One Line

All it took was one line. Just one, and I was hooked forever.

It’s the dream all writers have, of finding the perfect one line that grabs the reader by the ear and tosses them into the story. We want our readers to be so irrevocably involved that there is no looking back, not even for a moment.

It may be a piece of world building that enthralls them, a plot twist that shocks them, or a character they adore. No matter which one it is, we win, the reader is reading our book.

The example that comes to my mind is in Synapse by Steven James. The first chapter of the book introduces the character Kestrel, who has recently had a still birth. An instant, heart tugging connection for anyone who has gone through something similar. However it was not that particular bit of her history that hooked me, nor was it her personality, thought I liked it.

It was one line. A line that described her wanting to have a baby before she was forty. She was desperate to have a baby, desperate enough to give birth to a baby that was no biologically her own. That desperation reached through the pages and echoed in my own heart. I understood that longing. And that was it. I would have followed that character through bad writing, terrible plot twists, and nail biting experiences. No matter where Kestrel was going, I was going to.

That is what I mean by a connection between story and reader, between character and reader. It is almost impossible to artificially create. There is no magic formula, sorry guys. If there was I would tie it in a bow and hand it to you with a smile.

All I can say is that I resonated with that character because I saw something in her that was in myself. That would not have happened if she was this unrealistic wooden puppet. That character was real, living and breathing within her own story, and I felt like I was friends with her.

That one line gave me courage to keep writing. To keep creating good characters that jump off the page. Someday, I want to give my readers the same experience. To find within my books a character they immediately connect with and are willing to follow to the ends of the earth.

Shaina Merrick

Why is this so Hard?

Hey hey hey! I am coming to you from the depths of Nano, so brace yourselves for an odd brain tangle post.

As you know, this year my goal is to finish my novel. I am doing my best to finish up what I started so long ago. As I am writing it though, I am realizing why this particular book has been so hard for me to finish.

I got the idea for Sunlight on the Peaks when I was in high school. So five hundred years ago. At first, all I had were a few scenes. All to do with a girl who had been hurt by a magician. The magic system in the book is one of the first things that I figured out.

Since then, I have written the first part of the book at least four times. At least. I think I wrote the first half twice for Nanowrimo. The poor book has been plotted within an inch of its life. I did everything I was supposed to when it came to world building and plotting and characterization, and still the book gave me, gives me, fits.

Unlike some of my other novels that just flowed from my pen. They were easy to write, this one is not.

Why? Why is it so hard to write?

Well. First off, I came up with the idea when I was still young and overly ambitious. This book has a lot of high fantasy vibes, and sounds similar to lots of other books out there. A prince who needs to take back his kingdom? Who hasn’t done that? At the time I was reading lots of high fantasy and this just came out of all of that.

It has a rather large cast, and a humongous plot. There are a bunch of side plots that keep slipping out of my grasp. (I hate writing romance…) At the time, I was convinced I could do it. After all, everyone else did in the fantasy genre. Big casts and complicated plots are the staples of fantasy. Right?

And now? I don’t tend to write in high fantasy any more. I am more fascinated with worlds similar to ours, but with something a bit off about it. Or non-magical fantasy, I enjoy writing that too. I am not fantastic at juggling large casts of characters, so I tend to keep it small, and nowadays I have one POV. No matter what.

So in writing this novel, I am writing completely outside of what I am comfortable with and almost above my skill level. (or completely above, I really don’t know)

I guess you could say I am a rambling introspective writer. I am all about going through the characters thoughts with them. The world is filtered through their eyes and experiences to get to the reader. I like thinking through things as I write, and often I am writing to make sense of the world around me.

Sunlight on the Peaks is not that kind of book. If I paused to discuss things, I would never get anywhere. I have given myself a little room to breath and think, otherwise I would go bonkers. But still, it isn’t like the last book I finished, where the whole thing was deeply inside the characters head and the whole thing was very introspective.

In the years between that first scene for Sunlight on the Peaks and now, I grew as a writer. I found out what I like to write, and what makes me want to tear my hair out. I like writing a little slower paced novels with small casts and simpler plots. (simple does not mean predictable folks.)

I think at first I was trying to write like everybody else, and I almost stopped writing because of it. I couldn’t think or write like the other authors I looked up to. I tried so hard, and ended up discarding story after story and writing myself into a deep hole of the comparison game.

Finally, I decided to write what I wanted to write, and I wouldn’t care about what anyone else thought about it.

Sunlight on the Peaks is a story very dear to my heart, but it is a hold over from the time where I thought I needed to write a certain way. When I write The End, I will be closing the door on that chapter of my life. And then I will be free to keep on trying new things.

Shaina Merrick

NaNoWriMo. Or the month I die.

Who is here is doing the insanity of Nanowrimo (national novel writing month)? I complain so much about it every year, and every year I wonder why on earth I am putting myself through this. But then I get to the end of the month, and realize how much satisfaction comes from completing a novel, or at least getting 50,000 words on it.

Yes. I am doing it again. Hopefully with less complaining this time.

Though I am not sure how I will stuff work, writing 50,000 words, and general life into 30 days. I would like to meet the person who started all this and ask a few pertinent questions. Such as why couldn’t we write a novel in January or something? Ya know, where there is an extra day to get the words in? And no holidays to compete with?

Anyway. This year I went all out and made a playlist for my novel. Wow. I am motivated.

I am also, kind of sort of, breaking the rules… I won’t be starting a new novel. (oops) Nope, I am starting in the middle of a draft and writing it all the way to the end.

Why? BECAUSE LAST YEAR I ONLY WROTE THE FIRST HALF. Yup. Last Nano I wrote 50,000 words and ended up just under halfway. Can I lay down and cry now? This book is going to be a monster. It already is a monster. This year my goal in life is to complete the thing that has leeched upon my heart and soul for years now.

No I don’t hate my novel, why do you ask?

Because this is a new year, and a new possibility of finishing my novel, I decided to give it a real title, instead of the work in progress title I had for so long. (Valai is boring, okay?)

I am pleased to announce the name for my novel is…

.

.

(what, did you think I would tell you right away?)

.

.

Sunlight on the Peaks

For a long time I thought fantasy novels had to have titles that included the setting of the novel. 100 Cupboards, The Two Towers, or something like that. Then I decided that I didn’t care (story of my life).

If you are interested, you can find the pinterest board here.

Happy Writing! (or at least don’t pull all your hair out)

Shaina Merrick

The Resolution

Today we are talking about conclusions. Otherwise known as the end of the book. No, not the climax, or the moment that the hero wins. The conclusion is also the called the resolution, the moment after the hero wins. When the journey is over, the task is completed, and everyone is either saved or dead.

The conclusion is what will stick with the reader long after the book has been placed back on the shelf. It is the last taste in the cake that is the novel. Mess it up, and readers will be left with a nasty taste in their mouths, and never want to pick up one of your books again.

Yes, I have written another blog post a while back on endings. (you can find it here) They are my favorite part about stories, so I ain’t apologizing.

So, how much resolution is too much? The tension is over, all the questions have been answered, there is nothing left to keep the story moving. Unless of course you wait to wrap up a side plot until after the climax, which I think is an excellent strategy, but I digress.

What you want to avoid is the after climax winning stretch. The battle has been won, love has conquered, and the story keeps going, and going, and going… Until the reader is bored to tears and skims the final few pages.

However, I have also read novels where the resolution was too short. The climax happened, the good guys smile at each other, and then ‘The End’. To be honest, this happens more often in movies than in books. I am starting to dislike the words at the end of a movie that fill in for a great resolution scene. I don’t want to read about him living happily ever after, I want to see it.

The first ending leaves the reader feeling bored, and that the story was much too long. The second ending leaves the reader feeling unsatisfied. We, as writers, don’t want either, obviously.

But it still leaves the question, how much is too much? How much is too little? I am a reader before I am a writer, and I will say that the best endings that I remember are ones that directly correlated to how long the story was.

No one, unless you are an illiterate heathen, complains about the Into the West resolution at the end of Lord of the Rings. It is technically a long resolution, but nobody cares. Because we have spent hours caring about and adventuring with those characters. We are deeply invested in them, so we want to know what happens to them.

I once read a series that had a really, really long resolution. There was a wedding, and a coronation. Chapters upon chapters of stuff happened after the climax. You might think that it would have been boring. It was not. I loved every minute because I had spent hours wishing these characters a happy ending, and now I finally got to see it.

Contrast that to a rom-com. Nothin’ much happens after that last kiss, or proposal. Maybe a quick voice over, maybe them turning around to smile at celebrating friends. Short is the rule. Why? Because we only spent ninety minutes caring about these characters. Not very long in the grand scheme of things. So in all honesty, most of the time our interest ends when the tension ends. After that we all move on with our lives.

If I wrote a short story, my resolution would be one, maybe two lines. If I wrote a novel, a few pages would suffice. As for an epic series, one chapter showing everyone’s future might be nice.

When writing your story, ask yourself this question. If you were reading this story for the first time, what would you most want to know about the characters after the battle ends? When you answer that question for yourself, write it out. The resolution exists because readers care about characters. Give your readers the satisfaction of knowing that everything was okay after that, and they will love you forever.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: Talk to People

In the vein of being a rebellious writer, I have another piece of non-advice (as in a piece of advice that I am stating but not shouting on the top of my lungs) for all writers out there.

Talk to people. Do not bring your notebook with you. Bring yourself, and only yourself.

A very classy thing many writers are doing, or saying that they are doing, is bringing a notebook everywhere with them. The store, the party, the library. Everywhere! Some people take them for stray ideas that come in the most irritating places. Some people are actually working on their stories. Though I will admit it is a great excuse to hide my face from socializing. And one has the rush of ‘getting things done’. Here we are, multi tasking even at a social event!

My dear writing friend. Please leave the writing notebook at home. The things you will miss will far outweigh the words you gain.

Here recently I had the immense privilege of listening in on a conversation about a way of life far outside my own. I know the things I learned about cash crops will make its way into a novel. It was too interesting not to! Though I could have been sitting there surreptitiously writing down what they were saying. I chose not to. For one, I had left my notebook in the car, and for two, I would have lost the flow of the conversation if I had.

There may be people out there who can somehow listen and write at the same time, I am not one of those people. I can either listen, or I can write. Never the twain shall meet. I would have lost so much of that conversation if I had written things down. Things like facial expressions, hand gestures, and tones of voice. So much of human conversation is through non verbal gestures, what would I have missed if I had missed those cues?

I know that as a writer, there are some things I will have to give up and just not worry about. But writing while someone is talking, especially while I am in the conversation, is considered rude in many circles. Just about as bad as scrolling through a phone. Either way, the person is not paying full attention to the conversation. It irritates me to know end when someone is not listening to my words, how do other people feel when I pull out my notebook?

About a week ago I had a conversation with an extremely interesting person. I listened rapt to all of his experiences in working and life. We talking about education, and finding a job, among other things. Hello story ideas. And I never would have learned any of that, if I had kept my head buried in my own world.

People are interesting. But you will never know why unless you talk to them. Or if you listen to them. In the first example I mentioned, I spent the whole conversation listening. And that was all. I do realize that there are people who find starting conversations scary. After all, I am one of them.

Consider this a challenge to truly pay attention wherever you are and whatever you are doing. It doesn’t matter whether you are speaking or listening. I think the notebook, and the flurry of writing notes, is a distraction to the conversation going on.

Leave the notebook at home. Listen and interact with real life people. You will have ideas. Listening to people is one of the best ways I have found to get inspiration. Soak those interesting people in. Pay attention and find out their why’s, their motivations. After all, as writers we are trying to create characters who resonate with others, not just a quirky character who only exists to be quirky.

Shaina Merrick

Obligatory Work In Progress Post

You know those blog posts were a funny blogger reveals that they are actually writing a story and they just have to tell you about their glorious brain child?

You guessed it, I am writing one of those.

Valai

Yes, that is its name. Yes, I plan on changing it. Someday. You know, whenever this rambling novel decides to finish itself and reveal what it wants to be called.

In a nutshell, the country of Valai has been overtaken by a tyrant and the only surviving member of the royal family has to get his country back.

Woooow. Real original there girl. Sounds just like every other plot out there. And look at that, you even have elves. And pegasi. No dragons though. Just have to stick one in there somewhere and you can join the ranks of wannabe Lord of the Rings and Narnia novels.

I even have a magic system. Yup. I sunk that far. Doesn’t matter that mind readers are called wizards and magic is basically forced hallucinations, it is still a magic system. Did I mention that I had the idea for this book more than five years ago? I know, it doesn’t. But I thought I’d try.

And to top it all off, there is a love story. Congratulations girl, just had to follow the trend there too.

Yes, I sank so low as to put in a love story. Do me a favor and do NOT ask me for the ship name. I am still in denial that my two characters are in love, and don’t even want to think about it. You see, I have never actually written a love story from start to finish before. It is a sloooow burn, and at the moment my characters haven’t admitted to themselves that they like each other. Well, he hasn’t, I haven’t checked in with her recently… Anyway, considering this is my first functional love story I would suggest steering clear of it.

Speaking of the characters, excuse me while I go bang my head against the wall.

Kerina and Terrence simply refuse to do as they are told. Refuse. They have decided to do whatever they want with my poor story. I have almost completely given up figuring out how to stuff my plot into their shenanigans, and am basically just following them around as they do stuff. Yup. Lack of a coherent plot and rebellious characters. Sounds like my life.

Have I ever read a book like that and enjoyed it? No. Is that what editing is for? Yes, but that is beside the point.

Terrence with his ‘I’m going to save the world all by myself’ mentality is going to drive me crazy. Though I do feel sorry for him because his family is kind of, well, dead. Yeah. I wrote an orphan. Two of them actually. How cliche. He thinks he has to live up to his father and his brothers legacy by the age of 21, as well as rescue his country from a tyrant. I keep trying to tell him that he can’t, but he isn’t listening. Maybe this is where I need to put a dragon in, or something.

Kerina isn’t much better. Half elf and half human means she doesn’t belong in either world, but instead of trying to make the best of it, she decides to hide that she is part elf. On top of that, she is immune to magic, the lifeblood of the entire country. Another thing she hides from the world. When you are so different, fitting in is a little hard. Am I right? I may have, uh, made her life a tad bit too hard. But hey, she gets to go on this fantastic adventure and paint the ocean. That makes up for it. Totally.

And then you add the rest of my odd ball characters. An elf with a chip on his shoulder that may or may not have to do with Kerina, his woodsman best friend with endless exuberance and unexpected wisdom, Kerina’s uncle who never gets lost until he starts raising a girl, the thoughtful wizard who regards the world as a puzzle waiting to be solved, and countless others. They are all cluttering up my pages and clamoring to be heard. Guys, speak one at a time. Please!

Blegh. Did you ever see such a crew of cliche characters? At least I avoided the all become one big happy family trope. So far anyway. Though I have seemed to bumble into every other trope that exists!

Unless you actually like reading cliche stories that meander around the main point, stay far away. Though really, the chances of this book ever getting published at all are really, really small.

Royalty that bonds to pegasi? Telepathic wizards? Nomadic elves? A character immune to magic? Pshaw, no one wants to read about that.

If some, um, odd person ever decides to publish it, I’ll let you know so you don’t pick it up by accident.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: I’m Taking a Break

No, I am not actually taking a break from blogging. Not a planned one anyway. You never know what could happen on Tuesdays…

If you are a writer, you know what Writers Block is. It is not an actual wooden block sitting on your fingers and cackling at your bleary eyes. This is much, much worse. A wall inside of your brain keeping you from the words. Or at least the good words. There are no ideas, nothing worth writing at all in your brain. Just a wall, taunting you with its despicable firmness.

And how do we get rid of Writers Block? “By writing of course!” Say the chirpy writers with a cute notebook in hand. “Just keep slogging away,” intone the serious writers dressed in black and a faraway look in their eyes.

I tried. The wall has been a constant companion in my journey as a writer, and I have chipped away at it, day after slogging day, hoping that someday I will reach the end.

Did I ever reach the end? Sometimes. I would also be five thousand words in to an unnecessary series of scenes that would need to be cut. The only reason they existed was to get me out of Writers Block. Cutting out all those words you just slaved over is depressing.

Or, if I was lucky enough to write words that kind of go with the story, they would have to be completely rewritten because they are, in all honesty, trash.

Yes I said trash, about my own writing. Don’t gasp so loud, I can hear you.

I don’t write well while I have Writers Block. Big surprise. The wall is just too intimidating, too big. And I got really sick of forcing the words to come. I know writing isn’t easy. But does it have to feel like torture?

So I stopped the torture. I stopped staring at the wall day after day and did something else entirely. I guess you could say I gave up. Which let me say right here and now was only possible because I don’t have a writing contract. No one is depending upon me to write thousands of words a week. Thank goodness!

I didn’t completely give up on my ridiculous novel, just took a really, really long break. I checked in on the wall every now and then, just to see if it was still there. Yep still big, yep still big, yep still… Hey, I’ve got an idea!

And just like that, the wall was gone. I was past Writers Block, and with a lot less headache than normal.

Sitting there and putting words on a page isn’t necessarily going to make Writers Block magically disappear. It isn’t The formula, just a formula. And I for one don’t find it useful.

Stories aren’t made up of formulas. They are made up of imagination, starry eyes, and something no one can put their finger on. Stuffing your story, and the creation of your story, into formulas will smother it.

So don’t. Don’t buy into the idea that you have to/must sit down and conquer Writers Block. Do your brain a favor and step back. Let your creative juices steep and simmer. Maybe you have been staring at the same black and white words for too long. Tried to wring something interesting from the same old ideas one too many times.

Get into the sunshine and see some color. Ideas don’t just come from other stories. They also come from sunshine and people and real life experiences. Take a break. It can be as long or as short as you would like. However I would recommend you stay away until thinking of writing doesn’t make you cringe inside. When you have an idea, when you are ready to pick up your story again, that is the time to come back.

So get out there and do something that doesn’t smell like writing!

In other news, I reached 101 followers on this little blog! Thanks guys, I never thought I would get this far. Honest.

Shaina Merrick

To Plan, or Not to Plan

I know, I know there is a blog post about plotting and pantsing somewhere on this blog (in fact you can find it here). But I am to the terrible middle of my novel, and I have to talk about this again!

Basically, I plotted the entiiiiiire story, in great detail. Down to who was falling in love with who at which time. Subplots, story beats, this beautiful outline had it all!

And then I forgot to look at the plot. And then my characters decided that their ideas were better than mine (glaring at you Terrence). So there I was, blithely writing along without looking at my plot. Just when I decided that I was at the midpoint I went and found my plotline and compared the two.

Cue me banging my head against my desk.

The story has meandered in and around the entire plot, sometimes missing plot points, sometimes finding them, and taking its sweet time to get to, in my plot, the second pinch point or a little bit before the midpoint.

Wut.

All that work, and I am not even at the middle yet?

Which got me thinking, is it even worth the trouble of plotting the entire story if I can’t follow it? Or won’t follow it. This plot has fallen to pieces as the story has meandered along.

There are things that I came across while I was writing that I think are better. Points that make more sense, scenes that I never would have thought up if I hadn’t written it. My story is stronger because I didn’t follow the plot. I hope so anyway.

So what the heck was the point of plotting it all out in the first place? Color coding did not guard against stray plot bunnies, bullet points did not fill in my glaring plot holes. There would be much more peace of mind, then and now, if I hadn’t created a plot that I now have to redo and wiggle around to fit where the story is going.

In this particular instance, I think it would have suited me much better if I had created a basic plot, with basic beats, that was easier to flex and wiggle when I went off the path. Now I wish I had a time machine to go back and tell myself not to bother with it.

All this to say, there is nothing like putting words on a page and figuring out what works with the characters and story the best. I didn’t know what worked for my story until I wrote it. Which I know is unthinkable to some of you. But there you go. I needed to write the story to find the plot for the story. Does it mean there will be lots (and lots and lots) of editing later? Yes, unfortunately. I will have to go track down all those plot bunnies and missing characters and put them back in place. But in the end, my story will be stronger for all that rambling and meandering.

Excessive planning did not work for this story. Perhaps it will for a different story. Maybe I will get better at following my own plot. But while I am dreaming, I would like calorie free chocolate.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: What’s in a Name?

I hate naming my characters. The whole process is a head achy bother. While some authors happily scour baby naming books for that perfect name, I flip through the pages with a scowl. And finding names that mean something in particular? That sounds like torture.

I didn’t used to be this way. A long time ago I slammed random letters together and made up all the names I pleased. In the ensuing years, I have either gotten wiser, or lazier. I haven’t totally decided which. But I never, even in those years, liked searching for a name.

Nowadays, if you listen to all the writers, names are one of the most important things about a character. For some authors, they don’t have the character until they have the name, and for others, it completes the character.

To all that I say phooey. Why name your characters? Ernest Hemingway didn’t in ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. His character had a name, that was used all of once. The rest of the time, he was known as the ‘old man’. And the other character was ‘the boy’. No names, but you knew who they were perfectly.

And have you ever had this conversation? “I really like this one character, he is so nice, and the one time he saved his best friends was epic. What was his name again?”

How many times have you forgotten a characters name, but you did like the character? Probably more times than you can count. What you remember is what he or she did and said.

In my own writing, I don’t name a character until it is absolutely necessary. When I have no other choice but to come up with a name. And then I might.

In all honesty, I wrote an entire novella without one single name. No one had a name, only descriptors. I don’t think any of my characters suffered from a lack of a name, they trotted along just as well without one.

So really, what is the importance of a name? It is not necessary for the character. They can develop just as well without one. And since I don’t really need one, I suppose I don’t need any of those special ones either. The ones that mean a billion things all at once that perfectly match my story. Ain’t happenin’ folks.

Though I suppose they can be helpful for the reader to keep track of who is who. But isn’t that what a descriptor is for?

Okay okay, in all seriousness, we probably shouldn’t drop names altogether. As much as I would like to. I think all our readers would revolt. My current novel would be a wash of pronouns and confusion.

I just wonder if they are truly the big deal some writers make them. They are not strictly necessary to the character or the novel.

Now if finding the perfect name for a character gives you a thrill, then don’t let me stop you! However, if you are anything like me, and naming people and things are a chore, let this blog post be your excuse not to. Or at least, to procrastinate it longer than you already have.

You’re welcome.

Shaina Merrick

The Tales of Lunnoor: One Night

Hello hello! I am back with another tale from the realm of Lunnoor. Not terribly much happens this story. But, well, I guess you will have to read it for yourself.

He turned the helmet over and over in his hands. The one oil lamp in the tent gave everything in the tent a golden glow, just barely keeping out the dark of the night.

Beldon touched the helm to his forehead. Two days of searching with a grumbling Lannie at his side, and this was all they had to show for it. One small bit of proof that Belissa had vanished into the fairy realms. His stout hearted sister, the one who faced every danger with a sword in her hand, coerced away by pixies. He should have been there, his aching heart cried. But he knew better. Someone had to stay to make sense of the chaos his father had left behind him. The elder took on the parents burdens, while the younger went off to war.

Beldon gently put the helmet back on his bedside table. This was all that was left of his family. The once illustrious family of Beldon reduced to a half rusted helmet and one son. And it would end with him. Some glorious battle he would find himself on the front lines, and on that day, he wouldn’t look back. Was else was there to do with a son who had lost everything?

  • * * *

“So what was I supposed to say?” Lannie paced back and forth in front of the kings throne. The lamp light pooled around her feet, she was walking through golden water. “He held the helmet like it was a lifeline, and sorry was not going to be enough!” She grabbed the hair on each side of her head and pulled. “I just stared at him like a loon, and hoped that a faerie didn’t come right at that moment.”

She spun on her heel to face the king, “What would you have done?”

“Some grief is too deep for words,” the king said with a sad smile. An opened letter lay on his lap, momentarily forgotten when his daughter stormed into the room.

Lannie released her hair, but she sighed and nodded. There should have been something she could have done. Hadn’t she seen family after family get the news that there loved one had died in battle? “How was this different?” She muttered and frowned at the king without realizing it.

Again and again she had found the words to say to grieving families. The ones who crowded at the door with smiles to receive a letter, only for their hopes to be killed by a single piece of paper. And then, when faced with one man in the forest, everything left her.

“Did you find the faerie gate?” The king asked. Lannie jolted from her reverie, and in her confusion answered before she thought.

“We did.” She winced and looked down at her toes. The one subject she had been hoping he would not bring up. “Though it doesn’t matter now, tomorrow we will be too far to send scouts, and we can’t spare an expedition.”

The one she and Beldon had been on was only sanctioned because the army needed a rest, and because he petitioned the king every day. Every, single, day. The only person who went to the king more was Lannie. Would that all change now that he had what he wanted?

“So it wasn’t destroyed?” The kings voice was gentle, which made it worse.

“We were close,” Lannie looked down at her dusty boots. “I could hear the whispers. I would bet my sword it was just around the bend in the stream.”

She trailed off. She loved her father, she would do anything for him, say anything for him. She took a deep breath and plunged on. “I drew my sword, ready to destroy the accursed thing. We were so, so close. Except I didn’t dare go alone, and Lord Beldon refused.” Lannie scowled as she pictured his grief stricken face, shaking his head no matter what she said.

“Why did he refuse?”

“He said he wasn’t ready,” Lannie growled. Her anger burned away all her earlier sympathy. “That now was not the time. And he wouldn’t move.”

Despite all her cajoling and convincing, she even yelled, and he stayed rooted to the ground, staring at his sisters helmet.

“Did you command him?”

Lannie squeezed her eyes shut, she didn’t want to see her fathers disapproving face. “I shouldn’t have. I was angry, and afraid that any moment the whispers would take him too.” She took a deep, shuddering breath. “I commanded, and he walked the other way.”

In the space of a moment, her angry words had cost her an ally. As soon as they had left her mouth, the words had tasted of ash, a taste that filled her mouth all the way back to camp. Beldon would never word with her again.

“Royalty is not a right to leadership,” the king began.

“It is an opportunity to serve,” Lannie muttered and slowly cracked open her eyes.

The king was not angry, though his eyes were sad, and that was worse.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I will go apologize.” Though it would nothing but appease her own conscience. Her and Beldon’s alliance was beyond any repair.

“Stay a moment and look over this map with me,” the kings rose from his throne and gestured to the large parchment map on the table. “Where is the faerie portal, do you think? And do the scouts need to be warned?”

  • * * *

Beldon unstrapped his sword and laid it on his cot. Then he paused, staring at it yet not seeing it. Lannie had wished for it to spill faerie blood. She did it every day, marching through the forest as if she could not hear the whispers. Could she not hear the voices that dragged down his geet and made his efforts seem useless?

He could hardly speak because of them in the forest, and she wanted to go farther. Beldon shook himself and began to unbuckle his leg braces. Their alliance was over. She would never consent to work with a man who heard every whisper. Who may someday follow in the footsteps of his father and sister.

Shaina Merrick