Yann-Ber Meets Rotten Mouth

 

Yann-Ber awoke stiff and cold amongst a forest of rotted barrel staves beside the middenstead of a tavern. He was surprised that he had fallen asleep whiling away the afternoon. Moving around was arduous, so when he had felt that he was where it would be convenient to be after dark, he had sat down to spend his time until nightfall. It was now fully dark and the waning moon gave very little light, but that was to his liking. He struggled painfully to his feet and slowly found his way around to the front of the tavern where he hoped to find leads to the wizard.

He stood in the shadows near enough to the street that he could make out the name, “Black Dragon” on the sign bearing a relief carving of a dragon that hung out over the street in front of the door.In a short time that seemed like a small eternity to him, one of the patrons staggered out into the street. There was no doubt that the man was quite drunk.

“Good sir!” called out Yann-Ber, as he limped out of the shadows. “I was wondering if you could tell me where I might be able find this fellow I’m a-looking for?”

The drunk stopped short and swayed as he squinted into the darkness. “Well, doggone it!” he called out, as he jerked at his own posture. “Who the ding-dong blazes is there? Show yourself and maybe I can.”

“Sir,” said Yann-Ber, coming closer. “There’s a fellow, maybe you could help me find…”

“Well, damn!” declared the drunk in a tone that sounded like recognition. “Damned if you don’t sound like someone who just got off the boat from Head. Now Head! You don’t say. So, you’re from Head?”

“Actually I am. You’re quite observant.” Yann-Ber had started to hide his face with his hood, but now he could see that the fellow was in such a condition that he wouldn’t be having problems with appearances. “My name is John. John James. I’m right sorry to trouble…”

“Hey. Now tell me. Are you from Head?”

“Yes, as I said…”

“Really? You’re from Head? Well damn.”

“Yes, I just…”

“You got a funny name for a Headlander. John?” The drunk was now steadying himself with a fist full of Yann-Ber’s sleeve. “Hunh! John James. Ought to be Padrig or Remont. Hey, how come you ain’t Jakez?”

“Very well, you’re right, I could be called Yann Jakez in Head, but right now I’m searching for a wizard by the name of Razzmorten…”

“Whoa! Now you don’t fool around…Jakez. Now you just go right to the top.”

“Well, I’d certainly like to. I understand Razzmorten lives in Niarg, but I have no idea where. Have you any idea, good sir?”

The drunk grabbed Yann-Berr’s other sleeve as well. “Hain’t nobody here ’bouts who don’t know whoRazzmorten be,” he cackled through rotten teeth with breath that would have scared the old sow.

“Then,” said Yann-Berr, when he dared breathe again, “you know where I might find him?”A_005_34_Tavern

“Ah! Well sir,” said the drunk, reaching under his filthy shirt to scratch his sallow melon of a belly, “been having a hard time thinking straight without a dram or a pint, you know. Scarcely knew which way home was when I came out here…”

“That’s not hard to imagine, Rotten Mouth,” thought Yann-Ber. “So then,” he said, speaking out grandly. “How would a pint inside suit your memory?” He glanced at the door of the Black Dragon and wondered if they could make it in to a dark corner without the clean and proper going crazy at the sight of them. Rotten Mouth was already happily staggering his way back into the tavern.

Rotten Mouth found a table in a far corner at once. Directly an obese tavern maid came old_medieval_wino_metal_star_by_duster132-d4il9yeby, squinting at them as though she’d prefer dealing with the pair of them at the end of a manure fork, but she took their order adroitly and returned right away with two pints of light dry mead. Rotten Mouth seized his and guzzled it half down before wiping his mouth on his sleeve and speaking: “Razzmorten is the king’s father-in-law. He lives in the tallest tower of Castle Niarg.”

Yann-Ber immediately slid his mead across the table to Rotten Mouth and stood up, carefully adjusting his hood before wending his way out. Outside the doorway, the wind had picked up, rocking the tavern’s sign. Dry leaves skittered along the street. He remembered seeing the castle due west in the daylight. He made straight for it in the darkness, determined not to let his tortured legs so much as pause until he got there.

Yann-Ber meets Rotten Mouth in Ch 8 of Stone Heart, third book of The Heart of the Staff.

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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

Spark Finds Fuzz

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Fuzz was exhausted. He had struggled futilely for hours against the sinews the Gobblers had bound him with. His wrists and ankles had been quite raw for a good long while. He was desperately worried for Rose and Lukus, and in spite of his years as a decorated soldier, he was in a losing battle with panic. At last, weariness came on him in such a way that he had no grasp of his passage into a fitful slumber.

He was writhing and rolling about in the throes of a nightmare about the Gobblers returning to enslave him. They wrestled and kicked him and cut him up with jabs from their spear points, loading him into one of their carts. As the terror became unbearable, Fuzz heard someone amongst them call out his name over and over. “How do Gobblers know my name?” he bellowed, rolling face up as he opened his eyes. “I can’t see!”

“That’s because it’s after dark, Fuzz.”

“Who…?”

“I’m Spark, Fuzz. You know, Spark!”

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“Oh! Thanks be! We’re delivered! Could you be so kind as to…?”

“Loosen your bindings? Absolutely. Pardon me, it’s so dark, I’ll have to…” said Spark as he conjured a bright green mage light between the palms of his hands. He set to at once, gnawing and picking at Fuzz’s sinews. “Ah. Got that one. You’ll have to roll over.”

“You know Spark, it’s been so long, I’d nearly forgotten that you could do that sort of thing,” said Fuzz, as he licked at a freed wrist.

“Oh, it languishes. I was born with it, but I’m so feebly endowed, I don’t fool with it for much of anything. Actually I don’t remember having done anything with it in front of youSinornithosaurus_mag before. Say. How’d you end up out here? Gobblers, I’d reckon, but I can’t imagine you allowing yourself to get caught. Can you stand?”

“Whoa!” said Fuzz, pitching forward onto his knees. “Like a round bottomed bucket. I don’t have any feeling in ’em yet, either. Yea, Gobblers! I…”

“‘Scuse Fuzz, there’s a little chocolate creek right here. Let’s get you a drink. So. You were saying about the Gobblers? What were you doing out here?”

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“Taking care of unfinished business in the service of the crown as Captain of the Royal Guard of Niarg, would you believe. And I still don’t have it taken care of.”

“What?”

“I was escorting the very prince and princess of Niarg to the sea to escape Ugleeuh, when we were waylaid by the sticky little curses.”

“And they captured the prince and princess?”

“Almost certainly, but we were separated by my trying to divert them. They got me too quick. Rose and Lukus couldn’t have had enough time to escape.”

“Rose and Lukus. I’ll bet they’re the two Ugleeuh had with her this last spring when the Chocolate Volcano blew. She brought them along when she came up the mountain to insult and threaten me.”

“They’re her niece and nephew, would you believe?”

“No kidding. Why, they’re nice looking kids.”

“Well Queen Minuet, who’s quite lovely, is Ugleeuh’s half sister. And I’ve lost her kids for her, unless I come up with something immediately,” said Fuzz as he rolled off his haunches and picked up an ankle to lick. “And I surely don’t know how I’m going to do that. A thousand to one, they’ve taken them straight to the Gobbler castle, and that place is a fortress, quite a bastion indeed, bristly with little pike men all over, and a moat full of chocodiles. I couldn’t have managed by myself back when I was a man at arms, let alone now that I’m a bear without arms. I’ve nothing with me, not even my miserable little dress dirk which is in a trunk in my den.”

“Gobblers are nasty critters, all right,” said Spark as he carefully enlarged a mage light and set it upon the ground between them to glow like a campfire. “Their young highnesses will never escape without help.”

“So, will you help me rescue them? It’s either the two of us or nobody.”

“I hate Gobblers. They’ve taken over all the very best chocolate licks. I’ve always got bruises all over from their slings and rock candy.”

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“Then let’s get ’em!” said Fuzz with a crackle of unexpected ferocity, as he smacked his paw with his fist. “Let’s fix ’em! Let’s get ’em back for the rock candy and for my awful nap, all tied up. And most of all, help out two splendid young people.”

“She stood up to Ugleeuh for me, the princess. ‘Rose,’ you say she is? Oh, it was nothing really, but right nice of her all the same.”

“Then you certainly wouldn’t stand to have her abused by those sticky varmints.”

“Never!” declared Spark, suddenly straightening upright.

“So what about this magic you never use? What can you do with it in a pinch?”

“I just really don’t much.”

“Yea, but could you get into the castle with it? Shot ‘n’ Stop said you’re good. He said you disguised yourself as a tree, once. You might disguise yourself as a minstrel or a trader of some sort.”

“Well thank you, but you need to keep in mind that my magical ability is quite small, scarcely more than that of a hedge wizard. I could go into the castle under cover of a glamourie, but I’ve not the power to maintain it for long. It would be risky.”

“Can you think of any other way at all?”

“Well no Fuzz, but whatever it is, it’s got to be good enough that I don’t have to maintain it very long at all. I’ll be lucky to manage going straight in and straight out. If I were just a minstrel, I’d have to take forever and seven days to argue my way in and back out.” He paced back and forth for several long moments. “You have an awful lot of confidence in me to think I could actually get away with this.”

“Ugleeuh!” woofed Fuzz. 

Spark looked up with a jerk and rolled away into the brush, as his mage light went out with a pop.

“No, no! Good grief, Spark. I didn’t mean that she’s here. I mean, what about you making yourself look like Ugleeuh? That would cause the Gobblers to let you in and out right smart. Don’t you think?”

Spark eased back to where he’d been sitting and let another large mage light come to life from between his cupped hands.

Fuzz saw that his hands were trembling. “You all right?

“Do you have any idea what Ugleeuh will do to me if she discovers this little ruse?” said Spark, holding his hands still by clamping them between his knees. “I’ll be lucky if she seals me up inside my cave until I rot.”

“Sure thing. And me with you, no doubt. But we can’t just leave Rose and Lukus in the hands of those marshmallow suckers. You know how Gobblers treat captives, Spark.”

“I know you’re absolutely right,” said Spark with a great shudder. “Yeap, yip! Me as Ugleeuh. That’s the best we’re going to get. Just give me a bit to get used to the idea. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of Lizzie? She was one of my clan and had a passion for marshmallows. Greedigut had his fat little slugs capture her and then he killed her slowly by forcing her to slave endlessly on next to no food while they made a routine of beating her senseless. No one should be thrall to a Gobbler,” he said, as his voice went shrill and rasping. 

Fuzz jerked back with a gasp. Before him stood Ugleeuh. “Wow! Mercy! My very word! Excellent, Spark. If I didn’t know it was you, I’d know old Dungbag was standing right where you are. The Gobblers will never know it’s you.”

“I was hoping you’d say that.” he said, and with an odd wavering of the air about him, he resumed his normal visage. “Being Ugleeuh really saps my zip. I’ll have to get as close as I possibly can to the Gobbler castle before casting my illusion. Then, maybe I can keep it up long enough. Besides, that way there’ll be less chance that the real Ugleeuh will soar overhead and see me. Well. I see no reason why I shouldn’t be underway.”

“Good thinking. Hey, thank you. And good luck. I’ll be right here until you’re back.”

“Ta-ta!” said Spark with a flutter of eyelashes, as he flashed Ugleeuh’s Face for his own, before vanishing into the dark in the direction of the Gobbler’s fortified keep.

Ch. 22, The Collector Witch (Click on Title or Image to Download From Amazon)The_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_Kindle

Carol Marrs Phipps and 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

Ugleeuh’s Mad Peppermint World

 Ugleeuh is a beautiful raven haired young woman who is the half sister of Queen Minuet of the kingdom of Niarg. She is raised by the good wizard Razzmorten Dewin, and throughout her life is thought to be his daughter by a brief marriage to the evil sorceress Demonica. In Good Sister, Bad Sister, she falls under the influence of her wicked uncle Razzorbauch, who makes her a partner of sorts in his sukere enterprise.

Razzorbauch appropriates the Forest Primeval, a vast virgin oak wilderness and burns off a substantial part of the middle of it to establish a great plantation in order to produce the seriously addicting sweetener, sukere. He allows the un-burnt forest surrounding his plantation to remain standing, but he magically alters all of the oak (Quercus) trees, turning them into deadly choke oaks (Pseudoquercus horridus R.) to discourage visitors.

 

Ugleeuh becomes hopelessly addicted to sukere, and though she remains an active sukere peddler to promote their enterprise, she tires of Razzorbauch’s overbearing influence and takes to living by herself in a cottage in her own part of the forest. When she tries to poison Queen Minuet and her husband King Hebraun, the crown banishes her to her cottage and has Razzmorten keep her there by putting up magical barriers.

Ugleeuh spends the rest of her life alone, turning into a sallow hag from the ravages of her sukere 

addiction. To keep from going mad from loneliness, she begins magically altering her surroundings at once. She turns all of the choke oaks into peppermint trees (Mentha lignumpiperita R.), with ludicrous red and white barber pole striped trunks. And by the time that Rose and Lukus find her in The Collector Witch, she is more dangerous than ever, living with a bloated crow, too obese to fly and a palsied cow with colored teats which give flavored milk, and she has managed to turn most of the remaining animals of the woods into talking enchantments, all addicted to sukere. 

 Carol Marrs Phipps &Tom Phipps

Ocker the Raven

“Now look!” cried Demonica. “You knocked my flowers into the syrup, fowl!”

“So? Stop waving your swyving arms, then. Besides, I want you to do something for me…”

“What, then?”

“I want you to make hit so that I can travel anywhere I want by spell, instead of just to here and back,” he said as he wiped off his beak and gave himself a thorough shake.

“For what? What’s your news?”

“I already gave hit to you when you said you gave me the powers of a swyving hedge wizard…”

“So you suddenly think I should pay you twice, aye?”

“Listen, queinte!” he squawked, thrusting himself up to bristle like a pine cone. “I’ve learnt from a right true source that magic powers can’t be given. You’re either born with them, or you’re not. And I was, so you knew hit when you tricked me.”

“I’ll pay you well for the name of who told you.”

Ocker is the only raven known who is able to use magic. In Good Sister, Bad Sister, he lives with his wife Urr-Urr at their nest atop the great bluff overlooking the keep of the evil wizard Razzorbauch. Based on the behavioral studies of ravens by ethologist Bernd Heinrich and the folklore of Native Americans and Celts, Ocker is a profane, amoral huckster, who is forever wheedling things he wants from powerful people in exchange for tidbits of choice information. He does routine business with Demonica the sorceress as well as Razzorbauch, but he also has occasional dealings with Meri Greenwood the Fairy and the Jutland Elves. When Ocker sells the whereabouts of Greenwood’s lover to Razzorbauch as well as to Greenwood, the lover and her sisters are doomed to live in Mount Bed forever. Even so, it is Ocker who ends up saving the day.

We seldom use profanities in our writing, but Ocker is a most profane character, so we have him swearing exclusively with obsolete English words. The above passage is as foul and graphic as any swearing you’ll ever hear on the street.

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps  

Spark the Dragon Loses His Feathers

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A shadow passed over them. Ugleeuh looked up with a start to see a deep green dragon with a turquoise crest, the size of a cow, gliding majestically for a row of openings into lava tubes running up the nearby dome. “It’s a bird with teeth!” she cried, springing to her feet to shade her eyes. “And I swear I saw claws in its wings…”

“You did, dear,” said Demonica. “And I trust you realize that this is one of the very dragons that we came for…”

“I knew what it was.”

Demonica was not listening. “Here comes another,” she said, touching Razzorbauch’s arm.

“Good,” he said, “I knew that this was the place, but until the first one swooped in, I hadn’t quite spotted their caves. I was a bit further down, the time before. I spent all day,
and I allowed that there was above two hundred dragon a-coming and going. That ought
to suit my needs…”

“Yes,” said Demonica. “They should suit us quite nicely.”

“What if it saw us?” said Ugleeuh.

“I doubt if it did,” said Demonica. “Had it seen us, it would be trying to set us alight, this minute. The pines hid us. That’s why I changed into this terrible green kirtle before we left Head.”

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“I’ve not seen a one, yet,” said Demonica to Razzorbauch as she gave an impatient head to toe glance at Ugleeuh.

“You will,” he said.

At that very moment, an echoing bellow from the caves got their attention in time for them to see a dozen dragons charging out abreast into the open air, blinded by the stinging fiery nightshade fumes, snorting and gasping, flapping their wings and stumbling
about.

“Keep them blind!” shouted Razzorbauch as he ran toward the dragons with his staff leveled. “Don’t let them spit flames! Freeze any that try to fly!”

Demonica set to work at once, hurling crackling lavender bolts from her staff into the faces of beast after beast as they thundered from the caves, while Razzorbauch sent out a pounding hail of flashes from his, causing the plumage to fall free from the dragons’ wings and bodies in cascading bundles and wads, as the terrified animals flapped
themselves to nakedness, and the air filled with the stench of singeing feathers. More and
more came in a frantic rush for fresh air only to be undressed in their bewildered frenzy,
until at last the wash in front of the caves was filled with a milling herd of better than two
hundred naked dragons, fenced in by a corralling spell cast by Demonica.

Razzorbauch climbed a large red rock to stand above their heads. “Peoc’h!” he roared, addressing them in Headlandish. “Silence!”

At once, the only sounds to be heard were the rattling of cottonwood leaves and the nearby calls of laughing quail. As he stood there counting them, a young male who happened to be outside of Demonica’s spell, was carefully inching away. Suddenly he
broke into a run for the caves. Razzorbauch jerked his staff aloft at the sight of him,
shooting him with a brilliant beam of ruby light from the Heart in its end, blowing him
apart with a thundering concussion which left a hole in the ground big enough to bury
several dragons, as a peppering of dirt and flecks of flesh rained down through the leaves
of the cottonwoods.

“N’eus ket tu da,” said Razzorbauch, speaking out over the hushed herd. “There’s no way to. There’s no way anyone else could possibly break away and run. But you see what would happen if he could. From this moment on, for as long as you live, you are each my chattel. Now. I’m going to walk to the sea and you’re going to follow me. It will be a few days to get there and a few more to wait for ships which will take you to my plantation.” He paused to look over their numbers for a moment before clambering down from his rock. “Poent eo mont kuit!” he cried with a wave of his staff. “It’s time to leave!” And with that, he began walking.

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The dragon multitude formed a lumbering queue as they followed, utterly beaten, as Demonica set out in their wake with her staff. Ugleeuh picked up one of the great green feathers littering the ground, every bit as long as she was tall and was astonished at how very light it was. “My!” she said. “These are light as a feather.”

“One does expect that with feathers, dear,” said Demonica.

Ugleeuh thought it would make quite a souvenir, but tossed it aside at the thought of the long walk ahead. “So,” she said, catching up. “‘Mammvro.’ Wouldn’t that be Headlandish for ‘Motherland?'”

“It is. It’s the dragon word for it, really. I call it that because of the dragons. The rest of the continent calls these the Red Lands or the Red Desert…”

“Dragon word? They can talk?”Good_Sister,_Bad_Sis_Cover_for_Kindle

Good Sister, Bad Sister, Ch. 11

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Carol Marrs Phipps and 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

Spitemorta Nurses a Hangover

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The thicket of roses in the pasture that once crowned the gentle hill overlooking all of the town of Niarg was enclosed for the first time by the circular stockade of the old wooden Castell Niarg. In time, it became the rose garden in the back ward of the great stone castle which followed, where Prince Hebraun courted Minuet under a late summer moon and where Princess Rose played with her kitten in the warm June sun.

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Spitemorta cleared away all of that for her amphitheatre which faced across its broad and barren arena to the great stage for her public presentations which made up a corner of the back ward of her massive black castle. Here was the focus of her week long celebration. She raised her chalice to the drunken crowd as she sat back on her throne to watch her soldiers set alight the final wicker man, packed squirming tight with the very last survivors of Bernard’s Bane at Jut Ford. Pissant scurried over with his jug to top up her vessel. As screams and yodeling wails of agony burst out from the flames, she shot to her feet with cheer after cheer of triumph for the roaring multitude. As glowing cinders began to tumble, orderlies scurried into the arena and onto the streets surrounding the castle to set up trestles and boards for the feasting that was to last all night.

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When daylight came, Spitemorta banged into the doorpost on her way into the bedroom of her bower and bounced when she found that the seat of the stool before her dressing table was a bit lower than it should have been. She ballooned her cheeks with a huff as she found her face in the looking-glass. She picked up a brush. “My,” she said as she tugged at her whirling head with her brush strokes. “I’m not up for much of that…” She looked up to see Demonica standing behind her in the mirror and tossed down her brush with a clatter. “And none of you, Grandmother. I’m going to bed right now.”

“Well,” said Demonica. “Fine celebration, I thought. Just wanted to tell you. And dear, you really want to see to your trolls, don’t you think?”

“Did you see how the Niarg townies joined in? They were having such a good time, I know I’ve got them. I’ve really got them. Lots of them even danced and cheered when Minuet’s soldiers were burning…”

imagesdemonica“At least when the cider and sukee are flowing. We brought in three shiploads of sukee from Gwael for this. Stout stuff. You do need to keep that in mind. Some of them can actually count their own fingers when they’re sober. And your trolls, dear…”

“Fine, Grandmother. After I’ve slept, come back and we shall both go.”

“I’ll do that dear. Just don’t delay our departure with your handsome general. It would be best to appear just when they’re waking for the night, before they’re already doing other things, don’t you know. And it doesn’t hurt for us to still have enough light to see by.”

“And just how would I let him delay us?”

“Well,” she said, as she sat on the bed and gave the coverlet a knowing pat. “You did have a rather more, shall we say, sustained and amorous meeting during the celebration than typical…”

“No, damn it! There was nothing amorous about it…”images (3)x

“Well I certainly find that easy to agree with, having been there, but does the general?”

“That’s his problem, not mine.”

“If you say so dear. Well then. To bed with you and I’ll see you before sunset.”

***

The evening sun was just lighting the far wall of Spitemorta’s chamber when she was awakened by voices below her window. “Damn you!” she cried, explosively ripping aside her covers. She grabbed up the full water pitcher from her night stand and heaved it out the window to land with a distant pop six storeys down. The talking stopped short. No one was there when she propped her arms on the sill and peered out. The bell in Argentowre rang. When she couldn’t sort out whether it was four or five o’clock, she covered her ears and turned away from the window.

“Oh!” she cried when the stool at her dressing table turned out to be just as unexpectedly low as before. With a squeal, she threw her brush across the room to smack the back of a chair and spin away somewhere on the floor. She labored to her feet and went hunting for it. When stooping to look under a wardrobe sent pains through her head, she went back to her table without the brush and peered into the mirror with the slits of her swollen eyes to find her hair hopelessly matted on one side, “As if I’d spent the month sleeping alongside a dead mouse.” And with that, she cast a glamourie on herself to look radiantly rested and groomed. After a spell of jerking dresses from side to side in one wardrobe after another, she gave up and cast another glamourie to make the kirtle she was wearing appear as though she had not slept all day in it. “And where’s my duck?” she shouted.

“And here you led me to believe that there was not one thing amorous going on between the two of you,” said Demonica with a gasp of surprise as she appeared.

“Damn you! Not him. My breakfast!”

“Now did you indeed tell anyone before you went to bed?”

“What are you doing with that childish halo and wings, Grandmother? You’ve been telling me all these years that no one but me sees you.”

“Who knows? Veyfnaryr has enough power that he just might.”

“Do you seriously believe he’s more powerful than Razzmorten?”

“Believe? Dear, he was every bit as powerful as Razzmorten the moment I put him in the arms of Fnayooph, the bathless fmoo who raised him. If you didn’t have the Heart and the Staff, he’d make a grease spot of you if you vexed him enough.”

“Ha!” said Spitemorta, feeling for her stool before sitting, this time. “Good medicine for the Beaks. And those four Elves. He could make grease spots out of them, too. Pooh on breakfast, Grandmother. Let’s go.”

“Good for you, dear…” said Demonica, looking up suddenly at the knock on the door of the parlour of the bower.

Spitemorta tramped to the door. “What!” she shouted as she grabbed the latch. She threw it open to find Coel. “Familiar enough all at once to wave aside proper deferential announcements by the help, are we?”

“Because of our indiscretion?” said Coel calmly, as he stepped in without the slightest bob of a bow.

“Ah!” said Demonica. “Here’s your duck after all…”

“Shut up!”

“You don’t like it referred to that way?” said Coel.

“You ought to be able recognize Grandmother by now…”

“I don’t see a soul.”

“And you bet it was indiscrete! You ought to be in the dungeon.”

“Because you invited me…?”

“I did not!”

“Well, sukee’s like that,” he said, drawing in a breath. “And had I not had some of it myself, I’d have easily deflected your tugging at me.”

Spitemorta sucked in a furious breath.

“And I reckon it’s having to recover from it that has me doing the knocking on your door instead of your service, in order to speed the delivery of the tidings you  demanded I convey immediately…”

 

Ch. 7, Doom, book six of Heart of the Staff: The Complete Series

Doom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

Heart of the Staff Complete Series Box (1)

 

Who are the Beaks?

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 Witchbook 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.

 

Are there fearsome blue meanies that you know about? Please let us know.

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps