So. To make a long story short, I sort of accidentally wrote a novelette.
It was intended to be a new prologue for Little Bird. But, once I got started, it was FAR too long for that purpose–and too short, at a little under 20K, to be a whole new novel.
So what we have here is, in essence, an Aurian and Jin novelette. It takes place directly after the end of Aurian and Jin–(SPOILER: before Jin has her baby). I realized, once I started looking at Little Bird again, that there’s a BIG time gap, and a lot of questions that go somewhat unanswered in the second book. Such as: how did Aurian and Jin wind up in Pretty-on-Picture?
I’ll put it out a few months before Little Bird is released, I suppose. It’s not a big deal, but it IS fun. And I thought you guys might enjoy it.
Here’s the first little bit of it. I still need a name for it, something better than ‘Aurian and Jin Novelette’, which is, I think, how it’s labeled in Word on my tablet.
WARNING: IF you haven’t read Aurian and Jin (shame on you!) and would like to, you might not want to read any further. Here there be spoilers.
You can pick up Aurian and Jin here.
The funeral procession, such as it was, wound its way down the river Withy with ribbons fluttering. Folk raised their voices in song. Minstrels of various quality played festival music, and everywhere sounded the eternal tap-tapping of drums.
Unlike most funeral processions, this one was undeniably cheerful. There were white flowers tied in bunches on the spears of the Akanetarin women. There were rose-cheeked maidens in their festival best, young farmers with tans and bright eyes and machetes that looked just a little too recently sharpened and oiled. There were dancers, hired professionally for the discount rate of one dinar a day. They were happy to do it, would have done it for free if the collected masses of the renegade Bonedancer’s army hadn’t insisted on paying them.
The four lutists borrowed from the Kartok Guild of Unified Musicians and Merrymakers were, however, working pro bono. It was in their charter, their spokesman had stated, that if they were paid to play a funeral, they had to wear mourning garb: they didn’t much feel like it. They had festival gowns to flaunt, golden belts, particolored hose. They had barrels of ale to quaff. Steaks, newly liberated from Upper Circle cattle, to consume.
The people were celebrating the death of their Emperor, Morda Bonemaker.
His coffin, stuffed almost invisibly into the center of the procession’s cheerful chaos, was a pinewood box. The box had already been spat on and pissed on and painted up and, somehow, bled on. It would not have been there at all, had the header of the procession not insisted on it. Had this header not insisted doubly, it would have long ago been kicked into kindling, and the dried-up body inside it tossed into the nearest river.
This procession header had already, as it happened, lost the battle over the noble estates in Kartok’s First Circle: the smoking remnants of this loss were still visible as a faint black smudge on the Southern horizon. The rictus mouths and crouched posture of that battle’s ashen victims still shone as memory in her single grey eye. She had not burned many people–she was a woman who preferred to deal death directly, with a sword–and the smell wouldn’t leave her hair or the mane of her horse. Her husband, beside her, had been spared the worst of those excesses, but he looked at her from time to time, and could very much see them weighing upon her.
The procession header, in fact, owned the only face in the crowd that didn’t look almost loopily happy to be there. This face was scarred, and browned, and grim. It was grey of eye, gaunt of cheek, still streaked with the mud and blood of recent battle. It belonged to Evinanjin Koch, renegade general, slayer of the Emperor Morda her father, Wolfmother of the Metaxian campaign, Grand Wizardess of the Malinogian, savior of her people, lowborn pain in the ass.
Wife, as it happened, of Aurian Koch, professional innkeeper.
Rider, as it also happened, of a fine white charger, arrayed lovingly by the grateful procession in red and gold silk, bedecked in particolored strings of tiny golden bells, all of which were, undoubtedly, stolen.
The Bonedancers–ex-Bonedancers, now that the Sundering Sword had worked its magic–had disappeared. Nobody much cared. There was ale to drink, and victory to celebrate, and property to plunder. The victorious Evinanjin knew better than to call her folk back now: they needed to rend, to rip and tear, to misbehave. After the lunacy in the Upper Circle, however, she had made a tactical decision and called the worst of them together to form this countrywide procession. The entire city, she had explained to her husband, was a lot safer with them out of it.
Whenever the procession came across a band of travellers–or, Aithar forbid, a village–it burst into song and dance and out of tune luting, announcing the good news. This was, ostensibly, the purpose of the procession, and it stuck to it with a fervor that bordered on the fanatical.
‘Hie, hie, the Emperor’s dead!
We stomped his ass and broke his head.
Hie, hie, the Emperor’s lost
And we will nevermore be bossed.
Hie, hie, the good folk win!
All hail Aurian and Jin!’
“It won’t last, I hope,” Aurian said, quietly, to his wife. His charger, though a hand’s width shorter than his wife’s, was just as ridiculously attired. His hair had been brushed and combed–without, as it happened, his permission– and his face was pale. Every time a member of the procession reached out to touch him–which was entirely too frequently for comfort–he jumped a little in his saddle.
“I know,” Jin said. “I’m just hoping it blows over before they elect me to something.”
“That’d have to be quick,” Aurian muttered. “This isn’t exactly what I–hey! Stop that!”
This last was directed to a merry young girl in a crown of white flowers who had, sidling up beside his pacing charger, taken the moment to firmly and unmistakably grab his crotch. She giggled and melted back into the funeral throng, leaving only the scent of spilled ale and a grease-spot on Aurian’s white tunic to mark her presence.
“Jin,” Aurian said tightly. “This has got to stop.”
“What the hell d’you expect me to do about it? They’ve been aching to do this for centuries. They’ve been dreaming of it, cooped up in their tiny houses, drinking their contaminated water and counting their too-few coins. I’ve minimized the damage already, bringing them out here. Let them have their fun, and next week they’ll be back to hoeing weeds and keeping shops like anyone else.”
“What I don’t understand,” Aurian said, “is why this fun has to include us.”
Jin rolled her single grey eye skywards. “Simple, my dove,” she said. “Imagine what would happen if it didn’t.”
Aurian, watching the simple folk of the Imperial South whirl and stagger and screech around him, was forced to agree.
“Still,” he murmured. “My balls’ve been grabbed so many times in the past few days they’re sore from it. You’re lucky, they won’t touch you. They’re afraid of you.”
Her curling yellowed smile was far from reassuring. “Just do what I did,” she suggested sweetly. “Break some fingers.”
Over the next few days, Aurian tried. He really tried. But he wasn’t fast enough, or comfortable enough riding, to lean out as far as he needed to catch them and not tip out of the saddle himself. His few tries left him even more bruised, and with even bigger mudstains on his tunic. The procession, a fickle creature in its entirety, took to laughing at him.
“Jin,” he hissed, as the most recent giggling maiden ducked and flittered away to avoid his fist. “If you don’t do something about this, I’m leaving. I’m an innkeeper, not a–whatever this involves being.”
Jin reigned in her horse. The procession, too drunk to realize their leader had stopped, flowed on around them. “No,” she said. “No, you can’t.”
“I most certainly can. You said you’d come away with me, Jin. We’re not meant for this–this mess. Neither one of us. You’re a fighter, but you’re not a leader, and I’m not even a damned fighter. It’s going to kill me, and I imagine it won’t end so prettily for you, either.”
“But–” she opened her mouth and, for once, thought better of saying whatever she was about to say.
“All right,” she said at last. “Okay. I did promise. But Aurian–let me see Morda buried. I at least owe him that. The Akanetarin will take care of the Mordre as they see fit, I know, but who’ll make sure Morda doesn’t wind up poisoning a river somewhere? No one here cares.”
“He tried to kill you,” Aurian reminded her.
“I know. But he was the closest thing to a father I had.”
Aurian’s mouth opened. He saw, suddenly and all too clearly, why he had been dragged along on this procession, and why his fine new clothing had been ruined, and why, as of yesterday, he had taken to wearing a protective cup in the saddle.
“That’s what this is all about?” he said. “You want to bury that bastard?”
“Well, yes,” Jin snapped. “Is that so odd, Master Innkeeper? He was my father.”
“You killed him.”
She shrugged, a little uncomfortably. “Well,” she said again. “I do believe in cleaning up my own messes.”