Thursday, February 11, 2010

Excerpt -- Her Own Beast - Chapter I, Part I

I usually do excerpts on Mondays, but my schedule is a bit off this week. Generally these excerpts are from SHARDS - something all around a little different today, though. I'm doing an excerpt from my fantasy novel, HER OWN BEAST (that title is so, so tentative). This was my '08 NaNo, far from complete at 58k, and I've put it aside for a long time because, well, I thought it was terrible.

But needing a break from SHARDS, I picked it up this past weekend. And I love it. I think this story deserves an ending (some more middle, too, and then an ending).

So, here we go -- an excerpt from the beginning of my fantasy novel--

Dawn had just broken, a red and golden glow through the trees on the horizon, but Lady Alyana didn’t look up from the ground as she crossed the keep to the gray cut-stone chapel. The morning was cold, and she felt her hands already growing numb within the folds of the heavy shawl draped across her head and shoulders. Her legs were stiff, but they carried her up the steps of the chapel and into the main chamber. The shutters were open despite the chill, and the chamber was no warmer than the late fall day outside.
Alyana didn’t pick her eyes up from the stone floor here, either; she knew her way to the chapel without looking up, and she knew the chamber without needing to see it, and she knew who was here with her.

“Alyana,” her aunt said. “You are highborn, to the best family across all the clans. But none of that can save you from your sin; you must seek God in your penance.”

“Yes, milady,” Alyana said softly.

“Did you dream last night?” Lelene asked.

Alyana hesitated; she was never sure how much they knew about her dreams, how active she was in her sleep. Telling them the truth was certain to bring punishment, but so was an obvious lie. “I did, milady.”

“Mm. I thought so. Didn’t your servant wake you?”

Alyana knew that Shema, standing behind her, was also cold and stiff and filled with dread. Shema was supposed to wake Alyana every hour, and whenever she stirred with her dreams. Last night Shema had fallen into a deep exhausted sleep herself, and Alyana had woken on her own, at the end of her dreaming.

“She did, milady, I only dreamed for a moment.”

“Of what?”

Alyana would never understand why her aunt asked for details of something she considered an abomination, something that would only disturb her. But her voice dropped even lower in her shame, barely a whisper scraping across the cold wind that blew through the chamber.

“I dreamed I was running, out in the open of winter.” Alyana said. Last night she had not been cold, had not felt sore and arthritic as she did now at only fifteen; she had bounded over the snow, her paws sure of their grip even across the ice on the lakes. She had come over a drift in the snow and found a rabbit, which froze, trying to blend in with the winter landscape its white fur matched.

Alyana had woken up with the raw taste of blood in her mouth, startled out of her night world into the room in the keep, candles burning everywhere to keep her from falling too deeply into sleep. Shema slept across her feet at the bottom of the bed, one arm thrown across her face to block out the light.

“It’s lessening,” Aunk said, and Alyana tensed at his voice, but at least he thought what she had hoped. “Her dreams are coming less often, loosening their hold on her.”

“I’ll believe that when she doesn’t dream at all.” Lelene said. “Go, child. Start your penance.”

Alyana was torn between relief at escaping worse punishment, and dread at beginning the daily one. She walked slowly to the front of the chapel and stopped in front of the carved wooden altar. It was plainly decorated, with more burning candles and with bundles of rushes piled at either side.

Shema came up to her side, carrying the leather sack of pebbles; she took a handful out and sprinkled them in a small circle in front of Alyana. Then she bent to pick up Alyana’s heavy skirt from the floor, bowing low to the ground to maintain Alyana’s privacy, so her aunt and priest couldn’t glimpse her ankles above the fur clogs or the tip of her undershift. As she lifted the skirt, Alyana crouched down, her weight on her heels as her knees fell against the pebbles, and then sat up into a high kneel, her back straight, all her weight on her knees. The old bruises ached immediately, the black and blue and yellow that had formed across her knees and shins. Alyana knew the pain would only get worse from here, so she pressed her hands together in front of her face, tilted her head down, and tried to recall the feelings of last night. The feeling of being a wolf, and being free.

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