Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Part IV

Each day, taking steps grew easier. Ryndas had to relearn each muscle movement. Keal said quite bluntly that the scars on his back would likely never completely go away, and the scar tissue would always limit his movements. Ryndas's legs had also taken a beating during his time on the ship, and Keal told him one was broken and dislocated. Not only would that leg never straighten out, the other leg would also be continually bent -again, because of scar tissue.
Ryndas's head was healing better than the other portions of his body. The several bruises, Keal said, would eventually heal, and his face would be similar to the one he'd had before stake slavery.
“Do you want me to take that off?” Keal asked once, pointing to the bead in Ryndas's ear. “When you get off the island, that will brand you for life.”
The process was quick. The first shot of pain only lasted a few seconds as Keal unceremoniously yanked the red bead out. After that, there was only a dull ache, which easily was ignored among the various wounds that were still healing.
“No infections; I'm surprised,” Keal said while checking his wounds, about a month after Ryndas had washed up on the beach. “With so many open wounds, you should be dead from disease by now.”
Ryndas wanted to shrug, but didn't, afraid of opening some of the deeper cuts along his shoulders.
“I'd be the last person to ask why.”
“I didn't ask why,” Keal glanced up at him with a raised eyebrow. “I only said I was surprised. Come on,” he got to his feet and pulled Ryndas up after him.
“Where are we going?”
“Outside.” Keal matched Ryndas's pace as much as possible -too much slower and he'd throw himself off balance. “The fresh air will help the process along. How fast were you able to run before your term on the ship?”
“I was the best sprinter in the clan,” Ryndas said quietly, realizing what Keal was about to say.
“I doubt you'll be able to catch up with that tortoise right now,” Keal pointed the animal resting in the cool of the cave entrance. “But when you're fully healed you be able to keep up with it.”
Ryndas nodded mutely as the two stepped out onto dried leaves. Sunlight filtered through green leaves through where they stood.
“Back when you took the bead out of this ear,” he touched the piece of flesh, which was now only mildly sore, “you said 'when' I got off the island, this would brand me. What do you mean, 'when'? There's no way to get off. You never leave, and I can hardly walk, much less swim.”
“I have supplies delivered to me occasionally. I can send you to a friend of mine who'll take care of you.”
“I don't want to be an invalid.”
“He'll find you some work. He has a man that comes in six weeks. Think about it.”

Dyathar scooted a bit closer to the fire and wrapped himself tighter in the blankets.
“Don't get too close,” Shyll advised. “Especially not if you're too cold. It can hurt you more than help.
Dyathar stayed where he was, still huddled and shivering.
“We're working on some suitable attire for you. Where'd you come from? We built the house so that it surrounded the portal, in the hopes that whoever came through wouldn't freeze to death.”
“Kartain.”
“Slave?”
He nodded.
“Running away?”
He nodded again. He was too far from his master to worry, and far too cold to care.
“It was my brother who pulled you in. He's out tending the sheep right now.”
“You keep animals out here?”
“It's only like this in winter. The sheep grow thick enough coats to survive it. They do quite well, actually. Why were you running?”
“Didn't want my hands cut off.”
“I didn't think slave owners there were as cruel as that.”
“I've tried to run more than once.”
“Ah.” Shyll fell silent, staring at the fire.
Dyathar glanced at her curiously. “What do you mean, slave owners 'there'?”
“Well,” Shyll gave a cocked smile, “Taz and I are slaves. We don't do much in the winter. No one here does.”
“How old are you two?”
“Taz is in his eighteenth year, I'm in my seventeenth. Yourself?”
“In my twentieth. Haven't you ever tried to go through this 'portal' -whatever that is -to escape?”
“And nearly got killed doing it,” Shyll grinned. “It was safer here. We came back.”
“Safer? When stepping outside would freeze you?”
“If you're not wearing a seasonably reasonable amount of clothing. Summer's not that bad -we only get a few light frosts at that time.”
“Frost? In summer?”
“You have some things to get used to.” Shyll got to her feet. “Well, I'm going to get some stew from the main house. Don't get into trouble.”
Dyathar shrugged and moved an inch closer to the fire.
The wind slammed the door shut behind Shyll, but not before a gust of cold air hit Dyathar in the back. He shivered and moved just a bit closer. He was only about a foot away from the flames now, but they weren't reaching too high. The wind had subdued them. Momentarily.
He moved his face only a mite closer ...A spark leaped up and stung his cheek. He jerked back slightly, but the pain was soon gone.
A few minutes later Dyathar smelled something odd. He glanced around, but found nothing that would cause it. The smell seemed to be fairly close.
The door opened, and Shyll entered. She was carrying some sort of pot. Taz came in behind her with a couple buckets piled high with snow. Shyll nearly dropped the pot; Taz set the buckets down so quickly it looked like he had dropped them.
It was then that Dyathar felt the flames lick his cheek.
Taz pulled a glove off, scooped up a handful of snow, and threw it at Dyathar's face. It was stingingly cold, but the strange smell and the flames disappeared.
“What -what happened?” he said, bewildered.
“You got too close and got sparks in your hair, I'd guess,” Shyll said, setting the pot down. Taz slid the glove back on and put the buckets by the fire to melt.
“You'll have a scar to show for it,” she continued. “I guess you were too numb to notice that your face was being burned on both sides. It's a good thing you were facing Taz when he put the fire out, or he'd have to apply the remedy to the other side.”
Meanwhile, Taz had taken some more snow and slapped it on the back of Dyathar's head. He started.
“Master says you can have a set of clothes, and Danith will figure out some suitable tasks for you.”
Ash's first full day at the palace was much the same as the day of her arrival. Piles of requests for official permits to do thus and such, requests for improved city schools, demands for the removal of a such-and-such neighbor who was causing a disturbance. Many she could forward to the local officials. Several she had to deal with herself. And the signet ring had not been found.
And by 'several', she meant several hundred.
Her father had been dead a few weeks as well -he'd been buried quickly, however. During the two weeks of travel to retrieve Ash and bring her to the palace, things had stacked up. And there were many issues that her father had put off dealing with for months before his death.
The situation of the queen not appearing in court continued for a full week. Ash's days consisted of waking, eating, paperwork and discussion with Darasan until dark, another meal, and then sleep. She had no time for anything else.
The eighth day -night, rather -Ash was quite ready to set the entire stack of papers aflame. She pulled on a light jacket, placed a knife in her belt, and stepped out the door.
The guards were surprised to see her, but two stepped forward to provide an escort.
“Not today.” Ash waved them off. “Just don't let anyone in.”
They nodded and stepped back.
One thing Ash had consistently gotten in trouble for back when she was a princess was disappearing for hours at a time. She had discovered the servants' passageways, and she made free use of them now.
Most of the servants were in bed by now. Only a few tired underlings would be putting the finishing touches on the cleaning in the dining room.
Ash stepped out into an open courtyard, and took a deep breath.
The garden was an escape, and Ash took her time walking down one pathway and the next. It had been too long.
“Your Majesty.”
Ash didn't recognize the voice. But whoever it was had recognized her brand from the light from palace windows -the night was cloudy, covering any moon or star light.
Either that or the person was guessing, and if she stopped, that might alert them to the fact that it indeed was the queen, and she was alone.
Ash kept walking at the same pace. Someone slipped into step beside her. Whoever it was, the stranger was of an average height -Ash herself was fairly short -and wore a hood, effectively preventing any view of a face.
“You shouldn't be alone out here, Your Majesty,” the voice said quietly, but betrayed her visitor as a man.
“That's not your decision,” Ash answered. She was unwilling to show that she didn't appreciate not knowing who he was, but was more perturbed by the fact that he had disturbed her solitude. Ash had been counting on an opportunity away from both people and business.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
His willing acquiescence surprised her, but she gave no sign. He did, however, continue to walk beside her for another minute, before she turned to him.
“What do you want?”
“I want to ensure your safety, Your Majesty.” He bowed his head briefly, not only showing respect but also effectively hiding his face.
“Who are you?”
“I go by the name Adinyr.”
“Where do you come from, Adinyr?”
“I don't know, Your Majesty.”
“Why is my safety your responsibility?”
“It was one I brought upon myself, Your Majesty.”
The repeated use of the title still irked Ash, but it seemed slightly more sincere from Adinyr's tongue.
Ash kept walking, not necessarily wanting less protection but rather more privacy. Adinyr followed, saying nothing more.
At the end of the path was a small, circular courtyard with several more paths spreading out from it. In the center of the courtyard was a fountain, which was only a trickle right now. Ash sat down on the stone bench that surrounded it. Adinyr remained standing a few feet away.
Ash took a deep breath and exhaled audibly, ignoring her self-invited companion. Swinging around, she pulled off her sandals and put her feet in the pool that was at the base of the fountain. She was silent, for a few moments feeling perfectly content.
“Your Majesty,” Adinyr said, seeming unwilling to interrupt the quiet.
Ash sighed inwardly.
“Yes?”
“Your coronation was today.”
“I missed that, didn't I?” Ash smiled wryly to herself.
Adinyr took a step closer and held out something. The rather faint light of the palace reflected off a thin circle of silver.
“Are you the one who was supposed to crown me?”
“No, but it was given to me to give to you.”
Ash took the circlet with a smile and slipped it into the inner pocket of her jacket. Her head wasn't that large.
“Yes, well, thank you. Who told you to give it to me?”
“Lord Sadon.”
Ash stared into the dark water beneath her, then turned back around, stood, and picked up her sandals. Adinyr bowed as she passed him, but didn't follow her back.
Even if she did miss her own coronation, Ash was still officially proclaimed monarch over Endrena. Her first scheduled meeting with the council was the next morning, and the subject was not one she was looking forward to.

“The queen must marry, or there will be no heir!” Lord Jardis was arguing his point to Lord Sadon. “If there is no heir to carry on the name and someone unrelated is chosen, we will be viewed as weak in the eyes of our enemies -easy prey!”
“Lord Jardis,” Sadon said, unperturbed, “No doubt it is in the hope of the land's future that you say this, and what you say is true. However, a hasty marriage will result in disaster. The queen has her own decision to make about this, and if we move too quickly in this matter, we will not know who is our king until it is too late, and by then damage will have been done which cannot be undone.”
“There are many excellent choices,” Lord Handor intervened. “King Amarsan of Binoran has had no wife. His kingdom his flourishing -”
“His kingdom,” Lord Undran said in a nasal tone, “is in no strategic military, agricultural, or trading position.”
Lord Handor tried again. “King Preto of the Malians -”
“-is growing older. His subjects would not appreciate a wife that replaces the one that passed away, and might see it as a move to take their land.”
“King Manden of -”
This suggestion was instantly decided against.
“Manden is a murderer and usurper!”
“I'd never meet him peacefully in my house or his!”
“True king murdered, four children in exile!”
Ash had been listening to it all, her elbow on the armrest of the rather uncomfortable throne and her hand propping up her chin. She was wearing a simple blue dress, her low boots, and the circlet, which she only put on after Lord Sadon and Lord Darasan insisted. Ash had been quiet the entire meeting, but now she lifted her head.
“My good lords,” she said, keeping her disdain for some of them out of her voice. The room instantly quieted.
“I appreciate your concern for my well-being and that of the country. I realize my position is political and will not try to convince you that I should marry for love or without the approval of the council. However, it is a decision that needs to be made carefully, as Lord Sadon said, and I don't see the need for discussion about it until an actual proposal has been made from someone the council deems fit for the throne.”
Her point was clear. Lord Jardis, however, had not given up.
“Your Majesty, other kingdoms will not take us seriously if you do not marry -why, we're the only kingdom without a king! If there is no male ruler -”
“Is that not what the council is for?” Ash interrupted. “Are you saying that you're incapable of providing me with the advice I need to rule wisely?”
“No, Your Majesty. Forgive me, I spoke out of place.”
“Lord Darasan,” Ash turned to her chief adviser. “Has my signet ring been found?”
“No, Your Majesty. We are still searching for it.”


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Part III

yndas woke to find himself in a cave. It was cool, but not uncomfortable. He was on a bed of straw -where the straw had come from was anyone's guess. The entrance to the cave was somewhere off to his right.
The stranger wasn't there, but Ryndas had no intentions of moving to find him. His back was stiff, but wrapped in some odd white material. He was wearing newer clothes, and he could see his old ones in the far corner of the room he was in.
“What's your name?”
Ryndas started, then wished that he would stop doing that as it made his head and back feel much worse. It was the stranger, who had somehow appeared in the doorway to the room. Ryndas could see him a bit better now, by the light of a lamp that hung from the center of the roof. Average height, stocky, light gray eyes, brown hair tied back in a ponytail. He wore something that looked like burlap in the form of shirt and trousers.
“What?”
“What's your name?” the stranger crossed his arms.
“Ryndas.” He'd figured out that the man probably didn't mean to do him any harm.
“Keal.”
All Keal would say about himself was that he had been exiled. He didn't say from where, he didn't say what for, he didn't say why he preferred an island just off the coast of wherever they were. He seemed well-provided for, in the very least. Ryndas asked if Keal was banished because the ruler of his country didn't want people to know he was alive. Keal said no. Stop asking.
Ryndas lay on the cave floor for about a week before he could even sit up, and it was another week before he could stand, leaning against the wall. After a few days he tried steps. His back was stiff, his legs ached, and his new skin stretched painfully, but he made it from one side of the room to the other, and back again.
Meanwhile Keal entered and exited at no scheduled time, occasionally bringing him food, changing his bandages, or just watching him practice motion.
“What were you before you were a stake slave?” he asked one day, four days after Ryndas had taken his first step in weeks.
“The son of a chief of a Harnyn tribe.”
Keal nodded once, watching as Ryndas lifted one foot and carefully placed it in front of him.
“Kidnapped?”
“No. They own us. They just take us when they feel like it.”
“How old are you?”
“In my twenty-third year.”
“That bead in your ear -is that a tribal mark?”
“One they use for us, yes.”
“It might be helpful if we removed that, to avoid recognition.”
“Who ever comes here?”
Keal gave a wry smile and didn't answer.
“Why are you so curious?”
“I want to know who I let enter my abode. What was your occupation in the tribe?”
“I was a hunter, like most of the men. I had an older brother who wasn't as strong as the Malians wanted, so they let him stay. He'll be chief next.”
“Tell me ...” Keal said, then paused. “Tell me, do you slaves get any possessions of your own?”
“If we managed to hide them on ourselves during our escape. Which almost never happens.”
Keal nodded.
“Where'd you get this?” he held up a ring.
Ryndas's eyes widened, and he slowly made his way over to where Keal was standing. The ring was a carved band of silvery white metal, set with a single blue stone.
“Where'd you get that?”
“From a piece of string around your neck.” Keal watched him carefully. “I'm very curious as to how it got there, and how it stayed there. From your wounds and older scars, I can see that you weren't lying about who you have been. But there's no way your masters would have failed to noticed this on you. It's not something they would have noticed missing, but they'd recognize it on you. And it's not a Harnynian design, so don't tell me it was yours in the first place.”
“How do you know the design?”
Keal half-smiled but didn't answer the question.
“You stole it.”
“I did not!”
“Then explain to me how it came into your possession!”
“I don't know! Maybe someone put it there while I was sleeping -I've never seen that before?”
“Who would entrust a piece of jewelry to a slave that was inevitably going to end up in the bottom of the ocean?”
“I don't know! But I've never laid eyes on it in my life!”
“Very well,” Keal tucked the ring into an inner pocket. “Let's just forget about it.”
He never mentioned the ring again.

Ash woke to find a blanket covering her, a tray of food next to her, and a guard by the fireplace stirring the red embers. The staff was determined to not forget her today and incur her wrath. They really didn't need to worry. Ash wanted to be fed and have some respect, but she wasn't going to get upset if her rooms weren't cleaned while she was sleeping.
The guard heard the motion as she push the blanket off her shoulders and turned around. He was already on one knee, so he simply bowed his head and said, “Your Majesty.”
Ash nodded, then picked up the cup from the tray and glanced into it.
“What's this drink?”
“I think it's called 'tea', Your Majesty.”
“What your name?”
“My name?” the soldier seemed surprised she would ask. “My name is Aroth, Your Majesty.”
“Aroth, what time of day is it?”
“It is mid-morning, Your Majesty.”
“Get me Lord Darasan.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Aroth bowed his head, jumped to his feet, and hurried out the door.
Darasan arrived shortly afterward. He bowed.
“Your Majesty.”
“Darasan, where is my father's signet ring?”
“It is in the top drawer of your desk,” Darasan motioned to the desk I had spend six of the last eighteen hours at.
“I had ample time to search for it last night, and I didn't find it.”
Darasan smiled.
“It's in an iron and diamond box. The key to open it -”
“I have the key. The box isn't there. I searched the rest of the desk, as well, and the surrounding area. Where is it?”
Darasan stared at her, stunned.
“It's not there?”
“It was stolen?” Ash said, wanting to clarify his words. “I want Myran searched before he is buried.”
“Myran has had no access -”
“Officially or not, he has had access to this room. I want you to figure out how and why. When you next see Sadon, I want you to send him here. Dismissed.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Darasan nodded once, paused briefly, and left the room.
Then came what Ash had been dreading.
News had spread that the queen was awake. The official coronation would occur in a week, but if it didn't happen it wouldn't matter. She was queen.
The coronation wouldn't be an ordeal. It was what was about to happen that daunted Ash. It was something she'd had to endure daily -under royal order -but this time she might be able to put a stop to it. At least for her reign.
The door opened, and it began.
The head seamstress and head hairdresser entered.
Ash watched them, her legs covered in the blanket, her arms folded, her eyes daring them to step closer. They knew her, and they could see that her mind had not changed on matters of appearances.
The hairdresser stifled a shriek when she saw Ash's roughly cut hair. It was just beginning to grow again -currently, the black locks were about an inch above her shoulders.
“Your Majesty!”
“Is there a problem?” Ash said pleasantly.
“Your -your hair!”
“Has it turned green, to cause you to stare at it like that?”
“It's been cut!”
“Yes, it's been cut. I cut it myself.”
“Your Majesty,” the hairdresser quickly curtsied, “I will find a suitable wig -”
“You'll find a suitable what?”
The hairdresser, Sanay, wasn't quite sure what to say.
“Your -your hair, Your Majesty! You can't think of appearing before the lords and ladies like that!”
“If they're the types that judge people by the length of their hair, I don't need to worry about impressing them. I cut it for cleanliness's sake. It will grow back.”
The head seamstress, Reyas, had remained by the door after the requisite, “Your Majesty,” came from her tongue. It was now her turn to speak and berate the queen's ignorance of her own aspect. It was a good thing she hadn't seen Ash's most un-queen-like pants.
Reyas was far more voluble than Sanay, and Ash enjoyed her breakfast while she listened to the tirade. It did her good, because not only was she filling her stomach, Ash was also hearing what everyone thought of her, out of the mouth of the seamstress. It wasn't all flattering. In fact, pretty much none of it was. People thought she was strange, brooding, and unsure of her own position here.
The 'strange' was completely correct and didn't affect Ash whatsoever. 'Brooding' came from the fact that she had spent so much time in her chambers upon arriving, despite the fact that she was in paperwork up to her neck and had also needed rest. 'Unsure of her own position' -probably because she was acting less like a twenty-year-old noblewoman than a soldier.
The seamstress had never been too careful with her tongue. It was an excellent thing she had never been involved in any plots or conspiracies, because she would have given them away instantly. She had no opinions of her own -they changed with whatever gossip came her way next.
So Ash listened to Reyas spout off what a fool the queen was for not appearing in court on her first night home and how everyone thought it strange that she couldn't be counted on to attend meals at court and that her stiffness would win her no friends and how everyone thought she should get a husband -Reyas didn't know about the contract or she would have mentioned that, too.
Ash wasn't against a husband. She just didn't want it to be Maryn. Whoever she married was going to be king, and the decision -if it ever came to that -was going to be made very carefully. As for not appearing in court or attending meals and being stiff -she had been tired, hadn't had the chance to have a meal with the noblemen, and she hadn't wanted to be disturbed before the most pressing business was over.
When Reyas was quite finished, Ash raised an eyebrow.
“That's really all quite interesting, but I don't see what that has to do with measuring me for clothes. Not that I'm going to allow you to do it, but you seem to have a bit more on your mind than is safe to tell a monarch.”
It took Reyas a few moments to realize her mistake. She'd forget it soon enough, though.
Ash pushed off the blanket and stood up, eliciting gasps from Sanay and Reyas.
“Your Majesty -have you no other clothes, that you would choose -”
“I realize I'm breaking tradition, but this is far easier to move around in, and if I'm as reclusive as you say I am, the court shouldn't be too worried about it. I would like some simple skirts for formal occasions, but, if you please, you are not going to try to convince me to wear one of your stiffly starched, rather silly hoop skirts.”
There were some advantages to being royalty, although having people judge you by the length of your hair was not one of them.
Ash bestowed a formal smile on each of the ladies, went into her private bedchamber, and shut the door.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Part II

A laugh woke Dyathar. Check that. A series of laughs. Coming from more than one person.
He opened his eyes. A ceiling. Brown. Wooden. The floor beneath him was dirt. The walls of the room were wood. Shadows flickering on the beams told him there was a fire somewhere to his right. He was covered with blankets. His head hurt.
Dyathar pushed himself to a sitting position and found himself staring into a face.
“Shyll,” said the face, and a hand materialized in front of it. “Who're you?”
“Uh,” Dyathar pushed himself back a bit to gain a better view of his surroundings. This 'Shyll' was a girl -no more than fifteen -wearing layers of clothes and a pair of boots. Black curls were visible underneath a wool hat, and black eyes popped out of a small, oval face. She grinned at his look of surprise.
“What's your name?”
For the first time, Dyathar noticed the cold, which had seeped in under some blankets that had slid off when he sat up. He pulled them back up.
“D -Dyathar.”
“I'm Shyll, as I said, and this is my brother Tazill,” she motioned to another figure, wrapped in the same amount of clothes. Tazill also had a cloth drawn up around his mouth, and Dyathar could see one around Shyll's neck.
“Where -where am I?”
“Somewhere you are certainly not prepared for,” Shyll looked at his threadbare slave clothes. “We need to find you something suitable.”
“But where am I?”
“Birnoran. Which is a frozen wasteland at this time of year.”
“How'd I get here?”
Shyll grinned again.
“You're the first person I've seen get hair stuck in a portal.”

“What on earth -”
“Your father didn't give me gold. But he does want to find out how your mother died. And if you don't ...” Maryn let his voice trail off threateningly.
Ash wanted to bury her face in her hands, but she wouldn't allow herself.
“I'll come,” she said shortly, “but only for as long as it takes for me to find out what happened. Leave me alone while I pack.”
Maryn gave a small smile and exited the room.
“Blast it,” Ash muttered to herself when he was out of earshot. “Blast it all.”
And hour later she was ready. At least she kept her papers organized and could find what she wanted quickly. Clothes were simple. She didn't have many. She didn't have the need for more.
Maryn wasn't a liar, she knew that much. He had a base reputation, but he enjoyed telling the truth as he watched his opponents' downfall. And if the truth hurt him instead -well, he wouldn't say it.
He wouldn't hurt her, either. Much as Ash was an outcast, even in her own family, her rank was such that he wouldn't dare. If he did -well, suffice it to say, his head wouldn't remain on his shoulders for very long.
Ash stepped out of the house, nodded to the now-conscious Liand, who was wearing a large bruise on his face, and turned to Maryn.
“I'm ready.”
'Ready' was debatable. Ash could care less about pleasing her father. And Maryn, for that matter. She hadn't given this much thought yet, and she wasn't quite ready for the sight of her mother's body. However, the threat of marriage to Maryn had convinced her to go, whether she was ready or not.
Speaking of which, how had Maryn convinced her father to agree to such an arrangement? It wasn't as if Maryn were some nobleman or high-ranking military officer. Trickery and blackmail were the only two possibilities she could think of.
The carriage waited on the road, a little ways down a short path. Maryn, ever falling short of a gentleman, let her climb in by herself after he himself had settled inside.
“So how did you convince my father to agree to this?”
“He ...has his own reasons.”
“I find it hard to believe that someone who murdered the rest of his wives in their sleep would try to discern the cause of this one's death.”
“He wants to find out if his only heir will have the same problem and so meet her demise before carrying on the family name.”
“What's the real reason he wants me there?”
Maryn paused, then gave Ash a condescending smile.
“Your father's dead, dear girl. Yes, he wanted to know how your mother died. However, he already agreed to the marriage. We just need to perform the ceremonies. Don't try to escape. Don't even think about it.”
Ash turned to stare out the window. To think. She certainly wasn't going to agree to marriage to this fiend. The only problem, however, was the contract. It was already signed by her father, she realized it now. That was the part Maryn had covered with his hand.
Provided that Maryn fell asleep in a position where she could steal the document, tearing, burning, and otherwise destroying it would be simple. But although Maryn was a scoundrel, he wasn't a stupid one. He'd told her not to think about escape. She wouldn't. He knew she wouldn't. There was no point -the marriage contract would still be valid, whether she was there or not. But he knew what she'd have in mind. He'd be cautious.
Ash glanced over at Maryn. He smiled. It wasn't a pleasant one.
He was the one person her father had never demanded some show of respect from. Why Ash could never tell. If anything, Maryn was the last person who should be granted such an honor.
The jolting of the carriage continued for hours. Ash saw as the landscape changed from the flat, tree-covered land, to gently rolling hills, to the mountains. There they turned south to go around the range. By then, the sun was far below the horizon.
“We will not be stopping for the night,” Maryn said when he saw Ash watching the west sky quickly darken.
“That's what I thought.”
“Do you want some food? You haven't eaten since this morning, if then.”
“I'm not hungry.”
“Are you going to rest?”
“No.”
“I don't wish you to be ill for our wedding.”
“I don't wish to be ill, either.”
“Then why don't you eat?”
“Why don't you?”
Maryn fell silent, but continued watching Ash, his face growing darker.

Everything stung. Everything ached. He couldn't move. His face was buried in something damp, nearly asphyxiating him. He turned his head to the side and took a deep breath.
Air.
Wait a minute.
His memory began to come back to him.
The last thing he remembered was the cold, rough planks of the ship beneath him.
And now he was on ...sand?
Ryndas opened his eyes.
His senses hadn't deceived him. He had washed up on the beach in a small cove. From his vantage point, he could vaguely see a distant shore. This was probably an island.
With enormous difficulty, Ryndas pushed himself to his hands and knees and slowly, painfully crawled up to the shelter of some trees. If the ship he had been on was anywhere nearby, or if anybody anywhere spotted him, he would be turned in and summarily executed.
Once under the cover of the foliage, he sank back to his former position -prone, but this time on dried leaves instead of sand. It would have been pleasanter to die at the teeth of sharks than to slowly thirst to death, starve, or let disease take him on this island. It was a wonder the sharks hadn't found him. Ryndas was covered with the scent of blood.
“Is there a problem?”
The voice made Ryndas jump, and he sat up as quickly as possible. He instantly regretted it as pain shot through his entire body.
A shape swung down from the tree above him and landed nearby. Ryndas soon made out a man, dressed in rough cloth and holding a bow, coming towards him. Ryndas quickly put up his hands as far as he could -which wasn't any higher than his shoulders.
“Where did you come from?” The man seemed more curious than threatening, but that didn't ease Ryndas's fear any.
“I'm -I'm a slave.”
“You were a slave. I don't see any master with you. He seems to have left you for dead, therefore forfeiting his right to own you.”
“I ...was left for dead ...” Ryndas said, still unsure of the stranger's intentions.
“How important was your task, if your master whipped you and threw you into the sea for making a mistake?”
“I ...” Ryndas fell silent. How could he trust this man?
The stranger raised an eyebrow, waiting for an answer.
“I'm a stake slave.”
The stranger paused.
“I see ...you were a stake slave. You seem to keep forgetting that, according to the law, if a master leaves a slave for dead he has forfeited his right to that slave.”
“How do you know that?” Ryndas said, a dull ache in the back of his head threatening to explode.
“I don't think that matters right now. I think we could have a question and answer session later, when you're rested and a bit less torn up. Can you walk?”
Ryndas shook his head, still very careful of the pain.
“Would you be able to walk if I helped you?”
“I don't think so.”
“Well then,” the stranger leaned his bow against the tree and knelt down. “I'll carry you. So long as you return the favor one day.”
The route around the mountain took five days. The only pauses were to change horses. The next portion of the journey brought them to the Coranor, capital city of Endrena.
Their carriage was fairly inconspicuous. That is, it was inconspicuous until they arrived at the palace gates and were allowed inside.
Ash rapped the ceiling of their conveyance, and the carriage stopped. She opened the door and was about to step out when Maryn spoke on.
“The wedding's tomorrow. Be ready.”
Ash ignored him and got out. She wouldn't have been recognized but for the scar on her cheek. She was wearing a shirt, trousers, and low boots, and she had cut her hair before joining Maryn, so she could have passed for a peasant boy. However, her face brand -that of the royal seal -was all too obvious.
It was summer, so hiding behind a cloak would draw more attention than not. Still, Ash wished for something to disguise her face as everyone she passed dropped to one knee, bowed their head, and murmured, “Your Majesty.” She hated it. But at least they showed respect for her station. Unlike one man she knew.
Ash somehow made her way to the chief adviser's chamber. She entered without announcement. The guard didn't dare stop her.
“Where is my mother's body?”
“Your Majesty!” Darasan stared at her for a moment, then remembered himself and slipped to one knee, bowing his head. “She is in her chambers, your Majesty. The kanri has done his best to preserve the body, but she's been dead for more than two weeks -”
Ash turned around and left the room. That's all she needed to know.
She wasn't going straight to her mother's body. Her top general and military adviser, Sadon, received the next surprise. But he was quicker to get to one knee.
“Your Majesty.”
“There was a man who brought me here. I want him and his luggage searched, and any documents found are to be brought to me.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Sadon answered.
Ash departed for her mother's room.

“We could find no evidence of poison, and there are no external wounds,” the karni said as he escorted Ash toward the bedchamber.
“Did anything odd happen two or three days before she died?”
The karni paused for a moment.
“No, Your Majesty.”
“What about a few hours before?”
“Her speech was slightly slurred, and she was having trouble moving.”
Conartin,” Ash said, turning around. “Without a doubt. You may proceed to the burial site.”
“Your -Your Majesty, don't you wish to see the body?”
“No.” She didn't need any memories of her mother, two weeks dead.
She was met in the hall by Maryn.
“Ashyer!”
“It's Your Majesty to you,” she said evenly. She wouldn't mind a sign of respect from him.
“Your Majesty,” he said the word distinctly. “What is this injustice you have done me? I have been searched -my bags -it's robbery!”
Ash ignored him, continuing down the hall to her next item of business.
“I saved your father's life many times, Your Majesty. He would never have allowed this. He owes me -”
“I am not my father!” Ash turned on him. “I owe you nothing! Now get away from me before you are sent to the gallows!”
Maryn retreated obediently, but shot her a dark look and muttered something under his breath. Ash didn't care. So long as he was gone.
Sadon appeared soon after and handed Ash a few papers. “Your Majesty.”
Ash glanced at them, folded them up, and tucked them inside her sleeve.
“Thank you.”
Sadon bowed and turned away.
It was the marriage contract. And a few other things Ash wanted to look at before they were burned. In her private rooms.
Ash's private chambers were what had been the king's. Spacious, comfortably but not richly furnished. It surprised Ash how easily she had settled into the role of monarch. Not a role she would share with Maryn, that was certain.
The marriage contract instantly went into the fireplace in the receiving room, where Ash watched it turn black. She gave a small smile, turned around, and came face to face with Maryn. The smile disappeared.
“Get. Out.”
“I saw you burn the contract -” he began.
“Guards!” Ash didn't wait for more. The soldiers outside her room instantly stepped in. “Why was this man allowed in?”
“He said you wished to speak with him,” one said, looking rather sheepish.
“Take him to the dungeons. He is to be hanged by this time tomorrow.”
Two of the guards nodded and stepped forward, grabbing Maryn by the arms and pulling him away.
Now maybe she could rest in peace.
Unlikely.
Not two minutes had passed before she had to allow Darasan entrance to discuss some matters of business her father had failed to settle before his death. 'Some' hardly described it. Ash was working until late that night. She hadn't eaten for two days -of her own volition -but now that caught up with her. The cook wasn't quite used to having a different royal in the palace, and she failed to send up word that dinner was ready.
Thus, after Ash had burned down nine candles and was quite ready for sustenance, none had come.
She opened the door and quietly stepped out, startling the guards out of the semi-alert but mostly sleepy state.
“Your Majesty?” one saluted.
“Where is my meal?”
The jaw of each guard slowly dropped, and one quickly turned down the hall to discover the location of my repast. I withdrew, and was waiting in a chair when the tray was placed on the table beside me.
The food quickly disappeared. Ash hadn't changed since entering the palace, although her few bags had been brought to her room. Ash had already sent back for the rest of her belongings. She was going to be here a while.
Ash hadn't washed in a week, either, but her habits had kept her fairly clean, and that was one of the last things she was worried about.
She settled back into her seat , leaned her head back, and closed her eyes.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

No Tuesday post...

...this week. And I have perfectly viable reasons.
However. There should be one next week. Provided the Plot Bunny Apocalypse doesn't occur.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Part I

There wasn't much that could make Ash jump. But when the door opened, she did.
“What the -” she spun around. The captain of the guard that surrounded her house.
“Miss Ashyer,” he bowed his head once.
She rolled her eyes.
“What do you need, Liand?”
“There is a man outside demanding to speak with you.”
“What's his name?”
“Maryn.”
Ash looked at the guard once, her green eyes piercing.
“No.”
“I'll do my best to keep him out, miss, but if he comes through -”
“You have at least twenty men around the house. Do your best.”
“Yes, miss.” Liand nodded again and backed out the door.
Ash sighed and turned back to her papers. Her black hair fell over her shoulders to brush the page, and she pushed It back again. She had just lifted her pen to dip it in the ink when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She ignored it. It was an odd sensation, but then again, it was no different from other things her nerves had done to her in this line of business.
She scratched a few more letters and dipped her pen again.
“Ash.”
One hand -the one without the pen -automatically flew back and connected solidly with a person.
In other words, the feeling on the shoulder was real.
“Liand!” Ash called, still not turning around.
“I knocked him out, Ash. Tell me, why haven't you come back?”
“Why are you here?”
“I've come to take you with me.”
“Unlikely.”
“I know I can't take you unwillingly.”
“That's an excellent thing.”
“Except ...” Maryn dropped a copper ring onto the paper in front of her.
Ash stared.
“Where did you find her?”
“It's a long, long story,” Maryn ran a hand across her shoulders.
Ash's hand went back again -this time, it was the one with the pen in it. She heard a muffled yelp of pain as his hand jerked up to find the wound.
“Leave. Me. Alone.”
“I'll tell you how I found her. Days from death. I brought her back, but at the end -all that was left was a little copper ring tied around her neck with a piece of twine. Nobody knows what happened. And I'm telling you, no one would be happier to find out than you.”
“You seem fairly eager to figure it out,” Ash said levelly. “What's your reason? More money? Tell him I'm not coming back.”
“Oh, he gave me no gold to come after you. I don't think you'd believe me if I said I was simply curious.”
“You're not. You never are.”
“You're right,” Maryn admitted freely. “Quite right. That makes no difference. But this,” he set a piece of paper down on the table, “does.”

“Dyathar.”
He focused his brown eyes on his feet. He had been caught. Again.
His owner, Carde, chuckled as he looked over the troublesome slave.
“Dyathar,” Carde repeated. “Run off as often as you like. It amuses us here at the headquarters, the many devices you've used in your attempts to escape. It never matters. We can always find you.”
Dyathar didn't dare pick his head up. The long, dark brown hair that hung down from his face wouldn't kill him for looking at it.
“Still, we have to make an example of you, and that's what confusing us. It works on the others here, but you never seem to get the point.” Carde lifted a finger, and a guard from the tent entrance strode over and bowed quickly. “You know what to do.”
The man grabbed Dyathar by the wrist and pulled him out of the tent.
“Wait -what -”
The soldier was silent as he walked over to a stump and shoved Dyathar down next to it, placing his hands palms-up next to each other on the flat surface.
By the time he had drawn his sword, Dyathar had figured out the punishment.
So he did what was instinctive.
He jumped up and ran.
It was less of a game this time. All those other attempts at flight? He had spent the days leading up to them figuring out how he could outwit his pursuers. Now?
Dyathar ran. As fast as he possibly could. There was no way he could be subtle. He crashed through bushes, snapped branches, leaped over fallen trees. He had one advantage. His height. He was small. If anything would help his escape, that was it. He had some endurance from his time in the slave camp. But he'd only last so long.
He could hear the soldier behind him. He had called to his companions, and now the sound of dogs barking came to his ears.
Dyathar was suddenly jerked back. Thinking it was a branch, he reached back to pull his hair away.
And felt a hand.
He panicked.
“You're an idiot, do you know that?” came a voice -Dyathar assumed it came from a head attached to the hand. And the hand wasn't letting go, no matter how hard Dyathar tried to pull away. He could hear the guards and dogs coming closer.
“If you listen to me, I can help you.”
“Let me go if you want to help!”
There was no response.
Something hit the back of Dyathar's head, and his vision went black.

“Wind's picking up, sir,” Jourel gave his captain a salute. “It appears that a gale's coming in.”
“Are preparations underway?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Get the passengers below deck.”
“Yes, sir.”
Ryndas looked up at the sky. It was a nice change from the piercing sun that was usually there. He had many chances to look up there in the past. There wasn't much else he could do, tied to a stake on the ship's main deck.
He didn't have much time left here. That was a relief. He wasn't going to outlast any other stake slave by more than a few days. He was weak from lack of food and loss of blood, and it was only a matter of time before he was thrown overboard. There the sharks would take care of him.
Or, considering the fact that a rather large storm was at hand, they might just cut him loose, let him wash overboard, and pick up a new slave at the next port, which wasn't that far away.
Ryndas felt a drop of rain hit his face. Then another. And another.
First Mate Jourel Nere walked around him, picked up my bound wrists, and cut through the rope. He did the same with the ankles, and then the waist.
Ryndas collapsed. No one was worried about his escape. He could barely lift a finger.
The ship began to tilt back and forth, just a little bit at first, but then the rocking increased. The rain soon came down in sheets, and the lightning was dangerously close.
Ryndas, however, was soon unconscious to the world, and remained unconscious when the ship rolled, nearly onto its side, and a huge wave came down on the ship.

“Sir,” the guard bowed. “A most curious thing occurred -”
“You didn't find him?” Carde raised an eyebrow, his tone leveling out dangerously.
“He ...disappeared, sir. Vanished. Vaporized.”
Carde looked at his guard in disbelief. Enger had never been one to exaggerate for the sake of the effect. He'd never lied before. So, if it was possible for people to no longer be visible, Enger could be trusted. However, it was not possible, and if it had been, Dyathar would have used the technique before.
Still, this chase had been a bit different than the ones before. Dyathar could have felt more pressure than before. To him it had been just a game, until it came to the moment of truth -when his hands were about to be cut off. He might have used something like that in desperation.
This was fairly easy to take care of. Tell the captives that Dyathar had been found and killed and buried where he was caught -and the same would happen to anyone who tried to run like that.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Prologue

Life on a ship wasn't so bad. It could be worse, right?
For instance, he could be dead.
If that was worse.
Was it?
That was hard to determine.
He had seen a trial once. A group of men had tried to assassinate the king. It wasn't the best thought-out plan, and all the conspirators were captured. They were given three choices: execution, slave away in a galley the rest of your life, or be a stake slave. Out of the eight, five chose death, and three chose the galley.
He could see why no one chose the stake slave.
The life of one was shorter than that of a galley slave, but for a good reason.
They prevented mutinies, dissension, and many forms of altercation that would otherwise ruin an oversea journey.
If anyone had any frustration to vent, they let it out on the stake slave. They were tied to stakes on deck, a whip hung on a post nearby. Only the toughest of them were chosen for the job. They were usually dead in about a month. He'd been there for three weeks.
'They' were a clan, or tribe, or people group, or whatever you prefer to call it, on an island the Malians owned. They let them continue their ways, but the Malians dropped by every now and then to take a few of them for slaves.
He wasn't completely innocent. No. There were some things he'd done. But there was no way any of the Malians could have known. He was just one of the toughest, one of the best.
Because I mentioned him, you know he'll live. At least for a time. Long enough to be important.
A stake slave.

One could call her a sociopath if they wanted. Or sociophobe.
The more the rumor spread that she was plotting some dastardly deed, the better it was. That way there were more guards around the house, and that way it was quieter.
No, her time was spent doing much better things. For instance, discovering how people died so that she could prevent it happening the same way in the future. She wrote about it. Maybe sometime someone would be a bit more open minded and review, revise, and publish the documents so that they could be used for the common good.
But right now she was just a sociopath.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My apologies...

...for this unimpressive non-posting streak -something along the lines of a year and three-quarters.
I have a story that isn't completely terrible, and yet isn't something I'm planning on publishing. And what better place to put it than an obscure blog about my imagination?
Now I'll just need reminders.

~Tahl

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mr. Marrick

The neighborhood hadn't changed. Houses lined up in neat rows, nicely spaced and with enough distance between them and the roads for the kids to play outside safely. Trees dotted the landscape here and there. A few gardens, a few front porches, a few swingsets, a treehouse. Maybe a ball in one driveway, a bicycle in another.
Dusk would fall soon. Everybody was indoors, eating dinner or enjoying family activities. Maybe a few people were on vacation -the end of summer would be here in a week or two and they wanted to get out of the house right before school began again.
Greyson Marrick drank it all in as he slowly drove down the empty road. Six months was too long to be away from home, from one of the few actually peaceful places he knew. At least he'd be back for good soon. Losing a hand from a mine in the Middle East -that had only further solidified his resolve to get back home as soon as possible. His last trip back would be to work out all the details of how his mechanical hand worked.
He pulled into the driveway of his single-level, white-and-blue house. The yard hadn't been mown in a week or two, a pink sparkly tricycle sat abandoned near the front door. He smiled as he opened the door and stepped out of his car. Jamie had finally got past being pulled around in a wagon.
Then the door to the house was flung open and a little girl around three years old came running towards him at top speed.
“Daddy!” she yelled in delight as she jumped into his outstretched arms and flung hers around his brown neck. “Daddy! I couldn't wait! You're home!”
“Yes, I'm home!” Greyson grinned, picking her up and spinning her in a circle. “I couldn't wait either!”
Then the door swung open again, and a woman came out at a slower pace, smiling, one hand on her belly.
Greyson stopped where he was, then, setting Jamie down, he swooped towards his wife, catching her around the waist and claiming from her a long-awaited kiss. Jamie giggled.
“Daddy! You're being silly!”
Greyson smiled down at her, one arm around his wife. “I'm just happy to be home,” he bestowed another kiss on Tessa. “How's Jesse been doing? He keeping you awake?”
Tessa gave a little laugh and patted her rounding stomach. “Sometimes. He's an active little fellow. Here,” she took her husband's hand and placed it on her belly. “Feel that, he's kicking. Only three more months and he'll be with us,” she looked fondly up at her husband. “Another little blessing.”


 A week later, he left them to learn all the little quirks that came with a robotic hand. He was only supposed to be gone five days.
About three days too long.
The third morning, he received news from a long-time friend of his.
A few days after he had gone, Tessa had taken Jamie to go run some errands. A drunk driver ran a red light, hit the car that held Grey's wife and daughter full-force, and killed them both. The offender disappeared. Nobody had identified the car. He had gotten away.
At first, the news didn't fully register with Grey. He was in a daze for several hours, until someone escorted him back to his empty home.
It hit him after the funeral. If he cried, he didn't do it around anyone. To him, the reality of his family's death was more emotionally and mentally damaging, than getting hit head-on by a freight train would have been physically damaging. You wouldn't really understand unless you knew him. Grey always needed someone to protect. He thought he hadn't been able to do his duty. He thought the deaths were his fault.
I think that's when Grey died. Emotionally. It left him surrounded by a steel shell. The only person who could get through to him was the person who had first given him the news. Someone by the name of Clay.
There was someone else close by, though. I think that person wanted to get through as well. See, he had met Grey at college. Grey was the only one who would stand up and protect him. This guy was named Brynt. He wasn't able to get through to Grey. Grey didn't want it. He'd let Brynt talk to him, but he wouldn't answer.
I wasn't sure what was going on inside the minds of Clay, Brynt, or Grey.
The first hint of anything 'off' came when I noticed an odd cut in Grey's hand. His mechanical hand.
Then Grey turned killer.
He claimed he didn't. I don't believe him on this point, although he had an impeccably trustworthy past. I knew the mental trauma he had undergone.
So I stood up for him. He didn't get put in jail. He went to an asylum for the criminally insane. He never thanked me for the help.
Then a few months later, he got out.
It was the work of someone else, I'm sure of that. The man was watched day and night while there.
But he still got out.
Alerts were sent out everywhere. But he kept hidden until the chaos was well past.
Then he moved to the quiet town of Durinton, Missouri. Got himself a job -I don't know how he passed the background check, I think he lied his way -as, of all things, a police officer.
He rose high, and quickly. He was trusted, and, admittedly, he did his job well. But he never took a position higher than second-in-command.
That wasn't like Grey, mentally traumatized or not.
Then I realized that around the same time Grey had become a police officer, Clay had, as well. And Brynt had conveniently disappeared.
Skip several years -fifteen or sixteen. Nothing particularly unusual had happened. I had a job, and was close by -close enough so that Grey knew I was there. Not close enough for him to think I was keeping a very careful eye on him.
Then entered a smart, smart-aleck, twenty-two year old computer technician. And his sister, who was younger by a couple years. Their cousin was there too, but he tended to keep more to the background and only stepped out when he felt he needed to make a wisecrack. That was annoying.
The first two caused problems without even trying.
The computer tech -first off, his name was Jesse. Which is what Grey and Tessa would've named their unborn son. Second, his personality clashed with Grey's. A lot. I never was really sure what happened between the two.
Jesse's sister, Adelaide. She was a young lady -those are altogether too rare these days. Technically, she didn't work at the station -but she was a part of the St. Louis FBI and Durinton was within her jurisdiction. That led her to the police station quite a bit.
Her problem was that she looked a little too much like Tessa for Grey's liking. He never told me, but I could tell. And Adelaide was about Jamie's age -or would be, if Jamie had lived.
Then there was another character in town. A man by the name of 'Cliff'. Nobody knew where he was from. Nobody knew what he did for a living. And nobody wanted to know.
But he got into trouble with the law many times. Jesse and Adelaide, however, seemed to avoid him. And their cousin -Aaron -followed their lead. I have never found out why.
Oh, and one last thing. Whatever you're going to say of me when you read through to the end of this -listen, I was trying to help Grey. He is, after all, the only family I've got left.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

After ten months.....

It has been over ten months since my last post.
If it wasn't obvious, this blog hasn't exactly been high on my priority list.
And so has passed almost a year of writing. After writing and rewriting and re-rewriting a first chapter of my most recent work (another in The Keybearer series), I think I have something that could still use a whole lot of work and yet won't spontaneously combust if someone tries to read it.
I'm also seeing a lot of characters that change from the other book I've worked on in the series. Somewhere along the line that's going to have to change. Some entrances just aren't going to work. Some personalities are going to have to be changed a good deal. And, sadly enough, some characters just won't be coming back.

But currently that's been set aside for my NaNo story and another I'm working on just to keep up with demand. The former has just been pulled out in the last few days. After a long and hard November -greatly contrasting my breezing through NaNo in 2009 -I barely finished with precisely 50,000 words. I've only added a thousand since then.
The latter has been rather interesting -the premise was your basic prince-and-princess story, entirely cliche, and named after the character who makes smart remarks about it through the whole thing. I had taken a summer's sabbatical from that, and when I restarted I received a slew of comments telling me to keep writing. Or else.

What can I say? I'll try to update this a bit more regularly, but one can never tell.
;)

~Tahl

Monday, March 1, 2010

And a major change

I'm part of a writing group. We meet about ...once every three months or so, "officially". Recently we started a sort of 'mini-meeting' -basically, we meet at a coffee shop, discuss stories, ideas, answer questions, etc.
There was a mini-meeting last Friday. After discussing a few stories, we turned to asking questions, and I asked one pertaining to how I could get someone out of jail semi-legally. (For those of you wondering, his name is Clay.)
One answer sent me home with a great idea (at least, I think it is :). But as I turned it over in my mind, I realized it would also require a good deal of revising what I had written to help it actually make sense.
I'm not telling you how Clay gets out. But it requires convincing an extremely stubborn/annoying man to sign a paper letting him go. Which means I have to have my other characters (except for one) convinced that he should leave.
That's the problem. Most of the people I need convinced are convinced ...except for the two most important ones. *headdesk* Once I get Clay out it should be smooth sailing (if Kohra doesn't interrupt it -like he's been known to do ;)...
Ack vell. I have quite a few people on my back wanting me to get this done so they can read it...so I'll be bidding you adieu.

Eya'khine azi-isyr,
Nestami.