Eleanor (#2)

continued from here.

The world seemed to stop spinning. Eleanor heard a faint buzzing in her ears, and felt suddenly light headed. The carriage bounced over a rock in the road, shaking her into reality, but it didn’t last.

“We don’t know where the blaze started, only that it must have been somewhere near the bedchambers,” Michael continued, “for they all seemed to have sustained the most damage. There seems to have been no chance to escape.” He paused briefly, then coughed again.

Eleanor leaned back against the velvet cushion, focusing briefly on her breathing. She did not cry, she noted absently. She did not feel anything. It seemed as though she had somehow disconnected from the world around her, and none of it mattered, none of it could touch her.

Michael was looking at her expectantly, as though he expected her to burst into tears, or react in some emotional way. Feeling as though she ought to say something, she licked her dry lips, and managed to say, “I see.”

Her voice was barely a whisper; her throat was suddenly dry. She swallowed, cleared her throat, and then said in a slightly louder voice, “Is anyone else injured? Or…dead?”

“Stephen,” he said, “and Emilia are both dead. Which, I suppose is to be expected; their rooms were nearest your parents.”

“And Joseph?” Her brother’s manservant.

“Is badly injured,” Michael confirmed. “I’m afraid I don’t know any details. The physician was summoned from the village, and all those who remained are making there way there.” He was discussing matters of the house now, adopting a businesslike tone Eleanor recognized from his many conferences with her father. “Aside from those, there are only minor injuries, mostly from the cold, and the dangers of attempting to evacuate in the dark. Smoke inhalation.”

“I see…” Eleanor said again. Absently she wondered how her father would have handled this matter. Or even Rupert. She had no idea. Like her emotions, the situation seemed distant and unreal.


They arrived that night in a small inn halfway between the destroyed house they’d left behind in Rawae and their intended destination of Antella. A cold rain had begun to fall shortly before sunset, and when the carriage pulled to a halt before the inn, the road had become a muddy mess.

Eleanor was still dressed in her nightgown and the cloak someone had given her after the fire. Someone had found her a pair of boots that were a bit too large, and she didn’t have any stockings, but this was better than going about barefoot.

“It’s warmer inside, milady,” Michael said quietly, urging her to disembark, and at this urging, she pulled her hood over her head and climbed down from the carriage.

The inn was quiet, with only a handful of travelers in the common room, eating and drinking quietly while a roaring fire kept them warm. As they entered, a man burst into boisterous laughter, his joy infecting the rest of the group until the entire crowd was near hysterical.

Eleanor stopped, half in the doorway, and listened to the sound of the laughter as though outside her own body. Absently, she wondered if she might feel joy again. She felt nothing for now, neither joy nor sorrow.

“Milady,” Michael said quietly in her ear, “We have a room for you, if you’ll come.”

Numbly, she nodded, and allowed him to lead her through the common room to a flight of wooden stairs. They trooped up the steps, where a small, blonde woman held open a door.

“This way, ma’am,” she said in a voice of pleasant sweetness, with perhaps a bit of pity mixed in. “We’ll have a bath for you shortly, and some fresh clothes.”

Eleanor nodded again, feeling as though words were far too much trouble at the moment, and passed through the doorway into the room. It was a simple bedchamber, the bed covered with a pile of homespun quilts, a small but warm fire in the corner fireplace, and a few flimsy wooden chairs scattered about. Threadbare curtains hid a pair of windows on the far wall, and a candle sat on the nightstand, along with a few books.

“Just a moment, then,” the woman said, smiling broadly with the same mix of hospitality and pity, bending a knee just enough for it to be considered a curtsy, and shut the door, leaving Eleanor alone for the first time that day.

She stared at the bed for a moment, thinking of how much things had changed. At this time the evening before, she’d been preparing to sleep in her own, comfortable bed, and now she had no bed. There was only this temporary space, and then a temporary space in Antella, and no family.

No family.

She wanted to fall onto the bed, but knew that if she did she would not want to rise again. Instead, she sat on one of the flimsy wooden chairs. As expected, it creaked loudly beneath her, and seemed for a moment as though it would not hold.

Later, she told herself. Later, she would fall onto the bed, and let herself cry, and examine the hopelessness of the situation she found herself in. Later, she would ask Michael, or maybe Lord Antella for help. Surely one of them would give her advice.

She was not quite old enough to be Lady of Rawae, not yet. The title was never meant to be hers. It was to be her mother’s until it fell to Rupert’s future wife. If Eleanor herself became Lady of anywhere, it would be upon marriage, assuming that she was to marry a man who was the heir to some title. She had not seriously considered anyone for marriage yet, having only recently entered society.

Before her thoughts could wander any further down such a path, there was a light tap at her door, and it creaked open slowly.

Michael had returned, and with him a pair of male servants, with a large tub for a bath. He gestured, directing the servants toward the center of the room, where there was enough space for such a thing.

“Milady, I hope you will forgive the delay. We are presently finding you fresh clothing,” he said then to Eleanor, who had nearly forgotten she was still dressed in the same nightgown she’d gone to bed in the night before. For the first time, she spared a though for her clothing, reflecting that it must have all been burnt in the fire.

She nodded absently, and then felt as though she must offer some reassurance. What did one say in this instance? Bland pleasantries and appreciation seemed insufficient, but required. “Thank you,” she said, “it is appreciated.”

The servants left the room and then returned, carrying buckets of hot, steaming water for the tub. Michael bowed and took his leave, as his presence would not be required.

When the tub was nearly almost full, a rush of hurried footsteps on the stairs heralded the arrival of another person, this time a young woman with her arms full of cloth. Only when she’d set it all down on the bed did Eleanor recognize Lily.

“Beg pardon the delay, milady,” she said, pausing to curtsy. “It took some time, and I’m afraid no one in town quite had the same size as you, so a few of these may be too long or too short. I figured it was better than going about in your nightgown, though.”

“Yes, thank you,” Eleanor replied with some relief, for once Michael had reminded her, she had begun to feel some panic at the idea of appearing in Antella wearing only a nightgown.

“Shall I help with the bath?” the maid asked, and Eleanor immediately agreed to this proposition.

Her hair was knotted and tangled, dirty from the fire, with bits of ash and small pieces of dirt and splinters of wood mixed in. Her skin was no better, sweat and dirt having combined to form an unpleasant coating.

Removing the worn nightgown, Eleanor stepped into the hot water and discovered almost immediate relief. Although the tub was far from large enough to be luxurious, and she could not stretch her legs out fully, the water was sufficiently hot enough to thaw frozen limbs.

She rubbed the soap over her skin while Lily combed the tangles from her hair, a pleasant experience in any circumstance. When she was finished, and the water had turned a dark brownish-gray, she stepped out to a warm, soft towel.

Lily had found a clean nightgown in her excursion into the town, and, when she was dried, Eleanor pulled it over her head. It was thin, undoubtedly well-worn from many years of use, made of soft woven wool with knitted cuffs and hem. It was a bit long, so that she had to roll up the long sleeves and lift the hem, but it would serve as a sleeping garment.

“They’ve told the kitchen to bring you a meal, so you didn’t worry about going out this way,” Lily said, “and then if you’d like to sleep, you can try on these other clothes tomorrow. I found myself a needle and thread, so I can alter where needed, and of course once we reach Antella, we can use the lady’s seamstress.”

Eleanor nodded in agreement, not having thought at all about food or clothing. She thought somewhat longingly of the bed. Before she could voice her thoughts, however, a knock on the door interrupted them. Lily went to answer; the aforementioned food and drink had arrived.

There was only a small table on which to set the food, but as she was alone, this was plenty. Lily gathered up the soap and comb, and left; the servants came to retrieve the tub and water while Eleanor ate her supper. She barely tasted the food, but ate it dutifully, and then fell into bed.


The inn was positioned almost exactly halfway between the now smoldering ruins of Rawae and the majestic cliffs of Antella. The snow that Michael had predicted had fallen overnight, blanketing the road and the small village with the white powder, and leaving the temperature hovering near freezing.

Eleanor stepped out into the cold still wearing borrowed boots, which were warmer and slightly more practical than any of the shoes Lily could hope to procure from the village women, even though they were far too large. Lily had also found her warm woolen stockings, which kept falling down and needed to be tugged up again, and a dress of dark purple that was far too long in the skirt and sleeves. “It’s better to have too much fabric than too little in this weather,” she had explained, and Eleanor agreed. Over her shoulders was the same fur-lined cloak with which she’d left Antella, its original owner also unknown.

Michael and the driver of the carriage, dressed in warm cloaks and hats, were engaged in a rather heated debate as Eleanor approached. They paused this discussion to bow politely when she came within hearing.

“Is there some problem?” she wondered, and they could not easily pretend that all had been fine before then.

“We were wondering, milady, whether it would be best to stay at the inn,” Michael replied. He gestured toward the sky above, which was covered with gray clouds. “The weather is calm for the moment, but I doubt it will be that way for long.”

She turned toward the driver, whose name she did not recall. It did not seem the best time to ask, however, so Eleanor launched right into conversation. “You disagree?”

He obviously was not used to being directly addressed by his employer, as he blushed bright pink and stammered a moment. Clearing his throat, he began to speak, and Eleanor realized then that he might actually be younger than she was. “If it’s a big storm, m-milady, we don’t – we might be stuck here for days before the roads are passable. I – I was thinking maybe we should – maybe we’d best hurry – uh – make haste – toward our destination.”

It was still early winter. Although Eleanor was not in the habit of making lengthy journeys at this time of year, she had been alive and living in this part of the world long enough to remember that once the snow started, it might not stop. She could see the wisdom of hurrying along.

“If we do not beat the snow – and there is more snow – we may be stuck on the road and all freeze to death,” Michael retorted bluntly. Eleanor must have rather clearly displayed her thoughts on the matter, as he continued in a more reassuring tone, saying, “An extreme possibility, milady, but not impossible.”

Eleanor frowned, studying the snow piled up beside the inn. It was not a significant amount at the moment, and the carriage would undoubtedly be fine as long as it traveled on the main road. She glanced back at the inn, and remembered the pitying smile of the innkeeper, and the curious glances of the other visitors as she’d passed through the common area that morning.

“I don’t want to stay another night here,” she declared. “Let’s get to Antella as quickly as we can.”

Michael and the driver both seemed surprised by her declaration, but neither managed to speak. Eleanor didn’t wait for them to argue their positions again, but turned toward the carriage. Lily, who had followed her outside, hastened to open the door and assist her up the steps.

A few minutes later, preparations apparently complete, Michael himself entered the carriage. He had a thoughtful expression as he took his seat across from Eleanor.

“I’m sure you disapprove of the decision,” Eleanor told him, waiting for some sort of a lecture on the matter, “but I feel as though I must keep moving now.”

“As you wish, milady,” he replied, and offered no further comment.


Eleanor (#1)

Something of a prologue, far from perfect.

It was unexpectedly warm for a winter’s night, Eleanor thought sleepily. She had pushed off most of the blankets, and still felt warm.

Distantly, she thought she heard shouting, panicked shouting, and this confusion roused her further. She stared at the ceiling in the darkness, seeing nothing. What could be so important to cause such a commotion in the middle of the night?

More shouting. It sounded closer now, and quite upset. Eleanor wondered if she ought to get up and see what was going on. Perhaps the servants were having some problem. Perhaps Father was arguing with Rupert about magic again. In either case, her own involvement would be of no consequence. If only they wouldn’t persist in their argument so near to her own door, she could sleep.

A sudden, loud crashing noise caused her to sit bolt upright, all thoughts of sleep vanishing from her mind. The sound was so loud she knew at once it was no slamming door. It felt as though the house had been some way damaged.

She threw off the remaining blankets and slid out of bed, grabbing her robe from the bedpost where she’d absently tossed it and sliding arms through sleeves as she stepped into a pair of slippers. Cautiously, she opened her bedroom door.

There was an odd odor that filled the corridor beyond her own chamber. Eleanor had not smelled it within, but out here, it was overwhelming. For a few moments, she struggled to identify it.

Footsteps came around the corner at a rapid pace. Turning, Eleanor saw one of the maids, Lily, appear. She, too, wore a nightgown and slippers. Her dark hair was tied haphazardly in a knot above her head, with dark strands falling loosely from the bindings. Spotting Eleanor, she gasped aloud and hurried forward.

“Miss!” she exclaimed. “We must hurry, we must go!”
“Go?” Eleanor echoed, still not quite comprehending what was going on. Another loud crashing sound came from the direction same direction Lily had, and Eleanor saw first a cloud of dust, and then, within the clouds, flashes of light. A beam had fallen from the ceiling above; flames were licking at the wood, already beginning to devour it.

In an instant, Eleanor both understood and did not understand, but a more complex understanding would have to wait. Lily grabbed her arm, tugging, obviously spurred by the fire.

“We must go, miss, we must go, please,” she begged, urging Eleanor down the hall. But another thundering crash sounded from that direction as well; it did not seem the safest path.

“No,” Eleanor said, pulling her arm free. “That won’t be any safer. Let’s go through my room.”

“Your room?” Lily echoed, obviously reluctant. Eleanor ignored her hesitations and went back inside the chamber.

They were on the second floor, but Eleanor reasoned that a broken bone or two might be more easily healed than lungs filled with smoke or badly burned skin. She crossed the room and threw open the wide windows. Outside, she could hear the screams of other people on the grounds below, and the screaming of terrified horses in the stables.

“Miss!” Lily gasped, having understood at last Eleanor’s intent when she climbed onto the window seat and pushed her legs before her. “You mustn’t!”

“Would you rather burn?” Eleanor retorted.

Lily had already turned away, opening a large armoire. She pulled out a bed sheet, and then another, and then turned to the bed itself and ripped that sheet off as well. “There’s no need to go breaking bones,” she scolded, twisting the ends of the sheets. She tied the narrowed ends into knots.

From the hallway, another terrifying crash sounded, and a distant scream added weight to the idea of haste as a sensible one. Seeing the wisdom of Lily’s actions, Eleanor removed herself from the window ledge and helped to create their makeshift rope. The resulting line was long enough to reach the ground – assuming their knots held.

Lily tied the end of the last sheet to the bedpost, securing it as tightly as she could. “You’d best go first,” she said, and while Eleanor might have liked to insist otherwise, she was far too anxious to leave to bother with any notions of nobility. Rather than arguing, she slid through the window feet first, turning onto her stomach as she did and gripping the sheet as best she could.

She had never climbed down or up a rope before, having not had much use for that sort of adventurous exercise in her heretofore safe and comfortable life mostly within the house that was now in the process of burning down. Eleanor had not, therefore, considered the mechanics of this action before she found herself now hanging on to a sheet for dear life, her feet dangling below her.

Her slippers, being not very well secured, fell off her feet at once, and she now gripped the sheets with her bare feet. Instinct seemed to take over then; she slid both her feet and hands down at an excruciatingly slow pace for what seemed like an eternity.

After some immeasurable time, the sheets bounced suddenly, and Eleanor looked up and saw a dark shadow above her; undoubtedly Lily had decided to make her own escape. Eleanor made some effort then to move more quickly.

After some more time, it seemed, by the light of not so distant flames, that she was not too far above the soft grass of the house’s outer grounds, and so Eleanor released her feet, only to find them swinging in the air once more. She tried to regain her grip, only to find that the rope was now swinging too erratically to make a firm hold.

“Milady!” she heard a male voice calling from somewhere nearby. “Lady Eleanor!”

She thought she recognized the voice as one of the servants, but she could not in that moment activate the part of her mind that might have identified him accurately. She moved her head around and tried to look down, but there was only darkness faintly lit with flickering flames, and she had no idea how far above the ground she was nor where this voice was coming from.

“Let go!” the same voice called. “I’ll catch you, let go!”

She didn’t think to protest, to disagree, or demand explanations. The voice seemed trustworthy, and so, after a moment’s hesitation, she did. There was no other choice.

She didn’t know quite how she landed, only found herself in a tangle of limbs and garments a short while later. Someone threw a cloak over her shoulders, the hood flopping over her head and obscuring her vision even more. A dozen or more voices, each indistinguishable, blended into one another. Arms appeared to guide her, moving her one way and then another.

At last, she was moved into a covered carriage, a soft velvet cushion beneath her, and left alone, with no one hovering over to see if she was injured. Eleanor felt tired, as though she might pass into sleep, and remembered that until recently she had been abed. The night was colder than it had seemed before, reminding her that was, indeed, still winter.

She pushed the hood out of her face and took stock of her surroundings. The shouts she had been hearing had faded; perhaps the danger had passed? She turned to peer out the carriage window, and shivered, growing even colder than before.


The house was ablaze.

The entire three-story house, home to not only Eleanor, her brother, and their parents, but a number of servants, was completely engulfed in a raging fire.

Dark silhouettes of men passed between her and the flames, some carrying or passing water in buckets, some shouting out direction to others, some searching for others. The air was obscured with smoke, a cold but gentle breeze doing little to move the billowing clouds. The scene was confused chaos.

Now that she had been moved to relative safety, no one seemed especially concerned with Eleanor, and so she was left alone with her thoughts and fears. There had been no sign of her family, but she was not concerned; surely they had been moved to some other safe place, separated from herself by the fire and the confusion of the night. As to what had caused the fire, she also spared few thoughts; fires were a natural risk in the winter, when colder temperatures led to people burning a fire in every room in their home to keep warm. She had heard of many homes being damaged by fires.

Exhausted, and safe for the moment, she drew the fur-lined cloak around herself and fell into sleep.

Eleanor awoke to the sound of the carriage door slamming shut; a moment later the wheels lurched beneath her and she found that she was moving.

Michael, her father’s steward, to whom care of the house was left when his lordship was unavailable, had climbed into the carriage, sitting now across from her. He glanced toward Eleanor to see that she was awake, and nodded politely, a sort of half-bow in the confined space.

“I beg pardon at the urgency of our journey, milady,” he said apologetically. “I have good reason to believe a winter storm comes this way, and I’d best get you to safety. We’ve sent a rider ahead to Antella. I believe his lordship will be willing to let us shelter there.”

“Antella,” Eleanor echoed. She had a vague recollection of visiting there as a child, and she had several times made the acquaintance of Jakob and Rebecca. She nodded absently. “I don’t suppose any of my things survived the fire.”

Michael was politely hesitant, but truthful. “We haven’t finished going through the remains of the building, milady,” he answered, “and some parts escaped relatively unscathed.” He paused to release a breath of air. “I would not be optimistic about many of your possessions, however.”

Again she nodded absently, and turned to watch the road as it moved steadily past. Michael did not attempt to press conversation, and so they enjoyed a silence for a time.

“What of my parents?” she asked. “Will they meet me in Antella? And Rupert?”

Michael did not answer immediately. He seemed to grow a bit pale, and the he swallowed and cleared his throat. “Oh,” he said uselessly. “No one has told you.”

Eleanor felt a shiver run down her spine despite the warmth of the cloak. “Told me what?” she demanded. “Are they injured?”

The steward, a middle aged man she had known since birth, looked now as though he would very much have liked to be anywhere else in the world than alone with her in the carriage. He adjusted his collar with one finger. His mouth twitched.

“No, milady,” he said quietly, and cleared his throat again. “They are dead.”

update:  part two here

Flight (draft)

first draft

“We belong in the sky,” Dad explained, gesturing broadly to include the night sky above them. “The only reason you’re feeling even a little scared is because you grew up among these humans.” He waved his arm again, this time indicating the streets below.

Matt looked up at the clouds, spotting a faint star or maybe a plane through the interfering light pollution. He wasn’t sure the humans were entirely crazy, being afraid of heights. It seemed like a safe fear, as plummeting from heights would result in broken bones, even for their people. He knew better than to voice this skepticism in the presence of his father, though.

His mother was more sympathetic to the plight of humans, maybe because she didn’t spend her days working in an office like his dad did. She put a hand on her husband’s arm, a silent signal that maybe he ought to tone down the rhetoric. “Everyone’s first time alone is a little scary,” she said diplomatically. “I’m sure you’ll be fine. You’ve been doing fine in practice.”

Matt nodded his agreement, feeling a little more confident. “Right,” he said bravely. “I’m ready.”

“We’ll head out first,” Mom went on, restating the plan they’d already stated a thousand times before. “If you need us, we won’t be far away.”
Matt nodded again. “I’ll be fine.”

Mom looked like she was going to say more, like maybe a speech about how her baby was all grown up and how proud she was, but Dad interrupted. “All right, let’s go,” he said impatiently.


It seemed to Matt that despite what his books on the topic said, there was no set way to fly. Some people gathered power in a manner that seemed to be effortless, and became airborne without any obvious exertion. Others made a big show of it, bending their knees and leaping into the air, a physical movement that one of his texts insisted was completely unnecessary and wrong.

His parents were somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. Dad seemed to mentally concentrate before takeoff, so that although he didn’t bother with obvious physical movements, the process also did not appear effortless. His mother took a deep breath that she described as “cleansing” and moved her arms from a prayer position to slightly away from her sides. Somehow, this seemed to take less energy than Dad’s technique.

They were gone in an instant, vanishing into the night sky despite the egregious amount of light pollution in the city. Matt was alone. He took a few moments to think about the milestone he was about to achieve.

At school, he tried not to think about how different he was from his classmates, although none of them were aware. He knew of People who’d grown up among humans and chosen to adopt that lifestyle. Some of them got married and raised hybrid children who didn’t know quite how weird they were. They wanted to belong, and not to the People they were born to. It was appealing in a certain sense.

The problem, the one big problem with being human, or pretending to be human, was that you couldn’t fly. At least, not on your own, without enlisting the aid of some technological machine. It wasn’t nearly as fun.

Matt let out a breath, and then turned his gaze from the sky to his feet. He focused, sensing the wind currents and the power within them that only his People could feel, a power that humans couldn’t even detect. He made his body into a magnet for this power, drawing it in to himself. The wind ruffled his hair, blowing his bangs into his eyes. He took the same deep breath his mother did, mentally preparing himself for flight.

And then, he was in the air.

The wind gusted past him quickly as he accelerated higher. He hadn’t bothered with a jacket, just a long-sleeved, button-down shirt over his t-shirt, and this flapped wildly. His bangs were no longer in his eyes; his hair was pushed back, flat against his skull. If he’d been a human, his eyes would have been watering, but his People had better eyes than that. They were built for the sky, like Dad said.

When he’d reached sufficient enough height that it was unlikely anyone could see him from the ground, Matt slowed his acceleration and studied the city below him. Tiny pinpricks of light twinkled. He could make out a landmark here and there – a vast emptiness that was the parking lot of the local grocery store, closed for the night, another that was the school parking lot. Not much in the dark, but it didn’t matter.

He flew across the city, and then back again, and then crisscrossed it once more, before he started to feel both tired and hungry. Adrenaline was no longer sustaining him, and it was past midnight. Flying took up energy, and he was burning his reserves quickly. The key to a successful solo flight was not just taking off, but knowing when to land.

The top of the building where Matt and his parents lived was indistinguishable from the other identical buildings nearby, and apartment building in a sea of apartment buildings. To make it easier for People, his parents had long ago tied a red cloth onto one of the many antennas. Spotting this cloth from high above, Matt began a slow descent. Landing was as hard, if not harder, than taking off.

As he drew closer, though, he saw a pattern of flashing lights on the ground beside his building. Two police cruisers were parked in front, on the street. Matt shifted course to land on the building beside his own.

The hardest part about landing was releasing the power at the right time. Too soon, and you’d fall to the earth from several stories up. Too late, and you’d miss the target and possibly meet the same fate. Obviously, the best option was to land on the ground, but even if that had been possible to do without being seen, the many buildings lining the narrow streets of the city made even that less than simple.

Matt stuck the landing, though he took an extra dozen or so steps, and ended up walking into the door leading to the lower levels. He checked to make sure he hadn’t hit his nose hard enough to give himself a nosebleed, and then surveyed the situation at his own building.

Desert Travelers XI

continued from here

start here

For a moment, all movement seemed to stop. Marcus could see nothing but the reddish orange tint of a massive fireball, and then, in the midst of this, another light – this one a bright white glow that surrounded them all. There was silence, and peace, and comfort. He thought he could hear a choir of women singing hymns, in the distance, though his rational mind knew this was impossible.

“Magic!” he heard Mordifred exclaim, and though the old man was scarcely a few feet from him, it seemed as though he was speaking through a long tunnel. Looking around, Marcus found Danu, found his eyes. They were rounded in surprise, and yet some pleasure. This magic, this was undoubtedly cast by a powerful ally of theirs, undoubtedly the princess they’d been searching for.

And then, a stallion, a huge black steed, burst through the white light, sending everything back to normal, returning Marcus’ mind to the chaos and fire that he’d temporarily, somehow, left behind. The stallion screamed and reared, and he had no choice but to back away. The rider, dressed in black armor that glinted in the firelight, held a long sword, and he effortlessly brushed aside the Desert Lord who had been standing beside Danu, arguing with him. He similarly disposed of the two guards who rushed forward in an attempt to halt them. The three men fell to the ground, blood spurting from wounds.

The rider switched the sword to his left hand, holding the reins with the same one, and reached his right hand toward Danu. Before anyone could stop or even comprehend what was happening, he’d grabbed the prince by the collar of his night shirt, and then they vanished.

Two guards who had run toward the stallion now stumbled forward to collapse on the sand, looking confused.



Three of the Desert Men lay on the ground, bleeding. One, a young guardsman, was obviously dead, one was unconscious, and the third was crying out his anguish. At these screams, several of the Desert healers rushed forward to tend to the wounds. Chaos seemed to reign.

“I don’t understand,” Ted was saying when Marcus found the ringing in his ears had stopped and he began to be aware of the world once more. “Where the hell did he go?”

“Through a portal, for certain,” Mordifred stated, his voice oddly calm, though confused. “Created in advance, most likely for this purpose, or one similar. The camp has been here for a week, nearly, it would have been enough time to create it, although not an easy task to have done so unnoticed.”

“Portal?” Marcus echoed, confused.

“Where is the other side?” Ted demanded. “Where did they take him?”

Mordifred shook his head. “Without passing through it…I have no idea.”

Before anything further could be discussed, a female voice, shouting, broke through the conversation. Emmaline, one of Marcus and Miriam’s maids, was running toward them. Her dark hair was tied in braids that flew behind her as she ran, and her linen nightgown was dusted with sand. “Master wizard, master wizard!” she was shouting, and came to a halt a short distance away. “Please, you must come quick, my lady needs your help!”
“What’s happened?” Marcus interrupted before Mordifred could speak. “Is she hurt?”

“No, sir, it’s not her,” Emmaline answered, shaking her head. “It’s the girl, the one you brought back – Hareshi. She’s…she’s odd, sir, that’s all I can say.”

“Odd how?” Ted wondered.

“You must see, sir, I can’t explain, please hurry,” Emmaline insisted, and so Mordifred, after glancing briefly at the others and shrugging an apology, went to follow. Marcus went as well, for he was anxious to be certain his wife had not been hurt, despite the maid’s reassurances. Ted, for lack of anything better to do at the moment, followed.

Their answer came soon enough, for no sooner had they come in sight of the tent then they saw a faint light. Miriam and the other servants were circled around Hareshi, who was lying on the sand, glowing faintly.

“Could it be?” Ted asked. The others were speechless.

“It seems unlikely, doesn’t it?” Miriam asked, looking up as they approached. “That she’d be here, after all. It does explain what I sensed, though. The trail didn’t lie. This is her magic, anyway.”

“She said she remembered nothing,” Ted recalled, “didn’t she?” He looked toward Mordifred. “Did your spells take her memory, too?”

“Not intentionally,” Mordifred replied, on the defensive. “Maybe something else was done to her. I certainly didn’t intend to….”

The glow that surrounded the young girl faded, and in the dim light of the moon and stars, she looked like simply an ordinary slave girl once more. Tim held up his lantern so they might see better, and all leaned in as she opened her eyes and sat up, blinking at the crowd that surrounded her.

No one spoke for a long moment.

“I-I’m sorry,” the girl who had been Hareshi and might be Hareah, the princess of Tau, sister of the King, and wife to Danu stammered out. She lowered her head to study the sand. “I-I did-didn’t mean to-to…d-did I faint?”

“You did,” Mireko told her. “You fainted, and then you were glowing.”

“I’m s-sorry,” was the reply, without lifting her head. She scrambled to move her feet under her, and to get to her feet once more. Miriam moved backward, giving her space, and the rest of the crowd also backed up. Once she’d completed this action, she remained standing, peering at the ground, awaiting further orders.

“Ought we to go back to sleep now?” Anna said after a moment of further silence. “My lord…my lady? It’s many hours until morning….”

Marcus cleared his throat loudly in the silence, and even Hareshi/Hareah lifted her head to peer at him for a moment. They were all staring at him blankly. Again, Marcus cleared his throat.

“His highness has been taken from us. The bandits who attacked, they pulled him through a portal, to some other location.”

Miriam gasped aloud, covering her mouth with one hand. “No,” she whispered. “No, don’t tell me this means what I think it means.”

Marcus lowered his head to look at the sand for a moment. “It would be best if I went,” he answered. He took a deep breath, then raised his head to look toward Hareshi. “You’re coming with me. Go and find something to wear that’s suitable for travelling. Emmaline, Anna, help her with that.”

Eyes wide, Hareshi blinked at him a few times, but did not protest, only nodded meekly and went to do as he said. The other girls moved to help.

Miriam had no such reluctance. “You can’t be serious,” she stated. “Marcus….”

He stared back at her, attempting to convey his thoughts and feelings in his eyes alone. “You know there is no other choice,” he said, and then turned toward Tim. He removed his sword belt, handing both it and the weapon to the boy. “Make sure this is sharp,” he ordered, “and bring my bow as well.”

Tim nodded his understanding and vanished at once. Marcus turned to enter his tent and dress more fully than his pajamas. Exchanging glances briefly, Ted and Mordifred began to converse privately, avoiding Miriam’s gaze. Frowning toward them, she followed her husband into the tent.

“Surely there must be another way,” she protested. Inside, the tent was dim, for they had lit neither candles nor lanterns before leaving it, and daylight was still several hours away. Marcus had lit a single candle, and was now rummaging in his trunk of clothing for appropriate dress. The task was more difficult than expected, given the lack of light.

Sighing heavily, Miriam shut her eyes and performed some complex maneuver with her fingertips that he had never mastered himself, almost instantly igniting every one of the dozen lanterns and candles in the tent. “Don’t ignore me.”

“I am not ignoring you, my lady,” Marcus replied, lifting his head. “I am rather in a hurry to find my friend…my prince, I might remind you.”

“Oh heavens, it’s gone to your head more than his, hasn’t it?” she exclaimed, and, turning aside, pulled off her nightgown in one swift action, and lifted from the ground the dress she had worn the day before. “You’re not the only one capable of opening closed portals and passing through dimensions, you know. There’s no reason whatsoever why Mordifred or I couldn’t go in your place.”

“There is a perfectly good reason,” Marcus answered calmly, removing his night clothes at last and tugging on a pair of leather riding breeches – made for riding horses and not birds. As he fastened the laces, he continued, “Mordifred is not a fighter. Once he passes through the portal, if Danu is being guarded, he’ll have little course of action. Someone who is capable fighting will need to go.” He paused, gestured toward himself.

Miriam had pulled the dress over her head and was now deftly tightening the bodice’s laces behind her back – a skill she had mastered while traveling alone. “An argument against Mordifred,” she admitted, “but not myself. I know more offensive and defensive spells than you do, you know.”

“I do not dispute that, my lady,” he replied, still calm. Stepping forward, he placed both hands on her waist, gently urging her to turn around. With gentle and skilled hands, he untangled the laces that had become twisted in her haste, and pulled them tight again, securing the dress better than she had. The touch of his hands calmed her, converting her anger back into fear and worry.

“You ought to rest,” he said at last, when he’d completed the task and she turned once more to face him. “Already you’ve traveled a great distance, and taken on so much. Let me have a chance to earn my keep.”

“Earn your keep?” she echoed, and shook her head. “I think you’ve more than done that, keeping him sane. You don’t need to go off and rescue him alone. At least let me come with you.”

He shook his head. “No, you stay here,” he insisted. “You stay here, Miriam. I won’t have it.”

“You won’t…,” she echoed. “Now you listen here. I didn’t promise to obey you. You have no right to tell me to stay behind. Maybe under the Desert laws, but I am a free woman of Tau, and I do not blindly follow your orders.”

Marcus shook his head. “I did promise,” he replied, at last raising his voice slightly. “I promised to keep you safe. I cannot do that if you come along with me.”

Miriam did not reply to this. Instead she bit her lip and turned away from him. She said nothing for several moments and then turned back to face him. “You’re stupid,” she said, and he could see her eyes were damp. “You’d go off and leave me alone, wouldn’t you?”

“I’ll be back,” he answered, and now grabbed both her shoulders with his own two hands, pulling her closer. She resisted momentarily, then gave in, resting her head against his chest. “I promise you, Miriam, I’ll be back.”

Desert Travelers X

continued from here

start here

For the first time in many nights, Marcus was glad to head to sleep. Once they had settled that Mireko and Hareshi would share their tent with Anna and Emmaline, the night’s business was concluded, and he removed the majority of his too-warm clothing and slid between the silken sheets in his tent, the Lady Miriam beside him at last.

She mumbled contentedly as she fell to sleep, and he wrapped an arm around her, burying his face in her neck. The sweet smell of her scented soaps surrounded him, reminded him of the home they had left so many weeks ago.

“It’s so good to be back with you,” Miriam said quietly, snuggling contentedly into his arms. A moment or two later, she was asleep, her steady breathing giving way to quiet snores. Marcus lay awake a while longer, feeling the weight of her in his arms, and the presence of her beside him, and feeling as though all were right with the world, or at least within their tent.

At last, he fell to sleep, his breaths falling rhythmically in line with hers.


He awoke, suddenly, when Miriam sat up abruptly. Outside, a loud shriek pierced the night, and he heard continuous thuds – not the quiet patter of birds, but the heavy pounding of hoof beats in the sand.

“Horses,” he realized, confused.

Miriam was ahead of him. “Bandits!” she exclaimed, and rose from bed. She wore a thin silk sleeveless nightgown with a lace hem that brushed her toes. Over this, she threw on a heavier robe, and without bothering with shoes, she went to the tent flaps.

“Wait!” Marcus cried, but she had already opened them, and was peering out. “Miriam, don’t go out there dressed like that!”

“Bandits,” she confirmed, ignoring his protests. “We should hurry.”

Marcus had gotten to his feet, but he wore only thin silk pajamas as well, and no shirt, for even the night air had been too warm. He grabbed the shirt he’d discarded the night before and threw it over his shoulders, buttoning quickly. “I can’t fight in my night clothes,” he protested. “Where…?”
“Here is your sword,” his wife interrupted, thrusting the sheathed blade toward him. “I can cast magic dressed in this as well as anything. We’re wasting time!” Without further ado, she pushed open the flaps and vanished into the night. A moment later, he heard the scream of an injured horse, and knew that she’d already gotten to work.

He decided to forgo the remainder of his clothing, and strapped his sword belt to his waist as he dashed toward the door. The blade was sharp, the perfect weight, but the belt felt odd over the silk pants instead of proper trousers.

Outside, the night was dark, with only the crescent moon and a stars providing most of the light. As Marcus looked around, trying to figure out what was going on, a bright light caught his eye, and a nearby tent caught fire. A moment later, the inhabitants rushed out, crying out in pain – one of them was on fire.

He heard the hoof beats of the horse before he saw it approaching. He put one hand on his sword, then changed his mind and aimed his other toward the animal, spreading his fingers wide so that his palm faced the beast. He let his eyes fall half shut, let his consciousness briefly dip into the darkness and fire of the other realms, and channeled the darkness through his palm. A moment later, the horse collapsed, pushed back as though by some massively strong wind, the rider pinned beneath him. The screams of both horse and human echoed in the night, then fell silent.

“Nicely done,” he heard Miriam tell him. “I believe all of ours are safe.” He glanced briefly toward their three tents, saw all three were standing. “Do you want to stay here and protect them, or see to his highness?”

“You stay,” he decided. “Your magic is better able to protect them.”

She nodded her agreement, then leaned forward to kiss him. “Be careful, my love.”

“Same to you, my lady,” he replied, and then took off at a run, drawing his sword as he went. Several of the bandits, each dressed entirely in black so that they were not visible until they were nearly upon him, ran toward him with swords drawn. He fought them back with his blade as he ran, stopping only a moment or two to cross swords before delivering a killing blow. One of them passed through his defenses long enough to cut a line in his shoulder; Marcus dispatched him shortly afterward.

The prince’s tent was surrounded by chaos. It was not on fire, but several of the smaller servants’ tents nearby were, and one or two of the wagons. A tent housing birds was not on fire, but the sound of the birds squawking their complaints was nearly deafening. And everywhere were the sounds of screaming – screams of fear and pain and terror.

“Marcus!” Ted exclaimed as he drew closer. The blonde man was dripping with sweat, and his sword blade was dripping with blood. Like Marcus, he had not completely dressed, only thrown on a shirt which he had not bothered to button, and a pair of silk pajama bottoms. Behind him, Danu, still wearing night clothes as well, was conversing with one of the Desert Lords rather animatedly.

“Your highness,” Marcus interrupted, and Danu looked toward him with relief, and a question in his eyes. “Miriam is well,” he said to the unspoken inquiry. “She stayed with our tent, and our charges. What’s happening here?”

“It looks like the brigands have mostly been dispatched,” Mordifred reported. He alone was dressed completely in his usual robes, though his hood was lowered. Like the others, he looked tired, as though he’d been engaged in fighting. “We’re not sure who is responsible, nor their motives.”

Before anything further could be stated, there was a whooshing noise, a loud thud, and then the prince’s tent was engulfed in flames.

38. Guitar

an attempt at a short story? what?


“I think he would have wanted you to have it,” the old lady said, gesturing with one arm to the corner of the room, where the case, sat, covered with dust. She shrugged. “Nobody else in the family knows how to play guitar.”

Sam felt supremely awkward. He hadn’t seen his grandfather since he was seven. A few months after that summer visit, the old man had remarried, and his mom had never liked the new woman. Step-Grandmother – was that even a word? Was there a word for this relationship? He had no idea. He’d never had a relationship with her.

“Well, I guess I can take it,” he said with a shrug. He had a vague memory from early childhood of the old man playing the instrument. Maybe that had been what had motivated him to take lessons. Maybe not.

“You want something to drink?” Step-Grandma asked. “I’ve got lots of soda, juice, tea. Lemonade!”

“Lemonade sounds great,” Sam said. He didn’t really care for lemonade, wasn’t even thirsty. The old lady looked delighted, and left the room. Sam shrugged, stepping into the room.

There was an inch or so of dust on the case, and the latches were stiff with disuse. Inside, the guitar was in remarkably good shape. The case had kept the dust off, and the strings didn’t look too worn. He gripped the neck and lifted it gently from the case. A strap of woven leather was still attached.

“Probably sounds like crap,” he said to the empty room, and an experimental strum bore him out, making him wince.

“It’s probably been awhile since it was tuned,” Step-Grandma said from the doorway, an apologetic look on her face and a tall glass of lemonade in her hand.

“Yeah, the strings get loose pretty quickly if you don’t play it,” Sam agreed. He set down the instrument and took the glass of lemonade. “Any idea how old the strings are?”

“Oh, six months maybe,” the old lady answered. “Your grandfather was pretty regular about that. I remember we went to the music store right before Christmas. He wanted to play carols for the kids.”

“Christmas carols?” Sam asked. He took a sip of the lemonade. It was remarkably sweet, and not terribly lemon-y. He found that he did not dislike it, which surprised him.

“Oh yes,” was the answer. “Every Christmas the kids would come over, and we’d have a regular concert. Your cousin Angelica has a great voice – have you heard her sing?”

Sam frowned. “Not since I was twelve,” he admitted. “School concert.”

“It’s too bad you couldn’t make it for the funeral,” Step-Grandma continued, undaunted. “I’m sure everyone would have loved to see you.”

“Yeah,” Sam said with a shrug. “School. Oh, and Mom didn’t tell me.”

The old woman frowned again, this time pursing her lips into a somewhat disapproving frown, but she did not comment on the matter. Instead she sat down on a nearby armchair. She smoothed out nonexistent wrinkles from her pale blue skirt. “What do you think of the guitar?”

“It’s nice,” Sam agreed. “It needs tuning, but it’s in good shape.”

“Will you play it often?” she asked.

“Probably. It’s older, but nicer than the ones I have, so I might try playing it at my next concert.”

“Oh, do you play concerts often?”

“Every other Saturday,” he replied. “School has this, well, it’s sort of an open mic night. For all the music majors.”

“You’re a music major?”

“No,” he said, holding up a hand. “Mom would kill me. Accounting for me. I just play for fun.”

The old lady made the same sort of disapproving frown for a moment, but it passed quickly. “Good. Music should be fun. Your grandfather always thought that.”

Sam studied the guitar for a moment. He shut the case, fastened the latches, then finished his lemonade. He lifted the case, got to his feet. “Well, thanks for letting me pick it up.”

Step-Grandma stood, taking the empty lemonade glass back from him. “I hope it works out well for you,” she said. “Thank you for visiting, Sam.”

He went to the door and paused. “I have summer break in a month. If you don’t mind, I’d like to come by and show you how it sounds.”

She brightened immediately. “Sam, that would be wonderful. I look forward to it.”

Desert Travelers IX

continued from here

“We welcome your return, Lady Miriam,” Danu said, his eyes briefly moving toward Marcus as he spoke. “Some of us more than others, I suspect.”

Some quiet chuckles answered his statement. Marcus calmly said nothing, though he was vaguely aware of the faint smile that had not yet left his face – a change from his usual demeanor. He had taken his usual spot while Miriam knelt for the ceremony, and his eyes remained on her, though Ted took the opportunity to poke him in the ribs.

“Thank you, your highness,” Miriam answered, with no hint of embarrassment on her part. “I am glad to be back amongst friends. If it please you, I have brought along two I would introduce to you.”

Danu waved a hand to indicate she should proceed, his eyes and face showing no hint of the trouble in his mind. Marcus had briefly told his wife of the news Mordifred had brought; she had rightly assumed that Danu was upset by it, though only those who knew him quite well would see it in his eyes.

“This one is called Mireko,” the first of the rescued slaves was saying. She kept her eyes upon the ground, as was common for most of them, but her voice held a bit more confidence than some others. Marcus guessed that she might be a bit older than many of those they had rescued.

“Welcome, Mireko,” Danu said pleasantly. “From where do you come?”

“This one was born near Shintau, your highness,” she answered, and there was a brief murmuring amongst some of the Desert Men.

“A wonderful place,” the prince agreed, with no apparent notice of the quiet murmuring. He nodded toward the second girl, who was studying the ground so intently she did not notice this. Miriam poked her gently.

“H-hareshi, master,” she said, at last lifting her head to look in his direction. “Th-this one is…H-hareshi.” Her eyes grew wide, her gaze suddenly fixed upon him without distraction, as though the very sight of him were a surprise.

“We are pleased to have you here, Hareshi,” Danu said, speaking gently. “From where do you come?”

She said nothing for a moment, and then at last managed to mumble, “This one does not know, m-master. This one was with m-m Prince Raymo, and b-before that the c-caravan, but b-before that, she d-does not remember.” She paused, then lowered her eyes again, so that her dark hair fell limply over her face. “Forgive me.”

This was enough of a difference from regular responses that the tent again filled with quiet murmurs and whispers amongst the Desert Men. Undoubtedly some of them were questioning whether or not Hareshi were truly Tauese, despite her obvious outward appearance. Danu, too, was frowning thoughtfully.

Switching now from the formal speech of the Desert Men, Danu said in Tauese, which few of the Desert Men could understand well, “Do not apologize, Hareshi. We welcome you all the same.”

She lifted her head again, surprised, and then nodded. “Thank you, sir,” she said, speaking in the same tongue.

The whispers in the tent had silenced, surprised, with the Tauese speech; they now began once more. To silence them once more, Danu said, in the formal Desert Tongue once more, “Lady Miriam, I trust you will care for these two?”

“As though they were my children, your highness,” she replied with a smile.

“To celebrate your return,” he continued, “I wonder if my friends might dine with me this evening?”

Miriam looked now toward Marcus, for in the Desert customs such matters were rarely decided by the lady, especially when her husband was present, and especially amongst the nobility. Marcus took a step forward and bowed most formally. “We should be honored, your highness,” he stated, and after a moment, Ted and Mordifred both replied similarly.

“Good,” Danu declared, “and then I believe it might be time for us all to resume our travels. We have spent enough time in this place, I think. Let us all make preparations to depart, day after tomorrow.” He glanced toward the Desert Lord standing nearest him. “Stephen, will that be enough time to prepare the caravan?”

“Certainly, your highness,” the old man replied, bowing low. “I shall begin immediately.”


            “Not only do you bring back two of them,” Ted remarked, “but two most unique!” He raised his wine glass in Miriam’s direction. “A toast to you, my lady.”

“A toast indeed,” Danu agreed, having already had one or two glasses himself. “May we soon bring them all home to safety, and freedom.”

“To freedom,” Miriam agreed solemnly, raising her own glass. “Unique, I agree. Have we encountered other Tauese slaves who do not recall their origins?”

“Not so far,” Ted replied, “but it’s probably a common occurrence. If they were taken young enough, or have been through enough trauma….”

“There is magic, isn’t there, that interferes with memory?” Danu asked, directing the question to the group on a whole, but to Mordifred in particular, for the old man had more experience in the study of arcane arts than the rest of them.

“Oh, a lot,” Mordifred replied, swallowing his bite of meat. For the occasion of Miriam’s return, a pig, brought all the way from Tau, had been butchered and roasted; the flavor was splendid and the tent filled with the aroma. “I also believe, though I’ve never closely studied the matter, that it is occasionally common to interfere with memories in the training of a slave.”

“If you remember nothing,” Marcus commented darkly, “you have nothing to fight for, and nothing to prevent complete obedience.”

“Indeed,” Mordifred agreed. “I don’t know how common use of magic is in the process, however, only that it’s possible.”

“Did Raymo have magical abilities at his disposal?” Ted asked Miriam.

“Oh, probably,” she replied, waving a hand. “I don’t know if he himself possessed them, but there was definitely magic in his castle. I can’t say whether he used magic on his slaves, but any prince in the desert probably employs a few mages.”

“If there is magic on this girl you brought – Hareshi – can you remove it, and regain her memories, figure out where she came from?” Danu asked.

Miriam frowned thoughtfully for a few moments. Mordifred swallowed a gulp of wine. “Not easily, not without knowing the original spell. Desert magic is different from Tauese, your highness, and although I’ve travelled extensively, Tauese magic is the one I’m most familiar with.”

“What if you had a Desert mage to help you?”

“That might be helpful,” he admitted, “but where do we find one willing to assist?”