Yesterday, I reached my goal of writing 50,000 more words of my second novel. By my reckoning, the draft is still a good 25,000 words from completion, but it’s satisfying to have such a good chunk written.
In celebration, I’m going to let you see a sneak preview of Scriptless. What’s this, an excerpt from Scriptless before Ever the Actor is even released? Yes, I’m crazy– not least because I’m letting you, my lovely viewers, read a section of a first draft. I’m sure I’ll regret this once I wake all the way up.
Couple things I should clarify before tossing this out at ya:
The Mynore are a conquered people, essentially serfs on their own land, and the “Crows” are what they call their mage masters. And this is a first draft, I reiterate.
Harn forced his heart to be as stone, keeping his eyes on his work as the pair of Crows watched him. His axe, a small woodcutter’s axe, not his waraxe, thunked with rhythmic repetition into the trunk. The pine shuddered each time he drove it home. For a moment, he imagined that he was burying the axe head into the Crows’ hearts, but he quickly dropped the fantasy. The tree deserved better in its final moments.
“What have you got here, twenty logs?” One of his unwelcome spectators asked.
Te gule h’n chark, kein. May you be pinioned and de-beaked, bird, Harn thought in the Old Tongue. Aloud, he answered mildly in Kapatak, “You can see well enough for yourself, sir.”
A buffet of air smacked his head from behind, nearly causing him to stumble forward into the tree. “We know that, hoary-headed fool. I asked you your count. You give me a number.”
Blinking against the bright patches that spotted his vision, Harn turned to inspect his handiwork. Yes, twenty-five logs, all loaded onto the cart, ready to take home. He would hew this last and call it good.
“Twenty-five,” he answered, still mild. “Twenty-six, if you count this one.”
“Get on with it, then,” the Crow answered. “Then bring it to the fortress when you’re done.”
Harn swung the axe again, trying to bite his tongue. He failed. “The tax is eighty-five percent, is it not?”
“Yes?” The Crow had a dangerous edge to his voice, but Harn’s tongue carried on in spite.
“So I’ll be bringing you twenty-three logs.” The Crows demanded that they round up.
Another clout of air. “Don’t be selfish, man—the load will be deducted from your overall taxes.
Harn clenched his teeth, knowing it never would. “Yes, sir.” He drove the axe into the trunk a final time, then withdrew and stepped back to watch it topple. Instead it stood, wavering against the natural tilt. It twisted oddly, then gravity took over, bringing it down towards him. He just managed to scramble out of the way, his heart in his throat as the pine crashed into the ground half a yard shy.
The mages who’d caused this phenomenon snickered. “Better learn your trade, woodsman, before you turn to pulp yourself,” one said. “Be sure we see that at the fortress gates before the sun sets, man,” said the other, before both turned and strolled away from clearing.
Harn swung the axe with a fury, letting it bite deep into the fresh stump. It was the only way to stop himself from charging those complacent fledglings. He closed his eyes, breath coming hard as tears tried to rise. That was exactly that attitude that had killed his wife.
“Patience, love,” he had told her at least every day, as he dragged her away from one Crow or another. “Patience. Havr merz,” he would whisper. War is in the wind. And, soothed by the Old Tongue’s sentiment, she would reel her hatred back inside, letting it build for the battlefield.
Until the day he couldn’t stop her. He had always feared that such a day might come.
It had been the law against white. The Crows knew the wearing of white held a special place for the Mynore, and so like every good thing—like dancing and drums and his sweet violin—they outlawed it. So in the presence of their overlords, there were no pelts of the white bears. No white rabbit skins stitched together, no white wool and no white cotton. Of course, every Mynore family kept some piece of white cloth in their secret cache. If it had been special before, white was now a sacred symbol of rebellion.
But it wasn’t the hidden roll of white linen that killed her. It was the grey. The great problem with the law against white—the great advantage, as the Crows saw it—was that white was a debatable color. There was rarely cloth as pure white as fresh fallen snow, so shades just off of white were also outlawed. And maybe shades just off of that. And maybe a pair of Crows patrolling through the village glanced at a medium grey cloak and decided that, though they’d walked past it without comment for the three years it’d been around, today it was white.
“That’s against the law, you know,” one had told her, his magic yanking Harn’s wife to a stop by her hair. “I could bring you in for that, but I’ll let you off easy.” And the cloak had burst into flames. She’d dropped to the snow and rolled, of course, but every time she put it out, it would ignite again, until the whole thick wool cloak had burned to ashes, and the clothes underneath fared little better. And all the while, the Crows stood and watched and laughed.
Harn, running towards the scene from the time he saw the flames, had dropped to his knees in the melting snow and reached to help her up. “Havr merz,” he’d whispered, afraid the Crows would overhear the Old Tongue, more afraid of what would happen if he didn’t say it. “Havr merz, darling.”
But the phrase had worn thin, and no longer bore her fury. With a snarl, she yanked out of his hold, suddenly throwing herself at the Crows.
Thanks to the element of surprise, she snapped the neck of one before the end. Then there had been an unexplained flash of red, a twist of horrible magic, and her head and body had lain separately in the snow, leaking liquid bright as cherries. Harn had been unable to move, and that had surely saved his life, for he’d have gone the same way if he could’ve.
But now he was here, many years a widower, gripping an axe handle with shaking hands and still telling himself that havr merz.