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.”

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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:

Bleakbourne on Heath Series

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#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 

#Serial: Bleakbourne on Heath ch 20: Chapel of the Moon part two

Salomon_van_Ruisdael_002 ferryLancelyn woke before dawn and began breaking camp. While he did that, Galahad assembled a meager meal of the last of their cheese and stale bread for breakfast, finding they were nearly out of food. “We need to stop and buy supplies before we decide which ferry to take. If we cross the Severn Sea, we won’t be welcomed in any Elven villages, and I don’t like living off the land.”

“I know. They have no reason to welcome human men. We’ve done them no good. But Wēalish roads are barely passable even when they’re dry, although we’re less likely to be attacked.” Lancelyn grimaced, trying to decide which course would be best.

They shared the food between them, then Galahad said. “I agree it would be best to stay in Wēalas, even though crossing the Severn would take a week off the journey.”

“We managed to go unnoticed though their lands  five weeks ago, but that was traveling under cover of darkness and  not stopping anywhere. We can’t do that with a wagon, and we’ll stand out too much. I don’t want to fight anyone right now, especially from a perch on a rickety wagon seat. I just want to get home in one piece.”

“You’re right. Either way, we need supplies. If we avoid Elven Home, we’re more likely to arrive in Bleakbourne safely, and that’s what counts.”  Galahad washed his breakfast down with the last of their ale. Soon, they were back on the road and had entered the dark, mysterious village of Ceridwen Ar Usk. After stopping at the chandler’s, who served as the local provisioner, they arrived at the riverside. The ferryman was glad to have their coins, and they made the crossing along with a man his his two oxen. Soon they were on the other side of the river.

They hadn’t traveled far when they were halted by a fallen tree. Muddy tracks showed that travelers had been going around it, but the wagon couldn’t. Lancelyn said, “There should be a Chapel of the Moon not too far from here, but this road is terrible, worse than any we’ve seen so far. I had no idea the storm reached so far. Maybe it wasn’t directed at us after all.”

Galahad dismounted. “We’ll have to move this off the road as much as we can, or turn back and risk traveling through the Elven lands.”

Unhitching the wagon and using the horses, they managed to drag the crown of the tree just far enough to the roadside that the wagon could inch past. The sun was setting as they approached the Chapel of the Moon. Galahad said, “That’s odd. The doors are closed. Perhaps the priest is in his home.” They drove around back to see if the priest would allow them to sleep in the chapel.

As they entered the glade behind the chapel, whom should they see but Leryn, the bard, finishing laying sod over a freshly dug grave. Horror, and a terrible fear struck their hearts. Before they had even stopped, Lancelyn called, “Ho, Bard! Please tell me your companions still live!”

Leryn looked up, overcome with joy at the sight of his two friends. “Lance—thank god! What are you two doing here? After that storm, we feared the worst.” Leryn dropped his shovel and ran to stand on the running board of Lance’s wagon. “They do live, although Merlin—you’ll have to see for yourselves.” He gestured to the grave. “This poor man was the priest of this chapel, murdered by the same highwaymen whose corpses are being fought over by crows as we speak. We dealt with them, but they managed to wound Merlin, so we had to backtrack here.” He stepped down. “Get your horses situated, and come inside, and you can tell us your tale.”

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Bramblestein looked up as the door opened. “Are you all right? I thought I heard voices.”

“Better than all right. Look who’s here.” Leryn stepped aside and let Galahad and Lancelyn enter. “How is he? Has he stirred?”

“Thank god you two are safe. I feared for you during the storm.” The dwarf turned to Leryn. “Merlin’s still sleeping, but he’s not feverish, so he’s doing as well as can be expected. Did you get the priest buried?”

“I did. I cleaned up the sanctuary as best I could, too.”

Seeing the wizard laid out on the late priest’s cot, Lancelyn knelt beside Merlin, his expression anxious. “What happened? He can’t die, not after everything we’ve been through.”

Bramblestein and Leryn explained what had led to his injury. Leryn glossed over how he’d obtained the wood. Bramblestein noted that, but managed to embarrass him, telling about the shell he’d unknowingly created over the forest tavern.

Both Leryn and Bramblestein were quiet, on hearing of the shipwreck, both observing how it had affected the two knights. Lancelyn was a different man, somber and anything but feckless. The change in him was difficult to comprehend.

“You’ve sacrificed a lot, for this,” The dwarf told Lancelyn.

“Not me alone. We’ve all made terrible sacrifices, just for some sticks of wood and a few buckets of sand. I hope it will be worth it. I have to believe we’ll succeed.”

After much discussion over what course was best, Leryn and Galahad agreed they would ride back to Ceridwen Ar Usk the next day and tell the priests there what had happened. Bramblestein said, “They’ll have to send a nun or a priest. It’s not very often a cleric in one of these rural chapels is attacked, but they don’t take such a thing lightly.”

The cottage was crowded, so Galahad and Lancelyn opted to sleep in the chapel as they had intended to do anyway. As Leryn prepared to go to his blankets, he mentioned to Bramblestein how odd it was that the two knights had made their journey in only three weeks.

Bramblestein said, “It’s been more than four weeks, bard. Closer to five, actually. Can’t you count?”

“How could it have been that long? We were only at the cave for three days.”

The dwarf stared at him. “Don’t be ridiculous. You were with Arianrhod for ten days. We knew it would delay us for several days at least when she named her price and you vanished. We didn’t know exactly what she would require of you, but the fact she took you to her realm meant we were going to be at the cave longer than we had planned. How do you think we had the time to acquire so much wood and all those herbs in your absence?”

“What?” Leryn’s head suddenly felt as if it would explode. “No. No!!! It was only one day. I know it was only one day. I’m not stupid enough to lose more than a week, and not notice it.”

“Oh, yes, you are that stupid, laddie. Perhaps time passes differently in her land, or else you were busy and just didn’t notice it.” Bramblestein laughed, slyly. “You were there for ten full days. For the first two days, we wondered if we would find your corpse drained of blood and tossed over the hedge, as has been known to happen to those who anger the forest. But the longer you were in her realm, we realized you had pleased her, and we stopped worrying. You never mentioned it, and it never occurred to us that you didn’t know how much time had passed.”

Unable to comprehend that he’d lost ten days of his life, Leryn fell silent, staring into the fire. How? How did I not notice so much time had passed when I returned? Was I that involved with my own misery?

Finally, he burst out, “What will I tell Rosie? ‘I spent ten days with another woman, but we were having so much fun I hardly noticed it. I  might be in love with her, but I love you more. It’s not infidelity because she’s a goddess and I’m only a mortal. Oh, by the way, I’m going to be a father. It’s the only child I’ll ever have, and I’ll never see it again, but on the positive side, I have music now like you won’t believe. It’s a little out of control because it’s magic, but never fear, I’ll get the hang of it, eventually.’” He realized he was shouting, and quickly moderated his tones.”That’s really going to improve my chances with her, don’t you think?”

Bramblestein was silent, absorbing Leryn’s complicated rant. “What do you mean, it’s the only child you’ll every have?”

Leryn resisted the urge to tear his own hair out. “The primal forest was dying. I thought you two understood that. I gave up my unborn child and my fertility in trade for the wood you need to make the magic orb. I can’t have any more children, but the forest will continue because I sacrificed my chance at fatherhood to save it. It was the only way. We had to have the wood for you to make the magic orb.”

The dwarf’s sudden look of comprehension and pity was almost more than Leryn could bear. Shaken by the revelation, Bramblestein said, “Now I understand why you’ve been so quiet, and so angry. We honestly had no idea the full extent of what you gave her.” He glanced at the narrow cot, seeing Merlin’s form, still apparently sleeping. “What a tangled mess this has become. I’m sorry, I didn’t understand. I thought it was just the child, and that was bad enough.”

“I didn’t want to tell anyone. It’s bad enough you knew I had cheated on Rosie. I didn’t want you to know the full extent of my problem.” Leryn’s voice broke. “I justified it to myself as the way to save Rosie from the demon knight, but I went to Arianrhod’s bed willingly, and knew what it would cost me in the long run. I’ve lost Rosie forever now, but if we can keep her safe, it will have been worth it.”

“Oh, lad. She left you and gave you no good reason. You don’t owe her any explanation of what you’ve done.”

“But Bramblestein—I won’t live a life of lies and secrets when it comes to love. It’s bad enough some things such as my gift for magic have to be kept secret. But love and what lies between Rosie and me has to be open and honest on my part, or I won’t be able to live with myself. If she ever takes me back, I will have to be truthful with her.” Leryn sighed. “When she finds out I can’t father any more children, my chance of making a life with her is over.”

Merlin spoke, startling the two, his voice weak, quavering. “Not necessarily. She’s young by our standards. She’s only sixty or so—many of us half-elven don’t have children until we’re well over a hundred. You’ll probably be dead by the time she’s able to have a child.”

>>><<<

The next morning Leryn and Galahad made the trip back to the ferry town, and returned that afternoon, bringing a priest. Brother Alrik was a jolly elderly man, with a fondness for ale and books. He had retired, but longed for the solitude of a rural posting, and was happy to take up Brother Dómi’s post, although he was unhappy about the way it had been vacated.

As he stood beside Brother Dómi’s grave, he said, “This is the Chapel of Saint Dagmær, and it’s been serving travelers as a way-station between Cerridwen Ar Usk and Caerlaun  for two centuries. It’s one of the most important chapels, because of its history. The foundations of the chapel were laid by Mother Dagmær, who took the Triune Goddess’s word to the Romanii, and from there to the world.”

He made the sign of the moon over his heart. “Saint Dagmær, watch over our brother and guide his soul to his place in heaven. Sun, Moon, and Stars above, all-seeing, and all-wise, Triune Goddess of all, watch over us. May the Three Faces of Heaven always grant us light to find the way when the path is dark, and protect us from the minions of darkness.”

“Amen,” responded the others as one, making the sign of the moon.

With Lancelyn having a wagon in which he could ride, Merlin insisted he was well enough to continue the journey. Bramblestein agreed, but only if they  traveled for half days until he was well. “Don’t argue with me, old man. Traveling half the day will get us there quicker than if we stay here for another week.”

Even more aggravating to the wizard, he could absolutely not use his gifts until Bramblestein declared him well enough. Reluctantly, the wizard agreed, and they departed the Chapel of the Moon, bidding goodbye to Brother Alrik.


“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 

Astronaut #flashfic

March 29, 2034

Somewhere in the North Pacific

Chief slapped a thick white envelope onto Keith’s chest as he walked past on his mail delivery run. It fell to his lap, face up so he could see the NASA logo on the return address. Any thoughts of berating the NCO died in his throat as he held his breath. It had too many pages inside to be another rejection. This time, he’d been accepted. Into something, for sure. Taking a deep breath, he picked it up reverently and steeled himself to read the letter inside.

“What’s that?” Ensign Kramer snatched it out of his hands. “Woot, looks like you’re going to the moon, yeah? Or maybe this is for that Mars mission. You ready for that?”

“Shut it, Ensign.” Keith grabbed for the envelope only to have it yanked out of his reach. “Hand it over. That’s confidential. It has a stamp saying so.”

Behind Kramer, Pettis nicked the envelope and raised it aloft in triumph. “Looie’s gonna be an astronaut!”

The locker room erupted into applause and cheers while Keith rolled his eyes and sighed. “Give it back, that’s an order.”

Fuller snatched it away from Pettis and brought it back to Keith. He held it out, then whipped it away when he reached for it. “Only if you read it out loud,” he warned.

“Hand it over or you’ll get KP duty for the next month.”

“Aw, you’re no fun.” Fuller flung it at him in disappointment. It hit his chest again and fell to the floor this time.

“That’s right. Just call me Lieutenant NoFun.” Keith smirked and picked the envelope up, now able to rip it open and pull the folded stack of paper out. Their antics had taken his nerves away, at least. He took a deep breath and unfolded it, then read the cover letter.

US Navy Lieutenant Keith Hatris,

As of March 17, 2034, you have been transferred to the purview and oversight of NASA’s astronaut program. Enclosed find your transfer orders and authorization to requisition transportation. You are granted leave until 0600 EDT 3/30/34, at which time you are required to present yourself at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. Due to the classified nature of NASA programs, your specific mission will be detailed upon arrival.

NASA HEO Mission Directorate Administrator Leon Perkins

He ran his fingers over the letterhead, savoring the moment. Twenty years ago, he’d looked up into the sky and known he wanted to go there. At the tender age of seven, he’d made his choice, and that desire had never wavered, not even when he overheard the prettiest girl at his high school talking about the pornographic things she wanted to do with the quarterback.

It took a few seconds for the date to register. Someone screwed the pooch on this, because he had about twenty hours to get to Alabama. Jumping to his feet, he grabbed his gear from his locker and ran out. “Make a hole,” he shouted ahead of himself. Sailors jumped out of his way as he leaped through doorways and darted up ladder-stairs.

By the time he reached the command deck of the USS John C. Stennis, he had to pause and catch his breath before presenting himself to the duty officer with a crisp salute. “Commander, I need a ride.” Handing over his orders, he let the idea sink in. One more little word added to his name, and it made all the difference in the world: astronaut.

#Flashfic: Bleakbourne on Heath: Dark Matters

Molenaer_Winter_landscapeRosie fought her way to consciousness. It was an effort to open her eyes, but she managed, barely. Confused, she saw Leryn sitting in a chair, silhouetted in the darkened room. Realizing she was back at the Ploughman’s Inn, she closed her eyes against her tears. She had no idea how she’d gotten there, and couldn’t imagine what was wrong with her. Just breathing was a chore, and every part of her body ached. And thirst—she’d never felt such thirst.

Sensing her stirring, Leryn woke from his doze. He slipped his arm under her shoulders and raised her up, holding the cup of medicine to her lips. “Drink this love. It will make you well again.”

Obediently, she drank. The tea was cool and sweet, quenching her thirst and soothing her throat. She raised her eyes to his face, wanting to speak, but sleep overtook her, and once again she drifted away.

Leryn held her as the medicine took effect. Tears burned, but he refused to give in to them. He’d never before understood the many ways gratitude could bring a man to his knees.

Kissing her forehead, he settled her back into her bed. Sitting again in the chair beside her, he took her hand and settled back to doze a little more. He was aware that she would probably leave him again once she was well enough, but she was alive and that was all that mattered.

>>><<<

With Rosie getting better, Hannah sent Leryn to the docks with the bargemen’s pies. Returning to the Ploughman’s Inn, Leryn hung his cloak on one of the pegs near the fire.

He handed Polcock a purse. “Here are the coins from the bargemen. They were glad to have their breakfast pies still hot.” The last was said with a scowl cast at his landlord’s uncle, Ambrose, who’d obviously just woken up. “Apparently they sometimes arrive cold.”

Ambrose shrugged. “I’m not really cut out to be a delivery boy.”

Leryn stood before the fire, enjoying the warmth. “You aren’t really cut out for anything, other than making a fool of yourself with the wives of the local men, who’re rather fed up with you. Perkins pulled me aside just now—he’s not pleased with you.”

“I paint portraits. Nothing is going on with those fine ladies, but I need to earn a living too.

Leryn tried to contain his irritation. “Ambrose, listen. I’m grateful that you saved Rosie’s life. I can never repay you for that. But putting your hands on other men’s wives pisses off their husbands. And I think Mistress Perkins has more on her mind than merely posing for her picture.”

“I have to position them. If there is a misunderstanding—” Ambrose broke off as Polcock interrupted him.

“You’ve had your breakfast, uncle. The chamberpots await your expert ministrations. Perhaps you could paint their portraits.”

Sighing, Ambrose stood up. “How do you people stand yourselves?”

>>><<<

Rosie was awake, shaky, confused, and unhappy. Her voice trembled when she thanked Leryn for his care and asked to be moved to her old room. “I love you. But I can’t be with you.”

Leryn was hurt, but nodded and carried her to the other room, getting her settled.

Leryn brought a man called Ambrose, telling her he had healed her. She recognized that he was half-elven, which told her he was some sort of wizard. Leryn introduced him as Polcock’s uncle. She didn’t want to talk about it but answered his questions. Lancelyn’s new cat insisted on lying stretched out beside her, purring.

Ambrose was kind. “Tell me, where were you when you met the vampire?”

Rosie shuddered at the memory. “I wanted to remain hidden, so I took a path I hadn’t traveled before. I was still downriver from Bleakbourne when I passed some ruins. It was just after dark when I realized I was being stalked by one of the undead.” A perplexed expression crossed her face. “Usually, I can convince them I’m not a tasty morsel, but not this one. I was unprepared and wasn’t armed with my silver knife. I had to fend him off while trying to dig it out of my kit. Still, I avoided his bite and managed to kill him.”

Ambrose asked, “When did you begin to feel ill?”

“That night, after I was finally camped I felt ill. But I had passed through Birchford only the week before, and they were suffering some sort of plague. I must have gotten sick there, even though I didn’t stop.”

“You’re sure you killed the vampire?” Ambrose’s serious tones worried Leryn.

“Very sure. I left the silver dagger in his heart and dismembered his body. Then I buried each part a hundred yards apart, with his head facing east, as I’ve been cautioned to do.”

She could tell him nothing more and was too tired to talk further, so they let her rest. Rosie lay trying to sleep, fully aware she was the cause of her own unhappiness. But she loved the bard too much, and couldn’t bear the thought of his paying the price for loving her.

The cat’s rumbling purr soothed her.

>>><<<

Bramblestein, Lancelyn, and Galahad met Ambrose and Leryn downstairs in the empty tap-room. Polcock listened, occupying himself by polishing the woodwork.

The dwarf looked at Ambrose. “If you set the wards against Devere’s return only last spring, then something must have occurred to break your spell.”

“The wards still hold him in check. I’ll know the moment they are broken, no matter where I am. We both know no ward can last forever.” Ambrose gazed into the fire. “I doubt the vampire she met was Devere. Mordred has many minions to draw on besides him.”

Leryn said, “But it seems coincidental, that she should meet an undead at that place.”

“No doubt the creature was attempting to free Devere. He failed.”

The wizard’s smug expression aggravated Leryn.

Apparently, it also irritated the dwarf. “Your former protégé will send another and another until he prevails and Devere is freed. Too much of Mordred’s magic is tied up in creating a weapon out of Devere for him to stop now. Once Devere is free, Mordred will attempt to free Jason Tenneriff from his punishment, too.”

“Of course, he will.” Ambrose’s tone suggested it was nothing to worry about. “A portion of my magic is tied up in maintaining their imprisonment. Mordred must keep trying to break my spells, in order to weaken me.”

The others weren’t fooled. Bramblestein said, “You must face him before he gains their assistance. If he succeeds in freeing both Devere and Tenneriff, he will have robbed you of that part of your magic. He’ll use your own magic against you.”

Shrugging, Ambrose said, “That could happen. But remember: magic is a science of cause and effect, more than it is talent. Unlike you, Mordred was always a lazy student and relied on his ability instead of working to learn the craft. He’s investing his magic in the undead, spending it like water. He hasn’t examined his plan for the flaw that lies embedded within it. What works against me will ultimately be his undoing.” He refused to elaborate further.

Bramblestein’s fist hit the table. “Look! ‘Ambrose’ is the wrong persona for this, Merlin. His arrogance is getting in your way. Either be yourself or straighten him up. We have a town full of innocent lives on the line here!”

Knowing the dwarf was right, Ambrose looked away. “Would Noman be better?”

“Yes!” Bramblestein, Leryn, and Polcock said in unison.

Ambrose looked affronted. “Well. I’ve just been offered a commission in Londown.”

Lancelyn looked from Bramblestein to Ambrose and finally said what was preying on his mind. “My wife is no longer able to assist you in this, and that’s my fault. All I could think about was getting revenge for the curse I’m under. I provoked her, knowing she would lash out at me, and that her magic would rebound on her.”

Ambrose shrugged. “She and I weren’t getting along well anyway. I had suggested her temper would be her undoing, and she told me to mind my own business. She would have hesitated to step into what she perceived as my battle.”

“I have some magic ability, but I’m not in Morgause’s class. My skills run more to alchemy.” The dwarf came to a decision. “I’ll assist you, rather than returning to Londown as I had planned. The college can do without me for a season or two, and Janet would prefer to stay until Rosie is well. We need to bring balance to the fight, so you need an orb to focus and magnify magic, similar to one I lost last spring.” He looked out the corners of his eyes at Lancelyn. “But this orb must focus all the elements instead of only one. I’ll make it for you.”

At the mention of the missing orb, Lancelyn flushed and looked down but said nothing.

The dwarf continued. “If I’m able to create the orb, we’re still one sorcerer short of being able to seal the demon away permanently. Without a triumvirate, we can only confine him again.”

Ambrose gazed into a corner, his thoughts dark. “That will have to do.”

“This doesn’t sound like an ordinary charmed orb.” Galahad spoke from the shadowy corner. “What do you need to enable the creation of this talisman? We’ll mount the quest for the requirements tomorrow.”

“I can make the crystal of the orb myself. I have a special kiln just for such work. But I’ll need four bags of sand from the strand at Wixfjorde, on the island of Eyrland. I’ll also need a special wood for the fire, a type that is only found near Emydin’s Cave, in the north of Wēalas.”

Lancelyn stood up. “I’ll journey to Wixfjorde to get your sand. I’ve access to my brother’s ship in Tyrwyddn. I can cross the Eyrish Sea from there, but it will take me, at least, a month to go to Eyrland and return to Bleakbourne.”

“Galahad should go with you,” Ambrose agreed. “I’ll make the quest to the cave in Wēalas. I know it well. It’s been sealed up for a century or so. That copse is the only place where we’ll find wood that burns hot enough for making talismans. I’ll have to woo it from the grove, but if the bard goes with me, I can do it.”

Leryn was uncertain. His common sense said a short absence while Rosie recovered would be for the best, but his heart wanted to stay. “I’ve no skills you could possibly need.”

Ambrose looked sideways at him. “You’re exactly what this task requires. Certain magic must be sung. You’ve already proven you have the knack for focusing magic into music. You did that last spring when I set the wards against Devere’s return.” Ambrose’s gaze intensified as he opened his senses to Leryn. “Yes. You do have some latent talent. Not a lot, but it might be enough, at least for this. We’ll begin your formal training tomorrow.”

Leryn shook his head. “No. I don’t want this.”

“Stop sniveling.” Bramblestein glared at him. “Bards are gifted with a kind of magic or folks wouldn’t pay them to sing. You can learn more. We’re the only ones able to train you, so get used to the idea.” He jerked his head toward the stairs. “Rosie will be more agreeable when we return. I promise.”

“You’re coming along?” Ambrose looked aghast. “You can’t sing a note.”

“Dwarves understand nature as well as elves. Besides, I can charm the birds from the trees when I’m of a mind to.”

Leryn dropped his head into his hands. “God help me. I’m being kidnapped by the two grumpiest old wizards in Angland.”

Polcock had finished polishing the bar. He said, “It sounds like you’re going on a hell of a trip. Better you than me, bard.”


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

To Read the Further 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.

#flashfic: Bleakbourne on Heath: Morgause

Morgause the Cat with hollyYule Eve had arrived in Bleakbourne on Heath. All day and into the evening, Polcock did a brisk business at his backdoor, selling ale and cider for folks to take home for their feasts. This meant the tap-room was empty, forcing Leryn, the bard, to take his music to the street.

Standing on the stoop in front of the Ploughman’s Inn, Leryn entertained the passersby, managing to earn his coins despite the lack of customers in the taproom.  His day was made more pleasant when the sound of hooves on the cobbles announced the return of Lancelyn, the knight. Riding on his shoulder was a small, tawny, tabby cat, with a distinctive ‘M’ emblazoned on her forehead.

Lance stopped his horse. “Leryn! It’s good to see you again. Meet Morgause, my wife.”  The cat purred, rubbing her cheek against Lance’s sideburns. Absently he reached up and petted her. “I’ve grown quite fond of her now I’ve had a chance to get to know her better.”

Leryn laughed. “Who knew you were a cat-man? I’d have thought you more of a dog fancier.”

“Cats are more intriguing,” replied the knight. “Dogs are simple. Cats are subtle.”

Leryn agreed. “Cats will love you for life, but you’ll never own them.”  The cat purred and nodded her head.

“That’s true. They own you, not the other way around. So, Morgause now owns me.” Lancelyn left the words “just as she always wanted” unspoken, but the bard understood, nonetheless.

By sundown the street was empty. Everyone was at home before their own hearth, celebrating the holy night with as much flair as they could afford, and making the final preparations for the next day’s Yule feast.

Polcock and Hannah hung out the seldom-used closed sign, which people would ignore. With Lancelyn’s return Galahad was happy. Ambrose was behaving himself. The six of them were a family, as Leryn had begun to think of the group. They gathered before the fire, with mulled cider.

The tabby was an enigma to Leryn. She was as independent and curious as any cat, but insisted on sitting beside either Lancelyn or Galahad, claiming them as her territory. She immediately proved an excellent mouser, earning her some respect from Polcock. Surprisingly, given his well-known dislike of cats, the innkeeper agreed she could sleep in Lancelyn and Galahad’s room.

Hannah took an immediate liking to her, and even Ambrose agreed she was an agreeable cat. He did say, “But Lancelyn, I’m afraid your wife is in this form forever, and you’re stuck with your magic-rebounding curse for the rest of your life. Morgause cursed you and she was the only person who could have reversed it.”

Morgause looked up at Ambrose, a sad, resigned expression in her amber eyes.

Lance looked away, regret marring his perfect features. “I know. Revenge isn’t as pleasant as I thought it would be. We’ll just have to live with the mess we made of our lives.”

Ambrose nodded. “Deeds done in the heat of the moment have a way of haunting you forever.”

>>><<<

Yule morning dawned cold and clear. Snow had fallen during the night. Unable to sleep, Leryn stood looking out his window, trying to feel happy. A few flakes of snow drifted on the breeze, making the scene ethereal. It would have been perfect if only Rosie….

He heard the muffled sounds of Hannah and Polcock downstairs in the kitchen, preparing the Yule feast. Their words were indistinct, two people laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

When he first entered the Ploughman’s Inn eleven months before, Leryn felt like he’d come home. And then, when Rosie dropped out of the sky and into his arms he’d been happy, truly happy for the first time, ever.

He thought that if he just tried harder he would get back the sense of belonging he’d lost when she left. If he pretended hard enough he would believe it. He heard a slight scratching at the door to his room, interrupting his morbid thoughts. On opening it Morgause entered, rubbing around his ankles.

“Hello, little one.” He reached down to pet her, but she jumped onto his windowsill, looking intently at him, as if trying to communicate something. The cat turned to gaze out the window, toward the stable, meowed and then jumped back down. She crossed to his door, and sat down to lick a paw. Looking up at him she meowed again and strolled down the hall.

Leryn had just turned back to the window when a sharp “Meow!” got his attention. Morgause was back in the doorway looking at him expectantly.

“You want me to follow you?” Nodding, she went down the hall. Wondering if he’d gone mad, Leryn followed the cat down the back stairs and out the door to the stable. It was too early for Lancelyn and Galahad to be up.

Inside the darkened stable, the cat walked past Applecore, Polcock’s donkey, and also Elsinore, Leryn’s horse. Beyond Elsinore was Trystan, Galahad’s horse, and then Bedivere, Lancelyn’s new horse.

Morgause kept walking into the shadowy recesses of the stable, toward the unused far back stall. Leryn’s heart leapt for joy. Huddled in the hay beside Brunhilde he found Rosie, looking terribly pale and far too thin, and apparently sleeping. Wordlessly, he threw himself down, his arms going around her.

Morgause sat for a few moments, and then quietly padded out of the stable.

>>><<<

“Ambrose!”

The wizard stirred, slow to wake at such an early hour. Leryn shook him. “Ambrose! Rosie’s back, but she’s ill. I put her in my bed. She’s burning hot. Hannah is with her, but we can’t get her to wake up.”

Ambrose threw back the blankets. Pulling on his clothes, he said, “Send Galahad to fetch Bramblestein and Janet. Tell her to bring her medicines.”

>>><<<

Leryn held Rosie’s hand, as Bramblestein finished his examination.  The dwarf looked at Janet. “What do you think, my dear? I would say the girl has pneumonia.”

“I sense something else, as if she encountered something…evil.” Worry creased Janet’s forehead. “Lungwort and lobelia—a tincture to be made into tea. We’ll add willow for the fever, of course.” She smoothed Rosie’s hair back from her face. “But, this day will be either the turning point, or….”

Leryn’s heart knotted up. He pressed Rosie’s hand to his lips. “She will live. She must live.”

Bramblestein laid his hand on Leryn’s shoulder, his rough features full of compassion. “Young man, she’s very ill. We’ll do our best, but whatever night-creature she did battle with has taken a terrible toll on her.”

Janet agreed. “We’ve a long fight ahead of us.”

Bramblestein looked toward Ambrose. “I’m not able to heal the demon-touched. Only Merli—Ambrose—has that gift, now that Morgause is…unable to work sorcery.”

Ambrose knelt beside the bed, taking Rosie’s other hand. “I haven’t done this in a long time. I can’t make any promises.” He met Leryn’s eyes. “And even if I’m able to cleanse her of this, I can’t be sure she’ll survive. Death has her in his sights, and he rarely relinquishes his quarry. We must do this a certain way.” He turned to Hannah. “Open wide the curtains, and let in as much light as you can. We’ll put the bed directly in front of the window, because light is the enemy of darkness.”

Turning the bed so that Rosie faced the window, Ambrose knelt at the head, one hand on either side of Rosie’s face. “Leryn, you hold her right hand. Lancelyn, you hold her left, because other than Leryn, you’re her closest friend. Both of you pray for my success with all your heart. Bramblestein and Janet will kneel at the foot and weave the spells of protection. Morgause…damn. Too bad you’re a cat. This was always your best talent.”

Morgause jumped lightly onto Rosie’s chest and settled there, staring intently at Ambrose. “Good,” said Ambrose. “You’ll help as you can.”

Clearing his mind, Ambrose opened his true-sight to Rosie. Immediately he was assailed by the taint of a vampire. “She did battle with a creature of the night—one of the undead. She must have slain it, or she wouldn’t be here. But in the process, she was wounded.” At first he feared she had been turned, but with great relief he realized she had survived her encounter with her soul intact. “I believe we can save her.”

Seeing the red glow of evil entangled in her life-force, he dove down, prepared to do battle for Rosie’s life and her soul. As he spiraled toward the poison, he felt Morgause’s spirit beside him, lending him strength, and showing him the way.

Working slowly but carefully, he removed the vampire’s dark taint, slicing it away and letting it drift away from Rosie’s body, to be absorbed by the light. Each time he came to an especially complex knot, the spirit-cat was there, guiding him.

>>><<<

Yule day passed, silent and tense as the battle for Rosie’s life raged on. Afternoon approached and a few customers entered the tap-room. Looking haggard, Polcock served them with grim efficiency.

Arriving in the tap-room from the cold, Scutter noted that the bard was not in his usual corner. He also saw that Janet’s cloak was hung by the fire but she was not in the room. Shaking his head, he said to Tom Tailor, “Sad thing, illness at Yule. Hope the bard’s not too sick. He makes good music.”

Tom stared into the fire. “I lost my wife and son two years ago at Yule, and my dad last year. I can’t feel the same about the holiday—it’s just one more day to get through.”

Scutter nodded. “Rebecca was a good woman, and your dad’s sorely missed.”

Hannah entered the room, greeting the two men, followed by Galahad. “Polcock, you’re needed upstairs.”

“I’ll handle the tap-room.” Galahad stepped behind the bar as Polcock followed his wife upstairs.

Tom Tailor said, “I see Widow Brown is here, but the bard is not. Is all well with him?” Despite her recent marriage to Bramblestein, Janet was still “Widow Brown” to the locals, and likely always would be.

Galahad shrugged. “He’s not ill, if that is what you’re asking. Rosie has come home, but she is unwell. Pneumonia. Bramblestein and Janet are caring for her”

Scutter and Tom exchanged glances. Scutter said, “Her sort don’t get ill very often. It must be bad, if the dwarf’s involved.” His thoughts turned inward for a moment, and then he said, “If they need any herbs, I’ve a few set by.”

Grim-faced, Tom said, “Rosie’s a dear girl, one who’s suffered enough in this world. We’ll pray.” Pulling prayer beads from their pockets, both men bowed their heads, saying the prayers of protection and healing in unison. They said the full cycle, returning to the moon-charm twice and then remained by the fire in silence, waiting for news.

>>><<<

Upstairs, Polcock helped Lancelyn carry Ambrose to the room next to Leryn’s. Polcock gazed at Ambrose, a mix of love and worry on his broad face. Bramblestein said, “Don’t worry. He’ll be unconscious for a day or two, but he’s retreated inward, now. It took all his strength, but he was successful. The girl has made a turn for the better.”

Leryn knelt beside Rosie, his head bent in prayer. Rosie slept deeply, and Morgause slept beside her.

Hannah took her husband’s hand. “Don’t worry, my dear. They’ve saved her life, and Ambrose will survive.”

Standing next to Hannah and Polcock, Janet said, “The rest of the cure will be time and medicine—two things we have on hand. Go down to your tap-room. My husband and I will see to it that everyone is cared for, including that very special cat.”


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

To Read the Further 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.

#Flashfic: Bleakbourne on Heath: The Ugly Truth

The Wedding Dance, Pieter Brugel the elder, ca 1566
The Wedding Dance, Pieter Brugel the elder, ca 1566

The Ploughman’s Inn overflowed with people celebrating two weddings. Widow Brown had agreed to marry Bramblestein, the dwarf sorcerer. That had inspired Polcock to suggest that his life would be much happier if Hannah would consent to warm his feet, and she had agreed that it would be a nice arrangement.

Widow Brown’s sudden marriage to the dwarf took the town by surprise.

No one in town was surprised by Polcock’s wedding, but Polcock himself.

Brother Henson had not been seen since the summer wedding season ended, as he was a hermit. Polcock rousted the unwilling monk out of his library, demanding he perform the services.

Brother Henson refused, explaining that in a month it would be Yule. “A Yule wedding is bad luck for the spouses.”

“Yule’s a month away!” Polcock delivered his reply with his fist. “Your bad luck starts now if you don’t do your job!”

The good brother had no idea where he’d stashed his vestments and the holy book, but once everything was located he managed two creditable services, despite his swollen eye.

Ambrose insisted on giving both brides away, and now tended the bar on his nephew’s behalf, while Polcock danced at his own wedding.

No one had ever seen Polcock dance, but he and Hannah made a handsome, sprightly couple. Everyone agreed the double celebration brightened the gloom of November.  Even Leryn, the melancholy bard, enjoyed himself, playing every jig and polka he knew.

The two couples danced and made merry all afternoon, until finally the happy newly-weds went to their respective homes—Polcock’s rooms were just off the kitchen, in the far back of the inn. Hannah insisted they take their wedding night off, but promised that the tap room would open at the usual time the next day.

Polcock looked doubtful when Ambrose announced that he, Leryn and Galahad would do the cleaning up, but went upstairs to collect Hannah’s possessions, moving them to his rooms with no further discussion. The last hours of the evening passed, closing time arrived, and the guests all went home.

Ambrose apparently felt his contribution to the clean-up should be sipping ale by the fire and pointing out the places that needed cleaning. Leryn took the mug from his hand, and put the broom in it. “Here’s your broom, sweeper-lad. I’ll wash the tables and help Galahad with the dishes, but you can make yourself useful. And this time make sure there’s wood in the kitchen for morning.”

Galahad agreed. “You’re milking your performance as the ne’er-do-well uncle, Ambrose. We’re all a bit tired of it.”

“Why are you two such sticks? Life should be fun.” But he did start sweeping.

Leryn said, “Have all the fun you want, but we’ll need you when the demon returns. If your “nephew” kills you first, that won’t help us at all.”

Ambrose glared at him. “If I didn’t understand that, I’d be sitting down by the docks where I was happy. Where I should be, if you want the truth.”

“Don’t get your breeches in a knot. You can go back to the docks when it warms up, if he hasn’t returned by then. The storm last week would have blown your rickety shelter into the river, unless you used magic to hold it together, which could tip the demon off.”

“I know how magic works, boy.” Ambrose glowered at him. “He knows I’m waiting for him. But Ambrose is flashy, outrageously visible. It won’t occur to him that the old man he despises has the balls to put himself in the center of things like this. Ambrose has failings—something Merlin never admits to.”

Finally, the three of them sat in silence, gazing into the fire. Just as Leryn was feeling drowsy enough to go to his room, Galahad said, “I suspect Rosie will be back anytime now.”

Leryn sat up, suddenly wide awake. “Why?”

The green-eyed knight met his gaze. “I don’t know why she left, but I know what will bring her back. It’s something she won’t want to deal with on her own. She’ll have to talk to me. You can drag her to the chapel then. Given that Janet Brown married the foreign dwarf and everyone celebrated, she’ll likely go willingly.”

Wild grief welled, along with the now-familiar sense of angry helplessness. “How does their wedding change anything?” Leryn knew it was rude, but didn’t care. “And what can you help her with? She did all her knightly rescuing with Lance. You only go out when someone’s life is in danger.” He looked away. “No. She left me for reasons of her own. She’s gone for good.”

Ambrose said, “Don’t be too sure. She’s never been in love before—our sort don’t really mature emotionally in that way for fifty years. She’s seen a lot of grief and her family’s been run out of places, sometimes violently.”

“Why?” The bard glared at Ambrose. “I’m sick of excuses that tell me nothing! Polcock won’t tell me. You won’t tell me.” He set his mug down hard. “Tell me why people would want to run a person as good and wonderful as Rosie out of town just because she’s half-elven. Tell me why, so I can go out and hurt someone for putting me through this pain!”

The silence was drawn out. Leryn stood up, intending to leave.

“Sit down.” Ambrose’s voice had lost its mocking tones. “I’ll tell you. But it’s not pretty, and I’m not sure you’ll still want to marry her once you find out.”

“Tell me. Let me make up my own mind.”

“You know that if you need a thief, a spy, or an assassin you look for an elf. They’re silent and exceedingly good, reliable people, who only do what they’re hired to. Elves, unlike humans and dwarves, have no magic other than the uncanny ability to blend in with the scenery and remain hidden.”

“I’ve heard this. I’ve never met one, but I’ve heard they’re the best hired thieves.” Leryn sat down. “But what does this have to do with Rosie?”

“You may have noticed that I have magic.”

Leryn rolled his eyes at Ambrose’s sarcasm.

“My childhood was long and fraught with trouble. I was orphaned far too young, spending a year on the streets of Londown. A wizard who is also half-elven found me making my living as a pick-pocket. He took me in and trained me before I did so much damage I was discovered and murdered.

“We half-elven are persecuted, because regardless of whether the human parent has the gift of magic or not, children of a mixed couple are always born with magic. Sometimes, as in my case, it’s exceptionally strong magic. If the human parent has no magic, as is frequent, they have no control over their child’s abilities. Things begin to happen whenever they’re around, sometimes bad things. Fires, perhaps, and even worse.” Ambrose looked grim. “Especially when the half-elven are toddlers. That’s what happened last year in Londown, although it’s not well known—a half-elven child was the cause of the great fire. Because of this penchant for mayhem, half-elven are not welcome anywhere.”

Leryn looked confused. “I hear what you’re saying, but Rosie has no magic.”

“Calling dragons is her magic.”

“She said dragons always find her…but how is that sort of magic so awful that she would be treated harshly by the people here?”

Ambrose’s impatience threatened to get the better of him, but he continued. “When she was a toddler, her town was inundated with dragons. They can’t be tamed, so they laid waste to the countryside around her town. And half-elven age slowly—very slowly. Even now, she’s still only about eighteen by your standards, but is really over sixty years old. She was orphaned young too, like me. In order to get by and remain hidden she learned to control her magic.”

“What does this have to do with bigotry against the half-elven?”

Galahad interjected, staving off Ambrose’s irritated flare-up. “Think about it. Do you want to live in a town where a toddler with an immense capacity for wielding magic is playing make-believe? When no one can control the workings of a child’s mind?” He grinned at Leryn’s shocked comprehension. “Especially a toddler whose early childhood lasts twenty years? And then they have another twenty years of getting through puberty. The human parent’s entire lifespan is taken up with just getting the child to adulthood.”

Ambrose said, “Whenever it comes out that an elf and a human have a child, they’ll be forced out of town for the safety of everyone. And because of the problems we half-elven pose as children, and the length of our childhood, that bigotry extends into our adulthood. People fear us even though by the time we reach forty we’re no longer dangerous.” He sipped from his tankard. “Rosie is still relatively young, so she’s terrified of what will happen.”

Galahad said, “Lance told me that every time her family settled in one place for any length of time, dragons followed them. Whenever her family’s secret was discovered, they were violently attacked and run out. When she was barely the equivalent of a fourteen-year old, her parents were murdered, as was her younger brother, whose only gift was creating flowers from sticks.”

The bard looked horrified. “They killed a child just for being half-elven?”

Ambrose said, “Yes. They beat to death a boy whose only crime was making sticks bloom. And congratulated themselves when they were done.”

“What is wrong with people that they would do such a thing? No wonder she’s skittish about Bleakbourne.” Leryn felt ill. “This is great. Lance knew her secret, you knew it, Polcock knew—I was the only one who didn’t. But it wouldn’t have mattered! I love her, and that magic of hers changes nothing. She has full control of it.”

Ambrose shook his head. “She does have control of a sort—but she needs training. Why do you think a dragon was stalking our area in the first place? They always find her.” He leaned forward, putting another log on the fire. “Anyway, she’ll be back. She’s in love with you or she wouldn’t have left. And she’s about to make a discovery that will bring her back to Bleakbourne.”

Leryn fought the rush of hope that Ambrose’s words filled him with. “And what is this discovery you’re both being so coy about?”

Galahad said, “I’ll tell you, but if it makes it into a tale or ballad, you’re a dead man.”

Leryn snapped, “If you don’t know me well enough by now to trust me, then don’t tell me. I wouldn’t want you to be worried I might sing your secret to the world.”

“Peace!” Galahad held his hands up. “Alright, if you insist. Rosie should be just discovering that Brunhilde is carrying a foal.”

For a moment Leryn wondered what that had to do with her deciding to return to Bleakbourne on Heath. But then it occurred to him that when Brunhilde was in season only two other horses and a donkey had been lodged in the stables. Polcock’s donkey, Applecore, was a jenny, so that left Elsinore and…. “Applecore is female and Elsinore is a gelding. That leaves…but you were under Morgause’s spell at the time. What does this mean for the foal?”

Galahad said, “Exactly.”

Ambrose chuckled at Leryn’s expression. “Lancelyn should be returning any day now, too. Bramblestein told me a certain sorceress had a tantrum that backfired on her. Lance is now the proud owner of a tabby house cat, named Morgause.”

Galahad sat up, grinning. “Now that is good news! But it’s likely Polcock won’t let us keep her here in the inn. He despises cats. She’ll have to live in the stable, even if she is Lance’s wife.


Bleakbourne on Heath © Connie J. Jasperson 2015 – 2017 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.