Who’s Your WIP; Archer’s Sin, by Amy Raby
[My apologies. This should have gone up yesterday.]
This month I bring you an excerpt from Amy Raby, an alumni of mine from the Online Writer’s Workshop. I remember when she was working on Assasin’s Gambit, and it is my honour to bring you an excerpt from her latest work, Archer’s Sin.
Nalica wasn’t used to crowds.
In the eastern mountains where she’d grown up, the air was thin and the trees were sparse, and one could walk all day without seeing another soul. Here at the festival grounds in Riat, the air tasted as thick as porridge, and she’d seen more people in an hour than she normally saw all year.
More than one pair of eyes lit on her as she walked. Her height made her stand out; she towered above most southern Kjallans. But they also looked askance at her unpowdered face and at the leathers she wore in lieu of a syrtos. And at the longbow she carried on her back.
Never mind their curiosity. Somewhere on the grounds was the registration for the Triferian archery tournament. She’d come a long way to enter because this tournament offered an unusual prize: after three days of competition, the winner would be granted a position as a prefect in the Riat City Guard. Nalica would give anything for a steady job and an opportunity to use her skills. She wanted that job. She would enter the tournament, and she would win it.
She squinted at a sign with a bow and arrow on it. Unlike many eastern Kjallans, she did know her letters, but she’d learned them late, and only just enough to get through her education in magic. Painstakingly, she worked out the words. The sign said when and where the three rounds of competition would take place, but it didn’t say where to sign up. The only other sign in the area was one announcing a horse race.
The festival didn’t officially start until tomorrow, which meant the crowds would get worse between now and then. On her left, merchant families raised tents. On her right, a group of men measured out an open field, planting flags in the ground as markers.
There, just ahead—a longbow bounced through the crowd on the back of a tall, burly man. Surely that man was here for the tournament. She hurried after him in case he knew where he was going. If he didn’t, at least they’d be lost together.
She realized as she pushed her way toward him that he was very tall. It made him easy to follow, and she felt a certain kinship with him based solely on height.
The crowd thinned. She dodged around a few slow-moving people and was about to call out to him when he joined a group of men, all of them with longbows on their backs.
Well, this was fortunate. Someone here would know where to register for the tournament.
A black-haired archer with a sharp nose turned to greet the giant. The two clasped wrists and began to talk.
Nalica approached the group. “Sorry to jig in, but—”
“Jig in?” repeated the black-haired man.
Oops, that was an eastern phrase. What did southerners say? “Sorry to speak out of turn—”
“Is she speaking Kjallan, or is that some other language?” asked a man in a leather cap.
Nalica sighed inwardly. She had an accent, but it wasn’t strong—at least she didn’t think it was. She did tend to forget about those eastern phrases that weren’t used in the south.
“Pay him no mind,” the giant said to her. “He understands you perfectly well.”
She looked up at him—in itself a novel act; so rarely did she look up to anybody—and nearly gasped. He was eastern Kjallan, and she’d bet her last quintetral he was from the mountains of the province of Vereth, same as she was. His height and size ought to have tipped her off, but now that she saw him up close, his beard clinched it. Southern Kjallans shaved; her people did not. The giant’s broad nose and features looked vaguely familiar. She might have seen him before, or more likely she’d met one of his family members. Clan identity was important in Vereth.
Southern Kjallans looked refined and fancy to her eyes, like toys rather than men. But this fellow was genuine, of true mountain stock. Her eyes traveled eagerly over his form. He wasn’t just tall, but broad. Some might call him fat, but they’d be mistaken. The weight he carried was all muscle.
“That your daddy’s bow?” asked the black-haired archer.
“No,” said Nalica, drawing herself to her full height.
Black Hair snorted. “That’s a six-foot longbow. You can’t even string it.”
“Do you think I’d carry a bow I couldn’t string?” In fact, she could string it with or without her war magic. Many war mage archers couldn’t handle their bows without calling upon their magically enhanced strength, but she could.
“Show me,” he said.
Her shoulder twitched, and she almost reached for the bow. But she resisted the temptation. If she strung her bow as an exhibition for this sneering twit, she would only worsen her standing among the group. Even if she succeeded in stringing it, which of course she would, she would have allowed him to order her around. He would have made her perform like a trained dog while appointing himself arbiter of her performance. “If you want to see me string this bow, you can wait for the tournament like everyone else.”
The other men chuckled—all but the giant, who regarded her gravely.
“I’ll bet she can string it,” said Leather Cap. “Look at those shoulders—you don’t get muscles like that scrubbing pots in a scullery.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised she wants to enter the tournament,” said Black Hair. “Justien, do all your eastern Kjallan females look like she-bears?”
Justien—that was the giant’s name. She ignored the insult from the black-haired man. She’d heard worse.
“Strong women bear strong sons,” said Justien. “It’s a lesson you should learn, Caellus. It’s not like you have much of value to pass on yourself.”
The giant had only the slightest hint of an accent. Probably he’d left the east a long time ago.
Caellus snorted. “I’ll stick to women who look like women. But Justien, you should propose marriage straight away. Who else but a walking she-bear could carry your child?”
Nalica had borne enough of this. Trading insults was not a skill she enjoyed or excelled at; she’d rather show these men up at the tournament. “Where’s the registration?”
“You’re wasting your time,” said Caellus. “The tournament is special this year. War mages only.”
“I savvy it,” said Nalica.
“You what?” said Caellus.
“Three gods, we don’t speak savage,” said Leather Cap.
“I mean, I know it,” said Nalica.
“So you’re not entering?” said Caellus.
His question suggested he couldn’t process the obvious conclusion that she was a war mage. She waited in silence to see if the others would figure it out. She knew they’d begun to entertain the possibility when some of them glanced at her neck, looking for her riftstone. They wouldn’t be able to see it; the stone hung on a steel chain and was hidden beneath her shirt.
Caellus, apparently putting two and two together at last, turned to his fellows. “I hate it when people give top-tier riftstones to women. What a waste.”
Leather Cap nodded. “I’ve a friend whose parents couldn’t afford a stone.”
“What’s the real waste,” put in Justien, “is when they give them to talentless hacks. Right, Caellus?”
A few chuckles broke the tension.
“It’s not funny,” said Caellus. “We shoot the first day without magic. Do you think she can get even one arrow on the butts without the magic doing the work for her?”
Justien grinned. “If she gets anything on the butts, she’ll be shooting better than you.”
More laughter from the group. Caellus glowered.
Nalica addressed Justien directly, figuring he was the only one who might give her a straight answer. “Sir, do you know where the registration is?”
“Of course. I’ll show you the tent.” He took her arm and led her away from the group.
As they walked in silence across the outskirts of the fairgrounds, Nalica felt hotly aware of his hand on her arm, a sensation that drove out all other sensations. If there was a crowd around them, she was oblivious. If her feet were sore from walking all day, she felt no pain. Her entire awareness had narrowed to Justien’s hand where it rested lightly on her flesh.
She was burning with questions she wanted to ask. What clan was he from? How long had he been away from eastern Kjall? Did he have family here? A wife? Probably no wife, given what Caellus had said. Never mind; she couldn’t ask Justien any of this. Curious as she was, those questions were too personal. She’d only just met the man.
“What’s your name?” asked Justien.
“Nalica,” she said. “Are you in the tournament yourself?”
“Yes,” said Justien. “Already registered. Allow me to warn you, Nalica, before you give the tournament director your money: I intend to win.”
She smiled at him thinly. “Intentions are not reality.”
“In this case, I think they will be.” There was not a trace of humor or smugness in his voice. He acted as if he were simply sharing information. “I can outshoot anyone here, including you. I need that job in the city guard, and I intend to have it.”
Nalica kept walking and said nothing. Justien had no idea how well she could shoot; he might well believe his claim that he was certain to win, but she knew it was an idle boast. She needed the city guard job too, probably more than he did. And she’d come to Riat for the sole purpose of winning it.
Where to find Amy online:
Amy Raby is literally a product of the U.S. space program, since her parents met working for NASA on the Apollo missions. After earning her bachelor’s in computer science from the University of Washington, Amy settled in the Pacific Northwest with her family, where she’s always looking for life’s next adventure, whether it’s capsizing tiny sailboats in Lake Washington, training hunting dogs, or riding horseback. Amy is a Golden Heart® finalist and a Daphne du Maurier winner.