It had been a long month.
Justin had been ashore for a regular resupply, only joining the landing party because one of his drills had broken and Opat had decent enough steel until he could get to Leshnat for the best replacement. It was supposed to have been a day in the nearest city and then back out to the Gem to continue down the coast.
Instead, he and three other crewmen had been hit with whatever tranquilizing darts were favored in the area. They’d all woken up tied with ropes and in the steel cage on the wagon Justin had now been trudging behind for the past two weeks. They’d all gotten clear of the ropes and cage easy enough, but hadn’t been able to find a familiar landmark to get back to the coast, and no familiar stars due to the constant cloud cover. Then they’d just gotten lost and been rounded up, hit with darts and beaten, and woken up back in the cage.
Of course they’d gotten out again a few times in the weeks following. Rendan had been killed the final time they’d escaped the cage, when they’d been even more lost, two weeks from the coast and still under continuous clouds. After again being rounded up, hit with darts and beaten, the remaining crew members had been shackled into chains ratcheted to the wagon and pulled behind the cage. Lark had simply died within the first week of walking. He was old and the chains were heavy.
Rourke and Justin had been the last of the crew members and they’d done well, but then Rourke turned a foot early into the morning a few days ago and hadn’t been able to walk with the way it was bent around. Justin had carried his friend since childhood for the rest of the day, Rourke arguing the whole way, but the guards refused treating the injury and threatened to kill Rourke when he couldn’t keep up. Justin refused to lose a friend.
The little girl in the wagon’s cage had woken everyone with her screams the next morning. Rourke had twisted himself up in his chains and managed to hang himself on the back of the wagon as everyone slept.
This scout the woman in the wagon had called Tor, who had just settled against Justin’s back as if the larger man was a chair, had joined the group this afternoon. The rest of his troop was nowhere to be seen, which was something Justin knew wasn’t typical for scouts because the ones he’d seen usually traveled in packs of four. Then again, the ones he’d seen usually wore the gold or green uniforms issued to them for serving on Opat’s prairies and coast, so maybe the mountain scouts with their black uniforms did things differently.
At the time Tor slipped into the ranks of guards, Justin hadn’t bothered to think about it due to the more pressing issue of slogging through the deepening snow and trying to figure out which mine he and the rest of the collected strong backs were heading to. At an iron mine he’d have access to all the tools he needed and likely some kind of rail track to follow for hauling the ore to the coast for transport or smelting, but a gemstone mine or one of the stone quarries and he’d likely labor hard and then die after a few months… or years.
Justin jerked on the chains on purpose and glared at the guards who were staring at him with their hands on their sword hilts. If he kept drawing attention or stood up, they would come over and likely beat him again. If he quieted, he had a chance to get his hands on the sword the scout was not only wearing but had just delivered. The blade on that sword would make short work of fully cracking the chipped chain link in the cheap Korballi-made steel Justin was wearing. Justin jerked the chains one more time and then settled, counting the links as he’d done every night, and the guards eventually turned back toward their fire or out toward the trees, muttering annoyance with him as they did.
“My sister stole bread for our grandmother because they couldn’t afford to buy it anymore,” Tor said, and Justin felt him shrug one shoulder. “It was such a terrible crime that she was sentenced to two years in the Meek River diamond mine, just on the other side of this next pass.”
Justin kept his back rigid, but the hope he’d been holding on to for getting placed in an iron mine died painfully when it extinguished.
“I can’t do nothing and just leave her. I don’t have anyone else,” Tor continued. “I don’t have the chips to buy her freedom from these guards. My relationship with our extended family is… tenuous I guess is the best word. Even if I could buy her freedom right now, I don’t have any way to get her out of Opat and away from the arrest if I don’t pay for that too, which I also obviously can’t afford.”
Justin noticed one of the guards was watching him as he carefully tested his reach to see if he could get his hands around his hip to where the scout’s sword was sitting. He glared at the guard and scratched at his waistband as if he’d had an itch he needed to stretch the limits of the links to reach. He needed a way to silence the chains from clinking whenever he moved or he would keep bringing the guards’ attention to himself… or he just needed to move quickly enough to get the scout’s sword and then it wouldn’t matter if he had the guards’ attention or not. Something about how relaxed the scout leaned on his back told him trying to be faster might not work tonight, though.
“I’ve been following the wagon since she was put in it a week ago,” Tor said. “We both grew up in that last village you walked through. I’ve never been to the coast, but my sister has.”
This has been a very busy week. Just as busy as expected. I think I've used up all my September spoons and it's only the 5th.
No writing time happened this week, and no editing time. Something equally as awesome happened, though, and reading time occurred! If you haven't checked out the series Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond yet, why not?? Sayantani Dasgupta has created such an amazing world in these books. I'm half way through book 2, Game of Stars, and loving it just as much as book 1, The Serpent's Secret. These books may be targeted at middle grade and young adult ages, but the fast-paced story telling, wicked villains, sarcastic heroes and wonderful humor are enjoyable for every age.
As for my own writing, the big manuscript I've been working on for a couple years was a single book idea, which then blew up into a trilogy, and is now ticking all the boxes as a multi-book series. It's a plotter's nightmare, and not only because I'm a pantser. (If you're not familiar, plotters make outlines and write from a plan, pantsers sit in front of a page and just write "by the seat of their pants".) This story isn't coming to me chronologically, and I'm working on the entire thing as a single story arc. I'm writing scenes, then placing them like puzzle pieces into the whole arc timeline. It's... apparently how this manuscript wants to be written? *nervous laughter goes here*
Lucky for me, two things for this manuscript did show up as single stories: the prequels. One prequel is too removed to blog out without at least a few of the novels being released first, some history only makes sense in the context of the current world, but the other is a glimpse into the Nine Oceans universe which can stand on its own. This other one is The Meek Valley Incident, and the story I'd like to start sharing today. Hopefully you like it :)
Stay safe and well this weekend!
Justin looked up the length of the curved sword pointed down at his throat. The younger man holding the hilt looked like he was trying harder than he needed to at appearing threatening, considering the all-black scout’s uniform he was wearing. Almost wearing, Justin corrected when he realized he was looking at the man’s face. The scout was dark haired, slim built, and had the typical Opattan features of rounded, brown eyes, high cheekbones, and skin that had been tanned from outdoor labor for generations. The sword in his hand was shaking badly for a scout – meaning that Justin could see the tremor. There was a chance the sword’s vibration was due to the amount of chains Justin was currently locked into, but more likely the tremor could be attributed to the cold so that wasn’t enough information to get arrogant about. Justin was also sporting more bruises than he usually had after a bad month and he wasn’t in the mood for collecting more because of whatever this latest intimidation game was all about. The guards had done enough gloating during the walk to wherever here was, although that had reduced considerably in the past three days.
“You’re going to help me,” the young scout whispered the command. Justin scoffed a laugh at him. “You will help me or I’ll kill you right now,” the scout threatened quickly.
Justin assessed the uniform, and the young man in it, and then lifted his chin to expose his throat to the tip of the sword. He figured he was likely a few years older than the scout, probably outweighed him by more than half, and was taller than him by more than a head, but Justin was chained and the scout wasn’t, and only one of them had a sword. The scout’s first demand had been a request for help, and Justin wasn’t in a position to care.
A lot of things flashed across the young man’s face as he looked down at the man he was trying to intimidate, the last of which was the expected collapse of whatever it was he was trying to accomplish with threats. The tip of the sword dropped – not far enough to bite into the snow, Justin noted – but enough to no longer be a threat. Justin scoffed at the scout again and went back to counting the links of the chain tying him to the steel wagon that the rest of the prisoners were riding in.
The scout looked like he was going to say something else, but he just sighed and slouched and then slid his sword back into the scabbard. After a moment of standing there, words he never said flashing behind his eyes, he glanced around the sleeping camp. His eyes paused on the watchers who were facing out toward the trees and he shook his head that none of them were looking toward the prisoners as he pulled his mask down from where it had been sitting on top of his head. He stepped away from Justin and sat down, leaning against the wagon wheel nearest to where Justin was chained.
“Stones and mortar, all to dust,” he muttered, knocking himself gently in the forehead with his own fist a few times.
One of the women in the cart – barely so, but still older than the little girl – looked out through the cage as well as she could and down to where the scout was sitting. Justin looked up from counting links and watched the young man twist his neck to look up at her and then shush her. She reached out and he held her hand as well as he could through the bars without standing up, not drawing attention. They spoke together too quietly to overhear. It wasn’t a conversation that needed words to understand, though.
Justin looked at the lone scout in a new light: deserter. That wasn’t going to go over well with the rest of the scouts in his troop, or the army the scout troop belonged to. It did, however, explain why a uniform Justin knew should usually be associated with group activities was wrapped around a man who was here by himself.
The woman in the wagon said something that made the scout laugh and he dropped his head to keep the sound low. The chuckle stopped suddenly when the mask lifted enough to see that Justin was watching them. The young man stood, pressed the backs of her fingers against the smooth part of his mask that covered his forehead before releasing her hand, and then walked back to the fires and the guards.
He stooped and picked out a water flask and a rations packet from one of the guards' packs. The guard sitting beside the pack almost argued before looking, but then saw the scout uniform and politely asked if there was anything else the young man might need or want. The scout never replied. Justin lost sight of him between the trees as he walked out of camp.
Ten minutes later, the same quiet steps approached from the opposite side of Justin to the camp and stopped a sword blade’s distance away. Again.
Expecting the same metallic view he’d had of the scout earlier, Justin wasn’t sure if he should be amused or surprised when he turned and the young man was just looking at him. With a sigh that left him slouching, the scout took a step into striking radius, and then another step into easy arm’s reach, and then sat down back to back with Justin. A couple of the guards looked over when Justin jerked out of surprise and his chains rattled loudly.
“They can’t see me back here. You’re big enough to make a good wall,” the scout stated, his voice too low to carry words beyond Justin’s shoulder. “All I’m asking is that you at least hear me out.”
For this post, I'm featuring a story I wrote when I was 18 years old as my entry to my small town's local radio station's Halloween Story Contest. I won for my age group, and part of my award was being invited to come and read for the recording personally. I was the first contestant to read my own story, but having winners into the station to record became an annual tradition. Small towns are cool like that :)
As for current events, this week has been hectic. As in 'cyclone' rather than 'whirlwind'. It's been mostly good news and moving forward activities, all of which are Very Awesome Occurrences, but still a lot of things happening at a very fast pace, and all of it requiring phone calls, emails and/or interacting with humans. (Real, living humans, not the mostly imaginary ones in my head I write stories about.)
My 5-months-physically-isolated and happily introverted self is a very tired bean on this Friday night.
Yup! I'm writing this one up on Friday before bed because tomorrow has appointments, too. Well... one Very Important Appointment: I get to go visit my Chiropractor! Not only is she amazing at her job, she has weekend hours!
Sunday early morning is reserved for shopping needs and late morning is for my youngest to have dance. Sunday afternoon is for me to figure out just how the heck to survive next week as I'm shoveling loads of laundry through the machines.
Surprisingly, I crammed writing time in around the edges of everything else this week. Fifteen hundred words of a new scene were added to the big manuscript, plus a few hours for editing. I fell in love with this story all over again. Now if I could just get it to cooperate and allow me to narrate the scenes in order, that would be great. LOL :D I hope you're keeping safe and having a good weekend!
1. 'Falling' Asleep
People have always talked around campfires. They've told stories of great loves, and great loves lost; of Fairies, and of the Small Folk; of monsters from the grave, and of the evil lurking deeper; most commonly of ghosts, and most recently of aliens. And sometimes, just before dawn, when the night is the coldest and the morning is the furthest away – when even the flames seem to hide from the darkness – the tales of dreams begin to unravel.
This is one such story, fit for a fireside telling, but told 'round tables with electricity to push back the shadows. So light a candle, turn off the switch and snuggle up to someone you love, and I'll tell you the tale of the last dream I ever had.
The dream that ends all dreams, if you will...
I have always been one to have nightmares. Ever since the days of childhood, my nights have been peppered with shadows. Never a happy dream for me, oh no. Sunny days always turned to dreary nights, friends and family turned to foes, and strangers turned to dangers. Never a friendly face, and never a helping hand.
As a teenager, I learned to wake myself up from my strange and horrible visions by saying, as loudly as I could: "This is only a dream and now I am going to wake up." And in the few times when that didn't work, I would pinch myself as hard as I could until my eyes would open, wide with terror and bleary with sleep, the green numbers of my bedside clock glaring out at me with the blank fact of the early morning hour.
The last dream I ever had began in the same manner as any other I've had before: from a great distance up and accelerating at an alarming rate down. Down towards a tiny spot of light that I just know is going to explode up around me and bury me in all sorts of nasty things. Then, just at the very last moment before impacting with the tiny spot, it disappeared and I plunged into the sinister blackness of what I've come to call Shadow Land: the darkest corner of the dream world.
I stumbled around for a few moments, fear beginning to nibble at the edges of my mind and the sense of deja vu overriding all my senses as I began to walk east. Trees that had always been there suddenly grew up all around me in a think tangle. My sense of direction evaporated in the dense forest and, even though I knew that by going east I could get out and into the sunshine, I no longer knew which way east was.
I ran for what seemed like hours, always going in a different direction and always ending up back in the same place, tripping and sprawling and scraping my hands and knees each time I returned. Every time I walked away, a brightly colored, shiny bird would flit across in front of me, and then pivot on a sharp angle that only it could find to make a B-line for the edge of the forest. Every time I chased the bird, running as fast as I could, the bird flew faster and faster until I couldn't see it anymore. Every time after the bird disappeared, I felt those eyes staring out at me from a hidden place and a cold wind rustled through the dying forest to chill me to the bone. Every time, I forget the way that the little bird had gone and would just bolt blindly through the trees, the hot breath of that thing just behind me.
More editing happened this week! Not much for drafting up any new writing, but I'm really happy with the flow of new ideas right. I have no complaints about how my thoughts are percolating into scenes in my head; getting my ideas sorted out is half the fun of writing :D
As of right now, there's just a week and a half left until school starts up again. We've decided to try in-person learning for the first term's option as our school made switching to virtual at any time a very simple process, and because our kids benefit from the mental health side of being around other kids than just each other.
There really isn't a "right choice" right now for back to school. Every choice sucks.
Otherwise, not a lot is going on inside my personal bubble over in this corner of the world. Slugs ate our garden because of all the rain we've been having (and because I'm not a good gardener... I really don't bother to monitor how or if things are growing or not). But I learned all the rain also created a surge in the number of garter snakes we have in the city and that – to me – is wonderful news. If you don't know, garter snakes are completely harmless to humans and most pets, the younger and smaller ones eat a lot of insect garden pests, and the older and larger ones eat rodent pests and insect garden pests. I guess I have some reading to do for making our yard more garter-snake-friendly :)
Hope you're staying safe and healthy!
Flyboy, Part 1:
He waded through the mud in his consciousness. What had happened? He’d been flying... following the river... the Flight Commander had said turn back, too hot... the Ground Commander had said go in... passenger bird and right gunship had turned back but the smoke was popped and the extraction was a sitting duck... two – three? No, only two – people running... only one extra person on the bird... heavy fire... the bird started to fall...
“Just get me across the river!” she yelled.
“We’re going down too fast!” he answered between mayday calls.
“DO IT, FLYBOY!” she ordered.
He forced the bird to limp... the river came up too fast... the far bank didn’t get close enough... something hit him in the back – the front? – and then the controls became part of his helmet... there was water and smoke in the bird when the weight lifted off him... she looked surprised when he sat up...
“We gotta go. Right now,” she said.
“The crew –” he turned and saw them. What was left of them.
They grabbed the tags and ammo and any rations... his head hurt... where was his helmet? His face was bleeding...
“Go! Now!” She pushed him out of the bird and towards the bank.
He carried two packs... the water was cool... the sun was hot... the trees on the bank promised shade... he was knocked to the ground between the roots and something exploded behind him... she was pulling him along as they ran... his head hurt...
He opened his eyes and saw darkness. A shape settled beside him close enough that he could hear it breathing. It stopped moving as the breeze stilled. It looked at him and motioned for him to be silent. His head hurt. A bright light flashed in both his eyes and seared his retinas into the back of his skull.
“It’s a good thing you’re small, Flyboy,” she said.
A wind started up again and the shape lifted him onto its shoulders.
He opened his eyes and saw darkness. A shape was sitting, hunched by his feet, and peering through a slit out to something that looked too bright to exist. He moved carefully and the shape turned to look at him.
“You did good,” she said.
His thoughts felt swollen, the throbbing in his head worse each time he turned it to look around. She crawled up beside him – the ceiling was too close to stand – and pulled something out of the bag closest to him.
“This will probably be uncomfortable,” she said.
She held his head steady with one hand, holding his eyes open one at a time as she shone a miniature sun into his pupils to check his reaction times. It was more than uncomfortable.
“Better than eight hours ago,” she said, and then she smiled at him. “You may just live through this,” she said.
“Oh. Good,” he croaked.
She chuckled. He covered his eyes with his hand, trying not to put any pressure on his head as he did. He listened to her moving quietly as she stayed sitting beside him. She pressed a soft tube into the hand that wasn’t covering his eyes.
“Eat this,” she said.
My hands and arms were feeling better this week, so I was able to finally get some actual sit-down writing done! My big manuscript got some new scenes, and edits / selective rewrites are going strong in one of my side projects. Due to whatever laws of chaos I fall under, all that productivity came to a crashing halt yesterday due to a migraine and my left hand going through some intense cramps and spasms, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't happy about how this week has gone in regards to writing.
Besides, today I'm feeling better physically. My brain attempted to sabotage that I'm trying to have a positive day with some morning doom scrolling, but Twitter didn't oblige as a lot of threads and posts were intelligent arguments, positive messages, and/or just plain funny.
And all those adults back when we were kids kept telling us that life couldn't be reduced to a multiple choice quiz. Ha! Option A or B, baby!
As for blog posting today, there isn't a new story starting. The next will begin on September 5, 2020. Instead, for the rest of August, I'm re-posting parts of my favorite available stories. Hope you're keeping well and staying safe!
Family Shackles, Part 1: The Nursemaid
Rishima stood up and faced forward. This was not what she had thought her life would be. This was not how she wanted to die. She tightened the grip on the sword in her hand and straightened her shoulders.
She was her father’s thirteenth daughter, born to his fifth wife. She had been proud of her father, of her family, and their place in the world she knew. She had taken her lessons seriously when she learned to dance. She had taken the training seriously when she had been taught of sex and the pleasures of the body. She had taken her life seriously when she had been married as a first wife to the man that her father chose for her.
Even when she had realized that her father had made a mistake, she had taken what she had inside of herself and dedicated everything to improving the man she was married to. She had kindled a child, and still kept their home well in spite of being sick from the time of conception until the time of birthing. She had worked harder than she had ever imagined possible to support and care for her husband.
Her husband was still an idiot.
He had ruined himself, and he had destroyed her in the process. His business dealings had ended with both of them in chains, their newborn son in her shackled arms, as they were thrown in a cart and shunted further from anything familiar than she could have imagined was possible. Her world had become much larger. Men at her father’s banquets often spoke of the largeness of the world and the extent of their travels, and she had made a journey in the cart that only those who traded to other cultures had recounted. Not just other tribes, but cultures so far away that the languages, laws, clothing, and tools were different.
Her idiot husband had tried to lie to and cheat a trader from one of those distant places. The trader had discovered the cheat, and Rishima and her husband were put in chains to pay the debt. And her son… her son…
The roaring of the crowd pulled her out of her lapse into her memories. She didn’t know where she was. She had traveled so far that she was lost forever to her family and her home. The stone walls around her now were too high to climb and the doors were all heavy wood or iron bars that she couldn’t get through. The crowd was cheering because her son had been ripped from her arms, gutted and tossed away like a toy. The man her husband was supposed to have been fighting was who the crowd was cheering for. Her idiot husband, who had pissed himself and then been stabbed through when that man had lunged at him. Then that man had taken her son from her arms, so she had picked up the sword her idiot husband had dropped beside her while he’d been pissing. Then she stood up.
Rishima looked at the man who was many steps away and raised her chin. She was her father’s daughter. She was a proud daughter from a proud family. This was not the life she wanted. This was not a death she could accept. She did not want to die with an idiot.
The man laughed at her, pointing at her, and the crowd laughed with him. He walked over to attack her as though she were a joke and as she spun away she slashed his leg. She had taken her dancing seriously when she had learned. He attacked faster so she dodged faster, spinning away and cutting him again. The crowd grew confused and quiet as she twisted away from the man’s sword blade, keeping her feet in place, only to rise back to standing straight and drive the blade she was holding through his ribs.
She did not accept dying beside an idiot.
Brasus walked without seeing. Yesterday he had been a husband and an expectant father. This morning he had become a widower, and his living child had been wrapped in the death linens of his dead wife because there was no wet nurse. Now, at nearly midday, he was walking through town because he had been sent to deliver the horse that was quietly following him. He had only gone to get away from the weakening wails of his son.
The gladiators were fighting today, but the roaring of the crowd held little interest while his mind was so very occupied with other matters. Usually he would have stopped to make his own bets, but today wasn’t usual. The roaring cheers turned to laughter and jeers as he remembered his tiny son being swaddled for death only an hour earlier. He looked up, angry at their mocking, and watched through the iron bars of the gate as the crowd favorite collapsed and the laughter stuttered to a stop.
A woman appeared in his line of sight as the gladiator fell. She was dark skinned, black haired, and holding the sword that had killed the crowd favorite. The front of her tunic was dirty, bloody and… milk stained. A man nearby yelled wordlessly.
“The gods have cursed me today!” he added words to his yell. The owner of the woman laughed and collected his prize money from the vocal owner of the gladiator.
Brasus ignored them as he stopped to watch through the bars. The sword fell from the woman’s hands and she stumbled a short distance, falling to her knees and reaching for – but not able to bring herself to touch – something that he couldn’t see. Something small. She sat back on her heels, her body rocking, and then threw her head back and screamed at the sky. She voiced every emotion he felt today in a single breath.
“That’s a lovely horse for a freeman to be leading,” the woman’s owner stared at the colt.
“He’s the finest you’ll see in Verona,” Brasus answered slowly.
“I doubt that,” the woman’s owner shrugged.
“I’ll sell him to you,” Brasus stated, tearing his eyes from the woman to look at the man he was talking to. Her owner was about to decline when the gladiator’s owner stepped forward.
“I’ll buy him,” the man offered quickly. His eagerness left the woman’s owner staring at him in sudden confusion.
“I’m not speaking to you,” Brasus stated, not looking away from the woman’s owner.
“Come now, surely you –”
“I’m not speaking to you,” Brasus repeated, his gaze not shifting.
“Here and now, young Nazario, certainly one man’s coins are as good as –”
“I’ll buy him,” the woman’s owner interrupted, his look snapping to Brasus the moment the gladiator’s owner mentioned his surname, and then reassessing the colt that Brasus was leading as the gladiator’s owner kept talking. Brasus knew his father was renowned for excellent horses, and both these men knew they couldn’t afford a colt from the Nazario family’s stock if they sold everything they owned. “What’s your price?” the woman’s owner asked quickly.
“Her,” Brasus stated, turning to look at the woman who had just killed a gladiator. She was being dragged toward the bars he was looking through by one of the men who cleaned up between each fight. She wasn’t resisting, and simply dangled from the hands that held her, sobbing.
The man who owned her looked at her when she sprawled to the ground in front of him. She barely moved after being thrown out through the gate. The iron clanged as the gate was slammed shut.
“She’s yours,” her owner agreed.
A blog with quick updates about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and where I can vent my short stories weekly for everyone to read for free!