How fitting! Today is my final blog post in January, and Part 22 is the final chapter of The Meek Valley Incident. The free ebook downloads are now available! :D
I'd say I planned it for the story to wrap up at the same time as finishing January, meaning I'd have everything set up to have posts throughout the holidays, but I'd be lying. I have zero ability to plan 22 weeks ahead for pretty well anything.
This past week was a good one. For the first time in my adult life I have a stand mixer in my kitchen that I actually want in my kitchen. It was a gift from me to myself. I love baking, but my hands simply can't tolerate hand mixing anymore. I've had stand mixers before, ones that well-meaning people gifted me – one that was even ridiculously expensive – and they've all lived in the dark, obscure corners of my kitchens and then been given away or sold to people who actually want them.
This isn't a schedule I recommend to anyone, especially because I was working full time when writing during those hours and my health and wellness suffered a lot for those years. Next week's uninterrupted time with my computer, though? I'm so excited!! I hope you're staying safe and well this weekend!
They couldn’t see up the mountain when they looked, it was still snowing too hard, but the sky was lighter than it had been yesterday morning. It looked like this storm was going to blow itself out before the end of the day. Justin and John loaded the final supplies and spare parts, and then the trio set off with the wind driving them forward. By nightfall their land-travelling boat was splashing through ruts and puddles back in the middle of the storm. The people they passed called out to them and laughed at the strange, wind-driven cart.
At the end of a week from leaving the barn, they stood at the top of a ridge of cliffs and looked down at the harbor town Tam had brought them to. Justin scanned from the dock to the horizon for familiar sails and saw one Opattan navy ship in the distance, two ships with Korballi-owned company sails at the dock, four ships with the white sails marking them as independent merchants dotting the town’s bay, and the distinct red triangles on white of a couple of Montrade-owned ships. Both Montrade ships were anchored on the northern side of the bay and had skiffs running between them – likely exchanging news, mail, or updated orders. One of the Montrade ships was obviously arriving due to how high it was sitting in the water, and the other was obviously leaving for the opposite reason. Justin wanted to avoid his family’s ships, if possible. He wasn’t currently in appropriate dress – and knew he wasn’t previously travelling under appropriate sails – for dealing with any of those Captains who might recognize him.
He estimated his mother and uncle were still a week up the coast, nearer the city where Justin and the other crewmen had been captured. A week would be too long to wait, he reasoned after having learned first hand the quickness of mountain scouts when catching up to whoever they were hunting. Tam and John were certain nobody from the mine could have followed them at the same pace they were running away, but Justin believed that destroying the mine was a likely cause for retribution and didn’t want to be the only strangers in town when the news arrived.
“Well?” John asked, impatient to get moving again now that it appeared they really would be leaving Opat sooner instead of later.
“We’ll have to tear down the sail-cart,” Justin stated. “We look too rough to have been travelling in what could be viewed as comfort.”
Tam sighed in relief and clicked open the ratchets of the harness holding her in place. She was on the ground before the harness straps had finished their first swing after being dropped. Justin followed her down, chuckling at how eager she was to get rid of their contraption. Tam repacked all the supplies and weapons for carrying while John and Justin tore down and saved anything useful or that they could sell. John paused a moment with his hand on the crowbar. It was the last thing they could take for trading, if they brought it.
His lack of movement caused both Justin and Tam to look up at their newest companion from where they were finishing tying up the packs. “We can bring it,” Justin offered quietly.
John shook his head to the negative. “With us as strangers, looking like this and carrying a mining tool is asking to get arrested once news of what happened reaches the coast.” He climbed down and shoved the empty frame, crowbar still attached, over the cliff.
Tam led them on foot into the town, quickly selling things to people she knew from trading rugs in previous years and gaining clothes for herself and enough chips in exchange to rent a room for a few hours along with baths at the only steam lodge in town. She washed and dressed quickly and then disappeared while Justin and John were still cleaning up, returning after having sold almost everything to purchase food for the next few days and clothing for John and Justin that wasn’t so obviously different. Justin gratefully got rid of the coat the mine’s guard commander had given him, pausing as he was buttoning the new one when he noticed Tam staring at him from where she was sitting on the bed. She’d already dressed in new clothes before delivering the things she’d gotten for them.
“What?” he asked looking down at his clothes and hands for what was so out of place it had caught her eye.
Her gaze shot to where her hands were knotted in her lap, and then she shrugged at some internal thought and looked up to meet his stare. “I wasn’t expecting you to be handsome once you shaved,” she stated.
“Oh,” he replied, the unexpected compliment catching him off guard to the extent that he fumbled the following two attempts at forcing the next button through its hole. She laughed at him, the same way she’d laughed with Tor, and he cracked a grin before attempting to try a third time.
“That’s it?” John asked, coming out from behind the screen without a shirt to look through the rest of Tam had bought for them to wear. “All of those daring escapes from guards and bandits, camping with wolves, nearly drowning, and scouts after you the whole time… but all it takes to fluster you up to the point you can’t finish buttoning your coat is some pretty girl who says you’re handsome?”
“You think I’m pretty?” Tam’s eyelids fluttered up at John as he pulled on a new shirt.
“As the first spring blossom,” he confirmed, tucking in the shirt. Justin left them to their constant banter and finished buttoning his new coat. “Where are you off to, Kony?” John asked as Justin reached for the door.
“To the dock to get us jobs. The next sailing will be with the tide in a couple hours. I saw three ships we could likely find work on in exchange for passage,” Justin replied. “You weren’t expecting we’d buy passenger tickets, were you?” He grinned over his shoulder as he opened the door.
“What would we do for work on a ship?” Tam asked, suddenly worried. Justin paused in closing the door after himself.
“I’m a bosun, John’s a swab,” he stated casually.
“I can do more than clean a deck,” John argued.
“No, you really can’t,” Justin answered.
“Ouch, Kony,” John said. He pulled on his new vest while talking. “That hurt right here.” He pointed at his elbow.
“What can I do, though?” Tam asked. Her voice was still worried.
“You sew, you weave, you cook, and you fight.” Justin grinned at her. “Every crew needs people who can mend sails and nets, and people who can cook. Those people also being able to fight is a valuable bonus. I can find us work either today or tomorrow, but from the look of those three ships we can easily plan leave Opat in the next few hours.”
“And then what?” John asked.
Justin considered that his mother was on her way, but shied away from thinking about what would happen after whatever ship he and his friends were on was intercepted. “And then we’re safely out of Opat,” he said.
“And safely together,” John assured Tam, dropping an arm over her shoulders in a half-hug.
“All right,” she agreed, smiling in relief at both of them. “Go find us jobs, Kony.”
A weekly blog updating on Fridays 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!