Sometimes excerpts are the sort of thing you put up when you can’t scrape a real post together, but I think there’s something to be said for them on their own merits. I don’t assume for a moment that everyone or even most people who happen across this site will have a clue as to the sort of thing I do or will have read any of it. Excerpts are a quick and easy way to remedy that. So this will be in addition to the “Story Time” link, but I promise not to do it too often.
Today’s snippet is from The Long Look, Chapter 1 – Fairy Tales:
Tymon the Black, demon of a thousand nightmares and master of none, came to a sudden understanding. “It’s raining,” he said. “And I’m cold.”
He sounded surprised.
The dwarf Seb was not surprised. The chilling rain had started the moment they reached the foothills of the White Mountains and continued all afternoon. Seb’s long fair hair hung limp about his face, and he peered out at the magician through a tangled mat like a runt wolf eyeing a lamb through a hedge. “At last he deigns to notice . . . I’ve been cold for hours! At the very least you could have been miserable with me.”
“Sorry,” Tymon said. “You know I have trouble with some things.”
Seb nodded. “‘Here’ and ‘now’ being two of them.” While day-to-day practical matters were Seb’s responsibility, there was some comfort in complaining. In his years with Tymon, Seb had learned to take comfort where he could.
Nothing else was said for a time, there being nothing to say. Seb, as usual, was the first to notice the failing light. “It’s getting late. We’d better find somewhere dry to camp, if there be such in this wretched place.”
It was beginning to look like a very wet night until Seb spotted a large overhang on a nearby ridge. It wasn’t a true cave, more a remnant of some long-ago earthquake, but it reached more than forty yards into the hillside and had a high ceiling and dry, level floor. It wasn’t the worst place they’d ever slept.
“I’ll build a fire,” the dwarf said, “if you will promise me not to look at it.”
Tymon didn’t promise, but Seb built the fire anyway after seeing to their mounts and the pack train. He found some almost-dry wood near the entrance and managed to collect enough rainwater for the horses and for a pot of tea. He unpacked the last of their dried beef and biscuit, studied the pitiful leavings and shook his head in disgust. Gold wasn’t a problem, but they hadn’t dared stop for supplies till well away from the scene of Tymon’s last escapade, and now what little food they’d had time to pack was almost gone.
Seb scrounged another pot and went to catch some more rain. When he had enough, he added the remnants of beef and started the pot simmering on the fire. The mixture might make a passable broth. If not, at least they could use it to soften the biscuit.
Tymon inched closer to the fire, glancing at Seb as he did so. The dwarf pretended not to notice. Tymon was soaked and neither of them had any dry clothing. Tymon catching cold or worse was the last thing Seb needed. As for the risk, well, when the inevitable happened it would happen, as it had so many times before.
“I never look for trouble, you know that,” Tymon said. It sounded like an apology.
“I know.” Seb handed him a bowl of the broth and a piece of hard biscuit, and that small gesture was as close to an acceptance of the apology as the occasion demanded. They ate in comfortable silence for a while, but as the silence went on and on and the meal didn’t, Seb began to feel definitely uncomfortable. He finally surrendered tact and leaned close.
It was the Long Look. Tymon’s eyes were glazed, almost like a blind man’s. They focused at once on the flames and on nothing. Tymon was seeing something far beyond the firelight, something hidden as much in time as distance. And there wasn’t a damn thing Seb could do about it. He thought of taking his horse and leaving his friend behind, saving himself. He swore silently that one day he would do just that. He had sworn before, and he meant it no less now. But not this time. Always, not this time. Seb dozed after a while, walking the edge of a dream of warmth and ease and just about to enter, when the sound of his name brought him back to the cold stone and firelight.
Tymon was back, too, from whatever far place he’d gone, and he was shivering again. Seb poured the last of the tea into Tymon’s mug. “Well?”
“I’ve seen something,” Tymon said. He found a crust of biscuit in his lap and dipped it in his tea. He chewed thoughtfully.
“Tymon, is it your habit to inform me that the sun has risen? The obvious I can handle; I need help with the hidden things.”
“So do I,” Tymon said. “Or at least telling which is which. What do you think is hidden?”
“What you saw. What the Long Look has done to us this time.”
Tymon rubbed his eyes like the first hour of morning. “Oh, that. Tragedy, Seb. That’s what I saw in the fire. I didn’t mean to. I tried not to look.”
Seb threw the dregs of his own cup into the fire and it hissed in protest. “I rather doubt it matters. If it wasn’t the fire, it would be the pattern of sweat on your horse’s back, or the shine of a dewdrop.” The dwarf’s scowl suddenly cleared away, and he looked like a scholar who’d just solved a particularly vexing sum. “The Long Look is a curse, isn’t it? I should have realized that long ago. What did you do? Cut firewood in a sacred grove? Make water on the wrong patch of flowers? What?” Seb waited but Tymon didn’t answer. He didn’t seem to be listening. Seb shook his head sadly. “I’ll wager it was a goddess. Those capable of greatest kindness must also have the power for greatest cruelty. That’s balance.”
“That’s nonsense,” said Tymon, who was listening after all. “And a Hidden Thing, I see. So let me reveal it to you—there is one difference between the workings of a god and a goddess in our affairs. One only.”
“And that is?”
“Us. Being men, we take the disfavor of a female deity more personally.” Tymon yawned and reached for his saddle and blanket.
Seb seized the reference. “Disfavor. You admit it.”
Tymon shrugged. “If it gives you pleasure. The Powers know you’ve had precious little of that lately.” He moved his blanket away from a sharp rise in the stone and repositioned his saddle. “Where are we going?”
Seb tended the fire, looking sullen. “Morushe.”
“Good. I’m not known there—by sight, anyway.”
Seb nodded. “I was counting on that.”
“It will make things easier.”
Seb knew that Tymon was now speaking to himself, but he refused to be left out. “I know why we were heading toward Morushe—it was far away from Calyt. What business do we have there now?”
“We’re going to murder a prince.”
Seb closed his eyes. “Pity the fool who asked.”
“I never look for trouble. You know that.”