Here is Chapter 1 from High Barrens which will be up for presale next week.
Flint came home from the graveyard knowing that her
life was finally going to change. Her father’s death set things in motion that
had been stagnant for far too long. The house was somber with the whispered
condolences of her neighbors. She laid out a meal for them taken from the
winter stores that she had spent the summer putting up. She could be generous
because she knew she wouldn’t need them. There was no reason to stay here
Only four of her six brothers were present. Steel,
the oldest, was a soldier for the King and too far away to return for something
as paltry as the death of a father who had disowned him. Flint had sent Steel a
warning as soon as she saw her father’s spirit fire dim. Her brother understood
what was about to happen. A few weeks later, a bundle of sturdy woolen cloth
arrived for her with a handful of silvers hidden inside. She hadn’t seen Steel
in years. It was more than she’d expected and a kindness that lightened her
Granite, the other missing brother, was in the
lockup again, probably for another bar fight. He’d been given that name in the
hopes that he would be persistent. Instead, he was stubborn and blockheaded. She
knew he cared even less than Steel about their father, but she’d have to find
“I’m sorry to intrude at a time like this,” said a
stocky man in threadbare clothes.
Flint knew he wasn’t the least bit sorry and
wondered if he’d had to borrow those clothes to present such an impoverished
aspect. “Good day, Mortar,” she said civilly.
“I’m wondering about the bills.”
She knew this was coming. Her father owned money
to a lot of people. “I promised you’d be paid. It’ll take a bit of time to sort
it all out, but everyone will be paid.”
He scrutinized her with a sour look. She held her
head high. There was nothing for her to be ashamed of. The debts weren’t hers.
But she had promised everyone in town that they would be paid. Mortar finally
came to the conclusion that pestering wouldn’t advance his cause and slunk
away. She let out a soft breath of relief.
Her other brothers stood awkwardly by the hearth,
heads hanging, brows furrowed. Not a one of them mourned. Their father had been
a hard man, unfair and selfish. It was a relief that he had finally passed, and
yet it was still hard to lose a parent. He had been a larger than life figure,
ordering her about for her entire life. She would miss him in a fashion, but
she didn’t mourn him either.
Coal glanced at her. She knew he’d be the first to
speak. “What do you need?” he asked. Second oldest son and seventeen years her
elder. He still treated her like a child when she’d already passed marrying age,
but she knew it was out of love and forgave him.
“Can you handle the sale of the farm?” she asked,
knowing it was a burden. Coal was a blacksmith in a town on the western edge of
the barrens. It was a good three-day ride to come back here.
Coal shrugged. “You think he’ll sell it?”
In a fit of pique, their father had disowned Clay,
the oldest, and left everything to Granite, his fifth son. Flint thought it was
because with his drinking and fighting, that was the son most like their
father. “He’ll want the coin more than the land.” She knew in her heart that he
would never come back here. Granite wouldn’t know what to do with the land. The
house would fall down and the fields go to weeds unless someone else made
Her brawny brother fidgeted, dropping his eyes
away from her. “Who will ask him?”
“I will.” Flint was the only family member that
could talk to Granite without putting him into a fury. She’d been thinking
about the proper phrasing since the moment her father’s health had started to
fail. She’d asked around and found a buyer for the land. When her father became
bedridden, she’d sent the livestock to her brothers Clay and Basalt. They had a
farm of their own up north near the Icy River. None of her neighbors questioned
it. A sick man couldn’t take care of his animals. She still had her brother
Marl at home, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was another one that shouldn’t be
forced to work the land. He was across the room speaking with the Servants of
the Lady of Shadows. She knew that when they left, Marl would go with them.
“I don’t need any of it,” Coal said, bringing her
back to the issue at hand.
“Nor do we,” Clay said, joining the conversation.
Basalt made a face. He never could keep his
emotions hidden. “You gave us the animals, I guess that’s fair.”
“It’s more than fair,” Clay snapped at him. “How
much do you think someone would pay for this place?”
Flint stepped between them. “Most of it’ll go to
pay Pa’s debts.”
Basalt grunted his understanding. He was almost as
hard-headed as Granite but had a much sweeter nature. Flint knew that he was
thinking of his betrothed and the house that they were building.
As soon as the conversation had started, the rest
of the neighbors had slipped away. It was just family now. Flint sent her
brothers to the table while she fetched the parcels she’d made up. They were
quiet as she handed them out. For Marl, youngest son but still six years older
than she, a warm shirt she’d sown from the fabric Steel had sent. She gave him
the things he might need while in service and sent him off to find the
“Soft-hearted boy,” Basalt grumbled fondly.
“It’s where he belongs,” Flint said. She wasn’t
sure when she had become the de facto head of this family. It had come about
like an icicle forming from a single drop of water. The day her mother died,
that drop had started and even though she was the youngest, she’d taken it all
“Not a calling I’d choose for anyone,” Coal
“He’s kind and honest,” Flint said. “That’s who I
want to hold my hand when I’m dying.”
Her brothers grumbled their agreement uneasily.
She wasn’t sure if it was the topic of death in general or her death that had
them so discomfited. She knew that she was the only thread left that kept them
a family. If she raveled away, they would all trundle along in their separate
lives without expending the energy to stay connected.
She gave Coal a shirt also. This one she’d spent a
lot of time thinking about. Coal didn’t need money. He was a skilled blacksmith
and had built a good business for himself. What he needed was a woman in his
life. So she’d made a shirt that showed off his broad shoulders and deep chest.
She’d done some fine handwork on the collar and cuffs. The buttons were shiny
brass from their father’s old uniform.
Coal recognized them. She could tell by the way
his eyes got misty. He was old enough to remember how their father was before
the drink turned him dark. Something she’d only heard about, but never
experienced for herself.
“Thank you. This is a fine shirt,” Coal said
For Basalt and Clay, she gave them the few useful
items from the house and all the tools from the shed. “But what about you?”
Clay asked. “Don’t you need…,” He waved at the yard unable to finish the