israel, Gaza, and Syria, as well as Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, New York city firefighters and their families, and members of the U. S. military. Dr. Gordon and his team have also used their work to help middle class professionals, stay-at-home mothers, inner city children of color, White House officials, medical students, and people struggling with severe emotional and physical illnesses.
The Transformation represents the culmination of Dr. Gordon’s fifty years as a mind-body medicine pioneer and an advocate of integrative approaches to overcoming psychological trauma and stress. Offering inspirational stories, eye-opening research, and innovative prescriptive support, The Transformation makes accessible for the first time the methods that Dr. Gordon—with the help of his faculty of 160, and 6,000 trained clinicians, educators, and community leaders—has developed and used to relieve the suffering of hundreds of thousands of adults and children around the world.
Laughter Breaks Trauma’s Grim Spell
James S. Gordon, MD
Excerpted from THE TRANSFORMATION by James S. Gordon, MD. Reprinted with permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright 2019
Reader’s Digest used to tell us each month that “laughter is the best medicine.” Drawing on folk wisdom, the Digest was reminding us that laughter could help us through the ordinary, daily unhappiness that might come into our lives.
In 1976, Norman Cousins, the revered editor of the Saturday Review, wrote a piece that signaled the arrival of laughter in the precincts of science. It was called “Anatomy of an Illness (as Perceived by the Patient)” and appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, the United States’ most prestigious medical publication.
When the best conventional care failed to improve his ankylosing spondylitis—a crippling autoimmune spinal arthritis—Cousins took matters into his own hands. He checked himself out of the hospital and into a hotel, took megadoses of anti-inflammatory vitamin C, and watched long hours of Marx Brothers movies and TV sitcoms. He laughed and kept on laughing. He noticed that as he did, his pain diminished. He felt stronger and better. As good an observer as any of his first-rate doctors, he developed his own dose-response curve: ten minutes of belly laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep. Soon enough, he became more mobile.
Once the healing power of laughter was on the medical map, researchers began to systematically explore its stress-reducing, health-promoting, pain-relieving potential. Laughter has now been shown to decrease stress levels and improve mood in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, to decrease hostility in patients in mental hospitals, and to lower heart rate and blood pressure and enhance mood and performance in generally healthy IT professionals. In numerous experiments, people with every imaginable diagnosis have reduced their pain by laughing.
Laughter stimulates the dome-shaped diaphragmatic muscle that separates our chest from our abdomen, as well as our abdominal, back, leg, and facial muscles. After we laugh for a few minutes, these muscles relax. Then our blood pressure and stress hormone levels decrease; pain-relieving and mood-elevating endorphins increase, as do levels of calming serotonin and energizing dopamine. Our immune functioning—probably a factor in Cousins’s eventual recovery—improves. If we are diabetic, our blood sugar goes down. Laughter is good exercise. It’s definitely healthy. And it’s first-rate for relieving stress.
Laughter also has a transforming power that transcends physiological enhancement and stress reduction. Laughter can break the spell of the fixed, counterproductive, self-condemning thinking that is so pervasive and so devastating to us after we’ve been traumatized. It can free us from the feelings of victimization that may shadow our lives and blind us to each moment’s pleasures and the future’s possibilities.
The wisdom traditions of the East extend laughter’s lessons. Zen Buddhism surprises us with thunderclaps of laughter to wake us from mental habits that have brought unnecessary, self-inflicted suffering. Sufi stories do the same job but more slyly. Over the years, I watched as my acupuncture and meditation teacher Shyam, himself a consummate joker, punctured the self-protectiveness, pomposities, and posturing that kept his patients and students—including, of course, me—from being at ease and natural, joyous in each moment of our lives. The stories he told from India, China, and the Middle East brought the point home: seriousness is a disease. Sorrow is real and to be honored, but obsessively dwelling on losses and pain only adds to our sickness. Laughter at ourselves and all our circumstances is our healing birthright.
A story I first heard from Shyam about the Three Laughing Monks is apropos. It is said that long ago, there were three monks who walked the length and breadth of China, laughing great, belly-shaking laughs as they went. They brought joy to each village they visited, laughing as they entered, laughing for the hours or days they stayed, and laughing as they left. No words. And it’s said that after a while everyone in the villages—the poorest and most put-upon and also the most privileged and pompous—got the message. They, too, lost their pained seriousness, laughed with the monks, and found relief and joy.
One day, after many years, one of the monks died. The two remaining monks continued to laugh. This time when villagers asked why, they responded, “We are laughing because we have always wondered who would die first, and he did and therefore he won. We’re laughing at his victory and our defeat, and with memories of all the good times we have had together.” Still, the villagers were sad for their loss.
Then came the funeral. The dead monk had asked that he not be bathed, as was customary, or have his clothes changed. He had told his brother monks that he was never unclean, because laughter had kept all impurities from him. They respected his wishes, put his still-clothed, unwashed body on a pile of wood, and lit it.
As the flames rose, there were sudden loud, banging noises. The living monks realized that their brother, knowing he was going to die, had hidden fireworks in his clothes. They laughed and laughed and laughed. “You have defeated us a second time and made a joke even of death.” Now they laughed even louder. And it is said that the whole village began to laugh with them.
This is the laughter that shakes off all concerns, all worries, all holding on to anything that troubles our mind or heart, anything that keeps us from fully living in the present moment.
Researchers and clinicians may lack the total commitment to laughter of the three monks, but they are beginning to explore and make use of its power. Working together in various institutions, they’ve developed a variety of therapeutic protocols that may include interactions with clowns and instruction in performing stand-up comedy.
“Laughter yoga,” which has most often been studied, combines inspirational talks, hand clapping, arm swinging, chanting “ho, ho” and “ha, ha,” deep breathing, and brief periods of intentional laughter; it often concludes with positive statements about happiness.
I agree that funny movies and jokes and games of all kinds can be useful tools to pry us loose from crippling seriousness. Still, I prefer to begin with a simple, direct approach: three to five minutes of straight-out,straight-ahead, intentional belly laughter. It’s very easy to learn and easy to practice. I’ll teach it to you.
I do it with patients individually or in groups, when the atmosphere is thick with smothering self-importance or self-defeating, progress-impeding self-pity. It’s not a panacea, a cure-all. But, again and again, I’ve seen it get energetic juices flowing, rebalance agitation-driven minds, melt trauma-frozen bodies, dispel clouds of doubt and doom, and let in the light of Hope. This laughter needs to begin with effort. It must force its way through forests of self-consciousness and self-pity, crack physical and emotional walls erected by remembered hurt and present pain.
Once you decide to do it, the process is simple. You stand with your knees slightly bent, arms loose, and begin, forcing the laughter up from your belly, feeling it contract, pushing out the sounds—barks, chuckles, giggles. You keep going, summoning the will and energy to churn sound up and out. Start with three or four minutes and increase when you feel more is needed.
You can laugh anytime you feel yourself tightening up with tension, pumping yourself up with self-importance, or freezing with fear. And the more intense those feelings are, the more shut-down and self-righteous, the more pained and lost and hopeless you are, the more important laughter is. Then laughter may even be lifesaving. After a few minutes of forced laughter, effort may dissolve, and the laughter itself may take charge. Now each unwilled, involuntary, body-shaking, belly-aching jolt provokes the next in a waterfall of laughter.
Laughter can be contagious. Other people will want to laugh with you.
And after laughing, as you become relaxed and less serious, you may find that people relate to you differently. Sensing the change in you, they may greet you or smile at you on the street. And you may find that you’re happy to see them and that you enjoy the warmth of this new connection.
Don’t take my word for any of this. Do the experiment with daily laughter and see.
James S. Gordon, MD, a psychiatrist, is the author of The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma from which this article is excerpted.
About the Author:
Dr. James Gordon is the author of The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma (HarperOne; September 2019). He is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C. Dr. Gordon is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist, former researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health and, Chair of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy, and a clinical professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at Georgetown Medical School. He authored or edited ten previous books, including Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-stage Journey Out of Depression. He has written often for numerous popular publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and The Guardian, as well as in professional journals. He has served as an expert for such outlets as 60 Minutes, the Today show, Good Morning America, CBS Sunday Morning, Nightline, CNN, MSNBC, NPR and many others. For more information, please visit https://jamesgordonmd.com and follow the author on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Like Swans of Fifth Avenue and Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers, Richard Kirshenbaum’s Rouge gives readers a rare front row seat into the world of high society and business through the rivalry of two beauty industry icons (think Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden), by the master marketer and chronicler of the over-moneyed.
Rouge is a sexy, glamorous journey into the rivalry of the pioneers of powder, mascara and rouge.
This fast-paced novel examines the lives, loves, and sacrifices of the visionaries who invented the modern cosmetics industry: Josiah Herzenstein, born in a Polish Jewish Shtlel, the entrepreneur who transforms herself into a global style icon and the richest woman in the world, Josephine Herz; Constance Gardiner, her rival, the ultimate society woman who invents the door-to-door business and its female workforce but whose deepest secret threatens everything; CeeCee Lopez, the bi-racial beauty and founder of the first African American woman’s hair relaxer business, who overcomes prejudice and heartbreak to become her community’s first female millionaire. The cast of characters is rounded out by Mickey Heron, a dashing, sexy ladies’ man whose cosmetics business is founded in a Hollywood brothel. All are bound in a struggle to be number one, doing anything to get there…including murder.
From Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry. Copyright © 2019 by Richard Kirshenbaum and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Press.
New York City, 1933
A Technicolor sky hung over the city even though it was only early May. At times, even New York City seemed to have caught the bug. The pear trees that bloomed like white fireworks every April may as well have sprouted palm trees. Everyone, it seemed, had just stepped out of a Garbo movie, and Josephine Herz (née Josiah Herzenstein) would be damned if she would not capitalize on this craze.
A young, well-kept woman was the first to grace her newly opened, eponymous salon on Fifth Avenue. With bleached-blond “marcelled” hair, a substantial bust, and a mouth that looked as though it had been carved from a pound of chopped meat, her new client had all the ammunition to entrap any man in the city, to keep him on the dole, and her cosmetic hygienist, in this case Herz Beauty, on the payroll. She lowered herself onto the padded leather salon chair like a descending butterfly and batted her eyes as though they too might flutter from her face.
“I want thickah,” she whined. She said this in a Brooklyn accent that would have killed her chances had she been an actress transitioning from silent to talkies.
Josephine nodded and reached into her arsenal, procuring the favored Herz moisturizer for a dewy complexion. She removed and unscrewed the glass jar, leaned over her client, and began to apply it to her cheekbones in soft, round swirls.
“No!” The client swatted her hand away as though to scold and dispose of a landed bug. “Not my skin,” she said. “My lashes.”
“Oh.” Josephine withdrew her hand and held it, poised high above her client’s face, as though hovering a spoon over a boiling pot.
“I want thicker lashes,” said the blonde. “Like Gloria.”
“Gloria?” Josephine was perplexed.
“Swanson!” the client said, shaking her head, miffed that she was not understood.
“I see.” Josephine replaced the glass jar in her holster bag and procured a separate, zippered case. “For the thick-eyelash look, you have two options: tinting or application.” She removed both a small black cake and a moistened brush to apply the pigment and a plastic box of spidery lashes and displayed them as though they were a cache of jewels. The tube of adhesive gum came next.
The blonde’s eyes widened. She shook her head and sat bolt upright on her chair. A convalescent, revived from the dead. “Ya don’t mean you want to glue them on?”
Josephine took a long, deep breath. “How else do you think women get them?” she said. “If there were a drink ve could drink to grow them, I assure you I’d let you know,” she said in her Polish-tinged English.
“I just assumed…,” said the blonde. Miffed, she reached into her pocketbook and produced a magazine clipping from a crumpled stash. She unfurled a luminous, if wrinkled, image of Gloria Swanson, the Hollywood glamour girl, from the latest issue of Motion Picture. All lips, pouting like a put-out princess. She had the brow of an Egyptian goddess, the same distinctive beauty mark, and the eyelashes of a jungle cat. “Like that,” she said, pointing at her eyes. “I want to look like that for a party tonight.”
Josephine’s perfectly lacquered blood-red nails grazed the wrinkled page. She studied Gloria’s fabulous face, the brow, the lash, the pout.
“Application,” Josephine said, returning the image.
“Geez,” said the client. “You’d think by now you people would come up with something better than that.”
It was her duty, Josephine had come to feel, to tolerate stings and slights like this. But a new thought occurred to her as she prepped the lashes for application, as she meticulously heated and applied the adhesive gum. Her client was right. She often worked the floor to do just that: to listen to her patrons, her clients. And now that she was in New York, she knew enough never to be too far away from what real American women wanted. And so she took in the woman’s request with deep reverence, as she knew nothing was more important to her future sales than her clients’ needs. Blanche or Betty—or whatever the tacky blonde’s name was—was right. It was high time someone came up with something better. Josephine was certainly up to this task. The only problem was that across town, a woman named Constance Gardiner was doing the very same thing.
* * *
Josephine Herz was not, of course, the first to invent mascara. But she would be the first to invent one devoid of mess and fuss and to make it available to the masses. As early as ancient Egypt, women found their facial fix. Considered to be a necessary accoutrement in every woman’s and man’s daily regime, kohl, a combination of galena, lead sulfide, or copper and wax, was applied to the eyes, the eyebrows and lashes, to ward off evil spirits and to protect from sun damage. Most any image of Egyptian gods or goddesses will reveal hieroglyphs, not only on pyramid walls but on the Egyptians’ faces. The bold, black lines on the female face lost fashion over the centuries, especially in more recent times when Victorian ladies eschewed color of all kind on the face. But it was not long before women craved—and chemists created—a new brand of adornment for the eye. Coal, honey, beeswax—all the traditional ingredients had to be tested and tried. Josephine could smell a market maker from a mile away, and in this, she sensed a new moment for the eye. From Los Angeles to Larchmont, women were craving new ways to look like the stars of the silver screen, new ways to dress, look, and behave in a modern woman’s ever-changing role. These women needed a product that would make them look and feel like Garbo or Swanson, something simpler, cleaner, and quicker than the application of false eyelashes every six to eight weeks. These women needed a product that was cheap, fuss-free, and less mess than the old option made from charcoal, which, in the very worst cases, caused blindness.
Copyright © 2019 by Richard Kirshenbaum
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
RICHARD KIRSHENBAUM is the author of Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry (St. Martin’s Press). He is CEO of NSG/SWAT, a high-profile boutique branding agency. He has lectured at Harvard Business School, appeared on 20/20, was named to Crain’s New York Business’s “40 under 40” list, and has been inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame. He is the author of Under the Radar, Closing the Deal, Madboy, and Isn’t That Rich? and the New York Observer’s “Isn’t That Rich?” column. He lives in New York City with his wife and three children.