Tag Archives: writing

Old writing: Dragons

This is likely from around 2000, and it’s definite cringe for me – I’m putting this out there in the name of entertainment! You can tell I was reading the Dragonriders series at the time, and I can see some of S’ian and an early incarnation of Toru in the characters, but…oh dear. I wonder if I’m going to look back on my current writing in seventeen years time and have the same reaction?

The people in the street gaped up at the sentry who shouted, then turned to gaze at the sky. Within a few seconds, the whisper spread throughout the city, the trickle turning into a stream. It spread through the households like fire, engulfing everyone in its path. The news reached the centre of the city within a minute and sent servants running.  People rushed out of their houses to stare at the two patches of shimmering colour in the sky. When the lord of the city had the news brought to him by a flustered servant, he blinked several times in surprise, then hurriedly gave several shouted orders to his functionaries and sent them scurrying. All through the city, the trickled news turned into a stream, then into a river as more and more people stopped what they were doing and hurried towards the walls.

High up on the two great beasts, the dragonriders watched as a stream of people poured out of the gates and up onto the walls. A glance passed between the riders, and the dragons began to spiral lower and lower towards the green fields outside the city walls.

The lord of the city was worried as he rode towards the gates. Sitting in his carriage, he could see the air of excitement on the peoples’ faces. It was like a celebration, he mused. But the dragons were living legends, as the riders did not visit the country very often. He had only seen them once before in his lifetime. It was a great honour to be visited by the riders. But all the same, it had only been, what, 20 orbits since they visited last? They must have some reason for coming again so soon. They couldn’t have…The Lord found that he was nervously fingering the great gold ring of office on his finger and tried to calm himself. The carriage passed through the gates and came to a stop on the edge of the crowd. The lord dismounted, and despite himself, gazed upwards with the crowd to watch as the two dragons circled closer and closer.

As the dragons came closer to the field and the waiting crowd, the riders could see the carriage drive up and the man, ridiculously small from this height, step out. The rider of the silver dragon, a young elf-girl, patted its side, as if in sympathy to something it had said. A glance passed between her and the boy riding the golden dragon, and although no sound passed between them, they seemed to speak to each other.

They are expecting us, Ben

Did you expect anything less? It is good that the sentries were alert-

 -Yes, but do they know why we are really here? – 

 -We have to have a purpose…we don’t visit for fun, Cian. – 

-Agreed, but we must be alert. They will be expecting a reason-

The gold dragon turned its head to the youth riding it.

-They are scared of us, Ben. Raider says that the people have not seen beasts like us much. Why do we scare them? –

-Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. –

– And Raider says please pay attention. We are landing soon-

-Tell her we know what we’re doing, Manooth-

They turned back to watch the city as they circled closer.

#

As the dragons came in to land, the lord could see them close up for the first time. They were truly magnificent. Their skins shone in the sunlight and their wings spread the full width of the gatehouse. The lord noted that although both dragons had other colours shimmering faintly along their wings and ridges, the gold dragon had more pronounced highlights of red on the tips of the wings, claw sheaths and all along the back ridges. The silver dragon only had a few faint green highlights, but the eyes of both dragons glittered like diamonds. They swooped in, and the lord could clearly hear the gasps of apprehension and feel the crowd pull back as the dragons flew straight towards the city walls. Then they suddenly backwinged with a blast of air and settled to the ground just in front of the exited crowd. The sigh was audible as the dragons furled their wings with a rustling sound like the wind. The crowd drew back as both riders dropped to the ground and one walked towards the Lord. The other turned towards the dragon and reached up to stroke the lowered head. The crowd cautiously drew in to get a closer look.

The boy up on the walls, hidden out of sight from the people on the ground, had watched with the crowd as the dragons flew in and landed. As he saw the riders dismount, he craned forward over the wall to see more clearly. He saw the boy walk forward to meet the Lord of the city. His gaze flicked to the Lord and back to the rider. The drab riding clothes of the riders contrasted sharply with the clothes of the richly dressed ruler, but he saw how the boy walked with an air of poise and confidence that both the riders had. It was obvious against with the slight nervousness of the Lord’s stance. Why was the Lord so nervous? But his gaze was caught as the girl by the dragons removed her helmet and goggles and reached up to stroke the great head lowered towards her. How he would love to be able to do that! It must be wonderful to ride a Dragon. Then he felt his breath catch sharply as the girl turned her head towards the walls, her gaze searching for something. He ducked back into the crowd and watched with apprehension until the girl turned back to stroke the head of the silver dragon as it towered above her. That was too close. He had to be careful! But still he stayed on the walls, watching with envy.

Cian was thinking fast as she turned back to the dragons. I felt him looking at me! He was watching us. I felt it. So where is he? I thought I saw him, then he was gone. He ducked back. Is he scared? Scared to face his future? Or maybe he doesn’t know. Then what was he doing watching us like that? He must know the legends, even if he doesn’t know that it’s him. She reached out with her mind but the mind she had felt before was gone. Shielded, she thought. Clever. I could break through, but not now. It can wait.

As he approached the Lord of the city, Ben could clearly feel the apprehension emanating from the richly dressed man. Dragonriders did not visit very often, and usually no one person had seen two visits in their lifetimes. But it had been only 20 turns since the last routine check, so the lord had a right to feel nervous.

–Ben, stop worrying- came Cian’s soft voice in his head. He caught his gaze on the slightly nervous lord, walking forward to greet him, and smiled.

“My Lord.” The lord could not quite mask his nervousness. “ It is an honour to meet such famous people. It is a great favour for Dragonriders to visit twice in one lifetime, and we are indeed honoured with your presence.  May I welcome you to our city and offer you the hospitality of the palace while you recover from your journey?” The lord bowed low.

Ben responded with a half bow. “I am B’ten, rider of gold Manooth, and that is X’cian, rider of silver Raider. I apologise for the inconvenience of this visit, but may I assure you that it was necessary.”

He glanced at the crowd surrounding them. The Lord looked even more nervous for a moment, but got control of himself.

“Of course. Is there anything we can, uh, do for your Dragons?”

Ben smiled. “We will see to the dragons later – they might need feeding, you know. But they don’t eat meat.” he added hurriedly. “They should be all right here for the meantime. I think your people like them.”

The Lord looked a trifle put out. “We do not see many of these beasts up close. It is a rare opportunity.”

Why did you say that name? You don’t often use B’ten. – Cian enquired in his head. Ben gave a mental shrug. – And the dragons are going to get nervous. The crowd won’t leave them alone. Can you do something? –

 Ben turned to look at the crowd surrounding the dragons. It was keeping its distance, but was rather big. He frowned. “If you will excuse my interfering, but I think that mabey you should try and disperse the crowd a little.” he said in a low voice to the lord. “ The dragons get irritated when there are too many people around them.”

That did the trick. The Lord went pale and nodded hurriedly. He beckoned a servant over and murmured something. The servant scurried away and a few minutes later guards started to motion the crowd to disperse.

“If you would like to follow me, I will escort you to the palace. I can assure you that the Dragons will not be bothered if your lady would like to come with us.”

Ben heard Cians’ laughter echo inside his head.

Your Lady! He has not even met me yet. All right, Raider. You stay here with Manooth. Fly over to those walls if anyone pesters you. –

Ben smiled at Manooth’s indignant rejoinder that no one would pester Raider. He was very protective of his flying companion and teamate. Ben turned to the Lord with a neutral expression.

“If you could but delay a moment, I think that Silver Treid would like to join us.” He used the formal title deliberately. Treid simply meant rider, but he knew the use of the word would reproach the Lord from automatically assuming that he and Cian were more than a flying pair. It was not a matter for this petty lordling to speculate on.

As Cian came over, Ben saw the Lord’s eyes scan up and down her figure. Cian met his curious gaze with one of steel and the lord hurriedly dropped his eyes and bowed to her. She returned his bow and after another exchange of pleasantries they were led over to the carriage and climbed in.

Old writing: A Normal Day

Definitely a piece from sometime between 1997 and 2002 – I think it was probably 1999, as Year 9 was round about when I was stretching my writing wings and trying to do short pieces. I even submitted something to the school magazine, which didn’t get in – gotta start with the rejection list early!

Just a normal day

The day an alien visited my kitchen.

As I said, it was a perfectly normal day. School had been normal – we’d gotten yelled at a few times, several people hadn’t done their homework, we’d had a wonderful talk in PSE on some totally irrelevant subject, we’d got piles of homework and a lecture on exams in however many weeks.

So I walked home, unlocked the door, dumped my bag. I’m the first one in because my parents are at work and my sister always takes ages to walk home – she talks rather than walks, if that makes sense. But anyway, I went through to the kitchen and went to get myself something to eat, then stopped. Because something wasn’t right.

Now, I know it always sounds really dramatic when you say “and I heard footsteps behind me” or “and I suddenly felt a chill”, but I could sense that something wasn’t right. It’s just a combination of a thousand tiny things that told me that there was someone else in the house. Or to be more precise, behind the pantry door.

I stood completely still for a moment, then turned slowly and walked over there. Yes, I know it sounds like a stupid thing to do. But I walked over there and pulled the door back. And this person stepped out.

To this day, I’m not sure which one of us was more terrified and surprised, me or him. Anyway, this person stepped out, and we both looked at each other for a minute in absolute shock. Then this person carefully spread his arms out and said in rather odd English; “I am no weepons.”

I simply stared at him. It’s not every day that you have an oddly dressed stranger step out of the pantry. And he was odd. Slightly taller than me, he was wearing one of those all-in-one suits with a long robe over the top of it, like you see the Arab people wearing. His hair was pure white, the whitest I’ve ever seen, and he had a small microphone tucked onto his collar. He was wearing a silver band on his wrist, like a watch, but it wasn’t. And his eyes were just pure black! It was like he was wearing sunglasses under his skin.

So, I bullied my brain into working and replied “I haven’t either – who are you?” I admit that it wasn’t the most original of comments but under the circumstances, I wasn’t going to say something that sounds like it’s out of a sci-fi movie.

He smiled carefully. “I am name…” and then something that sounded like it was off a fast-forwarded tape. I gave him a blank look. “Tset?” he said, nodding in apology.

So this guy Tset and I ended up sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea (he’d never seen it before and rather liked it) while I tried to explain various things to him, like how the tap worked and why the window was see-through but you couldn’t feel the air. In return, he was trying to explain his world to me.

When I think about it, what I remember is that his world is like ours, but it’s magic. They don’t have technology; they use some sort of forces in the earth to do what we do with dead metals and plants. It sounded really weird and I didn’t really understand it, partly because his English wasn’t too good. He sounded a bit foreign, sort of a mix of German and Italian. But apparently he’d got into out kitchen through a portal, because his world was linked with ours. And this was the bit that I didn’t really understand, but it was something to do with opposite forces and power cables. Or power lines.

But he was trying to tell me about links when I heard gravel scrunching. We’ve got a gravel path and I guessed that it was my sister. Tset must have heard it to, because he got up and retreated into the pantry again.

“I must tank you, for your heelp. It iss very intereestink? But I must goo. The gate iss opeen.”

“In our freezer?” I said as he got in.

He winked at me and as he shut the lid, there was a flash of light.

I opened it and there was nothing there.

Call me a liar if you like. I’m just waiting to see where they come out of next.

Old writing: Psychic

Definitely influenced by Anne McCaffrey’s Pegasus series (which is fantastic, by the way – futuristic psychic powers and space adventure!) This was a 2008 piece that’s more a character study than anything with a plot, and never went anywhere after this.

“I’m one of the lucky ones.” he said bitterly. “I only get the future, and I get everything.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you heard of psychics?” Richard raised an eyebrow sarcastically.

“Who hasn’t?” Robin replied in the same tone.

“Well, I’m a psychic.” He said it like a swearword. “My ‘gift’, if you want to call it that, is precog. I’m lucky in that because I don’t fasten on specifics. John, who’s the other major precog, fastens in on disasters – murders, deaths, fires, other similar disasters. It’s not nice. I just get all sorts…mainly important incidents, usually people. I saw the plane crash along with John, but I saw Johnny being born as well. Of course, I didn’t know who he was then.”

“So what’s Johnny?”

“An empath and telepath. Unusual combination because he’s strong in both abilities. He can, in layman’s terms, see what people are thinking.”

“How many psychics are there?”

“Seven strong ones that I know of, and about twenty more weak. They fit in to normal life ok, just have minor talent. We’re a bit more of a problem.”

“Which is where Mark comes in?”

“Which is where Mark comes in. He’s supposed to be studying us, to see if we can be any use, and also to see where they can dump us.” He looked up and smiled at the door, a smile that lit up his face, startling Robin, who turned to see what he was smiling at.

The door gently opened, with four long elegant fingers curling around the edge, followed by a curl of red-gold hair. The face that followed was as pale as the fingers, elfin and ethereal, the red hair curling around the slender cheekbones. “Am I disturbing you?”

You are not disturbing me; you shatter my entire existence…welcome. “Come in, Ali.” Richard said. “Have you met Rob?”

“No, I haven’t.” She held out a hand. Robin took it gingerly, afraid of breaking the thin bones beneath his grasp. She was dressed in worn jeans and a t-shirt, and her eyes were a dark brown.

“Pleased to meet you.” he managed.

Richard gestured to the chair on the third side of the square. “Take a seat, Ali. I was explaining our existence to Rob.”

She sat elegantly, curling her legs into the chair. “I should warn you that everyone will join us now that they know you are here.” she said politely in her faintly accented voice.

“Pull up more chairs as they arrive, then. Rob won’t mind.” Richard turned back to Rob. “Mark’ll be back in a few hours, so he might want to see you.”

A knock heralded the next visitor. “Come in!” Richard yelled.

“Thought you would be here, Rich.” It was John, followed by Marcy and Lou. “Mind?”

“It’s turning in to a general meeting anyway.” Richard grumbled. Lou hauled himself a chair from the other table and turned to get another, but found one already there. “Oh, hi, Ali.”

“Hello, Lou. How are you?”

“Fine, thanks.” He had an American accent and a face that smiled easily, his eyes creasing at the corners. “Rich, if you’re planning to get everyone in here, shouldn’t you have chosen a larger room?”

“It wasn’t my idea.”

“That explains everything.” Marcy chipped in. “News for everyone, by the way – Mark’s arranged a demonstration opportunity for the great and the good tomorrow, if we’re ok with it. You know he’s been trying to ages.”

“Who’s invited?” John asked.

“Senators, political toadies, newsmen, couple of the important service leaders, police chief etcetera, you know the list. The important people in our society, and the people who we can inconvenience or help depending on circumstance.”

“That would help us if we can pull it off…” Lou mused.

“Sure would! Could convince them that we’re not a danger either.” Marcy added.

John was studying Robin. “’Scuse, but you’re the lad that was picked up by the police over the north, aren’t you?” he asked quietly. “Damaged a car, didn’t you?”

“John’s the other precogs, but he’s a seer too.” Richard said to Robin’s shocked look. “Probably saw the car go up in flames?”

“No, saw the crash.” John corrected. “And saw you…” His eyes were creasing with a frown, sliding into the distance as he tried to remember. “You threw it…or pushed it…I saw you do something. You caused the crash…?” His eyes refocused.

“I prevented it!” Robin said coldly. “They would have hit each other.”

Lou began to chuckle. “New talent! Well done, Rich!”

Old writing: Otherworld

This is something I wrote before 2005…it was probably a 2002-2004 piece that made it onto the new drive in 2005. These are the first two chapters of a 12-chapter book – considering that the rest of the chapters have titles like “The Battle Commences” and “They Learn Their Powers”, you can see that I was still very influenced by traditional epic fantasy – definitely a young piece! It’s not something I continued with in the current story form, but I can see a few influences that later went into S’ian and GreenSky, and some that are creeping into The Thief And The Seer.

 

Chapter 1: The cottage and its secrets are discovered.

Robert stumbled through the forest, brambles tearing his clothes and skin, branches whipping his face. He tripped on a tree root and fell, pushing himself back up with tears streaming down his muddy face from the pain of his leg. He continued to stumble through the forest, knowing that he would have to get as far away from them as he could.

He was so wrapped up in his flight that he didn’t notice as he came out of the trees and into a small glade. He had come out onto the grass, and almost fell into a stream. He stopped abruptly. Looking back, he saw no sign of where he had come through the trees – there seemed to be an impenetrable barrier of prickly thorns where there had been a clear gap. Robert, feeling a little scared about this, turned to look at where he had stumbled into.

In front of him was a green clearing with oak trees around the edge and the stream he had almost fallen into running through it. On the top of a slight rise in the clearing sat a small stone cottage. It had a battered wooden door and windows scattered all over the place. The roof was made of mossy tiles and a small outhouse leaned drunkenly against one side of the cottage. Robert was too tired and dizzy to even consider any danger, and began to run towards the door. It was quite hard after he got halfway to the house, because it seemed to move every time he though he had got nearer. The stone path seemed determined to trip him up, and the door was moving further and further away. He tried to turn back, but the path wouldn’t let him go back and anyway, the bushes behind him had become an impenetrable wall of thorns. He got to the door with supreme effort, feeling the world spinning around him, and tried to reach for the handle. It wasn’t under his fingers. He tried again and again missed. Finally, Robert stumbled and fell as his leg collapsed under him. He knelt on the path in front of the door, feeling the rough stone beneath his hands, and collapsed against it hopelessly. He would just lie here until morning, and if anyone found him, good for them. He couldn’t be bothered with doors that wouldn’t let people near them.

He was dimly aware of the creak of the door opening, and heard footsteps approaching and circling him. A clear woman’s voice called from the doorway.

“What is it, Tomkin?”

Gentle hands turned Robert over, lifting his head. “A young boy,” a deep, kind voice said. “Injured, it looks like. Shall I bring him in?”

“Yes…do so.” the woman said.

Robert felt strong arms lift him, and sank into blackness as he was carried into the cottage. The door shut firmly, just as the boy’s pursuers reached the edge of the clearing. They knew better than to try and get through the holly hedge, now thicker and even more prickly, and stood looking through a gap at the closed door. They stood for a moment, then turned and loped off. This development would have to be reported.

Chapter 2: The first messenger

Robert awoke to the chatter of low voices. He could feel heat on his face and relaxed in the warmth for a moment, before the memories of his flight came back. He sat up with a jerk, feeling pain flare through his skull at the sudden movement.

Hands caught him as he swayed dizzily. “Easy now, young master.” a man’s deep voice said gently. It sounded kind and reassuring.  “You’re safe here. They can’t get you.”

Robert let the hands lay him back and opened his eyes as the man moved away. He was lying in a wooden chair with several blankets wrapped around him. He seemed to be in the cottage, for the walls of the room were of stone. The ceiling was low and beamed, and a fire crackled in the grate in front of him. The fire threw yellow light onto the walls, making the room cosy and warm.

Hands again raised him, holding a mug to his lips. “Drink this.” the man said.

Robert took several sips of the hot liquid, and then turned his head painfully to see whom it was who was helping him. The man crouching down beside the chair grinned at him.

“I’m Tomkin.” he said. “You can call me Tom, though.” He ran a hand through his black hair as he caught Robert’s gaze on it. It had dark blue streaks, and seemed to be always in a mess. Tom had an engaging smile and a cheery face, changing with his moods from happy to sad in an instant. He seemed trusting and wise and clever and cheerful all at once. Robert liked him immediately.

“What happened?” the boy asked, painfully aware of his throbbing leg and numerous scratches on his arms and body.

“We found you collapsed on the path, and took you in.” Tom said.

“We?”

“Yada and I. She’ll be around in a little while to see you.” Tom smiled and walked away to put the mug down, then went over to stir up the fire. Robert felt the heat wash over him and sank back into exhausted sleep.

#

“Who d’you think he was running from?” Tom asked later, watching the boy sleeping in the faint light of the fire.

“The Hounds. I felt three of them come to the edge of the clearing just after we’d gone inside – a minute later and they would have seen us as well. They don’t actually know that we’ve got him, but I suspect they’ll report it anyway.”

“Yes.” Tom frowned, brushing his hair back from his eyes again. “That might cause problems.”

“We’ll find out when he wakes. I wish the House wouldn’t take things into its own hands, but I suppose it has its reasons. It didn’t like him when he was on the path, but it’s welcoming him now.”

“Maybe it was the Hounds.” Tom went back to the boy’s side, checking on the wounds. His companion watched impassively as the man tended the boy, who stirred uneasily in his sleep as he dreamed of his past.

#

It was two days later when Robert roused from sleep, feeling fully awake for the first time. Rain was drumming on the windows of the cottage, and the in the firelight the room seemed warm and comforting. The wind was howling around in the chimney, making the fire blaze and dance. Tom was sitting in a chair by the fire, reading a book. He glanced up when he felt Robert’s gaze on him.

“Ah, you’ve woken.” Tom said, flashing a cheery smile. “How do you feel?”

“Better.” Robert said, raising himself out of the chair. Tom stepped over and caught his arm as he stood gingerly, swaying dizzily. The man helped the boy as he took several tentative steps, feeling his legs become firmer and stronger. They ended up by Tom’s chair, and he lowered Robert into it.

“Well, that’s better! I’ll find you a drink.”

Tom brought a mug over and pulled up another chair. His face became serious as Robert sipped the drink.

“How come you ended up here?” he asked.

“I was being chased.”

Tom’s face hardened and his eyes became dark. “Yes, we saw. We know about them. Why were they set on you?”

“Because I stole some bread because I was hungry.” Robert said miserably. “The wizard caught me and took me to the castle, and another wizard saw me and told him to lock me away. He seemed scared of me – I think thieves go before the judge or something, but the wizard took me to a room and shut me in. I was really scared…but when the guard came he opened the door and I ran out. Then I hid and managed to get out the main gate and they set something on my trail. But I don’t know what they were. I’d never seen them before.”

“Hmmm…Yada’s busy at the moment, and Laeille’s not here…blast!” Tom stood up and began to pace round the room. “This is serious. We really need Laeille for this sort of thing. Yada!” he yelled.

“All right, Tom! I heard!” a voice called crossly from a shadowy doorway to one side of the room. “I’m coming.”

The voice was the one Robert had heard the day he had found the cottage, the one that had said he could come in. Tom had asked her permission, Robert remembered.

A woman entered the room from the doorway, one hand resting lightly on the doorframe. She had short brown hair and wore a simple smock that reached to her knees with dark leggings and boots under it, but the thing that drew Robert’s attention were her eyes – sparkling green and full of laughter.

Yada walked easily across the room to where Robert was sitting and sat down in the chair that Tom vacated for her.

“I don’t think I know your name, young man.” she said, her voice light and with an undercurrent of rippling laughter.

“Robert.” the boy said, aware of how inadequate it seemed.

“Robert.” the woman said thoughtfully. “I’m Yada – I’m a witch, by the way. And Tomkin you know already.”

A witch? Robert was surprised. She didn’t look anything like the village witches, who tended to be old and bent and grumpy and could only curse and make potions. He didn’t expect witches to have laughing eyes and look very pretty when they smiled.

“When’s Laeille next coming here, Yada?” Tom asked suddenly, wandering over with a worried frown on his face.

“I don’t know.” the witch said apologetically. Tom sighed and went back to the work surface at the other end of the room, leaving the two alone in the light of the fire.

“Laeille is another of our friends.” Yada explained, turning her face to Robert. “She tends to come and go – usually when we need her most, she’s not here. She’ll be coming.”

“Thank you for looking after me.” Robert said.

“That’s all right.” Yada smiled, her face lighting up. “I’m sorry the path was being horrible to you. It tends to do that with people we don’t know, even though I have told it several times.”

Robert stared. How did she know about that?

“And don’t stare. It’s rude.” Yada rebuked him lightly, with a smile on her face. “It’s done it before…I’m just waiting for it to do that to Laeille. She’ll teach it not to.”

The door shut against the wind outside with a loud bang.

“It did.” a laughing voice said from the doorway. “I demonstrated to it that I didn’t like it, so it does it to everyone else instead of me.”

None of the three in the room had heard the door open, and they all jumped as the door banged. Robert twisted round in his chair and Tom put down whatever he was doing, a grin spreading across his face.

“Laeille! You could have said you were coming!” Yada exclaimed in irritation.

“I’m sorry, Yada.” the blue cloaked figure standing inside the doorway said lightly. “I didn’t want anyone else to know…not that I don’t trust you, but it’s better to be safe.” The figure was soaking wet, water running off the cloak to drip onto the floor. Tom hurried over.

“Here, let’s take that, Lae. Go dry off.” he said, taking the cloak off the figure. So this was Laeille! Robert watched in interest as a young woman took the cloak off and shook her long auburn-red hair out. Her pale skin was almost translucent under the golden glow and she was slender, with long fingers and very blue eyes in an aquiline face. She seemed to be aged about twenty. Tom hung the cloak up and the girl wandered over to the fire. As she came into the light of the flames and saw Robert, their eyes connected. Something seemed to pass between them in that moment, but the boy didn’t have time to sense what it was. Laeille smiled at the two sat there.

“Greeting, Yada.” she said to the woman. Yada smiled and gestured to Robert.

“Our guest is Robert, a young fugitive from those blasted Hounds.”

Laeille bowed slightly to the boy, her skin and hair glowing in the light of the flames. The boy sensed that the young woman had liked him immediately. “I’m pleased to meet you, Robert. I’m going to do something to those hounds one day.”

“Like you did to the path?” Tom asked.

“Something like that.” Laeille admitted blandly. “Rob, you’re half asleep. Let’s get you back to the other chair before you fall asleep in Tom’s and he throws you over there.”

Robert laughed and let Laeille and Tom walk him back to the other chair. He lay there dozing as the three sat around the fire, Yada’s soft voice mixing with Tom’s deep one as they told Laeille what had happened. The girl seemed worried about him, and asked several questions, but brushed away Tom’s fear about the Hounds. The last thing that Robert remembered was Laeille laughing at something Yada said, her silvery voice mixing with Tom’s deep chuckle, before he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

#

Laeille had gone by the time Robert woke the next morning, but Tom seemed indifferent to her disappearance. “She comes and goes.” he said. “She’ll come again whenever we need her. She’s got her own things to do – generally, she can do them without our help.” He winked. “She told us to keep our noses out the first time we tried to help her. If any of us need help, we ask for it. Otherwise, we don’t.”

Robert thought this seemed a little harsh, and said so.

“Well, I suppose it is…” Tom said thoughtfully. “But Laeille is a difficult girl to understand, and some of the things she does are quite beyond our comprehension. We simply wouldn’t understand it.” He grinned. “If we need help, we ask her. She’s got powers beyond your understanding, Rob. If you need help, call her. She’ll hear.”

Robert sat in the sunlight by the window while he was recovering, thinking about the strange girl he had met. Tom had hinted that she had strange powers, and had said to call her. Who was she? He felt sure that he had heard of her before…but the memory, tantalisingly, refused to show itself. It hid just behind his consciousness, so that he could not see it clearly. After several hours of thought, the boy sighed and gave up. He decided that he liked her, even if they had only just met. And thinking about mysterious, he had to find out more about Tom, Yada and the House. He wasn’t sure he liked houses that had minds of their own.

As Robert regained his strength over the next few weeks, he began to explore the house. Tom and Yada seemed quiet happy to let him, and the boy set off up the staircase expecting the house to small and cosy. Instead, he found a maze of rooms and staircases. Passages and doors led off every whichway, and the doors never seemed to go where you expected. Robert found that he could happily spend whole days in the house and still not have seen everything. The rooms were all comfortably furnished and most had windows, although when Robert tried to work this out he found that there couldn’t be that many windows because he’d only seen a few on the outside of the house. After a while, he gave up trying to understand and simply explored, delighting in every new secret he unlocked.

He also found time to help Tom with his experiments. Tom was always working on something, and he let Robert help. The experiments all seemed to be potions and salves, cures for this and that, and once there were several funny coloured liquids that steamed oddly when poured into bottles, even though they felt cold to the touch. Robert found himself learning a lot from Tom as he helped, and found that he was able to perform small tasks on his own as he learned more and more. Yada also taught Robert over the weeks, although her teaching was always concealed in conversation. She would gently lead the boy’s mind towards questions, and even though Robert gave her answers, he found that he was thinking about what she had said for several days afterwards as other thoughts occurred from that one comment.

And so the weeks passed. Laeille returned twice, vanishing during the night to whatever she was doing. Robert’s leg healed, and he soon found that he was able to run around the house, darting up and down the stairways and passage in an endless game of hide and seek. Periodically Hounds could be seen from the windows, skulking around the edges of the Glade, but Yada and Tom never mentioned these visits to Robert. It seemed an idyll time for the young boy, and he soon forgot what had led him to the cottage in the first place, even though the memories were still there.

Greensky: a snippet of Lusa

This was written and then removed from a forthcoming GreenSky book, but doesn’t contain spoilers. Enjoy!

Ziricon hadn’t changed. Or, Lusa amended to herself, Attar hadn’t changed.

The city was the nearest to the mines, and was the trading hub for the industry. As such, it was covered with a pall of smog, with dirty buildings, fires lit almost constantly, machines and people working constantly, and endless rebuilding works…

She’d never flown before and had felt slightly petrified for the entire time, wondering when the flimsy craft was going to fall out of the sky as easily as it had risen. The descent towards the desert outside Attar had been the most terrifying, with the ground coming up towards her and then the sudden stop. She’d never been so grateful to touch solid ground in her life.

And then the Fliyer had lifted off into the sky again, and she’d been left in the dust and scrubland of the desert, wondering why she’d agreed to this.

Tollie had dropped her a little way outside the city in the dusk, and Lusa trudged along the main road as darkness fell. They’d wanted to keep her fairly inconspicuous, and being delivered somewhere by Fliyer was going to say ‘Meton’ to any watcher. Hopefully, she had now blended in with the groups of travellers on the road, amongst the final few wagons that were bearing their loads of ore and fuel to the city.

Her clothes felt odd. It had been a few years, now, since she’d worn Ziricon styles…and even when she’d lived here, she had rarely worn the long skirt and tunic of the freedwoman that she wore now. It felt as if she was stepping back into a mask that no longer fitted.

But now…she had changed, and her status had certainly changed. And she really hoped that it would help her mission.

 

Marlin Pet’re Annan’s house was behind the same high walls as most of the other Palaces in Ziricon. Was it just habit, or to ensure the rabble were kept out? But the gate was open, and Lusa headed for it.

A guard stopped her. “Name?”

“Lusa Annan. The Marlin is expecting me.”

The man looked her up and down, and Lusa felt her lip curl. She hadn’t missed the looks, the leers, the comments. At least Ceane was better than that!

But he did go and check the chalkboard in the small room, leaving her standing in the dust for a minute. Lusa looked through the gates at the courtyard and large doors. The Marlin kept his garden in the inner courtyard, preferring it for private use rather than the ostentatious display of wealth that some other Marlins preferred. She hadn’t seen much of the garden when she was last here, but then she hadn’t been here long. Maybe she’d see more of it this time.

The guard returned. “Through the gate, report to the steward. You know the way?”

He didn’t want to have to send the messenger whose feet Lusa could see through the open door, propped on the table. “I know the way.”

There were few people around as Lusa walked across the dusty courtyard and then into the main entrance. Pet’re Annan was as given to ostentation as the others, albeit in a slightly more decorative way; the main lobby was marble and stone, and was far too garish for Lusa’s eyes. She found the steward’s second in the office, and the boy shot off to tell someone else. At least the news was getting up the chain. Lusa took a seat on an ornately carved wooden bench, and prepared to wait.

But it was only ten minutes later when Marlin Pet’re Annan strode into the lobby. He hadn’t changed from when Lusa last saw him; his silver hair was tied back in the city style, his clothes a rich fabric but a simple design, and his face forming into a smile as he spotted her. He strode over and held his hands out. “Lusa, my dear, your time away has worked wonders for you. Welcome back.”

Lusa took the hands, feeling as if the world was spinning. She had been a slave, the last time she was here…and now she was being greeted as if she were one of the family.

Pet’re Annan smiled more broadly, obviously spotting her confusion. “Please, come and eat with me. We have much to discuss.”

 

At Pet’re’s insistence that she bathe and relax before dinner, Lusa was provided a bath in a richly decorated room; the marble and inlay of the walls was starting to feel a little less strange by the time she stepped out of the shallow pool, but having two servants to help her dress made her skin crawl. She sent them both out as politely as she could, all too aware that she had been there. She had poured the water for her mistress. She had held the clothes, done the ties, found the scarves and shoes. She had never been on this side of the deal, and even though Pet’re Annan’s household was – well, no less rich, but less ostentatious – than her mistress’, the presence of servants to tend Lusa was unsettling.

And, she reflected as she dried herself off, she was too used to Ceane. The tin tub in front of the fire, the inches of water that did for the whole family…even with Ziricon’s lack of water, there was more in the bath here than in what she now thought of as her home. But then having to haul the water up from the well yourself would argue against using too much.

She did ask one of the servants to help her with the dress; they were unfamiliar silks and ties, and Lusa felt out of place. Even when the layers were arranged correctly, she had to stand and calm herself for a moment, getting used to the feelings. When she had first arrived in Ceane, the tunic and tight trousers of the inhabitants had seemed alien and uncomfortable – until the cold winds and rain proved their use to her. These loose silks were cool and elegant, or would be elegant. On Lusa, with her sagging belly and breasts, her bulging arm and leg muscles from the smithing…she felt incredibly out of place.

But, she reflected, at least the flowing garments covered a multitude of sins. She could pretend to be elegant while she was here.

 

She pondered what exactly Jan had told Pet’re Annan as they exchanged pleasantries and picked at the first course of food. Lusa had only ever seen the meals from the servant’s side of the table, so it felt strange to be performing such a ritual dance with a Marlin herself. But her former mistress had been a good teacher. The nibbles of the first course were intended to allow the sort of chatter that put a guest at ease, but Lusa wished he’d just get to the point. Again, Ceane living had spoiled her. She felt rude and uncouth as she responded to the Marlin’s questions, unsure what to ask in return, or even if she should be asking anything.

“So,” Pet’re said as the second course was brought in, relaxing back on his couch and smiling at the woman sitting on the straight-backed chair on the other side of the low table. “We come to Janevere Marov’s request.”

Lusa nodded, and took a small pastry-wrapped morsel. The food was all picking items, intended to sate but not to fill; she was having to remember not to gorge herself, too used to the one-dish meals of Quorl.

“I would agree with Janevere that the best way to get you into Marlin Jirlaen’s services is, frankly, to play on his greed.” Pet’re wiped his fingers on a napkin and then took another morsel. “I do not yet think Jirlaen is aware of your return, but I’m sure that he will be soon.”

“Is he still interested in me?”

Pet’re smiled. “He is not often thwarted, and particularly not by me. He has occasionally made reference over the last few years to the slave that he did not manage to buy at market, the one that then left Reyan in the company of the man who became Heir to Quorl…I think he still bears a grudge, my dear. And that is something we can use.”

“You think he is definitely involved, then.”

Pet’re nodded. “I am one of the largest mine-owners, but Jirlaen is the other. I would like to place the blame on Hinart for the problem that you are investigating, but the whole scheme stinks of Jirlaen. I may suspect that our Council Leader is aware of the scheme, but he will be taking steps to cover his tracks. It will be Jirlaen’s scheme and his to rise or fall on, and Hinart will claim it for the Council if it succeeds.” Pet’re paused, and gave a deprecating smile. “Of course, I am merely extrapolating from what I already know of my fellow-Marlins. But that is my best reading of the political situation.”

They paused while another set of small dishes were brought in and the previous ones removed.

“So what do you advise?” Lusa asked.

“Janevere requested that I offer you all and any assistance I could for your mission,” Pet’re said, taking one of the peeled fruits and proceeding to break it into slices. “You are a blacksmith, are you not?”

Lusa nodded.

“Then that will be extremely useful. This is what I suggest…”

 

A day later, Lusa climbed up onto the wagon that would take her to Attar. It was a steam-powered machine, and smoke was trickling from the tall chimney-stack at the front. She’d forgotten how dirty Ziricon was. Her skin already felt grimy, despite the bath she had taken the previous day.

As Lusa took her seat on the wooden bench and pushed her travel-sack of tools under the bench in front, she was joined by another woman dressed in the long skirt and tunic of a freedwoman, matching Lusa’s own.

The other six passengers got themselves aboard, stowing their belongings under the seats and clutching bags. The wagon did cost money, but it was obviously used by a variety of travellers; in addition to the two freedwomen, Lusa spotted a silken robe under a heavy travelling cloa, and a father with his son sat behind them, the child chattering anxiously about the schoolmaster they were going to see. Lusa wondered why they were travelling to Attar for school when there were plenty in Reyan.

“You would be Lusa,” the woman next to Lusa said with satisfaction as the chimney belched a cloud of black smoke, and the driver threw a lever. The wagon juddered, rattled, and moved forward.

The blacksmith turned her head, examining her companion. She was plumper than many of the freedwoman Lusa had seen; she had either been out of slavery for a while, or had an indulgent owner. Her hair was bound up in a knot and her cloak was thicker than it had first seemed, indicating expense. There was something not quite right about her, Lusa thought.

“I am.”

“I’m Ellie. Marlin Pet’re should have mentioned me.” She said it as if not mentioning her was an unspeakable offence.

Lusa was nodding, trying to stop that line of indignation before it started. “He mentioned you, yes. He said you would be travelling, but he did not think you would be going this soon.”

Ellie smiled. “I received permission yesterday.”

“Permission to travel?” She was free. She shouldn’t need permission…unless Lusa had got it wrong, and the woman was still a slave.

“I am going to visit my daughter,” Ellie explained, some of the cheer dropping off her round face. “In Marlin Jirlaen’s Court.”

The rattle of the wagon and punch of the engines was drowning out their words to any of the travellers around them, for which Lusa was grateful. Was that why Pet’re had suggested this mode of travel? “But you reside with Marlin Pet’re?”

“He was my master, yes. He freed me.” Ellie’s face had dropped even further, as if recounting the story was painful. One hand went to her bosom. “Marlin Jirlaen kept my daughter when I was sold, and I may visit her once a year. Once a year!”

Lusa nodded sympathetically, abruptly missing Mikael. How was he getting on in Meton? But there was no chance she’d let Ellie know she had children, not if she was this chatty to strangers. The wariness of slavery was still with Lusa, despite her freedom.

“She’s a virtual prisoner, not allowed out, not allowed to visit me…” Ellie was moaning. “I don’t even know why he wanted to keep her! She is a girl child, useless to him. Pet’re would buy her in an instant, but he won’t hear of it…”

And the rivalry between the two men was probably why the girl would never be returned to her mother, Lusa thought. Jirlaen would always want some control over his former slave. “Is her father not around?”

Ellie’s widened eyes told Lusa exactly who the girl’s father was, and she cast her eyes over Ellie again. A few years ago, the plump young woman probably would have been very attractive – attractive enough to risk fathering a child on. And then she was disposed, sold off…but the daughter was kept. The political maneuvering made Lusa want to spit. To keep a child when its mother was sold was abuse, even in the world of slavery. To have Mikael live somewhere else, only able to see him once a year…the thought made her shiver.

Ellie was still wailing, and Lusa put her hand on the woman’s. “Tell me about her.”

 

Ellie tended to repeat herself, so by the next stop, Lusa had repeatedly learned that Maya was about fourteen, had brown hair and dark eyes, lived in the depths of the Court, had learned some letters and did well in her studies when she was allowed to take them. “Jirlaen will not hear of her learning a trade,” Ellie added indignantly, “but she is not a slave! She is not property, she should be allowed to make something of herself.”

“If she is the Marlin’s daughter, surely she can marry?” Lusa was trying to remember what avenues were open to freedwomen in Ziricon, and suddenly ached for Quorl. Life was so limited here!

“He will not hear of it! She is the daughter of a slave,” Ellie wailed, “and therefore no one wants her! Jirlaen will not marry her off, he thinks she is unworthy.”

“She’s just…left at Court then?”

Ellie sniffed. “Left all alone, most of the time! She is allowed to read and learn, but that is not enough. I have begged to be allowed to bring her home, to let her make something of herself, but he prefers that she stay at Court, stay in her room…”

What a life. Even a slave was allowed to go out, to leave their occupation for one day a week, to have some future. Well, Lusa amended, most slaves were. Those sent to the Mines had no future beyond pain and death. They were not places where the workers survived for long.

By the time they reached the second rest stop, Lusa wished Pet’re had put Ellie on the next wagon. The woman had repeated the same story twice, and was starting on a third time. Lusa felt sorry for the child, but she wasn’t sure what she could do.

Lusa leaned back against the hard back of the bench, and looked out over the road.

It was going to be a long journey.