I’m still raising money for the Clarion Foundation in the Write-a-Thon through August 5, so I thought I’d give you a glimpse of my story. Here’s part of the first chapter of the currently-titled Noora Tamarin and the Ring of the Mote. If you haven’t given already, please do so, or encourage someone else to help. I’m up to 5,425 out of the 20,000 word goal.
Noora Tamarin risked a glance back over her shoulder, clawing the green silk scarf from her eyes. The soldiers were out of sight at the moment, detained by the press of crowds in the market. She dashed around a cart selling samosas and nearly lost sight of her quarry. The brown flicker of a tail vanished behind a pillar at the last stalls. Ah hah! she thought with a smile. Noora plunged after him, the curved wood of the dotara slung across her back bouncing rhythmically. She could feel the faint vibrations of its strings against her skin.
The kananauka sped down the narrow corridor between the row of pillars and the wall of some administrative building. Noora’s breath echoed in her head. “Please—” she panted. “Stop—I just—want to talk—”
She caught a glimpse of the monkey man’s brown and tan face and wide eyes. “Who are you?” he demanded, but didn’t slow his pace. “Quit following me!”
“Your name’s Mathur, right?”
He leaped sideways at one of the pillars, his long fingers and toes grabbing the white stone, and slung himself up out of sight.
Noora skidded to a halt, her green slippers sliding off her heels. She twisted her feet back into the shoes and peered upward into the dazzling blue sky. The spire looked razored out of white paper. She saw the flick of Mathur’s tail over the edge of the roof.
The broad leaves of the tree formed a deep green curtain at the corner of the building. Noora spotted a low branch and pulled herself up into it, climbing as quickly as she could toward the roof. She swung off, resolutely not looking down. One of the fanciful spires of the building swept upward—I wonder if my father designed this one, she thought—and she glimpsed the brown body in the dun-colored worker’s shift leaping up onto it.
“Mathur! Wait!” she called.
On closer inspection, Noora noticed the spire’s surface wasn’t smooth stone, as the lower stories of the building were, but plaster sculpted into a motif of waves protruding at regular intervals. She knew her father must have designed this one; the wave was his signature. I must remember to thank him, she smiled to herself and stepped up onto the lowest level.
She climbed no more than a few meters when a chunk of plaster slid under her foot and spiraled far below to the streets of Ujjayini. She knew she shouldn’t look down, but scraped her toes around for another foothold. “Please, Mathur, wait!”
His long brown tail twitched as it disappeared over the curve of the tower’s fanciful architecture. She heard his voice float back, “I’m innocent!”
“I know you’re innocent!” The sweeping curve of plaster was caked with bird droppings. Noora hauled herself up onto it, wincing at the slimy feel of the substance. “But if you won’t tell me your story,” she said, wiping her hands on her blue cotton tunic, “No one else will know that.” She adjusted the dotara; it kept sliding around and getting in her way. Noora wondered briefly how her grandmother had managed it, but thought, Maybe she didn’t go climbing around the spires of Ujjayini after monkey men. The plaster creaked beneath her as she reached for the next handhold.
Mathur’s brown and tan face peered over the edge of the next curve, his large eyes squinted. Even though he could have easily scaled the tower and lost her, he hadn’t. “Why do you care?” he asked.
Craning her neck to look at him against the brilliant blue sky made her dizzy. She grabbed the protruding wave. “I want to tell your story.”
He twisted his wide mouth and spit off to one side. “Nobody cares about the kananaukas,” he said, the words sharp and bitter. “We harvest melambu all day and all night for the masters and work our digits to the bone—” Mathur wiggled his long, identical fingers and toes over the edge. “And if we stop to ask why or demand better treatment, we’re punished for it.”
Her stomach lurched at the sight of him squatting on the plaster outcropping, until she remembered he was far more in his element than she was. “Isn’t it time someone put a stop to it?” Noora asked.
A sudden gust of wind whipped her green scarf around her face. She stepped back with a gasp, blinded by the fabric. One slipper dropped off her heel and dangled. She clutched at the plasterwork with one hand as she swiped at the scarf.