Running late for posting a blog entry today. No particular reason for being late. I'm feeling lazy and moving slowly for what seems like everything I'm trying to do. It's not a bad way to deal with a Saturday.
I hope you're also getting the chance to have the day you wanted to today. (Even better if it's a day where your brain, body, and situation are allowing you to get everything done – as much or as little – that you wanted to.) I'm not getting nearly enough done. If you are, please consider this as me cheering for you :D
There were storm warnings this past week, our first of the winter season. So far there hasn't been much of anything resembling a winter storm at my house, but my achy joints are telling me the weather warnings weren't lying. My hubby got the vehicle tires changed over to winters, and we bought new snow boots for the kids as their feet have grown out of last year's boots. Getting these activities done appears to have held off the winter weather for a day or two lol.
I haven't gotten any new writing done. I'm focused on editing at the moment, and am now really getting excited to share Daion Echoes through Transglass with you. Still a few more weeks of work to do on it, but it's exhilarating to feel this close to finished again. Doesn't seem to matter if it's the first novel or, in this case, the eighth, the excitement of knowing my story is almost ready to share is the same. I do love having this "Author" gig as part of my regular work.
Side note: writing books pays as well as being a stay-at-home parent, so loving it is quite important. At least for me. :)
Hope you're staying safe and well this weekend!
7. Crossing Camp
There had been forty guards when Tor started following the wagon. Ten were dead on the road, and the trio had circled the camp once already to pick off anyone who wasn’t inside the fire’s light. Some others had run away. Now there were twenty-three guards remaining, and all the prisoners in the wagon.
“The lynch walked the known world! In every place that people resided, he used his dark magic and twisted an animal into a monster to torment and torture the innocent! As they battled the cursed beasts, the lynch stole their riches and crops to feed his never-filled greed and hunger!”
The Leshnatti woman in the wagon who’d been muttering Cautionary Tales from her home country for most of the past month of being locked in the cage was now yelling the stories. Her tone had taken on a pitch leaving no doubt she was so far into her own delusions that she believed the fiction and had stopped understanding the tales were only fanciful creations to support the morals at the ends. Between her yelling about monsters, the already missing guards, and the absolute fear hanging on each surviving member of the guard troop that Tor was gone because scouts were hunting them, Justin assumed the remainder of the fight would be a mop-up. He’d never had a problem with using any advantage, and head-games were an advantage they needed with the eight-to-one odds currently against them.
“One beast walked upright like a man and was burdened by no less than six arms! Porcupine quills covered each arm, and could be thrown as knives, and the head of a hound sat upon its hideous shoulders!”
Justin smirked as he threw two of the knives he’d collected into the tight knot of guards in the middle of the camp. He hit both targets he was aiming for, satisfying his personal scores against the decision makers for first Lark – for being put in chains at his advanced age – and then for Rourke – for dying because of a broken leg that could’ve been easily set and plastered by any doctor. The one who’d ordered Lark put in chains died on his feet, toppling like a felled tree into the churned-up snow. The one who’d ordered Rourke to walk or die tried to pull out the knife. The blade snapped in the hurried motion, leaving half its length embedded, and the guard stared at the hilt and broken blade in his hand as he fell.
“Fengus deserved that,” Justin rasped. The few closest guards heard the muttering and looked in their direction.
Tor hissed out a reprimanding breath at their position being given away. Justin watched him disappear through the trees, Tam in tow, and waited exactly where about a third of the remaining guards were edging closer to. He crouched low to keep under the squinting stares as the guards tried to see into the dark after so much time between the fires, the running timer in the back of his mind telling him they were getting short on keeping their lead ahead of Tor’s friend.
On a whim, he set aside his weapons and scooped up a handful of snow. The woman in the cart was getting close to the part where poisonous spit got hurled out of some bird-monster’s beak at a bunch of villagers. He threw the handful so it was a scattered spray of snow just as she screamed like the bird-monster in the story. Half of the group dropped, wailing as if they’d been hit with hot oil. Justin grabbed his weapons and lunged out of the tree line into the edges of the fire’s light. He kept a stance that was low enough he would look like he was on all fours. The panicked guards barely fought as he swept in among them.
Tor leapt into view from above, dropping off the top of the cage like a hawk into the thickest side of the knot of guards that hadn’t approached the tree line. Tam summersaulted out of the trees into the group that Tor was fighting, slashing out from her knees as her brother’s blades clashed above her head. The ringing steel collisions ended within a minute, and Tor and Justin blinked at each other across the sudden silence. Tor was the first to scan for his sister and then look up at the wagon to watch the Leshnatti woman slouch against the bars of the cage. Tam’s head and shoulders appeared as she pulled her arm back and drew her sword out of the Leshnatti woman. She glanced over at where Justin was standing as she cleaned the blade with a handful of snow.
“Open the cage and give him the pick,” she ordered Justin, nodding up at one of the prisoners. “He’s a lock maker,” she added.
Justin first grabbed the few items that he knew would complete his kit, then collected enough rations and blankets for the three them to get to the mine – possibly a few days further, if Tor’s estimate of how long it should take could be trusted – and then did as she’d ordered and opened the cage. The lock maker hesitated to take the pick when Justin held it out to him. Tor appeared beside him and took the pick, holding it out to the lock maker.
“Looks like I’m the only one stone headed enough to trust you,” the scout said, the smile on his face impossible to see behind the mask but very easy to hear. The lock maker took the pick and immediately set to work freeing himself. Tor’s mask turned to look up at Justin. “Come on, we need to get moving.”
“Wait, Tam! Take Ree!” the mother in the cart called after them as they started walking in the direction the wagon had been going, Justin going first to begin adjusting his eyes to the dark after spending time near the fires while collecting supplies.
“We’re going through the valley,” Tam called over her shoulder, not turning or slowing. Justin looked back and saw the mother stop trying to convince her young daughter to climb down and instead pull the little girl into a tight hug. He stopped walking and looked at the people in the wagon, all of whom were now turning away from Tor and Tam to start figuring out another route away from the camp.
“They don’t know about the army. We need to keep moving,” Tor said as he walked past, barely loud enough for Justin to hear. Justin turned away from the wagon to watch Tor’s back; the scout’s strides were quick and even. Tam passed him without saying anything. Just where were they leading him that the rest of the prisoners wouldn’t even consider this direction to escape?
A short personal blurb today, due to the super-duper fun happenstance of owning a pair of malfunctioning ovaries (aside: it's not actually fun at all). I have polycystic ovaries... 0.5 out of 5 stars, would not recommend, super painful ruptures, and other "milder" symptoms suck.
After having two kids and a partial hysterectomy, I've gone from regular cyst ruptures a couple times a year down to one or two every couple of years. The most prominent symptom I get which has alerted me to every new cyst since I was a teenager is hormonal vertigo. Once the vertigo starts, it usually lasts a couple of days every month while getting worse as the cyst(s) grow(s), and clears up after the pelvis-destroying pain of however many ruptures will clear up the total amount of cysts I have at the time. (My cysts don't get big enough to qualify for surgical removal, and the multiple hormonal treatments I've tried over the past 20+ years never worked for me.)
Today is day 2 of mild vertigo, controllable with motion sickness medication, and came with a side of uncomfortable hormone migraine. These migraines aren't blindingly painful, they just sit behind my eyes and make my vision weird while threatening to get blindingly painful if any of my other migraine triggers join the party.
So, moral of the story, malfunctioning ovaries are not fun and I'mma go have a day involving lots of sitting and not much thinking. Hope you're staying well and healthy and safe this weekend!
6. Better Together
Justin grinned at the retreating backs of the three remaining guards. Tor had been beyond good at using both swords he carried, Justin now had his favored combination of two swords and a knife to back it up, and Tam had been surprisingly capable. Not surprising to Justin because the first thing Tor had done when the fighting started was throw a sword to her, but the two corpses in the snow in front of her still wore the same shocked expressions they’d had for their very short fight with her.
Justin dropped one sword, lifted the knife to his right hand as he was eyeing up the running guards, and then launched the knife after them. The one in the middle of the three starfished and then sprawled into the snow. Justin grinned wider as the guard who’d been last to retreat tripped on the body, scrambled in a panic to stand, tripped on themselves, and then finally got up and started running again.
“Don’t,” Tor cautioned when Justin knelt beside the nearest body and started searching his clothes for supplies. Justin arched an eyebrow, but continued checking pockets.
“The items they carry are either poisoned or made to break,” Tam stated. Justin quickly pulled his hands back and looked up to see if she was joking about the poison.
“Only take things you saw them using,” Tor said. “Anything else they carry is meant to hinder or kill escaped slaves and prisoners.”
Justin stood and looked down at each of the nine bodies in the road. He could recognize all of them easily and – now that he was actively thinking about it – could recall the items they’d taken to hand each night: who had provided the striker for the fire, who the others always asked for a kitchen knife, and all the other things that he now realized were single items distributed across all the individuals in the troop which, when assembled together, would make up a single set of supplies. He went from body to body and took the working, safe items he knew he needed and wrapped them into an impromptu satchel he made using a couple of jackets. Then he went around again and collected the things he’d seen handled but not used and wrapped them up the same way.
“What are you doing?” Tam demanded, stepping back and raising her sword when he approached close to her.
Justin sighed. He didn’t want to bother with the lengthy explanation of how useful decoy and broken items could be, especially since they’d likely be releasing the other prisoners and didn’t need that group being as well-armed and supplied as his group was. Rather than reaching to tie it onto her again, this time he held it out at arm’s reach toward her.
“Bring it,” he rasped.
“Put it on the ground and step away,” she answered.
Justin smirked at her, bowed formally, and set the bundle down. Tam waited until he was picking through the choice of swords scattered around, in case he could upgrade what he’d already found, before she lifted the improvised satchel and tied it around herself. Once he was comfortably armed, Justin picked up the bundle of useful things and tied it on himself.
Tor was already walking back up the road, Tam following, as Justin finished the knot in the middle of his chest. Justin glanced up at the clear sky, considering the option of quietly parting ways by simply ducking into the trees and walking away. It would take him months to get back to the coast on his own, dodging armies, villages, and scouts, and he’d likely starve to death as he didn’t know any of the local foliage and had only seen a few small animals during the past weeks.
“You’re better off with us and you know it,” Tor called back, not slowing his strides.
Justin shot a glance at the two of them before shaking his head. A few summers ago, he’d nearly gotten himself and his young cousin, Bernard, arrested. They’d been bored. Justin stole paint, rollers, and brushes from the local store – which had been closed but had easy locks to pick – and they’d gone down to the docks. An hour later, the seven passed-out drunks they’d passed had some of the worst cosmetics applications ever seen, and one side of one ship’s hull had been redesigned into something akin to a child’s drawing of a store-front selling (of all things) lady’s garments. The ship’s name, the Corseted Lady, may have had something to do with the idea. They’d been nabbed as vandals because they’d been laughing too hard to effectively run away, and Bernard’s father had collected them from the dock master’s offices.
“Next time, Bernard stays home with Adelle, and helps keep watch over his sisters,” Justin’s uncle had growled as they were being escorted to the ship that had been targeted. Justin had scoffed. He and his cousin snickered loudly as everyone rounded the ship to view the damages.
“Come on, Captain,” Justin had grinned at his uncle... and commander when they were on the wet. “He’s better off with me and you know it.”
Bernard and Justin both received a heavy cuff upside the back of the head from Bernard’s father, despite that he was also laughing, and had spent the rest of the night scrubbing and sanding the hull back to its proper condition under careful watch by both Bernard’s father and the militia. A few nights later, when his parents were busy, Adelle had been called to watch the girls and Bernard had again been trusted to Justin’s care.
Justin sighed and started following the siblings back toward the camp. He stopped for a moment to retrieve the knife he’d thrown, and upped his pace to the quick jog Tor set once he noticed Justin was following. Tor kept his sword out and simply cut the ropes he’d set on the road away from the camp, leaving behind nothing but uselessly short lengths.
Well, the news this week has been either a circus story or a horror story. I'm not going to hazard a guess as to which genre the story will continue with, but I do hope there's a happy ending worked into the plot somewhere in the near future.
It was disappointing (to say the very least) that the city where I live had a public white supremacy hate gathering. Sadly, though, it wasn't a surprise after our premier and his party members have been publicly awful and racist for the past few months. The 2023 provincial election looks really, really far away right now. It's a terrible feeling to see how far-reaching into the future the damage from the UCP having power in Alberta for four years will be, and I really hope there are legal consequences in the future for hurts caused by this sham of a governing body.
As for my small circle close to home, things are going decent at the moment. Family and friends are staying mostly healthy, our finances look awful but are finally predictable, and I might just be able to etch out a routine for my day-to-day requirements and get a lot of the wild cards out of my anxiety deck. How cool would that be, right? Actual mental healthiness. (Finding that would be like finding a unicorn that grants wishes lol.)
Writing is still on hold as my anxiety and depression spirals run around my thoughts like twisters, but the calm periods in my brain are getting longer and my characters are starting to whisper again. I do have the focus for editing and reading on a regular basis again, however, and getting back to those favorite activities has been lovely.
Yes, I like editing. No, really, I actually do! I love picking through my stories and smoothing off the rough edges and bad wording until they're polished and presentable. My initial drafts are like a meal that tastes good, but got slopped onto a chipped plate and put out on the porch. Editing rounds put that same tasty meal on a pretty plate and set it in the middle of a place setting on a clean dining table. Same food – ie: same story – but now it tastes and looks ready to devour. Hope you're having a good weekend!
The footprints suddenly branched suspiciously, continuing beside the road without looking like there was a break, but with a double-stepped path leading up to and away from the nearby trees. Justin jerked to a stop, Tam knocking into his side as he pulled her back, and looked at the other side of the road to find a similar double-stepped path over there. He didn’t see anything close to the snow so… there it was. Chest height on him, neck height on her. Not the bladed rope he’d heard some scouts carried, but still a black strand of silk rope that would knock over anyone coming this way.
Justin ducked under and continued. The yelling behind them wasn’t getting closer, but it also wasn’t getting further away. When he glanced back, torches were bobbing down the road. It looked like about half the guards were following. With his own weapons, that wouldn’t even be a challenge. With only a knife and the scout’s younger sister… he snarled as he looked forward and stared running again, pulling her to do the same beside him.
There were three more ropes. Justin was past the second one when he heard the guards chasing him run into the first one, and he was looking for the fourth when he heard them run into the second. The second had been at tripping height. The third had been creatively tied across a bend in the road to match the angle of a fallen tree on the side of the road; it was next to impossible to see, and would knock some men backwards while tripping others forwards.
Then he found the fourth one. Something was wrong with it. Justin felt the wrongness because he couldn’t see it, but it was wrong. He didn’t want to get close to it, and he didn’t want to put any extra tracks in the snow that showed how to get around it. Holding Tam’s arm to force her behind him, he took out the knife and snapped open the blade. Nothing happened when he pressed the flat of the blade down in the middle of the rope. The snow to his right twitched when he pressed the flat of the blade up under the middle of the rope. He released the tension, and the packed snow settled. He lifted the rope slowly, and some of the snow pack moved at the same place and then settled back when he let the pressure off the knife.
The fourth rope was tied across the road at just below Tam’s waist. Too high for her to climb over and too low to easily crouch under. The expectation would be for whoever came along to lift it or run headlong into it, which would trigger whatever hasty trap was waiting in the nearby snowbank. Justin checked with the knife to be certain there wasn’t anything tied under the rope, then dragged Tam down to crawl under, using the churned up snow of the wagon’s passing earlier that evening to cover the change in their tracks.
They were nearly a minute past where he expected a fifth rope to be when he started to feel like something was going even more wrong. The increased yelling as the guards encountered the third rope was barely enough to slightly lift the feeling. Justin slowed to a walk and started watching the trees to either side a lot closer than he had been, and returned the knife safely to his pocket. He was better at fighting with bare knuckles than with only one knife.
The scout was standing in the road, his back toward Justin and his mask up, held in place by the tip of a curved sword held by another man in the same black uniform. Tam sucked in a breath with a hiss. Justin looked down and saw recognition etched in her face, and the absolute opposite of welcome. Justin tucked her behind him and kept walking forward.
“Jin, she’s my sister. I had to do something,” Tor’s voice was conversational and even. Justin felt the gaze of the masked scout, Jin, run over him.
“Your sister needs a shave,” Jin replied. Justin saw Tor stretch taller, Jin’s sword tip pressing up into the soft skin where his jaw became his neck.
“I needed help getting her out of the cage,” Tor answered. “And help getting her out of Opat.”
“Then you should’ve asked, Tor,” Jin actually sounded disappointed.
“You wouldn’t have come.”
“You’re right,” Jin sighed. “But I could’ve slowed down the discovery that you’d left. I could’ve delayed the army diverting from patrol to come directly here because desertion is counted as an act of treason. Stones and mortar, Tor, I could’ve still helped you before it was a death sentence!”
Justin stopped walking when he felt Jin’s gaze land on him again. The sister peeped around his arm but stayed planted behind him. Jin scoffed and flicked his wrist, slapping Tor in the side of his head with the flat of the sword before Jin turned it back and sheathed the blade.
“If you hand them over now, and we go back to the –”
“No,” Tor interrupted.
“They’re criminals,” Jin stated.
“It’s Tam! She stole bread so she and Grams wouldn’t starve!”
“And what about him?” Jin jabbed a finger to point at Justin. Tor looked in the direction the finger was pointing, his assessment almost gentle, and then turned back to look at Jin with a shrug.
“He just wants to go home,” Tor said.
“What happens when you stop being useful for getting him home? What about if Tam stops being useful for him?” Jin crossed his arms at his chest, asking the questions that had been plastered on Tam’s face since before Justin had first opened the cage’s lock on the wagon.
“I’ll cut that stone when I have to,” Tor said and started pacing backwards toward where Justin and Tam were standing.
“You know I can’t let you leave,” Jin warned him.
“So give me time like you said you would,” Tor said, stopping beside his sister and pulling down his mask to cover his face. Jin shook his head and sighed, muttering under his breath. He walked over and stood in front of Justin, undoing his sword belt and clipping another of the fold-over knives to it before dropping his hand to hold it at his side.
“You owe me so much,” Jin pointed an accusing finger at Tor, and then he tucked his hand into a loose fist and tapped Justin’s shoulder. “There,” he stated, his tone petulant behind the mask. “I hit you first.”
Justin glanced at Tor and the scout nodded. Jin stiffened and tilted his chin up slightly. Justin shrugged and punched, knocking Jin unconscious before he even hit the ground. Tor picked up the weapons belt, hesitated for a moment, then reached inside a clever pocket that took up the entire back of Jin’s shirt. Tor pulled out a winding of black, silk rope. He tucked it into a similar pocket in his own shirt before thanking his friend and standing up.
“How long will he be out?” Tor asked.
“Until he wakes up,” Justin rasped, realizing after he spoke that it had been over a week since he’d said any words out loud. Tor nodded and strapped on the extra weapons belt.
“We’ll be better off going back toward –” he paused as the nearby boom of a small, black-powder demolition blast was followed up with screams and shouts. Justin stared at the scout, reassessing what he’d thought was a somewhat nervous and very young man. Apparently Tor had definitely only been cold when his sword was shaking earlier. “The camp,” Tor continued, finishing his sentence. “It’ll be easier to get through the guards than the army.” Tor nodded in each direction as he mentioned each enemy. “Can you fight or just brawl?” he added the question to Justin.
“Both, as required,” Justin answered, eyeing up that Tor now had both swords. The scout was watching him when Justin’s gaze lifted to the eyes behind the mask.
“Tam prefers straight blades. I’m assuming you do, too,” Tor stated. “We can get those from the guards.”
Yay for Saturday! Somehow this weekend ended up with two lazy days and yay! is this ever a nice change. Weekends of late have been much too busy.
This past week the days have been busy, but looking back I'm not sure what all happened. Rooms of the house have been getting cleaned up, and my hubby and I have been keeping up on groceries rather than running out of things regularly, and yard clean-up happened (as well as some use of the food dehydrator)... so I guess I actually do know where the hours of the week went lol.
It's been busy, but a good busy. I even had hours to dedicate to the editing and section rewrites for Daion Echoes through Transglass, that sci-fi novella I've been working on. There were a couple changes to smooth out the story – thanks to help from my amazing critique partner – and a few things I wanted to redo due to this year's real world changes (so the escapism of the story stays firmly over in science fiction). The edits and section rewrites are making for an even better story, and now I'm getting close enough to being done that I'm getting excited about sharing it.
4. Leaving Camp
Justin made sure his arm shackles were already on the ground when the ratchets clicked and the locks released. They didn’t clink as he slipped his wrists free and rolled his hands a few times just because he could. He curled a little tighter, as if cold, bringing his ankles closer to his hands without being obvious about it. The lock between his feet was less complex due to its duty of usually being dragged, and the ratchets in it sprang loose within seconds. The shackles on his ankles were caked with dirt and frozen over from the snow.
Justin used body heat to be able to get the pin-bar into the locks. The length of time needed to spring the half-frozen ratchets severely tried his patience as he worked at them. The only bonus was that most of the guards were sleeping by the time he was done so they didn’t notice him shifting to deal with the lock now resting on the center of his chest. This lock held the weighted chains over his shoulders (supposedly to keep him too physically tired to fight) and attached to the short lengths stopping him from extending his arms fully.
He moved slowly when he had to, keeping the clinking of the links to a minimum and only earning a few cursory glances from the two guards who were on watch over the camp. They both avoided looking his way for long, though, because he picked his sleeping place after noting where they were stationed to be certain that they would always have at least one fire in their line of sight when they looked his way. The first rule Justin had learned as a teenager of being competent at night watch was to protect your night vision by avoiding staring at fires.
The heavy lock on his chest ratcheted open. Justin slipped the chain ends off the hasp and gently lowered the lock on the ground. He held the final chains looped over him so they wouldn't slip loudly and then rolled full body to his back. Only his loose ankle shackles made any noise, and that was too quiet to draw more than a flicked glance from the nearest guard on watch – likely so the guard could say he’d been paying attention without lying when his shift ended. Justin pulled his feet clear and carefully freed his shoulder from the last of the chains, fighting to keep his lips closed as he grinned so that his teeth wouldn’t reflect if anyone looked his way.
He watched the sleeping camp with his eyes closed to slits, waiting for the next required glance from each of the guards on watch before rolling up to crouch beside his chains. He left the thin blanket – it didn’t provide any warmth, plus leaving it would give the appearance of him still lying there until daylight broke – and stepped over to the back of the wagon. The woman that the scout had been talking to sat up and stared at him. Unlike her brother, her visible trust level was hovering at a point closer to just killing Justin so that she could sleep better at night knowing he wasn’t in the world anymore, but she had shifted to the very back of the wagon by the cage door.
Justin approved of bringing her already.
Her wrist shackle clicked open after only a moment and she caught it as it fell, before it thumped to the wagon planking. The side of his lips curled in a half grin as she set the shackle onto the blanket of another prisoner so carefully that the links of her chain never made a sound. Justin clicked open the ratchets on the cage door. A hand shot out from a mass of blankets and clamped onto the wrist of the scout’s sister at the same time that her feet swung out to dangle off the end of the wagon.
“Take me with you, Tam,” the hard whisper commanded.
Justin looked at the eyes staring out from inside the blankets. Others in the wagon who were awake were watching the situation unfold, weighing their chances of escaping against what was going to happen to the one holding the woman he was helping. Tam twisted her hand and jerked her wrist out of the grip. Justin heard the deep inhalation that could only end in a scream. He slipped the loop free on the knife handle and snapped the blade locked while he was already moving to strike. He didn’t bother trying to find the throat in all the blankets, he just drove the blade up to the handle into the prisoner’s eye.
The scout’s sister gasped and shied away from him as she jumped off the wagon to land in the road, her feet already running. He caught her before she could take her second step and spun her back to lock her under his arm. He wiped the blade quickly on the blankets – no use having a knife that folded like this if blood got in its ratchets and it froze closed – and scanned to make sure that neither of the watching guards looked their way. He tucked the fabric loop back into place to hold the blade closed before dropping the knife into his pocket, and then closed the cage door and triggered the ratchets locked, grateful the noises were no louder than the usual clanks of everyone sleeping in the wagon as he ignored the plaintive stares of the other prisoners.
He pulled Tam down with him to crouch behind the wagon’s wheel and scanned over the spot where he'd bedded for the night, nodding to himself that nothing he'd left behind was out of place. Staying out of sight behind the wagon, and forcing Tam to do the same, he waited for the guard’s next cursory glance to finish before standing and hurrying down the road in the direction that the scout had gone.
They were six steps away from the wagon and still inside the area illuminated by fires when a scream ripped open the night. Justin glanced over his shoulder and saw the little girl that had screamed everyone awake when Rourke strangled himself was screaming and trying to pull her hand out of the shackle holding her in place. Her legs were kicking at the wagon planking in an attempt to get away from the one-eyed corpse Justin had recently created. Tam tried to twist to look back and Justin pulled her along harder, not slowing at all when she stumbled. The last thing he needed was for her to stare toward the fires and be trippingly useless beside him for the next few minutes. He closed the eye he’d glanced back with and kept moving forward.
The expected yells rose up. Thankfully confusion from the guards who’d been sleeping delayed their ability for organized activity, but Justin wasn’t gearblocked enough to believe these few minutes would give them the needed time to get the day ahead Tor said they should have. The guards shouted about thieves having attacked the camp, and then something about ghosts, and then someone got wise and checked under the thin blanket Justin had left lying in the snow.
Justin ignored all of it and focused on the road’s single set of footprints left in the opposite direction than the wagon had been travelling, pulling Tam beside him. The first moon was a thin silver sliver tonight and, unlike the other times he’d been free to get away, a clear sky. At least tonight he’d know immediately if he was being double crossed and led in the wrong direction.
Well, it finally happened. The townhouse condo property we've been trying to sell for nearly two years? After a maximum-anxiety six weeks, possession and the property keys passed to the buyers this past Wednesday. We are now the very proud owners of only one address, one mortgage, and one mailbox, and are very relieved to no longer be landlords or to ever have plans of maintaining properties for other people to rent ever again.
Not going to lie, the relief had a sad undertone for me. That townhouse was the first home I owned as an adult, and I loved living there when it was my residence. I'm so, so, so happy it's now owned by people who love it, too. (How do I know they love it? The banks are awful about lending money right now and these buyers jumped through six weeks of likely what felt like flaming hoops hung above tanks of starving sharks to be allowed to have their mortgage. That screams "loving a property" to me.)
The decrease in anxiety after the sale finished has been great as it comes with the added bonus of reduced insomnia. Unfortunately for me, it also comes with increased brain fog, a forced recognition of current personal depression levels due to anxiety no longer blocking the view, and a grasping of my brain chemistry at everything which could be an anxiety trigger because why would a drop in my actual anxiety level mean I can relax a bit... I have a stupid brain. Most of my thoughts in the second half of this week have just been moments of clarity within the fog for doing any of my tasks at hand, my anxiety rapid-fire questioning if I need to be terrified of whatever the moments of clarity are about, and the rest of my brain either eye-rolling about the anxiety-interrogations or forcibly side-stepping off the spirals because clarity alone isn't a real reason to be afraid.
Ergo, I'm brain-tired this week as my executive function has been working overtime into mental exhaustion by noon every day. Writing was a write-off. Reading was a lovely reward yesterday when I could focus on a thought for long enough to read again; I finished Game of Stars (book 2 of Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond, by Sayantani Dasgupta) and, yes, for the third week in a row I'm recommending you should read the Kiranmala series. It's awesome so far.
I have plans to buy book 3 during some family-required book shopping... my oldest started reading I Am Malala in school but didn't have time in class to finish it. Looks like we need to pick up at least two excellent books today! I hope you're staying safe and well this weekend :)
Justin abruptly stopped ignoring the one-sided conversation.
“Our aunt took Tam every year since she was five years old. My sister used to help sell the rugs our aunt made. She even started making her own, plus other things. My sister sews really well,” Tor said, and then he sighed. “But our aunt died last year and my grandmother sold the wagon. She’s old and her mind slips, so she forgot about selling the rugs. Then the village’s Administrator took all the rugs for taxes. That’s why they ran out of chips and Tam ended up stealing the bread.”
The scout shifted and Justin felt something press against his hip, opposite the side the sword was on. He glanced down and saw the stolen rations and water flask.
“It’s funny; I steal water and food and get asked if I want anything else. My sister does the same and gets sentenced to labor as a slave in one of the worst gemstone mines in Opat’s mountains,” Tor said. He shrugged and again leaned against Justin’s back with a sigh. “I patrol these mountains to make sure the mine roads are safe. There are a lot of thieves and the like around, each hoping to steal gemstones, so it’s actually somewhat dangerous to be walking around alone out here. None of these guards will follow if you’re too far ahead because they’re already a day late from the other delays you’ve caused. I’ve heard them talking that you’re a sailor. My sister knows the road to the coast. The army I’m supposed to be with is moving this way for its next sweep of the passes to the mines on this side of the range, so the challenge will only be to stay ahead of them and the scouts. We can do it if we leave tonight. I can’t give you directions because I don’t know them, and Tam won’t tell you anything because I’m going to tell her not to. I’m offering to get you safely back to the coast in exchange for you ensuring her safe passage out of Opat. I had ten minutes with those rations. If you trust me, start eating when you lie down and then pretend to sleep. I’ll understand that as there being an agreement between us. If you throw away the rations then I’ll know you didn’t take the offer.”
The scout’s weight lifted off Justin’s back, but he paused before standing.
“I’ve never seen anyone carry a man that far before,” Tor added, then he stood up and his quiet steps took him back to the edge of the wagon. He whispered to his sister and her distrustful glare landed on Justin for a moment. Then they parted and, using the wagon as cover from any of the guards seeing him, the scout started away from the camp and back along the road in the opposite direction they’d been travelling.
Justin watched the young man go. The scout was smart – gearblocked beyond all belief to trust a random stranger in chains – but smart enough to do it so there wasn’t any other choice for Justin but to help him. Justin drew the same wary glances from the guards that he always got whenever he moved enough to rattle the chains, but all he did was lie down with his back to the fire like he did every night. He wasn’t close enough to get any heat from it anyway.
The ration pack had been tampered with but he couldn’t see how, just that the re-wrapping was hasty and loose. His stomach growled loudly. He’d only been allowed to eat once a day since waking up in the wagon. In every ration pack he’d been given so far, the bread was hard, the dried meat overly salty, and the vegetables were shrivelled and sour. At least now he had confirmation that the guards were eating the same terrible food they were giving the prisoners. That explained why they were so miserable.
An edge of the bread was broken, and one of the soft carrots was stiff in the middle.
Justin broke open the loaf first. A small knife handle had been shoved into it, the same black fabric wrapping it as on the scout’s sword hilt, and a stripe of steel running down one side. He set down the handle and worked at the carrot carefully, but that only produced a long, narrow pin-bar. The pin-bar was obviously only meant to be a pick for the simple locks on Justin’s chains. He ate the meat and vegetables first, testing that each thing bent easily before putting it in his mouth. There was a spot in the knife handle for the blade to lock into, and he didn’t want to find the blade by biting it.
He crumbled the bread before eating it. No blade. Unless the scout had given it to his sister… no. There hadn’t been any flash of metal and the rest of the prisoners would have already been fighting over any kind of weapon if it was in the wagon. Half of them had been awake when these conversations had been happening, and they were now watching either the road where the scout had disappeared, or the sister that he’d been talking to, and a few Justin could feel the stares of boring into his spine.
Justin picked the handle back up and looked at it again now that his eyes had adjusted to the darkness better. Still just a black handle with a steel stripe running the length of one side. He turned it around and the steel stripe shifted out a fraction of a fingerside. Justin held on to the fabric and turned the handle so the stripe faced the ground. The blade slid out and dangled from an unseen hinge. Justin tipped the handle to face the steel stripe up and the blade folded away. He tipped it back and the blade fell out. He turned it to study the blade’s pocket and saw a small spring lock that would fall into place once the blade was –
He grinned at the knife. One small tug, not even enough motion to clink the shackles at his wrists, and the blade was set. He tripped the lock’s small switch with his thumb and the blade hung loose again. There was a little loop of fabric that he’d thought was just a loose winding, but it fit snugly around the end of the knife and held the tip so the blade stayed in. Justin held the knife in his left hand and picked up the little pin-bar in his right. No time like right now to get out of here.
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!