There were worse jobs than digging around in the bog, but at the moment, Redajinn couldn’t think of any. He was up to his knees in water and the sludge he was pulling up stank to high heaven.
“What is this stuff?” Jaxx asked. He was shorter than Redajinn and as such was water reached to his waist. He pulled up a sheet of metal with what looked like a load of wires attached. He handed it to Gynea who stood on more solid ground above, where she added it to the growing pile.
The moors were cold today. The first winds of winter were blowing across the land. In a few weeks there would be snow. Redajinn looked forward to returning to the warmth of the craniag and getting out of his wet clothes.
The stump that had once been his left hand ached. He would suffer tomorrow. Somehow the cold had a way of getting into it, causing it to ache for days.
But there weren’t many opportunities for a one-handed man in the Clanlands. He and his fellow outcasts got by, but it was a daily cycle of poaching rabbits and deer on the slopes of the mountains, receiving handouts from sympathetic serfs, and burning peat from the bog to keep warm.
He wasn’t even sure that Professor Brennen had Laird Quentin’s permission to dig on what was technically his land. Few came this far out. The woods near the estate made for an easy supply of firewood.
But Jaxx and Gynea had come across the professor fishing items out of the bog whilst gathering herbs, and had come back to the rest of the group with the offer of twenty shillings a day pulling crap out of this shithole.
That was a week ago, and at this rate they’d be able to send Marli into Loch Dynald for a nice hog.
“We’ll need to save some money for repairs to some of the walls,” Marli had said, when they’d gathered in the remains of the old clan hut to discuss it.
“And to get food supplies to last us through the winter,” Drummond had added.
“What?” Jaxx had said. “And save you the joy of trudging through the snow hunting deer?”
“I’ll give you the bow and arrow,” he grunted at the boy, “and you can go next time.”
That was a week ago, and there was still a debate going on how best to use their growing earnings.
Redajinn wasn’t sure why all this scrap was buried in the bog, nor how the professor could afford to pay so handsomely. Even melted down for scrap, their entire week’s haul wouldn’t amount to more than a couple of shillings.
Redajinn wasn’t complaining though. As cold as he might be, that money was worth putting up with Jaxx’s jokes and Gynea’s moaning.
Currently he, Jaxx and Drummond were in the mire, fishing around in the muddy water for anything sharp. Originally they had taken it in shifts, but Gynea had complained of being cold so she’d been set to work on the bank helping Marli taking the pieces the men found and putting them in a pile.
“What is it we’re looking for?” Redajinn asked Professor Brennen, who was on the bank with the women, sifting through each piece. He was a middle-aged man with pocked skin and an indiscernible accent. His clothes spoke of wealth, yet he had come alone.
The professor said nothing, lifting his small round glasses so he could examine a particularly important find. He’d not told them anything, and a few of them were becoming suspicious.
“This looks like it’s been in an explosion,” Drummond said, pulling another piece from the muddy depths of the bog. The metal was twisted, and you could clearly see burns along one edge.
“And those markings aren’t like any language I’ve ever seen,” Jaxx whispered, glancing over toward the professor to ensure he wasn’t heard.
“Can you even read, Jaxx?”
The boy looked offended.
“Yes, actually, I can,” he said. “I could read and write three languages before I had to shack up with you reprobates.”
Jaxx got a hard time of it. He was the youngest of the group, his skinny frame making him look younger than his nineteen years. He gave as good as he got though.
He scratched his ginger hair with a muddy hand, leaving a trail of muck across his forehead.
“Loving your warpaint,” Gynea said as she ambled up to the edge of the bank. Her and Jaxx were as thick as thieves, Gynea only a few years older than Jaxx.
Ordinarily, she was a bundle of excited energy, but she liked comfort and as such had not stopped moaning since they’d started working here.
“Any idea how much longer we’re going to be doing this?” she moaned as she bent down to take a piece from Drummond. “I’m cold and hungry.”
“You’re always cold and hungry,” Drummond shot back.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she snapped. She’d not stand for any comments about her size.
“If we cooked you, I wouldn’t need to go hunting for deer,” he said.
Redajinn could feel the argument brewing and turned his attention to his work. Jaxx whistled in through his teeth. He obviously thought similarly.
“Drummond,” Marli shouted. “Enough.”
The young woman came marching over. The dark skinned woman was the defacto leader of their little band of outcasts. Redajinn had never remembered there being a vote or a discussion when they’d first all come together, but neither had anyone questioned her being in charge. Not even Drummond.
“Why are you starting on Gynea?” she ordered. There weren’t many people who could get away with making demands of Drummond, but Marli commanded respect.
“She’s always fucking moaning,” he said.
“I’m cold, I’m hungry,” he started mocking her.
“I said enough!”
Marli looked to Gynea.
“Go help the professor,” she instructed the young girl. “I’ll deal with this.”
Marli waited until Gynea was out of earshot, then crouched down on the bank next to where Drummond was working.
“I’ve warned you, Drummond,” she said, so low and quiet, even Redajinn had difficulty hearing. “You either support the group, or you can go off on your own.”
“You’d starve without me,” he said, trying to ignore her and continue to fish in the waters.
“That so?” Marli said. “How far that bad knee of yours gonna take you?”
Drummond looked up and swept the long, dirty shoulder-length hair out of his face. He glared at Marli.
“I thought so,” Marli said. “Play nice, or play alone.”
Marli stood up and walked over to the professor.
“I think we’re almost done here today,” she said. “Everyone’s getting cold and cranky.”
“Very well,” said the professor. “Same time tomorrow?”
“If you’ve got the shillings, we’ll be here.”
Taking the hint, the professor fished in his pockets and produced a handful of coins.
“Nice doing business with you,” Marli said.
Redajinn could feel something sharp under his feet. He’d grab this last piece up and then be done for the day.
He reached down and pulled up yet another bit of scrap. He threw it to the bank and was about to get out of the bog when he glanced down. Something was glowing a pale blue beneath him.
He went to tell the others, but something made him stop.
He waited until the professor had mounted his horse and was riding away.
“You staying there all night, Red?” Jaxx asked as he clambered up onto the bank.
Redajinn looked towards where the professor’s horse was riding off into the distance and then said,
“I found something. Give me a hand.”
“We’ve been finding things all day,” Jaxx replied. “I’m not getting back in there, are you crazy?”
“It’s glowing,” Redajinn replied.
“Come on, Jaxx. I only got one hand. This is difficult enough.”
Jaxx sighed, and jumped back in the water. He waded over to where Redajinn was and looked down.
“Holy shit,” he said, and then shouting to the others. “There’s something down here. It’s glowing.”
“Glowing?” Gynea asked.
“That’s what I said,” Redajinn mumbled to himself.
“Professor Brennen has just left,” Myra said. “We should leave it for tomorrow.”
“We might not find it again tomorrow,” Jaxx replied, trying with Redajinn to tug the item free. “It’s stuck in here, good.”
“Here,” Drummond said, wading over and giving them a hand, “let me help.”
It took them a good few minutes, with even Marli jumping in to help them, but they managed to free the item and bring it to the surface.
“It’s some sort of crystal,” Gynea commented as she helped drag the item onto the bank.
It looked like no crystal, Redajinn had ever seen. It was the size of a small pig and it glowed blue.
“I don’t think we should touch it until the professor has got a look at it,” Marli said as the device seemed to pulse with light. “We seemed to have disturbed it.”
“Do you think this is what the professor was looking for?” Gynea asked.
Drummond was busy clearing bit of peat and muck from the surface so he could see it better. The crystal seemed to pulse with increasing regularity.
“It looks like some sort of container,” he said.
“I still think we should leave it alone.”
“Stop worrying, Marli,” said Jaxx. “What’s the worst…”
There was a pulse of blue light that seemed to explode out of the crystal. The explosion of light hit Redajinn in the chest with the force of a charging deer.
The last thing he remembered was being thrown backwards before everything turned black.
Starting a new story is ALWAYS hard. We’ve not had chance to settle into the world and the characters are mostly unknown to us. I’d probably want to revise this once I’d written the entire story. Characters tend to adjust as I write and I’d want them to seem consistent. Plus I’d want to pull on the core themes of the story right from the beginning. Those sometimes develpo during the writing.
This chapter has a lot to do. As well as setting our story in motion and introducing our world, it has to introduce five characters. I’m not sure if I’ve introduced each of them in the best of ways. Professor Brennen could have done with more involvement in the story as well.
But as a First Draft… it’s OK. I feel I held back from giving too much detail (there’s a tendency to want to infodump everything in chapter 1) but I’d definitely revisit and rewrite down the road.