Shade in a mist

Diana has a prompt for this novel-writing month, to write a short piece of prose or a poem from the POV of something from a different world. It so happens, I’m doing that more or less, and anything that helps the WIP along is welcome.

The image is one I found in my gallery. It’s from a reblog of one of Kerfe Roig’s posts.

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He sees through the mists now, the shade that was a child once before becoming a giant, a colossus, a warrior. He sees what the men don’t see, with their living eyes full of mist and their ears full of the fluttering of wings. Shades. Owls perhaps. They see in the dark, through what isn’t there. The shade thinks like the child he is, but he is wiser than the men because he has seen death.

The men look up, and the shade realises he has been fluttering among the leafless branches, letting papery sounds like words fall from his non-existence lips. One of the men is full of fear. His eyes roll. The shade sees the whites, smells the sweaty smell of terror. The other is not fearful. His face shows sadness. He understands what the mists do, how they change people and twist things until nobody sees the truth behind the illusion. This man left his pride behind, the shade thinks and watches curiously.

All around him shades gather, fluttering, papery, not like the silence of owls. The big fearful man casts about again and suddenly he sees, the trees full of shades, children with outstretched hands, arms turning into wings, papery, owl-like growing silent as they grow stronger. The proud sad man clasps the other’s hand, the big man bows his head and the shade knows that he is weeping. Like the parents wept when their children were chosen. Shades now, ravelling up the mist, taking its strength, growing strong, winged, like owls.

“Go,” the proud, sad man says, “fly. This place is dying. Take your memories with you and forgive us.”

The shade blinks. The man is right, the mist is shrinking and the wings are growing, beating. He feels light, a little sad, but a tremor of excitement runs through him, through all the shades, gathered, whispering in their papery voices, and he beats his wings, leaps, soars, scattering the mists. The men look up in wonderment. The shades fill the sky that fills with light, and somewhere inside, a child laughs.

#writephoto: Black crow strikes

Cheating a bit here. This isn’t inspired by the WIP, it’s an excerpt. It’s the point I’ve reached in revision and this image, Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt, fits the story well.

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She wraps her brat tighter across her shoulders; the evening air is cool after a damp summer day. The river is a mass of moving shadows beneath the trees, but she knows the path. If Dónal has asked for a seeing, it is to know the answer to one question. Her belly convulses with fear, tightening her throat, breaking up her breath into short gasps.

There is no light from a fire now, but she knows the path up the valley side well enough. The silence is terrifying, unnatural. Not even an owl cries. She wants to call out but bites her tongue, afraid to draw attention to herself. Branches snag her clothes, tug at her hair. She trips and almost falls. The night is closing in—protecting or defying? She gasps as a tree root rises beneath her foot and she slips. Something skitters away into the bracken lower down. The rock looms, a darker mass against the sky, brushed by leafy boughs. She takes a deep breath and hurries the last few yards of the incline.

Slumped forward, his back against a tree trunk is a man, pale-haired, still. By his side a harp and the glowing embers of an almost dead fire.

“Énna,” she whispers. She hates herself, but before she moves to his side, she looks around, searching the shadows in fear that she is not alone. There is no sound, not even from her brother. She touches the handle of the knife at her belt and, reassured by its smooth familiarity, rushes over the rock, past the bullán stone and its dark pool and puts a hand on Énna’s shoulder. He whimpers. The sound is like the sadness of a child. “Énna,” she says, louder, trying to make him sit up.

There is little light, just the fire glow and the faint light of the stars, but she sees that the front of his léine is dark. She whimpers, echoing his distress. Slowly, he raises his head, leans it back against the tree trunk and Aoife sucks in her breath in horror.

Flash fiction: Duality

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt. A scene inspired by my WIP.

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He can’t remember why he has come down to the shore. There was fighting up in the town. Surely he should be there, fighting…who? He wades into the shallows, forgetful of his new boots. For a moment he even forgets his name. He should be fighting the grey foreigners. Has he come to look to see if there are more of them on the sea? Waves lap his calves. He ignores the cold, realises he doesn’t even feel it. He gazes into the distance, but the sea is empty. No sails ripple on the horizon. Then he hears it again, the call that drew him to the water.

He remembers now why he is here, and his name fades along with the fighting on the hill, the who and the why. Eyes narrow and he sees the world through amber light. His tongue tastes the salt wind and he feels an irresistible urge to join it.

The voice murmurs, Fly. Soar. Embrace who you are.

His arms jerk away from his body, his feet…he looks down and finds only the green coils of a serpent.

Fly!

The amber light of his eyes turns inwards and his man-thoughts cower and hide. With a scream, his spread arms, a mass of taut, translucent skin and the webbing of bone, beat, thrust…The man struggles; a crucifix dances behind his eyes and becomes his own spread arms, wings. The scream echoes in his ears, his own voice, and the amber eyes turn back upon the crucifix that folds its arms and whimpers, comforted by his other self.

Fly!

The wyvern-worm-péist thrusts the translucent webbing of limbs into the air. Green coils thresh the water and stream behind, a green banner, and Art Ó Conor reaches out to the guivre across the water, his tongue tasting her salt name on his tongue—Muirgheal.

Remember, you have your honour to avenge. Remember who stole your wife.

The thing that shares Art’s body twists and rises into the clouds. He shrieks the response with forked tongue—I have not forgotten.

#writephoto: Ambush

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt. Another bit inspired by the WIP I’m afraid.

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The leader, sergeant or whatever of the Welsh bowmen peers through the leaves at the sky then looks at Art. He yawns theatrically.

“When did you say this army was passing by here? This week, was it?”

“He’ll be here.”

The yawn becomes a stretch. “It’s just that if I sit here much longer I’ll be so old I’ll have forgotten how to string a bow.” The breatnach grins insolently.

“If you’re not ready when they come I’ll wrap that bowstring round your scraggy Welsh neck and you won’t have to worry about getting old.”

The bowman spits on the ground and calls out to one of the other surly bastards. They both laugh. Art can’t make out many of the words of their speech but he guesses it is a joke at his expense. He can’t help glancing at the sky in his turn. The sun is getting low. Any lower and it will be lost among the trees, and the Northman will be making camp for the night. This is the only road through this part of the mountains, and this is the only bridge over the Urrin. The Northmen will have to cross in single file. It is the perfect place for an ambush. He grinds his teeth. So where are they?

“I’d say your man has gone a different way,” the breatnach drawls.

“Why would he do that? To take in the scenery?”

“Been here before, has he? Knows the country well? Trusts the locals to put him on the best road? He could be wandering anywhere between here and the coast.”

The worst of it is, Art knows the bandy little péist could be right. Well, if he is, he won’t be wearing that mocking grin for much longer. If there’s no assassination to be done, Art has no need of a band of idle, insolent Welsh mercenaries who would likely murder them all in their sleep should they find out they’re not going to be paid with their freedom after all.

“Get your men together. We’re moving.”

The sergeant opens his mouth so make some clever remark. Connla, Art’s cousin closes it with his fist.

“Just do what you’re told, sheep-fucker.”

The bowman rubs his mouth with the back of his hand and glowers. The Welshmen, six of them, assemble with a bad grace. They are terrible horsemen and hate the idea of riding again. Cairbre brings over their horses but stops when Art catches his eye and puts his hand slowly on the hilt of his sword. The Welsh are gathering up their affairs, grumbling, hanging back. Connla too has got the message and moves to the far side of the group.

“Get on with you, or we’ll still be here at nightfall.”

One of them straightens up, his mouth open with a retort, and Connla slashes his throat open. Art and Cairbre draw their weapons and in less than a minute it is over. Art steps over a body and peers out across the mountains.

You’ll not spoil for keeping, Richard de Clare. Then you’ll learn how we deal with usurpers.

#writephoto: Judgement

Sue’s #writephoto prompt fits exactly what I’m writing at the moment. It might not make perfect sense, but it’s uncanny how well the image fits the story.

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The garth is quiet even though the walls are crumbling and cannot keep the normal hubbub of the city out. The old church will never receive the repairs it needs; Riseárd has decided to pull it down and placate Archbishop Ó Tuathail by building a new one. The noises of the city are attenuated here because the mood is sombre. Samhain is close and although the Archbishop will have the cathedral glittering with candles, everyone knows what the candles signify, and it has nothing to do with commemorating dead saints. This year there will be three souls wandering the streets either seeking their way home, or seeking revenge.

She treads the old stones slowly, pensively. What she did, she believes was the right thing. Executions were rare. What was the point of killing a man when you could use his life to make amends for what he had done? Was it not better to give a woman a bond slave to do her husband’s work in his place, rather than the ephemeral satisfaction of seeing his head separated from his body?

She kicks a stone moodily. All of this, she knows. And also that she has ordered the execution of three countrymen because they attempted to reverse a defeat. Was that not what happened in wars? Was it reasonable to treat it as treachery? She kicks the same stone again into a pile of leaves. The faces of the men pass behind her eyes. Dónal’s men. She has to remind herself into whose hands they would have handed the city. Her brother’s. She knows her brother and his black heart better than any of them.

A slight noise from the open doorway makes her turn. A boy, slender and dark is standing there. He almost turns and runs away but she calls to him.

“Is is me you are looking for, Muiris? I promised you some entertainment and I grew distracted. Forgive me.”

The boy’s eyes widen. “Forgive you? Are you not going to have me killed like…”

“Did I not tell you no harm would be done you?” She hardens her voice. “You are a hostage, not a criminal?”

“And I am Muiris Mac Domhnall Cavanagh.”

“You are his son and I am his sister. Neither of us can help the blood we are born with. You are a child and no one will harm you while I am mistress here.”

He steps out into the autumn light. His fingers twist around his belt, nervously. He looks about as if expecting a trap. “You killed your countrymen and you married a gall. You have taken the part of the grey foreigners against your own people.”

Her patience snaps. Muiris might be only a lad of twelve, but his education in manners and in his family history is long overdue. “Your grandfather gave me to the gall. It was none of my choice, just as it was not of your choice to follow your father into a stupid skirmish that left too many men dead. Our countrymen, little nephew, wanted neither your father nor your grandfather as king. They have not stopped fighting over it these twenty years. Your kin, Muiris Mac Domhnall, killed his own father and blinded his brother. He tried to give his sister in exchange for the kingship and he killed his uncle when the clan chose him instead. Did he never tell you about how he betrayed his High King and his uncle Murchad to the galls? Did he never tell you his part in ending the siege of Dublin?”

The boy shakes his head miserably. “I didn’t believe that part when you told the judges, and I still don’t believe you,” he says, but his eyes say otherwise. She says no more and he lowers the eyes, dark as his father’s and brimming with tears. She puts a hand on his shoulder. He flinches and she feels him tremble.

“Come back with me and I will find you a book or two. You have the look of a scholar.”

He raises his head in surprise and she smiles. “I doubt your father ever indulged that quality, but you are not in your father’s house any more. And I will give you a master to teach you how to fight. A man must be able to defend himself, to defeat his enemies and show clemency when it is the better part. Will that please you?”

He nods, unsure. Looking around for the trap again.

“I will do something for you, nephew, that your father never will. I will teach you to be a man.”

A farewell

I opened the ‘poet’ word set for my Saturday consultation and saw nothing at all. Opened the ‘original’ set and the Oracle sent me this poem, exactly my WIP. She’s probably telling me to keep at it.

 

Picture me the man I love

in lake water smooth and still

as a summer sky

or beneath moon-misted light,

his hair shining red as sunsets.

I smell yet the sweet scent of his skin.

I am above anger, beyond bitterness;

only dreams are real, my life a shadow,

she says to the whispering wind.

Watch over my sleep.

 

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#writephoto: Epilogue

This is for Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt. Another part of the story, a sort of epilogue. I really must get on with writing it and stop paddling around the edges!

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The house is a fine one, fitting for the rich demesne it represents. William le Maréchal built the original manor house, a single storey affair, as was the style in those days. Despite having gained the hand of Richard de Clare’s daughter Isabel in marriage, he was not granted the title of Earl of Pembroke. The title went to Richard’s grandsons; the old King Henry had seen to that. Out of the friendship he bore Richard de Clare, he had protected his lands and his daughter from the vultures. And le Maréchal’s sons would be the last of his line; Evienne would see to that.

William refused to live in the castle of Pembroke as long as he was deprived of the title that went with it. He built the manor house on the banks of the river Wye where he could look upon the imposing walls of the castle and admire his possession. On his death, one after the other, his five sons held the title Earl of Pembroke. All died violent or unexplained deaths. All died childless. His five daughters though had a wealth of children, all daughters. Evienne’s laughter could be heard ringing through the woods of the river bank at each new birth.

Two hundred years after William’s death, the house has been improved and enlarged. It belongs to the descendants of Isabel’s eldest daughter now, as do all the Pembroke lands. In a room overlooking the kitchen garden, a child plays with a puppy. The puppy is a gazehound, pure black except for her neat white feet. Her name is Whitefoot. The child’s name is Aline and her hair is the colour of red gold. She has finished her Latin and Greek lessons and in a little while her mathematics tutor will arrive.

In this house, the daughters are taught the same arts and sciences as the sons. The daughters marry men who respect and value them, and for the most part they are accomplished and fulfilled. It is part of the bargain, her mother told her once. Many, many years ago, one of their ancestors was eaten by a serpent because he wanted to marry his daughter to a man who was as ignorant as a pig in a sty. The serpent vowed to come back and eat up any lord of the manor who treated his daughters with less respect than his sons. Or some such tale, she’d said with a smile.

“And if you are shown respect, you must be worthy of it,” she had added.

It had always seemed a fair request to Aline, which is what she tells her eldest brother Amaury when he says it is unwomanly to want to know as much as a man.

“Stick to embroidery and strumming your lute. No man will make an offer for a woman who gets above herself.”

“And what does it mean to be manly then, brother?” she asks him. “To know Latin and Greek, to study Euclid, trigonometry and astronomy?”

Amaury is a brute, there’s no getting away from it; to inherit his father’s title is all that matters to him. He is a dullard and both Milo and Geoffrey are quicker and more advanced than he is. He frowns and his voice is low and menacing.

“Knowledge is a man’s prerogative. But a man who cannot rely on his own strength and skill at arms is no man at all.”

“So a man must be fearless, is that it? And wield a sword well?” He nods, his eyes narrowed, looking for a trap. “And you would dare to wade into the river and summon up the Guivre?”

“I’m not a fool!” he scoffs.

“So, you wouldn’t dare. I would though. Does that make me as fearless as a man?”

“It makes you a fool.”

“And you a coward.”

Amaury’s face pales with the insult. Milo looks up from his book and glances at Geoffrey. “We’ll come and watch.”

 

There is a bend in the river where a pool has formed, overhung with willows and thick with sedge. Aline knows the place well, how the water in the pool is always still as a mirror even on a windy day, where the clouds float and other things that she does not see in the sky. She hitches her kirtle up to her knees and fastens it with her belt. She leaves her shoes on the bank and wades into the cold water in her stockings.

“Take care,” Geoffrey says.

“We’ll come if you need help,” Milo says.

Amaury plunges into the water and grabs Aline by the arm. “Get out of here,” he snarls. “I’ll not have a girl make a mockery of me.”

Aline turns back to the bank, and a grin, quickly stifled, flashes across Milo’s face. They watch as Amaury, twelve years of manhood, wades into the pool, his drawn sword held clear of the water. He shouts, some senseless words of summoning that serve only to give voice to his fear. He stops, ceases his splashing and shouting, listens. He lowers his eyes, searching beneath the still surface of the water and screams. A child’s scream of terror.

Milo and Geoffrey start, their toes dipped in the water of the shallows, unsure. Aline watches the water, not her brother and his flailing limbs as he scrambles to the bank. She sees a graceful pale shadow slide like a wraith or a swan beneath the mirror. She listens and hears the bright tinkle of a woman’s laughter.

There is no Guivre except in the minds of the ignorant and fearful. The Guivre has gone, released into the past by a good man who kept his word. Grow strong and wise and deserving of trust. And Remember.

She turns to Geoffrey who has reached for her hand, her eyes full of white samite and her ears of long dead laughter.

“What was it?” he whispers.

“A mother,” she replies as tears bud in the corner of her eyes.