Novel Monday: Transplant of War – Chapter 11


Description:
Adane barely escaped war in his homeland. He wanted nothing more than to hide in this new city with his adopted child Chisa by his side. But every choice he makes risks their quiet lives and every day brings the war that Adane fled closer to their doorstep. Soon Adane will have to choose between running away again or taking a stand against an enemy that can’t be seen and cannot be fought.

Transplant of War
by Meyari McFarland

11. Reputation

The outer walls of Rudrai City were huge things, fifteen feet wide and over twenty high in places. The lowest areas were near the poor quarter, just ten feet wide and fifteen feet high. Adane frowned as he studied the walls, Chisa’s hand firmly gripped in his own.

This part of town didn’t have heaved cobblestones or trash in the street but there was a distinct air of neglect. The guard stations on top of the wall were small, barely big enough for one man to stand in. He could see gaps between the stones of the wall, rather like the gaps that had pocked Shiraida House’s walls when he bought it. Other parts of the wall around the city had spells that glimmered between the guard stations, ensuring the guards safety from attack. Here the spells were long gone, worn down to nothing by time and neglect.

Worse, the spells that had once reinforced the wall so that it wouldn’t collapse under assault had failed. Adane could see fragments of the spells here and there, mostly between the guard stations where trash had been tossed and left to rot until workers gathered it up, but they were too small and too broken to do any good. The sand had even scrubbed any signs of paint off the walls, destroying the basis of the spells.

“Can fix?” Chisa asked.

“Maybe,” Adane sighed. “Big mess. Bad as Shiraida House. Worse, really. Not mine to fix my way.”

“Ugh,” Chisa groaned. “Why not get someone else?”

Adane smiled wryly, gently squeezing Chisa’s fingers. “Reputation. Got one now. People want ‘best’. Think that’s me.”

“Ugh,” Chisa repeated but their glower transformed into pride that made Adane grin.

There really was a huge amount of work that needed to be done. Adane already knew that he needed to take the commission. If an attack came his home, his family, his friends, would be the first to die. When the attack came. Thus, Adane needed to fix the walls or at least he needed to fix the spells on the walls.
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Free Fiction Friday: Gossamer Threads

Every Friday I post a short story here in its entirety. It stays up for one week and then I post something new. When I do, the old one is taken down. So please enjoy the story of the week while it lasts.

Description:

The thread slid over Ashanti’s fingers, softer than baby’s hair, finer than a spider web.

Weaving a new marriage for two people was a heavy task but one Ashanti took on with joy. Her stitches would shape their lives for decades, transforming separate individuals into a happily married couple.

With two such different individuals weaving a life together took extra thought, effort and sacrifice.

Gossamer Threads

By Meyari McFarland

The thread slid over Ashanti’s fingers, softer than baby’s hair, finer than a spider web. It glimmered purple in the light from the window. Dust motes cast tiny rainbows over it or maybe the light striking the edge of the thread set off the rainbows. Ashanti smiled. Hardly mattered.

She smoothed the thread, carefully holding it up so that the strand spun where it hung from her fingertips. A kink formed halfway, the thread forming a loop that Ashanti carefully smoothed, eased, teased into flatness. Better. A kink like that could start a knot and then she’d lose half the thread as she stitched.

As expensive as it was, Ashanti wouldn’t risk losing even a finger’s breadth of the thread.

The door creaked as Cat pushed his way inside. Ashanti hissed, smacked her free hand against the floor. Cat hissed right back and ran out of the room. She didn’t blame Cat for being annoyed. The sewing room had the widest windows in the house, and the best, softest cushions right underneath. It was a perfect place for stretching out to nap in a puddle of golden sunlight. At least if you were a cat.

But Ashanti couldn’t risk Cat’s fur getting all over the weaving so Cat was banned from the room until she was done. She’d end up with scratches for sure. Cat never did hold back the claws when he was annoyed and being kept from his favorite napping spot was sure to do it.

She shifted on the low stool, nodded at the thread. Nice and straight now. Perfect.

When she started the project for Lord Alexis, second son of the Riva Clan, Ashanti had cleaned out her sewing room. She’d taken down all the other wall hangings, bright embroidery and delicate cloth too distracting against what Lord Alexis had requested. What he’d supplied. She’d removed the blankets covering the stools, swept and mopped the floors, dusted every square inch of the sewing room so that it was as pristine as the day it was built.

How else was she to weave a new life?

Lady Gwynedd, their Lady of Hope, waited. So did Lord Alexis. Neither of them had the skills to weave the new life they would share so it fell to Ashanti to do it. She’d done it before, helping her brother and his wife find their common ground. And several people in the village. Many other people, too. Once for Lady Jocelyn who’d come from three days travel away with her baby daughter and the old painted image of her departed husband.

She’d needed a life for her and her child, a future that would give them hope, charity, love. That had been a tearful project. Instead of sweeping everything away, Ashanti had brought everything into her sewing room. Fabric and Cat and the little puppy from the kitchen that Kamalani had rescued from being sold as a hunting hound. The pup was hip-high now, Kamalani’s constant companion. And Lady Jocelyn’s little girl now sang and danced, bring the Gods’ joy to the earth.

A good life. It brought joy to both Lady Jocelyn and her daughter when their lives had been riven so badly so Ashanti was satisfied. Perhaps when the girl was older she would come back and Ashanti could weave her a life with a spouse, children, blessings overflowing to all around her. That would be good, too.

None of which was here nor there for the weaving she had to do now.

Ashanti hummed a prayer before threading her needle with the gossamer purple thread. The loom sat ready, a blank length of white silk stretched taut between the bars. Three holes on each side, carefully stitched round with the finest white thread to reinforce the edges against tearing, established the nine quarters of the working.

Love grew from the ground up so Ashanti started with the bottom right corner. Her needle slipped through the warp and weft of the silk, letting her draw the purple thread upwards, upwards, always upwards towards the top of the piece. It was just long enough that the slender purple tip drooped over the top edge of the loom, slipped down over the bottom like a fringe.

Perfect.

Ashanti sang softly as she worked threads as delicate as a breath into the silk. Purple and green, red and gold, blue and grey; the threads slowly filled the plain white fabric with color, life, the sort of joy that grew over time.

Just like a marriage should.

When the sun’s light began to fail, her sewing room darkening so that the last thread looked black instead of lustrous blue, Ashanti put her needle down, point carefully slipped into her felt pincushion. Then she draped another blank white piece of silk over the working, bowed, and pressed her hands over her eyebrows to beg the Gods to inspire her for tomorrow’s work.

“Is it good?” Lord Alexis asked the instant Ashanti stepped out of her sewing room. “Did anything go wrong?”

He vibrated on his place by the low, round fire, nerves so taut that he looked as pale as the unadorned silk Ashanti had started with despite the golden glow of his skin in daylight. The fire was low, just embers, which was proper for the first night’s work. He’d wrinkled his special festival wrap during the day. It no longer hung perfect and smooth from his hips. Long creases ran jagged across his hips. Tiny wrinkles marked his knees. Somehow he’d gotten dirt on the hem, darkening the purple fabric to near black.

On the other side of Ashanti’s fire, Lady Gwynedd sat as perfectly clothed as this morning. Well, almost. The tip of her braid, nearly as long as she was tall, was clenched in her hands. Lady Gwynedd’s fingers twisted and turned it as she played with the red silk cord binding the end. The red was blood-bright compared to the black of her hair and her skin. She was a puddle of dark in the shadows. She did not meet Ashanti’s eyes. Instead she stared into the fire as if certain it must have gone poorly.

“It is begun,” Ashanti said, smiling at them both. “The first lines of joy have been woven in. All the colors you gave me blend together beautifully. At this stage it reminds me of the mountains in spring after the first blush of the flowers has passed and the new leaves work to reach their full size. The bits of gold, red and grey bring lovely movement to it. It is rare that I have leave to weave a life so rich in color, in promise. I am honored to weave this life for the two of you.”

That, thankfully, seemed to calm Lord Alexis. He smiled brightly, turned to Lady Gwynedd, and then his shoulders curled inwards when she did not smile, meet his eyes or otherwise acknowledge the good news.

Hmm. A difficult weaving then. Ashanti put fresh wood on the fire, small bits of kindling that sparked and flamed at the edges. As they curled into fiery hot embers she added bigger sticks, then one nicely large log that would take at least an hour to burn. More than she would have normally given how empty all of their bellies had to be but this was her duty as the weaver of their life.

“I have used the thread given to me,” Ashanti said, following the old, old rituals she’d learned from her mother and grandmother, her aunt and cousins. “What tales do you have to weave in tomorrow?”

She turned to Lady Gwynedd first, not because it was tradition but because she needed more from her. Something was wrong there so more time would be needed to make things right. Lady Gwynedd gestured towards Lord Alexis with the tip of her braid but Ashanti shook her head no. Lord Alexis fidgeted as if more than willing to start the tales though he did stay silent as required.

“I only… had one tale come to mind,” Lady Gwynedd said, still without looking at them.

“Please,” Ashanti entreated with her eyes, a beaconing hand and a little bow that put smoke into her eyes for a moment.

“It’s a butterfly tale.” Lady Gwynedd winced at Lord Alexis’ bright smile. “Ah. The butterfly and the sparrow, I’m afraid.”

“Hmm. Are you the butterfly or the sparrow?”

The question, couched in the least judgmental tone that Ashanti had, still prompted a horrified gasp from Lord Alexis. Lady Gwynedd cringed, eyes locked very firmly on the silk cord tying her braid.

“Butterfly,” Lady Gwynedd whispered.

“I see,” Ashanti said.

She turned to Lord Alexis whose mouth had dropped open in horror or perhaps in shock. He stared at Lady Gwynedd as though he saw her for the first time. Perhaps he did. They had not truly met or spent any time together before Ashanti began her weaving. This day’s work was the first they had spent alone, the first of nine days. She suspected that neither of them had addressed the other directly all day.

“And you, Lord Alexis?” Ashanti asked. “What story do you bring to the weaving?”

“I’m even worse,” Lord Alexis admitted with enough embarrassment that Lady Gwynedd looked at him. “I spent the whole day thinking about the old tales my Mam, my great-grandmother, used to tell me when I was a tiny child, long before I chose my gender. Before I was allowed into sarong, honestly.”

Ashanti couldn’t help a laugh at that. The man was adorable in his earnestness. There might be a chance for this weaving after all, if only she could find a way to balance his openness with her fears.

“Which tales, then?” Ashanti pressed, deliberately waving her hand in front of her face to fan away any shame that might head Lord Alexis’ way from her laughter.

“The baby mushroom stories,” Lord Alexis groaned, immediately burying his face in his hands.

As well he might for Lady Gwynedd burst into startled laughter and giggles erupted out of Ashanti’s mouth. She patted his head as fondly as if he was the toddler still wearing his apron. The baby mushroom stories were all about family and home and hearth, the deepest lessons of making a home and being kind to one’s family. As well as laughter and joy and the love of parents who held and cared for you.

“That’s one of the better choices I’ve ever had, Lord Alexis,” Ashanti said once her giggles settled into giggles. “Home and love and the desire to belong. Very appropriate. Your story is not inappropriate either, Lady Gwynedd. The Butterfly and the Sparrow is all about change, transformation, growing past the limitations of your childhood into a new form. One that, while different, perhaps fragile, is still beautiful.”

“The butterfly dies,” Lady Gwynedd protested.

She was startled enough by Ashanti’s approval that she looked up, met Ashanti’s eyes. Her hands went still on the braid. They had more strength than Ashanti would have expected, with wide knuckles, strong long fingers and nails clipped quite short for a lady of her stature. Now that the fire burned well, Ashanti could see muscles in Lady Gwynedd’s arms, powerful ones.

“In some stories, yes,” Ashanti agreed. “And in others it is clever and tricks the sparrow into singing. Other stories say that it is poison and the sparrow dies before it can eat the butterfly. There are many versions of the story, many paths it takes. Either way, it is a story of transformation and growth which is truly quite appropriate to the weaving.”

She settled back onto her heels, shifting so that she was comfortable for sitting for a long time. There were songs to sing and assignments for tomorrow’s weaving to give. Ashanti smiled at the fire and then nodded.

“For tomorrow,” she said without meeting either of their eyes as she should, “I require that which is the opposite of you, of your soul. Bring me things to weave that are not you, not your soul or your life or your plans or your family’s vision of you. That is what I will require.”

Ashanti bowed to the fire and then held up her hands before they could question the choice. She began to sing the oldest, longest prayer, the one that would last as long as it took for the fire to burn down. Questions would only bring more doubt at this stage. It was her duty to guide them in the weaving until they found a place, a way, that could bring them together in a life of joy.

Lord Alexis joined her, hesitant and untrained, in the singing. His voice was wobbling and awkward but enthusiastic. He was a bit rough on the low notes but it did not look as though he minded sounding as though he’d never sung before. It took nearly half the song before Lady Gwynedd began to pat the edge of the fire pit as if drumming for them. Ashanti smiled.

Progress was progress, no matter how small or slow.

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Novel Monday: Transplant of War – Chapter 10


Description:
Adane barely escaped war in his homeland. He wanted nothing more than to hide in this new city with his adopted child Chisa by his side. But every choice he makes risks their quiet lives and every day brings the war that Adane fled closer to their doorstep. Soon Adane will have to choose between running away again or taking a stand against an enemy that can’t be seen and cannot be fought.

Transplant of War
by Meyari McFarland

10. Royalty

Adane squeezed Chisa’s shoulders, staring over the child’s head into Farah’s very still, very serious face. Her kitchen still smelled wonderful, cinnamon and baked squash today, but it felt so much colder somehow. Dawud stood behind her, one arm wrapped around her back, the other resting on her heavy belly.

“You’ll keep Chisa safe, yes?” Adane asked again. “Until I get back?”

“Yes,” Farah promised. “Truly need to do this?”

“Don’t have a choice,” Adane sighed. “Royalty. When royalty calls, have to go.”

“Don’t want you to,” Chisa whimpered.

They clung to Adane’s neck even tighter, shaking in his arms with a fear of abandonment that Adane completely understood. He still couldn’t believe that he had this commission. Baha al Din had been very quiet since Adane painted the mural for him but his apprentice Faisal had come around multiple times to complain about his training and sigh that he had yet to earn the ‘al Baha’ addition to his name.

Chisa had hated him at first, refused to spend any time in his presence, but after the fifth visit they had warmed to each other. In truth, Chisa had exactly what Faisal always wanted and didn’t look like he was going to get: acceptance and love.

Hakeem al Haddad had come in person to visit Shiraida House, trailing four silent apprentices who all claimed the ‘al Hakeem’ despite being less trained than Faisal. He’d spent nearly three hours carefully tracing the spells that Adane had built into the house, asking questions the entire time. Adane had answered him, reluctantly, watching how the apprentices were afraid to ask for anything, even a drink of water in the heat of the day.

Adane wasn’t sure which of them, or of the other mages, had told the royal family of his protective murals. Either way, two days ago a troop of royal guards had arrived as Adane finished his latest mural in the poor quarter, one that would create a strong boundary and let everyone know if there was an attack. Their ‘request’ for Adane to do a mural for King Haraldr and Queen Inina had been anything but a request.

“I know,” Adane murmured, gently rubbing his hand over Chisa’s fluffy hair. “But don’t go, arrested. Jail. Never get out. Must do it, Chisa. Only way to come back to you.”

Chisa whined but they let go, tears creeping down their round cheeks. Adane kissed the tears away, hugged Chisa again and then gently pushed Chisa into Farah and Dawud’s arms. Farah had tears running down her cheeks too while Dawud looked as though he would protect Chisa with his life.

“Will be back every night,” Adane promised. “Won’t let them keep me away. Stay safe, inside with Farah, Dawud. Rich people do stupid things. Might try to grab. Say always lived with them if asked. Use different name. Just… be here, okay? Be here when I get back.”

He slipped into Common on the last sentence, pleading with Chisa because his heart screamed just as hard as Chisa’s did that this was wrong. They shouldn’t be parted this way. Adane couldn’t lose another family, not after losing so much. Chisa gulped, nodded, scrubbed their tears away with the back of one dark hand.

“Will be here,” Chisa promised. “Go. Come home soon.”

“Will,” Adane promised.

Traveling across town felt different this time. The trip to Baha al Din’s home had been fun, nerve-wracking yes, but fun. He’d had Chisa along, had known that it should be okay, that the mages were unlikely to attack him. He hadn’t jerked away from camels when they lumbered by or had to stop and gather his breath before climbing on the back of a tram.

His fingers ached where they gripped the window sill. This tram was newer, better maintained. The people inside had embroidered plush seats with thick padding. The outer rail was mostly empty. Even though the law said that anyone could ride outside the trams for free, the attendant running the tram glared at Adane whenever he looked behind him.

After a bit, Adane decided that part of what made him nervous was the lack of barges overhead. Those had disappeared within the first couple of minutes. He could still see them flying to and fro over other parts of Rudrai City, his part, but no barges every intruded in this air. No driver would dare to disturb the rich and powerful with their looming presence. By the time he stepped off near the palace gates, there were no vehicles at all in the sky. Nothing other than birds flew here.

The palace sprawled, walls topped with iron spikes and patrolled by heavily armed and armored guards. Adane had to stop and stare at the main gate for a long couple of minutes before he could approach. Even at this distance he could smell perfume and flowers. A constant murmur of voices echoed outwards, amplified by the completely empty street surrounding the white marble walls.

No paint had ever touched those walls. He was certain that no paint ever would. The sheer starkness and perfection of the stone said more clearly than words that this was a palace of important people. Adane shook his head, clenched his hands into fists and then strode across the too-open, too-wide, perfectly paved street towards the gate.

“Halt!” the guards snapped as they pointed their spears at him. He could see them eyeing his paint-stained clothes and sun-burnt skin with disdain.

“His Majesty King Haraldr ‘requested’ my presence,” Adane said. “I am Adane al Joaquin, Mage of Egar’s Royal Academy. Also known as the Mage of the Murals. You should be expecting me.”

Both of the lead guards looked at him so suspiciously that Adane sighed and wondered which minor spell he should perform to convince them. Running away would be better but Adane knew perfectly well that they’d just send someone to find him again.

Behind them one of the other, better dressed and less armored, guards scurried into the gates, disappearing into the guard house. He came back out moments later with wide eyes and a dropped jaw. His whispered something to the guard closest to him, who whispered to the next to the next and then the two guards with their spears jerked, looked behind them at the, possibly minor, officer. The officer nodded and waved for them to stand down.

“You may pass.”

There was a very plain unspoken ‘for now’ that Adane ignored. It took over an hour to progress through the ranks of the guards to the minor officials and onwards to the minor nobility who actually ran Rudrai. Adane did his best not to sigh, not be aggravated by the checks, double-checks, and endless whispering around him.

Every step he took into the palace’s pure white marble hallways emphasized that he was out of place. The rugs were perfect, so new that they gripped Adane’s feet rather than embracing them in a cushion of soft wool. Rather than murals, oil paintings of far-away ocean and forest scenes adorned the walls. He could have worn nicer clothes. He could have trimmed and oiled his beard. Honestly, he could have bathed and cast spells to lighten his burnt-black skin back to its natural umber tones.

Adane didn’t regret choosing not to do any of that. The many stares and endless whispers were uncomfortable but they would have happened anyway. At least this way he gave them something to gossip about other than his Blood Mage status and the fact that he was a refugee who had lost everything.

“Ah, if you will kindly follow me?”

The very prim and proper middle-aged noble smiled so hesitantly that Adane bit his tongue against the urge to ask ‘what?’ in the broadest Low Tongue possible. He studied the noble’s elegant clothes, thin embroidered lines circling every hem and a delicate band of pearly white lace adorning the V-neck of his tunic. Adane’s lips twitched despite all his efforts for control.

“Of course,” Adane replied in High Tongue. “I can’t imagine where their Majesties would want a mural. None of the walls I’ve seen so far are even vaguely suitable.”

The noble blinked several times before beaming at Adane and gesturing with a grand sweep of his hand for Adane to accompany him rather than walk behind him. “I believe that they had selected a particular wall in the private garden for adornment. Covering the walls of the palace would take rather more work than makes sense.”

“The plaster and paint wouldn’t stick,” Adane said as he walked beside the noble. “Marble is notoriously bad for that. Certain, it can work with just paint or plaster but adding magic into the mix causes strange effects. Frequently the paint becomes acidic, eating the marble away. If their Majesties did want the walls painted it would require a complete remodel. Every single wall would have to be covered with something more appropriate.”

“I wasn’t aware of that,” the noble said, swallowing so hard that it was audible. “Mother Goddess, that would be a disaster.”

He led Adane through the public sectors of the palace and into the private sectors. The dividing line was perfectly clear. A huge grill with delicately carved openings separated the private quarters from the public sector. On one side everything was perfect white marble. On the other, color rioted.

Here the walls were properly plastered and then painted with gorgeous murals. Adane wasn’t familiar with the style. Rather than the huge flowers and images that he was used to, the walls here had been painted in a series of striking geometric mandalas. They teased Adane’s eye, drawing him to slow and stare at them, one after the other.

“Beautiful,” Adane murmured.

“I have always found them rather busy, myself,” the noble replied with a mildly cross cough. “This way, please?”

“Of course, of course,” Adane said. “Do you know who painted them? The skill is quite impressive.”

“I believe that her Majesty Queen Inina is the artist,” the noble said. “She has always been… somewhat odd.”

Adane raised his eyebrow but no further explanation was forthcoming. The noble strode past a long series of murals, all of them mandalas of incredible beauty and complexity, leading Adane into an inner courtyard garden that was nearly as overgrown as Shiraida House though it was easily ten times the size. He grinned at that, waved off the noble’s questioning eyebrow, then followed him off into the greenery.

Most of the plants here were not fruit bearing, making walking between their encroaching fronds less of a hazard. The noble still pushed his way through with such fastidious distaste that Adane fought laughter. Truly, the man couldn’t have been more proper if he tried.

They ended up at a fabric draped structure that reminded Adane of a permanent tent. There were young women, obviously servants or ladies in waiting, clustered around the opening of the tent, and a handful of guards who looked serious and vicious enough to take on small armies by themselves.

The women stared at Adane with undisguised horror for his clothes. Not one of them actually managed to meet his eyes. The guards, on the other hand, met his eyes, frowned and then studied his clothes. His heavily paint splotched clothes were apparently exactly what they expected because they all relaxed minimally after that.

“Your Majesties,” the noble said in that peculiarly high-pitched and annoying tone that people used for introductions in Rudrai, “I bring you the Mage of the Murals, Adane al Joaquin.”

“Well, finally!” A plump middle-aged woman poked her head out of the tent. She gave Adane one quick, firm look and then nodded approval. “Get in here. We were just discussing the project. You’re dismissed, Lord Taslim.”

Lord Taslim took a breath, stopped as her Majesty glowered at him like a cabbage rose annoyed at a honeybee, and then sighed. “Very well, your Majesty. Good day, sir.”

“And to you, as well,” Adane replied. He waited for Lord Taslim to walk off into the shrubbery before chuckling. “You have a very talented hand, your Majesty. I was admiring your work on my way in.”

“Thank you!” Queen Inina said, beaming. “Come on, come on. Much to discuss.”

The tent was spelled, much cooler on the inside than out. A huge light crystal hung from the center of the peak, illuminating everything in the tent with its cool, clear light. Adane raised an eyebrow at that, then raised the other as Queen Inina shut the tent flap with her own hands. That left him alone with her and an older man in sumptuous robes that had to be his Majesty, King Haraldr. The king lounged on a set of pillows behind a huge low table that was covered with maps of the city, the palace and the continent.

“Didn’t dress up?” King Haraldr asked in perfect Common.

“Didn’t see a reason to, Your Majesty,” Adane replied. “They’ll gossip either way. Better to give them something harmless to gossip about than let them make things up.”

“Oh, they’ll do that anyway,” Queen Inina said. “Come, sit. We’ve been watching what you’re doing in the poor quarter, Adane al Joaquin. Both of us approve, privately. Publicly we can’t say anything but protecting the city and the country is a very important matter for us.”

“You know what’s coming,” Adane observed as he very carefully sat on the offered cushion. It was three times as thick as his mattress at home and at least four times as comfortable.

He wished he could sit on the floor instead.

“We do,” King Haraldr agreed. “Neither of us have seen a way to prevent it. Both Baha al Din and Hakeem al Haddad said that you had… suggestions.”

Adane snorted at that. He shook his head and fished the map that showed the country out of the stack. It already had sites marked for gate construction. They were very strategic, allowing an army to attack anywhere in the country, indeed, anywhere on the continent, with ease. Well, other than the heart of the desert with its ever-shifting sands.

“Don’t let them build gates,” Adane said. “The gates give them power, power and access. Don’t accept their gifts. The gifts are just traps. Be proud, defiant, a little bit scornful of the thought of a ‘world union’ bringing ‘universal peace’. If you base it on Rudrai pride and resilience most of the nobility will buy it. It won’t stop the war, won’t stop a civil war, but it may keep Rudrai from being completely destroyed.”

“You truly think that war is inevitable,” Queen Inina whispered. Her deep brown eyes were very wide in her round face.

“You’ve thought so for years, my dear,” King Haraldr sighed. “For all that no one else in my court seems to be willing to say it.”

“They hope to have your throne afterwards,” Adane said. “Of course they won’t say something that might get them thrown out of court before they can make a try for it.”

King Haraldr stiffened, sitting up to stare at Adane with his greying hawk-wing eyebrows pulled together. “You believe we will die.”

Adane shrugged. It was virtually inevitable. Taking out the royal court of Egar had been one of the very first things that they did. It had worked in every country that they had taken over so far. Why try something new when it had been so very successful.

Their Majesties exchanged looks, dismayed from King Haraldr and vindicated from Queen Inina, before King Haraldr stood and began to pace the length of the mock-tent. Just watching the swoop and billow of his robes spiked fear through Adane’s heart. He looked at his hands, knuckles white, fingers clenched so tightly that they ached, rather than focusing on either King Haraldr or the memories battering against his control.

Never give bad news to royalty. His father had said it many times. Mother had argued with him over and over, trying to claim that it was better that their royalty knew what was coming than that they be unprepared. But it hadn’t worked. When the end came no one had been prepared. Revolutionaries had swept through the capital, killing everyone in the streets. The Guard had gone with them, joined them, roared things about pay and honor and victory that didn’t make any more sense now than they had at the time.

Adane had been so young, so innocent. He’d honestly believed that Mother and Father would be able to keep the rampaging people at bay. For a while it had been true. No one wanted to face down a family of mages, especially War Mages. But as Mother turned down offer after offer to ‘work’ for the new revolutionary government and ever tightening restrictions on what Blood Mages could and could not do were implemented, the noose had tightened around them all.

It would happen again.

No matter what their Majesties did, it would. The early signs were already there, out in the market, the streets. People talked about taxes being too high even though they hadn’t gone up lately. The Guard tried to recruit everyone that they could get their hands on and took the goods of everyone else. And he’d heard more than one slur against Blood Mages that had sent him cowering into the bedroom with Chisa curled by his side.

“Stop it,” Queen Inina snapped. “You’re frightening him.”

Adane looked up. His cheeks went hot as he realized that both of their Majesties were staring at him with concern. “My apologies. I have… bad memories.”

“And flashbacks,” King Haraldr commented. “Understandable. The reports we were able to get out of Egar were… horrific.”

“Good word for it,” Adane said and laughed. He stopped when the sound came out strained and broken. “It’s already begun, Your Majesties. I don’t know if anything can stop them. They want the world, immortality. Divinity. I don’t think that they’ll give up.”

“Well, it would help if we knew who ‘they’ were,” Queen Inina huffed.

“No,” Adane said, shaking his head and standing up. He backed away. “No. I can’t. I won’t. Just speaking their names draws their attention and I won’t risk that. I’ve seen what happens.”

“Inina, dear,” King Haraldr sighed. “Let the man be. He’s been through enough. So, we need to block the gates. Block any efforts for alliance. Shield everyone and everything against spells that influence the mind. What else?”

“Be ready to die,” Adane suggested hopelessly. “You’re the first targets. You’re strong rulers. They don’t want that. They want chaos and turmoil because it makes it easier to influence people’s minds. Father… thought… that they had spells that allowed them to, well, control people like puppets. Watch for dramatic shifts of behavior. Watch for people who touch too much, who try always to get their hands around those close to them. And… Blessed Goddess, I don’t know what to tell you, Your Majesties. Prepare for the country being torn apart. There’s not much else I know, that I can think of.”

Queen Inina nodded thoughtfully. “That’s enough, I think. I do still want you to paint a mural, or more accurately, spell one. I have one half-finished that I thought you could complete for me. Baha al Din specified that the spells settle best when the paint hasn’t dried.”

“I would be happy to, Your Majesty,” Adane said with a wry grin that prompted raised eyebrows from both of them. “For pay. Painting murals is how I earn my living.”

King Haraldr barked a laugh while Queen Inina giggled and flapped a hand at him as if to say ‘don’t worry about that’. Adane relaxed a little bit, just a little. He still didn’t want to be at court but if this was all that happened then it would be all right. Shiraida House, Chisa, called to him. Home couldn’t happen soon enough.

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Free Fiction Friday: Price of the Gift

Every Friday I post a short story here in its entirety. It stays up for one week and then I post something new. When I do, the old one is taken down. So please enjoy the story of the week while it lasts.

Description:

Anan shut their eyes, heart hammering in their chest as if it was trying to knock the box out of their arms.

They couldn’t afford another punishment, not after the last one.

But the box held a demon and the master of the library didn’t care about Anan. They were just a slave.

To destroy the demon, the masters would kill Anan.

Unless Anan won a bargain from the demon to free them both.

Price of the Gift

By Meyari McFarland

Anan shut their eyes, heart hammering in their chest as if it was trying to knock the box out of their arms. Every beat felt as though their heart was trying to pound its way through their breastbone. Blood throbbed in their ears, loud enough to drown out everything other than the faint sound of voices in the distance. It shook Anan’s knees, their hands, their stomach until Anan was afraid that they’d throw up all over the books.

Couldn’t. That would be a punishment offense and Anan couldn’t afford another punishment. Could not, not today, not tomorrow, not ever. The last one had been so horrible that Anan was prepared to do anything they had to to avoid another.

They swallowed, eyes screwed shut. The taste of bile receded, burned at the back of their throat until a second swallow, a third, drove their lunch back where it belonged.

It helped enough that Anan was able to open their eyes. Master Chizoba stood by the spell register, one hand clenched in a fist, the other gesturing wildly towards the register as if its existence answered whatever question Master Dayo had asked. Anan couldn’t hear what Master Chizoba said. Too far away and the argument was hissed, quiet, violent in its sheer minimalism.

Master Dayo’s nostrils flared. His chin came up. One corner of his mouth curled upwards to reveal his teeth. He leaned closer to Master Chizoba to hiss something with sharp abortive gestures and angry eyes that made Master Chizoba gasp and shudder with rage.

Not Anan’s fault.

It wasn’t. They’d only brought in the mail, two letters from Court and one box about ten inches square. Yes, the box was heavy. Yes, it seemed important with its leather hinges and heavy lead seal over the lock securing the lid, but it was still just a box and Anan had only carried it a few yards. They still shuddered and backed off a step when Master Chizoba thrust one hand towards Anan and the box still nestled in their arms.

“Don’t set that down!” Master Dayo snapped at Anan. “We won’t accept it.”

“We don’t have a choice,” Master Chizoba snarled at Master Dayo. “The messenger is already gone.”

“None of us can handle it,” Master Dayo said, voice rising even though he lowered his shoulders, spread his hands as if fighting to calm his temper. “The thing is sealed and contained. We can send it straight back where it came from. It doesn’t even have proper letters of provenance.”

“Ah…?” Anan held up the two letters that had come with the box and then flinched at the way Master Chizoba pointed at them triumphantly.

“Give me that,” Master Dayo said.

He strode over and snatched both letters from Anan’s hands, tearing the first open only to curse and thrust the second into Master Chizoba’s hands so that he could pace and snarl curses that would have gotten Anan beaten bloody by old Master Gabi. Master Chizoba shook his head, mouth pinched with anger and disgust, as he opened the second letter. His eyes went wide. Then his face went so pale that Anan saw the veins under his skin. Then his legs gave way and he collapsed to the floor, staring at the letter.

“Master?” Anan asked.

“Oh, now what?” Master Dayo demanded.

He snatched the letter from Master Chizoba’s hands. A quick skim made Master Dayo go too pale, too. Anan stared at them, box clutched in their arms. This. This wasn’t good. There should be something for Anan to do but they didn’t know what was wrong or what was in the box or why it had caused both of his masters in the library to be so very upset.

“Master?” Anan asked and this time their voice came out much higher, much more frightened. “Please, what do I do with the box?”

Both Master Dayo and Master Chizoba stared at him, faces slack. After a moment Master Dayo walked on wobbly legs to the sole chair not filled with books and papers. He sat hard. The legs of the chair screeched against the thick red tile of the floor. Anan heard a whimper and then flinched as they realized that it came from their throat, not from either of his Masters.

“I’m so sorry, Anan,” Master Dayo breathed. The second letter hung listless but heavy in his hands as though it weighed tons. “So very sorry.”

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Novel Monday: Transplant of War – Chapter 9


Description:
Adane barely escaped war in his homeland. He wanted nothing more than to hide in this new city with his adopted child Chisa by his side. But every choice he makes risks their quiet lives and every day brings the war that Adane fled closer to their doorstep. Soon Adane will have to choose between running away again or taking a stand against an enemy that can’t be seen and cannot be fought.

Transplant of War
by Meyari McFarland

9. Rank

“Why they have to watch?” Chisa complained very, very quietly two hours later.

They didn’t turn to glare of their shoulder. Adane could feel how much of an effort that was. He completely agreed with Chisa about the mages’ persistent surveillance. Unfortunately, Adane couldn’t see what to do about it. Father would have been able to order them from the room because of his rank as a professor. Adane couldn’t do so, no matter what he’d survived or what he’d created.

“Stubborn,” Adane replied with a little shrug that netted him grumbles and increased whispers. “Curious. Waiting to see the magic.”

“Will be magic?” Chisa asked. The child twisted on the ladder to grin down at Adane while bouncing very slightly. They were busy putting the second layer of paint on the under layer of the symbol as Adane put a fine edge of deep green around the outer edge of the rays of the sun symbol.

“Of course,” Adane replied. “Why we’re here.”

Chisa cooed. It would be the first time that Adane openly, obviously, cast magic in front of Chisa. Even the scarf wrapped around Chisa’s head had been a very quiet, discrete spell. This would inevitably have to be much more dramatic, if only to ensure that the mages understood how to do it themselves once they had the similar designs painted in their homes.

Presuming that they wanted such things and didn’t want Adane himself.

“Why do you use Low Tongue exclusively?” Baha al Din asked. He blinked when both Chisa and Adane turned to stare at him. “With the child. You use Low Tongue exclusively. I would think that you would wish to educate your child in more cultured ways of communicating.”

Adane snorted and shook his head at that. “Why? Chisa was a street child before I adopted them. They won’t ever have a rank to justify High Tongue. And Chisa understands Common perfectly well.”

“Waste of time,” Chisa said with a dismissive wave of their hand that would do a royal prince proud. “Too many words. This way much better.”

The horrified chokes behind them prompted Adane into snickers. He patted Chisa’s foot, turning back to his careful outlining. Ten minutes later he was done and so was Chisa. Adane helped Chisa down, carefully removed the paint that had splattered over Chisa’s hands and then nodded that the scarf had come through unscathed, miracle of miracles.
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Free Fiction Friday: Stitched Lines, Watching Eyes

POD Stitched Lines Watching Eyes Ebook Cover 02

Description:

Noga bent over her stitching, neck aching in fear of Gul Maes’ heavy cane coming down on her.

Seven days until Mistress Kelly was married off to Gul Maes’ brute of a son.

Noga kept her head down. Wasn’t safe to challenge someone like Gul Maes.

But with the prayers and dreams of the rest of the keep Noga might be able to stitch together hope that would save them all from Gul Maes’ watching eyes.

Stitched Lines, Watching Eyes

By Meyari McFarland

Noga bent over her stitching. The curve of her neck ached with tension, fear, the surety that a hand or a knife or that heavy cane was going to crash down on her exposed skin any second. She pressed her lips together, fussing with fine red fabric, delicate embroidered lace made of silk and gold, so that she wouldn’t look up, wouldn’t whimper, wouldn’t give anything away that could get her killed.

Her pincushion, bit of felted fabric old when Noga had gotten it, shaped it into a bracelet, felt as heavy as lead. So did the delicate little scissors resting against her thigh. Even the scarlet silk draped over her lap was as heavy as the whole world. Might as well be carrying Mistress Kelly’s whole weight there, plus her husband to be and that vicious mother of his, too.

Gul Maes. Old when her precious son was born, nearly fifty. She’d raised that boy to be ruler of everything he saw just like she was. Only one that told him no was Mama Gul Maes. No one dared tell her no, not for anything.

Marrying her boy off to a girl of fourteen when he was twenty-eight, nearly twenty-nine? Why, anyone who complained was just hateful and sinful to boot. Noga froze for a precious instant as Gul Maes shifted, slowly walked around Mistress Kelly’s trembling body so that she could look at every inch of the expensive lace being attached to the hem.

Heavy tread, each heel hit the floor like a drumbeat from Death’s barge captain. Noga kept her head down, carefully pinning the lace so that it would settle perfectly smoothly, flare out just the way Gul Maes wanted as Mistress Kelly walked up the aisle to marry Gul Maes’ beloved boy next week.

Next week. Poor thing.

Just fourteen and required to marry a man twice her age, one who couldn’t keep his eyes off other people, nor his hands. Noga’d had to deal with him twice now, had to slip away with protests about tasks for Gul Maes that couldn’t wait. Little Oluchi hadn’t been so lucky. She’d been dragged off to a store room, forced to her knees and made to service the man. Her mouth was still swollen, bruised.

Gul Maes stopped directly behind Noga. Her skirt whispered, still, stiff fabric billowing the cloying scent of lavender. It curdled on the back of Noga’s throat, gagging her as surely as that son of hers would have had he gotten her to her knees.

There was a tap as Gul Maes lifted her cane, set it back down again with a hollow thump that made sweat bead up on Noga’s top lip. Hands were getting too wet to handle silk but Noga did her best to be calm, controlled as she set the length of hem on her lap, carefully measured a bit of scarlet thread and knotted one end just as Gul Maes had directed them to.

Not as secure, not as big a knot to hold such heavy lace but Noga was sure that Gul Maes wanted the stitching weaker so that she could tear the lace off and use it again later. Also so that she could punish someone for failing to do their job right when it failed. Hopefully not in the wedding but Noga wouldn’t be surprised if it happened while Mistress Kelly walked up that aisle of silent watching people with sad eyes and lips pressed tight on the protests they didn’t dare speak.

“Be careful, girl,” Gul Maes warned. Tip of her cane pressed against the exposed flesh of Noga’s neck. “That lace is worth more than your life.”

“Yes ma’am,” Noga said and couldn’t believe her voice didn’t shake. Hands shook. So did her shoulders but her voice came out steady as the earth itself, steady as the stars cartwheeling slowly in the night sky. “I know ma’am. It’s lovely, ma’am.”

Gul Maes snorted, pressed harder, hard enough for pain to bloom, for Noga to bend closer to the fabric, her back straining, thighs screaming at the awkward position. Then she let go and Noga stayed right there for a long, long moment. So long that her knees went numb and she had to actually start stitching, thread pulled awkwardly out to the side or she’d poke her own eye out with the needle.

Finally, Gul Maes snorted and walked on around Mistress Kelly. She nodded, turned and slowly strode from the room. Noga could almost hear the others counting the hammering heartbeats, the slow thump of Gul Maes’ cane. Took near a hundred before Mistress Kelly turned her head and looked down at Noga.

“Oh, do straighten up, Noga dear,” Mistress Kelly said, breathless and tearful. “That looks so uncomfortable.”

“It is,” Noga agreed. She straightened a bit, not all the way, but enough so that she could sew proper. “That’s what she wanted. Doesn’t really care that the lace is properly stitched, Mistress Kelly. Would have us do it different if she did.”

“I hate this,” Mistress Kelly whispered, scarlet silk shuddering along with her. “I wish Father hadn’t given in. I wish they’d die or leave or something.”

“Does no good to wish such things, Mistress Kelly,” Noga said while the others murmured agreement, nodded, sighed, drooped a little at their tasks. “Wishes like that never do anybody any good.”

“Wishes don’t do any good,” Mistress Kelly sighed, just as defeated.

“Now, I didn’t say that,” Noga replied. “They most certainly do. Just have to be the right wishes, done the right way, in the right time.”

No surprise, all the girls, Mistress Kelly included stared at her. Noga kept on stitching. She felt the weight of their curiosity, their hope, their fears. Good. Nothing like that for making a wish-spell work. Not that Noga would tell them that it was magic they’d be crafting together. Oh no, that’d be stupid when Gul Maes might come back at any second.

“What’s the right way?” Mistress Kelly whispered.

She shifted nervously, bare feet shuffling on the stool she’d been perched on. Ridiculous that she’d be made to wear shoes with six inch platforms built into them just so the age difference wouldn’t be so obvious. Girl wasn’t even mature enough to have a bust yet, not that her mama had ever had one, even after birthing Mistress Kelly.

If she’d lived past the birth of Mistress Kelly’s baby brother, still born and blue as deep lake ice in winter, she’d have shown both Gul Maes and her predator of a son the door. Their Lord wouldn’t have bent no matter what.

Neither here nor there, though. They had what they had and that’s what Noga had to work with.

“Right way is prayers, Mistress Kelly,” Noga replied. She chuckled at the way everyone switched to glaring. Oluchi huffed and rubbed her mouth before returning to her portion of the stitching. “Oh, not that Gul Maes’ so-called god. The old Goddesses. Hayden and Yaroslava, twins of life and death, goddesses of dawn and dusk. The old ways had some right lovely prayers that when done properly with all your heart had nicely powerful results. They were wishes, requests to the Twin Goddesses. That’d work quite well.”

“I never learned any of those,” Mistress Kelly said and the reply was sad, pouting and as hopeful as a puppy under the kitchen table while meat was being cut.

“I should hope not,” Noga huffed, wagging one finger at her. “Nice young girl like you. Not proper for a girl so young to be learning such things. That’s for older women, grown women, you know. No, for you the prayer would be to the Mother Goddess, Lei. You’d ask her that she strike that man’s gems every time he looks at another woman, make his knob go limp whenever he touches someone he shouldn’t or when he touches you with harm in mind.”

“His…?” Mistress Kelly squeaked and then started giggling as she realized what ‘gems’ and ‘knob’ meant. “Noga, that’s mean!”

“Right and proper that he keep his eyes, heart and hands where they belong,” Noga said so sternly that every single one of them stilled. Even Mistress Kelly’s giggles faded. “Even more proper that he treat his bride with respect and honor. Man has no honor the way he’s been behaving but then with a mother like that…”

She let the sentence go and got nods from everyone. Myeong looked around Mistress Kelly’s legs for the first time. Cut on her cheek from Gul Maes’ beating the week before had healed, mostly. She still had a bit of a bruise but not too bad. Didn’t look like she’d scar, either.

“So how do you say those prayers?” Myeong asked. Looked towards the door as if afraid that Gul Maes would burst back in but hey, she asked. First time she’d asked anything since the beating.

“I can teach you lot,” Noga said. She snorted at their eager nods. “But they’re something to be done during the wedding, you know. Gotta ask the right time, in the right place. We’ll be having the wedding on holy ground, holy to Gul Maes’ god but also to the old Goddesses, too. So you can teach others if you want but the prayers have to be said at the wedding, quiet-like, under your breath. Doesn’t do to shout ’em. That’s like making demands of divinity and well. That’s just not right.”

Mistress Kelly clasped her hands in front of her lips, looking pleading down at Noga. Oluchi licked her lips and bowed over her stitching with eyes that begged. Even Myeong put one hand on the floor so she could awkwardly bow towards Noga.

“All right then,” Noga said. “You repeat after me and keep on stitching. Repeat it over and over in your heads as you sew. Best way to remember anything is to memorize it and we got plenty of time while we sew. Gotta practice believing the prayer as strong as you possibly can to make sure you do it right when the time comes.”

Noga thought of making up ‘magic’ words but that was just silly. Wish-magic like this needed to make sense so she just tried to make it prayerful enough that they’d believe it, that they’d work hard as they could to master the ‘old’ prayer.

“Mother of the World,” Noga murmured, looking over her shoulder just like Oluchi and Myeong did, “give us peace, love and faithfulness. Let my,” she paused and pointed to Kelly who nodded, then at Oluchi and Myeong who bit their lips, “her husband respect, love and honor her. Give us all a home full of your blessings.”

The others repeated Noga’s words, whispered low over and over as they stitched the lace onto Mistress Kelly’s skirt. No surprise, Mistress Kelly had the most fervor as she said the wish-spell. Girl damn near glowed to Noga’s eyes which made it all the easier for Noga to carefully wrap her wish into the thread, into the stitching, into the very fabric of the scarlet wedding dress and it’s heavy gold lace.

Took them two hours to finish attaching all the lace. By the time they were done the wish-spell had settled into the threads as though it had always been there. Noga smiled as she creakily stood, knees aching.

“Out of that now, Mistress Kelly,” Noga ordered. “You keep on practicing that prayer, all three of you. Might help if you think of working it into whatever you touch, like adding dye to cloth or carving it into a table. Won’t show but it can’t hurt.”

They carefully lifted the heavy dress over Mistress Kelly’s head, setting her free to pull on her normal green shift and brown skirt. Noga shooed the others away before gently hanging the dress from the temporary dress form they’d padded out of a hanger, a log and a lot of carefully sculpted wool.

“Done?” Gul Maes asked from the doorway.

“Yes ma’am,” Noga replied. “All done. It’ll be beautiful.”

She turned and bowed properly, straightened and didn’t respond to the narrow look in Gul Maes’ eyes. Noga didn’t allow herself so much as a flinch as Gul Maes came over, tread heavy and cane thumping against the floor like a war mallet ready to crush a skull. Knees surely shook as Gul Maes leaned close, studying the stitching that held the lace to the hem, especially when her lip curled as if she’d seen the wish-spell curling quietly inside of the fabric.

“Witch!” Gul Maes hissed at her.

“Why ma’am,” Noga replied, low and confident despite the threat in Gul Maes’ snarl. “Do you see something? How odd. Just looks like even stitching to me.”

Gul Maes’ head reared back and her nostrils flared. Lips went thin enough to disappear for a moment before she pursed her mouth and slowly strode over to loom over Noga. She was taller, a good head taller, but Noga was broader of shoulder, hip and bust. Kind of like a stork threatening a big fat sheep, honestly.

“Well, if you do see something,” Noga said, smiled nice and easy, “I’d be glad to show it to the priests. Can’t be too careful with a wedding. Who knows what might happen leading up to it? Someone might try and make bad things happen to Mistress Kelly or your son. I’m sure the priests would be right interested to know that you saw something that I can’t in that dress.”

“You dare?” Gul Maes gasped. One hand raised as if to slap but Noga just raised an eyebrow. “Get out. You are not allowed near the dress again!”

“That’s fine, ma’am,” Noga said. “Good to know someone’s looking out for it. Hate to think that we’d have to spend all that money all over again if something happened. I’ll just let his Lordship know it’s done.”

She walked out, leaving the door open so that she could hear Gul Maes’ infuriated huff. Woman could walk a lot faster than Noga would have thought because she followed right on Noga’s heels. Maybe that cane actually was just for beating people.

Either way, they found his Lordship in the kitchen with Mistress Kelly who paled at seeing Gul Maes arrive behind Noga. He smiled at Noga, frowned at Gul Maes and hugged Mistress Kelly to his side.

“Dress is done, my Lord,” Noga said. “It’s quite pretty. Bit heavy but well, fashion. What can you do?”

“Thank you, Noga,” his Lordship said. His smile went sad, lost, lonely. “I appreciate your working on it.”

“An honor, my Lord,” Noga replied. “I’ll just be off to my duties. Got a lot of cleaning to do.”

Gul Maes watched her leave, eyes dark and puzzled when Noga glanced back. She didn’t follow. That was good. Gave Noga the chance to teach the chambermaids the wish-spell while they emptied the chamber pots, scrubbed them clean.

Next day Noga taught it to the cooks and the house boys at lunch, helping them work the wish-spell into their daily activities, the walking, carrying, putting things together in the kitchen. Wish-spells worked better when anchored to physical objects like the dress. Food that would be eaten didn’t hold the spells past the point they were torn apart. And wish-spells not anchored to anything floated until they found something to settle on. Still better than not teaching them at all.

Taught it some more when the butler came to ask how he could make the wedding feast better day after that. The butler found out that he could draw a little symbol with his finger into the side of the glass while whispering the wish-spell. He asked Noga to teach the rest of the upper staff who were more than happy to add it to making the beds, dusting the rooms, putting books away and even opening and closing doors for the quality.

Two days before the wedding Noga found herself teaching it to the quality, too, not as a spell or a prayer, but as an old-fashioned thing her mother’s mother had taught her everyone was supposed to do. Way Noga told it, everyone at the wedding was supposed to pray for the bride and groom so that they’d have the best life together possible. Which lulled even the one lower, younger, priest who happened to walk in on Noga teaching his Lordship the words of the prayer.

By the time she climbed into her bed in the attic, Noga had taught every single person other than Gul Maes and her brute of a son the wish-spell. She was pretty sure her wish-spell had spilled out to the town outside because the town seemed to glow in the evening light instead of lying dark and dispirited about the wedding to come.

By the morning of the wedding the building buzzed with the energy of people wishing with all their might for better things for everyone there.

“Noga.”

Noga turned away from her special breakfast and bowed to Gul Maes. Rather than attempt to finish the piece of bread and bit of cheese she’d been given, Noga passed it over to Myeong who had yet to get her breakfast.

“Yes, ma’am?” Noga asked respectful and polite.

“I have need of you,” Gul Maes said. “Come with me.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The room all but shimmered with people wish-spelling good things Noga’s way. Noga didn’t allow a single one of those wishes to land on her. She pushed them off, settled them on the food, the clothes, the stove where the fire guttered for a moment and then crackled peacefully. Out in the hallway more wishes flew her way. Noga pushed them onto the walls, the big tapestry Mistress Kelly’s mother had sewn with her mother years and years ago. One settled onto the hem of Gul Maes’ skirt.

Her skirt crackled for a second, rejecting the wishes. Or maybe the wishes rejected Gul Maes. Hard to tell.

Especially as they came out into the grand hall, really just a big room with benches along the wall and a dais on the far end where his Lordship sat judgment once a month on the petty little cases that came up from town. Whole damn room was full of people. His Lordship sat on his chair, hands clenched around the arms. His face was white and eyes wide. Most of the big men, rich and powerful ones that had always followed him, clustered close to him. Rest of the big men, the ones that bowed to Gul Maes and her brute of a son, they clustered at the other end of the room.

Where Mistress Kelly’s scarlet wedding dress hung pretty as you could please from the dressing dummy.

Three old priests that bowed to Gul Maes’ god and no other gods, not ever oh no, stood clustered around Mistress Kelly’s wedding dress, frowning and fussing over it as if they could see the wish-spells adorning the thing’s hemline. They all looked at the neckline so no, not a bit of power in those old eyes.

“There’s a problem with the dress,” Gul Maes said.

“Ma’am,” Noga said respectful but doubtful, “there’s not much I can do to fill Mistress Kelly’s bust out. She’s not likely to ever have much more than she’s got. Her mother was flat as a board, no disrespect intended to her departed soul.”

Several people spluttered laughs, on both sides. His Lordship grinned, quick, then went still as stone at Gul Maes’ glare. All of them shut up right quick when Gul Maes thumped her cane into the floor. Noga just looked at her, hands folded over her thighs, patient for whatever Gul Maes might explain.

“It’s been spelled,” Gul Maes said and yeah, there was an edge to her voice that could have cut to the bone.

“Odd,” Noga said, blinking as the priests waved their hands and muttered prayers to their god that did absolutely nothing. “How can you tell? Looks like a pretty dress to me. Do think the lace is a bit heavy for that fabric but she won’t wear it long or walk too far. Should be fine, I’d think.”

“Cursed!” Gul Maes snapped. “It has been cursed!”

“Okay?” Noga asked, waving at the dress again with aimless gestures and a wide-eyed look that probably didn’t look confused enough. Didn’t seem to matter as everyone looked at Gul Maes, not Noga. “How? How’d you know? I’m sorry, ma’am, but I just see a dress.”

The air around them crackled. Noga stared at Gul Maes, stared and stared and waited patiently as the wish-spells around them swirled and gathered. She didn’t push them off this time, couldn’t, not with the threat of the priests and the rest of Gul Maes’ people. Someone in that bunch by the door had to be a proper mage, had to see magic just like Noga did. Had to see that Gul Maes could see it, too, manipulate it and shape people to do what she wanted.

“You did it,” Gul Maes hissed as the crackling around her increased.

“Did what?” Noga asked.

The crackling got louder, stronger. Gul Maes had to have spells to protect herself, had to have some sort of shield that kept people from seeing what she did. Noga would have, normally, especially with someone so hostile in front of her. It was only common sense to hide your power if you’d been born with magic. Too many people expected bad of those with magic. Wasn’t safe to be open about it.

But the wish-spells whirled around the room, spiraling down to wrap Noga in a blanket of shimmering gold wish-spells twice as beautiful as the gold lace on Mistress Kelly’s dress. Must have gathered to the point that people could see it because the crowds on both ends of the great room murmured and shifted.

“You cursed the dress!” Gul Maes shouted. “Magic swirls around you right now. You are a witch out to destroy the wedding!”

“Ma’am, it’s just a dress,” Noga repeated with as much bewilderment as she could. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Gul Maes lifted her cane and swung it at Noga hard and fast enough to crack skulls, break necks.

Expected.

There was always a price to wish-spells. They gathered and gathered, grew and grew, but to truly make them take flight they needed blood. Noga gasped, let her hands come up but not fast enough to block Gul Maes’ blow.

Stars exploded behind Noga’s eyes. She didn’t feel the pain in the first instant, just the shock and the floor coming up to hit her hard. Then the pain was there, oh yes, so much pain and blood flowing down her face from the blow to her temple.

Noga moaned, scrabbled against the floor and deliberately didn’t wish for anything at all.

“Stop!”

“She’s a witch!” Gul Maes shouted at the man whose hand glowed, whose magic wrapped around Gul Maes’ upraised cane with the bloody tip.

“There is a witch here,” the man said, thick eyebrows drawn together as he glared at Gul Maes. “But this woman has done no magic at all.”

“The spells are visible, wrapped around her!” Gul Maes protested. She tried again to free her cane but the man’s magic was too strong.

He came over, tread silent despite his heavy boots. When he pulled the cane from Gul Maes’ hand she hissed and moved to kick Noga in the stomach. That earned her a backhanded blow to the face that sent her to the ground yards away from Noga.

“She cast no magic at all,” the man said. “This is wish-magic. Every person here wished that she would be healthy, strong, happy, well. Every person thought so well of her, loved her so much, that their wishes caught the Gods’ magic and became spells. This is love, pure and simple, not witchcraft.”

Noga pushed herself up on her elbows, put one hand over the bleeding cut on her forehead. It was bad, really bad. So painful that she collapsed back to the floor again. The wish-magic around her swirled and grew, bloomed like a winter crocus pushing through the snow to bring life back to a dead world. The wish-magic surged from the scarlet wedding dress, from Noga, from every object and person in the room who’d prayed so hard for good things to happen.

It struck Gul Maes in the chest, hitting like lightning splitting a tree.

She jerked on the floor, mouth opened for a scream that never came. Instead golden light poured from her mouth, her eyes, her ears. Then her hands began to glow and her feet, the bend of her knees pushing up against her heavy skirt. The entire room thrummed with the wish-magic’s power, with the town’s determination for things to be better. It shook Gul Maes like a rat caught in the terrier’s mouth.

“Mother!” Gul Maes’ son shouted as he ran to her side.

The instant he touched her he was consumed, too, seized and shaken and torn apart into shimmering bits of arm, leg, torso that burned as if they were coals in a fire about to burn out. Throughout, the man stared at Gul Maes and her now-dead son, one hand loose and relaxed, the other clenched into a fist.

Finally, the light faded. Two piles of shimmering golden dust lay where Gul Maes and her son had been. The only sound Noga heard was her own panting against the pain in her head.

“Well.” The man shook his head, turned back to Noga and then knelt to press the loose hand to her forehead. “Let’s see if I can fix this. No reason for you to suffer if you don’t have to.”

“I didn’t…” Noga started to say only to stop when the man smiled and nodded.

“I know,” the man said. His eyes said that he knew very well exactly what Noga had done, what she had risked to save them all from Gul Maes and her evil. “She was a witch, a very well hidden witch. It’s good that you’re so loved. They saved you.”

“No,” Noga said as Mistress Kelly started to sob and people started babbling their relief around them. “They saved themselves, sir. All I did was teach people some old, old prayers my mother’s mother taught me a long time ago.”

The pain faded. Noga sat up, gingerly touched her forehead. Still bruised but not too bad. Her old, old felt pincushion rested light on her wrist. The exhausted weight in her arms and legs felt good, like she’d planted an entire kitchen garden or woven a good long length of cloth with no slubs or wobbly tension at all.

She smiled, let the man help her up.

“Thank you, sir,” Noga said to him.

“You’re welcome,” the man replied, eyes amused, lips tight against either worry or laughter. Hard to tell when he shielded himself so tightly. “Might want to wash your face.”

“Suppose I should,” Noga said. She looked around at the crowd of laughing, dancing, cheering people. “Doesn’t look like there’ll be a wedding today but hey, one celebration is as good as another, isn’t it? Plenty of good food to be had today. I’m sure his Lordship will be happy to host you.”

The amusement in the man’s eyes faded into a sort of puzzlement. Good. Noga bowed, shaky and off balance badly enough that he had to catch her and laugh gently. Then she made her slow way, stopped for hugs and questions and other people’s joy, out of the great room. She didn’t let the tension show, didn’t hunch her shoulders or even thin her lips more than could be explained by a fist-sized bruise on her temple. Wouldn’t do to give herself away, not when they finally had peace, freedom from Gul Maes and her son.

After all, freedom was a relative thing, now wasn’t it? Normal folk didn’t have to fuss about giving things away but well. Noga knew perfectly well that the knife was always at her throat, the whip poised to strike her back. Peace, love and faithfulness was for people other than Noga. Not for her.

But that was all right. At least she didn’t have to worry about being beaten or having to service that man anymore. That was peace enough for Noga to smile as she walked up the hallway towards the kitchen. Peace enough indeed.

The End

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Novel Monday: Transplant of War – Chapter 8


Description:
Adane barely escaped war in his homeland. He wanted nothing more than to hide in this new city with his adopted child Chisa by his side. But every choice he makes risks their quiet lives and every day brings the war that Adane fled closer to their doorstep. Soon Adane will have to choose between running away again or taking a stand against an enemy that can’t be seen and cannot be fought.

Transplant of War
by Meyari McFarland

8. Work

“Sure is safe?” Chisa asked as Adane gathered up paint brushes and sketch books, loading them with the paint pots into Zakwan’s borrowed cart.

“Can come along,” Adane offered again. “Would make happy to have right there, where can see you.”

Chisa ducked their head, smoothing their hands over their tunic. The last month had seen Adane painting murals in every house around the neighborhood, under the whir and gusts of overhead barges carrying every sort of good from somewhere else to somewhere else, completely bypassing the poor quarter. His mural work had built the complexity and power of the spell protecting their part of town until at night Adane could shut his eyes to slits and see the glow of power shimmering overhead.

He’d abandoned any attempts at subtlety after Faisal returned one week later with an offer of a king’s ransom for murals on Baha al Din’s walls. He’d been followed by sixteen other apprentices carrying similar offers, all couched in ways that made it clear that their masters wanted alliances far more than murals.

No one in the neighborhood had taken that well, especially Adane. He’d had so many panic attacks that he’d almost worn down the trigger to the point of being bearable. Almost. Instead of running away, cowering in the bedroom, Adane could stand tall and breathe evenly while the panic rampaged through his heart. At least it never struck out through his magic. No one here deserved that.

Chisa had taken it nearly as badly, becoming clinging and frightened of Adane going elsewhere. Given Chisa’s childhood, Adane hadn’t scolded the child at all. They weren’t even eight years old yet. They had the right to separation anxiety and nightmares about being torn away from Adane.

“Stare at me,” Chisa muttered.

“Could wear head scarf, veil,” Adane suggested. “Little young but no one would question it. Got the scarf Farah embroidered. Would work.”

“Wouldn’t mind?” Chisa asked far more hopefully. “Not sure going to be girl.”
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Free Fiction Friday: The Return

Every Friday I post a short story here in its entirety. It stays up for one week and then I post something new. When I do, the old one is taken down. So please enjoy the story of the week while it lasts.

POD The Return Ebook Cover 02

Description:

Decades.

Maram had spent decades without seeing the stars slip into the Wave, since piloting a ship. She’d expected to die with her feet covered in dirt.

But then the ships came back and Maram realized that there were bigger threats than old age.

She had another chance at the stars. The question was whether she and her girls could survive long enough to return to Maram’s only true home.

The Return

By Meyari McFarland

Maram added a stick to the fire, poking the embers dim glimmer into something like a spark of life. Her back was cold despite Kirin pressing close, his long horns carefully angled away from Maram. Not as cold as she could be, bless the Mothers for that. Her camp sat close to the Hightown cliff, nestled into a little indent created when the ones Above had decided to try to mine the cliff for building stone.

Pointless.

The stone was too soft for that, crumbling under their fancy tools.

Sparks flared and floated upwards like ships rising towards orbit. None of those anymore. The ships were long gone. Come and gone like mist in the wind. It was part of why Maram was here, down Below when she’d once been accepted up in Hightown. Ancient history but it was hard to let it go on cold dark nights when her girls were off hunting and the skies filled with stars that she’d never touch again.

It’d been decades since she saw stars without the distortion of atmosphere, decades since she’d been in a ship, had ridden the Wave between stars. Nights like tonight Maram felt every single second of those too many years, felt them like blood pouring from a cut artery, like having her arm cut right off and left to bleed out on the floor.

Kirin snuffled, touching his nose to the nape of Maram’s neck. She chuckled and petted him. Nose still felt like the finest velvet even though his fur was going white with age. Just like her hair. It’d been black as the void of space once. Now it was a white so pure she looked as though she was going bald.

She tugged on her headscarf, grunting that it was still in place. Hated it when people saw her thin pale hair. Wrinkles weren’t a problem but you had to have some pride and Maram’s hair was that. Have to remember to check the supplies when the sun came up. They were low on several things and would need more soon, much as Maram hated the climb up the cliff to Hightown only to sneered at and charged too much as if she didn’t speak nine languages and hadn’t piloted ships between the stars when she was young.

Honestly, she missed it. There was a joy to riding the Wave, the faster than light drive that warped space around you, front and back so that you slipped past the bonds of time and distance. She’d been good at it. Only gave it up for love, a wife she adored, twin girls they’d doted on.

All long dead.

Kirin nibbled on her ear.

“I know, I know,” Maram huffed at him. Let him continue his nibbles, scratched under his chin until his eyes drifted shut in contentment. “Letting the ghosts of the past bite me. It’s hard without the girls around. Glad you stayed, old friend.”

Kirin hum-huffed, one eye opening lazily. Intelligence showed there, alien, silent, unspeaking, but intelligence nonetheless. She’d never managed to find a way to communicate with Kirin’s people. Most of them ignored humanity entirely, hunting the plains and traveling in their herds. She still didn’t know why Kirin had chosen to leave the herd, to travel at her side from the plains to Hightown and everywhere else but he seemed quite determined to be by her side until one or both of them dropped dead with age.

The thought, or maybe the frown, got her another, sharper, nibble. Maram laughed. One more stick and then she leaned back against Kirin’s side. She should sleep. If the girls were successful in their hunt there’d be work a-plenty on their return, carcasses to clean and quarter, meat to butcher, skins to scrape and stretch. Possibly even feathers to pluck, clean and sell for a premium up in the market. Even at her age, Maram helped. Wasn’t as though the girls had learned everything she knew. Not yet. Maybe in the next few years. Who knew? It’d be nice to teach them to fly between the stars but that wasn’t going to happen, no matter how much she dreamed of it.

When Maram opened her eyes, felt like a moment later but the sun was coming up so it’d been hours, the fire was cold and she heard the girls’ voices carrying across the plains. Angel’s high, sweet songs of thanks, prayers to the Mothers, came first. Then Nitya complaining that not every single kill needed to be prayed over despite the laughter from Carey and Desta’s booming objections to Nitya’s never-ending whine.

Kirin huffed, nosing Maram until she sat up, stood up, moved away from the cliff. Kept right on nosing her as if there was something much more important than fresh meat and a good meal after too many days of not much at all.

“What your old ears picking up?” Maram asked once she’d been driven a good ten yards from the cliff. “You hearing things I can’t?”

Kirin stamped his right forefoot, their single agreed upon sign for communication.

“Yes?” Maram asked, stunned. “Been years since you used that. You are hearing something.”
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Novel Monday: Transplant of War – Chapter 7


Description:
Adane barely escaped war in his homeland. He wanted nothing more than to hide in this new city with his adopted child Chisa by his side. But every choice he makes risks their quiet lives and every day brings the war that Adane fled closer to their doorstep. Soon Adane will have to choose between running away again or taking a stand against an enemy that can’t be seen and cannot be fought.

Transplant of War
by Meyari McFarland

7. Mages

Sweat dripped down Adane’s nose, falling intermittently as his breath gusted outwards. Sun fell on his shoulders like the constant impact of whip, no, a flogger, the long sort with strands that knotted at the tips. Even the barges passing overhead had stopped an hour ago. No one worked in the heat of the day if they could help it. He kept painting, balanced on Zakwan’s step ladder. Better to get the mural done now than struggle to paint it in the evening with torches that got soot into the pigments, changed their colors.

Chisa, hopefully, napped inside on their bed. The child had spent the last several nights twisting in nightmares that Adane tried to ease, without much success. There was little that Adane could do when Chisa’s nightmares were directly caused by the world around them. If Adane could undo the encounter of a week ago he would but that wasn’t possible.

It truly was too hot for anything like work but then painting murals wasn’t work. Not like digging ditches or carving or slaving away over a hot stove. Not that many people were doing that right now. Adane squinted up at the sand-gold sky and sighed as he tried to rub the sweat away with the back of one hand.

“Need awnings over the street,” Adane complained to himself.

And water. A drink of water would be hugely welcome right now. He shook his head and returned to painting in the fine details of the last runes he needed to secure their house. It was a hugely complicated spell, cast in tiny bits over the course of weeks. Working the entire thing had taken over a month and a half of almost constant work. Lines of prayers painted in red and gold circled the top of the wall. Rows of spell-woven blue Shiraida scampered along the bottom of the wall, each of them carrying a single rune that contributed to the whole effect.

Between, in all the colors of the rainbow, Adane had painted the letters of Common with images that exemplified their sounds. Every letter had a spell or a rune. So did the images. Taken separately, the wall was nothing more than a series of pretty pictures and letters with playful Shiraida marking this as Shiraida House.

Taken together they protected the house and the entire neighborhood from the war that Adane knew was coming. Dawud had recently gotten commissions to make sword hilts rather than stools and chairs. Zakwan’s little market stall full of fruit and vegetables had been raided by the military, with threats if he didn’t ‘sell’ them more when they came back. He’d sworn to sell door to door rather than feed the military for a pittance. Even Chisa had seen it when running around the neighborhood though for Chisa it was too many soldiers with new armor and soldiers assuming that they could conscript them because ‘they couldn’t possibly have a family’.

Adane had nearly killed the soldier who had turned up at their door, hand latched around the sobbing Chisa’s arm.

War was coming and Adane was determined to do whatever he had to to protect these people, his new family and friends. If that meant painting the final piece of the mural in the heat of the day then so be it. He would do it and be glad for the opportunity to do so.

“Exceedingly skilled work.”

Adane registered the urbane High Tongue before the meaning of the words sunk in. He blinked, wiped the sweat from his forehead, and then finished the final rune before turning on his borrowed step ladder. Two men looked up at him. One was tall, thin, wrinkles carved deep around his eyes and mouth, with the sort of perfectly kept beard that spoke of time and copious amounts of money. Next to him stood a younger man who scowled at Adane in ways that made fear automatically flutter in Adane’s heart.

“Thank you?” Adane asked. It certainly wasn’t a statement. “Want one painted? Do murals for pay.”

The Low Tongue made the older man, no, mage, jerk and curl one lip. His companion, maybe apprentice? The companion growled as if Adane had just insulted them both. Adane ignored their offense, carefully closed the pot of green paint before clambering down the step ladder. Wiping his face on his discarded shirt gave him a precious few seconds to open his senses just enough to see how strong the pair were.

Strong enough. The elder felt fragile, as though something had recently pushed his peaceful magic to the breaking point, but the younger was a bonfire in the night, all raging strength and little control that spoke of wind and movement gifts. Odd pairing there. Adane draped his shirt over his shoulders, studying them both. He couldn’t help but wonder what they saw when they looked at him with their second sight.

“My sincere thanks to you however that shall not be necessary,” the older one said. “Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Baha al Din. This young man is my apprentice, Faisal. Through the fullness of the world, we had heard of an untrained mage in the poor quarters of our town. I had not expected to find something such as this at the source.”

“Untrained,” Adane said, offended by the sheer implication.

“Obviously, that was a highly incorrect assumption,” Baha al Din replied with a wave of his hand that was probably meant to be soothing. It felt dismissive instead. “Your work is of an acceptable level of quality. I believe that you have quite a bit of raw talent which could be put to better uses elsewhere. You will make a good apprentice, I think.”

“Thank you, but no,” Adane said, shifting into High Tongue because obviously this wasn’t going to go away. “I have already completed my apprenticeship and feel no need to relearn old lessons from a man who cannot show his power in ways other than scorn and derision.”

“Watch your tongue!” Faisal exclaimed in Common as the High Tongue simply wasn’t designed for strong emotions expressed in blunt was. “He’s a great mage and you’re nothing but gutter trash.”

“Correct your terminology. I am, in fact, a refugee,” Adane corrected him, staying firmly in High Tongue because that would automatically give him more power in the conversation. “I trained with the instructors of the Royal Academy of Egar before war so unfortunately tore the country apart. I have no need nor interest in further training, especially when I find myself insulted, looked down upon and expected to be grateful for the scraps of attention tossed my way. Thank you, but no. I have no desire nor need to be anyone’s apprentice at this time or at any time in the future. If anything, I should, as is proper for one of my standing, consider the question of appropriate apprenticeships of my own. There are no instructors or students left from the Academy that I am aware of.”

Baha al Din’s eyes went wide at Adane’s scornful speech. Faisal obviously didn’t believe a word of it because wind swirled around him as if he intended to attack. Thankfully, everyone in the neighborhood was either away or asleep, avoiding the heat of the day. It allowed Adane to reach out with his magic to catch Faisal by the throat, choking off the blood to his brain and the air to his lungs, without worrying about being attacked for being a mage.

“You cannot afford to take another apprentice when this one is so poor at controlling his temper,” Adane told Baha al Din in Common while holding Faisal firm despite his startled and then frantic struggles. “He acts like a War Mage but lacks the gifts for it.”

“I am sorry,” Baha al Din replied in the same mode. He rubbed his chest as if his heart ached. “He is a new apprentice. He will learn in time.”

“All the more reason for you to focus solely on him,” Adane said. He waited until Faisal’s struggles weakened, his lips going blue, before letting him go. “Again, I am fully trained. I do not need your assistance.”

Rather than bend to help Faisal catch his breath or regain his feet, Baha al Din stared at Adane. It was as though Faisal was completely unimportant. That might explain the young man’s terrible attitude. How could he trust that he would learn what he needed if his master barely acknowledged his presence? It made worry shiver up Adane’s spine as though someone had dragged ice from the northern ocean from the curve of his back to the nape of the neck.

This was wrong, so very wrong. And familiar. As war swept over Egar everything about society there had begun to break down. The old bonds between elders and young people had shattered, elders taking what they wanted and leaving nothing for the young. The young people Adane had known had taken to stealing from their parents, their teachers, the weaker old people who lived alone. It had spread like a cancer through the schools, even his father’s school, with rising fees and heavier class requirements while the teachers pushed their work off on assistants rather than helping students themselves.

“War is coming,” Baha al Din murmured.

“I know that far better than you do,” Adane said. “If you want protective murals, ones that will help shield your household then I’m perfectly happy to paint them. Preferably with an awning over me against the heat of the day. But if you’re looking to gather power by adding me to a stable of undertrained and desperately frightened young apprentices well, that particular caravan has already left the city walls. A long time ago.”

“He’s not…” Faisal protested only to trail off when Baha al Din raised one hand.

“You’ve seen this,” Baha al Din said. He looked up the street as if afraid of being overheard.

“Yes,” Adane said. “My family was destroyed by it. My mother, my father, both of my older brothers, they were all swept up in the war that overtook Egar. I escaped. Barely. I ran until I ended up here. I see the same patterns happening in Rudrai City as I did back home. War is coming. It’s already extending its hands to seize the city. You think it will be foreign warriors that you will fight. You’re wrong. The country will be torn apart from the inside out. That’s what they want.”

Both Baha al Din and Faisal shuddered and backed off at the mention of ‘they’. Adane raised his chin, rubbed the sweat off his cheek with one flopping sleeve, and stared at them. More than likely, neither of them actually knew who ‘they’ were. No one ever dared to mention their names. But then, no one would dare to confront Blood Mages intent on enslaving the entire planet other than a different group of Blood Mages. Perhaps that was why Adane’s family had been targeted. He and his father were rivals.

“Have the gates been brought up?” Adane asked. “Building permanent gates to ‘facilitate travel’ and ‘ease people’s concerns’?”

“Yes,” Faisal whispered, his eyes going wide.

“Fight that,” Adane said. “Fight it with everything you have. That was the first inroad, the thing that began to tear Egar apart. Rudrai is proud. Strong. Defiant. Be that! Do not bow to their false claims of commerce and diplomacy. They gain power, both magical and political, every time one of the gates is put up and they use that power to tear everyone else down.”

“You must tell the council,” Baha al Din said, pleaded, begged when Adane shook his head and backed off. “Please! They will listen to you. They just need a little more information.”

“No, they don’t,” Adane countered. “And no, they won’t. I’m a refugee, a bit of gutter trash that can’t even substantiate my claims. They won’t listen and they won’t care. Don’t even try to reason with them. Appeal to their pride, to their strength. Tell them that Rudrai is strong enough not to need outside support. Call on the legends of the Gods and Goddesses if you have to. Logic is a failed tactic. I should know. My father tried it and nearly was beheaded for it.”

Baha al Din winced. He looked away, rubbing one wrinkled, age-spotted hand over his throat as if he feared the same fate. When he turned back, his eyes studied Adane far more closely. After a moment he nodded as if he realized now who Adane had been, who his father had been. There was sorrow and regret in his gaze that Adane ignored. Regret wouldn’t bring his family back.

Faisal shuddered and shut his eyes. Wind swirled strongly around them, pushing up enough dust that Adane turned to check the paint on the last rune. It was dry enough that the dust shouldn’t contaminate it, wouldn’t interfere with the magic he’d cast. When Adane turned back the wind died slowly, in fits and starts.

“You really need to work on your control,” Adane said.

“I know that,” Faisal complained. “It’s not easy.”

“Go out in the desert,” Adane huffed. “Pick a night that’s relatively still. Let your power loose and play with the wind, the heat and cold. Get used to its feel, the warp and weft of it. Baha al Din isn’t the same sort of mage as you. You need to find your heart, the core of your power, before his methods will work for you.”

“As if you know anything,” Faisal mumbled but he looked intrigued.

“That… might help,” Baha al Din said slowly. “Is this something you learned at the Academy?”

Adane snorted. “Goodness, no. My mother is, was, a War Mage, as were my older brothers. Father was a Blood Mage. Mother tried to teach me just like she taught my brothers. She was always best at teaching. Father did pure research for the most part, up until the end. It took me shouting at her and going off alone to play with my abilities before I was able to learn from her. You have to know yourself to be able to master your magic. It’s the most basic truth of power.”

Someone, Dawud, appeared at the end of the street. He froze, watching Adane confront Baha al Din and Faisal. Adane waved to him, turned back to the other mages and then deliberately, scornfully, looked them from toe to slightly puzzled faces.

“You want murals,” Adane said in Low Tongue that carried to Dawud’s ears easily. “Can paint them. Just like these. Cost you money though, actual money, not trade. Up to you. Can also do prayers inside the house, little ones, ask the Goddess to protect and defend, shield you from harm.”

Baha al Din’s eyes flicked to Dawud, to the concern and ferocious protectiveness radiating off him. “I will consider it. They are very nice murals and my walls could do with a new layer of paint. If I want them redone I will have my apprentice Faisal seek you out to negotiate the cost and design.”

“Do,” Adane replied.

Baha al Din bowed ever so slightly before waving for the still puzzled Faisal to follow him. It wasn’t until he spotted Dawud’s glower and the very large, very sharp axe in his hand that Faisal started as the realization of their danger hit him. Then he stiffened and glared at Dawud as if daring him to attempt to hurt Baha al Din.

Dawud stood and watched the other mages walk away until they disappeared around the far corner of the street. Then he hurried over to grip Adane’s elbow, concern in his eyes, the wrinkles around his mouth and so thick in his aura that Adane had to shut his senses back down again.

“They want murals?” Dawud asked. “From you?”

“Want to look powerful,” Adane snorted as he patted Dawud’s hand. “Strong. Too unsettled so they try look better. Pay me money, glad to paint murals. Gonna pay me a lot, though.”

Dawud barked a laugh, nodding his agreement. “Chisa?”

“Sleeping,” Adane said. “Smart child. Too hot to work. But mural is finally done. What Farah decide on?”

He pushed Dawud away so that he could close the ladder and then carry it inside. Dawud picked up the paint and brush, following him while making those little grumbling noises that meant that Farah’s desire for several designs was winning over Dawud’s desire to save money. Hopefully the question would distract Dawud from his worries.

It wasn’t over. Adane knew that. If Baha al Din knew of his presence in the city then all the other mages had to, too. It wouldn’t be very long before the war and the politics swept into Adane’s carefully ordered life and upended all his hard work.

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Novel Monday: Transplant of War – Chapter 6


Description:
Adane barely escaped war in his homeland. He wanted nothing more than to hide in this new city with his adopted child Chisa by his side. But every choice he makes risks their quiet lives and every day brings the war that Adane fled closer to their doorstep. Soon Adane will have to choose between running away again or taking a stand against an enemy that can’t be seen and cannot be fought.

Transplant of War
by Meyari McFarland

6. Paint

The paint smelled of chalk and oil, rank enough that Adane wrinkled his nose while stirring it. Fortunately the smell had already proved to fade rapidly as the paint dried. When he’d painted the wall over the oven pale yellow it had only taken about an hour before the sweet smell of fruit overwhelmed the stink of the paint.

“Ugh,” Chisa groaned. When Adane looked, Chisa was perched on one of the lower branches of the olive tree, one hand over their mouth with the others clustered under their small feet, baskets in hand. “Smells!”

“Yes, it does,” Adane agreed. “Pretty though.”

Farah cleared her throat dramatically and then glowered when Adane looked over his shoulder. “Help?”

“Already told me not to,” Adane reminded her. “Yesterday. And day before. And day before that. Decided to paint instead of get yelled at. Green olives are green.”

Dawud burst into laughter that Zakwan echoed. They leaned against each other while Zakwan’s wife shook her head at them. Ghadir was as small as Zakwan was tall, though twice as curvy. The resemblance to Farah was quite obvious. They shared noses, eyes, masses of black hair that curled over their shoulders when let loose. But Farah, even pregnant, was slim while Ghadir had the full bust and hip, rounded belly, that people found so attractive.

“Smells bad,” Chisa complained.

“Smells fade,” Adane replied. He carefully dipped his smallest paintbrush in the brilliant blue paint before setting to work on a lovely braided border around the stove that would hide a huge number of runes and spells. “Olives are still green.”

Farah muttered something that felt like cursing but probably wasn’t. She stayed firmly on the ground, taking olives from the others, while Zakwan and Dawud climbed ladders and Chisa climbed the tree for the ripe olives that Adane simply couldn’t identify. Despite their grumbles over the smell, the others worked companionably while Adane painted his border and embedded a series of protective runes that would keep the stove from exploding as well as redirecting people’s attention from the courtyard.

“Pretty,” Ghadir commented about an hour later.

“Thank you,” Adane said as he knelt on top of the heavy earth stove’s new iron cooktop so that he could paint a sun symbol full of tiny runes on the chimney.

“Letters?” Ghadir asked. “Symbols? Runes?”

“Ah, yes,” Adane said.

He couldn’t help the instinctive glance towards the closed door to the courtyard. Admitting that some of them were runes made his stomach clench, nausea turning his mouth sour with bile. Ghadir didn’t appear to notice his nervousness. She cocked her head, a basket full of olives resting on her wide hip, as she traced a sun symbol in the air with one finger.

“Means something?” Ghadir asked so dubiously that Adane laughed.

“Yes, prayer,” Adane said. He blinked at the suddenly interested expressions from everyone, even Chisa whose face poked out of the branches entirely too high up the tree. “Chisa! Careful!”

“Am!” Chisa complained. “Good olives up here. Nice and green!”

Adane snorted, gesturing for them to come down further. Farah looked and then squawked, glaring up at Chisa fiercely enough that Adane felt quite justified in his worries over the child. She didn’t waver as Chisa groaned. Neither did Adane. After a grumble that most definitely did include cursing that a child Chisa’s age should never use, Chisa clambered down the tree with a shoulder bag full of ripe olives.

“Not so high next time,” Adane huffed. “Stop my heart, you.”

“Did not,” Chisa complained but its frown was mixed with the shy smile that always marked their delight in having someone care about them. “What says?”

“Prayer?” Adane asked. He chuckled at the curious looks and nods. “Different language but…”

Saying it out loud was supposed to add power to the spell, not that Adane had ever tried it before. Adane bit his lip as he finished the last bit of the final rune, putting dots of blue at the end of each ray of the sun symbol. It was a purely artistic addition but he thought it looked good.

“Hard to translate,” Adane said slowly. “But closest is ‘Blessed Goddess, watch over this home’.” He pointed to the biggest ray then moved around the rest of the symbol, tapping each rune and imbuing them with power as he spoke. “‘Keep us safe. Give us plenty. Heal our wounds. Let peace fall upon us. May joy fill our lives. Let time not part us. In your name.'”

The sun was bright enough overhead to keep the tiny shimmer of the paint from being seen from any kind of distance. Adane barely saw it kneeling right there in front of the painting. He licked his lips, doing his best not to panic at having done magic in front of people. So many times he’d risked magic but never in public, not since he was a tiny child.

That was a bad enough memory that Adane had to shut his eyes, breath slow and careful. Now was not the time for a panic attack. Nor a flashback. A bit later, longer than Adane liked but not so long as to be painfully obvious, he opened his eyes again, glancing at Ghadir who nodded and tapped three fingers to her lips, chest and forehead.

“Nice,” Ghadir comment. “Not poetic.”

“Translated,” Adane laughed. “Not a scholar.”

“Still have your letters!” Zakwan shouted from the top of his latter. “Good enough!”

“Not a scholar!” Adane shouted back.

Laughter echoed through the courtyard. Adane shook his head and went back to decorating the wall behind the chimney. Two more symbols, one for the moon and a second for the ocean, fit nicely on either side of the chimney. The spells worked into them would be good for turning away the attention of powerful people and in bringing good fortune to those in the neighborhood.

“Know our letters?” Ghadir asked.

“Oh yes,” Adane said. “Father taught four languages. Knew nine more. Taught me five. Read all of them.”

“Paint them!” Chisa shouted. They weren’t half so high up on the tree this time but they were entirely too far out from the trunk on a branch that wobbled and creaked alarmingly. “Please!”

“Off the branch!” Adane ordered. “Chisa!”

He put the paint down and hurried over to glare until Chisa followed orders, grumbling. Adane plucked the child off their branch and cuddled them, shaking a little at the thought of Chisa tumbling to their death before they had even chosen a gender. Chisa was so young, so careless of their health, that it hurt Adane’s heart.

“Please be careful,” Adane murmured, pressed his forehead against Chisa’s. “Please. Worry for you.”

Chisa’s breath hitched in a suppressed sob that Adane felt more than heard. They nodded, just a tiny little thing before clinging to Adane’s neck as if they never wanted to let go. Farah cleared her throat, nodding towards the paintbrush and paint that Adane had left behind.

“Maybe Chisa can paint?” Farah suggested.

“Shiraida!” Chisa exclaimed, instantly delighted by the thought of it. Tears still gleamed in its eyes but there was joy too.

“No,” Adane groaned. “Not Shiraida everywhere.”

“No, not everywhere,” Chisa said. It waved its arms dramatically, squirming until Adane put it down. “Low, along ground. Like crawling through bushes!”

Adane stared at Chisa, laughter warring with horror. “People will see them. Run away screaming.”

“Yeah!”

Chisa’s grin spread until Adane could see all their teeth. Their small hands clenched into triumphant fists while Zakwan and Dawud cackled from their ladders. Farah groaned, one hand against her forehead, the other over her belly. To Adane’s surprise, Ghadir nodded thoughtfully.

“Makes sense,” Ghadir said. “Is Shiraida House.”

Adane threw up his hands in defeat. He spent an hour or so sketching stylized Shiraida for Chisa to paint all around the base of the wall. Chisa didn’t have the precision to paint them perfectly but he could fill in the outlines well enough that Adane would be able to go back later and paint in details, runes, whatever he chose. It did keep the child from climbing the tree and giving Adane heart attacks.

By the time that was done it was dinner time. Ghadir and Farah brought a big pot of stew from Farah’s house along with several stacks flat bread decorated with beautiful pressed in designs. Washing the paint off Chisa took long enough that Adane was fairly certain that it would all be gone but once they were clean, though still clothed in paint-and cement-splotched shirts, he found that Farah had saved some for them.

“Thank you,” Adane said. “Plenty of fruit for dessert, too.”

“Reach over and pick it,” Dawud agreed with a contented grin. “Pay you for a symbol like that? Pretty. Nice to have in the kitchen.”

“Our house, too,” Zakwan agreed. “Like the moon symbol.”

Adane stared at them, heart pounding in his throat. His spoon dropped out of his hands into the stew, startling Adane out of his cascading memories and back into the current moment. He swallowed down the lump in his throat, took a bite of the sweet and sour stew and then shrugged one shoulder.

“Could,” Adane said. “After finish all the murals here. Got lots planned.”

“Should paint letters,” Ghadir declared so fiercely that Adane raised an eyebrow at him. “No one learns letters here. No one learns reading. Put them where people can see. Tell them what they mean. Would help everyone.”

“That… would be easy,” Adane said. He looked towards the door, still unpainted, and thought about the rough outer surface of the wall. “But… thought it was illegal to paint colors on walls.”

“Not illegal,” Ghadir said with a scowl so fierce that Zakwan tugged her closer. “Cheap landlords won’t paint. Whole neighborhood had color. Lots of color! Walls and doors and rooms. Now only the doors. Soon even those plain. Landlords too cheap, won’t paint. Don’t care!”

It made sense. Other areas of town had plenty of color. Frequently walking down a street was like walking through a rainbow, red walls and blue, green and orange. The better the neighborhood the more beautiful the outer walls were. It really was only this poor section of town that had no paint on the walls, rundown plaster and cobblestones that tripped rather than smoothing your way.

“Could,” Adane said, glancing towards Chisa. He laughed at the pure delight on Chisa’s face. “All right. Will. Inside first, though. Then simple ones outside. Maybe with pictures of sounds associated with letters.”

He laughed at the confused expressions on Chisa, Ghadir and Dawud’s faces. They clearly had no idea what he meant. Farah, on the other hand nodded as if she understood but her eyes had gone squinty with confusion. And Zakwan’s fierce beard hid any signs of confusion that might linger around his mouth.

“Here,” Adane said, using the handle of his spoon to sketch ‘adh’ in the dirt of the closest bit of unpaved courtyard. “This is ‘adh’. It is the sound of ‘ah’, like ‘Adane’. Add ‘deh’, then ‘adh’ again, then ‘nehr’ and it is ‘Ah-de-ah-ne’, my name. ‘Shi’ and ‘sa’ means Chisa. All writing is, all it has ever been, is sounds made visible.”

Slipping into Common was automatic. Low Tongue just didn’t have the flexibility to explain the terms he needed, much less the clarity. Blunt and direct, Low Tongue was intended for simple orders, even if everyone here used it for all their communication. They’d stretched the dialect and molded it until it had become something beautiful in its own right.

“Me?” Chisa breathed. “Really?

“Mm-hmm.” Adane nodded, fluffing Chisa’s mop of tight curls. “You. And me. Anything said can be written. Just need letters and then you’re good.”

“Paint them,” Ghadir whispered. She had tears shining in her eyes. “Share them with everyone. Please?”

Adane blushed and nodded. “Will. But first the inside! Want the inside and then can do the outside. And maybe paint symbols for you, too. Later. Okay?”

He avoided meeting their eyes, any of their eyes, other than Chisa’s. Even from the corners of his eyes Adane could see the worship and approval. It made him so desperately uncomfortable that he focused on eating Farah’s delicious stew, sopping up the sauce with bits of bread carefully torn to bite-sized chunks.

After a minute or two Chisa scooted closer, pressing against Adane’s side. Somehow the worshipful look in Chisa’s eyes wasn’t as difficult to handle. Adane remembered feeling that way about his father. Even all these months later Adane knew that he would feel, look, much like Chisa if his parents suddenly appeared at the door. Though honestly, he doubted anymore whether they would show up. After months with no sign of his parents or brothers, Adane could only believe that they’d been killed or captured.

He was on his own in this new land.

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