#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.

Writephoto: Swan women

An excerpt from my latest WIP, because it’s swans. Not Fionnual, Conn, Aodh and Fiachra, but the swan women from the story of Midir and Étaín. For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

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They stowed their belongings beneath the sleeping bench in the guest hall, and Höfmund offered to show Oisín the wonders of Utgard.

“There’s a while before the night meal. We’ve time to walk around the walls and watch the sun go down on the lake. It stretches due west and the setting sun turns it to gold.”

He led the way to the wooden stair that climbed to the stone wall and the walkway along it. Oisín followed reluctantly. The lake was unnervingly familiar, reminding him of the dark side of the man who had been his friend, the madness of the bard and his unceasing search for something he could not have. It reminded him too much of himself. Höfmund stretched out a hand and pointed, his finger moving in a slow arc from east to west.

“All of this is the land of the Ettings, lakes, mountains, forests and pastures. It’s good land, even if winter comes earlier here than at Thrymheimr and lasts longer.”

The last rays of the sun slipped beneath a bank of cloud hanging low along the horizon and flooded the lake water with golden light. It was beautiful, but fleeting. They watched until the sun declined and the cloud thickened. The gold faded, sunk beneath the surface of the lake, and the landscape darkened. Water birds called as they settled for the night, a melancholy sound. In the last moments, before dusk deepened to night, the air vibrated with the beating of wings, broad powerful wings, and the dim light was full of the ghostly forms of swans circling, flying lower then landing with noisy splashing on the lake in the shelter of the sedge.

Oisín felt no surprise; he had recognised the place, though he thought he had left it behind in another world. Despite the sadness that crept into his bones, sadness for the swan women, for Caer Ibormeith, and her haunting, and also for himself, hope brushed his face, feather-soft and he heard once more the sweet voices of women singing.

“Do they have a story, these swans?” he asked Höfmund, half expecting he would say, there are no swans. Höfmund raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“Them there? I reckon they’re just swans. There’s no stories about them among the Ettings that I know of. No doubt the men of Asgard would say they’re the swan women who gather up the souls of dead warriors.” He shrugged. “I don’t see no battlefield here though.”

Höfmund saw a flock of swans, nothing more magical or sinister. Perhaps that’s all they were. As the last of the light faded, so did the swans and their imagined singing.

#writephoto: The world afterwards

For Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.

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We have longed for this for so long. The weeks turned to months, and now that the restrictions are finally lifted and the army has left the streets in a cloud of dust, we pour out into the familiar silence, and we have forgotten how to show our emotion. No one sings or shouts, or embraces strangers with joy. Sparrows flutter and garden songbirds flash with coloured wings. Grass has begun to grow between the paving stones; the river laps and washes banks lush with marsh flowers.

It hasn’t taken long to discover there is nothing left in the food shops, no petrol in the pumps. The shops that were forced to close are empty, no stock, no staff, no orders. I walk, like many people, following the river to the ocean. It isn’t far, though for months it might as well have been in another galaxy. Soon the rioting will begin, the destruction, because too many have no idea of how to build, but for the moment, in this brief interlude of adjustment to the world of afterwards, there is quiet.

I walk to the beach, the long straight beach that stretches parallel with the waves and the ranks of clouds that layer the sky with hues of red. The waves roll with a sigh and a hiss, licking away at the land, sucking it back into the cradle of the ocean. I wonder if the water will eventually reclaim all the land.

Dolphins and seals, porpoises break and dive. Birds call. We watch the sunset because there seems nothing else or better to do. Tomorrow it will start, the end, and the dolphins will laugh. The birds won’t care either. They will sing as they have always done whether we listen or not.

#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: Running

For Sue Vincent’s weekly challenge.

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The virus spread and multiplied, gobbling corpuscles and sucking them dry. The dead went unburied and the vultures began to reappear. We fled the black tide, leaving population centres behind, preferring the prospect of starvation surrounded by the beauty of returning nature to the vain hope of salvation, a vaccine, or simply a cache of food if we stayed in the city.

We had found our way north, taking back roads, travelling as stealthily as we could, and our food had almost run out. It was high summer. Perhaps we would learn what we had forgotten, how to fend for ourselves, or perhaps we would find a deserted dwelling and brave the possibly lurking virus spores to look for supplies.

We drove off the road, hid the car in the bushes and watched the sunset. Never had the silence been so profound. The black cloud that had enveloped the earth and smothered the sky for the last two weeks, hung low and menacing as ever, but a crack had appeared above the line of hills, and last stream of light lit up the lake below like liquid gold.

It was a sign, we thought. The virus is faltering, perhaps dying back with no new hosts to feed upon. You stood, your face aglow, mouth open to shout out your new-found hope, when suddenly your face paled. You grabbed my arm and pulled me down out of sight. But not before the eyes that had opened in the cloud had seen us, and the crack of light on the horizon curled up in a broad grin.

#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: Listening to the ripples

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt.

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Still water holds memories, of love and loss, death and growing, peace and tumult. A cloud mirror sometimes, speckled with bird wings, and sometimes a raging, silent fire with the trampling boots of soldiers, flame-haired and steel-coated. Sometimes.

I can sit on the bank of any lake, toss a pebble and watch the ripples, knowing that in the tiny bore radiating out from a central force is a story in momentous movement.

Sedge fringes stories and water birds illuminate the margins. Listen and you can hear the voices of the past, the crying in pain and anger, laughter in the sunshine, weeping beneath the rain.

Wind bends the dry stalks, ruffling and rippling, but when the wind holds its breath, when I listen, watch, deeper than the drifting clouds, I see the faces with eyes the same as mine or yours.

Words, though the tongue is not one I know, roll into the ear and the story they tell is universal, never dies, a longing to be loved, to find peace, to find peace.

#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.