Thursday, September 21, 2017

Flash Fiction #269-- Dusty & Friends/14

Riding for so long in the desert heat left Dusty half-ill by mid-morning.  Fox made her stop and poured water over her -- a shock of cold across her face and hair, but she felt better afterward.

"Oh, but we might have needed that water!" she protested once her thoughts cleared.

"We'll be fine. We aren't that far from the river," Fox assured her and sounded so confident that she decided to trust his words.  The water was drying on her too fast, though. She knew that she'd be just as miserable as she had been before too long.

When Dusty looked back, she could see a broad line of billowing sand.

"We've gained about ten miles on them,"  Fox said as he looked, too.  "They can make that up pretty fast if we don't work at staying ahead."

"I don't mean to slow us down," she said.  "I've just never ridden like this before."

"You haven't slowed us down at all!" Fox protested and sounded sincere.  "We can't run the horses much harder, you know.  I only noticed you were not doing well after we slowed.  But that's alright.  You have done far better than I would have expected from someone raised at court."

"I only spend part of the year there, you know.  And I never did fit in well."

"Not being like all the others isn't such a bad thing, is it?" Fox asked.  He sounded sincerely concerned and interested.

"Before all of this stated, I should have told Grandmother -- The Queen -- what path I wanted to take in my life.  All my cousins knew what they wanted, but I couldn't come up with anything," she admitted and felt that wave of dejection retake her.

"Oh, I know what you should be," he said and smiled brightly when she looked his way.  "Mistress of the Horse and Keeper of All Things Wild."

He made her laugh -- though maybe there was something to what he said.

At least he gave her something to think about while the cool water evaporated from her face and clothing.  She focused on what such a job might be like, and in that way let her mind wander away from the heat and the trouble following behind them. Dusty trusted Fox.

"We've gone over halfway," Fox said sometime later.  "I fear we are going to have to ride hard again, Dusty.  They're gaining ground."

She looked back with a start and saw that he was right.  All thoughts about caring for horses and walking the woods disappeared, though she found that the images had refreshed her.  She could see something for the future, and even if it wasn't true, it gave her hope.

When she looked back, she could see that the orcs were moving faster again and were far closer than she liked.  She checked on Blue, but he was asleep and didn't seem to be any worse for the heat.  He'd ate part of the apple slice, which at least gave him some liquid.  He was also not in the direct sunlight, but it still could not be comfortable for him.  Blue did not complain, just blinked sleepily at her, stretched a little, and then curled up in a ball.

"We have to ride faster again," she said. They were already starting to gain speed, her horse matching pace with Fox's mount.  "Be careful in there."

"I will," Blue muttered, but she suspected he was mostly asleep.  She hoped he stayed that way and didn't suffer too much.

She could suddenly hear the grunts of the orcs behind them.  So did the horses and they'd rested just enough that they were eager to run again and get ahead of the enemy again, though they could not run far.  The land looked flat here, and she hoped to see the river -- but the glare of light on the sand made looking too far ahead painful.

They rode faster and then slower, and then faster again, though not for long.  The orcs did fall behind once more, though not by very far.

Dusty considered giving Blue over to Fox and telling him to ride on without her.  She trusted that he would do his best to get the baby dragon back to the castle if he was able -- but then she realized that no one there would understand Blue anyway.  Oh, they would figure things out, but she could help settle everything faster.  Besides, if something did happen to Fox, Blue would have no one to turn to.

She held the bag more protectively, leaning forward a little --

And blinked.

"Is that -- is that green ahead of us?" she whispered, her throat almost too dry to speak.

Fox stood up in his saddle as though he could see better that way.  Then he turned a dusty faced smile to her.  "It is!  And I think the horses smell the water of the river.  They're starting to move faster.  There should be a dock at the end of the trail. There might be a boat, and maybe even a small fishing village, though it moves."

"Moves?' she asked, squeaking out the one word.

"The river changes with the seasons.  The villages along the edge shift to the better places for fishing.  Right now, early in the spring, they'll likely be upriver closer to the mountains where they can get the most fish coming down from the mountain thaw."

"I didn't realize," she said, surprised by the lack of knowledge.  She tried to learn everything she could about the people around her.  "I knew they went fishing upstream, but I didn't realize the whole village --"

A sudden roar of sound from behind startled her, Fox, and the horses. She thought Blue even moved in his bag.

"They know the water's there now as well," Fox said.  They could both see the orcs starting to move faster.  "Hold on tight again, Dusty.  This is it."

Friday, September 15, 2017

Flash Fiction #268 -- Dusty & Friends/13

Dusty looked back and slowed -- the orcs looked confused.  That would not help.

"I need you to be brave again, Blue," she said and reached her hand into the bag.

Blue grabbed hold, scurried up her arm and to her shoulder.   She stopped, Fox beside her, though he looked worried.

"You will never have the baby dragon again!" she shouted.  "And you had better hope his mother never catches you!"

The orcs shouted in dismay and maybe fear.  With no doubt that they had their attention, Dusty turned her anxious horse and started away again.  However, before they had gone more than a yard, the horse Dusty was riding became frightened by the growing roar of sound behind them.  Blue gave a cry of dismay and darted back into the bag.  Dusty feared she would be thrown, and wrapped one arm tight around the bag with Blue while she held tight to the reins with the other.

"Calm, my friend!" she shouted over the roar of angry orcs, the yells of people, the cries of dozens of birds, and the barks of every dog in the town.  "Calm!  We will get away!"

The horse calmed, took on a long-legged gait, and ran steadily toward the end of town.  Fox's horse did the same.

"Well done!" Fox yelled.  He'd probably thought she was going to end up on the ground, bones broken. 

Dusty gave him only a nod and held tight still. The horse would sense her own fears, and she needed to get control or else this would end badly.  It helped that the sounds of the village were already less loud.  She dared to look back.  Two soldiers rode with them, but behind that group, she could see the turmoil the others had created. The orcs had not yet gotten past them.

She hoped no one was hurt.

They sped past the edge of town where crumbling old buildings were slowly crumbling back into the sand from which they'd been born.  Fox still rode close beside her, the horses almost neck and neck as though they raced for fun.  Dusty wished to make the ride a game, but she knew that a long, hard journey stood between her and the dubious safety of the river.

 Fox pointed out the trail just ahead, and she prepared to turn, daring one look back.  Somehow, the townspeople were still holding the orcs at bay, though she didn't think they could do so much longer.  As soon as they took the turn, she and Fox both let the horses run full out down the road, around a curve, and down a hillside covered with fig trees and small plots of crops.  Before Dusty stretched nothing but desert hills now, golden in the growing light.

How far to the river? She couldn't see it from here, but the land rose and fell in low lying hills.  She could see no line of green, which would be a sure sign of water.  Would they dare ride through the heat of the day?  It wasn't bad now, but soon the sand would reflect as much heat as the sun beat down on it.

Daring one glance back, she knew they had no choice.  The orcs had gotten free of the townspeople, but now the few troops they left behind had started to slow them.

"Hold on and ride fast!" Fox shouted.

Fox clearly did not intend to ride off without her, and the idea that he might put himself into danger on her account worried her enough that she stopped looking behind and pressed the horse forward again.

The shouts and yells behind began to fade as they went down one hill and then up again.  Fox looked back, so she did as well.  The soldiers, though few in number, had held the orcs.  One of the massive creatures might even be dead.

"Down fast and then slow on the next incline," Fox said. 

Her horse panted badly, but he liked the down hill rush.  He didn't mind slowing on the next hill, which had been a little steeper and higher.  At the top, Fox stopped finally.

"Rest for a little while," he said.  "We need to be careful of the horses, and I think the orcs will have trouble on the hills.  We're going to hit the flatlands soon, though.  We'll want to keep a good distance as long as we can."

"Yes," she said, barely catching her own breath.  "Are you all right, Blue?"

"It was kind of fun to bounce up and down on the fluffy stuff in here.  And I landed on a piece of apple."

She laughed and related what he said to Fox.  The soldier looked at her with a touch of wonder on her face. They started away again, though not very fast.   The orcs hadn't even made it to the first hill yet, but she knew they dared not go too slow.

"What will we do at the river?" she asked.

"I hope to find some sort of craft. The current is with us so we can float down stream to the canal.  We're sure to find some help to reach the capital from there.  The orcs are found to follow the river bank. We have to hope that it doesn't narrow too much that they might be able to reach us."

"I always wanted an adventure," Dusty admitted.  "This is not what I thought it would be like, though."

"Adventures are always better when you can tell about them after they're done," Fox replied.

"I suppose so.  They do make good reading.  Have you had adventures?"

"Oh, a few," he replied and pressed to go a little faster. Dusty stayed with him, grateful that she did not need to make this journey alone.  "We'll have to sit down and talk about adventures sometime."

"I would like that very much," she said.

He looked startled, but she smiled.  And then they moved faster once more.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Flash Fiction # 267 -- Dusty & Friends/12

"I think we're ready to go," Dusty said as she came back out.  She put Blue in the bag.  "You need to be safe, my friend."

"They'll need to see him," Fox reminded her.  "Unless we try to truly sneak away, which is not entirely a bad idea."

"That would leave the orcs destroying things here," Dusty protested.  "We'll have to let them know, but we should get to the edge of town first.  If I can get some obstacles in the way, that might help."

"We might manage to upset things a bit as well," one of the men said.

"Carefully," Fox replied.  "Confusion will help.  Shouting.  Pointing that we have a baby dragon. Since they haven't said what they're looking for that should get their attention."
Dusty put the food Happy had gathered into the bag with Blue.  He sniffed appreciatively.  "We better go. The longer we wait, the more damage they'll do, and they might find us."

"True," Fox agreed.  "The horses are at the stables half way through Goodwater on the main road."

"I really don't know this town at all," she admitted.  She'd remember the name, though.  These people had helped her.  "I'll have to follow you."

Fox dared to put a hand on her shoulder.  "If anything happens to me, you must ride to the end of town and take the first trail heading for the river.  It is the best chance you have of getting away."

Dusty thought of how dangerous this would be and how she did not want to go on alone.  She gave one nod to Fox and dared not say anything aloud for fear she might, finally, break down into tears.

Just going to ride a horse, she thought.  Race the horse.  She had out ridden her brothers on more than one occasion, much to their chagrin.  Horses responded well to her.

Like birds, dogs ... baby dragons.

Did that make her special?  No one else had heard Blue's cries as anything more than some creature upset somewhere in the mass of people and orcs.  She didn't understand birds, dogs, cats, and rats -- but the more Dusty thought about it, the more she realized how they'd always obeyed her and even came to her aid when she needed help. 

So maybe she was special.  Being able to do something no one else could made Dusty feel strange.  It also gave her responsibility, and she held tighter to the bag.

Happy gave Dusty the sort of hug her mother did whenever Princess Destiny headed to the capital for her stay with Grandmother.  It was what she'd needed just then, and she whispered her thank you to the older woman.

Then Dusty, Fox, and another soldier went out the door and into the brisk morning air.  Dusty tried not to shiver, and that feeling didn't come from the cold anyway.  She could hear the orcs far too loudly out here and didn't want to think about what would happen to her or Blue if they were caught now.

Fox sent the other soldier on to get two horses ready.  The man frowned slightly but then nodded.

"He wants to come with us," Fox said softly.  He helped Dusty over a fence, letting them stay out of sight as they hurried past the backs of buildings and through gardens.  "But I want the soldiers to do all they can to help slow the orcs and then to help the others."

"Should someone go to my grandmother?" she asked.  She could hear the horses.  They'd soon be riding as hard as she ever had in her life.

"There are only six of us," he said with a bit of worry.  "Four of those are going to follow us and try to harass the orcs and slow them down enough for us to get across the river.  Once we're there, it's hard to say what the orcs will do."

"Probably head for the nearest bridge," she said.  "Even if they don't like bridges, I would think they'd head that way in this case."

"Yes, that's true," he said and offered her a smile.  "I'll tell them that if it's possible, one of them should head back to the capital.  Otherwise, you and I on the river might get there faster."

"Oh, that's true," Dusty said and felt pleased with the idea.  "I am eager to get back home now."

"I imagine so," Fox replied.

"And Blue wants to go home, too.  Poor little guy.  I hope we can get this settled soon.  The first step is getting back to the palace and finding someone who can send word to his mother."

Fox nodded, looking worried again. She didn't know if that was because they were nearly to the horses, which she could see saddled only a few yards away, or if he considered the damage that a full grown dragon might do if she didn't get her son back soon.

"Are you ready?" Fox asked.

Dusty took one deep breath.  "Yes.  Let's hurry before anything else happens here."

"I'll help you on your horse.  You start riding immediately.  Head down the street," Fox pointed in the direction opposite of from the orcs.  "I'll follow.  There will be a lot of yelling about you having the dragon.  If it is safe, bring Blue out for a moment -- but don't stand still for very long."

"I won't.  Thank you," Dusty said.  She hoped that nothing happened to Fox.  She didn't want to ride off into the desert by herself.  This was not the sort of thing that should be entirely in her hands.

Dusty knew she had done well so far.  Time to move on and start heading for home. That thought gave her hope again.  So she hurried over to the horses and Fox helped her quickly up on one.  She grabbed the reins and started away, even as she heard the first shouts from the orcs.

Time to ride!

995 Words

Friday, September 01, 2017

Flash Friday # 266 -- Dusty & Friends/11

Orcs shouted louder again, and something crashed to the ground.  Dusty feared a building had been destroyed.  Her heart caught with a combination of fear and anger.

"They have no right!" she shouted.  Blue sat on her shoulder, observing the others.  Dusty stood straighter though despair tried to make her feel helpless.  "We have to get Blue away, but we also have to make certain the orcs realize that he's no longer here in the village so these people will be safe."

Everyone in the room nodded, but she didn't see hope or help there.

"You need travel food," Happy said suddenly. She got up and began moving.  "No matter what you do, you need to be prepared."

"Yes, thank you," Dusty agreed.  "And a piece of fruit for Blue would be nice right now."

Happy got him a nice slice of apple and seemed to have gone from afraid to enchanted, which Dusty appreciated far more.  Dusty turned to the soldier who had recognized her and gave an embarrassed shrug.  "I'm sorry, but I don't know your name," she apologized.

"Well, of course, you don't!" the young man said.  He couldn't be more than a year or two older than her.  "There are several hundred of us at the castle.  I'm Fox, Princess Destiny."

"Fox," she said with a nod of her head.  "And please call me Dusty.  Just Dusty.  I've always preferred it."

He looked troubled by that idea, but then they drilled etiquette into everyone who came anywhere near the royal family.  Dusty couldn't be certain he would stop calling her princess, but she thought it might help the others.

"The orcs are fast," Fox said with a frown.  "And they have more stamina than a horse.  We might ride fast enough to get away from them for an hour or so, but that wouldn't get us nearly far enough, and we couldn't count on finding another horse."

Orcs yelled again.  The ground shook.  She feared they were closer and they had little time.  "Is there anywhere we can go?  Somewhere we can reach --"

"The river," Blue said.  "The river can't be too far away."

She looked at him in surprise and then back at the others.  "He says to go to the river."

"Oh yes!" Fox agreed and smiled so brightly that she almost wasn't afraid again.  "He's right!  Orcs are scared to death of water, and they won't even cross a bridge if they can avoid it.  It's because they -- well -- they sink like stones."

"How far?" she asked.

"A couple hours of hard riding," he said and looked her over.  "How good are you on a horse, Princess -- Dusty?"

"Better than my brothers," she admitted and won a slight smile.  "I'll need something else to wear."

"I'll find you some clothing!" Inis said and hurried off.  Dusty wondered if the young woman wanted to help or if she was anxious to get Dusty and her friend away from here.  It didn't matter; Dusty appreciated the change.

"The orcs are out in the streets, and they'll see us get to the horses and leave," Fox said with a shake of his head.  "They might overtake us before we can get more than a few yards since we'll need time to mount.  Then there's the problem of finding a spot where we can cross the river."

Another building crashed to the ground.  Dusty winced, but then her anger grew.  "Tell the others not to despair.  My grandmother will make good on the ruined buildings.  We just all have to be wise and get Blue free from here."

"We need a diversion," Fox said and looked at the people around them.

"I think I can do something," Dusty said.  "I've done it before by accident.  Birds, I think."

She went to the door, Fox close beside her, and peaked out.  A single sparrow sat on a spindly tree.  Dusty gave a nod to the bird and thought about how much she would like to see others --

They started coming immediately.  A dozen, then two dozen, then other birds as well, many that would not usually share a branch, all of watching Dusty with anticipation and being uncommonly quiet.  Even a hawk took to the top of the building

"Ah.  I didn't know you had the gift, Dusty," Fox said.  He sounded pleased and surprised.

"Neither did I.  I never knew I had anything special, even though creatures of all sorts have always taken an interest in me.  Well, at least now I know I can help!  But I do hope the little birds are careful.  I don't want to see them hurt, either.  Oh, maybe another diversion?  Dogs, I think.  Though they'll have to be careful as well."

Somewhere close by a dog barked, as though she knew exactly what Dusty wanted.  She heard the sound repeated elsewhere.  By then Inis had brought her a riding skirt, and they went to her mother's room to change.

"I'm sorry for the way I treated you," Inis apologized.  "I shouldn't have, not matter who you are.  I'm just so frustrated, living in this little town."

Dusty thought it must be much like living in the castle, though she didn't say so.  Still, they were both small worlds.

"Maybe when this is done, you can come and visit me in the castle," Dusty said.

Inis looked at her with her eyes large and shock on her face.  "Oh, I would like to see the city, at least once.  Do you think mama would let me?"

Odd to be thinking about such mundane things right now, but it made Dusty feel better as she picked up Blue.  "I think so.  But maybe you should help her for a while."

"I should anyway," Inis said.  "I'll try not to be such a brat.  Thank you."

Inis hugged her as though they were equals and friends.  Inis would never know how much that meant to Dusty as she headed out into danger.

999 Words

Monday, August 28, 2017

When things don't quite go right

On August 1, I started the rewrite of Singer & St. Jude 1: The Lost Cause.  This book has already been published by Double Dragon, but I asked for the rights back because I wanted to move the story about a hundred years into the future and use the series (there are several more that have not been published) as the starting point for the Inner Worlds Council Universe.  The books introduce two important factors for many of the later works. The first is the introduction of the psis and their powers, as well as the fear that moves a lot of humans against them.  The second is the start of the organization that later becomes the Old World Morals Society, a group much like the Far Right of today with their insistence on people living in ways they have decided are correct.

So I started the work.  The rewrite has been going very well, in fact, at least on one level.

But something kept bothering me.  Really nagging at me every time I sat down and started typing.  I could not figure out what the problem was, however.  So I kept working.  I changed things, I nudged this and that.  I liked a lot of what I got, but I felt something essential was missing.

Missing is the important word.  What the story missed was a sense of the future.  I had a few terms and a couple gadgets.  I had a reason why this particular area of the world would not be as advanced as other places, but even so, the story lacked a feel for the hundred and some years that had passed.  I had, in fact, not done any real world building for the new version.

This is embarrassing.  My favorite author wrote a lovely quote for me: A talented author with a gift for world building.

She said that about me.  And here I sit with a story that might as well be taking place right now, except for the ruined city. 

I am finishing out this rewrite to fix the rest of the plot problems.  Then I will put the book aside and start thinking about how I might change things.  I don't think I'll work on the novel again until next year -- which isn't that far away.  I will, however, start looking at the world building aspects that I ignored.

Next up is the final run through on Tales of Grey Station 9.  And outlines.  Having trouble there, too.

But at least I finally figured out the problem with the current novel.  I can deal with problems I see even if they take me a while to fix.  The ones you simply can't find are the ones that will drive a writer crazy.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Flash Friday # 265 -- Dusty & Friends/10

Dusty gave a  cry of despair, the sound lost in the shouts from the others.  She held the bag close and could feel Blue trembling.  She wanted to reassure him.  Even if he went back to the orcs, they would keep him alive.  He'd be safe.

"There's more trouble.  I don't know what it is, but a couple soldiers arrived and said they'd be talking to everyone.  One was only a little ways behind me," the soldier said and looked at the door.  "Shouldn't be long."

"More excitement than we ever had here," Happy said with a shake of her head.

Others had wandered back in again, the sound of voices growing louder.  They wanted the person who had brought this on them.  They would give back what was stolen. They would --

Someone knocked at the door. The soldier went to it, a hand on his sword.  Dusty had turned to see, but at the same moment someone caught hold of her shoulder and began to viciously shake her.

"It's you!"  Inis shouted.  "You're the one!  What did you steal, you little fool!  What have you got in that bag!"

"Don't do that!" Dusty cried out in dismay as Inis grabbed the bag away and turned it upside down, shaking vigorously.  Dusty gave such a cry of despair that the guards both pushed their way to her.

"Here now," the first guard said and took hold of Inis.  "Let's take this calmly, shall we?"

"It's her!" Inis shouted.  "She showed up right after the orcs left and she holds that ratty little bag like there's something in it.  It's her that's caused us all this trouble!"

Blue must have held on tight inside the bag since he didn't fall out.  Dusty tried to grab the bag back, but Inis held it out of reach. The guard looked sternly at Dusty now. 

"Is this true, girl?  Are you --"

The second guard had pushed in beside the man and gave a cry of surprise.  "It's you!  Your grandmother is sick with worry about you, Princess Destiny!"

Silence fell across the little room.  Inis let go of the bag which fell to the floor with a thump.  Dusty quickly knelt and grabbed it back.  Time, she realized, for truth all the way around.  She and Blue needed help.

"I hadn't meant for there to be this kind of trouble," she said as she stood.  "We'd hoped that the orcs would go on for a few days before they noticed," she offered.

"We?" the new guard said.  She recognized him from the castle and felt a huge welling of relief to see someone she knew.  "Is someone helping you, Princess --"

"I --" Happy said and looked faint.  One of the men took her by the arm and settled her on the stool by the table.  "I -- I made a princess wash dishes and sleep on the hearth -- I --"

Inis went pale and looked as upset as her mother.

"You helped me," Dusty replied.  She stood straight and tried to seem like a princess rather than a homeless child.  "And if I'd told you I was Princess Destiny, you would have laughed at me.  And rightly so."

Happy looked a little less frightened and more intrigued.  Inis, though, apparently realized the sort of trouble she could be in for the way she'd treated Dusty.  Under the circumstances, Dusty could hardly blame her for getting carried away.

"How did you come to be here?" the palace guard asked.  "Did the orcs take you?  We feared as much."

"I was in their wagon, but they didn't realize it."  She looked around and shook her head.  People stared at her, and she'd never liked to be on show.  Dusty felt small, dirty, and far too unimportant for this much to be in her hands. 

This was her responsibility. She'd made it so when she went to help the crying child.  That seemed, in fact, a good place to start.

"I don't know why no one else heard the child crying," she admitted now.  "He sounded terrified.  I thought I would get to the cart, see if he really was in there, and then call the guards.  The orcs, though -- they made so much noise and started moving almost immediately.  I had to hide inside. There was no way to escape until we reached this village.  We'd hoped that the orcs would go on for another day or two and by then I'd have found someone to take us back to the capital."

"Us?" the guard asked.

Dusty opened the bag and looked inside.  "It's all right.  We have help now.  Are you okay, Blue?"

"Afraid," he whispered.  "So many loud people!"

"You are safe."  She held her hand down to him, and he took hold, his little fingers tight as she pulled him back up.

Silence again.

"Is -- is that --" Happy said softly.

"A baby dragon," Dusty said.  "The orcs trapped him.  So I had to get him free and back to his mother before she came looking for him.  She'll track him you know and grow more frantic.  There will be trouble if he isn't returned soon."

"Already trouble in the north," the guard admitted.   "We didn't know why."

"I want to go home," Blue cried and scurried up to nestle near her neck  She felt little dragon tears flowing against her skin.

"You will go home now, Blue," she promised.  "We'll do our best to make you safe."

"Do you promise?" he asked, looking into her face.

"Yes, I promise," she said and even offered a smile.

"Ummm, Princess?" the palace guard said leaning a little closer.  "Do you understand what he's saying?"

Dusty looked at the others in surprise.  "The rest of you don't?"

She knew the answer from their startled looks.  That changed things.  Dusty dared not hand Blue over to someone to get him away as quickly as possible.  He needed her.  They must move carefully -- and quickly before the orcs found them.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Flash Friday # 264 -- Dusty & Friends/9

Dusty had hoped that the orcs would go for at least a full day, maybe two, before they realized they were missing their most prized possession.  Blue cried in fear and burrowed back into the bag even before she could say anything.

Which was good since Happy came out of her room, pulling a tunic into place and her hair in disarray.  People began making sounds all through the building, but Dusty grabbed her bag and cowered back against the stone by the fireplace. 

"You're safe, Dusty," the older woman said and even stooped to pat her shoulder.  "I don't know what brought those monsters back, but I'm sure the others will sort it out."

Inis rushed into the kitchen, crying and hysterical.  Watching her, Dusty realized she had to stop being so afraid.  The fear made her want to run and hide, and she even wondered if she could get the door open and run before any of the others stopped her.

And that would be a very stupid thing to do.

Looking at the faces, though, she realized that telling everyone about Blue and what the orcs wanted wouldn't be a good idea, either. She saw desperate people, and she'd seen those types in the castle.  They were apt to act on the moment and not think about the consequences of what would happen later.  There would be dangerous consequences if Blue did not get back to his mother.  She had no doubt the mother dragon could trace her child --

And that made sense out of what the orcs were doing!  They wanted the dragon to rampage through the human lands, following the trail to her son.  Humans might kill the mother dragon, but that would be even worse for them.  Then the entire dragon empire would descend on the lands.

Dusty feared she'd already wasted too much time.

"Are the soldiers back do you think?" she dared to ask in a moment of silence.

"Good question, little one," a man said.  "I'll go see what I can learn.  Let me out the back and lock up again, ma'am.  Not that the door would stop the orcs, you understand, but who knows what else might be going on?  I'll knock three times when I return."

Happy had to pry Inis off of her, and Dusty feared the daughter would begin wailing again.  Something told Dusty that Inis liked the attention.  However, Inis must have started to realize the seriousness of the situation.  The orcs still yelled, their voices alone shaking walls, though they'd stopped stomping their feet.

Did they really know this was where they'd lost the little dragon or was it a guess based on the last time they'd stopped on their journey?  She had the feeling they didn't know, and better yet, she suspected they had no real way to track him.  Dusty wished she could ask Blue what they might do to find him, but right now she moved back to the corner and sat while still holding tight to her bag.

"I don't care why their back.  They wouldn't dare attack us, or they'd have all the good Queen's soldiers on them before they could get home," another man said.  A trader, Dusty thought.  He had that look about him.  "Whatever brought them running back here must be important, though."

"Well, if they'd stop yelling we'd probably just give it to them," Happy replied.  She'd begun to walk around the room, looking at the larder and her horde of spices.  Dusty doubted so many people had ever been allowed in the room before and it clearly made her nervous.  "Go on out to the main room -- go on.  I'll wait for our friend to return and make up a bit of tea and some cheese and fruit --"

"Oh, how can you even think of such things?" Inis wailed.  "We'll all be killed --"

"If they wanted us dead, we'd be dead already," Happy said with a sigh.  "We might as well be practical.  Go out and light the lamps, Inis.  Or shall I have Dusty do that for you, too?"

Inis glanced around the room until she found Dusty.  She glared, but Dusty didn't note quite so much anger there as contemplation.  Maybe she thought she had to win her mother back over.  Dusty wouldn't stay, but Inis couldn't be entirely certain of it, could she?  So she lit a taper and went out to the other room, the rest of the group trailing along behind her until only Happy and Dusty remained in the kitchen.

Dusty had hoped that Happy would go out with the others for a moment, but when that didn't happen, she reluctantly put her bag carefully into the corner where it wouldn't get pushed into the fire.  A mouse came out and grabbed hold of her hand, panic in his face.  She carefully brushed a finger over his head and set him back in the shadows hoping that Happy didn't see.  Dusty doubted the woman would take kindly to such a creature in her kitchen.

Then she went to work with Happy, which did help.  Dusty calmed as she worked.  The orcs only yelled now and then.  Dusty thought they might not be able to do anything except to yell.

While she diced fruit and bits of cheese, Dusty tried to figure out a way to get her and Blue out of the town -- but not leave the orcs here to make trouble on their account. 

Three quick knocks on the door.  Happy still looked uneasy as she pulled it open.  Two men hurried in, one in the gray uniform of the guard.  Dusty gave a sigh of relief to see him.

"We have a serious problem," the guard said.  "The orcs say we stole something from them, and they'll tear the town apart looking for it.  We have to find what they want and give it to them right now or people will die, and we'll have a war."

1000 Words

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Flash Friday # 263 -- Dusty & Friends/8

"Do you do it all yourself usually, ma'am?" Dusty asked during one little break where they both sat on stools and sipped cool water from the well out back.  A dull sound of many voices came from the tavern area, but the man who worked out there -- Gus -- kept everything calm.

"Most days.  My daughter seems to have far more important things to do." Happy gave a weary shrug.  "I keep hoping she'll realize that she wants to learn this job so she can run the place, but I suppose when I'm gone she'll just sell it off."

"But you've worked so hard!"

"Yes, I have. But I suppose once I've left this life, I won't much care what happens to the tavern, will I?"  A whisper of bitterness touched her words, and her eyes narrowed. Then she shook her head.  "Well, never mind.  That's a long ways off.  You have taught me one lesson, though, Dusty."

"I have?" she asked, surprised.

"I need to stop thinking about how Anda should be helping me and hire someone to help out.  I can afford it.  I don't need to do everything by myself."

"Oh yes, ma'am.  That would be good."

Later -- much later -- a woman came into the kitchen. She dressed well, Dusty thought, and felt embarrassed by her newly borrowed clothing.  The woman frowned and looked over at Happy who had just brought back an empty tray.

"Who is she?" the woman demanded with a lift of her chin toward Dusty.

"She's the person I've taken on to do the work you won't do," Happy answered -- and she didn't sound very happy, either.  "If you want some dinner, there's still some rabbit stew left and some bread.  You know how to serve yourself."

"You gave her my job?"

"It would only be your job if you did the work," Happy replied.  She took a deep breath and then let it go.  "It's no matter, Inis.  Dusty will only be here a few days.  I do think I am going to hire someone, though.  Just having this child do the dishes has given me time to sit down and rest sometimes.  I never realized how much a little help would be."

Inis stared at her mother, her face gone red.  Then she turned and rushed back out of the room.  Dusty heard her heading straight up the stairs.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," she said when Happy came to dry a few of the newly washed cups.  "I didn't know what to say."

"Best not to have said anything," Happy said and unexpectedly grinned.  "And don't worry about that confrontation.  I learned years ago that Inis is too much like her late father.  You couldn't tell the man what to do, but sometimes you could embarrass him into the right actions.  Inish also realized that if I hire someone else, I won't be paying her for the few times she decides she wants a few coins."

"Oh."  Dusty could not imagine that kind of relationship, but Happy didn't seem to mind.  She supposed that after so many years, Happy had learned how to handle her own child.

The place got busy again, but after another hour it seemed like things were starting to get quiet again.  Happy took food up to her daughter, and since she didn't bring the tray right back, Dusty thought there must be some understanding between the two.  Finally, with the last of the dishes washed and everything put away, Happy brought her a blanket.

"I can't give you a room, I'm afraid.  Booked up tonight.  I'll make sure the doors are all locked.  We have a couple people in the common room, but they shouldn't bother you.  If they do, you just yell out.  I sleep in the room under the stairs.  I'll hear you.  Unless you want to sleep on the floor in there--"

"No, ma'am.  This is fine."

As much as she didn't like the idea of sleeping alone in such a strange place, she also wanted some time with Blue.  By the time Dusty curled on the hearth to sleep for the night, she thought she'd washed more dishes than they had in the entire castle.  Her hands ached, and she'd cut two of her fingers on the sharper knives.

And she'd never been so tired in her life.

She'd only had a couple chances to look in on Blue.  Once she slipped him a piece of apple that had fallen on the floor, but Happy came back soon afterward so they couldn't say much.  Happy worked very hard over the hot stove and Dusty thought she had the easier of the jobs -- but it had been hard work.

Dusty pulled the little bag closer to her and laid her head down on the crook of her arm.  They had light enough from the banked fire, and she thought the blanket might make a better pillow since she was so warm.

"Blue?" she whispered.

The little dragon darted to the edge of the opening and peeked out, his head turning nervously to the left and right.  "Safe?" he asked.

"Safe for the moment, but be ready to rush back in if anyone comes close.  Are you okay?"

"Yes, yes," he agreed.  He even sounded happy.  "Much better than the orc's wagon.  It bounced so much all the time that I could barely sleep.  I rested all day.  And the food was better, too!"

"Are you still hungry?"

"No," he said.  He put his little long-nailed hands on her arm.  "You worked very hard.  I could see through part of the cloth where it had worn thin.  You should sleep."

"You stay hidden.  We'll have a chance to leave soon," Dusty said.  She yawned and closed her eyes....

She thought of nothing until she awoke again to the building rumbling and shouts.  And earthquake!  She looked around, frantic --

No, not an earthquake. The yelling was not from humans.

The orcs had returned!

997 words

Friday, August 04, 2017

Research for new novel

Flash Friday # 262 -- Dusty & Friends/7

Dusty had not gotten far into the little opening before her dress caught.  The area ahead looked even smaller, but she dared not stop.  The sunlight shining into the crevice showed her too clearly, and even if no one could see Blue, they would still wonder what she was doing.

A bit of a scramble forward and her dress tore.  She didn't care.  However, she could not get more than her head through the next area, even if she turned sideways.  She had to hope no one would look --

A dark shadow passed over the opening behind her and stopped.  She gave an almost silent gasp of despair and fear, expecting to find an orc reaching for her.

When she looked back, though, she found instead a large dog that had sat down with his back to them and blocked the opening.

"Oh, good dog!" she whispered.

The dog's tail thumped twice.

Beyond the opening, she could hear the growing chant of the orc.  The buildings trembled at the sound and when they began to go stomp their feet, Dusty feared she and Blue would be buried in rubble.

The cart began to move, though, and slowly the intense sound of the orcs disappeared down the road.  The dog moved on, and she could hear people starting to stir again, so she did her best to get back out of the crevice.

She was nearly out when she thought to put Blue in the bag.  "We must be careful now.  There are some humans I wouldn't trust much at all.  I'll find a way to get us back to the capital."
"I trust you," he whispered in her ear and then leapt down into the open bag.

She continued to back up and try to get out of the crevice, but her sleeve caught and tore --

Someone took hold of her by the waist and pulled her out of the opening.  She gave a gasp of surprise and fear as she found herself on her feet and turned around to face a very tall man with short white hair and narrow gray eyes.

"Well now.  What were you doing in that hole, missy?" he demanded.  He had an odd accent that she'd heard only a few times in the capital.

"Orcs," she said. The truth would do well at the moment.  "I was afraid of the orcs."

"Yes, maybe wise to hide," the older man said with a nod.  A few others walked by and gave her a curious stare.  "You aren't from around here."

"No sir," she said.  She'd have to come up with a non-truth now.  For a moment her mind went blank, but then she remembered an adventure story she'd read and decided to borrow from that tale.  "I am heading to my grandmother's house in the capital."

"By yourself?"

"No, sir.  A man and woman were supposed to escort me, but they took the money and left me here."

"Well now!"

"I just want to find a way to get to my grandmother," she said and held the bag closer.  Tears came to her eyes, though she fought them back.  "How can I get there?  They took my coins, too."

"You're still three days out -- too far for a little thing like you to walk, even if it were safe," the man said.  "You might ride with the guards, but they took off to watch the orcs and can't say when they'll be back.  Well, let's find you a place for now, shall we?"

"That would be very kind, sir," she said with a bow of her head.

"Polite little thing," he said with an odd look as he stared at her.  Then he turned and urged her along with him.

The village turned out to be only a few twisty streets and perhaps twenty buildings.  Dusty was glad because she was already so tired she could barely jog along with the tall, long-legged man.  Should she trust him?  Dusty kept herself a little to the right, almost out of reach.

Then she smelled food.  Her stomach rumbled as the stranger headed up the two steps to the door.  She looked up at him with open trepidation since she had never been into a common tavern before. The swinging sign said Happy's Place. She hoped that meant someplace safe.

"My niece owns this place. We'll see if she can keep you for a bit.  Come on now, missy. What's your name?"

She knew instinctively not to claim her true name.  He wouldn't believe her and might not want to help her afterward.

"Dusty, sir."

"Dusty. Well, the name suits you.  Come along."

She followed him up into the darker room, holding tight to the bag and Blue, who shifted a little but otherwise was probably asleep.  He probably wouldn't understand how harrowing this was for his new friend.  Well, that was all right. She didn't want to upset him.

Dusty had trouble seeing anything inside the room, but she liked how cool it felt as soon as they stepped inside.  She followed her rescuer into a room behind a cloth-covered door.

"No one's allowed -- oh, Uncle," a heavyset woman said.  She had a knife in her hand and had been dicing something on a huge table.  "What brings you -- who is this?"

"Dusty, ma'am," she introduced herself.

Uncle took over telling the tale while Dusty looked around the room.  She had sometimes spent a little time in the kitchen with Cook and Geren, hoping to find her calling even there.

"Leave her with me, Uncle.  Just make certain you send the guards this way as soon as they get back."

Uncle nodded, gave Dusty a bow of his head, and hurried away.

"Thank you, ma'am."

"You can call me Happy." The woman looked her over.  "Lucky that Uncle found you. You'll be here a day or two, I'd guess.  Can you wash dishes?"

Not the kind of adventure she'd imagined....

995 Words

Monday, July 31, 2017

And Another One

Here is something you often hear from me.

I have a new novel idea.

This one will be an Egyptian/Steampunk/Fantasy/Archeology tale.  I am sure there will be awakened Nile Gods, though all I have for a plot is the opening.  Normally I don't do a lot about character families beyond the immediate ones needed for the story, but I've already charted four or five generations for three families with about 52 people, and I'm nowhere near done.  And yes, most of this will have a major role in the tale, even if some of it is not 'on screen.'

I have the other ancient world/Egypt-centered alternate history idea, but that one is going to take a step back, and this will be one of the four I outline for NaNo.  The other one requires too much world building to throw it together in the next three months, let alone do it along with other outlines.

Oh, and I did finish the edit/rewrite of Tales from Grey Station 9!  It is sitting at 175,036 words at the moment, with one last edit where I go through with all the notes I made and make certain everything lines up properly.  I will have the book ready for release next month.

It's going to be hard to concentrate on it with this new story leaping up and down like the proverbial plot bunny.  I have pulled out 39 books on Egypt from my shelves.  And yes, my study of hieroglyphs is going to help with some of the new story.

So, here I go, and you are present at the start of a new adventure.  I hope to write this one for NaNo in November, but it all depends on how hard of a time I have pulling it together.  I don't think that's going to be a problem.  At the moment, the book is titled Venatus Aegyptiaca which sort of translates to Dark Magic of Egypt.  This will be a YA adventure, at least as I see it from the start.  That can always change, but I think I see the main characters clearly and know how they are going to act, even though I'm not entirely certain about what the circumstances might be when they have to do something.

I hope it will be a fun adventure, though!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Flash Friday # 261 -- Dusty & Friends/6

She had one trick that might help them escape. Dusty took a piece of cloth and twisted it into a shape that resembled the baby dragon.  She opened the cage and pushed the rag into the corner where she'd seen Blue sleep. 

"Oh, it's me!"

Dusty didn't have time to consider anything more.  They'd traveled a great distance without a stop and wouldn't have another such chance to escape anytime soon. They were already too far from her home.

"Now," she whispered.

Blue scurried out of the cage and hung to the side long enough to shove the door closed and pull the lock into place. Then he leapt and caught her ragged dress, rushing upward to sit on her shoulder.  She thought about putting him in the bag, but that might not be wise if he needed to run away quickly.

"If the orcs capture me, you must run and hide," Dusty whispered as she tried to peek out from under the covering.  "Find a guard when it's safe.  They won't give you back to the orcs."

"I won't leave you!" he squeaked, and almost loud enough to be heard.

"Blue --" she began, but now was not the time.  She had to hope that he did what was wise.

Dusty pulled at the rope and undid the last of the knot.  She heard orcs, but they all seemed to be on the opposite side of the cart.  She dared a quick lift and look -- and found she was mostly right.  One orc stood at the edge of the cart, but with his back to them and from the way he waved his blocky arms and shouted, Dusty thought he must be caught up in the trade as well.

So she took the chance and climbed out, taking the time to hook the rope back, so it wasn't obviously untied, and then dropping to the ground. She scrambled under the cart, her heart beating so hard that she could hardly hear even the orcs, though the area trembled with their shouts.

Being under the wagon was not much better than being in it.  Orc legs were everywhere, and one of the orcs even circled the cart. She feared she might be ill when he passed the place where she and Blue had escaped.

The orc did not notice.  Dusty took a ragged breath, and she felt Blue nuzzle in closer to her neck and shiver.  She had to get him to safety!

Right now that safety appeared to be in the buildings on the side opposite from the orcs.  Dusty probably should have run there from the start, but she hadn't been certain. Crawling to the edge of one of the huge wheels, she had a chance to get on her knees and check the area out.

Sand blew across the stone track and gathered in pockets up against the mud brick buildings everywhere she could see.  Glancing the other way she could see that the cart had stopped at one side of the village square with the fountain not far away, which made this a small and poor village.  No beautiful statue graced this fountain, either.  Looking at it reminded Dusty that she was very thirsty, having had no more than a little bit of fruit for both food and liquids.

She turned away. They could get to the fountain later if she could get them away.

Dusty judged it to be about three yards to the nearest cubby hole between the buildings, but it looked like a mile to her and not much cover when they got there.  She hoped that as long as the orcs didn't see Blue, it wouldn't matter if they spotted her.

Dusty didn't put him in the bag yet, though.  She wouldn't do that until they were well away from the cart because she wanted to make certain he had a chance to run.  No matter what, the little dragon had to be safe.

He would be safest with her, so she had to do her best not to get caught, either.  She readied to move and stopped barely in time when an orc circled the cart once more and this time stopped.  She almost gave a cry of despair -- he must have seen the untied knot --

No.  The orc gave a warning growl to a man who had been walking along the edge of the buildings and coming too close the cart.  The man backed away in haste, though he did glare at the orcs. 

"Have to go soon," Blue warned with a warm whisper at her ear.  "They never take long to trade."

That was a helpful warning.  Dusty gave a quick nod and inched forward.  Blue caught tighter hold of her shoulder. Then, holding her breath, she scooted out from under the cart, stood -- though hunched over -- and darted toward the buildings.

The stones were uneven and the dress too long -- she tripped and fell, sliding along the rocks and scraping her hands and arms.  No time to see what damage might have been done!  She scrambled along on hands and knees until she had pressed as far back into the corner of two buildings as she could manage.

Dusty didn't know what to do now.  She looked frantically left and right, but both directions would put her out in the open too soon.  And now Dusty feared the orcs were already preparing to leave. They were not shouting as much as they had been and though she didn't dare crawl forward to look, she thought they were tossing rags into the cart.  If one of them noticed --

Tears formed at the corner of her eyes.  She'd never felt so helpless in her life.  Dusty pressed farther back into the corner --

The buildings did not quite meet. The open space between looked tiny, but Dusty saw no other way to escape. 

"Climb up on my head and hold on tight," she whispered and threw herself into the small opening.

998 Words

Monday, July 24, 2017

Don't Fret

Yes, I skipped several weeks of blog posts.  I've been caught up in so much going on around me that I couldn't find time to do some of the auxiliary things like this blog. Besides, most of what I was doing was pretty boring.

Let's start with the one thing that was not boring, though!  I went to the mountains last weekend!  We made a wild, mad-dash of a trip in 44 hours from the far northeast edge of Nebraska to Rocky Mountain National Park and back again.  I took some lovely pictures and had a great time.

The wolf at sunset -- wow.  That was a once in a lifetime event.

Before and after the trip I was caught up in two main projects.  The writing one is to get Tales from Grey Station 9 completed, and it is very close now.  I really love this story.  The characters are all kinds of fun.  I am almost through with Part 9.  Only one more section to go.  I told my husband that I was going to regret being done with this one, and he reminded me that I said the same thing when I finished the first draft of the story.

The other massive project is the reworking of my ezine, Vision: A Resource for Writers.  I stopped publishing a couple years ago, but I still have over a thousand articles scattered about as archive material.  The last twenty or so issues had been published using a Joomla! base and I had started putting the back issues in as well.  However, Joomla! wanted me to do a major update right after I stopped publishing.  If the ezine were still in publication, it would have made sense -- but Vision is now static with no new additions.  I just kept ignoring it, but the version I am using is developing problems, so I have to do something.

I decided to take the entire collection back to a basic HTML site. That meant pulling 668 articles out of the Joomla! site plus gathering four to five hundred more from the original HTML site.  I've got the 668 copied out, and I've just started the other collection.  Once I get everything copied, I'll create a basic template and start setting everything up again.  Once I'm done, that will be it.  With no new articles, there will be no reason to update again.

This is a long process, though.  I'm about a quarter of the way through everything that needs to be done.  I hope to have it all finished by the end of the year.

Doing this work made me think about all the time and energy I've invested in helping other writers.  I took over Forward Motion for Writers so Holly wouldn't close it down in 2003.  The site is quiet now -- so many people find what they want on places like FB that it's difficult to get many things going there, though there is a very active goals section!  I'd been working with Holly Lisle at the site since 1998 -- so that's very close to 20 years dedicated to that site. 

I published Vision for about fourteen years.  That meant paying for the articles myself (though the early articles were all donated by many wonderful writers), plus doing the formatting and publishing.    Except for occasional donations, I've paid for the websites for both FM and Vision and have done a lot of the work, though I've had some help along the way and really appreciated it.

Then there is the Two Year Novel (2YN) Class which I've offered for free several times (this year it is on my FB author page). I sell the 8 2YN course books for $0.99 each, and they're pretty much available everywhere.  The NaNo for the New and the Insane is a free book on Smashwords and is still popular. 

I've had some wonderful thank you notes from people down through the years and even a couple book dedications. 

I have cut back on all the stuff I used to do.  I don't fret over FM and the lack of posts.  If people want to start writing-related conversations there, then they should leap in and have a good time.  I can't make people want to post, and for a few years that made me fret and worry and try to start things....

What changed?

The heart attack, I suspect, made me start thinking that I wanted to do things differently.  Even so, it's taken me a few years to back off from 'other' stuff and focus more on my writing again.  Oh, I didn't do badly before, but my focus wasn't always where it should be.  Now I have writing and photography with a bit of digital art thrown in.

And if I could just figure out how to sell more books, I'd be really happy.

But I won't fret about it!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Flash Friday # 260 -- Dusty & Friends/5

The orc hadn't made tied down the covering very well, and they had a little more light.  Dusty crawled out from under the cloth, which turned out to be rags and discarded clothing. 

"Oh, these will help!" She started pulling out the darkest pieces she could find.  "My dress is too bright.  I need something less noticeable."

The orcs began a new chant, and the cart moved faster, each pounding step taking them further from home.  Dusty almost gave a cry of despair, but she didn't want to worry the poor baby dragon.  She watched him pick at pieces of fruit that had stuck to the cage's wires. She went and helped him, and when he was done, she ate a few pieces herself, but she was careful to leave some on the floor.

"You're smart," Blue said with a nod of appreciation.  "You know about clothes and how to fool the orcs about the food and everything.  We'll get away with your help.  Even if I could open the cage, I wouldn't know what to do."

"You've done very well, and it was smart not to try to escape.  I don't know how we're going to get away, Blue." She caught at the wall as they hit a bad bump and she almost fell again.  "Oh, I do wish they'd slow down or stop."

"They sometimes go like this for days," Blue warned.  "Orcs don't tire very fast."

Dusty fought back a surge of fear at those words. If they went for days heading southward they might leave the lands her grandmother ruled behind.  Even if they were still within the lands of Oserior, they would still be in a place she had never traveled and didn't know.

"How did the orcs take you?" she asked, hoping for some sort of answer that would help.

"Mama and I live in a high cave," he said.  "We'd been there most of the summer, and I liked to go out and wander around.  Never too far.  The orcs pretended to be big rocks.  One caught me, trapped me in a box, and then rolled down the hillside.  It was awful."

"That sounds terrible!" Dusty replied.

"I was too far from the cave.  Mama wouldn't hear me or the rocks," he said and sniffed.

"We're going to get you back home," Dusty promised. 

She began sorting through the cloth again, hoping that the orcs wouldn't notice that the piles had changed somewhat.  Orcs gathered cloth -- mostly rags -- in the north to trade with the tribes in the far southern desert where they had few resources and not even a good oasis.  If they went that far, Dusty didn't think she and Blue could make it back to territory she knew if they had to travel across the open desert.

So she began looking for a chance to escape far sooner.  Orcs, unfortunately, stood at all sides of the cart as they moved along the path.    She happened to see them go on past the bridge where the Miru River curved toward them.  A village stood the other side, but they didn't turn that way or break their pattern, so she sighed and hoped another chance came along soon.

The orcs did go on through the night, but they'd slowed.  At dawn an orc threw another piece of fruit at Blue and Dusty ate a little of it as well. She'd changed from her lovely green dress, which she shoved into the pile of cloth so it wouldn't stand out, being so much better than the rest.  Now she wore a dark brown dress with no frills, tied at her waist with a bit of blue cloth.  She made a scarf to go over her hair, too.  Then she knotted another cloth into a bag and put some of the softer material she had found in the bottom so that Blue could nestle in there.

They had to escape today.  They dared not go any farther away from Dusty's home.  For the first time, Dusty thought about how the others might have reacted to her own disappearance. She didn't want grandmother to worry!  Oh, and they would write to her parents!

They needed to get away soon!

In mid-morning, the orcs reached a village.  Dusty had expected them to rush through, but instead, the cart slowed to a stop and the orcs stopped chanting. Blue, who had been asleep, sat up quickly and looked around.

Outside the orcs were starting to shout and Dusty had a moment when she thought they might be saved, but after a bit, she made out what they were saying.

"Coins for cloth!"  The ground shook as the orcs shouted.

Dusty pulled some of the cloth over her so she could drop flat if any of the orcs looked in, but she also inched closer to Blue.

"Do they bring the cloth in or toss it in?" she whispered.

"Toss," he said as softly.  "They almost broke the cart putting me in here."

"Good.  We have to hope for a chance after they throw the rags and before they leave," she said.  "We don't dare take you out before then, or they would notice when they toss the cloth.  But if they are not climbing in, then I can untie the knot for us and even get the cage unlocked if you can hold the door closed."

"I can," he said with a bob of his head.

This would be their only chance.  If they were caught, she would scream for help and the local guards, who were likely not far away, would come to her aid.  She'd also tell Blue to run away and hope he found help.

Better, though, if they got away quietly.  The orcs wouldn't look again until they threw some fruit to the poor baby dragon, which she hoped would be a long ways from the village.

She unlocked the cage, and half untied a knot nearby.  This was their best chance.

1000 Words

Friday, July 14, 2017

Flash Friday # 259 -- Dusty & Friends/4

Before Dusty could get her wits about her, the cart began to move at a steady roll, though it hit every bump and hole along the first few yards.  Dusty couldn't get back to her feet, and panic almost made her cry out.  She did not want to go with the orcs and with ... whatever they had here in the cart.

"Are you alright?" the little voice whispered.

Not quite human, she had realized.  More sibilant and she thought of many dangerous creatures that could lure a person to their death.  She tried to back away but her feet tangled in a pile of cloth and she went down again, though at least she landed on something soft.

"I'm -- I'm alright," she said and tried to get better control of her emotions. She spoke softly because she could hear orcs chanting on both sides of the cart. They were loud enough, though, that she thought even if she shouted no one would hear her above their sounds.  Did they do that on purpose?

The sound she had first heard had sounded so pitiful that she didn't think the cry had been faked.

"My name is Dusty," she said and tried to get a touch of normality to the situation.

"I don't have a name yet.  My mama calls me My Boy."

"Oh, I don't think that will do," Dusty replied. That won a little giggle from the child.  What species didn't name their children right away?  She couldn't think of any.  "I'm afraid I can't see you in this darkness, little friend."

"Here I am."

A soft blue glow came from the left corner of the cart, illuminating the bars of a small cage. Dusty blinked and focused --

And all hope of normality disappeared.

"Dr-dragon," she said in a soft whisper.  "Baby dragon."

The light flickered out, and she heard a soft sniff.  "I'm sorry.  I'm too little to hold the light for long."

"You did wonderfully," she praised, just like she would have her younger cousins.  "You gave me exactly what I needed -- the chance to see where you are so I can help get you free."

"You'll help me?" he said softly.  "Truly?"

"Truly."  She had a duty to get the little guy free before his mother came looking for him and destroyed everything in sight trying to find her baby.  Though, in truth, she would have tried to get him free anyway. The orcs had no right to hold any child, no matter what the species.

The orcs had begun moving quickly now and on what she thought must be the road heading west out of the oasis.  She could see little spots of light coming through the stitched edges of the coverings, and her eyes had started to adjust.  Good.  She wanted out of here quickly --

Oh, but then what?

Dusty had crawled to the cage.  She could barely see the door and lock which did not look difficult to manipulate.  Orcs had large hands, after all. They didn't do delicate work.  She could probably get it open -- but then what?  They couldn't just leap out of the cart and run. The orcs would catch them before they could get more than a few yards.

"We'll have to wait until night," she said very softly.  "Otherwise we'll be spotted right away."

"Oh," he said and tried not to sound too disappointed.  "But you will stay and help me?"

"Yes.  I promise.  And I will call you Blue.  Is that all right?"

"Oh yes.  I like that name!"

Dusty would help him.  She would have tried to help any little creature, human or otherwise, captured by orcs.  However, finding a baby dragon was a real problem, though.  She would need to get him back to the palace and find a way to get him to his mother before the dragons came in force hunting him.  She'd heard about dragon raids, though there had not been one for more than a century.  Only fools took anything from them, let alone one of their rare young.

Fools and orcs.

"I'll see if I can get the lock open now while we have a little light," she said and bent close to the bars.  "It doesn't look difficult --"

Just then the orcs stopped chanting, and she heard a few shouts.  The cart started to roll to a stop, but before it had come to a rest, an orc had torn open the back left corner of the covering.  Dusty managed not to yelp as she dived for the only cover she could find, a huge pile of cloth beside the cage.  Some of it tumbled away as she slipped under it, and she hoped the orcs thought that only a reaction to the cart suddenly stopping.

"Food," the orc bellowed.  It tossed something that splattered against the cage and then made an odd grating sound.

Laughter, Dusty thought.  She stayed very still with only a slight peak out of the cloth that covered her.  The orc had turned to talk to another, the rumble of their words shaking the cart.  Watching them, she was convinced they didn't know she was there.

Dusty hardly dared to breathe for fear that the creatures would find her.  They were in no hurry move on, either.  Dusty wished she understood orc and knew what they were talking about.  They did a lot of gesturing with stubby fingers pointing back the way they'd come.

Maybe they'd head back to the city.  Oh, that would be so nice.  She'd get Blue free, leap out and run to the guards, and they'd get her back to the castle.  Grandmother would know just what to do.

The orc grabbed the covering and tied it back down.  In a moment the orcs started another chant, and the cart began to move again.  Dusty pushed away some of the cloth and waited, hoping....

They kept going straight.  Dusty tried not to sigh with disappointment.

995 Words

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Flash Friday #258 -- Dusty & Friends/3

Dusty felt better as she stepped past the castle gate.  The castle sometimes seemed stifling, filled with so many people and all their rules.  As a princess, Dusty had to know the correct way to treat anyone she came into contact with, but out here people saw her tanned skin and wild hair, and never realized her rank.

The Queen had a plethora of grandchildren, and as when they turned ten they came from their parent's keeps to spend the spring and summer at court.  The boys complained because they had to give up riding and hunting, but the girls loved to dress up and go to the fancy balls.

Dusty had never been one of those types of girls.

The breeze blew upward from the palm-covered oasis to the top of the escarpment where the castle sat.  Dusty couldn't imagine a prettier place, though she thought the smaller homes cascading downward to the lower hillside had a charm of their own.  When she reached the first town fountain and the square around it, she looked back to see the castle glittering like gold in the morning sun.

With Master Stuart's help she would find some position that worked for her, and in a couple of days, all this awful pressure would pass.

A few little birds played in the water beside her, but they flew off when some of the local women came to take water back to their homes.  Dusty didn't recognize any of them, so after polite greetings, she went on her way again.

Despite all her attempts to consider something serious for her future, Dusty still found herself drawn down to the area where the caravans gathered before they headed out across the desert or took the canal that linked to the Miru River.  Some were getting a late start since most left at dawn.  These were the people who had adventures.

Dusty looked around at camels, sheep, and crates loading onto barges to head to the river.  Last summer the Queen had arranged for all her grandchildren to take a barge to the Miru and down to the oldest temple in the land.  That had been as close to an adventure as Dusty had ever experienced.

"Stop thinking such things," she muttered to herself.  "Think about practical stuff.  I need to --"

Whatever she'd meant to say died in her throat. 


No one had mentioned that one of the rare caravans of orcs had arrived in town.  Dusty openly stared at the group of twenty or so creatures who stood around guarding their massive carts.  She wasn't the only one who watched, so she didn't feel terribly rude.  Orcs had to be used to seeing humans stare at them.

Dusty had never seen one in real life, and the drawings in books didn't do them justice.  They looked like various huge boulders had suddenly decided to get together and become animate.  The bodies had unlikely bulges everywhere beneath their speckled gray and white skin.  They wore no clothing, but then you wouldn't expect to see a rock in court attire, so it didn't bother Dusty.  Their dirt brown eyes were small and deeply recessed between rows of more rock-skin.

All of them held massive wooden clubs with metal spikes embedded in the upper half. They swung those menacingly, but they didn't seem very interested in the humans.

The orcs didn't stand very tall, but they were massive, both wide and deep.  When they spoke, the air seemed to tremble, and when one shouted, the ground and the nearby buildings shook.  Other people backed away in haste, but Dusty moved a little to the side and took over at the corner of one of the human trader's tents where she could still watch.  She could see they prepared to leave.

Orcs didn't use beasts of burden, not even to pull the carts.  Most pulled up packs that rested on their backs, but teams of four moved to pick up the harnesses to the wagons, and they all prepared to leave.

"Mama, mama -- I want to go home!"

The cry had been faint and pitiful.  Dusty looked around with a start, expecting to see a young child in his mother's arms, but she found no one close enough that she could have heard.  How odd --

And then she heard the child crying, the most heartbreaking sound she'd ever heard.  The yells and grunts of the orcs nearly buried the sobs, but she could hear --

The sounds came from the orc camp.  In fact, she feared it came from the smallest of the orc carts.  Dusty looked frantically around for a guard, but none were in sight.  Should she run to find one?  What if she was wrong?  Better to check before they left, right?

Oh, part of her knew she was foolish, but the crying child moved her beyond reason.  Strange -- the area had suddenly filled with birds who swept around in a frantic display as though the crying bothered them as well.  They distracted the orcs, and that helped her.  Dusty slid along the side of the tent, away from where anyone would see her, and then darted forward to the cart. The orcs had just started pulling up the harness for that one.  She didn't have much time.

The hide covering the cart had been tied down with huge ropes and knots, but the spaces between those knots were wide enough for a young human girl to squeeze through. The cart wasn't very high, either, since the orcs were short.  She had no trouble getting inside -- though she tumbled over a couple of boxes as the orcs began a monotonous chant and the cart started to move.

No time to do anything more than look and get out!

"Are you here to help me?  Did mama send you?" a small voice whispered.

And Dusty realized this was not a human voice after all.

To Be Continued....
993 Words

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Missed a week!

I have been both busy and not feeling well.  I'm trying to get back into doing all these little things like the weekly blog post, but it keeps getting lost in the piles of other things.

Though writing wise, still doing okay.  On Sunday I crossed the 500,000 word mark for the year.  My major project is still Tales of Grey Station 9 and I'm a bit over half way on it.  The final version is going to end up close to or over 200,000 words.

Dusty & Friends is up to the third 1k entry.  Writing those little pieces takes an entirely different approach from a sprawling novel.  That reminds me of something one person once said (and she claimed to be an expert):  Writing novels is easier than writing short stories because you can make mistakes and it doesn't matter.

I remember reading that line several times and shaking my head.  Make mistakes -- and just leave them.  Don't worry.  The story is so long that no one will notice, unlike with her short stories which had to be perfect.

I am amazed, sometimes, at the things people say about writing.

I have one huge non-writing project right now.  The ezine I published for 15 years stopped publication two years ago.  (Honestly, it seems a lot longer.)  A good part of it has been sitting on an out of date Joomla! site.  Since there will no longer be any updates, I don't need anything that fancy and I really don't want to have to keep updating it, so I am copying off articles and preparing for a simple html site.  Nothing fancy at all, but with easy links to the categories and such.

Shouldn't be hard, right?

660 articles on the Joomla! site.  At least that many, and maybe more, that have to be moved from an even older site and added in to the newer articles. 

I've copied over 200 articles so far.  And this is where I sing the praises of Scrivener.  I have copied files over (both html and text, depending on the article -- but I'll probably stick with text after this) and used the little synopsis card on the right to list the title, category, author, and Vision Issue.  This will make it very easy to sort everything out into whatever group I want later.

But yeah, it is a lot of work.  Non-writing work, which is hard for me.  I do some of it, take a break to write, and then do more.

Over the next two weeks I hope to get most of the Joomla! material copied. Then I'll copy all the others into Scrivener as well -- though I wonder if it has a limit on word count/file size/whatever?  I'll have to watch that and divide it into more than one set if that happens.

This isn't what I had been planning to do.  I think fondly of the outlines I should be writing -- but the site had developed some problems and my provider would like some changes.  I'm doing the change that should mean I won't have to do it again.

Sometimes you just can't write.  Real life (or something like it for me) steps in and other stuff has to be done. 

But still -- half a million words so far this year.  I can't complain!