This is the latest version of my opening chapter. I was advised to put more world building in between the action. Please tell me your opinion…..
“Mine own!”“Mine own!”
Mother’s wail rippled through Leoshine. Tears glued greasy hair to her face. Mother’s hands pulled and stroked and patted wherever she could reach. Giffshine and Hillashine’s bodies, tight against her own, convulsed with sobs as they suffocated together on the matronly bosom.
For two nights they had staggered through the forest, first in the main body of evacuees from the town, later as a forlorn huddle of four with no food, and only mouthfuls of cursed water from the wild creeks. Today, at dawn, a knot of stinking, filthy barbarians had surprised them, and dragged them into this dark hole in the side of a low bank.
Giffshine, the eldest sister, moved to disengage from the embrace Leoshine heard straw rustle beneath them. Leoshine wriggled higher on Mother’s breast, under her fleshy chin. Her hand clenched on Mother’s neckline, drawing the coarse weave to her lips.
Voices outside warned them a moment before the hingeless lid of the cave ripped open. Light rushed up the rough rock walls carrying grotesque shapes like an advancing army. Hillashine, the middle sister, screamed and Mother began hurling curses as she tucked her children closer in.
Outlyers, the savages of the forest that surrounded Leoshine’s town home, slunk toward them. Their malodorous sweat and breath filled the cave. Their grunts and leering laughs mingled with the women’s screams and sent chills up Leoshine’s spine. She shrank deeper into Mother’s folds and Giffshine disappeared into the shadows.
The first man to reach them fastened his sausage-like fingers around Hillashine’s wrists. She screamed louder and Mother swung her fist. Another man grabbed Hillashine’s waist and swung her toward the door. Mother rose and rushed at them but yet another man shoved her and she fell backward.
Leoshine scrambled clear, but felt the crushing weight on her leg and hip. Mother sprang up but too late. The door thudded over the hole and even Mother’s bulk hurled against it availed nothing. Giffshine joined Mother at the door, pounding with her fists and screaming insults and things Leoshine could not understand. Giffshine knew the grating, stone tongued language of the Outlyers better than any of her sisters. She had taught Hillashine in their secret meetings after they thought their little sister slept, and Leoshine had gleaned from the shadows.
Leoshine shrank deeper into the straw and listened to Hillashine’s screams. She knew what they did to her. She had listened to enough tales of what Outlyers did to Town women. Her flesh crept on her arms and legs.
Mother’s breathing came nearer and Leoshine heard her rustling in the straw. She felt Mother’s arms gather her onto her ripe, clammy bosom again. Her clothes clung to her back and armpits.
Once upon a a time, Leoshine forced back the weeping, only just three days ago there was a bath house at home in the town. Leoshine tasted a tear on her lip and remembered the steam rising from the warm pool, and how the water tickled the hairs on her half submerged chin. The bath stood away from the main house amid bushes that had grown into privacy screens.
Mother and Giffshine and Hillashine had shunned it as they did everything Father ‘brought back’ from his mysterious disappearance. Her thought cast further back to when she was very little and Father disappeared. He had set out to inspect the great engines that powered their Dome atmosphere, and not come back until she had replaced all her front teeth.
Her brothers, Georg and Wol had battled to maintain the family position and Father rewarded them when he returned. “I was learning from the Trickixim.” He had explained his absence by invoking the long dead myth of the priests and priestesses who created the Dome.
In her memory she heard Giffshine’s voice on the other side of the bath house wall. “Where is that vagrant?”
“She’s in that water tub again,” Wol had answered.
“Bent on destruction.” Giffshine had sneered. “Mother wants her. She has a new pattern she wants to try. ”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” Wol raised his voice. “I’ll go to the cellar for a bucket of worms….”
Giffshine had laughed, and Leoshine saw in her mind her sister’s open mouth thrust up to the light of the Dome and her hands on her hips.
“I’m coming!” Leoshine had called over the sudden cascade off her lithe body as she stood and reached for the towel. She remembered the water music lapping at the tub walls. The ripples interlaced and grew quiet as she had dried and dressed her long hair. A simple rough tunic covered her from neck to ankle. Bath houses were only the start of good things, Father had winked at her.
Leoshine shifted beneath Mother’s bulk. Where is Father? She wondered. They wouldn’t dare touch the Town Mayor’s women if he was here. He had climbed to the highest rank of authority under the Myxolidian Dome on the backs of dead Outlyers. He will wreak revenge, Leoshine told herself. Will it be too late?
Hillashine’s screams faded to whimpers. The door wrenched open. Mother hastily shoved and tucked Leoshine against the rock wall behind her, stuffing straw over her booted foot.
Hillashine’s body landed in Mother’s lap. The top of her dress hung down over her belt, and her skirt was torn up the front. Mother, sinking back, wailed and cradled her child, patting her cheeks, pulling her arms back into her sleeves, and calling her name through her tears.
The gang of leering monsters seeped toward them. Gasping for air, Leoshine watched Giffshine step forward from the shadows, and heard her say, “Take me.”
Leoshine’s shaking body ground into the rock, her teeth chattered. All her hair stood on end. She wriggled to relieve the pressure on her lungs and gasped as Mother’s elbow collided with her ribs, tucking her more firmly behind. The light vanished as the door lid closed. A thin wail rose from Hillashine’s lips, copied immediately by Mother.
“My sweet, my pudding,” Mother soothed. “We won’t tell Angkon.”
Leoshine rubbed the cloth of Mother’s neckline under her lower lip, and smelled home, the washing of wool, the lyming of flax and the lint of a lifetime of weft,and heard the rhythm of Mother’s looms.
“Leoshie!” Mother had exhaled in a gust as Leoshine had arrived in the weaving room from the bath house. In one gesture she had swept her daughter onto a stool and threw an avalanche of cloth over her head. “Stand still.”
Leoshine had poked her head out the neck hole and stood on the stool, gazing out over the vegetable garden. The girl picking peas had plucked a weed by the roots and flung it at the girl picking beans. A chicken had pecked at the new dirt. In the orchard, planted in the shadow of the town wall, Leoshine had imagined men harvesting apples and her mouth had watered. Her gaze had fallen on the bank of five looms, with five servants shuttling and cocking 5 new webs of Mother’s famous fabric.
Leoshine’s shoulders had sagged with the weigh of the new garment. Her head had tilted back until she gazed at the boards in the ceiling, rough hewn like the walls where Mother hung tapestries to block the draft. Blood pooled in her lax fingertips. Mother muttered below, buried and indistinct in the folds. Footsteps hammered down the hall.
“Leoshine! Where’s my bib?” Hillashine arrived in a snit. Mother had fought her way free of the hem, and Leoshine had turned toward the doorway. “I said, where is it? I gave it to you to wash.”
“Why didn’t you give it to Reanour?” Mother had cocked a questioning eye at Leoshine.
“On the window sill. Drying in the kitchen.” Leoshine had frowned. Mother chose too often to ignore Hillashine’s petty rivalry with the servant responsible for the washing. “
You slow batraworsk hog! You only just did it, didn’t you? You lazy….”
“What did you want with the bib?” Mother turned back to her measuring.
“What does anyone want with a bib?” Hillashine tossed over her shoulder. A gust of air swirled out behind her.
That was just before her initiation, when Angkon, her suitor, had tried to impregnate her. If Hillashine birthed a live child, the two would be joined. Father and Mother didn’t even know if Angkon had started anything. At least, thought Leoshine, they haven’t talked about it. What will this outrage mean to their hope? Leoshine wondered, and held her breath, listening to the silence outside.
The urge to pull her knees into her chest, and her tongue cleaving to the roof of her mouth drove her near to madness. Leoshine remembered standing in the weaving room, her fingertips curling and her shoulders gathering up to her ears. Mother had sighed amid her work in the folds. “
She didn’t need to talk that way,” Leoshine remembered complaining.
“You could have done it sooner.”
The clack of the looms had droned on. The servants had finished their harvesting and left the garden to Mother’s bees. Soon, Leoshine had imagined, I’ll be free to run all the way to the top of Father’s palace, the highest watch tower in the town.
Hillashine’s teeth clattered as forceful shaking seized her.
Leoshine felt the convulsions through Mother’s shoulder. The last she had seen of Father, he had been standing surrounded by his fellow councilors, near the gate in the pole fence he had built around the town. His eyes beamed. His teeth flashed in his beard as a towering stranger in Outlyer clothes had pushed through the guard at the gate and addressed him in unaccented town Myxolidian.
Leoshine remembered tucking behind his arm, inhaling his scent in his sleeve, as she now sat squashed behind Mother. The giant Outlyer had not bowed, or shown any sign of respect to Father, who had answered with strange sounds. As the stranger disappeared back through the gate, Father had leaned down to whisper in her ear, “These are friends, Leoshie!”
Mother’s bulk shifted and Leoshine squirmed into a hollow in the rock wall. Suddenly the cave flooded with light and Giffshine’s willowy figure staggered forward. Mother flung Hillashine off her lap and lurched up to catch Giffshine.
Fingers curled around Leoshine’s ankle. She screamed as her seat skidded across the straw, her skirt rising and her underleggings tearing.
Leaning forward, she pried her fingers into the grip on her boot. She sank her teeth into the flesh near her face, curling her lips away from the disgusting taste of the skin. From behind they lifted her under her arms.
Mother screamed and Leoshine felt her captor cringe under Mother’s blows.
“She’s not initiated!” Mother screeched. “A curse is a curse on Townsman or Outlyer for taking a girl not initiated!”
Leoshine twisted her torso, and her arms and legs in all directions against the binding hands. Her teeth momentarily found leverage before her legs were yanked up and her head scraped along the floor. Her dress fell over her face. She was lifted clear and suddenly she was free.
She rolled to stand, brushing her skirt from her eyes, and tumbled as the floor moved. The light filtered through a course weave.
A sack! She thought. Her hands filled with the cloth. I’m inside a sack! She pull one side of her prison up, and tumbled as the other side wrenched from under her feet.
In the next instant her arms flailed, and her body collided with bone and muscle. She imagined herself lifted and flung over a broad, fur clad back.
Mother and Hillashine’s screams grew fainter. Leoshine swayed and thudded rhythmically amid sounds of feet shuffling through dead leaves. The last she heard was a mournful howl, “Mine Own!” She fought to straighten, to get her feet under her. Once, twice she bounded up and down while pummeling the back of her carrier.