Unfinished, continued

Here is a continuation of that snippet of a fantasy romance story that I posted in “Unfinished.” Perhaps I’ll write more of this tale, after all…

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The Ties That Bind … continues

Warner was a bear of a man with shaggy brown hair and, incongruously, a short, neatly trimmed beard and mustache. His brown eyes were keen and observant but not very expressive. Despite his size, or perhaps because of it, he was a reserved, gentle man who moved with efficiency and before-thought. When Adele saw him mooring the boat at the dock she felt the tension that had been gathering around her shoulders since that morning ease a little. 

She restrained herself from immediately running down to the lake to greet him. Instead, she made sure that she had his lunch ready, and that his pipe and smokeweed pouch were out on the little table beside his shabby armchair. She placed a warm pasty, a plate of greens, a strawberry tart, and a pint of cold beer on a tray and carried it out to the backyard, kicking open the door. Warner liked to eat his lunch on the work bench by the vegetable garden when the weather was clement. Adele often joined him, but not always to eat. Lunchtime was whenever Warner came home after his morning fishing excursions, and he didn’t expect her to wait on him.

The young woman set the tray down on the workbench and ran back inside to procure a cup of tea and a tart for herself. She stood by the table and waited, quivering with anticipation like a well-trained dog. It wasn’t long before she heard boots crunching in the gravel along the steep path leading up from the lake to the cottage. A wide-brimmed hat popped into view, and then a shaggy head crested the rise of the hill. Warner grinned at her, his teeth a flash of white splitting his beard. He carried a string full of gutted perch over one shoulder. “Still there, eh?” he called, teasing.

“I see you actually did go fishing this time,” Adele shot back playfully, arms akimbo.

“Successfully,” the burly man added, shaking the stringer of lake trout.

Laughing, Adele took his catch into the kitchen and put the fish into the sink to clean later. When she came out, Warner had removed his hat and was munching on his pasty, staring out at the lake. She sat down across from him, playing with her teacup. He gazed right past her, as if she wasn’t there, even after he finished his food. Adele schooled herself to patience, drank her tea and ate her tart. Warner continued to stare and frown at the lake. Finally, Adele lost patience and asked, “Well? are they coming?” Belatedly, she added, “sir.”

“Hmm?” Warner raised his eyebrows and focused on her. “Sorry, Adele, I was considering our next move. Yes, they’ll send someone. That’s all I can say for now.”

“Oh.” The young woman looked down into her lap. “I…I apologize, sir. For my impatience.”

Warner snorted with amusement. “You’re quite readily forgiven, initiate. Me, I’d go stir-crazy, having to sit in a tiny cottage all day.” He gulped down the last of his beer with relish and stifled a belch with the back of his hand. “Just what do you do all day, Adele?”

Adele smirked at him. “Oh, nothing much.” She ticked off the points on her fingers. “I just cook all the food, do the gardening, go to market, tend to the chickens, wash all your dirty clothes, and keep the place spick and span so that you can drag in muck on your boots every afternoon. ” She leaned her forearms on the table, her blue eyes dancing with mirth. “I’m basically your mother. Oh! Yeah. And I read sometimes.” She blushed, and added, “sir.”

The big man laughed outright. “Zifa was right. You’re a gem, girl.”

Adele propped her chin in her hands and smiled nostalgically. “I miss Zifa,” she murmured. “I hope she comes soon.”

“Me too, Adele,” he sighed. “Me too.”

They were silent for several moments. The man brooding, the young woman resolving an inner debate. Presently, she blurted out: “A man came by today.”

“Really?” Warner came out of his reverie. “This happen often?”

Adele shook her head, embarrassed. “No, sir. But I told him…that you were my…my husband.” She bit her lip, steeling herself for a reprimand.

Instead, he simply looked at her, amused. “Did you, now? Trying to scare him off? I bet he was hideous. Hunchback?” He grinned.

She chuckled in spite of herself. “No, no hunchback. He was tall and…well-built. Dark hair. Dressed like a ranger. His eyes reminded me of emeralds.” She frowned, looking off into the middle distance. “And he walked without making a sound or casting a shadow.”

Suddenly uncomfortable, she looked away from the man. “I…kind of invited him to supper tomorrow.”

“Hmm.” Warner scratched his beard, scanning the lake pensively. “Let’s move this conversation inside, initiate.”

“Yes, sir.” Adele took the dishes in. Warner held the door for her. Before he stepped inside himself, the man took another glance around the yard with eyes that that missed nothing. His expression was grim.

***

Adele knelt on the verge of the flower garden in the front yard, pulling up weeds. Warner sat smoking his pipe on the front porch steps. The late afternoon sun was wheeling its way toward early evening and the biting insects would be out soon. The young woman hoped that she would finish the task before then. It was her self-imposed penance; however, she drew the line at having her blood sucked out by vesperflies.

“Those trout tasted real good,” Warner observed. He blew a smoke ring. “What was that stuff you put on ’em?”

“Lemon butter, mostly,” she said, yanking out a particularly stubborn dandelion. “But I also added some parsley and thyme into the batter. Plus some other herbs. My secret.”

 “If you plan on fixing the chicken the same way tomorrow I reckon your admirer will be hell-bent on stealing you away from me,” Warner said dryly. “If anyone calls asking for me, tell them I’m cleaning my musket.”

“Ha ha,” Adele said sarcastically. And then, she chuckled. “I’ll make sure to give Zifa the recipe when we return to Shidkey.”

“When this is all over,” the big man muttered, puffing on his pipe.

“Yeah…” The young woman sighed as she pulled the last weed. She stretched, knuckling her back. “So, when are you going to tell me why you brought me here, sir?”

“What do you mean?” Warner asked in a mild tone. “I’d have thought it was obvious. So you could take care of me while Zifa’s clearing up that mess in Copper Harbor.” Smiling slightly, the big man tapped the dottle out of his pipe and stamped on the embers to snuff them.

Adele gathered the weeds up in a bundle and carried them over to the compost heap. “With all due respect, sir, I don’t believe you. There are others more experienced in fieldwork – “

“Well, you are the best cook in the entire convent,” he interjected. “And how do you think those ‘more experienced’ initiates became ‘more experienced’ in the first place?” He waved his pipe at her in emphasis. “You can’t expect to spend your entire youth holed up in the Archives. It was high time that you had an opportunity to learn the ropes.”

Adele bit her lip. “Sir, I appreciate my chance to participate in active service. I wasn’t complaining. It’s just…” She sighed, spreading her hands out helplessly.

“You’re used to having all the answers at your fingertips.” Warner packed more smokeweed into his pipe. “Well, now you’ll have to get used to not knowing everything.”

Adele looked at him steadily, mulling over his words. She was trained in obedience. If Warner said she didn’t need to know, then she didn’t need to know. “I just don’t get it,” she said softly. “Why would you need an inexperienced Binder on a mission to liase with – “

The big man clicked at her and held up one hand, his brown eyes alert. Silenced, the young woman reflexively clutched at the small lump concealed under her bodice and edged toward the front porch and Warner. “Time to retire for the night,” the big man commanded with quiet assurance.

The two went into the cottage. Warner bolted both doors. This was something that he hadn’t done before. It made Adele nervous and she wondered at it as she hastily got things ready for the next day in the kitchen. Then she closed all the windows and drew the curtains while the man lit the kerosene lamp in the sitting room. When she joined him, he was paging through the prayer book. Just as she had every evening for the past twelve days, Adele knelt beside the burly man as he read through the liturgy, responding on cue. When the service was completed, the two sang a short hymn together.

Afterward, Warner wished Adele a good night and sent the young woman to her tiny bedroom. Once he heard the snick of her door latch closing, he went to an oaken chest and removed his musket.

Unfinished

Here is the beginning snippet of a fantasy romance novel I began crafting over a decade ago. There isn’t much to follow this little introduction, but I did work out an outline of the plot and the premise behind it – which naturally involves a forbidden relationship. I haven’t decided yet whether this story takes place in the Teharan Cycle universe.

Please let me know if you think the prose has promise, or if I ought to abandon it.

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The Ties that Bind

Adele was shaking out the kitchen rug when the man ambled up to the front gate for the first time. It had been an uneventful summer morning, much like the past twelve mornings since she and Warner had been sent to set up housekeeping in the last cottage on the road by the lake. Warner had left before dawn, as usual, presumably to go out fishing on the lake. At least, the boat was gone from its berth by the dock. 

There were pasties in the oven, her own special oatmeal recipe was bubbling in the cookpot, and bacon was frying on the stove. She could smell the aroma and hear the pop and sizzle of the bacon through the kitchen windows. All the cottage windows were still open from the night before in an effort to dissipate the sweltering heat of the previous day. Adele had come out with the rug as an excuse to escape the combined heat of the kitchen fireplace and stove. Thus far, the day promised to be cooler than yesterday, praise the Lord. She had felt a comfortable breeze blowing from off of the lake and seen the tell-tale clouds in the sky. There was dew on the grass and the leaves of the garden greens. She reminded herself to gather some greens later for a salad as she twitched and cracked the rag woven rug in the early morning sunlight.

“Good morning,” a deep voice rumbled.

Adele gasped, nearly whipping the rug into her own face. She hadn’t even heard the man’s crunching footsteps approaching along the gravel road. Now he leaned up against the garden gate, tall and dark-haired, clad in the typical leathers and cambric of a wilderness ranger. His smile was slow and lazy, like the summer afternoons of late. “I smelled something toothsome,” he continued, winking green eyes at her. “And as I’m feeling a mite peckish, I thought I’d investigate.”

“Oh,” was all Adele could think to say, clutching the rag rug up at chest-level as a shield.

The man chuckled, shaking his head slightly as he straightened. “Ah, I’ve gone and startled you. Where are my manners?” He placed one large hand against his broad chest and dipped his clean-shaven chin in a curt bow. “I’m called Hadrien.” He gestured off to his right, where the gravel road eventually petered out into the wilderness. “Have a little shack out in the wild green yonder.”

“Oh! Good morning,” Adele said finally, after taking a deep breath. Awkwardly, she smiled at the stranger, rolling the rag rug up and draping it over the front porch railing. She wiped off her hands on her apron. “I’m Adele. I live here,” she added, and immediately felt stupid.

Once again, he turned that long, slow smile upon her. “So I gathered, Miss Adele.” He spared the cottage and well-kept yard a cursory glance before returning his focus to her. “But surely not all by your lonesome, a little slip of a thing like you?”

“Of course not!” she replied. “Warner lives here, too. He’s…um, out fishing right now. He’s…” And then, feeling the danger of those bright green eyes on her, she blurted, “He’s my husband.”

The tall man’s smile widened. “Well, naturally. I had assumed that was the case.” He glanced at her left hand. Self-consciously, Adele covered it with her right.

“Um, I take off my ring when I’m doing chores,” she said, proud of herself for coming up with an explanation on the fly. “We…Warner and I just got married a few weeks ago, and I don’t want to get it dirty.” Nervously, she rubbed at the offensively bare heart-finger.

“My apologies, Mrs. Adele,” he replied, touching his forehead in a sort of salute. “That would be a none-to-subtle hint that I am keeping you from your work.” He stepped back from the gate, his eyes twinkling with amusement. “I shall bid you ‘good day’ and – ” He started to walk away.

“No, wait!” Adele called out. 

Raising a jet eyebrow inquisitively, the stranger turned back toward her.

Like a jittery fawn, Adele approached the front gate and stopped several feet away. She smiled apologetically up at the tall man. “I can’t invite you in because Warner is gone, but…if you are hungry, I could bring out some breakfast to you, Mr. Hadrien.”

He smiled. “I would be much obliged to you, Mrs. Adele.”

“Just wait right here.” The young woman dashed back into the cottage. 

“Certainly,” he murmured after her, still smiling.

Adele entered the kitchen to find that the bacon was perfectly crisp and that the pasties were very nearly cooked through. She brought out a bowl of oatmeal and a generous serving of bacon to the stranger.

“Thank you, Mrs. Adele,” he said quite seriously. “You are a very charitable young lady.” He began to eat, making appreciative sounds.

“It’s no problem.” She twisted the hem of her apron around in her hands. “I even have pasties coming out of the oven soon. So…when you are done with that, I can send a couple with you.”

He nodded, humming his enthusiastic agreement. Adele grinned, and went back into the cottage, remembering to take the rug back inside. If there was anything she had confidence in beside her scholastic pursuits, it was her culinary skills. She puttered around the kitchen, waiting for the pasties to finish and washing up the dirty dishes. Frequently, she peeked out the window to make sure that her unexpected guest still lingered. He did. 

After the pasties came out of the oven, she wrapped some in a thick towel and brought them out to the stranger. “Trade you,” she said, smiling.

“Gladly,” he replied, handing her the empty bowl and accepting the warm bundle in exchange. He tucked it into a leather satchel at his hip. “That was delicious. It isn’t often I taste real home cooking. I’ll return your property tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps I can make the acquaintance of your…ah…husband then, Mrs. Adele.”

“Yes,” she said, eagerly. “Warner should be at home then.”

The tall man smiled, saluting her again. “Until the morrow, Mrs. Adele.”

Feeling as if a proper housewife should, Adele offered, “You could stay for supper, then, Mr. Hadrien. I’ll roast a chicken.”

HIs green eyes sparkling in amusement, the dark-haired man accepted her invitation.

Adele stood at the gate, holding the spoon and earthenware bowl. She watched him walk to the end of the gravel road. Just before he entered the forest, he turned to smile and wave. The young woman smiled and waved back. The man faded away into the dappled shadows of tall trees. It was then that Adele realized what had been troubling her about him.

Not only had he cast no shadow behind him, but his footfalls had made no sound at all.

A Sad Story from my Salad Days

I am convinced that nearly everything extracurricular that I wrote in college was either macabre or maudlin.

What follows is a little something that I whipped up in less than 24 hours during my sophomore year. At the time, my intention was to explore writing from the perspective of someone trying to emerge from the grieving process.

I recall that I submitted it to the Century, which is the literary magazine of my alma mater, previously known as Carroll College. I was a co-editor of the aforementioned magazine at the time, and the only reason I entered my own work was to bulk up the number of prose submissions for the judging process. I can’t remember for certain whether this piece actually passed muster and appeared in the publication or not…and I didn’t really care either way because I felt it wasn’t very good. Even now, it makes me cringe to read it.

Now, if that isn’t sad, I don’t know what is!

Our Sad Stories

When she looked out the window she could see that it was going to be a beautiful night. The setting sun cast its lurid, dying rays across the horizon, tingeing the sky pink like sanguine, warm bathwater. The clouds had already gone to sleep, and Evelyn hovered by her door, tucking a stray wisp of hair behind her ear, wishing she could do the same. Just crawl into bed and never wake again. Her throat seized up as she gazed at the photographs on the wall. “I will not cry,” she counseled herself with a quavering voice in the empty room. “I will not cry on a first date.”

From his frozen position above her bed, Luke smiled as he always had, his eyes full of love and reassurance. Evelyn chewed on her lower lip, sucking in a deep breath, and clutched the strap of her purse more tightly. “David will be here soon, and I can’t disappoint my friends…right?” she asked the picture on the wall, her voice desperate. Luke, trapped in time, could only smile. “You…you understand…I’m not betraying you, am I? I’ll always…love…” Here the sobs threatened to break free, and it took a greater part of her strength to swallow them. Just then, someone knocked, rather hesitantly, at her door. Evelyn’s eyes widened. Time to go, she thought, trembling, and opened the door to see David face to face for the very first time.

And almost forgot to breathe.

“Hi…Evelyn?” The young man at the threshold smiled nervously, long-fingered hands folded together to prevent them from fidgeting.

“Hello, David. It’s nice to finally meet you.” He’s very cute. Evelyn caught herself going cow-eyed, and mentally slapped herself for thinking about another guy that way. David’s eyes were an earnest green—the same color as Luke’s—and they stayed fixed on hers instead of darting away, radiating a shy sort of kindness.

Awkward, the young man chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck before reaching for her hand. She allowed him to draw her outside of her room. “Yeah, Since Jamie told me about you, I’ve been kind of…anxious.” He grimaced. “No, that’s not right, that sounds bad…”

“No, it’s not,” Evelyn reassured him, craning her neck a little as she looked up into his face with a gentle smile. He smiled back, a little of the tenseness melting out of his features. Sensing him relax, she grasped both his hands and squeezed them. “Please don’t worry about what you say to me, about it sounding bad. I’m used to guys making disgusting jokes.”

David grinned, and Evelyn felt her heart glow. Luke grinned just so, she mused. “Well, uh, Evelyn…I wanted to be a gentleman tonight, having just met you.”

She laughed. “Oh, that’s good, I wouldn’t expect anything less from Jamie’s cousin!” She let go of his right hand and coaxed him away from her door. “Let’s go, the night’s wasting…”

“All right,” David agreed, his hand clammy in hers as they walked down the hallway. “Lead the way, but remember…it’s my treat tonight. Jamie’s rule, and mine.”

Passing by the other rooms, Evelyn felt her senses sharpened. She could hear the chattering and laughter in Dawn and Tracy’s room at the end of the hall, the clacking of her short heels against the hard linoleum. Someone was making popcorn in the kitchen; they could both smell the aroma wafting throughout the entire floor. “Mmmm, popcorn,” David commented, squeezing her hand.

“Should we join their party?” Evelyn asked, feeling her heart speed up with apprehension. “I could introduce you to the girls on my floor.”

“Nah,” David replied, his glance both warm and knowing. “Why would I want to meet any more girls?”

Her face flushed, Evelyn’s heart spasmed, then slowed as she appreciated what he had said. “That’s nice of you.”

“I want to be nice to you,” David murmured, and put his arm around her shoulders, a little uncertainly. Looking into his honest, flawless face, Evelyn decided to let him. She found herself comforted by it, although melancholy tainted her satisfaction.

He knows about what happened, she brooded. He must pity me.

By then they were out in the parking lot, and a warm evening breeze caressed her bare calves. David helped her into his car and shut the door. As he rounded the hood to the driver’s seat, Evelyn felt all the grief bubble up inside her. Having heard her story from his cousin, David had felt sorry for her, and Jamie had suggested for him to take her out, and here he was, a Boy Scout doing a good deed.

The car door slammed shut, and she looked up. David smiled eagerly at her as he turned the key in the ignition. “Well, my Lady, where dost thou wish to go this evening?”

“Do you know the Chinese restaurant on Grand?” Evelyn heard herself say brightly. “They have great sizzling rice soup.”

“Your wish is my command,” he replied, expertly guiding the car out into the traffic. There was silence for several moments, and Evelyn studied David’s strong masculine features in the urban twilight. The sun had set, and his skin seemed to have a bluish cast as if they were underwater. Suddenly uneasy, Evelyn touched the back of his hand, resting comfortably on the steering wheel.

“David?” Her voice was hesitant.

He glanced at her, his face seeming to light up again. “Yeah?”

“You don’t…have to take me out like this if you didn’t want to.”

David’s face went blank. “You mean…I could just park in the parking lot, grab you…and make wild passionate love to you right out in the open?” Then he threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, sorry! You should see the look on your face…it’s priceless!” Then he sobered, looking at her quickly. “I wanted to take you out…ever since Jamie told me about you.”

“About what happened,” Evelyn said bitterly. Outside, the road wound next to the river, and traffic slackened.

“Yes, she told me about Luke…but I wanted to before then, too.” David heaved a sigh. “There, I finally got to say that, and sound like an opportunistic jerk.” She could see his knuckles whiten as he clenched the steering wheel in a death grip, like a drowning man. Hurriedly, she moved her eyes to his face. He was looking at her again, and she found it difficult to swallow.

“You should watch the road,” she said softly.

David’s jaw tightened, and he maneuvered his car into a parking spot by the river walk. “We need to get to know each other better,” he said earnestly, staring into her eyes.

Evelyn smiled. “Let’s go for a walk,” she suggested in a quiet voice.

David was silent for an instant; his eyes seemed to soften. “Yes.”

David got out of the car and ran around to help her out, and this time he was anxious, as he had said when he first stood outside the door of her room. He kept his right hand firmly pressed against her shoulder, and insisted that he walk on the street side of the sidewalk. The night was growing cool, and they had the riverside to themselves.

“So…Jamie told you about Luke,” Evelyn began.

“Yes, I’m sorry…for your loss.” Now, David was avoiding her eyes. His dark blond hair hung like a bird’s broken wing as he examined his shoes. “If it helps…I’ll listen to whatever you need to talk about.” He looked up, then. “If you need someone—me—to listen.”

Evelyn took a deep breath. “I should tell you,” she began, carefully. “He drowned…last year…” David’s arm tightened around her. “He hit his head at the bottom of a pool, got disoriented…he was all alone!” I will not cry, she screamed inside, but the sobs tore free from her mouth and David’s arms enveloped her, cradling her against his chest. “I couldn’t save him!”

“There was nothing you could do, it wasn’t your fault,” The words were mechanical, distant, but she could hear his heart, and it was very close, beating strongly beneath her cheek. She thought that if she wanted to, she could reach inside and touch David’s heart, hug it like a pillow in her arms—and he would let her have it, for always.

Luke had done no less for her, but he had gone away.

“David?” Tears streaming down her face, Evelyn sought his eyes, his earnest green eyes, so like those of the man she had loved.

“I’m sorry, Evelyn…I’m just a stupid guy…I don’t know what to say.” He touched her cheek, brushing away the moisture there, looking helpless and rather frustrated. “It’s just, we both have our hard times, and I should know…” He pressed her head back into his chest and stroked her hair. “Jamie never told you, but my brother died a few years back in a fire…our house burned down, and…we didn’t know where to go from there.”

Evelyn choked back another sob and shuddered. “Oh, God…” She reached around and hugged David with a fierce desire she hadn’t known was there inside her. She thought that part of her, the sharing kind of love, had drowned in that horrible pool with Luke. “Why can’t we just die..?” She knew it was foolishness even as she said it.

“I felt the same way, then.”

Evelyn pulled away so she could look at his face, his beautiful face glowing beneath the lamplight, his eyes smiling sadly down at her. “Did Luke…” David placed his hands on her shoulders, and they were quivering slightly. “Did he ever tell you how beautiful you are?”

Evelyn felt a knot growing in her throat. “All the time.”

“You are, Evelyn. When I saw your picture last year, I thought ‘Wow, that boyfriend of hers is some lucky guy.’ And now you’re right here in front of me.”

“A basket case,” she muttered.

“From what I’ve seen, you’re just lonely, like me.”

“You? Lonely?”

“Yeah,” David smiled bleakly. “Not everyone is as easy to talk to as you. Jamie told me you’re the best friend she’s ever had…because you care and listen.”

“Jamie’s nice,” Evelyn replied lamely.

“So are you,” David countered. “And…” Here he broke off, his face coloring as he rubbed the back of his neck nervously.

“Are you okay?” Evelyn touched his arm.

“I want to be your…friend.” He managed to spit it out with some effort, grimacing. “Darn it, that was lame, Dave!”

Evelyn laughed, in spite of herself. “Oh, David!” She shook her head. “I’m ready to be friends, don’t worry about that.”

“And later…” he began hopefully, grinning widely.

Evelyn smiled tenderly and leaned against him. “There will be time for that…maybe sooner than you think,” she replied softly. She looked within herself, waiting for that sense of guilt, but this time the little voice was silent.

David sighed, touching her hair with a kind of reverence. “Do you know, yet, when that will be?”

“After we’ve told all our sad stories.”

David smiled grimly. “That’ll be a while, then.” His arm tightened around her.

And the two stood there by the river, watching the moon rise in a companionable sort of silence.

beautiful beauty blue bright
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