It has been a long few months since I last updated. The introduction of my son to my family has, understandably, had some dampening effects upon my time and ability to write. As life has resettled into a semblance of normalcy, however, I am picking back up.
I have continued working during this long break. Just not as much as I would like to. For example, I created a blog on the game I have talked about several times, “Star Citizen”, which is designed as a primer for new players. You can view it here: http://bsvcflightschool.wordpress.com. I have also done some new work in the fan fiction set in that universe, “Transitions” – not posted yet, but I have been working. The earlier works are available here: https://ariccatron.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/the-bengtsdotter-stendahl-voyage-corporation-1192-words/.
I have also finalized some edits to “The Shifting Sands”, “Firedancer”, and “Snake Charmer” – with the purpose of bringing “The Shifting Sands” to print. I am eagerly awaiting my proofs of these books so I can update everyone with the newest versions and display the new cover designed by artist Don Graham.
In the meantime, here is another excerpt from “Redeemer”. This book will require more time than I anticipated, as I have a large amount of threads to carefully tie together and I do not want to do you, the reader, a disservice by resorting to cliched tropes and plot shortcuts to do so.
The girl, who had been curled up in a corner of the wagon asleep, whimpered softly. Duseg scooted towards her.
“Are you okay?” He spoke softly, not sure if she was awake.
He did his best to prod her with bound hands. She didn’t respond. He shook her a little more forcefully.
With a startled cry and reflexes that surprised the old man, she awoke and lurched away from him, bound hands protecting her face and knees drawn close to her chest.
“It’s okay,” Duseg whispered, using the same voice he used when Emyni had nightmares. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
She stared at him. Her eyes were wild, animalistic. A surge of pity welled within.
“Gods, what curses have you afflicted upon this poor girl?” He growled. “Does she truly deserve such a life?”
She whimpered again.
Duseg sighed and moved back to his corner. The girl watched him, knees and hands still drawn in protectively.
Duseg dozed in place until the wagon slowed to a halt. He and his companions were escorted to relieve themselves and then given another ration of food and water.
They traveled through the day without stopping. No lunch was served to the slaves, but water was given at regular intervals. The caravan halted again when Shamash began to kiss the ground.
Many guards and servants set about erecting tents and starting fires. They were planning on stopping for the night, it seemed. When time came for the slaves to be fed, Duseg was not taken with his silent companions. Instead, a guard led him to one of the pavilions.
He didn’t ask any questions.
The ground within the pavilion was covered in soft rugs. Pillows lay atop them, with a brazier burning oily incense in the center. A slim man sat on one of the pillows with two women on either side of him. The women wore little clothing, and what little they did have left no doubt they were women.
“There he is,” the man said as the guard gestured for Duseg to enter.
Duseg nodded at the man.
“You can speak, my man. You had the good fortune of being purchased by me. I am Va-Abum-Ili, Master Treasurer of the Babil Builder’s Guild. I assure you, I do not punish my slaves for speaking to me, as long as they remain respectful.”
Duseg looked closely at the man. He was several seasons younger than Duseg, slender of build, with bronzed skin, dark hair worn long, and a short beard. His most prominent feature was his nose – flat and too wide for his sharp face. His smile appeared genuine, and his brown eyes held no deceit.
“Thank you, uh, Lugal Va-Abum-Ili.”
The man waved.
“Just Lugal Abum. And your name is?”
“Duseg, Lugal Abum. Duseg the Mudbaker, from Mudder’s Canal-” he hesitated, then continued, “outside of Nun-Ki.”
Duseg sat on the proffered pillow.
“Are you saying you are citizen of Urnamu?”
“That is disturbing. I had heard rumors Mardukai raided the villages outside of Nun-Ki, but I honestly didn’t believe them. Were you a victim of such a raid?”
The man hummed to himself before tapping the arm of one of the women. She smiled and offered him a brown fruit Duseg couldn’t identify. The man held it negligently in one hand before continuing.
“I hope you understand when I say I am loathe to believe you. Every slave, it seems, claims they were taken unlawfully. Do you have any proof of this?”
“No,” Duseg sighed. “I do not.”
“At least you are honest. I appreciate that in a man.”
“Thank you, Lugal.”
The man bit the fruit. It was green inside.
“I must consider this, Duseg the Mudbaker. As you probably know, the Builder’s Guild does a great deal of business with King Ubaru. It would not do us any good if it was known a Master Treasurer had an illegal slave from Urnamu.”
Duseg offered a slight nod. He tried to suppress the surge of hope within.
“Is there anyone who could verify your claim?”
“The raid must be common knowledge in Nun-Ki, Lugal. And any of the citizens on Mudder’s Canal could testify I was taken.” A thought occurred to him, one he hesitated to say.
Abum could sense his hesitation.
Duseg bit his lip.
“And, Lugal Abum, one of your own members – Omaro the Builder, who lives on the canal, knows of me.”
“Why didn’t you want to tell me that?”
“Omaro has reason to…be angry with me. My daughter and his had a falling out, the same day of the attack.”
“Where is your daughter now? And wife?”
“My wife died some years back, Lugal. My daughter I – I do not know. I fear she was killed by Mardukai.”
Abum took another bite from his fruit. Clear juice ran down his beard. The second woman giggled and wiped it away.
“The Bedda are savages. Mardukai doubly so. Fortunately, it seems, vengeance has been meted upon him for you.”
“What do you mean?” Duseg’s voice was a hoarse whisper.
“Not long after you were purchased, he was killed – in the slave market, so I am told.”
“That is the wondrous part of the tale. My guards assure me what they heard was truth. And what they heard was – well, fantastic. A witch came and killed him with magick. They say she was dressed in black, stood taller than any man there, and made his blood boil out of his skin. They say she commanded beasts to attack his guards and she called on the Dread Goddess herself.”
Duseg swallowed hard. Magick? A witch?
“Who…who was she?”
“That is one of the reasons why I asked you here, Duseg. She is apparently known as a Nin of some renown from Nun-Ki.”
Duseg’s heart leapt. Abum’s eyes narrowed as they scanned Duseg’s face.
“What her name is, I do not know. The locals are already calling her The Snake Charmer. A bit of a morbid title, if you ask me. She didn’t exactly charm Mardukai the Serpent, after all. I was wondering, have you heard of such a woman?”
Duseg’s mind raced. Could it be Emyni? That didn’t make any sense – how could she, such a young girl, make it to Adummatu? And dressed in black? The Dread Goddess Erishkigal? No. It couldn’t be her. That wasn’t Emyni – even with her power, that wasn’t Emyni.