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The Slave Who’d Never Been Kissed

As you can see from my progress bars on the right, I’ve got a project on there with the above title. This was one of those ideas where I had the idea, got really excited and pretty much had to write it straight away and it totally hi-jacked NaNoWriMo so I thought I’d share an excerpt from the start of it. It also spawned a whole series of stories and this isn’t actually the first of them I don’t think but it’s still awesome.

 

“All right, all right, the lot of you can have an hour in the market. Then I want you back to your stations.” The man said with an Irish lilt to his voice and chuckled. The five people Auraylia had seen badger him for the last few minutes grinned and dispersed into the crowds.

Despite knowing none of them she found herself smiling at their exchange. He wore the uniform of a Unified Federations ship captain and the deep blue shirt and trousers brought out the blue in his eyes. Complete with the black ankle length coat and insignia on the right shoulder he had many young ladies turning their heads in his direction, hers included.

She saw him pull out an ornate pocket watch and glance at the time before making his own way into the market area right past her. The scent of spiced aftershave marked his path and tantalised her senses. Intrigued, she followed him.

For several minutes he merely browsed and didn’t buy a single item but eventually he haggled for a small packet of herbs from a specialist stall. It disappeared somewhere into his coat, leaving her no reason to approach him yet. She kept back and continued to watch, only half sure she wanted to approach but convinced the risk would be worth the nerves making her shiver already.

***

Dylan made his way through the pressing crowds, inspecting the wares of many of the market stalls. Although he’d held out on his crew and pretended to be concerned over their wishes to explore the market town he was pleased at their desire. It gave him the free time to browse alone and gather his thoughts.

The few purchases he had already were tucked into the deep pockets of his coat and weighed it down a little more than usual, but it helped keep them safe from the little hands that snuck about the place.

As he glanced over some ornate necklaces on one stall and wondered if they would make a good gift for his third officer he noticed a familiar face amongst the masses. A young woman, barely of age and dressed in the usual female slave outfit, a pale coloured top and pantaloons, leaving her mid-riff and arms bare with organza overlays and shoulders to hint at the body that lay beneath. Unlike most of the girls nearby who wore oranges and yellows to stand out she wore a pale blue ensemble. In contrast it made her easier to spot and it was the third time he’d noticed her meandering along behind him.

He frowned but didn’t confront her yet. So far she had kept her distance and appeared to be alone.

At the next few stalls he picked up more of the items he wanted, including the necklace he’d spotted and two more books for his miniature library in his cabin. With the bottle of wine, and jars of his favourite foods he had his arms full and started looking around for something to carry his purchases in.

The slave girl chose this moment to close the final gap between them and he steeled himself to reprimand her or prevent her stealing his items.

“Can I help with those, sir?” She turned her bright green eyes on him and they flitted across his face like a nervous cat’s. Her words startled him to silence and for a moment he could only stare back at her. Before long she broke the contact and lowered her head, allowing him to think about the question she asked.

“How do I know you won’t run off with anything I hand you?” he asked. She pulled back the organza sleeves that covered her wrists and most of her hands and showed him the black rose tattoo on the soft inside. He frowned, such a tattoo in so delicate a place must have hurt.

“My master and owner trades under this mark. If I displease anyone they can find him easily in the nearby district.” She pointed to the buildings rising up in the west. Several tall wooden houses rose up each with a different symbol on the side of it. The matching black flower covered one of the constructions although, like many of the others, it looked as if it had seen better days.

When he looked back at her she was shivering on the spot and her head was bowed. He couldn’t tell if it was respect or fear but he decided to take pity on her.

“How much will such a service cost me?” he asked. Her head lifted and showed him her widened eyes.

“Nothing, sir. I… If I help to your satisfaction…”

“All right. Carry these for me and keep up.”

She nodded and flicked her brown hair back behind her shoulders so it wouldn’t become entangled before taking the few parcels he sent her way and cradling them against her own body.

“You’ve been following me for quite a while,” he added as he made his way to the next stall of interest to him. She had the good grace to blush at this challenge but didn’t respond at first, giving him time to purchase some food for the fish he kept. The wrapped up item was added to the stack already burdening her.

“I saw you earlier, sir, with your crew. I liked the way you talked to them. I can tell you are a good man,” she said as he moved on again.

“Being a slave cannot be easy.”

“It is not always bad, but I am for sale and that worries me sometimes. I want to be bought by someone who won’t hurt me… or… What is space like? I’ve always wanted to see it.”

“It’s large, and empty. Some say it is beautiful but its charm soon wears off,” he replied, starting to get a sense of where this conversation was going. Despite her sweetness she wasn’t very subtle.

“Do you need any more crew? I’m not very expensive and I work hard.”

He stopped walking and gave her his full attention. For a moment she met his gaze again but she soon lowered her eyes to focus on his booted feet.

“I’m sorry, but I cannot buy you,” he replied. “You’re very sweet, but…”

“I understand.” She turned her face back to him and he could see the tears threatening to fall from her green eyes. Such a reaction was unexpected.

“What do you do for your owner when you’re not helping Captains with their shopping?” He carried on with his browsing and tried not to dwell on her emotions.

“Mostly I help him with his stall here at the market, selling, wrapping the valuables and sometimes with selling other slaves. I’m good at haggling.”

He stopped their conversation to purchase his final item, a bottle of strong single malt whiskey, a special crew member who’d never had a present appreciated a good drink. Once it was wrapped and in the slaves arms she carried on her list of tasks.

“I also run messages and other errands a lot, as well as some management tasks. On top of that I’ve been trained to look after a household and keep its books in order.”

She stopped talking and followed on and he figured the list was finally complete. It wasn’t what he’d expected. Most of the slaves here were for companionship or other relational services but she seemed to have genuine intelligence and skills. It occurred to him that as a free person she’d have made a good addition to his crew.

“I’m surprised you’re still for sale with a resume like that.”

“There have been a few offers, but my owner rejected them when I asked him to.”

He raised his eyebrows and she noticed.

“I didn’t want to be brought by the men who offered money. I persuaded my owner that I could get more elsewhere for the other things I can do. In the mean time I’ve orders to earn as much as possible.”

As she finished speaking they reached the edge of the market and the transport from his ship. She helped him load the packages in the cargo space inside and smiled at him.

“I’m really sorry I can’t buy you. As a Unified Federations Captain Its just not something I can do. Slaves aren’t allowed on our ships, but I’m sure someone will come along who can,” he said as he placed a small note into her hand and kissed the back of it. She smiled and thanked him but he could see the disappointment in her eyes.

He had to push it from his mind as he glanced at the time and saw he only had five minutes to present himself to the Federations building, and the admiral residing there, for his next mission.

His ship had docked earlier than expected so he’d had time to use up, but he hurried the small hovering transport along to the only building in the area that looked well kept. It was also the only one made of materials other than wood, and the brick and stone stood out for him to travel towards.

On this planet there were few other vehicles but some moved back and forth on the hyper-way, most of them going in between the Federations buildings and the houses of the more wealthy residents.

This planet didn’t look like it had been colonised for over fifty years, but other than the working class farmers, slave owners and other various officials stationed here, the rainy climate hadn’t attracted many people and the indoor market was one of few tourist attractions for off-world visitors.

He rushed up the steps and through the archway to stand in the atrium of the building and a receptionist greeted him before he could look around.

A minute later he was shown into the commanding officer’s room. A balding man sat behind a desk with a built in display. When Dylan walked in it had a map of the nearby star systems, with enemy territory in red and their own in blue. The map had a lot of red on it.

“Sir, Captain Dylan Gray, reporting for orders.”

“Ah, Captain Gray, come in, sit down,” the commander waved his wrinkled hand towards the chair nearest to him. Dylan did as he was told. Until now all his orders had come from his previous captain, the now Admiral Keane. Before him sat someone who’d been an admiral for over ten years and probably didn’t hold out much hope to be promoted further.

“What mission have you got for me?”

“We need you to take some food from here to another planet of ours. Its a relatively new colony and the planet’s recent crops failed due to draught. They’re also having problems with a few diseases and need medical aid.”

“That sounds more like a job for a cargo runner. I have a reasonable amount of space for cargo but my ship’s outfitted for battle not speed.”

The admiral didn’t reply but motioned towards the map. On the other side of all the red was a blue blob that spread around one solar system and towards the left edge. Somewhere off the map he knew it connected up.

“That’s where I need you to take it.”

“Across all that area?”

“Yup, you guessed it. It needs to be there in as few days as possible. A transport could take it around the edge and be there in just over a week but you could go through the middle and take half the time.”

“When do I get started?”

“Right away. The cargo is already on its way to your ship. We can go there now and talk over the rest of the details on the way.”

The admiral stood up again and Dylan had to hurry to his feet. For an old man he could move faster than Dylan expected.

The two transports joined the hyper-way back to the docks and his ship. Long before they got there Dylan could see the container of cargo sitting right by the main hold of his ship. Beside it was his logistics officer already overseeing the loading of the food and other resources his crew would need to replenish their mandatory stores.

As soon as the admiral got out the transport and walked over with him he noticed a group of slaves there to help with the transfer process. Walking out of the loading hatch came the same slave girl again. She gave commands to several of the men around her in a language he didn’t understand, and they lugged the boxes and crates wherever she directed.

Not wanting her to notice him he led the admiral into the ship while she was in the container and they went up to the main ship where they could observe the progress without being directly involved.

After making polite small talk the admiral handed Dylan the electronic tablet with his official orders on as well as a list of all the cargo he was loading and where it needed to go.

“Did you also get my request for extra crew?” Dylan asked before the admiral could leave.

“Yes, but there’s no one here of the right level. You’ll have to keep going with what you’ve got. We’re expecting some recruits in the next few months but none have arrived and many more Federations ships are asking for extra hands.”

Dylan nodded. Admiral Keane had said similar words last time they’d seen each other.

“I hear you picked up some crew on your last couple of missions? A Thorian as well?” the admiral continued.

“I did. All of which are now working on the Sapphira in my service. And on that note, do you see that girl down there?” Dylan pointed at the slave he’d met an hour earlier. The admiral looked her over as she helped his logistics officer work out where the cargo should be stowed.

“What of her?”

“She’s a slave. If I bought her, could we call her a recruit?”

“No slaves are allowed on a fleet ship. You would have to declare her free, but if you think she would help.” The admiral took another look at her as she issued more orders to the men helping with her.

Dylan knew this wasn’t the normal way to acquire crew but so far every new recruit had been found in some new way. Buying a slave was possibly one of the simplest.

“You’ll need to get enough information from her to sign her up as one of our staff and she will need to pass the background check, but it’s up to you what you spend your money on.”

The meaning wasn’t lost on him. There would be no refund if she proved to be a reliable member of his crew. All he might get is gratitude, and a little recognition, but the money would be gone. He also suspected the admiral thought he had further ideas about the pretty girl but that line of thought was nothing new from men like the admiral.

With the important hand overs done Dylan escorted his superior back to his transport and went back to see his logistics officer, another of his new recruits. She smiled when she saw him.

“Captain, the cargo is safely stowed and we’re ready for departure.”

“Fantastic, thank you, Trell. The girl, in the pale blue. Was she helpful?”

“Very. I couldn’t have done it without her. Everyone here speaks a mixture of Chinese and English and she was brilliant with them as well as keeping track of what went where.”

“I’m thinking of hiring her,” he said, not mentioning her current slave status.

“A brilliant idea, captain.” The enthusiastic crew member beamed and bounced on the spot, as she often did when she was excited.

With the extra boost of confidence from one of his own trusted crew Dylan’s uneasiness at buying the slave reduced enough for him to act, and he hurried over to her before she could leave.

“Hello, sir,” she said to cover her surprise.

“Hello…”

“Auraylia, sir.”

“I’m assuming you’re still for sale, Auraylia?” She nodded her head and the edges of her lips twitched up in a barely restrained smile. “And you still want to see space?”

Again her head bobbed up and down vigorously.

“How much will you cost?”

“Well, my highest offer so far was nine hundred credits, but I’m advertised at fifteen hundred.” Dylan winced at her words. The price was significantly higher than he’d expected when she’d said she was cheap. Her beauty must play a large part in her cost and if he paid her asking price it would almost entirely wipe out his savings.

At his hesitation she lowered her eyes again.

“It’s too much isn’t it?” she said, barely loud enough for him to hear.

“Your asking price is higher than I expected.”

Instantly her head bobbed back up again, another gleam of hope on her face.

“Oh, you won’t have to pay that much. If you haggled you could easily get me for closer to a thousand.”

“All right then. If you’re sure I can get you cheaper. Let’s go see your owner.”

Chains Of Freedom: Excerpt

Here’s the opening approx 1k of book 2, Chains Of Freedom, enjoy.

 

Kaihaitu Huatare lay on her back in the long grass, staring up at the star filled sky. It would not be long until dawn and another day but she had not slept yet. She had so much to think about that even when she closed her eyes her brain carried on as if she was wide awake.

Eventually Kaihaitu stood up. She could not sleep now. Her village would arise soon and as their leader she could not let them see her troubled.

“Hehu, Matiu,” she called into the surroundings. Two small rustles in the grass came towards her and then two capuchin monkeys bounded out and chattered excitedly at her as they clambered up onto her shoulders. She straightened her clothes where their hands and feet had pulled them about in their scurry to their current positions.

Kai dressed simply, in clothes made from animal pelts. The brown leather complemented the creamy colour of her skin and was all that she wore except for a belt with a knife and small pouch.

Standing for a moment, she looked towards the brightening sky to the east, reluctant to head back to the village and her responsibilities. With a sigh she picked up the bow and arrows on the ground near where she had been laying. Hehu and Matiu chattered indignantly at this as they had to hang onto her shoulders tightly so they did not fall off. She ignored them, knowing they were perfectly fine and started the trek back home from her refuge.

The sun had just started to show her face when she arrived back to the huts of mud, stone and grass that made up the tribes home. Several of the people were already up and fetched her some fruit from a basket sitting out in the open.

After saying thank you to the older woman and asking her how she was, Kai handed both monkeys one of the small fruits. They stopped their excited speech to eat breakfast. The silence was a relief to her and she thoughtfully munched on some more of the fruits as she walked through the rest of the village.

No one else talked to her until she reached a small wooden outpost, built overlooking the east side of the village and the valley stretching to the nearest beach. She relieved the night sentry of duty and climbed the rope to the wooden platform.

For a few minutes the young male that she had replaced stayed with her. He filled her in on the happenings of his watch. He was new to this as was almost the entire tribe.

They had only needed to place people on guard duty since they had fought with the redcoats. Before then their village had been peaceful.

The male villager due to take his watch after her, Henare, disturbed her from her thoughts. She frowned when she saw him. He was early, he was also annoying.

To be fair to Henare, Kai did like him and he was a very respected member of her tribe but he kept following her around and fussing over her. Now she was the leader of the tribe she was considered to be ready for marriage by the majority of the village. Although she had several winters more than the fifteen that they normally expected, she did not agree.

He, however, seemed to think that not only was she ready to be married but that he was the perfect match for her. If she wanted a man who could build her a sturdy house with good furniture and keep her well fed, she would have been pleased. She wished for someone different entirely, even if she did not know who she wanted yet, he was definitely not it.

Henare was everything her mother thought a good husband should be, strong, yet protective and caring to Kai, and although what he lacked in intelligence he made up for by working hard. He also had a certain rugged appeal to his looks. There was something missing she could not define, however.

She pretended she had not noticed him until his head appeared above the level of the wooden platform she stood on.

“Good morning Kai, your mother said you had only had some fruit for breakfast this morning so I thought I would bring you some food and drink and keep you company until my watch,” he told her.

“Thank you Henare,” she replied as Hehu and Matiu scampered off her shoulders and up into the tree nearby. They did not seem to like Henare and always ran off when he turned up. This alone would be enough to stop her from entertaining the thought of having him as her husband. Hehu and Matiu were always with her and were much more important to her than having a partner was.

“You look tired, you did not sleep again last night?” Henare asked.

“No, I was busy.”

“Busy doing what?”

“Just busy… I had some things to think about,” she replied, not wanting to explain.

“Anything I can help with?”

“Not really… Actually there is something you could do for me,” Kai smiled, thinking of a way to get him to go away, “my mother needed help with her roof, it’s leaking in one corner.”

“Oh that, I fixed it already,” he said, looking very pleased with himself.

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome. I am sure it was not that which kept you awake all night, however.”

“No it was not.”

Kai lifted her hand up, stopping him from replying. She had heard something in the distance, away from the village and listened and looked intently up ahead. He knew better than to say anything.

For a few minutes they only sound that could be heard was the rustling in the nearby tree as Hehu and Matiu moved about. She then saw two redcoat men slowly creeping through the undergrowth. They had not noticed Kai and Henare watching them as they were obviously hunting something.

Suddenly one of them raised his gun and fired, narrowly missing Hehu. Kai instantly yelled out. Hehu and Matiu both ran down the tree towards her as she climbed down from the look-out post.

Another shot rang out and Hehu squealed and then stopped moving. She called out again as the two redcoats started to jog over. She picked up the motionless monkey as Matiu ran up onto her shoulder and tried to burrow into her neck, scared.

Learning To Fly: Revamped

I’ve been given the honour of putting two of my short stories forward for a collaboration of shorts by me and two other authors. The genre is going to be fantasy so I thought I’d revamp one of my favourites Learning to Fly, I added some stuff, named my characters and here is the next draft. It may well get drafted again but for now I like it. Enjoy!

 

“Oi, dirt-sniffer, get out of bed.”

Liza groaned and rolled over. It was only dawn and she had not managed to get to bed until long after sun down.

“Come on. Your mother needs your help. I’ve got a visitor for our evening meal today.” Liza’s father, Nathaniel, banged his fist on the edge of her bed.

“For the third time this week?” Liza threw back her covers and stood up, being careful not to catch and tangle her wings.

“Yes, for the third time this week. Believe me, I am as fed up as you with all these fancy meals just to get you taken off my hands. With you being a dirt-sniffer you’re not making it easy.”

“I don’t want to be forced to marry some idiot you bring over for food just because you deem it necessary.”

Nathaniel lifted his hand and flung it backwards across Liza’s face. She reeled back onto the bed behind her.

“You will be on your best behaviour this evening, is that clear?”

She nodded as she felt her cheek. She had bitten her tongue with the shock at the back hander but she knew she had got off lightly. There would be no bruise. Satisfied, Nathaniel left the room.

At twenty-six Liza was well past the age Nepharil females normally married. Her father was still trying to find her a suitor. Two days before he had invited a seasoned warrior to dine with the family. She had poured hot cocaya in his lap when he had asked her father if a hundred felkin would be acceptable as a wedding payment.

A hundred felkin was not even a days wages. And to add further insult the Nepharil had already married five women. He had boasted of the beauty of one in particular all evening to her.

The beating her father had given her had been worth it. She knew that the only reason she did not suffer more from her father’s anger was because the only two things she had left to promote herself as a good wife was her looks and her ability to cook.

Knowing, that her two brothers would soon be up to torment her further Liza stopped thinking over the past and pulled her clothes on. She then brushed her hair and neatened the few feathers in her wings that had been knocked astray while she slept.

Hearing her brothers call to her mother downstairs stopped Liza from continuing her preening and sent her running downstairs. Joseph was her eldest brother and he often came to join them from the bachelor house for breakfast as well as meeting his younger brother, Stewart, for training. Liza was the youngest of the three.

As soon as she entered the kitchen her brothers and father started demanding her to serve them. Her mother was already at the stove, cooking. She had made a mix of wheat flour, milk and eggs to fry into soft cakes, Nathaniel’s favourite.

The three male Nepharil did nothing but sat at the table and talked idly of their work. Nathaniel and Joseph both worked as soldiers and Stewart was in training to be one.

Liza had just served all three drinks when her uncle, Christopher arrived. Christopher’s wife had died in childbirth, taking their child with her. Christopher, therefore, joined them for all their meals.

Christopher would often request of Nathaniel the use of Liza to help in his own house and, of course, her father would not refuse. It was one of very few things that had discouraged the drop in offers for her. Liza would do Christopher’s housework but he would always make sure that they had time for at least a small lesson in wing strength or positioning or anything else he thought would help her to learn to fly. Unknown to any one else he had not given up trying to teach her to fly.

As always Nathaniel ribbed Christopher for having no female of his own. For some reason this caused Joseph to pipe up and suggest that his uncle purchase a female elf slave to do his housework for him. Suddenly all three males decided this was exactly what Christopher needed.

Christopher could not get them to leave him alone about the idea until he promised to look into it. Liza sighed, though it went unheard. It was a shame that no one else in her family could respect that her uncle had actually cared about his wife and did not wish to just replace her.

Changing the subject, Christopher asked if he could borrow Liza for an hour or two just before lunch. His excuse was an errand in the marketplace but she smirked when she heard this. She had already done the task for him the day before when she had gone to the town for her own family.

It could only mean that Christopher wanted to actually spend time with Liza on a flying lesson of some kind. Her heart beat faster in excitement. She lived solely for the lessons with her uncle and the hope that one day she would no longer be deserving of the insult dirt-sniffer.

Liza could hardly concentrate over breakfast and got yelled at several times by her father for getting something wrong or not being quick enough. She managed to get through the meal and Nathaniel, Joseph and Stewart left. Christopher then gave her instructions of where to go in the marketplace and said goodbye as well.

After checking what time her mother would need her back to help with the chores and grabbing some fruit to eat Liza rushed off out of their tree-top house and climbed down the rope they had to have tied for her. The market was two miles away and up hill all the way, but Liza was too excited about getting there to care how difficult the journey was.

If she had been able to fly it would have taken her less than ten minutes to fly up the rest of the mountain to the Nepharil town near the top but she could not. Instead it took her forty minutes and she was breathing heavily by the time she could even see her destination up ahead.

Christopher appeared by her side, landing just a few feet away, before she reached the outer walls of the town. He smiled at her and she tried to smile too while she got her breath back.

“You were sooner than I thought you’d be,” Christopher said.

“I did not want to keep you waiting. You take a great risk”

“Every Nepharil should have the right to keep trying,” Christopher frowned, “follow me. I do not know how long this will take.”

Liza knew better than to ask questions. Christopher seemed to know exactly what to do to teach her the next thing she needed to know and she suspected that he had taught Helen, his wife, how to fly after she had been given up on and labelled a non flier.

Christopher led Liza up the mountain even further and away from both her home and the town. Liza had never been this way before and had no idea where they were going, but any excitement she would normally have felt at going on an adventure with her uncle was stolen by the coldness of the fog that wrapped itself around them.

After half an hour of silence and regimented marching Christopher stopped. The two of them stood on the top of a cliff. The fog made the edge hard to see but Liza could just make out enough when the wind gusted and pulled the vapour out of the way.

“Here we are, today you fly.” Christopher looked at her. He had a smirk on his face. Liza gulped. She had not expected him to actually tell her she was meant to fly. She did not think she was ready.

“I want you to jump off the cliff. I’ll come with you.”

“You want me to what?”

“Jump off. You know how to move your wings right and have enough strength in them. At worst if you don’t manage to fly I’ll be there to catch you before you hit the bottom.”

Liza knew Christopher well enough that if she didn’t at least attempt his instructions he would threaten to stop teaching her. Taking a deep breath she turned towards the edge of the cliff.

She stood completely still, her teacher equally still beside her, both of them wrapped in mist. The feathers on the ends of her wings fluttered gently in the wind as she stood watching, hoping to get a glimpse of the land beyond. Slowly she took a step closer to the edge, stretched her wings outwards, and took another deep breath in.

Standing still again, waiting, she watched the fog swirl. This time she was rewarded for her patience by a brief glimpse of what was beyond the precipice. There was not enough time to see exactly what was there but enough to make her take another small step forwards.

Christopher, eager to continue, walked right to the edge and as he did the mist parted again, allowing her to see the drop from the cliff and the valley below. It was amazing and unlike anything she had ever seen before, lush green fields and a deep blue winding river.

Encouraged by what she saw she took the final step towards the edge of the cliff and hesitated once again. The white vapour closed in around her, thicker than before, as if it thought she had seen enough and did not want to tempt her further.

For a long time she did nothing but shake gently with fear. All the shock flying tactics the other Nepharil males had put her through flashed into her head. None of their ideas had worked and she was not sure now would be any different.

After a lengthy pause Liza’s nerves got the better of her and she took a step backwards. Christopher immediately turned to her.

“You can do this. Trust me,” he said. She looked away

“I’m not sure I can.”

“I would not ask you to do this if you could not.”

She nodded in response and stepped back to the edge. She held her breath, spread her wings and jumped. He followed and for a moment the two of them plummeted towards the ground below still enveloped in fog.

After what seemed an age to her she snapped out of her panic and used her wings to soar in the wind. She moved her wings up and down matching the rhythmic beat of her heart, just how he had taught her to.

Within seconds Liza was climbing, her teacher still beside her. She let out a laugh of joy as she rose back to her previous height and then higher still. The two of them flew and danced around each other, enjoying simply being there together, until she noticed that the wind had picked up and finally cleared the mist away.

Without hesitating she flew down and landed amongst the trees and flowers below. Her teacher was not far behind and faced her as he landed. It was obvious that he was as exhilarated as she was by her first flight. They smiled at each other, sharing the moment, before her grin broadened and she enquired.

“What’s next?”

Christopher laughed and Liza could not help but join in, exhilarated with the freedom she now felt. Both of them were standing with bright eyes and their heads a little higher than normal. They had been working away for years, building the strength into Liza’s wings so she could fly. Many times Liza had considered giving up, now they had achieved their goal.

She had flown.

“We had better get back to your home. We have already been gone well over an hour. Your mother will need you.” Liza nodded at her uncle’s wisdom. “I suggest you do not let your father know until after tonight’s meal.”

She bobbed her head up and down again. Christopher then took off into the sky and hovered, waiting for her to follow. She frowned as she stretched out her wings again. Flying from stationary was not going to be as easy as flying from the fall.

With a few exaggerated down flaps she managed to lift off the ground, only to find herself standing a few moments later.

“Just a little more.” Christopher encouraged her. He flew a little closer, just in case.

Liza frowned and concentrated on how it felt when she had begun flying the first time. After a brief pause, where nothing happened at all, she lifted off the ground and flew upwards.

They flew together in circles and twirls as she tested her new found powers to their limits, soaring on currents and then diving, to stretch out her wings and level off before hovering inches off the ground.

Christopher led her back to the cliff they had jumped off and then they flew together, low to the ground, back in the direction of the town.

When they were about half way back they landed to walk the rest of the way. Keeping Liza’s successful flying a secret would not work if she was seen in flight and, although she did not vocalise it, her wings were now very tired. Her wing joints ached with the exertion. She hoped it got easier with practice and use.

Christopher left Liza where they had met, after a brief hug, and she headed home. It was almost two hours since she had left the house and she knew her mother would need her back soon.

Her uncle’s warning not to let anyone know she could fly was still at the top of her thoughts so she walked, with a slight bounce, back to her house. Facing another dinner with men only there to try and buy her hand in marriage did not seem too hard to face with the knowledge she was no longer a dirt-sniffer.

 

With Proud Humility: Excerpt

As the date for this book being available in print is drawing near I thought I’d share an excerpt from Chapter 10 of the book.

 

Marie was left alone for many minutes before she heard the door scrape open and the footsteps of two people walking in. She also thought she heard the sound of a chair being moved and then someone sitting down on it. The second set of footsteps seemed to walk out again, leaving her alone with the first.

Whoever was now in the room with Marie seemed content to sit and watch her for several moments as she shivered in front of them. They were evidently satisfied with their position of control over her and were taking their time.

Marie was eager to ask them who they thought they were but her gag prevented anything but a muffled noise being heard. It seemed enough to stir her captor to their feet again though.

They came towards Marie who tried to pull back as they got closer. They then kneeled in front of her and removed her gag.

“Do you know who I am?” Marie immediately said, trying to sound stern, despite her fear.

There was a pause as her captor took their time about answering, making Marie think she had been ignored. She was about to speak again when they leaned in close so their mouth was right by her ear.

“I know exactly who you are,” he whispered and then kissed her on the cheek.

Marie could not reply. She knew who he was as well. Her chest began to ache as she realised the last week with Hayes had been nothing but an act. Marie choked back her tears, wishing to remain calm and not allow Hayes to see the effect this revelation was having on her.

There was silence for some time as Marie did not trust herself to say anything without betraying the wave of emotions that now coursed through her. All she did was kneel, shivering and fighting with the overwhelming desire to let her feelings out.

Captain Hayes continued to kneel in front of Marie while all this went on inside her. Despite her attempts to hide her emotions he could see the turmoil. He took off his jacket and, as he had done the day they first met, he draped it around her shoulders.

“For the cold,” Hayes explained. He then took off her blindfold as well. He did not get up though and stayed kneeling on her level.

“Are you going to hand me over to Vane?” she eventually managed to compose herself enough to ask. Hayes laughed at her.

“Why would I do that? The information you know is worth far more than the price Vane has placed on you.”

Marie looked away from Hayes again, still struggling to keep herself composed. Hayes knew a lot more than he had let on, so Marie waited for him to continue.

“I knew something was not right the first time you were on my ship and I have spent the last few weeks finding out everything I could about you and Vane. There are some very colourful stories, I must say.”

Hayes got up and returned to his seat in front of her. Marie looked at him again, the distance between them helping to compose her. Once he had her attention he pulled a folded piece of paper out of a shirt pocket. Marie understood straight away and exclaimed.

“How did you get the map?”

“Never you mind that. I have it and Vane does not. Where is the island?” Hayes replied.

“I am not going to tell you that! How can you possibly believe that I would ever consider telling you what I know after the way you have treated me?”

“You will tell me because you are not going anywhere until you do.”

“I have spent the last ten years not telling Vane, what makes you think I will tell you now?” Marie said confidently. She was not afraid of Hayes. He liked money but he was not like Vane. He was humane at least.

Hayes put the map away again before getting up and leaving Marie. He locked the door from the other side as he left. Marie assumed he was going to let hunger and thirst try to persuade her to talk.

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