Ooops, probably not allowed to use the word “summer” within 200 miles of London this year. The Olympics have their trademarks sewn up tighter than Mr Burns’ purse strings. And it’s not like there’s actually been any summer to speak of in the UK this year. So in this Year Without Summer, I am writing a book with the word “Summer” in the title, and munching non-Macdonalds-approved fries whilst wondering how many more trademarks I can infringe on…
Edits for Spark and Carousel are going slowly, and have sparked (haha, see what I did there? I is a writist, y’know…) an idea for an editing related blog post later in the week. But I’ve been slack at the blogging this week – I had a friend to stay, so blogging took a back seat to having a Real-Life Life – so I think it’s time you, my lovely loyal readers, had a bit of a treat. And as I didn’t post when “The Summer Goddess” reached the magical 10k, I think it’s time to make up for that oversight. (Also, the writing around 10k was packed full of spoilers the way a Snickers is packed with nuts. Where I am now is not so spoilery, but if you are allergic and don’t want to know the results, look away now….)
For the rest of you who might still be here and have no fear of spoilers, enjoy this. As always it’s a little rough, being straight off the first-draft press, and may bear no resemblance to the finished article.
“Show us the marks.” The man with the arm rings stood in front of Asta. She could see the salt and sand clinging to the toes of his boots.
He ignored her question, but Meyloy shuffled aside, still pinning her down, and the bronze man crouched. Up close, his face was beaten by time and tide, and he had an identical white scar on the outside of each chestnut eyebrow. He pressed one had down on her shoulder. “We don’t want to hurt you.”
“Then let me up!” Asta struggled, but his weight was an implacable force, pinning her down. He pushed aside her leaders robe and lifted her riding skirt.
Asta kicked out, her boot landing a glancing blow. Meyloy yelped at the contact, and she tried to squirm away from his grip. She made it only a few inches before the bronze man’s hand closed on the back of her neck, pressing her face into the turf. She breathed in earth and salt, blood and sweat, kicking useless against the men that surrounded her.
“Hold her feet,” he ordered.
Pinned down, Asta could do nothing but lay still, heart racing. She could see her blade, lying on the ground just out of reach, and she willed it towards her with every fibre of her being. She would open throats before she let herself be taken like this.
The bronze leader lifted her skirt once more, and a chill like the cold wash of tide flowed over Asta at his touch. He ran probing, exploratory fingers over the patches at the backs of her knees, and she heard a murmur of surprise, almost respect, from the other strangers. The touch made her retch.
“I told you she had the marks!” Meyloy sounded triumphant. “Will you give him back now?”
The pressure at the back of Asta’s neck eased. The bronze leader rose, dragging her up with him, gripping her wrists. “Where did you get these marks?” He spoke to Asta. His voice was tender.
“I’ve always had them, since I was a girl.” Asta never thought about the patches of pale skin, paler than Finn, even paler than her father, that lay in broad brushstrokes across the backs of her knees. She only remembered them when they burned in the hot summer months, white skin flaring scarlet and painful. Nochi had laughed when he saw them, said they were like moonbeams striking through the night, and she had slapped him, and kissed him, and thought no more of it.
There was muttering among the bronze men, in their strange tongue. Meyloy twitched. Asta couldn’t bring herself to look at him. It seemed she wasn’t going to be raped, but the raiders obviously had plans of some kind.
“Meyloy, tell me what’s going on!”
His voice was wretched. “I made a deal. When I told you the fishing tribe made trade with the raiders, it wasn’t a lie. I made a trade of my own, while I was in the South. They want you for your marks, my leader. I’m so sorry…”
“You traded me? Without my permission? You can’t do that!” She tried to wrench her arms free, but the man with the arm rings held her firm. “I’m not coming with you. Let me go!” She turned to the men of her own tribe, pleading with them. “Are you all with Meyloy on this? Why?”
The nearest man spat, shuffling his feet. He would not meet her eye.
“You’re a halfbreed. Your father was a western dog. Your mother –” he shrugged. “I don’t know what your mother is, but she’s not human. And you’re a woman. If your brother had wanted the leader’s robes –”
“My brother had the same blood as me!” She felt a stinging at the back of her eyes at the mention of Finn. “Don’t drag my brother into this!”
“Cree said your soiled blood has brought a curse down on the tribe.” Meyloy sounded increasingly unsure.
“How long have you been listening to Cree? You’ve known me all your life…”
“And…they promised.” He turned to the bronze leader. “Turgesu, you promised. Where is he?”
“In time.” Turgesu turned to Asta, and inclined his head. “You will come with us now, sumri gudienne.”
“I will not!” Asta lunged forward, her forehead smacking into the bridge of his nose so hard her vision erupted into stars. The shock made him let go of her arms, and she broke free and ran, feet bouncing on the turf. From behind she heard a barked command, and the whistle of an object flying through the air. Something struck her hard on the back of her left knee, snaked around her legs, entangling them. She crashed to the ground, trying to kick and roll over, but she was snared by the weighted cord wrapped around her legs.
Meyloy hauled her upright. “What are you doing?” he demanded. “You stupid mare, you’re going to ruin everything!” He raised his hand, and she steeled herself for the blow, determined not to flinch, or cry out. She would show him the courage of her blood.
Bronze fists grappled Meyloy’s hand away before the blow could fall. Turgesu dabbed his bloody nostrils as one of his companions stripped the rope from her legs, while another laid a stone knife to her throat, and asked what sounded like a question.
Turgesu shook his head, and indicated to the raider untying her legs. There was blood on the back of her knee, she could feel it sticky on her skin as she moved, and when the raider showed Turgesu his bloodied hand, the raider’s forehead creased in concern. He let go of Meyloy and pushed him away. “We need to leave this place,” he said. “Do as you must, and then we will make the trade.”
The raiders held her still, Asta silently seething as Meyloy lifted her father’s cloak from her shoulders and draped it around his own. It was so short on him it barely brushed his hips. Meyloy ran his hands down it. There was no satisfaction in the gesture, only resignation. “Hand me her blade,” he said.
One of the raiders collected Asta’s knife from the ground and handed it respectfully to Meyloy. He tested the edge with his thumb. “I’m sorry,” he said, with a blunt nod to the men of the tribe.
Their hands, not rough but determined, forced Asta to her knees. She was feeling sick again, trying to hold back bile and tears. Meyloy gathered her warrior’s braids in his hands and slowly, one by one, he began to slice.
“The bronze men have a word,” he said. “Slave. They own men and women the way you own a cooking pot, or a necklace. You can’t be a warrior and a slave, Asta.”
She said nothing, burning with frustration and humiliation as her dark hair tumbled around her. Every cut Meyloy made took her further away from her tribe. She understood what was happening now, and if she couldn’t fight it, she could endure it like a warrior, not like a frightened woman. When she raised her head it felt strangely light, and cold. She tried not to shiver in the wind blowing straight off the sea.
While I’m on here, BristolCon is looking for artists to display in our Art Show. If you’re a fantasy / sf artist who can get to Bristol on October 20th, please go to http://www.bristolcon.org and get in touch with Andy, who will be able to help you out.