Sunday, July 14, 2013

A sample of what's coming next...

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As requested - a snippet from the latest work-in-progress.  I think it mostly stands on its own.  I kinda love this main character.  She might have to stick around for a while :)

The original of the first chapter can be found here -- obviously person and names have changed, but the premise is the same.

My little world is still in need of a name though -- any suggestions?  Medieval-ish, said world has 6 divisions to it.

Let me know what you think!

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Gavin looked again to Marcus for instruction and Lissa had to work to maintain her calm facade. More than anything from home she missed being treated as an equal by the men.  She may not have their knowledge of war, but she expected to at least be answered directly.  But she took a deep breath and told herself to forget it.  Women’s lib wasn’t even a figment of the imagination here.  The fact that Marcus and Zane respected her was surprising enough – she had to remind herself to be grateful for that.

And then, she learned it went beyond that.  She realized Marcus was livid and when he addressed the knight; his voice was ice cold and his visible tattoos seemed to become more vibrant somehow.  “She is your queen and she asked you a question. You have disgraced yourself and me by failing to answer immediately.  The only reason you are still alive is because she respects me enough not to kill you.  But if you fail again, I’ll take care of it myself.  Are we understood?”

Lissa nodded her appreciation to Marcus, while the knight stammered an apology.  But, she realized, it wasn’t enough.  He would treat her with respect to honour Marcus, but not because he actually respected her.  She’d have to earn that. 

A slow smile crept over her face as the idea came to her.

“Calista…” she heard the warning in Zane’s voice, but ignored it.  She wasn’t going to do anything particularly challenging.  They’d been practising endlessly.  She just wanted to make a point.  She imagined a ring around the knight on the floor.  She could see it clearly in her mind.  The men were all watching her now, but she said nothing.  She held her hand in front of her and turned it over palm down then back up again, as a casino dealer would before dealing the cards.  When their eyes focused on her hand, she created a little flame.  Nothing intimidating, smaller even than the average candle.  It flickered, bouncing just over her palm, and she looked up to meet the knight’s eyes.  She flashed a wicked smile and he paled.

But she wasn’t done.  She brought her hand up to her face.  It was entirely unnecessary, but she understood the effect of a good show.  One of the things Zane had taught her was magic was far more powerful if the audience believed, and she knew how to manipulate an audience.  She blew gently on the flame, but instead of going out or even growing as a flame would usually behave, it took on the characteristics of a leaf – and when she blew on it, it gently floated away. 

The flame wafted gently until it hit that imaginary ring around the knight.  The ring that her mind had lined with gasoline.  The effect was impressive.  Startling even to her, and she knew what was coming.  Instantly the knight was surrounded with a wall of fire taller than he was.  She saw him through the flames, hands up protecting his face, spinning in an attempt to find a way out.

Marcus let out a loud laugh; while Lissa was certain it was forced, she was also reasonably certain the knight was too panicked to notice the subtlety.

“I think,” the wizard spoke calmly, “Sir Gavin has learned his lesson, highness.  I’m getting quite warm, so if you don’t intend to kill him, perhaps you could douse the flames?”

“Look at me, Sir Knight.”

The knight did as he was told, meeting her gaze through the flames.  Slowly she dissipated the flame into the air, allowing the flames to shrink until they vanished.  She held Gavin’s gaze the whole time; her own expression was carefully neutral. 

“Let me be very clear,” her voice was calm and quiet, making it all the more powerful.  “I am queen, which alone means I outrank your lord.  I am also a wizard, which makes me the most powerful queen LAND has seen in centuries.  I was raised far from here and have training the likes of which you cannot imagine, which enables me to think and solve puzzles in a manner you’ve never seen. Trust me, Sir Gavin, what I tell you now.  That wall of fire is naught but a child’s trick.  If you ever disrespect me again, you will learn just what a warrior queen is capable of.  Understood?”

“Yes highness,” his voice came out clear.  He continued to hold her eyes as he dropped to one knee and held his sword out in front of him, point to the ground.  Then very deliberately he bowed his head.  “I give you my sword, highness.  And with it my life.”

He stared at the ground while Lissa considered him.  Technically he owed her his allegiance regardless through Marcus, so the offer, while undoubtedly heart-felt, wasn’t actually of any benefit to her.  Her head was pounding; she put it down to stress and frustration.  She was getting so very tired of the testosterone game.  Threaten them, they respect you.  But it wasn’t the kind of respect she wanted.

“I do not accept,” she said.  Marcus tensed and his hand reached for his blade, but she caught his eye and shook her head sharply.  “Your sword belongs to Lord Thornbury, as does your life.  I have no need of either, for I have his sword.”  Marcus nodded and the knight’s shoulders deflated slightly.

“What I do need, however, is your opinion about the dorns.”  She repeated her earlier request.

“Yes your highness.”  He remained kneeling, but lowered his sword to the floor and lifted his eyes to meet hers.  His recitation was thorough and in the end, she knew what they were facing.  

“Do you have anything else to tell us?” she asked, exhausted and hoping the answer was no.

“No highness.”

“Marcus?  Zane?” she asked.  Both men shook their head in the negative.

“You are dismissed Sir Gavin.”

The knight bowed first to her, then to Marcus and finally to the wizard before leaving the room.  As soon as the door shut, Lissa sighed and leaned back against the wall, wishing she could relax even briefly. 

“You know,” Marcus said studying her, while one hand mindlessly twirled a knife between his fingers, “when I told Gavin you could kill him, I didn’t actually think you could do it.”

“I know.  That’s why I had to do what I did.”

“Why didn’t you accept his sword?”

“Because it was offered out of fear, not respect.”  She paused for a moment and he nodded; he didn’t look surprised.

“You were going to kill him.”  She said it as a statement, but he answered it as if it were a question.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“A soldier whose allegiance is rejected is dishonoured.  As a subject of yours, I couldn’t keep a vassal whom you had deemed unworthy.  But nor can I afford for him to sell what he knows to our enemies.  His life was forfeit when you declined him and he knew it.  You restored his honour to him smoothly and enabled him to maintain his position in my household.  He’s your man now, whether you want him or not.”

“I know,” she said with a wry smile.

Marcus paled just slightly and his hand paused in the twirling of the knife.   She winked at him and the knife slowly started moving again.  “You are your mother’s daughter,” he said, “but you are so much more than she ever was.  I won’t forget it.”



Thursday, June 13, 2013

#FridayFlash 60: In the silence of the night

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“Highness, I could use your assistance.”

“Of course,” she said instantly.

Lissa turned her horse to follow the wizard Zander across the camp, nodding to people as they passed through.  It was Illian's turn to be her shadow again tonight, and he followed without question or comment.
They left camp and rode toward the quickly setting sun.  Her eyes adjusted to the dim light easily enough, but soon she was relying on her horse to follow as she could hardly see Zander in front of her.

Zander’s voice, when he spoke, seemed exceptionally loud in the silence of the night even though in reality it was barely more than a whisper.  “Highness, you know what I’m looking for?”

“Yes,” she answered after realizing he couldn't see her nod.

“It is here somewhere.  There is a chance you might be better able to find it than I.  You should be able to communicate with the earth the same way you speak to the dragons.”

Speak to the earth the way she spoke to the dragons.  Right.  Hi earth, how you doin'?  She smiled, amused by her own smart-ass attempt.  The only answer she received was a crunch of grass as her mare snagged a bite to eat.  But she acknowledged that wasn't going to get them anywhere.  Zander said she had the skill; he didn't, so he couldn't teach her to use it.  She was on her own, but she’d been on her own before. 

Speak to the earth the way she spoke to the dragons.  Okay, so how did she speak to the dragons?  She brought the image of her dragon, Dezian, to mind. Can you hear me? She asked.

Yes highness, how can I serve you? The voice was fainter than she was used to, but no less majestic.

Don’t come here, she said, warding off any instinct the dragon might have; Dezian showing up would not aid 
their stealth mission.  I need to talk to the earth; do you know how to do that?

It is no different than us talking.  Just open your mind and listen.  The earth is far older; it speaks 
slower and only when necessary.  Be patient.

Thank you Dezian.  She didn't really know how to apply what she’d just been told, but at least she’d been paying conscious attention to how she spoke to her dragon.  First she had to visualize her; then she could communicate.

She dismounted, somehow knowing it was the right thing to do.  Illian appeared behind her and she gave him her reins.

“Your highness?” he asked as she stepped away from him.

“I’m not going far,” she took only a few more steps to a tree bigger than any she’d ever seen at home, but of average height here, and ran a hand softly down its bark.  She sat at its base, leaning back against it.  Her legs were stretched out in front of her and her hands lay softly at her sides.  One, resting on a dirt patch, the other on slightly damp moss.  She closed her eyes.

Great and mighty earth, she said, serious this time and her tone one of pure respect.  Would you do me the honour of sharing your knowledge?

She waited patiently, focusing on her breathing.  Slowly inhale, pause, and exhale – as though she were preparing to meditate.  Without her vision, her other senses became more attune.  The moss seemed softer under her hand.  She could smell the dirt, but also the rain that had fallen hours earlier and a whiff of a flower somewhere nearby.  Her ears heard the songs of the crickets calling; she felt like she understood their longing, but could do nothing to remedy it.  An owl hooted somewhere far in the distance and a wolf howled; the two couldn't possibly have been connected, but somehow it seemed as though they were communicating with each other.  But she couldn't quite grasp what they said.

She tried to close her ears to the night, listening only to the sound of her own breath.  Inhale, pause, exhale.  She lost track of time.  She could've been sitting there minutes or hours.  Inhale, pause, What is it you seek?  She was startled, because she hadn't really expected to receive a response, but exhaled just as calmly, focusing on maintaining her meditative state.

Inhale, pause, Once, long ago, a tunnel was dug through your magnificent forest. Exhale.

This did happen, it wasn't so much a voice as a memory.  The image of a much younger forest floated through her mind.  She was having trouble separating the earth’s thoughts from her own.

I would really appreciate knowing where the entrance to the tunnel is, she thought in-between breaths.

You already have this knowledge, and while that answer should have both surprised and frustrated her, it didn't.  Because it was correct.  She found she had the knowledge of this forest and all it had seen since the days when it was nothing but weeds and dirt.  She knew of the trees that had grown mighty, only to be felled by an axe.  She knew of the animals and their reliance on one another in their life circle.  And she knew of the people – those who had loved, those who had killed, and everybody in-between.  Watching eons of history flip through her mind in seconds she continued to focus on her breathing and paused when she saw a boulder being moved, a tunnel being sealed.  And she knew, better than she’d known her own home, exactly where the tunnel Zander sought was.  

Thank you for this gift, meaning so much more than thank you.  Is there anything I can do for you, majesty?  She doubted the title was correct, but it seemed to suit and she hoped at very least it wouldn't offend.

Use your tunnel, Lissa, and then restore this forest to those who belong here.  She was unsurprised to hear her given name used; what was a queen next to the earth?

It will be done. It was a promise she would keep.
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From my WIP.  Thoughts?


Friday, April 5, 2013

#FridayFlash 59: Write what you know

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Photo shamelessly stolen from Neil Gaiman

She sat in front of her keyboard waiting for divine inspiration; she supposed this would be more likely if she believed in the divine.

She rolled her eyes and typed a few words.  Then she immediately deleted them.  The screen remained blank.

“To be a writer, you have to write.”  That’s what it said on the motivational poster on the wall.  But the words that used to flow so easily, had been silent for months.  Ever since…   Well, no point thinking about what was.  Now she had to write. Deadlines could be fatal.

She looked around the room.  There had to be something here she could craft a story about.  Hmmmm the paperclip?  Nah, Microsoft had claimed that one as a help icon.  Stickynotes?  No – that too had already been done.

The cell phone buzzing was a welcome distraction.  She’d sworn off the phone until the newest project was at least started, but it could be important.  Seeing her best friend’s name on the screen let her know she shouldn't answer.  But, maybe a break was what she needed? Maybe some time away from the white screen of emptiness would give her some ideas.  Perhaps a coffee would create a flow of inspiration.  Words would fill the page as they once had.

It was worth a try.  She closed the laptop and escaped to the local coffee shop to meet her two closest friends.  The girls gathered around their favourite table.  One white hot chocolate, one espresso, and one chai tea.  When they went for coffee it was accepted nobody would actually drink plain coffee.  She said all the right things as the gossip flowed, held up her end of the conversation – freely blaming her friends for her complete lack of productivity; after all, that’s what friends are for.  But when she smiled, it didn’t quite reach her eyes. She was quick to catch and interpret the brief look her friends gave each other.  She knew they worried about her, but she couldn’t be strong for them. Not this time. She could barely be strong for herself. And so before the pause could become awkward, she pleaded too much work and tossed her cup in the garbage on her way out the door.  She knew her friends watched her leave, but she never looked back.

When she got home the screen was still white, but this time, it wasn't intimidating.  She knew it was time.  The words would flow through her fingers once more.  But where once they had come from laughter and dreams giving light tales of romance and fun, this one would come from tears and reality.  She started to type.

“Six months ago, my life, as I knew it, ended.  Tomorrow, it will start again.  Today, I will complete the journey from death to life.  You may join me, if you’re strong enough.”

She paused and considered for a moment.  Her hands shook and a single tear crept, unnoticed, down her cheek.  She knew, if she continued, that by the end she would be exhausted.  She suspected she would likely become a far better writer.  And, she realized with a wry grin, she would be in need of a new market.  As she contemplated the fallout to come and realized that maybe, just maybe, she was strong enough after all.  And with that in mind, she let the words flow.