The Northern Problem and Other Stories
By: Laura Seeber
Five stories tell of a world teetering on the brink of chaos. Five people who fight to dream, to love, to scheme, and to survive. Five glimpses into a time when a life was shaped by spirits just as much as the sword. It is a world where the lines between a truth and a lie, life and death, and love and obsession shift like the wind.
The Northern Problem and Other Stories offer a glimpse into the lives of those that would later come together in The Spring and Autumn Murders. Before passion, murder and intrigue would bring them together, the very same would threaten to tear their world apart.
Excerpt from “The Story of Daiyu” in The Northern Problem and Other Stories
Chuluun stumbled into the ger, and stood for a moment, watching his wife Odval sleeping soundly, her arm wrapped loosely around her daughter. He touched Daiyu’s hair softly, and watched her breath escape from her mouth for a few moments. He saw her eyes dance beneath her eyelids, knowing full well that she was dreaming of the hunt.
He smiled slightly. She was nothing like him, indeed.
He watched as she rolled over in her sleep, pulling herself away from her mother’s grasp, a small snore escaping from her as she did so. Once she had settled back down into slumber, Chuluun reached down and gently shook his wife awake.
“Odval,” he whispered softly. “Wake up, my love.”
Odval stirred slightly and opened her eyes. She turned to look up at her husband.
“What is it, Chuluun?” she asked, reaching for him and pulling him down into an embrace.
“I think I have found someone worthy of little Daiyu when it comes time,” he said. He felt his wife shift around and beneath him as he sank into the furs beside her.
“The young hunter Altan,” he said thoughtfully. “The men spoke of her while they were around the fire. His words spoke to her protection.”
“I know his family. His parents were good and just when they were alive. His uncle is a wise man.”
Chuluun nodded in the darkness.
“But there is time,” he said with a yawn. “I will speak with Altan and his uncle in the morning, and see if they are agreeable with the idea, when the time comes. For now though, little Daiyu will continue to stay with us.”
“Good,” murmured Odval as she drifted off to sleep. “There are too many lessons for the young girl to learn before marriage.”
Daiyu slowly opened her eyes and searched the darkness, trying to remember the face of this young hunter that would become her husband.
Excerpt from “The Northern Problem” in The Northern Problem and Other Stories
The next morning, Kai awoke to the sound of movement around him. He laid there for a few more moments, his mind processing the sounds. There was the sound of footsteps, assured and calm walking behind him. There was the clang as someone dropped a spear tip onto the hard ground. There were the muffled groans of someone trying his best to wake up without looking like a fool. There was the neighing and snorting of the horses as they got their morning meal.
Good. They weren’t under attack. Those muffled groans would have turned into excited squeals by now if they were.
He opened his eyes and sat up, moving the animal skins off of his body and reaching for his tunic. It stank of yesterday’s long march, but it would have to do. There hadn’t been time, or access to water to wash his clothes. Kai looked at the padded armor that he had placed on the ground beside him last night. It smelled of smoke, of body odor, and once he brought it closer, the smell of rotted meat assailed his nose.
“This is going to be fun,” he muttered as he got dressed for the day. Looking around him, he saw the faces of the other soldiers, frowning and grimacing involuntarily as they donned the same clothes that he did. Kai shook his head and wondered if the enemy would know that they were coming simple by sniffing the air.
Of course, if they held to tradition, this wouldn’t be a surprise attack. The messenger sent to the northern frontier would make sure that the enemy knew that a force, thousands strong was coming to make war upon them. True, they only numbered in the hundreds, but what’s a little exaggeration among rivals, right? Kai shook his head. He wasn’t sure exactly what was in store for him and his men when they reached the northern frontier, but he doubted that it was something more than they could handle.
Kai pulled on his boot on, and wrapped the pads around his legs securely. Now neither the autumn chill of the mountains or a slash from a spear was likely to penetrate his armor. True, a well shot arrow would make short work of things, but his shield would certainly stop any of those. He doubted though that any of the dog people had weapons that would match the strength and might that was descending upon them. After all, they were drastically outnumbered, and out matched.
Excerpt From “Windhorses” in The Northern Problem and Other Stories
For some time Baichu laid awake listening to the sounds around her. The wind moved through the trees that surrounded the clearing, and she heard the leaves as they resisted, tore, spun and finally landed on the ground outside her tent. Occasionally the horses shifted and neighed, a rolling thunder in the distance making them nervous. Baichu smiled to herself. The horses were scared of the storm.
Baichu remembered that the storm and the rains had frightened her as a young child. She imagined that they had frightened her father, but he would never admit that now. Her mother was probably a little bit frightened as well, but now she rested with the spirits, so it was all right.
She closed her eyes and breathed deeply just as the first few pregnant drops of rain began to fall. Perhaps tonight would be different, she thought.
^ ^ ^
Despite her wish, the dreams came that night as they had before. Baichu felt herself rising up from the furs that surrounded her, felt her feet hit the ground softly. Her hand moved and the fur that draped over the tent seemed to move an instant before she touched it. It felt as she was flowing, passing out into the rain, something both driving and pulling her.
For a moment, she thought of her father. She knew that he would be angry, even fearful at her absence. He would curse the night, not understanding that there was no choice. The rain and the lightening called to her, just as the mountains called to him.
The ground beneath her feet was wet and slick, opening its pores to the rain, bringing the wetness down into its depths, and then spilling it back out when it became too much to bear. Soon Baichu felt what it felt as the rain plummeted into her skin and then was released.
She knew the rain, but did not suffer from it. The lightning and thunder coursed through the sky above her, and yet she did not cower at their brilliance. The storm that raged around her was her own, and she belonged to it.
A voice came to her out of the darkness, soft and low, rumbling like the river in her memory of the day. It spoke to her in words unintelligible, but their meaning was clear. It was time to come home. Soon other voices called out to her, joining the chorus. Baichu hesitated, her heart unsure of the next step.
Still, she felt her feet moving forward, toward the river. The pull was stronger now, and the murmurings louder, more insistent. They pleaded with her, welcomed her, and drew her towards the water’s edge.
Baichu knelt down, the ground becoming soft and cool against her knees and dipped her hand into the water. She watched as the droplets clung to her fingers, and rolled down her hand as she lifted up to the night sky. She watched as the water lapped and tumbled on the shoreline, coming closer and closer. Once again she reached out, and as before the water responded, reaching out to her. Baichu shifted her hand slightly and the water followed, almost hungry for her touch.
The lightening broke the sky above her and the light illuminated the shore near the river. For an instant she saw what was not meant to be seen, and her face softened with a small smile. The river would take her where she belonged. It would take her home.
Baichu rose and stepped calmly into the river, the water wrapping, pressing and churning into her. She felt her body being pushed and directed, the flow of the river overpowering what will she had left. Soon it would be over. The dreams would finally end and the world would be set right. Baichu breathed deeply one last time just before the water sliced over her head.
Baichu felt a thunderous crash behind her, and the water shifted and swirled around her, small bubbles and a dark figure formed behind. She felt arms, solid and strong snaking around her waist, fur and muscles tightening against her small frame. She felt her body being thrown up into the night sky, her lungs once again filling with air, sputtering as the water left her once again.
“Baichu,” said a voice, both hoarse and soft as she was pulled from the water, the arms still wrapped around her. “Why? Why do you want to leave me?”
Laura Seeber has worked as a geologist, an environmental consultant, and a freelance writer. She currently divides her time between her own environmental consulting business, handling various ghostwriting and freelance writing projects, and her own fiction writing. Her interests include history, outdoor activities, martial arts, mysteries, and non-fiction material. The Spring and Autumn Murders is her first novel. She currently lives in Illinois with her husband, Michael.
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