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Deb Howell, 30 Jun '12

She made her way through the tall trees, skirting around and stepping over low ferns, looking for signs of his passing. She found him sitting, his back against a tree, facing the creek at its widest point, where it appeared almost stagnant under a layer of tiny gold and red leaves. Here the soil was dark, damp and scattered with autumn detritus. The air, too, was heavy and damp.

Jonas flicked a stone along the edge of the blade of his big, bone-handled knife in quick, deft sweeps. When he held the knife up to inspect it, moonlight flashed up the blade. A log lay on the ground in front of him, so Llew placed the dishes down nearby and took a seat facing him. He must have heard her approach through the leaves, but did not acknowledge her arrival, instead remaining focused on his task, pausing briefly to put the stone down, pick up a small bottle and take a swig. He balanced the bottle on the ground and reclaimed the stone.
Llew watched him for a while. There was a sadness about his eyes as he slid the stone along the blade, then inspected the edge once more. Anger, too. But then, that emotion never seemed far from the surface in his case.

When she felt he had ignored her long enough, she enquired, “Want to talk about it?”
“No.” He swept the stone along the blade with greater force.

Llew nodded at the not unexpected response.

After a while she leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees.

Jonas came out of his reverie and looked at her blankly. His eyes seemed to glisten. “Why are you still here?”

Llew considered standing, picking up the dishes and leaving, but then she remembered why she’d come to find him.

“Well, I thought our friendship had a bit of a rocky start and—”

“We’re not friends.”

Llew stopped cold. She knew he didn’t like her, but she thought they’d made headway after the highwaymen. And, even the sword fight hadn’t gone so bad.

“Okay.” Llew stood and started gathering the dishes. “Well, I hope you won’t let that stop us working together because I plan to continue traveling with you as long as Aris will have me and—”

“Stop.”

Llew froze, still bent over, plates in the crook of an elbow and the handle of the pot in the other hand.

“Sit.” His voice was much softer. Llew let go of the pot handle, returned the plates to the ground and reclaimed her seat on the log.

“Here.” He picked up the bottle and held it out to her.

She took it and threw back a mouthful.

Her mouth felt like it was on fire. She coughed, sending a spray of liquid over the ground, a measure up her nose and the rest down her throat. She wheezed and tried to catch her breath, and continued to cough. All the while Jonas laughed.

When she finally caught her breath, she passed the bottle back to him.

“I guess I should’ve told you to sip it slow,” he said. “But that was worth it.”

Llew coughed, looking at him over her hand, and cleared her throat.

“I guess I should’ve known it wasn’t water.”

They sat, suppressed laughter flitting between them, but Llew wasn’t prepared to think it meant anything. He was still testing her.

After taking another sip himself, Jonas held the bottle out to her again. In light of the fact that it was progress, she accepted it and took another mouthful, with more care than the first. It warmed her mouth once more, but she managed to let it slip down her throat. Its warmth spread all the way down her throat, seemed to radiate about her lungs and settled in her stomach. She didn’t think she’d ever felt so aware of her internal organs.

She passed the bottle back to Jonas and he took another swig, his eyes not leaving her. Then he replaced the cap and sat the bottle next to him.

“What’s your real name, Llew?”

Llew’s initial shock subsided to suspicion. What did he think he knew?

“What do you mean?”

He laughed off her tone.

“Well, Lou is a serviceable boy’s name . . . . It’s fine for a girl, too, but I suspect it’s not your full, if even your real, name.” He was looking friendly now. With a smirk across his features his brown eyes sparkled, reflecting the crisp moonlight that skittered through the branches and leaves above.

Llew found herself smiling back. “It’s Llewella.”

“Llewella,” Jonas repeated. “It’s a pretty name.”

“Yeah,” She nodded at the ground, reaching down to pick up a stick and draw shapes in the soil. Hearing someone say that name gave her chills. She hadn’t heard it since . . . She thought she could remember her mother calling her Llewella. Oh, and Japod. The way he’d said it sent a different kind of shiver through her.

She lifted her head. “Okay, you’re turn.”

His surprise at her tone was only evidenced by briefly raised eyebrows over the bottle as he took another swig. Then he straightened his seat, ready for her attack.

“I want to know about that.” She nodded to the knife in his hand.

He looked at her, his expression stern, then nodded, acknowledging her right to information. “This knife—” He paused, then he took a deep breath and ran a couple of fingers along the side of the blade before holding it up, handle to tip, pressed between his index fingers. For the first time, Llew could really see the weapon, and appreciate its undeniable beauty. The handle was finely carved with a pattern - a gryphon, if Llew knew her beasts from her stories. The flawless blade was broader and longer than a dagger and it, too, had fine details shaped into the metal.

“This knife is a family heirloom. Passed down through generations to protect my family from our enemies.” A wry smile flickered across his features. “Instead, it has taken the lives of all who I hold dear.”

“You’re an orphan, too,” Llew blurted before she had even thought if it was appropriate to sound quite so excited. Now she knew why she felt a connection with him.

Jonas nodded.

“So, why do you carry it with you? Why not bury, or destroy it, and its history.” Llew couldn’t imagine carrying a weapon that she knew had killed her parents. She would have thrown it away years ago. But, she didn’t even know if her parents were dead.

Jonas shook his head. “Because it can’t be destroyed. It was forged with one purpose in mind: to kill the unkillable. It’s not like other knives. It can’t be melted down. And so long as it remains in my possession no one can use it against those I care about again.”

Llew nodded, investigating the forest floor closely. Now she understood the insult she had done him when she took the weapon back in Cheer. But something made her bold.

“Unless someone takes it from you.” She risked a smile and a sideways glance at him.

“No one will take it. Never again.”

Llew let the smile fall from her lips.

“So who are these walking-dead, these ‘unkillable’?” She was imagining some sort of thick-skinned creature, with a hide so tough normal steel would sooner bend than pierce it.

“Aenuks.” The word meant nothing to her. “The healers.”

Comments · 7

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  • Deb Howell said...

    I'm sharing another "snippet" due to a lack of time/inspiration to write a brand spanking new short (although, I would like to).
    Shortening this section to fit the word count did me some good. I trimmed a little more fat. Yay.
    Oh, the last line probably has more impact if I let you know that Llew has risen from the dead for the first time ever just days before this conversation (three times, in fact, but that's another snippet ...)

    • Posted 5 years ago
  • Anthony Blackshaw said...

    Wait isn't Llew a healer! Beautifully written as always @Deb Howell, I'm sucked in now so hopefully it's not the last snippet, or you'll finish the novel shortly?

    • Posted 5 years ago
  • Deb Howell said...

    Hi, @Anthony Blackshaw. I plan to finish the novel by the end of next month - to 2nd/3rd draft standard. Then I will attempt to ignore it for a month or so before returning to polish it a little more.

    • Posted 5 years ago
  • Matt Nelson said...

    @Deb Howell This is great! It's so obvious when fantasy is written by someone who knows what they are doing, and you clearly do. I want to read more! Nice work!

    • Posted 5 years ago
  • Ross Tarran said...

    Very well written, and I enjoyed this more than the last that featured the same characters. You're very good at describing a believable exchange between two characters, fantasy setting or not. Oh I did spot one 'you're' that should have been 'your', after 'She lifted her head', but it probably only stood out because the rest is so good.

    • Posted 5 years ago
  • Deb Howell said...

    Thank you for the comment, @Matt Nelson! That's a complement and a half.

    • Posted 5 years ago
  • Deb Howell said...

    And thanks, @Ross Tarran. A few of those pesky typos always seem to slip through. I'm glad you like the exchange. The ones that come unbidden (via the subconscious, I guess) do feel better than the forced dialogue, and this was one of those. Still, the forced dialogue is what helps put my brain in the right state to get these snippets.
    This one has been more edited than the other scene, so I guess it is a proof of the quote "I'm not a very good writer, but I am an excellent re-writer" ... In my case, things start so show excellence after re-re-re-writes ...

    • Posted 5 years ago