#writephoto: Bedtime

Ten minute side track for Sue Vincent’s gorgeous photo. This is for the #writephoto prompt.

silhouette

The cloud woman flicked her plumed tail and leapt from the mountain top, spreading broad smoky wings, gliding over ochre desert, searching. She harnessed a light west wind and skimmed the plain with its slumbering cacti and dry gullies. Dusk turned the ochre to orange and sleepy brown—the sand slept. High, between the tall black hills, the sun peered, wolves called out the message, and he threw a stray golden beam into the darkening sky.

The beam flowed and ignited the wandering wisps, and the cloud woman sighed. She climbed through the coils of a current of cross winds and stretched out a misty hand to catch her errant chick. Clucking happily she rained drops of happiness and clutching her precious burden, drifted lazily into the darkness.

#writephoto: Striguil December 1171

Another bit of history illustrated by Sue’s photograph.

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The December lake is still, and the woods are bleak and leafless. Deer drift among the black trunks, and Evienne watches their shadows dappling the pale pebbles in the shallows. No one will come here until the spring, Richard not even then. But he will send her news of Chimâne’s young man and how he has acquitted himself. Aline, she will send across the sea to be married, to take up her role as chatelaine on the lands her betrothed has won. She will sail with Henry who is besotted enough with his Rosamund to make a safe escort.

William le Maréchal will whisper in Henry’s ear, as a favour, that Richard de Clare’s bastard daughter requires a passage to Ireland. As a favour, he will do it. There is something repugnant in William’s humourless manner, his utter rigidity. So much younger than Richard, but with the mien of an old man. He will never be seduced beneath the willows; he is not Richard. But he has the king’s ear.

Evienne listens. There is only silence, but she hears the sound of the hunt, the horses stamping, bits jingling, and the tinkling laughter of ladies and their gallants as they gather at the castle beyond the bend in the river. She calls, a fluting owl whistle, and a white mare shakes the water from her mane as she steps through the shallows. Evienne wraps a warm mantle about her and mounts. She will join the hunting party and ride with le Maréchal. He will not be seduced beneath the willows, but there are warm beds at Striguil. Aline will get her passage and her marriage.

Then only Chimâne will be left.

#writephoto: Parricide

There is something funny going on with Sue Vincent’s photo prompts. I’m finding that each week, the photo illustrates a scene I’m in the process of writing. Maybe we’ll get kangaroos next week to prove me wrong.

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Diarmait has ridden hard. By the time he is within sight of the walls of An Fearna, he knows his favourite horse is broken. He feels not even the slightest hint of regret. He is going to see Con again, the son they told him had been beheaded at Kincora by Aedh Mac Ruaidrí. He had looked out for Aedh during the fighting before the siege of Waterford but the devil’s melt was killed in a skirmish before he could get his hands around his throat. The message that Dónal sent would have made another, cooler-headed man pause. It seemed that there had been a mistake, a hoax. Three hostages only had been killed and their bodies burned. Ruaidrí had not had the nerve to kill them all; it was only Aedh’s bragging that he himself had taken the head of Conchobar Mac Diarmait that had started the rumour of their deaths.

Diarmait doesn’t ask himself why Ruaidrí didn’t deny the rumour. Perhaps he didn’t know the truth of it—not if Aedh was killed before he was able to explain himself. Nor does he ask himself why the hostages have been kept so long without any word from them and how Con got away. He doesn’t ask himself, because he wants to believe in his weasly son Dónal who never spoke a true word when a lie would serve him better.

His horse is foundering but he beats it on, across the ford of the Sláine and over the low rolling hills to the fort. The church tower is in sight, then the palisade. The gates of the caisleán are open, and just before the woods of the valley side hide it from view again, he sees a horseman ride out, dark-haired, bright green brat—Dónal. A watchman must have seen Diarmait on the road and passed on the word.

Another man might have thought it natural that Dónal would be eager to tell him the news face to face. But his father knows Dónal had never liked Con. Why would he be so keen to share the news that his brother was come back to them? So close to home, so close to discovering that the past months had been a nightmare and the dawn was coming, Diarmait begins to doubt. All the inconsistencies in the message nag at his intelligence. The trees oppress him, obscuring the sight of home. If Con had been at An Fearna he would surely be riding out to meet his father. Perhaps he is hurt, sick. Diarmait grinds his teeth at the idea that Ruaidrí Ó Conor had illtreated his hostages, welcoming the distraction from his more unsettling thoughts.

Coming up the last rise, his horse falters. If they had been on the downward slope Diarmait would have been thrown. The animal’s legs crumple beneath him and Diarmait slides from his back. The drumming of hoofbeats comes to him through the trees. He leaves the foundered horse and runs towards the sound. A flash of green, of chestnut, and Dónal is before him, reining in his horse.

“God be with you, Father,” he says, looking about him.

“God and Mary be with you, Dónal. Where is Con? Does Ruaidrí still have him?”

“Did you come alone?”

“As you asked. I told no one I was leaving. How is he? Is he at An Fearna?”

Dónal drops from his horse’s back. “I have a message from him.” He reaches for his belt. “He’s waiting for you”—Diarmait steps forward eagerly, his eyes on Dónal’s belt, holding out his hand to take the letter. Dónal’s hand thrusts. There is a flash, the sunlight through the trees strikes steel, makes it glitter—“in the otherworld.”

Cold slices under his ribs, reaching up, spreading. Diarmait staggers backwards. The knife thrusts again, higher this time, hitting a rib.

“Dónal,” he gasps, scarcely understanding what is happening. The face, dark, but with some of his own traits, his father’s too, dark eyes and the mouth that twists into a grin. His son. “Dónal.” He remembers when he was born, his first son, and that he had been proud. The man, his son, grown strong and twisted, grabs his shoulder, holds him steady and draws back his arm again. This is the last. The knife slips between the ribs and finds the heart. He still doesn’t understand.

 

 

#writephoto: Striguil

Another extract from my WIP. Thanks, Sue for the illustration.

snowy-landscape

 

When the first cold winds bit bringing the sting of rain, Evienne is not at their trysting place, and he knows he would not see her again until the year turns again. He broods through the winter months when snow drapes the hills and the sedge in the lake shallows is crisp with frost. He scours the lakeside, taking his hounds to find a sign of her dwelling place. He finds nothing. No track, no house, not even a cot.

He has in mind to hunt water birds if Evienne refuses to show her face, but the dogs draw no game. He cannot find it in his heart to beat them, though he sees mallards, coots, grebes and herons aplenty. The hounds sniff the wind and whine but refuse to enter the water, and refuse to follow the animal tracks through the thinning undergrowth beneath the trees. His arrows all fly astray, caught in winds he never feels on his face, and are lost among the reeds. It is Evienne’s doing, he thinks, though how and why, he cannot conceive.

Richard tried to exchange one longing for another. His marriage to Alice of Lisieux is set for the spring solstice. The abbot argues for choosing Lady Day on the 25th of the month, a much more appropriate and auspicious day, or the feast of Saint Joseph on the 19th, but Richard sticks to his own idea though he has no real reason other than that it irritates the abbot. He waits, watching the wild sky, the hares boxing in the meadows at the forest’s edge, watching for the waterfowl to return, life to begin again. His longing, he knows deep down is for Evienne and the awakening of the wild things, the rising of sap, greening of the trees and the grass, not for an unknown girl from across the sea.

#writephoto: Crossways

This story is for Sue Vincent’s photo prompt.

stone-in-the-wood

There must have been a road here once, two, and the stone marks the junction. I touch the cold moss, my feet buried in bracken, and wonder how long since anyone walked these roads, since there were roads to walk. The trees grow close, overhanging what might have been a clearing. Not a clearing, a long tunnel of trees stretching north and south. I turn, see the same green tunnel running east and west. The light is soft and full of shadows. Green. Gentle.

It has not always been like this. I shiver as memories creep, like beetles over my feet. My bare feet. I feel no cold. Perhaps it is the gentleness in the air that keeps me warm. And the smell of rosemary. There can be no plant growing beneath these trees, not in this cool green dimness, but the scent is strong. I part the bracken, find only stones, the remains of a cairn. A cairn.

I back away as the dark memories pour out from among the stones that I know conceal a hole. A pit, a howling emptiness that they hoped would serve as my hell. The scent of rosemary calms me and I search until I find the ghostly remains, a root, hanging on beneath the leaf mould. They planted it, he and the children. I can feel the touch of their hands. Can ghosts cry? I wipe the tears, let them fall onto the green ground, feel the spark of life reignite.

I can leave this place, take either of the roads, any direction. The forest has covered the tracks of the righteous, and left only the plants that pass no judgement. The rosemary stirs and I smile. I touch the mossy way stone and say goodbye. I will walk the forest paths north, south, east, west, back and forth until I find my own ghosts. If there is anything as sure as death, it is that they will be waiting for me, in some green glade, amid the scent of rosemary.

#writephoto: Farewell

The last time I participated in Sue’s photo challenge was the Pillars, because it was so apt for the novel I was rewriting. I’m rewriting another story now, and this photo is so exactly right, I have to slip this in. Thanks Sue. Must be telepathy.

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I sit on the rocks exposed by the low tide and watch the house on the cliffs. I watch the man walk to the end of his garden where children play and an unseen wife moves back and forth in the house behind. I wonder if he sees me, and if he does, if he knows who I am. This is not his place. He was born for the lights of the city, the glamour of la côte. He should have been preparing for the theatre, a first night, a vernissage, a meal at a fashionable restaurant with a starlet on his arm. Yet he stands on this cliff overlooking the Atlantic, watching the waves, and his life ebbs and flows like the tides, but mainly it ebbs.

Tears well, the woman’s tears I never shed when I left him, too intent on making my own life complete. Complete? Did I have a choice? We do what our nature bids us do, and mine was to return to the sea, but I can still weep, because he never understood why I left, and because he still forgives me.

The others are calling. Does he hear too? He turns, his shoulders slumped. How old is he? Time flows differently in the ocean. He turns and the others call.

Forget me, I whisper to the waves. But I know he never will.

#Writephoto: Inside the Great Temple

This morning the Oracle gave me a poem based on my rewriting. Looking at Sue’s photo for this week’s Thursday Writephoto prompt, I see that this is also from the story. Here is a section from the end of Book Two.

pillars

 

Gula held Halki’s hand as they hurried towards the red glow, listening to the roaring of hundreds of frantic voices and the screaming of women. Her face darkened­—she thought she heard the cries of children too. She glanced at Halki and saw the same expression of suppressed anger and disgust. Suddenly she was filled with pride in her old man, with his strong chin, his big nose, his receding hairline, and a heart full of compassion.

Something was changing in Providence. She felt it and saw it in the faces of the enders who had also refused their destiny. Something terrible was happening, but it signalled a break in the deadly rhythm, the dull monotony. The air was filled with electricity, as if a storm were breaking within the Hemisphere. The bridge between the past and the present was broken, and the future seemed suddenly possible.

Halki sensed Gula’s eyes on him and his expression softened. He had felt the change too and realised he was grinning. He didn’t care about anything any more, except the future. He wanted a future, and he wanted to share it with Gula.

An astonished cry rang out. Halki looked over his shoulder—the medic must have had a look in the waiting room. He had burst into the corridor and was shouting for the guards. Almost instantly, his voice was drowned by the pounding of heavy-booted feet. Halki was filled with dismay. He hadn’t expected the Black Boys to be alerted so soon.

“Run,” he shouted, grabbing Gula’s arm.

“No, wait.” Vidarr stopped him, counting the running shapes rapidly. “We can take ’em. The corridor’s narrow—they can only come at us two at a time.”

The men hesitated, clenched their fists and nodded. The women stood back against the wall but made no attempt to run. They had all begun to dream of a future, and they could not envisage it without their husbands.

Shouting their excited war cries the Black Boys were upon them, but strangely their batons were held low, not raised to strike.

“Get outta the way!” they yelled, and without slowing their pace shouldered past the stupefied men to disappear into the red glow round the last corner.

Gula put her hand on Halki’s arm. “Things are changing,” she said, and set off in the wake of the Black Boys.

When they rounded the corner they looked down on the glittering altars and fluted columns of the Great Temple bathed in red light. The air was dry, crackling with heat and noise and vibrating with the running steps of the Black Boys. They hurried down a staircase leading to one of the lateral chapels, hesitating to set out across the echoing marble immensity. The Black Boys were pouring out through the half-open temple doors in a howling mob, eager to get to grips with whatever was outside.

The world was changing. She was the proof. Gula looked at the faces of the enders gathered about her and recognised the light in their faces, knowing the same light was shining in hers. Whatever happened next, nothing could take this moment away from them. They had defied the destiny imposed by the law and they had not died. They hesitated at the foot of the staircase, listening to the roar of a great crowd in the Square. Things were changing and they had no idea how. They hesitated, not wishing to break the spell of the moment of complete freedom, unwilling to tread the marble pavement and perhaps discover slavery and death at the far side.

Gula looked into Halki’s eyes as if for the last time, to take the memory of them wherever she was going. Then she flung her arms about his neck and reached up for his lips. Nothing would ever erase that moment, that kiss that might have to replace a lifetime of tenderness. They made that one kiss count for a thousand, and when they parted, they were ready. Hand in hand, they walked across the cold marble towards the din and however much future the changing times had in store for them.

#writephoto: Flight

This little story is for Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

conflagration

They halted on the road because she was tired and the baby needed feeding. He looked back the way they had come nervously. There was only a line of low hills between them and the town. He’d have preferred a mountain range. Or an ocean.

“It’ll be fine,” she said as she settled down and undid the front of her robe. “He said nothing would happen to us.”

Her husband looked at the glow in the sky that meant the town had been torched. “Not to us, maybe.”

She looked up in irritation. “But we got out in time, and that’s the main thing.”

“He also said that this could happen again.”

She shrugged. “But we’ll be looked after, whatever happens.”

“Doesn’t it make you…uneasy?”

“Look,” she said wearily, “it’s unfortunate about…the others—”

“The babies,” he specified.

“All right! The babies! But it can’t be helped. He’s more important. Look at him,” she smiled down at her baby son. The child paused in his suckling and raised his head, fixing the worried-looking man with a piercing blue stare. “Now tell me you’d put his life at risk for a bunch of insignificant babies that were probably already more than their parents could cope with.”

Her husband tore himself away from the baby’s blue-eyed gaze and looked back at the mounting flames.

“I hope you’re right,” he said.

“Of course I am,” his wife said, fastening her robe and getting to her feet. “Now, hold Jesus while I get back on the donkey. We’re not out of the woods yet.”

#writephoto: Summer night’s dream

Finally got around to writing this down, for Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

avenue

 

The alley of beech trees bows and whispers though there is no wind. They are slender and lithe though the guidebooks claim they are hundreds of years old. The house at the end of the alley too has not much of the aspect of the original, but suffers from the ‘improvements’ of a Victorian industrialist.

Only on light summer nights, when the nightingales fill the trees with music for whoever will listen, does the place appear in its true light. Its true light is shimmering moonlight that falls at a particular angle, so that even our city-smoked eyes can see behind the façade of frothing brick and mock battlements, along the alley of bowing beech trees.

On one particular summer’s night, the eye can see the elegant golden stone, silvered by the moon, the rose bowers and lovers’ nooks, and the double rank of dancers in their silks and lace. The moon shines on the silver buckles of their shoes and the diamonds in their ears, and the nightingales sing a minuet for long-dead ears.

#writephoto: Dream home

This photo, Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt, reminds me of a house we saw for sale just outside Bordeaux. It was a huge place, all Gothic arches, flying buttresses, crenellations, stained glass and vaulted ceilings…built in the 1970s.

spiral

 

The estate agent disappeared into the bowels of the first floor. To open the windows, he said.

“Jesus,” Will murmured as he gazed around what the man in the pointy shoes had described as ‘the banqueting hall’. Stairs swept in an elegant curve to a stone-worked balustrade. His eyes followed, up to the vaulted ceiling and the lethal-looking candelabra. “Basil Rathbone could turn up any minute.”

Sam giggled. “Unless he’s laddered his tights and Maid Marion’s mending them for him.”

Will’s curiosity was caught by something about the door that opened onto the kitchen, heavy, solid oak in appearance and barred and studded with iron bolts and bands.

“Is this to keep the kitchen staff in or the riotous nobles out?”

Sam peered at the inappropriately solid door and picked at one of the huge nails. “Plastic,” she pronounced and swung open the door that turned out to be as light as plywood.

Will snorted and muttered something about the IKEA kitchen with a name like ‘Førtress’ they’d probably find. “When the ad said ‘full of period character’ I was expecting something at least pre-PVC.”

An odd clicking noise made them both look up to the polystyrene-looking balustrade. Triumphant laughter rang out and the light thump of dancing pumps.

Sam’s face blanched as a man in green tights and another man with an evil goatee beard fenced their way energetically into view.

“You don’t think the ad maybe said ‘full of period characters’?”