Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: A Sister’s Love

Crown was resting, though buried under half a dozen blankets. Blade sighed a little, happy she’d finally managed to get to sleep. For now at least, she was resting comfortably.

Getting enough rest would be at least half of a long battle. The diagnosis was grim.

Mana sickness.

Trapped in a well of magic for almost three hours, Crown had been hit with so much raw magic her body was rejecting it. For someone who didn’t have any magic of their own, that would have been fine. A temporary ailment, gone in a few weeks.

For someone with budding magic of their own, it was a chance to permanently cripple any magic they had.

A sniffle from his eldest daughter’s room made Blade pause and turn. He’d thought Snow would have been in bed and asleep hours ago. At least, she should have been.

He heard the shuddering breath as she tried to hide a hiccup. She was laying perfectly still, faced away from the door and curled tight into herself.

Blade inhaled slowly as he came to the bed. “I know you are not asleep, ehla meh,” he said as he settled on the edge.

This time Snow hiccupped. “I’m trying to,” she muttered.

“Mhmm, and not succeeding, are you?” His hand was gentle as it landed on her shoulder. “What bothers your dreams tonight? More ice snakes?”

She shook her head and curled tighter, pressing her face almost into her knees.

“I cannot fix what you don’t tell me about,” Blade said. “What is it?”

“Crown’s not going to have magic.”

It startled him the way she said it. “What?”

“Crown. She’s sick and it’s my fault and she’s not going to have magic because of it.”

Snow had been there. She’d tried to get her sister out of the well first. They weren’t supposed to have been playing in that area anyways, but neither could resist exploring just once.

No one had known about the well, just about the decaying ruins over it. Snow and Crown had been the ones to find the well when part of their game had dumped the younger sister into it.

“Sit up,” Blade said gently and Snow grumpily complied. “What is this about it being your fault?”

“It’s my fault. You told us not to be over there and she hates playing chase. I’m the one who chased her over there and I tried to get her out and I should have gotten help sooner. Now she’s sick and she’s not going to have magic and it’s my fault. I’m supposed to help look after her.”

Ehla meh,” Blade said gently. “This is in no way your fault. True, you were not supposed to be playing there in the first place, but I know the two of you and Crown has already admitted to being the one to suggest that as your game area. No one knew about the well of magic.”

“But—”

“Enough,” he cut her off. “You did what you could to help your sister. You recognized the well and you knew enough to know it could do some harm if she wasn’t retrieved quickly. We were lucky you weren’t hit with it as well.”

She sniffed and he reached over for one of the small cloths from her nightstand drawer. “Crown’s sick.”

“She will get better,” Blaze replied. “It will take time, but she will recover. Snow, there’s nothing crying will do to fix it and it isn’t your fault. No one knew there was a well of magic.”

“Then what will fix it?”

Her love for her sister made him smile as he smoothed her hair back behind one pointed ear.

“She’ll need lots of care,” Blaze said gently. “She’ll need rest and she’ll need to be kept warm. Lots of tea and for a while she won’t leave the house much. She’ll need someone to keep her company and tell her stories. Do you think you can do that?”

Snow nodded, eyes still bright with tears and Blaze smiled. “She likes animal stories best,” Snow murmured.

“That she does. I also happen to know she loves her sister a great deal and wouldn’t want you crying like this.”

“I just want her to feel better.”

“She will get there. Come here.”

Snow was almost too big for him to carry properly, but he managed to scoop her up anyways, letting her wrap around him while he carried her down the hall.

Crown was asleep, true, but Blaze settled Snow down next to her. “See?” he said gently as Snow automatically nestled in with her sister. “She’s sleeping now.”

Snow shook her head. “She’s not asleep,” she said.

“Oh?” Blaze couldn’t keep the amusement out of her voice.

“It just hurts too much to move,” Snow said and kissed Crown’s cheek. “I think she needs some water.”

“Is that so?”

Crown opened one eye, surprising Blaze. He could tell she tried to speak, but no words formed, only a gentle pursing of her lips.

“Let me get a glass for you then.” Blaze murmured. Perhaps he’d add something to help with the pain.

By the time he got a glass and a spoon of the pain reliever his wife kept on hand, Snow looked to have settled comfortably in with her sister. “You’ll have to sit up,” he said gently, and Crown squeezed her eyes shut for a moment.

And yet, Snow shifted and shimmied under her sister, using her own body to help lift Crown and her mountain of blankets upright. Crown smiled, leaning her head back on Snow’s shoulder while Blaze smiled.

“This first,” he said. “Open.”

Crown complied, and Blaze popped the spoon in, letting her take the potion first. He knew it tasted bitter, but Crown never reacted. Once she’d swallowed that, he helped her hold the glass to her lips, taking little sips until she’d had enough to satisfy her.

By then her eyes were drooping closed and Snow had taken to petting Crown’s hair gently as she finally fell asleep.

Blaze smiled and watched while Snow helped lower her sister again, tucking blankets and pillows back in around her. “You see?” he murmured. “You can do a lot to help her.”

“Can I stay with her tonight?” Snow asked. “In case she needs anything?”

He nodded. “As long as you get some sleep too,” he said and leaned forward to kiss her temple. She flinched back a little. “Are you alright?”

“My head hurts.”

He chuckled and pulled another blanket over, draping it over both his daughters. “That’s what happens when you miss out on dreams in favor of worrying yourself into tears. Sleep, ehla meh.”

She smiled a little and settled down, head tucked under a pillow the way she liked to sleep. Blaze slunk out again.

Strange how Snow had known what Crown wanted, even before she’d managed to ask. Then, he decided, Snow had been ecstatic when she’d learned she would have a little sister. Even more so when she’d learned it meant she would need to help look after and care for her sister. Growing up out here in the Frozen Wastes around ruins of what had once been the frost elf capital had sometimes been lonely for Snow.

It was no surprise she knew what her sister needed or wanted. She loved her sister.

 

Posted in General, writing

Book in a Week Challenge Update

Although I still technically have until tomorrow to write a complete book in one week, I have to admit defeat. While I was able to knock out a good chunk of it, coming in at just over twenty-one thousand words, I also hit a massive plot hole, which took a little extra research and time to sort out.

Ultimately, that resulted in an entire day of no writing as well as the loss of about three thousand words.  Alone, either one of these might have been recoverable, but compounded together it was admittedly disheartening to realize there was too much I’d have to recover.

That being said, although I didn’t successfully complete a book in a week challenge this time around, I’m definitely earmarking opportunities to try it again. It’s been a while since I’ve found a challenge that pushes my limits the way this one does.

In case you’re curious, I’m calling it quits with a total of eleven hours, thirty-one minutes of writing time to reach a grand total of twenty-one thousand, four-hundred and ninety-one words.

I’m looking forward to finding more challenges as well. If you know of any, leave me a comment below!

Posted in Stories

Short Story: Under Her Own Power

Inhaling brought cool air to her lungs as she stood outside the parliament chamber. Exhaling dispelled some of the internal heat, but did nothing to calm her anger.

“Are you ready, Your Majesty?”

Sola lifted her face. She didn’t have a choice. Either she stood out here all day or she walked into the parliament knowing full well they would want their demands met. If it was merely a waiting game, she had no end of patience.

Her people did not.

“Open the doors. Please.” She added the please perhaps a little hastily, remembering what she’d been told just that morning. She was queen, and though she’d spent seven years locked away, manners were just as important to people as they were to spirits.

The gilt doors swung open and Sola strode forward, letting the lace cape hanging from her shoulders flutter in the wind created by her passage.

“Queen Sola Diem. Hail the Queen!”

“Hail the Queen.”

The hundred voices of the parliament annoyed her, more than having her presence announced in every bloody room she entered. Sola took another slow breath as she stepped up into the empty, central pedestal, looking at the gathered faces of parliament.

Silence for a moment, and then the head of Parliament cleared his throat and shuffled his papers.

“Your Majesty—”

“You will speak only when spoken to.”

Her voice cut him off. Shock and surprise coated the room and Sola drew in another breathe, taking the air deep.

Roses, she realized. She could smell roses. A hateful, sickly smell that told her there were greater forces at place than one queen and one kingdom.

Smartly, one of the smaller members of parliament raised his fan. “Yes, Councilor?” She didn’t bother looking at the nameplate in front of him, didn’t bother acknowledging him beyond that. These men had plenty of acknowledgement from the people. No need to give them more. They needed a reminder of what their job was.

“In regards to today’s meeting, we’ve asked Your Majesty why you’ve refused to reclaim some of the private lands currently left abandoned or otherwise unused.”

“No, you’ve not. You’ve demanded my presence to try and cow me into submission. My answer remains as it has been. No. Those lands do not belong to the Crown.”

Several annoyed grumbles and once more the Head of Parliament cleared his throat. “Those lands—”

“Have I spoken to you?” Sola turned her gaze on him directly and he sank back.

“Ah…permission to address you, My Queen?”

“If you must.” Her temper won over her patience.

“The lands did originally belong to the Crown. It’s merely a matter of reclaiming the titles, which you do have the power to do as you are Queen of the First Kingdom.”

“They belonged to the Crown until they were purchased by their current owners. As they have not been sold back to the Crown or deemed forfeit by any competent official—”

“Several officials have deemed them forfeit.”

“Excuse you.” Sola’s attention moved to the unexcused speaker. The stench of roses grew, permeating the chamber. “I was not finished speaking, do not interrupt me. No competent official has declared those lands forfeit. Several incompetent and heavily bribed officials have and I will be rescinding those declarations effective immediately.”

Outcries. Rage. Several parliament members stood up.

What little remaining control over her temper snapped, not unlike a thread.

Silence!

Roses erupted out of the wood of the podium. Several bloomed on the tables in front of the parliament. Petals exploded into the air and drifted to the floor, leaving a crimson carpet all around.

The effect was immediate. The gathered members of parliament froze, recoiling from the roses in horror and fear.  Sola inhaled again.

“Let me remind you of something. Your jobs are to serve the people of the First Kingdom. You have been given your positions because you were educated enough to qualify for them. That does not mean I cannot find a replacement for all of you. Continue to harm the people of the First Kingdom and I will do exactly that.”

“We are—”

“Did I give you permission to speak?” Already formed, the rose thorns grew bigger. Sola glowered down at the petty men still cowering back from the flowers. Anger trembled in every limb.

“You are all the same men who allowed a weakling king to lock his daughter away for seven years. You are all the same men who left a princess to the care of spirits. Unfortunately for all of you, princesses have a habit of becoming queens. I am that queen now and my time away has reminded me of who I serve. I owe no loyalty to any of you. Your attitudes towards both me and my subjects are only adding black marks to the pages of loyalty you owe me.

“The lands do not belong to the Crown and that is final. Remember that there are rules to dealing with a spirit and remind yourselves that you’ve allowed your Queen to be raised by those same rules.”

She turned, steps kicking rose petals up into the air again. One or two clung to her as she exited. The doors closed behind her and Sola had to inhale, closing her eyes. The weight of the traditional diadem pressed on her.

“Your Majesty?”

“Yes, I’m sorry.” Sola shook her head to chase the thoughts away and looked at one of the doormen. “Kindly ask the housekeepers to leave the roses be. I’ll take care of them once the parliament chambers have been cleared.”

“I can have the gardeners brought in, my lady.”

Sola smiled. “That’s very sweet of you, but it will have to be me. As I said. I’ve been raised by the same rules as a spirit.”

The doorman smiled and bowed. “If I may?”

“May what?”

“Thank you,” he said and smiled. “My father owns some of the lands they’ve been trying to get you to reclaim. He’s too old to farm it anymore so it’s supposed to be my sister’s dowry. Without it, we’d have lost an entire orchard. So thank you for standing up to them, but if it’s all the same to you, you’ve done a good favor to us and it’s a small price to get you some help cleaning up those roses.”

For the first time that morning Sola laughed. The sound surprised her and she brought a hand up. “My thanks,” she said. “But it’s not a concern about having help. Rather, those roses are from a fairy’s blessing.”

“Then if it’s all the same to you, may I request we leave them? Can’t be messing with fairy’s magic now and might serve as a good reminder to the parliament about not crossing spirits of any sort.”

Sola considered it and looked back at the doors. She couldn’t hear anything and smiled. Perhaps parliament needed a reminder of several things.

“You know, I think you’re right. Perhaps just have the gardeners do a little trimming to keep them healthy, if you don’t mind?”

“My pleasure.”

“My thanks.”

After all, there were rules to dealing with spirits and people alike.

_________

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Posted in Stories

Short Story: Blessings and Gifts

“There is a difference between fairy blessings and gifts, child. Both can be equally dangerous, but one binds the recipient in ways worse than death.”

Juniper paused in her sweeping to look up at the old woman. “Blessings are supposed to be given when a child is born, aren’t they?”

That earned her a chuckle “They are, but that’s not what makes them different from gifts. Blessings bind a person to a fate. A role in destiny.”

“That seems like some blessings would make people terrible.”

“People can always be terrible. A blessing of beauty does not give you a good heart, and a good heart does not protect against misfortune either.”

Juniper smiled a little. “I think I’ll be happy I don’t have any blessings then.”

Before her mentor could respond, someone knocked on the door and Juniper jumped a little. The old woman chuckled as she began shuffling towards it. “No blessings, but perhaps just enough bravery to see you through.”

If by bravery she meant the terrible voice in her head that screamed she was doing things wrong, Juniper didn’t want it. She returned to her sweeping as the door opened.

“Ah. Miss Cleary. Come in, come in. What do you have today?”

Juniper usually kept her head down, not wanting to draw attention to herself, but still glanced up at the girl who came in. She couldn’t have been much more than seventeen. Deep shadows underscored her velvet brown eyes and her raven-black hair had been tossed into a messy braid.

“Some carrots. Fennel and anise. A few mouse bones. A yard of spun wool.”

“A yard isn’t much.”

Juniper returned her attention to the floor, sweeping the dust towards the door where she could sweep it out. That would be a sign to anyone looking at they were open for business, for requests for this or that charm or fixed pot, pan or box.

A soft hum came from the girl. “No,” she said and suddenly there was a hand thrust in front of her. “You dropped this.”

The ribbon Juniper had strung in her hair earlier stood out against the sun-graced bronze. Gently, Juniper took it. An odd tingle went through her as her fingers brushed that palm and she pulled back a little sooner than was really polite. “Thank you,” she murmured.

The girl, who Juniper only ever heard as ‘Miss Cleary’ studied her for a moment before she nodded and turned. “I only have a yard for you this week.”

“I suppose I’ll make do. Any twigs?”

“A few.” Miss Cleary reached into her bag and withdrew several. “Apple and pecan.”

“Those will do nicely. It’s almost autumn you know. It’s a season of preparing.”

“For some,” Miss Cleary answered.

The usual rattle of coins as they were counted out filled the small room. Juniper had only just opened the door when Miss Cleary approached again.

“Sorry,” Juniper said. She stepped aside, expecting their visitor to pass by. Yet, the girl paused for a moment, tilting her head a little before she reached in her bag and pulled something out.

“Here. They’re fresh.”

Blackberries. They were all contained in a little glass jar which Juniper took reverentially. “I don’t—”

“They’re a gift,” Miss Cleary said and nodded only once before she stepped out. Juniper stood there, a little shocked before she turned and looked at her mentor, who only grinned.

“I don’t understand,” Juniper said.

“That’s Crystal Cleary. She’s the third generation seventh child of the Cleary family.”

“Seventh children are powerful,” Juniper said as she held the glass jar with its treats a little closer.”

“That they are. And Crystal herself got a fairy’s blessing. She always finds what she needs at hand.”

Juniper was silent a moment before she came around to put the jar on the sideboard nearest the hearth. Perhaps she’d make some tarts later, she decided.

“If she’s fairy-blessed, isn’t she bound to a fate?”

“Of course she is. That is between her and the fairy that blessed her however.”

“What about fairy gifts? Don’t they bind someone?”

“Not at all. A gift from a fairy is freely given, and that is what makes it dangerous. Wrong a fairy, and you may find yourself gifted with something nasty.”

Juniper smiled a little as she looked out the door. “Would it be alright if I made some tarts for her?”

“For Miss Cleary?”

“Yes. She gave me the blackberries, I can at least give her something to say thank you.”

The old woman studied her a moment before she nodded. “I suppose you can. Besides, I know you do love your blackberries.”

Juniper smiled. “It’s a very nice gift.”

_________

If you enjoyed this short story consider checking out my short stories page. If you’d like to get early access as well as additional exclusive shorts, consider supporting me over on Patreon. Thanks for reading!

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Holiday Cheer

The one thing that pained him about Sadie was how expressive she was. Even without saying a word, Charles knew when his ten-year-old wasn’t enjoying the meal prep. It came across in the way she kept her head ducked and inspected her task with care before she actually started it.

“Why so glum?” he asked and she looked up from where she’d been carefully crimping a pie as instructed.

“What’s glum?”

He laughed. “It means you’re unhappy. Something bothering you Sadie-bug?”

She considered it while she turned the pie one last time. “We’re making a lot of food,” she said.

“Yes,” he said.

“But it’s just you and me,” she said and looked at him. There was trouble in her earth-toned gaze. “Not even Uncle Marshall this year.”

It surprised him. She was a social butterfly, as evidenced by the fact that at ten, her list of phone numbers was more than double his and her weekends were rarely ‘free’.

“Well, it’s a holiday for family.”

“Uncle Marshall is family,” Sadie said.

“Yes, but he has other family.” He had to be careful about that. She was by no means an unintelligent child and if she started asking how closely related they were to her ‘uncle’ she was going to uncover a whole other set of problems.

“Family we don’t have?”

Time to head off that conversation. “Honey, what’s going on with you? Why are you so concerned with it?”

She shrugged a little as he came to sit in the chair next to her. “It’s just, this is supposed to be for families, right? So…where’s the rest of my family? I don’t have grandparents or…or aunts or anything. Just you and Uncle Marshall.”

Expressive as her body language could be, getting actual information out of her verbally sometimes felt like panning for gold. It was all in the tiny things.

“What’s that ‘or anything’ you’re so concerned with?” Charles questioned. Sadie didn’t look at him. She’d finished crimping the pie, and the fork she’d been using showed him only a warped reflection when she turned away. “I can’t fix a problem if you don’t tell me about it.”

Another moment of silence. “Where’s my mom?”

That was a blow and Charles had to inhale a little. He’d been hoping she wouldn’t ask, even while he knew eventually Sadie would. Explaining what had happened with her mother was an involved tale.

Even for a ten-year-old that could and did pick up on things she shouldn’t have.

Especially for a ten-year-old that had told him before which kids in her class weren’t getting enough lunch and which ones were being hurt at home.

He must have taken too long to respond because she sighed. “You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

“Hold on, a minute,” he said. “You surprised me, that’s all. Come on, turn and face me.”

Sadie obliged but he could tell by her face she wasn’t happy about something.

“You’re smart enough and old enough to know that sometimes moms and dads don’t stay together,” he said. “And sometimes when that sort of thing happens, there’s a lot of nastiness involved.”

“They get divorced,” Sadie replied, almost matter-of-fact. There was an underlying question in her tone that indicated she wasn’t sure where this was going.

“That’s only when they get married,” Charles said. “I…I never married your mom. I asked her a couple of times, and we were going to, but we ended up not.”

“Then where is she now?”

“Well,” Charles said and had to pause before he exhaled slowly. This was the one thing he hadn’t ever wanted to tell Sadie. “The truth of it is honey, your mom fell in love with someone else, and she decided he was a little more important to her than you were,” Charles said.

He could tell she was processing it, but the look of shock on her face broke his heart. “She didn’t want me?”

“She…no. She decided she didn’t.”

Sadie was silent for a long moment. “I’m going go play in my room,” she said.

“Okay.”

His heart squeezed, painted as she wandered towards her room and closed the door softly. He couldn’t do anything to alleviate the pain of knowing that at least one parent had abandoned her.

Reminded of the whole mess, Charles sighed and looked over the dishes still in the middle of prepping. He knew there were others in the fridge, waiting for tomorrow when they would start cooking. These were the ones he wanted prepped ahead of time—the cheesecake, and the pies, mostly, but also Sadie’s favorite cheesy potatoes.

He took time putting everything up. The pies were stacked on wire racks, repurposed from their usual cookie-cooling days so he could more on the shelf. The casserole sat on the shelf below that, covered in tinfoil already. The turkey and the ham were similarly ready, though both still packaged up and waiting to be prepped for tomorrow.

There was plenty of other items—fruits and veggies to be displayed as snacking foods, potatoes for more mashed. Eggs, cooling from this morning and waiting to be deviled or mashed into egg salad.

In fact, the only thing they seemed to be missing for tomorrow’s feast, was ice cream to top the pie.

Ice cream, he decided, and maybe something to cheer up Sadie. It wasn’t much, but maybe she’d perk up once she was able to look over the holiday decorations.

“Sadie?” He knocked on her door softly and it took her a moment to open it. He could tell she was still upset and smiled. “We forgot something when we did the shopping.”

“Like what?”

“Can’t have apple pie without vanilla ice cream on top, now can we?”

It was such a tiny smile. “I need to get my shoes.”

The drive was a short one, and with a holiday station turned on, Charles was glad to see a little more cheer as it spread over Sadie.

Finding the ice cream wasn’t hard to do, and Sadie ranged down the aisle a little while Charles lingered near the ice cream bars. He knew they really did have enough food at home for the rest of the week, but an ice cream sandwich sounded like a perfect reward for all the work they’d put in to prepping today.

From the corner of one eye, he saw Sadie as she opened a freezer door to reach up for the ice cream. It must have been farther back on the shelf and he saw her step back, the door slapping shut in defeat.

Time to go rescue her from a too-high shelf, he decided.

Someone else had seen her plight though. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen, but grinned as he opened the door and fetched it down. “That the one you need?”

“Yes. Thank you!”

“Alec, I already told you no.”

He knew that voice and turned, startled to see someone he was certain wouldn’t have been in town: Marshall’s sister.

“Hi, Lila,” he said.

Lila blinked and looked at him before she laughed. “Hi! I didn’t even recognize you for a minute. I see I’m not the only one leaving the holiday shopping to the last minute.”

He laughed as Sadie came over, her prize in hand. “Yes and no. We got most of it done the last couple of days, but needed just a couple odds and ends.”

“Who’s this?” Sadie asked and Lila laughed.

“I’m Lila. I helped Charles with the landscaping for the restaurant.”

“You’re the one who put in the gardenias! Hi! I’m Sadie.”

Charles laughed as the boy sauntered over to half-glare at Charles. “This is my girl.”

Lila beamed. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sadie. This is Alec.”

The boy responded with a faint nod. “’Sup?” It earned him a faint sigh from Lila and Charles laughed.

“Thank you for helping Sadie, Alec,” he said.

“No problem.” He said and half-smiled at Sadie. “She almost had it. Just needs another inch or so.”

She beamed and looked at Charles. “How long is going to take for me to grow an inch?”

“With my luck? You’ll grow an inch the week after we get you a new jacket for winter,” he said.

Lila laughed. “That’s how it always works,” she said. “We’ve got just a few things left to get, so we’ll get out of your hair.”

He noted the shopping list in the front of the cart, how short it was. A tight budget, perhaps? Or just a very small celebration. His gaze traveled to her hands, noting the lack of a wedding band.

“You know,” he said and glanced at Sadie. “Sadie and I are doing the holiday with just the two of us. You guys are welcome to join us.”

“Please do,” Sadie said. “Daddy made four pies and both turkey and ham.”

Lila laughed and glanced at Alec, who shrugged. “I like pie,” he said noncommittally.

“Then…I think we’d love to,” Lila said. “If you’re certain. It’s just Alec and I this year as well, but we don’t want to impose.”

“You’re not imposing. You’re invited,” Charles promised and glanced at Sadie. “Besides. Sadie’s right. I may have gone a little overboard on cooking.”

Lila laughed. “We can probably help with that.”

Maybe it wasn’t her mom, but Charles smiled as Sadie grinned, immediately launching into a detailed accounting of everything they already had and asking how Alec liked his turkey—what kind of gravy did he prefer? Did Lila like apple pie or cherry?

No, he couldn’t replace her mother. But maybe, just maybe, he could prove to Sadie that there were more people who wanted her around than the one who’d abandoned them both.

_________

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this short story you can find more over on my short stories page. Alternately, you can get exclusive stories and early access by supporting me on Patreon. 

Happy Holidays!