Monday, October 31, 2011

The One Who Sees: Masterpost

The One Who Sees
by 
Jodi Ralston
Copyright 2011 Jodi Ralston


Links:  Master Post | Notes | 1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5. 


 Short Blurb:  After nearly drowning in a magic lake, young Osan can see the souls dwelling inside people, and he discovers they are in the wrong bodies and have been so since birth. Mythic Fantasy Novelette, 18,000 words approx.
 
Note:

As mentioned in the Notes post, from November 1, 2011 to November 13, 2011, this novelette was posted in its entirety.  As of November 14, 2011, it has been reduced to a sizeable snippet.  Enjoy!

Purchasing Availability:
This story is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble currently.  I am working on a Smashwords version as well.  The price is $0.99.  If you enjoy The One Who Sees, please consider purchasing a copy or spreading the url.  Thanks!

The One Who Sees: Chapter 3 of 13

The One Who Sees
by 
Jodi Ralston
Copyright 2011 Jodi Ralston


Links:  Master Post | Notes | 1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5.


 Short Blurb:  After nearly drowning in a magic lake, young Osan can see the souls dwelling inside people, and he discovers they are in the wrong bodies and have been so since birth. Mythic Fantasy Novelette, 18,000 words approx.
 
=========================

3.



Osan woke in the mud. He was still not wood, but he was alone. No lying Lakefaces whispered or flopped in the yellow flowers and green leaves.

"Osan!"

Not entirely alone: that was Oki's voice.

But when he lifted his face to look up the steep bank, it was not Oki he saw but a monster in a young woman's body. A thing with two faces--one of soft light and the dimmer, body-one looked like Oki's. The faces lay atop each other. That made his eyes water.

"Osan!"

The thing was coming closer, a furry blanket clutched in her arms.



He scrambled to his feet, skidding on mud and slick greenery. Skidding on flowers of spring. So many of them, a blanket of yellow.

When it had been fall only yesterday.

The sight made him dizzy.

And it almost made him forget the monster.

The monster was fast, within fingertip's reach by the time he stood steady. He shoved her away, reeling harder than she. Her eyes, all four of them, light and body's, stared at him, wide on him. He didn't understand anything here. He struggled up the bank and ran, ran for home. Ran past people, both monster and familiar, like the not-Oki. All stared. Ran through the village to the tent he had slept in last night--it had to have been last night, no matter what the ground showed--and he grabbed the tent flap with both hands, with hands that shook.

"Osan!" That was Ot's voice.

He hoped it was Ot.

"Cousin," he panted, turning around.

Not Ot, but he was like the Oki-thing, body-face so familiar it hurt. It hurt less to look away.

"What brings you here--" Ot-thing's voice was dull when he spoke. "--Shaman?"

Shaman?

Osan didn't want to speak to things-not-family, he wanted to rip aside the flap. He wanted . . . to wake up. He wanted . . .

"Shaman," the Ot-thing said, "this is our family only tent. For the children."

I know, Osan wanted to say. But is it still? Like is it fall still, or is it spring? Are you Ot still or a stranger? And those inside this tent, who are they now? He backed up.

Backed into someone.

He jerked around to face Oki-thing, panting, clutching her blanket. Behind her, though, was a young woman with braided, waist-length, honey-gold hair. She was in a woman's dress. She carried a basket. In a step, she--her glowing face--was close enough to see. Oki. He could have cried. Instead, he whispered, "Oki."

"Brother!" The Oki-thing from the Lake's banks enfolded him in a hug; she had the right type of hair--wheat-colored, elbow-length--but it was braided like a woman's . . . to go with the long woman's dress and cool-weather leggings. "You've come back!" the Oki-thing said. "You're truly back."

"Oki!" Ot-thing growled, but no one heeded him.

The way the Oki-thing from the Lake's banks had spoken . . . Osan pushed her back and stared instead at the newcomer with Oki's face aglow . . . but in the wrong body? That one stared back, with all four eyes, only the bright ones his sister's. So she wasn't entirely Oki either? He looked back and forth between the two young women. "Who are you?"

"It's me." Oki's voice came from the Oki-thing near at hand. "Your sister."

"Oki," Ot-thing growled. "Don't."

The newcomer, the one with Oki's face aglow, said in someone else's voice, "He was away for a long time, Oki. You grew into a woman this spring." Her gaze skimmed Osan's body. "He's grown, too."

Osan looked down at himself.

Had he?

He held his hands out before him. Were they longer? He looked at the muddy leggings that clothed his legs. Were his legs taller, stronger? He touched his face and felt some hair on his cheek where none had been before. So, he had changed, too--but how much? What had the Lake changed him into?

"Yes, he's grown very nicely," the one with glowing Oki-face in the wrong body said, playing with her honey-colored hair. Her look was not very family-like.

Osan stepped back from them all. "I don't understand, sister."

Oki-thing from the Lake's banks stepped up to him as if he had called her name. "Are you unwell?" She touched his face with a sister's touch, and her eyes--the dim ones of the body--held a sister's look. "Oh, your eyes. Your hair!" She touched them both in turn. "There's grey now!"

Grey?

"Oh, brother," Oki-thing said, "tell me you are well!"

"Cousin! You can't talk to him that way." This time Ot-thing grabbed for her arm. "Listen!"

She sidestepped, moving closer to Osan, hands tight on her blanket. "I hear you well enough, cousin, without your shouting." She barely looked at Ot. "And I will talk to my brother how I wish."

Bright-Oki-Face-In-The-Wrong-Body laughed, and Ot-thing's dim body-face flushed as he shouted some more, but no one heeded. Instead, Osan stared at the one touching him. Stared at her wheat-colored hair. Though he didn't know why she wore a woman's braid, it looked like the hair he knew on the Oki he knew. He touched it. It felt real. Her skin felt real, and when he touched her, it was easier to see beyond the glowing face, easier to see the same face and same person he had always known--but a little older, a little taller, and a lot stronger. Still, he saw her at last. "Oki."

Oki, his sister, his responsibility, smiled. "Yes."

But who was this other woman and how did she get Oki's face, too? He looked at her. And why did this other face of Oki's glow? "Is she . . . who?"

"Her?" Oki looked back at the other woman, then returned to him. Her dim familiar-face scrunched. She tightened her arms about her blanket. "Sua. Sawa's eldest daughter, and Chief Rood's. Is it hard for you to see, brother, with your eyes like that? That color? Is everything grey--?"

"No, Rood is . . ." Rood was an elder warrior, whose wife was named Sawa, and they had many daughters, one named Sua who had turned woman two summers back. But Rood was not Chief, and Sua had never looked like Oki. "Where is Chief Tomar?" What would he do if they said there was no Tomar? He rubbed his head.

Perhaps his eyes had changed, as Oki had said. But his eyes did not see in grey; they saw in . . . confusion. Just like his head thought in it.

"Rood challenged Tomar," Sua said, her fingers playing with her empty basket. "And defeated him."

That was a sensible answer . . . if it truly was spring.

That meant Chief Tomar was dead and Tomar's sisters now Rood's responsibility. He stared at Sua, one answer gained, but the other question . . . still glowed in her, staring out at him. "I know you." He reached out to her, to that glowing face of a sister inside Sua. "I do."

"Not yet, Shaman." The dim lips of her body smiled. "But I want to know you." She freed one hand from her basket and ran it down his clothed chest to his stomach.

Before he could step back, repulsed, Oki shouted, "Stop!" She grabbed Sua's braid and yanked. "Stop playing with him. He's confused! He just came back from the Lake!"

"Oki!" Sua's basket dropped as she grabbed for Oki. "Stop! Stop!" she screeched, slapping, and Oki was forced to drop her blanket to hold onto her braid. They were a tangle of fighting sisters, then. Something he should stop, for they were not children--but they were not sisters either. Before he could move, Ot-thing in Ot's body--or was he just Ot?--jumped in. Yet, no matter how Ot pulled on arms and shouted, dim face reddening, he could not stop them.

That was when another voice thundered, "What is this noise?!"

Fighters and Ot stopped and turned to look. Another two-faced man stood there, dressed only in the cooler summer loincloth. He was short and strong and large, with lots of hair everywhere, some flecked grey. It was hard to see whom any of him was.

Ot grabbed Oki. "I have her in hand, chief," he said, tightening his hold.

Chief Tomar? No: Rood. Osan stepped forward to speak for Oki--troublesome Oki--his responsibility.

Sua spoke faster, though, as she stepped to Rood's side, "Are you a child, Oki?" She straightened her hair, no longer neatly bound. "Maybe you don't understand our ways yet." She glanced at Oki's panting chest, and then she glanced at Rood who stared at Oki there, too, sharply.

Disapprovingly, Osan thought. For women do not run until they pant, so they most certainly did not fight until they pant, unless they ran from something or had something to fight.

Something other than fellow village women.

"Well," Sua said, smiling slowly. "You will learn, Oki. Father will help that."

Rood turned on Sua, red-faced, and Oki stepped on Ot's foot, twisting free. She snatched her blanket from the dust and tucked close beside Osan, as Osan moved to block her from others' notice. Not easy to do. She was as tall as he now, and even when she'd been small, she was always noticeable.

But Rood only noticed his daughter. "I sent you to forage food, not mischief." He boxed Sua's head, and she stumbled back. He kicked her collecting basket. "It's empty!"

Osan tensed, wanting to stop him, insides churning at the red blotch on Sua's face. Chief or no chief, he did not hit family. But as bright and right as the Oki-face was in Sua, that was not any Oki he knew. She was not his responsibility.

Sua marched up to Rood and thrust out her chin. "You're not my brother or mother. You have no right to touch me."

"As your chief, I do! You'll give me the respect I deserve!" He raised a fist to her face, making her shrink back.

Osan had to tighten his hold on Oki. If he held her, he couldn't do anything wrong, he couldn't interfere. Sua was not his sister, not his responsibility, but Sua's brother's. Where was he?

"Respect?" Sua stooped and snatched up her basket. "Give it to yourself, Rood." Head held high, she walked away, empty basket balanced on a swaying hip.

Rood rubbed his chin hairs, arm muscles bulging, staring after Sua, and what Osan saw in him as he stood like that pierced his tension: Tomar's face glowed inside Rood's body. So Tomar was still chief? Or Rood? Osan rubbed at his head and eyes until they hurt and everything was splotched with black. He didn't understand any of this.

"Shaman," he heard Rood said. "I must speak with you."

He rubbed harder, wanting to rub his ears, too.

"No." A new voice broke in, a familiar one, almost guttural, "The young shaman comes with me."

Osan's head snapped up. The spots he saw on Shaman were not from his fingers' pressure. Bright, spotted white furs and cat ears and tail hung over dimmer, white deerskin leggings and tunic and headpiece; it hung in the same way a glowing face hung over a dim one.

But Shaman had only one human face beneath the misty cat mask.

This person was Spotted White Cat.

This person was Shaman.

"You," Osan said. You came for me that night. You took me to the Lake. You threatened my family.

Shaman did not move, but one row of glowing whiskers flicked.

Had Shaman come to carry out his threat? He pushed Oki further behind him.

Rood stepped up, stepped in front of Shaman. "I just asked for his visit." Rood glanced back at Oki and him; mostly at Oki, whose hand tightened on his arm. "On an important matter," Rood added.

"Young Shaman," Shaman said and turned. He started up the path Sua had taken. "Come."

Osan's head cooled and thoughts stilled. He felt as if he were falling again, falling into the cold, cold lake, guided by claws this time.

His legs moved after Shaman.

Ot cringed and lowered his head. Rood growled, clenching fists and brow.

But it was Oki who said, "Wait."

And so Osan did. His legs stilled, were his own again. A shake of his head cleared the cold fog, but it made his head pound, pound so hard he could barely see.

Something furry was pushed into his hand. Oki said, "I made this for you. Every day I went to the Lake and worked on it, waiting for you to return from your shaman training. They said you wouldn't, that no one could, but I knew you would, just like First Brother."

Her voice cleared the last of the chill from his mind, but his fingers still fumbled, numb. The blanket she had pressed into his hand fell open.

Though his head pounded, he could see more clearly, could see that the fur was only on the edges of the blanket. In the center of the blanket was a design: The dark Lake with a tree sprouting out from it, its branches in all seasons. At its top, in branches like fingers, it grasped four round shapes, same-sized. The first three were familiar and in order of arrival: the Ringed Moon, the Bitten Moon--and yes, looking up he saw that the real Bitten Moon sat in the real blue sky like a half-eaten piece of yellow bread. The last moon on the blanket was the Rose Moon, not yet come. But what was the fourth circle? A white sun?

"I ran out of yellow," Oki said. "But you can pretend it is a star instead of the sun." She glanced at Rood, who stared at her and rubbed the hair on his bare belly above the loincloth. "Chief Rood will give you your tent things, but this--" She touched the blanket's edge. "Is from me."

Tent things?

He glanced back at the children's tent, home.

Home no longer.

"Come," Shaman said, cat ears down. This time, the chill command moved Osan's feet and no one held him back.



*****



They walked to the other end of the village. Beyond it were trees and Shaman's private area, but it was here on the path, in the area between both village and Shaman's domain, that Shaman turned on him, whiskers bristling. "What are you doing, Osan?"

Osan's feet stopped, and his head ached. He grasped at it, shivering. The blanket brushed his cheek, and he clutched at it instead. It was warm and comforting and real--normal.

Shaman awaited an answer.

No one kept Shaman waiting long lest he found certain things about his body--like his urine--not waiting for his own commands. So Osan said, "I don't know. I don't know, not anything." He wanted to grab his head and shake out the fog until things made sense. "Why did you take me?" And he remembered Oki because of her blanket. "You won't--" He clutched the blanket close. "You won't take Oki?"

"What would be the point of that?"

Osan sighed and sagged into still, still relief.

Shaman snorted. "You are no shaman, that is clear. I thought as much when you had no spirit guide."

Spirit guide? Osan looked about.

"Can't you even see?" Shaman thrust a sharp finger at his side, near his foot.

Osan looked.

He saw a path of dirt made by many feet over many years.

"What do you see, Osan? Anything?" His ears--those cat ears, not his human ones--flicked in dismissal.

"No." But that was wrong. Osan remembered something. "There was something from the Lake." Or was that not real, either? Was the threat? Was anything? "I had a Lakeface, a soul--"

"No! That is not yours." Ears flicked back. Claws glinted.

Osan stepped back, quickly agreeing, "All right."

But it was not all right. If the soul was real, then what it--he--the soul said was . . . was real?

Shaman glared at Osan for a long while before he smoothed down his fur with his paw-hands. "So you see nothing." Shaman sighed, a bare parting of lips. He did not look at Osan as he turned away toward his own area. The relief was like warmth flooding through him after a long winter. Shaman would leave him alone.

But Shaman also had answers. Shamans always had answers.

And Osan had so many questions.

Not the least of which was a whisper, Olas.

Though he didn't know if he wanted to ask, ask anything, the questions were pressing on his tongue. As Shaman walked away, further away, yet further still, the questions began spilling out, "Why did you do this?"

Shaman kept walking. Osan tightened his grip on the blanket.

"What did you do to me?"

No response.

"Why do I see Oki in Sua and Tomar in Rood and--"

Shaman stopped. One ear swiveled back.

Finally, yes. Maybe he could get answers, get some help, without bringing up the Lake and the soul and . . . and Olas. Osan took a deep breath; again; then asked, "Why do some faces glow? Why are some not? Why do some look wrong, and you look right? Why do only you have one face?"

"So," Shaman said. "You have the Sight. A mere sliver. I am surprised you have that." He did not turn around to face Osan; instead he started once more toward his private area. "Come and let's see what else you have wrong and right."

Osan did not want to follow Shaman. He did not know if it was the old fear from his sinful days still grasping or a new fear, but he did not want to follow Shaman, although his legs went weak with want to obey. So Osan shoved his legs close until his knees knocked and he clutched his blanket and he repeated his questions, the safe ones, again and again until Shaman stopped. Until Shaman's tail lashed. Until Shaman turned around, golden cat eyes narrowed.

Finally, he told Osan of the glowing people: "Souls." Of glowing-face Oki in Sua's body: "Souls kin to your soul." Of the disfigured, everyone but Shaman: "Do not worry about that. In the breath the body is born, the soul leaves on a quest to gain knowledge; another comes to warm the body. That one does not leave unless displaced. But few souls return to their born bodies. Not without help or . . . ordeal."

Osan looked back down the path to the village and saw a group of children duck and scatter like leaves in wind. "Why don't they match, Shaman? Can't we make them match? Can't I make Oki match?"

"Slow as star-death you are, Osan."

"But--"

"Slower." Then Shaman hissed. "There is nothing you can tell me." He walked away without a backwards glance. "Nothing at all."

Osan did not know he was supposed to tell Shaman anything, but he suspected he asked a question not even old, powerful, knowledgeable Shaman knew. And if it were beyond Shaman, it must be beyond Osan. Better that way. He would just mess it up. Just as he had his questions: why didn't he ask about the seasons or why Shaman had taken him to the Lake or why the Lakeface had spoken Enemy tongue outside the Lake?

But he was glad he had closed his lips and mind tight on the last. Glad he had not asked how the Lakeface could speak that tongue and Olas's name, how it could be . . . both in one.

Fear had closed his lips. Maybe rightly. Maybe not. Perhaps Osan was too slow to understand any of these things.

Or afraid to understand too much?

Or just afraid.

Well, he had a start, at least. He went back into the village, hoping this time when he looked, if he looked long enough, things would make sense without Shaman.




=========================

Links:  Master Post | Notes | 1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5.

=========================


Purchasing Availability:
This story is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble currently.  I am working on a Smashwords version as well.  The price is $0.99.  If you enjoy The One Who Sees, please consider purchasing a copy or spreading the url.  Thanks!

The One Who Sees: Chapter 4 of 13

The One Who Sees
by 
Jodi Ralston
Copyright 2011 Jodi Ralston


Links:  Master Post | Notes | 1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5.


 Short Blurb:  After nearly drowning in a magic lake, young Osan can see the souls dwelling inside people, and he discovers they are in the wrong bodies and have been so since birth. Mythic Fantasy Novelette, 18,000 words approx.
 
=========================

4.



Osan understood, slowly, yes, but he understood. Villagers, both large and small, young and old, wilted under his attention as if he were Shaman--Eldest Shaman-- ready with a curse to match any small insult. They did not speak at all, as if afraid to know him.

Family--his body-family--met his gaze with wooden faces. Met his greetings with wooden voices. Called him Shaman.

Not Osan, not family.

Shaman.

Perhaps because he was not family. Long before Osan was born, Eldest Shaman had been someone else: Tomar's wife's twin-brother. Then he was reborn and was not Ula's twin anymore.

Osan had been reborn.

He must not be Osan anymore.

Then who was he?

What was he?

And what was Olas?

His questions and his feet both took him to where he was alone but not alone. The great wooden figure of First Brother stood there in the field, taller than any canoe. Osan had never stared into the protector's eyes before; hadn't dared.

Time had softened First Brother's face just as time had shrunk the Lake. How could First Brother see anything, much less watch over the entire village? Why did no one do anything to stop this destruction?

Perhaps First Brother had always been this way, blind from the first moment He stepped into the Lake, when it had been vast and deadly without Lakefaces. From when he stepped into the Lake and became more than a flawed man. From when He prayed to became wood to bear His sister, heavy with His niece, away from the slaughter of their village and toward the safety of their distant cousin-tribe of legend. Or perhaps it happened after, when she hauled Him from the water and planted Him in the village before giving into labor pains. Or perhaps it happened when no one would look Him in the eyes anymore, not the cousin-tribe who came and believed First Sister's tale of a simple man's sacrifice and not her husband or her children or her children's children. It happened when no one saw Him anymore.

When He lost His name.

That was how Rood found him, staring up at First Brother who could no longer stare back, looking for answers he was too dense to find.

"Come with me," Rood said, rubbing his chin hard: not pleased. Disciplining a daughter must be trying; being someone you were not was always trying, after all. At least, though, Rood did not speak wooden-voiced.





=========================

Links:  Master Post | Notes | 1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5.

=========================


Purchasing Availability:
This story is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble currently.  I am working on a Smashwords version as well.  The price is $0.99.  If you enjoy The One Who Sees, please consider purchasing a copy or spreading the url.  Thanks!

The One Who Sees: Chapter 5 of 13

The One Who Sees
by 
Jodi Ralston
Copyright 2011 Jodi Ralston


Links:  Master Post | Notes | 1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5. 


 Short Blurb:  After nearly drowning in a magic lake, young Osan can see the souls dwelling inside people, and he discovers they are in the wrong bodies and have been so since birth. Mythic Fantasy Novelette, 18,000 words approx.
 
=========================

5.


Rood's tent looked larger than Tomar's, and it had more designs of power and rule--designs fresh as blood. That made Osan think of Tomar's soul and Tomar's dead body and of Tomar's soul in Rood's body. And that made Osan wonder whose soul would feed the Soul Eaters for this family-killing? Rood's, wherever it was? Or Tomar's? Then it was easier to not think on that at all.

Osan stepped inside Rood's tent, clenching Oki's blanket, and he saw something that stood out amongst Rood's possessions of hanging flutes, smoke pipes, feathers, antlers, and beads. He saw a great, spotted shell hanging from the ribs of a tent; inside it something moved and glowed.

Not decoration: Lakeface.

A bodiless soul.

Olas.

It quivered; it couldn't do much else in the cup of the shell. Help me, it said, sounding male, sounding Enemy, but it looked like a glowing soul, looked like a brother. I don't know where I am.

Osan reached for it, touching the water. "Brother," he whispered.



I hear you! The Lakeface bobbed. I can see . . . something. Help me! Everything is so dim and quiet here.

"Shaman?" Rood spoke from behind, making Osan's fingers skip across the water like stones. The Lakeface--the soul--the impossible brother--quivered.

"Oh, yes," Rood said, moving to the other side of the shell. "My booty."

Booty. "No, it--you have to--" Osan gripped the sides of the shell, then softened his grip when he spilled a drop. "This is my brother."

Rood frowned.

Rood rubbed his chin hairs.

Rood scratched his belly hair, which was curled, with some grey, and all sweat-slick.

Finally, Rood said, "I do not understand, Shaman."

"This." His grip shook the shell. "This!" More water spilled. His brother cried out, so he stopped. "This."

"Ah, yes, the son of the Enemy's chief." Rood smiled and flicked the water with his fingertips.

The soul shrank down, quieting, as if he were a catfish hiding in mud.

There was no mud. No hiding.

"We will hold it ransom, but Sha--Eldest Shaman assured us they will not submit. So we will have our warriors ready on the day they send a boy to piss on our demands." Rood's eyes grew vague, as if staring far off onto much larger things than in this tent. "We will be ready; they will not. We will win."

Then Rood shook his head and saw Osan again. "But that is later talk. First talk--"

Rood did not see.

"No! You can't!" Osan stared at the shell, the quiet shell. "This is my . . . brother."

Rood laughed.

That lifted Osan's gaze.

"It is good to see a shaman with humor. Enemies being family?" Rood laughed again, slapping his naked thigh. "That is a good one."

Osan did not know what to do, to say. Rood was blind--like Osan was once. Blinder.

Once Rood's humor settled, he gestured for Osan to move to the rugs and blankets on the tent floor. "Now, sit, Shaman. Time for serious matters."

Slowly, Osan did. What else could he do?

Rood joined him. "This is about Oki."

"Oki?" Osan straightened. "My sister is in trouble?"

Rood frowned.

Now who was blind? But Osan did see, slowly: Rood thought him a shaman--Young Shaman--and shamanhood cut family ties like cutting a twig from the willow tree and planting it elsewhere. Alone. Only in the days of First Brother did anyone think the new willow that grew was family to the old. Now, no one did. Except, perhaps, the willow twig. But no one asked it.

"Let me begin again," Rood said, sweating a lot, scratching a little. He puffed up. "I want to make Oki my wife."

Those words would need time to make sense, so Osan looked about him, found his blanket on the floor, and pulled it close. But still, his thoughts were slow: Oki was a child.

No.

She wasn't, not anymore. But compared to Rood, she was. She was younger than Sua.

Rood waited. You didn't keep chiefs waiting any more than you kept shamans. Osan smoothed the blanket on his lap, found it a little damp, and thought of a way out of this new responsibility thrust on him, "You are married, Chief Rood."

Here, Rood's puffiness and posture fell. He looked his age as he rubbed his face. "Sawa is . . . with the ancestors. While you were . . . being reborn, she died in childbirth."

Osan looked at him, focusing on the saddest face: Rood's. "I am sorry."

Rood looked at him as if he was the one with two faces. Then, after several breaths' time, Rood looked away. "I need a new wife, young and strong enough to bring me sons. Oki is what I need."

"No-I . . . I cannot speak to her on this. I . . . can't."

Rood waved him off. "Ot is young; he will agree."

"Ot?"

Then, understanding came a little quicker, yes. When he was in the Lake, while he was . . . dead . . . or not alive . . . responsibility over his sisters had left him. It had to fall elsewhere: onto his cousin, it seemed, since, despite what the large, spotted shell showed, he had no brother here, only uncles and cousins.

He should have felt relief. This was what he wanted, wasn't it? Oki to be safe with a better brother? Where, then, was his light feeling? Why did his stomach sour and rumble? He had wanted this.

Then he looked at Rood and what Rood wanted.

He didn't want that.

"Oki will not agree," Osan said.

Rood nodded. "Which is why I need you, Young Shaman. Make me a charm, turn her eye on me as Sua's--" Here, Rood chuckled and bulged his own eyes. "--has turned on you."

And here, Osan felt sick. She's my sister.

Wasn't she?


Rood scratched his belly again. "Now, Shaman, about Oki-"

No, not Oki. "Have you asked Eldest Shaman?"

Rood slammed his fists onto his knees, making Osan start. "No. No, he says that is beneath him now--too busy catching souls to work simple magics. Was that beneath him when he turned Sua to him?" Rood shook his head, jaw as clenched as his fists. "I will be glad when he is gone."

"Gone?"

"Yes, we can't have two Shamans. He offered to be Shaman in the land we take from Enemy. A new village, but still my village."

Osan knew what would happen then from stories, from bubbles in the Lake: death. Mostly Enemy's. A new village would spring up, planted with mostly Enemy's own people: a new twig planted in a field of blood. A strong shaman would be needed to tend things, to remove the angry souls of the dead, to weed out their revenge and that of the living slaves. But what could Shaman do for the souls killed by their own family in this war, killers and killed unknowing?

Nothing. Shaman would do nothing.

Could Osan?

A bubble of noise popped from the shell, a reminder: he had tried, failed. Rood had looked into the shell, blindly, and saw something to hate blindly. Osan had looked and saw something more.

Something . . .

He straightened.

. . . something he must take. If he could not cure the blind, at least he could remove family from the arrow's path. Without this hostage, there would be no war. At least not for a while, giving people time to see.

He could do this.

He must.

But he needed to be cautious. He looked at Rood. "When will the warriors be ready to move? When will you send the ransom demand?"

Rood frowned. "On the third day of preparations."

"That day is?"

"Today is the second."

So, tonight. He would have to do it tonight. He looked toward the shell and the soul hiding in the quiet, the soul waiting, his brother waiting. He nodded to it and spoke to it, "I will help you."

And his brother heard: Thank you! More noise bubbled up. Thank you!

He had to repeat his words to Rood, to make the come out in their own tongue, so Rood could understand.

"When?" Rood said, rubbing low on his belly. He did not talk of war here, but Oki.

But Rood would have neither. Without a charm, Oki would never agree, and no matter how Ot screamed, their cousin could never make her.

Osan rubbed his chin and pretended to contemplate things far and wise and magical. All lies. Finally he nodded at his side, as if to consult a spirit guide. Another lie. "When Rose Moon is in the sky. It is a woman's moon, after all."

Rood's hands and face fell. "That is five nights away!"

Osan rose, gripping his blanket. "I know."



*****



Though Rood gave him clothes and things for his tent, Osan did not raise one, nor did he dress. Instead he washed the mud off his cool-weather leggings, loincloth, and top as he waited until the time was right, waited for darkness to cover his tracks, for Rood to raise loud revelry with his warriors. They would stay that way well until high-sun; no one would notice his absence until then.

Or the soul's.

Osan sneaked into Rood's tent, took down the shell, and draped Oki's blanket over it. People would see only blanket, not booty, see only his possession, not thievery.

He left the tent.

He left the village.

Only then did his brother speak, Is that you?

"Yes," he told him. "You are safe with me, brother."

Brother? it whispered. There was a faint slosh. You called me that before.

"That is because you are. The brother of my soul. Olas."

Silence.

He had never considered that Olas would not know him. Never considered Olas would not accept. . . . For all of his misgivings . . . Osan bit his lip. His feet slowed over the ground. All of his previous misgivings on his brother's nature did not matter now, only an answer.

And at last it came:

I never had a brother . . . before.

Osan spoke the truth the best he could, about souls and bodies not always being the same. "You are my only brother, too," he said at the end. "Of sisters I have . . ." Pain stilled his lips. He could only hope their souls, too, lived elsewhere, awaiting him. A good hope, that, but it hurt even as it warmed. At least the hope carried him atop a hill. There, he stopped. He could see the entire village; it was lit by camp fires, so many he couldn't see any just one.

A bubble of noise. I don't understand.

Osan did not let spirits dim. He spoke softly, though he could not smile. "That's all right; I don't either. But we can learn it together." Osan tightened his grip on the shell and moved on, further away from the village and safe things, further away from where he had first heard Olas and first knew the truth. He moved nearer the unknown. He spoke to fill the silence, to make some things a little more known. "I am Osan of the People of First Sister. Who are you that you remember?" Can you remember any of us?

For many steps, for another hill, there were sweet-smelling trees and then sweet-smelling flowers, but no answer. Osan thought his brother slept . . . or smothered. Osan squatted quickly and set the shell on the ground, ready to yank off the blanket.

The whisper came, stilling his hand: My name is Lone River.

The Enemy name, then, was all he knew--but one day could Olas remember more?

Where do you take me, Osan?

Osan listened to the question he could but couldn't answer. He knew where he'd started out for, the Land of Lone River, but where would they end?

So Osan listened to the way at hand, to the soft sounds of his brother's prison, and tried to hear something else, the sound of his brother's heart, the one that whispered Olas.

When he couldn't hear it, Osan listened to the way he had come. To the revel. . . .

He could not hear that from here, either. He looked for his village. There was only wind and crickets behind him. There was only darkness to see there. His stomach started hurting. Don't look back, people had said. In stories of warriors tested by spirits and shamans, those who looked back were cowards--they were the ones who not only lost the test but grew lost themselves. But what if the way forward was too strange? What if no way was familiar? When you had no guide, no test, only your own self and decisions, where do you look then?

He looked up. He looked to the stars. So many. So vast. Like souls in the Lake, greater than everything. Where do you look when you know the path you walk could take you further away from your family than ever before? Than all of your family.

Sister to never see again.

Brother he might have gained to lose.

Osan?

Osan . . . are you there?


The stars could not guide him this time, but they could teach him. Be steadfast as us, he believed they said in a voice of many. Stars might journey but they always returned. Be steadfast. Your brother will learn and so will his people. You did not save him to lose him, to lose them all.

Steadfast.


So, Osan picked up the covered shell. "Brother, I take you home."




=========================

Links:  Master Post | Notes | 1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5.

=========================


Purchasing Availability:
This story is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble currently.  I am working on a Smashwords version as well.  The price is $0.99.  If you enjoy The One Who Sees, please consider purchasing a copy or spreading the url.  Thanks!

The One Who Sees: Chapter 1 of 13

The One Who Sees
by 
Jodi Ralston
Copyright 2011 Jodi Ralston


Links:  Master Post | Notes | 1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5.



 Short Blurb:  After nearly drowning in a magic lake, young Osan can see the souls dwelling inside people, and he discovers they are in the wrong bodies and have been so since birth. Mythic Fantasy Novelette, 18,000 words approx.
 
=========================

1.




The village slept that cold night, but Osan did not. He walked past the rows of tents on the path that he should follow tomorrow.

That kept him awake.

He walked the path to the forever-protector, First Brother, a path he had never walked before and should not walk until tomorrow.

That kept him awake.



Tomorrow those tents would empty out. The village would see him and the other boys off and welcome their return as young men. Many boys would leave as little brothers and would return as headmen to sisters and to sisters' families. Oki would see him off and welcome back her first brother, the head of their little family.

That kept him awake.

And being awake kept the dream asleep, but not the memory the dream held; no, that never slept, never wearied. It only grew stronger every day, every season. It was eternal as the Ringed Moon overhead . . . but this this memory never ebbed. The fear of it slowed his feet now as fear always did. Slowed, so that if he stepped less and less, he might hear the sounds of those asleep in their tents, warriors, brothers, sisters, sisters' children. All people he would leave behind.

The fear of this dream, the memory, slowed his feet so much that if he stopped, he might hear those he had left behind three summers ago: His family who was no more because of him. His first uncle, his mother, and his other sisters who were no more because of him. The sisters and nieces and nephews who would not be because of him. All because of the fears that had never ebbed since birth, that first sight and touch: a white spotted cat with sharp teeth and sharp claws. And that first sound heard: a name, Olas.

Olas.


Three summers ago, those same fears, those same memories had woken him.

Three summers ago, on the day his brother would have been fifteen and made a man--if his brother had lived longer than an hour outside their mother.

On that day, his mother screamed for first uncle, cried for First Brother; on that day, first uncle lay quiet and only Osan stirred. On that day, he crawled to her. The air blistered, as if on fire. He felt as if he breathed fire. He crawled to mother, past his sisters, past first uncle slumped beside her. Mother grasped Osan with one hand, held her belly with the other, a belly round and full with his third sister. Her breath burned on his cheek. She pulled him close. "Shaman, son." Closer. "Shaman. Your sister comes. Oki comes."

"Oki?" He had to say it a few times more to understand. "My sister comes?"

"Oki, I name her Oki," Mother whispered. "I name her Oki. She is your responsibility. Your sister."

"Ma-mah, Oki is born." But she wouldn't listen. So, he looked around and found Oki lying there on her blanket, next to little Oso. Something was wrong.

He tried to stir first uncle, but first uncle did not wake. Hot to touch. So he tried Oki. "Oki. Oki, tell her. Tell ma-mah you are you."

Oki did not hear or move.

She never listened to him.

So he grasped Oki and pulled her up. She moaned, head lolling. "Let me sleep, Osan. Go. Let me."

He pulled her to mother and showed her. "This is Oki. This is her." He shook Oki to hold her up, to wake her up. "Ma-mah, this is Oki. She was born with me, remember? Oki and Osan."

Mother just moaned and held her belly. "Your sister comes. Olas. Oh, Olas, son. Shaman."

Olas.

Olas was . . . the name that filled his dreams. The name he had woken to life to. The name he had woken to on this day, too. Olas was . . . "My brother? Was my brother . . . to be named Olas?"

Mother moaned.

No.

No. No "Olas." His brother had not lived. He had no name. This was so, always so. Nothing talked to in him the dream-dark or in the waking-light. This Olas he had heard was untruth--Mother babbled. His hearing babbled.

Mother babbled. That thought pushed through. Knowing something was wrong, more wrong than forest herbs could cool, Osan took his sister away outside and sat her there in front of the tent. Cooler there. "Bring water," he told her. "I must get help."

Oki nodded, her head lolling.

He shook her. "Do you hear?"

"Water. Yes, water. I am so thirsty, Osan. Give me water."


She had done her task, but he hadn't done his; he had run to Shaman, seen Shaman leave a tent, and all he had seen was the spotted white cat, all he had heard was the whispered Olas, all he had remembered was the fear of both, how one might be true then how the other must be too. He had run back with this secret fear, found more herbs and more water, and tried to help them himself. At first.

They called it the Sleeping Fever, a curse from the Enemy to the East, the Golden Mud People. The curse had burned in him when he went to beg help three summers ago; now, in his fifteenth summer, he swore it still smoldered inside him. He could feel it, even though the autumnal cold bit through his leggings. He could feel it as he fell to First Brother's worn, wooden feet and stared at the grey furrows of First Brother's holy scars.

"Please . . ."

But words caught in his throat, and though he rubbed at it, they would not come. His brain was as hot as the fever long ago.

He had come to pray to First Brother, but in First Brother's shadow, that day still waited. Always waited. If First Brother could move, He would turn his back to Osan; He would not let a family-killer become a man. He would not let a family-killer become a first brother, a headman.

Neither of them, First Brother or Osan, would let three summers ago become tomorrow.

No, no, the truth was clear: Osan would leave tonight; should have done it before he turned fifteen last week, but fear always made him slow. There was no praying for the damned. No praying for those sinners meant for the greedy Soul Eaters' cookfires. No praying for family-killers. He rose slowly to his feet. He would not walk the man's path, the warrior's path, the path first uncle had walked and first uncle's brother had walked after him. No. His path lay the other way. Beyond the village, where his fears would burn and kill no one but him.

So, he turned back, walked back along his path, head low. Halfway through the village, he noticed something odd. Warriors sat slumped at their duty, shields, bows, and arrows resting over them like blankets gathered in sleep.

Warriors sat slumped like his dead first first uncle.

The Fever reborn? He touched one on the chest. No. Not hot, but cool. And asleep.

A noise, or the ghost of a noise, lifted his head. He looked beyond the nearest tents, toward his aunt's children's tent; maybe it was the ghost of the first brother who should have been and whom Osan had never seen.

Something moved around the children's tent. Toward that tent. He saw it: a large, spotted white cat.

No. Shaman in his spotted white cat furs. Shaman, not dream-fear.

Osan mustn't listen to old fever talks, old words, old fears that he should have cut out and buried with his family. "You waited too long," Shaman had said back then. "All will die."

But Oki hadn't died--and why was Shaman entering where Oki and cousins slept now? Shaman lifted the flap and popped his head into the tent.

No.

He hurried close, shouting out "No, stop!", and the head popped out. Its cat ears moved, like from his dream, like from his fears. Not Shaman. A spirit then. The spirit from the past. So First Brother had turned his back on him after all; if he listened, might he hear the creaking of those wooden legs? He waited until the spirit came nearer to admit, "I am the one you seek. Osan. Not my sister."

Now the spirit had his name; now it had no choice but to take Osan away.

Spotted White Cat scooped him up without a grunt. Its claws, its touch chilled his mind; made him cold and limp. He thought of the warriors. The spirit must have touched every man, hunting for him. He must wake them; free them. Death came when magic held the body tight and mind tighter: Death from enemies; death from angry spirits. Death.

His body might be limp, neither head nor legs moving, but his tongue was not. "The warriors--they are not part of this."

Spotted White Cat did not slow or even twitch an ear.

Shaman had said that spirits never hurt people unless commanded . . .

Or angered.

The anger was meant for Osan, not them. "Can you not wake them?"

No answer. Spotted White Cat walked on.

No response from the tents--dark, silent shapes--despite his noise. Whatever the spirit had done to the warriors, he had done to the whole village. To get him.

"Spirit?"

Nothing.

They went past still tents.

They went past slumped warriors.

They went fast, faster than any normal cat.

His tongue couldn't still. "Spirit, where are you taking me? What will you do with me? Is this about my family?" Are you carrying me to the Soul Eaters at last? Although I am not dead? Will they eat me to nothingness while I am still alive because I told no one my sin?

No response. Instead, they left the silent village, went past the silent field that housed First Brother, and entered the silent trees. In a blink, they were in the grain fields, which were awaiting harvest. Ahead lay more trees, the white kind that grew near water, and he saw where Spotted White Cat bore him: to the Lake that had turned First Brother to living wood so many, many summers ago.

Hot sweat beaded on Osan's icy neck like rain. Many seasons back, in the winter before his cowardice, he and Ot, the bravest of his cousins, had run across the Lake's frozen surface, forgetting everything else, throwing snowballs, their breath white with fear and excitement. The Lake was safe when frozen. But they had not peered down; the face you saw, if you saw any, was never your own. Silent faces.

Hungry faces.

Surely they would go past the Lake.

They slowed.

On a patch of brown shore grass lay a white skin; on that, Spotted White Cat set him. Once free of the spirit's arms, though, Osan found his body free, too. He scrambled off the skin.

Spotted White Cat's whiskers flicked down.

"No." Osan shivered, but he did not step back on the skin. "No." Could you tell a spirit no?

Would that anger it more?

As if in answer, the spirit's rounded ears twitched back.

Osan licked his lips and looked back at the water, at the certain death and the deathless faces swimming there. They had pressed up to the surface. He looked back at Spotted White Cat and its narrowed golden gaze, horrible then and horrible now. "No. No--" Its tail twitched. Stop saying no. "You can't drown me. You can't feed me to them. You can't, you can't until you tell me why you took me." Spirits never threw people to the Lakefaces. Not even his dreams held that fear. "Why did you take me here? Why to them?"

Even as he spoke, the past returned like a fever: Oki . . . and mother and first first uncle and little Oso and the little sister without a name. The little sister who did not exist without a name, same as his brother had not; same as they both should exist, like they all should. All but the brother-that-should-be weighed on him like fatty sins that would pop in the Soul Eaters' cookfires. Once the Lakefaces were done with him, that was.

"This is for them, isn't it? My family?"

Spotted White Cat picked up the white skin.

Spotted White Cat shook it at him.

Spotted White Cat bared fangs.

Spotted White Cat spoke, voice guttural, "You will go in the Lake or I will take Oki in your place."

Oki.

So it knew her name, which meant it had power over her. Spotted White Cat turned its back on him, moving to leave, moving to take Oki.

"No!" Osan shouted.

One spotted ear swiveled back toward him. The spirit waited.

Osan looked at the Lake. He could see them, Lakefaces gliding like carp and catfish. Hungry forms. Blurs. Silent. Legends said the Lakefaces wouldn't let him drown first. No, they would chew and heal, chew and heal; he wouldn't die for a long, long time.

His stomach moaned. So did his bravery.

The ear swiveled forward again. A foot moved forward again. To carry the spirit onward to Oki.

No.

"No! Spirit, wait, I'll go! See." He paddled back before fear weakened him again. His feet hit the water, moccasins sucking tight around his feet. Cold. He shuddered. "S-see? I go. I will go alone. Please."

Spotted White Cat jerked around, snarling, claws up.

Osan waded faster.

The water was not cold where the faces touched him, swirling toward him, around him. He felt their fingers through his leggings, then through his shirt, then on his face as the water rose higher and higher. He did not close his eyes when they pulled him under. His lungs began to burn. He would drown or be eaten first, but that was his body. His soul would meet the Soul Eaters' spit and fire upon waking. And then there would be nothing left to him at all.

As he went deeper into the Lake, he could see the Ringed Moon overhead and the darting Lakefaces, but he could not see Spotted White Cat. Had he done right? Had he done wrong? Was Oki safe?

His chest ached.

He could not hope to become wood, because he was not strong and brave like First Brother. Still, he wished to the spirits he could be so before he was eaten and healed and eaten again. First Brother had never dealt with Lakefaces.

His lungs burned, then his chest. He was burning, fingers burning, eyes burning, everything burning. He kicked and flung his arms and twisted, but he only sank and burned, sank and burned. The Lakefaces only pulled him deeper, deeper, deeper, until he could not see the Ringed Moon.

Until he could not see Lakefaces.

Until it was dark and cold.

And he was alone.





=========================

Links:  Master Post | Notes | 1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5.


=========================


Purchasing Availability:
This story is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble currently.  I am working on a Smashwords version as well.  The price is $0.99.  If you enjoy The One Who Sees, please consider purchasing a copy or spreading the url.  Thanks!

The One Who Sees: Chapter 2 of 13

The One Who Sees
by 
Jodi Ralston
Copyright 2011 Jodi Ralston


Links:  Master Post | Notes | 1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5.


 Short Blurb:  After nearly drowning in a magic lake, young Osan can see the souls dwelling inside people, and he discovers they are in the wrong bodies and have been so since birth. Mythic Fantasy Novelette, 18,000 words approx.
 
=========================

2.



Osan fell alone for so long he feared he would not stop.

He fell.

And fell.

When the Lakefaces returned with their pale light and touched him, he saw he did not fall at all.

He also saw he did not breathe.

That--everything--was wrong.

He flailed and flailed until the Lakefaces calmed him with touches and light, and they gave him their bubbles.

When the first passed his lips, he saw differently. He saw far away, saw his family, saw others' families--some familiar but most in unfamiliar colors and clothing in lands unseen.



When the second bubble passed his lips, he saw differently again: Death. Brother killing brother; sister killing mother; father killing son. People in all colors, all types of clothing, in all types of lands. Families mixed on both sides of spear and arrow and weapons he could not name. He saw death. And he saw Soul Eaters like fat, fat thunderclouds with bright, hungry eyes. He saw them cooking and swallowing the light nestled in each person's body. He saw Soul Eaters eating and eating until nothing and no one was left but darkness.

Then, in the darkness, he saw himself come . . . glowing. But this cold darkness was not the darkness of death but of the Lake all around him.

He saw his glowing self waiting.

His soul.

His soul did not have bubbles or death to give. It only gave itself, cracking open his mouth, slipping something bright out, then slipping itself in.

Afterwards, when the Lakefaces crowded close, Osan had the strength to shove them and their death-bubbles away. This they did not like, but he shoved and shoved until he was free.

Kicking and lunging, his chest burning, but which was up? Which way? The only light was many: darting Lakefaces gobbling up the froth of his bubbles.

A few bubbles escaped their stubby fingers and greedy mouths; he followed their escape, kicking and burning away.

Kicked until he saw a light like a star above him.

He kicked more.

It became like a lamplight--like a sign of home. He kicked harder and harder and the light grew and the Lakefaces fell away and bubbles were just bubbles.

The lightfire grew as large and bright and yellow as the Bitten Moon.

As large as the sun.

Larger.

One Lakeface floated down toward him, a stray. He shoved it away.

It cried out in pain.

It cried out, Olas.

Osan stopped.

Olas. In the same voice from the shadows and memory. Olas. Olas.

No, no. It couldn't be: this face was the dream catching him, hunting him--

Please, the stray Lakeface said.

But the dream had never said anything but Olas to him. Neither had the memory. The fever had added the rest--"son"--to his mother's tongue.

So, if not Olas, if not "son," what was it? Osan squinted until he could see it better. A Lakeface. Just a Lakeface: But this one was different. Younger, thinner, brighter--

Please, I am lost. Its voice was watery, weak, confused. Help me.

Lost?

Osan hurt; he burned. He shook, and things were dimming and shuddering all about him. If he didn't move soon, everything would dim, his lightfire would wink away, and so would he. He'd be lost to the Lake and Lakefaces--and the dream, the eternal dream . . . and the Soul Eaters.

This was a Lakeface. Just a Lakeface. It had touched him, like the others. Wanted him. And if he could see some features of his mother in it, of Oki, of himself, it was . . . a lie. A lie.

A horrible lie.

Osan reached upward for the sky and light and air that were only kicks away.

Please. It reached for him, floating sideways. Please, I barely see you, but you are the only thing here. Please, help me. I don't want to die.

And it sounded like that dream-fear. That Olas. No matter how he closed his eyes against it; no matter how he closed his ears, it never changed.

So maybe the appearance wasn't a lie.

Maybe its name wasn't.

Maybe it was all real, as real as the spirit cat, as real as . . .

Olas, his brother? His lost brother.

His dead brother if he left it here.

And Osan didn't want any of those bubbles from before to come true.

So, he reached out to the Lakeface, and he tucked it under his arm--it began whispering Olas, Olas, Olas, like a heart throb. Using one arm and both legs, Osan kicked toward the light. The growing light.

It was not until he was several arm-lengths from the surface that he saw a face staring down, eerie, pale, and white, one with spots and yellow, glaring eyes.

Like a spotted white cat.

Like his fear.

In a blink, it was gone.

Gone. But it had been there: fear awaiting him.

And what waited below?

The Olas, Olas, Olas sound grew under his arm as the Lakeface--his brother--stirred.

He had to get up to the surface. He stretched out his hand again. Now.

He kicked.

Kicked.

Then, sweet air kissed his fingertips.

Another kick; his elbow was free.

Another.

His head popped through, and the sweet air poured in, clean, bright, and burning.

But good.

Very good.

He sucked in that air as loudly as a lung-sick man, and the sun burned his eyes, but he did not close them--better pain than eternal dark.

When the pain in his chest eased, when he could see shapes again, he kicked toward the shore. Then, he scrambled up it, ripping slender green plants as he clawed and clawed until even his feet touched sweet air. When he could move no more, he dropped there, and his thoughts moved instead: why was he not wood?

Because he was not like First Brother saving First Sister from Lake and slaughter.

So, why was he alive?

From the corner of his eye, he spotted the Lakeface--his brother--flopping, gasping, aglow. He had survived, too, and he wasn't wood either.

"You're safe now," he told Olas. "You're not lost anymore."

Thank you, it said and flopped. I won't forget you. Flop, flop.

The words in his head were not weak or confused, they did not come through a touch, and they did not whisper his brother's name: no, the Lakeface spoke the Enemy tongue, and he understood he heard it and understood it, very clear.

Not Olas. Enemy. Not family. Never.

Thank you.

His vision darkened; so did it. Quieting, stilling, it never stopped saying, Thank you.

The last he saw before all went dark was a spotted white hand--more paw and claw than hand--pluck up the Lakeface.

The enemy wasn't thanking him anymore.





=========================

Links:  Master Post | Notes | 1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5.

=========================


Purchasing Availability:
This story is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble currently.  I am working on a Smashwords version as well.  The price is $0.99.  If you enjoy The One Who Sees, please consider purchasing a copy or spreading the url.  Thanks!

The One Who Sees: Notes

The One Who Sees
by 
Jodi Ralston
Copyright 2011 Jodi Ralston


Links:  Master Post | Notes | 1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5. 

Posting Note: 

Earlier, I was undecided about whether to post a large snippet of my first ebook, The One Who Sees, or to post it free briefly.  I decided on both. 
From November 1, 2011 to November 13, 2011, this novelette was posted in its entirety.  As of November 14, 2011, it has been reduced to a sizable snippet.  The entire work is about 18,000 words, and it is mythic fantasy; the remaining snippet is about half that size.


Title Page and Front Matter:

The One Who Sees 
by Jodi Ralston

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright 2011 by Jodi Ralston.

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

Original cover art image by nuttakit. Cover by Jodi Ralston.

Blurb: 

After nearly drowning in a lake, young Osan of the First Sister tribe gains shaman-sight, the ability to see the souls dwelling inside people. In doing so, he discovers the secret shamans have kept from everyone: the souls are inside the wrong bodies and have been so since birth.  More than that, the soul of his dead brother is still alive, inhabiting the body of the enemy chieftain's son. This is the very soul the shaman of Osan's tribe holds hostage in order to start a war. The shaman does not care that the souls are misplaced, that souls of the First Sister tribe live on both sides of the battle line, that in essence family will end up killing family.  He just wants to expand his domain and gain more power. He wants the enemy dead or enslaved.

But Osan knows, and it draws on his greatest pain:  Several years ago, fear of the shaman prevented Osan from seeking the shaman's aid when the enemy's plague swept the tribe.  Osan's family died because of his cowardice.

This time, Osan won't let fear stop him from doing what is right. He will steal his brother's soul and return it to its current, foreign body. He will do this even if it means he will never see his brother again, even if it means exile, even if it means death. For that is the only way he can stop the war and the killing, and it is the only hope he has to reveal the truth about souls that the shamans hide.


Purchasing Availability:

This story is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble currently.  I am working on a Smashwords version as well.  The price is $0.99.  If you enjoy The One Who Sees, please consider purchasing a copy or spreading the url.  Thanks!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

SampleSunday: Letters of the Dead (Beginning, Part 3)

I'm falling behind on my schedule of getting Letters of the Dead grammar-edited and formatted, so I hope doing #SampleSunday starting from the beginning will force me to work harder, work more.  So, this is still a work-in-progress.

Previous Snippets:
  1. SampleSunday: Letters of the Dead (Beginning, Part 1)
  2. SampleSunday: Letters of the Dead (Beginning, Part 2)

#

Snippet from Letters of the Dead, a work-in-progress fantasy novel, by Jodi Ralston:


The carriage slowed, then stopped.  Traffic must have been light in the City today.  I put away the letter, and while the cab waited, I took in my destination.

    Outside the window were the manicured lawns and hedges, the coiffed flowerbeds and military-stanced "domiciles"--a fit scene for the clatter of perfect hooves on perfect horses and the rumble of perfect carriages.  No string of houses here like a segmented millipede.  These were the grand houses of gentry wishing to live with the convenience of the city but the illusion of the country.  These were the grand houses of those who thought the aristocrats lived in perfection and tried to mirror it, painfully so.  My destination's "domicile" had four stories, not counting a basement and cellar and attic; those stories hurt the veneer of rigid prettiness by hinting at actual work.

    A heavy gate presided over a short walk to the front door, but it was neither open nor attended by more than a single bell.  The baron would have approved of the structure.  He had loved barricades, rows of them between home and world.  But that was nothing new; even back in his earlier, clearer days, back when he was Queen Corva IV's personal physician, he had recommended extra gates for her.

    Even so, this was wrong.  While the baron remained unburied, the gate should be open to allow in mourners both hired and true and to welcome in the psychopomp with the deceased's soul.  There should also be some grey bunting--or rather, fresh grey paint for the well-to-do.



    The cabby called down from behind, asking me if he should wait--a reminder that I should do something other than sit and delay.  It was a gamble, knowing without feeling the small coins in my pocket.  But on the other hand, the gentry did like proper attention from mourners.  I couldn't risk failure by imperfection.  I asked him to stay.  He opened the door from his perch, and I got out.

    Bringing an umbrella would have been prudent, although unsightly as a hat on the head of a hired mourner.  It looked like spring showers, perfect precipitation for any funeral.  We'd had none for a month now.  More precisely, none since the Day of Lady's Hope, the only day she gave up her Tearful Sorrows, the anniversary of her one day of joy.

    It was the day devout women gave their promise to their intended, as the Lady gave hers to her Gentleman of Grey.

    It was the day the . . . court doctor asked Hon. Beatris Poole to give hers and elope.

    It was also the day Princess Hartlyn II had died.  Ever since, the queen, her mother, had banned marriage on this day and penalized with annulment those who dared.

    Lightning pulsed in the distance, bringing me back to the present where I stood by the cab fretting my scar.  A welcome distraction, I thought, except for the fact the thunderstorm looked like it might sweep west toward Heyer.  I hoped not, for Mrs. E's sake.  She needed her rest.  But hoping did little; being at her side did.  So, I forced my hand to relax, forced myself to ignore the rumbling of clouds, and walked to the unadorned gate.  I rang the bell, waited, waited some more, and found no answer.

    I tried the gate itself.

    Unlocked.

    Perhaps its closure had been in error.  Even so, I left it ajar slightly.  Not that the psychopomp truly needed such assistance, but the dead would appreciate the thought.  However, the nearer I drew to the house, the more my misgivings grew.  While the nearer clouds looked somber and full of funeral grey, the house was far from it.  Not even a wreath on the door.  Not a single pinning in a window.

    "I am sorry," the baron had written, "for the pain I caused."  The pain had lingered, a wound festered into hate.

    I could be wrong, I thought, as I flexed the tension from my hand.  I could be too late.  Flex and unflex.  Or at the wrong place.  Flex and unflex.

    Let me be wrong.

    Once upon the stair, I didn't get the chance to knock: the door was opening.  Being thrown out was a mourner boasting pasted grey hair and a ridiculously large tear mark and musky fragrance I could smell from here.  A firm "It does not matter who your brother is, sir.  My mistress does not wish to employ mourners" came from the butler who was dressed in black without a speck of mourning color.  "Please, do not disturb her further."  Probably meant for me as well.

    So much for hoping.

     As the door closed on us, the mourner aimed a kick at it and muttered several verbal kicks unrepeatable before settling on something less indecent:  "And see who will speak your goods if you deny another man's."  He swung around and stopped when he saw me.  His eyes narrowed as he saw my mark, and just as quickly the squint turned into a smirk.  "Yeah, good luck, my brother."

    I gave him a smile of commiseration and stepped aside.  "Heard.  But I think I'll try anyway."

    The squint returned, and he sidled close.  So close, my stomach soured and my eyes burned at the taint of magic on him.

    "You think, you say?"

    I backed up, nearly tripping down the porch.  My scar throbbed.  My hand clenched around it.  My lungs tried to clench, as well, to keep out the taint, the magic.

    Not now.

    "What is it you think?"

    I focused on the man to keep my eyes open--not a good idea to close them at the moment, given the company, the way he stared me up and down, as if ready for a mill.

    "You are thinking they wait for better quality; is that what you think, my brother?  That you can do better than brother to Queen's own doctor?  That you can do better than Princess's own mourner?  Is that what you think, my brother?"

    If he meant me, they would have to wait longer than the Lady waits for her promised.  I had a feeling if I said that, no matter how honestly I meant it, he'd take it as a jibe.  He'd want to, the way he tightened his knuckles.  The way he brandished that large, red, pyramidal ring on his right hand.  He was built like a snake, too: all sleek muscle.  Easy to see despite his suit.  Just as easy to see that if he moved much closer, I'd lose my breakfast.

    Ailing and bloody mourners weren't exactly invited on premises.

    So, I stood my ground.  Not so easy, knowing his identity and the unexpected, unwanted past he brought with him.  But I held my teeth, tried not to breathe, and gave a more palatable truth, "No, sir."  I suppressed a cough, barely.  "Because I hate wasting a fare."  I nodded to the cab that waited and the cabby atop on his seat.  A cabby who now pretended to be interested in the view between his horse's pricked ears.

    The mourner looked.

    Then he uncoiled and wiped bangs from his forehead.  Squint gone, he laughed and slapped my arm with his left hand.

    A cough exploded out of me, sending me staggering against the building.  My commotion cut over the spoken reason behind his laugh, but he didn't take any further offense.  Once he had walked past my cab, a safe distance, I focused on breathing.  Just my breathing.  Deep, slow breaths.  And my coughing passed.  More deep, slow breaths, and my throat didn't burn.  Deep, slow breaths.  Until my eyes weren't blurry--or suspiciously wet--anymore.  Until my scar no longer throbbed like a tachycardic beat.  Deep, slow, that's it.  There.

    Who in Corvish history was that man, this brother of Sir Wrossen?

    I straightened and wondered at him, at his words, his lack of transport, and more importantly, what exactly was magicked on him?  What had provoked my allergy?  He seemed saturated with it, as if bathed in cologne.  Heavily-magicked cologne.  I hadn't felt that bad since the fast-boat trip over here, when every inch of that week was suffused with magic.

    The past threatened to saturate the present as well, something I didn't need to carry with me.  So, I put it and Sir Wrossen's brother from mind.  Once I felt my composure firmly in hand, I tried my luck at the door.

    After the second knock, the same butler with the same expression opened the door.  "My mistress--" he began, then stopped.  Squinted at me--not good--with eyes tired from decades of use.  "Mr. Oldig?"

    I stepped back.  "You--"  The words caught on relapsed throat tickle.  "You know me?"

    "I was at the Madam Cornan's when you came."

    Madam Cornan.  The dowager who had given up title and fortune attached to the name baroness of Rockwell.  The missionary who lived among the "Barbarians" before the Empire freed them and then remained with them after.  A great lady who deserved a second chance more than most and most certainly didn't deserve to die from magicum poisoning from living too long on that island.  Also, my . . . first.  Not as a mourner, either; that idea had come next.  But . . .  "How could you remember me . . . from then?"

    "You seemed inspired.  All her family thought so.  No one spoke truer words of my mist--old Madam Cornan."  A younger smile creased his old lips as his eyes looked into the past.  "'Her heart was full of more good intent than she could ever have days to see completed.  She desired to neglect none, for none were too small to help or to cherish as children, and those who walked away were greater for knowing her and being known by her.  She touched many and still touches many more, now more than ever in the memory and the minds of the living.  That is her legacy.'  Better than what the queen's men said, better than anyone said about her life's work, and no one was as such deserving of such words, no one, but--"  He seemed to catch what he was saying and looked back to the house.

    I . . . I had said . . .  something like that.  To her grieving brother.  Madam Cornan had written, all she had written, was "Make him understand why I did what I did, so that the fewest suffer and most can gain from my own suffering."  Beyond that I didn't remember well.  I wasn't really . . . myself then; the ship trip being only part of it.  The rest being I didn't want to remember myself back then.

    My silence lasted too long, but it didn't seem to slow the butler.

    "Now," he said, "I see there are others deserving of your good words and comfort, and they shouldn't be denied their share."  The butler--I wished I remembered his name--stepped back.  "Come in, Mr. Oldig."

    So it turned out, sometimes the dead helped you more than you thought.


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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Blog Notice

The normal Wednesday post will be absent this week as I work on two major goals:
  1. Finishing ALL grammar edits on Letters of the Dead.
  2. Completely prewriting my nano2011 novel.
Normal posting--plus some extras, I hope--should resume the following week.  Thanks for bearing with!

SampleSunday: Letters of the Dead (Beginning, Part 2)

I'm falling behind on my schedule of getting Letters of the Dead grammar-edited and formatted, so I hope doing #SampleSunday starting from the beginning will force me to work harder, work more.  So, this is still a work-in-progress.

Previous Snippet:  SampleSunday: Letters of the Dead (Beginning, Part 1)

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Snippet from Letters of the Dead, a work-in-progress fantasy novel, by Jodi Ralston:


I had read the letter in fits and starts half a dozen times as I walked to the make the train, and upon boarding a second-class car, packed elbow to elbow, I found out the past could pack in closer.  Even before the train Forevermore wrecked and sealed its memory not in the durability of iron and genius but in the loss of lives and struggle of the survivors, even before that accident, I had never been comfortable with trains.  Now, with this letter, clenched inside my pocket, I felt even less.  Normally, I would pull such a letter out and use my time wisely re-reading it; after all, the dead were ever difficult to understand.  And I had plenty of room to so in, for as I had learned early on, folk dressed in suits of all grey, without a hat, and radiating discomfort were rewarded more room than necessary.  But yet, the letter never left my pocket.  The dead might be difficult to understand, but the baron came with additional . . . complications.

It was not until I left the train behind, and my past with it, that I could try to make the sense the dead and the psychopomp desired of me.  But first, a few last, necessary distractions.

    At the destination station, I hired a cab.  Three miles left to reach the baron's daughter, and it would cost more than the hour train ride and take just as long.  But a mourner didn't arrive on foot before such society, particularly Corvish gentry, not in this country anyway.  At least, it gave me the privacy and better steadiness to finish my cover.  I pulled out from my pants pocket a small tin and twisted off the lid.  A wide window of metal shone at the bottom, rimmed by little grey face paste.  Something else I needed to buy, but didn't have the money for.  Not that long ago, less than a year ago, it had been new.  I pulled off my glove, scraped some paste onto my finger, and drew the tear mark on my right cheek.  Smaller than usual, but still good.

    What was not good was my scar.  Tinged by grey rather than concealed, it stood out ever the more sharply: a royal crest branded on my fingertips from a single ring and its defective magic.

    My mistake.  I should have used my left hand, I thought, as I cleaned it.  Usually I did, but the letter and its contents hadn't moved far enough from mind.

    Nor had another letter in the same my pocket, a letter which I wished I had the sense to leave home.  I closed my eyes to avoid staring at the past, both here and oceans away, wishing to avoid thoughts on scars of all kinds as I pulled out the baron's letter.

    Not easy, but it was time.  I put away the tin.  I put away my distractions.

    I found that easier to do once I broke the letter down into its parts, of which there were many.

    The letter had been written over twice and only once post-mortem.  The original letter was not the baron's, but another's.  A clandestine love letter to the baron's daughter using the address of a woman as cover.  A letter long in declaring affection.  In just as long a fashion, asking her to meet him, to elope if nothing else, her "father and all else be damned."  I would have blushed if not for the date and the man.  A bad date, the day of the Forevermore disaster that claimed too many lives.  Including that of Princess Hartlyn II, the young lady who was born thanks to the baron's special magicum, but thanks to his assistant, this writer, she had appeared a couple of months after her death in her namesake colony.  Appeared in my father’s preserving room, stuffed with illegal, traceless magics for the underground revolution.  A fact which fortunately no one knew save my family, this court doctor, and the dead.

    I just hadn't realized the strength of connections between this traitorous former assistant and his master’s family.  But the baron was a man of connections that reached too far, even in death, and were always complicated.  And that part, this part of the letter, was of the past that had taken me a year, an ocean, and a now an hour train ride to leave behind; I did not need to add any more to it.

    So, I smoothed the creases in the paper with my left hand, my scarred one being bound up in a fist, and I focused on the next part.  Turning the letter sideways, I saw more to disturb.  The baron, while still alive, had written a message to his daughter, crosshatched over the love letter, and he had written it a few days after the Forevermore tragedy.  The baron needn't provide the date; his erratic hand and the . . . complicated nature of the words themselves told more than enough:
Beatris, I chanced you would listen to a letter from your "true love's" hand.  I am not sorry I separated his correspondences from your attention.  I am sorry for the pain he caused you, for the pain I caused, for the pain this may cause; yet Terrible Work is at hand and of Greater Importance than what we feel and regret.
 
Someone feels dispatching me is worth the Risk of what I Own, is worth the Risk of all Humanity.
You no longer trust my promises.  But this goes beyond promises.  You no longer want anything of me.  But I must give you This:
    Here the baron's post-mortem request of me rendered a foreign word, perhaps a name, barely discernible.  I deciphered the word best as: MAL'A'NYE.

The remainder of the letter, despite its content, proved somewhat easier to read:
For Five Years hence your Receipt.  That is the length of time that is safe.  That you will be safe.  Five years.  The Others will help you to understand, but trust them little.  Trust history best.  Trust I know you better than you know your own sentiments, your own weaknesses and strengths, and that I want only your safety.  Five Years.

Now, shred this letter.  Burn it.  Bury the ash.

Be Safe.

Your Father, Baron Poole
    Lastly, came the request penned--or rather, dictated--from the Afterlife: DELIVER THIS TO HER--BARON POOLE.
   
    So there it was.

    I folded the letter, closing up the little world I have been . . . I smiled . . . enveloped in.  The present world, that of this road trotting past, though, did not offer as much to smile about.  This letter . . . this letter, such fragments from life and death: an old lover letter and an apology, inseparable--was I supposed to believe my mission would be that simple?  A mere delivery of a letter never sent?  And why write this apology over this letter of Sir Wilhem Wrossen's?  Why insist on writing this apology in the first place?

    Because.  Because.  I ran my fingers on the edge of the fold.  Because his world consisted of little more than that of a child trapped in a nightmare.  He did not realize how his words would appear to her, that they would give his daughter two different pains to agitate: that involving an old love and that of her father's . . . mind.  Not to mention other pains attached to that lover’s name and connection.  Attached to that past.

    So, no, it would not be simple.  His wounds could not be healed without adding some to another--or rather, reopening another's wounds.

    I could not believe he intended that.

    Nor the psychopomp.

    I'd deliver the intent of the words, not the letter, and see what mending could be done.


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Sunday, October 16, 2011

SampleSunday: Letters of the Dead (Beginning, Part 1)

I'm falling behind on my schedule of getting Letters of the Dead grammar-edited and formatted, so I hope doing #SampleSunday starting from the beginning will force me to work harder, work more.  So, this is still a work-in-progress.

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Snippet from Letters of the Dead, a work-in-progress fantasy novel, by Jodi Ralston:

    For someone who received letters from the dead, I was quite the coward at opening the living's mail, or rather, opening mail from home.  Currently, the week-old letter occupied my pocket, out of sight, but not far enough from mind now that I had finished making my aunt's pills.  Even without letter before me, I could see my sister's handwriting.  I could imagine her at the writing desk, smiling despite each word.  I could imagine my brother leaning over her shoulder, investing himself in each line she penned, speaking loudly with or without a single word--so loudly that even oceans away I could hear, ringing in my ear, his censure and disappointment for his errant little brother.

    No.  No, the letter and home was never far enough from mind.  Things of mixed emotion rarely were. 

    I pulled off my work gloves and set them beside the pill box painted like a red flower.  Inside it were the pills I had made.  I picked up the container, a little too harshly it turned out.  The opium-mix pills, covered up in pretty shells like pink candy, rattled inside.  Far from innocent but pain didn't bear such considerations in mind.  Pain was a fire, burning where it would.  Sometimes these little pills offered the only help left.

    I stood up, pills rattling, ready to take them upstairs to Mrs. E's bedroom so Mr. E didn't have to.

    But circumstances conspired so I did not have to yet: Mr. E stood in the doorway linking kitchen to the mixing room.  How much had he witnessed?  The smile on my uncle's face said, Not much.  That smile was like a warm day in a long winter, not common enough.  That smile was more than enough to wipe away earlier thoughts and to bring better in their stead.

    "Son," he whispered as he placed the letter beside my discarded gloves on the worktable.  "You meet more misses at funerals than most find at dances."

    A miss?  It must be a dead letter.  Like the postmen, Mr. E saw what the deceased wanted casual outsiders to see: directions to me and my location, not to where the deceased intended me to go.  That didn't stop others from seeing the actual return address.

    "With such luck," Mr. E was saying, "maybe I should hire myself out to mourning as well."

    Then he seemed to remember the real recipient of his josh laid abed upstairs.  Worse, he saw the unintentional morbidity and portent in his words: he sank in on himself as he stood there, hiding his apprehension by stroking his mustache.  You had to look closely or share familiarity to notice that the mustache--more grey than blonde now--had grown as thin as his voice.

    He needed distraction.  "Mr. Elandris?"  I picked topic mundane.  "What do I owe you for the postage?"  I touched his sleeve.  "Sir?" 

    "Eh?  Oh.  Oh, yes.  Don't bother yourself about it.  Did you finish the scripts?"

    "Yes."  But he didn't refer to the customers.  "Yes." 

    He took the pill box from me.  Opened the lid.  Counted the week's worth of medicine, all twenty-eight--doubled from last month.  But he didn't see pills: he was seeing symptoms and a cure-all for the incurable migraines that led to attacks . . . that might lead, someday, to another stroke. 

    I saw not a cure at all.

    Morbid, Roderis.  Morbid.

    "No, son," Mr. E said, as he closed the lid.  "You go on."  He turned from me.  "I can handle any arrivals and appointments without my assistant for the afternoon."

    But I preferred he wouldn't be alone.  "Is Miss . . . "  What was the latest maid-of-all-work's name?  They turned over so quickly.  "Is the maid coming in?"

    "No."  A tightness had entered his eyes and grip.  "She worried Mrs. E's nerves."

    Few were the reasons for dismissal in this household.  One being too present, too noisy, distressing Mrs. E's sensitive ears and triggering her headaches.  The other being talks on things the Elandrises rather strongly wished they wouldn't.  If I recalled correctly, despite my best advice, the maid had a passion for the non-human slaves, the Possessions.

    "But they are only myth--"  I had said once when the dinner table sat three, not two.  And Mr. E let nothing more be said.  Not even that much would be tolerated now.

    "Sir, we can look in the ads for a new help tonight, if you want?  Or perhaps," I said, hoping he would take a nudge of advice, "we could invite . . . "  The nearest relations lived in the country, and even if one cousin were in town, they were too full of sympathy and a caution to accept an invite.  But maybe it wouldn't be so for others.  "We could invite your friend, the one apprenticed the year before you at your master's.  I've seen him and his wife several times now; they must have moved closer.  I'm sure they would welcome renewing your acquaintance in person rather than over letter?"  More than that, Mr. E could use some fresh companionship and Mrs. E could do with some careful, mindful same.  "He might be able to offer a good recommendation, besides."

    "Perhaps. . . .  You go on now, son."  His voice was half-here, half-up-there with Mrs. E, even before he turned away.  "We'll be fine."  He tiptoed out of sight.

    Nudge not taken, but perhaps his friend could be found and a conversation struck up, steps taken to bring change into his household.  Change for the better.

    But for now, I was left with letters.  The new one, at least, I could do some good . . .

    I picked it up off the work table, and a name stared up at me.  Poole.

    . . . or maybe I could not.

    A miss had directed this letter to an Honorable Beatris Poole.  Poole was common enough a name.  Surely, it need not be tied in any way to the late Baron Poole.  Surely.

    Yet.

    Yet, after almost a year of receiving the dead's letters, I had developed intuition.  Or rather, my scarred fingers had, fretting over the name without command from my consciousness.  Mr. E had his tic; I had my own.

    Rarely had I opened a dead letter here, in this place, in this home.  Not so much a superstition as a desire to keep lives separate, like the partition that divided kitchen from mixing room, home from work, the recovering Mrs. E from the succumbed baron, the living from the dead.  But hadn't the boundaries already been crossed?

    Crossed just over a year ago.

    By a single train wreck that had scarred both of their lives--and so many more.

    I held the letter, considering that.

    I held it, knowing superstition held me back--but I would not read all of the letter here.  I just needed to see.

    I cracked the red seal--never quite sure who re-pressed that wax.  The dead?  Or the soul's conductor, the psychopomp who directed--or rather, misdirected--their mail to me?

    Focus, Roderis.  Deep breath.

    I opened the letter.  Over the original letter, the post-mortem script read:

    BARON POOLE.




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