Category Archives: Fantasy

Antierra Manifesto – blog post #101

“Part three of the plan is much more chancy.  We need a particularly wicked desert wind storm combined with strong electrical discharges and heavy banks of clouds to blind any satellite sensors that may be operating.  We think there may be some but we have not found them while passing out of the atmosphere.  We do not think this world is under long-range interplanetary watch.”
End blog post #100

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Start blog post #101

“I’m getting truly frustrated with all of this Yoba Four.  The sensors are on Albaral.  Why can’t you understand this?  Why this blindness to what that thing is for?  Even the women slaves here know this.  What do you hold sacred about that construct that you won’t accept its evil presence as regards this world?”

“We’ve investigated it at length Antierra.  We think you have become somewhat bewitched by the local legends and are looking for something to blame, something easy to find, visible, obvious, for the troubles of this world.  We don’t believe you, or the people because there are no signals, no known kind of communication, happening between Albaral and this planet.  What sort of probe would be working there that people can sense but our own sophisticated technology remains unable to pick up?”

“Maybe I can explain that, or at least point in some possible direction.  Can your “sophisticated technology” discern between a ‘normal’ human and a Cholradil?”

“Pardon me?”  She is genuinely bemused by my question and it’s as if lights are going off in that Cydroid brain of hers.  “Are you saying the probes emanating from Albaral could be some sort of naturally empathic signals which our probes do not detect but some higher life-form long ago knew how to manipulate and some may be doing so now?” 

“My Altarian teachers say, “Believe all things, believe in nothing.”  It has served me well.  I discount no possibility simply because it seems impossible.  I just accept it’s something I as yet, cannot understand but if my mind has created the possibility in thought, that now exists in ‘real’ time for me.  Thus Albaral is our information gathering and disseminating device.  How it does it, and to what input it is responding, I cannot tell.  But here’s a scenario that might interest your Cydroid mind.

“On Túat Har circa C-20, C-21 Earth time, it was possible for certain groups to own orbiting satellites and rent space/time on them to other groups who used satellite communication but could not afford to put their own in orbit, or opted for renting instead.  Now think thus.  Albaral is “owned” by some consortium on a distant planet, say Ditani and some group on Ditani have, as you do, a “plan” for Malefactus that has to do with total control and manipulation of the population; that depends for reasons known only to them and a small secret society group here, on promoting and maintaining misogyny as a modus operandi.  The local group, and probably some locals also involved in the plan then “rent” space on Albaral, using its communication facilities to watch, record and warn of events on Malefactus.  The probes are programmed to search for certain patterns and report immediately when a pattern breaks, weakens or strengthens.  Thus they plot a course to make necessary corrections and maintain their delicate and deadly status quo.  Perhaps Yoba Four, their hold on this world is not as strong as they’d like all to believe.  Of course this is only one scenario.

“I realize there are a host of holes in my theory but it is still something to build on or work at dismantling to arrive at some truth.  Still better than blowing smoke rings in the fog.”

“???”  She has a comical quizzical look from raised eyebrows that makes me laugh.

“Just ask Cedric what that means.  He’ll be delighted to explain it to you.  It does not originate on Túat Har but from a place inhabited mostly by people we call “Dwarves” who are very fond of smoking pipe tobacco.  Their world of tall mountains, deep ravines and countless streams and rivers bordered by giant ever-yellow torias, trees that rise to as much as five hundred to one thousand meters in the air, is regularly hemmed in by thick fogs for weeks on end.  The dwarves are not affected by this as they do not guide themselves with their weak eyesight but use their feet to ‘talk’ to the ground, much as we do on Altaria.  Anyway, interesting saying, as full of legend as is the dateless gloomy Dwarf world of Takkar.  You should make a note to visit there some day.”    

She nods non-committal.  “I’m more interested in having time someday to record your tales in my mind.  I find the way you move your information around, generating new ideas from contact nodes and particularly when you switch to your alter-ego Al’Tara persona, extremely seductive.  I want to swim inside your brain and travel your neuron pathways to worlds I could never construct in mine.”

“Are you saying you believe I’m making this up as I go along just to get you to believe in my viewpoint?”
 
“I’ve reserved judgment on your stories.  For now I must decide if this view of Albaral merits cipher time and how to analyze what you’ve forced me to consider here.  The implications are somewhat frightening to us because this means our presence here, our “safe” comings and goings in the small ship we hide in the desert may already be known and our destination plotted by some group that may use us to establish a similar foothold on Koron.  Our presence here may be putting our own world at risk…  I must speak to doctor Echinoza before we do anything else.” 

“Where is doctor Echinoza if it is proper to ask?”

“In the south with my sister.  He was in a dangerous mood so she decided to go on a tryst with him.  It always brings him back to us.”

“Why does he stay here if his mind is being perverted so?”

“His choice.  He wants to conclude a plan to which he has dedicated his life.  He wants to understand this power that manipulates the minds of the people here.  He also hopes to introduce some antidote that will destroy this mind-virus.  His dream parallels yours Antierra.  That is why you fascinate him so.  I will trance-call YBA5 and they should return within 3 or 4 days, depending on his state of mind.  She won’t return with him until he’s back to his normal self. 

“And meanwhile?” I ask her.

“You choose to do what you must, what you can.  Return to the training and sleeping compound, talk to the principals and their supporting groups as much as you can or dare and get everyone prepared for the great miracle of Hyrete, our great escape.  Get them excited about it while cautioning them to remain calm.  I’m sure they’ll know already but the young ones are always dangerous in such matters.”

Our conversation is interrupted by a loud booming noise and crashing from farther battlements.  More of the keep crumbling, no doubt, but what was the boom we just heard?  We look at each other and she motions me to silence, bowing her head and ‘trancing’ to members of her family in the keep.  She is expressionless during whatever information sharing they do.  When she speaks again there is a touch of sadness in her eyes.

“A small but very well armed mobile land force has attacked Hyrete.  To what end, we do not know.  Many people were crushed under the falling stones.  I feel terribly constrained that neither you nor I can go over and help in the rescue.  Only three of ours can be involved since they are…” Another loud bombardment, the certain explosion of small concussion missiles hit the old walls and more crumbling can be heard.  We hold each other and wait it out.  I can now begin to ‘feel’ the additional pain added to this place’s burden of suffering.  It comes at first as a constricting of the heart, then a throbbing in the head.  Yoba Four cuts the stim cube she must have retrieved from Cedric and gives me a half, storing the other for some other time.  I take it without hesitation and regain some of my composure.

She continues, “Only three of us are cleared as legitimate staff in this place.  The rest, we are nine in all now, must exist in hiding.  What we could do with our medical expertise and healing powers now.” 

We hear footsteps coming towards the doctor’s office.  Yoba Four disappears instantly inside some secret passage and I stand by the door, head bowed.

A guard in a brown uniform stands in the door as it slides open to admit the human.  He looks around.  “You gora, where is doctor?”

Without lifting my head I say, “He not here.  I wait, nothing.  He gone, not tell.  Please take to compound now, I frightened here.”

I hear another guard in the yard.  “The ignorant gora won’t be any help, I told you.  Let it go back to its compound and see if we can find more defenders.  Told you last week we should have patrols at the old perimeter.  Shit.  You, gora, follow guard.” 

I meekly and quietly step behind the two men who take me to the compound.  Once there, I am handed to a trainer who happens to be Hudu.  He takes me in hand and asks if I need to eat.  I nod ‘no’ and he locks me in my cage where I’m confronted with a surprise.  Both Tieka and Zel are there.  We quickly huddle together more from joy than need for comfort.  I may certainly enjoy my moments with Cedric, Cydroids and Balomo for the challenge to my intellect but this is my family.  I belong in this cage with these women. 

Now we can talk, since by signal and touch I’m assured that all those around us listening want to be included in our plans and want to help in any way possible.  As simply and briefly as possible I relate some of what the Cydroid told me about the planned escape.  I can sense the excitement among the listeners, especially with Zel and Tieka.  A dangerous point where hope can rise too fast and blow the top off its human containers.  I strive to bring down their enthusiasm to a safer level by listing the many real dangers those who choose to escape will certainly encounter before they reach any safe zone, and even then they will not be entirely safe. 

I force them to consider this, emphasizing that only by a miracle would all of them reach their destination alive.  I speak of the carriers which, if found, may be overloaded and crash, or succumb to the action of sand and wind in the desert storms.  I speak to them of the many hundreds of kilometres to cross with no access to cover or water.  Of roaming tribes of black people who hunt down trespassers in their territories and ritually kill them to eat.  Of giant snakes in the badlands beyond the borders of the desert.  But the gravest danger remains the possibility of discovery by computer sensors and being chased by Hyrete police, Elbre military forces or worse, hunted down by bounty hunters.  A shiver passes through me as I remember, so vividly, my first encounter with these hunters of human beings.  The group gathered around me feels my pain and remains silent.

End blog post #101

Antierra Manifesto – blog post #68

I know you are all busy, and many may not have noticed even, but for those who have been waiting for more of the Manifesto, finally and finally… with one computer back on line, here’s the next instalment. Enjoy!

As I explain to them the rudiments of worship and its real purpose which at its core is always self-empowerment, I ask myself how much of what I teach I believe.  But then, if you already know something to be true and real, you don’t have to believe in it.   You never have to fear that you could be wrong about such a teaching.  I have the experience of it and experience is the greatest of all teachers.

End blog post #67
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Begin blog post #68

I know in my heart there are high-level entities who care about such as these oppressed people and will help them when they die if the connections have been made.  I’ve been there too, a helpless mendicant, lost and afraid.  I was taken care of then and that changed me forever.

I know we can “fly” without a body, go wherever our state of mind allows, I’ve done it.  I remember Altaria now without even trancing.  I remember how I manifested here in my pre-chosen form.  It’s in the remembering that one can choose the direction of one’s empowerment.

As for the prayer, well I know it is a communal exercise that brings the powerless together and in it they find a power they otherwise cannot have.  So it is good.  I am not lying and I am not making false promises or giving them false hope.  There is an immediate mutual benefit in this sharing of belief: they will be drawn closer to one-another and not see themselves so much as competitors.

The lesson is over for today and I motion to them to change places and resume exercising and practising the moves.  There is a new spring in their step which I immediately notice.  Is it the work of the Teaching?  Well, hope does powerful things, especially to people who have absolutely nothing and face death every day of their short lives; people who know with certainty they will die young and in violence.  People who know they will lose their friends and lovers to that self-same violence and, at least until now, know they are powerless to prevent it.

I move fast, push them hard to test them and release the tension I’ve created with such bold ideas.  They seem to enjoy the challenge and respond in kind.  I do not wish to hurt any of them and I parry their thrusts with blurring motions that remind me of Deirdre’s performance.  At the thought of her I feel a sudden pang of the heart.  I hold it and explore it.

‘Yes Deirdre, I remember you and I still love the memory of you.  But I know now that if you came back here I would not “fall in love” with you, nor would I take our relationship back to where it was.  I would set you free and you would have to set me free.  I think that you know this by now, wherever you are.  I thank you for the joy you gave me, but mostly for what you taught me.  I grew up with you in my life.  I became a better person because I’ve known you.  May you have the same effect on everyone you meet and may you know the bliss you were made to live in.  I release you – I release us from our bond of love.  Be forever free.’

As the training session ends for the day, the weather changes.  Dark clouds roll in and we hear distant thunder.  The air is charged with electricity, thick with ozone.  There is a flash and a discharge, followed by a deafening crash of thunder.  Lightning strikes one of the tallest eastern towers and a stone is dislodged, tumbling down the wall and through a roof.  We hear the distant yells of men.

The women look up and exchange startled glances.  I know what they are thinking, hoping.  They imagine it’s the work of their goddess beginning the destruction of the keep to set them free.  If they were allowed to cheer, what a din there would be!  I feel vindicated, somehow.  That was a timely portent.  A coincidence?  If I have learned anything from my endless wanderings it’s that there are no coincidences.  “Who” was behind that lightning bolt?

Let us just say it is the power of ‘the Teaching.’

We go to the water troughs, wash using the coarse home-made soap that feels more like the surface of a sharpening stone than a bar of soar, to scour the dust, sand and grime from ourselves.  I use the soapy water to wash my hair, now in need of cutting again.  It is matted and stiff.  As usual, we sit at the long, dark tables and wait for our evening meal.  Young trainees bring the food bowls and we eat hungrily.

Tiki brushes my back with a free hand as she walks by, still sulking from thinking of herself as condemned to gorok work.  I smile, but not so she can see.  The rain begins to pelt down but warm now in this world’s summer season.  I want to stand in it and dance just as total darkness falls in the courtyard.  That would be a sight indeed.  The oldest crone in the compound dancing wildly in the rain.  I know I could get away with it just this one time, but I cannot take the chance another woman would be punished for my actions.  They do have a sense of justice here, however twisted!  Somebody always has to pay or make up the difference.

End blog post #68
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I Am Shallaya

(I must have done something “wrong” when I posted this poem yesterday as my comment section disappeared.  Therefore and all the rest, I’m re-posting it without the links to  “the Cafe Philos poetry prompt” to see if the comment section shows up again.)

               I Am Shallaya

[remembrances of a      ~burning woman~ ]
                as told by Sha’Tara

Spring steel: that was the Word.
I arched my back to feel it.
‘Yes,’ I whispered to the damp stone walls
Encompassing me, imprisoning me,
Spring steel:
That’s what I must be, it’s what I am.

Let them come for me now, I am ready.

They came then, as I knew they would.
They came, two by two at first,
To lie dead and bleeding on the stone.
It wasn’t what they had expected
As they leered at my naked body.

I stood waiting for the denouement:
There was a commotion in the hall
The clank of halberds and swords,
The yell of commands, curses, questions,

Confused calls echoed in the dungeons:
I discovered something else, a new power
The Spirit had left with me: dark sight.
With my mind I extinguished their torches.

They were sightless in the hallway;
Smelled the blood of their fallen comrades
Never thinking I could have done such.
I smelled their fear then, that of retribution
From their superstitions, the dreaded unknown.

I spoke for the first time since captured:
Five days it was I had been stripped, mocked,
And thrown in the dungeon for future sport.
Five days and I found my voice again,
But not the one I’d used to plead with!

‘You will all die,’ I said, growling
As the power beast rose in my throat,
As the spring steel twanged in my back
As I came out slowly, tearing out the steel door
As if made but of straw wattles.

I could see them, they not me!
Pathetic, I thought, as I touched one:
He peed himself, dropped his weapon,
Begged for mercy, as each one did,
Gurgled, as I ripped his throat out,
A fitting end for such cowards.

I found a young one about my size:
Took his clothes, tunic, armour,
Walked out openly, thought a guard
Until challenged at the main gate.

I recognized some of the gate watch:
They had leered and laughed as I was paraded
Naked for their benefit.

‘I am Shallaya the witch,’ I said
Matter of fact and simply intoned
With a normal woman’s voice.

Their eyes grew big, they made their move
And I mine: five men became five bodies.

I turned and cursed their battlements then,
And watched as they collapsed.
I cursed their gate and walked on through.
I cursed their drawbridge. It collapsed
Like a rotten log into the stagnant moat
And what a stench arose from that!

I walked away not even looking back
As the people fled screaming
As mice from a burning barn.

“You did that well” said the Grimmer
As he floated beside me, grinning stupidly.

‘I passed my test, then?’ I asked of him.

“I’m not supposed to tell, but of course
Yes, you passed your test. You are Power.
You are Witch. They await you
To give you your power staff.”

‘Thank you, Grimmer, for the gift.’
And I pointed back to the dying castle.
He laughed and disappeared.

With such power, how did we lose?
How did we not see the Patriarchy coming?
Though nobody now, I remain Witch.
I am Shallaya, and I still ask the Question

And it will never, ever, be over.
That I have sworn upon my staff
The day they burned it, and my body.

Antierra Manifesto – blog post #19

[begin blog post #19]

The doctor is not seeing me anymore and when I receive a particularly large wound, she pinches it closed with her long skinny fingers or her mouth in turn, doing so for hours at a time, refusing to let me stir.  I’m sure she saves my life on a couple of occasions by stemming flowing blood from cut arteries.  She always has her braided straw ropes which she makes during the night and hides in the straw bedding, ready to use as tourniquets. 

She is a totally amazing creature, yet seemingly unaware of her special skills, talents and gifts.  She is human, I know, yet she is more, something intangible that motivates her, pushing her to be what she is.   

It is during those long, quiet times when I’m recovering and she sits by me that I tell her stories and build alternate and future lives in her mind.  I speak to her of other worlds where people are not like they are on T’Sing Tarleyn.  I try to explain space travel that allows one to jump instantly between worlds so far apart that it would take several lifetimes of one person to reach, even if he were travelling as fast as a beam of light.  I relate some aspects of my remembered past lives in order to broaden the field of her understanding for I have learned by attempts to interact with most of the people here that beyond their immediate concern for this life, awareness drops into a void.  For them there is nothing beyond death. 

She puzzles deeply over the confusing quality of the lives of the people of Túat Har, of the simplicity of life in the silence of Parnako where the people there communicate exclusively by telepathy; and the fullness of the joy experienced by those who spend time on my “home world” of Altaria.  She asks many questions for which there are no answers, simply because in the living of the questions, she, and only she, can find the answers.  Just as I have to find mine.  I also attempt to explain that aspect of life to her.

How incredibly receptive – and consequently dangerous to herself – she is!  She wants to believe everything I tell her and this frightens me so for I am helpless to protect her from the unknowns her new-found knowledge may bring upon her.  Yet there is no fear at all in her, although she has exposed so much of it in me! 

I fear her utter, totally unconditional love for me, following the dreadful emptiness of her previous life may have made her a bit mad.  And again, I’m probably as wrong as can be in that respect.  The quality of her is such that whenever I think I’ve got her pegged to a certain understanding, or pattern of thought, she moves beyond it, out of my mind’s grasp.

For a while as I got to know her I thought it was simple innocence that made her at the same time utterly one with me and inscrutably fluid to escape any template I made of her mind.  But there are no innocents on Malefactus.  These children raised in crèches know all that is to befall them when they are taken from their questionable childhood safety and sold “into the trade” as slaves.  They are told everything, often even elaborated upon deliberately to frighten them. 

Sometimes in the telling, their bleak future is made even worse than what I’ve described so far.  The viciousness and malice of this society possesses few bounds.  The weak, in whatever form found, have but one purpose: to be exploited and oppressed to the utmost; the very marrow of their lives sucked from them.  So far I have found no redeemable moral values here.  Everything is set up to be cut and dry.  Those who have power will do whatever it takes to keep it, or augment it.  Those who have none, even the little they may think they have will be ripped from their minds, their hearts, their bodies by the most shameless, heartless and cruel ways that can be devised by minds sold into the concept of evil.  Along with her strange nature my young friend shows many signs of having been thus mentally and physically abused.  There is a dark, despairing side to her I can feel in her unguarded moments. 

So I love her all the more.  Weeks somehow stretch into months, months become the dreadful year taking her closer to the arena. 

Basically there seem to be little discernable change of seasons in this part of T’Sing Tarleyn.  Yearly temperatures vary little, except by changes in the weather.  Because it is a dry and sandy world it loses much of its heat during the night and the mornings are always cold.  The days are hot and dry, evenings cool, if the sky is cloudless. 

If it is the rainy season, the mornings are not as cold – but the wet and humidity on our bare skins makes it more miserable to bear while we eat (always in the open, regardless of the weather), train or repair our weapons and armour.  The only times we are permitted indoors apart from our sleeping and holding cages is when we are being used for sex and occasionally when we are being treated for serious but not life-threatening injuries from the fights.  If the injury is life-threatening is it cheaper for our owners to buy a replacement fighter and let us die than attempt “repairs.”  More often than not a badly injured fighter, even if she has killed her opponent, is killed by her handlers in the arena, thus giving the crowd a moment of temporary satisfaction. 

During this strange and very emotional time I watch her grow.  She has a full growth of pubic hair now and her breasts are filling out.  I notice the men looking her over more and more.  I try to warn her about what they are about to do to her.  She smiles at me as if I’d lost my mind.  “I know that!” she whispers.  “Are you jealous?” 

“No sweet one, I’m not jealous – yes, I am jealous, damn you!”  She smiles mischievously, “Mostly I’m scared for you that you may do something unacceptable and be punished.  I want you to be everything they want you to be, to fit in, no matter what they say or do.  Whatever you and I are together, we are not when separated.  Keep those lives separate and never forget you are a fighter slave and not my child-lover.”

“Am I really your child-lover?”  Her tone is reproachful and I’m stung to the quick by it.  “You’ve never made love to me.  I watch the others and I’ve been waiting.  Is there something wrong with me?  Don’t you love me?”

Oh the pain those words carry!  Oh please, I don’t want to hear that!  Again I realize I’ve thoroughly messed up with another when I was so convinced I was being kind and understanding.  Is there no way to “do the right thing” on this stupid world?  Or am I such a fool?

“Sweet, I love you more than I can tell or show.  I just thought you should be the one to, you know, make the first move.  You give me so much all the time, I was afraid to take something from you, you may not have been ready or willing to share with me.”

She leans over to me, puts her head on my shoulder and whispers, “You crazy old woman!  If you love me and you’re the oldest, you take me.  That’s how it’s done.  I cannot do it first – that would be wrong and punishable.  When I was put in your cage, I became your bond slave for as long as either one of us lives or you reject me for another.  But you would have known that, wouldn’t you?”

Old woman she calls me.  Old?  I’m maybe seven years older than when I arrived here!  Thirty two classic (Old Earth) years?  Or is this world so twisted that even time moves in some terribly debilitating way, aging some and not others?  No, it’s not time, it’s the way we are treated.  We are all old women the moment we enter the arena.  When youth is forced to kill to defend or avenge; when it is forced to die, it is no longer youth.  It becomes a ghost that wears an aging death mask.

Professional gladiators are at the prime of their lives on their first fight, usually at around sixteen years of age.  From then on, they age quickly, if they live to age at all.  I’m well past my prime now…  Even the trainers are no longer that interested in taking me for sex in their barracks.  Younger ones have taken my place. 

“Make love to me!” she says, “before the men take me.  I want you first.  Here.”  She digs into the straw and pulls up an implement that could pass, in shape and size, for an erect penis.  “Break my skin, please.  I don’t want them to have it.  It’s what we do where I come from but they took me before it was done.  So I have been waiting for my lover; for you to do it.”

What can I say?  I’m beyond amazed at her candour and offer of herself to me.  then I have an idea.  “Sweet, if I be the one to break your skin, I want to take your blood, mix it with mine – I’ll open that fresh wound on my left arm here,” (she knows exactly which one it is and winces) “and I will mix our blood in my hands and baptize you as I promised I would.”

Her large eyes light up with a glow.  “Yes, do it!”

And so we mix our blood together and with the few drops that I can keep in my hand, I sprinkle her forehead as she holds her head reverently backward as I had instructed her to do – a ritual so she could have something to remember later.  I smear the rest of the blood in her hair and hold on to her tightly.  We both cry.

[end blog post #19]

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff – Part I, The Calling: Chapter 19

 

Finally, I think I’m caught up on the blogging scene. I’ve read how to write better; how to improve my health; what to do in case of Armageddon; how to win a cricket match; that Russia isn’t to blame for anything; that we’re in deeper s**t than I even thought possible; how to make free electricity; how to awaken; that Sandy Hook mass shooting never happened (again) and that I’ve got to give peace a chance. That said, let’s get on with this story before it becomes “The Perils of Pauline” and Phil manifests himself on the blog waving a massive eraser and I lose all my subordinate clauses and loose conjunctions…


Chapter 19: Meeting the priest; all is set for the wedding

To Lo and Nal, it wasn’t much of a ‘town’ but to the others it was impressive as towns go. Not only the large church that sat imposingly in the centre of the main town but the shops, so many shops, and people everywhere. There were people on horseback and horse-drawn carts clattered on cobble-stone sections of the main street hauling various merchandise. At an open air butcher shop women were haggling with a portly butcher over the cut meat and the hanging geese and chicken. After each left with a purchase, she was replaced by another just as eager to haggle over the prices.

Children ran wildly through the filthy streets, yelled at by the adults whom they splattered when their bare feet slapped into puddles of stagnant, stinking water.

As Ian and his group walked deeper into the town, most people stopped doing whatever they were doing and stared. The men were particularly attracted to the three young women, the two tall imposing light-haired ones and the short, small dark one. But the main question on their faces was, who are these armed people and what do they want here?

Then some recognized MacGruder and greetings were exchanged. Women came forth to greet lady Jen MacGruder and their daughter whom they had not recognized so grown up she was. They were introduced to Lo whom they openly admired, and the two other young women, Genti and Deanna. Ian ventured the news that they intended to have a wedding here in Glowmere between the two travellers who were trading friends of the MacGruders, from the south. He announced that Nal and Lo, whom he singled out, were to be united in holy matrimony at the kirk if the priest was in agreement.

The news was greeted with a loud cheer that spread up and down the main street and brought the curious street urchins forth. Soon items went missing here and there from the shops and stalls as the cries of “Thief, stop him!” or “That miserable scoundrel, stop her!” followed by some useless chase that only left a shop or stall open to more pilfering.

“An where does one find the priest?” Ian asked politely and diplomatically for he realized such a location would be in proximity to the church. An urchin offered to lead them to the priest, for a price. Contrary to his usual parsimonious nature, Ian good-naturally accepted and paid the rascal. They intercepted the priest as he was stepping out of the kirk and getting ready to bar, bolt and lock the door.

“Wouldn’t want yer God er his saints t’ run off come night eh Father? Keep ‘em locked up, that’s the sure way.” said Ian with a large smile.

The priest, a tall, stringy sort of creature in a fading black cassock failed to acknowledge the joke. He eyed MacGruder with a frown and asked, “An what do ye be wantin’ fro’ me, mon?”

“Well Father, ‘tis not what I want, ‘tis what these young un’s here be needin’ – an’ that’d be a proper weddin’ t’would be, if ye be amenable to it?”

The priest cast a haughty look over the group trying to figure out which of them were to be the victims. Unable to decide, he turned to MacGruder and said, “They be proper Church people then? Baptized and knowing their catechism?”

“Aye of that I’m sure Father. Might not hurt ‘em just the same to have a confession afore the ceremony?”

“That is mandatory mon, and may I know whom I be addressin’ and whom the intended’s be?”

“I be Ian MacGruder, perhaps ye’ve heard of us from up t’ cottage? An’ here are the two ‘intendeds’ as ye put it: Lo ‘n Nal. Don’t know if there be any family names attached to ‘em, I reckon not.”

“Well, I’ll need such particulars for the book ye understand. We keep decent records here, not like the old pagan days thankfully gone from here, praise God.”

“We’ll get ye the names Father.” MacGruder’s voice had grown somewhat harsher and definitely colder as he prepared to haggle prices with the priest.

Having heard their names mentioned, Nal and Lo came forward and introduced themselves to the priest. Again he gave his haughty look, equally met and brought down forcefully by both Nal and Lo who would not tolerate such from a pawn of the Church. For a moment the priest sensed something that scared him and was of a mind to refuse the ceremony, then thought of the money and held his tongue. On top of the incentive of good gold, there were those deadly looking swords, bows and staffs to reckon with. It might not do to upset these and seemed more prudent to let the moment have its way.

‘I can deal with any sorcery and paganism afterwards and I certainly will.’

All three, Nal, Deanna and Lo, had been mind-focusing on the priest and heard his thoughts. Here was another dangerous enemy, certainly for Genti and the MacGruders. This priest would have to be dealt with after they settled with the Betrayers and before they carried on to further adventures, such certain to come about as a result of Nal’s vows and Deanna’s need to return to Torglynn.

As there was overt thoughts of violence and murder in the priest’s heart, Lo felt no qualm about disposing of the creature come the right time. This work might well fall to wolf and his mate he reckoned. Both Nal and Deanna agreed though Nal who had some personal scores to settle with the Church insisted she’d be involved in the priest’s demise. They left it at the stage where the priest would be killed but not who would have the honours.

Meanwhile, they agreed to let the hypocrisy of the moment reign supreme.

“Any o’ these others gettin’ married also, Ian?” Asked the priest, trying hard to sound innocent, caring, and friendly but inwardly licking his greedy lips thinking of the gold a double or triple wedding would bring, winter being financially remarkable only from the increase in burials.

“Hasn’t been mentioned Father. Must be waitin’ for spring, t’other ones eh? So then to business, time and cost? Ye’d be needin’ gold yea?”

“Gold, yea. Six ounces, weighed on the scale at the kirk. As to time, does next Saturday suit ye, Ian?”

Ian called his group together and after consulting with Jen asked them, “Does next Saturday suit ye all for the weddin’ t’ take place or ye havin’ second thoughts now? Last chance ‘fore I put down the money.”

Nal and Lo smiled broadly at one another then burst out laughing while a spark of hope flashed through young Giles’ heart only to be extinguished in the same moment when Nal said, “Saturday is perfect for us ‘n the sooner t’ better to get it done. Can’t wait! An’ Father if ye be wantin’ our clan names, I be a McBanish, n’ m’intended here, he be a MacDunit.”

“Interestin’ names. Can’t say I ever heard o’ those clans, interestin’ indeed. Saturday then, ten o’ the mornin’?”

“Aye that’ll suit us fine, that will, Father,” quickly answered Ian.

They left the skeletal priest standing there like a patiently expectant vulture on his favourite dead tree perch and Ian declared they all deserved a drink at the Wild Horse Inn, a good, friendly place, he added.

Once out of the priest’s hearing they all burst out laughing until the tears were running down their faces. Ian had to lean on a hitching post to keep himself upright.

Only Deanna failed to join, finally asking what the sudden hilarity was all about.

“Dinae hear girl? McBanish, MacDunit? Who ever heard o’ such nonsense? That was good that, truly magnificent, gal, and he slapped Nal on the back, making her jump.

Ian didn’t give his charges too much time to develop introspective moroseness that would demand another round and declared it was getting late and they had a fair walk ahead of ‘em yet.

As they were crossing the small drawbridge, Lo stayed behind to speak to the guard detail. He gave them each enough coin for a couple of rounds at the inn and was rewarded with some slaps on the back and cheers. Then in a vibrant voice he wished them a wonderful end of the day and a safe, healthy, prosperous and long life. They received his words as if they had been gifts, realizing that there was more than words in the blessing. They waved sheepishly then, thinking this was no ordinary man. They all sensed that their entire lives ahead of them had been magically blessed and the words would prove true.

Entering his speed lope he soon caught up to the group and immediately noticed that Deanna was gone and Nal was carrying her clothes.

“So she’s gone back to her wolf then? How did she manage to take off her clothes without upsetting the group?”

“We slipped into the ‘by woods to do that. She’ll inner nudge me when she needs ‘em again.”

“Let me strap those to my pack then, Nal, so you keep your hands free. It may seem silly here but remember that ultimately we are always alone, working singly, and must always think thus. Never rely on anyone else to take the point, or protect. Let them if they want to but don’t ask it nor expect it and I repeat, never rely on it.

“Keep your hands, arms and legs free at all times and your weapons handy.”

“Truly sorry, I temporarily forgot. Too much on m’mind an’ don’t push me, MacDunit.”

“Indeed I’ll endeavour not to, Miss McBanish.”

They laughed, hugged fiercely and kissed again.

Don’t look at me like that and I heard that snort. Look, I’m just writing it the way I see it. And remember, they’ve been apart for thousands of years, how do you think you would act if you suddenly found yourself back in the arms and love of a lover you knew was dead and you hadn’t seen for, say, twenty thousand years? Would you say,

“What? You again?” or

“I really wasn’t expecting you back this soon.” or

“I hadn’t planned on this; I have a life now.” or

“Things getting too boring for you, decided to come back?”

Right, I didn’t think so. More likely there would be sparks, maybe a flame, and hugging and kissing would just be the breeze that sets everything on fire. So put up with the hugging and kissing and let me go on with the story, which by the way is turning out pretty good, in my opinion, if I’m allowed to have one.