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.

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Fearies Awakening #3: Fey Day

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Chapter one continues!

***

Lucas was striding fast down the cobblestone street, late afternoon sunlight glinting off the shop windows ahead and blinding him momentarily. He put a hand up and kept walking, but didn’t notice that he was walking directly into a large potted plant and stumbled sideways, but caught himself. A couple walking past gave him a confused look and kept on. Lucas sighed and shook shook himself into the present moment, trying to get some focus. His head had been swimming all day because he’d had no sleep the night before.

The street around him was thronged with people, all very well-dressed for tonight’s festivities. Children’s laughter echoed down the alleyways and the smells of desert wafted through the air. Lucas noticed his reflection in a mirror up against the side of a shop and strided over, then leaned in to examine himself.

Quickly he brushed his hands across his silk shirt and vest, and across his trousers. He felt overdressed even for such a formal event. He reached over to his left shoulder, where a metal clip attached to his collar held in place a golden silk scarf, hanging down over his left shoulder and down his back, already catching a breeze and sailing out behind him.

He checked his face in the reflection, ran his fingers quickly through his hair, fine soft hair so light brown that it appeared blonde in the sun, and he rubbed one of his eyes, which were a light grey blue. He had a fair face, and looked younger than nineteen, he was mid-height, and had always been slim. Nothing about him was particularly commanding, though many had commented on the almost girlish fairness of his appearance.

He took a breath and resumed his stride, careful to avoid running into anything. He wasn’t normally so clumsy but the throngs of people turning out for the festival were more difficult to cope with than he had expected. He headed down the cobblestone streets toward the town square, people in all manner of dress thronging the pathways, most dressed formally but some in costumes, dressed as fairies, with wings attached to their backs in all colors and shapes.

There was music in the air as street performers had already begun to play their songs, and the music all began to mingle together in a hazy chorus. There were tents being set up all through the city, and food and drink everywhere. He passed a table where a man was selling glass ornaments, little mythical creatures: minotaurs, squat little elves and goblins, and of course an abundance of fairies.

Fey Day was an annual tradition, though this year it was a much bigger celebration than usual, due to the involvement of the Church, and the visiting of Church officials. They would no doubt see the tradition as sacrilegious, and many of the faithful who had previously indulged in the tradition had already begun decrying it as heresy toward the Father, but in general the people of the city continued the tradition in earnest. New Alexandria had, after all, been settled in land that previously belonged to the Plainsmen, and they were superstitious folk who had actually believed in the existence of fairies. To any ordinary person, though, they were just another quaint local belief, and it happened that dressing as fairies and making merriment was a good use once a year. Lucas always marveled at people’s propensity to make holiday’s out of anything.

Lucas came upon a stage in a large square, where two men were having a duel with wooden swords, both wearing leather armor and holding leather shields. A crowd of onlookers gaped and cheered, and Lucas found who he was looking for at the edge of the crowd.

Lucas tapped Rex on the shoulder, “I thought we were supposed to be meeting in the Central Square?”

Rex turned, an expression of wonder and excitement on his smiling face, and was caught off guard. “Lucas!” he exclaimed, “Good! I was hoping you’d find me.”
“I was hoping you’d be where you told me to meet you,” said Lucas with annoyance.

“Sorry,” said Rex, a little out of breath with excitement, and wiped sweat from his glistening forehead, where he unstuck one of his dark brown curls, “I didn’t know there was going to be a gladiator contest!”

“It’s a sparring contest on a riser in the middle of the street,” said Lucas patiently while shaking his head, “And you have way too much interest in bloodsport.”

“There’s no blood,” protested Rex. “It’s friendly fighting.”

There was a sudden gasp as one fighter dropped his sword and was slammed over the back of the head by the shield of the other, and crumbled to the ground.

Rex turned back and excitedly hopped up to see over the heads of the crowd, “What, what? What’d I miss?”

Lucas sighed. “Can you tell me where Eric is?” he asked.

Without looking away from the action, he motioned off in the direction of the lane leading to the lake, “He’s off playing fairy cards or something.”

Lucas shook his head again and headed away from the crowd, while another gasp erupted. He didn’t bother to see what had happened. He didn’t care for fighting. He walked on down the lane that led to Frost Lake, which cut through the center of the valley in which New Alexandria lay, and circled this edge of town. By the lake were performers: musicians playing guitars and horns, girls dancing while tambourines jangled, beer being passed about everywhere, and as he approached the end of the cobbled lane and walked onto the grass of the hillside, he saw the several tables set up where people were all sitting across from one another, cards in their hands.

Lucas spotted Eric at the edge of one of the tables and walked up quietly behind him. Eric was brooding over a hand of cards, the young man sitting across from him doing the same, and neither spoke. Lucas sat down on the bench next to Eric, who briefly glanced at him without a word and went back to studying his hand, his bright blue eyes trained on the cards before him. Several had already been laid out on the table between the two young men in a pattern Lucas never really bothered to learn.

Eric finally spoke, “Right,” he said, “Two of Swords, then,” and he laid a card on the table before him.

His opponent smirked and immediately laid down his card, “Judgement,” he said.

Eric kicked the ground. He moved several cards from the center of the table into a pile sitting by his deck. He drew a card, smiled, and said “Aha! Wheel of Fortune.”

The young man across from Eric grumbled and laid his cards out on the table. Eric looked them over and pointed a finger at one, “I’ll take that one.” The young man begrudgingly handed it to Eric, who then lay it on his side of the table. “What will you do?” he asked.

The young man drew a card from his deck and laid it down defeatedly, “Three of Cups,” he said with a groan.

Eric grinned and laid down a card, “The Fool. I win.”

The young man looked momentarily annoyed, then grinned and reached out to shake Eric’s hand, “Excellent game.”

Eric nodded and the two shuffled their cards and set them back down on the table. The young man across from Eric got up and walked away, and Eric turned to Lucas, “So I see you found us.”

“You were supposed to be at the Central Square,” said Lucas, but not in the same tone of annoyance he’d given Rex, “I thought we were going to see the Virgins.”

“We are,” said Eric, “But they’re late. The Church procession got in later than expected, though they’ve been pushed back until tonight.”

“Probably for the best,” said Lucas, “Maybe there will be less people there.”

“You really don’t like crowds, do you?” asked Eric with a friendly smile.

“Not if I can avoid them,” replied Lucas.

“You should go see the gladiators,” suggested Eric, “Rex has been standing there for an hour drooling over them.”

“I noticed,” said Lucas.

“You know,” said Eric with a mischievous grin, “Hephaestion’s competing.”

Lucas heart jumped, and he twitched slightly, which Eric seemed to notice. “That’s… nice.” said Lucas.

“Come on,” said Eric, “I know you’ll want to see it. We both know you fancy him,” and he said these last two words in a singsong childish voice.

Lucas rolled his eyes, though he did feel his face getting hot, “You’re ridiculous, you know that?” he said, “And could you please not make jokes like that so loudly?”

Eric crossed leaned leaned and put his face in his hand, “It’s not a joke, Lucas. Everyone can tell.”

“Everyone?” asked Lucas in a scared voice, then added, “There’s nothing to tell, you’re being silly. And I really wish you wouldn’t spread rumours like that.”

“There aren’t any rumours,” said, Eric, “I’ve not said anything. I just see you following him around with your tongue hanging out and your tail wagging.”
“Enough,” said Lucas in a sharp, commanding tone.

Eric looked hurt, “Sorry,” he said, “I was only kidding.”

Lucas felt a stab of guilt, “I’m sorry,” he said ruefully.

Eric stood up and twisted his mouth up in thought, “You know, you can be a lot like your father when you get angry.”

Lucas rolled his eyes, “Is that supposed to make me feel any better?”
Eric sighed and shook his head, then brushed back a lock of his bright red hair. “Come on, let’s go find Rex.”

The two made their way back to the raised stage in the square, Rex had moved closer to the front of the crowd, and Lucas and Eric pushed their way up to him. Some men were scampering off of the stage as they finished clearing things up for the next bout.

“Hey!” said Rex, turning to greet them, “You’re just in time, Hephaestion’s going on next!”

Just as he said it, Lucas saw two young men in leather armor and leather helms approach either side of the arena and walk up the steps. Both had wooden swords and leather shields. One was slightly taller than the other. Rex pointed to this one. “There’s Hephaestion,” he said. “Other one’s Charles Rugby.”

A bell was rung. Rugby charged. Hephaestion stepped forward but remained still, shield ready, and when Rugby reached him he sidestepped the first swipe of Rugby’s wooden sword and knocked him to the side with a bash of his own leather shield. He went to swipe but Rugby recovered quickly and parried with his sword, then pushed Hephaestion backward. Hepheastion sprang sideways and prepared for another charge from Rugby, who once again went on the offensive, running headlong and swinging, Hephaestion parried with his shield and then dropped suddenly and swept a leg under Rugby, who toppled instantly, with a gasp from the crowd.

Rugby fell on his back, and in the time Hephaestion had stood and sprung forward to strike, Rugby had been ready for him and kicked kicked out at Hephaestion, narrowly missing the sword strike but hitting Hephaestion sqaure in the chest. Hephaestion staggered backward, and Rugby sprung up, ran forward and swiped, the sword connected with Hephaestion’s armor and he was knocked backward, remaining to stay on his feet. With a growl, Rugby swiped again, this time Hephaestion was ready and parried with his sword, then with a deft swipe he hit Rugby’s gloved hand, causing Rugby to cry out and drop his sword.

Hephaestion sprang backward and waited for Rugby to move, Rugby screamed something that couldn’t quite be heard over the crowd, but which could be easily inferred to have been obscene, and he had clearly flown into a rage, he dropped his shield and charged Hephaestion. The bell rang again, but Rugby didn’t stop charging. Hephaestion swiped but Rugby caught the wooden sword in his hands and yanked it from Hephaestion’s grip, who stumbled forward, and Rugby punched Hephaestion in the side of the head. The bell rang again, the crowd screamed.

Lucas felt his heart hammering. Rugby had broken the rules. When a combatant drops sword and shield, they automatically lose. Hepheastion placed a gloved hand against the side of his head and then quickly he bashed the side of Rugby’s head with his shield, knocking Rugby to the ground. The bell rang a third time and men rushed the stage. Lucas turned to see what Rex would say, but Rex had already joined the men on stage.

People were tending to both combatants, and a man came on stage to announce that Rugby had committed several fouls, including dropping his weapons and attacking with the intent to harm. Rugby was still on the ground, cursing, and Hephaestion’s helm was removed by Rex, who inspected him.

Lucas caught a glimpse of Hephaestion’s face and his heart jumped. Hephaestion was smiling, he didn’t seem very perturbed that he’d been attacked. His face was smooth and glistening with sweat, but he remained angelic. His lips were wide and his jaw was strong, his skin was a dark olive tan, and his hair was a beautiful mess of deep chestnut curls, and Lucas could see his deep brown eyes glinting in the light, even from this distance.

Hepheastion broke through the small crowd around him to walk over to Rugby and offer him a hand. Rugby had removed his helmet and was scowling at Hephaestion, but took his hand and stood, brushed himself off, and then barked something, presumably hateful. Hephaestion smiled and shook his head, then headed back over to Rex.

The man who had announced Rugby’s foul grabbed Hepheastion’s hand and held his arm above his head, shouting “The winner of this bout is Hepheastion Margrave!” There was an exultant cheer from most of the crowd, and angry grumbling from others. “Next bout in fifteen minutes!” shouted the announcer, and the crowd began to thin as people left to find refreshments and other entertainment. Eric was still standing at Lucas’ side with his arms crossed, and went with Lucas to follow Rex and Hephaestion off the stage and to a corner of the square, where by a doorway Rex and Hephaestion were chatting.

Hephaestion had removed the top porton of his armor, holding it under his arm, and he was shirtless, his strong chest and powerful stomach exposed, nearly hairless, and Lucas felt his face heat up again. Eric playfully nudged an elbow into Lucas’ rib, and Lucas slapped at him.

When Hephaestion saw Lucas and Eric his face lit up again, and he strode over to them. He immediately threw one arm around Lucas, pulling him in, Lucas feeling the warmth of Hephaestion’s naked chest. He suddenly felt a little dizzy.

“Luke!” Hephaestion happily shouted, to be heard over the din of chatter around them, “Did you see the bout?”

“I did,” said Lucas, almost stammering, “Rugby freaked out at you.”

“I know!” said Hephaestion in wonderment, never losing the exultant smile, “But he was the one who started kicking me! I thought if he was going to play dirty I might as well too. Didn’t expect him to drop his weapon and try to pound me though!”

“Well,” said Eric with his arms folded, “It was very sportsmanlike of you to offer him a hand up.”

“Charles is a good guy,” said Hephaestion patiently, “He’s just… easily pissed off. I think he takes everything a little too personally.”

“You were great,” said Lucas in a hushed tone.
Hephaestion grinned, “Thanks Luke! Hey, I’m gonna go shower, meet you here in a few minutes, yeah?”

Hephaestion turned and headed into the doorway nearby and disappeared. Rex ran over, “Can you believe it?” he shouted, “Rugby’s gonna get chewed out by his instructor! I mean, come on, be a man about it!”

“You are far too excited about this,” said Eric.

Rex remained far too excited for the next twenty minutes, as the three stood outside and waited for Hephaestion, who finally emerged, wearing casual clothing, a light cotton shirt and leather pants. He looked even better when he was clean. Lucas shuffled awkwardly when he approached.

Hephaestion threw an arm over Rex’s shoulder, “Time to see the Virgins?” Hephaestion asked happily.

“They won’t be appearing publicly until later tonight,” explained Eric, “There was a delay in their arrival.”

“Too bad,” said Hephaestion, still sounding chirpy, “Let’s get some food then.”

The next hour passed easily enough. Lucas remained mostly silent as he walked along with the three others, Rex still making wild exclamation about Rugby’s behavior, Eric making several sarcastic remarks at Rex’s expense, and Hephaestion eternal earnest optimism bleeding through every syllable to come from his smiling mouth. Lucas found himself staring at Hephaestion while he talked, while he ate… he was so easy to look at. He felt a weakness in his stomach when Hephaestion would catch his eye and try to bring Lucas into the conversation.

Lucas had med Hephaestion a year before at school, and had instantly become friends with him. Then again, Hephaestion became instant friends with most people, he was probably the most friendly person Lucas had ever met. He’d known Eric for the longest, since they were children, and Rex for nearly as long, but of his friends, Hephaestion was his clear favorite and the one to whom he was closest. He wondered about what Eric had said… was it that obvious? Did Hephaestion know?

If he did, he either didn’t mind or didn’t bother to say anything. Hephaestion could be somewhat oblivious, just about every girl at the academy swooned over him and he always seemed entirely surprise when someone report this news to him. In the year Lucas had known Hephaestion, he’d seen him interact with a few girls but he didn’t seem to have much experience in a relationship. Lucas was silently grateful. He didn’t know how he would react to that, but he had heard Hephaestion occasionally rhapsodize about girls he found particularly beautiful. There was an innocence to Hephaestion, an earnestness. He seemed to like everyone, he was always beaming, and he never seemed somber. Contrasted with Lucas’ reserved personality, it was a wonder the two had become friends, but when Lucas was alone with him, he felt much happier and more optimistic. Hephaestion had slept over at Lucas’ house several times. They had several spare bedrooms, after all.

After finding some food (Hephaestion and the others had pork, Lucas had a salad, which he picked at and didn’t eat very much of), dusk began to fall, and the crowds began to head toward Central Square to see the Virgins. Lucas sighed, he supposed there would be a large crowd to contend with after all. He felt conflicted about celebrations like Fey Day: he enjoyed festivity and creativity, but he hated being around so many people.

Lamps were lit along the streets and on the outsides of shops, where many restaurants opened up for dinner. The street musicians kept playing their songs, and women and men wearing wings continued to dance about the sidewalks. High above, the old castle remained silent. Lucas glanced up at it. His father would be coming down from the castle soon, the business of the Church’s arrival had been attended to and all the real political action would begin tomorrow, for now it was enough to secure the Church officials a place to reside (an entire inn in town had been reserved specifically for them, and a separate house for the Virgins). Lucas hoped he didn’t have to hear too much about the proceedings. Politics bored him greatly.

Fearies Awakening #2: The Goblin

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I’ve had a breakthrough. I’ve spent some time recently collating much of the extraneous and conceptual material I’ve written for my book into one place, the word count has reached about 120,000 and counting if I remember correctly. I’ve spent years and years trying to plan out this book, but something has been stopping me from starting work on it. I think it’s that it’s been SO planned, and I’ve thrown so many plans out, that I didn’t know where to begin, or what it would look like. I know a lot about the characters and the story, but it doesn’t have that central thing that ties it all together. I’ve been trying and trying to figure out what the central crux is, the fulcrum on which the rest of the story will turn.

I still don’t know what it is, but I think now that maybe the only way to find it is to set off on the journey with my characters. The story needs a breath of life. I’ve had such a rigid concept of what it needs to be and what it needs to say that I’ve forgotten to let my imagination wander and try new things. Becuase of that, my writing has become stagnant and unmoving. I haven’t known how to begin. I have a books worth of extra material, outlines, notes, and conceptual scenes, but the book itself has barely even begun.

It’s diffiuclt to write a fantasy story without feeling like you’re pilfering from every other fantasy story. There are so many, and they share so many things, that it’s intimidating to even know where to begin. I had a fleeting idea some time ago that I might try something with different fantasy races, I really like having a lot of races. I’ve thought about so many mythical fantasy creatures have been given makeovers: Anne Rice made vampires sexy and compassionate, J. R. R. Tolkien turned elves from tiny mischief makers into tall, lithe and beautiful magicians. Dwarves, well… I’ve never really gotten dwarves. I remembered playing Magic the Gathering when I was a kid, and the many goblin cards, and I saw David Bowie playing the goblin king, and his is still the only goblin I’ve ever seen who was beautiful or fashionable. I thought it might be fun to try something with that idea.

I made a note to start the story with a goblin, and tried to go to bed, but I needed to get up and write the story. At a certain point I thought well I might as well just get up and do it while it’s in my head. A sudden jolt of excitement hit me. I actually thought to myself, “Am I really doing this? Am I really starting the book, finally, after all this time?”

I did.

It’s a breath of fresh air into this world that has become stagnant, despite how deep I’ve sunken into it. I don’t know where the story will go or what shape it will become, but I’m going to let the story lead me to where that place is. I’m not going to force anything anymore, I’m going to let the world and the characters tell me their story, rather than me trying to tell them what their story is.

The prologue exists already, it’s been published on my blog, I’ll probably post it here on Patreon at some point. Read that if you like, to get an idea.

Here it is. The beginning of the first chapter of my book. I don’t know the book’s name yet. I don’t know this character’s name yet. But I’m happy and excited to learn.

***

The goblin dropped his pack on the ground and slumped wearily against a tree, pulling a handkerchief from within his cape and wiping his hooded forehead. He reached into the pack at his feet, rummaged for a moment, and withdrew a silver canteen. With his long, nimble fingers, he hurriedly unscrewed the lid, and popped the canteen eagerly between his lips, cold water rushing over his tongue and cooling his hot head. He took a breath as he wiped some of the spilt water from his chin.

The weather was still warm for mid Autumn, but cool enough for the cape and the hood. He surveyed his surroundings in the forest: a clearing with a small pond, encircled by trees whose leaves shone in the mid-afternoon sun, in the usual shades of gold and red, with a few obstinate clumps of green leaves still clinging to life. The trail he’d taken went right by the pond, and behind him it led up to the hilltop from where, he expected, a lovely view of the city would be commanded.

The wood was lively with creatures. Blue birds chirped high above and didn’t give much care to what happened beneath, too involved in listening to one another’s choruses. A fox stalked timidly up to the other side of the pond and lowered it’s peach colored head to lap up some water hastily, keeping it’s eyes suspiciously trained on the visitor to the wood. A few squirrels had followed him into the clearing, two watched curiously from a tree branch while another more brash squirrel stood on it’s hind legs in the middle of the trail, staring straight ahead.

The goblin grinned and laughed a little. He was used to this. Wild animals were always intensely curious about goblins, and despite how easy it might be to pass as human amongst a human society, the animals could smell it on him. With his long fingers he reached up and let down his hood, shaking his tawny, lengthy mess of Amber hair from his shoulders, and reached up to pick a leaf from his bangs. He held it in front of him and the squirrel who stood on the ground cocked his head to the side, the goblin smiled and blew hard on the leaf, sending it dancing into the air, and causing the squirrel to turn and run behind a tree.

Leaving his pack on the ground, the goblin made his way over to the pond with only a few strides of his long legs. The fox on the other side of the pond glanced up but didn’t move, the goblin made sure to move as lithely and unthreatening as possible, and was actually surprised when the fox bent down to lap up some more water. The goblin bent from his considerable height down to his knees, reached two hands into the pond, and splashed some water on his face. He could see in his periphery this frightened the fox away.

In the rippling water he could see a reflection of his rather long face, water dripping along the sharp angles of his cheekbones and down his pointed chin. His nose had a gentle upward curve at the tip, but was far rounder than most goblins. Long ears protruded from within his lengthy mess of amber hair, and he made a mental note that he’d need to do some work on them to make himself look passably human before he made it to the city.  His long bangs had been splashed and clung wet to his forehead. His eyes were the caramel color that even in a blurry reflection could still be striking. He cocked a grin at his reflection, then pulled out his handkerchief again to wipe his wife. The poor thing had faded from stark white to a dull yellow from weeks of use on the road. He suspected the rest of his clothes had suffered similarly.

He stood and stretched, feeling his joints give several loud creaks. He placed a long finger on his chin and used the slightly pointed nail to scratch his chin in thought. He briefly considered stopping here to lunch, but no, the city was near enough that he could have a proper dinner, and if the gods willed, a bath. He did not like the muddy baths he’d been forced to take in the great river that ran along his path here. Almost better to stay filthy than to bother attempting to wash and then putting on clothes that were quickly beginning to turn sour from overuse.

He smirked again at his own sheepishness. He’d never really liked traveling.

He turned and marched back over to his pack, where one of the squirrels had taken the liberty of inspecting the open side pouch, and who now had his upper body very well buried in it. The goblin barked a little laugh, giving the squirrel a start as it’s head darted back out, and he reached down to throw the pack over his shoulder. Surprisingly, the squirrel climbed over the pack and onto the goblin’s shoulder, and began to inspect the large folds of one of his pointed ears, sticking it’s little wet nose in and giving it a sniff.

The goblin set off again up the path, and quickly came to the hilltop, where just as he suspected, he found a magnificent view.

The hill dropped somewhat steeply down from here, and the trees thinned out, and ahead of him, set in the middle of a lush valley lined with golden trees and streams that glinted faraway in the light of the sun, was the city. A magnificent old castle stood at the far end of the city, round spires rising toward the sky, grey stone battlements, roofs with dark blue tiles that glinted against the light. The goblin admired it’s classic design, this was the kind of architecture not often seen anymore in human cities. In the distance behind the city were dense forests that climbed up onto mountains, and the sky above was a crystalline blue, wispy clouds fluttering across and the bright noon sun in the center of the sky.

Surrounding the castle were rows of houses with thatched roofs and tile, he could see cobblestone streets, and even from this distance the goblin could see with his keen eyes people bustling everywhere. He cocked his head thoughtfully for a moment, and the squirrel on his shoulder shook its tail. He wondered if perhaps the gatherings had already begun, but he had been quite sure he was a day early. Perhaps it was just a very busy city. Human cities usually had that effect on outsiders: they always seemed to be scurrying about like ants, always in a hurry, never stopping to look around. But that’s just how humans were, and he’d learned to accept it. It was charming, once one became acclimated. Goblin cities — to whatever degree there actually were goblin cities — never seemed to be quite so busy, but then goblins didn’t live very communally.

The goblin shrugged, and a gust of cold wind caught the side of his face and the nape of his neck, causing him to shiver, and he remembered to pull up his hood. He felt the squirrel’s nose poke against the fabric by his ear. He set off downhill, relieved that the journey was finally becoming easier, and also that it was nearly over. His heart pounded in his chest a little with excitement, it had been some time since he’d seen so many people gathered at once. He hoped the trip would prove worthwhile.

Fearies Awakening #1: Green Fire, Black Sky

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Patreon will not allow me to back date a post, so there’s a sequence break over on my Patreon page. This is the prologue, which takes place before The Goblin (the first installment of chapter one). Over here on the blog, you can read more about what started the writing of the book in the next post.

***

            A bellowing screech blasted into the night, slicing the cold air, the sound rattling the tiles on the rooftops.

            Crackling fire. The beating of enormous leathery wings. A green silhouette against the drop of the night sky, a bright white moon shining blue light down on flames of green that ate away at the wood, the iron, the cobbled streets. Fire in every corner.

            Screams, frantic and bewildered. Confusion and the blurry fog of tears in the eyes of men and women, clutching their children, their animals, their clothing, anything they could hold while running.

            A little girl, ragged breath sucked frantically into her chest, her beating heart pounding in her head, her vision a haze of madness, stumbled gracelessly into the street, tripping over her dress, and as she reached down to pluck a dangling ribbon from beneath her slipper, the sound came again.

            A sound like steel twisting against itself, ripping the air to shreds, and a gust of heat blasted over the rooftops, rattling the trees and knocking over the carts. Food strewn about the street was flung up into the air from the force of it, in all corners there were flames, green flames eating the doorways, the signs, the merchant carts. Flowers crackled with green fire in the street.

            The little girl tumbled forward from the blast. She landed flat on her stomach and her nose smacked hard against the cobbled street. She was vaguely aware that there was pain in her head somewhere, and her vision was now tinged with red. She fell helplessly onto her back and looked up into the sky.

            Green embers over green flames, against a black sky, somewhere beyond the veil of smoke there were stars still shining thoughtlessly through.

            She hoisted herself up onto her elbows and drew a breath that she could not quite hear, because all sound was now a hazy din, a high-pitched ringing somewhere inside her head. She looked up ahead, she could hear screaming in all directions, yet she saw only the empty street, its contents turned in on itself, lanterns and silk streamers and placards piled on fruit and toys. The ghastly accoutrements of festivity tossed lazily into a swarm of nightmarish fever.

            There was a figure against the sky, green as the flames. It was not quite solid, and yet it was corporeal. Glowing lights where a face might be, the shape of wings unfurled, and the body a mass of green flame. Beneath the two lights, the flaming shape of jagged teeth as a jaw opened, and the bellowing screech came again, accompanied by a river of flame in all shades of green, ribbons of emerald searing across the wind.

            She held up a hand instinctively to shield herself.

            Flames ripped across the rooftops and into every quarter of the city. In the distance a castle was burning, green fire rising from the windows. Emerald smoke hovered in a humid vapor above the city. A trail of green fire burned down the central path of the city, and struck out at an odd angle, where it led into a square of burning trees.

            Surrounded by flames, a man in dark armor held a child close against his breast, blood spilling across the metal plate and over his fingers, blood drenching the child’s back and his cotton shirt.

            The king wept into his son’s neck, cradling the unconscious boy.

            A woman’s voice shouted over the roaring inferno, “It must be done! He has brought the demon with him, it will not cede until he is dead!”

            “Woman!” croaked the man, “You speak of your son!”

            “My son has been consumed by a devil!” she wailed. The flames cast a flickering shadow onto the stones, that of a slender woman in a thin gown, tangled hair, thin fingers clutching the handle of a long knife.

            The king lay the boy down on the stones. His eyes were still wide, though he saw nothing. His chest rose so gently it may not have moved at all.

            The king’s eyes narrowed as he drew the sword from his side. He advanced upon her and there was a shriek, and the sound of flesh being pierced. The flickering shadows showed a woman run through with a sword, and a thin arm curving around to stab a knife into the man’s back. A guttural moan as they both fell.

            The little boy’s eyes were bright blue, and his gaze held nothing at all, his thoughts somewhere far away from the heat and the fear. Blood pooled around his body, his arm flung to the side and his fingers twitching as if to grasp something that was not there.

            There was a clicking of boots, the slow steps of one solitary figure, a mass of black cloak and long dark hair against the bright green of the fire. A man knelt down by the boy, his unkempt hair dangling over his eyes.

            “Little prince,” he whispered, “Life has more for you yet than this.”

            The man’s gloved hands scooped the boy up in one fluid motion, and his cloak whipped behind him as he walked directly into the green flame, and through it.

            Green sparks fell over the dying bodies of the husband and wife who lay gasping on the stones. Green sparks whirled up into the night sky.

            There was silence, but for crackling fire and a thunderous, croaking growl.