Tweaks/excerpt

Changed the look of the blog around a little. There was something claustrophobic about the old theme that just wasn’t quite working for me. This one also has a header image provided by my wonderful fiance and general appendage, and I like it.

But that’s not why I’m posting. I know a lot of writers are a little reluctant to share pieces of things before the piece as a whole is done, but I’m too careless for that kind of restraint. I just toss stuff out there. So I want to share an excerpt of a novella that I’m working on and that I’m pretty excited by.

It’s untitled as yet, but its fantasy setting concerns a village in a valley bordered by two mountains, mountains that, to the people of the village, are also gods. Every year there is a festival that culminates in a ritual intended to appease the gods, but the exact nature of the ritual is a mystery to all but the priests–and the two villagers who are chosen to participate. The young man Jaith wonders about the ritual, but his wondering becomes more than idle when he and his lifelong friend Shoa are chosen to take part in it.  As they quickly discover, the ritual has the potential to draw them together with an unbreakable bond–or destroy their friendship completely.

Excerpt after the cut.

The world was still cast in the faint gray light of pre-dawn when the sound of the ram’s horn lifted over the sleeping village and announced the festival day.

Almost immediately, the village began to come awake. There was much to do, much to prepare before the evening and the sun would pass quickly between the two mountains that capped the sides of the valley. The mountains were snow-capped and bare and forbidding, but the valley was green and pleasant, and the gods were owed much for their generosity.

The two gods of the mountain. The mighty Keth, golden with sunlight, and his lover Hozah, his peak sloped in a bow before Keth’s majesty, their forms locked into the rock in a tableau of permanent and perfect dominance and submission. Today was their day, tonight their nuptial night, and the village buzzed with excitement. Flowers were woven into garlands and hung from windows, gaily colored paper lanterns were strung through the streets, everywhere was the smell of cooking and baking.

Jaith ran through the streets, barefoot and heedless of the rough cobbles, for he often went barefoot this way. He was young and like all the youths he was fearless of bodily injury, tanned and strong and quick with a grin and a joke. And he loved festivals, for festivals meant good food, dancing, perhaps some flirtation with one of the other pretty young things of the village. And whether the young thing in question was a boy or a girl… ah, that mattered little. What mattered was to live and be happy, for the gods were mysterious, and took lives on their own ineffable schedule. Soon he would go into the mountains, make his first lone kill and take the name of a man. But now, though he no longer had a boy’s body, he had a boy’s freedom, and he would devour that until it was removed from him.

Past street sweepers and women hanging bundles of sweet herbs from the eaves of their houses and merchants setting up their stalls for the day, Jaith ran. Down side streets, through little garden patches, until he came to the house he’d been making for, stopping at the door and pounding at the wood. “Shoa!” he called, dancing back into the street and waving his arms before the windows. “Shoa, wake up, you useless piglet!”

“Your father must have been a monkey,” muttered a passing woman, and Jaith merrily ignored her.

Shoa!

At last a sleepy-looking boy opened the door and peered out, blinking, his long dark hair mussed and tangled. “Gods, Jaith,” he muttered. “Sun’s not been up an hour. Have you no mercy?”

“None today.” Jaith grinned toothily. “Come on, they’re setting up the ball court. If we hurry, we can have a game or two before the others push their way in.”

Shoa rolled his eyes, scratching his bare chest. “‘The others’. It’s their court, Jaith. And I don’t think they like two little blasphemers running up and down their sacred flats.”

“I don’t care what they like.” Jaith stepped forward and hooked an arm around Shoa’s neck. “I like you. I’d hope you’d know me by now, even if you aren’t my blood. Come on, friend of my youth. Old Sun waits for no one and the day comes once in a circle. Don’t give me any more trouble or you’ll find yourself bathing in the cow pond.”

Jaith never had to try very hard to get Shoa to go along. He never really had. Another roll of his eyes and Shoa was stepping out of his door and into the street, not even bothering with a shirt. “A bath in the cow pond might feel good after a game with you,” he said, jostling Jaith’s shoulder with his own. “Anyway, you cheat.”

“I never,” said Jaith, offended. He darted ahead a little way and turned, walking backward down the street and grinning cheekily, somehow avoiding people and animals alike. “So have you heard any gossip from your father? Any idea who’s to be chosen?”

“I never know how you expect my father to pick up any gossip,” Shoa said with exaggerated patience. “He’s a lamplighter, not an old woman in the marketplace.”

“Lamplighters get everywhere. And he’s a lamplighter in the temple, today.”

Shoa shrugged, kicking a stone aside. “Regardless. I haven’t heard a thing. Not about who’s to be chosen for the ritual, nor much of anything else.  He’s been too tired to speak more than a word to me since last night.”

“Useless,” Jaith said airily. “Both of you.” He was already forgetting it, the burning question that sat every festival day in the people’s minds: who would be chosen to play the part of Keth and Hozah, and ritually consummate the mountain gods’ everlasting marriage. It was a juicy question, the topic of much talk and speculation, for the choice was vital in order to ensure a bountiful harvest and a mild winter. But the ball court was already in view, laid out in a flat, unused field at the edge of the village, the sun spreading invitingly over it and workmen moving around it like ants, fitting the last hoop and painting the last of the boundary lines.

“Move your slug feet.” Jaith tugged at Shoa’s arm and ran ahead, pulling off his tunic as he went and tossing it aside, his back and shoulders instantly and pleasantly warm. The breeze was rising over the fields and freshening the air. Over them loomed the watchful hulks of the mountain gods.

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