Strike Falcons

 

Strike falcon – shawk spoogh, shawkyn spooghey, pl. (Gwaelic Elven), Phororhacos longissimus R., an 8-9 foot tall, flightless gruiform raptor, a member of the True Bird (Adar Gwir) Dynasty, indigenous to the open tall grass strah of the Eastern Continent, where it was the top predator of the biome, a strict carnivore capable of bringing down mammals weighing up to 450 pounds or more. Though it usually hunted singly or in pairs, it was known to form into formidable foraging packs on rare occasions. Human habitation and livestock grazing remained utterly 250px-phorusrhacoslongissimus-skull-backgroundknockedout-rom-dec29-07impossible on the Great Strah until all strike falcons were exterminated in the wild, only three Elven generations ago (1000 yrs.). Today all known strike falcons live symbiotically with the Gwaelic Elves, where each bird is assigned upon hatching to its personal, life-long Elven trainer called an austringa. The falcon iscassowary-eggs-c-wtma placed at hatching with the austringa within mere hours of the austringa’s seventh naming day (99th birthday), and they remain in perpetual contact with one another until the death of one of them. Strike falcon and austringa form a deadly military assault unit for the defense of the Gwaelic Elves, particularly from the ravages of the Elf Killers, Homo neanderthalinsis gwaelii R., also known as social trolls.

66366_the-terror-bird_7hqdjmj4am3d2cszxsyeykq4xpncurxrbvj6lwuht2ya6mzmafma_610x457

Olloo was the one who first hatched and raised a strike falcon when the Elves fled the trolls to take up a new life, far out in the Great Strah. He named his fuzzy new pet “Baase” which meant “death” in Gwaelic Elven. Baase impressed Olloo with his alertness and loyalty, ardently following him on his heels everywhere he went. By the time Baase wasimages half grown, he was communicating with Olloo by exchanging mental pictures. When the trolls found where the Elves were living in the Strah and attacked, Baase and the other strike falcons astonished everyone by killing every single troll.

 

Are you fortunate enough to live in partnership with a bird of some sort? What sort of experience is it? Do you hunt with it?    

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Minuet Sees King Hebraun off to Battle

tumblr_mq3l5e8CsV1sunb7yo1_500

“Begging your pardon, sire,” said Dunvel as he shifted from foot to foot, “but shouldn’t we be on our way?”

“Polite all at once are we?” said Hebraun without bothering to look at him. Presently Minuet swept back into the room with Herio, who was now completely composed and wearing some of Lukus’s old clothes. She took her seat immediately as she guided Herio to stand right beside her. She took up Hebraun’s hand and squeezed it. They held each other’s eyes for several heartbeats of understanding and then turned as one to look at Dunvel.

Hebraun rose from his throne without a word and drew Minuet up to stand beside him. He nodded ever so slightly at his guards before fixing his eyes on Dunvel.

“See him to the courtyard and wait for me there,” he said as they stepped up to surround Dunvel.

Dunvel shamelessly flung a conceited look at Herio as he turned to go.

giphyHebraun spared a kindly glance at Herio and then took both of Minuet’s hands and looked into her eyes. “I love you more than words can tell,” he said.

“And I love you,” she said as they squeezed hands.

Hebraun stepped smartly from the dais with her, as Herio scrambled to follow, out into the courtyard where the guards waited with Dunvel.

He paused by Vindicator, his huge white march streiciwr brenhinol stallion unicorn and kissed Minuet farewell. He quickly found his stirrup, threw his leg over his mount and looked down at Herio. “I need you to stay here to protect the queen.”

Herio drew himself up and nodded fiercely as Minuet drew him to her side.

“Besides,” said Hebraun as he gave a beady-eyed nod at Dunvel, “You might want to testify when that thing has its trial.”

Herio’s eyes flashed as he nodded and stood proudly beside his queen.

Hebraun shared one last gaze with Minuet then urged his great white unicorn to the

Queen Minuet

gate and vanished. Herio turned aside to see Minuet’s eyes brimming with tears as she stood tall and proud, making her way back to her duties. He trailed along beside her after pausing to see Dunvel being led away to some place fitting. Herio’s face firmed in resolve. That goblin would share his brother’s fate if he had any say in the matter.

Ch. 47, Stone Heart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Who is Longbark?

292150647_Angel_Oak_15

Longbark is a female everwaking oak who was the oldest known tree in the Forest Good_Sister,_Bad_Sis_Cover_for_KindleThe_Burgeoning_Cover_for_KindlePrimeval, possibly as old as Meri Greenwood himself. The evil sorcerer Razzorbauch feared her power, and so uprooted her and transplanted her in Bedd Chwiorydd Tair, or Tomb of the Three Sisters (Towmb of þe Three Susters), an extinct volcano with two craters in the southern Pitmaster’s Kettles, when he imprisoned the three Fairy sisters there at the time that he turned the forest into the Chokewoods in Good Sister, Bad The Reaper Witch 01 copySister. The very Great Staff of Power was made from one of her branches as was the powerful stick given to Ocker the raven by Meri Greenwood. It is Longbark to whom the Fairies turn for advice on Abaddon in The Burgeoning and the Damned Baby in The Reaper Witch.

everwaking oak – Quercus claudo-ilex R., derwin hollol effro (Old Niarg Standard) (wide coast_liveoak_rolled_leavesawake oak), a dioecious evergreen oak with holly-like elliptical 1″ x 2″ leaves with spiny toothed margins, glossy dark green above and whitish green below, which suddenly fold along the midrib and collapse at each end of the petiole when exposed to certain thigmatic and electromagnetic stimuli in a manner reminiscent of the mimosa’s response to touch. The narrowly oblong 1/4th” x 3/4th” acorns are enclosed by a shallow scaly cap, and are born singly on the end of a stalk. The trees are much the same stature as burr oaks, being thirty to fifty feet tall with a spreading crown somewhat broader than the tree is tall. They are indigenous to very restricted parts of the thinly forested, savanna-like rolling uplands of the Forest Primeval flanking the great Fairy Valley. A number of them, particularly the female known as OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALongbark, are claimed to possess a magical intelligence which the Fairies regard highly. A number of wizard’s staves and rods have been made from Longbark’s branches, including the Great Staff of Power. The Fairies make a slightly bitter tea from their leaves which is similar to yerba mate, except that its alkaloid concentration is four to five times as strong as that of mate and must be drunk with milk. The Fairies also make bread which can be kneaded from a glutinous flour made from their acorns.

 

Wizard Razzmorten Helps Lay Plans

Dave Sheldrake Photographer A3 Art

“King Neron’s message globe is stunning,” said Captain Bernard from under his bushy brow as he tossed a wide-eyed look at Razzmorten. “I’ve heard tell, but I’ve never before seen the like.”

Razzmorten gave a polite but sober nod.

“This is bad news for the Elves,” said Bernard as he began pacing about the room, “I mean, this is plain bad news altogether. There’ll be a lot more Elves die over this, sure
enough, but I can think of two things right now which are bad for us. Oilean Gairdin and
Jutland may be all Elves, but it’s on us. They’re part of Niarg, so if Spitemorta and
Demonica sent the trolls in there, they’ve just attacked us. And the other thing is, by
doing so they look like they could very well be trying to get us to divide our army in order
to make it easy for them to attack Niarg proper.” He paused to look at Minuet, who was
studying him keenly, smiling in a way that seemed to be covering up a smoldering flame.
Razzmorten was not letting on. Minuet ran the flat of her hand over the table top, then
looked up, ready to hear more.

“I’m sure that King Hebraun would have the same thing to say,” he said as he shifted the hilt of his saber and resumed pacing. “It is obvious, after all. And he’d waste no time sending out a strike force, particularly if Prince Lukus and his family are having to flee…”

“So is it your opinion then, Captain,” said Razzmorten, “that Spitemorta and Demonica are indeed doing this in order to strike Niarg?”

“Well sir, everything certainly looks that way. I’d even say so beyond any doubt whatsoever, except that I simply can’t imagine what they’re going to use for an army. My
word! We slew well neigh thirteen thousand of them at Ashmore, and you said yourself,
my Queen,” he said, turning to her with a nod, “that there was narrowly a man between
six ‘n’ ten and sixty to be seen out and about when you scryed Goll.”

“Yes,” said Minuet, standing up at once with a slap of the table top to begin pacing her own 220px-Woman_redhead_natural_portrait_1tight circle beside the one Bernard had been following. “It seems obvious that you are indeed onto something, Captain, and I can certainly guess what they’re going to use as an army. We may have slain theirs, but we have not done a single thing to cripple them magically. If we send troops to aid Oilean Gairdin, she’s very likely to make a magical strike against Niarg.”

“Oh, they could be all set to launch a magical attack if we send aid to the Elves,” said Razzmorten with a screech of his chair on the stone floor, “and it sure seems like they’d have to be, particularly if we’re thinking in terms of armies, but…”

“‘If we’re thinking in terms of armies?’ What else would we possibly be thinking in terms of?” said Minuet. “What better time would there be for a magical strike against Niarg than when we have sent away a substantial part of our army?”

“Oh, there would indeed be no better time if Goll were actually using an army,” he said asthe-alchemist he removed his spectacles and fogged their lenses with his breath. “But if they wanted to cripple Niarg with a magical strike, they would want to destroy as much of our army as they could with one blow, so they’d want us all right here.”

“But why wouldn’t they want to get us and the Elves together when we went to their aid?” said Minuet as she took a seat next to him.

“Because it would leave us able to launch a retaliatory strike with the troops which stayed here,” boomed Bernard as he found the chair across from the two of them and sat with a rattle of chain mail.

“Then we need to be moving!” said Minuet with a fiery tone.

Razzmorten nodded and looked over his spectacles at Bernard.

“I’ll call the troops and we’ll be underway before first light,” he said with a decisive nod, The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindleslapping the table with his gauntlet as he rose and tramped out the door.

Ch. 12, The Burgeoning

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

Who are the Elves?

 

Elf woman in a magical forest

Elf woman in a magical forest

Elves, Homo sapiens ginkgoliberiensis R., area race of humans indigenous to the Maidenhair Woods of the Eternal Mountains of the Eastern Continent, characterized

Beautiful male elf in the magic forest. Fantasy. Fairy tale, magic.

by ivory colored skin, eyes with various colors of irises highlighted with opalescent flashesAn Elf who is 240 years old has the biological maturity of a Human [In our writing, ‘Human’ is a race of human] of about seventeen. therefore, one can multiply the equivalent number of Human years by (240/17) to find how old he would be as an Elf. Elves have Darkness, 3d CGannual birthdays as we do, but they also celebrate their “naming day” every 14.1 years. An Elf’s seventh naming day has particular importance and is celebrated on his 99th birthday.

 

Up until a millennium ago all Elves spoke Old Gwaelic Elven and lived on the western forestneanderthal_660pxslopes of the Eternal Mountains, with most of them living in or near the village of Baile Gairdin. At that time, nocturnal raids by Gwaelic trolls, Homo neanderthalensis gwaelii R., known to them as Marfora Siofra, drove nearly all of them across the Orin Ocean to the Jutland Woods of the Northern Continent where they live to this day, speaking a nearly unchanged version of their ancestral tongue called Jutish Elven. A handful of Elves stayed behind on the Eastern Continent to flee across the mountains, far out into the table flat grasslands of the Great Strah to a greatULURU rock they named Carraig Faire, which kept them out of the reach of the great predatory strike falcons living there. In time, their way of speaking changed entirely into

beautiful elf girl. fantasy young woman in woods

a new language known today as Gwaelic Elven.

Elves play an important role in each of the books of The Heart of the Staff which are now Elf_Killers_Cover_for_Kindlein print: Good Sister, Bad Sister, The Collector WitchStone Heart,  The Burgeoning and The Reaper Witch They remain important in the final book of the series, Doom. The Elven exodus occurs a millennium earlier in Elf Killers.

Heart of the Staff Complete Series Box (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Who is Razzmorten?

size1

Razzmorten Dewin, the good wizard who is an important player throughout our epic series Heart of the Staff, is born to the First Wizard and his mistress Gwenyth, three hundred and fifty years before his grandchildren, Rose and Lukus of the House of Niarg. The First Wizard wielded enormous magical power because his father was an Elf and his mother was a Human (a race of human in our use). Razzmorten’s twin brother is the evil wizard Razzorbauch, who turns the Forest Primeval into the Chokewoods and himself into a crop burning dragon in Good Sister, Bad Sister.

Razzmorten marries the good lady Blodeuwedd, who dies giving birth to his first daughter Minuet. He hires Demonica to be Minuet’s nanny. After a time, he marries her. She gives birth to Ugleeuh whilst he is away and vanishes with the crystal Heart from Castle Niarg, leaving him to raise his two daughters by himself.

When a great plague comes to Niarg in Good Sister, Bad Sister, he discovers and produces a cure. Ugleeuh has designs on Niarg’s Prince Hebraun. However, HebraunJosephWright-Alchemist-Cropped takes an interest in Minuet. When King Henry announces their betrothal, he makes Razzmorten the Wizard to the Crown for his saving Niarg from the pestilence. Ugleeuh vanishes for a few years. When she returns to Niarg with her powers dangerously well developed to find Minuet and Hebraun married and attempts to murder them, Razzmorten creates powerful magical wards to protect Niarg from her, confining her to the Chokewoods.

When Minuet’s children, Rose and Lukus are in their teens in The Collector Witch, they stumble onto Ugleeuh in in her part of the Chokewoods, amusing herself by flying about on a broom. She holds them captive at once and tries to use them to buy her freedom by sending her crow to Razzmorten with an extortion note for the Crown. Razzmorten promises Minuet that he will do what ever it takes to protect them. When Ugleeuh catches them attempting to flee, her own daughter Spitemorta appears at the scene to make off with her broom.

Spitemorta murders her adoptive parents in order to assume the throne of Goll. The handle of her new broom turns out to be the Great Staff of Power which was taken from the great everwaking oak Longbark by the First Wizard. When word of the Staff in Spitemorta’s hands reaches Demonica, across the sea on Head in Stone Heart, she goes to Goll to be the new nanny of Spitemorta’s son. Soon she and Spitemorta are off on a hunt for the great crystal Heart of the Staff. Meanwhile Razzmorten, Rose and Lukus go back to the Chokewoods see just how much Ugleeuh’s magic has faded to find Fuzz the bear trying frantically to keep the Heart out of Spitemorta and Demonica’s hands. When Razzmorten’s party and Fuzz begin traveling together, they are waylaid by Spitemorta and Demonica who blow the head off of one of the party, put Razzmorten into a coma, crippling his powers, and grab up the Heart from the ground where it has fallen. With the Heart and the Staff, Spitemorta and Demonica at last have tools powerful enough to plan the conquest of the world.

The Last ChapterWhen Razzmorten comes out of his coma, he believes that since Spitemorta and Demonica are likely to fear being stopped by another half Elf-half Human like the First Wizard, they will seek to destroy every Elf alive before turning on Niarg. He sets about searching for ways to stop them whilst his powers slowly return.

Demonica introduces to Spitemorta the skinweler, a sphere of catoptrolite crystal, so that she can control the minds of her subjects. She at once distributes Skinwelerioù far and wide. In The Burgeoning they destroy Oilean Gairdin, sending the Elves fleeing into the Wilderlands before bringing down Castle Niarg and sending Razzmorten and Minuet into the Pitmaster’s Kettles to seek refuge under the mountains with the three Fairy sisters.

corrected covers JPEG

Razzmorten continues to be instrumental in The Reaper Witch and Doom.

The Reaper Witch 01 copy

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00028]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Phipps

Troll Attack!

NNeanderthal

On the eve of their exodus from the Eastern Continent in Elf Killers, a party of young Elves is ambushed…

imagesAedan glanced up the tall trunks as a breeze chased through the treetops and died away amongst the echoes of the bellbirds. “Make sure that each one of the kids has a nice wet ball of sphagnum on the seedlings, if you would, Oísín,” he said as he sank into the ferns to sit on his heels. He watched as each young Elf dutifully opened his vasculum in turn for Oísín’s inspection.

flat,550x550,075,f.u1

“All that’s left of the sunlight is ‘way up in the treetops,” said Oísín with a nod. “You reckon it’s still safe to try for the blue maidenhair at the summit?”download, Daniel

“I was hoping for all four kinds,” said Aedan, as he ran his hands through his hair. “Looks like I let the time slip away. Listen! Hear that purple-rib, yonder?”

“Sure do…”

“Well, he thinks it’s a-getting dark…” he said, suddenly looking about for a muffled snap in the leaves.

Neanderthal“Oouyuyf!” bellowed a troll covered with black and red ochre hand prints, as he took a sudden tramp out of the pawpaw leaves to run a spear under Aedan’s collarbone and out his back.

“Run!” cried Oísín as he loosed an arrow into the troll, sending it staggering about to stumble and fall as the wide-eyed young Elves scrambled to their feet and vanished into the woods. Trolls were starting to appear everywhere. As quick as he could manage, he loosed four or five more arrows, striking one of them and scattering the others. He dropped to his knees where Aedan lay on his side in the ferns.

“Go!” grunted Aedan, blowing blood off his lips.cos3

“Here…” said Oísín, starting to scoop him up.

“No!” coughed Aedan. “They’ll get you if you even try. I’m gone. Go! Save the kids! Damn it! Do it!”

Oísín jerked up at a waft of wind by his ear in time to see a huge rock land and roll throughgall7a the leaves beyond him. He was on his feet at once, wheeling ’round with his drawn bow to find two trolls about to run him through with a spear. He loosed his arrow
at once, killing the one with the spear as the other one fled out of sight. “I can still carry
you, Aedan!” he cried.

“Get out of here! Please!”

Oísín was immediately underway, batting aside branches. “We’ll never forget you!” he hollered as he hurtled out of the brush to take huge bounding strides down the side of a steep hogback.

The troll tramped to a halt beside Aedan and pummeled his chest with his fists. “Ooot-neanderthal-615ooot, ooot-ooot, ooot-ooot,” he cried with a look of crazed triumph, slinging spittle from the black and red ochre paint on his face. “Gnydy!”

“Ay-ooo,” sang out Gnydy, planting his spear with a fierce nod of his cap of mud caked hair as he appeared on the far side of Aedan. He jabbed the point of his spear into Aedan’s thigh, drawing blood. “Should-we hair-drag the grabup-squeaker, Dyr?” he said as he licked the blood off his spearpoint.

whippoorwill00“You-want to haul-meat both-ways?” said Dyr with a beetle-browed glare, as a purple-rib took up calling nearby. “We’ll-quarter him on the way-back.

“Should-we stamp-him to heads-mash?”

“Nobe mudful hollowhead. Let-him gurgle-bleed to cold-meat. There-go all-the Dyrny-brutes. Let’sgo.”

Aedan listened to the trolls tramp away through the leaves. “Damn this!” he thought as he squeezed shut his eyes. “I loved my life…” Suddenly he opened his eyes at the sound of light four footed walking in the leaves, making straight for him. “Niall!”

The deer like unicorn slowed to hesitant steps and lowered his head for a careful sniff.

tumblr_m70z19kVtb1qa3hrwo1_400

“I may be out of time, but I have this minute,” he said, wincing with pain at his attempt to pat Niall’s muzzle. “If I can get up onto your back, we’re going back to camp to show them what the Marfora Siofra did to me and to have them try to find Oísín and the children. And even if I don’t make it, you’ll get me there.”

Though Niall understood not one word of this, he would soon know what to do, for he was a terraing pictiúr, a picture catcher unicorn. Difficult as it was with all his pain, Aedan managed to clear his mind enough to picture Niall lying down in order for him to
Elf_Killers_Cover_for_Kindlemount. At once, Niall lay down before him, patiently waiting for him to get on. Crying
out from the horrible pain, Aedan heaved himself onto his knees, where he steadied
himself long enough to cough blood down his front before throwing his leg across him.
He had a long struggle to keep from passing out before he could manage to picture Niall
rising to his feet. Niall got up at once, but it was an eternity of fighting down the pain
from the jostling before Aedan could manage to picture the camp. At last they were
underway.

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Fairy Tongue

Elvian queen standing in the enchanted forest

Fairy Ring

Our green haired Fairies including Meri Greenwood speak what the people of Niarg know as Archaic Modern Niarg, the ancestor of what they were speaking at the time of our epic tale. It sounds like some sort of Germanic or Nordic language, yet it is quite easy to understand and it makes the Fairies come to life.

 

What Archaic Modern Niarg happens to be is Middle English with most of the obsolete words eliminated so that the uninitiated modern reader can read it without difficulty. It is no harder to read than a note full of misspellings passed by grammar school kids, yet it would be understood at once by people in the London area, six hundred years ago, since we have based its spelling, grammar and word order on the writings of John Wycliffe and Geoffrey Chaucer. 

 

Thirty years ago, I learnt to read Middle English using the rules of pronunciation based on a vowel shift which was thought to have occurred by the widely respected E. T. Donaldson and others, which made the language patently incomprehensible to the ear, and made Chaucer’s poetry not rhyme very well. As a Botany major, I had no stake in revering his work and I didn’t think he supported his claim very well. So, I started reading it with Appalachian vowels and found that it not only rhymed much better, it was now easy to understand when one listened to it.

 

When I read some Middle English to my Navajo students, they thought it was eerie because it sounded like a foreign language except that they could understand it perfectlywell.

 

Please have a look at some of the chapters in The Burgeoning and let us know what you think.

Carol & Tom Phipps The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindle

Heart of the Staff Complete Series Box (1)

Just How Much Magic Belongs in Fantasy?

magic-hat-vector_z1Jxylw_

We’ve been hearing about this. It seems to pop up as though magic content in a piece of writing is something wholly arbitrary, as though  it were just a matter of setting a thermostat. This shouldn’t be too surprising in this digital age of stimulus starvation, this diminished world of the future, where very few of us go into the woods with an axe in order to survive, where conversation is being replaced in cinema with swooping dives off skyscrapers and tumbling infernos of colliding cars. If our fantasy writing needs punch, we just scroll to the far end and click, right? We just add magic.

We disagree. After a certain point, plunges off tall buildings get boring. Magic does add interest, depth and excitement. It can even turn loose an inventive writer’s imagination, but too much ruins everything.

Portrait of a young lady with bottle in her hand

Portrait of a young lady with bottle in her hand

We use magic with a great deal of respect and restraint. What magic we use is assigned properties, just as though it were a natural phenomenon, grand and limited in the same sorts of ways as the forces of nature. Our malevolent heroine may be able use magic to travel instantly by spell, but she can’t just do it because she wants to or she’ll get into serious trouble. She must first use a scrying ball to see where she wants to go, or she may end up drowned in a cellar which was not supposed to be flooded. The great Crystal Heart may give her fearful powers, but she can neither call them forth nor control them without a great deal of study.

the-magic-hat-vector_MkmX1gPu

Literary tension is what we build and develop throughout a story to add excitement. Interesting characters must struggle in the same sorts of ways that everyone must in order to get where they need to go. Since we can identify with their struggles, they keep our attention. And if they are able to wield magic, there must be some sort of predictable struggle involved, or we have no reason to pay attention. If having the Crystal Heart is like running around with a smoldering stick of dynamite, we understand. It has our attention.

So how much magic in a story excites you? And just what kinds of magic intrigue and fascinate you? Tell us, if you don’t mind. We’d like to know.

magic-sphere-sparkling-in-the-darkness-vector_f1NJklP_ 1SM

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

King James’s Escape

“Fates! What was that?” said James with a moan, as he sat bolt upright. “Oh bell tolls from the Pit! Probably something going off in my stupid, stinking head. Why sit up, anyway? There’s not a thing I can ever see, even when I bump into it.” He reached for the familiar itchy place on his scalp, which had just lately gotten gooey, and found it unexpectedly painful. He lay back with his hand over the spot to keep the filthy straws from poking it. “Mmmm! It throbs just lying down. Why, oh why doesn’t Spitemorta just execute me…?”

“Mercy no, King James! Fates forbid it…!”

“Damn!” cried James with a wail, not knowing in the least whether he was delirious or whether some speaking something had gotten into his cell with him. 

“Sire! Your eyes are mattered shut,” said the young soldier, nodding at another to come forth with a torch, as he knelt to peer into James’s face. “I’m Owain, I was…”

“Yes!” cried James as he accidentally broke into sobs. “You brought me that nice supper, didn’t you! You’re the one, right? You’ve got to be…!”

“I am! I said I’d be back. I’m terrible sorry hit took so long…”

“Yes. I see you do have a light…I mean through my lids…”

“Well we had a delay, ye might say. We found one amongst us who was a stinker, a traitor, if ye know what I mean, a loyalist to the queen. We had to carry on very careful Hit took us a right smart number of days to be safe. Here sire, let me help you up.”

“You’ve come for me then?”

“Why absolutely. I gave ye my word, sire.”

“Certainly…” he said, breaking into sobs all over again. “Oh forgive me! I’m not acting like much of a sovereign…”

“Why, you’ve run clean out of hope, is what. Anybody would, slow as I am, if ye know what I mean, sire.”

“I’m just so very, very grateful.”

“Easy, Your Majesty…Here. Take his other arm, Llewyrch. He’s right wobbledy.

“Well as I was saying, there was one amongst us who was a-spying for Spitemorta. She never did find out that he was, but he was fixing for to wheedle his way into her good graces, the best he could.”

“He’s as big a fool as I was,” said James, trying to steady himself. “Spitemorta has no good graces.”

“You’re no fool sire, but she certainly has no good graces,” said Owain as he and Llewyrch carefully helped James to the door. “Anyway, as I was a-saying, we caught him attempting to take her news of our plans to get you out of this dungeon. Well. We pinned him down last night and the varmint confessed everything. There’s ‘way more to the story than that , but…”

“What will keep him from going to her behind your backs if you already can’t trust him?” said James.

“Oh he won’t have a chance. Ol’ Culwch (that’s his name, by the way) won’t be bothering a soul.”

“You killed him?”

“Nay. Not yet. I guess you don’t have your eyes open yet…”

“I haven’t tried. They’ve felt like they had sand in them and I couldn’t see anything anyway, so…”

“Well, we got Culwch standing right before ye, all blindfolded, gagged and tied up. There are five more of us here to keep him pointed the right way, and we’re going to make him nice and comfortable in your old cell. Won’t take but a minute.”

James heard some scuffling and a muffled yell before the groan of hinges, a heavy bang and the rattle and jingle of hasp, lock and keys behind him. He felt light and giddy, but there was no way he could stay on his feet. As his knees buckled, he felt Owain, Llewyrch and the others grab him up to haul him hurriedly down the corridor, up several flights of gritty stone steps and outside for a good way in the gloriously fresh air of early dawn. A rooster crowed. He could smell unicorn manure and hay. Somebody was cooking breakfast, maybe egg in a hole. He felt like singing. “I’ll thank the Fates for the privilege of being allowed to enjoy this world, every single day,” he thought.

“Oh, that’s right good advice for each and every one of us, Your Majesty,” said Owain with a grunt, right at his ear.

“My word! Have I lost track of when I’m speaking?”

“You’re a-having your first joy in quite a spell, sire. I’d speak out too, and that’s a fact.”  

At last they carefully stepped through a narrow door with him into some other building. They set him down. “Here sire.” said Owain as he carefully took James’s hand and put his fingertips into some warm water. “What do you think of that? If that’s about right, we’ll get those filthy rags off you and Pryderi here will give ye a proper bath. He’s a barber and a healer, and he’s right good.”

“Oh, it’s perfect…”

“Now, there ain’t no women around sire,” said Llewyrch. “Let’s get your shirt.”

Soon James was in bath water up to his chin. “Do you object to Elf medicine, Your Majesty?” said Pryderi as he carefully examined James’s head.

“Not in the least. It was Spitemorta who tried to pin the sukere burning on the Elves, not I.”

“Well I have something that’ll put you right quicker than anything I know of, but it’s the bitterest thing you’ll ever have in your mouth. You need to chew it up real fine and swallow every bit,” said Pryderi as he put a black twist of leaves to James’s lips.

“Mercy! I’ll say!” said James after a couple of thoughtful chews. “It makes my tongue and mouth feel like old dry wood.”

“Oh, it’s just got started, sire. Just keep a-chewing. Try not to bite your tongue. It’s called aquilaria. It’s very difficult to come by. My grandfather found out about it from an Elf called Talamh Coille Graham, right before he was murdered by a witch known to the Elves as Bailitheoir Cailli. Ever hear of her?”

“I’m afraid so. She was Spitemorta’s real mother. I had no idea when I married her.”

“My word!” said Pryderi, falling silent for a time before resuming: “Well, the Elves’s name for aquilaria is sláinte ollmhór. How’s it doing?”

“Makes wormwood seem like something sweet. You’re sure that I’m not turning into some kind of stump?”

“You don’t have to worry about that, but I’m going to have to cut your hair. It’s nothing but a filthy mat of snarls and nits. Now before I do, lay your head back here so that I can put a poultice of aquilaria, eyebright, goldenseal root, rue and fennel on your eyes. When I get your hair cut, I’m going to put burdock root and dandelion root on this awful festered sore on your head. If it doesn’t dry up in a few days, someone will have to put a hot iron to it.”

After a while, James found himself dressed in fresh plain wool and linen clothes, and able to partly open one eye as he sat in a chair, pressing a poultice against his face. “Do I smell food?” he said as he took down the sopping wet muslin and tried to use his eyes.

“The board is set for you in the next room,” said Owain as he peered into his face. “Can you see to get there, or do you need help?”

“Let me try,” he said as he stood and slowly shuffled to the next room, navigating with the flaming red slit of one eye. He paused as Llewyrch drew back his chair. “My! This is wonderful!” He took his place at the head of a sumptuous table of plain fare: roast chickens, cabbage and carrots, buttered squash, hot brown bread and heaping saucers of cottage cheese and honey. A dainty old lady whisked up and poured him a cup o’ tea. “My word! Each of you, please, please have a seat and eat with me. And please don’t be so formal. You will always be my friends.” He spread wide his arms and bowed his head.

Never had a meal tasted so heavenly to James. At last he wiped his mouth and sat back. Just as he picked up his poultice to daub his eyes again, in came the little old lady with a steaming hot apple pie. She set it down before him and cut him a big piece. Suddenly he grabbed her by the waist and gave her a squeeze as tears ran down his cheeks. “My wonderful, wonderful friends!” he said.

“We are right honored to serve you, Your Majesty,” said Owain.

“I am indeed grateful beyond anything I’m capable of putting into words,” said James, “but you all are taking an unbelievable risk. The longer I’m here, the more peril you’ll be in. I should be getting away immediately, but I’ve no idea how that would even be possible with Spitemorta and Demonica and their spies everywhere.”

“This be the perfect time, sire,” said Owain as he shared a look with Pryderi. “They’ve got all their attention on the birth of the new babe… Oh my stars! I apologize, sire! We neglected to tell ye that your queen bore a baby girl.”

“Wasn’t there another child?”

“There certainly was,” said Owain with an anxious glance each way, “but he was stillborn, much as I hate bearing you such news. And worse yet, Spitemorta was so blithering furious over it all that she up and killed the midwife and all the attending help cleaning up the birth.”

By now James had both eyes open.

“They keep saying she used some kind of witch’s power to stop all their hearts,” said Llewyrch. “And lots of folks reckon that she did indeed do it from different things people have seen. Do you suppose she actually did, sire?”

“Oh very possibly. Did you hear me tell Pryderi that she is Bailitheor Cailli’s own daughter? Brutelee and Bee secretly adopted her.”

“Well, we’re right sorry we had to be the ones to tell ye, Your Majesty,” said Owain. “But now, that’s a piece of news about Spitemorta’s dam.”

“I appreciate your courage,” said James.

“Thank you, sire,” said Owain. “Anyway, we figure tonight’s the night to get ye out of here. The servants think Spitemorta will be laid up for at least a week, and not only that, Demonica seems to have quite vanished, and no one has the slightest idea where she’s gone off to.”

“Then tonight’s the night,” said James. “But I’ll say this: you need to keep a right sharp eye out for Demonica every single moment, because she reappears just as suddenly as she vanishes.”

“We’ve heard the like,” said Owain with a solemn nod. “We’ll be as careful as we can be. And if ye don’t mind my saying so sire, nobody’s ever seen you with a beard. Maybe you should keep it for a while.”

“Suits me, my dear fellows,” said James as he stretched wide a bushy red-eyed grin.

 ***

On the eve of Queen Spitemorta’s campaign to take over the world, King James is caught by her and her grandmother Demonica, tortured and imprisoned in the fetid blackness of Castle Goll’s dungeon. He and his rescuers flee into the Gollmore countryside to join the Elves in their flight to the Wilderlands in Chapter 19 of The Burgeoning.

Have you ever experienced sudden hope after all was lost? Please tell us about it.

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps