Many hundreds of years ago I actually was paid to publish short stories and poems. Not many, but a few. Oh, how I remember getting that $28 check in the mail for my first published poem, realizing that in the currency of the time I could eat out breakfast, lunch and dinner for a WHOLE DAY on that kind of money, as long as I didn’t splurge on anything crazy like taking a friend or ordering a beverage. Those were the days, when 4 to 6 times a year I could order a pizza above and beyond what my regular salary could afford solely based on the value of my words.
With my blogging income being what it is, I am reminded of those glory days, and have been tempted to essay anew navigation of the world of publishing. Toward that end, I have just begun in the last few weeks, maybe only two, to write stories that I hope will be compelling while also allowing me to explore characters I intend to use in a longer work so that when I begin a full novel in earnest, I’ve my characters and world better conceived and can focus on weaving an interesting plot to which the characters can react.
If you’re interested in the mind of your Right Reverend Feminist Fucktoy and what she might conceive as worthy fiction, feel free to read the sample below. Comments are well appreciated, and the best of the comments will win you the prize of my annoying persistence in tempting you to read future installments and react further, so that I might create something which not only interests me, but also may be salable at some future point.
No good deed, they say.
Without further ado, taste for yourselves, if you dare, what tea and rain have wrought on my keyboard:
The camp hearth was a comfortable, well built place to rest, with several feet of the ground around raised and bricked to provide a dry place to rest on nights like this, where hard bricks, unyielding but dry, would be preferred over soft mud under hard rain.
“I’ll make the tea,” offered Grace. “Don’t take down the tents. The silk needs the cover more than we do.” She set about poking the coals and placing fresh wood on the fire. Visitors were expected to replace the firewood they burned with fresh, wet wood in a new pile that could dry next to the hearth before it was needed, but this time of year as the weather warmed and the stormblown wood from nearby trees hadn’t yet been fully collected the two woodpiles were each full enough. Judging by the coals in the fire and the wet wood on the top of the pile to be dried it seemed that whoever had lunched there had added a fair number amount anyway. The larger pieces of wood seemed slow to catch, so she took out a large knife and whittled some kindling, thowing it on the coals and pushing around the larger branches before she took a bucket to the well.
“How’s your ankle?” Eltin asked Llough. “Do you want some fruit crust?”
Llough, who sat with her back against one of the large posts, wiggled her bootless toes propped up on the edge of the fire pit. “I think the warm is starting to help. It’s not really bad, you know,” blushing but taking the fruit crust.
“It surprised me when you yelled. You’re normally so graceful, I thought you’d been attacked.”
Her blush darkened, “I might be happier if I’d been attacked.”
“Jumped by the Leogryff Lord is a bit less embarrassing than turning your ankle on some muddy rock.”
“A better story as well.” Llough bit into her crust, then bent it up and down with her hand while holding it in her teeth. It was actual work chewing on the dried crust of fruit chunks, crumbled nuts, sap, flour, and oats. On warmer days the fruit crust naturally softened, but not today.
“I wish I still had some of today’s sausage,” Eltin said as she dropped pieces of crust for herself and Grace into a bowl and set it on the edge of the hearth.
“I just wish I had the patience to warm the crust before eating it,” Llough said after swallowing and wiggled her toes again.
Grace soon came back with the water. She set the kettle to boil while in a big pot Eltin started the rice and in a small pot set a large, dry packed ball of herbs and spices to boil. “The cups?” asked Grace. Both Llough and Eltin lifted their own. “Well aren’t you two the smart ones,” she said before ducking back out into the rain and returning with her own cup and bowl, and the squat, lidded urn used for tea brewing in the area the women called home.
By the time Grace was pouring tea, Eltin had diced some duck, wynroot, mushroom and onion and was using a wooden spoon to break up the spice ball, and two other wagon had stopped, though they weren’t travelling together and their drivers didn’t seem to know each other. Not long after, a single four legged horse came clopping up the arc. With cloak and rain hat it was impossible to tell who was underneath, though whoever it was could not be tall. Still, there was something familiar and in a moment Eltin realized that it wasn’t the figure, but the horse she recognized.
The shapeless figure tethered the redblue horse, removed the tack, and gave it a quick rub before carrying the gear under cover. Though there was plenty of room with an empty hearth side beetween each of the groups of travelers, when the rider spread out saddle, tack, cloak and hat they couldn’t help but end up beside one group or another. The rider chose the sisters.
“Have you no kitchen?” Grace asked. She wasn’t always thoughtful, but she was generous with food. For Grace the worst wrong one person could inflict on another was leaving the other hungry knowing you yourself to be full.
“No, no kitchen,” the woman smiled, tousling her short hair. “But I have food enough.” Dusting off a spot of brick with her hand, she took a small pie, carefully wrapped, and two flakey crusted rolls from her pack and placed them on the clean spot by the fire.
“Would you like some tea, though?” Grace said.
“I’d be happy to trade a share of my pie for a share of your tea, thank you,” the stranger said, “but I have no cup fit for tea.”
“Take mine,” said Llough, gulping her cup empty. “I like my tea hot. I’ll not find the tea drinkable for much longer anyway.” She passed the cup to Grace who refilled it and passed it over her to their guest, who began to sip immediately.
“Thank you. This is very good, and even if it wasn’t, my fingers are happy to wrap themselves around your warm cup.”
“You’re from far away? Past the Leap?” Eltin said loudly, from the far side of her sisters.
“No, I live in Tair’s Leap, actually. City bred.”
“You don’t travel west often then?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, I saw you pass the other way as we were parking the wagons. I figured you didn’t know how far it might be to the next town.”
The stranger’s laughter was as warming as the tea, friendly even while communicating Eltin was clearly wrong in her assumption. “Oh, no. It wasn’t the distance to the next town that I misjudged. I was wrong about myself. It turns out I wasn’t as willing to tolerate the rain as I thought. A hundred yards on I was already thinking that a warm fire now sounded better than a king’s bed five miles on. I made it almost half a mile before turning back.”
“Well, since you’re here and staying for dinner, shouldn’t we know each others’ names?”
“I’m Llough,” Eltin’s sister burst in.
“And I’m Eltin.”
“Call me Joy.”
“Joy? That’s a funny name. Is that really a name they use in the city?” Llough said.
Joy laughed, and again it was all warmth. “No, not really. It’s sort of a nickname. My friends call me Joy.”
“My friends call me Grace. And so does everyone else.”
They talked until dinner was ready. The rice was tender, but held its shape. The duck, twice cooked, was good enough for having been boiled. Had they roasted it again it would clearly have been tough and dry. With no milk and no creamnuts the stew was thin, but the broth ball brought spice and fire to what would have been plain camp fare.
Joy lived up to her name, speaking around her stew about places in the city the sisters had never been, and the kinds of people who lived in them. The stew consumed, Llough moved to wash the pots and Grace to check the wagons. Joy went with off with Llough and when the two returned they were sharing a laugh.
“That can’t be true,” Eltin heard her sister say.
“On my sister’s honor!” Joy replied. Llough only laughed louder. “Eltin you should hear her stories about the menageries. The people are funnier than the animals.”
“Have you been?” Joy asked, sitting as Llough walked away.
“No. Grace has.”
“Why the two of them, but not you?”
“You can’t keep Llough away from animals. She loves the horses, the dogs. She can gather eggs from the todhens without a squawk. She hasn’t visited often. A crescent is still a lot to us, though maybe not to you, but you can’t keep her away forever.”
“What about me?” she said, returning to the fire.
“We were talking about going to the menageries.”
“Oh, yes, I’ve been.” She put their water pot back over the fire, now it was clean of the stew.
“It’s a little late to make more work for yourself. I have some wine in my packs if you still want something to drink,” Joy offered.
Grace thought. They had fed Joy, after all. “Wine then,” she said and took the water pot down to wait for morning. “I hope it’s good,” she added to Eltin after Joy stepped away.
“Have you looked at her boots? Or her buttons?” Joy asked. “She’s rich enough to have better than we do at home.”
“You’d think, but out alone she can’t carry too much. She wouldn’t make it three nights before she was robbed.”
When Joy returned, she was holding a small collection of bags and a bed roll. Setting them down it was only a minute before she produced an elegant flask made from a section of laquered woodgrass, but with a fanciful, selfstopping spout. In her other hand she held four small wooden cups. She poured a measure into each, setting one aside.
“So tell us,” began Eltin, “if you’ve seen so much of the menageries, what have we missed?”
“The monkeys, of course. Monkeys, sloths and squirrels all share a park. Do you like children?” Grace shook her head gently while Eltin nodded. “Well, then you, Eltin, would like the monkeys and squirrels. They are always about mischief. It’s always the same mischief and never the same, if you know what I mean. They’ll surprise you every day, stealing a hat or a cane when you least expect it. They’ll jump up on a shoulder and as soon as you stop laughing they might lick you behind the ear or across your neck. Sometimes you’ll barely peep and they’ll bound away, but others you can grab them or shake them or throw them and they’ll find a way to hang on. But for all their unpredictability, spend enough time with them and someone can tell you a story about their latest outrages and you can only think, ‘Yes, that’s just what they would do.’ A human, well, a human is more predictable, but less understandable.”
“Unless a child.”
“Exactly. Unless a child.”
“The monkeys again?” asked Llough, returning.
“Yes. The monkeys,” said Grace.
“But have some wine before I drink it all,” said Joy.
“I think you’d have to fight Grace for it,” Eltin said as Llough leaned forward for the last cup.
“It’s good wine,” Grace defended herself.
Eltin almost choked and Llough giggled immediately, with Joy finding their laughter too infectious to resist after a few moments. The four talked and laughed for almost an hour, with Grace and Joy taking center stage, but the wine ran dry, and even engaged as she was in the conversation, Grace eventually frowned at her empty cup.
“I have some brandy,” Joy said.
“Brandy, too?” asked Eltin.
“Only a little, but the rain is slacking off, not dying. There’s nowhere else to go to drink it.”
“Well, then, brandy!” a blushing Llough said happily. “I didn’t say it,” added Grace. Everyone laughed again, including a loud snort from one of the forgotten parties across the fire. The women practically rolled off into the mud at that, and it took several minutes before Joy was able to fetch the brandy from her bags. The decanter was lacquered a different color, but otherwise the same as the wine.
“That’s not a little!” said Eltin.
“Don’t complain,” said Grace, while Joy said “It’s not as full.” Full or not, there seemed plenty to go round.
Eltin stared at Joy, her eyes gradually narrowing, until she interrupted another story to ask, “How do you do it?” The women glanced at her, and when her stare made it clear she was speaking to Joy, she said, “Do what?”
“Well, you’re carrying wine and brandy that could only be had for silver, and even if people can’t see those buttons under your cloak, anyone can see those boots are money on your feet. Just the dye for the bootleather would be 30 crescents, and if that’s burrowbone for the plaques, that’s 6 crowns just below your knees. How in the world do you ride the road alone without landing naked in a ditch your first night out?”
“She has a sword,” said Llough. Joy looked at her sideways. “She can’t pull it free while she’s riding, maybe, but it’s tucked through her saddle where no one else can get it either. My eye says there’s probably a way to pull it free as soon as she picks up her weight and swings one leg.”
“That’s a clever eye,” said Joy, appraisingly.
“We’re all clever,” said Llough, “Or we wouldn’t be 3 of us on the road alone with two wagons of silk, even with the highway reeves enforcing Dragon’s law and with the Dragon’s turnouts for camping.” Grace nodded in emphasis. Eltin nodded too, but her gaze never left Joy, and the nod seemed more an accusation.
“Maybe she’s not afraid of road clippers because she’s one herself?” Eltin suggested. Her sisters’ faces seemed shocked at the suggestion and she backed down some. “I mean it may be you wouldn’t steal, but a lady who gambles might pay a debt by telling lesser souls which wagons would be well targeted.”
“That’s a shrewd thought, Eltin, if uncharitable to a woman who has shared you her wine. I have gambled, though I have no debts. And Llough’s right. The odd saddle horn is a hilt, as much good as that sword’s done me. No, I rely on the same as you: sleeping indoors when I can, at the turnouts when I can’t, the honesty of the reeves, a bit of wit, and the Dragon’s law.
“That’s all?” asked Grace. Though late to her suspicions, she had come to agree with her sisters that a few too many things about Joy seemed odd.
“No. I do have a pair of things that you don’t. My horse is faster than a wagon, likely better trained, and a good jumper, too. He’s not a warhorse, but I’ve gotten him to kick like one a time or two. And then there’s this.” Joy reached into her collar and pulled out a pendant. It was large, a silver disk with eight evenly spaced triangles that might have been the tips of an eight pointed star, but another, smaller disk of gold covered up the star’s body, if there was one, and on it was stamped a dragon’s hand. No one who had visited Tair’s Leap could mistake the symbol. All three of the women had seen it embroidered on banners and embossed on the city’s gate doors.
“Felloe’s loom,” swore Grace.
“Besh’s blood, more like,” swore Llough.
“You’re …royal, then?” said Eltin.
Joy could tell Eltin had changed her question at the last moment. “A little. Enough of the blood to serve as envoy, now and again. Together that ranks the Dragon’s token.”
“Well, you have nothing to worry about then!” said Grace. “Anyone with nothing to lose, you can stick with your sword and no highway reeve will ask a second question. Anyone with something to lose, you just show your claw and they’ll want none of the trouble they’ll pay for your things. Ride with us, why don’t you?”
Llough laughed and almost clapped; Joy laughed but it was both happy and sad. “Heard by Irrayah,” she glanced starward. “No, it’s not quite so simple. Even the Dragon’s grandchildren can be robbed by the particularly brave or particularly desperate. Why else do you think I circled back to camp with you?”
“The rain,” Eltin said flatly.
“Well, that too.”
“Have you ever been robbed, then? Did you fight them off with your sword?” Llough’s face, flush warm from the fire and the drink seemed to grow even brighter.
“Hey, now!” said Joy. “Let the story come to you. The reward will be the greater. Now, where should I begin?” She glanced at Llough’s eagerness and Grace’s interest, but lingered on Eltin’s resistance. She held Eltin’s eyes setting her face neither aggressively nor defensively, but with warm invitation. It’s true I own a nimble sword, but aside from drawing out my thumb after a sharpening, it’s never tasted blood. This dagger though?” She brought the blade out from the small of her back. “This dagger has a tale to tell. We can start with that one.”