Catch Up Day

Today was the seventh in a month long venture to write a novel in a rush. It has been harrowing. I started off on the right foot, writing 2,000 words a day, but then the weekend happened. Weekends are more than crazy for me. I work, I have evening committments, and there are obligations outside of work that take yet more time from me when I am still recovering from the madness of the two days that everyone else has off. No, I am not complaining; I’m just stating the facts… Suffice it to say that I fell behind. Drastically. Thousands of words behind. It looked hopeless, to be honest with you –– I even thought I might scrap it.

But then something happened. I opened up my story and wrote… and wrote some more… and kept right on writing. I got terribly distracted (as I am apt to do), but I also found that some of my distractions were not so unhelpful after all –– distractions like the other writers on the same journey as myself, tossing around ideas, encouragement, butt-kicking, and “war stories” of past ventures that just… didn’t work out. Friendships have been formed, which is probably more important to me than actually finishing the novel… and they are more likely to push me towards reaching my goal than anything else.

Judging by past experience, I have found that sharing my writing actually propels me further with my work. So, without further ado, I will introduce you to an excerpt from Bane of Foes, my baby –– erm… work in progress. Mind you, this is only part of a scene, and it is pretty far in:

The walnut door stood ominously in front of him. He thought of what Logan had said earlier. Why would Jethro make a change in his usual routine to work with a boy on his first day? He took a deep breath and knocked.

“Enter.”

He pushed the door open. It was heavy, but he managed.

Jethro was sitting with his back to the door. Had he been anyone else, Aedan would have considered it a foolish thing. However, he suspected that the commander was perfectly capable of detecting trouble without facing the door.

“I suspect that you’ve already been told that I don’t work with new recruits.”

“That is what I heard, yes.”

“It’s only half-true, but I don’t need to tell you why. You will learn that for yourself.” he cocked his head to get a better look at him, “You have a lot of gall to be challenging fourth years to skirmishes on your first day.”

“I’m not scared of anyone.”

“I doubt that.”

“No, it’s true.”

“You may think so, but when you are surrounded in battle with no one but yourself left to fight, you’ll be singing a different tune.”

Aedan straightened further, annoyed by the comment, “I am scared of no one.” he hissed.

“Don’t contradict me, boy. I know what I’m talking about.” he rustled with some papers on his desk, “I suppose you’re wondering what I’ll teach you today. Don’t get excited. It won’t be anything that the other boys are learning, but it also won’t be fun… for you.” The last words he added with a twinkle in his eye… if such eyes could twinkle.

Fun. Aedan wondered what his definition of the word could be. He decided not to think about it. Jethro opened a cabinet and took out a pipe and a pouch. He filled the pipe with tobacco and tamped it down with a finger, then lit it with a burning stick from the fireplace. He puffed at it for a minute while looking at a slip of paper.

“Owen, stay here.”

The dog lifted its head in acknowledgement. The cat was busy playing with something under the bed that stood in the adjoining room.

“Let’s go.”

Aedan trotted to keep up with the man, whose stride was longer than he’d expect from a man of average height. His footsteps made no noise as they made their way to the stables.

“You certainly won’t like this.”

He wondered what the man was talking about. He loved horses. What could he possibly dislike about being around them? He would find out soon enough.

“How fast do you run?”

“Fast enough.”

“Right.” Jethro pulled a saddle from the tack room, “Hold this.”

The smell of leather invaded his nostrils. The commander pulled a bridle with a snaffle bit from the wall and draped it over the saddle, then took up a saddle blanket from a pile on a nearby shelf and added that to the heap in Aedan’s arms. He wasn’t sure what to think of this.

“I’ll ask again. How fast can you run? Can you keep up with a grown man?”

“Yes.” he answered, without hesitation.

“Have you ever tried keeping up with a horse?”

Aedan looked at the man with his one eye, “You can’t be serious.”

“Serious as a tangle with Ilona’s worst assassins.”

The boy blinked, “What about breakfast?”

“What about it?”

“Well… I thought you never missed a meal.”

“Trust me. You won’t miss it. We still have a few hours before they clear it up. Let’s go.”

He brought him to a stall that was dominated by a tall black stallion.

“Ned, I trust that you are well today.”

“Ned?” the horse whickered at his name.

“Hey, he likes his name.”

“I didn’t say anything about it.”

“Good. He wouldn’t like that.” Ned nuzzled him affectionately, “Easy, fellow. We’re not going as far as you’d like this time, but we’ll make up for that later.” The horse snorted. Jethro opened up the stall and led the stallion out. He held up a hand to stop the beast and put him on cross ties. For several minutes, Aedan stood holding the riding tack while Jethro groomed his horse in preparation for the ride.

“You could have put that down somewhere.” he said, taking the blanket and draping it over the beast’s back. Aedan rolled his eye. Jethro chuckled, taking the saddle and having him keep the bridle in hand. He dropped the saddle onto the blanket lightly and adjusted the girth.

“You’re getting a bit of a hay belly, young man.” he said, patting the horse’s rump. Ned’s tail swished around and hit him in the face playfully, “Don’t be smart with me.”

He set the stirrups at the correct height and took the bridle from Aedan’s hands. Undoing the cross ties, he buckled on the bridle with practiced ease.

“Follow me.”

He led the horse out the stable door and just outside the gate before he mounted.

“Now, run.”

“What?”

“RUN!”

“Where?”

“Somewhere. Anywhere. Just not back to the gate, unless I say so.”

Aedan broke into a run, wondering what the commander was up to. Soon enough, he heard hoofbeats behind him, but he didn’t dare look back.

“FASTER!”

He tried to pick up the pace. The horse was at a canter. Jethro let him adjust to the gait, but only for a moment.

“Faster!”

Aedan made his stride as long as he could, his heart racing. Ned was nearly at a gallop and protested at being kept at less than his top speed.

“Can you run any slower?”

Aedan tripped on a root and went flying. Jethro had no sympathy whatsoever, “Keep it moving!” He recovered and ran even faster. He wasn’t sure how long he could keep this up.

The horse reached a flying gallop and nearly passed him before Jethro snatched him off his feet, swinging him up on the saddle behind him.

“You weren’t lying. You can run fast. Still, if you get caught, and they tie you behind a horse, you’ll have to do better than that.” Ned was flying at breakneck speed. Aedan clung to the man as if he was about to fall off. The man chuckled, “Not afraid of anything, are we?”

They wound their way around a hill and rode to the top before he reined in the stallion and they dismounted.

“I trust you brought your sword?”

“Always.”

“Good. Defend yourself.”

“Wh ––” Aedan stopped himself before finishing the question and simply drew out his blade.

“That’s better!” Jethro praised, his sword already clashing with Aedan’s.

He pressed his weight into the blade, hoping to throw the man off balance with a sudden shove, but he knew better. Jethro locked their hilts and turned his sword so that it was pointed at the ground. The boy saw what was coming and swung his weapon out of the lock, catching the next blow before it could reach him, then thrusting the tip at the man’s heart.
Jethro was fast, twisting out of reach and coming out of nowhere to swing the edge of his blade millimeters from his ribs. Aedan jumped back and immediately stepped closer, using his height to his advantage.

“Clever boy!”

The commander then did something that he did not expect. He pulled his dagger from its sheath and started using it to parry, while also coming close to his ribs with his sword. Aedan was about to land a blow on his head, but he held up his weapons, intersecting them to catch the blade between them. He then kicked Aedan in the stomach, pushing him away. The boy fell backwards, stumbling for balance but landing on his back. Stubborn, he still held his blade, guarding himself as he rose to a crouch, bruised, but determined.

Jethro paced back and forth. Aedan stayed put, waiting to see what he would do next.

“You have spirit. I’ll give you that much.”

Without warning, he renewed his attack. The boy was growing tired.

“Come on! I know you have more than that! Where is the passion?”

The commander slapped his blade with his own several times, as if to taunt him.

Something in him snapped, and he charged Jethro with an aggression that had been bottled up for over a year, hidden from even the most perceptive of people. His blows came swiftly and without apology. He didn’t care whether the man blocked successfully, at this point.

However, his heart taking precedence over his mind, he miscalculated, giving Jethro the perfect opening to knock the sword from his hand and back him against a tree. His breath was quick, his eye full of bloodlust, and he snarled at the man.

“Anger can lead to fatal mistakes, boy. Be sure to keep your emotions in check.”

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