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.
Whoops! Halloween happened and I forgot about my blog lol. Good thing I have the reminder for updating Wattpad, today it reminded me to update everything!
This weekend, my writing update and my wee life blurb are one in the same. I’ve been thinking about / worrying about / stressing over my writing-life balance a lot these past few months and I’ve finally come to an internal decision about it which I feel comfortable with. This decision, and the factors leading to it, isn’t something I’ve blogged about until today. The high levels of Impostor Syndrome and self-created guilt I have around failing to write, edit, and query consistently during much of this past year have been chipping away pieces of my mental health. Adding this to the rest of 2020’s stress load and, I can say with sincerity, inside my head hasn’t been a great place to live lately.
My husband and I have been going through another round of life upheavals these past weeks and… we’re tired. Our kids need us, we have side hustles that need attention, and much of our social network has disappeared in the past years due to deaths, falling outs, blocking toxic from our lives, and the fact that everyone left is running ragged and just as tired as we are. We have outside supports, and we have each other, but outside supports are limited (again – everyone is tired) and we’re tired.
So, with all of real life going on and going sideways (and, for some things, flipping upside down), I’m choosing to step away from chasing professional writing. Running after vapors as dreams fly further away isn’t always a good thing. Chasing after My Dream of a literary agent and publishing my books through “the big houses” isn’t healthy for me right now. Feeling like I’m not doing enough to “prove” I should be awarded My Dream is really unhealthy right now. In five years from now, maybe it’ll be healthy for me to start the chase again. Maybe it’ll take ten years.
I don’t know.
I do know queries and pitches and submissions – plus beating myself up for not doing them all – are bad places for my mental health right now. Plus deadlines (even self-imposed ones) aren’t helping me get where I want to be. What does feel healthy is deciding it’s okay to release the expectation of “making it” so I can get back to viewing writing in a healthy way. Honestly, throughout bad times and bouts with crappy mental health, writing has always been – and continues to be – one of my favorite activities. Realigning the activity so it fits my life in a healthy way again feels friggin’ great!
What does that mean for you? Well, my blog will run weekly updates and story parts, my Wattpad account will continue as it has been, and my website will offer my books and info just the same. If all goes well you might not even notice a change. And, maybe, I’ll get noticed by someone in the right place at the right time and that dream of “making it” will come true for me. Maybe it won’t. Either way, my words will be out in the world to read as much of (or as little of) as you like.
For me, this decision means I’ll stop packing around unnecessary guilt and pressure so I can focus on real life. I don’t have to be sad for missing out on Twitter Pitch Parties, be angry about losing writing days to migraines and physical health issues, and be crushed when my wanted time frames get blown to smithereens by universe-created, mandatory participation, real life events. Overall, letting go of driving toward My Dream means I can dream quietly while still being present in real life.
Enjoying my writing, sharing my stories, and actually being present for my important people and events adds up to a fairly huge win I think. Plus, who knows… right place and right time and all that ;)
I hope you’re safe and well this weekend!
9. Finding Shelter
Tam went first, Justin following warily behind. There were no other footprints in the fresh snow, but he didn’t trust the windowless building. Tor and Tam were the only things inside – it really was just a shed – and Justin hesitated at the threshold. From outside the little building looked solidly built, the gaps in the vertical exterior walls showed only the horizontal interior boards, and the sloped roof fit tightly enough that it was dry inside. Letting his eyes adjust to the dimness, he could see the planks of the interior walls were packed with plaster and sap. He reached around the door frame and settled a palm on each side of the wall, testing the thickness of the planks. Together, including the space between for the framing, the rough plank walls totaled about ten fingersides wide.
“It’s a summer shed the scouts use,” Tor said, setting down the pack he made out of his blanket before each run. “There are panels in each wall that drop inward, same on the outside, so that it’s easier to fill and unpack when needed,” he unhooked one of the seemingly random latches and a large section of one inside wall dropped toward him, leaving only the vertical slats of the outside wall. “We’ll sleep here for the night and get a decent rest.”
“What about your troop?” Justin asked, still in the doorway.
“I’m the only one from these mountains,” Tor said with a shrug. “Jin can keep up on the roads, and will guess this is where we went, but he won’t be able to find it. For him, all the trail markers either are or will be hidden in the snow.”
Justin frowned back at the knee-deep trail that they’d left behind as Tor relatched the wall. He looked at the shed more critically than before. He didn’t like being boxed in, and this building in particular left his skin crawling.
“We kept a pace they can’t because they have to double back and check in with reports to the General,” Tor explained. Justin stared hard at the interior, seeing nothing out of place, and then shook his head to the negative and backed down the few stairs so he was resolutely standing on the ground outside. Tor watched with growing confusion as Tam strode out to stand beside Justin, both men equally shocked at her actions.
“You weren’t with him on the road for getting past your rope traps,” she stated calmly. Tor bent to pick up his bundle with a sigh.
“We’re not going to find anything half as good with this storm moving in,” Tor cautioned as he straightened.
“That’s fine,” Justin replied.
Movement beside the door grabbed Justin’s attention as Tor took his first step. A knothole had shifted. Not a knothole, an eye! Justin drew his sword and lunged forward in one motion. Suddenly two of the vertical planks by the door’s hinges broke along almost invisible cuts and the person wearing them stumbled out onto the small porch. That person was bleeding badly from having Justin’s sword embedded high in his torso, but he was still gurgling to form breath and words. He fell away from the wall into the snow, leaving a hole right through to the interior, a column of horizontal planking affixed to the entire back of him.
There was a metal-on-metal clang behind him as he dropped beside the body to retrieve his sword, and Justin turned to see Tam deflect the attack of someone in white clothing that blended perfectly with the snow they’d been lying in. Tor leapt from the door to defend his sister from the three people springing up to their feet around her as Justin pulled his sword clear of the wood-wearing man and spun to face the two white-clad attackers bursting from the snow nearest to him. Two more came out from the trees and joined the short fight, staining the snow around them as they also fell, their ambush ruined by only having had surprise in their favor instead of skill.
“Are there more of you?” Tor demanded, scanning the tree line.
“Not that will come out while we’re awake,” Justin muttered. “We need to go. I still don’t want to be here,” he added after a glance at the hole in the wall of the shed. He cleaned the blade of his sword with snow and then dried it as best he could on the clothes of one of the bodies before sheathing it. Tam did the same.
“We’re being hunted by scouts because he deserted,” Tam stated loudly toward the forest in general as Tor cleaned his sword. “If you’re thinking of following, our path is the pass through Meek Valley.”
She nodded at Tor and he set off on a direct route around the shed to a narrow trail that had a definite down slope to it. Tam followed, and Justin took up his usual place at the back of their small line as Tor finished tying on his blanket bundle and started to jog again. No one tried to pursue.
The trio stopped a couple of hours later, the sky was darkening and the snow was getting too thick to see through. The place Tor led them to was near a cliff that rose as a black shadow against the grey evening. A few evergreen trees at the base had branches thick enough to provide shelter.
“This is better?” Tam asked Justin after checking under the branches of the largest tree to be sure they weren’t barging in on any animals. Justin nodded, too tired to bother speaking, and they all started pushing snow to form burrow walls under the spread of branches Tam had chosen. He ate the food and drank the water Tor pushed into his hands once they were nestled by the tree trunk.
“How did you know there were bandits at the shed?” Tor asked as they wrapped in their blankets.
“I didn’t,” Justin replied. Tor curled back-to-back with Tam, how they usually slept. “You didn’t set your chime clock,” Justin stated, yawning.
“I don’t need to,” Tor answered, his voice just as tired. “Sleep until you wake up. It’s going to snow for at least a whole day. We’re not going anywhere until the storm stops.”
Is it over? Did the week actually end? For really real? I need to ask because WOW it was "a week".
Possibly two, although for my hubby taking the brunt I think he'd agree to saying it was a month crammed into seven days. As an undetailed summary of mostly unrelated occurrences, I can say that toxic work environments suck, finances in 2020 are a wild and unpredictable thing, so-called colleagues can be real jerks over the phone, and deaths in families are never feel-good moments (even when it's not close family).
But, this week must be over because Sunday is tomorrow. For some of you reading this, it's Sunday right now and that means the new week is already starting in a lot of places. This is a bonus I have from living in one of the globe's final time zones: I get a sneak peek from you future dwellers into the happenings of the next day before it even gets to me. Sometimes that can be a comfort.
As an added bonus, nobody in the house was sick this week. (Aside from mental health, ya know?) We've been having colds circulate though since reopening started and the kids have been doing in-person learning. This week, however, was snot-free! I claim that as a win simply because I can ;)
The writing side of things was quiet due to the real life happenings, but I did steal a couple hours for reading and editing in my big manuscript. Those characters are talking to me again and I needed to get reoriented in the story. I really like this world, so hopefully real life settles down and I can schedule the needed time to write.
Hope you're staying safe and well this weekend!
8. Running Conversations
Tor stopped at the very edge of the fire’s light, Tam pausing to look back a step later when she noticed her brother wasn’t beside her. Justin stood, looking back and watching a few freed prisoners help each other down, then he looked around at the bodies of the guards scattered around the camp before turning to stare again at the man who’d helped him escape. Who was still helping him. Tor only shrugged and invited Justin to follow with a silent gesture. Justin swallowed his reservations and started walking the way he’d just been invited.
They paced at a jog for the rest of the night and well into the next morning, eating lightly as they went rather than stopping. Tor called a halt as midday was nearing, taking a fold-up chime clock from his pocket and setting it to alarm in four hours as Tam rolled into her blanket to sleep. Justin wrapped into his blanket, but forced his eyes to stay open in spite of exhaustion. Tor chuckled as he wrapped up and lay down back-to-back with his sister.
“I still need you to take her safely out of Opat with you,” Tor stated, yawning behind his mask. “You’re safe from me as long as she’s safe.”
Justin still waited for them to fall asleep before he allowed himself to.
When he woke, Tam was melting snow in a metal pot over a pocket flame and Tor was jabbing him in the shoulder with the sheath of his sword. The scout was sitting up and had his mask off, but was still wrapped in his blanket. And he was grinning.
“Tam stole my clock and made us oversleep by a half-hour,” he stated quietly, rolling his eyes as he pulled his arm back to hang his sword on his belt. “She’s a brat,” he added, loud enough that she threw a hard bun at him rather than handing it to him. He winced as if the stale bread had caused injury, catching it easily before it hit the ground, and the two of them bantered through the quick meal.
Justin ate his bun quietly, mostly ignoring the conversation. Tor included him as if he was participating anyway. It was the same every time they stopped for the next three days. Justin tried hard to find Tor irritating, or at least mildly annoying, but was constantly confronted with the engaging personality of the scout being too similar to his younger cousin, Bernard, and found himself listening to the conversation more often than not. He shocked himself almost as much as Tam when he laughed at one of the gearblocked jokes Tor cracked as they were jogging on the third day.
“What was it you were arrested for?” Tor asked directly on the fourth day as they were eating before cleaning up and starting the night’s run.
“I wasn’t,” Justin answered.
“What do you mean?” Tor pressed, making a face at the limp carrot in his hand before starting to eat it.
“I wasn’t arrested,” Justin repeated around a mouthful of stale bun. Both siblings stopped eating to stare at him. “You were right when you said you’d overheard that I’m a sailor. I’m a bosun. I build and fix ships,” he added when they looked confused at the title. “We were ashore to resupply. I needed a new drill because mine broke. I got hit with some kind of dart and woke up tied up in the wagon with three others from my crew.”
“You’re serious?” Tor asked. Justin nodded in reply and pushed the last bite of bread into his mouth. Tam looked down to stare at the bun in her hand and swallowed the bite she’d just taken as if only now noticing how bad it tasted.
“There were only two of you at my village,” Tam stated quietly, still not looking up.
“Renden and Lark had already been killed,” Justin told them. “Renden by the sword in one of our first escapes. Lark was too old for wearing the heavy chains.”
“I’m sorry this happened to you and your friends,” she said, making eye contact and holding it.
Justin looked away to pick up his jacket-made satchel and sling it across his shoulders as he stood. “We should get moving,” he stated.
They joined him quickly. He expected that Tor would remain as uncomfortably quiet as Tam but, just like Bernard would have, he starting chatting again almost immediately as if there’d been no interruption to the usually friendly conversation.
The jog that night was quiet as they all saved their breath for running at the pace Tor set. The widening moon provided extra light and, after midnight, Tor took advantage of the visibility and they parted with the road. It clouded over and started snowing as dawn began to lighten the east, around the same time that Justin realized they were dropping in elevation. They ran for long after midday, hours past when they usually stopped, and got to the place that Tor had been aiming for when they would have been waking up on a typical day. Justin eyed up the little cabin from the edge of the trees, not wanting to get too close.
“It’s a summer resupply shed,” Tor explained in a whisper. “It’ll be empty right now, or occupied with people or animals that aren’t supposed to be in there,” he added, pulling his mask on and straightening out his uniform. “Just wait here,” he ordered them. He jogged over alone and unlocked the door ratchets, pulling the door open and then ducking inside after a quick glance at the interior. “It’s empty,” he called out from the door, pulling his mask off again. The assurance didn't make Justin feel any better about the shed.
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.
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!