Bleakbourne on Heath Ch 27 Siegfried

Rosie and Leryn had returned to the Ploughman’s Inn from their wedding night in Polcock’s barley field, only to find Lancelyn pacing in the tap room, and Morgause, the cat, trying to sooth him. Now they stood in the quiet stable, watching Rosie’s mare, Brunhilde.

Galahad had been with the horse all morning, keeping her company.

Patting Lance’s arm, Rosie said, “You’re right. She’s in labor. It will happen tonight, I think. Morgause doesn’t seem unduly disturbed, so I’m not going to worry until I have to.”

Leryn understood Lance’s fears but didn’t know what he could do about it. After thinking for a moment, he said, “Why don’t you come down to the docks with me, today. I’m curious if any news has come downriver with the barges. If we go now, we’ll catch them before the wind rises and they head back to Londown.”

The port at Bleakbourne was a busy place. Fishing boats navigated the channel at the mouth of the River Heath, coming in from the sea to drop off their catch. Barges floated down the Heath from as far away as Maldon, bringing goods and news to Bleakbourne and returning to their home ports with fish. While the fishing vessels could navigate the North Sea, the flat-bottomed barges turned around at Bleakbourne and, raising their sails, let the prevailing wind take them back to their home ports.

Even in June, the weather in Bleakbourne could be bleak—hence the name. The docks were swathed in their usual pong. Because he was usually down there every morning, Leryn had become used to the reek of sewage and dead fish held in place by a thick bank of sea mist.

Unfortunately, it was noon, and the sun had burned away the morning mist. The river was enveloped in a sweltering stench. Leryn reflected that, while the mist stank as much as anything else, at least it was cool.

The two men stopped at each barge, Leryn greeting friends and introducing Lance to those he didn’t already know, and chatting. The barge men and women congratulated him on his marriage. “Polcock himself delivered our pies this morning. He said you’d gotten married, and the bonfire dance was the best in years.”

Normally Leryn delivered the hot hand-pies although Polcock would have gladly done it himself. He collected a copper penny for each pie, which was Polcock’s most reliable source of income. The bard’s reason for acting as Polcock’s delivery boy was simple—he collected news with each pie he delivered.

Leryn was adept at poking about in such a way that the barge folk enjoyed a good gossip each morning. They offered every scrap of rumor heard in each port along the River Heath, as well as their opinions, which were often just as valuable as the rumors. Daily he reported it back to Merlin.

The wizard felt the opinions of the traveling bargemen and women were as important as the news they imparted. Being the last navigable port on the river before it entered the North Sea, Bleakbourne was a week’s travel by road from Londown. Broadsheets were a week old by the time they arrived in Bleakbourne, which meant they should have been the last to hear anything that happened in the capital.

However, barges made the trip downriver in two days, and the return journey in three. While the men and women who made their living on the river were notoriously closed mouthed to people they perceived as townies, by virtue of his friendly demeanor and his delivering their food every day, Leryn had become one of them.

A late arrival at the small pier was Geordie Stout, a bargeman from Gravesend who had been a friend of Merlin’s in his guise as Noman.  The wizened little man congratulated Leryn on his wedding and looked askance at Lancelyn, with whom he was acquainted. “What’re you doin’ hangin’ about with Townies, Bard? This one looks like trouble.”

Lance laughed. “I suspect I am that, sir.”

Leryn agreed. “It takes all my skill to keep his tail out of the fire, but I’ve grown fond of him.”

Geordie grinned, a merry smile despite the lack of teeth. “He reminds me of a man I once heard of, braver than anyone should have a right to be, but thick as a board. As I said, trouble.”

“Oh, he can be trouble, no doubt. Some of the things he’s done without thinking them through first would curl your toes.” Leryn smirked at the knight.

Lance looked wounded. “I’m trying to become less thick. You have to admit, I’m getting better.”

A wave of affection for the knight swept through Leryn. “Yes, you are.”  He turned back to Geordie. “How are things in Battersby?”

“Oh, nothing much to talk about. The old earl, Wulvedon, died. No son of his own, so it went to a nephew no one’s ever heard of. Seems a decent fellow, hasn’t changed things up, so we like him well enough.”

They talked a while longer and then, having heard nothing else new, the two men wandered back toward the inn.

Lancelyn walked hunched over, the impending birth of the foal weighing on his mind. “What are we going to do if the foal has to be put down?”

Leryn glared at him. “I thought we had settled this. Galahad was under a spell and was a horse at the time, and the foal will be too. Why are we still fretting about this?”

Lancelyn looked away. “It’s Morgause.”

“What about her? She looks fine to me.”

“I suspect she was… unfaithful… to Galahad and me. With William Smith’s tomcat.”

Leryn stopped walking, staring at the knight. “You mean…?”

Lancelyn hurried to explain. “I don’t hold that against her. She’s a cat now, and cats have certain… drives, and besides, she must get lonely when we’re away. But I think she’s… with kitten. If it turns out the foal is a centaur, then Morgause is carrying a half… She’s only a small cat. It could kill her.”

At the Ploughman’s inn, the two men walked around behind, approaching the barn, both feeling some trepidation. Leryn was unsure what to make of Lancelyn’s revelation, as Morgause looked fine to him, as normal as any cat. He found himself looking closely at her when she jumped onto Lance’s shoulder.

All fears vanished at the sight of a green-eyed, spindly-legged white foal. “He’s a fine young colt who’ll be a great, strong stallion,” Rosie said proudly.

“What do you think, Lance?” Galahad’s expression alternated between pride and sheepish embarassment. “Our fears were for naught.”

“Thank God.” Lance’s knees gave way, and he staggered, supported by Leryn, who rolled his eyes.

Once the knight had his feet back under him, the bard let go of his arm. “I told you there was nothing to worry about. Morgause knows about these things.”

Rosie looked at Galahad. “What shall we name him?”

He thought for a moment. “Well, his mother is Brunhilde, so how about Siegfried? We’ve always loved the heroic tales, and no man was ever braver than mythical Siegfried.”

Everyone laughed. Leryn said, “A heroic name for special, one-of-a-kind little stallion.”

>>><<<

Later that evening, just as Polcock was sending the last patrons home, Merlin’s form filled the doorway. Ignoring the landlord’s glare, the wizard crossed to Leryn. “What did you hear on the docks today?”

The bard dutifully repeated the scant information, all dealing with deaths and births, and wedding or two.

“Wulvedon is dead?” Merlin’s eyes narrowed, and he fell silent. Then, “I’ll need to get a message to Bramblestein.” He met Leryn’s curious gaze. “Wulvedon was hale and healthy when I saw him last month, and he was quite clear that as he had no children and no siblings, he had no heirs. He was quite resigned to the fact that the title should die with him.”

The wizard stalked to the door, closing it firmly behind him.


“Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2015 – 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.

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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

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.

Bleakbourne on Heath: Ch 25, The Demon Gains a Point

800px-Govert_Flinck_004The sun was well up when Leryn woke, his arm across his eyes shading him from the sunlight pouring through the window. He hadn’t seen Rosie for three days, as was traditional for an engaged couple. She’d gone to stay with Lancelyn and Galahad in their little cottage at the edge of town, and wouldn’t see him until they met in the square at sunset for the wedding ceremony.

Merlin shook him again. “Wake up, fool!”

“For god’s sake, go away. I just got to sleep.”

Merlin yanked the sheet off him. “Get up now! We have an emergency.”

Leryn sat up, rubbing his eyes. “You’re aware that while you were resting after our day’s labor in your dungeon, I was in the square entertaining the masses until near dawn, right? It was Moon Song Night. And tonight we’re getting married the traditional way, under the Solstice Moon with the others.”

Merlin handed him his breeches. “I know, and I’m sorry. But there won’t be any weddings if this isn’t fixed.”

“What’s the problem?” Leryn stood up, buttoning his pants.

“Tenneriff Keep has reappeared. It’s a trap, meant to lure me, but I’m not so stupid as to set foot in there. I can resolve this from the top of the hill, but I need you to support my magic with your music. I will supply the instrument.” Merlin handed him his shirt. “Now listen to me. You will present yourself as an ordinary bard. The demon will be watching us from whatever shadow he is hiding in.”

Leryn paused, glaring at his mentor. “Watching us? I’m not walking into his parlor on my wedding day, so don’t ask it of me.”

Merlin snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous. Mordred has managed to weaken the veil concealing the keep. It hasn’t manifested completely, but while we were busy yesterday, something allowed him to create a window from his spot in Hell, allowing him to view that place. I mean to make that view of his temporary and slap his hands in the process.”

“I’m getting married tonight. I shed a lot of blood yesterday, and I need the blood I have left to hold my veins open. I can’t be unconscious, or otherwise absent. Rosie is counting on me.”

“Trust me.” Merlin put on his most persuasive smile. “You won’t have to do anything involving a blood sacrifice.”

Leryn  sighed, “What do you want from me?”

“When we get there, I will behave toward you as if you have no magic. I will question you since you were the witness when it last appeared, and he would expect that. You will answer as if you were still the naïve boy you were then.”

“I’d better not miss my wedding, or you’ll have to face Hannah’s wrath. She’s gone to a great deal of trouble for Rosie and me.” Leryn gestured to the wardrobe, which stood open. “Tom Tailor has made me a fine shirt of red linen, just like any proper groom. So don’t mess this up for me.”

>>><<<

The ride to the keep took less than half an hour. They stopped on the hill where an overgrown, rutted road went down to a valley. There, shimmering as if it were an illusion, was the massive castle Leryn remembered. They dismounted, letting the horses graze.

“It looks less solid than when I was summoned here before, sir.” Leryn’s head still ached from lack of sleep and his hands shook as if he were hung over, but his voice was calm. “I don’t want to enter it.”

“Don’t worry, bard. I won’t ask it of you.” Merlin radiated power, something Leryn had never seen him do. “Tell me what happened the first time you saw this place.”

As if he’d never told the tale before, Leryn complied. As he concluded, he said, “I don’t blame you if you disbelieve me, Sir Wizard. But I swear by all I hold holy that what I have told you is the truth.”

“And what happened after that?”

“Nothing sir, until the night of the Crypt Wind.” The bard recounted the events of that evening, again speaking as if he’d never done so. “As you can see, he is a fearsome man, sir. I’d prefer not to be involved in this.”

Merlin nodded. “I expect so, but he has involved you, and you gave him information that has harmed me. Therefore I require your services.”

“How could I have gone against him?” Genuine fear tinted Leryn’s voice. “And what can I do that you can’t? I’m a bard. I make people dance, and if needed I can sing rats away from a barn or a home. Other than that I have no skills.”

“Let’s discuss your rat singing skills. Rats and crows perhaps? In my travels, I heard you had sung away the rats at Yarrl’s Tavern.”

“Not crows sir. But rats from a barn, yes. Any apprentice bard can do that. And Yarrl would have paid an apprentice five coppers for the work, had one come by when he needed him. I did it as a favor to him as he was kind to me when the weather was bad.”

“Could you do it for me, now? I will pay you a silver for it.”

“Without my pipes? At the very least I would need an apprentice’s flute. It is the tones that drive rats away, and I don’t think one can sing the rat song effectively without the sharp tones of a flute or the pipes. At least, I’ve never tried.”

Merlin fished around in his saddle bags, handing Leryn a wooden flute. “Can you play this?”

Leryn held the flute, turning and examining it, seeing it was made of a certain wood he recognized as having come from the primal forest. Runes were inlaid in silver, and the flute itself reeked of magic. “This is a wondrous instrument, sir, one no master would be ashamed to play. What master made it?”

“I did, many years ago. Longer ago than I like to remember. Music is magic, bard, and don’t ever forget it.”

“If you say so, sir. The only magic I’ve found in music is that people like it and pay me to play it, and rats don’t like the rat song, so they leave.” He held the flute to his lips, sensing the magic within it. “This is longer than I am used to, but the song is simple, so I should be able to play it.” Knowing it would be odd if he didn’t bargain for a larger fee, he continued, “However, I would require one gold for such a task, because you’re asking a master to do an apprentice’s job. Surely you don’t require a master’s services for such a minor thing as clearing rats from this area.” Leryn stalled for time, as he tried to get a feel for the flute, mentally working out what he had to do so the melody would sound like he was an ordinary bard. “Besides, I fear to cross the demon.” There was a ring of truth to his statement.

Sensing the bard was hedging for a reason, Merlin played along. “A gold! Don’t press your luck, boy. You’re a very young master, and that master’s pin is a recent acquisition.”

Leryn held firm. “Nevertheless, the rank is mine. I may have earned it recently, but I did earn it and should be compensated accordingly.”

“I will give you two silvers because you have a master’s rank and not a copper more.”

Leryn nodded, as if reluctantly. “As you wish, sir. Two silvers.”

“Good. You will play that song, and I will cast a spell.” The wizard attempted a comforting smile, which only succeeded in looking slightly evil. “Don’t be frightened. it’s only a spell of aversion, making sure no one stumbles onto this place by accident.”

“I see.” Leryn would have to get on with it whether he was ready or not. “I’m not pleased at being involved, Sir Wizard. It seems perilous. I don’t like to court danger.”

“It’s perilous, no matter which way you go, bard. The demon chose you when he made his move, and because he did, you are involved.”  Rising to his full height and power, he said, “What makes you think I’m any kinder than the demon? Now, begin that song. I must warn you: no matter what happens, don’t deviate from the melody and don’t stop playing until I tell you to, or you will find yourself in the demon’s clutches.”

“That’s not very reassuring, sir.” Raising the flute to his lips, Leryn played the opening refrain, a simple repetitive melody that was the first song an apprentice bard learned.

At first, nothing happened. The flute had a beautiful, sweet tone, lower than most other flutes. Merlin apparently knew it well, as he sang his spell to that tune perfectly. Leryn concentrated on just playing the music, and not injecting any of his own magic into the mix.

At what must have been the tenth round of the melody, he noticed Tenneriff’s castle had become more ghostly. It was transparent, less in the world than it had been. By that time Leryn was struggling with boredom and had to force himself to keep strictly to the mindlessly simple melody. The urge to liven it up was almost overwhelming.

That urge, he reasoned, must have been the demon’s spell trying to protect itself. He concentrated harder, playing the tune exactly.

Eventually Merlin ended his spell, and gazing down on the valley, Leryn lowered the flute. All that remained was a fog bank shaped suspiciously like a large keep. Everything about it shouted “Run! Get away!” which he knew was Merlin’s ward of aversion doing its task.

Merlin turned to the bard. “It’s not perfect but will have to do. Thank you for your assistance. I believe I owe you two silver coins.”

Leryn accepted them, “Thank you, sir.” The fact that Merlin was still carrying on the charade told him it hadn’t gone as well as the wizard had hoped.

Back on the road to town, Merlin told Leryn the time was rapidly approaching when the Demon would make his move. “He has gained a point in this game. I was unable to completely seal Tenneriff Keep away from this world. I closed his window, but we have to be careful from here on out. We must avoid that place, as he may be able to hear some things spoken there if the words are what he is listening for.”

When they arrived back in Bleakbourne on Heath at the Ploughman’s Inn and parted ways, Leryn said, “I intend to take a long nap, now. I have a big night planned, and I thank you for not dropping me into some death-defying escapade we couldn’t get out of.”

Merlin looked at him. “It was death-defying. Don’t fool yourself that it wasn’t. Had he been able to lull you into improvising, it would have been a disaster. He lurks on the other side with his army at the ready, just waiting for his chance. If you had deviated from the melody, he would have had the gate into this world open, and we wouldn’t have stood a chance.”

Leryn glared at him. “That’s what I love about you. You always know how to ruin a perfectly good mood.”

The wizard smirked. “Enjoy your wedding night. I’ll be there to keep the dwarf in line. You know how much he loves his ale.”

“Hah! You mean he’ll be there keeping you from making a fool of yourself.”

Merlin’s cheeky grin faded. “I haven’t been up to much drunken foolishness, lately. But maybe after everything is resolved.”


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

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

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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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Bleakbourne On Heath ch. 23: Putting it into Perspective

Leryn knocked on Merlin’s bedroom door.

“Come in. Don’t just stand there, you fool!”

Leryn entered, and sat at the table beneath the high window. Spreading his notes and uncorking his ink jar, the bard glared at his mentor. “You’re looking exceptionally grumpy today, even for you.”

an-illustration-from-the-livre-du-coeur-damours-espris-de-rene-danjou-pd-100“I’m going mad here. I’m bored, and that isn’t helping me get any better.” Merlin broke off, succumbing to a coughing fit.  Once he had gotten his breath back, he cursed violently, ending with, “I have no stamina. How are we going to face Mordred, if just walking to the privy lays me out? I can’t imbue the orb with magic, not the way I am now.”

“I’ll do it.”

“You’ll have to, but you can’t control your gift well enough to do it on your own. I’m languishing here at Polcock’s mercy when I should be in my own home. I absolutely have to be there to make sure you don’t blow up my tower.”

“I’m not that dismal at magic anymore, and besides, Bramblestein and Janet feel you’re safer here.” Leryn shrugged. “At the tower, you’re in danger of killing yourself with all those stairs.”

“They should be in Londown, keeping an eye out for trouble, not babysitting me. You have much to learn, and we need to create that orb. Without it, we won’t have a triumvirate, and won’t be able to defeat Mordred. He will have two powerful dark mages with him—Jason Tenneriff and Geoffrey Devere. While they lived, they were both minor magicians, but they were banished to Hell, as was Mordred, who understands the Rule of Three as well as we do.”

“I know about that rule, remember? You’ve beaten it into my skull. But, if they’re dead and their souls are in Hell, what is the problem?”

“Where do you think Mordred has been for the last 400 years? He’s had ample opportunity to train the souls of his two henchmen. Tenneriff is no longer human, and Devere was a vampire when he was sealed away.” Merlin’s gaze turned inward. “Mordred chose these two for a particular reason—they both hate me. When the Demon Knight came to Bleakbourne two winters ago, what did he do?”

Leryn thought back. “He tricked me into entering Tenneriff’s keep, and then forced me to tell him what the runes binding Lord Tenneriff were.”

Merlin nodded. “And then what happened?”

“He stole the Devere Talisman and forced William Smith to bind it into his sword.”

“Exactly. So now, Mordred knows precisely where the physical bodies of Jason Tenneriff and Geoffrey Devere are.” Fretful, Merlin plucked at his coverlet. “While we’ve been occupied, scrambling to get the needed items to create an orb for Bramblestein to focus his magic with, you can bet that Mordred has been just as busy.”

Leryn didn’t know what to say to ease his mentor. “Look, I know you’re feeling pressured, but Bramblestein swears there is still time.”

“Is there? The dwarf has only minor magic, which is why he must have that orb. His alchemy is great, but alone he is no match for the Demon. That much I can guarantee.”

“You promised you would tell me what the root of this is. I’m not stupid, so I know some of it, but I’m curious as to how the Demon Knight is related to the Pendragon.” Leryn lifted his pen and began taking notes. “Tell me about Mordred. Galahad claim’s he is the Pendragon’s Heir, but I don’t really know how that is possible.” He saw unwillingness in Merlin’s drawn features. “All I know about Arth Ur Pendragon is that he conquered the six lands, and his rule is remembered as the Black Years.”

“Who is to say what is possible, and what isn’t?” Merlin seemed troubled by the memory. “I was too young and full of myself. I didn’t realize I was creating a monster until it was too late, and then we were all caught up in it, and I couldn’t stop him.”

“How did it begin?”

“The Romani intended to add Albyonne to their empire. I was court wizard to Uthyr Pendragon, my first job as a wizard. He was intent on uniting all the warring kingdoms of the Albyonne Isles, believing the Romani could never conquer a united Albyonne. But he was mortally wounded, and on his deathbed, he named me as his infant son’s guardian. Igerna had died giving the boy life. He begged me to see that Gurthyr unified Albyonne and fended off the Romani.

“I educated the boy as befitted a prince. Gurthyr was a brave warrior, and so fierce in battle he was given the name Arth Ur, which meant Bear King. This is the name by which he is remembered. But, when he heard about the blade, Caliburn, and the prophecy that the man who could wield it would become the High King of all Albyonne, he was determined to have it. He didn’t understand that ‘cursed’ meant ‘dangerous to own.’ It was a blade that destroyed men’s souls.” The gravity in Merlin’s voice was unfeigned, and convinced Leryn the wizard spoke the truth. “It was after he had drawn the cursed sword from the stone, that he began to change.

Leryn said, “It’s rumored that Arth Ur murdered his wife, Gwenevere to marry the Elven Queen, Morgaine.”

“Gwen did die suddenly and conveniently. I was away when it happened, and only know what Arth Ur deemed I should hear.” Sadness nearly overwhelmed Merlin, as sharp as if it had just happened. “Morgaine was his captive, and he desired her. To bargain a better fate for her people, she agreed to become his mistress. When she became pregnant, Arth Ur had Gwenevere murdered. Morgaine gave birth to his only child, a boy they named Mordred, who was acknowledged as the Heir of Pendragon.”

Leryn’s quill made scratching sounds as he wrote. “And that explains both Mordred’s magic and his longevity. He’s half-elven, like you and Rosie.”

“Exactly.” Merlin coughed again, but quickly recovered.

“But you managed to overthrow the Pendragon. You and Cerdic the Lionhearted.”

The wizard nodded. “Power was Arth Ur’s true mistress. He was a brutal warlord, uniting all of Angland, but not as his father had envisioned. Through hostages and subjugation, at the height of his power, the Pendragon held all the lands which now make up the Six Kingdoms, under an iron fist.  With the Isles of Albyonne under his rule, Arth Ur turned his sights across the channel, toward the Norman Lands.

“I strongly counseled him against overstretching his resources. Tired of my constant disagreement with his decisions, he turned on me, as I knew he eventually would. But I escaped his dungeon, with the aid of a Saxon prince who was a hostage, Cerdic of Wessex. We were able to convince the cowed lords of the three peoples, elves, dwarves, and humans that if we stood together against the Pendragon, we could defeat him.

“And we had a confederate in Arth Ur’s household. Desperate to liberate her kingdom from Arth Ur’s despotic rule, Morgaine secretly aided us. With her help, we were able to defeat him. Cerdic struck the killing blow, ending the Pendragon’s reign of terror. Morgaine returned to her people with her son, who was very like her in appearance. An Elven childhood is long, so many years passed, and the rest of the world forgot about the boy who was once known as Pendragon’s Heir.” Merlin looked away. “That was a mistake.”

Leryn said, “I remember reading about the Demon Siege of Londown. The histories all say they were nearly victorious. People claimed it was led by the Heir of Pendragon. How did such a thing come to pass?”

Merlin didn’t want to discuss it but felt compelled to finish what he’d begun. “With the overthrow of the Pendragon, Cerdic of Wessex became king of a united Angland, cultivating the goodwill of his neighbors. Three generations passed, during which time I was guesting with Morgaine in her homeland. We were determined to raise Mordred to be a compassionate heir to his mother’s Elven throne. I became his tutor in all his studies but we had to hide his gifts of magic from the Elves, or they would have murdered him. So, in a way, we taught him to be deceitful, and shouldn’t have been surprised when his true character was exposed.

“In those days, we didn’t know the boy Mordred had a plan of his own, which he had nurtured in secret from the day his mother spirited him out of Londown. Too late, we learned of the delight he took in secret cruelties he perpetrated on his servants, and anyone he had power over. He was able to conceal his true nature from us because his major talent is that of charm. A master at dissembling, Mordred was able to hide his intrigues until he had the knowledge he believed he needed. One day he vanished, which I knew boded ill, but didn’t know what.

“Twenty years passed. The next I heard of him, he had turned to dark magic and was marching on Londown. He made it clear he intended to reclaim his stolen birthright. With some shock, we learned Mordred was not merely demon-possessed. He had traded his soul for power. He was a demon, and a high ranking one at that.”

“How did you deal with it?”

Merlin was interrupted by another coughing spell. Leryn went to the kitchen for the soothing tea that Janet had prescribed. Returning, he held it to the wizard’s lips, waiting until the fit had passed.

At last Merlin was able to speak again. “When I heard what was happening, I came to the aid of King Caelin. We’d been told the bulk of Mordred’s army was made up of slaves under the lash of soulless undead. Demon-possessed generals forced the enslaved humans in his armies to fight against their own kind.”

Shuddering as he wrote, Leryn asked, “What was that like? I can’t imagine.”

“Better you shouldn’t imagine it,” replied Merlin, sharply. “The carnage was beyond belief. Each night, once darkness fell, Mordred turned his undead warriors loose to wreak havoc among the poorest sections of Londown, those who must live outside the walls. It was a feast for the undead. There was no escape for those unfortunates. People were afraid to leave their hovels, and terrified to remain.”

“But you and King Caelin prevailed.”

Merlin nodded. “We did, but only because Caelin was able to rally the people of Londown. I convinced Caelin to strike in the morning when Mordred’s forces were at their weakest. We killed his demon-possessed generals. Once the generals were dead, his enslaved soldiers turned against the lesser undead in his army, destroying and burning the corpses of their former slave-masters and scattering the ashes in the River Heath, to ensure they couldn’t rise again. Even so, the Demon himself escaped.”

“Which brings us to the point. What happened next?”

“Caelin and I tracked him to an obscure fishing village near the mouth of the River Heath. You know it today as Bleakbourne.” Merlin coughed, but resumed speaking. “We battled in the way that only wizards can, and I eventually succeeded in banishing Mordred to Hell.

“But, in the process, a hole between the worlds was created. I just barely managed to seal it up, with Mordred on the other side, a struggle I had hoped to never have to repeat.”

Leryn looked over his notes.  “I don’t understand why the Demon chose this place. He must have known the veil between the worlds is thinnest here, and you would have more power in this place. Surely he had a reason.”

“He did. Because he was the Pendragon’s Heir, Mordred had many loyal followers who longed for the power their families had lost when the Pendragon was defeated, one of whom was a local lord, Wilem, Lord Tenneriff.” Merlin grinned, a grim, satisfied grimace. “I managed to get to Mordred before he could get to Tenneriff.”

Leryn considered the situation. “So, the problem, as I see it, is the Demon was consigned to Hell, where he has been languishing for how many years? Four hundred?” At Merlin’s nod, he asked, “But shouldn’t that have made him less powerful?”

Merlin snorted. “Use your head, bard. Yes, his punishment has weakened him physically, but he is a Prince of Hell. He’s gained much dark knowledge during his sojourn there. He believes he will soon have what he needs to defeat me, and if that happens, he will reclaim his birthright.”

Leryn said, “But that won’t happen. Good always prevails, and we’re fighting on the side of good.”

“Don’t be so naïve, boy. Evil wins just as often as good does, and believe me, we will definitely fail, if I can’t get out of this bed and do my part in creating that orb.” The wizard held his ribs as he suffered another coughing fit. When it had passed, he lay back against his pillows, unable to rest. “If we fail, the world will see the return of the Pendragon, but on a scale even Arth Ur could only have dreamed of.”


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

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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 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.

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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