"Chasing Dragons - Tales of the Jay's Nest 1"

"This is just a taste of my book."

From Chapter Seventeen: A Quick Trip Home Should Soothe Those Worries Away.

Sally’s startled return. It must have been all the soldiers milling around the town center that brought it back to her. She was only ten or eleven. Still a girl, small for her age, and horribly isolated by the loss of her parents. Emily had sent her snot nosed little brother to fetch her to join the other village kids in elaborate games designed to while away the empty fall mornings before school started. Strictly speaking, she had her own chores at the inn to complete, but cook looked the other way most fall mornings, provided the eggs were in and the privies were rinsed down, and Sally was free to have as normal a childhood as she could. They had been exploring the woods along the road to the north of town, convinced that they were Paladins of Mercy, mapping the uncharted territories for the greater glory of their order, just like the explorers that Mrs. Miller had been reading about in class, when disaster struck. She tore her dress. It was the last dress she had that her mother had sewn for her. It was probably too small anyway, but she had been devastated by its loss and by the other children’s laughter at her plight. It was absolutely the last time anyone had seen her cry. Emily had sent the others off, and had taken her to see her mother. Sally had gotten her first set of hand-me-down clothes, a pair of play pants and a blouse that had belonged to Emily. More importantly, she had promised to repair the dress, knowing how important it was to Sally. Overall, Sally had a lot more memories of washing sheets, and mopping floors than she had of morning runs through the fields with the other children before the fog lifted and the workday began. Most days were started before the sun got out of bed, and ran until three candles after it set. But the memory that returned to her now was of those hated pants. She only wore them in the mornings when she could get away with it, but they were a relief on winter days when her dress was still drying from last night’s wash. And it was one such day a few years back when recruiters for the Duke’s Fist were in town, looking over the young men in town. She had been irritated because the light colored pants had taken a wine stain on the seat, and no amount of washing would dislodge it. The pants were always stained, and had to be soaked and washed and rewashed more than any other piece of cloth in the inn. If they ever got replaced, Sally vowed to get fabric as close to black as she could, so that wine, beer, and stew would never again make an artistic statement on her bottom. What was worse were the comments about how she was beginning to fill out her pants. What was wrong with the male half of the species? Did someone get them all into a room and beat them with a stupid stick? Why would someone think that she would appreciate another comment about how fat her butt was getting? Why do they feel the need to punch each other when one gives another a complement? Why do they get stupider the closer they get together? One man is polite as you could want. Two men were polite until they had too many drinks. Five men were as rude as a group of parentless toddlers in church, with one ball, one doll, and one candy. Only the men tended to make less sense. And that brings us back to the recruiters. They hadn’t spotted any likely lads, but this didn’t stop them from spending two days getting drunk on their two free “veterans’ drinks” in every inn in town. After the second of two of the men had attempted to brush off the leaf on her pants, Cook’s oldest son positioned himself on the side of the bar with a stout oak cudgel in his hand. This didn’t seem to have an effect on the drinkers, other than to amuse them. They were all drunk enough to assume that someone else would get hit with the cudgel, while they would layout the barman with such skill and élan that would electrify every woman that bore witness to it. The fact the every woman was just one young girl that was probably related to the barman had not percolated to the front of their awareness, and indeed, was not due until several hours after their next hangover. And that’s when it happened. One of the soldiers, a corporal with dark curly hair and a generous smile, pinched her, just as she was dropping off the second round of tankards. Sally never even thought about it, she picked his tankard back up and swung it around at full extension, actually lifting the man from his seat before laying him out on the floor. Instead of drawn swords and mayhem that she was expecting, this elicited a round of harsh laughter and general approval from the group. Their fallen comrade was left on the floor, and the other four men consoled themselves by finishing what remained of his drink, ordering a new drink for him, and then splitting it amongst themselves. How did the world go on, while half the human race was incapacitated by such stupidity whenever the sun dropped behind a hill? It was mind boggling. On the up side, Cook set up an account with the Chandler, and she never had to wear hand-me-downs again. So with that memory in mind, Sally hurried off to see the Chandler, before she found out what happened when three score men got together to work on one project.

From Chapter Three: First Impressions.

Bull’s story. The little twit is jabbering on, an occasional phrase or squawk piercing my train of thought. I don’t know who this kid is, but if he could just shut up long enough for me to figure out how to get to my da—ugh, another interruption, as his voice cracks again. I’ve got to find my father and clear his name. The man with the sleds says that we are leaving to find the scum that attacked the village tonight. I guess the little guy can find them somehow, but I wish he would shut up and give me a chance to plan. I have a bedroll and my da’s spare sword. …grab dinner… Good grief, is he thinking about food now? Why doesn’t someone—I have had enough; I turn and hop on the nearest sled. I’ll wait here until we leave, and little Sir Talks-a-lot can finish his speech and his dinner after we leave. I know that they lost four on the town raid, and they had less than ten at the house, that means that—well, Da and I should be able to handle less than ten if we’re both armed. I wonder if the guy with the sleds has a spare sword. I’m pretty darn good with a sword—not as good as Da, but together we should be able to handle this number. Suddenly the kid who brought the sleds—Jackson?—is standing right in front of me. He hands me a bread crust and a small cup of wine. Some sort of religious observance? He says, “Dip it first, and don’t bite or swallow.” Doesn’t mean anything, but I see Emily swish hers in her cup and put it in her mouth. Lords of light, she can make anything look interesting. The kid slaps me on the back. “Today?” Okay, I’ll try it. I drop the crust in my mouth and slam back the wine. Oh, crap, that was brandy. I can’t spit it out; Emily is staring right at me. Blessed trees! The crust of bread is climbing into my brain! Everyone else is looking at me, and their faces are shifting, like they have bugs under their skin. What the heck did I just put in my mouth? I have a monster headache, but at least it doesn’t quite feel like the blacksmith is trying to put a shoe on my head. Oh, Lords. I’m hearing voices now: Emily, Tom, Jackson, and an older man. I am also quite aware that I am not hearing with my ears. Am I going crazy? “No, you’re not crazy, just stupid.” I hear the kid talking, superimposed by another voice—the older man’s voice: “Didn’t you listen to anything I said?” they ask. “Okay, fine.” The older voice continues. “Just do what Jason tells you, and stop shouting inside your head. The rest of us can hear just fine without the shouting.” Jason is back as if summoned by magic; he says, “I’m not going to repeat the instructions just for you; you’ll just have to find your way alone. Keep your mind on your studies.” And with that he sets a teaching circlet against my forehead and drops a tiny gemstone into it. I can’t imagine what they think I have time to learn—we’re chasing an oxen-pulled wagon with smugglers’ sleds, a normal course of study is two to six weeks, and we can’t be three days behind the slavers. But from the stares that everyone is giving me I can tell I’ve done something wrong. Maybe an evening lost in study wouldn’t be so bad.