I don’t know about you, but I have this folder in my writing file called “Random Crap.” In it is every random story idea I ever had. Some of them are spindly little affairs, a few hundred words before something even shinier caught my eye. Others are a bit fleshier, tens of thousands of words written before I gave up or moved on or ran out of time. (It’s true! Some ideas come with expiration dates and if I can’t make them work before the buzzer sounds, I’m out of luck.)
Other items in the Random Crap folder are things I just haven’t gotten around to, but hope to some day.
So for today’s teaser, you’re getting Random Crap, but I’m not going to tell you which kind. It could be that there’s a half-written novel that goes with this, or it could be this is all she wrote.
“I am just what they told you I am. It’s true.” The boy smiled, his teeth glinting white in his tanned face. He had plucked the thought, the question from her head. “The collar, no. Your Elders are not magicians. They have no powers to constrain me. They’re just paranoid old men. Whatever power you had is gone now and it was never in these chains.”
As he reached up to open it, Yerma saw that it was unlocked. Perhaps had been unlocked for days as he awaited an opportunity. What held it together was a red silk thread. He snapped it, but instead of tossing the collar aside, he held it out to her like an offering.
“Now,” he said. A pair of young mercenaries grasped her arms. Men who had been hired to guard the boy, to protect her. She didn’t bother to resist. They were enormous men with meaty rough hands. She would only do herself injury to fight them.
“You came to kill me, priestess, but you will never reach Kanheral in time for the Kinging festival.”
Yerma assumed he meant to kill her, but he only snapped the collar in place around her neck. From the front of her robes, he retrieved the key, where she had carried it all along, safe. Even when she slept. She thought of the night she had drunk too much wine. Or thought she had drunk too much wine. Drugged. Who had taken the key and returned it?
He plucked that thought out of her mind, too. Gesturing to the shadows behind him, he said, “Come to me, my beloved, and see your loyalty rewarded.”
From behind him came Nathor–slender as a reed, wide-eyed but proud. She gave Yerma a triumphant smile. An underling rising up against her mistress. A dagger in the heart.
“Say farewell to your mother, Nathor. You will not see her again.”
Nathor frowned, searching for metaphor in his words.
“Ah,” he said tenderly. “She didn’t know she was your daughter? Of course, you would not have risen to your high place if you had claimed her. And yet you kept her so close to you.”
Nathor’s face tensed and her lip quivered. The triumphant look was replaced with something much darker. It was the nature of betrayal–it required hatred from any wellspring. She would learn to hate Yerma, because she would need to, to soothe the guilt of betrayal.
“Let us go.” As the boy turned to go, he cast his gaze over the contents of the tent. Yerma watched him calculating the likelihood of her escape, before he brought his foot to rest against the brass water ewer. He smiled as he rocked the ewer toward her, rocked it back. Back and forth a dozen times until it toppled, the sour desert water gushing into the thick wool rug of the tent floor, and below that into the thirsty sand. He wetted his fingers in the rapidly absorbed puddle and reached for the lamp wick.
In the darkness, she heard their departure. Laughter, champing horses, and then a steady count: “Heave one. Heave two. Heave three. And over.”
The roof of the tent crashed down on her, knocked her to the ground, the stone anvil striking her gut and forcing the air from her. There were two other blows on her back: the other tent poles being knocked in, the rest of the tent’s weight toppling on her. When she got her breath back, she struggled to roll off the anvil, although the tent pressing on her made it like swimming through sand. When she managed it and lay flat beside the anvil with the weight of the tent off her, she felt the damp of the water soaking into her robes. Water lost, life lost, that was the lesson of the desert. She would learn it. That was his intention. She would lie there unable to move, pinned down and chained, dying slowly without water.
The weight of the tent was oppressive, steadily absorbing the heat of the air and slowly the damp wool that sustained her was leeched dry by the sand under it. In the broiling heat and darkness, she prepared to die, parsing the pieces of her regrets and successes. She remembered the slack lips of the girl she had allowed herself to dote on. How foolish she’d been to trust Nathor just because she was her daughter. Foolish to imagine that blood unknown made loyalty. Perhaps if she had told the girl, but there had been too much risk in that.
Yerma couldn’t gauge time, beyond the vague shifts in temperature and the steady loss of moisture, but she believed it had been three days. As quickly as the weight had fallen on her, it was drawn away and light pierced the thin flesh of her eyelids. Rough hands grabbed her shoulder, turned her onto her back. Thick fingers thrust into the gap between the collar and her neck. Struggling to swallow, to speak, she opened her eyes.
The rough hands released her, dropped her, and there was a sharp hissing sound of surprise. She pursed her lips, an unspoken plea forming there.
“Water? I’ll wager that,” said the voice that went with the rough hands. A Jento mercenary. She squinted, brought him into focus–dirty face, dirtier hair, and filthy black fingers that he slipped under the collar again. Of course, he had come to finish her. The gold collar must be worth a great deal. Enough gold and jewels to set a man like that for life.