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Here’s another excerpt from my Nanowrimo 2013 novel, Enter.  In this piece, Eliora and Ethan discuss being brave.  As always, please feel free to share your honest thoughts on it! 🙂

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“Do you have any idea how fascinating you are to me?”

 I blink.  Now it’s my turn to blush.  

 “I mean, I have a million questions I want to ask you.  And a million things I want to show you.”

 I drop my eyes, surprisingly disappointed.  He sees me as a scientist’s curiosity, a researcher’s treasure trove.  I think I’ve camouflaged my regret well enough, but Ethan is more perceptive than I give him credit for.  

 “Oh, no.  I mean, well, yeah, that too.”  He bites his lip and laughs.  “Actually, you’re even more fascinating … that way.  I’ve never met anyone like you.  I want to help you, to protect you, and yet you are probably the most self-sufficient woman I’ve ever met.”

 “I’ve never felt that way.”  I laugh, shying away from his eyes.

 “You don’t think so?  You’ve survived centuries of antagonism by this Daon guy, through I don’t even know yet what dangers, and you think you’re not self-sufficient?”

 I shake my head.  “Not so much.  I feel like I’ve got through by the skin of my teeth most of the time.  Or, more accurately, by a miracle.”

 He gazes at me thoughtfully.  “Yeah.  There is that.  I still can’t wrap my mind around that.”

 “Me neither.”

 “I don’t know the half of what you’ve faced, but even still I think you’re the bravest person I know.”

 I know he’s thinking about my scars that I showed him last night to prove my wild story.  I shake my head again.  “I’m not brave.  I’m so full of fear.”

 “Nah, being brave isn’t about being fearless.  Don’t you know that?  Being brave is doing what you have to no matter how afraid you are.”

 I used to know that.  I’ve learned that lesson so many times over.  But it always helps to be reminded.  

 Ethan holds out his hand to me, a look of invitation in his eyes.  I take his hand.  It’s pleasantly warm, strong but gentle.  

 Part of me, alerted by the natural way our lives have meshed together so quickly, reminds me not to get attached.  This is only temporary, my head says.  Only a moment and then slumber of one kind or another will separate us.  Of course that’s my first response.  Everyone I’ve ever known is dead.

 Well, except Daon, and probably Kali.  

 But then I have to remind myself that this is the last time.  I feel it.  I know it.  I’m home, now, and no slumber will interrupt whatever life I make here.  

 “I guess I’m brave then.”  I shrug.  “But only a little bit.”

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We’ve all heard of the overbearing mother-in-law.  Imagine if you were a queen and your mother-in-law was queen before you.  This is my picture of how it would go, taken from my Nanowrimo 2013 novel, Enter.  As always, please feel free to let me know what you think.

Atusa Shahbanu - Wife of Darius the Great

Atossa did not wait until Astra’s visit, but interrupted the queen’s breakfast under the pretence of congratulating her, but really to congratulate herself.
 
“Of course I have many grandchildren already—you’ll know the king has other children, as well as his brothers and sisters.  But you’ll find every little one is another jewel in the royal nursery.  One can never have too many sons.  And of course, this is your first.  All the more precious for you.”  
 
The dowager queen sat at the table across from Astra, not waiting for an invitation but receiving one anyway as she reclined.  Her sister Artystone and her niece Parmys, never far from her side, took up their posts on her right and left.
 
“Indeed,” Astra replied, offering a dish of stuffed dates.  “I am delighted with the news.”
 
“Of course, you won’t see much of your child, off in the royal nursery.  But I did make time to see my sons.  You have to, if you want to have any influence over them when they rule.”
 
“Oh, but your majesty, my son will not rule.  The king has sons by Queen Vashti who are older than mine.”
 
Atossa smiled mildly across the table.  “Of course, dear.  How could I forget.  Oh, and you ought not to call her queen anymore.  It undermines your position and contradicts the king’s ruling that her title be stripped from her.  He wouldn’t like that.”
 
“Yes, mother,” she said.  
 
I hid a smile as I caught Astra’s eyes over the table.  I knew the dowager queen was not her favourite person, but she responded admirably to what others might perceive as a constant challenge, never losing her temper over a torrent of veiled insults and barbs and overt commands, always humble despite her exalted station.  
 
She had told me once that the queen, despite her prickly exterior, was really a dedicated mother who only wanted the best for her son, and by proxy her daughter-in-law.  Atossa had learned more than any other woman alive about statecraft, and Astra meant to glean from her as much as possible.
 
“You say your son will never be king,” Atossa continued.  “But you never know what may happen.  Ahuramazda forbid it, but children are susceptible to sickness.  Young men fall in battle.  And if you please Xerxes well, he may simply overturn the succession, as his father did for me.”
 
Astra nodded sagely at this, not wanting to further contradict her influential mother-in-law.  
 
“Whatever happens, I will consider myself blessed to be a mother.”  She laid a hand flat against her abdomen and the invisible mystery forming within.
 
They passed the rest of breakfast discussing protocol in the royal nursery, confinement and birth, and good royal names for sons and daughters.  Atossa stayed long after the meal was done, dominating the hall as she had when she had lived here as queen.  Then, at last, she withdrew for a mid-morning nap.  
 
“You’ll find when you are old you haven’t the stamina of your youth,” she said with a sigh.  “What I wouldn’t give for the wisdom I have now in the body I had thirty years ago.”  She shook her head and left, with her companions in her train.
 
After she was gone, I leaned close to Astra and said, “So, will you name your son Cambyses, like she suggested?” 
 
She smiled, not quite a laugh.  “I will name my child whatever the king—may he live forever—desires.”  Then she dropped her voice for my ears alone.  “But in my heart of hearts I will give him another name.  Jeremiah—exalted of the Lord.”
 
I smiled conspiratorially.  “It is a good name.”

In this second excerpt from my Nanowrimo novel, Enter, the main character Eliora arrives in the harem of King Xerxes in Susa.  Please feel free to let me know what you think.  🙂

Susa winged man Darius Palace

The first glimpse of a future home is always fraught with meaning.  Which room would be mine?  What would become my new favourite place?  Who out of the women watching us enter would be my friend?  
 
I could not think of the alternative—that some of these might consider me their rival, and therefore their enemy.  I wanted none of the fame of being queen.  In fact, I wanted that least of any of the girls.  
 
The maidens who thronged the court of the virgins were an even wider sampling of the diversity of Woman than our little group from Babylon.  From every province of the empire they came, from the farthest eastern bounds of India to the western unknown beyond Macedonia and Thrace, from the hot southern sun of Egypt and Cush to the cold northern reaches of the Caucasus mountains.  
 
At the gate, once again, the official handed us over to the care of a eunuch—a great hulking man with an incongruously soft voice important enough to have attendants of his own.  
 
“Welcome to the harem of King Xerxes—may he live forever.  My name is Hegai, and I am overseer of all his majesty’s wives, concubines, and virgins.  If you should ever lack for anything, I will see to it.  I hope you will consider this your home.”
 
I couldn’t help but smile at his kindly welcome.  He seemed like the sort of man I could consider an ally.
 
“That being said, there are certain customs here in the women’s rooms that you will quickly learn.  Certain rooms are assigned to certain ladies according to the favour they have won.  Earn my favour, and I may reward you.  Earn my disfavour, and you will soon find yourself serving your peers.”
 
His brief warnings dispensed, the momentary dark cloud seemed to pass from his face and the sun of his broad, bright smile emerged again.  “I have no doubt that you will all get along well.  Please, follow the maids, and they will bring you to your rooms.  
 
For the time being, we were placed together in a large, luxurious room much like our place in the satrap’s palace in Babylon, yet much more opulent.  Where there the cushions had been made of fine woven wool, here the wool was woven with threads of gold and silver.  Where there the floor had been of polished stone, here the floor was an intricate mosaic of many kinds of inlaid stone.  The baths here were larger, the fountains more numerous, the gardens more abundant, the food more exotic, the linens and wools finer—indeed everything was more lavish than anything I had ever seen.  
 
Hegai assigned us a pair of handmaidens who attended us like shadows.  “These maids will assist you with your beauty treatments.”
 
I remembered beauty treatments.  I remembered the rasp of pumice and the slick of oil and the heady resins of spikenard and myrrh.  I remembered the feel of soft skin, of white, clean hands unsullied by work, of the whisper of brushed hair across my back.  I remembered the wedding for which I was beautified.
 
A ghost of scented oil floated through my memory and I fought the urge to gag.
 
This will be different, I told myself.  I won’t be going to Daon this time.  This time I go to the king, and I belong to him.  I am safe here, in the harem.  I am safe.
 
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This is a little peek at my Nanowrimo novel, entitled Enter.  Hope you enjoy.  Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.  🙂

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When the sun rises on my night’s vigil, I know I am not alone.  It doesn’t matter that Ethan is sleeping in his rumpled bed across the tiny, messy studio apartment.  He’s still here, and I’m not alone.  It’s a good feeling.
 
I get up from his old, comfortably sagging couch and go into the kitchen, pour myself a glass of water.  I don’t want to wake him.  I know all the backstory will wait.  I’m just content to know he is there.  That he cares for me.  More importantly, that he knows my story and believes me.  
 
I wonder what it would be like, after all this time, to really sleep.  Just a nice, full night of peaceful slumber, no longer hounded by nightmares.  To lie down in one place, one time, and wake ten hours later in the same place, the same time.  
 
For two and a half thousand years, give or take, I haven’t been able to count on that one simple invariability.  
 
Not that I’m complaining.  If God chooses to deliver me from certain death, I think sleeping through a hundred years is wonderful.  Who am I to question the mode he chooses for his earth-shattering miracles?  I’ve long since ceased trying to understand the whys and wherefores.
 
But Ethan is a scientist, if a believing one.  He’d like a few answers, and I wish, just a little, that I could give him some.  
 
Like why I have been leaping my way through history.  Like why the embodiment of evil I have the misfortune to call a husband turns up everywhere and every-when I go.  
 
Daon Nazaratus.  The villain who started it all, who lost me my family, my roots in time, everyone and everything I knew.  He was there at the beginning, in ancient Babylon, and he is here, now, in this very city, waiting for me to appear once again.  
 
Except that this time, I know, somehow, it will be the last time.  Maybe then I’ll finally get to sleep.  For real, this time.
 
Ethan sits up in bed, rubs his thick dark curls, reaches clumsily for the dark-rimmed glasses he keeps on the nightstand.  Only then does he see me, remember slowly, smile.
 
“Good morning.”
 
“Good morning yourself.  I hope I didn’t wake you.”  I smile back at him, despite my slight reserve.  I’ve only just met him, after all.  But even the little we’ve been through together is enough to make me happy to see him, to share his company.  He’s the first person I’ve ever trusted with my story.
 
“Not at all.  I need to get up, anyway.  Got stuff to do.”
 
“Yeah, I’ve got to get to work, too.  Can’t be late on my second day.”
 
There’s a shyness between us.  Like he’s afraid to ask if he’d just imagined all the things I told him last night.  
 
“Did you sleep at all last night?” he asks in disbelief.
 
“I told you.  I’m not a big fan of sleeping.  There’s the dreams and all.  Besides, I do plenty of sleeping … you know …”
 
“Yeah.”  It’s sinking in.  I can see it on his face.  But even though he believes its true—that I am essentially 26 centuries old, rather than the 20-something I look—it’s going to be a while before he truly accepts it.
 
He rolls out of bed in a t-shirt and shorts, grabs a pair of denim pants and a sweater from the floor, and heads into the bathroom.  “I’ll just be a minute.”
 
I busy myself with finding bread and toasting it.  His toaster is not too different than the ones I saw before, a century ago, so I don’t have any trouble.  I figure out the coffee machine, too, from my new job yesterday.  By the time he emerges, dressed, shaved and combed, I have a plate of toast spread with jam and a mug of coffee ready for him.  He doesn’t have a dining table, so we sit on the couch.
 
“Hey, thanks.”  He takes the toast and crunches into it.  “I probably would have been too lazy to eat any breakfast.  Couldn’t do without the coffee, though.”
 
“And you scold me for not sleeping.”
 
“I know.  They do say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
 
“Do they?  I suppose it makes sense.”
 
“Oh yeah, I forgot you won’t get many cultural references.”
 
“Not unless you’re talking about history.”  I hunch my shoulders and take a bite of my toast.  
 
“That sounds perfect to me.  I’m a history student, don’t forget.  Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong century.”
 
“Me too,” I say.  We both burst out laughing.
 
The clock on the stove says 6:49.  “I have to be at work soon.”
 
“I’ll walk you down.”  
 
He takes my plate in his free hand and dumps the dishes carelessly into the sink.  I follow with  the mugs, more gently.  After lifetimes spent in servitude, I can’t break my old habits.  
 
The coffee shop where I got my new job yesterday, where I first met Ethan only 24 hours ago, is just downstairs, a block south, and across the street.  He was having a date with his guitar and the sunrise.  I was waking up for the first time in a century, on the park bench next to him.
 
I remember the first time I woke after my long slumber, when I slumbered under a Babylonian moon and wakened to a Persian sunrise.  When I closed my eyes on slavery and certain death at my wedding feast and opened them on freedom and life a century later.
 
If only I had been as free as I’d thought myself then.  But Daon had lived on, defying nature and God, to hound my waking and sleeping ever since.  
 
If the feeling I had was to be trusted, it wouldn’t be for long.
 
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