Quartz: Part 10 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 1 Here.

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Zeke seldom traveled with others and Woolsey’s and Brokaw’s incessant talking was annoying. If it had been interesting or informative, it would have been different but the two just traded tales of saloons and fights and loose women. Dirty jokes figured heavily into their repartee. From their talk, it seemed they didn’t travel together all the time. And neither man seemed to be married. Neither of them ever mentioned a wife or children. What kind of life was that?

They stopped at midday to rest the horses and eat a bite. Neither man had thought to bring a lunch, so Zeke shared his ham biscuits. He was surprised they’d remembered to fill their canteens.

Just before sundown, Zeke stopped at his usual camping spot, off of the trail, just for safety. The two men were about to sit and make themselves comfortable when Zeke realized what they were doing. He suggested they take care of their horses, then for Brokaw to gather wood for a fire. They made a bit of fun at him for being bossy but did as they were told. Zeke made sure the horses were hobbled properly. He did not want to have to go looking for horses in the morning.

When he finished, he was pleasantly surprised to see that the pair had managed to light a fire. They were pulling cans from their saddle bags.

Zeke pulled his small cast iron skillet from his bag and a couple slices of bacon. He got those frying then pulled a coffee pot out and dropped in a few spoonsful of coffee. One of the reasons he camped here was a small spring nearby. He filled the pot and his canteen and put the pot on the fire. The bacon done, he added a little flour to the grease, stirring it all around and then piling it into a biscuit shape. He let that cook and pulled out his cup and spread his bedroll on the ground.

The two others had opened their cans and set them beside the fire. They watched Zeke with interest. “How’d you learn to do that,” Brokaw asked as Zeke formed his pan biscuit.

“My ma showed me before I left home. The bacon fat already has salt in it.” He shrugged. “Not as good as baked, but it fills the stomach.”

“Smart.” Woolsey checked his can. He stirred it up from the bottom, losing a little bit of the canned beans over the side. “Dang.”

They ate, mostly the two mining company men talking about fancy restaurants they’d been to in Denver and Tucson. Zeke grunted in spots to let them know he was still awake. After he ate he cleaned his pan, added water, then beans. He used the cast iron lid to cover it and put it beside his bedroll.

“What’s that for?” Woolsey asked.

“Breakfast.”

“Smart.” Brokaw nudged Woolsey with a grin. “The boy’s smart.”

Zeke sighed silently and after banking the fire, lay down to sleep. It was going to be a long trip.

The next two days went the same as the first. By the time they made Zeke’s permanent camp, he was thoroughly sick of his two companions. A quick check made it clear to him that nothing had been disturbed. He gave the two men his tent. Anything to separate him from them for even a short while. Zeke showed them the creek and mentioned that he had panned some gold there. But it was up in the hills that the mine was.

For the first time the men looked competent. They waded out into the stream and probed around a little, muttering to themselves and each other. They peered up at the hills and still talking, gestured possible water flows and rock formations. Zeke washed up, and went back to camp, collecting fire wood as he went. By the time it was dark and the two men had returned, the fire was going, the horses had been cared for and Zeke was making his dinner.

They walked around the camp, admiring the layout and his arrastra. They asked informed questions about how he’d searched out the gold, and nodded with understanding as he talked about the potato and mercury trick. While they ate, they told him about other miners and how they’d done their work. Finally, Zeke thought, something useful from these two. Maybe the Apache don’t have to kill them. The evening passed quickly, and Zeke bid the two good night as they retired to the tent.

Words: 755

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Quartz: Part 9 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

See Part 1 Here.

The next morning he said goodbye to Mary and after stashing a napkin-wrapped bundle of biscuits with butter and ham in his saddle bag, he left for town. It was a good day, starting off cool with the sky a clear blue. Birds sang as he passed, and a coyote hurried across the road ahead of him. He mentally reviewed the contents of his saddle-bags. Mrs. Estrada had been generous, and he had beans and flour and bacon enough for the nine days he planned to be gone. He had some cornmeal as well to make cornbread if there was time. His canteens were full, and he had feed for Butters too. This was just supposed to be a quick trip. He hoped it would go according to plan and that Mr. Woolsey and Mr. Brokaw were experienced outdoorsmen. If they were tenderfeet, it was going to be a long trip.

Markum was on the hotel porch in one of the rocking chairs, when Zeke arrived. He tied Butters to a rail and went up the steps. “Mr. Markum. Mornin’.”

“Good morning, Zeke. Woolsey and Brokaw were just finishing breakfast. They’ll be out shortly.”

Zeke nodded and took the chair next to Markum. “They have supplies for nine days?”

“I believe so. I saw them in the general store yesterday, buying supplies. I put in a good word with them at the livery, to get good horses.” The man eyed Zeke. “You have everything you need?”

“I do. It’s out and back, so I didn’t bring a lot.”

Markum nodded. “The men who ambushed you are being sent down to Globe for trial.”

“Good.” Zeke was relieved. “I wondered how that was going to be handled.”

“The sheriff found some wanted posters. He telegraphed the sheriff down there. Turns out they are wanted for several claim-jumping and assault charges. Colton told me you have some reward money coming.”

Zeke rubbed his face and nodded. It wasn’t that the money wasn’t welcome. Between the three gunmen and however much these brush-poppers were going to bring in, he had several years-worth of income in the bank. Nothing to scoff at. But the stares and the speculation were more than he wanted to deal with. Even as he thought that, men passing by were looking at him. He couldn’t wait to get out on the trail. “Appreciate the news.” He turned to look at the front doors of the hotel. They were open to the morning air. Where were those men?

“They’ll be out soon.”

Zeke looked at him with eyebrows raised.

Markum laughed. “I can see you looking for them.”

Zeke nodded. “Just want to get going before the day gets hot.”

“Of course.”

So they waited, talking about the assay business, mining in general, and some of the town gossip. It was an hour and a half before Woolsey and Brokaw came out the front doors. “Ready?” Woolsey said.

He was more jovial than he had a right to be as far as Zeke was concerned. They at least had their saddlebags in hand. “Ready.” He stood up and shook Markum’s hand. “Appreciate you coming out, Mr. Markum.”

“Glad to be here, Mr. Stanford.” He tipped his hat to the mining company men. “Safe trip, gentlemen.”

“We plan on it,” Brokaw said.

“I’ll walk with you to the livery,” Zeke told them. He left the porch and untied Butters as Markum shook their hands. Finally, they left the porch and headed to the livery. Zeke, leading Butters, walked with them. “You have to do this often? Travel out to some mine or other, I mean.”

“Often enough,” Woolsey replied. “All over the west. Where ever the company sends us to look.”

Zeke thought that sounded uncomfortable at best. He was mining now, but when he was married and settled down, he wanted to sleep at home in his own bed.

“How about you, son. You been mining long?”

Zeke shrugged. “A little over a year, now. Left my Pa’s ranch and came west.”

Brokaw nodded. “Sowing a little wild oats?”

Zeke didn’t like the way the man sneered. “Just looking for a strike. Then for a good place to ranch.”

The conversation ended when they reached the livery. The man had the horses ready to go. Zeke was glad. He was ready to get on the trail. Once they had their saddlebags in place and were mounted, Zeke got on Butters and led the men out of town and across the chaparral. It was good to get back out on the trail.

Words: 758

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Quartz: Part 7 – Flash Fiction Friday Post

Part 1: Here.

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“Stop right there.”

Zeke did as he was told while Mary was kicking her attacker with the heels of her boots. A third man appeared, and slapped Mary into silence. Zeke could feel his heart pounding. Those men were going to pay.

“Now,” the one with the pistol said. “You’re going to tell us where that claim is.”

In the poor light, Zeke peered at his attacker. “You were in the Oxbow window tonight.”

“Maybe.” The waved the gun. “If you don’t want nothin’ to happen to the little lady, you’ll tell us where the claim is.”

“It’s on file. Wouldn’t do you any good. You’d just be arrested for claim-jumpin’.”

“You let us worry about that.”

Zeke made a move toward the man. A shot rang out, kicking up the dirt in front of his feet.

“We have a friend, out of sight. Don’t try anything.” He waved at the two men with Mary, now standing on her feet. We’ll just take the young lady with us. In the morning you’ll sign over the claim.”

“Don’t do it, Zeke,” Mary called out.

The third man slapped her again.

Zeke thought about how he was going to cut that man’s arm off at the elbow. He clenched his fists. Through his teeth he growled. “And who shall I make the paper out to?”

“I’ll be there in the morning. That’s all you need to know for now.” The man waved to his partners and they started to back away, taking Mary with them.

Zeke didn’t know what to do. The two with Mary had guns on their hips. One was in front of him with pistol drawn and there was another, somewhere in the darkness, ready to shoot. “Don’t take Mary.”

The men laughed. “You do what you’re told,” the man with the pistol said. “She’ll be fine in the morning.”

A shot rang out and a man’s voice screamed. While the man with the pistol looked, Zeke charged him. They wrestled for control of the gun. Zeke was terrified that in the struggle, Mary would get shot. He could hear her screaming and the two men grunting with pain. Good for her passed through his mind but he was busy. The geezer that he was fighting was wiry and fast. Stronger, too, than he appeared. This was not going to be easy.

Sounds of fists hitting flesh and men crying out in pain came through to Zeke but he couldn’t take the time to look. Finally, he got the gun and in the struggle, shot the geezer in the leg. He cried out in pain, calling curses on Zeke.

Zeke whipped around. Where was Mary? He saw her kicking one man as he lay on the ground and two men fighting. In the dark he couldn’t tell who was who. One man punched the other in the face and the man went down. The puncher, rested, head down and hands on his knees.

“I have a gun,” Zeke called out.

“It’s Talbot,” the resting man said.

Mary stopped kicking the downed man and ran to Zeke.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

Breathless, she said, “Yes. You?”

“Fine. I’m fine. Talbot?”

“I’m good.” He stood up, walked over to his hat in the dirt, picked it up and slapped it against his leg. “Quite the end to the evening.”

“How’d you know to come help?”

“I saw the four of them leave.” He shrugged. “They didn’t look like they were up to any good so I followed.”

“It’s a good thing,” Mary said. “Thank you.”

Talbot tipped his hat. “At your service, Miss Mary.”

Just about then, the Sheriff came around the corner. “What’s going on here?”

“Sheriff. It’s me, Zeke Stanford, with Mary Young and Red Talbot. These men ambushed Miss Young and myself.”

The sheriff approached, pistol drawn, and looked at the men on the ground. He pushed his hat back. “Three men?”

“Four,” Talbot offered. “The other one is just up the hill in the backyard of that house. I shot him.”

The sheriff gave Talbot a look. “Well. Let’s tie these three up and go look.”

It was nearly dawn before Zeke and Mary got back to Mrs. Estrada’s. They gave the horses a quick rub down and water, then shut up the barn. In the house, Mrs. Estrada was in the kitchen. “What happened?” She hurried over to Mary. “It’s nearly day break.”

Mary nodded. “It’s been a story, Mrs. Estrada. We were ambushed.”

“What!”

Zeke told her the whole story. Pia came in as he finished. “I’ll get coffee,” she said.

Mary shook her head. “I just want to go to bed.”

“Of course. You do that,” Mrs. Estrada said.

Zeke escorted Mary upstairs and stopped at her door. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

She nodded and smiled up at him. “I’m fine. Just tired. I’ll see you in a little while.”

“Good night,” Zeke said.

“Good morning,” she chuckled. “Thank you.”

“Anything, Mary. Anything for you.”

835 words

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Quartz, Part 6: Flash Fiction Friday Post

That evening, Mary and Zeke rode Diva and Butters into town while Mrs. Estrada took the carriage with Cesar and Pia. They tied the horses up behind the Assay office and walked, Mary on Zeke’s arm, around the building and onto Main Street. “I’m glad we tied them up there,” Mary said as they surveyed the scene. “It’s so noisy here.”

It was true. The band, a fiddler, a man on a guitar, and the piano from the bar were all out on the Oxbow’s porch. The group was warming up. It sounded like cats fighting to Zeke but he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket so what did he know. People were lined up on both sides of the street. A big circle, really, leaving plenty of room in the middle for dancing. Kids ran everywhere, screaming as they played sheriff and bandits. The crowd was mostly families, sitting beside their wagons, having supper, chatting with friends they hadn’t seen in a while. The women, especially, counted these Saturday night dances as the highlight of their week. They could commiserate with the other ladies, get supplies, and on Sunday morning, attend church, before heading home to their ranches. Not to say the men didn’t enjoy the comradery as well. Life on a ranch was hard and lonely, even with a wife and family. And it didn’t hurt that there was beer.

Mr. Markum spotted Zeke and Mary and came over. “Zeke. Good to see you.” The men shook hands.

“Mr. Markum. This is Mary Young, come just a couple of days ago from Santa Rosa.”

Markum took her hand and shook it. “Miss Young. So good to meet you. Zeke has had nothing but praises for you.”

“Thank you. Mr. Markum. I want to thank you for saving Zeke. He wrote me all about the gunmen in the street. It was very brave of you.”

“It was nothing, Miss Young. Your Zeke is a good man. Glad to help him out. Come meet the Missus.” The three walked over to where three ladies were seated in a group, near the front of the assay office. “Excuse me, ladies. I’d like to introduce Zeke Stanford and Miss Mary Young. My wife, Cassie.”

Cassie stood up. “Mr. Markum has told me all about you two. Welcome to Payson.” She gave Mary a kiss on the cheek. “I’m so happy to finally meet you, Mr. Stanford.”

Zeke tipped his hat. “Mrs. Markum. Ladies.”

“Now,” Cassie took Mary by the arm. “We must introduce you to everyone. Come with me.”

With that, the other ladies stood up and they all proceeded to walk around the circle, Cassie stopping at each group and introducing Mary. Markum grinned at Zeke. “Well. That’s going to take some time. She’ll have her back before the dancing starts.”

“I guess I get a beer, then.” Zeke tipped his hat to Markum and headed into the Oxbow. It was quieter in here than out on the street but that didn’t mean nothing was going on. Several men stood at the bar. Ranchers, mostly, doing what Zeke was doing, grabbing a beer while their women-folk visited. Many of the tables were full. Two held card games. Talbot gave Zeke a small nod as they noticed each other but he didn’t disrupt his game for Zeke.

All well and good as far as Zeke was concerned. If he could avoid Red Talbot while the man stayed in Payson that was good enough for him. He got a beer and went out on the Oxbow porch to drink it. Leaning against the railing post, he saw that Mary and Mrs. Markum were about a third of the way around the circle. He sipped his beer and looked around. There must be a hundred or more people here, he thought. On a normal day, while the town seemed busy, there weren’t that many on the street.

He was half way done with his drink when Talbot came up beside him. He pointed his chin at Mary. “She seems to be doing well.”

“Yes. Meeting the other women.”

“Thought you should know. The table of men at the saloon window have been asking about you.”

Zeke drew a deep breath then casually turned to look at the saloon. Two windows had been placed side-by-side in the saloon’s front wall. There, four men at a table stared out at him. He turned back to the street. “What do they want?”

“Your name.” Talbot adjusted the hat on his head, slicking back his hair before putting it back on. “They know you have a mine and have been to the assay office.” He gave Zeke an appraising look. “I’m rooming in the same house with you, I didn’t even know you were mining.”

“I don’t tell everyone my business.” Zeke was annoyed. Way too many people seemed to know all about him and his business.

“Always a good policy. But word is out. Take care, is all.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“So I heard. There are four men in the jail because of you. Three more a few weeks ago. The sheriff should hire you as a deputy.”

“Just protecting myself.”

“I’m sure.” Talbot drew a breath. “Just watch those four. They don’t mean any good.”

Zeke grunted, and Talbot went back inside. Zeke drained his glass and took it back in. By the time he came out, Mary was just about back to Markum’s spot in the circle. He went to claim Mary back. By the time pleasantries were exchanged, the music started. Zeke lead Mary out to the center of the street.

They danced until they were laughing and breathless. Markum came over and asked Mary for a dance. Zeke did the same with Mrs. Markum. Then back to each other, they danced again. The next dance, Zeke felt a tap on his shoulder.

“May I cut in?” Talbot tipped his hat to Mary.

“Of course,” she said.

Zeke was not happy when she dimpled. With reluctance, he relinquished her hand. Talbot led her off back into the circle of dancers as Zeke stepped to the sidelines. He didn’t care for the way Talbot danced so easily. He especially didn’t like how Mary seemed to be enjoying it.

He crossed his arms and fumed until the dance was over. He hurried over to reclaim Mary.

“Thank you so much, Miss Mary.” Talbot bowed, hat sweeping across him.

“A pleasure, Mr. Talbot.” She curtsied.

“A new song is starting Mary.” Zeke took her hand and led her away. But he could see Talbot laughing as they left. Let him laugh, Zeke thought. I’m the one with Mary.

They got small beers at the band’s break and danced and danced as long as the band played. When the band broke up, most of the people, the ranch families especially, were already gone. Mrs. Estrada, with Pia and Cesar, had left at midnight.

Zeke and Mary said good night to the Markums and headed for the horses. Mary was stroking Diva’s head while Zeke checked them over. He was about to untie Butters when a man grabbed Mary from behind. She fought her attacker as Zeke started for the man when another man stuck a pistol in his face.

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Quartz – Part 5: Flash Fiction Friday Post

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Quartz – Part 5

It didn’t help at all that while Mary was greeting Mr. Alvarez, sitting across from her, Talbot gave Zeke a smirking grin. Zeke pulled out the chair beside Alvarez so hard that Mrs. Estrada gave him a look. With a bob of his head, he sat, mustering as much politeness as he could.

Dinner proceeded without much comment from him while both Talbot and Alvarez did their best to charm Mary. When dinner ended, finally, Zeke stormed off, out the front door and down to the creek. After storming up and down the creek bank, throwing rocks and sticks into the water, he finally calmed down enough to go back.

There he found everyone in the parlor listening to Mary playing Mrs. Estrada’s piano. As he entered, Mary finished the piece and everyone clapped. “That was beautiful, Mary,” Mrs. Estrada told her. “After I had this shipped here, I never did learn to play. There was no time and frankly, no teachers.”

Everyone laughed, Mrs. Estrada included.

Mary looked at Zeke. “I think I’m tired, Cassie. If you don’t mind. It’s been a very long day.”

Mrs. Estrada stood up. “Of course, dear. Forgive me for keeping you.”

Red Talbot stood as well, taking Mary’s hand and kissing it. “I bid you good evening, then, Miss.”

Zeke saw Mary blush, but she didn’t remove her hand from Red’s. He stepped in. “I’ll walk you up, Mary.”

Behind her back, Red grinned. Zeke took Mary firmly by the arm and led her away, thinking only about how if he ever got that bushwhacker alone, he’d take care of him. Mary held onto Zeke’s arm with both hands. “Mr. Talbot is quite the character, isn’t he?” she said as they reached the upstairs hall.

“Oh. Yes.” Zeke had other words to use but he let that go. “I’m sorry you’ve over-exerted yourself. The stage ride must have been brutal.”

She shrugged. “It was tiring. But that’s not why I said good night.” She turned to Zeke as they stood outside her door. “I could see you were upset. That’s all.”

He took a breath. That made him feel like a heel. “I’m sorry, Mary. The man gets under my skin.”

She smiled at him. “I could see that. Don’t let it. I didn’t come all this way to see Mr. Talbot. I came to see you.”

Now he really felt bad. “I apologize. It won’t happen again.”

Mary kissed him on the cheek and opened her door. “Good night, Zeke. Sleep well.” With that she was inside, and the door closed.

Zeke put his hand up to his cheek over the kiss. He could still feel her warm lips there. In his room, he took off his boots and lay down on the bed. Her scent lingered on his shirt and all he could think about was having her in his arms.

The next morning, he was in the barn, taking care of his horses and Jenny, when Talbot rode in. Cesar was out at the pig pen so he stepped forward. “Talbot.”

Talbot tipped his hat. “Stanford.” He dismounted. “You’re up early.”

“You too.”

Talbot laughed. “You’re right, my young friend.” He led his stallion into the barn.

Zeke followed. He wouldn’t put it past this rake to steal anything lighter than the anvil. Talbot took his horse to the far end left box stall and unsaddled his horse. Zeke pretended to check on Butter’s feed box.

“Hey, toss me down some hay, would you?” Talbot called out from the stall.

Zeke could hear the sounds of Talbot unsaddling his horse. He shrugged to himself. “Sure.”

Up in the loft, he forked down three bunches of hay, and climbed back down. “Nice horse.” He could give Talbot that much credit. The horse was magnificent.

“Thank you. Storm is a bit much to handle. He has a mind of his own, but we get along.” The horse took that opportunity to reach around and try to bite Talbot. Talbot pushed his head away and gave the horse’s neck a long stroke. The horse looked at Zeke, as though to say he was in charge.

“I can see.”

“I had a good night last night. You should come to the Oxbow for a hand or two.”

Zeke, never one for throwing his money away, thought that was unlikely to happen. “Maybe.”

Talbot came out of the stall and found the oats, giving Storm a scoop, then put the hay in the rack. He opened the stall door to the outside corral, then came out. He brushed his hands off after closing the stall door. “I suspect breakfast is about ready?”

Zeke nodded. “I suspect so.”

Both men walked to the outside pump and washed their hands, then up the steps to the back porch and into the kitchen.

Pia was pulling biscuits from the oven. Zeke’s stomach growled at the aroma.

“Almost ready. Go. Mrs. Estrada is in the parlor.”

Zeke led the way. In the parlor, the salesman was seated in one of the armchairs. Mrs. Estrada was in her rocker and Mary was on the settee. Zeke’s breath caught in his throat at how lovely she looked, her blonde hair shining in the sunlight streaming through the window. She smiled at him as he entered.

“Good morning, Zeke.” Mrs. Estrada nodded to him. “Oh. I see Mr. Talbot is with us this morning.”

Talbot removed his hat. “Mrs. Estrada, you look most fetching in blue this fine day.” He bowed to her while giving Mary a wink.

Zeke scowled as Mary held her hand up to her mouth. It wasn’t like her to simper. He didn’t understand what was going on with her.

“Miss Younger.” Talbot stepped over to her. “Good morning.” He bowed, took her hand and kissed it.

Zeke rolled his eyes. “Mr. Alvarez.”

“Good morning, Mr. Stanford. A fine day for travelling.”

“It is.”

Talbot turned and nodded to the salesman. “Morning, sir.”

The salesman nodded back. “Good morning.”

Pia announced that it was breakfast and they all went into the dining room.

Later, Zeke mopped the last of the gravy with his biscuit, thinking he’d escaped from breakfast with a minimum amount of aggravation from Mr. Red Talbot. He was wondering about how to spend the day with Mary when Talbot spoke again.

“There’s the usual Saturday night dance at the Oxbow tonight, I thought you all should know.”

Alvarez shook his head. “I’m on my way to Flagstaff right after breakfast, good sir. But thank you for letting me know.”

Zeke glanced at Mary and slumped. She was sitting forward, eyes sparkling.

“A dance?”

Zeke checked Mrs. Estrada.

“Oh yes. I haven’t been in a long time but I remember going. Many of the ranch families come into town to do their weekly resupply and stay for the dance. Then sleep in their wagons, go to church on Sunday morning then head back to their ranches.” She nodded, smiling.

Zeke thought she was thinking about a happy memory. The older woman wasn’t doing anything to dissuade Mary from this dance. He looked back to Mary, who was eagerly looking at him. From the corner of his eye he could see Talbot sit back in his chair, arms folded across his chest, smirking. He’d like to slap that smirk right off of his face.

“Doesn’t that sound like fun, Zeke! I could meet some of the ladies.”

That did it for him. If they were going to stay here, she did need to meet some of the other women. Stay here? Where did that come from? “Um. Yes. Sounds like fun. Especially since Mrs. Estrada says it’s a family dance.”

Mary bounced up and down with glee. “Thank you, Zeke! Thank you, Mrs. Estrada. You’ll have to help me pick out a dress.”

Then, she turned to Red. “Thank you for telling us about the dance, Mr. Talbot.”

The gambler touched his fingertips to his forehead, doing a little bow in Mary’s direction. “Anything for you, Miss Younger.”

Mrs. Estrada pushed back from the table. “It’s decided then. Goodness.” She smiled at everyone around the table. “I don’t think I’ve been this excited about going to the dance in a long time.”

Zeke escorted Mary to her room where she was going to lay out all of her dresses to make a decision. Talbot came up as Zeke was closing Mary’s door. He nodded to the man as he passed him at his door, then went back out to the barn. He brought Diva out to curry her. Cesar brought out Storm and tied him to the fence post across the yard from Zeke.

“I hear you’re going to the dance. I take Pia. She loves to dance.” The ranch hand waggled his eyebrows at Zeke.

Zeke nodded. “I guess the ladies do like to dance. Mary’s picking out a dress.”

“You don’ want to go?”

“No. That’s not it.” He had to remember not to brush too hard, he thought as Diva shied away from his rough hand. “It’s just that Talbot brought it up. I know the man wasn’t bringing it up out of the kindness of his heart.”

“Miss Mary is very pretty.”

“Yep. She is. And innocent. Red Talbot is a no-good bushwhacker. Not the kind of person Mary should set her cap for.” Again, Diva whimpered and moved away from Zeke’s brush. He had to pat the horse and calm her down. “Sorry, Diva. Sorry, girl.” He took a deep breath. “Well. I’ve got to take her to the dance. But I don’t have to like that Talbot will be sniffing around my girl.”

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Quartz, Part 3: Flash Fiction Friday Post

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All,

This week’s submission is over a thousand words. Since I’m writing this as part of National Novel Writing Month (killing two birds with one stone), I’m going a little off count until it’s finished.

 

Quartz: Part 3

Pia wiped her hands on her apron. Mrs. Estrada blinked. “Your Mary?”

Zeke nodded and held out the letter. “It says right here, she’s catching the next stage and that was two weeks ago!”

Mrs. Estrada took the letter, reading it quickly as her eyebrows rose. “Oh. Well.” She handed the letter back. “Stage comes tomorrow. After dinner Pia and I will prepare a room for her.”

Zeke nodded. “But what do I do?”

A big grin spread across Mrs. Estrada’s face. She traded smiles with Pia. “I expect you’ll meet the stage.”

The next day, Zeke went into town. He had to talk to Markum, of course, about the mine. But then there was the stage. It was supposed to arrive about noon. He wanted to be there in plenty of time, just in case it was early. He tied Butters to the rail outside of the hotel, then one of the outlaw’s horses, that he’d brought for Mary. It was the gentlest of the three, named Diva. The mare was a diva, he thought, always begging for pats and treats. She did again as he was tying her to the rail. He stroked her gently on the nose, then patted both of them on the neck before leaving.

He checked the three bars. All three had men on the porches, most of them with beers in hand. He shook his head. How they could afford beers before noon was a wonder to him. How’d they make the money if they were lazing on bar porches all day? “Mr. Markum,” he said as he entered and closed the door against the heat and the glare. “Mornin’.”

“Morning, Zeke.” Markum stood up and held out his hand. “I didn’t expect you back so quick.”

They shook.

“I would have stayed out a mite longer, but I had outlaw trouble.”

“I heard. Have a seat.” The assayer motioned to the chair across the desk from him. “It’s good you’re here. I heard back from three companies.”

He and Zeke sat down. “The best offer is from the Red Rock Mining Company.” He shook his head. “I have to tell you, I’m not fond of that company.”

The best offer sounded good to Zeke, even not hearing the amount yet. “What do you mean?”

Markum shrugged. “They have a reputation for driving hard bargains then not paying up.” He sighed. “I’d hate to recommend them, even though they’re offering the best price right now, than see you get cheated.”

Zeke nodded. He’d hate to be cheated too. “What about the other two?”

Markum pulled three sheets of paper from his middle desk drawer. “The second one is the one I’d recommend. It’s part of the Hearst mining companies. Hearst is known to be a hard customer as well but once a bargain is struck, he’s honest about paying up. The third one, well,” he tossed that letter on the desk, “they just didn’t bid much.” He handed all three letters to Zeke and folded his hands over his stomach as Zeke read them.

Taking his time, Zeke read all three. Markum was right about the third one. They’d only bid half of what the Hearst company had. The best offer, from Red Rock, was half a million more than Hearst’s. That was a lot of money. He couldn’t even fathom what that was, and he’d be rich with the Hearst offer.

The memory of the dead outlaws in the street, and the one’s now sitting in Sheriff Colton’s jail, popped into his mind. Blood money. That’s what this mine was. Stained. The joy went out of his decision. Then he remembered, Mary was coming. Today. The joy returned, dimmed. He laid the letters out on Markum’s desk. “I guess I’ll have to take your word on the Red Rock offer, even though it’s quite a bit more.” He pushed the second letter to Markum. “Write them and say I accept.”

Markum nodded. “I think that’s the best choice, Zeke, though I can get you some men to confirm what I’m sayin’.”

“No.” Zeke shook his head. “I trust you. You saved my life, after all.”

“Thank, you, Zeke. I’ll not abuse your trust. You mind if I telegraph them? They’d like to know as soon as possible.”

That took Zeke by surprise. He knew there was a telegraph in town. It was over in the newspaper office. It just never occurred to him to use it. “Sure. I guess. How much will that cost?”

Markum grinned at the young man. “I’ll take care of it, son. They pay me a commission for finding claims.” He held out his hand. “Congratulations.”

Zeke shook with him. “Thanks. But it’s not a done deal yet.”

“You’re right. But it is pretty close.” He came around the desk and clapped Zeke on the shoulder. “What now?”

Zeke ran a hand through his hair. “Meet the stage. My girl is coming.”

Markum laughed. “Well. Good for you! A wedding?”

“I.” He shook his head sheepishly. “I don’t know!”

Again, Markum laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t you worry, son. She’ll let you know.” He opened the door and showed Zeke out. “I’ll send word to Mrs. Estrada’s when the answer comes in.”

Zeke went out onto Markum’s uncovered porch. “Thank you.” He stood there. It would have been nice to go have a beer over at the Oxbow but he could see the men there eyeing him. No. That wouldn’t do. He left the porch and walked back to the hotel. He gave Butters and Diva each a pat and a scratch, then went into the hotel. He’d only been in here once, two years ago when he’d first arrived. They’d improved the place. Now there was wallpaper on the walls and the reception desk was polished mahogany. The clerk looked up from his register expectantly.

“Need a room, mister?”

Zeke shook his head. He pointed at the other side of the lobby. “Getting’ a coffee.”

The clerk nodded and went back to his books. Zeke crossed the room and sat at one of the little tables. Each one had a tablecloth, a candle sitting in the center. A man in an apron came over. “Breakfast?”

Zeke shook his head. “I’m waitin’ for the stage. Just a coffee.”

“Sure. Stage is due in about half an hour.” He pointed to a railroad clock on the wall behind the registration desk.

“Thanks.” Zeke looked at the clock then the waiter. “Appreciate it.”

“Coffee will be right out.” He moved off and through swinging doors into what sounded like a kitchen.

A woman was at another table, reading the local paper, a teapot on the table in front of her and a cup and saucer. A small plate with half a slice of toast was next to the cup.

Nearly noon, it seemed late to Zeke to be having breakfast but maybe she didn’t feel well, or was waiting for the stage, too. Nothing else to do, he watched the street through the pair of windows on the dining side of the lobby. Men rode by on horseback. Women with babies in carriages of with children walked by, heading to the general store or the post office or somewhere else. A rancher in a wagon went by, raising the dust which rolled in through the hotel door.

His coffee arrived in a fancy pot, taller than the woman’s tea pot, a matching cup and saucer was placed next to it with milk in a small pitcher and a little plate with sugar lumps on it. “Will that be all?” the waiter asked.

Zeke nodded. “This is enough.”

The man nodded and left, going over to the woman and asking if she’d like anything else? When she said no, he asked for a dollar. She reached into the bag attached to her wrist and gave him a dollar and a coin. Zeke couldn’t see what it was. A tip, at any rate. He hadn’t thought about that. He’d have to remember to do that.

He drank the coffee, feeling a little foolish pouring coffee from the fancy pot into the thin-sided porcelain cup. Zeke added some milk and sugar, just for the novelty of it, and stirred it with the tiny spoon that had been on the saucer. He tried to use the elaborate handle on the cup but his hands were too big and coarse. Eventually he just picked it up by the rim and sipped. It was alright with the mild and sugar in it, but he didn’t want to get used to it this way. Who could afford to spend money on sugar like that?

The clock ticked slowly toward noon. He paid the bill and remembered to leave a dime on the table as a tip, then went out to the porch to wait. There were four straight chairs out there and three rockers. He was glad it was a covered porch. The sun was hot. He selected a straight chair. The lady with the tea was in one of the rockers. She must be waiting for the stage as well.

It didn’t take long. The stage came roaring down the street from the east, a huge cloud of dust trailing along with it. The horses were neighing, the driver was shouting and its arrival created a storm of excitement and confusion. People came out of the shops and passers-by stopped walking to watch, waving the dust away from their faces. The stage came to a halt in front of the hotel, the horses nearly standing on their back legs as the driver pulled back on the reins, shouting, “Whoa.”

The horses came back to all fours, sides frosted with foam and heaving from their race into town. The driver climbed down on the hotel side, his partner down the street side. Opening the stage door, the driver announced, “Payson. Half-hour lunch stop.”

Men piled out of the stage and headed into the hotel. Zeke expected they’d want lunch fast so they could get back on the stage before it left. He watched them go by, then looked back to the stage. Finally, last, Mary got out, stopping as she reached the ground to look around.

“Mary!” He raced down the steps and ran up to her. Zeke didn’t know what to do next. He wanted to hug her but they were on the street. That wouldn’t look right, would it?

Mary answered that for him by wrapping her arms around his neck and putting her head on his shoulder. “Oh, Zeke. I’m so happy to see you.”

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Mystery at the Reunion, National Novel Writing Month, Shout Out: Monday Blog Post

Newest News:

My cozy, Mystery at the Reunion, might be a good fit for you. The InkShares site is new to me and I’m still learning how to use it. I’ve put chapters from the story up over there as well as some alternative chapters that may bring the story even more to life. Since the story is in a contest, I can win the contest by getting people to read the story. Here’s the link. https://www.inkshares.com/books/mystery-at-the-reunion. I’d appreciate it if you’d go over and have a read. The book is open for comments, so if you like something, don’t like something, let me know!

Gulliver Station box set for Smashwords is live. I’ve included links to all of the ebook spots where I sell my books at the bottom of this page. I’m still working on the paperback version. I’m having a fight with Amazon on the cover, a technical glitch of some sort. And in the formatting, I’ve run into a weird hurdle that puts the last page of every chapter in the middle of the page. I thought I had the pagination error beat but no. That’s not working either. At any rate, you can now get it in ebook for a very nice price. Enjoy.

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National Novel Writing Month, NaNo for short, has begun and I’m over 7k into my first book, Gold Dreams. I need to finish it up, then start on my All About Bob series. Lots to do there as well.

A reminder that I’ve finished my 2019 calendar. Arizona is such a beautiful place and a calendar of pictures from central AZ fits in so well with my Jean Hays series, I really just can’t resist sharing. Now that it’s completed, you can find the calendar on Lulu. Just click on the link and purchase as many copies as you want for yourself, friends and family. Feel free to share the link, and this post!

Next appearance is in December, the Mesa Book Festival. That’s December 8th. You can find all of the details at https://mesabookfestival.com/.

Shout Out

I want to say a big hi to my author friend Anne R. Tan, also a mystery author. She’s promoting her new book, Smoldering Flames and Secrets, a Raina Sun mystery over on the Books2Read site at https://books2read.com/RainaSun7. Really! Go check it out.

Giveaways:

The 2018 Halloween giveaway is now closed. There’s $80+ as a Grand Prize Paypal cash, plus books and other prizes and as soon as I get the info, I’ll tell you who won! A Christmas one is coming out soon, so stay tuned for that.

Newsletter Sign Up:

Click here to sign up for my newsletter. I’ve put sign-up gifts on the regular and the SciFi/Fantasy and the Cozy Mystery newsletter sign-ups. That’s right. If you sign up for my newsletter you get a free story from me. Be prepared for fun and contests! Click on the video link for a short video from me. Hear what I’m working on. Join my “A” Team to be the first to read my books and hear what new books are coming.

Don’t forget to follow my blog, too. Different material goes in the blog as in the newsletter. You can share both, so spread the word!

Newest Book Release:

The Gulliver Station ebook box set released July 30th, 2018. It is finally up on all of my other retailers in ebook format. You can buy it at Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords today. You can also see all my books on https://conniesrandomthoughts.com/my-books-and-other-published-work/. If you’ve read any of my books, please drop a short, honest, review on the site where you bought it or on Goodreads. It’s critical to help me promote the books to other readers. Thanks in advance.

Thank you for reading my blog. Like all of the other work I do as an author, it takes time and money. If you enjoy this Monday blog and the Friday free story and the recipe I put up on the 25th of every month, consider donating to https://www.paypal.me/ConniesRandomThought. I appreciate any donation to help support this blog.

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Slave Elf Part 21: Flash Fiction Friday Post

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Part 21

The day came for them to march off to the first location her grand-uncle had set up troops. Her horse constantly bobbed head up and down and shifted left and right. Delia did her best to calm herself before trying to calm the horse. It was picking up her feelings. Finally, her father, the king, rode up. The Captain shouted out the order to proceed and she followed the rest of the elves in the king’s retinue out of the castle gates. A company of elves rode ahead of them while the rest of the force followed behind the king. Now that they were moving, she felt better. Sitting and waiting was difficult.

Sisruo rode up and moved into position beside her. He nodded toward Mage Kaepli who rode beside the King. “I was chosen to be his body servant.”

“Quite the honor,” Delia replied. She looked over him and his horse. He had dressed himself and his horse simply, as she had. There were no silver decorations on bridle or saddle. The sword at his side was plain, no fancy guard or decorations on the scabbard. A simple gray cloak hung from his shoulders over brown and green tunic, leggings and boots. Similar to her own dress.

“Yes. It is. I’m honored and hopeful I don’t make a mess of it.”

“Not likely. He seems to like you very much.”

“True. But that has only made him harder on me.” He gazed off into the distance over the heads of the king and the mage. “He’s convinced me to take my final testing when we return.”

“Good. It’s time. You seem to have an excellent grasp of magic.” She shrugged. “At least to my eye.”

Sisruo chuckled. “Kaepli said pretty much the same. Said I was just dilly-dallying. Get on with it.”

Delia had to chuckle in return. “Very direct.”

“Indeed.”

They spoke often over the next four days as they marched to battle. The sound of tack jingling and rattling covered their conversation from others in formation. What Delia found annoying was the constant dust. It filled every crevasse in skin and clothing and she was at the front. She couldn’t imagine what the dust was like at the rear of the line.

When they camped for the night the fourth day, her father called a council.

“Have we found Nethene?” the King asked as they stood around a map of the area spread across a rough table.

Captain Neoni shook his head. “No. There’s been no sign of him since four days before we left the castle. The men I had watching him had to be left behind when we rode. They still hadn’t woken from whatever spell he used on them.”

The king nodded and looked at Mage Kaepli. “And you?”

“I can see Iyuno’s forces ahead. Nothing more than that.”

Chief Scout Mystesto spoke up. “I sent scouts ahead, they’ve just returned. It looks like about a thousand elves, half on horseback. The rest on foot. There are humans, as well, sire.”

King Ucheni’s eyebrow rose. “Humans?”

Mystesto nodded. “More than likely mercenaries, Sire. Swords for hire, is my guess.”

The king rubbed his face, the beginning of a beard already growing. “That could mean that Iyuno isn’t as well supported as we thought. Humans also means less magic and more fighting.” He sighed. “And I’m sure Nethene has already joined my Uncle Iyuno.” He blew out his breath. “There’s nothing we can do about it now.”

He pointed at the map. We break our force into three parts. I’ll take the center, here,” he tapped the map at a point mid-way along the valley floor. Captain Neoni, take the right, Mystesto, take the left.” Ucheni looked to the mage. “And you, Master Kaepli. I’ve heard you have a weapon.”

“One I hope, Sire, will spare many elf lives. I and my apprentice Kaya, will be in Chief Scout Mystesto’s force. My right-hand apprentice, Sisruo and apprentice Couran will be with Captain Neoni. Apprentice Pelan will ride with you.”

“Only one mage with me, Kaepli?”

“Oh no, Sire. Your daughter is well trained in the new method. She’ll be by your side as planned.” The old elf gave Delia a quick wink.

Her father turned to her. “Well done, daughter. You seem to be a formidable force all on your own.”

A blush began to creep up her cheeks and she stared at the map. “I will do my best to protect you, Father.”

He clapped her gently on the shoulder—a smile on his face. “I couldn’t ask for a better daughter.”

“Thank you, Father.”

Ucheni drew a deep breath. “That’s all for tonight. Get your rest. We’ll need it.”

Delia returned to her tent. She was still amazed that the baggage train had one just for her. She splashed her face and took off her boots, lying down on her pallet fully clothed. The weather was still warm enough that she didn’t bother with the finely woven wool blanket provided. She stared at the top of the tent, lit in waves by the torches around her father’s tent. The light flickered and moved as the light breeze flew the flames.

After the big build-up by Mage Kaepli she hoped she could carry out her duties to protect her father. She pressed her fingertips against her eyes. Not a good horsewoman, she hurt, especially after four days in the saddle, from head to toe. That didn’t help her sleep either. Her legs would go into random spasms so even if she did drift off, the spasms jerked her back awake. She muttered the chant to awaken someone from suspension. A yawn in the middle of one iteration was so wide her jaw cracked. She worried about her father. What if he went charging ahead. Could she keep up? How long could she keep up the pace of suspending elves and throwing fireballs?

It was all a swirl in her mind until scratching at the tent door woke her. “It’s daybreak, Princess. We have mush and tea ready at the fire.”

Delia suppressed a groan. It hadn’t felt like any sleep at all. “I’ll be right there. Thank you.”

The elf left and Delia rolled from her pallet. She stretched as best she could and pulled on her boots. It was going to be a long day.

 

Thank You! Come back next week for Part 22.

1064 Words

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Slave Elf: Part 9 Flash Fiction Friday Post

Tea Set by Connie Cockrell

Part 9

She nodded. Now that he mentioned it, she was a little tired. “When will I go to see my parents?”

“After you have full power. The king and queen want you to be able to defend yourself before you come back. They look forward to seeing you.”

Delia nodded. She wondered if they really did look forward to seeing her. There had been no contact at all since she’d been dropped at Corpet’s.

“They missed you terribly.”

The statement caught her by surprise. As though he could read her mind.

“Your aura gives you away.”

She blushed. “I hope one of the lessons is on how to control that.” What she didn’t want was for every passing elf to know what she was feeling.

“It is. I just meant that they are looking forward to meeting you and that they missed you. It was not an easy decision to hide you away. The threat from Iyuno was great enough against you to warrant it.”

“I’ll take you at your word.”

They arrived back at the conservatory. Pricilla was sitting at the table with a piece of embroidery, a tray of glasses and an ewer of water ready for them. She rose and bowed. “Princess, Lord Enaur. Water?”

“No thank you.” Enaur shook his head. “I’ll take my leave, Princess. Same time tomorrow, here?”

“Yes, Lord Enaur. Tomorrow.”

He bowed and left going into the conservatory and to the house. Delia wondered if he was going to report to Lord Traford.

“Water, Princess?”

Delia took her mind from Enaur and sat down. “Yes please.” She could see that Pricilla’s aura was a rosy pink. Sparkles danced all around her. Even the water had sparkles. Pricilla put the glass in front of her. Her hand trembled a bit as she reached for it. She wondered at the water’s sparkles, frothing up out of the glass and spilling down the sides, over her hand. Musing, she drank, wondering if she’d feel the sparkles. She didn’t and was a little disappointed.

“I hope I haven’t kept you waiting too long,” she said as she put the glass back down.

“No, Princess. I had a bit of embroidery to keep me occupied.

“May I see it?”

Pricilla took the piece in its hoop from the table and handed it to Delia.

“It’s a handkerchief.” Delia examined the stitching. It was a leaf and flower pattern, in yellows and greens, the stitches small and even. “It’s beautiful.”

“My grandmother taught me.” Pricilla took back the work and dropped it into an apron pocket.

“Would you teach me?”

The young woman’s eyes widened. “Certainly, Princess. I’ll gather the materials and find a suitable piece for you to begin learning on.”

Delia realized her trembling had stopped. “I look forward to it.” She looked around the conservatory. “Do you know all of the flower names in here?”

Pricilla shook her head. “No, Princess. Shall I arrange for the gardener to explain?”

“That would be wonderful. Yes, please. Later this afternoon, or tomorrow, perhaps, as his time is available.”

“I will arrange it, Princess.”

Delia rose. “Let’s tour the house, Pricilla. It’s foolish for me to have to be guided everywhere.”

Pricilla smiled. “Yes, Princess.”

They spent an hour and a half exploring all of the parts of the house, including the kitchens, that Pricilla had access to. They arrived back in Delia’s rooms in the early afternoon.

“Dinner is at seven, Princess. Would you like a lunch to tide you over?”

“Yes please. And tea.”

Pricilla nodded and left. Delia sat in the window seat and looked out over the wall of the estate. She was a little surprised at how extensive the grounds were here in the middle of Kismet. From her window she could see the desert beyond the town, a striking contrast to the lush gardens on the grounds.

She was lost in thought over her morning’s lesson when Pricilla returned with a tray. “I brought an assortment, Princess, until I learn your preferences.” She put the tray on the low table, then shut the room door. Delia went to one of the chairs near the table and sat down. “What did you bring me?”

Pricilla raised the cover. “A salad of greens with sliced apple, raisins and nuts, a plate of cheese and cold cuts, rolls, chutney, butter, mustard, and a bowl of mixed cut fruit.”

A knock sounded at the door. Pricilla answered it and brought in another tray. This one had hot tea service and carafes of water, iced tea, and a red and a white wine. “I know you asked for tea, Princess, but I thought you may like these to be here for the afternoon.”

“How thoughtful, Pricilla.”

She ate a little of everything. Delia seemed particularly hungry though in the caravan, she never had a mid-day meal. Perhaps it was the awakened magic. “Thank you, Pricilla.”

The young woman nodded and took the tray back to the kitchens. Delia was examining the books in the bookcase when Pricilla returned. “Princess. A young man has arrived from Master Corpet with your things.”

Delia brightened. “Is it allowed to have him bring them up?”

“Yes, Princess. I’ll bring him here.”

It didn’t take long. Pricilla opened the door after a knock and Sam came in behind her, carrying a trunk.

“Set it on the floor, Sam.” Delia hurried over and clapped him on the shoulders. Sam blushed bright red. Delia had never been so happy to see a familiar face. “How are you Sam?”

He ducked his head. “I’m fine Del… um, Princess.” He looked around the room. “The whole caravan is talking.” He blushed again.

“We’ve known each other for years, Sam. Don’t be shy. Come. Sit down and have a glass of water.”

He shuffled nervously to the nearest chair around the low table. Delia poured him a glass of water and handed it to him. “Please sit, Sam. Tell me what’s going on?”

Sam glanced at the upholstered chair, then his breeches. Pricilla moved to stand behind Delia’s chair. “Sit, Sam. Please.”

He nodded and sat, then sipped from the glass. “Uh, well news is out about you being a Princess. Master Corpet called out Emil and whipped him with his own crop then fired him for striking you against his orders. We leave tomorrow. Master is complaining that now he has no one to keep the books. He’s scouring the market for a trained slave.” His words tumbled from his lips in a torrent and in no particular order.

Delia found she was sad to hear that they were leaving. It was to be expected, Corpet had to be in Encre for the main slave sale. She was not sad to hear that Emil had received a come-uppance. “Isn’t the Master worried that Emil will cause trouble?”

Sam shrugged. “I don’t know. He doesn’t seem worried. He hired another horse master and head guard to take over for Emil.” He drank the water down, now that he was more relaxed. “Master Corpet has decided I should learn to read and write, now that you’re gone.” He beamed with pride at the announcement.

“I’m glad, Sam. You’ll do well, I’m sure.”

Sam rose. “I need to get back, Del… uh, Princess. Master will have a lot of packing for me to do.”

Delia rose as well and threaded her arm in Sam’s as she walked him to the door. “Take care, Sam, and be well. I won’t forget how good a friend you’ve been.”

He blushed again. “Thank you, Princess.” He ducked his head as Pricilla led him out of the room. “You’ve been a good friend, too.”

She waved as Pricilla shut the door. Alone, she wandered back to the window seat and stared out over the city. She’d miss Sam but not the caravan or the men that worked it. Delia worried a bit about Emil. He would be furious at the whipping and being fired. He may join a brigand band and cause trouble for Master Corpet. She also worried about the word now out on the street that she was an Elven princess. That word would spread quickly and probably back to her Uncle Iyuno. How would that affect her father’s war?

 

Thank You! Come back next week for Part 10.

1378 Words

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Slave Elf Part 8: Flash Fiction Friday Post

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Part 1 here. Part 7 here.

Part 8

He dropped her hand as they strolled past flower beds and stately trees. “Your parents send both greetings and apologies. I take it you do not know much about what is going on in the Elven Kingdom?”

 

Delia shook her head. “I know a little, from market gossip, but Master Corpet kept news of elves to himself.” She took a breath, “Or at least away from me. I was told there’s a civil war.”

 

Enaur nodded. “Your uncle and father have never gotten along well. He resented being second-born of your great-grandfather, always considering himself smarter and stronger in magic than your grandfather or father.” He clasped his hands behind his back as they stopped to admire a bed of blue iris. “It’s unfortunate. King Ucheni is a just and noble King. Fair and kind-hearted. He doesn’t have your Uncle Iyuno’s magical powers, that’s true, but it doesn’t make him less of a good King.”

 

“And this prophesy?”

 

“Yes. It came to my mother, back in your great-great-grandfather’s reign. Your house and mine have a centuries old bond.” He shook his head. “A child at the time, she went into a trance in the middle of court, shouted out the prophesy and collapsed. It was three days until she regained herself and remembered what had happened. The court was in an uproar.” The pair moved on from the iris bed. “Iyuno believed he was to be the next King, but your great-grandfather promoted Ucheni instead, insisting that whatever trouble was coming would be best handled by a younger elf. That’s when Iyuno began plotting. It was your birth that set him off. By the time you were a toddler, Ucheni and Ralae agreed that you must be hidden from your uncle. They concocted the plan with the previous Lord Traford and Master Corpet’s father.”

 

Delia saw him wrinkle his nose. “You didn’t approve?”

 

Enaur shrugged. “It was against my advice. But I serve your father faithfully, so I arranged everything.” He shook his head. “I apologize. I do. It could not have been easy living amongst the humans.”

 

“I didn’t really know anything else. It just was, though I’d have snatches of memories of a happier time. Laughter and music.”

 

He grimaced. “But you were safe?”

 

“Safe enough.”

 

They reached the back wall of the estate. Delia noticed the trees planted to hide the wall. It occurred to her the Trafords lived in as much of a prison as she had. “And powers? I’ve never noticed any powers in myself.”

 

Enaur faced her. “It’s subtle, at first. Things happen that you don’t recognize or even realize. Most elves, growing up in homes where magic is performed all around them, manifest early, little powers, like the sight, forseeing events that will happen to them, or an ability to guide plant growth or work with metal.” He studied her. “You never noticed any of that?”

 

“No.” Delia shook her head. “I have an ability with numbers, accounts, languages. There really wasn’t any plant growing or metal work going on around me.”

 

He nodded. “You may be manifesting in the languages, since that’s what you’ve been exposed to. Let us try an experiment.”

 

Delia’s heart quickened. What would they find as they probed her power? She took a breath. “Very well.”

 

“Relax and close your eyes. Focus inward, shutting out your thoughts, your fears, the touch of the wind and the sounds around us. Empty your mind and focus inward. Relax into a nothingness.” His voice progressively softened until he could barely be heard.

 

Delia slowly relaxed her mind, then shut out the sounds around her. It was difficult, her mind wanted to analyze everything happening. She refocused at every stray thought, quieting that analysis, letting her arms and body relax, softening her face. It seemed she heard a humming. Not from without, but within. A soothing sound, pleasant but strong. She followed the sound into herself, allowing herself to be led, unquestioningly.

 

It was a light, she saw. A glow, really, at her core. Soft yet strong, her center. Delia reached out to it and as her mind touched it, it flashed. A wave of heat and light, joy and gratitude overcame her. Delia staggered and her eyes opened as Enaur caught her by her arms.

 

“Are you alright, Princess?”

 

Delia gasped. “It was so beautiful!”

 

Enaur smiled. “Good. Good. I’m glad your first effort was successful. You’ve unlocked your power. And well done.” He walked her to a nearby bench and they sat down. “With young elves who’ve grown up around magic, they tap into their power early, without that opening. Sometimes they get blocked and must try several times to reach their center.”

 

Delia trembled on the bench. The world seemed both brighter and duller than it had a moment ago. She mentioned it to Enaur.

 

“Your magical sight has opened. You see the world both new made yet at the same time, not as lovely as the magic at your core. That will resolve itself. You will see more in the world now than you ever have.” He looked around the garden. The world is a lovely place, the plants and animals, the beautiful and the ugly, it’s all a balance and magical in its own right. You have much to learn.”

 

“I look forward to it.”

 

On the walk back to the conservatory she realized many of the plants now had auras, or at least now she could see them. A rabbit hopped out from some bushes and froze when it saw them. She could see an aura around it as well. “I see auras sparkling around the plants and animals.”

 

“That’s good. It won’t be long before you stop seeing it uninvited. You’ll be able to call on that power to see a creature’s aura at will. Right now, just opened, it comes unbidden.”

 

Delia smiled. “Will there be another lesson today?”

 

Enaur shook his head. “The opening is enough for today. Tomorrow we’ll resume your lessons. I expect it won’t take long for you to gain your full powers.”

 

 

Thank You! Come back next week for Part 9.

1013 Words

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