Today’s Tuesday Tidbit is brought to you by a slightly frazzled author. After finally receiving a reply from Harper Voyager on the submission status of my fantasy book Skinshifter, I got the standard rejection summary of “We liked, but we won’t publish it.” I have thus decided to hold off on resubmitting the book manuscript to a traditional publisher and instead want to run it by all of you first. I am asking anyone interested in reading and critiquing the book for free, to please contact me. I will send a .pdf copy of the book to the first 20 beta readers who contact me and we’ll go from there.
Now then, on to today’s regular post…
This excerpt is from “Sumari’s Solitude”, the very first fantasy short story I ever published.
Sumari stood near the balcony’s sheltering pillar watching the breath of the gods make living waves of the sand dunes beyond Aamanru Temple. Her small right hand kept her dark veil in check while the left fist held the deep opening of her indigo robes firmly closed to shield her gold pendant and tattoo from the dancing dust. She huddled near the warmth of an alabaster lamp and sadly watched the sun, Aa’s eye, descend into the desert.
“High Priestess?” a male’s voice hissed.
She turned away from the sunlit sands and beheld a lamia guard watching her curiously.
“King Draigoss has arrived, Mistress,” he said, bowing low. “You are needed at the front entry.”
She watched him with bemusement, wondering how he could actually balance well enough on his scaly tail to demonstrate such an act of respect toward her.
“Very well, Kaa, I shall greet him. Have you said your evening prayers yet?”
The strapping snake-man shook his human-like head. “No, Mistress, but I shall once I escort you to the main hall.”
She smiled. “Very well then . . . to the task at once. We should not keep the exalted Sathe or the good king waiting.”
Kaa grinned, exposing his sharp fangs, and then slithered protectively after the high priestess—his Iklwa spear clinched firmly with both hands. The human and lamia wound their way around the inscribed sandstone monoliths supporting the temple’s vaulted ceiling and finally descended the stone steps leading to the main hall where Draigoss and his entourage waited.
“Good evening to you, Sire!” Sumari said as she formally curtseyed. “What brings you to my humble hovel?”
Draigoss returned her bow and, although his bearded lips twitched at her ironic statement, he said formally, “A pleasure as always to greet you, High Priestess Sumari. Forgive me, but I am in need of your generous assistance.”
“I freely give it as always, Your Majesty. But first, let me see to the comfort of your companions . . . Kaa, have the slaves prepare fourteen east wing chambers for our guests.”
“It will be done, Mistress.” Kaa put his right fist to his heart in salute and bowed before leaving.
“Ryald,” she said, turning to another temple guard, “show our guests to the formal dining den and give them whatever sustenance they require.”
“At once, Mistress!” The other lamia guard saluted her and bowed before clapping his hands together. Slaves slipped from the pillars’ shadows and carried Draigoss’s companions’ belongings to their chambers while Ryald politely motioned the guests through an archway and down a side hall toward the kitchen and dining areas.
The king did not follow his party, but instead stood watching his aides and personal guards march down the corridor. He then turned to the High Priestess of Aa.
“I am sorry over the appalling length between visits,” he murmured. “Affairs of state have kept me away from this hallowed ground and your honored presence for far too long.”
“Indeed your presence has been most missed,” Sumari replied perfunctorily. “Come. If you wish it, we may talk privately in my study after I call for some tea.”
The king nodded and so she motioned him to ascend the red-stone stairs with her. They did not speak again until Sumari had led him through the labyrinth of hallways to her private chambers. After she had sent the chamber slave to the kitchens for herb tea and fruit, Sumari shed her formal headdress and veil with relief.
“Sumari . . . ” the king whispered and pulled her into his arms before she could breathe.
“No, Draigoss! We mustn’t!” She said, pushing away from him.
“Please, My Pearl, let me hold you a moment for my sagacity’s sake.”
Sumari finally relented and felt the comfort of his strong arms encompass her small body. He held her protectively, running calloused brown fingers gently through her ebony tresses.
“I missed you so,” she quaked against the dusty robes covering his broad chest.
“I know. . . I missed you, too,” he whispered before kissing her forehead. They stood there embracing until the scratch of scales against stone alerted them that the chamber slave had returned with their tea. By the time the slave had opened the door, the monarch and priestess were comfortably seated on opposite divans and engaged in a spirited conversation about state politics.
“Thank you, Mynza,” Sumari said when the female had poured cups for Draigoss and herself. She dismissed the female who bowed and slithered out of the room.
The priestess signaled to Draigoss in formal hand-sign language: “No doubt she’ll have her ear pinned against the door.”
“Indeed,” he signed back to her.
“Mynza!” The priestess called more loudly than necessary.
The young female lurched through the door looking abashed.
“Summon Kaa, please. You will find him either overseeing the preparations of the east wing bedchambers or at prayer. You will wait until he is finished with his tasks and then bring him to me.”
Mynza looked disappointed but affirmed her instructions and left.
“Nicely done,” Draigoss murmured.
Sumari smiled then became serious. “All right, Draigoss, I know this isn’t a purely social visit. What has happened to make you travel such a distance?”
The king nodded grimly. “An alarming report has reached me that certain members of the priesthood plan to foil the Conversion Ceremony and possibly assassinate whomever you pick as successor.”
Sumari sat up and sighed. “And Makili is among the conspirators.”
“How did you know?”
“I have my sources too, Draigoss.” Sumari’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “They must think that I will appoint a woman to succeed me.”
“Precisely. You have made many enemies during your decade-long reign as Aa’s most faithful servant. Many of the priests believe that the leadership of Aamanru Temple and the surrounding oasis of Daku is better left in male control.”
“It is not their decision!” the priestess growled. “It’s not even my decision! Aa chooses whom he wishes to serve him however he sees fit. I have no more control over that than Makili or his cohorts.”
“I know, Pearl, I know.”
Sumari rose and began to pace the room. “The time of decision draws near; in four days I must go into seclusion and commune with Aa during Solitude. Hopefully, he will have the answers that I seek and offer us protection against those who would betray our faith.”
“I hope so. . . for all of our sakes. . . ” Draigoss sniffed his tea critically. “Do you not have something besides rooibos? I could do with a good stout black tea.”
Sumari smiled at the familiar complaint. “You know other tea plants cannot grow in our soils. It is rooibos or nothing.”
Draigoss made a face and then downed his cup’s steaming contents in three gulps before starting to sate his appetite with the tray of fruit. Sumari sat again and shared the plate with him, content to avoid discussing religious politics for the present. She must deal with such unpleasant matters too soon anyway.
You can read the rest of the short story for FREE by signing up HERE. You can find out more about the publisher Hadley Rille Books HERE. You can buy the full Ruins Metropolis short story collection HERE.
P.S.-I will try to have the “Sumari’s Solitude” story cover up for sale on the photography website by the end of the week. Look for my announcement about it on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks!
The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!