She’s Here to Stay, an early poem of Kay Timan

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Excerpt from the Journals of Captain Kay Timan, Vol. II, from the years before his Captaincy. At the time he served as a deckhand aboard the cargo ship Bluewood. It is unknown if this was intended as a poem or a song.

5th of Twonombra, 2055AP

Into dock we make our land,
Throw the anchors in the sand.
Birds of night make way for day
All will shout “she’s here to stay!”

Maradane upon the hill,
Sails are tied and wind is still.
Sol’Enase overhead,
Wake the souls still in their bed.

Up she comes, out of the hull,
Assailed by the sound of gulls.
Could Illoman, land so green,
Create beauty so unseen?

Her hair as bright as a fire,
A smile sailors can admire.
Her eyes light up at the sight.
A city to her delight!

A 3-day trip from her home,
Gave her blankets of my own.
Not once did I see her sway,
‘Cause o Saivé’s here to stay!

Maradane you treat her right,
Watch over her in her plight,
To become Akar. Oh why,
Did Saivé not say goodbye?

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Map of Atelinor

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This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but haven’t had the will or time until recently. Well, okay. Today. I spent all day on my iPad conjuring this first draft of my map to Atelinor. And I’m damn pleased with it. This is how my world makes sense geographically to me. I hope you enjoy it. I’ll be sure to update it as soon as I can muster.

The big push to make this map was to help me keep track of things moving forward. These are the only locations I know of, or have written, or planned to write about, as of yet. But you can naturally assume the population of Atelinor is diverse, large, and spread out. There are indeed other continents on Atelinor, but as for now, this is all I and you need care about.

I realized recently that I had a novel roughly mapped out, revolving around my character Saivé, and I think I ought to try and write it. Stay tuned!

Currency for a New Age

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2nd of Quinbra, 1AE

Rain fell steadily onto the roof of the building well into the night, the thick thatching waterproofing the occupants within. Pools of water muddied the roads around it. No stables in sight, the horses huddled near the wall, manes flattened and stuck soaked to their necks, attempting some semblance of cover. Inside the inn, at the crossroads of Hereldon and Gara, the topic of conversation was the same as just about anywhere else in the newly instituted Empire: change.

“What’cha mean they changed the whole calendar?” The barmaid had stopped cleaning the mug in her hand, her fist and rag still buried deep within. What the man had just said seemed preposterous.

The man sitting on a stool opposite her gave a weary nod of his head. This wasn’t the first time he’d recited the tale. He took a swig of the frothy draught, and set it back down at the bar. “After the Fall of Velundane it was decided that since the would-be-Emperor, King Fajhi Ramis, died during the Chaos of Blackstar, his son Prince Karjhi would inherit the throne. Or so they say it was decided. There were whispers of a coup…” The woman behind the bar nodded impatiently for him to continue, her blonde hair bouncing in a ponytail. “Well, turns out our new Emperor is more than a little ambitious. In the months that followed he’s all but disbanded the Akarian Scholaria, he’s set up a new currency, and just this past week introduced the new calendar era.” The barmaid didn’t seem to grasp the concept. “Meaning, it’s no longer the year 2583AP. We’re to start counting up again from year 1.”

She removed her fist from the mug she had been cleaning, smacking it onto the polished wooden surface of the bar. “Benno, ye hear that? We got a new calendar too!” Her words were clotted in a thick layer of sarcastic disdain. That and a mighty accent.

“You have got to be kiddin’ me,” yelled a gruff man from inside the kitchen. He rushed out wiping wet hands dry on his oft-stained apron. He appeared ready to knock the crown right off the Emperor himself. He might have, were he present. “Every other day since the war’s ended it seems one of you travelers from who knows where delivers tidings and happenings of nonsense to my inn, and I’ve had it up to here!” The portly man raised and plateau’d his fingers as if comparing his tolerance level to some imagined object’s height.

“I’m-I’m sorry, I should have realized it wasn’t my place to spread news that hasn’t yet reached these parts by imperial crier.” The man lowered his head to the mug on the bar, eyes shadowed by his hood.

“No, lad.” The man in the apron softened. “I shouldn’t be yelling at my customers. I’m sorry. The name’s Benno. Benno Karlile. Welcome to Candlecant.” Benno shook the man in the hood’s hand.

“My name is Tom,” Leorn said, removing the hood from his head with a smile.

“Pleasure to meet you Tom. I see you’ve already met my daughter, Lucy.”

She shot a devilish grin at Tom, followed by a half-hearted curtsy. “Tom says it’s year 1 again, Benno!”

“Well…” Leorn said, still adjusting to the name he’d just fabricated. “Not quite. It’s not 1AP again. The Emperor’s decided that after 2583 years, 4 years of Paradox Warfare, and the sudden start of the first true Atelinorian Empire, it’s high time we begin a new age.” Tom took another swig of his draught. “We’re to deem this 1AE.”

“Well if that isn’t the damnedest thing. First they change my currency, and now I find myself in an entirely new age. I’m too old for change.” Benno shook his head and leaned back onto a stool behind the bar, clearly defeated. “What next,” he asked no one in particular.

“Wait jus’ one momen’,” Lucy said, her clipped speech and attitude demanding everyone’s full attention. “How can it be a new year? It’s the fiendin’ 2nd of Quinbra!”

Benno looked from the barmaid to Leorn in confusion.

Leorn began to shrug his cloak off, its tanned leather protecting him from much of the damp. “Yeah, that’s where it’s a little odd. Officially, the new year began yesterday, on the first.” Getting off his stool, he placed the heavy cloak on the coat rack by the bar.

Benno looked no less confused. “But Tom…” He wiped his dry hands on his apron once more, searching for words. “Quinbra’s the fifth month of the year. How in hyll does that make any sense? The new year always begins on Prime Zenith.”

“I expect it will make even less sense to those farther in the east, and in the Bend, as news appears to be traveling very slow. It could be months before they learn of all the Empire’s changes.” He pushed the mug over to Lucy. “Another, please.”

She smiled a toothy grin, which was not entirely pleasant to behold, but she poured the cup without complaint. Benno seemed in his own world for several moments, often opening his mouth to speak, or turning towards Tom with a finger raised in query, but he fell silent every time. He clearly had questions, many questions, but by the time he went to ask them another three would took their place.

The long ride from Etrikaf in the rain had exhausted Leorn, and he was starving. He looked up at Benno, expectant. When nothing was forthcoming from the man, he cleared his throat. “Is my meal almost ready?”

Benno jumped back to attention, his hands wiping themselves habitually on the dirty apron. “Comin’ right up!” He shuffled back into the kitchen, the lifting of pots and shifting of plates letting everyone in the vicinity know he’d gotten right back to work.

The inn was fairly empty at this hour. There was on older man by the fire smoking a pipe and reading a small book, but he seemed either too distracted from or too disinterested in their conversation. Another fellow was asleep on one of the tables behind him. Lucy was making small effort to seem disinterested in the man she knew as Tom, cleaning the very same mug as she had only minutes earlier. She glanced up at him occasionally, batting a lash, feigning disinterest once more, and so on. She left the main room, just as Benno shuffled in with his food. Rabbit stew and mashed peas. Leorn ate as though it were his first meal in days.

When Lucy returned, it was clear she had pulled her dress down a few notches, and tightened her corset. What little skin she had was now pinched and exposed into serviceable cleavage. Leorn truly didn’t notice, his food and drink consuming all of his focus. Eventually the mashed peas were but a dark green smudge on the plate, and he tilted the remaining stew into his mouth. He probably could have eaten more, had he been served a second helping, but he contented himself. He heaved a heavy sigh as drowsiness took him, and only then noticed Lucy’s presence opposite him.

“That was delicious. Be sure to tell your father I said so. I think I’ll take a room if you have one available.”

“Of course we do, Tom. Will you be payin’ up front or in the morn?” She leaned forward onto the counter.

Leorn got up to retrieve his cloak. “Now works fine.” He extracted the coin purse from its folds, the metals pleasantly scraping and clinking against one another. “What does my bill come out to?”

“Well, you had the two mugs…” She straightened, doing the math in her head. “Plus the meal and the room for the night.” She glanced appraisingly at the coin purse. “2 bars an’ a tenth.”

Leorn stared at her blankly for a moment, then asked softly, “Oh. Uhh..” He stood there awkwardly for a time more, unsure of himself. “I’m sorry- Benno has yet to change over his Hereldon currency to the Etrikafid?” His features were turning blanched.

Noticing this, Lucy sighed out, saying “oh, don’ you worry, Tom. Your fancy new coin is more than welcome here.” She turned about and yelled “Benno!” At the confused look on his face, she continued “I don’ understand the conversion, see.”

Benno had been busying himself with something upstairs. When he descended he carried a small metallic object with him, hefting it carefully in both of his palms. He placed it on an empty table nearest the stairs and shuffled forward once more, habitually wiping his hands on his apron. Leorn was now convinced this habit must keep his hands more dirty than clean. “Stop yellin’, girl. It’s near middlenight.” He pointed at the man asleep on the table. “You’ll wake our patrons.”

“The ol’ gaf is deaf as a dullrung!” She gave the last word a sarcastic flair, and put her palms to her hips.

“Oh hush.” Benno wasn’t a man to tolerate an argument, no less one from his daughter. He went behind the bar counter and asked what was the matter.

Lucy pointed at the coin purse on the bar top. “Tom says he wan’s ta pay with the Emperor’s coin.”

Benno looked taken aback, momentarily, and then considered the statement. “Well…” He seemed unsure of his next words. “The thing is. Well, we haven’t actually seen the coins pass through the Candlecant yet. I personally don’t know what they even look like, let alone what their worth is in comparison to Hereldon mint.”

“I see. Well, I’m more than willing to pay a bit extra if you’re worried I’ll be ripping you off.” Leorn knew how nonsensical the notion was, if what Benno had said was true and he truly knew nothing about the coinage. He could have made off like a bandit were he a less than honorable person. Alas, he wasn’t. He didn’t mind keeping his true name from the man, but that was a simple protection for both himself and the people he interacted with. To deprive the man of his livelihood was another matter entirely.

“No!” He said enthusiastically. “I won’t overcharge you. I trust you, Tom. I do. You seem a good man, and I’ll take your word for it. So long as you teach Lucy and I how the coins stack, I’ll be sure to charge you properly.”

“Alright then!” Leorn dug into his pouch, retrieved five of the new coins, and lay them out on the countertop. He spread them out in a line, from largest to smallest. “This is the Etrikafid Empire currency. The smallest coin, here,” he pointed at the coin to their left, “is the golden bite. It’s also the smallest denomination. It’s roughly worth a twentieth of one of your bars.” Lucy leaned forward plucking the coin up. It was square, thin, and had a small circle in its center.

“The next is the branch,” he said pointing towards the second coin. “It’s also made from gold. It features the tree sigil of House Ramis stamped on the front, and it’s date of minting on the back.” It was also square in shape, but without a hole in the center. “This is worth 10 bites and is the equivalent to your halfbar.”

“The coin in the middle is the golden twinbranch. It’s a bit larger, with two overlapping branches.” The stamped image was slightly more defined than the last, and the coin was circular instead of square. “A twinbranch is worth two branches, and has the same value as one of your Hereldon bars.”

“How can that be worth a whole bar? It’s made of gold!” Lucy grabbed the coin up and ran her nail along the ridged edge.

“The value is what the Empire makes it. Gold may not be worth as much as silver or adaktium, or even your Hereldon linkton, but it’s worth will increase the more it’s mined for the use of coins. It’s very common, yes, but that makes it easier to produce enough so that all 12 Kingdoms may join in on the new economy with a relatively equal share.”

Lucy and Benno looked at each other in confusion. Likely they didn’t much understand Leorn’s reasoning. “If there’s sense in a thing, best not question it,” Benno said while shrugging and scratching his head.

Leorn pushed on. “This fourth coin, the pansteíma, is still gold on the inside. It’s plated with silver though. Not a terribly smart idea in my opinion. With time I’m sure they’ll lose their plating and revert to gold. But you’ll notice it’s a bit larger than the last. The twelve crowns represent all 12 Imperial Kingdoms.” Pushing it towards Benno, he pointed out the 12 crowns more closely. “This is worth 5 twinbranches.”

Lastly, he pointed towards the black coin, which stood out amongst the rest. It shone as well as the gold and the silver, which seemed at odds with its deep black swirling texture. “This is a blackstar.”

“I don’t ‘spect we’ll see many of these floatin’ through here…” Benno said in wonder. He picked it up and cupped it with both hands. Both he and Lucy were transfixed with its dark beauty. They brought it closer to the light of a candle and it shimmered aggressively. In the center was stamped a large and writhing circle. Black rays shot out in all directions in the images background, giving it more life. It was an impressive representation of the now-fallen Blackstar, Atelinor’s most iconic paradox, a Mæleer. To see it on a coin was stunning.

“Probably not. The circulation is extremely limited, based mostly on demand. It’s worth about 5 pansteímas.” Their eyes went wide at the mention of its worth. Their Hereldon currency had no higher denomination than a doublebar, but that went out of circulation ages ago, and even still was worth little next to the blackstar they now held. At Leorn’s outstretched hand, they relinquished it. “The black metal, as you’ve probably guessed, is adaktium. It’s very strong, but not so weighty as gold.” Leorn dropped it into his coin purse.

After a stunned silence from the two, Lucy spoke. “Well, mighty doxin’ hyll!”

“Watch your tongue, girl,” Benno responded to her. Turning back to Leorn he said, “Thank you, Tom.”

“Of course.”

“If I kept track of everythin’ you said correctly, I believe you owe me…” he looked at the four remaining coins. “Two twinbranches and two bites?”

Leorn thought for a moment. “Uhh… Yes. I only have one twinbranch on me, though,” he said, pushing the coin forward. Pulling out another few coins from his purse’s depth, he said, “so I’ll give you two branches and the bites.”

Looking pleased with his takings, Benno scooped the coins into a drawer, and grabbed the man’s wrist. The men shook arms. “Oh! You wouldn’t happen know how to fix a timeclicker would ye?” He walked around the bar, scooped the device up from the table near the stairs, and brought it to him. “For whatever reason, Tom, the past two days it’s been acting erratically, slowing down gradually. And now it’s not moving at all. It’s a new model too, which is strange.”

“Huh. I haven’t heard of a timeclicker ever going bad.” The device was rectangular in shape, with a glass tube that ran it’s length. A stone ball lay motionless in one of the indents indicating hours. When laid flat it harnessed the pull of a Coroleer which spun the stone into it’s different indents. This ball lay just past noon, and was not spinning at all. Leorn’s brows furrowed. He shook the contraption. The ball rocked around and landed in another indent within the glass tube, but there was still no pull from the Coroleer.

Can it be, he asked himself. Surely the Coroleer paradoxes aren’t dying too? He was afraid of the answer he might find, but he needed to know. The Mæleer’s had disappeared during that last fateful moment of the war. What of the other paradoxes?

“I’m sorry, I don’t know how to fix it.” Standing up he asked for his room.

Lucy took him up the stairs to it. After she unlocked the room she turned to him with a sly grin. “Fer some more o’ those fancy Etrikafids I could probly make your stay a bit more… pleasant.” She raised her eyebrow in query.

“No thank you,” Leorn said, not unpleasantly, and he closed the door to his room behind him.


This is primarily an exercise in worldbuilding. What happens after instituting an Empire? what changes can be expected. Why are the paradoxes dying?

Widows Speak at the Gates of Mourning

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14th of Octobra, 750AP

“Your home is… immense.” Lyla struggled to find the right word. But ‘immense’ wasn’t it. Baleria, sitting opposite her, simply nodded, and Lyla closed the blinds. The carriage continued its slow stroll, bouncing up and down the cobbled alleys.

Henrit leaned over Lyla to get a better look at Baleria’s home, pulling the blinds back once more. It was a bright, blue day, with gulls squawking and children playing – a sign that Sol’Enasé shone even on those bleakest of occasions. Through the brilliance, two towers hugged and held Baleria’s impressive manor in place. Atop each tower, a pyre blazed hot, something Lyla had never witnessed prior from her visits to the manor. Perhaps it was lit in respect to the fallen. The house sat against the sheer cliff, actually built into the earth; like much of Eastings, but more pronounced in its elegance. Brite Aqueduct soared just 40 meters to its left, using the flow of River Atlúm to bring water into Velundane. This hadn’t stopped the late Lord Brite from diverting a section of the river to fall over the face of his home – a magnificent waterfall contained within the grooves of the cleverly worked stone, splitting in half just above the entrance, running into a small, decorative moat. It might have been considered gaudy if it weren’t so extravagantly beautiful. Instead, it only appeared magical.

Henrit said nothing, but sat back in his seat. The carriage hit a bump in the road, and the three rocked with the motion of it. Henrit hadn’t uttered a word since his father was assassinated before his eyes the previous day. He barely registered emotion. He hadn’t cried. He hadn’t even slept. And now he sat there, a boy not yet ten borndays, blankly staring at the empty seat in front of him. Every now and again he would take a quick glance at the Rowalli woman, Baleria.

Considering the circumstances, Baleria held herself well, no doubt a residual of the many years she’d spent training to keep calm under any condition. She had spent the night at Lyla’s house after being ushered into it following the assassination of their husbands. The guards were quick enough to keep them from harm, but far too late to do anything about the massive arrows embedded in Jary and Ashayr, who had died shortly after. Some 15 guards had been stationed around the perimeter of the Miggon home just in case the murderers returned. Lyla knew they wouldn’t.

It was strange being sequestered inside her own home. The experience had been almost dreamlike. She remembered how, just an hour beforehand, she sat in the same chair by the door, watching her husband robe himself in the ceremonial brown with blue fringes. “Showing the people of Velundane that every life is worth as much as the next, that it doesn’t pay to fear those who attempt us harm – that’s a duty I can’t shy away from,” he had told her, just before exiting the house. She agreed, and with a kiss she told him “you’re my favorite.” It was the last thing she said to him, a shared joke between them going back as long as their relationship had. After losing her husband in front of hundreds, and being shut away in the very same room, in the same house…

Lyla shook herself from thinking further on it. The carriage pulled up the gravel drive. Rich people always have gravel driveways. With a tug on the reins, the horses snorted and slowed to a stop.

The driver, an elderly man with thick spectacles, opened the door to the carriage on Henrit’s side. The three filed out accordingly. It wasn’t a particularly windy day, but the spray of the waterfall being split in two just above the portal to Brite Manor misted over them after a strong gust kicked the particles about. It was only a light spritz, and it felt oddly nice. It was a warm day and yesterday’s snow had nearly all melted. It seemed it would be a forgiving winter for the people of Velundane. But to Lyla, and Henrit, and Baleria, no winter will ever seem so harsh as this again. No snow will ever fall and not remind them of their losses.

The door of the great manor swung open, and a procession of servants and staff shuffled out forming two lines. They stretched themselves out across the sides of the bridge, all the way up to the threshold, and bowed deeply. Eyes closed, faces wet, hair undone in some cases; this was a somber occasion.

Stone-faced Baleria, who’s veneer had yet to crack beyond a few stray tears, stopped in her tracks. She looked at the welcoming procession with dead, unreadable, yet beautiful blue eyes, and as one of the men moved forward to greet them, she pushed past him in haste.

“My lady, we are so grieved for your…” The man was balding, fat, and held his cap under his hands. Baleria didn’t give him a chance to finish before she reached the doorframe. She turned briefly, tears clouding her eyes, her lips plump and pouting, and then ran up the staircase. The man finished his sentence staring at the ground at his feet, fumbling with his hat, eyes newly awash with tears. “…loss.”

The carriage driver seemed at a loss for what to do. He had halfway climbed up back to his perch, but stopped to see the commotion at the entrance. In truth, everyone was unsure of what steps to take next. The servants either gawked at the woman climbing the stairs in fitful sobs, or wept openly in each other’s arms or on their knees. Henrit was still in a state of unperplexed shock. Lyla took him by the hand and walked forward, into Brite Manor.

Many hours passed. Much tea was had. Lyla heard the muffled sounds of Baleria’s wailing from the room upstairs. For all the girl’s bottled emotions, it was bound to pop eventually. And like sparkling wine, her sobs bubbled forth even stronger than Lyla’s had. Baleria had made arrangements for Lyla, Henrit, and herself to be escorted to her manor earlier that morning. Lyla had only agreed because there was sense in finding the safest lodging they could get, despite having not wanted to. Henrit wandered the halls in silence, occasionally looking out the windows to the guards strategically stationed.

Lyla tried her best not to wallow in the loss of her husband, but it seemed the only thing she was capable of doing. What would she do with the business? Her husband had headed a bimonthly periodical, a position handed down by his father before him. She knew little about journalism. Would she sell it? Would she have to work? What was to become of her home. Her son? What will I do without my Jary?

In the distance, a slow rumbling noise could be heard and Lyla craned her ears to listen. The rumbling eventually grew louder, more distinct. Hoofbeats. Many hoofbeats, headed this way. Getting up to look out the window that her son had been staring out of, she saw a cavalcade of riders, many dressed in fine leathers and silks. The horses were stout animals, fierce and magestic.

“Make way for the Prince!” The man at the front of the procession blew his horn and yelled again. “Make way for the Prince!”

Through the window, Lyla saw the Prince astride a gorgeous white mare; tall, well-fed, and certainly galant. The Prince himself was a good looking young man, perhaps not yet in his middle years. Trimmed dark hair. He wore a mix of plate and blue cloth. He jumped off his mare with some haste and made for the door. Lyla pulled Henrit into the next room. She had never met the Prince, or anyone from the Royal Family for that matter. And she had not known he was coming. She didn’t even think Baleria knew of his arrival.

She could hear men speaking to each other just outside the door, but she couldn’t make out what was being said. Until someone yelled out in an inflection that could only have come from a man used to getting everything he wanted, saying “I assure you sir, I know. That is why I have come. Do you deny me entrance?”

Silence. And then the door pushed open, a cool draft filling the room. Along with several boots, both leather and plated from the sound of it. The majority of the party stayed outside.

“Your Royal Highness!” a young serving girl said with a squeaky voice. No doubt she was fumbling with cleaning instruments while trying to bow, or something. Lyla couldn’t tell from her vantage point in the next room.

“Where is the Lady of the house? She is here, is she not?” His accent was thick with generations upon generations of wealth.

“Yes ma’Lord – ah.. Highness!” The girl seemed near to wetting herself with fear. “Ms. Baleria is uhh.. is in her room. Mournin’.”

The Prince seemed either to have not noticed or not cared for the girl’s inability to speak correctly. Instead he pressed on. “Please announce my presence to her. Ask her if she will meet me.” The girl skittered up the steps faster than even Baleria had in her haste. “And the wife of the journalist? Is she here also?”

Another man took up the question this time. Perhaps the staff member who let him in through the door. “Yes, yer Highness. Eh, Royal Highness, excuse me.” He cleared his throat. “Yes, Ms. Miggon is ’round here some’ere.”

“Locate her for me as well.”

“There’s no need. I am here.” Lyla entered with her son from the next room. She didn’t know the purpose of the Prince’s visit, but there was no reason to hide she was present. She bowed low. It was then she realized she still wore the same brown and blue cloak from the previous day’s festivities. She hadn’t changed or removed it since.

“My Lady,” the Prince said, his voice dropping from commanding to pitying. Or is it empathy? “You must be,” he paused to rack his brain just a moment. “Lyla. Lyla Miggon.”

Lyla nodded. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, my Prince.”

“No, no. Call me Yantur, please. And no, although it is heartwarming to hear you speak with such stolidity, no visit from myself on such an occasion could possibly be deemed pleasant.”

Taken aback at his forwardness, Lyla was momentarily at a loss for what to say next. “I, I’m sorry, forgive me.”

“No Lyla, forgive me for being so direct. I merely mean to say that I pay your husband the greatest of respects. I am so deeply distressed at the news. When I heard what happened, I ran my horse half to death from Westriff. My father the King sends his regards. As do I.” Prince Yantur dropped to one knee, took her by the hand, and kissed it. “If there is anything that you need, Lady Lyla, consider it done. I was an avid reader of the Velundane Periodical. This is a great loss to the community.”

Lyla was definitely not used to being called ‘Lady’, but since yesterday everything seemed to blur together. This whole experience was surreal. The loneliness. The overwhelming defeat. This house. The Prince! She had nothing to say. Words seemed to get caught in her throat and she choked back a sob, her eyes welling up once more. Thankfully he didn’t require her to answer.

“And what is your name, big man?” Prince Yantur was addressing Henrit.

When nothing was forthcoming from the boy, Lyla opened her mouth to answer for him, but to her surprise the boy gave a weak “Henrit.”

“Ah, what a wonderful name. A proper Royal name too. Do you need anything Henrit?”

Silence.

“Water you say? I could use a cup myself! Waiter!” The servant in the next room who’d been watching the Royal visit intently from the shadows realized the Prince was directing his attention to her, and nearly jumped out of her stupor. “Bring water for my friend Henrit and I. Oh and tell one of your kitchen staff to bring some pitchers outside for the men and the horses. Ice, if you have it.” The portly woman jumped away toward the kitchen.

He got off his knee and stood upright. Just then, Baleria began descending the stairs. She had changed into a revealing white gown, which fluttered over her deep olive skin. It accented her white hair, which she had rolled into a bun. Everyone in the room was transfixed by her. Being Rowalli, this was a given.

Before yesterday, Lyla had only met Baleria once or twice, and yet every time she saw the woman it was clear that each outfit she wore was tailored fit for her form. If Lyla tried on any of her garments she’d look foolish. Far too much fabric would be wasted on the top and bottom and far too little in the middle. And yet that’s how Rowalli women are bred.

She reached the bottom step and addressed the two men. “Prince Yantur Kaley. Lord Raez Sarnichor.” She bowed. It was the same bow she gave to the crowds yesterday. Only this time her outfit produced far more cleavage. Raez clearly blushed.

Lyla knew the girl had assets, but wow. And likely the late Lord Brite made every effort in outfitting her as his personal trophy piece, the pervert. No doubt all her outfits fit her contours as this one did. Lyla was sickened by the idea of Rowalli women bred for their incredible shape and sold off for extreme prices in “marriage”. In so many words, it was a form of slavery, a practice all but abolished in the western nations. She had argued with her husband Jary about the ethical nature of their treatment often, even before she had met Baleria.

“My Lady Baleria. My deepest condolences. As you know, your husband was a dear friend of mine for many years. I felt the need to pay my respects in person as soon as I heard.” The Prince bent on his knee again, and kissed the back of her hand as he had done to Lyla moments earlier. “Come, tell me all about it.”

And so they went into the entertainment room, and they recounted the past days misfortunes, with sporadic moments of great detail and great misery.

By the end of the tale the Prince was fuming with anger, but he had stayed quiet throughout. He looked up to Lyla, asking “and what of the Periodical? Will you keep it? Run it yourself?”

“I don’t know just yet. Jary and I hadn’t ever spoken of what we’d do if he…” She had a hard time finishing her statement. “…If he passed away. I don’t think I could carry on with it without him.”

“You need not worry then. If it pleases you I could take the reins. I could find someone to buy it off you. Set you and Henrit up for life with a portion of the accrued profit. I am sure I know a few willing to make such an arrangement happen. If it is pleases you of course.”

Lyla didn’t know what to say. Can I part with the business my husband spent his entire life pursuing? Can I really abandon all his work like it were just another project?

“I’ll really have to think about it,” Lyla said at last. Yantur nodded. “Thank you so much, your Highness.”

“Yantur, please.” He turned to address Baleria. “And you’re sure it was A Journey of Storms? Again?” The group of murderers had been mostly wiped out almost a decade ago.

“Absolutely, Yantur! Who else would do such a thing on the anniversary of a girl’s death! It had to be them! Do you not think so?” Baleria’s voice was raised in defense of her story.

“I believe you.” Yantur waited a moment before continuing, his pensive, angry eyes mulling over his next words. “Then I must ask you: do you give me permission to settle the debt?”

“Wait, you’re going after those madmen?” Lyla chimed in, but the Prince merely held up a finger to her.

“You have my blessing.” Prince Yantur rose and gave a nod to Lord Raez Sarnichor, who had been quiet throughout the entire encounter. The man turned and headed to the door. “But,” Baleria continued. “You must take me with you.”

Even Raez stopped in his tracks at this. Lyla gawked at the woman. The Prince gave her a placating look and said, “my dear, it really is not a quest for the likes of a woman. There will likely be many days of hard riding, and these are dangerous people.”

“I do not care!” She was yelling before he had finished speaking. “You think we know nothing of war where I come from? Many of your palace guards are Rowalli warriors, are they not? The men are trained for battle while the women are trained for wifely duties. This is true. But do not think I could be raised around warriors and not know how to defend myself. I will come along or you will not have my permission as blood avenger.”

The Prince didn’t know how to take a scolding from a woman, clearly, and for a bit he seemed flabbergasted. “Fine,” he conceded. “But you will have to pack well, and dress appropriately. You’ll be the only woman in the company. Dress warm, and modestly, for your own safety. For my part I promise to keep you from harm.”

“Thank you.” Baleria looked determined to settle the score all by herself. She stood, fists clenched, shoulders lifted – ready for a fight. Lyla had never seen this side of her. She found it unsettling. “When do we leave,” Baleria asked.

“It grows dark now. We leave at dawn’s first light.” The Prince nodded and he left the two widows in the room. Henrit had wandered off already. Lyla and Baleria looked at each other for a long while, speaking what had been left unspoken: all the emotions, the pain, the guilt, the loss – and yet they did so without saying a single word.

– – – – –

Writing prompt taken from Writing Excuses, episode 10.8: Q&A on Character.

Writing Prompt: Sketch out the events before and after your dead-drop scene from last week and three weeks ago.

As you can probably tell, this scene took place mostly after the events in my other stories, although I do briefly talk about some of the events that occurred before on Lyla’s side. I’ve never lost a significant other before, as these two women had, so this was a very hard scene for me to tell. I hope it seemed, at the very least believable, and at the very best relatable. If I’ve succeeded there that would be really awesome. I’ve also changed the name of the Sun from Sol to Sol’Enasé. Sounds more fantasy-ish, and since my last scene I’ve given it a lot of thought. This is also my longest scene yet, just over 3000 words.

Tell me what you think! Thanks for reading!

Baleria Brite

Standard

(Artwork provided by The Pale Prince)

13th of Octobra, 750AP

Through the snow, drifting slow and thick, and the gray clouds, who’s silver-lined edges curled into a crude frown, Sol’Enasé shone through, bright and welcoming. It was the briefest of kindnesses; a pitying visit from the oldest of friends on a dismal day. It waved it’s great rays across Baleria’s exposed head, warming her tanned cheeks and lips. Not even the snow that rested on her face and melted there could have ruined the moment. The warmth was intoxicating, and it reminded her of home, on Rowalli.

It seemed she was the only one to notice the brief spit of sunlight, the only one taking in its undeniable magnificence. And then it was gone, shaking her back to the present.

She stood on a stage under Aelin’s Arch with her husband Ashayr, and his old colleague, Jary Miggon. A crowd gathered around it, wearing their blue-trimmed brown cloaks – celebrators and mourners alike, impossible to distinguish between them. Aelin’s Rest was a strange revelday, and less than a decade old at that. It had only been ten years to the day that Jary Miggon found poor Aelin murdered in front of the tavern, but the crowd seemed eager to participate in its festivities.

Although Aelin meant nothing to Baleria, she saw the necessity for such an event. It was a tale that gripped the hearts of the people. To learn, after having wed Ashayr Brite, that it was his actions, indirect as they were, that led to her demise all those years ago had broken Baleria’s heart. How could such a noble man as her’ Ashayr ever be capable of such heartless schemes. It didn’t make any sense. The man that had come to free her from her water-locked hell on Rowalli could never have been the same man as he had been a decade ago. He was pure and handsome and loving, his vast wealth notwithstanding.

On Rowalli, an island where the woman are eligible to be married off on their 14th bornday, the longer it took one to get married off the less likely it seemed they ever would. Baleria was almost 17 when Ashayr saved her. 17! Had she not been married off by her 18th bornday she would have been sent to the breeding camps. Not that it wouldn’t be a noble calling, but it isn’t mine. She remembered feeling ashamed as younger peers and siblings were chosen for a binding, leaving her behind to continue waiting, to dread the day they’d remove that option from her and put her in a camp to marry a pre-selected Rowalli male for breeding. To believe oneself inadequate, as she had for nearly 3 years, wasn’t something she would wish on anyone.

Ashayr Brite had saved her from that, which made it all the harder to accept his previous failures. But then she learned at how he humbled into the man she saw before her now. It took Baleria some time to come to terms with it, but she came to realize it had all been mistakes he’d made long before she had come into the picture. He was a far better man now than he had ever been. She couldn’t help but feel that by his side, she’d shape him to be the best he could be, and after a year and a half of marriage she could already see that marked difference.

Ashayr had been addressing the crowd for several moments now. He turned about and raised his arm to point at the now-built aqueduct. “After discovering how she had paid the ultimate sacrifice for her city, for her neighbors, friends, and family, I had the plans scrapped and redone entirely, so her death would not be in vain and your homes would stay untouched.” Baleria smiled with adoration at the man, golden hair dancing before his eyes in the breeze. “Aelin’s Arch is a testament to that sacrifice, the largest of the 89 arches. I can think of no better way to celebrate the life of someone lost so young than by honoring her with such a monument.”

The throngs of people began cheering. It was well deserved, and Baleria couldn’t have been more proud of her husband at that moment. She embraced him in a quick hug and placed a savory peck on his cheek. The crowd appeared to enjoy that too. He blushed, but regained his composure in short order.

He turned to Baleria, and to Jary, introducing them to the crowd. “I’ve brought with me two very important people today, for the tenth anniversary. My lovely wife, Baleria.”

She bowed low, the customary bow she had been taught as young girl, keeping eye contact with the crowd, her left hand behind her back, and her right in front of her pronouncing a flourished gesture. Her cloak had been tailor-made to fit like a dress, buttoned nearly all the way down past her knees and it hugged her tightly as she was bent forward. The buttons seemed ready to burst if she had gone any lower, so she released them of their strain and stood upright again. The crowd cheered at her, some men even going so far as to whistle.

How dare they! She allowed a shocked expression to dart across her face for a brief instant, but they hardly seemed to notice. She never had to deal with the jeering and leering of men on Rowalli, but here on the mainland it seemed inescapable. She was well aware that she was bred for the adoration and desire of the people, but this was overly crass.

“And of course, the man who made this all possible. The man who tracked, found, and brought to justice the one who felled poor Aelin, all those years ago. Sir Jary Miggon!”

Baleria beamed at the man, still young in his middle age. Nearly 65 years of age now, and he doesn’t look a day past 30. His wife Lyla hadn’t held up quite as well, beginning to show signs of wrinkling and the occasional white hair intermingled within her blonde curls, but she was still stunning. She stood at the front lines of the crowd, her hands resting on the platform, eyes only for Jary. Their son stood with her, smiling broadly.

Ashayr brought the cone forward and handed it to Jary, who began his brief speech. He seemed nervous, stuttering in his start, but he pulled out of it. Looking into the crowd, Baleria saw his wife Lyla mouthing the words along with him, clearly well rehearsed.

She watched how the crowd ate every word, hoping to hear more precious details of how he and others had hunted down several members of A Journey of Storms, the band of traveling musicians who’d murdered Aelin to retrieve the blueprints of the aqueduct, but he held his story and his speech close to his chest; short and sweet. Whether they wished to supplant themselves as the head of the project, or knew someone who would, or wished to bribe Lord Brite, was never discovered. To this day, no one quite knew why they wanted the intel on the aqueduct in the first place.

And then Baleria saw something odd. A brief flashing of blue feathers in the crowd. She looked in its direction but saw nothing. It looked like the fletching on the butt of an arrow, but… in this setting that made little sense. She saw nothing now, at any rate, but she could feel that something wasn’t altogether right. She looked at her husband, and he seemed wholly oblivious to any of the unease she felt. She decided to let it drop.

There it was again. Sol’Enasé peeked out from behind a heavy cloud, piercing through the chill and the snow, and landing on the crowd. She saw it crest over the silhouetted shape of the city, each spire and tower, each home and building, doused out in its brilliance. The palace in the distance looked especially splendid.

A buzzing whistle briefly whisked through the air, resounding in a soft thud. Baleria turned to see Jary Miggon staggering backward. It took him some time before he realized there was a shaft of wood protruding from his torso, and he gave a comical, exasperated gasp. Somehow she was mortified than anything to note the blue fletching feathers, the same blue she had seen briefly in the crowd just moments before.

She had forewarning. But Baleria had chosen to ignore it.

A second arrow ripped through the sky, narrowly missing her. She spun to Ashayr’s aid, hoping he wouldn’t need it this day. He had barely registered the commotion when a woman screamed out a life-ending cry. “NO!” It could only have been Lyla.

Baleria saw it coming before he did, before anyone else did. It was fired from somewhere behind them, near the casks of ale. She ran to him, leapt to him, pushed to him – but it wasn’t nearly enough. Finally, though only footsteps away, she reached him. The arrow seemed already on top of him, but still she pushed Ashayr out of its path, out of its deathly grip. All she truly managed was to shift him slightly, pushing his heart directly into the arrow’s path.

It struck him, and he fell instantly to his knees, letting out a gargled cry. Baleria couldn’t believe it. I just pushed.. Ashayr just… Not his heart, let it have missed his heart! Tears streamed down her face before the true significance hit her. She dropped to her knees, buttons pulling taut around the calf and knee. She felt around the wound, bloodied and mutilated by the impact. “Please please please,” she repeated in intervals of three, as she attempted to stroke his hair. Red smeared into his golden locks. He was choking, and she too was choking on her sorrow.

She looked briefly behind her, at a dying Jary and his wife. They held each other’s gaze, locked, unblinking. The knowledge of life and love and memories past between them. Something she would never get to experience.

Baleria Brite looked back towards her husband, as Sol’Enasé went back into hiding. He was already dead.

Guards dragged the screaming widows off the platform as they broke up the crowd.

– – – – –

Writing prompt taken from Writing Excuses, episode 10.7: Who are all these people?

Writing Prompt: Pick one of the dead-drop characters from the exercise two weeks ago, and turn them into a secondary character. Now take one of the characters with whom they interacted, and write the same scene again, but from this new character’s POV.

Rage of the Rattlehulk

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19th of Triabra, 1212AP

The events happened so quickly that May barely had enough time to process the information, let alone assess what her next move would be. She had run out of the level clearing and jumped back down the mountainside, into the trees, jerking her weight in midair to twist fully around and let loose the arrow in her grip. She watched it fly, wobbling from the various forces pushing and pulling against its minuscule, aerodynamic form. The bow string whipped the palm of her hand, breaking skin, but she payed it no mind. She watched the arrow arc in its flight, curving from the strange manner in which she released it. Finally it steadied towards its target’s thick brown coat.

May Aresha didn’t know if she hit her mark or not. Upon her aimless descent back into the forest’s thick brush, her back met bark. Hard. It pushed the wind out of her, twisting her fall around the trunk and throwing her into the leaves below, face first. Her momentum kept her plowing down the mountainside, the leaves beneath her making her slide ever more frictionless. She grabbed hold of her senses, and dug her boots and hands into the soil.

Finally she halted, kicking a tree and a boulder, and she let her momentum bring herself back to a standing position. A great rattling roar leapt from where she had been just moments before, like bones scraping and clattering against one another, fighting for freedom from the confines of such a terrible beast. The Rattlehulk had been hit.

May had no time to celebrate the incredible shot. She couldn’t breathe. The impact of the trunk had knocked her breathless. She struggled for air, groaning as pain shot through her torso. She leaned forward to grab her bow, but abandoned the idea as a new set of pangs began to surface. The strange pang of bones poking about where they weren’t supposed to. My ribs! The shock allowed her a brief relapse of air, and she choked in all she could manage.

The Rattlehulk only allowed her enough time for a few precious, painful gulps of air, before it blundered after her. As it hit the tree line, the great mass of fur and bone stopped its insane rattling roar, and began a purr-like hiss. It pushed itself furiously between the trees with its two mighty limbs, it’s long, girthy tail, wrapping and wriggling around the forest floor, kicking up leaves and dirt in its wake.

Oh hyll no.

May reached to grab another arrow, but the tumble had cost her nearly all of her quiver’s contents. Only one remained. The others must have been scattered about the mountainside. No time. Fire! FIRE! She dropped to her knees to pick up the bow, and pulling the string back fast (despite the searing pain in her back and chest) let the arrow free. The monster stumbled right into it.

The arrow glanced off the Rattlehulk’s face, which was without fur or skin. Black secretions oozed from the hulk’s fleshless eye-sockets and maw. It barreled forward, squeezing its way through the ranks of most of the trees, shattering the rest with its taloned fingers. The dual horns on its head removed branches and pockets of canopy that dared stand in its way. It needed May.

Just as May had needed to find her father, Burelik, just moments earlier. Her father, a trained hidehunter, had been gone for far too long from their hometown in Furmount. May had followed Burelik’s trail, only to find that they led straight to the Rattlehulk. The same Rattlehulk which was now dangerously close to trampling her, like the trees it chose not to maneuver around.

May slammed back to the present. She leapt and ran to her right, then up, and about, climbed up a tree, and swung off a branch. Instead of evading it, like the Rattlehulk had assumed she would try, May jumped onto the creatures back, cracking the wooden bow onto the flat of the monster’s neck (which thankfully wasn’t just bone). The wood splintered on contact, leaving behind two halves connected by rawhide string. May quickly stabbed one of the sharp splinters into the Rattlehulk’s shoulder, but before she could drive in the next stake she was thrown up by the tail, and swatted into a tree. The Rattlehulk wriggled and writhed in pain, pushing its back against tree branches to dislodge the object. All the while it gargled with bones and hatred.

May’s body throbbed all over. The tail had swatted her hip, and her leg hit the tree. Not to mention the bones she already suspected were broken. She rolled away from an incoming swipe from the Rattlehulk’s talons, which ripped a sleeve from her shirt.

She got to her feet and started moving down the mountainside, favoring her left. Am I sweating or am I crying? She thought about this only briefly, realizing there were more pressing questions to face, such as: how the hyll am I getting out of this alive? She hopped down a rock ridge, and found a small hole covered by rock she could easily hide in, before the monster could see her do so. And she waited.

May could hear the Rattlehulk’s labored breathing, even though it was still a ways off. She could feel the ground shake with every tree it snapped and step it stomped. And that horrible rattling. It drove her to tears, if nothing else, and she covered her mouth. She closed her eyes too, hoping to never see such a thing again. She also hoped the small, hidden shelter would be enough. Can it smell me? Unlikely, as the black goop also fell from its slitted nostrils. The creature slowed, clicked about a bit, and searched around other trees. And then it went silent.

“May?” A voice broke out from the woods. A strangely familiar voice. “May, is that you?” Now she was truly crying – a hushed sob, which hurt more than all her broken body did combined.

“May. Don’t be afraid.” It was the voice of her father… but it was muffled. Distorted. The voice crept closer. “May, come back out. The Rattlehulk. It won’t hurt you. I promise.” The last two words came out dark and satirical. A rattling chuckle permeated the forest then, seeming to echo about from all areas at once.

May stepped out of hiding, staring the thing in its face. It happened to be standing just outside her shelter, waiting. It’s thick brown pelt smelled like death and fecal matter. On the underside of its immensity, was a large patch of beige skin. May was terrified of the thing. But she forgot her fears entirely when it spoke with her father’s voice. Now she was just angry.

“How dare you use my father’s voice, foul beast!”

“I could use another, if it please you,” this time speaking with a little girl’s childlike innocence, which in some ways was more disconcerting. It just wagged its tail, left and right, rustling the leaves on grass.

“And what? You want my voice to add to the collection?” May pulled the knife slowly out of a hidden sheath on her thigh, without the Rattlehulk knowing.

“No dear. I only want your bones.” She recognized this voice as one of the other missing hidehunters from town, but her chance to put a name to the voice was cut to an abrupt halt as it opened its jaws wide and dove into her.

Before the Rattlehulk could sink any of its terrible teeth into May, she stabbed the hidden knife directly into its left eye-socket, producing a fresh spray of the black substance. Some got onto May’s wrist and immediately began to burn. The Rattlehulk forgot it’s human voices and whimpered like a wounded carabrin dog, recoiling and staggering back. It wailed anew a terrible cry.

May tried to wipe off the black ooze from her wrist as she ran, but she couldn’t remove it entirely. She limped up until she reached the red-tinged grass. Walking the last few steps, she turned around, stopping just before the large pit below. The trees here were different – tall and young, and old and small. The bark had warped into an unnatural curve. The air itself was thick and felt unsafe to breathe, but May didn’t see how she had any other choice. She waited, wiping the remainder of the black substance on her leggings.

The Rattlehulk charged forward, not parting for any tree in its path. It shoved through them, tackling them head on. It was going to rip May apart. The ooze in its eye bounced up and out, splattering across the entire left side of the bone-faced monster. It wasn’t slowing its speed; it would plow right into her, perhaps goring her with the horns on its head.

She dropped down the hole, catching herself on the ledge. The Rattlehulk fell for the trap, jumping forward, directly into the pit. Directly into the paradox.

It screamed with a sound she didn’t think it previously capable of. A sound of purest agony. Pulling herself back up, she turned to take in what was transpiring. The gyrating, shapeless, orb of pulsing red, spewing streams of light and darkness in equal measure, was pulling the Rattlehulk into its grasp. The beast used its limbs and talons to attempt to crawl to safety, while simultaneously swatting its large tail to disentangle, or to swim, or to fight the anomaly.

“May!” It screamed with her father’s voice. “May, come with me! Please! I’m so hungry. May. May. MAY!”

The paradox was folding in on itself, a shape enveloping another shape, while simultaneously also being both shapes. And the Rattlehulk continued to writhe and wail and… rattle. Until both the paradox and the hulk were gone in a puff of static and electricity, which too was soon gone. Forgotten.

May sat there for a bit, slack-jawed.

She had won.

But it certainly didn’t feel that way.

– – – – –

Writing prompt taken from Writing Excuses, episode 10.6.

Writing Prompt: Think about the last time you lost at a game. What was the process of thought that led to your loss? Now, replicate that moment in the dramatic structure of the story, except the story isn’t about games.

Aelin’s Arch

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13th of Octobra, 750AP

The streets had been cobbled, ripped apart, cobbled again, and so forth. Buildings rose and homes fell. Walls are built, towers are raised and the city breathes in the new day. Out with the old and in with the improved. Underneath Aelin’s Arch a crowd gathered, clogging tight the already narrow street in celebration. Celebration and mourning.

Vendors came and went, selling out of their stock faster than any other day of the year. An oddity during the winter months. Street urchins thrived on the pockets of the rich. Duree’s Harper Tavern saw a constant influx of customers, forming two lines, as they had reduced prices by half. The first going out the door, as patrons awaited their mugs of ale. The second went down the street, after a specialty brew was barreled and stationed outside by the window.

Snow dropped silently, floating aimlessly, but it didn’t stick. It melted rather, becoming a slush underneath the many booted feet. Par’Tean Kol exited the tavern, turning back to make sure the employees didn’t take note of his early departure. It was simple to blend in, but in truth he didn’t have to. Everyone wore simple brown cloaks with blue trims. Well. Not everyone. The guards wore their typical plate and leather. But some wore more… opulent brown and blue.

Navigating the crowd, Par’Tean Kol saw Lord Brite take the platform, along with his wife, and Sir Miggon. Jary Miggon, former editor and writer of the Velundane Periodical, wore his cloak with impeccable modesty. The blue trimming was obviously a new addition to the old item, but the spirit of the occasion wasn’t lost on him. Ashayr Brite on the other hand showed off his wealth, a brown leather tunic with silver buckles, blue belts holding it from falling, and in place of a full-bodied cloak he wore a flashy silk cape. But the greatest show of his wealth was undoubtedly his wife beside him. For her part, she did dress appropriately – her fine wool cloak being nothing extravagant. That said, she was definitely a Rowalli, inarguably bought for a small fortune.

Rowalli, an island off the coast of the East Bend, was best known for the eugenics programs they had been conducting for over a century, slowly and selectively breeding desirable hereditary traits into their subjects; both men and women, but the women sold for leagues more than the men did. After much schooling in penmanship, math, language, and exercise, along with training the girls from a young age to cook, clean, and upkeep like none other, the women would be sold into a binding marital contract. Not the kind of contract one would wish to break. And as the prices for such contracts were so steep, it was rare that they were ever seen other than by the sides of wealthy nobleman or pirates. But even as rare as Rowalli women were, they were instantly identifiable, if not by their unmatched beauty, their spotless tanned skin, the exaggerated curves on their toned frames, than by their frost white hair.

Even now, the woman on the platform had hair that seemed to produce its own glow. Her eyes were a mystical steeled-blue. And that smile. That smile could wake a Monolith. Par’Tean had difficulty taking his eyes off the woman. The way the snow just disappears on her hair. The way the cloak hangs on her figure. What I wouldn’t give for a Rowalli wife. He found he was intensely jealous of the Lord, wishing they could trade places. Well, now’s not the best time to be trading places with him, I guess.

He was nudged back to his senses as the crowd gathered closer to the raised area, where the three stood. Par’Tean peeled his eyes away from the woman and made his way through the crowd, shoving and squeezing his way through to the other side of the street. He found his way to a fruit stand, wedged uncomfortably tight between a wall and the massing people. As he turned his back to it, Par’Tean outstretched his arm behind him and shifted an apple. Reaching into the fold of his cloak he produced a parchment, which he placed underneath the apple.

Shifting his gaze back to the beautiful Rowalli woman, he decided he’d grab a more opportune vantage point. He strode into the crowd, blending in just as well as anyone else could have.

– – –

Jaspona sighed in relief as she found a moment to breathe amongst the chaos of the event. The crowd was at long last dispersing, heading towards the platform in the center of the street. She cherished these fleeting moments as they allowed her to stop and take stock of what she had sold in the last few hours of this ridiculous event. It also let her remove some of the accumulating slush from atop the tarp that covered the stand, not having to worry about complaining customers.

Jaspona was surprised her wares were selling as well as they did, and was a gladder woman for it. Had she thought ahead though, she would have tried to import fruits that wouldn’t bruise as easily as these did in this temperature. But her options were limited, traveling up from Bramble. How she missed that warmth. This damned joke of a festival is nearly a slap in the face.

The music, which had been equal parts raucous and tasteful in different intervals, abruptly winded down, as a short fanfare of trumpets and drums took its place. Jaspona recognized why the crowd had abandoned the stand. Three individuals were gathering on the small platform near the arch. Of the three, she only truly noticed Sir Miggon.

Sir Miggon. The fool man has been knighted! The simple thought of Jary Miggon had become a poison to her being, a slow rotting in her depths, the taste of spew in the back of her throat. The man, the one who had almost single-handedly ruined her life, made her utterly sick. And now here he was, not 50 yards away. He looked uncomfortable, miserable amongst the growing crowd. “I have no issue putting him out of his misery.” She said this last aloud, and then, realizing she was still in a public setting, looked about to see if anyone had overheard her. But of course, no one had, over the bustle, chatter and the now-dying trumpet blares.

Lord Brite looked as pomp and lavish as ever. I guess he missed the memo, she thought, looking at his attire. Aelin’s Rest had begun as a means of paying tribute to Aelin Butcherfem, who had been murdered on Octobra 13. A mourning, which started out as nothing more than the yearly parades the peasantry would put on to show that even a lowly butcher’s girl could make a difference. But the event quickly evolved into the revelday we see today.

Brite lifted a conical piece to his lips, an instrument Jaspona was well familiar with. In her days with A Journey of Storms, they would often use them to carry their voices, especially when stirring up an audience. He cleared his throat.

“Welcome! Welcome friends.” Ashayr Brite let the cheering and applause die down before speaking again. “Ten years ago I made an egregious error in my efforts to build the Aqueduct you see before you now.” It had been an egregious error to use that phrase, as a smattering of “huh’s” and “wha’s that mean” could be heard from the people surrounding the stage. “I mean to say,” he reiterated, “the choice I originally made to remove some of the homes of you unfortunate few, to make way for the aqueduct, was a poor choice. It pains me to remember a time where the consequences you would feel for such a travesty meant so little to me. It also pains me to realize this is why our young Aelin Butcherfem is no longer with us, as she took a stand against me, a Lord, when she discovered my plans.” He received a round of boo’s at this, which he took quite gracefully, nodding and looking distraught.

It was then that Jaspona noticed the parchment underneath one of the apples. Had that been there previously? Certainly not. She pulled it out and turned it over, her face going pale. It was time. But so soon? On the opposite side, a symbol had been stamped onto it which showed a misshapen square crossed out by a bolt of lightning. She threw the hood of her cloak atop her head, tucked her hair away, and abandoned the stand, joining the throngs of onlookers.

Lord Brite continued after the booing and shushing had ended. “I truly am sorry. Which is why we are here today, on the tenth anniversary of her unceremonious passing.” He raised his arm, showcasing the large aqueduct system. “After discovering how she had paid the ultimate sacrifice for her city, for her neighbors, friends, and family, I had the plans scrapped and redone entirely, so her death would not be in vain and your homes would stay untouched. Aelin’s Arch is a testament to that sacrifice, the largest of the 89 arches. I can think of no better way to celebrate the life of someone lost so young, than by honoring her with such a monument.” The crowd erupted in cheers, and a smile coated Brite’s face. His wife leaned in to land a peck on his cheek.

Jaspona could hardly stand to look at them. Brite was a show off, saving face and garnering appreciation from the public. His wife on the other hand; Jaspona felt sorry for the girl. Brainwashed and bred for perfect and loyal submission. The cloak she wore was buttoned closed from the cold and tailor fitted to appear almost dress like. Jaspona couldn’t deny the attraction the Rowalli exuded though. Jaspona had never quite seen anyone with dimensions as both curvaceous and thin as the woman on stage had.

“I’ve brought with me two very important people today, for the tenth anniversary. My lovely wife, Baleria.” She bowed low and several men whistled. “And of course, the man who made this all possible. The man who tracked, found, and brought to justice the one who felled poor Aelin, all those years ago. Sir Jary Miggon!” Ashayr reached past his wife and lifted one of Jary’s arms towards the sky, and the crowd roared.

A pit of hatred and rage churned within Jaspona. Miggon was being celebrated. Miggon! She pushed past a couple dozen individuals who took little notice of her, going around the platform. The slush beneath her had dampened through her boots to her feet, which stung. She tried to wiggle her toes as she walked, fighting feeling back into them, but it was a fruitless endeavor. She reached the other side of the small stage and waited, poking about, trying not to get caught up in how sick she felt that this man was being pushed as a hero. When Stann… Her Stann. It had been a mistake, hadn’t it? He hadn’t tried to kill the fool girl?

A hand reached for her shoulder, startling her out of her pitiful emotions. A figure was hidden under the brown hood. His eyes were severe and gray, a scar running through the brow of each. She recognized him instantly as Xab. Jaspona handed him the parchment, which he quickly crumpled and threw into his pocket and left.

– – –

Xab Xebedee was ready. He was always ready, but never more so than he was at that moment. Still, his nerves might get the better of him. He brushed aside several bystanders as he moved about the crowd. Eventually, he pulled up to the barrel of ale perched outside of the tavern. The woman manning it wasn’t paying attention. He grabbed one of the empty mugs on the table, which were facing upside down due to the oncoming snow, and poured himself a helping. Pumpkin and dracor’jin seeds. Thick. Dark. Not too bitter. Sweet aftertaste. He downed the ale and poured himself another, all while the woman remained fixated on the stage and the speeches at hand.

It was strange how swiftly Aelin’s Rest became a popular revelday. From what Xab understood, they had even begun celebrating the event all the way in Kersol. He refused to listen to the filth they spoke onstage. He waited for the right moment.

“… had my wife Lyla not alerted me, I may never have learned who had been behind the attack, or more importantly why,” Jary Miggon was saying into the cone. His voice was shaky, practiced but still uncertain. “Tracking the man who did this wasn’t easy. Stann was a skinmasker – a rare condition sometimes possessed by those who’s parents expose themselves to too much paradox magic – and this allowed Stann to randomly change his form to just about anyone, clothing and all. I lost many good friends along the way in his pursuit.” He looked down, more at his feet and the platform, than the people crowded around it.

Xab sought out the feathers. He looked back to where Jaspona had handed the parchment over to him. She held a stick with feathers at the end, just high enough for him to see. Scanning the opposite end of the stage, he saw Par’Tean by the wall, also carrying his feathers. Xab took a deep breath.

– – –

“Many may know that Aelin was training to become a musician, a minstrel of …” Jary Miggon stopped speaking as he was pushed back roughly, his feet scuttling beneath him to keep his balance. Something blew past him in a swift gust of wind, pushing his hair with it.

The crowd let out a sudden gasp, and then a woman let out a heart-wrenching “NO!” She climbed up the stage, curly blonde hair falling out of her cloak. Jary Miggon looked down and realized that he’d been struck by an arrow in his sternum. He touched its length, it’s girth roughly the size of his thumb. His wife reached him, holding him by the shoulders, the cone finally clamoring on the platform below them. Jary Miggon lost his ability to stand and she eased him to the floor, tears falling down eyes that refused to even blink. All was silent now. But he still felt the snow on his cheeks, numbing him, one pitying speck at a time. Jary had no air left in him to speak. And there was still so much he needed to say to her. She understood of course. Their eyes had been locked the whole time, and she shook her head, not wishing to understand. But he needed her to know… He needed…

Lyla Miggon wailed the passing of her husband. Alongside her, Baleria Brite cradled the limp body of Ashayr Brite, her late husband, who’d been struck in the heart.

– – – – –

Prompt taken from Writing Excuses, episode 10.6.

Writing Prompt: Take three different characters and walk them through a scene. Convey their emotional states, their jobs, and their hobbies without directly stating any of those. The scene in question: walking through a marketplace, and they need to do a dead-drop.

Sorry about this one being a whole week late. Been very busy lately.