My novel “Queen of Fire” is volume one of ‘The Leather Book Tales,’ a fantasy series that takes place in the geographical landscape of western Canada and the western United States. A previous excerpt from Chapter I of the book can be found on this blog in July 2014.
The book is available from Amazon and on Kindle, as well as for sale in McNally Robinson and Indigo Books in Saskatoon.
“Queen of Fire” is currently on the short list of the High Plains Book Awards in the young adult category. Winners will be announced the first weekend of October.
I am now working on the second book in the series, “Child of Dragons.”
IT’S STILL dark when I wake to a groan and a shout from the next room. “Papa?” I call. “Anything wrong?”
I hold my breath, lie perfectly still so as not to rustle the sheets, but I don’t hear anything more. Quietly I get up, tiptoe across the chilly hall floor, lean against the doorway. Can barely make out the humped shape of Papa on the bed.
“Zarm mumble mumble sorry,” I hear. Then, “No! Zarmine!”
I kneel by his bed, grab his shoulder. He pulls away, rolls, tangles in the sheet, slips out the other side of the bed, thumps on the floor. A muffled curse.
“Samel?” His head and shoulders rise. “What are you doing out of bed?”
“Heard you call out. What’s wrong?”
He shakes himself like a dog stepping out of water. “Nightmare.”
“Who’s Zarmine?” I ask, standing up.
I know he’s heard me, is just stalling for time. After thirteen years I know his ways. He’s keeping secrets, which isn’t surprising, because I don’t tell him everything either, though he probably guesses most things about me.
“Zarmine,” I repeat. “Sounds like a woman’s name.”
“Go back to bed,” Papa says. “It’s the middle of the night.”
“I wouldn’t be up if it wasn’t for your shouts.”
“Samel!” Louder and snarly.
Oh, yes I know that voice and it means I’d better do what he says. Even though I’ve grown in the last year he’s still bigger than me, could squash me like a bug if he wanted, though he never does, hasn’t hit me since I was about four – a slap on the rump for lying to him. He can make me do all the dirtiest chores around the house, or keep me inside when I’d rather be out. So I go back to my room and lie awake listening to his bed creak as he tosses and turns.
Sun blazes into my eyes. I fell asleep again and forgot to close the shutters all the way last night. The house is quiet, which probably means that Papa has gone out. Sure enough his room is empty and very tidy, bed made as an example to me. Papa isn’t the kind to pester me about keeping my room clean, and he doesn’t snoop if I close my door, so I usually don’t root around in his stuff either, but this is different. I’m worried about him; he’s not the kind to have nightmares.
His bed is smooth and tight as the skin of the drums that the Lord’s militia uses to beat out the marching rhythm. There’s nothing under the pillow. On the chest beside the bed only the stub of a candle. I lift that and raise the lid. Underwear, robes, a belt. I try to be careful, because what if Papa finds out I’ve been looking through his things? He could walk into the room right now. I duck under the bed even though I haven’t heard a thing. It’s dusty down there; even Papa misses spots, so a few times a year he gets in a woman who gives everything a good going over. She washes windows, floors and walls, sweeps under beds and cupboards. Her name is Anna.
There’s a shiny thing underneath the head of the bed, by the wall. I stretch out an arm, stirring up bits of fluff. I always wonder where this stuff comes from because you never see it anywhere but under things. When I was small I thought there was some kind of creature that lived under beds and cupboards. Its fur was made of fluff and would fall out. I’d try to sneak up on it, but never managed to see it. I get a fingertip on the shiny object. It slides away, toward the other side and out from under the bed so I follow, cleaning the floor with my shirt front.
I sit on the far side of Papa’s bed holding a silver bracelet in my hand. It’s warm, which is odd because even though Papa’s shutters are open, no sunlight reaches under the bed. I wonder who the bracelet belongs to. The woman whose name he mumbled last night perhaps or a present he’s going to give her. Most of the women I’ve seen with Papa are other musicians or neighbours, and none of them is called Zarmine. He’s never talked about any woman that he might give gifts to. Unless the bracelet is meant to be for the Lady Domitilla, which doesn’t make sense because, although Papa works for the Lord, that doesn’t mean he walks in the Lady’s circles. I just hope that if he’s going to present me with a new mother, he’ll give me some warning.
I stand and brush dust off my clothes, blow as much of it as possible back under the bed. Look over the room, move to the other side and shift the candle on the trunk just a finger’s width. Good, everything looks the way it did when I first walked in. At the head of the stairs I listen for a moment, but hear no sounds of movement downstairs.
Back in my own room I shut the door, then open the shutters all the way. Sit on my still unmade bed and examine the bracelet, a circlet fashioned of leaves linked together. I don’t know much about metal work, though I’m interested in this sort of thing, how objects are made. Why one drum sounds different from another, and why wheels sometimes fall off chariots.
I shift to get the bracelet into the light coming from the window so I can see better. A blaze of reflected brightness spears my eyes making them water. The room is blurry, and my head spins as if I’ve been turning in circles. A woman’s pale face framed by hair as red as mine floats there in the air. I blink, fumble, drop the circlet, hear it clink on the floor. I rub my eyes to get them clear. The room looks ordinary again, but chills are moving up and down my back. Nothing like this has ever happened before. The circlet lies by my right foot. I nudge it gingerly. Nothing happens except that it slides. I get up, walk carefully around the bracelet and close the shutters almost all the way. When I swivel, I see a faint glow. I return and squat, cautiously slide one finger toward the glow. There’s no flash of light, no visions. I take a deep breath, and move my finger to actually touch the silver. It feels slightly warm. Taking a deep breath, I pick up the bracelet, ready to throw it back down immediately. Nothing happens. Did I just have a vision or is it lack of sleep making me imagine things? I don’t want to ask Papa because he’d not only be angry that I poked around in his room, but also furious that I was talking about visions.
I ought to take the bracelet back to Papa’s room and put it away, under the bed or on it, as if it fell there accidentally. Probably a trunk would be better. If I don’t put it back Papa might miss it and ask me about it.
I don’t want to give it up.
There’s a bunch of long leather lacing in the trunk at the foot of my bed. I’ve been planning to make a braided belt for a small drum, but haven’t started yet. I take the longest piece and completely wrap the bracelet, leaving two ends that I can knot together. It takes a while, and when I’ve finished it looks like a sort of braided leather amulet. I tighten the knots, then slip it over my head and tuck it under my shirt.