It’s National Novel Writing Month!
My first work in progress is coming along well; 80,000 words, and only a few chapters left to go. Despite still working on WIP #1, I was insane enough to sign up for NaNoWriMo as well. Today marked my first day of working on two novels simultaneously. I managed a little over 2000 words in my NaNo novel; here are the first ~1200 words!
Darkfall: Excerpt #1
Ada was awake when the council came.
They wielded flickering torches against a sky that was still dark, littered with stars like chips of white stone. It was long before mine-call.
Ada stood in the doorway and watched them come up the hill, Nehtan in the lead, his head ducked against the chill wind. She knew they would not speak to her. She waited.
When they were close, Nehtan called, “Sinda?” His voice trailed up at the end, like a memory of birdsong. He looked past Ada into the dark hut she shared with her mother.
Ada turned away from the door, letting it creak shut behind her. In four steps, she crossed the room to kneel beside the pile of ragged blankets where her mother slept. Sinda’s face was still. Ada’s heart fluttered against the cage of her ribs.
“Mother?” She said. “Wake up. It’s the council.” Her voice shook. From the chill, she thought. It had teeth like blindwolves’, sinking straight to bone.
Sinda stirred, eyelids fluttering, as Nehtan pushed open the door. She looked at him, her eyes glinting hard and dark as black rock.
“Is there a decision to be made?” Sinda asked, her voice raspy and frail. Just from sleep, Ada thought, closing her hopes around the thought.
Nehtan nodded. “It’s Callo. He is very ill.”
Sinda sighed. An arm emerged from the cocoon of blankets, and she pushed against the floor, muscles standing out like thin rope. She rose a bit, then fell back. Ada moved forward, slid her arm beneath her mother’s back, and helped her up as Nehtan looked away.
Once her mother was standing, Ada stepped back, out of the way, forgotten. Until Sinda said, “Ada is coming with us.”
Nehtan’s eyebrows rose. “Sinda–”
“I will not be questioned,” Sinda said, with great calm. “She is my daughter. She will come with us.”
Nehtan looked as though he had tasted something unpleasant. At length he said, “All right. As long as she is not in the way.”
“She will not be,” said Sinda. Neither of them looked at Ada, or spoke to her. It was unsual enough that they spoke of her.
Callo’s home was halfway across the village. Outside the circle of torchlight, the forest was so black that the trees didn’t exist, except in the rattling whisper of wind through branches. Ada watched the darkness, her heart drumming slow and loud in her ears.
Light blazed from Callo’s windows, puddling on the bare ground. His wife had lit lanterns and candles and spaced them evenly around the room, driving out shadow. As though she could keep death away, with the brightness.
They climbed the steps and went inside and found Callo lying on his back wrapped in blankets, his wife at his side holding his hand. Callo’s chest heaved with his breaths. He made a sound, a deep moan like the wind in a snowstorm.
“Has Annele seen to him?” Nehtan asked Callo’s wife.
The woman looked up. Her cheeks were streaked with tears. “Yes,” she said. “She even gave him medicine.” Her face twitched. “But it did nothing, and she said he is beyond help. He’s readying to climb the mountain, now.” She twined her fingers in his hair.
Their small daughter slept in a corner, peaceful despite the light and noise. They’d had a son once, but he was dead two years, from a fever that had burned him right out of the world.
Ada wondered what Callo’s wife had traded, or done, to get Annele’s medicine that hadn’t worked.
The council stayed back. Nehtan turned to Ada’s mother. “Sinda?” He said, questioning.
Sinda stepped forward unassisted, brushing away Nehtan’s hand when he reached to help. She knelt beside Callo’s bed. She listened to his breathing, and touched his chest, and measured the beat of his heart in the pulse at his neck. Finally she sat back on her heels.
“He is dying,” she said. “He will be gone within a day.”
“Not sooner?” Nehtan asked.
“No,” said Sinda, regret in her voice. “I do not think sooner.”
She looked up, into the eyes of Callo’s wife. The woman was calm, despite the tears. This couldn’t have been a surprise for her. Callo had been ill for months. Some lived for years with cave-lung, true. But once it set in, the end could come at any time.
“Do what you must,” said Callo’s wife. She looked at her sleeping child, visible only as a pile of blankets and a tuft of dark curly hair. “He would want us safe, whatever it took. And I cannot lose my daughter.”
“We are sorry,” said Sinda, “for your loss. And we thank you for making this easier on everyone.” She touched the woman’s hand, her face as kind as Ada had ever seen it. “You should leave. And your daughter.”
“She won’t wake,” said Callo’s wife.
“If you’re sure,” Sinda said.
The woman leaned over to kiss her husband’s forehead. She whispered something to him, soft and secret. Then she stood and wiped her face and went out the door with back straight and head high.
Ada moved to follow her.
“No,” said Sinda. She looked at her daughter, straight in the eye. “You will stay here. It is time you saw. You are no longer a child.” Sinda tipped her head toward the little girl in the corner, asleep and unaware. “Stay with her,” she said. “If her mother is wrong, and she wakes, you must get her outside without letting her see.”
Ada nodded, her mouth dry as stone. “All right,” she said. She crossed to sit by the child, careful not to touch. The small pile of blankets rose and fell, steady, the sound of the child’s breathing soft and normal. The little girl had not yet set foot in the mine, but she was five years old. She would feel mine-call before summer turned to frost.
The council knelt around Callo, around the drowning body that had once been him. As one they dropped their heads and closed their eyes, and prayed his spirit safely up the mountain, and apologized for what they had to do.
Nehtan reached down, with one last whisper of “Forgive me.” Ada looked to the sleeping child and did not glance back, even when she heard Callo’s rasping breaths turn to choking.
In just a few moments, silence said it was over.
Ada stood. Callo lay on his back, still. Black bruising ringed his throat, and his wide-open eyes bulged, crimson with a sheen of blood.
Ada stepped around him, and around the council and her mother, and she went outside and vomited until pain stabbed her stomach. Still kneeling, she spread her fingers over her barely-curved belly, and whispered that she was sorry.