This is an excerpt from the first chapter of my OYAN (http://oneyearnovel.com/) novel, Escape into Darkness. I had the synopsis posted on the sidebar at one point, but took it down so that it couldn't be, uh, stolen. (I'm paranoid...) Anyway, this (below) is not the entire first chapter, but the first scene from it. And, I am going to ask a few questions. Does it provoke your curiosity? Would you keep reading? Does it make sense? I would greatly appreciate anything anyone has to say. Please, and thank you, very much. :-)
I drew in a sharp breath and laid a hand to my lower back. The welt that had emerged since last night still stung. And why shouldn’t it? Master Dryte was an expert marksman from what I’d heard; surely he could lay several well placed thrashings to the back of a young slave girl like myself.
Grimacing, I wrung out the last tunic over the washbasin. After hanging it on the line with the others, I hefted the tub up to dump it. Yet, Mistress didn’t like for me to dump it in the stone courtyard, as I painfully found out long ago, so I staggered toward the grass to pour out the soapy, murky contents.
I yelped, startled by the loud voice, and dropped the tub on the cobbled stone. The heavy basin landed on my foot. “Ouch!” I cried. Water sloshed out, soaking my skirts, as well as the floor. “Ooh!”
I pried my foot out from under it and spun around. A tall young man stood by the courtyard gate, grimacing. “Rylen!” I shouted at him. “Look what you made me do!”
Rylen unlatched the gate and slipped inside the fence. “Sorry,” he said, his voice sympathetic. “I’ll help you clean it up.”
I sighed and picked up the tub, now much lighter. “Never mind that. It’ll dry pretty quick. I just hope she doesn’t find out.” I dumped the rest out on the grass and set the tub against the side of the cottage. “Now, what was it?” I asked, wringing out the hem of my skirt.
Rylen blinked, probably trying to remember. “Oh! Right. Father gave me a horse! Do you want to see her?”
I drew my head back. “Really? For you to train?”
“Yes. He said he thinks I’m ready.”
“Oh, wonderful! I’d love to see, but I don’t think...”
Rylen shook his head. “Father got you thirty minutes of leave. You’ll be fine. Come on.”
“Well...all right.” I snatched my kerchief from the pocket of my apron and tied it around my head, so that it hung down to my shoulders. Mistress required me, as all the female slaves were to do, to wear the veil when I went out. They set us apart from the village girls.
I followed Rylen out of the gate and through the winding main streets of the village toward his father’s smithy shop and stables, which were not that far from my master’s home.
On the days that I had minimal amounts of work – those being mostly on holy days or festivals, which were few and far between indeed – I often went to the stables to visit and assist in any way I could. When with people who treat me well, work never seems near as grueling. It’s even enjoyable. As long as there are no whips nearby.
One of the most treasured memories I have occurred over a period of a few days three summers ago, several months before the raid. Father woke Mama, Alena, Darrin, and I early and took us out to the fields for a seasonal round of surveying. After Father retired from his profitable architecture exploits, he had taken back to the land, like his father, and his father’s father before him.
The days were hot and humid, yet as we went through the farmlands, we stopped often to work alongside the servants. They were not slaves, forced to work in unbearable conditions with cruel, heartless masters ripping their backs under stinging cords, but all were paid employees of my father’s. They were treated well -- not as animals. He taught us the difference.
As we worked, we talked with them. I had many enjoyable conversations during that time, with young and old alike. Mama, Alena, and I would often return to the wagon and supply fresh water and food for the workers. And, whether we brought it to them, or they had to supply their own with the money from their pockets, they always had enough to eat.
Life is so different now.
Here in the village, those working in the fields are often shackled together by their ankles. The scraps of clothing that do little more than cover their bodies in the necessary places, hang off of their malnourished frames like loose sacks. And it is not unusual to see several being whipped to the point of death each day.
So, so different.
I shook the thoughts from my mind and trotted to catch up with Rylen. We entered through the side of his father’s shop and went straight to the door to the stable area.
Grooms and stable hands bustled about, carrying things back and forth. I dodged a boy wheeling a cart full of droppings and sidestepped a pile on the floor that he must have missed.
“Where is she?” I asked.
“Out in the back pasture. Pap bought her, along with four other foals, at the auction in Framburn last week. They arrived yesterday.”
Once we’d reached the door that would lead out of the stable and into the paddocks, I turned, reaching for the handle. Rylen kept walking. “Uh, Ry?” I furrowed my brow. “Isn’t it this way?”
Rylen made his way back to me, hesitated, and then grasped my wrist. “Well, yes, but…” He inhaled and glanced around, lowering his voice to a whisper. “Just, keep following me. We aren’t going out to the field.”
“But I thought you said –”
“I know! Just, come on.”
I allowed myself to be pulled along the corridor for a few more meters. Rylen stopped at the ladder to the hayloft. “Go on up. I’ll be back in a minute.”
I stepped onto the first rung. “I don’t have a whole lot of time, you know.”
I clambered up the ladder and plopped down on a bale to wait. What in the world is going on? I picked at the straw and twirled a blade between my fingers; the sweet smells of horse and hay drifted through my senses.
I looked up. That was fast. Rylen came and sat next to me. He had a fat, leather-wrapped bundle in his hands. “This came for you.”
I drew my head back. Slaves never received anything. It was forbidden. Questions flew from my lips. “For me? What is it? Who is it from? And how did you get it?”
“I don’t know anything about it except what Pap told me. He brought it back with him from Framburn. He got it from some messenger. Mysterious fellow, he said,” He shifted and held out the bundle. “It’s addressed to you.”
I took the package from his hands. It was bound with small, thin cords of rope, crisscrossing over the leather. I slid them off, dropping them onto the hay-littered floor. I peeled back the outer wrapping, revealing another cloth, a thick, woven dark blue one, beneath. I stopped and stroked the fabric. “Why, this reminds me of...” I pulled it away and set aside the small contents of the package without looking at them. I shook out the cloth and gasped. “It is!”
“What?” Rylen asked. “It’s just the wrapping.”
“No.” I grinned, shaking my head. “It’s my Mama’s shawl!” I wrapped it around my shoulders and pressed the cloth against my face, inhaling deeply. The familiar scent filled my nostrils, sending a shiver down my spine. I sighed. “It is.”
Rylen nudged me. “Keilah. What was in it?”
“Oh.” I picked up the former contents, turning them over in my hands. A small, fat book bound in soft, white calfskin and a sealed letter. I opened the letter first, immediately recognizing the small, perfect handwriting. Handwriting I hadn’t seen for more than three years. I glanced at the upper corner or the page; the date written there was a year old.
If this letter ever reaches you, praise be to the
Father in Heaven. As I have little time for formalities, I will simply say that I miss you, and that I long to see you once more. God has been gracious and has kept my brothers and me well. My home has recently begun to receive boarders, many of which are ill and seeking refuge from their daily trials. We are tending to them as well as we know how.
One of the boarders, a young man named Darrin, came to me one night, saying that he had news of my blood-brother, whom I had not heard from in some time. He said that he and his wife had recently moved to a small fishing village up North, Yarom, I believe, and that he (the young man) had accompanied them for the journey. Problems arose, and the young
man had to leave the village. He expressed to me that he had hoped to bring my brother back to visit, but he had been unable to leave the village due to an … occupational problem.
He also told me that the couple’s daughter had not been heard from since they relocated. They had wanted her to join them, but, for some reason, she was unable.
Niece, I now must make a request of you. We have an abundance of people staying with us, and are thus unable to care for them all the way that we should. Also, I have need of your discerning mind and able youth concerning other matters of which I dare not put down in writing. Please, if you can, will you come? I beseech thee, dear niece. Come to me, for I need your help. And, remember as you make your decision, that even when things seem most hopeless, our Heavenly Father is always there, to be our Comfort and our Guide. God bless
you. I hope to see you soon.
In Christ, your loving uncle,
I blinked. What a strange letter! Obviously, it was from my uncle, Israel, but why had he used “Jacob” to sign it? And it was so vague! Boarders? Brothers? And what was all that about my brother, Darrin? And the very last paragraph seemed quite out of place. I sighed and folded the letter up, sticking it in the front cover of the book. I had a feeling that there was much more information contained in the letter than I was seeing.
Rylen nudged me, awakening me from my fog. “What was that?” he asked, a look of concern on his face.
“It’s from my uncle.” I sat for another moment, not saying anything. Then, I gasped. “Oh, no!” I jumped up and wrenched the shawl from my shoulders, stuffing it, along with the letter and the book, in Rylen’s hands. “Ry, I’m sorry, but I have to get back. I can’t take all this with me -- Mistress will have my head if she finds it. Will you take it back with you?”
“Well, of course, but –”
“No, I have to go. You can read it if you want, but it probably won’t make sense. I don’t even understand it!” I dashed to the ladder, kicking up a storm of straw. “I’ll see you later, and then we can figure it out!”
I climbed down the ladder and ran through the aisle, stopping at the access gate to the pasture instead of going all the way to the shop entrance. Pushing aside the sliding door, I slipped out the back. Perhaps, if I could make it back to the house without running into any crowds, I just might make it back before my time ran out. Though, it wasn’t likely.
I rounded the corner of the large building and took off at a sprint through the streets of Ridefel. I took a shortcut, sticking to the side roads and alleys, arriving back at the prominent home of my master within minutes. The gate to the courtyard still stood open, swinging back and forth in the light breeze. I bit my lip and ducked back through it, latching it softly behind me. I checked the water spot on the stone; I hadn’t yet dried completely. If I got back to my chores and worked diligently, I might be able to avoid a confrontation by the Missus.