Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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There goes spring break . . .

And did I get all the seeds planted?  All the dead stalks of last year’s perennials trimmed back?  All the dogs bathed?

Did I take Pippa to town every day and remind her, around real distractions, of the obedience work we haven’t practiced for two years?  No, I did not, even though she will be in the ring again at last in just two weeks.  (I did take her out once, and she did great but does need to practice the stand for exam.)

Did I read the rest of the books by Nina Kiriki Hoffman that I just bought and have been dying to get to?  Watch the three seasons of Battlestar Galactica which I have owned for years?  No, not that either.

What I did instead was write 114 pp of my newest work-in-progress.  In eight days.  Bringing the total number of pages to 202.  For me, 14 pages a day is very good indeed and reason to be smug, even though I now have to catch up on all the other things I let slide.  Plus, I think I have a vague inkling of how the book will end!  Maybe.

Here’s the way it starts:

*   *   *
Chapter One

The day Erest’s brother Kevi was stolen, that was the same day Erest climbed over the wall for the second time.

The first time he had not known what he was doing.  That had been ten years ago, almost.  He’d only been five, an independent, unpredictable toddler with more curiosity than any ten cats – his mother, Elise, put it like that when she was telling one of her embarrassingly cute baby stories about him.  She laughed when she said it, but she meant it, too.  She seemed to have twice as many stories about Erest as about any of his brothers or his sister.  Although that story was not cute, and anyway it wasn’t really about Erest.  It was about his father.

Erest had got of the house and all the way through the back pasture, where luckily the red bull, lying in the shade of the cottonwoods by the river, had not noticed him.  He had clambered over the wall at a low place where one of the big stones that braced the wall had cracked straight through and where some of the flat red rocks laid across the top had fallen.  The miniature rockslide had left an irresistible gap for any five year old, and never mind all that about the cats.

“How any five-year-old baby could get all that way and then keep right on going up the mountain, one little foot after another!  But that’s Erest,” his mother always said when she reached this part of the story.  “Once he gets started, he won’t turn back halfway.”

He had been wearing a blue shirt that day.  The dye had streaked, that was why his mother had got it cheap from the peddler, but it was a good bright blue, like a flake off the sky.  That was why his father had spotted him, already high up on the mountain’s shoulder.

It was the only mountain in all of Whetsee.  It was not really a proper mountain, Erest’s brother Davud said.  Davud worked for Master Paulin, who was a dyer and traveled all over the world arranging for the production and trade of the rarest and most expensive dyes and fixatives, and the best cloth, too.  Davud had been not only to Carst and Illium but even to Markand, all the way south and east to where real mountains, he said, stabbed upward like knives aimed at the heart of heaven.

Davud did not come home very often, but the last time, having been pestered almost to death by his younger brothers on his previous visits, he’d brought a series of sketches to show everyone.  He’d been proud of his sketches of busy Illian markets and girls drawing water from fountains, of Markand palaces and temples with pointed upswept roofs and smiling girls with flowers in their hands and in their hair.

Little Tom, who was sixteen then, and Kert, who was fourteen, liked the sketches of the girls best.  They spread those sketches out on the scarred work table in the kitchen because it was the largest table in the house, and then they argued about which girl was prettiest and teased Davud and said that he should bring a girl home instead of just a drawing.  Alise – she was eighteen then, and being seriously courted by two different town boys – had just rolled her eyes, but Davud blushed and glanced sidelong at their mother, and said maybe someday he would.  Elise had just smiled, so it was hard to decide what she thought about Davud maybe bringing a foreign girl home.

Erest had been twelve.  He had privately thought Davud had spent more than enough of his time drawing girls, but he loved the other drawings.  The last one, the one he liked best, showed the mountains of eastern Markand.  “A drawing like this doesn’t do the job,” Davud had said apologetically.  “No ink could do it right – there’s not that much paper in the world.  It’s like the whole horizon rears up to touch the sky.  It’s like the world ends right there.  You feel if you climbed up to the top and looked over, there wouldn’t be anything on the other side but sky, going on forever.”

Erest had tried to imagine this.  He had decided right then  that his brothers could have the farm – that someday he, too, would be a travel like Davud.  His trade didn’t matter, so long as he got to travel.  He didn’t care much about dyes, but he wondered if his brother’s master might want another apprentice.  But when he asked Davud later, his brother said Master Paulin was getting ready to settle down and devote himself to building up a decent clientele someplace civilized, maybe in Illium somewhere, and if he took another apprentice it would probably be an Illian boy.  But he gave Erest the sketch of the mountains for his own.

The Kieba’s mountain wasn’t like the ones from Davud’s drawing.  It wasn’t so huge or so grand.  It was rounded at the top, and lumpy where it trailed off into a series of square-ish bumps on the western side.  Like the desert below, it was all red sandstone and dry sun-bleached grasses, with here and there stunted scrub oaks and pines clinging to the stone.  But it was mountain enough to stand out starkly enough from the flat surrounding grasslands and desert.  And, of course, it had the wall all the way around it, miles and miles of wall, which no other mountain in the world had.  The wall was because the Kieba lived at the top and she liked her privacy.  The wall was only elbow high on a grown man.  It wasn’t meant to enforce the Kieba’s preferences.  She did that herself.  It was only to mark the boundary of the mountain she claimed as her own.

Erest had no memory of what his five-year-old self had been thinking when he found the gap in the wall and climbed over the tumbled stones and started up the mountain.  Maybe he had just made his way through the pasture and across the wall because such a venture was forbidden.  Maybe somebody had been telling stories about the Kieba and he had actually and deliberately decided to go up the mountain to look for her.   Either way, he had found her.  That was his father’s part of the story.

Erest’s father was a big, broad man with shoulders like one of the plow horses and immensely strong calloused hands and a deep, deep voice that had slammed down like a sledgehammer against his wife’s attempt to run after her son, whose blue shirt had been just visible against the red stone of the mountain.  Tomren had gone himself, across the pasture and over the wall and up the mountain.  He had found his son a bowshot on the other side of the wall, eagerly showing the Kieba a large pebble he had found on her mountain, round and hollow and filled with glittering purple crystals.

It was obviously much too late to snatch up his little son, rush back down the mountain, and pretend as hard and thoroughly as possible that no one had ever trespassed past the Kieba’s boundaries.  So Tomren had walked forward instead, set one big hand on Erest’s shoulder, dropped heavily to his knees, and begged the Kieba’s pardon for his son’s trespass and for his own.  Erest remembered that part.  He remembered how shocked he had been when he understood his big, unshakable father was afraid.

“I don’t hold babies to account when they flout my law,” the Kieba had answered.  Erest remembered her saying that, or thought he did:  maybe he only remembered his father’s story about it.  He thought he remembered that the Kieba had looked to him like any normal woman.  Old, maybe his mother’s age.  Not really special, except there was something strange about the way she moved, though he couldn’t have explained what exactly was strange about it.  But she looked like she was used to having men kneel to her.  Erest was almost sure he remembered that.

Her tone had been sardonic when she spoke to Tomren:  not exactly angry, but severe, like Erest’s mother when she was pointing out a badly done chore that she was going to make you do over.  Erest had been shocked again to hear the Kieba speak to his father in that tone.  She had added, “I hold their parents to account for that.”

“That’s right.  That’s just,” Tomren had agreed immediately.  His deep voice was not suited to any swift tumble of words, but this time he spoke quickly, as though he wanted to get the words out before the Kieba changed her mind.  He said, “I know there’s a price to pay.  I’ll pay it.  But let me take him down, give him to his mother.  Then I’ll come back.  I swear I will come back.  But let me take the boy to his mother first.”

The Kieba had just looked at him for a long moment.  Tomren had stared back at her, waiting.  Erest had not understood, then, what his father meant.  But he must have understood something because he hadn’t tried to shake off his father’s grip, even though it was hard enough to bruise his arm.

At last the Kieba had said, “You’re a good neighbor, Tomren.  You and all your family.  I don’t mind your farm here.  You’ve wondered about that, haven’t you?  But I don’t mind it.  I like to look down at its neat order.  I like to see your family prosper.  I like to see your happiness.  Take your son back across the wall.  Teach him to respect my boundaries.  That will satisfy me.”

Then she had looked at Erest.  “That’s called a geode, that hollow rock,” she had told him.  “The crystals are amethysts.  Keep it, if you like.  Some people think geodes are lucky.  Perhaps that one will bring you luck.  You’ll need luck, if you go on as you’ve started.”  Then she’d just turned and walked away, up the mountain and around a curve of stone, and was gone.

*  *   *

I like it so far!  But I have to add, it’s the girl character who appeared in Chapter Three who stole my heart!  I didn’t see her coming at all until suddenly there she was, hiding under a chair to listen in on a discussion she was NOT supposed to overhear . . .

Now a break to catch up on house-garden-dog-related chores!  I will probably figure out the ending to this book over the next month and finish the first draft in May, after the semester ends and Bree’s puppies arrive.

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