Because this is a long WIPpet (end of the month), here is a shortcut to the ROW80 check-in for people who’d rather not read the excerpt.
I’m completely fudging the numbers here for this WIPpet post. Something along the lines of 29 paragraphs for today’s date, plus 5 more for the month, and then another paragraph each for the 2, 0, 1, and 3 of the year… minus 1 because it didn’t work otherwise (though I did add an asterisk in its place).
Since I’ve dealt heavily with Alanii’s character in the Swan Song series and there are two more protagonists, I thought I should probably introduce another now (especially given that Shan keeps asking about ‘Listii).
So stepping forward a few years in time, here is where we first see ‘Listii…
Her brother woke up, but no one knew it for weeks, not even Valistii himself. If Vissellii had had the slightest clue, she wouldn’t have made the trip with him, no matter what plans she had.
“I do wish you would bring an escort, dearing.”
‘Ssellii glanced over at her traveling companion and smiled, though ‘Listii didn’t return her kindness. She didn’t mind. ‘Listii never returned the polite gestures of others. So long as when she needed him to do something, he did it. At least, he was no more likely to tell their parents if she didn’t follow the exact route to the truce city or what she had planned for the extra days she’d added to their schedule than he was to return a smile.
As far as she was concerned, her brother was the perfect companion for her to have on this trip: strong, quiet…dumb.
“Mother, I’ll be fine. The more help I bring, the more pack animals, the more food–we would miss the market by days. It takes so long to set and break a large camp each day. You should have sent me a week–.”
Their mother gave her a stern glance. “I’m not suggesting you take a full squadron of armsmen, though the Havens know I should. But surely one or two would not slow you down that much.”
‘Ssellii carefully controlled her expression. “Mother! If I dared ride into Tinshailia in the company of less than ten men alone, my reputation…” She paused wondering if her distress might be too much, though in this case it was real enough. Even if the escort were close kin, the rest of the Vale ladies would spread unfounded rumors. Only with her brothers or father would the sniping be disregarded. Still, her mother had a point. “Perhaps I could bring Kumta with me to help with the the menials?” She didn’t say to help with ‘Listii; her mother would know that.
The mere mention of the Desertwalker girl made her mother’s brow ruckle. “Foolishness. The creature would fall off the wagon and get crushed under the wheels, if she didn’t just run off on you. Your maid is best left here where we can keep an eye on her.”
Vissellii just nodded in acceptance of that ultimatum. She had expected nothing less. When it came to the House servants, there was little complimentary her mother ever found to say. “You’re right, Mother. I suppose she is too young for the responsibility.”
Thankfully her mother said nothing more on the subject, following her gaze as she turned to watch her brother as he moved between the animals, checking the harnesses. His moves seemed slow and lumbering, but he was meticulous in his scrutiny.
It was the virtue of ‘Listii’s presence. He’d never made a mistake that she knew of since he’d been taught how to prepare a team. Show him something once, the way it should be and he would repeat the action back to the exact detail. It was a fine skill, if it didn’t mean that he needed to be shown the exact task for each particular animal, each new shirt, each new dish…
The possible problems she faced threatened to draw her thoughts and calm away, and she dared not quaver in her self-assurance—not in front of her mother.
He travels well.
It was true enough. She’d taken this trip with him both last year and the year before that with no problems. Two years ago they’d been accompanied by a full squad and their father, but last year it had been just Val, ‘Listii and she, and there had been no problems then either. Val had actually complained of boredom on that trip, as their simple brother had worked day and night to break down and set up the campsites or settle their packs and animals at a roadside inn. And so Val and she had precious time to spend discussing sunsets, songs he had heard in Court (and the ale houses), fashion changes she would need to know…and the Andarniis.
‘Ssellii tried to not smile too much as the thought of Alanii crossed her mind. When all she wanted to do was start on the road and to their rendezvous, that wasn’t easy.
Mother, however, still stood next to her. That meant that ‘Listii was now stuck behind the woman, waiting for their mother to move so that he might kneel and help ‘Ssellii onto the cart. It wasn’t as if he would move around their mother to hurry things along—the possibility of doing so would never occurred to him. And of course ‘Ssellii would never dare clamber up in her skirts while Mother stood there either.
Certainly not while Mother stood next to her, looking for any reason at all to assign her a real chaperon.
Mother shifted the handle of her parasol and looked up to the sky. The woman’s rosebud lips stayed pursed in a tight frown despite the lovely day. She squinted as the brightness crossed her face. ‘Ssellii watched as the woman winced away back to the shelter of her umbrella marveling at the woman’s stubbornness.
Father says I’m the most cussed stubborn wench he’s ever met, but… he dares not say such a thing about Mother where she might hear of it. ‘Ssellii admired Valarian Mathias for holding his own against his wife’s expectations. As the man said, there were plenty of servants. If the woman didn’t like the ones he had bought her, she could go without. And so their mother stood alone outside without the assistance of a servant to hold her umbrella or help her across the muddied yard.
“At least the skywatchers are promising fair weather.” The older woman sighed, then stiffened her pose to a stern solidity. “I did get your father to agree with an escort for your trip home. Even he isn’t so much a fool as to entrust your safety to your brother alone with new servants.”
Vissellii had begun to check the sky, but returned her attention to the woman. “An escort?” It made sense enough, given her mission. But who could be meeting her in Tinshailia at this time of the year? “Who? Where?”
Mother’s brow arched. “Vissellii Marae, don’t treat me like a fool. You know full well–.”
“I swear, Mother. This is the first thing I’ve heard of this.”
The woman gave a small shudder, huffing. “You father swore he spoke to you. Are you certain you don’t remember?”
While it may have been common enough for her to not listen to her father’s lectures, in this case, ‘Ssellii was certain that she had missed nothing. This trip she’d been waiting for since the Wintersong festival–nearly ten months in the making, months of preparations and proving herself so that she might be allowed the responsibility of the market journey alone–oh, she certainly would have heard if her father had started discussing an escort of any kind, even one she would appreciate having. “Mother, he said nothing. Who am I to expect? And where, when?”
Despite the shade over her face, Lady Kandrade Daemar’s blue eyes seemed to glow as she glared at her hairline then back to her daughter in he frustration. “According to your father, he has arranged for Val and Murlon to wait at the Black Swan Inn for you. I’m not entirely certain of what he meant by that, but he swears that they will be there by your second day in town. That should give you plenty of time to shop well.”
‘Ssellii listened with a growing apprehension. Val would be meeting her in Tinshaila? What had happened on the front? Why were the troops coming home so soon? Was Val safe?
Vissellii started to speak her fears, but movement behind her mother drew her attention. Realizing what Mother had said, and how, she raised a finger and nodded in her brother’s direction so that the other woman would look as well.
‘Listii seemed to stagger, just catching himself before he fell against the ox. His normally clear expression twisted into a grimace. Then he reached up and undid the tightening strap on his chin guard.
Their mother didn’t turn immediately, sighing yet again, before glancing toward the Havens. Then she turned to face her son. “Val, dear one, it’s my mistake. I’d forgotten your brother was standing there.”
Her brother smiled. “Not a problem, Mother. You know I’m always glad to hear from you.” He leaned over and placed a kiss on the woman’s cheek. His gaze darted around, taking in his surroundings astutely, including Vissellii’s patient stance beside the cart steps. “And fair morn to you too, ‘Ssell. I see you are setting off.” He slipped out from behind their mother and gallantly assisted her to her seat, with a conspiratorial wink. Then he turned around to address the older woman again. “Are you certain all is well, Mother? It is a quiet morning at camp; I could afford you some time if you need me.”
‘Ssellii settled in her seat while Val offered their mother some chatter about his affairs. Would the man’s presence reassure Mother, she wondered, or add to the woman’s fears that she needed more capable companionship?
“…and the food in Tinshalia is better than what we’ve been eating at camp by far, Mother.” The man climbed up and took a the space next to ‘Ssellii on the bench. He leaned over precariously to touch their mother’s cheek with a fingertip. “Don’t worry, I’ll be there to meet her. We’re all happy to be heading home this early.” Warped by ‘Listii’s broken throat, Val’s laughter sounded more like a choking rooster than that of Master Bard Jarl Miur’s former favorite student.
‘Ssellii was glad she decided to stay quiet when their mother, after reaching up to touch her son’s cheek in return, shook her head sadly. “Your lovely voice,” the woman whispered, a few tears skulking down her cheeks. “I so miss–no, son. All I wish–all I needed was your assurance that you will be meeting your sister at the market, and escorting her and her purchases home. She will be purchasing some staff for the house this time, and I don’t like the idea of her being left along with new slaves.” The woman rolled her eyes, whisking away her tears and sniffing scornfully. “Why I let your father talk me into these things! I love and trust your brother as much as any, but he is not a suitable escort or guard for a young lady.”
Val’s bemusement crossed Valistii’s face, soft as it was on the man’s toneless features. Val chuckled. Rasps of gravelly humor filling their brother’s torn voice. “I’m never far from her. We’ve already begun the march home ourselves, as I told you. Anyway, ‘Ssellii will be just fine if I know her.”
Before ‘Ssellii could arrange to kick him in the shoulder for telling her secrets, the man leaned over and pecked Mother’s cheek. “Tell you what—I’ll stay with her until the first rest and check in with her each night.”
The woman’s expression eased. “That would be a great comfort. Don’t let her forget her mindflares either. One a night so I needn’t worry more than a day, please.” Their mother once more patted her son’s cheek. Then she stepped aside to let him climb up to his seat next to ‘Ssellii on the wagon. Her blue-eyed gaze rose with him and drifted to her daughter. “You heard me, ‘Ssellii. Every night. I’ll worry so as it is.”
‘Ssellii adjusted her shawls and bonnet so that she could smile to the woman. “Of course. One a night, every night. I’ll remember. Good-bye, Mother. I love you.”
“And I love you—both. I love you both.” The woman waved her kerchief to them as Val clucked for the team to move off. The wagon creaked along its way.
Yeah, that’s 38 paragraphs. I really played fast and lose with the rules this week. I hope you enjoyed the piece though.
Creation of K.L. Schwengel at My Random Muse #WIPpet writers post pieces of a draft (Work In Progress) that somehow relate with the date for commentary and consideration. Feel free to comment and visit other #WIPpeters. We love the company.
How do you say “Nothing new” and still be positive about it? Really! Things are actually going pretty good, but there isn’t any one part that stands out as “Yeah, awesome” nor “Umm, well…bleh”. Things are keeping a steady pace.
That said, the pace will to be picking up soon. June 1 is this Saturday and there is a WriMo to work with, as well as guiding of sprints on Twitter. I’m both looking forward to it and dreading it (much as I often do before a Writing Month challenge). I’ll be dedicating most of my writing time to the various books of the Swan Song series, since I still need to finish Courting the Swan’s Song (the first book) before I get much more involved in Dance to a Swan Song (this post is its beginning). So many ideas… And they don’t even involve Singer of the Swan Song or the other two books I have planned (titles pending), although Singer comes between Courting and Dance.
It’s pretty amazing how much can be done in Five Sentences a Day… 😀
The ROW80 Writing Challenge is the brainchild of author Kait Nolan who felt that, in a world of WriMos and FastDrafts, people who want become authors need something that promoted the daily habit of the writing life. Feel free to visit some of our other members here.