Archaeology: INTREPIDITY

I started writing when I was less than five. My parents tell stories about me laying out on the floor, filling notebooks with scribbles that I would read back to them with perfect confidence that I had written real words. I still have some of them. I think one is about my kindergarten teacher, but I don’t know how to read it anymore.

I wrote my first legible story when I was six or seven. If I remember correctly, I wrote it for the pure joy of banging on the keyboard of my family’s new computer. It was 1996, and I was very excited. Over the next few years I would also discover the thrill of Writin’ This Story Because I Just Figured Out How to Turn the Text Purple and Writin’ This Story Because I’m Hogging the Computer From My Sister.

I wrote my first novel when I was ten. I wrote it all by hand, and I remember playing with the shape of my “e”s better than I remember playing with the plot.

I wrote my second novel when I was sixteen, posting it in installments online, and I raced ahead of my readers to discover the ending.

I wrote my third when I was seventeen.

I outlined that novel before I wrote it. I knew every named character before I put down the first word. I invented a setting with more than one continent, and I had a map in my head with edges, not just a vague gray distance in front of my main characters. Then, I sat down and wrote it: 72,000 words, two-hundred pages, in thirty days.

I worked for this one, but it was more fun than the others combined. It was the last story I wrote before I left for college, but it feels more like a first.

A piece of chapter 4 is reproduced here for one reason:

  • I’m actually pretty proud of it still

Chapter 4 – somewhere in the middle

Captain Drenier was in his cabin when they got there, bent over a stack of shipping papers. He was a large man, though not as heavily muscled as those who had chased her down. A few days’ beard covered his face and his hair was long and wavy, tied in a horsetail behind his head.

The men dumped Jennika into a chair in front of his desk, but Drenier didn’t lift his head. His eyes registered her appearance, but he didn’t turn to face her until he’d finished reading. It was an old trick, she knew, making a person wait just to make them feel like they were unimportant and make them more nervous. Jennika wasn’t going to fall for it.

She smiled up at him, settling back into her seat and crossing one leg over the other. “Good morning,” she said sweetly. “Nice weather we’re having. Your boys and I just went for a stroll in the market district. You might want to send someone out there to fix up the shops they broke through. It—“

“Quiet!” Drenier snapped. Jennika obeyed, but kept her cheerful expression.

Drenier leaned back, locking his fingers together. “How did you get on my ship?”

“Oh, I got carried in!” She jabbed a thumb at the men standing behind her.

Drenier was not amused. “Do you know who I am, girl?”

“Yes. You’re Drenier, Captain of the Sylph, one of the old Lords of the Underground and Invader of the Noblemen’s Class.” Jennika folded her hands as well and mimicked his tone. “Do you know who I am?”

“No—“

“Well, then,” Jennika brightened. “Most people would say that that would give me that advantage.”

He looked back at her with a glare that made it very clear he wasn’t going to allow her to think that for a moment. “Then of course you’ll do me the favor of leveling the playing field and giving me your name.”

“Of course.” Jennika nodded. “I am Que’denta, Mistress of the Streets and of the Artful Occupation that is Thievery.”

Drenier stared at her blankly. “You’re a street rat.”

Jennika shrugged. “In that case you can call me Jennika.”

“Well, then, Jennika,” Drenier leaned toward her menacingly. “You will give me what you took and then you leave my ship and if I ever see you again, you will wish that you’d never been born.”

She rolled her eyes. “You can’t come up with a better threat than that?”

“Believe me, girl,” Drenier said. “I don’t need to be creative in my threats, because I’m creative enough in carrying them out.”

Jennika looked down, murmuring. “That’s better…”

“Now give me what you took.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Why not?” Drenier demanded.

The man who had carried her in coughed, drawing Drenier’s attention. “She says she doesn’t have it on her,” he told his Captain.

Drenier paused, examining Jennika. “Where did you put it?”

“Now why would I tell you that?” Jennika asked. “Really, do you think I’m stupid?”

“Tell me or I’ll kill you,” Drenier said flatly. “Don’t think for a moment that I care about what happens to you.”

“Stars,” she said. “There’s no such thing as subtlety with you, is there?” She nodded toward the men, noticing that Drenier’s patience was wearing thin yet again. “I already went over this with them. Gettin’ rid of me won’t do you any good if I’m the only one that knows where it is.”

Drenier didn’t say a word, holding her eyes with his own. Jennika raised her chin, refusing to be the one to break. He was winning this game, but he didn’t need to know that. There had to be a way to make him think that she, rat that she was, had managed to be one step ahead of the Lord of the Underground. She took a deep breath. What was he thinking?

“You posted that you would be setting sail this morning,” Jennika began, watching for his reaction. “You’re running out of time. The tides will turn against you if you wait too much longer. You need my cooperation and you’re counting on to crumble like the child that I am.” His eyes narrowed. She was hitting on something at least.

“I don’t intend to crumble,” she went on. Nestling herself deeper in the chair and setting elbows on the armrests, she flicked her hair over her shoulder, a picture of ease. “So what do you intend to do next? I’ll laugh off any threat you give and I can find a way to avoid whatever question you might ask.”

“What do you want?” Drenier asked. He hardly moved, just kept that cold gaze locked on her.

“What’s your destination?” Jennika replied.

“Derend.”

She smiled. “Perfect. I could care less about the thing I took. It wasn’t for me; it was just business. But I’ll have a client who won’t be happy when he finds out that I didn’t get it for him. I don’t want to be anywhere where he can find me. Take me with you.”

“I don’t need a thief on my ship.” Drenier stated. “And I haven’t the room to take you with me.”

“I’m small,” Jennika said.

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