Monday, December 29, 2014

A Short Story Challenge for the New Year

Last year on New Years Eve, I was hanging out with some friends online, and we decided to write one last story of 2013. And so we did. It was rather fun.

This year, we've decided to do it again, and this time we invite you to join us! The goal will essentially be to write a story (preferably on New Years Eve/New Years Day), edit minimally, and publish it online in 24 hours. (If you have a blog, you can publish it there. If you don't have a blog, my friend Liam, the mastermind behind this challenge, has worked out a way for you to publish it online a different way. See his post for details).

And before you start to protest that 24 hours is not enough time to write anything good, the clock only starts ticking when you write the first word. You can spend as much time as you want planning before you put fingers to keyboard.

Now that you've read my spiel, go read Liam's post, because it has all the details and rules and such you need to know. 

Last year we had a lot of fun doing this. I think of the three of us, I was the last one to finish writing my story, stopping sometime around 1:30AM on January first. It was awesome.

What happened to my short story, you ask? Over the next couple of days I marked it up with a whole bunch of editing notes, and I haven't touched it since. So, right now it's at the "edited minimally" stage mentioned above. And since it is and is therefore an example, I'm going to share it with you! The prompt I chose was: "I have coated my left hand in magical ink" (prompt from the Writing Excuses archives.)


    I have coated my left hand with magical ink. There is nothing normal about this ink. It glitters like tears, feels colder than harsh words, yet burns like rage. It smells of fear, and tastes like the most wonderful thing in the world.
Yes, I tasted it. Not on purpose, mind you. Some of it splashed on my lip, and my automatic response was to lick it. Not one of my brighter moments, I admit.
But, there’s always the chance that it won’t matter in the end.
I draw sloppy designs on my right arm. Now the ink burns more like passion than rage, but it feels slippery, like lies. It’s amazing. And as I revel in it, it begins to smell like wonder. I did not know that wonder had a smell. Apparently, it does.
The written word has always called to me. Black lines on white paper will forever be one of my favorite sights. I suppose that’s why I became a scribe. Now, as I drip more ink on myself, stirring a giant pot of the stuff with my fingers, that call becomes louder, until I can almost feel a buzz between my ears. What used to be fascination has turned into siren’s song.
The door bangs open, and I turn around quick, the ink on my arms mimicking the slicing feeling of surprised fear in my stomach.
Linwood stands in the doorway, just staring at me.
I let out a string of curses. I imagine that if I were to taste the ink now, it would taste like toilet water, or something equally disgusting.
“You betray me like this?” Linwood asks, taking off his top hat and holding the already crumpled rim in a death grip. “After all I have done for you. All I have taught you.”
Ha. Always so sure of himself and his “accomplishments.” “Yes. What can I say? You should have hired someone loyal as your second in command, not someone smart.” The ink smells like fear again, and the burn cools to something more like defiance.
Linwood’s face remains emotionless. “And I suppose you know how to use the ink and wield its powers. Tell me, when did you study it? Hmm? You fool. It has taken me three years to learn the secrets of the ink, and no one has seen my notes. You cannot possibly hope to control it.”
“What makes you so sure of that? I’m a scribe. I translated your notes. I may not have seen all of them, but I’m no ignorant lass when it comes to the subject of magic. And I’m very good at puzzles. Perhaps I will be a better master of the ink that you would have been.” I bring my left hand out of the pot of ink and let it drip to the floor, imagining it is blood.
I always did have a morbid imagination.
Horror etches itself on Linwood’s face. Horror is not a very good look for him. It’s as though a sculptor took a chisel to a block of paper instead of stone. “You’re wasting the ink.”
I look down at the drops. “I suppose I am. Good thing there’s plenty more where that came from.”
“What’s your plan? Kill me and take my notes and dreams for your own?”
I simply smile.
“And you think you can get away with this?”
My smile widens. The ink on my hands and arms grows slimier, and the scent changes to something more along the lines of… Knowledge? Deceit? Satisfaction? “My dear professor, I know I can.”
The ink warms to euphoria. It tingles.
So many emotions and memories held captive by what looked like nothing more than a simple writing medium.
But ink is used to make words. Words charged with hate and fear and longing and hope and sarcasm and slyness and love and humor and boredom and dozens of other emotions I can feel coursing through my veins.
Words, especially written words, have power.
Linwood had been clever, I have to give him that. It had been a brilliant plan: Set up as a reading and writing tutor, let the students use the magic ink to write whatever they wanted, encourage them to use his ink and pens, and collect the left over ink in a giant pot. I think it must have taken him at least three years to collect this much.
“How do you plan on making the converter without me?” Linwood said, drawing a bit closer. “You aren’t an inventor or engineer. You don’t know how to convert the ink. Without me and my inventions, you’ll never be able to take the power for yourself.”
I smile again. “Ink isn’t meant to control things.”
His eyebrows sink to meet in between his eyes. “Come again?”
“What you planned. It isn’t what ink is for.”
That doesn’t seem to have remedied his confusion. His eyes grow wide and fly to the picture on the wall of a sheep paddock. So that’s where his safe is. “You haven’t taken my plans, have you? Do you have someone else to create the machine for you?”
“I told you. This isn’t what ink is meant to do.” I smear the drips on the floor with my foot, sweeping them into a long, flat arch. “Ink is meant to be a comfort. An escape. A means of discussion. Whatever one needs it to be.”
Poor Professor Linwood still looks confused. “Ink controls emotions. That is where it gets its powers.”
“You do have a point, I will admit it. Ink does affect emotion. But it is not meant to control it. Not in the way you intend to. Ink is used for all manner of evil deeds. Blackmail, bribery, terms and conditions. But it was never meant to control minds and make slaves.”
Shock replaces confusion on his poor visage. I’ve enticed quite a few emotions it isn’t used to out of it tonight. “You knew more than I thought.”
“As I said, you should have hired someone loyal, not someone smart. And above all, you should not have hired someone with a love of the written word.”
With that, I kick the giant pot of ink over, letting the magical substance roll across the floor in a black flood.
Linwood jumps back and climbs atop a bench. No doubt he doesn’t want to get his shoes dirty.
“You would squander all that power? I thought you were—”
“No. I had no intention of completing your plans. I came to foil them.”
The ink on my arms is drying. The sensations I’d felt before are fading. It doesn’t burn, it isn’t so slimy. I wade through the sea of ink to the bench where he perches, trying not to slip in my bare feet.
“Look at what I’ve done. I’ve stopped you. Me, a simple scribe. You were clever, but not clever enough. Your plans always fail.”
What I am doing is mean, and I know it. I don’t like it, either, but I have to do it.
I see the anguish in his eyes. It’s working.
“How many years of plans have I ruined in just a few minutes of sabotage? It must be killing you.”
“You fiend. You’ll pay for this.” His eyes grow shiny.
I take a deep breath. This is it. “Oh, but you’ll never catch me, I’m too clever.” A blatant lie. Cleverness has nothing to do with it. “I’ve stolen your dreams from you.”
One tear forms on his cheek.
Don’t wipe it away, don’t wipe it away….
His arm goes up. Before I can think about what I’m doing, I reach out and leave a dark handprint on one pant leg. With my other hand, I steal the tear, and plunge it into the sea of ink.
The ink seems to freeze and become a gel for a moment, and then flows again. This time thinner, cold. No magic left. Just a simple writing medium, slowly soaking into the now-ruined rug.
Before Linwood can gather his thoughts, I bolt from the room.

There you have it. There are still big problems with this story (the magic system is inconsistent and vague, the end feels wrong, Linwood is a wuss...), but I love the character voice that emerged. Someday I will fix it and polish it up.

I haven't figured out what I'm going to do this year, yet, but I've got a list of plot bunnies going. Right now the top choices are "noir with dragons" and "girl with living gargoyle as a pet." We'll see what happens.

Hope to see you in the challenge!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Things Left Unsaid

 My friend Liam recently posted about the things characters leave unsaid on his blog, This Page Intentionally Left Blank. It's a really fascinating topic, so I've written a follow-up post.

People leave things unsaid all the time. Greg never tells Harriet he loves her. George never finds the courage to thank Charles for believing in his nutty dreams. Sandra tries to be a people pleaser and never tells Patty that Patty's whining drives her crazy. Mike never tells his wife that her cooking really is as terrible as she thinks it is. These things left unsaid, while not outright lies, will still influence who a character is and how they react to their situation.

There are lots of reasons for leaving things unsaid. A lack of courage. A fear that saying it will change things forever. A desire not to be seen as someone who complains. To illustrate I'm going to expound on those examples. 

First, we have Will. Will works for a mob boss. Will has no interest in making the boss mad and paying for it in blood. However, one day Will sees that there might be a better way of interrogating prisoners. He wants to bring this up to the mob boss, but he doesn't want to challenge the boss lest the boss see the suggestion as uppity and disrespectful. As a result, Will will be even more aware of how the boss reacts to Will's actions. He'll be thinking about ways he could make the suggestion that won't provoke violence. He'll be having nightmares about what will happen if it did. He may be trying to get on the boss's good side even more than usual.

Second, we have Roland. Roland is in love with Maria, whom he has been friends with for years. He wants to tell her he loves her, but is afraid that if he admits his love for her, it'll ruin their friendship. As a result, romantic stories and such make him a little uncomfortable, because they remind him of the secret he keeps locked up. Going somewhere alone with her makes him nervous. Maria and her friends notice these things.

Third, Claudia works for a man who loses his temper a lot. He's a nice guy, but he has no emotional self control. Claudia sees that some things could go a lot smoother if he just learned to keep a cool head. She wants to say something, but she also wants to be the good employee, and fears that talking to him would ignite his temper and get her fired. So, as the weeks pass and she doesn't say anything, she starts to get frustrated. Things could be so much better if he just made a few small adjustments. She works hard to control her temper, why can't he do the same? Her frustration keeps building and building, but she never says anything because she wants to keep her job. It stresses her out, so she starts taking kickboxing classes to burn off her frustration.

See how this works?

In some cases, leaving something unsaid may be directly related to bottling up emotions, which could result in an emotional explosion. For example, perhaps one day Claudia's boss does something that really ticks her off, and she can't control her frustration anymore and so she starts yelling and screaming at him.

Also, as Liam pointed out in his post, if the other characters see how one character is acting but don't know what that character isn't saying, they may make assumptions that aren't true, or they may have things they themselves aren't saying, and this will affect how the characters interact.

So, let's look at those examples from the other side.

The mob boss knows something's up with Will. Will's been acting weird. He doesn't want to say anything because he wants to see if he can figure out what's going on. But he has a growing suspicion that Will is an undercover cop who's trying to expose a great big drug trade that's about to go down. (In reality, Will is not a cop and has no idea about the drug trade.) So boss starts to plan how to deal with this.

Maria is also in love with Roland, and she's just as afraid of ruining their friendship as he is. But she sees his discomfort with all things romantic, and thinks it's because he's figured out she's in love with him, and he isn't in love with her. This depresses her.

Claudia's boss gets really annoyed at stupid people, and thinks the best way to deal with them is to let them know how stupid they are and how their stupidity causes problems. He also knows that he's screwed up with his temper before, and he's incredibly grateful to Claudia for keeping a cool head when he couldn't. But he can't tell her that because if he did he'd be admitting he has anger management issues and he's afraid that would make him look just as stupid as the people who trigger his temper.

And because character is inextricably intertwined with plot, all of this affects plot too.

The mob boss decides to make a deal with the police by holding Will hostage and saying he'll hand over Will if the cops back off, still laboring under the misapprehension that Will is a cop. If the cops don't back off, Will dies. When the big day of the drug trade dawns and the cops are there with guns pointed, the mob boss pitches his deal and the cops say "He's not one of ours." The mob boss is confused, Will is freaking out, and the police are trying to figure out what's going on.

Roland and Maria grow apart over the course of a couple months, both of them too wrapped up in their own interpretation of the situation to realize there's more to it than they think. Then Roland is in a car crash. He gets pretty banged up, but lives. Maria rushes to the hospital in tears. When she gets there, Roland is asleep. She starts sobbing, freaked out by the fact that she nearly lost him when they weren't on the best of terms and when she hadn't confessed her true feelings. She starts blubbering despite the fact that he's still sleeping, and he wakes up in time to hear her say "I love you."

Claudia and her boss argue. Her frustration erupts in a volcano of her opinions of his behavior, and the resulting ash cloud ignites his temper, this time as a defense mechanism (and because it's his default emotion when he gets upset.) But in this outburst of hasty words, Claudia mentions something about how her boss nearly screwed up a certain business transaction. As her boss takes a breath to shout something back at her, he realizes that what she says doesn't make sense with what he knows, and that if it went down the way she said it did (as angry as he is, he still trusts her) the other people involved in that transaction are the ones who have been skimming off company profits. When they confront the thieves, Claudia's newly acquired kickboxing skills come in very handy.

Pretty cool, huh? There are a whole bunch of ways one can play with this, both in regard to character and plot. Obviously it may not apply to every character in every story (I actually had a hard time finding something my MC leaves unsaid), but it can be lots of fun in the stories where it works.

Now that you've read this post, go read Liam's. He talks about several other cool things I didn't touch on here, like how stereotypes and how characters want to be seen fits into all of this. It's pretty sweet.

What are your thoughts on this concept?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Blogiversary and TCWT! December Blog Chain

Today is my 3rd blogaversary! That's right, I've been blogging for three years. For some reason that feels like a long time.

It's also my 19th birthday, which means I'm now the same age as the MC of Noxumbra. I think this is rather cool.

To celebrate, I have a TCWT! blog chain post. It's been a long time since I participated in a TCWT! blog chain, and I'm glad to be doing one again. This month's prompt is:

“What works of fiction have taught you by example, and what did they teach you?”

When I suggested this prompt to John, I meant "what have books taught you about writing" but as a few of the other blog chain participants have pointed out, it's rather vague, and so there have been several FANTASTIC posts about what books have taught life lessons. Yay for different prompt interpretations! I'll be focusing on books that have taught me about writing.
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
These books are amazing for many reasons. The characters are great, the plot twists are mind-blowing. The first book taught me about character arcs, and showed me how a character can change over the course of a novel. I understood the idea that characters should change during a story, but watching Vin change throughout the course of this book really cemented it in my head. 

Also, the magic system was very cool and taught me about how magic systems can work. 

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
HER DESCRIPTIONS, DUDE. MAGICAL. Again, these books had great characters and plot twist, but what I took away from them was the descriptions. Stiefvater chooses just the right things to describe. Not the basics like eye color and hair color and a weirdly shaped birthmark. She picked things like the smell of gasoline and mint (she used smell a lot, actually, which worked stupendously), the canvas trees and nine pairs of scissors in Blue's room, the high ceilings and marks left by big machinery in Monmouth Manufacturing. She picked details that brought the scene to life. 

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
I finished this book on Sunday night, so I'm still reeling a bit from the ending, but one thing that I noticed she did really well was the characters' internal conflict. Everyone in this book was conflicted about something or fighting inner demons, and it was done in a way that made the characters seem very human and relatable, and made the overall character arcs awesome. 

Also, there were several viewpoint characters who all interpreted the situation differently, and had different ideas about what would happen, and how that would be good and bad. That was awesome. It made each character his/her own person, and let the reader see several different opinions on what was happening.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Admittedly, I haven't finished reading the book, but I've seen the miniseries based on it a few times. What I learned from this one is that you can create a giant web of connections between characters and it makes for really cool story development. Now, it would probably be very easy to create a web that confuses the reader, but done right it's wonderful. 

I think that's all for this post. A merry Christmas to you all! 

Be sure to check out the rest of the blog chain: 
25th – [off-day]
31st – (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Short(ish) Story: The Least Romantic Way to Meet a Spouse Ever.

Good evening, friends!

First, I've been lousy at posting regularly. Sorry 'bout that. And alas I cannot promise that I will resume posting with semi-regularity anytime soon because life.

BUT. In the meantime, I have a short(ish -- about 3k words) story to share!

A few weeks back, I was working on revisions and realized I needed to know more about my MC's mom. This short story was meant to help me figure her out, and it totally worked. The story is about how my MC's parents met. Like the title of this post says, it is the least romantic way to meet a future spouse EVER. Which just made it all the more fun to write.

So, without further ado, here 'tis! It's a bit rough, but hopefully enjoyable nonetheless.


The last conscious customer walked out, and Milena promptly shut the door behind him. “Any sleepers?” She called.
Ald grunted, limping to the kitchen with a tray of mostly empty flagons. “Just one. Back corner. No friends to carry him out.”
Oh dear. Usually the sleepers had drunk themselves silly in some stupid competition, and therefore had at least one mostly-sane friend to haul them away. But if the sleeper was alone, then she’d have to take care of him.
She locked the door and went to the back corner, where a table had been shoved against one wall with a few chairs looking like they might belong to it. Lots of things happened in the back corner. Men came in and lost fortunes in the back corner. Others made fortunes. Others drank themselves silly. One group of men and women came in once in a while and always sat there. A guild of some sort, Milena guessed, though possibly not one that dealt in legal activity.
But tonight, only one man was there, slumped against the wall, eyes closed, mouth open. A small puddle of drool stained the shoulder of his dark blue suit black. A shame, really. It was probably the best item of clothing that had come in here in the last five years. Was he a noble? The clothing said so, but nobles didn’t come into places like this. At least not nobles who had any sense or money.
Most of the chairs at the table had been dragged away to others, so he hadn’t come in with any friends. Or if he had, they’d left without him.
Milena picked up the glass that had fallen from his hand. Empty, luckily, so no sticky puddle gleamed beneath the table. Milena knocked his foot with hers. “Come on, it’s closing time. You have to leave.”
He snored.
Milena sighed. She kicked again. “Wake up, mister. Time to go.”
He didn’t move.
Milena gently slapped his face with the back of her hand.
He took a deep breath…
And let it out again, still not moving.
Milena glared at him. “Ald! He won’t wake. What should I do with him?”
The sound of Ald’s wooden leg thumping on the kitchen floor preceded his head coming around the door way. “He have anything says who he is?”
Milena stood there for a minute, staring at the sleeper, then went around the table and sat on a chair next to him.
“Generally easier to find things if you put your hand in his pockets,” Ald said.
“Aye, aye, I know.” There was something about going through a sleeper’s clothes. Something that made Milena’s skin crawl. You never knew where they had been, how dirty they were, what nasty thing you might find in a pocket.
But maybe this noble would be different. This truly was a nice suit. Maybe the sleeper kept it nice.
Still, going through someone’s clothes while they were asleep…it wasn’t quite right.
But it had to be done.
Milena flipped his coat open and stuck a hand in his breast pocket. Nothing. She looked in the other side. There were a few coins, and a small book. Milena picked this out and looked at the inside cover. “Property of Farold Copperstone of Noxumbra,” she read. “Where’s Noxumbra?”
“South. Day’s ride,” Ald said, putting more flagons on a tray. “Small trading village.”
“What are you doing in Plarn, Mr. Copperstone?” Milena asked. He, shockingly, did not respond. “Whatever it is, it can’t involve you spending the night here.”
“Milena,” Ald said from across the room. Milena looked up to see him standing behind the bar, holding up two travelling bags. “Says Copperstone on them.”
Milena looked back at Farold Copperstone. “He came for a stay, then. But why come here before taking his things to an inn?”
Ald grumbled something she didn’t catch. She’d guess that Mr. Copperstone had stopped for a quick drink to wash down the dust of travel, but no one who came in for a quick drink fell asleep. Or smelled as ripe as he did.
“Alley him,” Ald said. “Can’t stay here.”
Milena bit her lip. If this were any other drunk, and a summer’s night, she take him out to the alley next to the tavern. He’d be protected from the wind there, and hidden from sight. But it was the start of autumn, and this year autumn had announced its presence with a sudden drop in temperature and a sudden rise in wind.
And that suit was too good to ruin by setting it in the dirt of the street.
“My landlady has a spare room,” Milena said. She took the coins out of his pocket. “This’ll pay for it.”
Ald grunted. “You can take him, but you’ll do the hauling by yourself. Don’t forget those.” He nodded to the travelling bags on the bar as he headed back to the kitchen.
Milena sighed. This would be a trick. But she’d do it. Somehow. She cocked her head. “Can I use the wheelbarrow?”
Ald’s eyebrows went up, but he nodded.
After all the flagons had been cleared and washed, and the place had been swept for the night, Milena brought the wheelbarrow used for hauling barrels of ale to the kitchen. She dropped the traveling bags in first, then went to get the sleeper. She stood looking at him for a minute, then she grabbed him under the arms and hauled. His unconscious body lifted off the chair, but when his arms swung forward Milena lost her balance and nearly collapsed. The sleeper bonked his head on the table before she could right herself. “Sorry,” she mumbled. She shifted her grip so her arms were around his chest, and started walking backwards toward the kitchen. Holy Duo keep her from tripping. Once she got to the wheelbarrow, she backed him up to it and let him fall in. “You better be worth all this trouble tomorrow,” she said. “I expect a tip.”
The walk to her boarding house wasn’t long. A few people gave her funny looks as she trundled down the street with an unconscious man. Hopefully no constables would stop her to see if she was trying to kidnap Mr. Copperstone. Chances are they wouldn’t believe the truth.
The door opened as Milena reached the boarding house. Her landlady’s head came out. “What’s that?” She nodded to the wheelbarrow.
“Sleeper from the tavern. He’ll be spending the night in your spare room.”
The landlady raised an eyebrow. “Is that so? Why didn’t you leave him in the alley?”
“The suit was too nice.”
“If it’s on a drunk, who cares? No drunk is too good to spend the night in an alley.” She propped the door open with a rock. “Can he pay for the room?”
Milena held up the handful of coins she’d taken from his pocket. The landlady grabbed them and put them in her own pocket. “I’ll take this side.” Together, the two of them hauled Mr. Copperstone inside and laid him on the empty bed. Thank the Holy Duo his room was on the first floor. Milena put his bags next to the bed and closed the door.
“Thank you,” Milena said to her landlady. Before she could head up the stairs to her own room, the landlady held out one of the coins. “Here.”
Milena looked between her landlady and the coin in her hand. “What’s this for?”
“Because what you did was a good thing and I don’t trust that drunk to repay you for what you’ve done for him.”
Milena flashed a brief smile and took the coin.

The next morning, Milena heard groaning coming from the drunk’s room as she came down the stairs. She knocked on his door and peeked inside. He hadn’t sat up yet, nor were his eyes open, but one hand was pressed to his forehead.
“Morning,” she said.
He jerked up to face her, eyes wide. Then he closed them again, tight, and returned his hand to his head. “What the…” He peeked through his fingers. “Who are you?” He glanced around the room. “Where am I? Have I been kidnapped?”
Milena snorted. “No. You’re in a boarding house. You drunk yourself stupid last night and I brought you here.”
He closed his eyes again. “This boarding house… is it, um, reputable?”
Milena raised an eyebrow. “Perfectly. Nothing unseemly goes on.” At least that she was aware of.
His shoulders relaxed a little. He opened his eyes again and stared at the floor, as if it were hard to focus on it. After a minute, he brought his eyes to meet hers. He was a handsome fellow. Or he would have been, if he didn’t smell like a tavern and look like he’d had the night he’d had. “Who are you again?” he asked.
“My name is Milena. I work at the tavern you passed out in last night.”
He squinted his eyes. “I…I think I remember you.”
“I’m surprised you can remember anything, frankly.”
It was his turn to glare.
“Food!” Her landlady called from the other room.
Milena jerked her head in that direction. “The landlady makes a good breakfast, if you think you can stomach it.” That was assuming he could stand.
He nodded and pushed off the bed. His eyes unfocused and he swayed. Milena walked closer to put a hand on his arm. He jerked away and fell back on the bed.
“Let me help you into the other room,” Milena said. “If it’s the familiarity you’re afraid of, I assure you we were far more familiar last night.”
His eyes widened. Milena had never seen a man look more horrified. “I didn’t… approach you, did I?”
Milena couldn’t help it; she laughed. That look of horror on his face. Poor man. “No. You passed out and I dragged you to a wheelbarrow, at which point I brought you here, where me and my landlady unloaded and dragged you in this room.” She decided to take pity on him. “As far as I am aware, the only disreputable thing you did last night was drink far too much and shed the responsibility of your wellbeing onto a tavern wench.”
He let out a long breath, nodding as if he were reassuring himself. Then he stood again. This time he was more steady. Milena offered her hand, not touching him, but giving him the option of taking her assistance. He shook his head. Until he took the first step, whereupon he wobbled and grasped her hand hard.
“Steady on,” she said. “The dining room isn’t far.”
He swallowed and nodded.
The dining room was along the back of the building, with a long table with mismatched chairs in the middle. The other handful of lodgers were already seated and digging into porridge and cheap bacon.
“Ah, the sleeper awakes,” said the landlady. “I’m surprised you’re up so early. Come, have a seat.” She pulled out one of the chairs, and Milena guided Mr. Copperstone to it. He sagged into it and reached for the mug of hot tea in front of his place. He downed half of it in one gulp.
“If that’s the way you were drinking last night, it’s no wonder you went silly,” the landlady said. A couple of the other lodgers chuckled or nodded.
Mr. Copperstone’s face turned red. Whether from embarrassment or the hot tea, Milena wasn’t sure. “I owe you my gratitude for your hospitality,” he said.
Oh, he was definitely a noble.
He reached into his breast pocket. “How much do I owe you for…” he stopped as he pulled out the small book, eyebrows furrowed. “I had money…”
“We took it,” the landlady said.
Mr. Copperstone’s brow stayed furrowed, but now he looked more betrayed than confused.
The landlady shrugged his look off. “We had to make sure you wouldn’t leave us without paying.” She dropped the handful of coins on the table.
He nodded. “I suppose I can’t blame you for that. I must have appeared such a fool.”
“Not entirely,” Milena said at the same time the landlady said “Yes.”
In truth, she had thought him a fool, lumping him in with all the other foolish sleepers she’d dealt with. The only thing different about him had been the suit, but a suit couldn’t help who wore it. But now the poor man looked so embarrassed and ashamed she had to take pity on him.
“What’s your name, friend?” One of the other lodgers asked.
“Farold,” Mr. Copperstone said.
No last name. Interesting. She’d thought nobles all went by their last names. Mr. This and Lady That and Baron Somethinglongandhardtopronounce.
“What brings you to Plarn, Farold?”
Mr. Copperstone paused with a fork halfway to his mouth. It was just a fraction of a second, but Milena saw it. “Personal reasons.” He chewed with more vehemence than he needed and glared at his bowl of fruit.
Milena raised an eyebrow. There was a story there.
But Milena didn’t have time for it. She took a final sip of tea and finished off her porridge, then stood. “I’m off. I’ve got to get that wheel barrow back the tavern.”
“No more sleepers tonight,” the landlady said, but there was a glimmer of mischief in her eye.
Milena snorted. “Don’t worry, he was the first and the last.”
She nodded to Mr. Copperstone and those who waved at her, grabbed her cloak from the peg by the door, and headed out.

Later on that morning, as Milena was fixing a window shutter broken in a half-drunken dispute the night before, the door to the tavern squealed open.
“Be with you in just a minute,” Milena said around the nail between her teeth. She finished pounding in a nail, spat out the one in her mouth, and turned around.
To face Mr. Copperstone. Milena blinked in surprise. “Hello again.”
“Hello.” He nodded his head, and his hands balled into fists.
“What brings you back here?” Hopefully not an earlier start on the drinking, because she was not wheeling him home again.
He looked her in the eye. “I came to thank you, and to apologize. I wasn’t very civil this morning, and I should have thanked you for not leaving me in the street. That very kind of you and you didn’t have to do it.”
Milena shrugged. “I only did it because of the suit.”
“What in Spryll does my suit have to do with this?” His brow furrowed.
“If you’d been dressed in rags, I wouldn’t have felt guilty leaving you in the alley. Well, not as guilty, at least. It was chilly last night.”
He half-smiled and huffed a laugh through his nose. He looked down at his suit. He’d cleaned up since breakfast. The suit was still wrinkled, but he’d straightened it out and combed his hair. “I never liked this suit. Who knew it would be the cause of some good fortune?”
Milena giggled.
“I really do have cause to thank you, no matter the cause of your compassion. I could have been robbed and mugged, and then I’d…” he shook his head. “I don’t know what would do. What little I have with me is all I have left.” He shook his head harder. “But you don’t need to hear my story. I’m sorry. And I’m sorry for posing such a burden on you. It was foolish and stupid of me to drink so last night.”
“Why did you?” Milena asked. “If you don’t mind my asking. You seem like a decent chap, not one to drink so much.”
He closed his eyes. “To forget. You probably hear that a lot. But I’ve already burdened you so much, you don’t need to hear my troubles too. Is there anything I can do to repay you for your kindness?”
Milena studied him. She had two options here: answer him about the payment and send him away, or answer and keep him here.  
“Aye.” She nodded at a chair. “Keep me company while I fix this. Tell me the story.”
He blinked. “What?”
“You heard me.” Milena wrapped a foot around the leg of a chair and pushed it toward him. “You can repay me by telling me your story.”
He blinked some more, as if this truly confused him. “Why?”
“Why not?”
“Because so far your impression of me has been that of a drunk and a rogue and I’ve done nothing but cause trouble for you, so why in the name of all things green would you want to hear excuses for my horrid behavior?”
She smiled at him. “Because I’m nosey. You don’t have to tell me a thing if you don’t want to.” Whatever had happened, it was still raw. His jaw was tight, his arms iron bars at his side. Milena sobered. “I can see whatever it is upsets you, and I don’t mean to make it worse. But if you want someone to listen to you, I’ll do a much better job than a bottle of ale.”
He stared at her for a minute, then relaxed and shook his head. “I don’t know what to make of you… Gracious, I don’t even know your name. Do I?”
“I told you first thing this morning, but you probably weren’t paying attention. My name is Milena.”
“Milena. It’s lovely to meet you.” He dipped a small bow. Aye, he was definitely a noble. “My name is Farold.” He looked at the chair again and drew in a breath. He held it.
He was stalling.
Then he shook his head. “I thank you for your offer to listen, but I… I can’t…” He closed his eyes, and his body tightened as if in pain.
Milena shook her head and held up a hand. “You don’t have to say anything else.” She forced a smile.
“Thank you.” He forced a smile in return. A small, relieved smile that didn’t make his eyes sparkle, but made them…warmer, less pained. “Good day.” He nodded once and pushed the door open, letting in a cool breeze that stopped as soon as the door had swung closed.
Milena sighed. She didn’t blame him for keeping his past to himself—she truly understood a strong desire to leave the past behind—but still, she would have liked to know what had happened.
As she picked up the hammer again, the door once again swung open, and Mr. Copperstone was back.
“Change your mind?” Milena asked.
“This may sound ridiculous, but do you know where I could find some work? Or maybe somewhere I could rent a room? Not that I could pay for one for long, but…”
“The room you slept in last night is empty, and I know my landlady would like to have a renter in it soon. As for work, they’re always hiring on the ships in harbor.”
His eyes narrowed, not in contempt or anger, but in contemplation. “I think I’d be better at something on land.” His eyes unfocused and he shook his head. “I could work with books…” Half his mouth twitched as if it wanted to smile, but couldn’t quite muster it.
“Books.” Milena cocked her head. “Two streets down there’s a new printing press just starting up. They might be in need of a worker or two.”
Mr. Copperstone looked up. “Printing press. I could do that. Thank you.” In the brief time in which that conversation had taken place, something about him had changed. The way he stood, the look in his eyes. Not pained, not burdened. Not relieved, either, but hopeful. Planning.

That night, he was back at the boarding house, this time as a resident.


There seems to be a random bar here. Please ignore it. It hitched a ride when I copied and pasted the story from my Word Doc. (This is what happens when you copy and paste something with Word comment bubbles in it, apparently. Chances are the font will be screwy when I post this, too.)

And that is all for tonight! A lovely night to you.