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Cover


 

 

FOUR KINGS

 

- a novel - 

 

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Cover


 

 

FOUR KINGS

 

- a novel - 

 

BUY

 


A NOIR MURDER MYSTERY.

AN ASYLUM STORY.

A DARK FAIRY TALE....

 

New Orleans, 1945. After a terrible hurricane devastates the city, fourteen-year-old Anaïs Reynard wakes up in an asylum with a case of amnesia. Dr. Waters, the hospital's prestigious director, vows to help Anaïs recover her memories -- this is of the utmost importance, he tells her, because Anaïs is the sole witness to a terrible crime. On the night of the hurricane, her stepfather and only living guardian was shot. A young black man has been arrested, and Anaïs finds herself under pressure from the district attorney to testify. Anaïs wants to help, but a strange feeling nags at her. She isn't entirely sure the man on trial is guilty, and she doesn't know whom she can trust. 


Then, one night, she receives an eerie, surreal visit from a dapper man with the head of a fox who entrusts her with an ornate key that unlocks a secret door to the land of the Four Kings. Like Alice before her, Anaïs follows this curiously genteel animal down the rabbit hole to discover a magical yet fraught world of not-quite-human creatures. As Anaïs navigates the political minefields of each king's court -- Raven, Lion, Snake, and Unicorn -- her bravery and resolve are tested. 


With each shocking twist and turn, and as fantasy and reality blur, Anaïs begins to unlock the riddle of her own memories, a trail that leads from Nazi-occupied Europe and her mother all the way to post-war New Orleans, and the very night her stepfather was shot.  
 

 
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Asylum


Asylum


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AsylumBlack


Before I even open my eyes, the first thing I notice is the scent in the air: iodine, dusty radiator, and sheets that have been slightly singed by an iron. Slowly, I take in the room around me. It is a small, thoroughly unfamiliar room. The walls are a dull green color. Where am I? The window, I think: The window should offer a clue. But the two windows — both of them on one wall only — are not very large and both are too high up to see out of properly, especially not from my bed. They give a cold, blue, weary light. With a sense of bewilderment I notice there are wire cages over the windows, bits of rust beginning to bleed through the white paint like orange lace. My gaze falls to the floor; they fasten on the vivid red-and-black checkerboard pattern of the linoleum. I see a figure standing in the far corner of the room and flinch. It is a woman in a starched white uniform, her pale hands folding what look like bandages.

“Is this a hospital?” I ask. “Am I ill?” 

AsylumBlack


Before I even open my eyes, the first thing I notice is the scent in the air: iodine, dusty radiator, and sheets that have been slightly singed by an iron. Slowly, I take in the room around me. It is a small, thoroughly unfamiliar room. The walls are a dull green color. Where am I? The window, I think: The window should offer a clue. But the two windows — both of them on one wall only — are not very large and both are too high up to see out of properly, especially not from my bed. They give a cold, blue, weary light. With a sense of bewilderment I notice there are wire cages over the windows, bits of rust beginning to bleed through the white paint like orange lace. My gaze falls to the floor; they fasten on the vivid red-and-black checkerboard pattern of the linoleum. I see a figure standing in the far corner of the room and flinch. It is a woman in a starched white uniform, her pale hands folding what look like bandages.

“Is this a hospital?” I ask. “Am I ill?” 

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Photo Album


Photo Album


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PhotoAlbumBlack


First there’s a chill, and I feel the hairs on my neck rise. I open my eyes and see a figure standing over me. For several seconds, I remain convinced I am still asleep and dreaming, for what I see before me is not humanly possible. It is a man, dressed in a blue velvet waistcoat and impeccably tailored suit, a silk ascot around his neck and leather elbow-patches on his jacket. He is tall, slender, and dapper in every way.

He also has the head of a fox.

Unlike the reflection I thought I saw in the window, this creature is standing before me — correction: standing over me — in the flesh. I gasp, too shocked to move. The fox-man does not appear perturbed by my obvious distress. He leans even further over my pillow, his yellow-fox eyes scrutinizing me as though taking stock of every detail of my face, his fox-nose sniffing and his whiskers twitching at regular beats throughout this inspection. His glossy fur shines intensely orange in the red lamplight. Frightened, I look to his hands: I see he has human hands and is wearing gray leather gloves. He smells of saddle leather and of cologne; as he leans closer, my nostrils fill with the scent. Frantically, I cast a glance around at the other beds. Is anyone else awake? Can anyone else see what I am seeing? 

PhotoAlbumBlack


First there’s a chill, and I feel the hairs on my neck rise. I open my eyes and see a figure standing over me. For several seconds, I remain convinced I am still asleep and dreaming, for what I see before me is not humanly possible. It is a man, dressed in a blue velvet waistcoat and impeccably tailored suit, a silk ascot around his neck and leather elbow-patches on his jacket. He is tall, slender, and dapper in every way.

He also has the head of a fox.

Unlike the reflection I thought I saw in the window, this creature is standing before me — correction: standing over me — in the flesh. I gasp, too shocked to move. The fox-man does not appear perturbed by my obvious distress. He leans even further over my pillow, his yellow-fox eyes scrutinizing me as though taking stock of every detail of my face, his fox-nose sniffing and his whiskers twitching at regular beats throughout this inspection. His glossy fur shines intensely orange in the red lamplight. Frightened, I look to his hands: I see he has human hands and is wearing gray leather gloves. He smells of saddle leather and of cologne; as he leans closer, my nostrils fill with the scent. Frantically, I cast a glance around at the other beds. Is anyone else awake? Can anyone else see what I am seeing? 

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Forest


Forest


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ForestBlack


He dashes off into the woods and before I know it, I follow suit, chasing after him yet again, this time with my bare feet padding over knobby tree roots, dry leaves, and pine needles. I run, crashing through the forest trees, whipping through branches, the underbrush scratching at my arms and face. Every time the fox disappears out of sight, I redouble my efforts. We reach a small wooded canyon, and the fox-man descends into it much faster than I am able. With one final flourish, he crosses a stream, and dips into a giant hollow log, and the flash of his white-tipped orange tail is gone.

Once out the other side of this makeshift tunnel, I find myself surrounded by the ghostly white trunks of a million birch trees. I try to guess where he might have gone. I stagger around for a few minutes, unsure of which direction to go. Dry leaves crunch under my bare feet. As I wander, the hilly terrain peters out, eventually giving way to a clearing. Something in the middle of the clearing catches my eye: A brilliant, flickering, orange light — is that a bonfire? I sniff the air and pick up the spicy scent of wood-smoke. A bonfire would mean people, but I also have no idea where I am. This isn’t the kind of woods I imagined might surround the asylum. The woods of Louisiana are filled with swampland; the flora and fauna around me now are entirely at odds with what one might expect. This is no longer a matter of a few pines; I am presently in a forest that I’m almost completely certain cannot exist near New Orleans, or even within a three hundred mile radius of that great city. 

ForestBlack


He dashes off into the woods and before I know it, I follow suit, chasing after him yet again, this time with my bare feet padding over knobby tree roots, dry leaves, and pine needles. I run, crashing through the forest trees, whipping through branches, the underbrush scratching at my arms and face. Every time the fox disappears out of sight, I redouble my efforts. We reach a small wooded canyon, and the fox-man descends into it much faster than I am able. With one final flourish, he crosses a stream, and dips into a giant hollow log, and the flash of his white-tipped orange tail is gone.

Once out the other side of this makeshift tunnel, I find myself surrounded by the ghostly white trunks of a million birch trees. I try to guess where he might have gone. I stagger around for a few minutes, unsure of which direction to go. Dry leaves crunch under my bare feet. As I wander, the hilly terrain peters out, eventually giving way to a clearing. Something in the middle of the clearing catches my eye: A brilliant, flickering, orange light — is that a bonfire? I sniff the air and pick up the spicy scent of wood-smoke. A bonfire would mean people, but I also have no idea where I am. This isn’t the kind of woods I imagined might surround the asylum. The woods of Louisiana are filled with swampland; the flora and fauna around me now are entirely at odds with what one might expect. This is no longer a matter of a few pines; I am presently in a forest that I’m almost completely certain cannot exist near New Orleans, or even within a three hundred mile radius of that great city. 

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PhotoAlbum2


PhotoAlbum2


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TabletopBlack


“'Where are you?' What sort of question is that?” Mr. Croft says, tsking and shaking his head at me. His round bird eye glares at me through his monocle with an unsettlingly dull, prehistoric air. His face is covered in feathers, his long orange-yellow beak moves side-to-side, catching the bonfire’s light like a knife as he shakes his head.

“At present, you are in the Glade of Commoners, not far from Harpy’s Cross, the centermost point in the Four Kingdoms.”

“The Four Kingdoms?”

“Yes,” says Mr. Fletcher, bending to pick up a tall stick. He draws a makeshift map in the dirt. “The Land of the Four Kings is an isle of reasonable size, and the Four Kingdoms in question are spread out thusly. They are more or less aligned with the four cardinal directions: North, South, East, West. The Glade of Commoners is the neutral territory at the center here.” He points with the stick. “The north is ruled by the Court of the Unicorn, the south is ruled by the Court of the Snake, the east is ruled by the Court of the Raven, and the west is ruled by the Court of the Lion. The kings of these four courts aren’t exactly friendly with one another; more often than not they are locked in fierce competition, and the alliance they have struck is an uneasy one at best, but so far it has brought peace back to our land.” 

TabletopBlack


“'Where are you?' What sort of question is that?” Mr. Croft says, tsking and shaking his head at me. His round bird eye glares at me through his monocle with an unsettlingly dull, prehistoric air. His face is covered in feathers, his long orange-yellow beak moves side-to-side, catching the bonfire’s light like a knife as he shakes his head.

“At present, you are in the Glade of Commoners, not far from Harpy’s Cross, the centermost point in the Four Kingdoms.”

“The Four Kingdoms?”

“Yes,” says Mr. Fletcher, bending to pick up a tall stick. He draws a makeshift map in the dirt. “The Land of the Four Kings is an isle of reasonable size, and the Four Kingdoms in question are spread out thusly. They are more or less aligned with the four cardinal directions: North, South, East, West. The Glade of Commoners is the neutral territory at the center here.” He points with the stick. “The north is ruled by the Court of the Unicorn, the south is ruled by the Court of the Snake, the east is ruled by the Court of the Raven, and the west is ruled by the Court of the Lion. The kings of these four courts aren’t exactly friendly with one another; more often than not they are locked in fierce competition, and the alliance they have struck is an uneasy one at best, but so far it has brought peace back to our land.” 

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Tabletop


Tabletop


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End


My brain flits involuntarily to random impressions of my stepfather… my stepfather, the man who saved me, protected me, generously provided for my passage to America, and became my guardian here in New Orleans. “I’m going to speak to you very plainly, Anaïs,” Dr. Waters says. He clears his throat. His brow becomes a map of heavy furrows.

“Your stepfather was shot,” Dr. Waters finally says in a curt, matter-of-fact voice. “During the hurricane. You were there, Anaïs. You witnessed the whole ordeal. That was what Nurse Kitching meant when she said we are hoping you can help set things right.”

“I don’t understand.”

He sits back in his chair and sighs. “The newspapers have followed his shooting closely — I do believe the people of New Orleans see him as a symbol. The hurricane damaged so much of the city, but even worse than that is the way looters robbed the citizens’ good spirits. Your stepfather… in the wake of his shooting, the newspapers have written about all his heroic deeds during the war. They’ve written about his activity in the French Resistance, and I dare say everyone is quite moved. They want justice for him.” Dr. Waters pauses. “Speaking of which, perhaps this subject will help us determine the extent of your amnesia. Do you recall anything at all, Anaïs, about your time in France and your stepfather’s role in helping to undermine German occupation?” 

End


My brain flits involuntarily to random impressions of my stepfather… my stepfather, the man who saved me, protected me, generously provided for my passage to America, and became my guardian here in New Orleans. “I’m going to speak to you very plainly, Anaïs,” Dr. Waters says. He clears his throat. His brow becomes a map of heavy furrows.

“Your stepfather was shot,” Dr. Waters finally says in a curt, matter-of-fact voice. “During the hurricane. You were there, Anaïs. You witnessed the whole ordeal. That was what Nurse Kitching meant when she said we are hoping you can help set things right.”

“I don’t understand.”

He sits back in his chair and sighs. “The newspapers have followed his shooting closely — I do believe the people of New Orleans see him as a symbol. The hurricane damaged so much of the city, but even worse than that is the way looters robbed the citizens’ good spirits. Your stepfather… in the wake of his shooting, the newspapers have written about all his heroic deeds during the war. They’ve written about his activity in the French Resistance, and I dare say everyone is quite moved. They want justice for him.” Dr. Waters pauses. “Speaking of which, perhaps this subject will help us determine the extent of your amnesia. Do you recall anything at all, Anaïs, about your time in France and your stepfather’s role in helping to undermine German occupation?” 

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