Category Archives: about writing
articles about writing and writing related topics
Posted by Debbie Mumford
For the past few years I’ve begun each year writing short stories for an anthology workshop. Those of us participating spend six weeks writing a story a week. We’re given a theme on Monday morning and the story must be submitted by midnight the following Sunday.
The first year, the schedule terrified me. What if I couldn’t come up with an idea and get it written within the allotted time? Aaaggghhh! But I managed to meet each deadline and even sold one of the stories! (Two more eventually sold to other venues.)
Last year I succeeded in writing all six stories again and this time sold two to the anthologies they were written for…and sold two others later to other venues. Not bad!
But the problem came after the writing. Once we finished writing our own stories, we were asked to read all the others in order to prepare for the workshop. Now, this is an awesome opportunity! To get to read all those professional level short stories? Absolute coolness! Unfortunately, in order to accomplish all the required reading AND continue to live my normal work-a-day + family life, the awesome writing habit I’d established fell by the wayside. Both years!
THIS year, I’m determined to change that outcome. I’ve completed my six stories for this year’s workshop and am now deep into the reading phase. However, this year I’m making time to continue the story-a-week habit I’ve begun.
I’m proud to say that I finished a flash fiction story yesterday…and then read another bunch of amazing stories by my fellow workshoppers!
I’m 5 stories for 5 weeks so far in 2016! Wish me luck in continuing my streak. After all, while it’s great to START the New Year well, what matters is maintaining the writing habit I’ve established.
Here’s to a successful and productive 2016!
Posted by Will
I came into publishing at probably the most misleading time of the last hundred years. Yeah, that sounds like a good excuse.
When I started chronicling in 2008, I was following the pure desire to make something of these tales I had bound up inside me. I identified with not just paper pub, but the traditional route to it– getting an agent, breezing through one of the Big 5, the book tour, the fame, the groupies. Forty rejections later I woke up, admitted fantasy was the genre, not the life-path. But I kept chronicling, that’s the thing. If I thought about my future as anything I had control over, it was of course going to be in all media, analog and digital, video and audio. The movie, particularly, I really grooved on that.
By the time I started publishing it was summer of 2011. What we tentatively called Year 4 AK (After Kindle). Remember? People were going to convert completely to e-readers, just a matter of months. Print was DEAD, I tell you, everyone knew that. And I had tablet envy bad. I self-published my first four tales in digital format, and figured I was done. What loser would chase paper? Paper books were supposed to be the new Betamax (yeah, I know) or like 8-tracks, vinyl records. As in, you only saw them in movies. Black and white movies. I read all kinds of stuff on my PC, even on my tiny smartphone. As old as I am, I can say with honesty I’ve gotten used to screen reading, it’s pretty normal for me now. More on that below.
But the revolution I expected, that lack of e-reader I was still so jealous about? Didn’t really happen, did it. Hey, not the first time I’ve been a fool. I did what many of you did, only in my case it involved less time and talent. Flogged my platform, made announcements, kept chronicling, tried new things like a trailer, blog tour, writing about cool stuff. Hoping to catch fire somewhere. But still thinking entirely in digital.
You can probably see where this is going. My publisher gets me under contract (best piece of paper I’ve signed since my marriage license), and right away she starts talking crazy. How the next book, the big one, the once-trunk novel Judgement’s Tale should come out not only as novellas, but after the e-books, also in paper.
And I thought– paper? That dead organic stuff? It was this moment that I woke up (again) and really understood what others were shouting, that the Big 5 weren’t going to fold, and that paper books served a purpose for many people. Um, in fact, the vast majority. The rest is fast becoming history. People responded to JT in print quite viscerally, and my sales are starting to count with people I regard now the way an ERB hero would discovering a lost race. Paper book reader, I presume?
Circling Back to the Future (of Reading)
Definition of irony: I have a tablet now.
That e-reader I was always chasing is now in my grasp, every day, and I still do much more reading on it than in any paper form. But I realize it’s not the predestined winner in any near future on this planet. Most of my energy these days, outside of writing the next one, is focused on what’s going to happen to my tales in paper. My publisher is taking good care of that, and this opens up a world of possibilities at libraries, book fairs, maybe signings. Meeting real folks, shaking hands and giving out business cards, letting them thumb through the pages and hearing them ask the Dread Question (“So, what’s this one about?”). Because I have books in paper, no thanks to me.
What’s an e-reader for then? As an author, how to use it to improve your reach or your art?
I have several answers for you, things that have worked for me and which I recommend:
Come to it for the Cheap
Tablets and e-readers are becoming very affordable, and if you play your cards right you can basically steal one. I got my current tablet when we took Genna into the carrier store to get her a smartphone (at long last! she’s 18). We knew that college required her to stay in touch via email, Twitter, etc. so we put her together with an iPhone5. Genna mentions to the clerk the old household joke about how her Dad has tablet envy, and he says “you know, you can get a tablet for ninety-nine cents”. Yeah, it requires a data plan, but Genna and I share 1 Gb apiece and I lock the account so it just stops when we get close. Wi-Fi, we love you. And if you take a Kindle with a year of Amazon Prime, Jeff Bezos will personally fly to your house via drone and buff your toenails, or something pretty close.
Stay for the Stuff
There’s hardly any such thing as an e-reader anymore, everything is multifunctional, including Kindles and even Nooks (though admittedly, not as much). I gauge what to bring when leaving the house, based on how much idle time I’ll have. Laptop for writing, tablet for reading: the former weighs a couple pounds and goes in a padded case (belongs to my employer), the latter fits in my jacket pocket and I forget I’m carrying it. So what? So check your email, catch up on blog posts and reading related to your work as an improving author. Think of the cyber-things you can’t do because you’re not at your desk; even research for your next book. I have a couple of games too, of course. Because games! No worries– I know my mind is continuing to integrate thoughts on the WiP in the background.
Round Up the Usual Advantages
Just because paper books refused to do the decent thing doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from having a library in your pocket. I have free online e-book copies of everything I’ve done for my “Classics You’ve Never Read” series. A few touches to reach any book, any chapter; I know reading it in a spine is more fun but what if you just want to find that place where Jonathan Harker said goodbye in his last letter to Mina? You seriously going to argue you can do that more easily? A book on tablet has choice of fonts, and you can alter the SIZE (oh boy, that’s key for a guy who forgot to bring his reading glasses) as well as the background light (eye damage? what idiot reads in bed with the setting on daytime brightness? Two taps). You can read seven other books and come right back to where you were (bookmarks), you can tap to define a word (online dictionary), you can Copy and make notes (easier on your PC, but it’s all the same to the Kindle app). You invested a boatload of hours getting used to reading on a PC. It’s like riding a bike, you just have to spend a little time to get used to it. And watch out for trees.
The Occasional Surprise
The tablet has also proved useful to me in one other, rather sneaky way. As I became accustomed to reading on screen, I also realized it was sometimes tough for me to proof, or scan my drafts for polishing purposes. I re-read my stuff repeatedly when I’m drafting, it’s like the bobsled guys rocking back and forth in the track before the next run. But between the time when I THINK it’s ready and when it actually is… I’ve realized I can “self-pre-publish”! Just take the draft in document form and send it to your screenname @ kindle.com, and it shows up in your library!
Honestly, you won’t believe how much more seriously you take your own works when they LOOK like “the real thing”. The Kindle has become so much second-nature to me that I find myself automatically treating the draft like published work. It gives me confidence in what I’ve done well, and exposes what still needs redress even more clearly. And the PC can stay at home until I actually-factually decide to rewrite it.
So long live paper. And get a tablet anyway.
I love my family.
I love to read.
I love to write.
So, why can’t I manage to get all these under one hat? I know there are a lot of people (especially marries woman in the area where I live) who do their best to kill time. I wish they could give it to me.
Imagine what it would be like if I could use those discarded time snippets of other people to… read just one more chapter or write just one more blog post or another scene on my novel.
Truth be told, I though something like that would never happen. But then, I discovered NaNoWriMo. And all of a sudden, my very supportive husband helped me to make room for a miracle that takes an incredible amount of work but gives back to me a) a partly finished novel and b) a boost of creative energy that lasts for months.
Have you ever had the feeling that you can accomplish anything? That’s what I get out of NaNo. This is my 8th year, and I’m excited like a little child. Tell me about you. Do you have something lined up that excites you? Share it in the comments.
Posted by Will
Will you look at all the dust in this dungeon! How long has it been since the last vict- er, guest author was here? Let me just clear out the worst of it over in this corner, by the sharp things. Gad, if she’s allergic to mites it will be enough just to bring her in here. And by the way, bring her in here.
We are delighted to welcome– yes, that chain around the ankles, fool, have you forgotten your job– Ms. Jamie Marchant, who fell into our clutches during her blog tour for The Soul Stone. I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure previously, but we’ll soon get everything we need from her. Just let me find my favorite bullwhip- ah there, covered in grime. Let us begin.
Q: So where do you come from, author-person? Your location in the Alleged Real World is of no consequence here; we want to know your roots as an author. When you were young and still contemplating your life of crime, whose temptations swayed you the most in reading? Was it always fantasy for you, or did you come to the genre late in life?
Jamie: As is often the case, my family first led me astray, especially my older sister who told me fairy tales and encouraged me to write ones of my own. In my teen years, I fell under the influence of Piers Anthony and Stephen R. Donaldson. As an adult, Mercedes Lackey and Jim Butcher completed my corruption until I was irredeemably a fantasy fan, but as you see, the seeds of fantasy were planted in me before I was old enough to read for myself. I really didn’t have a chance.
Q: I completely understand, blaming others is typical in these cases. Bailiff, fetch us this sister and we shall have a talk next. Tell us a bit about Korthlundia where your tales are set. Your main characters seem neck-deep in royal intrigues, on their guard every minute. Is the world also at war all the time? Do regular folks suffer from whomever it is opposing the goddess who has picked your heroes to help? I mean, what kind of a world are we dealing with here?
Jamie: Korthlundia had enjoyed over fifty years of unbroken peace because of its geographical isolation and the wise rule of Samantha’s father, King Solar. Both the nobles and common people prospered. The troubles in Korthlundia began when Duke Argblutal murdered the king and attempted to usurp the throne. Samantha was only nineteen years old, but she and Robrek put him in his place, six feet under, at the end of my first book, The Goddess’s Choice. However, the nobles aren’t too keen about a young woman and a common young man taking the throne, and the unrest is starting to affect regular folk as well. This is especially true when, in my second book, the Soul Stone breaks loose from its ancient bonds and begins to kill indiscriminately.
Q: Excellent! Always good to hear that a villain with an unpronounceable name is dead. Removes so much worry. Coming back to your heroes, you make it clear that Crown Princess Samantha and Robrek, the common-class sorceror, are from very different walks of life. They have very separate talents too. And busy! Saving the world makes for a crowded calendar, I suppose, but if these two are destined to marry, do they happen to see anything in each other along the way? Or is this going to be a marriage of fate and not the heart? (That is, assuming they make it long enough!)
Jamie: As the crown princess, Samantha had always believed that she couldn’t marry for love. This becomes especially difficult for her when she meets and falls for a common peasant boy at a horse fair. Although she comes to learn that Robrek is a powerful sorcerer and nowhere near as common as she first believed, she thinks an unbridgeable gap divides them. Only in bard’s tales do peasants marry princesses. At the end of The Goddess’s Choice, she is overjoyed when the Goddess reveals Robrek to be her choice for her consort. Theirs is very much an affair of the heart as well as of fate. However, in The Soul Stone, it appears that Robrek won’t live long enough for them to enjoy their love.
Q: You mention getting all geared up on literature in school, but then putting the writing itself on hold for a long time before taking up the pen to write about places like Korthlundia. I accuse the Alleged Real World of criminal trespass into your free time! Bailiff, take the ARW into custody, we’ll deal with it later. But what does the victim have to say? Did you not know this was what you wanted, or were you always thinking about it.
Jamie: I knew since I was a young child that I wanted to be a writer, but this ARW you speak of seduced me with the idea of making money. It took a few years for me to realize I was the victim of a con. Yes, one has to eat, but professional success can’t compensate for the absence of the creative muse.
Q: How would you describe your success so far, and what have been the keys to further exposure in your opinion? Are you happy with sales, with new outlets, and professional connections you’ve made? Are you mainly a paper book author, or did you lean on e-book sales early on?
Jamie: I’m not sure that any author, especially one published by a small press, is ever happy with sales. Getting sufficient exposure for my work is difficult, but I’ve been making progress with connecting with other authors and bloggers via the internet. While my books are all available in paperback, it is the e-book sales that make up the greatest portion of my books sales, which seems to be typical.
Enough, we are satisfied for now and hereby order your release. You may keep the manacle as a souvenir. Just leave us your information, where we can find your confessions (I mean, writing) and the proper links to seek you out for further punishment in the future.
Author Bio: Jamie Marchant
From early childhood, Jamie has been immersed in books. Her mother, an avid reader, read to her, and her older sister filled her head with fairy tales. Taking into consideration her love for literature and the challenges of supporting herself as a writer, she pursued a Ph.D. in American literature, which she received in 1998. She started teaching writing and literature at Auburn University. But in doing so, she put her true passion on the backburner and neglected her muse. Then one day, in the midst of writing a piece of literary criticism, she realized that what she wanted to be doing was writing fantasy novels. Her muse thus revived, she began the book that was to become The Goddess’s Choice, which was published in April 2012. The second volume in the series, The Soul Stone, was released this June.
She lives in Auburn, Alabama, with her husband, son, and four cats, which (or so she’s been told) officially makes her a cat lady. She still teaches writing and literature at Auburn University. Her short fiction has been published on Short-Story.Me, and my story was chosen for inclusion in their annual anthology. It has also appeared in the anthologies—Urban Fantasy (KY Story, 2013) and Of Dragon and Magic: Tales of the Lost Worlds (Witty Bard Publishing, 2014)—The World of Myth, A Writer’s Haven, and Bards & Sages.
Links to Jamie’s Books
Contact Jamie Everywhere
This is the last episode of A Singular Inheritance. Previous episodes are in the three preceeding posts on this site.
A Singular Inheritance
by Sue Santore
“It’s me,” Brina called to them, holding her hands in the air. “Brina.”
To her dismay, the guards grabbed her roughly and hauled her onto the walkway so abruptly she stumbled. Conall thrust his massive body between her and the nearest guard and lifted his lips in a dangerous snarl. The guard dropped her arms and backed away, holding his spear in a protective stance toward Conall.
Before he could plunge his spear into Conall, Brina said, “Would you slay Lord Kemble’s favorite hunter?”
The man hesitated and the watch leader came running out onto the walkway and barked a brief command at the guards. They sullenly backed away and gestured to Brina to proceed before them.
She took a few deep breaths to quiet her pounding heart, raised her head high, and walked regally up the log walkway into the crannog, ignoring the spears of the guards. She would not be intimidated by these guards. She would not be intimidated by the high druid. She was needed here. Why? She still did not know. She still could not FutureSee as well as Shylah. Conall refused to walk onto the causeway until the guards followed Brina. He trailed along behind them, his soft growls letting them know that he was watching them.
As Brina approached her family dwelling, Lord Kemble, came out and stood before the door, his arms folded across his chest, a stern frown on his face. As she came near, she could see her mother standing in the shadows behind her father. Then the high druid came rushing out of his dwelling and swiftly approached them.
Before her father could open his mouth to scold her, the faint beating of drums echoed down the road from the west. Lord Kemble’s attention turned from Brina and he shouted instructions to his men. More guards came running and men spilled out of doorways, holding spears and other weapons. The drum beats grew louder and chanting voices floated over the water. The armed men lined up along the protective log walls, at the ready. As the voices grew nearer, the drums rolled once, twice, then a rhythm beat out.
As he listened to the drum message, Lord Kemble shouted, “My son. My son returns.” With long strides, he started for the walkway. Brina raced after him with Conall at her heels. That was Gavin’s personal drum message. Gavin was home! Her father’s first son, his favorite son, and her favorite brother.
In the excitement of the returning heir, Brina’s scolding and punishment were temporarily forgotten. Lord Kemble called for a celebration and feasting to begin that very night. He drew his son into his arms and took him back to the family dwelling, while Gavin’s men scattered to visit their own families. Conall thumped down outside the doorway of their dwelling and refused to be led off to be penned with the other dogs.
Inside their family quarters, Gavin’s eyes met Brina’s and he gave her a sweet smile. She could see he had changed. He had lost his restless, searching energy and had a calmness about him that soothed. Even Mother was glad to see Gavin returned to them and she gave rapid orders to the servants and slaves to prepare a special meal for their evening repast.
Forgotten for now, Brina moved to her small sleeping compartment only to meet her older sister, Bretta, coming from the compartment.
“You!” Bretta twitched her garments aside to keep them from brushing against Brina. “Why have you returned? You will not take my place!” She snarled the words at Brina.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Brina replied. “You know I couldn’t take your place in our parent’s eyes.”
“I’m talking about the high druid. You were a fool to run from him and stay away. Now he wants me.”
“You’re going to be his apprentice?” Brina sucked in her breath. Even though Bretta hated her, she couldn’t wish that fate on her older sister.
“No, fool, I’m going to be his wife.” Bretta tossed her head and smoothed down the cloth over her hips. “I’ll be the most respected woman in the clan, higher than even Mother.”
Brina could only stare at her sister in disbelief, nausea building in her. “No!” She burst out, “You mustn’t do that!”
“I knew you’d be jealous. He wants me now,” Bretta said proudly. “You lost your chance when you ran away.”
“Are you moonstruck? I wouldn’t marry the high druid if he were the last man on this crannog.” Brina could not believe her sister could be so blind to the aura that surrounded the druid.
“More fool, you.” Bretta lifted her chin and brushed by Brina.
Brina was filled with fear for her sister and regret that she would never listen to her reasons not to marry the high druid. Not only did his presence make her skin crawl, but there were rumors about the high druid and women who disappeared in the night. But surely, if the high druid was going through the bride ceremony, Bretta should be safe enough, as safe as she could be living with the evil entity that dwelled within this druid. Brina shuddered and entered the sleeping compartment
It was filled with Bretta’s personal things. Where could she rest while staying with her family? Would she be able to sleep with Bretta’s hateful presence next to her? She sat on the sleeping furs and drew her knees up to her chin. Resting her cheek on her knees, she closed her eyes and breathed slowly, calming herself. She remembered the unusual calmness emanating from Gavin. She reached out with a thread of thought and sought Gavin’s presence. She found him with her father. Gavin was telling of his adventures. She touched Gavin’s aura. So peaceful, so contented. Where had he found this?
She must have dozed off, with her early morning rising and long walk tiring her body to exhaustion. She was awakened by Bretta rudely shaking her. “Time to eat.”
Brina shook the sleep from her head and rose swiftly to her feet. Without speaking, the sisters walked to the main room and took their places on the mats around the low table to partake in the family meal hastily prepared by their servants. Torches burned in their holders around the room to push away the coming of night. Brina shivered inside as she saw the high druid sitting opposite from her father. Bretta sat next to him, preening and full of her own importance. Brina felt his foul magic probing at her, trying to penetrate her mind, but her shield was firmly in place. Then she began to listen to Gavin’s conversation with their father.
It was all Colum Cille this and Colum Cille that. Brina was delighted to hear more stories about this new druid. Shylah’s stories were limited and all old ones. Gavin had met the new holy man who followed the one God. He had followed with him for many weeks and had many stories to tell. A commoner’s only cow was dying. Colum Cille restored it to health with one touch. A monster beneath the waters of a lake was taking villagers until Colum Cille banished it with his words, “Think not to go further, nor touch the man. Quick! Go back!” and invoked the name of his God. One of his followers was weeping over the death of his child when Colum Cille commanded the child to rise and he came back to life. Gavin even reported he, with his own eyes, had seen Colum Cille walk across a lake without sinking below the water.
Brina found it really hard to believe one man could do all those magical things, but she was fascinated by Gavin’s stories. Obviously, he believed them even as some around the table scoffed. She ignored the unbelieving comments and enjoyed listening to her brother talk, until she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and glanced toward the high druid. The depth of hate in his eyes against her brother shocked Brina, but as she thought on it, she realized that this new type of druid Gavin was reporting about was a major threat to the high druid. She had seen their druid do some powerful magic, but never had he raised one from the dead or walked on water. When the high druid began to speak, she grew fearful for her brother.
The druid faced the end of the table. “Lord Kemble, I see your son has been contaminated by his association with this man who worships one God. We know our gods are many, and they have been good enough for us for all our lives and the lives of our fathers and their fathers.” Then he turned to Gavin, “This man is false and worships a false god. He has tricked you into believing he can do these magics. No one can bring the dead back to life.”
“Colum Cille can and he did,” Gavin said firmly. “I believe his God is real.”
“No!” The druid shoved back his uneaten bowl of food. “You are mistaken. You must leave this man behind you and forget him. I will perform a cleansing ceremony to purify you from these thoughts. It will be held tomorrow.” He turned back to Lord Kemble. “You must delay the celebration and feasting until after your son is purified. If he cannot be purified, he must be put to death. Otherwise the gods will be angry with us at his blasphemy.”
A cold dread settled into Brina at the words of the druid and she looked quickly to her father. What would his answer be? Would he allow his beloved elder son to be put to death? Why did she even wonder at his answer? She knew he deferred to the druid in all religious matters.
A heavy frown creased the brow of Lord Kemble. “Is there no other way?”
“If he is too besmirched to be purified, then the law is clear. He must be put to death,” The Druid stated again.
His hatred seethed beneath the surface of his words and spell binding was underlaying his focus on Lord Kemble. Brina could feel the slimy tangles of his dark magic threading through the room, touching the family members around the table and branching out to the servants. Was this how he kept control of their village and directed all their lives when he wished something to come to pass? He had always repulsed her, but she had never been able to feel the workings of his dark magic before her month of working to hone her own power. The foul tangles slipped off of her shield and hovered before Gavin. In a split second she extended her shield to cover him and the foulness that filled the room could not touch Gavin.
Gavin gave a steady look to his father, then to the druid. “I am not contaminated by Colum Cille. I will not consent to your ceremony.” He started to stand up.
“So be it.” The druid made a quick motion with his hand and Gavin fell back down on the floor, unmoving. Brina cried out, “Gavin!” Before she could move the druid made another motion and his guards at the door came forward. They picked up the motionless Gavin and, under the direction of the druid, carried him out of the door. The druid followed.
Brina jumped to her feet and cried at her father. “How could you let the druid take Gavin! He has done no wrong!”
“How would you be able to judge after what you’ve done?” Bretta said. Her eyes were slitted and her mouth contorted. She snarled at Brina. “The druid always knows best. We must not anger the gods.”
“I have done nothing wrong,” Brina protested. “The druid is not always right. He is a bad man!”
Gasps came from around the room.
“That will be enough!” Lord Kemble rose to his feet and towered over Brina. “You have much to answer for, running away and refusing to return with the high druid and his men. Now you even question his authority. You will return to your sleeping quarters and stay there until I send for you.”
Brina stepped back. “No, my lord, I won’t.”
“Ungrateful child,” muttered her mother as she placed her arm around Bretta’s shoulders. “At least I have one daughter who pleases me.”
The remark stabbed Brina’s heart, even though she knew she had never pleased her mother, no matter how hard she had tried, and she never would.
She turned, walked out of her family dwelling, and paced after the druid’s men who were carrying Gavin. Night had fallen and the torches set along the path only lit up a few feet on either side of them. The tramping feet of her father’s guards followed her. She turned toward them and muttered a freezing charm. They stopped in their tracks, eyes wide with fear. Then Brina followed her brother’s limp body as the druid had him carried into his own dwelling.
She stopped just outside the dwelling and a chill went up her spine. The open doorway reeked of dark magic. Was she strong enough to face down the druid? What would the guards do if she did? She had to try to save her brother. Taking a deep breath, she wrapped her shield tightly around herself and entered the druid’s dwelling. She stopped just inside the door and searched the room for Gavin. He was lying very still on a high altar under the collection of shrunken heads of the druid’s enemies. The druid bent over him.
As she stood quietly in the doorway, the druid felt her presence and swiftly turned from Gavin’s body. She felt his glee and hoped she had not stepped into a trap she could not escape from. He dismissed the guards and waited until they left the room before speaking. “Ah. My little reluctant bride. You return to me.”
“I will never be your bride.” Brina spoke in a low passionate voice. “Never!”
“Oh, too bad. You wish to save your brother?” A smile full of malice broke over his face. “Then you must become my bride.”
“You have my sister. Why do you need two brides?” Brina fought hard to keep her voice from shaking.
He made a motion of dismissal. “Britta is a warm body, but you, my sweet thing, are much more. I have sensed your power for long while, but now I can taste the power flooding through you.” He licked his lips and stalked closer to Brina. She trembled at his nearness. “If I lay with you, I can take that power and it will be mine. Mine to use.”
Even as she trembled, Brina strengthened her shield and reached with her mind down, down, far under the water to touch the earth. She drew strength and fed the glowing flames of power that warmed her magic.
“You will never have my power.”
“Then your brother must die.”
“I think not.” Brina said as she pulled the clean earth power into herself until she could hold no more. She was ready when the druid attacked. He threw the same spell at her with which he had felled Gavin, with even more force. Her shield held firm and the hard-flung spell rebounded back at the druid. He gasped and dropped to the floor. His eyes glittered at her with anger, but he stayed motionless as Brina grabbed some woven grass rope and tied his hands and feet. She stuffed a cloth into his mouth, then she rushed to Gavin, and plunged her earth power into the spell holding him. With a shudder, Gavin broke free of the binding and sat up. His face was white and he moved slowly.
“Quickly, Brother,” Brina urged him. “He will recover soon. We must get you away from here.”
She thrust her arms under Gavin’s shoulders and pulled him to his feet. Gavin swayed, then he straightened and gave her his sweet smile. “Thank you, my sister.” Slowly they moved forward to the door of the dwelling. “I need a drum. I cannot leave my men here to the druid’s revenge.”
Brina glanced around the room and saw a small drum lying on a nearby table. She touched the drum. Detecting no apparent evil, she snatched it up and handed it to Gavin. He began to beat out a staccato rhythm which boomed across the water.
As they moved through the doorway, the guards of the druid stepped forward, their spears raised. “Back!” Brina spoke with command in her voice. The confused guards lowered their spears. “We are to leave now. The druid does not wish to be bothered until he calls you.”
As the echoes of the drum beat died away, shouts and running feet were heard all around the crannog. Gavin’s men were responding to his emergency distress signal. As Brina and Gavin made their way to the causeway, they were soon surrounded by his men. Lord Kemble still stood by the door to their family dwelling. He lifted his hand to stay his own men, motioning for them to allow the group to leave. As Brina and Gavin passed, she could see the pain in his face as his son walked away from him.
If only he stayed firm in his protection. If only the druid did not recover until they were out of spear throwing distance. If only they could reach the clearing with the sacred well before any possible pursuit overtook them.
It seemed a miracle, but they did make it safely out of the village and all the way to the Herb Woman’s clearing and the sacred well before the druid was able to free himself. There Gavin and his men left Brina. Gavin returned many times in the ensuing years. Sometimes he even brought the Colum Cille with him, and the protection on the clearing was strengthened each time Colum Cille visited.
Brina remained in the clearing, tending to the pilgrims who returned to visit the sacred well, as well as those who sought her out for herbs. She continued to fight the evil influence of the druid. Her ability to See into the future grew as her power developed. Years later, one vision came upon her as she sat beside the well, looking down into the clear water. It seemed as though she fell and fell, as down, down many years. She saw a young girl, dressed in strange clothes, holding the box of power that Shylah had given to herself, Brina, many years ago. She watched as the strange girl learned to use the powers in the box. She shuddered as she learned what the young girl had to face with her new-learned powers. Then she fell back into her own self and realized that her legacy from Shylah was only the beginning, that the fight against evil must continue. Brina pondered her vision. “I shall pass the box on to another generation, then it shall pass again and again.”
I hope you have enjoyed Brina’s story. Thank you for reading. To read the story of the young girl in Brina’s vision, see The Singular Gift on Amazon.
A Singular Inheritance
by Sue Santore
The tramping feet came into the clearing, closer, closer. It was a group of her father’s men! A voice called out, and Brina recognized it. It was the head guard for their druid. As he spoke he came closer. “Woman, where is the daughter of Lord Kemble?”
“Who wishes to know?”
“The most important high druid requests her.”
Brina’s stomach clenched at that statement. No, she wouldn’t be his bride. She couldn’t. But what could Shylah do against the armed men?
“But she is not the daughter of the high druid,” Shylah replied to the guard.
“Lord Kemble follows the old paths and listens to the high druid. She is not his daughter, but she will be his bride. Give her to us.” His gruff voice was low and menacing as he walked up close to Shylah.
Shylah did not budge from the doorway. “She is under my protection and the protection of this holy place.”
“You do so refuse the druid’s request?” The guard’s voice was now a snarl.
“I cover her with my own protection.”
“Foolish old woman, you seal your fate.”
Brina saw him make a swift movement. She heard a wet thud and a small moan from Shylah. “Shylah!” she cried out and started toward the doorway. A voice sounded in her head. Stay! Don’t come out! Brina froze in obedience as Shylah’s body slowly collapsed before her eyes and she crumpled onto the ground in front of her own doorstep. Don’t…come…out. Learn…much. The voice in Brina’s head stilled and was gone. Grief flooded through Brina.
Just then another voice shouted. “No! You fool!”
The voice sent shivers though her. It was the druid! He rushed out of the middle of the group of armed men. She had never known him to go so far from the village before. Conall’s growls grew more intense and her fingers tightened under the dog’s spiked collar. “Stay, Conall.”
The druid’s face was contorted with anger. “Idiot! Now her blood will seal the protection she placed on the girl!” He threw up his hand and a bright light flashed. The guard let out a single piercing scream and where the guard had stood was only a lump of blackened flesh wavering back and forth. Then the man-sized lump fell to the ground in front of Shylah.
The druid walked forward. He stopped before he reached the bodies and peered into the cabin interior. When he spoke again, this time he spoke directly to Brina. She could hear the subtle persuasion in the spelled voice he used. “Come out, Brina. We’ve come to take you home. Your mother and father have been very worried.”
Brina twisted her mouth in a grimace. She knew her mother hadn’t been worried. She only cared about Bretta, her older sister. Her father? Maybe. Sometimes it seemed that he cared for her. Mostly he cared for Gavin and Lann, her brothers.
She didn’t answer. According to what Shylah had told her, as long as she stayed in the hut, she was safe. She was not going anywhere. I won’t forget, Shylah, Brina thought. The tears streamed down her cheeks as she took another look at Shylah’s crumpled body. Shylah, the only one who had loved her unconditionally. Brina moved away from the wall and sat down at the small table. She could not bear to look at Shylah’s body lying on the ground. Shylah had said that as long as she was within the dwelling she would be safe, but at what a price. She sat facing the door, unwilling to turn her back towards the druid. Shylah had told her that the druid could not control her if she came into her power apart from him and to study hard to learn how to use her power. That was just what she would do.
The druid stood a few paces away from the bodies on the ground, his spelled voice continued to try to persuade Brina to come out. Ignoring the pleas, then the commands, from the high druid. Brina opened the box and took out the book. The light from the one small window, covered with oiled cloth, was enough–with the door open. She forced away her sorrow and began to read. Magical words danced through her mind and helped keep the anguish she felt at bay. Then the anguish resolved into hard determination. The high druid had gone too far. Brina would not be used by him. Shylah would not die in vain.
Hours later, when the voices and noises outside had finally ceased, Brina looked up from the book. She could see no one in the clearing in the line of sight from the door. Thick clouds had rolled in to cover the setting sun and the light in the dwelling was fading. Brina cut a slice of cheese and a slice of bread from the food left on the table. She handed the food to the dog who lay at her feet. He gulped it down.
Then she stood up, dreading what would come next. Not a sound came from outside. She paced to the door and looked into the clearing. Conall stayed by her side, still on alert. The men had disappeared, but how far had they gone?
She looked down and tears filled her eyes. Crumbled on the ground in front of the door was Shylah, her blood soaked into the dirt. The blackened body of the guard who killed her lay apart.
She couldn’t leave Shylah laying there, but she couldn’t leave the doorway. Not yet. There were sure to be some guards left hidden among the trees to watch her. Brina sank down onto the floor in line with the doorway. She wrapped her arms around her knees and rocked back and forth, keening a requiem for Shylah. Conall lowered himself to the floor beside his young mistress and rested his broad head on his forearms, ears alert. Brina sang over and over in a high mournful tone:
Ah, Shylah, mother of my heart,
Long I have loved you.
The leaves shake for your pain.
The ground drinks your blood and
Hears the cry of your soul.
The earth calls out against your murder.
Shylah, Shylah, Shylah.
Echoes of her voice came back to her from all directions and Brina felt that the forest lamented Shylah’s passing with her. Under the cover of the clouds, total darkness was fast approaching. Brina felt for her travel herb pouch. Did she dare use her charm to try to hide herself while she buried Shylah’s body? She closed her eyes with her herb pouch held tightly and said, “Eyes do not see me. Ears do not hear me. I am not here.” A dreadful premonition filled her as she neared the door, and she hesitated. Then she remembered the ring of invisibility. She backtracked to the table, reached out for the box, opened it, and slipped on the ring. Her body disappeared before her eyes. She reached down and clutched Conall’s collar and the dog disappeared also.
She knelt down beside the dog and whispered to him. “Bring in, Conall. Bring in, boy.” Then she rose and walked to the doorway with the dog following her lead. With her whispered commands, the dog clasped his massive jaws on Shylah’s shoulder and pulled backwards. Brina tugged at the body also, and together they slowly moved her mentor’s body into the dwelling.
Startled cries came from a nearby thicket. Brina gave a bitter smile as she realized that the hiding soldiers thought Shylah’s body had started moving by itself, then disappeared. When the body was safely inside the dwelling, Brina went through the death ritual over Shylah. She could barely see the outline of the doorway now. The light was almost gone.
With her ring still on, she pulled on the bracelet and went to the back of the hut. She leaned against the wall and began to slide through it. She grabbed the dog and Shylah’s arm. With Conall’s massive jaws assisting her she managed to pull Shylah through the wall and out into the darkness. The dog left her side to relieve himself then quickly returned. She felt his nose bump her side in the darkness.
“Dig,” she whispered into Conall’s ear. The dog began to dig. Under her direction, after a time, the hole was made large enough to place Shylah’s body into. She made a sign of release on Shylah’s forehead and began shoving the dirt back into the hole. She tamped the dirt down with her feet, then shook off the dust from her clothes. She was exhausted and famished. Why was she so tired?
She tugged at Conall’s collar and the dog slid back into the dwelling with her. As she gulped down her own slice of cheese and bread, she bitterly thought about the soldier guards in the woods and wondered what they would make of the new grave in the morning. Let them wonder. They could think Shylah buried herself for all Brina cared. She stumbled onto the cot in the corner and fell fast asleep.
When she awoke the next morning, the blackened body of the former guard was gone.
Many days passed before the Druid gave up and left the clearing, taking his guards with him. Because of the soldiers, the pilgrims on their rounds stopped coming to the sacred well in the clearing. They continued to stay away even after the soldiers left. The days were long and lonely for Brina even though she spent the daylight hours with Shylah’s gift to her, the precious box and its contents. When she used it, she felt closer to Shylah.
Brina read and practiced, read and practiced. She nibbled on the food left by Shylah, but gave much of it to Conall. She worried about the dog having to stay in the hut all day, so in the dark of the night, she let Conall out to exercise and forage for himself. He would be gone most of the night. Twice he brought back a rabbit to her. During the cover of the night Brina also emptied her slops and threw some grain into the chicken pen. She searched for eggs under the sleeping chickens and each day found a few.
As the month of safety that Shylah had sacrificed to give her came slowly to an end, Brina thought she could face down the druid–maybe. Anyway, she felt she was needed to return for a brief time to her father’s crannog, for what reason she knew not, but she knew that her place here in this holy clearing would be waiting for her.
Very early on her final morning before returning to her clan, Brina brewed a tea of angelica root and holy thistle. She sprinkled drops in the corners and doorway of the dwelling to prevent evil forces from entering while she was gone. Then she poured half of what was left into Conall’s water bowl. He eagerly lapped it up while she drank the rest of the tea in preparation for her journey.
What could she do with the box of power to keep it safe? She didn’t dare take it into the lair of the high druid, just in case she wasn’t strong enough to resist him. Her gaze fell on the holy well at the edge of the clearing, close to her dwelling. Maybe there? She took a deep breath, said a prayer for protection, and stepped out the door in the light of day for the first time in a month. No shout came from the thicket. No rustle came from the undergrowth.
Brina walked across the short distance to the well and looked down into the stone circle. The water had a gentle movement in the center where the spring, the source of the well water, bubbled up. There was a niche between two large stones about two layers down. Maybe she could wedge the box into the niche. Brina bent over and stretched her arm down. Yes, she could just reach the opening. She took the box and pushed it into the cavity between the rocks. Then she touched the rocks and muttered an incantation from the book of power. The rocks closed over the box and it disappeared.
Brina walked to the edge of the clearing and stopped, looking down at Conall. “Crannog, Conall. Home.” His ears perked up and he started ahead of her, turning his head occasionally to make sure she was following. They cautiously made their way through the forest to the main road, meeting no one. The pilgrims still had not returned to visiting the shrine at the clearing in her new dwelling so the forest was silent of their sounds.
As Brina approached the road, she sank down into nearby shrubbery. She had to cross the road and make her way down to her father’s crannog safely. She listened carefully, but could hear nothing. She watched Conall. He was alert, but not on guard, so she eased her way out onto the road and sped down the road toward her ancestral home. If she heard anyone, she would flee into the bushes and hide again.
The sun is smiling on me, Brian thought, as she neared the approach to the crannog without having to dash into the underbrush, not even once. She stopped just out of sight and drew upon her inner self. She spun a small shield to hide her magic from any seekers then went onward. As she came in sight of the walkway, a shout came from the guard post and two guards came swiftly down the walkway, their spears at the ready.
“It’s me,” Brina called to them, holding her hands in the air. “Brina.”
To her dismay, the guards grabbed her roughly and hauled her onto the walkway so abruptly she stumbled. Conall thrust his massive body between her and the nearest guard and lifted his lips in a dangerous snarl. The guard dropped her arms and backed away, holding his spear in a protective stance toward Conall.
Before he could plunge his spear into Conall, Brina said, “Would you slay Lord Kemble’s favorite hunter?”
Come back next week for the conclusion of Brina’s story, A Singular Inheritance.
Last week we began Brina’s story. As we continue, the raiders have just gone by.
A Singular Inheritance
by Sue Santore
Only when the soft tramping of the raiders faded into the distance, beyond the village, going on down The West Road, did Brina relax her vigil. She crept out from the side trail and hurried further down The East Road. She needed to get far enough from the village to stop until dawn. There was no way she could find Shylah’s hut in the forest without daylight for her to search out the way.
The girl and the dog sped down the dark road, held in place only by the feel of the packed dirt underfoot. After their quick steps ate up a safe distance, Brina headed off the road again. She pushed through the bushes, biting her lip against the stabs and scratches, until she stumbled into a tree trunk, then she stopped and slid down the rough bark to sit with her back against the tree. The scratches on her hands and face stung, but she couldn’t bother with them now. With Conall’s presence, she didn’t have to worry about wild animals. Soon her tired eyes could stay open no longer and she slipped into a troubled sleep. The dog laid down beside the girl. His ears twitched as he stayed on guard for his young mistress.
The lowing of cattle and the stamping of feet woke her with a start. In minutes the raiders fled past. The fog was thinning and the first light was breaking over the horizon. So, the raiders had been successful in carrying away some cattle from the next village. She wondered how many lay dead with their blood soaking into the ground, away from their loved ones. Did the raiders have enough men to take their dead home with them?
She stayed still, her arms clutched around her knees, not looking at the road for fear the men could feel someone watching. They would be on edge anyway. She didn’t need a reason for them to search for a watcher. Conall stood beside her, ready to attack, if need be. At least the cattle would cover any trail she had left. That would make it harder for the druid to send trackers after her. Even the dogs would have a difficult time sniffing her trail with the raiders and cattle passing after her.
After the passing of the raiders, Brina stood up, looking around her to get her bearings. There was a packed trail to Shylah’s hut, if she could but find it. If she headed in that direction, surely she would hit the trail. It couldn’t be far. She grabbed her travel herb pouch and clutched the safe-travel herbs. Closing her eyes she sought out for direction. A faint tugging pulled at her, a line weaving through the forest.
Brina dodged through the trees, avoiding hanging tree branches and gnarled roots sticking out of the ground, following the source of the tug. Relief flooded her when her feet struck the trail. The trail wound through the forest for hours, it seemed. In the distance she heard the morning crowing of the cock and smiled. Shylah’s chickens were up. The sun was burning the lingering remains of the fog off when Brina finally entered the clearing. A small hut stood against the forest at the far edge of the clearing. Near the dwelling carefully placed rocks surrounded and protected a bubbling spring, the holy well. A massive oak tree, a cloutie tree, towered near the well. Prayer rags were tied to many branches. Here pilgrims drank the holy water for healing, made a prayer and tied a prayer rag on the tree. As long as the rags remained on the tree, the prayers continued to rise to the Upper Realm. Shylah said the new druid Colum Cille had drunk from the well, touching the water, and that now the water had healing powers.
As Brina crossed the clearing, the hut door opened and Shylah stepped out. The older woman, stood, her arms crossed over her chest, watching Brina approach. As Brina drew near, she could see the frown on Shylah’s face. “Trouble follows at your back,” the herb woman stated.
“Oh!” Brina stopped. “I don’t want to bring you trouble, but, Shylah, I had to get away. The high druid was insisting I become his bride.” She wondered where she could go, if Shylah turned her away. Silently she held out her the gift of bread and cheese.
“He is filled with the darkness of the evil one. You must never become his bride. Then he would have power over you as your husband. He would suck out your budding power and take it as his own.” Shylah closed her eyes briefly. Brina could feel her thoughts, but she could not read them. “Come,” said Shylah. She took the food, turned abruptly, and re-entered the dwelling, leaving the door standing open. She walked to a small table and laid the bread and cheese on it, then she moved further into the room, to the other side.
Brina followed, trailing her hand along Conall’s back as he trotted along side of her. Her eyes strained to see in the dim light. Gradually the room came into focus. Shylah was kneeling beside a large, crudely made chest, reaching into it. Brina walked closer.
Out of the large chest, Shylah lifted up a small box, intricately carved of wood. She hesitated with the box in her hands and looked up at Brina. The girl was strong enough and she had a good heart and she was also the only one possible left to pass the precious heritage on. Shylah had to take the chance. She stood, turned, and extended the box to Brina. “This is for you.”
Brina reached out to take the box. It felt warm between her fingers. She whispered, “What is it?” She felt no sense of foulness as she did when the High Druid did his magic, but the box felt like it was bursting with power. It also gave off a sense of welcome. She cradled it to her and touched the carvings, rubbing one finger around a three-part connected spiral, looping around and back again. Conall raised his massive head and sniffed at the box, licking her fingers against the wood. Reluctantly she handed the wooden box back to Shylah.
Shylah had watched her soberly, seeming to check her reaction. When Brina pushed the box at her, she stepped back and shook her head. “No. It has accepted you. It belongs to you now and it can have only one owner at a time. Before its owner dies, it must be passed on to the next caretaker. You also need this.” Shylah reached up to her neck and took off a silver chain with a strange silver metal object dangling from the end of it.
Curious, Brina touched the small object. “What is this?”
“It’s called a key. It fits into the box, like this, to open it.” Shylah demonstrated as she spoke. “Here, you put the chain on, and never take it off. It’s yours now.”
A heavy dread filled Brina at her words and she shuddered as a premonition flashed before her of Shylah’s limp body lying at her feet. “But, Shylah, you’re not old enough to die.” Brina cried out in alarm.
Shylah’s blank face showed no emotion. “What will be, will be and I see you will be the next herb lady of the holy well.”
Unaccustomed tears sprang into Brina’s eyes and she quickly brushed them away. “No, I need you to teach me, and…” Her voice faltered. “… I need you.”
Shylah’s face softened. “Child, you will soon need no teacher. And you will have another come to take my place in your heart.” Then her face hardened. “Your village high druid senses your power and wants to use it himself. Whatever you do, you must not put yourself under his power or give him this box. The box holds great power, but it can only be used by you, now, until you willingly pass it on to another.”
Brina threw her arms around Shylah, still holding onto the box. This woman was closer than her own mother, who had no time for her, preferring her older daughter.
The older woman hugged the girl, who was more than a daughter to her, then she drew back. What she saw ahead for herself was a short, difficult road. Would she be able to follow it? She had too, for the sake of the girl.
“Whatever happens, Brina, you must be brave and stay strong.”
“I’ll try, Herb Mother.”
The rest of the morning was spent with the two women huddled together at the small table, Shylah talking rapidly, showing Brina the sparse contents of the box, explaining their uses. “You may add to the box as you see fit after you learn more about your powers.”
Shylah pulled out a book from the box and said, “This is why I taught you to read Latin. This book reads in Latin, for now. As more village lords turn to the new religion and their druids become priests, Latin is the written language all will use. All you will need to learn is in here.”
Brina’s head swarmed like buzzing insects at all the power flowing from the box and its artifacts. “Let’s try this.” Shylah placed the heavy, intricate bracelet on Brina’s arm and drew her to the wall of her hut. “Lean against the wall and think about the air and sunshine outside, the grass and trees.”
So Brina did and was shocked to find herself outside the wall next to the hut. She heard Conall whining inside the building. She pressed against the wall again and returned to find Shylah smiling at her. Conall licked her fingers.
“Very good,” Shylah said. Then she held out the ring. “Take off the bracelet and try this.”
After Brina placed the ring on her finger, she no longer could see her hand that the ring was on, nor any of the rest of herself. She was invisible. She gasped, “I am gone!”
Shylah chuckled. “You have much power within you. Your village druid has sensed your power for weeks, even with my covering spell over you.” Then a darkness crept over her face. “Come. We must hurry. The time runs fast.”
Brina placed the bracelet and ring back into the carved box. Shylah placed her hands on Brina’s shoulders. “Promise me that you will study the book often and learn fast. Only after you master your power will you be free from your druid’s control. You will be safe in this dwelling for a time, but the food I have here won’t last you more than a moon cycle.”
A dreadful premonition crawled through Brina. “What about you? You will need food, too?”
“I won’t need food where I’m going. I have Seen.”
“Shylah, Herb Mother, what have you Seen?”
“I will not tell you. You will know when it comes.”
Brina threw herself at Shylah and embraced the older woman. “What will I do without you?”
“You must gain much knowledge within the moon cycle, enough knowledge to stand against your druid. My protection won’t last beyond that.”
Then Conall growled. They turned to look at the dog and saw the hair on his back bristling. He gazed past the women through the open door with his ears alert. “What is it, Conall?” asked Brina. Shylah closed her eyes briefly and breathed a small prayer for strength.
Now they could both hear the sounds as they came closer, the tramping of many feet. “Hush, Conall, it’s just a group of pilgrims.”
“No, child,” said Shylah. “It is not pilgrims.” She moved toward the door. Brina moved right behind her, but Shylah held her hand to push her back. “Go over there and whatever happens, don’t come out that door. You won’t be protected if you come out of this dwelling.”
“But, Shylah.” A cold dread was rising in Brina. What was going to happen that Shylah was so afraid for her?
“Pledge it to me!” Shylah demanded as she looked into Brina’s eyes.
Brina drew a deep, shuttering breath, then answered. “Yes, I do so pledge it.”
Shylah walked across the room, stepped out the open doorway and stood on her doorstep. Brina was left waiting in the far side of the dwelling, lighted mostly by the open doorway. She leaned her back against the wall, peering across the room and out the open door, trying to see past Shylah. Fear chased around and around in her mind. What was Shylah protecting her from?
To read the beginning to this story go to last weeks post. To read the next episode, please come back next week.
I‘d like to share with you a fantasy short story, a prequel to my Singular series. I’m breaking the story up into four installments to be posted on Mondays of each week until the story is finished. I do hope you enjoy it and I welcome comments.
The Singular Inheritance / The Beginnings
by Sue Santore
Thick fog wrapped around Brina like a damp blanket. Wispy fingers rose from the lake before floating upward to join their brethren in coating the night. Under the log walkway water softly lapped against the massive tree trunks sunk deeply into the water to support the village on the wooden log platforms which spread out over the water in all directions. Brina shivered even under her thick cloak, but she slowed down her feet anyway and flattened her body against the wooden posts which made up one crannog wall. Their village was build entirely over the water with strong trees trunks, over which their high druid had said many prayers. She shivered as she thought of him.
That same high druid wanted her to become his bride. She shuddered. The high druid gave her chills when he passed by her. His power rolled off him in foul waves. When he looked at her, it was as if something else was looking through his eyes. If his fingers accidentally touched hers when he guested at their table, she felt besmirched. Her stomach churned whenever he was near. To be his bride would mean to be in his constant company, to summit to him touching her as a man does a woman. She couldn’t bear that, and Father was close to insisting she accept the offer. If only her brother, Gavin, was here. Father might listen to him.
Brina came to herself with a startled jerk. She had to make this escape work. Since she had put sleeping herbs into the dogs’ evening food, they should be all asleep. She only needed to pass the guards without being caught. A muttering of voices reached her from around the corner and she reached down to her hanging pocket and touched the pouch which contained her safe-travel herbs: comfrey, mugwort and wormwood, with a few willow leaves tucked in for good measure. The packet of bread and cheese she carried clutched against her was a gift for Shylah, the Herb Woman.
The last time Brina had visited Shylah, she had come back to the village, retelling the herb woman’s stories of the new type of druid, a man who said he had power from the One God. Their village druid had been furious and had forbidden her to mention the man again or to visit Shylah. At least the high druid did not know that Shylah had also been secretly teaching Brina the ways of the ley lines and how to gather their power. Her father, Lord Kemble, followed the old ways in his village. She had never been inside the high druid’s home, but it was rumored that he decorated the inside of his home with the heads of their enemies, like the heathens of old. Since the soul rested in the head, then he controlled their souls. She shivered at the thought of souls in the hands of the high druid forever. Never would they see The Upper Realms.
Even so, the word of their high druid was as important as Lord Kemble’s and his word was to be followed, so the high druid commands had to be followed. Not only was she not allowed to leave their village, but he watched her all day long, his wise eyes knowing as she chafed under his seeing. When he was busy, his vates watched her for him, even as her father pressed her to become his bride. Much honor rested with the household who had a daughter bride of their high druid.
Even rolled into her sleeping mat, Brina felt them spying on her. Shylah. She would run away and take refuge with Shylah. Her power didn’t make Brina feel sick in her stomach area, and she knew so much more that Brina needed to learn, had to learn. Weeks of spying by the druids did not turn her docile, as the high druid had expected. Instead, Brina planned her escape carefully.
Days ago, the vates, the druid diviners, had predicted thick fog for tonight. It was this type of night that the cattle stealers would be out, but all of Lord Kemble’s cattle were safely in the adjoining stockades over the water. It was a sign of the Clan’s wealth that they could build crannogs for their cattle as well as their people. The cattle were driven out across a log ramp during the day to forage for food, herded by the slaves assigned to that duty, then brought back to the lake stockade at night. Guards were always on duty at night on the ramps, but rarely did the other clans bother their village. They were well protected in the middle of the lake. They always had plenty of food, and most of their boys grew up to become men. Their clan was large enough to defend itself against the smaller clans, since they could not sneak in a surprise attack. Crannogs were hard to build, but easy to defend.
The fog tonight was thick enough to cover her movements. If only she could sneak past the guards, she was sure she could hide in the trees until it was light enough to travel. The other guarded walkway led to their fields and farms. This walkway led to the main road and the forest beyond.
Edging slowly around the corner to the causeway, Brina breathed so softly that even she couldn’t hear her own sound. Her padded leather walking boots made not a whisper. As she moved closer to the guard post, she thought hard at the guards. “Eyes do not see me. Ears do not hear me. I am not here.” As she clutched her pouch with the safe-travel herbs in one hand, the other hand trailed along the sturdy wall. In a few feet the wall would end and the causeway would broaden. Invaders could easily be pushed off into the water with staves and spears, should they dare to strike into the heart of the Clan.
The guard change approached. Passwords spoken. Now was the time. While they were exchanging friendly insults on their manhood, Brina passed them by, a silent waif in the moist fog, just another ghost of the night. Just as she was sure she was safe, she felt a hard nudge against her leg and a cold moistness against her hand. A cry rose into Brina’s throat and she forced it back. Her hand moved over the furred back to the leather collared neck with metal spikes. It was Conall, her father’s favorite dog. Her favorite, too. He must have been with her father when she slipped the herbs into the dogs’ food.
Now what? He was trained to keep intruders out, but maybe he would not understand to keep her in. She knelt down and hugged the massive wolfhound, making the sign against his mouth for quiet. Conall licked her face, leaning against her legs, but made no sound, not a bark or a growl, not even a whimper.
There was no help for it. She would have to take him with her.
With the dog padding silently beside her, Brina drifted across the causeway, like part of the thick fog, passing by the guards without detection. When her feet touched the ground at the end of the log walk, she let out a deep breath and stopped to get her bearings. Since she could not see, she closed her eyes and tipped her chin into the air. In that still moment, she heard the wet fog dripping slowly from the leaves of the nearby trees. Moving slowly, she turned toward the East.
Shylah lived alone in a woods clearing near a holy well. She was a member of no tribe, but no one bothered her. Her clearing was a sacred place of sanctuary. Her small part of the forest was left strictly alone by all tribes, no raiding there. If Brina could get to Shylah undetected, she would be safe.
Carefully, she moved onto the hard dirt of the East Road. Her ears strained for any sounds of discovery from the village as she progressed farther along the road. Her hand rested on the dog’s neck, just before his spiked collar. Conall’s broad shoulders reached nearly to her waist. She slid her hand up to his ears for a quick caress, only to find the still silent animal on alert, his ears standing up, his head testing the air, like he heard something. The thought ran through her mind that maybe she should get off the road. Right about here was an animal trail, if she remembered right.
As her hands searched the bushes along the roadway for the small opening, a whisper of sound in the road ahead of her had her frantically probing for the animal trail. She had to get off the road, now! Finally, she found the small opening and wiggled through the brush, Conall following. His hair bristled all along his back, but the silent sign still held him. Brina huddled in a ball beneath the concealing underbrush, the dog standing guard in front of her. Brina could now hear the soft tramp of many feet. Raiders! Surely they would not go to her village. There was no chance of them getting across to their cattle.
She would have to hide until they went by. Likely they were raiding the next village, which was not built as a crannog. Even though they were after cattle, they wouldn’t hesitate to capture her as a slave. She had no illusions about what kind of life that would be. Although Conall would tear the throat out of the first man who touched her, there were too many for him to slay all of them. He would be killed and she captured if they heard the slightest noise from her. Closing her eyes, she touched her safe-travel herb pouch and silently repeated her manta that had worked against the guards. “Eyes do not see me. Ears do not hear me. I am not here.”
Come back next week to continue Brina’s story.
If you ever come to Germany, try to do it while the Leipzig Book Fair is on and visit it. It always runs from a Thursday to a Sunday in March. I went a few years back and again this year. Either time, it was a whirl of impressions, people, and facts. I’ve never seen that many people in one place.
Leipzig Book Fair is the second big book fair in Germany, the biggest is in Frankfurt in autumn. This year 251,000 people visited the grounds, more than ever before. In contrast to Frankfurt which is mostly a fair for publishing insiders (authors, publishing houses, journalists, etc), Leipzig book fair is a place to meet readers (many of those book bloggers). My head is still swirling with faces and names.
The fair’s ground in Leipzig is quite interesting. The main hall looks like a giant greenhouse. It always houses the main bookshop, several catering services, and the entrances. With glass tunnels, it connects with 5 halls; Halls one, three, and five on the right hand side and halls two and four on the left. There’s also the congress center which can be reached through hall two. Also, the halls on either side are connected too. Naturally, the tunnels and connecting corridors are chokepoints when so many people try to walk from one hall to the next.
What I found most interesting was the sheer number of Cosplayers. Hall two, dedicated to comics, graphic novels, and merchandising, sees an ever growing influx of them every year. A lot of the really cool costumes are self made, and every year the best costume gets a price. It’s an amazing sight to see people of all ages (although mostly younger ones) walking or sitting around, posing to every camera in sight. I loved some of the costumes.
Walking through the halls to take in everything was possible on Thursday and Friday, although Friday was already fuller than the day before. On Saturday, the halls and corridors were so packed, everyone moved at a snails pace. Sunday was slightly better. When I returned home on Sunday evening, I was bone tired. My feet hurt from walking and standing, my throat was sore from talking so much, and I felt parched despite drinking a lot of water. But as I soon found out, it had been worth it. My sales increased almost immediately. I am already thinking about going again next year. Maybe I’ll see you there. ;-)
It seems like we lost at least one of our members to NaNoWriMo or some other disease like that. Thus, I’m jumping in — oh no, it’s my turn after all. Since I’m doing NaNo myself, I’m not entirely sure what to talk about. It seems most of the words I’m familiar with have drained into my current writing project. Writing 50,000 words in one moth is tedious if they have to make sense at the end. I’m sure many a secretary will be able to write much more than that, but keep in mind that most participants have a full time job on top of this.
So why then do we participate in this craziness? Why do some of us get so absorbed that they forget to feed their kids or shovel the dirt out of the house? It is because (pick your answer) we’re crazy, the community is incredibly supportive, we need to finish the current project and were missing the drive, everyone does it, it’s fun, of any other reason we can come up with to avoid laundry, cooking, cleaning and a 9-5 job. We also might be doing it for no apparent reason at all.
So, if this blog is a little bumpy during Novembers, you’ll know that at least some of us gave in to our yearly dose of craziness. Be gentle with us. After all, we’ll reward you with more releases as soon as the mess we made during NaNo is cleaned u.. I mean revised. Thanks for understanding.
Posted in about writing