Ch 26 Bonfire Dance

This episode of Bleakbourne on Heath is dedicated to Debra Hayes, who has waited so patiently for Leryn to reappear.


All over Bleakbourne on Heath, couples were preparing to dance the ritual dance, and Leryn the Bard was going to be a dancer. Tom Tailor had offered to play his crwth, which he pronounced ‘crewth,’ an old-fashioned instrument that was played with a bow, much as a viol was, and Janet had agreed to play her bodhran.

The bard loved nothing more than playing with other musicians and had spent many a congenial evening, along with other locals who had a small knack for music. But it was his wedding night and his bonfire dance, and Janet had firmly insisted he would honor the traditions and not play a note. He bowed to her wisdom, as she was knowledgeable in such things.

He was grateful for Polcock and Hannah. They had aided Leryn in his preparations as if he were their son. For the previous two weeks, Hannah had instructed him in his part with Polcock giving advice, ensuring he wouldn’t make a misstep during that most crucial part of the ritual.

Leryn’s nerves nearly got the best of him, but Polcock and Hannah reassured him.

Rosie had been involved in her part of preparing for the ritual too, staying with Lancelyn and Galahad who were acting as her brothers, to ensure she and Leryn didn’t accidentally cross paths during the three days before the wedding. The two knights had scoured the countryside looking for flowers, and their part of the night’s ritual was completed and waiting in the barley field for the bride and groom.

In all the fields around Bleakbourne, the families of the about-to-be-married couples were also looking for flowers to adorn their bowers for the most important part of the wedding night. Leryn and Rosie would lay under the stars in Polcock’s barley field, shielded by the arbor set aside for them. Lance and Galahad had set it up perfectly and decorated it, and the two knights would stand guard, at a respectful distance, of course. Farmers vied to provide a field for the connubial couples, as the fields so blessed would be fruitful for years to come.

Solstice Night had arrived, and bonfires lit the countryside. At last, dressed in his new clothes and filled with the determination to make Rosie proud of him, Leryn gathered with the other grooms in the village square.

Gazing across the square at the assembled brides, he saw Rosie, her elven beauty standing out among the others. Her unruly crimson hair had been braided and was bound by flowers. Hannah and Janet had sewn her red dress, a simple garment as compared to some of the other dresses, yet it’s simplicity made it all the more flattering to her slender figure. Unlike the other brides, she wore no jewelry. The flowers in her hair were all the decoration she wanted.

Wood was piled in the bonfire pit at one end of the market square, unlit but ready for the spark. An altar table stood in the center. The grooms stood across from the brides, both groups having entered the square from opposite sides. The crowd fell silent as, bearing both the Moonstaff and the Holy Book, Brother Henson entered the square and set the Holy Book on the altar. He stood before it, praying, then turned to the assembled townsfolk with the staff raised. In firm, ringing tones, he called, “Who among you desires to be wed beneath the moon and stars tonight? Come forth and stand before me, brides and grooms.”

The two groups crossed the square, stopping in two ranks before Brother Henson, each couple facing their intended spouse.  The good brother walked between the two rows. Stopping before the first pair and taking the left hands of each he said, “Father Sun and Mother Moon, watch over this family from tonight until death parts them. Under the stars above, I declare you bound one to the other, forever and always. Give heed to each other’s counsel, and do not go to sleep angry. Coins mean little in the fullness of time—love is the one treasure you can take with you when you depart this Earth.” Having said that he placed the bride’s hand in the groom’s and moved to the next couple, speaking the same words.

When he had linked the last pair, the five couples joined hands and formed a circle around him. Raising his arms to the starlit sky, Brother Henson declared, “Beneath the stars and before all the deities you have joined your lives. As the sun and the moon do their daily dance, so do we who live here below.”

With that, Tom Tailor touched the bow to his crwth and played the opening refrain of the Wedding Dance. The five couples moved in unison, stepping and turning, the grooms lifting the brides in time to the pounding of the bodhran. Hand in hand they danced, repeating the pattern and revolving around Brother Henson, as the watching throng cheered. The music played faster and faster, and the dancers spun and wove the dance, lifting and twirling, never faltering or losing their way. The tension in the air grew as life-magic was funneled in to Brother Henson, gathering and growing until at last the monk’s Moonstaff lit up the night. He raised it high above his head, and a shaft of brilliant white light left the staff, igniting the bonfire to the joyful roar of the crowd.

With the lighting of the bonfire, the five couples fanned out, still dancing, leaping and twirling as they wove the spell of happiness and good fortune. Other couples joined them, and the square was filled with dancers, each casting the spell of prosperity and happiness.

After the party had died down the wedding guests walked to their homes, weary but pleased with the way the Solstice fertility rites had gone. As Polcock and Hannah settled into their bed, Hannah remarked, “It was a good bonfire dance.”

Polcock agreed. “One of the best we’ve had.”

Hannah put her arms around her husband. “Are you sorry we didn’t wait until Solstice night to get married?”

“Not at all. Solstice night is the young bride and groom’s night, as they need all the blessings the deities can offer. My first wife and I were married on Solstice night, and we were very happy.”

Hannah said, “I still remember the bonfire dance when I was married the first time. I spent a month sewing my dress.”

“I’ll bet you were the prettiest bride there.” He thought for a moment. “But you have to admit, we danced well at our wedding party. We’ve been blessed, too.”

Hannah felt a surge of love for her sometimes prickly husband. “And we’ve been quite happy ever since.”

>>><<<

Lancelyn and Galahad appeared at the Ploughman’s Inn bright and early, handling Rosie’s tasks in the stable. They boarded their horses there and usually spent their evenings there as well. Galahad curried Brunhilde, Rosie’s mare, examining her closely. When he was finished, he patted her neck, whispering reassurances to her.

She was due to foal any day, and while he wasn’t unduly concerned, there was just the slightest worry in the back of his mind that the foal would have to be put down. Morgause balanced on Lancelyn’s shoulder, but she closely watched Brunhilde. Galahad observed the cat’s behavior, seeing she was calm. Her demeanor suggested there was nothing to worry about.

When he crossed over to the bench to rack the curry comb and hoof-pick, Morgause stepped lightly to Galahad’s shoulder from Lance’s, purring. He stroked her tawny fur, sending her his affection. “You don’t want me to worry.” In answer, she rubbed her cheek against his, causing him to smile. “If you say there’s nothing to worry about, I believe you.”

Lancelyn had finished mucking out, and they led the horses to the paddock. Brunhilde immediately distanced herself from the other horses, but otherwise displayed her usual placid demeanor. “I think we’ll have a foal soon,” Lance said. “She’s behaving well, but she’s avoiding the other horses. That’s one more sign pointing to it happening tonight or tomorrow.”

“I think you’re right. It’s been a normal equine pregnancy so far.” Leaning against the fence, Galahad watched the other horses, seeing them calmly grazing, tails flicking away flies. “From the way her belly looks, the foal is normal sized. She seems to be carrying it well.”

Lancelyn looked away. “What if… what if it’s….”

“A centaur?” Galahad’s words fell harshly into the soft summer morning. “We’ll do what we have to, in such a way that Brunhilde isn’t traumatized. But Morgause seems to think it will be a normal foal.”

Stepping down after giving Galahad one last caress, the cat walked along the fence rail, leaping onto Lance’s shoulder. Laying her soft cheek against his, she purred softly in his ear. “She’s trying to comfort me.”

“Morgause loves us, and she knows things. If she says there’s nothing to worry about, we should heed her.”

>>><<<

Dawn had come to Polcock’s barley field. The sky was blue, birds sang, and Leryn was utterly happy. He’d heard Lancelyn and Galahad depart from their posts, most likely to go to the Ploughman’s Inn.

He reflected on the events of previous weeks, making the orb for Bramblestein, and sealing Jason Tenneriff and his court in the space between worlds. The confrontation with the demon was drawing nearer, and he might not survive it. He knew that, but he had accomplished one thing for himself, despite the possible hitches. He’d gotten properly married the way young men and women were supposed to.

The bonfire dance had been spectacular, and while he and Rosie wouldn’t be blessed with children of their own, many children would be born to the couples who had danced that night. Besides, he and Rosie would have many years together. Who knew when an orphaned child would need a family? After everything they had been through, to have been given this chance at happiness was more than he could take, and tears stung his eyes.

Rosie filled his senses, making him feel complete as no other woman had ever done. He kissed her hair, and she stirred in his arms but drifted into a deeper sleep.

So many things had gone wrong since he’d come to Bleakbourne, a naïve journeyman looking for folk tales. He’d discovered that the line between fable and reality was sometimes blurred. Many sacrifices had been made, and more would be demanded, but Leryn had this moment and was determined to revel in it.


“Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2016-2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

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Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger, and a regular contributing member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.

Bleakbourne on Heath Ch 24, The Darkness Within.

dreamstime_xs_60206567Two months had passed. The day of the summer solstice was approaching, with all the usual celebrations, bonfires, and fertility rites. Leryn and Rosie were going to be married in a proper ceremony under the solstice moon.

Merlin’s health had steadily improved over the spring. Two weeks prior, Janet had allowed him to use his magic, and he had promptly begun teaching Leryn what he had to know about creating the orb. Just after dawn on the day before the solstice, the two rode toward the Tower, where Bramblestein and Janet lived.

It was actually Merlin’s Tower, but he hadn’t lived in it for two hundred years. During that time, Bramblestein had divided his time between Londown and keeping an eye on the Tower. The dwarf met them, opening the door to what appeared to be a stable, set against the rear of the keep. “You two were arguing so loudly, the neighbors probably heard you.”

Merlin snapped, “Don’t be ridiculous. The nearest neighbor is five miles away.”

“Exactly.” Glancing around suspiciously, Bramblestein closed the door after them. The lamps were lit, and the place wasn’t too dark. A wagon loaded with most of his and Janet’s possessions stood inside the large stable. He gestured to the cart. “We’ll still need to return here whenever I have to work on something that can’t be done in Londown so we’re keeping the little room off the kitchen for our quarters. It’s out of the way so we won’t bother you. We’re ready to leave after the boy gets married.”

“I didn’t expect you to turf yourselves out.” Merlin glanced away. “I dumped this place on you all those years ago. It’s your home more than mine.”

“My home is in Londown and always has been. This is only a place I go to work on things I can’t do there. Let’s let Janet get the tour out of the way, so we can get downstairs to my special workshop.” He gave Merlin a stern look. “She and the other ladies worked hard trying to make this place into a home fit for someone they consider a friend. You’d damned well better be appreciative.”

“I’m thankful.” The wizard appeared wounded. “Of course I am. Why would you ever think I’m not?”

“Because you’re a self-centered old jackass who never learned any manners.”

>>><<<

The tour of Merlin’s living quarters had gone well, with Merlin making all the right comments. Tears had sprung to his eyes on seeing the portrait of a beautiful young woman with auburn hair. It had been hung over the mantel in his library. Leryn was curious but said nothing.

Janet whispered, “His daughter, Anneliese.”

Something clicked in Leryn’s memory. He cast his mind back to the night of the Crypt Wind. The Demon Knight had paid a visit to the Ploughman’s Inn while he had waited for William Smith to finish reforging the sword. After questioning Leryn closely about what he had seen at Tenneriff’s Keep, the Demon’s mutters implied Jason Tenneriff had raped and murdered the wizard’s daughter. Leryn’s eyes met Bramblestein’s, seeing confirmation.

Janet touched Merlin’s sleeve, consoling him. All she said was, “I’ve put together a snack, so we’ll meet you in the kitchen, once you’ve gotten your things settled.” The three left Merlin alone in the library to allow him a chance to recover.

>><<<

The three men left the kitchen and wound down a spiral stair, down to a fully outfitted Dwarven workshop. “I’ll need to keep this room for some kinds of work if you don’t mind.”

Merlin nodded, still overcome. “I never used these rooms for more than storage. My workroom is at the top, where I can more closely watch the stars. They will have much to tell us after this is done, I think.”

Leryn was curious about the many strange instruments, cogs, wheels, and gears lining the shelves to the right of the door. To the left were shelves lined with glass beakers filled with different colored liquids. Still more shelves held jars filled with various powders. Several large bins filled the space under one long workbench, and yet another workbench was placed beneath a tool rack, with every tool neatly in its place. A third bench contained an instrument of some sort, one the dwarf was obviously in the process of building. Behind it, on the wall, was a drawing, plans for assembling the instrument. It was hung beneath a rack of jewelers’ tools, also neatly organized. Filled with curiosity, the bard investigated everything. Respectfully, he touched nothing.

Everything was at the perfect height for the dwarf, so the benches were too low for Leryn to use comfortably, and Merlin would have to crouch.

Bramblestein said, “If you’re done gawking, we have work to do.” He opened a heavily armored door, which led into a cavernous chamber. Entering the vast room, Leryn’s attention was drawn to a large furnace at the far side. The fire box was divided into three chambers. The first chamber held the crucible, the second was the glory hole for reheating the glass in between steps of working with it, and the third chamber was the annealer. “Making glass is a form of alchemy we dwarves have perfected for centuries.”

Bramblestein explained the annealer would slowly cool the crystal, over a period of a few hours to a few days, depending on the size of the pieces. “If I do it right, the slow cooling will prevent the glass from cracking or shattering.” He met Leryn’s gaze. “If that happens, we’ll have to do this again. Fortunately, we’ve enough to make three, but God forbid we should have to.”

Bramblestein put on a leather apron, then handed them each a soaking wet bandanna. “Plait your hair and cover it with one of these. It’ll keep you cooler.” Once they had done that he handed them leather aprons and goggles. “The fire for this is different than the usual glassmaker’s fire. These are tinted, and should protect your sight.”

Leryn noted the stress on the word should.

Merlin turned to Leryn. “You remember what I told you, right? You will face the darkness in your own soul. Just like at the Devere Crypt the darkness will try to throw you off key. Remain firm. You must prevail, or the orb will be tainted.”

“I’m familiar with that aspect of myself. I had intimate companionship with it for several months.” Leryn grimaced. “It’s too hot in here. Let’s get the bloodletting over with so we can get on with the misery.”

“It won’t be what you expect. It never is. Remember, pay attention to what you do and think. You must defeat the darkness within you. Or you will die.” Merlin seemed worried, which concerned Leryn more than he wanted to admit.

Bramblestein said, “Come, Take your places. We must make the gift.”

Clearing his mind and opening his heart as well as he could in the face of his fear, Leryn took his place on Bramblestein’s left and Merlin on his right. As one, the three knelt before the altar of Creidne, the smith-god of the Dwarves.

The ritual was slightly different from the sacraments Leryn had taken part in before. Bramblestein collected and mixed their blood in a bowl cut from white quartz, singing a spell in the Dwarven language. Bowing, he placed the gift of blood on the altar where it sat unchanged. Then he turned and led them to the crucible. The stone floor before the furnace had been inset with a gigantic compass rose, inlays done in white quartz, amber agate, and deep blue lapis lazuli.

“We must stand at the cardinal points.” He stationed Merlin in the blade on the West and Leryn on the East. He stood on the South, facing the crucible. “North is the domain of Creidne. The god of fire always stands there. Let go of fear and doubt. Think only of what you value most.”

Bramblestein began his work. At first, nothing unusual happened. Gathered around the crucible, the three sang the spell in unison, and the dwarf took the pipe and made the first dip into the crucible. Four times he dipped the glowing lump of glass into the crucible until it was the size of a large man’s fist. Quickly, Bramblestein formed the ball, rolling the pipe and shaping the blob with the block. As the lump became rounder, he used the jacks to form a neck.

From the corner of his eye, Leryn saw the offering on the altar undergo the change, signifying the god’s presence. The red column of mist rose. To his horror, it formed the shape of the last thing he had ever expected to see: his father’s face, an image of a man who’d been as evil as any demon. The mist became a vision, which became more real and solid than the stifling workshop. Leryn heard himself continue singing as his soul was transported to the place he’d been born, viewing it from above.

DSCF2724As if he were a bird, he watched his father, Owain ap Rhys, toss his nine-year-old son out into the snow, with bare feet and no coat. From within the cabin, he could hear his stepmother pleading for him to be allowed inside, to no avail.

Hearing her voice, he was immersed in that day, no longer viewing the scene from a safe distance. Leryn lived it, experiencing the rage and helplessness as if he were still a nine-year-old boy, powerless to stop his father.

Desperate, his feet burning from the cold, he searched for his secret way inside, through the woodshed. Once inside, Lisbeth saw him and kept Owain’s attention on her to give him a chance to hide. With Owain occupied, pacing and ranting before the hearth, the boy crept silently through the shadows to the ladder and up to his bed in the attic. Shivering and awash with terror, he pulled on his socks and hid under his scant blankets, hoping to go unnoticed until his father fell into a drunken stupor.

He was jolted out of his hiding place by the sound of Rosie’s voice, pleading with Owain.

Leryn looked down through a crack in the floorboards and saw Owain strike her.

But it couldn’t have been Rosie… he hadn’t known her then. Nevertheless, it was Rosie’s bloody form he saw crumple to the floor, her swollen body contorting, laboring to give birth to her stillborn child. Owain kicked her and kicked her again.

Scrambling down the ladder, Leryn shouted at his father to stop. Owain turned on him, rage twisting his features. Blows rained down, the vision shifted, and then he found himself lying beneath the table in his own vomit. His body ached all over, as if his ribs were broken, but it didn’t matter. His will to live was gone.

Rosie lay dead, a broken flower in a pool of red.

Owain’s words burned into his soul. “Clean her up, boy. Then get a hole dug for her.”

“Rosie….” Consumed with grief and hate, he stood behind his father, feeling the full force of his nine-year-old body’s weakness. Owain never remembered his fits, but on seeing his wife or son’s fresh bruises and contusions, he always knew something had happened. There was never an apology, only more blows to dodge.

Staring at the back of Owain’s head, Leryn’s hands had balled into fists. Leryn burned with the desire to kill his father. He smiled, realizing he had the power. He had all the magic he needed, and then some.

A voice whispered, “Do it.”

Something wasn’t quite right.

Leryn answered, “I had no magic. Not then.”

“You do now. You could avenge Rosie, and your mother, and your stepmother. You could end his vile life forever. Just stop his heart with your magic, and no one would know it was you. He deserves to die.”

Leryn pressed his hands to his eyes, and his body shook as he considered it. He knelt beside Rosie, smoothing her hair back from her bloody face, his small hand closing her eyes. When he touched her hair, he remembered what really had happened, that the dead woman had been his stepmother and not Rosie. With his recalling the truth, the dead woman’s face transformed into Lisbeth’s gentle features, and sadness overwhelmed him. “She loved me.”

What had he really done on that terrible day? He couldn’t remember, but although he’d ached with the desire to do so, he knew he hadn’t done murder.

Again the voice said, “You could do it now. The world would be a better place without him.”

“But then I would be no better than him.”

“What if it had been Rosie? What then?”

“But it wasn’t her. I was only nine years old.”

After a long moment of silence, the voice went away. Leryn dressed as well as he was able for the weather, pretending to obey his father’s command.

He left his father’s house, beginning the long trek to his grandmother’s home, never looking back.

As he left the shanty behind, there was music all around him, drowning out the memory. The music took precedence, and he focused on the rhythm of the glowing ball of glass and magic. Merlin and Leryn sang the spell and Bramblestein worked the molten sphere with various tools until it was a perfect orb, alternately heating it in the glory hole and rolling the tube back and forth with a smooth rhythm that never faltered or varied. The dwarf was in tune with the moods of the glass, and the glass absorbed the heat of the magic.

The song swelled, and the molten crystal drew the magic from the two wizards. Aware he had passed the test, Leryn sank deeper into the trance.

>>>><<<

They had finished the orb. Leryn lay stretched out on the cool grass before the tower, nearly asleep. He was so exhausted he couldn’t climb onto his horse, and he hadn’t done anything other than sing. Beside him, Merlin lay snoring lightly.

Bramblestein sat meditating or praying.  Feeling Leryn’s gaze on him, he glanced up. “I’ll know in two days if we have to do this again.”

Leryn shuddered. “I don’t know if I can go through that again.”

All the dwarf said was, “I know what you mean.” His eyes were fixed on some dark thing only he could see.


Bleakbourne front Cover copy Small for website“Bleakbourne on Heath”  © 2016 – 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

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The Little Princess (part 2)

Trouble begins when Princess Adora gains a baby brother…

On Myrddin Publishing’s blog this week, I posted part of a chapter from my forthcoming novel EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS which described how Princess Adora came to be born. Here is what happened nine years later. (You can read the preceding section here.)

 

As was the custom, lost in the eternal fog of ancient ritual, if the thing produced from the loins of woman had been a male, it would have been quickly removed from the chamber as though it had never been created. No mourning would occur and no announcement of the failure would be made. A female child was placed into the breast cradle and offered a nipple to suck and encouraged to dine with great passion from that first day forward and for as long as the motherly teats gave milk.

Adora, the little princess, noted the arrangement, standing quietly beside the nursing lounger, watching her mother lovingly press the new babe against her large breast.

“What words have you to say to your new sister?” asked Queen Dorothea nine years after birthing little Adora.

“I suppose I will say ‘Welcome to Sannan’ to her.” The pretty girl thought for a moment. “What shall I call her?”

The queen smiled, her chubby cheeks flushing as they often did when she was delighted.

“Let’s call her . . . Lumina. She is so bright. How is that?”

“Lu-mi-na. Yes! I like it!” exclaimed the girl.

“So it is done. The naming. A lovely name for a queen. Almost as great as Adora. Now let the realm know my second daughter is to be called Lumina—Princess Lumina.”

The chief maid exited the slumber chamber to pass the news to the court crier who would make the official announcement.

“What will happen to the other babe?” asked Adora.

The nursing maids chuckled. Such a beautiful, naïve child, they seemed to suggest. Once she returns to her tutors, she will learn more of the customs of Sannan.

“It’s none of your concern. Go and make play for yourself.”

Adora turned to the basket on the floor beside the great slumber seat. In the basket the babe gurgled, threatening to cry, its tiny feet wriggling above the basket’s rim. She wanted to step closer and get a better look, to see if this one was as cute as the babe resting on her mother’s chest sucking the nipple.

“Sometimes the goddesses bless us with extra measure,” the glad queen spoke in a soothing voice. “As always, we must dispense with males, the sons and brothers, fathers and uncles, lest they return our great realm to ancient depravity and ring loud the bellicose bell. You must remember the history of womankind.”

“I do,” said Adora. “I listen to my tutors always.”

“As you should.” The queen spoke to her maids a moment. When she returned her eyes to Adora, she said: “I hire only the best tutors for you, so you can trust what they tell you.”

Adora stared at the babe in the basket. The queen saw her abject attention and waved at one of the nursing maids.

“Remove the waste,” commanded the queen.

When the basket was taken out, Her Majesty turned as best she could, rolling on her side upon the slumber seat, and gazed at her elder daughter.

“When your time comes, little one, a suitable sire will be arranged for you. You need not trouble yourself until then. After the necessary coupling you need never have to see that beast again. Until then, you have plenty of lovely girls to play with. So go on now and play. Those twins Countess Nadal has . . . you always get on with them, don’t you? Delightful girls.”

Adora pouted.

“Do not show a sour face. The maids will think you have erred in some way. And we shall not call you Adora any longer, for you won’t be adorable any longer.”

“But, Mama, I want—”

“Adora!”

“I’m sorry, Mama.”

“Mama? You forget who you are, child!”

The girl bowed her head. “Yes, Your Majesty. Forgive me, Queen Dorothea. I’m only a child.”

“Very well, forgiven you are.”

After a moment, Adora raised her eyes to her mother.

“May I keep it for a pet?”

The queen stared at the child, then shifted her weight upon the great slumber seat, tucking the newborn daughter into the cleft of her elbow with a warm smile. The nursing maids gasped, fearing that the newborn would be crushed.

“A pet?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Already you fancy a pet? You’re not yet of the age for that.”

“I just want to play with it.”

“You must know such creatures will grow into adulthood, just as  you shall. It is not a good thing. Not much of a pet then. By such age it will be dangerous. They surely will be violent.”

“I only wish a pet for now,” said Adora, daring to raise her eyes to the queen. “If it please Your Majesty. I think caring for a pet will teach me many responsibilities.”

“Responsibilities!”

The queen chuckled. She rolled over onto her back once more to hand off the newborn babe to a nursing maid.

“Better you had a canine or feline for that kind of lesson, or even a small dragon would do as well. Not a male babe.”

“I beg you, Ma—Your Majesty!”

“Begging? That’s not very becoming of a princess.”

The queen thought for a moment, her chubby fingers stroking her daughter’s soft cheek.

“Very well, child. You shall have the male babe as a pet. Yet only until it reaches the size you are now. Then it must be set aside as the others are. Before it can do any harm.”

“What will become of the babe then?”

“Likely it will be sent to the workhouse for training. All the males we keep become either warriors or laborers, as you should know. The lesson needs teaching to you this week. Ask your tutor for the lesson about males. Only the tests will determine which path it goes. If a warrior, then we may need a few battles to be able to determine who of them is worthy of service for our younger women.” She raised her voice for the note taker’s benefit: “We owe a battle to Anjoz, don’t we? They dare encroach on our south shore once more.” Returning her attention to the princess, she continued: “Those warriors who are victorious will endure and serve. Those who do not pass become at best common laborers, at worst farm fodder.”

The girl gasped, as though expecting a pinch of pain.

“And laborers do not touch maidens.”

“Correct, child. Your tutors have taught you well. I shall add to their wages.”

“Will there be a battle soon?” asked Adora.

The queen chuckled. “Why soon?”

“I wish to know if it will stay or go before I devote my attention to caring for it.”

The queen patted the girl’s head. “You will make a fine queen some day, Princess Adora. You are always planning for the future and wanting it now. Such a delight!”

The queen gave the command and the basket was retrieved with some effort and returned to the slumber chamber.

Set on the floor at Adora’s feet, the male babe wriggled and cooed contentedly in the basket as though nothing awful had happened or was about to happen. That was as it should be, thought Adora as she gazed down upon her baby brother.

#Serial: Bleakbourne on Heath: Ch 22 Confessions

Bleakbourne front Cover copy Small for websiteRosie rode toward Bleakbourne on Heath feeling unsure of herself, as always. She was a competent knight and was more than able to handle any task on her own but…there was the problem of Brunhilde.

Her horse was getting along in her pregnancy, and there were complications of a magical nature. Whatever else happened, the horse had to be in Bleakbourne on the River Heath when the foal…or whatever…was born.

So far it had progressed like a normal equine pregnancy, but it was time to take Brunhilde off the road and only ride her for exercise. Also, Brunhilde wouldn’t want to go rescuing until after the foal was weaned, assuming they could allow it to live. Rosie refused to think about that.

That meant Rosie would have to find a job for the next eight months to a year. The only things she was good at were knight-at-large work, and being a barmaid. With Hannah handling the cooking at the Ploughman’s Inn, Polcock was acting as his own barmaid again, which he didn’t enjoy. He’d sworn he would have plenty of work for her once the bard returned, as he’d always kept the people dancing, and dancing was thirsty work.

It was just—Leryn. The bard might have returned during her brief absence. Rosie had gone to visit Roland, her foster father, as she always did when she was in trouble and found him well enough, but old. He had good advice, as always.

Now that she understood how different Bleakbourne was, how as long as they remained in that village Leryn was in no danger of being murdered for loving a half-elven girl—everything had changed.

She had enough coins to buy a cottage. If she stayed in Bleakbourne, she could entice Roland to come to live with her, and she could take care of her foster father in his old age.

However, if she stayed, she would eventually have to explain why she’d never told Leryn the truth. It didn’t matter, as he probably knew. Merlin had most likely told Leryn that she’d never have a child in his lifetime, and would outlive him by centuries if her being dragon bait didn’t get her killed first.

>>><<<

Leryn glanced up, seeing Rosie and Brunhilde pass the window, heading for the stable. Brunhilde looked as if she was getting close to her time, but she looked like any normal horse in the last weeks of pregnancy. He looked away as Galahad rose and went out to the stable to meet them, followed by Lancelyn, with Morgause riding on his shoulder as always.

He gazed down at his manuscript. He would get nothing done, now that Rosie was home. He couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t think of anything but her. He looked over where Merlin sat before the fire. The wizard was in better health than he had been when they first returned, but he was still weak. Riding in the rain and not resting properly after taking an arrow to the chest had caused him to develop a touch of pneumonia but Janet, Bramblestein’s wife, assured Leryn the wizard was making a steady recovery.

Setting his quill down, Leryn stood, and stretched. “Merlin, the afternoon barges should be arriving. I’ll just run on down to the docks, to see if they have any news today.”

Merlin’s sharp gaze missed nothing, but all he said was, “Geordie Stout should be back from Gravesend. Go and see if he’s heard anything new. I doubt it, but we may as well check.” He was going by his real name, but claiming to be another of Polcock’s uncles, which explained his resemblance to Ambrose. Several folks had laughed, saying they had one relative or another who’d also been named after the old, dead, wizard.

>>><<<

Polcock showed the last customer out the door, shaking his head. “You had them dancing so much they didn’t want to leave. You’ve been in rare form since you returned.”

Leryn set his harp in his usual corner, and then stood at the bar. He didn’t want to discuss how his music had changed and had never told Polcock how it had happened or what he was capable of. However, being mindful of his magic, he was determined to keep the music harmless and fun. “I’ve just been trying to do my bardic duty. The more they dance, the more they drink, and that can only help your profits.”

With his mood being anything but cheerful since returning to find Rosie gone, Leryn had to force himself to keep his music light and entertaining. That became easier every night, a matter of putting himself in the role of entertainer and not getting caught up in the music. His diligence pleased Merlin.

Polcock and Hannah went off to bed. Lance reclaimed his cat from Rosie’s lap, and he and Galahad went off to their room. Leryn stood uncertainly, then walked toward the stairs.

Rosie followed him up. She paused at his door, as if she would follow him into his room. Projecting a false brightness, he said, “Good night Rosie. Pleasant dreams.” He turned, entering his room, and closed the door behind him.

Rosie pressed her forehead to the door, whispering. “Leryn. I know you can hear me. We need to talk.”

He leaned with his back against the door, tears streaking his face. “Go to bed, Rosie. I don’t want to talk about it.” Leryn heard her intake of breath, then the rustle of her leaving. He crossed to his bed.

He was lying on his bed in the dark, too wound up to sleep, when his door opened and closed. “We need to talk.”

Leryn sat up. “I told you I have nothing to say. Please, go to your room.”

“You’re not the man you were two months ago. You look the same on the outside, but you’ve been changed.” Rosie sat on the foot of his bed, silhouetted in the darkness. “I’m not leaving until you tell me what happened.”

“Nothing happened, except you left me, and didn’t tell me why. Then, I messed everything up even further by jumping into bed with another woman. Does that make you happy?”

“No. But there’s more to it than that, so tell me what it it is. Tell me what is preying on you.”

>>><<<

“Things were pretty well ruined between you and me already, but I do wish there had been some other way. There wasn’t.” The shadows of his room and the darkness of the moonless night had made it easier to tell Rosie the whole story of his encounter with Arianrhod, for which Leryn was grateful.

“Do you love her?”

“A little. Yes. She occupies a piece of my heart.”

“As she should, since she carries your child. Do you still love me?”

Sick to his stomach with the knowledge that he’d lost Rosie forever, Leryn was unable to face her, looking instead into the shadowed corners of the room. “That’s what makes this so terrible. I never stopped loving you and I never will. I betrayed my love for you, and I did it willingly.”

Surprised, Rosie took his hand. “Even if we’d been married, I wouldn’t feel betrayed.”

Leryn turned to meet her eyes, overcome by a strange mix of shock and relief. “How can you say that? I fathered a child with another woman. If that isn’t betrayal, I don’t know what is.”

“Sometimes, things happen that are too big for mere mortals, Leryn. We’re in the middle of something like that now. It’s too big to define as right or wrong. You had the larger world to think of. What would happen to us, to elves and humans if the primordial forest faded away? Legend says it’s the source of magic. Would the magic and the beauty of this world all disappear too?”

“Arianrhod feared that would happen…but there was another, more important reason, at least to me. I had to get the wood, or Bramblestein wouldn’t be able to make a hot enough fire to create the orb. I wanted to save Bleakbourne and…you. We made the blood sacrifice, but it wasn’t enough because the forest was dying.” His voice broke. “But alongside those excuses, I desired her, and wanted to be with her. I knew it would be the end of us. I’m sorry.”

“I abandoned you, but you still love me.” She shook her head. “I don’t care what happened between you and Arianrhod. I’m sorry you had to give up so much. But I can’t think of a better man for the Goddess of the Wood to choose to ensure the forest continues.”

Leryn wasn’t sure he’d heard her correctly. “You mean you understand why I agreed? And you don’t hate me?”

“No! I love you. And, I owe you an explanation of why I left you.” Rosie spoke quickly before her courage failed. “I know Merlin told you my secret. I’m going to stay young, and you will grow old, and I will have to watch you wither and die. I won’t have any children for at least sixty more years because I’m too much like my father. I can pass for an elf—but inside this elf body is a human heart. I have the soul of a human, which is why I can’t live in Elven Home. I don’t fit in there—and I only fit in here in Bleakbourne. I knew you wanted to settle down with me, and I couldn’t bear to tell you I won’t be having any children in your lifetime.”

“You should have trusted me.” Leryn looked away. “That would have hurt, but it wouldn’t have changed my heart. I would still have loved you.”

“I know. I wish I could go back and change that, but I can’t.” She took both his hands and forced him to meet her gaze. “I left because I feared for you. The world is terribly cruel. In any other town, you could be murdered for loving me. A human and an elf…you know what could happen. Most people don’t realize I’m not fully elven.”

Leryn decided to tell her the complete truth. “You may want to avoid me when you hear the next bit. The Goddess of the Wood took away the normal barriers humans have regarding wielding magic. Music is how white magic manifests and right now I’m like a dangerous child. All I have to do to tip off the demon is to have an unguarded moment of enjoyment while I’m playing my pipes. Just idly humming is chancy, because I am just beginning to learn how to control it.”

“Then it wasn’t my imagination. Your music tonight was irresistible. No one can sit when you want people to dance.” Rosie grinned. “My gift is calling dragons, and I can’t really control it, either. They always find me, and I can’t make them leave without resorting to violence.” She leaned forward, kissing him. “Can we start all over again?”

Leryn’s pulse raced, and his heart thumped wildly. “Even though I’ll probably die when we do face the Demon? He has centuries of experience, and I have none. I can’t bear to tell Lancelyn what a pathetic apprentice wizard I am, not after what he and Galahad endured. They’re sure we’re going to win because that’s how they are.”

“But you’ll have the orb. That will make the difference.”

Leryn nodded. “Bramblestein is going to create the orb as soon as Merlin is well enough. I’m studying hard so I can assist him. We all three have to contribute our magic to the creation of the orb. Merlin says that with Bramblestein wielding the orb and my new gift, we’ll have a full triumvirate.” He shrugged. “We might be able to permanently seal off the Demon. Assuming I can learn what I need to know in time, that is.”

Rosie leaned forward and kissed him again, leaving him in no doubt as to her intentions. “I love you. A long life isn’t a sure thing for either of us, you know. I could die anytime I go out to scare off a dragon, but I have to do it because it’s my fault they come here. Let’s share what time we have together and be grateful.”

Overcome with joy, Leryn’s arms went around her, and his world narrowed to that moment and her embrace.


“Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2016 – 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

To Read Previous Episodes of “Bleakbourne on Heath” click here:

Bleakbourne on Heath Series

Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger, and a regular contributing member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.

#Serial: Bleakbourne on Heath Ch 21: Homecoming

dreamstime_xs_60206567Lancelyn’s wagon inched past the crown of yet another fallen tree. Leryn and Galahad had dragged it out of the way as well as they could. In the areas near towns, local wood cutters were gradually clearing the roads, but with so many trees blown down by the storm, they had many months of work ahead of them before the trail through the wilderness was freely passable once more.

At Maldon, they had joined up with the Kings Highway, which under normal circumstances, was fairly decent to travel on. However, the storm that had wrought so much death and destruction had become a boon to highwaymen and thieves. Twice more, they had been set upon by men intent on murder, but Galahad and Leryn had dealt with them.

The first encounter with thieves after leaving the chapel had occurred just outside the village of Malden at the headwaters of the River Heath. They remained unmolested after that for several days and managed to get all the way through Londown, stopping for the night in Bramblestein’s rooms there.

That had been a mistake, as the dwarf was beside himself with worry over all the work he had left undone there and was ready to drop everything to clean it up. Only the fact he had to be at the tower to create the orb kept him from staying and sending for Janet to come to him there.

The final attack happened after they left the east end of Londown, and were starting the final leg of their journey down the River Heath, toward Bleakbourne. Once again, Leryn and Galahad made short work of the would-be thieves.

Having stripped the dead of their paltry valuables and dragged the bodies away from the road, they left them. That was the way such things were done, mostly as a deterrent to others who might take up a life of robbery and murder. Leryn finished wiping his blade and sheathed it. “I suppose they’d have done the same for us, had they prevailed, but still…it’s unsightly and makes a ghastly stench.”

From his perch on the wagon, Lancelyn said, “In a few days there’ll be nothing but bones to show for this day’s work. Besides, this gets us back on the road with less delay.”

Galahad nodded, making the sign of the moon. “May they find a warm welcome in Hell.”

Several days passed after leaving Londown, and now, more than two months after they had departed, they were nearing their goal. The effort of clearing the road as they made their journey had taken a toll on Leryn’s body and he’d begun to feel as if they would never arrive home. He dreaded seeing Bleakbourne again but longed for the Ploughman’s Inn in a way he’d never longed for his childhood home.

Leryn tried not to feel his many aches and pains. Every muscle cried out in agony, and the slice he’d received during the last melee had begun to throb again. Bramblestein had cleaned and bandaged it, but it was an unpleasant reminder of why people never traveled far from home unless they had to.

They passed the last outlying village before Bleakbourne, and Leryn could see that old Scutter and the other woodcutters had done good work, clearing the road outside of Bleakbourne. Seeing the familiar landscape filled Leryn with happiness and made him forget his misery.

He wanted to sing for joy, but he knew full well how badly a bit of unrestrained singing or whistling on his part could go, so he restrained himself. He couldn’t stop himself from humming under his breath, though. At least he hummed until Galahad mentioned the number of butterflies he was attracting. Quailing beneath Merlin’s glare, he kept his gladness to himself.

Still, his eyes took it all in, and he breathed in deeply, feeling almost as if he’d gone without air until that moment. Around them, daffodils made a carpet of yellow and everywhere he looked the plum and apple trees displayed their white and pink blossoms, reminding him of high-born ladies showing their splendor. Many old trees were gone, allowing the sun to shine on stretches of the trail where shadows had long prevailed. Already, small saplings took advantage of the light, and one day their boughs would shade the road.

They turned off the road before they reached Bleakbourne, taking the lane to Bramblestein’s tower. Or was it Merlin’s? It didn’t matter. Apparently, Bramblestein and Janet were heading to Londown as soon as the orb was completed, and would return the wizard’s home to him.  “I’ve languished here long enough, babysitting this ornate pile of rubble for you. Now you’ve decided to be yourself, I won’t have to travel back and forth all the time.”

Merlin just grunted his acknowledgement. He’d been noticeably quiet since they’d left the Chapel of the Moon, which suited Leryn. Usually, if the wizard had anything to say it was some disparaging comment about Leryn’s mental acuity. The bard did wonder what was bothering Merlin, ultimately deciding he was better off not knowing.

Having left the sand and wood at the tower, and Bramblestein in the arms of his delighted wife, they turned Lancelyn’s wagon toward the village. Leryn both dreaded his homecoming and yearned for it with all his heart, not look forward to seeing Rosie again, but wanting nothing more.

>>><<<

Brunhilde was not in her stall, which meant Rosie was either out for the day or gone again. Leryn feared the answer and put off entering the inn as long as he could. Sending Galahad and Lancelyn off to play with their overwrought cat, he fussed around with all the horses, getting them curried and fed before he finally picked his possessions up and went inside.

When Leryn finally did go inside, the room was empty except for the family. He had to smile at the sight of Morgause. The cat was so thrilled to see her men that she couldn’t decide who she wanted to sit with more, and kept stepping from Lance’s shoulder to Galahad’s and back, purring loudly and rubbing her face against each man’s cheek. She did pause to come over to receive a head scratch from Leryn, but immediately went back to her men.

Hannah embraced him. “Since Ambrose supposedly went back to Londown, and Bramblestein isn’t around much anyway, we told folks you had gone  with Lancelyn and Galahad to Tyrwyddn.” She looked searchingly into his eyes, as if trying to see how he was handling things, so Leryn assumed Merlin had told Hannah and Polcock about his new gift of magic. “Rosie’s not here, love. She’ll be back in a few days. She had some business to settle up, but she promised to return by Saturday. She swears she’s coming back to stay.”

Polcock just looked at him sympathetically, and said nothing, shaking his head. Everyone looked up as the door opened, and Bramblestein entered, followed by Janet. “Janet wants to check Merlin out, just to make sure he’s not dying,” said the dwarf. “She’s right. He should be better than he is.”

Merlin clutched his cloak around him more firmly. “I’m fine. I’d be healed now if we had stayed at the chapel, but we couldn’t. I just didn’t rest as well as I could have, since we were traveling.”

Janet glared at him. “Shut up, you old fool. Let me listen to your chest.”

Nonplussed, Merlin complied, baring his torso.

Janet pressed her ear to his chest. “Breathe in deeply and let it out slowly.” He did so, obviously uncomfortable. “Do it again.” He did, and she straightened up, drawing his garments around her patient again. She quite clearly didn’t like what she’d heard. “My husband is right. You need to stay in bed for at least a week. You can’t do anything with your magic, or it will kill you. The orb will have to wait until you’re healed.” She cut off Merlin’s demurral. “Don’t argue. You’ll either stay here in your bed, and we will come by and tend to you each day, or you’ll come to the tower with us. Either way you’re doing as I tell you. Understood?”

Unable to meet her gaze, Merlin said, “I’ll stay here, thank you.”

Hannah said, “And he’ll do as you say, or he’ll deal with me.” Gripping him by the arm, she dragged her unwilling patient off to his room.

Leryn took that opportunity to get resettled in his old room, and have a quick wash in the wonderfully hot water Polcock brought up for him. Standing in the doorway and chatting while the bard stood in front of his mirror and shaved properly, Polcock admitted there had been no customers from out of town over the winter. “We’ve been empty most nights, except for the bargemen and the regulars, like Tom and Scutter, who have no family.”

Leryn nodded. “I hope someone will come tonight. I haven’t earned any coins on this venture.”

“Oh, they’ll come tonight, once it gets out you’re back.” Polcock grinned. “Several of them were downright put out you’d left. But I told them you were chasing down an epic tale in Tyrwyddn, and promised you’d tell it when you returned.”

Leryn thought for a moment. “I guess I can do that. Certainly I’ve a few new tales to tell.”

Leryn’s room was just as he’d left it, increasing his sense of imbalance. For a long while after Polcock went back downstairs, the bard sat gazing out the window, feeling a strange disorientation at being home. On one hand, he was more than glad to just be home, but on the other, he felt somehow let down. He had no idea what he was expecting, but whatever it was, it hadn’t happened. Now he didn’t know what to do with himself.

At last, he decided to get out and do something to bring back his sense of normalcy. It occurred to him that Merlin was probably itching for whatever news of the town there might be no matter how inconsequential, so he went down to the kitchen, and the room just off it.

Ensconced in the room he’d had in his guise as Ambrose, Merlin lay in his bed, fidgeting and unable to rest despite Hannah’s admonitions. Leryn knew him too well and knew he wouldn’t be a good or quiet patient unless his questions were answered, so he intended to help his teacher out as much as he could. “Look, I know you think I’m an idiot and don’t trust me to lace up my own shirtsleeves, but you need me to ferret out what’s been happening around here in your absence. Right?”

The wizard immediately relaxed. “Yes. Finally—that’s exactly what I need. You’re smart, so you know how to get the information without making yourself obvious.”

“They’re used to me asking questions,” said Leryn. “After all, I originally came to Bleakbourne on Heath looking for old songs and tales, so they like to gossip with me.” He glanced at the window. “Getting back to work will keep my mind off things.”

“Start down at the docks. That’s where the freshest gossip will be.” Merlin lay back and closed his eyes. “I don’t think you’re an idiot and I’m sorry I’ve made you think I do. I’m worried about you, that’s all. Your gift is as strong as mine now, and you’re still mostly untutored. That’s a problem, and I don’t know if we’ll be given enough time to resolve it. But I do think you can handle it if you’re willing to listen to me.”

A wave of affection for the wizard swept through Leryn, threatening to make him teary-eyed. “I’m trying. I swear I won’t let you down.” Before he could get maudlin, he patted Merlin’s shoulder. “I’ll be back in an hour or so.” He went out the back door, heading straight to the docks. Once outside, he walked through the town, answering greetings, and finally ended at the docks.

He discovered that, other than the terrible storm killing several of their number, little out of the ordinary had occurred among the bargemen and fishermen. He could see nothing worrisome in their news but having noted everything down to the smallest detail, he would let Merlin be the judge of that.

And while he was out, he’d thought of the new tale that would entertain the patrons at the Ploughman’s Inn that night. He would tell them of the shipwreck, but he would change it up a bit, make it a bit more glamorous and noble…the two knights had rescued a beautiful, high-born lady who was promised to an Eyrish king…it was very dramatic and brave….


“Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2016 – 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

To Read Previous Episodes of “Bleakbourne on Heath” click here:

Bleakbourne on Heath Series 

Surreal Photos Of Fireflies From Japan’s 2016 Summer | Bored Panda

Here at Edgewise Words Inn we love great photography, and today we have Fireflies, brought to you by the people at Bored Panda! Read on, and click on through to see the wonderful images:


We often give you great reasons to visit Japan, but for those of you who still aren’t convinced, here’s yet another brilliant excuse to visit the Land of the Rising Sun. Fireflies!

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#Serial: Bleakbourne on Heath ch 19: Chapel of the Moon

Old Stone Chapel In The Woods ©Unholyvault |Dreamstime
Old Stone Chapel In The Woods ©Unholyvault |Dreamstime

Leryn was silent after leaving the forest tavern, allowing his two companions to argue about what had occurred there as much as they liked. Ignoring their bickering, he refused to think about what he had inadvertently done during the storm, seeing the shield as one more awful event in a string of horribleness. His life had veered out of control and he didn’t know how to get it back.

Their way was frequently blocked by debris from the storm, and they often had to pick their way carefully. Toward noon, as they led the horses around yet another gigantic tree, the two older men had come to some sort of an agreement and the conversation had taken an unfortunate turn, from Leryn’s point of view. “I’m a bard. Can you give up breathing? I can’t give up music. It flows through my soul like blood through my veins.”

Barely suppressed irritation sharpened Merlin’s voice. “Who knows what sort of mischief you could cause now your gifts have been unlocked? Music is the facilitator of the strongest magic for those of us who follow the White Way, which is why practitioners of dark magic abhor it.”

“I was scared stiff and wasn’t aware I was doing it.”

“Then you have a problem,” Merlin said. “Music is intrinsic to the White Way. Music is magic, but practitioners must always rely on symmetry and chants to confine it, ensuring it doesn’t run wild.”

Leryn’s glare turned to steel. “Music is all I have left, thanks to you and this godforsaken quest. You’re not taking it from me.”

“Peace!” Bramblestein raised his hands, the voice of common sense, for once. “We’re just saying that your encounter with the Goddess of the Old Forest may have opened something in you that was previously blocked.” He grinned at Leryn’s sudden blush. “This means you must be careful to never make music when you are upset or highly emotional. Who knows what sort of mayhem you could accidentally cause?”

Leryn shivered, not wanting to discuss Arianrhod. He had refused to elaborate on his experience to either of his teachers, but it preyed on his mind constantly. “I just have to school my thoughts. I can still play the silly drinking songs everyone likes and spin epic tales.” He grinned, although he felt anything but mirthful. “Your words of wisdom will be strictly adhered to, not unlike your advice regarding symmetry.”

Bramblestein chuckled. “You did pick up on that rather quickly. Bleakbourne sits at the crossroads of the Fae and mortal realms. Last night you cast a spell you were never taught and were unaware you were doing it. That can’t happen in Bleakbourne, for any reason.”

Leryn refrained from screaming although the frustration was nearly more than he could bear. “I admit it frightens me. But, since music is the foundation of magic, I’ll have to make certain the songs and stories I perform are mild, confined to the traditional bardic role of maintaining peace and keeping a happy tap-room. I’m already well-trained in that aspect of the craft. What I have to work on is being aware of what I am singing or playing, and controlling my emotions.” He met Merlin’s gaze. “If you believe me unable to do this, you should kill me to preserve your own secrets, because I won’t give up music.”

Merlin capitulated, reluctantly. “I suppose Mordred will expect you to be in the tap room playing your pipes, so you’ll have to continue.”

As they wound around a hill, the road narrowed and passed through a small canyon. From there it would enter a broad valley. Deep inside the canyon they found the road blocked a fallen tree. Looking at the blockage, Leryn sensed something wrong.

Bramblestein also examined it. “This is no windfall. It was cut…!” His words broke off as two raggedly dressed men leaped out of the brush, waving blades.

A tall, thin man shouted, “Old men! Drop your purses! You too, bard!”

Bramblestein made a rude gesture, drawing his sword. “Make me, assholes.”

Rage flashed to the surface and Leryn also drew his sword, “Come and take my purse, if you can.”

An arrow whistled downward from above, narrowly missed Leryn, startling his horse. As he regained control of Elsinore, Merlin’s resonant tones rang out, casting a fire spell. Screeching, the archer fell from the rocks above, thrashing and trying to put out the flames. The two others panicked, attempting to run but were blocked by their own fallen tree. Leryn and Bramblestein quickly dealt with them.

As Leryn’s blade cut the throat of the burnt man, he heard a strangled cough from behind him. He turned, in time to see Merlin swaying, his hand clutching the arrow protruding from his right shoulder. His eyes glazed, and slowly, he slid from his saddle. Leaping from his horse, Leryn was just in time to catch and hold the much larger man, lowering him to a sitting position against the tree trunk.

Merlin tried to speak but lost consciousness.

“Oh, god…please don’t be dead, you insane old man. Don’t you dare die.”

Bramblestein hurried to Merlin’s side, his heart sinking. “Help me get him laid out. I’ll be better able to see what the damage is.” After they had the wizard positioned, Bramblestein examined him. “It’s missed his lung. He’s not bleeding too badly, which is good and also bad.  Blood cleanses the wound, but until I get it out I can’t tell if any major arteries or veins are involved. Right now it’s plugging up the wound.” He met Leryn’s stunned gaze. “I’m going to have to remove it, but I can’t do that here. In the meantime, since he’s out cold anyway, I’ll cut the shaft off it, so that will help somewhat.”

“If it’s not life-threatening, why is he knocked out? It must be bad.” Leryn looked at the sky, trying to gauge the weather. “We’re in for some rain. We’ll have to cover him up. He’ll get a chill on top of it, and we don’t want that.”

“Ordinarily he probably wouldn’t be unconscious, but he’d be in enough pain he’d wish he was. He’s out because he cast that fire spell, with no chance to prepare. That always takes twice the strength it would have with planning. He’ll have to sleep for at least twenty-four hours. Then taking an arrow in the chest on top of that—he may not survive this. If he dies….” Bramblestein clamped his teeth shut.

“That can’t happen. We won’t let it.” Leryn looked at the tree that still blocked their path. “We’ll have to backtrack. We passed that Chapel of the Moon not too long ago. We can seek shelter there.”

“Good idea, but he can’t ride this way. We’ll have to rig a sling litter and carry him there.”

Leryn agreed. “Once we get him situated, you can do what you have to.” He paused to figure what to do about the horses. “I’ll tie Elsinore to my waist, so he’ll follow me. If we tie the other horses to him in a string, we should be able to do this.”

Bramblestein snorted. “That’s ridiculous. You can’t hold up your end of the sling and drag the horses too.” He too looked at the threatening sky. “But I don’t have any better ideas, so we’ll give it a try.”

>>><<<

After a great deal more struggle than they’d hoped, carrying the makeshift litter and leading the horses, they arrived back at the Chapel of the Moon, a small stone building standing alone in the forest. The door was closed, which meant the priest or priestess was not there. “There should be a cottage behind the chapel–whoever is on duty here won’t mind if we make Merlin comfortable.” Bramblestein led the way.

Setting the litter down, they picketed the horses. No one was at home in the small house, but from the looks of the garments hanging on pegs, it was occupied by a priest. “Perhaps he’s out gathering his dinner,” said Leryn.

“I don’t know. Perhaps,” replied Bramblestein. “I did see winter purslane earlier. But something doesn’t look right here. Monks usually keep thing much tidier, and he wouldn’t just leave the place.” His forehead wrinkled with his attempt to see what was amiss and failing, he put it out of his mind. “It just so happens, one of the herbs I gathered while we were at Emydin’s cave was early woundwort. I’ll make a tea of it and once cool, we will use it to wash the wound. Then you can make poultices of woundwort, speedwell, and plantain to bandage the wound with once we’ve gotten the arrow out—if it can be safely removed.”

Leryn nodded. “I know what to do. I’ve watched my grandmother make poultices.”

Some light entered through the windows, but Leryn lit the oil lamp that stood on the mantel to give Bramblestein more light to work by. The dwarf worked slowly and carefully, making sure his patient didn’t bleed to death. To Leryn’s relief, Merlin remained unconscious during the surgery.

After what seemed a long time, Bramblestein handed the bloody arrow to Leryn, who set it to one side. The dwarf carefully bandaged Merlin. “Thank all the gods and goddesses, nothing vital was damaged. He should wake up soon. But he’ll be several days healing, even with my spells and the poultices. He can’t travel like this, so we’ll have to wait here until he’s well enough to continue on to Bleakbourne.”

“We’ll need more light, and I’ll have a look in the chapel to see if the priest has returned. I’ll refill the lamp first.” Leryn rose and looked around for more oil.

“The monk probably keeps his supplies in the lean-to around back.”

Leryn walked around back to the shed and filled the lamp. With that done he went around to the chapel, entering through the massive, ornately carved front door. He was immediately assailed by the stench of death. “Oh, no….”

The chapel had been ransacked. On the floor behind the altar lay the body of the monk whose task it had been to tend the place. The elderly man had been beaten to death at least one day before. His prayer beads had been stolen, and the vessels for the sacraments smashed against the floor. Kneeling, Leryn closed the old man’s eyes, saying a prayer for his soul.

Shaking his head in disgust, he returned to Bramblestein. “It appears the thieves stopped here before they set the trap that caught us.” He told the dwarf what he’d found. “No wonder the priest wasn’t in his home. It’s a disgrace. The poor old thing never harmed anyone, and to be treated so badly…it makes me ill.”

“We’ll have to bury him properly,” Bramblestein said.

Leryn shuddered. “That’s going to be an ugly mess.” He looked closely at his mentor. “I can handle it by myself. You’re done in, and I don’t think you should leave Merlin.” Going to the late monk’s cupboard, he found a wheel of cheese and a jug of ale. “I don’t think our late host will mind if we partake of his cheese and beer.” He served Bramblestein, watching as his color began to return.

“Thank you. I won’t argue with you.” The dwarf’s voice shook from exhaustion and more. “The Brotherhood of the Moon found me and took me in when I was a boy of six and left alone in the world after the Scotti overran Lugdumnon. The monks ensured I was apprenticed to Merlin, once they realized I had a knack for certain kinds of magic.”

“I always wondered how you came to be so far from the Dwarven Lands.” Leryn steeled himself for the task. “I’d best get started. The priest may be in heaven, but his mortal remains aren’t getting any prettier. If you could keep the water hot, a good wash-up afterward will give me something to look forward to.”

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Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger, and a regular contributing member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.