Still writing!

The team is still writing, and will, I suspect, continue to do so long after the current write-a-thon is a fond memory.

In the first week of the write-a-thon I sold my story “The Telling” to the online Fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  That’s had me in a Fantasy mood.  Here are excerpts from a couple of stories I have been working on over the last few weeks:

From Bitterbeer:

Geska stood hands on ample hips, wrapped in sunlight and the scent of rosemary and meadowsweet, as the horsemen approached along the road.  There were four of them, on grey horses of some breed too sleek for farm work, and the riders themselves all in grey as well.

Three of the strangers stopped on the road.  The fourth rode toward her, the horse picking its way through the meadow flowers, flank shuddering as it brushed the tall grass, nostrils flaring at the herbs crushed under its hooves.

The rider was as slim as the horse, sexless and angular in armour that was shimmered and squirmed with colors like a beetle’s shell.  Geska wiped her hands on her apron, long ago gone green from herbs and malted barley, pushed a wild lock of sweaty, salmon-red hair behind her ear, and squinted up at the stranger expectantly.

The rider’s eyes were hidden behind the faceplate of its helmet, which curved from top to chin like an eagle’s beak.  It sat silently for a long minute, though its horse shifted and curled its lip at Geska’s bundle of herbs.

“Warm day to be wearing steel,” Geska ventured, though she was not at all sure that the armour was metal at all.

The horse stopped, mid-shudder, stood stock still as the rider leaned down over Geska, until the ridge of its faceplate hung just above her upturned face.  There was no glimmer visible through the eye slit, no sound or scent of breath, at least not such that could compete with the bustle of a summer meadow.  Geska lifted a hand, halfway to knocking on the helmet to see if it was empty, when the rider spoke.

“Have you seen…”  Its voice was thin and flat, like that of a bored child, empty of accent or inflection.

Geska raised her eyebrows in what she hoped was polite encouragement.  “The town?  Bedwig Ford?  It’s just another league down the road.”  She walked her fingers across her palm, and added, “Where it crosses the river,” in the cheerful tone she used for dogs and drunkards.

The rider turned its head, as if looking for the town through the hills and woods.  Geska stared up into her own dim distorted reflection in its helmet.  Head still turned, the rider continued, “Have you seen strangers?”

Geska blinked, then laughed, a long hoot like a lake bird.  She took a deep breath, looked over at the other riders, perched like stick-insects on their fidgety horses, and started up again.  “No,” she said finally, wiping her eyes with freckled knuckles.  “No strangers.  Not in town, anyway, not lately.”

The rider slowly straightened, still staring away into the trees.  “Two travelers, one great, one small.  If they come to town, you will know?”

The rider’s tone made that last ambiguous.  Geska decided it was a question.  “I’ll know if anyone does,” she said.  “Ale-wife of Bedwig Ford, that’s me.  There’s no one comes through town without stopping for a pint, or if not, the town folk will come for one afterward to gossip over.  You pass through, you ask for Geska Ale-wife.  I’ll pour you the best pint east of the Yarrow Hills.”

Without any obvious signal from the rider, the horse began to pick its way back across the field to its companions.

“Remember,” the rider said; no way to tell if that was a promise or a command.  “One great, one small.”

The horse reached the packed gravel of the road, and the four horses leapt forward as one and were gone down the way and out of sight before Geska could draw another breathe.

She watched the dust and sparrows settle back to the road, then shrugged and hefted her basket, shooed a fly and wondered if the juniper was ready to pick.  It was months later before it occurred to her that that had been, in some ways, the start of the War of the Three Swords.

And from The Wind Sall Blaw:

“Where shall we our breakfast take?” Regan sang, but softly.  Breakfast had been hours ago, porridge and small beer well before dawn.  Thomas had gone up the hill then, to bring in a cart of wood for George Brewer and another for the blacksmith’s boys, and Domhnall had gone with him to tend the pony.  The two of them were asleep now in the old chair by the fire, though it was just mid-morning.  Thomas’s great tangle of dark hair side by side with Domhnall’s little crown of golden, which always lay smooth.  The desire to let her own mass of raven hair down again and curl up with them took Regan sudden and sharp, like a chill.  But the chair, though old and worn to comfort, was so not large and anyway her work was just beginning for the day.  She slipped her cloak from hook by the door, instead, and sang from the song she’d sung to Thomas two days before they were married.

Now, ye maun go wi me,’ she said

‘True Thomas, ye maun go wi me

And ye maun serve me seven years

Thro weal or woe, as may chance to be.

Regan shivered, from the draft from the door and the desire to stay and from the power that flowed dark and deep in her when she sang the old songs.  Still shivering, she slipped out the door.

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