Week 6 Finalist – 1st Place Winner

AUTHOR: Vicki Bendau – check out the interview with Vicki!
TITLE: Hooves of Thunder, Hearts of Silk
CATEGORY: Historical Romance

East of Samarkand, summer pastures of Chinghis Khan, 1226 A.D.

Yesterday the slaves cleaned the head-baskets. Head-baskets, he called them. Their name, long forgotten to him, did not matter. Jochul knew that today the khan would order their use.

When he heard the shouts that Temuji, the khan’s newest bride, had failed to appear, he stopped his work breaking the yearlings and hurried back to camp. Rumors buzzed. Ranks of guards and shamans, bound wrist to ankle, stumbled past him in awkward procession. The damned. Whether guilty or merely unfortunate, the insides of those baskets would soon be their last sight. Mercifully, they would be spared seeing the spilled blood of those who had met the same fate before them.

Jochul looked at the ground, avoiding the faces of the condemned. Instead, he thought of Maja and kept his thoughts pure, unsullied by the hideous recollection of the baskets. Just this morning, the Imperial Guard had brought Maja to camp from the fortress of Egur Terasu, where she served as apprentice to the khan’s elite order of female warriors. Maja was to witness the marriage rites of Temuji, her twin sister, to Chinghis Khan, Khan of Khans, the Great Khan of the East.

The khan had returned just days ago from a lengthy campaign abroad. No one had dared inform him that Temuji was long gone, kidnapped years ago by slavers. Jochul remembered the day. It was the same day his Maja had been sent away to the Order.

Jochul knew Temuji’s whereabouts. Yerungkai had told him. But Jochul did not speak of it, even though he did not fear the khan. And no men had ever asked him.

He approached the khan’s enormous ger. Sounds of rage bellowed forth. Swift glances from the corners of his eyes revealed more guards. Doubled over, their bellies erupted with laughter at the rejected groom’s comical visage, even as they fled in terror from his temper’s deadly clutches. On this day, he thought, they could laugh. Those whose heads would be spared could laugh.

Creeping to the ger’s entrance, he drew back the felt that covered the opening. An idol of carved ivory sailed across the tent. It crashed into a stack of porcelain plates, heaped roof-high on the women’s side. The ger’s contents lay in shambles. In the distance, underneath the opening cut in the roof’s center for the smoke to escape, a servant guarded the fire from the hurled tapestries and silks. To one side, a life-sized jade elephant, plunder from his conquest of the Kara Khitay, lay askew, tipped over stacks of wooden chests and tables.

A wretched howl rang out. “I will not be made a fool!”

A voice sounded in response. Not the khan’s woman. A man’s voice. Yerungkai. Jochul could see his bowed head, humbled. He spoke in soothing tones, not mocking.

“Lay your curses upon them!” The khan’s voice broke, his words stalled by sobs of fury. He swore on Temuji; her father, and Maja, too. Yet no shaman appeared to invoke his oath to the gods. Yerungkai said nothing. Instead, he kept low.

“I can bring her back.” Jochul heard his whisper clearly. “Your quest for a race of master warriors shall not be denied.”

Yerungkai’s words calmed the aging ruler. At the mention of his legacy the khan’s eyes lifted, dark points beneath sparse brows, gray with age. His face softened, but his tone remained harsh.

“Find her. She is to be mother of my issue.”

“It will be as you say.” Yerungkai’s head came up. Jochul heard his name spoken. “Jochul must accompany me.”

The khan’s eyes narrowed. The air grew still. His head jerked in the direction of the stables.

“Impossible. I trust my steeds only to him.” The anger began to rise again.

Jochul sensed another outburst. No man would dare speak to the khan this way except Yerungkai, or perhaps he himself, although he would never have cause to say these things. He held his breath. Yerungkai kept his composure.

“Quite so, wise one. But the Great Khan knows that such a journey requires the most skilled of your agents. And your bride the protection of your strongest and fiercest man.”

The khan’s chin turned in an abrupt upward motion.

“The routes are safe enough.”

Yerungkai remained stubborn. Fascinated, Jochul watched the haggling.

“Yes. The Great Khan’s might extends further than any man’s imaginings. But haste is a necessity. And who better to escort your precious bride back to your waiting bed?”

A snort. “Yes, she shall come to my bed. My shamans decreed it even before her birth.”

He leaned back. An air of lofty self-satisfaction crossed his features. The corners of his mouth turned up.

“And the other, she waits here, yes?” He trained his expectant gaze on Yerungkai. “She will receive my seed instead. And if she conceives she may take the place of her sister.”


Vicki, great imagery, here. With the mention of the head-baskets, combined with the images of the shackled “condemned,” not to mention Khan’s temper tantrum, you make me see and believe that these are brutal times.

I love the mystery that seems to surround Jochul. I feel that he is important, through Yerungkai’s sharing Temuji’s whereabouts with him, as well as requesting that Jochul accompany him on this important mission, along with Khan’s trust in his abilities to care for the steeds. 

And what a bind you have put Jochul in — he must leave while the woman he wants ends up in the Khan’s bed!

Oh, just a small nit – I wondered why neither of them noticed Jochul as he stood in the entrance of the ger, listening and watching everything.

At any rate, I cannot wait to read on! Great job!

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32 responses

18 02 2010
Popular Subgenres « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] Week 6 Finalist […]

18 02 2010
Leigh Michaels

Vicki, I too was captured by the image of the head-baskets being scrubbed for the next use… a great shivery moment there, and it made me want to read on to find out who these people are and how you’ll save the maiden in distress. I also like not knowing for certain at this moment which woman — the bride or the substitute — is the heroine, though of course I hope you can rescue them both.

So far your Great Khan is very true to the facts history knows about him — and since you’ve put him in the role of an important secondary character, he can convincingly remain the horrifying brute that our World History classes taught us he was. If you were trying to portray him as the hero, I’d be worried. 🙂

18 02 2010
Vicki Bendau

Dear Rachelle and Leigh:

Thank you both for your comments. I’m thrilled, Rachelle, that you liked this piece enough to name it as a finalist. The time and place are really fun to work with. I feel like I’ve discovered my niche.

Thanks again,
Vicki Bendau

18 02 2010
Julie T.

Whoa, the head-baskets really caught me too! Shiver. Great detail, I could really “see” the camp and imagine the horror of the condemned. My interest was also definitely piqued…I want to know what happens to the characters! You made me want to read more. Great job!

19 02 2010
Vicki Bendau

Thank you, Julie. I love to try out catchy opening lines. For this story, what would the khan’s wrath look like?

18 02 2010
Victoria Dixon

I’m so glad I popped back in today! (Been out of it due to sickness.) Vicki, not only do we share the same name, we share the same culture of interest. LOL I look forward to reading your book. This looks great. Do you blog, by any chance?

19 02 2010
Vicki Bendau

Victoria: It’s always a pleasure to meet another Vicki–in your case, Victoria. Hey, thanks for the comments. I don’t blog (yet), but would love to catch up with you about our shared interests. You can email me at vickibendau@yahoo.com. We can go from there. Glad to hear you’re getting well.

20 02 2010


Stunning imagery. Your head basket detail made me cringe. The thought of what they were used for and I loved the brutality of the description. Not because I love that stuff in itself, but I felt it made the time you picked realistic. I believe those times were, in deed, hard times for many to live through.

Keep up the good work. This was captivating.

20 02 2010
Vicki Bendau

Thanks, Tessa, for your encouraging comments. Yes, it was a brutal regime, but women also had a lot of freedom. There is much about this period that lends itself to romance. I’ve enjoyed the exploration.


25 02 2010

Vicki –

I loved this – it was very engaging and you’ve built an amazing amount of conflict and possibilities that get my imagination spinning with all sorts of questions. I simply have to know who Jochul is that he is not afraid of the khan and is the “strongest and fiercest man” and yet, he cleaned the baskets for the condemned, which woman he will save, what he will go through to do so, and how on earth they will ever get an HEA. That, combined with your very unique setting have totally hooked me. I hope to pick this one up and read it some day!

28 02 2010
Vicki Bendau

Dear Gwen:

I love the way you tuned in to Jochul. He really opened me up to the possibilities of characters. I learned so much writing him. Thanks for all your encouraging comments. I am happy you enjoyed my entry.

Best wishes to you in your writing.

Vicki Bendau

28 02 2010
Jeannie Lin

Very rich detail. Your writing filled my head with elaborate visions of the khan’s camp. Plus, I’m a huge fan of eastern set historicals! As Victoria said, please come find us if — I’d love to share research and other ideas!

28 02 2010
Vicki Bendau

Dear Jeannie:

Thanks for coming to the contest site and having a look-see at my entry. I look forward very much to making further contact with you and Victoria. So happy to meet other writers of Asian historicals. See you soon.


11 03 2010
Carol Wright

Vicki…I would definitely continue reading….you grabbed my interest and I want more!

18 03 2010
Vicki Bendau

Thank you for reading, Carol, I love your enthusiasm. I’m working like mad to make this dream a reality.

11 03 2010
Laura Bradford

The opening is nicely evocative. Darker historicals seem to be what is in vogue these days, so the grittiness the story promises is a good element. I am curious about what the heroine will be like…sounds like she is in for a boatload of trouble. It feels like you are setting up a wonderful forbidden love-style conflict and they are always compelling. Nice job.

18 03 2010
Vicki Bendau

Dear Laura,

Thank you for reading the piece and I certainly do appreciate the feedback. My heroine has been living in a strange land, with her nomadic instincts tamed by the civilized kingdom she’s been forced to adapt to. But she hasn’t lost any of her spirit.

12 03 2010
Theresa Stevens

This is strong, clear, evocative writing, with a good sense of conflict and plot. You started with the right image, head baskets, which is a real attention grabber. Very nicely done. You moved from the head baskets into some set-up, and just as I was starting to worry that it might go on too long, we were peeking into the tent. That part is really compelling.

All in all, a very good job. If you’re looking for ways to improve, you might try tightening up the set-up paragraphs. They didn’t seem overly long, but they were slower than the part at the tent. So if you can get us to the tent faster, that won’t hurt the pace. But I don’t know that it’s strictly necessary, just something that might help a little.

18 03 2010
Vicki Bendau

Dear Theresa:

Thank you for your comments on my entry. I’m glad you enjoyed it. And of course I’m always looking to improve my craft, so your suggestions for tightening up the beginning are welcomed.

13 03 2010
Christine Witthohn, Agent

This is not a period I read often, but I found the opening interesting.
Many characters to keep track of, so I really had to pay attention.

To be fair… this isn’t something I have a strong opinion on, so I will defer to the agents and editors who do.

I wish the writer the very best of luck!

18 03 2010
Vicki Bendau

Thanks, Christine:

I had the opportunity to pitch to you and then found out that you are all about historicals-NOT. I did enjoy your address to our group, Desert Rose, recently. Thank you for your talk and for giving our members the chance to pitch. Also, thank you very much for reading my piece, even though it’s not your thing.

13 03 2010
elizabeth Pomada

Hello, Vicki,
You’re very brave to set a romance in this era and world. I’m a great fan of the novel/bio GENGHIS, so I was intrigued by the book. Alas, in spite of the wonderful imagery, I just did not believe it. It seems to me that you’re trying too hard to be “interesting” rather than “authentic.” At the same time, I applaud your use of little facts and images to re-create the world. Is there a reason to tell the story from a man’s point of view? I’d like to know the woman’s POV, too. Keep at it!
Elizabeth Pomada

18 03 2010
Vicki Bendau

Thank you, Elizabeth:

I found your feedback encouraging and can appreciate your skepticism, as well. Of course, I really like that you called me brave. I know this is a very atypical time and place for a romance, but I almost can’t help myself. I love the time period, I’m having a blast with this and I continue to work at my craft.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment.

16 03 2010
Esi Sogah

Hi Vicki–nice writing and atmosphere. I like how the imagery of the head-baskets lends itself nicely to the very real sense of danger you get about Jochul’s situation. One thing to keep in mind is that, since this is a non-typical historical romance setting, you can’t rely on the reader to know things about the time or place, which means you have to be careful of being exposition heavy. So far, so good.

Happy Writing!

19 03 2010
Vicki Bendau

Dear Esi:

Thank you for your kind words. Carrying the reader through the world without bogging down the writing is quite a challenge. I work and work and work at it. My goal is to make the world accessible to readers but also make it real, and exotic.

16 03 2010
Brenda Chin

Hi Vicki,

I love that you’re trying something so different, and the hook at the end is great. However, I have to admit that I found this story hard to get in to. Because the time period isn’t all that common, it’s very important to set the stage carefully, making us believe we are there. Now, the head-baskets are very convincing…but the presence of shaman (who are more normally found in Native American or South American stories) confused me. I’m sure there could have been shaman in Samarkland…but it’s not what the reader expects. As well, there are so many difficult names to remember that I didn’t remember many at all.

Making the situation a little more accessible to the average reader might help. In any case, it’s a really cool story idea. I wish you the best of luck.

16 03 2010
Brenda Chin

Oops, make that shamans, not shaman. Sorry.

21 03 2010
Vicki Bendau

Dear Brenda:

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my entry. It’s very much appreciated. It’s a challenge I admit to make the time and place come alive for the reader, one I continue to work on. Your suggestions are quite helpful. Thanks again.

17 03 2010
Deb Werksman

This is gorgeous, the world really comes alive, I’m already in love with the main character. Very vivid and the historicity feels real. I’m deep into the world within the first few sentences, and a brutal world it is. You are doing a great job setting up the story. All the most salient elements are introduced and it feels like the plot is set inexorably into motion. Nicely done. I worry that this time period is going to be a very tough sell in today’s marketplace, but for fans of unusual time periods in historical romance, this should be a winner.

21 03 2010
Vicki Bendau

Dear Deb:

It’s heartening to read your feedback. The encouraging comments by you, other agents and readers keeps me plugging away. I’m writing what I love, as I continue to perfect my craft. It’s my goal to pull everything together to break into the market, and at the same time build an audience for something outside the mainstream of historical romance. Thanks for your time and attention to this contest.

20 03 2010
And The Winners Are… « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] Place – Week 6 Finalist – Hooves of Thunder, Hearts of Silk by Vicki Bendau (and don’t miss Vicki’s interview […]

20 03 2010
Kylie Griffin

Well done on 1st place, Vicki.

I read your interview with interest as this entry caught my eye originally when I “checked out the competition” ;-). Your setting isn’t one you see on the shelves all that often – I wish you well as I think you have a great piece to submit to agents/editors.

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