Chapter 13 – Battle of Blue Talon Canyon

 The Handfasting is an epic tale of a family’s struggle to survive on an alien planet. In Book 1 – A Year And A Day, A witch from the right side of the tracks finds herself paired with a hard-bitten soldier handpicked by a computer program. In Book 2 – Forever And A Day, a marriage of convenience between two determined, strong-willed people sparks a planetary war and puts at risk everyone they love. In book 3 – All Our Tomorrows, A warrior/priestess teams up with a Bard from another world and genetically created children to defeat a deadly enemy and save their planet from destruction. In Book 4 From This Day Forward – When she finds the body of a retired shopkeeper on the beach, a series of mysterious events draw the new owner into a web of passion, terror and murder.  She must find the killer and discover what he wants before he gets her too. (still in production. Expected release date April 2017)

  Start reading Chapter 13 Battle Of Blue Talon Canyon

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays

 Download a PDF copy by clicking on the link

 https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

Check in next Friday for the next chapter of A Year And A Day – book 1 of The Handfasting

Chapter 13 – Battle of Blue Talon Canyon

 

THE NIGHT before they reached Blue Talon Canyon, Zack and his crew filtered silently back into the camp. Katherine was engaged in applying salve and bandaging gouges from bird talons on Jelli’s nose and face when she looked up and suddenly he was there. He looked tired, and he smelled; obviously he hadn’t had a bath since they left. She set down the jar and flung her arms around his neck anyway, enjoying the solid feel of him against her. “Where have you been?” she exclaimed. “I’ve been worried about you—”

“Sssh!” he said. “We want no one watching to know we’re here.” He kissed her soundly anyway. “Miss me?”

“Yes.”

He touched the circles under her eyes. “I don’t think I like these.”

She made a face. “Well, I haven’t been sleeping well, and I’m not the only one. All the new wives have been having trouble. I wonder why that is.”

Zack laughed, dropping his hand and squeezing her buttocks playfully pulling her firmly against his body. He was hard and ready. “Good. I missed you too. If I’m losing sleep, so should you.”

“Did you find anyone? I’ve still got an itch on the back of my neck,” she said, recovering.

“Yes, they’re out there all right but they’re scattered. As near as I can tell, there are between fifteen and twenty of them. We need them to bunch together so we can catch them. I will take a crew up and around so we can catch them between us. Leave late tomorrow morning and keep everyone in close. I want everything to look normal, so you must pass the word along quietly. Make sure everyone has a full load of ammunition.”

Katherine nodded. “Are you staying the night?”

“No, I can’t.  There is too much chance we might be spotted leaving in the morning so we’ll be heading back out late tonight. We came in to get more food and weapons and to let you know what will happen tomorrow.”

“Can I tell the others you’re here?” asked Violet, who had been helping to tend Jelli.

“As long as you do it quietly, Hon,” he said. “What happened to Jelli?”

“Ostamus and Sand Dragons are mortal enemies. Our dominant hen Ostamu tried to bully Jelli out of her way, and they had an altercation,” Katherine said drily. “Jelli lost,” she added, “or at least she’s the most marked up—apparently the lead hen knew just what to aim for,” she said, applying more ointment to Jelli’s nose and ears. “I thought we might end up having roast Ostamu for dinner before we broke it up, though. Jelli can be formidable despite her age.”

The rest of the children came up quietly, and after he refilled his ration pack, Zack gave each a quick hug and slipped away into the night.

Blue Talon Canyon from the air looked like a print of a giant bird claw sunk deep into blue rock. Steep, almost straight walls of azure crystal glared brightly in the sun at the top and faded into deep shadows at the base.  Katherine’s party had almost reached the opening of the canyon mouth when she ordered a break, ostensibly to discuss what order they would use when sending the individual herds and flocks into the canyon. The stop enabled the group to move the wagons to the outside of the herds and put most of the herding crew inside with them where they could easily take cover from attack.

Katherine was making a final swing around their defenses when word came back that riders were approaching. She kicked her horse into a lope and came to the front of the caravan.

The three men and two women approaching looked to be in bad shape. A woman was holding a man up in the saddle and another had a bloody bandage wrapped around his head. The lead rider trotted forward. “Can you help us? Please?” she asked.

Katherine made a sharp gesture stopping the two healing women who had started forward.

“What happened to you?” she asked.

“We were attacked by a large group of Wilders. My husband has been wounded.”

“I am Katherine O’Teague. These are my lands and I don’t know you. What is your Clan name and how do you come to be here?” Katherine asked.

“We were sailing along the coast and our boat started leaking. We barely made it to shore before in went down. We started inland to get help. We are DeMedici. By clan treaty you must give aid to shipwrecks.”

“You are at least twenty miles inland from the shore and mounted. Where did you get the horses?”

“There was a deserted farm. The horses were running loose. Our need gave us the right to borrow them.”

Katherine regarded them dispassionately, remembering Zack’s warning. The story might be true. It also might be the opening gun in the ambush.

“You said you were attacked by Wilders, when did this happen?”

As she spoke with the leader, Katherine was also sending out her third eye, seeking for hostile emanations from those who might creep up on them while the leader held her attention. She couldn’t pinpoint any one area where danger would come from. Whoever was out there was great at shielding their intent. Unfortunately, if they really were shipwrecked, she was duty bound to offer aid.

“Very well,” she said. “Dismount and disarm yourselves. We will tend your wounded.”

“Disarm?” the leader appeared insulted. “I was not aware a state of war existed between our clans.”

“It doesn’t,” she retorted coolly. “However, we are expecting an assault from those same Wilders you say you encountered. I have no way of knowing you are who you say you are. If you want our help, you will do as I tell you.”

With some muttering and grumbling, the five dismounted, leaving their weapons by the horses. Two women from the Clan went forward and helped with the wounded man. Katherine did not dismount. She signaled her fighters to keep watching outside the wagons for the ambush as the supposed DeMedicis limped into the circle.

Unfortunately, Jelli took that moment to cause a ruckus with one of the large birds; the same one she had fought with the night before. The pair carried their dispute into the forefront of Katherine’s retainers, and Violet came running up to intercede, passing close to the interlopers who had remained in a tight group.

“Jelli, stop that!” Violet shouted at her pet, intent on reaching her before the much larger bird could cause more damage.

Suddenly, the wounded man sitting on the ground sprang up and grabbed Violet, pulling a hidden knife and holding it against her neck. He acted too fast for anyone to have stopped him.

“Well, now, here’s the little Dragon Talker,” the leader purred. “I think it is you who will now put down your weapons, Lady. I would hate for so valuable a commodity to be damaged.”

“Beware, woman. If you are DeMedici your Donna won’t appreciate you starting a clan feud by harming my child,” Katherine’s voice was cold. While she was speaking, she pushed against Jelli’s emotions, sparking fear for Violet and anger at the man holding her.

Jelli let out a low feral growl, forgetting her dispute with the squawking bird, began stalking  toward Violet and her captor with her ears laid back. The Sand Dragon was still small, but she had sharp teeth and talons and with her hardened skin plates she was practically invulnerable.

Her captor shook Violet, turning to face the dragon. “Stop her! Stop her or I’ll kill her!”

With everyone watching the drama, no one saw Katherine draw her pistol. To watch Jelli, Violet’s captor had turned  his back on Katherine who fired without hesitation, taking off the top of his head. He slumped to the ground, taking Violet with him.

The camp exploded into a free-for-all of yelling, fighting men and women, excited birds slashing at anything that came too close to them, barking dogs, frightened goats and sheep jumping everywhere to escape, and the final insult, the horses and cattle stampeding through the fighters toward the canyon mouth, knocking aside friend and foe alike.

The rest of the Wilders waiting outside the circle took advantage of the melee to fire into the convoy’s protective ring. Seeing the stampede careening toward Violet’s prone body, Katherine pushed at the oncoming animals, creating a wedge to detour the stampede around Violet and Jelli. She kicked her horse forward, leaping off as the mare was still moving when she reached Violet. The well-trained horse stood like a rock as the frightened animals raced around her. Shoving the body of the dead Wilder off Violet, Katherine turned her over, checking for wounds. Jelli snuffled in their faces.

“Ugh!” Violet pushed her pet’s wet nose aside. “I’m all right, Jelli.” She smiled when she looked up into her mother’s face. “Wasn’t Jelli great? I thought she was going to eat that guy.”

“He thought so too,” Katherine said grimly. “Come on; let’s get you two under a wagon so we can take care of the rest of them.”

Katherine hastily shoved Violet and Jelli under the closest wagon and turned back to the fight with her gun drawn and her back to it, but the precaution proved unnecessary.

Although the Wilders were hampered by fire from Zacks fighters, many of them got inside the circle of wagons. However, the panicking animals impeded their attack as much as the defense. The fight was already winding down. Thanks to Zacks skill at strategy and superior fighting experience, the Clan soon got the upper hand over the Wilders. The surviving Wilders were shackled and herded into the only secure dome inside the canyon to await Katherine’s judgement

She kept them waiting until the afternoon of the next day because Katherine had more important things to concern her. Once the convoy moved into the protection of the canyon, the wounded had to be settled, camp set up and all the loose animals located and sorted. A meal prepared.

The bodies of the dead Wilders had been collected and searched.  The next afternoon, a makeshift dais was  set up on a wagon seat so everyone could see Katherine as she passed judgement. As First Daughter, Juliette sat on the footrest below Katherine’s seat. Zack leaned up against the wagon wheel with his arms folded. Several guards stood off to one side, fully armed. Their presence and Zacks were mute testimony to Katherine’s authority. From youth to middle age they were a sorry sight. Their wounds had been tended, and they had been fed but that was the only amenity that had been provided them.

“Your name and station,” Katherine demanded of each prisoner.

Only two of them were willing to provide that information. Her eyebrows rose. “Very well, If you prefer to be buried in an unmarked grave so your families will never know happened to you, I can arrange for that to happen,” she told them. “If you provide me your name and station, I will see that your family is notified of your sentence.”

“Does that mean you will kill us?” one of the youngest asked.

Katherine shrugged. “You threatened my child,” she reminded them. “You are charged with attempted kidnapping, murder, endangering children and raiding. The penalty for that ranges from death to work in a labor camp for 10 years. However, I am not without mercy. If you can show that you were forced to take part, I will consider mitigating circumstances.”

She waited a few minutes and then turned to her people. “Is there anyone here who can speak for them?”

A hostile silence from her clan answered her. “Very well,” she said, turning back to the prisoners. “You stand accused of acts of murder and piracy. The sentence is death. Make your peace with God. Tomorrow at dawn you will be executed.”

She nodded to the guards. “Turn them to face the Clan.” After they had done so, Katherine addressed her people. “You have heard the sentence and seen the prisoners. Is there anyone here who claims Blood Right?”

Beside her, she felt Zack stiffen. An uneasy silence covered the waiting Clan, then a girl about fifteen stepped forward. “I claim Blood Right!” she cried, pointing to one of the women. “She killed my aunt two years ago.”

“Give us your name and state the circumstances,” Katherine spoke the formal words.

The girl drew a deep breath. “My name is Zora niMcClellan and my aunt was Bethany niMillier. She was killed in a raid on Seven Trees Station two years ago.”

“How old are you?”

“I am old enough to claim Blood Right. I am fifteen.”

Katherine nodded. “Very well, you have the right. Be ready at dawn tomorrow.” She turned back to the crowd. “Anyone else?”

Three more of the clan stepped forward, each claiming a family member slain.

Katherine gestured to the leading guard. “Take them back to the sealed dome until tomorrow morning. See they have food and water.”

As the prisoners were led away, Katherine looked down at Juliette’s white face. “Sentencing someone to die is never an easy decision, Daughter.  Do you understand why this was necessary?”

“I think so,” Juliette said soberly. “They would have killed us, and they tried to kill Violet.” Juliette hesitated. “What did those people mean when they claimed Blood Right?”

“Claiming Blood Right means they have the right to administer whatever punishment has been handed down by the Lady. Here it means they will do the execution themselves.”

Juliette looked back at her. “What happens to the ones no one claimed the right for?”

“I will have to carry out the sentence because I cannot ask anyone else to do something I am unwilling to do myself. I passed the sentence, it is my duty to see it carried out. Those outlaws killed and wounded several of our people and would have killed or injured Violet.  As leader here, it is my duty to protect my people from harm and to see that those who harm them are punished. In Lady Corrine’s absence, it became my duty to protect and enforce our laws. Someday, as First Daughter if you are acting in my place, you may have to do the same.”

She looked into Juliette’s big eyes and smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry. This is not a burden I will place on you before you are ready. Why don’t you check on how Roderick and Rupert are doing preparing dinner?”

Juliette hopped down and ran toward the encampment. When Zack lifted Katherine down off the wagon, she leaned into him for comfort. “I hate this part of my duties.”

He said nothing, just held her and stroked her hair.

After a few minutes, Katherine stood back. “I’m a little worried about Rupert and Violet’s reaction to the execution tomorrow. Do you think you could take them and Jelli up to the rim in the morning? They seem to have the most empathy, and the further away from it they are, the better I think.”

“Shall I take all of them?”

Katherine took a deep breath. “Well, Juliette is First Daughter so she will have to stay, but maybe it would be best if you took the others too.”

“That is a heavy burden to put on a child, Katherine,” he said.

“I know,” she said, “but I wasn’t much older when I had to witness a sentencing and execution myself, and I survived it.”

They stayed at Blue Talon Canyon for a week, gradually moving different herds of animals across the valley and into the underground shelter next to the Lodge. They were almost finished when the first of the Swarms, the small stinging insects made landfall just as the last of the herds and flocks were being moved into the underground animal shelter. The swarms arrived in dark waves of insects, sometimes two or three thousand each and they covered an area like a blanket. It was miserable work. To keep from being stung, everyone simply pulled their hats netting down to cover their heads. The herding dogs and horses wore mesh bags over their heads and ears to help protect them from the stings and burrowing insects.

As each animal in the herd passed through the entrance to the shelter, there was a hissing buzzing sound and dead insects fell in heaps by the doors. “If we let the little buggers in with the stock, it would defeat the purpose of coming down here for shelter,” a clanswoman staffing the entrance explained to Zack and the children as they followed the last herd up to the opening.

“You don’t leave the door open after we’re all inside do you?” Zack questioned as he dismounted. He handed off his pony to Roderick to take down to the stable area.

“We close the main roll-up doors, but the bug screen stays on,” the woman responded. “Just in case some poor soul was caught outside, they can get inside the screen and then contact us on the com and we decide if we want to let them inside or not.”

Previously the underground catacomb had echoed with emptiness but it now resounded with the noise of complaining animals and yelling wranglers. The wagons were shunted over to the side. Once he knew everyone was inside, Zack stayed to watch as the doors slid down, sealing it from the bugs and winds. The early Vensoog colonists had learned the hard way that its rounded edges caused the winds to slide around a dome structure where they would have torn apart structures built in other shapes.

“How long will we need to hide in here from the bugs?” Zack asked Katherine.

“Well, those itty bitty ones are just the beginning. They’re lunch for the larger bugs that follow them. We are usually down her for about three weeks. Then the storms will come in, and they usually last about the same. A lot of the larger native Vensoog animals like the Sandie’s and Nessies and some of the birds hibernate during this season.”

 

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Chapter 12 – Roundup Vensoog Style

The Handfasting is an epic tale of a family’s struggle to survive on an alien planet. In Book 1 – A Year And A Day, A witch from the right side of the tracks finds herself paired with a hard-bitten soldier handpicked by a computer program. In Book 2 – Forever And A Day, a marriage of convenience between two determined, strong-willed people sparks a planetary war and puts at risk everyone they love. In book 3 – All Our Tomorrows, A warrior/priestess teams up with a Bard from another world and genetically created children to defeat a deadly enemy and save their planet from destruction. In Book 4 From This Day Forward – When she finds the body of a retired shopkeeper on the beach, a series of mysterious events draw the new owner into a web of passion, terror and murder.  She must find the killer and discover what he wants before he gets her too. (still in production. Expected release date April 2017)

 Start reading Chapter 12 Roundup Vensoog Style

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays

 Download a PDF copy by clicking on the link

 https://www.facebook.com/groups/GailDaleyWriter/

Check in next Friday for the next chapter of A Year And A Day – book 1 of The Handfasting

Chapter 12 – Roundup Vensoog Style

THE NEXT several weeks were busy, but eventually everyone settled into a routine. After a family breakfast, the children went to the schoolrooms and worked on regular school tasks, overseen by Jayne and the two teachers. The schoolrooms held a mixed age group, with each student using their own teaching module with lessons assigned to by their age and ability.

Early afternoons the children either spent with their mentors or with Zack learning self-defense and combat strategies, or with Katherine teaching a political strategy. Sometimes the family used this time to engage in a mock combat/hide and seek session down in the empty caverns. During the day, Zack and Katherine were coordinating efforts to get the new arrivals settled in amid preparing for the Passover Swarm and Storm season. Corrine and Vernal took advantage of the time to take an extended camping trip around the Isle. Late afternoons were free time for the children to engage in activities with their new friends or private projects, and evenings were family time. At dinner, everyone discussed his or her day’s activities and the next day’s plans.

Most of the children at Veiled Beach Lodge had been born during the war before the bioweapon hit Vensoog and were much older than Zack and Katherine’s five. Despite the disparity in age, Katherine observed the children were making friends, although they seemed to still cling to each other. Jelli was a wonderful icebreaker because none of the others had met a tame Sand Dragon. Jayne hadn’t raised an eyebrow when Violet brought her pet to class, but the other two teachers protested that if she continued to attend the Sand Dragon would grow to take up too much. Katherine looked them over, and then at Violet’s tense face, and said, “I fail to see a problem here. It’s a big room and you’re on the ground floor.”

Her daughter’s beaming smile had been reward enough.

The morning Roundup started, Katherine and Zack were rousted out of sleep in the early dawn by the pealing of a crystal bell. “What the Hell is that?” Zack demanded.

Katherine rubbed sleep from her eyes. “It means the first of the Swarms has been spotted out to sea. We have about three weeks to get the livestock down from the hills before they arrive. It will be all hands on deck for Roundup.”

The children burst through Katherine and Zack’s bedroom door with excited or anxious demands about the cause of the noise. Katherine yawned and reached for her bedrobe. “Hush, now, it’s nothing to worry about. It means we start Roundup today.”

“What’s going to happen?” asked Roderick.

“It means that after breakfast you will have time to use those riding lessons. We’ll be heading up into the high meadows to bring down the stock. We’ll be gone several days.”

“What about Jelli?” asked Violet, “I can’t leave her behind—“</p>

“Jelli will have to ride in the newborn animal cart with the other baby animals who can’t keep up with the moving herds,” Katherine said firmly.

“Everyone needs to go back to their rooms and dress in your riding clothes. Pack a small carryall with a jacket and two changes of clothes.”

Roundup was quite an undertaking. Zack counted forty riders including children of various ages, a supply wagon carrying food, bedding and extra clothing, and portable domes  was called a Chuck, and two more empty wagons. Katherine explained that one of them would carry baby animals  too young to keep up with the moving herds. This wagon was partitioned into four separate sections and already held a somewhat grumpy Jelli.

Just as they were starting out, Katherine’s com chimed. She projected the vid-com in front of her so everyone could see and hear it. Images of Genevieve and Gideon appeared.

“We received a message on the crystal net from the Clan Patrol at Horned Cove,” Genevieve said. “There’s a band of Wilders moving into your territory. The word from Karnelon Height is that they’re armed with laser weapons. Apparently some Wilders have taken over one of DeMedici’s outposts on the edge of N’Sicily Isle and are using it as a base. They landed on Stranger’s Cove and went up the hill to take out Karnelon Station.  They were under attack when they called Horned Bay Patrol. I know Roundup is taking place, so you don’t have spare manpower, but I suggest that you arm your riders and work in trios in case they make it around the coast to your side.”

Katherine and Zack exchanged glances. “We have to do Roundup,” she said.

“We could leave the children here,” he suggested.

She shook her head. “The families at the Stations will have their children with them; a few more won’t make any difference to our situation.”

He nodded. “Okay, then. Listen up everyone! I need volunteers. I want two armed outriders at both ends of this caravan and two along each side. If we’re attacked, we make a triangle of the wagons and put the riding animals and the children inside the triangle. Older children will be in charge of taking care of them. The rest of us will be divided up into two groups, one to defend the triangle and the other outside it to attack the Wilders. The strategy is to catch them between us. Any questions?”

He turned to Katherine, “Do you have any heavy weapons we can bring along?”

She nodded. “Anyone who can handle a Plasma Rifle, go to the armory and check one out. Pick up extra plasma bolts for the rifles, your side arms and for the Force Wands. We’ll store them in the second supply wagon. Bring along one of the light Plasma Cannons in case we need one.”

Vernal and Corrine who planned on staying behind because they claimed they were too old to do Round Up, agreed to step up patrols along the coast and to warn Fisher Ships affiliated with O’Teague to watch out for Wilders along the coasts.

Katherine had always loved Roundup. She took a deep breath smelling the sweet scent of dried grasses mixed with the sharp odors of the wet crystal rocks off the ocean. The familiar feel of her horse moving under her and the creak of leather all said this was home. She had only been away three months, but it had seemed longer.

Since they didn’t need to ride herd, Katherine, Zack, and the children rode together a family group next to the Babe wagon because Violet insisted Jelli would feel left out if they didn’t. Katherine took advantage of the time to show points of interest to everyone.

“It’s a well-marked trail”, Zack remarked. “Will we stick to it?”

“Yes,” she answered. “When we reach Alpine Meadows Station, we’ll help Jordan and Mia with their gather and then swing around the mountains and pick up the families and stock from the other four stations. Some of the outposts like Seven Trees will join us at each of the camps with anyone they want to send down.”

“You leave the outposts unguarded?” Zack asked disapprovingly.

She shrugged. “The storms make it hard for anyone to move around enough to attack anything. Wait until you’ve been through a season here, you’ll see. But we leave a skeleton crew manning the outpost in case someone camps close enough to attack while the outpost is under  manned.”

He grunted. “Depending on whether as a defense isn’t always reliable. Maybe after the season passes, Vernal and I can take a little trip out to the outposts to see if we can improve security. That’s for later though. We have other fish to fry. You know this area better than I do. If you were planning an ambush where would you do it?”

Always so business-like, Katherine thought ruefully. Their union had been more than satisfying but she couldn’t help wonder what his reaction would be if she proposed to make it permanent.

“Hey!” he snapped his fingers under her nose. “Zack to Katherine. I asked you where you think the best ambush place will be.”

Abruptly jerked back from her nostalgic dreaming, Katherine replied. “There’s Blue Talon Canyon at the base of the hills. We usually hold most of the herds there for a few days before we move them down into the low meadows near the Lodge. The ground gets hilly as we approach it and they could pick us off from concealment.”

“Okay, then we need to get there ahead of the herds and scout it out to make sure we aren’t walking into a trap when we arrive. I’ll take a small team of fighters and scouts with me and cut across to it. We have six fighters from my old unit with us, I’ll take three of them and I need you to pick three more of your people who can guide us there. We’ll leave as soon as we arrive in Alpine Meadows Station.”

Camp  the usual first night muddle with everyone running around trying to get organized. Chores had to be assigned, the animals fed and camping domes set up.

Never having slept in the outdoors before the children were excited, Katherine decided they would all share a porta-dome. She had left Sooka behind with Corrine because her pups had just been born. Besides her and Zack Violet insisted that Jelli sleep in the pop-up with them. This meant everyone had to step over or around her if they needed to get up in the middle of the night, and when Zack rose quietly to check on the night guards, he accidentally stepped on her tail. Jelli’s squeal of outrage woke up not only their dome, but those on either side of them.

The next afternoon they arrived at Alpine Meadows, and the next morning Zack left with his fighters on the scouting trip.

Zack and his scouts could cover more ground than the slow moving herds. He told Katherine and the children he would meet them before they arrived at Blue Talon Canyon. Watching Zack and the seven fighters ride off into the pre-dawn chill was hard.  Katherine had smiled at Zack as she kissed him goodbye, swallowing a knot of fear for him. When she saw some of the distress disappear from her children’s’ faces, she was glad she had made the effort. She remembered one of Corrine’s teaching mantras—confidence was contagious. When he left, Zack got a hard hug from all three girls and at Violet’s insistence a goodbye whuffle from Jelli. from Rupert and Roderick he got a manly handshake as he instructed them to “look after the girls while I’m gone.”

“We’ll look after each other,” Katherine had retorted. She then made sure that all her children were too busy with morning camp chores to have time to fret. Unlike herself at that age, her new children acutely knew of the idea a parent could be taken away from them. She and Zack were their security, she reminded herself; she couldn’t afford to for them to see her fear for Zack unless she wanted them to take matters into their own hands.

They probably would do something anyway, she thought resignedly as Juliette and Roderick caught up with her when the herds and flock moved toward the next station. “Are we going to be attacked?” Juliette asked.

Katherine studied her, judging how frank she ought to be about the situation. There was fear there, but resolution too. “Well, I hope not, but it’s always possible,” she replied.

“We want to learn to fire the plasma rifles,” Juliette stated.

Katherine’s eyebrows rose. “You’ve been learning the Force Wand so you can defend yourselves.”

“Yes, but that’s for close-in fighting. I think it will be better if I don’t have to fight them close up, don’t you?” Roderick insisted.

Katherine nodded. “All right. This evening we will hold a class for anyone who wants to learn how to load and fire them. I can’t let you fire them, tho’ because we might need the ammunition for actual fighting later, but you can practice aiming.”

Two days later They reached the second Station on the route, Angel Hair Falls Station. The couple who ran it, Jordan and Mia, already had their wagon packed, and had made a gather of the long-haired sheep and goats being watched and kept bunched up by the herding dogs. Angel Hair Falls  had a large flock of the huge multi-colored flightless birds, which still needed to be gathered for the trip. The birds could be found making a colorful display in the trees above the camp. Ostamus were highly prized for their colorful feathers used for hats and clothing and their spicy meat. Their DNA had been adapted from several large breeds of birds from Old Earth and the first colonists had nicknamed them Otsamus. The birds were mean-tempered, territorial and notoriously hard to drive, thanks to the long razor edged talons on their feet, which they weren’t shy about using when they were displeased.  Most bird wranglers used the stunning end of the Force Wand as an incentive to make the birds move in the direction wanted.  It helped to have feeders filled with birdseed attached to the back of a cart. The cart traveled slowly enough for the birds to snatch a few bites as it moved. At night, a portable stinger fence would be erected around them to keep them from wandering away.

The herds of goats and sheep from both Stations were mostly handled by Mia the head wrangler with the aid of herding dogs. The flocks were accustomed to being moved from pasture to pasture.

As the day wore on, Katherine was bothered for some time with the feeling they were being watched. In the hustle and bustle of the day, it was hard to locate the source of her ill feeling. It was enough, however, to keep her moving around and check constantly on her kids.

That evening, Katherine set up an informal training session on how to load, aim and fire the Pulse rifles using the skill of one of Zack’s unit he had left with them.

This wasn’t enough to dispel her unease and the next morning just at the edge of dawn, she rose early and walked out above the camp to find a quiet spot where she could be undisturbed. Sitting down, she centered herself and opened her third eye, seeking for hostile watcher along their route.The ability to feel emotions at a distance was not a skill often needed, but Katherine had been trained in the technique at the Dragon Talker Center.  At first, she only sensed the normal dawn emanations of wild hunters and their prey, but faintly, along the edge of her perception, she located Zack and his fighters.  The feeling of being watched was stronger to the Northeast, but it was too faint for her to identify the source. However, since they would be moving South and West away from it as they traveled she wasn’t particularly worried about it.

“What are you doing?”

She opened her eyes to find Juliette, Rupert and Lucinda watching her. “I’m using my third eye to check for a hostile presence,” she answered calmly.

“What’s a third eye?” asked Lucinda.

Katherine patted the ground beside her. “A third eye is what sensitives use when we reach out with our psychic senses.”

“Can anyone use it?” Lucinda asked.

“Unless they’ve deadened it by refusing to believe in it, they can. Most humans have it to some extent, some more developed than others. It takes a little concentration and training to learn to use it. However, children can usually tap into it easier than adults.”

She patted the ground beside her. “Come, sit here and I’ll give you a quick lesson before we leave,” she said. Obediently, the three down sat facing her.

“I need you to relax and breathe as I tell you,” she instructed. “Close your eyes and try to concentrate on hearing and smelling everything around you.”

“Don’t open your eyes and tell me what you hear.”

“The camp,” said Lucinda.

“The horses, birds, the wind and—rustling in the rocks above us,” Juliette answered.

“There’s something—” Rupert began, “I don’t really hear it, it’s more I feel it over there,” she gestured off to the North.

Juliette concentrated, “Yes! I can feel it too. It’s not angry, just—watchful.”

“I can feel it now too,” cried Lucinda.

“Fantastic, children! For a first time, that is excellent,” Katherine exclaimed. “We’ll practice some more every morning. For now, though, let’s get mounted and head back down to camp.”

That night, Katherine lay in the darkness waiting for sleep to come, listening to the night and to the sounds of her children as they drifted off to sleep. Her children. So much had happened to her in the last few months. She had a new husband; she was now the mother of five half-grown children. most wonderful of all she had tumbled into love with Zack. While he gave every evidence of returning her love, he had yet to say so. She hadn’t either told him either, she reminded herself. Maybe he was as unsure of her feelings as she was of his?

The night wasn’t freezing and the heating crystals kept the tent warm, but she missed Zack’s solid warmth beside her in the sleeping bag. Zack was passionate enough in bed. The memory brought an uncomfortable ache in her groin causing her to move restlessly. Outside the dome, she could hear the soft voices of the night guards as they exchanged greetings on their patrols. Over by door, Jelli  whuffled in her sleep. Jelli probably would have grown so much By next year’s Roundup, she and Violet would need a separate porta-dome, Katherine reflected.

She turned over, exasperated. She was still wide-awake, and it didn’t look as if sleep was coming anytime soon. Quietly, so she wouldn’t wake the sleeping children, she rose and dressed. Stepping over the snoring Jelli, she slipped out of the dome, securing the door flap behind her.  Somehow, she was unsurprised to find the new wives of the fighters who had gone with Zack sitting around the dying fire.

Katherine poured a cup of the Cafka kept hot for the night guards and joined them. Her childhood friend Caro, who now managed the medical needs of the Lodge, looked at her and laughed ruefully. “You couldn’t sleep either, huh?”

Katherine laughed, “You caught me,” she admitted.

One of the other women snorted. “What’s wrong with us? I only met that man six weeks ago. I can’t be in love this soon but I sure miss him in my bed.”

The women exchanged half-rueful half-guilty looks before they all started giggling.

“Why not?” Another asked. “Didn’t you think the matchmaker program worked?”

“Well, it’s pretty obvious it did, or we wouldn’t all be out here losing sleep,” Caro replied.

“I’m so glad it worked,” Katherine said. “The math said it should, but I worried I had made an error somewhere, you know?”

“I think you can relax about that.” Marta, a brunette who had moved to the Lodge with her new husband, remarked as she swallowed the last of her Cafka. “I guess I’d better try to get some sleep,”.

“Me too,” Joan another of the new wives replied, rising with her, and prompting a general exodus.

Left alone with Katherine, Caro gave her childhood friend a straight look. “Are we going to be attacked?” She asked.

Katherine nodded soberly. “Zack was pretty sure of it. And I can feel someone watching, l just can’t locate them. I always was better at Push than Pull,” she added wryly.

“Wonderful. Well at least planning how to set up triage out here will take my mind of missing Rex.  I must make sure the medical supplies are in the front of the supply cat and carry my portable bag on me.”

Just then, Juliette opened the tent flap, looking for Katherine. She came over to the fire.

“Mother, I think Rupert’s starting a nightmare,” she said.

“Duty calls,” Katherine said to Caro as she rose to follow her daughter back.

“Good night, little mother,” Caro replied.

Rupert was starting the muttering, tossing and turning that foreshadowed one of his nightmares. Katherine knelt by his bedroll and gathered him to her.

“Sssh,” she said, pushing comfort and security at him. As she did so, she cast a worried look at Violet. In the past, the two of them had seemed to transfer their nightmares to each other, but tonight Violet slept peacefully. Jelli raised her head and regarded Katherine and Rupert almost thoughtfully. No one knew just exactly how intelligent Sand Dragons really were; they were empathic and sometimes formed bonds with humans but their intelligence was of a different order and the two didn’t always seem to have the same goals. It occurred to Katherine that Violet hadn’t had a nightmare since Jelli had come to live with her. Perhaps the Dragon’s empathy was helping Violet feel more secure. It was just as possible Jelli was strengthening Violets EMPH shield. Being a strong empath had its liabilities; sensitivity to emotions that others broadcast could cause a child to retreat into catatonia unless they were taught to shield themselves. Well, she couldn’t arrange for another Dragon calf to appear, but perhaps one of Sooka’s pups might prove an adequate substitute for Rupert. She would ask Leona to include Rupert in Violet’s shielding classes. He hadn’t rated out as high on the EMPH scale as Violet, but his abilities seemed to be increasing.

Rupert finally settled back into normal sleep. Katherine pushed more comfort and security at him before she crawled back into her bedroll. Once there, she dropped immediately into sleep.

Although she and the children continued to try each morning to locate the source of her unease, she could not locate the watchers.

Chapter 11 – Taming A Sand Dragon

The Handfasting is an epic tale of a family’s struggle to survive on an alien planet. In Book 1 – A Year And A Day, A witch from the right side of the tracks finds herself paired with a hard-bitten soldier handpicked by a computer program. In Book 2 – Forever And A Day, a marriage of convenience between two determined, strong-willed people sparks a planetary war and puts at risk everyone they love. In book 3 – All Our Tomorrows, A warrior/priestess teams up with a Bard from another world and genetically created children to defeat a deadly enemy and save their planet from destruction. In Book 4 From This Day Forward – When she finds the body of a retired shopkeeper on the beach, a series of mysterious events draw the new owner into a web of passion, terror and murder.  She must find the killer and discover what he wants before he gets her too. (still in production. Expected release date April 2017)

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Chapter 11 – Taming A Sand Dragon

 

THE NEXT morning, Katherine, Zack and the children set off for Veiled Isle on a Fisher.  Corrine’s great grandfather had named it Veiled Isle because of the translucent half crescent of Glasslike stone hanging partway over most of the largest cove that served as a seaport for the small fleet of fishers attached to the Lodge. He called the port Hooded Beach because two-thirds of the bay was underneath a shelf that rose high above sea level. The water in the cove was deep enough below the hood to accept a four-masted sailing ship at its wharf.

Corrine’s main seat was a large island a half days journey from Glass Isle. Corrine and Vernal expected to follow Katherine, Zack and the children with the rest of the new immigrants and the Lodge’s share of the imported goods and building materials.  The Clan used the open areas of golden sand to the west of the docks for recreation. The left side of the wharf was used to process the catch from some of the fishing fleet affiliated with O’Teague. A series of steps led from the dock to the top of the cliffs and the family landing where a small dome held carts for transporting people or goods to the main house and barns, about a half mile inland. In the back of the dome were three rooms set into the cliff itself. These led into the access to the tunnel to a heated underground lake and caves. The lake and caves were used for shelter during the Swarm and Storm seasons.

Further along the recreational side of the wharf was a wide-open space the clans used for recreation. This area occasionally drew Sand Dragons in the birthing season. Sand Dragons were a smaller variety of Vemsoog Dragons and spent a larger portion of their time upon land than did the Nessies.

Katherine had just directed the waiting retainers to take their luggage on up to the house, when she noticed that Violet had taken off toward the open side of the beach.

“Wow, what’s that?” asked Rupert, pointing towards what Katherine unmistakingly identified as a Sand Dragon. The creature was about the size of a large horse. It had a thick round body and four short legs. It stood upon webbed feet, the talons on its five toes digging into the sand. Rudimentary webbed flippers that might once have served as wings appeared about midway up its shoulders. Large wide set eyes appeared above a short, blunt snout and small flaps covered its ears.  The neck and shoulders, shorter than the Nessies, fit smoothly together. The dragon was covered from head to toe with shinny scales. The scales looked hard, but were actually quite smooth like the tops of fingernails.

“A Sand Dragon”, Katherine said. Touching her crystal pendant, she reached out with her talent and felt both hope/pain/fear from the beast.

“It’s all right,” she murmured, stopping Zack from reaching for his weapon. “Everyone, that is a cow Sand Dragon, and she wants our help. We’re going to all walk slowly towards her, Okay?”

The dragon was a pretty creature, and in spite of the obvious signs of exhaustion, she watched them carefully. Like the Quirkas, Sand Dragons were chameleons and usually appeared the same color as the sand or water around them. Each iridescent scale grew out over the top of the one under it. Just now, the cow turned her side to them and made a hopeful purring noise.

“Why did she do that?” asked Zack, puzzled.

“I think she’s been infested with sand ticks,” Katherine answered, “and she wants us to get rid of them for her.”

“Er—sand ticks?” he asked. “I hope that’s not similar to the blood sucking ticks found at home—”

“Probably pretty close,” Katherine remarked. “Every planet seems to have something similar. Watch closely, children. I about to show you how to make friends with a Sand Dragon.”

She unhooked her Force Wand and held it out so the children could see it. “To remove the tick and kill it, you need to set your wand at about a five. This will make the tick uncomfortable enough to back out of the dragon. If it dies with the head still attached, the wound can become infected.” Carefully, she lifted a hard skin plate that wasn’t resting flat on the one below it. A red looking lump showed. Katherine put the end of the wand on the highest part of the bump. After a few minutes, it shivered and fell out onto the ground on its back, revealing a pointed head with nasty sharp teeth.

“Once it hits the ground, you up the setting to about eight, and kill it,” Katherine directed, touching the wand to its rear, watching as the tick shriveled up into a black smoking block about the size of a fist on the ground. She turned the wand to off.

“Boys, there’s a jar of salve in that blue jar in my pack, can you get it for me?”

Katherine opened the lid and using the applicator, carefully smeared it onto the irritated skin under the scale. The Dragon gave an almost human sigh of relief. She then made a chirring noise, and two baby dragons about the size of large dogs staggered out of hiding in the nearby rocks.

“Don’t come between her and the babies,” Katherine warned. “Let them come to us.”

Both of the calves also showed signs of the ticks. Under the Mother Dragon’s careful supervision, Katherine instructed Juliette and Roderick how to remove the ticks. Lucinda and Rupert applied the salve. After which, the Dragon and her calves slid off the beach and into the warm waters of the ocean almost disappearing as their scales changed to mimic the ocean colors.

As they turned to go back to the dock, Zack noticed Violet was still staring off into the rocks. “What is it, honey?” he asked her.

“There’s another one there,” she said definitely.

“Katherine,” he called, “I think we still have a problem.” He motioned towards Violet.

Just then, a much smaller Sand Dragon calf tottered out into the open towards Violet, who dropped to her knees beside it. “Why did she leave her behind?” Violet demanded.

Katherine and Zack inspected the new arrival, and then Zack went over to where the dragon had come from. “I don’t think this one was hers,” he said. “There’s a dead one over here.”

“Well, while they share nesting grounds, they’re not especially herd oriented,” Katherine observed. “If this calf isn’t hers, I doubt if our Dragon would have cared for it unless she and the mother were closely related, especially if the calif is weak for some reason. Remind me to send a crew down her to clean up the body and do a cleansing of the beach for ticks.”

“Does she have ticks, Violet,” asked Rupert, eager to denude another one.

Violet had been carefully running her hands over the scales, which were still fairly soft. “No, she’s just hungry,” Violet said, fishing out a part of her sandwich leftover from lunch and holding it out to the calf who took it delicately and then swallowed it whole.

“How do you know Violet?” Katherine asked quietly.

“I feel it when I touch her,” Violet said absently. “I’m going to name her Jelli.” She rose to her feet, picked up the dragon somewhat awkwardly as it was the size of a small dog, and started back towards the wharf.

Zack looked at Katherine. “Are we taking  it home with us?”

She looked at him. “You have a better idea?”

He snorted, “You mean ‘Hey Mom it followed me home, can I keep it?’ How big do they get?”

“Uh-huh. The cow we saw earlier was about average size for a Sandie.” She touched her com and contacted the house to request that Mistress Leona meet them in the hall when they arrived.

“Who’s she?” Zack asked.

“Mistress Leona is a retired Dragon Talker who lives with us. She will know the best way to handle this. She was my teacher when I was smaller.” Katherine added ruefully, “I guess we won’t have to worry about a career path for Violet.”

“What’s a Dragon Talker?” asked Juliette.

“Well, you remember on the way down the river, when Drusilla kept the Nessie Channel Dragons from attacking the riverboat caravan?” Katherine responded. “That’s what a Dragon Talker does. They have to have special training with different types of Dragons to handle them. Sometimes, like now, if the Dragon is young enough, it imprints on a human and a special relationship develops between them. I think this one has done that with Violet.”

On the way to the Lodge, they passed through a small village of domes for houses and shops with views of the sea.  Within easy walking distance was an even larger dome for housing animals during the storms.

“How do you reach it during a storm?” Zack asked.

“It’s connected to the house by an underground walkway,” she replied. Pointing to several smaller domed residences, she continued, “Those belong to clan families who work on the estate.”

The lodge itself was massive with several interconnected domes. Although Katherine explained that the Family had separate quarters, much of the huge house was given over to a dormitory for single clan members and a recreation/dining area open to visitors,  all the staff and their families.

They were met in the Hall by Mistress Leona, a tall, well-built woman in her seventieth decade with iron-grey hair and blue eyes. She took one look at Violet, staggering under the weight of her new pet and told her sternly to put the calf on its own feet. “You will damage its dignity, carrying it around,” she informed her.

Violet glared right back at her, clutching the calf. “She’s too weak to do it by herself. She’s starving.”

Mistress Leona’s eyebrows rose. “And how do you know that?”

“I can just tell. Mother says you know about Dragons. Do you know what she’s supposed to eat?”

Mistress Leona looked over at Katherine. “You’re sure she’s not related by blood? I could swear that’s you standing there.”

Katherine grinned back at her. “That’s my girl.”

“I was planning on all the children having rooms on the second story with us, but I think Violet and Jelli had better  have a room with ground access so Jelli can go outside to use the bathroom,” Katherine told Mrs. Grayson, the housekeeper who was watching the show along with several other upper servants.

“I’ll prepare the blue room next to Mistress Leona’s,” the housekeeper replied.

“Have someone bring ground bean curd, meat and milk mixed with about a quarter pound of butterfat to the room, also,” ordered Leona, “so we can feed this calf. We will also need several old blankets and a bale of hay for bedding. Well, come on girl, bring her along.” Leona turned and went down the hall toward her rooms, followed by Violet, still lugging the calf.

As soon as everyone had settled into their rooms, Katherine had summoned all clan members who worked the estate and formally presented Zack and the children to the Clan.

Resting her hand on Zacks shoulder, she announced, “We now have an experienced military commander to handle our security. When the rest of our new members arrive, we will also gain several experienced soldiers to assist during raids by the Wilders up in the hills. Since Zack will accompany me when I travel to Parliament, he will name a deputy to work in his place.” She beckoned a short older woman forward. “Zack, this is Lally who has been handling security until now. I’m sure she will be glad to explain what has worked in the past.”

Zack nodded to Lally. “I hope we can get together tomorrow to go over what steps have already been taken. I need not tell you I will be depending heavily on your expertise while I learn the ropes.”

The woman nodded. “I usually take night reports after breakfast. Will that work for you, Lord Zack?”

“Yes, that will be fine.”

Katherine had then shown her new family around the living spaces; even Violet who had reluctantly left her sleeping pet to join them for dinner.

Afterwards all the children went upstairs or into the recreation rooms. Katherine and Zack had a meeting with Leona in the family parlor about Violet and Jelli. The argument began as soon as the door closed on the children. Leona wanted Violet and Jelli to go to the training center for Dragon Talkers as soon as possible but she ran into opposition from Katherine.

“No, not until she is at least twelve,” Katherine stated flatly.

“She has to begin the training as soon as possible,” Leona countered. “The child has enormous potential; she must learn to discipline her gift or the consequences might be dangerous to her and everyone around her!”

“How fortunate that you are here to begin that training,” Katherine retorted. “Look, Leona, she hasn’t had the kind of secure upbringing that most clan children have had. Violet lost her parents very young, and quite frankly, that Grouter’s was not the best place for a child with her sensitivity. She must have time to recover her sense of security and learn she is loved before I will allow her to be subjected to the rigid discipline imposed on trainees at the Dragon training center.”

Leona snorted. “From what I saw just now, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. That child seems quite strong willed to me.”

“Yes, and I intend to see she retains it—”

Zack, who had been listening in silence while the argument raged, finally spoke. “Katherine is right. Violet may appear strong, but she is still having nightmares from her experiences with Grouter. She stays with us.”

“You always were a stubborn, willful child Katherine,” Leona remarked. “So tell me are you planning to drag the child and the dragon back and forth to town with you when you serve in Parliament?”

If she thought she was presenting them with a problem, she was mistaken. Katherine just smiled, recognizing defeat but not rubbing it in. “I will use the family estate outside of town since it will be better for all the children, not just Violet.”

Leona made a rude noise and said, “If you will excuse me then, I foresee a long day tomorrow and I need my rest. Good Night.”

When Katherine checked on Violet and Jelli the next morning, she was appalled at the amount of vegetable mash, ground meat, bits of butter and spilled milk covering the child’s torso and clothing.

“I’m making Jelli some breakfast,” Violet announced proudly. She had both arms up to the elbow in a large bowl mixing the ground bean curd, meat, butterfat and milk for Jelli’s meal.

“Good morning, Violet, Jelli”, Katherine said, casting an indignant look at Leona, who shrugged.

“The child needs to learn how to care for her pet,” Leona said in answer to the implied criticism.

“Well, find her an apron to protect her clothes. I expect Morgana still has those her own children used,” Katherine said, referring to the woman in charge of butchering meat for the Lodge. “And make sure Violet takes a bath and soaks those clothes in cold water to get out the blood before she comes down to breakfast.”

The next day was a busy one.  The Lodge’s nursery had not been in use since the new babies born just as the war started had grown out of the need for it. The nursery was the primary day care center for clan members living and working in and around the lodge. Before they left Glass Harbor, Katherine and Corrine had met with several childcare specialists to staff the center. Since Jayne’s young boys would spend a lot of time there, Katherine asked her to take a look at it and make a list of what would be needed to bring it back into use.

Unlike Katherine’s new family who she had given aptitude tests on Fenris, most children on Vensoog were given many tests to check EMPH ratings. The had also been tested on their native aptitudes to steer them toward a course of study enabling them to choose a career to make the best of their natural talents. Katherine had tested her new children on Fenris. As a part of schooling, children were also given “hands on” work with mentors in different areas.

Since Violet had more or less chosen her own career path by bonding with Jelli, she would be working with Mistress Leona for the foreseeable future.

After some discussion, Roderick elected to intern in the Lodge’s communications and electronics center as his first choice.

Rupert who tested very high in chemistry, chose to work in the distillery where the herbs and other items grown by the Clan were compounded into medicines and food supplements. These were used by the Clan and to be sold in the open market at Glass Harbor and Port recovery.

Lucinda opted to work with security where her skill at drawing would be an asset in identifying suspects from witnesses’ descriptions.

Juliette would be understudying Katherine so she would follow her around while either Katherine or Corrine explained how to make Veiled Isle a viable working community.

After introducing each of the children to their various mentors, Katherine took everyone down through the underground passage to the barn dome where a crew was assembling equipment to head up into the hills for the annual roundup due to start soon.

It was almost time for the Passover swarms and storms to start, and the entire populace of the Lodge was gearing up for it. During Roundup, most of the cattle, sheep, goats and Ostumus would be brought down from the hills to the low meadows inside Blue Talon Canyon so they would be close enough to the Lodge to take shelter during the swarms and storms. Food for humans and animals was being prepared and put in stasis to last them through the long season.

Veiled Isle was large, but it was divided by a range of low mountains. The Horned Cove Station was almost as large as the Lodge Station itself and catered to several Independent Fishers and the seacoast village. To reach the Lodge from Horned Cove it was necessary to either travel along the coast or go over the low mountain pass.

Traditionally during Roundup, the Lodge assisted those farms closest to it in the western hills. Extra drovers were leaving this morning to travel out to the outlying Stations on the other side of the low range of mountains splitting Veiled Isle. The Roundup crew leaving from the Lodge traveled on horseback and pulled wagons up into the hills once it began. Since neither Zack nor the children had ever ridden a horse, Katherine asked the head stableman to assign them mounts and begin riding lessons.

Leaving them to enjoy their lesson, Katherine went up to operations where she pulled up a map of Veiled Isle. About ten new couples and several single men and women, some with families, would arrive this afternoon. She looked down at her list of the new arrivals, checking the aptitudes and skill levels of the new arrivals. Zack had also given her a list of the new personnel he wanted assigned as security.  Four stations abandoned during the war because the former inhabitants had been killed could be re-inhabited, but the new settlers going to those stations needed to be men and women with some knowledge of agriculture. A few of the new couples would join an existing family and would only need basic supplies to set up small domes to be attached to established homes. About half of the singles would take rooms or suites in the Lodge, the others she marked to be assigned to several existing farms. She sighed and rubbed her eyes. All of these plans would need to be discussed individually with the new arrivals, who might or might not be amendable to her suggestions. Perhaps some of them might even be interested in starting those Bed and Breakfast places Corrine kept talking about. Well, that was for tomorrow and Corrine would be here to help. In the afternoon after regular schooling, Juliette would also be there. Not that she would make decisions, but she needed to learn how these things were done.

The fishing ship bringing Corrine and Vernal also brought construction materials to refurbish several existing structures and build starter domes for some of the new arrivals.  Transportation had to be arranged for materials and people out to the outlying farms.

 

Chapter 10 – Riverboat Travel

The Handfasting is an epic tale of a family’s struggle to survive on an alien planet. Book 1 – A Year And A Day, A witch from the right side of the tracks finds herself paired with a hard-bitten soldier handpicked by a computer program. Book 2 – Forever And A Day, a marriage of convenience between two determined, strong-willed people sparks a planetary war and puts at risk everyone they love. In the Final Chapter, All Our Tomorrows, Book 3 – a warrior/priestess teams up with a Bard from another world and genetically created children to defeat a deadly enemy and save their planet from destruction.

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Chapter 10 – Riverboat Travel

ON THE THIRD day after the Handfasting Ceremonies, the entire clan except for Glass Manor’s permanent staff of caretakers, packed up onto five paddlewheel barges and began floating down the river toward Glass Isle. The paddlewheel boats had three decks, two above water and one below to hold cargo. The top deck was the ships control center. On the Second deck were crew and passenger cabins. To the front of the boat was a raised platform used as the Dragon Talker station. An outside rail ran the entire length and width of the boat, with a gate opening on the Port side to let down a ramp for loading cargo and passengers.

Katherine and her family sat on the second deck of the Riverwitch as the five large paddle wheel boats each laden with a burden of cargo and people, moved ponderously through the crowded waterway between the chain of islands, wending their way south toward Glass Isle. Off to the sides an occasional family of Nessies could be seen feeding on the lush reeds and grasses growing along the banks of the channel.

“Why do they call them Nessies?” Rupert asked. “I thought they were Water Dragons.”

“Well, when the colonists first saw them, they named them Water Dragons because someone thought they looked like a dragon. A little later, someone else thought they looked like the Loch Ness Monster and called them Nessies. They couldn’t agree, so now we use both names,” Katherine responded. The creatures in question did look like a cross between the two mythical beasts. They were huge, each of them at least the size of the boat and had a long neck to allow them to reach down into the water for food. The head might have resembled that of a horse with backwards facing ears if not for the oversized mouth. They were also covered in what looked like scales, but was actually a hard, tough, semi glossy substance that resembled a very thick fingernail. Like a number of Vensoog animals, they were able to change color to adapt to their surroundings. As they watched, a young male slid off the bank and into the water, his rippling hide changing to a mottled green. Obviously feeling full of himself, he floated toward the larger boats whistling a challenge and intent on showing off for the females watching from shore. In the prow, Drusilla and the other Dragon Talker focused their talent on the intruder and pushed, causing him to veer off to the side of the boats.  Drusilla remained in the prow, watching the others while the second Talker paced alongside the Dragon until she could hand him off to the next boat.

“Now that’s interesting,” Gideon remarked. “Why did he turn aside?”

“That’s what a Dragon Talker does,” Genevieve answered. “Drusilla used her talent to push at his emotions to make him not want to get too close to us.”

“Is this part of the Vensoog psychic abilities I’ve heard so much about?” Zack inquired.

“Well, it’s a part of it,” Katherine responded. “We don’t actually have telepathy but most of us have the ability to push a little bit to encourage animals to obey us. It takes a lot of power to affect the Dragons though, especially if a Talker is trying to move a whole herd.”

“Can people be—what did you call it—pushed in the same way?” Gideon asked.

“Sometimes,” Genevieve admitted. “If the person doing the pushing is very powerful it can affect humans, but most Vensoogers can feel when it happens. Largely humans seem to have a natural ability to resist a push, especially if you know its happening.”

Down in the front of the boat, Lucas was asking very much the same thing.  “How did you do that?”

Remembering the conversation at the first meeting at Glass Castle, Drusilla told him the truth. “It’s called a Push,” she said. “In our Clan, all children are tested and those with the highest EMPH rating are sent for training at the Dragon Talker Center.”

“What is EMPH?”

“It’s a shortening of the word empathy.”

“Is it hard? What you just did, I mean?”

“Well, it can be. If you get too close to the Dragons it can overwhelm you.”

He looked at her curiously “You mean too close physically?”

Drusilla laughed. “No, it isn’t that. When I reach out to push, I need to tune into the Dragon’s mind and emotions. If I’m reaching out to a lot of Dragons, their minds and emotions can overwhelm me, especially if they are angry or excited.  Most Talkers who work with herds use a second Talker as an anchor. If the first Talker gets too emotionally involved, the second one can pull her back. It’s not so much of a danger if there is only one of them, like today.”

The trip to Glass Isle took almost ten days and although each boat was crowded, there was a carnival atmosphere among the passengers, with many of the couples taking the opportunity to enjoy the journey as a honeymoon period. Since privacy was at a minimum due to the crowded conditions, there was a lot of talking, laughing and singing. Impromptu games were encouraged.

The long line of boats had been gradually decreasing as various Clans separated off to land at their home islands and by now, only Clan O’Teague was left to make the final leg of their journey to Glass Isle. They had rounded the final narrow turn in the channel and were heading in a straight line toward the Port city of Glass where the channel fed out into the open sea. Zack, Gideon and Vernal were all standing by the rail talking when there was a disruption.

The peaceful mood of the day was shattered by the roaring of many small watercrafts coming up fast behind them, accompanied by the howl of the River Patrol sirens. Clan O’Teagues  large paddle boats had slowed to make the turn and then to wait for a small family of Nessies swimming in the middle of the channel to clear, when the noisy watersleds and the patrol chasers rounded the turn in the channel.

The first watersleds who rounded the turn were each carrying several riders and were traveling too fast to make the turn smoothly. They raced into the channel and kissed the side of the lead paddleboat causing it to rock wildly. While everyone scrambled not to fall over, or for those next to the rail to fall in, more watersleds rounded the turn, narrowly missing their careening companions. They were followed by the River Patrol who were experienced in traversing the channel and took the turn fast but in control. Unfortunately, it was too late to prevent disaster.

One of the wildly driven watersleds smacked into the rump of a swimming Nessie calf, eliciting a bellow of pain and fright. Several of the infuriated adults turned on the boats, intent on avenging the injury to the calf. A stream of hot sticky green goo shot from one’s opened mouth, covering the watersled and passengers. Screams came from the sleds riders as the goo literally burned them alive. A second Nessie sent a large wave of water, which swamped not only the sleds, but caused the paddleboats to rock wildly as a wave of water sloshed over the decks.

In the Prow, Drusilla and the other Talker staggered and clung frantically to their station when the wave swamped them. Lucas had been standing behind Drusilla and he stepped up into the area and steadied her with an arm around her back, gripping the rail with his free hand. As he did so, he felt Drusilla reaching to the herd of infuriated Dragons. Instinctively his mind melded with hers. The anger and deadly intent being broadcast by the Nessies nearly sent him to his knees as Drusilla’s mind connected with his own.

Suddenly he realized that he could feel the Dragons, more than her and instinctively pushed Drusilla! as he desperately tried to find HER in the massive outpouring of Nessie feelings swamping him.

All of a sudden, he could see her in his mind holding out her hand. He reached for her and was flooded by her mind blending with his own.

A sharp pinch on his hand jerked him back to awareness of his surroundings. “Hold her,” Katherine said, “Or you will both be lost! You must stay in this plane.”

“I’ve got you,” he gasped to Drusilla. “Stay with me.”

She didn’t answer, but he could feel her clinging to him as she turned her focus onto the angry Dragons, pushing them away from the boats.

Katherine let go of Lucas and gripped the back of Roderick’s shirt before he slid over the rail just as another wave of water washed over the deck. She could see that Zack had one of Jayne’s boys while the nanny dog had the other by the strap on the back of his shirt. Genevieve was hanging onto Violet and Rupert who clutched the basket holding a heavily pregnant Sooka and Divit. Juliette and Lucinda clung to each other and Vernal as they slid around the slippery deck. Gideon was gripping the rail with one hand and Jayla with the other.

Corrine had stepped up behind the other Talker and was anchoring her, as Lucas was Drusilla. As the side of the boat dipped dangerously toward the water, it afforded Katherine a view of the three-way battle raging between the Patrol, the Dragons and the fleeing watersleds. Wild shots were fired. One of the fleeing watersleds came close enough to the Riverwitch for Katherine to recognize the driver’s eyes. Darla Lister!

As she watched, three of the sleds escaped by slipping around the infuriated Dragon herd and heading out to sea. The remaining riders in the residual sled were shooting at the Nessies although their wildly rocking sled made aiming practically impossible. Just then, the Patrol shot a net over the last sled, effectively trapping it.

In the meantime, the cows had moved the Nessie calves over to the safety of a small island. One of them let out a mournful bellow, calling the defenders back to them. Drusilla and Macon, the other Talker, were finally able to push hard enough at the two remaining Bull Nessies that they slowly began to shift back toward their herd, still hissing.

Once it was over, Drusilla and the other Talker both collapsed, falling ungracefully back on their anchors who sat down hard on the deck, trying to keep either one from hitting her head on the hardwood railing. When Lucas rose from the deck with Drusilla in his arms, he asked Katherine curtly to clear a path to the Wheelhouse. Once inside, he laid his fair burden down on a wide padded bench and ordered the boat captain to bring a glass of water.

Katherine exchanged a bemused glance with Corrine, nodding at the previously almost painfully polite boy.  “Well,” she remarked to Zack, “he’s certainly taking charge.”

Zack snorted. “Uh-huh. It’s wonderful what love will do for a guy.”

“What? When? They’ve known each other less than a week—“

He grinned at her. “Doesn’t matter. When it’s the right one you go down like a Mech Tank hit you. I ought to know.”

Overhearing, Genevieve protested, “She’s only sixteen!”

“So is he,” Gideon, the voice of reason, said. “Maybe we shouldn’t get ourselves all het up over what may prove to be a case of puppy love? She could do a lot worse though.”

In the meantime, the Captain had brought restoratives for both Talkers, and was answering questions from the Patrol leader who had boarded the boat as cleanup and rescue squads began restoring order to all five ships. Riverwitch, as the lead boat, had taken the brunt of the damage, but the others had all had to contend falls and bruising due to the waves of water making their decks slippery.

The Patrol Captain informed Genevieve that the watersleds had been stolen in Port Recovery two days ago and the thieves had been creating trouble all along the channel whenever they stopped for food or fuel. The Patrol had been chasing them since the sleds had been reported stolen, but they had been forced to leave officers behind to render aid and take reports each time they found a place where the thieves had raided.

The three captured thieves weren’t wearing any clan affiliation, but the Patrol leader had requested Gideon and Zack take a look at them to see if they recognized them. Unfortunately, they did not and while Katherine was able to say she thought one of the escaping thieves had been Darla Lister, the Patrol captain wasn’t sanguine about catching them.

Two days later, the boats reached Glass Harbor. The first O’Teague had called it that in honor of the enormous glass-like boulder stretching almost three quarters along the outside edge of bay that sheltered the harbor from the ocean.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” asked Genevieve proudly, turning to Gideon as they coasted gently through the mouth of the port into the natural bay and caught their first sight of Glass Castle.

The great stone had been worn smooth by years of erosion from the fierce winds coming in off the sea during the storms. Today, under the brilliant sunlight it glowed green and blue reflecting the sea and sky. The harbor itself was shaped almost in a complete circle with a narrow opening at its mouth that provided a gateway into a cove probably twenty miles across. Dockyards and marinas lined the waterfronts in front of the Glass rock, which had been hollowed out on the side away from the ocean to provide living quarters for the Laird and immediate retainers. Colorful Domes for warehouses and shops crowded each other along the shore. Others that were obviously residences led away from the docks back into the town proper. Behind the town, farmlands could be seen rising up into the hills. In the misty distance rose high snowcapped peaks.

A Year In Review

I started this year in Review in December of 2015 because that’s when I think the year really began.

Dec 27, 2015

Wow! Its only four days until another year begins. I’ve made a lot of changes this year. I began writing novels again and wonder of wonders, I’ve actually finished book one of the Handfasting Trilogy, A Year And A Day, and I’ve began on book two Forever And A Day. This story is about three sisters who live on a planet called Vensoog and the choices they make to help their colony survive the aftermath of a galaxy wide war.

February 8, 2016

This was a good week to get some work done. I am more than halfway through Forever And A Day, the second book in my Handfasting trilogy and I have covers done for both of the first two books. Rather than painting a cover in acrylics, I decided to go with some digital artwork so that I could make them very similar.  I think I will go ahead and use Amazons PDK system. It will mean that I can’t put my book up anywhere but Amazon, but its price is excellent—free. And I really don’t have money to pay a regular e-book publisher. My son’s book at Outskirts Press cost almost $2,000. He did get a lot for it, hard copies of his book and it’s marketed in I-Books and Nook as well as Kindle, but sometimes you have to cut your coat to suit your cloth.

I also got my two latest Acrylic paintings done, Cat Napping and Street Vendor and framed. I think I will put at least one of them in ACA’s membership show. Of course entering one of their shows is always problematic, as many times the judges they select don’t seem to care for my art. I used to worry about that, but not anymore.  Having seen some of the art ACA’s judges deemed worthy in the past, I killed any feelings of inferiority I used to have art wise.

Now that I have my enlargements back from the printer, I can also start on the three longhorn paintings I intend to do for the Old West Art show in April.

February 28, 2016

Well, so much for good intentions. I DID manage to get the three paintings started. Unfortunately, I also started a bladder infection; my husband came down with the flu (which he shared) so I haven’t done anything else yet. The medicine the doctor gave me for the infection has caused an almost constant migraine and nausea. Hopefully, however, March will be a better month. Here are three canvases.

March 13, 2016

For the last three weeks, I have had three unfinished paintings for the old west show sitting there glaring at me from my art table. Not really my fault I haven’t been able to work on them: I developed a bladder infection for which I went to the doctor, had a bad reaction to the meds he proscribed, and then I came down with Vernon’s flu he brought home from the Pool Workshops. This Thursday, I was finally able to start on Home on the Range and I got part of it blocked in. Unfortunately, after I sat there and looked at it for a while, I decided that I needed to get rid of the clay cliffs I was using as a background because they were competing with what I intended to be the focus — the Longhorn cattle resting in an almost dry river bed. I painted over my entire mornings work on the cliffs with grey and then had to let it sit long enough for me to be able to work it. I confess I really don’t understand why other artists complain about how fast acrylics dry because at some point in a painting, I will have to stop and let it sit so it will be dry enough not to make mud! I substituted some rolling hills for the cliffs with all those dark, cracked clay lines, which looks better, but I still need to cool off the background hills so that I can push them back or maybe I will add a structure or a tree line; I haven’t decided yet. I will be using pieces of the same dry streambed in all three of the paintings. I have one more day to work on it before I have to stop and do Vern’s invoices for this month.

March 22, 2016

Today I finally managed to start on Chilsolm Trail. I got most of the background done and the horses and men drawn up with white pencil. The background took more time than I thought it would, especially the riverbank.

March 23, 2016

Today I was hoping to get all the cows and the cowboy blocked in, but all those horns and legs took a lot more time than I expected. I finally left one of the cows un-blocked and worked on the horse and rider. I used ultramarine blue and powder blue underpainting on the horse. I will go in tomorrow and finish it off with black.

 

March 24, 2016

Well today, I feel as if I am finally making progress; I do still have quite a bit to do to finish this one though. I think adding a second cowboy and more cows was the right thing to do. Five cows just didn’t look like a trail herd! Tomorrow I am taking a break to do housework, but hopefully by Monday I will be able to go in and finish off the foreground. Then I get to start on the 3rd one—The Bozeman Trail!

March 26, 2016

Saturday morning and I still have to finish off my household chores. Put up the laundry washed yesterday and do the dishes so I will have a clean sink to rinse out my paint brushes. (I say I’m only doing them every other day to conserve water, but the truth is I loathe housework). I’m pretty satisfied with the way Chilsolm Trail is coming along. For Monday I will need to finish off the foreground grass and then put in some shadows and highlights to identify which direction the sun is coming from. Details…

Tuesday March 27, 2016

Well Monday turned out to be a wash. It’s wonderful how other people seem to fill up your day without asking you first… Oh, well. Today I got the foreground grass done on the Chilsolm Trail done, and the background and drawing done on the Bozeman trail. I also got the backing prepared for four paintings. I use contact paper for backing and I reinforce the edges with clear strapping tape and use thumbtacks and Gorilla wood glue on the edges to fasten it down. This is easier to clean than plain brown paper, which seems to absorb dust. No surprise that the back of a painting gets just as dirty over time as the front!

The Proof copy of my first book in the Handfasting series came today, so I will be spending the next few days going over the proof for errors. I am a speed-reader so it should only take me about nine hours. I’m very pleased with the front cover design. The image I designed looks great.

Saturday, Vernon is going to be gone with some friends to the desert so I will have that day free to paint. He is actually very supportive, but the more people in the house when I am trying to work the more interruptions there seems to be…

April 12, 2016

I spent the weekend at the Columbia Inn (wonderful atmosphere, and they use real art bought locally in their room designs!) with my husband. It rained non-stop but that did not stop him and other members of CVP from enjoying panning the dirt brought in for them. They did this in the parking lot under pop-ups so that shows how dedicated they are to their notion of fun! We had a community dinner inside the 49er Mining Supply shop and Rob and Cheryl were wonderful hosts. Vernon has commissioned me to do a painting of the Inn and shop so I will be working on that later this year.

A Year And A Day, has been published on Amazon and Kindle and in May I will be making the rounds to advertise it. FYI, if you plan to use Amazon’s free publishing services; start with the printed edition on Create Space. I started with the e-book and ended up with two e-books (different covers but same book). In order to make the covers match, I took the first one I made off-line. Unfortunately, I had set up a pre-order on it, so Amazon has forbidden me to do any pre-orders for a year. Live and learn.

April 21, 2016

Well, the show and reception for Clovis Art Guild’s Old West & Rodeo show came off okay, despite the low amount of entries. I didn’t win anything this time, but that’s the breaks. The show comes down on Sunday. The next two weeks promise to be full also. Monday through Wednesday, I will need to get back to writing on my book and hopefully start my Safe Harbor painting. Andrew will be working with his Dad on Monday, so that will be the best day to paint. I also need to do some housekeeping on some of my POD sites (FAA, Pixels, and Red Bubble). Thursday, I need to change out my art at the Water Tower Gallery, and on Friday I take down my art from the Sunnyside Library Gallery (I also need to prepare a summer schedule for the library), then Saturday I plan to put up a couple of paintings in the Alliance of California’s membership display for the next two months.

I actually sold one of my hand painted keepsake boxes I have down at the Water Tower (Yaay!) So I suppose that this summer, I need to prepare some more for Christmas and Easter, which means developing some designs. Flower designs work well here as I am hopefully marketing these to women or to men buying for women! I ordered some Acrylic paint pens from Amazon and I plan to use them for the actual design after I paint the boxes. (Target date to do these is in June so they will be ready.)

June 10, 2016

Wow. Has it really been two months since I posted anything? Time flies I guess. I won’t say it has all been fun, but it has been productive. Sadly, I did not win anything at the Old West Show, but all the art was wonderful this year even though it was a smaller show.

I have finished two large seascapes and started my entry for the Miniature works show.

Forever And A Day is done and going through the editing process (this means I print it down at the local printer and go over it for errors. Fun). All Our Tomorrows is about halfway through the first draft. Because there are so many characters involved by now and the story moves from one group to another to remain coherent, I have to bounce back and forth between where the character focus is. I wish I could find another way to tell this so that won’t happen, but so far no dice.

Facebook kept rejecting my ad for A Year And A Day, so I ran it as a regular post and they blocked me out for ‘suspected illegal activity’ for two days…Big pain in the A to get back on. They won’t help you when you need it, but they sure do punish users who try to get around their system…

June 23, 2016

I’m trying to do better at posting to this journal. I just finished Vernon’s invoices for June, so I have had time to edit Forever and A Day three times, and I am starting on the fourth just as soon as I pick it up from the printer. I am in the process of writing All Our Tomorrows that I have already revised twice and it isn’t even finished yet! And I sold a copy of A Year And A day in April, for which Kindle will pay me around the end of June. That tells me if my ad campaign bears fruit in June, I won’t see money from sales until around the End of September.

My only entry I painted this year for the Miniature show is almost finished as I got to work on it today. Right now, it’s sitting on a little easel waiting for me to decide if I’m finished with it. It’s a night scene and those are always a struggle to split the difference between accurately showing that it’s at night and still making the paintings features visible…

August 7, 2016

Wow. I have gone an entire month without actually creating art. Well, not true really; I did five color studies for my Vensoog Handfasting series. I started to do a landscape of it also, but I ended up tossing it out (a rarity for me but it was just awful.) I actually have 4 small paintings drawn up (one 8×10 and two 5x7s). I also have two of my hand painted keepsake boxes started. They only need the painting done on the lids and then put together but there they sit…

Next week won’t be productive art-wise either tho’ because I will be starting on our Income tax. Ick. Migraine coming as always…

October 1, 2016

Wow! I’ve had a really busy summer! I have been working non-stop on getting the second book in my Handfasting Series published, and on top of that Clovis Art Guild had an art show and the Guild had to make arrangements to shuffle things around (our meetings, getting our 501(c) submitted to the IRS, etc.), so I confess I have neglected to write here in this journal. I went to a professional cover designer at fiverr.com to re-design the covers for my books and I am really pleased with how they turned out. I also finished the 2nd draft of the book “All our Tomorrows”. It’s currently being beta read by my son Andrew and a couple of good friends. My hand painted keepsake boxes are selling really well at the Watertower Gallery in Downtown Fresno, so I have also been busy making six more of those (actually a pretty time-consuming project). I start with a raw wooden box that I get from a local craft store, seal it, and then paint the base coat on the bottom and the lid. Then I draw a design on the lid and paint that. Then a varnish coat to protect the box is put on the outside and felt lining is added to the inside bottom and lid. Then I put the jewelry back on (hinges and clasps) and finally it is ready to take to the Gallery!  So I have been a busy girl. I also have six smaller paintings prepped (undercoat done and the image drawn up). I hope to have at least one of them ready by Christmas.

I had Pismo Beach critiqued by Master Artist Dennis Lewis at the Clovis Art Guild meeting last night. He confirmed what I was afraid of—those dratted cliffs in the back are still too bright. Considering how many times I repainted them trying to soften them, doing it over again is no big deal, but I wonder if I should also darken up the front. He also had some other suggestions for improving it, so since I have a month before the Fall Open where I intended to enter it, I will probably re work it.  Of course, that does mean re varnishing, but what the heck. I think I will re-wash the back with several layers of light grey and add some yellow to raw sienna for the sand front of the beach.

I also need to get in touch with my friends Betsy and Ron who volunteered to Beta read All Our Tomorrows for me and find out what suggestions they had. Andrew already made several, which I have implemented. It does make the book longer as he said I had rushed through several climaxes and through the chapter on the festival so I have added several pages there that involved re-ordering how the chapters were presented. I admit it does make the book seem less choppy. Beta Readers are a blessing… And just think, I haven’t started the editing for format errors yet! Still hope to get it into publication by Christmas…

December 7, 2016

Well, I did it again—missed an entire month of writing on this. In my defense, I should say that during this month, we adopted a new kitten. She was all alone out at one of Vernon’s commercial accounts. The manager had been feeding her but only twice a day, and a cat or puppy that young needs to be fed at least four times a day. We think Mab’s mother must have been killed and she couldn’t come back for her kittens. We never found the others, and it’s my opinion that Mab survived as long as she did because she is one stubborn feisty cat.

We also put on an art show at the Art Hub. Going to be taking it down later today. Yes, I know it’s raining, but sometimes you have to do what you can do.

All Our Tomorrows will be going to print in about 3 weeks. Yay!

I was hoping to get back into my regular artwork, but I caught a sore throat and it has turned nasty. (Can’t get the flu shot until after this clears up. Ick!)

December 15, 2016

Writing my 4th book in the Handfasting series. It’s a Cozy mystery set on Vensoog. Using Jayla (Gideon’s niece from Forever And A Day) as my heroine and Luc’s best friend Jake (All Our Tomorrows) as the hero. The story centers around the theft of the royal family’s Crown Jewels on planet Aphrodite. The thieves escape to Vensoog to try to fence them. There is a planet wide festival on Vensoog that draws interplanetary traffic so it makes good cover. The fence (Lipski) is killed and the jewels disappear. Jayla innocently buys the Lipski’s shop and then finds her body on the beach while she is out jogging.

I have got local, Royal and interplanetary cops who are suspicious of Jayla’s involvement. I have the original thieves, and the local mob who want to find the jewels.  A housekeeper robot who was programmed by the original owner as a gigolo and a sales bot who likes to run around naked (haven’t quite decided exactly what I’m going to do with them yet-maybe just comic relief).  Then there is Jayla’s nosy, interfering family, and her bossy boyfriend Jake who all trying to help her clear her name and getting in each other’s way.

Note to self: I think I have a form of writers block. I have to decide which of these plot lines to use as the main one, which ones are going to be red herrings and which ones are secondary. My problem is I like all of them so I haven’t written a thing on it that hasn’t felt forced for at least a week.