Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Wolves Bite

Darla looked again at the note in her hand.

"You will know him by the band of his hat."

She scanned the faces of the patrons coming into Jack's place, looking at everyone's headgear.  She resented having to spend her time on this errand, but someone had to negotiate a turf deal with the with the upstart Male Witches' Guild and as the newest initiate to the Damsels' Guild Council, she got all the shit jobs.  

The three existing protective guilds (the Grannies, the Matrons, and the Damsels) had allowed the male witches to build a client base in the unclaimed and contested areas of Wayward Township.  This was partly because the eager young men were well-suited to rural areas and hilltops where the need for protection from magic usually tended toward brute force work.  A few less clients here or there to protect from the magic that seeped into everything was a welcome break; setting and maintaining all those individual wards around the buildings was tiring and tedious.  However, fewer wards meant less coin coming into the coffers.  Darla had heard from a notoriously unreliable source that the Grannies had resorted to shakedowns to keep the funds coming in.   

A flourish of color distracted her.  She had almost overlooked him, only catching his hat as he set it on the table.  His grey fedora had a band of swirling, ever-changing pinks, yellows, and blues.  Only a fellow magician would be able to make that.  

She took her coffee to his table, sat without his invitation.  "The silver moon waits for no man."

"No man is an island." He replied.  He was surprisingly handsome.  Darla gritted her teeth, hoping they'd sent someone with enough brains for the task.  But he had the proper countersign, there was no doubt he was supposed to be the representative for his Guild.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2020


Dimitri Luchnik drifted in a row boat alongside the cliffs. The boat had an oar but he didn't see the point of rowing--he didn't know where he was and didn't have any destination in mind.  He could have told the troop captain that a sea voyage to Krepnyikk during hurricane season was a bad idea, but he wasn't highly-ranked enough to even have opinions, let alone share them aloud. He'd lost his voynasouchastnik, his battle buddy, when the ship broke up, so both of them were as good as dead if either turned up at home alive.  He felt like an arm after the amputation. Dimitri let the current take him southward so far that the air became intolerably warm at midday, and then further south still until the air became mild again. Even growing up in a costal town--before the military took him--and liking seafood, Dimitri never wanted to eat another fish again after the third week in the rowboat.

The cliffs loomed off his starboard side, pale tan rock occasionally striated with darker colours. The ocean threw itself against the bottom, birds circled the tops, Dimitri was stuck. He didn't mind not being in camp anymore, but the enforced time to do nothing but sit and think didn't go well with him.  It rained nearly every afternoon, he spread his cloak in the bottom of the boat to catch as much as possible. One day towards evening, just after the daily shower, he thought the cliffs were getting shorter but dismissed it as a probable trick of the fading light.  Once the sun dropped behind the cliffs it got dark in a hurry. The next morning there was no doubt, as the sun sparkled across the wavelets, that the cliffs were shorter.  Dimitri estimated they were only two bowshots high. He paddled a little closer to the base, taking care to keep out of the bigger waves right at the rocks that would throw him around.  By just after midday he could see a beach.  

With a joyful shout he plunged the oar in the water.  The boat bottom scraped against the sand and he leapt onto the shore, eager to stand up again.  His legs gave out and he fell half in the boat, he knelt until he felt strong enough to try again.  Struggling to his feet, he almost let the boat drift back out to sea but thought the better of it and wrestled it ashore.  The sand was warm under his hands but not hot enough to get through his boots. The air smelled fresher than the endless salt spray he'd been out in.  The beach curved away out of sight to his left and broke up into large rocks to his right, almost immediately becoming cliffs.  The wall of stone sloped down in front of him, he could see trees at the top. Dimitri secured the boat above the waterline and strode up the beach toward the trees.  He took only the water flask and his bow and arrows, the better to travel light in this strange country.  His goals were, in order of priority, fresh water that did not taste like the inside of his cloak, and something to eat that walked on four legs. Maybe a bath. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Rowan Farm

Rowan Farm

Egan Rowan was born on a small farm halfway up the hillside in Wayward Valley. From the bend in the path, you could just make out some of the buildings of Wayward Township, but it was a two hour walk to get to anywhere. He had plenty of room to run, and became surefooted as a goat traipsing up and down the slopes from the house to the chicken coop and other outbuildings. 

The farm grew enough vegetables to feed their family, plus rabbits, ducks, and a couple pigs, enough to trade up and down the hill for flour, beef, and a few other things. They sold eggs, rabbits, and birds to a store in Town three times a week. Egan was the only child that lived to age two and his parents loved him fiercely, but didn't spoil him. They couldn't, there was barely enough to go around, no extras to be had. 

By age five, Egan knew how to hold a chicken with her wings close to her body so that she wouldn't flap. By seven, he had learned the watering schedule and how to tell food from weeds. His mother liked to carefully dig up and save the weeds that would become flowers—Trilliums, lavender, bluebells, and replant them close to the house. 

"It's only a weed if it grows where it's not wanted,” Eileen would say. "Look, we move it here, and voila! Now it's a decorative bloom instead." When she smiled, her tanned face crinkled around the eyes. His dad always shook his head at her, but Egan noticed Manus watered the "decorative blooms" all the same. 

In the evenings the sun stretched out sideways across the fields and the yard, turning everything amber-golden and sending the chickens pecking toward their coop. In the mornings it popped up over the top of the mountain all of a sudden, to pour light in like it almost forgot about them. When it rained the beans seemed to stand up taller to drink, and when it snowed the whole world lay wrapped in hush as they sat by the fire. 

Manus built a swing in the oak. Eileen put a little red roof on the well. Egan grew tall and strong. His life was a never-ending round of chores—chickens don't take holidays off and potatoes don't care whether it's Sunday or not—but he always had enough time to straighten up and breathe deeply in the crisp air, or scamper up to the stables to play with the donkey, or simply run through the yard the way kids do when they have too much energy. 

His room at the back of the house was small but cozy, big enough for his bed, clothes chest, a desk, and all his toys, painted light blue. His window faced north, up the hill, but being on the second floor gave him enough light. He wasn't in it much during the day anyway. Egan's other favourite place in the house was the large attic room over the front of the house. Eileen kept her sewing things up there, as well as some heirlooms and all their "once-a-year" things like snowshoes, swimming clothes, and holiday decorations. It smelled like cedar and was always not-quite-cold in the winter, which was better than most of the other rooms. The attic had a pair of windows, one East and one West, and torches on the walls for extra lighting. Egan's room didn't have torches. His parents, and later Egan, carried a candle when he went to bed at night. 

When Egan was eleven, Manus died. He fell off the roof and no one realized his leg was actually broken until it was too late. By the time they called in a healer, the bone sickness had already set in. Egan and Eileen grieved, but the chores still needed doing. In time, they came out of their grief again, and for a while everything was as good as it could be. Eileen remarried shortly before Egan's fifteenth birthday. Paul had two boys of his own: Bruce and Rudy. Rudy was a foot taller and a year older than Egan, but not blessed with much intelligence, and Bruce was a year younger than Egan and already thought the world owed him two of everything just for existing. They badgered their father, who badgered Eileen, about taking over Egan's room. Eileen moved him up to the attic.

"Just for now, while they get settled in. With extra hands to help, we'll have enough money to add on to the house soon." She said earnestly. She had more wrinkles and fewer smiles since Manus died, Egan was willing to move if it would help her. Because it was just going into fall, Egan and Eileen moved his things into the larger, warmer half of the attic. When spring started getting warmer, they moved him again into the smaller half of the attic. It had only one tiny window, high up under the eaves, so it never got direct sunlight and Egan wouldn't feel like he was being cooked. They started plans for an addition, to give Rudy and Bruce a room.

And then Eileen died. She'd been out working in the fields when she was hit by lightning. No one knew what to do, Egan took over all the chores just to keep the farm running. He was sixteen.

Paul decided his own boys needed a room each, and that Rudy would keep Egan's room and Bruce would get the addition all to himself. Egan was ordered to remain in the attic.

 A week after the funeral, a man in a suit came to the door and asked to speak to Egan. He drew the lad far away from the door where Paul, Bruce and Rudy waited, and spoke without moving his lips very much.

"Your mother had a will, did you know that?"

Egan shook his head.

"You're to inherit this place, but not until you're twenty years old. You must be here, and the farm must still be functioning, on the day you turn twenty and then it's legally yours. If you leave, it goes to Paul." 

Egan thanked the man. After he had gone, Paul looked sideways at Egan and said "Well, boy, those dishes aren't going to wash themselves. And clean out the fireplace when you're done."

Egan ground his teeth together but wordlessly turned toward the kitchen. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Trade Meet

I have come with my father these past seven years to the trade meet with the Cousonans. Ever since I was tall enough to sit a horse unaided, I've come to help fetch and carry, and later to wrangle the horses while the adults are trading. (Horses can always use another set of hands to ensure they have enough food and water.) Every year the Cousonans bring us jars of paste that glows in the dark, dried starfish and mussels that can't be found elsewhere, pelts and tiikwood, and the amazingly supple cloth they say is made from vines. We trade them, in return, leather, pottery, grass baskets, and jerky and horn from the elk that roam our plains. Only some of them speak our language, the rest often hang back and murmur amongst themselves, but I never felt that they didn't like us. 

This year my father has been selected trade leader. As my father's oldest child, even though I'm a daughter, it's my duty to sit in the tent and listen in on the trades, making notes to compare with him later. 

The trade tent will be pitched on the plains a day-and-a-half's ride from our village. We use the same place every year, so even though the tent is always broken down and taken away, we know where it goes because the grass is only shin-high, not hip-high like it is elsewhere. The grass in the circle of the meeting place always gets trampled into the dirt by the third or fourth day from all the people and horses. And the dogs. 

The Cousonans bring their pack dogs with them every year. My first time, I was terrified of them. The dogs come up to mid-thigh on me now--they were taller than I was back then but still short enough to be hidden by the tall grass. I had just dropped down off my pony, hadn't even gotten the head reins off yet, when suddenly eight wolflike dogs bounded into the clearing. They're all tall with broad backs and square heads, though their ears are not quite as pointed as a wolf and their snouts are shorter. They come in every colour, from grey to black to mottled tan-and-white. The dogs are friendly, and I quickly got over my fear of them when I saw one whining like a puppy looking back and forth between his human and the strangers. As soon as the burden was removed from the harness on his back, he bounded over to us, wagging his tail so hard his entire back end swung around. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Research: Theseus

    I do perhaps a disproportionate amount of research for someone who writes fantasy stories, but that's just who I am. I ran across this in wikipedia:

As soon as Theseus entered the Labyrinth, he tied one end of the ball of string to the door post and ... followed Daedalus' instructions given to Ariadne: go forwards, always down and never left or right. ... After decapitating the beast, Theseus used the string to escape the Labyrinth ...

    And I gotta say... What the heck, my guy?!? Famous for being the first person to have a string in the labyrinth AND ALSO #^(%!NG DIRECTIONS, which, by the way, included precisely ZERO turns, and he still needed the string to get back out?? Man, what.  Disgraceful.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Character Sketch: Slink

    Slink is the door guard for the Post Guild.  She's eight years old and her favourite foods are apples, and Christmas spice cookies. She joined the Post at six, with some of the best memorizing scores anybody had seen in a while, but she can't run messages like the rest of the Post kids because she's missing the bottom half of her right leg.  She can get around just fine but long distances at high speed are too much for her.  Instead, the leaders granted her the position of door guard.

    The door guard of the Post Guild is responsible for creating the daily passwords and making sure only the people who should have access can get in the building.  Slink tells every guilder the day's password on their way out, and should ask for them on the way in but often forgets because she knows all the guilders on sight.  The reason a door guard must have a good memory, aside from knowing the names and faces of everyone in the guild, is also because she needs to keep track of several passwords.  If a guilder leaves the building on Monday and doesn't come back until Thursday, she's got to remember to expect the Monday password from them again.  

    Slink, like many Posters, has an estranged relationship with her parents.  Unlike most of them, though, her position within the guild allows her to sleep there at headquarters so she always has a roof and knows where her next meal is coming from.  In return, she collects interesting stories from the posters out in the streets and shares them with the others. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Pip's Impossible Task

Pip was an approved Poster, with a red arm badge and everything. He was only rated as a triangle level messenger, but he'd been working hard at learning the ropes since his older brother had brought him into the Post Guild a few months ago and Pip knew, with pride, that not many kids as young as him had a badge yet. He was five-and-seven-twelfths and he knew the purple district so well that he could work alone, standing at the post until someone came along with a message to deliver.

Pip was doing just that one afternoon when he got called into the guild headquarters. The post he was standing in front of was a wooden post as tall as his shoulders and about as big around as a grapefruit that was hammered into the ground at the corner of two streets. The top half of the post was painted purple, as was the post on the next corner at the other end of the block, and the post after that, and the post after that. Four streets over started the grey district, where Pip's older brother Oliver knew the streets, shops, and people well enough that he was rated for both grey and purple, but Pip had enough just learning to find anything in the purple district without getting lost.

A fellow Poster appeared in front of him.

"Pip Squeak? You're wanted at headquarters."

Pip exchanged places with the older boy.

He had memorized the way to headquarters, go down to Church Street with the big church on the corner, then two streets, a left, two streets, a right, three streets, another left, past the old dead tree, turn at the library onto Library Street, and it's four more streets down from there. In a town where half the people don't ever learn to read, streets are usually named after landmarks. Headquarters was a building in an identical row of red brick buildings with grey roofs, the lamplighters were just coming out to begin their work. Pip knocked at the door and Slink let him in. She remembered to ask him for the password this time.

"Applesauce." Pip replied.

"Ben wants you, upstairs." She said, shutting the door and climbing back on her chair to be able to see out the peephole again.

Ben waited until Pip was seated in the office before he began.

"I've got an important job for you, Pip, something that no one else can do."

"Really? How? I'm the youngest-"

"Yes, I know, but you're really the only one. Now. Do you want it?"

Pip considered, then nodded. Ben was so nice, he couldn't say no, and being the youngest made him important already so maybe that was why he got an important job.

Ben produced an envelope, sealed, and with some writing on the front. "You need to deliver this to a person named Bunny Cartwright. She goes by the name Stew, so ask both ways. She's about my age, seventeen or so, and she has dark hair and she scowls a lot."

Pip looked it over, then tucked it carefully into the inside pocket of his jacket. "Okay?"

"One more thing. You'll need this."

Ben solemnly handed Pip a magnifying glass. Pip stored it in his other jacket pocket.

Ben continued. "You'll have to go outside your district for this one. She doesn't want to be found."

Pip's eyes went wide. "If she's hiding..."

Ben nodded.


"We don't know. That's where your job comes in."

Ben handed Pip a patchwork armband without any shape stitched on it.

"This will get you help in any district, it means you're on a special mission."

"What's the seeing glass for?"

"You'll know when you need it. It's not part of the message, though."

"And no message? Just the envelope to deliver?"

"Right, just the envelope. Still sealed. Bunny is a champ at disappearing, good luck."

Pip squared his shoulders. He wanted to do it right.

"Thank you." He left the office.

Post Guild Rule Number Four:

When you do not know the person your message goes to, ask until you find someone who does.

Pip asked Oliver, Todd, Slink, Jess, Amber, Janey, and finally Nan. Nan knew, she could describe Bunny well enough that Pip wouldn't go asking every dark-haired girl around whether she was Stew. Armed with the knowledge, Pip stepped bravely out into the unknown. Or, well, he left the building anyway. The unknown would have to wait until he got out of his home district. The wind shushed around him, moving a few leftover leaves and discarded bits of paper.

It was almost dark by the time Pip left headquarters, he went home to sleep and ask Oliver to feed his fish while he was gone. Oliver promised to explain to their mom that Pip was on an important Post mission.

Bright and early the next morning, Pip set out with a sandwich, the envelope, the magnifier, and a sense of hope. Through the purple district he looked, then through the grey district. Finally he came to a corner where the next block had a green painted post. He'd never been further from home. Pip crossed the street into the green district, looking always for Bunny.