#writephoto: Unquiet bones

Just finished my WIP and as usual, Sue’s photo for the #writephoto prompt fits the theme perfectly.

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Cecilia stopped out of breath at the crossroads. The place held no terror for her, but she was close to her time and the child would hear them calling as clearly as she did. She looked across the valley, the town huddled along the beck, out of sight, but the column of smoke from the mill chimney rose straight and black, a finger pointing at the indifferent sky.

The place held no terror for her, but it was full of a restless sadness. The quarry that was not a quarry gaped. She felt the pattering of footsteps beneath the earth, heard the scrape of clawed fingers on stone. He had never listened, never wanted to know. Perhaps he would not have cared anyway. His kind rarely did.

She sighed and turned back. Soon it would come. There is a time for everything, seasons, births, reckonings. She looked at the spire and the turrets that poked in their absurd monstrosity above the tree line. He had thought to build a mansion for himself and his heirs. He had built it on bones of the unquiet dead. She winced as the child stirred, and the wind blew cold. The saddest part was that when the flames came, he would not understand why.

#writephoto: Millrace

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday challenge, a sort of prose poem with WIP in mind.

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The millrace runs but there is no more a mill, and trees grow now where wagons once stood with their head-hanging horses, waiting to be loaded with their bolts of finished worsted.

The beck still babbles, its leaping waters clearer than they ever were in those days when wild nature served one purpose—to be harnessed to the fiery chariots of the fiercest of men.

Fierce and proud, with a blindness when it came to the suffering they caused, with their grasping greed for profit, were the men in paunch-vast waistcoats.

If they didn’t see the misery in the humanity around them, how could they have noticed when the mill streams fouled were running black or blue or cimson with dyes from the washings of the vats?

But their ferocity was puny in the face of wakened nature, when the stones had had enough of blood and desecration, and the sacrifice of beauty on the altar of greed.

The mill race runs forever, leaping crystal clear, sunlight glinting on the ripples and cascading woven water.

Where is your monument in stone, in black Millstone Grit, your dark, satanic symbol of industrial success?

We know where you are now, Mr Mill Owner the Mighty, you are in the deep dark hole where the dead men go.

#writephoto: The Stone

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge. Gothic again.

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He thought he had got rid of the unsightly obstruction, hadn’t thought about the stone once since the house was built. He had had far too much on his mind since then to worry about where the thing had gone. There had been the fire, and the winter wind had been full of voices. The winter had lasted longer than usual that year; the cold had bit deeper. Misery lurked in heaps of rags at the corner of every street.

He had not wanted the deaths. Why did they not understand that it was not in his interest to kill off his workforce, and if an arrangement could have been found that avoided deaths he would have accepted it? But it hadn’t been possible. How could it have been? In a mill there are always workers, and in a fire, there are always those who can’t get out in time.

The house had never been easy. Stones and paint have no souls, no hearts. There is nothing in the construction of a building that can bear a grudge. And yet, and yet, the house had never been easy. Cecilia had encouraged it, nurtured the grudge. She was part of it, born with rancour in her blood. He should never have married her.

But he had, and she had brought his nemesis into the heart of his household, his castle. She had called back the stone, the vengeful mother, and he could see it from his bedroom window. Even though the curtains were drawn, even though the winter night was shut outside, he could feel the stone eyes blazing. He could smell the scorching of plush velvet, hear the small crickle crackle sounds of a blaze at its beginning.

The sounds of running feet and shouts of alarm came to him, but they seemed far away, too far to be of any help. The door to his bedroom was locked. He could try to break it down but all the other doors would be locked too. The casements wouldn’t open; the glass, he had tried already, wouldn’t break.

Flames now, frank and open, no more pretence that something had been left to catch in the kitchen, a scalding iron, a batch of bread. Red and roaring they raced up the plush, that dripped to the ground in a cascade of flame, baring the window glass, revealing the night sky, and silhouetted against the stars, the Stone.

#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.

#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: Empires

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge. It just so happens that this photograph fits my new WIP like a glove. This is not an excerpt, but a taster.

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Jessop told them to use the stone from the quarry. He was damned if he was going to pay to ship stone from elsewhere when he had perfectly good building materials on his own land. The foreman tried to explain that it wasn’t a quarry, that he’d never get local men to dig stone out of that hillside. So Jessop fired the local labourers and hired immigrants, half-starved men who would work for a meal a day.

The skeletal workforce dug and hewed and dragged the millstone grit up the hill to the site, through the winter when east wind blew bitter across the moors and the wind from the north brought snow. If he lost a few labourers there were plenty more. A whole country full of them, he snarled when a delegation of Quakers reproached him on the subject.

He had to bring in masons from the south. None of the northern folk would touch the stone and the work dragged. It was autumn before the house was finished, the dressed stone shining pale gold in the late sun, and Jessop, mill owner, builder of empires and mansions fit for emperors installed his family and servants in the Hall. On that first golden evening, he stood beneath the chestnuts of the alley, thumbs stuck into the pockets of his ample waistcoat and looked down on the valley town with its smoke and smells and thought himself a king.

Later, when the house was quiet, when the last scullery maid had stumbled into her attic bed, and the butler had locked every door and window tight, the quarry that wasn’t a quarry sighed a dark sigh, and through its dark entrance, the starved and the crippled, men, women and children of Jessop’s broken army of labourers and mill workers drifted into the dark. Their feet made no sound as they followed the passage in the hill that was not a quarry, that passed beneath the foundations of Jessop’s new house, and opened with a sigh into the deepest of the cellars.

 

Pale and gaunt with smouldering fire in their dead eyes they drifted, silent as falling snow up the stone stairs to the cellar door. The only door in the house without a lock.

#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.