Sneak peek at Render, a story of Aligare

I’m focused right now on Render, the story of Aligare where a remote aemet village is beset by wolves. It’ll be out sometime soon, likely in March. In the meantime, have a sample of the story! This is a scene from Chapter 4, in which Rue the aemet seeks out the enigmatic hunting korvi, Felixi of Velgarro.

This excerpt is from a work in progress. The final version of Render, a story of Aligare might be slightly different.

Near the end of a third hour — when the daylight was richly gold — another shape pressed into Rue’s awareness. Too far off to gauge its size properly — and Rue told herself twice not to assume a bounty ahead of the harvest. But as heartbeats clicked past, she grew more sure of her sense. The shape was too large and too many-limbed to be anything but a korvi, his wings slicing the air like well-honed knives.
He flew within seeing distance, a speck gliding through the clouds. He was yellow-feathered and gold-skinned, his pale limbs and white belly blending with the cloud-streaked gold of the sky. Difficult to see unless one was already looking for him. That was a useful way for a hunter to be hatched, Rue supposed with her stomach turning slowly over.
Wheeling on the wind, he turned his long-jawed face turned toward her. Impulse clamouring inside her, Rue raised both arms and waved. If there was a particular wave to call a korvi down from the sky, she wasn’t familiar with it, but her clumsy motion seemed to work. He came closer on unhurried wingbeats, beating air downward before he held his broad wings steady and dropped to the meadow grass. Air rushed away and settled.
This looked like the Felixi of Velgarro described by aemet kin. He was thick-built in the shoulders, muscular like Rue supposed a hunter would be. He straightened from his landing — straightened tall, holding his horns skyward and turning stone-hard eyes to Rue.
His throat moved as though he meant to speak. Nothing came out for an instant; he swallowed, frowned, and tried again. “Something you want?” he asked in a rasping voice.
Like he hadn’t spoken in days. Like he was a wild creature himself.
But he was right, there was something Rue wanted. “You might say that. You’re Felixi of Velgarro, aren’t you?”
“Yes.” He cocked his head, eyeing Rue. “And you’re another Aloftway pup asking me to trade, hmm?”
She blinked; the sensation of skipped pleasantries slid roughly away. “I … yes. Our leaders request your help in hunting wild quarry.”
“Leaders? I thought you had a mage in your little Aloftway. A mage.”
The pierce of his gaze made Rue hesitate. It didn’t truly matter whether a community chose a mage full of casting arts, or a clever-tongued leader, or some patchwork of the two; it was was a triviality of words and surely even a hunter knew that.
“It seems to me that we have one mage and one leader,” Rue ventured. “One is better with casting than the other. Does it matter?”
“No.”
The hunter didn’t visit village folk because he had an arrogant way about him, said Rue’s innards in a sour voice. Arrogant wasn’t even the right word, not an exact match to the cross-legged korvi standing before her.
“At any pace, are you interested in trading?”
“Not particularly.”
What a difficult nut to crack. “There’s nothing you want? I was told to offer you anything the village might provide …”
“Anything? Well, that’s a mote more interesting than last time.” Felixi sat on his braced tail; he sighed hard, like chiding himself. “Fine and well, I’ll part with a moment of my time. You are?”
Keep up with him, said the proud spark in Rue’s heart. Speak up responsibly. Like the mage herself would.
“Rue Tennel. Nearest hand to the mage, daughter of the tinctoring arts.”
“Right, then. Rue. I’m Felixi of Velgarro, as you already know. Hunter of creatures.” He didn’t flick his wings open, not even a featherwidth. He only nodded. “Has Aloftway grown anything worth bothering with? No barley, I don’t care for animal feed.”
“By a chance, we don’t grow any.”
“Truly a chance?”
Rue’s thoughts tripped again, but she thought better before her mouth could fall too far open. “No,” she admitted. “The farming folk just didn’t want to waste their casting on crop that doesn’t care for mountains. But we do grow white beans and spinach, and garden herbs, and I can forage for any particular forest plant you’d like.”
“Feh,” Felixi huffed, but he paused like thought in the very same breath. Plans formed behind his eyes while they flicked over the plains grass.
Rue couldn’t help looking better at him, in this moment. Scars stood out on his shoulder and arms, white against his yellow, raised lumps against the air. He had been injured more than his dragonkind resilience could match — and he hadn’t had a healer to knit his wounds, either. A rope-thick scar led up his thigh, under his tattered pants. His cargo pouch was all but empty, knotted around itself. But his waistband carried a second brown item, one Rue gradually identified as the sheath of a knife — the largest she had ever seen. He must have led a frightful life, Rue thought.
“I’ll take nuts,” Felixi decided. He stiffened at his own words, air sliding under his slight-bristling feathers. “Hazelnuts, acorns, I’m not particular about which kind. Or honey. Or some preparation of both.”
“All right, I’ll bring a bushel basket,” Rue said, while her insides chilled at the thought of filling it. “Would that be enough for a large creature?”
“Deer? Nurl? Something else?”
“It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a food creature. We’re expecting new arrivals and they’ll want meat.”
Curiosity raised Felixi’s brow, but he kept any questions firmly held behind his teeth. “It’ll likely be a nurl. Which’ll take me a day, so count the hours and don’t be late. Until then.”
And he opened his wings, bunched powerful legs and tail, and sprang into the air. Felixi of Velgarro was flapping away before Rue could believe her senses.
He was thoroughly odd, and more than that, he stirred a fear Rue couldn’t put words to. A bone-deep wondering if she should flee. Turning to the forest, back toward Aloftway, she walked and sorted her thoughts into piles. She supposed the sheer fact of a wild-wandering hunter was unsettling: this was a person who dove onto wild beasts like a wild beast himself. It wasn’t natural. Not in Rue’s sense of the term, anypace — where it was fair enough to raise a food animal and care for it, in exchange for a terror-free death.

She had helped Mother clean meat, once, in old Ordiny village. They had been gifted a lump of horse meat to be made into stew, and it had put a similar fear in Rue’s belly — the awareness that this moist red mass used to be part of a creature.
Why was it from a horse, she had asked in small voice?
This horse got hurt, Mother explained. She picked up a short-bladed knife, looked to the meat and hesitated. It had wrenched its leg and it wouldn’t have lived anypace. So the kindest thing was to release it from pain, then make use of what it left behind.
Rue had wondered why the horse hadn’t gotten a funeral, like other friends of aemetkind. But she supposed horses weren’t a personkind. Maybe they had other ways of returning their plant-element spirits to goddess Verdana’s care. Some other path through the whole wide land. Legends swarmed in Rue’s memory, the tales of ancient times and gods deciding what would feed what — the tales she wished would fit together more neatly.
She considered asking about it, but Mother was making her uneasy face. The knife parted meat, drawing a wedge of air downward.
She could do it, Rue offered. If Mother watched over her.
Turning a smile toward her, Mother said that would be fine. Here, Rue. It would be a great help if she did.

That horse, Rue understood as she grew older, had likely been helped to its death by the same friend who fed and groomed it each day. Or at least an odd-job korvi with a calm temperament. Like how Judellie had taken care of the caravan horse limping too badly to be sent back down the mountain. That was a far measure away from Felixi of Velgarro, some thorny fellow who dropped sudden and fierce out of the sky. Someone who demanded a bushel of food to even think of helping. That was the crux of it, Rue thought as she paused in the forest: Aloftway was asking Felixi for help and he grudged it. He must have had his reasons — but who had reasons so chill, so sharp of tooth?
Maybe, she thought with a swell of embarrassment, she was just too young an adult to take seriously. She simply didn’t have the air of aged knowledge that a family leader would — and even if she did, aemets only lived for a productive forty years. Rue wondered suddenly what Felixi had guessed her age to be, whether he had decided her a leader. If only she could sense that truth.

Returning focus to the forest around her, Rue searched the air for serrated hazelnut leaves. She wouldn’t know the depths of life today, or tomorrow, either. But if she followed Felixi’s mist-veiled wishes, perhaps he would be easier to work with next time.

Want to read the whole story? Stay tuned to this blog or one of my social media accounts! I’ll announce when I have a sure release date for Render.



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