This Friday for Open Pen, Araenceana submitted an excerpt from her fantasy novel. I hope you enjoy this descriptive and dark story!
As for critiques, Araenceana is not looking for any specific type of critique, so feel free to share all (constructive) thoughts in the comments. As always, even short, simple comments help. Thank you for taking the time to comment on this piece– I know the authors who submit to Open Pen love your feedback!
Open Pen is a critique opportunity on this blog. It is specifically meant for teenage writers who want feedback from their peers, but anyone is welcome to submit, especially if you are targeting the YA audience. If you are interested in submitting or learning more about Open Pen, you can on the Open Pen page.
To Khalgena by Araenceana
Night is a mysterious occasion. Sometimes, the wind whistles through the darkness like an unknown, invisible force, other nights, rain pours from the sky like a deluge, drowning out fields and flowers. In winter, snow falls thickly, carpeting the outside world in a deadly cold blanket of ice. It is always a mysterious occasion; there is a deep unknown about the cold darkness that is called night.
And it rained over the slave traders and their caravan that night. Not just a little fall of rain, it stormed, wind howling and wailing through the trees, water pouring through rents in the sky, hitting the dusty road and churning it into a path of mud. Though Mornaug, the captain of the slave drivers, sat under a canvas canopy in the foremost cart, the slaves and his men were not so lucky. Shivering and cold, the slaves huddled together in the wagons as the rain drenched them. Though it was still summertime, the season was on the cusp of changing, and the first chill of autumn air seemed to grow stronger.
In the corner of one of the carts sat a boy by name of Einyd, not much older than seventeen years of age. His wrists were bound, and his ankle was chained to the wooden side of the cart for extra caution. He was a slave like the rest of them, but no one spoke to him. The boy had caused trouble before, had even attacked one of the slavers with his chain, and his infamous attitude of carelessness infuriated most everyone. Rain fell upon his dark hair, running down over his face. He didn’t move. A smile played across his lips as he stared up at the pouring sky above. He’d always loved the rain.
Beside him, his sister Brya rested, worn out and hungry from a long day of travelling. Several hours ago, Mornaug had completed his last raid, a rewarding collection of at least a dozen young men and women suitable for slavery. The carts had stopped upon a nearby hill, while the slave driver and several of his men went to capture the newest slaves. The village must have fought back. The smoke of the burning town was visible for almost a mile after the caravan had finally continued on its way.
One of the girls had fainted shortly after being captured, and Einyd watched her now, as she began to stir again. The girl opened her eyes, and sat up, staring in utter horror about her. She must have forgotten what happened. Poor girl was in shock anyway, he thought to himself. He brushed a strand of wet hair from his eyes.
The girl who had awakened gave a cry. “No! What…where…?” Her eyes widened in panic, and she looked around wildly for an explanation. The girl next to her, probably her friend, put a hand on her arm. She screamed, pulling away from her.
“Sh! It’s alright, it’s alright. Don’t scream, they’ll hear you…” said her friend, looking desperately at Brya and Einyd, who sat right across from them.
The girl jerked her arm away, and stood up, sobbing tearlessly. The motion of the cart threw her down again, and she shrieked when she realized that her hands were tied.
“Sit down, Rell! Stop it, come on, come here!” her friend urged, crawling forward to help the girl back to the side of the cart. Rell cried out again in terror, her whole body shaking with fear and cold.
“What happened to us? Where are we? Ailatea, what’s become of us, I don’t remember anything!” Before the other, Ailatea, could say a word, she burst out into hysterical tears, sobbing and wailing.
She’s going mad, isn’t she? Einyd thought. He looked at his sister, who seemed to be watching the poor, confused girl with a pitying look. Unfortunately, it was often that captives reacted like this.
Rell continued to weep, crying and screaming, and before long, a guard came over, angry to have been disturbed from the bit of shelter the main cart offered. He jabbed at her with his spear handle.
“Stop your moaning or you’ll have something more to cry about!” he growled menacingly, and then turned and marched off, hunched down against the rain. Rell’s eyes widened and she stopped wailing, though she put her head into her hands and wept quietly. Her friend looked up at Brya, and shook her head.
“Why did they take us?”
Brya looked at the sobbing girl, and sighed. “Slave traders. The want to sell us.”
A look of horror flashed across Ailatea’s face. “Ohhh…” she managed. She swallowed.
“Where do they plan to go?”
“Khalgena. To the slave markets there.” Einyd explained.
Brya looked at her brother, surprised. “How do you know?”
Einyd pulled his scant cloak tighter around his shoulders. “I hear things. I eavesdrop, listen to the guards. Have a good memory.”
Ailatea narrowed her eyes slightly. “Khalgena. They’re taking us across the Drulu.”
“Aye”, he said, shortly.
“That’s worlds away”, Ailatea whispered softly.
Silence fell over the cart for a moment.
“You’ve never been across the divide before?”
Ailatea shook her head. “Never. Never even left Derlor.”
Einyd raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Then you will be in for quite an experience.”
“What do you mean by that?” said she, looking rather offended.
He shrugged, and said nothing more. Ailatea frowned, and sat back, wrapping her cloak around herself to stay dry. It helped little.
Rell stopped weeping after a few minutes, much to everyone’s relief, and it was not long before she had fallen back asleep. Ailatea too closed her eyes, letting the now soft rainfall calm her frightened nerves. She was relieved that her friend had finally woken up; she’d been frightened that Rell was traumatized beyond hope of recovery, but at the same time, the maddened, wild look on her friend’s face had worried her, and she couldn’t help praying that Rell wouldn’t go mad. Ailatea herself had been terrified beyond anything she’d ever felt before when the band of rough men had broken into her village in the middle of the night, kidnapping her and the others, snatching many of them from their very beds. She’d tried to fight back, but it was futile, only earning her more bruises and scrapes. And now here she sat, huddled in the rain next to her maddened friend, on the way to a foreign country across the great channel that separated Rendess from Semrone. A slave now, no longer free.
It would be wise to rest while peace lasts, she thought, and she rested her head on her knees.
Ailatea did not realize that she had fallen asleep until the cart stopped with a sudden jolt, and she was awakened by shouts and cries. Her whole body ached from sleeping in an uncomfortable position, but she sat up straighter and stretched to see what was going on.
“Why are we stopping?” she asked Einyd.
“Some idiot decided to try and escape. Don’t watch.” Einyd nodded in the direction of the third cart ahead.
Heedless of his warning, Ailatea looked, just in time to see one of the slavers force a captive to his knees and bring his knife down, hard. She gasped, and whirled back around, eyes wide with shock. A strange taste rose in her mouth.
“No…” she gasped out, sickened. She tried to wipe out what she’d just witnessed, but found that she couldn’t.
Einyd winced. “I told you not to look.”
Brya hid her face in her cloak. Ailatea covered her mouth, tears rising rapidly to her eyes.
“What did he do? What happened?”
“He tried to escape. Twice. And it seems that they had enough of it.”
“Enough? They killed him!”
Einyd nodded sorrowfully. “You shouldn’t have looked.”
Ailatea shook her head in disbelief and closed her eyes. Einyd felt sorry for her. Likely she’d never seen someone killed so brutally before.
The carts began to drive again, and soon they were back on their way to Khalgena, leaving the body of the dead captive behind. The rain gradually started up again, pattering harder and harder against the road until it became a downpour. Night began to fall, as the sky grew darker and the air grew colder.
It seemed that the journey had just begun.