Friday, July 22, 2016

Flash Fiction #208 -- Cortland

Cortland didn't remember a time before life in the cool temple halls, whispering the prayers of the gods, reading the chants, and working in the archives.  At dawn, they lifted hands and the golden light of peace came to their fingers and glowed like the rising sun.  He rarely thought about the world beyond the single building.   He had only heard the tales about cities, famines, and lately of wars.  The Holy Ten provided for them.
Until the day the southern soldiers attacked, killed almost everyone, destroyed what they could find, and made slaves of the remaining men and women.
So Cortland, at the age of sixteen, went out into the world.
Shock and loss left him mute.  In the city, he was sold cheap as kitchen labor -- able to follow orders, but not much else.  All the time, the prayers of the Holy Ten repeated in his head, the voices of dead friends whispering to him.  He held to that sound as long as he could, even though he knew they whispered lies; the gods had not saved them.
Cortland, called Kaybe -- Kitchen Boy -- became a favorite at Master Julin's estate. He did his work, helped others when he could, and still said nothing at all.  The prayers of the Holy Ten disappeared from his thoughts.  He slept better then.
"How can I read this?" Risthur, the estate overseer said, with a shake of his head.  Antona, the cook, stood her ground.  "This makes no sense!"
"It makes sense," she insisted.  "All the herbs are written here, see?  Just like you say."
Rithur stared at her in dismay.  "These are not real words.  A letter now and then, but --"
"But never bothered to learn them words," she said with a glare.
Cortland happened to look down at the wax tablet as Rithur sat it and the stylus on the table.  He could barely make out the words as well, so he took the stylus, rubbed out the first word, and wrote it in more clearly.  Rithur and Antona still argued -- and then went suddenly silent.
He looked up.  Rithur stared in shock at the tablet.  He looked up at Cortland.  "You can write.  You can write very well."
He nodded.
Rithur took the tablet and left.  Cortland went back to cutting up vegetables.
Soon Rithur returned with Master Julin.  Everyone stopped work and stood at attention.  Julin rarely came into the work areas, and his fine clothing looked out of place next to the scared worktable covered in peals, flour, and spots of animal blood.
"That one, sir," Rithur said and pointed to Cortland.
"You can write?  And read?" Master Julin said, an elegant grey eyebrow raised. Kaybe bowed his head in agreement.  "Yes, and from the looks of this wax tablet, you write very well.  Educated.  The kitchen is no place for you."
Antona sighed and gave him a little hug before he went off with Rithur.  For the next year or more, he helped the man with the estate records.  Eventually, he began working more with Master Julin and his daughter, Ava.  Julin had asked him how he learned to write.  He'd picked up the stylus and thought about the temple, the other life, his world before he became a slave.  He put the stylus down again and shook his head.  Julin never asked again.
A pleasant place, he realized.  Master Julin let him sit in the arbor and write out the reports.  Open and airy on these hot summer days.  He began to even forget the walls of the temple.
Ten years passed from the time he left the temple until war found him again.  The enemy came down from the north, along the same roads where he had been taken as a slave.  They destroyed, killed ... and enslaved.  There was no where to escape. The city already lay in ruins and the army moved now through the countryside, destroying the fields and killing everyone.  At dawn they rode towards the estate and when Kaybe saw the soldiers riding under a flag with ten circles -- the symbol of the Holy Ten -- indignation that he hadn't known he could feel rose up.  He pushed past the others, threw open the side gate, and went out towards the men with weapons who were only yards away now.
"Let him go," Master Julin said.  "They are his people.  It's only right."
But he stopped and looked back.  "Not mine," he whispered.  "None who kill are my people."
They all stared, standing there by the walls, ready to defend their little piece of world, both master, workers and slaves -- because they had all been treated well here.  They stared, shocked that he had spoken, as he himself was shocked.
Kaybe -- Cortland -- had survived.  And now he had a reason.  He turned to the soldiers and lifted his hands as he whispered a morning prayer he hadn't thought he still remembered.  The light came to his fingers, brighter than the rising sun.
The soldiers knelt and whispered.
"We did not know -- the priests were dead," one of the men said.  He was older, his face scared.  "We can take you back --"
"Put away that flag," Cortland ordered.  "It is not a flag of killing.  If you truly love the Holy Ten, put away your swords.  Go home and serve the Gods in love and peace.  Leave this place."
And they did.  Later, people called it a miracle.  Others followed them and before long the army retreated, though no one could say why.
Cortland stayed.  Master Julin's estate became a new temple.  He taught those who came, and some stayed to serve.  They didn't hide away behind walls and ignore the world.  They would not let war come upon them, unprepared to face it.  And if there was any real miracle, it was that others listened to them and for two hundred years or more, there was peace again in the land.
998 Words

Monday, July 18, 2016

Blogging again!

I stopped blogging quite a while back, except for my weekly flash fiction stories on Friday.   I had no really good reason for stopping, but a number of factors simply made blogging about writing (which will always be my primary subject here) difficult.
So let me ramble for a little while.
I went through quite a long stretch of self-doubt, even though I didn't truly recognize it for a while.  I didn't stop writing.  I didn't stop editing. 
I did stop publishing.
Part of this was due to several emails telling me, among things, that apparently I didn't care about my work, or else I wouldn't publish so often.  The emails were not about the books themselves, and it is likely these few people had not even read any of my work.  My Two Year Novel Course classes were popular at Forward Motion and the books continue to sell well.  Every year at least one or two people tell me how much help they've been.  You can't ask for better than that from classes that I know won't help everyone.  We are too diverse in the ways we work.  Sometimes, though, what I've said nudges someone in the right way, and they adapt it to what works for them.
That did not, however, help when talking about my fiction writing.  People often complained about what I did with my writing, and this is not the same as critiquing.  The ones who complain about how I work never mentioned the books themselves.
I am prolific.  I write several new novels a year and rewrite several more.  I get ideas from everything, and the hardest part is not to go rushing off to write something before I fully see what I have in hand.  When I'm lucky, multiple ideas meld together into one story.  When I'm not so lucky, I end up with little notes all piling up and have to decide which one next to expand.  I do background work.  I do outlines.  I get everything lined up, and then I write a fast first draft, just letting the story flow.
And when I finish the first draft, the manuscript is set aside for weeks or months -- sometimes more than a year -- before I go back and start editing.  This process works very well for me because it allows me to work on other things and get the first story out of my brain.  Then, when I do edit, I see it for what is there and not for what I expect to find.  One edit, two edits -- maybe more.  I do not rush the work.
I am also aware that I am not a perfect writer.  I haven't given up hope of getting better, though.  I am still willing to learn and try new things.
So, all of that continued over the last year and a half.  What I didn't do was take my work to the last step and publish.  It took me a long time to realize that I wasn't pushing that next step, and then longer to come to terms with why.
I was simply tired of dealing with those people.
I'm over that little snit with myself and have long since deleted the messages.  I've started publishing again. I started with print versions of five books that had already been in ebook versions, but the first really new book I put out was the sequel to Mirrors.  Mirrors 2: Reflections has Skye (my half-human, half-fae genderless main character) dealing with problems within the family.  I am working on a science fiction novel that is decades old and is really coming together well after three massive rewrites.  I am going to line up some more work for the rewrite-to-publish work, and I am not going to let what others say stop me this time.  Go ahead and do reviews on how poorly told the novel is (but you better say enough to show you've actually read it for me to take the review seriously), but attacking how I work is simply going to be ignored.
I'm going to start blogging about writing again.  I will likely pull up some old articles and edit them to fit newer times and put some of those here, too.  I will talk about my stories again and enjoy sharing the fun part of writing.
I am a prolific writer.  I'm not going to try and hide the fact by not publishing work.  You can enjoy the stories or not, but how they got from my head to your hands is nothing you need to concern yourself over as a reader.  Either you like my novels and shorter works or you do not.  I hope you do enjoy the stories, of course -- and if you do, at least you know you won't have to wait too long for something new!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Flash Fiction #207 -- Finding Wisdom

After a long journey following the torn and wrinkled map, the ancient castle finally stood before us, shrouded in mist and legend.
Actually, it was shrouded in a fog just short of another annoying rain and a scent that was legend in a whole new way.
"Someone needs to clean that moat out," I said with a shake of my head.
"Ugh," Swiden said.
Swiden wasn't much on conversation, but he hefted a mean ax and cooked an excellent venison with mushroom dinner.  The rest of the questing group had gone back home. Adventurers just aren't made of the same stuff as they were in my dad's day.  I'd grown up on tales of daring groups....
It wasn't easy being the only child of Sir Krinton the Bold, and worse being a daughter.  He told tales of adventure and then would sigh, wandering off mumbling about a long family tradition brought to an end.  I decided to prove  I could be more adventurous than the rest. I was going to take on Bowen the Good and win the famous Sword of Wisdom.
Now I feared time might have taken care of the knight. 
"Egh," Swiden said.  That might have been because of the stench.
I dismounted from Horse (I'm not big on names) and handed the reigns to Swiden.  Horse had a healthy respect of Swiden, having heard several muttered recipes for various 'Horse and' meals.
"The door is cleared of vines and debris.  I guess someone is here after all," I said.  "Well, this is the moment of truth, right?"
I shoved the door open.  It creaked of course.
Movement came from the hall to the right where a huge shadow appeared against the dim light from an open window.  My hand went to my sword.  I wasn't ready for this -- not yet!  I didn't expect him to appear --
"Bother," the shadow said.  "I suppose you've come searching for Wisdom, too."
"I don't need --" I began.  Then stopped.  "Oh, you mean the sword."
"Well, smarter than some of the fools who come here," he said and moved forward, though I still couldn't see him.  "Most answer that they don't need wisdom.  That disqualifies them from even searching for the sword and I send them on their way.  You're going to be a troublesome one, aren't you?  Female, too. That's a first. Well, come along.  We've things to discuss."
He came out into the light.  Younger than my father, older than me -- not bad looking in a scruffy sort of way. 
"My horse --"
"Oh, leave her there.  It'll be fine.  You won't be here long."
I didn't like that attitude. Swiden grunted and stayed with the horse.  I went with Bowen the Good.
When I got close enough, I noticed two things.  First, he wore the sword.  There was no doubt about it because it glowed slightly.  He also wore it in a harness on his back so that the pommel rested close to his head.  And the sword whispered.
"Are you saying what the sword tells you to say?" I asked
He had stopped at the entrance to a room.  It was neat and smelled of herbs and spices.  Something cooked on the hearth and a loom stood to the side with a mostly finished rug still hanging there.  I saw no sign of anyone else.
"Come in.  Sit down."  I sat as he removed the harness and hooked it over a chair by the bed.  He came back and sat by me.  "I'll tell you a quick story about Bowen the Good. His name in the village was actually Bowen the Good for Nothing.  Whatever his father put him too, he messed up.  Not intentionally, he just tended to daydream at the wrong time. When the roof collapsed and his father broke his leg, Bowen decided it was time to leave before he did worse.  He headed into the forest.  A day later, he met a man who asked if he was looking for wisdom.  Bowen said yes.  The man gave a laugh of delight and handed over the sword.  I've been stuck with it every since.  We went on a few quests -- Wisdom is good at that sort of thing -- and I sent the coin and jewels to my father.  Then we retired and just deal with people who show up here."
This was not what I had expected.  "I suppose we have something in common.  My father never thought I was good for much, being a daughter.  He's Sir Krinton the Bold."
"We did a quest together.  He always wanted the sword, but he was a nice guy.  I couldn't do that to him."
Bowen was a nice guy, too.  That made the whole idea of fighting to the death for the sword kind of distasteful, but at the same time, I didn't want to go home empty handed.
So that night, as I rested in a guest room -- nice rugs -- I thought up a plan.  Just before dawn I slipped into his room.  As I hoped, the harness was still hooked over the chair.  Bowen slept soundly.  I slid quietly across the floor, grabbed the sword and harness, and ran.
"Hey!" Bowen shouted.  He tangled in his blankets while I darted out the door.
"Oh, good girl.  Wise girl," the sword said.  "Smarter than that fool.  Yes, let's go.  Straight out, yes.  You need the horse.  Stop for the horse.  We can't run all the way. That wouldn't be wise.  We can't -- what are you doing!"
I swung the harness over the bridge and dropped it and the sword into the muck below.
Bowen reached me just as it hit the water.  He looked down.  He looked at me.
"Well done.  He had too much control of me, and I couldn't get his far.  But now what do we do?"
"We go on a quest," I said.  "And we leave the sword for some other fool to find."
 994 Words

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Flash Fiction #206 -- Escaping Somewhere Else, Part 41: The End

Lord Cayman and Ellin held back the enemy while Maggie and Davis rushed the last of the others through.
"Edmond -- run for the door," I ordered. 
I could have argued with the cat, of course.  Instead, we all retreated, pressing in close to the people going through the door.  Potilia had realized we would soon escape, and I knew she wasn't going to give up and let us go.  We had destroyed her world.
Wings or not,  this wasn't a safe place for a little cat. As I leaned down to scoop Edmond up, I noticed something odd past Potilia. For a moment, I hoped it was some help -- but no.  I caught a brief glimpse of the figure and somehow managed not to curse.
Instead, I grabbed Edmond and moved closer to Lord Cayman, Maggie, and Davis.  "Darman is behind her," I said softly.
I saw snarls on all the faces.  They'd heard me, and I didn't think our enemy -- enemies -- could tell that we knew the secret.  But how could we use it?  I held back.  I didn't have much magic yet, and I hadn't practiced as much as I should have -- but then, I'd hardly had any time to do something so mundane.  I looked at Maggie,  and she nodded to me. I didn't know what that meant.  Did she understand  I was holding back in hopes of taking Darman by surprise?  Was she trying to tell me they had everything in hand?
The air rumbled around us, warm and cold in turns. The tingle of electricity grew stronger, and I worried that it would affect our ability to act.  I glanced back the portal where the last were going to safety.  We could go -- if we could get away.
Potilia attacked.  Fire spread everywhere.  I dropped down, throwing myself over Edmond while the magic roared over us.  I didn't think it was going to end.
"Mark is down!" Maggie cried out in dismay.
I started to move to let her know --
And stopped.  Was the attack lessening over me?  If I stayed still, would they think that I -- the weakest of the group, the newest to magic -- would be out of the picture.
"Stay still, Edmond," I whispered as softly as I could.  "We're going to trick them into stop looking at us."
Edmond purred.
Three things worked in our favor.  First was that Potilia wanted Lord Cayman, and as far as she could tell, I had very little control of my magic, if I even had any left to use.  She had mistaken my drop for a fall -- I could feel that, in an odd way, when she glanced at me.  She would never have considered that I'd moved to protect the cat, I suppose.  I'm sure she wouldn't have tried to protect anyone or anything.
She started past me.  Lightning pulsed through me, but it wasn't very strong -- I tingled, but I didn't move.
Darman came closer --
I feared he was going to figure out the ruse, being more used to humans and all, so I moved as quickly as I could.  I reached out and grabbed his leg, throwing him off balance.  Magic that had been in his hands flew wild, some of it hitting Potilia, which was good -- and bad.  She screamed and spun, found me --
And Edmond bit her ankle.
I thought he would die, but Lord Snow leapt in and grabbed him by the neck like a kitten while Potilia yelled and Lord Cayman and Maggie attacked.  Davis got through and grabbed me, but I was already trying to retreat to the others.
"Get ready," he whispered.
I wished I had a clue what we were going to do.
Davis kept hold of my arm, though.  I looked around and found Edmond sitting on Lord Snow's shoulder, both backing towards the portal.  I knew they wouldn't leave us.
Maggie grabbed my other arm.  "That was brave!"
"And crazy."
"We're all crazy," she said and leaned close.  "Get ready."  She must have seen the look on my face and realized I had no idea of what was going on.  Her eyes widened a little.  "Oh!"
And then it happened. The magic that had been shoving against Potilia away reversed and caught hold of all of us.  We flew backwards into the portal.  Unfortunately, Potilia's magic followed, and the moment it reached the portal, I could feel the magic passageway shredding around us.  I heard an odd echo of Lord Cayman's voice as he shouted out magic, but I could hear Potilia and Darman doing the same.  I could even see the others who had escaped ahead of us and not far enough away.  They would be caught up in the battle.  We had to do something.  I looked at Lord Cayman.  He nodded, lifted his head, and with a shout of power -- we left that path to Elsewhere.
I could feel the hint of panic from the others.  I tried to pull us all together, to keep us close -- at least not alone!  But I wanted, mostly for us to be safe.
I think my power as a Protector kicked in.
We fell out of the portal and into a line of tall brush and weeds.  Birds cried out in surprise and took to the air.  I didn't get a look at them.  I was too busy making certain everyone was here.  Unfortunately, I could feel Potilia and Darman not far away, too.  They were following us.
"Where are we?" I whispered.
Maggie stood and walked to the edge of the trees.  She gasped and put a hand on a tree.  I rushed to find out what was wrong --
Cars driving on the road below.  Someone jogging by with their dog.  A few blocks away, I could see the high school where I'd been right before this madness started.
"We're home," Maggie whispered.
Lightning flashed in the sky behind us.  Trouble was still on the way.

(The End of Escaping Somewhere Else)

999 Words