Unfinished – conclusion?

And that’s all she wrote…so far

Finally, the last installment of the fantasy romance that I never finished, featured in the posts entitled “Unfinished.” At times, I am so creative with titles that I want to punch myself in the face. Ha!

Anyway, here is a link to the beginning snippet and another link to the middle snippet, if you are interested. Someday I might return to this little story, but currently I have other priorities.

For example: 1. finding an editor that suits my budget for my finished novel, Wyldling Snare, 2. navigating the tricky waters of the publishing world, and then (God-willing)3. publishing Wyldling Snare.

I welcome any recommendations from those of you who have already jumped over those hurdles.

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The Ties that Bind…gone fishing

Her heart trip-hammering in her chest, the young woman struggled with her bedsheet and nearly fell out of her cot. “What? What is it?” she cried. Always before, the big man had left at dawn, quietly, without disturbing her. This was something outside of her routine. “Are we under attack?” she asked lamely, rubbing sleep out of her eyes. He had said it was daylight, and it was. Just barely.

Early the next morning, Adele was awakened by Warner knocking loudly upon her door. “Rise and shine, initiate. It’s daylight in the swamp!”

“No,” he spoke from the other side of her door. “I have decided that you will be accompanying me out on the lake today.”

Adele slipped out of her night gown and hurriedly tugged on a fresh set of undergarments. “But why, sir?” she called out. 

“Never you mind the whys, initiate, just get your butt in gear. The morning’s a’wasting.”

She was reaching for one of the three house dresses she owned when she thought better of it, and dug out a pair of trousers and a baggy tunic instead. She felt a flurry of excitement. Perhaps Warner had taken her questions into consideration and decided that it was time for her to learn the answers after all. Quickly, she brushed her honey-colored hair and tied it back in a tail.

“Coming, sir. I just need to wash,” she said as she opened her door.

Warner had already left the cottage with the wicker hamper she had packed for him the night before. Sighing, Adele went to the tiny washroom to splash her face and clean her teeth. Her stomach growled at her, and she grumbled in sympathy as she crammed her floppy gardening hat on her head and snatched a pasty out of the cold-box. There would be no time for her usual morning luxury of a cup of tea, but there was plenty of potable water in a cask on the boat. Munching on her impromptu breakfast, Adele skipped down to the dock, where Warner had already loaded the boat with his usual gear and was untying the mooring lines. 

Without sparing her more than a glance, he jerked his head toward the boat. “Get in,” he grunted. “There’s a spare rod and reel for you in there somewhere.”

The young woman complied, nearly trembling with excitement. She sat down upon the bench at the stern. Her burly companion finished with the ropes and got in, pushing away from the dock with an oar. With his powerful arms, he rowed with long and even strokes. Smiling to herself, Adele breathed in the clean, clear morning air. The sun was just spilling its buttery light into the pellucid sky, where delicate clouds shone like mother of pearl on their edges. The birds were in full chatter around the lake, joyously greeting the new day. Adele dipped a hand into the lake, humming a hymn to herself. She watched as water-striders flitted away.

“Best not do that,” Warner grunted. “The lake monster will pull you in.”

Adele had snatched her hand back into the boat before she realized that he was only teasing her. She tried to cover her slight embarrassment by digging out her fishing rod.

“So, where are we going?” she couldn’t help but ask.

“‘We’ aren’t going anywhere,” Warner replied. “I am rowing the boat to the opposite side of the lake. You will stay with the boat and catch some fish while I attend to business with our contacts in the forest.”

Crestfallen, Adele fussed with the reel. “But, sir…I thought I’d be going with you. Learning the ropes, so to speak. Meeting the…our contacts.”

“Get used to disappointment, initiate,” he grated out as he strained against a current. “You’re only here to keep you out of harm’s way.”

The young woman narrowed blue eyes at her superior. “Does this have something to do with that man I met yesterday? Because -“

“Better safe than sorry, Adele.” They were in the middle of the lake, and the big man paused for a breather. “I won’t know for certain if he’s the threat until I see him tonight. Meanwhile, you will stay in the boat, and hone your fishing skills.” He took out a handkerchief and mopped a sheen of sweat from his brow. “Do you follow me?” His brown eyes were hard.

Adele stared out across the lake and said nothing. 

Warner’s voice grew harder. “Do you understand, initiate?”

Adele stiffened. Her lips trembled and tears glistened in her eyes. “Yes,” she whispered, ducking her head to hide her face. “Yessir.”

His brown eyes softened a little. “Buck up, girl.” He tossed her the handkerchief. “The day will come when you’ll wish to return to blissful ignorance.”

She dabbed at her eyes and sniffled. “Ew.” The young woman wrinkled her nose. “It’s all sweaty.” She threw the handkerchief back to him. She missed, and it fell into the water. 

“Not anymore,” Warner stated dryly, fishing his property out of the lake. “Now its just soaked.”

The girl laughed softly. She was silent as he resumed rowing, taking in the scenery until they reached the other side of the lake. By then, the sun was almost above the treetops. The forest was thicker and darker on this side of the lake, and the shoreline was abrupt and almost undercut by the water. Tree roots dangled from the verge. Jutting out from the shoreline was a dock constructed of greyish brown wood, nearly identical to the one by their cottage. It was the only sign of human encroachment. Warner shipped the oars and moored the boat. Adele clambered up on to the pier, bringing the fishing pole and the bait pail. “Is this where you caught those perch?” she asked softly, cognizant of the silence of the forest beyond them.

“No, and I’m not telling you where,” the big man replied, bringing out the hamper and his own pole. “We all have our secrets. You have your secret recipes … and I have my secret fishing spots.”

Over her shoulder, Adele eyed the large trees and thick undergrowth with trepidation as she wound the fishing wire tighter on the reel. Warner sat beside her on the end of the dock and ate his breakfast with relish. Birds called from the woods behind them. The young woman threaded the wire through the loops on the rod and a small brightly colored floater. Then she tied a hook at the end of the line. She dug a worm out of the pail, wound and impaled it around the hook, and then made her cast out over the water. She reeled in the slack and then settled back to wait.

“Your form needs a little work,” Warner commented with food in his mouth. “Otherwise, not bad.” He finished off his meal and washed it down with a tin cup of water from the cask.

“I learned from the best, sir,” the young woman replied, staring out at the floater.

The man chuckled, rising to his feet and brushing crumbs from his overalls. “Flattery will gain you nothing, Adele,” he admonished. “You’re staying here.”

“Yes, sir.” She twitched at the line, watching the floater bob up and down in response.

“I’ll be back in an hour or two. Save some fish for me.” She felt the wood shudder and creak under his weight as he strode away. She turned away from the lake in time to see him push branches aside and enter the forest.

Feeling a bit spiteful, Adele stuck her tongue out at his disappearing back. “I’ll try not to catch them all, sir,” she muttered, returning her attention to the floater. “It’s not as though they’re in any hurry to bite, anyway.”

Long before Warner emerged from the forest once more, Adele was wishing that she had brought one of her books along. She had a moment of excitement when she fought to drag in what she believed was a real lunker, but it turned out to be a lot smaller than she anticipated. Other than that, the fish were just not biting, and she was doubly disappointed with her foray out on the boat. She wondered how Warner managed to catch so many fish while meeting with their contacts. His contacts, really. It wasn’t as if Adele was ever allowed to see them. At first, she speculated that he might be trysting with Zifa, but couldn’t imagine why Zifa wouldn’t want to visit with her, as well. Thinking of Zifa submerged her in melancholy, so Adele amused herself with plans for the chicken dinner she would prepare for that evening. Naturally, thoughts of supper lead to a reverie involving the guest she and Warner would be entertaining.

Catching herself wool-gathering, Adele muttered a prayer, clutching at the holy symbol underneath her tunic. She blushed, wondering why the stranger affected her so much. “Duty,” she whispered to herself. “Remember your duty.”

Before she had left the convent, she had leapt at the opportunity to please the Taskmaster by being exceptionally dutiful and obedient. Being assigned to this mission with Warner was confirmation of the Taskmaster’s confidence in her. If she performed up to his specifications, she would please the Taskmaster. And then, maybe…she blushed again, more deeply this time.

Of course, Warner chose that moment to return and startle her out of her reverie. “Time to go, initiate,” he announced as he emerged from the forest. “Can’t be late for supper tonight, after all.” He grinned at her. “The chicken might be offended.”

To be continued, someday…

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.