With the holidays in full swing, don’t forget to take some time out to relax!
If you manage to find a quiet moment among all of the hustle and bustle and are looking for something new to read (aren’t we all?), allow me to offer you a preview of Inharmonic.
If you enjoy Chapter One, you can preorder the ebook (available January 5, 2017), and continue Nadja’s adventure here.
The dart connected with its target, making up with impressive force what it lacked in accuracy. Nadja stooped to pick up the dun-colored weasel, its lifeless body still warm in her hands.
“Not bad,” muttered Luca.
“Not bad,” said Nadja. “I finally got one, and all you say is ‘Not bad’? Look. Not two inches off my mark.” She hoisted her prey up to his nose for closer inspection.
Luca chuckled. “I wouldn’t want you to be solely responsible for keeping us fed, but your skills with the blowpipe are improving.”
“Well, this little guy will make the most delicious meal I’ve had all week,” said Nadja, placing the weasel into her game bag. After a string of unsuccessful days in the grass, stalking small prairie animals with Luca, the thrill of her first kill made the long, hot hours seem worth it. After all, marrying Luca meant becoming a Tulmen. As was the tradition of the Wanderers, a woman adopted the occupation of her husband—the one who spoke for her. Luca Tulmen was born and raised a hunter, as was his father before him, and his father before him.
“It’s getting late in the day,” said Luca. “We should make our way back to camp.”
“Afraid to be alone with me after dark?” Nadja smirked.
“Certainly not,” said Luca, his tanned face taking on a deeper hue. “But I will have no one suggesting any impropriety between us. Especially the day before the celebration.”
“I was only teasing,” said Nadja with a half smile, as she set off to lead the way back to camp.
The grass crunched under their feet as they walked along in silence. A sporadic breeze gave momentary relief from the midsummer sun as it whipped and whirled across Nadja’s skin, only to whisk away sooner than she would have liked. To the east, across the Seven Steppes, patches of tall, golden grass alternated with small matted clumps of various flora. It looked like a thousand tufted cushions scattered across the grassland as far as the eye could see. The otherwise flat landscape was broken here and there by small, rolling hills and dry, shallow riverbeds eagerly awaiting the coming rainy season. Before long, summer would give way to autumn, and it would be time to move south towards the Forest of Kithira.
Nadja closed her eyes, remembering her last winter by the sea, and inhaled as another breeze touched her face. The bumpy grassland reminded her of the ocean just before a storm—choppy and full of power. Her mother, Jamila, had been a Marimen, a daughter of the sea, before she had married Nadja’s father. Fralo Filamen was a weaver who died when Nadja was just a year old. Jamila never remarried, and as she no longer had a husband to speak for her, reverted to the authority of her father. Jamila lent her novice cloth-making skills as needed, but her real talents were best used in the company of other seamen, fishing and diving. It was this deep love of river and sea which she had passed to Nadja.
Nadja’s game bag was heavy on her shoulder as she imagined future days spent crouched and hidden, hunting animals of all sizes, not daring to breathe or move for fear of frightening away the next week’s meals. The hunters played an important role in the survival of the tribe. But, she would miss the blissful freedom of plunging into the cool sea, feeling the water wrap around her body, and moving through the world in graceful, fluid strokes, much like the fish she sought. She would have to learn to read the tracks of land animals much like she had learned to read the currents.
Cresting the top of one of the smaller hills, they caught sight of the Wanderer encampment on the flat plain below them.
“Have you finished your preparations for tomorrow’s celebration?” asked Luca, coming up alongside her.
Nadja nodded. “Mostly. My mother has decided to make a few last-minute alterations to my dress, but otherwise, everything is ready.”
“I am looking forward to seeing this mysterious dress of yours.”
“So am I,” she chuckled. Her mother had been working in secret for months, crafting the dress Nadja would wear to their betrothal celebration. Normally the bride-to-be would have some say in what she would don for such a special event. However, having always preferred function over fashion, Nadja was glad to leave all of those decisions to her mother, who had exquisite taste and a great eye for detail.
She glanced up at Luca and pondered her future husband. Most people would call him handsome, and they would be right. He was taller than other young men his age, and at twenty-four, he was four years older than she. His ebony hair, which matched hers in color, hung in a long ponytail down his back. His almond-shaped eyes were dark and thoughtful, reflecting a wisdom beyond his years. And, though he was reserved, he was also very kind.
As they approached the edge of camp, Luca reached up and touched her arm, turning her to face him.
“You did well today,” he said.
“Thank you,” she said, smiling up at him.
Luca drew his eyebrows together and looked down at her as if trying to decide what to say next.
His gaze dropped to the ground, and he cleared his throat. “I know I am not good at conveying my more . . . intimate feelings. But, please do not mistake my reserve for indifference.” He slid his hand down her arm and took both of her hands in his. Stepping closer, his eyes captured hers and sparked with something more than friendship.
“I love you, Nadja Filamen. I am honored you would accept me as your Promised One. And when you stand with me, and we commit our lives to each other, you will make me the happiest man to ever see his wedding day.”
As he leaned in, Nadja held her breath and closed her eyes. When she felt his lips leave a gentle kiss on her forehead, she sighed and opened her eyes once more.
Luca leaned back, smiling at her.
“Until tomorrow,” he said, releasing her hands and turning towards his tent.
“Tomorrow,” she whispered, making her way towards the tent she shared with her mother.
It wasn’t that she didn’t love Luca. Of course she loved him. They had known each other from childhood. And, even though their parents had promised them to one another at a young age, she had the right to break that promise if she chose to. As a woman, it was one of the few important decisions which was her own. But, she would be a fool to do so. He came from a respectable family, and he placed his faith in the traditions and beliefs of their people. He would take care of her. He would speak well for her. He was a good match.
Nadja’s nose twitched as the heavenly scent of freshly cooked bacon filled her nostrils, followed almost at once by the sweet smell of honeyed rolls. With a deep breath, she inhaled the familiar aroma which always brought with it fond memories of her mother. Through one cracked eyelid, she saw Jamila approaching her cot with a plate piled high with not just bacon and rolls, but eggs and dried fruit. Nadja’s stomach growled.
“Good morning, sweetheart,” cooed her mother, placing a kiss on her head. “Time to get up. You have a big day ahead of you.”
The day of the celebration. Nadja sat up and rubbed her face. She heard the clinking of plates and cups as she stretched. She swung her legs over the side of her cot and padded over to the small table where Jamila had placed her breakfast. Their domed tent held two cots, a table and two chairs, a water basin, and two chests which held clothing, blankets, and items of personal value. It wasn’t big, but it was enough for the two of them. The furniture surrounded a central fire pit used for heating purposes only. Any cooking happened in one of the communal pits outside.
Nadja sank into a chair, picked up a crispy strip of bacon and devoured it. “What time is it?” she yawned.
“Almost midday,” replied Jamila.
Nadja’s eyes flew open. “Midday?” she exclaimed. “Why did you let me sleep so long?” She jumped up from the table, shoving a roll between her teeth. Running over to her chest, she knelt down and dug through the contents, searching for something decent to wear.
Jamila laughed. “Calm down. You have plenty of time to get ready for the celebration. It doesn’t even begin until sundown.”
“Bf mff abwff mmmfabbaba?” Nadja replied, still turning the chest inside out. She bit through the roll and chewed frantically. “I haven’t gone over the song order with the musicians . . .”
“That’s taken care of.”
“. . . and I haven’t met with Mrs. Tulmen, I mean Naaro, to discuss the organization of the attendants.”
“I’ve already spoken with her.”
“While you and Luca were out hunting yesterday.”
“How did you find time to do that?”
Jamila crossed the dirt floor and knelt beside her daughter, placing an arm around her shoulders and giving them a squeeze. “The only thing you need to worry about is enjoying this day. Come on,” she said, pulling Nadja to her feet, “there is something I want to show you.”
Nadja’s shoulders relaxed as she stood and wondered, not for the first nor the last time, at the strong, capable, warm, and loving woman who had held her hand through so many of life’s moments, just as she was doing now.
Jamila was a fine woman, a beauty in her youth as much as she was now. Nadja had inherited her mother’s long raven locks along with her sense of adventure and love of music. Without a male influence in their day-to-day lives, Jamila had developed a strong back and rough-edged demeanor when interacting with people outside of their family. But she had always been loving and kind. The fine lines which now decorated the edges of her onyx eyes and tawny forehead were the smallest evidence of the difficulties accompanying the life of a widow. Not that she couldn’t have remarried. She’d had offers. Nadja suspected her mother had never fully recovered from the loss of her father, and couldn’t, in good conscience, accept a proposal from one man while her heart still held fast to the memory of another.
It was a bold choice. In a nomadic tribe where women could not take part in decision-making of any importance, even as far as being forbidden to entreat the Elders for help when needed, a woman without a husband was almost unheard of. It was the man’s duty to represent and speak for his family. Jamila’s father, Goran, had agreed to once again accept responsibility for Jamila when Fralo died. But he largely left his daughter and granddaughter to their own devices. And so, Jamila and Nadja were gifted a rare element of independence in the way they lived their lives. It was a freedom Nadja would forfeit when she married Luca.
Jamila ran her fingers along the wood grain of her trunk. She lifted the lid and reached inside, removing a small package wrapped in a light wool fabric and tied with a leather cord. With the bundle in one hand, she untied the cord with the other and peeled away the layers of fabric. Grasping the contents of the package, she let the wrappings fall away.
Like the gentle rain, an emerald cascade of wispy cloth drifted towards the floor. Nadja’s eyes fell first on the bodice of the dress. Hundreds of tiny, sparkling green seed beads flowed at a diagonal from the right shoulder of the sleeveless gown, surging and spilling across the front, fading out as they reached the fitted waist. An undercurrent of lighter blue beads followed suit, whirling and swirling a merry dance in harmony with the green. The skirt was fashioned from countless strips of long jewel-colored crepe cut in wave patterns. The overall effect was that of a verdant kelp forest, imbuing the entire dress with movement and fluidity.
“Oh, Mother,” breathed Nadja, at a loss for anything else to say.
Jamila chuckled. “Well, don’t just stand there, try it on.”
She helped Nadja into the dress, fastening the buttons up the back. Stepping back to take in the entire form of her daughter, Jamila smiled and nodded in approval. A quick search in her trunk produced a silver handheld mirror, which had been a gift from her grandmother. She turned the mirror towards Nadja. “I thought it would bring out your eyes.”
Nadja’s reflection confirmed it. Her emerald eyes had always stood out as her most distinctive feature, and an anomaly among her tribe. Jamila had once or twice remarked that she’d heard of a great-great so-and-so having eyes of the same shade, but that was all anyone knew. Though Nadja resented them in her youth, having been teased as a child, she grew to embrace and appreciate their striking appearance. Her dress caused them to come alight as they never had before.
“It’s stunning,” said Nadja. “I don’t know what to say.”
Jamila dropped the mirror onto her cot and placed her hands on Nadja’s shoulders, searching her face. “Do you love him?”
Nadja paused, then smiled. “Of course.”
Jamila lifted her right hand and caressed Nadja’s cheek, smiling in return. “Then that is all you need to say.”
“Thank you, Mother!” said Nadja, throwing her arms around her mother’s waist in a tight squeeze.
Without warning, emotions flowed from her—some which she didn’t even realize she was feeling. Love, appreciation, and humility joined with nervousness about the upcoming season of celebration and with trepidation about the new life she would soon enter. All of these feelings intermingled to form the salty torrent now moistening Jamila’s shoulder.
“Nadja! Where are you? Come and see what they have set up outside of camp!” Kizzy’s voice floated into the tent, giving warning she was not far behind it.
Nadja released her mother with enough time to wipe the moisture from her eyes and nose. Her cousin burst into the tent in a flurry of limbs and syllables, her long braid flapping wildly behind her, and her sweet round face beaming with a cherubic glow which brightened the windowless room.
“And, oh my gosh, you have to see my dress!” she exclaimed, rotating in a swirl of purple and gold, and looking like a dainty, dazzling spinning top. “It was going to be a surprise, but I couldn’t wait to tell you. You’d never believe how much I had to beg mother and father to let me be one of your attendants, but I am, after all, almost fifteen. And what does it matter, just a few months, anyway? And it’s not like I’ll be able to attend for sisters of my own—and you are the closest thing I have to a sister.”
Kizzy paused for a breath and looked at Nadja as if seeing her for the first time. Rushing forward, Kizzy grabbed Nadja’s hands and swung her arms out wide. “Oh Nadja! You look—”
“Stunning,” finished Pili. Kizzy’s mother leaned against one of the smooth wooden poles which formed the door frame. She grinned at Nadja, trying to catch her breath. Her apron bore evidence of flour and various fruit concoctions, and a bit of dried dough, missed during washing, still clung to her forearm. She favored her sister, though rounder in the face and hips, and contentment in life and family had given her a free and easy smile.
“Thank you.” Nadja smiled in return. “As do you, little cousin,” she said, pulling Kizzy into a warm hug. “Now, I want to hear all about how you got father, of all people, to agree to let you join in.”
“Oh, well, that part was mother’s doing,” said Kizzy.
Pili laughed. “I may be getting older, but I still have my charms,” she said, giving Jamila a knowing look.
“That anyone can get Harman to do anything he doesn’t want to still amazes me,” Jamila said, chuckling. Then, noting her sister’s disheveled appearance she asked, “How is the food coming?”
“Well, for the most part. But Syerra’s oldest girl has managed to burn half of the venison pies, and we’ve run into a snag with one of the dessert courses.”
“I had better come with you,” said Jamila, crossing to the open tent flap. Then, she glanced back over her shoulder calling, “You girls have fun,” before leaving them to their confidences.
“I cannot believe you’re getting married!” exclaimed Kizzy, flopping onto Nadja’s cot in a dramatic heap.
“I’m not getting married yet,” said Nadja, relaxing onto Jamila’s. “The Betrothal Celebration is just the beginning of the wedding festivities. We won’t actually be getting married for another month.”
“I know, but it’s still so exciting and romantic,” Kizzy swooned. “And Luca is so handsome.” She sighed. “You’re lucky you were promised to someone so nice to look at. Fish-faced Fectamen is the same age as Luca. You could just as easily have been promised to him.”
“Don’t make fun of Woral,” scolded Nadja, playfully. “He’s a nice man, and I’m sure he will make Moira an excellent husband. And besides, you know that promising is about more than age. Luca comes from a very respectable family, and his father was good friends with mine. Our parents believed our marriage would be mutually beneficial.”
“Well, it will also be ‘mutually beneficial’ that the two of you are good-looking people. It might help settle disagreements sooner. What’s the point of arguing with someone when all you want to do is kiss their face? Although, Luca isn’t much of a talker, anyway.” Kizzy rolled over onto her stomach, giving Nadja a mischievous look. “Not that you’ll be doing a lot of talking in the beginning,” she said, grinning and wiggling her eyebrows.
Nadja’s felt her face grow hot as she looked wide-eyed at her cousin. “And what do you know about that?” she laughed nervously, picking up a limp pillow and tossing it at Kizzy’s head.
“Enough,” said Kizzy in a fit of giggles, dodging the pillow.
“Yes, he is handsome. And kind. And good,” said Nadja, smiling down into her hands.
“So, you love him then?” panted Kizzy, recovering from her laughter.
Nadja’s eyes grew distant as she raked her nails back and forth over her palm.
“I care for him very much. And I do find him attractive. It’s just different than I thought it would be, that’s all.”
Kizzy pushed herself up off of the cot and crossed the floor, wrapping her arms around her cousin. “The two of you will be so happy. I just know it!”
Nadja sighed. “I hope so.”