Howdy team, I just felt like posting to keep things active around here, but as always, I’m a tired working mother of young children (and full up with a cold at the moment, bleugh) trying to fit writing in where I can. So, here I am, posting already written stuff (o:
This is a scene from Warrior’s Touch that I think I deleted because it came in the first half of the book which, as attested by my second Amazon US review, probably drags a bit long and, as this scene didn’t develop the plot at all, I cut it. It was one of those “darlings” us writers are meant to kill, and I admit to a sense of “something missing” when I read that part of the book. So, I’m going to pop this here for those fans looking for something more and waiting eagerly for the ever so slowly developing Magician’s Touch.
This scene would have been Chapter 8, or possibly 8 & 9 if I’d mooshed it into the Chapter per POV style we ended up going with.
Probably spoilers for those who haven’t read Healer’s Touch. Pretty safe for those who have but haven’t made the jump to Warrior’s Touch, yet.
Llew turned side-on, stretching her chin over her shoulder to peer at the full-length reflection of her lithe, naked figure. Apart from the softness she was gaining from her time at Gaemil’s, nothing in the image before her suggested she was pregnant. Her belly didn’t protrude; a condition very nearly shared by her breasts. Weren’t they meant to get bigger, too? She shouldn’t complain, she’d never had any desire to look feminine before; doing so only led to trouble back in Cheer.
But she was no longer in Cheer with only herself to think of. She had another life to consider and it sure was complicating things.
There was no denying she already felt a connection to the child growing inside her. No, there was no outward sign, but inside everything felt different. She felt a love that seemed to originate in her belly and link directly to her heart. She couldn’t explain it. She’d never felt anything like it.
Another day had past with no sign of preparations to leave for Quaver. Llew didn’t mind. She had no desire to leave. Her only real friend in all the world was Anya, and she would be staying here in Rakun. If Llew had her way, she would settle in Rakun, set herself up as a blacksmith and pay her way through school. The future would open up before her… until she had her baby, then she’d be bogged down in breastfeeding and dirty nappies. The thought made her feel sick. She wasn’t ready to be a mother. Definitely not alone.
There was a knock at her door. Llew nearly jumped out of her skin. She was getting too used to the idea that no one wanted to talk to her unless it was to chastise.
“Llew? It’s me.”
Llew pulled on her shift and unlocked her door.
“I just heard.”Anya breezed in, wearing only her shift and nightgown. She drew Llew into a cursory hug before crossing to the bed. “Something in Quaver Aris needs to get back for.” She sat and patted the mattress beside her. Her eyes shone in the low light of the single electric lamp.
Had Llew missed something? Aris was leaving for Quaver already? Had he decided to leave her behind?
“You’ll be leaving so early, and I didn’t want to miss giving you a proper goodbye.” Anya patted the bed again.
“I’ll—?” Llew began, but she didn’t know what to say. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. She’d known she was leaving for Quaver sometime soon.
When had they been planning on telling her? Had they been going to just bang on her door in the morning and tell her to get a move on?
“Of course they all just assume I’ll be going,” she muttered. But of course they did. She hadn’t given them any reason to think otherwise. She’d landed in Rakun, surrounded by friends—well, she had one—and comforts, and she hadn’t made any move to do other than stay.
“Pardon?” Anya asked.
She would miss Anya.
Llew sat beside her friend and let herself be drawn into a gentle embrace.
“I’ll miss you, Llew,” Anya said. “Really miss you.”
“I’ll be back. When…” When what? When Turhmos learnt not to keep Aenuks in cages? When Quaver learnt not to hate them? When Braph was proved to be absolutely and unequivocally dead? Llew supposed she should be grateful for such a short list of requirements before she could walk the world without fearing for her life and freedom.
“You better,” said Anya, as if Llew hadn’t hesitated. “Or I’ll be coming after you, and there won’t be a thing Gaemil could say or do to stop me.” Anya took a deep breath and eased back from their embrace to look Llew in the eye. “You’re my best friend, Llew.”
Llew looked at the floor, wishing she could voice her love for Anya so openly. But her thoughts were tumbling over themselves.
Everyone just assumed she was going to Quaver. So had she. But did she have to? If she were to slip off in the night, what could they do about it?
Anya gave a small laugh. “Perhaps there’s something to this Syaenuk thing. It seems everyone falls in love with you.”
Llew laughed too. “Except Aris.”
Anya sniggered. “Well, perhaps. Although if you ask me, I think he’s just scared. He liked you well enough before he knew what you were.”
“Karlani doesn’t like me much, either.”
Anya giggled. “No, I suppose not. Just me and Jonas, then?”
“You’re enough for me.” Llew met Anya’s eyes this time.
Anya responded by pulling Llew back into a hug, accompanied by something approaching a sob. “Oh, Llew. The world is a mean, horrible place if it won’t let me keep you.”
“I wish I could stay,” Llew murmured against her friend’s ear.
“Me, too.” Anya sat up and gripped Llew’s arms. “I shall petition Quaver every day to ensure they look after you and do everything in their power to keep you safe. And I shall write to Turhmos and demand they rethink how they treat Aenuks. It’s not right, what they do, especially if it means I can’t have you.”
Llew pulled back before she lost the resolve to leave. “I better go,” she murmured. “Early start.”
“Where are you going? This is your room.”
“To bed.” Llew smiled. “Tired.” That should cover the slip. “Early start,” she said again.
“Of course. I’ll be there to see you off, no matter how early.”
Llew stood as soon as Anya released her.
“I mean it, Llew,” Anya said as they crossed the room. “I will do everything within my power to make it so you can be free. There is more than one way to fight a war, and I intend to do my part.” Anya giggled, holding the door half open. “Changing the world. There are worse things I could be known for.” The blonde girl beamed like she believed she could do it—Llew thought she could—then bent her head bashfully. “I’ll do my bit, Llew. Sleep well.”
Llew gave a tight smile. She wanted to tell Anya she wouldn’t be there in the morning, that she was leaving now, but there was no way Anya would let her go alone. However bad the Quaven option was, Anya had a faith in Aris and Jonas that Llew could no longer muster.
She wished Anya goodnight, closed the door and pulled her shift over her head. She found her trousers, pulled them on and buttoned them, wincing at the pressure across her belly, but she was not about to head out into the wildness on her own in a dress. She would figure something out before it became a real problem. She undid the top two buttons and pulled out her old rope belt to hold the things in place on her hips, then she pulled her shirt over her head and grabbed her jacket.
Opening her door again, she nearly walked smack bang into Jonas.
“Llew—” Jonas started, startled.
Llew, too, seemed stunned into silence. She was fully dressed.
“Where you goin’?” he asked.
Llew gaped for an answer, but couldn’t find one.
“You can’t go.” He wanted to say it with full conviction, to demand she stay. But he didn’t want to be that guy, the one that tells his woman what to do and puffs his chest like an ogre. So, he let his voice waiver with the uncertainty he felt.
Should he let her go? She’d been running when they met. Running from one lot of trouble into another. But it wouldn’t end just ’cause she ran again.
Besides, she was pregnant with his child. And she had no friends out there.
“Come with me,” she said.
“I can’t, Llew.” That, he was certain of. He looked up and down the corridor. Thankfully empty. “Aris’ll kill me if anyone sees me here. Can I come in?”
“No he won’t. You’re his beloved Syakaran hero.” Llew stepped back, permitting him entry, and locked the door behind him.
Jonas found a brief laugh as he turned to face her where she still stood by the door. “I came to… to see you, before we hit the road.” He was struggling to look at her. Why was it always so hard with Llew? “I just want to be with you. We don’t have to do nothin’. But I figure there won’t be much chance while we’re travellin’. And once we reach Quaver, well…”
Truth be told, he didn’t know what Quaver would mean for them. He hoped once they all knew she’d saved his life, that she carried his child, they’d welcome her as a friend. But it would be naive to think that would happen the minute they set toes across the border.
“Then come with me.”
“I can’t,” he repeated with as much conviction as the first time. “Syakaran or not, I am only one man. You think Quaver will just let me run with you? You think they wouldn’t come after, if not us, then at least me? I owe Aris everythin’, even the fact I was born at all. And you…” He stepped in close to her, brushed her hair behind her ear. Hoping his intimacy would draw her near, not send her scurrying even faster. “Turhmos knows about you, now. There ain’t no goin’ back from that. You’re safe here because Turhmos and Quaver both respect Brurun’s neutrality, for now. But that won’t last forever. They’ll come for you.”
“Then I’ll run.”
“With our baby?” His eyes dipped and returned to hers.
“Don’t make me regret it.”
Llew’s breath caught and she took a step back, meeting the locked door.
He knew what she’d seen. She’d seen the ghost of Braph in his smile. His half-brother, and what he’d done, was still coming between them. Jonas hoped he could make her forget or, at least, rediscover the difference between them.
He stepped in, crowding her, maybe, but if she told him to back off he would. She didn’t. Her breathing was clipped, shallow. Her eyes flicked all over his face, down to his shirt buttons, back to his lips and, bullseye, eyes.
“I will protect you with everythin’ I got. Here, I got me. In Quaver, I reckon I can pull some strings.”
“I don’t want your protection,” she said to the floorboards.
“You don’t want to need my protection, and… and I guess I wish you didn’t, too.” He rested his hand on her shoulder. “But what are we gonna do? Bring a baby into a world that’s coming for us from all sides?”
“And if there wasn’t a baby?”
“This ain’t about a baby. It’s about you.”
“Fine.” She looked at him with full determination for a moment, then dropped her gaze to the floor again. “Well, maybe I don’t want to need your protection because if I need you then how will I ever know that what I feel is real, or if it’s just because I need you to save me, and we’re already growing a baby together, and not because I want you. How will I know if I want you? I want… I want to know what it’s like to fall.”
Llew clenched her jaw. Was the word so foreign to her?
“You think a babe loves his ma any less ’cause he needs her?”
Llew’s lips parted, but she had no response.
“I don’t think love’s about need, but more about trust. Faith,” Jonas continued. “Put your faith in me, and I will spend my life provin’ it ain’t misplaced.”
“Shh.” He held a finder to her lips. “I’m workin’ here.” He held back the laugh, but couldn’t stop the grin.
Llew huffed a laugh through her nose.
“I have faith in you.”
He shrugged. “I dunno. I think that’s what faith is.” He dipped his head, trying to get her to look at him. She lifted her eyes beneath her brow. “But, you know, I think we might’ve skipped the fairy tale kind o’ love some time about a month, or six weeks ago,” he said.
Llew folded her arms across her chest, forcing him back a bit, but her lips were twitching on a smile of their own. “We did, didn’t we?”
He nodded. “Maybe it’s time we wrote our own story.”
“Beginning with me already pregnant with your baby and going with you to Quaver to be kept in captivity like an animal?”
The jovial mood hotfooted it.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t give you your fairy tale.” He took one of her hands in both of his, ran his fingers over and between hers. “But, sometimes love ain’t about fallin’. More often, it’s about discoverin’ what you’ve got and seein’ how it all fits together. Maybe, we’re the bit that comes after the fairy tale, when the princess finally wins her prince,”—he raised his eyebrows a couple of times— “and they ride off into the distance.” He was starting to enjoy this.
“‘The distance’ being Quaver and its cages?” Clearly, Llew wasn’t in the mood to make things easy.
Jonas deflated. He stopped playing with her hand, though he didn’t let it go. “Look. I don’t know what the future holds. But right now, I got you and you got me, and there’s a whole lot o’ folks’d be right pleased to get in the way o’ that. Now, tomorrow mornin’ we ride out o’ here, set for Quaver, where people would rather see you dead than ridin’ with me. But at least they won’t bleed you, or worse. But with me, with me, you’ve got a chance of bein’ heard, pleadin’ your case. Maybe it ain’t Aenuks we should be fightin’, at all. Maybe it’s just Turhmos. Maybe we should be fightin’ for the Aenuks.” The thought had formed just as he said it. Llew didn’t want to fight for Turhmos. She didn’t want to live in an Aenuk camp, breeding soldiers for them. What if it was the same for other Aenuks? What if they were all held against their will?
Llew’s eyes had come alight.
“You can speak for them,” Jonas continued. “You can show Quaver the truth, like you’ve shown me. After…” He paused, tilted his head and gave her the eye from under his brow. “… a good night’s sleep.”
Llew smiled back at him and nodded.
“Take me to bed, then.”
He kissed the backs of her fingers then turned to lead her to her narrow, built-for-one bed. She turned away from him at the last and set to unbuttoning her shirt in secret. He nodded to himself and worked his own shirt buttons free. Half-crouching and topless, and still with her back to him, Llew moved to her discarded shift and pulled it over her head, letting it fall around her before loosening her trousers.
Jonas hesitated before loosening the buttons of his undershirt. Would Llew respond negatively?
Ready for bed, Llew turned to him. A slight lift at the corners of her lips let him know she’d like him to continue, so he pulled the warm layer free. In such a narrow bed, there wouldn’t be much risk of getting cold. Watching her eyes travel the lines of the gryphon tattoo that covered his torso front and back, he dropped his hands to his belt. She shook her head.
“Can you…?” She screwed up her face. “Can you not…?”
He let his hands drop.
Damn Braph had made a mess. But it weren’t nothing Jonas and Llew couldn’t work through.
He turned his hands out, and she stepped into him with a mix of eagerness and reserve. He framed her face in his hands and she responded, tilting her head back to receive his kiss. He kissed the crease of her lips, between her eyes, the tip of her nose, chin, down her neck. He went as far as the ruffled fringe of her shift and back up again, and revelled in her trembling breaths.
He paused to lift the blankets, and followed her as she shuffled in under them. He curled his body around hers, his belt only causing mild discomfort, and they slept.
Jonas was as happy as he’d ever been.
Jonas was woken by Llew clambering over him to vacate the bed.
“What are you doin?”
“Going to the chamber pot, if you must know,” she said in an overly snappish tone. “You did this to me.”
Probably best not to comment. He’d been here before with Kierra. There was no winning, and no benefit in pointing out the equal participation in the causative event. And definitely not the time to point out that his trousers were bunched funny and his belt was digging into his hip.
Not long after, Llew was climbing back across him to snuggle up between him and the wall, in her narrow bed. Jonas had a moment of wishing they were back in Aldia already, and this was their life, before he succumbed to the folds of sleep once more.
He woke with a start in the dark before dawn. Tempting as it was to stay, he silently thanked whatever had woken him and slipped from the blankets. Llew stirred but didn’t wake.
He paused to watch her, for once totally relaxed. He wondered what she dreamed of to look like that. It seemed every aspect of her life brought a ton of worries and stresses. How far back did she have to go to find safety in her dreams? Back to when she still had a ma? Or did she see a future in which she was truly free?
Her eyebrows pinched together at some thought or other, and Jonas reached out to brush the crease away. Somehow, it worked. She even smiled a little. So did he. But he had to go. He needed to be in his room when the call came to get moving.
He was pulling the door closed as near silent as possible when another door cracked open farther along the corridor. Aris emerged. From Karlani’s room.
Jonas was too stunned to move. Aris, too, closed the door silently. Then he looked up.
The two men looked at each other a good few moments.
One part of Jonas prepared to counter Aris’s reprimand, while another tackled the disturbing thought that there was only one reason his captain was leaving Karlani’s room at this the of the morning, desperate though he was to come up with another.
Aris broke the look first, turning away to head to his room.
Jonas stood a moment longer struggling with the notion that, while he was grateful for the dismissal, it meant his hunch was right.
Cool. Well, I hope that was fun (for those who made it this far).
I promise I’m still working on Magician’s Touch, if slowly.