Welcome to Wednesday Briefs, where authors post free fiction of 1000 words or less each week.
First, I’m just going to announce that my very first Wednesday Brief, Thick as Thieves, turned into a novel and was released a couple days ago! How cool is that? It grew into a book! M.A. Church is holding a giveaway this week if anyone would like to try for a free copy.
I’m continuing Sealed in Stone, the story of Willem and Torrey and their world, which has very different rules from our own.
This week's prompts were: "afternoon delight" or "Is that your best bedside manner?" or "If wishes were fishes..." or "where angels fear to tread..." or use a kite in some way or use a bull's eye or use a Hello Kitty product or have a famous celebrity make a surprise guest appearance in your story. Once more I have opted for a picture prompt.
Sealed in Stone #3
Sweet smells of overripe bunch fruit and toasted cutter ants wafted from the dining hall, warm and beckoning despite the cool mountain air. Torrey stopped Willem short of rounding the corner to the door. Willem looked over in surprise.
“I almost forgot. There might not be a chance later.” He reached into the neckline of his red tunic and pulled out a stone amulet dangling from a silver chain around his neck. “Show me yours.”
Willem retrieved his matching amulet. Gray and flat, it looked like a miniature tablet: two pieces of stone bound together by a tiny hinge and latch. He had made both amulets as an apprentice but, while the craftsmanship was imperfect, he and Torrey had worn them every day since. They’d even placed bits of each other inside.
Releasing his amulet, Torrey pulled a small knife from his pocket. “Your hair’s changed color. I need a new lock.”
“You’re talking like you’re going.”
“Just in case. I want the hair you have now, not that of a child. Hold still.” The sharp knife cut surely. When Torrey was done, he pinched a curl of brown hair.
Willem did the same, his hand shaking as he used his knife on the black strands of his friend’s hair. What the fuck? His hands never trembled. And then it was done and a warm bit of Torrey lay in his hand. Together they opened their amulets to reveal the hollow chambers within. The hair curled in Willem’s chamber was the same black as the new hair he tucked atop it, but Torrey’s amulet held hair the color of fire pine needles.
“It was prettier then.” He said it wistfully. The kumbharani had held out hope for the color, but it had darkened and the rare red hue with it.
“I’m glad it got darker. Good looks and rare coloring just get a man traded for a husband, or worse.”
He would know. Willem watched Torrey tuck the curl of brown hair atop the red before closing the gray stone over it and clicking the clasp into place. As they always did, they tapped their two amulets together, sealing their friendship.
“We’ll have each other forever.” Torrey said it brightly, though something killed his smile. “Now let’s break the fast and find out what this day will bring.”
* * * *
Torrey was not surprised to find his mother awaiting his return. Jayn Bhesari Prim greeted him in the courtyard through which he had to pass to get to the stairs. She’d always been smart at knowing where to place herself. Her mauve robe of thick silk vied with morning shadows as she quietly led him to the library instead of letting him continue to his room.
“Did you say your farewells, just in case?” She knew who he’d been with, of course. She was smart that way, too.
“Yes. I knew you hadn’t given him to the metalsmiths.”
Jayn indicated a pair of chairs facing the room’s bay of windows and then closed the doors before she joined him. “I told him I would. He faced me down. I can appreciate that in a man. Sit.”
He sat. Torrey didn’t always like his mother, but he obeyed her without question. Their kin blood had held sway over the Kumbh’Bhesarim for five generations because of women like her. Women like Jayn were the reason humans lived with any freedom at all rather than as beasts to be hunted for food or other uses, as the barbarians were. The veneer of civilization in the kumbhs was thin as damselfly wings.
“You know She’s going to choose you.” Despite firm lines around her mouth, Jayn’s words were not harsh. If anything, she sounded patient and mournful. “Cyrrhi wants the alliance to be firmly established, so will choose one of my sons. You are the prettiest, nearly as pretty as your brother was. And She loved Arton for a while. You look like him.” She reached out and brushed at some hair that had fallen across his face. “So many years, so many lessons. Now you will use this training in the service of your people.”
Except that it felt like a noose around his neck. He’d held out hope until now. “I don’t want it, none of it.”
“What you want matters, my son. Why else do you think I tried to prevent you from forming a love bond with another? Someone you would certainly have to leave behind?” Her eyes glittered not with tears, but purpose. “What you want is but what you want. What She wants is the Law beneath which we live.”
They’d argued about this before. About his duty not just to his kumbh, but all the kumbhs. About the dangers of an angry Queen should she ever decide to rid herself of their species’ fragile symbiosis. The system was entrenched because a hundred generations of queens had found humans… useful. Humans were skilled at crafts, provided countless luxuries nomari workers and warriors did not have the imagination or intelligence to create, which was why human intellect and industry had value. Torrey knew the reasons: he had studied economics, history and statecraft from a nom-based perspective. Pesht relied on its kumbhs to compete against the kumbhs of other noms. In the world of the nomari, the only thing that mattered was dominance—dominance over each other, dominance over the kumbhs, and dominance over the many other noms that dotted the land like teeth.
But the original reason the nomari had spared humans had nothing to do with any of that. That’s what had happened….
“This is fucked up!” He fought the urge to scream at his mother and flee the room, find Willem and between them figure some way out even though he knew there was none. “I don’t care how human She looks! She looks like a human female, right? Yes? Well, I want Willem, not girls—”
“You’ll want Her.”
Thanks for reading! If you’re looking for more fun, free fiction, use the links below to visit the blogs of these other Wednesday Briefers.