The Importance of the Impossible
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Prelude to Brood of Bones

Posted by A.E. Marling in Uncategorized

The current beginning to Brood of Bones is in media res, which I prefer. That said, the original start to Hiresha’s tale is something of a short story unto itself and gives insight into a girl cursed with endless sleep. I cut the prelude in an early draft, when the novel was still titled GRAVID. I had heard that agents have an aversion to preludes, and some beta readers also found the jump in time jarring. This takes place in Hiresha’s adolescence. It would be the first chapter in a tale of Hiresha’s journey to the Mindvault Academy and her education in enchantment. And, yes, I considered writing that story, too.

Prelude

An earthworm tickled my ear and woke me.

I pawed at the worm, thinking someone dangled wet yarn on me. My skin felt hot, and stones dug into my back. I lay, but not on my pallet, not in our home, and not at night. The sun burned overhead, stinging me for every glance. My eyes blinked shut and refused to open. I had no idea where I was. Sleep must’ve overcome me again, and the shame of it hurt my belly and prickled my eyes with tears.

Something dribbled over my neck. I smelled earth, and clots of dirt broke apart between my fingers. Voices giggled [/snickered] above me.

“Sleepy, sleepy Resha. Shovel her a dirt blanket.”

“Look! She smashed the worm on her cheek. Drop another, see if she eats it.”

A shovel! I’d been shoveling beside a river. Sleep had pried the shovel from my hand and crushed me to the ground. I’d promised myself to only rest my head for a moment, just long enough to take off some of its weight.

I squinted upward, trying to see the figures standing over me. They were far and small, all in a world of light, and I struggled to find my way out of a cave of sleep. Flashes of the outside reached me in the cave, but I doubted I would escape soon. Maybe it wasn’t worth the trouble to fully wake, I’d only fall asleep again.

I closed my eyes.

“Midmorning seemed a good time for bed, Resha?”

“When better? So we’d do her work for her.”

“She must stay up every night with a different man. Bet they pass her around.”

“Resha, where’s your doll? Where is your baby?”

My arms snapped across my chest, feeling for the sling that held my marriage doll. When shoveling dirt I’d fretted the wood handle would shatter his beautiful porcelain face. So precious, so dear to me, I could never lose him.

I found the sling empty, my marriage doll gone.

The cave of sleep turned upside down, flipping me over and dropping me into a shivering coldness. I flopped my arms around in the dirt but couldn’t find the doll. I must’ve dropped him somewhere. I had to find him. Pushing myself up in the darkness, I staggered to my feet and looked through the cave mouth. The distant opening swung to views of a stone in dirt, a foot in a sandal, then a grin on a woman’s face.

“Resha, could your baby have toddled to the river? Could it have drowned?”

Please not that! Oh, I hoped I hadn’t left my baby doll too close to the riverbank. My head rolled as I listened for the rush of water, and I stumbled forward.

“Not that way, brick head, to your right.”

“Look at her! She’s like a drunk monkey.”

I glimpsed men standing in the river, sloshing dirt in pans and sifting it. My focus flickered from them to along the riverbank, but I lost my balance in the darkness of day.

“Haha! You can push her and she’ll fall.”

“I want to try it.”

When I stood again, someone shoved me back down. Crawling, I spotted my doll at the river’s edge. Mud stained his orange pants and green shirt, his hair tangled, his face down in the water.

“Ahhh!” I hurled myself to him, lifting him to within an inch of my face so I could see him from deep within my cave.

My marriage doll, my boy, had been painted with red lips and rosy cheeks and bright eyes and long eyelashes. The river had washed them all away.

A blank face stared up at me, dead with its whiteness.

Poison thumped from my heart into my shaking arms and legs, and I plummeted out of the cave. The porcelain face grew in my sight, until it pushed away all the blackness and took up my whole world.

White eyes and white lips. My doll had drowned.

My parents would never forgive me for losing a second one, and I’d have to wait another year before the doll crafter could sell me my next. Then another year of striving to keep the doll safe while the rest of the women my age had already married.

My life was over.

“At least it was just a doll. Any real baby of yours would’ve died.”

I whirled to face the woman who said it. The cleft in her square chin aimed down at me as she cradled her own marriage doll. The four women beside her had dolls too, their porcelain faces all smiling with paint.

“You stole my doll.” I lunged toward the woman with the manly chin. “Faliti, you killed him!”

I wanted to grab Faliti’s doll, to break it and ruin it like she’d ruined my life. Her long arms held me away, shoving me back into the mud.

“Resha, you don’t deserve to be a mother. You’d smother your children by falling asleep on them.”

The women left me sobbing at the riverbank. The men had stopped panning for stones to gather around me, and I hid my doll’s dead face from them and ran.

Away from the river, across rice paddies, I splashed and tripped and cried my way to the road. It would take me back to the city and my parents, and I couldn’t face them. But I didn’t know where else to go. Not back to shoveling dirt for the men panning for stones. Not beside the women who’d murdered my doll.

Darkness crept around me, and sleep began to push down on my back. I wanted to lie on the ground and cry and rest, and I didn’t see why I shouldn’t. What could I look forward to but sleep?

“Resha, is that you?”

I blinked at the sound of a familiar voice. The handsome Harend Chandur strode down the road. My father polished diamonds for his rich gemcutter father. For some reason, Harend always liked talking to me.

The women had teased that he and I did frightful things together at night, but we didn’t. Sleep imprisoned me all night, and in the evening and morning, too, if mother tired of kicking me and let me lie.

Harend asked, “You work this river? Found any stones yourself?”

My hand had clamped over my doll’s face. Seeing that white face would make him never want to speak to me again.

His eyes rose from the mud on my clothes to the tears on my face. “Say, is something wrong?”

“It . . .it doesn’t matter now.”

“Good, then what I came out here to say, what I wanted is to ask you something. Would you like to go to the dance on the Day of Return? With me, I mean.”

I looked up at Harend, at his broad shoulders and sweet eyes and how he leaned to the left with his nervousness, something I found so darling. And I knew I didn’t deserve him.

“I can’t,” I said.

“Oh. Someone asked you before me.”

“No, I just can’t.” I couldn’t do anything but sleep.

“She may not dance,” Faliti said from the rice paddy behind me. She sauntered onto the road. “But she’s great at sleeping anywhere. Ask her what happened today while she napped in the dirt.”

“Faliti,” I said, “please don’t.”

“Ask her why she holds her doll’s face.”

“Resha?”

My fingers trembled with my anger as I picked a rock from the road and threw it at Faliti. I wanted to smash that square chin of hers right off that smug face, but I missed.

“Resha!”

I ran from Harend and Faliti, but soon I had to stop, and when I did, I began to slip into the cave. Everything softened and darkened. The world slid farther and farther away.

I fought the sleep, staring ahead at the city because its ziggurat pained my eyes with its gleam, and pain could help sometimes. Even so, I began to stagger. I dropped to my knees. Lying down at the side of the road would let all the weariness wash past. Most people didn’t sleep on the road, but I wanted to. I had to.

Tears flowed down my chin. Something was wrong with me. I was flawed.

From inside my cave, I didn’t hear the hooves until the horses had almost trampled me. Four white steeds danced past, kicking mud from the road. They pulled a carriage, its golden wheels slowing to a stop. A lady with grey hair stuck her head from a curtained window and shouted to an armored man with the horses’ reins.

“Your reckless driving spilled my new diamonds, I will have you know.” Her eyes snapped down to me. “By star and sapphire! Did you hit her?”

“No, enchantress. She were just kneeling in the road.”

The lady asked, “Are you quite certain? Then, my dear girl, why are you crying?”

“I’m always sleepy,” I said, too tired to pretend. “I’m not fit for anything but sleep.”

“But this is marvelous, my dear.”

“What?”

“How many hours a day do you have the capacity to sleep, on average?”

Pushing myself up on one leg then another, I wondered if the lady teased me. The horses and gilded carriage told me she came from a distant land. My thoughts began to drift off, and with a jolt I realized my eyes had closed and I still had to answer her.

“I sleep more than I live.”

“Astonishing!”

The woman swept out of the carriage, her dress sparkling with blue gems and silver thread. I had never seen a dress like that before.

“What is your name, my dear?”

“Resha.” Saying it reminded me of Faliti’s words. Resha, you don’t deserve to be a mother. I no longer liked its sound. “They call me that, but my name is Hiresha.”

“What a, hmm, a distinctive name you have.” She took my hand, and her glove flowed over my fingers with a fabric soft as a breeze. “Hiresha, would you permit me to convince you to study enchantment? The magic is improving to young ladies and fashionable among the best society.”

“I can’t go to any schools. We don’t have the coin to pay.”

“With your aptitude, I would be delighted to act as your sponsor.”

The lady guided me toward her carriage. I had a sense that I dreamed, that I’d fallen asleep on the road while I had kneeled.

“My ‘aptitude?’ Why do you want me?”

“Of that I am forbidden to speak. However, I judge you will flourish in the Mindvault Academy, and you may someday even possess gowns fit for a princess.”

“I don’t care about dresses, I just want to stop being tired.” I stood before the carriage doors, facing the lady. “Can your magic help me?”

“We expand our horizons each year in the study of enchantment and its worldly applications. Perhaps you will discover a way to cure yourself, although I am at a loss as to why you would wish to alter your gift.”

I had to be dreaming. The lady acted like she envied my sleepiness, like laziness was a virtue. None of this was real, so I didn’t see why I should say no.

“I’ll go learn your magic, but soon as I have myself well, I’ll be leaving to come back to the city. Morimound is my home.”

“Of course, my dear.”

The lady beckoned me into the carriage and locked the door behind us. We glided over the road, and the gloom lulled me deeper into the cave.

I’d often had nightmares of falling asleep, of dozing in an embarrassing place like in the privy or while bathing and ending up drowned. But I was enjoying this dream. I would travel to a distant land to learn a magic that would rescue me from sleep, then I’d return to marry Harend and raise a family of beautiful children. Everything would be perfect.

I hoped never to wake.

birds

To celebrate my Kickstarter reaching 70% funded, I listed Brood of Bones as free. Download the dark fantasy here with my blessing.

The success of the Kickstarter depends on you, and for your pledge, I’ll thank you from the bottom of my underground laboratory.

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