Posts Tagged ‘novel’
I haven’t been jumping in with updates the past week, but I have been writing. I am making good use of Kate’s post last Monday about outlining. I know part of the reason I’ve stalled on my Little Red Riding Hood novel is that once I ran out of fairy tale, I still have lots of story left, and I have no idea where to go next. I started outlining the ten chapters I’ve written so far. (I made it through six so far.) My goal for this week (on Friday when I have time and space to spread out all over the living room again) is to finish outlining what I have and start brainstorming where the story goes next.
I also wrote poems for my daughter’s birthday. I started the tradition of writing a poem for her birthday once she learned to read. I’ve written one for her every year since. (Confession–I skipped last year, so I wrote her two this year!) I’ll see if she’ll let me post them later. I used Jo Knowles’ writing warm-up to write one of them!
Meanwhile, this week I’m reconnecting with the National Writing Project through the Advanced Institute at Indiana University Southeast. We’re celebrating successes, sharing ideas, and writing, writing, writing. This afternoon and tomorrow we’ll work with Ralph Fletcher as we discuss and try out ideas from his book Pyrotechnics on the Page. Yes, I am excited. I can’t wait to try some out in my own writing and with my students next year!
During writing time yesterday, I tried Kate’s Tuesday Quick Write. I chose the prompt from guest author Joy Preble about getting to know your characters. What I came up with is not something that will go directly into my novel, but it definitely helped me to get to know my main character better and to hear her voice more clearly. Here is what she had to say in response to the questions. What do you think of her?
How do you see yourself?
I yearn for adventure, but I have been held captive for so long by my mother’s fear. I choke on unasked—and of course unanswered—questions. Why do we move so often, each time to a village smaller and more wretched than the last? Who is my father? Who is the rest of our family? Why won’t Mother let me play with the other children? I’ve grown up lonely at times, but now I can spend hours alone. It’s a good thing because I do spend hours alone. When I was younger, Mother used to take me with her on her trips through the woods to collect herbs, but ever since we’ve lived in Kell, she has left me behind. I know every crack and stone in this cottage. I’ve named every rock along the path between our back door and the spring up the hill. I have organized and reorganized the bottles and jars and drying racks and braided bundles of dried plants. If bored enough, I’ll even sweep the dirt and dust out the door.
I’m getting restless. I loved walking the twisting trails through the forest with Mother. I’d pick flowers to braid into crowns for our head. The children in previous villages stared at me in awe. They may have had free run of the village streets, but most had never been outside the split-rail fences that surrounded each village. I had been past the fences and deep into the forest and survived. I never had the chance to tell them that we never saw anything more dangerous than poison oak. No bears ever peered out of the leafy branches to growl at us. No WolfRiders ever thundered behind us on black stallions. It was just me, Mother, and baskets spilling with fresh herbs snipped from our secret places. I’m getting restless without those trips. I look for anything to break this monotony. I want to fly away. I want to explore more than this cottage. I want to know who I am and where I came from. There must be more to life than fleeing from one poor village to another.
How do others see you?
Mother refuses to see that I am growing up. Or maybe she sees, but wants to stop it anyway. Why else would she keep me at home while she traipses through the woods? Mother expects me to be responsible—to dry and store the herbs and to bring them to her when she’s treating an illness or injury in the village. Sometimes she questions me: What would you do to treat a fever? What herb do you mix with oil to clean a wound? I know nearly as much as she does now, but the villagers always wait for her return. What’s the point of leaving me behind to care for the villagers when they just wait for her to get back?
I only see the other children from a distance when I accompany Mother down the main path of the village. I’m not sure what they think of her silent shadow. Since they’ve never seen me leave the village for the forest trails, they don’t look at me with awe like the children in past villages did.
I definitely want to go back and try the poetry prompt from Sarah Lewis Holmes later. Maybe I can get to it today since I didn’t lug the huge binder with my novel down to New Albany with me.
I’m still taking part in the Teachers Write Virtual Writing Camp. Today’s quick write assignment comes from guest author Margo Sorenson. Since I want to get back into writing my novel about Little Red Riding Hood, I’m writing the option that imagines a character walking into a room and feeling uncomfortable and awkward. There’s been a new character poking around the edges of this story. I’m not sure who is is or what role he might play in this story, but this free write will give him a chance to introduce himself.
Mother and I sat quietly by the fire. I yanked the needle through the rips in my skirt and glanced over at Mother. She sat with a lap full of dried bloodroot in her lap. She had been sorting them, but now her hands were still as she stared at the dancing flames. I swallowed back the questions that burned my throat about the red cloak that now lay stuffed under my mattress. If I asked, she might look to see if I had put the cloak back in the trunk as she asked. I still hoped that she would forget about it.
I glanced up at light tapping at the door. Who would come so late? Eager to be done with my mending, I stood up. Before I lifted the heavy bar that held the door shut, I called out, “Who’s there?” After the events of last night it wouldn’t do to fling open the door too hastily.
“Please, miss, can you help me?”
I could barely make out the words of the soft whine, but I felt the undercurrent of desperation. I lifted the latch and cracked open the door, stopping it with my foot. A boy stood before me. Tufts of hair stood out in all directions on his head, and his bare toes curled in the mud. I recognized him as one of the children from the village. Like me, he usually hung back from the pack of children that ran together through the streets and fields. He stared down and asked again, “Can you help me?”
I opened the door wider and motioned for him to enter. ”What do you need help with?” I asked.
He stepped inside, still looking down. Now that he was inside I could see the frayed hems. His wrists and ankles stuck out too far. As if he could feel my glance, he tugged at his sleeves. ”It’s my pa,” he whispered. ”He won’t get out of bed. He shakes and moans and grabs at things that aren’t there. He’s never been sick before. I don’t know what to do.”
Behind me, mother set aside her bloodroot and rose to stand beside me. ”How long has Henry been sick?” she demanded.
“Since yesterday morning, ma’am,” he said. He looked up at Mother and grinned shyly. “Pa always said to come to you if we ever had trouble. I just didn’t think trouble would ever find us.”
Today is Tuesday, my second day with the Teachers Write Virtual Writing Camp. Today’s assignment is to free write about a specific place. I’m using the assignment to get to know part of the setting for my Little Red Riding Hood novel, in particular, grandmother’s cottage. Here goes!
Write for two minutes to describe a specific place: Grandmother’s cottage
The cottage is small, just two rooms. The main room is an open kitchen and living area. A wood stove crouches in the back corner . Between the wood stove and a back door lie stacks of wood. Over the wood is a whitewashed plank shelf. Copper pots hang from hooks above the planks. A table and benches fill the rest of that side of the room. Two arm chairs stand at each end of the table. A door in the wall to the right leads to a small bedroom.
Wow! That two minutes flew by. Since this is not a real place I can visit, I’m going to take a few minutes to go there in my mind. Then I’ll be back for more free-writing of one minute each.
Everything I see:
dark rafters above, armchair in corner opposite a spinning wheel, baskets underneath the shelves that wrap half the cabin in a u-shape, table with polished wood top, cloak hanging next to door
Everything I hear:
teapot whistling on the stove, tinkling of chimes from somewhere, wind muffled through thick stone walls, a warm silence lies like a blanket, soft sounds
Everything I smell:
mint, tang of bitter herbs, mix of drying leaves–like a forest after rain, earthy smell, lemon/citrus
Everything I feel:
walls are cool and smooth, table top is polished smooth–wood that feels almost like a stone washed in the river, blankets are soft, not scratchy like wool, chair has firm cushion, entering doorway feels like walking into a spider’s web–sticky strands cloak arms and face
Next is to rewrite the first paragraph using the sensory details I imagined.
Before I even have a chance to knock, the heavy oak door swings open with a soft swish. I step through the doorway and right into a spider web. I don’t see the web, but the sticky strands of something cling to my face and arms. I try to brush them off, but I feel a trace remain on my cheeks. A teapot simmers on the wood stove crouched in the back corner, filling the air with the scent of lemon balm. Racks of drying leaves add an earthy scent to the air, like the smell of the woods after rain. I sniff, catching the bitter tang of horseradish. This smell of home slows my thudding heart until the door swings shut behind me. The click of the latch mutes the trilling birds outside. All I can hear inside is the light tinkling of chimes.
I stared out into the pouring rain. My hands gripped the door frame of the small thatched cottage where I lived with my mother at the edge of Hawthorne Village. I watched the eddies of water swirl in the mud outside the door. If I squinted, I could just make out the next closest cottage in the village through the branches overhanging the footpath. My mother Melindea was leery of people and preferred to keep to herself: thus our cottage nestled right against the edge of the forest. Even though our cottage was out of the way, the people of the village sought out Mother for her gift of healing.
Just this morning, Mother had left me behind again as she headed down one of the twisting trails through the dark forest. I begged to go with her, and yet again, Melindea found a reason to leave me behind. “It’s pouring rain today, and you have no cloak,” she said. “Besides, if someone from the village needs help, you can care for them until my return. You know nearly as much as I now.” I grudgingly agreed to stay home—again.
I stamped my foot as I remembered the morning’s conversation. My pleas had fallen on deaf ears. I had never seen any of the larger world and rarely left the cottage and surrounding yard. My furthest journey was to the village, and that was only with Mother’s company. My mother didn’t wonder at my impatience to escape. She just didn’t see it in her own strong desire to shrink from the world. II didn’t know what made her so fearful because she never talked of her past. I looked back into the forest one last time for any glimpse of Mother’s return. I wasn’t surprised to see nothing but the rain and mist through the trees. When Mother left to gather her healing herbs in the forest, she usually didn’t come home until dusk or even later. The woods offered Melindea her only escape from the ghosts of her past.
I turned from the door and surveyed the single room I shared with Mother. To my left a low fire smoldered and hissed in the great stone fireplace that filled half the wall. Unlike most of the village cottages, this fireplace didn’t crowd the center of the wall, but hunkered to one corner closest to the door. In the back corner, drying herbs and roots hung from the rafters. Low shelves below stored a mortar and pestle, various bowls, and jars of lard and other fats for making ointments. A long wooden table was pushed against the back wall. It could be pulled out to make room for guests to eat dinner, a rare occurrence, or for an examination table to treat patients. Two beds filled the back corner, covered with the brilliant colors of Mother’s latest patchwork quilts. I let me eyes drift to the last corner, the corner where shadows hid the padlocked trunk. Iron hinges and a stout clasp held the lid tightly against the box. Thick leather straps wrapped the oak planks in a tight embrace.
For as long as I could remember, I had wondered what secrets the trunk held. As a small child, the trunk had drawn me to the fancies of imagination. I had ridden countless miles on a prancing stallion as I sat astride the trunk. On other days, the trunk became my sailing ship, taking me to tropical islands I had only heard about in my mother’s stories, or a fort to hide from dragons and the equally terrifying WolfRiders. I shivered as she remembered stories told in the village about the WolfRiders. People whispered that they roamed the country, hidden behind masks and black hooded cloaks, searching for young girls to provide an infant to sacrifice. As I grew older, I dreamed of what lay within the box. Was Mother hiding piles of colorful jewels, maps leading to buried treasure, gowns of silk and damask for my dowry? As I grew older still, I wondered what clues to my mother’s past the trunk held. Did it hold keepsakes from her childhood—a lock of hair or a scrap of cloth from a favorite dress? Mother refused to answer any questions about the contents of the trunk or her past, saying only that none of it mattered any more. If it didn’t matter, why didn’t she open it or get rid of it, I wondered.
As I stared at the trunk, I fingered the key hidden under my apron. I had found it during Mother’s last trip through the forest. Since couldn’t explore the forest outside, I had taken to exploring the nooks and crannies of the cottage during Mother’s absences. I had climbed up into the rafters to clean out the old herbs. The wet spring had caused many of the herbs Mother had collected to rot. The key had been hanging from the rafters behind the rosemary and sorrel. I had found it from above; I never would have seen it from below. In fact, I hadn’t seen it all. As I reached for a rotting clump of mint, I heard the metallic clunk as it banged against one of the nails holding braids of herbs. I could tell from the rust covering it that it had not been used in a long time. Forgetting the rotting herbs, I climbed down the ladder grasping the key in one hand. I scrubbed the rust off with sand and oiled it with grease for the lamps. I tied it snuggly under the skirts behind my apron and scurried to finish cleaning out the rotten plants before Mother’s return. Ever since it had burned against my skin underneath my skirts as I waited for her mother’s next trip to gather leaves.
Now I held the key against the weak sunlight seeping through the open door. I suspected it opened the lock to the trunk. Did I have the courage to see what was inside now that I had the opportunity? Did I have the courage to cross Mother? I wasn’t really crossing her. She never said I couldn’t open it. She just wouldn’t tell me what’s in it. Before I could talk myself out of it, I crossed into the shadows and knelt before the trunk. I stretched out my arm, inserted the key into the lock, and twisted my wrist. To my surprise the key turned easily and silently. Mother must have oiled the lock more than the hidden key. The hinges creaked as I lifted the lid and the scent of mint and sorrel wafted out.
I breathed in the scent and wondered at the combination. Her mother had warned her never to mix these two herbs because most people couldn’t tell them apart by looking at them. Since one was valuable for its healing properties and the other was not, only fools through the two kinds of leaves together.. Why were they stored together in the trunk? Mother was no fool when it came to healing. I lifted the heavy canvas that lay in wrinkled folds across the top. Underneath I saw a torn and mud-stained dress. I held it against my shoulders. It had been made for a much larger woman. Who had worn it? Surely not her mother—at least not any time recently. At fourteen, I was already taller and heavier than my petite mother. I lay the dress aside and peered at the object lying at the bottom of the trunk. I gasped as I recognized the fine leather of a saddle, bridle, bit and reins. Few people in the village had horses and none had saddles. They rode bareback or with just a wool blanket. I stroked the smooth grain and felt something soft underneath. Tugging it out from under the saddle, I pulled out a saddle bag. My fingers trembled as I struggled with the buckle. The pounding of my heart sped up. Somehow I knew that the contents of this bag would change my life.
I pulled out a red cloak. Its folds caught the flickering light from the fire across the room and seemed to glow. Unlike the dress, the fabric was not marred by any tears or stains. I spread it out and guessed it had been made for a large man. It looked like the cloaks worn by the WolfRiders, complete with hood and a leather clasp—except theirs were black. Even knowing that the cloak would be much too big, I couldn’t resist trying it on. It swirled around my ankles as I fastened the clasp across my chest. I pulled the hood over my head and spun. To my surprise I did not trip over the hem—it just barely swept the ground above my toes. It almost seemed that the cloak grew around me until it was a perfect fit. I stepped over the cottage threshold and out into the rain. The cloak shed the rain better than the thickly thatched roof over our cottage..
I turned toward the path to the village from habit, but paused before I stepped out of the yard. I knew my way around the village, but so. Too, did everyone in the village know me. Surely, someone would mention seeing such a bright red cloak to Mother on their next visit. I circled slowly, eying each of the paths that snaked through the undergrowth and disappeared into the forest. Which one had Mother taken this morning? I couldn’t remember. No matter. What sunlight fought its way through the clouds seemed to focus on one path to the east of the cottage. That path seemed to call to me. “Come see where I lead,” it whispered to my heart. I walked across the muddy clearing, ready to answer the call when Mother’s voice broke through the spell.
“What are you wearing?” she demanded as she strode out of the woods behind me.
I turned and faced Mother. My bare feet stuck in the mud and my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. Mother’s usual pale face now had a greenish pallor that reflected the sprigs of mint she grasped in her fist. Red splotches appeared on her cheeks as she stared at me.
“Where did you get that cloak, Rosa?” Melindea demanded. “Who has been here while I was gone?”
I shook my head. “No one else has been here,” I answered. I stared down at my toe digging into the muddy ground, looking for the courage to answer Mother. “I found the cloak…when I opened the trunk.”
Mother let out a sharp breath and turned to enter the cottage. I followed behind her, each foot clinging as tightly to the mud now as they had danced lightly across it just a few moments ago. I paused after crossing the threshold and fumbled with the clasp holding on my cloak. I did think of it as my cloak, even though I had worn it for only a few minutes. I hated to let it hide again in the darkness of the trunk when it fit me so perfectly. Instead of stashing it back in the trunk, I hung it on the hook next to mother’s patched and faded cloak. The water dripped into puddles on the floor and the red cloth seemed to glow in the dusky light of the cottage.
I sat beside her at the table where she was emptying her basket and sorting the leaves. Rain glistened on each sprig, causing each one to glow with an eerie beauty that would lead to rot of left untended. I knew it was crucial to dry the leaves immediately so as not to lose any of their properties. Whatever storm was coming from Mother over my transgression would have to wait until this job was done. I picked up a clean rag and carefully blotted the excess water off each sprig before tying them together and hanging them on the rack before the fire. Usually, mother told me the story of each herb as I hung it—its uses and where she found it in the woods. Even though I rarely left the cottage yard except for brief visits to the village, I felt I knew my way through the forest paths from her detailed descriptions. Today, however, we worked in silence.
I glanced at mother with her chin cupped in her hands. She ignored the open trunk with its contents scattered across the floor and peered into the flames. Whatever answer she was looking for, she must have found. She rose and crossed the room to stand before the cloak hanging from the hook. She fingered its soft folds. “It’s already dry,” she said. “You may wear the cloak sometimes, though I wish it weren’t so bright. It calls for more attention than I wish.”
I moved to stand next to Mother and reached for the cloak. It was indeed dry already, though Mother’s cloak hanging beside it was still damp through and through. “Where did it come from?” I asked.
“Never mind, Rosa. It’s better that you don’t know its history or its secrets.
I burned with curiosity, but knew from past experience that I would learn no more. Grateful for the use of this cloak, I began picking up the things scattered on the floor. I held up the dress again and looked at Mother. Her face was as blank as one of the smooth river stones. I folded it and placed it on top of the saddle bag. I turned to the canvas next. I struggled to spread it smooth before folding it again. Mother grabbed the other end and together we folded it and placed it on top of the trunk’s contents. Mother gently closed the lid, tucking in the stray folds of canvas. She fastened the clasp and replaced the lock. It clicked with a certain finality, still holding its secrets of my mother’s past. Rather than finding answers to my questions, I was left with even more mysteries to ponder about my mother’s past—about my own history.
Mother turned sharply and gripped my shoulders. “You must never mention what you saw in this trunk—not to anyone in the village or to any stranger who might seek our assistance. I will hide the key again, not because I don’t trust you, but for your own safety. No one can pry secrets out of you that you don’t possess.” She gave me a hard shake. “Do you understand, Rosa?”
I nodded meekly, surprised at this unexpected ferocity from my mother.
She shook me again and stared into my eyes. “Promise me you will not look for it again. Be happy with the cloak and hope it does not betray you.”
“I promise, I won’t look for the key,” I whispered. Even though I looked away first, frightened myself by the intensity of fear I saw in her eyes, I vowed not to let her fear of her past keep me trapped in this cottage forever.
Rosa stared out into the pouring rain. Her hands gripped the door frame of the small thatched cottage where she lived with her mother at the edge of Hawthorne Village. She watched the eddies of water swirl in the mud outside the door. She could just make out the next closest cottage in the village through the branches in overhanging the footpath. Her mother Melindea was leery of people and preferred to keep to herself: thus their cottage nestled right against the edge of the forest. Even though their cottage was out of the way, the people of the village sought out Melindea for her gift of healing.
Just this morning, Melindea had left Rosa behind again as she headed down one of the twisting trails through the dark forest. Rosa begged to go with her, and yet again, Melindea found a reason to leave her behind. “It’s pouring rain today, and you have no cloak,” she said. “Besides, if someone from the village needs help, you can care for them until my return. You know nearly as much as I now.”
Rosa stamped her foot as she remembered the morning’s conversation. Her pleas had fallen on deaf ears. She had never seen any of the larger world. She rarely left the cottage and surrounding yard. Her furthest journey was to the village, and that was only with her mother’s company. Her mother didn’t wonder at Rosa’s impatience to escape. She just didn’t see it. Rosa looked back into the forest one last time for any glimpse of her mother’s return. She wasn’t surprised to see nothing but the rain and mist through the trees. When Melindea left to gather her healing herbs in the forest, she usually didn’t come home until dusk or even later.
Melindea turned from the door and surveyed the single room she shared with her mother. To her left a low fire smoldered and hissed in the great stone fireplace that filled half the wall. Unlike most of the village cottages, this fireplace didn’t crowd the center of the wall, but hunkered to one corner closest to the door. In the back corner, drying herbs and roots hung from the rafters. Low shelves below stored a mortar and pestle, various bowls, and jars of lard and other fats for making ointments. A long wooden table was pushed against the back wall. It could be pulled out to make room for guests to eat dinner, a rare occurrence, or for an examination table to treat patients. Two beds filled the back corner, covered with the brilliant colors of Melindea’s latest patchwork quilts. Rosa let her eyes drift to the last corner, the corner where shadows hid the padlocked trunk. Iron hinges and a stout clasp held the lid tightly against the box. Thick leather straps wrapped the oak planks in a tight embrace.
For as long as she could remember, Rosa had wondered what secrets the trunk held. As a small child, the trunk had drawn her to the fancies of imagination. She had ridden countless miles on a prancing stallion as she sat astride the trunk. On other days, the trunk became her sailing ship, taking her to tropical islands she had only hear about in her mother’s stories or a fort to hide from dragons and equally terrifying WolfRiders that mothers in the village threatened their children with. As she grew older, she dreamed of what lay within the box. Was her mother hiding piles of colorful jewels, maps leading to buried treasure, gowns of silk and damask? Her mother refused to answer any questions about the contents of the trunk, saying only that none of it mattered any more. If it didn’t matter, why didn’t she open it or get rid of it, Rosa wondered.
As she stared at the trunk, Rosa fingered the key hidden under her apron. She had found it during her mother’s last trip through the forest. She had climbed up into the rafters to clean out the old herbs that had dried beyond their usefulness. The wet spring had caused many of the herbs Melindea had collected to rot. The key had been hanging from the rafters behind the rosemary and sorrel. She had found it from above; she never would have seen it from below. She hadn’t seen it all. As she reached for a rotting clump of mint, she heard the metallic clunk as it banged against one of the nails holding braids of herbs. She could tell from the rust covering it that it had not been used in a long time. Forgetting her mother’s assignment, she climbed down the ladder grasping the key in one hand. She scrubbed the rust off with sand and oiled it with grease for the lamps. She tied it snuggly behind her apron and scurried to finish cleaning out the rotten plants before her mother’s return. Ever since it had burned against her skin underneath her skirts as she waited for her mother’s next absence. The cold metal
Now Rosa held the key against the weak sunlight seeping through the open door. She suspected it opened the lock to the trunk. Did she have the courage to see what was inside now that she had the opportunity? her She rationalized to herself. “I’m not really crossing her. She never said I couldn’t open it. She just wouldn’t tell me what’s in it.” Before she could talk herself out of it, she crossed into the shadows and knelt before the trunk. She stretched forth her arm and inserted the key into the lock. She twisted her wrist. To her surprise the key turned easily and silently. The hinges creaked as she lifted the lid and the scent of mint and sorrel wafted out.
Rosa breathed in the scent and wondered at the combination. Her mother had warned her never to mix these two herbs. Why were they stored together in the trunk? She lifted the heavy canvas that lay in wrinkled folds across the top. Underneath she saw a torn and stained dress. She held it against her shoulders. It had been made for a much larger woman. Who had worn it? Surely not her mother—at least not any time recently. She lay the dress aside and peered at the object lying at the bottom of the trunk. She gasped as she recognized the fine leather of a saddle, bridle, bit and reins. She stroked the soft grain and felt something firm underneath. Tugging it out from under the saddle, she pulled out a saddle bag. Her fingers trembled as she struggled with the buckle. The pounding of her heart sped up. Somehow she knew that the contents of this bag would change her life.
Rosa pulled out a red cloak. Its folds caught the flickering light from the fire across the room and seemed to glow. Unlike the dress, the fabric was not marred by any tears or stains. Rosa spread it out and guessed it had been made for a large man. It looked like the cloaks worn by the WolfRiders, complete with hood and a leather clasp. Even knowing that the cloak would be much too big, Rosa couldn’t resist the opportunity to try it on. The swirled around her ankles as she fastened the clasp across her chest. She pulled the hood over her head and spun. To her surprise she did not trip over the hem—it just barely swept the ground above her toes. It was a perfect fit. Rosa stepped over the cottage threshold and out into the rain. The cloak shed the rain better than a duck’s feathers.
She turned toward the path to the village from habit, but paused before she stepped out of the yard. She knew her way around the village, but so did everyone in the village know her, too. Surely, someone would mention seeing such a bright red cloak to Melindea on her next visit. Rosa circled slowly, eying each of the paths that snaked through the undergrowth and disappeared into the forest. Which one had Melindea taken this morning? She couldn’t remember. No matter. What sunlight fought its way through the clouds seemed to focus on one path to the east of the cottage. That path seemed to call to her. “Come see where I lead,” it whispered to her heart. Rosa walked across the muddy clearing, ready to answer the call when Melindea’s voice broke through the spell.
“What are you wearing?” she demanded as she strode out of the woods now behind Rosa.
The prologue is done, and I finally have a clue as to where the story is going next. It’s funny, I can only see a little ways ahead, but as I keep writing, I learn a little more.
* * * * * A powerful wrenching of her abdomen brought Melindea back into the present.How long had she been in this room now? A day? Two days? Between the storm raging outside the narrow slits of windows and the smoke seeping into every nook and cranny, Melindea could not tell the passing of day into night and back again. It was as if time no longer existed outside their ever strengthening contractions. She sat up and gripped the hand opposite even harder. She felt the other maid’s corresponding pain course through her own hand and back toward her belly. As the last of her resistance ripped away, she saw dark curls appear in the opening of the woman before her. As in synch as their bodies were now, she supposed the same sight appeared beneath her. Instinctively, she reached forward to cradle the head that now pushed toward her. The other maid did the same. With one last mighty push, each woman held the other’s baby.
Melindea lay back, exhausted, but the other woman would not let her be. She grasped Melindea’s hands and pulled her up. She held up a silken thread and a silver knife. She showed Melindea where to tie the thread and then used the knife to cut the babies from their mothers. At the sight of the knife, Melindea tried to gather both babies to her chest. Was this madwoman going to sacrifice her baby right now? Seeing Melindea’s fear, the woman hid the knife in her skirts and motioned for Melindea to push again and again. At last both women were free of the afterbirth and turned toward their babies.
The two girls, for both were girls, lay on the mattress, breathing quietly. Melindea traced her finger down the side of first one face and then the other. She marked identical curves around each chin. Two noses wrinkled at the same moment before each sneezed. Both faces were framed with dark curls that were just like Ivan’s. As Melindea took in the miniature Ivan’s lying before her, she panicked. Which child came from her body? She looked at the other woman, who smiled and waved at both infants. “Choose yours,” she seemed to say. Melindea placed a hand on top of each head. Which child would live? Which would become a sacrifice while her mother rotted in the dungeon below–or in this very tower? Who cared what became of the mother as long as the WolfRiders had their sacrifice? Melindea shook her head and reached for the baby on the left. She picke her up and cradled her to her breast. The other woman did the same with the infant left lying on the mattress,
Stealthily, Ivan stepped out from behind the flames in the fireplace, placing his finger in front of his lips. In his arms he carried a bundled blanket. Behind him stood a frightened housemaid. Melindea watched as he handed the blanket to the young maid and pushed her onto the bed. He motioned to the other woman, who gently sat beside the maid with her own child. She wrapped the baby in an identical blanket and smiled at Ivan as he tucked the rough cotten sheets over the both of them. Ivan then motioned for Melindea to follow him through the flames. The heat from the fire seared her skin, but she did not burn as she stepped in each place Ivan stepped around the fire and stooped through a low door hidden behind the flames. Once through the door. Ivan straightened up and turned to Melindea with a soft blanket. He took the child from her arms and gently wrapped her in it before kissing her forehead. With his finger before his lips, he motioned for Melindea to follow down the twisting, narrow steps. Melindea bit back the questions burning in her throat. She clutched her child to her breast with one hand and reached for Ivan with the other. Ivan grasped her hand and squeezed as they descended. Melindea held onto that hand as if it were the promise to keep her safe Ivan had given her that morning in the village square.
After endless steps and spirals, they reached the bottom. A heavy oak door with iron hinges blocked their way to escape. Ivan turned and held Melindea close. Very little light seeped through the cracks, but Melindea could just make out the faint tracks of tears glistening on his cheeks.
Ivan whispered, “I cannot go further with you. I must return to the ranks of the WolfRiders before I am missed and before they realize the births have occurred. I promised to keep you safe, and I will not send you away empty-handed.” He let go of Melindea with one hand and reached behind him with the other. He brought forth the long red cloak Melindea had first seen him in. Ivan draped the cloak around her shoulders and buttoned the clasp around her throat. “This is not a WolfRider cload as you first guessed. It was given to me by my Gram and has magical properties. Wear this cloak at all times until it brings you home to my Gram. She will care for you and tell you what is to happen next. I do not know if we will meet again. It will be dangerous for you and the girl if I would lead any to you. Please, call her Rosa, and keep her safe. My love goes with you as you travel through this dark night. Outside the door waits a horse with provisions for a week. If all goes well, you should reach Gram by then. If not, you know how to find food from the woods. Remember mint and sorrel. County to five hundred before you move.”
Ivan pressed a heavy key into her hand, kissed her cheek, and fled back up the stairs. Melindea stood motionless, numb with shock. She was being cast out into the stormy night with nothing but a horse and provisions and a cloak. Magic or not, it wasn’t going to provide much protection from the storm. She bit her lip as if by doing so she could bite back the fury building in her heart. This was the safety Ivan promised? As she debated which way to flee–back up the staircase or out into the stormy night–, she counted steadily to five hundred. By the end, she made up her mind. She would not go crawling after Ivan. She would disappear into the world beyond the reach of the WolfRiders.
Gripping the key with white-knuckled fingers, Melindea inserted it into the lock and turn. The door opened slowly and silently on well-oiled hinges. Outside the wind shrieked through the trees and lightening lit up the sky. Melindea could hear the WolfRiders chanting the prophecy in the distance between peals of thunder. It would not be long until their frenzy could no longer be contained. Melindea swung a leg into the stirrup and leaned her daughter, Rosa, against the horse’s neck. She pulled herself up, clambered into the saddle, and picked up her daughter. Holding the reins with one hand and her daughter with the other, she kicked her heels into the horse’s side and fled into the night. The red cloak rippled and swirled behind her, but no one took any notice.
The storm spent itself out by morning. Melindea stopped by a clear brook for a drink for herself and the horse. As she nursed Rosa in the wavering sunlight, she undid the clasp of the red hooded cloak. An immense weight fell off her shoulders with it. Maybe Ivan had been right about the cloak being magical. Now that the storm was over, Melindea wanted nothing more to do with Ivan or his cloak. She certainly did not want to show up at his Gram’s doorstep. She was worse than empty-handed. She came with a child, claiming it was the daughter of the General himself. Who would believe it? And what danger would she be in if they did? No, it was better to hide the cloak and find her own way in this world. She had nearly completed her training with her own Gram. Surely she could find a village in need of a healer, a village where people didn’t ask too many questions.
She considered dropping the cloak in the stream and letting the water carry it away, but in the end she folded it and placed it in the saddlebags beneath the loaves of bread and cheese and water skins. “With my luck, the stream would wash it straight back to the WolfRider castle,” she thought. “Besides, I will need to make Rosa some clothes before long, and it is good material, hardly worn at all.” She ran her fingers through her hair, untangling the snarls in her firey locks. She splashed the cool water on her face and straightened her skirts the best she could. Once she felt more presentable, she remounted the horse and turned down the least traveled path, into a new future
Then just this morning, the guards had come for her. Two in front of her, two behind. Their black capes hung down their backs. Masks hid their faces from her eyes. Melindea walked heavily down the stone corridor and up the tower steps. Lanterns flickered, casting light and shadows across her footsteps. She heard nothing but the steady breathing of the guards surrounding her. Once on the way up, she stumbled over a loose stone in the step. One of the guards behind her grasped her elbow until she steadied herself again. At the top, the first guard removed an iron key from the ring tied to his belt. He used it to unlock the heavy oak door. He stood aside and motioned for Melindea to enter. “If you speak to any in this room, you will both loose your tongues,” he said. None of the guards followed her over the threshold. As she squinted through the smokey darkness, Melindea heard the heavy thud of the door shutting and the rasp of the key turning in the lock.
Another woman, big with child, stood next to the bed in the center of the room. On the pillow next to her lay a bouquet of mint. Melindea slid her eyes along the bed. It was furnished simply. This one was not covered with soft silks and lavish pillows. Plain cotton sheets were tucked in tightly beneath the straw filled mattress. Instead of a gilded headboard carved with curving roses, this bed stood with a plain board at either end. On the pillow on the far end, two sprigs of sorrel were tied with a piece of string. The smell of mint and sorrel mixed with the smoke. Melindea almost swooned and reached for the wall. Condensation dripped down the cold stone. She began walking along the outer wall, trailing one hand against the cold, wet stone. The other woman motioned toward the bed. Melindea shook her head. She was not ready to give birth yet, not until Ivan came for her. He had promised to keep her safe, but here she was, locked in a tower with no escape. She surveyed the room as she walked. The two windows were too narrow for even a small woman to squeeze out of, much less one large with child. Besides, the ground was more than a hundred feet below. Even if she should squeeze out and survive the fall, she would soon be trampled by the mounted WolfRiders circling the base of the tower. She glanced again at the door. It’s heavy oak panels showed no weakness. The keyhole had been filled with wax. She had no doubt that the four guards who had escorted her up the stairs where still just outside, as much to keep Ivan out as to keep the women in. Which one of them would survive this night’s ordeal? Melindea wondered if Ivan had promised the woman next to the bed safe escape as well. She sighed before continuing her circuit around the tower cell. Fifty steps brought her back to the door where she first began.
Soon Ivan spent afternoons gathering leaves with Melinda before stopping at the cottage for tea and a visit with Gram. He never said where he was from other than a small village in the north. He never said what he did during the time he was away. Melindea and Gram spend many evenings at first sitting before the fire and wondering. Gram even burned leaves to see visions in the fire, but Ivan remained shrouded in mystery just as the smoke clouded the air in the small cottage. After a while Gram and Melindea accepted Ivan’s presence as part of the pattern of their days that had no beginning or end. Melindea didn’t care where Ivan had come from or worry too much about where he might go. She glowed in the afternoons he came to spend with them and waited through the others.
Then the WolfRiders came. Ivan had warned Gram a few days before. He told her to send all the unmarried maids out to gather in the south woods for the coming week. “The Riders are coming from the north,” he said. “Melindea will be safe as the healer’s daughter and next in line. Don’t let the others come back until you send word it’s safe”.Within the week, five black horses galloped out of the woods and halted in the village square. Black hooded cloaks swirled behind each masked rider. A horse and rider stood guard at each corner. The last rider rode slowly to the center and dismounted by the well. He pulled his sword and grasped the hilt with both hands as he knelt before the surprised villagers. Melindea squinted into the rising sun. It looked like a sprig of sorrel was caught between the rider’s fingers. She could not see under his mask to know if was her beloved Ivan. What other man would carry sorrel? Was it a sign meant for her?
Still mounted, the other four riders pulled out scrolls of parchment and began reading in unison:
By word and deed of the Order of the WolfRiders,
to the people in each village of _______________
In order to fulfill the prophecy of the magistrate,
the General of the WolfRiders must wed, not once, but twice.
Two women will give birth and one survive.
Two children will be born, one to rule and one to sacrifice.
These events must occur on the same night within the year. As a result, the Order of the WolfRiders must take the new General to each village to choose his wife. The first has been chosen for him. Now he will choose the other. Will the unmarried maidens of age line up before him. The one who can answer his question will become his wife.
A shocked silence followed the pronouncement. No one moved. A whip cracked through the air and four stallions reared up. Their hooves clattered on the cobblestones and echoed throughout the square. The soldiers dismounted and began searching through the crowd. The soldiers pushed aside villagers and pulled girls into the square. None of them were of age. “This is our last village. If no one here will step forward to to answer the General’s question, we will take this one to be his bride,” said the leader. He tugged on a girl’s arm until she stood before the kneeling General. She trembled in her torn dress, biting her lower lip until it bled.
Melindea felt a firm push on her back. “It’s him,” whispered Gram. “Go to him.”
Melindea nodded and stepped forward. “I will answer the General’s question,” she said. “Let Claire go. She will take my place with the healer.” Melindea smoothed the wrinkles from her skirt and wished she had not let the berry stains go untended last night. Nothing for it now. She’d not had enough warning, but was grateful for what Ivan had done. How had he known the girls would be in danger? What would he think when he found her gone? Or was it Ivan kneeling before her now? She took three steps forward and knelt before the soldier with the sprig of sorrel. She looked at Claire. “Go to Gram. Take care of her.” She looked back at the soldier. “I am ready for your question, lord.”
The soldier did not look up. Instead he stretched out his hand and opened his fingers. Leaves of sorrel and mint lay scattered across the gloved palm. “Here is your question.”
Melindea smiled. Of course. She thought back to the first meeting with Ivan. “You should never mix sorrel and mint,” he had told her as he seperated the leaves scattered from her basket. Wordlessly, she began to separate the leaves in his palm. She left the sorrel in his hand and dropped the mint into her own. She hesitated once the leaves were seperate, unsure what to do next. She did not have to wait long.
“You are the first to answer my question correctly,” he said as he rose. He grasped the sword with both hands and raised it above his head. He brought the sword down and twisted it in a circle around Melindea. “I sever your ties to this village and bind you to me. As you have spoken, the girl Clair will take your place with the village healer. This village will not be left to sicken and die, even though you, the next in line, come with me, never to return again.” He returned the sword to its sheath and stretched out his left hand to Melindea. The sorrel leaves remained in the palm. She instinctively understood and stretched out her left hand with the remaining mint. As they clasped their hands together, he proclaimed, “Let it be said this day that mint and sorrel were joined together. We wait to see what remains.”
With one fluid motion, he remouned his horse and pulled Melindea up before him. “It is I, Melindea. Trust me, and I wil keep you safe, no matter the prophecy. Do not let any know that we have met before.”
Those first few months in the WolfRider castle, Ivan kept his word. Melindea wanted for nothing–new clothes to wear, new dances to learn, new delicacies to savor. Every day was filled with learning the duties and protocol of the castle. Every night was filled with Ivan. Then, sooner than she expected, this pregnancy began and all her days led to this impending birth. Ivan’s visits became less frequent, not because he didn’t want to see her, but because he had to slip past the guards that now paced outside her door. Each night he didn’t come, Melindea wondered if he was with the other wife. Who was this woman that was chosen from court for him? Did she love Ivan as she did? Did he love her? Was she, too, heavy with the expecation of childbirth?
Here’s the first part of my novel. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to begin. I don’t like the first two paragraphs at all. By the third, I’m a little more into it. Maybe I can work in some of the information from the first paragraphs later. I’m not sure how well the dialogue works. What do you think? The actual story won’t be about Melindea, but about her daughter that is born this night.
Smoke from the smoldering fire snaked around the floor and settled in dark corners, if there could be corners in a circular tower. The stacatto tap of rain against the leaded window panes offered a counterpoint to the clomping boots of General Ivan Wolfe. The General stopped pacing long enough to take a drag on his cigar. He stared at the flickering flames in the grate to avoid the scene in the center of the room. He could see only one way out, and it was strewn with peril.
Behind him, two women lay facing each other in the canopied bed. The sweat that glistened on their bodies matched the condensation sweating off the stone walls. The wind shrieking outside the tower walls harmonized with their groans at each contraction. The two women giving birth in the tower this night had never met before, but both loved the General. Only one could survive this night and remain at the General’s side. The other would be offered as a sacrifice before the WolfRiders.
Melindea gripped the hand of the other maid across from her in bed. Even though they had never met before today, they were tied inextricably together in life and death. At first they had worked against each other, each mistrustful of the other, each knowing that one would live and the other die. As her contractions begain, Melidea wanted nothing to do with this woman who had shared her Ivan. She refused to look at the other’s face, to hear her name or her groans. She growled through each of her own contractions, denying the other woman any rest between her own. But as the contractions bore down more and more, Melindea forgot her anger in the all-consuming pain. She realized there would be no other midwife, no other woman for comfort and assistance with this birth. She glanced at the face of the woman across from her. She guessed the terror in the maid’s eyes reflected that in her own. Even though they could not talk upon the threat of losing their tongues, an understanding passed between the two women. No matter what happened after, they were in these births together. At first they just tried to match their breathing; then they clasped hands to help each other through the contractions. Slowly, their bodies began to synchronize the rhythm of rest and contraction.
Above, a lantern cast an oily light over the women’s sweaty bodies. Outside the canopy, dark shadows flickered in the firelight and the stone walls sweated condensation. Melindea could hear the clomping of the General’s boots against the staccato tattoo of the rain outside, but she could not make out his form. Why did she have to love this man? No, why did the man she loved have to be the General Ivan Wolfe? In the rest between their now simultaneous contractions, she thought back to the first time she had seen him. He was just Ivan then, or so she believed.
* * * *
He came crashing through the underbrush where Melindea was gathering sorrel leaves for Gram. Too frightened even to leap out of his way, Melinda stared at the dark-haired man perched atop a snorting black stallion. A blood red cape swirled behind him as he wheeled the horse and cursed under his breath. Melinda gathered her skirts and retrieved her basket. The sorrel leaves had scattered, but no matter. She turned to flee back into the woods just as he spotted her.
“Wait! I didn’t mean to startle you.” His left hand gripped both reins as he reached to stroke the stallion’s neck with his other hand. “Steady, boy,” he whispered to the horse. To Melindea, he said, “Something spooked my horse.”
“Startled me?” Melinda crossed her arms. “You didn’t startle me. You nearly flattened me with your horse and spilled my leaves and now I must go home and explain to Gram why I come home empty handed. You should know better than to wear such a cloak in these woods. It’s no wonder your horse spooked.” Now that her fright was over, Melindea fought to rein in her temper. Hot pin pricks burned behind her eyes as she blinked rapidly. She bent down, picking up common leaves along with the spilled sorrel. She should know better than to speak her mind so to a stranger. Once her temper got going, there was no telling where she might stop. It was one thing to complain to Gram about the injustice in her life, but quite another to speak to a stranger, who might be a spy for the fearsome WolfRiders. Who else would wear a cloak like that or ride a horse with such fire? The boys and men from the village didn’t have cloaks at all–just short capes to block the worst of the rain and snow. Not many had mounts either. Those who did had stubborn mules or slow ponies, not stallions.
“Let me make it up to you,” he offered. The rider dismounted and led the stallion to a tree on the opposite side of the clearing. He whispered soothing words to the horse as he tied him to an oak tree. Then he removed his cloak, folded it, and placed it in a saddlebag. “I think you might be right about that cloak. I was foolish to wear it in these woods. I am truly sorry my mistake frightened you.”
The rider strode across the clearing and stood before Melindea. Without the hooded cloak, he appeared younger, more innocent than threatening. His soft brown eyes peered at Melidea from under a mop of black curls. “Am I forgiven?”
Melindea looked up to see him smiling at her and nodded curtly. Her hands automatically returned to gathering leaves from the forest floor.
“My name’s Ivan,” he said. “What’s yours?”
He knelt and reached for the basket. “Melindea, you shouldn’t mix the mints with the sorrel,” he said as he deftly seperated the leaves.
“You know leaves?” Melindea asked. She sat upright and stared in surprise. Most men in the village had no interest in learning or gathering leaves. They left that for Gram and now her. Of course, they still came to the cottage every time they had a headache or a gash.
“Yes. My gram was the village healer. When I was a boy, I went with her through the woods to gather leaves. I would not have wanted to come home empty handed, either.” He laughed as he brushed his hands together and stood. He stretched out a hand to Melindea as she rose. “May I meet you here again–next Friday?”
Melindea nodded. That had been the first of many meetings wih Ivan. In the begining, she had kept it secret from Gram, but nothing escaped Gram’s sharp eyes for long. It was just as well Gram didn’t know the secret of the tower tonight.
* * * * *