One joy of writing fantasy is getting to play with creatures of fancy, things that flit through the shadows and go bump in the night. It’s not all mermaids and unicorns, though.
For this week’s excerpt we look at Chapter 17 of Kate Stradling’s Tournament of Ruses, in which Flora gets besieged by a cluster of persnickety visitors. Because everyone loves strange creatures waking them up in the dead of night, right?
In the Silence of the Night
In the thick dark of the night, whispering voices intruded upon her senses. At first she thought she was dreaming. There was no logical reason for her to hear murmurs within her own bedroom when she was the only one there, so a dream seemed to be the likeliest cause. She lingered in half-sleep, her eyes shut and her ears unable to discern any actual words among the hushed conversations—unable, that was, until one of the voices suddenly rose in pitch.
“Well, we’ll never get anywhere if she doesn’t wake up! Honestly, these lazy humans!”
Flora’s eyes shot open, but of course she could see nothing in the inky darkness of the room. Her body tensed as several other voices shushed the loud speaker.
“Don’t you shush me!” it replied. “We’ve been chattering here for half an hour without so much as a flutter of her eyelids! Where’s the use in that?”
“It’s called subtlety, Squeak!” a second voice retorted.
“And a fat lot of good that’s done us over the last week!”
“He has a point,” a third quietly interjected. “And anyway, it doesn’t matter. You can tell by her breathing that she’s awake now.”
“Is she? You’ve got better ears than me, Kipper.”
“Why thank you, Oggie. But yours do have such a fine shape to them.”
“Thank you very much. I do think Bubble’s ears have a nicer shape than mine, though,” the one called Oggie replied.
“You may be right about that,” said Kipper. “Bubble does have such fine ears.”
“How kind of you both!” piped up a new voice.
Their nonsensical conversation seemed to originate from the far corner of her room. Flora could see nothing and was terrified of whatever creatures lurked there. They already knew she was awake, though, and seemed to have congregated to catch her attention. She mustered up the courage to interrupt this odd exchange of compliments.
“Who’s there?” she asked into the dark.
Silence blanketed the room. Flora held her breath as she waited for a response, but it was almost as though the little cluster of creatures was doing the same.
The excruciating stillness shattered when the first voice, Squeak, scornfully inquired, “She’s not actually trying to talk directly to us, is she? The cheek! The absurdity!”
“Maybe she doesn’t know any better,” said one of his companions in a stage whisper.
“I don’t care if she doesn’t know any better! It’s just not done, talking to humans directly! They should know that we’re not going to talk directly to them!”
“But under the circumstances—”
“I don’t care about the circumstances! Brownies do not talk directly to humans!”
“I did once,” someone muttered, barely audible. From the words and intonation, Flora guessed that it was probably a remark made to his neighbor rather than to the opinionated Squeak.
When another voice whispered a shocked, “You did?” she knew that guess was right.
“Well, y’see, the situation was this: I was tinkering around with the gears of an old clock, and—”
“Confound you and your rule-breaking, Oggie!” Squeak interjected indignantly. “We don’t need to hear your cog-in-the-pudding story! This situation is totally different than that one!”
“Not totally,” Oggie replied. “You might say we’re the cog in the pudding now. We certainly can’t get out without a human’s help, not with all those wards around the house, and we’re not going to get that help unless we let someone know we need it. That is why we’re here, isn’t it?”
These loquacious brownies have had a rough night, but things are looking up. If you’re curious about their fate, Tournament of Ruses, Book 2 of Kate’s Ruses series, is available now on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.
You can also read an excerpt from Chapter 21 here.