Explanation: A couple weeks ago, after powering through yet another mediocre romance novel, I once again heard the distant, tiny whisper in the back of my mind: You could write a book yourself, you know. You’ve done it before. You can do it again. After all, I was enjoying my first summer off since I was 15 years old, reveling in the endless stretches of time. Why not try to write a fantasy novel? Why not? What follows is the brief, half-baked result of an hour of feverish late-night brainstorming and writing powered entirely by Pepsi.
Title: A Song of the Coldest Poison
Here’s the LINK for a fun cover photo.
-Photo credit: Rosie Sun LINK
Laurel simply would not accept that she was lost.
Disoriented, perhaps. Out of sorts, certainly. Lost, however, was out of the question.
Because being lost is a kind of hopelessness, and if she succumbed to hopelessness, she knew she would sink to the damp earth beneath her, pull her knees close and her eyes shut, and wait for the inevitability of time to blow her away on an errant breeze.
No. She was not lost. Eventually, if she ran in a straight line for long enough, she would happen upon a town, and with any luck—which, she reasoned, she was due any day now—that town would help orient her, a pin in her hazy mental map of Ceris.
And so Laurel continued to run in what she hoped was a straight line, the oppressive dark of the forest under a new moon blurring the landscape. Briars drew wicked nails across her exposed shins as she stumbled on, and tree branches lunged from the blackness to slash her face. She could feel every stone through the wafer-thin soles of her shoes, and the little toe on her left foot had worn through. If it got much colder, she feared she could lose it.
But she couldn’t think about that now. Now, she needed to put as much distance as possible between herself and the prison wagon on the main road. She was certain the prince’s guards would have noticed her absence by now, and it was only a matter of time before a small group was sent after her.
Laurel absolutely could not have suffered a single second more in that rumbling, stinking, overflowing dungheap on wheels. In the darkness of the wagon, she had endured a woman wailing for mercy to guards struck suddenly deaf; she had felt the grimy creep of a hand snaking along her calf; she had smelled the rank of rotting and infected flesh, perhaps her own among it. She hadn’t had time to evaluate her injuries before her failed escape from the palace, and though the heat in her arms could have been from the press of bodies in that overcrowded box of a wagon, it seemed just as likely that the wounds skittering up and down her arms were corrupted with disease.
The third night in the prison wagon, one of the horses had thrown a shoe in the muddy road and they were forced to stop. The wailing woman began pounding her fists on the walls of the wagon, pleading that if the guards would only listen to her, they would understand. Laurel felt the wagon shift as one of the guards jumped down, rounded to the back, and ripped the door open. She could see only silhouettes, but it seemed that everyone froze as the guard hauled himself up inside. The woman’s shrieking quieted to earnest whimpering, but still the guard said nothing as he slowly and deliberately made his way back to her. The air was heavy and thick, like trying to breathe under the blankets. Laurel realized the man’s intent the split second before he acted, but she—and all the other prisoners alongside her—was powerless to act as the man grabbed the crying woman by the neck, reared her head back, and slammed it once, twice, three times into the wall of the wagon.
“Enough! Whining!” he bellowed, his echoes reverberating endlessly through the small confines.
A familiar rage had bubbled up inside Laurel at that moment—rage that a woman would be treated so callously and violently, rage that they were seen as no more than unruly dogs in need of punishment, rage at her own stupidity for landing her in this position in the first place—and it trickled down her scalp and neck like icy water. She dropped her head, eyes squeezed shut against her lot. When she opened them, however, and saw how her hands now appeared as little more than wisps on a breeze, she realized with a jolt of surprise that perhaps her luck had not run out quite yet after all. Within seconds, she had a plan. In retrospect, it was less of a plan and more of a final desperate act, but it had to be better than merely accepting her lot.
Laurel watched as the guard unceremoniously dropped the (hopefully) unconscious woman in a heap and stalked back past her. Slowly, agonizingly carefully, she rose from her seat, clutching her manacles to her chest to keep them silent, and followed his steps out of the wagon. While he jumped down, she slipped down gently in front of him before he could close the doors again, her figure a mere shadow across the door. Unsure how long her luck would hold this time and unwilling to test it with a dead sprint into the treeline, she dropped to her knees, crawled under the wagon, and laid silently on her back, waiting with eyes clenched tightly shut for it to pull away. She had not heard any of the other prisoners speculating about her sudden absence, for which she was grateful, though she doubted it was out of solidarity and more out of shock and fear.
It could have been hours or mere minutes, or perhaps a great many eternities, but finally the wagon began to lurch off, without her.