I am still very much stuck on how to make Felda’s training and family life non-boring. So I’m going to jump ahead a bit. In this scene, Felda has just left home, with no idea when or if she will ever return. She is in breach of contract and on the run from the Guild, who intend to repossess Brom.
The first new thing Felda learned about being an outlaw was that it was vastly less interesting than the books made it out to be. There was a great deal more walking across stubbly wheat fields and a great deal less cutting through dense bracken in dark forests, for starters. At one point in the afternoon, she saw a man a couple of hundred yards away and froze in panic. He waved, then went back to loading his wagon with bales of hay. Most likely not a steely-eyed, stone-hearted Peacekeeper who would, together with his cruel hawk bondling, pursue her relentlessly across the countryside for years, never listening to or caring about her explanations of innocence and extenuating circumstance, then.
Come dark, she found herself in a fallow field on some strange farm. “I’d better makes us some shelter,” she told Brom. She closed her eyes, concentrated, felt the threads of Earth beneath her. She felt Brom’s strength flow into her and down into the soil. She knelt, laid a hand on it, gathering threads together, then slowly stood, pulling them upwards. A mound of soil rose, hollow and open at one end, about eight feet long and tall as Felda.
“Hold it there, Brom,” she said, and he snorted in response.
Now came the hard part. She reached into the weave of the soil, and bit by bit, carefully, unravelled the threads and spun them together into thicker, courser cords. After about a half hour of work, she opened her eyes. The mound was now a dome of thin but solid gray stone, big enough for the two of them to shelter in.
“Thanks, Brom,” she said, and gave him a scratch between the ears. Then, exhausted by walking and magic both, she ducked through the dome’s opening, Brom close beside her. She lay back against him, closed her eyes, and was asleep immediately.
The next day was rather more interesting.
It began more or less predictably. Felda woke and stepped out into a bright, clear morning. The sun was warm, but a breeze out of the south held just a hint of autumn chill working its way inexorably north. She stretched, then opened one of the packs she’d loaded on Brom’s back. Breakfast was cold meat pie and water, hardly the big, varied, hearty breakfast her father used to–
Breakfast was adequate. It was time to start walking.
Ignoring the hot, dense feeling behind her eyes, Felda laid a hand on the dome. Destruction is always easier than creation; in a matter of minutes, the rock collapsed into soil once more.
“What do you think, Brom?” Felda asked. “Should I enrich the soil as payment?”
Brom said nothing.
“Yeah, you’re right. Have to keep moving. Let’s go!”
She walked off, Brom trailing her. The hills ahead looked no closer than yesterday, let alone the mountains that loomed above them, but she could make out trees between her and them, scattered at first and then growing denser the farther away she looked, until they blended bluely up into the hills.
“Maybe we’ll get those dark forests after all,” she remarked to Brom as they walked. By late afternoon they were on the fringes of a wood that extended out from the hills like a long finger pointing home.
“No such place,” muttered Felda, and skirted the forest, walking gloomily under the eaves of its branches with her head down.
“Hello,” said a calm, friendly, heavily accented voice from above her.
Felda leaped straight up, then again sideways as soon as she touched the ground. She spun toward the trees and looked up.
The man sitting in a branch was decidedly unusual. He wore a sleeveless belted tunic, leggings, boots, and a hooded cloak, though the hood was thrown back. This was not particularly unusual; they were quite fine, but very travel-stained and had been frequently patched, but that was not in itself hugely odd. The sword hanging from his belt was a little unusual, quite a bit thinner than most swords Felda had seen, but then she’d not seen particularly many swords and from her reading knew there were quite a few types.
His accent was odd–it was both very heavy and not at all one that Felda had heard before–but that merely meant he was from far away, which fit with his clothes. Same with his red-brown complexion–not something she’d seen before, but it fit with the accent and the clothes–he was simply foreign, not unusual.
No, the unusual part was that he had the head of a cat.