She and I don't have names. We're just slaves, after all. But our hearts don't care, and we're lucky, we have a chance at a scrap of happiness in our terrible lives. My father is the Queen's pet.
But when my love discovers the lords' newest atrocity, she lashes out, does the unthinkable, and attacks one of them. Her courage is heroic, but now they have stuffed her in prison, getting ready to slaughter her.
With nothing to lose, I dare to dream of a life far from the lords. I fight for our freedom, and escape to the woods with my love. We can do no less than free all of our people in the effort.
Our flight through the woods is only the start of our journey. The lords’ flaming attacks, their deception, the loss of so many of my people—I don't know if I will survive, or if I even want to. But for my love, I will do almost anything, even battle the fire above.
My father opened the small door and his eyes lit up for a brief second. He must be alone. We were still in the hall, though, so I said, “I live to serve.”
“I live to serve,” he said, moving aside and ushering me in.
His office always looked the same. Fireballs hovering in the corners cast flickering but bright light around the small room. Baskets of tally sticks lined the room in an order only he understood, stacks of the thin sheets of metal the lords used to hold language on the one table in the room. No chair or decoration. Looking like a storage closet, this room saw most of the information about the empire.
Inside, my father relaxed a hair. He gave me a half-smile and put one hand on my shoulder. “Where were you?” he said in low tones. “They need a runner to go to the far southeast village.”
“The lords wanted to collect a package from oldest brother's house,” I said. “They Called his youngest.”
“Already?” he said, his eyes falling. All three of my grandsons, I heard him think. I thought I had more time. He thought about telling me something else, something serious. Once again I considered telling him I could hear his thoughts, so he might as well just talk to me. Once again, I rejected the idea. My ability was close to magic, and everyone knew only lords could use magic. I loved my father, but didn't know how he would react.
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To young C. H. MacLean, books were everything: mind-food, friends, and fun. They gave the shy middle child’s life color and energy. Amazingly, not everyone saw them that way. Seeing a laundry hamper full of books approach her, the librarian scolded C. H. for trying to check them all out. “You'll never read that many before they expire!” C. H. was surprised, having shown great restraint only by keeping a list of books to check out next time. Thoroughly abashed, C. H. waited three whole days after finishing that lot before going back for more.
With an internal world more vivid than the real one, C. H. was chastised for reading in the library instead of going to class. “Neurotic, needs medical help,” the teacher diagnosed. C. H.'s father, a psychologist, just laughed when he heard. “She's just upset because those books are more challenging than her class.” C. H. realized making up stories was just as fun as reading, and harder to get caught doing. So for a while, C. H. crafted stories and characters out of wisps and trinkets, with every toy growing an elaborate personality.
But toys were not mature, and stories weren't respectable for a family of doctors. So C. H. grew up and learned to read serious books and study hard, shelving foolish fantasies for serious work.
Years passed in a black and white blur. Then, unpredictably falling in love all the way to a magical marriage rattled C. H.'s orderly world. A crazy idea slipped in a resulting crack and wouldn't leave. “Write the book you want to read,” it said. “Write? As in, a fantasy novel? But I'm not creative,” C. H. protested. The idea, and C. H.'s spouse, rolled their eyes.
So one day, C. H. started writing. Just to try it, not that it would go anywhere. Big mistake. Decades of pent-up passion started pouring out, making a mess of an orderly life. It only got worse. Soon, stories popped up everywhere- in dreams, while exercising, or out of spite, in the middle of a work meeting. “But it's not important work,” C. H. pleaded weakly. “They are not food, or friends, or...” But it was too late. C. H. had re-discovered that, like books, life should be fun too. Now, writing is a compulsion, and a calling.
C. H. lives in a Pacific Northwest forest with five pets, two kids, one spouse, and absolutely no dragons or elves, faeries, or demons… that are willing to be named, at least.
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