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13 December 2004 @ 06:13 pm
I'm a professional human being  

We put up our Christmas tree this weekend. As my parents always insist on getting a real tree, we had our annual struggle to get it upright-and-not-tilting-to-one-side-like-a-vertically-challenged-drunk. As per usual, I got pine needles down my bra. Now that's what I call a real Yuletide tradition.

...but there is something about the smell of pine...and all the lights strung up everywhere, to banish the darkest time of year...

Well, gabbysun (wherever you are?), you requested some original fiction a while ago, so here you are...you lucky person you. (Oh, and whoever happens to read this as well is also utterly, utterly fortunate.../sarcasm).

 

The village was deserted. A tattered curtain flapped in the chill wind blowing through the glass-less window of a half-burnt hut. He placed his hand on the charred timbers and flinched with the screaming rush of memories. Cries and pleadings - ‘Please, not my baby, not my baby!’. Fire, laughter and cold, such incredible, searing cold.

A shriek rent the silence.

‘Help me! Please!’ A young girl, of no more than sixteen summers, burst through a tangled thicket hedge. ‘They’re here! They’re coming!’ She ran straight into his surprised arms.

If he hadn’t been in such a state of shock at the sight of the village, perhaps he would have noticed the pale, ice-white skin, dry and freezing to the touch, and the glazed, milky eyes with dilated black pupils. But he didn’t, at first. She was young, impossibly beautiful, dressed in what had once been an embroidered robe of the Commons. Her shiny black hair felt like night itself underneath his fingers.

He lifted up her chin. ‘What’s coming?’ he asked gently.

‘They are! Coming…’ and her head fell onto his shoulder again.

‘It’s all right. I’ll protect you,’ he said soothingly, smoothing her wondrous hair under his fingers.

‘But will you? Do you want to?’ another voice chimed in. It was deep, gruff and chafing, so he was surprised when he looked up and saw what seemed to be a young nobleman of Jaffian lineage standing before him, arms crossed, wearing an interrogative expression.

‘What do you mean?’ he asked, surprised.

The man laughed abruptly. ‘Look at that again.’

‘You mean -’ he lifted the girl from his shoulder. She was unmistakeably dead. But her eyes were open and tiny flames burned brightly blue in their depths.

‘I’d go,’ said the young man carelessly. ‘Coldings never keep captives.’

As the words left his mouth he heard snorting and snufflings in the woods beyond the village square. He turned tail and ran, ran with Seac’s wings on his heels.

It was a long time and distance away when he remembered the young man.

He had been barefoot.

~

Wystan struggled through the knots of chattering people grouped around the bar, balancing three pints of frothing ale against his chest with extreme difficulty. He was jostled on either side as more and more people pushed their way into Abiel’s inn, hoping to escape the bitter night’s frosty cold. By the time he had set the glasses down on the table, hidden back in a corner away from the lanterns, the level of the ale had descended about an inch, most of the difference having ended up somewhere between Wystan’s shirt and his skin.

Linwood had been glancing around nervously, as was his wont, and he reached for a glass without looking down, his fingers homing in on it with practised ease. Symkyn took a moment to cluck his tongue at Wystan’s lack of care in delivering him a full pint - which, given that it had been Symkyn’s round, was somewhat justified - before taking the head off with one swift gulp. Relieved of his load, Wystan twisted his way onto a stool between the other two, hemmed in by the belongings and chairs of another table close by, whose raucous inhabitants were not in the slightest bit interested in making room for people passing by.

‘So,’ Symkyn began, wiping froth off his top lip with a hoary hand, ‘when are you due back at camp?’

‘I got two days leave - we all did,’ Wystan said quietly, speaking around the rim of his glass so that it looked like he wasn’t talking at all. ‘I reckon, myself, that the generals are just giving themselves some breathing space to think up a cover for what happened. Also, everyone in the scouting group was given one of these.’ He fumbled in his jerkin pocket, producing at length a battered looking money pouch. Symkyn and Linwood leaned forward slightly as he tipped five fat gold coins into his hand, keeping it carefully out of sight under the table.

‘Sweet Mel with a goat’s trumpet,’ Symkyn blasphemed, ignoring Linwood’s chastising look. ‘To what end did they come over so generous? From what you’ve always said they’re chary enough about paying up your wages come divvy day…’

‘Isn’t it obvious?’ Linwood asked dryly, outlining his mouth with one thin finger. ‘Drunk men don’t make for good witnesses…and chances are, with that much gold, a soldier could buy enough beer and hock to erase his memory in actuality.’

‘That’s what I was thinking, too,’ Wystan said grimly, shoving the coins back into his pocket. ‘Not that it would make a difference either way…none of the other scouts have turned up yet, and with the weather what it is it’s doubtful that they will. Not to mention the other…’ his voice trailed off as he glanced up at the ice-rimmed window above his head, and shivered.

‘This reeks,’ Symkyn pronounced. ‘But with five gold talents I think we should take Linwood’s advice and proceed to getting ourselves rightly drunk.’

‘It was certainly not in the spirit of advice that I said that!’ Linwood protested, and Smykyn grinned into his beer. Wystan rolled his eyes, but he was too preoccupied to take much interest in their habitual bickering.

‘The whole village must be in here,’ he remarked, as the press of people calling for ale and wine grew steadily thicker. ‘Not to mention most of the camp…we’re a sitting target,’ he said, almost to himself.

‘For who? These Coldlings?’ Symkyn scoffed. ‘Perhaps those people decided a change of clime would be all to the good, and just up sticks and left. There wasn’t any blood, nor even bodies, or so you said.’

‘I did,’ Wystan agreed, shifting uncomfortably and tapping the side of his glass. He couldn’t very well say that he had heard death screams trapped in the memory of the wood. He had trouble believing what he heard himself, sometimes, and he’d never told Symkyn and Linwood, nor indeed anybody else, about the uncanny knack he had. Even now, as his knees brushed the underside of the table and his legs connected with the timber of the stool, he could hear faint brushes of conversation. He even recognised some of the voices. Penwyn had sat here and complained about his back giving him gyp, but at the same time Wystan could see his blonde head rising above the crowd at the bar, chatting animatedly to one of the fur-trappers who frequented the village during the slow winter season.

‘I want to know more about this man you saw,’ Linwood said, draining the last of his ale. ‘He sounds mightily suspicious.’

Symkyn rolled his eyes. ‘You think everyone is suspicious.’

Linwood shrugged. ‘Everyone is.’

‘Like I told you, he was Jaffian, and he wasn’t wearing any shoes,’ Wystan said hastily, to prevent yet another argument breaking out. ‘I meant to ask you before, have you heard of Jaffians being able to walk in snow barefoot without suffering any ill effects?’

‘Damn Southerners,’ Symkyn muttered.

‘I should think it desperately unlikely,’ Linwood replied, scowling at Symkyn for general purposes. ‘I believe they often do go about barefoot…but that is in the Southlands, where the air is so hot it bakes the ground into dust. I’d imagine any Jaffian would quickly invest in boots if he made it this far north.’

‘I think you might have dreamed him into existence,’ Symkyn said bluntly. ‘Trekking in the cold wastes for three days would make anyone hallucinate. And none of this adds up, Wystan. An abandoned village. You claim its inhabitants have been murdered, but there’s no evidence of that. You have some Southern pansy saving you from a Colding, whatever the hell that is. And you’re the only scout to find this place at all.’

‘The only scout that’s returned,’ Wystan corrected him, with a touch of asperity.

Smykyn made a throwaway gesture with his hand, looking annoyed.

‘Much as I hate to agree with that naked ape beside you, I think Symkyn may be right,’ Linwood said, ignoring the fist Symkyn was shaking in his direction and the stream of oaths being expelled for his benefit. ‘For once. It doesn’t make sense. Besides, I wouldn’t go doing anything to rock the boat before your relocation…otherwise you might find yourself pushing paper in Dempit instead of living the high life in Panaria.’

Wystan shuddered. He had waited in vain to leave the borders of the land of his birth by the means of the Coastal Alliance Army since he had joined it two years before. Just prior to the his participation in one of the regular scouting missions along the border between Carras and the Ice Kingdoms, however, a battalion-wide transfer to the capital city-state had been announced.

‘These Coldings can’t be worse than a posting in Dempit,’ Symkyn said firmly. ‘Wine and loose women are prohibited there, you know, so you’d be forced to do some actual soldiering. Only concieve of the horror.’

‘If only we could find some way of stationing you there on a permanent basis,’ Linwood murmured. ‘A fate worse than death, and that’s being kind.’

As the familiar background hum of Symkyn and Linwood’s uncivil exchange faded in his ears, Wystan bit his lip and stared into his still-full pint. Although he flinched away from the memory, the smell of blood filtered through layers of wood remained in his nose. There was no way to simply forget that village and the events he knew had taken place there. The only possible option was to put it out of his mind. Panaria, five hundred leagues south, would get a good distance between him and Coldings and barefoot men in the snow.

He jerked out of his reverie just in time to prevent Linwood crowning Symkyn with his empty glass. It looked like Symkyn had insulted Linwood’s mother. Again. Sometimes it was the other way around, and sometimes Wystan wasn’t there to wrestle the glass out of one of their hands. Still, he supposed it could be taken as some kind of training in combat. If any enemy ever came screaming infamy on either of their ancestors and they had a beer glass to hand, said enemy would barely have time to get to the ‘mo’ in ‘Your mother lay with really ugly demons’ before a well-aimed flagon laid him out.

Wystan sighed, restraining Linwood, who was frothing at the mouth, and tried to kick Symkyn at the same time to dent the smug expression his face.

‘Stop it, Linwood, you’re being ridiculous,’ he said crossly as Linwood attempted to dive across him. ‘It’s not even as if you can remember your mother…’

‘It’s the principle of the thing,’ Linwood said, sticking his tongue out at Symkyn from under Wystan’s arm.

AND THERE'S PLENTY MORE WHERE THAT CAME FROM...I CAN HEAR THE SCREAMS FROM HERE

ETA: On the subject of Christmas trees, my cousin Amy asked her grandmother if her tree was 'real or arthritic'...
 
 
Current Mood: chipperchipper
Current Music: The Coca Cola ad theme tune
 
 
 
gabbysun on December 13th, 2004 03:39 pm (UTC)
:D!. . . MORE!?

But I am horribly un-informed about the setting of this story . . .

Okay.

Jaffian is . . . a certain race? Breed?

The girl in the beginning is a Colding?

Which young man is which in the beginning?

Linwood is calling Symkyn a 'naked ape'? Why? Is Linwood a different species?

And I think I get the rest of it . . . xD

I MUST KNOW! :O
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 14th, 2004 12:47 pm (UTC)
You see, this is why I should stick to stealing other people's plots
Jaffian is a, nationality. Yeah. And not a type of biscuit at all in any way.

No...not really...she was a victim? I think?

Wystan is the one who tries to rescue the girl; Benju is the other guy, he comes up later.

'Naked ape' is just a joke; you know the way we're descended from monkeys? He's saying Symkyn is no better than an ape with no hair.

BTW, when would you like your birthday/xmas fic? I know I said the 20th, but it's ready now if you like. Or whenever you like!
gabbysun on December 14th, 2004 03:00 pm (UTC)
But it is so AWESOME!?
Cool. 'Jaffian' is awesome to say. xD

So Coldings take victims by killing them but leaving them in a sort of undead state? What are Coldings anyway?

Ah, I see. Could you make it a little clearer in the story for people like me? xD;

So Linwood is human too then.

Actually, if I could have it now that would be fantastic — I may not actually have computer access starting this weekend, so I'm trying to get as many things wrapped up before my family goes on an "Epic Adventure Wherein We Get In Touch With Nature", which sucks.
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 15th, 2004 11:47 am (UTC)
Re: But it is so AWESOME!?
I'll post more another time, it'll be better. Or clearer, at least. (And I don't actually know what Coldings are myself because I make things up as I go along and it hasn't come up yet...xD).

RIGHT SO GOOD STUFF! SEE TODAY'S POST!

Nature is fine through a window.
gabbysun on December 15th, 2004 01:33 pm (UTC)
Re: But it is so AWESOME!?
xD Gotcha.

YES! OKAY! :D!!

Preferably further away than that . . . nature kills. :(
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 15th, 2004 01:53 pm (UTC)
Re: But it is so AWESOME!?
ENJOY! HAPPY EARLY BIRTHDAY!

I heart you on that. xD
gabbysun on December 15th, 2004 02:05 pm (UTC)
Re: But it is so AWESOME!?
:D! <3 YOOOOOUUUU.

And, well, it kills me anyway. xD ALLERGIES = SUCK.

And I'm reading it right now! *LOVELOVE*
Liz_eliza_b on December 13th, 2004 07:49 pm (UTC)
Shades of George R.R. Martin...I like it. Is more coming?
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 14th, 2004 12:48 pm (UTC)
Definitely. A big influence. Except I could never attain that standard! There's an awful lot more, although I doubt I'll ever finish it. I may inflict more upon ye in future times, you have been warned. xD
amazing vaguely humanoid armadilloperson: Yay.cryptid on December 14th, 2004 11:53 pm (UTC)
Real trees are the only way to go. (Unless you're allergic or something, that is.) Better from an environmental viewpoint, too. We don't put up our tree until one or two days before Christmas Eve, though.

That there story was real good. Will you write more about these people? Please? *poke*
Oh, and a nitpick -- you spelled Symkyn as Smykyn once. Here: '"It was certainly not in the spirit of advice that I said that!" Linwood protested, and Smykyn grinned into his beer.'
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 15th, 2004 12:01 pm (UTC)
Well, we're actually quite conservative - Cork city has sported deccos since, oh, October...xD

I have already, quite a lot. I'll post it eventually, when I'm feeling, like, really PHILANTHROPIC. Oh yeah.

*facepalm* Who am I kidding? That's pathetic! Note to self: TOO MANY Ys!
amazing vaguely humanoid armadilloperson: zombie armadillocryptid on December 15th, 2004 05:37 pm (UTC)
The shops here aren't really supposed to put up the decorations before Advent Sunday, but most of them cheat and begin earlier. But my mum's one of those relics who care about traditions and stuff, so the general decorations come up at Advent Sunday and the tree right before Christmas. And twenty days later it's all thrown out, save for my hidden stock of delicious Christmas beverages. :P

I don't react so much to the Ys, unless it's obviously an English name that has had them added to make it more OMGspechul. In Swedish Y is a perfectly good vowel in it's own right, after all. It does however make me pronounce the names using the Swedish Y sound, possibly making them sound slightly different from what was intended... O_o

(As a side note, my name begins with a vowel-Y and means she-wolf. Which means I'm living in the constant fear of some suethor overcoming their apparent phobia of Norse names and kidnapping it for their werewolf/wolf animagus/Lupin!Sue.)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 16th, 2004 12:00 pm (UTC)
I'm strangly attached to ys, I like the shape. Mind you, Wystan seems to be a Stu, so all is at least logical.

You credit Sues with too much brain, m'dear. They just throw a load of vowels together a la Robert Jordan and throw it in the Pit.
Lord Marmaduke Newbry: Boromir - Someone who isn't me.catsmeat on December 20th, 2004 04:57 pm (UTC)
I don't know about you, but I find pine needles erotic.

Also! Our tree was up a full five days before yours!
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 21st, 2004 02:30 pm (UTC)
Whatever floats your boat. At least Christmas is a really fulfilling time for you!

Er...I'll give you a medal?
Lord Marmaduke Newbrycatsmeat on December 22nd, 2004 03:16 am (UTC)
Does it have Father Christmas doing unfortunate things to a reindeer on it?
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 22nd, 2004 05:46 am (UTC)
Naturally. Three reindeers at once, in fact. He's a big fellow.
Lord Marmaduke Newbrycatsmeat on December 22nd, 2004 08:07 am (UTC)
And those reindeer are awefully accomadationg..
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 22nd, 2004 10:22 am (UTC)
They'd want to be, going round with antlers like they have some kind of complex...
Lord Marmaduke Newbrycatsmeat on December 22nd, 2004 11:56 am (UTC)
I don't think they have them as a result of a complex..
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 22nd, 2004 12:24 pm (UTC)
Not an inferiority complex? No, whassit called...compensation anxiety? Or did I make that up?...yeah.
Lord Marmaduke Newbrycatsmeat on December 22nd, 2004 12:45 pm (UTC)
No comment..