fenella: (yukon)
[personal profile] fenella
Uh, first off: 484 words about Joren HERE!. And now that's done with:

Postcards From New Hope
(Or How to Grow a Woman from the Ground)

*

Part VII

*


Strahan, sitting shadowed on the edge of the stage, wolf-whistles as Hope steps through the house doors to the theatre. She makes a pretty picture, he thinks, sleek, cream coloured skirts against the dark red carpet. In truth, he's relieved to see her; their street fight felt all too real, staged as it was.

"I don't give you enough credit," calls Hope by way of greeting. "You're a good player after all."

Strahan smiles to himself, and drops from the stage, landing with a thud that resonates in the empty space.

"I take it that everyone thinks you're furious?"

"Will won't dare come near me for days," Hope smirks. "It turns out I have a certain flair for the dramatic too."

"That's my girl," says Strahan, giving her a playful shove. "And Orwyn?"

"Poor girl," shrugs Hope, smoothing her skirts and giving her companion a stern look.

Strahan surveys Hope carefully. "I think you're missing something."

Hope looks up from straightening her dark brown cloak, and Strahan is startled by the fleeting moment of vulnerability, caught in her widened eyes; insecurity is not something that he sees this new, almost grown-up Hope wear frequently, or easily.

"What's that?" she asks, prompting.

"Oh," says Strahan, raking fingers through his hair, before reaching for an inside pocket of his jacket. "I brought you this."

Hope smiles in spite of herself. "You didn't have to do that."

"I know," admits Strahan. "But I am accompanying you to the first of the Summer Hollyrose Follies, even if it's all business and no play."

She reaches out to take the yellow rose, but Strahan bats her hands away. Ignoring Hope's pursed mouth, he tucks the flower's stem into the hair pinned above her right ear, stopping to admire his handiwork.

"Yellow flowers are my favourite," says Hope, tugging her cloak tight.

Strahan nods, he's seen her hover over the sunflowers and daffodils at the market. And then he watches as Hope's face darkens, and a frown stretches across her lips.

"They're happy," she says, one eyebrow raised in contempt.

"Come on," says Strahan, tucking his fingers around her own. "Let's go."

*


Orwyn stands on the banks of the Vassa River, yelling Jorge's name. His boat is not far out and there is no wind to carry her voice back to shore. Frustrated that she's even here, but determined not to lose her new, well-paying work over the silly dramatics of a stuck-up girl with a half-nothing claim to two fiefs, Orwyn manages to not stamp her foot like a child.

"Jorge," she hollers one last time, and rolls her eyes in disgust.

"Holiest brethren of my Great Mother," spits Orwyn, all traces of timidity gone in her apparent solitude. "I swear to you that if this man ignoring me purposefully, I will end him with a fishing hook, and gut him like the fine-looking trout he pretends to be."

While casting about for inspiration, or a suitable fishing hook, Orwyn's gaze falls on a small launch tugging at the post to which it's tied. Gleeful at the stroke of luck, Orwyn climbs into the wooden boat and grabs a paddle before setting to work on the thick, scratchy rope that's knotted to the dock.

As she pushes away from solid land, and cuts her paddle into the water, Orwyn feels some small satisfaction.

*


Sir Merric of Hollyrose is a surprise.

He's fair to the commoners but doesn't love them. Sometimes it seems like it hurts his teeth to be so scrupulously patient and fair-minded, but he lets them say their piece, and after a shake of his head will do right by the law.

Sometimes the refugees and ex-convicts hold their breathe as Lady Keladry rides into the distance, until she's less than a dot on the horizon, and wait for Sir Merric to turn ugly. He never does.

But it's still a shock when news comes from the south; he's been disinherited for marrying a common-born girl. All attention turns to Alison, sweet daughter of New Hope's favourite baker, with dark brown hair and a kind laugh that brings a red to Sir Merric's cheeks that is matched only by his flaming red locks.

Alison and Sir Merric, it turns out, have been married in a quiet ceremony with her parents and brothers attending in the smallest, oldest New Hope chapel. It's met with an urgent disapproval from his own family before the northern rumour mill even begins to spin, but the groom stands firm, and loses his claim to be a Lord in one of the realm's favoured fiefs.

New Hope exists in the thickness of isolation, just out of sync with the rest of the country, which helps to lessen the sadness in Merric's gaze. He stands resolutely at his young wife's side, his tension easing with a soft brush of fingers and a subtle smile from one to the other.

Merric is no longer a commanding knight, titles stripped and thrown to the ground in a challenge of family propriety and duty. He reflects on Lady Alanna's fortunes and the disappointment he has brought to his beloved parents, and mopes around Alison's parents' bakery, making misshaped loaves and deflated muffins.

Alison, feeling wretched, elicits a small laugh from her husband by covering his face with a dusting of flower from the dough on her hands, and kissing the tip of his nose. But it's not until she returns home late from errands one night, bringing baked good to the mages, that she places a large text with Law scrawled across the binding in gold on the table in their small river-side home. The next night, when she returns home with the bread, Merric is studying the text by candle, a true smile across his face.

Merric earns his degree slowly, by correspondence in the unreliable mail through the mountain pass, but not until four years have passed; two since Alison has died in childbirth, carrying their unborn son into the arms of the Black God herself.

The villagers of New Hope turned Mindelan's Bound have a hard time pin-pointing the exact moment when Merric went mad, but they agree he was probably on his way before ever being appointed Governor to city in the North.

*


"That's a horrible story," says Hope.

Strahan takes this as a compliment to his storytelling skills. "In the end," he says, "Sir Merric -"

"I thought you said he lost his title," protests Hope, interrupting.

"He did," he says, giving her a look. "New Hope gave it back to him, informally so to speak. You see, in the end, Sir Merric was almost as loved as your Mother by the people of the Bounds."

"And this festival?"

Strahan grins. "Seven days of masked festival, where high and lower towns come together in drink and debauchery. It's his poetic legacy. "

He sees Hope's resolve falter as she knots the back of her mask; black stitched with gold, feathers rising from the crown.

"Don't worry," adds Strahan. "Nobles hardly ever take part until the third and fourth Hollyroses - tonight marks the night that Sir Merric hanged himself in his office - it would be uncivilized to mark the falling of their own."

Hope's lip curls in distaste. "A horrible story," she repeats.

*


On a good day, Kel is torn as to whether Irnai and Tobe's discovery of sexuality and each other is cute or horrifying. Today is a day where she's caked in mud, has exhaustion from the sun, Lerant has some sort of stomach parasite where he's vomiting everywhere, and she's on her way to visit the Prince and his mages.

"I'm not jealous!" protests Tobe.

Kel can practically feel the look that Irnai gives her friend, though the two are trailing behind by a few steps, and resolutely climbs the winding path while gritting her teeth.

"I'd have seen it by now, if we were meant to be together Tobe."

"I don't believe that," howls Tobe. "Maybe you just have a ... block."

"A block?"

"You know, when it comes to seeing the future about yourself."

There's a pensive silence.

"No," says Irnai with heavy sincerity. "I don't think that's it."

"Why then?" Asks Tobe. "Is it because of that thing Jodi told Cairn? Because it was a filthy lie!"

Kel turns and growls in irritation. "Tobe, that's it. You're going home."

Tobe stops short and yelps, showing the indignity of the situation. "Me?"

"Yes, you." Kel fixes him with a stern glare. "And you'd better have your sums done by the time I return home - don't think I haven't noticed that you've been forgoing them."

Tobe pauses to return the stare for half a second, before turning tail and heading down the hill, kicking at the dirt along the way.

"Sorry," says Irnai in the awkward silence that follows as they watch Tobe's retreating back.

Kel shrugs and continues to climb the hill, unable to summon energy or helpful advice for a teenaged girl with the gift of sight. She does wonder for the rest of the hike, what the future holds for her students and the remaining youth of New Hope, and how much of those paths Irnai has already seen.

*


The gardens of Governor Merric's estate are opened to the public twice a year - once for the seven days of Hollyroses in the summer, and again for the Governor's Ball at Midwinter. The rest of the year, the large free-standing manor on the edge of Mindelan's Bound is a dark, gloomy archive and clerical office for the city's junior officers.

At the west end of the Manor's stone-walled property stands a grounds keeper's shack, bent with expanded wood and winter years, and an unremarkable door leading down and into the Founders' Crypt.

Strahan and Hope slowly work their way through the crowded garden, alive with the richness of coloured fabrics, shouts of laughter, and the winding smell of Southern Ale. They're stopped just short of the grounds keeper's shack by a laughing woman in a canary mask, her fingers encircling Hope's wrist.

"You should come with me," says the mystery woman, her voice low and seductive, with the lingering traces of an accent. "I will take care of you."

Hope blinks in surprise, before smiling at the masked woman. "I'm a little busy."

Strahan feels the woman's gaze land on him for the first time, and shifts nervously as she stares piercingly, looking him over from toe to the tips of his green mask. Evidently unhappy with what she sees, her gaze snaps back to Hope.

"Come back later," says the woman, with a slow smirk, before disappearing into the crowd. "Come alone, and I will sing you a song."

Hope stares after their mysterious encounter, perplexed, and cheeks flushed.

"Well that was weird."

"Yes," says Strahan twisting the ruby ring on his smallest finger, "It was."

Hope laughs, shoving Strahan playfully. "No need to sound as if your dog just died."

But Strahan, apparently, is unable to look Hope in the eye. His gaze has settled on her unusually bare neck. "Hope," says Strahan slowly. "You're not wearing your locket."

Hope's hands move self-consciously to the base of her throat. "So?"

"Oh," says Strahan, after a beat. "No reason. It would have matched your blouse is all."

"Sure," says Hope, eyeing her friend, and is about to press the point when a very drunk young man stumbles into her. He's wearing vines, and not much else, and has a masked woman by the wrist. The man gives Hope a wink before turning and nodding at Strahan, who is quietly laughing, and continuing on, away from the gardens.

"... he looks familiar," remarks Hope, trying not to oggle the man's well defined torso.

"Kibby Stryker, in the flesh," says Strahan and with good humour.

Strahan turns abruptly and leads the way into the shadows, pausing only briefly before opening the door to the shed. Hope lingers a moment before following, mind flitting over recent - and strange - events.

*


Tomas is a pleasant surprise, thinks Kel, thoughtful and polite. At a rough estimate, he's in his early twenties - though his rough beard and his quiet confidence give him the illusion of added years. Kel and Irnai find him in the Mages' camp, gutting fish not far from a blazing fire, and laughing easily with another mage.

"You've heard about the human bones, no doubt," says Kel, after Tomas has confirmed his identity.

"Indeed," says Tomas, exchanging glances with his companion. "I have."

"Is the fact that they number twelve of any significance?" asks Kel, right to the point.

"Twelve is a number of great power," says Tomas with great solemnity. "There are twelve stars which guide the heavens, and thus divide our calendar year. There are twelve Gods in the shared house of Mithros and the Great Mother. Of course, if to speculate without knowing the cause of these humans' deaths is great foolishness."

Here Tomas shrugs, "It could be purely coincidence that their remains number twelve."

"And do you believe that, that it is merely a coincidence?" asks Kel, noticing with a start that the Mages from around camp - the Prince included - had all gathered around, eyes flickering between Tomas and herself. "That these men died a natural death?"

The mathematician pauses, licking his lips before speaking. "No."

Kel's heart skips a beat. She knows that she can guard against the natural, and physical threats. And Kel has proven herself before against magical evils, but it will never fall within a realm which she can call comfortable.

Tomas continues, eyes locked over Kel's shoulder, on Prince Jasson. "But twelve is also incomplete. It defines, but does not encompass the whole."

Before Kel can ask for the man to elaborate, she feels the ghost of a touch at her elbow and turns to face Jasson, finds his gaze half an inch above her own.

"It is not merely a coincidence," says the Prince, his voice quiet and a definite spark in his eyes, "That my men number thirteen."

*


The passage is narrow, packed dirt and slabs of stone lending no warmth as Strahan and Hope descend one after the other. The only light comes from the small box-lanterns that they carry, and neither person speaks. The deep silence swallows up any sounds and idle chatter, when Strahan had still the courage to try, has been too small and terrifying.

*


As Orwyn approaches the boat that she had thought belonged to Jorge, she feels a sudden an profound unease. He - she sees now that it is Jorge, no small comfort - is oblivious to her approach, entranced by his companion.

Jorge's companion is a woman. To describe her is a struggle, even in Orwyn's own head. The woman is, well, not quite there. Her figure is present, in the mist, and her voice is singing, sweet and low. But when Orwyn looks directly where the woman should be, there is only a thick sense of grief.

Looking studiously at the moonlit water, Orwyn observes Jorge's boat from the periphery of her vision. The woman is seemingly smiling, and Jorge leans into her embrace. She strokes his cheek tenderly and Orwyn hears Jorge speak, quiet and lovingly.

Orwyn pulls her cloak tighter and shouts, "Jorge!" one last time. Her voice shames her by coming out thin and frightened.

The man in the other boat looks up, startled, and Orwyn is quite sure that the other woman is gone. Jorge is furious, and Orwyn realizes what a frightening thing it is, to have this vague man's attention focused sharply on her.

She should not have come, he says. And what is she doing, anyways?

Orwyn squares her chin. "It's Strahan and Hope," she says. "I think they're doing something stupid." She considers what she's just seen. "And maybe very dangerous."

*


When Kel returns to the Mages' campfire, accompanied by the Petr the engineer, she sees Irnai leaning in towards Tomas and grinning slyly.

"I am very flexible," Irnai is saying. "Would you like me to dance for you? I've been learning one that has some especially difficult counts, and I know how interested you are in numbers."

"Err," says Tomas, flushing crimson.

"Irnai!" barks Kel, and Irnai looks up, guiltily frozen, before flouncing over to flank Kel.

Kel looks around at the assembled men. "I know that this has not been an easy or most most welcome transition for your men, but I thank you for sharing your wisdom and," she adds pointedly for Tomas, "Your attentiveness to the people of New Hope."

Several of the men cough, and another few laugh tiredly as Kel and and Irnai begin their descent, leaving the camp with a carpet of green, and into the city where their boots are covered in dust and mud.

"You," Kel says to Irnai, to emphasize the point, "Are a shameless flirt."

Irnai answers with a silence in which all the unseen and seen future stretches pointedly.

Kel rubs at her forehead tiredly and thanks the Great Mother that she is not, actually, the mother of this (or any) teenage girl.

*


"You didn't have to come," says Jorge pointedly as he and Orwyn climb deeper below the city.

"Oh didn't I just," says Orwyn. "I don't know exactly what you're involved in, but it doesn't scream trustworthy."

Jorge gives Orwyn a sharp look and she shrinks, having his full attention for the second time in the space of an hour.

"You don't know what you're talking about," says Jorge flatly.

"You're right," agrees Orwyn angrily. "If you'll remember, that's the whole point of this argument."

"What - that you stick your nose where it doesn't belong?"

Orwyn resists the urge to shake Jorge. "I am sorely tempted to walk away, and leave you to deal with this mess. She's more trouble than this is worth. And you! You and your brother are just as bad as a pair of Nobles. Worse, probably."

Jorge rolls his eyes. "I'm not stopping you from leaving."

"Oh that's just-"

Orwyn and Jorge round a final corner and their lamplight shows Hope and Strahan looking at them guiltily, hovering over a large coffin. They fall silent for a moment, before opening their mouths to ally in scolding their younger companies.

"Oh don't," says Hope tiredly.

"There's nothing here but Sir Merric's coffin," adds Strahan.

Orwyn and Jorge's eyebrows inch upwards, inquisitively.

"Who were you expecting?" asks Orwyn, not without biterness. "Sir Keladry?"

Hope breathes in sharply, and Strahan gives Orwyn a dark look, but Hope steadies her anger and replies, "This is the Founder's Crypt. There are plaques all over the city, dedicating clock towers and parks to the people who built this place. Not just my Mother."

She begins to recite determinedly, "Petr Ironsman, Engineer. Tresler Llewyn, Biologist. Chance Gilvery, Lawman."

"Impressive," says Jorge.

"I could go on," says Hope. "There are more."

Orwyn meets Hope's eyes for the first time since beginning service for the girl. "You're right," she says. "If they're not here-"

"Where are they?" finishes Strahan.

Hope stares around at her three companions; Jorge failing to feign disinterest, Orwyn somewhere between anger and pity, Strahan staring back determinedly.

"I'd like to know what happened to them." Hope shrugs, smiling wolfishly. "And if you're planning on stopping me, you'd best let me know now, so I can leave you down here in Sir Merric's coffin. It will save us all a great deal of heartache."


*


Part One Part Two Part Three
Part Four Part Five Part Six

Date: 2010-08-31 07:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] girl-called-sun.livejournal.com
I am ever so pleased that there is more of this. Thank you!

This is a sad story - it has always been a little sad, with the flashbacks to Kel and Lerant, but Merric too, now. Melancholy is the word. I really want to find out what happens to Hope, and the dynamic with Strahan is lovely.

(Joren, how so awesome? Now, this is sad. The parts about his horse, and the praise from Wyldon tore me up.)

Date: 2010-09-01 12:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lyredenfers.livejournal.com
Yaaay. Thanks for the comment! It often feels like I'm writing into a void. And even better, I'm always happy to see you around LJ land!

I don't mean to write sad stories. Sigh. I think I tend to go between "All ridiculous! All the time!" and the polar opposite. I mean for them to be hopeful/celebrating the small beauties but Sally and Imo tell me I'm just a horrible person for hanging Merric. Also, I'm glad the character dynamics are working for you!

Date: 2010-09-01 01:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] girl-called-sun.livejournal.com
You're more than welcome for the comment :)

It's not sad sad, but since you know all the senior characters are dead, there's no happy ever after, no popping up in cameos being all fulfilled and successful. Your own characters and their interactions are where the lightness is.

I am back a little in LJ land - I found Inception fandom! I may even write some fic, at some point.

Date: 2010-09-01 04:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anait.livejournal.com
I'm so happy you haven't abandoned this one but I'm still horrified about Merric!

I especially liked Irnai-- yes she's a Seer, but she's also a teenage girl, and you capture both sides of her. You didn't make her some somber all-knowing girl burdened with a gift (*coughDainecough*) the way many writers would have been tempted to. Yay for writing real people and not fantasy cliches!

I'm very worried for Jorge, and I hope to see more of Lerant, though not vomiting...

Date: 2010-09-01 09:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lyredenfers.livejournal.com
Hee, I like the comment about Irnai, it's not something I was consciously trying to do, so yay for people being real ones!

Now I kind of want to Lerant throw up in every scene. No promises.

Date: 2010-11-21 05:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wastxd-symphony.livejournal.com
The complete honesty is so truly profound. I think your writing is a kind of chillingly beautiful, but in the sense that you talk about all aspects of life, and not just the ones that you want to portray. I love how normal everyone is, yet so human and so ALIVE!

Confronting, maybe slightly, but all the more approachable for it.

A kind of dark, twisted, truthful history.

Date: 2010-11-22 04:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lyredenfers.livejournal.com
Wow, thank you! People keep telling me I'm writing a tragedy (or a romance?) and I always go "Really? Huh." and maybe I am, but that's not what I set out to do! I like those honest moments - they're like the little specs of beauty in every day that make me sad when people choose not to see them, because they're like shining moments of happiness! It's like the glass half full question - is it heading downhill into a pit of misery, with little dots of happy along the way, or is a beautifully happy story, which hardships along the way? If that makes any sense at all, which, doubtful. Anyways, thank you for the comment!

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