So, I haven’t posted in a while. As it’s already February, however, I believe it’s about time to take down the Christmas decorations (or post, in this case) and redecorate.
The trouble is, my mind just isn’t on blogging. Lately, it’s all about the novel. Its world, its characters, their lives—not mine. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and I couldn’t care less—unless it affects my characters. (Hummm…nope, not in their YA dystopian fantasy world. No Hallmark moments there.) So, that leaves only one thing for me to share, my novel. Happy Valentines Day (early), I’m opening up my imagination and my heart to you and sharing what, these days, is most dearest…a bit, a corner, a chapter of my novel, The Book of Qi.
Keep in mind, Chapter one first draft will probably look nothing like Chapter one final draft. I may even change to the title. The Book of Qi is still very much a work in progress. ONE more thing… I wanted to try something new—something DANGEROUS—so went ahead and taped myself reading chapter one. I’m not a voiceover artist, but I won’t apologize. After all, it’s from my heart, and it’s just for fun. Click the arrow and then read along. Enjoy!
Every morning it is the same. I pretend to be asleep, hoping that by pretending it will become real and I will return to the safe, silent reaches of sleep. It is a hope my grandmother does not share.
Today, however, Grandma Tully does not scold, nor pretend to let me sleep, only to do something sneaky like placing an uzza beetle on the tip of my nose. Today, I feel the breath of her sigh and warmth of her fingers, so thick and crooked, and…so gentle as she brushes them through my hair.
This is nice, I think, as a tear slides down my cheek. More tears threaten to escape, but I squeeze my eyes tight. I fight to hold on to this moment as long as possible.
“Child,” Grandma Tully whispers, “my child,” and I know she does not want this moment to end either.
Tully brushes away my tears, and I open my eyes to her round wrinkled face hovering over me. Her thin, pale lips tilt into a small, reassuring smile, but her crescent-shaped eyes, pitch-black at the center, are shiny with unshed tears.
“I am not a child,” I murmur, even as I long to throw myself into her arms and beg her to save me.
At the sweet scent of twig tea and the sound of someone entering our room, Grandma Tully brushes my hair one last time and steps aside.
Something tickles my ear. I reach over and wrap my fingers around it. A long furry body stretches and squirms, making itself thinner beneath my hand, fighting to be free. “What are you doing?” I whisper. My pet wiggum has never slept beside my head. I stretch my toes expecting—hoping—to feel a small, soft lump beneath them, but he is not there. No…
Halo is saying goodbye.
I grab Halo’s body tighter, but not too tight. I don’t want to hurt him. But I don’t want to let go. Wiggums are jealous, needy creatures, content to serve only one master. I have tried not to think about it: as soon as I marry, Halo will leave.
Halo’s tiny wiggum nose nuzzles my neck. Even though the soft puff of his breath tickles, I do not move. I do not breathe. If these are our last moments together, I want to remember them.
“Breakfast is almost ready.” Grandma Tully’s tone is unusually gentle. A reminder my life has already begun to change.
I sigh and begin to pull Halo away. As if he cannot bear to leave my side, he twists and jerks, surprisingly strong—and oddly determined. With one last valiant effort, Halo thrusts his cold, wet nose against my ear and I hear, “Starzzzz, starzzzzz,” sounds that are almost human—almost words—uttered from his tiny wiggum mouth. I am so surprised I barely notice when Halo slips through my fingers and escapes through a hole in my hammock.
Rubbing my eyes, I swing my legs over the edge and sit up. Halo has slithered over by Grandma Tully and wrapped himself around her ankle. His sweet, stupid face peers up at me; a perfect mirror of how I feel. My wiggum speaks. Of course, he speaks! Why not? I almost laugh. And tomorrow I will not have to marry Alagar. Prince Alagar, I remind myself, trying to push the image of him from my mind. And a year from now I will not be expected to bear his—
A sick, queasy sensation fills my stomach. I close my eyes and will it to subside. Alagar is not unpleasant to look at. He is spoiled, but he is not mean. I hope he is not mean. He is my future, however, and I do not wish to think of him today.
Not my last free day.
Grandma Tully has crouched down and is petting Halo. I look at them and make a wish. I wish Halo would not leave. I wish he would stay with Grandma Tully, and then neither would be alone. Tully looks up and gives one of her brief, crooked smiles. I wish…today would never end.
A king’s guard stands just inside our room, here to make sure I don’t slip away again, no doubt. I wonder if he has been here all nightfall. As if in answer, he twists his neck and back, stretching his arms and shoulders, and I feel a twinge of guilt—but only a twinge. I agreed to the marriage. I did not agree to all the days before.
“Ouch!” Tully’s smile changes into a startled, slightly comical expression as she stares at the tip of her finger. My own fingers and toes have experienced similar attacks. Halo is simply reminding Tully it is he, not me, she should be paying attention too. I would laugh but I am still thinking about my grandmother’s face.
I have never thought of my grandmother as old, yet overnight, it seems, she is ancient. My guilt swells from a mere twinge to a full-blown revelation. Not because of the guard’s discomfort, but because of Tully who, I realize, must have endured the King’s wrath each time they sent for me and I was not here. Grandma Tully, who has endured so much for me already, yet loves me…despite all my failings.
I hang my head and stare at the thin, bare feet swinging beneath me. My toenails, cracked and brown, are not a pretty sight, and my heart grows heavy as I remember I promised Tully I would allow one of the servants to clean them before the wedding. A promise I could have kept yesterday, had I not chosen to spend one last day roaming free.
When I look up, Tully is still petting my wayward wiggum. I take a deep breath, hold it and make this silent vow: I will honor my promise, marry Prince Alagar and produce a new deathseer. If only for you, Tully, I will. And I will name her after my mother—after your daughter—for both of us.
An oot servant enters carrying a tray filled with berries and manna. My stomach growls and I’m grateful for the food, but also for the interruption.
Though I have lived among oots all my life, I have given them little thought. After major rifts, when new growth forces us to find new homes, oots are often called upon to eat away old growth—their favorite and, as far as I know, only source of food. Tully and I have never had an oot servant. Now, as I watch this one—its thin twig-like face tilted in concentration, its stick-like arms stirring the tea then pouring the tea—it feels as though I am watching a part of Qi that has risen up, no longer content to be simply a planet, and decided to become human. Well, as human as a stick creature can be.
The oot sets the tray on a small table and begins arranging our morning meal. In addition to servants and guards, my new life will include things like tables and stools, and smooth surfaces for walking and sitting; items that must be carried to the surface during a rift or built anew each time. Things only someone who has enough servants to build and carry them would have. The King has many human servants, and many more, as I have come to learn, that are oot.
Grandma Tully looks like herself again, strong and smiling; only her eyes give her away. She wipes them and I take one more swipe at mine, even though I know the guard will not look at me. Like all the others, he believes if he looks into my eyes I will see his future, or rather, his death.
I have heard the rumors.
Suddenly, my heart begins to beat faster, harder, pulsing against my chest, and I want the oot servant and the guard to leave. I want this day and all its moments alone with my grandmother. I stare at the guard, willing him to look back.
As if drawn, his head begins to turn. Quickly, I look away, ashamed. Though the rumors are false—death comes no swifter to those whose eyes I look upon—there is no reason to cause an ignorant, overworked guard to lose more sleep.
How has it come to this? I wonder, sinking back into my hammock. My mother was the greatest deathseer Qi has ever known. Why have my own visions betrayed me? A deathseer who can see death, but not when and where it will happen, is useless. I am tired, I think. Tired of being useless. Tired of being feared. “Tired,” I whisper, “of seeing people die.”