Excerpt: Comeuppance

The tavern is exceptionally boisterous this night. Evesori sits at the vanity in the private room she usually shares with Lord Draven, staring at her reflection in the mirror. Her calm façade belies the anger and jealousy roiling inside. Her emotions, however, do have a detrimental effect on the glamour that she normally uses to conceal her true appearance. Dark, angry bruises mottle her cheeks and neck; her smooth-looking skin is wrinkled and hangs in loose wattles, her breasts are flat, sagging dugs drooping under her robe and her face is sallow, aged and haggard. Damn him, she thinks. He let the other, more powerful, fresh meat get away before the ceremony could be finished – now I have to suffer this insult!

Even now, she hears the tinkling laughter of his latest conquest drift up from the main room. Naviri, the young chamber-maid, had suddenly become a favoured member of the guild; even Theo was less enthralled by Evesori’s charms than he’d initially been, although Draven made it clear that Naviri was his alone. Evesori had brought Naviri to share their bed, in hopes that he would allow her to perform the ceremony, but Draven seemed unconcerned about Evesori’s need. Now she was suffering and desperate to rejuvenate her rapidly-declining looks. The blood of the girl was sorely needed, but Draven had stayed her hand. Enthralled to him, she had no choice but to acquiesce.

She yanks open a drawer and digs around, pulling out a small envelope. Only a tiny bit of the magick-infused powder remained, just enough to stave off the impending decay. She would have one week to acquire a fresh infusion – she doesn’t want to think of what will happen if she can’t.

She taps the last bit of the precious powder into a golden goblet, takes a small teakettle from a trivet-heater, and pours a bit of warm water over the powder. It hisses and bubbles momentarily, emitting a slightly sulfurous odor. When the bubbling ceases, Evesori takes up the goblet, hesitates for a moment, and downs the bitter concoction. The results are immediate: the bruises disappear, her skin becomes taut and youthful in appearance, and her cold, pale beauty is restored. That’s it, then, she thinks. If I’m unable to find a new thrall of my own, without milord’s assistance… She shakes her head, banishing the unpleasant thought. Standing, she drops her robe to the floor and moves to the tall wardrobe. She removes her usual tavern-clothes from their hangers and squeezes herself into the tight, form-fitting garments. She gives herself a final, appraising look before heading downstairs into the din.

Draven sits at his table in the corner with a giggling Naviri on his lap. He is stroking her hair and cheek in a way that enrages Evesori anew, but she forces a pleasant smile as she grabs a tankard of ale from the counter near the stairs and moves towards the table. An inebriated Theo notices her and staggers over, glad to see that she is looking like her old self again. “Evie! I wash…I wanted…hey, join the party!” He puts an arm around her shoulders, casually grabbing her right breast and squeezing firmly. He knows that Naviri is off-limits, so Evesori will have to do for the time being. At least she doesn’t smell of rancid, week-old meat like the last time, he thinks, and still wonders if that had been some unpleasant nightmare.

Evesori laughs and shrugs off his drunken groping, gently pushing him aside. “I’ll deal with you in a moment, dear Theo – I just needed to speak with our liege lord about a pressing matter. I won’t be long, if you want to wait for me?” She tilts her head engagingly, flicking her eyes upward to her room before fixing them on Theo, letting the suggestion sink into his addled brain. He grins foolishly, turning towards the stairs and reeling off of the edge of the fireplace mantel. He trips and stumbles on the steps, stifling an embarrassed chuckle as a noxious, wet-sounding fart explodes from his nether regions. A dark stain spreads across the backside of his breeches as he crawls up the steps. Draven roars with laughter, while Naviri hides a smile behind one small, delicate hand. Evesori sighs internally, even as she directs Skips-Over-Water, the lizard-man, to attend to Theo and make certain that he doesn’t get any filth on her silken sheets. Skips hurries up the stairs while Evesori turns back to Draven’s table, still wearing her inscrutable smile.

Her mouth tightens slightly as she sees the mocking look on Naviri’s elfin face. Draven is playing with her tiny horn-nubs, unconcerned with Evesori’s emotions. In her mind, she crosses the room in a flash, tearing out the girl’s throat with a vicious swipe of ragged talons, bathing in gouts of refreshing, life-giving blood. In reality, she steps forward slowly and respectfully, nodding at Naviri politely as she addresses Draven.

“Milord? There is an…urgent matter which I must speak with you about. A moment of your time, please?” She takes a calming swig of ale from the tankard as she waits for him to stand and accompany her outside. Draven looks at her for a long moment. When he finally speaks, his voice is as frigid as an ice-bolt from the staff of a cryo-mage. “Evie, please…you do see that I’m busy, do you not? I’m sure that whatever is troubling you can wait until morning. In fact, it will have to wait. I’m being entertained at the moment.” He looks upstairs, where a loud thud rattles the floor. “Besides, your…lover is waiting for you. Surely you will be busy for the rest of the evening, as will I.” He smiles at Naviri as he pulls her tighter onto his lap. He traces a long, pale finger along her jawline and narrow, pointed chin, then lightly touches the girl’s lips. Evesori is filled with rage as she sees the girl’s slight frame shudder with pleasure. Why is he doing this? Why now? Her thoughts roil in confusion; for the first time in an eternity her confidence is shaken, yet still she tries to hide it and save face. She drains the tankard and slams it on the table a bit harder than she intended, then turns to leave the tavern. Draven ignores her as she walks out of the door, busily nuzzling Naviri’s neck and lightly suckling on her right ear. Naviri doesn’t notice the tiny bite on her earlobe…

Once outside, Evesori picks up one of the chairs and smashes it into one of the stout porch-timbers, feeling slightly better as splintered wood flies. A couple walking past the tavern hasten their steps as they see the violent outburst, heading instead towards the quiet inn near the city gates. Evesori’s eyes are wild, her face twisted in hate. All semblance of calm has vanished, and her anger makes her careless. She is completely unaware of the cloaked figure shrouded in the darkest corner of the porch until it is too late. A slender but strong arm is around her throat before she knows it; a hand smothers her mouth and nose in a powerful grip. She struggles in futility as she is dragged off of the porch and into the darkness behind the tavern. There is a brief burst of flame, then silence.

A young city guard stands at ease under a nearby streetlamp, fully aware of what just took place behind him. He was there to ensure that none would interrupt. The heavy sack of coin in his pocket is comforting – he was paid well for his duty. If the sell-sword can rid his fair city of the blood-vermin, he is more than willing to turn a blind eye. “Well done, lad,” he hears a husky voice say. “Remember – when you identify more of these parasites, send the falcon to me. Otherwise, I will return at the next cycle of the new moons. Together, we shall exterminate these filthy creatures and return this city to its full glory.” A hand rests momentarily on his shoulder. “Your family will be free to sit at lakeside again…and your infant son’s murder shall be avenged.” He doesn’t turn as he whispers, “Thank you.”

The quiet presence vanishes. The young guard smiles…

Excerpt: Metamorphosis

*** Author’s Note: Here is another excerpt of my fiction, edited to keep this post short and sweet. ***

The moons shine softly in the glade, casting their light on the statue of the Forest Lord. Behind her, the portal flares brightly, then fades and winks out. Barefoot, she walks towards the statue, which seems to gleam with an inner luminescence of its own. This statue is identical to the one that she saw in the grove before entering the portal, but looks to have been freshly-carved in comparison to its slightly weathered, moss-and-lichen-encrusted twin.

Of course, she thinks to herself. This is the realm of the Forest Lord, under his control and timeline. I am…between worlds.

She stands before the stag-headed stone effigy and gazes for a long moment, taking in the primal grandeur. The powerful build of the demigod as he brandishes his spear; his wolf companions savaging a boar at his feet.

The words of her savior echo in her mind: Pay due respect, child. The God of the Hunt suffers no foolishness.

Her hand pulses slightly where the mark was placed. She clenches that hand into a fist, momentarily, then presses her palms together and kneels before the statue. She bows her head, closes her eyes, and waits as she was instructed.

Her thoughts clear. Her mind is filled with the bright moons and the softly gleaming statue. The eyes of the demigod open, blazing as they fix on her form. A voice like distant thunder echoes in the labyrinth of her brain: Hmph. Another whelp bows in supplication to me.

Silence falls, yet she doesn’t speak – not yet. She feels that fiery gaze on her, penetrating, analyzing her from head to toe. She lets her thoughts flow freely, hiding nothing, including her recent shame and despair. The probing continues for a moment. Then, the presence exits her mind as swiftly as it entered. She waits.

Well, pup – you have been marked. It seems that my prodigal offspring has deemed you worthy of this gift. You must undertake the trial. But, first…

A tone of amusement is detected as the voice continues: First, remove your wretched rags. This trial requires your skills as a huntress and a warrior. Your sword and shield will not avail you.

She nods a brief assent and stands, slowly removing her armour and placing each piece carefully and reverently at the base of the statue as an offering.

She now stands nude, limned in moonlight. It is time, the voice says. Prepare yourself! With those words, a stabbing pain rips up and down her spine. She drops to her knees again, throwing her head back, mouth opening wide to scream. The sound strangles in her throat as a multitude of changes occur.

Her body twists, her back arches. Her shoulders broaden, muscles rippling and writhing like coiled snakes. Her fingers and toes lengthen as claws extend from those appendages. Her legs become the crooked, powerful hindquarters of a wolf. A thick brush of a tail touches the forest floor. Her gaping mouth stretches into a muzzle with strong, sharp, white fangs. Black fur sprouts from every pore; her ears become triangular and move nearer to the top of her head, and her breasts diminish to vestigial nubs hidden under the newly-grown, shaggy coat. A howl erupts from her throat, announcing her primal arrival. She stands, slightly hunched, snarling in surprise.

She still knows who she is…but her awareness of everything is magnified one hundred-fold. The light breeze which flutters the leaves and rustles the grass carries many scents, which she identifies without a thought. The pungent scent of large cats. The slightly dusty smell of feathers – harpies are near. The moist, dank essence of reptiles, hiding in mud. She detects the sap rising in the nearby trees; the blood pumping through the veins of the plentiful prey.

The voice of the Forest Lord thunders in her mind once more: Heed me well, pup. The prey is yours for the taking. Find the largest and bring it down, then sound the call of the hunt. You will know when you have succeeded. Now – go! Hunt well.

She doesn’t hesitate. Turning away from the statue, she lopes down the hillside and jumps to the top of a boulder to survey the area. A tiger prowls in the grasses below, it’s back to her. Silently, she creeps down and hides in the rock’s shadow, inching closer to the large feline. Before it realizes the danger, she has leapt upon it and severed its spine with a savage bite to the back of the neck. Blood-lust descends and she tears out the great cat’s heart, gulping it down in two swift bites. Strength fills her; she races onward, seeking out the trophy prey.

There. Just over that ridge: a mammoth lumbers about, quietly munching grass. It is a double-tusked behemoth with mottled grey fur, blind in one eye. Its handicap will make it doubly dangerous; even as the thought crosses her feral mind, it raises its head and lifts its trunk, scenting the air. She carefully moves downwind of it and crouches in the tall grass, waiting. The mammoth stands stock-still, the tip of its trunk twitching back and forth, seeking out the predator. The old beast is canny, she notes. This will take some time. She hunkers down low and backs away a bit, stopping as one of her paws touches the muddy banks of the river which cuts through this realm. An idea forms in her mind: mud will mask her smell and confuse the beast; if it is unable to tell her apart from the river-dwelling reptiles, then she might be able to take it by surprise. Slowly, she submerges herself in the murky waters, stopping short of immersing her head completely. Only her ears, eyes, and nose remain above the surface. Concealed in this fashion, she waits…

Tuesday Tidbits: That Happy Medium

I think that I have finally found the happy medium with my blogging schedule! Some things require a bit of fine-tuning, and I had to push the envelope of writing and posting my own original content, and re-blogging posts of others whom I read and / or follow. I finally found what is ideal for me, and what fits into my schedule more easily.

I find that publishing no less than one, and no more than five, posts on any given day is a fair number. Not too much and not too little, and spacing the time between posts is definitely helpful. I discovered this while using my back-up computer, which would direct me to the “Reader” portion of my blog instead of right to my Dashboard – I can safely say that I prefer the “Dashboard” view! Why? Well, on the “Reader” view, there would be literally 10 or more posts from one blogger, published three minutes apart, making it virtually impossible for me to read all of the blog-posts of those that I follow. These blogs have been organized into different categories in my bookmarked websites for ease of viewing, since different blogs have different schedules.

Another thing that I’ve discovered during these six years of WordPress blogging: a daily blogging / writing habit is a good thing to have, but missing a day here or there isn’t bad or something to feel guilty about. Taking a break from any work-schedule or fun hobby is a necessity, at times! Just as the weekends are a break from work (not for everyone, of course), or a “rest day” between workouts is a break for your muscles, having a day where you post nothing at all is a break for both yourself and your readers – especially if they follow too many blogs to reasonably keep up with! Also, sometimes there are those days where it’s just impossible to get online for whatever reason: travel, power outages, exploding computers, or any other unexpected life events that happen because…that’s life!

Anyway, I will do two or three re-blogs per week, and focus a bit more on my own posts and projects. I’m the only one promoting myself, so I need to get a bit more serious about it! Getting distracted by people who offer no help, advice, or assistance isn’t doing me or my manuscript much good, so it’s time to change things up a bit.

The changing of the seasons and the approaching full moon have inspired me positively, it would seem! Time to separate the wheat from the chaff and cull the herd, once again…I think that it’s long overdue.

Ready for some music? I know that I am!

😎

Excerpt: The Wild Hunt

*** Author’s Note: This is one of many chapters which has been considerably condensed, for the purpose of posting this excerpt. For the full story, you will have to read the book! ***

😎

They walk in silence to the secluded grove. He has been here many times; for her, it will be her first visit…but not her last. Her thoughts drift back as she follows him through the dense forest, recalling the events that led her here…

She is brought quickly back to the present as they emerge in the small clearing. The statue of the Forest Lord stands tall before them, brandishing a spear. His antlered aspect is fierce; his human torso well-formed and muscular. His two wolf companions snarl in stone effigy at his feet, worrying a boar.

The tall, broad-shouldered, wild-haired man turns to face her, his ice-blue eyes blazing in the moonlight that filters through the thick branches. “I ask you one final time, youngling – is this what you truly wish? Once this gift is given, it cannot be undone. You will be forever changed. For good or ill, none will ever be able to deceive you again. You will also never be able to speak a lie, no matter how small or insignificant. The truths that many wish to conceal will be laid bare…including your own.” She meets his gaze as he speaks, heeding his words and taking them into her heart and soul. This is the first time in…days? Months? in which her thoughts have been clear. If the curse laid upon her by the foul, wretched vampires can be lifted, she is willing to pay any price. Deceit is what laid her low and brought her here. She intends to see the cure through, and live with the blessings and the curse that it brings. Anything, other than death, is better than that disgusting affliction.

He finishes his short speech: “You will also be more susceptible to poisons, but immune to any and all diseases – including that of the blood-fever. You will be able to sense infections in others, even the unseen ills of the mind, and cure some of them – but, be mindful that you don’t deplete yourself in doing so.” He smiles and lays a large hand gently on her shoulder. “Not all are deserving of this blessing, and not all are capable of shouldering the responsibility that goes with it. You are one of the chosen few. Remember this.” She bows her head in acknowledgement. She has felt low and unworthy of anything as of late. Her whispered and shrieked, feverish prayers had been answered. She was not going to question this man’s reappearance in her life. Their paths had crossed, briefly, nearly a year ago. He was now her savior.

She raises her head, meeting his gaze again. “I’m ready,” she says softly. She extends her hand, palm up, and waits. He takes it – and, with a quick motion, bites into the flesh at the base of her thumb, just hard enough to draw blood. He licks at the red ooze briefly, then kisses her wrist, pats her hand gently and lowers it. “There – you have been marked.” He gazes at a blazing portal that is materializing in mid-air, just in front of the statue of the Forest Lord. “That is the entrance to the trial-grounds. Succeed or fail – there is no other option. Either way, you will be free of the blood-fever. This is your test alone.” He turns away and walks back the way they had come.

She calls after him. “Wait…please, I need to know your name. The one who saved my life must be given due honour.” He stops for a moment. He doesn’t turn around as he speaks. “Your life is your own to save – I only gave you my assistance. Still, if it must be known…return to me if you pass the trials. You will earn the right to know my name, if it is that important to you.” He half-turns then, a smile curving his beard and lifting the corners of his thick, salt-and-pepper mustache. “You will know that, and more, if you wish. The choice will be yours.” He tosses off a smart salute and vanishes into the dense forest.

She turns back to the portal, facing its blazing light. Giving a final glance up at the moons peeping through the thick branches overhead, she strides purposefully forward and enters the portal. The Wild Hunt begins…

Excerpt: Seclusion

She jolts awake. The nightmare, again. It haunts her, as it has every night for…how long has it been? Time has gotten away from her.

She rolls over on her back, staring at the root-canopy that forms this sizeable, yet well-concealed, den. It had been inhabited by a troll until recently; she had seen to its unceremonious eviction. Its pelt makes up the rough bed in which she was sleeping, while its decaying head rests on a boulder about five feet from the front entryway to the den. The presence and stench of it keeps away all intruders, including the nearby band of giants. They are only eight in number, so tending to their small herd of mammoths is of more importance than a dead troll. It is one less troll that will attempt to prey on the calves, and the smoke from their massive communal fire eliminates the stink of decaying flesh on days when the wind changes.

The nightmare is fading, but she can recall every detail. The dream is a memory of a real event, the details of which hammer at her brain like the siege machines hammer the walls of a fortress. She fully understands, now, why her father would sometimes wander the manor halls at night, long after the family had taken to bed. Two major events of his life still haunt him, many years later, although far less than they used to. She idly wonders how long the scene she witnessed would remain in her memory. She gags helplessly as those memories rush back, and claws her way out of the troll-skin bedroll towards the back of the den and the entryway to a short, rear tunnel. This tunnel is too small for the troll to have used; it had probably been created by the original resident of the den, as it leads to a small cave which opens on a ledge in a hillside. She staggers to a corner of the cave and doubles over, retching, but nothing comes up. Her stomach is empty. She hasn’t had any substantial meal for some time. The food-basket, tumbling from numb fingers…sweet cakes crumbling in the dirt…a carafe of wine shattering on stone…

She can’t stand her own cooking now, as the smell of food makes her nauseous beyond reason. Raw flesh is all that she can eat and hold down. What she craves and wants to consume sickens her. Stabling Sylph had become a necessity; even her own faithful steed was in danger from her appetites. She had to get away from the town and the people in it, for their protection as well as hers. Skulking through the woods…a campfire glinting between the trees…a young couple with their child, taking shelter for the night as they travel…their friendly invitation to join them for a meal…her maddening hunger at the scent of their vitality…the wife screaming as her husband was pinned to the ground, slavering teeth inches from his throat…rushing headlong through the forest, blinded by tears and tree-branches, frightened at the near-massacre…

“What’s happened to me?” she whispers to herself, doubled up in agony on the cave floor. The nausea passes. She gets to her feet, stumbles a bit, then steadies herself, swaying slightly. She needs to feed. The urge isn’t as strong this night as it has been, but it is always there, along with the distant siren song. It is very faint out here, making it easy to resist. She knows that her very being depends on resisting that call. If she succumbs to it…she shakes her head, negating the thought. That can’t happen. I won’t let it. I refuse! I shall resist…

She reels to the cave entrance and looks out, blinking in the bright moonlight. The giants are slumbering a fair distance away, with one standing watch, guarding the clan and the mammoth herd. She picks her way down from the ledge, making her way to the tree-line. The scent of a nearby herd of antelope makes her stomach knot with sudden hunger. She is torn by the desire to feed; the desire to answer that distant, deadly call, and the need to get a message to her family. Confusion roils in her mind…why is it so hard to think? The wild scent of the herd fills her nostrils. She surrenders to her hunger and crouches in the shadows, creeping as close as she dares.

A large buck, standing sentinel, whips his head around, startled by the distant howl of a wolf. The night had been almost eerily quiet, but now an answering howl, and then a third, floats on the air. The nervous herd mills about, then moves off towards the giant-camp. They have learned that relative shelter can be found amidst the mammoths; only the boldest and hungriest predators dare to attack the shaggy beasts.

She freezes amongst the shadows, not daring to follow the antelope herd. The giants will have heard the wolves as well, and might be more than ready to defend their camp. Her stomach knots with another sharp pang of hunger; her fevered brain reaches for a solution, and then it hits her: follow the pack. She had been successful with a past hunt when she had tracked a foraging band of goblins, following the wild boars for a full day after the goblins had captured three and returned to their rough camp. Following wolves would be fairly easy. Turning in the direction of their howling, she slips off into the night. She must feed…

Excerpt: The Entertainer

*** Author’s Note: These excerpts aren’t in chronological order, in case you’re trying to follow the story-line…I’m just posting some of the revisions I’ve made since NaNoWriMo ended! It helps me with the editing.

Sepultur’a sits at a small vanity, holding a mudcrab-shell powder-case, eyeing her reflection in the tiny mirror. She touches the puff to her nose and cheeks, delicately removing any gleam of sweat or oil. Her eyes are accented by black liner, while her lips look full and pouting with a glistening rouge applied to them. A beaten-silver collar adorns her neck, matching the tiara that holds back her hair from her face. She is clad in a harem-outfit of diaphanous, iridescent material; the hue mimics the shifting colours on the wings of a butterfly she had seen in the manor garden at home.

Cuffs of silver clasp her biceps and wrists, and belled anklets adorn her slender ankles. Bangles and baubles accentuate the slim girdle encasing her waist, and matching beads have been threaded intricately throughout her braided hair, cleverly attaching to the tiara and weaving a gleaming pattern that is caught by the firelight.

Taking a final, appraising look at her appearance, she closes the powder-case and sets it aside. She stands gracefully and stretches, loosening her muscles and relieving any final tension. This will be her first performance, and she is incredibly nervous. She won’t be performing solo, over which she feels great relief, but the attending crowd will be larger than any she has seen to date. The crowd will mainly consist of soldiers, as well: most of whom are battle-hardened, grown men.

She wanders to the privacy curtain and peeks out at the stage and the gathering people milling about beyond. Onstage, a jester in a jaunty hat and a brightly-coloured outfit is juggling knives. Out in the audience, two serving-girls make their way through the throng and top off empty tankards with sweet mead or foamy ale wherever needed.

She backs away from the curtain and moves to a small table lined with snacks for the performers. A stout keg rests next to the table – they have been given excellent refreshments, here; the soldiers have spared no expense for this night of respite. Succulent cuts of meat, fresh bread, aged cheeses, and ripe local fruits have been served. The keg is filled with the best mead in the lands, shipped directly from the brewer’s private stock. It has been fermenting slowly for ten years, she’d heard from a couple of the women who had been chatting in the dressing-area, and is rumored to be of fine vintage. The keg will be tapped at the culmination of the performance, and the entertainers will mingle with the audience and serve them the heady brew.

Sepultur’a nibbles on a bit of bread with a slice of meat and cheese folded on top, snacking to ease her anxiety. She tries not to overthink the moves of the sword-dance she will be performing – instead, she visualizes the motions in her mind, feeling her innate fire blossoming in her core. She can conjure flames at will, having learned how to control her inborn gift – and this fire enhances her dancing performance, earning her this place of honour at the center of the stage on this night.

The other performers begin stretching, going through their warm-up exercises as well, and Sepultur’a watches them with a smile, enjoying the camaraderie and easy-going atmosphere of her fellow caravaneers. There is Rocklin, the Nord strong-man, who conjures great balls of stone and hurls them to incredible distances. Shimmer-Scales, the lizard-man sorcerer, who does a fantastic lightning show which has a notable finale: the calling forth of a storm-golem. Tsuri-daro, a lithe cat-woman who is a fantastic contortionist: she bends her supple body into the most unbelievable postures, doing cart-wheels and back-flips, delighting and amazing even the most sour-faced observer.

Last but not least, is Sepultur’a’s tutor: the fire-breathing sword-dancer known only by her stage-name: Flame-Heart. She is a dark elf with a trim, muscular figure, skin the hue of the midnight sky, and blazing red eyes and hair to match. She wears a bra-top and tiny skirt of fine chain, exposing an intricately-designed, full-body tattoo which scrolls and spirals from her neck to her ankles – only her face, hands, and feet are bare of the adorning ink. Her hair is pulled up into a tight, severe ponytail that is wrapped and secured with leather laces. The loose hair of the ponytail flutters about as she goes through her pre-performance exercises. She sees Sepultur’a eating, smiles, and walks over to her protégé and enfolds her in a warm embrace. “Are you ready for this, dear?” She enquires, taking up a slice of meat and nibbling it delicately. “I think that you will do splendidly. Just remember what I said – don’t overthink things. Just move with the music and concentrate on your inner fire, and all will be well.” She smiles encouragingly, nodding at her own words.

Sepultur’a looks down at the filmy material she’s wearing. “I hope that I don’t burn my clothing off!” she laughs. Flame-Heart joins her with her own throaty laughter. She hugs Sepultur’a once more for luck, then meanders off. Flame-Heart always does the finale; her mastery of fire is well-known throughout the land, and she draws a great crowd even in the smallest communities. She never stays with any one caravan for long, nor does she have to – she travels until she runs into a caravan that is heading in whichever direction her heart and whims desire – then she will be off with them; perhaps only for a day or so, perhaps a week, and sometimes two or three months pass by before she is off again.

Sepultur’a checks her reflection in the mirror once more, affixing the veil over her face that completes her costume, then prepares to take the stage. As always, she hopes that there will be at least once man in the audience who reminds her of Endymion. Her performances are much better when she imagines him at the front of the crowd; with a crowd of tall, burly soldiers present, the odds are that much greater. The drums begin their steady beat, and she hears the caravan-master’s loud voice announcing her. Swaying her hips, she sidles through the gap in the curtain, undulating sensually forward. She scans the crowd through slitted eyes as she turns and bends. There – she sees an older man with wild, white hair and war-paint on half of his face. He is standing off to the side, holding a large tankard of ale. His intense blue eyes remind her of Endymion’s, and his tall, sturdy frame is massive in spite of his apparent age. He looks her over appreciatively and moves closer to the stage. He doesn’t move to sit. His armour is a shade of black that she has never seen before, and is a mixture of intricate leatherwork, chain-mail, and tooled plate. His legs are clad in tight leather and fastened with cunning bits of silver. The sleeves of his chain-and-leather jack are short, showing off well-muscled, tattooed arms. More than a few scars are evident on his biceps and forearms.

Sepultur’a smiles under her veil and sways closer. If all goes well, she might earn more coin than usual this evening…his interest is apparent. She is secretly glad that Flame-Heart is the final performer. This man might be here to see Flame-Heart, after all, and any coin that he tips to Sepultur’a will be hard-earned. She hopes that he likes her performance well enough to spend more of his coin on. She relaxes, smiles and breathes a deep calming breath, and allows some of her inner flame to come forth. A ball of fire puffs from her nostrils and floats about her twirling form, orbiting slowly but not so close that her clothes smolder as they did the first few times she’d attempted the trick.

She dances away from the large man, giving her attention to the rest of the crowd, doing a series of back-flips across the stage. The drums keep a steady rhythm for her hips to bounce and roll to; she extends her arms above her head, laces her fingers, and undulates to furious applause and stamping feet. She spins slowly back towards the man with war-paint on his face, sinking to the floor of the stage and writhing sensually, moving her body as she imagines Endymion before her, enraptured and captivated. She conjures a whip of flame and flicks it out, taking the man’s empty tankard from his hands and sending it sailing expertly into the waiting hands of the keg-tender. He fills it and takes it over to the large man, handing it to him with a low bow. “Compliments of the young lady,” says the keg-tender as he returns to his post. The large man looks even more impressed and raises the tankard to Sepultur’a in a toast before taking a healthy swig. He drops her a sly wink – he is very much intrigued by this sultry dancer. His eyes follow her as she completes her performance and skips off the stage. He wants to know who she is…

Notable Black Women: Edmonia Lewis

Mary Edmonia Lewis: 4 July 1844 – 17 September 1907

The “Google Doodle” caught my eye today! Since it’s the first day of February, which is Black History Month, I figured a post about the woman in the spotlight is a perfect way to start it. It isn’t lost on me that February is the shortest month of the year, but my heritage demands that I celebrate Black History on a daily basis!

Mary Edmonia Lewis was the first woman of African American and Native American descent to achieve international renown as a sculptor in the fine arts world. She incorporated themes of Black people and indigenous peoples of the Americas into the style of sculpture known as Neo-classical. From Wikipedia:

Edmonia Lewis’s birth date has been listed as July 4, 1844. She was born in Greenbush, New York, which is now the city of Rensselaer. Her father was an Afro-Haitian, while her mother was of Mississauga Ojibwe and African-American descent. Lewis’s mother was known as an excellent weaver and craftswoman, while her father was a gentleman’s servant. Her family background inspired Lewis in her later work.

By the time Lewis reached the age of nine, both of her parents had died. Her father died in 1847. Her two maternal aunts adopted her and her older half-brother Samuel. Samuel was born in 1835 to Lewis’s father and his first wife in Haiti. The family came to the United States when Samuel was a young child. Samuel became a barber at age 12 when his father died.

The children remained with their aunts near Niagara Falls for about four years. Lewis and her aunts sold Ojibwe baskets and other souvenirs, such as moccasins and blouses, to tourists visiting Niagara Falls, Toronto, and Buffalo. During this time, Lewis went by her Native American name, Wildfire, while her brother was called Sunshine. In 1852, Samuel left for San Francisco, California, leaving Lewis in the care of a Captain S. R. Mills, although Samuel continually provided money for her board and education.

In 1856, Lewis enrolled at New York Central College, McGrawville, a Baptist abolitionist school. During her summer term there in 1858, Lewis took classes in the Primary Department in order to prepare for courses she would take in collegiate programs. In a later interview, Lewis said that she left the school after three years, having been “declared to be wild.

At the age of 15, she attended Oberlin College, which was one of the first institutions of higher-learning to admit women, as well as people of colour and / or differing ethnicities. She studied art there from 1859 – 1863. From 1859 – 1860, she also enrolled in the school’s Young Ladies’ Preparatory Department.

An incident at the school created issues for Edmonia, shortly after the start of the Civil War:

During winter of 1862, several months after the start of the Civil War, Edmonia Lewis was attending Oberlin when an incident occurred between her and two classmates, Maria Miles and Christina Ennes. The three women, all boarding in Keep’s home, planned to go sleigh riding with some young men later that day. Before the sleighing, Lewis served her friends a drink of spiced wine. Shortly after, Miles and Ennes fell severely ill. Doctors examined them and concluded that the two women had some sort of poison in their system, apparently cantharides, a reputed aphrodisiac. For a time it was not certain that they would survive. Days later, it became apparent that the two women would recover from the incident, and, because of their recovery, the authorities initially took no action.

News of the controversial incident rapidly spread throughout the town of Oberlin, whose populace did not generally hold the same progressive views of the college, and through Ohio. While she was walking home alone one night, she was dragged into an open field by unknown assailants and badly beaten. After the attack, local authorities arrested Lewis, charging her with poisoning her friends. John Mercer Langston, an Oberlin College alumnus, and the only practicing African-American lawyer in Oberlin, represented Lewis during her trial. Although most witnesses spoke against her and she did not testify, the jury acquitted her of the charges.

The remainder of Lewis’ time at Oberlin was marked with isolation and prejudice. Also, about a year after the trial, Lewis was accused of stealing artists’ materials from the college. She was acquitted due to lack of evidence, but not fully cleared. She was forbidden from registering for her last term by the principal of the Young Ladies’ Course, Marianne Dascomb, which prevented Lewis from graduating.”

Al-Jazeera states the reason for today’s honour:

Mary Edmonia Lewis was a trailblazer who shattered racial barriers as the first professional African American sculptor in the mid-1800s, becoming famous for her 1,408kg marble sculpture, The Death of Cleopatra. In honouring Lewis on Wednesday, Google paid tribute to her artistic legacy and her effort to forge a path “for women and artists of colour”.

“Today, we celebrate her and what she stands for – self-expression through art, even in the face of [adversity],” the Google citation reads. February 1 is also observed in the US as National Freedom Day. On this day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln submitted the 13th amendment – which called for abolition of slavery – to the state legislatures.”

This lady was a genius, a creative master who should be held in the highest esteem. She is one of many who should be an inspiration to girls and young women everywhere. The strife and roadblocks that she faced were of a scale that few understand. She is truly a notable, historic figure!

ESO Fan Fiction: Search For the Sky-Crystals – Part I

Here’s a bit of my fan-fiction, originally posted in 2015. Chronologically, it takes place after the events I’m writing about in my NaNoWriMo short-story.
😎

Random Ramblings; Myriad Musings

Tur’a wakes in the Warrior’s Rest Tavern, yawning and stretching in her bedroll. She has returned to Cyrodiil at the behest of her sister, who left a cryptic message before leaving to roam the desert sands with Dar. The message simply reads: “Remember the Chalamo.” Tur’a is still unfamiliar with the war-torn land, having only recently completing basic training there. She has used the siege machinery at the practice field, but that is a far cry from using them in the heat of battle. Rubbing her eyes, she sits up near the fire-pit. She is clad in a simple tunic and breeches; modesty and practicality dictate sleeping in light clothing, at the very least. She rummages through her bag for a quick meal – she has been cooking more and more for herself, finding hearty soups and stews more to her liking than the sugary-sweet fare her sister used to…

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Excerpt: A New Craft

* Author’s Note: This excerpt is also a change in POV, to introduce depth to some of the characters that are of importance in the tale.

Endymion wipes his sweating brow, rolls his shoulders and cracks his neck, then returns his focus to the delicate scroll-work that he is carving on a bit of wood. He has been working on the piece in his spare time, which has been very little as of late. He had finally completed his apprenticeship with the smith, but found himself dissatisfied with his metal-work. He wanted to master a craft, but the work of a smithy wasn’t his forte. Unbeknownst to him, a good turn of fortune was about to take place in the form of an unexpected visit from Sepultur’a’s father.

Lord Yazim had noted his youngest daughter’s interest in the young man, seeing their obvious affection towards each other on the day of her departure. He wondered if the lad had aspirations of his own, or if he was merely hoping to marry into money. To satisfy his curiosity, he was hoping to speak with Endymion informally and offer him an apprenticeship. On a mild morning, about three months after Sepultur’a’s departure, he dressed in his most casual clothing and set off to the smith’s workshop. As he walks, a plan forms in his mind: a means of offering Endymion the apprenticeship without the lad knowing that he, Yazim, was responsible for it. Sometimes, subterfuge was a necessary means of gathering important information.

Bulgor gro-Kazhgur, the orc blacksmith, greets Yazim warmly, clasping his wrist in the warrior’s grip. “Hail, Lord Yazim! What can a lowly smith such as myself do for you this fine morn? Are ye in need of a new cuirass or pauldrons for the New Life Festival parade?” Yazim laughs heartily, clapping the orc’s solid shoulder. “Nay, good smith; I appreciate your offer, but my parade-garb is in fine shape, thanks to your craftsmanship. And you aren’t lowly, by any means! Your arms and armour sets are known far and wide, and your business is thriving. You have turned out many fine apprentices, and they have taken the knowledge and skills which you taught them back to their homelands. And, the work that you have done for my family and myself has always been exemplary. If there haven’t been books written about your prowess with metal-shaping, then there should be!” Bulgor smiles; on his scarred, tusked face it looks more like a pleasant grimace, but his appreciation of the compliment is apparent. He scratches his bald head. “Well, not all of my apprentices take what I teach them back to their homelands. Once in a while, I run across one who is…not necessarily unteachable, but their talents seem to be wasted under my tutelage.” He crosses his massive, muscular arms across his burly chest. “I currently have a young protégé who isn’t quite as adept as he, or I, had hoped that he’d be. Oh, he’s fair enough with a hammer and tongs, but I just don’t think that metal-crafting is what he should be doing. I think that he has finally, grudgingly, acknowledged it as well.” Yazim nods in understanding. “I think that I might know of whom you speak,” he says, looking around, making certain that the topic of their conversation isn’t in earshot. Seeing that Endymion is deeply engrossed in his project a good distance away, he turns back to Bulgor and continues. “In fact, I had a proposition for you which might be of benefit to all three of us.” Bulgor sets down his hammer, splashes water on his face from a bucket, and wipes his hands on the thick apron that covers his work-clothes. “Let us move away from the heat of the forge, then,” he rumbles. “I think that it is time for a break.” He and Yazim walk to a small, open balcony that overlooks the harbor, then stand side-by-side as they gaze out, taking in the view. The sun is still climbing in the sky, and a gentle breeze is blowing – the mild salt-scent is pleasant and refreshing after the heat from the forge. Gulls circle the fishing-boats and squabble over scraps as the boats return from their early-morning fishing excursions. Bulgor takes a dipper from a bucket of water and drinks deeply, quenching his thirst.

“So,” Yazim begins, “your young apprentice, the Nord lad – he isn’t adept with metal-work?” Bulgor nods in assent, sighing in slight disappointment. “He is a good-hearted and earnest lad, and doesn’t want to admit defeat, but…he simply doesn’t have the aptitude for smithing. I’ve tried to teach him even the simplest things; he does his best, but I can’t say that I’d trust the armour that he’s crafted. He can make daggers well enough, and if you need eating utensils, he’s your man. But, a good smith makes their living with arms and armour.” Bulgor shrugs. “I just don’t think that he’s cut out for forge-work, and I think that he realizes it as well. He is too proud to say so, however – typical of youth.” Yazim smiles at the statement, understanding it all too well. The impetuosity and pride of youth had gotten him into, and out of, many scrapes over his long life. “So, tell me,” Yazim asks, “do you think that he has any skills? Speak true, please. What we discuss here will not be used against anyone, nor will it be fodder for cheap gossip.” Yazim turns to Bulgor, watching the orc’s expressions as he answers in order to properly assess his reply.

Bulgor thinks for a moment before responding. “Well, he seems to have more than a fair aptitude for carving. The designs that I’ve seen him work in wood and bone are beyond compare. The carvings that he does in his idle time rival those of the finest wood-workers in the land.” He chuckles again. “The dark elves to the far east, and the cat-folk from the great deserts in the south and east would be envious of his skill. He is a natural.” Yazim’s brow furrows somewhat. “Why, then, did he not apprentice to a wood-hewer, I wonder?” Bulgor shrugs again. “I know not, milord Yazim. He was brought to me as a callow youth of fifteen years, and I was told to employ him for five years. Whether he learned anything of value or not seemed not to matter to the one who hired him to me. It’s almost as if a debt of some sort needed to be paid, and the lad was used to do so.” Yazim’s face turns thunderous at this. “What sort of person would use a child to pay off their debts? Such an action is most foul! He is certainly fortunate to have you as the one to employ him. Others might not have been as kind as you have been.” Bulgor nods. “Aye. We both know of people who traffic children as slaves for all sorts of purposes. He certainly could have ended up with a far worse task-master than I.” He leans on the rail of the balcony, gazing out over the harbor. “I know what it’s like to be more of a slave than an apprentice,” he finishes, his gruff voice surprisingly soft as he speaks those words.

Yazim nods, also leaning on the balcony rail and looking down at his small fleet of ships. There are four in total, but a fifth one is in the process of being built. The bare skeleton of the newest ship is being formed on the dry-dock: the keel, ribs, and lowest deck are clearly visible. It is yet unnamed, as Sepultur’a will be the one to name it before she takes it out on its maiden voyage. It is her ship, and it will be completed when she returns from her adventures. He thinks for a moment, then chooses his words carefully before speaking again. “So, you say that the lad is adept with carving? I wonder if his aptitude lends more to wood-shaping instead of metal-forging?” Yazim lets the question hang there, waiting for the orc to answer. He sees Bulgor’s scarred face brighten as the suggestion takes hold. “You could be on to something there, Lord Yazim. Metal-working isn’t the only noble profession, after all. I’ve always been quietly envious of those who carve the intricate designs in wood, bone, and stone. The staves of wizards and mages are certainly just as potent in battle as any sword or mace!” He turns to face the merchant-lord, grimacing a huge, tusked smile. “Do you think that the lad would be willing to be an apprentice for another five years?” he inquires. Yazim grins back broadly. “Well, if he is as talented as you say, then he might only need to stay on for one more year. – If he meets or exceeds my expectations, he would still get paid the full sum of a highly-skilled, five-year apprentice!” Bulgor roars out a laugh of approval, slapping his solid thigh with a meaty hand, then proffers his hand to Yazim, clasping it to seal their contract.

Young Endymion will move to the wood-carvers’ quarters, and begin his apprenticeship with them before the week is out. Yazim looks forward to seeing how the young man responds to this unexpected change of fortune. He also wants to observe him quietly and discreetly, as he had only recently been made aware of Sepultur’a’s interest in the young man. Anyone who wants to court his youngest child has to pass his muster, first. Honor, intellect, and a strong work ethic are important virtues to Yazim. He was taught them by his own father, and they had served him well during his life. He hopes that both of his daughters find worthy men. Ildris has not indicated to him or his wife if she is seeking anyone for companionship, as her excursions to and from the war-front keep her well involved in battles. His son needed no permission from him to marry, as it was customary for the family of a potential bride to vet any and all suitors. Sonja’s family had found his son more than a worthy prospect for their only child, and had been overjoyed when he asked for her to be his wife. Yazim hopes that Endymion never dulls the glow of joy he’d seen on Sepultur’a’s face. His expression hardens a bit at that thought; he knows that some men do nothing more than use women and toss them aside, and does not want to see that happen to his youngest. Indeed, any man who brings tears to the eyes of any of the women-folk in his life would pay dearly for that insult and transgression.

Bulgor sees the hard look on the merchant-lord’s face, and is glad that it is not directed at him. He would rather face the rage of all of his kinfolk at the stronghold where he’d grown up, or the lash of the whip of his former master, than bear the brunt of Yazim’s anger and vengeance. Yazim’s reputation, for good or ill, was well-known. Those who were ignorant of it never forgot it…if they happened to survive it, that is. Lord Yazim was not one to cross, and any slights to his family’s honor or name were never forgotten.

The two leave the balcony, exchanging mild pleasantries as they return to the forge. After a few more minutes of talk that menfolk discuss away from women, Yazim finally bids Bulgor farewell, letting him know that the arrangements would be made as soon as possible. He leaves the orc to his work, making his way back to the manor. He decides to walk through the family gardens on the way, as the jasmine is blooming. He enjoys the sweet fragrance of the pale flowers, and hopes to find a unique bloom that he can show to his wife when they take their evening stroll.

Midweek Memes & Music: 18 January 2017

I’m working on a post that should be done by the weekend; it’s basically my review of a blogger-to-blogger (B2B) ‘interview’ that finally got completed a couple of days ago. It was an interesting experience, to say the least! I hope that you enjoy the review, and of course will link to said ‘interview’ in the post. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, my followers and / or readers think about it. My thoughts will be made known, for certain!

Anyway, here’s a bit of midweek music to keep you entertained while I get that post put together. Also, I finally have my other computer back, built (mostly) to my specifications, so we’ll see if it performs to my expectations! That will possibly warrant another salty, snarky review…stay tuned for it, LOL

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