Novel Monday: Transplant of War – Chapter 12


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

12. The Wall

Paint coated Adane’s arm, green and yellow, splatters of brilliant pink. It was one of the few places that didn’t burn from the heat of the sun. His scalp felt as though it was sizzling. So did his shoulders. Sweat dripped down his spine, pooled at the curve of his ass. More dripped down his cheeks, his stomach. The backs of his knees had puddles of sweat that had soaked into his pants, dampening them all the way down his calves.

It should not be so humid. Deserts should be dry, dusty, lifeless places. But no, Adane had to do this mural, the Queen’s mural, in the hottest, most humid part of the year. No surprise, General Zaid had refused to erect a sun shade. He’d tried to forbid Adane scaffolding, water breaks and sleep but Musnah had quietly over-ruled him.

Adane worked during the day, sadly, rather than at night, with all the proper breaks and the freedom to go home each night. He’d have insisted on painting at night if soot and the bugs that rose when the yearly rains neared wouldn’t contaminate the mural irredeemably.

“Huge,” Musnah commented from the street.

“Big wall,” Adane replied. He sighed, scrubbed his face with the edge of the towel he’d draped over the scaffolding and then went back to work. “Lots to cover.”

“How far will it go?” Musnah asked. “How much detail?”

“Three sections,” Adane said. “And not much. Not enough time for details with the rains coming. Just enough to finish the art.”

“Art.”

The way she said it pulled Adane’s eyes away from the mural and down to her face. She didn’t look up at him. Even the mural didn’t hold her eyes, no surprise. It was a fairly simplistic flower with vines that spread across the wall. He’d already painted two somewhat smaller buds on the neighboring sections of wall, both designed to reinforce and solidify the newly repaired wall. This section would hold the spells that Adane hoped would protect his neighborhood and his family.

Musnah stared towards the poor quarter as if it was a problem that she hadn’t managed to solve. And yet her aura didn’t feel as though she thought they were the issue. Adane wasn’t certain but he thought that she might have figured out that Zaid was controlled, or at least that his personality had changed in strange, unpredictable ways.

“Problem?” Adane asked.
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Free Fiction Friday: Saving Imani

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 Saving Imani Ebook Cover 04

Description:

Visiting the beach hadn’t been Haruka’s best idea. It was hot, sandy, and her shoulders were already burned. Leaving seemed like the best option.

Until martial artist Imani Bakalov ran up with a problem that Haruka should ignore.

She didn’t. Because Imani’s ridiculous plan promised things that Haruka had long fought for and there was no way that she’d turn Imani away when Haruka could save her.

Saving Imani

By Meyari McFarland

Haruka shifted on her beach towel. There was sand under her toes, gritty, coating her feet with dust because she had been very careful not to walk at the water’s edge. Before Dana left, Haruka would have been willing to walk in the water, to get sand all over herself, just to spend time with Dana. Not now. No reason to put up with her skin reacting or to chance actually touching the clumps of slimy, disgusting seaweed lurking under the water, baking on the shore.

The sun beat down on her head, already scorching her scalp where her hair parted. Her shoulders felt like they were already turning lobster-red. Sweat had beaded her chest, her forehead, long before she’d even gotten to the lake. The office’s AC had been broken for months. No one had cared until the heat wave hit, no matter how hard Haruka complained to Julian, her manager. He’d dismissed the entire issue out of hand, patting her shoulder and telling her that she should stay to her files and computers, not concern herself with how the company ran.

As if there was any difference between the two.

The man was annoying as Haruka’s father, always assuming that a girl, especially a small girl with Asian features, had nothing substantial to offer to the discussion. That had changed as the heat rose and Julian began to sweat. He’d taken Haruka’s offered business card, the one she’d gathered while researching the best commercial AC service companies, and not met her eyes. When the service technician had arrived and said that the parts wouldn’t be in until tomorrow, Julian had bowed to Haruka’s glare as he always eventually did, sending everyone home or, as Julian put it ‘off to have fun at the beach’.

The breeze off the lake was nice enough if Haruka ignored the smell of rot. She splashed a little of her bottled water on her face. That helped though not enough. Nothing was enough when the heat rose over eighty. Most of her coworkers had AC at home. It was too expensive so Haruka had never invested in it. A window unit for her bedroom was definitely going into the budget, even if she only used it a few weeks out of every year. Expensive, yes, but mandatory.

Still, little splashes of water were better than going into the water. Seaweed and fishes and those teenagers over by the dock hooted every time they splashed someone. Given her luck they’d quickly turn to dunking and there was no way that Haruka was going to be the one they chose to half drown.

Why had she come? Really, there was no point to it. She wouldn’t risk drowning in that nasty water and she wasn’t any cooler sitting in the blazing sun. The last thing Haruka wanted to do was get a suntan. It would go straight to a burn no matter what she did. Every time she’d tried to tan she’d ended up red and blistered.

Still. It was better than going back home to her too-big apartment. Watching the other couples made her heart hurt for what she’d lost, again, but it was so much better than confronting the too-big bed that Dana had insisted on buying only to abandon it when she got a better job in a better town with a much better girlfriend. One who wasn’t ‘pushy’ or ‘always flirting with other people’ because of course Asian girls couldn’t have opinions of their own and everyone knew that if an Asian girl talked, well, obviously that meant she was interested.

Which didn’t even touch all the issues that Dana had had with Haruka being bi.

“Really, darling,” Dana had said as she threw clothes into her suitcase, “you knew it was a matter of time. I mean, you’re not even really a lesbian so what’s the problem? Go to a bar. Pick someone else up. You’ll be fine.”

As if it was that easy. Haruka glared at the water where a happy teenage couple held hands as they cautiously waded into the water. She was adorable, sweet and petite with a pixie cut that made her face look elfin-fine. And he was obviously a jock of some sort. The muscles and ‘I’ll protect you’ attitude gave that way.

Just what everyone expected and Haruka could never seem to find. Didn’t help that she’d rather play the jock’s role, be the fierce defender, than the elfish girl’s. Everyone judged her on her looks, from her parents on down to her coworkers and boss. Yes, they admired Haruka’s drive and competence but they didn’t take her seriously until the latest disaster hit and Haruka was the one to formulate a plan, find the correct resources and then marshal everyone into doing the work necessary to solve the problem.

Haruka was a good problem solver but no one would ever let her lead.

Go find another romance. Fine for Dana to say but none of the women at the sole gay bar in town wanted to date a bi girl. All the men Haruka met were either delighted to date an ‘exotic’ oriental girl or convinced that Haruka was going to bring home another girl so that they could have the threesome of their dreams.

Which. No. Not happening. Ever. On any count. Damn it.

“Herzog!”
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Now Available! (long overdue)

Finally, I’ve gotten all the links gathered up so here’s the long overdue Now Available post I’ve been beating myself up to get done. And then not getting it done. *wince*

Red Lords and the Darkest Hunter

Description:

The steppes were cold, stunningly cold, not that Xun felt it. The blood of Dorji Kita shielded her from the worst of it.

Unfortunately, it also prevented her from seeing and hearing the dark threat lurking under the steppes, waiting to flood out and consume all of the Red Hunters.

The Red Hunters asked Xun for help.

But how could one woman face down something this powerful and not be drowned?

Find This Story:

On Kobo $2.99 ebook
On Smashwords $2.99 ebook
On Amazon $2.99 ebook or $5.99 TPB
On CreateSpace $5.99 TPB

Gods Above and Below (Collection)

Description:

Gods dwell in everything. The sky, the earth, roses, frogs, everywhere. Above, below and between, the Gods imbue everything with life.

And death.

When Dorji Kita goes mad and kidnaps Prince Cyrille and his soulbond, the warrior Akuchi, it falls to gardener Xun Rosario and her newly formed team to save them.

No matter the cost to Dorji Kita.

Or to them.

Includes:

The Heat of the Thorn
Door in the Wind
Rising Sword of the Blue Flames
Silent Voyages of the Last Winter
Thief of the Moon
The Ice’s Voyagers
First Snake of the Dwindling Ships
Kiss of the High King’s Illusion
The Roses of the Slaves
Red Lords and the Darkest Hunter

Find This Story:

On Kobo $5.99 ebook
On Smashwords $5.99 ebook
On Amazon $5.99 ebook or $9.99 TPB
On CreateSpace $9.99 TBP

Waves of the Falling Moon

Description:

The eclipse was coming.

Xun roamed her mother’s place halls, unable to sleep. Restless energy filled her; Dorji Kita’s energy.

She would have called it boredom with being home if it weren’t for visiting deities, prophecies of destruction…

…and Xun losing her humanity inch by inch.

Change was coming for Xun and this time she wasn’t sure that it could be fought.

Find This Story:

On Kobo $2.99 ebook
On Smashwords $2.99 ebook
On Amazon $2.99 ebook or $5.99 TPB
On CreateSpace $5.99 TPB

Wings of the Dreaming Abyss

Description:

Sweat dripped down Garnett’s ribs to pool at the beltline. Coming home, back to his house and his friends and his former lover Kali, wasn’t something he’d planned on doing.

But when home called, Garnett came.

Because Kali had changed since the eclipse of the falling moon. Garnett didn’t know if it was his fault. It might be.

If so, Garnett would do whatever he had to to save Kali.

Find This Story:

On Kobo $2.99 ebook
On Smashwords $2.99 ebook
On Amazon $2.99 ebook or $5.99 TPB
On CreateSpace $5.99 TPB

The Lights of the Stones

Description:

Six hours of training, riding, helping build a wall around Countess Delaney’s fortress and now Akuchi had to go to a party. He’d been on battle fields that felt less like a trap than this room did.

Until he realized that this was a true trap, that magic had sealed them all in.

With everyone else caught in the spell, Akuchi was the only one who could decipher the riddle of the lights of the stones.

Find This Story:

On Kobo $2.99 ebook
On Smashwords $2.99 ebook
On Amazon $2.99 ebook or $5.99 TPB
On CreateSpace $5.99 TPB

Whew! A ton of stories in the Gods Above and Below verse have come out in the last couple of months. Mostly because it’s a fun series to write in. This week’s story is in the same world but it’s not approved as a POD yet so I can’t link to it yet. *said sigh*

Next week, though, you get something completely different, finally. It’s a lesbian romance set here and now with no supernatural anything at all. Just girls supporting each other and falling in love, while vacationing on a private island in the Puget Sound. :D

Hope that you enjoy the stories, these and those coming out, if you choose to read them!

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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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