Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fantastic to Read: Excerpts from the Haanta Series by Michelle Franklin @mrsdenasaan

Khantara: A Haanta Novel
Khantara tells the story of Rautu's father and mother, how they met, how Khantara saved Anelta's life, and how their secret bond was threatened by impending war. It is the first stand-alone novel in the series.

From Chapter 4

The instant Khantara began to walk the short path to the barracks he was attacked by swarms of wrens and sparrows from the nearby willows, all of them in a flutter to have their turn to speak to the gentle mountain. The owls and nighthawks had taken his evening and now it was only fair that they should have his morning to themselves. He must hear of their new nests and warbling chicks and horrid neighbors, and they were going to claims their perches on his head and shoulders and tell him whether he wished to listen or to ignore them accordingly. He would listen, however; the quick and nervous conversation of the sparrows was often one-sided and he was therefore required to do nothing but allow them to nest in his hair and continue walking. The wrens, however, were less content to permit him to be indifferent: they would have him hear of every rude caterpillar and impudent butterfly flitting around trees they knew to be theirs. Theirs was a talk of territory, and they would have Khantara understand their plight. It was wrong of the caterpillars to climb their trees and enter theirnests, and it was so devious of them not to be edible though their bright colours and squirming movements were so enticing.

       How horrendous it was that the bustle and brilliancy of the butterflies’ wings should be so fascinating. They could hardly capture the creatures to feed to their chicks with such a violent display of beauty. Would only Khantara tell the caterpillars to taste more agreeable, the obnoxious moths to make their cocoons somewhere else, and the owls to leave the worms alone when there was mice enough for them. Khantara, however, would say nothing to the purpose. He only smiled and shook his head at the wrens, and their loud and intricate trills conveyed their indefatigable displeasure toward the giant’s infuriating civilities. He would let nature go its own way, and the birds could do little to convince him otherwise. The wrens threatened to claim strands of the giant’s long molded locks for their nests if he did not comply, but he would not regard their threats as any so troublesome. He simpered at their attempts and silently declared that they could not break his draping tendrils no matter how hard they should try when the giant suddenly found himself at the barracks.

Tales from Frewyn: Short Stories

Ever wonder what heroes do on their days off? They have bad hair days, kill spiders, bake pies, and drive everyone in the Frewyn castle keep a little nutty. This collection has 30 stories from the site, all of which have introductions to aid newcomers to the series.

   Obhantaa Leraa was in the training yard of the castle keep when he was overpowered by thirst. Although the Frewyn summers could never compare to the sweltering heat of the islands, Obhantaa's prolonged sessions of rhinghaata and Hophsaas afforded him the added craving for refreshment. He looked about for Kai Linaa, whose duties were divided between dolling well water for him and his brothers and drawing in at the table in the kitchen. She had always walked through the training fields in the morning hours but once she was at the table after they had shared their morning meal, she would not be removed from it until nightfall when she and Unghaahi contrived to be alone for the evening.
    Obhantaa went to the well in the courtyard for a few needed sips of water and then agreed on a pause in his training to visit Kai Linaa at her place in the kitchen. He bowed and greeted everyone with cheerful smiles as he walked through the servant's quarter and when he came to the entrance of the furnace, he saw his object sitting intently by the window, well away from the heat of the ovens. He called to her to shake her from her objective state and she welcomed him with open arms and a fervent invitation to sit at her side. He took his place on the ground beside the table and as he shifted in his place for comfort, his eye caught the parchment upon which she was currently drawing.
       An image of a bird outlined with dark charcoals graced the page. Obhantaa awed at it for some time, remarking the style of the whisping strokes and the manner in which it made the bird seem in midflight. He was careful to keep his hand at his side, as he was warned of the smudges of Frewyn's implements, but he remained for a few minutes to observe Kai Linaa perform her art as she had done when he had performed his.
       "Can I watch, Mizoahi?" Obhantaa asked. His amber eyes were large with adoration and interest and he was given all the permission in the world to remain as long as he liked. He inundated Kai Linaa with an array of inquiries on the matters of her prefer materials for her practice, her preferred subjects, if she would delight in drawing his hangaara and if she would honour his several kittens with a portrait once they could find means of falling asleep.
       Kai Linaa was overjoyed to have company and though her work was slower in its completion the notion of having someone to ask preference was a delight. Her mate was the decider on her art. He had always remarked that her portraits and sketches were exquisite and though she should not like to question Unghaahi's tastes, she believed the opinion and prospect of another would yield a deferring result. She was wrong, however, in this assumption. She was assaulted with praise from Obhantaa. She professed that she did not deserve such words of adulation for her meager work but her assertions were all brushed aside by Obhantaa's resolutions of her gifts.
       "Dhenidha says you are a skilled Bhendosha," Obhantaa declared. "Dhenidha is honourable. He is Den Amhadhri and an Amghari. He would not be dishonest."
       Kai Linaa blushed and looked to the side. "No, he wouldn't lie," she murmured with a fond sigh.   "Drawing for me is like magic."
       "Magic, Mizoahi?" Obhantaa asked in bemusement.
       "I draw what I see in my mind and then bring it to life on paper." Kai Linaa flipped the pages of her parchment and suddenly the bird seemed to move. She had made a few iterations of the same image in different positions on the parchment behind the one she was currently using. When she flickered the images back and forth, the bird seemed to dance and Obhantaa was delighted. She thought to further excite his content sensibilities by taking a new piece of parchment and drawing the faces of her and Obhantaa floating happily together.
       Obhantaa smiled, recognizing himself in the scrawled image, but then became distressed when he realized he had no body. He was given a form and his cat was as well drawn at his side."Khaasta," he exclaimed, pointing to the smiling cat's nose. The fabricated Obhantaa, Kai Linaa and cat were then encased in a box to give them some land to stand upon, but the contrivance was not well conceived as Obhantaa soon observed. "If we are in there for long, we will get hungry," he said with concern.
       "We can always go out of the boxes and eat something," Kai Linaa laughed.
       Obhantaa regarded the image and noted there was a significant omission to it. "Since Ethnaahi is not with us, can we have one of Gondhaahi's Ataasna?"
       Kai Linaa agreed that some cake should be had while the Den Asaan was not infiltrating the portrait and she drew a sizable treat, complete with icing and lit candles.
       Obhantaa was excited to eat the cake but was hesitant when there was fire impeding him."Why are there many small fires on the cake?" the giant asked.
       "It's a birthday cake," Kai Linaa explained. "You're meant to blow out the candles and make a wish. If you believe really hard, the wish will come true."
       Obhantaa swiftly blew onto the paper in hopes of snuffing out the candles before the wax was to drip into the cake but when he blew with all his might, the candle remained lit. "You must erase them, Mizoahi," he whispered to Kai Linaa.
       She complied with his desire and both of them shouted in exultation. They continued their game of melding the world with their own sort of make-believe and while they were rapt in their occupation, Unghaahi came into the kitchen. He was looking for Obhantaa Leraa so that they may continue their Hophsaas practice for the afternoon, but when he saw how engrossed and satisfied he was sitting with his amiable mate, Unghaahi decided the benefit he would receive from Kai Linaa's obliging manner and pleasing character was just as advantageous as a full day of training. He left them to their imaginations and remarked how well they looked sitting at each other's side just as a brother and sister ought to have done.

The Reporter from Marridon

What happens when an upstart reporter from the posh Marridon disturbs the Kingdom of Frewyn's peace? The Commander and Den Asaan will send him home, but not without tormenting him first. A standalone novella from the series.

From Chapter 2

The reporter came to the iron gate of the castle to find a rather unbecoming guard standing in his way: a man of long face, curly and tied back hair, immense stature and stern conviction. He seemed to be proud of his profession as a Royal Guard, marked so by the ornamental shield in his left hand, the immense sword in his right, and by the lion-head pauldron adorning his shoulder. He assumed that such a devoted creature to be brutish and uninformed young man, but when he demanded, “I’m here on a matter of business. You would do well to let me pass,” he was treated with unexpected alacrity of mind.
                “And you are, sir?” said the guard in a bemused and chary tone.
                “I am a scribe from Marridon, merely here to have a consultation to edify the people of the Triumvirate.” A nod and a friendly smile would persuade the guard to open the gate, but the  reporter soon found himself under a mistake to think that such behaviour would be his admittance.
                The guard widened his stance and held his enormous shield in front of his chest as though preparing to strike. “Did Her Grace the Duchess of Marridon send you?” said the guard in a firm tone.
                “In a manner of speaking.” The reporter was still smiling.
                “Then I will need to see your documentation, including your Triumvirate travel documents, Marridon identification, and Her Grace’s summons to His Majesty King Alasdair.”
                All the graciousness in the reporter’s countenance was brooked by the guard’s obdurate adherence to the law. He sighed in contempt, handed over all his certifications, and tapped his foot with impatience as each document was carefully scoured.   
                The guard observed the reporter’s profession marked on his identification and instantly returned all the credentials to its owner. “None of these documents bear Her Grace’s seal. Does Her Grace know that you’re here?”
                “She does, but I am not here to see the king.”
                “You are not here to see the king, sir,” the guard heatedly corrected him.
                The reporter fleered at such arrogance, turned aside and placed his hands on his hips. “And who might you be?” he sneered.
                “I am Sir Mureadh Farhayden, Captain of the Royal Guard and appointed protector of the Brennin line, and whether you are here to appeal to His Majesty or to one of his commanders, you need the king’s permission or proof of a personal commons from someone within the keep to enter. Otherwise, you may leave.”
                The reporter made a drawn out sigh, placing his hand over his eyes. “I’m only here to see the giant and the woman,” he groaned.
                Mureadh had done with this insolence. He did not care for the reporter’s impropriety or his discomposed complacence. His sense of honour and duty to his commanders would not allow him to relent in his instruction, and he felt it advisable to enlighten him to the position of both the persons he sought. “And why exactly do you need to see Commander MacDaede and the Den Asaan?”
                “I’m here to carry out an interview with them-“
                “Has either commander or the Den Asaan previously agreed to this interview?”
                The reporter averted his eyes. “Not in so many words, but-“
                Mureadh interposed with a strident laugh. “The Den Asaan would never agree to an interview or even agree to speak to someone he doesn’t know.”
                “And how would you know that, Sir?”
                “Because he is my superior officer,” said Mureadh with resolution. “He trained me for the armed forces, and if there is one thing I’ve learned about him it is that he does not trust anyone he hasn’t investigated first. He won’t talk to you even if you sent him a summons.”
                “And the woman?”
                “The commander,” Mureadh said in a meaningful accent, “would probably laugh at you for coming all this way for nothing.”
                The reporter swore to himself and devised a small note to be conveyed inside the keep. “Would you take this to the commander?”
                “Absolutely not.”
                The reporter made a sly grin. “I don’t believe you’ve read its contents.” He winked and opened the note to reveal that it had been filled with more than a simple message.
                Mureadh did not flinch. “Not only is bribery illegal,” he said, now forgoing the formalities of title, “but those are Marridon bills. Frewyn does not accept those as currency and neither do I.” He pointed the reporter back to the docks. “Leave before I carry you to the peristyle and throw you into the river.”
                The reporter owned himself defeated at present; he had chosen the wrong man to underestimate, and now he could only lament and be miserable. He chided himself for being precipitant in his assumptions and was forced to walk back toward the square with diminished hopes and a slighted heart. He would contrive to find another means of speaking to the woman and the giant, but for now he must find one of Frewyn’s wretched taverns and search for lodgings for the coming evening.
                Mureadh, rather pleased with his performance, smiled to himself and looked up to find the Den Asaan at his usual perch for this time in early evening. He had little doubt of the giant seeing the entire affair from the crenels of the castle battlements, and he was not surprised at the commander coming to his side a few moments later to watch the reporter scurry away from the castle entrance.
                “Shall I ask about that shabby fellow?” the commander smirked.
                “A reporter from Marridon, commander,” Mureadh said with a salute.
                The commander beamed. “A reporter, indeed. You should have allowed my mate to see him.” She looked up and regarded Rautu’s austere watch of the capital, his trappings whipping in the gentle breeze of coming evening. “I daresay he would have gloried in his brilliant company,” she laughed. “I’m certain Alasdair would have seen him and sent all the necessary notification to the Duchess.”
                “He came to see you and the Den Asaan.”
                The commander gave Mureadh and incredulous look. “Me? Why me? A farmer can be interesting only those of her kind. A commander might be interesting to those in need of her assistance, but a woman can be interesting to no one at all when clothed, I assure you.”
                Mureadh simpered and shook his head, and he wondered whether he should have allow the reporter to meet the commander and Den Asaan if only to have the former attack him with her cleverness and the latter scowl at him accordingly.

The Opera

When due homage is paid to the heroes of Frewyn, what could possibly go wrong? Another standalone novella from the series about an opera performed in honour of Frewyn's heroes that turns out to be little more than a farce.

From Chapter 1: The Royal Theatre

    Beyond the main portion of Diras castle keep, between the memorial garden, dedicated to the kings and queens of Frewyn’s past, and the latrine tower, a place where everyone in the keep must visit but where no one wished to venture, was the Royal Theatre. It was called royal due to its origin in being constructed for the enlivenment and entertainment of the king and Frewyn nobility, but over the many years of its various exhibitions and staged depictions, with the declining gradations of quality in the performances and the diminishment of the general interest thereof, the theatre was opened to the Frewyn public for proper scrutiny, gapes and disparagement as the situation would allow. Grand balls in the royal parlour and private concerts became the amusement of choice for the Frewyn royals, and though the king still must sponsor the Frewyn Royal Players to tender affordable evening entertainment to the rest of his kingdom, while the productions were well executed, the originality and creativity of their displays soon waned. Old favourites such as One Man’s Woe and Mad Queen Maeve, the grandiose and colourful retellings of the more tragic moments in Frewyn’s history, prevailed and became traditions for the various seasons the threatre underwent, but to end the monotony of reiterating the same lines and singing the same songs, a new play was often introduced on the off-season, usually written by one of the cast with the hopes of such a production becoming a fever among the people of Frewyn as the others had done.
     Many attempts were made to capture the delights of the threatre-goers in this style and many times the players failed. The yeomanry, tradesmen, and artisans of the kingdom who were in want of a little evening entertainment at the end of the day were simply too well-versed in the arts and had too estimable an appreciation of writing, acting, and singing to be diverted by modest endeavors. They must have more for their hard-earned wages: they must have the pinnacle of performing arts, for they were not simple creature to be easily deceived by moderacy. Farmers left their seats and went outside to enjoy their pipes and good banter on the subjects of crop rotation and field mice; children fussed and fidgeted about, taking more pleasure in trying to step upon their friends’ toes than they could derive by watching the performance; women knitted and took to carpet work while discussing and comparing the various accomplishments of their children; babes cried and were fed, and the general disinclination of the audience to attend the given piece made the actors anxious to continue. Traditional plays were one thing, but new stories that the hale and hearty Frewyn spectators did not enjoy were entirely another. The distress and vexation the actors felt was expatiated by the audience’s unwillingness to regard them, and though Frewyns were never uncivil at first, tedium accorded was deserving of retaliation. Word soon reached the rest of the capital of the paltry attempts to entertain. A full theatre was reduced to half, the players grew despondent, and from their desperation to be adored, and from their worry of King Alasdair reneging his sponsorship, a new production of Mad Queen Maeve was staged and all good Frewyn society was disposed to return to their seats and marvel at the performance.

    Though the desires of the audience had been appeased, proven by their standing ovations and the increase in ticket sales, the aspirations of the Frewyn Players to perform something new and inspiring were yet unfounded. Everything that could be done to secure their livelihoods was done, but everything that could be done to secure their happiness and fulfillment was not. They pined for new lines, new characters, new dances and new songs, and their only reprieve from  the glaring uniformity came in concerts and festivities for the Frewyn holidays. A concert or two was given by the majesties to exercise their musical talents, the ballet of Sesterna made its annual visit, the acrobats from Lucentia came but twice a year when the weather suited their northern constitutions, and though these displays were enjoyed by the audience and therefore envied by the Frewyn Players, none besieged and confounded them all so well as the Marridon Opera. With voices so strident, subjects so catastrophic, costumes so outlandish and sets so refined, the opera more astounded than delighted. The Frewyn audience applauded because they knew they must to give propriety to their guests where it was due, but the amount of pleasure derived from such a performance was left to be guessed by each. Their general perplexity was mistaken for complete awe: the indiscernible feelings, the halfhearted accolades, the talk of not knowing what to make of such glorified tragedy was enough to convince the players of the opera’s magnificence. Only something so brilliantly contrived could amaze to such a degree, and the more it stunned, the more Frewyn would flock to it in hopes of understanding it.
     A Frewyn opera was therefore to be performed, and the subject of the recital but be one to which every Frewyn could relate. It must have love, it must have war, it must have loss and sanguinary themes, but above all it must be familiar. The Galleisian War was talked of and songs were even written for it, but while there was a certain romance in battle for those who had never fought one, there was even more romance to be found in another quarter: heroes of war must have their tales told, and two such Frewyn heroes would be the question to draw all of Frewyn to the theatre.

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