Excerpt: New Name

I’ve been going over the novella I wrote during the holidays last year, line-editing and tightening it up before I send it out to the very few places that accept novellas.

The Write a New Name is not classic fantasy. It is most closely myth, following two characters; it blends inner journeys with symbols and outer journeys. It could tell a story of old religion vs. new, life vs. death, faith vs. cynicism. But at its heart, it is merely the tale of one woman’s bitterness and one man’s fall from glory. No happy endings here, but then again, if you have read even one excerpt by me, you probably don’t expect that anymore.

So here is the prologue to Write a New Name.

Prologue: Write a New Name

I am dead. This is the one unchanging truth in my world, the one thing that allows me to press on against all suffering and grief. Against memory also, and hope.

Grief there is, and it is not only mine, but that of my people as well. Once, I was loved. Once, I was a hero, traveling the land in search of wisdom and the quest for my true name. I followed the great band of the sea for months, speaking nothing, until the Great Mother taught me Her song and secrets. A song without words is the sea, and I am the only being who can sing it, who can share Her mysteries, and it has brought me comfort in the darkest hours of my nights, in this cold and dusty place, for the sea is never silent, nor does she fail to touch any corner of the world.

I saw wondrous places and did great deeds in these travels, and sat at the feet of the wise, and listened to their stories. I learned my name in the whisper of the wind, and the songs of the sea and the mutter of the earth and the mad, joyful roaring of the fire.

So wise and changed I returned, my name a constant song in my soul, a litany of all I had learned and of the great things that I saw and touched, and I came to my people to heal and lead them.

I was a shaman, a priestess, a healer, a singer to the gods. But not all were willing to listen to the old ways, and as the leaves drooped on the trees and the whales whistled in the windy mornings, my people betrayed me. My brothers took me by force, shamed me and mocked me, and locked me in a lonely cave high above my beloved Mother, and bound my mouth that I could not sing to her.

I am the Bride of Death, they say, the woman who will travel to the Underworld and become the consort of the Reaper; when the Serpent arises, I will be noble and sacrifice myself again that my people might be safe. It is my destiny, my great doom. These things they said again and again, pounding it into my head and driving back the song of the Mother, the whispers of the wind, and in time, my own voice was gone, and I could not speak of the things they did to me. All that was left to me was the choking earth, the agony of fire, the suffocating rain, the cruel wind. In the end, the things which had been my joy became my torment.

I was sacrificed as they had promised; they said I went willingly, and I had no voice to protest, my mouth choked with the bitter earth. Nine days and eight nights I suffered, clinging to life, kept alive by their magics and potions, and finally, their chosen bridegroom came to me, and I suffered no more.

Their plans then turned like a snake, and bit them deeply. The Reaper—that cold grim angel with stars for eyes and wings to darken the earth—took me for his consort and his queen. Perhaps he loved me and meant well by me—for he is not needlessly cruel but does not know pity—but my heart was dead and I fought him, bitter and angry. In desperation and lost joy I won; I took his bones and his crown, his steed and his sword.

Now I am the Reaper, the Mistress, the Goddess, the Queen of Death. At my command the sea and the birds and the cat and all the things that kill, and when my time came, my people knew great fear. They spoke of a shadow over the moon, of birds screeching death-calls.

Mother Sea withheld her bounty, casting only dead fish to the people. The gulls grew mad and hounded my kin until their flesh tore and they cried to Father Sky for help. But he did not listen, for they had brought this on themselves. Now they saw my face, my shadow, on the moon, for that great body neither waxed nor waned in my grasp, only shone sullen and red and full over their village for three months.

Finally, I came to them in flesh, and offered them hope. If they would give me my murderers, the priest and my brothers and the women who plotted to silence me, then I would leave in peace. Gladly given, gladly received. Their deaths were long, for I sat beside them and laughed as they begged for mercy, their mouths choked as mine had been, only their spirits able to scream, and I sang to them the song of sea and sky and fire until they went mad.

When they died, they gathered at my feet in my shadowed realm, humbled and broken, my slaves for eternity, and asked what I would have of them.

So I led them deep into my realms, into the tunnels and gray places and cold fires of the twilight of hell, where all my servants were gathered, those who had not yet journeyed to hell, or to heaven, who were bound to earth by some curse, and I sent them forth into the world to haunt it, to drive fear into the hearts of the living that they might pray to me and give me strength, for I knew I must fight the beast, the devourer who would usher in final death to all.

My sacrifices I kept close, the proud hunters Kedar Ri and Min Ri, the treacherous priest Naga Ji, to be my slaves, and Naga’s big daughter became my priestess, bringing me the prayers of the mortals above.

And now, underneath a bone-white moon, on an ash-gray shore, I sit beside the river and listen to the tales of the world and the gossip of the wind. There are things afoot, great deeds before the next changing of the world.

I am Kema, the Reaper, the spirit of Vengeance. I am dead, but I am not gone. And now I shall write myself a new name in the pages of history.

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