Oliver and the Wand

Ordinarily what I do when I feel inspired to write is that I imagine a scene starring the characters and situations of my novel, play it out in my head and speak the dialogue aloud, and then never write anything down, because it wouldn’t be as simple as writing down a scene, it would be writing a scene for MY NOVEL, which is a tremendous task, and would mean that I was beginning work on my novel again, and that I had now accepted all the responsibilities involved.

What I’ve been doing for the last couple of days, it seems, is writing whatever I want whenever I get the urge. This is an idea for a story that I just came up with today, and as is often the case when I write in scenes, I started right in the middle. I am writing because I want to write, with no ulterior motive. I really like the way that feels.


It wasn’t until my fingers wrapped around the handle of my wand, tucked into my inner jacket pocket, that I remembered it was there at all. I experienced a jolt of shock at discovering it was there, but also shock that my body remembered before my mind did. Sometimes things don’t happen in the right order, like your body grabbing your wand before your mind remembers it’s there.

I whipped the wand out from beneath my jacket and held it in my clenched fist, and instantly the smiles vanished from the faces of the three boys who until this moment had been advancing on us. Shaun’s two cronies both expressed the shock on their faces and open mouths, but Shaun recovered before they did and his triumphant smile had changed to a shocked expression and then to a challenging grin with narrowed eyes all in a moment, as he pulled from his back pocket a crooked hook, exactly the kind you would find on the tip of a staff, except with a small handle attached to the hook so it could be used on its own as a weapon.

It was not until this moment that I actually panicked. When I pulled out my wand and registered the shock on the faces of the three boys, I had assumed I had won by default; pulling out a weapon has a way of swinging tense situations in your favor. A wand was not exactly a gun but it was also not exactly NOT a gun, and I assumed that pulling the equivalent of a gun would be enough to scare them off and leave us here safely. What I had no expected was that Shaun would pull a hook from somewhere in his back pocket, and now there was the possibility of an actual duel.

For one thing, I’d never been in a fight before, much less one involving magic. For another, it was not only against school rules to use offensive spells outside of classes, it was also ILLEGAL to do so, and illegal to be carrying a wand in your jacket outside of school hours, even if it was only there because you had completely forgotten about slipping it into your jacket pocket. Sure, it was illegal for Shaun to be carrying a weapon too, but beyond the possibility of either of us getting in trouble with the cops was the reality that I was now going to have to duel Shaun, who was two years older than me and therefore more experienced, and I was suddenly realizing that I had very little idea of how to actually go about a duel.

I was a sophomore, and Shaun was a senior, and Sophomore’s didn’t do any actual combat magic. That was reserved for military classes for underclassmen and electives for senior’s only. So anything I’d learned about dueling came from television and movies, and we all knew that real life duels were very different from the kind in movies.

All this flashed through my mind in the few seconds it took for Wolf to stand up behind me and pull me up from behind. I did not actually realize he was doing this until I was standing up, and now I saw that Shaun was advancing toward me.

I glanced behind me at Wolf, to see an expression of terror on his face. We had just gone from being two kids being bullied at an empty shopping mall to a group of teenagers engaging in unlicensed dueling, and more than likely the team on my side of the red line was going to walk away seriously injured, or worse.

When I returned my attention to Shaun it was already too late, because he had swung his hook forward and in a flash, wisps of fire had materialized around it’s crooked end and shot toward me.

I responded without thinking, because there was no time to think, and the thing that makes dueling a skill is being able to think on your feet. I whipped my wand forward in a diagonal line from lower left to upper right, and in a streaming arc there appeared a white-blue wave of cold water that I had used thirty minutes ago to fill up Wolf’s canteen before urging him not to drink magically-generated food or drink. And the water caught the fireball that was racing toward me and it fizzled out instantly, before I realized that I had not just conjured a single arc of water but a wave that had grown bigger when it absorbed the fire, and now the wave blasted across the sidewalk toward Shaun, whose expression of shock registered just before he was slapped with the weight of it, and the wave pounded down on all three boys who were thrown backward by a foot and landed on their asses.

I didn’t move, just stood there with my wand still in my hand, my hand still hanging in the air, and as Shaun pulled himself up onto his elbows I saw a bright red slash across his face like a handprint where he’d been slapped, because that was exactly what happened, and saw that he had genuine fear on his face.

The hook he had held stood exactly equidistant between us.

This time I did think before using a spell, and pointed my wand at the hook, instantly calling the thing toward me, and it soared right up from the ground through the air and I caught it in front of me, but just barely, right before it hit me in the face.

“H-hey,” Shaun began, his voice shaking.

I pointed my wand at him and saw him wince. I suddenly realized I was furious. When I spoke I found that my words came through gritted teeth, “Get out of here.”

Shaun was getting to his knees and then standing with his hands outstretched before him in a show of surrender. “Look man, let’s calm down, okay?” he said, “Just give me my wand, man, and I’ll go.”

I gripped my left hand tightly around the handle of Shaun’s hook. It felt indecent to hold another man’s weapon, especially one I’d just won from him in a fight. If this were ancient Ireland I’d have bested him in combat and been entitled to whatever I wanted. But this wasn’t ancient Ireland, this was Maryland in the year 1997, and I had suddenly just found myself engaged in my first fight, my first duel, and my first time standing up to a bully, and had inexplicably won all three.

What I felt coursing through me, as my teeth gritted and my eyes narrowed, was power. Power because I had won, power because I had the upper hand, power because the boy who had been tormenting my friend a few moments before was now cowering in front of me, and power because holding his hook in my left hand, something so personal that even a teacher didn’t touch it when confiscating it, was like holding his penis, it was obscene and rude and disgusting, and I felt ownership over him.

I had not yet realized that what I was feeling was bloodlust. That my mind, which had been empty of any idea of how I might fight someone with magic only a few moments before, was now racing with all the spells I’d seen on television, not the fake ones they used in kid’s shows, but the real ones you saw in R-rated films, the ones that could actually damage people, the one’s where actors had to use fake prop wands made from magic-cancelling metal to prevent from casting spells that could kill a co-star. I realized with triumph that I did, in fact, know spells that could hurt someone else, that I could do a hundred things to Shaun, right now, and that he was powerless to stop me, and more, that I could use his own weapon to do it.

All of this happened so fast. The thoughts and the actions all tumbled over one another, and I had very little consciousness of any of it happening until it had happened.

I realized this at the same moment that the thought occurred to me that if I were to kill Shaun right now, I wouldn’t realize what I’d done until after it happened, and actually, I didn’t care.

Wolf’s hand touched mine.

The trance was broken.

I gasped a little, and my eye’s widened. Shaun was standing, slightly bent, with his hands in front of him, worry on his face. His two friends had just stood, and they turned and ran at the same time. Shaun didn’t pay them any attention, just began to back away slowly.

“Okay,” he said, “Okay, you can have my wand, okay? Just… just don’t hurt me, man. I’m sorry, okay?”

Wolf’s hand gently but firmly closed around my wrist and lowered my wand. I submitted and found that the back of my neck felt cold, my hair was standing on end, and my heart was thumping. Shaun reached over to my left hand and without any resistance from me, pulled Shaun’s hook from my hand, and then he walked over to Shaun, standing more than an arm’s length away, and held it out between the two of them. It was a peace offering.

Shaun took the hook, and for a moment I wondered if he was going to attack again. I knew that if he did attack, I was out of adrenaline, my trance was broken, and I wouldn’t be able to fight back this time. But Shaun kept his eyes locked on mine, and his expression was something broken, the face of a senior boy whose pride has just been deeply bruised, and he tucked the hook into his back pocket, then turned and walked at a fast pace, rounded the corner and was gone.

I didn’t say anything as Wolf took my wand out of my hand. He had never touched my wand before, and in any other moment I would have blushed with embarrassment at the awkwardness of the moment, but he just tucked it into his jacket pocket, and then he gently put a hand around my forearm and led me away. He didn’t let go as he led me through the empty mall, into the parking lot, where dusk was now falling, opened the passenger side door of his car, and gave me a gentle nudge to get in.

He sat down in the driver’s seat, pulled his keys from his jeans, and put them in the ignition. He reached past my lap to open his glove box, and pulled out a thin rectangle of tissues, pulled one out and wiped at the now dried blood under his nose. Then he closed the glove box, turned on the radio, and as Jewel’s twangy guitar started to come from the speakers on the dashboard, he drove.

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The Crone

I wrote this on the spur of the moment with absolutely no idea what it would be or what would happen. I had the first couple of paragraphs in my head and the rest of it happened on it’s own. It was written just for fun and isn’t intended to be the beginning of a story or anything, it’s just a scene that happened organically. I hope you like it.


Every old crone was once beautiful. Her face, though crumpled now like rolled up paper pulled from a wastebasket and unfurled, was once taut and shining, with the bloom and promise of youth and hope. Not all crones have lost hope, and not all crones have lost youth, either.

The symmetry of the woman’s face, the plump lips, the wide nose, the almond shape of the eyes, with creamy brown and gold irises just a shade lighter than the woman’s hair, which make them seem even brighter by contrast. These features grow and gain experience, and though they are covered by wrinkles and lines and warts, these too are additions to the woman’s features, not detractions.

From the point of a view of an infant, an adult face is a hideous thing, with its oily texture and its small dark hairs sprouting from every surface, and the irritated bumps and sores that sometimes appear on it. From the point of view of an infant, an adult face is not an improvement whatsoever. But that point of view is incorrect. Age only adds, it does not subtract. From the point of view of the adult, the face an aged crone is disgusting, but this point of view too is wrong. And from the point of view of the crone, the face of a corpse is repellant, and fearful.

And from the point of view of the corpse, well, corpses keep their silence so well that it would be hard to know.

It was on these thoughts that the mind of the witch Samantha ruminated, as she sat atop her nightly gazing spot, high on the hill that overlooked the plains. She knew without checking the time that it was nearly midnight, because the moon was shining full, and silver blue light splashed across the deep green grasses, and the grasses did that curious thing that the grasses of the plains do, they began to light up at the touch of moonlight, bioluminescent stalks of green that shone with a white glow. There were flowers out there, among the grasses of the fields, and they too began to glow, the blue and red and purple petals glowing against the moon. It was not a trick of the moonlight, it was the strange habit of the flora of these plains, and it was why Samantha still believed she chose the perfect spot to retire.

It wasn’t so much a retirement, at least not at first. It was concealment. Samantha had fled the purges of her sisters, though she helped as many as she could get to safety, but there came a time when she could do no more to help the others, and she accepted that it was time to go into hiding. That was forty years ago. She was thirty-seven years old then, still in the bloom of her youth, and only just beginning to get lines in her face.

She sighed quietly. She had been so beautiful then. She tried to remind herself that beauty is an illusion, but it didn’t help much. She could feel the wart on the side of her nose itching, but didn’t bother with scratching it. She didn’t want to pull her finger away and see the puss. She had become such a tired cliché of a witch: an old crone in a black cloak, the hood pulled around her face, the gray hair that fell out of the hood flapping in an ungainly way in the night breeze as it caught it in a draft, and she was bent, holding to an old wooden cane, and it was the wart on her nose that completed the storybook caricature of the old witch.

It was a kind of irony, really. In her youth Samantha’s beauty had been the thing that helped the most in convincing others that her people were not monsters to be feared. An old and ugly crone is easy enough to hate, but a beautiful woman, who isn’t going to transform into the crone after a night of passion, and who doesn’t steal the youth of young girls boiled in her cauldron to remain young? Much more difficult to pass judgement on her, especially from men.

It’s very easy to destroy prejudice. Simply provide someone beautiful who fits the prejudiced criteria. As soon as the admirer finds themselves ensnared by desire, their prejudice is broken. It’s a bit like breaking a spell. Except spells don’t work like that in real life, that’s yet another storybook idea.

And yet, here she was. In hiding and alone, the bent crone with her cane, watching the moonlight at the witching hour. Well, some things from the storybooks were true, at least. The witching hour was certainly real, and the moon was a great aid in casting magic.

And that is why Samantha had come. Sitting at her feet was an immense book with a deep green binding that might have been leather, but Samantha couldn’t really be sure. The book had been made by fairies after all, and it had been crafted and bound in another realm, so whatever substitute for leather a fairy might provide could have vastly different qualities. At any rate, Samantha knew from experience that getting the book wet did not smudge its pages, although it did wear a bit on the binding.

The buckled clasp that held the green book together had been undone, and presently a strong gust of wind blew in just the right direction to flip the front cover of the book open halfway, and Samantha gave it a gentle nudge with her shoe. The book opened to the center, at a page where it often liked to open itself, when unguided by Samantha’s hand.

It was a page with a picture of a creature that Samantha had never quite been able to make out. It was a chaotic assemblage of limbs, eyes, mouths, and wings, in such an order that it was difficult to tell how many heads or limbs or wings the thing might have had. She wasn’t even entirely sure it was a creature, but she just had a feeling. There was writing all over the rest of the page, in a beautiful script that glittered in the light. Samantha had not the faintest idea what the words said, because they were written in the language of the fairies, which cannot be read by anyone who attempts to understand it.

Fairy writing, like fairies themselves, is a creature of chaos. It does not have reason and it does not make sense. Trying to make sense of it only makes it more indecipherable. The letters were also not bound to a single shape, they would rearrange themselves on the page when the book was closed or when Samantha looked away, and sometimes there would be fewer words on the page than before. In all her years with the book, Samantha had been able to understand only small slivers of information, and this page in particular always told her different things when she felt she was able to decipher it. But fairies are indecipherable, and so is their writing, and so, incidentally, is their magic.

Samantha shook her head softly. So much time to think about all this, so much time to weigh what to do and not to do, and here she was, at an impasse, unsure of how to proceed.

“Well,” came her voice, a raspy croak, “I suppose we’ll let the fairies sort it out themselves, eh?” She asked the question of the book, and it did not respond, nor did its letters speak to her. “Bah,” she grumbled, and gave the book a little kick.

Then it began, as Samantha knew it would. She had awakened this morning knowing this would happen, and she was sure it was the book telling her somehow, although on this day of all days, she couldn’t read the damn thing. But still, she knew it was time. Time for whatever happened next.

The book began to glow, it’s pages and its letters and even the weird creature with its various appendages, glowing just like the grasses and the flowers of the fields below, and the full light of the moon caught the book in its grasp, and the thing began to gently lift from its position on the ground to hover in the air. Samantha cocked an eyebrow. Her heart began to beat quickly. This was the exciting part. She had no idea how it was going to happen, but she knew it was going to happen.

This was the night that Samantha would die.

She had no idea if it would be painful, or joyous, or rapturous, or completely dull. She hoped there might be a bit of everything. She hoped that after these years of silence, living alone, she would finally have earned some kind of reward. Like the nuns in the old days who draped themselves in black robes and took vows of silence, so to better open their ears and their awareness to understanding their creators words, spoken through nature, here she was, hoping in some way that the same rules might apply to a witch, who did not believe in any particular creator, and did not believe that there was necessarily an afterlife, but who stood here on this cliff in the middle of the night with her heart beating fast in her chest and her face flush with life and excitement, and she hoped against hope that maybe there was something more.

She hoped that maybe the old witches had been right about being reborn when one dies, even though most witches long ago dropped that idea. She hoped that there might be some promise of reunion. That she would see her daughter again. Her daughter, whose memory was still as sharp as a poisonous sting that left fresh wounds every time she turned over the stone in her mind under which the memory was kept.

The books glow became a shining light, so bright that it hurt Samantha’s eyes, but she didn’t look away. You don’t have to worry about staring into the sun and going blind if you’re going to be dead in a moment anyway. She didn’t know what would happen next, and for some reason, that gave her peace.

Because it was over. No more wondering, no more considering, no more thought for what would happen next. It was in the book’s hands now, or in the hands of the fairies, or the old goddesses, or the moon itself, or whatever was making the decisions now. She had worried for so long that the end would bring with it the total annihilation of everything, that she would die fearful and alone, but suddenly she felt that she might come to know the most deep and satisfying peace. It had no occurred to her until this moment that death might actually be a relief, not in a morbid and lugubrious way, but in a genuine and sincere way, that death would be safe, and comfortable, and perfectly peaceful.

She thought that maybe she could finally set down all these burdens that had hunched her back and lined her face and grayed her hair and dried her skin.

She hoped, even now, that she might see her daughter again, even if for an instant. If there were any gods in existence, let them give her that. Just a moment, and then she’d ask for nothing more, she’d be content. Just a moment to see her daughter, to see her daughter as she might have looked when she’d grown past the age of eleven in which she died, to see a young woman with deep caramel eyes and brown hair, and a wide nose and full lips.

A woman with tan skin and strong, wide hands. A woman with one leg slightly shorter than the other, and ears that were too big for her face. A woman who had retained those childhood features but added to them, as time does, as age does. A woman who would one day become the old crone in the cloak.

A woman who was standing, right now, in front of Samantha, stark naked and glowing, glowing with the light that effused the book hovering above the ground, a woman who was smiling at Samantha, a woman who Samantha suddenly realized in a rush of disbelief was not an image projected by her imagination, but who was really standing in front of her.

A woman who was smiling, and who reached out her left hand.

Samantha’s grip loosed on the handle of her cane and she let it fall. She’d never really needed help walking, she just liked having something to hold on to, because it made her feel safe, and somehow, less alone.

“Evgenia?” Samantha asked, even now still a little surprised by the crackling sound of her own voice.

The woman opened her mouth, and Samantha heard a voice that she had been sure she would never hear again, the voice of a little girl who had reached puberty and grown into the beautiful naked woman who stood before Samantha now, a voice that said “My mother, my sweet and patient mother, I’ve come to take you home.”

Samantha put one foot forward and then hesitated, realizing that this was the moment, that it wasn’t out of her hands after all, that she had to make the choice to take the next step, that she had to decide to take Evgenia’s hand, and go wherever it was that they would go next.

To her immense surprise, she realized with a pang of guilt that some part of her didn’t want to go, didn’t want to take the hand of her impossible daughter standing before her.

Evgenia smiled, and kept her hand outstretched. There was understanding in her eyes.

Samantha didn’t step back, but she did lower her hood and take a look around.

She was surrounded by the glowing grass of the plains, and she could still see far below the cliff those endless fields of glowing grass, swaying in the wind. She smelled the cool night air of autumn turning to winter, and in a motion quicker than she knew she was still capable of she loosened the tie of her cape and flung it off, and it caught up in the wind and flew out over the plains. She laughed, and then she pulled loose the tie around her waist that held her cloak on, and she slipped it off, and let it fall to the ground.

The old crone stood naked, bent, and she straightened her back, though it caused her a great deal of pain, and she held her head up and she took a deep breath. She could smell the night air, the coming winter, her own skin, her own musk, and the faintest hint of something she hadn’t smelled since the day Evgenia died, the sweet scent of her daughter, who had now grown into a woman, and whose smell had changed and matured and been added to by time.

Samantha opened her eyes and with a satisfied smile she lunged forward, and Evgenia laughed as her arms grasped her mother, and as Evgenia tumbled backward and Samantha tumbled forward, gravity stopped and they were floating too, in the light suffusing the book, and Samantha placed her lips against her daughters lips and kissed her, and Samantha’s heart swelled and swelled and swelled until there was a burst of sparkling light, and everything Samantha had ever known became one with her and her daughter, and all the fear, all the pain, all the love and hatred and suffering and trying and failing, sex and food and water, blood and tears and pain and excrement and urine and sweet flowers in the spring and chills in the winter, and breezes that drifted in through the crack in the window, and two men who slept on each side of her and whose breathing matched her own, and her mother leaning down and handing Samantha a little white stone which was to become her heart stone and which would hold her magic, and these things and many more things which hadn’t happened but which might have happened, all the possibilities entangling in a light that shone brighter and brighter, and the warmth of her naked daughter pressed against her body, and Samantha’s arms were holding the woman her daughter had become, and she didn’t have let go of her this time.

And the light shot toward the sky and then all that was left were sparkling motes of light in the air like fireflies, and the book landed hard on the ground with a thud, it’s cover closed, and the belt fastened around it.

And the book slept.

Fearies Awakening #5: Moonlight

(Special Request! I know that there are a few loyal followers who like my posts whenever I post something, and every post usually gets some attention from a few people. I’m not sure how many people actually take the time to read these blog posts, but I’m going to make a special request of you guys. If you take the time to read this, please take the time to comment, even if it’s something short and to the point.A long time ago, I read a post on someone’s blog that said said that if you’ve invested the time out of your day to read what someone has written, please also invest just one more moment to let them know what you thought of it. I almost never get comments on my blog and it means the world to me when people do comment, so please, if you like what you’re reading, leave me a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks guys, enjoy!)

 

blue

 

So I ran across a bit of a stumbling block with my last entry in chapter one. I was watching an Australian romantic comedy series called Please Like Me, and the energy of humorously awkward romance bled into my writing and it completely didn’t fit within the story. At least not at this moment in the story. I realized very quickly that I needed to take another stab at this chapter, and I’m really happy that I did. When I first wrote it, in addition to the tonal problem, I also ran across a real problem of getting my characters from one point to another: I wanted to talk about the library, but first I had to get them to the castle gate, then through the corridors leading to the library. But I don’t actually know much about the castle layout.

So how did I solve this problem? I did what I always do, I started in the middle. This picks up in the first draft right after Hephaestion tells Lucas to lead the way out of the town square, and begins inside the old library in the castle. I may come back later to flesh out how they got there, or since it isn’t terribly important, I may leave it the way it is.

Another big problem I’ve had is that some very important storyline things are about to happen right here in this library, and I have been very intimidated. My goblin is about to make his grand appearance to my protagonist, and things are going to begin being set in motion that will actually cause the events of the plot to begin to unfold. That is, surprisingly, a very daunting thing to write. I’ve spoken the scene aloud several times to myself in the shower or in other places, but I needed to get Lucas and Hephaestion into the library to make it happen.

Also, this is a note about editing, but I’m not really sure how important of a role Rex and Eric will play in the story. Because I’ve been so interested in Lord of the Rings lately, I had thought about making Rex and Eric a part of the main cast, at least in the beginning, to journey with Lucas, but I’m also considering leaving them out entirely. Rex was a spur of the moment character I invented to get Lucas to Hephaestion, and Eric is a redesign of an older character from the conceptual material. Still, I can’t say how any of this will go from here, but I’m asking you to disregard the last version of the library as no longer canon, and take this one as the truth instead. I know that editing and redrafting is something that typically happens later, but I was unable to move on with the story from where I left it before.

The preamble is a bit longer this time, but I’m happy to continue the story for you now.

Moonlight fell in blue shafts from the high, long windows of the old library, and in the illumination, the dust of a long-forgotten place danced and swirled. Lucas stood leaning on the railing that overlooked the floor beneath, where more high windows cast moonlight over the long tables beneath, covered in books that lay half open, as though they were abandoned in haste. Chairs were still pulled out and scattered among the floor, and on all sides of the room were the rows and rows of high, tall wooden shelves, filled with books whose spines stood strong and quiet in the desolate place.

The library was a part of the royal wing, and like the rest of the royal wing of the castle it had fallen into disuse and, eventually, abandoned almost entirely. Across the many shelves were gaping holes where books had been taken to be moved to the scholar’s library on the other side of the castle, where work was still done, and no doubt the lamps still burned as the night came on in full. Lucas found himself hypnotized by the site of old library, standing like a ruin in the quiet moonlight. A set of wooden stairs that had once gleamed with polish and now covered with a fine layer of dust led up to the landing where he stood, and behind him were even more rows of bookshelves, and shelves built into the walls, reaching higher than anyone could stand, and so there were ladders placed haphazardly around the area, where the scholars had cleaned out anything of particular interest long ago.

It had been ten years since Lucas had visited this place, and even in this dark state, where no lanterns burned in any corner, only moonlight and shadow, it still held it’s charm. Lucas smiled to himself and he turned around. He walked through a darkened aisle where nothing could be made out on the spines of the books, and then stopped at a shelf where the moonlight fell, and he ran his forefinger along the dusty spines.

Old leather-bound volumes with faint traces of color that had long since been worn away adorned the spaces that weren’t left empty, and he grabbed one at random to examine it, pulling it out, and in the illumination of moonlight seeing a cloud of dust erupt from it’s vacant space. The old spine gave a loud creak as he opened the book to the center and ran a hand across it’s yellowed pages. In the moonlight he could make out some of the text, but it seemed uninteresting: an old history book, and it was recounting a battle of Alexandria. Since it didn’t refer to the city as New Alexandria, it must have been outdated, and supplanted with more reliable information, so this old volume was left. He slipped it back into it’s place on the bookshelf, noticing that the two books on either side of the vacant space hadn’t budged at all, so used to sitting still and silent were they.

He explored his way through several more aisles, pausing to run his fingers along the dusty spines, but from the titles saw nothing that sparked his interest. Nothing fictional, no tales of adventures, no chronicles of great heroes. Mostly books about Alexandrian history and law. He saw littered against the stone columns scattered through the library glass cases under which terribly old volumes sat, their pages opened, the ink faded. He stopped in front of one, a shaft of blue light cast on it, and he peered down to see a crude drawing of a wolf, and some text beside it giving it a name. He wasn’t sure if this was a mythological story of an actual account of a hunter fighting a ravenous beast. It was still too difficult to make out much more than a few words.

Lucas heard a cork pop and it startled him, he turned quickly to see Hephaestion sitting against the far stone wall, just beneath a window and covered in moonlight himself. He had opened the bottle of brown liquid that he’d carried within his satchel. Lucas held the empty satchel over his shoulder, hoping that he would find something in the library worth bringing home, but so far nothing had spoken to him. He made his way over to Hephaestion and folded his arms with a look of false disapproval.

“Cadet,” said Lucas in a tone of mock authority, “Sitting about on the floor after hours in a restricted area, drinking pilfered liquor. What are we to make of you?”

Hephaestion grinned and turned the bottle up, taking one hardy swig before coughing and pressing his fist to his chest. Lucas raised his eyebrows. Hephaestion wiped his mouth and looked up, then croaked out, “Pretty good stuff.”

“Really?” asked Lucas in genuine curiosity, sitting down on the floor in front of Hephaestion, who handed him the bottle.

“No,” replied Hephaestion and cleared his throat, “Tastes like fried piss. But I think it’s supposed to.”

Lucas looked down at the bottle. Clear and a little dusty, with some words written across the front in ornate calligraphy that he couldn’t quite read in the dim light. He’d never really liked alcohol, though he’d drank wine at official dinners, and had been told by his father that to refuse the wine was an insult to the staff. He enjoyed the bitter red wine more than the sweet white wine, and he assumed from the sickening smell of this liquid that it would be bitter. He exhaled and bravely took a drink, upending the bottle the same way Hephaestion had, instantly choking, and then setting the bottle down and coughing, some of the liquid escaping from his lips as he did so. It burned his throat and seemed to remain hot as it settled somewhere in his chest.

“That is disgusting,” croaked Lucas.

Hephaestion nodded matter-of-factly. “Indeed, but I think that’s the idea.”

“Why would people knowing drink this?” asked Lucas, although he didn’t have to have an answer because even after one drink he could already feel his head swimming.

Lucas got up and walked over to the wall beside Hephaestion, who took another, more cautious drink, and kept it down this time. Lucas slid down the wall to sit beside Hephaestion, and the two passed the bottle between one another, drinking quietly.

“You know,” said Lucas after a few minutes, feeling suddenly very conversational, “There really is a magic to this old place, but the books don’t seem terribly interesting.”

Hephaestion finished a drink and shrugged, “I don’t really like reading all that much.”

Lucas felt a little puzzled, “Why not?” he asked, “Don’t you want to learn about things you didn’t know before?”
Hephaestion nodded, “Absolutely,” he said, “But I prefer to hear it from people older and wiser than me, I like to hear it spoken. I don’t mind learning about history and philosophy and even theology, I just don’t want to read it. Seems like when I read it, I’m left to sort out what it all means, but when a professor or a tutor explains it, they know how to make sense of it.”

“You just need practice making sense of things,” said Lucas, and realized his words were slurring a little.

“Do you think,” said Hephaestion, “Your father is going to be angry with you for sneaking out?”

Lucas pursed his lips and thought for a moment, then nodded, “Most definitely. I’m probably afraid. I don’t feel afraid, but I’m probably afraid. Unpleasant guy, my father.”

Hephaestion nodded in agreement, “He seems very stern.”

“He is,” replied Lucas, “And cold, and unfeeling, and demanding, and surprisingly boring. He commands respect everywhere he goes, and yet he never has much interesting to say. Always going on about politics and talking about the welfare of other people, but he doesn’t seem to show any interest in the welfare of people around him.”

“You mean you,” suggested Hephaestion.

“I mean me,” affirmed Lucas, “He absolutely could not care less about my interests, but he feels the need to have control over everything I do. I’m nineteen, I want to make my own choices.”

“It sounds nice to me, though,” said Hephaestion, “To have a parent to make rules for you. My only parents are the officers, and they believe in letting people learn things the hard way. If I want to go out in the middle of the night and get myself into trouble, I can do it, and then I can come home with a terrible headache and a black eye, and they just nod and tell me that I learned my lesson.”

“I wish my father were like that,” said Lucas, drinking bravely now, as the bottle was less than halfway full.

“No you don’t,” said Hephaestion with an edge of sadness in his voice, “I never got to know either of my parents, they died when I was so young that I don’t even know if my memories are real or if I’m just imagining them. I have this idea of what my mother probably looked like but I can’t be sure. And my father, I just remember him holding my hand and walking me around town, nothing much else. When they died, I was sent to the academy and raised by the officers.”

Lucas had heard about all of this before but it still saddened him. Even though he wished Hephaestion had had the chance to know his family, he wouldn’t have traded places with him and wished his own father on Hephaestion for anything.

“I don’t remember my mother, obviously,” interjected Lucas, “She died in childbirth. So I’ve truly never had a mother, as long as I’ve been alive. Except maybe for a minute or two. It was just my father and the nannies and tutors.”

Hephaestion snickered, “Nannies.”
“What?” asked Lucas incredulously.

“It sounds so pampered, doesn’ it?” asked Hephaestion, turning to look at Lucas with a smile, “Raised by nannies in a governer’s mansion.”

“It wasn’t our mansion until my father became governer,” said Lucas.

Hephaestion rested a hand on Lucas’ shoulder. Lucas’ pulse quickened but only slightly. “I’m sorry,” he said sincerely, “It isn’t your fault your mother died, otherwise there wouldn’t have been any nannies. I shouldn’t have been so callous.”

Lucas shook his head reassuringly, “It really doesn’t bother me to talk about my mother,” he said, “For all purposes I’ve never had one. And in as much as I’ve had a father, well… he hasn’t done a very good job of being a father.”

Hephaestion turned away from the wall and laid out flat on his back, spreading out on the floor. The light from the window was fully illuminating him. His cotton shirt was coming up just above his waist and the bottom of his stomach was exposed. In the light Lucas saw the light sprinkling of fine brown hair along his lower stomach. He also noticed the small hill in Hephaestion’s trousers between his legs, and had a difficult time looking away, since Hephaestion’s eyes were closed and he didn’t notice. Lucas shifted and then reached between his legs to adjust himself. He took another drink. He was surprised to realize it was the last of the liquor.

Hephaestion sat up suddenly, and looked directly into Lucas’ eyes. The moonlight was illuminating his face perfectly. He looked so young. He was twenty, but he might have fourteen. His auburn hair framed his face in long, bright curls, and his eyes were chestnut, the perfect complement to the color of his hair, deep eyes that always showed so much genuine emotion, framed by thick eyebrows. His skin was an olive tan, his jaw was square and his full lips were in an expression of seriousness that was in no way menacing. His eyes always seemed to be pleading to understand, there was a strength to his taut body and square features, and a gentleness in the way he applied them.

“Do you hate your father?” he asked.

Lucas was a little shocked by the question. “Why would you ask?”

“You’ve told me so many awful things about him,” said Hephaestion, “The few times I’ve spoken with him when I’ve been to your house he’s had little to say, and he does seem very cold. He frightens me. I can’t imagine what it’s like for you. And I just suddenly realized I’ve never heard you say you love him.”

Lucas thought for a moment. Did he hate his father? His immediate instinct was to affirm that he did hate him, but he wasn’t sure that hate was the right word. “I….” he began hesitantly, “I guess I just don’t really care about him. I don’t… love him. I don’t love him, but I don’t know that I hate him. I don’t care enough to hate him. I just want him to go away.”

Hephaestion looked up into the light from the window and an expression of thoughtfulness crossed his face. Then he asked, “He’s never hurt you, has he?”

Yes. In every possible way.

“Um,” said Lucas, “Well…”

“I mean physically,” added Hephaestion.

Yes.

“I, uh…” began Lucas again.

Hephaestion shook his head, “It’s fine. You don’t have to say anything. Just… I just don’t want to think of him hurting you. You deserve better than that. I want you to be safe.”

Lucas felt a warmth in his chest that came from some source other than the liquor which made his head churn. “Thank you,” he said, unsure of what else to say, “I… thank you.”

Hephaestion laid back down on his back, and spread out his limbs again. Lucas felt suddenly very brave, and he got down to his knees and crawled over, then curled up beside Hephaestion with his back to Hephaestion’s side, and Hephaestion reached down and put an arm under Lucas’ head. He rested his head on Hephaestion’s warm arm, after a few moments feeling the blood pumping a little harder to compensate for Lucas being there.

Neither of them spoke. Lucas felt warmth in his chest. He sighed contentedly. He thought he felt Hephaestion’s chest shake behind him in a slight chuckle. His eyes were heavy, and now that he was horizontal he realized the room was spinning. He shut his eyes, and the spinning stopped being disorienting and became comforting. The floor swam beneath him, and the warmth of Hephaestion’s body seemed to envelop him, and he fell asleep.

Fearies Awakening #4: A Procession Of Virgins

town square
One of the difficulties of writing a novel is that you can be really excited to write something at a point in the story which you haven’t reached. This is certainly the case with me, and in the past I’ve just written whatever comes, but this time I feel that it’s important to stay with my characters on go on the journey with them. So I find myself needing to hurry up and get to where I want to be without rushing or letting the story suffer.
Writing, or at least the kind of writing that produces a full book, requires discipline, and self-discipline is not something I’ve always excelled at. However, I know from experience that if I just let my ideas sit in my head and never get around to writing them, they’ll lose their magic and their power, and my writing will become stale. There are also days where you just aren’t as good as other days, and you have to keep writing even though you know you’re only operating at about 80% creative power. Today is one of those days. And I had to really push through to keep writing the story. However, I accidentally discovered that there were some really cool aspects of this scene that I hadn’t seen coming. Previously all I had done was write down the majority of the Virgin’s prayer in my notes.
So, the story continues. Because I’m not operating at fully capacity today, I apologize if the text seems a little sloppy, but I’m confident that if I keep pushing myself to write, I’ll stay at the top of my game. And I hope you find today’s installment interesting.
***

They came to the Central Square, which was ironically a very large circle, with a crowd packed in a wide ring around the circle, being held into place by several soldiers in full ceremonial armor. To Lucas’ right, behind the crowd, were the steps leading up to the closed double doors of the Grand Cathedral. Straight ahead, a path led from the circle up the cobblestoned street toward the castle, and as just as Lucas had settled on a spot where he could see through the crowd relatively well, Rex had started pushing his way through the crowd, a hand clasped around Hephaestion’s wrist, who in turn grabbed Eric as he was pulled along, and Lucas was nearly yanked by Eric into the crowd.

Lucas and the others came out at the front, standing at the edge of the ring. Lucas looked ahead toward the road leading to the palace and he could see them.

The sunset had reached it’s apex and the golden light illuminated The Virgins, who were strolling toward the square in two neat single file lines, probably about fourteen in all. They wore long, flowing gowns of fine silk, in pastel colors of robin’s egg blue, canary yellow, pale lavender, and many other colors. No two gowns were alike, and they each wore about their heads fine silk veils, through which their well-kept hair could be seen and their faces could be detected, though the features were always difficult to discern. Lucas had seen this garb before, worn by the Virgin of New Alexandria, who he assumed was among the procession, though even as they approached it was difficult to tell them apart. The hues of their hair could be detected, and the veil was thin around the area where their eyes peered out, and their eyes could be seen well when approached up close, though approaching a Virgin was an honor that had to be bewstowed.
Their flowing gowns gave the appearance that they were actually floating toward the Central Square, rather than walking. As they filed into the wide circle, they poured like flowing water to the edges of the circle, and began to move their arms and legs in a slow dance, and at the very back of the procession, a Virgin much older than the others, in a gown and veil of pure white, strolled to the center of the circle. The crowd recognized her and there were a few hushed whispers: this was the Grand Virgin. She knelt down and placed her hands together in silent prayer, bowing her head.

A hush had fallen over the crowd as the Virgins danced, their long sleeves and billowing gowns fluttering in the breeze as they twirled silently, beneath the silk could be seen the universally white garments beneath, hugging tight to their slim bodies. There was no music, no drum playing, but they all seemed to be moving together to the same rhythm, and silence fell heavier and heavier as the dance continued. The men and women watched spellbound as they danced around the edge of the ring.

And then the Virgin in the center lifted her head and stood, and she faced heavenward and began to speak, in a loud, clear voice that was at once commanding and comforting. It was impossible not to hear her voice as it reverberated off the stone walls of the Central Square.

“Our Father,” she began, “Whose heavenly throne is that of pure light…”

Everyone recognized the invocation as the way in which all prayers to the Father began. She continued, and as she spoke the Virgins began to edge closer to the center of the circle, straying from the edges.

“Our master who sees beneath him the toil and suffering of all creatures. Our protector who loves even the stray child. You have sent forth to do your work the Angel, in your love you have sent a Redeemer. Blessed are those who accept the gift you offer freely.”

The Virgins raised their hands in unison, and their dance took on a supplicant quality. Those there eyes were too far away to be visible, it was easy to imagine them filled with longing tears of mourning for the lost.

“Angel of light,” continued the Virgin, “Our teacher. Show unto us unworthy children the path that the Father might have us walk. Give us courage to follow your light. Give us strength to overcome the trail of sorrows. Give us mercy, that we may be lifted from the Yoke of despair.”

The Virgins circled closer to the Grand Virgin now, and the pace of the dance quickened, their silken sleeves flowing in the air, making it impossible to discern one from the other, only a mass of colors in which they all seemed to be one. The voice of the Grand Virgin began to boom and echo across the Square.

“Give us knowledge to know the Father’s path, to hear the words spoken through his messenger. Divine emissary, have patience with we children of darkness, born in sin and trudging through murky waters.”

The Virgins spun furiously, so quickly that their forms were blurs, that it seemed as though the gowns and the figures beneath them had truly become a sphere of light which emanated from it all colors of the spectrum.

The voice of the Grand Virgin became ferocious and powerful. Lucas could hear the emotion in her voice and she struggled to be heard over the silent chorus of color that encircled her, her face and her body invisible within the bright cloud.

“Your alone is the light to eternity! Yours alone is the voice of Heaven! Through you are peace, love, and hope! Through you are wisdom, courage, and strength! Through you is the light made manifest, that the darkness might be driven forever, unto the White City, unto the final age, unto the doom and the resurrection, and unto the end of all things!”

In an instant the Virgins dropped to their knees, and the swirling mass settled around them, their gowns falling to rest on the ground. They seemed so otherworldly within their gowns and veils, as though they were not women at all but spirits dancing, and now the dance was done. Lucas strained to see their chests rising and falling, trying to prove to himself that they were humans who breathed.

The Grand Virgin bowed her head. “In the name of the Father,” she concluded.

An chorus followed from the many voices of the crowd in the Square, “In the name of the Father,” they repeated. The Grand Virgin did this again twice, and each time the crowd responded in the same manner. Lucas did not call back the benediction with the others. He always remained silent during prayers. It wasn’t forbidden, though it usually elicited confused responses. This time no one was paying attention to him. Rex had uttered the benediction each of the three times confidently, his voice quivering, Eric had joined silently, and Hephaestion had said it the first time but not repeated.

Lucas turned to see Rex had tears in his eyes and he reached up with the back of his hand and wipes them away.

The Grand Virgin raised her bowed head and gestured for the others to stand, they did so and then bowed toward to the crowd. The crowd began to applaud and cheer wildly. Lucas could now see smiles on the faces of the Virgins. From the edge of the circle came several members of the New Alexandrian council, one of whom came to stand in the center, and over the chatter he announced that the Feast of the Father would now begin in the dining halls of the Grand Cathedral, and the crowd parted to make way for the Virgins, led by the Grand Virgin, who proceeded again in two single file lines up the steps, and the great doors were opened. The procession of Virgins went inside, and council members filed in behind them, and then the townspeople were allowed to follow.

Lucas tried to stay near to the others and had a hand on Eric’s shirt sleeve, but was quickly knocked around by people clamoring to make it to the Grand Cathedral, and eventually he had to make his way out of the crowd and stand back at the edge of the Central Square and stood on the sidewalk by a storefront, waiting to see his friends in the crowd. He looked among the sea of faces for them but he couldn’t make them out, then suddenly caught a flash of Eric’s red hair in the waning sunlight, and he made his way through the crowd to Lucas and stood on the sidewalk with him. “Rex already went in!” he shouted over the commotion, “Hephaestion is looking for you! I told him if I found you, I’d tell you to wait for him!”

Lucas nodded.

Eric smiled and ran back into the current of people. Lucas found a bench nearby and sat down.

Several minutes passed. Dusk was beginning to fall. The crowd was thinning. People were still proceeding from the other streets into the Central Square and toward the Grand Cathedral. Lucas did not feel particularly hungry, but then, most people attending the Feast of the Father were there for the ceremony and not the food anyway. He found himself lost in thought, remembering the swirling chorus of color from the Virgins, the way their bodies moved so quickly and so silently that they seemed to cease to be human at all.

Lucas had always found Virgins slightly disconcerting. It wasn’t that they were intimidating, in fact it was precisely the fact that looking upon a Virgin seemed to fill everyone with gentle calm that he found so confounding. He never quite understood how or why it happened, but upon beholding a Virgin, people seemed to be filled with peace, and this is why such a large procession of Virgins was such a spectacle. And these Virgins had come from Augustine, the holy city, and the seat of the Church of Light. They were at once revered religious icons and also respected on a level rivaling royalty. To Alexandrians they were respected even more, because New Alexandria had no royal family anymore, only a steward whose position, like the royalty itself, was entirely ceremonial.

Lucas felt something nudge his shoulder and he jumped. He looked beside him to see Hephaestion had sat down next to him, and he leaned forward with his elbows on his thighs, smiling at Lucas. “Pondering the mysteries of existence.”

“Virgins scare me a little,” said Lucas.

“I think they’re supposed to,” said Hephaestion, “But it was quite a show, huh?”

“It was,” agreed Lucas, and with a sigh he stood, “Off to the Feast then?”

Hephaestion’s warm smile became a sly grin. “I had another idea, actually.”

Lucas tilted his head in genuine bemusement. “Yes?”

“Well,” Hephaestion glanced around, and though the crowd had thinned there were still plenty of people passing by, though none seemed particularly interested in the two young men. “Remember last week when you told me about the royal library?”

“The one in the castle,” remembered Lucas, “Yeah, it’s closed up. No one tends it anymore, I tried to convince my father to give me the position of the library’s retainer, but he said it was a foolish request and that I should focus more on my studies.”

“But you said you’ve seen it before, right?” asked Hephaestion.

“Well yes,” said Lucas, “But I was much younger, and it’s back when the library was actually open. Now it’s closed off along with the rest of the royal wing of the castle, even the Steward doesn’t live there.”

“But you know how to get there, yes?” asked Hephaestion.

Lucas furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. “Well… yes?” he ventured.

“Excellent!” Hephaestion leapt to his feet, “Then we’re going on an adventure!”

Lucas’ eyes widened, “Hephaestion, we can’t go into the royal wing, we can’t even go into the castle!”

“Your father is still there, right?” asked Hephaestion.

“Yes, he probably is, but he of all people wouldn’t let us in.”

Hephaestion shook his head with a grin, “We tell the guards you’re there to see your father and they let us in, and then we sneak into the royal wing!”

Lucas folded his arms. “What’s gotten into you?” he asked amusedly, “You’re not usually this mischievous.”

It was now that Hephaestion indicated a brown satchel on the bench behind him. Lucas suddenly realized that Hephaestion had been carrying it since joining the party after the bout, but hadn’t thought about it or wondered what it might contain. “Well,” said Hephaestion, “I may have found something I’d like to share with you,” and at this he made a gesture with his hand that indicated drinking, “and I’d like to do so in a private location,” he waggled his eyebrows impishly.

Lucas breath caught in his chest for a moment, then asked “Where did you get… that?”

“Borrowed,” said Hephaestion with a grin, “From the stores beneath the military academy. I’ll tell you the story later.”

Lucas raised his eyebrows, “And of all the private locations, you choose a secluded area of the palace?”

Hephaestion folded his arms in mock annoyance, “Are you up for it or not?” he asked in an entirely friendly tone.

Lucas shook his head, “Fine, I didn’t really want to go to the Feast anyway. But you know my father will eventually be leaving the castle, and if he doesn’t notice us, he’ll certainly notice my absence from the Feast.”

Hephaestion waved a hand, “That thing goes on for hours, we’ll be back before he notices you’re gone.”

“What about Rex and Eric?” asked Lucas.

Hephaestion looked thoughtful, “Well, I kind of wanted to spend some time with you.”

Lucas’ heart jumped into his throat and he swallowed quietly. “Alright,” he said finally, “But we need to go quickly while there’s still a crowd. Security at the palace is pretty relaxed under most circumstances, but we’ll probably find the place positively deserted if we can make it through the front gate guards.”

“Yes!” Hephaestion whispered and snatched up his satchel. “Lead the way!”