#saturdayscenes: 4/9/16

a sample of today’s writing:

Mari carefully wove her way around the edge of the ballroom, smiling at the occasional bow or curtsy. She met her mother’s eye across the room and inclined her head toward the kitchens. The Queen arched an eyebrow, but Mari had told her in no uncertain terms that she was expecting to be able to take the occasional break to get some air and check on Sofia. Her mother gave a nearly imperceptible nod before returning to her dance with her brother, the King, laughing easily at something he said and cuffing him playfully on the arm. Mari shook her head in amusement. She knew that rumors abounded that her mother and uncle secretly hated each other and only played at their friendly relationship in public, but she knew that Uncle Tomas was her mother’s best friend as much as Daniel was hers.

She slipped her way through the servant’s entrance to the kitchens, gracefully dodging a liveried kitchen maid carrying a tray of champagne flutes through the door. The kitchens were bustling with activity and she kept carefully out of the way, edging along the walls to where a tray of water glasses sat on a counter, waiting to be carried out. She plucked one off and sipped at it, grateful for the way the cooks and their assistants ignored her this time around—the first few times she’d snuck in, they had tried to see if she needed anything, but now they seemed content to let her stay out of the way and drink her water.

A familiar head of curly auburn hair caught her eye, and she raised an eyebrow as one of the guards disguised as general servants came towards her, leading the way for a woman in a dark blue dress. “Emilia?” she asked. “What are—”

The woman behind Emilia came fully into view, and Mari caught her breath.

She had hoped, when she caught sight of Ella on the stairs, that Raya wouldn’t be far behind her, but after the first dance she shared with Daniel it seemed clear that she had come alone. But here she was, standing in the kitchen, resplendent in a midnight blue gown that glittered like starlight and clung to her perfectly, and Mari felt her mouth go dry.

Raya stared back at her, just as wide-eyed, and Mari found herself amazed at how strange it was that she hadn’t really realized how bright the other woman’s eyes were when they’d met a fortnight ago. “Princess,” she said, seeming too surprised to even duck a curtsy. “What are you doing in the kitchen?”

She sounded utterly dumbfounded, not that Mari could quite blame her. It probably was odd for her to be hiding from her own ball. “I needed a break,” she admitted, and raised her eyebrows. “What are you doing in the kitchens?”

A soft flush darkened Raya’s cheeks. “I was worried I’d trip down the stairs,” she said, her smile soft and sheepish.

It was such a genuine answer that Mari laughed honestly for the first time that night. Her laughter seemed to relax Raya, and Emilia shook her head with a fond roll of her eyes, dipping a bow and leaving the way she had come. Wiping surprised tears of mirth from her eyes, Mari set her water glass down on the tray. “I was thinking I’d go to the gardens and get a bit of air,” she said. “I don’t suppose you’d like to join me?”

Raya looked surprised, but the smile that spread across her lips transformed her face from lovely to gorgeous. “Princess, I can’t think of anything I’d like more,” she said, and she took Mari’s hand.

#saturdayscenes: 3/26/16

a sample of today’s writing:

Natasha shuts the door to the bedroom, turning the old but still clearly functional Nokia on and dialing Clint’s cell number from memory. He’s broken more phones over the years than she can count, but always keeps the same number, to make things easier on Laura and the kids. Lila’s nearly old enough to recite it from memory, when her preschool teachers ask her.

The phone rings, and rings, and rings, and Natasha’s nails have very nearly drawn blood from her palms when Clint picks up. “–not going to tell you again,” he’s saying, his Stern Dad voice, and Natasha nearly laughs in relief and amusement when he abruptly switches tones to professionally wary. “Hello?”

“It’s me,” she says.

“Nat?” His voice changes again, goes light and warm, the way it always does when she calls, and she closes her eyes, sinks down onto Sam’s bed. “What’s up? What number are you calling from?”

“It’s a burner,” she says, swallowing. “Clint, I need to tell you something. Are you alone? With the kids?” She doesn’t even know what day it is.

“What? No. It’s Sunday, Nat, Laura’s home. We just finished lunch.” The puzzled frown hovers along the edges of his words. “Nat, what’s going on? Are you okay?”

“Yes. No.” She takes a breath. On the end of the line, Clint is quiet, patient, waiting for her, and she’s glad of it. “Go outside. You’re not going to want to be near them, when you hear this.”

“Okay.” No argument; he trusts her immediately, and it puts a lump in her throat. He calls to Laura; lets her know he’s stepping out onto the porch, and she waits until she hears the swing and click of the front door. “I’m outside,” he says. “What’s going on, Tasha?”

“Don’t call me Tasha,” she says, and it comes out in a whisper, almost choked. “Not now. I can’t, Clint.”

“Alright. I’m sorry.” He takes a breath. “What is it?”

She tries to think of a way to soften the blow, but that’s never been things work between them. “Nick’s dead.”

#saturdayscenes: 3/19/16

a sample of today’s writing:

After a job in Turkey that goes tits-up so quickly Natasha had spent the rest of the mission doing damage control, she stalks into Fury’s office the minute Medical releases her with fresh stitches itching along her shoulder blade and a bandage around her knuckles. “I want a new partner,” she snaps, kicking the door shut behind her.

Fury snorts. “Hello to you, too,” he says, leaning back in his chair. The DC skyline stretches out behind him, glittering and gorgeous in the late afternoon sun, and Natasha wants to glare at it for daring to be lovely when she’s so annoyed. “You just missed Rogers. He came in with the same request.

“Good,” she says, crossing her arms over her chest, not even wincing at the tug of her stitches. “Shouldn’t be hard to do a transfer, then.”

“It’s as hard as I decide to make it,” he says, narrowing his eye at her. “And I’m of a mind to make it damn tricky for you, since you seem to be forgetting that I’m the one who makes those assignments around here.”

Natasha glares. “I want,” she repeats, “a new partner.”

“Tough shit.” He gets up, crossing to the table against the wall and pouring her a generous glass of an amber liquor, holding it out to her pointedly. Natasha sighs and takes it, and he points her toward the black leather couches in the center of the room.

When she’s sitting, her shoulders tight and the glass held loosely in her hands, he brings the decanter with him and sits down across from her. “How’s Barton?”

The abrupt change of topic should probably phase her, but she’s known Fury long enough that it doesn’t. He might be down one eye, but he’s been able to read her too well from the beginning. “Better,” she says, running her thumb along the smooth crystal of her glass. “He’s shooting again, but not with a SHIELD bow. One of his old ones. Not sure where he dug it up.”

That’s not quite true, but Fury doesn’t need to know that. The last time she’d talked to Clint over Skype, he’d shown her the fresh bowstring calluses on his fingers, telling her about the bow Laura had unearthed for him in the attic in one of the boxes Natasha had brought from her old New York apartment, and his grin had reached all the way to his sparkling eyes.

“That’s progress,” Fury says, and extends his glass to her. “To an absent friend,” he says, and as irritated as she is with him, she leans across the table and clinks her glass to his.

#saturdayscenes: 3/5/16

a sample of today’s writing:

The servant led the way down a wide hallway, and the sounds of music grew louder as they walked. It was a full orchestra, Ella realized, playing a full waltz, and she felt her heart begin to beat faster. They stopped in front of a pair of huge, open doors, the room beyond clear source of the music. “The main entrance to the ballroom is here,” the servant said. “You’ll enter at the top of the stairs, and make your way down. The herald may introduce you, if you’d like your names announced.”

Raya stopped dead in her tracks. “Is there a side entrance, maybe?” she asked, her tone nervous. “Something like that?”

The servant blinked at her. “A servant’s entrance, my lady? Why would you…?”

“I…” Raya cleared her throat, managing a nervous smile, uncertain enough that Ella, who knew Raya better than nearly anyone, believed it. “I have terrible ankles on stairs,” she said. “If I’m going to slip in this gown, I’d just rather do it somewhere where half the peers of the realm won’t see it.”

“Oh, of course.” The servant actually smiled at that, a real smile, not the placid one she’d greeted them with. “You’re actually not the first person to ask.” She dropped her tone, conspiratorial. “Believe it or not, the Princess tried that earlier, but the Queen wouldn’t stand for it.”

Raya laughed, and Ella couldn’t help a smile. Another point in the princess’s favor, she thought.

Still—Raya wanted to blend into the background of the ball, but Ella wanted to be noticed—by a specific someone. “I don’t mind the stairs,” she said, surprising herself with the sudden boldness. “Can you go on without me?”

A hint of surprise flickered across Raya’s features, but she smiled. “I can,” she said. She reached out and tugged Ella into a hug, and Ella held onto her tight. “Good luck, baby sister,” she whispered, and Ella pressed her face into her shoulder. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She pulled away, straightening her shoulders and raising her chin. “Do I look all right?”

“You look perfect,” Raya said, just a hint away from tearful. “Knock them dead.” She glanced at the servant, who was waiting patiently. “Servant’s entrance?” she asked hopefully, and the girl smiled, holding out an arm to indicate the direction. With a last glance over her shoulder at Ella, Raya followed her down the hall.

Left alone, Ella took a few deep breaths, waiting just out of sight of the open doors. You can do this, she told herself. It’s just a party. You’ve been to parties before. She inhaled and exhaled slowly, steeling herself for bravery. Closing her eyes, she pictured the prince’s face the way it had looked that day at the market place: open and friendly and kind, looking into her eyes like his soul had somehow recognized hers. That was why she was here, she reminded herself—to see that face again, even if only for a night.

With another deep breath, Ella moved forward, and let the light of the ballroom wash over her as she stepped through the doors.

(belated) #saturdayscenes: 2/20/16

I should really just start calling these Sunday Scenes rather than Saturday Scenes, but whatever.

A sample of yesterday’s writing:

Their room was dark when they entered, and Raya plucked the lantern from the small table between their beds, lighting a taper from one of the lamps lining the hallway and using it to light their lantern. A soft flame flickered up, and Raya brought the lantern back into the room, setting it down on the table. Slowly, the low light filled the room. “Close the door,” she told Ella, she said, lowering her aching body down onto her bed.

Ella sighed, closing the door behind her. She paused then, her hand resting on the knob. “They didn’t lock us in last night,” she said. “Did you notice that?”

Raya stilled with her hand dipped into her bodice, touching the folded parchment. “No,” she said slowly. “I didn’t.”

Ella left the door, sitting down next to Raya. “What do you think that means?”

“I don’t…” Raya hesitated, taking out the letter and running her thumbs along the paper. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t like it.” She touched the seam of the fold. “But maybe…maybe it’s a good thing?”

“How can it be a good thing?” Ella frowned.

“They must think we’ve given up on running,” Raya said slowly, her mind racing. “We can use that, if we need to.” She shook her head. “I can’t think about that now,” she decided. “Let’s take a look at this.”

With trembling hands, Raya unfolded the letter, steeling herself against whatever could come next.

Instead, disappointment hit her hard. The letters were those of their language, but the words were jumbled, impossible to understand. Raya swore.

Ella leaned over. “What?” she asked, alarm raising her voice.

Raya handed her the parchment. “I can’t read it,” she said. “It’s in some kind of code, I think.”

Ella’s brow furrowed as she scanned the page, her expression sinking as she came to the same realization that Raya had. “Damn,” she said. She looked up at Raya, her eyes worried. “That can’t be a good sign, can it?”

“No,” Raya said, feeling sick. “You don’t write in code if you’re saying something you should.” She rubbed her neck, her excitement at finding the letter fading away, replaced by a sudden weariness.

“Raya,” Ella said, touching her arm. “What do we do?”

Raya closed her eyes. She didn’t know the first thing about codes, and didn’t even know where to start learning how to pick this one apart.

But, she thought, her heart sinking, she knew who would. A memory, long untouched, came to her—of her mother at her small writing desk in their parents’ bedroom, reading a letter from their father, showing them the rearranged letters and switched lines and secret words. It was a game, she’d explained, one she and their father had played in their letters since they’d been young lovers.

“We need to bring it to Papa,” she said, pushing her hair back. “He and mother used to send each other coded letters, remember? He’ll know how to read it. Or at least how to figure it out.”

Ella’s lips parted, her eyebrows drawing together uncertainly. “He doesn’t know about Alice,” she said slowly, her voice heavy with doubt. “We’ll have to tell him.” She chewed her bottom lip. “This’ll break his heart,” she whispered.

“I know.” Raya rubbed her eyes with the heels of her palms, trying to push away the guilt. “But we have to do it.” She swallowed the lump in her throat, touching the charm at her throat. “She sent us here,” she said, some of her initial rage and fear coming back and making it into her voice. She shoved it back down. “She wanted to get rid of us, really get rid of us. And now we find out she’s in contact with Torvan?” She shook her head. “Something is going on here, Ella, something bigger than just our family. And we need to find out what it is.”

Ella looked at her gravely. “We’re not going to like what we find out,” she said softly, her hand curling around Raya’s. “Are we?”

Raya turned her hand to clasp Ella’s fingers. “No,” she said. “I don’t think we are.”

(belated) #saturdayscenes: 2/13/16

GUESS WHO FORGOT TO POST YESTERDAY.

Sorry, team.

A sample of yesterday’s writing:

“I’ve heard of Torvan,” Daniel told Gaius. “I thought he was a politician.”

Gaius snorted. “He’s a war-lord,” he said, not nearly so courteous with his eyes as Daniel had been as Lucia took a small embroidery kit from a saddlebag and began to close the gash on Jana’s thigh with quick, neat stitches. Jana caught him looking and flashed a sharp grin, all teeth. Gaius returned it, and then glanced at Daniel. “He styles himself as a man of letters; it gives him credibility to foreign leaders.”

“But he’s just one steading-master,” Daniel said, frowning.

“A steading-master sending slave-takers into the mountains,” Jana said, narrowing her eyes. “How far is this Torvan’s steading by the main road?”

Gaius looked thoughtful, stroking a hand over his greying beard. “A day’s journey from the border at a hard clip,” he said after a moment’s calculation.

“That’s farther than any man needs to send a patrol,” Daniel said, a horrible sinking feeling settling in his gut. “You said this pass is mostly used for smuggling?”

Jana’s frown deepened. “Yes.”

“And we used it during the war,” he said, his mind racing now, even as a terrible dread grew in his chest. “To get soldiers into Dolonde.”

Jana nodded. “Yes,” she said again, slow, quiet realization blossoming in her eyes.

“So if we could get soldiers across the pass into their country…”

“They can get soldiers into ours,” Jana finished, her eyes fixed on Daniel’s, not so much as flinching as Lucia put another stitch through her skin.

Lucia tied off her stitch and looked up at them. “Dolonde doesn’t have an army,” she said, a frown tugging at her features. “Even if this man was planning some kind of attack, it couldn’t go far.”

“We don’t have an army either,” Daniel remind her grimly. “The troops we took into Dolonde last time were pulled from the Palace guard and border defense. We’ve never kept a standing army, it goes against everything we stand for as a non-violent country.”

“Might be time to re-think that,” Jana muttered.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Tae said, wincing as he opened his eyes and looked at them. “But we’re just guessing here, aren’t we? We don’t have any proof that this Torvan’s going to try something like this.”

“Right,” Daniel said, but a nagging voice in the back of his mind told him not to drop the idea completely. “It’s just a feeling I had,” he said, feeling uneasy.

Jana looked steadily at him. “We could send someone back,” she said. “Have them warn your mother and uncle, just to be safe.”

Daniel set his teeth. They could split up, he knew, but they would be safer in numbers. Either they all went back, or none of them did. And who knew what the extra delay could cost Ella and her sister, not if Dolonde was slaving. “It’s just a feeling,” he said again, slowly. “We keep going. All of us.”

“Great,” Tae said. “Glad that’s settled. Now someone take Isi so I can throw up again.”

#saturdayscenes: 2/6/16

a sample of today’s writing:

They broke camp before the sun was in the sky, filling in the fire pit and packing away their tents. Daniel spread brush over the mound of earth over the place where the fire had been while Gaius walked a careful lap around the campsite, his eyes sweeping the ground for signs of their presence and smoothing them away. “How long is this pass?” Daniel asked, swinging up onto his saddle.

“About ten leagues, if my memory serves right” Jana said, looking up ahead at the mountains. “It winds quite a bit, and it’s rough terrain in places.”

“How long will that take?” Tae asked, settling Isi on his saddle and then mounting up behind her. The little girl covered a wide yawn with her arm and leaned back against Tae’s chest.

Jana frowned, glancing at Gaius. “My last trip was mounted with soldiers,” she said. “You’ve got more experience with slower moving parties, what would you say?”

Gaius scanned their group, his eyes calculating. “A day and a half,” he said. “Maybe two, depending on the trail.”

Jana looked at Lucia. “Do you need to check her? To be sure?”

To be sure we’re not doing something stupid for no reason, she didn’t say, but Daniel could see the thought written across her face. If the faintly amused look on Lucia’s face was any indication, she could see it, too. But she simply smiled, reaching out and gently touching Isabel’s hand. “Isi, love,” she said.

Without opening her eyes, Isabel pointed in the direction of the mountain pass. “It’s that way,” she said, her voice still thick with sleep. “When’s breakfast?”

“In a little while,” Tae told her, kissing the top of her head and then glancing at Lucia. “Is that enough? You don’t need to…” He shifted, his expression uncomfortable. Daniel couldn’t fault him for that. As much as he appreciated Tae’s willingness to let them use Isabel’s connection to her mother to find her and Ella, it couldn’t be enjoyable to watch your only child’s blood spill.

To his relief, Lucia shook her head. “There must be enough still in her system that she doesn’t need another dose,” she said, looking thoughtfully at Isabel and then sweeping her gaze up to Tae, arching one brow. “I suppose the magic she’s already got might be helping her there.”

Daniel blinked, startled. “What magic?”

“Faerie blood,” Tae said by way of explanation, shrugging. “On my mother’s side, a few generations back. And no, I can’t do anything useful with it.”

Lucia hummed, climbing into her saddle with surprising dexterity. “You might be surprised,” she said, in a tone that Daniel thought he’d likely find infuriating if it was directed at him, “at what turns out to be useful.” She smiled placidly at him when he frowned at her, and then turned to Jana. “Well,” she said. “I suppose we should be on our way?”

Jana nodded. “Gaius will bring up the rear,” she said. “Stay close, and keep the horses contained.” She turned a sharp eye to Daniel. “And don’t do anything stupid.”