Been a while since I shared any writing snippets with you so I thought I’d give you a peek at my latest and greatest! er… well, the one in progress anyhow. ;o) This is a teaser from Burn It Down: A Book Of Brothers, Vol. I. I’m about a third of the way through, but still anticipating to finish it in March.
Despite their ages at the start, it’s not a YA novel but rather an epic fantasy that runs the gamut of the lives of two fate-touched men who don’t know they’re going to change their world.
It was hot when Kaden woke, sweat sticking clothes to skin everywhere. He yawned and rubbed his eyes before pushing slowly up from the sleeping matt he’d stolen a few months ago. It made the hard dirt a tiny bit more bearable for sleeping. Every morning he rolled it up as small as he could and hid it in a cubby carved from the building he slept behind. He’d be damned if someone stole it from him.
This spring seemed even worse last when most of the crops had died before they could even grow. Finding things to steal so he could eat at least every other day was definitely harder.
Maybe you’re just not as good as you think you are, a voice sneered inside his head. It sounded a lot like his old master at the textile factory.
Shaking off the doubt, Kaden ran his hand through short brown hair to untangle it as best he could. This early in the season begging wouldn’t get him anything except a cuff upside the head from the Guard. People didn’t part with hard-earned coppers until the sun pounded the dirt into unbearable shimmering heat and that didn’t happen until much further into the season. Best to look presentable and forgettable. To that end, he brushed the dirt from his tight trousers and dirty brown shirt and tied up his sandals. There wasn’t even a patch of water to look at himself, but Kaden knew he looked somewhat decent since he’d stolen the shirt only a month ago. It didn’t even have any worn out patches yet.
He had to steal something to eat today or he’d grow too weak to be fast enough to steal and run away. It was a vicious cycle he’d fallen into the first year he’d run from the factory. Before he knew enough about how to live on the street without being bought and sold. He’d been young then. And stupid like only an eight-year-old could be. He knew so much better now at ten. Another couple of years and he might even apply to the unofficial group of thieves that ran the city’s underground.
Kaden walked down the narrow alley where he slept behind a cheap rooming house each night. Like most of the rest of Volgin, the building was three stories high and made from mud bricks hardened into near-stone strength. It made for a monotonous but near impenetrable city, from what little he’d heard. Only the Palace, the Great Library, and the Guard Standard rose above three stories; probably to keep an easier eye on the people, he thought bitterly.
He walked into the thick foot traffic on the main street with the ease of long practice. When he’d first escaped the factory, he’d stumbled plenty upon the raised-brick main street. Volgin had only the one and it ran the length of the city with smaller packed-dirt lanes crossing it like a backbone.
It was only just after dawn but people filled the street as if it were midday; craftsmen, vendors, traders, and servants all milled together at the start of their workday. He spotted other children of all ages on the same mission–stealing enough to eat–but ignored them as surely as they ignored him. It was rude to let on there was any kind of competition.
The sun sapped at Kaden’s strength even at that early hour and he sighed. It would be a long day with hunger scratching in his belly.
Bordencit, the not-quite-poorest section of the city where Kaden slept each night, was about a five-minute walk to the jumble of newcomer tents, permanent and semi-permanent stalls making up the Grand Market. The Market took up a full quarter of the city, bringing in money and goods from the rest of the known world. The colorful banners and odd not-people had fascinated Kaden since he’d become a streeter.
Don’t shit where you eat, his old master whispered suddenly and viciously in Kaden’s ear, just as the old man had been doing the last three years. The old man had actually meant not to cock up in the factory. Cock-ups involved workers dying, which meant investigations that cost money and someone inevitably got a whipping regardless of if they’d been involved or not; Kaden had the scars to prove it. Once he’d run away, Kaden had adapted the words to a more literal meaning: not stealing where he slept.
Kaden reached the shade of the eastern wall and took in the familiar flow of the Market. The wall was so high that even at seven bells, there was plenty of shade. The Market was as old as the city and had originally sprung up around a well of magic water, or so legend had it. The first settlers had come across the water bubbling up from the ground and set up camp there. From that moment on, no one in the trading party had fallen ill. The ancient well that was the supposed miracle site looked like every other old well Kaden had seen in the city aside from the alternating Guard pair that watched over it day and night.
Most foot traffic went east to west following the main street which followed the path of the sun. The massive wall that encompassed the city held two iron gates at the farthest points and one of those points was at the far end of the Grand Market. Kaden roamed all parts of the Market except the textiles area, too uneasy of being recognized and forced back to working in the factory. If he couldn’t steal food directly, then he would steal something that could be easily sold to buy food.
It was nearing eight bells when he made his way to the newest ironworks trader. The man had set up tents at the outskirts of the metal workers’ section of the Market and so far everyone hated him. Kaden had witnessed no less than three violent arguments with other metalworkers, two of whom had been Citizens. Even a streeter like Kaden knew better than to get into it with a Citizen. That was just one step down from Nobility and no one picked a fight with Nobility and expected to remain free. Or alive, half the time.
As he’d mostly expected, it was only just gone nine bells when the trader got into a loud argument with a Citizen. Kaden kept on the periphery, but close enough to join the crowd of onlookers. He inched closer to the wares on the front table as the fight got louder and more physical.
Time it right, he whispered to himself. Grab some nails and run. Just need a few to sell for coppers.
The trader grabbed the Citizen’s jacket. Kaden darted to the table and grabbed a handful or large but anonymous iron nails that would be easy to sell. He turned to run when someone big grabbed him around the waist and hauled him into the air with a cry of, “Thief!”
Kaden squirmed and kicked, but the arm around his waist felt like living iron. Maybe it was a Rocmin with their mad hard skin or someone wearing armor. He couldn’t catch a glimpse of his captor no matter how he fought. And then the man holding him howled in pain and dropped him to the ground. Kaden briefly spotted brown eyes in a pale face his own age before regaining his senses and running for it.
He heard someone chasing after him but the footfalls were light and speedy, just like his. It was probably the boy who’d interfered but Kaden wasn’t stopping until he and his nails were far from the metalworkers. By the time he stopped in the horse masters’ section, Kaden’s side pinched fiercely and his breath came in hard gasps.
Hiding in the shade of a small barn, Kaden looked over the other boy and wasn’t sure what to make of him. They were of a height and build, so he was probably ten years as well, but his clothes were well made and clean. He wore shoes not sandals and there wasn’t a lick of dirt smudged anywhere on his pale skin to mark him as a streeter even if the clothes hadn’t instantly given him away.
“You’re not highborn,” Kaden mused aloud, “But you’re no streeter. Why’d you help me?”
The boy shrugged. “I don’t think a few nails is worth someone’s hand, especially not a boy’s. You must really need the coppers. Besides. That trader deserved it for laying hands on my father.”
And just like that, the puzzle pieces fit. Trader’s son. Not quite a Citizen, unless his mother was born such, but higher up than most in Volgin. A prideful one, too, if he thought some visiting trader putting hands on his father meant someone should steal from the man. Still, it worked out in Kaden’s favor. “I’m Kaden.”
“Thad Ri,” the boy replied, smiling. “C’mon. I’ll get us something to eat before Father starts yelling for me.”
A Citizen after all, if he had a surname. Not that it much mattered to Kaden.
They walked through the animal traders and trainers and workers with the ease of friends that Kaden didn’t question. They didn’t ask after each other’s business like he thought friends generally did. And Thad Ri didn’t seem all that nice from his stiff posture to the expectant way he had of walking, like everyone else should move aside from him. Which they did, so maybe Kaden should emulate him.
They’d just reached the cookeries when a shriek pierced the air. It was so loud and close that Kaden flinched and ducked away from the clamoring. A hand grabbed his shoulder, fingers digging into his bones, and he looked up to find an old blind woman staring at him. The whites of her eyes disquieted him right to the soul and he froze in their powerful grip. She had Thad Ri by the other hand, gripping his new companion’s arm just as tight. Her wild white hair hung in a thick curtain to her waist, tangled in places like it hadn’t seen a brush in longer than Kaden had been on the streets. Her clothes were rich but old, the deep green velvet faded and worn in many places. This had once been a woman of means and title, of that Kaden had no doubt.
“Two sides, two sides! The two of you!” she moaned, her voice shaking with prophecy. “Power and pain, so much power and pain. Better one should die now than all who die then!”
Out of nowhere, the old woman held a wickedly sharp looking dagger at Thad Ri’s throat.
Thad Ri’s brown eyes met Kaden’s and they were wide with fright. Kaden didn’t allow himself to think. He grabbed the blade with his free hand and yanked it out of her grasp, the metal cutting into the flesh of his palm.
She shrieked again and fell to the ground, sobbing and screaming nonsense. Kaden threw the blade to the dirt, grabbed Thad Ri’s hand with his bloody palm, and pulled him into running somewhere safe. He wouldn’t let anything happen to his new friend.