Friday, October 27, 2017

Flash Fiction #274 -- Dusty & Friends/19

Dusty dared not move for a moment, afraid that her legs would give out and she would fall.  Of all the things that might have happened, this was not something she had contemplated.  The Captain should have been on her side!  He wouldn't even listen --

"Can I come out now?  Your hair tickles," Blue whispered.

Dusty smiled despite the situation.  "Come out.  I'm afraid this isn't a very nice room, though.  And be ready to hide if you hear anyone at the door."

"I wish I weren't too young to grow my wings," he mumbled as he slid out of her hair and down to her shoulder.  "I'd fly up and bite a nose or two!"

Dusty fought not to laugh since the little guy sounded so serious.  He climbed down, and she did her best to keep track of him, not knowing what else might be in the room.  There was a covered bucket with a drain through the floor.  She used it and made certain the lid was on tight so that he couldn't slip in there and disappear.  A bed of old straw and a ragged blanket sat on the opposite wall, and she settled with her head against the stone wall.

As angry as Dusty felt, she realized this was not the worst thing that could have happened.  They were not out in the sunlight.  They were not anywhere near the orcs, and while the Captain was a rude man with no good sense (which might be why he was out here away from everyone), she could still hope that the commander would be a wiser person.

Someone came to the door.  Blue scurried into the straw as the door opened.  Two men stood there, one with a tray.  Food?

"Dinner, miss," he said and held the tray out.  The other handed her a water skin and a blanket.  "That'll get you through the night.  The commander will be back before noon tomorrow if all is well."

"Thank you," she said and took the tray.  The other man sat the additional material by the door.

"Blanket will help," he mumbled.  Embarrassed, Dusty realized.  They probably didn't often throw young ladies into cells here.  And oh, if he found out she was a princess of the line -- but she said nothing.  They were being kind.

Dusty was glad to see there was another tray outside on a rolling stand, and a blanket as well.  Fox wouldn't suffer any worse than her, though she suspected his shoulder would keep him awake. 

The guards closed and locked her door before they opened the one across the way. She tried to listen and thought she heard Fox say something -- but it was no use standing there while the food went cold.  She took the tray back to the bedding and sat down, sharing with Blue.  He was such a little thing that he really didn't eat much and afterward he curled up in her lap and napped.

Dusty slept off and on as well.  Twice she awoke from nightmares about orcs, but she could hear nothing out of place outside the cell. The little sliver of light had disappeared, but there was a slight flickering around the door which meant a torch out in the hall.  She found that reassuring as she gathered the second blanket and the water.  Then she and Blue curled up to sleep through the night.

Now that it had gone dark, though, she began to feel more than a little restless.  The stone walls creaking as they cooled sounded ominous, even though it was no different sound than she'd heard back at the castle.  An occasional shout by the guards -- no doubt a common occurrence during the night watch, woke her with a start.  By the first light of morning, she was growing bad-tempered and knew that would not help her case. 

Dusty began to worry about when the commander might make it back, though.  Hadn't the man said 'if all goes well?'  If the commander was anywhere near the gathering orcs, it might not go well at all, and he might be forced to stay wherever he happened to be.

And the dragons -- they might be on the move by now as well, and it was unlikely anyone would know why.  That thought got her up and pacing for a while.  Blue stayed on her shoulder.

"Oh how I do hate waiting," she finally confessed when she realized that Blue had started to worry.  "There is nothing worse wrong, you know.  I just want to get somewhere we can do good.    The Captain is going to have much to answer for by the time I'm done."

That made Dusty feel better, though she usually would not have been such a vindictive person.  His behavior had been unreasonable, though.

They shared a few scraps of bread left over from the meal from the night before.  Dusty tried not to think about the bag the Captain had emptied out, and the pieces of fruit and cheese left there in the sand.  Mostly she tried not to feel sorry for herself. 

So she paced a little more in the small room before she settled on the blankets to wait out the time.  It couldn't be much longer, could it?

Blue played a bit with some straw, climbed up the walls --

"Oh please don't go out!" Dusty cried, startled to see his shadow fall across the floor.  He stood in the slit of a window high up on the wall where she could not reach.

"I promise I won't go out.  I just wanted to sit in the sun for a little while," he said and came back down.   "It won't be much longer, will it?  I don't think these are very nice people to keep you and Fox locked up like this.  No nicer than the orcs!"

"It will be all right," she promised.  "We just have to be patient."

But she hoped something happened soon.

Friday, October 20, 2017


I have not done a regular blog post in a couple of months.   I have kept up on the Flash Fiction serial -- can't miss a week of that one! -- but I just couldn't think of anything else to write here.  I got busy, I got ill, I got both busy and ill sometimes ... and I just ran out of energy.  And now....

Now we are only days away from NaNoWriMo!  The picture today is the cover for my main NaNo Novel.  I am not entirely ready.  The outline for the first novel (since I usually do more than one) is not done.  I can see the end, finally, but I have this blank spot between a significant scene and how it all turns out.  I can't even say how much is going to happen between the two spots.  Nor can I say WHAT will happen.

But I have a great set of characters and an excellent plot up to that point.  I know what my people are about to find and once I work out the implications, I will see where it goes.  I might not 'see' that part until I'm actually writing the novel.  Not a problem -- I have an outline to get me that far and I've never had a problem ending a story.
I realize that I have inadvertently borrowed the attitude of one character (a historical person) from one of C. J. Cherryh's stories.  That made me laugh because it seemed so logical.  I think she'll be amused.

It is amazing how many things affect our writing, and we don't always realize it.    Just a little hint of this, a memory of that -- and suddenly there it is in a story.  You might not even realize it.  This one was just obvious when I thought about the character.

So, I have most of one outline ready for NaNo.  I have a second outline all done, but it will be my second book since I already wrote about 2500 words on it.  Once I get at least one complete (50k plus) novel written, then I can go to it if I have time.  I'm not sure that I will.  My goal is only 100k this year.  I might do better, but I am not aiming at the 250k or so that I sometimes do.  100k is a calm NaNo for me.  Since I've been ill, I don't want to push too hard.

But I do want to have fun!  That's part of why I am less concerned with totals this year.  Last year was kind of tricky because I was trying to hit an overall total for all the NaNo's I'd done through the years.  I wanted 3,000,000 words -- and I made it.  This is year 17 for me, and I have always won.  I love the joy of finding all these writers in one place, and a good many of them having fun.  (If you are not having fun, don't do it.  Drop out.  NaNo isn't for everyone, and it will not affect your career as a writer one way or another unless you learn something from it.  NaNo is a good time to experiment, have fun -- and realize that you are not the only writer out there in the world who are dealing with one problem or another.

Have fun, NaNo or not!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Flash Fiction # 273 -- Dusty & Friends/18

Some of the soldiers stopped at the oasis but four rode on, the man in the lead red-faced and looking annoyed.  Dusty and Fox still walked forward, but the feeling of hope that she'd held only moments already disappeared.

"What's this then?" the man demanded as he leaned down from his horse to look at them. 
He did not offer water.  In fact, for the moment, he blocked the way to the oasis which annoyed Dusty.

"Captain," Fox said with a proper salute.  "We were heading for the outpost.  I'm glad to see you here so we don't have so far to walk."

"What's your company? You've deserted, haven't you?  Taken this pretty little thing and thought you'd head out into the wilderness?  Well by the Gods, you won't get help from us."

"That's not --" Fox began, appalled by the accusation

"I have not given you leave to speak.  I suggest you keep your words to yourself and think up really good ones for the commander."

Dusty had been growing increasingly angry, but those last words calmed her again.  This man was not fully in charge, then.  Good.  She stood straighter and met his narrow-eyed stare.  For a moment she hoped he might recognize her, or maybe one of the others would. 
He led them to the oasis rather than even putting her on a horse with one of her men.  Fox was livid by the time they reached the water and had to wait until even the horses had been given their share.  She thought some of the men looked upset, but it was clear that this Captain kept a firm hand on everything.

Dusty hoped he enjoyed the moment because when she got back to her grandmother, he was not going to be a Captain any longer.  There had been no reason for this behavior.

Dusty sipped gratefully of the water Fox brought her and managed to get some in her hand and down to Blue.  She did not bring him out.  The fool would probably think Blue was a pet lizard and toss him away.  TOh why did this fool have to make more trouble? 

"Should I go to him?" she whispered when Fox brought her another cup of water.

He shook his head.  So they were agreed on this one.

"What's that you are planning?" the Captain demanded.  He stalked over to them -- a small man carrying too much weight and with the fire of anger in his eyes.  "Give me that bag!  What did you steal?"

"This is mine!" she said, panicked because Blue still hid inside.  "How dare you --"

"Keep quiet, girl.  You're in enough trouble already."

She stood and darted behind Fox as though for protection, but she huddled down and grabbed Blue out.  "Hide in my hair!  Pull your tail up!"

He scrambled up her arm and into her frizzy hair, his little claws like needles into her skin.  The officer still yelled and she finally stepped out and threw the bag at his feet.

"There.  Take it then.  When my grandmother hears about this --"

"Oh, your old granny will come after me, will she?"  He picked up the bag, turned it out into the dirt and kicked everything around.  Then he caught Dusty by the arm and shook her.  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Flash Fiction #272 -- Dusty & Friends/17

They hurried even though that wasn't wise in the desert.  However, both knew they needed to put at least one rise between them and the flatter ground around the river.  Dusty regretted leaving the water and the green behind, but she said nothing and only looked back once.

Fox moved steadily forward. He looked better now that they were walking.  She suspected that the worry over what would happen if they had stayed by the river had been almost worse than his injury.

As soon as Fox could look back and no longer see the river, he began to slow.

"If this gets to be too much, we'll find a bit of shade somewhere and hold up until the sun starts to go down," Fox said.  He sounded assured.  "We might even get lucky and run into a patrol.  I can't guarantee that one, but I hope for one."

"That would be nice," she said, already feeling the heat and the ache in her legs.  "I'm sorry -- I'm just not up to this kind of travel."

"You have done wonderfully," Fox insisted.  "This isn't a situation where I would have wanted to be with many of the people I know, even those in the army."  He stopped to sip some water and had her and Blue do the same.  "We don't have to rush."

"Unless the orcs figure out we went this way or take the path to make certain," she answered with a worried look over her shoulder.

"Even if they do, we couldn't get to the outpost any faster," he said.  The calm finality in his voice made Dusty feel more assured.  Calm also helped her consider what she could do if the orcs did arrive.  She'd have to find some way to hide Blue.

Or would it be wiser to let the orcs have Blue rather than leaving him alone in the desert?  They'd feed him, at least.  She didn't like to think about the little guy lost in the sands and dying.

Dusty shivered despite the heat.

She and Fox spoke little as they walked on.  Dusty found the feel of the stone path beneath her feet reassuring and far better than traveling across the unmarked sands.  As long as she could see the track, she had no fear of getting lost.  They were going somewhere, and each step without the orcs pounding up behind them was a gift.

"Look! Trees!" Fox said, startling Dusty.

She had been watching her feet and refraining from looking at the bright sand around them.  Dusty looked up and saw a spot of darkness a few miles away.  She could not make out what it was at first, but as her eyes adjusted, she saw a few palms -- a sure sign of water.

"That will help," Dusty said softly.  She hadn't realized how dizzy she felt until then.  How could she feel so cold --

And when had she sat down?

"Here now," Fox said.  He rested on his heels and held out a water skin.  "Drink some.  Not a lot at first. Just drink it.  We're almost to the water."

"Are we?  It seemed so far."

"I can go ahead and get more water if I need to," Fox replied.  He looked worried.  "Rest."

He had placed himself so that his shadow fell over her. That helped.  She sipped the water, made sure Blue had some -- he splashed a bit in her hand and made her smile again.  She could not imagine the little guy growing more massive than most buildings she'd seen.  He was happy to go back into his bag.  Dusty was glad since she feared he might fall off her shoulder and she wouldn't notice.

So many things to fear.

"I'm sorry," she said when she looked back at Fox.  "Let's see if we can get to the oasis.  I think we'd all feel better resting there."

"Only if you feel well enough to walk," he said.  "And you don't have to apologize. This has been unpleasant and difficult for all three of us.  But we are getting there, Princess Dusty.  We'll see Blue to safety."

She took courage and strength from his steadfast belief in their ability to handle even this unrelenting desert.  She stood once more, sipped the water, and they started out again.  Compared to how far they'd already traveled, this stretch to those lovely green trees did not seem so distant.

"I'd never been assigned to this outpost," Fox said.  "But I thought I remembered some of the soldiers talking about a resting spot a little more than halfway to the outpost," he admitted.  "I wanted to tell you, but I feared that I might be wrong and I didn't want to disappoint you."

"I'm glad you were right," Dusty answered.  Part of her wanted to race toward that green, but she knew that even walking at this steady pace might wear her down again.  She still felt lightheaded, but she tried to keep that from Fox.  Nevertheless, the soldier stayed close by her.  He even talked more.  She suspected he wanted to be certain she wasn't going to faint again.

"I've some salt.  We'll take it when we reach the water," Fox said.  "That should help, too.  Do you think Blue needs some?"

"I'll ask when we get there.  I hope there is someplace I can soak my feet for a little while.  I've never fully appreciated the wonder of water before, you know."

He laughed, and so did she.  The Oasis was close enough that she could clearly see the palm fronds and even some fig trees.  She wondered who had brought the trees to plant here years ago.  This could not be natural.

Welcome, though.

And then something even better.  When they were no more than a quarter mile from the welcoming shade, a group of a dozen soldiers appeared riding from the other direction.

Neither Dusty nor Fox expected the soldiers to cause more trouble.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Flash Fiction #271 -- Dusty & Friends/16

Fox took care of the horses.  Dusty curled up on the ground, Blue close to her, and closed her eyes.  She slept and didn't care what happened.

When she woke, Dusty remembered the trouble and she sat up with a start.

It hurt to move.  She moaned and looked around.  Fox sat with his back against a tree and his eyes closed, but the moment she started to stand, he looked at her.  They'd both needed the rest, and there wouldn't be another chance soon, she feared.

"Are you okay?" Fox asked and looked worried.

"Sore," she admitted.  Her voice sounded hoarse, and her throat hurt.  Fox looked in worse shape.  He'd managed to make a sling for his injured arm and from the wince that came with a little movement, she could tell he'd been badly injured.  "Will you be okay?"

"I think the shoulder bone is cracked," he admitted.  "Not broken, though.  We can't stay much longer, Princess --"

"Dusty," she corrected as she let Blue out of his bag.  "Don't wander too far."

"I won't," he promised.  "I learned that lesson."

Dusty watched him head to the tree and scamper up into the leaves.  He didn't  climb far.  By then Fox had gotten to his feet. She would have helped.  He looked unsteady.

"What can I do?" she asked.

"We have to make a decision," Fox replied and leaned against the tree. "I listened. Some of the orcs headed to the city, Dusty.  The others must have gone in the opposite direction. I don't think we should go back to the capital.  Not yet."

"Cross the river again?" She looked toward the turbulent water and shivered despite herself.

"No.  I don't want to risk that again," Fox replied.

That relieved Dusty until she noticed that Fox stared off into the desert on their side of the river.  She shook her head, unable to speak.  It would be madness to head into that wasteland now that they were safe by the water!

But they weren't safe.

"There is an army outpost half a day away," Fox said when he finally looked back at her.  "If we can get there before the orcs realize which direction we took, you'll have all the guards you need to get safely back to the castle and the queen.  I've gotten you this far, but with my arm injured, I won't be much help if we run into trouble. The orcs have headed for the bridges we need to cross.  None of our friends may have gotten through to tell the others about the baby dragon.  Soldiers will be watching the orcs, but they're not going to be ready to help us.  That would put Blue in danger."

"Oh."  Dusty didn't want to go into the desert, but what he said made sense.  Another half a day sounded like more torture than she could stand.  She wanted to go home and never wish for an adventure again!

Fox was right, of course.  They had to take the best way to save Blue.  Running straight toward where they would find the orcs would not help if they still couldn't stand up to them.

"Do you think the horses can make it that far across the desert?" she asked.  Both mounts looked worn.

"I thought we might walk," he said.  "That is if you can send the horses home without us."

Dusty frowned and then considered his idea.  "So that when the orcs get this far from the other bridge, they'll follow the horses," she said.  "We'll need to make certain we leave no obvious prints, though."

"That will be difficult --"

"Maybe not.  I think I can get the birds to help."  She still wasn't fond of the idea, but it might be their best chance of surviving.  "Let's get the horses ready to go."

"I'm sorry, Dusty," he said.  "Maybe if I hadn't hurt my arm I'd feel differently --"

"I doubt it," she said and finally forced a smile.  Her lips felt dry and cracked.  "There's just the two of us to get Blue to safety.  You would have realized we can't simply charge through a line of orcs waiting for us.  Let's find your soldiers.  How long on foot?"

"Half a day for marching men," he said.  "I suspect it won't take us much longer than that to get there, especially since the sun will go down and we'll have cooler weather."

"That's good."

Fox went to get supplies from the horses.  Dusty helped and wouldn't let him carry more than some extra water.  Soon she found herself whispering to the horses and telling them to go the city -- to go home.  They seemed reluctant to leave her, but eventually, she sent them hurrying away.  Dusty regretted it immediately.  Now there would be no choice but to walk.

First, they drenched themselves in river water and made certain their water skins were full.  "Where is this trail to the outpost?" Dusty asked as she got Blue to settle on her shoulder.

"About three miles from here.  It parallels the river for a while and then heads inland.  We'll cut across the desert and intersect with it."  He sounded more assured though his face looked pale despite his tanned skin.  "It's easy to find since the mages laid it out with stone.  The outpost is at the edge of the Griffin Lands.  Lucky for us that it hasn't been abandoned yet."

There hadn't been trouble with the griffins for over a century.  Dusty hadn't realized there was even still an outpost there.  She looked at the desert with a hardly concealed sigh.  "I guess we better go."

They walked away from the little camp they'd made.  She stopped a few yards out and called to the birds.  Soon they swept up and down across the sands and buried their footprints.  Dusty bade them farewell and headed into the desert once more.