Name: M.W. Orth (@lesswithoutyou)
Title: THE STONES OF HOME
To become the queen she is meant to be, wandering healer Saba must recruit powerful but shady allies to reclaim her haunted island before the empire arrives and gives it to her enemies.
First 500 words:
As his meaty fingers pushed the parchment across the knotty table, I stared at the crumbs caught in his beard. Bornsley and I remained silent.
“Are you two the ones puttin’ these up?” he said again, more irritated.
Drips of water fell from the bottom of his tankard and dotted the poster with tiny suns of diluted ink, but the words remained legible:
WANTED! PERSONS OF EXTRAORDINARY ABILITIES.
POSSIBLE MONETARY COMPENSATION for ADEQUATE DISPLAY.
INQUIRE at the BASE OF SUNDERSTOW WALL, DAWN or DUSK,
LUNAR CYCLE of GULLUN only.
The picture of a cloaked person in shadowy woods looked amateur, but my penmanship was flawless…
“No, sirs, not us,” I said.
The bearded man’s companion wore a sad leather cap and huffed in disbelief at my statement. I hid my smile behind a long drink of the tavern’s terrible ale.
“And what’s an old man like you doing alone with a young girl?” asked Bread Beard.
“I’m her guardian. Just a faithful servant,” said Bornsley.
Go ahead and huff, Leather Cap, that one’s true.
“We have witnesses that say they saw a pale man with a white beard and a little black girl hanging these signs around Byrstan,” said the Beard. “You saying it’s another pair that looks like you doin’ it?”
“We won’t have you stirring up rumors,” said Leather Cap, glaring.
“Or vandalizing our fine village,” added Bread Beard.
Yes, a fine village, just like all the other ones on the Isle. Skinny dogs lying in dusty roads and dirty-faced kids hiding from squinty-eyed parents.
“Is there a law against hanging posters on the sign-poles?” I asked.
“There is if it encourages people to mess with that land up there,” said Leather Cap.
“Hmm, well, I might want to ask your sheriff about that law,” I said.
“I am the Sheriff,” said Bread Beard.
Of course you are.
“And I’m his deputy,” said Leather Cap. “And I say it was you that put these signs up. I’ve already torn down a dozen. How many are there?”
Not as many as there’ll be after tomorrow and ten times that many across the Isle... “I wouldn’t know, I’m the other little black girl with the old white man, remember?”
Bornsley’s knee hit mine under the table. I shifted my feet on the sawdust floor.
As the deputy cracked his knuckles, the sheriff stroked his beard and crumbs bounced on the table. A patron across the room praised the ale by pounding his mug on the counter.
I bounced my eyes between the two men, refusing to speak first.
“If we were to promise that no more signs went up,” said Bornsley, “and that we’d turn in anyone we caught hanging them, would we be free to spend the night here as we planned, and be gone in the morning?” He signaled to our serving woman and she wandered over. Without words, her dead brown eyes asked him what he wanted.