A friend of mine convinced me to try out National Novel Writing Month with her, so here is my attempt at reaching 50,000 words in 30 days. I'll put each day's writing here as one chapter, so there may be no rhyme or reason to the chapter breaks. This is totally un-edited and un-revised, I've barely read through any of it after typing it, and have changed nothing since I typed it first. The only concession I made was to run it through Word's spell checker. Feel absolutely free to point out any and all errors, I'll have a lot of work to do to get this readable after the month is up :) Enough ado, here it is, enjoy the rare treat that is the unrefined first draft.
So much began and ended on that day, though most of it Sorin wouldn't realize until far later. It was the start of the fall season, when the sheep were brought in from their far ranging to crop the sparse grass closer to home. It was the time when their wool grew thick, almost ready for shearing. It was also the time when fruits began to ripen on the few trees that grew around the oasis. And time too when the few hardy animals of the desert and grasslands moved about gathering stores of food and fat for the coming dry season.
Sorin was gathering as well, preparing his home and family for the dry months. The sheep he had herded to their winter grass the day before. His wife Emese was watching them and their daughter Anfisa by turns. Sorin smiled to himself as he strode through the rough grass. Anfisa was nearing her fourth birthday and becoming quite the handful. Sorin felt quite sure his vibrant and spirited wife would much prefer to be ranging through the grasslands hunting game to keeping both the sheep and Anfisa from making trouble. But the baby growing in Emese's womb kept her tied to the homestead far more than she liked. She was now only three months from term, and quite unable to go roaming and riding across the sand and fields as she was wont. Sorin couldn't keep the grin off his face. Visions of a strong son riding and hunting, herding and tending the flock by his side flitted through his head. They were followed closely by the thought of bouncing curls and flashing eyes, two dark eyed beauties, just like their mother. So much was beginning, and Sorin had to prepare.
They lived on the edge, the boundary. To the east lay the sand sea, giant dunes pushed before the westerly winds covered the land for as far as a man could see and beyond. To the west the sand turned to grasslands, and trees grew sparsely beside streams and offshoots from the great Ryen River that flowed north to the sea. Their house stood at the edge of the sand, beside a small blue pool of an oasis. His people roamed the erg to the west, living by traveling between oases and hidden wells dug deep into the rock below the sand. Hers were herdsmen and farmers in the wide eastern grasslands, not as nomadic as his roots. So they lived on the boundary between the two worlds. Both of them half forsaking what they were used to and half embracing the other's lifestyle. Sorin knew he could never truly leave the sand behind. With it he felt a strong connection, many and many generations in the making. The sand was in his blood, he could never be happy without it's comforting presence beside him.
But the sand was not his destination that day. He was bound for the thick grass and rolling hills east of his home. He stepped lightly, his lean frame moving quietly despite the dry weeds underfoot. It wasn't out of a desire to be stealthy that he strode quietly. He had set the traps first thing in the morning, if any prairie animal had been caught in them, it would matter little if his steps warned them of his coming. It was more of an instinctual habit, an attempt to make as little mark on the world as he could, so to be able to hear every insect, bird and grass stem waving in the wind. Sorin kept his eyes roving, looking for his markers, but also alert for any of the sweet tubers that grew in the deep grass. A basket slung over his shoulder already held a handful of the root vegetables. A sack slung across his chest and hanging below his other shoulder was empty in anticipation of the game he hoped to find in his traps. Prairie birds and rabbits if he was lucky, one of the small herd deer if he was really lucky. It would be a long walk home if he had to carry one of the tiny deer on his shoulders, but well worth it if it meant he and his family would have meat through the dry season after all the animals had migrated to greener hills.
It was a simple life, but also a happy and a rich. They traded the wool to their neighbors, who traded it in the nearest village. Everything else they either grew or gathered on their own. In that region land boundaries meant little, especially when there were so few people living in the area. As far as Sorin was concerned if a man hunted, tilled, herded or otherwise poured his life into a plot of land he owned it. No matter what any government may say or what paper said in some city archive. He owned his land. He knew every hill, every rock and tree. It was his in a way no one without the sand in their blood could understand. That was why he knew immediately that something was wrong. Distantly he could feel the sand to the west, feel it shudder in revulsion. The patches by his house seemed particularly uneasy, and suddenly Sorin was nervous.
He turned quickly to scan the eastern horizon. The house was out of sight behind a slight rise. No matter how flat the land seemed at first glance, it rolled and swelled and rose making distances difficult to judge. Though he could see nothing amiss, he could not ignore the signals he was getting from the sand. It was in his blood, the blood of his people and would never let them down. And the sand was telling him something was irrefutably wrong at his house. He wasted no time turning from the trap line and loping off to the east. Halfway up the first rise he dropped the basket of tubers and the empty game sack. The feelings he was picking up from the sand were getting stronger, and more desperate. Then, at the crest of the hill he saw the smoke meandering up into the sky, coloring the lowering sun dusky red. Abandoning the easy lope that had carried him that far he fell into a full fledged run. The sand was angry now, crying out in fury and frustration.
All else forgotten, Sorin ran towards his home and the increasingly intense feelings of the sand that surrounded it. He stumbled in shock when the house came into view, but did not stop running. Driven now not by fear of what might be happening, but fear of what was, he fairly flew across the grass and onto the hard packed sand that led to the oasis and the house. For on the far side of the small cabin loomed one of the rolling horrors used by the Tighernoch pirates as a vessel across the grasslands. The giant vehicles were patterned after the sailing ships Sorin had only distantly heard of traversing the river and the sea beyond, but were mounted on enormous wheels that let them roll through the grass and over the hills on the power of the ever-present wind. The one he saw shadowed his tiny house, and dug deep ruts in the sand with it's wheels. There was no sign of the pirates, but flames licked out from the windows of the house, and sickeningly familiar screams wrenched at his heart and lent even more speed to his feet. It was only when he got closer that he saw the pirate vessel was lumbering away to the north. And then he saw the pirates, crawling across the decks of the great wooden beast. The distant baying of sheep reached his ears once the screams stopped.
He didn't dare think, and ignored the anguished fury roiling through the sand. His only thought was to get home, whatever he might find there. And so he ran, with his breath coming in gasps and his heart clamoring against the confines of his chest. He reached the burning front door just as the pirate vessel was cresting a rise to the north, swiftly moving out of sight. Not thinking of anything but reaching his family, Sorin shouldered through the door and drew up sharply when the heat of the flames slammed against his face. Still, the fires had not spread far yet, and were only burning the dry grass mats Emese had woven to cover the hard packed earth floor. The walls were build of solid and well seasoned logs. Sorin had made sure when he had built them that the wood would not catch fire easily. Even so, the fires were secondary in his mind. One swift glance about the room was all he needed, then he was moving into the bedroom, unwilling to contemplate what he expected to find. Even so, what he did see was enough to stop him completely; stop him from moving beyond the doorway, stop him from breathing for a few instants, and felt as if it stopped his heart in his chest.
They were laid out on their beds, and would look peaceful if it weren't for the red stains that dripped from their skin onto the blankets and into smoking pools on the smoldering rugs. Sorin didn't have to look closely to know they were dead. Jagged red gashes stretched across the smooth neck of his wife, the tiny throat of his daughter. Anfisa's eyes were open, staring dully at the thatched roof and the smoke gathering thickly among the rafters. Emese's face was turned away, hidden behind a mass of her thick curls that was plastered to her head by a thick red sheen.
Sorin took one shaky step forward, then another, lurching to reach out to Emese. He fell to his knees at the side of the bed, feeling tears streaking fire down his cheeks. He was reaching for her hand, her face, anything that might bring her back, when a dark shape moving through the flames pulled his eyes and his anger to focus on it.