I like to share my progress, but I want to avoid spoiling anything major. So here is a segment of a chapter that basically acts as a recap for the character Khiptri. Also, it is worth noting that I’m now at what I consider 10% “complete” – by complete, I mean at least 10% of the book is in a state I would consider publishable. Not just rough draft, but something I would let others read.
Khiptri dozed and drifted from one world to another. The red skies eventually faded as he floated in limbo. At some moments it seemed as if he was moving. Other times he was still and swaddled. The pain in his side would grow and fade. He was hot and then cold. Something burned through his veins. He could hear his heartbeat.
A different face appeared before him, a dark-skinned efritan, he reasoned. She had to be a good spirit. A bad one, an afritan, wouldn’t be caring for him.
She smiled at him. Her eyes and teeth were impossibly white and glowed in the dim light. He opened his mouth to ask where he was. No words came. She spoke but the words made no sense.
Something pressed against his lips. Cool liquid flowed out, into his mouth, down his cheeks, and soaked in his beard. He swallowed and felt it slide down his throat, cooling and soothing him as it went.
He closed his eyes to enjoy the sensations.
“Giving up?” A voice snarled. A voice he recognized.
His eyes snapped open. He stood on an empty desert plain. Dry, cracked earth stretched from horizon to horizon. The sun was not visible in the sky, yet there was light. Before him a giant of a man towered over him. He cast no shadow in the eerie twilight. His arms, each the size of a tree trunk, were crossed over an equally massive and muscled chest. His beard was wild and unkempt and did nothing to hide the scars on his face.
“B’Shab ad’Rab!” He greeted.
“You forsake me and then call me ‘Clan-Chief’, Khiptri? Do you have any honor?”
“Mardukai, I have not forsaken you!”
“You recline in luxury, looked after by our enemy, and you say you do not forsake me?”
“I died, B’Shab ad’Rab. The Urnamu killed me in battle. I should be in Irkalla.”
Mardukai stepped forward. He was taller than Khiptri remembered.
“If you are dead, then surely this would not hurt.”
A massive hand wrapped around Khiptri’s injured side and squeezed. Khiptri cried out. Then a finger found its way into the wound.
He screamed and fell to the broken ground.
“You and Abdi and Lagesh ignored my commands. You sought glory for yourselves and abandoned The Viper. You abandoned me.”
Suddenly there was water flowing over his face. He tried to scream but no sound escaped.
“Hold him down! The fever is taking his mind!”
Arms grabbed his. He kicked wildly and connected with something soft. More hands, powerful hands, held his legs down. A finger continued to mercilessly explore the wound on his side. Something wet and heavy was on his face. He twisted and flung his head to the side until it fell off.
“Get the rag back on him! We have to cool him down!”
He recognized the language. It was the language of Urnamu.
“Let me go!” He screamed in the foreign tongue, the words thick in his mouth.
“So he does speak a civilized tongue,” a man’s voice floated into his hearing.
He looked around but everything was a blur. Akar armor, beards on faceless men, and blobs of blue. One of the blue blobs leaned in. He saw a woman’s face wrapped in a blue robe. A Walking Woman of the Circle of Baba. A healer.
“Mother,” he croaked at the woman, “release me.”
“Shh, asiyma’a,” she answered in his language. “We must tend your wound and the fever, or the spirits within will overtake your body.”
Her hand brushed his cheek. Another hand brought a wet cloth across his brow.
“Where am I?”
“In the Temple of Baba.”
“Adummatu. These Kin brought you to us.”
He closed his eyes. Mardukai was right. He didn’t die. He was at the mercy of the enemy. He had betrayed and forsaken his chief.
“Is he asleep?” The man’s voice asked.
“I do not know. The fever is strong. I doubt he knows what is going on.”
“We have a meeting with the Merchant Council,” a different man’s voice spoke. He recognized it as the man who spoke to him in Irkalla. Except it wasn’t Irkalla. Because he didn’t die.
“We can leave enough men here to keep the Walking Women safe.”
“That won’t be required, Lugal Galkin,” a woman’s voice replied. “We can handle him.”
“I will leave a few just to be sure. He is one of Mardukai’s men, after all, and just because Mardukai is dead doesn’t mean this one is any less dangerous.”
Khiptri started. He couldn’t understand what was said. His mind fell into a jumble of broken pieces.
“Is it true then? They say he was killed by a priestess.” The Walking Woman hovering over him asked.
“Not a priestess, at least not of any order we know about. But, yes, it appears he died at the hands of a magick user. One we know well.”
“She will be in danger then. It is forbidden to use magick in public here.”
“I would be more concerned with the safety of anyone who tries to apprehend or punish her, myself.”
“Baba protect us,” a woman intoned.
“Asipu Bes,” a different woman whispered, “we have heard tales she said she served Erishkigal. And that High Priestess Rubati was with her.”
“We heard the same. I do not know the truth of it. I hope our meeting with the Merchant Council will help reveal that.”
“If Rubati is helping her, would that make her Dumusmah?”
“I don’t know.”
Khiptri tried to block out the sounds. He focused on his heartbeat. What if she did serve Erishkigal? Did that mean Mardukai’s death was the will of the Dread Goddess, wife of Nergal, the God of the Bedda? Did that mean it was Nergal’s will, as well? Tradition demanded the Bedda hunt down and punish those who killed with magick. It was a dishonorable, cowardly way to fight. It robbed a warrior of a glorious death. But if the the user was following the will of Nergal, what did that mean?
He wished there was a storyteller nearby. No, he wished Mardukai was alive and they were still out raiding. He wished they had never met The Viper, raided Nun-Ki, or fought eria udug.