Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Inviting Rejection

I'm sitting on the sofa in my living room right now, trying not to hyperventilate.  This is because I just pushed a button on a webpage marked 'Submit'.

I've sent a story out into the wild.  Not just to cosy, friendly beta-readers, or into the rarely-visited walled-garden that is this blog, but actually into the wider world.  I've submitted it for consideration to an actual publishing-type place.  Despite having been writing for years, I've never actually done that before.

There's a very simple reason for this: nothing I've written has ever been good enough, in my head at least.  Everything always needs more work, further polishing, just one last tweak before it can be sent out.  Except the more I tweak things the less I tend to like them, as a rule.

There are two reasons why this story is different.  One is that Friendy Beta-Reader the First told me this story really deserved better than to just be posted on the blog, despite originating in another silly writing prompt like 'Lavendar and the Random Acolyte'.  The other is that Friendly Beta-Reader the Second, despite only really taking up writing for NaNoWriMo last November, is already submitting things out there.  Good things.  And if he gets something published before I've even worked up the courage to submit then I will be, as the cool kids say, 'well jell'.

It may be petty, it may be foolish, but at least it's stirred me to action.  I have a story out there, hoping to make its fortune in the wider world.  And when the inevitable rejection letter comes, I shall bear it proudly and call myself a real writer at last.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Back Off the Wagon

Last time I posted about running, I'd just finished the 5K training program from Zombies, Run! and was feeling pretty good about the whole thing.  That was back in February, and you may have noticed that I haven't said anything about running since.

That would be because I've barely been running since.  As much as I planned to keep going, circumstances conspired to knock me back out of the habit.  Most notably, the day after I completed the 5K training I came down with a nasty bout of flu that left me bedridden for several days and woozy for rather longer.  That alone was enough to destroy the momentum and make me reluctant to go back out while the weather was still so cold.

Once the habit's gone, it's hard to get back to it.  I managed one or two runs in the intervening months, but it's only in this past week that I've managed to get going properly again (and I do hope writing about it isn't going to throw me off course again).  The trigger, in the end, was upgrading my phone and finally being able to run the full version of Zombies, Run!  The thought of repeating training missions over and over just wasn't appealing, but now I finally have new plots to listen to.  Sure, I'm not exactly running the whole thing at the moment but I'm using what I've learned from the training and I figure I'll improve the more I do it.  Plus now I get to collect supplies and build up my base and that sort of thing is just cool.

It'll be a while before I turn on the zombie chases though...

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Broken Bonds

"Good morning, Your Highness."

Lavendar woke in pain and bondage, and not the good kind.  Her wrists and ankles were held in heavy shackles, and the pain in her head and bile in her throat suggested more than a touch of concussion.

"I apologise for your current accommodation, but we can't have you running off again, can we, Highness?"

It hurt to open her eyes, but she forced herself to look at just how bad her situation was.  Sturdy chains bolted to the wall: check.  No sign of her usual collection of weapons: check.  Middle-aged rich man leering over her: check.  Fancy dress with ruffles and brocade and endless skirts: okay, that was a new one.  She squinted at her captor again.  He seemed too well-dressed to be your average pervert-with-a-princess-fetish, but you never could tell.  Best not to hang around too long here, just in case.

"Can I get you anything to make you more comfortable?"  His smile showed neat teeth gleaming out from the dark frame of his carefully-trimmed beard.

Lavendar didn't trust anyone that tidy and polite.  Even if she hadn't been chained to the wall she'd have been on her guard.  "My gun would be a good start," she muttered.

The smile disappeared.  "That was hardly a suitable possession for one of your breeding," he said.  "Neither were the clothes you were wearing, nor the disreputable tavern my men say they found you in."

Tavern?  Dang.  Now it started to filter back.  On the plus side, her concussion was almost certainly just a raging hangover, and she'd survived plenty of those in her time.  On the other hand, she had a feeling the whisky had talked her into doing something incredibly stupid last night.  This could be worse than she'd anticipated.  "How about a glass of water, then?" she asked in her sweetest voice.  Best to let him keep thinking she was a princess for now.

"That can be arranged."  He crossed to the door, well out of reach of Lavendar's chains, and had a brief conversation with someone outside.  Lavendar took the opportunity to look around and figure out what she had to work with.

It wasn't a dungeon, at least.  That suggested they were planning to treat her reasonably well for the moment.  The room was light and airy, and a long way up to judge from the blue that filled the one window.  There was furniture, and books, not that any of it would be much good to her while she was restrained.  It might mean there was a possibility of persuading them to unlock her if she promised to behave, though.

The well-dressed man returned, with the promised water.  "I can't drink it with my arms behind my back," Lavendar said, smiling as though smashing his head against the wall was the furthest thing from her mind right now.

"You'll manage, Your Highness," he said, taking her arm and pulling her upright.  He wasn't rough, but the motion set Lavendar's head swimming and she had to fight not to vomit.  Barfing on her captor probably wouldn't make him any more friendly.

The water helped.  She took small sips as the glass was held to her lips, allowing the cold refreshment to settle her stomach and clear her head.  More snatches of last night were beginning to come back.  She remembered loudly declaiming that she was the missing Princess Aurelia, while the real Aurelia kept her head down and avoided eye contact.  Thank goodness that lesson had stuck, even if Lavendar wasn't good at sticking to it herself.

It shouldn't have worked.  Anyone with a lick of sense would have spotted that she looked nothing like Aurelia.  Her hair was lighter, her skin was lighter (sure, she was fairly grubby from travelling at the moment but that hardly meant she matched Aurelia's honeyed tones) and even her eyes were a different colour.  Claiming her identity was the kind of stupid, last-ditch idea that only came from the bottom of a bottle, and yet it had worked.  So whoever this man was, he clearly wasn't lofty enough to score an invite to meet visiting royalty.  Probably he was hoping that 'saving' the missing princess would help boost him up the ladder a few rungs.  Or he thought he could get away with holding her to ransom.  Either way, she wasn't impressed.

Before Lavendar was done drinking, the well-dressed man took the glass away and got to his feet.  "I'm afraid I have other business to attend to," he said.  "I'll come back when I can.  Don't go anywhere."  He didn't even bother to hide the smirk as he walked out.

"Try and stop me," Lavendar muttered as the door closed.  It wasn't just empty defiance.  As soon as the sound of the key turning in the lock told her she was safe from interruption for the time being, she worked herself up onto her knees and tipped her head back.

They'd taken her clothes and her weapons, but they hadn't touched her hair.  Everybody was terrified of the matted tails that sprang from her head, and they clearly hadn't dared to touch the grotty strings with which she had bound them at regular intervals from the nape of her neck.  A stiff mass of hair hung down her back, and no one ever seemed to think of the possibilities that afforded.

It was awkward, with her arms bound as they were, but by tipping her head as far back as it would go and arching her back she was able to get her fingertips to the lowest of the ties.  Pulling it free released a section of hair and let her access the secrets it concealed.  There wasn't much she could get away with hiding in there, but she'd found a long time ago that a tight roll of lock picks could be slipped in easily enough and was handy in a number of situations.  Doubtless they thought they'd been terribly clever when they'd found the decoy set she kept in her boot.

This wasn't a job she could hurry.  There was nowhere within reach that she could easily hide the picks, so she was just going to have to hope no one disturbed her for a while.  Or that if they did they wouldn't move her, so she could get away with sitting on them.

She never could pick a lock without thinking of the woman she'd learned the skill from.  A well-regarded old rogue whose name she never learned, she'd taken Lavendar on as a 'prentice for a year and taught her plenty about locks and chains.  How to get out of them, sure, but also the kinds of fun you could have while in them.  That had paid off in unexpected ways, when she'd realised at a vital moment how much easier it was to free yourself when there wasn't someone hell-bent on distracting you in any way she could.

Even without distraction, this was painstaking work.  The angle was awkward, for one thing, making it difficult to keep the tools in place.  Her wrists were aching from the weight of the chains, and her head was still throbbing from last night's excesses.  Not that her former mistress would have accepted any of those excuses, especially not when the lock itself was relatively simple.

"Keep it together, " Lavendar muttered under her breath as her hand slipped for the fourth time.  There was still no sign of anyone coming to see her, but it couldn't last forever.  She started again, working back through everything she'd cleared before then concentrating to clear the last couple of pins.  When the shackles sprang from her wrists she could have shouted for joy, but instead she very gently laid them down and started working on her ankles.  These were much easier, so it didn't take long before she was free.

Her suspicion had been correct.  It was long way down to the ground, and far too smooth a wall to try climbing down.  If the chains hadn't been so firmly bolted to the wall they would have made a good strong start to an escape rope, but she was simply going to have to improvise.  No sheets on the bed, she found, just a couple of crocheted blankets that wouldn't be much help.  Apparently someone had been thinking this through.

If they'd left her in her own clothes, she might have been stuck, but the dress she was in had layers and layers of underskirts in stiff, sturdy fabrics.  Lavendar set to work, tearing away the skirts until she was left standing in a much shorter outfit before a pile of raw material.  She was about to start working on making a rope when there was a loud clatter from the window.

Turning, Lavendar saw a grappling hook caught on the edge of the sill.  Closer inspection revealed it to have a long rope attached, and a young man at the bottom steeling himself to climb up it.  "Well, ain't that handy?" Lavendar called down, tucking the roll of lock picks safely into her bodice.  "Mind out the way.  No sense in you comin' up just to go straight down again."

She didn't wait to listen to his spluttered protestations, just climbed up on the window ledge, grabbed the rope and lowered herself down hand over hand.  "There," she said as her feet touched the ground.  "All safe and sound.  Thanks for the borrow of the rope."

The young man was staring at her, his mouth half-open.  Lavendar sized him up: fancy clothes, soft hands and a complete inability to form a sentence.  His gaze was fixed on her legs.  "What's the matter?" she asked.  "Ain't you never seen a girl's knees before?  I could hardly be climbin' down that rope with all those skirts on, could I?"

"I-"  He swallowed.  "I was supposed to carry you down."

"You hardly look like you could carry yourself, let alone me.  Some handsome prince you're turnin' out to be."

"You're not exactly what I was expecting either."  He seemed to be getting over the shock in favour of being indignant that she wasn't a proper princess.

"Yeah, well, next time do your research."  Lavendar was about to stride off when a thought struck her and she turned back.  "How did you even know I was in there?" she asked.  "It's hardly been long.  This a regular gig for you?  Or did someone tip you off as to where to come?"

"I-"  And there was that look again, the one that would catch flies.

"Someone organised this whole thing, didn't they?  Pick up the missin' princess, hold her 'captive', then you show up and 'rescue' her and everyone's so grateful, you get to marry yourself a princess and move on up in the world."  She studied him closely.  It could have been her imagination, but there did seem to be a resemblance between him and the rich man upstairs.

"That's-"  He forced a laugh.  "That's ridiculous.  You've got this all wrong."

"I'm hungover," Lavendar snapped, "and I've been chained up, and I'm mighty annoyed.  But if you set this whole thing up," she marched over and thrust her hand into his pocket, "you'll have brought a key for the shackles."  She pulled it out and held it up.  "Yep, this looks like the right sort of key, all right.  You gonna tell me you just happened to think that far ahead?"

"I was rescuing you," he said as she dropped the key on the grass in front of him and walked away.  "I wasn't part of the kidnapping."

"Forgive me if I'm not convinced."  She managed a whole five paces before she heard the sort of click that always made her stop dead and turn around very slowly.

His gun was as fancy-looking as his clothes.  Not really to her taste, but no doubt it shot well enough, certainly at this distance.  "Knowing where my uncle keeps his keys doesn't make me his accomplice," he said.  "I came here to rescue you, and now I'm taking you back to your father."

Lavendar snorted.  "You know somethin' I don't?  I couldn't even tell you who my daddy is, let alone where he is right now.  Could be six feet under for all I know."

"We're going to see the king," he said firmly.  "I'm taking you back, and you're going to tell him I rescued you."

"I'm sure he'll be thrilled," she said.  "You rescued a scruffy urchin and you expect to be rewarded.  You'll be askin' for my hand in marriage next, for all the good it'll do you."

"You wouldn't be so scruffy if you hadn't destroyed your dress."

"Still wouldn't make me a princess."  A smile crept over her face.  "You know what?  I think I will go with you.  It'll be worth it to see the look on your face when you try presentin' me to the king."

"Start walking then."  He gestured with the gun, and Lavendar had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.  Clearly this boy wasn't the sharpest blade in the armoury.  If she'd been just a little closer she'd have been holding his gun right now, and no doubt there'd be more opportunities to come.  She'd grab the next one that arose with both hands in preference to seeing the king, since no doubt he'd want to ask awkward questions about how exactly she came to be pretending to be his daughter.  If she were really unlucky he'd already have had word that someone matching her description was accompanying the missing princess, and she didn't have anything else hidden in her hair to get her out of the next dungeon.

"So what's wrong with meetin' a nice girl the usual way?" she asked over her shoulder as she started walking.  "I ain't ever needed to chain a girl up just to make her look at me."

"It wasn't me that chained you up.  I'm not going to keep having this conversation with you."

Lavendar shrugged.  "You might as well.  I'm just tryin' to pass the time while we're marchin' to our doom."

"Well, don't.  I don't need idle chatter from you."

"Now I'm startin' to see why you can't just win a girl's heart.  Courtship usually involves a fair amount of idle chatter, you know."

He didn't reply, but glances over her shoulder told Lavendar that she was on the right track.  His aim was wavering as he walked, and it was taking him longer than it should to correct it.  She slowed her pace by the tiniest amount, hoping to make him draw closer.

They were following a dirt track, but it didn't look like it got much in the way of traffic.  She could cross her fingers for a wandering acolyte or a farm cart, but it could hardly be plan A.  Maybe she could do something when they got closer to the small copse of trees up ahead.  He didn't look the type to be much good at climbing.

"Come on," she said, "just give it a try.  Give up on the kidnappin' and try bein' a bit friendlier.  You can practise on me if you like, though you're really not my type."  Was that just sunlight flashing through the branches, or was there someone in the trees?  Lavendar drifted across to one side of the track to try to work it out, but no sooner had she moved than a shot rang out.

"You missed," Lavendar said, though she stopped walking.  When the only response was a groan she turned and found the young man lying on the ground clutching his shoulder.  "Oh," she said, glancing back at the trees, "I see."

From out of the trees a figure emerged, a familiar face with tanned skin and dark hair tied back in a loose ponytail.  She was holding a gun with rather more conviction than Lavendar's captor had, and kept it firmly trained on him as she approached.

"You're late, your Highness," Lavendar called.  "Even this guy managed to beat you at comin' to the rescue.  You might want to work on that."

"This guy didn't stop to pick up your belongings on the way," said Aurelia.  "I thought you might at least appreciate getting your gun back.  Nice gun, by the way.  Fires beautifully.  I might have to keep it after all."  She didn't take her eyes off the man on the ground, but she smiled as she spoke.

Lavendar stooped and plucked the other gun from the young man's hand.  "I'll swap you for this one," she said.  "You'll do better with it than he ever did, I think."

"I doubt that's difficult."  She held out her free hand to take the gun from Lavendar, then pointed that one at the man while she passed Lavendar's own weapon back.

"Are you going to kill me?" the young man whimpered, looking from one woman to the other.

"I'm thinking about it," said Aurelia without malice.

"He'll only get ideas about takin' you back to your daddy if you don't," said Lavendar.  "Unless he's still convinced that I'm the missin' princess."

"No, no, I won't, I promise," he spluttered.

"I knew it was askin' for trouble to let you tag along with me," Lavendar said to Aurelia, entirely ignoring the protestations from the ground.  "I should never have let you bat those big brown eyes at me."

"You shouldn't have broken into my bedroom in the middle of the night, you mean."  With two weapons pointing at the man, Aurelia took her eyes off him for the briefest moment to grin at Lavendar.  "That was your mistake."

"I was lookin' for valuables, not a companion.  Visitin' royalty just as I'm passin' through town?"  Lavendar shook her head.  "Can't let an opportunity like that go to waste."

"And you stole the most valuable thing my father owned.  I was planning to leave anyway, and I'm not wasting any opportunities either."  Her gaze was trained on the man again.  "Speaking of which, you should get going.  I'll make sure this one doesn't go anywhere for a while longer."

Lavendar nodded and headed for the copse to retrieve the rest of her belongings.  Aurelia, bless her heart, had managed to pick up everything that had been taken.  Within minutes Lavendar was dressed in her own clothes, with her roll of picks safely stowed back in her hair and her gun in its holster where it belonged.  She strolled back to Aurelia and dropped the remains of the dress onto the young man.  "I guess this is goodbye then," she said to Aurelia.

"In a moment," said Aurelia, and she caught hold of Lavendar's collar to pull her forward into a long, lingering kiss.  "Sorry, couldn't let you go without doing that at least once."

"I told you you weren't my type," Lavendar said to the young man, who was staring up at them.  "Next time you decide to go rescuin' a girl, try makin' sure she wants you to first."  She shouldered her bag and nodded to Aurelia.  "I won't tell you you stay out of trouble, 'cause I know you ain't goin' to.  Just make sure it's the right kind of trouble, okay?"

As she walked away down the track she wondered if she was doing the right thing.  Sure, continuing to travel together would only attract attention that neither of them needed right now, but Aurelia had been pleasant enough company these past few weeks.  And that kiss, while a little too polite for Lavendar's usual tastes, had promised interesting things.

She pulled a worn old coin from her pocket, rubbing her thumb over its familiar faces for a moment before tossing it into the air and catching it on the back of her hand without breaking her stride.  Smiling to herself, she dropped it back into her pocket and kept on walking.  There was always another princess out there to save.