I can still remember how
Maggie’s Ell Jay made me think
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make words sing and dance
And maybe make them think, too, for a while.
A long time ago, M.C.A. Hogarth posted something in her LJ about tropes she’d like to see. One of them - which I have tried more than once to write - was about the young male (it might have been a mage?) recruiting the older female (fighter? Maggie, do you remember?)
Anyway, I was looking through my archives and I found this first chapter, or so, of Fiametta, a Strand-Worker living up on the top of a mountain.
7/5/2011 is the last save listed on it.
There were those who had called Fiametta cruel. Back when her hair was still red, more than one man had accused her of enjoying the pain of others. She’d never denied it, finding that a simple smile made them far more uncertain than any argument would, and so had a reputation as a bit of a wicked woman.
She remembered, fondly, her favorite of those complaints – from a criminal, no less, that she’d been paid to bring in – as she watched her would-be guest climb the stairs up the side of her mountain. “The cuffs are too tight,” he’d whined. “You’d think you wanted to hurt me.”
Fiametta’s lips curled, now, in an echo of that long-ago smirk, as the interloper found the first of the “broken” steps the hard way. Many people turned back after the second of those, assuming the route was unsafe. Very few kept going after the booby-trap at the landing.
This one, though, had started carefully testing every step, leaning on the railing – no, on both railings, clever; sometimes the railing was trapped, too. Determined; doing it that way could still lead to a wrenched shoulder or a twisted ankle.
As the visitor reached the landing, Fiametta found herself leaning forward on her porch railing, holding her breath. It had been a long time since someone had gotten that far; she’d had to call the local ambulance corps for the last one. This one, clever as they were, might out-clever themselves. After all, she’d built the trapdoor to catch people who thought they were bright.
And there, yes. She sighed as the intruder stepped to the very edge of the landing. That was generally a good idea, if the wood was just unsteady, but here, Fia had rigged the whole side of the platform to fall in; the very center was the only safe path. The counterweight would shift, there, and the platform would tilt, all at once, the railing folding under.
But it didn’t. Fia stared as the trespasser walked calmly across the side of the landing. They had to be doing something, messing with things in some way. What were they doing?
She forced herself to take a few long cleansing breaths as her heart rate escalated. It wasn’t good for her, she’d been told, to get all worked up. Balls to that, but she didn’t want to keel over with someone coming up her front stairs.
How had they done it? As she calmed, she called to the front her Sight, studying the strands of the world that made up her more special welcomes for uninvited guests. If the intruder had the Sight as well, that would explain how they could avoid the easy traps, but this one had done more than that, hadn’t they?
Yes, yes they had. She could see the way she had made the platform, with tidy hinge points and a nasty little trick at the center if a visitor was bright enough to go through the middle. But over her lines, happily leaf-orange and straight-and-sturdy from years of maintenance, the trespasser had woven a long cool series of weft lines, green and blue like the forest and the water, grey like the steel in the nails, to hold the platform firm.
“Little brat,” she muttered, ignoring the admiration in her own voice. It was a very nice weaving, and done so quickly she hadn’t even caught them at it. “Skilled little brat.”
The brat was making good time, now. They’d made it past all but the last trap; there was a chance they were actually going to reach Fia’s front porch. Maybe she should put on pants. Of course, if they did get caught on that last one, she didn’t want to miss it…
Pants. This guest looked to be made of better stuff than all the others. She should make the effort to look decent; if nothing else, if they didn’t make it, she’d probably have to cut them down. She headed into the house, taking care to lock the door behind her. She didn’t want them sneaking up on her.
She dressed quickly, trading out her old t-shirt for something a little less ratty. She’d been planning on pruning the raspberry canes today; that might have to wait. Somewhere around here she had a pair of jeans that fit nicely… there. On top of the bookshelf. She should really pick up around here at some point. She pulled on the jeans, forgoing shoes – it was only mid-September – and ran a hasty comb through her hair. There.
When she stepped back onto the porch, the visitor had just cleverly bypassed the last of the surprises and was close enough for her to get a good look at him. “Hunh,” she muttered, then had to remind herself that talking out loud to herself was a sign of a fading mind. Especially when company was almost here. “Should put a kettle on.”
No time, now, and there was only the gate to get past. He looked up at her as if he’d heard her – maybe he had – pushing a wayward lock of hair out of his face. He was young, barely grown into the goatee he affected, the sheen of sweat on his face doing nothing to diminish smooth, indoorsy-type good looks. He didn’t look like the sort to make it past even the first of the distractions on her entryway, yet here he was just about to tackle the last.
Would he make it? She leaned over the railing to watch him, and nearly overbalanced when he waved at her, cheerful and good-natured, as if her front walk hadn’t just tried to kill him eight different ways (or at least maim him a little bit). “Interesting stairway you have here,” he called. “Must be fun in the winter.”
“I don’t leave home in the winter,” she called back, before she could stop herself. Engaging the intruders? He’d be falling down to the road soon enough, so why was she making small talk?
“Must get lonely.” He sidestepped something that wasn’t even really a trap, and paused, eying the last of the real problems, the one she called the Welcome Mat.
“Only if you like people. I, you might have noticed, do not.”
“I’d never have guessed.” Balanced carefully – even stairs that weren’t real traps would sometimes shift and twist under your feet – he gestured down the mountainside. “Living in the heart of civilization and all.”
“Sarcasm is a generally unpleasant trait, and another reason I don’t like people.”
“You’ll forgive me, I hope. I’m under a bit of stress.”
“You can always turn back. The stairs are much safer heading downwards.”
“This?” He gestured at her stairway. “This is quite a challenge, ma’am, but I’m afraid it’s not the most stressful thing on my plate right now.”
“And yet you look a bit stuck,” Fia taunted. Did he really know what stress was, such a child he barely had to shave?
“If you’re in a hurry, you could maybe give me a clue?” He glanced back down the hill apprehensively.
“I’m here all day,” she shrugged. “And besides, as I mentioned, I don’t like people.”
“I’m beginning to think you were serious about that.” And, with that, he made three twists of his hand and jumped, missing the doormat and coming down on the landing just outside her porch. There, with a wicked little grin, he knocked.
She rolled her eyes, refusing to let him think she was impressed. So he’d made it up her stairs, where no-one ever had before. Big freaking whoop.
But there was a guest knocking. She released the alarm threads and swung open the gates, putting on her company face with a soupcon of sarcasm for good measure. “Well, hello. Fancy getting a guest at this time of day. Why don’t you come in?”
“I’d be honored.” He was smirking, but when he made it onto the safety of her porch, he bowed down low, all the way to the ground, in a move he must have learned at a Renaissance Faire somewhere. “Fiametta, weaver of the threads, I have come to ask for your help.”
With astonishing restraint, she didn’t kick him. “You can’t have it. Get up off the deck and come inside; I’ll give you a lemonade and a cookie before you leave.”
He didn’t move. “Please, ma’am. You’re the best there is.”
She glared down at his head. “Was. Come on in and have some lemonade, or get off my property.”
“Are.” He stood reluctantly, his cheeks flushed. “Nobody has ever come close.”
She turned and walked into the house to hide the happy smirk twisting her lips. She should have cleaned up - but who would have guessed that the kid would make it up? “All right,” she muttered, as she fished the pitcher out of the fridge. “Tell me what you want, at least.”
He was learning caution; he studied her for a moment before he spoke, and, when he did, this time he didn’t blurt things out like a moron. “There’s a missing person.”
Obviously not the whole story. “Talk to the cops.”
He shakes his head. “They can’t find her… the person. They’re ready to call it a loss.”
And he clearly didn’t want that. “I was a bounty hunter, kid, when I worked. I don’t do missing persons cases like that.”
“But you find bad guys.”
She didn't even bother to pretend she wasn't rolling her eyes. "Yes. WHEN I was working, WHEN I was young." She hated saying that, in part because, a few aches and some grey hairs (quite a few grey hairs, but who was counting?), she didn't feel "old." It made her voice sharpen further and her air quotes vicious. "I 'found bad guys.' I don't work anymore, kid." She yanked the fridge door open and pulled out the lemonade, barely missing sloshing it all over both of them. "I haven't worked in quite a few years."
"You retired. I know."
She set the pitcher down and pulled out a couple nice glasses, and plates for the cookies. "New blood came in. Fresh blood, better workers. People who adapted better." That had, she knew, been her downfall. She'd since learned to work with new technology, but she still preferred the old.
"New, maybe, but not better. Ma'am, everyone I talked to, everyone who came after you, they all said if anyone, anyone at all could do it, it would be you."
That stopped her. She passed him the lemonade, chewing over that. "You didn't come to me because they were all busy, then, did you?" That had happened a few times, before she put in the special stairway.
"No, ma'am." He took a grateful sip of the lemonade. Stalling. “No, ma’am. I came to you because you’re the only one who stands a chance of helping me.”
“Well.” More mollified than she wanted to admit, she sat back and studied him. “Have your cookie, then, and tell me about this missing person of yours.”