Recently I tried a foray into self publishing. I have had some items of non-fiction published in the past, but my current work is a somewhat dark fantasy and it’s a struggle to get read. On the other hand, I have seen some success stories in self publishing. So I thought I’d try testing the waters.
In the past I’ve viewed self publishing as vanity publishing, POD as an expensive version, and dedicated mainstream publishers as a necessity. But In my search for the right agent and/or publisher to love my work and put the effort into helping me refine and market my manuscripts as published works, I stumbled onto a couple of individuals who were committed to self publishing. Prolific writers (I’m the slow plodding sort) who work hard to make a presence that is bigger than their work and who have gradually moved from self publishing to minor indie publishers.
This inspired me to at least dip my toe in the waters and see what the process might bring. ePublishing got me some small response, so I thought I’d try printing with POD. Just as I made this decision a major POD changed their prices and fee schedule. I was amazed at how easily one could simply publish and be available for bricks and mortar as well as libraries and ed. institutions. So once more I got to editing and soon I was evaluating proofs and preparing to launch.
One thing I tried was contacting a major indie book store. Ironically, this store has as one of it’s facilities a POD of no small skill and no small fee. If purchasing their services, then you are given space in the storefront, however I had already published. I had my LCC and my very own ISBN-13 and a beautiful trades paperback to call my own.
It took a couple of weeks to hear back, and this is the core of what I was told”
We do not carry self-published books, those printed by vanity presses or print on demand titles. Previous sales tests have shown that, while our customers are interested in all subjects, they are much more likely to browse and purchase titles like this at their local bookstore or on-line rather than carrying them with them on their travels.
Now I didn’t understand the point about carrying them on their travels. Yes people buy books to read on flights and trains and ships. But a bookstore is about books. Also I immediately saw the way they lumped vanity, self-published, and POD into a single entity. That rankled. It hit my pride. I wasn’t a vanity published author. I was a real writer with a good book and it was real. How dare they make that comparison.
And then– it hit me.
Life, what a concept.
If you like a good story with some thought provoking undercurrents or you just like real old fashioned fairy tales, get Neverwas.
Long ago in a far kingdom there was a great famine and for lack of food people died. Deep in the forest an honest Ork made his meager living by cutting wood. His wife and tiny daughter helped by gathering nuts and berries. They lived in a small cottage built of stone and the love Papa had for his little family.
Inside their house they had precious little comfort, but Papa had made a wooden bowl and spoon for each of them, carving and shaping the bowls for each with tender care, and Mama had painted them and oiled them till they gleamed as smartly as the finest porcelain. In the loft Papa had made a bed for each of them, selecting the right limbs and cutting each board by hand, lacing the ropes till each bed was a perfect expression of his love.
Mama had stuffed mats with straw and carefully sewn patchwork blankets quilted with wool. Each blanket was crafted lovingly over long months, working deep into the night, to show that she too could show her love for her little family. And though the famine raged each night the little family of Orks would each their meager porridge and sing and tell stories till dark, then crawl into their cozy beds thankful for the love and small comforts provided for them.
As you know Orkney, the land of Orks, had long been ruled by fierce men of the White Isles of Albion, who in turn took it from the Ogres of Thanreach. These men were tall and strong, though not so stout as the little Orks whom they ruled with a cruel hand. And near the wood where our fine family lived there was a village of White men.
In the village was a fine big mill where all the folk both Ork and White must needs bring their grain and beans to grind. If ever there was a miller who was kind or generous, if you can credit such a thing and not think me mad, it was the miller of the big mill in the village. And this kind man had a boy named Gyldenhar, for his hair was fine and yellow like spun gold.
The miller doted on his boy and lavished him with the finest clothes and his very own room with a bed and a wardrobe and his own writing desk where he could practice his letters. The miller could afford such finery, because, even in famine, corn must be ground into flour and beans must be ground into meal and folk must pay for the grinding as best they can.
Now, Gyldenhar was a wicked selfish child who never appreciated the things his father’s wealth afforded. Every new toy the toymaker crafted and placed in the window of his shop captured Gyldenhar’s fancy and he would demand to have it. The Miller denied his child nothing and would become angry if the toymaker had promised the toy to another child. Such was the miller’s influence that he would press the parents of the other child and exchange one of Gyldenhar’s old toys for the new toy. Thus the children of the village were forced to play with toys that were worn or broken by Gyldenhar, who would gloat and show his new toys to every child her could find.
The smith took a new apprentice when the old one left on sojourn to master his craft. Now the new prentice was of an age with Gyldenhar and had milked cows and plowed fields his whole life. This had left the lad broad in the shoulder and strong as an ox. One day the smith was out and Gyldenhar wandered into the forge to gloat over his new toy. The prentice was hard at work and had no time for Gyldenhar’s prattle, so he showed the boy from the forge with no by-your-leave. Gyldenhar ran home, straightaway, and began a tantrum such as threatened to call down lightening and thunder. It was a so loud the neighbors closed up shutters and the miller locked his sails and rushed into the house to look after his boy.
When he heard the cause of his boy’s wailing, he marched straight to the smithy with Gyldenhar on his heels, where he confronted the prentice. Now the prentice was busy learning his craft, but he was a good natured lad and soon explained that he’s simply had too much work to do to admire Gyldenhar’s toy. As the truth of the matter unfolded the miller was suddenly struck by the difference between his Gyldenhar and this smith’s prentice at work and he began to see how his doting had spoiled his son. The miller apologized for his son’s behavior and returned to the mill where he set Gyldenhar to work as his own prentice, for it had always been his intention to pass the mill to his son when he was old.
Once upon a time a Big Bad Wolf met a little girl wearing a dark green stocking cap. The wolf greeted the little girl politely and she told him that she was called â€œLittle Green Stocking Cap” because she was never seen without it, for an evil fae had cursed her to never remove it. She was called thus for so long that soon everyone had forgotten she’d had any other name, even she! Little Green Stocking Cap was wandering the woods on her way to find a house she’d heard was made of sweets. She had left her own home because her poor parents could not help her to remove the heavy green cap, and for shame they made her wear a silly bonnet to cover it when ever she went out of the house. Green was quite courteous to the wolf, which was quite a novelty for him indeed. But when they had spoken for a time, Little Green Stocking Cap remembered that wolves had an unfair reputation for eating little girls right up. She became frightened and ran away very fast.
Now the wolf had just remembered that the house of sweets had a very bad reputation, indeed. So, valiantly, he attempted to warn the little girl that what was sweet to the taste could turn sour on the stomach. But Green ran very fast and he became winded, so with a snarl he turned and went on about his wolfly pursuits.
Green Stocking Cap did not trust his quick retreat and continued as fast as her little legs could carry her. Just when she thought she could not run another step, there in the next clearing she saw the great house made of sweets. The walls were chocolate cake and the windows were sugar candy. Each tile of the roof was made of a different kind of chocolate delight. With a cry of joy, Green Stocking Cap ran and flung herself on the sweet-tart steps of the house and fell fast asleep.
Just as it fell dark a beautiful princess appeared and opened the door to the sweet house and invited Green Stocking Cap in. Green was very tired and the princess was so beautiful that she trusted her instantly and was soon fast asleep in a bed of her very own, with sheets of spun sugar and pillows stuffed with kettle-corn.
For a time all was lovely in the fine, sweet house, then one day Green took a fancy to hold a celebration to thank the beautiful princess for her hospitality. Green waited until she was out then slipped into the the princess’ chamber to seek correspondence that might reveal what friends might visit to celebrate.
On a high chest Green found a writing box that held many letters and notes. As she was copying the most promising names, the princess returned and found her with her hand in the box. Before little Green could explain, the princess transformed and her true form was revealed to be none other than the same wicked hag that had cursed Green to always wear the cap!
Green gave a cry and ran from the house, just avoiding the clawed hand of the wicked fae. In her other hand was a great knife and Green had no doubt that should she be caught she’d soon be cut up and in the pot to boil!
Again, Green ran as fast as her little legs could carry her, but the cap snagged upon bushes and held her back, so that the fae gained upon her, calling all her wicked friends to aid her in catching the little girl. The fae truly did plan to feast that night!
Just as Green’s legs gave out and she fell to the soft mould beneath a great oak, the Wolf sprang out of the brush. Green’s heart quailed, for she knew she could not run another step. With the Wolf before her and the Hag behind, where could she turn. She was dinner for certain.
Just then the Wolf leapt and Green fell to the ground shivering, but he sailed right past and took a great bite from the Hag who had come up behind Green unawares. They fought and tussled in great fashion, but eventually the Hag was so bloodied she tore herself free and fled with a screech, grabbing a broken stick and flying off on her makeshift broom.
The Wolf led Green to an old shepherd’s hut by a glassy lake. It was none to clean, but Green soon found she had made a home and in time the local animals and herdsmen became a new family. And ever after the Wolf watched over her from the deep wood.
In the year when the priest Hahmahn died, the breath of El Shaddai blew forth to cleanse the Land and the Heart with word and fire. Bearing with it the sweet fragrance of kinnaman, the potent spice of cedar and the sweet balsam of Bashan it fell upon El Shaddu, in the District of Argob. Bringing its sweet perfume to fling open the shutters of a room like any other, in an inn like any other, it fell with fresh anointing upon the servant of El who lay dreaming of auspicious things.
He woke with a start. Which is to say, the sun finally edged its way far enough past noon to lance his face with a nauseating glare. Hahniel groaned and covered his forehead with an arm to protect his eyes from the intruding light, but that only made his face hotter and did little to block the sun beams, which were becoming more intensely urgent by the minute. Rolling onto his stomach did little to help either, since this put his face in direct contact with the musty mattress and his mustier cloak. It was all too reminiscent of a boyhood spent chasing goats and watering camels in the blazing sun.
After a few minutes of twisting, it became obvious that he was going to get no more rest. This conclusion was punctuated by the sharp sting of an insect bite between his eyebrows. He rolled to his feet with another, louder groan and an even louder fart. His clothes were scattered about the tiny chamber. Despite the searing sunlight pouring in through the open window, he was inclined to let himself fall back into the bugridden mattress. But the reek of the chamber pot under his bed began to make him nauseous.
His mother had always said to say he would never have a pot to piss in. This was her unsubtle way of insisting he would never be a rich herdsman or great warrior. His mother had read to him from the Sefer Khayim every night. Daughter of a wizard and wife of the Adonai-Hadebir –which is to say the Lord of the Temple– she was steeped in the mysteries of the faith. His father, Yerulon, had been cruelly murdered by thugs in the employ of the king, and his mother had made it clear that he’d never have his birthright while his uncle, the king, remained in power.
She’d been partly right. It wasn’t his pot, it came with the room, though it certainly did cost a king’s ransom. The city, Bayt El Shaddu, had grown from a refugee camp where many Kanaani had fled to escape the oppression of the No-Amuni king. It was short on creature comforts and, rare though they were, they cost dearly.
He assembled his hodgepodge of clothing, scavenged from various rubbish bins and corpses, then carefully washed his face and hands in a basin set on the window ledge for that express purpose. Lastly, he took an ewer of fresh ointment, scented with kinnaman and kinehvos. This he sparingly poured over his tousled hair. From a pouch on his belt, he took a matching bronze comb and razor. They were delicately cast and bore decorative, abstract scroll work. He used the comb to carefully straiten his hair and remove any soil or insects he might have acquired during his repose in the dubious bed. Then he toweled his neck and hair dry, before styling it with the same comb. He used the razor to trim his mustache, careful not to cut the corners of his beard.
After he had carefully packed most of his few belongings, he pulled his most prized possession from under the filthy mattress. This was a staff carved from the branch of a pistachio tree and shod in bronze. Either end had a cap made of the hardest forged bronze and the length of the staff was clad in parallel rods of rare iron. The Iron had turned black with age and corrosion and the bronze had likewise become a dull black-green like algae in a pond. Weapons were not allowed in Bayt El Shaddu, unless you were a guardsman. But the staff was corroded enough to attract little attention and staves were the constant companion of the desert herdsman. It attracted little notice, but left him less naked and longing for the haft of a spear.
Still, he was, in fact, naked. His head remained uncovered. He picked up his tiara and settled it on his head, saying a silent prayer. Spirits of El my lord and master, preserve me and guide my steps this day. May the Serpents who soar above your holy throne be my guides and my salvation. For you are Divinity to Divine Beings and Prince of Princes and so may it ever be. So may it ever be.
The tiara consisted of a braided band of horse hair studded with copper rivets. From this hung an expensive hood of light black karpesh, covering his head and neck. It hung to his shoulders like the hair of a woman, with “wings” that draped to his chest in front. These could be crossed over his face and secured when operating a chariot or caught in a desert storm. His face was covered in a sheer veil of transparent organza, also died black.
A proper tiara was his only indulgence. The rest of his clothing might be ready to fall from his body, but he would live and die wearing a proper tiara. Ironically, his dramatic headgear, that would have made him conspicuous anywhere else, was unremarkable in the bosom of El Shaddu. Nearly every citizen of El Shaddu wore some form of headdress designed to hide the features. No one would choose life in El Shaddu if he had no reason to hide his face and his past.
Satisfied that his head was decently covered, he left the room and climbed to the roof of the small inn. The hostess was busily shoveling bread from a brick oven and several patrons were lounging about sipping thin sour wine or beer. Here the summer heat was scorching and the smell of bread reminded him of his own excess with beer the night before.
Beer is the water of conflict and wine is the sea of shame. Reciting the proverb mentally did nothing to alleviate the throbbing in his temples. He flicked his fingers and wiggled his arm sinuously like a houri dancing for her supper. Instantly, a bloom of blue white flame sprang up around his fingers, barely visible in the bright morning sun. His gift of miracles seemed more like a heavy curse than blessing sometimes.
He sighed and clenched his fist causing the flames to flare, then extinguish, lest unwanted eyes see them. He glanced around the roof and saw that he hadn’t gone entirely unnoticed. The hostess was eying him warily like a snake watching a mongoose for sign of attack. She had seen something of his fire but his hand no longer shone and his face, hidden deeply in the folds of his tiara, would soon lose its glow. After a frozen minute in tableau she suddenly remembered the rapidly cooling loaf on her spade and turned back to the oven with a muttered curse and a pagan sign against evil.
He chose to ignore the added insult. The Assuri had been trickling through El Shaddu on their way to Yevus for hundreds of years and their witchcraft had left a mark on the poor folk who traded with them. Occasionally, you saw a superstitious fool wearing a cast silver flame of Uhuru Mazda, or iron claw of Ahriman. Worst of all were the occasional prayers to Antsu the moon — which caused a wave of nausea to pass through him as the unclean spirit of the fallen one attended these prayers and conflicted with the Spirit of the Living Creator within himself.
It grated that an aspect of the enemy was worshiped as the Destroyer of Worlds. As he turned back to the street below, he hunched his shoulders and muttered, “All glory to the Name!” But he couldn’t resist a scornful snarl for the foolish woman. If she knew who she had guested, she would have pleaded on hands and knees for having tainted the air with her superstitions and witchery. He knew life in Shaddu had hardened him but you couldn’t survive if you bled for every lost lamb.
As he scanned the street, he saw a gleam of white in the stoop of the house across the street. The light had betrayed the skulker who watched his house. It would seem someone was wiser than his hosts, or perhaps the lord of the house was smarter than his drudge of a wife. He would have to move to another inn, and hope that the skulker gave up. The only valuable thing he owned was his own hide. Since the land had fallen to the lies of Ahmorah, even that was seldom sought after, except as a trophy. But the occasional thief still imagined he might be hording a secret cache of gems and baubles. Best to avoid confrontation altogether.
He took one last look at the street and then turned toward the steep stair ladder. As he passed, the mean-eyed hostess continued to glare. If looks could kill, an Ahripekh would have long since severed his spine. He moved with his usual stealth, attracting as little attention as possible as he climbed down the steps to the ground floor. This was devoted to a common room where patrons ate meals and drank during the day and slept at night when the doors were barred. The price of a beer or mixed drink was sufficient to pay for a spot in the old rushes covering the stone floor, at least till the doors were unbarred and the innkeeper propelled you into the street.
He stepped into the shadows and leaned against a door post, borrowing a page from the book of the spy across the street. He watched quietly. One thing he knew was how to keep still. The training he had received in Karkhemesh had been brutal, but it had earned him the place he’d wanted in the caravans of the Spice Road. Once he had even traveled the Silk Road Eastward from the Spice Markets. But the presence of the Enemy was strong there, and he had soon tired of the oppressive weight. He’d turned back by trading posts with a brother of the order, who was attached to a passing caravan returning to the western Spice Markets. The brother Ashashi had wished to hurry on to the land of the Han and retrieve a bride he had bargained for. The thought of traveling so deeply into the miasma of the eastern lands still caused him to shudder.
As he watched the street, his quarry peeped around the corner, exposing his position. Most of the local clothing was dyed blue or black to save money. The sun bleached that clothing faster than soil and sweat could darken it, but the war generally ended in a stalemate where the fabric disintegrated before it could lighten past a dull grey.
The lurker quickly pulled back, but that short exposure made it possible to distinguish his silhouette from the surrounding shadows. As Hahniel gathered himself to step out into the sunlight, a group of women approached, chattering. The lurker seemed to melt deeper than ever into the shadow as they passed; a wise precaution that he chose to emulate. This was not the sort of street where women generally traveled in small groups or without guards.
As the women passed on by, he spotted their guards following. They were two exceptionally well muscled men, wearing a hodge podge of scarce armor and carrying sharpened poles as spears. It would have been an impressive display of might for the city of El Shaddu, if the guards hadn’t spoiled it by missing the presence of both his watcher and himself, and by using their imitation spears as walking staves. As they passed him, one of the guards turned and blew his nose so that the output landed precisely between his feet. It fell on the line marking the end of the shadow he was hiding in, so that the shadow cut a sharp line through the gobbet. He looked up trying to meet the guard’s eyes, yet the guard swept his hiding place thoroughly without ever looking directly at him and without ever seeming to work at avoiding him. He re-estimated the guards. Perhaps they weren’t useless after all.
As the guard passed on, another figure dashed to the side to make way for the crowd of women and didn’t reappear until they had passed her. She appeared to be alone and looked anxiously up the street in his direction, as if checking for any other processions or perhaps thieves. She took another moment to straiten her shabby clothes, then began scurrying along after the crowd that had just passed, careful not to overtake them.
As she turned her back toward him, another lurker melted out of the shadows and began following the lone woman. It seemed the watchers might not be there for him today after all. He fought with himself for a moment, but wisdom lost the battle and he strode out into the street. As he approached, intentionally clacking his staff on the pavement, the stalker glanced over his shoulder and grimaced. At the next door, however, the figure turned in as if ready to knock and be admitted. With a snarl of his own Hahniel swept past the lurker in the doorway and barreled into the lone woman, knocking her parcel from her hand and dropping his staff with a great deal of racket.
The woman got up with a curse and began to berate him, till she saw his tiara. This close his face was visible, but the tiara was intended to instill fear more than anonymity and it did its work well. Her own face was obscured by a scarf that was wrapped to form a hood and veil. But her eyes widened with fear and darted about as if looking for rescue from him. If she cried out or resisted, his attempt to help her would be wasted. He began to apologize profusely and pretended to help her with her parcel, while he eyed the stalker. His first watcher was nowhere in sight, but the woman’s assailant was caught in the open and was forced to saunter on by with a look of promised murder, disappearing around the corner of a cross street.
The woman was getting annoyed by his “help” so he retrieved his staff and, with a last apology, continued on after the lurker. He passed a narrow alley cloaked in deep shadows but saw nothing moving, so he continued toward the corner where the woman’s lurker had turned. He intended to go the other way and keep going till he’d found a new inn with much less excitement, and hopefully, cleaner mattresses. As he reached the corner, he paused for a last look at the street that had been his home for the last five years. Sounds of a struggle drew his eyes like magnets. He saw the woman, being dragged into the alley by his first watcher. He growled in frustration and self disgust. It was careless of him to have lost track of a potential assailant, even one who obviously had no interest in him.
The woman’s struggles didn’t seem to attract any attention from the occupants of the nearly deserted streets. He knew he should continue on and give as little attention as the other fine citizens. No one was going to help her. He had already begun to think of the assailant as his, so with a muttered blessing he turned and ran back to the mouth of the alley. The woman was lying on her back with her skirts pulled over her head, baring her shapely body and firm hips. She was screaming incoherently, while lying perfectly still because the tip of the assailant’s knife pressed against her throat through the muffling fabric of her skirts. Her shift had been torn loose and discarded beside her. The assailant was fumbling with the ties on his wide trousers with obvious intention.
Without thinking, Hahniel silently rushed forward on the balls of his feet, falling into the familiar rhythms of the sword form Fire. Raising his staff, he swung two handed, ending with an overhand jerk, pushing with his right hand pulling with his left so that the last few inches of his iron shod staff connected with the temple of the assailant with the speed of a galloping horse. As he swept on past, the crunch of skull bone and wet thud that accompanied it were drowned by the redoubled screams and curses of the woman, as the body collapsed across her like a sack of onions. She quickly scrambled out from under the corpse, grabbing the knife and turning on him with her teeth bared in a rictus of fury and fear.
He paused a moment, then changed his grip to that of a man holding a walking stick instead of a headsman wielding an ahripekh. Holding one hand out in a placating motion, he began to inch toward the woman, speaking what he hoped were soothing words. His blood was boiling and his tongue prickled with the lightening and fire that always accompanied conflict. Another sort of fire burned in his chest, wanting to leap along the staff and strike the knife from the woman’s hand. He resisted both the urge and the inner voice that told him he should disarm her and punish her for the effrontery of raising a weapon against him. She had come close to losing her life and more at the hands of a vicious assailant. It was understandable that she be afraid. As he watched her bare breast, slick with sweat, heave with violent panting, he was very determined to be understanding and not frighten her any further.
A few strides brought him within reach of her, but she still held the knife like she knew how to use it. He decided he would have to disarm the woman after all, for her safety as well as his own. He adjusted his grip, two handed again so he could knock the knife from her hand, when the world virtually exploded in a concussion. He found himself suddenly sprawled on the ground, feeling of the back of his head. His vision was blurred and darkness was creeping into the edge of his awareness.
A man’s voice came from behind, “He killed Nahum readily enough.”
He turned his head, confused that his left leg wasn’t cooperating and looked behind him. Something he couldn’t quite place was familiar about the man standing there. He tried to puzzle it out as the woman said, “I don’t care two minot about Nahum. That fool was going to go through with the rape. Our friend here really is my hero, even if he did deliver himself neatly into our hands. Now get him bound and gagged so we can get out of this filthy alley. We need him alive.”
The man paused staring sullenly down at him, then finally shrugged. “You have been teasing Nahum for weeks, and you know he was here to avoid death for raping two women in Yerikho. Still, I suppose the pig got what he deserved.” The man sighed and his posture shifted from menace to resignation. In that moment, as consciousness finally escaped, Hahniel saw the man’s face clearly. It was the second assailant, the one he’d thought was stalking the woman. How foolish he’d been. He’d forgotten the first rule of El Shaddu. No one is innocent. It had all been a trap and he’d fallen for it like a sheep to slaughter. If he never woke up, it was no more than he deserved for stupidity.
Once upon a time there was a happy forester, named Will, who lived in the edge of the dark wildwood with his wife, Gwen, and two dear children; the boy called John and the girl called Maggie. They lived in modest comfort in a cozy little cottage made of stone with a cheery iron stove and real glass window! John made a living from cutting wood and, though this is very poor work, he loved the forest and found hidden treasure in gathering nuts and fruit, which he would sell at the market in the village. In this way he made enough to buy a steel bill to cut deadwood and brush and to prune the wild trees till he had made for himself a fine orchard hidden in the forest deeps. He even made enough to give his children each a silver penny on their birthdays and another on feast of Christmas.
His children knew how strong and brave their father was, for hidden dangers lurk within the wildwood, outlaws and gnomes and every horrid wight! Because they loved their father, the children saved their pennies and bought for him a silver watch with springs and gears and when the watch was opened it played Will’s favorite song, which (though you might not guess of such a sober and righteous man) was “Mother Watkins Ale”. Next to his own dear family, Will loved nothing more than his stout bill and his silver watch.
But to pay for such a fine life, Will was a very busy man. Five days a week he must hie to the wood with his bill and his barrow to gather wood or harvest the nuts and fruits which he sold. On the sixth day he was off to the village before the crack of dawn to sell his gleanings and to pay the piper for the feast.
Now, Gwen knew the value of a goodman who treated her well and gave her such a fine house and babes. But such hard work and long hours left Will so tired that most days he would come home and, after a fine meal and a pipe of Merkian Tabac, he would sit in his fine chair by the fire and fall fast asleep listening to the children learning their letters and their maths by the light of the hearth. Poor Gwen met this with good enough cheer, but no matter how she scolded herself, she felt lonely and missed the days when she and Will were young and had no babes underfoot. But she never spoke a word to trouble good Will or the babes, and suffered her lot in silence, till the babes were mucking the barn or away in the meadow chasing the goat.
Then she would stand as she beat the rugs or hung the wash to dry, and bemoan her lot. She cursed the forest and the silence. She wished for other women to talk to and she cursed Will for a fool to work so hard and mind her so little.
One day while Will was away to market and Gwen stood hanging the linens to dry, a man approached who was fair of face and brow. He was a strapping man with a well turned calf who looked for all the world like her Will, till looking a second time she spied the flaw. He bowed with courtly grace and begged a crust of bread and a cup of tea. Being good folk and generous as well, Gwen invited the stranger to stay for tea. While they sat, the stranger asked if Gwen had heard of a man called Will.
“Why my own dear husband is named Will!” Gwen exclaimed. “Perhaps he is the one you seek.”
They spoke further and it was soon established that he was Robert, Will’s own dear brother. They talked and talked and the time fled by, for Gwen had missed the converse of strangers these many years. Soon they fell to laughing and embraced like old friends, though there was something more to that embrace then was proper for a brother and sister in law. And as he left, he asked that Gwen say nothing of his visit, for he wished to surprise his brother whom he had not seen in many years. She was inclined to cast him out and tell her husband all, but Robert plead and importuned so sweetly that she forgave him and agreed to hold her tongue.
Robert continued to return each day while the children were in the fields doing their chores and regailed Gwen with tales of travels to foreign lands and adventures the likes of which few ever dare. The talk was so exciting and the company so sweet that Gwen grew quite fond of Robert, and in no time the brotherly kiss upon the cheek grew into something rather more intimate and not the sort of thing a good wife should ever do! If a woman yields once she’s done for, and so, because she had given in the first time, she was hard pressed to avoid so the second., till nothing was left to withhold.
One day when Will was once again at market, the children returned home for tea and found Robert comfortably seated in Will’s chair by the fire. John was quite perplexed and stood examining the stranger who had invaded their cozy home. Maggie, who was younger, marched straight to the chair and stood with her arms akimbo and her face screwed into a frown. She stared deeply into Robert’s eyes and demanded, “Why are you sitting in my father’s chair!”
“Why because it suits me, don’t you think?” Robert replied with narrowed eyes.
Gwen swept in to gather her babes and, holding them tightly, told them Robert was their father’s brother who had come a great distance to plan a surprise for them all. At that, Robert gave her a wicked smile and Gwen giggled so sweetly that the children were quite surprised, for they had seldom seen Gwen with so light a heart, short of a glass of Christmas cheer.
Gwen announced tea and the children were astonished at the table that was set for them. There were cakes and cheese, even tiny tarts made with strawberries preserved with honey. When they had eaten their fill, the babes cleared while Robert returned to the fire, and (wouldn’t you know) he began to smoke Will’s very own pipe. He sat in the chair and Gwen lit next to him, perched on the arm of the chair. The babes looked on with eyes like saucers as Gwen explained that uncle Robert would be coming to visit whenever Will was away. He would help Gwen in the cottage, John and Maggie would continue to tend the animals and the garden. There were two rules that they must strictly observe, they must not enter the cottage while Robert was there and they must never speak of Robert to Will (for that would spoil the surprise).
“And I’ll have your oath on it, my dears,” Gwen said sternly. “You must swear by thy father’s own head never to tell him what you know, until Robert and I have sprung the surprise.”
* * * *
That night after Will had come home and the babes were abed, they lay whispering of all that had transpired. They worried what Robert’s true intentions might be, yet they had given a solem oath, on their own dear father’s life, to keep silent, so they tossed and turned till sleep finally caught them and resolved to do as they’d been told. For adult affairs are no business of children.
The next day and the next Robert came to the cottage soon after Will had left, and he left again just before tea. This habit continued as the days wore on into weeks and the weeks into months. Yet the children were faithful to their promise and never entered the cottage until Robert had left. They carried pails to work filled with bread and cheese for luncheon and they wanted for nothing. Still they worried. Soon the leaves began to fall and the shadows grew longer. The cold of winter seemed to nip at them though he was still a ways off.
One sunny day the air was warm and butterflies flitted about the meadow, when a wave of clouuds swept accross the sky like a curtain and it grew quite chilly indeed. Poor Jon and Maggie were soon chilled to the bone and sat with chattering teeth, huddled together for warmth.
“We must return home for our cloaks, lest we catch a chill and die,” Maggie said.
“Nay, Maggie, for we have give our oath on the life of our own dear father. Should we break our promise we risk the life of the one who is dearest to us both!” John cried.
Another quick fairy tale for the characters in Redmantle to tell. Feedback is appreciated.
There was to be a war between the Kingdom of Albs and the Ogres of the Winilli Empire. The Ogres were ruled by a great and mighty wizard named Hunding, and he had gathered the goodly fae of Englemark, ogres of Thanreach and men of Alemann and joined them with the gnomes of Finnland to make a mighty empire. But Hunding was not satisfied and sought to join the Albar of Albion and the Elsar of Kumria and Gealland to his great Empire, and thus the lots were cast and Hunding sailed against the white walls of Kumberland to conquer.
Now King Aellir of Kumberland was a most puissant warrior and, although a son of man, he was persuasive uniting the Albar and Elsar fae with the men of Kumberland and the Fichtas of Caledon. Faced with so great an army of mortal foes, the giants were pushed back into the sea, though they continued to raid and torment the poor folk of the isle of Albion. The piracy took a great toll and soon there were no merchants to carry goods from Far Lugada, nor spices from the mythical east. The people were worn and bedraggled and the army of Albion began to shrink.
But just as the war demanded a heavy cost of the poor Albinos, the giants paid a heavy tariff as well. Ships were lost to storm and fire. Some were sunk by great stones thrown by massive engines of war. And to make a hard situation yet more fell, men at sea cannot gather nor mill, neither can they sow. The faithful ogre wives and children planted and harvested, milled and stored as best they could, but a farm suffers without the hand of the farmer. Crops rotted in the field, grain soured in the barn and sickness claimed many ogre babes in their cribs. The giant was an ogre of the fiercest cast, yet his heart went out to the families left fatherless and hungry. He was wont to release those with brothers or fathers lost in battle or at sea, and send them home to care for their families and those of their brothers and fathers.
Twixt hardship and loss, in time, the armies of man and ogre were used up entirely and with none left to fight for them, the two great rulers faced one-another in single combat. Though they traded powerful blows that shook the earth and caused the stones to tremble, neither could gain victory over the other. The giant was amazed for no sooner had he wounded the king, than the wound would dry up and the scabs flake away revealing new flesh as clear as if the man were never wounded. This was a truly strange thing, but the king had a secret, for in his dealings with the Alsar, he had been given a magical talisman embrued with the darkest and most arcane powers known to fae or man.
Aellir was the child of an Allemann walkyr and an Elsar maid from Englemark. And he had carved a home for the men of Kumberland from the wild Andred Forest. He was a mighty warrior and acquitted himself handily with the seax and the spear. Yet every wound he delivered to the great ogre, sealed itself as soon as it was made for the giants and gnomes are creatures of the earth and it sustains them.
Yet such mighty wounds cannot be dismissed so easily, and where the giant was healed the earth was sickened, and for every death blow that threatened to whelm the man-king the sea was poisoned to restore him. The mighty fury that moved these princes was a force to be reckoned with, yet even anger and rage must eventually run their course and be drained. In time the mighty foes began to take note of the horror their feud had wrought and they were ashamed, though neither could gain the advantage to kill his opponent and be done with the destruction. With each blow it became apparent that their war would poison the land and sea till neither had a kingdom left to rule.
Aellir spoke first, as he thrust up under the breastplate of his opponent and pierced the ogre’s beating heart. “Hunding you are named, and a dog you are to kill the earth to sate your greed.”
“And you Halfling are a shame on the head of your dread mother, enslaving your brother Elsar and leading men to conquer,” the giant Hunding. growled as he clove through Aellir’s shoulder.
“It seems we shall never agree,” Aellir said. “Yet for the peace of our people and the health of the land, we must cease this war.”
With that, he thrust his spear till the tip brushed the nose of the giant, yet he did not push the attack instead parrying the giant’s great axe. “Desist I say,” Aellir said. “We must parley and find a peace for the sake of those we cherish, if not our own.”
“Aye,” answered Hunding, “put up thy sword and spear and we shall forge a peace, together.”
With that they called for a tent and sat down to bargain, and if ever a negotiation could be called a battle, such was the exchange between those princes. Day and night they brangled and cursed, taunted and cajoled, plead and wept till the servants who fed them began to collapse from exhaustion. Yet, new servants were summoned, and on they went till a year had passed, and with first flower of spring their compact was at last forged.
The bargain was elegant in it’s simplicity. Neither prince would give ground nor cease to pursue his own ends within the lands of their own domain. Hunding would seize what he could wrest from Lugada, and Aellir would take what he could grasp of the isles. Yet, the sea would be sacred, a no-manâ€™s land free from war and bound only by the Law of the Sea and the rule of the great captains. But, to seal their bargain and prevent further conflict, there would be a price. Each man loved his own child better than himself. Aellir had three daughters named Redbury, Elspeth, and Adyith. They were each very different having certain qualities unique and precious among women. Hunding had not been blessed with so many and had only his dear ogre bairn, Goeener. Aellir, who had plenty, would give up his least daughter to marry Hunding’s only son, and their lands would thus be joined by the blood of matrimony and the joy of grandchildren.
Now, while the twain had fought, the fae of Albion and Russia had been left to their own devices. War between the two had depleted the walkyr and ogres till there were scarce enough to hold the land they had, and the fae had been left to grow strong in arms and numbers. The gnomes had been driven from the earth and huddled in the highest mountains till the sickness caused by the dueling princes was past. But the green forest of the fae, protected from the sickened earth and the battle, had given them hope of pushing mankind back into the scrub where he’d been born.
Being a halfling, half Elsar and half man, Aellir believed that the Elsar he conquered served him faithfully and cheerfully. But such was not the case. For, unbeknownst to the king, his closest adviser was a wicked fae, a spy for the queen of Els, Mav herself. She who would would feign see war continue, for, while the war continued, fae were hunted by neither man nor giant. To this end, she had secretly made a pact with Brahm Oberon, King of the Albar to drive the walkyr of Kumberland back into the sea.
When Aellir returned to his palace to prepare for the betrothal, his adviser came to him and convinced him not to give his least daughter, who was a most fair and thoughtful young woman, but instead to send his oldest daughter who had been widowed during the war and who had born a son fit to be heir to the throne of Kumberland. Thus would Hunding be cheated, for while they had agreed upon his least daughter, the written compact was vague and could be fulfilled thus.
So when Hunding sent his seneschal to collect the maiden bride, King Aellir sent his Eldest, Redbury, a plain woman of considerable grace and devoted to her father. The seneshal stayed that night and dined as a guest of the court, but only the eldest daughter was present at the high table and in the morning he left, taking the young widow with him, believing her to be Adyith. As they left, king Aellir stood on the battlements and waved to his daughter, but standing beside him was the Elsar counselor grinning wickedly at the deception.
Now giants, as you well know, have the keenest of vision for things far distant, though they may be fooled by that which is under their noses. So as the carriage moved off, the seneshal looked sharply at the fae standing with the King and recognized him for the trickster Pukt of Mav’s own court! This same fae had accosted him on the road, to warn him of treachery at the hand of King Aellir. Thinking that some mischief must be afoot, the seneshal began to coax the young widow to speak, and soon they were chatting quite comfortably about the wonders to be found in Thanreach.
Finally, he began to ask after the princess’ preferences. How would she like her rooms to be, what sort of maids would she require, questions such as these lulled the woman into a sense of safety and she was unprepared when the seneshal began in earnest. First he told her of the wondrous beasts that we herded and the many treats that could be found at table. Then he asked casually, who would you most like to present with a gift of thirty young oxen not yet broken to the plow. “Why to my father,” she exclaimed, “for he deserves a bride price fit for a king.”
Nodding, the seneshal continued. “And who should receive a tiara of the finest emeralds?” Now the widow was sly, and knew not to mention her sisters. So she thought a moment and replied, “Why, to my dear nurse who taught me my letters and read to me fine tales of Deacons in Shining Armor, and damosels in distress.”
“And who shall get the sugar plums my master serves each night?” he asked while her heart was full of fancy.
“Why, my own dear son should have his fill of them, my Lord. He is a sweet boy and sweets to the sweet!” she cried.
The seneshal was angered, but the poor widow was so distraught he sent her home saying, “Return to your son madame. The fault is thy father’s, but he shall soon regret having tricked my master.”
When the seneshal arrived home, he announced to the king and the court the result of his long journey. He was wroth to return empty handed and demanded that the Emperor once more prosecute war against Albion for the honor of giants and Emperor Hunding. Instead, Hunding merely smiled and sent again for the daughter of King Aellir. This time he sent his own brother to gather the girl and bring her to him. But, when the brother went to Albion, Aellir once again followed the advice of Pukt, his fae counselor, and sent instead his middle daughter, Elspeth, who was devious in mind and outspoken, though beautiful as any woman might wish and capable of grace and dignity, when it suited her purpose.
But Pukt appeared to the ogre princeling at an inn, where they stopped for the night, and told him that the king had once again treated falsely with the giants. The next day as the Hunding’s brother was bringing the girl to him he regaled her with the wonders she would see in Thanreach. When he had lulled Elspeth with sweet tales, he inquired of her, “In all the world there are no finer craftsmen than the gnomes and giants of my brother’s kingdom. If you found a fine swordsmith, and he offered you his finest blade for the mere sight of your beauty, what would you do?”
“Why, I should fly home and present the blade to my father as a gift!”
“And should you find a fine jeweler who offered you his finest ring, fit only for a maiden of chaste virtue, for nothing more than a lock of thy fair hair?”
“Why, I should fly home and present it to my older sister, for she is a lovely maiden and I shall soon be wed.”
“And should you discover a fine toymaker who offered you his finest doll should you but allow him the honor of a single dance?”
“Why, I should fly home to present it to my least sister, for she still plays with dolls and has tea with the fae who lives in the inglenook of her hearth.”
At this, Hunding’s brother realized he’d been tricked and sent her home to her mother, returning home himself to demand that his brother make war for the honor of giantkind, and of his kingdom.
Finally, Hunding sent his own son, Goeener who had only just become a man and must be accompanied by twenty armsmen and a nurse. He gave his son the charge to collect fair Adyith, and none other, before he returned. However, Hunding was advanced in years and though giants are long lived, his creaky bones betrayed him as he hunted a great daw, with wings as broad as the beam of a galleon, and he fell from a great height and died on the rocky shore below.
Word was sent by Eastmark fae, who rode the winds at the root of a giant osprey’s wings.
The message arrived just as Goeener mounted the steps to enter Aellir’s palace, while the least princess watched from the window of her tower suit. When Goeener heard of his father’s death, he took up his father’s sword that had been brought to him by the fae messenger, and in that moment was transformed from a handsome young princeling to a great ogre, every bit as huge and fearsome as his father.
Since Goeener stood on the very steps of the palace when he heard the news and was transformed, the King’s least daughter saw all this transpire, though she could not see the face of the prince. She was frightened to see the fearsome monster she would soon be wed to, and ran to her father and pleaded with him to release her from his vow, for she felt like a prize sow to be won by the yeoman who shot the keenest yard. Her father had run out of daughters, but he had yet another plan to rid them of their obligation. He was certain he could discourage the new emperor from ever troubling them again. So he told his daughter to bide in patience and wait his decision. But she was frightened and, though she loved her father, she mistrusted his counselors and she fled to her tower to weep.
While she was there, a beautiful fae princess appeared to Adyith and offered to help her escape. Doubting the fairy’s intentions, she asked what the fae would require in return for her aid. The fairy explained that she was the girl’s own fae godmother, and that she sought to protect the princess from the new emperor’s cruel dominion.
Finally relenting, princess Adyith followed the fairy’s instructions and stood upon the sill of her window. There she threw a magical red riding mantel, given to her by the fairy, about her shoulders and was immediately transformed into a beautiful Bullfinch. Her silver dress became the finch’s wings and tail, while her raven hair became the finch’s black hood. Everything she wore was transformed with her, save her silver slippers beaded with pearls, for a bird has no use for slippers.
She flew from the window and soon was lost in the shear joy of flight. She flew for hours till she grew hungry and cold and began to wonder what a bullfinch might eat. As she hunted and devoured several juicy flies, she found a beautiful young minstrel singing and playing his harp, beneath a spreading chestnut tree. The young man’s song captured her heart and she landed in the branches above his head to listen as he sang of great battles and lands long lost to the forest. He sang of lost love and dead heroes and finally his song turned to regret for the wrongs great men do.
His song was so touching and his voice so sweet that poor Adyith began to weep, but as she was a bird, her wails came forth as the song of the Bullfinch. The young man was in his own turn enraptured and sat quietly listening to the heart-breaking song of the princess for she too knew sorrow. In a single day, she had lost her father and her home as she fled marriage to young ogre. And, though it seemed hardly possible, she wished for the love of a fine and comely man like the minstrel.
The minstrel wished to keep such a beautiful song bird for his own, and he coaxed Adyith from her perch as she gladly flew to light on his shoulder. The minstrel took her with him to the nearby village and had made for her a beautiful golden cage. The cage was a wondrous construction with mirrors and perches of the finest silver, but it had no door. Instead, the entrance was open with a perch set before it like a porch, and the princess was free to fly about at her whim. This was strange and welcome, as Adyith had no wish to be trapped in a cage to live out her life as a songbird. Yet she didn’t wish to leave the beautiful young man and his sweet voice. She might have transformed and met him as herself, but she feared to reveal herself to minstrel lest the goodman be frightened by the magic of her transformation, or that her father or her fiancee might hear tales and come to take her away. . . .