Over lunch today, when I should have been working on the final edits for Under the Darkened Moon, I jotted down 1,800 words in a free writing exercise. The story seems to have take on an interesting shape and intrigues me. The story has a current working title of “Outsider”.
Marinda is a character from my short story, “The Yoke“. The following is a free writing excercise seeing events prior to that story from her point of view.
[Begin 6:34 PM]
The foul, little runt of a man drew far too close to me for comfort. He never seemed to give my personal space any consideration. The fact that he smelled like an unbathed horse did not help matters much either. Nor did his eyes; eyes that I felt wandered far too freely about my body with hardly hidden fantasies of what he would do to a woman if allowed to.
Often times I could just think, strongly in my mind, stop it! And it seemed as though he would oblige and withdraw his eyes. Sometimes he would even take a few steps away as well. But I knew it was just coincidence and my imagination. I was a mage, trained in the arts of elemental magic and not some illusionist who delved into the manipulation of minds.
My hand never moved much from the hilt of my long, thin sword whenever Halen was around. I think he got the hint. Whenever I did tell him of my displeasure with his closeness, like as now while we hid together in the weeds, he would just tug on the thick, silver band with the large orange stone about his neck as if using that as an excuse. It what an exact match to the one about my very neck.
Only once had we made the mistake of separating the collars too far from one another. The raw, once boiled skin under where the stone rested still bore the rippling from the burn that such as foolish action caused. Escaping from the bondage the stone and necklaces kept us in would not be simple. I needed time to study the device. But again, I am a mage and not an enchanter. I was aware of the art of imbuing materials with spells, blessings and curses, but I was not well enough versed in them to understand the process. Usually, enchantments were weak against elemental magic. As I had already stated, I just needed time to study the devices and find out how to break them.
Getting that time however was something that was easier said than done. He was always watching us; the man we only knew as “My Liege”. That was what the guards all called him. Never a name. Never anything less. Any time I had tried to look at the devices it was not long before either he or one of the guards was there to separate me into a neighboring cell. They did the same with Tsala, a Southman and a shaman who possessed a fair knowledge of magic but not as detailed as mine. She was also part of the “group” and her magic was spiritual in nature. Kort, our muscle, and also a Southman, was not versed in any sort of magic so he never tried to meddle with the devices. Halen had tried to use his thieving skills to get them off more than once but could never find any lock upon them to pick.
The collars seemed to have been cast directly around our necks although none of us remembered it happening. And as long as we did exactly as “My Liege” requested, other than the cells and the inability to escape, we had been pretty fairly treated. Although he did keep my spell book isolated, ensuring that I would not use it to try and hasten our often planned escape, he did allow me any number of interesting tomes to read. Although none of them were magical in any way, they did keep my mind sharper than not reading would have.
Halen put his arm around my waist. I wanted to slap him, but the gesture was clearly not in an attempt for affection. At least not primarily. He was guiding me to look down the trail, to the coach slowly coming into view. Then, after doing so, he did pull me closer to him.
I pushed him off. “Halen!” My tone was harsh but hushed. “Enough of that. Let’s just get this over with.”
“Aw come on darlin’, don’t flatter yourself.” Even as Halen denied what he had been trying to do, I knew better. He was not that good at hiding it.
[End 7:24 PM]
Sheala looked over the contraption more fully than she had up until now. Its complexity led her to a conclusion that she was sure was right. “It’s impossible,” she proclaimed. “It cannot be done.” Every wire attached to every trigger was so sensitive that there was no doubt in her mind of that statement.
She looked at Arias for approval. He pointed at the dummy. “It is a good lesson to learn,” he said, “that sometimes some prizes are not attainable. A good thief knows this and how to recognize that a risk is greater than the reward before getting caught. But, this is not an impossible task.” Arias stepped around her, pushing her gently to one side. With his hand he smoothly removed the purse without a single trap being sprung. “See?”
He put the pouch back onto the hooks as Sheala started to ask, “But how?”
“Practice. Now, you will try this again and you will keep trying again until you get it right. And just incase you feel that the risk is greater than the reward – ” Arias again retrieved the purse from the hooks without setting them off. He dumped the contents into his hand. Six Gold Imperials that fell out. “Get it off, without springing a single trap and you can keep these.” He returned the money to the pouch and placed it back into the mechanism.
Six Gold Imperials? That was more than a month’s pay for even a full member of the guild. And it was certainly more money than Sheala had ever seen at one time. Sheala immediately decided that she definitely wanted those coins. She collected herself and tried again. She tried to be careful, lifting the pouch slightly up and to the left, then a little more and then a little more still without any of the traps triggering. She had this she thought. It was a piece of cake as long as she paid attention. But with her next move one of the trips was set loose. Her confidence caught up with her as the metal strip cracked off her arm.
Arias was unfazed as Sheala screamed in pain, her arm hanging limply at her side. He just reset the dummy one more time and again told her the same as before, “Again.”
Sheala could not protest. She tried again. Again she set off the trigger that sent the metal whip into her leg for the second time.
“Again.” Arias set the device back to the ready.
Sheala went again for the trophy. Her fingers were light, lighter than they had been on her previous attempts. But they moved faster than before too. In a second she was holding the liberated purse in her hand and stopped. Stunned she anticipated the strength of the blow she had expected from a trap she felt certainly she should had sprung. But there was none. She had done it. Pleased with herself she quickly opened the bag and poured the contents into her hands.
But instead of six Gold Imperials there were just six simple, steel bits. Worthless. She looked up as Arias was heading out the door of the storeroom and back out into the hallway. He stopped and gave her an admonition. “And that child is your second lesson. Never, ever, trust a thief.”
Sheala was just too stunned to answer. Arias left the room.
Time: 36 minutes 13 seconds
Again, Arias tightened his grip on Sheala’s shoulders as she wanted to speak. Again she held back at his unspoken request and let him respond. “If that’s the problem,” Arias said coolly, “I will take her on as my novitiate. That means she can be paid out of my cut. Until at least she becomes a full member.”
“Fine,” Darvin shooed the two of them away, glad to be done with the whole thing. Although probably not very happy with the solution from what Sheala could tell. With a gentle pull, Arias guided Sheala away from the table, out of the room and into the hallway. Sheala heard the door close behind her as she and Arias left Darvin to his tasks as Guildmaster.
There was silence between them as the two walked down the corridor of the old, dilapidated building. Sheala let Arias guide her along the path he wanted her to take, around every corner that he led her around. Eventually they came to a small room without a door. It was a storage room but there was little of value kept here. Mostly just an assortment of junk piled up that the guild had no use for. He urged her inside. “Wait here,” Arias said, finally removing his hands from her shoulders and disappearing into the piles of trash. Sheala felt almost naked without him holding her.
She did as she was told however. Before she could draw two breaths though, he reemerged carting before him a stuffed, burlap dummy. It was mounted on a platform with rusty and misshapen wheels that creaked and shook awkwardly as it was rolled on the floor from its place in storage. Arias put it in down front of her. Sheala looked at the weird structures that protruded off to the sides, a mass of pulleys and springs and wires that seemed to have to rhyme or reason to their placement and that reached out like extra, spiderlike appendages.
Arias replied to her unspoken question. “This is your new training partner.” He proceeded to meddle with the devices and move them until Sheala heard them pop and latch one by one into new positions.
“That old thing?” Sheala asked skeptically.
“Yes – this ‘old’ thing.” With his hands on her shoulders again, Arias placed her behind it. There was a set of five hooks at what would have been waist level on a grown man. He draped the straps of a coin purse over and around them and Sheala could hear its contents jangle. Stepping back Arias told her what he wanted her to do. “Try and take that purse.”
Sheala looked at the contraption. She reached for the pouch just like she had done a hundred times before and without much thought. The second her hand touched the prize she as told to acquire she heard one of the springs pop. A flat piece of rusted metal whipped around from the side and slapped her in the leg with force enough to stagger her and leave a sizable welt. Sheala stumbled with a pronounced, “OUCH!”
Arias reached for the trap she had sprung and reset it. The spring clicked back into place. “Again,” he told her without seemingly a care for any pain she felt.
Sheala rubbed her leg where she had been struck but she did as she was told. Again she reached for the purse. Again with the slightest touch from her fingers a trap was sprung. This time a different piece of metal whapped her on the back of her hand. Again she cried out in pain. That one hurt more than the other.
Attempting to shake the hurt from her hand, Sheala watched again as Arias coolly reset the dummy once more. “Again,” he prodded yet again.
Time: 27 minutes 02 seconds
This free writing exercise follows the rules I set forth in this post. Sheala is a character in a very old story I wrote back in college for a creative writing class. She is also a character that was integral to a lot of the Dungeons and Dragons campaigns that I ran, showing up often throughout them to interact with the player. She is also a character in my story short story (in progress) Sacrifice.
The room was dark, save for a few candles. A girl not yet in her teens stood at the side of the heavy desk. Her clothes were not much better than that of a beggar. Her reddish hair was brown with grime from lack of washing.
She watched as the middle-aged thief sitting behind the desk was busily writing the final words of a missive. The girl’s mind was anxious. Her foot tapped with frustration, not impatience. The man marked the letter with a seal of wax, imbedding the ring on his finger into it so as to identify its writer. He held it out for her to take. She did not. He shook it with annoyance and stared at her. She looked away. “Sheala!” he barked, “take this.”
She would not. “No,” she snarled back while staring him down.
“If you want your pay, you will do as you are told!”
The tone in his voice annoyed her. She did not particularly like Darvin that much. Nor did he her. “I’ve been doing ‘as I’ve been told’ for three years. And where’s that got me? I signed on to be a thief, not a courier girl.”
Darvin harrumphed, setting the letter down on the side of the desk. Rising out of his seat he started to scold her for her insolence. “Maybe if you had an ounce of talent you could be something else!” Sheala did not shrink from the verbal assault. The words struck her with their full force. “Every time we’ve had to bail you out because you couldn’t do something simple it cost this guild money!” Darvin sat back down with a dismissive wave of his hand. He reminded her, “And our members don’t like losing money. Now, take that letter to Farete.”
Sheala sucked in her next breath through her nose an exhaled it in the same way. She did not want to take the letter. There was no real money in being a simple messenger. On her shoulders she felt a pair hands. They were like a father’s hands, with a firmness meant to steady and soothe. But they were not her father’s hands. “Perhaps,” she heard the man to whom they belonged start to speak, “she just needs more training.”
“Arias,” Darvin talked over her head to the man behind her as he began writing another letter, “she has had the opportunity to learn from six of our finest members. Six. All of them have said the same thing. No matter what you think, she has no real talent.”
Sheala scowled. She had talent. She had been with Ebeth and his gypsies for years. Sure, as thieves they were not very well organized and they had pressed their luck too much which had led to their incarceration in Rickland. Luckily she had been able to get away even though she had got caught more than a few times during her stint with them. But she also had also been very lucrative to Ebeth’s little operation as well. That is exactly why they happily got her out of the trouble she found herself in from time to time. No, she had talent. She knew she had it. She just needed the chance to prove it. Sheala wanted to say something in her defense. But the slightest tightening of the hands on her shoulders told her to hold her tongue. She respected Arias enough to abide. He had been the one who got her into the guild.
“I think our normal methods may not be best for teaching her.”
Visibly frustrated at the discussion, Darvin put down his quill. He folded his hands on the desk before him in a measured patience and addressed Arias directly. “We have too many members and not enough work for them as it is. Do you know the kind of ire I would draw if I trained another thief and brought another hand to be paid onboard?”
Time: 21 minutes 42 seconds