Writing Prompt- 27th Feb

​Famous last words: consider the last few sentences of one of your favourite books. 

Now write your own last sentences to an as yet unwritten novel. 


Was submission the only course of action in the end? 

Carrie reminded herself that submission did not always equate to weakness. While there was still breath, while there was still life- there was hope. 

Her will was immaterial. She would endure and survive to gain it back. 

It took true strength to submit. 

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Writing Prompt- 24th Feb  

​Imagine your dream house: What does the front door look like? Can you detail the whole entryway? 
A white door, why I don’t know. Gloss paint, unmarked, shining in the sun. No window or number. Simply a letterbox, knocker and doorknob. Plain brass, unadorned. 

There is the lazy hum of bees in the air and butterflies. The whole door frame and indeed, a good portion of the front of the house is alive with wisteria and golden climbing roses. Purple and yellow of flowers in stark contrast to the plain white door. 

There is a single step up, black and made of granite. The keyhole is old, not a compact modern lock. An anonymous gap in the door where an old iron key fits. The lock is stiff and I need to grit my teeth when I turn the key. 

The heavy wooden door creaks a little on opening, slowly moving to reveal a corridor beyond. A vague picture of a marble tile floor and an old victorian hat stand, filled with the jumble of coats that my family wear. 

The scent of wisteria and rose seeps into the house, perfuming it with the nostalgic smell of childhood gardens.  

I am home   

Writing Prompt- 22nd Feb


Open yourself up to all Geographies and time periods and imagine a society with an unusual currency- it is not paper, gold, or bitcoin. What is it, and where does it come from? 

(Borrowed a bit from 1700s UK history for this one. Also this was written with little sleep and edited at 4am… cos sick child.) 

Milly clutched her prize. A faint scent still hung in her nostrils. Not the usual smells of damp earthen floor and hearth smoke. No, this smell spoke of far off places, burning sun, heated sand that stretch on forever. Places where strange creatures lurked, dark skinned people who spoke in lyrical tones; to Gods she knew nothing of. 

He mother would skelp her for thinking such things. If Father Boyd head such- she would be on the punishment stool at Mass on Sunday for all to see her shame and witness her repentance. There was only one God. To say otherwise was heresy. 

Almost frightened the local priest would sense her blasphemous thoughts, Milly scampered past the church. She splashed through mud and slurry in the street. The smell kept the aromas of her little village at bay. It tantalised her nostrils, drawing her on. 

She would not have known the worth of her prize, had it not been for Michael. Her mother would do more than skelp her if she knew Milly still payed with the Gypsy lad. Milly had been bearched last time her brother had found out. He squealed like the piglet he was to Mama. 

The beating did not stop Milly sneaking out to see Michael. Her disobedience had been blessed. The pair had come across a half buried box, that smelt of mystery and warm. Michael had known straight away what the contents were and more importantly, their value. 

Milly lifted her woolen skirts as she splashed across the main track, dodging horse droppings and what looked like a drowned rat. She had to hurry, her Father would be waiting in line to pay the rent. 

They did not own the land they lived upon. The local Laird had recently hiked the price of rent so high few could pay. Repossessed land was covered in sheep. The fleece and mutton sold for more than tenant farmers could pay in rent. Sheep were worth more than people to the nobility. 

Most folk were packing up, leaving. Many selling everything they owned for passage to Canada, America and even India. Places she had heard of, but never even seen on a map.

Her Father was at the front of a line of tired looking men. None of them could probably afford the new rent, yet there they were. To argue the case. A last, faint hope that the new Laird may remember that their families had lived on these lands for generations. Served his noble family, bled for them in times of war, celebrated the birth of their heirs. Supported them in times of famine. They could not forsake all that. Land was a man’s soul. Without it what good was he? 

She had heard her Da say that to her mother and thought she may understand. Milly was sure Canada was very nice, but this place, this rainy, muddy, backwarter of a village was home. 

She drew level with her Father and tugged at his sleeve. The large man, bowed from the plough, hands and face rough from hot sun and frost, turned to regard his only daughter. Ten, yet looked so like her grandmother it made his heart ache. 

Milly smiled and wordlessly opened his hand. 

Three dried buds were dropped onto his heavily lined palm. He looked from the grinning child’s face to what was in his hand. He almost dropped the useless bits of plant and stomp them into the mud. Was she added? 

The gasp from the finely dressed servant behind the desk made him think otherwise. 

“Are those-? Where did you? How?” The fop was purple of face, could almost not breathe. 

Milly’s Father placed the buds on the ledger before the man and waited.  

Stuttering, the man wrote a value in the ledger, quill shaking. 

“Ah, that- that will be all. This will pay the rent for- well the next ten years- that is- that depends on silver prices, of course.” 

The big farmer grunted and took his daughter’s hand, leading her away. 

“Milly-May?” he asked as they passed the church, his work rough hand still firmly holding his daughters. “What were those?” 

“Cloves Da,” she responded. “M-” then backtracked quickly, her mind turning over. “I found ‘em by tha Kelpie pond. Looked like a thing tha’ Laird would like so I brought ‘em.”  

Her hand was squeezed in response. Her Father asked no more, especially how she had managed to identify the highly prived spice when she had never seen it. 

Cloves were worth triple their weight in silver, and so was his daughter it seemed. 

He let her have her secrets.  

February 17th- Writing Prompt

‘Design a scene where tranquillity is unnerving. What makes it eerie? Can you impart the feeling without using the words unnerving eerie or their synonyms?’

OK, gonna use GW2 RP character to try this. 

The silence was complete.

The forest was never quiet. There was always something making noise. Maguuma was alive in a very real sense. Even the chasms in the ground contained vines that were shifting and slithering.

Birds called out in the day, a myriad of rainbow colours. Wild boar and other rooting animals shuffled through the undergrowth. The peoples of the forest were a reflection of the environment. Despite the nightly assaults they found time to sing, dance, play.

The remaining Pact forces in the jungle worked tirelessly during lulls in the fighting to repair weapons and defences. Varicose swarms of pocket raptors brought down screaming prey. Tigers growled and roared to affirm territory and ward off any that might stray near them.

At night, the minions came. Gaining strength in the darkness. The jungle rang with battle cries and fleeing animals caught in the crossfire.

The dragon whispered…

It was all gone… silence, total and utter.

It was wrong.

The tall blue sylvari, hidden in the foliage, edged out of cover. It was night and she was swathed in black and green, hiding her glow from those that may target her. Her footfalls sounded over loud in the night. Her ears twitched and she froze, waiting for the inevitable attack that must come, yet it did not. Her eyes swept over the tree line then scanned the ground.

Nothing stirred, nothing moved. Senses strained. Nothing, oppressive and thick nothing. There should have been relief, but she felt only tension and stain. The jungle was holding it’s breath. Every creature waiting for a monumental- something to happen.

Her nerves began to fray. Pulled taut, they unravelled. The silence in her mind was the most disturbing. What was keeping the dragon so occupied?  The lack of sound pressed round her ears. She could hear her own sap pulsing through her body.

She bolted. Instinct born from hard lessons in Orr pushed her on. Her magic came in a rush, she jumped, blinked and even vanished utterly at times. Anything to get her back to camp as swiftly as possible.

Something was coming and she did not want to be in the open when it-

The roar that echoed through her mind made her fall to her knees. Momentum carried her on, skidding across moss and slamming into a tree.

She screamed, so did everything else around her. The noise thrummed through her, then it came. Wave after wave of wild, raw magic.

Barriers, so carefully constructed round the needy and gaping maw within her, shattered. She remained still, mouth open, now not even able to scream as the reservoir within her was filled and overflowed. She was found insensible and burbling nonsense just outside base camp.

It took a long time for her to come back to herself. Weeks. When she was told the dragon was dead she began to weep. The world was changed for her. The threat was gone but had been replaced by something far more personal, even vindictive. When would she stop having to pay for a mistake made four years past?

A gnarled hand, strong and twisted with age took hers and she looked up at the rugged bark of her dearheart. He had a patch over his eye. When had that happened? She would later learn that the patch was her fault also. More consequences from the death of the dragon.

“Do not cry,” he told her in his gruff tone. “While you live there is hope.” He sounded unsure, was he panicking at seeing her cry?  

Perhaps, but his words, as usual, held wisdom. She was too stubborn to give in. Though it was clear she could no longer serve the order as she once had. Was she useless now? What of her half remembered hunt? Her pride stung.

As if sensing her thoughts, she was abruptly pulled into a lingering hug.
He had never needed words to get his point across. She would endure, for his sake if for no other reason.    

Pain

((Wee warning, adult themes.))

The young woman spat at the feet of the man before her. Saliva, mixed with blood stained the reed covered floor. She grinned up at him, her split lip opening further. She could hardly see the man’s face, combination of dim lighting and one eye being swollen closed from the fist to the face the previous day.

“Aye, I deserved tha,” she admitted with a weak chuckle. “I sorry I called ye wife a fifty silva’ whore.”

The angry guard grunted and the clenched fist fell. Her grin widened, the pain- she was used to it. At least the workhouse had gifted her with a tolerance for it. This was nothing. Scrubbing floors with a broken knee, that hurt. Few punches to the face and guts, easy.

“Nah, she be a twenty silva’ whore, sorry. I was confused like and go the-“ the fist crashing into her sternum stopped the insult. Air rushed from her lungs and she sunk to the ground. She lay there, gasping like a landed fish. She curled round herself. Small as possible, protecting face and arms. The two kicks that followed landed on shins and shoulders.

Nothing to be concerned about. She judged that was enough. The guard was panting and his hand no doubt hurt.

She lay still.

A few inexpert curses were thrown her way and a leer that she would be ugly when her neck snapped in a few days. An ugly corpse among the others who had behaved. They would go to their deaths unmarked.

“Fucking lot of good being pretty is when ye be dead,” she thought. “Unless ye like ya lasses dead… which be fucked up.” She kept that thought to herself and the cell door slammed shut.

Min did not want to behave. She knew what happened to the ones who did. The docile ones who thought if they did as they were bid, and sucked whatever was shoved in their faces; then they would get out.

That rarely happened. Then there were those that were frightened and quiet. She heard their tears and what was done to them. It was not all the guards. Just the rotten few. She had identified them early and had gone out of her way to be obnoxious to them. She took the beatings. They were better than what they did to the other lasses.

Of course, she could not go too far, or might end up getting screwed as a punishment. No, she had to walk a fine line. Annoy them enough to be battered and not be prison candy. Though not so much that she got raped as a way to control her. She was not stupid. Most of knocking boots was about control, anyone that said different was deluded.

Love, tenderness- utter ogre shite. Someone wanted, someone gave and got stuff in return. Protection, respect, money. It was how things worked. Somewhere in the last few moons she had forgotten that. Let herself think she could be respected without having to offer anything. That people liked her, for just being her.

She should thank Garry if she ever saw him again. He’d been right. He was not her family; he was her employer. Things had blurred… food fights with captains and insulting customers… Bandit and the beach… Sylvia and dresses. She had taken it all to mean more than it had. Given her hope that she had finally found ‘her’ people.

Garry had shattered that to shit… and he had done her a favour in the end. She saw that now. A slum rat did not get to be respected or liked.

At the back of her mind she knew she was deliberately ignoring the weak link in her current thinking.

Bo.

He had followed her about like an adoring baby brother. She had wanted to take care of him. He was an idiot; he would not make it on his own. Turns out she was rusty. One failed pickpocket of a labourer and she was arrested. Bo fought to defend her and got a kicking for it. So did Bandit. She hoped they were okay. Her adoptive brother was stupid enough to shout her name multiple times during the arrest.

Records were checked. ‘Min’ was linked to ‘Minnie- Ann.’ Minnie- Ann was wanted for murder.

That had been a shock. Her eleven-year-old self, had acted in fear. Grabbed the first sharp object and- well. She knew she had cut him deep. She had not stuck around to see how deep. It was her chance. She had run.

Freedom was almost as bad as the workhouse, but at least she lived on her own terms. She had been passionately independent ever since. Until she was ‘employed’ in the Bones.

“I thought they liked me,” she muttered into her hands. “We got on well like-” She shook her head and her face throbbed in tandem with a different pain in her chest. A pain that was not caused by any physical blow.

She missed them.

Which was stupid.

A few tears forced their way down her face without her permission. Crying was pointless, but the tears still splattered onto the cold stone floor she was curled up upon.

She was not sure how long she lay there, feeling pathetic and yet still crying like a little girl. The rattle of carts on the street above and the chirp of birds, alerted her to the fact it was dawn.

 

“Happy Birthday Min,” she croaked to herself in the gloom. “T’will be tha last one ye see.”

The waiting game.

Ethan sat back, looking at the half elf upon the bed. His rickety chair was precariously balanced on two legs. His feet irreverently propped up on the bed beside Garrett’s hip.  The Captain was out, said she was going for food, but he was not sure if she had been telling the truth, or just needed a break from watching over her quartermaster.

The former mercenary ran a hand through his cropped hair. The memory of his sister cornering him in the tavern with a pair of shears in her hand and a determined gleam in her eye had him sighing loudly.

He had submitted to her whim, knowing she took comfort fussing over him. He remembered Sylvia’s sly comment about his hair colour and shook his head. Red had been raised in the same place as he, he had been certain before he saw her power. Living on a farm he had only gone to town on market days. He was better known in Altinova than Tarif. If they had met he did not remember.

He glanced back at Garrett. The Quartermaster’s chest was swelling and distorted, purple creeping over bronze skin as the bruising began to show.

The crew was in a sorry state if Ethan was the best healer on offer. He knew enough from watching the vigilantes in Olvia how to stop bleeding and prevent most wounds from becoming fatal.

Garrett’s injury was almost a mortal one. He had lost a lot of blood and if he moved too much broken bones risked shredding his wounded lungs further. At least he had not drowned in his own fluids. A swift knife to the chest cavity had stopped him dying. Ethan’s knife.

He listened as the man breathed. Still no rattle, that was good. No fever as yet and the last time he had checked his wounded sides the cuts had been clean and weeping clear fluid, another good sign. That however was the extent of his knowledge. He had some leaves the pirate could chew when he woke. They would ease the pain. Sylvia had been to the alchemist for potions too. Garrett had a good chance.

Ethan had been surprised when he had heard the half elf yell. It had not been an angry shout or battle cry. No this was the sound a wounded animal would make. It had shivered through him and before he knew it, he was turning to help the quartermaster. Not because he had to, or the Captain would wish him to, but because he felt compelled to do so.

He did not want to analyse why. It had happened; there was an end to it.

“You are one lucky bastard” he grumbled to the man on the bed. “After the shit you pulled in the brothel, I should have let you die”

Alright, he admitted he had found the brothel mildly amusing. It was not like he was inexperienced. It was just- any of those women could have been his sister. It was what she almost turned to. Crops failed, mother sick, him still a boy. The money she earnt at the tavern was not enough. He remembered watching her one night, head in her hands weeping- another bill delivered they could not pay. He remembered the quiet resolve that settled over her when the tears dried. He had not liked it. She was meant to smile, not have eyes hard as chips of jade.

In the end, she sold herself anyway. Not to a brothel, but to a man. She had deserved better. Leaving the place where she was understood must have been more than difficult. He turned his thoughts from her husband. That was over too, she was free.

He looked back down at the man on the bed. Sui liked this one and Garrett had vowed to look after Ethan because the sailor liked her in return; yet here Ethan was, saving his life. A’al had a sense of humour it seemed.

Yes, Garrett and his sister were friends. That he could cope with, but the half elf certainly did not deserve any more than that from her, though Ethan trusted Sui knew that. Still, he hesitated to contact her. They were in her largest trading hub. The Samara name was on the lips of trade princes. Use it and he could have a witch here or an alchemist. He could hire an entire brothel out to tend to Garrett’s every whim. Yet- that would connect his activities to Sui. They were supposed to hate each other. She the respectable one, he her wayward brother. It was a comfortable lie, gave him freedom and her protection.

The door rattled open and with a burst of sea air and sunlight the captain strolled in, loaf of bread under her arm. He grunted at her. He never knew what to say. It was not her rank or that he was intimidated, but she had a pair of very fine- legs. He could not help but admire. He was not stupid enough to make it obvious. He knew far too many men who thought with their libido first. He was pretty sure the Captain had killed enough of those and had no wish to add himself to the list. That other elf was fine too. All curves and cool professionalism. Made him want to tease and make her blush.  Did he have a thing for elves?

The Captain slumped down in the chair opposite and instead of scolding him for having his feet on the bed, copied his pose.

“No change?” she asked, looking at Garrett and not Ethan.

“No,” he responded, more sharply than he meant to. Silence settled on them. The creek of the Captain’s chair as she leant forward to place the bread on the table seemed over loud. Should he say something? His mind was unhelpfully blank.

“Ye saved his arse,” she whispered at last, sparing him his dilemma.

“Maybe,” he grunted hating the warm feeling that crept across his chest. “He still could die.”

The Captain pinned him with a fierce look, not at all diluted by the white strands of hair that had fallen from her bandanna and over her face.

“He won’t. Ye won’t let ‘im.”

It was an order if he ever heard one. She did not have to be specific. They both knew he could be doing more.

“Aye aye, Captain.” He breathed.

Moments later he was out in the sun, heading for a courier. It did not sit well with him, but he would have to involve her.  She would have to handle how to keep things quiet. Sui would manage, she always did. They were blood, after all. A little Mediahan bureaucracy stood no chance against that.

 

(With thanks to Rhea, for helping me make sure I had Yanna correct and to all who organised and who were at the event last night. Love and sloppy kisses to you all!)

The Olive Grove

((A little encounter for my characters in BDO which is where I’ve been RPing of late))

Ethan swatted away another questing mosquito, then with an annoyed grunt pulled at the wild herb beside him, inspecting it.

“Good enough,” he grumbled and smeared the mane grass over his exposed skin. If he did not smell like a person, then he was not worth eating.

He lent back against the gnarled trunk of the olive tree he sat under, glancing around the ancient grove that had somehow escaped the ruin of the city. The last time he had been under these trees he had been a boy. He sighed to himself, then looked up. The sky was deep black and studded with a myriad of stars. He had often slept outside growing up, just to get himself lost in the enormity of the Mediahn sky.

A rare smile tugged at his lips. He was used to his life taking odd turns, but the latest twist had his head spinning. He had not been anywhere near Altinova in some time. The feeling of nostalgia that struck him as he stepped off the boat had been a surprise. He had thought his memories of the city would be tainted.

No, he felt comfortable to be in Altinova. It had an openness that the cities of the west lacked. The likes of Calpheon made him feel trapped. All hard edges and grey stone.

What he had not felt comfortable on was that cursed ship. He frowned at the sky. How could they eat while the boat rolled and pitched so? He remembered seeing Garrett eating cheese and an echo of queasiness pulled at his innards. Bastard probably had done it on purpose.

Small wonder Boyd had hired him for a job and not come himself. The sea was vast and the boat was…not. Could giants sail? He was unsure. Would not a boat have to be customised?

He shook his head and ran a hand through his green hair. None of the crew even half trusted him. That was fine, he did not trust them either. If things got rough he knew he would be the one left for the guards to find. It would not be his first arrest, or the last. His Sister would see him right. She thought she owed him.

He would have to watch that Captain, she had given him a look that said if he breathed in a way she disliked then he would find himself filleted. The one in red was annoying, but he knew better than to judge her yet. Miss Hat was fun to tease, but having seen a vanishing staff when she was drunk he knew he had to step lightly there also. He was unsure what to make of Garrett, other than he had an eye for the lasses.

A snapping twig alerted him to the presence of another. The intruder was quickly identified without even needing to look away from the bejewelled sky. The scent of jasmine oil curled up his nostrils.

“Trading’s making you sloppy Sui,” he grunted. He should have known she would find him. In fact, he was surprised it had taken her so long. This was her market. She would be buying up stock to transport back to Heidel… Or that was what everyone thought. Unknown to most was what her main source of profit was, it certainly was not spices or furniture.

He worried about her sometimes, but she was smart; smarter than he was and she deserved her success. It was hard won.

She sat silently down beside him, looking up at the sky as he was. He could feel it in her, feel the background buzz in his ears. Familiar and alien all at the same time.

“When my contact at the docks said you had stepped off a boat I thought you had come for a visit,” she paused and her hand brushed against his briefly.

Guilt tore at his gut, though he did not move nor change expression. He grunted a reply and he felt her shrug in the darkness.

“Then, he described the others with you,” she paused again, choosing her words with care. “You will be careful?”

He nodded and that seemed to placate her. Her warm, lilting tones took him back to the stories she would read for him. Drowsiness rose up and he yawned.

“Are you… planning to spend the night out here?”

He nodded again. He did not want to look at her, he did not want to see her face. The sadness mixed with affection would be his undoing.

“I could… get you a room…” she spoke slowly, knowing she was stepping over the gap that must remain between them.

“No,” he cut her off sharply.

The silence stretched and his anger flared. He knew he was hurting her, but he was not a child anymore. She had to let him go. If anything, the debt between them should be driving her away. Yet, she remained. Their upbringing was still dictating how she acted, no matter how far she distanced herself from their childhood.

“Sorry,” she whispered into the darkness. The wind sighed through the leaves above them, making him feel like it was whistling through the gulf between them.

“They were talking about a trader and unregistered ships. This was your idea?” It was not really a question, more an accusation. He knew the answer, this had his sister’s fingerprints all over it.

She pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. The chill of the night was setting in and she shivered.

“I’m an investor,” she muttered. “It’s in my interests to see them do well. I will get a better…”

“Bollocks,” he grunted. Picking one of the cruder curses he had heard from a mercenary in Glish.

Again a long silence, he let it fester, knowing she would not be able to stay quiet. His patience was rewarded.

“I know what it is like to yearn for freedom,” she whispered at last. “To feel trapped by your choices, but know you could not have made better ones,” he could feel her eyes on him now. Deep green, like his own. “Existence is not the same as living. It’s for survival.”

He knew what she meant, how many years she had endured. In the end the solution had been simple. He shoved that particular memory back down where it belonged.

“So, you had to say something?” he grumbled. “Give them an idea?”

“Yes,” came the reply from the darkness.

“Might backfire.”

“I know.”

She stood, leathers creaking a little.

“These are not ‘good’ people Sui,” he pointed out.

“And we are?” she countered. Her tone was mild, but he felt as if she had punched him in the gut.

“People are people,” she continued. “We do the best we can with what we have. They are no different, we are no different. Half of Mediah is no different.” She took a step away. He had an urge to reach for her, to hold her close and tell her he would be fine. She could stop, she did not need to keep putting herself at risk. He forced himself to remain seated. He could not change her mind and did not deserve to offer her comfort.

“We do what we must for those we hold dear.”

He had no response for her.

She turned and was gone. Jasmine fading from the air gradually.

“Be safe, Sui,” the words left his mouth, but his voice failed him.

She would not have heard.

The young man found no rest that night under the boughs of the grove. Lost in memories of his older sister and how he now hardly recognised the woman she had become.

That, was his fault. He had made her what she was. His deeds had driven her to the path she now walked. Yet it was her stubbornness that had led to his need to act.

His sister was his mirror and yet his opposite. He was unsure they would ever be a true reflection of each other. Perhaps, in time, he would learn to accept her and not long for what they once were to each other.

Update- me

So…

Not posted up here in a while. Why? WORK ATE MY LIFE!

Not had much time to do anything but eat, sleep and work. Even my family have seen little of me. RP, writing and life in general have had to take a back seat.

However, I have lunch times, that golden 45 min of the day that I can close the door and do something not work related. I have even stopped eating lunch to squeeze out a few extra minutes so I can write.

Been picking at my novel for weeks, there is also another chapter of Indebted ready to go I just need to correct it.

I came to a decision on my novel. I am going to take the plunge and approach an agent… or twenty.

Am I scared? Bloody terrified. I write for fun not for the marketable value. To have a labour of love boiled down to cold hard economics… I can already visualise the multiple rejection letters. Still, something in me won’t drop the idea. Until I see ‘No, this is shit,’ in print then I guess it won’t go away.

I also took on another project for the experience. I am one of the writers on a Skyrim mod. Never written scripts before but I am getting used to the format. Recently had one of the quests I worked on voiced. I can’t quite describe it, hearing your words not only read but acted… I had to sit down for a moment, then get a strong cup of tea.

Four of the 11 main quests in so far and we are getting into the swing of things. I say “we” as there are three others like me and a lead writer who coordinates all our efforts and ensures we don’t screw up the lore or the characterisation.

Working with other writers is also very odd. I am so used to going my own way, getting directed and then have to edit and even delete something I have spent precious time putting together- GAH!

Keeps me humble however and it is very interesting getting almost instant feedback on an idea or proposed dialogue. It’s also very much a case of quality over quantity. Every sentence needs to advance the questline. Every word spoken has purpose.

So, that’s me for the time being. Busy busy.    

Eyes of the Reach

Being Dragonborn was not all the legends said. It really was not.

She wiped the rain from her face, no not just rain. The sting of ice was concealed within the cold droplets that hammered down from the sky.

Were the gods trying to kill her? There were more effective ways. Another assassin would do the trick. It was only due to Bishop that she had escaped the last one.

Bishop was astride the sturdy black stallion behind her. Matching her reliable bay mare’s sedate pace. The man had not slept in the two days since the attack. Eyes the colour of mead, flicked over the landscape. The permanent frown and the dark hair plastered to his face did not detract from the fact he was handsome.

“Too easy on the eye,” she thought to herself, wiping her own brown curls from her face. She had no idea why he still insisted on being her sarcastic and cynical companion. He kept telling her she could take care of herself… so why was he still with her?

It could be worse. The Ranger was well used to the elements. He did not complain. She however wanted to complain. She stank of leather and blood, she was cold and she hurt all over.

Before the winged menaces had come into her life she had been a farmgirl from Roricstead. The callouses on her hands were from a plough. The only blade skills she had when she was dragged into this life were for gutting and skinning game.

Blood was no stranger to her… but she had never killed anyone until the day she was captured. Wrong place, wrong time. Mistaken as a stormcloak, though any fool with half a mind could have seen that her rough homespun was not the attire of a soldier.

She shook her head, hair whipping her cheeks. She snarled at it and wiped a hand over her head, pulling the rain-slick strands from her freckled face.

She did not want to think of Helgen again. Helgen had her screaming at night. Helgen had been where she first lifted a blade and pierced the flesh of another person. Hot blood spurting over her hands. The tang of iron on her tongue, the scrape of bone against steel as she pulled the blade back from the body. She had told herself it was no different from killing a wolf or bear. She had been attacked, she defended herself.

It was not the same. She had seen the light dim in the frightened Imperial soldier’s eyes. A nord, no more than twenty she was sure. All muscle and square jaw. Her mother would have been proud to have such as son-in-law.

The Dragonborn growled to herself, angry. She needed to stop daydreaming. Her life had almost ended two nights before on an assassin’s dagger. She needed to be more aware. The world would not let her live in obscurity anymore. She could suck the soul out of dragons. With the winged beasts in the air once more and some old men on a mountain calling her Dovahkiin, she could not live in peace. Her life was no longer her own.

The sky was darkening and soon they would be out of daylight.

“Ladyship,” grumbled the drawling tones behind her. “As pleasant as the view of your rear on a horse is, I really think it’s time we got settled for the night.”

She ignored the barbed compliment. It was his way. She did not think for one moment he was at all interested in her. Bishop was older, wiser. The world had tried to crush him and he had refused to yield. He lived as he pleased. Part of her envied him. A growing whisper within her admired him. Or rather, she liked his company when he was not goading her. Which he often was.

Irritated she slithered from her mount. The mare shook her mane and flanks, showering the drenched Dragonborn with even more water.

They set camp, movements practised and automatic after two months on the road together. By the time the small tents were up she was shivering. There would be no fire tonight.

“If you are cold my Lady you could always snuggle next to me,” came an enticing purr from outside her tent. She bit back a retort. Bishop was taking first watch. He must be as tired as she and yet he stood in the rain, willing to watch over her as she rested.

Her eyes fluttered closed. The wound to her side throbbed. She ignored it as best she could; that and her aching muscles from riding all day. She deserved the pain. The blade, had it slipped between her ribs rather than across them she would not be alive to be in pain.

She was naive. A overturned carriage. A woman in trouble. How could she simply ride past such? Shame and guilt bubbled from her chest and tried to force its way up her throat. She bit her fist to stop herself sobbing. The Dragonborn should not cry and yet tears splattered and hissed from her eyes. She was grateful the rain on the canvas covered the sniffles. If Bishop heard her at least he had the grace not to say anything.

Sleep came swiftly once she ceased her tears. Curling into a ball of misery, knees under her chin beneath the furs.

Bishop did not wake her for the second watch. It was the first rays of dawn that alerted her to the fact she had slept all night.

She rolled from her furs. Her nose wrinkled. Wet leather, sweat, mud, blood. She was pungent to say the least. She was also stiff and uncomfortable. Cold from sleeping on the ground even with fur under her. She stumbled from her tent, prepared to give Bishop an ear-full for not waking her. One moment he was telling her she did not need protection, next he was treating her like a little child who needed their sleep.

The words were choked back on seeing him slumped by a small fire. He must have managed to light one once the rain stopped. He was seated, head dipped, eyes closed. He looked like he would wake any moment and yet he was deeply asleep. A small snore came from the hunched man. She covered her mouth and tried not to giggle.

He looked so much younger asleep. She realised she had no idea how old he was. She had taken him for mid thirties, but without the scowl and fierce eyes the years melted away. He may not even be thirty.

The sun was rising, but it was hard to tell. Mist had rolled in to cover the Reach. The dawn’s light was diffuse and scattered by the water in the air. The vapour swirled between them, the fire crackled and spat in the pit Bishop had probably dug with his fingers in the dark of the early morning.

She tip toed back to her tent and grabbed one of her furs. This at least she was good at. She was small, light of foot. Hunting for game since she was strong enough to pull a bow, she was not utterly useless.

All wire and sinew. ‘Muck and muscle,’ as her mother had put it. What man would want a woman like her? Yes she was an excellent farmer and could hunt, but men did not appreciate such she had often been told.

“Men fall in love with their eyes, women their ears,” her Grandmother was fond of saying. Men looked, women listened. She was the only daughter. She should wed well. A little softness and effort on her appearance would go a long way to get her settled with the right man…

She pulled a face, just as she had when she heard such from her family. It was unfair.

Now she would give back the house she had just bought in Whiterun to return to those days. All she needed to do was smarten up, drag a comb through her stubborn curls. What was that compared to the expectations upon her now?

She crept back, tongue clamped between her teeth in concentration. It was like stalking a deer. Every step placed with care, remain downwind. Bishop may smell as bad as she did but that did not mean her own stink would not wake him.

With infinite care, she draped the furs over his form. She snatched her hands back and waited for the sarcastic comment. Something to reprimand her for her kindness. There was silence. He remained asleep.

A bird chirruped in the reeds. She snapped her head to glare at the ball of thistledown fluff. Her brown eyes narrowed. The bird hopped away swiftly. As if sensing its joyful song was most unwelcome.

She did not have long. Bishop would wake soon and those golden eyes missed nothing. She bent to lift her pack, pausing for a moment as something clanked within. A glance at Bishop and she exhaled slowly. He slept on. She took quick steps into the mist, sighing as it closed round her.

At the small fire, yellow eyes snapped open and watched her walk away.

The Dragonborn located the stream by sound. It was a trickle of water really. Enough to get her feet in. It was all she needed. Nimble fingers unfastened buckles that had not been opened in days. Leather and iron clattered to the ground. The feeling of the fresh, moister-laden air on her skin was divine. Soon nothing remained but the linen between her legs. The water was close to freezing. As she splashed it over herself her flesh puckered up like a plucked chicken. She endured stoically.

Looking back, she never did know what alerted her. Perhaps a muffled noise in the mist. Perhaps instinct, feeling eyes on her. Whatever the reason she glanced up. There, in the mist across from her was a shadow. Her hand was on her knife in a moment. She inhaled to yell for Bishop, but paused. The shape was getting no closer. Nor was there any weapon she could see.

The shape was male, that was obvious by the size of the shoulders. Nord? She was not sure. He was slighter than Bishop. Her grip tightened on her dagger as the shape moved silently to the left, maintaining its distance.

Her heart hammered. She could feel herself being observed and was very aware she was almost naked. Her voice caught in her throat. Bishop was only a few strides from her and yet she remained silent. She did not even think to use her newly acquired shouts. The shape circled her, one step flowing into the next. There was no sound.

She was being stalked.

A hand fell on her shoulder making her squeak. Her dagger splashed into the water.

“We leave,” snarled the voice behind her. “Now.”

Bishop did not even give her naked form half a look. The shadow in the mist melted away as he spoke.

She was unceremoniously shoved back into her leathers and almost lifted onto her horse. The camp was abandoned. Expensive equipment left behind. She opened her mouth to protest as he mounted his own horse.

“We leave,” he repeated, cutting her off. Golden eyes glared into the mist. “The one you saw you were meant to see. There are most likely others out there we cannot.”

Wolves were known to use the same tactic. They hunted as a pack. One would distract while the others closed in. She shuddered. Had she really been that foolish? Had the noose been tightening around her and she had been too blind to see it?

The mounts were urged into a trot. She looked back over her shoulder, trying to discern anything through the mist. She could detect no sign of others or pursuit.

“We will get new gear in Markarth,” Bishop assured her.

The loss of the equipment was not what caused her to worry. There she had been, staring at an unknown man like a moons struck calf. She really was a naive farmgirl.

“Could be Forsworn,” Bishop muttered. “You don’t take chances with them. Killers and savages.”

Forsworn… something heard of, a tale told at the fire. The old ways, an ancient people. Murderers. That shape in the mist with its lupine grace. It was a logical assumption, they were travelling through the Reach. Yet, she had felt no threat. Perhaps that was the intention. Lure her to let her guard down.

Lesson learnt. She needed to be wiser.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly to the man on the other horse.

“Apologise later when I am sure we are not about to get shot,” he snarled.

“That will be never then,” she muttered. “I’m always hunted.” To her surprise a secretive smirk crossed his lips. She searched her words for a double meaning but could find none.

No arrows found them that day. She realised later she had left her dagger behind. The one her mother had given her when she came of age.

A painful loss. A reminder of her folly as much as the wound on her flank.

((A little fanfiction based around a small part of the wonderful Skyrim Romance Mod. Which has been fantastic fun to play of late. Had great fun writing this and massive fangirl hugs to the mod makers.))

The Choice

((Court alchemist Chowa has made Leanna an offer, one she is having trouble seeing the downside of. Then again, Chowa is a master player of court games. Can even her assistant trust her? The summer solstice approaches and Li, as the imperials call her, has time to reflect on the changes in her life so far. She is a long way from home, but is that a bad thing?))

The workshop opened its doors and a flood of women entered. The emperor would return to the flower hall tonight after the ceremony in the hall of law. None of the residence of Flowers would be present for that, but Ashioto would be coming back to the Flower hall that night. That would be a chance for the concubines to re-establish the order of power, or for there to be a transition. Ceseed had sunk an entire platinum into a massive order of cosmetics and skin treatments. She was determined to keep her hold on the emperor but other women now thought they had a chance. After all, Ceseed herself had become favourite after just such a period of absence and the boy Emperor was notoriously fickle.

Leanna raced to keep up with the clamouring servants and slaves who jostled to be served. The press of bodies in the small workshop soon had the northerners sweating and uncomfortably hot. Leanna could smell her own body and it was making her eyes water. The scent of sweat had never bothered her in her the clan. Now she showed daily, used hair oil and occasionally perfume. Chowa would give her the bottles that were about to go past their best and so unsuitable to sell. Li revelled in the heady scents, citrus and floral being her favourites.

The workshop store closed with some disappointed clients. Frez and Li had simply not had time to serve everyone. Chowa had said this would happen.

“If the simpletons leave their preparations to the very night they see as so vital to their elevation, then they do not have the aptitude to move up within the flower hall.”

Leanna smiled as she scrubbed down tables and cleaned the stone floor. Frez melted away to get ready and the shower was free by the time Leanna had banked the furnace for the night.

She still loved the hot water that rained down on her. She was not sure how she ever thought a bath in her own sweat was a good way of getting clean in her clan days. Frez was waiting for her when she emerged, it was a good thing the workshop was so warm because she only has a scrap of towelling to wrap herself in. Frez was dressed in his best cotton tunic, dyed forest green. The colour complemented his blue eyes and dark blond hair beautifully. Chowa had insisted Leanna have new clothes also for the event and Frez had obtained them.

Leanna could not help but gasp at what she saw laid over her work bench. A shi of green silk. The garment was plain and nowhere near as complex or ornate as the shi the concubines wore. It did not matter. Leanna had never dared to hope she would ever wear anything of silk. Chowa was sending a message. If her assistant made the right decision then such things would be hers as a matter of course. Li knew it was blatant temptation, but to a certain extent it was working. She wanted to have nice things of her own.

“Touch it,” said Frez with a chuckle. “It is yours.” Trembling fingers, scarred and calloused from a life gutting fish and exposure to the cold northern winds and burning ice. Those fingers were never meant to touch such finery and yet they bushed over the garment with careful reverence. If water had a skin then this is what it would feel like. Soft, flowing, undulating, but also strong.

“Now don’t get too giddy when you put it on,” chuckled Frez. “You have to dance and sweat in it,” Leanna pulled a face and Frez barked a laugh. “Now sit, if you are going to wear a nobles garb you need a noble hair.” Frez oiled and pinned her brown curls up in a complex series of ringlets.

Chowa had created a new ‘polymer’ as she put it and while it had many applications the main one she had used it in was in fixing spray for hair. It glued the strands in place but could be washed out after. Liberal amounts were applied to Li’s head and she sneezed.

Leanna could not have too much in the way of hair ornaments. They would fall out with the performance she had to put on. The pinned sections pulled unpleasantly on her scalp, but the pins needed to be tight or her hair would be a tangled mess mid shimmy.

“You’ll do,” Frez said at last. “Best get to the hall. The emperor will be arriving soon.” He left what everyone hopped for unsaid.

He would be arriving after the news crier had told the hall of the new edict. That is, if he had made one.

The hall was a throbbing mass of bodies pressed together. The chatter was vibrant and exited female voices joined together in a cacophony that made Leanna’s ears ring. She had no idea how she would find her dance partners in all the hubbub. The room stank of every kind of conceivable perfume with sandalwood incense weaving through it all.

The lamps were lit even though it was early and coloured paper had been placed before them, making the light filter through blue, green and red. The screens at the back of the hall were being opened slowly. Sword maidens sweating in their light amour as the pushed and shoved at the heavy mahogany panels with their waxed paper windows.

Hot, humid air began to circulate through the room, the scents of the garden mixing with the concubines perfume. Petals from the blossom trees outside fluttered in with the breeze, eddying downward like pink snowflakes. Leanna smiled up at the sight, fascinated. She was the only one. The rest ignored or did not notice. A quirk of their character Leanna decided, looking round the hall full of dark haired women, almost all of whom were shorter than herself.

Imperials were rigid and unbending. Their pride was their strength. They were the last civilisation, they had the potential to help the rest of the world become civilised once more. The common people were happy and hard working. By contrast the palace was a hotbed of intrigue, backstabbing and was frankly was very far from the imperial values the commoners were told to uphold. Then again these were the people with power. Without them the system would fall and the nation would implode.

It was imperfect and fragile but without it humans would fall further and possibly regress into the anarchy of the days of the dark. It was said back then that the sun could not shine through the grey skies for five cycles. Humans, once in the millions reduced in number by over half. Starvation and a strange sickness that the demons spread killed so many that the survivors did not bother to even honour the dead. Bodies were piled up and abandoned to the scavenging animals that now thrived.

Leanna shook her head to clear it of the gloomy history she had spent most of her life learning. The Empire was light and possibility. Humans had spent generations recovering and now were on the cusp of clawing back some of what they had lost. Chowa believed this was the way forward. Stability would breed educated humans free of superstition who would take forward what she was dedicating her life to, uncovering the secrets of the forgotten past. Her offer was enticing.

Leanna could feel herself wanting to believe in her.