With my regular job, raising a family, writing, and continuing to work on drawing and painting, I don't seem to have much time for blogging. So, for my first post in a long time I decided to show you what I've been up to rather than tell you about it. I am working on a new writing project, and with the first draft almost complete I thought I'd prematurely celebrate by sharing the first chapter.
Without further ado, here is the first chapter of my new in-the-works novel, Wind Rider. Enjoy!
You might think being a prince would make you feel special, but let me assure you, nothing could be further from the truth. When you are next in line for the throne, it doesn’t matter who you are, what matters is who you will become. And today is only important because it prepares you for tomorrow.
Even my name felt crushed under the weight of titles that preceded it.
Lord of the Deep Forest, Protector of the Skies, One that Rides in the Heavens, Guide of the Watersource, Son of King Alendar and his chosen Queen Vilsavia, Prince Mikel Stovarish.
I spent most of my time with my nose safely buried in books, studying for the day when I would be King, while other boys and girls my age were chasing each other on the branches of the towering trees our great city rests upon. Most days I was treated like a piece of ornamental crystal that people felt honored to hold but just as eager to hand off for fear of breaking it.
Which may be why I was almost looking forward to being a hostage.
It was an old ritual of the treaty talks that occurred in Redoun every ten years. I didn’t really expect to be killed. Just like the formal talks, feasts, games, and parades being a hostage was just another part of the grand ceremony the common people called the Gathering. More symbolic than anything else.
The Gathering was when all the leaders of Redoun came together to work out their grievances, to reestablish old norms that kept peace between them, and to make new ones based on the natural changes that seemed ever so ready to upset the order that had been established for ages.Each of the three major kings offered their firstborn as a hostage, and the first penalty for any that started a war would be the hostage’s death.
Part of the ceremony was pretending it was a meeting of equals.
In truth it was my people, the Lorians, who initiated the first Gathering hundreds of years ago and were the ones with the strength to ensure its success.
For we were the wind-riders.
Our capital, Bikal, was located high in the Verograd Forest, where trees the size of mountains held our city high in the canopy. It was a city barely accessible to the Kon’Char people who seemed staked to the ground by their stone towers, and especially inaccessible to the Matik pirates who rode on the waves of the Maruzin Sea.
For those people were still ruled by their ancient gods, while we, the Lorians, had mastered ours.
Our gods were the children of the sky. The Quileel, massive winged serpents who weaved through our sky like golden threads in a blue, silken cloth.
I was not yet old enough to ride a Quileel. I was only old enough to admire how they flew through the clouds and the canopy with infinitely more grace and beauty than the puny, poisonous sea-snakes that the Matik pirates liked to keep as pets.
But I wasn’t a sapling branch stuck to a tree trunk. I could still fly from parapet to parapet of my city when I wore my wind-suit. Under strict supervision, of course.
I suppose what I was doing was more gliding than actually flying, but we Lorians are a proud people, and only used the most impressive words to describe what we do. We leave the humble speech to the Kon’Char, who make their lives digging through the dirt and rock and talk like they have filled their mouths with it. But I’ll say one thing for the Kon’Char, at least they know how to speak with respect. The same can’t be said for the Matik, whose talk is as stinging and abrasive as a blast of salt-water to your face.
Although as Lorian royalty I would never say so publically, after only spending one hour in a room with my fellow hostages, a Kon’Char prince and Matik princess, it was obvious that the stereotypes weren’t like the clouds that appeared out of thin air.
At our introductions it took me only one look at the Kon’Char’s deferential smile and the Matik’s indifferent sneer, and I knew that our impressions of those people were as solid as rock and as deep as the sea. My personal guardian Elias didn’t have much to say about the Kon’Char, but seemed more impressed with the Matik than I.
“She’s not so bad.” Elias whispered to me as we sat in the circular meeting hall listening to the matrons and dignitaries exchange pleasantries before the exchange. “Not nearly as ugly as those fish they eat.”
The room was open and airy, and the stilted, formal conversation of the delegates barely cut through the din of wind and screaming gulls diving into the waves below. It was enough noise to cover my private conversation.
“What are you talking about?” I whispered back as I kept my eye on the slithery pirate princess that was my fellow hostage. The princess, for her part, looked out at the horizon as her matron prattled on about how well the Matik carvers worked with my people’s woodworkers to make this “magnificent hall.”
“Not what.” Elias whispered back. “Who.”
“The girls?” I answered incredulously. Elias was only two years older than me but seemed to be a decade apart in terms of his interest in girls.Still, he had been with me since I was a babe, and if I was ever allowed to say so openly I would call him my friend.
So, I humored his obsession, even if I didn’t fully share it. For me girls were just another part of the future planned out for me.
“Too tall.” I decided it was as good a reason as any for my lack of interest.
“The taller the tree, the more to climb.” I could almost hear Elias grin.
“Ugh.” I replied a little too loudly.
“Never mind that.” I looked at the Matik princess.“What about that face? She looks like a stretched out Kon’Char skunk with that ratty hair.”
Elias paused for a moment, as if unsure to whom I was referring to.
“I’m not talking about the princess.” Elias said at last. “The one behind her. The attendant with the silver hair.”
I took a quick glance at the row of attendants behind the Matik princess. They were all tall and slender to the point that their arms and legs seemed as supple as the branches of a willow tree. Their skin, the color of night, was perfectly smooth, and their large,
luminescent eyes shined in the light of the room. They were as elegant and beautiful as people said, but something about their uniform perfection bored me as much as it impressed Elias and the other guards. To me, only the princess looked any different, but not in a good way.
Her long, curly hair poured out her head like a water spout, which did nothing to hide the curious splotches of pale skin around her eyes that dropped down her face like tears. Her appearance was odd as everyone whispered about, and I heard rumors of how it humiliated her father.
Some of the Matrons, who loved to gossip in front of me when they thought I was deep in my studies, said that her father was so ashamed of his strange daughter that he might just leave her with the Kon’Char when the Gathering was done.
She must feel as awkward as she looks I thought.
Especially when she was in the company of her attendants. The silver hair one in particular.
The silver hair attendant’s eyes were bigger than the others, which was something extraordinary considering the size of the fish-like orbs that stood out on the long, flattened Matik faces. It made it only more obvious that the attendant was sharing looks with Elias.
“I suppose she’s pretty.” I conceded. “Too bad you have to cut her throat if the Matik break faith and war breaks out.”
“War.” Elias scoffed.“There hasn’t been a war for ages- “
Elias's voice clipped off quickly at the sight of a quick, subtle twitch of my matron’s hand.
Our matron was now responding with compliments of her own, and all attention was on our side of the room. It took only a flick of her finger for us to know that now was the time to be quiet and attentive. I didn’t learn many lessons from our matrons but knowing when and where to shut up was one of them.
As I nodded my agreement to whatever compliment my matron was now giving the Matik and Kon’Char delegation, I made eye-contact with the Matik princess.
Her name was Inaka, the Princess of the Mazurin Seas, the largest and most powerful of the group of pirate fleets that once ravaged the Redoun coast and turned many a Kon’Char city into rubble.
Inaka gave me a sour look which I quickly returned.
Honor satisfied, I turned my attention to the Kon’Char Prince, a stocky little boy named Gou. Gou nodded and smiled endlessly as the adults spoke, but often in the wrong direction of the conversation. It was as if he was sleeping with his eyes open and in the midst of some pleasant dream. Probably a typical Kon’Char one involving a full table of food eaten with fine silverware.
I wondered if he was under the influence of the same Kon’Char magic that kept their gods, the Gorath, giant bears with needle-like bristles strong enough to pierce the sides of the mountains they lumbered through, asleep during harvest so that they wouldn’t lay waste to all of Kon’Char at the slightest smell of the abundance in their storage halls.
Looking at Gou I was sure that whatever the accommodations the Kon’Char prepared for me, I wouldn’t be short of things to eat.
I was brought to attention at the sharp sound Captain of our Guard, Lord Tycho’s voice.
He was Elias’ father, and the man responsible for teaching me how to fight and fly on the Quileel that was being raised for me, and an honored veteran of many patrols on the frontiers of our world.
“A fine point Lady Enid.” Lord Tycho responded to the Kon'Char matron with dutiful politeness.
Although no one said it, the rarity of a captain speaking up at such an occasion when they usually had to stand there in respectful silence, certainly got everyone’s attention, even Prince Gou.
“But I wonder if a more enduring symbol of peace and cooperation would be to build this city out of the stone that holds up your own? To build a city that could weather all the storms of our seas. A lasting monument to establish a peace that could stand the test of time.” Tycho said.
Lady Enid, a wealthy and influential Kon’Char royal, smiled and nodded respectfully at Tycho’s veiled criticism of the yearly responsibility of all the people to continually maintain and rebuild the wooden Truce city.
“Certainly a valid point, Lord Tycho.” She said with a deferential bow. “And one that has been uttered by many wise and vigorous leaders before. But monuments are constructed to praise the past, and we must always be working together to maintain our present peace and our children’s future.”
Lord Tycho and Lady Enid exchanged nods, but said no more upon the subject, and neither did anyone else. The silence in the room seemed to indicate to all that it was time to exchange the hostages and their attendants and for all to return to their rooms. This year our people were to receive the Matik hostage, and I would be a hostage of the Kon’Char.
As Inaka walked forward to be claimed by Elias and his guard, I couldn’t help but poke him in the ribs just before I was led to my “captors”. I nodded to the line of attendants following Inaka, who walked like the ripples in a lake.
“Are you sure you have the strength to fight them off?” I said.
Elias took a quick glance at the silver-haired attendant. The smile she tried so hard to hide as he looked at her could’ve beamed across the Mazurin Sea to our City.
Elias grinned at me.
“I hope not.” He said just before bowing to Inaka.
I shook my head and then walked to the Kon’Char delegation. Gou broke rank from his entourage to amble over to me. His Kon’Char matron almost stumbled over herself to stop him as the waiting Matik guards watched in disbelief.
“I saved some sweets for you in my room.” Gou said with a loud, squeal of a voice and hand held outward.
I stared at his hand like it was a fat, dead, bird. After a quick pinch from my Matron I took Gou’s hand and shook it.
Gou shook my hand vigorously, then followed up with a more proper bow.
“My bed’s really comfortable too.” He said smiling. “I hope the Matik’s have nice beds. I don’t think I’d like sleeping in a hanging cot! Except to spin in it maybe!” Gou said with a laugh lost in the sounds of screeching gulls.
“Well, that’s where you and I differ.” I replied. “I’d rather be sleeping in my hammock than here surrounded by all this dead wood.”
If Gou was offended by my remark, he didn’t seem to show it. He looked over at Inaka.
The flowing features of Inaka’s long, oval face betrayed no emotion as Elias bowed before her and proclaimed his ceremonial duty to safeguard her and, if the need arose, to ensure that her passing would be quick and painless.
“I’m sure we’d all rather be home.” Gou said as he watched them. He turned back to me a grinned broadly.“But there’s something here for all of us. Even a small piece of home is still home.”
“Yes, Prince Gou, that is true.”
Gou’s matron led him back to the Matik and I was taken to the Kon’Char, who were dressed in the heavy armor they once wore in battle.
The week passed with little news about the negotiations, which did not surprise me, but with a great deal of freedom to move around the city, which did. Always with the accompaniment of my Kon’Char guards of course, but even that proved to be an unexpected benefit, for they knew much about the city and after a couple days warming up to me were very patient and generous guides. I saw nothing of my fellow hostages, or even my own mother and father, until the night of the celebratory feast that ended the Gathering.
The large open hall which held the feast was impressive, and completely furnished with ornaments and designs that represented the people of Redoun, but upon closer inspection the ornamentation did not ring true. Unlike our buildings in Lorian, no living trees were used for the structures that represented our people. Instead, dead trees were carved and stained into the shapes and colors of smaller, living ones.
What was worse was that I had to sit in a Kon’Char chair that seemed twice my height and width. I was short, even for a Lorian, and wondered if the chair was some kind of subtle, joke at my expense.
My Kon’Char guards stood up promptly at the sight of Inaka’s arrival.
It took a sharp look from Elias, standing next to Inaka by duty, and close to the silver-haired maiden, probably by choice, to get me to do likewise fast enough to share in the bow.
My delay did not go unnoticed by Inaka, who bowed twice in the direction of the Kon’Char guards at my flanks, and then glowered as she took her seat across from me. She fit the tall chair much better than I, and she let me know it with a smirk.
What made it worse was I was wearing my spectacles, something no far-sighted Matik would ever wear in public even if they needed it. I decided then and there to spend my time looking in almost every direction except forward. It’s not that I felt fear being stared down by a pirate, it’s just that my mood was dark enough without her sour face making it worse.
As our people liked to say, if you eat one poisonous seed, eating another will not save you.
The meal began with a great many toasts. It was almost impressive how many barbed comments the Matik king could pack into such a short speech, which produced more than a few uncomfortable moments. Gou’s father King Roland got the most genuine laughs during his speech. Only during my father’s speech did I look away and see Inaka’s smirking face again.
My father’s speech was full of slurred slogans about shared responsibility and the common duty of all peoples in upholding peace. No doubt written by his scribes to inspire confidence in his leadership, it appeared to have the opposite effect on the audience. I cringed as every carefully place word and phrase was undone by the drunken carelessness of the speaker. Despite his delivery, the speech got a rousing reception that seemed to please my father as he fell back into his chair.
My Kon’Char guards clapped wildly and complimented my father’s eloquence as I stood slightly red-faced. I could feel Inaka staring at me, her handclaps slow and rhythmic like the ticking of some great clock.
Shortly after the last toast Inaka’s father, the King of the Free Seas, a strikingly tall and robust figure named Ghati Ultalek, left with most of his Lords. This, like much of what happened this week, was part tradition and part political theater. My teachers assured me this would happen and to not take offense from it. Even the most amiable Matik King needs to show his subjects that, while he must agree to compromise for the good of his people, he doesn’t need to like it.
Although I couldn’t quite tell from my seat, it looked as if none of his food had been eaten, and his departing gifts of fine lacquerware and ornaments decorated with glittering abalone were somewhat carelessly left on the table in his absence. The Matik delegation was about to pass us by when I noticed one of King Ghati’s captains pointed out that his daughter was nearby. Ghati looked down at the back of Inaka’s chair without stopping.
Inaka did not stand up to greet her father, but instead seemed to shrink in it as if trying to hide from him.
“She’s a Lorian prisoner.” Ghati said with a dismissive wave. “Let them kiss her good night.”
I looked back at Inaka. It was clear she heard what her father said, and just as clear she knew I did too. The way she looked at me you would’ve thought I was the one who rejected her.
Inaka flicked a pea at me, which hit me in the mouth and almost flew down my throat.
I replied by flicking a nut right between her fish-eyes. She was mistaken if she thought she could match a Lorian in marksmanship.
But I had no response when Inaka filled her mouth with juice and spit it in a perfect, rainbow of an arch into my cup.
“It’s time for the children to retire to their rooms.” The matrons abruptly and somewhat unsteadily announced at the sight of Inaka’s fountain. It was an unfortunate choice of words, for although sleepy Prince Gou and the actual children at our table readily complied, Inaka and I refused to move from our seats. I wasn’t about to let Inaka to have the last word after that.
I jerked out of my matron’s grasp and grabbed my fork, stared at Inaka and let it fall to the floor.
“Whoops. I dropped my fork” I said with a glare.
Inaka showily picked up her fork and held it high. For a moment I thought she was going to throw it in my face. To my relief she let it drop.
“So, did I.” Inaka replied. We both moved under the table and stared at each other. We both knew this was our last chance to let the other person have it before we were dragged back to our rooms so we fired with the heaviest ammunition we had and spoke at the same time.
“It’s past your bedtime fish-face.” I growled.
“Slither back home you little cloud worm.” Inaka hissed.
I thought I got Inaka good, but she came better prepared to end the fight than I did. Not only did her words sting, she punctuated her insult by flicking the tree nut back at me. I heard a strange whining sound as it left her finger, and my ears filled with an enormous roar as it hit me right between the eyes.
The next thing I knew I was on my back.
My head ringing with the same high-pitched whine I heard before and the thought that I should have armed myself better for our little under-the-table altercation. I felt a sharp stabbing pain as I wiped my face with my hand. I drew it back and opened my eyes. My hand was caked with dust and lined with blood. I winced as I pulled a sliver of glass from the side of my palm.
I fumbled for my glasses, but found one lens missing, and the other cracked. I tossed them away.
The whining sound in my ears was punctuated with shouts and screams.
I wandered around the once glorious dining hall, which was now strewn with debris and filled with smoke. I was covered in bits of wood, glass, and food. As I cleaned myself off I touched what I thought was the leg of the roasted pig, only to find five long fingers at the end of it.
I threw the arm off me and scrambled to my feet, checking my own arms and legs to see if they were still there as I did so.
Thankfully, I only had a few nicks and scratches but otherwise was intact.
I stared in horror at the room and wondered what could have caused such destruction.
The heavy tables and chairs were blown to pieces. Everyone who could stand did so in a state of shock, while others laid on the ground screaming. I saw one woman, her face blackened, walk toward an exit in a daze before slumping to the floor. Her skin and clothes were so burned I didn’t know if she was a Matik, Kon’Char, or a Lorian.
I dragged my feet towards the back of the room where my mother and father sat. The floor was strewn with debris. I couldn’t tell if I walked on the dinner or those that dined on it.
I stopped at the sight of my mother’s feet, one still with a bloodied shoe on it, the other twisted as if frozen in the middle of a dance.
What was left of my father was still in his chair, which was plastered against the wall behind him. He still held a cup in his lifeless hand. I stared at the cup as it emptied, in drip after agonizing drip, until all the wine was gone.
As I listened to the screams of pain that swirled around me like a hurricane, I realized only the banned weapons of the past could have cause this much destruction. This was no accident. Hundreds of years of peace had just ended in the blink of an eye.
“Why?” I said aloud as a fire began to claim the room.
But when I saw the bloodied Matik coming at me with a knife, my question was forgotten and I learned my first real lesson about war.
When someone is coming to kill you, it doesn’t really matter why.
The only thing that matters is whether you are going to live, or you are going to die.