Category Archives: Fire-Rider

Fire-Rider: From the Journal of Hapa Cottrite

The Annals of Fire-Rider

The latest Fire-Rider story: From the Journal of Hapa Cottrite

The first book of the Fire-Rider saga has been published in three volumes, The Saga Begins, Fire and Ice, and Homeward Bound. Each is available from Amazon in Kindle format or here at Plain & Simple Press as handsome paperbacks. Meanwhile, more is on the way.

Fire-Rider, an epic that takes place in a future ice age known to the even more distant future as “The Great Lacuna,” is related by Hapa Cottrite, an itinerant learned man and one of the very few of his times who can read and write. His journals, found in a remote cave in the dry sheepherding country of northern Vada and interpreted by Estabanya Marcanda do Tilár i Robintál do Nomanto Berdo, master storyteller of the Methgoan Academy of Written and Oral Performance , provide the material for the Fire-Rider stories. Marcanda do Tilár based her retelling of the story on the definitive translation by Fontano do Caz Eviatád, sponsored by the Western Regional Council of Research Sciences and the Institute for Theory of Intuitional Dissemination (TID) Studies.

Parts of the next book are direct translations of Cottrite’s journals and parts are narrative interpretations by Marcanda do Tilár.

And so, my friends: to a place a long time in the future on a world not at all far from ours…

Enjoy!

The First Day: Out of Lek Doe

In the Eighth Year of Brez Lhored’s Reign
Early Fall

Portrait of a senior successful businessman

Here would I like to record my gratitude to the Brez Lhored Kubna of Grisham Lekvel for the care he and his men took of me while we journeyed north from Lek Doe into the lands of the Okan. Though the people in the south justifiably think of the Hengliss tribes as backward, unruly, and bloodthirsty savages, they can be surpassing generous to those they perceive as friends or guests.

At the outset, as we prepared to leave Lek Doe and head down the trail that would take us out of the Sehrras and toward the land of Okan, Lhored of Grisham Lekvel asked if I would walk with him and his party. That offer, of course, I accepted, and so daily did I find myself in the company of the Okan warlord’s closest men.

The Hengliss title of brez sounds a little like our word brezidiente. However, a brez is something very different from a Socaliniero hereditary ruler. The Okan have no line of succession for their highest headman, except insofar as the warriors from whose ranks the brez is selected do indeed inherit (or marry into) their titles. A brez is selected by a gonsa (a kind of council) consisting of all the stae’’s kubnas and mayrs, a priest or two, and the occasional shamanistic seer. The brez himself is usually a kubna, although some in the past have been mayrs. At the end of a set period, a reigning brez is dispatched to his Heavenly Father and a new one is selected.

This bizarre custom, from which we take our understanding that the northern tribes practice human sacrifice, stems from the even more bizarre belief that the brez is the physical incarnation of godhead on earth. As the Okan put it, he is thought to be the “son of God.” In the strange construct that is the primitives’ religion, God, or (as far as I can tell) some aspect of Godhead, comes into this world periodically to inhabit a single human being and to lead His chosen people from day to day. After so many years, he returns to the other world—Heaven, presumably—and shortly thereafter comes back to take up residence in the corporeal body of the next brez.

Lhored is a sturdy, fit man but not one that I would think of as the receptacle of divinity. Who knows, though, how the Divine would choose to incarnate Himself on earth? Maybe He feels a blue-eyed Okan barbarian going to grey in the beard is a vessel as good as any.

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Before we left Lek Doe, the Brez Lhored took it upon himself to decide where I would sleep during the trek north, and with whom.

The haunted lodge

The Okan carry with them a type of tent that they call a lodge. For the foot soldiers and freighters, these come in the form of long, narrow shelters that can accommodate about fifty to seventy men. But the mayrs and kubnas who command the men each bring a private lodge that provides room for a single man and possibly two others, plus some gear. Space in these is fairly tight, as the structure is small enough and light enough to fold up and load aboard a pack horse.

He would, said Lhored, lend me the use of Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos’s lodge, since Mitchel is no longer on this earth to occupy it. With pleasure I accepted, for the cramped quarters and the rough company in the barracks lodges looked less than inviting. Yet an Okan lodge is so different from the light Socaliniero tents our people carry into the field, I had no idea how to put up such a thing or take it down.

My expression must have said so. Shortly, he called one of the young Socaliniero camp followers over.

“This is Duarto of Cham Fos,” Lhored said, clapping the youth on a shoulder and directing him forward by way of presenting him to me. “He’s a good lad and a hard worker. He’ll help you handle the lodge and your gear.”

Duarto, a tall, slender fellow with dark brown sloe eyes, a stippling of brand-new beard beginning to shade his jaw, and a sensual masculine grace about him, looked me frankly in the face and greeted me by name, in the Hengliss style: “Mister Cottrite.” In spite of his openness, something about him felt subdued. He spoke quietly, as though that two-word greeting were an effort.

We shook hands, and the brez continued, “Duarto was Mitch’s lad. He knows everything there is to know about this lodge, and about the gear that goes with it. You can use whatever you need of Mitch’s to make yourself comfortable. Duarto will help you out with it.

“Agreed?” he asked the young man. By his tone, you could tell there was only one answer.

“Sure,” Duarto replied. “I’ll help you set it up, and take it down and load it on the pony,” he said, again addressing me. “There’s a bunch of stuff you can use—cooking gear, bear bag, stuff to wash up with. You know, just the day-to-day camp junk.”

I said something to the effect that I’d be obliged. Then Lhored added, “And Duarto, it’s going to be pretty crowded in my lodge with four of us in there. Let’s have you sleep with Hapa Cottrite on this trek. That’ll leave room for Alber and Lonneh, and you can keep our guest warm.”

“Aw, no, Lhored. Please no, sir.” Duarto spoke, but looked like he wished he could call his words back.

“What?” A faint frown darkened the brez’s face, the slightest tightening around the mouth, a lifted eyebrow. This, as one might guess, was not a man accustomed to being gainsaid. But as fast as it came, that hint of annoyance passed.

“Why not?” he said. “What’s the problem, Duart’?”

Exorcism

“I can’t,” Duarto said. “I can’t go back in there. There’s just too many ghosts in that lodge for me.”

Lhored fell silent for a few seconds. Then he said, “I see. All right. You can stay with me, then.”

His two young Okan pages stood near at hand. “Lonneh,” he spoke to the oldest and tallest of the pair, “you’ll bunk with Hapa Cottrite until we get to Cham Fos.”

“Not me!” said the boy. His pallid Okan face flushed a mottled pink. “Duarto just said there’s a ghost in there.”

“That’s not what I meant,” said Duarto.

“I don’t wanna go anywhere near a lodge that has a haunt. And I’m sure not going to spend the night in it.”

“Me, neither,” the other page, Alber, said before Lhored could respond to this.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lhored scoffed. “There’s no ghosts in that lodge. How can there be a ghost in it? It’s knocked down and folded up.” This theory sounded a little desperate, I thought. The boys weren’t buying it.

“Duarto saw it,” Lonneh said.

“He said so,” Alber added.

“No, I didn’t,” Duarto said.

“Enough from you, Duarto!” Lhored gave him a sharp look. Duarto subsided and stepped behind me.

Lhored turned on the two pages. “You idiots,” he said. “I don’t want to hear any more foolishness. One of you is going to sleep in that lodge. Which one will it be?”

“Not me!” Alber said.

“Huh uh!” said Lonneh. “I’m not goin’ in there.”

“The back-talk stops right this minute,” Lhored returned. “You want your licking now, or after we stop tonight?”

“No way!” said Alber.

“Oh, you do want it now?” He reached out and grabbed Alber by the arm.

One of the men who was standing around watching this side-show now interrupted: “Don’t be too hard on them boys,” he said. “Duarto said he saw it. He ought to know. He saw what happened to Mitch.”

At my back, I heard Duarto murmur, “O, por Dio!”

“That’s right,” said another bystander. “He had a vision. And he knew where to find Mitch, right there that alley.”

“We shouldn’t use that lodge at all,” a third said.

“We ought to burn it,” the first man added.

“We are not burning a lodge that’s got nothing wrong with it,” Lhored returned. “Besides. It belongs to Mitch’s son. And to the kubnath of Cham Fos. It’s not ours. We can’t set fire to it.”

“If it’s got a haunt in it, we ought not to take it with us,” the third man said.

“It could jinx the whole lot of us,” said another. “Cause something bad to happen.”

“We don’t need nothing more to happen, Lhored. We all want to get home.”

“All right,” Lhored conceded. “All right, here’s what we’ll do: we’ll exorcise it.”

“An exorcism?”

“Yeah. We need to bless all this new gear, anyway. We can do the exorcism at the same time we do the blessing ceremony. Alber,” he spoke to boy whose arm he still had in hand, “you go on down the line and find Kaybrel. Bring him back here.”

Here was an interesting development. We’re told the Hengliss northerners enjoy some colorful superstitions. Now, before we could even leave the town, an opportunity to observe one such arose.

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In due course, Kaybrel came striding up, young Alber tagging after him. This kubna, the lord of Moor Lek, is a gray eminence among the Okan leaders, the eldest of them (I believe) and one longing, without much secrecy, to retire from the field. Yet just weeks ago, the man earned the title “Fire-Rider” by his already legendary nerve in leading the men of Okan and A’o through a wall of flames set by their pursuing enemies. Among his various distinctions, Kaybrel is tocha—a healer, roughly like our gorandero. But tocha is slightly different: the Okan healer is believed to speak directly to the spirit world, and that contact or inspiration is what makes it possible for him to work his healing magic. Or hers: most Okan healers are women.

At any rate, that gift of spirit-speaking no doubt is why the brez called upon the man to deal with the present upset.

Lhored explained the situation—how the men and boys came to imagine the late Kubna of Cham Fos’s tent was occupied by ghosts and that a rite was needed to clear away any evil spirits. Standing next to him, I heard Kaybrel release a soft sigh through his nose, unnoticed by anyone who was more than a few feet away.

“You lads go find Tavi,” he said to Lhored’s pages. “Tell him to get my medicine bag—the black one, not the green one. It’s loaded on Mist, and it’s not on top. He’ll have to haul a bag or two off the horse to get at it. Bring it to me down the line where the freight wagons are. We’ll meet you there.”

The two trotted off in search of Kaybrel’s servant. The rest of us began to walk toward the back of the long line of men, where the wagons were gathered.

Shortly, after a moment of talk with Lhored and the foot-soldiers who had lingered to watch the show, the Moor Lek kubna took Duarto aside. They spoke quietly and in Espanyo, but I overheard:

“What the devil were you thinking, telling people that thing is haunted?” Kaybrel asked.

“I didn’t,” Duarto replied. “That’s not what I said. I meant it’s too full of memories for me. Lhored wanted me to stay with this guy, because his own lodge is going to be so crowded. For godsake, Kay, I just can’t go in there.”

“I understand. But listen, Duarto. You need to keep a lid on that kind of talk. Everybody’s ready to go, and now we’ll likely be two hours late getting on the road.”

“I’m sorry, Kay.” He looked utterly downcast.

“Well, it’s not your fault, chacho. Still, would you try to think before you say something like that? This kind of thing gets around. These clowns already believe you had a vision of some kind.”

“Yeah. I did,” Duarto said.

“Well, one way or the other, the next thing you know, everyone will be saying you have an open window into the other world.”

At this, Duarto smiled wanly.

“It sounds funny, but believe me—that’s not something you want. It gets to be a burden, real fast. Don’t let yourself in for that.”

Duarto looked up at him, something like curiosity in his glance, and nodded.

“All right,” Kaybrel said. “Don’t fret about it. We’ll get this done, and then we’ll be on our way. But please. Be a little more thoughtful.”

“I will,” Duarto said.

Kaybrel gave him a friendly slap on the shoulder and rejoined the group of Okan men.

The kubna, I noticed, speaks Espanyo with great fluency. Rare it is to come across one of the northerners who can both understand and speak the language of civilization. It also struck me, in hearing his short exchange with the young man Duarto, that he had something of the lilt and lift of Roksan, the very city these A’oan and Okan bands sacked and leveled not so long ago.

It’s odd, I think, and bears study.

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Incense Depositphotos_1828733_m-2015The northern warlords have the odd custom of loading their great chargers—which are, one must avow, superb animals—with gear and then walking instead of riding. In contrast with Socaliniero war parties, whose cavalrymen always ride while their impressed foot soldiers walk, these chieftains march on foot with their men. Each kubna and mayr has one or two ponies that carry most of his camping gear and weaponry; he loads the rest on his charger, in packs that can be released from the saddle with a single yank of a line. He keeps his war horse with him as he marches. If he happens to have a camp boy or, like Lhored, an apprentice or two, his sidekick will lead the pack pony and the charger. If not, he consigns his loaded pack pony to a small herd of stock wrangled by a pair of drovers, which brings up the rear of the long train of men and wagons.

Men and a few boys began to collect around the supply wagons as Lhored, Kaybrel, and we various hangers-on approached. The brez stepped onto a low wooden crate, lifting himself a head above the crowd.

Right about then a slender lad, about fourteen or sixteen years old, came up to Kaybrel and handed over a black canvas bag. The kubna thanked him and set the sack on the ground.

“What’s going on?” the newcomer asked Kaybrel in Espanyo. The moment he spoke he marked himself as Roksando.

“I’ll tell you about it later, Tavi,” Kaybrel said quietly.

This one, who I later learned is named Ottavio Ombertín and who indeed did come from Roksan, is a striking young fellow, at once boy-like and strangely handsome. Clearly a child of the southern provinces, with high indio cheekbones and a deep reddish-tan complexion, he has hair the color of copper and chestnut-brown eyes that pick up the same tone. At first I thought he was a redhead, but then realized he didn’t have the typical light skin and freckles. It’s more accurate to say his coloring is an unusual shade of brown, lighter than auburn but not carrot-red.

Now the brez Lhored beckoned his followers to pray to God, whom he addressed as his father—evidently in a literal way—and then, spreading his arms and holding his hands out with palms supplicating heaven, he delivered this amazing benediction:

“We thank you, Father, for the kindness of the many good people of Lek Doe and ask your blessing for these gifts of supplies, food, tools, and livestock they have offered us.

“We thank our friends at Lek Doe, the seeyo, her boda’ drectahs, the pastors of her faith and ours, and all of the merchants, craftsmen, growers, hunters, fishers, and builders who brought us these fine things. We thank them for the gracious and loving funeral ceremony they made for our beloved cousin, Mitchel of Cham Fos.

“May Lek Doe receive Your grace. May its people prosper, and may they live in peace, now and forever.

“May the Seeyo Babra Puehkins and each of her drectahs find favor with You, O God, and may You prosper them and their offspring.

“All this, we ask, my Father, in Your name.”

The entire company answered, as one, “Amen.”

Simple, but surprisingly all-encompassing. I wondered if he had come up with this for my benefit. If I had a faint doubt, it was brought into focus by what followed. For, said he, “Gentlemen. I’d like you to meet and come to know Hapa Cottrite, our guest from Lek Doe.” He made a point of calling me forward so as to display me to all concerned and unconcerned.

“Hapa Cottrite will travel with us to Cham Fos,” he continued. “Welcome him, please.”

In the pause he allowed, men clapped their hands, stomped their feet, and hooted.

“Introduce yourselves when you can. And be sure you know his face. If we’re engaged by the enemy between here and Okan, I expect you to know he’s one of ours. Help him get to cover, and take care of him. As I would take care of you.”

A low wave of assent passed through the assembled crowd. Here and there a man muttered another “amen.”

“Now we have one more order of business,” Lhored announced before the men could break away. “We need to perform a cleansing ceremony on Mitchel’s lodge, to make sure no spirits linger with it.”

Some puzzled grumbling drifted back from the men.

“We’d like to lend it to Mister Cottrite,” he added. “For some reason, a number of us think it harbors a ghost. And so we need to take care of that before we leave.”

Frustrated expressions all around from those who were anxious to get on the road. Duarto shot Kaybrel a glance; the kubna maintained a studied blandness.

“Sam’l,” Lhored continued, now addressing Cham Fos’s wagoneer, “if you will, get that lodge out and bring it over, please.”

“But sir,” the wagon driver objected, “it’s all the way on the bottom, I think.”

“Well, then, dig it out.”

While several men of Cham Fos helped the disgruntled driver unload the large and solidly packed wagon, Kaybrel laid out some tools: a carved stone bowl into which a smaller metal bowl was set, a couple of wax fuel wafers, some tinder, a handful or two of kindling and small sticks, a flint, a steel, a piece of charcoal, and—interestingly—a small handsomely carved and finished wooden flute. He assembled the fire makings inside the metal bowl and waited.

When at last the late Kubna Mitchel’s lodge was found and hauled out of the wagon, Kaybrel beckoned Duarto to help him set up the tent. Conspicuously, none of the other men or boys would go near it. Whether they believed it harbored a ghost or not, none of them would take any chances.

Expertly, our warrior who was also a healer and also a shaman struck the flint and lit a fire in the bowl.

“You can play this thing, no?” he asked Duarto, holding up the flute.

“F’shua,” Duarto said. The Espanyo camp boys use a variety of Hengliss and Espanyo slang terms. This one I had not heard before, but it appears to be a Hengliss equivalent of glaro or así.

“Good. You’re going to help me with this, then. Watch my fingering.” He demonstrated a simple sequence of notes. “I’ll get this started, and then you can play the chant while I do the job on the lodge. Good enough?”

The young man nodded.

“All right, gentlemen,” he now addressed the assembled men, who had gathered in a semicircle around the wagon and tent. “I’m going to get the spirit’s attention first. Then we’ll sing a chant. To protect us all and also to send this spirit on its way, you’ll need to keep the chant going while I perform the ceremony.

“Do we all understand this?”

Another murmur of assent rose in reply.

“Here are the words to the chant. Pay attention:

“God’s Son, bring us to your Father.
“God have mercy on us.
“God’s Son, bring us your protection.
“God call this spirit home.

“Now, let’s all repeat those verses.”

He made them rehearse the words after him a couple of times, and then he played a plain chant melody on the flute so they could hear it once. He handed the flute to Duarto, asked him to play the tune, and sang the words again as Duarto reproduced the melody fluently.

“All right. Let’s begin.”

Kaybrel added some more fuel to the fire that now burned merrily in the set of bowls. “First,” he said, “we’ll call forth the spirit. Then, to keep us safe, all of you will chant our prayer until I tell you to stop.”

This Kubna Kaybrel of Moor Lek is a man of middling stature, neither short nor very tall, well-built, muscular and sturdy. His hair and curly beard, both a dusty shade of brown like that of many northerners, run to gray — shot through with silver. He wears his shoulder-length hair neatly combed and tied back in a queue with a length of rawhide, his homespun shirt and trousers loose and made for walking or riding, a broad-brimmed brown felt hat shading his gray-green eyes from the day’s sun.

Nothing about him could I see that set him apart, physically, from the rest of the Okan and A’oan men around him. If there was anything of the sorcerer in him, it wasn’t visible to the human eye.

Retrieving the flute from Duarto, he stepped to the front of the lodge, whose entry flaps had been tied open, and placed his lips to the instrument’s mouthpiece. There followed a strange, atonal series of notes, rising and falling from lower to higher registers, at moments deep in the alto range, at others shrill—seemingly at random. The effect, it must be said, was weird, even eerie.

The assembly fell silent. When this prelude ended, only the testy shriek of a camp jay and a light breeze whispering through the pines broke the ensuing silence.

Kaybrel handed the flute back to Duarto. Then he picked up the flaming bowl, which he held at head-height in extended hands. Duarto began to play the chant and the gathered men and boys to sing its verses, in unison.

A strong odor of eucalyptus-scented incense drifted over us with the smoke. I realized the wax fuel wafers must have been perfumed with it. The kubna dropped one into the inner bowl when he took the fire into his hands, causing the flames to flare and the incense to rise.

“Spirit! O spirit!” he intoned loudly. “Hear me now, if you will!” He waved the firebowl in the direction of the tent, wafting the odoriferous smoke toward and presumably into the open entrance.

No answer forthcoming, he continued, “I who am tocha would speak with you.

“With respect, we ask God to guide you home, to bring you to the other side, to everlasting life and everlasting peace. There love, peace, and justice wait for you.”

Old censer on table, close up photo

He waved the smoking bowl toward the entry again and then gave it a few swirls, spreading the eye-wateringly fragrant incense over all who stood nearby.

Now he paced all the way around the tent, still waving and agitating the flaming bowl and sending the perfumed smoke into the air. The Okans continued the chant through all this, steady and rhythmic.

Returning to the entrance, he waved another few shots of smoke into the enclosed space and then said, “In the name of the Lord, in the name of the Lord’s son: leave this place now and find your way to the place of never-ending peace. We bless you as we send you to our Father.”

He took the bowl in his left hand and passed his right hand over the fire. Instantly the flames flared upward with a brilliant green light.

At this, a few of the men hesitated in their chanting. Lhored urged them on, singing louder and waving his arms to the flute’s metered melody.

Kaybrel stopped speaking, and shortly the fire in the bowl died out.

He allowed the chant to continue a few minutes more and then gestured to Duarto and Lhored to bring a stop to it.

The men fell to milling about and speaking amongst each other. Duarto skulked. The one called Tavio, who had looked on wide-eyed throughout the rite, began to clean up and repack the kubna’s spirit-cleansing implements.

“Now,” Kaybrel said to Lhored, firmly enough to be heard by all concerned, “this lodge is free of any lingering spirits or airs. It’s perfectly safe for anyone to use. Agreed?” He cocked an eyebrow in the direction of one of Lhored’s Hengliss lads, who appeared no less awed than his own Espanyo boy did.

“Good,” Lhored replied. “You two chuckleheads,” he turned to the pages, “take this thing back down, put it together, and then give Sam’l a hand at repacking that wagon.

“Men,” he added in a louder voice, “as soon as this stuff is stowed, we’ll be on our way.”

The onlookers began walking back to their preferred places in the long marching column. Kaybrel glanced in my direction and said, “That incense should air out of there pretty quick, Cottrite. If it still stinks this evening, just leave the flaps open for an hour or so before you bed down.”

“Sorry about the nuisance,” Lhored said, more, I thought, to Kaybrel than to me.

Kaybrel shrugged. “You know, if you want, Duarto can stay with me and Tavi until we leave you at Puns Donjon. After that, maybe you could put him up with—I don’t know…Jag Bova?”

“That’s kind of you, Kay,” Lhored replied. “But Lonneh is going to do the job I gave him in the first place. Isn’t he?” With this, the brez eyed his elder page.

“Yessir,” came the reply.

We walked back toward the front of the line, our progress slowed when one man, two men, small groups of men greeted us and introduced themselves to me. I wondered how I was to remember all their names, but evidently that wasn’t the point. More to the point was that they would remember me, or at least my face, and not dispatch me should we encounter the bands from Loma Alda—or any other gangs of patgais—after we left the protected city of Lek Doe.

The sun had climbed a third of the way to the zenith by the time Lonneh and Alber came trotting up from the tail end of the waiting company to report that all was loaded and secured.

At last the brez gave the order to move out! All the way down the long column men got to their feet, shouldered day packs, and fell in with companions. The voices of the kubnas’ monjas—their lieutenants in charge of wrangling each cowndee’s bands—echoed down the line as each repeated the order at the top of his lungs. Redundant, it was: no one needed any urging to get on the road.

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We crest the low rise just beyond Lek Doe and start down the trail that will take us off the steep eastern face to the bajadas of the Sehrra Muns. The wide brown desert basin beyond the Sehrras stretches out below us, as far as a man can see, fading to blue in the distance, where lower mountains punctuate the plain. A high bluff to one side of the road harbors a flock of swifts. Startling it is to see the graceful little birds whipping through the void at our eye level, a great chasm open below them—and us.

Further off, a red-tailed hawk sails a wind current through a sky as blue as the deeps of the lake itself. Flaxen grass bends and waves in the breeze that drops down off the pass. The cool wind pushing us down the mountain carries the scent of horse and dust and sweat. Wagons creak and rattle; horses’ hooves and men’s boots pound the road.

So it begins: another journey, another adventure.

mountains shutterstock_ reduced 344330408

Did you enjoy this coming attraction from a future Fire-Rider novel? Curious about the world that Kaybrel and his people inhabit? The first three volumes of the Fire-Rider saga can be found at Amazon, or if you prefer to touch paper when you read your books, here at Plain & Simple Press. Lose yourself in a future world — you may never want to come back.

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© 2016 Millicent Victoria Hay. All rights reserved.

Images

DepositPhoto:
Hapa Cottrite, © alexeys; Okan lodge, © vladislavgajic; Incense, © raelanglois; Ghost, © casarda ; Incense bowl, © librakv

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Mountainside vista, © Spadefoot 

Fire-Rider: Jag Bova and Lieze

The latest free story in the Fire-Rider book series continues here.This riff continues the story of Lieze Mayreth of Rozebek and her husband Jag Bova, late dubbed “Snow-Killer” for his heroics after the Battle of Loma Alda.

At last the war bands have returned from their long and heartbreaking summer warfare. Their waiting family and friends greet those who have survived with joy.

Shortly after midday, Jag Bova’s bands of weary, road-worn men crested the pass through the low hills that rose above Rozebek Town. Larks whistled in the hilltop forest, and a squirrel, still busy stashing acorns and pine nuts for winter, chattered as the men hiked past them. A hawk drifted overhead, looking for all the world like idle curiosity brought it to watching the procession pass.

Idyllic village ( Likavka ) in Mountains in beautiful region Liptov. Slovakia - Europe

The autumn afternoon was clear and crisp beneath a sapphire sky, unblemished but for a few distant, fluffy clouds. Below lay farmlands, pasture, and the town of Rozebek, dominated by its mayr’s keep. In the orchards, apple and walnut trees had already dropped their leaves, but here and there a maple or a pear clung to its scarlet and gold.

When he saw the village spread out before them, Bova felt his heart rise. Narrow lanes led out from the town plaza like spokes on a wagon wheel, the spaces between them filled with stone houses built four and six and sometimes even eight to a compound.   Huddled together around common walls, the dwellings gained a little extra shelter from winter’s deepest cold. And there, wrapped within the village, stood his own home, Rozebek Keep. Its high defensive fortifications were built of local gray stone, as was his private family compound’s tower that rose above the stokhed walls.

Alone among the Okan aristocracy’s fortifications, the Mayr of Rozebek’s keep formed a part of its village. The people’s homes came right up to the moat, making the keep an island in a small lake of human activity. Usually a kubnath’s or a mayr’s keep and dwelling stood atop a low rise anywhere from half a mile to two miles from its village. This difference pleased Jag Bova. If anyone disapproved, they hadn’t ventured to complain.

Rozebek keepA fieldstone watch tower stood at the height of the pass. Three villagers came out of the door at ground level to greet the arriving fighters. The first, a wiry youth barely more than a boy and not quite a young man, fairly bounced up the road.

“Mister Mayr! Mr. Samel! God bless you.” He bounded over and shook first Bova’s hand, then Samel’s.

The men at the front of the line pushed forward, pleased to see the first of their kin and friends that they’d laid eyes on in five months.

“Would that be Rand the cooper’s boy?” Someone said. Another laughed in unfeigned delight. “You’ve grown a good three inches!”

Shortly behind the lad came a tall, lank, and wrinkled woman clad in rough-cut homespun pants and shirt, her grey hair straggling out beneath a knitted woolen cap. She advanced to Bova with arms extended and wrapped him in a hearty hug.

“Thank God you’re home,” she exclaimed. “Thank God!”

“Sister Belindeh,” Samel greeted her, accepting the next round of handshakes and crushes. “You’ll be doing guard duty now?”

An even more grizzled man hobbled after her, supported by a walking stick. “Where have you been, boys?” the old fellow exclaimed. “We’ve been waiting dinner for you so long the food’s gone cold!”

A ripple of subdued laughter murmured through the men within earshot.

“Where are my brothers?” Rand asked. “Are they with you, mayr?”

“Sure they are, lad” Bova replied. “They’ll be down the line a ways.” Rand made his way up the trail to find his returning relatives.

“And Willard? Did you bring my grandson back to me, Jag Bova?” Belindeh asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Bova said. “And hale and hearty he is. In fact, yonder he comes—in search of you, I reckon.”

Belindeh and Willard spotted each other in the same moment and fell into each others’ arms.

Samel glanced at Bova and said quietly, “Thank God for small favors.”

“Getting all three of them back here alive and in one piece is more than a small favor, Sam.”

His monja nodded and smiled grimly.

“Tough campaign, was it?” the old man asked, overhearing this.

“Yessir, Mister Cammish,” Bova agreed. “That it was. You’ll be hearing about it soon enough. And all winter long, I expect.”

“I’m sorry to learn that, Jag Bova,” said Cammish. “How many men did we lose? If you don’t mind my asking?”

“Thirty-eight. That’s the ones who made it into the other world. More are coming home wounded. They’ll take some time to heal. Those that ever do.”

Cammish fell silent briefly, staring toward the town below. Then he said, “The boy has already ridden into town on his mule, a’spreadin’ the word that you men be climbing up the hill. Then he come back to greet you all, looking for his brothers. Listen to that racket down there!”

A distant sound wafted up the hillside: music. Horns and fiddles, drums and tambourines, whistles and ghitters and recorders and pipes rose a merry clamor down in the village.

Semel, Bova’s monja, grinned when he heard the racket. “The party’s started without us,” he said.

One of the other men overheard and added, “Let’s get our asses down there! Don’t want to miss any more than we have to.”

“Little Mama’s a-callin’,” another voice exclaimed. Here and there, men broke out of line and started to jog ahead.

“Get a grip on those clowns,” Bova said to Semel.

“Whoa! Settle down there!” Semel shouted. A few marchers, rowdy and not inclined to settle anywhere just then, gave him puzzled glances.

“Now listen to that, boys!” Bova hollered. His large presence got immediate attention. “The folks have brought out the band for us. What d’you say we return the favor?”

“What’ve you got in mind, Mister Mayr?” a grizzled fellow on the sidelines hollered back.

“Let’s play them a tune or three of our own,” Bova replied. “Let’s us get ourselves lined up here like respectable gents, and Semel, get the pipers and the drummers and let’s pipe the men to town.”

A ripple of laughter washed over the company closest to Bova and Semel. “That’ll give the girls something to remember through the winter nights,” someone remarked.

“That it will,” Bova said. “Into columns! Where are those pipers?”

Piper Depositphotos_78899056_m-2015The bands began to fall into rough columns, and shortly two men with small bagpipes, a couple of drummers, and a fife player gathered at the head of the company. Meanwhile, Bova lifted bags of gear off his charger, loaded them on a pack pony, and climbed into the saddle. Semel scouted up company’s banner, unfurled it from its pole, and handed it up to Bova, who secured it to its saddle. It waved cheerfully in the crystalline air.

The pipers and fifer struck up a bright marching tune, and the men hiked down the hill, more spring in their step than had been seen for some time. The wounded rode in the supply wagons, a few, those who could sit up and speak, chatting with their comrades on foot. The mood overall: celebratory.

§

As the troops approached Rozebek Town, villagers poured out onto the road, where they danced to the sound of fiddles, drums, and horns. Women, children, and old men streamed into the band of weary, rag-tag men. Shouts of joy and relief rang out when families and loved ones found each other, but a few called out names repeatedly and got no response.

Soon enough, Bova found Lieze, Ada, and his three children proceeding up the road amid a knot of followers and friends. The instant Lieze spotted Bova, she ran through the crowd to meet him.

“Daddy!” Deke shouted. Ada grabbed him and Mandeh, who was about to bound after her brother. “Wait, darlings. Let Mama and Papa say hello to each other.”

Lieze wrapped her arms around her massive husband. He sank his face in her long chestnut hair, which she had allowed to flow loose for the occasion.

“Oh, my God, Lieze,” he whispered into her ear. “I’ve missed you so.”

She hugged him tightly. “We’ve all been worried about you. Thank God you’re home and safe.”

He kissed her face delicately, then planted a passionate kiss on her lips. Nearby several men cheered. Lieze blushed and looked into his blue eyes. Bova took her hands and spun her about in an exuberant circle.

Ada approached with the three children at her side. “Welcome home, son,” she said.

Bova grinned and hugged his children’s grandmother. The three kids could no longer restrain themselves. Deke leapt on his father, who lifted him, laughing, into the air. Then Bova set him on the ground and greeted each child with a hug and a kiss. Mandeh and Deke chattered excitedly while Erysa looked on, dignified.

The party of townspeople drifted toward the town’s central park and cobbled square, where the music and dancing went on. After some time, Lieze began to lobby to return to the keep.

“We have a grand dinner for you, Bova,” she said. “A lovely lamb, and your favorite sweet winter squash, and two grand pecan pies. And we have so much to catch up on. Wait till you hear what the kids have been doing all summer!”

He smiled in frank pleasure. “What’s this son of mine been up to now?”

Ada said, “He’s started to learn his fencing. Lieze decided he’s getting big enough to start some lessons, so old Mister Cal has been coming to the keep every few days to work with him. Cal has been helping Mandeh and Erysa practice with the bow, too.”

“Is that so?” said Bova. “Well, those two could shoot a walnut off a tree. And as for you, Mister Deke, can you hold your own against this Mandeh?”

“O’course I can,” Deke replied. “I’m so good now, I bet I can beat you, Dad!”

Several bystanders laughed. Mandeh rolled her eyes heavenward.

“So!” Bova returned. “We’ll have to see who’s the better man.”

“Erysa brought down her first deer this summer,” Ada continued. “A fine young buck, enough to feed us all for three weeks!”

“You did? All by yourself?”

“Well, I was hunting with Mister Cal and Nida,” she said, referring one of her coach’s grand-daughters. “But yes, I shot it.”

“That’s an accomplishment,” said Bova. “Good work, big sister!”

Erysa smiled and executed an exaggerated but graceful bow.

“Why don’t we take you home now, Jag Bova?” said Lieze. “It’s time for you to sit down and put your feet up on your hearth.”

“I’m afraid we have some work to do first. “

“What can’t wait until tomorrow?” she asked.

“I need to talk with the families of each of the men who died while we were out this summer. There were almost forty.”

“Oh, dear God,” Lieze gasped.

“You all go on home. I’ll be along after I’ve talked to their folks.”

“Bova, you can’t track down forty families and sit down and talk with each one of them, not this afternoon. It’ll take you two or three days to do that.”

“Maybe. I don’t know. But I feel like I should try.”

“Dear,” Ada suggested, “don’t try to talk to them individually now. Most of them must have found out already. So why not gather them all in one place, pay respects to their dead, say a prayer, and then over the next few days you can go around to their homes.”

Bova hesitated. “Well, I…”

“That’s a good idea, Bova,” Lieze said. “It’ll let you show your respect now, and then give you more time to spend with each family. Later.”

Church Depositphotos_4477074_m-2015

More free previews of Fire-Rider coming attractions:

Escape into the Mountains
Women Warriors of the North
Seth
Banshee

Fire-Rider: Best-Laid Plans?

Here’s a draft passage from an upcoming installment in the Fire-Rider series. Enjoy!

An excerpt from the latest in the Fire-Rider science fiction series

…Around the courtyard and stone buildings below…

Lieze and Jag Bova stood in the window of their upstairs bedroom, watching Deke and Mandeh play hide and seek with a couple of the neighbors’ kids around the courtyard and stone outbuildings below. Erysa and Ada had gone to the village marketplace to shop and socialize. Bova held his wife in his arms and smiled, contented for the first time in several months.

Now that things were quiet and the two had renewed their acquaintance in every way, Bova saw an opportunity to bring up an idea that had been rolling around in his mind for some time.

Erysa and Ada had gone to the market...

Erysa and Ada had gone to the market…

“Erysa is changing so fast,” he said. “She’s grown into a young woman just while I’ve been gone.”

Lieze murmured a soft chuckle. “She gets prettier every day,” she agreed. “Mother and I saddled her with Deke during the harvest and still had to keep an eye on her to be sure no flirting went on.”

Bova laughed. “It’s hard to impress the boys with your pesty little brother underfoot.”

“Isn’t it a shame?” Lieze said.

Portrait of a beautiful young girl with decorative flowers in h

…hard to impress the boys with your pesty little brother underfoot.

“Have you thought that it might be time to arrange a husband for her?”

She glanced sharply at Bova. “Has my mother been talking to you about that already?”

“What? No,” Bova said, surprised. “Ada thinks it’s time for Erysa to marry, does she?”

“She’s brought the subject up.”

Excellent woman, Bova thought: he wouldn’t have to plow new ground. “So…what do you think of the idea?” he asked.

“She’s a little young,” Lieze replied.

“Maybe. But it’s not too soon to start thinking about it, do you expect?”

“I suppose not,” said Lieze. “Why? Do you have someone in mind?”

Bova steered Lieze to the window seat, and, with a gesture, invited her to sit down, then settled on the padded bench beside her. He cleared his throat. “I do have a thought, yes,” he said.

“Do tell!”

“Well, in the field this summer I built a pretty strong link with Kaybrel Kubna of Moor Lek. And you know, with Rik gone and his son two or three years short of taking over as our kubna, an alliance with Moor Lek wouldn’t be a bad thing for the House of Rozebek.

“What would you think about approaching Maire about choosing Elyse as a sister wife?”

Lieze was quiet for what seemed to Bova like a long time.

Kaybrel FireRider

…A pretty lively grandfather.

“Kaybrel,” she said.

“Yes.”

“Are you serious?”

“Why not?”

She shot him a look that told him he was on the losing end of this exchange. “In the first place, Kay is old enough to be your father. Do you really want to marry your daughter to a man who could be her grandfather?”

“Well. He’s a pretty lively grandfather.”

“No doubt. But he’s still an old man. She could find herself a widow before her second child is born.”

“She’d be well taken care of, though,” Bova said. If she were widowed after she had a child of the kubna’s, she would not remarry until his offspring were grown or settled elsewhere. Neither would Kay’s kubnath, Maire. Between the two of them, they would live handsomely on the income from an entire cowndee’s splits. Plus of course Maire was collecting from Silba Lek, too.

Woman of Okan

Okan kubnath…good because she’s absolutely fierce.

“I’m sure,” Lieze countered. “And that brings us to the next point: I don’t want my eldest daughter to play second fiddle to someone like Maire Kubnath of Silba Lek and Moor Lek. She would fade right into the shrubbery.

“Besides, everyone knows Maire can be difficult. It would take a far more headstrong eighteen-year-old than our Lieze to hold her own against that one.”

“No one has ever complained that she’s not a good kubnath,” Bova remarked.

“She’s a good kubnath because she’s absolutely fierce! You know that.”

He smiled. “Yes. Well, she’s a match for Kaybrel in that way.”

“I’ve never found him especially fierce,” she said.

“Only on horseback, maybe.”

She smiled briefly. “He’s a great warrior. But a warrior and a chosen man are two different things. Not very many men are as good as you are at both.”

“That may be so, or not,” he said. He leaned over and kissed her cheek, feeling his wooly blond beard brush against her sweet, soft skin. “But I wish you’d think it over. Will you consider it?”

“I will,” she replied. “But I have another idea, one that could do what you have in mind and also give our daughter a shot at a happy life.”

“You don’t think she’d be happy with Kaybrel?”

Fallon Mayr of Chene Wells

Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells

“She might be. But how about this: What if we were to have her choose Fallon of Cheyne Wells this spring?”

“Fal?” Bova was nonplussed. The thought had never entered his mind.

“Sure. Fal and Kay are peas from the same pod. No one is closer to Kay than Fal—well, no man, anyway. They’re so tightly allied that a match with Cheyne Wells would be a match with Moor Lek. And Fal will live long enough to father several children and be there until they’re grown. God willing.”

It was Bova’s turn to fall silent. At length he reflected, “It’s pretty remote up there, halfway to the edge of the godforsaken ice fields. That’s probably why no one has chosen him since his first wife and kids died.”

“That’s so,” she said. “But she loves horses. Fallon has enough of those to keep her amused for the rest of her life. And she could manage our farmlands this very day—I’ve taken care to teach her all she needs to know, and then some. She’ll make a perfect rancher’s partner, and a very fine mayreth. She’s been brought up to be mayreth, Bova.”

“Hmh.” He turned the possibility over in his mind.

“You understand,” he said after a moment, “Fallon has a lady friend in Lek Doe.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?” He nodded. “Well, no doubt he’s not alone in that,” she remarked.

“You can be sure Kaybrel doesn’t. The kubnath would never put up with any shenanigans like that.”

She laughed softly. “She probably doesn’t have to. I’m sure his oats are already sown.”

“One never knows with that one. He’s a surprise a day.”

“Be that as it may, a pretty young bride can be a mighty distraction. If she marries Fal this spring, he’ll be daydreaming about getting back to her all summer.”

“I daydream about getting back to you every summer,” he said. He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed his way up her arm to the nape of her neck. She shivered, sighed, and melted into his arms.

A kiss or two later, Bova glanced up. “Oh, God,” he said. “Yonder come the women young and old.” Ada and Erysa were entering the courtyard below, driving a small carriage behind a single pony.

“Oh, dear. Can we pretend we didn’t notice?”

“We’d better get out of the window, then.” He took her hand and, like shadows, the two ghosted into an upstairs guest bedroom.

Home from the market

Home from the market

Earlier Riffs on Fire-Rider

Escape into the Mountains
Women Warriors of the North
Seth
Banshee
Kay’s Regrets

Images: DepositPhotos
The stone courtyard and buildings. ©Kistryn Malgorzata
Village market. © Nata48
Erysa. © Diana83
Fallon. © v-strelok

Image: Shutterstock
Okan kubnath. Jozef Klopacka

Short story: An excerpt from the latest installment in the Fire-Rider science fiction book series.

How to Jump-Start Your Creative Engine

For writers: How to jump-start your creative engine when you're stuckFeatherBlackviaPreviewA client, needing to do rewrites of several chapters, suddenly felt a bit stymied. Mostly, I think, this happened because he was feeling tired and impatient to get finished. The end was in sight, and he really just wanted to get the book done!

While we were thinking about how he could re-energize himself for the last sprint, an Insight! occurred to me. And it’s an insight that appears to work. Before inflicting it on him, I experimented with it on a passage of my own novel, where I also had run out of gas, dropped the narrative, and moved on to a new passage in hopes of trudging back later with a fuel can in hand.

Here’s the idea: Let’s say you’re writing in prose — could be fiction or nonfiction. For the nonce, let’s call it fiction.

This requires you to use a set of techniques specific to the genre at hand. In the case of fiction, these would be dialogue, narrative, description, setting, characterization, point of view, and the like.

When you feel you simply can NOT move forward with a scene, try writing that scene in some other genre. Instead of prose fiction, what if you wrote the passage as a scene in a stage play or a movie script? What if you wrote it in verse? What if you wrote it as a letter from one of the characters to one of the other characters? Or as a letter from you to your best friend?

With fresh ideas and action on paper, now go back and convert what you’ve written into the genre you’re actually writing.

Different genres require different writing techniques. Engaging these different modes requires you to engage a different set of mental skills and attitudes. If you take what you want to say and write it in a different genre, you force yourself to shift gears.

Let’s see how this worked on the passage of mine that ran out of energy.

First draft, replete with frustrated notes to self:

Shortly after midday, Jag Bova’s bands crested the pass through the low hills that cradled the southest end of Rozebek Town. Warm as an Indian summer, the pleasant autumn afternoon was still and clear. A sapphire sky, unblemished but for a few distant, fluffy clouds, rested over the brown and gilded farmlands below. In the orchards, apple and walnut trees had already dropped their leaves, but here and there a maple or a pear clung to its scarlet and gold.

When he saw the village spread out before them, Bova’s heart filled with joy. Narrow lanes led out from the town plaza like spokes on a wagon wheel, the spaces between them filled with stone houses built four and six and sometimes even eight to a compound.   Huddled together around common walls, the dwellings gained a little extra shelter from winter’s deepest cold. And there, entwined within the village, stood his own home, Rozebek Keep. Its high defensive fortifications were built of local gray stone, as was his private family compound’s tower that rose above the stokhed walls.

Alone among the Okan aristocracy’s fortifications, the Mayr of Rozebek’s keep formed a part of its village. The people’s homes came right up to the moat, making the keep an island in a small lake of human activity. Usually a kubnath’s or a mayr’s keep and dwelling stood atop a low rise anywhere from half a mile to two miles from its village. This difference pleased Jag Bova. If anyone disapproved, they hadn’t ventured to complain.

No one was complaining now. Around him men cheered, hooted, and laughed, delighted to find themselves within sight of home. [THEY SHOULD PASS A WATCHTOWER – AN OLD PERSON – MALE, FEMALE? SHOULD COME OUT WITH A COUPLE OF KIDS TO GREET THEM.]

A distant sound wafted up the hillside: music. Horns and fiddles, drums and tambourines, whistles and ghitters and recorders and pipes rose a merry clamor down in the village.

Semel, [WHAT DOES HE LOOK LIKE?] Bova’s monja, grinned when he heard the racket. “The party’s started without us,” he said.

One of the other men overheard and added, “Let’s get our asses down there! Don’t want to miss any more than we have to.”

“Little Mama’s a-callin’,” another voice exclaimed. Here and there, men broke out of line and started to run or jog ahead.

Okan fall

Summer’s end in Okan

“Get a grip on those clowns,” Bova said to Semel.

“Whoa! Settle down there!” Semel shouted. A few marchers, rowdy and not inclined to settle anywhere just then, gave him puzzled glances.

“Now listen to that, boys!” Bova hollered. His large presence got immediate attention. “The folks have brought out the band for us. What d’you say we return the favor?”

“What’ve you got in mind, Mister Mayr?” a grizzled fellow on the sidelines hollered back.

“Let’s play them a tune or three of our own,” Bova replied. “Let’s us get ourselves lined up here like respectable gents, and Semel, get the pipers and the drummers and let’s pipe the men to town.”

A ripple of laughter washed over the company closest to Bova and Semel. “That’ll give the girls something to remember through the winter nights,” someone remarked.

“That it will,” Bova said. “Into columns! Where are those pipers?”

The band began to fall into rough columns, and shortly two men with small bagpipes, a couple of drummers, and a fife player gathered at the head of the company. Meanwhile, Bova lifted bags of gear off his charger, loaded them on a pack pony, and climbed into the saddle. Semel scouted up company’s banner, unfurled it from its pole, and handed it up to Bova, who secured it to its saddle, where it waved cheerfully in the crystalline air.

 DESCRIBE THE CHIVAREE

FrustratedWriter

Where did the words GO????

Zzzzzz…. This was where I fell asleep. Gave up. Wrote the second half of the chapter. Went on to some other client’s work. Sent a bill. Came back. Gave up. Did some other paying work. Graded student papers. Came back…and so on. I simply could NOT get past this scene or move on to the next one.

Here’s what happened when I switched from narrative mode to screenplay mode:

Second draft:

Characters

JAG BOVA MAYR OF ROZEBEK, late the recipient of the honorific “Snow-Killer,” a massive chunk of a man with blond hair and a thick, curly blond beard.
SAMEL: Bova’s second-in-command (“monja”)
GRAY-BEARDED REGULAR SOLDIER
Assorted IMPRESSED FIGHTERS in the raiding bands of Rozebek
PIPERS
FIFER
DRUMMERS
LIEZE MAYRETH OF ROZEBEK: Bova’s only wife; in her early 30s, plump, pretty, and self-contained.
ADA: Lieze’s mother; Bova’s mother-in-law, an aging image of her daughter
ERYSA: Bova and Lieze’s elder daughter, a pretty young woman of about 16, as blonde as her father.
MANDEH: Bova and Lieze’s younger daughter, about 12
DEKE: Bova and Lieze’s young son, about 8
TOWNSPEOPLE of various ages and gender
RAND, BELINDEH, and CAMMISH: townspeople assigned to watch duty
WILLARD: Belindeh’s grandson

Scene 1

The crest of a low hill above a fertile valley. At the forested hilltop, birds sing, squirrels call, and a hawk drifts overhead as if watching the procession. Below lie farmlands, pasture, and the town of Rozebek, dominated by its mayr’s keep. The time is past noon on a clear, crisp autumn day. JAG BOVA and SAMEL are leading their rag-tag band of FIGHTING MEN, all of whom are tired and anxious to get home.

As they reach the trail’s summit, they pass a stone watchtower. Its occupants, RAND, BELINDEH, and CAMMISH turn out to welcome them.

RAND is a teenaged boy, BELINDEH a hungry-looking middle-aged woman, and CAMMISH, an old man. They are all dressed in the homespun clothing of the time and place. Like the men, BELINDEH wears rough work dungarees rather than a skirt.

RAND, fairly bouncing out the tower’s door

Mister Mayr! Mr. Samel! God bless you!

BELINDEH, following RAND by some yards, advances to BOVA with arms extended and hugs him.

BELINDEH

Thank God you’re home. Thank God!

BOVA shakes RAND’s hand while he’s being hugged by BELINDEH. CAMMISH, supported by a walking stick and hobbling after the other two, takes SAMEL’s hand and then BOVA’s.

 CAMMISH

Where’ve you been, boys? We’ve been waiting dinner for you so long the food’s gone cold!

 RAND

Where are my brothers? Are they with you, mayr?

 BOVA

Sure they are, lad. They’ll be down the line a ways.

RAND starts to make his way along the trail in search of his returning brothers.

 BELINDEH

And Willard? Did you bring my grandson back to me, Jag Bova?

 BOVA

Yes, ma’am. And hale and hearty he is. In fact, yonder he comes—in search of you, I reckon!

BELINDEH and WILLARD spot each other at the same moment and fall into each others’ arms.

 SAMEL, soto voce, with a look at BOVA

Thank God for small favors.

 BOVA

Getting all three of them back here alive and in one piece is more than a small favor, Sam.

SAMEL responds with an affirmative nod and a grim smile.

 CAMMISH

Tough campaign, was it?

BOVA

Yessir, Mister Cammish. That it was. You’ll be hearing about it soon. And all winter long, I expect.

 CAMMISH

I’m sorry to learn that, Jag Bova. How many men did we lose? If you don’t mind my asking?

 BOVA

Thirty-eight. That’s the ones who made it into the other world. More are coming home wounded. They’ll take some time to heal. Those that ever do.

CAMMISH falls silent briefly, staring toward the village below.

CAMMISH

The boy has already ridden into town on his mule, a-spreadin’ the word that you men be coming up the road. Then he come back to greet you all, looking for his brothers. Listen to that racket down there!

From the distant valley, a sound of music and celebration reverberates up the hillside. The men toward the front who can hear it laugh and jostle. BOVA and SEMEL also smile and look pleased.

 SEMEL, grinning

The party’s started without us.

 FIGHTING MAN 1

Let’s get our asses down there! Don’t want to miss any more than we have to.

 FIGHTING MAN 2

Little Mama’s a-callin’!

MEN break ranks and begin to run or jog ahead, down the trail.

 BOVA

Get a grip on those clowns!

 SEMEL, shouting

Whoa! Settle down there!

Several MEN give SEMEL puzzled glances.

 BOVA, swaggering in front of the restless MEN.

“Now listen to that, boys! The folks have brought out the band for us. What d’you say we return the favor?

 GRAY-BEARDED FIGHTER

What’ve you got in mind, Mister Mayr?

 BOVA

Piper Depositphotos_78899056_m-2015Let’s play them a tune or three of our own. Let’s us get ourselves lined up here like respectable gents, and Semel, call the pipers and the drummers and let’s pipe the men to town!

MEN nearby laugh.

FIGHTER (ironically)

That’ll give the girls something to remember through the winter nights.

BOVA (deadpan straight)

That it will. Into columns! Where are those pipers?

MEN begin to assemble into rough columns while BOVA moves bags from his war horse to a pack pony. Two MEN with small bagpipes approach, followed by two drummers and a fife player. BOVA mounts his horse, and SEMEL hands a banner up to him. BOVA secures it to his saddle. It waves in the light breeze. PIPERS, FIFER, and DRUMMERS strike up a bright marching tune.

They march down the hill in a celebratory mood, the wounded riding in supply wagons. As they approach the town, TOWNSPEOPLE come up the road, dancing to the sound of fiddles, drums, and horns. Women, children, and old men stream into the band of weary, road-worn MEN. Shouts of joy and relief ring out as family members find their wandering men. A few call out names repeatedly, getting no response.

BOVA soon finds LIEZE, ADA and his three children, proceeding up the road amid a knot of followers and friends. The moment LIEZE spots BOVA, she runs through the crowd to greet him. ADA grabs MANDEH and DEKE, murmuring an admonition to let their parents say hello before rushing their father. BOVA looks like he would melt into his wife if he could. He sinks his face in her long chestnut hair, which she has allowed to flow loose for the occasion.

BOVA

Oh, my God, Lieze, I’ve missed you so!

LIEZE hugs him tightly.

LIEZE

We’ve all been worried about you. Thank God you’re home and safe.

BOVA kisses her face and then plants a passionate kiss on her lips. A couple of MEN nearby cheer this. LIEZE blushes. BOVA laughs, takes her hands and spins her around him exuberantly. ADA approaches with the three children.

ADA

Welcome home , son!

ADA and BOVA hug. The three children can no longer be restrained. DEKE jumps on his father, who easily lifts him for a hug. BOVA puts him down and greets MANDEH and ERYSA with hugs, too. The two younger children chatter excitedly at him. ERYSA’s manner is more contained; she has a natural dignity like her mother’s.

The party of townspeople and returning fighters enters the town, many gravitating toward a park and paved square in the town center. BOVA and his family go with them.

LIEZE

We have a wonderful dinner for you—a lovely lamb, and your favorite sweet winter squash, and two grand pecan pies… And we have so much to catch up on. Wait until you hear what the kids have been up to all summer!

BOVA smiles and laughs in undisguised pleasure.

BOVA

What’s this son of mine been up to now?

ADA

He’s started to learn his fencing. Lieze decided he’s getting big enough to start some lessons, so old [NAME] has been coming to the keep every few days to work with him. And he’s been helping Mandeh and Erysa practice with the bow.

BOVA

Is that so? Well, those two could shoot a walnut off a tree. And as for you, Mister Deke, can you hold your own against this Mandeh?

DEKE

O’course I can! I’m so good now, I bet I can beat you, Dad!

BYSTANDERS laugh. MANDEH rolls her eyes heavenward.

§

Castle

Alone among the Okan aristocracy’s fortifications, the Mayr of Rozebek’s keep formed a part of its village.

Interestingly, the stage-play iteration of the scene that I wrote so unhappily came out with a great deal more detail and action, with new characters, and with some convincing forward motion. Writing stage directions forces you to articulate details that one too easily elides in writing narrative, simply because a fiction writer may have the large picture in his head and so presume that everyone else can see it. In a stage or movie script, you have to provide enough specifics to allow a stage designer, a costume designer, a director, actors, and a whole slew of other folks to bring that picture vividly to life for the audience.

The momentum established by the genre switch allowed me to keep rolling into the next scene, which eventually will bring the mayr and mayreth (approximately the equivalent of a Middle English duke and duchess) Jag Bova and Lieze  to the problem of how to address the large number of families whose men were lost during the summer’s disastrous engagement with the enemy.

Third Draft:

Shortly after midday, Jag Bova’s bands of weary, road-worn men crested the pass through the low hills that rose above Rozebek Town. Birds whistled in the hilltop forest, and a squirrel, still busy stashing acorns and pine nuts for winter, chattered shrilly as the men hiked past them. A hawk drifted overhead, looking for all the world like idle curiosity brought it to watching the procession pass.

The autumn afternoon was clear and crisp beneath a sapphire sky, unblemished but for a few distant, fluffy clouds. Below lay farmlands, pasture, and the town of Rozebek, dominated by its mayr’s keep. In the orchards, apple and walnut trees had already dropped their leaves, but here and there a maple or a pear clung to its scarlet and gold.

When he saw the village spread out before them, Bova felt his heart rise. Narrow lanes led out from the town plaza like spokes on a wagon wheel, the spaces between them filled with stone houses built four and six and sometimes even eight to a compound.   Huddled together around common walls, the dwellings gained a little extra shelter from winter’s deepest cold. And there, wrapped within the village, stood his own home, Rozebek Keep. Its high defensive fortifications were built of local gray stone, as was his private family compound’s tower that rose above the stokhed walls.

Alone among the Okan aristocracy’s fortifications, the Mayr of Rozebek’s keep formed a part of its village. The people’s homes came right up to the moat, making the keep an island in a small lake of human activity. Usually a kubnath’s or a mayr’s keep and dwelling stood atop a low rise anywhere from half a mile to two miles from its village. This difference pleased Jag Bova. If anyone disapproved, they hadn’t ventured to complain.

A fieldstone watch tower stood at the height of the pass. Three villagers came out of the door at ground level to greet the arriving fighters. The first, a wiry youth barely more than a boy and not quite a young man, fairly bounced up the road.

“Mister Mayr! Mr. Samel! God bless you.” He bounded over and shook first Bova’s hand, then Samel’s.

The men at the front of the line pushed forward, pleased to see the first of their kin and friends that they’d laid eyes on in five months.

“Would that be Rand the cooper’s boy?” Someone said. Another laughed in unfeigned delight. “You’ve grown a good three inches!”

Shortly behind the lad came a tall, lank, and wrinkled woman clad in rough-cut homespun pants and shirt, her grey hair straggling out beneath a knitted woolen cap. She advanced to Bova with arms extended and wrapped him in a hearty hug.

“Thank God you’re home,” she exclaimed. “Thank God!”

“Sister Belindeh,” Samel greeted her, accepting the next round of handshakes and crushes. “You’ll be doing guard duty now?”

An even more grizzled man hobbled after her, supported by a walking stick. “Where have you been, boys?” the old fellow exclaimed. “We’ve been waiting dinner for you so long the food’s gone cold!”

A ripple of subdued laughter murmured through the men within earshot.

“Where are my brothers?” Rand asked. “Are they with you, mayr?”

“Sure they are, lad” Bova replied. “They’ll be down the line a ways.” Rand made his way up the trail to find his returning relatives.

“And Willard? Did you bring my grandson back to me, Jag Bova,” Belindeh asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Bova said. “And hale and hearty he is. In fact, yonder he comes—in search of you, I reckon.”

Belindeh and Willard spotted each other in the same moment and fell into each others’ arms.

Samel glanced at Bova and said quietly, “Thank God for small favors.”

“Getting all three of them back here alive and in one piece is more than a small favor, Sam.”

His monja nodded and smiled grimly.

“Tough campaign, was it?” the old man asked, overhearing this.

“Yessir, Mister Cammish,” Bova agreed. “That it was. You’ll be hearing about it soon enough. And all winter long, I expect.”

“I’m sorry to learn that, Jag Bova,” said Cammish. “How many men did we lose? If you don’t mind my asking?”

“Thirty-eight. That’s the ones who made it into the other world. More are coming home wounded. They’ll take some time to heal. Those that ever do.”

Cammish fell silent briefly, staring toward the village below. Then he said, “The boy has already ridden into town on his mule, a’spreadin’ the word that you men be climbing up the hill. Then he come back to greet you all, looking for his brothers. Listen to that racket down there!”

A distant sound wafted up the hillside: music. Horns and fiddles, drums and tambourines, whistles and ghitters and recorders and pipes rose a merry clamor down in the village.

Semel, Bova’s monja, grinned when he heard the racket. “The party’s started without us,” he said.

One of the other men overheard and added, “Let’s get our asses down there! Don’t want to miss any more than we have to.”

“Little Mama’s a-callin’,” another voice exclaimed. Here and there, men broke out of line and started to jog ahead.

“Get a grip on those clowns,” Bova said to Semel.

“Whoa! Settle down there!” Semel shouted. A few marchers, rowdy and not inclined to settle anywhere just then, gave him uncertain glances.

“Now listen to that, boys!” Bova hollered. His large presence commanded immediate attention. “The folks have brought out the band for us. What d’you say we return the favor?”

“What’ve you got in mind, Mister Mayr?” a grizzled fellow on the sidelines hollered back.

“Let’s play them a tune or three of our own,” Bova replied. “Let’s us get ourselves lined up here like respectable gents, and Semel, get the pipers and the drummers and let’s pipe the men to town.”

A ripple of laughter washed over the company closest to Bova and Semel. “That’ll give the girls something to remember through the winter nights,” someone remarked, boldly sarcastic.

“That it will,” Bova said. “Into columns! Where are those pipers?”

The band began to fall into rough order, and shortly two men with small bagpipes, a couple of drummers, and a fife player gathered at the head of the company. Meanwhile, Bova lifted bags of gear off his charger, loaded them on a pack pony, and climbed into the saddle. Semel scouted up company’s banner, unfurled it from its pole, and handed it up to Bova, who secured it to its saddle, where it waved cheerfully in the crystalline air.

§

More to come. As you can see, a fair amount more is already in draft, ready to be transposed out of script format into narrative, description, dialogue, and whatnot.

This strategy was time-consuming. But it worked. And I suspect it’s no more time-consuming than sitting for minute after minute and hour after hour staring at an empty page or a blank screen.

If you’re worth your salt as a writer, you’ll write several drafts anyway. Why shouldn’t one of the drafts be in a different genre?

Images
Okan Fall: Shutterstock, © Standret
Piper: DepositPhotos, © khosrork
Writer’s Block: Shutterstock: © MJgraphics
Tower: Shutterstock, © Kazakov Maksim

Kay’s Regrets

Workload here has defied belief. That’s a good thing, I guess, because it’s quickly refilling the corporate coffers, largely emptied in the Amazon venture. But it’s meant no time for dreaming away an afternoon over the next novel or three.

Below, a draft from another subplot of the proposed Fire-Rider sequel. In this vein, Kaybrel struggles with his private demons — possibly echoed by the real-world “demon” Caddy and Seth come up against? — and Jenna and Ani continue their love-bird routine. So many characters developed in the first Fire-Rider story, which ended up as not one but three novels, that I now have way too many ideas for what they might be doing with their lives now that they’re back home in Okan. I suppose I’m going to have to pick three or at most four sub-plotlines to keep the next effort in the corral. Whatever’s left over will have to go into some other, far future novel. 😀

White cows look for food in the snow

Light snow sifted sporadically from a pearl-gray sky over Moor Lek, collecting here and there but not working itself up into any serious drifts. It was the first snowfall of the season to stick on the ground for any length of time. The people of Moor Lek, knowing what was to come, busied themselves at preparing for the deepest part of winter.

Aniel, Kay’s foreman, was working in the barn, adjusting the horses’ shoes for icy conditions. The big gelding draft horse, in particular, needed snowball pads and studs, since he would be pulling a sleigh through snow and also often pulled a wagon or small carriage over the frozen road between Moor Lek Keep and the town. Demon, the great war horse grievously wounded when Kaybrel drove him through the fire to lead the men of Okan and A’o out of harm’s way after the Loma Alda debacle, would go barefoot for the winter, as would the other horses Ani didn’t expect anyone to ride.

A few chickens strutted and clucked around the outbuildings, pecking for stray seeds and bugs. The children’s pet goat also idled about, never averse to a handout. The cows were out to pasture (what remained of it in the deepening cold), and the tame geese paddled in the stock pond, innocent of their destiny as centerpieces, some day, for some midwinter holiday feast.

Vintage wooden Huron snowshoes with leather binding

In the workshop that abutted the barn, Kay tossed another stick of wood into the stove he’d fired up. It helped to keep the chill away. Cold air drifted in through the open door that let in most of the light by which Kay worked.

He was building a pair of snowshoes for Tavi, who had begun working in town for Jehm the weaver and his wife, Nina. The walk from the the defensive rise where the keep stood to the village below was a little over a mile, and if the boy was to walk back and forth six days a week, he would need the “big feet” come the first real snow.

These little domestic jobs were the kind of thing Kay liked. He had split ash strips, steamed them, shaped them into curves in a jig he’d made, and left them to dry. The crossbars were attached, the tail ends secured, and now he was ready to weave the rawhide webbing into place.

He could hear Ani, next door in the barn, whistling to himself as he went about his business, occasionally murmuring encouragement or gentle commands to a horse. One of the farmhands sauntered in through the wide barn door and spoke to Ani. Kay heard Ani tell the man to pump some more water into a horse trough and then go down the south pasture and repair a weakened stretch of fencing.

Kay took a great deal of pleasure in Ani’s presence at Moor Lek, as he had always taken pleasure in him, ever since he had acquired him as a young refugee some years before from Mitchel Kubna of Cham Fos, Kay’s now deceased cousin. Ani, a farm boy from the outset, had grown into a strapping fellow, a more than competent manager for the keep’s farms and ranchlands.

Lengths of rawhide wrapped and tied in place, Kay began plaiting them across a frame. His thoughts wandered.

Pretty much against his will, they wandered back to the House of Puns and to the scene where he and Fol and the A’oan kubna Eddo of Bose had brought word of Rik of Puns’s death to his widowed kubnath, Larel. To what they had said, and to what they had left unsaid.

This short story is a work in progress from a new novel in the Fire-Rider series. In it, Kaybrel struggles with his private demons and Jenna and Ani continue their love-bird routine.

Larel Kubnath of Puns

“How did this ambush come about?” she had asked. “And who were the raiders? Were they Roksandero troops who came after you? Or just some kind of random bandits?”

“We don’t know,” Kay said. “The town the woman decoy called Loma Alda, the one she claimed had been attacked, was abandoned. Had been for some time. We don’t think they were from Roksan, because none of them were wearing Don Consayo’s colors. But the band we encountered up-country, where Jag Bova brought the snow down, they were well equipped. The cavalrymen were armored and they had good horses. They weren’t a bunch of rabble.”

“I see.” She fell silent for a second, seemed to be thinking. Then: “And did the kubna of Puns die honorably?”

“He died defending his men,” Eddo replied. “He was shot off his horse during the hottest part of the battle.”

This, Kay reflected, had been a fuzzy truth. They had no idea how Rik of Puns had died. If anyone had seen him fall, they hadn’t survived to tell the story. Only after the battle had ended and the remaining men standing gathered the wounded and prepared to flee did they find Rik half-conscious in a ditch, the blood of his life soaking into the dirt.

Kay’s disagreement with Rik went unmentioned, as did his opinion of Rik’s idea of “honor” in battle. Nor did they tell her that Rik had died under Kay’s hands, that Kay’s knife digging for the slug in the man’s side may have dispatched him sooner than he would have died, one way or the other. Surely, he thought, by now that bit of intelligence must have reached her.

These kubnaths, the ones born to the rank, were powerful and often daunting women. A kubnath or a mayreth grew up in the same training as a kubna or a mayre, although the emphasis for a girl child would be more on administration, politics, estate management, and justice than on warfare. Still, they did learn to ride and to wield a sword and bow, to build a battle strategy, to take orders and give them, just as their brothers did. Maire, for example, could shoot an arrow as straight as he himself could. And a rifle, too.

The storytellers spoke of a kubnath who would lead her men into battle, way back in the mists of time. Could Maire do that? Would she? He wondered. Probably not. But that Larel…he wouldn’t put it past her. Not only did she run the large and prosperous cowndee of Puns, she also was a religious leader – not a dreamy votary but a pricha, overseer of the cowndee’s several churches and spiritual counselor to her people. That added to her power. Considerably.

In due course, Larel summoned her sister wives, Treese and Dodi, and in the men’s presence she passed their news to the two women. Kay caught a fleeting look pass from Treese to Larel. He wondered then and still wondered what that was about. Instantly, though, Dodi began to weep and sob, distracting attention from whatever was going on between the two older women. Treese wept, too. But Larel did not.

Weeping was not what a kubnath did. Not in front of anyone, at least.

He glanced up from his crafting and saw Jenna approaching the barn. She bore a tray with two pieces of pie and a big teapot from whose spout a delicate wisp of steam rose into the crisp fall air.

“Time for a break, gentlemen,” she called.

§

As Jenna entered the barn, Ani came forward to greet her, his face lit up with a smile. Married over three years, Kay reflected, and still in love with his wife.

Jenna and Ani

…and still in love with his wife…

Well, he was still in love with Maire, and they’d been together longer than that. Maybe it wasn’t so remarkable. Still, he found it good. It was one of the many things, sweet as honey, that made him want to retire from the field. He wanted to stay home with his family at Moor Lek for the rest of his life.

Kay set the snowshoe frame down and followed Jenna into the barn, where the two men sat down at a small, rough-hewn work table. Jenna set the plates of pie in front of them and poured hot herbal tea into a pair of tin cups. Then she pulled up a milking stool and kept them company while they ate.

“Are we going to the autumn rodeo at Silba Lek?” she asked.

“Well, sure,” said Kay.

“Fal is going to take those nags he picked up at Lek Doe,” said Ani. “I don’t want to miss seeing them in action.”

“No, indeed,” Jenna agreed. “Speaking of horses,” she added, “do you think you’ll be done with your chores while it’s still light out?”

“Could be,” Ani said. At this time of year, with the crops in, splits collected from and redistributed to the cowndee’s townspeople and farmsteads, and most of the winter’s wood chopped and split, the workload slacked off. Sometimes he could quit working early, though usually he would find enough to do to keep himself busy until sundown.

“How about we go for a ride this afternoon, then?”

“Today?” Ani mocked surprise.

“Today,” she said.

“We could probably do that,” he said as he finished up his pie and stacked Kay’s empty plate atop his own.

Kay noticed a little twinkle in Ani’s eye and remembered long, lazy rides through the countryside with Sellie,* so long ago, in a different lifetime. She rode a pretty paint with a smooth, easy gait, an animal she handled well and that, he thought, was almost as pretty as she was. In its way.

“If we’re going out this afternoon, then I’d better get back to work now,” Ani said. He stood, wiped his hands on his work pants, and gave Jenna a peck on the cheek.

“Good!” she said. “I’ll let Maire know.”

That meant, Kay thought as he ambled back to the workshop, he and Maire would have the kids this afternoon. But they might be napping, if Ani and Jenna got an early enough start. That could be interesting.

§

This distraction over and possibly a better distraction in the offing, Kay returned to his work. He had about completed one snowshoe—just a little more remained to fill in the webbing. He set it aside to attend to a still that gently percolated atop the wood-burning stove. The fire’s temperature needed to be watched and kept fairly steady. Too much heat could ruin the distillation; too little would cause it to fail.

Kaybrel the Healer (from the Fire-Rider series)

Kaybrel the Healer

The medicament this would make, when infused with three of the curative herbs that grew in his garden, could soothe rashes ranging from poison oak to impetigo and even, he’d discovered by accident, eliminate dandruff in one’s beard. He liked to have plenty of this dandy snake oil on hand.

Too bad, he thought, too bad he didn’t have some potion that would stanch bleeding. If the Bishop, his mentor during his too-short time within the walled stae’ of Uda, knew of any such thing, he hadn’t taught it to Kay. Maybe he could have saved Rik’s life if he’d had something that would work that way.

Not that Rik of Puns was one of God’s finest gifts to this world. Still…

Did Rik die, he wondered, because of what I did? Did he die because of what I didn’t do? Because of what I didn’t say? Like a dog worrying an old bone, he couldn’t let it go. Try as he might to bury it, the thing wouldn’t stay buried.

That old man who had come out of the bush to beg the Hengliss bands to spare his family’s farmstead…what had Kay been thinking to tell him to take his people into the hills after Lhored had ordered him to tell the man, in Espanyo, to send his young men down—to be killed, obviously—and then maybe the place would not be leveled?

Into the hills? For God’s sake. From the hills they would have been able to observe which way the bands went. They would have seen where the Okan and A’oan warriors were headed and by which route.

The horse tracks in the barn that Kay and Fal rousted…at least two, maybe three animals had been taken out of there very recently, probably as the Hengliss bore down on the place. The old man had come back on foot. So who rode those horses?

Did Fal realize that someone must have headed out from the farm on horseback shortly before the war party arrived? Did he sense that Kay had told the old man something different from what Lhored asked him to say?

Did Fal, even though he couldn’t understand enough Espanyo to ask politely for a roll in the hay, guess that Kay had lied about what he’d said, and about the old man’s response?

He had lied to another kubna. Worse, to his own brez.

Did that lie bring the disaster of Loma Alda down on their heads?
___________
*One of Kay’s first wives, long deceased.

This is a work in progress from a new novel in the Fire-Rider series. To get the back-story, grab one, two, or (preferably!) all three of the stories in print now: The Saga Begins, Fire and Ice, and Homeward Bound. You can get all three at Amazon (live links in the right-hand sidebar →), or, if you’d like a print copy, get in touch through our Contact page. A tale of the Tale can be found here, and to see all the Plain & Simple Press offerings, fiction and nonfiction, visit our Books page.

Homeward Bound Fire-Rider collected storiesOther Fire-Rider riffs available here at the P&S News blog:

The Battle of Loma Alda
Retreat into the Mountains
Women Warriors of the North
Seth
Banshee

Images
From DepositPhotos:

Snowshoes, PixelsAway
Cows in snow, Clearview Stock
Larel Kubnath of Puns, Logvinyukyulla
Jenna and Ani, SolominVictor
From Shutterstock:
Kaybrel the Healer, CaptBlack76

Fire-Rider: Banshee

Alas, your revered publisher has been remiss in posting the promised weekly — make that “monthly” — riff from future Fire-Rider tales. So much paying work has come flooding in to our parent company, The Copyeditor’s Desk, that I’ve had no time to do anything more than cope with the tsunami. But we have a brief respite before the next two projects hit the beach, so now’s our chance to play for a bit!

SethYou’ll recall that Seth, ranch foreman for Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells, visited the fur and clothing shop run by Caddy and Linaya, one a huntress and the other a tanner and tailor. Caddy, daughter of Fallon’s man for all seasons Tobias, baffles Seth: he doesn’t know quite what to make of a woman who seems to be, as he privately opines, “all boy.” But she has reported seeing a wild woman running loose on the northern range, and Seth, as concerned about poaching as about the stranger’s welfare at the start of an ice-age winter, has suggested that the two of them go in search of her.

Caddy agrees, and the two head out together for the trapper woman’s most distant hunting ground.

Caddy was right, as Seth knew she would be, when she said the day would be too short to give enough light for them to make a round trip from her trapper’s cabin to the section of her trapline where she had seen the woman. Under a cloud cover, darkness came in long before they began to feel tired. They had gathered several rabbits and a mean wolverine from Caddy’s traps. And she had surprised Seth by releasing a coyote, uninjured, from a trap.

Excerpt from a Fire-Rider short story: She had surprised Seth by releasing a coyote, uninjured, from a trap.“Why didn’t you kill it?” he asked, an edge of annoyance to his voice.

“Why should I?” she returned. “There are no lambs or calves out here. He’s not doing us any harm. Just going about his business, hunting—like you and me.”

Seth couldn’t think of an answer offhand and he sensed that if he could, he probably should keep it to himself.

As they hiked across the coarsely forested landscape, they searched for tracks and spoor that might alert them to the stranger’s presence. They found precious little.

At one point Seth, frustrated with the absence of any clue at all, asked her if she was sure she hadn’t seen a deer in the gloaming.

“Well, sir,” she said, “I’ve been making my living as a hunter and trapper for upwards of ten years. Think I know what a deer looks like by now.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied. “I reckon so.”

They continued in silence, walking northward over light snow and the occasional damp humousy forest floor.

It was strangely quiet, Caddy thought. No birdcalls. Not even the sound of the breeze sifting through the pine and juniper. Maybe it was just because it was so still this afternoon. With no wind to cover the racket of the two of them tromping around, they must sound like a herd of bulls moving through the brush. Must have scared off the wildlife.

This far north, miles above Cheyne Wells, they were approaching the edge of the permanent ice sheet. Most of the little streams were frozen by now, although a few still trickled with pale blue-green glacier melt.

“What do you say we camp here?” Seth said. They had come upon a dry, level patch where a partially flowing stream had cut in below the bank.

Caddy agreed that it was a good spot. They unloaded the two mules and pitched their lodges. Caddy had picked up some firewood and kindling as they passed through the occasional copse. She set a campfire going while Seth climbed down into the riverbed with a couple of buckets to fetch some water for cooking.

She had just got the tinder lit beneath the kindling when she heard Seth call her. “Come on over here, will you?” he yelled.

“What is it?” she asked as she approached.

“Easy,” he said. “Don’t step over there.” He indicated the running water’s icy margin. “Take a look at this.”

He pointed to a smudged, half-filled-in set of tracks in the mud. The cold ground and water had pretty well obscured most of them, but they could make out a few. “Bet this is your girl,” he said.

“What on earth?” She knelt beside them to get a closer look. “Those look like toes. She’s barefooted? In the snow?”

“Did she not have shoes on when you saw her?”

“Well, I…come to think of it, I couldn’t tell you. She was a distance away. She had on trousers and a jacket made of skins. With fur on them. And she had scraggly hair flying around her head. I didn’t notice what she had on her feet.”

“Huh. Maybe she came down here to wash or something.”

“In this kind of chill? She’d have to be even crazier than she looked.”

Footprints in snowCaddy studied the tracks. Then she stood and set her own foot next to one. “Her foot is bigger than mine, even with my boot on,” she said.

Seth nodded.

“I’d have sworn she wasn’t any bigger than me,” she said.

“Hard to tell, from a ways off,” Seth replied.

“I guess,” she said.

“Maybe she has a man with her.”

“Wouldn’t you think we’d see more sign, if two of them were out here?”

“Don’t know. Maybe not, if they’re watching us.”

“Cripes.” She looked around. With dusk settling in, not much was to be seen. “Let’s get back up to the camp.”

§

Caddy butchered a rabbit that she had gutted and skinned after retrieving it from a trap, and they cooked it over the campfire. They simmered some grain in the water Seth had carried up from the stream and, as darkness closed in around them, enjoyed a decent enough meal.

After they gathered their provisions and hoisted them, packed in a bag, onto a tree limb out of bear’s reach, they sat down to enjoy the last of the campfire’s warmth. Seth offered to share a pipe of imp with Caddy.

“No, thank you,” she said. “I like to keep my edge sharp when I’m out here in the bush.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” he agreed, though he declined to take the advice to heart just then. “It’s kind of dangerous to come out here alone.”

Forest Lakes“I expect,” she said, with a barely perceptible shrug. “Truth to tell, I enjoy being out in the bush on my own. There’s something about the solitude…and the wild—it’s good.”

A born mountain man, Seth reflected silently. He wondered where she picked up such a thing. Certainly not from Tobias, who was not what anyone would call the outdoor type.

“Must have been a surprise to find you had company,” he remarked.

“You surely could say that!” She laughed.

“And it wasn’t a bear?” he asked, after a moment had passed.

One of the mules nickered. Then a single loud bray burst out. Caddy stared into the darkness. The two of them fell silent, listening.

Hearing nothing more, she replied, “I reckon not. Did those tracks down by the water look like bear to you?”

“Nope.”

He puffed on his pipe, soaking up the mellow, sweetish smoke.

“What d’you suppose she’s doing out here, running around barefoot in the snow?” he said.

“Can’t imagine,” said Caddy. “Probably some crazy hermit. Maybe she’s talking to God.”

“Must be trying to talk Him into taking her into the next world.”

She chuckled quietly and picked up a stick to stir the fire’s embers. An owl hooted in the distance.

Then her hand froze in place.

Out of the blackness came a loud, shrill scream, followed by a long and mournful wail:

eeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEoooooooooooooooooo

“That’s strange,” said Seth.

“It is odd,” Caddie agreed.

Down the way, their two mules jostled each other, yanked against their tethers. If they hadn’t been hobbled as well as tethered, they would have bolted.

“What do you suppose it was?” Seth asked.

“Probably a cougar. Maybe a bobcat. They make crazy noises when they’re in heat.”

“Now? It’s wintertime. I never heard of a cat coming into season in early winter.”

Cougar“’Tis a little off-season,” she said. “But you never know. Sounds like a lady lion squalling, to me.”

“Maybe it’s caught in one of your traps.”

“Don’t have any big enough to hold a lion around here.”

Seth hauled himself to his feet.

“Going to turn in?” Caddy asked.

“Not quite yet,” he said. “I want to check on them mules.”

She got up, took her bow in hand, and followed him into the darkness beyond the fire’s circle of light.

Both animals were nervous and jittery. Seth’s mule showed the whites of his eyes in the faint glimmer of the campfire, yards distant from where the two beasts were tethered.

“Whoa, Jonniboy, easy now,” Seth crooned as he approached them.

“It’s gotta be a lion,” said Caddy. “We should take them over near the lodges.” She moved closer to her own animal, which she called Molly.

“Careful. Be sure she can see you come up on her. They’re pretty spooked—she could kick.”

Caddy stepped out and away from Seth to put herself firmly in Molly Mule’s line of sight. Just as she did, out of the corner of her eye she saw a black shape plunge out of the tree that sheltered the stock.

Before she could utter a sound, the shadow slammed down on top of Seth.

silhouette of man in dark atmosphere

Flattened on the ground, face-down, Seth struggled to regain the breath that was knocked out of him. Before he could begin to figure out what was happening, the thing attacked him. He felt blows—kicks?—to his back, and it—a woman, could this possibly be a wild woman?—had its hands around his neck, squeezing.

He shoved an elbow backward, made contact, hard enough to loosen the grip around his throat for an instant, long enough to gasp in some air.

“Caddy! Run, girl!” he cried before the hands closed around neck again. Maybe she’s already taken off, he thought. He fought to turn over and shove his assailant away. The harder he fought, the heavier the other seemed to get. Air cut off, Seth was drifting into unconsciousness.

So this is what it’s like to die, he thought, strangely calm, even uncaring. Dying didn’t seem to matter…though he wouldn’t mind taking this other with him.

The weight on top of him seemed to grow heavier, heavier and quieter. It stank, smelled of musk, skunky. Limp, it was. It was rolling off him.

Caddy was there, kicking hard at something.

“Seth!” He heard her call his name. “Seth, for God’s sake. Answer me.”

His lungs drew a breath of cold air into his chest, and he grunted.

“Are you all right, man? Come on…get up!” She was kneeling beside him and shaking him, as if to wake him from a sound sleep. Had he dreamed it all?

He pulled himself up on his elbows.

“Can you speak?” Caddy prodded him. “Come on, Seth, answer me.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah.” He rolled over and sat up. “What the hell?

His attacker lay beside and partly across him, an arrow through the back and another through the side of the ribcage.

He pulled free of the other’s weight.

“Seth. Are you all right?”

“Holy God,” he said. “What is that?”

“I don’t know. Just tell me if you’re all right. Can you stand up?”

“Think so. Give me a hand, girl.”

She took his arm and pulled him to his feet.

They stood and stared at the dead thing on the ground.

“What in the name of God is that?” Seth wondered.

“It’s not a woman, is it?” Caddy replied. Covered with thick, long fur, it had distinctly unfeminine gonads. The mane growing out of its head and neck had looked to Caddy, from a distance, like a woman’s hair flying in the wind.

“No, ma’am, it’s not.”

They stood back and looked at the body.

A silhouette of an archer, on the backdrop of a sky with exploding gun powder.

“Did you kill it?” he asked.

“Wasn’t anybody else around to do it.”

“Not bad marksmanship,” he said.

“Thank you, sir,” she said.

“What the hell do you think it is?”

“Don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like it. Maybe it’s some kind of a bear.”

He studied the corpse. “That’s no bear,” he said. “Look at its paws. It doesn’t have claws. For godsake, it has fingernails.”

A short story: Fire-Rider Banshee“It must be some kind of deformed, crazed hermit.”

“No. Whatever it is, it’s not a person.”

“Maybe it’s a demon,” she said.

“God help us.”

“It’s not human. It’s not an animal. What else can it be?”

“I don’t know. But if we let something like that get out, we’ll find ourselves in trouble.”

They stood staring in awe at the inert form, its face almost human but yet not, massive and hulking, its body covered in coarse hair.

“But how could it be a demon?” Caddy resumed. “An arrow through its heart wouldn’t have killed it. Because it wouldn’t have a heart.”

He glanced at her in brief amazement. “Well,” he said, “if it’s some kind of a critter, then likely there’s more than one of them out here.”

“Maybe,” she replied. “Hope not.”

He considered the arrows in the creature’s back and chest. Either of them would have killed it. She must have drawn and shot her second arrow in less than an instant after she got the first off. Both hit home. By firelight.

“Caddy,” he said, “where did you learn to shoot like that?”

“I dunno,” she replied. “Taught myself. It’s not very hard, you know.”

“You have one hell of an aim.”

“Practice,” she said.

Seth stood staring at the corpse. “Are you all right?” Caddy asked him.

“I think so,” he replied. “Don’t think anything’s broken. Well…maybe a rib or two.”

“Let’s go back to the camp. I’ll wrap your chest with some strip bandages, and we can check you over by the fire. C’mon—I’ll come back and get the livestock.”

“We’d better take them with us now,” he said. “They’re already spooked. Leave them here with that dead thing, whatever it is, and they’ll be crazy wild by the time you get back.”

She gave Seth her bow to carry, released the leather hobbles from the mules’ feet, and took their leads in hand. They walked back to where the lodges stood next to the waning campfire. Caddy didn’t like the looks of Seth’s stiff gait. If he was pained now, what shape would he be in by the light of dawn?

The animals re-hobbled, she dug out her first-aid bag and helped Seth out of his jacket and shirt. He was bruised, scratched, and gouged, but not too much the worse for wear. She guessed. If he had a broken rib, to say nothing of two, that might not be good. But one way or the other, about all she could do was bind him up and pray for the best.

“Caddy,” he said as she was tending to him, “you shouldn’t be out here alone. You need to have someone with you when you come up the traplines.”

“Well, that wouldn’t be very practical,” she replied. “Can’t very well have some guy out here stomping around the woods with me. Takes some quiet and finesse to do this job.”

“You could bring Linaya with you,” he suggested.

She rolled her eyes and gave him a look. “That would be like bringing the barn cat!”

“Better than being alone.”

“Don’t think so. Linnie couldn’t even begin to keep up with me. Besides, we couldn’t make a living that way. She makes all our stock from the hides I bring home. And she runs the store—she’s the one who’s selling everything I bring back.”

“It doesn’t strike me as very safe, Caddy. If there’s more than one of the them things…what are you going to do if something like that jumps you when you’re out here by yourself?”

“I’ll have to deal with that when it happens. And, my friend, let’s not tell Linaya too much about this, if you don’t mind. It’ll just worry her.”

He fell silent, flummoxed. She finished wrapping his ribs and tied off the length of bandaging. Seeing his look of frank disapproval, she persisted: “Come on, Seth. It’s not like I’m the only hunter out here. The place is crawling with cowboys chasing steers, fishermen, other hunters…”

“Uh huh,” he said. “Well, I’m telling my guys to work in pairs after this.”

“Good luck with that!” She laughed. “You can tell them, but d’you think they’ll do it?”

“All it will take is for one man to get killed, and you bet they will.”

Huntress Depositphotos_99552390_l-2015Caddy frowned. “We’d better take that critter’s body back into town with us,” she said. “Or at least its head. Otherwise, nobody’s going to believe us.”

“Yep,” he said. “Right now, though, I need to lie down for a spell. But we’d better have one or the other of us keeping watch through the night.”

“Same thought occurred to me. I’ll take the first watch.”

“Wake me along about midnight.”

“Surely,” she said. If Seth had been Linaya, he would have recognized Caddy’s tone as one she used when she meant exactly the opposite of what she said.

This is an excerpt from a future volume of the Fire-Rider saga, yet to be published. Don’t miss the first three Fire-Rider novels, The Saga Begins, Fire and Ice, and Homeward Bound. Available in handsome print versions here at Plain & Simple Press or in Kindle format through Amazon.

2 FR Hard No 2 Take 4 FRONT COVER

Images
Seth: Depositphotos, © PEPPERSMINT
Coyote: Coyote profile: Christopher Bruno. StockXCHNG. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Footprints in Snow: Shutterstock, © Valentyn Volkov

There’s something about the solitude: Shutterstodk: © Chokniti Khongchum
Night forest: Depositphotos, © kohy81
Bow at night: Depositphoros, thefinalmiracle
Caddy: Depositpbhotos: Huntress. OlgaOsadchaya

Seth

This short out-take from the next Fire-Rider book takes place in the village of Cheyne Wells, where Seth talks to the Huntress Caddy.This short out-take from the next Fire-Rider book takes place in the village of Cheyne Wells. Seth is the ranch foreman for Fallon Mayr of Cheyne Wells, whose vast holdings extend to the edge of the northern glacial ice sheet.

Linaya and Caddy are a lesbian couple. They support themselves by selling clothing and other supplies made from hides brought in by Caddy, a skilled trapper. Caddy also is the daughter of Tobias, Fallon’s dwarfish household manager and, in the hierarchy of the mayr’s servants, Seth’s opposite number.

Seth has long regarded Caddy with a degree of curious skepticism — “all boy” has been his opinion of her — but that is about to change.

§ § §

Seth stepped inside Linaya and Caddy’s taxidermy, fur, and clothing shop, one of Cheyne Wells’ most prosperous businesses. A stuffed owl watched him through yellow quartz eyes while a long-defunct marten stalked a nonexistent rodent across a dusty tabletop. A stack of fur rugs occupied one corner, near another pile of sheepskins. Fur- and fleece-lined coats and jackets hung from wooden rods that spanned the cave-like store, and a set of shelves displayed a collection of warm fur hats. A musty, leathery scent filled the space. Set in the center of the store, a small wood-burning stove provided nominal warmth.

A fox enjoying the season's first snowfallThe season’s first real snowfall (as opposed to rain spitting ice) had let up, leaving a thin layer of white on the ground. Though Seth felt no fondness for dim enclosed places, he was glad to get inside where the chill had been taken off. With winter coming in, Linaya’s thick, richly lined jackets looked mighty appealing. He considered whether he could buy one. What would the women take in trade for one of those fine sheepskin jackets with fox or rabbit fur lining the hood?

A tinny bell rang when he opened the door. In due time Linaya, tall and slender with aquiline features and dark, short-cropped curly hair, entered through the back door.

“Well, Seth!” she said. “How good to see you!” She sounded genuinely pleased to find him in her shop.

After some small talk, maybe too brief on Seth’s part, he asked if Caddy was there.

“She is,” said Linaya. “We’ve been outside tanning some pelts.” She stepped to the back door and called to Caddy.

Shortly, the trapper woman appeared. Seth towered over her, as he towered over her father, Tobias. She wore her straight blond hair shoulder-length; this afternoon she had on a fur-trimmed wool cap, as if to hold the hair in place while she worked.

Linaya sat them at a table behind the stove and poured a couple of mugs of hot apple cider.

“So,” Caddy asked, after greetings had been exchanged, “what can I do for you, Seth?”

He liked that she went straight to the point. Few things made Seth more uncomfortable than trying to dream up polite, mindless things to say by way of backing in to whatever really needed to be said.

“You recall a few weeks back, you mentioned a wild woman out on the range.”

“Yes, I do recall,” she said. “My dad said he wasn’t sure you believed me.”

“No reason not to,” he replied. “I think we ought to try to track her down. If there is some woman wandering around out there, she’ll be like to die in the winter. If she doesn’t freeze to death, she’ll starve.”

“Could be,” said Caddy. “Maybe that’s the way she wants it.”

Maybe, he thought. But was that a reason to leave her out there in the snow? “One way or the other, I don’t want our livestock poached. Did you see any dead cows or horses?”

“Nope. But I saw a doe that something had taken down. It was partly eaten.”

“Hmh. Next thing you know, it’ll be a steer. Or one of Fallon’s fancy new horses.”

She considered: he had a point. Cattle and horses were valuable commodities. It wouldn’t do to have a neighbor lose one to some half-crazed soul roaming around the bush. Especially when that neighbor happened to be the local warlord.

“Well,” she said, “where I saw her was a far piece up on one of the traplines. I couldn’t really tell you how to find the place. I’d have to take you there and show you.”

“I think I could manage that,” Seth replied.

A fellow hunter: Beautiful lynx cub sits in the cold snow

A fellow hunter

“It was way north, where I saw her,” Caddy said. “I have a cabin on my main trapline. But the place was far enough away that at this time of year we probably can’t get up there from the cabin and back before nightfall. Especially if any weather comes up. So we’ll need to bring a lodge.”

Across the room and out of Caddy’s line of sight, Linaya raised an eyebrow. What Caddy didn’t see, Seth did.

“I’ll borrow Fallon’s—I’m sure he’ll lend it to me at this time of year. Then we’ll have two: one for you, one for me. And I’ll bring a mule that’s strong enough to carry them both, as long as we pack our food and other gear on our backs.”

“That’s very kind of you, Seth,” she said. “I’ll bring my own mule to haul my traps and provisions for us. We’ll need supplies for a couple of weeks, maybe three.”

“Good enough. When will you be ready to go?”

“I’d like to leave soon, before a heavy snow falls. But first I have to finish preparing some hides for Linnie to work with. That’ll take two and a half, three days. How about we plan on four days from now?”

“Good!” he said. “We leave the morning of the fourth day from today.” He extended a hand as he would to a man, for, after all, she was a kind of man, he supposed.

She stood and took his hand in a firm and friendly grip. “The fourth day, then.” A broad, frank smile crossed her face, and in that moment her eyes lit up, the brightest sky blue he thought he’d ever seen.

This is a free, monthly riff on the Fire-Rider saga, the story of a post-Global Warming people living in a far distant ice age. The story of Caddy, Seth, and Linaya will appear in the fourth volume. Just now, volumes I through III can be had at Amazon or, in print, at Plain & Simple Press. You can see all our offerings at our Books page, and order any of them in print by sending a message through our contact form.

Her eyes lit up, the brightest blue sky he thought he'd ever seen

The brightest sky blue he thought he’d ever seen

Images: DepositPhotos
Snowy Owl. Jim_Filim
Lynx. kjekol
Huntress. OlgaOsadchaya

Shutterstock
Red Fox. Jolanda Aalbers

Curious about what happens next?
Check out the next episode in the tale of Seth, Caddy, & Linayat

 

Woo Hoo! ALL of Fire-Rider’s in Print!

We’re happy to announce the print publication of the entire Fire-Rider saga, in three handsome paperback volumes. Available in print only through Plain & Simple Press, the three books tell the story of allied warrior bands making their way through a post-civilized future world.

Over at Amazon, the Fire-Rider tales are already earning some kind praise:

Reminds me of Robert Adams’ Horseclans series in the way you can dimly see the strands of our present world shimmering in the fabric of a far-future United States. . . .

What would our world be like if civilization failed? . . . A bit like David Brin’s The Postman only darker and more adult themes.

Don’t miss the print books! Read them. Show them off. Get sand in them at the beach. Drop your popcorn on them. Read them in the bathtub. Drop them on the floor. Lend them to your friends. Leave them to your heirs. They’re all yours, and they’re not inside an electronic device!

And the price is right! By ordering now, you can get all three books for what it would cost to download 18 serials into a Kindle. Without having to pay for a Kindle… 😉

To get your copy, drop us a line through our Contact page.

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Women Warriors of the North


A free Fire-Rider short story: Women Warriors of the NorthLike their brothers, fathers, and husbands, the women of the Great Lacuna‘s warrior class — the kubnaths and mayreths, depending on their inherited rank — were trained in the arts of war. A few, such as Bett Kubnath of Huam Prinz and Cham Fos, were renowned for a certain ferocity of character. But, Hapa Cottrite tells us in his journals, “rare it was for a woman warrior to lead a band into the field.” Rather, they served as administrators, judges, and (at least in some cases) absolute monarchs. The women decided who got what portions of the shared crops and war booty (“splits”). The women heard the people’s cases in law and decided whose plea held the most weight. The women assessed claims of evil-doing and passed judgment on those found to have erred.

In a distinctive vignette from the Cottrite Chronicles, Lieze Mayreth of Rozebek awaits the return of her spouse, Jag Bova Mayr of Rozebek, delayed by the troubles of Loma Alda and Lek Doe. This passage is especially significant for the insight it gives to the marital customs of the Great Lacuna, a time when women far outnumbered the men, who had been picked off by disease, war, and the harsh conditions of the Ice Age.


A free Fire-Rider short story: Woman Warriors of the North. Broad, spreading fields...

Broad, spreading fields…

Lieze stood at an upper window of Rozebek Keep and gazed out over the broad, spreading fields toward the distant blue mountains. As the days grew shorter, she reflected, the problem grew larger.

What to do? she wondered. And where was Jag Bova? When would he be home? The men should at least have reached Krens by now, and really they ought to be at Oane Lek. But surely, if the bands of Oane Lek and Puns had arrived at Oane Lek Town, some word of it would have reached Rozebek.

Lieze’s mother, Ada, came into the hall and found her daughter staring pensively into the distance.

“I can’t remember the men ever being this late before,” Ada said, reading her thought.

“’Tis passing strange,” Lieze replied. “I hope they’re all right.”

“I’m sure they are.”

The two women descended the curving stairway, its heavy oaken banister tracing an elegant arc from the second story to the ground floor. There they found Lieze and Jag Bova’s two daughters and young son tossing a ball around the great hall.

“Take it outside, please,” Lieze exclaimed. “You know better than that!”

“But Mother, it’s cold outdoors,” Mandeh protested. At twelve the younger of the two girls, Mandeh was always full of ginger—and backtalk.

“Well, put on your jacket then, dear,” said Lieze. “It’s a lovely fall day. And it won’t hurt any of you to get some fresh air.”

A free Fire-Rider short story: Woman Warriors of the North. Erysa's favorite pony.

Erysa’s favorite pony

Erysa, the older sister, began to shepherd the other two outside, handing her little brother Deke a coat and knitted wool scarf, passing another jacket to Mandeh, and wrapping herself in a warm fleece sweater and matching hat.

Lieze poured a couple of mugs of hot minted apple cider, and the women sat down at the kitchen table. They watched the children through one of the tall, narrow windows that looked out onto the keep’s courtyard.

“You know,” Ada observed, “it’s about time to think about choosing a husband for Erysa.”

“Oh, my, I don’t think so, Mother,” Lieze replied. “She’s only sixteen.”

“She’ll be seventeen next spring, by wedding season.”

Lieze gazed at the lithe girl beneath the window. If “girl” the child was, she thought, she wouldn’t be for much longer. Erysa already looked like a young woman. Albeit a very young one.

“I was nineteen when I married Jag Bova,” she said.

“Yes,” Ada allowed. “But Erysa is quite pretty. She’s already started to attract the boys’ attention.” Erysa had her father’s honey-blonde hair and blue eyes. Though she was a sturdy, healthy girl, she hadn’t inherited Bova’s massive build. Her budding femininity lent grace and sweetness to her slender frame.

“Oh, so I wasn’t pretty enough to need to be married off early?” Lieze said in a mock tiff.

“That’s not what I meant!” said Ada. Lieze tried to suppress a smile at her mother’s defensive response. “Erysa’s a beautiful girl because you were a beautiful young woman. And I wasn’t half-bad, either, when I was that age.”

“Well, when Bova gets back, maybe we should start to talk about it.” She had no intention of bringing the subject up, and she hoped Ada would forget it before long.

“Meanwhile,” Lieze continued, “we need a plan for bringing in the harvest. Here’s what I have in mind.”

A free Fire-Rider short story: Woman Warriors of the North. Harvest time.

Harvest time

She outlined a strategy that had come to her while she lay awake at night: They would recruit every able-bodied elderman, woman, and half-grown child on the nearby farms and from the town and divide them into teams. Each group would be assigned to visit a number of farms, over a couple of weeks, and help the residents reap the harvest and pick the fruit. Many hands, she observed, make short work—and despite the absence of the men of fighting age, enough town and farm dwellers remained to make up at least three or four teams.

“It’s a good idea, in theory,” Ada said, after hearing her daughter out. “But most of these people have shops to run, wood to chop for winter, kitchen gardens to bring in and preserve, and families to tend to. How are you going to persuade them to go out into the fields for days on end?”

“Give them extra splits,” said Lieze. Splits were the shared goods owed from every individual to the mayr or kubna. These were organized and redistributed back to the community, the recipient returning half of the take to his or her followers in a way that the leader deemed fair.

“Ho!” Ada laughed. “Bova will love that!”

Lieze, too, had considered the reaction her husband might have. “But Bova’s not here,” she said. “And wherever he is, he doesn’t have to deal with a fall harvest that’s about to rot or freeze on the vine.

“Besides, we have more than enough to get through the winter. We’re not going hungry. And this is exactly the kind of situation that splits are supposed to help with. We’ll give each family an extra share or two, depending on how many people they can muster.”

“And do you have in mind that we’ll join one of these ‘teams,’ too?”

“Sure enough,” said Lieze.

“If you’re going to have Erysa out there picking apples or some such, then someone—either you or I—will have to keep an eye on her. It sounds like a fair way to bring home a haystack baby.”

“I have a little more faith in her than that,” Lieze replied. But she knew the older woman was right. Erysa surely would have to be in good company at all times. “Here’s what,” she proposed: “Erysa and Deke will come with me, and Mandeh will stay here with you to help pick and put up the kitchen garden vegetables and berries.”

“That’s quite a job,” said Ada.

“Yes. But it’ll get done. Mandeh’s plenty big enough now to help with both the harvesting and the canning. You can teach her whatever she doesn’t remember from last fall.

“And with her little brother underfoot, Erysa’s not likely to get into much mischief, even if she does manage to slip out of my sight.”

Pleased with the ingenuity of this scheme, the two women lingered over their warm cider.

“It’ll be lovely to spend a whole day with just one of the grand-daughters,” Ada said.

“Yes. I know she’ll enjoy it,” Lieze replied. “I appreciate your being here to do it.”

“That reminds me,” Ada returned. “There’s something else I’ve been wanting to talk with you about.”

Uh oh, Lieze thought. Now what?

“I’ve been thinking, dear. You know, I’m not going to be here forever. It won’t be long before the time will come for me to move on to the next world.”

“Mother! What a thing to say…are you feeling ill? Is something the matter?”

“No, dear. I’m fine. It’s just that…well, nothing lasts forever. All things come to an end. We need to be realistic about that.”

“It’s not what I’d like to dwell on,” Lieze said. “Certainly not now, with so much to have to do.”

“And there’s the point: when I’m gone, you’re still going to have all these things to cope with. Don’t you think it’s getting to be time to think about choosing a second wife for Jag Bova?”

Lieze looked at her mother with something like shock in her face.

“A junior wife?”

“I can’t think of a better time,” Ada said. “Better now than after I’m dead and gone and you have no one to help you.”

“Well, no,” Lieze admitted. “I hadn’t thought about it. We’re doing fine right now. And I’d just as soon not share my husband, if I don’t have to.”

“Right now we’re handling the work, that’s so,” Ada agreed. “But in a few years, as I get older or pass, that will change. Besides, a younger wife helps to keep a man at home. She gives you some relief—in more ways than one.”

Lieze blushed. “I don’t feel any need to be relieved,” she said.

“Not yet. But when the change comes, then you may change your opinion.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Lieze rolled her eyes and laughed. “Who do you have in mind?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I suggested you might want to start thinking about it.”

Truth to tell, Lieze thought, her mother had something there: now that Erysa was almost grown, she could take on a fair amount of the work, and she had become a big help. Whether or not they put any thought into the matter now, in just two or three years, the girl would be a woman and a wife—in her own or another woman’s household. Maybe Ada was right. Maybe they needed a junior wife at Rozebek Keep.

Maybe not, too.

On the other hand, if Ada took on the project of finding Jag Bova a second wife, it would distract her from trying to marry off Erysa.

A free Fire-Rider short story: Woman Warriors of the North. Fall in Okan.

Fall in Okan


This tale is a riff on the Fire-Rider saga, an all NEW, unpublished, an original bit of insight into the people, the times, and the story of the Great Lacuna. For more, check out the Fire-Rider saga described on our Books page, or buy the Kindle books at Amazon:

The Saga Begins
Fire and Ice
Homeward Bound

Images, Shutterstock:

Woman of Okan: © 2016 Jozef Klopacka
Broad, spreading fields: © 2016 Nikiforov Alexander
Erysa’s pony: © 2016 AnnaElizabeth photography
Harvest: © 2016 Serhii Krot
Fall in Okan: © 2016 Standret

Fire-Rider: Escape into the Mountains


A short tale: Escaping into the mountains

Dark and cold hours

FREEBIE TIME! Each week, Plain & Simple Press will publish a free riff on the Fire-Rider saga: fresh anecdotes or insights in to the characters or the action, entirely NEW, never-before published. Because blogs are short form, we won’t have space for a lot of detail. For context, visit the Fire-Rider website or, better yet, immerse yourself in Kaybrel’s world with the three Fire-Rider collections — links to e-book versions are on the left, or, if you prefer, the print books shown on our Books page can be ordered through the Contact form. You can get a quick grounding in the story with the first two or three short serials, whose links are also at Books.

In our first riff: Following a disastrous engagement, the allied northern war bands have escaped into the mountains. It is after dark by the time they set up camp along the main road leading through the Dona Paz toward their goal, the merchant town of Lek Doe. Kaybrel has treated his friend Fallon’s wounded leg and left him with his camp boy, Tavio, while he spends several dark and cold hours applying his healing skills to the injured survivors of the Battle of Loma Alda.  At last his labor pauses and, half-frozen, he beds down between his companions seeking warmth and sleep.


“Were you scared during the fighting?” Tavio had asked him.

shutterstock_251473153 Kaybrel reduced

Kaybrel, Warlord and Healer

Sleepless in the dark night, Kaybrel turned the question over in his mind. Fallon, his second-in-command and probably the best of his men, slept to his right and the boy to his left, he — Kaybrel — sandwiched between them to soak up their warmth after the icy hours he had spent tending to the wounded and the dying. Tavi, he was sure, had also fallen asleep. The lad’s breath came in steady, measured beats, hard to fake.

The rain pattering against the lodge’s waxed canvas and hide walls was turning to sleet, so he judged by the sound of it. The whole damn place where they were perched along the Dona Paz Way would be frozen solid by dawn. If the fog and clouds didn’t clear, it would stay frozen all day.

Was I scared? he thought. Where does the kid come up with questions like that? Too smart by twice, not wise enough by half.

A sharp gust whistled through the nearby trees. Water blew off the boughs and splattered across the forest floor like an extra splash of rain.

No. No, he wasn’t scared.

shutterstock_368066480 steep slope reduced

When they almost lost Jag Bova…

Not on the field. There wasn’t time for that. Enraged, maybe. Hyper-alert, for sure. Exhilarated, even. But scared? Not exactly. Not until he was up on the side of the mountain with his crazy cousin, Binsen, and Jag Bova. When they almost lost Bova: in all this business, that was the first time he felt real fear.

He was nervous, of course, hauling up a draw toward a road they couldn’t see, God only knows who or what waiting for them up there. You’d be crazier than Binz if you weren’t nervous.

Binsen made him nervous. Batshit as a wolverine, he was.

Fal snorted softly and shifted in his sleep. Kay could feel him subside even deeper into blessed unconsciousness.

The gale moaned off the edge of a cliff, keening like the wind swirling around Moor Lek Keep’s great tower. Moor Lek: he wished he was home. Would that it were Maire beside him, not a  grimy boy and a bloodied man.

Where was sleep? So dark it was, so late: he knew that if he could see the stars on the other side of the clotted sky, they would tell him half the night was gone.

People liked to say he had the Gift.

Gift, God help him. He wished he had Fallon’s gift: the gift of falling asleep before his head hit a pillow.

Beneath the restless clouds, the night moved on.

More Riffs:

Escape into the Mountains
Women Warriors of the North
Seth
Banshee
Kay’s Regrets
Jag Bova and Lieze
Best-Laid Plans

Images
Dark and cold hours: Shutterstock. © 2016 andreiuc88.
Kaybrel: Shutterstock. © 2016 Captblack76.
When they almost lost Jag Bova. © 2016 Michal Knitl.