Haven Hold: Behind the Book & Free Preview

I began writing Haven Hold about thirty years ago, at a time when my husband was laid off from the lumber industry. I thought if I could write a story worthy of publishing, maybe I could supplement our income. Loosely based on my favorite fairytail, Beauty and the Beast, I wrote the first draft of Haven Hold over a span of about six months. Since I had no computer in those days, I hand wrote it all in pencil on loose-leaf paper. I also had no idea how many words it took to create a novel length story, so I just kept writing until I reached a conclusion – over 1000 pages! Then I bought my first computer. It had a memory of 64 kb and I had to start it with a boot disc. It was basically just a word processor and calculator with no other functions.

Since that time, I have gone through numerous computers and Haven Hold has gone through many drafts, some of which ended up in the garbage. Even when I had the story finished and polished, I had no idea how to go about getting it published. I tried sending a hard copy to one publisher who accepted unsolicited manuscripts, but it got rejected, I suspect because of the length. I had so enjoyed writing it though, and it ended with great potential for a sequel, so I continued writing for years afterwards, one story after another, until I had a closet full of manuscripts. I spent one whole winter typing them all into my computer. I guess you could call me a ‘closet writer’.

Then I met Colton Nelson, publisher for RCN media. He liked my latest manuscript, a literary speculation dealing with myth and human evolution, but Colton felt more interested in my Haven Hold series, which by then had grown into five novels and a set of seven short stories. Because the original Haven Hold was so long, he suggested splitting it into a trilogy, an idea that worked very well, since the original manuscript had four parts to begin with. So now, the original story has become three stories: Haven Hold, The Grace of Swans and Dreamweaver.

The time period: roughly 600 years after Armageddon.

The background history: Haven Hold takes place centuries after a genetically manipulated Armageddon has devastated the human population and generated horrific mutations. During the years following the collapse of civilization, a religious cult of Armageddonist’s arose who believed mutants were punishment for man’s sins, ‘spawn of the devil’. They killed all mutants at birth, determined to preserve the purity of the human race. Those mutants who managed somehow to survive the post-Armageddon chaos sought refuge in the mountains and the southern swamps, the remotest places. But any marginalized group of people become vulnerable to exploitation, and soon a slave based economy developed, spreading the Armageddonist beliefs in order to justify their persecution of mutants. During this time of violence and turmoil, five friends and their kin packed up their belongings and retreated to an isolated northern valley and built a fortified hold, determined to love and protect their children, whether or not they were born mutants. They called their home Haven Hold.

Main characters of Haven Hold:

Daniel is an ‘enhanced’ mutant whose mutation gives him acute hearing and night vision, distinct survival advantages. But it also marks him, for his eyes look like animal eyes and it’s not a difference he can easily hide in a world where every normal he meets wants to kill or enslave him. Despite years of betrayal and rejection, Daniel remains a man of integrity, determined to adhere to the principles taught him in childhood by his Kithtrekker mother.

Hutch – Having grown up in the close-knit community of Haven Hold, Hutch is a strong, steady, dependable sort with a penchant for collecting strays. He becomes Daniel’s first true friend.

Jesse – Hutch’s partner, a teenager he is training in survival skills. When Daniel rescues Jesse and his sister Neely from a monstrous mutant, he wins their gratitude and admiration. Initially suspicious of the mutant, Jesse comes to hero-worship Daniel.

Neely – Jesse’s sister. Daniel’s courageous rescue and kindness afterwards win Neely’s sympathy and admiration, but her chances of ever seeing him again seem slim, until one day slavers drag him to Haven Hold in chains.

Darius Dreamweaver – a mind mutant, Darius is blessed with unusual mental abilities, but he is also cursed with an uncontrollable psychic defense that projects a repellant sense of menacing evil, making everyone he meets fear and hate him. Abandoned as a toddler by his family and raised by wolves, he has difficulty communicating verbally and would never have learned to talk at all if not for his telepathic abilities.

Alanna – a mutant girl from Oringa’s Village, a peaceful community on the high plateau above Haven Hold Valley. Abused by the slavers who captured her along with Daniel, Darius and two of her fellow villagers, Nyle and Dickon, Alanna later finds herself pregnant. Through her ordeal with the slavers, the Dreamweaver helped and comforted her and she loves him dearly without ever knowing his true identity, only his mind touch. Though Darius loves her, he refuses to reveal himself, doubting she could ever accept his repulsive outer self.

And now, an exclusive preview of Haven Hold out August 25, 2020

Chapter One

There's a fighter inside who will never give up;

We are what we are and it's never enough;

Write the words in the sand

That this man will come again.

You may run from the sea and the words disappear,

Oh, you may fall to your knees,

But the power is here to survive,

It's shining again -- the spirit of man!

It's shining again!

-Chris DeBurgh

The lone traveler drew his cloak tighter as wind whipped a gust of rain along the open track. Spruce forest loomed on either side, lashing and ominous. Twilight spread beneath the brush of storm clouds to wash the world with a dull stain. Gradually the layers of night built to a density so opaque the traveler could no longer see. But he dared not stop. This late in the year, at this elevation, rain could easily turn to snow and trap him in the pass. He felt sure his destination could not lie more than a few miles further. He strained his eyes for a glimpse of lamplit windows. Normally the dark generated no fear in him, nor did he usually fall prey to imaginings, but this storm seemed consciously malevolent. Needles of wind driven rain penetrated his cloak and soaked him to the skin.

Lightning strobed the night, etching the world in purest black and white. In that brief flash he realized he had wandered off the trail. Thunder growled, so deep he felt the vibration in his diaphragm. He looked back and an amputated tree limb slapped him wetly across the face. He turned forward again, lashed onward by the storm. For hours he stumbled over roots and tripped over deadfalls until, covered with dirt and rotting leaves, he felt bruised and chilled to the bone. At last he caught a distant glimmer of firelight, beckoning invitingly through the trees. He hurried toward it thankfully, anticipating the hospitality of the hold, the warmth of a dry bed, a meal and companionship.

A branch cracked loudly under his foot, and abruptly something tightened around his ankle and snatched his feet from under him, hoisting him into the air. He screamed, more from startlement than pain or fear. Swinging in the upside-down, chaotic darkness, he struggled like a drowning man, not sure which way was up. His pack slid off and landed with a thud. He could only hope nothing had broken, but at least it helped to orient him. He had triggered a snare, he realized, one intended for much larger game than rabbits. His belt knife sliced through the braided rawhide and he dropped heavily, sprawled half atop his pack, adding a few new bruises to his collection.

As he climbed to his feet, lightning briefly illuminated the night, imprinting on his retinas the image of a tall, menacing figure with drawn bow, arrow aimed straight for his heart. He dropped the pack and knife and cried, "Peace! I mean no harm!"

"Who are you?" Those quiet words seemed to float disembodied on the wind, coming from no fixed direction.

"Name's Kurdy. I'm a trader."

A long, tense moment passed, during which Kurdy wondered how many surrounded him. This was definitely not a standard holder reception. Mutants lived in these mountains too, many with good reason to hate normals like himself. The life of a solitary trader presented many hazards, and Kurdy knew of several who had died gruesomely at the hands of mutant raiders. His heart felt like a wild animal trying to pound its way out of the cage of his ribs. He clenched his jaw to keep his teeth from clattering.

"I got lost in the storm. Headed for Macy's Hold. I would really appreciate a hot meal and a dry corner to sleep in."

The night thrummed silently with unspoken distrust like a subsonic vibration. Hospitality seemed an increasingly unlikely possibility, and Kurdy began to think he might feel lucky to escape with his life and his goods intact. Fingers abruptly clamped onto his shoulder from behind.


"My pack," Kurdy protested.

"I have it."

This seemed not a good thing, but Kurdy moved without resistance as the hand and an occasional terse word directed him through the trees in a circuitous route that apparently avoided more traps. Dim firelight flickered behind hide covered windows as they approached a roughhewn log cabin. His captor reached past him to open the door. Kurdy stumbled in and went to his knees in front of the fire, holding chilled fingers toward the warmth gratefully. A half empty pot of stew sat on the hearth and the smell made Kurdy's mouth water and his stomach cramp with hunger. His pack landed beside him with a thump that made him wince. His host stepped back into the shadows before Kurdy could get more than a brief impression of broad shoulders, a hard young face, high cheekbones and a mane of dark hair.

"Help yourself to food. It should still be warm."

"Thanks." Kurdy wasted no time accepting the invitation, and soon scraped the last mouthful from the bottom of the pot. With a sigh of repletion, he sat back a little and let a belch roll out of him.

"I sincerely appreciate your hospitality," he said, "May I know the name of my host?"


"Ah...a good Armageddonist name.” The Armageddonist cult had started a thousand generations earlier out of a grim determination to annihilate all mutants in order to preserve the purity of the human race. “Are you an Armageddonist?"

"No." The flatness of the reply left no room for further inquiry.

"Are your friends not coming in out of the storm? It's not a fit night to wander."

A quick glance around had already informed Kurdy that the cabin only housed one, but he still felt unconvinced that Daniel had remained alone out there. Crouched in a shadowed corner near the door, his host turned to study him. A chill shivered down Kurdy's spine as the firelight caught in Daniel's eyes, reflecting a flat, cold light like the eyes of a wolf just beyond the campfire. Mutant!

"My friends prefer the storm to company," Daniel replied with a certain wry amusement.

The mutant rose from his crouch in a smooth, graceful movement. "Bed down wherever you wish," he said, then stepped outside and closed the door behind him.

Kurdy slept lightly, rolled in a blanket before the fire, but Daniel never returned. The storm blew itself out some time after midnight, and morning dawned clear and crisp. Kurdy made a trip to the nearby creek to wash up and relieve himself, then returned to the cabin. With sunlight shafting in through the open door and washing the interior with a warm glow, he had enough light to do a quick inventory of the mutant's belongings. Most looked crudely functional, obviously made by Daniel himself, with some skill but no embellishment. In one corner Kurdy found a stack of hides and furs, beautifully tanned to soft suppleness. He held up a luxuriant snowcat pelt admiringly when a shadow suddenly darkened the doorway. Daniel entered and stood staring at Kurdy, his eyes strangely animal-like. By daylight he looked both more and less intimidating . . . more because the muscular strength of his body became clearly apparent . . . less because his tense, guarded expression hinted at hidden vulnerability.

"What are you doing?"

"Sorry," Kurdy apologized quickly, replacing the furs. "I'm a trader. I just wanted to assess what you might have worth bartering for. You have some lovely pelts here."

Daniel studied him narrowly. "You would trade with a mutant?"

"I'll trade with any honest man who has something to offer."

Daniel appeared to consider the idea. "I doubt you have anything I need."

"Perhaps not," Kurdy smiled, "but I may have something you will want."

He opened his pack and began laying out his wares for inspection...ribbons, lace, sewing needles, knives, axe heads, fish hooks, combs and cutlery, mirrors...one cracked after last night's misadventures...soap, candles, jewelry, several lengths of fine fabric, thread in a variety of colors, a handful of pre-Armageddon artifacts whose purpose remained a mystery, a pair of small handguns but no ammunition, a belt made of seashells, three small stone carvings of animals, several lengths of rope and a single mouth harp, obviously well used by someone.

The mutant studied the array with little enthusiasm. He picked up an iron axe head and felt its edge, then put it back, fingered the jewelry curiously, sniffed the soap and played a run of notes on the mouth harp.

"Have I nothing you want?" Kurdy asked, disappointed. He had picked out five of the best furs and set them aside hopefully.

Daniel hesitated, studying him with a frown. "Your cloak." A tightly woven garment of thick, warm wool dyed a dull grey-brown, it had comforted Kurdy through numerous adventures. "The sun is warm and the hold lies only a day’s walk away. I'm sure you could trade for another there."

"Alright," Kurdy nodded, eyeing the coveted furs. "But since this cloak is the only thing between me and the weather, I'll have to make you pay dearly. I'll want these five pelts in exchange." "Fine," the mutant shrugged indifferently.

Kurdy almost chortled aloud at the ease of it. He could buy a dozen cloaks for the value those furs would bring. He repacked his wares and at the last minute offered Daniel an iron axe-head in exchange for a hide in which to bundle the furs.

Daniel guided Kurdy back to the trail and gave him directions to the hold. Kurdy thanked him again for the food and shelter. As he started off again, the mutant called after him, "The holders don't know I live up here. I prefer that it stays that way." Kurdy waved in acknowledgement and trudged on, plans to return already forming.

* * * * *

The mountain reverberated with the thunder of hoofbeats as two dozen armed and mounted holders cantered up the rocky trail. Like an avenging army they swept into the clearing and swirled around the cabin in confusion, searching for enemies to shoot. One young holder leaped off his horse and ran to the door. Without even trying the latch, he kicked the door in while a companion covered the opening with a rifle. But no mutants leaped out or cowered within. The young man quickly ransacked the single room.

"There ain't no plunder here. Just a pile of furs he probably trapped himself." The holder gave Kurdy a suspicious glare. "What makes you so sure he's a raider?"

"Shut up, Gilly," one of the older men snapped. "Who gives a shit if he's a raider. The only good mutant is a dead one."

"He implied he had friends," said Kurdy, "but he obviously lives here alone. There may be a raider village nearby."

The holders rifled through Daniel's possessions greedily, confiscating anything of use or interest. Then they set fire to what remained. Sparks and smoke swirled skyward, filling the crisp mountain air with the acrid scent of destruction. A crow flew down to land in a tree at the edge of the clearing. It scolded them with a fury and agitation that seemed unnatural. Flames bit hungrily into the peeled logs and the holders shouted and laughed triumphantly as they sorted through the pile of belongings they had looted. Flames swept over the porch now, and suddenly a half-grown fox cub darted from beneath it, more terrified of the approaching fire than of the men who had set it. With a shout, Kurdy drew his handgun and aimed carefully at the small, rusty blur, then fired. The young fox sprawled, yelping in agony at it rolled on the ground and tried to drag itself to the safety of the trees. Kurdy stalked over to the terrified little creature and stood over it, grinning as he pulled the trigger. The fox cub jerked and then lay still.

"You didn't needa do that," Gilly scowled.

"Don't you get it?" Kurdy laughed. He whirled to aim at the frantic crow. "These are his 'friends'! Varmints, just like him." His shot clipped the branch and the crow retreated in a flurry of feathers, disappearing into the forest. Kurdy swore. "Damned mutant is half animal himself with those eyes. He's a handsome devil though. Bring a mighty nice price on the slave market. Any of you ground holders wanta help me hunt him down?"

"Nah, we got work waitin' back home. We just didn't want no raiders squattin' in our back yard. Reckon this will send a clear enough message. You can take Faris if he's willin’. He's our best tracker.

Faris nodded his agreement, and his brother Gilly unexpectedly volunteered as well, eyeing Kurdy with thoughtful suspicion.

* * * * *

From the concealing shadows amongst the trees, a pair of wild mutant eyes watched the holders pack up their plunder and depart, leaving two of their number with Kurdy, setting up camp in the clearing. This was not the first time Daniel had experienced betrayal, nor the first time he had been hunted and driven from his home. His life to this point consisted of years of social isolation and then one betrayal after another. He had known about the hold in the valley below, but the normal people, or ‘norps’ as most mutants called them, rarely ventured into these mountains, and Daniel had stayed well away from their territory. In the two years since he retreated to this remote mountain sanctuary, Kurdy was his first human contact, and the result once more confirmed past experience. Daniel's heart felt like a stone in his chest, solid and leaden -- except a stone could not hurt so much. He had loved that little fox.

To Daniel caution meant survival. He had long ago explored possible escape routes in case of attack, and he had prepared traps along those routes, most of which he could quickly set in passing. He emptied his emergency cache and headed deeper into the wilderness, travelling west and north through the roughest, rockiest terrain he could find. An expert at misdirection, he seldom left much sign, but a light snowfall on the second day of pursuit made hiding his passage virtually impossible. They pressed him hard for days, allowing him little time to rest. The tangled set of false trails he left should have confused any except the most expert of trackers, and the pitfalls he set, though not deadly, should have discouraged even the most determined slavers. Yet still they came on.

The seventh day of pursuit dawned grey and dismal, threatening more snow. With every instinct and sign indicating the hunters still followed, Daniel resorted to more dangerous and drastic measures. Across the face of a sweeping incline of rocky alpine meadow, he left an artfully hidden trail that hopefully would draw his pursuers into the final trap without arousing suspicion. When he reached the safe concealment of the trees once more, he paused to cut a stout walking stick, then climbed to the ridge above the meadow, where he could overlook the trail. There he crouched behind a jumble of loose boulders, waiting patiently, the prey become the hunter.

The shrouded sun reached its zenith and started to slip lower again before the hunters finally appeared, moving slowly out of the trees and across the slope of the meadow. The snares and pitfalls they had encountered over the past days had taught them caution and a profound respect for the ingenuity of the man they followed. Daniel watched narrowly as they traversed the slope below him, noting with satisfaction that Kurdy moved with a painful limp. The trader must have fallen afoul of one of the spring snares or trip lines that guarded Daniel's backtrail.

Directly below the mutant's vantage point lay a shallow cave, and Daniel waited tensely until his trail led the hunters to its mouth, where his tracks abruptly disappeared entirely. He listened as they argued, the holders wanting to give up and turn back and Kurdy stubbornly trying to convince them that the rewards would be worth the trouble once they captured the mutant.

-Shelley Penner

May 23, 2020

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