I’d be lying if I said this whole novel-writing malarkey had been a breeze. Sometimes I think it was a bit silly of me to even try. My duties as a carer leave me in a near-chronic state of fatigue. I had sincere intent to publish this first novel by now but the last few months have been difficult. The tiredness I’ve felt has fuelled a depressive state that has left me feeling mentally shackled to a foreboding sense of failure. It’s hard to describe why – which for someone who aspires to write is worrisome – but for all the jokes I crack in the various witterings I publish here, I can barely muster the energy to speak at times.
Still, you don’t beat that cursed disorder by giving it licence to skullfuck your mind for too long. Consider this an attempt to retake control as I present an excerpt from Ashes of the Forgotten.
Without Further Ado…
The coin pouch jingled in her pocket as Cleorayya took her seat in Troxer’s Bounty. Filled with uncouth sailors, doxies and peasants, this dank little watering hole had become her home by night. A handful of lanterns scarcely illuminated the stained, oversized wooden cabin that passed for a tavern. In this light, even the silver-tinge of her skin became unnoticeable to most. An odour comprised of baking bread, booze and stale piss wafted through the air. Two patrons sat snoring in one corner, small dribbles of vomit running down their dull leather coats. To the side, and without a care, a farmhand slipped his grubby claw into the undergarments of a tired moll. “Coin first,” the tom protested, shooting the tiniest of glances to her handler Rogar, a man with arms contoured like tree bark. The young punter was quick to find his purse.
Cleo sat alone, as always, waiting for the serving girl, Arliana. She tossed her cherry red hair back and gazed about the room. A handful of other familiar faces could be spotted among the crowd. The old drunkard, Eric, propped up the bar, as usual, boring anyone who would listen with a tale of leading the charge at Fallandris. His unkempt beard obscured some of the cracks in his aged skin but nothing hid the pieces of old food clinging to his whiskers. Soon the dull jangle of pity-coppers rattled the timber countertop in front of him. Cleo had to hand it to the wily old bastard; Eric knew how to bullshit his way to enough ale to keep him tanked up until the morn. With childish glee painted over his withered face, he shouted his thanks before demanding his next ale.
Arliana finally came over. The woman was a rose growing in a sea of weeds. Even the sculptors of the Elven Age of Erudition would never have captured how her ash brown locks flowed like a silk veil over her shoulders, framing a face as delicate as fine porcelain. Arliana smiled upon greeting the elf, “The usual, m’lady?”
Cleo had fancied a dry cider tonight but spotting the jug of ale already in the maiden’s hand, she instead nodded. “Please.”
Arliana poured a mug of ale as Cleo’s eyes traced the curves the woman’s body. The elven lady could happily while away the hours in the presence of Arliana. However, her enjoyment was soon interrupted by the clattering of iron and chain and the graceless boots of several men entering the tavern.
“Oi! Wench!” a man bellowed. Cleo didn’t need to look up, recognising the bearish roar as Captain Harran Merricson of the Trellisheath City Watch.
“I’ll only be a moment!” Arliana replied. “I’m just serving someone.”
“Now, bitch!” the guardsman snapped back.
Cleo slid back into her chair and gently motioned for Arliana to step aside. The elf tilted her head and grinned as Merricson realised who was being served. Arching his back, the Captain stood proud in his black chainmail and crimson breastplate while his lackeys followed suit. His hand rested on the pommel of his longsword, as he tapped the hilt with his fingers. Merricson’s face betrayed him, however. Behind a mop of greasy, black hair sat eyes dropping to the table leg and lips pouting like an unruly youth. Cleo kept her eyes locked on his face as she reached for her mug.
“Ugh. Just hurry up, will you?” Merricson said to Arliana, his bearish howl now a dying cub’s whimper.
The Captain and his three men sat at the counter, muttering among each other. None shot so much as a glance in Cleo’s direction.
“What did you do?” Arliana whispered.
“Nothing much,” Cleo said, taking a sip of ale. “I merely demonstrated in The Pit just how many holes there are in such fancy armour.”
“Aren’t you full of surprises, m’lady?”
“More than you know,” Cleo replied with a wink. She placed a silver coin into the front pouch of Arliana’s apron. “Go on, you best see to Captain Dunghill and his merry morons.”
“Thank you, m’lady.”
Cleo had told Arliana many times that formalities and courtesies were unnecessary when speaking with her. Still, the maiden insisted on addressing her as ‘m’lady’ ever since they had talked about their respective parentage. The two rarely had chance to talk outside the tavern. On occasion, Cleo’s work would take her near to the market where Arliana bought supplies. The elf would always take a detour to see if the young woman was available to enjoy lunch in the Imperial Gardens. No matter how hard she worked, how respected or feared she became, she knew that everyone who looked at her only saw a pair of pointed ears. Root eater, silverskin, toothpick, dagger ear; Cleo had heard them all and more uttered whenever a fat leg thought she was out of earshot. Even those who wanted something from Cleo often struggled to contain their prejudice long enough to ask for it. Not Arliana, though. Her favourite serving girl always treated her like another person.
With the guardsman in the tavern, Cleo considered leaving. Merricson and his gaggle of bootlickers would likely start a brawl before the night was over. Hand a man some pretty armour, a big sword and a title and their blood boils faster than a mage conjures fire. Merricson was another little man from a small city desperate to wave his weapon about to assert some shred of dominance. He was careless, though. Cleo had no plans to fall foul of the guard but they had given her ample opportunity to study them from afar over the past few years. Merricson’s stance was wrong, exposing too much of his belly and chest. She noticed he also had a tendency to focus on his sword and not the opponent. His biggest mistake, however, would one day be his downfall; the man telegraphed his lunges. While dealing with some untrained bandits near to her home on the outskirts of Trellisheath, she observed him grunt before every thrust. If only his opponent had noticed; a quick skip to the side and Merricson’s throat would be ripe for cutting.
Finishing her ale, she readied to depart until the door opened. Falling back into her chair, Cleo sat unable to move or speak. It cannot be, she thought. A hood may have covered much of his head and his skin lacked the silver tone but Cleo recognised the perpetual expression of disapproval across that stone-like face. It was her brother, Kelvaran.
Cleo remained seated. She raised the empty mug to her lips with one hand. Kelvaran approached the guardsmen. Cleo’s heart beat faster, almost striking the elf’s ribcage. Her free hand slid inside her leather tunic towards a concealed dagger.