Chapter One of Mistress of Land and Sea, plus download information

Part One: Nobalos, the Real Enemy
Chapter 1: The Councilor’s Ambition

Kordo-Strî woke suddenly, as if shaken. She could no longer feel her husband lying beside her. She could hear a gong being struck over and over again. The alarm at the shipyard! She sat bolt upright in her bed. By the light of a lamp on a stand, she saw him dressing with haste. “Bashânîr! What’s going on?”

“I don’t know, but I’m going down to the shipyard to find out.”

She threw off the sheets. Her bare feet hit the floor. “I’m going with you,” she said.

She knew how important the warships were to him. Still under construction, they were based on his own revolutionary design. She dressed quickly, covering her hair with a black chador, and followed him out the bedroom door. They entered the central atrium of the house, open to the sky. The bright yellow moon above them was two days from full. Over the tiled roof of the house, the moonlight illuminated several columns of smoke reaching into the night sky. She smelled burning wood.

“Something’s burning!” she cried out. “Could it be the ships?”

“Yes, can’t you smell the burning wood?” Bashânîr shouted. He ran across the courtyard to the gate, opened it, and ran out without securing it. She ran after him, locking the gate behind her. It annoyed her that her husband wasn’t more security-conscious.
The Council of Forty-Two, of which Kordo-Strî was an eminent member, had granted them the privilege of residing where they could watch Bashânîr’s dream become reality. She turned and looked down the hill toward the shipyard, which was encircled by a stone wall and had only nine ships under construction. This secret installation was specially designed to make new warships of Bashânîr’s design. Powered by steam turbines, they didn’t need hundreds of men to tug the oars. Smaller and more maneuverable than the great galleys which were the capital ships of the Nobalan fleet, they would make all other warships obsolete. They were the key to Nobalos’ victory in the war … and they were on fire.

Over the edge of the shipyard’s protective wall, she could see flames eating away at the wooden hulls, climbing their masts, and heating the metal parts until they glowed bright red. By the light of the flames, she could see shield-bearing men throwing their torches in the water and climbing into small boats that began rowing out to Sea. The reek of burning wood grew stronger as she approached. Smoke began to obscure the stars, and was threatening to blot out the moon.

She lowered her gaze, and saw her husband hurrying down the moonlit path from their house to the shipyard. She followed him, walking at fast as she dared without stumbling. Soon the stone wall towered over them both. Security at the shipyard was tight, lest spies for the Hegemony discover the secret of the new ships.

Bashânîr stopped at the guardhouse by the gate in the wall. She caught up with him, panting. A frustrating conversation was in progress.

“… Can’t let you in, My Lord,” the guard was saying. “It’s not safe.”

“I understand, Lieutenant,” Bashânîr replied. “But you know who I am. You can trust me. I designed those ships! I must get in.”

“Enemy raiders landed from Sea. They are inside the yard, setting ships on fire. They’d gladly kill you, My Lord.”

Kordo-Strî was ready to talk. “Lieutenant, from the top of the hill we could see the raiders throwing down their torches and escaping on small boats. My husband needs to inspect the damage. We’ll be careful in there.”

“My Lady Councilor, I’m not authorized to let anyone inside tonight.”

She wanted to know if the raiders were barbarians or from the Hegemony, but he obviously didn’t know that either.

Bashânîr turned to his wife and muttered angrily, “Nine warships of my new design, burned to ashes. My creations!”

Kordo-Strî took an opportunity to use her mental powers on the young lieutenant. You can trust Lord Bashânîr and Councilor Kordo-Strî, she told him in his mind. Let them in. They’ll use their influence in your defense if your superiors discipline you.

The Lieutenant glanced away and nervously sucked in his lips, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m not authorized to let anybody in. I’m a soldier. I have to obey orders.”

Kordo-Strî admitted defeat. The young lieutenant was a disciplined soldier, and when in doubt he relied on the chain of command. She could plant ideas in people’s heads, but she could not compel another person’s will.

She turned to Bashânîr, reached up, and patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, dear. The Council will gladly authorize nine more to replace them.”

The ships were just as important to her as they were to him. She was a prominent member of the Council of Forty-Two, whose members would choose a new Grand Vizier when old and infirm Jeikupîr died. She hoped to replace him. Her sponsorship of her husband’s new warship design was one of the steps on her path to power.

“Think of the time lost!” Bashânîr barked.

“How much time have we lost, husband?”

“About two months.” His voice dropped to the point where she could barely hear him over the roar of the flames in the distance. “More, if we can’t salvage the boilers and turbines. Those fires may be hot enough to fuse the metal parts.”

“When I looked down from the top of the hill, I thought I saw glowing, hot metal on those burning ships.”

“I hope you’re wrong,” he said. “We’ll have to come down here in daylight and get a complete report.”

The ships would have to be rebuilt. Tomorrow Bashânîr would learn the extent of the damage. She yawned. Now, the best idea was to get some sleep, and rise tomorrow refreshed and ready to take on the new challenge.

“Let’s go home, Bashânîr,” she said. “There’s nothing we can do here, now.” Tomorrow they would learn the extent of the damage, and estimate a new launch date for the ships that would make Nobalos’ navy invincible.

He sighed. In the moonlight she could see the tears on his face. She hugged him for a long moment. Then they started back up the path, side by side. Her hand found his and squeezed it. He sighed again, louder. He dropped her hand, reaching around her waist to pull her close to him as they walked. They began retracing their steps back up to the house.
Kordo-Strî realized they’d forgotten to say, “Peace be unto you” to the Lieutenant as they left. She regretted forgetting her manners. Her parents had raised her to treat everyone with basic courtesy, even if you didn’t like or respect them.

“What I want to know is,” she asked, “how did they know the shipyard was here?”

“If it’s the barbarians, Creator alone knows how they knew, but if it’s the Hegemony, then the World-Queen could have found the location using the Oracular Topaz.”

“Yes, we know she has the Topaz,” she replied. “It’s the only way to explain Prince Torûn’s rescue.” It was not a pleasant thing for her to think about, since the policy of Nobalos towards the Hegemony for the last two decades had been based on the assumption that the World-Queen’s father, the last World-Queen, lost the Topaz while swimming in a river. His claim to have recaptured it wasn’t taken seriously, because the Nobalos-led rebellion had driven him away to the west.

Bashânîr’s voice rose a bit, as his spirits rallied. “If any doubt remained, after the rescue of Prince Torûn, that she has the Topaz, that doubt was consumed in tonight’s flames.”
“If only there was some way to shield ourselves from the view of her Topaz!” Kordo-Strî said.

“To do that, dearest wife, we would have to know how the Topaz works. I’d like to find out.”

Kordo-Strî shook her head vigorously. “Bashânîr, the Topaz is a miraculous artifact – or else a diabolical one. Either way, it’s certainly beyond human understanding.”

He stopped. His long, narrow, moonlit face spun toward her. “Is it? The Creator gave us brains, didn’t He? It would be blasphemous to refuse to use them.” She loved having such a brilliant and creative husband, though at times she wondered if he was too curious for his own good. This was one of those times.

“Whoever thought,” he asked, “the power of steam could make a ship move on Sea, until I showed it was possible? There may be a way to discover the secret of the Topaz. We know that a transmitter, if he concentrates hard enough, can produce flashes of light in a diamond or other precious stone. Therefore, the power of the Topaz is in some way connected to the psychic gift of message transmission. If I could just find a Topaz of the right color and cut it in exactly the same way as the Oracular Topaz …”

“Bashânîr, it wouldn’t work for you. You’re not even royalty, and the Oracular Topaz is not just another jewel. Only the heir to the throne of the Hegemony can use it.”

“We’ll discuss it some more in the morning.” He looked down at her in the moonlight and smiled. “You may be the most promising young member of the Council of Forty-Two, but don’t forget, you’re married to Malga’s greatest philosopher. If I can find out how this mighty bauble works, I may find a way to shield Nobalos from the World-Queen’s prying.” He kissed her, briefly. “You need sleep, my love. I’ll put you to bed.”

“Aren’t you coming back to bed too?”

“In a while, maybe. I want to spend some time in my study. I have some calculating to do.”
Kordo-Strî smiled back. “If any mortal can figure out how the Oracular Topaz works, you are the one to do it.”

She respected a man whose ambitions were as vast as her own. She wanted most of all to govern the most powerful kingdom in the world of Malga – and through that, Malga itself. He wished to understand the world. Of these two aspirations, she thought, his was certainly the nobler. Her calling was to find practical applications for his discoveries, and thereby help maintain Nobalos’ dominance over Malga.

#

You have just read the first chapter of my Young Adult Fantasy Mistress of Land and Sea. To download the whole ebook, go to http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com and search for “Mistress of Land and Sea.”

Mistress of Land and Sea is the second novel of a projected series of books, The Hegemonic Tales. The first two books are now available for download from Double Dragon.

Keep up with all of Betty Cross’ novels by clicking Like on the Facebook page “Speculative Fiction of Betty Cross” and friending Betty Cross on Facebook.

Recommended for Ages 15 and up.

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Chapter One of Mistress of the Topaz, plus download information.

Part One: “I Was Born into This War”

Chapter 1: The World-Queen

 Soft sounds of still water echoed off of the blue-tiled walls and vaulted ceiling of a great room. “I’m all rinsed off now,” Promî announced. She waded through the steamy water toward the steps leading up to the tiled floor.

“Very well, my Queen,” said Enstâmî, immersed up to her underarms. She turned to follow her mistress.

Promî emerged from the bath into multi-colored sunlight filtered through stained glass windows, showing a toweled head, trim muscular arms, a firm abdomen, a long waist, and sturdy thighs. She turned to Enstâmî behind her and said, “I’ll see you back in my private chambers.”

Although the soap had been rinsed away, its sweet aroma hung about them in the air. The Queen took a deep invigorating breath of it as Enstâmî handed her a pair of wooden clogs. Putting them on, she started for the arched doorway that led to the cold water room. Her clogs rattled loud on the slippery wet floor. In the cold room, she met Hultenî, a petite slave woman, whose duty was to dry off the Queen after her dip in the cold bath. Not speaking, Hultenî sprang to her feet with feline litheness and bowed low. Nodding her head in return, Promî slipped off her clogs.

As the Queen turned toward the steps leading down into the cold bath, Hultenî stepped up to her, very close on the right side. Something was amiss. Promî glanced to her right in time to see the glint of a tiny blade in the slave’s hand. Instinctively she swung her right arm to parry the blow. The blade scratched her right side just above her pelvis. Losing her balance, she stumbled down the steps and into the water. The towel covering her hair slipped off. A second later, her soaked head re-emerged.

“Assassin in the bath house! Call the Guards!” she sputtered.

Hultenî stood before her with feet wide apart, holding a slender blade in her right hand. With a contemptuous smile and a belligerent gleam in her eyes, she snarled, “You’re dead. The blade is poisoned.”

In the distance, Promî could hear Enstâmî shouting, “Guards! Guards!” She struggled up the steps from the bath. Her breath was coming in short gasps. Her feet were moving too slow. Her knees were stiffening. Poisoned! The thought screamed through her head. A pair of wooden clogs rattled across the wet tiled floor, louder as they approached. Enstâmî was coming!

Promî fell to her knees. Her head reeled. She steadied herself on her hands and tried to pray. Only the first gasping words came out. “O Djeu kontujowan haistomid,” she began, but her voice failed. She added the last word dideimroi in her head. As her face struck the tiled floor, her blurring eyes caught a cavalcade of images.

Enstâmî slamming into the assassin at a run.

Hultenî falling on her back, rolling, kicking the other slave off, and slicing her own throat.

Two pairs of military boots running up.

Blood pooling on the tiles.

Clear sight began to fade. She could see only moving shadows.

She heard a voice screaming, “The blade is poisoned.” It was Enstâmî’s. “She stabbed the Queen. Get a healer!”

The swirling shadows merged into one.

#

Promî blinked and turned. She was covered now, and lying on a bed or perhaps a stretcher. She recognized a calm male voice, one she had heard many times since childhood. It belonged to Metwolûn, Chief Healer of her Court. He repeated the same words.

“All-Highest, can you hear my voice?”

“Yes,” she tried to say. One badly garbled syllable escaped from her lips. She nodded. Her eyes had recovered enough to discern moving shadows again. She saw the shadow of a human figure holding a hand to its face. She heard a sniffing sound, and guessed he was using a scent on the poison blade to trigger his psychic healing powers.

“I beg my Queen to play close attention. The little knife has been dipped in manticore venom. Fortunately, not much of it got into your bloodstream. The wound was a scratch, thank the Creator.” She now remembered being scratched on the right side, although she felt no pain there now. She struggled to say she tried to parry the blade, but only a moan came out.

“All-Highest, please don’t try to speak,” said Metwolûn. “I’m going to administer a potion. Prepare to drink. Does Your All-Highest Majesty understand? If so, please nod.”

She nodded again. At least her neck muscles obeyed her. From shoulders to feet she was numb. Her eyes started to obey her now. She saw a fuzzy image, Metwolûn’s face hovering over her as he pried the cork off of a bottle. He lowered the bottle’s mouth to her lips. Forcing her mouth open, she took a drink and swallowed. The antidote tasted bitter on her tongue. He withdrew the bottle. Promî wanted to thank him for his years of loyal service, but she knew the words would not come, so she prayed inside her head. Djeus, my Creator, I beg of Thee not to take my life at such a young age, when the fate of the Ninth House rests upon me. Nevertheless, Thy will be done!

The darkness returned.

#

When her eyes opened again, she found herself in her bed. Two cushions lay on the carpeted floor beside her. On one of them sat Enstâmî, now clad in white cotton trousers and a knee-length scarlet tunic emblazoned with the nine-pointed star of the Ninth House. On the other rested the corpulent form of Krossidâ Stivîr, Master of the Suite in Attendance on the Queen of the Hegemony. He was dressed the same way. Both wore iron collars indicating they were slaves.

She heard Stivîr’s high-pitched eunuch voice first. “I trust Your All-Highest Majesty is feeling much better now?”

Promî could form words again, but her voice was a hoarse whisper, and to speak was laborious. She had to pause every few words. “I’m still very weak,” she began, “but much improved. Send my thanks to Metwolûn.” She could feel her body again, including the stinging pain in her right side. Now, thank the Creator, it hurt no more than the skinned knees of her childhood. “When will I be fully recovered?” asked the Queen.

“Metwolûn has upgraded my Queen’s condition to stable, and expects All-Highest to be functioning normally in three days.”

“Good,” Promî replied, forcing a smile to her lips. “At least now I can speak and follow a conversation.” There is nothing I detest more than being weak, she thought, turning her head toward the woman.

“Enstâmî, I saw what you did. Though unarmed and naked, you defended me.” Enstâmî smiled pertly, keeping her mouth shut, while the Queen gathered strength for the next sentence. “You stopped the assassin from finishing me off.”

“I’m honored to serve Your All-Highest Majesty in any way I can.”

“I had a dream while I was asleep. I was back in the most terrible time of my childhood – the long retreat where we had to abandon our old capital.”

Both listeners nodded sympathetically. “We were both with our Queen then,” said Enstâmî.

“Incessant rain,” said the Queen. “Wagon wheels stuck in the ruts of muddy roads.”

A dark look of painful memory crossed the face of the slave woman. “It was during the rainy season,” she said, shaking her head. “I thought we would never get away, moving over those muddy roads. A child is too young to understand. But I was told such lies! There was nothing to worry about, they said. We are just going away to the west. A child knows when the adults’ words belie their acts.”

“We were both there and remember those days,” said Stivîr, shaking his head sadly. “The noise of battle in the distance, the dead and the wounded being brought back from battle. The smoke of burning towns pillaged by the rebels.”

“My brother’s body was brought into the camp,” Promî recalled. “My mother and I wept and wailed over his body. Only then was I told the truth.”

Tears welled up in the Queen’s eyes. “I loved my brother. He put me on his saddle, made me hold on tight to the pommel, while he let me ride with him on his horse. I remember his strong hands holding me in place.”

“I remember that too,” said Enstâmî. “That was during the retreat. He could tell his little sister was upset. He was only trying to cheer my Queen up.”

“Those were hard times,” said the Stivîr. “We battled to cover our retreat, not stopping till the old World-King, of blessed memory, settled us here at Grey Walls.”

“At the time I wished I could help him. I wished I was grown up so I could fight beside him. In the dream, I did.”

The Queen took a long deep breath before continuing.

“In the dream I was the same age I am now. My father and I rode side by side our swords drawn and shields raised. My mother and the treasures of the Court were in a nearby wagon.” She took another deep breath, and smiled faintly. “My father gave me words of encouragement.”

And in the dream I never saw the enemy, she remembered, but I knew they were there, hiding in the darkness of the forest on both sides of the road. My father said, “Daughter, take courage, but never let your guard down. Our foes the rebels are only a few steps behind us.”

“Then what happened?” asked Enstâmî.

“I could say more when I’m all well. Even talking tires me. But at least in the dream I got my wish. I was fighting for my father and the Ninth House and to avenge my dead brother and for the Hegemony, which now barely exists.”

The attempt on my life has merely strengthened my resolve. I will make war on the traitors who overthrew my father after swearing allegiance to him. This is what I’ve trained for, ever since his death. Once I’m crowned and Regency ends, I will accomplish these tasks.

She now had strength to speak again. “It stands to reason the King of Nobalos is behind this plot. He was my father’s worst enemy. I am my father’s heiress and so he would also seek my death .”

“To be sure, my Queen, he is behind it,” said Stivîr.

“Would All-Highest like me to summon a dream interpreter?” suggested Enstâmî.

The Queen shook her head. “Not for this. The meaning is obvious. The rebels are still pursuing me. There are plotters against me here at my court.”

“All-Highest, I assure you …,” began Stivîr.

“Silence, Stivîr. I wasn’t thinking about any specific person, but even I don’t know all my slaves. I don’t personally vet them for their loyalty. Others have to do that. There must be other plotters here at court. Otherwise how could Hultenî have been placed in a position of intimate contact with me?”

“But surely, All-Highest, I have proved my loyalty,” pleaded the eunuch.

Is this to be my fate – to be hunted like an animal in my own palace, surrounded by traitors and opportunists, friendless, and without even family to protect me? May the Maker of Heaven and Earth forbid it!

“Stivîr, the only way to settle this is by consulting the Oracular Topaz.”

“Excellent idea, All-Highest!” Stivîr cried out.

Enstâmî responded with a nod. “Good idea,” she said, almost in a whisper.

“As the heiress to my father’s throne and by right Queen of the World, only I can use it. I will request the regents to deliver it to me at once.”

Enstâmî gasped, putting her hand over her mouth. She turned to the eunuch. “Our Queen isn’t supposed to get the Topaz until the Coronation, two weeks from now.” Tears welled up in the slave’s eyes. “But All-Highest might be dead by then!”

“I need the Oracular Topaz,” said the Queen. “I need it right now. My life is in danger until I discover the rest of the plotters.”

“If I may, All-Highest,” the eunuch ventured, “it’s possible that the Topaz will not respond before the crown is placed on my Queen’s head.”

“Maybe not, but even though my crowning is in the very near future it wouldn’t be safe to wait that long.”

“I shall transmit my Queen’s request for the Topaz to the regents today,” said Stivîr.

“Wait!” The Queen’s voice was stronger now. “Why should I risk waiting for the regents’ permission?” She lifted her head from the pillow. “I need the Topaz brought to me right now!” Her listeners recoiled in surprise at the sudden energy. Promî settled her head back on the pillow. “Which of the regents has custody this week?”

“Metwolûn, All-Highest.”

The Chief Healer at Court! That’s perfect. He saved my life. I can be sure of his loyalty.

“I’ll bring a transmitter to summon him,” said Enstâmî.

“Do it!” the Queen commanded.

Springing to her feet, Enstâmî dashed out of the room.

Promî turned back to the eunuch. “You are to remain here, to watch over me till Metwolûn comes.”

“I am honored to do so, All-Highest.”

#

“All-Highest, wake up!”

Promî’s eyes popped open. Though still sluggish and drowsy from the morning’s ordeal, her mind was focused. She recognized Metwolûn’s voice. She saw Stivîr seated as before, Metwolûn approaching her with a small cedar box in his hands, and Enstâmî walking beside him. Metwolûn knelt beside her bed. “The Topaz! You brought it to me!”

“Of course, All-Highest,” said Metwolûn with a reassuring smile. He lowered himself onto a cushion. “I have taken a risk by acting without the consent of the regents, but at least I have my Queen to vouch for me.”

“My regents will haggle over my legal status. Let them. Necessity is on our side, Metwolûn. Now give me the Topaz!”

Father dear, those who betrayed you, and those who sought my death today, will suffer the punishment they deserve.

“I shall do so, my Queen,” the Chief Healer replied.” But first let me share some of my Queen’s father’s experience with it.”

Promî felt impatient, but she was willing to listen to the Chief Healer, who knew her father well. Besides, he had just saved her life. “Very well, Healer. Proceed.”

“The Oracular Topaz can answer any question about the present and the past. It can even breach the confidentiality of a transmitter’s message. It must be consulted sparingly. My Queen’s father of blessed memory, early in his reign, often complained of the headaches he suffered when he used it too much. So he made it a habit to consult the Topaz no more than ten times per day. One must choose questions with care.”

This may be a clue to the defeats of my father’s reign. Maybe he didn’t always know what questions to ask it. Maybe that was just as much of a factor as the monetary crisis of that time.

“But dear Metwolûn,” she replied, “you can cure headaches with your knowledge of pressure points, can’t you?”

He shook his head. “Not this kind of headache. Creator knows, I’ve tried. My Queen will just have to endure them for a few hours.”

Another man, wearing the livery of the Ninth House but no slave collar, came into the room carrying a pen box and a large roll of paper.

Metwolûn explained, “I brought a secretary to record the evidence which the Oracular Topaz will provide.”

“Good thinking.” The Queen smiled, unable to take her sight off that little cedar box. “Take a cushion, secretary,” she commanded, “and prepare to write.” Then she addressed the Chief Healer again. “Weighty matters must be attended to. Give me the Topaz. Now.”

As a child, she had seen her father use it. He held the gemstone against the center of his forehead and thought the question in his head. She didn’t hear the answer, and asked her father why not. His replied that the answer came back like a thought.

The healer cleared his throat. “I now have the honor to present to my Queen the Oracular Topaz.” He raised the lid of the box. The interior was lined with red velvet. For the first time in years, Promî saw the Oracular Topaz mounted in its silver pendant with a silver chain. It was the size of a walnut, and had the oblong shape of a walnut also, except that it was flattened on the side that was attached to its silver mounting. Its facets, she knew, numbered 144, not counting the flat side. This number was sixteen times nine, and thereby the shape of the gem was a symbol of the Ninth House, her dynasty.

She sat up in bed, leaning toward the healer. Her right hand trembling with excitement, she reached into the box, touching the Topaz and finding it cool to the touch. She had expected it to be warm. She picked it up. At the center, a bright golden light flashed, then rapidly faded. “It glows,” she said with a gasp. “Just like when my father had it.”

“Indeed, All-Highest,” the Metwolûn replied, “it flashes at regular intervals when on the person of the World-King, or World-Queen.”

“Of course,” she said with a laugh. “I remember now.”

The Topaz flashed again, commanding the gaze of every eye in the room.

“Promonîr the Third of blessed memory timed the flashes,” said Metwolûn. “There’s an interval of four heartbeats between them.”

Promî draped the chain around her neck and looked at it. She took the Topaz and held it to the middle of her forehead. It flashed again. Still holding the gem on the skin of her forehead, she paused for a moment to phrase her question. Then she projected her thought at it. Name everyone serving me here at my Court who is in any way implicated in today’s assassination plots against me, or any other plots against me.

I have no names for you,the answer came back. Hultenî had no accomplices at court, and there are no other ongoing plots.

Promî’s brows shot up, and her lips parted with surprise. She would have expected Hultenî to have at least one collaborator here. She lowered the gem and looked around the room. The secretary, pen in hand, looked back at her expectantly. “It said Hultenî had – no accomplices at court. There is no one still alive at my court who is plotting my death.”

Promî could feel her energy returning, as if the Topaz itself had reinvigorated her.

“Well, that’s a relief,” said Stivîr with a chuckle.

“I don’t question the Topaz,” Metwolûn said, “but it seems unlikely she did this all by herself.”

She consulted the Topaz again. Who is plotting against me among the invited guests to my Coronation?

None of the Queen’s guests is plotting against her.

Which of the Coronation’s guests is implicated in the attack on me in the bath this morning?

None of them.

She repeated these surprising facts to her listeners.

“Then where,” asked Stivîr, “did she get the blade, and the manticore venom?”

How did she get the blade and the poison? Words and sentences began pouring into the Queen’s head. Wait a moment, she told the Topaz.

She lowered it from her head, and turned to the secretary. “Write this!” she commanded, the words coming easier from her mouth as she recounted the details. “Hultenî was one of a number of slaves who were entrusted to go into nearby towns to buy provisions for the court. One of her contacts was an apothecary named Kailotorûn in the nearby city of Lukti-Khobom who has been a carefully hidden spy for Nobalos for many years. She had received the blade, already dipped in manticore venom, from him.”

“Nobalos,” Enstamî. “Yeah, that figures. Our worst enemy.”

“I thought so,” said the Queen. She smiled maliciously. “Nobalos, prepare to taste my wrath.” She turned back to the Chief Healer. “As a member of the Council of Regency, you will take this information to the session this afternoon.”

“How does my Queen’s forehead feel?”

“It feels all right. I don’t think I asked too many questions.”

“All-Highest’s voice is strengthening,” Metwolûn observed.

Promî yawned. “I need to sleep now, but there’s one thing I need to take care of first.” She turned to Enstâmî. “You have earned a reward for your loyalty to me in my time of peril. Name it.”

Before replying, Enstâmî tapped the iron ring around her neck. “All-Highest, I beg you to emancipate me.”

“Granted.”

Enstâmî’s eyes lit up and opened wide. She gasped.

“As soon as I’m able to stand up,” the Queen continued, “I’ll perform the necessary ritual. In any case, the approval of the regents will be required, since I’m not officially of age till the Coronation. You will then be free to go where you please.”

Belying her thirty-nine years, Enstâmî jumped to her feet and squealed like a happy girl. “All-Highest,” said she, “I beg to remain a part of this household, as a free servant of my Queen.”

“That too is granted,” said the Queen, smiling for the first time since awakening. She turned to the secretary. “Make a note of that for Metwolûn to present at the Council.”

“May I be the first to congratulate you,” said the Chief Healer to the slave. “I doubt seriously the regents will stand in the way of such a just act.”

“I’m sure they won’t.” Promî yawned. “I need to sleep some more. I’m exhausted.”

#

After some hours of sleep, the Queen awoke again and asked the ever-attentive Enstâmî to dress her. As the slave sponge-bathed her, she got a look for the first time at the wound in her side, a long ugly slice stitched back together. She winced. Then she resolved not to worry. It was a battle-scar, and therefore a mark of honor. With her intense training in the use of the sword, flanged mace, and composite bow, she thought of herself as a warrior. Her grandfather had said, “The World-King is a warrior.” The first World-Queen should be a warrior, too. She had won her first battle today. Others would follow.

Enstâmî helped her into a light tunic and a pair of long cotton trousers, and put her favorite ankle bracelet on her right ankle. Then she was carried into her sitting room by two male slaves, and settled in for an afternoon of spiritual recuperation with her favorite hand-illuminated manuscript copy of the Sacred Verses. She began with a prayer of thanks to the Creator for preserving her life, and for sending her such diligent and loyal servants as Enstâmî and Metwolûn. Then she opened the book and began to study.

Soon after, Metwolûn interrupted her, with news from the afternoon meeting of the Council of Regents. His report was verbal, but a copy of the minutes would be sent to her later, as usual.

The regents found Metwolûn’s act an acceptable way to identify the conspirators. They excused the irregular procedure because the Queen was less than two weeks away from her Coronation, which would mark her coming of age.

“I knew they would support my decision, Metwolûn,” she replied. “Thanks to the Topaz, I know now that I can trust them.”

“They also approved measures,” the Chief Healer continued, “to improve security at the palace, authorized the Captain-General to draft plans for the next phase of the war, and settled various details of the impending Coronation.”

Promî was so happy, she laughed. “Finally I get to rule, to be Queen in fact, not just in title!”

“The four World-Kings who wore it in the past would be very proud of the prompt way Your All-Highest Majesty has handled this crisis,” said the Chief Healer with a solemn smile.

The Queen smiled. “I like to think they know what happened, and are proud of me.”

The healer nodded. “Part of their reward in Eternal Bliss is to share the joys of their descendents.”

It was a comforting thought to a woman who had lost her father at age seven. She looked down at the pulsating pendant gemstone. Armed with you, dear friend, she thought, I am effectively in command, even though these regents will rule for thirteen more days. We shall avenge my father together.

 End of Chapter One

You have just read the first chapter of my Young Adult Fantasy Mistress of the Topaz. To get the whole ebook, go to http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com and search for Mistress of the Topaz.

 Mistress of the Topaz is the first novel of a projected series of books, The Hegemonic Tales. The second is now available for download from Double Dragon. It is called Mistress of Land and Sea.

Keep up with all of Betty Cross’ novels by clicking Like on the Facebook page “Speculative Fiction of Betty Cross” and friending Betty Cross on Facebook.

Reviewers’ praise for Mistress of the Topaz

 “Ms. Cross brings to life a high fantasy novel. Though fairies and dwarves don’t inhabit this like a Tolkien work, it is closer to something that George RR Martin mixed with Dune might end up when a dash of the Arabian Nights are thrown in.”

— Pamela K. Kinney, book reviewer, author of “Haunted Richmond

“Wow … this book really was Dune meets Tolkien … only with a fantastic and believable heroine who is strong but not ridiculous, powerful but not lacking femininity … I am mightily impressed, and definitely looking forward to the next installment!”

— Jessica Bradshaw, author of the Unbound Trilogy

In a world full of magic and fantastic creatures, Betty gives us characters who feel real and face real world issues. The story grabs you at the start and will keep you reading… I could easily see this book being the first in a long series. Highly recommend to anyone who loves a good fantasy with epic battles and characters that feel real to the reader.

— Rob West, fantasy novelist

Recommended for Ages 15 and up

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Chapter One of Discarded Faces by Betty Cross

Chapter One

The score was tied. Less than a minute remained on the clock. Peb dribbled the ball downcourt and saw Narkeedi ahead of her, poised to spring at the goal. Zel was climbing to her feet at the opposite wall of the court. Thirty feet away, Peb could see Zel’s mouth bleeding. Peb pumped the ball toward Narkeedi. As it shot from Peb’s fingers, a blow smacked her in the left kidney. She went sprawling on the hardwood floor.

“Too bad, shorty!” an unseen male voice jeered from the stands.

Peb leaped to her feet. Her eyes, fixed on the loose ball, took in two images. The ball caroming off the side wall of the court. Fendi and other fans pounding the other side of the wall with their fists.

“Go get her, Peb! Bash her, Peb!” Fendi shouted.

The ball bounced off the end wall near the goal, but high off the floor. Narkeedi sprang for it. It bounced off her fingertips. She scrambled for it. So did a short, heavily-muscled Invader with 4 on the back of her padded halter.

The fans were roaring, “Avengers! Avengers! Avengers!”

“Invaders! Invaders! Invaders!”

For an instant, the ball hesitated between Number Four’s fingers. Narkeedi slammed a hand down, knocking it to the floor. Narkeedi caught it on the bounce, and charged for the hoop.

We’ve won, Peb thought. She glanced at the scoring module high overhead. Thirty-eight seconds, but time enough! Tall, fast Narkeedi was the team’s best shooter. Zel’s jaw was red with blood. She charged toward Number Four. Two other Invaders were converging on Zel. So was Peb. It was three against three now. Each team had two players in the penalty box.

Number Four spun to meet Zel just below the hoop. Zel slammed a forearm into the Invader’s chin. Number Four rocked on her feet. Then she counterpunched to Zel’s bloody mouth. Zel smashed a knee into Number Four’s gut. The husky Invader doubled over. With both fists, Zel struck an uppercut to the falling chin. All these hits were legal. Only the breasts were off limits.

Avenger fans were ecstatic. “Bash her, Zel! Stomp her face!” Fendi yelled.

Narkeedi stepped off to make the lay-up as Number Four was falling backwards. Narkeedi stumbled over her, and both collapsed in a heap. The Invaders’ fans laughed and hooted.

“Good work, Narkeedi!”

“Nice job, Narkeedi!”

The ball ricocheted off the rim of the hoop, then bounced off the floor toward Peb. She snatched for it and caught it.

“Shoot, Peb! Shoot! Shoot!”

Number Four lurched to her feet and charged toward Peb. Narkeedi was close behind her. Peb moved to sneak the ball past Number Four to Narkeedi. Before she could let it go, Number Four planted an elbow in Narkeedi’s face. Narkeedi fell backwards. Her helmeted head bounced off the court wall. She collapsed on her back. For an instant, Peb’s eyes froze on Narkeedi. Her teammate lay still. No more substitutions, no more time-outs, flashed through Peb’s mind. Suddenly, an enormous fist bashed Peb’s face. Peb spun toward the floor. Someone snatched the ball from her.

“Avengers! Avengers! Come on, Avengers!”

Peb hit wood. Once more she felt pain in her left kidney.

“Have a nice sleep, Shorty!” Above Peb’s head, fists and feet were striking human flesh.

“Invaders! Invaders! Invaders!”

Zel was under attack from three sides. She kicked Invader Number Seven in the crotch. Number Seven fell on her side, doubled up and fighting for breath. Zel traded several hits with Invaders Number Four and Eight.

“Atta girl, Zel! Stomp her ass!” Fendi shouted.

Peb was rising to her feet. Lanky big-footed Number Eight gave Zel a swift kick in the guts. The blow threw Zel on top of Peb, knocking the wind out of her.

“Too bad, Zel! Better luck next season!”

We just lost, Peb thought.

Number Eight was dribbling the ball up the court.

“Invaders! Invaders! Invaders!”

“Go get ’em, Zel!” bellowed Fendi. “Get up and kill ’em.” Crouched, gasping, and holding her belly, Zel got up. She had two bleeding cuts on her lower lip. A red drop fell off her chin.

“Invaders! Invaders! Invvaders!”

Breathless, Peb struggled to her feet. Number Eight leaped and tossed the winning goal through the hoop. When the klaxon sounded seconds later, the roar nearly drowned it out. The Avengers had just lost the Quarter Finals. Girls’ High School Number 984 was out of the tournament.

“Ee-yah! Invaders! Ee-yah! Invaders! Ee-yah! Invaders!”

Zel said something inaudible between her gasps but her lips formed the words, sister fuckers. Over the din, Peb could hear the defiant chanting of loyal Avengers’ fans.

“Nar-kee-di! Nar-kee-di! Nar-kee-di!”

“Good work, Peb! Nice job, Zel! We’re all proud of you!” Fendi shouted amidst the tumult.

Peb and Zel walked over to Narkeedi just as their fallen teammate sat up. They helped her to her feet. “I’m all right,” said Narkeedi. “Just got a sore head, that’s all.” Zel unstrapped Narkeedi’s helmet and pulled it off, revealing the bleeding scalp.

Peb’s side still ached. I need a hot bath.
***
In the locker room, the Avengers got some words of praise and consolation from their coach. Peb was so sore in her lower back, she barely heard them. As the coach dashed out to meet the sports writers, the team trod wearily to the tiled bathing chamber. Fourteen girls washed themselves together around the water dispenser, passing the nozzles between them. When Narkeedi came in with her bandaged head, all surrounded her. They huddled and wept, while the steam swirled around them and water spewed from the nozzles they had dropped on the floor. Peb had been too tired and sore to cry. Now she could join the rest of them. A winning season. We got through the Octo-Finals. Now this—to lose by one lousy goal with three seconds to go. After bathing, Peb dried her hair with a hot air hose. Later she would twist it into the long braid that was her trademark. Back at her locker, she dried herself with a towel.

As she finished, Zel came up with a little jar of salve. “Here,” said Zel, “let me rub you down with this.” So Peb lay face down on a bench while Zel massaged her lower back. Zel’s touch was very gentle. “You’ll feel the difference right away,” she said, putting the jar on the bench. “You can keep this. My treat.”

“Thanks, Zel.” Zel’s towel fell off. She bent over to pick it up with the sureness and grace of a dancer. Peb stole a sideways glance at Zel’s flat stomach and strong limbs. Then she prudently looked away.

Peb got up to dress. She could feel the heat soaking its way into her back, and the pain draining out. We didn’t do so bad: thirteen and three in the regular season. The Avengers have never had a team this good. Never gone to the Provincial Tournament before now. Although Peb was the shortest player, never started, and seldom scored more than five goals in a game, she had skills to be proud of. She specialized in handling the ball and in trading punches with the other team. The Avengers valued her for that. The fans enjoyed watching her fight. Cheers rang out whenever the coach sent her into the game.

Fendi had once told her, “You’re an inspiration to all us short people.”

Peb also took as a complement the jeers of opposing fans.

“Come on, girls, get dressed!” Narkeedi called out, slamming her locker door shut for emphasis. “The fans are waiting for us.” Wearing the bandage on her head like a golden coronet, Narkeedi slung her bag over her shoulder, and merrily marched out.

Peb and Zel put on winter underwear, then jumpsuits of orange and blue with the number 984 on the back, then knitted caps and athletic shoes. The bandage did little to mar the look of her face, with its high cheekbones, freckled nose, large part-gray part-blue eyes, and full-lipped mouth.
They picked up their athletic bags and left the building. The security guard at the exit nodded and smiled as they passed.

Outside, the words PLAYERS’ ENTRANCE. AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY loomed over the double doors. Blustery cold winds lashed at the loyal throng of Avengers’ fans, who had already raised Narkeedi and two of her teammates on their shoulders. A hand-held camera and microphones floated among the heads like debris in a flooding river. Aided by the backlights, Peb could see Narkeedi leaning forward to be near the mike.

“No, I’m not the star player,” Narkeedi was saying. “We’re all stars. Everybody on the team is a star.” At that, cheers and applause rang out.

“Zel! Peb!” Fendi cried out. Fendi worked herself free from the knot of people, and ran in Peb’s direction. “Peb, you were great tonight!” She hugged Peb, then turned to Zel. “You too, Zel!” Fendi released Zel.

“You’re both gonna get the Sports Heroine badge. No doubt about it!”

“Thanks, Fendi,” Zel said, “but we’d rather have won.”

“You will! You will! Next year!” Fendi cried out. “I can’t wait till next year!”

“Where’s Gamma-Ray tonight?” Peb asked.

“Oh, I couldn’t drag him up here,” Fendi said, her voice so hoarse she could barely speak. “You know how he hates courtball.”

“There’s somethin’ to learn from it,” Peb said. “The White Boys would leave him alone if he could defend himself.”

Dozens of Avengers’ fans surged around Peb and Zel, hoisting both onto their shoulders.

“Three cheers for Peb!” Fendi shouted, her voice nearly gone.

“Ee-yah! Ee-yah! Ee-yah!”

“Three cheers for Zel!” Fendi managed to squeak.

“Ee-yah! Ee-yah! Ee-yah!”

Glancing over the many heads, Peb saw the news crew leaving. Narkeedi and some other players, now back on the ground, had joined the cheering.

Shooter really means it when she says the whole team are stars. Too bad she graduates this year. I’ll miss her. Shooter was Narkeedi’s gang nickname.

Peb noticed a familiar face among the fans—a broad, pink, hatless face with large ears. “Hey, Floater!” Peb called out. Balk the Floater was wearing a black duro-plastic jacket with Young Heroes on the back in yellow letters.

The fans were still cheering. “Peb! Peb! Peb!”

“Zel! Zel! Zel!”

“You did a real good job tonight, Peb,” Floater called back. “Did the Young Heroes proud. Listen, everybody loses once in a while. This has been the best season the Avengers have ever had.”

“Thanks, Floater,” Peb called back through the shouting of the fans. “I’ll talk to you later.”

Floater was Balk’s gang nickname. He and Peb had dated three times. The short feisty courtball girl and the tall but rotund scholar from Autonomous University made a surprising combination, but Floater had his merits. Anyway, a girl in Peb’s situation just had to have a boyfriend.

As a child, Peb had been just another dirt-scratcher’s kid. In recent years, she was just another a city-rat schoolgirl. Now she had risen above the crowd for just one glorious moment. She waved to the fans, whose numbers were still growing, as people worked their way around from the exits. She was disappointed her family had not appeared. That would make my night complete, she thought as she was lowered to the pavement. Maybe they’ll show up yet. Mom can’t walk very fast. Anyway, I’m glad Ruslee isn’t here.

Back on the ground again, Peb recognized one of the two who had held her up. He was a tall muscular young man, somewhat past his high school years and clad in a Young Heroes jacket. Thick silken black hair peeked out beneath the margins of his knitted cap. He gave Peb a comradely punch on the shoulder, pulling it so it didn’t hurt. “Good job, Puncher,” he said, smiling with his very broad mouth. He and Narkeedi each had one arm around the other’s waist.

“Thanks, Blackie,” Peb said. “Thanks for comin’ out.” She regarded Narkeedi. “As for my brave teammate, well, there’s only one thing to say, Shooter. Cut out the false modesty. You’re the best we got.” Peb smiled.

“You girls put on a fine show tonight,” Blackie said. “All of you.” He held Narkeedi a little tighter than before. Turning to her, he said, “I’m especially glad you came out in one piece.” They briefly kissed. He turned back to Peb. “As for you, Peb, you’re a big surprise—shortest girl on the team, tallest when it comes to that fightin’ spirit they’re always talkin’ about.”

“I’m just showin’ the world what us Young Heroes are made of,” Peb said. She remembered Zel. “Excuse me, Zel! I forgot my manners. This is Tayshi Lap of the Kaaklo Clan, better known as Blackie. He’s president of the Young Heroes. Blackie, this is your kinswoman, Zel Praftay.”

“Glad to meet you, cousin of my clan,” Zel said.

“Yeah, same to you, cousin,” Blackie said. They bowed. As Blackie straightened up, the long black forelock which gave him his nickname drooped almost into his eyes. In a single movement, he wiped it out of his face and sized up Zel in a glance.

Meanwhile Balk the Floater had managed to work his way up to Peb.

“Hi, Floater!” Zel called out. “I’m glad you liked the game.”

“Oh, it was a great game,” Floater said, smiling in Peb’s direction. “What I like most, though, is seeing my best girl on the court.” Peb and Floater embraced. She gave him a brief, heartfelt, and guilt-ridden kiss on the lips.

“So glad you could come and watch, darlin’.” Peb smiled.

Floater turned back to Zel. “Everybody did a fine job, but honestly, I don’t know how you girls can take it. Courtball wasn’t this rough a few years ago.” He glanced at Zel’s bandaged lip, and his smile disappeared.

“They ought to ban kicking,” Zel said.

“Yeah,” Floater said, “and allowed substitutions without having to call a time-out.”

“Peb! Peb!” Turning toward the familiar voice, Peb saw her sister Gaathi, whose plump face and double chin seemed even broader when framed by a scarf and earmuffs. “You were great, Peb! Could you hear me cheering for you?”

The sisters hugged warmly. At age twelve, Gaathi already outweighed Peb by five testons. She’ll be as big as Mom some day. Peb’s father Thool Pornel scuttled excitedly up. His craggy, weatherworn face was pink. His large blue eyes were full of pride. “She’s right, Peb!” he called out. “You done a wonderful job! Done great all season, in fact!” He wrapped one arm around each of his daughters, and squeezed them both. “We was all pullin’ for you,” he said.

“Thanks, Dad,” Peb said. “I just wish we could have won. I’d like to get that Number Four in an alley somewhere and—” She stopped herself. “I meant that to be a joke, but it’s not comin’ out that way.”

“Cool off, darlin’,” her father said before he let out with a laugh. “It’s only a game.”

“I think by Number Four she means Borgah Flinkum?” Floater ventured.

Peb looked out at him over the family huddle. “I never learn the enemy’s name, Balk. If I don’t, it’s easier to hate ’em.” She imagined her own fists hammering Number Four’s broad jaw.

Her father chuckled. “Peb, you take it all too serious. Like I said, it’s only a game.”

“Sure, Dad, only a game,” Peb said sullenly, “but you saw Narkeedi knocked unconscious tonight. She woke up with a bloody head. Also, look at Zel’s face.” Peb put a hand on her father’s shoulder, leaned forward, and kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks so much for comin’ out tonight, Dad.”

“You’re very welcome, darlin’.” He smiled, showing four missing teeth. “I’ve missed a lot of Avengers’ games, but not this tournament. Kuthool himself couldn’t keep me away.”

I’m glad Dad could come. Most games, he’s on the road.

Thool looked over his daughters’ heads. “Look who’s comin’,” he said fondly. “My big cuddly wife.”

“Hello, Balk! Good seein’ you again!” Peb’s mother called out to Floater. Then, without waiting for a reply, she elbowed her way into her family huddle. “There’s my tough little girl!” she called out. “Out of the way, everybody. I’m the only mom she’s got.”

Peb saw a fat version of her own face, careworn but happy, converging on her own. Ghepsi Breed of the Forshah Clan gave her daughter a firm and vigorous hug, while kissing her on the cheek. Zel and Narkeedi were already moving away, relieving Peb of the responsibility of introductions. Her mother was an embarrassment to her.

“I worry about you on that court, darlin’,” Ghepsi said, blowing a whiff of beer into Peb’s face. “I’m glad you came out all right. Sometimes I think the game’s gettin’ too rough. Used to be less girls gettin’ hurt.” Peb’s mother reached into an overcoat pocket, pulled out a half empty bottle of beer, and unscrewed the cap. “But you done good tonight, Peb. The family’s real proud of you. Real proud!” She took a long swallow, and glanced impishly at Thool. “Infinite knows, Peb, you got your daddy’s temper.”

Peb laughed a little bit. Gaathi made a face. Both their parents laughed heartily. Peb glanced over and saw Blackie whispering something to Floater. Nodding sagely, Balk moved away. Peb would make it to Air Strikes tonight, since there was no school tomorrow, but she would have to wait until her parents were asleep. Meanwhile, Ghepsi had raised the bottle in front of her face again. Sure, Mom, sure. You’re proud of me, but you’ll keep on doing what makes me ashamed of you. So Peb thought, but she kept smiling.

End of Chapter One

 You have just read the first chapter of my Young Adult Dystopia Discarded Faces. To download the whole ebook, go to your search engine and search for “Discarded Faces Double Dragon.”

Discarded Faces is the first novel of a projected trilogy, The Danallian Chronicles. The second and third novels are still being written, as of the Spring of 2014. Watch for them by clicking Like on the Facebook page “Speculative Fiction of Betty Cross” and friending Betty Cross on Facebook.

Reviewers’ praise for
Discarded Faces

“Cross creates a fresh world here, filled with sporty, determined courtball players and bands of teens who form gangs to make sense of their harsh, oppressive world. Inventive world building fits the gritty society… Overall, this is a fresh take on dealing with repression a la 1984 and other political dystopias. Recommended for older teens and new adults.”
— Catherine Stine, author of YA novel Fireseed One

“The main character, Peb, was likable and believable.”
— Jessica Bradshaw, author of Hazy Shade of Winter, a YA paranormal romance

Discarded Faces is an inspiring read. It starts out slow as you get to know the character Peb and her life on Fifth Earth but becomes very addictive as her problems pile up.”
–James Crawford, author of YA Leech novels Caleo and Jack

Recommended for Ages 15 and up.

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Divergent Thinking, featuring my good friend Janine Spendlove

I was one of the many people who recommended to Janine Spendlove that she read Divergent, which is likely to be the next big thing after The Hunger Games trilogy, which cast a spell over both of us. Well, she liked it so much she wrote an essay about it which is including in the upcoming anthology Divergent Thinking. The link is here: http://janinekspendlove.tumblr.com/post/79806756744/book-giveaway-time-my-essay-in-smartpops-newest

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I remember Marie, and Marie remembers me.

Errors of grammar, punctuation, spelling in the following text have been left as in the original.

Steve

This year at Cross Keys has taught me much. And some of these things I’ll remember throughout the rest of my life. One of these things is that, if you want to be something in this world, you’ve got to work for it. I’m really ashamed I say that I didn’t realize it until this year, but it’s the truth. Now I’m going to tell you what made me realize it. It was you. Every day in a Study Hall I watched you, working away at whatever you could find. Later on I heard of your grades and got to know you a little better. And after putting 2 and 2 together, I realized that those good grades were a result of continuous study. So, in a since, you’ve changed my whole future. I could have grown up to be a secretary, or something of the such. You and others may think this is stupid, but I honestly think it was because of you. Thank you and may God bless you future with happiness that flourishes.

Good luck,
Marie Elliott
’68

This message and signature were written in my high school yearbook at the end of my junior year. It would have been late May 1967. I’ve been through a lot of changes since then, not the least of which is to finally start living in my gender of choice in 2010. I was still “Steve” in high school, and no one was the wiser. Not even I was the wiser, since I was very good at suppressing my feelings.

I saved my old high school and college yearbooks, but not in a dry place. They got water and mold damaged and many of the pages got stuck together. But the end pages, which had all the autographs and related comments were intact. I thought of xeroxing the pages with my old friends’ signatures and best wishes, but in the end I threw them all away and only copied this page. I still remember the names of my teenage buddies, but I didn’t know Marie Elliott very well and might have forgotten her completely if it hadn’t been for the above message, which took up an entire blank page.

No, I did not ask her out. Call it a missed opportunity. I was afraid to get close to people for many years.

I’ve lost touch with Marie Elliott. I have no idea what became of her, but I like to think she did something with her interest in science. She might be a PhD with numerous discoveries and papers to her credit. She might be a technician in a highly prestigious research facility. Or she might be the best damn high school science teacher in some Georgia county I’ve never heard of. In any case, she was a trailblazer. Female scientists were rare when we were teenagers. She also had talent as a writer. Notice how smoothly her text moves from the general to the specific and the personal. Its structure is all the more impressive since it was spontaneous and was never revised. There are errors, but as a composition, it’s earns an A+.

It isn’t every day that someone tells you you’ve changed their life for the better, without intending to, just because of the way you lived your life. Marie’s words have always been with me. They are a precious legacy from my dismal high school years, which were hard on me in so many ways, and not just because adolescence is a tough journey for every adolescent. I’ll always be able to say that I changed one person’s life for the better, and I thank her for telling me so.

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My Review of “Legend” by Marie Lu (5 stars)

I’m a YA writer myself and am working on the second volume of a YA dystopian trilogy that began with Discarded Faces. Therefore I need to follow trends in my chosen field. That was how I found out about Legend, by Marie Lu.

The story takes place in Los Angeles, California. It is as thoroughly rooted in that city as Divergent is in Chicago, and both stories are written by natives of the city in question. California is a part of the Republic of America which comprises the western half of the United States, and is in a perpetual civil war with the easterners, the oddly named Colonies of America.

The future LA of a century from now is sharply divided between an affluent elite of high ranking military officers and a much larger group who have to scramble to survive. It’s not clear how much of a middle class exists. Nothing is said about the rest of the world, and the world-building overall is a bit sketchy. However, in works of this kind, the reader expects a broader picture to emerge as the rest of the trilogy unfolds, so I’m not too worried about this. I liked it well enough that I plan to read the second volume, Prodigy.

At an early age, every citizen of the Republic goes through a combination of IQ and physical endurance test called the Trials. June Iparis, a young military cadet and daughter of privilege, got a perfect score on hers. Those who flunk can’t go to college and are condemned to low-income jobs. This is the fate of Daniel Altan Wang who, under the alias Day, become the most wanted criminal in the Republic, stealing to feed his family. However, he sometimes attacks government installations, and that has made him a folk hero among the lower class, which hates the government for its oppressiveness and privileges.

The country is plagued by epidemics, the cure for which is out of the reach of the average citizen. Once one plague goes away, another pops up. While stealing medicine for his plague-infested family, Day gets into a fracas with a young military officer who happens to be June’s older brother, whom she adores. The brother dies, Day is blamed, and June is permitted to go after him because of her prodigious Trials scores.

It turns out the deaths of June’s brother, the earlier deaths of her parents, and the deadly succession of plagues are all related, in a way that undermines June’s confidence in the regime which she serves. I won’t spoil this ending, but I will say this book earns five stars.

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Katniss Everdeen compared to Peb Corbo

For those who’ve read the Hunger Games trilogy and are considering reading my YA Dystopia Discarded Faces, I’ve prepared the following comparison between Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games and Peb Corbo of Discarded Faces. It would look better if I could import a spreadsheet from Excel into WordPress, but I don’t know how to do that.

Physical appearance.
KATNISS: Petite but athletic, somewhat underweight.
PEB: Petite but athletic.

Coloring.
KATNISS: The Seam look: brown hair, brown eyes, olive skin.
PEB: Blonde hair, blue eyes, pale skin.

Dad’s occupation.
KATNISS: Coal miner (deceased).
PEB: Long haul trucker.

Mom’s occupation.
KATNISS: Herbal healer.
PEB: Restaurant cook.

Siblings.
KATNISS: One younger sister.
PEB: One younger sister, older brother MIA in a previous war.

Favorite pastime.
KATNISS: Bow hunting.
PEB: Team sports, video games.

Stimulants.
KATNISS: Problematic relationship with morphine.
PEB: Beer, she’s been drunk once or twice.

Residence.
KATNISS: Small coal-mining town.
PEB: Large city, capital of her country.

Favorite weapon.
KATNISS: Bow and arrows.
PEB: “Beam” rifle.

Hangs out with:
KATNISS: Gale.
PEB: A clique of friends called Young Heroes.

Educational level.
KATNISS: Didn’t finish high school.
PEB: Didn’t finish high school.

Advisor in ethics.
KATNISS: None.
PEB: Dibloonid, Daat.

Advisor in politics.
KATNISS: Heymitch, maybe a little bit.
PEB: Kanath, Daat, Zel.

Advisor in personal deportment.
KATNISS: Effie, Cinna.
PEB: None.

Role in her country’s revolution.
KATNISS: National symbol of the insurgency.
PEB: Local hero, obscure elsewhere.

Bad guys overthrown?
KATNISS: Yes.
PEB: Sorry, no spoilers.

Condition after revolution.
KATNISS: Bad skin, emotionally wrecked.
PEB: Sorry, no spoilers.

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