In this week's story, A New Leaf, a royal hunting party offers a fresh start
Suggestions for writing prompts are always welcome! Today's prompt came from more of a random thought about how people can find different meanings in the same statement.
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 47 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is A New Leaf
I hope you’re enjoying a happy holiday season. If this is your first time listening, here’s how this podcast works: I use a word or phrase as a prompt to write a story—with no planning and very little editing—and then share that story with you.
Now, it’s nearly a new year… which doesn’t technically mean much of anything since it’s just turning another page in the calendar, but the new year always feels more significant. It seems like a reset or a fresh start.
Which is why I landed on A New Leaf as a prompt for today’s story. The idiom, to turn over a new leaf, means to make a fresh start. When someone turns over a new leaf, they’re trying again in a new way with hopes for a different outcome.
The phrase is likely referring to a book—because “leaf” is another word for a page in a book. It makes sense. If you’re writing a book, say in a journal, turning to a blank page gives you a place to write something new.
Though when I hear “turn over a new leaf,” my mind goes to a literal leaf, as in the leaf on a tree or plant. So, let’s see how that influenced this story:
A New Leaf
The Empress had no need of a tracker. She deftly inspected the clearing herself, turning over leaves and sifting pebbles through her weathered hand. Someone had camped in the shade of the largest elm, though they’d taken care to scatter the remains of their small cooking fire and cover the depression from their night of rest with a smattering of leaves and brambles.
If the camp hadn’t been obscured, the Empress may have doubted the identity of the traveler. As it was, she felt certain they were narrowing in on the woodcutter’s trail.
“Will we camp here?” Jasper shifted his feet in the dry leaves and ran a hand beneath his dripping nose. The party was tired after their long ride, and he hoped to give them a rest before the sun fully rose.
Melinda stepped toward him, stroking Banyu’s feathered back to calm the falcon against her strident tone.
“You would make camp?” she sneered. “With the woodcutter still free?”
“We’ve ridden for hours,” Jasper returned weakly. “The horses…”
“The horses are well trained for hard service,” Melinda rejoined. “It’s a pity their master is not.”
Jasper’s face flushed as he straightened his stocky frame. The falconer towered over him, both in height and in her position as the Empress’ right hand. It had only been a fortnight since they’d lost their Master of Horse and Hunt to the gryphons and Jasper had not stepped into his place easily.
“Enough,” the Empress said firmly from her crouch near the elm.
Dusting her hands, she stood and returned to the eight-man hunting party. They’d taken the opportunity to dismount, pat down their tired steeds, and offer water around. Her lady in waiting held the reins of both their horses in one hand and a short sword in the other. Geneviève was always ready for whatever may come.
“The woodcutter is close and now travels on foot.”
The party received the Empress’ news with subdued cheer. Only Jasper’s face broke into a wide grin as he clasped his hands in hope.
“On foot, is he? That’s a break! And you’re sure then?”
“You fool!” Geneviève rushed to his side, sword at the ready. “You doubt our lady’s skill?”
The horses shuffled aside, and Jasper’s face paled in shame.
“What? No! Of course, I wouldn’t… Your highness, I didn’t mean…”
The Empress waved away his words, turning to Geneviève with an indulgent sigh. “Let’s allow a period of learning and remember the enemy we seek.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Geneviève agreed with a smirk that was understood to hold no disrespect.
The Empress gestured for Melinda’s approach and spoke to her quietly. The other hunters gazed into the woods, on alert for signs of movement despite their relaxed appearance. Jasper began to tremble, and Geneviève took reluctant pity on him.
“You’ll learn,” she said sharply, adding a nod that he chose to accept as encouragement.
There had been very little encouragement—or reassurance of any kind—since he’d been rousted from bed and told he would be stepping in as interim Master of Horse and Hunt, until a replacement was chosen from among the elder huntsmen Though Jasper had been well suited as chief stableman, he did not feel prepared to take part in the hunt, let alone lead in this ceremonial fashion.
Jasper watched as the Empress stepped back and Melinda removed the falcon’s leather hood. Banyu stretched his grey wings, and Jasper could swear he saw a red glow in the bird’s sharp eyes. A moment later, Banyu took to the sky. Melinda closed her eyes and pressed her palms together in front of her heart.
The rest of the hunters took to their horses, though Geneviève maintained her guard on foot, keeping within easy reach of both the falconer and Empress. Jasper looked between the trio and the horsemen, unsure of his position. Stephen, a grizzled old hunter gave a quick tilt of his head, indicating Jasper’s place among them, and Jasper hurriedly mounted his horse.
He’d no sooner settled his seat when Melinda yelled, “There!”
Her arm was outstretched, pointing toward a break in the trees. Her eyes shone red, just as Jasper had seen in the falcon.
“At the edge of a stream,” she continued urgently. “Go!”
The horsemen surged forward, and Jasper followed, holding back the fear that he should be leading the pack instead of bringing up the rear. By the time Jasper reached the stream, Stephen had bound the woodcutter’s wrists and was preparing to hoist him up for their return.
Back in the clearing, Jasper kept his distance as the woodcutter was dropped at the Empress’ boots.
“Your Highness, please,” the bedraggled man croaked as he struggled to his feet. “Have pity on a poor, misguided wretch.”
“You allowed thieves into my larder,” the Empress replied, ignoring his words to present him with his crimes. “You intended to profit from the sale of my goods—goods stored for all of my people—and two of my guards were killed in the thieves’ attempted escape.”
“They misled me,” the woodcutter cried, dropping to his knees. “They promised no one would be harmed, and I wanted to provide my family with nice things.”
“Nicer things than those I provide?” the Empress asked archly.
“No, no, I didn’t mean—” The woodcutter stammered to a halt.
“You wanted to provide for your family,” the Empress repeated thoughtfully. The woodcutter raised his hopeful gaze, nodding enthusiastically.
“Yes, yes. I was misguided but had only the best intentions! If you take pity on me now, I will never make such a mistake again. I’ll begin again and change. I’ll turn over a new leaf.”
“Yes,” the Empress agreed gravely. “You will.”
Turning her back, she nodded once, and Melinda stepped forward. Jasper saw the other horsemen look down at their hands, but he couldn’t bear to miss what would happen next. He stood a few paces behind Geneviève, watching with her as Melinda and Banyu turned their joined focus on the woodcutter.
Their eyes shifted from red to green and, in a flash, the woodcutter was gone. In his place stood a sturdy sapling with thin branches and pale leaves that swayed in a passing breeze.
Without looking back, the Empress addressed the party, saying, “He shall provide for his family and for all our people, adding shade to our forest and one day contributing to our stockpiles of wood, just as he did in life.”
The horsemen nodded grave acceptance of her wisdom, turned their mounts, and waited as the Empress, Melinda, and Geneviève prepared to return to the castle. Jasper met the eyes of the Empress, who smiled kindly.
“You are learning,” she told him, echoing the encouragement of her lady in waiting. “Once our true Master of Horse and Hunt is chosen, you may join their ranks and continue to grow in your new role.”
Jasper thanked her humbly, and they rode back to the castle together.
Thanks for making time for today’s story. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please share your favorite stories with your friends! And if you’re curious about my books, you can learn all about them on my website, SusanQuilty.com. You can also follow me on social media or get exclusive content through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty.
Happy New Year! And… Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]