by C. H. MacLean
I love her so much, I'd risk anything.
She and I don't have names. We're just slaves, after all. But our hearts don't care, and we're lucky, we have a chance at a scrap of happiness in our terrible lives. My father is the Queen's pet.
But when my love discovers the lords' newest atrocity, she lashes out, does the unthinkable, and attacks one of them. Her courage is heroic, but now they have stuffed her in prison, getting ready to slaughter her.
With nothing to lose, I dare to dream of a life far from the lords. I fight for our freedom, and escape to the woods with my love. We can do no less than free all of our people in the effort.
Our flight through the woods is only the start of our journey. The lords’ flaming attacks, their deception, the loss of so many of my people—I don't know if I will survive, or if I even want to. But for my love, I will do almost anything, even battle the fire above.
Read an excerpt:
Carefully not looking at the lord, I missed the cue that she was about to puppet my body. My nephew grunted as I stopped bouncing and held him a bit too tightly. The lord moved my body to stand right in front of her.
“Take it back to the castle,” she growled, then let me go enough to speak.
“I live to serve. I will run there now,” I said, and started running.
I ran almost to the forest before I felt the lord give me my body back. I didn't stop running, just changed my stride to one that actually worked, shifting my nephew to a better position. “Om mum mum um om um mum mum,” I chanted, working to keep my voice low and rumbling. It cracked once, then settled in. I wasn't completely used to sounding like my father, but it worked like a charm. My nephew leaned back to look at me with bright eyes, then snuggled into my shoulder. The smell of his hair filled my nose.
Despite the extra weight, I didn't even think of taking my secret shortcut through the forest. I could feel the lord hanging at the edges of my mind. She must be flying, keeping pace with me. I ran as fast as I could while keeping my bouncing smooth and even, working hard not to wonder where my nephew would go. He fell asleep in my arms. His trust gave my body strength, but filled my mind with worry.
To young C. H. MacLean, books were everything: mind-food, friends, and fun. They gave the shy middle child’s life color and energy. Amazingly, not everyone saw them that way. Seeing a laundry hamper full of books approach her, the librarian scolded C. H. for trying to check them all out. “You'll never read that many before they expire!” C. H. was surprised, having shown great restraint only by keeping a list of books to check out next time. Thoroughly abashed, C. H. waited three whole days after finishing that lot before going back for more.
With an internal world more vivid than the real one, C. H. was chastised for reading in the library instead of going to class. “Neurotic, needs medical help,” the teacher diagnosed. C. H.'s father, a psychologist, just laughed when he heard. “She's just upset because those books are more challenging than her class.” C. H. realized making up stories was just as fun as reading, and harder to get caught doing. So for a while, C. H. crafted stories and characters out of wisps and trinkets, with every toy growing an elaborate personality.
But toys were not mature, and stories weren't respectable for a family of doctors. So C. H. grew up and learned to read serious books and study hard, shelving foolish fantasies for serious work.
Years passed in a black and white blur. Then, unpredictably falling in love all the way to a magical marriage rattled C. H.'s orderly world. A crazy idea slipped in a resulting crack and wouldn't leave. “Write the book you want to read,” it said. “Write? As in, a fantasy novel? But I'm not creative,” C. H. protested. The idea, and C. H.'s spouse, rolled their eyes.
So one day, C. H. started writing. Just to try it, not that it would go anywhere. Big mistake. Decades of pent-up passion started pouring out, making a mess of an orderly life. It only got worse. Soon, stories popped up everywhere- in dreams, while exercising, or out of spite, in the middle of a work meeting. “But it's not important work,” C. H. pleaded weakly. “They are not food, or friends, or...” But it was too late. C. H. had re-discovered that, like books, life should be fun too. Now, writing is a compulsion, and a calling.
C. H. lives in a Pacific Northwest forest with five pets, two kids, one spouse, and absolutely no dragons or elves, faeries, or demons… that are willing to be named, at least.
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