December has arrived and as usual, I am scurrying about with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head—which is to say that I am trying to work out what to get for whom, and from where, and at what cost, and so forth … One thing is for certain: when it comes to the simple gifts one may purchase, the age of technology has made life so much easier. For another year now, I will do most, if not all, of my holiday shopping online. I love clicking the BUY button and then waiting for things to arrive on my doorstep.
But our subject this month has put me in a more introspective mood about gifting …
We Quills have decided to comment briefly on a gift we received at some time that made a lasting memory, and on something we gave that made a lasting impression.
First, I thought we’d see what my fellow Quills have to say on the subject. Make sure you follow the links for each to get “the rest of the story."
Robin Lythgoe is the author of As the Crow Flies. Robin’s stories, perfect for ages 12-85, come packed with adventure and humor. Perhaps you know just the right person to receive a copy of one of her works for Christmas … (?)
Robin - What do you have for us today?
It was 1999, and my father was dying. The cancer was fairly aggressive. Shocking, when he’d been so healthy all his life. He’d left the family years before to follow a drummer only he heard. We didn’t see much of him, but still—it was Dad. Time was short. So was money…
Thank you for sharing, Robin, and a Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Moving on ...
P.S. Broaddus offers delightful tales for middle school readers—and I know how difficult those are to find. So, if you’ve got a young one on your gift-giving list (and who of us doesn’t?), you’ll find out more about his work on his site. In the meantime, let’s see what he has to say about gift-giving …
When I think about giving, and gifts, a story from when I was close to nine or ten comes to mind.
My younger brother and I were given a few dollars by our folks and encouraged to find something for each other for Christmas. Being a kid, I did some quick math, figured I could snatch a passable something and still have monies left over.
Thank you so much, Parker!
Finally, here are my thoughts.
Gift giving is an art - a fine art. Gift giving is the fine art of selecting just the right thing for someone—and it is one that I work at. At times I’ve hit the sweet spot so perfectly, that it left even me surprised. But before I get to that, let me comment on a gift I received that made a lasting memory.
Some years ago, the women at my church used various things to help us to get to know one another and to build community. One of the programs we instituted was a Secret Pal plan. Each person drew a name and every month throughout the year, they were to remember that person in some way. The idea wasn’t to have to purchase gifts regularly. Rather, it was to make a connection. Thus, a simple card or note was often the means for fulfilling one’s duties. Often the things people gave, or the times at which they were given, answered needs that could not possibly have been known to the gift-giver. But at the end of the year, we had a big reveal party and … Well, suffice it to say, some of the stories people told were nothing short of amazing.
One year the person who chose my name was not someone I knew particularly well, and what I did know of her and the contacts I did have with her were not always pleasant. (She was a difficult soul …) In any case, there were several times throughout the year that she gifted different things to me that frankly, I no longer remember. But there was one gift I’ll never forget because it surprised me so. You see, one of my favorite fictional characters of all time, is Anne of Green Gables. I adore that girl—and I understand her—and I identify with her. Although I grew up in a big family—with seven (count them!) sisters, I often (as may well be the case for many others) felt alone and misunderstood and ignored. My siblings had neighbor children their ages, with whom they played regularly. I did not. Consequently, I was alone a lot and I read a lot. My mother would say I had a rather uncanny intellect for a young one. Perhaps that accounted for why I was the only one of the eight of us who went to college (until some years later when one of my other sisters got her degree). Perhaps that explains why I went to law school. I don’t know …
In any case, I did not discover Anne until adulthood, but when I did, she spoke to me in ways that perhaps no other fictional character ever had before, or has since. So when my Secret Pal gave me the VHS tapes (yes, it was awhile ago!) of all of the Anne stories (produced by Kevin Sullivan, starring Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst, and Richard Farnsworth) … Well, those tapes still hold a place on my shelf and I still watch them from time to time. Of course, I have to be prepared to spend hours crying during, and afterward, but I do watch them. And oh, how I do love Anne! I think of that gift-giver every time I see the tapes and I wonder where she is these days (as it has been years since I last saw her). I hope that she is well and happy.
Now for a gift I’ve given that made a lasting memory … As I said, I take gift-giving very seriously, so this was actually a hard decision to make, but I am going to go with the time my youngest, Isabelle, turned eleven. I knew she loved to sing, as it is something we do a lot of in my house. And I knew that she had a particularly good voice. So when her birthday rolled around, I decided I would gift her … voice lessons.
The day of her birthday was a school day, but she was of course excited to receive her gift. I remember she had just finished up in the bathroom and was headed back to her room. She stopped me to ask if she might get her gift before school. I told her that her gift wasn’t exactly something I could hand to her. I remember the look of confusion on her face. Then I told her that I could tell her what her gift was, if she wanted me to do that. Standing a few feet from me, she thought that plan sounded good. So I told her that I had arranged for her to take voice lessons (with a family friend she had known for years). She sucked in a breath, ran to me, threw her arms around me, and cried. Now, my little Isabelle doesn’t often share her feelings quite so boldly, so I knew that I had hit the mark. I think the gift made a lasting memory for her. I know it did for me.
Here’s a sample of little Isabelle, from about 10 years ago.
And here is a sample from a few years ago. This video is from a practice for a production, Two From Galilee, that we will perform this year for the 24th year in a row. You’ll hear background noise and talking, and you might even see people running around as we prepare cast, crew, stage, and more. Here, Isabelle plays Mary with the young man who (a voice major himself), once gave her voice lessons. (Personally, I like the last minute and a half or so, the best). I think it is fair to say that the two of them can sing.
For fun, here's a pic of the production poster we created.
And here is a pic of Mary and Joseph, after a show!
What was your best gift ever received? How about the best give you ever gave? Please do share your stories with us!
I cannot believe it is November already (even though I woke to a dusting of snow this morning), but there you have it. Cold notwithstanding, from my perspective there are two great things about this month. First, it will soon be Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday. Second, we Quills are coming to you this month with new flash fiction tales!
This time, I got to choose the pic. Here it is:
I first found these boots/moccasins on Pinterest, then tracked them down to a site for Turtle Island Moccasins. It seems you can actually order yourself a pair of these! What do you think of that?
When I chose our inspirational pic, I asked my fellow Quills if they wanted an added challenge (as if writing a flash fiction tale isn't challenge enough). I suggested the following for their consideration:
In the end, we decided we would each choose for ourselves whether to take on an added challenge, and if so, what that challenge would be. For my part, I chose a couple of items from the above list. First, I included the Forest of Infatuation. Second, I combined features from the second and third options. Namely, I added a pet with an odd behavioral quirk.
Are you ready? Coming in at 815 words, title and all ... here goes!
Calico Dew and
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
Now, for my third opening line, which as I mentioned, is from one of my own stories. (For fun, I’m actually going to give you the first two sentences.) Here goes!
It almost tickled, the way it ran down from behind her ear and across her neck before dripping from her hair, its crimson warmth collecting in a puddle before her. The pain nearly unbearable, and unable to move, as a weight pinned her to the floor, she watched the glistening ruby pool grow.
If I had not included my own line here as my third choice, I might well have included either of the following quotes, also from terrifically good stories.
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
— Ana Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.
— David Copperfield, Charles Dickens.
Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.
— When We Were Grownups, Anne Tyler
I begin with writing the first sentence—and trusting to Almighty God for the second.
— The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen, Laurene Sterne
This time around, Robin Lythgoe, selected the picture that we used for inspiration. It is always great fun to read the wildly different stories the three of us come up with to go with the chosen picture for these posts, so prepare yourself!
Below is the photo.
We Quills all seem to view the parameters of flash fiction a bit differently. My personal goal is to stay within 1000 words - if at all possible. Today, I've managed to do just that - coming in, I believe, at 998 words, title and all! But before I share my flash fiction story with you, I'm anxious to read what my fellow Quills have for us all. (Make sure you follow the links for each of Parker and Robin to get the full story for each.)
The Standing Stone
by P.S. Broaddus
Copyright P.S. Broaddus 2019
The Judgment Stone
by Robin Lythgoe
Copyright Robin Lythgoe 2019
You can safely imagine that those who escape leave the surrounds and never return. You might also imagine my astonishment at being arrested, tried, and found guilty of something called “High Thievery.” I’ve never stolen a thing in my life, unless you count a nap now and then. Well, I have helped myself to apples in the orchards I pass on my way between towns… But a face? How does a person steal a face?
Here goes . . .
by Patricia Reding
Copyright Patricia Reding 2019
A clicking sounded out, as something brushed her cheek.
Lorna’s eyes flashed open. She bolted upright, then turned to the source of the touch. Although semi-dark, there was no mistake.
“Onyx!” she cried, recognizing her long time companion, a snowy owl that had adopted her shortly after her father’s death. She wrapped her arms around his neck and combed her fingers through his soft fur-like chest feathers.
He cocked his head.
“Wait.” Lorna got to her feet. Looking about, she found herself in a room roughly the size of Archwarden Elowen’s shoe closet. Bare of any furnishings, through its single large open window, a sliver of grey light shone. Whether predawn, or eventide, Lorna could not tell.
As she stepped closer for a better look, Onyx perched on the sill.
Looking out, Lorna found herself several stories high. Below, and spread nearly to the horizon, sat a forest. At its outermost point, glimmered a blue light, instantly recognizable as the Codex Capital where the Archwarden resided. To its north, sat Avoncaster Sea. There was no mistake then. Lorna was in the Arcane Tower, home of the evil Wizard Odell, best known for his shenanigans at playing games with time.
Lorna tried to conjure up more details, but few came to mind. She did remember being carried away, and dropping in and out of consciousness for a time thereafter. She also vaguely recollected having been left in the very room in which she now found herself, and she recalled how immediately after that, Onyx flew in through the window. But from that moment, she’d lost all consciousness. For how long, she knew not, but she surmised that her pet had not left her side all the while.
Onyx hooted, interrupting her reverie.
Turning to the opposite wall, Lorna found an arched door. Hoping she wasn’t too heavily guarded, she decided she’d have a look.
Unsheathing her knife, she tentatively approached the door, then reached for its handle. To her surprise, it turned.
She cracked the door open and peeked out.
With Onyx at her side, Lorna wasted no time. She made her way out of the castle, then sprinted off, into the night.
Lorna stood at a distance. She sensed something out of order, but couldn’t place what.
Quietly, she made her way through the brush that surrounded the outpost. Approaching the stone pillar, in hopes her comrades had left a message there, she looked skyward at Onyx, gliding overhead. Then, what had troubled her earlier, suddenly became clear.
The night sky was all wrong. She, Kit, Margrave, and their cohorts, had set out for Dawson’s hideout in the early spring. But the constellations told her that autumn approached.
She spun toward the sound.
Before her, stood Wizard Odell.
“So, the great Lorna Rinn, the Archwarden’s chief defender, finds herself in a spot,” he mocked.
“I see you’ve been up to your games again,” Lorna said, “toying with time.”
The wizard grinned.
She frowned. “Look, the last I remember before awakening in Arcane Tower, it was early spring. But I see that autumn approaches.” She sighed. “I suppose that explains why my pals are not here to greet me. They could hardly wait a half year for me to show up.”
“What’s so funny?”
“Oh, my dear,” he cooed, “you are not a mere six months off.”
“No, my dear, you are sixty years off—give or take. Your Archwarden Elowen is newly born—an event her father celebrates with a festival.”
Lorna’s heart pounded. If what the wizard said was true, she didn’t know another living soul. Even her parents didn’t yet exist.
“Undue this!” she cried.
“Mmmm … I think not. But you’re lucky, you see. Since your pet here,” he gestured toward Onyx, “stayed with you in my tower, he also was ensorcelled. So, you are not wholly alone. And of course, one day, you will return to the loved ones you left … ahead.”
Without more, the wizard, smiling, stepped away and disappeared into the night.
Lorna sat quietly for a time. Then, finally, she addressed Onyx. “He didn’t win, you know. Evil never does. His mistake? Sending me back in time, not forward. Now I can undermine his plans, circumvent the efforts of those who would help him, perhaps even before they come into existence.” She stood. “Well, come on then, Onyx. We’ve work to do.”
Robin's site is here.
I’ve come back to Sherakai’s story—I figure it makes sense since his first book, Blood and Shadow, is currently part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO). Hosted by Mark Lawrence, author of The Broken Empire series and other books, a total of 300 books are judged by 10 bloggers. Am I nervous? (Gulp!) Mostly, I try not to think about it. There is some serious competition in the running!
Since we already caught a glimpse of things in my previous post about him, I thought I’d share some images from the second book of The Mage’s Gift. In Flesh and Bone, Sherakai receives…
Parker's site is here.
I'm a particular fan of simple sketches. I have a collection of them, some commissioned, some that were done by readers. I think that's something I wish I could do as well, but my sketch art is little more than a series of stick figures ...
I’ve chosen to sprinkle a few pics throughout my post today, all relating to the same part of the storyline from Oathtaker, The Oathtaker Series Volume One.
Making their way through the streets and byways of the City of Light, the travelers slowed their pace as they neared sanctuary. Crowds meandered from one street vendor’s stall to another, all the while trying to steer clear of the thousands of crows that had descended on the city. Food smells, both savory and sweet, filled the air: roasting lamb, fresh bread, cinnamon sprinkled almonds, sweet fruits, and fresh herbs.
Lilith … rode ahead, seemingly oblivious to the black varmints flying overhead.
Velia frowned at the flock. It seemed to grow by the minute. It called to her mind an old childhood verse:
Black and loud
Like a cloud,
Come the crows
Occasionally one swooped down to snatch food from the hands of a babe, or pecked someone who tried to keep his food away from the winged thief so hard, that the person’s hands bled from the assault.
Lilith glanced at the crowds. Dressed in nondescript brown, and with her hood up, no one recognized her. She motioned for Velia to pull up.
“Where to?” the Oathtaker asked.
“Just there.” Lilith designated with a nod, an inn situated on a corner. The Home Place, read its welcome sign. Already crows lined the ridge of the roof and sat on the veranda’s railings that ran the full length of the building. When she lifted her arm, one of the flock landed on it. The creature looked her full in the eye. She stroked the animal, then raised her arm into the air to push it off again. With a caw sounding distinctly like a scream, the vagrant flew away. It landed, seconds later, at the apex of the building.
“Say, I’m curious, have the crows been over this way?”
“Crows?” Ezra asked.
“Yes, it’s the strangest thing. A murder of them invaded the city earlier today. I saw them causing no end of problems in the main square when I made my way through there a short time ago.”
“Now that you mention it, I saw a few earlier today.”
“I hate those birds,” Nina said.
Me too,” Erin agreed.
“Well . . . use care when they’re around,” Jamison cautioned. “They’ve attacked a number of people in the city. It might just have been rumor, but I heard that one guy lost an eye.”
In the center of the city, the vendors remained on alert. Many in the crowd carried things overhead to keep the crows from their faces. Mara couldn’t recall ever having seen the creatures behave quite so aggressively before, but she felt she had a new understanding for why a group of them was known as a murder.
As she stepped off the veranda, a crow chased at her heels. She danced around it. When she couldn’t get free of the beast, she kicked it with all her might, finding intense satisfaction when it hit the side of the building and fell to the ground. She hoped it never moved again.
She rushed to the stables as more birds darted at her.
I find language fascinating. Don't you agree? Have you ever spent time just reading about the origin of particular words or phrases? One of my favorite things to do with one of my daughters is to read idioms from other languages and cultures. We find the venture good for a laugh, as the sayings can be extremely funny while also providing keen insight into the workings of other cultures. For example, you've heard "it's raining cats and dogs," and that you should not "cry over spilled milk," and you know what it means when something "cost you an arm and a leg," but here are a few you might not have heard before:
"Not my circus, not my monkeys." This Polish idiom means, in short, "Not my problem."
Consider this German one: "Everything has one end, only the sausage has two." Apparently, it means, "Everything comes to an end."
I like this Japanese idiom: "Even monkeys fall from trees." Apparently it translates to: "Everyone makes mistakes."
For the most part, the above make sense to me. That said, I can't begin to imagine where the Icelandic idiom, "I took him to the bakery," might have come from. Apparently it means something on the order of, "I told him off." Have you any ideas?
In addition to idioms, another aspect of language I find fascinating, is the sheer number and variety of ways people have found to communicate. For example, I recently read up on whistling languages. Frequently, they are used to convey messages across wide expanses, such as in mountain villages. Oh, how I would love to find a way to incorporate a whistling language into a story! Have you any ideas as to how I might do that?
Now, with June upon us, we Quills are gathering once again to bring you a joint post. This time each of us will share with you, five of our favorite antagonists.
Before digging in further, it only seems right to take a closer look at the terms “protagonist” and “antagonist.” “Protagonist” is defined as “the principal character in a work of fiction.” Note that the definition does not say that the protagonist is the hero of the story. “Antagonist” is defined as “someone who offers opposition.” This definition does not say that the antagonist is a villain. So it is conceivable that the principal character of a story is a villain, while the antagonist of the story is actually the hero. Hmmm … I’m trying to think of a story in which that idea plays out in just that manner ... Can you help me out here? Maybe my fellow Quills can do that. Parker? Robin?
Here we go! (Don't forget to follow the links to my fellow-Quills' sites for more.)
Mine is a list of truly evil baddies, fantastic villains, complex antagonists, and lovable toad. In the style of FilmFisher's "Undefended" articles, I'm putting these forward with only minimal comment.
Thank you, Parker!
Now, Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, will share some of her favorite antagonists with us. Take it away, Robin!
Next—and to consider our theme for this post more seriously—I return to a work I’ve mentioned repeatedly over the years. It is my favorite work of all time: Les Miserables. (It is a work against which I seem to measure all others. In fact, I’ve considered re-reading it annually. It is so worthy.)
From Les Miserables, I’ve two—make that three—favorite villains. The first two are the Thenardiers. To avoid going too long for this post, I’ll just say what great theater those two make. They are horrible, horrible people, but on stage … Well, get ready to laugh!)
His mental attitude was compounded of two very simple principles, admirable in themselves but which, by carrying them to extremes, he made almost evil – respect for authority and hatred of revolt against it.
Victor Hugo provided the rationale for Javert’s conduct. Having been born in a prison to criminal parents, Javert became an officer of the law because of his hatred for the very group from which he came. Hugo tells us that Javert’s life is/was one of “privations, isolation, self-denial, and chastity—never any amusement.” Perhaps Javert is one of my favorites because Hugo made him so understandable. So once again I say—and I say it every chance I get: if you have not yet read Les Miserables, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Your introduction to the antagonist, Javert, is just one of the many, many reasons to check out this great, great classic.
Parker took our challenge to new heights, in that he has provided various alternate beginnings to his prior work, Nightrage Rising. If you've not read it yet, here's your chance to jump in. If you have, you're sure to enjoy the beginning from these various new perspectives.
by P.S. Broaddus
Copyright, P.S. Broaddus 2019
Tigrabum Fendor had never been, nor ever would be, an ordinary cat, thank you very much. He examined the new pin that had been placed in the latch and chuckled silently. When would they learn?
He pried a paw between the crate and the pin and wiggled the latch. The addition of a pin added a finesse requirement and five extra seconds before he freed the lid. He hopped up on his hind feet, resting his forepaws against the crate to look around the dock. Nobody had noticed him yet. He hooked his paw under the lid and lifted. Hundreds of blank, white eyes stared up at him, cold and unfeeling.
Now, we move on to see what Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, has for us. Robin?
by Robin Lythgoe
Copyright, Robin Lythgoe 2019
I have come to the conclusion that all great people have their rivals. Qahan Nijamar, the mythic hero of yore, had his Ashlock; the pirate Maid Mihriban had her Princess Pakize; I have Raza Qimeh. Or at least he likes to think so. Most of his success stems from the fact that no one would believe someone as tall or broad or loud as he could ever be a quiet, agile, wily thief. Typically, he’s a mere thorn in my side. Like now, for instance ...
And now, it's my turn!
Fantasy authors often create their worlds in a first volume, and then use those creations in a number of volumes in a series. Occasionally, an author might write spin-offs, providing a whole new series around a lesser character from the original. These tales might precede the original, run parallel with it, or come later in time.
I’ve decided to use our inspirational picture—and Parker’s challenge—to tell a parallel story. In essence, I'm “adding a scene,” if you will, to Oathtaker. That said, I didn’t want to give anything away for anyone who has not yet read that story. Thus, you’ll find a blank space in my new scene. Also, I’m not giving you a full-fledged, stand alone story, as I prefer to do with flash fiction (and as I’ve done with my prior flash fiction tales), because I am unable to do so with a “parallel” scene. Even so, I hope you enjoy it …
To set the stage, in Oathtaker, Volume One of The Oathtaker Series, Mara travels with a group of friends, seeking safety for the infant twins, Reigna and Eden. The group makes its way to the City of Light. There, they can easily visit sanctuary and spend time studying. Mara knows their ultimate destination is the camp that Lucy created and then shielded with magic. Still, while reports from Ezra’s spy network tell Mara that Lilith is still some distance away, she wants to learn all that she can. Eventually, she sends everyone in her group, except for Dixon and Nina (who is wet nurse to the twins), ahead to Lucy’s. They take the great scepter with them so as to get it to safety as soon as possible. Later, Mara, the infant twins, Dixon, and Nina, will join them.
In the original Oathtaker, just as Jules, Samuel, Basha, Therese, and Adele, are leaving The Clandest Inn, someone new shows up there. The portion of the story reads:
Excerpt from Oathtaker
by Patricia Reding
“I’ll take the map,” Jules said.
“Don’t make any markings on it,” Dixon cautioned. “We wouldn’t want anyone to know where you were headed.”
Nina sat down. “It seems like someone is always coming and going,” she said as she glanced Jules’s way.
“It can’t be helped, Nina.” Mara rolled up the map. “I want to get the scepter to safekeeping. I probably should have sent the group off sooner.” She handed the scroll to Jules whose gaze rested on Nina.
His chair scraped against the floor as he pushed it back. “We can still get an early start—and we’ll need to if we’re to make it to Aventown before nightfall.” He tucked the map under his arm. “I checked at the stables earlier. Our horses are saddled.”
Adele groaned. Moody for days now, she’d intercepted Mara at every turn, each time with yet another argument for why she should stay behind. She’d even gone so far as to ask Mara to check with the oracle about whether to send her with the others, but the Oathtaker thought the idea preposterous. Why would the oracle bother over such a detail?
Bundled up in shawls and capes, they all made their way to the stables.
Dixon, late for an appointment with Ezra, clasped Jules’s forearm, urged him to keep everyone safe, then returned to the inn.
Mara and Nina each held one of the twins as the travelers mounted. Mara grasped Eden’s arm and raised it in a mock wave. Nina grinned, then followed suit, waving Reigna’s hand at those departing.
As the riders left the courtyard, a man in black, on a large rust gelding, rushed toward the inn. He nearly collided with Adele. Mara winced at the encounter, glanced briefly at the newcomer, then turned her attention back to her departing friends.
Adele stretched so far back in her saddle, that for a minute it looked like she was riding backward. She appeared troubled.
“Poor Adele,” Mara said as she, Nina, and Samuel, headed back to the inn.
Just then, the man in black nearly ran into them.
“Excuse me,” Mara said as he jostled past.
He glanced at her briefly, then went inside.
Arriving in Aventown
by Patricia Reding
Copyright, Patricia Reding 2019
The moon, now full, lit the way for the traveling entourage as it entered the village of Aventown. Dixon had described the town as “sleepy,” and so it seemed to be, in that few lights shown through any windows, although the hour was not yet late.
Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop. The travelers’ horses drummed a steady rhythm as they made their way down the cobblestone street, announcing their presence to anyone in the least interested. The sound startled Adele from her musings. Then just as she turned her thoughts inward again, unexpected laughter interrupted her reverie.
“What’s so funny?” Basha asked Jules who rode at her side.
“It looks like someone here held a contest for the wildest place names. See there?” He pointed. “It’s ‘The Pain in the Glass Pub,’ and next to it is ‘The Brewed Awakening Inn.’”
Still chuckling, he pointed once again. “Oh, look there! It’s the ‘Knead a Massage Parlor.’”
Basha, and her charge, Therese, laughed along with him.
Then, “Oh! There’s one!” Basha exclaimed as she gestured ahead. “See there? It’s the Quick Voyage Book Store.”
“And there’s the Inkwell Tattoo Parlor,” Therese added.
“These are great names,” Jules said.
“Yes, the place certainly seems friendly enough,” Adele offered with a pout.
“I guess we’ll know soon enough,” Jules said. Then, “There’s the inn ahead,” he added. “Earlier, I thought its name peculiar. I mean, who would use a name like ‘The Night Mare” for an inn, anyway? But, Dixon said I’d understand when I got here. Now I believe I do!” He waved his arm. “Come on, then, let’s make sure they have room for us.”
After confirming that there was indeed room at the inn, Jules sent the women ahead with Samuel to get a meal started. Then he assisted the young man in charge of the stables with feeding and grooming their mounts before he headed back inside.
Meanwhile, Adele remained in quiet thought while she helped to prepare dinner. Still upset about having to leave the twins, however, she left her own meal uneaten. Instead, she sat in a rocker in the corner, musing.
Shivering, as the inn’s stone exterior made for a damp and cold interior, she pulled her shawl more tightly around her shoulders. Her rocking remained slow and steady as she searched for some semblance of serenity.
“Is all well, Adele?” Basha asked her.
“Something bothering you?”
The young woman bit her bottom lip, then shook her head and said, “Nothing. Just thinking.”
Adele could not get the image of the man who had arrived at the Clandest Inn just as they were leaving, out of her mind. She was certain she’d recognized him, and the thought of his being anywhere near the twins, worried her.
After some minutes of silence, Jules spoke up, addressing no one in particular. “I made arrangements with the innkeeper, who as you all know is a spy in Ezra’s network, to send a messenger back to the City of Light to update Mara and Dixon on our progress according to the itinerary we'd prepared earlier. I know we won’t have the luxury of doing so everyday, but I’d like to keep them as informed as possible.”
Adele turned his way. “You’re sending Mara a messenger?” she asked. “This evening?”
“That’s the plan.”
“May I send one, as well?”
Jules glanced at Basha who then addressed the young woman. “There is no going back, Adele. Mara will catch up with us at Lucy’s soon enough.”
“No— I mean, yes, I know all that.” Suddenly overcome with a longing for the infant twins she’d grown to love so deeply, a tear ran down Adele’s cheek. She wiped it away. “I just— May I send a message anyway?”
Jules shrugged. “So long as you don’t mention where we are or where we’re going.”
Adele waited for Jules to finish writing his note, then took up his quill and ink. For a moment, she couldn’t think just what to say. She didn’t want to alarm Mara unnecessarily, but that creepy man was too close to Lilith for her liking.
Adele bit the end of the quill. Finally, she penned: Mara. Had to write immediately. Thought I saw _________ as we left the inn. He’s trouble. Use care.
She wondered if she should say more. Should she tell Mara how the man frequented Lilith’s chambers? About how the two of them laughed at Lilith’s threats of cruelty? Should she tell Mara about how he stood by when Lilith did the most despicable things, and that he did nothing to intervene? In truth, Adele didn’t have any more evidence about him, or against him, than she’d had when she left the palace. While there, Dixon hadn’t seemed particularly concerned about him—and he’d not mentioned the man since he’d escaped from Lilith’s clutches. So, maybe there wasn’t cause for great concern, after all.
Still, she argued with herself, Dixon couldn’t possibly know everything that she knew.
Confused, she shook her head.
“You need anything Adele?” Basha asked.
The young woman sighed. "No. Like I said before, I'm fine." With that, she turned back to her missive and added: We're all well. Once done, she signed it, Adele. Then she folded it, affixed a wax seal to it, and handed it to Jules.
So, what do you think of our latest flash fiction efforts? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
I try my best to keep my flash fiction stories within 1000 words. This time, I just hit the mark, after honing the story down, down, down. (It is more difficult than you might think!)
Please take a minute, enjoy, then share your thoughts.
A Minor Magician
by Patricia Reding
Copyright Patricia Reding 2019
“What did you say?” asked eight-year old Amelle.
Brigid looked her way. She’d been shocked to discover that the girl hadn’t fallen to the wiles of the criminal deviants that abounded on the streets where she’d found her living a couple years earlier. It was a testimony to the girl’s curious genius that, almost miraculously, she melded into her surroundings. She had an uncanny ability to seem invisible while in plain sight, thereby learning the most confidential things. So when Brigid needed information, Amelle was her most reliable source—and it was details Amelle had learned and shared with her on which Brigid would act tonight.
“Nothing, little one.” She pulled a protective leather band over her arm. “Now you wait here,” she ordered as she headed for the door.
“I’ll know if you follow,” she warned.
“No you won’t—err—wouldn’t. No one sees or hears me when I don’t wish for them to.” Amelle grinned impishly.
“I’ve no time for arguments. I must mizzle.”
“Where are you going?”
“To find Derry Rault.”
“No, wait!” Amelle cried, but her protector, dagger in hand, was already gone.
Brigid scurried out the back door and across the street, then hid in the alcove of the Forever and Ever ink parlor. There she waited, making sure no one followed.
Finally satisfied, she wrapped a bandana over her cheeks to keep the streetlamps from reflecting off them. Then she climbed to the rooftop to make her way expeditiously to Derry’s favorite pub, The Good Ferrett. She’d learned from Amelle that there, he intended to meet Liza Kergoat, the best-known fence around. The woman was shrewd—and ruthless. To cross her was to sign your death warrant. But while Derry was Brigid’s former flame, she wished him no ill will. Thus, she had to act quickly.
Back on the street, she removed her kerchief, then entered the pub. She glanced across the room. Sighting Derry with Liza, she headed their way.
“Oh, you!” she cooed as she reached his side and sat. She greeted him with a kiss that lingered excessively given their estrangement, but then everyone agreed Derry Rault was one fine looking man.
Surprised, he pulled back.
“Who’s this?” Liza asked.
Derry sat mute. His eyes narrowed.
“Oh, hello, Ma’am,” Brigid said, grinning. “Don’t mind Derry. He’s shy.”
Liza’s brow rose.
“We’re . . . together.”
This time Derry opened his mouth to speak.
Then, “Honestly,” Brigid said, nudging him, “has the cat got your tongue?” Leaning in, she whispered, “You have the wrong package.”
He pulled back. “No, I don’t.”
Giggling, playacting, she drew even closer, keeping her voice low, yet choosing her words carefully in the event Liza overheard her. “I didn’t know you’d intended to meet Madam Kergoat.” She turned to smile at the woman. “Now, then, Derry—”
“I don’t know what kind of trick you’re playing.” He extricated himself from her hold. Then, standing, he dropped something on the table and pointed at it. “I’ve the correct items right there.”
Brigid sucked in a breath, hoping she could save the man from himself. “No, surely, this is the purse you meant to take.” She stuffed a pouch in the palm of his hand.
Liza’s eyes never left the two.
Clearly angry now, Derry deposited Brigid’s bag back into her pocket, roughly. Then he took up the one on the table. He opened it, removed a few jewels from it, showed them to Liza, and then returned them.
Slapping the pouch back down, Derry glared at Brigid and growled, “Enough of your games."
Dumbfounded, she stood, then turned away. What had happened? She’d stolen the jewels from Derry earlier, leaving him with a bag of stones. The only reason she’d tried to return the goods now was because she didn’t want to learn of his death at Liza’s hand. But then . . . how could he have brought the gems to The Good Ferrett?
Upon returning home, she called for Amelle, but got no answer. She called again.
“Here!” Amelle slipped inside.
“I told you to stay put! Where were you?”
Amelle hung her head. “I knew you’d stolen the jewels from Derry. When I heard he planned to deliver them to Liza, I also knew I’d have to give them back. So I took them, leaving a bag of stones for you, hoping I could replace it later. I’m sorry, Brigid, I know we need to eat, but I couldn’t bear to think what Liza would do if she thought Derry had tricked her!”
“You should have told me.”
“You left too quickly! So I flew out the front door to evade you, then headed straight for The Good Ferrett, where I’d intended to go anyway, to save Derry.”
“And you gave the jewels back to him. But . . . when?”
“Right after you handed your bag to him.”
“He dropped his pouch on the table. You tried to give him yours, but he shoved it back in your pocket, then opened the one on the table.”
“Well, during the confusion, I’d exchanged the bag I took from you earlier for the one he’d set down. So he picked up the correct bag.”
Brigid fell back into a chair, dumfounded.
“Then, I removed the bag from your pocket as Derry handed his to Liza. You left and she put the loot in her coat pocket.” Amelle reached into her own pocket, then dropped a purse in Brigid’s hands. “And I replaced it with the one you’d brought along, leaving you with the jewels here.”
Patting her empty pocket, Brigid’s eyes widened. More than ever she was convinced the child was a magician—an invisible, lifesaving, pick-pocketing, wizard.
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