Thursday, November 19, 2009

For my 201st post on this blog:

It's Chapter 8 of Servant of the King!

Wow, this chapter just kept going. I bet I'll cut some out during the editing process, but man this is a good time. I love what imagination will do for us if we give it free reign.

I love my characters. I love seeing what they will do and the choices they'll make.

So thanks, NaNoWriMo, for this opportunity. Without NaNoWriMo I probably wouldn't be working on this with all the other stuff I have to do. Master's project, multiple class projects and homework, actual work, church calling, family stuff-- (In reverse order of importance!) there's lots.

Anyshmay. Read. Enjoy. Pass it on if you'd like.

Chapter 8

            The walk through the trees, the silent, glinting wraiths gliding all around him and Gimno as they progressed, seemed to last more than an hour. They followed no path that Lakhoni could discern. At times they seemed to bear north, turning slightly to the left. But the twists and turns that Gimno and his people took certainly had no pattern that Lakhoni could see. All he could tell was that they were going east. The dark shapes of the mountains far ahead had grown only a fraction by the time they came to the edge of a low hill and began ascending it.
            Gimno stopped at the crest of the hill and shadows of the Living Dead flowed around him and—disappeared. Lakhoni blinked, peering into the deep darkness. Were these people more than mortals? Did they have the power to vanish?
            “Come, cub,” Gimno gestured for Lakhoni to approach. Unsure of what to expect, Lakhoni strode carefully up the hill. When he got to Gimno, he followed the tall man’s gesture with his eyes and saw a hole in the ground. It was just wider than the shoulders of a large man. “Down,” Gimno said.
            Lakhoni crouched to get a better look. There, perhaps three or four hand lengths below the hole’s rim was a thick length of wood, sticking out of the earth. Below that length was another. Lakhoni understood. This was some kind of ladder. He looked up at Gimno again.
            “I would still like to have my evening meal, cub.”
            Feeling as if he was somehow betraying his village, as if he was accepting too easily this new life Gimno offered him, Lakhoni lowered his legs into the hold and probed with a foot for the branch. Finding it, he began to lower himself slowly, feet questing for each foothold and his breath coming quickly.
            “A warm meal, cub.” Gimno’s voice floated down.
            Lakhoni tried to move faster. He soon realized that there was a pattern to the placing of the branches: they were spaced at intervals of around five hand lengths and they were very nearly in a straight line, descending into the darkness that yawned below. Now he was using his hands to help his stability and he could go faster.
            He silently thanked the Great Spirit that he had not inherited his father’s fear of tight spaces. Several years previous, before Lamorun had gone off to fight, Zeozer had surprised his sons the day that they had come to a dark cave in a rock wall during one of their eight-day hunts. They had followed the spoor of some deer to the foothills of the mountains to the west and happened upon a cave in the dark gray rocks of the hills. After throwing many rocks deep into the cave to be certain an animal hadn’t adopted it as a home, Lamorun had led the way in. After about thirty paces, they had come to a bend, which was also where the cave narrowed severely. Lamorun had volunteered to forge ahead somewhat to see if the cave widened.
            After a few quiet minutes, Lakhoni and Zeozer had heard Lamorun’s voice calling to them that there was a cavern full of crystals. Lakhoni had immediately darted forward to join his brother. Zeozer had called out for them to be careful and Lakhoni had noticed a strange sound in his father’s voice. When he had joined his brother, the two of them called for Zeozer to come and see also.
            Zeozer’s voice had come back, “Not today, boys.”
            “Father, the crystals! They’re wonderful and I think we could sell them,” Lamorun had insisted.
            After a few moments of silence, Zeozer had said quietly, “If you were in danger, yes. But I’m not fond of tight quarters.”
            Lamorun and Lakhoni had exchanged incredulous looks. They could hear the fear in their father’s voice. “You mean,” Lamorun had said, his voice taunting, “that you’re afraid of ‘tight quarters.’”
            “I find them unpleasant,” had come the dry response.
            “You mean you don’t panic or anything, you just avoid them at all costs,” Lamorun had laughed.
            “Watch it, boy,” Zeozer had said.
            Lakhoni felt a smile on his face at the good memory. He and Lamorun had ribbed their father mercilessly for weeks afterward, Zeozer taking the mockery in good humor throughout.
            He would never have come down here, he thought. But Lamorun would have.
            After long minutes—long enough for his arms to become quivery with fatigue—Lakhoni felt his left foot touch solid ground. As he stepped away from the wall and turned to look at where he had arrived, he heard Gimno’s voice waft down from above.
            “Cub! Stand back.”

            Lakhoni looked up, stepping further away from the ladder in order to give Gimno more room. He could just barely make out Gimno’s shape against the backdrop of the star and moon-lit sky. Suddenly the man dropped, moving far too quickly to be using the rough ladder of tree branches. Lakhoni looked closer and saw that Gimno was in a free fall—a controlled free fall that is. The warrior was bouncing lightly off the sides of the shaft that lead down to the cavern where Lakhoni now stood. One foot would impact on the side of the shaft and seem to push off, then the other foot would stop Gimno on the other side of the shaft.
            The warrior descended quickly in this manner, landing lightly on the hard stone under Lakhoni’s feet. Lakhoni stared in open-mouthed stupefaction. How could a man possess such strength and speed? Was it possible that the Living Dead truly did have devils inhabiting their flesh? Suddenly Lakhoni questioned the wisdom of trapping himself so far inside the earth.
            “You look like a dying fish.”
            Lakhoni forced his mouth closed, but could not tear his eyes away from Gimno. The tall man wasn’t even breathing hard!
            “You liked that, didn’t you?”
            Lakhoni had to admit to himself that a large part of him would love to learn how to move the way Gimno did. He found himself nodding. The idea of a devil in this man, or any man, seemed too outlandish for him to hold on to. He forced it out of his mind. “I’ve never seen anything like that. How did you do it?”
            “You will learn. In time,” Gimno said. “Come.”
            Lakhoni followed Gimno into the darkness of the deep, downward-sloping tunnel. He could see only a faint outline of the man a few paces ahead of him. They passed through three sharp bends and suddenly Lakhoni could see more of Gimno. Clearly, there was some kind of light source ahead of them. He realized that the sharp bends in the tunnel kept the light from being visible at the top of the entry shaft. Had the Living Dead somehow created this cave as a hiding place? Was that even possible?
            After a few more twists and turns, the narrow tunnel they had been walking through opened suddenly into a massive, brightly lit cavern. Lakhoni had to shut his eyes tightly and blink quickly for a full minute before he could focus on the home of the Living Dead.
            It looked nothing like he had expected.
            The cavern was wider around than his village and seemed to stretch as high as the tallest tree he had ever seen. The city—for it couldn’t be called anything less than a city—seemed to be comprised of a series of circles, some large and some smaller. Large circles of small, stone houses were arranged at the edge of the cavern, following the long wall all the way around. Lakhoni immediately guessed that these stone house circles were where people lived. Many of these circles had fires burning in the middle of them. The next series of circles was further from the walls, and these seemed to serve any number of functions. Lakhoni saw that there was a stream of water that seemed to bisect the huge cavern, and many of the second series of circles appeared to have been arranged around that stream.
            Lakhoni saw people washing clothes in some of those circles, while in others children played or people worked. He saw several groups of people working with wood and tools while others scraped at animal hides. Still other circles seemed to be devoted to basket weaving and more.
            In the very center of the cavern was a large, nearly empty circle. However, in what must have been the exact center of this innermost circle, Lakhoni saw a neat pile of stones with a huge, flat stone on top of them. An altar. His village had one too, but nowhere near as big as this one.
            He let his eyes drift over the cavern, completely thunderstruck. This did not look like the eerie tombs that the stories said the Living Dead lived in. His eyes lit on a particularly large circle of homes directly across the cavern from him. The stone houses in that circle looked to be larger than the others in the city.
            It came to Lakhoni that he had been standing stock still for at least several minutes.
            “Not what you expected,” Gimno said. It was not a question.
            “Nothing…” Lakhoni trailed off, turning his head toward Gimno. “How?”
            “We found it sometime after we got sick of Lemal and his raiding parties and left,” Gimno said.
            “It just looks like a normal city,” Lakhoni said.
            “Yes, but it’s the city of the Living Dead. The Separated,” Gimno intoned in a deep, throaty voice.
            Lakhoni grimaced at Gimno.
            “Of course you’ve heard the stories. We’re ghosts, spirits who will steal you from your bed if you don’t mind your mother and father.” Gimno chuckled, starting down a path that led into the middle of the cavern. These paths criss-crossed the stone floor, winding between circles and homes. “We don’t mind the stories. They keep people nervous.”
            “The tattoos help, too,” Lakhoni said.
            Gimno stopped, cocking a wry smile at the boy. “Yes,” he said. “They do.” He set off again. “Enough talk. I’m hungry.” The tall men quickened his pace, Lakhoni following closely. Lakhoni let his eyes wander as they walked. Seeing the fires burning in the middle of the circles of houses gave him pause. Where did the smoke go? He looked up and immediately had his answer. Although it was quite dark at the ceiling, he could see there was a little smoke gathered at the top of the cavern, but that it was moving rather quickly toward the far wall. Looking behind him, then ahead, he saw that there were several small openings above the tunnel entrance that he and Gimno had just come from. On the far wall were more holes. Somehow there must be a current of air traveling through those holes that drew the smoke out.
            Gimno led Lakhoni to a circle of houses just to the left of the largest circle of big houses. Entering the circle of homes, Gimno called out, getting the attention of several people bent over the fire. “Where’s my dinner?”
            A tall, raven-haired woman laughed loudly and detached herself from the group of people at the fire. “Did you bring fresh meat or just this beat-up squirrel cub?”
            “Anor should have arrived long ago with my kill. What? Have you burned it and buried it under my bed to hide the evidence?” Gimno smiled at the woman.
            She smiled back. Lakhoni saw that her head was shaved on the sides and back, and that her black hair grew only from the top. “No. I gave it to my other husband.”
            Gimno roared with laughter and caught the woman in a tight embrace. Lakhoni turned away, sudden grief slamming into him with the force of a charging bear. The exchange had been too much like those between Zeozer and Sana.
            “Who have you brought us?” Lakhoni felt a hand under his chin, turning his head. He looked up into warm, smiling green eyes. The hand slid up his cheek to the top of his head, then to his wounded shoulder. “And what have you done to him?”
            Lakhoni glanced at Gimno.
            “Not me,” Gimno said, moving to the fire and spreading his hands before it. “Lemal’s attack dogs. His name’s Lakhoni. They left him for dead. He needs curing, Vena.”
            The woman, Vena, caught Lakhoni’s gaze. “Yes. Food, rest and healing. Welcome, Lakhoni, to the Separated. You have come home.” 

So Chapter 8 is 2088 words. This brings the grand total to 12,990 words. Not bad eh?

Golly what fun!

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