fiction

Story Series: Hedge Wizard

September, 2018

Part 1


(Photo by Clint McKoy on Unsplash)

Chapter 1, Part 2

Flight through the Forest

As we flew over the treetops, with the great starry dome overhead, I seemed to be flying upside down over an ocean filled with innumerable lights. The blue child led me deep into the forest, and at one point slowed down to allow me to catch up with him. Then he locked elbows and flew with me, and suddenly all was changed. The trees glowed with light of many colors, like lamps of blue, green, red and violet, each type of tree a different hue. Some trees throbbed with light, while others gave off a steady sheen. In places I saw what looked like columns of light erupting from the trees up into the sky and eventually disappearing in distance. Elsewhere, shafts of light descended suddenly from the sky and fused with particular trees. The blue child led me to a glade in the forest filled with oaks and poplars. We flew to one particular oak and passed inside it through a hollow ‘fairy door’. I was in the trunk of a massive, giant oak tree with the blue child.

Some noise in the forest woke me up at this moment. It was early morning, just around dawn. I went back to sleep and had no dreams I recalled.

At breakfast the Hægtessa seemed pleased and rested. She said she’d had the best sleep in years, for it’s tiring at times to fly with the blue child or other dryads in the forest. At least when you get up to my age,” she smiled. “But while you’re young it’s great fun, and you gradually become acquainted with the deeper forest.”

Dawn can go home tomorrow,” she continued as an afterthought. “Try again tonight with the Blue Child. See if you can get inside the Great Oak. Tell me what happened tomorrow at breakfast. If you find you like doing this, and don’t mind learning herb-lore from me, you can be hedge wizard when I am gone. But think it over; you have plenty of time to consider it.

But the times you go home,” she added, in turning, “don’t speak of your experiences here. Just say you are learning herb-lore from me. That will provide enough reason for them to ostracize you. No point in giving them more.”

* * * * *

On the following night once again I was flying with the Blue Child through the night forest. The blue child led me to a glade in the forest filled with oaks. We flew to one particular oak and passed inside it through a hollow ‘fairy door’. I was in the trunk of a massive, giant oak tree with the blue child. Blue light was all around us.

We rested inside a recess in the oak’s trunk. Not far from us was the figure of an old man sleeping. He seemed carved from wood, or else turning into wood. On his face was an expression of contentment and rest.

Who is that?” I asked the Blue Child. “My Dad,” he answered. “He is falling asleep into the tree. Dad, Dad,” he called softly. The old man’s eyelids fluttered, scattering small splinters. He looked with love at the Blue Child. “Dad, this is Bird-brow. He is taking his first flight.”

The old man’s voice came resonantly from his lips, which hardly moved. “Welcome, Bird-brow,” he said. “The gods bless you.”

And you, Sir,” I replied. “But what is happening to you?”

Oh, I am dying. It is time to return to the Tree, our Mother. My son will serve Her in my stead.”

In the garth, where I live,” I said, “to die is an occasion for sorrow.”

Not among us,” the old man said, smiling. “For we do not die entirely so long as the Tree lives. And She has lived here in the Forest a very long time.”

You can still go upstairs if you’d rather, Dad,” said the Blue Child.

No, Son. My place is here with our Mother, the Oak. But you should go upstairs to tell the Bright Ones I will stay here and subside into wood.”

The Blue Child turned to me. “Rest here awhile. I will return soon.”

The blue light grew around us and seemed to lift the Blue Child. He rose on a column of light and rushed out of the crown of the Tree, up into the sky. He was suddenly gone. I looked at the old man inquiringly.

You must pardon me,” he said, closing his eyes once again. “I am becoming very sleepy.”

I moved outside the trunk up into the lower branches of the Oak. Around me the elms were glowing green, the larches a paler shade of the same color. Here and there in the haunted forest columns of light shot up into the sky and disappeared; once in a while a column descended from the sky and passed into a tree from above, and the tree took on its color and glowed softly.

After some time had passed, a shaft of blue light descended from the sky and the Blue Child was back. “Now we must scout out the Hægtessa’s herbs,” he said. “the old beds have dried up.”

But where were you?” I asked him, as we resumed out flight.

In our star. Every tree in the forest has a star. Ours is there.” And he pointed almost directly up, to the top of the sky. “You must return with the Haegtessa in the morning and help her pick herbs.” Once again we entered the oak.

But where are the herbs?” I asked. “The trees will find them,” he said, and then called out softly “Dad…Dad.”

The old face appeared once more in the wood. “Yes, Son, what is it? I was drifting off.”

The Haegtessa needs more herbs, Dad. The old beds have dried up. We must find the closest bed of wild herbs for her.”

Right away,” said the face, and disappeared into the wood.

Where has he gone?” I asked the Blue Child. “Down into the roots,“he said. “The roots of the great oak extend far on every side and touch the roots of trees growing around us. They in turn touch the roots of their neighbors, and so on. The search for the wild herbs is even now traveling far afield, along the roots through the Deep Forest.”

Presently the old face of the Oak Father appeared once more in the wood. Little splinters flew from his eyelids and lips as he smiled and said “Tell the Hægtessa the way to the herbs has been charted. If she comes here to the Great Oak she can follow the trail with her staff” “Thank you, Oak Father,” I said, and promptly awoke in the crystal room.

At breakfast the Hægtessa was radiant. “You’ve done well, Bird-Brow,” she said. “The Blue Child and the Oak Father both like you. That is important.”

I told her what the Oak Father said. “I know,” she said, “I have done this before, many times. What he said was for your benefit. We must go together today, since you may be doing this next time.”

After breakfast she said farewell to my mother and little Dawn. “She has recovered. Keep her quiet and well-rested for a few days. Bird-Brow is going with me today on an expedition. He will return home tonight.”

The Hægtessa put on her voluminous white robe and took her carved oaken staff from her cabinet. “Take this sack with you, Bird-Brow,” she said. “We will bring back some herbs for replanting in my field.”

I had flown with the Blue Child to the Great Oak and knew vaguely how to get there in the body, but the Hægtessa knew the way very well, and in about half an hour we mounted the hill leading to the tree. It was a quiet, blue morning, punctuated with light birdsong.

The Hægtessa grounded her staff near the base of the oak. “Grasp my staff, Bird-Brow” she said. I grasped its head and felt a tingling coming up the staff from the ground. She knew I felt it, and took it back. “Now follow along. We have a journey to make.”

She walked to the next tree, a smaller, younger oak, and then beyond it to a birch, feeling the ground with her staff with every step. In this way we went down hill and up hill for about half an hour. Coming to a shallow stream, we forded it, the Hægtessa feeling the trail along the stream bottom with her staff, and picking up the trail again among the trees on the other side. The land sloped uphill from the other bank, until we reached a plateau at the edge of a cliff. Far below I could see the field of herbs. Passing to the left along the cliff, we came to a mild grassy slope downhill, and followed it down to the herb beds.

The field of herbs was the size of two yards placed side by side. Beyond them the forest continued on a shallow rise. “The herbs have come here from many places in the forest,” said the Hægtessa. “They are our partners. It is our job to protect them, to pick the weeds from among them and ring them about with guardian plants like marigolds. Some we will gather up and replant in my garden. These will be of use, like the feverfew I gave little Dawn, but once replanted, the herbs have less potency. Here, in this field, is where they retain their full magic.” She showed me how to tell weeds from herbs, and we replanted a few marigolds along the margins.

You must come here with the Blue Child, Bird-Brow,” she said, “perhaps once a week, to see if all is well. You must also come here at times in the body to dress and protect the field, and gather a few herbs for replanting. That is, if you want to.”

She looked at me carefully. “I am old, Bird-Brow,” she said. “I cannot make the journey here often. If you wish to be hedge wizard after me, you must start now to help with the fields.”

I will, gladly,” I said. “But what of my father and the boar hunt? I have never been asked to be on it before, because I was too young. He is counting on me to be with him.”

Some problems have no easy solution, Bird-Brow,” she said.

When I visited the herb field and pitched my tent, all was quiet. In the night I saw one herb light up within, and in it I could see the Hægtessa preparing herbs. She looked very old and tired, and suddenly I knew I would disappoint my father and remain here with her. When next I slept in the crystal room, the Blue Child flew in and said I had chosen wisely. She would not live much longer. In the morning I told her of my decision to remain with her and learn her herb-lore. She smiled and took me into her garden, pointing out the herbs which had been replanted. “These can be used in healing, Bird-Brow. But they must be boosted with wild herbs from the field.” Back in her house, she showed me how to prepare the herbs, cutting them and mixing them with the wild herbs. They seemed to quicken into new life when mixed with their wild counterparts.

At night, I flew with the Blue Child to the wild herb field, but instead of returning to the Hægtessa’s house we flew together over the wheat fields to the Hall. There was a lamp lit inside the Hall, watched over by the Hall-Sun, a young, vigorous woman with straw-colored hair. I was surprised to see my father there with her. “He won’t come, Hall-Sun.” he said sadly. I had hoped to show him hunting. The Hægtessa has bewitched him to her service.”

He can still come along to the boar-hunt,” the Hall-Sun said. “He can fly with the hunters and the Blue Child.” And she nodded to my companion.

That night the boar-hunters ran through a long tunnel in the Hedge, carrying torches. My father led them. The great wild boar had been reported in these parts, and each hunter was armed with bow, arrows and spear. I hovered over my father and the Blue Child and I flew on ahead to scout out the quarry and report its whereabouts to the hunters. Once or twice I saved my father from the boar by warning him of its murderous attack. I think he was aware of my protection and thanked me. He showed me how he stalked the boar and in this way I learned about hunting. The Hall-Sun watched me closely and I was taken by her fresh beauty. She seemed sprung from the earth, like harvest wheat. Her gaze seemed to reprove me for not being with my father on the hunt. But then I thought of the Hægtessa and her difficulties, and when I did, the Hall-Sun nodded approvingly.

End of part one

Short Story: Poke

September, 2018

It was a sunny day. I turned the left rear corner of a white wooden garage and pushed between bushes on my right and the garage wall. Reaching the front corner, I saw a small backyard lawn and the rear of an arrow-flight house. Immediately in front of me were two wooden lawn chairs, as white as the garage, with vertical and oblique slats in a fan-pattern for backs. A little boy, not yet four years old, was playing in a dirt pile with two yellow metal trucks; one a toy steam shovel, the other a dump truck. He looked up as I came around the lawn chair onto the grass. He had a light olive complexion and thick brown curly hair. He was dressed in green overalls.

He smiled at me and said his name was Buster. I said I was Poke. I knew that wasn’t my name, but I had just poked my way through the bushes and said the first thing that came into my head. As I gave my name, I looked at myself. I was three or four years older than the boy, and had sandy hair. “Want to play?” he asked, and I nodded and played in the dirt with him for an hour or so. We didn’t talk. He filled the dump truck with dirt and I drove it away, just a few feet to the other side of the little pit at the right rear corner of his grandfather’s house.

What is an arrow-flight house? They are quite common in Queens. They are long and tall, with a basement, ground and upstairs floors, and an attic. But they are very narrow, hence the name arrow-flight.

After an hour or so someone from inside the house called Buster. I waved good-bye and went back around the lawn chair and pushed through the bushes to the rear corner of the garage. After I turned the corner, I took three more steps and woke up.

The therapist stopped the recorder. “Was this a recurring dream?” he asked. “I don’t mean recurring exactly. I mean, have you had similar dreams?”

The patient, a lean man of about forty, partly unshaven with an ear-ring in his left ear, nodded. “That was the first dream. There have been others. They are entirely consistent. I seem to visit the little boy every few days. We never say anything except hi and bye. We just play together.”

Then something new happened. Better switch on the recorder again. This was the third or fourth dream. “

Dr. Anders turned the recorder on again and spoke into it: “Third or fourth dream.”

The boy was there as usual, but there was a woman with him, a stout older woman, hanging up the wash on a clothesline. He handed her the clothes-pins as she hung the clothes. She showed him how some of the pins were the old stiff wooden kind, while others were the new spring-action variety.

Buster looked around and saw me. She looked too, and she looked right through me. She didn’t see me. She went on hanging up the clothes, and he kept helping her. When she was finished, she hugged him and went inside with the laundry basket and the smaller basket holding the clothes-pins.

Then he said hi and we played together as usual. He asked me where I lived, and I pointed back along the side of the garage. ‘I live back there,’ I said. After a while we said bye and I went back as before.”

A week went by before the patient was back with some more dreams.

Last night’s dream, no one was in the yard, so I pushed past the ladder that had been set up as a barrier in the driveway, and was just in time to see him come out the front door with a very tall man. Buster was dressed in finer clothes now and wore a sort of French beret. The very tall man held his hand and they headed to the right, up the street a block and a half to Hillside Avenue. They disappeared to the right around the corner. The boy seemed uncomfortable with the beret and kept plucking at it, but the man wouldn’t let him take it off.

As they headed up 204th Street, a young, vivacious woman came out and watched them walk away. She was smirking. No one saw me, as usual.

I stayed in the path between the bushes and garage and waited for them to return. For some reason I felt shy about staying in the backyard, even though I knew I was invisible. Time passed slowly, with nothing much happening, and I remember thinking at the time this was unusual for a dream. Then suddenly I knew this was a dream, and from then on I knew I was dreaming.

After some time had passed, Buster and the very tall man, whom I suddenly knew was his father, returned and went into the house. A little later, the boy emerged in his play clothes. He looked around for me and I emerged from the bushes.”

Why do you call him ‘Buster’ sometimes, and sometimes just ‘the boy?’” interrupted the therapist.

Because sometimes he seems more impersonal to me, and at other times I think of his name, obviously his nickname. No one is named Buster.”

Please continue.”

When we were done playing as usual, Buster pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to me. It was the beret. He asked me to take it.

“’Aunt Dothy says I look like a girl in it,’ he said with an angry catch at his throat. I said nothing but took it and we said bye. I pushed past the bushes and went around the rear corner of the garage. Then I noticed the beret had disappeared. After two or three more steps I woke up. That was the latest dream.”

Dr. Anders stopped the recorder. “What do you think these dreams mean? I mean, what do they tell you here and now?”

Well,” said his patient, “I can tell you one thing they mean to me. It came to me as I took the beret and went back into the bushes. It was as though I had just woken up, but the dream was still there. I recognized the boy. He was me. I remembered my early childhood nickname of Buster.

Now I remember the beret. I remember my father questioning me about where it was. But this is a different sort of memory, it’s fresh. You know how old memories fade and get dusty from much use? I remember how upset my father was with me, but it seems to have happened just last week.”

Who is Aunt Dothy? I suppose her name was Dorothy?”

Yes, that was her name. She was married to my mother’s brother. We were all crowded into my grandparents’ home, right after the war. She teased me about the beret. But that is not all.” The patient squirmed and looked embarrassed.

What is it? Tell me.”

I can’t remember it very clearly. But I think I was playing with myself, and she caught me at it. She said she would tell my father. That’s all I remember about that.”

When you took the beret, this was a new action, wasn’t it? You say now you know you are dreaming in these dreams, so this was a conscious action on your part, interfering with the normal course of the dream. Is that your impression?”

It must be. It seems so fresh, so much more real than the rest of the dream. And as soon as I took the beret, the dream became much more vivid. I was afraid I would wake up at that point and I really, really wanted to take away the beret. So I said bye fast and went back into the bushes.

Dr. Anders took up his appointment book. “I’d like to see you the same time next week,” he said. “And I’d like you to take special notice of these moments when you seem to be interfering with the dreams.”

That’ll be easy,” said his patient. “And the funny thing is, now that I have interfered, I seem to know what is coming next.”

Well, don’t tell me,” said Dr. Anders. “Save it for next Friday.”

The patient left. Dr. Anders wrote in his notes “Patient seems to be gradually getting into touch with his childhood abuse.” Then he put out the lights and sat for some time thinking in the dark.

On an impulse, he phoned his patient the morning of the appointment and reminded him to come in. The patient seemed surprised to hear from him, but showed up on time.

He looked like a different person. His movements and gestures before had been somewhat over-refined, almost effeminate. This had changed. The ear-ring was gone also, and the therapist noted with surprise that there was no mark where it had been. He also seemed stockier, more solid.

Have you been working out?” he asked his patient.

No more than usual. I play basketball with some friends on the weekends.”

Dr. Anders reached for the recorder on his desk. “Any more dreams?”

Just one. They seem to have stopped.”

The therapist turned on the recorder.

I came out from the bushes. Buster wasn’t there, just like last week. I edged past the ladder in the driveway and waited by the left front corner of the arrow-flight house. Moments later, he came out the front door with his – my – father. I noticed with some satisfaction that he wasn’t wearing the beret. Apparently it hadn’t been found.”

They walked hand in hand up the street again, towards Hillside Avenue. I knew they were going to a little café to get a coke for Buster from ‘the large-a coke man,’ a vendor with an Italian accent. I was right behind them as they turned the corner. Buster saw me, and the tall man stopped.

I knew what was coming so well I could have written the lines myself. ‘I understand you’ve been playing with yourself down there,’ the tall man said. ’Better stop, or you’ll turn into a girl.’

“‘That can’t happen,’ I blurted out, just as the boy was starting to feel excited. At my words his excitement turned into anger.

“’Poke says that can’t happen,’ he said to the tall man. The man was taken aback. ’Who the hell, uh, heck is Poke?’ he asked.

“’Poke is my friend. He plays with me. He comes out of the bushes.’

“’Out of the bushes?’ the man laughed. They went up to the little café and I guess bought a large-a coke.

When they came back, I waved to Buster before going back into the bushes. I knew it was the last dream, and told him I had to go away now, but I would always be his friend. He looked sad but waved and we said bye. I went around the rear corner of the garage. The beret was there. I picked it up and took two more steps, then woke up.

Any fresh memories?” Dr. Anders asked.

It’s hard to say. I have a few old ones. I remember my mother talking to me and asking me about my imaginary playmate. She asked his name, and I told her it was Poke. She said, ‘You know, Bus, Poke isn’t real. It’s just your imagination, like when you dream at night. You have lots of real friends now. You don’t have to play with Poke anymore.’

I said Poke went away, and she seemed relieved. That is an old memory, one I had before the dreams started. But almost everything else has changed. My other memories are nearly all fresh now. My father stopped taking me to the large-a coke man. I didn’t see him so much after that. My uncle and Aunt ‘Dothy’ moved out to Cambria Heights with my cousins. My grandfather died, an old memory. My father and mother built a little Cape Cod bungalow out in Nassau County. A few years later they divorced, and we moved back to the city. I went to a rough school and got sort of rough myself. And here I am.”

And here you are,” said Dr. Anders, but without believing it, because this was not quite the same man who had been coming for therapy for the past two or three months.

I think I feel all right now. I think the dreams are over and done with,” said his patient. “Thanks for being here for me, Doc.”

The patient left. Dr. Anders looked at the closed door. Then he looked down at the patient’s chair. In it was a child’s beret.

Story Series: Hedge Wizard

August, 2018

Part 1

(Photo by Tj Holowaychuk on Unsplash)

Chapter 1

1. A Visit to the Hægtessa

I remember when little Dawn had a fever and had trouble sleeping, I went with Mother across the harvested fields to visit the Hægtessa. The green wall of the Hedge, tiny in the distance, grew and threw open its arms as we approached. On all sides it stretched, shutting out the Forest, except where the river ran by, downhill on the right, where the fishing lodge straddled the bank. I knew that far to the left, the hunters’ tunnel passed under the hedge.

Beyond the Hedge I could see the tops of many trees, outliers of the Forest. The Forest went on and on, they said, forever. No one went very far into it except the hunters. The Hægtessa, whose name meant ‘hedge-rider,’ went a little way in at times to gather herbs.

As we approached her house, Mother cautioned me to remain quiet unless spoken to. The Hægtessa, it was said, lived a very quiet life and disliked noise.

Her house ran right through the Hedge to the other side, and thus had two fronts, each barely extending beyond the Hedge itself. Her magic accommodated the Hedge to her house, neatly fitting it without impinging on it in the least.

I had never been in her house. I had been up to the Hedge, and down to the fishing-lodge by the river, and seen the gabled front of her house from a distance, but never herself. But now she came out.

But when the Hægtessa emerged, she was a kindly-looking middle-aged woman, getting a little stout. She was dressed in a simple farm smock and apron.

I’ve been working in the garden” she said to me, answering my thought. The morning sun peeped over the roof of the forest, and I squinted. She looked at me curiously, then turned to my mother.

Hello, Mopsy,” she said, using my mother’s little girl name.”What can I do for you?”

It’s Dawn, here,” said Mother. “She is hot and can’t sleep. I think her head hurts.”

The Hægtessa took Dawn in her arms. “She needs feverfew and a few other herbs,” she said. “Step in.”

We went up three steps and were inside her house, which seemed carved rather than built. A wide room stretched on both sides. Ahead were more steps, leading past cabinets of herbs and instruments up through the middle of the house. There were no windows to right or left.

Her magic keeps the hedge from bothering the house,” I thought. “But why the hump in the middle?”

Once again she answered my thought. “The roots of the hedge pass under the middle of my house. Else there would be two hedges.”

*

The Hægtessa ascended the inner steps and took several herbs from the shelves. She took dried leaves of feverfew and mixed them with fresh leaves. Then she prepared two or three other herbs.

When she brought the tea down, I saw a circular stairway at the back of her herb-closet. Past it steps probably started down to the forest side of her house.

We have to wait and see how she takes the herbs,” she said. “Please make yourselves comfortable. I will brew another tea.”

We sat on her cushioned carved benches and waited, while Mother applied a cool rag to Dawn’s head from time to time.

The Haegtessa kept us company. She talked about her need for an apprentice, “I’m not as young now as I once was.” She was running out of some herbs and needed help locating new gardens in the forest.

Somewhat later she felt Dawn’s head and said she felt a little cooler, but she needed to stay there for a night or two until her head was back to normal. She fixed up a bed for Mother in the room with Dawn, then turned to me.

Perhaps you’d like to sleep in the loft?” she asked, pointing to the circular stairs. “Come and see.” I followed her up the stairs. At the top, the gabled room was on the right. On the left a door opened into a circular chamber, roofed with crystal. I had heard of the dream chamber, but thought it was just a story.

In the center of the room was a wide, comfortable looking bed. Some treetops could be seen at the rim of the dome, but otherwise it was all sky.

Do you think you’d like to sleep here?” she asked.

Oh, yes,” I said. “Yes, thanks.”

That is well, Bird-brow; I give you that name in place of your boyhood name Hops. For outside, when you squinted, I saw a bird’s head, perhaps a robin’s, in the wrinkles between your brows. So I know you will profit from a night spent up here.”

The first night the dream chamber was filled with a blue light, whitened a while by the moon. I lay entranced by the starry sky and don’t know when I dropped off. Just before I woke I seemed to see a bluish figure flying around the room. It was a boy, a little smaller than I am, but I awoke before I could see more or speak to him.

At breakfast the Hægtessa was jovial. Dawn was much improved, and Mother had finally gotten some much-needed sleep. We had milk and meat and some fruit I had never seen before, juicy with a red pith. “One more night and Dawn will be well,” she said. “Did you sleep well in the chamber, Bird-brow?”

Why do you call him that?” asked Mother. “His name is Hops.”

He is growing fast, and has grown much overnight. See, already he is nearly eight years in stature. And I name him Bird-brow.”

Mother said nothing, but shifted a little uneasily in her chair. We knew that a hedge-witch has the right to assign a name to someone, and that name is not without meaning.

During the morning the Hægtessa took me out over the stair-hill and through the forest side of her house to the herb garden just outside the forest-door. Just beyond it was the blasted heath where the advancing trees of the forest had been cut down and the grass and seeds underneath them burnt brown. We picked herbs that day and she showed me how to store them in jars and prepare tinctures and other medicines.

At sunset a hunter came by with a brace of conies. “Have you heard that the great boar hunt is being prepared?” he asked me. “Your father is organizing it. Will you be with him?” I said certainly. He skinned them and stayed to supper with us, then went off again into the forest.

That night I dropped off to sleep swiftly, and before long the light of a star shone brighter, and the blue child flew or slid down the trail of light, landing at the foot of my bed.

Come, Bird-brow,” the blue child said. “You are asleep, so you can fly,” and we both flew through the crystal and out into the night of the forest.

To Be Continued…

A Gathering of Sorcerers

September, 2017

The tale-finder had traced the story as far as a small tavern in a remote village. Quaffing his ale, he greeted the other guests and, after a customary exchange of pleasantries, asked if anyone present had heard the story Hob told of a midnight gathering of sorcerers. There was some chuckling, and then a giant of a man sitting in the corner replied that he knew the tale, or knew of it.

It isn’t much of a story,” he began. “This farmhand Hob, in some stead over the river, was about to head home for the evening when the Mistress of the farm stopped by and asked him if he would wait on some guests who were due to arrive later that night. She said he could enjoy a full supper after they had eaten, and all he had to do was pour water and ale for them, then serve them food when they called for it. For the rest, he was to stay out of the way and not pry, but remain within earshot. He would get extra wages for it. She said that usually she tended them when they came, but she had to go see to a sick sister over the ridge.

Hob agreed, and along about ten or eleven in the evening they arrived heavily cloaked on horseback. He took their steeds to the barn while they settled themselves comfortably in the straw-strewn main room of the farmhouse. There were about a dozen present, plus one who sat a little apart. He was taller and thinner than the others, and evidently in charge of the meeting.

Hob brought them well-water and ale, and then retired to an adjoining room, shutting the door between. Being an inquisitive sort of fellow, though, and telling himself he had to listen for their meal-call, he left the door ajar by a little crack and sat close by.

The room was quiet for a time, then the leader spoke softly. Hob could just see him through the crack.

“ ‘Gentlemen, are you all comfortable?’ There were several grunts of assent. ‘Have you all found your places? Have you removed your heads?’

When he heard that, Hob felt a chill. He wanted very much to widen the door-crack to see if their heads were off, but did not dare.

The leader said ‘Very well, now my head is off.’ A great fear fell on Hob as he saw the leader sitting in his place with his head in his hands. His neck was not bloodied, and his voice seemed to be coming from the hole in his shoulders. He couldn’t see the other sorcerers but assumed they looked the same.

At one point, everyone stood up and began pacing in a circle round the room. Their heads, apparently, were set aside somewhere safe where they would not be kicked or tripped over accidentally. As the pacing continued, the headless sorcerers seemed to rise slightly until they were circling together two or three inches off the ground. Peering through the crack, Hob saw them pass by one at a time, each without a head on his shoulders! At the same time, an enormous buzzing noise started filling the room, and energy throbbed so strongly that it pushed Hob’s door fully closed, without, however making a sound. Hob was deathly afraid the headless sorcerers would discover him spying on them, and take off his head, but they took no notice and, from the sound, apparently continued circling a while longer. Finally they stopped, and it would seem that each resumed his seat, since it grew quiet once again. The throbbing had ceased.

Hob was afraid they would call for food with their heads off, but presently the leader said ‘Gentlemen, you may now replace your heads and lose your places.’ They then called for him to bring in the food. As soon as he had done so, he withdrew and, not waiting to gather the dishes later, much less eat the leavings of such uncanny creatures, quietly left the farmhouse and tore off across the fields as though the night-hag were after him!”

All the guests roared with laughter, a little nervously, and complimented the giant on his narration. The tale-finder thanked him and bought everyone a round, but secretly he felt disappointed, since he had had the tale in this form before. He thought perhaps he hadn’t gotten any closer to its place of origin.

After a while, he asked the giant where he had heard the story. The narrator answered, somewhat shortly, that it was in general circulation.

Is this Hob still about?” he asked the room. Someone remarked that he had died in his grandfather’s time, but it was known that he never returned to that farm, not even to collect his wages. He decided the Mistress must be a hægtessa 1 to play hostess to such beings, and he shortly left the district. But before he left, he told his story to a bard, a loremaster in the hills this side of the river, who passed it on to his successor, and in this way it got around.

The tale-finder asked where he might find this bard or his current successor, and after some grumbling, especially from the giant, someone gave him directions. He explained then diplomatically that his work involved hunting down the oldest form of such tales. He doubted he would ever hear the story told better than it was told tonight, he added. With that, the giant grinned and everyone relaxed. They drank another round of ale, and then the tale-finder rose and bidding them all good evening, went to his bed in the loft above the tavern.

In the morning he rose early, paid the innkeeper, saddled his horse and rode into the hills. He had no trouble finding the cot of the bard, and by lunchtime was seated across a rude table from him. This was not indeed the man Hob had told, but his second successor. The tale-finder repeated the story as the giant had told it and waited for the bard to make comments.

He said nothing for a while, but smiled and snorted a bit. “Yes,” he said at last, “that is the popular version, but it is not what Hob told old White Hawk. He said that after the leader of the group had told everyone to take his head off, and had said that now his head was off, Hob was surprised to see his head was still there, securely on his shoulders. But you should have surmised this,” he added, raising an eyebrow, “else why would he have bothered to tell the others his head was off? Or why would he have asked them if they had removed their own heads, since with his on he could obviously have seen if they were headless?”

He took a bite of bread, shrugged, and added “But of course, really headless sorcerers make a better tale.”

And the circling?” asked the tale-finder, “the rising into the air?”

The bard smiled wryly. “That is a subtler matter. It is possible they became lighter, and perhaps they even floated a bit in their pacing. I don’t think Hob exaggerated that very much.”

And what of the strange buzzing that filled the room?”

That you would have to experience for yourself,” he said. “But I don’t think it was heard with the ears. It was, perhaps, more like a pressure.” He nodded and rose. Lunch and the interview were over.

The tale-finder thanked him for his information and hospitality. He felt more confused than ever, though. As he turned to say good-bye at the door, the bard thought of something else. He brought a bucket of well-water and held it up to the tale-finder’s chest. “It is customary in these parts,” he said, “for us to share a drink of water before parting. But before I dip the ladle, look into the bucket. Tell me what you see.”

The tale-finder looked and saw his weather-worn face looking up at him. “My face, my head,” he said. The bard pulled the bucket away. “And now,” he said, smiling, “where is your head?” The tale-finder felt his forehead and cheeks and said, “Well, here it is, only I can’t see it.”

Exactly,” the bard answered. But do you usually notice that you can’t see it? If you don’t, you reside in your thoughts. You have lost your place in the room. Do you understand?”

The tale-finder’s mouth fell open. “So that’s it?”

That’s it.” They shared a farewell drink of water, and the tale-finder went on his way.

1 A hedge-rider, i.e., a witch.

Short Story: Kiara, Episode 14

November, 2016

Kiara, Episode 14

kiara

 

The moment that Kiara touched the daisy, Moira became aware of her. She watched as she changed the daisy symbol she had given to her and hung it on her ear. The long corridor seemed dark and much too quiet. Moira could sense the servants huddled in the kitchen. She felt their uncertainty and drifted into the kitchen. Although they were unaware of her, they seemed to brighten a little under the influence of her presence. Cook was sitting at the big old wooden table in the centre of the room. The servants were all sitting around the table. Jed, the gardener, sat at her right, facing the big sink and worktop where the sunlight was beginning to seep in His son Michael sat opposite with the light shining through his fair hair, forming a halo effect around his head. Moira paused to admire the lad. He was broad shouldered and handsome, with a round friendly face. Annabelle sat further down the table beside Maria, holding her hand for comfort. They both looked pale and nervous. Two shotguns lay on the table between the gardener and his son. She stopped and listened to them for a moment. Michael broke the silence. “I should go and see if mistress needs any help”, he said. Jed shook his head. “ No!, we are to stay here and protect the youngsters”. He spoke kindly, but with an edge in his voice. Matron said that we are to leave her behind if necessary and take ourselves and Annabelle as far away as possible!”. Like his son, it made him feel like a coward, but his instructions had been very clear. He was not sure what was going on, but he knew it was bad. The purse of gold, handed to him by Matron, had convinced him of that. He would stay here until forced to leave, then he would return to help once the children were safe.

Moira returned to Kiara and noted the many racks of armour in the anteroom. She realised that she must report it to Mandral as soon as possible, but the noise and the roars from one of the rooms ahead, pushed everything from her mind. Kiara rushed through the door and she followed her.
As she passed the body of the servant, James, Kiara leaned over him and touched the wound and the blood stopped flowing. He was very weak and Moira was not too sure if he would survive. She hovered over him, sending healing as Kiara stepped into the next room. She followed as far as the doorway and watched as Kiara challenged a giant goblin. She felt no need to intervene as she felt that Kiara was more likely to find her a hindrance than a help.. The huge size of the goblin in the room still surprised her, despite seeing the armour in the anteroom. Kiara, however seemed totally unconcerned, so Moira continued to watch the scene without interfering. She almost gave herself away as Kiara’s fight with the goblin made her giggle. The magic of the royal faeries was legendary, but Moira had never expected such an easy victory. As Droc hung his head in defeat, she broke off her contact and sought out her great uncle. She needed to let him know that the goblins seemed to have amassed an army of giant warriors. Although the princess had foiled the goblin’s plans without any real effort, this was still worrying.. She left the scene behind as she focused on her home world.

******
In the kitchen, the calm that had settled on the occupants was short lived, after Moira had left. The initial breaking of the door had startled them, but both Jed and his son grabbed the shotguns as the roar of the goblin echoed through the house. Alice’s scream rang down the long corridor next making them feel sick with fright. Annabelle pulled away from Maria and ran from the kitchen shouting for her mother.
Michael ran after her, calling to his father to take the rest to safety. He grabbed a belt of cartridges from a hook near the door and slung it across his neck. Annabelle was already down the corridor and passing into the goblins lair as he left the kitchen. He hurried after her, but by the time he reached the anteroom, there was no sign of her. It went deathly quiet. He paused and listened. He could hear muffled voices somewhere ahead. A huge creature was growling as it approached him from the doorway ahead of him. He loosed both barrels into the creature and it collapsed in the doorway. A second goblin was trying to get past, and Michael quickly reloaded. As it climbed over its comrade he fired again stopping it in his tracks. More creatures were fighting to get through the doorway and he backed away as he loaded again. They tore the furniture in the room apart and started throwing it at him, forcing him to retreat further.
He retreated to the armoury and propped the door with anything he could find. First, he jammed some spears against it. He then put the shotgun down and pushed over one of the big racks to brace the wooden door. As he picked up the gun again, the goblins were pounding at the door. He heard what might the huge table from the room beyond being used as a battering ram. He realised that they would be through the door very soon. He took a sword from the rack and left the armoury. Closing the damaged outer door, he used the sword to jam it shut by sliding it through the iron handle. He checked the kitchen, which was empty, and left the manor to search for the others. When he got to the gate, Jed was waiting for him in the car with the others. They all sat there, reluctant to leave without the others. They decided to wait until the very last moment in case anyone should escape. Michael went back down the access road to keep watch. He hid behind a bush at a bend in the road, and watched the house carefully for any sign of activity.
As Kiara stepped forward to attack, the goblins started to growl, building themselves into a frenzy.
At that moment, Annabelle ran into the room and was grabbed by a goblin who was nearest the door. As kiara darted a glance at the girl, Droc grabbed Alice from the chair and placed his sword across her throat. “Put your sword down or they both die!”, he screamed above the growling.
The room grew silent as Kiara paused. There was no way to reach them both in time. The hellish fires in her eyes began to die down. She seemed to shrink as she dropped the sword from her hand.
“Put her in the chair!” commanded Droc, and in seconds she was trapped by the energy field.
The machine began to glow as it greedily sucked the magical energy from the faerie princess.
She seemed to be shrinking as she returned to the familiar shape of the little girl who had first come to the manor. Droc finally relaxed. He threw Alice to another goblin. “Guard these two with your lives!, I have plans for them!. He ordered the rest of them to get themselves armed and ready, and they headed to the armoury. He was distracted by the sound of a shogun in the entrance room, and he never noticed the small spider slipping through the energy field and landing on Kiara’s head.
It dropped down behind her left ear, where she had placed the earring earlier.

******

Short Story: Kiara, Episode 13

October, 2016

KIARA EPISODE 13

kiara

Cook carefully removed the bandage to change the poultice as Kiara slept. The child was no longer feverish and was in a deep peaceful sleep. When she cleaned the area and saw no sign of either a wound or a scar, she began praying and making the sign of the cross over and over again. Just at that moment the door gave way to the goblins lair and she jumped with fright as the noise rang through the house. Kiara awoke and smiled at her. Somehow, the smile brought tears of relief. Then the girl was standing beside her and gave her hug. “Thank you! You must be exhausted ! Why don’t you go to the kitchen and make yourself a nice cup of tea!”. Before she knew it, cook was heading to the kitchen.

“You’re taller!”, said Annabelle accusingly. Kiara laughed. It was like the sound of a hundred tiny bells tinkling. She grew taller still and a pair of beautiful wings appeared . They sparkled and shone with rainbow colours that made Annabelle’s eyes go funny, and then they vanished and Kiara stood before her again, looking just like her old self. Annabelle rushed across the room and hugged her.

“Hold on Hold on! I must dress” said Kiara laughing. She stepped back for a moment and she created a beautiful silver frock with bows and ribbons and two big pockets. As she put the daisy into one pocket, she realised that the dress was a little long, so she grew into it. “That’s better!”, she said.

“Put your hand out!” Annabelle put her hand out and Kiara placed a bright red pebble into it. “Now, say Elsewhere!”. She did what she asked and found herself on the far side of the room.

“Listen carefully, you must go with cook and stay in the kitchen. If anything should happen, or you get scared, grab her hand and hold the pebble and say elsewhere! Okay?”

Annabelle nodded , and giving Kiara a last big hug, she ran after the cook.

Kiara had, of course, almost returned to her old self and in typical faerie fashion she only had a vague memory of what had happened. She remembered the boy and promised herself to visit him, once she had dealt with the silly goblin. Then the memory flooded back of the fire and the destruction of the goblins in the woods. Her shine dimmed a little, but she pushed it out of her mind. After all, she thought, they were not real bodies. It was just like breaking toys that belonged to naughty children. She brightened up for a moment, then realised that unless she smashed the machines, she might have to kill a lot more of the goblin troops on their own world, where they would be very real. It was a promise that she had avoided making just yet, but she knew that she could not abandon her own kind when they needed her. On impulse, she took the daisy from her pocket and turned it into a small earring which she placed in her ear, for safekeeping.

James opened the next door and the stench that hit them was overpowering. It as a large room filled with large heavy tables and benches. There was a large pipe with an open cover in the corner of the room where the smell seemed strongest. It had to be some sort of waste pipe, judging from the bones scattered around it. James held his breath and went to check it. They quickly moved on and shut the door behind them. They heard a humming sound from the next room and realised that they must be near the goblins machinery. They stood still, listening for any sounds before opening the door. James carefully closed the shotgun and handed it to Alice. Indicating that he wanted her to stay and watch the door. He opened it quietly and stepped through. He looked around in amazement at the lights and dials set into what looked like large wooden cupboards spaced all around the walls and joined by some sort of tubing. Seeing the next door open, he cautiously approached it and looked through.

There was a chair similar to the one in the doctors office, with tubes leading from it to a cabinet and from there, to huge covered cubicle. He checked the room carefully before calling Alice to come in. “ I think I found it!, he shouted. Alice followed him in quickly, not wanting to be outside on her own. They stood and inspected the room, wondering what exactly they could do to put the equipment out of action.

James was very unsure of what would happen if he sliced through the tubes. He knew nothing about electricity except that it could be dangerous and that metal conducted it. He looked at the cabinet that lit up the wall behind the chair. Alice seemed to read his mind. “Let’s go back and get the sledgehammer”, she said. She handed him the shotgun and he led the way.

As they stepped back through the door, the goblin pounced. The knife flashed between them and by the time James had turned, the broadsword was sweeping through the air. He blocked it with the barrel of the shotgun. It was almost torn from his hands by the impact, but he somehow managed to swing it back up and fired both barrels at the goblin. The noise was deafening and Droc stumbled backwards, giving James a chance to remove his sword from its scabbard. He shouted to Alice to run, but she stood near the door, frozen in fear. “Run!”, he screamed above the roar of the goblin.

Droc was a terrifying sight with his armour blackened and peppered with shot and one side of his cheek torn and bleeding. He raised the huge sword and James knew he moments left to live. James swung low with his sword and slashed across the goblin’s leg as he rolled out of reach of the sword. Droc ignored the wound and swung downwards as James got to his feet. He blocked the swing, but it sent him reeling backwards across the room. The goblin stepped forward, trapping Alice at the doorway.

He began to swing the sword down on James but as James raised his sword, Droc kicked out and sent him sprawling against the wall. Alice tried to take out her gun from her pocket, but the goblin was too fast and pinned her hands together. He swung her around and onto his hip as if she was a child and walked over to James. He kicked him over onto his back and casually thrust his sword into his belly. Alice screamed. “scream all you like, hag! You will scream much more before this day is through. He carried her back into the portal room and threw her onto the chair before sheathing his sword. He flicked a switch and she was trapped in the chair by invisible cords. Numb with shock, she hardly felt the tingling of the energy that held her in place.

“I think I will let you watch your little brat die before I show you what this little toy can do to ungrateful hags, he said. He turned a dial and searing pain flowed through her whole body. She felt blood in her mouth were she had bitten her tongue. He turned the dial back down. “Ah!, I see I have your full attention”. He smiled, showing two huge canines. “I think you had better let her go!,- said a voice from the doorway, making him turn around. There stood Kiara, still in the form of a child, and leaning on a sword that reached up to her chin. To hear a goblin laughing is a terrible thing. His bellow echoed across the whole manor.

Kiara began to laugh too and before he realised it, Droc was laughing until there were tears in his eyes. He was still laughing when the flat of her sword crashed down on his helmet. He screamed out in rage and frustration as he fought to remove the battered metal pressing into his skull. The leather strap tore away and he flung the crushed helmet at her and charged forward swinging his sword. All thoughts of needing her alive had vanished from his mind in his fury. She vaulted the huge arc of his swing, but he carried on in a huge circle of flying steel like a scythe. By the time he had swung around in a full circle, she had turned and blocked. The swords met in a flash of sparks and a piercing screech as metal slid against metal. As he powered through her block, and her sword slid away, she again vaulted over the swing and struck him in the face with the handle of her sword as she leapt to the other side of the room.

He spat blood and shook his head to clear it. Kiara was leaning on her sword in front of the cabinet, and laughing as if it was a great game. His rage knew no bounds. He ran across the room and sliced down in an effort to cut the arrogant faerie in two and silence her maddening laughter.

At the last moment she sidestepped and his sword bit into the cabinet, sending a pulse of energy back though the sword that knocked him off his feet. She turned to face him, when Alice started to scream. As she looked at Alice a goblin came out of the portal and pinned her arms from behind.

Droc smiled as he ran her sword right through her. He looked totally bewildered as he stared at the goblin warrior skewered on his sword. Kiara had vanished and was at the portal. She struck another goblin with the flat of her sword as he came through,- sending him sprawling across the room. With a wave of her hand a huge sticky web grew across the opening to the portal.

Kiara turned to look at Droc as he drew his sword from the dead warrior. “Enough!”, she said. “Release the matron and I will allow you to return to your world”. As she stared at him, Droc felt all the fight and the fury drain away. How could one little girl thwart all his plans? He was thinking furiously as she spoke. In the portal chamber more troops were arriving and soon they would be crushed by their own numbers. He put his sword down. “Okay faerie, You win”, he said, and walked slowly over to the control panel. He turned the dial up to full and Alice started to scream as the chair tried to draw energy from her body. Kiara rushed over and as she drew near, the energy field from the chair arced towards her, and began drawing on her power. He knocked her to the ground with his fist and ran back to pick up his sword. The web disappeared and goblins started to flood into the room. Kiara jumped up and switched of the machine. It as all or nothing now, she decided, and manifested her warrior form. Before the eyes of the goblins, she grew to seven foot tall and long black braids of raven hair, tipped with razor sharp blades hung down the silver of her gleaming armour.

The sword she had used earlier, now looked like a child’s toy in her hands. She threw it at the goblin and drew a long curved katana that glowed with a dull red, almost the colour of drying blood. Her eyes glowed like large black pits filled with glowing embers. Instinctively, the goblins backed away.

MagickalArts

September, 2016

This month the Magickals has an offering of flash fiction. Enjoy!

Tessie’s Gift

magickalarts

Tessie was a sprite. Not just any sprite, mind you but one who could craft the most pleasant of magicks. Her magick was one of bestowing gifts to those who would otherwise remain in need and despair. She was able to command all of the elements; something quite unusual as all of the other sprites were only able to weave their magick with one. Her favorite magick was gently coaxing the winds to do her bidding and she loved watching a golden haired child named Sasha dancing with the gentle breezes Tessie created in the fields.

 

Sasha was a gentle and sweet child whose life was filled with sorrow and pain. Her parents had never wanted her; a fact they made known to her every day. She was scolded for being too quiet and beaten for making too much noise. She ate what was left of the scraps that had been fed first to the cows and pigs as their selling and butchering was the source of the parent’s livelihood.  Even Sasha’s clothing was made from the remnants of old burlap feed bags.

 

Despite the hardships and unloving home Sasha was grateful for what was given to her and snuggled in closely each night, stroking and speaking softly to the animals whose home she shared. Her most treasured companion was a pig named Piper. She told Piper all of her secrets and he grunted happily as she sang him to sleep each night. It had been Tessie who had long ago whispered into Piper’s ear and told him to look after Sasha because she needed to be loved more than anything.

 

One cold morning, Sasha awoke to see Piper being taken off to the slaughterhouse. She begged her Mother and pleaded with her Father, tears streaming down her face and body shivering from the cold. Both pushed her aside and told her she would have no supper that evening for creating such a fuss. Her heart had been broken.   

 

That night Tessie stole into the pens and found Sasha sobbing and sitting alone in the space where her beloved Piper had been. Tessie called out to Sasha and the sobbing momentarily stopped as Sasha looked around. Tessie breathed out a gentle burst of air stirring the dirt up towards Sasha’s tear streaked face and Sasha’s eyes widened in seeing this tiny sprite.  She lowered her head for a closer look and smiled returning Tessie’s loving gaze.

 

Tessie told Sasha that she had been watching her for some time and that such a sweet and gentle child should have a loving home and parents. Sasha said that it was not so bad and that her parents tried as best they could. Tessie told Sasha that she knew of a family that would love and cherish her and as a gift for her kindness, the guardian of the dancing winds would take her to a new home. Sasha’s eyes lit up in excitement and she told Tessie that she would gladly go because this would make it so much easier for her real parents if she were not always underfoot.

 

And, so that night it was agreed that the sprite who could craft the most pleasant of magicks would take Sasha to the loving home she deserved. Tessie told Sasha to lay down and placed an enchanted flower in her hand. Sasha yawned and fell into a heavy and deep sleep.

 

Tessie called to the guardians of the winds and bid them come to her. The air thickened and a gentle woosh of wind spiraled around Tessie. She whispered into the very center of the wind and watched as the sleeping Sasha was gently lifted upwards. Tessie spoke softly to the winds and with each word Sasha was lifted higher, still soundly sleeping and gently cradled in a pocket of airy bedding.

 

The next morning, Sasha stretched and yawned opening sleep filled eyes.  The bedding underneath was soft and smelled of freshly washed linen. Light streamed in through sparkling clean windows lighting up a lavender painted room. She sat up, looking around in disbelief and her eye was drawn to the single periwinkle colored Forget-Me-Not on the pillow next to her. Carefully, she picked it up and vowed that she would never forget Tessie and her gift.  She brought the flower up to her nose and gently inhaled its sweetness as the sound of a loving voice called her downstairs for breakfast. And, what of Tessie? Her story is just beginning.

Short Story: Kiara, Episode 12

September, 2016

Kiara4

 

Kiara: Episode 12
Alice felt much better after a good nights sleep. She had slept well much to her surprise,- having James outside the door made her feel much safer. She thought of that night she had seen him hanging around beneath the gas light, obviously up to no good. She had thrown him a shilling, thinking to keep him out of gaol for at least one more night. Then something in his expression had struck a chord with her. She remembered her own rebellious childhood. She thought she had found love but had been forced to run away from home in disgrace. The kindness of one person had saved her and she had worked hard for many years until she became a matron in a large hospital. In all that time, she had closed her heart to everyone. Then something in the roguish urchin touched her, and she decided that perhaps it was time to pay back for the gift of a new life that she had been given herself. Not for a moment had she imagined just how much she would come to depend on this scruffy urchin in the years to come.
Annabelle stirred. “Go back to sleep, sweetheart” she said.” Later, after breakfast, I want you to go and sit with Kiara in the infirmary and to stay there until I come for you. Bring a book and read it to her. It will comfort her”.
There was a softness in her voice that Annabelle had never heard before. She had been forced to have dinner with the servants the previous night. Mama had dinner with James and she had never done that before. Although she had said it was to discuss the household, both of them seemed different somehow, when they had escorted her to her mamas room to sleep for the night. As she drifted back to sleep, she wondered what had happened to Kiara. There had been a fire in the woods and Kiara had been injured, but no one would tell her what had happened. Perhaps Kiara would tell her later.

James straightened in the chair and his eyes flew open as Alice unlocked the door and stepped into the hallway. She smiled at him and he smiled back. “Come and have a hot drink with me in the kitchen before we tackle Docter Boglins quarters. Who knows what will greet us there”. He crooked the open shotgun on his arm and they walked slowly down the quiet corridor to the kitchen. Their hands brushed together by accident as they walked and she felt herself blushing. She was almost thirty years his senior, but he looked twice her age. She knew that the goblins treatments had a cumulative effect and she might have years of youth before they wore off. She did not know what would happen then. Would she begin to age again, or would she wake up one day to find a lady in her seventies peering back from the mirror?. She refused to entertain the question any longer. It seemed pointless, when he could reappear at any moment to take a terrible revenge on them all. She knew that she loved this man whom she had known since he was a child, but that was another problem that would have to wait. She knew that he loved her and that was enough for now. The future would sort itself out,- if indeed they had any future at all.

Despite the early hour, cook was up, and there was fresh bread and jam with their early morning tea.
There was an energy between them that made them feel breathless, but both of them were afraid to speak..Alice and James sat opposite each other and said little until cook went upstairs to relieve Maria and bring a fresh poultice for Kiara. “We will need something to break the door down”, Alice said, “It is quite solid and he always keeps it locked”. James left the shotgun open on the table near her and went to the garage to find what he needed. A few minute later he came back with a wooden wedge, a pry bar, a sledgehammer and some thick gloves, and they set off for the goblins quarters.

The goblin had taken an entire wing of the massive old manor. In many ways the building was constructed to look like a castle, with an exterior made from huge stone blocks, but using modern materials and design to allow much larger rooms on the interior. It had been some rich man’s folly,- built on the flood of wealth that had poured in from the empire. It had been totally sealed of from the rest of the house with solid brick walls and a small oak door on the ground floor giving access. Beside this door was the entry to his office. Dr. Boglin would see the children in there and there was some equipment in those rooms. Many would then be sent back to their parents, cured of many nervous diseases and thereby building the wealth and prestige of the home. Those who went through the little door , however, were never seen again.
Matron had a key to the office and a quick check revealed nothing unusual. James handed the shotgun to Alice and set to work on the door. There was no room to get the pry bar near the lock.
He placed the wedge against the base of the door and tapped it in with the sledgehammer. It took several large blows to force a gap. The noise echoed around the hallway. They paused and listened for sounds within, but it was impossible to hear much through the thick door. James managed to get the pry bar into the small gap near the lock, but even with all his weight behind it, it refused to budge. He hammered the end of the bar into the gap then using the wooden wedge between the lock and frame, he swung the sledgehammer with all his strength until the door flew open with as the jam splintered apart.
They stood amazed as they walked into the anteroom. It was lit by what looked like electric light bulbs. There were racks all around the large room filled with medieval armour and weapons. They stood there for a moment, puzzled. The armour looked much larger than the doctor or his fellow goblins. James, who was almost six foot tall would have found them large and cumbersome. There were bows, arrows, crossbows maces and huge swords. James picked up a sword, it was incredibly light and gleamed blue in the strange light.. He decided to keep it just for the moment and tied a scabbard around his waist to free his arms for the shotgun. Without a word, they pressed on. They did not even know what they were looking for. But the goblins had gotten here somehow. They needed to find out how and destroy his machinery. Otherwise, they suspected, there was no place on earth that they would ever be safe.
As Droc stepped out if the portal which was attached to the Cradle, he beamed with satisfaction. It had taken him thirty years to build it, but now, from the tiny gap in the shield around his planet, he had created a highway. Once he boosted its power with the magic from the faery princess he could transport many troops at once and make a new base here on this planet. They would harvest it’s resources to prepare for their invasion of the faery home world. He paused for a moment as he tried to remember the name of the home word of the Fae. It slipped through his mind like quicksilver. Never mind!, he thought, they had found a way in and they would find many others as they prepared for the final assault. First ,there was a hag to kill and an entire planet to feed from.

He picked up a chair and tore it apart. He was pleased,- perhaps he would not kill the weasel, Hrirc after all. He went to a rack and donned his armour, adding a belt of razor sharp knives and a long broad sword. He tested the sword, slicing through a table with a single blow. He had to stoop down to get through the door to the next room. Others would follow soon, when the power had built up, but he had no patience to wait. He would go and find the princess and get his plans moving. For an inferior race, the humans were proving to be less easy to control that he had imagined. He had lost four days and his biggest fear was that the faeries had somehow saved the guardian tree. For all he knew they might have warriors waiting in the woods to surround his troops and put a stop to his plans. He remembered nothing after the blow to the head that had crushed his old body. He needed to find out what had happened. He also needed to feel his claws dig into the neck of that treacherous hag.
He checked the instruments in the room and patted the chair fondly that was attached to them. From this spot, the empire of the goblins would be rebuilt, and he, Droc, would be their greatest ever warlord and Archdeacon.
He heard the noise of the door to the rest of the manor being breached. He could smell her, and that lackey of hers. That lapdog that she had kept with her for far too long. She had resisted every attempt to remove him. She must have planned treachery even then. Let her come into his cell. He would have some fun with her, away from distractions, while he waited for his troops. She would tell him all he needed to know before she died. He unsheathed a knife and hid behind one of the large control panels to wait.

Short Story: Kiara, Episode 11

August, 2016

Kiara4

 

Kiara: Episode 11

Moira returned to her tree with an uneasy mind., but the effects of being around her grand uncle Mandral quickly dissipated. Of those who fought alongside the Dwarf mercenaries, he had been chosen to stay on the home world to command the mercenaries. He could look to the council of elders for advice, but everything would be left for him to decide.

Faeries do not have leadership in the sense that most races do. They once had kings, before their magical power became so great that any form of leadership became impossible. The line of kings were still much respected though, as their magical powers were greater than any of the faeries, with the exception of a few of the elders. The faeries have used and misused magic for so many aeons that they are not always even recognisable as being of the same race. Some are tiny and some are tall and slim. Some are beautiful by human standards and some look like trees and orbs and butterflies. They chiefly recognise each other by their essence as they are shape-shifters par excellence. Those on the home world tend to drift along in a hedonistic way, doing whatever gives them pleasure. They avoid seriousness, or anything that might change their essence and make their idyllic life on the home world impossible to maintain.

They do not have a moral code as such, – they simply realise that the use of dark magic or taking a life, will change their essence and bring darkness and pain in place of pleasure and bliss.

Those who fought in the goblin wars knew that they were sacrificing much to protect their race. Having lost their purity, they spread across the worlds and created new clans. Although they still tried to live their lifestyle of pleasure and abandon, – their essence was now much darker. They tended to avoid contact with all except their own clan, and had warlike tendencies which were never manifested in their ancestors. The faeries are a forgetful race, but there were many who had served with Mandral and would return to defend their home world when needed.

Moira manifested a soft couch and began her search for Kiara. It was always harder to search among the out-world clans. She knew that Kiara had to be descended from one of the royal lines who fought in some past conflict that was lost in time. She remembered what had happened to the goblins in the forest, and realised that the ugly little toad had possibly bitten off much more than even his sharp teeth could chew. A warrior princess in full battle fury could single-handedly decimate an entire battalion of goblins. Unfortunately, she doubted that Kiara really knew who she was. If she could her her and bring her back to her uncle, she was sure that they could foil whatever plans the horrible little goblin had to bring chaos to their home world.

Moira closed her eyes and allowed her mind to expand and drift. She found the guardian of the forest, but she was back in her nest and awaiting a new Guardian tree to be prepared for her.

She found the forest, but could not bring herself to materialise there. The energy of the place made her feel sick and dizzy. She would have to get help to cleanse it later, or wait until the elementals had transmuted the negative energy back into life force.

Finally, she drifted into dream and searched for Kiara there. Faeries find dreams easier to navigate than most beings do, because of their naturally whimsical nature. Still, it took quite a while to penetrate Kiara’s fevered nightmares. With the forest out of bounds, she led Kiara’s etheric body to the safety of her bedroom and, taking the daisy from Kiara’s dressing gown pocket, she pressed it into her hand. While Kiara’s mind was beginning to clear and focus, Moira healed her wound.

When she had the full attention of the princess, Moira told her to keep the daisy safe as it would guide her to the home world when needed. She explained about the work the doctor had done to create bodies beyond the protective shield that kept them imprisoned on their planet of origin. She also told her of the raids on the home-world of the Fae and their suspicions about his plans to invade it. Moira spoke slowly and carefully, watching the princess to try to gauge her reaction.

“Milady”, she said, “We have great need of your help in the homeland of the Fae. I know we ask much of you, but we need you to destroy the goblin’s machines and then come to us to help us deal with his armies”. She paused for a moment to allow Kiara to take everything in. Kiara did not answer for a while. She knew what was being asked of her. Her own clan had lived by the old ways for countless thousands of years and their light had again grown bright. However, she felt little remorse for destroying the goblins, even before she knew they were only constructs. Perhaps it was her fate to do this. Maybe that was why she had somehow been trapped in this child’s body and not through her own stupidity after all.

“Very well!”, she said at last. “I will see if my powers have returned and if I can destroy these machines”. “Go and rest Milady”, said Moira, and when you awaken and have tested your powers, call me to you and I will help all I can”. Moira faded away and Kiara drifted into a deep sleep as her fever broke and the wound rapidly healed.

Short Story: Kiara, Episode 10

June, 2016

Kiara

 

 

 

Kiara Episode: 10

Perhaps because their two hearts were now linked by love, as Kiara slipped into fever, so did Jeremiah. Although miles apart, even in their fevered dreams they sought each other out. For days they both wandered lost, through the nightmare world of fever that some call the land of the dead.

Jeremiah was to remember later, that he had seen her. There was an image in his head of her reaching out to him. He could see her pale hands almost touching him before she was swept away like leaves in the wind. He heard her call out that she would find him. He awoke to see his mother sitting by his bed. “Sarah, Sarah! Go fetch the doctor quickly!”, she said.

The doctor looked serious but spoke kindly. After a whispered conversation with his mother, the doctor came back and gave him a sad smile, then rubbed his head and left without a word.

At first his mother told him nothing, only that he must stay in bed and rest. It was only when he was stronger that she told him that he had caught a disease called polio She said he was very lucky as only one leg had been affected and he would still be able to walk. She explained that he would have to go to a special clinic and have a metal splint fitted to his leg. When he asked if it would cure it, she hugged him and said that he must be brave. She told him that while he was in a fever, his father had gone to war, and that he was the man of the house now and must be strong. She explained that she needed him back on his feet and helping her to run the bakery until the war was over and his father came home. He realised that he would never be a soldier after all, but he did not cry. Even with one leg he could still be the best baker in town.

******

Much had happened while Kiara slept. After cleaning her wound and applying the poultice, Matron left her to Maria’s care. She sent for the cook and told her to help Maria in every way she could. “Martha! I understand that you have many duties in the kitchen, but I wish you to make a fresh poultice every two hours and help Maria to change the bandages”, she said to the cook when she arrived. Martha almost gave matron her most withering look, then seeing how tired and strained she looked, simply said “Yes Ma’am”. When Matron returned an hour later with the bag of coins, Martha was glad that she had held her tongue. Matron then went to every servant and gave each of them a bag of coins. She asked that they would stay with her for as long as she needed them, but that they were free to leave at the end of the month, – if that was what they wished. She told them very little except that the home might close suddenly and she wished to pay them in advance so that they were well compensated for all their hard work. On finding several years’ wages in their hands, they all agreed to stay for as long as she needed them. She decided that perhaps the same approach might be best with James as she wished to treat him no less generously than the servants. He had become the one person in whom she totally relied, and she did not wish to lose him. Still he deserved no less an option than the others, although she would feel very much safer with him by her side.

That first evening after the fire, a very subdued and well-scrubbed James came to her quarters at seven o’ clock. As he knocked at the door he wondered if he still stank of death and ashes.

Matron seemed nervous and vulnerable as she led him to the sofa and bid him to sit down.

There were two brandies on the coffee table and a large bag. She handed him a brandy and sat beside him. He felt uncomfortable to have her so close. He was afraid that he would forget who he was and reach out to touch her face, that beautiful, ageless face that was now lined with worry and stress. He looked pointedly at the coffee table. Mistaking his intentions, she said, “That bag is yours, James. Pick it up!”. “I do not want it madam”, he said, still staring at the table. “There is a lot of gold in that bag, James. You are now a very rich man. “I do not want it Madam”, he repeated. He felt crushed. She was paying him off after all his years of service. Did she not trust him to stay silent? “I paid off all the servants when you were in the woods. They will stay until I decide what to do. It was only fair to make the same offer to you. To be honest, I am praying that you will stay as I have need of a strong friend at this moment”. She touched his hand and he turned to her with tears in his eyes. His look told her everything. She squeezed his hand, – almost breathless in her relief. “Well you best start calling me Alice then, for we are about to embark on a very dangerous adventure.

Over dinner she explained the dangerous situation they were in. She told him about Kiara, and the doctors real identity. also she explained her doubts of the goblin staying dead, and his incredible speed and strength. They considered the possibility that the strange machines they had seen in his part of the house might be the key to making sure that he did not return. Alice was determined to stay and fight it out if they could. She had spent forty years in the manor and to her it was her home. James showed her the pistol he had always carried in a shoulder holster and swore to protect her.

That night, she took Annabelle into her room with her. James gave the gardener a shotgun and left him to protect the infirmary, while he spent the night dozing on a chair outside her room with a shotgun, loaded and broken, open on his knee.

*****

Droc awoke from his healing much sooner than any other goblin could have, – especially after the treacherous attack by that ungrateful hag. She had killed him instantly, totally destroying his bio-energy body in a single crushing blow to his head. Fortunately, the Cradle had immediately begun to repair the trauma to his own body caused by the reverberations through the morphic resonance field. It was the discovery of the Morphic Resonance Field that had allowed him to fight his way up to become Arch Deacon. It was a sharp blade across the throat of his predecessor in middle of the rest period that made him king. The Cradle tuned itself to him through the morphic resonance field and allowed him to return automatically from the body which it had constructed on the other side of the Etheric Barrier.

He tore himself impatiently, from the web of energy which held him down, leaving his face only partially healed. Strips of flesh hung down from where the left side of his face was not yet reconstructed. Even by goblin standards he was never handsome, but with his jagged teeth bared and his face twisted in anger and the torn flesh on his cheeks, – he was a terrifying sight. “Cursed women! Damned faeries! They will pay for this!”

From the next cell in the warren, the clerics rushed in, “Sire! Sire! You are not yet healed!”. He eyed them evilly, – looking for a victim. They all looked down at the rough stone floor in terror. “I built this machine! he screamed. “I drained the faery magic to power it!- his voice was almost a screech. “I am your king and your Archdeacon and I opened a doorway from this barren planet in which we were imprisoned! “And I will break that hag into small pieces with my bare hands.”

He calmed a little, “I ended 1000 years of futility and frustration, and before this stinking hell hole in which we are trapped has passed one more year, – we will feast on faery flesh. We will tear down their ancient trees and kill their guardians and when we have destroyed the web around this planet, – the universes will be ours to take”.

He calmed himself. He turned to his Deacon, – “Tarag!, how soon before the cradle is ready again?,- I must return!. I have found a princess of the faeries. With her energy transferred to my machines on earth, we can move battalions through the web, and crush the faeries before they can even assemble”.

Tarag looked at him in panic. “How long?”, Droc asked again. There was an edge in his voice. “Seven sunsets, sire”,- he was shaking as he spoke. Before he could blink, Droc had grabbed him by the throat and had broken him like a twig.

Droc looked around at the quaking clerics. His eyes settled on Hrirc. Hrirc looked much less scared than the rest of the treacherous back-stabbers. “Hrirc, come here!”. Hrirc calmly walked over to his King. “You are my new Deacon,- How long will it take you to prepare a new body?”. “Four sunsets sire, – to ensure that your new body is far superior to the one prepared by the traitor Tarag!” Droc looked at him, pondering. “A clever one, – this one”, he thought, “After our victory I will kill him myself”. Out loud, he said, “Very well, Deacon Hrirc, you have four sunsets”. Droc strode out of the room and up to his own quarters at the very top of the mountain. It looked like a giant termite colony carved out of solid rock. He went to the opening that was carved into the wall of his cell and gazed out over the rocky valley below. It was devoid of all life and a black sluggish river ran down from the hill. It was covered in oil slicks which glittered like pools of gold, and glowed in rainbow colours from the evening sun.

For anyone, apart from a troll or goblin, it would be a depressing sight. But in his mind’s eye, Droc could see it filled with thousands of faery slaves, all chained and broken. He sighed with impatient expectation, “Four days and he would return to collect his princess and his revenge. He remembered the chattering child called Annabelle. The hag seemed fond of her. Her would kill her first, then the hag. Then he would suck the magic from the princess with his latest toy, and bring her empty husk back to be his puppet queen. His pleasant musings had given him an appetite. He walked over to a blow tube coming from the wall and removed the cover from the end of it. “Bring me a changeling!”, he bellowed down the pipe. He smiled to himself in anticipation, showing a row of razor sharp teeth.

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