Joshua P’ng, poet and speculative fiction writer, published in the filling station, untethered, Daily Science Fiction, Sewer Lid, and the Great Lakes Review. When he isn’t writing, he sketches people on the train, reads graphic novels, and tries to get lost on bike trips.
Ahead of his appearance at our November event, Joshua shares an excerpt from a fantasy story he’s currently writing.
A Barbarus Stone
The heralding bells from Valandir tower were always bold in announcing the first morning and always making Suervath’s tusks tingle. In reflex, she gritted her teeth, pulling her tunic over her head. The bells also told her she was late to feed the pigs, promising a strike across the ears by Paleonis, the steward, and at least five coppers off her pay.
A loud snort from the silk bed was another reminder of the other pigs that was her lot in life. A trickle of drool leaked out of the corner of Vertigus, a scion of the proud house Albian- Ablainick, who was sprawled over silk sheets, his naked belly was a full round moon rising and falling with each snore. The spurious idiot lasted longer than she was expecting. Still that even the gold-plated lamp hovering next to her head, worth far more than her father’s entire longhouse, would make last night’s dalliance worth it.
After hitching her belt up and putting on her boots, Suervath’s eyes prowled the room. It was easy to be a lay servicing the academy students, fed on cheap wine and cheaper promises. It was harder to be a profitable lay. Too little and might as well tussle in the hay with drunkards for the dregs of an empty purse. Too much and she would be out begging in the streets with a stump for a right hand. She’d only take enough to make it worth her while but not Vertigus’s while to risk embarrassment by going after her.
The lamp could fetch her a good life for a half-dozen years was too noticeable. The heaps of scrolls and books, it was a doubt if Vertigus even read them, but they were worth more than their weight in platinum and if he didn’t miss them his father would.
It was best to start with the low hanging goods. A pouch bloated with drinking money, was lightened off a few of the last emperor’s golden faces, just enough that it still bulged but with a few wrinkles straining the cloth, laying on Vertigus’s nightstand. The jewelry in the washroom, Suervath held them to her ears, picking only those that didn’t glitter or hum with esoteric energy.
Suervath’s pouch jingled a little more heavily before the opening of drawers. Most of them stuffed with scrawled scrolls, still-fattened pens, or candied figs for growing many a noble student’s guts. There was also a dead spider in a drawer, it’s curled up legs resembled the thin black candles that the druids used to twist their own magic. She helped herself to a few of the pens, and popped a fig in her mouth. The sweet honey soaked into it exploded back out into her mouth, a taste as rare as an emerald.
The last open snapped open. Her fingers still gripped around the silver handle, her breath fluttered. At first sight, it was just one of the many baubles, rings, amulets, or good luck charms. The hustle of Acusmit merchants that were sold with sweet-lined words of exotic esoter which ensnared many foolish noble children to gaud themselves with cheap trinkets. It was not such a trinket. It was a Reikish stone.
It was forgivable to not recognize it at first. It had been smoothed and cut, encircled into a burnished copper grip, and strung up into an amulet. Thirty-seven white nickels were etched onto its face. Thirty-seven ancestors. A powerful stone. The closest Suervath had been to one was seeing it gripped in her village druid to start a ritual fire for moonsday. Now, this was her chance. Her fingertips immediately became warm, a flicker lit up between her ribs.
How did Vertigus find it? The question immediately withered in her mind under the shameful glare of reality. Likely a father or uncle in the military gifting his favourite blood relative a token from the spoils of a campaign in the north. Or a fallen druid selling his clan legacy to pay off a tavern tab, that exchanged monied hands until it ended up in the richest ones. It was beautiful, and by its warmth, still flush with memories. She picked it up, pressing it deep into her palm. It was not since at least a decade ago during her ascendency ritual, that she experienced that raw bubbling of heat scouring through her bone marrow, touching every dab of her skin. Her feet arched, her head snapped back, whisperings poured out etched into her eyes; a babbling of thoughts.
Vertigus’s moaning snapped that feeling away like a dagger through the lung. She snapped to look, but he’d only come to scratch the mountain of a belly before drifting back into his happy little stupor. The flagrant disregard for the value of his possessions was disgraceful. How could he not know of its power, a student of an imperial academy no less?
The Reikish stone did not look any more special than the jewelry that he would tart himself with. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he even remembered possessing it. The feeling of heat still scorched her toes and the tip of her head. Suervath slipped the stone into her pouch. A goodly scatter of coppers, a thrice of gold, and a Reikish stone. Not a bad haul indeed. With a smile, Suervath made sure the door closed no louder than a whisper behind her.
Joshua P’ng visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, November 11, 2020 starting at 6:30pm alongside Zoë S. Roy, Jamie Tennant, and Larry Baer. Dina Del Bucchia, writer, podcaster, literary event host, editor, and instructor, will give her talk on, “Podcasting for Fun (And Zero Dollars”.
Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:15.