I took a day off yesterday. Like, a total, complete day off. The "kids and I had popcorn, potato chips and birthday cake for dinner" level of day off. It was an awesome day off :D
Friday was still a school day, so the kids didn't get a full day off, but they did get an evening off from having to think / do homework / do chores as we all watched movies and indulged in junk food. (As an aside, my youngest is now six and I don't have any little kids in my house anymore; two big kids snuggle on the couch with mom just as wonderfully as two little ones used to.)
And what do my regular daily activities look like? All the usual and expected cleaning and kid care, some random extra deep cleans on rooms that need it, doing some baking, and sitting down for writing time. Busy hands at manual labor tasks these past couple of weeks meant a lot of free time for my imagination. Not fighting constant anxiety meant the free time was coupled with lots of space for my imagination to run around in. Free time and empty space is a combination my imagination loves.
Now to go and attempt starting on that quiet weekend so I'm ready to have a good day as planned on Monday.... Or should I just start taking bets now that writing time infringes into Sunday and my Monday plans are already officially shot because all these new scenes and ideas need to be written out as soon as possible to make room for more...? *sigh* You're probably right. I'll open for bets lol. Hope you're staying safe and well this weekend!
13. The Gem
Tam set the pot aside and hugged her brother. Justin dried his bowl and the pot, stacking them together to ready them for packing. It gave him something else to do rather than staring at the siblings and wondering about what his own brother was doing today. Probably winter exams… the thought Justin was trying to avoid crossed his mind anyway.
James was in his final year of university, so he was probably in the midst of his winter exams prior to the break for Second Moon Nadir. Justin was meant to be on his return home right now to spend a few months overseeing the family business, but from the office rather than from the ship he’d been on. Once James finished his schooling and took over everything local to their home country, Justin would only have to manage the parts requiring travel or government. That was the plan, anyway.
Tor was studying him when Justin shook his brain free of its pondering and took the bowls that Tor and Tam passed him to pack away. Justin could almost hear the silent questions written on the scout’s face, and he wasn’t interested in answering any of them.
“Tell me about ships,” Tor requested instead of any of the other things he wanted to ask.
“I’ve told you plenty of times,” Tam answered before Justin could say anything.
“Yes, but when you tell me all I can picture is a washing tub with a flag on a broom handle in the middle of it,” he said, shaking out his blanket. “I want to hear from someone who knows what they’re talking about.”
Justin laughed as Tam glared at her brother and Tor completely ignored her. They were back to their usual habits and behaviors, the moment of sincerity passed.
“What do you want to know?” Justin replied with a question while Tor wrapped up as if he was going to sleep.
“What they really look like, for a start,” Tor replied quickly. Justin shrugged and answered with a description as he knew ships to be, from his perspective of designing, building, and maintaining them, and feeling that he’d completely failed at it when Tor only looked more confused.
“The ship I normally work on is three draughtsides long at the water line,” Justin started again, reaching for the pile of leftover materials from making the snowshoes. “It has three masts, each a single pole assembled from three trees, and each tree twice the height of this one,” he nodded to the branches overhead. He described the shape of the hull, working quickly with the sticks, cord, and leaves to make a tiny, simplified version of the Gem. He trimmed thin branches to a length that matched the scale of the little hull and built masts, adding spars and sails made from twigs and leaves as he described the colors of the sailcloth. “Eighty-six crew members live on board when we’re out of dock. And four small dogs to kill the rats,” he finished, holding up the toy.
Tor took the little model and stared at it with wonder. “It must be one of the biggest ships in the ocean,” Tor replied.
Justin laughed as he shook his head to the negative. “There are plenty of four- and five-mast ships that have double its displacement,” Justin answered, nodding at the little boat he’d just built. “Their masts tower over this one, and you’d need a ladder to climb from my ship’s highest deck to the other’s lowest. This one, though, is one of the fastest.”
“Does every ship have the same color sails? Are they all blue and white?” Tor lay back with his free hand behind his head, holding up the small ship and turning it side to side.
“No,” Tam answered, a small smile lifting one corner of her lips.
“They’re every color you can think of,” Justin elaborated. “Usually the color or colors mark what the ship is for. Most are just white, marking them as independent merchants. Companies with more than one ship often either have their own colors or a company crest. Each country’s navy has its own color, which is usually illegal to be used by anyone else in their part of the wet.”
“How big is the ocean?” Tor asked quietly.
“There are nine in the known world, each distinct because of the currents,” Justin said. “But for planning direct routes between main ports, expecting good weather, it’s generally four weeks from Opat to Tenet Mik, three weeks from Tenet Mik to Korball, two weeks from Korball to Leshnat, and two and a half weeks from Leshnat to Opat. The Islands are almost perfectly in the center of all of them.”
“Is it true that there are places where you can’t see land at all?” Tam asked.
“From the middles of most of the oceans, yes. And if you sail straight north from the Islands, you can voyage for five weeks and see nothing but water and sky before the ship will scuttle on the reefs.”
“Is there anything after the reefs?” Tor asked.
Justin buried his own experiences on the secreted tenth ocean deeply in his memories, hiding any unconscious body language behind a shrug. “Nobody knows,” he answered instead. “The reefs stretch as far as can be seen from the crow’s nest and are unbroken from Opat’s shore to Tenet Mik’s.”
“A mystery.” Tor smiled at the toy ship. He set it aside carefully before taking out and setting up his little chime clock, then pulled Tam into the blanket they now had to share. “We’ll get up before dawn. That’ll give us early light to get to the mine, and a full day to make sure we’re well past it before we need to camp again.”
Check it out! Saturday morning and I'm at my computer typing up my blog post :)
I'm also pre-coffee, so this is gonna be real short lol.
It was a good week in the battle against house chores. I think I figured out how to balance productive days with the current amount of spoons I have, and have trusted physiotherapy exercises to fall back on as needed. Likely to be living with chronic pain for, I guess, ever... but I'll take the improvement I got this year of the pain being down in the 1-3 range and no longer in the 3-5 range (out of 10). The days in the 3-5 range still happen, but not consistently and not for extended periods.
12. Learning to Walk
Tam finished the first set of snowshoes and handed them to her brother with some of the heavy leaves. He measured Justin’s boots with his hands and then cut the leaves into strips, weaving them into the nets to make outlines that quickly turned into caps which fit snugly over each boot’s toe. He reinforced the caps with cord but didn’t leave any laces, and wove shorter sticks from side to side to better support the weight of a person. Justin did as he was requested and stood as well as he could in the burrow to test the fit of the caps. Tor made a few adjustments to the cords so the caps fit tighter.
“Come outside,” Tor invited, already moving toward the entrance.
“Why?” Justin asked, kicking the snowshoes off so that he could sit down again with new icicles.
“Because you need to learn how to walk all over again,” Tor called over his shoulder with a smirk. Tam nodded without looking up when Justin glanced at her for confirmation. Justin picked up the strange, netted shoes and followed the scout outside.
“You have to keep your legs further apart, and take longer steps,” Tor instructed as Justin came out of the burrow. “Otherwise you’ll step on one shoe with the other and you’ll trip yourself. The back will drag a bit, remember that because it means you can’t step backwards. Sideways is always leading foot first, same reason as why you have to take wider, longer steps forward.”
Justin nodded as he got his boots fitted into the caps. That all made sense.
“Just keep going around the tree until you stop falling every few steps. Try not to break the caps or the nets,” Tor added as Justin stood up. “Once you have going forward figured out, we’ll work on turns and going sideways.”
Justin looked at his feet and readjusted his thinking for what Tor had just said about tripping. Usually he learned things quickly, but this already felt awkward and he hadn’t even taken a step yet. He sighed and looked around at the falling snow, still showing no signs of stopping, and started re-learning how to walk. Tam emerged with another pair of snowshoes for Tor as Justin was learning how to step sideways, and the scout built toe caps and added reinforcement sticks while offering Justin even doses of chiding insults and coaching.
“You keep working on that,” Tor stated, stepping into the caps of his own snowshoes and adjusting the cords to fit snugly. “I need to remember how to do this myself,” he admitted, grinning.
“Why?” Justin asked, surprised.
“Scouts use skis,” Tor said, sighing as he took his first few steps. “I haven’t snowshoed in years.”
“What’s a ‘skis’?” Justin asked. Tor stopped walking to look back.
“You’re so foreign,” Tor said with a laugh. “Skis are long planks the width of your boot that have a curled up front like a sled,” he explained, drawing the shape in the air with his hands. “You wax the bottoms and then just slide over top of the snow with them, rather than walking. It’s faster than snowshoeing,” he added with a shrug. “A sled is like a tiny barge that you can ride over snow with, pulled by people, dogs, or horses. Or you can just ride the sled if you’re going down a hill,” he added with a grin when he saw the next question forming on Justin’s face. “The fronts of skis and sleds curl up so the snow doesn’t come over the top.”
“Like the bow of a ship?” Justin asked, getting only a confused look from Tor in reply. “The front of a ship,” Justin clarified.
“I’ve never seen a ship.” Tor grinned, laughing out loud when Justin stared at him in shock. “I’ve seen barges, and I was on a fishing raft once but I didn’t like it”– he made a face –“everything smelled like week-old fish.”
Justin huffed out a laugh and went back to practicing side-stepping. Tor was almost out of sight around the tree the first time he fell, laughing to himself as he pushed back to his feet to start striding again. They worked at improving for the rest of afternoon, exchanging insults and practicing moving, the activities eventually leading to a snowball fight which quickly elevated to a mock wrestling match that was exponentially harder than it needed to be due to the amount they were both laughing. Once they couldn’t hold off the hunger anymore, they banged the snow off of – and out of – their clothes and hair, still chuckling as they exchanged friendly insults. It was going to be a long, hungry night, so they decided to rest through it rather than staying busy and getting hungrier.
Tam was humming when they came back into the burrow. She lifted a single eyebrow at their matching grins and went back to stirring the little pot on the fire. Justin’s stomach rumbled loudly when the smell inside the burrow hit his nose.
“What is …?” Tor loomed over the pot, frowning sharply when Tam elbowed him back.
“It’s my surprise,” she said, pointing with the spoon at where each of them was meant to sit. “I found some squirrels and their cache this morning while I was looking for branches,” she told them once they were seated.
She poured the mix into each bowl. It was a thin stew of meat, nuts, berries and sweet grasses, but it tasted good and there was enough for everyone to eat until they were momentarily full.
“You’re amazing, Tam,” Tor complimented, leaning back and burping after finishing his last bite.
“Agreed.” Justin was already washing out his dish with a handful of snow so that it could be dried and packed away.
“It wasn’t –”
“Shut your mouth, little sister,” Tor interrupted. “You can depreciate yourself privately in your head. Out here,” he pointed at the burrow in general, “the consensus is that you’re amazing. Now agree with me,” he demanded, grinning. She rolled her eyes and shook her head, about to say something different. He nudged her knee with the toe of his boot. “Agree with me because you know I’m right,” he pressed, his smile widening. “Tell me I’m right.”
Justin chuckled at the two of them, making her blush. Tam heaved a sigh and started washing out the pot.
“I did a good job making a surprise dinner,” she finally conceded.
“That’s not what I said,” Tor argued, nudging her knee with his boot again. She smacked his leg so he nudged her a third time. “Say it,” he drew out the words and she sighed again.
“I’m amazing,” she mumbled at the pot in her hands.
“Yes, you are,” Tor agreed, sitting forward so that he could catch and hold her stare. “Never let anyone force you to believe different,” he stated, his tone and features suddenly serious.
Hello! The day one-more-thing'ed me all the way to after dinner without realizing all the hours were almost gone. Saved by the global time zone! It's still Saturday here lol.
The past couple of days have been a rush for getting things done. Mostly because I've wanted to, and also because I've had the spoons lately. Tomorrow will be another story (three busy days in a row is about my maximum), but the points tally of me against chores has been a clean sweep for me this week. Vacuuming, bathrooms, tidying, and some much needed wall patching and painting on the back landing are my wins this week. Not a bad score considering both kids are home on Fall break.
I didn't get too much writing done, but had a few hours here and there I was able to dedicate to my keyboard before the chore days happened. A much needed scene was added to my big manuscript (in both senses of "need" because I needed it out of my head and the story sorely needed to have it), plus I got in some time on a couple of scene expansions and some editing.
Overall it's been a good week for me, and I hope you're staying safe and healthy too. Have a good weekend!
11. Making Steam
“What are you trying to do?” Justin asked when her brother’s encouragement left Tam silently fuming.
“Usually we make these in the spring when the branches are green so they’ll bend.” She drew a curve with her finger around the wide end of the triangle. “But with them being frozen… right now they’ll just break if I try.” She huffed a sigh and dropped the triangle so she could stretch her hands.
Justin picked up the dropped branch and peeled back some of the bark. Ice inside proved it was wet enough for bending, if he had a steam box. He untied the branches from their triangle as he thought about the supplies he had. They had water and fire, so he could easily have steam, but no way to evenly contain it. The branches were saturated from the wet winter, and only as thick as his thumb at most, so maybe heating them over steam would work well enough that they wouldn’t dry out and break for what Tam was saying she needed. They were small, so he could probably manipulate them without clamps once they were softened…
“What are you thinking?” Tam interrupted his thoughts. Tor was watching him, too, when Justin looked up from where he’d started peeling the bark off the branch in his hand.
“I can try bending these, if you want?” Justin answered her with a question. “I think it could work if we steam them. If not, at least we’d have tea.”
“Was that a joke?” Tor asked before Tam could reply. “About the tea – did you just make a joke? As in, you actually are capable of humor?”
Justin stared at him, suddenly self-conscious, and Tor beamed a smile back.
“Ouch!” Tor exclaimed, his tone mocking, one of the smallest of the branches Tam had brought into the burrow bouncing off his shoulder after being thrown into the side of his head.
“Get the blanket unravelled,” she ordered her brother. “Don’t you need a box for steaming?” she asked Justin.
“Yeah,” Justin replied, grinning at their ongoing fighting as he turned back to peeling the bark. “We don’t have time to make one. Steaming just the part for the bend might work, though.”
“What about these?” she asked after a glance around the burrow. Justin and Tor both looked to where she was pointing at Justin’s two straight swords nearby. The blades were wide and flat, as were the scabbards. Unfortunately, the branches she’d brought back were all longer than the full lengths of the swords.
“Too short,” he said, dismissing the idea. Even using both her swords to square the box to steam one or two branches at a time, and wrapping it all in a blanket to insulate, it wouldn’t work properly if they couldn’t get an open box at the end opposite the water to allow steam on the full length of the wood.
She reached over and turned one sword to face the opposite direction, then pulled each blade three quarters of the way out of the scabbards. “Would it be long enough now?”
The wolves left as the steaming started. It took a couple of tries to get the bending pressure application and finished curve right, and Tam had to go back out in the storm for more branches, but they were able to eat their small, final meal as the last branch was cooling. Justin spliced the bent pieces like tiny masts, and Tam bound them in place with the unwoven cord so the branches couldn’t spring back while they were cooling.
After eating, Tor took apart the impromptu steam box, hung the blanket to dry, and then started drying and cleaning the blades and scabbards. Once she finished eating, Tam went back to weaving tightly strung nets into the frames she and Justin had made. When Justin was done his meal, he picked up the icicles that he’d been holding before eating.
“Those burns starting to feel any better?” Tor asked after a few minutes.
“They’re starting to feel numb again,” Justin replied. Rather than focusing on himself and the few small burns on his palms, he turned to watch what Tam was doing. “Why a net?” he finally asked, actually curious.
“If it’s solid, the snow gets on top and weights your steps,” she shrugged, her fingers moving almost too quickly to see the individual motions of the twists and knots. “That makes it just as hard to walk as it would be without the snowshoes, or harder. A net lets the loose snow through but still packs the snow underneath to hold enough weight to keep us on top. Sinews work the best – the snow doesn’t stick as badly as it will to these cords – but these will work for the two hours we’ll need them. They’ll have good snowshoes at the mine.”
As had been the topic of conversation whenever they had time to converse, Tor began listing off the details of the mine’s layout. Half of it was an open pit, and the other half was made up of tunnels bored into the base of a mountain with their entrances on one side of the pit’s bottom. There were guard posts set in a ring around the top of the pit – one at about every ten draughtsides – and a small town for the guards and their families was on the opposite side of the valley from where the trio would be approaching.
The slaves and criminals who worked the mine, when they weren’t laboring, were kept in two long rows of steel cages on the same side the trio was approaching from. The cages were inside the ring of guard posts, one on top of the other, and it was a sheer drop from the rim of the pit to the tops of the first row of cages of at least five idlesides. The drop from the cages and the single road leading to and from them was to the bottom of the pit.
Justin focused on the conversation more than usual as now he needed to have it memorized. Every word – every spoken thought – that Tor could provide, Justin committed to memory.
Election week in the USA... coronavirus cases on the rise to record breaking for daily new positive tests in Alberta... and out in public I see people force-smiling the holiday spirit early due to how rough 2020 has been in general... My little corner of the world has been having a lot of negative external forces shoving at it this week. I'm guessing everyone's little corners are feeling the external pressure. I really hope, for all of us, we can find a calm spot inside our little corners to just breathe for a few minutes before going back to dealing with all our pressures.
As for happenings inside my little corner, last week was pretty good. I called my kids in absent from school on different days so we could have one-on-one time together, the oldest on Tuesday and youngest on Wednesday. That made for two days in a row of freaking awesomeness. Out for lunch, a bit of shopping so they could blow the last of their Christmas money from last year, and a lot of laughs.
Plus, my husband is happy at his new job. For the first time in many years, his hours are based on a 40-hour working week and he has evenings and weekends off. He's also doing things that compliment his existing skill set while still being refreshingly new, for a company that seems to reward and retain good employees. For both of us, it feels a lot like he's working with and for unicorns at the moment lol. I know eventually the glow should wear off, but all the employees are treated like living people and they like working there (even the long term people pushing 20 years there)! After a 30-year career where he was treated like a numbered and disposable wheel cog, I feel like he's got the right opinion that this new place is downright amazing.
I got a couple rooms in my house cleaned, did a bit of writing, watched a couple movies I've been wanting to see but never gave myself the time to watch until now, and overall had an above-decent week. Giving myself permission to take a break improved my mental health by about a gajillion percent... and post-Halloween "sale candy" is probably a treat I'll still be enjoying after this Christmas rolls past lol. (Seriously, two mini chocolate bars and I'm done... my sugar tolerance is sad and very low.)
I hope you're safe and well this weekend!
Justin saw two rabbits were curled against Tor when he woke up. Tam snatched them up and broke their necks with practiced hands the moment she looked over to see if her brother was awake yet. They spent a quiet day under the branches and shared a pitiful stew that afternoon, using up the last of the wilted vegetables without any seasoning. The luxury of a hot meal was worth it.
Their burrow was completely enclosed by snow now, and the heat from the tiny fire warmed the space to the point of being only cool. Tam had initially been worried about the smoke from their fire being spotted, but Tor assured her they were close enough to the mine to look like hunters from there, so it wouldn’t draw attention. And it was still snowing, so the likelihood of anyone seeing smoke through the storm was impossible. They curled back to sleep for another full night once it was dark again, hoping for the snow to stop falling while they slept.
There was laughter. The quiet chuckles merged with good childhood memories that formed soft dreams to wake up from. Justin blinked awake, nearly happy, and looked around the burrow as he tried to orient himself for where he was. Tam was gone and Tor was laughing and… Justin blinked, scrubbed his eyes with his knuckles, and looked again. Tor really was gently wrestling with three young wolves as the she-wolf slept nearby. The cubs were lanky and lean, but their coats were just as shiny and full as their mother’s, and each young wolf likely already weighed the same as Tam.
Justin glanced at the she-wolf as he was sitting up. He froze half-way through the motion when her yellow stare snapped awake in his direction. Tor reached over and scratched her neck roughly. She grumbled happily at the affection but otherwise didn’t move.
“I met Ki in the spring before last,” Tor stated, the she-wolf’s gaze shifting to him as he spoke and freeing Justin to finish sitting up. “She’d been caught in a snare for what looked like a week or so. Her leg was raw and she was starving.” He picked up the leg in question and showed Justin the heavy scar circling above her foot. “Her cubs had been too little and had starved around her. There were a lot of tracks from a man nearby, and a few other wolf tracks that ended in blood. The rest of the loops in the line were empty, so we figured the rock-mind who set the snares was just leaving her to die slowly while using her as a way to lure in the rest of the pack,” he explained. “It was cruel,” he added under his breath.
Justin looked at the healthy wolf laying a few palmsides away and tried to imagine her being as sick and weak as what Tor was describing.
“Jin and I cut her loose and I carried her back to our camp. It took the whole summer for her to get healthy again, and she stayed with us for most of the fall and winter. She had gotten really fat when this Spring started,” he said, grinning at Justin. “Which explained why she only spent most of her time with us. Now she’s a happy mam, with three big sons, and I only see her when our patrols cross this valley.”
The sons in question tumbled across the burrow, deciding they wanted to play harder than Tor would play with them. Justin chuckled at the cubs, impressed at how well they dodged the small fire, earning him another wary stare from Ki.
“Most people think wolves are terrible,” Tor said. “They’re really not. Their packs are families and all the adults puke up meals they’ve eaten to feed cubs who aren’t big enough to hunt yet.”
Ki snarled a bite toward her cubs when they tumbled too close to her and all three contritely stopped playing. Tor laughed at them and scratched Ki’s neck again.
“You’re a good mam, Ki, to be able to keep these boys in check,” he praised her.
The young wolves noticed Justin was watching them and, curiosity filling their yellow stares now that they saw he was awake, each tentatively approached close enough to sniff at him. He held out his empty hands, chuckling when two went behind him and tickled the back of his neck with their noses. Their curiosity satisfied, one returned to play with Tor and the other two piled into a knot on top of the remaining warmth where Justin’s torso had just been lying.
Playful growling and quiet chuckles followed when Justin crawled outside the burrow and relieved his bladder a short distance away. He turned to go back and noticed Tor’s rope tied to one of the trees at the furthest edge of the copse they were camping in. Tam’s steps were barely dimples under the fast-falling snow; the trail left behind aiming away in the same direction that the long end of the rope was stretched before disappearing completely under the new snowfall. He thought about following the rope, worrying about her being alone after the failed ambush at the shed, but hesitating due to how relaxed Tor and the wolves had been. He instead crawled back inside the burrow. If he was going to go after her, he at least needed to be fully armed.
“She didn’t go far enough to get into any trouble. She only took one rope-length,” Tor stated as Justin was reaching for his swords. “We’ll be out of food today, so we have to get moving again in spite of the storm. The mine is about two hours away in this weather, but we can’t walk through the snow because it’s too deep now,” Tor said, still shoving the young wolf around as he was talking. “She knows the right things we need to make snowshoes for walking on top of it.”
“Snowshoes?” Justin asked, completely unfamiliar with the term.
Tor only smiled wider and continued play fighting with the cub. “You’ll see.”
Tam returned not long after and they rationed out the last of the food to eat later – a stale bun and small strip of salted meat each – before she started organizing the things she’d brought back. Three piles of variously sized branches, some fibrous plant leaves, and a few peelings of bark were set up around her when she was done.
“I need the cord the blanket is woven from,” she said, handing one of their blankets to Tor. “Do not cut it,” she added, seeing him first grab his knife. “Undo the weaving.”
“Why not just use the rope?” Justin asked.
“It’s a waste of good rope,” she shrugged. “This cord will work fine for the short time we need it. We can steal better supplies from the mine.”
Justin watched her lay out a few of the branches in an elongated triangle shape and then lash the intersections together. As soon as she started looping the initial length of cord from the blanket tightly over and under the triangle, two of the sides collapsed. She huffed in frustration after half an hour and four attempts.
“You’ll get it figured,” Tor encouraged her.
A weekly blog updating on Saturdays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!