interruption…

The last part of Sue Santore’s wonderful story will have to wait for next Monday, May 4th. The reason is the newest release in the Everville series by Roy Huff.

To promote the release Roy is running several promotions which are already going on or will start in the next few days.

After struggling over the last year through much hardship, Roy Huff recently made some lifestyle changes to improve his health and focus. He gave up alcohol and fast food, lost 25 pounds and finally finished book #4 in the Everville series.

Everville 4: The Fall of Brackenbone

Everville 4: The Fall of Brackenbone

In “Everville: The Fall of Brackenbone“, two very different worlds, Easton Falls University and the magical realm of Everville are in dire need of a hero. Owen Sage embarks on an epic journey of monumental proportions to save these worlds all while fighting to keep the world within himself intact. This quest is not for the faint of heart nor is it for the weak of mind—only the bravest will succeed.
Discovering the well-kept secret of The Fourth Pillar of Truth is only part of the feat. Owen will have to outwit the ever-powerful Governor Jahal and overcome countless other challenges along the way. Amongst all of the dragons, giants and grand chaos, will Owen’s acquired skills and wisdom combined be enough to save these two worlds or will peril be the ultimate fate of all?

Check out the series while you wait eagerly for the last part of Sue Santore’s story A Singular Inheritance.
You can find episode one here and episode two here.

Free Fantasy Story–A Singular Inheritance–Third episode

This is the third episode of Brina’s story, A Singular Inheritance.  Find episode one here and episode two here.  Or check the archives.  Episode one was two weeks ago.  Episode two was one week ago.

 

A Singular Inheritance

by Sue Santore

–episode three–

The tramping feet came into the clearing, closer, closer.  It was a group of her father’s men!   A voice called out, and Brina recognized it. It was the head guard for their druid.  As he spoke he came closer. “Woman, where is the daughter of Lord Kemble?”

“Who wishes to know?”

“The most important high druid requests her.”

Brina’s stomach clenched at that statement.  No, she wouldn’t be his bride.  She couldn’t. But what could Shylah do against the armed men?

“But she is not the daughter of the high druid,” Shylah replied to the guard.

“Lord Kemble follows the old paths and listens to the high druid. She is not his daughter, but she will be his bride. Give her to us.”  His gruff voice was low and menacing as he walked up close to Shylah.

Shylah did not budge from the doorway. “She is under my protection and the protection of this holy place.”

“You do so refuse the druid’s request?” The guard’s voice was now a snarl.

“I cover her with my own protection.”

“Foolish old woman, you seal your fate.”

Brina saw him make a swift movement.  She heard a wet thud and a small moan from Shylah. “Shylah!” she cried out and started toward the doorway. A voice sounded in her head. Stay! Don’t come out!  Brina froze in obedience as Shylah’s body slowly collapsed before her eyes and she crumpled onto the ground in front of her own doorstep. Don’t…come…out. Learn…much.  The voice in Brina’s head stilled and was gone. Grief flooded through Brina.

Just then another voice shouted. “No!  You fool!”

The voice sent shivers though her. It was the druid! He rushed out of the middle of the group of armed men. She had never known him to go so far from the village before. Conall’s growls grew more intense and her fingers tightened under the dog’s spiked collar. “Stay, Conall.”

The druid’s face was contorted with anger. “Idiot! Now her blood will seal the protection she placed on the girl!” He threw up his hand and a bright light flashed. The guard let out a single piercing scream and where the guard had stood was only a lump of blackened flesh wavering back and forth. Then the man-sized lump fell to the ground in front of Shylah.

The druid walked forward. He stopped before he reached the bodies and peered into the cabin interior. When he spoke again, this time he spoke directly to Brina. She could hear the subtle persuasion in the spelled voice he used. “Come out, Brina.  We’ve come to take you home. Your mother and father have been very worried.”

Brina twisted her mouth in a grimace.  She knew her mother hadn’t been worried.  She only cared about Bretta, her older sister. Her father? Maybe. Sometimes it seemed that he cared for her. Mostly he cared for Gavin and Lann, her brothers.

She didn’t answer. According to what Shylah had told her, as long as she stayed in the hut, she was safe. She was not going anywhere. I won’t forget, Shylah, Brina thought. The tears streamed down her cheeks as she took another look at Shylah’s crumpled body. Shylah, the only one who had loved her unconditionally. Brina moved away from the wall and sat down at the small table. She could not bear to look at Shylah’s body lying on the ground. Shylah had said that as long as she was within the dwelling she would be safe, but at what a price. She sat facing the door, unwilling to turn her back towards the druid. Shylah had told her that the druid could not control her if she came into her power apart from him and to study hard to learn how to use her power. That was just what she would do.

The druid stood a few paces away from the bodies on the ground, his spelled voice continued to try to persuade Brina to come out. Ignoring the pleas, then the commands, from the high druid. Brina opened the box and took out the book. The light from the one small window, covered with oiled cloth, was enough–with the door open. She forced away her sorrow and began to read. Magical words danced through her mind and helped keep the anguish she felt at bay. Then the anguish resolved into hard determination. The high druid had gone too far. Brina would not be used by him. Shylah would not die in vain.

Hours later, when the voices and noises outside had finally ceased, Brina looked up from the book. She could see no one in the clearing in the line of sight from the door.  Thick clouds had rolled in to cover the setting sun and the light in the dwelling was fading. Brina cut a slice of cheese and a slice of bread from the food left on the table. She handed the food to the dog who lay at her feet. He gulped it down.

Then she stood up, dreading what would come next. Not a sound came from outside. She paced to the door and looked into the clearing. Conall stayed by her side, still on alert. The men had disappeared, but how far had they gone?

She looked down and tears filled her eyes. Crumbled on the ground in front of the door was Shylah, her blood soaked into the dirt. The blackened body of the guard who killed her lay apart.

She couldn’t leave Shylah laying there, but she couldn’t leave the doorway. Not yet. There were sure to be some guards left hidden among the trees to watch her. Brina sank down onto the floor in line with the doorway. She wrapped her arms around her knees and rocked back and forth, keening a requiem for Shylah. Conall lowered himself to the floor beside his young mistress and rested his broad head on his forearms, ears alert. Brina sang over and over in a high mournful tone:

Ah, Shylah, mother of my heart,
Long I have loved you.
The leaves shake for your pain.
The ground drinks your blood and
Hears the cry of your soul.
The earth calls out against your murder.
Shylah, Shylah, Shylah.

Echoes of her voice came back to her from all directions and Brina felt that the forest lamented Shylah’s passing with her. Under the cover of the clouds, total darkness was fast approaching. Brina felt for her travel herb pouch. Did she dare use her charm to try to hide herself while she buried Shylah’s body? She closed her eyes with her herb pouch held tightly and said, “Eyes do not see me.  Ears do not hear me. I am not here.”  A dreadful premonition filled her as she neared the door, and she hesitated. Then she remembered the ring of invisibility.  She backtracked to the table, reached out for the box, opened it, and slipped on the ring.  Her body disappeared before her eyes.  She reached down and clutched Conall’s collar and the dog disappeared also.

She knelt down beside the dog and whispered to him.  “Bring in, Conall.  Bring in, boy.”  Then she rose and walked to the doorway with the dog following her lead.  With her whispered commands, the dog clasped his massive jaws on Shylah’s shoulder and pulled backwards.  Brina tugged at the body also, and together they slowly moved her mentor’s body into the dwelling.

Startled cries came from a nearby thicket.  Brina gave a bitter smile as she realized that the hiding soldiers thought Shylah’s body had started moving by itself, then disappeared. When the body was safely inside the dwelling, Brina went through the death ritual over Shylah. She could barely see the outline of the doorway now. The light was almost gone.

With her ring still on, she pulled on the bracelet and went to the back of the hut.  She leaned against the wall and began to slide through it. She grabbed the dog and Shylah’s arm. With Conall’s massive jaws assisting her she managed to pull Shylah through the wall and out into the darkness. The dog left her side to relieve himself then quickly returned. She felt his nose bump her side in the darkness.

“Dig,” she whispered into Conall’s ear. The dog began to dig. Under her direction, after a time, the hole was made large enough to place Shylah’s body into. She made a sign of release on Shylah’s forehead and began shoving the dirt back into the hole. She tamped the dirt down with her feet, then shook off the dust from her clothes. She was exhausted and famished. Why was she so tired?

She tugged at Conall’s collar and the dog slid back into the dwelling with her. As she gulped down her own slice of cheese and bread, she bitterly thought about the soldier guards in the woods and wondered what they would make of the new grave in the morning. Let them wonder. They could think Shylah buried herself for all Brina cared.  She stumbled onto the cot in the corner and fell fast asleep.

When she awoke the next morning, the blackened body of the former guard was gone.
Many days passed before the Druid gave up and left the clearing, taking his guards with him.  Because of the soldiers, the pilgrims on their rounds stopped coming to the sacred well in the clearing. They continued to stay away even after the soldiers left. The days were long and lonely for Brina even though she spent the daylight hours with Shylah’s gift to her, the precious box and its contents. When she used it, she felt closer to Shylah.
Brina read and practiced, read and practiced. She nibbled on the food left by Shylah, but gave much of it to Conall. She worried about the dog having to stay in the hut all day, so in the dark of the night, she let Conall out to exercise and forage for himself. He would be gone most of the night. Twice he brought back a rabbit to her. During the cover of the night Brina also emptied her slops and threw some grain into the chicken pen.  She searched for eggs under the sleeping chickens and each day found a few.

As the month of safety that Shylah had sacrificed to give her came slowly to an end, Brina thought she could face down the druid–maybe. Anyway, she felt she was needed to return for a brief time to her father’s crannog, for what reason she knew not, but she knew that her place here in this holy clearing would be waiting for her.

Very early on her final morning before returning to her clan, Brina brewed a tea of angelica root and holy thistle. She sprinkled drops in the corners and doorway of the dwelling to prevent evil forces from entering while she was gone. Then she poured half of what was left into Conall’s water bowl. He eagerly lapped it up while she drank the rest of the tea in preparation for her journey.

What could she do with the box of power to keep it safe?  She didn’t dare take it into the lair of the high druid, just in case she wasn’t strong enough to resist him.  Her gaze fell on the holy well at the edge of the clearing, close to her dwelling.  Maybe there?  She took a deep breath, said a prayer for protection, and stepped out the door in the light of day for the first time in a month.  No shout came from the thicket.  No rustle came from the undergrowth.

Brina walked across the short distance to the well and looked down into the stone circle.  The water had a gentle movement in the center where the spring, the source of the well water, bubbled up.  There was a niche between two large stones about two layers down.  Maybe she could wedge the box into the niche.  Brina bent over and stretched her arm down.  Yes, she could just reach the opening.  She took the box and pushed it into the cavity between the rocks. Then she touched the rocks and muttered an incantation from the book of power.  The rocks closed over the box and it disappeared.

Brina walked to the edge of the clearing and stopped, looking down at Conall.  “Crannog, Conall. Home.” His ears perked up and he started ahead of her, turning his head occasionally to make sure she was following. They cautiously made their way through the forest to the main road, meeting no one. The pilgrims still had not returned to visiting the shrine at the clearing in her new dwelling so the forest was silent of their sounds.

As Brina approached the road, she sank down into nearby shrubbery.  She had to cross the road and make her way down to her father’s crannog safely.  She listened carefully, but could hear nothing.  She watched Conall.  He was alert, but not on guard, so she eased her way out onto the road and sped down the road toward her ancestral home.  If she heard anyone, she would flee into the bushes and hide again.

The sun is smiling on me, Brian thought, as she neared the approach to the crannog without having to dash into the underbrush, not even once.  She stopped just out of sight and drew upon her inner self.  She spun a small shield to hide her magic from any seekers then went onward.   As she came in sight of the walkway, a shout came from the guard post and two guards came swiftly down the walkway, their spears at the ready.

“It’s me,” Brina called to them, holding her hands in the air.  “Brina.”

To her dismay, the guards grabbed her roughly and hauled her onto the walkway so abruptly she stumbled.  Conall thrust his massive body between her and the nearest guard and lifted his lips in a dangerous snarl. The guard dropped her arms and backed away, holding his spear in a protective stance toward Conall.

Before he could plunge his spear into Conall, Brina said, “Would you slay Lord Kemble’s favorite hunter?”

 

Come back next week for the conclusion of Brina’s story, A Singular Inheritance.

Free Fantasy Story–A Singular Inheritance–Continued

Last week we began Brina’s story.  As we continue, the raiders have just gone by.

A Singular Inheritance 

by Sue Santore 

–episode two–

Only when the soft tramping of the raiders faded into the distance, beyond the village, going on down The West Road, did Brina relax her vigil.  She crept out from the side trail and hurried further down The East Road.  She needed to get far enough from the village to stop until dawn.  There was no way she could find Shylah’s hut in the forest without daylight for her to search out the way.

The girl and the dog sped down the dark road, held in place only by the feel of the packed dirt underfoot.  After their quick steps ate up a safe distance, Brina headed off the road again. She pushed through the bushes, biting her lip against the stabs and scratches, until she stumbled into a tree trunk, then she stopped and slid down the rough bark to sit with her back against the tree.  The scratches on her hands and face stung, but she couldn’t bother with them now.  With Conall’s presence, she didn’t have to worry about wild animals. Soon her tired eyes could stay open no longer and she slipped into a troubled sleep. The dog laid down beside the girl. His ears twitched as he stayed on guard for his young mistress.

The lowing of cattle and the stamping of feet woke her with a start.  In minutes the raiders fled past. The fog was thinning and the first light was breaking over the horizon.  So, the raiders had been successful in carrying away some cattle from the next village.  She wondered how many lay dead with their blood soaking into the ground, away from their loved ones.  Did the raiders have enough men to take their dead home with them?

She stayed still, her arms clutched around her knees, not looking at the road for fear the men could feel someone watching.  They would be on edge anyway.  She didn’t need a reason for them to search for a watcher. Conall stood beside her, ready to attack, if need be.  At least the cattle would cover any trail she had left.  That would make it harder for the druid to send trackers after her.  Even the dogs would have a difficult time sniffing her trail with the raiders and cattle passing after her.

After the passing of the raiders, Brina stood up, looking around her to get her bearings.  There was a packed trail to Shylah’s hut, if she could but find it.  If she headed in that direction, surely she would hit the trail. It couldn’t be far.  She grabbed her travel herb pouch and clutched the safe-travel herbs.  Closing her eyes she sought out for direction.  A faint tugging pulled at her, a line weaving through the forest.

Brina dodged through the trees, avoiding hanging tree branches and gnarled roots sticking out of the ground, following the source of the tug.  Relief flooded her when her feet struck the trail. The trail wound through the forest for hours, it seemed. In the distance she heard the morning crowing of the cock and smiled. Shylah’s chickens were up. The sun was burning the lingering remains of the fog off when Brina finally entered the clearing. A small hut stood against the forest at the far edge of the clearing.  Near the dwelling carefully placed rocks surrounded and protected a bubbling spring, the holy well.  A massive oak tree, a cloutie tree, towered near the well.  Prayer rags were tied to many branches.  Here pilgrims drank the holy water for healing, made a prayer and tied a prayer rag on the tree.   As long as the rags remained on the tree, the prayers continued to rise to the Upper Realm.  Shylah said the new druid Colum Cille had drunk from the well, touching the water, and that now the water had healing powers.

As Brina crossed the clearing, the hut door opened and Shylah stepped out.  The older woman, stood, her arms crossed over her chest, watching Brina approach. As Brina drew near, she could see the frown on Shylah’s face. “Trouble follows at your back,” the herb woman stated.

“Oh!” Brina stopped.  “I don’t want to bring you trouble, but, Shylah, I had to get away. The high druid was insisting I become his bride.”  She wondered where she could go, if Shylah turned her away.  Silently she held out her the gift of bread and cheese.

“He is filled with the darkness of the evil one. You must never become his bride.  Then he would have power over you as your husband.  He would suck out your budding power and take it as his own.” Shylah closed her eyes briefly.  Brina could feel her thoughts, but she could not read them.   “Come,” said Shylah.  She took the food, turned abruptly, and re-entered the dwelling, leaving the door standing open.  She walked to a small table and laid the bread and cheese on it, then she moved further into the room, to the other side.

Brina followed, trailing her hand along Conall’s back as he trotted along side of her.  Her eyes strained to see in the dim light.  Gradually the room came into focus.  Shylah was kneeling beside a large, crudely made chest, reaching into it.  Brina walked closer.

Out of the large chest, Shylah lifted up a small box, intricately carved of wood. She hesitated with the box in her hands and looked up at Brina. The girl was strong enough and she had a good heart and she was also the only one possible left to pass the precious heritage on.  Shylah had to take the chance.  She stood, turned, and extended the box to Brina. “This is for you.”

Brina reached out to take the box. It felt warm between her fingers. She whispered, “What is it?” She felt no sense of foulness as she did when the High Druid did his magic, but the box felt like it was bursting with power. It also gave off a sense of welcome. She cradled it to her and touched the carvings, rubbing one finger around a three-part connected spiral, looping around and back again. Conall raised his massive head and sniffed at the box, licking her fingers against the wood. Reluctantly she handed the wooden box back to Shylah.

Shylah had watched her soberly, seeming to check her reaction.  When Brina pushed the box at her, she stepped back and shook her head. “No. It has accepted you. It belongs to you now and it can have only one owner at a time.  Before its owner dies, it must be passed on to the next caretaker. You also need this.” Shylah reached up to her neck and took off a silver chain with a strange silver metal object dangling from the end of it.

Curious, Brina touched the small object. “What is this?”

“It’s called a key. It fits into the box, like this, to open it.” Shylah demonstrated as she spoke.  “Here, you put the chain on, and never take it off. It’s yours now.”

A heavy dread filled Brina at her words and she shuddered as a premonition flashed before her of Shylah’s limp body lying at her feet.  “But, Shylah, you’re not old enough to die.”  Brina cried out in alarm.

Shylah’s blank face showed no emotion.  “What will be, will be and I see you will be the next herb lady of the holy well.”

Unaccustomed tears sprang into Brina’s eyes and she quickly brushed them away.   “No, I need you to teach me, and…”  Her voice faltered. “… I need you.”

Shylah’s face softened.  “Child, you will soon need no teacher.  And you will have another come to take my place in your heart.”  Then her face hardened. “Your village high druid senses your power and wants to use it himself.  Whatever you do, you must not put yourself under his power or give him this box. The box holds great power, but it can only be used by you, now, until you willingly pass it on to another.”

Brina threw her arms around Shylah, still holding onto the box. This woman was closer than her own mother, who had no time for her, preferring her older daughter.

The older woman hugged the girl, who was more than a daughter to her, then she drew back. What she saw ahead for herself was a short, difficult road. Would she be able to follow it?  She had too, for the sake of the girl.

“Whatever happens, Brina, you must be brave and stay strong.”

“I’ll try, Herb Mother.”

The rest of the morning was spent with the two women huddled together at the small table, Shylah talking rapidly, showing Brina the sparse contents of the box, explaining their uses.  “You may add to the box as you see fit after you learn more about your powers.”

Shylah pulled out a book from the box and said, “This is why I taught you to read Latin. This book reads in Latin, for now.  As more village lords turn to the new religion and their druids become priests, Latin is the written language all will use.  All you will need to learn is in here.”

Brina’s head swarmed like buzzing insects at all the power flowing from the box and its artifacts.  “Let’s try this.” Shylah placed the heavy, intricate bracelet on Brina’s arm and drew her to the wall of her hut.  “Lean against the wall and think about the air and sunshine outside, the grass and trees.”

So Brina did and was shocked to find herself outside the wall next to the hut.  She heard Conall whining inside the building. She pressed against the wall again and returned to find Shylah smiling at her. Conall licked her fingers.

“Very good,” Shylah said. Then she held out the ring.  “Take off the bracelet and try this.”

After Brina placed the ring on her finger, she no longer could see her hand that the ring was on, nor any of the rest of herself.  She was invisible. She gasped, “I am gone!”

Shylah chuckled. “You have much power within you.  Your village druid has sensed your power for weeks, even with my covering spell over you.”  Then a darkness crept over her face. “Come. We must hurry. The time runs fast.”

Brina placed the bracelet and ring back into the carved box. Shylah placed her hands on Brina’s shoulders.  “Promise me that you will study the book often and learn fast. Only after you master your power will you be free from your druid’s control. You will be safe in this dwelling for a time, but the food I have here won’t last you more than a moon cycle.”

A dreadful premonition crawled through Brina.  “What about you?  You will need food, too?”

“I won’t need food where I’m going.  I have Seen.”

“Shylah, Herb Mother, what have you Seen?”

“I will not tell you.  You will know when it comes.”

Brina threw herself at Shylah and embraced the older woman. “What will I do without you?”

“You must gain much knowledge within the moon cycle, enough knowledge to stand against your druid.  My protection won’t last beyond that.”

Then Conall growled.  They turned to look at the dog and saw the hair on his back bristling. He gazed past the women through the open door with his ears alert.  “What is it, Conall?” asked Brina. Shylah closed her eyes briefly and breathed a small prayer for strength.

Now they could both hear the sounds as they came closer, the tramping of many feet. “Hush, Conall, it’s just a group of pilgrims.”

“No, child,” said Shylah. “It is not pilgrims.” She moved toward the door. Brina moved right behind her, but Shylah held her hand to push her back. “Go over there and whatever happens, don’t come out that door. You won’t be protected if you come out of this dwelling.”

“But, Shylah.”  A cold dread was rising in Brina.  What was going to happen that Shylah was so afraid for her?

“Pledge it to me!” Shylah demanded as she looked into Brina’s eyes.

Brina drew a deep, shuttering breath, then answered. “Yes, I do so pledge it.”

Shylah walked across the room, stepped out the open doorway and stood on her doorstep. Brina was left waiting in the far side of the dwelling, lighted mostly by the open doorway.  She leaned her back against the wall, peering across the room and out the open door, trying to see past Shylah.  Fear chased around and around in her mind.  What was Shylah protecting her from?

To read the beginning to this story go to last weeks post.  To read the next episode, please come back next week.

Free Fantasy Story–A Singular Inheritance

Cover Prequel

I‘d like to share with you a fantasy short story, a prequel to my Singular series. I’m breaking the story up into four installments to be posted on Mondays of each week until the story is finished.  I do hope you enjoy it and I welcome comments.

The Singular Inheritance / The Beginnings

by Sue Santore

Thick fog wrapped around Brina like a damp blanket. Wispy fingers rose from the lake before floating upward to join their brethren in coating the night. Under the log walkway water softly lapped against the massive tree trunks sunk deeply into the water to support the village on the wooden log platforms which spread out over the water in all directions. Brina shivered even under her thick cloak, but she slowed down her feet anyway and flattened her body against the wooden posts which made up one crannog wall.  Their village was build entirely over the water with strong trees trunks, over which their high druid had said many prayers.  She shivered as she thought of him.

That same high druid wanted her to become his bride.  She shuddered. The high druid gave her chills when he passed by her.  His power rolled off him in foul waves.  When he looked at her, it was as if something else was looking through his eyes.  If his fingers accidentally touched hers when he guested at their table, she felt besmirched.  Her stomach churned whenever he was near.  To be his bride would mean to be in his constant company, to summit to him touching her as a man does a woman.  She couldn’t bear that, and Father was close to insisting she accept the offer. If only her brother, Gavin, was here.  Father might listen to him.

Brina came to herself with a startled jerk.  She had to make this escape work. Since she had put sleeping herbs into the dogs’ evening food, they should be all asleep.  She only needed to pass the guards without being caught.  A muttering of voices reached her from around the corner and she reached down to her hanging pocket and touched the pouch which contained her safe-travel herbs: comfrey, mugwort and wormwood, with a few willow leaves tucked in for good measure.  The packet of bread and cheese she carried clutched against her was a gift for Shylah, the Herb Woman.

The last time Brina had visited Shylah, she had come back to the village, retelling the herb woman’s stories of the new type of druid, a man who said he had power from the One God. Their village druid had been furious and had forbidden her to mention the man again or to visit Shylah.  At least the high druid did not know that Shylah had also been secretly teaching Brina the ways of the ley lines and how to gather their power. Her father, Lord Kemble, followed the old ways in his village.  She had never been inside the high druid’s home, but it was rumored that he decorated the inside of his home with the heads of their enemies, like the heathens of old.  Since the soul rested in the head, then he controlled their souls.  She shivered at the thought of souls in the hands of the high druid forever.  Never would they see The Upper Realms.

Even so, the word of their high druid was as important as Lord Kemble’s and his word was to be followed, so the high druid commands had to be followed.  Not only was she not allowed to leave their village, but he watched her all day long, his wise eyes knowing as she chafed under his seeing.  When he was busy, his vates watched her for him, even as her father pressed her to become his bride.  Much honor rested with the household who had a daughter bride of their high druid.

Even rolled into her sleeping mat, Brina felt them spying on her. Shylah. She would run away and take refuge with Shylah. Her power didn’t make Brina feel sick in her stomach area, and she knew so much more that Brina needed to learn, had to learn. Weeks of spying by the druids did not turn her docile, as the high druid had expected. Instead, Brina planned her escape carefully.

Days ago, the vates, the druid diviners, had predicted thick fog for tonight.  It was this type of night that the cattle stealers would be out, but all of Lord Kemble’s cattle were safely in the adjoining stockades over the water.  It was a sign of the Clan’s wealth that they could build crannogs for their cattle as well as their people.  The cattle were driven out across a log ramp during the day to forage for food, herded by the slaves assigned to that duty, then brought back to the lake stockade at night.  Guards were always on duty at night on the ramps, but rarely did the other clans bother their village.  They were well protected in the middle of the lake.  They always had plenty of food, and most of their boys grew up to become men.  Their clan was large enough to defend itself against the smaller clans, since they could not sneak in a surprise attack.  Crannogs were hard to build, but easy to defend.

The fog tonight was thick enough to cover her movements. If only she could sneak past the guards, she was sure she could hide in the trees until it was light enough to travel. The other guarded walkway led to their fields and farms. This walkway led to the main road and the forest beyond.

Edging slowly around the corner to the causeway, Brina breathed so softly that even she couldn’t hear her own sound.  Her padded leather walking boots made not a whisper.  As she moved closer to the guard post, she thought hard at the guards. “Eyes do not see me.  Ears do not hear me.  I am not here.”  As she clutched her pouch with the safe-travel herbs in one hand, the other hand trailed along the sturdy wall.  In a few feet the wall would end and the causeway would broaden.  Invaders could easily be pushed off into the water with staves and spears, should they dare to strike into the heart of the Clan.

The guard change approached.  Passwords spoken.  Now was the time.  While they were exchanging friendly insults on their manhood, Brina passed them by, a silent waif in the moist fog, just another ghost of the night.  Just as she was sure she was safe, she felt a hard nudge against her leg and a cold moistness against her hand.  A cry rose into Brina’s throat and she forced it back.  Her hand moved over the furred back to the leather collared neck with metal spikes.  It was Conall, her father’s favorite dog. Her favorite, too. He must have been with her father when she slipped the herbs into the dogs’ food.

Now what?  He was trained to keep intruders out, but maybe he would not understand to keep her in.    She knelt down and hugged the massive wolfhound, making the sign against his mouth for quiet. Conall licked her face, leaning against her legs, but made no sound, not a bark or a growl, not even a whimper.

There was no help for it.  She would have to take him with her.

With the dog padding silently beside her, Brina drifted across the causeway, like part of the thick fog, passing by the guards without detection.  When her feet touched the ground at the end of the log walk, she let out a deep breath and stopped to get her bearings.  Since she could not see, she closed her eyes and tipped her chin into the air.  In that still moment, she heard the wet fog dripping slowly from the leaves of the nearby trees.  Moving slowly, she turned toward the East.

Shylah lived alone in a woods clearing near a holy well.  She was a member of no tribe, but no one bothered her.  Her clearing was a sacred place of sanctuary.  Her small part of the forest was left strictly alone by all tribes, no raiding there.  If Brina could get to Shylah undetected, she would be safe.

Carefully, she moved onto the hard dirt of the East Road.  Her ears strained for any sounds of discovery from the village as she progressed farther along the road.  Her hand rested on the dog’s neck, just before his spiked collar.  Conall’s broad shoulders reached nearly to her waist.  She slid her hand up to his ears for a quick caress, only to find the still silent animal on alert, his ears standing up, his head testing the air, like he heard something. The thought ran through her mind that maybe she should get off the road.  Right about here was an animal trail, if she remembered right.

As her hands searched the bushes along the roadway for the small opening, a whisper of sound in the road ahead of her had her frantically probing for the animal trail.   She had to get off the road, now!  Finally, she found the small opening and wiggled through the brush, Conall following.  His hair bristled all along his back, but the silent sign still held him.  Brina huddled in a ball beneath the concealing underbrush, the dog standing guard in front of her.  Brina could now hear the soft tramp of many feet.  Raiders!  Surely they would not go to her village.  There was no chance of them getting across to their cattle.

She would have to hide until they went by.  Likely they were raiding the next village, which was not built as a crannog. Even though they were after cattle, they wouldn’t hesitate to capture her as a slave.  She had no illusions about what kind of life that would be.  Although Conall would tear the throat out of the first man who touched her, there were too many for him to slay all of them.  He would be killed and she captured if they heard the slightest noise from her.  Closing her eyes, she touched her safe-travel herb pouch and silently repeated her manta that had worked against the guards.  “Eyes do not see me.  Ears do not hear me.  I am not here.”

Come back next week to continue Brina’s story.

Leipzig Book Fair – 4 days of madness

If you ever come to Germany, try to do it while the Leipzig Book Fair is on and visit it. It always runs from a Thursday to a Sunday in March. I went a few years back and again this year. Either time, it was a whirl of impressions, people, and facts. I’ve never seen that many people in one place.

Leipzig Book Fair is the second big book fair in Germany, the biggest is in Frankfurt in autumn. This year 251,000 people visited the grounds, more than ever before. In contrast to Frankfurt which is mostly a fair for publishing insiders (authors, publishing houses, journalists, etc), Leipzig book fair is a place to meet readers (many of those book bloggers). My head is still swirling with faces and names.

CosplayerThe fair’s ground in Leipzig is quite interesting. The main hall looks like a giant greenhouse. It always houses the main bookshop, several catering services, and the entrances. With glass tunnels, it connects with 5 halls; Halls one, three, and five on the right hand side and halls two and four on the left. There’s also the congress center which can be reached through hall two. Also, the halls on either side are connected too. Naturally, the tunnels and connecting corridors are chokepoints when so many people try to walk from one hall to the next.

What I found most interesting was the sheer number of Cosplayers. Hall two, dedicated to comics, graphic novels, and merchandising, sees an ever growing influx of them every year. A lot of the really cool costumes are self made, and every year the best costume gets a price. It’s an amazing sight to see people of all ages (although mostly younger ones) walking or sitting around, posing to every camera in sight. I loved some of the costumes.

Walking through the halls to take in everything was possible on Thursday  and Friday, although Friday was already fuller than the day before. On Saturday, the halls and corridors were so packed, everyone moved at a snails pace. Sunday was slightly better. When I returned home on Sunday evening, I was bone tired. My feet hurt from walking and standing, my throat was sore from talking so much, and I felt parched despite drinking a lot of water. But as I soon found out, it had been worth it. My sales increased almost immediately. I am already thinking about going again next year. Maybe I’ll see you there. ;-)

Classics You’ve Never Read: Inside Story

It’s been awhile and I’m ashamed to say, my obligations to the Alleged Real World impelled me to return to this series. But any shot that goes in, as my basketball coach used to say. Especially when I took a shot that went in. Return with me now to take a closer look at a tale that you immediately know, but in all likelihood never turned a page of. What can we see as authors to help us in our craft?

Which tale? Of course it’s the classic that takes you deep inside, RL Stevenson’s seminal Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Why not before now? Because I have always felt such a deep reluctance around this tale. I know, in the end, it’s about all of us. It’s about me.

Sizing a Monster

LoES-J-H

Jason Flemyng, in both roles

Let me back up and start with the way the tale is usually portrayed nowadays in remakes. Mr. Hyde, most say, is the side of us we feel tempted to cut loose; and if even Dr. Jekyll couldn’t resist, we can’t expect better of Hollywood. So of course the result of drinking Jekyll’s potion is a misshapen, enormous leviathan, and it doesn’t get much bigger than the big-screen’s most recent version in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s enormous fun in the most literal sense. We’ll come back to the movie but note for now the first, most important missed turning the remakes commit. They create a Hyde who’s bigger than Jekyll. In the story, RLS makes it quite clear that Hyde is smaller: wizened and a bit hunching, yes, but nothing near the upright, straight-backed good doctor he seems to have his hooks into. It’s a Christian point, if I may say so- the evil part that comes out of us is not only wicked, it’s puny. Lethal, yes, especially to our souls, but we shouldn’t indulge our ego to believe that it’s large in the scheme of things. We should simply be ashamed.

Hyde also appears to be younger than Jekyll, whereas in most of the remakes I’ve seen age is a non-factor. He’s got a spring in his step, you could say, a sign of the freedom he feels. Jekyll theorizes that since Hyde’s been so little used he hasn’t aged as far. It’s a window on the Victorian society where this tale is set and about which Stevenson was no doubt commenting. After all Jekyll feels The-Strange-Case-of-Dr-Jekyll-Mr-Hyde-image-682x1024buttoned-up and straitjacketed by his position and obligations to society. Contrary to the movies, he’s not originally trying to resolve the question of evil in man, or attempting to rid himself of it. He wants to sever his halves, enjoy two unimpeded lives; the sin is original to him. I can’t force my fingers to type much more down this line, I feel the cut too keenly. I’ll say this- every once in a while my lovely wife and I play the Powerball lottery (the prize is always scores of millions of dollars) and I love to dream of all the wonderful, charitable things I’d do with the money. Like I’d be the same person. Like I could be trusted.

But I think I know, there’s a reason I don’t get to win it.

It’s the Thought That Counts

While lots of features impressed me about the original story– no female characters, lots of news-by-letter and an interesting feature that the tale ends with a written flashback– I must say the thing that really jumped out was the simple, almost pristine horror Stevenson managed to conjure in the opening act J-H_coverof Hyde’s evil. The narrator, Jekyll’s good friend and lawyer Utterson, is apprised by a mutual acquaintance of this ugly fellow’s first outrage and begins to investigate. Can you guess what the crime must have been? Murder surely, that was my thought before I first read the book. In movies and television, Hyde is usually a city-wrecker, committing loud and brazen assaults, destroying stone cornices with his bare hands and strewing a wrack of police and prostitutes in his wake.

In the story itself? He’s trampled a little girl.

It took a moment for the image to settle in on me. Imagine being out for a walk (it was ALWAYS a foggy night, this is Victorian London after all). Hyde was seen by multiple witnesses, as a little girl runs from a side-street into his path. And. He. Just. Keeps. Walking. You show me any scene with guns or knives, and the opponent a grown-up however helpless, and I won’t flinch. But think– a child runs in your path a moment, and you don’t have the one drop of human sympathy required to turn, or even pause. You don’t shout or rebuke the child or her mother– those things would show you care. Hyde just stomps her underfoot like a weed, same pace, same stride, a machine. And when Utterson’s friend runs him down and the gathered folk scream their outrage, Hyde is slightly amused, as if puzzled what the fuss is all about.

You’d never do it. You’d rather lick a car battery than feel the body of a girl writhing under your shoes. From the story itself, Hyde seemed genuinely unaware of what had happened. Pay a hundred pounds to the girl’s family? Fine, no matter to me, let me get my checkbook… well, actually it’s my friend’s book. That single act has never ceased to haunt me. Can you imagine what strangulation of every good instinct would have to happen before you would act that way? Give me a Hyderampaging, angry, lustful beast– far better than this unruffled, self-interested golem. I think I hit on it when I realized,

Hyde is comfortable with himself.

And he’s the same man as the good doctor. Rather, he’s a smaller part of him.

Who Writes This Stuff?

Stevenson composed this tale in a fit of inspiration– the idea came to him in a nightmare, and he dashed out the first draft in just a few days, then burned his manuscript in a passion, and redrafted it in only three weeks. Perhaps you’ve had such an experience. For me, the aftermath is marked by a kind of delight that I usually feel when reading someone else’s work, liking it and wishing I had been

the author. Except that I am the author! Don’t shrink into false modesty on me, fellow writer, I wager you know this feeling. You wrote it so quickly, and it seems to need little polish. It just… came out of you when you weren’t there. So with Stevenson and Jekyll and Hyde.

“Louis came downstairs in a fever; read nearly half the book aloud; and then, while we were still gasping, he was away again, and busy writing. I doubt if the first draft took so long as three days.”
-Lloyd Osbourne, family friend

 Yet it’s the things he refuses to describe that get you about this tale. Hyde is ugly, but no one can say how. People want him dead, but can’t explain why. And folks who have long kept their noses out of other people’s business, given every chance to keep doing so, can’t stay away. Utterson HAS to investigate– the signature of his good friend on Hyde’s cheque, the will naming this monster Dr. Jekyll’s heir, hearsay and conjecture whose only virtue is how perfectly it aligns with his intuition. Step by tiny step, Utterson is drawn in– and we only see the horror second-hand, in letters and accounts, like a glance at the mirrored Medusa. Dr. Lanyon once saw Mr. Hyde transform, and is already dead when we read his letter– struck down by a sight not yet ours.

My life is shaken to its roots; sleep has left me; the deadliest terror sits by me at all hours of the day and night; and I feel that my days are numbered, and that I must die; and yet I shall die incredulous.

So, What’s In It, For Me?

As short as it is, the story spends its final third in post-mortem. Much like Invisible Man, the narrator spends a lot longer than you do trying to figure out what happened. Give that a shot with your current tale if you’re feeling brave!

But it fits uniquely well in this case, because when Utterson the dependable,

Careful how you look at yourself!

Careful how you look at yourself!

sane, reserved lawyer doesn’t want to look, you know the reader feels the same way. Not about Hyde, we can’t wait to watch this happen to somebody else. But sooner or later it comes back to that mirror. I think Perseus, when he dared to use it once at an angle, saw a part of himself.

Who is that, in there inside ourselves? Is it simply  “evil”? Is it the animal side, or anger and rage like you see with The Hulk? You can’t have more fun than to curl up with an hour of William Shatner gloriously over-acting as two sides of himself in “The Enemy Within”: here’s four quick minutes capturing all the epic-ness.

The writers of ST took a view of active/impulsive versus contemplative/rational. The good-guy Kirk is just the one that can get along– he won’t attack Yeoman Rand, he can hear you without getting angry, but he can’t decide what to do. The other guy is a beast, but he can make decisions– keeps outwitting the crew, covers his scars. He starts the fights, but only his calmer twin shows courage.

Anger-Danger

Remember? “Anger-Danger”. A show’s plot with one added letter. Genius

What if it’s like that? Is this a better deal than what Stevenson proposed? I always loved Bill Bixby’s version of The Incredible Hulk– he NEVER let go on purpose, spent his last ounce of energy trying to avoid all trouble while seeking his cure. And whenever “the beast within him” got out, he always seemed pointed in the direction of the bad guys. Was that just luck? I thought it was kind of karmic– David Banner reaped a small reward for so resolutely trying to avoid temptation, and I found it very uplifting.

Maybe an echo of this, in the cool turn of events from that FX-romp mentioned above, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. When Hyde is first captured by Quartermain and the gang, he’s classic evil/animal/ “id” and Jekyll is barely containing his desires (for women, mostly). In the movie, you can see Hyde in any mirror Jekyll passes. But when the Nautilus nearly sinks, it is Hyde who not only saves them all, but urges Jekyll to trust him with the attempt. I loved it, a real step toward superhero-dom for a truly interesting character. “Bravo, Edward”

Go As Far In as You Like, or Dare

You can maybe write autobiography and talk only about yourself; there might not be any more consequence and interest than the words themselves and the one person they tell the reader about. But in genre fiction, we can’t stop there. When we explore character, and inner conflict, we innately put on display our own philosophy of what people are like. We can use omniscient third person, or flashbacks, or magic spells or potions to peel back the layers, but we can’t try to pretend this is an exception. Our world, our rules, our consequences. Because if this isn’t about everyone, then who cares?

Bixby-HulkDo we believe there’s inner evil? Is life a long struggle spent holding back this animal side? Are heroes just furiously trying to distract everyone including themselves from lust, or greed, or the will to harm others? Did the villains ever really have a chance to be good; could one selfish choice have doomed them for all time? What do we as writers really believe about the human being?

In Jekyll’s posthumous confession, he cries foul on his own world as I think Stevenson did. Jekyll claims his worst fault was just “a certain gaity of disposition”, which his education and high position forbade him to indulge.

Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures; and that when I reached years of reflection… I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of me… It was thus rather the exacting nature of my aspirations than any particular degradation in my faults, that made me what I was, and, with even a deeper trench than in the majority of men, severed in me those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound man’s dual nature.

Wait. He means, his good side was responsible for making him evil? We must be in Victorian times. But do the times make enough of a difference to excuse us? These are the questions we must answer. And it makes me pause a bit before I do, because while I’m busy dissecting the lives and habits of the heroes of the Lands StarTrek-Enemy-Withinof Hope, I can’t shake the notion that the speck in their eyes doesn’t quite measure up to the plank in mine. I wonder if it would even take the Powerball jackpot to let the ugly loose in me. Remember, the day before the evil queen ordered the huntsman to cut out Snow White’s heart, her mirror had told her she was the fairest in the land.

Of course, the young ladies I courted in my youth seemed to think my ugly was already loose. Maybe I could just blame them! Or maybe I’ll hold it together another few decades, see if I can work out some accommodation with that part of me that is willful and selfish, intemperate and mean. If you really want the Evil-Queen-mirrorcraziness, I’ll give it. I believe that writing about the Lands of Hope, of heroism and evil in that incredible world, is my version of polishing a mirror. I know somewhat of what’s inside me: I pray it’s still smaller and younger, and if I time my glances just right, I’ll learn how to behead the thing and bring it under my control. There are times you need it– strong, almost angry willpower to persevere, to resist criticism, to stay on track in your story or your life. By herself and still free, the Medusa would never have slain the Kraken. Jekyll never learned to let the goddess of wisdom keep it for him.

In Stevenson’s tale, the narrator Utterson kept away as far and as long as he could. Maybe I’ve already said too much on the subject.

“I am ashamed of my long tongue. Let us make a bargain never to refer to this again.” “With all my heart,” said the lawyer. “I shake hands on that”

For us writers, that won’t do. I have faith that God will help me to train this inner fire, so I can forge interesting tales and keep learning about the Lands, and myself. There’s something inside your heroes and your villains– inside you. Writing about it will bring it closer to the surface, where it’s dangerous (and also useful). You can’t let it out to run the show, because then it becomes what evil really is in the end. A habit.

But you can’t do nothing, and you can’t wait forever.

So take a shot. It might go in.

 

The Disciple Series is Complete

Disciple Part VILast year, on this very website, Will Hahn did an interview with Louise Blankenship on the release of the fifth book in her Disciple series. I am lucky enough to have chatted with Louise recently and pleased to announce the sixth and final book in this wonderful series.

Louise was gracious enough to provide a quick overview of the book, links to help you find the series, and an excerpt from the first book in the series, Part I. She is even offering a free copy of Part I to visitors of the Independent Bookworm. Check it out and the other books in the series.

Disciple Part VI

War is coming. Kate Carpenter is only a peasant girl, but she’s determined to help defend the kingdom and its bound saints against the invading empire. Her healing magic earned her a coveted apprenticeship with the master healer; now she must prove herself ready to stand in the front lines and save lives.

She’s not ready for the attentions of a ne’er-do-well knight and the kingdom’s only prince, though. This is no time to be distracted by romance — the empire’s monstrous army will tear through anyone standing between them and the kingdom’s magical founts. All disciples must put aside their tangled feelings and stand in the homeland’s defense.

Disciple

the six-part gritty fantasy romance series is now complete!
Disciple, Part VI on sale at AmazonAllRomanceMore retailers

Blakninship - Disciple

Download Disciple, Part I for free!

AmazonB&NMore retailers

Email me if you can’t get it for free: blankenship.louise at gmail

 Excerpt from Part I

“You couldn’t sleep either?”

At the whisper, I looked up from struggling to lace my boots with trembling hands. My master stepped into my dormitory room, adding his lamp’s light to my candle.

“Why must I dress as a boy?” I whispered back. Perhaps I was not so buxom, but I doubted I’d fool anyone. “This makes little sense.”

“Patience.” Master Parselev placed his lamp on my writing-table and checked my packed bags. “They’re gathering at the chapel already. None of us got much sleep, it seems.”

The straw mattress creaked when I stood, boots laced and the woolen hose sagging between my thighs. I ran my fingers around my waist, under my layered cotes, to check the drawstring. “Are these right, Master?” I’d strung the hose and braies together as best I could guess and as memory was my Blessing I had no excuse for failing. Men’s underthings weren’t much concern to me — if I saw such, or more, it was while the man lay bleeding on the surgery table.

“If they stay up, it’s right. Good. This too.” He slung a heavy felt cloak across my shoulders and pinned it on. The hood buried my face in shadows; my blonde braid, even wrapped around my head, would give me away.

I asked, “Master, this journey will be long, won’t it?” Parselev had given me more clothes than I’d ever owned to pack in those bags. All heavy winter woolens, too. “Shouldn’t you go, then?”

He looked down at me, mouth quirking to one side. Master was a greybeard, said to be over a hundred years old, but his kir kept his eyes bright and his face lightly creased. I had only been his apprentice two years. Surely I could not be ready for this.

“It must be you, Kate,” was all he said.

Disciple Omnibus
collecting all six books
on sale March 15, 2015!
get a reminder by joining L’s mailing list

I want to thank Louise for using the Independent Bookworm to announce the completion of her amazing series and providing an opportunity to our readers to experience the Disciple for free.

One Click, Three Minutes, Everyone Wins

The Tale of Hope Three Minutes to Midnight is now FREE in the Kindle Unlimited Library!

{And darn cheap otherwise}

I offer this simple, standing challenge to one and all. If you’ve never read a Tale of Created with Nokia RefocusHope, make this one your first. This novelette is under 15 thousand words, in which a Stealthic sets out to do the impossible, then doubles down on danger half-way through.

Here’s the really cool part- if you are a member of Kindle Unlimited, you pay a set price each month for unrestricted access to books in the Kindle library. Read as many as you like. And here’s a secret:

:: looks both ways, whispers ::

If you read just 10 percent of a book you’re looking at, the author still gets paid!

Ten percent of TMM is FIVE PAGE-TURNS! And it costs you nothing once you’re a member. You could finish that on your commute, even if you worked in the kitchen.

I did the calculation- any way you slice it, by the time you’ve reached these words:

“The beast stayed at striking distance the entire time, which made the back of Trekelny’s legs tingle with peril.”

Three Minutes to Midnight (Kindle Locations 76-77). Wm. L. Hahn.

… You’ve made it, ten percent read. Good deed done, starving author (well, hungry) supported.

And I dare you to stop reading then anyway!

Indie authors are always trying new ways to get folks quickly and easily interested in their work. But how can you do better than 10 percent of a short FREE book?

So KU members, take my challenge. Read slightly more than the number of words

{From Assassins Creed, but looks startlingly like Trekelny's ascent!}

{From Assassins Creed, but looks startlingly like Trekelny’s ascent!}

in the Declaration of Independence (about 1,450), and who knows what Liberty and Life you may discover (while painlessly helping me earn a little more property). It would be unAmerican not to.

And if you’ve decided not to try KU yet, Three Minutes to Midnight is a spanking fun sword-and-sorcery cliffhanger for just 99 cents. You can read the whole thing if you like, and with half the words of Romeo and Juliet you get just as many deaths, more daring escapes, and I guarantee a hotter love story. Trust me, when Trekelny climbs to the balcony of the High Priestess of Khoirah, he’s going to give her the kiss of a lifetime.

 

LoH_logoTell your friends, share this post and spread the word– anyone you meet who mentions Kindle Unlimited, or e-books, or who says they’re in a hurry, just lean in and whisper “Three Minutes to Midnight”. No matter the rush, you’ve got time for that.

Valentine’s Day, Birthdays, and Other Exciting Events…

The second week of February is always an exciting time in our household. It not only brings my birthday, but Valentine’s Day, and finally my youngest’s birthday. Whew!

This year, in the midst of all that family celebration, I applied for and obtained a new job!! Same company, same department, but a different team, a step (or two) up the ladder, and a nice pay increase. Yep. February has been amazing this year!

PLUS…in anticipation of an upcoming workshop, I spent the month of January and the first two weeks of February writing a short story per week. Specific stories for themed anthologies. Most of them were SO not in my chosen genres, but…well…stretching is good.

I’m really proud of each of those six stories. A couple of them are so far beyond my comfort zone I was tempted not to even try. But I pushed past my fear of failure…or worse, mediocrity!…and produced stories that I’ll be proud to send out to markets if they don’t make the cut for the anthologies they were written for.

So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, birthday celebrations, new jobs, and a very productive start to 2015, let me share with you a flash fiction romance from my SPUN YARNS collection, Love In a Flash

Fairly Godmother

by Debbie Mumford

Crowds of happy people thronged the streets and sidewalks of the weekly farmer’s market. Evelyn floated among them, a stranger in a sea of good-natured jostling. She should have come earlier. She’d never find a place to set up in this ocean of humanity. Hugging her violin case close, she drifted to the edge of the flow and anchored herself in the relative safety of a flower seller’s stall.

Heavenly scents and rich, earthy colors tempted her from every surface. Bouquets of roses, buddleia and lavender dragged her attention from lush baskets dripping with fuchsia and delicate baby’s breath. The flora of her native Montana paled to insignificance when compared to the bounty and variety of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

“May I help you, my dear?” A tiny gray-haired woman peeked out from between immense buckets of cut flowers, making Evelyn wonder if a fairy had been harvested with the blooms.

“Oh, no thank you,” she said, smiling at her whimsical thought. “I’m just resting. I hadn’t expected so many people.”

The petite woman laughed. “Yes, the crowds can be overwhelming if you aren’t accustomed, but they’re excellent for business.” She stared pointedly at Evelyn’s violin case. “Are you looking for a place to busk?”

Heat scorched Evelyn’s face. Her father considered buskers lower than slug slime. “Beggar,” he’d said whenever they had come across a young man playing his guitar, case open for contributions. “Get a real job.”

“No, I mean, not really.” Evelyn sucked in a deep breath and pushed her father’s disapproval to the back of her mind. “I’ve just moved here. I teach violin. I thought I’d try some creative advertising.”

“That’s an excellent idea. Why don’t you set up right where you’re standing?” her fairy godmother asked.

“Oh! I couldn’t. I’d block your sales.”

“My dear,” she said, “if you’re any good, you’ll draw folks like nectar, and they’ll stop, even linger while you play.” She winked at Evelyn, enhancing her fairy godmother image. “That’ll give my flowers a chance to enchant them. It’ll be good business for both of us.”

The rest of the day passed in a blissful mixture of performance and quick conversations followed by an exchange of business cards. Mrs. Spenser, her fairy godmother, proved to be an acute businesswoman. Her prediction came true; people seemed entranced by the intoxicating combination of sprightly Irish jigs performed by a grateful musician, colorful flowers and heady aromas. By the end of the day, Evelyn’s supply of business cards had dwindled significantly.

“What a boon you’ve been to my business today,” sighed Mrs. Spenser, wiping her hands on the towel she’d tucked into the waist of her twill trousers. “If you haven’t filled your schedule with students before then, come back next week,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “I’ll save you a place, and who knows? I might even have a surprise waiting for you!”

*~*~*

The next week, Evelyn arrived early, before the hordes of eager shoppers. She picked her way carefully through the craftsmen and merchants setting up their booths until she reached her fairy godmother’s flower stall. Her sprightly little benefactress was nowhere to be seen, but something new had been added since last week. A comfortable canvas folding chair complete with positionable umbrella stood in a place of honor just to the left of Mrs. Spenser’s stall. A stunning bouquet of lilies and Shasta daisies rested on the seat.

“You must be Evelyn.”

The deep baritone voice startled her, but she held tight to her violin case and turned to face its owner. A tall young man with auburn hair and sparkling green eyes smiled down at her.

“Gran said you’d come. She told me to set up a special place for you and picked out each of these flowers with her own hand.” He deposited the tub of cut flowers he’d hauled from his van on the ground near her feet and plucked the bouquet up from the canvas chair. Pausing for an instant with the blooms near his face, he closed his eyes and inhaled before handing them to Evelyn with a flourish. “Gran certainly knows her flowers. I hope you’ll enjoy them.”

She accepted the bouquet, smiled and held out her free hand. “I certainly will. I’m Evelyn Connor, by the way.”

“Edmund Spenser,” he said, taking her hand in a warm, firm grip, “but everyone calls me Ned. Gran tells me you’re new in town.”

“I am,” she said, already looking forward to a day of music and fragrant flowers spent in Ned’s company, “but I’m feeling more at home every day.” Almost like I had a fairy godmother watching out for me, she thought, with a very likeable grandson.

~The End~

More Classic Fantasies to Read

There are some fantasy books that all readers and writers of fantasy should read: for the story, for the writing sample.  Looking back at my past posts on classic fantasy fiction I’ve noticed something.  All my suggestions are for middle grade/young adult fantasy books.  Since that’s the kind of fiction I enjoy writing, that must be why I enjoy reading it most, also.

One classic fantasy book to read is Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH,  which was written by Robert O’Brien back in 1971.  It was a Newbery award winner.  (After O’Brien’s death, his daughter wrote two more books about the rats of NIMH.)  This is the story of a brave, widowed field mouse who becomes involved with an escaped colony of laboratory enhanced rats.  Like people, not all the rats are good. The absorbing and often harrowing fantasy offers a choice between good and evil, technology and the rhythms of nature.  There was a movie made from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.  Watch it if you wish, but remember that movies are never as good as the books from which they are made.

Another children’s fantasy classic is The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall, 1987, which was a Newbery honor winner.  The Minnipins (groups of small people living in a river valley) are having a contest to see which village shows the Minnipin character best.  Each village is determined to “put their best foot forward” and elders set forth new rules for the villagers to show themselves in the best light to the contest judges.  I remember that when I first read this book, I was struck by the emphasis on comformity by the majority in the village where our main characters live.  When five Minnipins refuse to conform to the new edicts, they are exiled from the village.  In their sojurn in the mountains, they discover that an ancient enemy is preparing to attack.  When the elders of the village refuse to listen to their warnings, the exiles courageously decide to save the village themselves.  I haven’t seen this book around for a while, but for fantasy lovers, it is well worth a read.  Carol Kendall also wrote a sequel, which is even less well known, but is also good book to read:  The Whisper of Glocken, A Novel of the Minnipins.  Both books are available on Amazon.

So there you have another two wonderful fantasy books for your reading pleasure.  If you would like to see my previous recommendations, they are here, here, and here.

 

 

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