The problem with sharing excerpts from a Work-in-Progress is that it’s a Work-in-Progress. Drafts go through many changes, including shifts of tone and pacing, and the re-naming of characters! And though I haven’t been blogging, I HAVE been writing–and that’s worth sharing.
So let me further preface the excerpt by giving some information that will build understanding for the following scene.
Wilo has barely survived a plague that left victims hairless and breathless. Grappling with grief over her losses, her journey has only barely begun. In the following scene, Wilo’s father and sister, Lor, have taken Wilo to the first fall Fair, in their village along the river Shan, since the sickness came. Unfortunately, soldiers spot Wilo and bewilderingly attack. Wilo, her fa, and Lor hide in the innkeeper’s kitchen.
And Then There Were Winds
Finally an old man entered the kitchen from the main dining room door, a gray cloak circling his shoulders, his bald head shiny and dark. His features were hidden by a thick gray beard, beads woven amid braids and leaves.
“She can’t stay here,” he rumbled, his melodic voice deep.
Fa protested, “What are you talking about? Wilo’s not going anywhere!”
“Listen to the man,” Ranald implored.
“She can’t stay here anymore. She isn’t safe here. Those were King’s Men out there. Think you they’ll be stalled long by a bunch of peasant burghers?”
“She’ll be safe at home,” piped in Lor. “No one’ll tell ‘em where we live.”
“Of course they’ll tell ‘em,” the gray stranger insisted. “Folks are broke and hungry and eventually the nonsense the soldiers spout will start to sink in.”
Fa sat heavily into a chair, the wood creaking. His hand snaked out to seize mine, and I felt as I had that horrible day I first discovered my hair spread across a pillow.
“What news do you bring then?” he asked quietly.
“Dahl Fain came in off the Shan wit’ ‘em,” Ranald said. The stranger nodded, opening his mouth to speak when Fa interrupted.
“You’re Dahl Fain? Dahl Fain, the bard?”
A smile cracked through his matted beard. “Aye, heard tell o’ me then?”
“My wife, Winette Fain, the girls here, she was their ma. She was kin o’ yours, I think.”
Dahl leaned back, his eyes resting first on me, moving swiftly to Lor, and then back to Fa. “My brother had a daughter named Winette, and given the look of your younger one, I’m inclined to think we are related.” He sighed deeply then. “That doesn’t change things, only mayhap you’ll listen better. The girl, the one that survived the sickness, she’s got to flee.”
“No,” he thundered, slamming his hand on the table. “Wilo stays here. Kin or no, I’ll not listen to fear’s blather.”
Ranald opened his mouth and the argument began, the three men swirling voices in quiet drum rolls of sound, the timber registering in my breastbone, even as my fingers went numb from Lor’s desperate clutch.
I’m not sure what made me do it, having never had much in the way of courage before, but I quietly shook off Lor’s hold and stood to grasp Fa’s shoulder.
“Please…” I whispered, and lo my voice didn’t register in my own ears, they heard, the hush sudden. “I must hear what he has to say.” Fa looked at me, his eyes heavy. He pressed his callused hand along my cheek.
Then he nodded.
I turned my gaze to Dahl Fain.
He had gray eyes. I had gray eyes once, I thought.
“The sickness has been up and down the Shan,” he began. “Nary a village or burg is untouched, some worse than others. King’s physician ordered an official reckoning now that the worst of it has passed. Lo many mourned their dead, folks been sending in their counts, family by family. No one who fell ill survived, leastways none that folks spoke of.” He paused, reaching under the table into his pouch, pulling out a dark wood pipe. He filled the pipe with tobacco, in no hurry to continue, it seemed. When my fa’s voice began to rumble, the gray bard eyed him to silence.
“The King’s physician, a man that goes by Primus, lo I doubt that’s the name his ma bestowed, ordered those gone from the plague burned, even if they t’were already buried.”
The collective gasp halted the story.
Ranald asked what we all wanted to know. “He wanted folks to unbury their lost?” His voice echoed our own horror. To disturb the rest of the departed was to invite the worst luck, passing curses down generations.
“Aye. Said it would shrive the taint, cleanse out the ill so that no more would get sick.” He took a pull from his pipe. “I heard tell that t’were a survivor out this way, someone not dead from the cough.” He looked at me. “I’m not the only one that heard that tale.”
“Me.” I whispered. “They were talking about me.”
“It’s worse,” he continued. “Primus believes fire is the great cleanser, the answer to our pleas for mercy from the sickness. I travelled down the Shan with the King’s Men. They’ve got orders to kill you and bring your body back to the city for the pyre.”
Fa leaped to his feet, sweeping me off my chair and behind him, even as Lor choked off a protesting cry. “She lives. She’s not sick. She can’t be the only damn survivor! After everything else, I’ll not see her harmed.” His voice turned pleading. “Lor and I have been around her constantly since she fell sick and neither of us have fallen ill. She’s on the mend and the king can’t have her!”
“Father, stop, please,” I begged even as he tried to pull me back out the door. “You saw what happened at the market! We can’t ignore this.”
He turned abruptly, grasping my elbows, hauling me up to my tiptoes, “It’s not fair, Wilo. Haven’t we been through enough? You can stay hidden at the house, hidden and safe.”
“That’s not going to be possible anymore,” Ranald insisted. “Folks saw her today, folks from other places, and they’ll remark upon her.”
“There’s talk already of the girl downriver,” Dahl Fain confirmed. “She can’t stay here.”
I could tell he listened, though he didn’t want to, and the intensity of his face shifted to a grief so heavy, I cried, the tears spilling softly down my cheeks. Lor clutched at me, her own tears not so silent. Still staring at me, he asked, “What would you have us do, then?”
“You must send her away,” the gray bard offered.