Promote Yourself: Valerie Thomas

On my blog today I have Valerie Thomas, a new and very young writer. Like poet Brian Gallagher, Valerie is pretty modest and retiring. This is what she has to say about herself.

Valerie Thomas is a 20 year old author living in Colorado. Her YA novel, The Clique, is currently being edited and is slated for release December 2014.

Valerie wants to showcase a sample of her writing with this short story.

Torn: Shackles

There aren’t any sounds of movement inside. I ease the door open, hoping no one’s home. The apartment’s empty, and even filthier than I remember. The sink is piled high with dirty plates, the trash overflowing. This is no way to live.

In my mother’s bedroom, at the bottom of the closet, I find the last remnants of the package. She’s smoked or snorted almost all of it. Only a bit remains. Anger takes me as I stare at the powder—her shackles. Before I can consider what I’m about to do, I empty its contents into the toilet. Flush. The offending drugs spiral out of view.

Nothing will prevent her from buying more, I know that. She doesn’t have the money now, but she’ll find a way to get it. She always finds a way. Ideally, I would convince her to give it all up—but no, she wouldn’t, not even for me.

So I settle for smashing her pipes. It’s easy; they’re made of glass, after all. Maybe my mom won’t be able to scrape up the money to replace them, and she’ll have to get clean. I grind the glass dust into the carpet with my heel.

A key rattles in the lock. Oh, shit. I glance at the window—no, no way; it doesn’t open anymore. The closet then, I could hide like a little child.

In the split-second I have, I decide that I will own up to what I’ve just done. Tell my mother everything. I can hear the door open.

“Mmm, baby, do you still have some of that stuff left?” A male voice asks. That must be Chase.

“Yeah,” my mother responds. “In the bedroom. I’ll go get it.”

My hand balls and my heart races as I wait for her to enter.

“Oh, my god!” Trinity screams when she sees me. “What are you doing here?” she asks in a whisper.

“I got rid of it. All of it.”

“Babe, what’s going on?” Chase appears behind my mother. “What the fuck?”

I can almost see the gears turning in my mom’s mind. She turns to her boyfriend. “This—this—girl just broke in! She stole everything!”

Stole everything? “Mom, I didn’t! Why would I even—? No!”

Chase doesn’t seem to hear me; he advances with a snarl. “Where did you hide it?”

“Nowhere!” I take a step back, then another as he moves closer.

“Liar!” My mother stands motionless in the doorway, a violent expression on her face.

“No! I swear, I’m not lying!” There’s no way he’s going to believe I flushed the drugs, but I have to appease him somehow. “Alright, I took them out to my car!” One more step back, I feel the cold glass of the apartment window.

Chase takes a deep breath. “Show me.”

“Okay. I will.” Or I won’t, because there’s nothing in my car. If this doesn’t work, I’ll probably end up on Channel Nine. Chase moves to the side to let me through.

The walk to the parking lot is one of the longest I’ve ever taken. Chase follows me so closely that I can practically taste burnt cigarettes, and when I stop at the door his stale breath falls on my neck.

“It’s in the trunk,” I explain. “I have to press a button inside to open it.”

“Fine.” Chase backs up enough to let me in. I press the button to open the trunk, but not enough to actually open it.

“Maybe I need to turn the car on?” I look to Chase, hoping against hope that he doesn’t realize what I’m doing.

He licks his lips and glances at my trunk. “Just open it.”

I move behind the wheel, place my keys in the ignition—it takes multiple tries. My hand shakes as I turn the key and the engine grumbles to a start. With my left hand I reach for the trunk release, but with my right I grasp the shifter; there’s a car in front of me, so I’ll have to kick it into reverse.

Now! I shift and slam on the gas, only to careen forward, slamming into the car in front of me.

Chase’s face contorts as he figures out what I just tried to do. “Fucking thief!” He grabs my arm and pulls. I won’t be able to resist for long. But my right hand is still on the shifter. Reverse is two gears below drive. Click, click. I hit the pedal again, praying I got it right this time. Chase’s nails claw at me, threatening to pull me out before I can get away.

We jolt back a few feet; his grip tightens. More gas, and the strain becomes too much for him. Chase’s nails rip skin as they slide down my arm. A few more feet, and he tumbles to the ground.

My hands are shaking on the wheel. I have to continually remind myself to stop at red lights and signal before I change lanes. About halfway home, the adrenaline drops off and I notice a coppery taste in my mouth; my head’s fuzzy, like I’ve just woken up from a coma.

The sight of my father’s house greets me like a welcoming friend. Almost home, I’m almost home. I pull up to the curb across the road—my wheel climbs up it when I get too close, but I hardly notice—and get out.

“Whoa, are you alright?” A bald man asks.

No, I’m not alright.

Look out for Valerie’s first novel at the end of the year. In the meantime you can visit her blog here.

. https://valeriethomasblog.wordpress.com/

Thanks a lot, Valerie, for giving us the opportunity to read some of your work. I wish you the very best of luck with your debut novel.

No heart

Procrastination strikes again. I had a notification from Elizabeth Frattaroli’s blog that it’s almost the deadline for entries to her flash fiction mini comp. What better spur than a deadline! I’d seen the prompt already, to write a story of 500 words maximum including at least three of the following words/phrases: dachsund, special summer, heart, pearl necklace, photograph. It needed that magic word ‘deadline’ to get the joices flowing.

The following story is a short adaptation of the story I wrote for my Creative Writing A level. It got an A+. I don’t even remember feeling proud of myself. I haven’t read it since, and that was a long time ago, but I remember it well. The old lady in the story was a neighbour and I embroidered a bit.

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Elsie Taylor took down the photograph from the mantelpiece and put on her reading glasses. The blurry face became that of Mark, her son, emigrated to New Zealand twenty-five years before and not seen since. She didn’t count the awful Christmas when he came back with that…woman.
The little house was silent except for the ticking of the clock. Mark smiled at her. Roses nodded in a vase. The last of the season. Last night’s high wind had stripped the solitary blooms left on the bushes. Mark said, You’d best be putting the heating on.
“I’ll do that right away,” she said. But she didn’t move. Mark smiled at her but he had never cared much about how she was, much less about her comfort. When his father died he sent a cheque for some flowers. His wife wasn’t well, he’d said.
She leant over and replaced the photograph in its place, took off her glasses and let her eyes slip out of focus. The world became a comforting blur. Absent-mindedly, she fingered the pearl necklace round her neck. Alec had given it her as an engagement present. There had been earrings too but she had lost one years ago. The pearls were cool to the touch, reminding her of Alec’s cheek. His memory was fuzzy now, like his portrait on the mantelpiece opposite Mark’s. The thought of him, her, them, young, not old and tired, brought tears to her eyes. Alec.
She shivered. The clock-ticking silence altered. Rain tapped then rapped hard against the window. The world outside became a grey blur. She pulled her cardie closer and thought about making a cup of tea. She dozed.
It was darker in the room when she opened her eyes again, and the cat was rubbing against her legs. Teatime. Mark smiled at her from his picture, quite clearly. She frowned. Alec remained in a hazy soup of pastel colours. Mark nodded. Go on then, put the kettle on.
She shook her head. It was too difficult to think straight. She was too tired to wonder about such things. What was, was. She had never been able to change anything, small wonder even the photographs on the mantelpiece did as they pleased. Alec had never wanted to know when she’d told him about Mark’s unsuitable friends. Said he was just growing up. Boys would be boys. Alec. She had loved Alec. Perhaps. Had she? He had been strong and steady. He just…sometimes he didn’t understand. He didn’t like to deal with the difficult things. Like Mark. She sighed and went into the kitchen. The cat followed and meowed. Her back complained when she bent to put the dish of food on the floor; her head spun when she straightened up.
The pain took her by surprise. She staggered to a kitchen chair. It came again, crushing her chest. That had been the problem with her menfolk—her last thought came through the pain, an illumination. They’d had no heart.

It could have been different

In response to Elizabeth Frattaroli’s writing prompt, here’s my reconstruction of the nasty little scene I witnessed yesterday and that is still trotting in my head.

* * * *

An angry voice shattered the sound of the rain and my concentration.

“Get outta that, I said! You filthy…get over here. Now! Move it!”

A dull thud, a muffled cry, and the violence in the words sent me hurrying to the door. A child? No one would hit a child in public, surely.

In the middle of the street, a young, thin-faced man stood with raised fist. The dull light caught the twisted metal of rings on all his fingers. His other fist gripped a dog lead attached to a cringing, famished-looking dog wearing a muzzle. The fist fell again, and the dog gave a strangled yelp.

“What use are you to me if you don’t even do what I tell you?”

“Stop that,” I said, putting all the severity into my voice that my diminutive aspect would fail to convey, “or I’ll fetch the police.”

He glared at me from the depths of his grimy hoodie. “It’s my fuckin’ stupid dog. I’ll do what I fuckin’ well like with him!”

“Touch him again and I’ll fetch the police,” I repeated. “Give him here, if he’s so useless.”

He glared at me, an interfering woman, standing on the doorstep of her comfortable house, while the rain slid to the edge of his hood and dripped.

“What’s your problem? It’s just a useless mutt.”

“If you don’t want him, I’ll have him,” I insisted. The dog trembled and raised its troubled eyes. That was enough. In a fury he unwound the lead from his wrist and thrust it at me. The fist clenched and darted one last time. The dog closed his eyes and flinched but the muzzle silenced all but a faint whine. Thrusting his hands in his pockets, the man stormed off down the street, his trainers stomping in the puddles.

The dog whimpered and strained after him. I hushed him and pulled gently on the lead, towards the warmth of the house. He looked at me with eyes full of fear and maybe hope. His skinny flanks trembled, but he took a step towards me. My own dog came to the door, curious, wagging his tail. The new dog stepped cautiously over the threshold.

Except it didn’t happen like that. The man in the hoodie started when I opened the door, his raised fist hanging in the air. He lowered it, glaring at me, and instead grabbed the dog by the muzzle and snarled, “Useless fuckin’ animal. You disobey me again and I’ll fuckin’ massacre you.”

He yanked on the lead and as he passed, turned to me with a steady stare, daring me to speak. The dog raised eyes full of hurt and incomprehension to him and, his tail between his legs, followed his lord and master. My own dog came to the door, curious, and barked at the retreating stranger. I closed the door feeling sick with this world full of casual brutality, and my silence. The rain fell harder.

Empty

She sat on the bench looking out across the river. At her back was a strip of grass planted with plane trees. Behind that was the wall of a big house. The stone shone deep orange in the light of the setting sun. The sun was still hot, the shade dark green and dusty. An old couple walked past, slowly. He leant on her arm, leaning on her more than he leant on his cane. She measured her stronger step to his. Walking with him right up to death’s door.
The old couple stopped at the next bench and the woman helped the man to sit, holding his arm, so the back and legs bent in the right places, lowering his frailty gently until he relaxed with a sigh and sank back against the backrest. His blank eyes filled with the bright light from the sky and the peripheral glitter from the river.
She looked across the river to the trees still in the full sun, and behind them gentle hills, peaceful, vine-covered on the south side. Beyond the hills was sky. Bright, implacable and blue. The bench was at the edge of the footpath, then the bank planted with a municipal assortment of plants, then the river. The river ran. It ran brown, and its ripples caught the light and sparkled. She stared across the river, but her gaze stopped always with the sky.
Footsteps crunched on the dry earth of the footpath. Stopped. A man hovered, hesitated. Then he sat down. She turned her head.
“Evening,” he said and smiled. It was a quick smile and she didn’t see if he had nice teeth. His eyes were creased against the light; his skin was tanned. He smelled slightly of the shower.
“Evening,” she replied, and turned back to the river and the hills, the vines, the sky beyond.
“Lovely view from here,” he said, misunderstanding, and smiled again, longer this time. He had normal teeth. “Live here, do you?”
She nodded.
“I like looking at the countryside,” he rattled on, “but I couldn’t stand to live in it.”
She frowned. “This isn’t the countryside.”
He waved a hand in the air, encompassing everything from the litterbin next to the bench to the clear sky above the hills. “When you come from the city, it’s all countryside.”
She turned, raised an eyebrow.
“All too empty. Too quiet,” he said, and grinned again.
“Too empty?” she murmured.
He crossed his legs and settled back. “You know, Nature and all that. It’s great in documentaries, but we all need supermarkets, don’t we?” He looked at her, as if expecting to find logos for big brands appearing, sprouting from her armpits, from plastic bags stuffed under the bench, from between her teeth. Expecting her to giggle and agree. Expecting her to fall for the superior man from the capital and follow him back to his hotel like a lost dog.
“Pretty,” he went on, “but give me the Champs-Elysées any day.”
As if he owned it.
She looked across the municipal flowers, across the river at the woods, the vines on the hill, heard the hum of traffic on the road, the murmur of voices from behind the wall of the big house. She smelt the smell of the shower, the smell of car exhaust, the barbecue behind the wall. She felt the inanity of the conversation as a physical hurt.
A road ran through the woods across the river, to a town in a fold of the hills. The vines had killed the soil on the hill slopes and there were no insects, no birds to speak of. This was the city man’s countryside, a pretty, sterile desert. She looked across the flowerbeds of gaudy scentless flowers, to the river than ran brown and glittering. She looked across the hills with their well-tended vines, listened to the distant drone of traffic. She shivered and her heart longed for the quiet of a wilderness with no road to follow, no bench and no normal teeth chattering to break the silence.

Birdcage

Editing is doing my head in—time to give it a rest. Here’s something summery and hopeful.

Birdcage

In the poplars on the riverbank, finches dart and twitter, gold and red, flower-bright, while a blackbird fusses among the wet leaves. River slides by, brown and sluggish, and the breeze from the ocean carries the smell of salt waves and mud drying in the sun.
In the long grass beneath the trees sits a birdcage, yellow and pink with two tiny travesties of perches. The birdcage lists in the storm-sodden earth, gaudy and cheap. Kingcups nudge the bars, and beetles scuttle across sandpaper and the rotting bone of a cuttlefish.
Above the rich mud and the slow creeping of plants, the air trembles with beating wings, with the wound-up spring of life. Swifts dart and shriek, finches trill, and sun bursts in glory from behind a bank of scudding cloud. Life sings and shivers through the long grass beneath the poplars. The first notes of a blackbird’s song ripple through the bars entwined with kingcups. Sunlight and birdsong pour over the yellow cage, and the little open door, swinging brightly in the light, summer breeze.

Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.de.
Andreas Trepte, http://www.photo-natur.de.

Étain

She looked into the well water, smooth as a mirror, and a golden-haired man looked back at her. In his eyes were lost memories of fluttering butterfly wings, black waves, and horses running across a green plain. She remembered then the man she loved, and not all the seas, the curses and the desire of kings could keep them apart. She opened her arms to Midir’s embrace and let swan wings bear her home.

Phases of the Moon – 55 word flash fiction Gallery

A showcase of flash fiction. Some lovely pieces to enjoy.

Written Words Never Die

The Prompt Image was > PHASES of the MOON.

You are all invited to read the different takes – all 55-worders about the phases of the moon.

I received twenty one (21) contributions! A record!

Take your time, relish, linger and reflect.

And in no discernible order, we present:

To get the ball into play, we have newcomer Henk Mulder blogging as geneticfractals

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Aubrey Alagos blogging as Fiction for Supper has titled her’s The Werewolf and the Moon

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Please enjoy the contribution from Jane Dougherty blogging as Jane Dougherty Writes

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Next we have one from Bill. Please read billgncs blogging as bwthoughts

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Please welcome and enjoy Freya blogging as Freya Writes

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Georgia blogging as Bastet and Sekhmet shares her Time’s End

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Please welcome once more, Soumya Vilekar blogging as SOUMYAV

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We have newcomer to the Gallery, Marcus blogging as alarmingman with Reflections:

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My pleasure to welcome back the ever supportive Jane Stansfeld blogging as jstansfeld

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As…

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More Flash Fiction

Here’s another great blog, Eric Alagan’s this one, for writers of flash fiction to display their work.

The challenge this time is to write a short piece, exactly 55 words long inspired by a photographic image of the phases of the moon.
This is mine.

Night terrors

Still night, calm sea, full moon.
Fathers in fitful sleep clutch weapons tight.
Mothers hush crying children, listening
For the splash of oars, boots crunching on the strand.

Storm wind, high sea, moonless night, the watch slumbers.
Mothers, fathers sleep while thunder roars and waves crash on black rocks.
Dragon ships will not come tonight.

Flash fiction: Narrow Ships

Darksilvertree sent this link to Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge, to write a fantasy piece under 1000 words on one of five themes. The theme I chose was: a charming watchman is engineering the downfall of the Empire. Here it is.

Narrow Ships

Sigurd pulled himself lazily to attention. Dusk was falling; the long autumn night was beginning. Wulfgar Blood Hands tramped through the gates of his little kingdom, his huscarls in tow. As he passed, Sigurd presented him with one of his beaming smiles.
“All quiet out there, Wulfgar? No sign of the terror from the sea?”
Wulfgar glared through his thick brows. “Just keep your eyes peeled and your mouth shut, Sigurd.”
“I will watch the river like a hawk, silent as a dead dog.”
Wulfgar glared again, unsure if he was being mocked. Two of the huscarls pushed the gates closed and barred them with a heavy oak beam. Sigurd climbed up to the parapet that ran along the inside of the palisade, and took up his post.
The evening was calm, but cloud had bubbled up along the western horizon, where the river ran into the sea. Soon it would be dark, the lights in the night sky hidden behind raincloud. The wind would blow the narrow boats landward and hide the sound of the landing party. Sigurd chuckled to himself and looked down across the little burg with its untidy thatched houses, and the pigs rootling between them. Wulfgar had come to this place as a conqueror. He had driven away the tribe settled along the river and built his burg, thinking he had done a fine thing.
Sigurd found Wulfgar too funny to despise him, too stupid to defy. Wulfgar had never understood that the barbarians who lived along the river knew more than he ever would, should he live to be a hundred. The huts Wulfgar destroyed were flimsy, makeshift affairs without complicated defences, because the barbarians never intended to defend them. There had been no treasures kept in the huts by the river, no rich halls or temples. Those were in their settlement on a hill, much further inland, behind a high palisade of pointed stakes, behind a wide ditch filled with more pointed stakes. Long before Wulfgar, the raiders from across the sea had found the river, and no one left anything of value within the dragon ships’ reach.
Children ran here and there with sticks, driving the pigs into their pens for the night. An older girl tried to round up the children. Cattle lowed in the byres, and a group of drunken men called after the girl, making her duck and weave to avoid their wandering hands. Sigurd sat up, the grin wiped from his face. Elsa. His eyes followed the girl as she grabbed a small boy by the back of his shirt, calling out at two older ones to finish with the pigs and get themselves inside. The boy struggled. Elsa slapped him hard and he yelped. Sigurd nodded approvingly. Elsa had spirit. She would make a good wife.
He watched as she herded her brothers home. She stopped before the house door, and turned to scan the palisade. Her eyes lingered on the lone sentinel, and Sigurd could almost see the blush spread across her cheeks, feel her racing heart. He raised a hand in salute. Shyly, she waved back and disappeared through the door beneath the thatched eaves of the house. Sigurd would visit Heremod’s house later, when it was time.
Until then he watched the river, still gleaming faintly with the last of the daylight, and the sombre woods beyond. Beyond the bend in the river lay the sea, and on the sea were the narrow ships. A sharp smell made his nostrils twitch. He turned back to the huddle of wooden houses, his gaze instinctively resting on the hut on the edge of the burg, the völva’s hut. Smoke rose from the chimney hole, pale green and pungent. The freshening wind caught it and flattened it across the thatch, then snatched it away into the darkness. But Sigurd saw, and he knew what the old witch was up to.
* * *
Urdar threw another handful of dust, dried and ground nameless things, onto the fire. Her old eyes watered but she saw what she wanted to see. Narrow ships on the black sea: a red-haired chieftain in the prow of the largest. Clouds and rain, and Wulfgar’s hall with bloodied walls. Wulfgar with his huscarls about him, sleeping their last sleep. She saw other things in the smoke too. She saw her sister’s man stabbed while he slept. She saw her sister taken by Wulfgar’s men time and time again, until they slit her throat and ended it. She saw the baby stabbed in his cradle and the maid child stabbed as she ran screaming from the house. All that Urdar saw, without the help of magic.
* * *
The green smoke died, and Sigurd saw the wiry silhouette slip out of the door. He leapt down from the parapet and unbarred the gates. Urdar pulled up the cowl of her cloak as the first heavy drops fell, and looked at Sigurd from the depths.
“They are coming,” was all she said, and disappeared into the night.
Sigurd watched her leave, watched the silent river, and the trees beyond that sighed in the wind, listened to the rain clattering on the leaves. Only he heard the narrow ships riding up the strand, and boots crunching through the pebbles. Only he had been shown the vision in the flames, of the red-haired chieftain and his bloody sword. It was time to get Elsa.

Flash fiction: Harbingers

Here’s a taste of the next series, Angel Haven. Also YA fantasy it follows on from The Green Woman. It’s jumping the gun a bit (a lot) but it’s what I’m reading and writing at the moment.

Harbingers

The last rays skimmed the oak grove while shadows swallowed up the forest paths. Scyld stared down the mountain, across the treetops, his gaze unfocused. Deep in thought he did not hear the creaking of the ropes, the sighing of the branches beneath the dead weights. He did not hear the noise of his feasting thegns or the raucous cry of the birds.
Scyld was reliving his blood dream. His fists clenched and his lips parted as he watched himself splash across the ford, a war cry in his throat. His thegns were about him, axes and swords swirling, throwing up great fountains of river water. In the dream the river ran red, red blood splashed and fountained, and the warcry in his throat was the death knell for the fools in the unguarded settlement.
The dull thunk of a heavy blade slicing through human flesh, the screams and shrieks of the villagers taken by surprise filled his dream ears. The river ran red, and the earth was black with blood. His parted lips curled into a smile. Donar was with them; the god sang in the sweep of the axe stroke, laughed in the whistle of arrows, and roared in the sacking of the wattle huts.
At his back the bodies twisted in the breeze. Sacrifices to Donar. He stepped closer, and peered with cold curiosity at the swollen tongues and bulging eyes, his nostrils flaring in distaste at the smell from the soiled breeches. A price well worth paying, he thought as he pushed the redheaded corpse, setting it twisting slowly.
The sound of feasting reached him at last, and a sudden thirst dried his throat, a desire to be with company to celebrate the sacrifice that would bring certain victory in the coming raid. He licked his lips and turned towards the fort. Deep in the grove yellow eyes stared, unblinking. Scyld looked from the yellow eyes to the twisting redhead.
The god comes for you, Hrothgar. He grinned, almost laughed, but that would have been unseemly in the holy place, and left the wolves to their own feast.
Feasting, he heard, and the raucous sound of birds. Scyld raised his head. Against the fire-streaked sky above the fort two black birds flapped with ragged wings.
More guests for the feast, Osmund.
This time he laughed out loud. The blood dream had shown him war and slaughter, he had made two sacrifices from among his finest warriors. Donar would be pleased with his offering; he would be in Scyld’s right arm on the morrow.
The raucous cry of carrion birds broke into his thoughts of massacres and bloodletting. Scyld paused at the gates of his fort and frowned. Two ravens. Flapping with their steady, powerful wing strokes they flew over the fort, then turned and back they came again. Scyld followed them with his eyes, waiting for them to reach the sacred grove. Suddenly uneasy, he started back; anxious to see them settle on the god’s feast. Before he could move they turned about, not reaching the grove, ignoring the enticing smell of dead men. Against the fiery sky they turned about, gracelessly, flying low, back through the open gates of the fort.
Fear gripped Scyld as the harbingers circled the houses, passed over the huts of wattles, and the finer halls of the wealthy thegns, circled once and settled on the roof of the big hall. Scyld’s hall. Cold settled in Scyld’s stomach. Harbingers.
The blood dream came rushing back. In consternation he saw the fording of the river, the bloody water splashing before his face, heard the war cries, the screams and shrieks as blades sliced through flesh. He heard the whistling of arrows. Cold turned to ice. He heard the whistling of arrows growing to a whine. The whine grew to a shriek, and he heard at last the death song the air crooned in his ears. Silhouetted against the blood red sky, two birds waited. Harbingers.