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I could have gone with “I get knocked down, but I get up again”, but that’s a terrible song and I won’t have Chumbawamba darkening my blog, so I won’t.

This is a business that likes to clobber you in the gut on a regular basis.  I’ve got a few rejections…  I say “a few”, I’ve got so many that they are busting out of one of those big-ass lever arch files.  It’s part of the job.  Everyone gets them.  Except Anne Lyle, apparently, but she’s lovely so I guess I can grudgingly forgive her.

This morning I had the Best Rejection Ever.  Yes, it was still a rejection, but it contained words like “terrific”, and “you write wonderfully” and “big potential” and “impressive” and “I’m certain you’ll find an agent.”  And “pass”, but I’m not going to dwell on that 😉  And after sulking for twenty minutes over the “pass” bit I started looking at all the other words.  The good words.  The “you’re not bad at this and you should keep going” words.  And I’ve highlighted those words, the good ones, and stuck them up on my pinboard, so that when I’m smacking my head on the keyboard until my ears bleed, I can look up and think, “hey, someone I don’t know, an industry person, an AGENT, thinks I’m a good writer, and has taken the time to write and tell me that.”  That’s not a bad thing at all.

I’m taking all the positives I can get from it.  Onward and upward, to infinity and beyond!**

And in the meantime, I had a super-productive day yesterday.  I reached Chapter Nine on Summer Goddess, wrote almost 2000 words, and some of them were quite good.  I certainly think I’m on the far side of the dreaded Wall and approaching the middle with vim and gusto and other feelings that sound like household cleaning products.

I realised I hadn’t posted an extract for quite a while, and I asked on Facebook if anyone wanted one.  So this is for Laura, now the Olympics / Paralympics / Tennis / F1 / International Ferret Racing has finished and she has free time 😉  Laura, I hope you enjoy it!

****

Syven pulled up a footstool and sat beside her head, taking the glass from her unresisting fingers and setting it on the floor by his foot.  “Goddess?  What were you doing in the bathroom?”

Asta was silent, trying to think of an explanation that he would understand, that wouldn’t lead to more restriction on her movements.

“Where you trying to hang yourself?”

“No!  Why do you think that?”  Even in her darkest moments, suicide had never been an option for Asta.  She had made a promise to her brother.  She couldn’t find Rhodan if she was dead, even if Finn could.

“The rope…” It lay over the back of the sofa.  “Why make yourself a rope, if not for suicide or escape?”

Asta licked her lips.  They tasted sweet, from the biscuit, and the sweetness made her jaw ache.

“I was meditating,” she said.

“Meditating?  With a rope?”

“It’s the way of my people.”  His doubt forced her to explain more than she would like to.  “When we go into a trance, it’s very deep, deeper than sleep.  Nearly as deep as death.  The rope tethers us to this world, stops us falling into darkness.  It’s a sacred tradition of my people.”

Syven raised his pale eyebrows.  “I never heard of it.”

“We don’t share all our traditions with outsiders!”  She pushed his hand away from her.  “You’ve taken away everything else I have, my home, my identity as a warrior, my family…  Can’t you let me have this one thing, this last connection to my tribe?”

Syven narrowed his eyes.  “What do you see when you’re in this trance?  Can you talk to your people?”

“No,” she lied, “but I can see my home, see how my tribe are surviving without me.  It’s very spiritual, and I don’t feel comfortable talking about it with you.”

“Olafur will have to be told,” Syven said.

“Why?  It’s none of his bloody business!”

“Because it might be a risk to you.”  His hand brushed her cheek.  “What if I had untied your rope, without realising, and we had lost you forever to your trance?”

The sun was behind him, streaming through the glass.  It was hard to make out his expression.  “Syven?  Why are your people so scared of losing me?  You’ve never told me what I’m here to do.  If you tell me, I’ll do it, and then I can go home.  Can’t I?”

His fingers brushed her throat.  “Maybe I’m the one who’s scared of losing you, Goddess.”

“Why?”  Her hand reached up, mirroring his gesture, found the notch clipped from Syven’s right earlobe.  Too regular to be an accident.  “What’s a big man like you got to be scared of?”

“The Council will rip my hide from my bones if anything happens to you.  My one duty, above all others, is to protect you.”

She shrugged.  “Couldn’t you just tell Olafur you don’t want that duty any more?  Make then give it to someone else?”  Someone less vigilant, less conscientious….

“A slave doesn’t pick and choose what orders to obey, Asta.  You should know that by now.”

Asta grew cold, a chill that had nothing to do with her journey between the Realms.  “You’re a slave?”

He caught her hand and drew it to his lips.  “You touched my slave mark, on my ear.  I thought you knew?”

“Slave mark?”  By all the spirits, had they held Rhodan down and sliced a chunk out of his ear, branded him as no more than a possession?  In the dark of her mind, Asta felt Finn’s howl of rage and grief.

I’ll get him out, brother.  I swear it.

She swallowed her revulsion.  “Were you born a slave, then?”

Syven chuckled.  He seemed remarkably at home with his fate.  “Not me!  I fell into some debts, and this is my punishment.  Maybe one day I’ll win my freedom again.”

“You can do that?”  Maybe she could buy Rhodan’s freedom, if it could be bought.  With what, she had no idea.

“Some are born slaves and die slaves.  It’s easier to earn your freedom if you were born a free man.”

“If I bought a slave, could I free him?”  Wild plots burst like bubbles on the surface of Asta’s mind.

Syven laughed.  “Do you want to free me, little Goddess?  What do you have to trade, besides your smile?”

“How much would I need?”  Asta tried to keep her voice light, but inside she seethed.  Maybe it was all a game to Syven, but she was in deadly earnest.  “Don’t mock me.  I’m serious.  How much?”

“More than you could afford, Asta of the Western Tribes.  More horses, and more gold.  But you don’t need to worry about me.”  He smiled.  “I can win my freedom by keeping you safe.  That’s all I have to do.  So if you want me to be free, all you have to do is behave, just for a few months.”

“Just until the end of summer?”

Syven nodded.

“What happens at the end of summer?”

“The cold wind blows off the sea.  Come,” he extended a hand to her.  “You must be tired.  Would you like me to warm your bed?”

Still she hesitated.  “If I do what you say, Olafur will free you?”

“That’s the size of it, yes.”

“What about meditating?  Can I still meditate?  I need peace for that.  I need to be alone in the room…”

Syven looked doubtfully at the rope.  “I don’t see that it would do any harm,” he admitted.

“Then I’ll be your good little Goddess, until the end of summer.”  At least in this realm.  Asta yawned.  She was tired from travel, and the hard arm of the sofa dug into the back of her neck.  “I’m going to bed.  To sleep.  You can do as you please.”  She rose, and walked to the widow to feel the sunlight on her face, to drink in the little patch of sky she could see from here, and to hide her smile.  She had made a crack in the walls of her prison, and soon she would prise it open.

Across the square, something fluttered, like a great black crow hovering between the pillars.  She squinted against the sun.  “Syven?  What’s that?”

“Come away from the window, my Goddess.”  His voice was sombre.  “You don’t want to see.”

“Why not?”  A cloud passed the face of the sun, throwing a shadow across the square.  Across the humble petitioners of Mikligard, who bowed their heads at the balcony as they passed, and across the thing that looked like a crow.  It wasn’t a bird.  It had once been a man, before the skin had been torn from his back and spread out between the pillars like great bloodied wings.  He was tied hand and foot, a grisly star shape against the sky, and the sun shone through the thin skin spread between the pillars, tanning it the rich red hue of autumn.

Asta didn’t make it to the bathroom before she was sick, doubled up, eyes and nose streaming.  Syven silently massaged her back while she heaved until there was nothing left in her guts to come up.  She choked, and spat.

“What the fuck was that?”

“The man who tried to kill you.  It’s right he should be punished for his crime.  An example to the others…”  Syven trailed off.

“An example?  Is that what you call it?  Torture and murder!”

“It’s not murder –” but she didn’t want to hear his excuses.

“Yes it is!  Slavery and murder and public flayings!  What sort of savages are you?  You’re inhuman, all of you!”  She pushed past him as he tried to console her, turning her back on the window, on its gruesome spectacle.

“Olafur said you’d be pleased!”

“Pleased?  Shit on that!  No,” as he reached out to her once more, “you leave me alone.  Don’t touch me.  I won’t be your Goddess.  Not yours, not Olafur’s.  You people make me sick.”

“Asta!  I–”

The bedroom door slamming behind her cut off his words.  She sank down against it, head in her hands, trembling in fury and disgust.  If the men of Mikligard could to that to one of their own, a free citizen, how did they treat their slaves?  How could Olafur think she’d be pleased with such a grisly trophy?  They lived in a different world to her, and she felt small, very homesick and incredibly alone.

Not alone.  The touch was light, the briefest hug around her hunched shoulders.  Finn was still with her, that burning spark of spirit swirling inside her.  She didn’t know how it would help her, but it was a comfort knowing he was there.

Syven hammered on the door.  “Asta?  Are you all right?”

“Leave me alone!” she cried.  But later, when the stuffiness of the room became unbearable and she needed a warm touch on her skin, she let him back into her bed, and into her body.  She could feel her brother’s silent condemnation, but Finn was spirit only, and what she craved was the embrace of living flesh.

****

I hope that left you suitably entertained and intrigued.  Now the builders outside are making the house vibrate.  Time for another cup of tea, and then on with writing and submitting!

*Free Doctor Who badge for the first person who can tell me what movie that comes from….

**You don’t get a prize for that one.

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