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Western Watch, Chapter 2, First Draft

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Author's commentary:

This really is very much a first draft and I wrote it before I really understood how to structure a scene and provide a strong scene goal for the point-of-view character.  In the second draft this chapter will be re-written so that it is entirely from Merreth's point of view.  Until then, enjoy.  :)

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“I don’t give a damn for your petty political concerns, Rehkhell!  That unwashed, swaggering barbarian insulted me. His mere presence should be an insult to all of us!”

     Two scribes occupy desks in Mistress Rehkhell’s antechamber.  Duggel, Senior Scribe to Mistress Rehkhell Lyatir, places his elbows on his desk.  He has seen at least fifty summers.  Tall, thin and balding, with a nose like a beak, Duggel wears a simple brown robe belted at the waist with a length of rich brown leather. Circling his neck is a mahogany-coloured service collar, prominently inscribed with Mistress Rehkhell’s House symbol.

     Across the room from him Sarrit, the junior clerk, gapes at the door to Rehkhell’s office, his mouth sagging open.  He drops his quill on the parchments in front of him and runs a hand through his sandy blonde hair.  An off white cotton tunic and breeches, emblematic of his lower status, cover a frame that is shorter and wider than Duggel’s.   He starts to say something but Duggel waves him into silence. 

    “You are not in Red Hand territory, Tiandraa” Rehkhell retorts.  “Things are different here. You can’t order Hanahk to obey like one of your stable boys.  He’s leader of the Saskanna River Clan.”  Rehkhell’s closed door does little to muffle her voice.  Summers are hot in the Western Watch and her door is usually open.  Open doors allow the infrequent breezes off the Saskanna River to waft through the Westhold’s adobe-bricked and oak-timbered buildings. 

     “No honorific,” says Duggel.  “Rehkhell’s angry.”

     “Different?  Disgusting you mean!” Tiandraa cries. “My sisters and I suspected the Western Watch had grown lax in Wechtan traditions. Now that we’ve arrived, we see just how much.”

     Duggel’s eyebrows rise at Tiandraa’s insulting tone.

     “In our province –”

     “This is not your province, Tiandraa,” says Rehkhell.  “The Red Hand’s writ doesn’t run here.  Mine does.  You’ve been here almost four weeks.  Look out that window.  What do you see?”

     “What do you think?  Nothing but a hovel for a town and a sewer for a river.  A fitting hold for a feeble house.”

     A chair is pushed back, banging into a wall.  “Shut up, you blind fool!”

     Duggel gasps.

     “You see a river that carries our trade from Suthgat to Baltoni. If you spent more time speaking to the scribes I’ve lent you and less time chastising them for every imagined slight, you’d know that.”

     “You can’t –”

     “And,” Rehkhell grinds through Tiandraa’s protest, “if you’d spent even a minute of the two hours you were actually on the far bank speaking with your observers, never mind my captains, you’d know that river is the only thing between us and the steppe clans. In case it has escaped your notice, those clans grow stronger every year, burning our homesteads, plundering our crops, and killing our people!”

     “Your degenerate sisters are getting themselves killed by venturing across the river in the first place! And if you’re so worried about the clans, why do they walk your very streets?”

     “Hanahk’s people are the only clan friendly to us, you fool!  And you’ve managed to give him offense!”

     “This ‘Hanahk’ refused to surrender his weapons to me.  To me!”

     “Surrender his weapons?” Rehkhell says, “You’re bloody lucky you didn’t surrender your head!   By the Goddess, Tiandraa!  Are you here to help us or bury us?  At times I swear it’s damned difficult to tell the difference!”

     Sarrit winces as the argument escalates.  He picks up his quill and tries to busy himself with a bill of lading.  He worries his lower lip when he notices Duggel nodding after each one of Tiandraa’s outbursts.

     “We know of your letters to the Matriarch, begging for money and arms,” says Tiandraa. “You certainly need the help. Whether you’re deserving of it is another matter. Your house is weak and corrupt.  Armed barbarians fill your streets and  your menfolk are un-collared. Everything I see here is an disgrace.  Only your Senior Scribe, Duggel, observes proper protocol.”

     Duggel fingers his collar, smiling smugly.

     “You’ve heard nothing from the Whip, Rehkhell.  You need the Red Hand,” says Tiandraa, her voice rising.  “But why should my house aid those who consort with savages and spit on our Matriarchy’s traditions?”  The last words are shouted, and followed by a heavy thud, like a fist pounding into a table.

     The door is flung open and Mistress Tiandraa storms out, slamming it behind her. Shoulder-length black hair, damp with sweat, hangs lank about her head.  It frames a long face red with anger.  In the heat her maroon house leathers seem plastered to her thin figure, her customary heavy vest discarded and making do with a simple riding breast band.  White knuckled, she grips the hilt of a ceremonial dagger thrust into her belt.

     She stops in front of Sarrit’s desk.  “After the evening meal you will attend to me at the villa.  I have letters that need drafting.   You will observe protocol and be properly attired.”   Turning, she leaves the antechamber, her riding boots thudding heavily on the wooden floor.

     “You’d best do as she says,” Duggel sniffs.  “I’ll inform Mistress Rehkhell you’ll be unavailable this evening.  He clasps his hands in front of him, long bony fingers folding in on each other like spiders embracing. “Given your position, Sarrit, you should be properly attired at all times.”

     The younger man rubs his neck.    “Mistress Rehkhell doesn’t require it,” he grumbled.  “It’s tight.”

     “That wouldn’t be a problem if you hadn’t gained so much weight,” says Duggel.  “Too much time spent in the tavern. Wine will do that and make your mornings disagreeable.”  He shuffles the parchments on his desk. “Your behavior hardly enhances the honor of Mistress Rehkhell. Why she tolerates you I’ll never know. In the capital you’d be chastised severely.  Not respectful of our Mistress.  No, not at all.”  He peers more closely at one particular document, picks up his quill, and makes a few quick notations.

     “Does Mistress require anything specifically of me this evening?” Sarrit asks.

     “Just the usual requisitions and orders to be drafted and delivered,” says Duggel.  “You can come in early in the morning to – ”

     Duggel breaks off.  Sarrit turns to follow his stare.

     She is tall for a Wechtan woman.  Her skin is a light olive shade and a wide-brimmed, black hat hides her eyes. Curly, dark brown hair, hangs down to her shoulders, spilling droplets of sweat.  Covered in grime and layered in sweat, the woman has to be slowly roasting in her attire – riding boots, breeches, vest, and gloves, all of it are black leather. A noble daughter of the Sable House. 

     Duggel rises from his seat.  “Mistress, your appearance is …” He searches for the correct turn of phrase, conscious of the sword slung over her shoulder and the dirk strapped to the top of her right boot.  “… less than that required for an audience with Mistress Rehkhell.”

     Her head turns in his direction.

     “I must ask you to –,” continued Duggel.

     “You ask nothing.  You sit down and you  answer.  Quickly. Completely. Respectfully.  Is that clear, clerk?”

     Duggel’s eyes widen.  Never in his thirty years of service to the ‘Watch had he been spoken to like that.  “Now, Mistress,” he begins again in a more fawning tone.

     In two quick strides she crosses to his desk.  Her left hand clamps around his collar.  She jerks him downwards, Duggel landing on his chair with a thump.  Wrenching him forward across his desk, she twists her grip so that he has stare up at her.

     “My title is ‘Lady’, not ‘Mistress’. I am here to see Mistress Rehkhell.  You will announce me.  Now.  You will be respectful. Always.  You will make demands of me. Never.  Do you understand?”

     Duggel nods as best he can.  The visitor holds him a moment longer, then releases her grip.  He slides back across his desk into his chair, parchments scattering. 

     “Now, perhaps?” asks the woman, placing her hands behind her back and cocking her head.

     “Of course, Mis – of course, M’Lady.”  Duggel slowly rises to his feet.  “And whom shall I announce to Mistress Rehkhell?”

     “Lady Merreth, Daughter of the Sable House.”

     “At once.”  Duggel knocks on the door, waits for a moment then enters the inner office, closing the door behind him.

     Merreth turns to Sarrit. Her brown eyes, as cold and hard as oak in winter, examine him briefly before her gaze settles on his bare neck.

     “And you are?” she asks.

     “Scribe Sarrit, Lady Merreth.”  The words tumble out of his mouth.  He has no wish to be dragged across his desk.

     “You’re un-collared.  Are you in noble service?”

     Sarrit’s hand goes to his throat.  “I am.  Mistress Rehkhell doesn’t require that I wear a collar in summer.  Too hot.  It chafes.”

     Her left eyebrow arches slightly.  “It chafes”

     Sarrit nods.

     Merreth glances at the parchments scattered about Duggel’s desk. “Are all scribes in the ‘Watch as rude as he?” She fixes her gaze on Sarrit again.  “Or as casual towards protocol as you?”

     “No, M’Lady, not all…that is to say we aren’t casual in the ‘Watch.  Or rude. What I mean to say…is…well…no,” he finishes.

     Merreth folds her arms.  “I should hope not, Sarrit.  His tone,” she nods towards Duggel’s desk, “and behaviour are astonishing.”  She shakes her head.  “I wonder –”

     Rehkhell’s door opens and Duggel reappears.  “Mistress Rehkhell would be delighted to see you, Lady Merreth,” he says.  “Please go right in.”

     Merreth does.  The door closes.  Duggel sits down and allows his expression to twist with resentment.  “Nothing!  Mistress Rehkhell said nothing to me about what happened when that…woman arrived.”  He bends over and begins retrieving his parchments from the floor.

     Sarrit glances at Rehkhell’s door.  “Did you see her whip?” he asks in a low voice.

     Duggel straightens up.  “A whip?  No, I didn’t.  Why, she must be an heir to her house!  Secondary at least.  Possibly primary!  What is she doing here?”  

     “You didn’t know she was coming?”  Sarrit asks, surprised.

     Duggel shakes his head.  “Nothing by mail or courier,” he says in a sour voice.  He handled all of Mistress Rehkkell’s correspondence.  A visiting noble of Lady Merreth’s rank would precede her arrival with a formal letter.  If Duggel hadn’t seen such a letter, then none had been sent.

     “It’s interesting she made such a fuss over her title,” he says, tapping a finger on his desk and staring at the far wall.  “She should be ‘Mistress’, not ‘Lady’.  The nobility are quite particular about titles and rank back east you know.”   Duggel had served for a time in the Wechtan capital of Strowa, returning with a near fanatical admiration of eastern protocol.  He stares at Sarrit intently.  “Did she say anything to you?”

     “She made it clear she appreciates proper behavior.”

     “Yes, quite.”  Duggel wrinkles his nose.  “It’s obvious she came directly from the stables.  “The dirt, the dust, the smell!  I think it would be best if a bit more were known about Lady Merreth.  What could be so important that she would ride for over a week to come unannounced to the Mistress?”

     Sarrit shrugs.  The noblewoman had smelled, though only of fresh sweat and leather.  He didn’t find it unpleasant and didn’t care.  Of more concern was Duggel’s calculated obsession with noble affairs, both within the Watch and in the rest of the Matriarchy.  It made Sarrit uneasy, though the lack of a formal letter announcing Lady Merreth’s arrival had piqued his interest as well.  He picks up a quill and spins it between his fingers.  “Did Mistress Rehkhell say anything about her?” 

     “Nothing I can discuss,” says Duggel.  Sarrit nods, knowing Duggel hoarded information, sharing it only when profitable.

     “Sarrit?”

     Mistress Rehkhell stands in the doorway.  Her short blonde hair tops a face tanned and lined from years spent in the saddle under a merciless sun. She wears a knee-length chestnut brown tunic, loosely belted at the waist and leather sandals with leggings circling her calves. 

     “Yes, Mistress?”

     “A moment of your time, if you would, Sarrit.”  She beckons and Sarrit hurries past Duggel’s questioning stare.

     Mistress Rehkhell has utilitarian tastes.  Her office comprises a few wooden chairs, some shelving and a desk.  A partition closes off a small sleeping area.  Rough charcoal sketches hang on the walls along with an elaborate tapestry, the latter a gift from the Steppe River Clan.   Along the western wall several tall windows, framed in dark stained pine, were open with their shutters thrown back.  Through them could be seen Westhold’s red-tiled roofs marching down slope to the Saskanna River.

     Lady Merreth stands looking out one of the windows, her legs slightly spread, hands clasped behind her back.

     Mistress Rehkhell has taken her seat behind the desk.  Sarrit approaches and bows low to her. 

     “We have a guest, Sarrit,” she says.  “Lady Merreth will be visiting us here in the Watch for ...,” she glances in Merreth’s direction, “... for several days at least.”  Sarrit nods and waits for more.  If by some miracle a letter of introduction had slipped by Duggel it had certainly not materialized on Mistress Rehkhell’s desk.   “During this time, she desires to see the west.  I value this opportunity to have a daughter of Sable House acquaint herself with the ‘Watch, as her mother and grandmother did in their time,” she pauses, “to the profit of both houses.”  Rehkhell fixes Sarrit with a hard stare.  “Lady Merreth’s wish is to find her own quarters in Westhold.”

     Sarrit’s eyes widen.  This is no little breach of form.  Mistress Rehkhell always provided for noble guests, invariably quartering them on one of her own estates.  Only a month ago she had accommodated Lady Tiandraa and several other Red Hand nobles with their sizeable retinue in one her personal villas.  An unpleasant lot, aside from a single visit to the far side of the Saskanna they seem to occupy their time tormenting their assigned servants.    To have a visiting noble refuse the hospitality of the ruling House?  Unheard of! 

     “Are you certain about this, Lady Merreth?” asks Rehkhell.

     Lady Merreth turns to away from the window, a simple movement somehow made predatory.  Sarrit cannot help but stare at her.  Her face is impassive.  “Thank you.  Yes, I’m sure.  An uncomfortable, but nonetheless emphatic reply.

     “As Lady Merreth is unfamiliar with the ‘Watch I am assigning her a squire,” says Rehkhell.  “You.”

     Merreth’s eyes narrow and she opens her mouth.

     “Please, Lady Merreth,” Rehkhell holds up a hand.  “I know of your House’s reputation for independence, but allow me to provide this small service.”

     Merreth appears nonplussed.  After an awkward moment of silence, she nods.  “That is gracious of you Mistress Rehkhell.  Thank you.”

     Rehkhell smiles. “Excellent.  Sarrit, I’ll have Duggel arrange for your replacement – ,” she notes the distress on his face “— your temporary replacement while you see to Lady Merreth’s needs.”

     By the Goddess, he wonders, why has she chosen me?  Surely Duggel is the ideal choice, despite his earlier altercation with Lady Merreth.  His love of eastern custom and protocol and Lady Merreth’s rank would likely go very well together. I’m no squire to a noblewoman and her party, he thinks.  She would have at least a half dozen retainers, pleasuremen, and servants. What would he do about them?

     Lady Merreth’s gaze is fixed on the door, her hands still clasped behind her back.  She seems no less displeased at the prospect of having a squire than Sarrit is at being appointed.

     “Lady Tiandraa has asked that I attend to her needs this evening,” he says softly.

     “You attend to Lady Merreth’s needs,” Rehkhell says.   “See that you comport yourself within our protocols.”

     Sarrit nods. “Of course, Mistress.”

     Stone-faced, Lady Merreth stares at Rehkhell.  “The Red Hand is here?”

     Rehkhell frowns.  “Yes.  Two observers have been riding with us across the Saskanna for six months and Lady Tiandraa arrived with  her party a few weeks ago.  I’ve given them the use of my river villa for their stay.”  She studies Merreth.  “Is there some concern, Lady Merreth?  I was under the impression your impending marriage had reconciled Sable House and the Red Hand.”

     Merreth nods and Sarrit notices her shoulders tighten. “It’s changed our relationship,” she says. 

     “I’m pleased to hear that.  With the Matriarchy’s western border under threat, all the Houses must stand together.  It’s my hope we will discuss that after you’re settled, Lady Merreth.  Where will you be going today?”

     “To secure quarters, for a start.  After that I,” she glances at Sarrit, “we’ll find something to do.”

     Rehkhell produces a quill and parchment from inside her desk.  “Then I won’t keep you.”

     Lady Merreth nods at Rehkhell and brushes past Sarrit on her way to the door.  He follows her out the office, wondering at her unseemly haste.  Duggel rises to his feet and begins to say something but Merreth ignores him.  Sarrit shrugs helplessly and follows the noblewoman out the antechamber, Duggel’s eyes staring hard at his back.

Back to Chapter 1: Western Watch, Chapter 1, First Draft“I don’t like this,” says Merreth as she and Ammantha walk down a hallway cloaked in shadow.  It’s just before dawn. Heavy velvet curtains drawn across tall windows keep out any early light.  Large, stern portraits march along the opposite wall.  Soft pools of yellow thrown by oil lamps set between the paintings are the only illumination.  A distant clock strikes the quarter hour. 
            “We should hurry,” says Ammantha, “the footmen will be by to the check the lamps soon.”
            “I know when they make their rounds,” says Merreth.  “I used to try to sneak up on them when I was a child, remember?”  She works short tight gloves over her fingers.  They are fashioned from black leather, as are her boots, breeches, and riding vest.  A coiled, ten foot whip
Ahead to Chapter 3: Western Watch, Chapter 3, First Draft - Bitch SlapAuthor's commentary:
Unlike Chapter Two, Chapter Three does have a clear point-of-view (POV) character -- Merreth. The chapter is really composed of two scenes.  The first is where Merreth and Sarrit are in the hallway and on the staircase landing.  The second is where Merreth meets Lady Tiandraa in the crowded administration room [I know I need a better name for that room].  Like the last chapter, both scenes lack a clear scene goal for Merreth, though a couple of goals are implied (finding quarters, getting past the Red Hand without being noticed).  Both scenes will require re-writing.  In addition, Hanahk, the friendly tribal chief will be gone in the re-write.  His brief appearance in this chapter was to be the beginning of a sub-plot, but it never went anywhere in the subsequent chapters, so he'll be gone in the re-write.
The essence of the chapter will remain though -- Merreth's confrontation with Tiandraa, where Merreth's temper gets the better of h
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© 2012 - 2021 LadyMerrethsAuthor
Comments6
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IngvildJornsdottir's avatar
I love characters introduced here, especially Rehkell and I think I will have soft spot for Tiandraa ;)

Merreth is written gorgeous, even better than in first chapter.
LadyMerrethsAuthor's avatar
I am pleased, greatly, that you are enjoying the chapters. I have only posted the first three of Western Watch. I may posted Chapter IV later on. Currently there are 23 chapters in the novel.

It is interesting you like Tiandraa. We'll see if you change your opinion after Chapter III. :)
XullraeZauviir's avatar
Politics are always tricky, but intriguing. :D

I see Merreth lets Rehkhell assume that things are fine between the red hand and Sable house and that Merreth is in exile. It shows that Rehkhell is not up to date with things and does appear to be on the lower end of privileges afforded other houses. They give her respect, if only barely. :nod:

Merreth is playing it fast and loose. :giggle: She is rather intimidating around men. :XD:

Tiandraa on the other hand just reminds me of a spoiled child who has the power and squanders it. ;) She didn't earn it she just has it and is expectant.
LadyMerrethsAuthor's avatar
Well, to be fair to Rehkhell, Merreth has arrived ahead of any possible courier carrying news of her flight or of her crime. Also Rehkhell is a little more concerned with her very own nasty little war across the river. Yep, Merreth is playing it fast and loose, she doesn't really "do exile" well. As for Tiandraa, she is a bit one dimensional in the first draft. I need to flesh her out a bit.
Dramira-Official's avatar
I think all of the women come off strong and intelligent, reflecting the matriarchal atmosphere of the setting. It makes me keep wanting to know more about Merreth, how she lives, what will happen to her and who she will meet.
I also am getting the idea that I'm going to enjoy reading about Tiandraa, too. :)
LadyMerrethsAuthor's avatar
Mina,

Thank you so much for you comments. It really does mean a lot to me. :)

You should go over to SYoshiko's Red Hand Bitches piece and read my comments. Lady 'Meehna' is just too captivating. She has to appear in a story. :)
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