The Southern Indiana Writers Group had a great time at That Book Place yesterday. We had a buncha our anthologies, Ginny Fleming brought KEYS OF ILLUSION, her paranormal romance, T. Lee Harris brought CAT TALES, an anthology with one of her stories in it, Joanna Foreman brought GHOSTS OF INTERSTATE-65, her collection of ghost stories, and I brought SWORD & SORCERESS XXIII, an anthology with one of my stories in it. T also brought WINTER WONDERLAND, her mystery novella, and I brought — yes, of course, EEL’S REVERENCE.
Here is a sample from my story “Undivided” in SSXXIII. Another sample is here.
Pimchan jumped from the wall, landing lightly, and followed. She bore no weapons except her dagger, but a Warrior was a weapon, capable of turning anything to destructive or defensive use against clubs, blades–even, with luck, spears and the new foreign firearms.
The phantoms became more difficult to see as they passed through real carts and real people. Pimchan raised a hand, palm out, at belly level and muttered a string of syllables she had been taught by a very old man in a cold desert cave. The shapes she followed took on a yellow nimbus. She growled–dark blue would have been better in this bright sunlight, but the Glow colored itself arbitrarily. One of the drawbacks of accepting someone else’s spell in payment instead of cash.
The second-hand spell fizzled and died in the sunlight and high traffic of the marketplace. Just before the glowing cart entered the turbulence of buyers and sellers, the driver looked back and Pimchan caught the gleam of spectral teeth, as if the shade expected her to try to follow and expected her to fail.
Her quarry gone, she became more than peripherally aware of her surroundings.
Lek, the chestnut seller, with his bags and brazier and bamboo fan, hunkered down at the corner. In a moment, she stood beside him.
Lek raised a heavily wrinkled face and squinted at her as she described the invaders and the generalities of their vehicle. Lek had once served in a Warrior’s household, and had no more fear of a Warrior than he did of any of the many other people more powerful than he was.
“I saw a woman in clothes like that with a scratch on her chin driving an old wagon down this street and into the market.” He pointed with his fan. “This wagon was painted black, but the paint was peeling. Is that the one you mean?”
“It could be. Tell me more.”
“Well….” He scratched his thin beard with his fan. “The grain sacks were white with red catfish on them. The oilcloth was brown, but not the same brown as her clothes. Her clothes were like…. Like your skin, if you forgive the familiarity.”
Pimchan glanced at her bare arms: the red-brown of roasted fowl. A difficult color to reproduce in dyed goods. That and the red leather boots pointed to a wealthy household. The disrepair of the wagon and age of the boots pointed to bad times.
Lek went on. “The oilcloth was the color of this dust. Pale.”
“Have you seen her before? Or the wagon or the clothing? Or the symbol on the grain sacks?”
Lek shook his head. “But there are a lot of farms and estates and enclaves tucked back in the passes and down in the foothills. They don’t always send the same people to town, or the same carrier.”
Pimchan bowed her thanks.
“Did they take anything?” Lek’s voice sounded concerned, but Pimchan knew he was eager for details. Even the priests’ quarters were more open than Warriors’ compounds, and any crumb of information would be worth a free drink or even a bowl of rice.
“A purple orchid blossom. They tried to take a white one, as well, but they were stung and gave it up.”
“A precious blossom?”
Pimchan shook her head. “One of many. They just wanted a trophy, I think, to prove they won a dare. I hope it was worth it to them.”
Even if this had been the harmless prank she had invented, the taboo against entering a Warrior’s domain without permission could not be broken without punishment. The outrage that had actually been committed demanded worse than death, and only a Warrior’s domestic impenetrability would keep the revenge from being as public as possible. Instead, it would be an open secret, communicated by whispers and facial expressions and nodded understandings, unspoken horrors that would enforce the taboo on impressionable young minds so it would be less likely to happen again.
This was not a prank. It was not even a crime. It was a gambit–a move in a game that had yet to be announced.
WRITING PROMPT: If you could buy a spell that would work once, what would it be?