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

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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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The Corrupted American Innocence of Archie Comics – The New Yorker

I love the last line of this article because as a white teenager growing up in a multicultural town in the 1960s, I wondered about this strange dichotomy.

———————————————

If Archie was typically American, it was not because of its actual virtue but because of its deeply American insistence on its own virtuousness, impossible to maintain

Source: The Corrupted American Innocence of Archie Comics – The New Yorker

#Flashfic: Bleakbourne on Heath: Flora and the God of Debauchery

Freya_by_Penrose 1913Leryn stood in the stable, talking with Galahad. “I want to like Ambrose, but he makes it so hard.”

Galahad chuckled. “That’s intentional, I’m sure.”

“Yes, but the way he’s going, Polcock is going to kill him.”

The green eyed knight nodded. “That could happen, but I think he’s trying to force his nephew to make Hannah an offer of marriage.”

Leryn said, “Well, if Polcock kills his ‘uncle’ in a jealous rage there will be hell to pay—literally. Ambrose is all that’s standing between us and the Demon Knight.”

“Well…what do you say we help Polcock out a little?  Shall we get Ambrose away from the house for a while?  I know the perfect tower for him to immortalize in its natural setting.”

The bard groaned. “Not Bramblestein’s tower. Haven’t we bothered him enough?”

Behind the stable, Ambrose knelt outside the privy. He’d finished emptying the chamber pots, and now rinsed them. He chuckled, overhearing Leryn and Galahad talking. “I know that tower well,” he muttered. “The dwarf was one of my better students.”

Unaware they were being overheard, Galahad said, “It’s an unusual tower—not like anyplace I’ve ever seen. Too bad the ill-tempered dwarf lives there. But it would get Ambrose out of here, and give him something to paint that won’t fidget and complain.”

“I don’t fidget. I’m just sick of being immortalized. How often do I have to endure that nonsense? I agree that the tower would be a good subject for him to paint, if only there wasn’t the problem of Bramblestein—it’s his home, after all. Although, it would make the kind of picture a merchant’s wife with more money than sense would pay a large sum to own.” Leryn shrugged. “But we don’t need Ambrose pissing off a grumpy dwarf who also happens to be a fairly decent sorcerer.”

Just then Ambrose heard the voice of the woman who’d dogged his steps since his return. “Polcock?” Widow Brown had entered the kitchen at the Ploughman’s Inn. “I was thinking I could take your uncle off your hands for a while today. It’s a fine day for October. Perhaps he’d like to paint me in my herb-garden? He likes painting mythology—so he’d have something to sell.”

“I’m sure you’d make a lovely Venus. He hasn’t painted her, yet,” answered Polcock, in a tone that could only be described as smug. “In fact, nothing would make him happier. I’ll fetch him now.”

Leaving the pots where they sat, Ambrose bolted into the stable. “Quick!  Galahad, saddle the horses. Leryn, sneak into my room through the window and grab my case.” He glanced nervously toward the back door of the inn. “It’s a sunny day. I’ll paint that tower, and damn the dwarf. He’s not so bad—dwarves are a crotchety race by nature.”

“You know the dwarf?” Galahad saddled Ambrose’s recent acquisition, an ancient, swaybacked mare named Nellie.

>>><<<

“Here we are,” said Leryn as they entered the clearing just in front of Bramblestein’s tower. “It must be three-hundred years old.”

A new pair of doors graced the front. Ambrose dismounted from the swaybacked mare. “Four-hundred, actually. I was young and full of romantic ideas when I built it. It’s the worst example of baroque excess—clearly the work of a beginner.”

“Of course—it makes perfect sense that you built it. It belongs in a book of fairy tales, and you’re certainly the king of those.” Leryn looked around nervously. “Just paint quietly and don’t disturb the nice dwarf who lives here now.”

Leaving the two men and the horses just inside the forest where they couldn’t be seen from the tower, Ambrose set his easel where he had a perfect view. Galahad wrapped himself in his cloak and finding a good place sheltered by the trees, he stretched out to take a nap. Leryn dropped down beside him, leaning against a trunk, observing Ambrose as he worked. After a while, he too dozed off.

“So! This is where you ran off to.”

Both Leryn and Galahad were startled into wakefulness. Widow Brown had found her quarry.

Janet stood in the clearing glaring at Ambrose, both hands on her hips. She hadn’t noticed the two men, so they remained where they were. “Polcock was unhappy that you left those pots out by the privy like that. I followed you easily. Most fugitives cover their tracks better.”

“I wasn’t trying to hide my departure.” Ambrose spoke matter-of-factly. “You know I’m not a faithful sort of man. I ran off and left you three years ago. You deserve better than this. You’ve a whole life waiting for you.”

“Do I? I know what they all say about me. They talk as if I was deaf—the crazy herb-woman who probably never had a husband, but claims widowhood.” Her voice broke. “Well I did, Ambrose! Grady loved me. I’ve been a widow since I was seventeen. First the plague took my baby, then my husband. Sometimes it’s too much to bear.”

The pain in her voice was hard for Leryn to hear—he’d been one of the many to discount her.

Her voice shook. “One year of happiness and fifteen years of grieving, trying to do my work with only half the knowledge I need to do it right, and no one to teach me the rest. And in all that time you’re the only man in Bleakbourne who ever treated me like a woman instead of a joke. You were kind to me. I keep thinking that somehow we could have…if only….”

She sat on a fallen log, sobbing. “I don’t love you. But I’m lonely. They all come to me for love charms, and tarot readings to choose the right wedding day, and I’m still alone. You don’t know what it’s like.”

“I know what grief is like, and it doesn’t go away easy—I outlived my wife and lost my daughter to a murdering rapist.” Ambrose’s voice had turned hard, but gentled as he said, “You’ve let grief destroy you long enough. It’s time for you to live again.” He looked up at the tower. A window had cracked open, as if the occupant was listening. He raised his voice a little. “This tower is situated in the most romantic setting you could ask for, don’t you think?”

She looked around, and nodded, sniffing a little. “I guess.”

“A person could believe in fairy tales here. But what this picture needs is a beautiful woman—a nymph, to show how magical this place is.” He looked at her out the corners of his eyes. “Do you think…perhaps would you…you know. Pose? Just for old times’ sake. Like the one we did of Persephone and Hades?”

“Without my clothes? Out here? What if someone sees us—I’m already a pariah in Bleakbourne. That would seal it for me.”

“We’re completely alone. Think of it. You’re the muse for the pictures that have made my name as an artist. Remember The Taking of Persephone? That painting is now hanging in Cardinal Anthon’s personal collection. He fell in love with your perfection. That’s why I was able to pay my debts last month.”

Ambrose’s voice took on a wheedling tone. “Your earthy beauty has been immortalized in all the greatest tales, so why not…ah…as Flora, Goddess of Nature. Can’t you see Flora posed by this wonderfully gnarled tree…waiting for…for…Bacchus. Yes, she’s waiting for Bacchus to happen by.”

“Bacchus? The God of Debauchery? I’m not sure—it’s not really warm enough for outdoor sin.” Janet clutched her cloak around her.

“Even Bacchus has a sober side. Besides, this will represent a higher moral allegory. Flora isn’t engaging in debauchery. She’s tempting him to a life of sobriety, marriage, and children. This is the one painting I will be remembered for—it will ensure your place in history as my muse.” He looked at the blue of the autumn sky. “And this could be the last fine day we’ll have until spring.”

“If you swear on your hope of heaven we won’t be seen. All right. I’ll pose for one last picture, for the sake of your art.”

Wide eyed, Leryn and Galahad shrank further back into the trees. “I really don’t want to be a part of this,” whispered Leryn. “Why is he using her so? This is abuse, even if she does agree.”

“Shh…he’s up to something, and it’s not enticing her into a quick roll in the shrubbery. Turn your back, like a gentleman.” Galahad had turned a bright red. Silently, they withdrew deeper into to the woods, turning to where they could no longer see anything.

They heard the sounds of Janet disrobing, and Ambrose posing her by the ancient, twisted tree. “We’ll place your scarf like so, to give Flora some modesty.”

Soon they could tell from the sounds of his brush against the canvas that he was back at his easel. Ambrose asked Janet, “Do you know the story of this tower?”

“No,” she replied. “A wizard of some sort lives here. But few people ever see him—I never have.”

“Bramblestein is a dwarf from the mountains up north. He’s a sorcerer and an alchemist, quite well-known as a scholar of history and spends most of his time in Londown.”

Janet perked up. “Do you have any idea how rare a man with a good mind is in Bleakbourne?”

“Don’t move. You look absolutely fetching like that. Yes, intelligence is rare here. But more importantly, Bramblestein was a student of Merlin’s. And he sometimes takes apprentices, if they have certain talents.”

“Really! Would he consider…but no. No one would teach an old fortuneteller who has no second-sight.”

Ambrose snorted. “Old! You’re only thirty-two. And you look better with your clothes off than women half your age—better than any woman has a right to.”

Curiosity got the better of Leryn, who turned to see, but Galahad stopped him with a shake of his head. Sighing, he turned back.

The two men stiffened, as they heard the creak of hinges, signifying the opening of a door.

“Perfect!” shouted Ambrose. “Don’t move a muscle, sir—you’re exactly what this picture needs! When I’m finished, I shall give it to you, to grace your hall.”

A gruff voice, with a humorous tone spoke. “I’m but a caretaker here, as you well know, Ambrose.”

The slight stress on the words told Leryn the sorcerer knew exactly who Ambrose really was, but was playing along. With a shock, he realized Ambrose still owned the tower.

Janet’s voice sounded strangled. “Is someone there? But Ambrose—I’m—”

“Glorious!” cried Bramblestein. “You’re absolutely glorious! This itinerant dauber of paint has no idea what he has in you. I sense talent—a gift that must be trained.”

“Don’t move, either of you! I’m nearly finished!” Leryn and Galahad heard the sounds of Ambrose’s brush as he painted furiously.

“I must be allowed to train you.” Bramblestein remained posed in the doorway, apparently the perfect image of Bacchus, assuming the God of Debauchery was a dwarf wearing a yellow hat and red kilt.

Janet sounded uncertain. “But I’m no good as a fortuneteller without resorting to mushroom-tea. I’m not talented.”

Bramblestein said, “Your talent lies in a different area—I sense a knack for alchemy, my dear. That’s why your little love charms and potions work so well. But you could do much more, if you’re willing to work at it. Once the old man finishes our portrait, you must come inside, and we’ll talk at length.”

“Quiet—both of you. You can continue this later. I need you both to hold still while the light is perfect!” Ambrose’s voice cracked through the clearing like a whip.  “This will be my greatest masterpiece!”

Leryn grinned widely. Galahad whispered, “See? I was fairly sure he had a plan.”

Beech_Leaf_Outline_clip_art_medium


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

He had no Clew

By: David P. Cantrellgreat_white_shark_image_wallpaper_hd_6

Sandy needed to rest his arms for a minute or two after missing the last wave. He lay back on his surfboard, feet and shins dangling, inviting the shark’s attention. It moved deeper, in slow circles, careful to keep the target in sight. At the correct depth, its massive body turned vertical and its strong tail propelled it, faster and faster until—To Be Continued.

***

That ending was a cliffhanger. Did you ever wonder where the term, cliffhanger, came from? I did and looked it up at Online Etymology Dictionary (www.etymonline.com). Here’s a fun quiz based on word etymology.

  1. Cliffhanger, a term for a suspenseful situation, was coined because of:
    1. Window washers working on skyscrapers,
    2. A ritual execution performed by ancient Incas,
    3. A serialized movie called The Perils of Pauline,
    4. Pictographs created by Pueblo Indians.
  2. Clue, as in helpful information, arose because of:
    1. A “clew” of thread used by Theseus to escape the Minotaur’s labyrinth,
    2. An medieval French word “cluett”, a device used to open wine casks,
    3. An Old German word “klug”, meaning clever or intelligent.
  3. Atomic Bomb, as in, big boom, was coined by:
    1. Albert Einstein in a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt during WWII,
    2. H. G. Wells in his 1914 book The World Set Free,
    3. The director of the Manhattan Project, Major General Leslie Groves of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  4. Pipe dream, a term for impossible or impractical to achieve, was coined because of:
    1. A New York Times reporter’s description of Joyce Jones’ performance of Bach on the US Military Academy’s giant pipe organ in 1911,
    2. A description of the fantasies created by smoking opium,
    3. Diamond Jim Brady’s description of his wife’s, Lillian Russel’s, singing voice in an 1899 interview.
    4. A Groucho Marks line in the 1935 movie A Night at the Opera.

The answers will appear next week.

***

Not really, that was another cliffhanger, page down for the answers.

1. c. Suspenseful endings have been around since Homer wrote Odysseus. But, serialized movies in the early 1900’s made it an art form. These short movies were the mini-series of their day and immensely popular. Movie goers returned each week to learn the fate of their heroine or hero. The Perils of Pauline had twenty episodes and each ended with Pearl White, as Pauline, in great danger, such as hanging from a cliff above the Hudson River in New Jersey. The scene led the term.

2. a. Theseus, the Prince of Athens, was quite the hero. He volunteered to be sacrificed to King Minos’s Minotaur as a subterfuge, his true intent being to kill the beast of the Labyrinth and free his people. Ariadne, King Minos’s daughter fell madly in love with the brave young man and secretly gave him a clew of thread to unwind as he traversed the labyrinth thus leaving a trail to follow.  There’s more to the story, but should do for the moment.

3. b. H. G. Wells has been called the father of science fiction. He wrote numerous books in many genres, but is best known for his scientific romances, sci-fi today. The Time Machine and War of the Worlds are probably his best known works. He actually used the term atomic bomb to describe a bomb that used fission as its source of power.

4. b. The fanciful dreams prompted by opium were well known for centuries, however the phrase, pipe dreams, was coined around 1870 according to Etymology Online Dictionary. Another source, The Phrase Finder, noted its use by The Chicago Daily Tribune  in 1890. Both source agree that it arose because of smoking opium.


David P. Cantrell is an author and a member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.

The Marriage Counselor

Digital Clock FaceI shook my head to get rid of the sudden, loud buzzing sound in my ears. Feeling a little disoriented, I looked at the calendar, which said Thursday, the day I dreaded most. Sometimes I felt like it was always Thursday. It was nearly time for my regular two o’clock appointment…the couple from hell, pardon my cursing. After my heart attack about six months before, they had begun coming to me, and were likely to give me another one. They never missed an appointment no matter how I wished they would.

I watched the clock tick from one fifty-nine to two o’clock.

My receptionist opened the door. “Mr. and Mrs. Haydes are here. Shall I show them in?”

 ***

I lifted my pen from the notepad and regarded the couple seated across from me. “Would you listen to yourselves? You make marriage sound like hell. It doesn’t have to be that way. You both sabotage it every chance you get.”

“Of course marriage is hell,” said the husband across from me, dressed in a double-breasted, blue suit, giving him an almost nautical appearance. Add a captain’s hat and he’d look like a cast member on The Love Boat. “It’s the absolute worst thing that could possibly have happened to a once studly man like myself. But just like the moth flying into the flame, I had to do it. ‘Don’t go toward the light,’ my friends all said. But did I listen? Hell, no!”

His wife snorted. “Luke always does the exact opposite of what anyone advises him to do. That’s what he gets for being a devil-may-care, I’m-gonna-do-it-my-way sort of a guy. He’s Satan. That makes me Satan’s wife. Of course it’s hell—it comes with the territory. If I can put up with him, he can put up with me.” This week she wore little makeup, neatly coiffed with not a hair out of place. In a counterpoint to Luke’s dashing attire, she wore a beige wool suit, cut to just below her modestly crossed knees, with low-heeled pumps. Mrs. Haydes could have been any proper matron from any Protestant congregation, right down to her puritanical sense of morality.

This forty-five minute session of misery began promptly at two o’clock every Thursday. They booked their appointments under the pseudonyms, Lucifer and Persephone Haydes. He preferred to be called Luke, and she preferred to be called Mrs. Haydes. After six months of working with this pair of nut cases, I was beginning to suspect they were playing a game of mess-with-the-counselor.

Last week she’d been dressed like a teenaged skateboarder, and he as an English literature professor. The week before that, she was a hippie, complete with headband and love beads, and he was a cricket player.

Every week it was something different but always opposites. Mrs. Haydes seemed to choose her wardrobe based on what she thought would annoy him most, and he went with the opposite because he really couldn’t do anything else. He had the worst case of oppositional defiant disorder I had ever seen.

“Why are you here?” I had to ask, despite knowing I wouldn’t get an answer. “I no longer understand what you are trying to save here. You never take my advice. And you’ve been aware since the outset that I am a pastor, not a magician. What do you hope to gain from this?” I tapped my foot and looked at the clock. We were only fifteen minutes into this session, and I was already exhausted. “What you really need is a good divorce lawyer, not a counselor. I can tell you every reason why you should stay married, and if you are looking for religious affirmation, I can give you chapter and verse on the apostle Paul’s views regarding marriage. Over the last six months, I have done so repeatedly.  We’ve discussed what you originally saw in each other and what you each want from your relationship, but you’re still at this impasse.  I think that at this stage divorce is the only answer for the two of you.”

Luke snorted. “Don’t bother telling me anything the apostle Paul said—I wrote that book. I was delusional.”

“I think the pastor is right,” said Mrs. Haydes, primly folding her hands. “Divorce is the only option. I’m sure no one would blame me for leaving a devil like you.”

“I’m not giving up half of everything I own,” said Luke, clearly aghast at the notion. “Do you know how many divorce lawyers she has access to? No way am I going to let her off so easily.”

“I come from a broken family,” said Mrs. Haydes, discreetly wiping a tear. “I don’t want our children to grow up in a broken home. But it would be better than Anaheim. It’s a bad environment to raise children in. I want to move back to our palace in Hell. All it needs is a little remodeling.”

I couldn’t stop myself. I had to ask it. “And you think Hell is a good environment to raise kids in?”

“Well, at least there’s no crime in hell. We have the finest law enforcement professionals in the universe.” She glared at me defensively. “Where should I be raising them? Seattle? I’m not exposing my children to a bunch of pot-smoking vegans who ride bicycles and wear socks with sandals.”

Luke brightened up. “I love Seattle—perhaps we should move there. I could get some goats or raise alpacas. They have the best coffee in the world!”

Mrs. Haydes sniffed. “The place is full of vulgar vegetarians. They’re always taking their children to yoga and soccer, where everyone gets a trophy whether they win or lose—it’s just wrong. We will most certainly not be moving to Seattle.”

“Enough,” said Luke. “I’m going vegan and we’re moving to Seattle and that’s final.” He turned to me and missed her small, satisfied smile. “What I really want to talk about is the stint we did on ‘Home Hunters.’ She destroyed me in front of millions of people, and I have to watch it every time they rerun that episode, which they seem to do three times a week.”

“Well dear, it airs on one of your networks, and you make the rules. You’re the one who decides why the television viewing public has 999 channels available to them, and all but three of them at any given time are showing the same reruns of Pawn Shop Heroes, Home Hunters, or Gator Boys.”

From the look on Luke’s face, I could see that Mrs. Haydes had the knife and was twisting it for all she was worth.

“Besides, I said very clearly that I wanted the extremely modern condo, with all the sleek furnishings and the gorgeous, terrazzo floors. I said it at least six times. It’s on the videotape of the show.” She smiled at him smugly. “You just had your heart set on that cozy, little pink bungalow with the seventies’ décor and the orange shag carpet. You insisted, and so, of course, I gave in. Once you make up your mind, it’s impossible to change it.”

“See?” Luke exploded. “See how she manipulates me? How could I not go for the house she said she didn’t want? It was like asking the dog not to eat the chocolate you left on the coffee table. I’m Satan! I’m not really an agreeable sort of guy, and she knows exactly how to manipulate me, so now, twice a week, everyone in America gets to watch me buying grandma’s overpriced, decorating nightmare. It’s been voted the most popular episode of all time! She embarrassed me in front of God and the world.” He dropped his head into his hands. “We’re moving to Seattle now, and it’s going to be hell trying to sell that dump in Anaheim. I won’t even be able to rent it out for enough to cover the carrying costs. What a life!”

I knew this session was going nowhere. Their sessions never went anywhere positive because they were masters at circular reasoning. “What is it you want from me? You must have some reason for putting me through this agony every week.”

“I despise him, so I want a divorce, of course,” said Mrs. Haydes, with a smug, little smile. “I’ll be happy with my half of everything, and, of course, alimony. I gave up my career to raise our children, you know, and of course, they will need child support.” She aimed her tight, fundamentalist smile at me. “We won’t waste your time any further.”

“No. No. No!” Luke’s eyes popped out of his head. “No divorce. I adore you, Persey—you’re the love of my life!” He kissed her hand.  “I would be lost without you. Think of the children.”

“I love you too, Luke—I just hate being around you. And now you’re going to be forcing all your hippy, vegetarian food on me.” She turned away from him, primly pursing her lips. “You know how I love steak.”

“No dear, not vegetarian. Vegan. It’s good for you, you’ll love it. Why, I’ve a recipe for smoked tofu that will put a smile on that pretty face in no time.” Luke smiled his most charming smile. “If there is one thing I understand, it’s how to barbecue. You’ll adore my smoked tofu salad.”

“If you say so, dear. I’ll likely throw up.”

The two rose and left my office. I sighed.

Luke might claim to be Satan, and yes, it was even possible given how contrary he was, but if that was case, Mrs. Haydes ruled in Hell. There was no mistake about that.

I heard my receptionist speaking in the anteroom. Yes, Mrs. Haydes was scheduling another appointment…two o’clock next Thursday.

Satan might move to Seattle, or he might not. Somehow, I knew his new penchant for tofu and coffee wouldn’t get me off the hook.

I shook my head to get rid of the sudden, loud buzzing sound in my ears. Feeling a little disoriented, I looked at the calendar, which said Thursday, the day I dreaded most. Sometimes I felt like it was always Thursday. It was nearly time for my regular two o’clock appointment…the couple from hell, pardon my cursing. After my heart attack about six months before, they had begun coming to me, and were likely to give me another one. They never missed an appointment no matter how I wished they would.

I watched the clock tick from one fifty-nine to two o’clock.

My receptionist opened the door. “Mr. and Mrs. Haydes are here. Shall I show them in?”


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