Hope everything is going well, or looks like it could go well in the near future.
Things are well in VT. Rain is coming down. The White River is high, and so is the Connecticut River. River’s, man.
I have a plan for the book. It’s getting more exciting as time passes. I wanna do oversized decorative letters at the start of each chapter. I wanna do a full reading, so you guys would get to choose whether to read it, or listen to it. Either way, things are amping up.
This is only the first draft. I’m letting my mind get ahead of myself to keep up the motivation. I’m about to have that first chapter critiqued, and I have (maybe not all the way) prepared myself for complete emotional devastation. That’s a little dramatic, but the word terror comes to mind.
Am I good enough? Are my ideas even good enough to base stories on? I write every weekday for about two hours, am I wasting this time? All these insecurities get brought to the surface every time my stuff gets an eye of scrutiny.
Below is Chapter 6 of my story about Hajra, the young girl who sings to awaken the dead for the military of her people.
-Thank you for reading,
-Scott “001101011000110101111010” Brown
The awakening ceremonies continued. Each night the camp moved farther into the Lenithan lands. Alik pressured the singers for more bodies to be awoken each time, and each time Hajra delivered.
Siveny and Harja laughed at the actors in between bouts of arguing. The verbal fights were always brought on by sleep deprivation, and always ended the same way. They laughed after a moment of ludicrous logic.
“You pointed at the man with the hat and laughed, and I have a hat,” was the latest.
Hajra had screamed it at Siveny and could barely finish yelling it. She had started laughing halfway through.
Emotions were becoming harder to control. Pain was becoming harder to find. Her life was easy, with little responsibility. She sang in the night and found small moments of sleep the rest of the time. Hajra was doted on, and received multiple marriage proposals.
One, an alchemist, had claimed that his family was wealthy. Their land, as he said, was full of grain. The livestock ran free, with many shepherds. He had looked at her as if “victory” was assured.
When she said no, he cursed her. She laughed as he huffed away.
Another suitor told her he was dedicating his prowess as a drummer to her. He dropped to one knee as she emerged from the sirens’ tent.
Behind him, Siveny shook her head, giving a signal of disapproval.
Hajra told him to dedicate his performance to another, as she was not interested.
He rose, saluted, and left four words with her.
“You are truly magnificent.”
The camp spoke of her, and her fidelity to no one. They made up stories about her past. Other Sirens called her “Same-Song” or even worse, “Mother-scale”. Both of these were terms for a woman who has sex with women.
Hajra lamented it, but she knew part of it was jealousy. There was enough exhaustion to cause anyone to use hateful terms. She was outperforming them, and they viewed her fidelity as pretentious.
She longed for the song of love. Truly. But no one could see her body without seeing the mark. Complete trust had to be made. This was difficult considering how well known she had become.
But her flesh burned. Her eyes were beginning to weave to the tune of lust. She was unsure if she could resist for much longer before logic would be ignored.
The moment came.
Alik invited her to his tent after an important breakthrough. The Sowd army could see a Lenithan city on the horizon. It was only a matter of time before it would be sacked. He wanted to discuss how to turn the townspeople from their homeland. There would be a lot of new recruits, living or dead.
He opened his tent, smiling.
She went past him, and she could feel her face redden.
“You spoke of gangs before. These sound like the people we want to get a message to. They are betrayers of their people,” Alik said.
He went to a chair at the side of the tent. Sitting, he grabbed a small pipe packed with ground of hogsleaves. Nobles smoked it to relax. It induced giddiness and mild euphoria. It was comparable to alcohol in intensity.
Alik took a few puffs to get the bowl burning. Thick white smoke came from his mouth, running up his face, past the scar on his forehead.
Hajra could not help but view it in a sensual light. In a small moment, she realized she had forgotten what the man had just said.
“The…” she struggled to find the words.
“The gangs,” Alik repeated, speaking out of the corner of his mouth.
He put the candle down on the table.
“The gangs. They are groups of criminals. If there was coin in it for them, and perhaps guarantees that they would be alive by the end of our operations,” Hajra said.
“Aye,” Alik said, “So we could get a message to these men by some underground means.”
He shifted in his chair to get more comfortable. Harja flicked her head to him, rattling the wooden beads in her hair.
Alik shot her a glance, taken aback.
“How would we do this?” He leaned towards her.
“Should War-Son be present for this discussion? He may be able to provide some insight,” Hajra said, hoping that this would be ignored against her better judgement.
Her hands pressed at her knees. Alik was older, a commander, her commander, and still she desired him. Out of all the suitors and people she knew, he was the most trustworthy. His song was alluring, and his hair against the candlelight was enthralling.
“War-Son’s expertise is in combat, not propaganda. He is not a grand thinker. Not many are, but I know you think of things outside of what song you are in. You are smart,” Alik tapped his head.
“He will not be joining us?” Hajra bit at her lip.
“No, Hajra,” he grew concerned, “What is troubling you?”
“Many suitors have offered me what think me or my family desires.”
“Perhaps this is a conversation best suited for the elder. She sings the songs of the soul. I am your commander,” he said.
“I do not trust the elder.”
“If you do not trust the elder I will have her replaced at once,” Alik’s face contorted.
“It is not that. I trust you more,” she forced out.
“I understand. I gave you an extraordinary amount of scales and notes to choose from with your performances. I also gave you the same trust with the prisoner. But I am an officer, and you are my subordinate. This conversation is becoming a song I cannot harmonize with,” Alik shook his head.
Hajra stood up, unable to contain her anxiety.
“I cannot sleep. I am tired constantly. The suitors come and I cannot accept them.”
“This song we sing sounds more and more like discord. I must protest…” he stood up.
“Are we not friends?” Hajra shot at him before he could stand.
“We are comrades. I would put myself between you and harm. Whether it be arrows, blades, or the god of death. You can count on me like a friend.”
“You did not say we are friends,” she fidgeted.
“I can go no further than comrade. If you wish to unload a burden of guilt, talk to the elder. I feel I cannot help, or that I should not help,” he tilted his head.
“I am afraid. My body sings to itself in ways I cannot help. There is energy moving in me and I must release it. I have truths to be told, and I cannot let them sit inside me any longer. I have grown too burdened!”
Hajra was pacing with her fingers lacing and unlacing. Her eyes were at the floor.
“Hajra! You must calm yourself! Use your voice,” Alik went to her.
“You do not understand! I cannot be myself. I cannot feel what I want to feel. My body burns in more ways than one. My song is being stifled!”
Alik grabbed her shoulders, holding her still. He looked into her eyes, trying to snap her back to reality.
She looked up, breathing hard from her quick words. With his hands on hers she felt a sudden surge of tenacity. She pulled at his arms and tried to bring him in to kiss.
He pulled back before any contact was made.
“Hajra! This is neither the time nor place! This was supposed to be a meeting of minds to discuss tactics!”
Alik took several steps back.
She kept her eyes locked onto his, despite his refusal to meet her gaze.
Hajra could have killed him in that instant, but it washed over her with ease. Waves of emotions went across her head form left to right. Lust, anger, sadness.
It was as confusing as anything she had felt. The elder would spew the same half-truths and songs if Hajra came to her. There was never anything intended for her, only Sirens in general. The elder’s advice was emotionless and sterile.
“I must tell you. I fear I cannot tell anyone else otherwise face grave consequences,” Hajra began.
Alik’s mouth tightened, “Hajra I am ordering you to leave the tent. You are in no state to be here. Talk to the elder and come back at another time.”
“No. Listen to me! Please listen! The elder sings songs of nothing. She repeats lyrics with no melody! There is nothing from her that I could not sing to myself!”
“Please, you are not well…” Alik started.
“No Siren is well. Ever. Now listen!”
His face sullied. Alik’s eyes drooped and his hand went to his temple.
“I have…” she began.
All of her confidence seemed to disappear now that Alik’s resistance had waned. She paused, thinking clearly for a moment.
“Yes?” he pushed.
“Let me begin!” Hajra shrieked. Her clear head vanished.
He grabbed his ears, and Hajra made effort to not grab hers despite the pain her own voice brought.
“I have a mark,” she fidgeted wildly with her mouth.
“What mark?” Alik froze.
“When I was a child the army came with my mother.”
“They branded us.”
The words fell out of her like they were all the heat in her body. Her confusion vanished, and she was left with a mix of fear and curiosity.
What would happen to her? Would she be executed?
Hajra grabbed the All-Key in her pocket. She held it out for Alik to see.
“The woman before is branded as a traitor, holding an All-Key given to her by her commanding officer,” Hajra declared.
Alik darted to her, moving half around her body. He pulled her high-collared shirt down, paused, and then flicked it back into place with more anger than Hajra was prepared for.
He pulled the All-Key from her hand. His nails scraped her palm. She pulled her hand away, rubbing it. There was no pain, but the sensation seemed to be amplified.
Alik paced around the table in silence.
“Does my performance count for nothing? Does the All-Key count for nothing?” Hajra pleaded, “Please let me continue!”
“I’m sorry, Hajra,” Alik looked past her.
“What will you do? Will you be like them? Will you sing the same melodies? Sing differently! Or not at all,” Hajra cried out with her hands up.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly, “Guards!” he yelled.
Within a moment the two men outside entered the tent. Their hands rested on the hilt of their blades.
“Prepare this one for exile,” Alik pointed at her.
Hajra stared at Alik’s head as she was dragged out of the tent. He had been so different, but only from an onlooker. He was as bound as the rest of them. Bound to sing the same melodies, harmonizing with everyone around him the same ways as before.
Among the smaller tents, her knees were forced to the mud. Her fine battle-dress became sullied, but Hajra thought this would be the smallest of problems for her.
People stopped playing Skulls. They came over in curious silence.
Siveny was visible. She was talking with one of the more handsome drummers that she had mentioned before. This would be trouble for her, too.
War-Son stumbled towards one of the BETTING GAMES around a campfire two tents away. He stopped, realizing that no one was there. His hands bore several pouches of coin. When he turned to see Hajra, sobriety found him.
“What is going on!?” he shouted above the rabble.
Without Alik there to answer, he pushed past people in anger.
“What are you doing to Hajra!? Get your hands off her!”
He pointed at the two guards next to her. In a fit of rage he threw his pouches of coin behind him, readying his hands for a fight.
“It is alright War-Son. There is nothing you can do,” Hajra said to him.
“No!” the big man shouted at Hajra, “You two! Get back before I kill you!”
War-Son was only feet away from them. He towered above their heads, jutting his chin over his muscular chest.
“By the order of the commander…” one of the guards started. His voice shook.
“War-Son! Enough!” Alik shouted from the entrance of his tent.
He took careful steps towards them.
“Go,” Hajra whispered to War-Son,” Go now!”
The big man scowled at Hajra, then the guards, then Alik. He refused to move.
“What is happening here!?” he bellowed.
“Hajra has been singing untruths. She bears the mark of the traitor!” Alik said.
Murmurs began in the crowd.
Hajra looked at Siveny, and managed to give the sign for “sorry” just before the guards pulled her hands behind her.
“No,” War-son stated.
He shook his head.
“Then look for yourself,” Alik pulled Hajra’s collar down.
War-Son walked a couple of steps to see it. He pulled back, and his frown did not falter.
“What about her All-Key? Does that not count for anything?”
“She has the mark of the traitor!”
“Hajra has been the finest addition to the eastern front we have ever seen!” War-Son pointed to her.
“War-Son, let the notes fall where they will,” Hajra said.
As she finished speaking, the guards gagged her with a length of cloth. It tasted of lye, probably used for treating wounds.
“I always thought she was hiding parts of her songs!” Siveny shouted from behind everyone, pulling everyone’s attention for a moment.
It was a painful sight for Hajra. To her there was no betrayal, as anyone would try and distance themselves from such a public defacing. But her wild declaration was a show of fear. It was now evident to everyone that she sang the song of meekness. This would not bode well for her future.
The two girls met eyes. Hajra slid her focus away from her with disgust.
“I will not let you do this! Can you not let her sing with us? Her notes were nothing but harmonies and her melodies have been nothing but…”
“War-Son! As commander of this SECTION I order you silent!”
The two men compared anger with their eyes. For a moment Hajra wondered if War-Son might let his anger take over. But he slinked away, pushing people aside as he left the situation.
“I did not know!” Siveny called through the crowd, “I did not know of the mark! She never told me! I swear it!”
No one cared, or listened. Her protests of innocence only served to harm her reputation. She was painting herself as someone who sings to hear their own voice.
With War-Son away, Alik began.
“Hajra LAST NAME NEEDS TO BE A REMEMBERANCE OF HER MOTHER, if that is your real name, you are hereby sentenced to exile for bearing the mark of the worst of The Sowd,” Alik pointed at the back of her head as he droned.
There were small protests from the crowd. Voices spoke up, mirroring the words of War-Son.
“It is not right!”
“Let her stay!”
But they dared not try and accuse the accuser. The threat of dismissal was too great. To live the marked life was truly a terrible fate. Hajra did not blame them for remaining quiet. It was beyond them, no one knew her well enough to take a stand, and the only person she told was casting her back into exile.
“You have lied to the fist and voice of The Sowd! You have come here bearing the mark of the traitor, and spread its evils throughout the forward camps. You have betrayed your people. There is no hope for you,” Alik recited.
He leaned down, grabbed her arm and then pulled her up.
Alik spoke softly from directly behind her head, “When you come back here…”
Hajra growled at the idea from her muzzled mouth.
“…if you come back here. I will not hesitate to have you hanged.”
His words, while something she was not surprised to hear from an officer, were venomous from someone who had called himself a friend.
Hajra turned with glassy eyes to regard Alik.
His back was straight. His face was turned down, and he pointed past her into the woods towards the east.
“Anyone who helps the exiled will be shot on sight,” Alik used his commander voice.
Two men wielding arbalests flowed from the crowd. The alchemists and sirens parted for Hajra’s exit.
“If she starts to sing, shoot her,” Alik commanded.
She moved towards the woods. Stepping gingerly so she would be seen by everyone. One man locked eyes with her. His face read as a blank slate. Since she was now an outcast, he would put on a display. Hajra watched as he bent down and formed some of the mud at his feet into a ball.
She did not slow down. She did not speed up. She kept an even pace and waited for the ball of mud to hit her. He threw it, full of complacent non-thinking.
“Traitor!” the alchemist yelled.
The mud sailed through the darkness unseen. It landed against her left breast, marring the dress. She blinked as it flecked her face with brown.
“Wait!” Alik yelled.
The people froze, Hajra stopped walking. Footsteps in the mud came up to her, and a brash, violent hand grabbed the collar around her shirt. The sting of blade used in haste bit at the back of her neck.
Alik was cutting her high collar away, so she could not hide the brand.
Hajra stared forward. Her back grew cold, with cuts all around the mark. Blood flowed, but it would be unmistakable to anyone she met on the road back home.
“The traitor cannot hide the mark any longer!” Alik roused the crowd.
They cheered, but it was hollow. It was a cheer of followers, not a truly roused group.
From the corner of her vision Harja saw more soldiers bent over. Balls of mud hit from all sides. Her wrists burned from the rope. Tears flowed from her eyes.
She had failed.
She blinked as she was pelted with wet dirt. Her dress was becoming a miserable mess. Once she was clear of the camp, she did not look back. The trail would be long, and this would not be the only time mud was thrown at her. It would be more than mud next time.
What would she tell her mother? What would she tell her siblings? What would they do now? There were too many questions. Her head burned, her thoughts writhed.
Hajra looked back towards the light of the camps. Her hair was filled with mud. Her clothes were filthy. Her hands and mouth were bound.
With no melodies visible in the future, she dropped to her knees. The soft earth felt nice on her skin.
She would go no further. She would not give them satisfaction. They would find her body at the outskirts of the camp.
Curse them, she thought.