#Writephoto: Last journey

For Sue Vincent’s writing challenge.

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Odin’s moon rocked drunkenly over the pines; Asgard slept drunkenly or stumbled tipsily off to bed. Freyja turned her back on Odin’s hall and his moon and watched the stars. Soon she would leave, taking only her cats and she would search all the paths beneath the sky for Odr. If he was not to be found, wandering the tracks that led among lakes and mountains, along seashores and wide grassy river plains, she would search among the stars.

The end was coming. She felt it in the air, angry and greasy, belligerent as a hall-full of gods, and it would be bloody. She would not wait for it to arrive, but would sweep Odr into her chariot and go to meet it if necessary. If she had Odr by her side, she would not mind the end.

A cat nudged her hand with his head, and she scratched his ears. “Soon, we will leave this sad place and go hunting together.”

Fressi made a rasping noise in his throat, and Freyja smiled. “Bats perhaps and not mice, I promise, but certainly not owls.”

A second cat stalked over the faintly starlit grass, sleek, red and ring-tailed. They were the only friends she had in the whole of Asgard now that Idunn had gone, following the eyes that shone in the night sky, now green, now blue. Freyja hoped she would find what she looked for. A sharp noise broke the night silence and Fressi hissed. More fighting. Not that they ever hurt one another. Posturing, that was all they were good for.

Fress spoke then, quickly, urgently and Freyja listened. There was no sound apart from the bickering outside Odin’s hall, but the pale ghosts of barn owls circled overhead before taking the path to Bifröst. Fressi howled and Freyja made her decision.

“It will be tonight then,” she said. “The chariot is ready. It has been for months now.”

The two cats bounded off to take up their places between the shafts, and Freyja raised her eyes defiantly to the rocking moon. “You can keep your rotting world, Odin, your magic apples and eternal youth that you have no notion how to use. Your fate is on his way, bringing with him the bloodletting that will unleash the end. Enjoy your junketing while it lasts.”

Somewhere, among the stars that hung low on the northern horizon, the green eyes of Idunn’s Jötunn winked.

#writephoto: Battle

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday Photo Prompt. Evocative of the scenery of my latest WIP.

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Röskva stood on the rath wall and gazed to where the dark northern hills met the dark sky, and the storm that embraced both hills and sky. For three days they had heard the rolling of thunder and watched spears of lightning tearing the grey billows, but the storm had come no closer.

Cian came to join her, his jaw clenched, apprehensive and angry, but not fearful. His father had brought this upon them, and although he could find no justification for it, Cian was yet his son.

“Are they come yet?”

The question was short, terse. He asked Röskva because she had the sight and might know, but he would rather have asked anyone else.

“The air is full of agitation, and I have seen lightning running along sword blades. The sea is high and I can hear waves crashing on cliffs. Whatever has come out of them is hiding from me.”

“It must be them,” he murmured. “And you can see no army? No swarm of fishmen?”

“If I could, I would have told you,” she replied coolly. “Your father has his invincible warriors, what have you to worry about?”

“How he got them is what worries me. No good can come of such a deed.”

Röskva looked at him with a hint of disdain. These people would commit the most heinous crimes and wring their hands afterwards because it offended someone’s sense of propriety.

“No good came to your sister, that is certain. But if he feels no twinge of conscience, why should you?”

Cian turned to her and his expression was so full of pain that Röskva felt ashamed of herself.

“What Delbáeth did to his own daughter was unnatural, and it has produced only monsters. If these are the weapons he and Morc are using against one another, the fishman will have done the same to Ceara, and that is a thought I cannot live with.”

The lightning continued to flicker on the hills, lighting the galloping horse and the rider flogging it up the cliff track to the gates.

“This is when we learn the worst,” Cian said, a wild light almost of pleasure in his eyes, as he leapt down the wooden stair, shouting to the watch to open up the gates

#writephoto: History

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday Photo Prompt. This would have fitted in nicely with my last WIP but one. Thanks Sue. Atmospheric photo.

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They used to meet at Weatherall’s where there was no one to bother, his wife being dead and his children grown and moved on. It was a corner house, neighbour on one side, an old lass whose wits had flown away years. They weren’t all union men; many of them didn’t dare. If Taylor or Holdsworth or Sheard had known about it they’d have been given their cards straight away. But they still gathered round on a Sunday evening to listen to George Hewitt explaining where they all fitted into the gaffers’ scheme of things. He wouldn’t stand for them bringing the minister into it either. He scoffed.

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

That’s what Minister tells you when you say you can’t live on what Jeremiah Taylor pays you, isn’t it? When you’ve nowt to pay a doctor with when one of the bairns is sick, isn’t it? He says it’s the way of the world, your labour belongs to Caesar and the rest of your time belongs to God. But what belongs to you? Between Caesar and God, what do they leave for you? Neither Samuel Sheard nor Alfred Holdsworth, nor the God Almighty’ll listen when your bairns are crying with hunger, will they? No matter how much you render them!”

George Hewitt worked in the carding shed at Samuel Sheard’s mill. He never married because he wouldn’t be responsible for bringing more bairns into the world to be eaten alive by the looms. He left no weeping wife and children when the Peelers rounded him up and the men who sat with him on Weatherall’s step on a Sunday evening. His ‘disciples’, as the presiding judge called them, got five years hard labour, but George was deported for life for sedition.

The steps where the men sat were smashed as a symbol of the might of the law, as if any were needed, and it wasn’t until a hundred years later, when George Hewitt and the Peelers were forgotten, and the mills themselves were silent, that the owner of the house that had been John Weatherall’s made up two neat concrete steps. Children walk carefully up the worn upper steps now, pausing sometimes to wonder why they are hollowed like the bed of a river, listening to the ring of the stone and trying to catch the words. But the new steps are dull and silent. They do not stir beneath the feet and have no story to tell. And if the children were to ask why the steps were dumb, who would be able to answer them?

 

#writephoto: In the lap of the gods

Next WIP started and Sue Vincent has found a photo for her prompt to nudge it along.

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She follows with her eyes the sinuous line that hugs the contours of the hill until it disappears out of sight, to fall to the valley beyond. There is a plain, rich and green and on the horizon the march of low hills, blue in the uncertain distance. At her back is the sea; she smells the salt in the wind, feels its buffeting. If she were to turn, she might still be able to see the sail of a small boat, know who sails it, even though he is too far away for her to distinguish any feature. If she were to turn, she might see, if it were not for the tears.

He has gone, looking for the one who will take her place, and all she can do is send him a kindly wind and hope he reaches his goal safely. She wonders if she made a mistake and this place will never be her home. Would she have been happier had she stayed a servant to a brute but in a world she knew and understood? She looks down across the valley the herds of fat cattle, the sheep on the hills. She feels the peace that comes from plenty, from a land wide enough for all, fruitful and prosperous. There is song here and poetry and the children grow straight and tall. She was not wrong to come here. She was just wrong in choosing Caibhán.

She sighs and carries on the path. Beyond the bend she will be able to see the houses, the strangely comforting round houses that echo the sun and moon, the ripples made by raindrops in a pool. She will watch the children running, round and round in their noisy games, the dogs following, and the life of the settlement revolving round and round the seasons, birth, death and the successions of joys and sorrows. She will line her own round nest with comforts against unhappiness and hope in what the turning seasons will bring. One day, perhaps she will become a gull and fly round and round with no more cares than the choice of a fish.

#writephoto: Winged waves

And we’re off on another WIP. This isn’t an excerpt, just playing around with ideas. For Sue Vincent’s Thursday Photo prompt.

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All that is left of the great wave is a silver pool and the rippling fishbones of the sea bed. She wades into the silver, sending echoes or ripples rushing across the clouded surface, but no head rises from the shallows, no mouth breaks into a broad smile, no hand reaches out to draw her home. The wave has passed, gone, ebbed, drawing him and hope back down to the deeps. She listens for echoes of his voice, calling, but even though it was not her name he called, that bitter pleasure is denied her.

The sky fills with sorrowing cloud, and the waves roll restlessly. What has been done has brought no happiness, neither in this world nor the other. The fairy woman has him now or he is dead. He might live for ever in her arms, or he might be tossed into a watery grave should she tire of him, as she will. They always do. In her people’s stories at any rate.

She wades through the pool that remains silent, still but for the shadows she stirs, and a gull glides overhead, drifting with barely a movement of its wings, across the green waves. Something breaks—a hope, a heart, a chain? Memories flood back of the home they stole her from, calling her name louder than he ever did.

Nothing holds her to this place now though they would still call her slave. Nothing binds her here now that his voice is forever silenced. She summons the magic she has always had at her fingertips and lets it flow into the shape of a gull, a northern gull with memories of the icefields in her feathers.

When they come looking for her along the shore, there is nothing to see but a lone gull winging its way northwards.

(Another) WIP finished!

I’m just surfacing. Written the last word of the first draft of a mythological mash-up that incorporates the stories of Niamh, Oisín and Aengus with the Norse myth of Idunn and the apples of eternal youth.

There are lots of apples and swans, women held against their will, transformed into things they don’t want to be, given children and tasks they never asked for. They are tricked into doing things they don’t want to do, married to men they don’t love, and generally abducted, handed over as payment for a gambling debt, pursued with passion, or murdered with indifference. Different cultures, but with many of the same characters.

The hardest part remains—the title. At the moment the two I prefer are:

Apples of the sun and moon, and Between the horns of the moon.

Now I have the fun part ahead, rereading to check I haven’t resurrected any dead characters, changed their names or lineage, or got my wires hopelessly crossed. Then I’ll see if I can twist an arm or two to beta read it.

I might just write a poem first to celebrate.

 

#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.