Monday, June 29, 2015

Why Anna is the Most Underrated Disney Heroine

Here’s to Heroines Special today! I didn’t have an ender for the series and I had this written and I thought it tied in nicely, since it’s about a strong heroine. So, enjoy!




She’s not like Elsa or Rapunzel or Belle. Elsa thinks she needs to be shut away for the protection of those around her. Rapunzel thinks she needs to protect herself. Belle is protecting her father.

But Anna, she doesn’t know why she’s shut up. And, it’s even worse. Because in her mind she and Elsa should be shut up together. They are both cut off from the world. Anna doesn’t know it’s because of Elsa. So she thinks that she’s not only cut off from the world, but her sister is also shutting her out.

So often you see fanart and such that reminds us how much Elsa thought she was a monster. But, I can’t help wondering if Anna felt the same way. Did she sit outside her sister’s door, wondering what on earth she had done to be cut off this way? Was she some horrible person? Had she done something? What was wrong with her?

I cry every time I hear “Do You Want to Build a Snowman.” Not because Elsa is shut in her room, but because Anna is shut out of it. She’s standing at her sister’s door, crying out to her, begging her to open it. And every time she’s rejected.

What is wrong with her? What did she do? Why would her sister shut her out this way?

And then, on Coronation Day, Elsa sees her sister for a few moments, tells her she can’t marry the guy she thinks she loves, and then storms off (literally) while freezing the kingdom.

First of all, that scene where they’re talking and Elsa says something to her and Anna’s all surprised? Breaks my heart every time. Because this is the first time her sister has spoken to her, accepted her, drawn her in. Every other time, she’s shutting her out, either with her words or her lack of them. But today, she’s engaging with her, they share an adorable sister moment. Imagine how Anna must have felt.

But then, Anna finds what she thinks is true love. You have to remember, she’s been locked away for years. Alone. And she doesn’t understand why. Everyone has shut her up, shut her out. But not Hans. Hans understands her. He accepts her. He doesn’t make her feel like a monster, like she’s not good enough, like there’s something the matter with her.

For the first time in forever her feelings are actually reciprocated. Someone loves her.

And then Elsa tells her she can’t marry him. Elsa once again shuts her out. She cuts Anna off, makes her feels like a little girl, reprimands her in a way she has no right to. Yeah, she’s her older sister, but they haven’t spoken more than a few words in years.

So yeah, Anna’s mad. She’s past thinking there’s something wrong with her. There’s something wrong with Elsa. Elsa is shutting her out. Elsa is being a jerk. Elsa has done nothing but cut her off and shut her out and ignore her and push her away and make her feel things a sister should never make her sister feel. What right does she have to tell Anna how to live her life?

And then BAM! she reveals her powers. And she kind of freezes the whole kingdom. She runs away. Once again, she shuts Anna out. Anna has to seeks her out, she’s not there. She runs from Anna. Once again, she pushes her sister away.

But this is why I love Anna. This is why she is the most wonderful heroine, in my mind.

Because she goes after her sister.

Elsa has done nothing but push her away. She’s hurt Anna, she’s shut her out, she’s denied her happiness over and over and over again. Anna could have looked for a way to stop the kingdom from freezing. She could have married Hans and become queen.

But instead she goes “Oh, that’s why she shut me out.” Instead it all clicks. Instead she takes responsibility. She made her sister upset. She hurt her. It’s her fault the kingdom is frozen.

Anna didn’t do anything wrong. All her life she’s done the right thing, reaching out to her sister, trying so hard to be her friend, to understand. And now she does. So, who cares about the past? In Anna’s mind, this is a fresh beginning. She understands now. Now that Elsa’s secret is out, there’s no reason for her to hide any longer. They can be friends again.

So she goes after Elsa. This is the girl who has been locked in a palace her whole life. Yet, nothing daunts her in her quest to finds her sister. Not terrible weather, not wolves, not a grumpy ice man, not even giant cliffs. Nothing will stop her from finding her sister.

And, when she finally does finds her, Elsa shuts her out once more. But Anna is standing in front of her sister. For the first time in forever they’re standing face to face, just the two of them. And she’s not going anywhere. She has dreamed of this moment for years. Day after day she sat outside or walked past Elsa’s door and she dreamed of the moment when Elsa’s door opened to her.

And now that it has, she’s not going anywhere. She’s not going to be shut out again.

But then Elsa does the thing she does best. She doesn’t mean to, but she’s afraid. So she hurts Anna once more. She freezes her heart and sends a giant snow monster after her.

Anna has tried and tried and tried to do the right thing. She has pushed and pushed to be in her sister’s life. For years she’s been shut out but she still keeps trying. She loves her sister. No matter how many times Elsa shuts her out Anna still keeps trying.

And Elsa hurts her every time.

I’m not trying to make Elsa out to be cruel or some horrible person. Because I know Elsa does not want to hurt her sister. She thinks everything she does is protecting her. But Anna has no idea. In her mind, Elsa is kind of the villain of this story.

But she does not give up hope for her. She doesn’t forget the days when they were friends. She pushes and pushes and pushes for those days to come back. She wants to be her sister’s best friend again. She has been nothing but hurt for years, but she never once gives up hope.

So, the last time Anna saw her sister, she was trying to kill her. At least, Anna must feel that way. But that showdown scene, Anna is standing there, it’s storming all around her, she just found out that the person she thought loved her didn’t. She’s been shut out again. Just like she has for the last so many years of her life.

But she sees it, across the ice. Hans, with his sword raised, about to kill Elsa. Her sister. The girl who tried to kill her. But also the sister she has so many childhood memories of. The sister she has spent years being cut off by. But the girl she has been trying to be best friends with for the same amount of years.

As far as she knows, Elsa is a monster. You have to remember that. Elsa has done nothing but hurt people. She has caused nothing but trouble. And it’s quite possible that killing her will also kill this storm that is overtaking her kingdom.

But while Anna may be a princess, she was never raised as one. She was never taught to put her kingdom first or to think of her people. She spent her entire life caring about Elsa. Her sister is the one who holds first place in her heart. No matter what she has done, no matter what else she is, Elsa is her sister.

And Anna loves her.

So often people think Anna sacrificed herself for her sister. And she did. But they ignore the fact that she also sacrificed herself for the monster. For the person who has done nothing but hurt her. Who has done nothing but hurt everyone. I would give my life for my sister in a heartbeat. But then, she’s never hurt me.

Not like that.

We’re sisters, so yeah, we’ve fought. We’ve hurt each other. But, in the end, she’ll always build a snowman with me. In the end, I’ll always open the door for her.

I honestly can’t say that I would give my life, so quickly, so easily, for someone who hurt me the way Elsa hurt Anna. I don’t think that my first thought would be to jump between her and the man trying to kill her. I would hesitate. I would have to think about it, to make a decision, and by then it would be too late.

Anna doesn’t hesitate. She doesn’t have to think or consider or argue with herself. No matter what Elsa does, she’s always her sister. Never the monster, never the girl who hurt her, but her sister.

Even Belle- the best Disney Princess ever- doesn’t go that far. She gives up her life, yes. But for her father. Who adores her. I’m not belittling her sacrifice, because it’s beautiful, and I cry every time I watch that scene. But, Anna, she goes even farther than that.

Everyone wants to praise Disney for their character development with Elsa. She’s complex, she’s strong, she doesn’t need a man.

Anna doesn’t need a man either. Anna needs someone in her life. And ultimately, she needs (and wants) Elsa. She looks to Hans because he’s giving her the attention she has craved for years and years. She’s been shut out, she’s been alone, she’s been hurt. And suddenly he comes along and offers her exactly what she wants. Can we fault her for falling for him? If it had been a girl, if another princess had come along and offered Anna friendship, we would understand.

And, is Elsa really strong and independent if she only hurts the people around her? She’s not a strong and independent female. She’s a hurt and confused young woman who learns to be a strong and independent female.

But Anna, she remains steadfast. Through all of her sister’s learning and growing, she’s there, never giving up on her. How often do we consider giving up on someone? How often do we wonder if people can really change? Are they even worth the trouble if they can? Is my heart an acceptable price? Should I let them continue to hurt me?

I’m not saying you should let people hurt you. Whether you remain faithful to someone who has hurt you or walk away is a decision only you can make, with God’s help.

But, I don’t think there are enough stories of such selflessness in the world. We’re taught that strong women walk away. You hurt me, I hurt you. Or, you hurt me, I’m gone. We don’t teach people to fight, to stand by someone who has hurt them because they were once your best friend. We teach people to let go. We’re so cynical in this world, so ingrained with the idea that people can’t change, not truly.

But people can. Only through the grace of God, but they can change. As Christians, we should be able to look at a person who has hurt us and forgive them. A person is always worthy of our hope that they can change. Never give up on someone. Even if things are so bad you have to walk away (Anna had to run away from Elsa- she sent a giant snow monster after her), even then, don’t stop hoping they can change. Don’t stop praying for them.

Anna doesn’t give up on Elsa. And, in a lot of ways, I think she’s a picture of Christ. He never gives up on his people. No matter how many times we tell him to go away, he still stands at the door to our heart and begs us to come outside with him. He remembers the days when we were truly his and never gives up. No matter how far we go, no matter how much we hurt him, he still laid down his life for us. And, you have to remember, God is outside of time. When Christ died, he knew everything you would ever do. He knew every time you would sin, every single word you would speak against him, every time you forgot to make time for him, every time you shut him out.

But he still laid down his life for you.

And, as Christians, are we not called to be like Christ? Can we say that a person is not worthy of our love, which is nothing compared to Christ’s, when he says that each and every person is worthy of his? As Casting Crowns put it “Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should come.”

Anna never gives up. She never hesitates to reach out to her sister, to love. As Christ never hesitates to reach out and love us. So too are we called to act toward people. Never give up on people.


When you are tempted to, just remember that Christ never gave up on you. Imagine where you would be today if he had.

How about you? Do you agree or disagree with this assessment? Who do you think is another underrated Disney heroine?

Friday, June 26, 2015

More Katie- Another Western from the Past

No, you wouldn't know who Katie is... that's simply what I have this document saved on my computer as. Because Katie is from a story that I have tried writing over and over and over again and I have a ton of documents saved for her and "More Katie" is all I could think of when it came time to name the doc.

But, as I said last week, this one is a more serious western. It's no longer connected to the story it was originally part of and I'm kind of wanting to use it independently now.

Who knows, maybe I will.

But, as always, no promises.

Anyway, here it is, the western I promised you:

I want to throw up as the trapdoor opens under Pa’s feet and the rope around his neck grows taunt. I’ve seen men dance at a necktie party before but this is the first time I’ve made someone the guest of honor.

A horrid feeling rises in me, a mixture of bile and guilt and confusion. It burns my throat before settling down again and burning deep in the pit of my stomach.I want to turn away but I can’t seem to. My eyes are glued on the sight before me. I need air but my lungs can’t seem to find any. My mouth is dry and I can’t swallow, though I certainly try hard enough.

I didn’t expect it to be this way. I thought my telling the truth would send Pa to jail, not to the gallows. I didn’t think it’d go this far.

I just didn’t want to lie.

A heavy hand lands on my shoulder and I don’t have to look to know who it belongs to.

Jake.

He’s ten years older than me- nineteen- and a good two feet taller. Pa took him in two year before and raised him like a son- the son I could never be.

“I didn’t want to lie,” I whisper, wondering what he’s going to do to me. I know he loved Pa and the two of them had been drilling the lie they wanted me to tell in court for weeks now.

I wonder if I would have chosen differently if I’d understood the outcome.

Jake doesn’t say a thing and when I glance up at him, I find he isn’t even looking at me. His eyes are fixed on Pa and the gallows before us.

“It ain’t my fault,” I say quietly.

Jake glances down at me and the look in his dark eyes scares me. His face graces a scowl that’s cloudy and filled with dreadful promises. But he doesn’t reply to my words. Instead he says, “Let’s get on home.”

Home. The last place on earth I want to go. I don’t want to be alone with Jake, not now, not while he’s this angry. He’s never hit me much before but then, there’s always been Pa there to do it. Now, I don’t know what he’ll do to me. And, I know what he’s capable of when riled.

“Please, Jake,” I whisper, not even sure what I’m asking.

His grip on my shoulder grows harder. “We’re going home.”

He herds me toward his horse and mounts before pulling me up to ride in front of him. His arms wrap around me as he leads the horse and I try not to shiver at the touch.

We ride out of town toward the homestead Pa was never any good at tending. As we ride the air around me grows hotter and hotter. My world spins and I’m suddenly thankful that Jake’s holding me. Otherwise, I might fall off.

I wonder if I’m going to pass out. I’ve never passed out before and I know Jake won’t appreciate it if I do now. The rocking of the horse makes me feel even sicker. I need to stop, need a chance to breathe better but I’m too scared to ask Jake.

“Katie, what’s wrong?” I hear him demand irritably. His voice sounds kind of funny, far off like, even though he’s right behind me.

“I don’t feel so good,” I say but it comes out so quietly that I’m not sure if he hears me.

He gives me a little shake. “I don’t got time for this.”

I try to stop feeling the way I do. I close my eyes but when I do all I see is Pa’s form dangling in the wind. I open them again quickly and blink back the tears that well in my eyes.

“Shape up, Katie,” Jake says with a grumble, shaking me again.

The shaking doesn’t help me feel better, just makes it worse. I want to tell him that, but I’m too scared of him now. Jake’s always been sort of nice to me- in the way big brothers can be nice to their kid sisters, I suppose- but now he’s the man of the family and I’ve done something terrible.

I’m gonna be in for it.

I never really loved Pa, though I know I ought to have. After all, he was my pa and all and he took care of me. I’m just so dreadfully rotten and so Pa was forever having to punish me for doing wrong. I deserved it, I know, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t resent him for it.

And then, after all the times he took it out of my hide when I lied, he wanted me to lie for him. He’d ordered me to even though lying’s wrong.

At least, that’s what I thought when I told the jury the truth. But, now I wonder if I was right.

I’ll never know now.

Jake ignores me the rest of the way home. I try not to be too much of a nuisance and not to feel so sick. It doesn’t go away entirely, especially the churning in my stomach that says Pa’s hanging isn’t going to be the worst thing of the day.

The moment Jake gets me home, I know I’m going to be in for it.

We reach the homestead and Jake slides off the horse, pulling me down after him. He leads it to the barn without looking back at me, without saying a word, so I’m left standing outside the house wondering what I’m supposed to do.

If it were a normal day I’d have supper to make. So, I figure that’s what I ought to do, even if it isn’t a normal day.

I’m just setting the table when Jake comes inside. He shrugs out of his coat and hangs it up, his back to me, his silence saying more than his words could. I wonder when the reckoning will be.

“Are you hungry?” I ask quietly. “Supper’s just about ready.”

He whirls around to face me, his eyes cold, his scowl hateful. “Hungry?” he practically yells. “After what we just witnessed- because of you- and you want to talk about food!?”

“Jake, please…” I don’t know what I’m asking. I don’t know what I want. He’s right. How can I talk about food at a time like this?

I begin to shake and I can’t stop it. Giant sobs escape me and I cover my mouth with my hand. What was I thinking? How could I have told the truth in that court? How could I have turned on my own pa? What kind of a low-down skunk am I?

“Oh, hush up, Katie,” Jake demands.


Yeah... sorry to end it there! I don't have any more written and I've no idea what happens to the poor girl. But, I'd like to find out someday!

Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below! And, make sure to stop by next week for more of my old writing.

In the meantime, last week for the Here's to Heroines series. Hope you'll stop over for that as well!!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Is Your Heroine Ready for a Relationship?




***Warning: This post is about a matter very close to the author’s heart and she apologizes for any ranting that occurs***

I recently finished reading William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. And, while I have a list of very decided reasons why Hero should have dumped Claudio (seriously, would have made an awesome scene!) the story was definitely worth the read because of Beatrice and Benedick.

If you’re not familiar with their story, Beatrice and Benedick are rivals of wit. Every time they meet, they take it upon themselves to slam the other one with the wittiest insult. Both are sharp tongued and delight in putting the other down. And, when all else fails, they insult the other person’s insults.

But, then, part way through the story, they get set up and realize they actually love each other. And, that’s where my favorite thing about them comes in.

After the two of them realize they love the other, there is this really great scene where they attempt to speak poetic words of love to each other.

Only, they’re so used to one-uping the other with their wit, that they keep coming up with witty replies to the others romantic overtures. It’s a hilarious scene and probably my favorite.

Plus, it ties in with what I wanted to talk about today.

You might have noticed that romantic stories always end with the couple getting married. Or engaged. Or as a couple. Basically, it ends when they commit to each other.

There are very few stories with a couple who is married. Like, a younger couple. I’m not counting the main character’s parents. I mean two people who are main characters but also a couple.

It’s almost as if society is subliminally trying to tell us that all the fun stops after marriage or after you’re committed to someone. Most of the shows, movies, and books I’ve seen with married couples are disasters because it’s all drama about their relationship.

My mom is sad because I can’t watch Heartland with her anymore. Because the main character drives me so nuts it’s not even funny. She causes nothing but drama in her relationship with her boyfriend and I honestly have no idea why this guy wants to spend the rest of his life with her. She’s jealous and clingy and a complete jerk. He can’t even say hi to another girl without her blowing it out of proportion and turning it into him essentially cheating on her. I just want someone to knock some sense into this girl (not physically… I’m not promoting abuse. I mean that metaphorically).

And, it’s even worse when the story is a sequel or the character get together after a few seasons, because they tend to lose all their life and individuality when they become a part of a relationship.

As you know, Zoe Washburn is one of my favorite heroines of all time. Part of the reason being that she is a good example of a woman in her own right who is also committed to a relationship. But, I’ve talked about Zoe a lot, so I thought I would look at some of my other favorite heroines who are married.

Because, I was actually surprised to realize most of my favorite heroines are married.

Elizabeth Burke from the TV show White Collar and Nora Charles from The Thin Man mystery movie series are definitely on my top five favorite heroines list. And, most of it has to do with the fact that they are amazing characters who are also amazing wives.

Both women are married to men connected with crime. Elizabeth’s husband is an FBI agent and Nora’s husband is a private detective. Both support their husbands in their works and understand that what they do is dangerous. They worry about them, but also don’t nag them about getting into dangerous situations.

I cannot tell you how much that annoys me, when a character nags their significant other for doing the thing they knew that person did when they began a relationship with them. Like, don’t marry an FBI agent and then tell him not to do dangerous stuff. That’s like telling an accountant not to do math. HE’S GOING TO GET INTO TROUBLE. IT’S HIS JOB FOR PETE’S SAKE!

GAH!

Another thing about Elizabeth and Nora is that neither of them get jealous when their husband talks to another woman, no matter how the woman acts. I love that because to me, it says that they not only trust their husband, that he will be faithful to them, but it also says something about their respect for themselves. They are so secure in who they are, they aren’t worried about another woman coming along and stealing their man from them. They know they’re the best thing that ever happened to him and him embracing another woman isn’t enough to make them jealous.

Nora especially is wonderful about this. She and her husband are hilarious because they are always telling the other that they’re cheating on each other, he’s always telling her that he married her for her money, but in the end, they are incredibly in love and would never dream of being unfaithful to the other. They’re surrounded by scandal and messed up relationships and all sorts of crazy situations, but they remain unwavering in their devotion to each other. Nothing can change what they have. And, they aren’t going to let anything threaten them.

And, in one of my favorite scenes with Elizabeth and her husband, Peter, is where she finds out he’s been flirting a little bit with this woman because they need her to let them into this building and she has no idea that they’re with the FBI. Instead of getting mad, Elizabeth takes the opportunity to tease Peter mercilessly because he’s so horrible at flirting. And then she coaches him while he calls the woman, giving him tips on what to say and how to flirt.

Because she knows he’s only doing it for the investigation. She knows her husband would never go too far. And, he would never do anything that would be unfaithful to her. So, she has fun instead of freaking out or yelling at him, she teases him. Because she loves him. And she is certain of his love for her.

Elizabeth is also the best because she runs her own business. She has things that she likes, she has her own activities that she does, she has her friends and her opinions, and she never once feels like the main character’s love interest. She’s a strong, independent woman who is also married to the main character. She’s her own person, fully and completely. She’s an individual. But, that doesn’t stop her from being someone’s partner, a half of something. She can be both wholly herself and half of her marriage.

We need more characters like this. They don’t have to be married, but why don’t we have more love interests who are together through the whole story? Why does the guy only get the girl at the end of the book? Why can’t he get her at the beginning and they spend the book working side by side?

Your story doesn’t have to be weighed down with romantic drama for this to work. In fact, people hate romantic drama, so please don’t add it. But, we are also giving the impression to everyone that relationships are nothing but romantic drama after they start and that needs to stop.

A great way to look at it is instead of thinking of them as love interests, think of them as partners. They are two heroes fighting side by side who happen to also be in love with each other.

We need to show people that there is hope. That relationships have problems, yes, but that’s not the sum of them. We need to show people that characters shouldn’t lose their personalities just because they’re a part of something bigger then themselves.

We need more relationships in our stories. More characters that show that they’re about more than kissing and fighting. That finding a significant other isn’t the end. Sometimes it’s the beginning.

Or, maybe these characters have been in a relationship for a long time. Zoe and Wash are married long before Firefly starts. And they have problems and they fight and they kiss and say lovey things to each other.

But, they’re also two people. The sum of their relationship isn’t them having problems and making out.

And, as a side note, while most romantic relationships are all drama, you have to remember that all relationships have their share of problems. It’s how you write them that count.

Part of the reason I love Sherlock so much is because of John and Sherlock’s relationship. The writers do such a great job of making it realistic, having them fight and disagree and even get really, really angry with each other. But, it never crosses to the point where it’s just stupid, pointless drama.

You know why? Because unlike the romantic couples, John and Sherlock aren’t fighting about stuff that doesn’t matter. They aren’t arguing because Sherlock worked with another partner and John feels jealous because maybe Sherlock doesn’t want him for a partner anymore.

Boo hoo. Who cares, pathetic female who has no personality? If you’re that insecure about how he feels about you, why are you even in a relationship with him?

But, relationships aren’t for everyone. And, before you decide if your heroine is ready for one, let me reiterate just what is required (and, side note- this basically applies to guys too, but this is a post about heroines, not heroes):

She needs to be her own character. Both sides of the relationship need to be developed on their own, excluding the other person. She needs to be herself, have her own personality, her own interests, her own jokes, her own things that she hates and loves and dreams about. She cannot be the female version of her boyfriend or husband. She needs to be the female version of herself.

She needs to be independent in her own right. She needs to feel like a person on her own. If she can’t carry a scene without him there or without talking about him the whole time, she’s worthless. She needs to be her own person, an individual.

But, she also needs to be able to be part of something bigger than herself. She needs to understand that compromise is key in every relationship and picking your battles is important. It’s better to let the little things go and fight back when there’s something big going down. Because if she complains about the little stuff, no matter how huge the matter is, she’s still come across as the nagging girlfriend/wife. And, nobody likes a nagger.

She can’t get jealous at every turn. He’s going to have to talk to other girls. That’s life. You can’t go anywhere without talking to someone of the opposite gender. Sure, get mad if he’s flirting or acting inappropriately. But, if he’s just being nice? If he’s being polite because he’s trying to get the girl to tell him whether the villain stop off here in this town or not? Yeah, she can’t freak out on him for that. Girls, stop freaking out on guys for that.

And, she needs to support him. I love BBC’s Robin Hood but Marian drove me nuts. She told Robin she loved him over and over again but also constantly told him how wrong he was. No matter what he did, it was never right. She wouldn’t have done that or she would have done it differently or he shouldn’t have said that thing that he said or he should have said that thing he didn’t say. I honestly didn’t see love between them. I saw lust. The only love I saw was then they were kissing each other.

But he could never do anything right.

So she has to support him. She can tell him if he’s wrong, of course. She should tell him is he’s wrong. But, she can- again- nag him. Just because he doesn’t do it the way she would doesn’t mean he’s doing it wrong. Seriously, heroines, get with the picture. Stop being stupid about stuff!

Basically, if you’d be annoyed at your friend for doing it, don’t make your heroine do it.


How about you? Do you have any heroines in a relationship? Who is your favorite heroine who is in a relationship? What is your biggest pet peeve about heroines in relationships?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Adam and Evie- a Western from the Past

Last week I promised you a western and here it is!

Adam and Evie was from the days when I was obsessed with westerns. I still love them, but every story I write doesn't need to be one anymore.

Evie was super fun to create because I wanted her to be the kind of heroine who was doing the job because it needed doing, but she could also be feminine when she wanted to be. She didn't have anything to prove- all she wanted to do was help her cousin. No idea if I'll ever write more about her, but I'd like to. Or someone like her.

It was, of course, going to be a comedy. About a sheriff named Adam, his deputy, Evie, and the Marshal who comes along and makes hysterical trouble for them. But, beyond that, I had no idea where I was going with it and I think that's the ultimate reason why I never even finished the first chapter.

But, here's what I have written. I hope you enjoy it:


Evie Collins is sitting at the sheriff’s desk, leaning back in his chair, feet up on his desk, reading through the book of town laws, when the door flies open and a man bursts in.

He’s like any other drifter- dressed in dusty pants, shirt, jacket, boots, and hat and toting a gun. His hat flies off when he sees her though. “Where’s the sheriff, ma’am?”

Apparently, because of the way she’s sitting, he doesn’t get a good look at her. Either that, or he’s in too much of a hurry to really look. Whatever the reason, he misses her checked shirt, brown trousers and the badge pinned to her vest.

“Rode out to Ford’s Pass on business,” she says, sitting up, sticking a finger in her book to mark the place. “But, if you’re in trouble, I can handle it.”

He eyes her with a little grin that says he thinks she’s a half-witted puppy. Many a man has given her that look and it doesn’t even phase her anymore. “It can wait ‘til the sheriff gets back.”

She shrugs and leans back again. “Suit yourself. Though, if every person who walked through that door felt like you did, I’d be out of a job.”

“Might not be such a bad idea,” he says.

Brave words indeed considering he’s talking to a girl with a gun. Shows how much he thinks of her. She’d bet he thinks she doesn’t have the guts to fire it.

Not true, of course, but she’s learned long ago men like him aren’t worth it.

 “HHHHas it ever occurred to you that you’re keeping a man out of a job?” he continues. “If you’d just stay home where you belong, a good man could be providing for his family.”

A thousand comebacks spring to her tongue, but she has the good sense to keep them at bay. He wouldn’t understand that Adam handpicked her for this job because he trusts her more than anyone else. He wouldn’t understand that a good man with a family to provide for generally picks a safer job than getting shot at. And, of course, he wouldn’t understand that she is home because she lives in the backroom with her cousin.

So, instead of trying to explain it all, she just leans back again and says, real easy like, “You’d have to talk that over with Sheriff Harrick. He’s the one who hired me.”

“I have more important things to discuss with him.”

She barely manages to keep from rolling her eyes. Then why bother arguing it with me?

She knows the answer, of course- because there’s nothing else to do and silence just makes some people nervous. It makes them uncomfortable when there’s no noise or fuss being made.

Evie, she likes a nice healthy balance of both. Just enough noise and just enough quiet to let her know there isn’t any trouble that needs seeing to.

“You seemed in an all-fire hurry when you came barging in here,” she points out. “So, if it would help to get it off your chest, I can listen. Females are good for that, you know. Listening, that is.”

He glares at her. “I’d rather wait for the sheriff.”

She shrugs. “Suit yourself.”

She opens her book again and begins reading. An amused smile plays on her lips and she can’t help chuckling aloud. She looks up at the man who is still standing in the doorway, as if he expects the sheriff back any second.

“Did you know it’s a law that all male citizens must tip their hat to the mayor’s wife? Failure to do so is punishable by a fine of up to two dollars or a week in jail!” She pauses then and the amused look is replaced with a thoughtful one. “Do I really need to enforce that? I wonder how old this law is...”

The man hmphs and leans against the office wall, his hat slouching over his face.”That’s your job, isn’t it? To enforce the law?”

The door flies open again before Evie can reply. She’s unable to help her thoughts that it would have been funny if the man had still been standing in front of it. She quickly rebukes herself for thinking that but smiles at the thought all the same.

The person responsible for the door opening is the town mayor himself, Mr. Fredrick C. Peabody, a man in his mid-forties, with graying hair and wearing a rather tired-looking suit.

“Something wrong, Mayor Peabody?” Evie asks, quickly sitting up again and setting her book on the desk.

The man doesn’t respond right away but instead stands in the doorway, catching his breath. The first man- the stranger waiting for Adam- pushes back from the wall, his hat no longer over his clear blue eyes, his feet firmly on the ground, instead of rocking on the heels.

He eyes the mayor for a good long second before saying, “You’re the mayor of this town?”

Mayor Peabody looks up at the cowboy, assessing him a moment. “That’s right.”

“I’m Marshal Younger,” the man says, flashing a badge, hidden under his jacket. “I’d like to talk with you, when you have a chance, about the law officers your town employs.”

Evie mentally kicks herself for not realizing who this man is. Of course, she’s not sure how she should have known, but she still feels like she should have.

The mayor waves the marshal off. “Later, later. Right now, I have more important things. Evie, where’s Adam?”

“Rode out to Ford’s Pass. Had to see Mr. Cramer about something. Why? Is something wrong?” she asks, not too concerned. The mayor’s one to get excited about the littlest thing and so she’s sure whatever brought him to the office is nothing important.

Mayor Peabody shakes his head. “Tell him to come and see me when he gets back, would you?”

She nods. “Will do.”

As he leaves, the marshal leans against the wall again, quaking a smile. “Is your sheriff’s name really Adam?”

Evie looks up at him in surprise. “Yeah, why?”

He chuckles. “And your name’s Eve?”

She sighs, knowing exactly where he’s going with this. “Yeah. Though, it’s actually Evie and it’s really not as funny as people make it out to be.”

“I think it is.”

“You might have told me you were the marshal,” she says in an attempt to change the subject.

He grins at her. “I could have. But, that wouldn’t have been as fun. You should have seen the way your mouth hung open when I told the mayor. You looked like a drowning fish.”

Evie would protest but she’s too busy trying to puzzle out the drowning fish remark. Can fish drown?

The door opens yet again before she has time to finish contemplating and Mrs. Peabody pokes her head in the office. “Evie, have you seen Fredrick?”

“He just left. Looked like he was headed toward Nancy’s.”

The woman smiles. “Thanks, Evie.”

As she leaves, Evie grins at the marshal leaning against the wall. “Remember that law you told me to enforce?” she asks. He looks at her lazily and nods. “Well, that was the mayor’s wife and you didn’t tip your hat. Will you be going with the two dollars or the week in jail?”

Grumbling, the man reaches into his pocket and pulls out two crumpled bills. Evie grins at him. “Thank you, Marshal.”



And there you have it! I hope you enjoyed it!!

Next week's excerpt will be another western, but a much more serious one. And, Monday we'll once again be talking about heroines. I hope you'll stop back for more.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Does Your Heroine Want to be Feminine?





Last week we talked about Zoe Washburn and why she makes such an amazing female character.

This week, I’d like to go to the other end of the scale and look at a heroine who is just as strong, but as opposite from Zoe as you can get.

This week, I want to talk about Inara Serra, another character from Firefly.

First of all, for all of you out there who have avoided this show because of the content, I will say I do understand where you’re coming from. And, I agree with you. I felt like it was all right for me to watch it (skipping a few parts). But, if you have avoided it for content, I respect that and please don’t watch it on my recommendation.

That said, let’s get back on topic.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show or Inara’s character, she’s a young woman who makes her living as a companion.  Which is, essentially, a prostitute who is respected. Her business, in this world, is considered a respectable one and she is well known in many rich and well off circles.

She’s incredibly diplomatic, soft-spoken, and feminine. But, she doesn’t let people walk all over her and she is more than willing to stand up for herself when she feels it is necessary. She’s a business woman and a very shrew one.

I may not approve of her profession, but the interesting thing about the show is it’s her choice. She’s not a victim, no one is forcing her into anything. She chose to do what she does. So while I may not respect what she does for a living, I can still respect her.

I love Inara because she’s feminine. She wears fine clothes and knows how to serve tea and make small talk at parties. She can connect with people on an emotional level. She’s not afraid to be feminine, to be at her core, proud of her gender.

I think, so often, girls are afraid to be girls. We are bombarded with the idea that strong equals physical strength. That we have to know how to fight to be independent. That we can’t like girly things or desire to be gentle-spirited.

Or, we think that means submissive. Subservient. A victim. We think we need to let men take advantage of us, that we need to let people walk all over us in order for us to be truly female. After all, a girl can’t stand up for herself and still be feminine. She needs to wait for her knight in shining armor to do that.

But Inara is a great example of a woman who can be strong and feminine at the same time. She can dress up in fine clothes, dance and make small talk at a party, and exude an air of peace and grace. But if you try to hurt the people she loves, she will fight you. She won’t let you walk all over her and take advantage of her. She’s feminine, not because society tells her to, but because she chooses to be. Don’t ever mistake her gentle spirit for weakness.

I would like to see more heroines like Inara. Woman who revel in their femininity but never allow it to crush their spirit. Women who value diplomacy over brute strength. Women who strive to bring peace to the world around them by exuding peace themselves. Women who are strong and fearless but love fine clothes and dancing and things like sewing and tea parties.

Not because I think this is the superior woman, but because I think this is the oppressed woman. This type of female character has been stereotyped as the useless, ditzy blonde who can’t do anything but scream and wait for her white knight to save her.

There are girls all over the world who want to be the picture of stereotypical femininity. And they are constantly told by society that they’re wrong. That they have to conform into some strong, warrior woman who can fight and shoot and isn’t interested in tea parties.

These girls are being lied to. They are being told that they can’t be hero, they can’t be strong, unless they conform. Their femininity is being stolen from them because people aren’t willing to denounce these lies. We’re too busy complaining because Disney princesses are too skinny or too weak to care about what our outcries tell girls. We never complain that the Black Widow isn’t feminine enough. Because a girl can be anything she wants, right?

So, why are we not complaining that girls aren’t allowed to be traditionally feminine? Are you telling me I can’t save the world if I want to wear skirts while I do it?

There are so many stories about heroes whose girlfriend is kidnapped and he has to save her with much strength and bloodshed. I would love to see a counterstory, where the heroine’s boyfriend is kidnapped and she has to save him with diplomacy and cunning.

Or, why do the girls always have to have the problems in romances? Why do the guys always have to swoop in and save them, change their lives? Why can’t the girl be the one who is there for the guy in his darkest hour? Why can’t the girl be the one who sees he has problems and challenges him to be a better man?

There are many different kinds of strength. I do not need to be physically capable of taking down men twice my size in order to be a strong, independent female.

A girl should be taught to embrace her emotions, not suppress them. She should not let them rule her, no. But she also shouldn’t be ashamed of them.

Is it wrong if a woman wants to change the world because at her core she loves people? Because the plight of humanity saddens her? A woman is allowed to care. She’s allowed to be emotional. I would love to see a female who is saving the world because her heart is broken for it. I would love to see a female who cares not too little, but too much.

A woman who cries over a loss, who cares so much her heart aches for people, is not weakness in my mind. She is, rather, a woman to be respected. Emotions are bed when they cloud our judgment, when they’re selfish, when they hurt people or push them away. But when they spur us on to do good, when they inspire us to act, to change the world, they are nothing to be ashamed of.

A confident, capable woman is not defined by her emotions or situations. She is defined by how she reacts to them, by what they cause her to do. She is a doer, knowing when to take action. She refuses to sit by and let the world go on without her. She has something to do and she is going to do it. She will give it her all, whether it is colonizing a planet, liberating a country, or raising a child. Whatever it is, she will put everything she has into it.

Depending on the woman, those actions might be fighting off dozens of men with nothing but her fists. Or, if might be liberating a country nothing with her words. One is not better than the other. And both need more representation in the world.

About a year and a half ago, I read the Dear America book about the Women’s Suffrage, A Time for Courage. It wasn’t necessarily a particularly spectacular book, and there are other Dear America’s that I like better. But, I’d never read anything much about that part of history before. And so, in terms of that, it was very eye opening.

See, the thing I didn’t know, was that these women wanted to make sure they did everything legally and by the book. They have a right to peaceful protest, as promised in the Constitution. So, they stood outside the White House with their signs, single file, signs held high so that they didn’t block anyone else who might want to use the sidewalk. They were quiet while they stood there, no calling out, no screaming, no demanding their rights.

They were simply a presence, asking for them in such a way that they could not be ignored.

A lot of these women were supported by their husbands. And, I don’t mean financially. I mean, their husbands were okay with them doing this. And, they weren’t abandoning their families. The women made sure to schedule it so that they at least tried to see that every women was home with her family when she needed to be, if possible. They still ran their households, raised their children, made time for their husbands.

So why then, did it cause others to riot? Why then did it cause other people to make a scene, why did they feel the need to scream and block the sidewalk and cause trouble?

Why were these women ultimately brutally arrested and thrown into prison for their peaceful protests?

Because a women doesn’t need a gun to be scary.

A women is scary because of what she fights for.

Just because she carries a gun, doesn’t mean people will fear or respect her. People can ridicule her just the same way people ridicule women without guns. The sandwich joke is just as likely to get made.

Zoe Washburn is awesome because she’s a fighter, yes. But what she fights for is what makes her a heroine. She’s fighting for what she believes is right. She doesn’t wear it on her sleeve, like Captain Reynolds does, but she fought alongside him in the war. It’s easy to forget that, to forget she’s on Serenity because she believes in something too.

Inara can be just as scary because she fights for something, she believes something. I think she scares a lot of Christians because she thinks her profession is respectable. She scares a lot of people because she’s so diplomatic and sweet, but she’s also a fighter.

What struck me about the Dear America book, is the fact that peaceful protest brought about so much violence. That people thought women were too weak to have the vote, to have their own rights, but not too weak to be beaten or to be thrown into horrible prison conditions.

Because, ultimately, what these women proved, was that they weren’t too weak to have rights. They were proving how well they could handle themselves, how well they would handle any rights they were given. They were proving, with their peace, that they deserved their rights.

And that scared people.

They didn’t want their world to change. They wanted to hang onto the ideas they had been raised with, that the world had been seeped in for a very long time. It wasn’t about whether women deserved rights or not, not in the end, not when the women were being persecuted.

It was about whether women had the right to change the world.

And the answer to that is always yes.

We have not only the right, but the power. And we need to be making sure that we are using that power to change it for the good. For the better. That we are using whatever God has given us to make this world a better place.

And, as writers, that means giving girls another type of heroine to look up to. A women with big ideas, who changes the world with peace. With her femininity. A strong, independent female, who is, at her core, a girly-girl.

Do not be afraid to make your heroine talk things through instead of fighting it out with fists. Show a women who tries to find a peaceful solution. A women who is interested in changing the world, but also in things others might consider trivial, like dances and parties and tea. Show the world a woman can be both strong and feminine. Show them that the two are not mutually exclusive.

Show girls that they can save the world while wearing a skirt, if they want to.

Not every heroine has to be super feminine. As I said last week, Zoe Washburn is my favorite heroine ever and she is more inclined to duke it out than talk things through.

But I am at my core, a girly-girl. Part of me wants to learn to fight, because Black Widow is so awesome. But, I also know, I could never truly hurt someone. I’m not saying that it’s good or better, I think it’s even, but I also feel like the world is telling me Black Widow is good or better because she can fight.

So many Middle Grade books are about tomboys. The girls who like dolls are portrayed as girls who can’t do anything. They’re the dumb girl nobody likes.

But, I like both dirt and dolls. I still love to run around outside barefoot, but I'm also searching for the perfect pair of red heels. My favorite TV shows are action-driven and I squeal with delight every time there's an explosion but I still look at the dolls when Mom and I go shopping, and yes, I consider buying them. I wear jeans almost every day I’m home, but having a reason to dress up every day is the best part of having a job.

So, for little girls who love dolls and for teens who like to wear dresses, give them a heroine who shows them they are good enough. Show them that strength doesn’t equal physical strength. Show them that there is another kind of strength they can strive for.

Next week we’re going to talk about writing heroines with weaknesses. I hope you stick around for it.


How about you? Do you agree or disagree with this post? Who is your favorite “feminine” female character?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Arysa- More Writing from the Past

I haven't thought about Arysa in years.

But, as I glanced through it to get it formatted, it was actually bearable. I rather like this story.

Too bad I never finished it.

Not making any promises, but maybe I'll do something with this one someday. Arysa's pretty cool and I like Justinian and I remember really wanting to write Meg. No idea why I stop off writing just before she came into the story...

Anyway, another long one. They won't all be this long, but this one is. Here is all I have written of Arysa's untitled story:

No one knows how it started. The war between Stratus and Pentia had waged on for so long no one really knew what they were fighting about. Each country just knew they hated the other side.

The war waged for over a hundred years. Bloody battle after bloody battle continued to eat up the countries’ men almost as soon as they were old enough to fight. This made their younger brothers and sons bitter and as soon as they were old enough they too went off to war. Just like the men before them, they would be devoured, making their sons and younger brothers bitter. So it went, a vicious cycle that no one knew how to break. The women tried but what could they do? They begged their boys not to go, pleaded, but it was too late; seeds of bitterness had already been sown.

So man after man, or rather boy after boy, marched off to wage a war they could never win with their hate. Their women watched with tearful eyes as they went, praying they would return soon and knowing they would not. They were like widows, just waiting for news to come to make it official, working hard and wondering what the point in living was.
XXXXX
Arysa Murdock knew what the penalty was for being outside the village limits after dark. Since Ambia was so close to the border people caught out after dark were assumed to be spies- and therefore traitors- and were treated as such. Still, on nights like these, when the stars twinkled clearly against the dark sky and the air was just changing to cold so it tickled your lungs when you breathed deeply, Arysa felt something drawing her outside. It was something inside of her, pulling- no yanking- at her until she could no longer remain shut in.

Just outside Ambia, Pentia and Stratus were divided by a deep ravine. Tonight Arysa stood at the edge and breathed deeply. She closed her eyes, soaking in moonlight. Suddenly, there was a shout and she found herself knocked off her feet, falling, rolling, down into the ravine.

It wasn’t a long fall but painful all the same. Even more so because as soon as she stopped falling she felt someone fall on top of her. “Hey!”

“Sorry.” It was a young man’s voice, not yet deep but no longer high. He scrambled to his feet. “Run.”

“Why? I haven’t done anything.”

“Explain that to them.”

Arysa looked in the direction he gestured and saw a dozen or so soldiers stood at the top of the ravine, starting to slowly make their way down. It was too dark to tell whose troops they were but Arysa knew it didn’t matter. If they were Pentian she’d be arrested for being out of her village after dark. If they were Stratusian they’d arrest her for being Pentian.

She was on her feet in an instant, chasing the mysterious boy. They ran for what felt like hours- though it could have only been minutes- with the soldiers were hard on their heels. It crossed her mind that it was odd they chased them for so long. Who was this boy that he was so important to them? She didn’t have time to dwell on it; she was too busy concentrating on where she was running. Whenever she started to stumble she felt the boy’s arms helping her regain her footing. She wondered why he cared enough to help her but, like her other questions, she pushed them aside for later.

Arysa was getting a stitch in her side and she was beginning to feel as if her lungs would burst when the boy grabbed her hand and pulled her quickly to the left. The ravine had flattened out and she found herself being pulled into a forest. This sudden turn gained them some time, momentarily putting them out of the soldiers’ sight. The boy seized this chance to pull her into a cave covered with overgrowth. She never would have known it was there.

Arysa felt herself being pulled deep into the cave’s interior. After a few moments the boy stopped. He put his hand over her mouth.

“Don’t make a sound,” he said so quietly she almost didn’t hear him. “Don’t even breathe.” She nodded to show she understood and he pulled his hand away.

They crouched in the darkness for several minutes, listening for sounds that they’d been discovered. None came. Never before had Arysa experienced complete silence and she was surprised to find it frightened her. She wished the boy would speak, or some cave-dwelling animal would make noise, or even that the soldiers would find them. Anything to break this deafening silence.

Finally, the boy grabbed her hand, pulling her deeper into the cave. Still, he didn’t speak. Arysa was beginning to wonder just how much more she could take when he stopped, fumbled in the darkness, and lit a match. They were in a large cavern and someone had laid a fire. As the boy set to lighting it Arysa studied him.

He was about her age, somewhere about fifteen to seventeen, with a slight but sturdy frame. Looking at him she could tell it would take a lot to lick him. She was exhausted after all the running but he seemed to seethe with energy. His honey-brown hair curled over his forehead, putting Arysa in mind of a crown framing his head. His brown eyes shone with firmness and determination but, deeper down, she could also see they danced merrily in the firelight.

He looked up and caught her staring at him. He smiled, a nice, warm smile, showing all his teeth.

“I’m Justinian,” he said. She noticed he spoke with a strange accent; not that that meant anything. She’d never traveled out of Ambia before and she knew there was a lot she didn’t know.

“I’m Arysa,” she said. “Why were those soldiers chasing you?”

“For the same reason they were chasing you,” Justinian said. “I was outside village limits after dark.”

“Why?”

“It was sort of private. Let’s just say I had my reasons.”

“Are you a spy?” she accused.

“I’d never betray my country.”

“Good,” Arysa said. “How long do we have to wait before I can go home?”

“The soldiers will be on a sharper lookout tonight after all that’s happened. We’d better wait until morning.”

“All right,” Arysa said. He tossed her a bedroll that was up against the cavern wall. Like the fire someone must have left them there earlier. Either Justinian or someone else. She spread out next to the fire and Justinian situated himself on the other side. For a few minutes the only sound was that of the crackling fire.

“Justinian,” she said into the quiet.

“Hm.”

“Thanks for saving me tonight. You could have gotten away a lot faster if I hadn’t slowed you down.”

“Don’t mention it,” Justinian said.
XXXXX
When Arysa woke the next morning Justinian was gone. The fire was burning nicely though and his bed roll and what appeared to be packs of foodstuff were on the other side of the fire. She assumed he was coming back. He hadn’t been carrying the packs the night before so she guessed they had also been left here by someone.

She started to settle back into her bedroll when someone appeared at the mouth of the tunnel leading into the cavern. He had approached so quietly she hadn’t even heard him coming. The shadows the fire cast made it impossible to tell who it was. Arysa gasped.

Then he stepped farther into the room and she saw it was Justinian.

“Morning, Arysa.” His face was grim.

“Morning, Justinian.” She sat up and stretched. “Is something wrong?”

“Are you Arysa Murdock of Ambia, the blacksmith’s daughter?”

Her eyes widened. “Yes, but how did you learn all that?”

If possible, his face grew grimmer. “I’d hope it wasn’t you. I was scouting around Ambia today and there were plenty of soldiers looking for you.”

“Looking for me? What were you doing in Ambia anyway?” she demanded. “That’s dangerous.”

Justinian shrugged. “I’m pretty good at blending in.”

“You must be to go unnoticed in a village that size.”

“Well, with the soldiers in town people were pretty distracted.”

“What am I supposed to do?” she asked. “Do you think if I wait a few weeks things will die down?”

“Even if the soldiers leave you were still out of the village after dark and then you disappeared. The villagers won’t soon forget that.”

Her eyes flooded with tears. “What am I to do? I can’t go home and I’ve nowhere else to go.”

“You should eat,” Justinian said. He reached into one of the packs and brought out dried jerky, biscuits, and a canteen of water. Arysa accepted them absentmindedly. “Sorry it’s the best I can offer,” he apologized.

She either didn’t hear him or she ignored him, tears falling freely now. “Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Japath will be devastated, thinking I’ve become a traitor. I’ll probably never see them again.”

Justinian sat down next to her and put an arm around her shoulder. “I wish there was some way I could help. I really do. Wait, did you say aunt and uncle?”

“Yes, my mother died when I was born and Papa died in the war when I was very young. I was three when Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Japath took me in. My aunt is Mama’s sister. I didn’t bother to correct you before but I’m really the blacksmith’s niece.”

“So you never knew your parents?”

“No, but I’ve never really minded. Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Japath were like parents to me. And now I’ll never see them again. Justinian, what am I supposed to do?”

“You could come home with me.”

“What?”

“I was going to wait until you were feeling a little better but since you asked, you can come home with me if you like. My family has a nice, little farm and there’s plenty of room.”

This just made her cry even more. “You’re just saying this to be nice.”

“No, I’m not,” Justinian assured her. “I lost my parents as well. It’s my uncle’s farm but he’s away fighting the war. I have three cousins, Meg, Percy, and Ian. I know at the very least Meg would like to have another girl to even things out; she doesn’t like being the only female. I know it could never replace your family but we’d be glad to have you stay with us.”

“I… I don’t know.”

“I don’t want to come across as unfeeling but have you anywhere else to go?”

She shook her head, too distraught to speak. After a few minutes she managed to compose herself enough to say, “How far away is it?”

“Not too far,” Justinian said. “We live near a small town just outside of Braumüller.” He realized his mistake as soon as he said it.

Her eyes grew wide. His arm was still around her shoulder and she pulled away from him.

“Braumüller’s in Stratus.”

“Arysa, I-”

“You what?” she demanded. “You deceived me? A nice little farm with a nice little family. I almost fell for it.” She started for the entrance of the tunnel and realized she didn’t know the way out. “Show me how to get out of here.”

“Not until you listen.”

“To what? More of your lies? I refuse to listen to an enemy.”

“What makes us enemies?” Justinian asked. “The fact that we were born on different sides of the border? That’s no reason for us to hate each other. We both lost loved ones to this war. We’ve both suffered.”

“You never did tell me why you saved me last night,” Arysa said, his voice having a calming effect on her anger. She didn’t know why but she wanted desperately to trust him. Besides, what he was saying made sense.

“As soon as I knocked you into the ravine last night I knew I couldn’t just leave you to get caught while I got away.”

“What are you doing so far from home anyway?”

Now it was Justinian’s turn to get tearful. “I had business in Oncent, that’s just across the border from Ambia.”

“What kind of business?” Arysa persisted.

He avoided meeting her eye. “I thought I might find news of my father.”

“I thought you said your parents died.”

“I said I lost them. Mama died when I was six. Papa was fighting in the war but he disappeared. We never actually heard that he died; we just stopped hearing from him. I tried to find him through the army but they don’t know where is. I was beginning to give up hope when I met an old soldier- he was wounded so they sent him home- who said he knew someone who had been in Papa’s regiment. That’s who I went to see in Oncent.”

“Did he have any news?” Arysa asked in a whisper.

“No, he said he’d never heard of him.”

“Oh, Justinian, I am sorry.”

Justinian shrugged, ashamed to be crying, and in front of a girl, no less. “It’s hard, not knowing. Part of me hopes he’s alive and another part of me doesn’t dare to for fear the hopes will just be crushed.”

“It’s not wrong to hope. That’s what carries us through this cruel war,” Arysa told him. “Hope and faith.”

“Arysa, I’m sorry I deceived you. I honestly didn’t think to tell you I was Stratusian and I’m sorry for all the trouble I got you into. You never would have lost your home if it wasn’t for me.”

“I believe you, Justinian,” Arysa said. “I forgive you too.”

“Thank you. I hope you believe me when I say I was serious when I said there was plenty of room for you on the farm.”

“I don’t know. I want to say yes, really I do, but part of me can’t squelch my Pentianism. A true Pentian wouldn’t step foot on Stratusian soil, let alone move there.”

“Pentian soldiers do it all the time,” Justinian said. “They’ve fought a lot of battles on our soil.”

“That’s different.”

“How?”

“It just is.”

“How?” Justinian persisted.

“They’re making an effort to end this war. It’s for a good cause.”

“They’re coming to kill. That’s never good.”

“I guess I never thought about that before but I’m still not sure.”
“It’s not like it’s anything new,” Justinian said. “You’ve already spent the night in Stratus.”

Arysa gasped. “I have?”

“What do you say to that, my little, Pentian, patriot?”

“I say this is all silly. I spent a whole night on so called enemy soil and it didn’t feel any different than sleeping in Pentia. You’re right, Justinian, we shouldn’t be enemies. I thank you for the invitation and I accept with heartfelt thanks.”

“You’re most welcome, Miss Arysa Murdock. We’re glad to have you.”

“Just promise me one thing.”

“Anything.”

“Promise me you won’t deceive me again.”

He looked her straight in the eyes. “I promise I will never deceive you again.”
XXXXX
As soon as it was dark Arysa and Justinian- both shouldering a pack and bedroll- slipped to the cave entrance. Justinian glanced around and listened carefully, making sure it was safe. Then he motioned for Arysa to follow him outside. They were headed deeper into the forest. Arysa cast one last, longing look towards the Pentian border, towards her home. She blinked back tears, silently saying goodbye. Then she turned her face to the way she was walking. She couldn’t change things. She’d make the most of what was.

Their pace was much slower than the night before. They walked in silence but it wasn’t maddening like it had been in the cave. While the two didn’t speak there were so many other sounds to listen to. The crickets chirping, the owls calling, the wind rustling the trees, the crunch of leaves under their feet, were all familiar sounds to Arysa. She was comforted to know at the very least she wouldn’t have to give up her beautiful nights.

They had been walking nonstop for an hour when Justinian suddenly stopped. He listened for a moment then turned to her.

“Can you climb a tree?” he asked in that ever-so-quiet whisper of his. Arysa nodded. He boasted her into the nearest climbable tree and scrambled up behind her.

She settled onto a branch, her heart pounding. She listen for whatever it was Justinian had heard. After a few moments she heard it too. Riders were approaching. There were four of them and in the moonlight Arysa could see they wore the uniforms of Stratusian soldiers. She didn’t dare breathe.

“They’ve got to be around here somewhere,” one of them said in a low voice.

“They’d better be,” the soldier leading them said. “I did not come out here to chase wild geese.”

All but the leader dismounted and started scouting around near the children’s tree. Justinian silently leaned close to Arysa’s ear.

“If we’re caught let me do the talking,” he whispered. She nodded. He was just in time. As soon as he said it one of the soldiers looked up and saw them.

“You there! Come down.”

“Us, sir?” Justinian asked, using an accent different from his own.

“Is there anyone else up there?” the soldier asked impatiently.

Justinian looked around.

“The answer is no,” the soldier snapped. “Come down from there.”

Justinian climbed from the tree and then helped Arysa down. By the time they reached the ground all the soldiers but the leader had gather around the tree.

“Careful with her,” Justinian said as one of them grabbed Arysa. “She’s me mute sister.”

The soldier loosened his grip. “What are you doing out here? Don’t you know it’s against the law to be out here after dark?”

“Please, sir,” he said, “we didn’t do nothing. We’re just checking our traps.”

“This late at night? With packs?”

“Pa come home from the tavern having had a bit too much so we hightailed it out of there. We needed something to do so we decided to come check the traps. He won’t be sober ‘til morning. We was going to spend the night out here. Please forgive us, sir.”

The leader of the soldiers came riding over. “What’s going on here? Who are these miscreants?”

“Just some children from the nearby village, sir,” the soldier who’d been asking the questions replied.

“Are they aware it’s against the law to be out of their village after dark?”

“Yes, sir, I was just explaining it to them. They were just going home now.”

The leader’s eyebrows arched. “You believe you’re superior enough to make such a decision without my approval?”

“No, sir! I just didn’t think it was important enough to bother you with.”

“Well, thank you for your concern but I’ll handle this myself.” The leader turned to Justinian. “What is your name, boy?”

“Calvin Black, sir,” Justinian replied, “and this is me sister, Kelsey.”

“When I want to know your sister’s name I’ll ask her for it,” the leader snapped. He turned to Arysa. “What’s your name, girl?”

Arysa turned, wide-eyed, to Justinian.

“I asked you a question, girl.”

“She can’t talk, sir,” the soldier who’d been asking questions supplied.

“You might have said so sooner,” the leader grumbled. “What are you and your mute sister doing out here at this time of night with those packs?”

“Well, sir, it’s like I was telling your men, me pa came home tonight having had a bit too much to drink. So we decided to come check our traps ‘til he’s sober. We were fixin’ to spend the night out here. If you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing out here, sir?”

“My men and I are looking for two prisoners that escaped from our camp. We believe they are in this area. Have you seen them?”

“No, sir,” Justinian said. “If they were around all this talking probably tipped ‘em off you was here. They’re probably gone by now.”

“More than likely but it is our job to continue our search,” the leader said. “Since we have no more time to waste on you we shall let you off with a warning. Go back to your village. If we catch you out here again you will be arrested.”

“Yes, sir, we understand,” Justinian said. Arysa nodded her agreement. The soldiers remounted and rode away. As soon as they were gone Justinian turned to Arysa and smiled. “You do a good job at playing a mute.”

“Thanks, you weren’t so bad yourself,” Arysa smiled. “You lie much too well.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Why’d you use that other accent?”

“It’s the Stratusian accent for this part of the country,” Justinian told her. “That’s why I didn’t want you to talk. One word out of you and we’d have blown our cover.”

“I’m glad I listened to you then.”

“Yeah, so am I,” Justinian said. “Let’s get going, we’ve still got a full night of walking ahead of us.”

Arysa sighed. “Lead the way, Captain.”
XXXXX
While they walked for the rest of the night, Arysa kept prompting Justinian to talk. He told her about his cousins. Meg was the same age as him but a good four inches taller and tough as a nail on the outside but soft as a peach on the inside. Percy was twelve and was an amazing storyteller.

“Better than you?” Arysa asked.

“What do you mean?”

“That yarn you spun for the soldiers was pretty good.”

Justinian laughed. “Percy’s even better.”

He told her about Ian, his youngest cousin, who was nine. He loved wildlife and went off alone for hours to explore. He told her about his uncle’s farm, about the crops they grew- corn and wheat- and the animals they kept- cows, chickens, horses, pigs, and one goat. It was a large farm, he said, with plenty of land and woods, and running through the woods was a stream. This was his favorite place to be. He didn’t want to be a farmer when he grew up. “I want to do more with my life.”

“Like what?” Arysa asked.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you like to do? What skills do you have?”

“I don’t know.”

He changed the subject, telling her that Percy wanted to tell stories, Ian wanted to dedicate his life to studying wildlife, and Meg wanted to be a doctor. This lead to a story about how a female doctor had come to town, greatly influencing his cousin’s decision.

All night, he talked and talked and talked, about everything. And all the while he talked Arysa listened, not just to what he was saying but how he said it. She broke the words down, analyzing every sound, vowel, and consonant. She took note of the way he ran certain sounds together and the way he broke others apart. Some vowels were soft, while others were hard. His cs and ks were sharp, as were his rs. All night she studied until she felt confidant to try it out herself.

“How much farther?”

Justinian smiled. “I wondered why you wanted me to talk so much. You’re pretty good at that.”

“Think it will fool anyone?” she asked, continuing with the accent.

“It still needs a little practice but I think by the time we get home you’ll have it down.”

That was enough to bring her to tears. “Home,” she whispered, “I haven’t got a home. Oh, Justinian, I thought I could do this but I can’t. The farther away we get the more I miss Pentia, the more I miss Ambia. I want Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Japath.”

Justinian put an arm around her shoulder. “You’re tired. It is almost dawn. Things will look better after you’ve had a rest.”

They walked for a few more minutes, until they came upon an abandoned looking shack. Arysa waited a little ways off while Justinian checked it out. After making certain the coast was clear, he motioned for her to come inside. It was a small building, probably used a long time ago by hunters. There was a fireplace against the back wall with a bunk on either side of it. The children set their packs on the floor and Arysa started to climb into one of the bunks.

“Hungry?” Justinian asked, pulling jerky and biscuits from his pack. Arysa took what he offered, ate it as quickly as she could and climbed back into the bunk.

“Good night,” she said as she covered her head.

“You mean good morning,” Justinian laughed.

“Whatever,” Arysa muttered from under her blanket. “I just want to go to sleep.”

“All right, sleep well,” Justinian said as he climbed into the other bunk. It wasn’t long before the two were sound asleep.
XXXXX
Arysa was happily dreaming that she was back home when she felt herself being shaken awake. She didn’t want to wake up; she wanted to continue to dream on.

“Go away,” she muttered.

“Arysa, wake up.”

Whoever was shaking her started to pull the blanket away. She pulled it back. He pulled at it and soon they were in a tug-of-war.

“Give me my blanket,” she said. He wouldn’t so she knocked his arms away. Only she missed. She smacked him square in the jaw.

Justinian gave such a loud howl that Arysa was forced to wake up.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“You hit me!”

“I said I was sorry and it couldn’t have hurt that much.”

“What would you know?” Justinian grumbled. He muttered something she didn’t quite catch.

“What did you say?”

He hesitated for a moment. “I said if you weren’t a girl I’d hit you back.”

“Oh, I thought you called me a princess.”

Justinian laughed nervously. “Why would I call you that?”

“I don’t know.” Her stomach grumbled. “It doesn’t matter. Have you got anything left to eat in those packs?”

Justinian pulled more biscuits and jerky out of his pack. “Sorry, this is all I’ve got. I can promise a good meal once we get to the farm though. She may not be good for much else but Meg sure can cook.”

“What do you mean she’s not good for much else?” Arysa asked as she accepted the food.

“She’s a girl.”

Arysa threw a biscuit at him.
XXXXX
When they finished eating the children once again shouldered their packs and started walking.

“How long was I asleep?” Arysa asked as they set out.

“A good ten hours,” Justinian told her. “You probably would have slept longer if I hadn’t woken you up.”

Arysa giggled. “Sorry I hit you.”

“Sure you are.”

“I am,” Arysa insisted.

“Which is why you think it’s so funny.”

This made Arysa laugh harder.

“You can stop now.”

Arysa shook her head and kept laughing. Five minutes later she was still giggling.

“It’s really not that funny,” Justinian told her.

She finally composed herself after a few minutes, only to start it up again. So their journey continued. Then, around five in the morning, they came to a main road. Justinian started down it.

“Are you sure it’s safe?” Arysa asked, suddenly serious. “What if we get stopped?”

“We won’t.”

Arysa didn’t argue. She trusted Justinian and if he said it was safe, it was safe. After about a mile or so they came to a bend in the road. Just as they started around it a farm wagon came around it, towards them. There was no time to do anything. Justinian started to pull her off the road, into the forest, but the driver- a young man of about twenty-five- stopped the wagon and called to them. “Why, if it isn’t Justinian Hale and his cousin Meg. No, that’s not Meg. Who is that?”

Justinian sighed. “Hello, Devin. This is my friend, Arysa.”

The wagon driver’s eyes grew wide. “You mean-”

Justinian gave him a sharp look. “Yeah.”

“Well, aren’t you going the wrong way, if you’re going home? Braumüller’s that way.”

Justinian rolled his eyes. “Yeah, thanks, Devin,” he muttered.

“You’re welcome,” Devin said cheerfully. “I’d be glad to give you a ride if you want.”

“Thanks,” Arysa said, remembering to use her new accent. “We’d really appreciate it.”

Devin raised his eyebrow to Justinian but Justinian silenced his questions with another sharp look. “We’ll take the ride.”

He climbed into the wagon then helped Arysa up. Devin set the horses in motion and they were off.

“How soon until we get there?” Arysa asked.

“About an hour,” Devin replied. “That saves you about ten miles walking. It would have been less if Justinian had been going the right way.”

Justinian quickly pointed out something on the side of the road and the topic was dropped. Devin did a lot of the talking for the next hour but Arysa stopped listening after the first few minutes. She found the Stratusian scenery beautiful and the morning perfect. The sun hadn’t risen yet and the stars still shone brightly overhead. The air was just right, not too cool but not too warm either. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply.

“You okay?” Devin asked.

“I’m just wonderful,” Arysa told him.

He went back to telling Justinian whatever it was he was telling him and she went back to her beautiful night. Finally they came to a fork in the road.

“This is where we get off,” Justinian said. “The farm’s just to the right.”

As they climbed down from the wagon, Arysa felt butterflies dance in her stomach. She took a deep breath. Justinian took her hand.

“I’m sorry, Arysa,” he said as they started down the road.

“For what?”

“For what’s about to happen.”

Before she could question him further she felt a hand grab her from behind. A cloth was forced over her face and then everything went black.



And there you have it! Sorry to end like that! No idea what I was thinking... I'm not even fully sure where I planned to go with this... O.o

I hope you are enjoying reading these, because I'm enjoying posting them. Next week's going to be a little short one, so I hope you stop back for it. It'll be a western. Fun, fun, fun!

And, more about heroines on Monday, so I hope you stop back for that.

See you soon!