Snippet Sunday #19

I’m so close to finishing a beta draft of The Witch under Mountain. So close (if my own head would stop getting in the way). Here is a bit of it.

In a lot of ways this is Fox’s book. Hopefully, you’ll see why when you read it.

~*~

He turned his eyes across the cavern, where trolls stoked a great hearth-fire. One of them, clad in a burnt, greasy-looking apron, sharpened a series of wicked knives. Panic tightened its iron bands around Fox’s chest. He leapt to his feet and clutched at the side of the pen; he’d chosen the closest to Eagle last night, and had to listen to Eagle sob, but it was worth it. “Vo!” he called, clinging to the bars.

Eagle’s head went up, and he unfolded so quickly Fox had trouble tracking the motion. In half a blink he was at the bars too, with a couple of fairies trailing him; he didn’t say a word, only stood there looking at Fox as if from the bottom of the sea, faraway and longing.

Fox took him in. Lacy white sleeves spilled from an outsize velvet doublet. Silk stockings sagged into puddles around his ankles, above the tops of huge buckled shoes. His thighs were too slender for the pantaloons, and instead of puffing up as they ought to, they hung around his knees. The whole effect was dreadfully unbecoming—outright laughable, if it weren’t for the situation—as if the thinnest little chick were given clothes meant for a fat capon.

He ordinarily looked far different: unobtrusive, unassuming. His usual clothes were meant not to catch on anything, but not to foul his movements either, tough enough to hold up and fit well enough to accommodate intense activity. Under Fox’s regard he tried anxiously to smooth what he wore, but he couldn’t make it look well, or himself appear to advantage.

How little it mattered! Fox’s mouth curved in an involuntary smile. Most people wouldn’t have tried to apply an adjective like “sweet” to Eagle Eye, but with Fox he was sweet as the strawberry preserves on a breakfast buffet. He tried valiantly to smile back, but it didn’t quite come off.

Snippet Sunday #16

A little of (yet another) short this week. I’m calling this one “Crossbow Wedding,” and it’s about Dingus’s parents.

~*~

The first one Daddy hadn’t chased off, and he was lying to her. Lying! Sweet Rose had no patience for liars, and never mind Daddy had taught her that, Mama too: not to get mixed up with no low-down liar. “You can be sure they’re more trouble than they’re worth,” Daddy would say, and go off on a story about Silent Owl, dead now, who Rhiada remembered as an okay guy basically, even if she didn’t understand all what went on between him and Daddy.

Mama usually rolled her eyes and patted Daddy’s shoulder, and later in the kitchen she’d tell Sweet Rose what she thought: “Baby, half what he says is a lie and don’t let him tell you different.”

“Which half?” Sweet Rose would say back, like always, but she never really got an answer, and it had got to be a joke between them.

Now here was this big boy—in a man’s body, but a boy—lying to her and yelling “Wait, wait!” and Sweet Rose had had enough. She couldn’t get away from him, though, not with his legs so long and hers so short.

“Wait,” he said again, walking easy beside her. He didn’t try touching her. Just as well for him. Mama and Daddy had taught her a trick or two. She didn’t use them, didn’t have to, but she knew how to make him regret it. “Look, I know how you feel. My dad is Marcus Xavier.”

She stopped, blinking. “You mean that Marcus Xavier? Like those Xaviers?”

“Yes.”

“That don’t change it. You lied,” she said, shook her head, and walked on.

“I’m sorry. I won’t do it again, okay?”

“How am I supposed to believe one word you say?”

“You can’t, I don’t guess. All you can do is give me a chance.” He whipped in front of her then, and did she ever think about wrecking his hopeful smile! But she didn’t. It was a nice enough smile she didn’t want to wreck it, liar or no. He had a big old beard no tulon could ever grow, and it split around his white teeth that shone in the starlight.

Snippet Sunday #13

Hard Time again this week!

If you don’t love Wallace MacNair, I think you might just be kind of wrong. If you don’t know him that well, he’s in The Service and has the lead in a short story of his own, Live Free or Die.

~*~

It seemed to take ages more for the door to open, and ages after that for Dingus to come through it. At first, Wallace didn’t even recognize him; his hair had dulled, and he’d gone thinner even than he’d been at Moot, absolutely rail-thin where before he’d been simply lean. His face—oh Lady, his face, it had already, even after only a couple of months, utterly changed. It was all planes and bones, hard and sharp like one of Da’s axe blades. His cheekbones especially stood out stark, and he’d grown something like a sparse beard.

Wallace stood, slow, shutting his mouth, and against his will he swallowed. With the keen lowering eyes, Dingus reminded him of a book Evan had once shown him, a book about the elves. The People, they liked that better, and suddenly he wanted nothing so much as for Dingus to like him enough to take that look off him, that look like a storm out of a face far more terrifying than it was lovely.

He resisted the urge to dip his chin. Instead he raised it, and met Dingus’s fire-and-lightning gaze. He was barely aware of the others, rising behind him.

“You shouldn’t have come.”

“We—” Lukas started to say, but Dingus cut him off. Wrists chained in front of him and he was still scary enough to prickle the fine hairs on Wallace’s nape.

“I don’t want you here. You shouldn’t have come, and you definitely shouldn’t have brought her here. What’d you want anyway? Stare at the freak in his—”

“Oh, shut the fuck up,” said Kessa.

“I don’t want you here! I didn’t want you to see—”

“Shut up, Dingus,” she said, stepped forward where Wallace could not, and hugged him hard.

Snippet Sunday #12

A little piece of Hard Time this week. 🙂

Kessa and Lukas discuss reading material. There’s a little worldbuilding in here, too. It was extremely amusing to write.

~*~

Kessa scowled down at the old paper book Lukas was making her read for practice. They used to be able to copy things by magic, he’d said, and the result, if you didn’t have a copy of a copy of a copy, was nice, uniform writing. Once you got three or four generations down the line, it started to go all wonky, he’d told her, and six was unreadable.

The book annoyed her. It wasn’t that she couldn’t make out the text. That got easier every week. It was the content that set her teeth on edge. Magister Ferocious! Who cared about some dumb old guy who couldn’t do magic, and had stupid brainless girlfriends to make himself look smarter?

“Why’d you want me to read this anyways?” she demanded, as he shoved the broom under benches and table, trying to sweep up all the food the Ishlings dropped.

“I don’t know. I thought it’d be something a little different from those boring textbooks Vandis keeps making you read.” He straightened, shrugged, and leaned on the broom. “I sort of liked it.”

“You would,” she said darkly.

“What didn’t you like about it?”

“The girl.”

“Well,” he said, “I guess she wasn’t as smart as you are.”

Kessa rested her chin on one hand and let the book fall to the tabletop. “Something with a halfway intelligent woman next time, okay?”

“Tall order.” He grimaced. “At least sometimes.”

“Somebody should write one.”

“They don’t do these anymore.” Lukas tapped the book she’d dropped. “Can you imagine copying this by hand? A million times or whatever it sold? You’d have it memorized.”

“No fucking thank you.”

“Exactly.” He laughed, shaking his head, and returned to sweeping. “What used to pass for cheap entertainment! Go figure magic.”

“Are you messing with me?”

Lukas held up thumb and finger with the fraction of an inch between, and grinned at her. “I never said it was great literature.”

Snippet Sunday #2

Is it Snippet Sunday again? Already?

This week I’m going to inflict more abuse on your poor eyeballs in the form of a chunk of an untitled, unfinished story about Lukas Kalt, who appears in Menyoral as both older Squire and newly-minted Junior. He’s in Hard Time, and I really wanted to find out more about him. I liked this scene, in which a thirteen-year-old Lukas reveals something about himself to Vandis, and I liked it a lot because I feel I caught Vandis’s character well: rough, but well-spoken and preachy (it is his job, after all).

As always with Vandis, here lie dirty words.

~*~

He ducked through the shaggy pines to get into Vandis’s camp. There was a stewpot on the fire, giving off an unholy stink, sour with burning garlic.

“Excuse me,” Lukas began, but Vandis had gestured him toward a folding stool with faded stripes of blue and green on the seat.

“Sit,” Vandis said, but it was too close to the fire, to the smell of the pot. Lukas felt sick already.

Shakily, he said, “I’ll stand, thank you.”

“If you want to.” Eyes the color of a storm pierced him from under thick salt-and-pepper brows. “It’s Lukas, right? Lukas Kalt.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Vandis.” And he stuffed his mouth with a huge bite of stew.

“Yes, Vandis.”

Vandis nodded and lifted those brows at Lukas: go on.

Faced with a man who seemed much bigger face-to-face than he ought—a short hard wall of muscle and a granite face, shadow and light playing with the nostrils in his big hooked nose—Lukas felt his tongue cling to the roof of his dry mouth. He couldn’t look masculine, grizzled Vandis Vail in the eye and say he wanted to sleep with other boys.

It was forever before Vandis finished chewing. Lukas was on the point of flight when he swallowed and said, “Whatever it is you have to tell me, I’ve heard a hell of a lot worse. Spill it so we can both get back to our lives.”

“I’m a faggot,” Lukas said, now or never.

“No you’re not.”

He blinked. “Yes I am. I don’t like girls.”

“You aren’t attracted to girls. There’s a difference.”

“You just said I’m not a faggot.”

“That is correct.”

“But I am! I’m—attracted to boys. Like you said.” Lukas spread his arms. “I don’t understand what you want from me!”

Vandis set down his bowl and propped his forearms on his thighs. “I want you to watch your fucking language. That’s an ugly word used by ugly people to try to distract from their own ugliness. You will not use it to describe yourself, or anyone else, in my presence.”

“But you just—” Lukas cut himself off and sat down hard, clasping his head in both hands. He couldn’t possibly work this out standing.

“I know. I said a rude word.” Vandis grinned hugely. “‘Fucking.’ Got your attention, didn’t it? But there’s a difference, a whole world. ‘Faggot,’ that’s a hate word. Do you hate yourself?”

“Sometimes.”

“I don’t see anything to hate.”

Try it from the inside, Lukas thought, but he looked at the ground instead of saying it.

“Yeah, I know. I’ve been thirteen.” The Head of the Knights waved it aside. “Point I’m trying to make is, the more you talk hate, the easier it is to think hate. Don’t fuck yourself over with your words.”

His mouth shaped ‘oh,’ but no sound came out.

~*~

I hope you’ll let me know what you think! Fair winds to you.