So . . . about that flash I promised you? Once more I failed in that regard. Not even like last month with the 700 ish zombie story, but more. I started writing something I’ve tentatively named ‘The Pedlar’s Bag’ based on a prompt I got from the PWG. It isn’t finished, not by a long shot, but I deliberately twisted the prompt (which was ‘the wrong suitcase’) to fit what I wanted to do. And to include unicorns.
It’s rough and pre-edits, but I don’t want to promise you something and fail to deliver it. Here is the first section of that story and, when I get around to it, the rest will follow.
Mamma’s going to die.
The thought filled Saila with dread. The fact that she knew the terrible event was coming did nothing to ease the ache in her heart. She sat by the bed, smoothing sweat-damp hair from her mother’s clammy cheeks. One hand fisted in the blankets, twisting the dirty wool into tight curls.
“Would you like some water?”
Iliah shook her head. Coughed. “No, dear heart. But I would like some sleep.”
“Of course.” Saila at once plumped up the bank of pillows supporting her mother’s head. After wiping her damp forehead with a cool cloth she stepped back from the bed and drew the ratty curtains over the narrow window. “I’ll be back in an hour.”
“Don’t rush yourself. Rest. You must be exhausted.”
Saila’s lids dragged downwards and each breath she exhaled seemed to come with a yawn, but she smiled and shook her head. “I’m fine. I’ll prepare dinner instead.” She fled the room before the tears could fall, rushing from the small house and into the yard where chickens scratched at the dusty earth alongside Misty and Shadow.
Instead of their usual gleeful barks, sombre silence greeted Saila as she stepped towards them. They pushed their damp noses in her palms and licked her face when she bent to kiss each on the end of their delicate snouts. “Come.” She patted her legs and the dogs followed.
Beyond the land belonging to the house fields of deep green grass stretched away in every direction. Grazing the land with delicate nips of their sharp teeth, two horses shared the field with four sheep, a cow and a mule with a crooked left ear.
Saila ignored them all aiming instead for the tall oak tree in the centre of the field. Taller than the house she shared with her mother, the tree had branches protruding from the trunk in almost radial spokes. The patterned continued right to the top and make the tree both pleasurably scalable in Iliah’s youth. When she reached it and stroked the bark, her fingers picked out the scratches put there five years ago.
She couldn’t read, but she trusted Jamie when he told her that he’d put her name there alongside his. The heart she recognised, a five pronged shape surrounding the other indents she assumed made their names.
Shadow immediately started digging at the root of the tree, as though sensing her ultimate goal. She let him and even stepped aside to let Misty joined him, ducking to avoid the clods of dirt thrown up by their paws. After a minute the dogs lowered their hands and pulled at the hessian sack buried within, drawing it free with a shake.
“Thanks,” she whispered.
Both dogs whined.
“I know. But if it can help Mamma . . .”
Saila opened the sack and shook the leatherbound book onto the grass. As ever the sight of a real book fascinated her. Too poor to afford any of her own, and unable to read them anyway, she regarded the portable homes of the written word items of magic and wonder. She touched it, tracing the pattern etched on to the front; a horse, midstride with a fluttering mane and a single horn protruding from its forehead.
Just like she had every day for the past week, she pulled the book into her lap and leafed through the pages. Blank. Every single one. And, like every day for the past week, she mulled on what it meant.
Everybody knew that unicorns were magical creatures. Appearing only in times of direst need, to those most deserving. It made no sense then, that this book, with its blank, creamy pages, once belonged to an old peddar selling iron pots and pans in the market.
Shadow growled at the book.
Saila clutched it tighter to her chest. “I didn’t mean to. It was a mistake. His bag looked just like mine.”
Reproach shimmered in the canine’s eyes. Perhaps he didn’t believe her either.
No matter how often she told herself it was a mistake, there had been plenty of time to return the book. The man lingered in the village for four days before leaving, mending cook-ware, telling stories and drinking himself into a stinking stupor in the local tavern.
Saila knew full well that she should have returned the bag the moment she realised the mistake. At the very least her mother needed the sweet herbs and pulses purchased with their last few copper pieces.
And that’s what I have so far! It has potential, even if it starts in the wrong place and takes a bit too long to get going. But isn’t that always the way with a new project? You ‘write yourself into it’.
So this is my opening, later at some point, I’ll post the rest. Then I’ll clean it up and decide what to do with it.