The latest book from Artema Press, my publisher. Several authors were invited to write stories with a celtic theme, myself included.
A soldier on leave suddenly finds
himself at the battlefront and at the mercy of the dreaded Morrigan. Next, a
kelpie is given a mission by the undine who rules the river that is his only
path to Faerie. A disabled man, drawn into the world of the Shining Ones, must save the fairy he loves from herself. Then a high-strung jeweler finds he has more in common with a thieving Cat Sidhe than the people of the town who accommodate her…
Magic Creatures From Celtic Mists features eleven stories with distinctly different plots and themes, some whimsical, some frightening, and others bittersweet. Together, they feature contemporary
imagining of creatures of Celtic myth, portrayed in both ancient and modern settings, with respect for their rich cultural origins and historical significance. It is a tribute to the past that celebrates its continued and compelling influence on the present in which we live.
My own story in this anthology in some ways in an extension of my favorite short story "A Gift Horse", which ties back to a novel I am still working upon "The House of Faegrim" because there was always a question in Faegrim as to how Julius got to Earth and why in the first place.
All the stories are excellent, but Froelich's Morrigan story will wow you.
It was a good day. The road to Castle March lay wreathed in evening summer sunshine. Oswith of Foll was now minus, not only Leric’s cattle but some of his own, and no one had died.
Men’s anticipation grew higher the closer they came to home. Three weeks they’d been away. Camping under the stars wasn’t bad in summer, but a man’s own bed was something worth fighting for. That and a pretty girl. Irian smiled as the castle walls came in sight. He’d missed Sera, he realized. Not long ago she’d just been an annoying brat. Still was some days when she climbed one of her hobby horses, but she certainly had blossomed. In all the right places, too.
Irian stood in his stirrups to better see the back of the train where the wounded brought up the rear. Four injuries, all minor, and one of those come about because a damn fool soldier couldn’t stay on his horse when he’d tried to separate a cow from its calf. A broken collarbone was easily mended. Indeed it was a good day.
The last stretch of road and the portcullis came in sight. Irian halted his horse until the last man was through into the inner ward and then a groom came to take the beast. Irian didn’t leave until men and equipment were away and the wounded before the surgeon. He’d already made a brief written report to King Leric. Later would see the details. Now all he wanted was a bath, food, and a change of clothes, in no particular order.
As the last horse was led from between a cart’s traces someone cleared their throat behind him. Irian turned to see Tigh, the dungeon guard. Damn. For a little while he’d forgotten about the hyatu.
“Still alive, is he?” Irian asked.
“Aye, sir,” the craggy sergeant said.
“You have a problem, sergeant? Can’t it wait until I’ve bathed and changed?”
“Not exactly, sir.”
Irian removed his gloves and raised an eyebrow in question.
“There’s been, like, a complication, sir.”
Keen to get to his bath, Irian smacked his gloves against one thigh. Tigh flinched, clearly in a dilemma about something. “Out with it, man!”
“Tis the Lady Sera, sir.”
“What has the Lady Sera got to do with the prisoner?”
“It were the princess, sir. I couldn’t sees how to make it right, so I did as I’s told, but it ain’t right, sir.”
“What isn’t?” Irian cried in exasperation.
“The princess had the lady imprisoned with the hyatu.....”
Irian didn’t let the man finish. He ran across the courtyard and into the prison tower entrance, hurtling down the twisting stairs in frantic haste.
Imprisoned with a hyatu? Only Sera could have managed that. A highborn lady in danger of losing her soul to one of those beasts. He’d think about what Princess Faella had done after. Right now all he could think of was Sera.
Breathless, he reached the corridor before the archway leading to the dungeon room which housed the ironbound cell. He quelled the urge to call out Sera’s name and took a breath. Before he could walk in Tigh caught his arm.
Breathing in wheezes, the craggy gaoler gasped, “Sir! Just listen a moment will ye! Please!”
He listened in growing disbelief to Tigh’s tale. “I’ve stayed close, sir, listening like, making sure he didn’t do nuthin. He speaks a civilized tongue and he didn’t hurt the lady. Says he’s a king’s son and his death could start a war.”
“Does he indeed. Has he taken your soul, Tigh?”
The old sergeant blanched. “No, sir! and I doubt he took the lady’s either. He’s been too sick for that kind of nonsense.”
“So now, for the first time ever, we have a decent hyatu? Tigh have your brains descended to your bollocks?”
Tigh straightened, offense written into his features. “Don’t think so, sir.”
Irian turned back to the archway. He walked through slowly. Sera didn’t look up from what she was doing. Something glinted in her hand and she was so intent she didn’t even notice him. A smudge of dirt decorated one cheek. Straw laced her dark
“You know generally a key works much better.”
Her busy hands stilled. She didn’t look up immediately but her cheeks rounded as she smiled. “I haven’t got a key,” she said.
“Obviously not. Where were you thinking of going?”
It was an old game. One they’d played as children the many times she’d been disobedient enough for her grandmother to lock her in her room. It didn’t seem that long ago he’d treated her as a sister. Not anymore. Not for a while in fact.
“He’s convinced you he’s something he’s not and you felt it only right to free him. My darling girl, I’m sorry, but they do that all the time.”
"You were listening," Sera accused and looked into his eyes.
"No, but Tigh is blessed with a good memory. He told me of your conversations, among other things."
Irian held a great ring of keys he’d plucked from a wall hook. He glanced at the supine hyatu, selected a key, placed it within the lock, and turned. The door sprang
open. Sera climbed to her feet, dusting straw from her dress.
"I stink," she stated, wrinkling her nose.
Irian began to smile. Actually she looked quite fetching with her tussled dark hair, but the smile left his face as anger came. He said, "You do, sweetheart, and for
that, Faella is going to pay, king's daughter or no. Come."
Sera lifted her chin. "Not without K'sar," she said.
So the hyatu had a name. Irian paused. "Sera, no," he said softly. "This isn't one of your strays. This is a beast who wields magic as easily as you and I breathe.”
“Beast or man, does it matter? His death might cause war between us—is that what you want?”
“No! But you cannot believe him.”
"If Tigh told you of our conversations, how do you know he wasn't telling the
"Because that's how the sneaky bastards work. Doubt and manipulation are their second names. –What did you say his name was?”
She hesitated, but then she said, “K’sar Raheeth Tianon.”
“Then I know he's lying. K'sar Raheeth Tianon's been dead these past hundred years."
The straw rustled as K’sar climbed to his feet. Memory of this creature within Irian's mind remained vivid. Now he stood behind Sera, cowardly enough to use a woman as shield.
"I'd never heard the name before Faella left me here. How do you know it, Irian?" Sera asked.
"Because my great-grandfather killed him. It's not a name the Highgren's forget, since the bastard caused our first castle to fall in upon itself, killing half my family, including great-grandfather's first wife and baby son. There's even a pretty picture of grandfather standing over the filthy animal with a sword, about to deliver the death
"What Lord Highgren so conveniently forgets to mention is that his grandsire built his castle on hyatu land without even asking it's owners. Directly over a
holy site whose destruction brought starvation, illness, and death to my people," the hyatu said in his cutting voice. "He also neglects to say that the holy site was a spring bubbling out from bed rock, on which his foolish ancestor built the foundations of his castle. The castle collapsed because the ground underneath it was unstable."
His whole life, Irian had been taught the hyatu were not human; that they were beasts with far too much intelligence. No one had ever seen where they lived. It might be a hole in the ground for all Irian knew. The arrogance of this ones speech told another tale. Irian did know there was truth in the tales of magic and manipulation. Why would his own family lie about a castle collapsing around their ears and done by one hyatu with no more than a thought?
"Your lies might fool a naïve young girl; they have no effect on me. I have
experienced your brand of manipulation. To engender an innocent’s sympathy is
the lowest form of cowardice," he said, sarcasm matching K'sar's biting tones.
"And you seem to have an inordinate amount of memory for a hundred-year-old
tale—or is that just another rumor we hear?"
"If we live longer than you, man, it is because we live properly, and no, I am not a hundred years old, but the story was passed down as an example of human
stupidity and excuse for their own mistakes. A classic apportionment of blame on
innocent people. Oh, how I applauded when I heard the tale. At least your
grandsire's death was swift. History is consistent. I see the Highgren's killing ways haven't changed."
"Stop it. Please stop it," Sera cried. "If you want to quote examples, isn't this just
another? Perhaps, Irian, your ancestors didn't know about the holy site. Perhaps
they truly believed the hyatu toppled the castle. Perhaps if they had talked
it might never have happened?
"Can't you see what you are doing? You are both taking a position and defending it like vermin in a barn. You aren't discussing possibilities but declaring warfare before the army's even lined up. It takes two to fight a war."
"Yes, one to attack, the other to defend," K'sar cut in. "Should we just give you
everything and be done?"
"I don't know! You are talking history."
"Am I history, Sera? But of course, every word I say is a lie. Perhaps I am a hundred years old—no, make that three—and remember the first time you took from us. If it's a hanging he wants to salve his conscience, then let him go ahead. I'm sure I shall dance enough to amuse, while my brother plans retribution. Mayhap my brother can find another fault under this castle."
The passion in Sera’s hazel eyes was for the hyatu, not him. That hurt, that the hyatu had done that. Manipulating such an innocent was beyond reproach. He’d even called her by her first name--as familiar as a friend. Irian’s stomach clenched with hot anger.
During the conversation, both Sera and the hyatu had moved away from the cell door. He should have locked it after he’d let Sera out, but the iron should have held him. Except that his manacles were no longer in place. Had Sera removed them? Irian rested one hand on his sword hilt as Sera took another step--to get the hyatu even further from the iron? Irian’s fingers tightened on the hilt.
The hyatu looked regal standing in the flickering light, his face a pale contrast to his dark clothing.
Sera touched Irian’s arm. "Irian, you know I am not that gullible."
"Not normally, no, but you'd defend a wolf for killing your favorite hound, if you
thought it had reason."
Hurt filled her eyes. She lifted her chin. "Perhaps I would, if my hound had invaded that wolf's den and slaughtered its cubs. And would I be wrong?"
"It's not the same. You are wrong to make the comparison."
"Not so," K'sar said, "for are not the hyatu the wolves and humans the hounds? You misjudge on the basis of rumor and fear of what you do not understand."
"You attacked me,” Irian said with conviction.
"Because you had just killed a woman I loved!" K'sar cried. "And what did I attack you with, my brave human? Nothing but my bare hands. Five of you bore me to the ground, burning me with your foul accoutrements and stabbing me with your poison. Then you chained me like a dog. If I tried to escape by manipulating this lady, at least I did not stick a quarrel in her first."
“God’s truth!You know well that I didn’t realize it was a woman. You were quick enough to rape my mind. Did you plan this once you knew who Sera was? Saw
her in my mind, didn’t you?”
“Oh I saw your guilt for loving another when your wife was barely in her
grave. Saw what you’d like to do to her body. You took the woman I loved, why
shouldn’t I take yours? Her innocence was only fuel to my hunger….”
"Damn you!" Irian roared and lunged with a slither of steel.
A cry echoed around the dungeon, followed by shocked silence.
So focused on an enemy it never occurred to Irian what Sera would do. Too late for Irian to pull his blow, Sera had placed her body between him and K’sar. Desperate he’d tried to stop the momentum and had failed. When the blade sunk into flesh, fuelled by his anger, it was already too late. He’d reacted instinctively to the hyatu’s provocation.
Everything slowed, especially the horror of what he’d done. He stared stupidly at his hand on the hilt of his sword, wishing it wasn’t his; wishing so many things that would never be. He had to pull the blade from her flesh, but if he did that she would die even more quickly.
"Irian?" Sera whispered.
Her voice sank into his brain. He moved forward as though to take her in his arms, but K'sar spoke.
"If I let her go, she will die. I am all that is keeping her alive. For once, believe me, man."
Irian hesitated then stilled. "You can do that?"
"I might have saved her life, away from this iron. If I wasn't so weak."
"You goaded me!" It was a plea.
"You weren’t listening. I wanted your attention. This is so wrong. So wrong, Gods help me!” His voice was ragged, hoarse, filled with tears and pain.
“I have to pull the sword,” Irian said through his teeth. “I have to.”
“I have her pain,” the hyatu said, and for some reason, Irian believed him. The shame was even greater when he saw that his sword thrust had caught the hyatu as well.
Irian pulled. He dropped the sword to the ground, its clatter echoing on the ground like an accusation. Sera and the hyatu still stood upright, holding each other as close as lovers. Slowly, she turned in K'sar's arms. With trembling fingers she touched the bloodied wound in K’sar’s stomach.
"I can't..." K'sar began, then staggered. They sank to their knees, still close. It
was as though someone had taken all the air out of Irian’s lungs. His limbs, his
voice, his mind, nothing would work.
"Irian!" Sera cried urgently.
"I'm sorry, so sorry," Irian rasped as he knelt beside them.
Sera lifted a hand, touched his lips. "It's all right."
He caught her hand, enfolding it. "How can you...?"
"Say that? Because I know you didn't mean it. Listen. Please listen."
It took him several moments to breathe, to make his heart start beating again. He got himself under some semblance of control. His voice shook but he said, "I'm
"Then listen to K'sar also. Faella did this because she was jealous of our friendship. That doesn't matter now. What matters is that I learned so much and I haven't time to tell." She laughed softly, a whisper of sound. "I so wanted to be the
heroine of the tale, prove everyone wrong. And I would have. Promise me you will
listen to K'sar."
He would promise her the world if only she would live. "I promise."
She smiled, which nearly broke his heart. Then she turned back to the hyatu. "You can let me go now."
The hyatu smiled back although Irian could only imagine the effort that took. "I have my own promises to extract." He looked at Irian and for once, Irian did not avoid
his golden gaze. "Man, go to my brother. Tell him not to seek revenge. This was my own fault as much as yours. That G'dera died with his name on her lips, and that any punishment I am due I have received tenfold. Tell him to forgive me for loving them both too much. Swear you will do this."
Swear to a hyatu? Go to them? The idea was unfathomable, but he knew Sera watched him, could feel her hazel gaze on his face. He would do it, for her, not for the
hyatu. "I swear by my sword, but I don't know where to take the message."
"I will show you in your mind. Don't be afraid."
Irian was long past fear. Pictures came into his mind. Pictures he barely acknowledged, still unsure if he could carry out the promise. He didn’t deserve to live and knew it. When K'sar had finished, he turned back to Sera. "Thank you Sera
Ayabara, for believing me. For your kindness to a troubled soul." Then he crumpled, leaving Sera kneeling. She cried out and Irian gently pulled her into his lap. She looked up at his face. Guilt made it difficult to meet her eyes.
"It has to be for something. Don't waste it," she said. She shuddered as though cold. He’d seen too many men die on battlefields. He knew how they drifted. He
clutched her more tightly. "You know... we never kissed."
No, they never had, and now ... that would be all he ever had from her. He bent forward and kissed her gently, and tasted the copper tang of blood. He tried to smile but his lips trembled as he fought back grief.
His voice seemed to call her back for a little while. "I so wanted to leave my mark. To have people say, Sera Ayabara did that."
"Oh, you have, my darling girl," he said. "You've left your mark upon me, indelibly written in stone. I will go to this hyatu's place. For no one else but you."
A tear fell on her face. His. He reached out to wipe it away and she sighed and
stilled. It took Tigh and three others to part him from the knife he tried to use on
This picture amuses me. Don't you love that 8o's dress? I wore it for a dare because when the dh says, I bet you can't... of course I had to. And the bonus being it still fitted. But the hound's face wasn't because of the bright yellow stripes. He was fascinated by a burning joss stick. But the other factor which makes me smile is the matching hair-do. Apparently we grow to look like our dogs. I guess I don't mind too much being compared to a leggy, brindled wolfhound. Now the hair is dyed, so we don't match at the moment, but that could change. I vacillate between the OMFG I look old with grey hair, to loving it as a mark of experience. And sometimes I am just sheer lazy. I'd rather spend my time doing other things than wandering around the house with some foul-smelling concoction dripping down my nose. I've always had this dread that someone would knock on the door and then comes the great question - do I answer it with hair dye dripping or ignore it. I mean, how important might it be? Or did I in a fog of writing forget I'd made a coffee date with a friend?
Sometimes us writers are just plain crazy. You get wrapped up in a story and forget lots of things. Like yesterday I almost forgot the carpet cleaning person was coming. Until they rang and said I'll be there at 3.30. *Glances around house and remembers she should have moved countless sundry articles*. So I rapidly moved countless sundry articles wherever they weren't going to clean, wrenching a hand as I did so - damned horse paraphernalia - and now my house has sweet smelling carpet and two very tidy rooms and several OMG where did all this come from type rooms.
DH said, don't put it back until I come home, you'll hurt your back. Trouble is, I don't want to put it back because it looks - gosh - tidy.
I think I might just write and 'think' about putting it back....
So I decided the other day to serialize one of my novels. It is a work in progress and is therefore not completely edited or finished yet. But I needed some added incentive to post something once a week. This is a story that needs a new title but for the moment I will keep it as 'The Broken Sword' until I or someone else comes up with something better. The story has some very unusual twists within it. It certainly isn't the usual fantasy story. It definitely has some science fictional elements in later chapters, which, if you stick with me, you will see. I will post chapter one here, but I have opened a new page on the website, so will transfer over as I post.
Providing I am not working, I will post every Monday. Feel free to comment if you are so inclined, but it certainly isn't a requirement. However, sometimes it is good to brainstorm certain elements and since this isn't finished, anything goes.
Also, the formatting on weebly sucks, just saying because sometimes it doesn't wrap the text as it should and while I go through the text, it won't always behave itself.
Chapter One - The Broken Sword
Was it the hyatu who made the sun dance between the dappled shadows of oak leaves, using their guile to bedazzle Irian Highgren, or merely the weather? Irian swiped a forearm across his face as sweat stung his eyes. A foot in his crossbow’s stirrup, he hooked the bow string and locked it, placed his quarrel, and made no more noise than the swaying branches above.
Two hyatu stood arguing by a thornbrake, the sun glinting off the bead embroidery of their tunics, three hundred feet from the oak trees where Irian and five soldiers hid. Why were they there? Why now when no one had seen them in years? Savage bastards almost looked human, from a distance, until a person saw the golden
Murdering, bastard scum. They’d slaughtered Irian’s grandparents by poisoning wells and burying the innocent under tons of rubble. Always the innocent and the helpless. The children, the old ones. Irian’s fingers tightened on the crossbow’s stock. Like his Daena. His Daena and that wizened thing she’d delivered from her womb, with its misshapen head and its limbs all wrong. Of course she’d died of the shock.
What of the blighted crops, withering in the ground so villages starved, the plagues of virulent sickness which had taken Irian’s parents? Hyatu wouldn’t fight like real men.
They sought to hurt those who couldn’t fight back.
Look at these two, arguing no doubt about what new innocent’s soul to take. Heart thudding a drumbeat within his chest, Irian wiped more sweat from his face and flexed cramped fingers. He wouldn’t kill like they did. Clean and swift was his way. Unfortunately, King Leric would want answers for their presence.
Save one for questioning then. The other could die. With a hand signal, he ordered his soldiers to fan out among the trees. Irian raised his bow, steadied his breathing, and waited for his men to get in place. Both hyatu were of a height. Lithe as saplings, with ragged blond hair falling free down their backs. It didn’t matter which he chose. One hyatu ceased speaking and looked around, and in that moment Irian let loose; easy as bringing an animal down for his larder. A hyatu fell, the bolt driving through his back and into his heart. That one would not be rising again. No magic in all the world could bring even a hyatu back from such a wound.
His men rushed forward in a clatter of chainmail and weapons, Irian at their heels as the second hyatu let out a cry that echoed through the trees and shivered through Irian’s blood. The creature did not run, his yellow gaze settling on Irian as if he knew who had fired that bolt. He ignored the five soldiers and leaped with a savage snarl. While his men attempted to grab thrashing limbs, Irian withdrew his dagger.
Time slowed to moments as Irian picked his target, then stopped when a voice sounded inside his mind. He froze in horror as a stream of language filled spaces inside his head. He would not lose his soul to a conscienceless beast! He roared his fear and stabbed the hyatu in one shoulder while his men finally found the guts to drag the still kicking hyatu to the ground.
The creature howled then fell still, shock plain on his angular face. Breathing hard he lay, his body already shuddering from reaction to the iron. No soldier of March went without such a blade. If no hyatu had attacked in a long while, memory of their cunning ran in a man’s veins. From his belt, Irian took a set of manacles and locked them around the hyatu’s slender wrists, while one of his men went for the horses. When the creature groaned in pain, another soldier kicked him. Irian stared, his mind still reeling, then barked a sharp order for the soldier to desist. Irian mounted up
then took the long length of chain attached to the hyatu’s manacles. He dragged the creature behind him all the way back to March, loath to touch him again, his mind aching from the horror of invasion. Somehow the creature stayed upright.
Castle March’s wide grey curtain walls loomed before them. Set on a rise, a
broad river behind it, the castle’s towers dominated the landscape of forest and
rolling hills. Through the outer gate and into the outer ward they rode. Irian dismounted and tugged on the chain. Barely able to stand now, the hyatu staggered. He gripped the chain with both hands and straightened, defiance written over his pale features. Irian drew his broadsword and gestured toward the garrison and prison tower and when the hyatu did not move, poked him with the tip of the blade. A shiver passed through the creature before he turned and stumbled toward the arched doorway and down to the dungeons. He baulked before the ironbound cell specifically built to hold creatures such as this. Iron was the only thing which would contain them. Irian raised his sword and for a moment he thought the hyatu would fight, almost hoped he would. His body tensed, but then his shoulders slumped as though he could take no more. A spreading dark stain soaked his jacket. It was the iron which would do more damage than the wound and Irian had been careful where he had driven the blade. Avoiding the bars, the hyatu walked through the doorway.
With a shudder of distaste, Irian locked the cell door behind the creature, who
collapsed onto a heap of straw. Only then did Irian feel safe. Not that the
hyatu’s physical prowess worried the Lord Commander of March’s army, but
any God-fearing man had a right to be concerned about his soul.
“What were you doing so close to March?” Irian demanded when no more movement was forthcoming.
A rustle of straw and the hyatu turned his head, golden gaze boring into Irian’s eyes. He spoke, but in no civilized tongue, a rill of words filled with enough hatred to make any man quail. Unsettled both by his gaze and the force of his words, Irian said, “You will join your companion soon enough, once you give me answer.”
The creature laughed, a bitter sound. He turned to the wall as the laugh changed to
a harsh sob of breath somehow expanded by the cell walls. An animal with feelings? Irian doubted it, but he hesitated and into that pause a vision came to fill his mind.
A woman lay on a bed, face pale as milk, every breath a struggle. Irian held on to one of her hands as blood no one could stop flowed from her body. By her side lay a tiny wrapped bundle still as stone.
Before he could gasp outrage and denial, the image changed to another place, another time. A quarrel sped through the air to hit a young woman through the chest. So real that Irian staggered back with the force. The sound of the bolt striking flesh, the cry of horror, the bursting of a heart, the brief agony of death and the parting of a soul as it rose to the winds, painted horror into his mind.
So real, that for moments he followed the spirit’s path where it hovered to embrace death. On the cusp of joining another’s soul he cried out in rejection.
“Dislike what you see? An unarmed woman who did nothing more than stand. A woman with no more chance than your wife. You shot her in the back. You
kill without conscience, without thought.”
He dared to compare Daena with an animal? The keys were in Irian’s hands. Blind anger drove him to open the door, draw his sword and press the point into the hyatu’s chest.
It was wrong for the language of March to come forth from this creature whose face was all angles and slanted eyes. He studied the lean, pale features imagining different ways in which the animal might die. Though he hadn’t moved, the creature breathed as hard as he. His yellow eyes blazed anger, his mouth a thin line of
The passion in his accented voice pricked Irian’s conscience indeed, but reminded so recently of the helplessness of watching Daena die, a hyatu woman’s death brooked no sympathy. “One less to breed your foul get.”
The hyatu moved. He grasped Irian’s sword, chains clanking metal against metal.
If Irian moved now the blade would cut fingers to the bone.
“Let go or suffer the consequences.”
The hyatu smiled. “Of what? Your kindness? Your courage? Your whole race’s
courage? So afraid for your soul. Well it’s already damned, Commander Highgren.”
Sweat trickled down Irian’s back. He refused to let his hand tremble as the
impact of his name echoed. “How do you know my name?”
“Can’t you feel me inside? I am delving into your darkest secrets, your strongest
desires, your greatest nightmares. Ah, such guilt. Your grief for your wife
is as false as your rage. Who is this pretty thing so prevalent in your thoughts? Dark eyes, dark hair? Shall I find her and stab her in the back? Or shall I take her soul and twist until she is mine to do with as I please? Shall I take her….”
He screamed as Irian pulled his sword. Fool! Irian knew at once he’d been goaded deliberately. The hyatu wanted a quick death instead of lingering by poison.
“Not that easy,” Irian rasped. “I will not kill you fast but watch you wither to
a weeping sore of ruined flesh while you beg on your knees.”
The hyatu stopped his scream with bloodied hands. Breath sobbed in his throat.
“Why were you so close to March?” Irian growled again.
Not truly expecting an answer, he watched with avid concentration as the hyatu bought himself under some semblance of control. It took phenomenal effort while his hands dripped blood.
“For the same reason which killed your wife and child.”
His voice was startling clear for a creature under such pain and duress. Unnatural. “To spread your poison?”
“Stand there and crow, Commander, but your delight will not last long.”
“What have you done?”
“Oh, I have done nothing except be a fool.”
Irian stared at him. “There are ways to keep someone alive far longer than they
“And there are ways of killing more subtle than a sword,” the hyatu spat, and turned
Irian took a rag from his belt and cleaned his sword. “We shall see,” he said, and sheathed the weapon. Before he could leave the dungeon a messenger came skidding to a halt before him.
“His majesty wants you, at once, my lord.”
What could be worse than hyatu? Irian hurried to the great hall of March where King Leric already sat at supper. Irian refused to look beyond the dais to the young girl the hyatu had seen in his mind. Leric handed Irian a message from one of the regular troops who kept close eye on March’s borders. More urgent than any hyatu, Oswith of Foll, a neighboring petty king, had raided three villages to the south, not only taking cattle but destroying homes.
Irian gave Leric his report on the hyatu, although in truth there was little to tell until Irian could persuade more words out of him. He might be gone for days, in which case the hyatu could well be dead by the time he returned. A pity in some ways. He left him in an old sergeant’s care as he prepared soldiers for a sortie into Foll. Tigh was steady enough not to be manipulated by a hyatu, he hoped.
The acrid stench of urine-soaked straw played contrast to Faella of March’s silks. As out of place in a dungeon as weeds in a knot garden, Faella’s yards of taffeta and her pearl-studded bodice were incongruous as thistles. Faella lifted a pomander of aromatic herbs to her nose. The princess’s sharp-featured face held a sneer of disgust as she studied the creature in the ironbound cell. The prisoner’s wretched condition tore at Sera Ayabara’s heart no matter what he was, and Faella’s expression dashed any hopes of improvement to his circumstances.
“A just position for such a creature,” Faella said, lowering the pomander a
“There is nothing ‘just’ about letting a man rot in his own filth!” Sera said,
the words bursting forth before she could stop them.
Faella turned, lifting a plucked eyebrow, her coronet of royalty glinting in the light of a fresh-lit oil lamp. “You would spare pity on such a beast?”
Even knowing the danger of arguing with Faella, Sera stood her ground. A princess in her own right, even if from a much smaller kingdom than March, conscience would not let her remain silent. “How can anyone not spare pity? Do not our priests preach kindness and forgiveness to those less fortunate than ourselves?”
“Not to our enemies.”
The hyatu lay unmoving within the cell. “Why is this man an enemy when the last
time hyatu warred upon us was a hundred years past? Why this man and not
our neighbors who raided our kine and slaughtered our villagers not ten months
“You question my sire’s commands?”
“I question the way in which this prisoner is treated, yes. I question the orders which keep a man chained in his own filth for something his ancestors did.”
“So you would welcome the hyatu to your bosom?”
“No, but has anyone asked him why he came so close to March?”
“I am sure Commander Highgren did not shirk in his duty, but if you are so
keen to find out, why don’t you ask him?”
Sera glanced through the cell door. The prisoner was in no state to be asked anything
and Faella well knew it. Used to the princess’s games after two years in court, Sera shivered with premonition of trouble. Faella twirled her ribbon, the smell of the pomander cutting through the stench of the dungeon in a waft of cinnamon and
“If he was released into better conditions, then perhaps I could.”
“It is treason to help them.”
“In the name of common decency? Look at him! How long is it since he ate food?
Since anyone changed his straw? That blanket would better serve a hound.”
Still twirling the pomander, Faella’s eyes narrowed, calculating. She smiled.
“Since you have uttered treasonous thoughts in my hearing, and care so much
for an enemy of my father’s kingdom, I think it only right you help him. Guard!”
Sera frowned, unsure what Faella meant, although she knew it wasn’t going to be
good. She should have kept her mouth closed.
The guard arrived. Sera listened in growing disbelief to Faella’s orders. Of course the guard couldn’t question the daughter of the king, although to give him his due, he tried. Faella cut through his arguments, informing him she would tell her sire
what had occurred and leave it to his judgment if Sera should remain the seven days
and nights Faella specified. In the space of minutes, Sera found herself on the wrong side of the ironbound cell, the door locked, and her protests unheard.
“Faella, you have no right to do this,” Sera said.
Regal in her pearl-studded bodice and gown of starched taffeta, Faella smirked. “I have every right. It is my sire who rules here and his subjects obey me as they would him. Of course, as soon as I have a moment, I will inform him of your words. Until then, enjoy the company you sought. I would be careful for your soul, though. Heaven knows I hope God protects you from damnation.”
Bitch. But she wasn’t so foolish to say it out loud and gain even more trouble as
Faella walked away with a swish of taffeta across the stone floor.
Someone other than the king would notice her absence in a few hours and rescue her. Faella could not get away with this. Sera managed a shaky smile. King Leric would not let his daughter imprison a highborn lady for uttering a few words that hardly added up to treason.
Convinced of her rescue, Sera glanced at the prisoner behind her. When it was obvious that no one was going to release her immediately, it occurred to her to do something instead of stand here like a frightened rabbit. The hyatu was in no state to take anyone’s soul, or so she hoped, and besides, no one had ever sufficiently explained to her how they did that anyway.
With shaking fingers she reached out and moved aside a swath of matted blond
hair, to reveal a face so begrimed by dirt she had difficulty making out any
features. He didn’t wake, giving her a chance to examine the cause of her
misfortune. Before she had a chance to complete her study, the guard returned.
Good, someone had finally woken up, but apparently not to release her. He held
no keys, was making no attempt to open the door, and no one had come with him.
So what had Faella threatened him with? She’d had to have threatened him
with something otherwise this made no sense.
Sera forced a smile onto her face. “When is Commander Highgren returning?”
“Not back for a week nor more, milady.”
“Could a message be sent to him, do you think?”
“Has to obey the princess’s orders, milady. Ain’t got no choice.”
Irian would have noticed she was missing at once, so that’s why Faella had the
gall to do this, Sera was sure, and since her brothers were back home in Ayabara that only left Sera’s maid who Faella, no doubt, would threaten with something or lie to, also. Well, if she couldn’t do anything about her own situation for the moment, at least she might for the prisoner. She pulled a ring from one finger and handed it through the bars to Tigh and then gave him a list of what she wanted. She wondered if he would bring what she asked for.
He began with a fresh heap of straw loaded into a barrow. He unlocked the door and stood guard with a halberd of all things. He didn’t offer to help as Sera forked out the old and brought in the new. Mind you, how could he without dropping his halberd? He did deign to trundle the barrow away once he’d double-checked the re-locked door.
No simpering maiden, she wasn’t some brawny wench either. Pure determination moved the hyatu off his filthy bed and onto the fresh one. She wondered if Tigh would bring all the things she’d asked for and was gratefully surprised when he brought some hot water in a covered crock along with some washing rags. The blankets, herbs, drinking water, soup, bandages, and salve appeared as time passed.
She put aside modesty to undress him and wash the filth-caked clothes, ripping seams for later repair when she could not get past the manacles. When Sera had finished her doctoring and cleaning, she wouldn’t have left the hyatu if King Leric himself had come down to the dungeon. Fever rattled his breath with horrid and painful regularity. Tears threatened to fall as she dressed suppurating sores and untreated wounds. Manacles had turned the skin beneath into a festering mush. She managed to ease bandages under the metal, to salve wounds and drip a concoction of herbs down his throat, watching every swallow lest he choke. She even washed his hair in an infusion of tree bark to upset the lice. Sera needed no physician to tell her the hyatu was near death. If she could offer him some dignity, she might achieve
Exhausted from her efforts, she sat on her heels when she wasn’t bathing the hyatu to reduce his fever. Could hyatu really take your soul? Dusty tapestries and fireside tales weren’t enough evidence, and those tales were told to frighten children to stop them wandering from their cribs. She had argued with Faella about that lack of knowledge even before they’d reached the cell. Now she could only watch a man fight for survival. By the end of a long night, she wondered what drove him to such a fight. A woman, perhaps—a wife and children—did hyatu even have wives? Yet his dark clothes were beautifully embroidered by someone and the dark blue cloth finely
woven and dyed. His tall boots were of the softest leather and his shirt of the whitest cotton. If this was a beast then he certainly knew how to dress.
Morning arrived, or so Sera supposed. The lamp had long since burned out, but the darkness had lessened enough she could study his ravaged face. Fever delineated every angle of bone and flesh. An exotic face. She wondered what made him hyatu rather than human. Yet there was, even in his fever, an inexplicable otherness about him she had no words to define.
He muttered something and Sera sighed. The fever did seem to have abated a
little. She soaked a rag and reached to bathe his face, only to find her wrist caught in a surprisingly strong grip given his illness.
Throat dry, Sera looked into uncanny golden eyes, lucid as day.
“Do not,” he said in a cracked voice.
Stung by his tone she said, “Unhand my arm and I will not.”
He did, with a suddenness that made her wonder if it had been voluntary. His
eyes were closed again.
Damn. One touch and she’d wanted to run in fear of her life, which was ridiculous, wasn’t it? Perhaps not when priests offered eternal damnation if you lost your soul and preached about the evil influences of magic.
Tigh turned up with a breakfast of bread and cheese and when she asked for
more herbs he hesitated.
“Why bother, milady?”
“For a principle. It doesn’t matter what he is. The king’s hounds are kept better.”
“They be loyal to the king.”
She understood, or thought she did, but it no longer seemed to matter. “Could
you take his chains off?”
“No, milady. Don’t you be fooled. Iron’s the only thing keeps him here, and
that’s a fact. He’ll trick you without it.” And he hurried away as if afraid she’d ask
No one had bothered to search her in Faella’s haste to lock her in. Like many another lady, Sera carried a sewing kit at her belt. It contained thread, buttons, needles, pins, and a small pair of embroidery scissors shaped like a bird. If the iron was poisoning the hyatu then he would die. That fact nagged at her all through the following hours, until she looked at the simple lock holding the cuffs. An idea blossomed then flowered. She took her scissors to the lock and began twisting. It took a while, before the first cuff fell. After that, the second went more swiftly. She hid the cuffs in the straw and covered his limbs with his blanket. She trembled, terrified she had done
something beyond recall.
For several hours nothing happened but at last he opened his eyes.
“People aren’t the same,” she whispered. “If nothing else, remember that.”
She didn’t know if he could understand, but he said, “Why?”
She knew what he meant. She laced her hands in her lap, studying the filthy,
broken fingernails, not meeting his gaze. "It seemed an adventure. I wanted
to do what no one else had, and talk to an hyatu. I suppose I thought myself some heroine, until reality and the dark set in. The bitter truth is I can't do anything except ease your circumstances, and that very little. They will hang you for a spy."
"Then they risk war.
Sera looked up. "Over one hyatu?"
"A king's son," he said, and closed his eyes.
If that was truth, it was a coin that might be used. Yet why had he not used it
before? Sera stared at his angular face.
Tigh arrived and the hyatu remained silent. Sera pulled another ring from a
finger. "I know you said Commander Highgren was away, but I must send a
message to him."
Tigh shook his head, looking with regret at the ring. "Can't be done, milady. I'm
Damn Faella. Why now had the princess acted? Because of Irian, Sera's thoughts told her. Faella was jealous. But Irian wasn't interested in any woman right now, not after the death of his wife in childbed six months ago. Irian was her friend. A brother she could spar with since they'd known one another since childhood. Irian had lived with Sera’s family for ten years. Sera knew the princess to be calculating,
but that clever? To wait until Irian was away and then trap Sera as she had? But she would be free before Irian returned, so what point.
"Seven days and nights with a man. What price your virtue then?"
Startled by the hyatu's rasping voice, Sera spun. "No one knows, I'm sure. She couldn't have got away with this otherwise. No doubt she's threatened or bribed the
"You think she'll keep it quiet? I doubt it."
"You aren't a man."
He laughed, but the laughter turned into a wracking cough. Exasperated, Sera fetched a cup of water. She made to help but he held up a warding hand.
"Am I so abhorrent you cannot bear my touch?" Sera asked in irritation.
"You don't know me. Don't even know my name."
"I have no wish to."
"Did you tell Commander Highgren who you were?"
He paused, his face a grimace of hatred that set her heart thudding. “He
seemed more interested in stabbing me."
Sera drew breath, studying the wildness in those golden eyes. For a moment
she’d forgotten what he was. "What is your name?"
"I give that only to those I trust."
Hurt by his scathing tone she retorted, "I thought if we knew one another better, some understanding might be reached. Pride will not stop the hangman, knowledge might. We have hated one another for hundreds of years. Why? Why has it persisted when others have not? What did you do that we cannot see you without seeing an
"What we did? So you presume."
The anger in his voice startled her. "Does it matter who did what? I just want to
He hesitated and then said, "We existed where you did not want us."
Sera studied his face and the vivid golden eyes. There was a beauty to that face she could not deny. Yes there was anger, but did her imagination also read bitterness and hurt? "I do not believe you would harm me. I am not even convinced you can influence our souls."
"Then you are naïve."
She didn't answer. His eyes were closed, but of course he was weak from the
fever. His shadowed face showed that well enough.
He was not what Sera had expected. He was right, she had been naïve, and
stupid, to think she might succeed where others had failed. She did not believe she was the first to try. Arrogant, too, she realized. Safe and unworried in Castle March’s solar she had come down to this pit of darkness and been forced to think beyond her own little world of embroidery and simples and petty court politics.
She arose to pace, forgetting the straw that already laced her long gown. Was this the hyatu's danger, that they made one think? No, it had to be more than that. Did they understand thoughts as well as words? Thinking back, the hyatu had answered things Sera had not spoken aloud, but that might have been sheer intuition. He was intelligent and astute, but she shuddered at the idea of such an invasion, horrified by what else he might have read there.
Her thoughts came around to Faella again. Could the princess have planned
this from the beginning, knowing Sera's avid curiosity and sympathy for anything
"Oh, damn you," she whispered to the cell door as doubts flowed in. "You are
dangerous indeed to make one look at oneself in such a manner." Still, it did not make him the monster her people claimed, just a clever man.
"K'sar Raheeth Tianon."
She turned at his voice.
"My name," he said in explanation, as though giving her a gift.
"Sera Ayabara," she said in return. "Thank you." And turned away. For some reason she felt like crying and did not wish him to see. Of course it was exhaustion, so she went to her pitiful corner and tried to sleep.
K'sar Raheeth Tianon remained tucked in his blankets. Tigh came and went
without noticing the prisoner's lack of chains. He left food that Sera
forced herself to eat. She knew that K'sar's fever had broken when she
awoke to find him standing wrapped in his blanket. He seemed very tall from
her perspective on the straw. Perhaps his gauntness emphasized it, but he
stood taller than Sera's brothers. She read the determination on his face,
though he remained pale and his lips trembled. He was still several feet
from the cell door.
"Sit before you fall," Sera said briskly, in a tone she might have used with her
He turned too quickly and she stopped him falling. He released himself as though loath to touch her, but Sera said nothing, just made sure he got back on his pallet.
"Tell me this much," she asked when he was settled. "Did you intend harm to
The conviction in his voice made him easy to believe; neither did he flinch
from Sera’s gaze. "Then what were you doing here?"
"We watch over the land."
"So you were spying?"
"Only to make sure you encroached no further toward us."
"You don't live close by," Sera pointed out. At least she presumed hyatu didn’t since they were so rarely glimpsed.
If that was evasive then she would let that one pass. "I can't help you if you don't help me. I don't wish to see you hang. Irian will listen to me."
"He isn't here."
"He will be."
"Not in time."
The flatness of his voice made her ask, "Don't you care?"
"Of course I care. I care that my people are safe."
"As I do."
"Then help me escape."
Stunned, Sera stared at him. It was the first real emotion she had heard from him, a heartfelt plea filled with passion.
"You ask me to betray my own people."
"Betray whom, Sera Ayabara? The girl whose petty jealousy will ruin your reputation? Imagine the doubts and whispers when you re-emerge. Oh, subtly engendered for sure. Hints here and there from Faella. The sidelong glances, titters behind the ladies' fans—can you not picture it now?"
"Stop it! You don't think I can rise above Faella? Who will believe this ever
happened? I know my virtue is intact."
"But is your soul? How might I have influenced you?"
"You are cruel," Sera whispered, "and foolish. No matter my reputation, I cannot
open a cell door without a key, and if I could, how would you escape the castle? There is a mile of greensward before the forest, just perfect for an archer's view. Besides which, you can barely stand."
"The iron's proximity hurts me."
"My body rejects it like a poison."
Sera hesitated, studying him, and said, "Tell me why I should even think about it."
"Because I spoke the truth. My death could start a war. My brother... my brother
will not take my death lightly."
"Why should I believe you?"
He reached across and lifted one of Sera's hands. Startled, she kept still. He looked down at their hands, golden eyes shadowed. "I do not like to touch you because your thoughts pour into mine. I do not want your thoughts, Sera, and I doubt you want mine, but see them all the same."
Before she could pull free in alarm, images entered Sera's mind. Images of another place so unlike this cold, stark castle she knew she could not have imagined it. A place of trees and flowers and flowing waterfalls, beautiful houses in idyllic
settings. She watched the place destroyed by fire, the felling of trees, the killing, the futile protest of K'sar's people going unheard.
Like a dream, images changed. A woman walked beside K'sar as they traversed
the forest before March Castle. A quarrel whistled out of nowhere and K'sar's companion fell. Cries could be heard, the thump of men running. With a cry of anguish, K'sar ran at the people who had sent the quarrel, yet he was unarmed. Five men manhandled him to the ground where he fought until a pain like a red-hot poker cleaved his body. He screamed in naked agony as poison flooded his system.
Through K'sar's eyes she saw Irian climb to his feet, a bloodied dagger in his hand. He cleaned it and then ordered the captive trussed and taken to March. K’sar had expected to die. Prepared for it before Sera came to give him hope.
Tears running down her face, Sera looked at K'sar. "Was the woman your wife?"
He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again tears magnified the gold.
"Not mine. My brother's," he whispered.
"I doubt Irian even saw it was a woman."
"You think it would have made any difference? You kill indiscriminately."
"You harbor dreams."
"We see each other as monsters but both are only trying to survive. We must
talk to each other."
"Yes, but not here. Not in this situation where tempers are bound to fray. Do you
think I could face G'dera's killer without anger?"
She saw the truth of it. Perhaps he did manipulate her soul, but Sera saw the necessity of his escaping. She had seen that first war through his eyes. She huddled in a corner, staring at the lock on the door, wondering if it would be more difficult than the chains. She had no idea how she could get K'sar beyond the guard. She took out her scissors and toyed with the lock. It was much stronger than the cuffs and would not yield. So absorbed in her task, she did not notice she had company until a voice
"You know, generally a key works much better."
I have seen many articulate and heartfelt response to the incident in Boston. From my own perspective I will say this: It is obvious that the idea behind the bombings, whoever did it, was to terrorize. Although that goes without saying, the thing is, none of us can live in that kind of fear.
After the initial horror of deaths, you cannot wrap yourselves in cottonwool. Because, to put it bluntly, you could walk across a street tomorrow and get hit by a car. That is taking it down to basics, but it is a truth.
As a mother who lost a son and who will never get over it, I can still say that. Bombers don't deserve any credence At All. Each time, me included, we write about it, we actually give them recognition. I detest that. Anyone who would kill indiscriminately has no family values. Has no real idea what it means to lose a loved one. They only have pathetic, idealised ideals.
So, yes, be outraged by all means, but don't live in fear. Because the bombers truly aren't worth your worry. The media will talk it up. I know, I have experience. Apparently my son was 'all sorts of things' according to the media, none of which were true. But he did one thing. He blew up, personally, with a team of soldiers, many of these IEDs, risking his life on a daily basis. And there are many men and women who do this. There are so many brave men and women out there. Caring people who gave their coats to runners, who leant cell phones, that, really? Bombers? Pftt
You don't have to live in fear. Not from them
I was thinking of posting a new fantasy novel on a week by week basis..
So what I'd really like to know is, if you would be interested in that, or it would be a waste of time?
If you could please leave me a comment as to yay or nay I would be grateful. I'd love a bit more interaction on this site, and was wondering if this would be a good way to do it.
These are swords I own. All given to me, for which I am grateful. It is interesting holding them, and even if they are replicas, it still gives you a very good idea of what it is like just to hold a sword for any length of time, let alone swing one about. The kids always loved looking at them. Always wanted to 'play' with them, and while I might let them hold them from time to time, playing was out of the question.
Because my mind won't settle right now, I was re-reading a story I began a while back called 'The Broken Sword'. I discovered there is a computer game called that, so it would have to have a different title, but within the story, yes, a sword gets broken deliberately. I remember doing research for that, trying to discover the best way to do it. I certainly wasn't going to practise with mine.
Sometimes when you go back over older stories you laugh, either at the poor writing or even the storyline, but I didn't. I became totally enthralled by my own writing and cursed like hell that I had only written until chapter ten. Definitely one that can be fully developed one day. Pure fantasy with a spaceship in it. I have a habit of confusing genres. Gods and science. There is a question within the story as to whether nature and gods can overcome the contamination leaking out of a crashed ship, or will it take science?
I wrote a poem not long after Rich passed. Very 'Evanenscence' I know, but it was how I felt at the time and often do still feel.
Why did you have to break our hearts and leave so soon?
The memory of your smiling face stays,
Your spirit shines among us all the days.
You were taken too young
And left behind a legacy of love
Yet the sorrow of your passing won't leave.
The mystery of your leaving will not go,
Your immortal soul may see us down below,
But your memory is so clear.
It doesn't lessen with each day.
Yet the void you left behind
Shatters the peace we might find.
If we only knew why you had to go,
Then maybe we might understand.
What greater need than ours
Did you find to fly to
That leaves us with a memory and not you?
It is a funny thing that I was sitting here thinking about ravens as inspiration within a story and my dh says, Hey, you know Odin's bird is... completely out of the blue. So that one begins to wonder about subliminal messages between those we love.
This picture, whose author I can't give credit to but I believe is called 'Chris' touched a huge chord in me. For several reasons. Those who know me know of the raven tattoo I have because, when Richard went missing, a raven arrived at the acreage and wouldn't shut up. He was a herald, although I didn't know it at the time, or perhaps, wouldn't accepts its message.
Bearing in mind that Rich drowned, this picture is particularly apt.
It is a funny thing also that I had no belief in spiritual things before Richard passed, but so many strange things happened, that I have no choice.
But, as I have said before, Curnow means Cornwall and on Cornwall's shield of arms are two ravens. So now they have special significance for me. There are so many legends surrounding them. They are smart, smart birds and definitely harbingers. One, obviously I didn't want to see, but at least they are honest.
I am still waiting to discover what the number '4' means. Once I would have dismissed something like that. That continual noticing of a number, but I don't any more. Are there strange things you've noticed and dismissed and later found them to be significant
Um, I don't very often look at book numbers on Amazon. I don't truly understand them anyway. One minute you seem to be way down the list and the next...
Well, the kindle version of "Games of Adversaries" has just gone through the roof, numbers wise. I have no idea why, because the price was dropped a while back.
I am so thrilled that more and more people are reading. It would be nice to see a few more reviews on it, that I do know.
So if, like the rest of the world, you want to still grab it at a low price, please do! *G* The reviews I do have are beautiful and heartfelt and I love them. So exciting to have new readers!http://www.amazon.com/Games-of-Adversaries-ebook/dp/B00AGO0UR8/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1365796376&sr=8-1&keywords=susan+elizabeth+curnow