Since I’ll very soon be able to focus on writing and editing a trilogy of fantasy quest stories I’ve been working on over the last *muffled number* years, I thought I’d share a little excerpt from the first book. The series is as yet unnamed which is probably a mistake on my part, but it is what it is.
Jayn’s first memory was of a bucket of dirty water going clean. She held blurry glimpses of a time before, a smiling woman in violet robes, a moonlit field of white flowers, but her first real memory was of a bucket she wished she didn’t have to drag outside, dump, and refill, and then–somehow–she indeed did not.
Jayn had detested trips to the well and back, but the purified water that ran indoors was for drinking, cooking, and occasionally bathing only. Mistress insisted. Her small stature, young age, and sheer boredom made the task tripley difficult. The wispy girl found, however, by concentrating very hard, she could make use of the first bucket she carried in from the local well all day. It was something she couldn’t explain, but after watching Master do all sorts of tasks with what seemed like only his mind, she never felt the need to explain it to anybody. A lucky thing, that was.
A much older Jayn, who now found herself traveling away from the place that bucket resided with no hope of returning, knew that what she had done was manipulate aether, the invisible force within all things, and, though it was no secret that this magic existed, she had developed a different kind of need to keep her ability hidden. As she pressed herself into the cushioned seat of the carriage and peered through a slight break in the curtains, she saw that dirtied bucket of water all over—the color of the ground, the sky, the murkiness beyond the horizon–but this she had no chance of making clean.
The skyline bumped along as she traveled farther away from Mulrennan, and she could almost feel the town breaking away from her as she went, every jar in the road ripping it off a bit more. It stuck to her like sap and though it was not particularly well-loved, it was all she had known, and that, she thought, was far better than the unknown.
There had been another girl, an indentured housegirl like Jayn, who had shown to have similar abilities, and much to the dismay of her masters, the garrison had taken her. The girl had been excited to go, but to Jayn the circumstances felt ominous. While magic wasn’t a secret, it was highly guarded. The family to which Jayn was beholden was one of the few who openly practiced, but they operated their shop with an edict from the royal court that Master would serve on the village’s council, providing his services when needed. And though Jayn had seen her do little things beyond explanation, Mistress swore to the gods she had never manipulated aether, and as far as anybody else was concerned, she was common: the magic was passed down through Master to his sons. Mistress was many things, and chiefly among them smart, so Jayn mimicked that she too was common for as long as she could, and so she was doubly annoyed that her skill with aether wasn’t at all what had gotten her into her current predicament.
The carriage had taken her passed the farthest farms supplying the village, travelling down into a grey fog, distorting what lay beyond. Fog was rare in Mulrennan and considered foreboding. Though Jayn found the superstition silly as there hadn’t been anything more fearsome than the odd wolf sighted in Mulrennan in longer than anyone could remember largely thanks to the temple of Seele a few days’ ride north, she suddenly felt perhaps there was more to the tales of fog delivering demons and monsters than she had once believed. Yes, travelers came to the village and spoke of shapeshifters, lycans, and even the odd draugr, but her home had always been safe. Safe from the monsters beyond the village, at least.
But there had been an air of change in town, specifically since Baron Allaire had died and his son had taken hold of Mulrennan and the neighboring villages. He’d recently returned from the capital, Helmsrian, and had gone, what some called, “a bit off.” Jayn had heard them, the ladies gossiping, while she picked up fruit and bread at market. When she dallied with the other housegirls along the river before heading home, she heard them more crassly proclaim that the new Lord Allaire had gone absolutely mad.
He’d taken to restoring a fallen manor in the heart of the moors that had last been home to Allaires so long dead that no one living had known their children’s children. While his father frequently made visits to the other villages and lived in the largest of homes in the heart of Mulrennan, his son only came into town every moon or so, and when he left, a letter would arrive at the home of one or two of the housegirls in town requesting the permanent services of the girl. Of course, to call it a request was a stretch, but Allaire was at least generous enough to send a purse of gold in exchange.
The ladies being served lunch at the tearoom in the town square spoke in hushed whispers that the lord’s newly begotten hobby of training and marrying off the common girls to his friends from Helmsrian, which of course was what he was doing since he needed replacements so often, was almost charming if it weren’t so improper. The girls working in the seamstress shop argued that his abduction of their cohorts, never to be seen or heard from again would be suspicious if they didn’t agree that they too would abandon this life if someone swept them away to Helmsrian to be some wealthy merchant or lord’s wife. Now, as Jayn sat within the carriage she’d only previously seen amble through town with the shadowy form of someone she once knew inside, she was fairly certain everyone was wrong.