The Travels of Con Marquarata, Vol. III, Entry 29

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30th of Tredecimbra, 739AP

Despite my extensive travels, my readers may be surprised to note that this was indeed my first ever trip down to the southernmost reaches of continent Atlúma. After departing the small town of Karattra yesterday – a relief as my host family was a particularly tense lot, claiming their town was on the eve of battle with a neighboring tribe, or some codswallop – we made our way down a beaten footpath amid the rolling hills of that region. Eventually we came upon a straw hut, where a large, sinewy fellow came striding out shirtless. He did not speak our tongue with any casual finesse, but he managed remarkably well, accepting our coins happily in exchange for guiding us down the river.

He took us down a path behind his hut that carved around great mounds of purest green in the land. When I strayed to step upon them, for they appeared manmade, our guide would huff and fuss and, by the crook of my arm, drag me back down. I attempted this thrice, and on my third try he threatened to stop taking us. He did not have the words to describe the mounds significance, so my prodding here was useless.

Walking up a steep hill, we eventually found our way to its ridge, and, expecting to begin a steady descent down its southern slope, we were surprised to find it simply dropped off. The cliff face was sharp, and below we saw the very start of the Shattrakani forest. Indeed, Blarney and I had finally found ourselves in Shattrakan. The treacherous beauty of it all from up on high was diminished when our guide, Waky by name, attempted his hand at humor. He laughed diabolically as he mimed pushing us off the ledge and into the jungle below us.

After his gag was up, Waky took us to a place where wooden steps were built into the cliff face, which proved a most precarious descent. Upon finally finding ourselves below the canopy of the jungle, we could not ignore the potent humidity, thicker here than even the dankest days in Covetown had been. I suddenly sympathized with Waky’s shirtless state, and though I wished to do likewise, I merely removed my tunic. The pages of my journal absorbed much of the moisture, warping and pushing away from one another. I must remember to find a Fumarin anomalurgist who knows a thing or two about removing the damp, before mold sets in.

We found the river at the base of a hidden waterfall, which released its water from an underground river flowing out of the hillside. Brilliant. I had not seen such a thing in many a travel, and certainly not one so fine. Like a drainpipe it gushed its whitewater, spraying the air with a cool mist that somehow relieved our sweat-covered brows. Waky showed us where the boats were kept. Hundreds lined the river, each with its own unique markings, perhaps the names of its owners in the Shattrakani tongue. We walked a ways, over root and moist soil, making sure not to trip on the ropes which tied the boats to land. Waky showed us his boat, a blue vessel I was pleased to find, as this was made from the blue trees only found in this portion of the known world.

It took a bit of wiggling to get comfortable in the vessel, and Blarney nearly didn’t make the trip, what with his fat bottom and all. But we pushed off, our guide’s oars pushing gently through the wake.

It was early in the day, just after noon, when we caught our first glimpse of the fabled blue trees of the Shattrakani Peninsula. Marvelous, tall things. Skinnier than I had previously imagined. The base of the trees were no wider than the circumference of my leg, but they expanded as they grew up and out. The leaves, still wet with dew, shimmered a blueish green and hung low. The most remarkable part about them, as I had not known this until now, was that they grew in pairs of three. The hajta trees, as Waky liked to call them, grew together in a perfectly equilateral triangle. Some grew closer together, others were several stafflengths apart, but they always made up triangles in seemingly 60° angles, in proportion to one another.

I had to get a closer look. I stopped Waky several times on our journey downstream, making sure that he stopped on the bank so that I and Blarney could get closer looks at different examples of the hajta trees.* Even hajta seedlings, sprouting like no more than blue twigs from the ground, grew in pairs of three. It was something truly breathtaking.

We also witnessed an incredible breadth of wildlife and game. The birds this day were of particular note, those which made especially ludicrous sounds and mating calls. The large black eye of the colorful marqueep stared us down intently as we drifted along. The wings of the rathtalon beat viciously as we entered its territory, but besides giving us a quick fright it did not bother us.

The river rounded a long bend, almost a full 180°, to the point where it felt we were going back up north, but it corrected itself after a time. We eventually came to a clearing in the canopy layer, where the sun beat down at us imperiously. We were almost grateful to resume the humid shadows the jungle offered us.

Several hours after noon Blarney dozed off, snoring away as he does, fool man. We came upon our first encampment that looked inhabited. And it certainly was inhabited. Children came running out of their huts and out from under their root holes wearing naught but rags. The women of the tribe spared no thought into garbing their breasts, and the men but stared at us, weapons bared at their first site of swarthy men. Cautiously, we floated onto the bank, hands raised high, so that they knew we meant the tribe no harm.

*I’ve attached several drawings to the following pages so that you may get a better glimpse at the hajta trees remarkable growth patterns.

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Baleria Brite

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(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.

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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.

The Dry Season

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13th of Octobra, 740AP

It had been an impressively mild winter. Two months in and only now had the season released its first snowfall. The flakes fell thick outside the window, the pane frosting around the edges. Jary Miggon watched in fascinated distaste. He pulled the blanket closed around his torso, tight around the neck, and eased back from the window. Closed as it was, the chill seeped in slowly. He threw another log in the fire and watched it catch.

Jary truly hated the cold. He’d never been able to stomach it since his family had moved up from Brambletang when he was very young. He had hoped this winter would be different. And it had. But now it seemed to need to compensate for its absence.

The flames licked around the log and Jary sat back satisfied. He pulled in his writing station and dipped the pen in ink. He had nothing. The paper would go out three days hence and he had nothing to show for it. The paper heading had been calligraphed in earlier that week. VELUNDANE PERIODICAL stretched out atop the top left portion of the paper. It would be folded four ways after it had been written and sent to the press.

Perhaps I could attempt to allocate a section of the piece to my interview with lordling Brite…‘ The prospect was a drudgery. Jary contacted the minor lord at his estate in Eastings during a pretentious fundraising event only yesterday. ‘While it was still warm out,‘ he noted. Brite opined that Eastings was an advantageous location for real estate in the city, situated snug against the carved out cliff face, because water flowed straight from River Atlúm to their doorstep. He proposed they build a duct system that carried the water directly from Atlúm to the center of Velundane.

Naturally this brought a huge round of applause from the sycophants and fawners in attendance, but Jary was a far more practical man. This project wouldn’t happen any time soon. The money needed just couldn’t be obtained. And as selfless an idea as it was, Jary hardly suspected Brite’s motives wholly altruistic.

Jary’s father Bart Miggon passed away nearly 5 years prior, leaving him the reins to the fortnightly periodical. And on occasion, now particularly, Jary felt it more of a burden than a blessing. But most days he relished the idea of writing articles for the VP. It was in his blood, and since the paper became his, its readership too seemed to escalate. He took pride in that. This was, after all, the very first periodical in existence, dating back over 50 years.

But now, just after its half-century anniversary, the creativity well began to dry up, along with any worthy news.

A knock at the door preceded the door’s slow opening. A woman shuffled in. Beautiful. Short blonde curly hair. Very pregnant. She carried with her a tray with kettle and tea. Brambletang black. ‘She knows me too well.‘ “Perfect timing. I’m freezing.”

Her face soured at the empty page, but she poured out two cups regardless. “You’ve still not come up with anything?” Her tone was equal parts annoyance and pity. She took a generous helping of milk and sugar. Jary took it straight.

“I’m sorry Lyla. Give me a bit more time. I’ll be sure to have it out by deadline. Thank you for the tea, though. You’re my favorite.”

“Yeah, yeah. I better be.” She gave him a devilish grin and shuffled off to the window. The phrase “you’re my favorite” was a small nothing they’d repeated to each other since they were young and had begun courting. Jary knew it would continue to bring a smile to her face for many years to come.

He went back to his notes. ‘There’s always the lifespan conundrum.‘ This was a new theory being thrown around by supposed intellectuals based on data they’d been collecting over hundreds of years. ‘Akarianites,‘ he thought with more than a tinge of prejudice. The theory explains that the average lifespan of humans on Atelinor had drastically decreased in the past century, from about 150 years to as low as 120.

This was published as a factual piece in The Strand, known best in the community for their questionable sources, or lack thereof. The theory is believed by some however. It goes on to propose that there might be some basis to believe that those who passed through the Purge could have had a lifespan closer to 200 years. However nobody, including the propagators of the theories, have any definitive proof, or an answer as to why the lifespan would be diminishing…

Jary rubbed his eyes, jotted down both the idea of including a section for lordling Brite’s water duct system, and addressing the validity of the lifespan conundrum. Both were alarmingly hypothetical topics. One might never happen and the other might be simply unprovable for years to come. And hypothetical topics like these were something he and the Velundane Periodical stayed far away from, if only to distinguish itself and its quality from its competitors. Perhaps the day had arrived when he’d need to rely more heavily on articles of a hypothetical nature.

He pushed his writing station aside and stood to stretch. Getting the blood flowing was an integral part of his work. He paced in front of the fireplace, still quite chilled to his bones. His wife ignored his movements, sitting on the stool by the window. “Where do you think she’s off to?”

Jary braced himself for the cold as he left the warmth of his hearth behind. In the street, bundled tight in cloak and shawl was a young woman, wading slowly but confidently through the snow. “Who do you think it is?” asked Jary.

“I can’t tell just yet.” The figure got closer, her footprints small but heavy in the powder beneath her. The wind blew in her hood, the flakes attaching themselves to her hair. Brown hair. Her nose was pointy and her features long and pale. “I think it’s… Aelin. Where could she possibly be going in this weather, you think?”

“Aelin,” Jary pondered. “Aelin the butcher’s daughter?”

“Well she can’t stay ‘the butcher’s daughter’ forever. She’s training for bardship, see.” Lyla pointed to the brick building Aelin was entering. A stylized harp carved into a plank hung above the door.

“Terrible weather for practice,” Jary said incredulously. He went back to the warm spot on his chair, by the fire. There had to be a story in there. ‘Bardship. I had no idea.

An entertainment column might not be a bad idea, come to think on it.‘ Jary scribbled down the name of the traveling group he had seen pass through Velundane a week past. ‘A Journey of Storms‘ they called themselves. Odd name, but they put on a marvelous show. The man and woman who led the troupe were likely surnamed Storm or other. The troupe themselves weren’t particularly pleasant on the eyes, and Jary wouldn’t have been surprised had they also been unpleasant to the nose, but he hadn’t gotten that close.

A Journey of Storms boasted their ability to play by memory a hundred shows, and three times as many songs. They played a game of song naming, where they had the audience take turns telling them to play certain songs, and if they weren’t familiar with one, they’d buy the individual a drink. They knew their art well. Afterwards they put on a show of Carus and Carrion, a dark comedy.

Music began to play then. It took Jary out of his concentration. The sound came from outside – no. From across the street. It must be from the music tavern Aelin had entered. He closed his eyes and let himself relax. Harp? It sounded like a harp. But it also sounded more or less like a lute. ‘Ah I see. Two instruments in tandem.‘ It was a slow melody. Just gentle plucking of strings in truth, but in the right order… The harp faltered. A short pause followed and then it started up once more. ‘I guess she is getting a lesson.

Lyla hummed along, as she tidied up the study. Books were lain out on the table in stacks, and she placed these back on the shelf. Jary took a sip of his tea. He’d nearly forgotten it was there. ‘Still warm enough to drink,‘ he thought happily. The dulcet melody was oddly fitting for an afternoon as bitter chill as this.

Lyla made a startled exclamation, breaking the mystique of the song. “Jary! Jary, come look!” She stood by the window looking upon the snowy street below. Her voice was urgent. And frightened.

A body lay in the snow, facing the oncoming blizzard. A young woman, Aelin. The butcher’s daughter. Red stained the white around her. Lyla screamed as Jary threw his cloak on. The music continued unabated.

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Writing prompt/exercise taken from the Writing Excuses podcast episode 10.1.

Writing Prompt: Write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less. Generate these ideas from these five sources:

From an interview or conversation you’ve had
From research you’ve done (reading science news, military history, etc)
From observation (go for a walk!)
From a piece of media (watch a movie)
From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)

I’d like feedback if you have any, critical or other.