Razzmorten appeared on a lonely beach amongst the cries of terns, just as a wave soaked his feet, sending small snails vanishing into the sand as it rushed back to sea. A beached jellyfish glistened in the mid-morning sun. He stepped away from the water and scooped up a double handful of shells to admire for a moment before squinting under his hand at the arid hills of white limestone dotted with grey shrubs which lay inland. He pulled out his scrying ball from his shoulder bag and squatted in the sand to stare into it, shaded by the brim of his pointed hat. At once he was underway through the marram grass, making straight for the hills.
By the time the sun was overhead, he had crossed over three great ridges of hills. A savannah sparrow called nearby. He paused to mop his brow and look about as he felt of the ball in his bag. “Maybe I need another peek,” he said. Suddenly he held his breath.
“Could that be children?” A pebble skittered across the rocks at his feet, just as he spied a
curly haired head slipping behind some rocks. He heard hushed giggling. “Hello?’ he
There was dead silence.
“Hello? Is someone there?”
“Mamin!” cried a brave naked boy, prancing into view.
“Mamin! Mamin!” shouted another, “Dirdawung, mamin lamang gahan!”
“Menuny mamin mawu ga-yu-ma wutjjurrh-ma!” cried a girl, taller than the others, leaping to her feet.
Soon there were eight naked children dancing around him, just out of reach, chanting sing-song: “Ma-min…ma-min…ma-min…” After a bit of this, they took turns crying: “Mamin!” as they leaped forth to tug at his clothes and jump back as if he would bite.
“I say,” cried Razzmorten, looking ’round about, “would you all be Ngop?”
The children broke out in such laughter that they could scarcely stay on their feet.
“If you all are Ngop, could you take me to Dort-da?” he said, nodding with wide eyes of encouragement. At this, a middle-sized girl with the merriest eyes of all dashed up and began yanking and pulling on his arm. He followed her at once.
Up through the next ridge of hills they led him, pattering through the dust and rocks, until they came to a wide dusty valley. The merry eyed girl kept a relentlessly tight grip on his hand, pulling him along through the dust and shrubs as they came to scattered acacia trees with ruminating cows bedded down everywhere in the shade. He could see low domed mud huts in the thickest of the trees. At the far end of them against the rocks of a limestone bluff was a whitewashed hut, larger than all the others. They hurried with
him, straight up to it. “Dort-da! Dort-da!” they shouted. And the next thing he knew, he
was standing in front of the hut’s triangular door without a child in sight. As he was
glancing here and there at the paintings of animals chasing each other across the breadth
of the whitewash, trying to gather his thoughts, Dort-da stepped into the light, adjusting
his long gourd cod piece. For a moment he looked as though he had been asleep.
Suddenly he smiled. “Razzmorten!” he cried. “It’s been ages since Hanter Koadou. Come
Razzmorten removed his hat and followed Dort-da inside, finding that ducking was scarcely enough to navigate a triangular doorway. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust. “Why, it’s as cool as a cellar in here,” he said.
“Sit here,” said Dort-da, giving a slap to one of several fat rolls of blankets on the floor in front of a great chair made of cow bones. He sat in the chair and crossed his legs. He clapped his hands and a girl clad only in a skirt appeared with a jug of water and two large cow horns. He took the first drink and nodded at Razzmorten. “What brings you
“It wasn’t too many years before our meeting at Hanter Koadou that there was a great plague which swept through the Dark Continent…”
“Douar-Noz might be better,” said Dort-da. “The house of Dark hadn’t taken over yet.”
“Certainly,” said Razzmorten carefully. “So, when the plague swept through Douar-Noz, of course, it killed thousands upon untold thousands of people, including my progenitor, the First Wizard, who was visiting here at the time. It killed half the people living here as well as half the people on the Northern Continent. Well, I’ve just heard that when the plague came, not a single Ngop died from it. Is that true?”
“Has the plague returned after all this time to Norz-Meurzouar?”
“Yes. One and by now, maybe two have died at Castle Niarg.”
“Who brought it?” said Dort-da as he studied the backs of his hands. “Do you know where it came from?”
“Far,” said Razzmorten, keenly aware that Dort-da was being careful. “The one who died just before I left was a retainer of Princess Branwen of the House of Far. I have no idea how many have died there.”
“I’ve only heard of them a time or two. Do you know if they trade with the Gwaels of Gwaremm?”
“The last I knew, the Gwaels made them uneasy…”
“We have a lot to lose Razzmorten, but you convinced me years ago at Hanter Koadou that you have a true heart. You need to see Ngerrk-ga. His dreams are strong. If he doesn’t want to help you, you are not to return here until seven years after this new plague has run its course.” Dort-da studied Razzmorten carefully for a moment, then clapped once more. The young woman appeared with more water. “Nu-jabing-nga,” he said. “Razzmorten-ga-ndi lahan Ngerrk-ga.”
“Nu-jabing-nga quickly set down her jug. “Di-nya,” she said, motioning to Razzmorten with a nod. “Di-nya.” Waving him on, she disappeared out the door.
Razzmorten bowed to Dort-da, thanked him and hurried out into the heat and blinding light to find Nu-jabing-nga. He saw her at once, but found her even more difficult to keep up with than the children. He had to jog to catch her before she disappeared beyond the huts along the meandering path in the thorny wait-a-bit bushes that the Ngop used for fences which ran along the limestone bluff from acacia tree to acacia tree for a very long way, sticking up in the roasting heat like great parasols which gave shade to the resting cattle who languidly chewed their cuds and swished at flies, watching them pass.
At last the path rose into a break in the bluff which led to an isolated mud hut, whitewashed and covered with red ochre hand prints in the shade of a pair of especially
large acacias. Ngerrk-ga was out front with his back to them on his knees feeding the fire under a large kettle that he was stirring. Nu-jabing-nga held her finger to her lips and motioned for Razzmorten to sit on the ground at Ngerrk-ga’s back before grabbing her nose and dashing away, back down the path. Ngerrk-ga went right on stirring as if no one had arrived at all, chanting quietly: “Nja-min-ah… nja-min-ah… nja-min-ah… nja-min-ah…”
“Fates forbid!” thought Razzmorten. “I hope he notices me before I pass out from the
Ch. 2, Good Sister, Bad Sister
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps
Captain Bernard peered about at the landscape of Cwm Eryr, wincing here and there at recollections as his massive march streiciwr brenhinol stepped carefully amongst the tumbled armor and bones, staying abreast of Queen Minuet on hers. “I can’t believe her grit,” he thought, pretending not to glance aside at her. “She’s almost serene, all decked out in her gleaming armor astride Vindicator’s snow-white twin sister.”
“Captain,” said Minuet. “look yonder, by the dead tree. Could that possibly be…?”
“Ol’ Brutus?” he said with a grunt, as he dismounted to go see. “Oh, you got that one right first try, Your Majesty. Has to be, head and all. Right where King Hebraun left him, though someone’s been along in the last day or two and smashed him up pretty good. And that someone probably knew him, don’t you reckon? Well, I mean Brutus was one of those as never could get beat up enough to match what he had a-coming to him…”
Minuet dismounted and removed her helm, letting fly her fiery red hair in the breeze. “Did you think to pick out a bivouac on the way down here, Captain?” she said as she thoughtfully rocked back and forth Brutus’s smashed hauberk, gorget and breastplate with her toe. “I realize it’s early.”
“I’m afraid not, Your Majesty, for as you said…”
“Well what I need for you to do is to position them out of sight over that rise, yonder and come right back here without them. It doesn’t matter how you do it.”
Bernard left her where she was and set about at once getting the troop beyond the rise. Presently he returned to find her carefully examining the smashed skull and helm.
“Well,” she said, standing up and brushing her hands as he dismounted, “guess what? There are some person’s tracks all over, which I think you already noticed, but did you see the bird tracks? Big ones and little ones. Come look. Couldn’t they be crow and sparrow? And here’s a nice big black feather.”
“Oh, that’s them. I’m surprised that this amount of smashing up Brutus’s remains is all…” Suddenly he had lost track and was gaping at what Minuet was doing.
She knelt and slapped the helm, leaving her coronary seal glowing and smoking in the metal. She set it beside the rest of the armor and smacked breastplate as well, leaving her seal to glow and turn blue as it cooled.
“My!” said Bernard, shifting to his other foot. “That’s…”
“Ffwrdd a ni!” she roared, springing to her feet with a fling of her arms, sending the armor leaping into the sky to shoot away south beyond the horizon.
Bernard looked wide eyed and pale.
“I didn’t mean to alarm you, Captain. I just thought Brutus should return to his queen. Do you think she will be pleased?”
“You sent those bones and armor clean back to Castle Goll?”
“They’re already there.”
“Oh!” he said with a spreading grin. “I think that was a right noble gesture, Your Majesty.”
“Yes. And it’s between us. That’s why you moved the troop.”
“I always knew you were Razzmorten’s daughter, but I swear I never knew…”
“Then let’s go. This is no place for us to be. We might actually have enough light to stop at Ash Fork and pay our respects to Hebraun.”
Ch. 22, The Burgeoning
Carol and Tom Phipps
The Beaks are the nation of humans who live in the Kingdom of Mar, a territory that takes in the extensive fens within the Chokewood Forest known as the Beakmore (Beakmoor). The Beakmore surrounds a raised and well drained pastoral area known as Caistealbeak which supports the town of Caistealbeak that in turn surrounds the Beak castle, known as Caisteal-Beak, an early Iron Age style circular stockade within a moat, which encloses a massive earthworks crowned by a rambling wooden castle proper that overlooks the surrounding countryside.
The Beak nation is widely regarded as dangerous and barbaric and takes extended spells of making raiding forays against neighboring communities. Troops of naked tattooed soldiers, their bodies smeared with a blue stain known as woad, are led by captains who in turn are commanded by the king who is addressed by either the title “ru” or “brude.” In Stone Heart, book three of The Heart of the Staff, Brude Taylorg, Ru of Mar, governs every bit as naked and even more tattooed and stained with woad than his soldiers and believes himself to be the direct descendent of the deity Eochaid, the fastest luathas unicorn who ever lived, and also believes that he is watched over and protected by the mighty wolf deity, Madadh-Allaidh Neartmhor. Taylorg’s daughter, the beautiful Princess Tramae, is half-sister to Queen Myrtlebell. When Myrtlebell is murdered by Queen Spitemorta of Goll, Taylorg seeks vengeance by sending Tramae to arrange an alliance with Myrtlebell’s father, King Theran of Bratin Brute.
In the days when Ugleeuh created the Peppermint Forest from part of the Chokewoods, Brude Taylorg refused to be cowed by her threats. To force matters, she cast a spell on the Beaks to keep them in perpetual submission and humiliation by turning them into a nation of pot-bellied, marshmallow suckers, known as the Gobblers. So in The Collector Witch, book two of The Heart of the Staff, Taylorg was known as Greedygut, Caisteal-Beak was the Gobbler Castle and the Beakmore was known as the Gobbler Marsh.
Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps
“Mary,” said Arwr softly from beneath the lone scrubby pine.
“Does your leg hurt, Arwr?” she said. “I’ve some herbs that might stop the pain without putting you to sleep.”
“That’s his name, Vyr-pudi? Have you learnt any more of his language?”
“Yes actually, but what I did not expect is that he’s beginning to understand ours.”
“How do you know?”
“He called out my name quite clearly, just in time for me to dodge the lyoth which brought me down. I have no doubt that he saved my life and Abaddon’s, too. Abaddon got
thrown off my back while I was kicking at the Lyoth. Vyrpudi caught him. And when he
saw his moment, he jumped the Lyoth and strangled it with his chain. No one has even
thanked him.” He gave the side of his beak a thoughtful saw across a fallen pine trunk and
thoroughly shook his feathers.
Mary sat speechless for a moment, listening to the owl as a pop in the fire sent sparks dashing into the starry sky. “Oh my,” she said. “I see your point Arwr, but he is a troll surrounded by Elves. He undoubtedly had some part in feasting on the Elves in two Jutish villages, and you know better than I do what you caught him in the act of doing at Oilean Gairdin.” She peered at Vyr-pudi, sitting in his chains. “You’re right, Arwr. We’re no better at all if we can’t show humanity when it’s needed.” She stood and brushed off her skirts. “Do you know the Trollish words for thank you?”
Arwr nodded his head. “Afey-fira.”
“Afey-fira…afey-fira,” she said as she started over to Vyrpudi, who sat up quite straight at her approach. “Well. Arwr says your name is Vyr-pudi.”
Vyr-pudi became very wide eyed at this.
“Anyway we,” she said, pointing to herself and then back to Arwr, “want to tell you afey-fira.”
Vyrpudi’s eyes bugged out and his jaw dropped open as she squatted before him and carefully reached out her hand. At once he drew back from her touch as if she were about to strike him. “Well I guess that wasn’t a good idea,” she said as she stood up and let her arms fall to her sides. She smiled at him and walked back to the fire.
“I believe he thought I was about to hit him,” she said as she found her spot on the rock.
Arwr glanced over at Vyr-pudi who was now watching them with undisguised curiosity. “Yes I saw,” he said, “but you didn’t hit him and he can plainly see that you didn’t intend to. He’ll figure it all out. Where it will all go, though, I can’t guess. You do remember that when I captured him, the plan was to learn what we could from him and then kill him, don’t you?”
“I remember,” she said, shaking her head. “Even with his valiant deeds today, after so many long years of attacks on Elves…”
Ch. 38, The Burgeoning
Carol & Tom Phipps
Spitemorta sat forward and grabbed up a hot cinnamon bun from the tea table just set before her, tore it open and dropped it onto a saucer to steam as she found the fresh butter and honey. “Oh,” she said, licking her fingers and leaning aside to give the bell pull a yank. She went right back to her bun and took a huge bite, closing her eyes with a delirious moan.
A young page came and stood at quiet attention beyond the table.
“Hey Piffant,” she said through her mouthful of flying crumbs, when she finally noticed him.
“Your Omnipotence,” he said with a deep and gracious bow.
Spitemorta took an eye-rolling moment to chew. “Listen Pissant,” she said with a strained swallow, “go find General Coel and have him here this very hour.”
“Anything else, Your Omnipotence?”
Spitemorta dug at the wad of bread in her cheek with her tongue and shook her head.
“As long as you see that you do,” she said. She wanted to see Coel at once, but it made no difference to her in the least whether or not Pissant managed to live. All that really mattered was her coming coronation and public executions of Queen Minuet’s army.
“Your Omnipotence…?” said her skinweler in a wee voice from it’s hollow on the arm of her throne.
She put milk into her cup, slipped off the cozy and picked up the teapot. “Damn you, Pissant!” she bellowed into the echoes, hurling it across the room to smash on the marble floor. “Thanks to you, it’s gone stone cold. Or maybe I need to boil somebody’s stinking head in the kitchen…”
“Uh, Your Omnipotence…?” said the skinweler as a hired woman peeked in from a side door.
“Hey!” cried Spitemorta, “Get me a fresh pot!”
“This looks exciting and all, dear, but shouldn’t you be showing some interest in the rest of your empire?” said Demonica, appearing with her fists on her hips by the shattered teapot.
“Now!” hollered Spitemorta.
“My word!” said Demonica, walking right up to her. “Your first steward is waiting for an audience as we speak.”
“So? Send him in.”
“It is indeed nice to find you taking me seriously for once, dear,” she said, cocking her head to look her over closely, “but you seem to be forgetting that you’re the only one who sees me. Besides it’s your skinweler. Your steward in Gwael…”
“Oh poop! How would I have time for those heathens with my coronation almost upon us? What would be as important as that? After all, I am the first one in history to rule the entire world.”
Demonica drew a wide-eyed breath. “It might not hurt to ask him,” she said with a nod at the skinweler. “I mean, he’s no further away than the arm of your chair, and convenient as it is, it would be an act of actually ruling the world, don’t you think?”
“You do it. I’m busy. And Coel will be here directly.”
“Well I would, dear,” she said with another nod at the skinweler,” but you’re forgetting that I’m dead.”
“Aah!” said the steward, jerking back from his ball. “Forgive me Your Omnipotence, I wasn’t quite…”
“Well? What is it? I’m right busy here, and you’re not likely to have anything important.”
“I beg your pardon for my asking you to indulge me over this trifle,” he said, pausing for a breath as he thrust out his chin, “but we’ve a situation here that’s plainly on it’s way out of control.”
“What are you talking about, Irmen? What is going on there?”
“King Vortigern had a brother, Catigern, Prince of Pow Jyantylesk, who had a son before he died…”
“Well, Osulf claims the throne.”
“Shut up!” screeched Spitemorta.
“I beg your pardon, Your Omnipotence. I’m not sure I heard right…”
“What’s he thinking?” she said, grabbing up the skinweler and pressing her face into it. “He can’t do that. Artie died, which made me queen. I’m still queen. I may be empress of the world, but I’m still queen. And I left you on the throne.”
“Yea. But he says that you never ruled Gwael before you became empress. According to him, you never once sat on the throne, and that left him next in line to rule after Artamus. In fact, he’s sitting on the throne right now. And his coronation is tomorrow…”
“Horse shit!” she shouted, flinging the skinweler well beyond the tea table to hit the carpet with a muffled crack and go rolling away toward the entrance.
Irmen jerked back from his skinweler and rubbed his temples.
Spitemorta heaved herself to her feet, ran after her ball and grabbed it up. “So what kind of steward allows someone to come in and take the throne?” she said, catching her breath.
“One who’s in his chamber, free to use his skinweler to reach you, if you don’t mind my putting it that a-way. They took me by surprise. Had I not cooperated, I’d be dead or sitting in the dungeon and you’d not know a thing about it.”
“I’ll be right there…”
Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps
Lance shifted on his saddle in the thick whirling snow and gathered his collar over his muffler as he peered from under his hat at the top of the mountain. “Well Abaddon,” he called out cheerfully over the wind, “we’ll be over the top directly and we’ll be getting out of this weather!”
“My momma’s goin’ ‘o kill you for stealing me away from her,” said Abaddon with a baleful snarl. “And when I tell her all about it, she’ll hurt you a whole lot for a long, long time before she stops your heart.”
“Oh, she’ll have to catch us first,” said Lance buoyantly, as a shudder ran through him.
“She’ll catch you, all right! Oh, yes she will! And it’ll be a lot of fun!”
“After five long days in the cold, it’s a mercy we won’t have to sleep out in this,” thought Lance with another shudder as the unicorns stepped their way up, crunching loose shards of stone through the new layer of snow. Having grown up here, he was familiar with the sudden fierce winter storms up in the Pitmaster’s Kettles. He glanced aside at Abaddon. In spite of how good he’d always been with children, the boy unnerved him. “I’ll do it for James,” he thought, wishing he did not have to. Abaddon looked up at him with a red-eyed glower, as if he knew exactly what he had just been thinking, giving him a sudden bristle of goose flesh. He quickly turned away. “Surely he doesn’t read thoughts. I’ve never heard that Spitemorta does.” He looked back again to suddenly feel guilty for thinking all of this at the sight of Abaddon looking right at him with the innocent smile of a boy on an adventure. He smiled back and began searching for the path over the top. “Here we go!” he called out. “Right yonder! Just keep Sheba close to Stepper and we’ll soon be out of the weather in the heart of this ol’ mountain!”
“What do you mean? You don’t mean we’re going clean inside it, do you?”
“Sure do,” said Lance with a nod. “This is a vulcan mountain. Its top was once a cauldron of melted red-hot rock. If it weren’t for the snow, you’d see frozen rivers of rock running down it’s sides from long ago. That’s what all the black rock between the trees was, ‘way back down below, before we ever started up here. The top of each one of these mountains for miles and miles is a deep pit. that’s why they’re called the Pitmaster’s Kettles. And here we are.” He slapped his hand onto his hat in the furious wind at the very top of the slope as his unicorn hesitated between a pair of boulders on the rim, stepping restlessly from side to side before finding his first steps of the steep decent beyond. “See out yonder? the whole top of this mountain is naught but a giant deep hole. And here we go, on the path right down into the mountain, but you watch out and keep Sheba close behind. I don’t want you falling off the side. It’s a long way down.”
“I better not fall. My momma would kill you even worse if I did.”
“Yea, and your dad wouldn’t be too happy either.”
Abaddon gave a contemptuous snort, but quickly donned a look of excited expectancy in spite of himself. Soon they were below the wind, carefully finding their way down the narrow path, knocking loose rocks to go skittering and bounding off into the depths. He anxiously peered down into the crater, but strain as he might, he could not see the bottom. “Hey,” he demanded. “It’s gettin’ darker and darker. How are we going to see? In fact, what’s going to keep us from falling off?”
“Stepper and Sheba. The unicorns see a lot better in the dark than we do and they’re completely sure-footed if you don’t rush them. They’ll find their way. Besides, it’ll get lighter before long.”
“You’re crazy. It’s been getting darker and darker.”
“Well, when you get down far enough, there’s quite a lot of glow lichen growing, though we’re not far enough to tell it yet. Have you noticed it getting warmer?”
“The wind’s died down is all. It’s not any warmer.”
“Well, what do you suppose happened to all the snow, Abby?”
“You’re not allowed to say things like that! You’re supposed to call me ‘Your Highness!'”
“Well, maybe when you earn it…”
Abaddon drew a breath for a furious shout, but fell silent with a gasp at the sudden sight of a faint glow, far below in the blackness.
Ch 2, The Burgeoning
Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps
After her address, Spitemorta tied up her skinweler in its pouch and dropped it into her bag. She missed the awed multitudes beyond the balcony of her throne room at Castle Goll. “A little trollish supplication might be just the thing,” she said as she picked up the Staff. She stepped into the hall, trotted downstairs and out into the glory of dandelions, wren chatter and bright sunshine. Bethan was on her knees, picking strawberries and didn’t see her set the Staff in the air, mount it and lean forward to shoot away into the deep blue sky.
She didn’t know exactly where Oilean Gairdin was beyond its being somewhere in the Jut of Niarg. But after some time, hurtling along the length of the Jut, she spied the remains of stone walls standing in a tumble of pink quartz rubble, surrounded by abandoned orchards and formal gardens on an island in the middle of Jutland Lake. “This has to be it,” she said as she settled her feet into the knee-deep grass and sat on her hovering stick, looking about. Grackles scolded, mobbing something in the crown of an apple tree. She dismounted and waded through the grass toward the ruins, pausing at an arbor to eat grapes. She saw no sure signs of trolls at all, but there were getting to be paths tramped flat in the grass as she neared the rubble. A striped blue lizard as big around as a pitchfork handle, vanished into the cracks of a stone fence. She stood, looking all about from under her hand. Over near a wall she saw bones. “Ha!” She hurried up her wallow through the grass to find a collapsed bedroom, overflowing the window sills with bones. Outside the broken walls, she now saw a good score of stone circles for campfires, most of them with live coals, scattered randomly about a courtyard littered with gnawed pieces of animal carcass and barefoot prints in the ankle deep dust. Presently she was hearing deep rumbling snores coming from every hole and recess that might protect from rain.
“Oh yes,” she said, stopping short. “I very nearly forgot. I’ll have to change to Fnadiyaphn’s throat. At least Fnadi-phnig-nyd and Dyr-jinyr-yy will know who I am as a human. It’s still hard to swallow from the last time.” She held the Heart to her throat. It began glowing at once. “Gaah-hoof!” she bellowed, jerking the Heart away. “Aah-hoof-aah-hoof!”
She could hear trolls mumbling and stirring as she stood there with pains shooting through her head, working her jaw. She began quietly peering into holes, wincing each time she bent over for a look. By the time she was wondering if she could bear any more bending over, she found Dyr-jinyr-yy sound asleep on his back not far away from a huge breasted sow, asleep against a wall under her snarled bush of fiery red hair, snoring away like a giant bullfrog with a grimy toddler in her arms. “Maybe I’m getting lucky,” she thought as she tiptoed close to peer at the baby. “He actually looks like James, except he’s a troll. Well we’ll see.” She went back to stand over Dyr-jinyr-yy. “Jy-oyf-ny-oyd-fif, Dyr- jinyr-yy,” she rumbled as she gave him a sharp poke with the Staff. “Ni!”
“Jyrp-dyoy-dyn-yoy-oyr,” said Spitemorta with a phosphorescent flicker in her eyes. “You’ll live.”
With a squeal, he pitched forward and flattened himself at her feet. “Fnadiyaphn!” he whimpered into the foul dirt. “Goddess come-give Veyfnaryr big-head-nod looky-look?”
“And you’re going to show me,” she said with a cherubic nod.
Dyr-jinyr-yy was on his feet at once, dashing over to Fnayooph to give her hair a good yank.
Fnayooph gave an explosive swing of her fist, barely missing Dyr-jinyr-yy, who sat backwards with a bounce in the dirt. She gasped in shock at the sudden sight of Spitemorta and grabbed up a club, giving it a furious fling right by her ear.
Spitemorta gave a crackling jab with the Staff, setting aglow a patch of earth in front of Fnayooph which immediately exploded, blinding everyone with dirt and making Veyfnaryr howl.
“Fnayooph!” cried Dyr-jinyr-yy. “She-be Goddess Fnadiyaphn! Fnadiyaphn play human queen.”
Veyfnaryr wiggled out of her arms and stood up with his fists in his eyes, wailing at the top of his lungs. Fnayooph grabbed him into her lap and silenced him with a teat as she ground at her eyes with the heel of her other hand.
“Good job that you took care of my baby before you even tried to see,” said Spitemorta, “otherwise, you would be dead right now. Does he bite?”
Fnayooph looked up with one confused eye, shook her head and held out Veyfnaryr for Spitemorta to take.
Spitemorta got a whiff of him and held up a pious hand. “I don’t need to take him,” she said. “I can see that he is getting the best of care.” She pursed her lips as a look of awe flickered across her face. “My word!” she thought. “He simply glows with magical power.”
She turned to Dyr-jinyr-yy. “I shall not keep you awake any longer,” she said. “You all are doing quite well indeed. I’ll simply be back from time to time to see how he’s doing.” And with that, she took to the air on her staff and vanished over the trees.
Well beyond Jutland lake, she landed and used the Heart to return her human throat and end her pounding headache. “My word!” she said as she climbed into the sky once more. “Nobody I’ve ever been around has that strong an aura…”
“See?” came a voice in her ear. “What did I try to tell you?”
“Shut up!” she screamed as she shook the Staff. “Shut up! Shut up Demonica!”
“Well I’m glad to see that you didn’t completely lose control of the Staff this time, dear,” came the voice again.
“Shut up!” she screamed. “Leave me alone!”
“Now just what kind of respect for the dead is that, Rouanez Bras?”
“Why can’t you leave me alone?”
“Believe me,” said the voice, “I most certainly would if it weren’t for your endless need of guidance. But since you clearly resent even the slightest inclination which I might have to help…”
“All right!” cried Spitemorta. “If I let you help me, will you go away?”
“Very well, what do I need help with then, Grandmother?”
“Didn’t I tell you that your troll baby was going to be more powerful than the great Razzmorten himself?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Of course not,” said the voice. “I couldn’t get you to hold off your demands to have him killed long enough to notice what I was saying, as I recall.”
“And I can see that you’re just as tedious to listen to as ever.”
“Well let’s try again, dear. Did you notice what I said this time?”
“What? Being stronger? Get out of here, Demonica! I know very well what all that means.”
“Do you then? What does all this mean? This should be good.”
“Why go through telling you?” said Spitemorta. “You already have all the answers. But if you must, it means that even if the Elves do manage to raise some dangerously powerful wizard, your ugly little troll monster just might destroy him. Right?”
“Bravo!” cheered the voice with the sound of clapping. “But the ‘ugly little troll monster’ as you put it, is yours, dear.”
“My monster? It was your turning me into Fnadiyaphn, Grandmother.”
There did not seem to be an answer.
“Grandmother?” said Spitemorta, frantically looking all about. “Demonica? Damn you! Where’d you go? Hey Demonica!”
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps
Spitemorta lay in Demonica’s bed, listening to the cries of gulls out her window as the first rays of sunlight lit the wall behind her. She threw back her covers, sat on the side of the bed and nearly fell when she tried to stand up. She hobbled to the tea table and ate some of the cheese and corned beef she had found in one of the larders while hunting skinwelerioù. She had forgotten all about eating for some time and discovered that she was quite hungry. At last she decided to get dressed. The broadening daylight made her want to hurry.
“Well, it’s back west to Niarg before rejoining Coel and Cunneda,” she said as she stepped into her black kirtle, “but I’ll never be able to straddle the Staff for the entire way across the Orin Ocean. I’ll just have to pick a place where I can vomit when I get there.”
She laced up her bodice, grabbed up the Staff and turned her dress deep vermilion. She put the strap of her bag across her shoulder and sat on the bed with her skinweler. “Now just where is it?” she said as the swirling colors in the skinweler gave way to images. “Show me the manor house at Peach Knob. So that’s where Mother grew up with Auntie Min and Grandfather Razzmorten. Why would it be so dark? Very well, let’s find some place out of the way, around back.”
Suddenly she was on her hands and knees in a pandemonium of terrified chickens, squawking and flapping dust and old feathers all about her in the dim light of dawn as she retched and heaved her breakfast onto the floor between her hands. “Aangh!” she cried, catching her breath and sitting back on her heels as the chickens crowded round to snap up tidbits of her cheese and corned beef.
She grabbed up the Staff and sprang to her feet to pound with her fist along the chicken house wall until she found the door and threw it open. “My dress!” she wailed, waltzing into the pigweed with her arms held wide. Just then it occurred to her that she was holding the Staff and she quickly used it to make herself as clean as she was when she was first dressed. Suddenly she stopped short with a scald of alarm at the sight of her second sunrise in one day. “No!” She shook her head. “No way it’s Demonica. It can’t be anything but the traveling spell.
“There’s the house,” she said, looking uphill beyond the big orchard. “And that was my very last traveling spell ever, ever, ever, I swear.” She started walking up the grassy lane between the rows of peach trees. An oriole gave a bawdy whistle. Up the lane, a kingbird chased away a pair of grackles. She could hear a tinkling of bells as sheep came running.
“Hoy!” she thought she heard someone holler. She looked back beyond the sheep to see a stooped old man wave. She turned away and made for the house. The summer kitchen reared up before her as she came out of the trees. She got a whiff of steak and eggs as she heard someone bang a skillet. She stopped and looked up at the manor house behind the kitchen. “Good for gentry,” she said. “At lest it’s temporary.”
A heavy set woman appeared in the doorway of the summer kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. “Good morning to you, mistress,” she called out with a smile. “You look bewildered, a-coming up on us out o’ the orchard, that a-way. I’ve just fixed breakfast and I already set out an extra…”
“Oh I know exactly where I am.”
“Well now I’m Bethan, but should I know who you be?”
“It makes no difference who you are. But it’s always best to know your new queen, particularly when you work on her manor.”
“Peredur,” said Bethan as the old man appeared behind Spitemorta. “did you hear what she just said to me?”
“No, but I can’t begin to imagine what she was doing in the chicken house.”
Bethan folded her arms and looked Spitemorta in the eye. “Well since I can’t begin to believe what you just told me, dear, why don’t you be so kind as to tell him what it was?”
“It’s quite simple. I’m queen and you’re in my house.”
“Minuet is queen, and I’m queen mother. I raised the queen and her two children. This is my house. Razzmorten and the crown gave it to me.”
Spitemorta let out a whoop of laughter and stopped. “Minuet is dead, dead, dead and you may be lucky enough to be the hired help in my house, if you don’t get carried away,” she said with a satiny rustle as she stepped into the doorway and pushed past Bethan.
“Now look ‘ee here, child! Queen Minuet and Razzmorten saw us just days ago, and she certainly was queen then…”
“Yea? My soldiers found them dead of the plague when we destroyed Castle Niarg, what, yesterday? And my mother grew up in this house, so it’s mine.”
Bethan went apoplectically wide eyed. “You’re Queen Spitemorta!” she gasped.
“It is Bethan’s house,” said Peredur as he steadied himself, stepping inside, “and I’m to live out my days here, too.”
“Which could be up any moment from what I see,” said Spitemorta as she picked up a piece of steak and took a bite.
“That won’t hold up before the Bench,” said Peredur.
“Queen’s Bench,” said Spitemorta with a cherubic smile and another bite.
Bethan caught his eye and shook her head.
“If you’re a willing part of my loyal service, you’ll be alive to wait on me when I come back to stay.”
“At your service, Your Majesty,” said Bethan with a heavy curtsey.
“At your service,” said Peredur with a bow.
Spitemorta stepped out into the grass and mounted the Staff. “Ta-Ta,” she said and flew away into the morning sky.
“My word!” said Peredur as they watched from the doorway. “That witch! What have we got into?”
“Something you and I are going to live through, that’s what.”
Ch. 5, The Reaper Witch, book five of Heart of the Staff: The Complete Series
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps
“We’re done Grandfather,” said Daniel.
“So I see.” he said, fitting his spectacles onto his face.
“How did we do?” said Ariel as she and Daniel sat beside him.
“A question like that has been nothing but a respectful formality for some time, my dear,” he said.
“Perfect then?” said Daniel.
“Absolutely,” he said with a deep nod. “And this completes anything which I might contribute until Neron has worked with you for a time and we get you ready to go study with Meri Greenwood. And it is he who will prepare you for your staves and take you to see Longbark in Mount Bed.”
“And then?” said Ariel. “Are we…?”
“Oh,” he said with a smile. “I expect we’ll have you back here again for one final inspection and a little practice.”
“And then we get her…” said Daniel.
“When the moment falls exactly right,” said Razzmorten as everyone went silent, listening to the swallows and the trickling water and the river pounding in the deep reaches, drawing away the echoes from the sink.
Daniel dug at the rocks with a twig.
“Great-Grandfather Razzmorten is naught but a matchmaker,” said Arial, giving him a peck on his cheek.
“Not at all. You’ve had your heart bond for all these years.”
“Are we done?” said Daniel.
“With magic, anyway. Go enjoy the day.”
“Thanks Grandfather,” he said, tossing aside his twig.
“Father keeps saying that in spite of the bond, I might eventually be safer away from Abby,” said Ariel.
“Yea? Is that what you want?”
“No you’re not. And worse than that, you’re guessing. How’s that fit for a young and powerful sorceress? What do you want to do with your guesses, anyway, break his heart and then go die? Maybe you’d better do what your heart wants.”
“You’re right as usual,” she said as she stood and brushed the seat of her skirt. “I shall indeed follow my heart.”
“And you’re not going to say another word about dieing,” he called out after her as she stepped into the lava tube. “Ye hear?”
Ch 2, Doom
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps
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