Written to Thnidu’s commissioned continuation of Down to Talen Hall.
Do not go by the TalenHall
Where ruined Talen’s Holdings Lie
My sisters dance by Talen Hall
Where ruined Talen’s Holdings lie.
My aunts and cousins, once in thrall,
Sing taunting songs to pale moonlight.
They were not my sisters, and yet they were.
My sister stood off to the side, an iron firepoker in her hand. She’d grown while I was gone, and grown again in the time I’d been back. She was a woman.
I’d been a woman, once. To the touch of the fae lords and the beings under the hill, I had grown seven years and seven more, seven children and seven grooms.
Seven brides for Seven Brothers, Alicia liked to joke, but only if everyone was on a merry-go-round, playing musical brides.
Alicia’d had a habit of getting her metaphors mixed. Now, she didn’t say anything at all, just stood at Talen’s Hall and stared.
Seven years and seven again I’d been there – and Alicia, who had gone down at the same time as I had – but my body was exactly as it had been when I’d left. No sign of the babies. No sign of two years, or five, or fourteen. No sign I’d been gone at all.
No sign of my seven brothers, not even of the one I’d loved. No sign of the rings he’d slipped on my fingers.
Kara stood to the side, grown hard and adult while I lingered in the moonlit lands. Her iron poker was a guard against those who’d taken us, and against us, all forty-nine of us, who might want to go back.
“You cannot have the ones you took
They are not yours to claim”
That’s what they say she sang. Some days I want to ask her on whose authority?
“This is our world and not your book.
Give back their pride and shame.”
And I wonder, more than anything, if she knew what she was giving me back. My Pride. My Shame: Then their eyes were opened, and they realized they were naked. All of that returned to me.
Do not go by the Talen Hill
Where Jana’s Kara holds the steel.
“Talen” is an homage to someone who will likely never read this… And obviously the poem/song in this is an homage to
O I forbid you, maidens all,
That wear gold in your hair,
To come or go by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there.
Do not go by the TalenHall
Where ruined Talen’s Holdings Lie
“Why don’t you ever get angry?”
It had been three days since Abrelle’s hair had started tinging blue, three days where both she and Kevin had tried to pretend that nothing had changed, three days where she desperately wished that his Change involved changing colors, or that she had any skill with Hugr, emotions. She knew what she was feeling. He knew what she was feeling; he could read it in her hair. But he hadn’t given her any clue what he was feeling, and that was driving her a little bonkers (which, it appeared, was a weird shade of chartreuse, in small stripes).
He’d picked another fight, and she was in the process of buckling him up in a series of straps, mummifying him with leather. She’d done it so many times already (and it was only November!) that she hardly had to think about it: grab collar, hook the apparatus into position, grab arms, start buckling. She hadn’t even been focusing on him; she was still halfway in the book she’d been reading for VanderLinden’s Lit class.
She blinked at him, finished the next strap, and considered the the question. “Thinking,” she told him, so he didn’t think she was ignoring him. She moved down him, smoothing his fingers against his sides with a gentle petting motion before buckling the strap around his upper thighs.
He usually took until she got to his knees to settle down, but this time he was calm already. “Take your time.”
“My Keeper,” she said slowly, as she buckled the strap above his knees… “Sit down, here, that’s good, thank you. My Keeper, he liked to bait me. And then he would tell me things like ‘no, a good ladylike Kept doesn’t lose her temper.'”
“Didn’t know you very well, did he?” He pressed his ankles together while she got the last strap buckled.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” She swung his legs up onto the bed and straightened him out, making sure everything was laying smoothly.
“I mean…” He wriggled against the straps, now that they were all in place. “You’re not exactly ladylike. That sounds like someone who drinks tea with their pinkie up and doesn’t want to break a nail. I’ve seen you in combat training. If you really wanted to, you wouldn’t need orders to hold me still. Or straps.” He wriggled a little more. “But, I mean, he’s gone. And you still don’t get mad, no matter what I do.”
“That’s… not exactly right.”
“Your hair doesn’t ever change, well, it does now, but still, you don’t ever really express anything, you just take it all and then you tie me up and… I calm down and you don’t do anything.” He paused. “Wait. Wait, are you saying you are mad at me? Shit, shit-shit, shit!” He started pulling more intently against the restraints, actually trying to get out.
He couldn’t. But Abrelle sat down and pulled him until his head was on her lap anyway. She stroked his hair and petted him until he stopped swearing.
He looked up at her, frowning, lip-bitten. “I don’t know what to think. If you’re mad and you don’t show it, how am I supposed to know anything you’re thinking. How’m I supposed to know if I do something wrong?”
Rather than answering the difficult question, Abrelle raised her eyebrows at him and smirked. “I think I’ve been pretty clear when you do something wrong.”
“Well, yeah, but if you showed anything, then I’d know before I hit the “go sit in the corner and be quiet” spot. Or, you know, know if you were angry instead of just wondering if you thought something was a bad habit you ought to nip in the bud.”
“Is there a – no, you’re right, of course there’s a difference.” She’d been Kept, after all.
“Yeah. See? So… why don’t you get angry? I mean, why don’t you show anything? Your hair doesn’t even flicker.”
“I…” Abrelle stroked his hair for a little while. “You cannot tell anyone. You cannot even hint at it, you can’t whisper about it, I’d rather you didn’t think about it much while you were out in classes but I won’t make that an order unless you want me to.” Thought orders had messed her up more than anything her Keeper had done to her; she tried very hard not to do those to Kevin. “Okay?”
He stilled and looked up at her, forehead furrowed. “It’s serious. And you don’t want – what, no, not other students. The staff to know.” He chewed on his lip. “Is it okay? Is it hurting you? If you’re in pain somehow or damaging yourself, you can’t tell me not to tell the staff, that’s horrid.”
She pet his hair soothingly. He had the softest hair. He’d changed shampoos a week into being Kept, when it’d started to be clear how much time she’d spend running her hands through his hair. She definitely liked the feel of the new stuff better, and was very pleased that he’d made the change, presumably for her.
She took a minute to find her words. “It’s not something that’s damaging me. It’s not hurting me. But it might cause problems with some of the staff, and I don’t want… I’m not ready to deal with that.”
He looked thoughtful. “How about… you tell me, and if I think it’s something to worry about, then you come up with a time when you’re ready to deal with it and the staff-problems?” He wriggled cutely in her lap and gave her a wide-eyed and innocent expression. “I want to know, I really do. But I don’t want to be stuck not being able to help you.”
“I’m surprised you care.”
“I Belong to you,” he pointed out. “That comes with a bit of caring.”
“Oh.” She thought she might be disappointed. She wasn’t sure what that said.
“Hey. Hey.” He wriggled in her lap until she looked at him. “Hey, your hair’s doing a thing. Come on, I was teasing, or, you know, not being entirely honest. I, uh. We butt heads, but I like you, okay? I mean… really like you.”
“Like you said, you Belong to me.”
“No, no. I mean, yes. Yours. But come on.” He squirmed demonstratively. “You get me. And, uh. I like it when we just sit around and talk and stuff. And there’s stuff. I like that, too.”
She wanted to say you’re not making any sense but he was. And he was smiling. Oh, her hair must be doing something.
“I’m pretty sure that’s a good color. So… you like me and I like you and if that involves a lot of bondage, well, I’m actually not complaining about that… .but you’re going to tell me your secret now?” He gave her the hopeful wide-eyed look again.
She sighed. “Okay. I need one of my arms back, though.” She slid her left arm out from under him and fished out the necklace living down in her cleavage. “So. My Keeper. He didn’t like displays of emotion, didn’t really like emotion, especially not negative emotions. And I was… very emotional. I was very unhappy in the collar and I really didn’t like him. I still don’t like him.”
“Urgh.” He wrinkled his nose. “Sounds like an asshole.”
Abrelle snorted. “YOu’ll get no argument from me on that point. Except maybe that you’re not using a strong enough word. ANyway… he didn’t like emotions, and, well. You might have noticed the Keeping makes emotions, and… being ‘human’ makes emotions, and being pregnant….” she sighed and waited for him to stop the whole-body nose-wrinkle sort of disgust expression he always made when kids came up. “THat makes emotions, too. And being in trouble for having emotions…”
“Just makes things worse. Is he still here?”
“No. No, he graduated last year. Besides,” she tapped his nose gently, “he’s not your revenge, dear. He’s mine. So… I had, have, a friend who is very good with magical items, and I had her made something — because I wasn’t allowed to do WOrkings, and, even if I was, I’m awful at the Emotions word — something to shift my emotions. Not destroy them, just take the emotions and offe them as a shift to vision, a color, like my hair. THen I could decide if I wanted to feel them or not.”
“Hunh.” He considered. “So… the blue?”
“Well, at first it was supposed to be just negative emotions. But what we did was slide the thing in my bra for a week and have it read everything I was feeling, and then extrapolate from there what it should block and what colors it should show. Love… I wasn’t feeling any love at the time, let’s say that. ” She stroked his hair, waiting for the horror or disgust or confusion.
You are feeling worried, suggested the greenish-blue haze over her vision. Suppress? Allow?
Allow she decided. The trinket would probably not last much longer anyway. She was going to have to get used to her emotions before they all came flooding back.
“Your hair’s a funny… a couple funny colors.” He twitched in his bonds. “So… your friend made you a magical item that, uh, it shuts off your emotions? You get to decide what you’re going to feel and what you’re not?”
“Do you, um. Do you want me to be like that?”
She didn’t need his hair to turn colors to tell her he was worried, too. “Do I look like a giant asshole?” she asked, possibly more sharply than she’d intended. Having the emotions back did strange things to her speaking.
His Adam’s apple bobbed. “No. No, ma’am. It’s just… uh. You haven’t been Kept in ages, years, right?”
“Since my first year,” she agreed.
“And you’re still wearing it. I mean, it looks like you’re starting to let stuff through? But if you’re still wearing it, when you obviously don’t have to care what your Keeper thinks anymore…” He looked away and struggled at the straps a little bit. “I just thought,” he muttered to her knee, “maybe you preferred things that way? Quiet? Calm.”
She stroked his hair and considered his words. “I like you the way you are. I like… well.” She ducked her head and found herself smiling, “the excuse to tie you up.”
“But you’re…” He was flushed but a smile was creeping in at his lips, “you’re still wearing it? So you like me, uh, excitable?”
“I like you the way you are,” she repeated. “And I really do like this.” She tugged on the strap around his arms.
His flush darkened and he looked away. “I like it too,” he muttered, “but I’d like it better if, uh. If you responded.”
“If I respond,” Abrelle picked her way through the words carefully, “it’s going to get loud. And I might say things I don’t mean.”
“I say things I don’t mean all the time! And sometimes I say things I do mean but wouldn’t say if I wasn’t shouting.”
“I know.” She stroked his hair. She could tell from the way he was struggling that tying him up wasn’t going to do it this time, or, at least, it wasn’t going to be enough on its own. “I’m just warning you. It’s going to get pretty shouty in here.”
“Well, then, so I won’t be alone shouting.” He hesitated. “And, uh. So I’ll know I got a reaction, maybe I won’t have to shout quite so much, too.”
“Hrrm.” She smiled crookedly at him and caught his hand, squeezing his fingers. “But I’m still going to tie you up, you know.”
“Well, yeah. I mean. That part’s fun, although…”
“I mean,” He shrugged jerkily against the straps. “You’ve got me all tied up, but, I mean, I…” He shook his head.
“Tell me,” Abrell ordered. Her vision suggested guilt, and she tolt it she didn’t want to bother with that right now. She could indulge in guilt later, when she’d figured out if something was going wrong with her Kept.
“Urgh,” he complained, and then, quickly, ‘I just wondered why you kept my clothes on all the time? I mean,” he spoke a little more slowly, the pressure of the order clearly off, “you get me all tied up, you could do anything you wanted to me. I Belong to you, you can do anything you want to me. And it’s not like you’re afraid I’m not gonna say if I don’t like something.”
Abrelle shut her mouth. That had been almost exactly what she’d been going to say.
He could tell, too. “Look, you’re not… your Keeper, and I trust you.” He twitched at the straps. “When I ask you — like, okay, the once I asked you to untie me, you, well, you untied me. I trust you,” he repeated. “I wish, you know, I could tell when you were angry, ‘cause then the bond gets all loud in my head making up options, but, uh, really, I wish if you were gonna tie me up so much, maybe you would do something with me once you’d gotten me tied up?” He wriggled in what Abrelle thought was supposed to be an enticing manner but mostly looked adorable.
Abrelle let the affectionate amusement wash through her and chuckled at him. “All right. But I’m going to warn you…”
“It’s going to be wild?” He smirked playfully. “You warned me about that already. Shouting, oh no. However will I survive?”
She rolled him onto his side so that he was off of her lap, catching him before he could roll too far away, and leaned down, very deliberately, and bit his earlobe. “My temper isn’t the only thing that’s gotten repressed over the last couple years,” she murmured into his ear, “and it’s not just going to be shouting that’s going to get wild.”
His cheeks turned pink — and his thin pants did nothing to hide the other signs of his sudden interest. “Oh no,” he repeated, but his voice was shaky and almost eager. “Wild, oh, no. However will I survive?”
Abrelle caught sight of her hair, which was turning deep blue and purple in vivid stripes. She slid the emotion-catcher out of her bra and left it on the nightstand timer. “Let’s find out, hrrm?”
This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/1212016.html. You can comment here or there.
This came out super-weird, in part because Æ is for Ash seemed like a complete story to me as was. So it’s… tangential? Sort of? Also, it didn’t want to end.
The Unburnt Tree, it was said, guarded all within Corthwin and protected them from harm, mindful or accidental.
It was a bit poetic, of course. The tree – and the younger ash trees grown from its seeds – did not protect the entire city. People still died. Small fires still burned sometimes, in the city. Buildings fell and fists were raised in anger.
(There were cities whose gods were less wooden and slow, where those things no longer happened. Those cities were terrifying places to visit, and those who could leave did so posthaste).
But, poetic license or not, every child was brought before the giant ash, the Unburnt Tree, to give and receive blessings. Children who for one reason or another were considered especially at risk were given names calling one the ash, thus to invoke even more of its protection.
Æscleah had been brought before the tree, a skinny, sickly, weak and early-born child, when she was just a week old. Her parents and family had hoped to forestall the illness they were certain would kill her, so they had fed to her a paste made of the Unburnt Tree’s seeds, and for a week, they had left her cradle in the roots of the tree, feeding her but otherwise leaving her to the ash’s care.
She had thrived, against all hope, beyond all prayers. She had grown chubby, that week hugged by the Unburnt tree. She had gained color and strength, although she remained a quiet child, not prone to crying. And she had, after her rough start, an amazingly robust and lively childhood.
And yet… (Because even gods who do not terrify with their overbearing control are still gods, are still beyond the ken of mankind) …she remained quiet, this child of a boisterous family. She remained still when others were excited, calm when others cried. She reacted, true, but she reacted slowly and with deliberation.
People whispered. Many children had been set in the Unburnt Tree’s protection; many had been named after the Ash. Many had been blessed — and of all those many, only Æscleah had been so very firmly marked.
“She’s a changeling,” whispered people who had never seen a true change-child.
“She’s cursed,” muttered people who were new to the city, or who were uncertain about the ring of ash trees now growing up around Corthwin.
The tree-minders looked on her, when she was finally brought before them, and shook their heads, not recognizing what was before them. “She is a child,” they declared. “Nothing more, and nothing less. Treat her as a child, and nothing more… and nothing less.”
And so Æscleah’s family did their best. She was not their only child, not by far, and they treated her the same as any other child. When she did her chores, they praised her; when she wandered off to the ring of unburnt ash unbidden and un-permissioned, they punished her.
And she wandered, punishment or not, permission or not, more and more as she grew quicker and quicker with her chores and her schoolwork. If she was missing, she would be in the crook of the Unburnt Tree, or tending the ground or the branches of one of the small scions, or weeding the beds of companion plants surrounding the trees surrounding the city.
As she grew older, the punishments grew harsher and Æscleah’s disobedience grew larger. She would skip all of her chores for a week, only to do them without fail for two weeks. She would vanish for days and nights on end, only to reappear as if no time had passed at all. And she seemed to mind not any punishment her parents or her teachers meted out.
Desperate to curtail her behaviour, Æscleah’s parents finally locked her in an interior room, a room of stone, far from the Unburnt Ash, far from the sun and the sky. “Do your chores,” they told her, “and you may be in the sun for five minutes. Do your siblings’ chores as well, and you may spend an additional five minutes outside.”
This worked for two weeks, as Æscleah grew wanner and quieter, as she seemed to wilt and wither, as a wind whipped up around the Unburnt Ash and its saplings. On the evening of the fifteenth day, Æscleah went outside for her allotted five minutes of sun – and vanished.
Her mother had been watching her. Her little brother had been playing with her. Her father had been by the gate. Nobody had seen her leave. Nobody in the streets had seen her pass. And the tree-minders who watched the Unburnt tree claimed that no, this time, they hadn’t seen her pass.
Nobody could find her. For hours they searched, and then for days, and then for weeks. When two weeks and a day had passed, when her parents had given up hope, thinking that Æshleah had gone to some other city, run away to join the circus, come afoul of some cretin not afraid of ash trees or their vengeance, when they had lain flowers in the bone-yard for her and said their words, then and only then did the Unburnt Ash reveal her.
She stepped from the tree as if she had been inside it, her hair gone white-grey and her skin seeming a bit green. She ignored the tree-minders. She ignored her parents. She spoke with a voice that was not her own to the people who stood by the gate. “Fetch the mayor.”
People muttered, and people complained. Her parents spoke strongly to her. Æshleah ignored them all to look at one young tree-minder, not that much older than she was. “Fetch the mayor,” she told the tree-minder. “Now.”
The tree-minder, who was used to the look of old people ignoring what was in front of them, who herself had been given to the Unburnt Ash as a child, who was not so stupid and willful as her elders thought she was, she ran for the mayor. She ran the whole way, and when she reached said notable, neither explained nor cajoled.
“The Unburnt Tree wants you,” she told him, and dragged him until he, not wishing his dignity to be quite that insulted, came along with her.
There, in the middle of people shouting at her and untouched by all of them, Æshleah stared at the mayor. “This is what I say. Once in a generation, you will give me a voice. You have given me a voice, and this body is it. Once in every generation, you will do as I say.”
Even the most recalcitrant people fell quiet now. The voice was not Æshleah’s. The words were neither Æshleah’s nor anyone else they had ever heard.
The mayor ahemed and coughed. “To whom am I speaking?” Because it did not due to assume, in the Empire. Cities had faltered and died over less.
“I am the Unburnt. I am all those that will not burn. I am the protection of the city. And, for that, I have my price.
The city was silent. Everything had its price. Ever god demanded something. They had been lucky for so long.
But still… they had been lucky for so long.
“What price would you have?” the Mayor asked. The Mayor had not been elected to rock the boat. The Mayor was quite good at not rocking any boats, Empiric or sylvan or otherwise.
“Every generation, you will give me a voice. And this voice… This voice you will mind, when the time comes.” Æshleah, or the body that had been Æshleah , sat down. “I cannot protect you if you do not listen.”
“Protect us from what?” someone in the crowd complained. And “what about the girl?” someone else shouted. It opened up a flood of questions. Æshleah’s body looked here and there, seeming to make eye contact with every single person who shouted a question.
When the crowd silenced again, she answered. “All those who are given to me have a little of me in them. This one required the most healing, and thus has always been mostly me. She is here, your Ash-Meadow-Daughter, the same as she has always been: a sprite within my will. Nothing has changed except your sight and your hearing.
“And your hearing must change more!” Her voice rose to a shout. “Or I cannot protect you. The fire is coming. There is flame even I fear. There are storms even I cannot stand. It is all coming, and you will need to listen.”
Suddenly, the voice changed. It sounded like a girl again, like Æshleah again. “But you won’t, will you?” She shook her head. “Because that’s how people are. Very well. When you’re ready to listen, come to the tree, and it will be explained.” She stepped into the arms of the Unburnt Ash, and was gone.
This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/1185420.html. You can comment here or there.
They’d named the creature — the fae, the sentient being Bruce was now Keeping — they’d named the thing Bjorn, or, at least, Bruce’s niece Kikyo had offered the name and it had stuck.
Bruce couldn’t get another name out of the thing, but, then, he hadn’t been able to get much at all in the way of language out of — out of him, out of Bjorn.
That made it harder to remember that the creature, that this Kept Bruce had now, that it was sentient, human-ancestried just as Bruce and his kids were. The fur everywhere didn’t help, either.
Bruce counted children three times, and then got them lined up in front of — in front of Bjorn. “All right. These children here…” He rattled off their names one by one. “You are not to hurt them. You may stop them from hurting you, but as gently as possible. Do you understand?”
Bjorn nodded. It cleared its throat once, twice. “Not hurt,” he offered.
“Good. Bobby, start filling a tub. Not for you,” he added before the children could start whining. “But I don’t think Bjorn should wait until our Saturday baths.”
Bjorn twisted its face into something that looked like a grimace. “Bath…” it started.
Bruce cut it — him, he was fairly sure the thing was a he — off, perhaps too brusquely. “If you live under my roof and my name, you bathe at least weekly. More if you end up stinky from something. And we start today, because I don’t want fleas in my house.”
Bjorn wrinkled its nose but did not complain. “Good boy,” Bruce muttered. What was he supposed to do with a semi-sentient housepet?
“Kikyo, Dolores,” he called. “You wanted to bring him in. You’re going to help get him clean. Kiya, go get a comb. Dol, get the scissors.”
The thing flinched away at the word scissors. Bruce waited until the children had run off on their errands before he patted Bjorn lightly. “To trim your hair — fur — whatever,” he explained quietly. “It doesn’t hurt if I cut it, does it?”
Bjorn stared at him, clearly trying to follow the words. “Fur.” It tugged on the hair on top of its head. “Fur doesn’t hurt.”
“Good, see? So. You understand children? They’re children, Bjorn, so be very careful what you let them know. They’re safe here, and their mothers trusted me with them. Don’t… I don’t want you to betray that trust.”
Bjorn was watching his face intently. SLowly, he nodded. “Children,” he agreed softly. He seemed to be remembering words as he went. “I… I’ll? I… will… be careful.”
“Good. That’s the right comb, Kiya, good. Bjorn, she’s going to comb you, all right? I’m going to go check on the tub.”
Bruce felt like every sense was on high alert, listening, even sniffing for trouble as he left his nieces alone with the creature.
The tub was filled, room left for Bjorn to slide in, and Bobby had added a couple drops of oil. “Is he… Is he a person?” he asked softly.
“That’s what we’ve got to find out,” Bruce sighed. “Come on, Bjorn, clothes off, get in the tub.”
Cleaned, his hair trimmed and away from his face, and dressed in a pair of Bruce’s cast-off pants, Bjorn looked — not human; he had a tail and his pointed ears were tufted — sentient and aware. He was gentle with the children, and protective, like a sheepdog, enough so that after a few days Bruce was comfortable leaving him alone with even the younger girls. But he had to be taught even the most basic table manners — the kids found it hilarious — and preferred grunts and gestures to words.
Bruce tried for patience, but when he caught Ryuu and Cherry communicating in grunt-and-gesture while they were supposed to be learning math, his temper had reached its limit. He held it in — he didn’t yell at the kids unless they were in danger, by long-established precedent and a lot of practice — but when Bjorn answered a basic question with a shrug and a whine some hours later—
“You,” Bruce said, his voice carefully quiet, “were born human, same as the rest of us. You are a person, not an animal. Talk like a person.”
Something lit up in Bjorn’s eyes that had not been there before. He ducked his head, and for a moment Bruce thought he was going to have to deal with a whimpering, miserable Kept. Then Bjorn turned the head-duck into a bow, deep and very precises.
“I Belong to you,” Bjorn said carefully, as if picking the words out of his memory. “You wish me to be a person?”
Bruce rejected the formula. “You are a person.”
Something that could have been relief came over Bjorn’s face. “Then I will be a person again.”
This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/1113051.html. You can comment here or there.
Tropical life was weird. Austin was on the building crew, and so he and William and Mable had gotten first dibs on their choice of house.
They’d chosen a shelter on what they were now calling Auswilma Island, an acre-and-a-bit hilly, wooded lot with steep drops to the water on three sides and a nice casual hill down on the side immediately opposite The Big Island. They got there first, so even though they’d have to share it with two or three other houses – two were built, and there was room for a third – they claimed naming rights.
But owning their own island wasn’t the weirdest part, any more than swimming the narrow channel between Auswilma and Big Islands twice a day to get to ‘work’ was, or bedding down to sleep while the weather was so warm they couldn’t stand to touch each other for more than a few minutes.
Weirdest was the wildlife, mainly flighted animals, and the way a couple of them seemed to latch onto each colonist and follow them around. Austin’s were a blue-and-marmalade-patterned thing the size of his hands together and a dark-buff-colored thing whose wingspan was bigger than Austin’s. At night, they roosted on the roof of the house, his and William’s red-and-blue pair and Mable’s trio of mostly-black ones. During the day, they followed them around.
When the big one dove into the water next to Austin and pulled out an eel-thing twice his size, Austin was suddenly very grateful indeed for their company.
This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/1080400.html. You can comment here or there.
As far as they’d been able to tell, the land masses on Esto IV consisted of three archipelagos, none of which had a single island larger than a square mile, and one single island of about two miles square with erratic volcanic activity.
It wasn’t an ideal situation – their colony ship had been packed for farming a temperate, land-locked area fed by several rivers – but it was far better than eating vacuum, which is what they’d been looking at when the ship developed a critical flaw halfway through their trip.
If they ever regained contact with the home company, Martina might have something to say to them about their ship construction. Right now, she was far more focused on an entirely different sort of ship and its build.
There was room for them to live across the bigger islands, all thousand and seventeen surviving colonists and ship’s crew, and there was room enough to grow some sort of crops, but most of their livelihood was going to have to come from the sea, and only a few of the islands were close enough to connect by bridges. Boats were going to be a large portion of their lives.
Martina studied the pieces of ship she had managed to pull off with a blowtorch, and contemplated shapes. The seas’ tides were like nothing at all on Earth, unbroken by continents, shifted by two small moons. Their boats would have to be steady and resist tipping; their sailors would have to have stomachs of iron.
Nearby, Sim and Imp were working on a series of stilted houses just a little off the beach. Martina swallowed a wry grin. She’d been thinking about a tropical vacation for years. Now she was going to live it.
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Pregnant? Pretza was unsure if she was more surprised at that or at his correct assessment of her as female. It must be the way she was carrying her package, against her stomach and chest and under her clothes.
It was a gift, and she should not kick the tires on a gift rover too much. “Sir.” It was no trouble at all to make her voice sound tired or stressed. “I need to get -“
He dropped his voice to a whisper. “Where everyone with any sense needs to get, of course. Orion Free Territory is just over that hill. But there’s a Corbetian contingent between here and there, girl. And you may not be my daughter, but I won’t hand you over either way.”
He took her hand. “This way.”
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After Itty Bitty Package.
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The road wasn’t really a road anymore, not in this section of the country. It was three-quarters pot-hole and one-quarter bomb crater, with the occasional multi-terrain vehicle left abandoned half in one sort of hole or another. There were corpses, too – livestock and buildings left burnt out and falling down where they stood, people who had fought until they couldn’t fight anymore.
The front had moved forward; technically, Pretza had already gotten them through the worst of it. They had moved past the soldiers, past the tanks, past the first line of rear guards. They had crossed three minefields and one inferno. And they were almost to the border.
The road wasn’t actually safe, but moving near the road had served Pretza well. Too far off the beaten track, and they were likely to find bandits, deserters, and land mines. On the road, they were a target. She moved through the remains of the trees, instead, murmuring as quietly as she could to the tiny bundle pressed up against her chest. “It’s all right, just stay quiet a little longer. Just a little longer, kidlet.”
She avoided three soldiers and one deserter, and then ran smack dab into the fifth man. He grabbed her by both arms, shaking her and her tiny package.
Pretza took a deep breath and assessed the situation. At this range, arterial blood would splatter all over her and her package, which would not only attract flies but make them very obvious. His face was pockmarked and scarred, his nose broken so many times it was impossible to guess if he was Thalassan, Corbetian, or Orion. His hair was grey and nearly gone, and he wore no helm, no uniform, and no insignia.
“You’re not her,” he muttered. “You’re not her. Never really thought she’d still be here, but I had to look.” His eyes raked over Pretza. “But at the moment, you’ll do. Come on, girlie. The front is no place for a pregnant girl.”
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