Hello my dears. Not much time to chat today as we’re moving. However, I haven’t missed a Sunday blog in years and I don’t intend to break that tradition. So, in no order of importance: Happy Father’s Day to you dads out there, the manuscript’s final draft is done and delivered for proofing (well Monday, if we’re being technical), and here’s an excerpt featuring one of Feast’s favorite fathers!
All my love,
Rain thrashed the winding road and carved up the land like broken glass. Simon’s ramshackle, Romanisti-style caravan, with its small door, drawn curtains, and the look of a miniature witch’s cottage on wheels somehow withstood the tempest. As did his brave steed, who Muriel had named Patience, a commentary on Simon’s animal-handling ineptitude. Patience tended to follow her own lead, which sometimes ran concurrently with the direction in which Simon reined her.
Though he was grateful for her self-navigation, especially in tonight’s storm. Occasionally, Simon could see the road quite well through one parted veil or another. Most of the time, however, he and his horse were left guessing—and cursing, in his case. There wasn’t much to see, anyway, just lonely humps of foothills beside the precipice-thin trail that shimmered in water along which his horse trotted.
He had barely seen another soul since stealing the horse and buggy from an abandoned farm south of Taroch’s Arm. As they’d slid open the clawed-up barn door and peeked into the dark, brandishing broken sticks, they were astonished to see the beast resting at the back of the shambled place, quiet and standing. They couldn’t figure out how the beast remained left alive when the rest of the farm was splattered in blood. That is until Simon had spotted the bags of salt used for preserving, which had been slashed and spilled all over the barn floor during whatever tussle had taken place. Salt, which had formed a spiral about the horse: a circle. A circle of salt, fortuitously laid, and which he’d always heard the wise women say was an ancient ward against evil. The horse had seemed so indifferent to the destruction surrounding it. From then on, it had been Muriel, Patience, and him traveling the Southern Thread—the webwork of roads winding through the green spans south of Kor’Khul.
One morning, they’d passed near Bainsbury, but he hadn’t proceeded into its quiet, dark ruins. Instead, he’d parked the caravan distant, told Muriel to stay inside, and gone ahead to peer at the crumpled fences, scorched houses, and general pall of decay that had fallen over the once picturesque town, gathering enough of a tale.
Days later, Simon had caught up with a few survivors hiking along the Southern Thread. “Into the survivors camps deeper in Meadowvale, perhaps even as far as Eod,” they’d said, and offered to take him and his girl along with them to Eod, to these places where all of civilization had since gathered. But he knew of a place safer than anywhere they were headed, and he wouldn’t risk his child’s life in these encampments that he felt would be targets for hungry dead, or in traveling through the blasting heat of Kor’Khul to reach Eod. After seeing the end of every gathering of humanity from Taroch’s Arm to here, he doubted that these people would live for more than a week. No, he had a better idea for him and Muriel.
He had seen and come to know enough about what was happening in Geadhain. A Sun King reborn as a mad king. The City of Iron razed to ruin. And that awful assault on Sorsetta. Hiding in the larger cities had seemed like the dumbest of ideas when clearly they were the exact places being targeted by evil. Simon wasn’t a coward; he’d been tested and ultimately judged during his wife’s murder to be quite brave in the face of doom. But he wasn’t stupid either, and a smart man knew when and where to hide.
He would seek out a remote hideaway like an old cabin south of Meadowvale, nestled in the crags of the Straits of Wrath, where a man and his family could fish, could boil the seawater and capture the steam for condensation to drink, and most importantly, hide from an apocalypse of the undead. In another day or so, they would turn west onto a wild road that deviated from the Southern Thread. Then it would be another few days ride until the gloomy rock towers of the Straits marred the skyline. Muriel could sleep in the caravan as she had been, and he’d continue to take only the occasional involuntary nap in the mornings when he felt it was safe to sleep. Muriel always woke him if he dozed for more than an hourglass or two, or if she heard even the smallest noise. He didn’t mind the sleeplessness, aside from the delusional, hyperactive state into which this run from death had placed him. Such jitteriness startled him more than any dangers they had recently faced.
Often, he thought he was seeing things, like tonight as three shadows materialized in front of him on the rainy road. One of them, holding what appeared to be a staff, shouted and a flash of white boomed from above.
“Hold!” said the shadow.
Patience stopped before Simon even pulled on her reins. Three figures came forward—two tall, one short, all dressed in dark riding cloaks. Simon believed in that instant that he was still partially asleep, or imagining things, for the figures seemed to move through the rain as if separate from the element: dry phantoms of Dream. They were on the soaked rider in a speck. He felt smaller in his saddle, as if he looked up, not down, at the oldest. She with a voice of stone, time, and thunder addressed him.
“You’re shivering like waterfowl in winter. You shouldn’t be out in such weather.”
Simon noticed the face beneath her cowl. Her hair flowed black and white, around features so stern that their beauty was painful to behold, her eyes gleaming like a raven’s, only green instead of black, and far more canny. Another tall beauty stood beside this one, and her gaze sliced Simon to the marrow so thoroughly that he shuddered from toe to groin. The third woman—they must be sisters, he thought—was actually a child, not a dwarf. She pulled back her hood a little and greeted him with a blast of sunny comeliness and a smile. In an instant, she had restored all the warmth to his blood that the other had stolen from him.
Simon noticed that they were all as sopping wet as he, and thus must also be subject to the laws of reality, and not be the spirits he’d thought they might be.
“What can I do for you ladies?” he asked, as he wiped the rain from his gawking face.
“We are on a journey,” said the oldest.
“A pilgrimage,” said the saddest.
“An adventure!” the golden girl exclaimed, clapping.
Simon couldn’t explain the queer buzzing he heard in his head, or the echoes their voices seemed to create. He tried to shake off the strange fog.
“Where are you headed? On a dark night like this? Wandering the road during a storm? You too must find shelter. Surely you know, but it’s the end of the world.”
“Not yet,” said the oldest. “Although we’ll need you to take us to where that end will take place.”
Rather helplessly, Simon watched as the young child hopped over and knocked on the door to the coach. Muriel answered, armed with a frown and a stick she hadn’t let go of since Riverton, but she dropped both weapons as soon as she laid eyes on the young girl. She’s not a girl, came a thought from Simon’s primal instincts, from an ancestral wisdom buried in his blood. She’s a force, as elemental as this storm. She’s a vessel of sunlight and innocence donning the shape of a girl. She—
“Oh, you’re clever,” said the iciest woman. “I can see why Mother Geadhain led me to you.” The woman reached her pale hand through the air as if stealing secrets from around his figure. Simon cringed in the saddle as she also held a long cloth-wrapped shaft in her other hand, and he worried she might smite him with it. “The resonances of Fate flicker around you like an orgy of firebugs, ready to mate and die. Perhaps that lies in your future: love, passion, and death. That’s all you mortals seem to worry about. It wouldn’t surprise me.” She shook the bundled object that she held at him. “Worry not over this, little firebug, it is indeed for smiting, though it is not aimed at your end—you’ll wield it sooner than you’d prefer.”
Mortals? Simon was flabbergasted that this witch had somehow managed to read his thoughts. He was further unsettled by his acquiescence when that woman, too, left him to climb inside the open door to his only sanctuary.
“Muriel!” he cried, though with little fear.
“You know you don’t have to be afraid,” said the oldest witch. “A part of your soul understands who we are, what we are, and why we’ve been brought to you this eve. We all have roles to play in Geadhain’s great war. Yours, my dear rock-tinkerer, my warrior with a heart of lace, has only begun. This is not the time to hide your daughter from these events; she will need to be shaped by them. As will you. I shall prepare you as best I can for the unimaginable things you and your daughter are to witness. Consider it your reward for your part in this pilgrimage: information. You’ll have the wisdom that kings and wise men have all sought since they first learned to dream.”
“Man’s steel is better tested in battle, so be patient until it’s time for you to know fear; your role will uncloud itself in time. For now, turn around and head south. Allow the journey to reveal itself to you.”
The witch petted Patience’s wet muzzle, at which the horse whinnied in glee and stomped her hoof. “Patience knows the path. I shall see that Geadhain continues to bless our journey with protection, fortuitousness, and nourishment. Do not fear for your daughter. Fear for the future if we do not complete our tasks in time to intervene.”
The woman swept over toward the carriage. There she hung onto the handle of the door, one foot on the step, waiting. The journeyman hadn’t broken his stare, and his mind was a wildfire of dread and curiosity. “Go on,” she said. “What is it?”
Simon struggled to understand even a fragment of this grand mirage. “Who are you?”
“You know the answer to that, Simon Bochance.” She smiled as she declared, “We are three sisters.”
The carriage door closed, and laughter echoed over to Simon through the pattering rain. His hands, clenching the reins without purpose, grew colder. Without guidance, Patience trotted in a slow semicircle, turned to the southeast, and set off across the foggy dales.