Friday, July 3, 2009

Content to Follow Along [TJP snippet]

850 words tonight after the kiddos and wifey-poo were off to bed. I’m feeling stoked about that. In previous posts I called my project “The Jade Princess.” That’s more or less my working title, and I’m almost 99 percent certain that will change. For now, however, the story is fairly writing itself and I’m content to follow along. I’m not worried about the title. The real one will reveal itself in time. When it does, I’ll let you know!

So right now I essentially have 110 pages written in mass market paperback format. I like writing in that format because it gives me a visual on the form the story is taking. For whatever reason I can appreciate the way the words weave a tapestry of page breaks, scene breaks, and paragraph breaks. I know. I’m weird. But this visual method of writing this project—any project really—gives me a sense of real accomplishment. 850 words, after all, is three-and-a-half paperback pages.

I’m thinking about whenever I blog about the The Jade Princess (I’m going to call it TJP from now on), I should include a small snippet. I’m slightly paranoid about someone lifting it as their own, but that doesn’t outweigh my desire to share it with you.

So, without further ado, here’s a snippet of a scene from (the current) Chapter One:

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Begin snippet.

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HOT WINDS KICKED UP DUST IN PLUMES painted red by the haze of the sun. A long drought rendered the Karsharo crescent stark and barren. The Urg tribes of the region had combed from it every last bit of scrub.

Well women walked by Gariel's cell every day, covering their faces with their shoals from the blowing dust. He watched them with a reproachful glare. He had no such protection from the stinging winds. Gariel's bruised body was cloaked in a veneer of sand. Granules caked his eyes and scraped his tongue and teeth, abrading his throat whenever he dared to swallow.

Nine nights ago, they seized him. Or was it eight? Ten perhaps? He was already losing track. He passed the time by reliving memories of his past, a past already filled with enough suffering and heartache for a lifetime, despite barely being through his second decade.

As the Sky King sent sulfurous shafts of sunlight down upon him, Gariel recalled a time when he was nearly as miserable. He recalled a bleak and dousing downpour, in a place long leagues from the Crescent; a place he now wished for more than anything. And so his mind retreated to that place, to a day twelve, perhaps thirteen years ago.

It was nigh dusk. The louring black clouds had changed the skies over Pendara as black as midnight. A storm rolled down the highlands from the Laurion Mountains, announced by a cold wind, which cut meanly through the avenues of the city and forced the lamplighters to abandon their daily rounds. The lamps on Cask Street danced unlit on their posts. Beneath one of these posts, two figures huddled, clutching one another as the rain fell.

“Don’t fret, Gare. We may be all we’ve got, but I won’t let anything hurt you. I promise.”

Her voice, whispering in his ear over the soft roll of thunder and patter of rain on the wooden slats above them, was somewhat reassuring. Amleth was all he had, that was true. And Gariel knew he was everything to her, as well.

She tried to keep him warm at the expense of her own soaked body, but they were both shivering. It was a cold night and Amleth cradled Gariel in her arms, vainly keeping him covered in the threadbare cloak they both shared.

“My stomach hurts.”

“I know, Gare. Tomorrow I’ll find us something to eat.”

They sat hunched together in the corner of a board-and-batten wall and the entrance of some unmarked tumbledown building. Someone was inside. They could see the flicker of light under the gap of the door and could almost feel the warmth of the hearth fire on the other side of it. As if the occupant could sense their thoughts, the door opened and a large, balding man in a bloody apron scowled down at them. In his hand was a bludgeon.

“I thought we heard voices out here. Away with you!”

“Please, sir!” Amleth clutched her brother to her. “We only seek a little shelter.”

“I want no worthless street rats on me doorstep! Now, go! Away with you, I said!”

“But sir, please! The rain and wind are bitter cold. My brother will catch ill—“

“I care not for you or your whelp!”

The bludgeon came cracking down and Amleth pulled her brother in tight, offering her back as the only target. Gariel heard her grimace in pain. The large man brought the heavy stick down three or four times on his sister’s back and shoulders, and then sent them both hurtling with the heel of his boot. Only street sludge cushioned their landing, and Amleth ended face first in an inches-deep puddle of near-freezing rainwater.

It was not the first time they’d been sent reeling into the mud, but unlike the last, Amleth did not lay there sobbing; instead, she got to her feet and helped her brother stand. “Come along, Gare. We’ll find somewhere better.”

The boy let his sister lead him along, her arm around his shoulders. She pushed his dark wet hair away from his green eyes and he looked up at her as they wandered along. At twelve or thirteen Amleth was little more than a waterlogged bag of bones, with no hint yet of feminine curves. Her hair was as dark and straight as his, but longer, and plastered to the stretched-tight skin of her broad forehead, pale face, and long scraggy neck. She forced a tiny smile, thinking it would comfort him and, although he was only seven years old, he knew the smile was a lie. The rain couldn’t hide his sister’s tears.

They left Cask Street and walked the sparsely populated avenues toward the fringes of the Sea View Quadrant. Occasionally, a person or two would hurry past them, hoods drawn or cloaks pulled high, their feet sometimes sending a spray of water from the runnels that flowed in the streets.

They came to an intersection and Amleth turned them onto Hood Street, an even darker version of Cask. They stepped up on a cobbled walkway where rivulets cascaded from the corners of eaves and awnings. Amleth led them under a slanted roof and paused, pulling her brother in against the wall of a shop that appeared closed. This smidgen of shelter harbored them from the rain if not the wind.

Amleth peered down the street at several high-pitched shops that hunkered and teetered along the avenue; some of these were of an unsavory nature, others merely incapable of paying the higher rents of Whitegate Market. Dim light flickered in a few windows, but most were dark.

Amleth drew a long shuddering breath and Gariel realized his sister was weeping. He felt like crying, too. He didn’t understand why the gods had left them to fend for themselves. After their mother and other siblings died, they took what little coin they found in the family coffers and caught on with a caravansary for a couple of weeks, until they reached the sprawling port city of Pendara.

But by then the money was gone, so the two of them inhabited breezeways and back porches, stealing food from the open market or picking through refuse. For a while they desperately wandered the city inquiring on the whereabouts of their mercenary father, but turned up nothing save for a beating Amleth suffered at the hands of some miscreants in the alleys below Town Hill Square.

I won’t let anything hurt you…I promise.

Gariel was just a boy, but he was beginning to understand something: his sister couldn’t protect herself, so how could she make promises to protect him? The first few weeks he’d been so frightened, but Amleth would hug him and assure him that things would be all right, and he could do nothing but nod and force himself to believe her. Now, his faith in the world was fleeting. Gariel was more afraid than not, and always, always downhearted and empty-bellied. He realized his teeth were clicking. He hugged himself.

Amleth reached out and put her arms around him. “I know. You’re cold. Me, too. I think I see a place that looks empty. Come on.”

The storm was intensifying.

As they stepped into an alley, a flash of lightning momentarily lit it and they very nearly walked right into a man who had been standing there in the dark. He displayed a frightening visage, a thin smile fixed on wan lips, with pale eyes and unruly sideburns that bestowed a lupine appearance. Those eyes looked straight down at the boy and burned into him as a thunderclap echoed down the street and off the city walls.

Both of them gasped, taken aback by the man’s sudden appearance. Amleth pulled Gariel away from him and they stepped out of the alley. The man, garbed mostly in black but with a red sash and red scarf, stood there a moment longer, smiling at them, and then turned and walked into the darkness.

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End snippet.

Feedback greatly desired and appreciated!

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