For every book, I keep a document called “cuts,” where I paste major cuts I make while rewriting. I tell myself I put the deleted stuff there so I can use it again if I need to, though 99 percent of the time I never do. Really, it’s just to give myself courage to make big changes. Enna’s cuts document is over 40,000 words, and that doesn’t include the thousands of mini-cuts I make. If I had never deleted from Enna and only added, the book would easily be 600 pages long. Thank goodness for deleting, eh? Here are a few examples of scenes that I cut from various drafts. If you get bored while reading them, you’ll get why I chopped them out.|
from Chapter 1, Leifer calls a meeting in the Forest with peace-keepers - the peacekeepers were characters I loved from goose girl so I thought to work them into this book, but by the fifth draft or so I could tell I was hanging on to them stubbornly and not because they added anything to the story. In the final version, this scene is just Enna, Leifer, and Finn, which works much better.
A few days later he asked if she could make some extra supper, enough to share with twenty others.
“I’ve called a meeting here tonight,” he said, as though it were as normal as digging a privy.
“What for?” she asked.
“You’ll see if you come.”
Enna laughed and shook her head. “Did Turnip kick you in the head when you asked for some milk? You want me to make food for twenty, you’d best tell me what’s happening, big brother. You’ve about worn me out lately and I…”
Leifer’s face turned red and he slapped his open hand against the wall with a force that shook the shutters. Enna took a step back in surprise.
“Don’t hound me,” said Leifer, his jaw muscles bulging. “I’m going to do what I’m going to do and I won’t have you talking me out of what I’m going to do.”
“So,” said Enna slowly, “there’s something you’re going to do.”
Leifer wiped his face as though trying to wipe away the anger. “Look, Enna, I know you and I know what you’d think of me. You’d try to stop me and I’ve made up my mind, so come tonight and listen if you want. I don’t care about the food.”
Enna grumpily traded Doda a pail of goat milk for extra grain and scraped together enough stuff to make ten loaves of egg bread and a cauldron of tea.
“And that’s all he’s going to get.” She kneaded the dough hard, imagining it was Leifer’s face and tried to imagine what in all the treed lands was cooking in his usually dormant mind.
…(Finn joins her, they cook together)…
“Oh, no, look,” said Enna, sitting up straighter.
The first of the guests had arrived, and they were Forest men carrying well-used quarterstaffs and wearing home-stitched sun badges on their chests.
“Peace-keepers,” said Enna.
While in the city, Enna had been grateful for the help of peace-keepers on more than one occasion, but she knew they lived and acted out their own brand of justice, and they had no love for the king. Usually they just acted as guards for the commoners, maintaining peace in areas where there was no guard or army. But they were anxious for action and swore allegiance to no one. And Enna had returned to the Forest sworn to serve Bayern’s king.
“Good evening to you, Miss Enna,” said a peace-keeper not much older than she. “Your egg loaves look so fine. Might I partake of one?”
Enna looked at him sideways and snorted. Peace-keepers also tended to show an exaggerated politeness toward women.
Leifer arrived from somewhere and stepped up on a felled tree trunk in the yard. Before him the yard fire pit was stacked with dry wood. The arriving peace-keepers gathered around him.
“Let’s get started before the owls do,” said Leifer. “We’ve some pesky mice of our own to catch.”
The light of the indoor fire reached out to touch Leifer’s face. The rest of the night world was nearly black.
“None of you know why I’ve called all this. I know many of you have harbored fears about our new boon of citizenship. We’ve done all right in the Forest, as long as we stayed out of the city. But now the borders of Bayern have tossed a noose around the Forest, drawing us into their mapped lands and privileges.” He punctuated key words with obvious scorn and the peace-keepers responded with chuckles and encouraging words.
Doda and her husband Geldulf, Enna’s nearest neighbors, entered the yard slowly.
Doda nudged Enna. “What’s all this?”
“I’m waiting to find out,” she said. “Have some tea or bread if you like. I’ve lost my appetite.”
“What happens when Bayern pulls us too close, then decides it doesn’t like us a whit?” Leifer grew more animated, dramatic gestures making up for the lack of light. “That day’s sooner than many of us ‘squatters’ understand. This deal’s a bargain for Forest folk who’re city goers, but for the rest of us? Before too long, growth in the Forest and intimacy with the city’ll bring our end.”
“All right, Leifer,” said one peace-maker, an older man with a round belly and strong arms. “I don’t care much about being cozy with the city, but what do we do?”
“Do? We rebel.”
The listeners murmured, unsure of how to respond. Someone laughed uncomfortably.
“We’re doing our part to keep the Forest identity,” said the peace-keeper, “but, rebel…”
“We’re doing nothing,” said Leifer with roused emotion. “We’re wearing badges and harassing city guards and the like. We know we’re different than the city folk—we talk different, we think different, we live different. It’s high time we were our own people.”
One or two peace-keepers laughed, and Enna saw Leifer’s profile snap to them. Enna found herself gripping Finn’s arm.
“What’s happened to him?” asked Finn.
“I don’t know,” she whispered back. “He’s acting…wrong.”
“You don’t think we can do it,” Leifer continued.
“Look, Bayern’s not so bad,” said a man on the far side of the circle. “They don’t bother us much. Besides, what would it be worth to us to break away? The king’ll never just let us go, and we can’t challenge him.”
Enna saw Leifer straighten. His fingers flexed as though he longed to grab something. “Can’t we? The king’s got an army, true, but we Forest people have our own gifts.”
He stepped down from the trunk and picked up a stick of wood from the dead fire pit in the yard, lifting it above his head. Something in the power or surety of his motion made Enna stand.
“The Forest,” said Leifer, “our Forest, has given me a gift, and this gift’ll grant us the power to put Bayern in its place.”
When Leifer spoke the last word, the tip of his stick spouted a flame. The crowd gasped.
“What’re you doing?” asked one man.
Leifer’s voice held an eerie calm. “Using what’s been given me.”
He pointed to the wood-laden fire pit, and it blazed instantly into a bonfire. Those in the circle took a step back. Enna took a step forward. She felt Finn stand beside her. “You see,” said Leifer, “we’re not so weak as they think!”
The fire burst higher as though fed by his voice. In the new, bright light Enna could see Leifer’s face. He was grinning savagely, his eyes darting from face to face looking for approval and admiration. Many of the peace-keepers looked frightened and glanced at the dark wood at their backs as though wishing to disappear into it.
Leifer’s eyes found the speaker and his face creased. “What of them? Men with swords’re easily frightened by a good blaze.” Enna saw his shoulders were shaking, but he gulped for air and she did not think he was laughing. “And what of the rumors that the prince’s bride can summon birds or wind? What’s the royal bitch to do when faced with fire?”
“Leifer!” Enna stepped up the circle, her hands in fists, feeling her rage blaze through her body like a fever.
“Hush,” he said to her.
“How dare you? I’ll not stand by while you curse the princess, you know I won’t.”
“Hush, I said.” He threw the stick into the bonfire and it blazed again as though he called the flames to reach up to his hands.
“This’s enough. We’ve sat through your crazed ranting, and you’re blind not to see that nobody’s much impressed, but when you start mouthing off on the princess, well, you’d be half a horse not to think I’d knock you down flat before I’d allow you to say another word.”
“I said shut up.” Leifer stood to full height, bringing his arms above his shoulders, and his entire frame trembled. He looked at her briefly, his expression full hate.
“Leifer,” she said, suddenly afraid, but his name did not stop what he had already begun. In that moment, she felt the bite of sudden pain. Her skirt was on fire.
Enna screamed and dropped to the ground, trying to kick off the blazing skirt. Immediately Finn was over her, beating the flames with his coat. Geldulf grabbed a spade and shoveled earth onto her skirt. In a moment the fire was gone.
Enna lay on the ground breathing hard.
“Are you all right?” said Finn. He knelt beside her, his anxious hands hovering over her legs, afraid to touch them. “Enna, are you all right?”
Enna nodded, too stunned to speak. Doda put an arm underneath her shoulders and helped her sit up. Geldulf and the near peace-keepers stepped forward, standing between Enna and her brother. Then Finn stood, stepping in front of Geldulf.
“Leifer,” he said, like a challenge.
All eyes were on Leifer now. The fire at his feet died down, leisurely feeding on the wood. The low, yellow light lit his features from below, exaggerating the creases in his forehead and under his eyes so that he looked like a very old man. His right hand gripped the belly of his tunic. His eyes met Enna’s, and he shook his head.
“I, I,” he said, “it was just…” He walked quickly across the yard, into the house and closed the door behind him.
At once the men began conversing in hushed tones, some excited, some fearful. Several departed immediately into the trees, walking home with their thoughts and their news.
He looked up at the house. An older peace-keeper was rapping on the door.
“Leifer,” said the peace-keeper, his voice wary, “you’d best come back out and talk to us.”
The shutters snapped closed.
Doda still held Enna’s shoulders as though the woman tried to stop the trembling with the force of her arms.
“How you doing, girl?” she asked.
Enna shrugged. Pain and surprise clogged her throat and made her mouth dry.
Geldulf brought over a lit stick from the fire. Enna flinched.
“I just need some light,” he said, “just want to look at your legs.”
Tenderly, as though he were working with a wounded animal, Geldulf knelt and examined her legs below the burned off skirt, humming to himself. Finn stood beside Geldulf, and Enna heard him hiss when he looked at her ankles.
“Not too bad,” said Geldulf. “Nothing a bit of lard and time won’t heal.”
“Enna,” said Finn, standing over her fretfully, “maybe you could stay at Doda’s for awhile.”
“Yes, that’s right,” said Doda, “come on, both of you.”
Enna let Finn raise her to her feet and support her as they walked. She glanced back, making sure nothing lay too close to the fire in the yard to allow it to spread out of its pit, but she felt certain it would wear itself out there before morning. Then again, she thought, looking at the closed up house, what she thought she knew yesterday about fire was not all true today. She could see the outline of the shutters and knew Leifer had lit a hearth fire. She shuddered again, thinking on how.
“Wonders,” said Enna, looking back at the Forest and Doda’s comfortable little house up ahead.
“What’s that?” said Doda.
“I should be more surprised,” said Enna, “but I’m not. Guess it’s all those bedtime tales I used to hear. The princess was right. She once said that hearing and telling astounding stories make it easier to believe it when strange things happen.”
Geldulf laughed and Doda patted her shoulder. “Now, when’d you hear our yellow lady say that?”
“About four years ago, I guess, when I worked in the city.”
“Hmm,” said Doda doubtfully. Finn smiled at Enna with pressed lips.
Doda set Enna up on her bed, greased her ankles with soothing lard and wrapped them in rags. Geldulf hummed uneasily as he got Enna a drink of water and checked on their sleeping child in a curtained room. Finn sat on the edge of the rocking chair and chewed on his lip.
“I’m all right,” she said. They seemed more worried about her than she was. Just then, she would have enjoyed splitting Leifer’s lip open and tossing salt, but what really bothered her was not what he had just done, but what he would do next.
“You can stay here as long as you’d like,” said Doda.
“Oh, I’ll go back tomorrow.”
“No, Enna,” said Finn.
“I don’t think it’s wise,” said Geldulf. “He’s dangerous, and not thinking much.”
“I guess,” said Enna, “but now I know what’s coming and he knows what he’s done.”
“I’ll go home in the morning,” she said, “and Finn, you should head home, too. But I’d like to go to the city on marketday. Could I ride with one of you?”
“Surely, child, you can come with me,” said Doda, “and we’ll take the wagon past Finn’s way, too, so he can hop in. But your legs’ll be ready in two days?”
“Good enough,” said Enna.
“Hmph.” Doda sat beside the bed, and they all went silent for a time watching the hearth coals throb orange in the ashes. Even the sight of fire made Enna’s ankles feel worse. Just then, Enna thought burns the cruelest wound. Enna’s mother used to call the ache from cuts and bone breaks “the feeling of healing,” but a burn kept on burning as though the fire was still there, living in her skin like it did in wood, using her body as fuel.
Enna wondered what it felt like to make fire. Did it burn Leifer, too? Did he feel that sharp ache each time flame arose on his command? A lump of blackened wood crumbled in the hearth and a yellow flame rose higher for just a moment before falling back into the glow of the embers. What a restless thing fire is, she thought. What a perfect, strange creature.
“How’s he do it?” said Doda, her voice soft from thinking and watching.
“It’s a trick, mayhap?” said Geldulf.
Enna shook her head. “No, it’s real, I think. I knew someone who’d a gift something like it, real as you or me. Leifer’s discovered it or learned it somehow.”
Enna stopped, thinking of the vellum. There was much to understand in this dangerous business. Enna intended to figure out the problem and then bury it like used coals.
Enna goes to the city on marketday to find Isi and ask her about fire-speech – I wasn’t very fond of how this scene turned out, and it was too much like Ani’s first arrival in the city, so I cut it and completely rewrote it.
In the morning, Enna sold her eggs quickly. Doda eyed her with suspicion.
“You didn’t have to sell them so cheap. We still’ve half a day left.”
“Doda, I’ve other business here. I’ll be back by tomorrow at latest. Finn, are you, do you want to come?”
Finn shook his head, not meeting her eyes, and returned to the unenthusiastic waving of his knitted wares.
It was midday and the streets farther up were nearly empty, everyone at market or staying indoors to avoid the noon sun. The street Enna walked was narrow and wound like a river around the multistoried houses. When she reached the palace, there was still a queue of marketday petitioners waiting to meet with the king. Enna stood at the back of the line and eyed the door of the palace to see if she could recognize the guard.
The man in front of her, dressed in the tough cloth of a town farmer, turned and smiled at her.
“I’m glad you’ve come,” he said. “I’ve been the last one in line for about two hours.”
“Mmmhmm,” said Enna, still trying to get a good look at the guard.
“I’ve got to tell the king that there’ve been more cattle raiders recently, crossing the border from Tira, so a trader coming from Oatbald told us not two days ago. Oatbald—that’s getting mighty close to the capital. What’ve you got to ask the king?”
“I’m not here for the king,” said Enna, the anxious tickle in her chest egging her to annoyance. “Excuse me.”
“You can’t…” said the man as Enna left the line and approached the guard at the door.
“Look,” said Enna, “I don’t know you, so I’m not going to pretend to be friendly. I just need to see the princess.”
The young guard laughed with surprise. “Oh, yes, well, thanks for the honesty.” He quickly dropped his smile. “Get back in line.”
Enna waved her finger in refusal. “Just tell her I’m here, boy, or ask someone who’s been here longer.”
The guard gripped his javelin. “Get on, Forest girl. You’re not fit to stand in the king’s shade.”
Enna sighed. “Would it’ve made a difference if I’d pretended to be nice first?”
The guard pointed his javelin at her chest. “You’re not gone yet.”
“Whoa, whoa,” said another guard, passing by. “What’re you doing with that thing in the girl’s chest?” He pulled the javelin from the guard’s hands.
“Sir,” he said with confidence, “this Forest girl’s being belligerent and demanding to enter.”
“I have no doubt.” He shared the same cropped-hair in the style of a guard as the first, but was a few years older. “How do you do, Enna?”
“Ratger,” she said with relief.
“You need to visit more than once a year or the young bucks won’t know your face. Here to see our yellow lady?”
“But, sir,” said the guard.
Ratger waved him to silence. “This is Enna, Sentry. She has her own room here, understand? Next time you’re unsure, and you should be unsure a lot, you may ask advice. Yes?”
The guard nodded, frowning. Enna patted his cheek as they walk by.
Ratger groaned. “I don’t know why they think they have to be impossible to be a good guard.”
“Really,” said Enna with a laugh. “I seem to remember you pulled a javelin on our own princess when you didn’t know who she was.”
Ratger pursed his lips and humphed. He led her through a main gallery, up a flight of stairs, and through corridors familiar to her. The smell of palace, of clean places removed from kitchen fires and Forest, of stone and cloth and soap, entered into her like a strong memory. And strangely, it made her feel lonely.
She had lived in the palace for nearly a year before word had come from Leifer: Ma needs you here, come home. And now, since her mother’s death, she felt like a bit of laundry, hanging on a line between Forest and city, pushed about by the wind. She was caught between two places and did not really matter in either.
“Are you all right?” asked Ratger, glancing at her as they walked.
She clicked her tongue and said, “Oh, fine,” in a tone that did not invite further questions. “I was thinking, Ratger, the training fields were so active yesterday, and there’re lots of guards at the gate.”
“Yes, and you may’ve noticed that the princess’s apartments have been moved. We’re taking…precautions. There’s been some trouble down south, and it seems there’ll be more to come. She’ll probably tell you.”
“How is she?”
Ratger shrugged. “You’ll see.”
He approached a guarded apartment and was about to knock when the door swung open, apparently without the aid of human hands. A breeze brushed Enna’s cheek, then seemed to turn back the way it came.
A voice called from an inner apartment.
“Enna! I thought you were coming but I couldn’t believe it.”
Ratger nodded his head to Enna as if to say, “You see,” and left.
A girl of nineteen years rushed from the inner room. Even at a glance, one could see she was not from Bayern.
“Isi,” said Enna, and she hugged her tightly, Enna’s arms easily wrapping around her thin frame. “You’re getting fatter.”
“Hardly. Oh, I’ve missed you, Enna.” Isi released Enna from her embrace and smiled into her eyes.
“A year is too long,” said Enna. “But, you know, with all that’s happened…”
Isi nodded. The young prince had died of a fever in the winter, Enna’s mother in the spring, and neither girl had felt able to pull themselves away from home to visit the other. Enna saw in Isi’s expression that she understood what Enna would say, and remembered how good it was to be around old friends who know her well.
“Look at you,” said Isi, taking hold of Enna’s shoulders and holding her at arm’s length. “You’re stunning. And it’s not that I’ve forgotten how pretty you always were, you seem to’ve doubled it since you left.”
Enna laughed. “Yes, good Forest labor does wonders. You should send your ladies out for beauty treatments.” She smiled at the three waiting women slowly sewing and cleaning and walking about Isi’s apartment. They nodded in return.
Enna saw the waiting women speak to each other behind their hands and wondered if they remarked on Enna’s calling the princess “goose girl.”
“Oh,” said Isi, “You’re burned. I didn’t realize. I wonder why I didn’t realize. I wasn’t listening closely enough, I guess.”
Still muttering to herself, Isi led Enna to a cushioned seat by the window and wandered off to fetch help. Within minutes a palace physician was peeling off the rags and gasping that lard had been put on a burn. He applied a clear ointment, wrapped her ankles in clean rags, and departed, grumbling about Forest remedies.
“Do you want to tell me…” said Isi, looking at her ankles. Enna shook her head glancing at the waiting woman who sat within listening distance. Isi gave a quick, understanding nod, then smiled as though it had never happened.
“I’m really so happy to see you, Enna.”
Enna took her hands. “And I’m happy to see you, though I’d rather hoped to find you busy with a baby.”
Isi sighed. “Yes, well, so would I, actually. It’s been two years now, and since Geric’s brother died, rest him, the ministers have begun to look at us, you know, with those probing, demanding eyes, reminding us that we’re the only ones left to make the next king. One old minister actually took Geric aside to give him some advice on how to get it done. Can you imagine?”
A waiting woman with long, loose black hair served cold water and grapes. Enna drank and looked out the window, past the rose gardens to the stables, and one black horse running among the chestnuts and grays.
“Is that Avlado out there?”
“Could be,” said Isi, looking out the window. “I don’t ride much anymore, not lately. I miss him.”
Enna watched her friend. She seemed restless, distracted, not looking at any one thing for long, her hands twitching in her lap. Once or twice she batted the air before her face.
Enna and Isi during the Batttle of Ostekin Fields – this battle went on too long, and I didn’t like Enna killing someone here, so I cut this encounter.
Enna heard near shouts and looked to see several Tiran climbing the hill, holding up their swords.
“We are going to kill you, courage-givers,” said one, his careful Tiran accent rising above the battle noise. “We are going to slice you open, fire-witches.”
Enna grabbed a javelin from the wagon bed and climbed down to face them. “Back, devils.” She stabbed the air before her threateningly.
They laughed as they rushed forward, and Enna felt like a fool and wished for a better weapon.
“Enna.” Isi stood in the wagon, her arms out, her voice broken by sobs. “They think were causing the fire. Let them learn.” The wind whipped her skirt and tunic hem.
Then wind stirred the clothes of the men. The wind grew stronger and pushed them back. The nearest one, the one who had spoken, let go his sword. Enna yelled and ran forward, burying her javelin in his ribs. He groaned and fell back.
“Oh,” she whispered, her hands shaking, still gripping the end of the javelin. She had killed.
The soldiers shouted and continued their advance. Frantically she put a foot on his chest and tried to pull the javelin out. A sword swiped at her head, and she ducked and fell flat to the earth beside the man she had killed. A howling whipped above her head. The Tiran opened their mouths in surprise and choked against its force as it stole their breath and pushed them back. Enna cupped her hands over her ears and watched the others stumble and roll down the hill, pursued by wind.
Isi fell to her knees in the wagon. “It’s too much. I didn’t know it could ever get this bad. The noise. I can hear on the wind everything that’s happening, Enna. Too many people.”
Enna dislodged the javelin, carefully avoided seeing the face of the slain man, and ran unsteadily back to the wagon. “We’ve got to get you away.”
“I need to help.” Isi’s eyes were swollen from crying. “We’re losing.”
Enna looked out over the battlefield. And the Bayern would never retreat. Men, she thought, thinking cowardice worse than death, honor above survival. She looked away and felt truly, violently, afraid.
Enna’s first slip with fire – I changed this scene for an encounter with a Tiran prisoner, which I think worked better.
Three months later, Enna was elbow-deep in laundry water humming against the wail of a wind against the councilman’s house.
Since the weather had turned decisively toward winter, the skirmishes between Bayern and Tira had slowed and then stopped like tree sap in the cold. Tira had taken two more border towns but had launched no great battles, and now both sides seemed pleased to wait out the winter and strike again in the thaw of spring. Enna grew tired of being useless, with no war councils to attend, no quiet conferences advising her mistress, and began to volunteer more of her time in the stuffy back room of the councilman’s house. The only two-story building in town, Isi and Geric shared a private room on the main floor, and the Ostekin camp women, including Enna, slept on cots upstairs. In the back room, they cooked and laundered indoors, enjoying the heat of the hearth.
But the heat was making Enna feel cross. A hot, stifling drum. Lately, there seemed to be no relief from the tight, closed rooms bubbling with too-bright hearth fires. Why did no one else complain? She wiped a soapy hand across her forehead.
“Mind if I open the shutter a little?” she asked no one in particular.
Two women near Enna looked at her as though she had thrown off her clothes and declared herself king. They did not answer.
The wind mumbling at the window was sounding irresistible, and she thought maybe she would just slip outside for a moment and let the wind cool her off, remind her that she was more than just a pair of chapped hands…
“Here you are,” said the laundry-mistress, setting another armload of soldier underthings beside Enna’s feet. “Let’s get these clean and hanging before nightfall, eh?”
Enna scowled. This was Tira’s fault, that she was scrubbing clothes while they camped merrily in the border towns and ate the winter wheat. She kicked at the waiting pile and glared at it as though her look alone could burn it away. The heat was becoming unbearable. How could the other women bear this?
Enna leaned over to grab a handful of clothes and rising, the blood rushed her head and made her stumble for a step. The urge to steady herself and relieve the heat was so intense she barely thought about what she did. Though she had not done so since the night of Leifer’s death, she still knew how to get rid of that leaching heat, so she gathered what touched her skin and pulled it into that tiny, hollow place in her chest. The burn was blinding. She bit her lip to bleed and scrambled to rid herself of the scalding. She focused on the nearest target—the clothes in her hands. They flamed.
Enna dropped the blazing clothes to the floor and heaved her laundry tub over, spilling dirty water over the flames. Her boot caught something slick and she fell to the ground as well, the empty tub landing on top of her.
Immediately women scurried around her lifting away the tub and gathering up the clothes.
“Are you all right?”
“Look, some of these clothes are blackened.”
Enna wiped blood from her lip and put her hand to her chest, still remembering the pain of the burn inside, still trying to steady her breath. Once you pull the heat in, she remembered the vellum stating, you must send it out into flame or it will burn you instead. She looked around at their faces. Many seemed concerned, but none alarmed. No one saw her light the fire, she believed.
“I slipped,” she said, and indicated the hearth fire at her back. “Caught an edge of flame on the clothes, I guess. I hope they’re not too badly singed.”
“They’re still good enough for soldiers,” said the laundry-mistress and several women chuckled. “But how are you, girl?”
“I’m all right,” she said, wanting to get out of there. “I just need to breathe some fresh air, I think.”
Enna battles the desire to set fires – I wrote lots of stuff like this that I changed and cut, whittling down the text, trying to find just the right arc for her character. Her struggle with fire was the most challenging aspect of writing this book.
Enna inhaled the brisk winter air and felt her muscles relax as she walked to the edge of town. She could not face Isi just then, not if she would have to lie to her. Isi was so like the birds whose language she had come to know—her fluttering movements, her careful yet easily distracted attention. What has a bird to do with fire? It would only spook her. But Enna was tired of hiding her secret from her friend. Better to avoid her altogether. For now, at least, until Enna understood her desire to burn and held it under control.
She kept thinking about Isi as she walked, avoiding a darker thought, a realization that felt like a fist flexing in her throat. The Tiran, camped just to the south, a half a day’s ride away. The encounter last night and the council today made her more aware of their presence, like a rotten, lingering smell she could not scrub away. The awareness was nauseating.
Enna nodded to a sentry and crossed a frozen field and down a gentle slope. The town dipped out of view. She had not thought about where she was walking, but now she realized that she had wanted to be away from people. She had come here to set a fire.
“No, you don’t,” Enna said to herself, pacing.
She tried to work the desire out of herself, fanning her face with her skirt and willing the breezes to take away the heat. But even out on the quiet fields, she could still feel the heat of that room, all those men, the enemies, the closeness, the questions, like rough wool rubbing her skin, like an angry cat scratching. The cool, outside air could not loosen the tension drawn in her chest. Enna started to cry.
“Just this once,” she said. “Just to make it go away.”
She pulled the heat inside her hollowness and pushed it out. A flash of yellow. A rush of heat. The cold, yellow grass around her sizzled. In a moment it was gone, having nothing to feed on but winter weeds. Enna sat down on the scorched earth, lay over her knees and sobbed.
War council in Ostekin after the Tiran emissaries leave – a peek at Bayern customs, but not important enough to keep
Prime Minister Thiaddag, seated across from Geric, began the meeting with a “Ho, captains, ho, ministers, ho, queen, and hear our king and commander.”
Silence pervaded the hall and all attention focused on Geric. After relating to all the captains and present ministers what had transpired in the meeting with the Tiran leaders, Geric asked if he did right to refuse peace on condition of the four taken Bayern towns and ten villages. Most of the men brandished their javelins, some thumping the ends on the wooden floor to mark passionate assent. Some, however, gave to inarticulate murmuring.
“Murmurers, speak your mind,” said Thiaddag.
“I speak boldly, King,” said a man with a full white head, “couldn’t we have given them a few of the towns, and so kept some and through compromise prevented further deaths?”
“No, Folcric,” said Geric, “their impossible terms were to keep every town, field, wood, and head of cattle taken. I ask again, did I do right?”
More captains, including Folcric, brandished their javelins, and only one voice muttered in the din of weapons.
“Murmurer, speak,” said Thiaddag.
“Why didn’t you slay the murderous border-crossers in this very room?” said a young captain who had escaped one of the taken towns.
“The Tiran hold the citizens of those towns captive and living. If the Tiran leaders didn’t return, they promised me our people would be put to the sword. Again I ask, did I do right?”
This time, no voices dissented in the flourish or banging of javelins. Geric moved on to the next point, and so on until he had covered all his recent decisions. Enna remembered attending councils with Isi when she still lived in the city. They were not so formal, then. It was as though when this formerly warlike kingdom was suddenly thrown back into war after years of peace, they looked to their traditions and rituals of old to get them through. Enna watched the faces of the war captains as they murmured or banged javelins, and decided that it was comforting to revert to old ways in the midst of the bewilderment of war.
Rumors of a gallows built in Eylbold draw Enna, Razo, and Finn on a daytime raid – I cut 4 or 5 burning raids because this part of the book went on too long. I didn’t want to make this much of the gallows, and Enna’s relationships with Razo and Finn changed somewhat after this early draft. It was a hard cut initially, but in the end I was happy to find a way to tell this part of the story more economically.
“The last scouts from Eylbold said they’re up to something, building a gallows or the like. Maybe they’re going to execute towners. We should know.”
“Talone’ll probably send someone…”
“I’ve never been in Eylbold, Razo.” She quickly checked her voice volume and glanced around. No soldiers were near enough to their fire to hear. "I’ve only burned from the woods.”
Razo twisted small holes in the ground with a stick. He looked close to nodding off. “But you’ve burned there many times.”
She handed Finn her empty cup and he stood to fetch another round of heated milk and honey.
“They mayn’t know to look for us, Bayern dressed as Tiran, since we stopped the scout. Not if we go soon. Tomorrow.”
“No, Enna.” Razo tossed his stick into the fire. “Scouting reports also say that’s their center now. It’s dangerous. I think we’ve worn out our welcome. We might’ve had more chances if you hadn’t set those tent fires in Adelmund after they already suspected us. You exposed us, Enna. Might’ve well as had fire shooting from your fingers.”
“I have to burn, Razo.”
“Yes, well, not in Eylbold.”
“Then not in Eylbold with you.”
Finn stood by, her mug of hot milk warming his hands. His expression was even.
“If you’re going to Eylbold, I’ll be beside you,” he said simply.
Razo rubbed his hand over his face with exasperation. “Finn.”
“Are you coming, then?” said Enna.
“I don’t know if I can still trust you, Enna-girl.”
“I’ll be good.”
“You’ll do better than be good,” he said. “I don’t think you’re thinking right or thinking at all, sometimes. When you start muttering, ‘I’ve got to burn,’ I’ll tell you straight, I get skin prickles up to my scalp.”
He glanced at Finn who said nothing. Razo sighed frustration.
“If we go to Eylbold, then you need to listen to me for once, you stubborn girl. If I say it’s too dangerous, then we ride out. All right?”
“I mean this, Enna. If you don’t agree to let me call retreat on this raid, then I’m not going at all. When you get set to burn, I don’t think you’re thinking about what’s best for me or Finn or Bayern or even yourself. If I say go, then we go, agreed?”
“Agreed,” she said with a sigh.
Razo groaned and made his way toward his tent. “If we’re leaving in the morning we’d better get sleep.”
Finn flashed Enna a smile. “You’re good at getting people to do what you want.”
“Or maybe just at getting people to do what they already want to do.”
Finn grinned wider, then ducked his head and used his sword tip to knock dirt off his boots. He spoke hurriedly. “Razo said what you thought about me and Hesel. It’s not true. She’s been nice to me and…I just wanted you to know that it’s not true.”
“Oh,” said Enna. Suddenly the waist of her skirt felt too tight. She rubbed at it. “Hesel seemed…not that it matters, but I just thought…”
Razo stomped directly back to the campfire, grabbed Finn’s collar, and hauled him away, muttering how he would not be the only one with a tolerable night’s rest. Finn laughed and quickly bade her a good night.
Enna laughed back. And when they were gone, she continued to laugh in the way she might cough harder to dislodge something caught in her throat. She felt something strange inside her. That place in her chest was bigger now, and empty. It felt like it had expanded into her heart and lungs, taken over completely. She closed her eyes and through her eyelids saw the campfire tensing and turning. She imagined she was watching her own insides. Her heart was stoked coals, pulsing heat. Making ash. This thought made her feel like the loneliest person on the earth.
Enna half stood to go to Finn, to tell him what was happening to her. She sat again. What would he think of her? Finn was Forest from bones to blood. And she could not explain how the burning grew, creeping out of the fire pit in her chest, filling her with a breathtaking heat, whispering to her of more, always more. She dared not say how it was beginning to leave room for little else.
Enna climbed the stairs in the councilman’s house and crept onto her pallet, feeling the soft breath of the sleeping women all around. As she closed her eyes for sleep, the reds and oranges swirled for her. Her lungs inhaled, her chest rose, and in the half dream before sleep, she thought how she was too big to go back to the Forest now, how she was almost too big for Bayern.
They did not have to camp overnight. Eylbold was the closest taken town to Ostekin and within a few hours of easy riding they came upon it. Razo thought it would be best to arrive from the south, so they skirted the town, giving a wide berth to any freestanding farmhouses that could be outposts.
“I don’t like this,” said Razo as they passed the guardless perimeter.
Nearly the entire camp was gathered in one body at the center of town, shouting sporadically, silencing when one voice called out to them, then interrupting with cheers.
“Must be the gallows.” Enna turned to make sure Finn was within sight. He rode a few strides behind them. Enna inclined her head toward the center of town and said to Razo, “Let’s get in and hear.”
“Let’s get out,” said Razo. “We’ve seen enough.”
She continued forward.
“All right, just a quick look,” he said, “and then we go on my word.”
She nodded distractedly. The crowd seemed solid, but from the height of horseback Enna was beginning to see. The gallows. It looked new, the pale wood untouched by the rot of winter snow and rain. From its massive lintel swung three bodies, their necks roped. No, as she got closer she could see they were not bodies but scarecrows.
“To take back what is ours and punish the wrongdoers, to instill law in a land overrun with corruption and vagrancy, a poison that threatens to leak through our own borders.” A gray-haired man standing on the gallows was speaking. Enna recognized him from Geric’s war council as Tiedan, one of Tira’s war captains. The crowd punctuated each statement with cheers.
Enna looked closer at the scarecrows. One wore a brightly colored skirt and tunic in the fashion of the Bayern. It had long, blackened straws for hair and a clumsy crown. Isi. Enna realized that they had never seen the queen with her hair uncovered and likely did not know that she was a foreigner with yellow hair. The other two wore Bayern uniforms. One was crowned—Geric. The other had strips of orange and red cloth hanging from his mouth. A breeze stirred the cloth and Enna understood. Fire. That represented the anonymous fire-witch.
“So, I say to you, filthy Bayern,” said Tiedan, “there is only one place for sneaks and thieves and anarchic villains, only one place for robber kings and queens. To the gallows!”
“To the gallows, to the gallows,” the crowd began to chant.
To the gallows. Each syllable pierced her ears and throbbed inside her. The heat around her felt unbearably demanding, and all she wanted to do was see that gallows shrivel in flame. Rage took her and she began to move forward. The standing soldiers glared at the mounted man trying to push into the crowd.
“Now,” said Razo, trying to get her attention. “I said, now.”
“No,” she said.
“Enna,” Razo said in a husky whisper, “you promised. If you don’t back off right now, someone’s getting hurt or killed, you hear me?”
Enna waved him off and left him behind. She remembered promising to back down when he said so, but just then she did not care about anything but the gallows. Only a little closer. That abominable structure had to burn.
She spotted a second man on the scaffold. His eyes moved over the chanting crowd until they caught hers, then he stopped and stared. Enna pulled her horse to a quick halt. The heat prickling her skin suddenly felt ice cold. It was Sileph, that Tiran captain who had addressed her in the war council. He was looking directly at her. She brushed a hand around her helmet to make sure no long hair was loose. Did he recognize her through the charade? Did he know she was the fire worker?
Under the force of his gaze, Enna backed her horse away, but the burning continued to claw at her, insisting on vengeance. Why did the fire want to burn that scaffold? Fire was not person or animal, it surely had no need but survival. But the intensity of its longing matched her own, and with its will pressing with hers resistance seemed impossible.
To the gallows, the crowd chanted. She longed to pull that heat in and send it flying. The desire to see the gallows burn felt like someone holding a pillow over her face, and she coughed and struggled and nearly gave in to suffocation.
Razo pulled up to her side and grabbed her arm. He leaned and spoke low to her ear. “I told you to get out of here. Now.”
“No. The gallows.”
She tried to pull away from his grip and looked back. Sileph still watched her. Now he lifted his arm and pointed directly at her. She saw his lips mouth, “Over there.”
The attention of the crowd turned to the two of them. Razo kicked his horse into movement and Enna’s mare followed.
“No,” she said, feeling as though she would be ripped apart by abandoning her target. The fact that she had not yet pulled that heat inside her did not seem to diminish her need to burn. The heat around her craved living in that wood and tearing at the hanging, hay-stuffed bodies. And she longed to punish the enemy. At such moments, Enna felt that everything flammable was the enemy.
To the gallows, said the crowd.
Men near them were murmuring—Bayern, sneak thieves, burners. Some began to lift spears and holler as they caught on to what was happening. Razo galloped out the way they had come. Enna started after him. Suddenly Finn shouted, moving in behind her, just in time to put himself between Enna and a thrown spear. It grazed his thigh.
He pressed on hand to the wound and shouted, “Go, go!”
The three ran their horses in a terrifying speed. Behind them Enna could hear shouts and curses as men found mounts to pursue. This was no time for evasion. They made a direct path to Ostekin.
Enna saw pursuers in the distance rounding a roll in the fields, and she urged the mare faster. The earth streamed by in a river of brown and green. The wind current pulled her helmet loose and whipped away the heat. She felt naked and raw. Her body trembled in the saddle. She fought to hold on.
Four pursuers on horseback crowned another hill. The reins shook in her hands. Her jaw chattered hard against her teeth and shook her vision. The cold she felt was more than the departure of heat—it was the unfulfilled desire to burn. She had to set fire. They were a target. If she slowed just a little, she could reach them in moments. Razo at her side seemed to sense her intention. His face turned toward her, his wind-lashed hair covering the expression in his eyes.
“Just ride, Enna,” he said.
She saw Finn who rode with one hand pressed to his thigh, then looked forward and concentrated on reaching the town.
There was no point in hiding the fact that they were Bayern from Ostekin. The demonstration at the gallows showed that the Tiran already believed the fire-witch to be in association with the king and queen. So they rode madly, straight north, always just a little ahead of their followers, until at last the Tiran were forced to withdraw when the three moved into the outskirts of Ostekin.
Razo immediately shouted for a medic. Enna left the boys, stealing to the stables to deposit Marry’s reins in a stable worker’s hands, and ran to change into her clothes. She was afraid that Finn and Razo might be reprimanded for this failed excursion, but worse if Talone discovered they had taken Enna in a Tiran disguise along for the ride.
After changing, Enna ran to the large tent where a sergeant tended the wounded, but stopped before its door. She listened to the murmurs of conversation that wafted through the cloth walls, the occasional lower rumble of dissatisfaction (Talone), higher tone of concern (a care-taker), and bursts of strained laughter (Razo). Not surprisingly, Finn’s voice did not carry. Enna decided she had better not join them.
She sat on the ground and watched the campfire. Panting flames twisted and writhed out of blackened wood. The fire was the color of scarecrow straw. She played at sending bits of heat into its orange core, the fire splashing in brief higher bursts, like tossing stones in a pond. The exercise made her twitch. After a time, she found she was angry. When she looked away she saw flames everywhere. She blinked several times, understanding after a moment that she was just seeing the image of the fire still burned on her eyes, and that while she had been watching the fire, evening had resolv
ed to night. She had not noticed. The idea of the gallows still overwhelmed her as though it were a strong scent—a wet dog or new pitch in a closed room. She felt shut in with the thought, unable to crawl out a window and leave it be. Or unwilling.
Razo came out of the tent and stopped when he saw Enna.
“You can go in. I’m leaving now.” He started to walk away.
“You didn’t have to get involved,” she said to his back.
“You went too far, Enna.”
“There’re always casualties in war.”
“Whose war?” He turned around sharply. “Yours?”
“You were pretty keen on the idea before.” Enna returned his hard stare. “Now you see a little blood and get weak in the knees.” Enna’s own legs trembled. Part of her was screaming that Finn bled for her mistakes.
Razo stepped forward, looking up at her, close enough that she could smell milk on his breath. “You agreed. I knew it would be like that, that you’d be all wrapped up in burning and unable to see the danger. Well, I said go, but you just didn’t want to, did you? You had to get closer, just aching to make a little fire. And now we’re completely exposed. There’ll be no more burning missions in towns, no more scouts in Tiran uniforms. You spoiled that, you got Finn hurt, and for what?”
Enna glared. “The fire’s more important than…”
“Oh, no,” said Razo, “I’m not listening to this right now. You know what, you’ve changed. You’ve got that wild look in you, like Leifer had before the end. Like you want it to go badly. You ask me, you’re one loop short of a knot. A little tug, Enna, and you’re undone.”
Heat flashed around Enna’s body. Maybe Razo felt it for he shivered. He continued to return her blazing glare, then stepped back and walked stiffly away.
Enna breathed hard. The heat was stifling, like being held under a wool blanket on a hot day. She shivered and rubbed her arms. All her focus was on trying to keep it out, and her head throbbed with the effort.
What had she been doing? Finn. She was going to see Finn. To tell him something. Sorry. Was she sorry? She put her fingers on the tent flap and pulled them quickly back, feeling a sharp burn in her fingertips. Was the tent on fire? Or was she? All in my mind, she thought. But she backed away. The fever sensation on her skin made her shiver and her eyes wet and sore. The only thing she was sure of was that it was time to burn.
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