Hospitality

Snow drifts settle in leaded panes, firelight glinting on glass.  Around the table, warmed by well wishes, family gathers.  Mother and father sit opposite, smiles radiating.  They take in their son and daughter, home from school, and his mother, huddled under a lace shawl.  The fire’s crackle soothes them all, its heat glistening their foreheads like the Christmas ham.

Plates pass with potatoes and gravy, green beans and rolls.  Each spoonful is a welcome, an “I love you.”  The picture of winter bliss perfected.

How I’d like to partake this year, every year.  I’ll settle for tapping at leaded panes.

________

I wrote this drabble for Loren Eaton’s annual flash fiction event Advent Ghosts.  I’m not particularly happy with the result, but after more than a few false starts (one hundred words is hard!) I’m relieved to have something.  After all, fiction writing is hard, and being able to put words down, even not great words, is an accomplishment.

On a side note, I’m taking a break from posting for the duration of the holidays.  I’ve maintained a steady schedule without any breaks for over a year, and I’m reaching that point where I just need to take some time to recharge.  Regular posts should resume around New Year’s after I’ve had time to rebuild my backlog.  I’m really looking forward to writing up my thoughts on the new Star Wars movie (I saw it on opening night and only got four hours of sleep before having to go work the next day, and I have no regrets), but that’ll have to wait until later.  Of course, if any of my friends just want to talk about it, then I’m always up for that.

Anyway, here’s to happy holidays for all, and a restful end to 2015.  See you all in the new year.

August In December

Christmas Eve and heat’s left the house.  Cold climbs the steps, creeping and clawing into Wilson’s bed.  He clutches his covers, dreading the draft that drowns out warmth.

Wilson wants to be warm.

Absence of warmth becomes presence of heat.  Wilson throws off blistering blankets.  It feels like August.  He sits up, sees the burning black thing looming before him.

Wilson panics, reaches for the pistol in his nightstand.  He fires, no more than six times, and the thing falls, shrinks, draws away summer heat through bullet holes.

The bloodied body of a black boy speaks.

“My name was Michael.”

___________

I wrote this drabble to participate in I Saw Lightning Fall‘s annual Advent Ghosts event.  Here’s a link to the roundup, which will be updated throughout the day as new stories get posted.

Ghost of Christmas Present

For every day, there is a new spirit.  This spirit’s job is to observe the world in its entirety, recording in memory every moment, every word, every event from its one twenty-four hour period.

Jerome is the spirit of December 25, 2013.  He dreads his turn on the stage.

So much pressure.  Everyone expects the December 25s to record the happiest moments.  Gifts given.  Songs sung.  Drinks drunk.

No one cares that Jerome will also see the worst things.  Murders.  Rapes.  Illnesses.  Thefts.  Starvation.

“You’re supposed to be happy on Christmas,” people say.

Jerome wishes he had drawn December 26.

______________

I’m running a bit of fiction on Friday this week to participate in I Saw Lightning Fall‘s Advent Ghosts 2013 event.  Christmas is coming in less than a week, and it’s an exciting time for many people around the world.  I was feeling pensive, so I wanted to share something as a reminder that December 25 is still just December 25 to many others, and it’s subject to the same evils and injustices that we hear about every other day of the year.

Happy Holidays.

Immature Mistakes Excerpt (4)

Our first few days of travel are uneventful, and the extra coin goes a long way in ensuring that we’re comfortable moving through Mercia.  Of course, I can’t have unmitigated good luck, so Ewythr tries to get us both killed at an inn on the road that passes close by the king’s own lands.

It begins simply enough, with me requesting a room for the night and a hot meal for the two of us.  The innkeeper reserves our room, and invites us to sit in his common room while we wait for supper to be served.

In this common room, a pair of gritty looking men in worn leather sit at the table nearest the fire, conversing about their day’s travel.  To my eye, they look to be respectable men, though it’s likely from the blades at their sides that they make their money as sellswords.

I’m content to sit at a table in the far corner away from the fire while I wait for my food, but Ewythr won’t have it.

“I am cold, child, and I will sit by the fire.  It’s the only comfort these bones can afford, and I will not be deprived it.”

“Fine, go sit by the fire then.  I’m not going to stop you.”  I huddle by myself at the table, and watch idly as Ewythr stands and hobbles towards the two mercenaries.  Even as he begins speaking, I get the sinking feeling that this will not end well for either of us, but I stay in my seat.  Maybe Ewythr will actually use some tact, or better yet, he’ll just leave the dangerous men alone and sit on the floor by the fire like a sensible person.

As I have learned these past several months, Ewythr is not a sensible person.

What he does, instead of all the things I hope for, is walk up to the men and ask if he can sit with them.  When they dismiss him as a crazy old beggar, he says loudly so that everyone in the common room can hear, “I am no beggar!  This shirt I’m wearing was a gift, and I’m not about to sit on this filthy floor with it.”

The mercenaries seem briefly bewildered by his outburst, along with everyone else in the inn, but they only try to shoo him away again, apparently not that bothered by the ramblings of an old man.

When the men return to talking over their drinks, Ewythr glances towards me with a wicked grin and then upends their table, spilling their drinks all over them.  As you would expect, the men do get angry with Ewythr for this.  Steel flashes and then Ewythr’s standing with two swords pointed at his throat.

“Granddaughter, help!” he shouts, and I cringe.  I don’t want to be involved in this.

So I sit silently and pretend that I don’t know him.

The innkeeper, a thin pale man, hurries out from his kitchen to see what the commotion is about.  “What’s all this then?” he asks the room.

One of the mercenaries, a cleanshaven man, says, “This old fool just turned our table over because he didn’t want to sit on the floor.”

“Because of my clean shirt, you ass!  I don’t want to get it dirty,” shouts Ewythr.  “Granddaughter!  Come here and explain to these idiots why I can’t sit on the floor!”  He looks right at me as he says it, and I want to disappear under the table.  I briefly wonder if I could magic myself invisible, but everyone’s following Ewythr’s gaze towards me, and now I know it’s too late to not get involved.

I sigh and get up from my seat, calmly walking towards the fireplace where the innkeeper now stands between Ewythr and the mercenaries.  “I’m sorry about my grandfather.  He’s quite senile, and he forgets that he can’t just walk up to strangers and make demands of them.”

The cleanshaven mercenary looks between me and Ewythr.  “You should keep a shorter leash on him, girl.”

“I am not some animal that needs to be restrained!” shouts Ewythr, and he swings at the man.  Unfortunately, the innkeeper is in the way, and Ewythr only succeeds in bowling him over.  They tumble to the floor, shouting, limbs tangled up.  “Let me up,” he shouts.

I help the innkeeper up first, all the while apologizing profusely.  “I’m so sorry about that.  He’s really not well.”

“I’ll show you not well, impudent child!”  Ewythr takes a swing at me as he climbs to his feet, but he goes wide and smacks the innkeeper’s shin instead.

“Grandfather, cut it out!” I say.  Grabbing Ewythr by the shoulder, I force him to sit down in a chair.

The innkeeper, clutching at his leg, says, “You’d best get a handle on him, girl.  I can’t have someone like this disturbing my customers.”

“I’ll not be handled by anyone!” shouts Ewythr, and he tries to jerk free from me.  “I may be old, but I can still give you a good beating, girl.”

I roll my eyes and look at the mercenaries for support.  “Be quiet, grandfather.  Just apologize to the men for spilling their drinks, and then you can sit by the fire all night if you want.”

“No!”  He continues to struggle, but he just doesn’t have the strength to overpower me.

Leaning in close I whisper to him, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m trying to pick a fight,” he replies.

“Why?”

He kicks me in the shin.  “Because I want to see what you’ve learned.”

To see what I’ve learned?  “You ass!” I say as I slap him across the face.

The cleanshaven mercenary takes a hesitant step towards us.  “Is that really necessary, Miss?”

I give Ewythr another backhand.  “Sometimes he just needs a little sense knocked into him is all.  I’m quite sorry for the trouble.”  It feels good, so I hit him once more for good measure.

“Alright, that’s enough now,” says the innkeeper.  “You don’t want to hurt him.”

But I really do.  All winter, I’ve felt like the peace between us has been forced just because Dad was around, but Ewythr’s been needling in small ways, trying to get under my skin for no reason I can discern.  In this moment, surrounded by people I don’t know, I really feel that anger rising up, and indulging in it just a little is freeing.  I don’t feel like stopping now that I’ve started.  “Wretched man!  Why are you always causing me so much trouble?  What do you get out of it?”  I kick at Ewythr, and he whimpers.  “I’m all you have right now, and you constantly spit on my help!”  I raise a hand to strike him again, but the cleanshaven man catches it and holds tight.

“Miss, you need to calm down.  He’s subdued.”

Instinctively I jerk away.  “I’ll calm down when I’m ready.”

The mercenary maintains his grip and shakes his head.  “Miss, that’s enough.  Now, are you going to stop trying to beat on this old wretch, or am I going to have to restrain you?”

“Restrain me?” I say, glaring at the man.  “I’m not the one who flipped a table!”

“No, but you are the one who’s disturbing my customers now,” says the innkeeper.

I look around the room and realize that everyone is now staring squarely at me.  Mortified, I relax.  “Fine, I’m done.”

The mercenary releases me, and I rub my sore wrist.

I glance at Ewythr, and I can swear that when no one else is paying attention to him, he grins at me.  I could kick his teeth in.

“Look, it’s no trouble if you’ll just stop there, but I can’t have you causing a scene when the rest of my guests are just trying to rest from their travels.”  The innkeeper nods to the mercenaries.  “Are you two satisfied with that?  I’ll bring replacements for your drinks, no charge.”

Both men nod.  The cleanshaven one says, “Yes, it’s nothing but a bit of wet leather.  We’ll just stink a bit more than usual, is all.  Hell, the old man can even sit at our table if it’s that important to him.”  He turns to me.  “Would you care to join us as well, Miss?”  He trails off, expecting me to fill in a name.

“No, thank you,” I say.  “I think I’d just like a peaceful meal by myself.  You can see I’m a little weary from the road, and I need to unwind a bit.”  I smile as graciously as I can, but it feels forced, mostly because it is, and then return to the dark little table in the corner where everyone finally stops looking at me.

Ewythr sits with the men and warms himself by the fire, apparently not making any small talk, which seems to suit the mercenaries.  I’m rather amazed that he went from having them ready to slit his throat to sharing a table with them when the innkeeper begins serving supper.  I might call the whole thing impressive if I weren’t still furious with him.

After dinner, when the innkeeper shows us to our room, I’m sorely tempted to go inside and lock Ewythr out, but he’s done such a fine job of making me look like the menace that I let it go.  I still take the bed.

_______________

I chose this scene to post primarily because after I finished writing it, Rachael pointed out to me that Erin’s physical abuse of Ewythr might be problematic.  By this point in the story, it’s been well established that Ewythr can magically heal any injury, no matter how severe, but he still feels pain like any normal person would.  This creates an odd situation where I have a character who is unkillable, but also frail and helpless, so he’s quite susceptible to potential abuse.  The fact that he’s supposed to be unlikeable only compounds the problem.

I meant for this scene to show that Erin is getting frustrated with taking care of Ewythr, even though she’s agreed to help him for as long as he needs, and also to take a moment to highlight Erin’s short temper.  Up to this point, the way she usually expresses her anger is through lots of angry words directed at whoever she’s frustrated with.  The physical element is new, and something that I wanted to do to introduce a shift in Erin’s relationship with Ewythr, but now that I’ve written it and Rachael’s given me her thoughts, I’m wondering if I should retain it.  I want Erin to come across as impulsive, but it was never my intention for her to appear abusive.  This is an element I’m going to have to think through and consider more in revisions.

In other news, I have not been blogging in a week.  National Novel Writing Month has officially consumed all of my creative energy for the time being, but there is hope.  I’m less than five thousand words from crossing the finish line (I expect I’ll hit fifty thousand by tomorrow), and once I reach a good narrative break in my novel, I’m planning on taking a break from it to catch up on posts here.  Also, it’s the beginning of Thanksgiving break for me, so I have a full week off to catch up on my creative projects, see family and friends, and do a good bit of cleaning around the house to get ready for Christmas.

Anyhow, I’m really curious to see what people think about this scene.  It’s probably my least favorite out of everything I’ve written so far this year, and it’s a pretty good candidate for cutting later once the draft’s finished, but I’d still like some feedback if anyone has any.  As always, feel free to comment below.

Immature Mistakes Excerpt (3)

We travel north, generally avoiding any other settlements, which I find inconvenient because it would be nice to enjoy some local hospitality, but which Ewythr insists on.  He remains pleasant while we travel, but any hint that we might visit with anyone else sends him spiraling into one of his foul moods.  Our rations serve us well, and two weeks after leaving Groa and Alaeifr’s farm, I still feel secure in our food situation, although the thought does occur to me that we will need to resupply before returning south.  That’s assuming we ever do turn south.

The weather is warm, although it rains more often than I’d prefer, and we spend the dry days just vaguely damp from the moisture.  I take it as a small consolation that Ewythr seems to be equally miserable, although being perpetually wet does little to improve his smell.

It’s after the third week that Ewythr finally stops going north.  He stops on an especially pronounced hill in a very hilly area several days out from any sign of civilization.  It happens rather suddenly as we’re trudging ever farther into the wilderness.

On top of this hill, Ewythr simply stops walking and looks down at the ground.  “Where’s my daughter?” he exclaims, and with a sudden ferocity he drops to his knees and begins clawing at the ground.

“What are you going on about now?” I ask.  I’ve grown used to Ewythr’s odd tempers, and he does little to surprise me anymore.  He hasn’t mentioned his daughter in over a week, though, and this sudden recollection is unlike him.  Usually he notices something or I say something that reminds him of his daughter, and that brings his wrath down on me.  In this case, I’m not the target, which is what catches me off guard.

“Here!  I must find my daughter!” he yells, and after he sees that digging won’t be of much use, he begins running frantically around, looking for something to help him get to what it is he wants.

I follow him at a decent distance, since I’m unsure of what Ewythr might do in this state.  He runs around the hill several times, passing by me in a circle that he traces until finally he stops and settles in one spot.

“Tell my daughter I would speak with her!” he cries, and there’s a great rumbling as the ground before him rumbles and shakes.  I watch as Ewythr repeats his trick with the water, but this time he makes use of the ground itself, raising up great clods of dirt that clump together and rise to form a barrier around him.  “Come away!”  The dirt rises up, and then with a gesture, it crashes down in front of him, making great gouges in the ground and tearing the grass to shreds.  The hill slowly parts before the old man, and I’m amazed as I watch an opening appear at the base of the hill outlined in old stone.

“What is this?” I ask, amazed at the discovery.

“A barrow for Albion’s issue.  Come, servant!”  Ewythr rushes into the darkness, completely careless of potential dangers, and I find myself running behind him.

“What are we looking for?” I ask.

Ewythr spits in response, “My daughter.  This is her place of rest.”

Inside, we stand before a tall stone archway with elaborate carvings on it that look like they depict a mixture of elves and humans, working together.  I step forward to get a closer look at the engravings, and notice that the eyes of the humans all seem to be marked with some sort of design that looks like light coming from their eyes.

“What?  Place of rest?  Do you mean she’s dead?” I ask.

“Pour on!” Ewythr cries, and my vision clears.  The shadows disappear, and the carvings spring into new relief with details and colors that I couldn’t see before.  The pictures seem to tell a story of the elves and humans working together to build a community.  They appear to be led by a distinct human woman and an elf man, who are marked in the images with elaborate clothes.  At the top of the arch a figure appears, hunched over with a long beard and golden points for eyes.  Falling down the other side of the archway, more pictures show the bearded man destroying crops, setting fire to buildings, and killing the humans and elves.  The last image at the base shows the elf man and human woman pointing as the bearded man walks away.

“What is all this?” I ask, but Ewythr ignores me, walking deeper inside.  I follow him through the archway, which leads down into a turning stairwell.  After a minute walking down, the stairs stop at another doorway that has the same sequence of pictures from the first archway carved around it.  Passing through it, we come to a hallway lined with long, thin, stone chests.

I stop to examine one of the chests.  It’s covered with dust, and as I wipe it away I feel that the top is not smooth, but has multiple dips and bumps.  Underneath the dust I see the carved image of an elf woman.  Engraved above her head is some script that resembles Elvish.  I want to take a closer look, but the light starts to fade, and I turn to realize that Ewythr’s moving on down the long hall.

“So this is a tomb,” I say as I run to catch up with him.  The light returns to my eyes and I see now that all of these chests bear similar carvings on their lids.  Their dimensions are right for holding the bodies of elves, and I realize these are coffins.  Ewythr refuses to slow down so I can get a closer look.  He seems intent on ignoring everything but his objective.

Farther down the hall, slightly bigger coffins appear mixed in with the smaller ones.  I try to examine one before Ewythr gets too far away, swiping at the dust and seeing that it bears the image of a bearded man.  The same script is engraved above his head, but the figure appears human.  The light starts to fade, and I hurry to catch up.

After walking for what seems like a mile, we reach another archway.  It has the same story as the others, but there’s an extra image at the bottom showing the woman being laid in a box while the elf man stands over her.  The bearded man is a distant figure in the background, facing away from the elves and humans.

Ewythr doesn’t hesitate to walk through the arch and into the chamber beyond.

Inside, two large stone coffins lie parallel on a dais.  Behind them, carved in relief on the stone walls, are large, detailed images of the elf man and human woman from the pictures on the archways.  They each wear a crown, wrought in delicate shapes and whorls like the branches of trees.

Ewythr spits at the coffin before the woman’s image.  “Are you our daughter?” he shouts.  The words echo on the stone and fade.

Nothing but silence responds, and Ewythr stands there waiting for several minutes, he whole body tensed with rage.

He steps forward and shouts, “Answer me!  Most small fault, how ugly did you show that wrenched my frame of nature!”  Ewythr drops to his knees and his shouts turn to sobs.  “Can you tell who I am?”

I’m not sure what exactly to do, but I move closer to Ewythr and lay my hand on his shoulder.  He jerks away and wipes at his eyes.

“I am ashamed that these hot tears should make you worth them.  Untended wounds of a father’s curse pierce my every sense about you.”  The old man pulls himself to his feet and climbs the dais, slamming his fist down on the lid of the woman’s coffin.  “Yet have I left a daughter who will flay your wolfish visage!”  He turns to me, his golden eyes flaring, and points to the coffin.  “Slay the cur!” he yells.

“What?” I ask.  I think he’s telling me to kill a dead woman, which is about half way to making sense for Ewythr.

In response, he grabs the lid of the coffin and rips it away, flinging the slab against the wall, where it crashes and crumbles.  “Kill her!”

I edge closer to the dais, but the angle from the floor obscures my view of the coffin’s contents.  Climbing up, I expect to see old bones, but instead there lies the woman whose image is carved behind her.  She looks as if she’s only sleeping, though there’s no hint of movement or breath.  I glance at Ewythr, and he’s staring at the body, seething.

“Do it!” he rasps.

I raise my spear and aim it at the woman’s heart, but fear seizes me and I freeze.  “I’ve never–” I begin.

The woman’s eyes wrench open, and she stares at me.  They’re a dark honey color.

Startled, I back away and slip on the edge of the platform, falling backwards on the cold floor.

Slowly, the woman climbs out of her coffin and stands on the dais, looking imperiously at first me, then at Ewythr.

The old man scowls at the woman and spits at her.  “Detested kite!” he yells.

“You wretch,” says the woman, and I can feel the rage in her voice even though she sounds calm as flowing water.  “Again you come here with a pawn to attempt your murder.”

“Servant, slay her!” Ewythr cries as he recoils from the terrible white woman.

She turns towards me.  “You should not have come here, child.  This man is a curse.”

“You are accursed!” says Ewythr.

Turning her gaze back to him, she waves her hand, and he is flung against the wall.  Brittle bones break, and his head turns sharply with a loud snap.  He crumples to the floor, motionless.

“Why did you do that?” I scream, and rush forward.  I don’t have any idea what I’m doing, only raging.  I thrust my spear at the woman, but she catches it with her hand and wrenches it from my grip.  Casually, she snaps the head off and drops it.

“Fool.”

Even without a weapon, I charge forward, trying to punch her, kick her, do anything to hurt her, but every blow she blocks with ease.  Faster than I can see, she reaches out and clutches my throat.  Her fingers grip like stone and squeeze, choking me.

“You should have run.  Instead you fight for that thing,” she nods towards Ewythr’s body, “when he will not mourn you after you’re dead.  Pitiful.”

Her grip tightens, and my vision goes black at the edges.  I can’t breath, and my throat aches and burns.  As I draw closer to passing out, I realize that I’m going to die here, all because I wanted to help that crazy old man.

“Blow, winds!”

I fall to the floor, air rushing back into my lungs.  I feel lightheaded, and just vaguely absorb what’s happening as the woman turns back to the wall, swatting at bits of rubble that fly towards her.  Trying to get my bearings, I push myself up to my knees and feel my hand brush against something cold.  The spear head.  Sluggishly, I look up at the woman who’s still focused on whatever it is that’s throwing debris at her, and grip the spear head in my hand.  I probably only have the one chance.

Steadying myself, I jump up and jab the spear head into the woman’s chest.  Where I expect to meet resistance, the blade sinks in easily.  She looks down at me, horrified, as she begins to disintegrate from her chest outward.  Her honey eyes stare accusingly at me.

“Fool,” she says just before she collapses into a pile of dust.

______________

This weekend I’ve been recovering from a pretty bad cold (fortunately, the worst of it was Saturday morning), so I’ve been kind of worn out by all the writing.  Nonetheless, I continue to truck along.  If I can maintain my current pace, I’ll reach 50k words to win NaNoWriMo before Thanksgiving.  I’m pretty sure that won’t be the end of this story, but I may take a few days to relax once I get there.

So Rachael gets the wonderful burden of reading all of my first draft work, so she’s seen a lot more of this year’s offering than anyone else has (in exchange, I get the privilege of reading her first drafts).  She told me she thinks this section is the strongest of my current novel, at least as far as plotting goes.  I’m still neck deep in working out how this mess is going to resolve (I have an idea for it, but I’ve not sketched out any finer details yet), so I’m just a little too close to give my own assessment of what I’ve produced so far.  Mostly, I worry that I’m writing tons of dialogue with relatively little action.  My settings feel sparse to me, and it’s a constant struggle maintaining the right voice for my narrator (I’ve written all my pieces set in this world using first person present tense, which I like, but it’s very limiting in regards to what I can show without giving my narrator implausible knowledge).

Anyhow, this is my fiction offering for the week.  If you have any thoughts or comments, please feel free to share them below.  There are only two weekends left in November, and maybe by the time we get to the last one, I’ll be back to doing some flash fiction.

Immature Mistakes Excerpt (2)

When we arrive at Groa and Alaeifr’s farm, it’s in the midst of producing a good summer crop.  The fields are full of ripening wheat, and a steady stream of smoke pours from the opening in the sprawled out house.

That’ll be Groa fussing over supper.  As I learned from my last visit, when I brought them news of Hlifundr and his daughter Sigrun, Groa’s a skilled herbalist, and she puts that talent to great use in her cooking as well.  Alaeifr is probably out in the woods hunting, or else he’s home dressing some game that he’s already caught.

“Now, they don’t speak much Anglish, so just be nice and try not to do anything too,” I glance at Ewythr, who’s tapping the side of his head like he expects something to come out, “crazy.”

He stops tapping long enough to give me a puzzled look.

“Just let me do the talking, alright?”

As we walk up to the door, I scan the treeline to see if I can spot Alaeifr, but he’s nowhere in sight.  I knock, and wait for a response.

“Yes?  Who’s there?” Groa calls in Elvish.

“It’s Erin,” I reply.

There’s shuffling and the clatter of something being set down quickly, then the door opens and Groa pulls me into a tight hug.  “Erin!” she cries.

It feels good being hugged by Groa.  It reminds me of the kind of hugs my mother used to give me.  Not that Groa bears much resemblance to Mom.  Groa’s about a head shorter than me, and her black hair flies around in strands that resemble ruffled crow’s feathers, where Mom was almost on eye level with me when she ran off, and she had true flame red hair, not my dull brown that only shows red in twilight.

“You are back so soon,” Groa says, switching to Anglish.

“Yeah, I missed you so much that I decided to come back,” I joke.

Groa thinks for a moment then says, “How is your father?”

“Oh, I haven’t been home yet.”

Groa looks past me at Ewythr.  “Who is this?”

“Oh, Groa, this is Ewythr.  I met him on the road, and I’m traveling north with him.”

She knits her brows briefly, then extends her hands in welcome.  “Please, come inside, both of you.”

I follow her through the door, which opens onto the house’s large common room, where they cook and eat meals.  Spaced regularly around the circular room are doorways that lead to other rooms, including Groa and Alaeifr’s bedroom, their respective workshops, and an extra room that Groa told me belongs to Hlifundr’s daughter.  It’s where I slept the last time I was here.

A large pot of soup that smells delicious sits on the fire in the middle of the room.

Groa ushers us towards the table where they take meals.  Ewythr, thankfully, sits down without incident.

“Tell me again, why are you back so soon?”

I point to Ewythr.  “I’m traveling north with Ewythr.  He’s,” I pause, thinking how to phrase it, “not well, so I’m helping him get where he’s going.”

Groa looks Ewythr over, apparently concerned.  “What is wrong with him?  Besides being old?”

I read in Dad’s books that elves don’t show signs of aging after a certain point.  Groa and Alaeifr are over two hundred years old and have never left Northumbria, so I suppose an elderly human is something of an unusual sight.

I’m not sure how to put it delicately, especially with the language barrier, so I decide to put it bluntly.  “He’s mad.”

“What?  He looks calm.”

Ewythr sits passively, looking like a perfectly normal old man.

“No, he’s mad.  Crazy.  He isn’t all there.”  I tap on the side of my head, and Ewythr joins in, apparently reminded of whatever he was thinking of when we first approached the farm.

Groa looks between us, trying to puzzle out my meaning.  “Where did you meet him?”

“He was getting beaten by a drunk in an inn where I was staying on my way home.  I helped him, and then he helped me, I think, and we ended up on the road together.”  I scoot my chair closer to Groa and add, “He seemed so helpless that I couldn’t leave him alone on the road, and he really wanted to go north, so I decided to come back this way.”

“Does your father know?”

I nod.  “I sent a messenger as soon as my plans changed.  And I’m going home as soon as I get Ewythr wherever it is he wants to go.”

Groa turns and smiles to Ewythr.  “I am sorry.  We must speak alone.”  Then she grabs my arm more forcefully than I expect, and drags me into her workshop.  It’s still much like it was when I left, filled with bunches of herbs hung out to dry and various jars sitting on a table containing mixtures and powders that Groa’s been working on.  She shuts the door and then rounds on me.  “Erin, if that man is crazy, you do not know where he is going!  He might be going to the sea to jump in!  He might not have any place in mind at all!”

I sigh, exasperated.  “I know that, Groa, but he’s pitiful!  He was going to get beaten to death, and then I couldn’t leave him after helping him.”

“Nonsense,” she huffs.  “You are stubborn like Hlifundr.  You did not want to go home, and you found an excuse not to.”

“Groa, that’s not fair!”

“It is true.”

“You don’t know that!”

She waves towards the door.  “You left here a month ago.  You were going home.  Now you are back, and you have not seen your father, and you plan to go farther north.  He is worried about you, Erin!”

“He’ll be fine!” I nearly shout.  “I’ve been there for Dad for twenty years, and now he has to get by on his own for a few months, so he’s the one who’s the victim?”

Groa’s mouth tightens, and she clenches the table like she’s restraining herself.  “Yes.  He is the victim.  You are still young, Erin.  You do not know what it is to worry about your child.”

“Groa, he’s fine.  Anyway, I’m old enough to make my own decisions.  Ewythr needs my help, and I want to help him.”

Deep lines crease her face as she frowns.  There’s a long silence between us before she finally says, “You are not my daughter, so I can not tell you what to do.  But I do not like this.”  Then she wraps me in another of her hugs that’s far stronger than it should be.  “I will send a message to your father that you came back here in your travels.”

I don’t know how to respond, so I just hug her back and bury my face in her wild hair.  “Thanks,” I mumble.

“Groa!” calls a voice from the common room.  It’s probably Alaeifr.

She breaks the embrace to rush back out of her workshop.  I follow behind to see Alaeifr standing in the doorway with a doe draped over his shoulder.  He clutches at his bow, staring at Ewythr who’s still sitting calmly at the table, watching dust motes or something else.

Groa starts talking rapidly in Elvish, and I can only catch my name and a few words like “visitor” and “traveling.”  She gestures to Ewythr as she walks towards Alaeifr and collects his bow and quiver from him so he can better carry the deer.

When Alaeifr turns to see me, he smiles and waves.  He’d give me a hug if he weren’t carrying a fresh kill.  “It is good to see you again, Erin!”

“You too,” I say.

“If you will excuse me, I need to address this,” he motions towards the doe, “but I will come visit with you and your friend shortly.”

I smile and sit back at the table while Alaeifr carries the deer to his workshop.  As he passes the table, he nods curtly to Ewythr.

Ewythr spits into the fire in response.

“Be nice,” I chide him.  Knowing that Groa disapproves is stressful enough, and I suspect she’s filled Alaeifr in on her opinion already.  Ewythr acting out is the last thing I need.

After a few minutes, Alaeifr returns from his workshop without the deer.  He sits down at the table breathlessly, positioning himself between me and Ewythr.  “I am sorry to be brief, but I must clean the deer soon so I can dry the meat.”  He turns to Ewythr.  “Do you know where you are?”

Ewythr locks eyes with Alaeifr, staring.  There’s a tense moment, then he smiles and says something in fluent Elvish.

Alaeifr and Groa look as surprised as I feel.  They ask Ewythr a few more questions, all in Elvish, and I feel like the one left out.

“What are you talking about?” I demand.

“Hush, servant,” Ewythr snaps, but Groa ignores him.

“He claims he is the rightful king over Albion–”

“No just Albion.  I am sovereign over all Britannia,” Ewythr interrupts.

“And he is going north to reclaim his power,” she finishes.

“It is nonsense,” adds Alaeifr, “though his Elvish is good.”  He stands.  “I must attend to the deer.  Excuse me.”

After Alaeifr returns to his workshop, Groa goes to check on her soup.  She scoops out a couple of servings and places bowls in front of us.

“You both look hungry.  Please eat.”

I gulp the soup quickly, nearly burning my mouth.  It’s spiced with a little pepper, so after the heat’s gone I still feel a little burning in the back of my throat.  “This is delicious, Groa.”

Ewythr slurps his soup enthusiastically.

“Actually, I wanted to talk to you about buying some food,” I say hesitantly.

Without looking at me, Groa nods.  “You did not plan for a long trip with a companion.”

“No,” I say.

“I will give you some bread.  You should speak with Alaeifr if you want to buy meat.  We can not afford to give that away.”

I stand up and walk towards Alaeifr’s shop.  “I’ll go do that then.”

“Erin,” Groa calls.

I turn to look at her.

She glances at Ewythr, who’s retreated into his personal visions.  “even after hearing what he thinks he is, you will still go?”

I look at Ewythr, who’s smiling vacantly.  His eyes are glassed over, and he seems completely unaware of us.  “What else can I do?  It’d be cruel to abandon him now.”

Sighing, Groa shakes her head.  “I do not know.”

____________

Anyone who followed along as I wrote my novel from last year (all two of you) may remember Groa and Alaeifr as characters that appeared briefly there.  This section was a challenge to write just because I was working with the concept that my elf farmers wouldn’t be familiar with my fantasy world’s equivalent of English.  Of course, when writing through a time crunch, I decided to forego that device in favor of them being relatively fluent but with slightly stilted syntax (there’s some handwaving about this, though realistically it makes no sense for a couple of novices in a foreign language to improve so quickly without a more experienced conversation partner).  Also, Ewythr is a troublesome character throughout this section of the story because he’s supposed to be bonkers, but it’s a challenge writing his dialogue so that he sounds crazy while also not being totally nonsensical (I’m wondering how long it will take for people to recognize where I’m pulling a lot of his dialogue from).

Anyhow, I’m still on track with my daily word quota (somehow) even though a lot of what I’m writing feels pretty rough to me.  If you have questions or comments, feel free to leave them below; as a writer, I bear the unfortunate affliction of loving to talk about myself and my work, and will definitely respond rapidly (when I should be writing more).

Immature Mistakes Excerpt

“Here you go, beautiful,” says the innkeeper as he sets a bowl of broth with a small hunk of mutton on the table in front of me.  “There’s a little meat in there, compliments of your admirer over there.”  As he straightens, the innkeeper motions across the room towards a big, grubby looking man sitting in the corner.  I catch his eye, and he smiles, baring broken, jagged teeth.

I push the bowl away.  “No thanks.  I only need some broth and a chunk of bread.”

The innkeeper glances at my admirer and then leans down to pick the bowl up.  “It doesn’t make any difference to me, dear, but a free meal’s a nice thing.  What could it hurt to enjoy the generosity?”

Shaking my head and fighting not to scowl, I say, “I don’t want it.  Please bring me what I ordered.”

He sighs and nods.  “Very well.”  As he carries the bowl away, I hear him muttering to himself about ungrateful customers.

It’s a pain having to give up that piece of mutton, but the innkeeper’s wrong about a free meal.  There’d be a cost for accepting it.  Hell, there will probably be a cost for rejecting it too.

While I wait for the innkeeper to bring my meal, I inspect the other patrons who are taking their supper here.  Most of them are merchants of one sort or another, some from Mercia, most from Northumbria with their characteristic pointed ears.  Even after traveling in the north for a few months, I’m still getting accustomed to the look of the elves.  Everyone who lives on the roads has a worn look about them, their faces always a little dirty and their clothes always tinged brown, but the elves manage to make themselves look beautiful despite that.  Maybe it’s because they tend to be just a little paler than humans.

The big brute in the corner tries to get my attention again, but I pointedly ignore him, instead fixating on a ragged old man who sits on the floor against the far wall next to the door.  Though we’re in the midst of summer and the evening is pleasantly cool, he’s wrapped tightly in a threadbare cloak that might have been dyed a color other than gray at some point.  One gnarled hand sticks out, palm up.

The innkeeper sets down a plain bowl of broth with a crust of bread sitting in it.  “Can I get you anything else, beautiful?”

I tense up, but don’t snap at the man.  I really hate being talked down to.  “No, thank you.”  It’s a small victory for me.

“Well, just let me know if you need anything.  Kitchen’s open until sundown.”  He smiles and moves to pat my shoulder.

“Don’t touch me,” I bite.

The moment hangs between us as his hand hovers over my shoulder.  “I didn’t mean any harm, dear.”

“Well, then you shouldn’t be so familiar with your customers.”  For punctuation, I take a bite out of my bread and scowl at the innkeeper.

Without comment, the innkeeper backs away from my table.  As he turns to check on his other customers, his face resumes its jovial look.

I watch him float among the tables, laughing and joking with everyone, happily pocketing coins as people pay him for food and drinks.  When he wanders over to the old beggar sitting by the wall, his expression changes.  It isn’t exactly hostile, but definitely not friendly.  He tosses a piece of barley bread smaller than my fist at the beggar, who catches it in his outstretched hand.

The old man swiftly brings the bread to his mouth and stuffs it whole inside before going back to his silent begging.  Brown crumbs tangle in his white beard.  He notices me watching him and stares back with golden eyes.  I’m surprised, because most Mercians have brown eyes, and he’s definitely not Northumbrian.

The man who tried to buy my supper scuffs his chair on the floor as he stands up.  I glance toward the corner to see him shoving his way towards the door.  He’s drunk and loud enough that everyone turns to stare when he grumbles about needing to take a piss.

The great ass stumbles towards the door, knocking chairs and people as he goes, but he’s large enough that no one complains.  He doesn’t notice the beggar sitting by the door, and when he trips over the old man’s cloak, he takes a hard fall.

The old man sits passive.

In a moment, the drunk man is back on his feet, bellowing, “You inconsiderate wretch!  Watch where you’re going!”  That the beggar was sitting perfectly still seems to have eluded him.

The old man continues to sit, seemingly unaware of the drunk standing over him.

“Well, at least apologize, you old fool!”  The drunk man’s words slur, and he pelts the beggar with his fist.

Aside from a grunt, the old man doesn’t respond.

“What, are you dumb too?  Get up!”  The drunk’s boot lands in the old man’s chest, and he lets out a sharp wheeze before falling over.

Everyone watches, interested in the proceedings, but no one seems inclined to help that poor man.  Even the innkeeper gives the drunk a wide berth.

I suppose hospitality only goes as far as a person’s coin.

“Leave him alone!” I say.

A few heads turn in my direction, and I feel myself blush, but it doesn’t matter.  The drunk eyes me as though he’s not quite sure what he’s looking at.

“You’re a pretty thing.  Why don’t you come over here and give us a kiss, you fiery little,” he pauses as he tries to think of a word, “thing.”

How charming.

“I wouldn’t want to risk getting fleas.”

The drunk laughs, spittle flying from his mouth.  “A fiery tongue to match your fiery head!  I like women with a little bit of spark.”

My face flushes more.  I hate when people point out my hair.  It’s not really that red, not like my mother’s.  Mercians are just so uniformly brown that even a little bit of extra color stands out to them.

“Just go take your piss and leave the old man alone.  He didn’t do anything wrong.”

The drunk turns, remembering why he was angry in the first place.  He reaches down and roughly drags the beggar to his feet by the nape of his neck.  Upright, the old man looks gaunt and drawn, his tattered clothes looking like they’re hanging from a frame of twigs.

“This thing got in my way!” the drunk man bellows, and he punches the old man in the stomach for emphasis.  I’m almost surprised at the flat smack that the blow makes, the beggar looks so much like he’d just bend with the punch.

I pick up my spear from beside the table and stride towards the drunk.  This is foolish, and I know it.

“Oh, the vixen has a pointy stick!  Do you know how to handle that thing, girl?”  The drunk grins, his broken smile revolting.  He adds, “If you do, maybe you’d like to play with mine.”  He thrusts his hips lasciviously, laughing at his own joke.  A few patrons chuckle as well.

I try to swing my spear around to bear on him, but in the crowded room it’s difficult.  With every knock and scrape that the shaft makes, he and the men who think this display is funny laugh at me.

“How’d you like to get stuck, you pig,” I spit.  Bracing myself, I point the blade towards the man, holding ready in case he comes near me.

He drops the beggar, who crumples back down to the floor, still oblivious to what’s happening.  I think I notice him picking at the bread crumbs in his beard.

“So feisty!  What’s your name, girl?” asks the drunk as he lumbers towards me.

“None of your business, you ass.”  I jab the spear towards him in warning.  “Don’t come any closer.”

Laughing, he takes another step towards me, swaying just a bit.  I keep my spear pointed at his chest.  “I bet you say sweet nothings to all the lads.  Come here and give us a kiss.”  He half lunges, half falls toward me, and I thrust my spear towards him instinctively.

It catches him in the shoulder, and his weight jerks my spear from my hands.  All the patrons who were sitting closest to me leap from their chairs and back away as the man screams.

“You bitch!” he cries as he jerks the blade from his shoulder and throws it to the floor.  His arms outstretched, he rushes me, and I fall backwards, tripping over my chair.  I land hard on my back, my breath knocked out of me.

Before I can recover, he’s straddled atop me, trying to pin my arms down.  His blood splatters on my clothes and arms, feeling warm and slick.

The thought flashes through my mind that I’m about to die, and then my vision goes white as a large, meaty hand strikes me across the face.  Struggling, I manage to free one leg from under his and kick up as hard as I can.  It’s no good though; the way he has me pinned keeps me from reaching his groin.

I keep kicking, but I know it’s useless at this point.  Stupid, Erin.  This is what I get sticking up for some doddering old fool.

A thin, wheezy voice calls out, “Crack your cheeks!” and I feel a hard draft as the drunk is blown off of me by a sudden wind.  He slams into a couple of the inn’s tables and groans.

Not waiting to see what the man’s going to do next, I scramble to my feet, grabbing my pack and my spear, and run for the door.

Standing in its archway, holding the door open, is the old beggar.  His eyes are wild, and he grins manicly as he waves for me to follow him.  He shouts in the same wheezy voice as before, “Come, dear heart!  Let’s away!”  Then, without waiting, he leaps outside, letting his ragged cloak fly behind him.

I’m not sure what to make of this crazy fool, but considering my current options I spring after him.  As I run by the innkeeper I scowl at him, and he has enough sense to turn away, ashamed.

____________

So I’ve decided that for November, I’m going to post excerpts from my book here in place of my usual flash fiction.  The scene above is my opener, and I’m already thinking about rewriting it so that my protagonist Erin doesn’t have such a Xena: Warrior Princess vibe (also, I’m probably going to tone down the drunk and the innkeeper, since they’re a little bit too obviously sexist; I always tend to draw my villains with too many broad strokes on the first draft).  Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed it.  I have to get back to writing.