Took some time tonight to do a first wash on the cover image for the next Minivandians ebook, entitled “Lost Children. Your thoughts are welcome.
It’s a rough draft, but it’s probably pretty close to where I want it to be.
Just for kicks and grins, here’s a snippet from one of the short stories in the book:
Ruarin and Lytteren rode down the muddy track leading from the village back to their home. Their bulging saddlebags held items they had purchased at the early fall market. Ruarin had obtained spices and other things necessary for her work fending off a fever, which had struck several of their neighbors, while Lytteren had found and purchased cloth and leather to outfit herself for her journey south to visit the Aztlani. Both women were glad that the groom had thought to thoroughly oil both their saddles and bags that morning, as the weather had turned cold and wet. Both women wore heavy woolen cloaks, but were wet and shivering underneath them.
“I doubt you will miss days like this, daughter,” Ruarin said, trying to cheer the young maiden up. The realization that her studies would soon end and that she would be entering the world had struck the young lady a few days before, and her mood had become somber and withdrawn. Only her little brother’s antics and time spent playing with him seemed to bring her out of her melancholy.
“Does it never rain in the desert?” Lytteren answered, sweeping pooled water from a dip in her cloak.
“Oh, on occasion. Meztli tells me that you will arrive shortly before their rainy season, but it only rains for a few minutes each afternoon.”
“I only found enough cotton to make one dress,” Lytteren said sourly, peeking out from the hood of her cloak. “Should we try to order more from the merchants?”
“Don’t worry, child. You won’t need it for a few weeks after you leave our damp little valley,” Ruarin said soothingly, sensing the younger woman’s anxiety, “and one light riding gown will be enough to get you to the markets at Durango.”
“Father says that once I cross into Aztlan, I’ll be able to get whatever I need,” Lytteren grumped. “I just don’t like setting off without knowing I’ll have everything necessary.”
“Sometimes it’s fun to step off on faith alone,” Ruarin replied, smiling at a memory. “You won’t learn if you don’t take chances.”
The steady rain became a downpour as they rode down the muddy track, and they continued in silence rather than try to shout over the sound of raindrops striking their cloaks. Their horses, patient as ever, just kept putting one hoof in front of another, unmindful of the sticky mud their steps threw into the air.
The rain lessened after a while, and the clouds began breaking up, allowing strong sunlight to poke through. Lytteren pulled the hood of her cloak down and shook the wet from her clothes. Ruarin followed suit, and the two chatted about the news they had heard at the market as their horses’ hooves sounded on the boards of a bridge. Beneath them, they could hear the creek flowing swiftly through the pilings.
“So, Marcy and Pol will be married in a few weeks?” Ruarin asked. She had known Pol since she and the Minivandian had taken up residence in the manor and he was a small boy, and she had helped Marcy’s mother deliver her child a few winters later.
“Yes,” Lytteren replied. “Marcy wants me to stand up with her at the wedding, so they’re moving the date to before I leave.”
“You can wear the gown we made for your appearance before the empress in Texcoco,” her mother replied. Something caused her brow to knot, and she reined her horse to a halt at the edge of the bridge. The Lady of Eyre cocked her head to listen, then turned this way, then that in her saddle
“Did you hear that?” she asked in a hoarse whisper.
Lytteren stopped her horse and listened as well. At first, she only heard the occasional drip of a raindrop making its way through the leaves of the sycamore trees lining the creek and the rush of the water beneath her. Then, she heard a faint whimper coming from under the bridge.
Lytteren turned her horse from the road, stopping it at the water’s edge. Dismounting, she stooped down and peered into the gloom beneath the bridge. Something small moved in the shadows, causing her to take a step forward to see what it was.
“Mother,” she said after a moment, “I think there’s a puppy under there!”
“Is it all right?” Ruarin replied, climbing down from her horse. Cautiously, her hand on the hilt of her dagger, she joined her daughter.
“I can’t tell. It’s too dark under there,” Lytteren replied.
Ruarin bent down to look, whispering “Solas.” A small dot of light, sharp green in the gloom, illuminated the underside of the bridge. There, huddled against the first piling and covered from head to tail in yellow mud, was a small creature. It shakily raised its head, revealing soft brown eyes and a black nose. Its floppy ears hung next to its long, thin face, and it opened its mouth to let loose a whimper of fright at the sudden brightness.
“Have no fear, little one,” Ruarin said soothingly, reaching out an open palm.
The little dog stretched out its neck, sniffing the offered hand, then stood. It shivered, either from cold or weakness, or possibly both, and took a tentative step toward the two women. Lytteren sucked in her breath at the sight of it, especially the sharp shapes of ribs and hipbones jutting out beneath its filthy hide.
“Oh, the poor thing!” she said, taking another step forward, unmindful of the hem of her dress as it dragged in the mud.
“Careful, daughter,” Ruarin admonished her. “It may be sick, or at least unused to people.”
The dog proved the Lady of Eire to be mistaken, as it sniffed Lytteren’s hand a few times, then licked it with a long, pink and black tongue. Its tail wagged weakly a few times, then it took another unsteady step toward them.
Ruarin and Lytteren stepped out from under the bridge, followed by the dog. It moved slowly and unevenly, taking faltering steps in the mud. Lytteren went to her saddlebag and retrieved a length of string from one of the packages.
“Let’s take it home, mother,” she said, walking back. “Perhaps she’s just lost.”
“Well, we certainly can’t leave it here,” her mother answered. “The poor thing won’t make it through the night!”
Lytteren cooed soothingly to the dog as she walked to it, patting it gently on the head while she ran the string around its neck.
“There’s no collar,” she said.
Ruarin frowned at that. “If she’s a stray, then that will make it harder to find her master.” In her mind, she counted the number of hounds, cats, and other creatures their household already hosted. She wondered at how she would convince her husband to accept another, no matter how dire the need.
Lytteren tied a knot in the string, then ran her hand down the hound’s mud-covered flank. “It hasn’t eaten in days, I’ll wager. The poor thing is starving.”
Ruarin took a critical look at the creature, seeking signs of disease or injury.
“What’s that between her shoulders?” she said, reaching down to touch a hump of dirty fur which ran along the dog’s spine from its shoulders to halfway down its back.
The dog arched its body at her touch, and to their amazement, its mud-covered hair parted to allow something to extend from its back. The dog’s tail, on the other hand, wagged back and forth in happiness at the attention.
Lytteren brought her muddy hand to her mouth in shock.
“Mother,” she asked in wonder, “are those wings?”