Wednesday, 23 September 2015

[Northspell 11] a friend of thieves

They arrived at an unassuming wooden door set deep into the cliff wall. Despite being out of breath, Gia rapped a complicated series of knocks on the rough wooden surface. Almost immediately, the door swung open and all three children tumbled inside. The first thing Irena noticed was the fact that it was deliciously cool away from the heat and dust outside. As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she began to see strange shapes appearing out of the corner of her eye. Baskets of all types and sizes hung from the low roof, and guttering oil lamps swung from iron hooks or sat in stone niches carved into the wall. They cast more shadows than actual light.

"Who's this then?"

One of the large shapes unfolded itself from the darkness and siezed a nearby lamp, bringing it close to Irena's face. She wrinkled her nose at the strange smell.

"Oh, we stashed the dibs on her and the guards thought she was one of us." Gia explained, turning round from looking out of a spyhole in the door.

"We brought her down on the bales." Arkel added, shoving an elbow into Irena's ribs in a conspiratorial manner. She pulled away and put her hands up to cover her face briefly, pressing her fingers to her eyes.

"I want to go back. Take me back." She said, in a small tight voice.

The big woman laughed, but not unkindly, and a heavy arm was placed around her shoulders. "You can't go back now, not that the guards have marked you out. Why, they'd have your hand off as soon as look at you. Best to lie low for a while until they forget your face, chicken."

Irena wanted to cry but remembered just in time about behaving like a princess should, and choked back her tears. Instead, she was sick at the feet of the woman in front of her.

Arkel leant over with interest. "I've never seen anyone spew purple before...are you ill? Is it infectious?"

The woman cuffed him away and wiped Irena's mouth with a small cloth that had been tucked into her belt. "Feel better now?"

Irena, shivering, nodded her head slowly. Now that she'd adjusted to the temparature inside, it didn't feel so nice, and she had little raised bumps all over the skin on her arms and legs.

The woman covered the mess on the floor with sand from a bucket and shovelled it into a big woven basket by the door. "You been eating anything you shouldn't?"

"A boy gave me some bread. And I had some fruit in the square. The man was angry."

"Angry, eh? What did you do?" She took the bucket of sand and passed it to Irena, "Here, put that over the floor for me."

Irena dipped a hand into the bucket and scattered a handful of the dry sand. "I didn't do anything. At least...I was hungry, so I ate some berries. He said I was a thief, but I'm not a thief. A thief is..." she turned to look at Gia and Arkel, both of whom were staring at her. Gia had her fists on her hips, and Arkel had his arms folded.

"Did you pay?"

"You ARE a thief!"

Gia and Arkel spoke at the same time, Gia with her lip curled scornfully, and Arkel with something like delight in his voice.

Irena dropped the bucket, the sand spilling out onto the stone floor. "I'm not a thief, or a northwitch, or a gutter-rat or a...a... a chicken."

The woman's laughter filled the whole room. "Now that's more like it. But you're wasting my good clean sand, girl. You sweep the rest of that up and I'll fix the three of you something to eat, how's about that?"

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

[Northspell 10] Not quite the very best thieves in all of Astia

(Ok, next part of the novel-writing challenge. I'm trying to do at least 500 words a day, but I didn't manage yesterday so here's 1000 instead. Warning - unedited inkvomit ahead.] 

It turned out that Arkel, as well as being a thief, could also be economical with the truth at times.

"Wait until you see where we live," he'd boasted to Irena as she followed him and Gia out of the courtyard and down a flight of steps. " Just you wait - it's the best hideout this side of the river."

Gia made a rude sound, like a horse snorting. "I'm not so sure about that."

"It is too." Arkel shouted back, running on ahead, "C'mon, hurry up or we'll miss it."

Irena looked at Gia. "Miss what?"

Gia started to run as well, and Irena was forced into a trot to keep up, her bare feet stumbling in the sandy dirt. She turned a corner and ran straight into the back of Gia, who grabbed hold of her sleeve and pulled her down into a crouch behind some stacked bales of fabric. Just in front of them, the street surface dropped away, with only small wooden platforms and a shaky staircase filling the gap. Hundreds of feet below, the river was like a strip of ragged grey silk, flecked with white. The wooden slats of the staircase were old and worn, and the only handrail was a sagging rope attached at intervals to the wall with rusty metal fixings.

Irena scrambled back from the dizzying sight. "I'm not going down there on that! It doesn't look safe at all," she cried out.

Gia jumped on her, and shoved a hand over her mouth to keep her quiet. Arkel smirked, "Don't worry, we're not going down on the shakeway."

There was a rumbling sound, followed by creaking. He pointed up over his head, "We're going on THAT."

Above them, a last great bale of fabric was being loaded onto a large wooden platform. It began to descend, slowly at first, but gathering more speed as the momentum built up. Arkel got up from the ground and turned to grin at Irena. "Ready?" He eyed up the platform, and tensed his muscles in readiness for the jump. Just before the bale drew level with their ledge, he sprang forward and grasped hold of the network of ropes lashing the fabric bundles to the wooden base. He waved one hand triumphantly to the girls. One of his feet slipped and he quickly brought his hand back, "Oops..."

Gia stood up, looked around, and gave Irena a quick push forward. "Your turn now."

Irena gazed in horror at the swaying platform in front of her. It lurched from side to side even with only Arkel's slight weight as he wriggled onto the top. She took a step backward and Gia shoved a hand at the base of her spine. "You need to be quick. Jump."

The top of the bale platform was now level with them. Irena took a deep breath and a running jump forward, clutched at the rope and promptly shut her eyes tight. Arkel slapped her on the back and crowed in delight.

"Move over!" Gia called down. She shimmied down the rope and hopped off beside them. The bale had sped up slightly with their combined weight. Irena squealed and slid down the rope to sit on the bale, while Arkel sat on the edge and dangled his legs over the side.

"You can open your eyes now, " said Gia.

Irena opened one eye a crack and immediately closed it again. The ground had swung about far below them as the bale rocked back and forth perilously close to the cliff wall. It was better to keep your eyes shut.

"Our stop's coming up soon." Arkel said, hanging off the side of the bale by his hands.

"Show off, " muttered Gia, with a look at Irena. "She's not even looking at you, you know."

Arkel scrambled back up. He nudged Irena with his foot. "Go on, open your eyes, scaredy. Bet you don't dare, bet you."

It occured to Irena that it wasn't very princess-like to clutch at the rope quite so tightly. And it certainly wasn't dignified to be prodded and poked at and made fun of by a dirty little boy with no manners. She opened her eyes. "I'm NOT scared," she said defiantly, carefully loosening her grip on the rope, "I just didn't want to get dust in my eyes. That would be painful." And that wasn't an out and out lie, because no one wanted to get dust in their eyes. It just wasn't the only reason.

"Oh, you just blink that away," Arkel reassured her, as Gia gave a short burst of laughter.

Trying to ignore the lurching in her empty stomach, Irena peered cautiously over the side, her fingers still curled tightly around the rope.

"See?" said Arkel, appearing over her shoulder. "It's quite impressive, really."

The steep cliffs of the river gorge now towered above them on both sides. Wooden platforms, stairways and houses clung to natural stone projections, linked by flimsy looking bridges that drooped in the middle as if flagging in the heat of the day. But the sunlight only reached so far down the cliffs - the rest of the journey was cast in shadow as the sun slowly disappeared out of sight. There was something mesmerising in the swiftly passing scenery, and Irena almost relaxed her grip a little - at least until Arkel broke the silence.

"Here's where it really slows down, just before it goes into the dyehouse, see?" He pointed to one of the thin wooden platforms that jutted out from the cliff. The rough-hewn beams supporting the platform projected out beyond the surface, and Arkel hopped off easily, followed by Gia, with Irena clutching tightly to the back of her shirt.

As the bale passed the beams, it rang a small metal bell.

"Time to go," said Gia, skidding across the platform. There was the bang of a wooden door from below, and a voice called out, "Hey, Inran - those brats are riding the bales again. Want me to grab 'em for you?"

"Run." Arkel said, grabbing Irena's wrist and pulling her along after him.

Monday, 14 September 2015

[glory brats] moving day

(Gah. Think of this as the writer's equivalent of preliminary sketches. I have a terrible problem with editing as I write, and then taking half an hour to write one sentence, so with this I tried really hard to just let the words stay as they are, constantly chanting to myself: adverbs are shorthand for 'I will fix this in the re-draft, not now, I will fix this later, not now, Tell in the first draft, Show in the re-draft...' -- I'm just messing around with the characters and seeing how they work together for now. But I'm not even supposed to be working on this story; I'm meant to be writing the first draft of Northspell, which I actually have a full plot worked out for. *sigh* Anyway, my new challenge is 500 words a day, so here goes. Which character is your favourite? I'm feeling a bit like Tekla at the moment, to be honest...)

Sparrow kicked a tin can out of the way and watched it roll to the opposite wall. "We're gonna have to move. M'fed up tripping over your stuff, Zed."

Zed was behind the counter, instructing Adee on his latest project. "But I need it all!"

"Didn't say you had to get rid of it, did I? I said we need to move. Get a bigger place." Sparrow waved an arm at the mess. Blankets spilled out from Tekla's corner, now grudgingly shared with Emmy. Zed's scavenged cans, hooks, and bits of wire were scattered over every surface as he tried to spot just the right bit for Adee to add to the contraption. The only bit that could be described as tidy in any way was the food box, which Bee guarded jealously from the others. She spent ages running her fingers over and through the different compartments, reciting the names to herself in a singsong voice "...driedpeas and rosemary and gardenpotatoes and tinnedcherries and oatmeal..."

"What, what was that?" Tekla emerged from her blanket fort, pushing the sleeping lump that was Emmy out of the way.

"We're moving." Adee's voice was muffled as he did a forward roll out from behind the counter, "I'm moving, you're moving, we're all moving all the time!"

"We're moving." Sparrow said firmly.

Tekla groaned, "Don't want to move. I like it here." But she said the words automatically, because you couldn't just agree with everything that big sisters said.

***

The move was planned carefully. Sparrow took Zed out on a scouting mission, while Bee took over the task of packing, 'helped' by Adee, who was forced to stay inside by the sun. Adee gathered all their things on the floor, and Bee patiently dissected the haphazard piles into manageable bundles. The next task was to remove Tekla from her bed for long enough to shake and fold the blankets. Emmy retreated to the corner with a spoon and happily babbled away to her reflection, but Tekla hunched the blankets over her head and refused to budge.

Bee sighed and tried to find Tekla by patting the top of the blanket. It lunged forward and snapped, "Grrr, I'm a wild Outsider fighting dog and I'm going to bite you."

"No you're not," said Bee. "You're a four year old girl called Tekla."

Tekla peered out from under the blankets and made a face, "Now I'm baring my teeth at you. You're supposed to scream and run away," she added helpfully. "And then I can chase you."

"But I'm not scared of you," Bee said, drawing her hand back in confusion.

It was Tekla's turn to sigh. "It's a GAME, silly."

***

Sparrow and Zed returned full of enthusiasm for the new place.

"We need to leave soon, though, before it gets too dark. Oh good, you've got all our stuff."

Adee, Tekla and Emmy all had packs of decreasing sizes securely fastened to their backs. Bee had the canvas rucksack slung over both shoulders, and hugged her arms protectively around the food box. Sparrow eyed her doubtfully.  "Won't...won't you need your hands free to feel your way around?"