This is the first excerpt from Crossing Mother’s Grave. This is taken from the Prologue and it takes place just before Popalia and her group are arrested in The Wrong Way Down. It is a tightly written scene that wraps up a small loose end within the first book. This excerpt reacquaints us with antagonist Katia, and offers a fair bit of foreshadowing. (The Wrong Way Down was always intended as a set up for this book and the next one. Although book one had dark highlights, this book shows my love for the art of writing horror.) Please, enjoy the sample.
Katia rubbed the top of her head, disliking the feel of her coarse hair. Like the slaver’s tattoo scarring her face, her hair was another part of Athania that would never go away. Beyond the window’s reflection, more motion caught her eye. Adjusting her focus though the glass and into the general store, she saw Gregor’s partner, Ucilius, paying for baths as well as the food for the next leg of their journey.
Outside the wagon and to her left, she heard a muffled voice calling, “Kat, are you here? Kat?”
To her surprise, she recognized the caller and quietly called back, “I’m only purring if you’re petting, my dear.”
The rugged-looking caller came into view. He wore a black vest over a long-sleeved white shirt that was stained with three days’ worth of dust. His shoulders were thick, and the dirty white shirt seemed creased by the muscles concealed beneath. Blandly, his black hair shined oily with long sideburns joining his mustache. Dark eyes preluded a deep meanness.
Awaiting his approach, she calmly asked, “Stileur, what are you doing here?”
“Know that Darren is watching out for you,” he said quickly. “I didn’t expect to catch up with you here, but Darren said that if I found you to tell you we’ve got you covered. Just complete your assignment.”
“What is going on?”
Still staggered by the death of his friends in Capitol City, Stileur blurted out, “Trevex is dead. It is too long and weird to tell you the whole story right now. That priestess you ditched in the woods? She hired a couple of heavies, and they’re looking for you. I passed them somewhere on the road, but don’t worry, Darren’s gotta good plan to stop ‘em right here.”
The door behind Stileur opened, and Ucilius stepped outside. Katia tilted her head in the merchant’s direction, giving Stileur a fair warning as her tone changed, “Well, it looks like we are leaving now; it was nice talking to you.”
Turning, Stileur peered at the richly dressed, thirty-something merchant. He was wearing a brocade jerkin of olive green with gold threading, and there were elegant, lace ruffles wrapping his wrists. As Stileur saw it, such a show of wealth was a promise of easy prey. Stileur looked down at the merchant’s scrawny little legs—like string beans in skin-tight, avocado pantaloons. By drastic contrast, it appeared as if the little guy had tucked a small melon under his shirt.
Stileur gave the shorter merchant a menacing stare before slinking away from the wagon. Katia stifled a grin, watching Ucilius jump from the unexpected display of hostility. Katia read the startled expression crossing his face as he advanced.
“Friend of yours?” he stated nervously. His hair had been cut near the scalp from the tops of his ears down. Up top, brown bangs remained long and had been greased back and parted on the right. A shallow nose accompanied by closely set eyes gave an impression the young man had been punched hard, and his face had never depressed.
What a pussycat, she thought mockingly before replying with an ice-coated tongue, “He looks at you dirty, and you think he’s my friend? What does that say about us, Ucilius? I’m deeply hurt. I thought you and I were nearly in bed together?”
Stammering, Ucilius replied, “Errr, ummm. I’m married. Ummm, my wife and love…”
“Easy, easy. No worries,” she interrupted. “Look, that soldier…he was off-duty and lookin’ for love. I shot him down like you just shot me.” She pursed her expression to make a dejected and wanton face.
Offering a nervous chuckle, “Well, then—I guess that explains it.”
Observing the merchant’s tight lips, Katia knew that Gregor must want something. The Third could never ask for himself. Ucilius looked deep inside himself, and not finding the courage or tact to tell her, he finally blurted out, “Gregor is concerned that if we have problems on the road, you won’t do your part.”
She thought, I should slap the stupid right off your face. Instead, she replied by saying calmly, “I don’t understand what you are implying. I’ve paid a very generous amount to ride in the back of this wagon all the way to the Portown. Has there been some problem with spending the gold I paid for my ride?”
“No, no, no. Not that.” Verbally, he scampered backward. “Gregor is concerned that if bandits attack, you won’t help fight.”
She snorted. “Is your wife going to fight? How about the bookkeeper? Will she fight?” Ucilius held his hands up in surrender, reminding her that he is only the messenger.
Katia nodded slowly while easing into the cushioned rocker, “Well, you tell Gregor I’ll do what I got to do. Nothing more, nothing less. I paid for this ride; do I look like a slave?” She paused before adding, “I dare you to answer that.”
Ucilius stammered, and Katia stated resolutely, “I owe him nothing. He can give my money back and pay me some on top if he thinks I’m here to protect His Highness. You hear me, Ucilius?”
“It’s okay. Don’t get so upset.” He kept his hands up while saying, “I’ll tell him what you said. I’ll tell him you’ll do what you have to do. He’ll just have to accept that as a yes.”