I am very excited about the second installment in The Body Magic Series; Black Archer! We are moving out of the Advance Proofs to a fully edited eBook and paperback in a few weeks. Here is an excerpt:
CHAPTER ONE: A Mess
Blanca was running again. She clasped her hands onto the straps of her pack to keep it from bouncing too roughly on her back. She ran and ran, passing muddy and tired boys to her right dressed in all black. “Through!” she yelled and cut between two boys and into the dense woods. Quickly, she ducked behind a tree, unshouldered her pack and tossed it to the ground, unlaced her breeches and squatted. She had waited so long that it was now hard to pee. Finally, the relief came and she laced her breeches with shaking fingers, grabbed her pack, and stepped back out onto the road.
And she would have to run ahead again. Then she saw a boy she recognized waving at her down to her left, farther towards the back of the long line which seemed to have no end. She had a moment to wait and, relieved, bent over panting.
Why am I doing this? She wondered, not for the first time.
Blanca had barely the time to notice how massive The Black Archer caravan was in the first few days of marching. She had been too overwhelmed with the sudden departure from The City of Mantan and then the three days of straight marching towards The North. They paused only long enough to eat and drink whatever was handed to them off a passing wagon, squat behind a tree as needed, then to sleep briefly on the ground by the side of the road.
It was the afternoon of the fourth day Blanca realized, and no one had said how long the march would be. She knew that she could walk about twenty miles a day. It was five miles from her village of Word to The Hand’s cave and she, Rose, and Blue went there and back in half a day. So, she thought sleepily, we have gone almost eighty miles already.
“How much farther?” she croaked at the boy in front of her. Khalid was his name, though they had barely talked.
“Today,” he called over his shoulder. “I think.”
“I hope so,” she breathed. Khalid did not reply.
Blanca set back to putting one foot in front of another towards The North and Kalakala Pass.
“Yes!” a boy behind her yelled for no apparent reason and then, ahead, she saw an opening in the woods. The long black line of boys began to speed up. Twenty long minutes later, Blanca exited the woods onto a vast field of green with a tall hill in the center. Massive black tents were already being erected atop the hill and at various locations spread about. Strong-looking men were tossing small dark gray bundles in neat rows around the larger tents.
“Thank goodness,” Khalid grunted. “Real food tonight.”
Blanca hoped that was true. And sleep, she thought. Real sleep.
“Hey, girl,” another voice behind her said. “Who are you going to bunk with?” She looked over her shoulder. It was the round dough-faced boy. Terl was his name, but that was all she knew about him. No one talked to her, even if they had the energy to do so. Terl winked.
“Two to a tent, sweetie.”
Blanca ignored him and
slogged on until they were ordered to one side by The Drill Master on his black horse. Blanca did not know The Master’s name. His main job seemed to be to yell at them as often as he could.
“Recruits! Choose your billets and get them up!” he yelled. “Two to a tent!” He looked directly at Blanca, his bloodshot green eyes flashing. “Except you, girl. You are alone. Dump your ruck over there and set up,” he pointed with his chin, “next to the latrines.”
She was, she realized, very alone.
What was I thinking? Why would I want to join The Black Archers? They are all men and boys. They are also the best, she thought and felt like crying.
She trudged to the indicated spot beside a row of head-high narrow tents that she took to be the latrines, and unceremoniously threw down her pack and kicked it for good measure. A boy next to her snickered as he set about untying his tent bundle with a partner’s help.
“Mess in an hour!” The Drill Master yelled. “Then Archery Ratings. Collect and string your longbows at the wagon over there,” he pointed at a black wagon with a red triangle painted on the side just pulling up behind four gray mules
, “and be ready to collect arrows at The Fletcher Wagon over there,” he pointed to a large covered wagon at the end of the rows.
“You are going to have a very long day!” The Master spurred his horse around and galloped off, Recruits diving o
ut of his way in all directions.
Blanca understood the basics of setting up a tent: it was just two tarps with tension poles and stay ropes. She had helped set up large tents for festivals in Word, but the grayish lump at her feet looked menacing.
She looked about and all the other Recruits, boys and young men, were helping one another to spread the canvas pieces and tie them together with bits of black string.
No one would be helping her.
She untied the knot on the rope of the bundle and began to sort out the contents: two pieces of canvas, four small poles that seemed to fit into one another to make two poles, eight wooden stakes, some short pieces of twine, and two pieces of yellow rope of equal length with a loop on each end. The ropes were coiled and reminded her of pith snakes, which were poisonous.
I can do this, she thought.