NaNoWriMo Snippet

Here are the first 1,000 words of my WIP.

Heavy snow swirled around Alor as he stood his watch. He wore a heavy woolen cloak over heavier steel plate, but the wind still chilled him to the bone.

You’d think that I’d be used to it after so long. The doors that he guarded were thirty feet tall, long planks of ghostwood banded with dark iron.  Around the doors, the mountain was roughly hewn away, as if a blind man had taken a chisel to it.

“You can hardy call it standing watch if you’re sitting on your ass, Jay.”

At the sound of his voice, a bundle of grey wool shifted in the snow opposite the door from him.  A young man slowly pushed his head out from under his cloak, revealing a pudgy face covered in a patchy red beard and framed by long hair of the same startling shade.  The heavy snow had collected in his hair, making it look like a flame being frozen over.

“You’re watching enough for the both of us,” replied Jay, brushing away the gathering snow.  “Besides, one watchman is more than enough.  The only visitors we ever see are snow, wind, and the occasional gnorr.”

“Even a single gnorr could easily overcome you if you were alone.”

“Ah, but I am not alone, and I can rest easy knowing that I have the mighty Alor standing guard.”

Alor clenched his teeth and turned back to the blizzard, ignoring the movement to his left as Jay settled back into the folds of his cloak.  Jay was the son of some portly Mordani nobleman, training with the Order at his father’s insistence.  He had, of course, done nothing to earn his position, other than irritating his father enough to be sent away.  He had arrived on a day much like this, heavy snow threatening to bury his servants as they hauled his chests up the icy stairs towards the ghostwood door.

Alor was alerted suddenly alerted by a flicker of movement, a blot of black in the monotonous swirl of gray and white.  A slight shadow began to emerge, only a shade darker than the gray that covered the slope of Magemont.  His right hand went to the worn leather hilt of his sword, his left beginning to glow softly.

“Halt,” he called.  “State your business.”

The shadow continued to move forward, and with its approach came clarity.  Taking the final step up the broad staircase and coming to a stop before Alor was a man wrapped in heavy furs and wreathed in frost.  His dark beard was encrusted with ice, and his gaunt face had an unhealthy grey pallor to it.

“I come seeking the Order.”  The man took a shaky step forward.  “I was told they could be found in the shadow of Magemont.”

“Not in the shadow of Magemont,” replied Alor, “but inside the mountain itself.  You have reached the White Doors of the Order.”

“Allow me to lead you inside.”  Jay rose slowly, offering his chubby hand to the messenger.  “Anything to get out of this damned cold.”

Alor cuffed the young man roughly about the head.  “You won’t be doing anything of the sort.”  He turned back to their visitor, hand still resting on the hilt of his sword.  “Why do you seek the Order?”

“I have a message for the Scribe.”  The courier rummaged around in his dark cloak, finally retrieving a crumpled letter, dirty and worn but sealed with a large blot of crimson wax.  Alor’s eyes widened at the sight of the seal.

“Jay, stay here and watch the doors,” he commanded.  “I’ll bring our guest inside.”

“Not fair,” Jay exclaimed as Alor led the messenger past him.  “Why should I have to stay out here while you get to go inside and rest?”

Alor gave him a mocking bow as the massive doors opened slowly behind him.  “On the bright side, Jay, I’ll be able to rest easy knowing that such a mighty warrior as you is standing guard.”

Alor and the messenger were kept waiting for only a few minutes before they were admitted into the Scribe’s rooms.  A young man, cloaked and clutching a gnarled staff whittled with swirling designs, exited.  As the young man motioned for them to enter, Alor saw that he also clutched a lute.           Alor ducked slightly as he made his way through the doorway, knocking on the stone walls to announce his presence.  The cloaked messenger followed just behind him, his hood now down, revealing a man of middle age, white streaks in his beard that Alor had assumed were icicles lending to his tired appearance.

The room they had just entered had a vaulted ceiling adorned with intricate scrollwork.  A large arched window covered the wall to their right from floor to ceiling, allowing a view of the gray sky.  Bookshelves lined the walls, but they didn’t hold the majority of the tomes in the room.  Books and scrolls were strewn all about the room, resting on the floor, on a small bed in the corner, and on the mantle of the hearth on the back wall.  Just in front of the hearth was a massive desk, every inch covered by loose papers, broken quills, and, of course, more books.

Seated at the desk, backlit by the fire smoldering in the hearth, an old, bespectacled man scratched away at a piece of paper with a long black feathered quill.  His white hair was thinning, and his robes hung loosely from his nearly skeletal limbs.  The only thing about him that still seemed alive was his eyes.  They remained bright and sharp, and they glanced shrewdly up at Alor as he entered.

“Who’s your friend?” he asked, looking immediately back down to his work.  “And why are you invading my quarters at this ungodly hour?”

“It’s well past sunrise Caern,” laughed Alor.  “Did you work through the night again?”

The Scribe set down his quill, straightening his spectacles and gazing out the window.  Scowling, he rolled up his scroll and set it aside.

“That’s the problem with these damned mountains.  There’s no change, nothing to break the monotony.  Nothing but gray skies and freezing cold day and night.  It’s liable to drive a man insane.”  He pushed his scroll to the side of his desk, adding to the piles.  “Who’s your friend, Alor?” he asked again.

“He brought a message for you,” explained Alor, stepping forward and handing him the letter.  “It bears the seal of King Agrathor.”

Songs From The Hobbled Harpist (Arden #2)

Snorts snorted as the cart rolled into Crickhall under the bright afternoon sun.  He snorted again as Arden brought the cart to a stop in front of a tavern along the main street, and once more when Arden hopped down from the cart and ran a hand along the old horse’s flank.

“Well done, old boy.”  Given Snort’s advanced age and slight limp, it was impressive that they had made it all the way to Crickhall from their home in the forest.

Arden turned and entered the tavern, which a newly painted sign identified as The Hobbled Harpist.  The taproom was small, with a bar along the far wall and the room cluttered with round wooden tables.  An old man in a worn leather apron stood behind the bar cleaning glasses.  His hair was shot through with grey, and his shirt, rolled up to his elbows, revealed wiry forearms crossed with scars.

“Arden!” he exclaimed, looking up from the counter as the door opened.  “To what to I owe the pleasure?”

“I decided it was time to come sell some furs,” Arden said.  “It’s been a while since I’ve been into town, Jon.”

Jon nodded.  “One hundred and four days,” he said.  “Would’ve been better if you had made it one hundred and three, though.  You won’t be able to get a stall in the market this late in the day.”

“I ran into trouble on the road.”

Jon looked up as if to ask about it, then seemed to think better of it.  He slid Arden a glass of water.  “I’ll see if I can scrounge up some food for you.  You look like you could use some.”

“How much will that cost me?” Arden asked, reaching for his coin-purse.

“Nothing at all,” Jon called as he disappeared back into the kitchen.  “Not after what you did for me last time you were here.”

Arden returned his purse to his belt and turned to observe the room.  It seemed that the Harpist was doing well.  A new stage for performers had been erected in the corner, and iron-and-glass lamps hung from the walls, whereas they hadn’t during his last visit.  What had Jon said, one hundred and four days?  It must have been; Jon never forgot a date.

“You won’t have to pay for a single thing while you’re here,” Jon said, entering with a bowl of hot soup.  “You have done me service worth a lifetime of meals and rooms.  Those bandits almost robbed me blind, but you and that gimpy old horse ran them off.  What was his name?”

Arden cracked a smile. “Snorts.”

“Yes, that was it!  Should’ve remembered that, there’s nothing you could say that that horse wouldn’t have answered with a snort.  Whatever happened to that old nag?”

“He’s still with me,” Arden said, gesturing towards the street with his spoon.  “I’ll need a place for him and the cart.”

“I’ll get my boy Gorden to bring them both around back.  I was able to get a small stable built.”

“It would seem that life has been treating you well in the past one hundred and four days.”

“It has indeed.  I’ve had to break up a few fights, those accounted for some of these scars here, but that’s to be expected.  Fights are good for business.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes as Arden finished his soup and Jon continued his cleaning.

“I’m going to have to pay you somehow,” Arden said. “It might take me a while to get these furs sold, and I don’t want you to lose too much money.”

“Nonsense.  I’m doing well enough as to afford it.  You don’t have to pay a thing.”

“All the same, I’d like to.  Do you still have that old lute?”

“Of course I do,” Jon said.

“I’ll play for my keep, then.  An hour or two every night.”

Jon face lit up in a wide smile.  “That’ll do nicely,” he said.  “You know, I used to play a bit myself.  I was rather good until I broke some of my fingers in a fight.  I reckon I could have made a profession out of it.”  He sighed.  “Go up to your room whenever you’re ready.  Last one at the end of the hall.  Gorden will bring up your things.”

 

***

Arden woke up well past dark, the moonlight streaming through his open window and casting odd shadows on the floor.  His white chest sat in the corner by the door; presumably Jon’s boy had brought it up.  The rest of the room was simply furnished, all worn wood and rustic colors.

Arden rose and walked to the door.  He could hear the muffled sounds of a crowded taproom, the shouting and laughing that usually accompanied drinking.  He stepped into the hall and locked the door behind him, then made his way down the stairs.

The taproom was full to bursting, all of the tables taken, and the rest of the patrons crowded around the bar.  Arden was able to locate Jon through the crowd, and the tavern owner waved him over.

“You can start to play in a few minutes,” he said.  “The lute’s back behind the bar.”

Arden fetched the old instrument, and then made his way to the small stage in the corner.  As he was tuning it, he noticed an old man seated near him, bent over his cup.

“Any requests?” he asked.

The old man looked up from his drink.  “Start with something slow, son.  Something sad and sweet.”

Arden nodded once. “Maybe I’ll end with that,” he said.

He scanned the room before he began to play. The tavern was full, and he could pick up some snippets of conversation.

“Did you and the rest of your boys finally catch up with Jode?” one man asked.

His friend, whose clothes marked him as part of the local militia, shook his head.  “We just found him and one of his ruffians dead on the road this morning.  Jode got his throat cut.”

“That’s what he deserved, preying on honest merchants like me.  I didn’t spend my whole life learning about trade to be bankrupted by some brigands.”

A few tables down, one of Jon’s serving girls talked incessantly to another man, who was too deep in his cups to be paying attention.  “It’s an outrage,” she said.  “Our militias say that they can’t protect us from these bandits, and then two of them just turn up dead.  And their leader no less!  The mayor needs to invest in better guards instead of spending his coin on a new dock.”

The man she was talking to just nodded slowly, his eyelids drooping.

Arden finished tuning the lute, and plucked the strings experimentally.  Their noise was pleasant, if slightly off tune.  He struck up a tune, one that was greeted with a roar of approval from the crowd.  It was a common tavern song, one with a simple melody and memorable chorus.  It was the kind of song that accompanied good food and drink, and the patrons immediately picked up the rhythm, stomping out the beat with their boots.

He then began “The Dog and his Daughter”, a song about a young girl that had been raised by dogs and was trying to find a human mate.  The chorus was nothing more than barking along with the lute and the crowd joined in enthusiastically.

He played well into the night.  By the time he was finished, the old man next to him had fallen asleep at the table, his request forgotten.  Most of the crowd had left, returning to their homes or their rooms upstairs.  At one point during the night, a young man with fiery red hair had come inside, his nose broken and his leg bandaged.  He had tried to eat his meal unobtrusively, but Arden had noticed.  The young man was one of the last to leave, and he left the largest tip in the small jar on the stage.

Jon approached him after the last song, a smile on his face.  “That was great,” he said.  “You’re almost as good as I was back in the day.  Five years and sixteen days, and my fingers have never had the same speed.”

“I’m sure you could still draw a crowd.”

“Probably, but not like you did.”  Jon emptied out the tip jar and handed Arden the coins.  “That’s the largest crowd I’ve had in a long while.  I almost had to ask Rona to serve drinks instead of letting her complain to everyone.”

“I’m glad I could find a way to pay for my room,” Arden said.

“Will you be playing tomorrow night?”

“If you’re in the mood for a melody, then yes.”

 

Read more about Arden here.