Friday Serial: Farther Part CV

Seryn fire_handSERYN

Macsen found Seryn in the morning. The sun was barely up, and she hadn’t put her boots on yet, but he strode through the hall to put a firm hand on her shoulder.

“Come with me,” he said.

Ignoring the rest of the guard where they sat on the side of their cots, he turned on his heel to leave again.

Seryn followed him out, footsteps echoing dully in the wide space between the walls. There were few other people moving in the gray light – a few loading breakfast over already healthy fires, and a few more settling their clothes and minds for a new day – and she looked at none of them. Eyes on Macsen’s back she kept stride with him out into the yard, around the corner of the main hall, straight to his office.

He struck a match sharply and lit the lamp on the wall with steady hands. Seryn shut the door to keep out the morning chill. Macsen sat behind his desk and waved for her to take the chair across from him.

“How much did you know?” he asked before she could cross the room.

She took her next step more slowly, sank into the chair holding his eye carefully.

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Flash Fiction: Under the Horizon Haze (544 words)

Dust clung to a moving army. Every boot step woke it out of the dirt, scattering it over their toes and puffing it up into the air. Soldiers breathed it. Their hands turned powder dry in it. It caught between their teeth and they coughed it up. They blinked it out of their eyes. When they stopped for the night, they poured it out of their boots, beat it out of the creases of their trousers. They stripped out of their coats outside their tents and beat them too.

For a few precious hours every morning, they couldn’t taste it. And then it came back.

Perched at the top of the hill, hidden in the shadow of the trees, Kedda was glad that, for once, she wasn’t down in the march. She could see the plume of dust, a second horizon-haze under the band of gold sky that touched the earth, though she was still too far away to see the army.

Laom shifted beside her, not in the shadow of the tree, and ignorant of the difference. Not that it mattered just now. “Shouldn’t we get closer?” he asked.

Kedda shook her head. “We’re close enough.”

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Wednesday Serial: Farther Part LXXXIV

Tiernan fire_handTIERNAN

Taking the Long Road, it took twenty-two days to cross the plain east of Oruasta and arrive back at the base of the mountain string. It was another twenty-five days to thread through the high pass and down into King Madden’s land. Tiernan had counted and recounted, measuring distances and strides, how many would make the journey, what it would take to feed and shelter them the whole way through. The longer the trip, the more wagons they would be tempted to bring, the more excess they would want to pack in case it took longer than they expected. The more wagons they brought, the longer it would take and forty-seven days could become sixty so easily. It was a balance.

He had collected his eighty, men and women ready to go back for those they had left behind. They made it to the mountain roots two hours into the twenty-third day. The wagons were still full. The horses that pulled them had taken a week or so to grow accustomed to their new drivers. Tiernan hardly counted it as a delay.

Deorsa took longer sneaking her four hundred across the plain. Refugees had been coming and going for years now. King Gabreal had never reached out to stop them with anything more than the avoidable tips of his armies, but Deorsa’s folk wore uniforms, carried blades forged from finest steel, and fifty of them rode the sort of horses that made front lines break. Neither she nor Tiernan were anxious for Gabreal to take notice.

Tiernan waited at the base of the mountains for eight days, counting each sunrise and sunset as if he were a scout measuring the oncoming army.

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Wednesday Serial: Farther Part LXXVIII

Seryn fire_handSERYN

The little ones had scattered for the afternoon, as they always did. Most of them had tucked themselves into the main hall, hanging off Aled and Wynn and the books they readily supplied or playing their own games in sprawling circles. Some of them had found a deck of cards somewhere, and day by day they taught each other every game they knew, circling back to the ones they liked best. Others played outside the cool stone walls, happy to move a little even after the work of the morning.

They were easy to keep track of.

Seryn watched them as she entered the hall, then ignored them. There were others around to keep an eye on them. She slid toward Rhian where the younger woman was finishing her lunch with her elbows leaned against the table. She chewed slowly, finding the end of her hunger, or just in no rush to move on, her eyes on her plate until Seryn slid onto the bench beside her.

“Trouble this morning?” Seryn asked. She leaned backward against the table, happy to face the wall and keep her conversation hidden.

Rhian shook her head. A small smile curved one side of her mouth, her message clear: nothing she couldn’t handle.

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Wednesday Serial: Farther Part LXXI

Tiernan fire_handTIERNAN

Tiernan would have liked to pretend that he had just heard a joke. He knew how to react to a joke. He could just give his brother a dry smile and sigh, as if he was put out to be leaving home as well. He could make a joke of his own, slide along the easy, old line about how the world just didn’t seem capable of turning without him. Then Callix would slap him on the back of the head like he always did. Unless Tiernan got his arm up in time.

But Tiernan knew what he had heard, knew how subtly his brother could lay a serious tone under a question when he was hesitant to say anything at all.

Turning slowly, Tiernan abandoned the view to give his brother his full attention. “What are you asking?”

Callix didn’t look at him, absorbed in perfecting his thoughts before he carefully spoke them out loud, head bent. “I’m asking if you’re sure that now is the time to leave again.”

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Wednesday Serial: Farther Part LXI

Tiernan fire_handTIERNAN

Eoin’s easy, wandering stride lengthened. He turned his shoulders to thread through the crowd, but he faced directly forward, focused on his destination, or directly backward, checking to make sure that Tiernan had stayed close. The rest of the street held onto its noise and nature. No one looked at the two of them on their sudden direct path more than they had a few moments before. Tiernan nodded toward the men and women who met his eye and stayed behind Eoin’s shoulder.

His brother turned to the right side of the street after a few more yards, and threaded his way there, right under the walls and windows of the buildings for a dozen more strides. Then, he turned and ducked into the hollow between two stone walls, sheltered by a gabled roofing leading up to a thin wooden door. The building behind it, seemed to lean forward over the two on either side in a neighborly way, as if it only wanted a better view of the street. It had a pointed roof, trimmed, and scrubbed bright.

“Are you feeling all right?” Tiernan asked.

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Wednesday Serial: Farther Part LVII

Anie fire_handANIE

The fortress had once had five wooden staircases that led up to the top of the wall. The two at the front of the fortress formed twisting, square towers, tucked into the corners. A lot of the beams had held, reinforced on two sides by the stone walls, and the camp had rebuilt them quickly. The stairs at the back criss-crossed the stones more lazily, seated in the center of the rear wall. They’d been rebuilt as well, though they had only been able to rescue half of the old lumber. Two more staircases leaned against the sides of the fortress, and while the one on the right had held as well as the rear staircase, the one on the left was almost gone, scoured away by the wind and rain and snow in the years it had been abandoned. The camp never rebuilt it, but it was still Anie’s favorite way to reach the top of the wall.

The beams had been sunk into the stones once, and now each place they had been, was a square notch large enough for Anie to hold tight to with both hands. Her feet fit all the way to the heels, and she could pull herself up them in their slanted lines without feeling the gap between her and the ground. Forty feet high, and she still felt like she was stepping on solid ground. The first time she’d done it, she might have shaken, but looking down from the top, she’d decided that stairs were for cowards.

Unless Thea was watching. Then stairs were for the very smart ones who knew how to keep themselves out of trouble with their powerful older sisters.

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Wednesday Serial: Farther Part LIII

Tiernan fire_handTIERNAN

“So what do we do now then?” Zacarias asked, and slowly, he scanned the room meeting and holding each of his son’s eyes, Sibeal’s, and Jaera’s. The stone room echoed coolly on the sound of a breath, the rustle of cloth as Breitt shifted.

“We put on a feast,” Jaera said quietly. She looked down as she spoke, then looked up to meet the questioning glances the others aimed her way. “All five brothers are back inside the walls… it’s worth celebrating.”

“A feast,” Callix repeated, gentle, questioning, and just for her.

She turned to him silently and raised her eyebrows. Whatever reply that made, only he could read it.

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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.

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Wednesday Serial: Farther Part XLVIII

Tiernan fire_hand

TIERNAN

Tiernan was sleeping restlessly when they came back. He needed the sleep, and his camp was quieter than he’d expected it to be. That morning, he’d circled the small stand of tensts and marked the sunlight, and calculated how far Eoin and the others had gone. When noon came and went, and the sun began to sink again, it dragged down on his bones as well. He pulled a blanket from his bags, wrapped himself in and leaned against a tree. When his eyes drifted shut, he wasn’t surprised, but he woke often to sight along the ridge line.

But he was sleeping when they arrived. Eoin kicked him to wake him, and it was such a familiar thing that Tiernan looked up glaring, expecting to find Eoin smiling.

He wasn’t.

“We need to go,” Eoin said. There were dirty streaks across his face, marked in lines of sweat, like he’d been running in smoke. Jacket looked gray in places where it should have been blue.

“Now?” Tiernan asked.

Eoin nodded. “The faster we get home, the better.” And he looked over his shoulder as if he thought some chase had already started.

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