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 9

Manchess_MagllnDOCK

Once more I present another excerpt after too long away but with a slight change. Barb and I are starting on another collaborative novel under contract (and later into the year than ever before). Further excerpts from this ongoing solo work might come a little slower. In addition, the first scene herein is a rework of the final scene from the last entry of “New Beginnings”; not my usual way when sharing excerpts with others, but a few extra details came to me that had to be set for later use in this novel.

For those just stepping into this excerpt series, use THIS LINK for a listing of previous entries. And so, without further rambling…


Chapter 3, Scene 5 [Revised]

The instant Tryskiäna had stepped out into the street, she stalled at the sight of a few remaining “stragglers.” Dejected, one peered down toward the near end of the waterfront, perhaps hoping someone might come back in need of more porters for the day.

Few other businesses in the city gave such young ones any day work; fewer still paid at least one coin for the day. None offered something decent to eat as well. That the stragglers had such from the FFPS was also more than she had imagined from someone like that… vàtz!

The FFPS reputation had spread, and on some days, more stragglers showed up than could be put to work. More than were needed might not have that meal for the day.

Tryskiäna took a slow, deep breath and stepped up hill as she called out, “Follow me.”

The three in the street quickly did so, for they knew what she intended. At the end of the alley which ran behind the shops of the block, Wolfin' Bits being the nearest, Tryskiäna halted before an old, smoked-stained carpet curtaining the alley's end behind the FFPS. She carefully pulled the carpet aside.

“Master Moufud?” she called out and then, “Moufud… ahk'thú an?

Common Sumanese was not one of her mastered languages. She made that simple, polite call to their closest business neighbor. He appreciated this, though he certainly needed practice in the local language. Through him, she might also improve her ability in yet another tongue, but not at this time.

The stench of the space beyond curtain, filled with barrels, crates, and sacks of imported food stuffs—along with the still smoking clay dome of the low oven—was overwhelming.

“Master Mou—”

The squeal of the eatery's backdoor opening interrupted her. A grisly, stubble-shadowed, dark-skinned face popped out and glared all around. Those dark, black-irised eyes widened at the sight of her peeking into his private cooking area.

Master Moufud's expression softened a little with something not quite a smile.

Al'has'sa a yas, Miss,” he rumbled. “What is you want? Is trouble?”

“No, not truly,” she answered, stepping into his alley kitchen. “Umm… I would like some hot water, if you have a little spare. Enough to warm any rainwater… for bathing.”

He understood most of this, for he looked her up and down with puzzlement. This was not why she usually visited in the mornings.

“Not for me,” she explained, but then he interrupted.

“Pìnt!” he growled, as if cursing. “Su-wer-ses?”

It was not the first time the boy needed a midday bath; it was the first that Vàtz had left her to attend this.

Tryskiäna affected a sheepish shrug. “Yes, the sewers… again.”

Master Moufud once more became his dangerous, sour, and dark self. He rumbled something she did not catch as he dug through his stacks of stores in the alley. More than likely—most certainly—those utterances were not ones Tryskiäna would wish to learn. In little time, he rolled out an empty half-barrel for washing raw ingredients used in his pastries.

Moufud snatched up a kettle resting on the clay oven's front ledge.

“Be-hind?” he asked flatly.

“Yes, please,” she answered, and pulled back the carpet curtain for him.

He rolled the half-barrel out but paused at the sight of the three street urchins waiting and watching. At this sight, he shook his head once with a growling sigh and rolled the half-barrel down behind the old shack-stable. There he tipped it flat on its bottom with a crack of wood on cobble.

Returning to the carpet curtain while Tryskiäna waited, he ducked through. Soon he reappeared with a cask of rainwater, poured this into the tub, and added the steaming kettle's contents. Altogether, it did not fill much of the half barrel. Tryskiäna tested the water with a fingertip.

It was still rather cool though not chill. Certainly, it was not as chill as sewer water.

“Thank you… very much,” she told him.

He simply nodded. “And… book work?” he asked hesitantly.

Tryskiäna glanced at the stragglers, one now peeking through the carpet-curtain into his kitchen.

“Yes, always,” she told him. “But later, if that is acceptable?”

He blinked several times, perhaps not catching every word, and then nodded with a grunt. That was their arrangement: her services in exchange for a meal each to those ones who came for work but found none. Perhaps they were the ones who ate better for the day. The foreign cook was seen as gruff, grimy, and repugnant to some, but Tryskiäna knew better.

Master Moufud was a good, charitable man. What he fed remaining stragglers—regardless of their number—was more than far trade for her balancing his ledgers once per moon. And regardless of the stench each morning, his meals-in-a-pastry were astonishing to the taste. But he did not return to attend the three little ones at his carpet-curtain.

Moufud crossed his thick arms and glared, though not at her. She followed those dark eyes toward the entrance of the FFPS. When she looked back and up in puzzlement, he merely grunted and jutted his thick, stubbled chin toward that entrance.

Did he intend to remain until Pint was actually in the tub? Was that how things worked? Was Pint that much trouble?

At a loss, Tryskiäna stalled but then went off to retrieve boy. When she reached the front door and looked inside the FFPS, she saw no one inside. Her panic peaked, and she rushed in.

“Pìnt? Pìnt! Where are you?”

 

 

Chapter 4, Scene 1

Vàtz skidded to a halt at the northernmost big dock's head. In a blink, someone nearly ran him over from behind, and he stumbled and twisted around.

“What?” a stunned Kat demanded. “Why'd you stop?

“Get Chetnik,” he ordered, “or any city guard you run into first.”

Kat's eyes widened before she hissed back, “The guard captain's the last we want here!”

“Better we call him than someone else—and someone will!”

Vàtz whirled away before she argued again.

He dodged, wove, and shoved his way through people clogging the big dock's top deck. The stand-off between porter teams had attracted too much attention, and that wasn't good. Customers wouldn't think so either, and he could hear some behind and ahead start all sorts of questions and griping, one to another. And getting past Boddack's men to his own team was then barred completely.

Vàtz pulled up short before a wall of broad backs in sweaty shirts.

“Make a path!” he shouted—and only then regretted it.

More than one wide back turned to reveal bony, grisly, scarred and or stubbly faces. He knew a few of these ex-deckhands turned porters. In facing this disgruntled lot, he felt as small as his younger cousin. The only good thing was that he didn't spot Boddack among them.

That wouldn't last, as likely someone had run to get “Thumbless.”

Vàtz looked up into the thick face of a broad-bellied hulk with a bell-shaped head by the look of his sagging jowls and fat throat. Prickly ash-colored eyebrows matched the four days of like-colored stubble around his grinning maw.

“Well, wadaya know, it's the little schemer,” old Goran said. As foreman for Boddack's private porter teams, he was one of few who made his boss seem less slimy.

Vàtz swallowed but regained only half of his gall. “Nobody block's a dock, and you know it. Get of the way or I'll report you.”

“Oh, I didn't start this,” Goran countered in a croaking growl. “But I'm finished… with you!”

Chuckling, he turn away, as did the others around him.

Vàtz panicked, looking left and right for anyway to get around and through to his team. More shouts rose in the crowd behind him, as well as somewhere beyond that wall of broad backs. Maybe some were for his own porters as much as Boddack's.

He crouched low to peek between Goran's legs and spottedDed's scarred boots across a clear space of the dock. Maybe Bolo's stout legs as well. That wall of Goran's men started to advance.

Vàtz quickly straightened up but still didn't see anyway to get through. That his own team had gotten here first didn't matter anymore. About to shout to Ded or Bolo to back off—

“Hey, you bloated, beached… WHALE!

Vàtz's gut clenched as Goran turned at that high-pitched snarl from somewhere behind down the dock. So did most of Goran's men. The old foreman eyed Vàtz with menace before peering over him and down the dock.

A bearer's pole arced down above Vàtz before he could duck. Its end cracked Goran on the forehead. The nearest of the foreman's men flinched and ducked, and so did Vàtz. Goran wobbled, wide-eyed and slack-jowled, someone shoved Vàtz from behind. Then came another high-pitched shout, much closer behind him this time.

“Run, ya moron!”

He already knew it was that loud-mouth Kat. “What're you doing here? Where's city guard?”

“I sent its'n'bits for them,” she answered, and before he asked who they were, she yanked him onward. “Now run!”

The men nearest to Goran reacted. One grabbed the side-wobbling foreman under the arms; the other tried to step into the gap. Boggle-eyed Goran wobbled the other way, right in front of Vàtz, but also into the second of his closest underlings. Vàtz dodged the other way in following Kat.

They ran around Goran's tangle of three and into the open space beyond. There was Ded and Bolo closing fast from the other side. Ded's right hand came out from behind his back, and in it was that long, tarnished butcher knife.

“Ah, no!” Vàtz panted. “We're gonna get barred for sure.”

Shouts and shrieks rose among those on the dock or hanging on the rail of the Bull. Vàtz grabbed Ded's free arm as he passed—something he wouldn't have done if he'd had time to think better.

“Put it away,” he whispered. “Things are bad enough without someone's blood on docks.”

Ded returned him a cold stare, which made Vàtz's stomach flip-flop as Kat scurried beyond them. Vàtz snatched his hand back before he could stop himself, and Ded turned those dead eyes toward Goran's men—or rather Boddack's men.

Could this day's luck get any worse?


Until next time, thanks for joining me and questions are always welcome. —J.C.