1000 Day MFA–Week 2.
Here’s a 25-word elevator pitch for my current novel WIP:
It needed some back story. So I wrote this piece.
I’m not big on writing in first person, but I had fun getting into the head of my 9-year-old main character.
I hope you enjoy.
“I have seen nine winters and I won’t be treated like a child!” I shouted, stomping my foot for emphasis. When Father said “No” it just meant I had not asked emphatically enough.
“A lady has no purpose in the woods on a hunt,” Father said. He had his stubborn face on and his arms crossed over his chest. I’d have to be more convincing. I was more stubborn than him.
“Nadea will come and the knights will be there to protect me as they always are,” I reasoned. Usually, I detested being followed around, but if it got me my way it was worth it. I did not mention Garren, Sir Edhin’s squire, but thinking of him specifically made me smile despite the serious adult look I was trying to give to Father.
“Take her, Victus,” Mother said, her voice soft and smiling. “Why shouldn’t she learn to hunt?”
Father blinked. He opened his mouth and closed it again. Finally, he replied, “It’s unladylike.”
I crossed my arms, preparing a new argument, but Mother spoke first.
“What about your daughter is ladylike?”
I opened my mouth to correct her. I was wearing a dress, as they insisted, though it was dirty and torn from play with Nadea and her brother.
“She is a lady and she should act the part,” Father said, but his voice held less conviction and I could tell he was close to giving in.
“I’ll be quiet as a mouse, I promise,” I said, giving my most convincing smile.
“Very well, Sabrine, you can come today, but you are not to hold or fire a weapon. You will observe only and no more,” Father said. He voice was still stern, but I was nodding as my smile grew and I ran over to throw my arms around his neck. He hugged me back and snickered into my hair.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Good morning, Garren,” I said, giving him my most charming smile. I’d practiced it in the mirror while getting dressed, much to Nadea’s annoyance. I wore tan my riding pants and a white loose-collared shirt, more comfortable than any stuffy dress.
“Good morning, Lady Sabrine,” Garren replied. He didn’t smile. Garren never smiled. His blue eyes did twinkle from beneath the messy lay of his blonde hair, and I told myself it was at seeing me and not just a trick of the light.
I fidgeted with Gwen’s reins for a moment. He was supposed to ask why I was there and dressed for riding. Was I going out to ride through the fields this morning? No no, silly boy, I’m going hunting with you and Father.
I willed him to ask.
Garren looked uncomfortable under my stare. I grew annoyed, but I practiced patience, I practiced being a lady.
“Are you going for a ride?” he asked.
I beamed. “No!”
He gave me a confused look.
“I’m going hunting!” All wrong, silly, silly girl.
Garren tilted his head slightly. It looked boyish on one always trying to be a man. “Hunting? With us?”
I nodded, not trusting myself to make the words in my head come out of my mouth.
“Oh? Does the duke know?”
“Oh, yes. He said I could go today.”
Garren nodded and glanced in the direction of his master, Sir Edhin, with a frown. The old knight looked meditative, praying. I don’t understand asking someone else for things you can do yourself.
Looking back to me, but avoiding my eyes, he studied my hands. “If you’re going into the forest with us, you should ride your horse properly, starting with how you hold the reins.” He gave Florence a nudge with his heels and she pranced forward. She nuzzled Gwen.
Garren reached over and gently took Gwen’s reins. He sat a full head higher than me but with him bent over my hands I could smell grass and dew on his hair. He’d been in his secret place, reading. One day I would go there because he invited me, instead of sneaking along behind him. He placed the reins in both my hands and positioned it with fingers callused by long hours riding and holding a sword.
If mother or father or anyone else had fussed over me so, I would have complained, but I endured it to have Garren close.
“You hold tight to them. If your horse gets startled, you have to hold on,” he explained. “Horses are easily startled.”
I nodded. I had been riding since I could walk and I already knew what he told me, but he was close enough that I could see the flecks of slate in his piercing blue eyes. I imagined leaning forward and kissing him, him kissing me back. The sun set behind us as day and night and years passed in a blink, all in the span of that one kiss.
“Alright?” Garren asked. He had leaned back in his saddle but Florence paced close. He had a hand out to steady me if needed.
“Yes, now that I know how to hold my reins.” I said, smiling. I felt my face flush with silly girl embarrassment.
Garren nodded and studied me for a moment longer. He always looked like he was trying to read a language he didn’t understand.
“Perhaps later you can give me a private riding lesson?” I suggested.
Garren’s eyes widened, easily the most emotion I had seen him display. “I’m not a royal and hardly proper company or protection for a lady.”
I did not understand and started to ask what he meant.
“Sabrine, where is Nadea?” Father came up to us on his horse, Rasher, as he asked the question.
Garren bowed his head and averted his eyes. I sat up and tried not to look like a swooning little girl.
“She was still in the stable when I saw her last,” I replied.
“Well, go get her. Hurry up now. We’re leaving right away.”
I nodded. I wouldn’t argue with Father in front of Garren or Sir Edhin. Even I knew that was improper. I nudged Gwen’s ribs with my heels and she turned in the direction I indicated with a light movement of the reins.
Nadea was still putting the saddle on Mindalen when I entered the barn. Well, trying to anyway. “Aren’t you ready yet? Everyone else is ready to leave,” I said, annoyed with the whine creeping into my voice. Gwen paced beneath me, as impatient as I was. I watched Nadea struggle with the saddle with growing frustration.
“Sahym left without helping me with this. I don’t know what I’m doing,” she complained, referring to her brother, the stable boy.
“That much is obvious.”
“Hey! This thing is heavy. It’s nearly bigger than I am!”
“You’re a whole two inches taller than me and I got Gwen’s on just fine.”
Nadea stuck her tongue out at me.
I swung my leg over and dropped off Gwen’s side. She looked at me curiously and I patted her nose as I walked past to where Nadea struggled to lift the saddle over her head. I took it from her hands and swung it while stretching to the tips of my toes to put it in place on Mindalen’s back.
“See? Easy,” I said as I did the straps and made sure they were tight. “Come on, let’s go.”
“Yeah, yeah, show off,” Nadea said as her hoisted herself up. “You just want to go ride next to Garren.” She said his name tauntingly and elongated.
“Shh,” I scolded. “Last thing I want is him, or Father, overhearing you.”
Nadea quieted but she grinned at me. The wider her grin became, the hotter my face felt.
“Sabrine!” Father’s voice called.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As the forest enveloped us, I felt at peace. Golden sunlight filtered through emerald leaves, casting a warm friendly glow on people, horses, and groundcover alike. It looked like the background of our family crest, the green and yellow background, the white hart standing proud. The wind was cool and brought the scent of pine needles. Happy bird songs wove in and amongst each other like children singing rounds. I wanted to join in, but I didn’t know the words.
Everyone looked serious, even Nadea. She was always trying to be a serious adult. I wanted to be an adult too, but I also wanted to enjoy myself. What good was it not to? Would Bael turn me away because I smiled or laughed too much?
Sir Edhin and another knight, Sir Jakoen, lead the way, Father followed, then Nadea and I, and lastly Garren and Sir Jakoen’s squire, Anthel, came behind.
The knights carried their swords loosely in their fingers, and I wished I had one. I had been begging Father to let me learn since I could form the words. Apparently, me tagging along on a hunt was more acceptable than a lady with a sword.
What if I needed to protect myself?
I tried not to pout. That wasn’t adultlike.
Father had his pistol tucked into its holster on Rasher’s saddle. I’d never seen the gun up close, Father rarely brought it out of its case. Bullets and gunpowder were hard to come by and only available from one blacksmith far to the west in the kingdom of Raah. He only took it into the forest with him.
I hoped to see him shoot it. But why did he bring his bow as well?
I wanted to ask, but I had promised to be seen and not heard. Later.
A crackling of twigs and dry needles caused all the men to turn their heads to the left. The horses became nervous and quietly I reassured Gwen that it was probably just a deer wandering across our path.
The forest quieted again. It took me a moment to realize it had grown quieter than before. The birds had ceased their songs and even the wind seemed to hold its breath.
“Father?” I asked. He didn’t turn to face me, only held a finger to his lips. His other hand held the bow tightly enough to turn his knuckles white.
I was about to comment on the silliness of being expected to actually keep quiet per my agreement when I heard a noise unfamiliar to me. It was a deep-chested noise, wordless but almost conversational, very inquisitive. On the heels of this indecipherable question appeared a creature I knew only from books. Wide and shaggy, tall as the horses while still on all fours, the bear came forward on heavy paws. It uttered another rumbling query in pleasant tones.
“Stay back, my lord,” Sir Edhin said, his voice barely a whisper as he put himself and his horse between father and the bear. Garren and Florence similarly shielded Nadea and me, Anthel close by.
The creature seemed unhappy with this adjustment and rumbled louder, crinkling its muzzle and showing all its enormous teeth.
I watched Father put away his bow and draw the pistol. The sunlight glinting off the dark metal hypnotised my eyes. The shape of it flowed up through his two hands to a thin, delicate looking barrel, rising and pointing forward.
“Bael, guide my aim,” he whispered.
Nothing could have prepared me for the sound the pistol made. It was like thunder, usually far away and soothing, but banging and echoing through my head. I put my hands to my ears too late, but kept them there, both to ease them and in fear of a second shot. They rang painfully, muffling the rest of the world.
I pried my eyes open. The bear was not dead. It protested loudly, no longer questioning but cursing us in its bear language.
My mouth dropped open in horror at the amount of blood that streamed from the creature’s shoulder, trailing from where it had been to where it stood atop Sir Edhin and his horse.
The horse struggled and shrieked. Sir Edhin was unmoving and quiet.
Some of the blood belonged to the knight. Some to the horse. Some to the bear. It all ran together like streams into a wider river, pooling and swirling. I had never seen so much blood. I imaged all of that blood gushing forth from my knee when I had scraped it falling from the garden’s apple tree. It made my stomach churn.
Sir Jakoen’s horse was on its side, unmoving, a trail of claw marks across its stomach split wide, and the knight struggling feebly underneath it. His sword lay several feet away, half-hidden in the grass.
Garren stayed close, but I could see the conflict in his eyes. My heart broke for him as he watched the bear trample his mentor. It rose up and crashed its giant forepaws down over and again until the horse too quieted.
Father fiddled with the pistol. I waited for him to fire it again, to finish off the bear, but he opened and tapped and shook it instead.
The bear lost interest in the unmoving heap beneath him and turned to roar at Father, who still jiggled and slapped the pistol with growing frustration. Rasher neighed and pranced backwards, his eyes wide and rolling. The bear loped forward then rose onto its rear legs, towering over people and horses alike. Giant paws crossed its chest, trailing claws that looked longer than my hand and dripped with red.
It was huge, like a furry oak tree.
Garren pulled a knife from his saddle. I saw what he intended and thought to cry him off. I could not bare to watch the bear stomp the life from him as it had Sir Edhin, but Father was in danger as well. I tangled my fingers in Gwen’s mane and huddled against her neck, peering over her head.
Frozen, I watched as Garren lead Florence forward and shouted taunting words at the bear. I could not make out the words, his voice sounded muffled like he was underwater. Or maybe I was.
I wanted to close my eyes but they were riveted to Garren. The bear’s followed him too. It roared a challenge that made Florence hesitate, but Garren kept her steady.
A giant paw shot forward faster than looked possible from the cumbersome beast. Garren was unflinching and met the paw with his knife. The bear roared again, saliva rolling off snarling, rippling lips.
Garren eased Florence forward, and the bear took a step back, uncertain.
My heart hammered in my chest, a mixture of fear and pride. I had never seen anyone so brave as Garren. No shining armor or flashing sword, yet he still faced the bear fearlessly.
That’s when another crash of thunder tore through my head. My already ringing ears muffled it but not enough to dull the pain of it. I massaged my ears, trying to ease the ringing.
I willed my eyes back open, fearing for Garren. He still brandished the knife in a bloodless knuckled hand, but the bear retreated into the shadowy trees. A trail of red followed it into the darkness beyond my sight.
Father sat in his saddle, the pistol gripped in both hands. The tip of the barrel smoked, curling and twitching with Father’s sharp breaths.
Garren turned. “Are you alright, my lord?”
“Yes, Garren. I am unhurt. Thank you.” Father’s words came out in between pants.
Garren slid off Florence’s back and hurried to Sir Edhin’s side. I tried to sniffle back my emotion but I felt the moisture collecting in my eyes, stinging them. I wanted to go to him and comfort him, but it seemed improper to intrude upon his grief. He looked very much a boy, crying over the old knight who had raised him.
“Are you and Nadea alright?” I had not even heard Father approach, but he was beside me, his hand on my shoulder.
I nodded, unable to form words. Despite how hard I tried to hold them back, how desperately I wanted to be grown up, I began to cry. The sobs echoed in my head, the underwater sounds being replaced by a soft ringing. Father’s arms enveloped me and I collapsed against him, wetting his shirt with my tears.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I doodled with the pencil and paper Father forced me to use during council meetings, slumped down low in my chair. It was the most boring part of trying to be an adult. Serious-faced adults sitting around a table discussing how many chickens Farmer Henrik had lost to foxes this week and whether Merchant Yedra was paying her taxes in the proper amount.
“One last item.” I silently cheered as Father said it. “The matter of the squire Garren.” I dropped my pencil and sat up straighter.
“Garren recently lost his sponsor, Sir Edhin, in a hunting accident.” The table erupted in murmured prayers for Bael to grant him entrance to Elysium. “In the process, he saved my life and that of my daughter. For this, I would usually seek the council’s approval in granting him knighthood, but Garren is not royal, has no lineage or land, and therefore cannot be knighted. Sir Edhin knew this when he took Garren as his squire.” Father paused and let the council absorb his words.
“The boy is eighteen,” Merchant Findlay said. “That makes him too old for another sponsorship, even if he were a royal.”
Father nodded. “But he saved my life. He saved Sabrine’s. There must be something we can do.”
Everyone began talking at once, and Father patted the air with his hands until they quieted.
“If land is what Garren needs to be knighted, Father, then grant him land. We owe him at least that much,” I said. As every eye at the table fell upon me, I wanted to shrink lower into my chair, but I stayed straight and hoped it made me look confident.
“It’s not that simple, Sabrine,” Father replied.
Father looked down at his hands. When he looked back up at me, the others at the table silent, he replied, “There are royals and there are commoners. A person is born as one or the other. Garren cannot become a royal just as you cannot become a commoner.”
His words pierced my heart more than he could have known.
“These are extreme circumstances, my lord,” Councilor Reedus said. “A grant of land seems an appropriate reward for saving you and Lady Sabrine.”
Father put on his stubborn face. “It would set an unsustainable precedent.”
“We would not be here without Garren, Father,” I said, giving him my most convincing smile. I was more stubborn than him. “And I know the perfect plot.” I thought of a secret place, where Garren disappeared to read often, where I had followed him several times. A shady bank at the edge of where the river met the forest.
I put my hand on his much larger one.
Father looked at it, pale and smooth and small next to his. He nodded once and looked up, meeting the eyes of each member of the council individually. “What say you? Let us vote. Those in favor of granting Garren land and title of knighthood, say aye.”
The response was unanimous. My heart hammered in my chest and my smile felt unable to be contained by the boundaries of my face. I hoped Father would let me tell Garren first.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.