Short story published

Starting off the week with a pat on the back for me. I have a short story published in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, a magazine that pays its contributors real money for their work! The editors are also very relaxed about what constitutes heroic, as my story is an interpretation of a not very heroic episode from Norse myth.

I have to thank editor James Rowe for his encouragement, and Adrian Simmons for his perseverance with dodgy email connections.

You can read my story Apples of the Gods and the other contributions here.

#writephoto: Cappamore

I’m trying to let go of this story, but Sue’s photograph won’t let me. For her Thursday photo prompt.

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Cappamore. It was tumbled down long ago because the heart had gone out of it. No one lived there after Aoife died, after her murderer died, after the old animosities and tragic misunderstandings had been put to rest. Isobel saw to that. She remembered it only as the place where her mother had wandered like a wraith after Richard died, unable to come to terms with her loss. Isobel didn’t remember her father, no more than she remembered her brother who died too, both in the lake, both at Cappamore. But she felt his warmth and the passion of her parent’s love in the stones, in the air.

Her husband had wanted to claim the place for his own once Aoife was dead, but Isobel refused him it. She was the heir, not him. Sometimes she wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to let him set up a household in the old keep, let him swagger along the banks of the lake, let the lake see to him. Because it would have done, of that she had no doubt. But finally, she decided that the revenge fate had arranged for him was sweeter, slower, more devastating than death for one so full of his own importance as William.

Isobel had borne him ten children, five girls, five boys, and the boys she had cut out of her heart as soon as they were weaned. They were too like their father, antipathetic and arrogant, but with the violent nature of his detested father. None of them produced an heir, none kept a wife, three died young, violently and needlessly, and the other two were childless poltroons. The girls had daughters, lots of daughters, and at each new granddaughter, she had laughed. All of it, a lifetime’s manoeuvring, ambition, judicious changing of sides, had garnered a wealth of lands and titles for William, yet nothing he had done would prevent his name dying with him. Isobel, daughter of a Norman earl and an Irish princess would inherit it all, and she would pass it all on to her daughters.

She savoured William’s despair. After all he had done to get his hands on her father’s lands, titles, to usurp his place in history, he would see it all revert to Richard’s granddaughters. He would leave no more trace than a dying ripple on the surface of the lake. Isobel watched as he was forced to accept the inevitable, the gnawing anger and frustration that spoilt his every pleasure, turned every taste to bitter bile in his mouth. She knew the part he had played in her father’s death, and when he lay dying, she whispered as much in his ear, and placed on his soul the curse the Guivre had cried out in her sorrow.

On his deathbed, she described to him how she was having Cappamore pulled down, stone by stone. Later, she would have the lake filled in too, but not yet, she said. She let him watch in the water mirror as all the ghosts were put to rest, all except one, the ghost that would never be still, the ghost he recognised, all in white samite dressed and her hair golden as ripe barley in the morning. His eyes widened with terror as she stepped from the lake; Isobel made sure he saw. He turned to her, his old man’s watery eyes pleading. He tried to call out, but who could he ask to protect him from a ghost? Was his great castle not protection enough?

She forced him to watch as the woman left the lake and left the mountains, walking the hills and forests, drawing closer. The she sent away the servants and let the woman in white into William’s bedchamber. She closed the door behind her, letting the woman take her revenge alone.

 

All is at peace now. The lake gone, the ghosts still, but the wind still murmurs the lovers’ names. All three.

Three Line Tales: Sky lights

For Sonya’s Three Line Tales prompt.

photo by Pablo García Saldaña via Unsplash

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It was only when the last engine gave up the ghost, the last generator pumping out electricity to the last street light died, when the sun went down on the last cold spasm of our disconnected, unplugged world, that we saw the stars.

How many decades since anyone had seen the night sky that hung above our heads, stretching from horizon to horizon, full of glittering, silent beauty?

Our jaws dropped in awe as we wondered how we could have been so stupid to have preferred the ersatz dazzle of flashing neon, big screens and twittering artifice to this majestic skyscape, now that it was too late for wondering.

 

 

#writephoto: The stones remember

Okay, WIP calls. For Sue’s Thursday Photo prompt.

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The beck still flows as it has always done, quieter now that the mill has gone, quieter now that the ghosts have gone, but the water that is always different and always the same remembers. The stones remember and the wind and the great- great- great- grandchildren of the crows remember, the trees that bend, bowed but not broken, on the rocky hillside all know the story and will never forget.

Hawisa watches over this melancholy place and soothes the chattering bones. I have seen her face in the running water, strong, solemn and wise, and at night, those who dare, whose consciences are clear can see her weaving her dance of flame among the russet leaves of autumn, leading fox and deer and weasel and redbreast to the place where it all began and ended.

The beck still flows about the foot of the stone, and the February dance wreathes its mossy bulk in flames. Hawisa, wise and silent as stone opens her hand. Will she let it go, the soul that writhes in her palm?

She contemplates the mouth that opens and closes, still demanding even after all these years, and her fingers close about it again, stifling its piping. The bones cease their chattering clattering and lie still. The crows take up the clatter in their voices and their wings and fly. The russet creatures slip away until only I am left to see the woman stone turn her face to the town in the valley and say a silent, no.

#writephoto: Home

Finished the rewrite. It’s in the lap of the gods now. Sue’s photo prompt is as apposite as ever.

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All has changed since Richard ordered the castle built on the promontory, but is that not always the way? Nothing except the salmon stays still in the current of a rushing river. Men build and other men pull down. Men make sons so they too may die in the same way as their fathers. She did not expect to see the tower as she remembers it, that it is now only a tumble of stones is not too hard to bear. But what digs deep into her heart like a flung javelin is the loneliness.

She remembers feeling the same loneliness at Dún Ailinne when the king and his company left with their banners and their feasting, to return to more comfortable houses where wives and children awaited them, a roaring fire in the hearth and hounds to greet them. The ancient seat of kings was a sorrowful place, ignored and abandoned unless a coronation required the dust to be chased outside, wall hangings shaken out, the mouse and bat droppings swept from the great table. When the ceremony was over, the dust returned and the solemn loneliness.

This is different. This was home, the castle built by the first of the Northmen for his wife and queen. There used to be love within these stone walls and the laughter of children, and if there were also tears, is that just not part of every story? She places a hand on the ruined sill where the wind from the sea blows and the rain blows. All gone. Even their names.

Another hand covers hers. She turns her head, away from the sadness of the lonely ruin, and his eyes are smiling, gentle and grey as ever. They know more than names, have lived more than love. She links her arm with his and they go back to join the wind blowing, the gulls crying, beyond laughter and sorrow.

#writephoto: The Seeing

For Sue Vincent’s photo prompt, a scene from a finished WIP that is now back on the drawing board. Since Sue painted Sabh’s portrait I had to write a bit of that particular story.

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Sabh took the silver bowl outside into the starlight and into it poured water from the well. The summer sky was shot with stars that blinked on and off behind the drifting clouds. She listened. No sound came from within the house; the baby slept and her mother too. The serving women watched, murmuring among themselves perhaps but low as a lullaby.

There was no moon, little enough light, but what there was fell upon the water in the bowl. Sabh held it still and waited, watching the water swirl, full of silver clouds, fuller and fuller until the surface was smooth and bright as a mirror. She whispered words, more for her own comfort than because she believed they had any value, and dipped a yew rod lightly, reverently, into the water.

She held her breath as the ripples cleared and an image rose from the bowl’s depths, a woman’s face, skin moon-pale and framed in hair red as autumn leaves. The face smiled and her hair floated free, filling the bowl, bright, fiery, and it was no longer hair, but flames. In the silence of the birth night, Sabh heard the clash of swords, the cries of men dying and the terrified whinnying of horses.

The woman’s face frowned in sorrow and tears budded in her eyes. The flames crackled, faded and died. Silence fell again and the woman’s eyes were two stars shining in the silver surface of a mirror. The meaning was clear, and Sabh would not tell it to her sister-wife. She would not dash Mór’s happiness on this day of her daughter’s birth.

The water became plain well water with two stars reflected in its innocent surface. She would tell the seeing as a lucky one. The baby would be a great queen, and she would find a great king for husband. Sabh would tell only happiness. She poured the water onto the ground and returned to the house where a new born baby crowned in red fuzz slept peacefully on her mother’s breast.

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.