Thursday, January 27, 2005

Of Giants and Men

Rurak walks up the dusty road, following Cearle. That's his whole life: following Cearle. He doesn't know that Cearle used blood sorcery to bind Rurak in that role, that he couldn't leave if he wanted to unless Cearle ordered it. He doesn't want to leave. Rurak is a half-breed. His mother was a human slave--a tall woman with ebony skin and hair and eyes. He remembers flashes and glints of her, but little else. She died a long time ago. His father was an Urs, one of the 8' tribal giants that live in the north and west and far, far to the south where civilized people don't go. He never remembers his father--the man owned slaves, made Rurak's mother a slave and she died escaping from him. Rurak knows this because Cearle told him and he has never been given a reason to not trust Cearle.
Cearle is looking for someone, and he is running from someone too. Rurak isn't sure why. A kinswoman, Cearle says. It's important, the most important thing in the world, to find her, to get to her before the pursuing someone does. Cearle won't say more. He'll talk about animals, plants, history, religion. He tells legends and myths and sometimes insists that they are true, that everything taught in temples is false, more false than the most ridiculous myth. But he never talks about the woman or whoever hunts them.
They travel, Cearle like the wind and Rurak the thunderstorm coming after. Someone tried to kill Cearle once. The bandit was stupid enough to attack an armed man and a grown giant. Rurak has never forgotten what the man's neck bones sounded like when they cracked beneath his fingers. He fears that ability to kill without effort.
One morning, Rurak wakes and sees Cearle standing in the dim dawn, head cocked, listening. He says nothing. He knows that Cearle can see and hear things others can't. He knows that Cearle sometimes sees a different road as they travel. "She's close," Cearle says. "They're both close." That day Rurak follows Cearle into the small town. He can see where the river has shrunk in its banks and the fine dust of the road coats everything. Here a woman comes hurtling from the trees, careening into Cearle. The second woman, taller, darker and younger, runs out too, breathless. It was the first time Rurak had seen someone fear Cearle more than himself. He didn't even think she saw him until later.
There was something in her eyes, the way they tracked what wasn't there, the way that Cearle caught her attention and held it, that told Rurak this was the one. But Cearle never explained it. And Cearle didn't survive the night.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A Dark Night

The Acsension of the Kraken is the autumnal equinox, when the Kraken's darkness begins to overpower the Phoenix's light. One of the four high holy days of the year, it requires attendence in the temple. Across the world, different cultures celebrate differently: sacrifice is always required. The Acsension of the Kraken marks the start of lean days, and only the Kraken's mercy will prevent deaths. In Greensward, the sacrifice is always blood.
Most townsfolk accept the ritual cutting, bloodletting and burning of bloodsoaked cloth stoically--they are only asked to donate a little, and the pain is worth it. If their god is pleased, he will not take blood through freezing death, starvation or illness. Lucea was born a bastard, and the whispered rumor, never substantiated, never denied, is that her mother lay with one of the forest demons: the ever-hungry esfrai. The townsfolk point to her lanky build, dark hair and dark eyes, so different from the fair, stout stock of Greensward and the surrounding country. The intercessor claims the madness of her mother is the strongest proof.
Lucea believes it too. She can see the smudges of shadow creeping between the dying trees and sometimes, when she is far enough away from town, she hears whispers on the breeze. The languages is old and rough as stones. She never tells anyone about these; why add to her damnation? In her heart, she believes her body is a spiritless husk and that she can never redeem herself.
For her, the Ascension, whether of Kraken or Phoenix, is a day of terror. She makes her offering alone, with only the intercessor present. She confesses, like everyone, and submits to the cutting whip. When she was younger, she thought enough submission would lead her away from damnation. Now she tolerates it by imagining the intercessor's death, imagining all the deaths. If she had a rifle, she could stand in the trees, take careful aim and splatter her tormentors' brains across turf and stone. The images keep her focused, but each one leaves a twine of guilt, drawing tighter and tighter around her.
This Ascension will be her last.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Lucea

Lucea has survived childhood in a small, pastoral community. Greensward is set uneven, boggy country and only exists because road and river meet. Drought has razed the land, turning bogs into dusty hiding places for feral dogs, wolves and the shadow creatures of night that people fear so much. The temple, with it's graven images, ever-burning braziers and holy intercessor, is the only refuge against the encroaching darkness and desert.
The Gods represented in the temple cover all the dichotomies of life. Phoenix: female, air, fire, summer, day, wisdom, nurturing, and destruction too, because the summer sun can burn and wither as well as warm. Even the brilliant goddess has a darker side. The Kraken is male, water and earth, cold winter and night, his slowly blinking eye watching everything. He brings rain and snow and protection, but there has been little of any for many years. People like scapegoats and those who are strange and different are the best kind.
Lucea is such a scapegoat. She will go into the desert bearing the sins of the community on her back, but she will not go knowingly or willingly.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Marshmallow world

Weather is sneaky here. I suppose it's the lack of wind that throws me. I'm used to cold fronts howling through, leaving fresh stucco snow on the northwest sides of houses. That's how it works 54 miles south of here in my hometown. My home now is down near the river--not too near; I don't want my basement flooded--but low enough that the wind doesn't whip around the corners and rattle the gutters and vents.
This means that snowstorms, no matter their weight, creep around the mountains, settle their freezing temperatures on us and snug in for a snooze, all without a breath of warning. In the morning, I open the blinds on the south windows and discover that last night's starry glory needs to be shoveled off the driveway. When I ask her to look out, my daughter still squeals with delight, the way only a child raised in Texas can when she sees an unexpected snowfall.
Finally, after a day or two of icy still temperatures (or a week or two, depending on the system), the wind catches up and lets everyone know that his temper is frayed. By the time he arrives, though, the snow is moving east again, always one step ahead. There is nothing for the wind to do but remove the evidence.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The first step

Dark Roads is the working title of my current novel-in-progress. It's within 30,000 words of the finish line. That sounds like a lot, but it means I'm past the 3/4 mark. I wish it hadn't taken three years to get here.
It's dark fantasy set in pseudo-late 1800's world. The dark road alluded to in the title is the path souls walk after death and one the main character finds she can control to some extent. Luceabegins to discover discrepancies between what has always been taught as true and some older, forgotton stories. The religious rites and doctine that label her as a cursed outcast are lies used to control society. One immortal want to make the lies true and needs her to do it.