Wednesday Serial: Farther Part LII

Eoin fire_handEOIN

Reed nodded. Taking the last few steps at a gentle run, he passed Eoin and led him back in toward the barracks that leaned against the inside of the mountain face. The interior was lined in slat bunks and weapons racks, and in between tables and chairs were scattered at a will. Some soldiers slept, arms thrown over their eyes to block the light of their comrades who sat at the tables, playing their cards. A few others walked briskly through, adjusting the straps and laces on their leathers, cloaks trailing behind them.

Men and women stopped to clap Eoin on the shoulder, doubling back in their quick strides as they realized who they’d seen. Eoin smiled at them all, traded greetings and jokes and fierce grips, and kept close behind Reed’s back. The older soldier did much the same, calling his hellos, and walking without pause.

At the far end of the barracks Reed’s patrol was waiting. There were six of them, mostly tall and lean like Reed, who seemed to lopped off a little height and applied it to the breadth of his shoulders instead. They were almost in a line as Reed and Eoin approached, hands idly checking their sleeeves and hats and weapons, and they snapped to attention the instant Reed was close enough to issue an order.

“Are we ready?” he asked them.

“Always, sir,” a blonde woman at the front said.

“We have a tag-a-long,” Reed said. “Watch out for him. He’s got a pretty head, but not much in it.”

The men and women laughed a little, but it was hushed, as they looked at Eoin. They knew he was, as well as if his name had been spelled out on his forehead. Eoin glanced through their faces, looking for any of them he knew in return. The blonde looked a little familiar. The broad man definitely did not, though he had a slant to his smile that Eoin liked. The girl near the back, he thought he had played with as a child. She belonged somewhere in the lower city, in one of the neighborhoods that usually birthed the boldness that Eoin liked in his playmates, but she’d never been very adventurous, afraid to climb any tree high enough to get any advantage. He was surprised to see her in a squad like this.

“I promise, I’ll keep out from under foot,” Eoin told them, and added a half-glare for Reed.

“If I were you,” the girl at the back told him. “Under foot is exactly where I’d stay. You’ll be safest there.”

Eoin blinked at her. He’d been told something similar a long time ago. Not at his first battle, but one shortly there after, and he was surprised by her again, and the way she managed to carry the same tone as the scarred man who had looked down and given the same instructions.

“Then I’ll stay close,” Eoin told her.

They left the barracks at a quick walk. On the east side, a narrow road looped down to a narrow gate. It wasn’t much, just a slit cut sideways into the rock, wide enough for three men to walk side by side, a single unlit torch in a holder at the center and a thick wooden door on either end. Reed opened the first and the patrol filed past him until the broad man opened the second and stood guard there until Reed brought up the rear and he snapped it shut again. There was no handle on this side, and the door fit snugly into place. A mountain path, steep and cool, led down the other side.

Eoin took a quick look around, letting his eyes adjust to the new shade of dark. Inside, there had been enough torches fending against the night that was quickly dropping around them that everything had been painted in shades of yellow and gray. Here, between the straight backs of the trees, everything was a shade of blue. The sky itself seemed to be bleeding into them, darkening now that the sun had ducked under the horizon, and the breeze turned the air into a sweet chill.

When he looked back, the squad had scattered, off the road and into the shadows of the trees.

Eoin spun, looking for them, eyebrows high. Standing just behind him, Reed put a hand on his shoulder to stop him.

“Don’t worry, boy,” he said. “This is just the sort of thing you would like. We’re working our way along the north side and down the east canyon tonight. See how quiet you can be. If you hear a bird should only be singing in daylight, that’s one of us. Stop where you are, and we’ll find you.”

“All right,” Eoin said, not sure what else he should say.

Reed patted him on the back, lightly, and soundlessly. “Come on.”

They wove themselves into the trees as well, and Eoin glanced to either side, hoping to catch one of the others, but Reed just tread forward, quiet and slow. The trees stayed scattered on the hill, and Eoin placed his feet carefully. He had pay close attention to avoid their roots, and to keep from sliding down the leaf littered slope. After a few minutes, Reed turned back to him, nodded, and even he moved too far ahead to be seen. Eoin took a deep breath, spun a slow circle to get his bearings, and continued on in his own silence.

The evening darkened, blues turning to grays and blacks, and the sky painting itself over with specks of white between the dusty banks of cloud. The hill stayed at the same cant, twisting around the side of the mountain, and the trees held their sentinel. Eoin tried to pick up his feet, move a little quicker, knowing that any patrol used to running these hills would run a little faster than him, even while they kept themselves hushed. But he was still behind the bird call when it came. A whirrel’s twitter that sounded like a joke in the dark.

Eoin stopped just where he was, hating to make someone come back for him, but knowing that Reed had reasons for giving his instructions.

It was the girl who found him, his old playmate, moving like a cat between the trees. She smiled at him, like she was surprised and pleased to find him standing still.

He only shrugged at her. He deserved it, for the way he had played as a boy.

She nodded for him to follow her, and turned back.

She took him just over the next rise. The hill turned and dipped a little, forming a rough bowl in the side of the hill. The flat bottom was wide, and set deep into the mountain so that it backed up against hard stone instead of dirt. Yellow light flickered up the tumbled face of it, and Eoin smelled smoke long before the girl motioned him down onto his belly to crawl to the edge.

Eoin counted the tents as they came into view, blinking at each new canvas peak. Twenty, some of them for supplies and command, but enough men  milling between the fires to fill fifteen of them. Fire caught on freshly oiled leather, and the rings of chain mail, and long blades. The smoke mingled with the scents of meat and bread, a settled meal. And every one of them was wearing a black and yellow uniform.

Reed was already lying on the cliff edge, arms folded in front of him, chin resting on his fists like a boy watching the neighbors from his own roof.

Eoin looked at him, stunned.

“They’re on the mountain?” Eoin asked, quiet to keep from being heard, quiet because the thought would have rattled horribly in anything larger than a whisper.

Reed’s mouth twisted to one side, a little pained. “They’re on the mountain,” he murmured back.

“For how long?” Eoin asked.

Reed shrugged, and it rocked his head a bit, since he didn’t raise his chin. “This lot? They’ve been here three weeks or so. The others came a few months before that.” He caught Eoin’s pause, and looked at him with a firmer smile. “They don’t do much. We have some lovely contests in daylight, to see who can better insult the other’s mothers. At night, we play at stealing each other’s supplies, and mostly we win that, thanks to the mountain. They’ve only gotten inside twice.”

“They came into Oruasta?” Eoin said.

“Yes,” Reed said. “Burned some. Hurt some. And we drove them back out. It wasn’t more than a prod with a stick, really. They aren’t aiming to destroy us with these little men.”

Eoin let that sink in for a breath. Then he shook his head.

“Gaebrel just wants us to know that he hasn’t forgotten us,” Reed murmured. There was something sharper than a smile in his voice, something that might have rumbled into a laugh. Or a growl. “Isn’t that kind of a king to do for people so low as us?”

Flash Fiction: Aimless Midnight (693 words)

Terius looked at Zain, and Zain looked at Terius, and for half a moment Zain imagined what it might be like to actually oppose him, to set one will against the other, feel the grating, and see which of them actually could stand over the other. And then he slid into a grin, and he half-turned away before it spread into a laugh, because the smile tasted better, and in the dark, so long after dinner, he wasn’t hungry for anything but sweetness. Because this wasn’t anything so important to make a fight out of. And because it was a better game, to see if he could talk his cousin around to agreeing.

Terius shook his head, Zain’s smile breaking the silence that had started to build better than a word. “This is the worst idea you’ve ever had,” Terius said.

Zain glanced sideways to Jaera. She bounced a little on her toes, shoulders pulled forward to keep her jacket close, hands shoved into her pockets. If she thought anything of Zain’s suggestion, it was lost beyond her opinion of the cold sinking into her bones. She flicked her eyes up after a moment, realizing that Zain was looking to her, and then just shook her head a little. Still, no disagreement, just a gentle nudge that she didn’t see any reason for him to be turning toward her. Then she turned her attention back to the street, and the street lights, and the quiet clatter that echoed in from the next street over. Her breath puffed out in little gray clouds that caught in the lamps, and faded in an instant. She shoved her hands down into her pockets.

“I think,” Zain said lazily. He swung his eyes back to meet Terius’ gaze. “Your memory is failing you a bit.”

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Flash Fiction: Might and Maybe (1467 words)

Terius faltered on the first step inside the open stone hall. “You’re still awake?” he said, seeing his cousin, Zain sitting at the rich redwood piano situated in the far corner. He looked a little disappointed, but not all that surprised, as if he’d hoped that Zain would have had the better sense of the two of them, but knew that he didn’t.

“Too full,” Zain said, patting his stomach, with one hand still idly pressing the ivory keys.

It had been hours since they’d eaten, but his mother’s welcome dinner was nothing short of culinary excellence. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to him. She was a woman who could have paid for someone else’s talent in her kitchen, but chose to complete the hot and time-consuming chore herself. Because she liked it. And anyone who enjoyed themselves in a task like that usually put in enough practice to be very good.

But Zain didn’t remember the food from when he was small, sitting around her table every night. He thought, maybe, it was just that he hadn’t yet been out on the ocean to learn about the rough nutrition of months aboard ship. Or maybe, it just hadn’t left an impression because he had never known anything else. Or because he was just too young. But he had taken a single bite of his juicy, pink-in-the-center, two-fingers-thick steak that night, and decided he was going to stuff himself.

Terius ran a hand over his own stomach, and nodded sympathy. Coming across the hall, he dropped onto the piano bench beside Zain. He sat with his back to the piano, and leaned forward over his knees.

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Gwendoogle Part LXXIX – One Week Left and A Fossa Is Staring At Me

Gwendoogle

Answers served with a lot of difficult decisions

Boomshadow searched: If you only had 1 week left to live, how would you spend it?
Cursing whoever told me that I was going to die in one week, because this is an absolutely impossible decision. [glares at Mr. Boomshadow]

In an ideal world, I would do something excellent for the people I was leaving behind.

In the real world, I would probably watch a lot of television and cry just from the panic of the ticking clock. Ticking clocks do terrible things for my nerves.

IncyWincySpeeder searched: If you had a warning label, what would it say?
Uniquely Numbered Human: Equipped with all features including (but not limited to) individual thoughts, feelings, ambitions, carelessnesses, likes, dislikes, and the ability to change her mind. She is equipped with the Run Before You Walk and Pedal to the Metal attitudes, but will do her best not to step on anyone’s toes as she goes about her business of living. You may sue her for damages. She may hire a very good lawyer.

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Flash Fiction: Happy (1484 words)

The kid reminded Zain of Terius. It was an odd thing to think, looking at him from behind as they snuck down the stairs, watching Silas’ curly dirty blonde hair bounce with each quiet jump down the steps, and feeling at exactly the same time as if he were looking at himself through a time-twisted mirror. But Zain thought it just the same.

Silas continued to sneak down the steps, sure of his way around the house. He darted to one side or the other to avoid creaking steps, the same way that Zain might in the mansion he himself had been raised in for the last decade. Where Zain might have looked back and grinned at the chance to show off, Silas stayed facing forward, serious about his sneaking.

He was quiet, too, Zain realized. Not hushed to hide himself as they reached the end of the stairs, but actually quiet, as if he might not have run through the house all that differently had they not been trying to make it to the front of the house without their mother or father catching sight of them.

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Fiction: Broad-Shouldered Dangerous Part II (1107 words)

There were three people hanging off the wall, fingers and toes tucked into whatever holds they could find in the dark wood carvings. The first nodded to him, and gave him another half-embarrassed smile..

The second, a girl with a dark braid dangling off the back of her head as she looked up, simply stopped where she was. Her faced showed no surprise, or really anything at all, just a little curiosity.

The third, the other boy, had dirty blonde hair that curled down over his ears, and he leaned out on the full length of his lanky arms. He had a sack tied across his back, and it sagged gently, barely pulling on his rich brown jacket despite the fact that it looked stuffed to the seams. He smiled when he met Silas’ eye, surprised, but not displeased. “Oh,” he said. “Can we come in?”

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Fiction: Broad-Shouldered Dangerous Part I (1325 words)

“Your uncle will be here soon enough,” Tamzen said. She tapped Silas’ shoulder to move him out of his chair.

He slid sideways off his seat as if she’d actually pushed him, got immediately to his feet and stood just to the side looking at her. “I know,” Silas said.

Tamzen looked at him, eyebrows rising, a small disbelieving smile curving her lips. “And what?” she asked. “You think I might just forget that I asked you to scrub up and be in good clothes when he arrived?”

Silas paused. Truthfully, he had forgotten. His breeches had a smudged handprint of red dirt leftover from yesterday, and his jacket was creased and pulled just a little out of shape from a lot of loving daily use. It was what he always wore, comfortable for all his runnings and climbings and sittings and readings. He’d forgotten that he had other options than his thick, slightly scrubby second skin. Sheepishly, he smiled up at her.

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Wednesday Serial: Farther Part LI

Eoin fire_handEOIN

Eoin’s favorite place in Oruasta was the Wall, for the simple reason that it was useless, and it was his.

When he was fifteen, he had tried to run away to the Border Wars. King Gabreal’s call was hard to resist, then, with its message of honor and excitement, a need to protect home, and its imperative to remind the other Kings that their hands were not so large, yet, that they could take what belonged firmly to Gaebrel’s people. Gaebrel needed heroes, and Callix and Tiernan had already gone shoulder to shoulder into the ruined, honorable fields. Eoin was no less a hero than them. He had spent all his boyhood keeping up with them, step for step, tracking up and down his city’s hills and defending everyone inside from the monsters and bandits and storm clouds of his imagination.

Eoin let them send letters back for six months before he grabbed a sack and cloak, and crept from his rooms at midnight.

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Flash Fiction: Fade (466 words)

The Night Fire was a strange sort of ship, prone to prowling the darkened oceans with its lanterns unlit and bound to their hooks to keep from creaking. The glass was kept under light wax paper to erase their glinting. All the other creakings and moanings of the ship were bundled and padded and greased until the ship moved like a stone on water, the waves whispering rumors against the hull while it stayed silent.

Almost, Vardan could imagine himself on a rock on the middle of the ocean. The sleek body of the dark ship tossed like any other, built for speed and sharp turns, not steadiness, but the quietness of the timbers left him stranded somewhere else. He listened to waves with their thick voices that overlapped each other on the wider waters, and when he looked up, the sky glittered with stars kept only in the light of their own company.

Without lanterns, without the dull yellow light of flame that touched the world with young, clumsy fingers, the sky didn’t draw back so far. Every star in its face peered down into the world, flaring and primping themselves to be admired.

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Flash Fiction: Salt and Sand (345 words)

The beach was not a good place to hide. There was very little cover, though the few heavy rocks that scattered through the surf were pleasantly hulking and the wind was sharp enough to steal the sound of heavy running breaths and careful footsteps. It took too long to find that cover, and the soft sand took footprints jealously. Even the fierce wind that swooped in from the open water couldn’t swipe them away without a few hours persistence.

The sand near the water was harder packed, wet from old tides and beautifully dark. Soft steps could hide in the top layers, and the wind scoured them away quick enough. But it kicked up loose sand as well. Everywhere but the path of prints would be still and stoic, but wherever those careful prints had landed the sand would skitter and prance, the wind catching it by the hip and spinning it in a haphazard and happy country dance. The trail stayed obvious until the next tide came up to dampen the mood.

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