I’m still in the process of deciding if I’d like to post each new chapter of my current work in progress here as I write them. I have family and friends that are impatient to read what I come up with next.
For those of you who are still strangers to me, consider this an exercise. Did the voice draw you in? Was the narrative believable? What kind of world do you imagine this taking place in? Were you able to form a mental snap-shot of the main people involved? What about the scene? What can you infer about the characters and situation based on what is presented?
Without further ado, I present the opening chapter of my next project.
Saaro stabbed his trowel into the crusted earth as if his determination alone could turn up answers rather than stones. On either side of him, Cale and Zarra worked in their own paths, glancing towards him when his motions edged into erratic. Saaro did his best to ignore them. They didn’t understand.
“Hey, take it easy!” said Cale. “What’d the ground ever do to you?”
“It doesn’t have feelings,” said Saaro. He almost said more, added a barb of his own, but decided against it. Cale meant well.
“What’s eating you?” Zarra frowned at him.
“Just leave me alone.”
“Must be his time of the moon,” said Cale.
Zarra giggled. “You’re so funny!” She slapped Cale in the arm.
Any other day, Saaro might have joined in their teasing, but he couldn’t shake the images from his dreams. They grew worse all the time, felt so real that it was the waking world that seemed fake when he shot upright from his sweat-soaked sheets in the middle of the night. Now, he had the dreams every night. No amount of varb dulled their strength, not even when he doubled the dose.
A call went up across the field. “Got a bud!”
Zarra dropped her trowel and sprinted towards the growing group huddled at the field’s edge where it approached the precipitous drop to the valley. Cale went whooping after her. Saaro straightened, letting the tension ease out of his back. Sighing, he let the trowel slip from his fingers and followed.
“Was it deep?” asked Zarra, she stretched to see over the shoulders of the older men in their patched work clothes.
“Almost on top,” said Ekkir, the youngest elect of the council and the only one still capable of helping at the first pruning. He didn’t appear put off by Zarra’s closeness, despite his position of authority. Most of the mountain-dwellers seemed comfortable in his presence. Saaro thought that it would be some time before he had grown gnarled and withered like the other councilmen, as crusty and dry as the dirt beneath their feet.
“Another year then,” said the elder Forest, leaning on his poled farmer’s fork. Age lines crossed his face like well-trod paths. He sounded neither surprised nor pleased.
“A good omen,” said Ekkir, clearing space around the spiked pod with hands. He curled his fingers under the bulb, pressing them into the dirt towards the root. His arms strained as he tugged, face reddening. He planted a foot near it amid the low chanting of his name as they urged him on. Saaro’s troubles evaporated from his thoughts as he was swept up in the moment.
At last, and with the crackling pops of snapping fibers, Ekkir pulled the bulb from the ground, the rope-like root shedding a rain of dirt and dust.
“Amak!” they cried together, whooping and slapping each other’s backs. Cale looped an arm over Saaro’s shoulder, tugging him close. He ensnared Zarra with the other.
Saaro grinned. Definitely a good omen. The root hung nearly a full four feet from the yarrow’s head where Ekkir gripped it in a tight fist held at arm’s length. A shout went up from the edge of the field. Looking past Ekkir, Saaro saw the crowd gathering at the village edge, a shriveled old woman pushing her way to the forefront.
“Move it!” snapped Crone. “Make way!” She shook her twisted staff at the mountainers that pressed her in.
Saaro flinched instinctively.
“Sour as always,” grumbled the elder Forest. Though married for nearly fifty years, they still fought like they had on the day of their marriage so long ago, or so Saaro heard. There weren’t many of their people left in these remote places, but Crone and the elder Forest aimed to ensure that their own passing into history was at least a thing worth remembering.
Crone covered the distance to the huddle with a speed and grace that belied her age. She batted volunteers from her path, attention fixed on the yarrow dangling from Ekkir’s outstretched hand. Forest, accustomed to her fiery moods, stepped aside with the grace of decades of practice, the uncomfortable jab finding Saaro’s gut instead.
“Give that here,” said Crone, snatching the yarrow from Elder Ekkir.
No sooner had it left his hand than the long root began to whip and swing in every direction.
“Hold still, you little bastard,” she said through gritted teeth, wrestling the yarrow to her chest.
Saaro jumped back from the flailing tail as a part of its length escaped Crone’s grasp. It swished as it whipped past his nose.
“A good omen, indeed!” said Ekkir, laughing. He brushed the dirt from his hands.
“Move!” snapped Crone, somehow managing to bind the yarrow with her arms. She held her twisted staff in the crook of her arm. Murmurs of approval rose up as she made her way back through the press, stumbling across the pockmarked surface of the field.
Cale gripped Saaro by the arm. His characteristic grin split his face, revealing his missing canine. “This will be a year to remember,” he said.
“Maybe,” said Saaro. The unearthing of their guardian’s messenger dispelled most of the cloud that hung over him. He looked toward the peak. “The Old Man should be happy this time.”