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


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.

Bayo, Sixth of the Pack


24th of Entekra, 922AP

A chill night’s wind carried bits of sand from the black place. A place Bayo would not go. The dark sand was hot under paw by day, and by night it was like a reflection of the stars above. The glowing insects dug themselves out of their sandy holes, the ones that got into fur, the ones that bit and itched. No, the black place wasn’t a place for Bayo. It wasn’t a place for the pack.

Bayo shook the sand from his fur, and continued among the grass, which grew in patches here, so near to the black place. The rabbit’s scent was lost in the wind. Romu, fifth of the pack, strode by Bayo’s side, sniffing the dirt before his paws. He whimpered his annoyance. They were hungry. And Alpa, first of the pack, would not be pleased at their returning without kill.

The two padded along, conscious of the lights above. They moved slowly, watching the sky shift. Big White came into focus, the first moon, this night. It lit the plains, making their journey easier. Romu preferred to lead, being fifth of the pack, so he did, back to the pack.

There was a rustling in the bushes, just paces ahead of them. Bayo and Romu crouched low, feeling the grass brush their fur lined bellies. They waited. It moved again, ever so slightly. The bush was large and thorny, so they did not wish to pounce on it. They waited more.

The second moon, Small Red, crested over the horizon and into the night sky. A howl in the distance resounded. Alpa praised the night. And so howled others in the pack. Seven in total sent their cries to Small Red. Bayo wished to join his voice to the night, but feared scaring off his prey. Romu had no such reservations, and he raised his head to the sky, howling for his pack to hear him. So lost in revelry was he that Romu did not notice Bayo’s hesitation; did not notice the lurch of the bushes. Several rabbits bounded off.

Bayo would not lose them again. He growled as he joined the hunt once more, invigorated by the baying of his brothers and sisters. He closed the distance between the rabbits until they broke into three different directions. The largest, fattest rabbit went left. He chased it down, jerking to and fro as it bounced left and right between trees and bushes. It led him into a clearing without bushes or trees, and Bayo leapt for the kill. But a blinding blue glow disarmed him at the very last moment.

Romu, noticing too late his brothers hunt, chased after him. He didn’t see when the rabbits broke off. He followed the deep gashes in the dirt where Bayo had kicked off in pursuit of the rabbit. When he came into a clearing, he came to a quick halt, kicking up grass under his paws as he slid. There was Bayo, walking head low, with his tail between his legs. He crept over to a large ball of light that rested upon the dirt. A great sphere of blue, churning itself inside out. Romu didn’t like it. It hurt to behold.

He growled at Bayo, telling him to follow. Bayo looked at Romu, over his shoulder, but merely turned around again to stare at the blue thing. Bayo sat on his haunches, head still bowed low, but his tail no longer sat between his legs. Romu whimpered, stepping over to him, placing his head upon Bayo’s. Sixth of the pack paid him no heed. Romu barked at the blue thing, fearful of its power, but it too paid him no mind. It didn’t stir any more or less than its already wave-like form had.

Romu paced back and forth around the circular clearing, waiting for Bayo to respond. He didn’t. After a time, Romu fell into a restless sleep.

Morning’s light shined before long. Romu awoke and found Bayo still in the same position. The great blue orb still worked its power over him. Romu walked toward Bayo, cautiously. He gave a bark. Bayo turned to face him, eyes red. He howled into the sky, and fire leapt from the earth at his paws, licking up his arms. Bayo did not fear it though, nor did it burn, or even hurt him. Romu took a submissive stance at Bayo’s fiery approach. Their roles reversed, Romu realized he was now sixth of the pack, and that Bayo was five.

“Brother,” Romu heard within his mind. “Come, we have much to discuss with the pack.”

Memories and Maladies


14th of Triabra, 27AE

Dakrithel was a painter, thinly built, wavy brown hair, with an awkward affinity for the arts. Ember was, well, a number of things, finding each profession more loathsome than the last, but she found joy in simplicity and beauty. She had dark, curly hair, with a short, athletic build. The two had lived a happy life together, mostly.

Every year, on their anniversary, they held a tradition of buying each other a number of gifts. They tried not to go over the top with exorbitant and lavish purchases, but more often than not it became an expensive season. Tiny gifts would suffice, sometimes useful, other times funny, and oftentimes quite meaningless; it was the thought that counted most, and thoughts were what made gifts special.

You see, every gift comes with a story. Every gift involves some thought or intention. They would share the gifts and then laugh or reminisce about the thoughts behind their purchasing them. Sometimes the stories would involve how they thought the gift up, or how embarrassing their conversation was with the clerk upon purchasing certain items, or even about how difficult it was to hide the gifts from each other until the day of. She enjoyed wrapping the gifts, while he preferred merely pulling them out of a bag.

And each year they would weigh the value, both sentimentally and thoughtfully, of the combined bounty of their gifts, thus making contest of who could come up with the better surprise.

Not all gifts needed to be purchased, however. Some were crafted. Some were grown. One year Dakrithel’s only gift to Ember was a bouquet of flowers: firepetals, Aelin smiles, and lilypeons; all of her favorites. He won that year. The reason being he just wasn’t the type of man to ever get a girl flowers, saying it was too clichéd and meaningless, a point she argued and chided him over for many years to come. Upon their ninth anniversary, he had grown flowers for her, in secret, in a neighbor’s yard, and she loved them.

For their tenth anniversary Dakrithel chose to make something special for Ember’s final gift. He decided the story he wished to tell was one they had shared long ago. He pulled out his creation from the bag: a green crocodile, made from stiff cane fibers weaved and folded together. He painted it, gave it a face, and was quite happy with his construction.

“What’s this?” Ember asked excitedly.

“A crocodile,” he said. “Bring back any memories?”

“Uhh,” she said, racking her brain for memories of crocodiles. “No, not that I can think of.”

“Think way back,” he said, the grin on his face masking his growing disappointment.

“Okay,” Ember said. She looked up at the ceiling, twiddled her fingers, and bit her lower lip, all proof that she was thinking very hard. “I’ve got nothing.”

Dakrithel’s smile slipped. “Alright. D’you remember our first date?”

“At the Ruins of Velundane Museum?” She asked, now truly perplexed.

“No, no. Before that. Before we even knew we were courting.”

“Your mother seemed to know we were,” she added. “But I’m sorry, I honestly don’t remember what you’re talking about.”

“Enasembra the 8th?” Dakrithel asked. “The 15th year of the Second Age?” ‘This surely will jog her memory,’ he thought.

“Why do you even remember that?” she asked, now growing defensive about having no memory at all as to what he was referring.

“When you were a baker?” he said, growing desperate for a spark to light.

“I still bake!” Ember exclaimed, teasing him. “I baked you that cake, didn’t I?” she said, pointing out the half eaten cake on the table.

“When you were a baker at the Large Red Bakery,” he said at last. The Large Red Bakery was one of her many previous occupations over the years.

“Oh!” She said, finally getting it, sort of. “I just don’t see how that night has anything to with a crocodile.”

Dakrithel sighed. “Alright, I’ll start from the beginning.” And so he told his tale. She didn’t interrupt. She merely listened, smiled and laughed.

“This was back in Westriff. I had seen you only a few times prior. We met through friends and, after a brief correspondence, I learned you worked at the Large Red Bakery down on the corner of Hafalass and Steelboot.

“Well, after I finished work one day, I decided to visit you. I think we both had an understanding about our feelings towards one another at that point, so I wanted to finally voice my feelings to you. It turned out that I was very unceremonious with my timing. The owner of the bakery had just left and you had, just minutes prior to my arrival, closed up shop.

“I knocked on the window, and saw you jump with a start, broom in hand. You smiled and opened up for me. You were actually getting a head start on baking cookies for the next day, and you asked if I could help. I had never baked before, a point that seemed to amuse you. Needless to say, many cookies were burnt that night, and even more came out in odd shapes.

“But we talked. And we talked. And did I mention we did a lot of talking? Hours went by. We spoke of our lives, our hobbies, and our passions. We laughed and smiled, and got to know one another on a level we didn’t expect to so quickly. I brought up how, yes, my mother assumed we were a couple thanks to gossip through the bramblevine. We spoke in length of how you were planning a prolonged trip alone to Guyvara for a charity effort, something that stood out to me as quite brave for a young girl like you had been.

“Little did I know you were trying to get rid of me by saying, “I don’t know when I’ll be back, so maybe we shouldn’t start anything serious.” But by that point I had already realized I found my wife to be. I said simply, “I can wait.” I’ll never forget the look of speechlessness on your face.

“To make a long story short, at one point during the evening you made for me a miniature crocodile molded from parchment paper. I placed it atop the counter, next to a plate of cookies, thinking it playful and funny.

“I used the restroom in the back of the shop, which doubled as a storage closet – a fact I thought was really unsanitary for a bakery. At that highly inopportune time, the store owner walked in; do you remember her? She was furious at you for keeping the store open so late. We hadn’t known this until after the fact, but she had been watching us talking at length through the windows. She began shooing you out of the store so that she could lock up.

“All this while I was stuck waiting for an appropriate time to come out of the closet/bathroom. There was none. Eventually I had to come out, attempt an explanation and an apology, but nearly got kicked, literally, out of the shop. It was incredibly embarrassing, for both of us. And she kept going off about the “stupid crocodile” on display.

“That night, we got to know more of each other than any other single night, well, save for our wedding night. But you know what I mean. It’s one of my fondest memories. It’s also the night I got you fired.”

“I was thinking,” said Dakrithel, “that we should name this crocodile Malady, for all the trouble it caused.”

“I think that’s a great name. Thank you.” She kissed him deeply, remembering all too well the night he told tale of.

Ember had a similar gift up her sleeve though. When it was her turn to share her final surprise, she pulled out an old coin, with a deep groove down its face. She smiled, knowing it was a good one.

“A coin?” he asked.

Her smile faltered. “Don’t you remember?”

Prompt taken from the Daily Fantasy Writing Prompt, March 14, 2016.

And So the Great Rot Spread


28th of Fourteembra, 87AP

Old Farmer Giles beat his hoe into the dirt, but the dirt did not have enough life in it for the hoe to stick. “Damn,” he said. The soil, once so moist and brown, had become black with rot. Dryer than should be possible.

“It’s just rained!” exclaimed he, quite agitated. “How can this be possible?”

With his eyes he traced where the roots of the rot made their way into the brown moist dirt. Like a sickness it spread. A great large spot upon the face of Atelinor’s green face, with writhing tendrils eating away at the ground around it.

“Soon this will eat away at my fields whole,” Farmer groaned. He turned to see the rest of his crops, glistening in the light of Sol’Enasé, which bounced off their wet leaves. It was a sight he’d never grow tired of beholding.

The tilled earth at his feet was useless, however. He was wasting his time and he knew it. This soil would not grow. It was high time he reaped all he could from his crops, and left.

After all, there was untended and unowned land for hundreds of kiloters north and east of here, nearer the world’s coasts. Soon the rot would be upon his beloved harvest and he’d need to find new land to till.

He had come out this far, past rivers and mountains and thick forests, to escape the terrible wars of men. And a peaceful sanctuary it was. He and his family had built a fine home for themselves. His wife bore him seven beautiful children in quick succession. And then last year, over the tors and through the fields, the rot became visible. It crept by night, shrinking back only slightly in the sunlight, but made more headway than not. It took it longer than a year before it had overtaken them.

But here it was now. An evil malice of unknown origin, staring in the face of all he’d made of the land. Old Farmer Giles had tried cultivating the black soil numerous times, but seeds only shriveled into dust themselves beneath its dark layers.

“Yes. It’s ’bout that time then.” He had known this day would come. He’d warned his missus, and told the children fanciful tales of the land beyond. Of green, free, and peaceful fields as far as the eye could see.

But it was clear there was a price to be paid for peace. Whether that be an allegorical excuse he’d told himself, or the truth, he did not know. But that seemed the only answer he could conjure.

Old Farmer Giles began the process he so dreaded. He harvested what could be reaped, more than enough to feed their family of nine, and then some to be dried out for seeds. He began his preparations for his journey northward.

But how long until the rot overtakes their new home?

Prompt taken from the Daily Fantasy Writing Prompt, Mar. 7, 2016.

Assent of the Whale


4th of Enasembra, 1219AP

The man and the boy pushed the boat into the bay, ankles deep in the Shattrasi. When the water came up past their knees they knew, without a word between them, it was time to jump in. It rocked, but held their weight, and the momentum carried them past the breaking waves. The water was rougher than usual today.

The two had done this many times prior. In the boy’s young life, he knew he had been out at sea more days than not with the older man. Their suncharred skin vouched for that. Many in their small village would starve if not for their work in the Shattrasi.

Two sets of oars were knotted to the boat’s sides, one set in the front and the other towards the rear. The man took the bow, and the boy took the stern. They pushed on, the boy keeping stride with the man’s rowing. He watched the rhythmic rippling of the muscles on the man’s back as he pulled, tugged, and pushed his oars into the water. They shifted underneath his agemark tattoos. Each new agemark was awarded at the start of the year, just after Prime Zenith. The boy saw the latest mark, denoting the man was now in his 31st year, was still red around the ink. The boy’s own back stung under Sol’Enasé’s light, just under his left shoulder. He was proud of the sensation it brought him. It was his first large agemark, awarded for his 10th year.

Behind them the Shattrakani shores shrunk as they went further out, its blue canopies becoming but a blue line over light sand.

The boat’s white paint had begun chipping away, revealing more of the pronounced blue wood they so revered in Shattrakan. It was far more buoyant than other varieties, which other peoples of Atelinor chose to favor.

The man stopped his rowing, as did the boy. The boy knew to fully remove the oars from the water while the man performed a calming. He pushed the butt of his oars all the way down to the bottom of the deck, and locked them in place under his legs. The last time he let one slip while the man performed a calming the oar had snapped in half. He wouldn’t let that happen again. The waves were choppy, an issue common on windy days such as this. It would not be an easy calming.

The man leaned forward, over the bow, and placed both hands in the water. Long ago the man had taught himself to use the knowledge unlocked by a Fumarin, a large red paradox he had found deep within the Shattrakani Forest. The man wasn’t the best anomalurgist the boy had ever known, but one who used his abilities to reach his end the best. With it he pushed out to calm the waters beneath the boat. The man understood water to a degree infinitesimally greater than your average man, when he opened his mind to it. He knew the water. But on days such as today, where water chose to be disagreeable, calming wasn’t quite so simple.

Minutes passed and the man grew tired. He arms shook, the calming taking much of his strength. But at last, the rough waves around the boat quelled. Soon even the ripples silenced. Placid waters circled them, not giving way to the heave of the waves outside of the circle. The man removed his hands and the boy pulled him in, asking if he was alright. The man nodded, not letting his concentration waver, even slightly.

Several more minutes passed of silent waiting for the boy and intense concentration for the man. The man’s eyes were shut, and he shook as more and more of his strength was relegated to the calming. The boy leaned over the starboard side of the boat, peering into the smooth depths.

Eventually it came. A shadow passed beneath the boat, large and ominous. He called to the man, deep in his concentration, to hold the calm a while longer. The shape beneath the water appeared again, much closer this time, stopping just underneath the ship. It wouldn’t be able to break through the calm, but it was still a threatening site to behold. A large eye stared up at the boy, who nodded, before the eye blinked and the beast left.

The great whales ruled the Shattrasi and all seas, and it was by their blessing alone to allow men the right of fishing within them. The calming was only a formality.

The boy patted the man on the back, allowing him to close his mind to the anomaly. He was glad to do so, and the boy saw the tension fade from his muscles and ease from his mind. Slowly he opened his eyes, and the circle of still water became like it previously was. The man held up a fist, in wait once more.

A large tail kicked up out of the water some distance from them, spraying the air with a salty white mist. If the whale agreed to their fishing today, it would wave them forward, or simply sink its tail back into the water with no splash. If it decided not to allow them to fish today, it would let them know, slapping its tail on the surface of the Shattrasi. It hovered there for a moment, before making its decision. Whether for dramatics or for true consideration, the boy never knew, but he readied the nets regardless.

The whale waved its tail forward, and let its flukes sink into the depths without a splash. The man yelled for him to drop the nets, but the boy knew well enough already. He dropped the net, and he saw the shadow of the whale pass below them again. Behind the whale, a school of comparatively tiny fish swam after it. And the small net caught what it could manage with those fish swimming nearest the surface.

This is a brief tale I chose to write today. I just watched the Star Wars Rebels episode, ‘The Call,’ which had space whales in it. Inspiring, I know. Afterward I learned that it was World Whale Day today, so I decided to make this brief piece. It’s only 1000 words. Hope you enjoyed. I haven’t got to explore the more tribal life of those southern Shattrakani yet, so this is a start.

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


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?

Widows Speak at the Gates of Mourning


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?”


“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!