I don’t think I ever let you guys in on it, but I’ve been doing Camp NaNo, and now I have something to show for it! This is yet another revision of Chapter One; let me know what you think! (Again, I’ll probably totally rewrite this later.) Oh, and there will be more posted soon!
With a glance over her shoulder, Minkhoy turned from the lively, bustling marketplace into a shadowed alley. Her sandaled feet picked their way carefully through the prickly weeds poking through the cobblestones; this alley was little used, being too narrow for the carts to make their way through to the marketplace. Some of the weeds tugged at her pants, the taller ones tugging at the edge of her tunic.
The alley turned a corner, and on the other side a man was waiting for her. She stopped short. She had been expecting someone short and stocky, but this man was tall and gaunt with red hair.
“About time you got here, Hoy,” he said as soon as he saw her; his words were thick with a Sennodian accent. “I have better things to do than wait for you in this nothing town.”
She kept her distance. “Who are you? I was expecting Black Ragg.”
“Call me the official representative of his business. The boss has got better things to do then wait in smelly alleys for Udolian rats.”
“And you don’t?”
He scowled. “Do you want the goods or not?”
“Let me see.” She held out her hand.
He recoiled as if from a snake. He stared at the long, red scar slashed from the back of her hand, around the joint of her thumb, and ending in the middle of her palm, leaving her left hand slightly stiff. Inwardly, Minkhoy sighed; she had forgotten to put on a pair of gloves before coming out. Everyone in her town was used to her scar by now, so she had forgotten how other people reacted.
“You’re a rebel?” he asked, his tone somewhere between fear and disgust.
“Not really, but either way it’s not contagious.” He didn’t move. “Really, I swear, you’ll be fine. Just give me what you’re here for and you can go.”
After a moment, he reached into his jacket and pulled out a folder. He handed it to her, careful not to touch her.
Rolling her eyes, she opened it and bit her lip in excitement. It was a blurry but obvious picture of Queen Aidani. She flipped the photograph over; on the back was scrawled the words, ‘third day in the month of Morileal, the year 2233′. She turned it over again and scrutinized the photo. Even with the distortion, the queen was quite obviously pregnant, probably in her third trimester. She looked up at Ragg’s contact again. “Where did you get this?” she demanded. “Where did this photograph come from?”
“Chemyss,” he replied, crossing his arms. “Some old fig farmer had it and was willing to sell it so he could meet the tax this year.”
Minkhoy’s face flushed even as she tried to hide her excitement; if she showed too much eagerness, he would jack the price up. She rummaged further into the folder and pulled out another photograph, this one much clearer than the first. It was the queen again, only she was not pregnant in this picture. Minkhoy once again turned it over, only to find there was no date written at all. “Where does this one come from?”
“From right here, Henkoren. As I was told, the family it belonged to moved from this town to Port Kho-ju’ctar not long after the photo was taken, which was right before the massacre. Eventually they sold the photo to a royal family fanatic, who recently died; his family was anxious to get rid of the thing. And so now it is yours—if you pay, that is.” He held out his hand expectantly— she had to place either money or the folder in it.
“Yes, alright, how much do you want?” Tucking the folder under her arm, she reached for the moneybag on her belt.
“Fifty Kars,” he said without skipping a beat.
She paused and raised both eyebrows in disbelief, but didn’t argue; she pulled out the demanded amount and deposited it into his outstretched hand. He quickly pocketed the money and flitted out of sight down the dark alley, clearly anxious to get away from her. Minkhoy went back the way she had come, the folder clutched close to her chest.
She stepped out of the alley back into the hot market square and dusted herself off, looking around to see if anyone had noticed her return. The hot desert sun had relented some of its noon heat and the market was busy with shoppers. But none of them had noticed her, so she darted through the thick crowd toward her family’s depot.
The market ebbed away as she headed for the edge of town on the northeast side where the depot was located. Her father was unloading one lone freighter in the dock, but otherwise the depot was quiet; most shipments had already come and gone, and most people were at the market.
Heading for the office, she threw the front door wide and called, “Guys, you won’t believe what I have here!”
Korenihoy, to her right by the filing shelves, turned on her like a panther. “Where have you been?” her old brother demanded, his thick, dark eyebrows drawn low in a frown. “You were supposed to be processing that paperwork. In fact, you were supposed to be done with it hours ago.”
“I’ll get to it, Koreni, but my absence was worth it, believe me.” She marched over to the counter and deposited the folder onto it in triumph.
“What is that?” D’junehoy asked, his eyes wide already. He had been dusting the top of the taller bookshelves, but now he hopped down from the ladder and prowled over to the folder.
“This, little brother, is what I have been hunting down for three solid years now. Or fifteen, if you prefer. And this could change everything.”
Ramesahoy looked up from behind the counter where she was patching one of Minkhoy’s festival skirts. “Are you talking about the royal family?”
“There is no royal family,” Koreni said. “They were massacred fifteen years ago, everybody knows that.”
“What have you found, Mink?” D’june asked, ignoring him.
“Photographic evidence that there is one surviving member of the royal family.”
“See for yourself.” She opened the folder and handed him the two photographs.
D’june squinted at them for several moments. Ramesa leaned forward on her stool. “Well, what is it?” she asked eagerly.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Mink, what am I looking at?”
“It’s obvious! Look!” She pointed at the first photograph. “You see the queen? She’s pregnant, right? This photo is only a few weeks before the massacre. Then this photo is taken the day of or before the massacre, and she is not pregnant. Something happened to that child between those two points.” She bit her lip. “Now I just have to find out what.”
“He must have been killed at the massacre with the rest of his family, regardless of whether he was in the queen’s womb or not,” Koreni said.
She turned to him, eyes shining. “No, he wasn’t. If you don’t believe me, believe the Union.”
Koreni frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You remember that newspaper story they printed all across the country?” she asked, going around behind the counter.
She pulled out a wooden box and opened the lid. She shuffled through several layers of papers and then whisked out a yellowed newspaper clipping. “This is the story they ran on the front page about the murder of the royal family and the sacking of Koren Hill. They mention in gory detail how they killed the royal family, listing each name individually; they list only four children, the youngest being Jacini, and she was already four years old. So what happened to this fifth baby, who should be only a few days old at most? If they had killed him, you know they would have been bragging about it.”
“Do you think he’ll come back and kick out the Union?” D’june asked.
“He might not be alive,” Koreni argued. “Anything could have happened to him; he could’ve been stillborn, or was left behind when his mother was arrested and died of starvation, or been hunted down and killed since then.”
Minkhoy nodded. “I know, but there’s still hope. And that’s enough for me.”