Tag Archives: Fiction

The Antierra Manifesto – Blog post #10

[begin blog post #10]

Chapter 6 – Life in the Cages

“We cannot conquer fate and necessity, yet we can yield to them in such a  manner as to be greater than if we could.” (Walter S. Landor) 

I feel the most terrible ache in my heart.  I remember a time in a past life when I was taken from my home, accused of witchcraft.  My twelve year old son was taken from me and I was kept in a dungeon and I knew I’d never see him again.  I would never leave that place until, after an endless series of indignities were performed upon me, I was formally condemned for practising witchcraft by using herbs considered to have Satanic properties and I was hanged, my executors claiming compassion in my case by deciding not to burn me alive as was the current practice.  They said my healing arts had been of value to the village before I began consorting with demons and performing the black arts.  Men have never been short of excuses for “punishing” women, even in so-called modern, civilized societies.  But the greatest pain they cause women is not physical, it’s psychological.  The continual put-down of her knowledge, natural skills and abilities; of her intuition and innate compassion. 

That sort of pain is what I’m speaking of: emptiness of heart and an atavistic fear rolled together like some choking fog that will never lift until perhaps after you are dead.  And even then… who really knows?  Now imagine my temporary despair, that I, Antierra, who promised a better life to Tiegli, would lower herself to doubt her own knowing?  Who better than I can know of the future of a certainty?  But shock does strange and terrible things to one’s thought pattern.  I feel as if my mind is unravelling as it feeds from the poisoned mind sewers of Malefactus.

Tiegli is gone and I haven’t seen the doctor in many days.  My arm still does not feel right but the tingling of the wound tells me it is healing.  There will be an ugly white welt there, but that seems a small thing now.  I wonder how I can get near the other women who all seem to be avoiding me.  Something about me frightens them.  It could be any number of things.  The superstition about my status as the reincarnation of their Desert Beast and my ‘natural’ skill with their basic weapons.  My size.  The colour of my eyes.  But mostly, I think, the way I talk.  Can I ever learn to speak in their pidgin?  Would that make a difference?

This morning I wake up to a low cry followed by a steady wailing in a cage close to mine.  In the early light I see a young girl sitting up holding the body of another and rocking it.  Soon all the women are keening along and to my surprise I am too.  The heavy blanket of death touches us all.  The one they called “The Brute” – the dark-skinned woman Tiegli pointed out to me who’d been captured in the deep south beyond the desert has killed herself in the night and her cage-mate has awakened to her cold body against her.  The dead woman had managed to find, hide and bring a sharp piece of broken flagstone into her cage.  She inserted it in her own jugular and bled to death.

The wailing brings several handlers, trainers and a dozen guards armed with lasguns.  A shrill whistle silences the women and the first row of twenty cages are opened and we are led outside to stand in the cold dawn.  The Brute’s mate and another nearby are made to carry the body outside to a door in the far wall.  A carrier awaits and the body is dumped in the open back.  It leaves and the door is locked.

Perhaps I should describe these strange conveyances they call carriages (if equipped to carry people or carriers if for handling supplies.  Basically they could be compared to cars or pickup trucks of Old Earth except they use a directional anti-grav force field instead of wheels, are totally silent and are usually, not always, operated by remote control or pre-programmed to run a set course.  I cannot get near enough to one to study it and tell but I sense they are, again using Old Earth observations, of a very light alloy material that appears to be metallic.  They do not carry as much of a load as did the old polluters of Earth.  They also appear to be quite slow, at least the ones I’ve seen.  Maybe there are great roads somewhere and they move faster, or maybe they have some that can rise much higher above the landscape and run “as the crow flies.” 

So much I do not know, and so much I thought would be of no consequence to me may turn out to contain crucial knowledge in the future.  Expect the unexpected!  I must approach the other women, or perhaps if I see him again, seduce the doctor to talk to me and tell me of things beyond the obvious here.  A tall order that can get me killed and nothing gained, maybe, but I need to know more.  Despite the fear of the moment, my mind reels with thoughts around Malefactus’ strange mix of technology.  They seem to be a very primitive people, social mores and practices resembling those of medieval Old Earth. 

Yet their “castles” are equipped with auto-lifts and automatic doors, and draw-bridges weighing tens of tons operate on hydraulic energy run by computerized remotes.  They have laser weapons and sophisticated fabrics.  Also they seem to have endless time and energy to engage their depraved ways, apparently having no need to concern themselves with provision of food stuffs or materials for armour or weaponry, even though, technically they are a world constantly at war with the enemy, the Estáani.  I know that much of the labour is provided by a great river of slaves, not all of them women as my research had so emphatically indicated.  Many males slave as beasts of burden and castrated ones (eunuchs) look after young males and females in crèches and sorting wards.  Where do these male slaves come from?  How do they become slaves?

A light but painful flick of a whip on my buttocks shocks me out of my reverie.  We are told to return to our cages and clean them out.  We grab wooden pitchforks stacked in a barrel against the wall by our entrance and begin the task of raking and piling the old straw bedding which we roll into sheaves and carry to a rock pit where it is burned.  A fresh pile of straw is brought in, also by carrier, and we make fresh bedding in our cages.  After we wash and eat we are returned to our cages, locked in and the next row goes through the same procedure.  No one makes a sound and I have a deep sense of foreboding while this apparently normal effort proceeds.

After these chores are complete we are once more taken out, all of us together, and made to stand in a large circle around the steel post I’d spent a night chained to.  The young trainee who had wailed at the discovery of her friend’s death is dragged out from the group and chained to the post, her hands raised above her head and the wrist chain affixed to a hook.  She appears beyond petrified, wild eyed and mouth agape, beyond the power even to scream.  Two trainers throw ice cold water on her and two handlers proceed to flog her.  She is allowed the freedom of her legs, probably to make the flogging more interesting for the men. 

As she brings her legs up for instinctive protection the long whips wrap around them and as the handlers pull their whips free, her body slams against the post over and over, leaving their bloody marks on the thin white-skinned legs.  Now she screams and her cries are non-stop and beyond heart-rending.  Her blood splatters everywhere.  The terrible whips tear into her skin and rip it into shreds and finally she stops screaming, then stops moaning.  Only then do they quit.  When they see she no longer moves they leave her hanging there, her body shredded beyond recognition, her blood still dripping down onto the paving stones. 

Some dark energy beast inside me wants to pounce on these men and tear them apart as if I had fangs and claws.  I throw up and immediately two trainers come over to me and look me over.  Something stops them from administering the same treatment to me – what?  What protects me at that moment when they know my feelings towards them?  All I see beyond the totally irrational hate is an even deeper fear.  What kind of Power drives these men?

[end blog post #10]

The Antierra Manifesto, Blog post #9

(Tiegli’s story, part 2)

[begin blog post #9]

“And the honour?” I refrain from asking about the evil juice – no time.  I find out later however that the “evil juice” is a concoction made from dried and powdered chakr (pronounced shoak) root – an indigenous herb that grows profusely at the edge of the desert, readily available and cheap – that is mixed with the blood of one’s kill after a killing orgy.  The drink is usually shared with several males.  It is a bonding which, they believe, makes them invulnerable and immortal, despite all evidence to the contrary, I might add.   

Tiegli continues with her story:

“Returning from fight or hunt alive, telling of dangers and wounds received, and saying “I do this again!”  Showing off skins,  part of animals and people too; dead bodies; captive slaves and scars on body – all good for male pride.”

“Is any woman ever recognized for her endurance or courage or the money she brings her owners?”

“That be outrage.  If man ever praise woman for deed he be disgrace and treat like female.  If not rich to buy out, he castrate and flog like woman in arena.  Or he given for special fun to bad, vicious fighters in compound for trainer fun and kill.  How you not know? Everybody know this.”

She tucks her body against mine and I feel her desire for sexual comforts which I give her freely.  She will die having known a moment of gentleness and companionship and will know that she is more than an animal.  I wish I could kill her as she rests against me but that is not what she would want.  She needs to return to her arena and maybe discover the additional courage to yell when she makes her kill.  Maybe she will scream that she is just as human as the men who came to watch her die, or to kill her.  Maybe she will upset a tiny bit of the status quo, enough for me to find the match I need to light the fire I came here to light.  Yes, what this place needs is a cleansing fire; nothing less will do.

I say, more to her mind than ear: “Tomorrow you must scream at them that you are human.  You must yell your own taunts over your kill.  Strike hard and die with courage and make them see your pride.  I am not really Spirit of the Desert Beast.  Just let those superstitious males believe that for now.  I am, indeed, from the stars, that I remember now.  I am here to share your pain for it is known from far away.  I am here to find out everything there is to know about this world.  This means I will die just like you, probably soon.  I will return to my world and find ways to help your people.  And I will return again as a fighter.  I will speak to the women and give them new ideas – dangerous, illegal, bold ideas.  They will have to decide whether to listen to me and trust I’m speaking truth or remain in their condition.  Would you like to see me again when I return home?”

“Hah…”  She hesitates then whispers hoarsely, “You speak strange; like sex slaves train concubine.  Good speak, many words you have.  You say I allowed to decide for me?”

“Yes, you are allowed to decide.  Tomorrow they may kill your body but you will find out that you are still very much alive – more than you’ve ever been.  When your people come for you and if you want to see me again, ask them to direct you to a world called Altaria.  It’s a very difficult world to reach, hidden in folds of space from prying evil eyes like Albaral.  But you can find it if you remember some basic words from me.

“Tell them you are the friend of Antierra from T’Sing Tarleyn.  If they do not understand, tell them you are the friend of Al’Tara whom you met on Malefactus.  They will contact people from my world and will be able to send you there.  Using my name as code-word for access you will be allowed to enter.  There you can wait for me if you wish.  Or you can learn what you want to, then leave and go anywhere you want.  Anywhere.

“Remember to keep your name, Tiegli.  You will not look as you do now and no one will recognize you, not even me.  So I shall ask for you by name – and it will be a famous name for everyone will know who you are and where you are from; how you lived and how you died.  You will be loved there.  All my friends will be your friends and they will show you many wonders.  That is my gift to you, Tiegli.”

“Your words, sweet; touch like lover – I had one, I know ; she  killed maybe one, two year? I never have again.  Much losing pain.  Almost killed too, I so tired from losing pain that time.  I know you be as say.  I die bravely, oh yes sure.  I die most happy, tomorrow.  I go to your world and wait for you, yes?  But you come back here, I no promise come with you.  I not crazy woman like you.  Can I go from you, die, no promise I return and your people they still keep me, not kill me?”

“Yes.”  I manage to whisper with the lump in my throat and full, free tears flowing.  “There are no conditions bearing upon you when you live on my world except you learn new things and accept that you will be happy.  You can live there free, happy, as long as you wish.  Then you can go anywhere you wish, choice is always yours alone.  No one kills on my world.  No one dies.”

She nudges against me, her small face tucked between my breasts.  I feel the moisture of her tears.  “Your world is beautiful place, Antierra.”

“No more so than yours can be – and will be in time.  All worlds have, within themselves the power of choice to be ugly or beautiful.  It is the intelligent, sentient and self-aware life on those worlds that determines which choice they will make.  For you see, as women are slaves of men on your world, so is every world a slave of its ISSA life forms.”

“You have strange words; speak strange things.  Much power.  You be the Desert Beast giving passing dream of power to dying woman.  I content.  Sleep now.”

Too tired myself to ask any more questions, I let her sleep cradled between my thighs and breasts.  But I cannot sleep.  I feel her rhythmic breathing and the beating of her strong heart.  I try to imagine her in a different environment.  This wreck of a woman is no older than I, yet looks to be fifty.  I move my hands slowly and deliberately over her body.  I feel the many scars, some badly healed from lack of medical care.  She would not have been a favourite of the medical attendants this one, so she suffered the more.

I gently massage a swollen deformity on her back, probably from a blow of that stick weapon I described earlier.  Again, I feel the urge to just break her neck and save her from her final ordeal; it would be so easy, and seemingly so compassionate.  But see, I can let her live to die and allow her to have another kind of happiness: a flicker of hope that I am as true as she wishes to believe and she has a future where she can be human. 

I start that damning circular thinking again, trying to sort out my feelings, the old and the new.  If I give in to bouts of compassion, or to the weakness of love, will I fail in my purpose?  Or is it the other way around: if I do not allow any compassion to flow through me, and if I do not allow the pain of loving, either this friend I am about to lose or that enigmatic doctor whom I insist on believing knows more than he shared with me of love for a woman, will I become spiritually dead and lose myself in this maelstrom of mindless violence?  Surely then I will have failed.

Ah, Tiegli, old child woman, how beautiful you are.  I remember what possessions meant to me and so many others on Old Earth in what now seems like a never-never time.  Yet here you are, naked, bereft of family or friends, scarred, abused, battered, ignorant of most things taken for granted elsewhere, living in pain and your entire wealth lies but in your name.  Yet it is a wealth beyond any imagined by those who have made fortunes betting on your skills, your sweat, your blood and your life.  How did your leader baptize you?  In whom, or what?  Did they use their own blood?  Was it in the name of some goddess of long ago through whom they keep in touch for a tiny bit of humanity, of sanity? Was it in the name of their unborn and dead children and equally dead dreams?  Who will teach me about that goddess?  How will I find her?  How will I bring her back to empower your lives before everything is destroyed?  ‘All in good time’ I hear my mind intoning.  And my immediate reply is, ‘How will I find “good time” on this world, in this place?’

Finally I fall into a fitful sleep troubled by a dream in which a pack of hairy red demons chase white angels whom, upon being caught, vanish as mist.  The demons gather together on a high dune with their empty hands raised and howl like wolves at the false sun that shines only darkness upon the desert.  Blood drips from their mouths and their hate consumes them.   They fall upon the red sand, writhing as if flames were devouring them from the inside.  Vultures swoop down and proceed to tear at their still twitching bodies.  Then only the dunes remain but the real sun does not rise above them – there is no morning.  Eternal darkness reigns. 

When I awake I am alone in the cage.  Soon the gates open and guards and handlers watch as we file out to relieve ourselves, wash and eat.  Tiegli the Undaunted; “The Crone” no longer exists for us, though by muted sounds from the arena we know the fighting is still taking place – and will probably until late in the day or for as long as the complement of female victims they have allocated lasts.  And we will hear the screams of delight from the packed crowd when the last gladiator falls.  But I know that these women never think of a fallen gladiator as dead.  Only if you kill yourself are you considered dead.

No gladiator is ever dead as long as another takes her place in a line-up, and  on this world that seems to stretch to the end of time itself. 

[end blog post # 9]

Antierra Manifesto-Blog post #8 – Tiegli

[begin blog post #8]

Chapter 5 –  “Tiegli”

 “One must be poor to know the luxury of giving” (George Eliot)

He knows nothing of love, just fucking and that’s fine by me under the circumstances.  He responds to his lust stirred by my overwhelming desire for sexual release and finds his satisfaction.  When it’s over for him, it’s over and I’m left with an incredible ache of in-completion.  ‘Damn you!’ I think.  Hiding my shaking hands by pressing them hard into my stomach I wait as he slips his white robe on and directs me outside.  He calls to another man sitting perfectly still on a stone bench against the wall to my right.  He is wearing a white tunic uniform and apparently reading on a slate.  To me he appears as an extremely handsome man, taller than the doctor when he stands up from his reading to acknowledge the doctor with a quick wave of his hand, an unusual greeting or signal, the arm bent at the elbow, the forearm extended forward and the hand, facing down, moved stiffly and rapidly across the body and back.

They speak low, the uniformed one casting probing looks in my direction.  I am the intense subject of their discussion.  Leaving me standing there they walk across the yard and through a heavy stone door that opens and shuts automatically and silently.  I am left confused and utterly exhausted with my slashed arm throbbing horribly despite the doctor’s assurances that everything is fine; that it’s only a flesh wound.

With nothing better to do, knowing I can’t walk anywhere without some male escort, I focus on that new character, the white tunic.  What role does that one play, I wonder?  It surprises me that in such a black-white, cartoon-like world that so much still happens behind the scenes – so much that all the research I did on this world and my painstaking efforts to duplicate my future experiences here come to practically nothing in actuality.  You can study a thing until you go blind and still, until you experience it, you really know nothing about it.  I realize it’s fear that makes my mind wander thus but I cannot help it.  I have to “grow” into this place or it is going to rob me of my sanity.

Forget all that you know, or think you know.  Such is my life now: a blank followed by a question mark!  I wonder at the value of past life memories.  How can they help one when thrust into an alien power structure?  Yet, what else have I got here?  I was warned I would get no “off-world” help while I remained here.  I’m the only source of all my thoughts and all the decisions I make.  The right and wrong of it all, it belongs to me alone.  I can agree with what I do, or I can judge and condemn myself.  Still, I must live or die by my own choices. 

Ah, choices!  I remember my long-ago discussions with friends on the subject of free choice; how I insisted there is no such thing.  Indeed, if nothing else, Malefactus is proving that I was unfortunately correct on that point.

My handlers (guards or trainers, I still can’t quite sort them out) finally remember to come for me.  I am ordered to wash in a wash trough then I am served a meal, alone, by a kitchen slave girl.  I realize I am famished and the food tastes good to me.  After I eat I’m taken inside the cage area and shoved into one of the cages where a woman is sitting.  She is typically broad shouldered with a thick, short neck and her pale, almost white flesh is covered with scars.  She is bald; one eye almost shut and her left ear is missing entirely.  Her right breast has a deep scar from a cut through it and the nipple is missing.  She looks up at me and smiles a crooked, gap-toothed smile.  She reaches over and touches me with her right hand. She is missing two fingers there also.

Female gladiators do not have names, just physical descriptions and fighting titles.  She is “The Crone” being the oldest surviving female in the line-ups.  No point asking how long she has been here, the brands tell that story accurately enough.  Hers tell me when she was born (1303, bred fighter class 04)  The next line indicates she’s been in this compound since 1316 and according to my brand it’s now 1328.  That’s twelve years of surviving hundreds of encounters; of fights to the death. 

When they turn off the lights we lie down side by side, holding each other and although I desperately want to sleep she insists on telling me her story. 

“Why did they put me with you?”  I whisper to her.

“For me, a favour by guard, one night.  Accept?  I speak with you,” she whispers back, “tell something very important for us.” She grabs my wrist as if to impress her thoughts through my flesh, “You know we have no name?  Fighters have no names?  But I have name, real name!”  Proud she sounds even in her whispering.  She points at herself.  “Tiegli – and it has meaning too.  Undaunted.  No Man hears this name, but all fighters here have, and they have much envy my luck.  Some they fight with this name – very strong name.  Also mean fearless.  I live this name, many years. 

“Listen: there is big fight tomorrow and die with four women escape to desert and bring back – you know this.  Tomorrow is killing orgy.  No fighter live after this no matter how many of men we kill.  They just come more and more.  We weaken with losing blood and so tired we can not hold weapon or stand.  Then they kill.  Sometimes give rape if we still have enough life, much hurt they give before we die – revenge for men we kill – ritual.  Vengeance ritual.”

Her story is short.  At age of ten she has already been sent off from her crèche to be trained as a fighter and is being held for auction in a female child compound.  There is a raid that turns into a blood letting until the besieged make peace by offering their attackers the “contents” of their female compound.  Now both sides fall upon the hapless females.  Tiegli is taken by a couple of young brothers and hidden.  They hope to keep her alive long enough to sell her on the black market that flourishes in certain parts.  They stuff her in a pack bag and from a tear in the side she is able to observe everything that takes place as the young girls are raped and killed, some tortured viciously.  She sees her best friend gang raped then cut open across the stomach.  She throws up inside the bag and forces herself to pass out.

As a bag of grain stuffed in a pack, making no sound and no demands for food or water, surviving the heat in her vomit and excrement, she is bounced along for two days strapped to a harness carried by male slaves.  She is taken out during a violent storm in between suns twilight, staked out in the rain to wash where she is inspected, haggled over and sold to buyers from Hyrete – the fortified city we are in now.  Hyrete is a major center of commerce and entertainment in Elbre, but also distinguished by being the capital city of the kingdom of the royal house Tassard. 

So the people of Elbre are called the Tassardi.   The only other major “kingdom,” actually a so-called unified republic ruled by an oligarchy of merchant houses, is Estáan.  The people there are known as Estáani.  While complete enmity officially exists between these empires and dependencies, there is much slave trade between them.  As elsewhere, business knows how to take advantage of enemies as well as friends.  The bottom line remains the bottom line.  Trade is good.  War is even better.  First and foremost, profit.  Then whatever.

During her training in Hyrete there is an uprising while a multi-event killing orgy is taking place.  She is taken by the group of rebels and with male help and the use of two stolen “carriers” they flee into the desert.  The rebel leader baptizes her and gives her the name of Tiegli.  When they are captured, as inevitably happens, the ring-leaders are executed by torture and she is returned to the compound.  They cut off her ear and shave her head.  She would never be allowed to grow her hair again.  She is entered in her first fight much too young and almost killed.  Fortunately her opponent is a young foolish buck with little experience.  She barely manages to bring him down and the fight is terminated before she has to kill him.  After this, it’s just fight after fight, kill after kill.  From training/holding compound to the arena and back.

“Why do they do this?” I ask.  “Why do they fight you if they know they will get killed?” 

She chuckles in the dark and pinches me, “They say honour but mostly is money.” 

“Honour?”  I ask.  “How can there be honour in killing a woman, or being killed by one?”

Another chuckle, “You not know these things?  Some, we say you from the land, the rock of T’Sing Tarleyn.  Some, we say you Desert Beast rise from desert sand, come to help women.  Some, we say you from other world.  We know only this world.  Are people up there?”  She grabs my wrist tighter and lifts my hand upward so I understand what she means.  You tell, not lie to Tiegli, please.”

“No, not lie.  I will tell you but you must answer my question first.  About honour.”

“Everybody is enemy; someone is enemy of someone.  Women most dangerous enemies because men attracted to woman sex and lose fighting power.  So young boy must kill female as proof he free of female weakness.  Boy is given young girl – sometime older woman no good no more – to kill.  Rite of passage to be man.  Necessary or boy killed too.  They always must … hmmm… show power to hate and do by shouting and killing.  Also must kill enemy.   Boys go to great hunts in big desert” (I note she points to the south) “and where high mountains live.  After big desert and mountains there is green land of grass and short trees that make tent” (I cannot make her explain further – canopied tops of leaves that deflect water or sunlight?) “In that away far land they kill wild beasts or take wild black people for slaves if they find,” and she points to the only dark-skinned woman I’ve seen, a young woman whom they nickname “The Brute” sitting and rocking herself in a near-by cage.  “She harvested when very young.  They train, she good killer.  Dangerous.  Something wrong in head.”

She continues with her story and I try not to interrupt her. 

“Sometime, yes?  They make large group, many weapons (I gather she means armies) attack other group, city.  Much die in what called raids.  Sometime fight group join enemy group in wild celebration after battle.  Compounds full of females they raid to rape and kill and if “evil juice” is found men become like Warris (which she describes to be wild peoples of the south lands who practice cannibalism) and cook female bodies to eat. I, Tiegli, know.  Saw, smelled the flesh, even I get hungry from smell.  This I see when taken.” 

[end blog post #8]

 

A Very Long Walk

[a short story by Sha’Tara]

It was another cool, crisp and clear late Autumn afternoon, the kind Krista loved to go walking in. She followed the riding trail down to the edge of the Maskua river as it meandered through the low lying lands of this agricultural community. As she walked she noticed the oaks and maples had less leaves on them and the colours were reluctantly fading. Denuded tops allowed lopsided windows into a pale, clear, blue sky.

Many thoughts flowed through her mind. She knew she had it good as her home-based business only required a few hours a day to keep going and she enjoyed it. The two children, Toby, now thirteen, was in Middle school and Trina was finishing her high school. Both children were quiet as a rule and caused her little problems. Both were somewhat introverted and had few close friends, something she did not mind at all.

Her thoughts turned to her husband Dan on his last year of duty in Afghanistan. One short moment of trepidation, then she reasserted herself. He would be coming back, of that she was certain. She had vowed to herself never to dwell on the possibility that he could become a casualty of war. ‘Not in my reality’ she said often with total conviction. ‘Do you still love him?’ a small, nasty little inner voice taunted. ‘With all my heart and soul’ she replied truthfully. Krista, though still very attractive and not without admirers and opportunities, was the completely faithful partner. She would never stray.

She carefully skirted the muddy pools that remained in the trail all winter in the shadier spots and kept walking. She heard crows cawing but not using the excited voices when discovering a sleepy great horned owl or a red-tailed hawk. She heard ducks and geese on the river but could not sight the stream yet. There was much brush where she passed and one more little rise before she could see the meandering river reflecting the blue sky from shore to shore.

She saw a page from a note book crumpled and stuck in some blackberry brambles. She thought of reaching for it but decided against it. ‘Whatever is written on there, none of my business,’ she said to herself and kept walking. You could say she was observant but not overly curious.

She saw something else in another tangle, a grey and blue baseball cap. ‘That’s a team cap from Trina’s high school! Must have flown off a rider’s head or been brushed off by a low-lying branch and the owner chose not to come back for it. Oh well… her or his loss. Maybe they’ll come back for it later.’

She had topped the rise then and saw the river. She stopped to admire it – her favourite place in the entire walk. She had had many a good mother to daughter talk with Trina on this spot. The current was sluggish now and reflections of dark spruce and bare poplars cast mesmerizing shadows in the waters of the far bank. She moved her head slowly to the movements of the inverted tree dance trying to find a tune in her head to go with it.

Something unusual brought her to look closer to her side of the river. There was a piece of cloth floating down there, of blue and white coloration. It looked like it was caught on a branch. This time her curiosity was aroused and she worked her way to the edge of the water for a better look.

That’s when she realized she wasn’t looking at a piece of cloth but at the body of a drowned person. She saw long hair floating off from the submerged head and a white hand bobbing in and out from the surface. She gave a gasp, but instead of screaming as she wanted to do, she plunged into the stream and waded in the freezing water that came to her breasts by the time she reached the body of a young woman.

She tugged and pulled and finally untangled the body and dragged it to the shore, turning it over to look into its face…

“Oh God, Trina! What have you done? I told you he wasn’t worth it! You promised me it was over.”

Believe what you will but let me believe what I will

[pure off the cuff, spur of the moment fiction, by ~burning woman~ ]

“No, no!” I said. “Stop beating me up with it, I thought we had agreed we were not going to discuss this. I know what you believe and it doesn’t bother me, it’s your choice. By the same token, you know what I believe and it’s my choice.”

We were sitting at the table in the dining nook, me at the window facing west, he across from me. I had a glass of white wine, he his strong, dark beer. It was already late, of a Summer Sunday evening, and I just wanted to enjoy the darkening skies and the fading colour from the clouds hovering near the horizon.

This is how it started:

“I am going to watch for meteors,” I said. “Make a wish, you know?”

“That’s pure superstition,” he replied, looking up from his book and taking another sip of beer, “when are you going to give up that childish nonsense? It’s embarrassing.” He looked at me with his mouth turned down, making it obvious how displeased he was with me at that moment.

Only he wasn’t talking about my wishing upon a shooting star, he was talking about my belief in the spirit world and particularly in my insistence that I was fully aware of past and future lives.

We had agreed, before we decided to live together that our differences in those areas we would accept from each other and only broach the subject philosophically, in a “what if” sort of way. It wasn’t supposed to become another patriarchal relationship in which he, the man, decided the correct way we, meaning me, the woman, should believe, or think for that matter.

When it came to beliefs, as far as I was concerned, there never had been and never would be a “we” in the equation. I didn’t care what he believed or believed in. He was (still is!) handsome, kind in his own way, supportive most of the time, great in the sex department, an important aspect of the relationship to me, and I must admit that I loved him, well, sort of. Is it love when there is no passion in it, just an easy comfort?

But does that mean I have to give him my mind so he can fill it with his own ideas while excluding mine? Not on your life. I’m not made to take things that way; to be taken for granted, or thought of as the little trophy woman who bats her eyelashes and exclaims, ‘Oh, but you’re always so right, dear!’ No, he’s not right, not when his “right” needs to supersede, or cancel my “right” as it does when I express myself in what he calls a superstitious way.

This isn’t about who’s right, who’s not. This is about who is free, who is not. I didn’t sign up to have my ideas replaced by someone else’s. Not that I signed anything to get into this relationship mind, but you know what I mean.

So I countered: “When you buy a lotto ticket, what do you call that feeling it gives you? You don’t buy a ticket without some hope that you could win, even win the jackpot. What do you call that hope, if not a form of superstition? Logically it’s patently ridiculous for anyone to buy a lottery ticket because the odds are so against you. So in that moment you override your logical thinking and allow yourself a wild moment of magical thinking. You allow yourself to be pulled into that shameful realm of illogic.”

“It’s not the same thing,” he replies. “I don’t believe in the lottery as if it was some spirit force, some divine being, an angel or the Great Pumpkin. It’s just a game.” He did enjoy mocking me with that reference to the Charlie Brown cartoon super being of Linus’ he called the Great Pumpkin.

“But it’s a game of chance!”

“So?”

“It’s a game of luck!”

“And?”

I could feel myself becoming frustrated and upset. “It’s superstition, honey. The other morning, when you came storming back in the apartment and said, ‘God, I went and locked my keys in the truck last night,’ were you subconsciously praying to some superbeing you say you do not believe in because you were in a tight spot, in a hurry and didn’t remember where you kept you spare set of keys? Instead of invoking some deity neither of us believes in you could have said, ‘Karin, do you know where my spare set of keys is?’ and I would have told you. I told you anyways but you didn’t ask me. You addressed the problem through a kind of superstition of your own which you justify with excuses and that hurts. Do you think I’m so stupid I don’t notice these things?

“It’s late, I’m going to bed and I’m sleeping in the spare room. We’re both working tomorrow, I’ve got a pile of reports to check over before my first class so I’ll be off early. I’ll eat on the way, you make your own breakfast, or not. Tomorrow evening I want you to apologize to me and reaffirm our agreement to enjoy each other and leave our beliefs as sacred and private to each other. If you cannot do that, and do it sincerely, I’ll be leaving by next weekend.”

“Where will you go?”

“That’s a really stupid question. Since we’ve been together I’ve been propositioned at least a dozen times, the last one was just a week ago. I travel light as you know and there are a lot of lonely beds out there whose sheets will eagerly part to let me slip in. Don’t self-blind Rico or think I need you because no one else will have me!”

I was getting angry and hated the feeling.

“You’ll miss me.”

“Of course I’ll miss you, you don’t have to state the obvious. But that too shall pass because I choose intellectual integrity over a great fuck.”

“Is that all I am to you, a great fuck?”

“That doesn’t please you?”

“Well, yeah, but isn’t there more for you?”

“Of course there is, or there could be but not when you try to emasculate my choices. My feelings for you cool very fast then.”

“So I’m wrong then?”

“I’m tired and I’m not going around this mulberry bush with you Rico. Good night.”

That was a year ago, probably why I remembered it today. He didn’t apologize, he said he couldn’t see that there was anything to apologize for so I left him that weekend, I could tell he was going to try to talk his way around the problem but I was having none of it. I’ve seen him a couple of times since; he bought me a drink the last time. How are you doing? Fine, you? Oh, OK, I’ve got a girlfriend, Nina, she’s Italian. Good for you. Our team lost again. Yeah, too bad. I had her change the drapes in the bedroom; they reminded me too much of us. Good idea, no point dwelling on the past. That was about it. I suppose it never was what you’d call a deep relationship, more of a convenience.

It’s not the way I prefer them but it’s the only way to keep my options open. I’m sort of living with a guy too but I saw no point in mentioning that, he’d already assume I was or he’d already know that through his male gossip circle. I know the pub where the circle meets and what is talked about there.

You know what? I need to find another direction for my life, I feel I’m on treadmill if not on a dead-end street. I don’t like myself much these days and I used to feel so sure and so proud of what I’d accomplished for myself. I feel that the more I insist on my independence, or perhaps the way I go about it, it’s making me increasingly self-centered and selfish. That never used to be me and I’m certainly not blaming the men in my life for this quandary of mine. If this was another girl’s story I’d end it with: “Get a life, woman!”

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff

[Time for another chapter of the novel. Enjoy!]

Part I    –   The Calling

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

To Lo and Nal, it wasn’t much of a ‘town’ but to Deanna it was unbelievable. Not only the large kirk that sat imposingly in the centre of the main town but the shops, so many shops, and people walking everywhere. There were even people on horseback, and horse-drawn carts hauling various merchandise. At an open air butcher shop several 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 they splattered when their bare feet slapped into puddles of stagnant and stinking water.

As Ian and his group walked on 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. On the faces you could read the question: who are these well-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 they did 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 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?” ask Ian. 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 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 do the honours.

Meanwhile, let the hypocrisy 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. Five 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’ Lo 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 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.

 

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff -Part I – Chapter 18

 I was going to reblog a couple of worthy posts I have read the last couple of days but, like rush hour traffic, it seems that blogs can only accommodate so much. So I’m being selfish and posting my own stuff today. I know there are some people reading this developing tale with interest and I don’t want to make them wait any longer than necessary. Enjoy this chapter. More to come!


The gold rings; Deanna spies on the Betrayers some more

A dark cloud soon rose again over Giles’ innocent hopes. Ian MacGruder called a general meeting after their noonday meal to discuss Nal and Lo’s upcoming wedding in Glowmere kirk. Then with a twinkle in his eye, he brought out two small blue linen pouches and gave them to Lo.

“Well open ‘em mon, open ‘em!”

The assembly cheered when they saw two smooth, plain, gleaming gold rings, a man’s and another so small it would fit a small girl’s finger. The rings fit perfectly and Nal wondered how they’d managed to get her size without her knowledge. She looked at Lo and he winked.

“Old trick Nal. I twisted a grass stem around your finger to size it while you were sleeping and gave the grass ring to Ian. We did the same for my finger, then in the following adventures I forgot all about the rings. Now Ian, what do we owe ye for such beautiful rings?”

“I fear the cost is quite high Lo. I demand the right to walk this lass down the aisle in exchange for the rings.”

“Oh Ian, you wonderful, wonderful man,” exclaimed Nal throwing her arms as far as they could reach around the large man’s midriff, “ye do me such an honour… such an honour…” and once again she found herself crying freely, unashamed, tears flowing from her eyes and running down her face. “Such friends, such good friends I have met here; I will be so loathe to leave.”

“Come lass, we won’t speak o’ leavin’ yet, one day havin’ enough trouble of its own. Now lydies o’ the house, this girl is in need of some sort of weddin’ accoutrements as I heard such called by an English gentleman when I was tradin’ in the south. No girl is so pretty that she can’t be made even prettier an’ a weddin’s the time for that. Jen ‘n I are agreed to  take care o’ the costs, so have at it lydies, have at it.”

Poor Giles was devastated on hearing about the wedding. Though he knew it had been mentioned before there was always the hope that Nal would choose him over Lo, him a property man and all. What did Lo have to offer her? But then, thinking of himself as of the truly noble sort, he squared his boyish shoulders and entered a realm of lofty thoughts befitting a true knight.

‘I shall become a knight and I shall go with her as her champion, though never mine yet always in my sight. I shall give myself to the worship of her and save her from her enemies, that I shall and my eternally broken heart shall be the token of my love for her.’

He went about his chores imagining scenes of mortal combat where he charged into the fray on a big white war horse, slashed through the enemy as blow after blow fell upon his helmet, his armour, his shield. He saw himself fighting and holding off the evil knight who had unhorsed her and would have taken her, and giving him the mortal blow. Bending down, he grabbed her and swung her across the war horse in front of his saddle, once more slashing his way through the press of men at arms and screaming wounded horses, his sword awash with the blood of the enemy…

The chores were completed in record time but his daydream, that was just beginning.

The next day, Nal having been measured for her wedding ‘accoutrements’ and having had quite enough of the fussing and comments on her diminutive size, her unusual tone and satiny smoothness of skin, her straight black hair and almond eyes, it was decided by MacGruder that he, his woman Jen, their grown daughter Genti, Nal, and Lo would walk down to Glowmere, visit with the priest and arrange for the time of the wedding ceremony and settle the costs.

“I thought o’ invitin’ the priest to the cottage to perform the ceremony but then I thought better of it. We’ll have the proper ceremony the Church demands, aye, but we’ll return here to our own an’ then we’ll have our ceremony as performed by our ancestors. We are goin’ t’ have a full pagan weddin’ ceremony right here with our own daughter priestess o’ the clans presidin’ an we don’t want any meddlin’ crow from the Church in it. The walk back from the Glowmere ceremony ‘ll do us all good, put some appetite in us by t’gods! What do ye all say to that?”

Lo spoke first,

“I like the idea immensely.”

Nal added,

“Yes that is a famous idea. Let us be pagan; let us experience the wild abandon of the old traditions!”

They set out from the cottage with a proper retinue of
“arms-men.” These consisted of the shepherds, Giles whom wild horses could not have kept out of this, Lil’ Cos and the the head man Cedric – all of whom were readily available as the sheep were safely in their pens and the two pit bulls on duty.

Guy was chosen to remain at the cottage to finish some needed chores, help the women in whatever they needed done in preparations for the coming ceremony and to pacify the nervous pit bulls who had been smelling the presence of both wolf and werewolf.

As they were crossing the lower field taking the usual shortcut to the village road, Deanna emerged from the woods, properly dressed though flushed with excitement and her hair in a toss of wild disarray.

She and Nal threw themselves in each others’ arms, kissed shamelessly under the intrigued but approving gaze of MacGruder and his male armed retinue and Deanna said,

“If I may join in? Wolf and I got your message Lo. Wolf will escort us as well, just in case, but we’re quite certain there is no danger. We tracked a couple of poachers yesterday but took care of putting the fear of Satan in them. We left them alive, they were not the murderous or raping kind, just beggar thieves, but they won’t be seen in these parts ever again, and the stories they tell will ensure none should venture this way at least for the duration of winter. In case anyone wonders, we did hunt down some hares to give them so they wouldn’t starve in the woods.”

“Well done Deanna,” replied MacGruder with a raised fist for emphasis. “On we go then.” With Giles close by and nurturing a pain-filled jealousy, Ian took Nal’s hand and led her over the ladder built into the fence and down the path to the village. Holding back, Lo and Deanna engaged a long and serious talk using strictly the inner language.

‘I taught wolf to speak the human tongue Lo. At first he could only do it in his werewolf form but now he can manage it any time. Very difficult for him but a very effective tool for deception. He can also project severe abdominal pain to an enemy without being seen so when the enemy is doubled over, he can pounce on him. We tried it on the poachers and yes, it works. My own power of projection has grown too. With one hand in Wolf’s mane I can project a force that can topple over a cliff if I so desired. We tested that effect far from here in a wilderness where the collapse would not cause hardship to those we stand guard for. I can collapse defences, walls, buildings and also set fires from at least a quarter mile distance. I could demonstrate when we reach the village if you want to see.’

‘Oh, no thank you Deanna, that won’t be necessary, I believe you.’

He wondered how far she’d gone from human now that she saw nothing amiss about setting some house on fire or destroying fortifications “as a demonstration” just when their group was entering the village.

‘Cause and effect, Deanna: can you see how such activities would turn the whole village against us? That we would be immediately blamed for the events and labelled sorcerers?’

‘It would? Ah, yes, of course I suppose it would. What about Nal? Has she demonstrated new powers to use against our enemies?’

‘Nal has been busy in many ways. She has taught some swordsmanship to our armed guard here and I’ve done some sparring with the staffs with her myself. She is greatly improving but remembering her full Alaya self is taking its toll. She still gets tired easily, requiring almost five or six hours of sleep every night. She is still much too human but growing and remembering. How long can you remain shape-shifted into the she-wolf before you can no longer change back, or is there a limit?’

‘I think there might be a limit unless I develop some other method of shape-shifting. It was very difficult to leave this time and putting clothes on, why I could hardly remember how to do it. All I remembered was Nal insisting I do it, so I did. At first I was almost blind and when I tried to stand, I fell against wolf to gain my balance. Walking on two legs is so irritatingly clumsy and energy consuming! Good thing I did not know about any of what I do now when I was growing up in Torglynn or I would have gone insane with longing and frustration.’

‘Critical point, can you use your combined Human, Elven, Alaya powers when you are shape-shifted into the she-wolf? Can you be the powerful wizard in any shape, or state of mind, Deanna?’

‘I know I can project the tear-up and fire energy, using my nose and ears to focus and I can sense unusual forces from great distances. I have been guardedly following the movements of our enemies to the south in, what did you call that land?’

‘I figured you meant the land of France.’

‘Yes, that land beyond a narrow sea? They’ve been involved in wars and there has been problems between the sorcerers, they ended up on opposite sides and there’s a stalemate in a main battle involving a large castle. There were canons brought to bear but your Tel’Madan wizard knows how to muzzle them and cause them to explode when fired. If we could be there now, we would take them individually and destroy them!’

‘Beware, Deanna. It’s a trick. They know someone’s been tracking them and this is a very complex but obvious trap. They want whomever to fall for their apparent disunity. That would never happen, particularly knowing of the rise of one or more Alaya in the world. They’re baiting while recouping their energies and planning.

‘Good that you tracked them in your she-wolf form rather than your human one. If they can sense that, they will be confused and wary. Any confusion will weaken them, not knowing what to expect. They must be aware now that their long years of unopposed evil are ending and they are going to have to fight to hold on to their power. They don’t have any problem sending hundreds of thousands to their death in their endlessly manufactured power wars but it’s been a long time since they had to personally fight against an enemy.

‘Long ago they killed nine of us, including their own wives because these refused to join in their evil deeds and plans for this world. After that, except for my rather pathetic ventures and overtures to them they’ve had no one of consequence to worry about. That is all about to change.’

Deanna continued with the inner language conversation,

‘But since you and Nal are mates from before, why go through this human wedding ceremony? I don’t see a point to it.’

‘There are good reasons. One is to defuse some of the suspicions that may arise from the local representatives of the Church. They are sure to sense that not everything is as it seems with us. We do this also for the people, to let them know that we are with them, though we be different. The other is to demonstrate to Nal’s previous close male friends and hopefuls that she is indeed in a marriage relationship, thus preventing at least some heartbreaks and possible hotheaded challenges.

‘But the greatest reason is, I sense an alignment taking place, an ordained shuffling of forces, a great alliance never before seen to bring men, women, Elves, Alaya, Alay and the wolf clans together to destroy a great evil. We have more, much more to organize and bring about before we engage the final part of our mutual quest, but the pieces are coming together. Soon the board will be set and the game will begin in earnest.’

‘Will we have to cross that sea to challenge the sorcerers, or will they come to us on this land?’

‘We must find a way to bring them here and ensnare them. They have built too much of a force on the mainland; too many blinded and willing to die for them. We neither can take so many on, nor do we want this to turn into a long drawn-out bloodbath. We don’t want a war so we must endeavour to keep the numbers small on both sides and settle it quickly, ideally in a day or two. We will guardedly thought-touch them and dare them to meet us in the wilds to the south of here.’

Thus they exchanged information and finally reached the outskirts of Glowmere. They were challenged by a rag-tag but suspicious retinue of a dozen guards. Ian and his lady greeted them loudly and being recognized as neighbours and allies, they and their following were allowed to enter the fortified town.