Folktober challenge day 12

The image I chose for today’s Folktober challenge, is an illustration of the Werewolves of Ossory, It’s a joyful sort of a picture, perhaps explained by the difference between the Medieval notion of the werewolf, and Hollywood’s. A werewolf was a man (usually) trapped in the body of a wolf by enchantment, a gentle creature with sad, imploring eyes, hoping to be recognised and released.
What came to me was not a poem, but a story, that grew longer than I had intended. I’m posting it here, and you can read the other contributions on Paul’s blog here.

The King of Ossory and the wolf scam

One time, during the reign of Donnchad mac Gilla Pátraic, a pack of wolves took up residence in the Kingdom of Ossory. Bishop Fogartaig of Kilkenny claimed they were not ordinary wolves but the suitors of Donnchad’s daughter Órlaigh, turned into animals by her womanish magic. He placed Donnchad under an obligation to hand over Órlaigh, as only by her death could the hapless young nobles be released from their enchantment.
Now Donnchadh had a deal of affection for his eldest daughter, who, to his certain knowledge had not been pestered by half the eligible young men of the province asking to marry her, as the bishop suggested. She had, in fact, already chosen Ruaidhrí, the son of Cearbhall mac Domnall, king of the smaller part of Ossory.
The marriage was opposed by the High King, as it would make Ossory one of the most powerful kingdoms in the land. Donnchad had designs on Leinster, and had already won significant battles there. Leinster was the High King’s strongest ally, and Bishop Fogartaig was the High King’s brother.

Donnchadh called Órlaigh to him. “I see what the old fox is after. The disputes within the family keep Ossory divided and that suits the High King just fine. A marriage between you and Cearbhall’s son would seal a pact.”
“And I’d marry Ruaidhrí,” Órlaigh said, “even if I hadn’t given him my heart, just to see the High King’s long nose put out of joint.”

So Donnchad organised a hunt and captured the wolves as they were eying up a flock of sheep, without killing a single one of them. He had the wolves taken back to his fort at Kilkenny and had one of his nephews, a certain Fergal, have a look at them.
Fergal was the prior at St. Canice’s monastery, and Donnchad had a mind to make him the next abbot, and perhaps, once all of Ossory was in his power, the next bishop.
Fergal studied the beasts as they huddled together in the back of their pen and asked to have the gate opened to let him in. Archers, one for each of the wolves, stood at the ready to intervene should Fergal’s guess prove wrong. The wolves eyed him suspiciously, fearful as he knew them to be of all men, and waited to see what he would do. First of all he spoke to them.
“If you are truly men, I have a gift for you, to pay for the harm done to you by King Donnchad’s daughter.”
He tossed a purse full of gold towards the wolves and watched as they crept towards it, sniffed, and slunk back in disgust.
“But if you are truly wolves, I have something else.”
From another purse at his belt, Fergal took something round and held it up for the wolves to see, for the breeze to carry its strong scent. The wolves pricked their ears and sniffed the air. Fergal waved the treat about then tossed it to the nearest wolf who snapped it up and licked his lips. Fergal took another treat out of his bag and held it up. The pack stepped forward in unison.
“Sit!” Fergal commanded. The wolves sat. He approached one of the wolves and said, “Paw!”
The wolf held up a front paw and Fergal tossed him the treat. He went to the next wolf. “Paw!”
The wolf gave Fergal his paw, and Fergal tossed him the treat. The third time, Fergal took a gold coin from the purse and held it out. “Paw!”
The wolf obeyed, sniffed and slowly lowered his paw in disappointment. Fergal turned to Donnchad. “Órlaigh is guilty of no crime. There’s not a man among them; they are dog to the bone.”
“And I have a pack of wolves that I will have to slaughter,” Donnchad replied.
“I have a better idea, Father,” Órlaigh said. “The bishopric has rich pasture. Why not take this fine band of young nobles to sniff around Fogartaig’s fat sheep. I’d like to see how the bishop welcomes them.”
“If he agrees that they are wolves and not men, he will be able to kill them to defend his flocks,” Fergal said. “On the other hand, if he insists they are royal scions, he will be bound to give them hospitality.”
Needless to say, Bishop Fogartaig swallowed his holy principles and set his men upon the wolf pack, Órlaigh’s reputation was cleared, she married the pulse of her heart, Fergal was appointed Bishop of Kilkenny when Fogartaig fell out of the High King’s favour, and Donnchad mac Gilla Pátraic became the scourge of Leinster until a more ruthless chieftain united the kingdoms of Leinster and drove him out.

In the dark,
all cats are grey,
all dogs are wolves,
and it takes a laughing monk
with kindness in his hands
to call them brothers,
sisters, even in the lean times.


Visions: fiction in Ekphrastic Review

I’m pleased to have another short piece of fiction in the Ekphrastic Review.
You can read all of the poems and short stories here.


The abbess dipped her brush in the crimson and carefully dabbed in an eye. The monster winked at her. She filled in the other eye. Black pupils bored into hers, and she turned away for a moment to clear the vision. She had been gifted with visions since she was a small child and they called her Hildegard. The name had faded, but she had the visions still.

Her fingers itched to continue. Paint us. Give us life. There was more crimson needed for the demon’s tongue. The abbess added three tiny brush strokes. She had been worried that the visions were sinful, but the archbishop had encouraged her to set them down in her books. Not sinful then. But disturbing. Distressing sometimes.

She changed brushes. Ochre. The prince’s breeches. The monster’s head was between the prince’s legs. Why did he have a demon in the place of his manly parts? She sighed. An allegory possibly. Men’s urges. Though the times were reasonably calm, even if the English were still fighting one another. They had no king, hadn’t had one for as long as she could remember. And the Pope was calling for another crusade.

The abbess looked at the red-eyed monster, black, hair like serpents. Evil, but not a Saracen, she decided. They worshiped one god, not like the Heathens. They were simply fighters. It was their land after all. The men fought and the women prayed. It was the same the world over.
She thought for a moment about the Saracen women, praying, cloistered and veiled just as she was. But in their houses, fountains played in colonnaded courtyards, and birds sang in cool shaded gardens. Their husbands and fathers watched the stars and made maps of the heavens. Did their women watch too and wonder with them? She would have done, if she had been able. She hoped her Saracen-sisters did.

She had never known her own sisters. Hildegard had been given into God’s service when she was too young to remember, and her occupations had always been those of God’s handmaiden. She had been observed night and day. Protected from evil.

Green this time. The Serpent with a woman’s face. The Serpent always had a woman’s face. It was God’s will. She paused, the brush poised above the tiny puddle of verdigris, thinking of a clear desert night, a deep black sky alive with stars, a jackal howling.

In a deft movement, the hovering brush dipped instead into the oak gall ink, and the abbess gave the Serpent a neat black beard.

The sun and the moon

For the dverse prosery prompt, inspired by John Masefield’s The Box of Delights (if anyone recognises it) is a short piece of prose of 144 words, including the line from Carol Ann Duffy:

It is a moon, wrapped in brown paper.

Tom watches as the old man with the hurdy-gurdy lowers himself onto the park bench. His dog, a rough-haired terrier sits patiently as he rummages in one of his deep coat pockets, takes out a tin foil package, unwraps it and hands the dog a ham sandwich.
“Here you go, Barney Dog.”
The dog takes the sandwich with a delicate gesture and in three bites, it’s gone. Tom edges closer. The old man bites into the second sandwich, then reaches into another pocket and takes out first a paper package then something enveloped in a velvet cloth, a milky glass sphere.
Tom’s eyes open wide. He blurts out, “What’s that?”
“It is a moon.”
Wrapped in brown paper, is an orange. The hurdy-gurdy man unwraps it carefully and holds it up.
“And this is a sun.” He smiles and holds it out. “For you.”

Theirs but to do and die

I haven’t done one of these in an age. For the dverse prosery night.

The general finally wound up his speech.
‘So, if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.”
His horse shook its head and the general raised his, to stare into the middle distance, a heroic poise. He pulled on the reins, and to whoops and cheers, turned his horse around to ride off majestically to the rear.
“They need not fear the firing squad for insurrection, he means.” Alfred spat on the ground and nudged Bill in the ribs. “He wasn’t talking about that lot out there.”
The two men stared over the sandbags at the line of men, advancing through the dust raised by armoured cars and tanks. Bill wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Because they’re going to do more’n harm us. They’re going to fuckin’ wipe us off the face of the fuckin’ earth.”

In the constellation of Homarus Gammarus

A story Visual Verse didn’t want, but here it is anyway.

In the constellation of Homarus Gammarus

The waiting room is empty, she picks up a magazine opens it anywhere, as you do, just to give her hands something to do, to focus her eyes on something because there’s nothing else, nothing on the walls except a poster with line drawings of toddlers with blue faces, their heads inside plastic bags, or toddlers with red faces being held down in baths full of water hot enough to boil eggs. She wonders what kind of parent sits in a doctor’s waiting room staring at this kind of poster and thinks, hmm, maybe I should stop giving Jayden/Emma/Butternut/Jigsaw plastic bags to play with.
She picks up the only magazine and opens it in the middle. It might be a story, she doesn’t know, she just lets the colours run. Her own pastel colours drift across the ceiling making a dream landscape you might find over the bed of a luckier toddler than the red and blue ones in the poster. Drifts of clouds, moons and stars, all sunlit and rippling with tame water fill the pale room. The colours gather in banks and billows so thick the doctor can barely open the door.
“Amy Narwhal?”
The girl uncrosses her legs and closes the magazine, blows a kiss to the rocking moon, and follows the doctor into the surgery.

Another girl enters the now full waiting room, pushing her way past a bouncing lilac cloud and sits down. She glances at the poster and wonders, are there really parents who don’t know that babies are like lobsters, that if you boil them they change colour and die? She picks up the magazine, opens it in the middle and the colours shrink and change like jumpers or lobsters, and the room darkens. The girl flicks on the light and begins to read.
Once upon a time, in the deep dark ocean depths there lived a lobster. As everyone knows, the universe is peppered with constellations of lobsters, each bigger and more brilliant than the next, and this was the biggest, brightest of them all. One night, the biggest, brightest lobster climbed out of his pot—
The door opens. The girl looks up.
“Is this Dr Beluga’s surgery?”
“It is. Sit down and I’ll read you a story.”
The lobster clicks his way across the waiting room and takes the seat next to her. He peers at the magazine and taps the page with a blue pincer. “I know this one. Great writer.”
The girl smiles and begins again. Her voice mingles with the dark green clouds, and soon the water has risen over her ankles. Somewhere, a toddler gurgles with laughter.

Story in Prairie Fire

I am thrilled to announce, not another baby, but a story. I am so proud to have a short story published in Prairie Fire magazine. It’s a magazine that deals with the big issues, those that really count. The story is one I care about a lot, and Prairie Fire is the ideal home for it.

They have been lovely people to work with and it’s an additional thrill to find that something I have written resonates with people so far away!


For the dverse prompt, including the lines from The Song of Wandering Aengus by WB Yeats:

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head.

Caillou High

I went out to the hazel wood, because a fire was in my head, but the fire, I took with me, and the rushing stream couldn’t quench the flames. I listened to the blackbird, but his song was out of kilter, and the sun streamed slantwise through the pale green leaves.

They say the world is spinning to its end, the heaving oceans empty of their fish are filling with our discarded plastic. I listen to the blackbird but his song is not for me.

They’re shooting in the chase, I can hear the horns and the coarse voices shouting, coarser than any dog giving tongue. As if we needed more blood. The world is drowning in it.

Listen, blackbird, to the pale-winged moths, their song is more in keeping with these end times. Hush. I hear the ocean rushing over the world’s edge.

#writephoto: Dark pool

A short story for Sue Vincent’s weekly photo prompt. You’ll have to go to Sue’s blog to see the prompt as WP refuses to upload it here.

The river flows as it always did, in turbulent pools where the bank is broken by the deep stone walls. Impregnable, they always said, with the cliff behind and the river before, and my father laughed at the notion of siege.
“We have stores enough for two years within and the wells never run dry.”
When he said I was to marry the neighbouring seigneur to make our joint lands the wealthiest in the county, the fort became a prison. You vowed you would come for me, as I vowed I would be here when you did. No walls would keep me in if your arms waited on the other side.
So I was here where the river rolls, with its whirlpool of autumn leaves carried round and round in the current, trapped between buttress and bank, when you guided your boat with muffled oars silently beneath walls. I was here when you raised your sweet face and opened your arms.
You were there, below, when I climbed the parapet, a cord about my waist and tested the strength of the knot about the merlon. And I saw your face, smiling, one last brief moment before my father’s archers leapt from the tower and your smile turned to a grimace of pain and despair.
Only I am here now, watching the river. My father believes women have no courage and doesn’t even think to put a watch on me. The FitzHugh is coming tomorrow to finger the goods, the prelude to my sentence, but by then, I will be where you fell, among the autumn leaves carried round and round in the cold, clear river water beneath this wall.

Three Line Tales: Convergence

For Sonya’s weekly photo prompt.
photo by Raychel Sanner via Unsplash


The turbulence gathered, the spiralling winds whipping forests to a blaze, oceans to rolling mountain chains of water, and the earth opened to receive it.

All the dark matter of pain and suffering concentrated in one huge desert sucked dry of concrete and living things, drawing all roads towards it inexorably.

When all our works had hurtled to their meeting place, with wild laughter or howls of despair, and the sky poured all of its anger into the last great electric storm, the vengeful mouth yawned, drank deep and snapped shut.