Steve asked to look at the first five pages. I’ve rewritten them a bit. They will probably change a bit more after the critiques from the workshop come in, but it’s pretty close to final edit, I think.
Still looking for a title. Perhaps these pages will jog something.
As always, copyright material 2008 Julie Weathers. All rights reserved. No portion may be reproduced without express permission.
(I really need to add copyright information somewhere permanently.)
In her nearly sixteen years, Gentyl had never seen her parents fight, but that’s all they had done since the far rider came by with a message three weeks before.
That’s when her mother embarked on a frantic mission to make Gentyl’s skin velvet soft, with no blemish or scratch to mar it. A farmer’s daughter with perfect skin? If she hadn’t been the object of this unwanted attention, it would have been laughable.
Gentyl glanced up from the smoky gray kitten, purring in her arms. She continued to stroke the silky fur and grabbed at a tiny paw as he batted at the braid draped across her shoulder. Kittens were the only animals allowed to trespass in her mother’s immaculate herb garden and even they were often shooed away if they started chewing on the plants. Yet there was Papa with his large farmer boots, standing in the middle of a lush green mass, and Mama too busy arguing to notice the molested mint.
Sunlight glinted again off the silver knife her mother used for cutting flowers. A stranger would think she was threatening him alternately with a bunch of flowers in one hand or a knife in the other. Papa said she wouldn’t be able to talk if someone tied her hands. She was definitely talking now. The knife dropped into her apron pocket and she reached out to grab Papa’s hand. He shook his head no, but his shoulders drooped in surrender.
They walked out to the middle of the barnyard where she was sitting without saying a word to each other.
“I’ve asked you to wear gloves outdoors, especially when you’re playing with the cats,” her mother said.
Gentyl set the kitten on the ground and took a deep breath, fighting to control her irritation. She stood and faced her mother, their eyes nearly even. “Petting a kitten with gloves on would be like trying to smell those flowers in your hand with a mask on, wouldn’t it, Mother? I don’t mind you using me to test your new creams, but this is insane. I’m just a–” She swallowed the rest of her sentence when her mother’s eyebrow shot up. She exhaled slowly from pursed lips and looked to her father, blinking back hot tears of frustration. “Papa, tell her.”
“Tell me what?” her mother shot back. “That you want to be a Horse Guard with your aunt and you can’t even follow some simple instructions? Apparently you have no concept of what a soldier does, let alone a Guard.”
She picked the kitten back up in defiance. “I doubt any soldier has to wear gloves to play with a kitten. Use your own skin next time, Mother. Soldiers don’t need perfect hands.” She had to force herself to keep from screaming in frustration. “I just want a chance to ride with Aunt Khali. Is that so much to ask?”
“You have no idea what you’re asking for.”
The kitten jumped out of her arms when Gentyl growled.
Her father put his hand on her arm. “Come on, Gen. Let’s go eat breakfast.”
She resisted her father’s nudge as she planted her feet stubbornly and glared at her mother.
It did no good to dwell on her mother’s obsession to concoct the perfect skin cream, or the argument, or the far rider, or even what her mother was going to tell her aunt. It simply didn’t matter. She had two years to prove she could follow orders. And none of them would include testing hand creams for the simpering women who bought them from her mother.
If we were in Eiryn I would have been fighting since I could walk. I’d be apprenticed to the Horse Guards when I turned sixteen.
But they weren’t in her father’s homeland. There were in Tamarland where the only women warriors were M’eiryn in the Horse Guards with her aunt. That was changing, though. This year the military academy was forming a women’s unit and she was going to be in it with just a bit of luck, a lot of prayer and the help of her father.
Two years in the academy and then to the Horse Guards. I can do this if it means getting what I want.
She decided to help prepare breakfast in hopes being useful might temper her mother’s unhappiness about the gloves. She followed her father into the house where thick slabs of wheat bread warmed on the hearth while a pot of oatmeal bubbled over the fire.
“Gentyl!” her mother squawked when she started stirring the oatmeal. “Put that spoon down before you burn yourself.” Her mother snatched the spoon out of her hand and began to stir, pouring a thin stream of golden honey into the thickening porridge. “I thought we’d have oatmeal this morning. It’s good for you and settles your stomach.”
Gentyl flopped against the wall and fiddled with an herb bouquet, idly picking at the dried flowers as she watched her mother hover over the cooking fire. She didn’t mention they had oatmeal every morning. “Why would our stomachs need settling?”
“We’re going into town today.”
“Going into town doesn’t usually upset our stomachs. Why would it today?”
“We have important business,” her mother said as if that explained everything.
She looked across the room at her father, who had pilfered a slice of bread from the hearth. He had that helpless and resigned look on his face he always got when her mother had set her mind on something. “We’re farmers. What kind of important business could we have?”
“Just business,” her mother said with a finality that meant this conversation was ended.
Gentyl pulled her lute off the wall and sat down in the corner. Her fingers plucked out an old M’eiryn marching song, without thought.
“There were lines of marching men
Brave and true, and handsome then
All dead and gone to bones of white.”
“Do you have to sing that horrible thing, Gentyl?”
The last chord vibrated under her hand. “What would you like me to sing, Mother? A fair love ballad?”
“Something besides that gruesome song.”
She strummed idly, trying to think of an appropriate song.
“Molly dearest, just say yes
Kiss me quick and lift your dress–“
Her father choked on the bread he was eating.
“Gentyl Diarmand! Where did you hear that?”
She raised an eyebrow at her mother, who was now an unusual shade of red. This, apparently, wasn’t the love song she had in mind. “I heard some men singing.”
Her mother whirled around to face the table where her father sat. “The only men who have been singing around here were Aegis’ men last month. See what these soldiers were teaching your daughter?”
The bench scraped against the plank floor as he stood up. He thumped her on the head, when he stopped in front of her, leaning down to her level. “Do you have to antagonize your mother?” he whispered.
“She started it.”
“Let’s go outside.”
“Don’t whip her!”
“Sieylen, no, I’m not going to whip her. Though she probably needs it. Gods forbid I leave a mark on her.” His hand closed around hers and he pulled her out the door with him.
She wasn’t positive about not getting a whipping the way he jerked her out of the house. He sat her down on the bench outside and stood towering over her.
“Did you really have to sing that song?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I thought it was funny.”
He sat down beside her and leaned back against the house. “Gen, you should have left when you heard them singing a song like that.”
“Don’t you think I’m going to hear it when I become a soldier?” She looked out over the garden and watched two kittens, chasing each other. “Aegis made them stop when he saw me nearby. I had to bribe them with some tarts later to teach it to me.”
He rubbed his hand over his face. “Well, for god’s sake don’t tell your mother that.”
“Tell me what?” her mother asked from the doorway.
“I think the kittens were digging around your basil,” he said.
She waved a hand in dismissal. “I don’t have time to worry about that now. Can you bring in some more wood for the bathwater? Breakfast will be ready soon.”
Gentyl didn’t bother to ask if she could help bring the wood in. She just followed along like a well-trained puppy. Inside, she meandered around, trying to stay out of her mother’s way.
Her mother always kept their home spotless, even to the point of whitewashing the walls twice a year. She refused to keep a thatched roof where all manner of bugs and vermin could hide, dropping onto unsuspecting victims below; so Papa sold two cows to buy slate. The house always smelled of flowers or herbs. Bunches of lavender and various other flowers hung from the rafters drying. A kitchen bouquet made up of sprigs of dried herbs hung on the wall over the fireplace where it was convenient to pluck spices for cooking.
Gentyl wandered into the stillroom where the bathing tub was set out. She unstopped bottle after bottle of perfume and perfume oil, inhaling deeply. Very briefly, she considered asking her mother if she could wear the dusk blend the noblewomen always bought, but she knew the answer would be no unless their business was to attract undesired attention from some lustful male. Her mother was convinced it had the same magnitude of carnal provocation as Widow Benson’s love potions. She simply liked the musky smell. It had an underlying spicy note and that indefinable essence her mother’s secret ingredient gave it.
Breakfast was a bleak affair for everyone except her mother who prattled nervously. They quickly did the dishes and began cleaning the kitchen. Gentyl was surprised she was allowed to wash the spoons.
“The warm water softens your hands,” her mother said as they finished drying the last of the dishes. “Put this lotion on while I finish heating water for baths.”
“Won’t I just wash it off when I take a bath?”
Her mother grabbed another armful of wood for the fire. “Just do it, please, and stop questioning everything I say.” She poured the heated water for the bath as Gentyl went to the front door to look for the kittens. “Gentyl, come take your bath before the water gets cold.”
“Isn’t Papa going to bathe first?”
“No,” he grumbled from his seat at the table. “I get to go to town smelling like I just stepped out of Madam Lowanna’s boarding house.”
“How would you know what that place smells like?” Mama asked as she wiped her hands on her apron.
“I pass by it on the way to the blacksmith,” he said. He went out the door to get more wood, cutting off any further questions.
Gentyl couldn’t help sighing with pleasure as she stepped into the hot water. Her mind wandered to a familiar daydream. The gray horse she was riding through a heavy forest trotted steadily, smooth as silk. The hunter green M’eiryn cloak draped across her back and over the horse’s dappled rump. Her hand reached up to caress the silver clasp on the front of the cloak. Fingers traced the outline of the rider on the racing horse signet of a far rider; and then she lowered her hand back to the smooth leather reins. Sunlight sliced through the dark green canopy and on to the narrow path, throwing mottled gold on ground like coins before a dancer. She was finally a courier with the Horse Guards and it was everything she wanted. Her contentment was complete. The water was nearly cooled by the time her mother’s latest demand broke through her reverie. “Gentyl! Quit dawdling and get finished so the rest of us can bathe.” She groaned and sank beneath the water to drown out her mother’s complaint. It did no good. Her mother only walked over and kicked the tub several times.
“Yes, Mother,” she sighed as she rose up out of the water. She pulled the bucket with the rain water off the stand and rinsed her hair a final time, letting the water pour into the tub.