NaNoWriMo Day 18: Excerpt from Warrior Tithe

Day 18 had the same problem as day 17. I have the sketch of the picture I want to paint for Eastside Faerie, but I’m blocked in filling in the finer details. Whenever I find this happening with my writing, I do several things:

  1. Take long walks. I usually listen to audiobooks instead of music if I’m on a thinking walk because these walks aren’t about getting my cardio for the day. I take my time, notice things, and think, think, think.
  2. Go for a drive. The scenery and doing something different helps in a similar way as walking.
  3. Read lots of books. I feel recharged and creative after reading good books. I think of how I would write it better if the book is bad.
  4. Watch lots of TV and Movies. Same effect as reading books.
  5. Work on something else until it comes to me.

I’ve tried 1-4 for about two weeks. I simply have another story in me that has decided it wants out NOW. This is my normal process. It’s also why you won’t see that next book in a series from certain authors. They’re busy with other projects. However, it won’t go on for seven to ten years.

I’ll probably work on Eastside Faerie today, Day 19, as well as the story I’m working on now.

Here is an excerpt from the rough draft of Warrior Tithe:

 Fagan woke with a fierce pain in his ribs. The culprit, his brother Cuilén’s elbow. Without a drop of fat on the waifish lad, his joint was as sharp as a dirk. Sitting up, Fagan rubbed the sleep out of his bleary eyes. The soreness went away as he rubbed his side, but another ache sat deep in his belly that he couldn’t rub away and his cock grew painfully hard with the urge to piss. 

There was no going back to sleep for Fagan. He glared at his sleeping brother. Oh no, Cuilén wasn’t going to laze all day while Fagan hunted and scavenged for the two of them.

“Wake up. The peat for the fire won’t dig itself.”

Cuilén didn’t so much as mutter an excuse. He lay there as dead to the world as a corpse. Fagan shoved Cuilén’s offending appendage aside as he exited the pallet. Fagan’s brother rolled onto the floor without so much as a grunt. The sparse light revealed the odd way Cuilén’s body didn’t relax into a more comfortable position as a living body should.

Fagan knelt next to his brother. His long black hair curtained his view as he bent over Cuilén and placed his palm against an ice cold cheek. At least the boy’s eyes were closed, but his waifish body would stay curled in sleep forever more.

Fagan didn’t bellow and wail the way he had when his parents had died of plague or when their other four siblings, including the wee bairn had come to the same demise as his last . A single tear slid down his cheek, cooling as he gathered stiff remains of his brother. Fagan pushed to his feet and went outside.

His breath clouded the chill air as he trudged past the barren field. The crunch of snow, the only sound as he passed the framework of what used to house the chickens, livestock, and horse. He’d used the rest of the wood to warm soups made of the bones of the last of the livestock long after the meat filled the bellies of his siblings, including the farm’s horse. 

Fagan had loved that old horse, loved the way he felt on the mount riding into the village with his father. Like he was someone who could ride above it all better than all that didn’t have such luxuries. That was before the plague had taken his father and his mother. 

It was best that they’d eaten the horse anyway. They had nothing to feed the livestock for a while now. Plague had taken the nearby farmers. There was no grain to be had when there were no farmers to sow and reap the harvest. It wasn’t like there was anyone left to impress anyway. Plague and invaders had taken the coastal village. 

Knees buckling and head dizzy with hunger, Fagan laid Cuilén in the snow next to the cairns of the rest of his family. Straightening, he stumbled a respectable distance to take a piss. He placed a hand stiff with cold against a tree for balance as he fumbled with his aching erection. 

Fagan reckoned he should feel sad or angry, or something of the like. Cuilén had been his favorite brother despite the six year age difference. But, he felt nothing, numb as his cold-desensitized fingers. After he finished his piss, he went to the area of the ruins of the stable and gathered the rocks he’d been collecting. Three days ago, Fagan had shown his brother the pile, thinking it’d be him. 

“I cannae bury ye,” Cuilén said, blue eyes just like Fagan’s shimmering with tears.

“Then boil me bones in a stew and live for a few more days, ye daft bairn.” 

“How can ye say such a thing? Has yer heart frozen with the winter chill?”

Fagan carried an armful of rocks, believing his heart may have frozen. He couldn’t feel neither joy or sadness, only the hunger gnawing at his insides. Looking over his brother’s body, Fagan briefly considered doing exactly what he’d proposed Cuilén do. The younger boy had grown so thin, he doubted it was worth suffering in Hell for eternity. The Christian Lord of their da’s religion wouldn’t forgive him for such a thing, even if Cuilén, who knew the suffering of slow starvation, might.  

As he built his brother’s cairn, Fagan wondered if there was such a place as hell, heaven, or purgatory for that matter.  The priest died along with the rest of the village. Pagans had killed them all. 

The bairns, including himself, were all baptized, but his ma had never believed in his da’s Jesus. She said the saints were nothing but fae and Jesus himself was probably the king of the faeries having himself a laugh. Da would get angry when she blasphemed like that, but Fagan could see no harm in it. The Christian god had shown himself and gave nothing but some advice as far as the young man knew. 

“At least faeries would make a bargain with ye,” he said out loud, setting the last stone on the cairn. 

After burying his brother, Fergus took the last of the stacked peat and piled it in the hearth under the pot hanging over it. His gaze landed on the ladle on the mantle, remembering his mother dipping it in and sneaking Fagan a sip of stew while the others weren’t looking. The hearty aromas of carrots, onions, and herbs from her garden and the weight of it all in his belly, warming him. His mother’s conspiratorial smile. The sound of his siblings banter. The memory stood in sharp contrast to the ache in his gut and the empty cottage.

In that moment, the notion Fagan had nothing to live for and nothing to look forward to, came into sharp clarity. He supposed he should feel something about it, but his head and gut ached too much. He sipped some water from a jug that he and Cuilén had collected from the river the day before, pouring the rest into the pot. 

“Best to get a fire started to heat the water,” Fagan said out of habit–there’d always been someone around to hear him. “If I am to find anything in the traps, I am keen to skin and boil whatever I find right away.”

Ignoring that only silence responded, Fagan busied himself starting the fire. Once he got the peat smoldering and then at full flame, the dense earthy smoke burned low. Peat didn’t give off as much heat and light as woodfire, and it had a denser smoke, but his ma had insisted they not cut the trees because there could be dormant faeries among them. 

She’d also leave out a bit of cream to appease the faeries and keep them from playing tricks.  His father, a Christian, turned a blind eye to Fagan’s mother’s doings, but he forbade her from teaching their children about the old gods. In his mind, they were demons not tricksters and favor givers. So, Fagan’s ma would talk about her beliefs in the form of stories. Fagan and his siblings cut their teeth on tales of wild shades, pixies, faerie queens, and kelpies.

Fagan made his way around the southern side of the cabin to check the traps, avoiding the cairns on the north end near the stables. Nothing stirred as he passed through the woods

A bloodcurdling, inhuman scream tore through the silence of the chilly early morning. 

Fagan’s heart raced with anticipation as he ran through the woods. One of his traps caught something big. Hope that the trap caught a strapping buck with meat to last for a good long time, rose in his chest. He could see himself eating well as he traveled to someplace that was so damned cursed, maybe far as a city. He could take up soldiering or…Fagan stopped dead in his tracks when he came across what his trap had caught. The iron teeth of the trap had caught the hind leg of black horse, a magnificent beast, stared back at him with glowing red eyes. 

“kelpie,” he whispered, backing away. His ma had told plenty of fairy tales about daring young men, thinking they could mount one, only to be dragged to their deaths from merely touching a kelpie. The beast’s preternaturally intelligent gaze locked onto his. 

Fagan closed his eyes, believing the kelpie might ensorcel him somehow. Water horses were powerful faeries. How could a mortal trap even hold such a thing?

The beast let out a mournful cry.

A trap, he knew it, but his stupid trecherous heart had seen so much suffering. He couldn’t take no more. Fagan opened his eyes. If the water horse killed him for his efforts, at least he’d see his family again and this damnable ache in his gut would go away. Fagan had hoped he’d go in his sleep as most of his family had, but Cuilén would love the story, and it wouldn’t be suicide if the kelpie drowned him. 

He held up his hands to show he had no weapons as he cautiously approached the water horse. The kelpie shied away. By the pitiful sound it made, the movement caused the poor creature a considerable amount of pain.

Fagan made soothing sounds he used to calm his horse. “I shan’t harm ye. I aim to set ye free.” 

The glowing red eyes latched onto him, distrustfully. Conversely, the kelpie held still, its flanks pulsing rapidly with the fae’s labored breaths.

Fagan gripped the kelpie’s leg with one hand and triggered the mechanism that released the trap with the other. 

The water melted into smoke before his eyes, but he could feel sinew and bone shifting in his grasp. The smoke dissipated. A naked woman with bright auburn curls and a pained expression on her ivory-white face appeared in the beast’s place. Green eyes, intelligent and wise, latched onto his. Fagan didn’t dare look lower, but he held her bare, bleeding leg. Those green eyes shifted from his to just below where he held. 

“Cannae ye heal yerself, kelpie?” Fagan asked.

She shook her head mournfully, lashes fluttering. 

“I’m dying,” she whispered in a voice that was birdsong to Fagan’s ears. “Poison–” 

The lovely water horse passed out before she could finish her sentence. 

 Fergus remembered that iron was lethal to the fae. He’d watched his ma pour a jar of salt and iron shavings across the threshold of their cottage and along the windows. 

“We have a crucifix. Da says that’s all ye need to be saved.”

“Christ may have died fer our sins, but he won’t stop a shade from taking one of my wee bairns and leaving us with a changeling.” 

Fagan examined the wound. The trap was old and rusty. Bits of iron shavings had lodged themselves in the kelpie’s damaged flesh. A niggling voice in the young man’s head said that he would do better to leave the kelpie to die. She’d probably beguiled many to their death with either of her forms long before Fagan took his first breath. Not once, however, did he have the opportunity to save a single member of his family.

There was no reason this kelpie should die other than her nature, and Fagan had seen enough of man’s follies to know the fae weren’t the only treacherous creatures in existence.

©TJ Deschamps

Hope you’re all doing well. Happy writing!

©TJ Deschamps

Photo by Jill Dimond on Unsplash

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