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

Who is Minuet?

Queen Minuet

Minuet is born to the good wizard Razzmorten and his first wife Blodeuwedd who dies giving birth to her. Blodeuwedd, who was the most beautiful woman Razzmorten had ever seen in all his 329 years before he married her, was known to all as the maiden of flowers.

Millais_John_Everett_A_Souvenir_of_VelasquezRazzmorten is most taken with his new wee Minuet and quickly sees that she could well exceed his own powers someday. He hires a magically endowed woman called Demonica to be her nanny. Demonica is also beautiful and is an engaging companion, so he marries her. Soon she is pregnant. When she bears the child Ugleeuh, she vanishes with the crystal Heart of the Staff from Niarg’s royal treasury, leaving him to care for Minuet and Ugleeuh.

Minuet spends her childhood being a nurturing Good_Sister,_Bad_Sis_Cover_for_Kindleand precociously responsible older sister. For years she is Ugleuh’s staunch defender and champion, but after a time Ugleeuh’s play becomes a string of increasingly reprehensible pranks, forcing Minuet to endlessly undo her mischief. In Good Sister, Bad Sister, Ugleeuh plots to have Hebraun, the prince of Niarg for herself.

The plague comes to Niarg and Razzmorten finds the cure. When Minuet goes to tend plague victims at Fates’ Hospital for the Sick, she is nearly beaten to death by a superstitious crowd. Whilst recuperating, The_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_Kindleshe finds out that Hebraun wants to marry her. Ugleeuh vanishes from sight.

Minuet does indeed marry Hebraun in time for him to become king of Niarg. When their firstborn Rose is three, Ugleeuh appears and tries to murder Minuet and Hebraun.

In The Collector Witch, Rose hears a damning rumor at her sixteenth birthday party that has her running away to far off lands with her younger brother Lukus to find answers. When word reaches Niarg that Ugleeuh is holding them captive, Minuet prepares to Stone_Heart_Cover_for_Kindledeal with Ugleeuh accordingly.

In Stone Heart, word comes to Niarg that Demonica and Queen Spitemorta of Goll are now in possession of the Great Staff and the much more potent Crystal Heart and plan to use them to conquer the entire world. Demonica declares that their first step should be to destroy all Elfkind. Minuet knits, waiting for the Elf Soraya, Lukus’s wife, to give birth. She comforts Hebraun who feels old and tired after finding Niarg’s The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindlegrain ruined by a curse. Fuzz asks for Rose’s hand in marriage. Minuet fits her old wedding gown to Rose and helps her prepare for her wedding. She sees Hebraun off to fight the Golls when they burn Ash Fork to the ground.

In The Burgeoning, she rides forth leading her army, determined to cut out Spitemorta’s black heart and feed it to the hogs. And her tale continues in The The Reaper Witch 01 copyReaper Witch Doom.Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00028]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Who is Queen Spitemorta?

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Queen Spitemorta of Goll is the beautiful raven haired daughter of the witch known as Ugleeuh, the granddaughter of the evil sorceress Demonica and the mother of Abaddon. She is secretly given by Ugleeuh to King Brutelee and Queen Bee of Goll to raise. As soon as she is grown, she poisons Brutlee and Bee, assumes the throne of Goll and marries King James of Loxmere. 

When the news reaches Pennvro on the Dark Continent that Spitemorta is on the throne and has the First Wizard’s Great Staff, in Stone Heart, Demonica kills and replaces Abaddon’s nanny and begins plying Spitemorta with a strategy of world conquest, which requires finding the Crystal Heart of the Staff in order to have the needed power. In time they do find the Heart and set out to conquer Niarg and the rest of the world, thereby fulfilling the first part of the Elven Prophecy.  

 

Discovering that Spitemorta is a dangerous sorceress when she destroys her own nation’s main cash crop and begins addressing her subjects with crystal skinwelerioù to incite them to go to war with their peaceful neighbors, in The Burgeoning, James hides Abaddon from her and tries to flee Castle Goll. She captures and tortures him and throws him into the dungeon.

Years before, when Spitemorta is still a princess in The Collector Witch, it is she whose vicious rumor sends Rose into the perils of the Chokewoods in search of her identity, and she who takes away the Staff from Ugleeuh’s frantic grasp. And in spite of her lifelong reputation for cold bloodedness, she is assumed to be the granddaughter of the benevolent wizard Razzmorten, until far away in the volcanic cauldron of Mount Bed, the great oak tree Longbark touches Abaddon and determines that he is actually the great-grandson of the evil sorcerer Razzorbauch.

The Reaper Witch 01 copyAs her power grows, Spitemorta’s fits of wanton destruction and murder soon have the Jutland Elves calling her Baineor Buile Cailli, The Reaper Witch, as they, James,  Abaddon and the diatrymas flee her for their very lives into the Wilderlands.

 

DoomWith the murder of her husband, King Artamus of Gwael, Queen Spitemorta at last rules the known world. She declares herself Omnipotent Empress and moves into her monstrous new castle in Niarg. And with her tools of power, the Great Staff and Crystal Heart, she believes she is invincible in Doom, the final book in the series.

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Minuet Sends Herio with Bernard

edmund-blair

The castle barn owl flew in like a ghost from under the ridge pole to pause on a truss, staring at the echoing voices below before giving a couple of circular bobs with his head and lunging into a glide to his nest with his mouse.

“I don’t understand, Your Majesty,” said Herio, looking anxiously from Razzmorten and Captain Bernard to Minuet. “I’m sworn to protect you. Why must I evacuate? Haven’t I proven myself?”

“Oh, Herio,” said Minuet, her voice full of admiration as she sat beside him and took up his hand, “a most worthy knight of this house you be, but truth to tell, you’re far more than that. Since you are now my adopted son and a potential heir to the throne, you cannot be risked. Besides, I need you to go with Captain Bernard and help protect our people.”

“But, King Hebraun charged me to protect you, my Queen…uh, Minuet,” he said, casting a hopeful look at Hubba Hubba, who was carefully following everything from Razzmorten’s shoulder, “and since you’re now my mother, hit’s even a family matter.”

Hubba Hubba let go of a black feather with a silky snap as he eyed the owl gliding from timber to timber on his way back out. “Queen’s got the right of it,” he rattled. “We’ve lost track of Lukus. We reckon he’s alive, but we don’t know that for sure, and Rose already says she won’t sit on the throne. You’re ‘way more important than just a knight, now that you’re part of the House of Niarg, Prince Herio. Got ‘o do what she wants this time. Besides, I’d feel better having you with me.”

Herio nodded resolutely at Minuet and squared his shoulders.

“You’ll do right well, Prince of Niarg,” she said with a look of fierce pride. “Go now and keep our people safe.” She gave him a quick hug and then took Razzmorten’s arm as they rose and filed outdoors, with Hubba Hubba, Pebbles and both their broods, each one of them now in crow form, fluttering along overhead.

Gwynt was waiting beside Captain Bernard as the mounted throng surrounding them fell to a hush. Herio found his stirrup, threw his leg over the cantle and as soon as the crows had all found their places, nodded at Bernard. At a grand and silent wave from Bernard, the The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindlemultitude began ambling toward the gate. Herio did not look back, but he could feel Minuet’s eyes on him for a very long time.

Ch. 38, The Burgeoning

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

No Feeble Magic for Hubba Hubba!

امازون دبل يلو

 

Hubba Hubba slowly ran his beak along the length of the back of a chair in the empty parlour and turned square about to run it all the way back. “All right, all right,” he said, pausing to give his feathers a shake before strutting on. “I said I would, I said I would. I did, I did. But now that it comes to it, I don’t know what I think about being a crow again. And what if something goes corvowrong? What if Razzmorten is so weak that he can’t handle the spell and turns me into a roach or a maggot? What if his spell gives out just as I fly in to spy on Spitemorta and Demonica? They’ll kill me, is what. Pull out my feathers and wring my neck.”

Without warning a long blade sliced the air near his head. “Help!” he quacked as he tumbled into a gasping heap of feathers on the floor. “Hey Queen! What is this, a test of my mortality or what? As you can see, I can handle apoplexy but my head would come right off with that thing.”

queen-with-sword

“Hubba Hubba!” she cried, stopping amidst her next swing. “I didn’t see you!”

Hubba Hubba quacked again and backed under the chair.Buddy_3985_Warning

“I’m so sorry! I just had Hebraun’s claymore and…!”

“Minuet, what is all of this?” said Razzmorten, appearing as much without warning as she had.

“Why must these big missions always threaten to take off my head?” said Hubba Hubba, bristling and panting from the shadows.

“I’ll learn this now, Father,” said Minuet. “When Niarg goes to battle, they’ll still have the crown to lead them forth.”

Fotolia_74796694_Subscription_Monthly_M CROPHEAD“No!” said Razzmorten with a look of shock “Niarg needs you here. It can’t afford to lose both Hebraun and you. If Spitemorta…”

“Ha!” barked Minuet bitterly, echoing in the arches of the ceiling. “Spitemorta! Yes! Let her come! When she does, I will cut out her black heart and feed it to the hogs. She took the light of my life and she’ll meet her doom if she dares come at me.”

“I will not cooperate with sweet and sour parrot. Traumatized, yes. Compliant? No. I refuse, I refuse. Queen, you and your awful sister…”

“What?” said Minuet as she stopped short to peer under the chair.

“I’ll have you know that I’m not being dilatory,” said Hubba Hubba with his tail fanned wide as he marched out from under the chair, running his beak along the floor as he came. “I’m right ready to set out on this mission without hesitation. I will not be threatened further…”

“Minuet please,” said Razzmorten. “Hebraun would never have you do such a thing. For the love of the Fates, daughter, it’s the very thing that got him killed.”

“Yes, I know,” she said, turning to face him, “and she did it. And that’s exactly why I have to do this. You love me and don’t want to lose me, so you want to stop me. Please know that I would never cause you grief. I own that I’m being vengeful, but you can rest assured that I’m not being rash. I’m set! You could ease my burden enormously by supporting my decision. If you can’t, I’ll not be resentful, but I’ll not stray from my path.”

“I’m going, I’m going!” said Hubba Hubba, pushing his beak around in circles on the floor. “You don’t have to threaten me…”

“Hubba Hubba,” said Minuet, “What makes you think I’m threatening you?”

“Right. Ugleeuh wasn’t threatening me either. She was merely distraught. And you’re just what, vengeful did you say?”

“Hubba Hubba! Here I’ve gone and had a grand packet of food made up for you…”

“What? With all my favorite treats?”

“Well yes…”

“See? Runs in the family. Put away your blade. I’m ready! I’m ready!”

300px-Amazona_-two_species_-captive_in_Mexico-8a“And what are you doing down there?” said Pebbles as she and the chicks alighted on the back of the chair.

“Here’s Herio,” said Minuet as she scooped up Hubba Hubba and gave him a scratch before letting him step off onto the chair. “Looks like he’s ready.”

“Well, so am I,” said Hubba Hubba with a confused look as Pebbles rattled her2782516016_d92bbc36e2_o beak through his cheek feathers. 

“Ready enough for me to change you into a crow?” said Razzmorten.

Ch. 9, The BurgeoningThe_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindle

 

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Wizard Razzmorten takes Hubba Hubba to See the King and Queen

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Razzmorten cleared his throat. Hubba Hubba straightened up at once, giving himself a feather fluffing shake. “Well Queen, how could you possibly have known it was me?”

“Oh, Hubba Hubba! I’d know you anywhere.”Scan10074

Hubba Hubba drew back his head and thrust it forth in a gawk of bewilderment at Razzmorten. Razmorten gave a wide-eyed shrug. “I hate to dampen this merry reunion, but time may be pressing,” he said. “Hubba Hubba has a message from your sister, regarding Rose and Lukus.”

“Ugleeuh!” cried King Hebraun, springing to his feet. “She hasn’t harmed them, has she?”

“No, no. I wouldn’t think so,” said Razzmorten, handing Ugleeuh’s note to Hebraun. “She has decided to blackmail you. She plans to be set free from the Chokewood Forest. It seems she has Rose and Lukus at her cottage and plans to give their freedom for hers. See for yourself.”

King Hebraun quickly read the missive and handed it to Minuet. “Father!” she choked. “You said Ugleeuh could cause no more harm once she was exiled.”

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“Not outside of her part of the Chokewoods,” said Razzmorten, as he gently picked up her hand. “I can’t imagine that she had any way of abducting them. They had to have gone there on their own, and most likely to answer some of the questions which Rose was asking all around, right prior to their disappearance. No, Ugleeuh has not been any sort of hazard outside her boundaries from the time we sent her there until this very minute, but this extortion of hers is her design to change all that. Meanwhile, the children must be safe. Stop and think. Ugleeuh is evil, but she’s no fool. She’d hardly destroy the one and only chance she’s had to end her exile. She’ll not harm Rose and Lukus as long as there’s any chance she can use them to get free.”

“He’s right,” cawed Hubba Hubba. “In all the years I’ve spent with her, she never suggested harming a feather on my body until I refused to come here. Then she threatened
to cook me. And I have an idea. When I left, Ugleeuh gave me this scrying crystal so I’d
be able to see her and the forest any time I wanted. Here. Try it to check on Rose and
Lukus. I’ll bet that will make you feel better.”

Minuet suddenly looked hopeful but Razzmorten sadly shook his head. “Your offer is grand, Hubba Hubba, but I’m afraid your crystal is useless. She’s managed to divine an astonishing barrier around her part of the forest to prevent being watched by any sort of crystal gazing. I certainly have tried to often enough.”

Hubba Hubba was stunned. “So!” he squawked with a shake of his feathers. “She lied again. She said she’d drop the protections and keep them down until I returned. Fool
that I am, I told her not to because she’d leave herself vulnerable. She told me that her
protections had been in place so long that no one would bother to spy on her. No wonder
she wasn’t worried. She’d no intention of dropping her protections all along.”

“Whoa Hubba Hubba,” said Razzorten, as he shared raised eyebrows with Hebraun and Minuet. “There was talk of dropping her protections?”

Crow-0056-A01“Talk. Yea.”

“Where’s this scrying crystal Ugleeuh gave you?”

“Right here, actually,” he said, looking down at his breast. “The crystal is the brooch fixed on my flight harness. But what difference does that make if it’s useless?”

Razzmorten was already unbuckling the harness, shaking his head to be silent while he slipped it off him. The king and queen anxiously crowded around. Hubba Hubba peered at the stone from Razzmorten’s shoulder, and nearly lost his balance when the old man whooped with glee. “It works! I see the forest. And look at this. There’s Ugleeuh flying above the trees on a broom. That’s a right novel talent. She certainly never did that before her exile. I suppose it’s no surprise that she’d develop her powers to while away the time there.”

“I despise the idea of her having any powers,” said Minuet. “Where do you suppose Rose and Lukus are?”

“I’d bet in her cottage,” said Hubba Hubba. “They haven’t been much for going outdoors, all summer. Mostly they stayed around the house and you know, ate, slept, those kinds o’ things…” He trailed off uncomfortably, seeing everyone looking straight at him. “Well when I was there, they joked around with me and we talked and stuff, don’t you know,” he stammered, glancing from one person to the next as he resumed. “Sometimes they did go outside and take me for my exercise flights. And once Lukus and I even went for a hike. Now that was really fun, except when the log rolled over on me and broke my toe, of course.” He fluffed up and ran his beak along several flight feathers, letting each go with a snap before he continued. “Anyway, try the cottage.”

Razzmorten was scarcely listening as he brought his concentration to bear upon scrying with the crystal. At last, Rose and Lukus appeared, wearing their stripped cloaks, hurrying to keep up with Fuzz.

“Wow!” said Hubba Hubba. “Ugleeuh and Fuzz are definitely not on friendly terms. I can’t imagine her letting them talk to him, let alone run off with him somewhere.”

“Looks like those stripped cloaks are camouflage,” said Razzmorten with a grave nod, “at least I’d say so from the appearance of the surrounding trees. They certainly don’t appear to be out for a hunt, and if they’ve gone to this kind of trouble to hide, they very
likely are attempting to flee, rather than waiting for us to respond to her extortion demands. So this bear ‘Fuzz,’ Ugleeuh doesn’t like him, you say?”

“Not much…”

“Speaks well of him.”

“Oh Hebraun!” said Minuet. “Their faces are so pale and pasty. They don’t look well. What has she done to them?”

“Remember that I can’t scry,” said Hebraun, as he shared a look with Razzmorten, “but it sounds like they’ve been eating your sister’s food. They’ll surely snap out of it as soon as we get them home.”

“And remember that they’re young and strong, Minuet,” said Razzmorten. “Neither one has ever been sick. They’re going to be just fine.”

“But how are we going to get them home, now?” said Minuet. “And what if Ugleeuh catches them? They’ve defied her and escaped. I can’t imagine her fury. No one who thwarts her is ever safe. You can count on her saying that they owe her for having been at her cottage, even though they were her prisoners. She’d make them pay mercilessly for that. But stand in the way of her freedom? I can’t picture her controlling herself.”

Razzmorten sucked in a deep breath between his teeth. “I’m sure Ugleeuh is mortally angry,” he said, “but it still behooves her to handle Rose and Lukus with care. I can’t imagine her forgetting that they are her only chance to leave the forest, short of dying. I’d say that if she does catch them, it’s this Fuzz, whoever he is, who won’t survive her vengeance.”

“You got it.” said Hubba Hubba. “She wants out and Fuzz is a goner. Oh, absolutely.” He hesitated, seeing that he was being taken very seriously by everyone. “She
threatened to slaughter and eat me, just because I told her I wouldn’t deliver her ransom
note. And she claims she loves me. She doesn’t even like Fuzz.”

“Pray that they’re not caught,” said Minuet, looking pale and drawn, as she sat down on her throne. “I grew up struggling with her getting even with everyone under the sun.”

“How do you suppose this Fuzz plans to help Rose and Lukus escape?” said Hebraun.

“Until some clue turns up,” said Razzmorten, rubbing his temples gingerly before gazing The_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_Kindleback into the crystal, “I have utterly no idea at all, except that they most likely are indeed attempting some sort of escape, right now.”

“What happens if Ugleeuh intercepts them, Father?” said Minuet. “What then?”

“Then I shall have to face her myself.” said Razzmorten calmly enough to cause Hubba Hubba to gape in astonishment. “Please don’t be afraid, Minuet. I swear that no harm shall come to my grandchildren. I swear it on my life.”

Ch. 20, The Collector Witch

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Minuet Sends a Surprise to Spitemorta

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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…”

“I vowed not to use my powers as queen, Captain, but their time has come, and I don’t The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindlewant it known, yet. Did you give the order to bivouac?”

“No.”

“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

Abaddon goes into the Mountain

 

 

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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!”

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“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.”Extinct-volcano-crater-Mo-013

“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?”

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“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 BurgeoningThe_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindle

 

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

 

 

 

 

Rose Marries Fuzz

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“How do I look, Mother?” said Rose as she anxiously peered again at her reflection in the great oval mirror.

“Absolutely, stunningly beautiful dear. You couldn’t possibly be more gorgeous,” said Minuet with a smile of wistful joy. “I think it’s almost time. Why don’t I just pop out into the garden and see if they are ready for you yet? And isn’t it wonderful that we had this one warm, sunny day come along so it could actually be out there as you used to wish when you were little.”

144131-fall-colors-wedding-bouquets-3Rose nodded gratefully and heaved a tight-buttoned sigh as Minuet stepped out of sight. “Well yes,” she thought, as the handmaiden came at her train to whisk and fluff and straighten, “except that there are no roses, and that this has grown into a full-blown wedding. The citizens of Niarg had other ideas, but at least they’re not making me marry Pea Slinger Pig Boy. But I do get Fuzz. I just wish this would be over.”

She looked up at the sound of determined footfalls in the corridor. A wail of  bagpipes sounded, three steps before Minuet appeared round the corner. Minuet smiled radiantly and motioned in grand rhythm with the wedding march for her to come. She took a deep trembling breath, stepped through the doorway, took Hebraun’s strong arm and floated down the crunching path to join Fuzz at the great white trellis, laced with naked vines, where he waited with Lukus, Razzmorten, Yann-Ber and Hubba Hubba, who stood at parade attention on Razzmorten’s shoulder with her wedding ring clamped tightly in his beak.

Hebraun carefully parked her beside Soraya, Violet and Pebbles and stepped back with watery eyes. The ceremony swept over her like a dream and before she quite grasped it all, she and Fuzz were man and wife and immersed in a pandemonium of well-wishers. She met the joy and sadness in her mother’s tearful eyes and felt oddly calmed. She turned to her husband and felt herself ignite with a glow of euphoric joy. This is truly what she had always wanted.

(Ch. 42, Stone Heart)Stone_Heart_Cover_for_Kindle

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Herio is Knighted

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Minuet fought back the urge to take Herio into her arms and beg him to change his mind. “You, my valiant guardian, are to come back to me unharmed,” she said fiercely.

“I will, my Queen,” said Herio solemnly as he bowed low.

When he stood, Minuet embraced him and kissed him on both cheeks. “You are a right brave young man, but you sally forth on a knight’s errand,” she said. “Therefore, you must bear with you a knight’s title. Kneel before me, Herio.”

Astonishment flickered in his eyes as he knelt at once.

Minuet drew Hebraun’s sword, raised it before her and kissed the blade. She smiled, eyes brimming with tears as she placed the blade on first one, then the other of his shoulders. “Ymladd yn erbyn drwg…Ymladd dros Niarg…Ymladd dros rhinwedd, marchog,” she proclaimed. “Thou a royal knight of Niarg ybeoth. Ryst up, Sir Herio.”

Herio stood at once. “You have honored me beyond my wildest dreams,” he said, looking at her in wonder. “I will not disappoint you.”

“I know,” she said as she took Razzmorten’s arm. “Now Father, please change Hubba Hubba so that these two brave souls may be on their way.”

“Are you ready, Hubba Hubba?” he said.

“You got it, Wiz,” said the satin crow looking up from amidst the scrambling brood and Pebbles. Suddenly all eyes went wide as Hubba Hubba ran his ebony beak down some flight feathers and gave himself a thorough shake. “Thanks, Wiz. Ready Sir Herio?”

“Not without us!” squeaked Chirp, winging into the room with Tweet and Squeak in a flurry of wings.

“At least for as far as we can make it by this evening,” tweeted Squeak.

“Why that makes my morning!” cawed Hubba Hubba with a shake of his black ruff. “Let’s go, shall we boys?” 

“Just a moment before you leave,” said Razzmorten. “Herio, Hubba Hubba, Chirp, Tweet and Squeak, this is a little something to bear in mind for the sake of everyone while you’re off on this mission: no matter what happens, no matter how tempting, never ever peer into a skinweler.”

Ch. 9, The Burgeoning 

 

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Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps