Previous Snippet: SampleSunday: Letters of the Dead (Beginning, Part 1)
Snippet from Letters of the Dead, a work-in-progress fantasy novel, by Jodi Ralston:
I had read the letter in fits and starts half a dozen times as I walked to the make the train, and upon boarding a second-class car, packed elbow to elbow, I found out the past could pack in closer. Even before the train Forevermore wrecked and sealed its memory not in the durability of iron and genius but in the loss of lives and struggle of the survivors, even before that accident, I had never been comfortable with trains. Now, with this letter, clenched inside my pocket, I felt even less. Normally, I would pull such a letter out and use my time wisely re-reading it; after all, the dead were ever difficult to understand. And I had plenty of room to so in, for as I had learned early on, folk dressed in suits of all grey, without a hat, and radiating discomfort were rewarded more room than necessary. But yet, the letter never left my pocket. The dead might be difficult to understand, but the baron came with additional . . . complications.
It was not until I left the train behind, and my past with it, that I could try to make the sense the dead and the psychopomp desired of me. But first, a few last, necessary distractions.
At the destination station, I hired a cab. Three miles left to reach the baron's daughter, and it would cost more than the hour train ride and take just as long. But a mourner didn't arrive on foot before such society, particularly Corvish gentry, not in this country anyway. At least, it gave me the privacy and better steadiness to finish my cover. I pulled out from my pants pocket a small tin and twisted off the lid. A wide window of metal shone at the bottom, rimmed by little grey face paste. Something else I needed to buy, but didn't have the money for. Not that long ago, less than a year ago, it had been new. I pulled off my glove, scraped some paste onto my finger, and drew the tear mark on my right cheek. Smaller than usual, but still good.
What was not good was my scar. Tinged by grey rather than concealed, it stood out ever the more sharply: a royal crest branded on my fingertips from a single ring and its defective magic.
My mistake. I should have used my left hand, I thought, as I cleaned it. Usually I did, but the letter and its contents hadn't moved far enough from mind.
Nor had another letter in the same my pocket, a letter which I wished I had the sense to leave home. I closed my eyes to avoid staring at the past, both here and oceans away, wishing to avoid thoughts on scars of all kinds as I pulled out the baron's letter.
Not easy, but it was time. I put away the tin. I put away my distractions.
I found that easier to do once I broke the letter down into its parts, of which there were many.
The letter had been written over twice and only once post-mortem. The original letter was not the baron's, but another's. A clandestine love letter to the baron's daughter using the address of a woman as cover. A letter long in declaring affection. In just as long a fashion, asking her to meet him, to elope if nothing else, her "father and all else be damned." I would have blushed if not for the date and the man. A bad date, the day of the Forevermore disaster that claimed too many lives. Including that of Princess Hartlyn II, the young lady who was born thanks to the baron's special magicum, but thanks to his assistant, this writer, she had appeared a couple of months after her death in her namesake colony. Appeared in my father’s preserving room, stuffed with illegal, traceless magics for the underground revolution. A fact which fortunately no one knew save my family, this court doctor, and the dead.
I just hadn't realized the strength of connections between this traitorous former assistant and his master’s family. But the baron was a man of connections that reached too far, even in death, and were always complicated. And that part, this part of the letter, was of the past that had taken me a year, an ocean, and a now an hour train ride to leave behind; I did not need to add any more to it.
So, I smoothed the creases in the paper with my left hand, my scarred one being bound up in a fist, and I focused on the next part. Turning the letter sideways, I saw more to disturb. The baron, while still alive, had written a message to his daughter, crosshatched over the love letter, and he had written it a few days after the Forevermore tragedy. The baron needn't provide the date; his erratic hand and the . . . complicated nature of the words themselves told more than enough:
Beatris, I chanced you would listen to a letter from your "true love's" hand. I am not sorry I separated his correspondences from your attention. I am sorry for the pain he caused you, for the pain I caused, for the pain this may cause; yet Terrible Work is at hand and of Greater Importance than what we feel and regret.
Someone feels dispatching me is worth the Risk of what I Own, is worth the Risk of all Humanity.
You no longer trust my promises. But this goes beyond promises. You no longer want anything of me. But I must give you This:
Here the baron's post-mortem request of me rendered a foreign word, perhaps a name, barely discernible. I deciphered the word best as: MAL'A'NYE.
The remainder of the letter, despite its content, proved somewhat easier to read:
For Five Years hence your Receipt. That is the length of time that is safe. That you will be safe. Five years. The Others will help you to understand, but trust them little. Trust history best. Trust I know you better than you know your own sentiments, your own weaknesses and strengths, and that I want only your safety. Five Years.Lastly, came the request penned--or rather, dictated--from the Afterlife: DELIVER THIS TO HER--BARON POOLE.
Now, shred this letter. Burn it. Bury the ash.
Your Father, Baron Poole
So there it was.
I folded the letter, closing up the little world I have been . . . I smiled . . . enveloped in. The present world, that of this road trotting past, though, did not offer as much to smile about. This letter . . . this letter, such fragments from life and death: an old lover letter and an apology, inseparable--was I supposed to believe my mission would be that simple? A mere delivery of a letter never sent? And why write this apology over this letter of Sir Wilhem Wrossen's? Why insist on writing this apology in the first place?
Because. Because. I ran my fingers on the edge of the fold. Because his world consisted of little more than that of a child trapped in a nightmare. He did not realize how his words would appear to her, that they would give his daughter two different pains to agitate: that involving an old love and that of her father's . . . mind. Not to mention other pains attached to that lover’s name and connection. Attached to that past.
So, no, it would not be simple. His wounds could not be healed without adding some to another--or rather, reopening another's wounds.
I could not believe he intended that.
Nor the psychopomp.
I'd deliver the intent of the words, not the letter, and see what mending could be done.
F/SF/H/Hist #SampleSundays of Interest (no particular order):
- The Forever Girl by Rebecca Hamilton
- Etchings of Power by Terry C. Simpson
- Eulogy's Secret by Grace Elliot
- The Valley by William Meikle
- Vampyres: The Legend of Graystone Manor by Lisa McCourt Hollar
- Forsaken by Andrew Van Wey **WARNING: This is a direct link to a PDF file, not a webpage link; will open up another program***
- The Chronicles of Augustus Seton by William Meikle