Late Spring/early Summer is apparently a rough time on my writing! I apologize for the interrupted posting. It’s when all the travel wraps up that I tumble flat on my creative face and find that coloring books are about all I can manage. That and practicing my penmanship.

I promise I’m working on the story, too.

I even drew a little from scratch this week.


Fire Horse

I have a new design up on Redbubble. Christmas week I just had a hankering to draw a horse–my favorite kind of horse to draw, the Arabian.

Arabians and their daughter breed, the Thoroughbred, are high energy horses–often referred to as “hot” or more poetically “fiery.”

There is a half Thoroughbred horse where I ride who I will probably always refer to as a colt–because he acts like one. Always active and getting into trouble, he has a deep desire to work, to run,  to do stuff, and be the center of attention.  He is not afraid of much, but he’ll spook at imaginary things for an excuse to gallop across his pasture. Then he’ll prance, stamping and rearing just because he can. Last week he was plucking the fence like a guitar.

Some horses are made of fire.


Click here to shop at Redbubble.





Jemin used our long walk to smear dirt on my face, muss my hair, and teach me to droop my shoulders and shuffle my feet. “Today you are not a princess, and you are not a performer. You are poor, hungry, and have never been important or the center of attention, ever. You probably spend your days bent over mending or maybe cooking,” Jemin continued seriously, “The only thing notable about you is that you’re traveling—and the only one who finds that notable is you.”

I didn’t think I stood out that badly, but I listened and emulated the walk he taught me. I hunched and thrust my neck forward and tried to imagine that I was heavy laden, beaten, and starved.

“We should let people assume that we are married,” instructed Jemin, as if discussing proper saddling. “It may offer you some protection, and is the shortest explanation for why we are traveling together.”

“Very well,” I replied, willing down a blush. This was spy work, and I was not a little girl. I couldn’t afford to be.

The people we met on the road closer in to the city didn’t even look at us, almost as if we were dirt or weeds. Or worse, starving dogs that might beg if they caught our eyes. Even at the city gates, with soldiers scrutinizing all who came and went, we were barely seen. I had thought our pilgrim gaggle was inconspicuous, but I had not known what inconspicuous was.

I tried to take in the city with an expression of shy wonder pasted on my face—as I imagined a country girl might—even though Gillenwater was not a happy sight. The harvest festival was completely ended and the carnival mood had been stripped from the city. The sun shone, but it felt terribly gray and cold inside the city walls. We crossed the little bridge over the Tryber and paused to watch workmen pick through the smoldering remains of the Queen’s forges.

“That should slow her down a touch,” muttered Jemin, before turning away. He guided us toward the market square, where we found the public well and drew water for Line and for ourselves. The glass tree was gone, though the lonely sheaves of wheat still stood here and there around the square. They looked dirty and wilted in the daylight, and without smiling people or music to make them bright.

People went about their business quickly and with their heads down. Even the normal city sounds were muted and strained.

Jemin asked someone where he could find a tavern, and we were directed a block away to a building with a covered porch and long shed row stable down the side. There were a handful of horses tethered to the hitching post out front, and Jemin added Line to the number.

I scratched the donkey behind the ears and whispered, “We can’t attract attention, Line, please be good.” He flicked his ears amiably and I followed Jemin into the dim light of the tavern.

It was midday, and the tavern had a respectable—if small—crowd of people huddled in clusters over bowls of what smelled like lamb stew. There was muted conversation all around the room, and no one really cared when we entered. I found this remarkable as I followed Jemin to the counter and tried to remember if I had ever walked into a tavern without being noticed before. Not that I’d been in a terrific number of taverns—just since the circus, really, and usually with a boisterous group of acrobats.

The middle aged man behind the counter greeted Jemin. “What can I do for you?”

“Some supper, please,” said Jemin, so meekly that I nearly didn’t recognize him. He laid a few coins on the countertop.

The tavern keeper looked at the meager coins then scooped them into his hand. “We can do with that,” he turned and scurried off through a doorway behind the counter.

While we waited, we both looked around. The few people sitting at the counter took mild notice of us. They looked like tradesmen and shopkeepers. A cobbler, I thought, and the one next to him made something out of wood—there was a fine layer of sawdust in his hair and his hands were strong and calloused. Further down, I guessed a blacksmith and probably a couple men and a woman who mostly sold things rather than made them. Our soup arrived in half-full bowls. It was not going to be a generous meal, but it was a change from the meager way fare I’d been eating.

As we ate, Jemin turned to the cobbler. “Excuse me, we’re travelers,” he said, stating the obvious, “And we saw a burned out building as we entered the city, what happened?”

The cobbler swallowed slowly and glanced at the corner before answering. We followed his look to the corner and saw a small table of soldiers, clearly off duty and immersed in their food. “That was the Queen’s forges, someone attacked it day before last.”

Jemin made a shocked face at the explanation, reminding me to look equally stunned. “Who?” asked Jemin, his voice low but carrying a touch of excitement.

The cobbler shrugged. “No one knows. You picked a bad time to be traveling through Gillenwater, I’m afraid. They are searching everywhere to find out who would dare such a thing.”

“It’s caused a powerful lot of trouble here,” put in the wood carver darkly, “We have a curfew now. And any man who is young and fit walks the streets at his own risk.”

Jemin started to act a touch nervous, “What happens to them?”

“Stopped, questioned, sometimes arrested and beaten,” replied the wood carver.

“They have no idea who they are looking for,” added the cobbler, scorn creeping into his voice, “That much is certain.” He looked for a moment as if he were going to say something else but the wood carver jabbed him with his elbow and he held his peace.

“We saw a column of cavalry on the road the other morning, was that because of this?” asked Jemin. He played innocent quite well, I thought.

The tradesmen nodded, and the cobbler replied, “They came back in a rush and bother with prisoners yesterday, so we thought they’d found the fire makers.”

“But the hunt continues,” said the wood carver.

“How odd!” Jemin exclaimed. “Who do you suppose they caught that they’d come back if it wasn’t who they were looking for?”

“Women,” the wood carver grunted in disgust and my stomach turned over.

Jemin glanced at me, “They carry off women?”

The cobbler leaned in, enjoying his possession of insight. “Women, yes. Occasionally. But rumor has it,” he cast a careful eye at the soldiers in the corner, “That they found someone really important—someone of royal blood from one of the other conquered cities—from Galhara.”

13-Hook, Line, and Sinker

Galhara was a coastal city that had never been known for its horses—but I had. From childhood I spent as much time with them as I could, and had been known to do really stupid things like wander off and climb on any horse I met in the field. I did not differentiate between trained or untrained. If I wanted to ride a horse I convinced it to let me—usually with nothing more than a rope and patience. Some horses were easier than others, but they all obliged eventually. I, of course, had no idea this wasn’t normal until I was older and people started petitioning the king to let me to help them with their difficult animals.

The Head Groom’s monster was a spectacle in motion with a glossy black coat and a smart eye. He blustered along, tossing his head and threatening to rear every couple steps, barely restrained by the young groom trying to lead him into the corral. He was a fairly young horse—probably five or six years of age—with a well-shaped, muscular body and natural pride in each floating step. And you got an eyeful, too, because once the groom got him into the corral he pulled free and bolted. The other grooms rushed to close the gate—and the hapless handler climbed over it. Leaving me in the corral with a horse who obviously didn’t want to be around people.

“He was shipped here with a couple other horses because the marquis was looking to add some black to his stock,” explained the Head Groom. “None of the lot came with manners at all. We’ve not saddle broken a single one, on account of their wildness, and he’s the worst of them. He’s snapped quite a number of ropes around here—and nearly some hands, too.”

I nodded, keeping my eyes on the horse. Easy enough to believe. Especially two feet of broken lead rope hanging off the horse’s halter. He tore around the circular paddock with his head up, blowing hard at the people on the fence line. He was trying to ignore me, but kept flicking a curious ear in my direction almost in spite of himself. When the black broke stride I’d flap my arms and he’d pick up pace again. We might spend our hour doing this alone, I thought ruefully. I willed myself to forget about time and focus on the colt. Occasionally I’d dart ahead him to make him change his direction—which he didn’t totally appreciate—but mostly I waited. The black was stubborn and brave—they would be good qualities eventually, but for now they kept him running at a steady pace around and around the pen. I hoped he wouldn’t decide to make a day of it. I would feel the miles before he would, and I was already tired. I thoroughly lost track of time—it was just me and the circling black horse—forever in a contest of authority.

Before I expected it, he dropped his head. His jaw relaxed and his flicking ear settled on me attentively.

“That’s it, I’m not going to hurt you,” abruptly I turned away from him, and waited some more. He stopped running the moment I turned away and I listened to him come up behind me at a cautious walk. After a moment’s consideration, he came close and puffed out a breath by my ear. I swiveled and reached a hand to rub his face. He shuddered, but stayed put.

I took a step away from him and he followed. Hooked. I smiled and took a few more steps. He kept following. I stopped and rubbed his forehead again. He sighed heavily, as if the weight of a thousand fat men was slipping off him. “I’ll call you Hook,” I told him.

He didn’t object.

He didn’t object to the saddle and bridle either, nor the rider—though he gave me some extremely skeptical looks. When I slid off his back, Ayglos and the Head Groom entered the round pen.

The Head Groom looked stunned. “If I didn’t know the horse, and didn’t watch you the whole time, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

I patted Hook. “How long did that take?” I asked, pretty sure it was two or three hours of work—at least—could have been all day for all I knew.

“An hour exactly,” replied Ayglos with a lopsided grin.


The Head Groom wiped his forehead. “Really…” He looked the horse up and down. “I guess he’s yours.”

If we didn’t need a horse so badly, the mourning in the groom’s voice would have persuaded me to give my prize back. But Hook was mine, now. The Groom would have to deal with the wrath of the marquis himself if there was wrath to be had.

I stuffed my hands in my pockets. “Have anyone else I can take off your hands?”

By the time Ayglos and I were headed back up the road I’d claimed two more of the useless money eaters from the farm; an impish donkey I’d dubbed Line, for the dorsal stripe and the cross bar on his back, and an aging draft who at this point simply needed to be named Sinker. I wasn’t sure why the Groom was parting with the draft, but it was easy enough to imagine why he would let go the devilish donkey—I overheard something about unlocking all doors and gates.

I rode Hook, Ayglos rode Sinker, and Line trotted along behind us, gamely keeping up with the larger horses. It was late morning, by now, but hopefully our success would convince the others to forgive us the delay. Particularly Namal.


12-A Wager

“Ayglos,” I prodded my brother. “Wake up.”

The gray of dawn was spilling into the shadowy places of the woods: I’d slept longer than I intended and we really need to hurry if we were to return before Namal worried. Gabe was on watch, and watching me curiously as I poked my older brother until he opened his eyes and gave me an evil look. “I need your help, come on,” I persisted.

Ayglos sat up and stretched. “What’s going on?” he looked around at our sleeping companions.

“Quill can’t walk like we did yesterday—his leg needs rest!”

“Yes, so? We also need an army and perhaps the help of the Engla.” Ayglos’ voice was thick with sleep and irritation.

I made face, “Quill’s problem is much more easily addressed.”

“Oh?” Ayglos squeezed both hands against his face, as if he were physically pushing his weariness back inside.

I nodded. “Horses.”

Ayglos split his fingers and peered out at me is if he were checking to see if I were serious. “And where are we getting horses?” he asked slowly.

“There are a number of horse farms surrounding Gillenwater.” Obviously. I might have been enjoying his consternation.

“Many of which provide horses to Hirhel,” he replied.

“That hardly matters—it’s not like they have a choice.” I leaned closer, “I have a plan.”

Ayglos lowered his hands and considered me for a moment. “Alright,” he relented. “This had better not take long.”

I didn’t even try to hide my grin as we gathered ourselves up and told Gabe we would be back soon. The circus hand touched his head in salute as we left. Ayglos began to jog and I picked up pace to keep up. “I hope you know of a farm nearby.”

“I do.” I had noticed plenty of horse farms on the journey with the caravan yesterday. Once we dropped out of the forested parts we should have our pick.

“So what’s your plan, exactly?” asked my brother.

“Well, every farm has to have a couple horses they would like to get rid of. We’ll take them off their hands.”

“Are we borrowing or stealing? Because unless you’ve been picking pockets all day we certainly aren’t buying anything.”

“Even if I had, whatever I could afford might need to be carried more than Quill does!”

Ayglos snorted. “Very likely so.”

He fell silent and we jogged down the road to the sounds of birds greeting the sun. Ayglos’s morning preference for solitude and quiet outweighed his desire to know my plan. I didn’t mind. It was a tenuous plan, full of risks. I only hoped the first farm we found would have suitable horses.

We came to a stone wall topped with wood beams. I remembered seeing a large herd in this field yesterday when we came through with the caravan. In a moment we came to a break in the fence line and a narrow lane leading in between the fields. I led the way off the main road and down the lane. The gray morning mist was getting lighter and the landscape was shifting to a rich green. We kept up our jog. This was either a proper road, or a very large farm, I decided. Finally we saw buildings on our left. Corrals, a barn—perhaps a manor house behind that. Another break in the fence gave another narrow lane, this one leading straight to the farm.

We could see people bustling about the barn. Ayglos slowed. “Plan?”

“We’re pilgrims,” I told him, “We’ve been robbed, and one of our number was injured. We lost our pack horse. We need a horse.”

“And they’re supposed to just give it to us?” Ayglos slowed to a walk, admirably restraining the irritation in his voice.

“No. Remember I’m taking the ones they don’t want.”

He looked at me for a second and then understood. “Oh…great.” He sighed, but we kept walking.

“I’ve done it before,” I added. A little hurt by his lack of enthusiasm.

Ayglos grunted. “That’s why we’re not turning around.”

When we got close to the barn a wiry older man came out to meet us. “You’d best be moving on unless you’re looking for hard work with nearly no pay,” he announced when we were in earshot. “We don’t give handouts.”

“We’re not here for handouts,” replied Ayglos—dropping his grumpy morning manner like a cloak in spring. “We have a proposition.”

“Don’t take threats, neither,” said the older man, squinting as we approached. His hair was gray and as wiry as the rest of him. His worn breeches and scuffed boots said that he spent a great deal of time on horseback.

“No threats,” Ayglos held out his hands, palms up, as we came the last few feet to the Head Groom—he could be no one else.

The Head Groom sized us up. “Well, out with it.”

“We are pilgrims,” began Ayglos.

“I can see that,” cut in the groom drily.

“—and we were robbed on the road,” continued Ayglos, unshaken, “out pack horse was stolen and one of our companions was injured.”

“I told you we don’t give handouts,” retorted the groom.

“Our companion cannot make the journey on foot, so we are in search of a horse,” finished Ayglos, ignoring the interruption. “We cannot afford to pay, and know well the value of a beast so we do not ask for charity.”

The Head Groom squinted harder at us. Since we’d ruled out threats and charity, what else was left?

I spoke, “So we’ll place a wager: If I can tame your most difficult horse within an hour, it belongs to me. If I cannot, we leave you in peace.”

The Head Groom laughed, “You can’t be serious.”

Ayglos crossed his arms. “Are you going to take the wager or not?”

Laughter drained from the groom’s face, leaving astonishment, then cynicism. He pointed at me, “If you get hurt or killed, your blood is on your own head.” He turned on his heel and headed into the barn. “Come on,” he cackled, “I gotta see this.”

Both Ayglos and I drew deep breaths as we followed the groom into the barn. I appreciated that my brother said nothing. Having done it before didn’t mean I could do it again with whatever monster the groom had boxed up back here. But I had to try.