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The Demons of Khemas, free sample, 5. chapter

9 May

And the fifth chapter.

I may be able to put the novel up on Kindle Direct in a few days.

 

 

14.5. Now that the novel is available on Kindle Direct I removed this and the 6th chapter.

The Demons of Khemas, free sample, 3. chapter

6 May

Here we go then, third chapter.

The novel has 25 chapters, plus the prologue and the epilogue.

Chapter Three

A week went by with no sign of Grath. Ever since he had first visited the tavern he had come there at least two or three times every month when he was staying in the city, and the couple of times he had left the city for a longer time, both times as a caravan guard, he had visited her and told her about it beforehand. Now it had been nearly two weeks since his last visit and an absence as long as this was something that hadn’t happened before.

Tikka was really beginning to worry about him.

Para had been absent the whole week too. That was, in its way, even more worrisome. Hadn’t the ghost just told her that it had to come back to the tavern every few days? So when she finally heard the familiar voice next to her head during her break in the hayloft Tikka’s first feeling was that of intense relief. And the next one of anger.

“Where the hell have you been?” she yelled in answer to the ghost’s greeting, then shut her mouth with an audible snap. No need to scare the customers, or her coworkers, members of both groups being somewhere nearby.

“Now what kind of welcome is that?”

Tikka gnashed her teeth and breathed in and out a couple of times, trying to calm down. When she next spoke her voice was still very tight, but at least she managed to keep it down. “Where have you been? And, if as you told me you have to come back here at regular intervals, and you have been here, why haven’t you spoken to me?”

When the voice answered it lacked its customary flippant tone. “I have been here. But I didn’t speak to you because I couldn’t. I’m sorry.”

“Couldn’t?”

“This whole situation is worse than I thought. And I’m afraid your friend is headed for real trouble.”

Tikka’s heart missed a beat. “Grath?”

“Yes. Grath.”

“What kind of trouble?” Tikka asked. The voice sighed loudly, and Tikka felt the fine hairs next to her left temple stir. Para had always been fond of theatrics. It didn’t breathe, so it had probably caused that air to move the same way it moved things, and the sigh and the moving air meant it had needed to concentrate well enough to do two separate things at the same time, which, as far as she knew, was somewhat difficult for it. She felt like strangling it. Except that of course was something impossible. You can’t strangle something that has no material throat. “Para…”

“The place Grath is interested in is the Monkey God’s temple, one of them. He started by skulking around all of them, but then he concentrated on the small one in the Southern quarter. I don’t know if he has already been inside, or done anything, because he is very hard to see when he doesn’t want to be seen. He seems to have the talent for, and at least some training in, some sort of magic. It looks like it has something to do with those tattoos of his, sometimes they make the whole man fade from my vision.” Para spoke very fast, as if in a hurry to get its story told before something interrupted.

“Go on.”

“The Monkey God’s temples are all bad places, and that particular one is the worst. I think it’s the oldest, and I know it’s the focus. They all draw from that point.”

“Do you know why? I have always been scared of them. I have never been able to figure out why.”

“You probably sense what we, the spirits, can see. There is something there. Something bad. I know there is something connected to that I should remember, from the time I was alive here, but I don’t.” The voice paused for a moment, and Tikka was almost ready to start asking questions again when it spoke again. “You have to understand, this state I’m in… it’s sometimes a lot like being asleep and dreaming. When I concentrate on something I’m lucid, but whenever I let go of that focus, even for a moment, things can become very confusing. The memories of what I have of my life are fragmented. I know I knew of something, probably not something I had personally experienced but more like a story, or a history, connected to the Monkey God, but that is all I can remember. And as for now… I can sense that bad thing in them, and besides that there is something about those temples that affects me. I can’t remember of knowing of that part before, maybe I just haven’t gone near enough to them, or maybe I have and have forgotten, but last week when I tried to follow Grath to one, it happened to me, even if I was very focused at that moment. But I fell asleep anyway the moment I got to the temple. I have been here, in the tavern, most of the time since then, and I have wandered around the city a couple of times, but I just couldn’t remember what I was supposed to be doing, or where I was, or anything. Until I just woke up just outside of the city walls. And came here.”

Tikka’s fingers found a straw from the pile she was sitting on, and she twisted and worried it while she tried to make some sense out of what Para had said.

There really was something wrong with the Monkey God. Or at least with the Monkey God’s temples. Grath had been hired to spy on them, or steal something from them. The ghost didn’t know where he was now, or what had happened to him. Or if anything had. And it couldn’t help her to find out more about the temples, because something about the temples affected it. It could not go near one.

“So… what next?” Para asked. “What do you want me to do?”

Tikka’s fingers stopped twirling the straw and she became very still. “You… would you try to go near the temples again if I asked you?”

“Sure,” the voice answered without hesitation. “I don’t know what good that would do. But if you want me to try, I will.”

Tikka thought for a moment. “No. I won’t ask you to do that, after all,” she then said, her voice very quiet. “I think we’ll have to figure out something else.”

“Like what?” the voice said.

“How about you see if you can find Grath anywhere in the city. Except the Monkey God’s temples.”

“I can do that.”

“Then please do it. How long do you think that will take you?”

“Oh, a day or two, maybe. It’s harder to find something when I’m off my own ground, but it’s still a lot easier than it is for you incarnated ones.”

Tikka smiled. Para’s voice was back to its normal smug tone. “All right. Call back when you have either found him, or are sure you won’t.”

She was answered with a receding whistling. She laughed, if perhaps a little hysterically, then settled back on the pile of hay and thought.

She wasn’t quite sure why she was doing this. She had no idea how far she would be willing to go for Grath. She knew she liked him, but how much?

She didn’t have to answer those questions now. So far what she had been doing hadn’t really required all that much from her. She’d wait and see what the situation looked like before she’d try to decide anything.

Para was doing most of the work right now. But one thing she could do, and wanted to do, was to find out more about the Monkey God. There had to be stories about that god, and its temples, around. Especially if there truly was something bad connected to them.

***

Tikka spent the next couple of days asking everybody of the tavern staff whether they knew of any stories connected to the city temples, and especially if they knew any scary stories. She was told a few typical ghost stories, like the one of the princess who was supposed to haunt one of the Fertility Goddesses temples because she had killed herself there when her father had taken her there by force to be wed to a rich prince she despised, as she was actually in love with a lowly common soldier (Para told her there was a ghost in there, but as far as the ghost knew she had been a servant girl who had poisoned herself by accident when she had taken rat poison from a priestess’ cabinet and drank it, thinking it was wine).

Entertaining, but not what she was after.

Para had found no trace of Grath.

It was beginning to look like she’d have to visit the city herself. So a few days later when they were once again running low on supplies she went to Jick and said she’d go.

“Tikka, are you sure you aren’t sick?” Jick rolled his eyes and tried to look scandalized. “Usually I have to use bribery to get you to go to the markets. Now you volunteer. And right after you had that encounter with that man there, too.”

Tikka shrugged. “Think what you will. I’d like to spend a little time there this time too. I have never done much sightseeing. So what I would like to do is maybe go there the previous evening, spend the night in one of the temple guesthouses and do the shopping the next morning. Would that suit you? I can pay for the guesthouse myself if you don’t want to.”

They were both in the kitchen and not alone. There was an audience, all the girls and Jish.

“She’s after that man of hers,” Anya said and was greeted with the sounds of general agreement. “He hasn’t been around lately. She’s scared he has finally given up on her and gone and found some city slut.”

Tikka groaned. “He is not my man. But I have to admit I am a bit worried about him. Those priests he was with the last time he was here… it’s never good to mix in the temple businesses. I just want to make sure he’s alright.”

The girls answered with a chorus of “Righttt…”.

Tikka turned and pretended to slump against the big cabinet next to her and, gently, banged her forehead on the wood. “Please, will you give up on that ‘your man’ stuff?”

“Well, if it’s like that, why didn’t you say so?” Jick said. “Of course you can go. And I can pay for the guesthouse. If you stay in the Star Goddess’ one.” That was the cheapest of the temple guesthouses, most of which were hell of a lot cheaper than any of the taverns or inns of the city to start with. They were also far more spartan than the taverns and inns.

“That’s fine. I’ll be happy enough with the Star Goddess’ house,” Tikka said and turned back to Jick, trying rather unsuccessfully to ignore the others.
“But I won’t let you go alone. You might run into that mercenary. So,” Jick turned to face the girls, “Who else wants to spend the night in Khemas?”
Both Anya’s and Mambi’s hands shot up.

“All right. But you still need a bodyguard. Mukasji!” Jick’s bellow made Tikka jump.

Mukasji? And both Anya and Mambi? Tikka rolled her eyes for the invisible participant of the gathering she was fairly sure was listening. This was getting out of hand.

She was answered with a gentle stirring of air next to the fine hairs above her temple.

“Now where the hell is that good for nothing…” Jick muttered and walked to the back door of the kitchen, then yelled again, loud enough to spook the chickens and ducks scavenging for food in the back yard.

“Mukasji!”

“Get him drunk,” Para’s voice whispered next to Tikka’s ear. “Or something. We’ll figure it out.”

Tikka nodded.

The main thing was to get into the city. They’d make the rest of it up as they went.

***

Mukasji was unhappy with the whole thing, and he had let them all know it on the way to the city. Especially since his father had made it very clear to him that he was to obey Tikka and Mambi. At least he had given up grumbling after a while, and right now just followed them with a sour face and his pike. But while he was being his normal pain in the ass self, in some obscure way Tikka was almost comforted by the young man’s presence. Mukasji was stupid, but while he was noticeably fat he was also very strong, pretty agile and  surprisingly good with his pike, a fact which the girls had witnessed in more than one occasion when there had been trouble with drunken or otherwise unreasonable swordsmen in the tavern. Mukasji had never learned how to use a sword well, but a good pikeman could be more than a match for most swordsmen.

Mukasji might not be good for much, but he was a good bodyguard. Especially since he was also big enough to be able to intimidate most people simply by his looks. The only problem for the girls was to make sure he would stick to defending them and not go and pick quarrels himself because he thought somebody was looking badly at him or his charges.

“You know, I think that maybe the biggest problem with him is that he tends to take himself and his duties too seriously,” Mambi was saying in a quiet voice to the other two girls as they were walking through the crowded streets towards one of the Fertility Goddesses temples, Mukasji a few steps behind them. “And he can’t admit even to himself, much less to anyone else, that he really doesn’t have the brains to handle most things by himself. He’d make a great underling, but he keeps on trying to be the boss.”

“Well, the poor boy is the boss’ only son,” Tikka said.

“I know we all have just loved to tease him all these years, but lately I have began to feel more and more sorry for the poor sod. He can’t help what he is.”

“Mambi, don’t say you are actually beginning to like him,” Anya said, her voice a bit too loud.

“Why not?” Mambi’s voice was defensive. Then she grinned. “Besides, have any of you ever taken a really good look at him? He would not be a bad looking guy, at all, if he could get rid of some of that excess fat.”

“And the sour expression…” Anya muttered.

Tikka stopped to take a good look of her friend’s face, then continued walking. “He is the boss’ son,” she said slowly. “It might not be a bad idea for somebody to make friends with him. Someday he will inherit that tavern.”

“And if he has a wife who he will listen to, maybe he can even keep the tavern,” Mambi said and grinned. “Besides, I think I really actually do sort of like him.”

“You and Mukasji?” Anya’s voice was almost scandalized.

“Why not? Especially since I don’t think the way I have been earning money these years would matter to him all that much, at least not if I’d quit that for him. Of course,” Mambi voice lost it’s light tone, “that is one thing I have to make sure of before I do anything else. I don’t want a husband who’d keep using my present occupation against me for the rest of my life.”

Anya sighed. “Yes. Well, I won’t have that problem. The odds I’d find a husband who’d be willing to marry a woman who is both a whore, even a former whore, and not able to have children are probably next to non-existent.”

“Are you really sure you can’t have kids,” Tikka asked. She knew Anya thought so, but she had never before tried to find out why.

“Remember the Blue Fever? I had that when I was in my early teens. Killed the rest of my family, but I lived.”

“And most people who lived can’t have kids… I remember,” Tikka said. “I didn’t catch it, but it killed two of my sisters.”

“I have never bought any of the spells for not getting pregnant from any of the Fertility Goddesses’ temples, and I have been very active when it comes to sex for years. If I haven’t gotten pregnant by now, I suppose I can’t.” Anya’s voice was bitter. She loved kids. She was always willing to look after Aster’s and Estas’ two boys, and she was the one who’d volunteer to help any of their guest who arrived with their children in tow, a rare enough occurrence but one that did happen sometimes during the religious festivals when all the more reputable places were already full.

Tikka nodded.

The street was getting even more crowded as they got closer to the Fertility Goddess’ temple. One of the Fertility Goddesses. There were altogether three rival sects for three different Fertility Goddesses in the city, and that was not the only godly occupation for which there were more than one contender here. There were also two War Gods and both a God and a Goddess of Merchants. This particular Goddess whose temple they were headed for was supposed to be one who concentrated more on human affairs, so if you either wanted to buy a spell to have kids, or having a kid of one or the other sex, or not to have kids, you visited her temple. If you wanted fertile fields you’d be better off, according to common wisdom, with one of the other Goddesses. And the third Goddess was the one for getting your chickens or cows or horses to breed well.

This trip was mostly for Mambi’s sake, she thought it was time for her to renew her spells for not getting pregnant. Besides, you could also buy spells here for preventing most of the diseases which were known to go with sex, and even Anya needed those.

Tikka suspected Anya might also use some of her money for buying a spell for getting pregnant. She felt sorry for the girl, for probably not even the Goddesses could help someone who had survived the Blue Fever.

“Tikka, you never speak of your family,” Mambi suddenly said. “Why did you leave them in the first place? I left because mine were poor and I was not bringing in as much as I was eating. Anya’s family died. But you have never said much, except that you had several sisters.”

Tikka wasn’t sure this was something she wanted to get into. But then, why not… it was no big secret as far as she was concerned. Well, a few details were perhaps better not to become common knowledge, but she trusted the girls. “Mine are all dead too.”

“The fever? You said it killed your sisters…”

“That, and… I’m originally from the east, the edge of the hill country. Have you ever heard of the Duchy of Askar?” Tikka gave a sidewise glance to the girls and saw them both nod. “And the invasion? By the kingdom of Drisna?”

Two nods again.

“All right. My grandmother was of the hill people. When she was in her early twenties she met the Duke of Askar in the hills and fell in love with him. Badly enough to forsake her own people in order to follow him to his country. Even knowing he’d never marry her.” Tikka again glanced at her friends and grinned when she saw the eager looks on their faces. Those two were such suckers for love stories. Sort of funny considering their occupations. Or the fact that at least Mambi had just proven she was quite capable to plan a marriage from an almost wholly mercenary viewpoint.

“Well, she spent a big part of her life being his mistress. From what I know they did love each other for most of their lives, even after he had married. Fortunately his wife didn’t really care all that much. Granny made sure she represented no threat to the duchess at any point. Like, she knew enough magic to make sure she didn’t have more than one child, and that that one child was a girl, so there could be no chance whatsoever somebody might try to use that child as an excuse to plan overthrowing the legitimate heir. Well, they grew old, the duke died, my mother grew up and fell in love with a farmer and married him, and granny lived with them. And then my mother went and spent the rest of her life being pregnant. Father wanted a son and all the children they had were girls. Granny said she was always afraid that may have had something to do with that spell she made to make sure she didn’t carry any boys to the duke. Pregnancy was what killed my mother in the end. She died when delivering my youngest sister. The baby died right after.”

“Well I’ll be…” Mambi said. “I think I’m getting an inkling here for why you don’t seem to value love all that highly.”

Tikka snorted. “Well, look what it got my grandmother and mother. Although I have to admit either one of them might have claimed it had all been worth it. Maybe.

“Anyway. Then there was the fewer. Two of my sisters died. There had been six of us girls to start with, now there were four, and father and grandmother. And some relatives from father’s side, but no close ones there. Then there was the invasion. Two more of my sisters and my father died then. They were at the house when a bunch of soldiers came looking for loot. I, my oldest sister and granny were milking cows. We managed to escape into the woods. Not for long though. We were rounded up and herded to one of the camps of the Drisna soldiers and spent some fun weeks there doing their laundry and cooking for them and providing evening, and night, and morning, and whenever the fancy struck them, entertainment for the men. Mostly my sister and me. But they did use granny sometimes too.”

Neither Anya nor Mambi had any comments to that.

“Well, I thought that was bad. But it became worse when the prince of Drisna was told that some descendants of the former duke’s bastard daughter were among the prisoners. I never found out who had provided him that information, not that it matters. Well, turned out he had been sort of disappointed that all the ducal family had managed to get themselves killed during the fighting. I think he had something personal against that duke, even if I never found out what exactly. So, he brought us to him. By then he had settled himself into the former ducal castle. You see, he was the younger prince of Drisna. No place for him to rule except by taking one by force, and Askar was it. So, we were taken to him and it amused him to make us his personal servants. Granny got the honor of cleaning his floors, and my sister and I, well not that much different from the camp. We did his laundry and cleaned his personal rooms and he took us into his bed during most of the nights. Or whenever the fancy struck him.”

For a while after that Tikka stayed silent. It had been years since she had last thought about that time.

“What happened,” Mambi asked in a quiet voice.

“Nothing much. That went on for a long time. My sister couldn’t take it. She killed herself after a few months. But I did take it. From the time I was thirteen until I turned fifteen and for several months after that. Grandmother did all she could to help. And she kept on teaching me those fighting skills of her people, every time we could find a moment together and out of other people’s eyes. Like, we’d be sweeping the floors and saw there was nobody in sight, and she’d teach me some of the moves you use in staff fighting with the broom handles. And in the end the people who now inhabited the castle got more careless when it came to keeping an eye on us, until one night we could sneak out of the castle and escaped. We did run into two guards on the way, but even when that old granny was still very good. I could help, a little, too. Not that much though.’

“We lived for over a year in the woods near the hills. Granny kept on teaching me all she could, about fighting, and how to survive in the wilds on your own. But she was old, and then she got sick. Very sick. And she wanted to go back to her hills to die. She didn’t want me to follow her there. She was an outcast among her own people, and I would have been even more so, as I had only one fourth of the hill blood to start with and, besides, was the granddaughter of somebody who was no longer considered of the hills. So, in the end, she left for the hills, and I left to come here. And that’s all there is to my story.”

“Sorry I asked,” Mambi said.

“No matter,” Tikka said and sighed. “I don’t really like to think about all that, but I suppose I should try to remember them at least once in a while. We… I fought with my sisters and father a lot, and I think I have always… hate is too strong a word, but I have been angry at Lila for killing herself, after we were taken to the castle. I would have needed her then, and she… well, she had always thought about herself first, I think, she was the pretty one, and the one most popular with the boys, and father’s favorite, and…” she paused for a moment, then continued, “When it all was gone, in the end she did not have that much concern for her kid sister or her grandmother, just that she was suffering.” Tikka shrugged. She was a bit surprised how much anger that memory still brought. She hadn’t thought about Lila for a long time.

They had all suffered then. Lila had not even been the one the prince had taken most often, that had been her, Tikka, with her undeveloped body and hair the same color as the deceased duke had once had. And Lila had abandoned her.

Tikka pushed the memory away, like she had always done. There were times and places when people lived in peace, and then there were the other times, and other places. And sometimes other people. And when you had to deal with those you had to learn to live with the pain. That was just the way it was.

At least for her the ones who had hurt her had been enemies, not her own people.

Except for Lila.

“We weren’t a perfect family, but I do think they do deserve to be remembered, and I’m the only one left to do that.”

“Uh,” Anya said, “you really are a duke’s granddaughter then?”

Trust Anya to notice that. “Yes. In a way. Legally I’m not. By the laws of all the people around here, since I am only the child of an illegitimate daughter, especially since the mother of that daughter was only a servant, I can’t really claim to be the duke’s descendant. I’m just the granddaughter of a female personal servant of the duke’s. That’s all.”

“Even so,” Anya said, her eyes round. “Wow.” The girl had always been a sucker for a title.

“Just keep quiet about that, will you, both of you? I don’t know how badly pissed the prince was about our escape, but it’s not wholly impossible that if he were to find out I’m still alive, and living not all that far from him, he just might do something like send someone here to kill me.” Tikka was beginning to regret telling her story. She trusted them, but at least Anya was somebody who might blab when she got a bit drunk and stopped thinking.

“Of course. Don’t worry,” Mambi said and glared at Anya, “I’ll make sure featherbrain here will forget the whole thing. At least as something that concerns somebody she knows.” Anya looked a bit concerned at that and Tikka grinned at her. That spell should be an easy one. Besides, Anya usually sounded so scatterbrained that most people, especially her customers, did seem to have the habit of simply not listening to her when she wasn’t talking about something actually relevant at the moment, like how much money they’d have to dig up for her. In one ear, out of the other, occasionally answer with something like ‘Uh huh’ or ‘Mmm’.

Besides, Tikka didn’t really worry all that much about the current ruler of Askar. She didn’t think she had never been anybody important to him, just something slightly amusing to have around. He had probably forgotten she had even existed years ago.

Once she had dreamed of revenge. Sometimes she still did. But not very often. Bad things did happen. In spite of everything she had loved her family, and if she could have changed the past and gotten them back she might have been willing to make more than small sacrifices for that. But she had no wish to throw away her own life for something as empty as a revenge. To her the invasion, and the prince, were forces that were in most ways as impersonal as a flood, or a storm would have been. Or the Blue Fever. They just happened, and sometimes it was your life which got trampled in the process. Tough. And then, if you survived, you went on with your life. What else could you do? And it was not as she was the only one whose life had been shattered by that invasion. Or by something similar. The Empire forced peace on its territory, but they were living on the outskirts. Lots of bad shit happened here, and way too often.

“Alright, here were are,” Mambi said.

Tikka raised her eyes and saw the gate to the temple courtyard in front of them. Two big statues in the shape of winged, and overly voluptuous, naked women stood on both sides of the gate. Their hands were upraised and supporting the lintel of the gateway. That lintel had been carved into the likeness of the sun and its rays, and above the sun was a third statue, a dove with raised wings. Tikka had always thought that the whole thing might actually have looked rather grand, except for the fact that there was no telling what stone had originally been used for the statues, for they were all painted. Mostly their color was a rather bright golden hue, but the winged women’s lips and nipples were red, their hair and brows and pubic areas black and their wings silver. To her the end result had always looked more like an advertisement for a brothel than something that would make one think of anything more spiritual. True, sex was considered spiritual by lots of folks – definitely including the ones who worshipped this particular Fertility Goddess – but that had not been the way she had been raised. To her people it had not been something shameful, but neither had it been something which should be glorified in worship. It was of this world, and spiritual, and worship, should be about one’s connection with the next one.

The sole reason she was here was that this temple should be a good place for picking up information about the Monkey God. Especially anything bad connected to the Monkey God. The two sects were among the worst rivals among the countless religions of the city. Especially since those two actually did share a common worldview. For the Fertility Goddess’ worshipers the Monkey God was the bad guy, the one who brought misery into the world. For the Monkey God’s congregation the Fertility Goddess was a wanton hussy and would bring the world to a miserable end if she wasn’t brought down. Outside of the city the two sects were often in open war with each other. Inside the city they had to tolerate each other.

Yes. If there was one place in the city where Tikka might find rumors about something bad connected to the Monkey God, this had to be it. How true those rumors would be was another thing.

And then there was the problem that no matter what she found out she had no idea whatsoever as how to proceed after this.

The Demons of Khemas, free sample, 2. chapter

4 May

I will put up the first five chapters, every second day from today. It’s possible I will remove some after I have the novel out. I did consider putting out the whole novel, then removing it when I publish it on Kindle, but I think I’ll try this now, then the whole novel approach with a shorter work I may be able to finish sometime next fall.

Chapter Two

Two days after the Northerners had left the tavern staff was still cleaning up and repairing damages. Jick had hired a couple of outsiders to help, and a carpenter had been putting together a couple of new tables and benches on the yard since the day before, after repairing the ones which could be repaired, but most of the work had been done by the regulars.

During her midday break Tikka sneaked into the hayloft to be alone for a few moments. Being alone was a habit Tikka had picked up when she had been a girl, and was something most people she knew found odd. But she just had to get away from people sometimes.

Of course the ghost could always be there, but she was used to that by now.

“Hello, woodpecker.”

“Hello to yourself. Where have you been the last couple of days?”

“What, have you been missing me?”

“Just wondering.”

“Oh, here and there. Followed your man for a bit.”

“Grath? And he is not my man.”

The voice laughed. “Now really? Then why did you immediately assume I was talking about him?”

“Really. Because you always call him ‘my man’. Or ‘your man’… never mind. But he’s not my man, whatever you call him. What do you mean with followed? I didn’t know you could leave the tavern.”

“Oh yes,” the voice said, smug. “Can leave. I can go to the city, and about two days travel from it, to most directions. I just can’t stay. I always have to return here after a few days.”

Tikka leaned on the wall and frowned. There was the sound of the carpenter’s saw from the yard, then a laughter which Tikka thought sounded like that of Anya. Flirting with the carpenter, probably. “So, if you followed Grath…”

“Would you like to know what he’s doing?”

Tikka stayed quiet for a moment, trying to decide what to say.

“Well… I am sort of curious. I think.”

“He hasn’t been doing that much. Assessing the terrain, I’d say.”

“Come on. Don’t tease.”

“I did hear something of what they talked in the back room. Not all, a few of those men do know magic, and they had a spell there. But I am, in a sense anyway, the familiar spirit of this place, so you can’t keep me from knowing at least something. Especially since they didn’t know about me. Well, Grath does, but he doesn’t talk, and the others, the spellcasters, didn’t.”

“You certainly act familiar. So are you going to tell me or not?”

“All right, all right. I think they hired Grath and his friends to steal something, from one of the rival sects. Something which has some sort of magical worth.”

Tikka frowned again. She didn’t like the sound of that. “Know anything more? Do you think it’s dangerous?”

“So you do worry about him? I don’t know much more. Maybe I can find out. If you want I can try. But no guarantees. I’m just an ordinary ghost.”

“Well… I have to admit I do sort of like him, so… I don’t know what good it would do if you did, though. I don’t think he’d listen if I tried to warn him.”

“I will see what I can see. And hear.”

“Thank you. Anyway.”

The voice sounded like the speaker was smiling. “No sweat. Especially since I don’t sweat. And you can call me Para.”

Tikka, who had been in the process of getting up, halted. “Hey. You have never given me your name before. And we have known each other for years.”

“It’s not really my name, or even a name, in the sense of a personal name. But it will do. Means something like ‘a familiar spirit’. I don’t know how I know that, or what language it is,” it then said, “just one of those things I just know.”

Tikka smiled. “Well, that fits you. And no peeking under my skirts when I climb down that ladder.”

She was answered by the sound of laughter, fading into the distance.

A rat jumped out of the hay, perhaps scared by the ghost, then another, both ran towards the wall and then got momentarily confused about which direction to take.

There was still some time left before Tikka needed to go back to work, so she took the sling and a few stones she had the habit of carrying with her on her breaks, just in case of occasions like this, and aimed a stone at the larger one of the rats, missed, then threw a second stone right after and this time scored, killing the rat.

The other one had managed to get away by then.

One of the barn cats ran to the carcass and snatched it into its mouth, tossed it a couple of times and started to eat.

“Lazy kitty,” Tikka said. “Killing them is your job, not mine.”

Tikka stared at the cat for a moment while playing with the sling, deep in thought, then put it back in the belt pouch where she carried it.

She might as well go back to work. It was not as if she could expect any news from the ghost today, and suddenly she found she was too restless to be able to laze around doing nothing anymore.

Better to find something useful to do. At least that might keep her mind off things.

***

Tikka hated visiting the city. To her the whole place seemed like a giant sore on the surface of the plains. Aster was one of the few people who seemed to have something of the same attitude, but even she didn’t really understand the depth of Tikka’s loathing. To Aster the city was a place of depravation and danger. To Tikka it was a place of danger. But not only, like to Aster, of danger to your health, money and life. It seemed to Tikka that the danger went much deeper.

When she visited the city she feared for her soul.

She still had to do it sometimes. The Burned Oak bought most of its supplies from the city markets, and most times it was the bar wenches’ duty to do the  shopping. Jick would go himself only when he was in the mood, or when he needed to get some of the more expensive stuff, like the stronger liquors. Nobody would trust Mukasji with anything you needed money for. He would sometimes accompany the girls, but not very often anymore. Not after he had learned that he could not intimidate any of them to hand over any of the money Jick had given them for the shopping.

And Jish usually preferred not leave the tavern at all.

This time the ones who were on duty list for the shopping trip were Mambi and Tikka. They had started out early enough that there was no risk of Mukasji leeching on to them, and were already waiting outside the city gates with their pony and wagon when they were opened for the day.

The guards didn’t bother them with any questions. They never did, although they did have the right. Tikka ignored them as she urged their pony through the gateway, but Mambi, true to form, yelled something about ‘cute boys’.

“Hey, they’re potential customers,” Mambi said in answer to Tikka’s sidewise glance and raised eyebrow. “Soldiers make up the majority of customers for us, you know that.”

“Yes. I know.”

“Thinking about Grath?”

Tikka shrugged.

“You know, he can’t spent his life waiting for you to show some interest. If you gave him some indication you might be willing to be his woman I think there’s a good chance he’d stay faithful. I know that matters to you.”

“Now why does everyone have this notion I’m interested in Grath? He’s a friend, that’s all.”

Mambi laughed.

“That does happen, you know. A man and a woman can be just friends.”

“Sure. I believe you.”

Tikka rolled her eyes and groaned.

The beginning day had the promise of a beautiful one. Clear sky, sunshine, but enough wind that the heat would probably not become stifling. Most of the city streets had been cleaned of the refuse left by the last festival, the air was smelling almost fresh, and there were even birds singing. Yet Tikka felt the familiar oppression as they drove deeper into the maze of streets.

The city of Khemas was old. According to legends it had been established by the god kings when most humans had still been members of roving hunting bands, and had stood here, in the same place, ever since. According to legends it had never been conquered. Nowadays it was being ruled by a duke, and was nominally under the rule of the Western Empire, after a willing submission by the city once the Northern threat had seemed to become too much for the city to resist alone, but the only way the Empire exerted its power was by demanding a small tax to be paid each year.

The city’s age was a tangible reality inside its walls. Here and there one could see whole blocks of newer construction, but many of the buildings dated from hundreds, a few of the older temples possibly even thousands of years ago. Most of the hundreds of temples were among the truly old buildings, buildings which had perhaps been touched up here and there, but had walls and foundations which sometimes had been laid down at the time when the first people had settled here.

Tikka avoided visiting the temples. They were the places which scared her in the city. Some more, some less, but all of them to some extent.

Among the worst were those which were dedicated to the Monkey God. There hadn’t been monkeys living wild in this part of the world for as long as anyone could remember, but the story was that once it had been much warmer here, with no true winters, and there had been monkeys living in the city. As it was almost the only place where anyone could see monkeys in this part of the world now, living or carved, apart from a few small ones kept as pets in the Court, were inside the Monkey God’s temples. The living ones were imported from the south, and were kept in cages inside the temples, and brought on display on the wide stairs leading up to the temple doors on the warm days of the summer. Like today. Tikka could hear the noise they made even if they passed the temple of this quarter more than a block away. The sound made her shudder.

“The monkeys?” Mambi asked when she noticed.

“You know, I honestly don’t know why. I have seen the pets some of the Court ladies keep, and I find them kind of cute. The animals there,” she nodded towards the direction the sound came from, “are almost the same, just bigger and with shorter tails and longer snouts. Yet they make me freak out.”

Mambi shrugged. “Who knows. I’m scared of lizards. I know all the varieties we have here are harmless, but I’m still scared of them. And you forgot teeth, by the way. The fangs of the temple monkeys are quite fearsome, to everybody. Maybe it’s just that.”

Tikka shrugged in answer.

The market was already up and going, full of yelling customers and yelling traders. Tikka and Mambi parked the pony and wagon in a long line of similar wagons, then forced their way into the crowd. Tikka left the bargaining to Mambi. She was almost as good as Mambi was for getting good prices, but she didn’t enjoy the process of bargaining itself the way Mambi did. They did one trip together into the market, but after they had dragged their first purchases to the wagon Tikka stayed there to watch them while Mambi went alone to get what they were still missing.

Tikka sat and waited and amused herself by people watching. Khemas was at the crossroads of several trading routes. From the North came mostly fur and wool, dried fish and game meats, from the east and south spices and bolts of silk and linen, and from the plains around the city wool, steers driven to be slaughtered in the cities of the Empire, all kind of grains. From the west came the traders and soldiers of the Empire, but not much else. All the caravans stopped at Khemas during the trading season, and left some of their riches here, as payments for their supplies, or as gifts to the temples, or as the taxes the duke was allowed to gather, in the name of the Empire. They were what kept the city alive. They were what gave the city its wealth.

In the crowd around her were represented almost all the possible combinations of skin colors and hair types, facial features and dressing styles. The natives of the area were mostly fairly light skinned people with dark to mid-brown hair colors and dark eyes, but they didn’t make up more than two thirds of the population of the city even during the winter months. Now it was summer and well over half of the people one saw on the streets were exotic looking in some way.

Tikka supposed she would have liked the city if it hadn’t been for the whatever it was that made her feel like she was walking through a snake pit in full darkness every time she entered its walls, or even came close to it.

The sun had moved noticeably in the sky when Tikka saw a familiar face in the crowd. He was one of the two companions Grath had been with that evening a few days ago. She sat up straighter and waved at the man. He stared at her for a few seconds, looking nonplussed, then wove his way through the crowd to her.

“Do I knew you, girl?”

“No, but I know somebody you know. Have you seen Grath lately? I’d like to see him, so if you meet him tell him that, will you? My name is Tikka.”

The guy grinned, showing several missing teeth. The rest weren’t in good condition either. “Sure will, honey. I remember you now, you’re that wench from that tavern. Should have done so earlier, that color of hair is not common.”

“That’s what they say. So will you give my message to Grath?”

“If I see him. Haven’t for a while. And how will you pay if I’ll be your messenger boy?”

Tikka grinned. “How would you like a kick in the balls?”

“So, a tough one? Not acceptable, honey. I won’t work for free.”

He seemed to mean what he said. Tikka looked at his face for a moment, then sighed. “A kiss? I don’t have money or any other valuables with me. My own ones, that is. Just some that belong to my boss.”

“A kiss will do,” the man said and climbed up, then sat beside Tikka on the driver’s bench. He put his arms around her and drew her close. Tikka was beginning to regret the whole thing. His breath smelled rotten.

Well, a bargain was a bargain. Tikka smacked the man on the mouth, adding a hug for a good measure, rubbing her breasts on his chest, doing the whole thing in way she hoped was teasing but not too provocative.

The man grabbed her behind and squeezed hard. “You have to do better than that, honey.”

Tikka decided that she was not getting good value for her goods. Besides, the guy probably would not tell Grath anything anyway.

She smiled sweetly and pressed closer to the man. His grin spread wider and he didn’t try to stop her questing hands as they wandered towards the front of his trousers.

She slipped her hand inside and then grabbed him by his balls. Hard.

The man’s smile turned into a grimace.

“You know, I think I changed my mind. The original bargain is off. But I do want something for that kiss.” While keeping a firm grip with one hand Tikka used her other to explore the man’s clothing. “Oh, what have we here?”

She felt his hands move, and squeezed harder. “No, no you won’t. No looking for knives or any other nasty stuff like that. Unless you want to become an eunuch.”

She was beginning to think she was acting like an idiot. But it was too late to back down now.

His hands become still, then Tikka felt they were again resting lightly against her back. She drew the shape she had felt beneath his vest out. A pouch with something inside it.

She probably shouldn’t have taken it. But she did anyway. Maybe it was the man. He wasn’t that different from many others she had known, but he was really starting to irritate her.

“Tikka?” Mambi’s voice said from behind her.

“Hi. Could you help me out here a bit? This gentleman is leaving. I want to be sure he’ll do it quietly.”

Mambi’s sigh was loud enough to be heard above the din of the crowd all around them. “Sure.” The tall girl climbed up, then pulled her skirt up and drew two short knives from the sheaths, which had several more, tied to her legs. She brandished one of them in front of the man’s face. “See this? It’s balanced for throwing. I’m good with it.” She demonstrated, by flipping the knife into the air and then catching it easily by its handle again.

“See the goo on the blade,” she then asked. “Guess what it might be?”

The man nodded, looking unhappy and perhaps a little bit angry. Probably not so angry he’d try anything, or at least Tikka hoped so. Nobody around them seemed to be paying any attention to what they were doing. Nobody usually did, not in this city, not as long as the participants were of the lower classes and didn’t do anything that might disturb the rich.

“All right. Off you go then. Good boy.” Mambi’s voice was not at all the way it usually was when she spoke to men. The gap-toothed guy climbed down, then looked up at Mambi who was now again flipping one of the knives in her hand, her movements deft and sure. For a moment he looked like he might have wanted to do something, then he shrugged and turned and disappeared into the crowd.

“So what was that all about,” Mambi asked.

“A mistake.”

“And what would you have done if I hadn’t come back when I did?”

Tikka shrugged. “Tried to knock him out, probably. I have done that a few times.”

“With what?”

Tikka smiled and tapped her forehead.

“Oh yes. Your granny’s training. But this was no horse trader. Sorry specimen for a soldier, maybe, but he might still have been a bit harder to deal with than that trader was.”

Two years ago Tikka had been forced to hurt a man who had tried to molest her when she had gone to clean his room. She had never found out if he had complained to Jick, or to anyone else. Jick had never said anything. But the others would have known something had happened to the customer. The black eye and two broken front teeth would have been hard to miss. Not to mention the other bruises. She had sported one too, on her forehead, for days.

Tikka knew she had been lucky back then. That man had not been one of the professional fighters who were among the tavern’s more common customers, just somebody who had come to sell some horses. She was not sure how well she’d do against any of the mercenaries. In spite of her pretended confidence she was not at all sure she could have gotten out of the situation she had just been in without the other girl’s help. Mambi’s skill with the knives, and the fact that she painted some of the blades with the juice of a  certain plant – not a killing poison, but one that could cause partial paralysis, and cause it fast – was well known by all of the tavern’s staff, and Tikka was afraid she had pretty much counted on that she’d come back to the wagon in time.

Stupid. And this was not quite the first time she had done something not exactly smart. Sometimes she just… the fact was she didn’t know why she had done it, or why she had done something reckless those couple of times before.

Sometimes she just acted before she really thought things through.

Stupid.

Tikka turned the pony back to the street they had used to come here, then urged it to a trot for a few moments. The streets were crowded enough by now that she had to slow down in a matter of moments, though.

She was feeling bad about the incident. She had misjudged, and if they were unlucky her mistake might lead to trouble later on. In the worst case it might lead to trouble for Mambi, or even for one or other of the people of the tavern who had not even been here. She’d have to tell Jick about this.

Perhaps not the completely accurate version though. She knew Mambi would back up anything she’d say, so she would think of something which would not make her look like a total fool.

***

Tikka remembered the pouch she had taken from the man only very late in the evening. She might not have done that then, except she found it in one of the inside pockets on her underskirt when she was taking the skirt off by nearly stepping on it. There was something hard in there.

She took it out and sat on her bed, cross legged, to look at it.

When she opened the pouch she found a small box. She turned it in her hands for quite a long time, trying to figure out how it was opened, to no avail.

“That’s a trick box,” Para’s voice said right beside her left ear, making her start hard enough to drop the box.

“Now look what you did,” Tikka said.

“Sorry,” the voice said, not sounding quite sincere.

Tikka got off the bed and knelt down on the floor. She couldn’t see the box anywhere. “How about some help, ghost?”

“It’s underneath your bed.”

“Fine. You get it.”

“But I have no hands….”

“I know you can move things. You have scared the shit out of the girls enough times by throwing something at them, or by dropping something near them. So what’s so hard about pushing that box where I can see it?”

“All right, all right. Don’t bite my nonexistent head off.”

There was a scraping sound, and Tikka saw something moving. After a heartbeat or two the box slid into the light of the candle.

Her breath caught for a moment. She had seen things moving inside the tavern with nobody touching them a few times before, and she had known for years that the one who moved them was Para. But she had never been this close when it happened.

She had not been afraid of the ghost for years. Not really. Yet, in spite of everything, the sight of that small box sliding on seemingly by itself on the floor, right next to her knees, was unsettling.

“So, are you going to pick it up or not? I could levitate it, but that’s a really tiring act for me, so I’d rather not.”

“Sorry,” Tikka said quietly. “I was just, sort of, startled, I guess. I didn’t really think you’d do it.”

“Or hoped I wouldn’t?”

Tikka picked up the box and sat back on the bed. “Maybe that too.”

“I know I scared you pretty bad when I first approached you, on the yard that night. Even if you didn’t run. But I could hear your heart beating like crazy, and your voice shook when you answered me.”

“You did scare me. I’m mostly used to you now. I do think of you as a friend. But, well, you are still a bit… I don’t quite know how to say this.”

“Scary?”

Tikka smiled and nodded.

“We are not common, spirits who are stuck someplace like me. But neither are we all that uncommon. But you… people like you are rare.”

“What do you mean?”

“People who can hear us. We can make people hear us sometimes, if we want it bad enough, but then it’s something we do. You can hear me without me having to make any effort for you to hear. Do you understand?”

Tikka frowned.

“You have a talent, or a gift. With training you might become a witch, or a priestess. Maybe even a sorceress. Probably not a powerful one, or you would have noticed there was something different about you at an earlier age than you did… what were you when you came here, sixteen?”

Tikka nodded in answer. Para’s voice continued: “That’s late for that talent to show up. But you definitely have it, or we would not be having this conversation right now. I would have been just occasional knocks or footsteps or a thrown spoon to you, like I am to the rest of the people here.”

Tikka sat and played with the box for a while, digesting what the ghost had told her. It remained silent long enough that she began to wonder whether it had gone away. “Para, you still here?”

“Yes.”

“You know, that’s the worst thing about you. Not knowing whether you are there or not. Could we have some sort of an arrangement? I know you love to startle me, and make me wonder whether or not you are around and spying on me, but could you at least give me a warning when you are about to leave? So I won’t be having these one sided conversations with thin air?”

After a moment’s silence the voice answered her. “That sounds reasonable. I can do that. Most times. Sometimes I do just have to leave. I will try to explain, but at some other time, it’s kind of complicated.”

“Thank you.”

“I can give you another promise. I have never actually spied on you all that much, but I promise that from now on I will tell when I’m around, at least if you are alone. I do have this sort of general awareness of what is going on around here and that is something I can’t turn off, but I will tell if my, I guess I could call it focus, is near to you.”

Tikka nodded and said again “Thank you.”

“All right. And now I will have to leave. Leave that box in this room, I can probably figure it out. I will tell you when I have done that.”

“Thank you. And good night.”

“To you too, woodpecker.”

Novel and other stuff

21 Apr

Okay, I have been rather busy the last days. First, I’m trying to finish something I promised to do for somebody else. Second, at the same time I’m trying to finish a novel.

Both are going well enough for now.

I think I may be able to publish that novel sometime next month. I need an epilogue – there is a prologue too, and I do know half of the people around skip those, but it didn’t just feel right as a first chapter, it happens several years before the actual story starts, and it’s a rather short scene of how the protagonist first meets one of her friends, a friend who will later play a very significant role in her life.

But, anyway, since I have no drawings or paintings or photograpsh, I thought I might as well give a sample of the novel instead. So, the prologue and first chapter of The Demons of Khemas. Rather slow beginning, but what the hell. I write what I like to read myself, and sometimes I do like the slow introductions rather than jumping right into action.

THE DEMONS OF KHEMAS

Prologue

Tikka stopped to look. The single lamp outside the tavern struggled feebly against the darkness of the overcast night as the first gusts of the coming storm made it swing in its hook. For a moment the flame inside the partly broken shade sputtered and nearly went out, only to recover at the last moment. The light fell on the mud covering most of the cobblestone yard, revealing the unmistakable shape of a ribcage and some less identifiable things.

Probably the bones were those of animals. Perhaps the remains of old dinners. Tikka doubted the staff would leave corpses of dead customers to rot on their yard. Bad for business, even in a place like this.

She squared her shoulders and walked towards the door. The mud squelched beneath her boots, finding its way to her toes through the broken stitching of the left one. She really needed new ones.

Right before the door she stopped again and smoothed down her skirts, then, after a moment of hesitation, reached up and opened the lower clasps of her cloak. She spread the cloak open, then tugged the shirt’s neckline as far down as she could without revealing her nipples and thrust her chest forward.

That would have to do. Her breasts would have looked alright, at least she liked to think so, if she had been wearing a tight bodice. As it was they were not shown to advantage. Not that they were all that small, but unfortunately they were of the type which sort of just hangs there. Once she got older, or had children, they might end up as something rather unappealing, but for now they were still firm enough to look rather nice. When she was wearing a bodice. Or was naked.

The latter alternative was something she did not intend to get into.

That was the reason why she was outside this tavern, The Burned Oak, instead of some of the others on the roads leading to the city. The rumor had it that while this was in some other ways an unsavory place it was still one where the girls didn’t have to sleep with the customers. Tikka prayed to the gods of her grandmother that it was so, and that they would be needing workers. She was flat out of money. She needed a job and this was her last chance here. If this would not pan out she’d have to go to the city. And that she did not want to do.

Alright. Enough. She’d have to go inside sooner or later.

“You look pretty enough,” a voice said. “He’s a nice guy. Just go in. Has a soft spot for youngsters, too.”

Tikka stumbled and nearly fell down, then managed to gather her balance. She stood absolutely still for a moment, then slowly turned her head to look around.

There was nobody else on the yard with her.

“What did you say? Where are you?”

There was no answer.

She waited a moment more, then asked again: “Where are you? I heard you well enough just now, don’t pretend not to be here now, please.”

“Uh, hi,” the voice said. It was either that of a woman, or that of a man with a somewhat high one.

She could not tell where it came from.

“Where are you? I can’t see you.”

“Here… behind the cart. Yes, behind the cart. But don’t come to look, please.”

There was a cart. One with just one wheel, canting on an angle against the wall of the building, almost out of the circle of light cast by the lone lamp.

“Why are you hiding back there?”

“Uh, I’m sort of ugly. Disfigured, you might say. I don’t like to be seen.”

“Oh.”

She peered at the shadows behind the cart. It didn’t seem as if there was enough space between it and the wall for anybody to hide. Even a very small anybody.

“All right…” She drew in a breath and tried again. “You said he’s nice. You mean the tavern keeper?”

“Yes, he’s nice. You are looking for work, maybe?”

Tikka nodded.

“Just go in and ask. He’ll probably let you try. If you work well he’ll probably keep you. They are a couple of people short right now. And he’s a kindhearted man, anyway, as I already said. Can’t resist a damsel in distress.”

By now Tikka was almost certain there was nobody behind the cart. But there was no other place for anybody to be hiding in the yard. Not anywhere as close as the voice seemed to be coming from, anyway.

Spooky. Very spooky. Except that  the voice sounded nice. It had talked nice, so far, too.

And she really needed a job.

She thought about it for a moment, and then nodded towards the cart. “Thank you.”

Her grandmother would not have approved if she had ran at a mere disembodied voice. And a nice one, at that.

And besides, she could always run later. After she had gotten paid a couple of times.

She drew in a deep breath, walked to the door, opened it and went in.

Chapter One

“Tikka!”

Tikka looked up from the onions she was chopping and saw the red face of Mukasji, the tavern keeper’s son. Tall and wide-shouldered, with thick black curly hair and pleasantly regular features. Unfortunately also not the sharpest knife in the drawer, not even close, and with a gut as wide as his shoulders.  He seemed to be pissed. As usual. Although she supposed his facial color might have had at least as much to do with the considerable amount of ale he had drank during the day. Which happened most days, too. “What now?” she asked.

“You don’t intend to go and serve dinner to them wearing that outfit, do you?”

Tikka looked down at the long brown skirt, blue shirt and dark brown bodice she had on. “Why not?”

“Long sleeves, no slit on the skirt, and that neckline doesn’t show anything. The customers want sexy. You don’t look interesting like that, not at all.”

“Mukasji, the customers may like sexy, but these particular customers also think that scantily dressed is the same as an open invitation. And if I then refuse to be groped, they will cause trouble. Even worse if I let them grope and then won’t follow anyone to their room. Your pa does not like to throw anyone out, you know that. Better if I do this night dressed like somebody halfway respectable. Then they will probably behave.” She refrained from saying ‘you should know all that, damn it’, but it took some willpower. Mukasji could be so damn irritating.

“I really don’t know why pa puts up with you. Neither Anya nor Mambi minds serving them sex. It’s not as if you were married.”

There were six women serving in The Burned Oak tavern. Two of them, Illia and Aster, were married, Aster to the stable master, Illia to a soldier who served in the city guard and visited his wife only about every second month. Then there was the owner’s second wife, a nice elderly woman called Jish who mostly worked as a cook. Tikka had never asked anybody what had happened to Mukasji’s mother, all she knew was that he was legitimate, nobody would talk about that first wife, and Jish had raised Mukasji from an early age.

Anya and Mambi were the two other unmarried servant wenches besides Tikka, both, like her, in their early twenties. Anya was a voluptuous brunette with all the intelligence of a chicken, Mambi a very sharp, tall and skinny girl with a long, homely face. Both got extra money by working as prostitutes on the side.

Tikka had never been quite sure of Illia. Sometimes she would disappear during the evenings. She had never seen Illia going anywhere with a customer, but she had her suspicions. She felt sorry for her husband. Some men would be fine with wives who got money that way, but she doubted he was among them. He had always seemed like the jealous type to her, if otherwise probably a rather decent sort. And the one thing Tikka had a firm opinion about was that Illia should not be doing that particular type of work behind his back.

Jick, the tavern’s owner, did not mind if the girls did whore for themselves. He didn’t ask for a share of the money, saying that the fact that their trade brought him more customers was enough, although he did use it as an excuse to pay the two openly working girls less than he did pay to the others even if he did ask for equal hours of tavern work from them. And unlike most local tavern keepers he didn’t demand his female staff work as whores, he left the decision to them. So those who, like Tikka and Aster, didn’t want to, didn’t have to. Jick even made sure that nobody else forced them to.

He was a good boss. As the voice, all those years ago, had told her.

“Jick likes me because I never get drunk, I’m always at work at the time I’m supposed to be, and I do what he has told me to do, and what I’m supposed to do. It’s called ‘reliable’, Mukasji. And it’s considered a good quality for a hireling to have.”

Mukasji glared at her, then turned and stomped out of the kitchen. Aster, working on the other side of the table, grinned at Tikka, and she grinned back.

Mukasji was one of the bad points of working at The Burned Oak. At least Jick was healthy enough that, barring accidents, he’d be around for a long time yet. Mukasji would probably drive the tavern insolvent within months when he finally inherited it, a fact of which Jick was fully aware. Sometimes he’d talk about it, on those evenings when they didn’t have too many customers and he’d feel free to get a little bit drunk.

Tikka finished with the onions and dropped them into the pot. There was not going to be anything fancy tonight, just soup with chopped up vegetables and some leftover meat from the previous evening. She hoped that would be good enough for the customers. They had gotten a bunch of Northerners a couple of hours ago. Most of them worked as mercenaries for the local merchants, and a caravan had come in last evening. As this was the time of the celebrations for the Goddess of Fertility, or one of them, all the places in the city had however already been packed, so this group had gotten the idea of coming here.

Good for Jick, not so good for the bar wenches. First, this was something they had not been prepared for, so they had been forced to improvise, a lot, when it came to scraping up enough for the men to eat. The only thing they had a good supply of right now was beer and ale, as small blessings go. Then, the girls had recognized several of the men as ones who had given the tavern trouble before.

The Northerners were barbarians. They had some not so nice ideas about how to celebrate their pay day. At the very least they would probably trash half of the tavern before they passed out. Now Jick didn’t mind that all that much, at least as long as he got paid for the damages, and the one thing these guys usually did do was pay well. But Tikka and her friends would have to clean up the mess. And in the worst case… Tikka had not been raped here, so far. But a couple of times it had come close. And these men were that kind of types who would, given half a chance. Provoked or not. The only difference was that if there was provocation, even imagined, and then denial, they might very well do something worse. And then act all innocent and the injured party if anybody accused them of anything afterwards.

Even so, Tikka supposed she shouldn’t complain. She had known full well what she was getting into when she asked to work here. She kept telling herself that if something happened it wouldn’t matter, she was no virgin, and with Jick in charge it would be only something that if it happened at all would happen only very rarely. She should be able to handle once or twice more.

But it was still something she would rather not go through again.

Mambi pushed through the doorway, her hands full of empty tankards. “Hey, is that soup about ready? They are hungry. And somebody has to get in there. I’m dead on my feet, I gotta have a break. And Anya went outside with a guy.”

“Again?” Aster said and raised her eyebrows.

“Yeah. Busy night.”

“And you?”

Mambi grinned. “Oh well, you know they prefer her while they are still more or less sober. I’ll wait until they get wasted. Then I start looking real pretty to them.”

“Sounds like a solid strategy to me,” Tikka said. “Hey, do we have more of those tankards? Clean ones, I mean? I know you’d prefer to stay out of there tonight, Aster, I can do this. Mambi, you watch that soup. Give me a yell when it can be served. It’s almost ready.”

Aster nodded her thanks. Mambi put the tankards down on the big table, took one of the short benches and dragged it next to the stove, then sat down heavily and gave a contended sigh. Tikka collected some of the clean tankards from one of the cupboards, drew in a deep breath and nudged the door open with her foot, then walked into the pandemonium on the other side.

The big room was packed. Most of the men were more or less blond, with long hair and longer beards, dressed in a motley collection of leather and linen, their armor now mostly discarded on the floor. Some wore badly used but originally probably quite expensive silks. Most were now half undressed, showing off their muscles and their scars. They were boisterous, they were rowdy, and they were feeling very rich with their full purses.

Tikka smiled and nodded and exchanged banter while she wove her way towards the bar. There might be trouble here tonight. But there was also certainly going to be opportunities to get good tips. To great extent it was up to her which alternative would play out for her.

She had been doing this for long enough now that she should be able to handle these men well enough. She just had to be careful that she didn’t give the impression of suggesting something she didn’t mean to do. Act like their sister or mother or aunt, that was the key. But she’d still better be careful she didn’t end up anywhere alone with one or more of them. Even those who would be manageable in the crowded room might get out of hand in that situation.

Tikka smiled to herself. Sometimes this job made her feel as if she was one of the southern lion tamers who would sometimes come and show their act in the big arena just outside of the South Gate of the city during one or other of the War God’s festivals. One false move and they’d be at your throat…

“Hello, Tikka,” Jick, who was minding the bar, said. “Aster decided to stay in the kitchen?”

“Yes,” Tikka said and handed him the tankards. “Which way should I head first?”

“That corner table there” Jick pointed and grinned. “Poor boys are in such a hurry to get rid of all that heavy gold. So be nice and give them all the assistance you can, will you?”

Tikka took the filled tankards back and smiled. “Will do.” She then turned and braved the crowd again.

This was going to be a long night.

***

A lot later, way after midnight Tikka found herself back in the kitchen, trying to catch a few breaths of fresh air from the open back door. The air in the main room was getting decidedly heavy, with all the spilled beer, vomit and sweaty bodies crammed in all possible places. Several men were already down on the floor, sleeping the heavy sleep of the completely drunk beneath the tables.

“Have they started peeing in there yet,” Aster asked from where she was washing the tankards, one of the never ending duties on nights like this.

“That, vomit, and I think I saw some shit on the floor too. At least by the smell there are more than a few guys who have soiled their pants.”

“Oh great. And half of them will pass out right there in the big room too. I can hardly wait for the morning.”

Tikka grinned at her. “Well, as long as nobody dies. I hate it when that happens. You always find at least one friend or companion of the deceased who thinks we poisoned the poor sod.”

“Yeah, with alcohol. That can kill you. If you drink more than you can take.”

That was the voice of experience talking, they had seen it happen often enough. Tikka nodded. “But try telling them that.”

Aster tittered. Tikka smiled and leaned back on the door-post, staring unseeing into the dark night outside. The smell of the compost heap wafting in didn’t bother her. It didn’t smell any worse than the big room did right now.

The door from the big room banged open and Anya burst into the kitchen. The noise level went momentarily up, then down as the door closed again.

Tikka looked at her, noticing the shining eyes and red cheeks. Anya didn’t seem to do her whoring so much for the money as Mambi did. She thrived on the men’s attention, and, rare enough for somebody in her profession, she seemed to genuinely enjoy the sex. All the sex she could get. From any man. Most of the whores Tikka knew seemed mostly just to tolerate it, even if they rarely actually hated it. But Anya really liked it.

That didn’t mean she didn’t appreciate the money too.

“Hey, give me some help here, you two, will you?”

“What is it?” Tikka asked.

“One of them wanted to pay with a bracelet. Is it worth anything?” Anya was well aware of her own limitations. She could recognize gold, but if it was anything else she preferred to ask somebody with more knowledge and a smarter head.

“Let me see.” Tikka reached her hand and Anya placed a line of smooth black stones with a few sparkling blue ones between them on it. Tikka moved closer to the lamp and peered down.

“Well, these blue ones are nicely cut, but not sapphires. Something semiprecious, I think. And the black ones are just volcanic glass, you find that a lot where I come from. It’s worth something, but probably not all that much. Not around here. I hear it’s considered valuable further in the East, because it can’t be found there and they have to import it, but we are too close to the sources.”

Anya pouted. “Oh, crap, that guy seems like a nice one. I’ll see if he is willing to add some coins to that, but if not I may do it anyway.”

“You’ll never be rich if you go on like that, you know.”

“I know. By the way, some new guys game in a few moments ago. Jick put them in the back room. I think they are the ones we were actually expecting tonight. And your boyfriend’s with them. Jick just asked me to look if they need anything.”

“If you mean Grath he’s not my boyfriend.” Grath was a man who had been visiting The Burned Oak rather regularly for a bit over a year. He seemed to like Tikka. The feeling was to some extent mutual, but Tikka did not harbor any romantic notions about him. At least that was what she kept telling herself. For one thing, he had used the services of both Anya and Mambi from time to time. Not behavior she wanted from a potential suitor, whether serious or not about the ‘suitor’ part. Even if she thought that her thinking that was not necessarily smart – would she really expect a man to remain totally celibate while waiting for her to make up her mind, no matter how long that took? But that was how she felt. Besides, he worked as a mercenary, which made him even less desirable to her. She did not want a warrior.

Somebody with a more secure profession, like a potter, or a stone worker, or maybe even a small time merchant or a smith on the other hand – if she could just meet somebody like that.

Somebody, anybody, with a secure and safe occupation. And secure income.

And nice.

Grath was nice, at least towards her, and had proven himself trustworthy in most ways. Tikka liked to talk with him, and thought of him as a friend. Maybe, if he had not been a mercenary… only he was. So no point thinking about that.

“Who’s he with? Did Jick tell who those customers are?”

“No. I have no idea. Well dressed, most don’t look like mercenaries. Maybe merchants. Or maybe they work for one or other of the temples in the city. Some of them look a bit too ascetic for merchants. And they didn’t want my other services.”

Tikka frowned. “Those types? You don’t mind if I take your place and go and see what we can serve them?”

“No. I was kind of hoping you would. I want to go back to my guy.”

“All right. I’ll go.”

***

The back room of The Burned Oak was small, but it had its own entrance, a door into the backyard. Something appreciated by some of the people who visited here. Tikka knocked and waited for a yell before she entered. With some of their visitors it might be very unhealthy if you surprised them. Sometimes because they might be jumpy enough to throw something, like maybe a knife, at you. Sometimes because if they thought you had heard something they didn’t want known they might decide to finish you off just as a precaution. Tikka got curious sometimes. But so far she had never tried to spy. Not in person anyway. She valued her life too much.

She tried not to be too obvious when she assessed the men inside.

“Can I bring you anything, gentlemen? Drink or food? We don’t have much to offer this evening, but the soup is good and there is beer, ale and some brandy.”

Anya, for once, seemed to have guessed right. Or at least the same way as Tikka herself did. The men probably were from one of the temples – or some, some of them looked pretty different from each other in the way they were dressed and what baubles they wore, or how they were groomed, and the staffs of different temples did tend towards somewhat uniform looks. Two of them had shaved heads, their clothing was simple looking but made of expensive fabrics. A few others were dressed less luxuriously. As for the one whose robe really was of sackcloth – he had the marks of self-flagellation on what little there was to see of his skin.

One of the true believers.

They weren’t all that common, those. Most of the temple employees Tikka had met seemed to regard their work as simply that: A work which paid well and was well respected and usually not all that hard, as long as you had some wits.

“No wine?” one of the men asked, the better dressed of the two shaved heads. Tikka assumed he was a priest. With most of the religions practiced in the city the priests shaved their heads. She had always wondered why.

“No sir. No wine. We ran out a few days ago, and at this time of the year it is almost impossible to restock. We probably won’t have any before the end of the Harvest month. But both the beer and the ale are good. And the brandy is drinkable.”

As she was talking she tried to catch the eye of Grath. He was there, in the back of the room, along with two other men who looked like mercenaries. Or soldiers. Or just thugs for hire. Finely dressed thugs, though.

Grath fitted the description of ‘thug’ well enough, at least as long as you were talking about appearances. He might have had a rather pleasant looking face once, but the broken nose and the long scar which completely disfigured the left side had mostly taken care of that.

The tattoos didn’t help much either. Every inch of his skin Tikka had ever seen was covered in a thin tracery of curling blue lines and dots. According to Mambi so was every inch of his skin she had not seen. Tikka had tried several times to get him to talk about them, but his tattoos were one subject on which Grath had always kept mum. Even when drunk.

Otherwise he actually was a rather fine looking man, big and well built, but then that latter part was one thing you could say of most of the mercenaries. Those who let themselves go to seed didn’t last long in the profession.

Tikka hadn’t been able to find where he had originally come from. She presumed north. His hair was very blond and he kept it long in the fashion of the ones they called the Northerners. He also had the bright blue eyes you usually did not see among any other people than them. The only thing he lacked was the beard. Tikka thought it might have something to do with those tattoos.

“We’ll take the ale,” the customer said. “No soup, but if you have any bread, and maybe cheese…”

“Yes, both. For all of you?” This time Tikka did look straight at the three mercenaries, and Grath, finally, acknowledged her with a wink.

“Yes.”

“All right sir. This might take a few trips, I’m sorry to say, but we are understaffed for the kind of crowd we have here tonight. Unless one of you gentlemen would help?” Again she gave Grath a straight stare.

The shaved head took the hint. He glanced at Grath and nodded. The tattooed man bent his head and stood up, then followed Tikka as she turned and walked out.

They walked some way towards the kitchen door before Tikka stopped and turned to look at Grath.

“Awfully eager to see me, aren’t you, girl? And in private, too.”

Tikka snorted. “In your dreams. I just wanted to know what the hell are you up to this time. Dealing with those guys is never a good idea.”

“Come on, you know I have worked for the temples before. And there never was any trouble.”

“Maybe not, but at least all those times you have told me about it was normal soldier work. This doesn’t seem like a deal to work guard duty on their treasury or with one of their caravans. They don’t come here to make that kind of deals. This has to be something else.”

It was very dark. Tikka barely could see the shape of the man standing right in front of her. There was no way to tell what kind of expression Grath had on his face. But his tone of voice was light. “Well, it’s a bit unusual, but nothing to worry about. Just trust me. I know what I am doing.”

“Do you?” Tikka said.

“Just trust me.”

“And you probably won’t tell me anything about what you have been talking about in there?”

“No,” Grath said, his voice even.

“I could ask the ghost,” she said.

Somebody opened the back door of the kitchen and this time she saw his grin. “I doubt that would work, not with this crowd. Good spellcraft. Too good for your friend.”

Tikka knew she’d get nothing more out of him. Well, she had tried. He was a grown man. Presumably he did know what he was doing.

“Oh hell. Let’s go and get that ale.”

***

It was almost morning when Tikka finally could climb the stairs to the tiny room she had for herself in the loft, behind the broken furniture and some other currently unused things. It had been a storage cabinet, a large and almost empty one when she had found it, but after she had realized that with the combination of one of its walls being the wall of one of the chimneys, the one going down to the big room fireplace, and a small window, one closed with a wooden shutter on the other wall, it actually was completely livable during both the summer and the winter, and big enough to hold a bed and a tiny table, both which she had salvaged from the pile before its door (and there was even a door), she had managed to talk Jick into giving it for her use. So now she was the only one of the whole staff with a room of her own. Even if a room was, admittedly, a bit grandiose word for it.

Even Mukasji had to share his with one of the stable hands.

On the other hand she was probably the only one in the staff who actually valued some privacy. All the others seemed to prefer being in the company of other people most of the time. She knew they thought her a bit weird because she liked to sleep alone, and occasionally even spend some of her awake free time alone.

Not that she really ever was alone, not in this place. Even if her company was not visible, and only very rarely tangible.

For a brief moment she considered undressing, then flopped down on the bed and only removed her boots and the bodice. She’d have to get back up in a few hours anyway.

“What, don’t I get my show tonight?”

Tikka had never been able to decide whether the voice of the ghost was that of a man or a woman. She wasn’t sure if it was a ghost or some other type of spirit, either, although it thought itself that it had once been alive, as a human, or at least that was what it said. But it claimed to remember almost nothing of that time, including which sex it had been. There were times when Tikka thought it acted more like a woman, and then it would say something like it just had, which sounded more like what a man might say. She usually pretended it was a man. Or had been a man. Or whatever – more than half of the faiths she knew about thought that souls reincarnated, and that the sex of the reborn soul would not necessarily be the same it had been in its previous incarnation, so whether a ghost could have a sex was perhaps somewhat debatable, but since she did have some problems imagining something which wasn’t one sex or another she preferred to assign a sex to her ghost. So, to her it was male, most of the time anyway.

She fell down on her back, grabbed the pillow and pulled it over her face. “Can’t I have any privacy?”

“No. It’s really not my choice, you know. I can’t help it that I know of everything here.”

“Then can’t you at least keep quiet about it? Now go and haunt someone else. Please.”

“I have told you they can’t hear me. I can only knock on walls or floor or throw things at them. That’s not half as much fun as having a conversation with you, dear woodpecker.”

“And don’t call me that,” Tikka mumbled from beneath the pillow.

“But it suits you so well. Especially with that red hair of yours. Such a rare color. Can’t remember when I last saw hair that bright a red.”

“Fine. Great. And you have told me that before too. Along with the fact that you really don’t remember all that much about anything anyway, so that you don’t remember anybody with my hair color is a moot point, really. Now let me sleep. Pleease. And go and scare that guy who slapped my ass. That hurt.”

“Well… if you insist.”

The voice went silent. Tikka put the pillow back where it belonged, muttered “Thank you”, pulled about half of the blanket over herself and fell asleep.

Long time no posts

9 Apr

And no new pictures this time either. I have been having bit of a problem with my dominant hand for several weeks, I could do something like typing with it, even if it did get kind of sore after a while, but anything needing fine-motor skills like drawing or painting, well, a few brush strokes, or a few lines, and I would start to lose control because it got sore on the upper parts of the arm and I could not quite keep it still enough. No problems with the actual hand, but if your arm starts to shake a bit, well… plus it was also just plain unpleasant. Not major type of pain, except a couple of times when I got stubborn and used it for a longer period, but I’d rather not deal even with mild ache if I don’t have to, and it did stop aching in a short while when I didn’t use it.

I would do my best not to use it at all for a few days, it would start to feel better, and the same thing would happen when I tried to use it again.

So I finally went to a doctor to complain, and she said the muscles near the shoulder joint seemed to be inflamed. Two cortisone injections. Seems to be a bit better now, but I have been using it more for a day now and it still seems to get sore with use, so I presume I’m getting the next two she said she’d give me this week if the first two didn’t seem to do the job.

Lesson is presumably not to delay going to your doctor. I have some tendency to that, if the problem seems mild I, more often, tend to start waiting in order to see if it will go away on its own. Not necessarily smart. I don’t even have to pay for this, it’s covered by my employer’s insurance. Besides my work is probably the main reason why that shoulder got inflamed in the first place. Well, in my defense, part of the reason was, this time, that our firm provided health care got transferred to a new clinic about a month ago, one which still doesn’t seem to have gotten our information transferred to their computers. And I liked the last doctor who looked after my branch in the last place, I’m not quite sure what I think of this new one. Oh well. I suppose I’ll get used to her in time.

Meteorites and locusts

15 Feb

The first meteorite which was big enough to cause damage since Tunguska. Cool. And not, I do feel sorry for the people who happened to live where it came down and were injured or suffer financially, but nevertheless, these happen, and it is cool to have witnessed one even it is only because this happened at a time when video cameras are in wide enough use that there are now several videos to be found in Youtube. A couple of decades earlier and we could have read about this, and with luck seen a few photos, but now you can actually see what it looked like when it happened.

Locusts on the other hand are just my excuse for why I still can’t put up any new paintings. You know, the time eating kind? Lots around during this week, I did a little bit of this and a little bit of that and several days went by with only a few added dabs of paint in a couple of the paintings, and none finished. I did manage to write a bit though. The text even seems to be fairly decent. I think I’m, once again, starting to get slowly back to normal, if you consider normal what I am during the spring and the fall and mostly during the summers although then too much light can bother me a bit too, I can get slightly manic I suppose. Scattered, sort of, I do have some tendency to start too many things and, as a result, have some problems finishing most of them. I am at my best during the late summer and early fall. There are times when I really would like to move somewhere more south. It would be nice to see what it is like to live where the nights and the days stay more constant.

Sleep

9 Feb

The joys of having an unconventional sleeping schedule – I work between two and six in the morning, so usually I sleep from about six or seven in the morning until about noon, then usually get a nap of two to four hours around midnight before going to work.

Unfortunately that means that I sleep most – or should, anyway – during those hours when repairs are done, when they need doing in the apartments of the apartment building I live in. Like several days last week. No point complaining, of course, since the drilling and hammering and more unidentifiable noises happened exactly when they are supposed to happen. Well, right now I only have that night job so not that big a problem, plenty of hours still left when I can sleep. You might think. Problem being that my kind of sleeping schedule is hard to keep even without distractions, so one f*cked up day can mean a week or two before I can get back to it. Humans are meant to sleep when it’s dark, not after the sun has risen. Right now I get sleepy a bit after noon, and if I succumb and go to bed and don’t use the alarm I will wake up around eight or nine in the evening. Unfortunately, from past experiences, the best way to get back to my normal schedule probably is to just keep pushing going to bed a two or three hours forward every day until I’m where I am again sleeping something like that four hours before work, and will then be sleepy enough to get to sleep right after work again.

Interesting part is of course how safe I am for driving even with my normal schedule. I have a couple of morning newspaper routes, and I do the routes with a company car (driver sits on the right side since that makes it easier to drop the newspapers, or, for the postal carriers who use the same cars the daily post, right from the opened window into the mailboxes – the idea is that on the countryside we are supposed to be able to do the whole route without having to get out of the car once, which of course never works quite that way in practice, especially during the winters :)). I do have to use my own to get where the company car is since the distance from my home is 12 kilometers, and buses don’t go at the time when I start the work. So, lots of driving between sleeping. Very good there is hardly any traffic at that time of the night. I haven’t had an actual accident yet, but I have to admit I have smashed the driver’s side mirror on the work car a couple of times (on the wrong side, remember, and I need to get close to those boxes in order to be able to get the newspaper in without getting out of the car, and some of those boxes are high enough that the damn mirror will hit them if I get just a liitle bit too close). I am not perhaps completely alert when I’m working.

Oh, the mirror hasn’t been completely totaled yet. Even if the person who drives the car during the day seems to keep doing the same thing to it. It’s just gotten loose enough that now even a small hit means the parts fall apart. Or driving over a big bump in the road. There are several rubber bands around the thing which sort of hold it together, but if we forget to replace the ones that break, yep, then things start to fall off.

Anyway, this week was mostly eaten by the disturbed sleep schedule, I didn’t get much done, but I’m getting things together again (awake enough in the mornings to paint right now) so should get new material up tomorrow or day or two after, latest.

Stone angel

26 Jan

EPSON scanner image

 

 

 

 

 

I got tired of fighting with the skin tones, so ended up, instead, finishing this cemetery angel painting I had started several weeks ago. But I’ll keep playing with that more colorful painting too. I still think I can make it work, but I need to go slowly with it. I have this bad tendency to start messing things up if I get impatient with failing to get something exactly the way I’d want it, that is if I keep on going after things start to go wrong. But if I have a break and then try again, well, then I have a much better chance of getting it right, or at least getting something good enough.

I have one story for which this might be suitable as a cover. I’m not sure how good fit this would be, but I don’t particularly like the cover it has now so maybe I’ll try using this instead. Have to say that one thing I love about self-publishing is this – I can fix things and I can try different covers. I have no intention of trying for traditional channels anymore, I’ll stick to indie/self-publishing. You put the stories out there, and maybe sometimes fiddle with them a bit afterwards, but otherwise, well, they are there, and there is no worrying whether they sell or not or how much or when – selling or not would be a concern, at least for me, with traditional because that dictates whether you can get anything else out, now it’s just money which isn’t that big a concern for me right now. Not that it wouldn’t be nice, I am living on a wage which falls under poverty line now, but  it’s still a wage I can live on so no hysteria over things like not being able to pay bills if I don’t get money from the stories. I can concentrate on writing, and painting, and putting things out, and if something happens then it does, if not I’m still enjoying the writing and painting. Perhaps that does not count as a professional attitude, I don’t know, but it’s suitably stress free for me. I’m afraid I don’t handle stress all that well. I worry a bit, perhaps, about how good, or not, what I produce is, but even that is, at least to some extent, a matter of opinion. There have been several bestsellers I was unable to finish, and some stories and writers I loved which seem to have sunk without a ripple during the years I have been reading, so I guess I pretty much do go by the adage ‘ there is no accounting for taste’ nowadays. If I get enough readers there will be people who love my stories, people who hate them and everything in between. And if enough fall into ‘love them’ end, or close enough, who knows, perhaps I might even, some day, get some money from it.

SAD

10 Jan

The damn SAD kind of jumped me a bit right after the new year. I just kept on vegetating and thinking that maybe I’ll start tomorrow, for several days. Pretty typical for this time of the year, there are things I just can’t manage, like writing (requires the ability to concentrate, inside your head, if I can’t even remember what the characters have already done I can’t keep the plot together), but while I can paint, and draw (you can see the whole thing with one glance…), the big problem of the season applies to them too – if I stop doing it regularly, even for a few days, getting started again takes an effort. Sometimes a pretty big one.

And I have been craving fast carbs like nothing. Potatoes and rice perhaps are excusable, but the two liters of ice cream will show the next time I dare to weight myself. This time of the year they always do, especially since I haven’t been moving much either. We had a very white Christmas with lots of snow but the weather warmed up around new year, and for a couple of days it rained. Which meant that most of the snow melted, except for sidewalks and other places where people had stamped the snow tight. So then it got cold again and now those places are coated with ice. I hate ice. I love walking, usually, but when that would mean walking on ice – no thanks. I fall down several times every winter even if I do avoid walking, and one of the problems that can give you, long term, are stuff like the badly scarred tendons I have on my shoulders. Lots of falls, most resulting in slight injuries like a small rip on a tendon which might give you slight tenderness on that area for a couple of days, at most, if you notice it at all when it happens, but if you get lots of those – well, they scar, and lots of scarring on a tendon can mean that it won’t work quite right any more, or fit in the space where it is supposed to fit… and then you may end with limited mobility and inflammation, and if that gets bad enough you may need surgery. I’m not quite at that point yet (occasional inflammation, but everything still moves almost as well as before), and I’d prefer not to get there at all. So I have gotten very wary of slippery surfaces. I still do fun stuff which might end in falls, but if I risk those injuries now it better be for something I really enjoy doing, and just walking while being scared of the surface on which you walk doesn’t quite meet that qualification. Especially if the weather is also less than enjoyable. Which it often is here, around this time.

Some parts of aging really do suck. Other parts not so much. I think I like what I am now a lot more than I liked the younger me. I used to be a lot more insecure and neurotic than I am now, for one thing. 🙂

Okay, I think I can get myself out of this rut, even if it is harder now than it would be when there is more light. I have started doing some preliminary work with acrylics. The oils are mostly still either a bit too wet or way too wet to show. I do much prefer oils to acrylics, but I think I can manage simpler paintings with the acrylics too. We’ll see.

 

And a few more

25 Dec

These three I’m not quite that happy with. I also have several nudes I do like, but since I haven’t actually tried to find out what WordPress thinks about putting something like drawings of nude people up I’m not going to use them, not right now anyway.

Ah, Christmas. It’s noon Christmas Day where I live, and this year I did not go to visit anybody, I’ll do that on New Year, so since I live alone I’m mostly fiddling my thumbs here. I don’t watch television, I haven’t rented any movies and am not in the mood to do that, I have read for several hours already and I’m getting a bit bored now, to tell the truth. Maybe I’ll start cleaning some of my closets, I should do that anyway. Generally I’m not all that social so living by myself usually suits me just fine, main problem can be these big holidays when I don’t feel like I could, or should, start doing anything major, especially nothing which might disturb the neighbors like rearranging my furniture or building something which requires the use of something noisy like a drill – I moved to my present apartment nearly four years ago, problem being I moved from a slightly bigger place, and trying to get rid of the excess stuff which doesn’t quite fit anymore is still a work in progress. And that has included periodic rearrangement sprees.

Yep, I know, should have done it before and during the move. Problem being, the furniture (and a lot of the small stuff I have too, like my dishes) I have is mostly inherited, old rustic pieces which have been in my family for either over or very close to a century, and I have been having a really hard time deciding what I’m willing to give up. And then there are the books. Lots of books. Same problem, I sparse them one book at a time and that is rather slow going. And half of the time I realize I would really like to reread that one I sold six years ago right now anyway, even if it was one I thought I would not miss back then… So I rearrange things, and have build a couple of somewhat unusual shelves in order to fit them in places like the wall over a big chest when I don’t want to drill too many holes on the wall (this is a rental, and the firm disapproves of that) and you can’t really find anything that would work ready made. Besides, finding bookshelves which actually go all the way to the ceiling seems to be near impossible, they all stop within reaching distance of a shortish person. And I need ones which go all the way to the ceiling, the lower ones just aren’t enough in a place as small as mine.

I like the location, and I like the rent, but I could use something a bit bigger. Oh well, maybe if I keep on getting rid of things one small piece at a time and rearranging the rest periodically, maybe there comes a point when, magically, what is left finally seems to fit here comfortably (and I have managed to forget most of the stuff I did get rid of, well enough anyway that I won’t suddenly start missing something… and if I ever move someplace bigger maybe I can find replacements which look similar enough? Oh hell, one shouldn’t get attached to mere things like that, unfortunately it can happen when we are talking about things you have been living with practically all your life, especially when there are quite a lot of nice memories connected to those things).