Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday Snippet, December 28, 2007

Things are slowing down a bit from the hectic pace I kept through Christmas. I do have a New Year's party coming up, and that should be it for awhile.

In case I didn't already say it, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

This snippet follows right from last Friday's.

First draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks!



The carriage ride back was mostly quiet. Hedi maintained a sulky silence and would not look at Sabri. Mother looked but did not speak, her face full of sadness.

Sabri recalled the fascinated stares of the Miller children. Only Winn had seemed nonchalant. Mrs. Miller’s elderly mother had said, “It is a gift from God, sent to us in our need.”

And Mother, grabbing Sabri by the sleeve and pulling her toward the door, saying, “God does not gift the disruption of lives, and the pain and confusion of children.”

Hedi had attempted to sit by Mother instead of Sabri, but Mother had been fierce. “You will sit by your sister!”

“She is not my sister.”

“She is as much your sister as she ever was, despite the poor soul she now carries within.”

And silence reigned within the carriage.

When they came within sight of the house, Hedi sat on the edge of the seat as if anxious to be out of the carriage as soon as it stopped moving. The carriage jolted to a stop, and Mother put a restraining hand on Hedi’s shoulder.

“We cannot keep this from getting out, but you will refrain from speaking about this to anyone. We will live as normal a life as we can for as long as we can.”

“My life is ruined and you want normalcy!” Hedi burst out. “I can’t have my coming out party. Surely you see that!”

Mother’s grip tightened, along with her lips. “Not everything is about you, Hedegrine Shiana. Try for a little compassion and understanding.”

Hedi tore from her grip and jumped from the carriage, nearly knocking over the driver who had come around to that side. Mother and Sabri faced one another for an instant before Mother took the driver’s outstretched hand and descended from the carriage. Sabri jumped out as she had before. Hedi had already disappeared within the house.

Mother paused, looking up at the house with pensive gaze. Sabri stopped beside her. The sound of the carriage moving off broke the silence first.

“I know you must have many questions, but I beg you will not ask them in front of others,” Mother said.

Many questions did indeed swarm in Sabri’s mind, but only one emerged. “Winn Miller knew when I touched his hand. You knew. How did you know?”

“To some of us, the touch of a Vagabond is unmistakable. There is a jolt, and a quick sense of disorientation.”

When no other questions came, Mother moved away slowly. Sabri looked out over the ground and into the distant fields. The wind had switched while they were at the Millers, and now it blew from the north with Autumn’s chill.

Sabri shivered, and hugged herself to stay warm.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Snippet, December 21, 2007

Wow. What a busy week, and no end in sight yet. I'm solid busy through the New Year. But I'll get to see a lot of family in the next few days.

This snippet takes up at the point where the last one left off and finishes up the first chapter.

First draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks!


“It’s all right,” Sabri said, solemn. “Sometimes I feel like howling myself.”

The boy looked puzzled, and opened his mouth as if to ask a question, but a woman near Mother’s age stepped forward to greet them.

“Lady Reeves, Miss Hedegrine, Miss Sabriella. So nice of you to visit. You are most welcome.”

“Mrs. Miller,” Mother said. “When we heard of your son’s illness, of course we came at once. We have a few things that I hope you’ll find helpful.”

As the carriage driver removed packages and containers from the boot, a little of the tension in the woman’s face relaxed. Lines around Mrs. Miller’s mouth and eyes spoke of a harder life, perhaps, than that of Lady Reeves.

The older children fell to with a will, helping the driver carry packages and containers inside. Mrs. Miller escorted Mother into the house, followed by Hedi. Sabri trailed behind. She saw the boy with the flyaway hair glance back at her once, but he had a basket with several loaves of bread in his hands and didn’t pause. Sabri could feel the nose of the dog, Stiles, pushed up against the back of her knee.

The dog stopped at the door, looking on with mild eyes as an elderly woman, Mrs. Miller’s mother, respectfully greeted Mother. Sabri glanced around the room, taking in the furniture, slightly shabby and well-used, the enormous fireplace on one side, and the faded tapestry that hung on the wall opposite the front door. An inside door to another room caught her eye. Sabri could see the foot of a bed, and movement under the bedclothes. She moved in that direction.

A boy, obviously the sibling of the boy with the flyaway hair, lay in the bed. Or rather, sat up in the bed, straining to see what went on in the living room. When Sabri moved into his line of sight, he motioned to her.

Sabri looked over her shoulder, but Mother, Hedi, Mrs. Miller and the elderly woman still talked. She moved to stand just inside the bedroom.

“You’re Sabriella Reeves, aren’t you?” he said.

“Yes,” Sabri said. “And you are Winn Miller?”

“Yep. I’d shake your hand if you were closer.”

Sabri grinned and stepped forward to take his extended hand.

His eyes widened and his eyebrows raised. “Oh. You’re a Vagabond.”

“I beg your pardon?” Sabri said.

“But you wouldn’t know that, would you? You haven’t been here long, I’ll wager.”

Complete silence in the other room alerted Sabri. She turned.

“My sister is not a Vagabond,” Hedi said in a high, peculiar voice.

But Sabri looked at Mother’s expression, and knew that Winn spoke the truth.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Busy--Message for Friday Snippet Gang

Check back on Saturday and I'll have a snippet then. Been doing house cleaning and baking and going to parties.

Monday, December 17, 2007

White Gloves and Black Light

This is the best video I've seen done with reflective gloves and a black light.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Friday Snippet, December 14, 2007

This snippet takes up where the last one left off.

First draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks!

Hedi gave her a raised eyebrow. “You are a funny sister.”

Sabri watched as Hedi gave her skirts a jerk to straighten the folds of cloth. The thought came to her that Hedi didn’t have a sense of humor. Sabri stored that thought away for future reference. She studied her sister. Hedi had blond hair that she wore pulled back from her face, secured by a barrette and allowed to fall in loose coils on the back of her neck. She wore a green jacket and skirt to complement her eyes, and she sat in a composed, poised manner on the carriage seat, as if others might be watching.

Mother sat opposite, facing them. She wore blue, her blond hair lightly streaked with silver. She exuded a sense of comfort and serenity. A feeling moved in Sabri’s throat—a fleeting emotion difficult to identify—joy? fear? hope? The sudden desire to touch Mother made Sabri’s hand give an involuntary twitch.

The carriage started with a jerk, nearly dumping Mother in the girls’ lap. She made a sound of annoyance. “I don’t know what possessed your father to buy that team.”

Sabri peered out the small window as the horses drew the carriage to the end of a long, winding drive. The carriage turned out onto a road of pressed dirt and scattered shale. She could see the manor at the other end of the driveway. Square, three stories, built of a light-colored, hewn stone. The windows sparkled in the late morning sun.

The carriage lurched over a protruding stone in the road. For a moment, Sabri had a vision of a carriage running on a smooth black surface with nothing pulling it along. She frowned, and the vision left.

“Girls, a word of caution,” Mother said. “You’re not to give Winn Miller any excitement at all, do you hear? He’s to have bedrest for at least a week, or the doctor says his fever may rise to a dangerous level.”

“If he has a fever, why are we going?” Sabri asked. “What if we catch what he has?”

Mother stared at Sabri, and Hedi gave a faint shriek. “Mother, we won’t catch anything, will we? I have my coming out party. I can NOT have a fever and be in bed just now.”

“You needn’t worry you’ll get sick,” Mother said. “The doctor has said Winn is not infectious, or you can be sure we wouldn’t step foot in the house. We will do our duty.”

Since she could think of no way to answer that, Sabri kept silent through the rest of the drive. The carriage stopped in front of a house much smaller than the manor, but still built with the same light-colored stone and appealing to the eye.

Several people emerged from the house, many of them children. Dogs surrounded the people and the carriage. The driver jumped down from his seat and opened the door for them.

Sabri waited for the driver to hand out Mother and Hedi, then jumped from the carriage on her own. One of the dogs sniffed at her hand and let out a mournful howl. The other dogs picked up the sound and amplified it until the whole of the yard sounded like an eerie dirge.

“Siles, what are you about!” A boy with flyaway brown hair yelled at the offending dog. He turned an apologetic face to Sabri. “Sorry, he’s never done that before.”

Friday, December 7, 2007

Friday Snippet, December 7, 2007

Pearl Harbor Day. Our parents' 9-11. With all the rhetoric flying around, it's easy to see how we don't learn from history.

I've made a tough decision. If I want to become a commercial success as a writer, I need to start tailoring my work to what's commercially successful. Right now, juveniles are experiencing a renaissance because of Rowling.

I still wanted to deal with the theme of identity and choices, but I've restructured my current WIP to (hopefully!) appeal to a younger audience.

First draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks!

The first thing she remembered was the cut stone walls of the manor, and the way the sunlight crept across the marble floor. She narrowed her eyelids against the flood of light through the large window in front of her. A sidelight of colored mosaic on each side of the window cast fantastically mottled shades of color on her skin.

Outside, she could se the tops of trees. Upper floor, then. She moved closer to the window and looked down. A garden, meticulously laid out, with a hedge labyrinth at its end, farthest from the house.

Footsteps.

“There you are, Sabri. Why have you hidden yourself away in the ballroom?”

Sabri? Somehow that name sounded strange—wrong.

She turned to see a girl of about seventeen years standing in the doorway. She stared while the girl watched her in turn with impatient green eyes. She opened her mouth to say something to the girl, and forgot what she would say. She looked at the room with its high ceiling and shiny floor and thought how it looked exactly as she expected a ballroom to look.

“Sabri? Sabriella? Are you even listening?”

She smiled a little. Sabriella. Of course. She had been Sabriella for fifteen years now and saw no need to change. So she opened her mouth and said, “Of course I’m listening.”

“Good. Mother sent me to fetch you. We’re leaving as soon as the carriage comes ‘round.”

“Where are we going?”

“Sabriella Charmaine, don’t tell me you’re listening when plainly you’re not! Mother told you not an hour ago that we are visiting the Millers. They have a sick child.”

“Hedi! Have you found her?”

Hedi turned her head and shouted. “She’s in the ballroom, Mother!”

“Well, both of you, come! The day progresses.”

Sabri followed Hedi from the ballroom onto a balcony that overlooked a grand entry hall. She saw that they stood on the third floor. She looked over the railing and saw the face of an older woman looking over the railing and upward from the second floor balcony.

“Coming, Mother,” Hedi said.

They descended a stairway wide enough to hold five people side-by-side. Mother met them at the second floor landing, giving them both a critical glance.

“Sabri, couldn’t you have combed your hair?” she said, and reached out her hand to brush Sabri’s hair away from her forehead. Sabri felt a jolt of something. Mother snatched her hand away with an exclamation.

“Ooh, static electricity!” Hedi said.

Mother shook her hand as if it tingled. She gave Sabri a searching look, then said, “Yes, of course. We should hurry before the day flies completely away.”

While they were being helped into the carriage by the family footman and settling onto the hard leather seats, Sabri whispered to Hedi, “Who are the Millers?”

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Friday Snippets, November 30, 2007



My baby brother Mike would have been 38 today. I wanted to give him a birthday present, so I wrote this poem for him, and that's my Friday snippet.

Please do not repost or quote anywhere. Thanks!

FAITH'S BUDDING FLOWER

The wandering year comes 'round
to loss keenly felt
As if no time had passed.

Do you care? Are you aware
of the pain of absence?

Stark branches claw the sky
In mute supplication;
Life lays cold in the ground.

Do you see tears? Feel the fears
that on these days abound?

Winter shakes the grasp
on fragile, seedling hope--
A quick lift of prayer.

Do you know? Will you show
us faith's budding flower?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

LOL Cats

http://mine.icanhascheezburger.com/completestore/MaWuzRightYo128406945156846250.jpg

Friday, November 23, 2007

Friday Snippet, November 23, 2007

It was either something old or nothing at all. Yes, it's been that kind of week. Seems like I'm busier around the holidays than any other time.

This is from a story that I started but never finished. Somehow I didn't feel I could do the story justice. It's based on a true story, and is one of the odder, unsolved murder mysteries in the area where I live. I wanted to fictionalize it, and give the story an ending, but I never could move more than a scene past the murder itself. Some day, maybe.

Please do not repost or quote anywhere. Thanks.

Sarah Moreland’s life changed on February 14, the day Missy Taylor’s life ended.
Lives cross, parallel for a space, then separate---but sometimes lives intertwine and never come apart. Later, she would realize this truth.

January had been a grueling month. February didn’t look much better. The winter months dumped a record snowfall on the metro area, and the life of the city moved, but grudgingly, like an old woman with arthritis.

Sarah paused by Chinana’s to look in the window. Her favorite coffee shop sported only a few customers this morning, and she decided to stop for a cup of coffee. Hers always tasted like soap. She never could seem to rinse out the taste.

Chinana’s occupied the west side of Rafael’s, one of the city’s most posh hotels. The coffee shop opened onto Fifth Street-- one of those upscale places that served a corporate clientele. Sarah termed the d├ęcor urban bland—a mishmash of signage and artfully placed three-dimensional objects.

The seat by the window, the one Sarah always liked to sit in, was occupied, so she sat at the table next to the elevator, as far from the drafts that came in each time the front doors were opened as she could get.

The waiter brought coffee, straight, no sugar, and Sarah let it cool in front of her while she made notes about possible story leads she could pitch to Barnes, editor of the Metro News.

She sighed and took a sip of her coffee. February wasn’t a good month for news. A plethora of car accidents because of the bad weather, and people starting house fires trying to save money by using alternate heating methods.

The elevator dinged. Sarah looked around at the sound. The sight of the hotel concierge, white and shaken, piqued her interest. She watched as he stepped from the elevator, and put a shaking hand to his lips. With the other hand, he kept the elevator doors from sliding shut.

A draft touched her legs. She turned to the front doors and saw a man walk in. He immediately looked at the concierge and some unspoken message passed between them. Almost without thought, she snatched her purse, and stood up, walking quickly to the elevators. The concierge didn’t even see her as she slipped into the elevator ahead of the man. She slid to the back of the elevator car, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.

“What took you so long?” the concierge said to the man, his voice agitated. “She’s in Room 447.”

Maybe nothing more than a domestic disturbance, Sarah thought. Perhaps the concierge just didn't like confrontation. But her reporter's instincts prodded her now.

The men crowded onto the elevator with her. Neither noticed that Sarah hadn’t made a floor choice. The elevator dinged and stopped at the fourth floor. The concierge and the man exited the elevator. As the doors started to slide shut, Sarah scooted out, following them, her feet silent in the thick carpeting.

“That’s how we found her,” the concierge said.

The door to 447 stood wide open. Sarah saw the man stop in the door. He swallowed.

“What are we going to do, Mr. Townsend?” the concierge said, nearly frantic.

She came up behind them and got an unobstructed view of the room. She saw the woman lying in the middle of the floor. The carpet was red, but it wasn’t, it was blue---except around the body. Stab wounds covered nearly every exposed inch of the woman---except for her face. Her head lay at an unnatural position, neck obviously broken, but the face pristine and lovely, delicately made up. Black hair fanned out from that face, and fixed blue eyes stared at Sarah. Blood everywhere.

Horrified, Sarah leaned over and vomited.

The man named Townsend turned around and spotted her.

Sarah turned and fled. She heard the men shouting at her.

Down a short hallway, she found a set of stairs leading down. After a couple of false turns, she found herself back on the lower level in the main lobby of the hotel. Sarah drew a deep breath, composed herself, and walked over to the front desk.

The clerk at the front desk looked up with a pleasant smile on her face. “May I help you?”

Sarah said in a low voice, “Call the police. A woman’s been murdered.”

The desk clerk looked at her with fright in her eyes. “W—what did you say?”

“Mr. Townsend asked me to have you call the police. There’s been a murder. A woman in 447.”

The desk clerk picked up the phone and dialed. When Sarah heard her shaking voice ask the dispatcher for the police, she turned and walked out the front doors.

Only later did she realize that the murdered woman’s room had contained dozens of red roses.

Valentine’s Day.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Friday Snippet, November 16, 2007

This has been a strange week. I've mostly done everything else but write, and it shows. I'm tired. I'm trying to gear up for the holidays and feeling kind of out of step with the whole concept. Hopefully, I'll get over that attitude.

Continuation of last week's post. Mueli has swung her sword at Shaelin's head. The end of this snippet is not a natural break point, but this is pretty much all I've written in a week. *sigh*

Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks.


Mueli found herself flying through the air. She landed hard and lay still, staring up at the sky. Her sword arm felt as if someone had stood on it for a good long while. Her rage cooled to gray ashes.

She slowly pushed herself into a sitting position with her good arm. She checked to make sure her other arm was still with her and peered blearily around until she located her sword.

Moving like an old woman, Mueli stood and retrieved her sword from the dirt. Feeling the cool metal of the grip in her hand gave her the courage to look Shaelin in the face once more.

Shaelin hadn’t moved. She met Mueli’s hard stare with a direct gaze.

“Why? Why did you leave them to die?” Mueli asked in a hoarse voice.

Shaelin tilted her head. “A better question would be why you did not remain behind.”

Mueli refused to ask.

“As you wish,” Shaelin said.

She removed the scabbard from her shoulder and slid the Godsword inside. As soon as the blade disappeared, Shaelin dropped the sheathed Godsword and put her hands over her face.

Mueli turned away from her, and wondered what to do next. She had the girl and the Godsword, and both were safe for the time being. The thing to do would be to make their way back to the relative safety of the Shield Temple from here. Wherever here was. No use in asking Shaelin. She would have no more idea where the Godsword had brought them than Mueli did.

She looked at Shaelin. “Pick it up. Never drop it like that again.”

Shaelin leaned over and picked up the sword. “Where are we going?” she asked in a timid voice.

“We’re going to make our way back to the temple,” Mueli said. She carefully did not say that they were going to make their way back to the Shield Temple through potentially hostile territory with only one warrior to guard one of the most famous swords in history.

With no supplies.

Mueli pointed at an outcropping that rose above the treeline a good two hour’s walk from their present position. “We’re going to that rise. I can orient us from there.”

“Does that mean we’re lost?” Shaelin asked.

“We’re lost when I say we’re lost,” Mueli said, her anxiety making her short tempered.

They made for the outcropping. The terrain rose and fell, full of deadfall and underbrush. Mueli hadn’t counted on the roughness of the terrain and Shaelin tiring so quickly. Darkness found them before they reached their destination.

“We’ll have to climb in the dark,” Mueli said.

“I’m tired. Can’t I just stay here until you return?” Shaelin said.

“No. We’ll be spending the night up there. Safer. Unless you want to sleep down here by yourself?”

Mueli saw the pale glimmer that was Shaelin draw closer. “I’ll go with you,” she said.

They were lucky enough to find a path. Both women were breathing hard by the time they reached the top. Nothing but a few scrawny bushes grew on the outcropping.

Mueli found a good-sized boulder. She sat down and propped her shoulders against it, feeling every ache, cut, and bruise.

“Aren’t we going to have a fire?” Shaelin asked.

“No. Attracts attention. Besides, there’s not enough firewood up here to keep a fire burning for long. Relax while you can. We might have a long walk back to the temple.”

Shaelin sat beside her, propping the Godsword against the boulder. After a moment, she spoke. “Are they really dead? Tima, Dorwir, Canin, all the others?”

The night air felt harsh in Mueli’s throat when she answered, “All.”

“Why?” Shaelin asked in an anguished voice. “Why would the Godsword lead us into an ambush?”

Mueli shook her head. “I don’t suppose it led us into an ambush,” she said bitterly. “It just didn’t warn us not to take that road.”

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Friday Snippet, November 9, 2007

I'm sneaking in a short story amongst all the novel writing. This is really first draft. I'm too tired to edit it. Sorry for any errors.

The story opens with a battle scene. Any input on if it sounds realistic****cough* Gabriele *cough*** would be appreciated.

Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks.

[Edited to address the sword-over-the-back issue.]

Shield Warriors have been the guardians of the Godsword for a century or so.

The sound of screaming and the smell of battle rolled over Mueli like a poisonous tide. She moved her back foot just a little to brace for impact, and her foot rolled on something soft. A sword connected with her shield, and Mueli went down. Clanging metal and defiant screams continued over her head as someone filled the gap.

Mueli blinked up at the confusion of motion. Anxiously, she looked through shifting legs at the eye of the storm---Shaelin still stood in the calm center, surrounded by of a ring of yelling, fighting soldiers. The girl shivered and shook, and her hand crept toward the handle of the sword in the scabbard that hung from her shoulder, but she still stood and the Godsword still rested in its sheath.

Someone tripped over Mueli and crashed to the ground. Blood and something Mueli didn’t care to identify splashed her chainmail. She saw one of the attacking Corgans break through the ring. Galvanized by the sight, Mueli rolled through the legs surrounding her, enduring the kicks and curses. She swung her sword from her prone position and sliced through the Corgan’s right calf. He screamed and fell to his knees. Intent on Shaelin, he hadn’t even seen Mueli. She drew the man’s own dagger and stabbed him where his neck met his shoulder. He collapsed.

Mueli stared straight into Shaelin’s eyes for a fleeting second. The girl didn’t look like Godsword material. Her eyes were white-ringed with terror, and her knees barely held her upright. But the Godsword chose its wielder.

Whirling, Mueli threw herself back into battle. As her sword rose and fell, she felt Death’s breath in her face. The Shield Warriors were surrounded, and more fell under Corgan swords with each second that passed.

The Corgan pushed the Shield Warriors into a smaller circle around Shaelin until only a few were left. And, still, they died. Mueli kept stabbing and hacking, her arm like lead, her heart sick within her. Shaelin and the Godsword would fall into Corgan hands, and Mueli’s last hope of justice would be lost.

“Draw the Godsword, girl!” Mueli pitched her voice to be heard over the din of battle. “Let God punish their insolence!”

A sudden space opened before her. Mueli stared before realizing that even the Corgan feared God’s wrath.

“I can’t!” Shaelin wailed like a lost child. “It won’t let me!”

Mueli stood directly in front of Shaelin, her jaw set. She would make the Corgan pay for her disappointment with her last breath.

“Shield Warriors, to me!” she bellowed.

Heads swept up, and dull eyes lighted. The Shield Warriors tightened a thin, ragged circle, matching Mueli’s position. They roared their defiance at the Corgan.

Mueli felt a light touch on her shoulder, and then the world turned inside out. When she caught her breath and her eyes could see again, her bewildered gaze took in the sight of Shaelin, Godsword in hand, standing nearby.

Wildly, Mueli looked around. No battlefield, no Shield Warriors, no Corgan. Not even her original surroundings.

“What did you do!” Mueli yelled.

“I removed the both of us from the battlefield,” Shaelin said, voice calm and face full of purpose.

She’d left the remaining Shield Warriors to die. Not even Mueli’s hope of justice was worth that sacrifice.

With a cry of sheer rage, Mueli swung her sword at Shaelin’s head.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Friday Snippet, November 2, 2007

I guess I'm sticking to this story for a little bit. I'm still writing about Nikki and Tasha, but I'm just trying to build my word count in that book.

This is a scene I've rewritten a couple of times. I'm still not sure I'm happy with it, but here it is.

This material is first draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks.

A continuation of last week's post.

Carlie woke and stared up at the ceiling above her.

So she hadn’t died after all. Despite the aches and pains, Carlie felt alert and aware.

A nightmarish memory of strange faces, and traveling in some sort of wagon brought a puzzled frown to her face. She remembered flashing glimpses of mountains and snow, and feeling cold all the time, but she must have been dreaming. The nearest mountains were hundreds of miles away.

She slid her hand to the ache in her back and her fingers encountered a bandage. Carlie probed the bandage with gentle fingers but it seemed to be firmly in place.

The ceiling above her seemed to be made of cloth. Odd kind of ceiling to have in a hospital. How long had she been here? She had no idea. That wasn’t good. She needed to find out if Jason had survived.

Carlie sat up, feeling weak and washed out, and started to swing her legs over the edge of the hospital bed. She stopped, and stared. The bed was larger than any bed she’d ever seen before outside of a museum. The bedposts rose up in thick wooden, carved columns that supported a canopy overhead. Partially drawn bedcurtains surrounded the bed. What part of the room she could see through the gap in the bedcurtains looked expansive and made of stone blocks, with large colorful hangings on the walls. Carlie could just make out a fire in a fireplace big enough for her walk into it without ducking. Despite the fire, the air was cold to her unprotected face. Was this some kind of ski lodge? What kind of sense did that make?

She gathered up one of the thick covers on the bed and drew it around her shoulders. Carlie slid out of the bed, her feet glancing off a step placed at the side, apparently to assist people in and out of the high bed. She nearly fell, but recovered and stood, shivering in the cold, her back hurting, her sense of balance off.

Carlie noticed that her perspective was wrong. She was farther from the floor than she should be. She looked at her hands. Long and thin instead of short and stubby. Carlie frowned, struggling to comprehend what she was seeing.

A mirror on the wall at the other end of the room caught her eye. Carlie crossed to the mirror on shaky and uncertain knees. She saw her reflection and froze. The blanket dropped from her shoulders.

A tall woman in a blue wool nightdress with dark, almost black, hair and blue eyes looked back at her. The strange woman paused and stared and did not say a word.

“No,” Carlie whispered, and so did the reflection. Too much—it was all too much to deal with.

The strange woman’s mouth opened, but no sound emerged. Carlie’s hands raised to her face, and the mirrored woman’s hands faithfully echoed the movement.

Confused images of her ex-husband with a knife, but of yet another man and another knife, the memory of struggling to live whirled in her mind. She remembered waking up---somewhere else---and people she’d never seen before.

In the mirror behind her, she saw a portrait hanging on the wall. With a strangled scream, Carlie whirled, nearly tripping on the blanket.

The portrait was that of Jason—in an odd woolen hat and jacket--but still Jason.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Friday Snippet, October 26, 2007

This week seems to be just as busy as the last. I'm getting cranky. I always get cranky when I can't block off enough time to write.

This material is first draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks.

Continuation of last week's post.

[Edited to remove too many references to "Lord Alin."]

The woman seemed to understand the problem. She pressed her fingertips against Carlie’s throat, and a rush of warmth and strength washed over Carlie from that point of contact. Her breathing steadied.

“Hold, my lady,” the woman said. “I’ll get help.”

She disappeared from Carlie’s line of sight. After time had passed, Carlie thought she’d imagined the woman. She closed her eyes and drifted away until she felt hands touch her.

Carlie opened weighted eyelids. The woman had returned with a man and a boy in his early teens. The boy’s anxious face filled her field of vision. “Tamli! Gretchi, help her!”

“I’ll do my best, Cedrin, but she’s lost a lot of blood.”

The man bent over the dead man, then Carlie.

“Lord Alin always was a ham-fisted hack,” he said to Gretchi in a harsh voice. “Looks like he missed her vitals. I’m not sure what she did to him, but it was effective.”

Gretchi grunted. “As long as he’s dead. If we don’t get her off the floor and get her warm soon….”

The boy stared at both of them, his face crumpling. “Please, Gretchi! Please, Lessing! She needs help!”

“We need to get her out of here, and then we need to get rid of the body” the man said in an urgent voice. “Anyone could come in at any moment. You know what a stir this would cause. She can’t be mixed up in this—Mallon can’t be mixed up in it. This would reach the ears of the Crown.”

Gretchi bent over Carlie, touching her side with gentle fingers. Heat spread from her hands, faintly warming Carlie’s cold, cold body.

Gretchi shook her head. “I don’t know, Lessing. We can’t move her far, or we’ll finish what Lord Alin started.”

“NO!” the boy half-screamed. “She can’t die! Tamli! Don’t leave me!”

Carlie tried to tell the boy that her name wasn’t Tamli, and that she had no intention of dying. Nothing emerged but a grunting sound. She held Gretchi with her gaze, and something in her eyes must have spoken to the woman.

“She’s come this far,” Gretchi said in a soft voice. “I don’t think she’s ready to give up yet.” She looked up at the man she had addressed as Lessing and nodded.

Carlie felt hands slide under her body and lift. Pain crashed down on her and drove her consciousness below the surface again. When her awareness surfaced again, she heard the sound of raised voices.

“….she’s your wife, my lord! It is the dead of winter! If you insist on moving her now, you might kill her!”

Carlie recognized the voice of the woman, Gretchi.

“You dare to argue with me about this? She cannot stay here! She will be removed from Haygen to House Mallon, and that is my final word on the matter!”

Something about that cold, petulant voice caused Carlie to make a restless movement. Someone seized her hand and held it. She turned her head to see the boy sitting at her side.

“He’s a pig, Tamli!” he said in a soft voice. “I don’t care what you say, he’s a big, fat pig!”

“Don’t let his lordship hear you say that,” Gretchi said as she appeared and placed a back of her hand on Carlie’s forehead. “Just because your sister is married to him wouldn’t keep the strap from your back.”

Sister.

Unexpected pain of memory made Carlie catch her breath. She had been a sister. Once. Her brother had died long ago. Tears slid down the side of her face and dropped into her hair. She hadn’t thought of him for years. Even after promising she would never forget.

“Nothing to worry about, my lady,” Gretchi said. “Lessing will take us, and we will travel with everything we need to keep you comfortable. I will see to that myself,” she said, voice grim. “You sleep as much as you can now. You’ll need your strength."

Carlie turned her face to a wall. She did feel very tired. As she fell asleep, Carlie found comfort in the feel of the boy’s hand holding hers.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Snippet, October 19, 2007

Hello. Busy week. Almost no writing. *sigh* I HATE that, but not much I can do.

I'm giving Tasha and Nikky a brief rest. Here's a piece out of another WIP I'm about half-finished with. Enjoy.

This material is first draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks.

I don't think this piece requires explanation. It's the very first scene in the book.

[Edited to clarify some confusion.]

Christmas Eve.

Carlie Zimmer looked out the window at the snow-covered ground. It was one of those days that even looked cold, like frost clung to every molecule, lending a clean, cutting edge to the air. If you didn’t look at the dirty snow at the road’s edge.

She turned to face the empty room behind her. The first full day alone since her mother’s death. Carlie hadn’t thought she’d miss that whining voice. She pulled her sweater closer around her shoulders.

The phone rang. She hesitated, then picked up the receiver. “Hello?” She winced reflexively at the hoarse rasp of her ruined voice.

“Hey, Carlie. I heard about your mother,” Brian said. “There anything I can do?”

Carlie sighed. “Thanks for calling, Brian. I really don’t need anything.”

“It sucks that you have to face this on Christmas,” Brian said. Pause. “Hey, the wife and I were talking it over, and we want to invite you to have Christmas dinner with us—uh, with all that’s going on….”

Carlie’s mouth twisted as she finished the sentence in her head, ‘since we know you’ll be totally alone and we feel sorry for you.’

She didn’t allow her feelings to color her reply. “Thanks, Brian, I appreciate the thought, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t make good company right now. I think I’ll just stay at home. I have plenty of food, so I won’t starve.”

Relief was almost palpable in Brian’s voice. “Well, if you change your mind, give us a call. I take it you won’t be back to work until after New Year’s.”

“No.”

With a few more awkward words of condolence, Brian hung up.

Carlie stared at the phone, hoping no more co-workers would call and pretend they cared. Most of them barely knew her, and none of them had known her mother.

The phone rang again. With a sound of annoyance, Carlie picked up the receiver.

“Just like the old bitch to kick off on Christmas, eh, Carlie?”

Carlie’s blood chilled to subzero and her breath left in a great rush.

“Not expecting to hear from me? On Christmas Eve, and your mother dead and all? Now, I am disappointed.”

Carlie found her voice, relieved that it sounded steady. “Jason, how did you get this number?”

“I love the new sound of your voice,” Jason said in a mocking confidential voice. "I think it was my best work. Don't you agree, wife?"

Carlie gritted her teeth, her fingers going to the scar circling her throat. “I’m not your wife anymore, Jason. Don’t call me.”

She dropped the receiver into its cradle. In a few seconds, the phone rang. Carlie ignored it. The answering machine kicked in.

“You don’t hang up on me!” Jason snarled. “Ever! You’ll pay for that.”

Carlie heard him slam the receiver down, and the droning dial tone until the answering machine shut off. She pressed a shaking hand to her mouth. He’d found her. He'd found her city, her phone number. But Jason Mulholland had always been resourceful.

Her eye fell on the newspaper still folded where she had left it when she’d retrieved it from the front porch step. A thought occurred to her and she snatched it up, turning to the obituary page. And swore when she saw the notification of her mother’s death on the page. Some well-meaning soul at the funeral home had notified the papers after she had specifically told them that she would not need an obit notice.

Panic hit her and she was in motion before she could put two thoughts together. He had her phone number. How much of a jump was it to assume that he had her address as well? Jason loved mind games. He was entirely capable of calling her from just outside the house. She wasn’t waiting around to find out.

Carlie pulled her overnight bag out of the closet and threw in some jeans and shirts. She grabbed the phone on her trip to the bathroom for toiletries and dialed the police. She had them on speed dial. Just in case.

A bored voice answered her call.

“Yes, this is Carlie Zimmer,” she said, her voice sounding like rocks over metal. “My husband is trying to kill me.”

Again.

“1544 Market Street. Please hurry.” She hit the disconnect button on the querying voice and put the phone in her left sweater pocket. No use in answering questions. She’d never been able to answer the why, anyway. Jason defied analysis. The police would check out her call. Eventually. She checked to make sure her car keys were in her right sweater pocket and picked up her pace.

Shampoo next to hair brush. Toothbrush next to toothpaste.

The sound of glass shattering somewhere in the house made her heart jump into her throat. Fingers trembling, Carlie zipped up the bag and threw the strap over her shoulder. She eased open her bedroom door. Silence. Front or back? She didn’t know.

Making the decision, Carlie sped down the hall to the front door. A quick glance through the peephole didn’t reveal anyone. Moving quickly and quietly, Carlie opened the door and stepped out onto the front porch. The cold air cut through her and she realized she didn’t have her coat.

Carlie could see the back of her car sitting on the driveway. It appeared to be intact. She reached inside her sweater pocket and triggered the remote, unlocking the car doors. The sound of the locks seemed incredibly loud. She made a break for it.

Carlie was more than halfway across the open area between the house and the garage when something hit her with stunning force, sending her sprawling in the snow.

Instinct caused her to roll and draw up her feet. Jason’s midsection connected and she kicked out with all that was in her. Jason fell back and hit the side of her car, the air leaving his lungs with a grunting sound. Carlie surged to her feet, the weight of her bag letting her know it was still with her. She swung the bag and hit Jason along the right jawline. He went down.

Carlie frantically fumbled for the car’s door handle and fell inside, slamming the door and hitting the locks. Breathing like she’d just run a marathon, she reached inside her sweater pocket. And felt nothing.

“Oh, God, oh, God.” Her hands tore at the pocket. No use. The car keys were no longer there. She turned to look out the window. The keys would be somewhere in the snow. She might never find them until spring. If she lived that long.

Her gaze went to where Jason had gone down but she didn’t see him. A search around the car didn’t reveal his presence. Where had he gone? Not away, she was sure about that.

Carlie reached into her left sweater pocket and closed around her phone. She pulled it out and flipped it open, pressing the speed dial for 911.

“911. What’s your emergency?”

Carlie stared in horror as Jason appeared at the driver’s side window, carrying a baseball bat and smiling. She lay over in the seat and pulled her sweater over her head as the bat connected with the window. The sound of impact and the shower of glass disoriented her for a moment.

“911. What’s going on?”

Carlie dropped the phone to the floorboard as Jason’s hand reached through the glass to the doorhandle. She had only one chance. As she heard the door latch disengage, Carlie lunged at the door. Under the impetus of her weight, the car door flew open and hit Jason. He gave a yell of pain and fell to his knees, his left arm hanging from the car window.

She scrambled from the car, trying to run, but slipped and fell on the slick driveway.

“Bitch!” Jason howled. “You’re gonna die!”

Carlie looked over her shoulder wildly to see Jason charging her, a knife in his hand. His face was lacerated and bloody, and his left sleeve stained crimson. His eyes were full of murder.

Somehow, Carlie found her feet and ran. A sharp pain seared her lower back. She screamed at the agony but managed to keep her feet. One flying look saw that Jason had slipped and fell in the snow. She ran, blindly, and in a straight line.

Careening off a tree trunk brought her back to awareness. Trees. There were trees in back of the house. Carlie groaned in distress as she realized she had run toward the least populated area of the neighborhood. And yet. Trees, a lot of them, made for good hiding. And good ambush.

The short winter twilight had already fallen, helping her to hide. Carlie slid around the nearest trunk. She could hear the snow crunching under Jason’s boots. He tunelessly whistled. The sound sent shivers up and down her spine. Her lower back ached like it was on fire.

“Might as well come out, Carlie. I’ll find you sooner or later. The longer it takes me, the more it’s going to hurt.”

Carlie moved around the tree, keeping the trunk between her and Jason. She surveyed her surroundings, looking for something, anything to help her. A fallen branch lay about ten steps from her position. Retrieving the branch would expose her to Jason. But what choice did she have, really?

She made the decision and broke cover, running for the branch. She heard Jason, close behind her. Carlie snatched up the branch and turned, already swinging, a cry of defiance erupting from her throat.

And she swung true. The branch caught Jason along the temple. He staggered and went to his knees, the knife falling from his limp hand, a look of surprise on his face. His eyes rolled back in his head and he fell on his side, limp and still. She knew he was badly injured, or dead. It was enough that he could no longer hurt her.

Carlie felt light-headed and weak. She sat down in the snow beside Jason. His bloody face drifted in and out of her sight, distorted like funhouse mirrors. With a sigh, she lay down in the snow. Intellectually, she knew that she was in shock, but she couldn’t seem to muster enough strength to move. She knew it was possible she would die, right here beside her murdering ex-husband. If the loss of blood from the wound in her lower back didn’t kill her, the cold would.

She closed her eyes. The sound of distant sirens made her stir uneasily, but she slid into darkness.

Carlie drifted.

Weak, Jason said. You were always weak. You never had what it takes to survive.

The sneer in his voice brought an ember of anger to a small flame.

Give up now, Jason said. Just give up and die.

“Leave me alone,” Carlie muttered.

Sure, I’ll leave you alone, he said. Continue dying all by yourself. Failure was the only thing you were ever good at.

The small flame of anger became a raging inferno. She was not going to just give up and die. Especially not on Christmas Eve. That wasn’t going to happen.

She searched the darkness, looking for something to hold onto, something to anchor her consciousness.

Help me! Please, somebody help me!

The anguish, the terror, the pain in those words drew her like a moth to a flame. A flare of pain so bright it was nearly visible to Carlie. She reached out to that pain and a maelstrom of memory and emotion swept her up like flotsam in some rain-swollen stream. Confused with images and feelings not her own, Carlie tried to hold onto something solid. She sensed a presence somewhere in that stream, struggling to hold on, growing weaker.

Carlie tried to reach out and grab at the presence. More memories and emotions buffeted her. For a moment, Carlie and the presence became one being, then that sense of the other leaked away, like water between her fingers. She lunged, trying to pursue that sense of a departing presence--and opened her eyes.

“Are you still trying to hang on? Remarkable,” a male voice said.

Carlie felt fingers on her throat, squeezing, tightening….

Savagely, she lashed out and the fingers abruptly left her throat. A flashing impression of a stranger’s face, distended with pain and horror, illuminated by some blue-tinged light, then she slipped into darkness again.

Carlie’s consciousness swam to the surface and she hovered in the twilight land between sleeping and awareness. In grim determination, she held onto what awareness she had. Dimly, she knew that she lay on a stone floor and a fire burned in a nearby fireplace. She felt weak and far away, and conscious of a deep cold throughout her body. In the range of her vision, a dead man lay, eyes fixed and staring at her. Her breath strangled in an attempt to shout for help, and her hands scrabbled weakly at the floor for purchase. She saw a wreath of greenery with a red bow hanging over the mantel, and she kept her gaze fixed on it rather than the dead man, and struggled to live.

“Oh, God!”

Carlie saw a woman kneeling over her, horror in her face. The woman was of middle age, dressed in a thick, gray dress, and wearing a white fur cap on her pepper and salt hair.

“My lady, you promised!” she whispered. Her brown eyes stared at Carlie with betrayal in them, and even a kind of resignation.

Carlie tried to speak but could make no sound.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Time To Remember...

Found this on Holly Lisle's blog. I think it's beautiful.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday Snippet, October 12, 2007

Once again, Friday snippets roll around. When you're on vacation, your schedule goes wonky. Oh, well. At least I'm not working. At my job, that is. *sigh* Why do we try to do everything over vacation that we've put off for months?

This material is first draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks.

We haven't seen Tasha since the party. Thought we'd check in with her.

Tasha and her father, along with Ang their shadowman (bodyguard) are going to jewelers to buy Tasha a gift. Along the way, they see strongarms evicting a family and taking their goods. This bothers them, Tasha the most. Note: Their mode of transportation is a two wheeler with a seat, pulled by a person called a roadman.


The sound of running feet caught their attention. Just ahead of two strongarms, the boy who had been standing with his family ran for all he was worth, clutching a cloth sling full of something. The boy might have outran the strongarms, but his foot slid out from underneath him and he dropped to one knee. The sling loosened and dumped a loaf of bread and some vegetables into the street.

The strongarms caught up with him.

“I’ll teach you to mess with us!” one of them snarled as he raised his club.

“Papa!” Tasha cried out, horrified.

“Hold!” Iano said, voice ringing.

The two strongarms turned unfriendly eyes to the group.

“What business is this of yours?” the one who had raised the club said with belligerance.

From somewhere under his clothing, Ang produced a long knife and pushed Tasha behind him. She peered around him.

The second strongarm held up a hand. “No need for trouble here,” he said, cautious. “The scum owes money, that’s all. He’s trying to steal some of the property the creditors have claimed.”

“That not true!” the kneeling boy said in a heavily-accented voice. “They take all! All! Leave us nothing!”

Iano gave a significant glance at the food spilling from the boy’s sling. “Have the creditors stooped to taking the foodstuff as well?” he asked with irony. “At most, what is it worth? A copper?”

The first strongarm flushed and hefted his club. “It’s to help pay the debt! It would be best if you didn’t interfere!” And, as Ang crouched into a knife-fighting stance, added, “Sir.”

The second strongarm caught at his companion’s arm. “What do you propose, sir? Surely you’re not asking us to let the boy go free.”

“No, obviously, appealing to your better nature is not going to work.” Iano reached inside his jacket and pulled out his purse and extracted a copper. He tossed the copper to the second strongarm who deftly caught it. “What I am asking you to do is to allow the boy his food, that’s all.”

The second strongarm pulled at his companion’s arm and said something in a low voice. “All right,” he finally said in a louder voice. “We’ll take a copper in exchange for the boy keeping the goods.”

“One thing,” Iano said. “If I find that you keep the copper and still take the boy’s food later, I will bring up this issue in Council. Do we understand each other?”

Sudden fright in his face at mention of Council, the second strongarm nodded vigorously and pulled the first one away. “Yes, sir. No problem, sir,” he told Iano, then directed his attention to his companion. “Come on, you idiot, he’s Family.

The strongarms trotted away. Ang relaxed, and his knife disappeared. Tasha followed her father as he crossed to the boy’s side, Ang close behind.

The boy scrambled back and clutched for the food.

“Don’t be afraid, boy. The food is yours,” Iano said. “Do you feel like telling me who you are and what happened?”

Tasha retrieved the loaf of bread from the street and handed it to the boy. He took the loaf and thrust it inside the sling. He stood, hugging the sling to his chest. She smiled at him and he blinked at her, then tried to smile in return.

“I am called Silmer. We come to Camdia to make better life.” The boy’s tone turned bitter. “My da lose his money. Someone take it. We sell most everything we bring from Chenawa just to eat. We try to find work but we don’t make much. We not able to pay for lodgings some weeks. The owner say we pay all we owe in two days, or he take what we have to pay for it. My da can’t pay in two days. The strongarms come and take all! Everything! More than money we owe! I took food so my family have something to eat.”

A muscle worked in Iano’s jaw. He still carried his purse. He reached in and drew out a gold coin. He held the coin out to Silmer. “Here. Buy your family food.”

Silmer stared at the coin in wonder, then his face closed and he shook his head. “We can’t pay back. I can’t take.”

“Consider it a loan until you can pay back,” Iano said, a new note of respect in his voice. He pressed the coin into the boy’s reluctant hand.

Silmer looked at all of them, his eyes blinking rapidly, his throat muscles working up and down with his emotions. “I thank you,” he said at last, voice husky. “My family thanks you. We pay back with interest.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Iano said. “Pay back the gold coin when you can. If the strongarms give you more trouble, let me know. I am Lord Nepara. I won’t be hard to find.”

“Thank you! Thank you!” With a big smile on his face, Silmer turned and ran back the way he had come.

“Papa, that was wonderful!” Tasha said, her eyes shining.

Her father looked down at her, smiling, but a little wrinkle in his brow did not smooth. “I’m glad you thought so.”

Iano motioned to the roadman, who turned the two-wheeler. Tasha climbed into the seat without help. Her father climbed in and settled beside her. The roadman leaned into the harness and the two-wheeler lurched forward. Ang once again fell into step at the back.

“I can’t help them all, Tasha,” Iano said in a sober voice. “I can help those that enter my area of influence, but I can’t help everyone. That is the way the world is. I don’t like it, and I will do what I can when I can to help change that, but that’s as much as I can humanly do.”

Tasha digested this in silence for some time.

“I guess that’s all right, Papa. Your ‘area of influence’ is pretty big, isn’t it?”

Iano looked down at her, and smiled. “Maybe it is at that, my little reformer.”


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Friday Snippet, October 5, 2007

Another week has gone by?! How did that happen?

This material is first draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks.

A continuation of last week's post. Nikky has been kidnapped, and he has no idea why.

The man pulled him to a stop before a building on some winding back street. A tiny bit of light leaked from the building around the seam of a doorway. The man gave a soft rap on the door with his knuckles.

“Hilo?” someone asked through the door.

“Yes,” the man said.

The door opened wide enough to admit them, and Hilo pushed Nikky in ahead of him.

The man who had opened the door stared at Nikky and Hilo with a wary gaze. The room contained one travel lantern, guttering softly. Shadows lingered in all the corners. Nikky saw that he had entered some sort of warehouse. Crates, stacked several high, loomed over him.

“Where is she?” Hilo asked.

The man jerked his head toward the back of the room. A woman stepped from behind a stack of crates, her gaze immediately finding Nikky.

“Any trouble?” she asked Hilo.

“None,” Hilo said.

The woman came closer, the light illuminating her face. She was older than Nikky had imagined—he could see the lines on her face and the gray in her hair. She had dressed in an inconspicuous servant’s shift, but she moved and spoke like someone accustomed to power and the wielding of it.

“Where are you from?” she asked sharply. “Who are your parents?”

“C—Camdia, ma’am. I don’t know who my parents are.”

Her brows drew together and she searched his face. “Who are you and why are in Taolin? And don’t lie to me, boy. You won’t like the consequences.”

Nikky’s frightened eyes flashed from one face to the next. “Please, ma’am, my name is Nikky. I work as a crewman aboard the merchantman Sea Strider. I didn’t do anything.”

The woman turned to Hilo. “Is it safe to take him? What about the traders? Will they give us trouble?”

No one watched him. Nikky found his courage and made a desperate dash for the door. Hilo appeared between Nikky and the door before he had taken three steps.

Nikky stared into the face of his captor. Hilo looked perfectly ordinary. He would have blended unnoticeably into any crowd. One look into his eyes, however, and Nikky’s courage broke. Hilo's eyes were dead, and no spark of emotion or humanity lighted those dark depths.

“You’ll never get past Hilo, boy,” the woman said. “It would be better for you if you didn’t try.”

She nodded at the other man, who approached Nikky. He reached out a finger, saying something that sounded like silence and touched Nikky on the lips. Nikky jerked back.

“It’s done,” the other man said.

The woman nodded. “Thank you, Ira.”

Nikky felt as if his tongue had a clamp on it. He tried to say something, and realized in panic that he couldn’t talk. He grabbed his throat.

“Do not fight it,” Ira advised him. “You won’t be able to make a sound until I remove the word.”

The woman handed Hilo a bag that clinked.

“Make sure the traders don’t learn anything,” she told him. “Leave any messages here. Someone will pick them up.”

Hilo nodded and slipped through the door, taking one last, unfathomable look back at Nikky before leaving.

Ira and the woman blindfolded Nikky and led him from the building. He could feel the night air on his face. Nikky could hear Ira muttering a phrase over and over. Look away. Look away. He strained his hearing and could occasionally hear voices nearby, but he couldn’t make a sound, and the people never seemed to notice their silent progress through the streets.

After what seemed like hours, Nikky felt himself led into a building. The echoes of their footsteps bounced off walls. They stopped, and one of them removed the blindfold and shoved him forward.

Nikky blinked at the sudden light. He heard a door close behind him and whirled to hear the sound of a key turned in the lock. He did a quick turn around the room. The windowless walls were stone, the door thick wood, and a bed and table were the only pieces of furniture in the room. A lamp burned on the table. Nikky snatched the chimney from the lamp, thinking to burn his way out the door. The lamp contained no flame. Instead, the chimney glowed with a soft white light that had no discernible source. He replaced the chimney, despair and unshed tears forming a knot in his throat.

Caught. Trapped like a butterfly pinned to a board. And he didn’t even know why. Nikky gave a silent groan. He had his own bed and his own room, just like he’d wanted, didn’t he?


A Rising Star of Short SF/F You've Never Heard Of


Here's a name you've probably not heard--or perhaps only in passing. Lavie Tidhar. He writes SF and Fantasy from a unique perspective--he's Jewish. And he writes good SF and Fantasy. Unique perspective and good writing don't always go hand and hand, but in his case they do.

Caveat: He writes the kind of stories I like to read--action and thoughtful intelligence, not angst and pointlessness.

Check him out. If you like the same kind of writing I do, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Friday Snippet, September 28, 2007

A snippet from my WIP. This is a Nikky scene, still fairly early in the story, and Nikky is still only fourteen.

This material is first draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks.

Nikky gave Tasha a feather on the street, in front of her aunt and cousin, and Gerring, his master, found out. After giving Nikky a beating, he sent him off to Taolin with Captain Dorn and Jai, friends of Gerring's, hoping the incident blows over. While on the streets of Taolin, he catches the notice of a rich and powerful woman. Though nothing came of it, Jai is not happy.

Nikky slipped away to sit in his favorite spot on the ship. The forecastle deck gave him a good view of the harbor and the teeming docks. He liked to watch the activity from this vantage point.

He became aware of Jai’s and Captain Dorn’s voices somewhere below.

“…I’m telling you that she singled him out of that crowd, Lemo, almost as if she knew him. It worried me,” Jai said.

“But you said nothing came of it,” Captain Dorn said in a soothing voice. “It’s nothing.”

“I don’t like it. I don’t like that kind of notice turned on us, and I don’t like it for the boy’s sake.”

Captain Dorn’s voice lowered, inaudible to Nikky although he strained to hear more.

His brows drawn, Nikky surveyed the busy docks. Could someone have really noticed him—somehow known him---enough to stop ten guards and a litter while she looked? He shook his head. The whole thing seemed too fantastical.

Nikky spent the rest of the day fantasizing that some great Taolin noblewoman would step forward and claim him as her long-lost son and spirit him away to a House, and he would be given clothing and shoes and servants…

He crawled into his pallet and fell asleep dreaming of having his own room and his own bed.

Deep in the heart of the night, Nikky came abruptly awake as a hard hand covered his mouth. He felt himself picked up and borne away. He struggled and kicked and tried to bite the hand covering his mouth, to no avail.

The quietness of it all terrified Nikky. Someone carried him through the sleeping ship, swift and silent and sure-footed. In mere seconds, Nikky felt the chill night air on his arms and legs, and he smelled the brackish harbor water. He knew that most of the crew slept not feet away, and that crewman Toskin patrolled the deck as sentry, but he couldn’t make one sound or one move to hinder his abductor.

And before he could even begin to divine what his abductor would do, both of them were airborne over the railing and the shocking cold of the harbor water drove the breath from his lungs. He tried to fight, sheer panic setting in; he would drown, he was going to die right here---!

An iron bar of an arm pulled his head above water. Nikky spluttered.

“Quiet! Or I’ll break something!”

Nikky felt the thread of voice more than heard it. The voice had spoken right behind his left ear. He froze, his hands clutching at the arm around his neck. Something in the man’s voice told Nikky he meant what he said.

Far over his head, he heard movement as Toskin came to the railing, looking for what had caused the splash. The bulk of the ship loomed above them, a black shape blocking out the stars. He realized they were treading water next to the ship’s hull, out of sight of anyone on deck.

Toskin moved along the deck above for what seemed an eternity to Nikky. The man holding Nikky kept them both afloat and waited for the sentry to lose interest with a kind of deadly patience that frightened Nikky as much as the spoken threat. He shivered, the cold water penetrating his flesh and making him feel lethargic.

Finally, Toskin moved away. The man in the water waited more long minutes, then flexed his arm.

“You swim?” his low voice asked at Nikky’s ear.

“S—some,” Nikky said.

“Then we will swim. But know this. If you so much as make a sound, I’ll go back and kill everyone on that ship. Understand?”

He could not see the man’s face in the darkness, but he didn’t need to. Horrified, Nikky suddenly knew the man could, and would, carry out his promise. He nodded frantically, his heart thudding in his ears.

The man released him. Nikky swam as quietly as he could manage, thoughts whirling. Why did the man want him? What had he done?

The exercise warmed his cold arms and legs. The docks loomed ahead of him and he considered how he might escape. If he could reach land ahead of the man, he could run and lose himself in the darkness, even if he didn’t know Taolin.

Straining as much as he dared, Nikky made for the nearest outthrust dock. His hands fumbled and found a handhold. He heaved his upper body out of the water. Something brushed past Nikky and he found himself hauled onto the dock as the man latched onto his wrist.

The man gave him only an instant to get his bearings. Confused and feeling more like crying than he had in years, Nikky climbed to his feet.

“Move!” the man ordered, and dragged him forward with that punishing grip. They moved through the streets at a trot, Nikky hopelessly lost. If this had been Camdia---but it wasn’t, and he wasted his time wishing.

Nikky stumbled in the man’s wake for what seemed like hours, cold and shivering and more scared than he had ever been in his life.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Friday Snippet, September 21, 2007

First, I apologize to those of you who might already have read this story on my website. I'm not quite ready to post another snippet about Nikky and Tasha yet, so I mined some material I have posted on my site. I had submitted this short-short to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress anthology while she was still alive. She held it until the final cut, and made some favorable comments on it. Next week, I'll snippet material from my WIP (working title Nikky the Merchant.)

Copyrighted material. Please don't quote or repost anywhere. Thanks!

AT FIRST SIGHT

The sorcerer had been alone on his island for many years and had grown to think of it as solely his. Markin was inclined to be fretful when he noticed the squatter on his southern coast. He watched the woman for several days in his best scrying glass. Her figure was indistinct (the sorcerer had bad eyesight and wouldn’t admit it), but when he saw she wasn’t going to bother him or mess up his island, he decided to ignore her.

That is, he ignored her until he surprised a young girl in the heart of his fortress flipping through the pages of one of his magic books. Astonishment held him until she ripped out a page. His angry roar caused the walls to vibrate. The girl disappeared. Markin blinked, then heard a door slam in the hallway.

Grunting in bewilderment and anger, the short, stumpy little sorcerer ran through the hall and out of the fortress in time to see a flash of movement among the trees. He followed that glimpsed movement with single-minded determination, and it led him right to the door step of the thatched cottage the squatter had erected.

Seeing a female figure standing outside the cottage, Markin bawled, “Witch! Give me back the page you have stolen!”

A small dumpy woman with a pugnacious nose and flashing eyes swam into his limited field of vision. “If it’s me you’re addressing so disrespectfully, man, know this. I’ve stolen nothing of yours.”

Markin blinked in confusion as several things impinged upon his consciousness at once. The woman looked nothing like the girl he’d seen in his fortress, her eyes were the soft gray of the sea during a rain, and she was as short as he was. He’d met few women who did not tower over him. As a matter of fact, he’d met few women.

“Well, some girl was stealing a page out of my Lesser Spell Book and she came right to this place. Your daughter, perhaps?” he said in a milder voice.

“I have no children, sorcerer. Only a cat who chooses to make her home with me.”

At her words, a slender, tawny cat came around the corner of the cottage and dropped a much-chewed page at their feet.

“My page!” the sorcerer squawked, and picked up the limp piece of paper.

“I’m terribly sorry—what is your name? Markin? Leesha has never done anything like this before. What did the page have on it? Perhaps we could transfer whatever it says to a fresh piece of paper?”

The sorcerer squinted at the crumpled page and mumbled, “But I’m sure I saw a girl.”

“You don’t see well, do you?” the woman said in a sympathetic voice. “You know, I have just the thing for those eyes.”

“You do?” Markin said in a hopeful voice. “Spells have been getting smaller of print lately.”

“An old concoction good for all kinds of vision problems passed down from my grandmother. Suppose you just step into my cottage and I’ll whip it up for you. My name is Clella, by the way….”

Clella led the unresisting sorcerer toward her front door. She turned her head and one gray eye winked over her shoulder at the cat.

A girl with tawny hair stood where the cat had been. She winked back at Clella. Leesha smiled. Everyone was satisfied this way. Markin and Clella were no longer two lonely people and she—well, she had what she wanted, too.

She assumed her four-footed form again to run back to the sorcerer’s fortress. While the sorceress kept the sorcerer entertained, Leesha had many more spells to learn.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Friday Snippet, September 14, 2007

And here we are again. I've been working steadily on this story. It's kind of funny, really. Why didn't all these words come years ago? *Sigh* BTW, I've changed the name Tigana to Tigara. I don't know who was first--me or Guy Gavriel Kay--but I do know which one of us is more famous. So Tigara it is. I wonder what other land mines lurk in the old names I have for these characters?

Rough draft. Please don't quote or repost anywhere. Thanks.

This scene is still fairly early in the story. Tasha, her cousin Alli, and her Aunt Lana went to the marketplace on Lotus Street where Nikky saw them and gave Tasha a feather despite Lana's protests. This birthday party happened not long after that event took place.

People crowded the small courtyard. Tasha stood on the edge of things, trying to escape notice. Large groups of people made her uncomfortable, especially those gatherings where she had to be concerned that she didn’t spill food and drink on her clothes, or say the wrong thing.


Her cousin, Alli, stood at the very heart of the crowd, talking and laughing vivaciously. The birthday party was hers—a celebration of turning fourteen. Alli never lost an opportunity to point out the year's difference in their ages.


Tasha watched her. For Alli, a party gave her the opportunity to shine. Aunt Lana always made sure she dressed impeccably and invited the right people. The new peacock blue party dress Alli wore made Tasha feel like a dowd by comparison in her older green dress, and the party was definitely full of the right people. Members of the Fifty Families roamed the courtyard, forming little cliques and groups.


Loud laughter caught Tasha’s attention. A group of boys about Alli’s age or older stood near the fountain, flicking water on each other. She recognized Raul Destero and Conn Sanyata among them. Their Family names were influential—she had heard her father say the Sanyatas and the Desteros had the direct ear of Governor Arin Tigara. She did know that Raul and Conn thought a lot of themselves.


Alli turned and saw her. “Oh, Tasha,” she said in a dismissive voice. “I’d forgotten I invited you."


“You didn’t. Aunt Lana did,” Tasha said.


“Well, this must be like a grown-up party for you. I’m afraid there’s no one else your age here.”


Alli’s patronizing tone set Tasha’s teeth on edge. “That’s all right. If I get bored, I’ll go play hopskip on the patio while I drink my milk.”


Alli shot Tasha a dirty look. Without another word, she turned and walked away to join some girls standing in a giggling group near the boys at the fountain. She said something and the girls turned to stare at Tasha. More giggles erupted from them.


Tears stung Tasha’s eyes but she fiercely blinked them back. I’m not going to cry. Not in front of them.


She turned and walked to the table that Aunt Lana's servants had spread with food. Tasha eyed the dainty offerings and settled for little finger sandwiches even though she wasn’t really hungry. Eating alfresco never appealed to her, especially not at social events. She settled her back against one of the statues and nibbled on her food.


Lost in thought, at first she didn’t realize that Raul Destero stood in front of her holding out one of the decorative white rocks that lined the pathways. Puzzled, Tasha looked up at his smirking face. Nearby, she could see the boys and girls from around the fountain obviously listening in, including Alli.


“What? Don’t you get it? I figured if you’d take a feather from common trash, a rock from me ought to really set you on fire,” he drawled.


Raucous laughter from the others rang in Tasha’s ears.


Tasha felt the blood drain from her face. She took a deep breath, and lifted her chin. “No, thanks. Haven’t you heard? It’s the thought, not the gift.”


The others stopped laughing, and a flash of rage lit Raul’s face. He hefted the rock as if he contemplated throwing it in her face. Tasha held his gaze, showing no fear.


With a short, derisive laugh, Raul turned his hand and dropped the rock at her feet. “In case you change your mind,” he said, and sauntered away.


Only one place could Raul have heard the story. Alli had told him. Tasha gave her cousin one flashing look of disbelief and betrayal. Alli shrugged, looking faintly uncomfortable.


Tasha turned and made her way to the patio where she knew Aunt Lana sat with the older ladies, talking and laughing. When her aunt’s eyes fell on Tasha, a frown crossed her face for a moment.


Tasha found that it took every ounce of her willpower to ask her aunt in a pleasant voice to call up the chair so she could go home.


“Why are you leaving so early, Tasha?” Lana asked her suspiciously.


“I’m sorry, Aunt Lana. I don’t feel well. It might be the heat.”


Tasha guessed that she didn’t look well because Aunt Lana didn’t ask her any more questions. She summoned a servant and directed the chair be brought for her niece.


“What a shame!” one of the other ladies commiserated. “You’ll miss the rest of the party.”


Tasha gave her a sickly smile.


“But I suppose you won’t enjoy the party if you don’t feel well,” the lady continued, and a discussion ensued about different ailments the various ladies had experienced.


Tasha gratefully escaped and waited out in front of her aunt’s house for the chair. The two burly men who carried the chair placed it on the ground to allow her inside. Tasha drew the curtains and let the swaying movement of the chair soothe her. She wished she could run home and tell her father what Alli and Raul had done, but she knew she couldn’t do it. Tasha had been taught not to bear tales, and telling her father seemed too much like doing that. She sighed. This seemed one more thing that, as her nurse put it, “must be endured rather than cured.”


At that moment, Tasha missed her mother with an ache that seemed as big as the world, and just as endless.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rudeness of a Nation

I've seen several posts lately about people encountering rudeness.

Anyone in the service industry can tell you about how rude people have become. Hitting out at people who can't defend themselves against you used to be socially unacceptable. No more. The attitude that "I paid good money, I should be able to do and say what I want" seems to be the new norm.

I'm going to give my opinion based on what I've observed, and what I've observed is that people have little self-control anymore. Disappointment and frustration are met with near hysteria. Incidences of road rage, air rage, waiting in line rage, he's getting more than me rage, delaying gratification half a second rage...you get the picture. People are like two-year olds who have just had their toy taken away. Face screwed up, reddened, beating fists against the ground, "It's just not fair...I hate you!"

Entitlement. That's the buzzword. That's what people think. I'm entitled. Bull. The world don't owe us squat. Money, spent or possessed, doesn't give anyone the excuse to make someone else's life miserable. Your own misery does not give you the right to inflict damage on others.

So, if you feel that way, get a grip. Try some gratitude. Thank the good Lord you have what you have. Does wonders for the attitude. I know. I have to tell myself often that the jerk who just cut me off in traffic doesn't matter, that in a hundred years no one's going to care, that what matters is my own peace of mind and blood pressure right this moment. I have to stop and thank God that I can drive, that I have a car, that I have a job, that I have my life. And, really, that restores the self control.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Friday Snippet, September 7, 2007

I have a weakness.

Sometimes when I read over old work, I get the fever to rewrite/finish/edit that piece of work instead of continuing with my current WIP. This is what happened to me last week when I posted the snippet about Nikky and Tasha. The story seized me in its grip again. When I looked up and drew breath, I'd written over 4,000 modified and new words.

So I have semi-new stuff to show you. This story, btw, was my first attempt to write a novel. I got about a third of the way through the novel before it got impossibly convoluted and with a large cast of characters. My inexperienced self didn't know what to do with it---but I may have just figured out what to do, what to cut, and where to go with it. Hopefully. (grimace)

Btw, Nikki is now Nikky, bearing in mind seanachi's problem with the spelling. I really don't know what I was thinking when I tacked an "i" instead of a "y" on the end. Probably just trying to be different, but that kind of difference is usually more distracting than innovative.

This material is first draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks.


Brief synopsis to this point: A year after Nikky first meets Tasha Nepara. Nikky is fourteen now.


He raced through the streets of Lower Camdia, dodging street markets and their customers with the ease of long practice. His friends Tarn and Shell were hot on his heels. Shouts of anger from disturbed vendors and the occasional shout of excitement from youngsters roaming the streets followed them like a flag follows the wind.

The flash of colored wings caught Nikky’s attention. He halted before a display of stacked cages that contained brightly-colored and exotic birds. Nikky moved closer in fascination. What strange, faraway land had yielded these birds? He didn’t ever remember seeing any Camdian birds with red or blue feathers.

The birds, nervous at his proximity, screamed shrilly in tones that hurt the ear and shot around in the cages, making them dance, and causing the metal chains to jangle.

Shell stood beside Nikky, transfixed. “They’re beautiful,” she whispered.

Tarn came, puffing, and behind as usual. His stocky body had trouble keeping up with Nikky’s speed and Shell’s long-limbed slenderness, but he could wrestle both of them to the ground and endured their taunts with the innate calm of one who knows he is superior at something else.

“Wha—what—you—doing?” Tarn gasped out, holding his side.

The birds, nervous before, went wild at his noisy approach. They banged against the sides of the cages and colored feathers drifted through the air. One bright red one landed at Nikky’s feet. He leaned over and picked it up.

“Here, you! What are you up to!”

All three jerked around at the gruff voice. A large, swarthy man stood at the entrance to his temporary stall of light wood and canvas, black eyes boring into them. Nearby stood a man in the distinctive yellow robes of a Dafreet. The amazing sight of a magician out in the market like any common street vendor rooted Nikky’s feet to the ground.

“Get away from my birds!” the swarthy man said, yelling to be heard over the shrilling of the birds. “What are you trying to do, ruin my profit? I brought those birds all the way from Taolin to sell, not to be gawked at by the likes of you!”

The Dafreet turned his head. Nikky saw him flick his fingers, and the birds were immediately silenced. They still flapped and fluttered around the cages, but no sound emerged from them.

The birds’ owner stared in puzzlement, then turned his anger on Nikky and Shell and Tarn. “Get on out of here or I’ll have your heads!”

The three ran, clothes flying in tattered rags behind them. Nikky guided their steps toward the Waterfront and the docks. Trouble had undoubtedly found him again, Nikky reflected with some bitterness. The vendor would complain to Gerring, and Gerring would box his ears hard enough to make them ring. He could never do anything without Gerring finding out about it. His blond hair stood out like an army with banners in a town full of dark-haired people, and he could seldom hide his activities from his master. Besides, Gerring seemed to know every thought that went through his head at times.

His bare feet hit the seasoned boards of the Waterfront with a hollow thump. Two other sets of thumping noises announced Shell’s and Tarn’s arrival. Nikky slowed to a walk and his friends came up beside him.

“Did you see that?” Shell said in a hushed voice. “He made all those birds’ voices go away!”

“I heard they can do worse than that,” Tarn said in a doom-ridden voice. “Bilge told me once that Dafreets can make things as big as---as big as that ship out there disappear. Poof! It’s gone!”

Nikky and Shell followed his pointing finger to the two-master that rolled in the water several yards from the docks.

“Bilge is daft,” Nikky said, ignoring Tarn’s glare as his gaze took in the sights.

Every boat and ship imaginable lined the docks in all directions, floating in the green, murky waters of Bar Harbor. The wave-capped harbor waters slapped the pilings with a booming sound. Nikky looked out toward the sea. He could see the dark blot that was Silt Island, and if he strained his eyes, he could see the group of small islands due south of Silt Island.

“Look, you can see the Maze today,” he said. “If you want to see something that can really make ships disappear.”

Both Tarn and Shell looked, and Shell shuddered.

“I heard Gerring say that ghost ships haunt the Maze. Hundreds of ‘em have run aground there because of the currents,” Nikky said.

“I’ll bet you can find people’s bones all over those little islands,” Tarn said with relish.

“Tarn!” Shell protested. She rubbed at the goosebumps on her arms.

Even Nikky felt a thrill down his spine just thinking about that. He stared, and it seemed to him even the seabirds avoided the Maze. Farther on, he imagined that he could see the Southwest Passage that led to the safety of the open sea.

Nikky turned to face northwest where Tigana Island loomed in the section of Bar Harbor where a semi-circle of land thrust outward, creating a back eddy. Over the centuries, silt and debris had formed the island. He’d read that somewhere. Camdia’s Governor lived there. Nikky wondered what it would be like to have an entire island to yourself.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Friday Snippet, August 30, 2007

Nothing new to show you. Working my tail off in the office 'cause we're extremely short handed. That means you're getting something older this week and no apologies. (grin)

This is a story I'm still quite fond of and will finish one day as soon as I can figure out what's wrong with the storyline I have so far.

#

He saw her first when he was thirteen. As Jehar was his witness, if he’d known what it would cost, he would never have looked.

Nikki knocked on the door of the Nepara house.

He didn’t know it was the Nepara house. To him, he was just performing one of the many tasks that Gerring had set for him today. He clutched the precious bag of spice tight, mindful of Gerring’s warning that any lost bags would be taken out of his hide.

The door swung open and a skinny man of middle-age scowled at him. “What is it?”

Nikki held up the bag for the man’s inspection. “Spice deliv’ry, sir.”

“You came to the wrong door. This is the tradesman’s entrance.”

Nikki didn’t see the difference. He looked at the man and grinned.

The man sighed and beckoned him in. “Well, come on, then.”

The boy stepped inside and gawked at the smooth colorful tiles on the floor under his bare feet.

“You got yellow hair. You a Camdian?”

The man looked at him with narrow gaze, as if to be found with any other birthplace than Camdia was suspicious.

“Don’t know, sir. I was found on a doorstep,” Nikki said sunnily.

The man’s lips twisted up as if he had tasted something unpleasant.

“Oh. Don’t touch anything. Cook’s down the hall and to your left.”

Since the man didn’t seem disposed to show him in person, Nikki pattered down the hall. He admired the tiles in the floor and the smooth walls on either side.

Lowertown didn’t rise to anything like this. Gerring’s shop consisted of rough wood and even more rough plaster.

Nikki reached a place where the hall was bisected by another hallway and paused. He now had three choices for direction and found he’d forgotten which way the man had said to go. Sweat popped out on his brow. He had to deliver that spice! If he didn’t, Gerring would leave welts the size of cakes on his back.

At last, he chose a direction. The new direction took him to a large room even more splendid than the hall. The ceiling rose way above his head and ended in a colored glass dome that let in the sunlight. The tiles on the floor gleamed with a high, smooth sheen. Plants and statuary and elaborately carved tables decorated the room. At the other end, a set of stairs with granite risers and gold-encrusted wooden rails and balusters made a graceful spiral to a second floor balcony that overlooked the open area.

Nikki’s mouth fell open and he stared.

“Hello!”

A girl leaned over the railing of the second floor balcony and looked down at him with a friendly smile. She wore something that shimmered in the sun pouring through the dome above, and her eyes were a deep chocolate.

Nikki’s lips trembled into a little smile.

“Wait, I’ll come down,” the girl said.

She moved to the stairs and descended. Her dress did not allow for quick movement, and she looked like the most graceful creature alive to Nikki as she moved down the stairs and across the floor to the doorway where he hovered.

“My name is Tasha. What’s yours?” She held out her hand.

“My lady!”

The girl paused and turned. Nikki lifted his gaze to the second floor balcony to see a woman staring down at them, a scandalized look on her face. The woman rushed down the stairs.

“What is it, Revi?” she asked. “What’s wrong?”

The woman seized her by the arm. “What do you think you’re doing? You cannot talk to this creature!” Her look moved over Nikki with a fine contempt. “He’s filthy and he’s Lowertown!”

That look penetrated Nikki’s consciousness like the thrust of a knife. He peered down at himself in puzzlement. He hadn’t considered himself to be dirty before this, and what did his coming from Lowertown have to do with anything?

“Go away, creature, you don’t belong here!” the woman said, and hustled the protesting girl away, leaving Nikki to stare after them. The girl gave him one flashing glance over her shoulder before she was dragged away.

Waves of mortification passed over Nikki’s being. He’d never been made to feel inferior before---or to be more accurate, he’d never noticed his lack before this.

Nikki turned and, with slow steps, made his way back the way he had come, his smile gone. He eventually found the cook and delivered the package of spice.

The cook showed him out the servants’ door; he’d come in the tradesman’s entrance. Another flick of the lash on his lacerated feelings.

He ran all the way back to Lowertown like all the demons of the Seven Hells were after him.

He flung himself into the spice shop and pounded up the stairs to his room over the back of the shop, glad that Gerring was occupied and did no more than frown at him.

Nikki threw himself across his pallet and buried his burning eyes in his arm, the vision of the house and the young girl shining in his brain.

Presently, he crept out of his room and entered Gerring’s room. The expensive, full-length mirror stood against the far wall. Nikki tread lightly as a cat. If Gerring caught him in here, he would probably break something on Nikki’s body.

The mirror captured the image of a slim boy with long blond hair and scruffy clothes. Nikki took a long look at his reflection. He thought he was not that bad to look upon; his wits had kept him nourished and healthy; not like some in Lowertown. Tanned, well-formed limbs gleamed through rents in the short trousers and stuck out of the sleeves of his shirt a good six inches or more. The shirt had once been blue but had faded to a dingy gray. And he was dirty. How was he supposed to keep clean when everything he touched broadcast dirt? Filth and Lowertown seemed to go together.

He’s filthy and he’s Lowertown.

The expression on the woman, Revi’s, face jabbed him again.

Well, he couldn’t do anything about being from Lowertown, but he could do something about being clean.

Determined, Nikki found the washbasin, a cloth, and a piece of lye soap. He didn’t have the patience to wait for water to heat so he pumped it cold.

Gerring found him washing and shivering in the cold water and stared.

“What are you doing?”

Nikki looked up, water running and dripping from his face and arms. “I’m cleaning up.”

“At this hour of the day?” Gerring said with an incredulous note in his voice. “What for?”

Nikki dropped his head and attacked a smear of dirt on his leg. “I was dirty,” he muttered.

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

Nikki didn’t know how to answer him. An hour ago, it wouldn’t have had anything to do with anything. But that had been an hour ago and an eternity past.

“Oh, for the love of Jehar, get yourself back in the shop and clean out those shelves like I told you to this morning.”

Nikki almost welcomed the pain of Gerring’s cuff on the ear.

#

Revi pulled her hand under the trickling water pipe and scrubbed so hard with the scented soap that Tasha squealed with pain.

“And so it should hurt!” Revi said. “What were you thinking? Touching a boy like that?”

“I didn’t touch him!” Tasha protested. “What do you mean, ‘a boy like that?’ He was just a boy.”

Revi stopped scrubbing and stared at her. “He was Lowertown, my lady, and don’t you forget that. Uppertown and Lowertown don’t mix. What your mother would have said if she were still alive, I shudder to contemplate!”

“She wouldn’t have gone on about it,” Tasha muttered mulishly.

Revi pinched her arm.

“OW!” Tasha yelled.

“There’s more where that came from if I see you talking below your station again,” Revi promised.

Tasha stood, tears of pain in her eyes, as Revi scrubbed her hand to the woman’s satisfaction. When Revi let go, Tasha snatched back the offending member and nursed it against her dress as she nursed her indignation. The skin shone red and stank of the scented soap.

“Now get yourself down to your lessons and keep yourself out of trouble.”

Tasha trudged down the stairs, surprise and an overwhelming sense of injustice struggling inside her. She hadn’t done anything wrong. How could Revi have been so unfair? The boy had been in her house. Her father and mother would not have been rude to him. Why should Revi be that way?

A flash of blond hair and dark blue eyes rose in her memory. His coloring had been unusual and pleasing to the eye. Surely Revi could see that? None of her family or friends had that coloring. His hair had looked like captured sunshine.

Tasha hugged the memory of the boy's smile as she listened to her tutor drone on about politics and the history of the Fifty Families in Camdia.