I plan to continue with the short story and illustration project (life having intervened as usual) but I would like to share another project I have been working on with you — a chapter from a short fantasy novel, the first of four, entitled The Golden City.
A city stands in the middle of a desert: a single, enormous block of sandstone with passages and rooms cut away from inside of it, an ants’ nest of spectacular scale. In the very center of the city in the very lowest cellar there is a very deep well, and if one dives down to the bottom of the well one finds a passage in the wall, and if one passes through the hole and swims up the other side of the well one enters the same city in a different world.
Only one person has made this journey — the Empress, who rules her hidden land not just by law but also by pulling the very threads onto which reality is fastened — until an escaped slave with two rescued children finds her way into the city. Sephir, stolen from her village years before, wants nothing to do with the strange magic of the two-sided city, but the peculiar and lonely Empress is probably her only chance to return home.
I have been working on this idea for a long time, and I am excited to finally get it out where people can read it. I hope you enjoy the story!
They had been walking in the desert for so long. Sephir had considered trying to mark the days somehow, but all she had were her fingernails and the skin of her forearms. The caravan masters woke them two hours before dawn every morning, clanging a heavy iron bell and driving them from the night camp with whips and staffs. They continued walking until three hours past dawn, when the sun became unbearably hot and the masters feared for damage to their property. The canvas for the shelters was unrolled from the backs of the camels before the sun touched its zenith. The forty slaves huddled in their shade until an hour before dusk, when the bell clanged and they were driven forward again to walk for another four hours.
It had probably only been two weeks since they had crossed from the scrublands into the desert, Sephir thought, squinting across the liquid glare of the shifting sand. The first two days they had been chained together at the neck, but out here, where would they run? The sky was so clear at night that the masters could see eight miles by the light of the moon. A runaway would be lucky to survive a few hours during the day. All the water was in skins on the backs of the camels, protected by long knives and heavy muskets.
The twins had attached themselves to her in the last town before the sand started. Two light-skinned girls with sandstone curls, they spoke a northern dialect of her language, which the other slaves either ignored or could not comprehend. Sephir did not particularly want to be in charge of two terrified, distraught eight-year-olds, but neither could she bear to let them out of her sight.