Official site for the high/dark fantasy books of authors Barb Hendee and J. C. Hendee, including the Noble Dead Saga (a.k.a. The Noble Dead series), the Mist-Torn Witches series, the Vampire Memories series, and TNDS: Tales from the world of the Noble Dead Saga.

New Beginnings… Part 6

#fantasy, #fiction, #excerpts, #nobledeadsaga, #nobledeadseries, #jchendee


Another two draft scenes are now available as I inch forward on this solo project and bring Chapter 2 to a close…

Chapter 2, Scene 3

You… you sick little… ghoul!

Pìnt clenched all over at Katrina's mean words with a sneer followed by a chuckle. He still felt pretty mean about her as well. Afterall, she'd stolen one of his glow-rocks.

Of course, he had gotten it back, and he wasn't telling anyone how, but he didn't know why everyone else was so upset. More than that, he didn't like that he'd scared Miss Tryskiäna, and she ducked behind her desk.

All that Pìnt heard was her gagging and gasping, which made him feel even worse.

“That… that's…” Vàtz stuttered, looking between Pìnt and Miss Tryskiäna's desk. “You… you've… really done it this time!”

Pìnt's little mouth gaped like his big eyes. Nobody was acting right. Everybody was so upset about nothing.

It was only a hand.

Pale, almost white but not quite, but darker under those chipped fingernails, a cleanly severed bone barely peeked out of its wrist stump. That part wasn't surprising. And whoever had lost it wouldn't want it back. Who knew how long it had been in the sewers before it washed into that down-chute's catching trough.

A long time, likely, so nobody had even looked for it.

It was a little odd that nothing had chewed on it, especially the rats. Maybe it had washed into the trough quicker than he guessed and been there a long time. He'd never found anything like it. That made it special, and he'd almost drowned in finding it.

Earlier in the sewers, there had been nothing nearby that was long enough to reach that pale blur beneath the water. He laid down on the walkway, gripped the iron gate with one hand, and stuck the other into the mucky water all the way up to his shoulder.

That paleness was still too deep, whatever it was.

Water soaked into his pullover, and he even tried pulling out a set of old metal smith's tongs from his deep pockets. The tongs were too heavy to work with one little hand and still didn't reach. He tossed those aside on the walkway, scooted forward until both shoulders hung over the edge, and then had to scoot a little more… and a little more…


Pìnt lifted his head but never saw which rat had come back. In twisting to look, he slid right over over the edge, head-first. And he didn't know how to swim, and with a splash, he didn't see anything anymore.

Beneath the dark water, he thrashed in fright to find the walkway's edge. His boots quickly filled with water and pulled him down again. He sank and fright made him forget all about that pale blur somewhere below.

Pìnt clawed at the trough's back wall in trying to find its top edge. He barely got a hold of it and pulled himself to the surface. Coughing and spitting out the bad-tasting water, he felt his boots settle on the trough's bottom.

It wasn't quite as deep as he'd first thought, though he still had to raise his chin to stop swallowing the yucky water.

As he calmed down, he looked down, and there was that pale blur. It was so close that he just couldn't leave it behind. He tried scooting it closer to the trough wall with one foot, but that took quite a while with his loose boots sogged and filled as they were. Even when he did it, he had to duck fully under to grab that blur with one hand.

It was slimy, squishy, colder than the water, and felt funny shaped.

Pìnt pulled himself up by his other hand, surfaced with a gasp, and flung his squishy find up on the walkway. A splat and flop followed as whatever it was tumbled beyond sight to the down-chute's tunnel wall. And a sudden little squeal echoed through the sewers. Pìnt peeked over the walkway's edge.

Whoever had come back ran off again in a skitter of tiny paws and claws on stone.

Getting out of the trough was a lot harder than getting in. When he finally crawled up and over the walkway's edge—and stopped panting—he took off and poured out his boots. And when he looked back for his luckiest find…

Pìnt stared at the hand on Miss Tryskiäna's desk.

It was still puffy and swollen—sort of. Likely that thin ring of whitish metal wouldn't come off the third finger. Not that he cared about that.

“Is that it?” Vàtz whispered, still staring at the hand and not blinking at all. “What else you got in those pockets?”

“What else?” Took squealed. “I don't wanna know anything else!”

“Yeah,” Mauriana added in a shuddering whisper. “Yeah, that's enough already.”

She eyed Pìnt as if he were a monster, and that started to make him mad again. Cousin Vàtz ignored everyone and glared, which made Pìnt hesitated again.

Miss Tryskiäna finally rose up behind her desk. With a hand over her mouth, she looked from the hand to Pìnt and slowly shook head. At that he almost started bawling.

Nobody understood; it was just a hand.

Okay, it was dead, but dead things weren't anything to be afraid of.

Some you might even want back.

“Out with it,” Vàtz hissed at him, too much like Katrina. “All of it… now!

Lowering his eyes in not wanting to face Miss Tryskiäna's fearful stare, Pìnt took out everything still in his deep pockets. Well, almost everything. That took a while, or it seemed so to him, as the pile of wet stuff grew on the desk. When he got to the other glow-rock, he hesitated, but it was only his second one. And out it came.

“Another?” Cousin Vàtz growled. “You're never coming with me to the sages again!”

Vàtz lunged in, snatched up the first and second glow-rocks, and stuffed those in his pocket. Even at another time, that wouldn't have bothered Pìnt. He had a third one in the bottom of his trunk.

Katrina had missed that one. And he hadn't stolen any of them anyway. He'd gotten them all the fair way through finding.

Vàtz reached for the hand but hesitated.

“What're you going to do with it?” Took asked in hushed words.

Bolo made a disgusted huff. “Throw it in an alley, or anywhere but here.”

Pìnt stiffened, ready snatched the hand himself, but Vàtz's glare turned on him.

“No, he can't… can he?” Maurianna whispered. “What if someone sees him… or finds it?”

Pìnt began to panic. Nobody was throwing away his best find ever.

“Moufud's clay oven's already going out in the alley,” Took countered.

“Then drop it into an old barrel or crate,” Lauri added. “Nobody'll see if your careful and… who knows what Moufud puts in his stuff.”

“Then you do it,” Took sniped.

Lauri said nothing more.

“Either way,” Bolo cut in, stepping halfway to Vàtz. “Get it out of here, now, as we're wasting daylight.”

In one quick swipe, Vàtz snatched the hand with a squeamish cringe.

Pìnt chilled more than from being wet all over. About to charge past Bolo and block the door, his cousin spun for his own desk instead.

“What are you doing?” Bolo squeaked in shock.

Vàtz hopped around behind his desk, jerked open a top-right drawer, and dropped the hand in.

Pìnt stared, panting in numb shock, as his cousin slammed it shut, fumbled out a little key from his pants pocket, and locked the drawer.

Vàtz backed all the way to the room's front wall. He there shuddering as Bolo's mouth dropped open in shock. The same for Miss Tryskiäna and some of the others. Even pale Ded crossed his arms and glowered dangerously at Cousin Vàtz.

So did Pìnt.

“Throw that thing out, now!” Bolo shouted.

“I can't!” Vàtz shouted back. He stiffened with a suspicious glance about and whispered, “If we toss it, someone might find it. Then what? Maybe they report it to Chetnik, and his city guards start pokin' about.”

“Where there's a hand,” Katrina added, “they'll be looking for a body.”

“You're not helping!” Took yipped at her.

“Just saying.”

Vàtz scrunched his face and pushed his fingers up through his messy hair. “We can't toss it anywhere near here, and we've got to get on with the day, or we'll lose patrons to the other porter teams.”

Pìnt's panic eased a little. If his cousin didn't have time to get rid of the hand…

“Fine, but ditch it by day's end,” Bolo warned and turned to the others. “Everybody, get going, before we make nothing for today.”

He stomped out with one last glare at Vàtz—and then Pìnt.

Pìnt looked to his cousin's desk, though the one drawer was beyond his sight.

“Kat,” Vàtz called, and she halted short of the door. “Grab two left over stragglers and wait for me.”

She left with a nod and Ded followed last. The only ones left were Vàtz and Miss Tryskiäna. Much as Pìnt felt bad about scarring her, he felt worse—and angry and mean—about losing his best find ever.

“Tryx,” Vàtz said, and she jumped slightly. “Clean him up… please.”

“What?” she exhaled and stared at Pìnt. Then she grew angry, turned on cousin Vàtz, and out came, “You… do not dare think that I will—”

“I have to get,” Vàtz cut in. “You said it yourself. Fas'sud's too important, if he shows up… especially to leave him to Kat.”

Miss Tryskiäna rose behind her desk. Sickened fright faded on her face as she turned a little pink in the cheeks. Even Pìnt worried about the way she looked at his cousin.

No. She could be as mean to him as she wanted.

“Fine! Go!” she snapped, but her eyes twitched once toward the desk drawer. “But when you are done with the captain—”

“I know, I know,” Vàtz quickly assured. “I promise, I'll be back quick, and I'll fix this.”

Vàtz eyed his little cousin, heaved another deep sigh, and ran out the door. Miss Tryskiäna turned toward Pìnt, stared at him for too long, and he began to fidget. She threw up her small hands, and let them flop down at her sides.

“What is wrong with you?” she whined.

Pìnt felt terrible all over again, but it didn't last long this time. He didn't even care about losing two glow-rocks instead of one, as he still had a third. But that hand was his, because he found it.

And he was getting it back.



Chapter 2, Scene 4

Get it out of here, now, as we're wasting daylight.”

Devnik scowled at the muffled shout carrying through the left wall and over the chatter in Wolfin' Bits. He did wonder what was going on in that shack outside, but then Moufud returned through the curtained doorway. In the cook's big hand was a steaming pastry.

Golden brown crust bulged up in the middle between edges pinched to hold in its delicious contents. Three slits in the top let out the inner steam, and it was sprinkled all over with spices and herbs.

Devnik didn't care about the Moufud's scowl and took his treat carefully with both hands. He turned about and then froze in looking toward the front door. The whole place seemed even more crowded and pack than when he'd come in. Of course, that wasn't really possible.

He held his golden treasure high as he inched, nudged, and squirmed toward the front door. Once safely outside, he exhaled in relief. Until he worked out a scheme for a better life, he had few true pleasures between his meddling mother, a miserly step-father, and Master Kriändul. About to take his first bite…

Devnik looked over his shoulder.

Standing in front of Wolfin' Bits wasn't safe should someone else rush out. He inched toward where the eater's corner met the edge of that worn shack. Again, about to take his first bite, he heard a scrap of wooden wheels on cobble behind him. Before he looked back…

“You and you, take a pole—and you, follow me. No, no, I don't need anyone else, not let's move!”

Devnik inched down the way and peek around the shack's corner. A short but stocky, night-skinned youth led off others hauling poles and ropes. Someone else appeared suddenly out of the shack and right in front of him. He flinched back and almost bobbled his pastry.

A girl in worn, all-over-brown leather with a wild kerchief on her head pulled up short and turned to look up—and up—at him.

“Hey, long-shanks, lookin' for work?” she asked.

Stunned, Devnik lost his answer when a black-clad, black-haired, pale-skinned figure filled up his view in shoving the mouthy girl aside. That one slipped a hand behind his back, kept it there, and stared at Devnik without blinking. The girl pushed back around her taller companion.

“Lay off, Ded,” she sniped, and looked up at Devnik. “So what about it? Your a bit skinny for haulin' but you've got some reach.”

He back-stepped again. What was she talking about? And he didn't like the way her taller companion watched him without blinking.

“Come for work?” the dark but pale one whispered.

That voice made Devnik twitch and stutter, “Uh, no… don't need… not… for work.”

“Ded, move! I want out of here!”

At that new squeaky voice, the black-clad youth side-stepped but didn't take his eyes off Devnik, who cautiously retreated again. This time a red-haired younger boy with a sword sheathed on his back rush out of the shack.

That one stopped suddenly. He convulsed in a sudden fit, and purposefully shook himself all over as trying it shed bugs crawling on him. And then he glared wide-eye back toward door.

“Vàtz's gotta to do something about that runt!” he said.

The spindly girl in leather turned on him. “Yeah? Well, you go right ahead tell him that.”

“Me?” The red-head's eyes stopped blinking. “You're thick with him lately, and if he won't listen to Bolo…” The boy lost his nerve and again eyed the shack. “Who knows what kinda part that little sewer rat'll show up with next.”

“Oh, quit squakin' like a kicked pigeon!” The smart-mouthed girl rolled her eyes. “It was only a severed hand, you sissy.”

Devnik stopped blinking and stared at her.

The red-head's mouth fell open in a choke.

“Working… or not?”

At that hiss, Devnik's gaze twitched back to the cold stare of the black-haired, pale-skinned one.

“Aw, Ded, knock it off,” countered the red-haired boy.

“Don't take your willies out on him,” said a stout girl stepping out next, followed by her double. “Ded's supposed to watch over us.”

“Yeah, well, I've had enough 'creepy' for one morning,” the red-head grumbled and turned away.

“Move on!” hissed the skinny, black and white one.

In being distracted, Devnik shuddered at those sudden words. He kept his eyes on the supposed guardian of these street urchins as he backed up carefully. And then something bucked the back of his right elbow.

The pastry went up in the air.

He lunged in blind panic, and that mule's head hit him in the back this time. Tripping another two steps, he almost toppled on his face when…


Devnik's breath caught in his chest at the sight of his treat splash-smashed on the cobblestones. That damn mule again dragged the cart against its break, shoved past him, and snuffled into the pastry's remains.

“Sorry,” someone hissed coldly.

Devnik didn't flinch or even look this time. He curled one hand and then the other into fists as that stupid, fat, gluttonous mule slurped the last of his treat. All that was left were crumbs and smears on the filthy cobble. Rather than punch that mule, he sagged and sighed. He didn't pay attention to any of fuss going on as the young ones from the shack dispersed.

“I know, I know, I promise, I'll be back quick, and I'll fix this.”

That whining half-shout barely caught his attention. When he looked, another skinny kid with messed-up dark hair and a tattered brocade vest ran out for the shack's open door.

“Move it, Kat!” the new boy shouted without stopping. “I want to be waiting when Fas'sud comes in. I'm not losing him to anyone, especially Boddack's men.”

The leather clad girl and two younger boys who'd been hanging about took off toward the port behind the one in the brocade vest. Only then did the first of two things heard register on Devnik.

Fas'sud was the captain delivering something for Master Kriändul.

Devnik stared after those four running kids. They disappeared around the corner two blocks down and where he just made out the nearest docked ships. He hurried around to climb aboard the cart, and almost released the break lever when that second something came back to him.

Somebody mentioned a severed hand.

Why did that stick in his head, as if he'd heard—or maybe read—about it somewhere? And what did those kids have to do with the same captain and ship that Master Kriändul sent him to meet?

Devnik cracked the reins. When that pastry-thieving mule barely moved, he shifted forward and kicked it in the rump.

The first scenes of Chapter three should be ready for preview by next weekend. See you then. –J.C.

NOTE: Opening image is “Medieval Town” by Robyn Tran