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This blog was my online wordsmith workshop, where you'll find notes on my writing experiences, excerpts from my fantasy and science fiction novels, and essays of a more homeworld flavor.  Some of the advice therein may still be of interest to new writers so I have left it here but due to technical difficulties, I no longer post here regularly.  You can look me up on Dreamwidth, although I do not post frequently. 

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Spell for the Choosing Part 2
The next time I saw Oochia, much had changed for her and for me. Mrs. Masterson had recovered and as she got better, things went poorly for me. I am certain it was Mr. Bannister who put a notion into Mr. Masterson's ear, visiting as he frequently did, then I no longer taught his children. Mrs. Sampson, who still sometimes had tea with me and let me know when she heard of work that I might do for neighbors, suggested that I seek out Oochia and get a charm to change my luck. Mrs. Sampson was still afraid of Oochia but her magic having worked once, she saw no problem in recommending someone else take the risk. I didn't believe in such things and nothing I'd seen suggested that Oochia could heal such troubles as I was facing.

"You are young and healthy, Aphra, your whole life more in front of you than behind. You'd do well enough as Mrs. Bannister, or even as a favored mistress, sharing his house."

"What of the first Mrs. Bannister?"

"Didn't understand a man's ways, is all. Too sheltered. A man like that, his eyes and his hands stray, and that isn't going to change even if he's married. You accept that going in, don't fuss at him about his nature that isn't going to change, you'll do alright. And even a pittance of an allowance would be more than you made on your best days as a teacher."

Other ears were whispered to and I lost more students. I feared without some source of luck, I would soon be unable even to pay rent. I went to bed fearing that I must go to Mr. Bannister and that, rather than doing anything to help me with rent or my return to England, he would insist on marriage or worse. I would be trapped in Surinam forever, never to see home again, never to feel England's cool breezes on my cheek, as much a prisoner as the slaves and indentured servants. By breakfast I cheered myself up with considering how to afford what I needed and make do without the rest.

Oochia's circumstances, too, had changed, though her circumstances had generally improved, as it seemed to me, since she wore clothes more of the English sort beneath her scarves and shawls, and if possible, even more beads then before, glowing in the sunlight. The one that had been mine was tied over her wide-brimmed straw hat like a thick ribbon, such as the English ladies might wear against the mist and sunshine, and I wondered if it had become a talisman to her. I might not have recognized her but for that.

She had cured many folk of the fever that swept through the colony. Those who had taken her medicine and taken her advice had lived. Many others had not. She was at least a skilled healer, and many believed, as Mrs. Sampson did, that she had other magical powers, too, including the ability to curse those who failed to follow her instructions, and thought to blame her for the results.

I heard many stories about Oochia after I met her, had perhaps heard about her before, though the name had meant nothing but a whisper or a snatch of song before I understood it to be a name. Some said she had come aboard a slave ship, captured as a war trophy by a rival tribe on the Gold Coast, but on the journey had cast a spell on the captain to persuaded him to free her. My friend Anna at the boarding house said Oochia had come not from the Gold Coast but from England.

"Her English is better'n mine," Anna said, "clear and educated. "Unless she learned it by magic. Maybe put a spell on the port authorities when she was brought ashore, convinced them she was an indentured servant rather than a slave."

"Hardly any better than a slave, and she's not a debtor now," I pointed out.

"A little bit of witchcraft and any servant could buy themselves out."

Between the two was not even a sheet of parchment, for a strong slave was considered more valuable than an indebted servant, and neither were free. On the other hand, an indentured servant might more likely find a position off the fields, and sometimes could tell themselves that freedom lay somewhere ahead, even if it was a lie.

"Maybe the witch could help you?"

"People pay her for her help. Should I trade English lessons?"

"Tell her she has your shawl. She obvious likes it, maybe she'd trade. Besides, just because she speaks English doesn't mean she can read or write. You know that."

"Yeah, I know that. But I'm not going to tell her it's my shawl. Besides, if she has any magic at all, she already knows."

Anna offered a sideways little nod, agreeing with the fact if not the argument accompanying it.

Everyone agreed that Oochia was a Coromantee, a warrior spirit, and whether because the slavers couldn't hold onto her or for some other reason, she was free, or enough so to act like she was. They also agreed that Oochia was a witch, as Anna said it, though what my friends said of Oochia was not my understanding of a witch any more than the descriptions of Arthur's noble courtier. They said she charmed the beautiful parrots from the trees, wore a poisonous snake for a bracelet, and a monkey parched on her shoulders, though to that one my fellow border laughed and said it was an invisible monkey. The monkeys I had seen there--and Surinam had many kinds--were either shy as white-footed mice or too restless to ride on a shoulder for long, so it seemed more likely that a monkey might visit like a parakeet to a branch. Even that seemed unlikely with Oochia's ever-moving energy.

In that moment of spotting her on the street, I remembered being encouraged to ask for a talisman from her, and I waved for her attention as she approached, hurrying on some errand. I knew she saw me. Her feet continued to move in rapid order, her heels clicking on the wooden boards, yet her face, for a moment, remained directed toward me, as if it were myself hurrying past her rather than the reverse. In the last moment I saw that, though she gazed at me, I meant nothing to her, just the latest thing to catch her focus, and she had interest neither in talking to me nor chatting even to exchange the most minimal greetings. I was, I knew, beneath even her notice, though we had once shared a back door, and she still wore my shawl.

##


The boarding house where I had my apartment was abuzz with stories such as people will tell each other around the fire in the long evenings of an English winter, but they told them now in day light, and still were afraid, retelling them with little need for embellishment, so like the tales of King Arthur's Merlin were they. By the end of them, I was sure that Oochia was in more difficulties than myself, if also more means to solve them.

Perhaps she was so restless because she had sensed that she was coming into some trouble. Surinam was not a rich or powerful place, and slaves were ever in demand for the sugarcane fields, but some few could afford to buy powerful Coromantee slaves for other tasks and one of these turned angry when her news for their fortune was a dark warning, that he would bring his own downfall. Such men were not accustomed to being thwarted, as I had learned from Mr. Bannister. I had long ago learned that consequences came with choices, and not all of Oochia's customers had understood that the rule applied to Oochia's medicine as well, for those who chose to reject what they themselves had requested. it also applied to her visions of the future. If they asked for her to tell them the truth, it must be for both good and ill with equal voracity, and they might not care for what she told them. No one saw it then, but Surinam was not to stay long in English hands and I think perhaps Oochia knew it even in 1663.

I was skeptical of the tales of magic, of a chase down New London Lane where Oochia had not bothered to touch the ground, of a timely jump just before a carriage came out of a carriage house to put itself between her and her pursuit. The slaves who chased her were so dilligent they might have been her wartime enemies from the Gold Coast, rivals for power in that distant and prosperous land form where she might have come, but all agreed that she had disappeared in a puff of smoke and for a time lost them and disappeared from all sight.

##


I rose early in the morning hoping to ask at the mission about a teaching position and at the church, whether parishioners might know of someone in need of a governess if they didn't need a teacher of reading and writing. I went out through the kitchen hoping that there might be some bread from the day before to toast, and found instead the gardner bringing in the morning pickings. He passed me a fruit before the cook took note of his arrival and I accompanied him outside to eat it. He was ancient and had not had an easy life but he was always full of merry tales and gossip, for the trees were high around the gardens and many came there for a sense of privacy that was all illusion while he bent over his hoe. Some of them included tales of Mr. Bannister, for he, still married to his first meek and abused wife or not yet realizing that he wouldn't find a new upper class spouse, had been free with servants, hired women, and even slaves, fondling them in public with his clammy hands, and offering them small token for what he did with them in the privacy of his carriage or home. He had not touched me even in passing, but he had so often stared at me that I was sure he was putting me in their place in his mind. I was still thinking of the gardner's tales as I went on my errands, and the more so with every poor answer that greeted me.

Baker Street, named for the row of brick ovens on one end--the bricks had been imported from England to ensure that they would withstand the heavy rains--was a delight to the senses. It was a place to walk on ground so packed that even the heavier rains no longer turned it into a river of mud. It was also a gift to the nose for the scent of sweet bread, burnt sugar, and crushed fruit had imbued the place permanently with sweetness, and the sharper scent of rum and cut wood only enriched the brew. Only at the far end from the bakery did the odor of dead fish win out. In England, the slaughterhouse would have been too powerful a stench for the rest to compete, but beef and pork in Surinam was always in barrels of brine from England. The fields here were for sugarcane or grain, not grazing lands, and wild hills were all jungle, no place for anything tame.

For the day's food I bought only a fresh loaf, shaking my head over the cost. My inquiries having failed, I had resigned myself to treat with Mr. Bannister, to see what he would ask in return for aid but was delaying as long as I might, sure that it would be my last taste of freedom and what I had come to see as normal life. But there was no denying that marriage, even to Mr. Bannister, seemed better than accepting indentured servitude with some family that had once paid me a decent wage, and I could no longer afford both bread and board.

Still, it was not as hard a choice as it might have been, and I still had a choice. That was more than was true for some on Baker Street. I stopped beside a beggar--a thin man in too little clothes and a wrapping where a foot should have been--and tore off a piece of the loaf for him and a chunk for me to eat. He said something but I don't know what, as it was in a language I didn't recognize. He had probably come off one of the ships that come up the river from the sea, but I said hello and commented on the weather and we ate our small lunch in an all-too-brief contentment.

As I stepped away to resume my route to the boarding house, I thought I saw a man watching me from across the street, one of the big Coromantee slaves, but perhaps he only wondered why I would talk to someone who couldn't understand my words.

##


Though I only learned of it later, Oochia's day went much like mine, even following some of the same course. She, too, was facing troublesome decisions, knew that someone was seeking revenge against her, and shopped in the alley's behind Baker Street to trade for herbs, and bought a bit of smoked fish and bread for her own lunch. A one-legged beggar was propped up against a wall, twisting and knotting scraps of brightly colored threat from the weaver's shop into cords that might be used for lacing a bodice or a shoe or tying a pouch to a belt depending on the length. There were not many matching threads today as the weavers was only doing some mending, so the cord he was working on had many bright colors and they caught Oochia's eye.

He said something to her in a language she didn't know but with a bright smile in his deeply tanned face. Though she had not offered him anything, he knotted the end of the cord and held it out to her. She traded a little of her fish for the cord and continued on her way, her feet less reluctant than they had been, though she did not look forward to the coming encounter. She was resigned to an argument, and possibly more than that, should her former customer remain in his own dangerous mood.

If anything, his mood was even worse than before at finding himself confronted by a target he had hoped would not survive the past night. "You think you can get away with threatening me with ruin, with being tossed from this place like a trollop?"

"I didn't say-"

"And then dare come to my own place to confront-"

Oochia tossed a pinch of the herbs into the air, called the birds suddenly sitting in the window sill to sing, and took a deep breath. Her customer's words stammered to a halt and a smile spread slowly across his face. One of his servants, still holding tray of tea for his master, stared in fascination at his smiling master.

"Will that last?"

"Not long, unfortunately. I can't change a person's nature, only encourage or discourage someone from acting on it for a time, for his benefit or someone else's."

"Or someone else's harm?" he asked, clearly wondering if his master might take his delayed anger out on his servants.

"Not today. He will most likely forget that he was angry at all, or why," she said. The boy's tone and the question, though, brought to mind a different scenario, a different customer, and Oochia sighed. She could never see the whole of the future, never all the consequences that spread from every choice like a flock of frigate birds disturbed by a tapir or a jaguar.

##


I had gone the long way around from Baker Street, past the fish market on the river shore, and only slowly worked my way back toward the boarding house despite the light misting rain that had picked up meanwhile. The salt breeze off the shore was familiar and much like that of the Dover coast and it seemed to me that I was saying goodbye to England in a way that I had not when I came to Surinam with my father. I was still staring into the water, the shore on the other side lost in the even gray between water and sky though it wasn't far when I heard my name called. I turned, and screamed as I was grabbed roughly by one arm, then by the other.

"Come along, he's waiting for you," one of them growled in my ear.

"What? What?" I pulled my arms free--it was more that they let go for I could not have if they had wanted to continue their hold, they were so strong and burly.

One of them showed me that he had a knife in his hand and with it pointed to the carriage parked a little further down the road, behind where I had been walking.

"He's grown impatient and the preacher is waiting at the house," the one said.

It was the same big black carriage I had seen outside Oochia's hut on Graven street. I was incensed, started to turn away despite the threat of their knives, and was grabbed again and carried to the carriage, then dropped to the ground again in front of the door. Inside, Mr. Bannister put on what he might have thought was a smile though it was more like the curled lips of a cur baring its teeth. He looked me over as he often did, studying me from head to toe as if I were meat at a village market, then his eyes shifted focus to somewhere behind me. I turned and saw Oochia watching from the wooden walkway in front of the great houses.

"He hasn't changed his ways as I told him he must, but you should stay alive. You are worth that much, and England is in your future. The rest doesn't matter." I blinked, and for a moment it was if they two of us were close, standing together under a pale blue awning. A bird was perched on her shoulder. I knew what she meant, that I should forget that Mr. Bannister had had the nerve to try to kidnap me and carry through with my intent, but her words offered another message as well.

"Before, I was worth nothing to you."

"I didn't think I could help, but much has changed." The only thing i knew had changed was that Mr. Bannister had made a poor choice. I almost had.

"I can make it easier," Oochia said.

"Can you make him let me go?"

"I don't know what fate awaits you on such a course," Oochia told me, and I knew she meant that England was only a promise if I went with Mr. Bannister.

"I know," I said. Oochia tossed something into the air and Mr. Bannister and his soldier slaves smiled and I fled inland, past the great houses and into a future that offered many more choices than I knew.

End



Historical Notes: Aphra Behn (1640 - 1689) was the first English professional female literary writer and a prolific dramatist. Her early history is little known, and there is some question of whether she spent time in Surinam in 1663 as she claimed in one of her books. If she did, it may have been with Bartholemew Johnson, a barber, and his family, and one accounts says that she was the daughter of a barber by another name. On return or on her way back to England in 1664, she may have been married to John or Johen Behn, but if so, the marriage was only brief. Her career thereafter was varied and included poet, playright, scribe, spy, novelist and political commentator, changing frequently due to problems of getting paid for her work and maintaining a living.

Mr. Johnson may have been hired as a spy for the royalists, working with Mr. Bannister and Mr. Masters against Lt. Governor Byam but died on the journey. Surinam was traded for the Dutch New Amsterdam colony (later New York city) to the Dutch in 1667. The current "old town areas" of Paramaribo are from the Dutch colony.

For more about Aphra Behn, check out:
Angeline Goreau (1980) Reconstructing Aphra: a social biography of Aphra Behn, Dial Press, New York p 243-248 ISBN 0-8037-7478-8

Aphra Behn on wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphra_Behn
Aphra Beh's works online at Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/b#a2728
BBC Historic Figures http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/behn_aphra.shtml

Todd, Janet. The Secret Life of Aphra Behn. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1997
7 nov 13 @ 6:31 pm

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Apell for the Choosing - Part 1
This is the other story that was not accepted for the anthology. I wrote it in something of a hurry as the deadline was nearing, and I can feel the rush as a reread it. My first edit would be to break up some of the longer sentences to cram less into each one. I'll try to keep it mind that if I want a scene to feel rushed on purpose, that might be the way to do it!

Spell for the Choosing

While I have much to say and share about that place that we call Surinam and the Dutch now call New Guinea, suffice to say that the place is not England, in all the worst and best ways. It is warm the whole year around near the shore. The coast where I spent my time--I was Miss Aphra Johnson in 1663, not yet having met my husband, Mr. John Behn--is damp as any English shore, but the air is clear of London's dark and coal-filled fogs. It rained daily, sometimes the whole day and night until eventually I became so accustomed to damp clothes that I, like my companions, commented how dry and pleasant the weather was when it only rained an hour or so in the afternoon.

Paramaribo is a noteworthy city and they say it holds half the people of that small country, but it is not London, being more like an English village in flavor and equal in danger to any of the American colonies, especially for a young woman left by fate on her own.

It was one of those seasons when the weather was mostly dry and the heat wearying by early morning when I met Oochia. Well, her name isn't quite that, being one of those curious Coromantee names that defy pronunciation on an English tongue, but the people with whom I lived and worked called her that and that is the only name I ever learned for her. I had made my walk from the boarding house on King's Street, where I lived after my father's death, to one of the great houses near the shore. There I taught reading and writing to the children of Mr. James Masterson. It had not yet started to rain, but there was a certain hushed feel as I approached the house as if a storm would crash down on us in the next breath and I was most relieved to reach the safety of the back porch.

Mrs. Sampson the cook bid me take a rest on the back porch while she served us both tea, for the family had a guest and the children would not be ready for their lesson until the guest was gone. I draped my shawl over an empty chair and settled in the shade of a palm tree, listening to the noisy chatter of birds and monkeys.

"The children are upstairs in their room. We can wait here until that woman is gone." That woman. It wasn't quite a curse but it might well have been. Mrs. Sampson, a proper English woman, come to Surinam with the Mastersons much as I and my father had come with Lady Constance, was quite agitated, her eyes weary from the strain of trying to look in too many directions at once, and I realized that she was afraid of the unseen guest.

A burst of sound, Mr Masterson's boots on the stairs, a clatter of lighter footsteps in heels, and the soft thump of some bag, perhaps, bumping against the railing, sounded loud from inside the house, then the porch was suddenly filled, though anyone referred to as a guest should have been taken to the front door. The reason for the behavior was at once obvious. "That woman" was like no one I had ever met before and the image of her is etched on my mind: the blackest woman I had ever met, so that it seemed like I was gazing into the shadows from the open sunshine rather than standing in shade beside her. She was wearing at least three scarves and two shawls, every one of them a different color, and several necklaces of beads that seemed to glow against the dark throat. She moved like a wind squall, not getting ahead of her host but every part of her body and even her loose clothing moving in different directions, alternately muttering to herself in some foreign language and speaking in careful English to Mr. Masterson and the servants that had accompanied them from inside.

"The juice with a pinch of the herbs every hour, a fan whenever she desires it, and fresh water with a song. Shesheena here has a good voice. Send for me instantly if a bird should perch in her window or a Margay cat at the door." She grabbed up my shawl, paused, and studied it a moment. "Can I have this?" she asked Mr. Masterson.

"Yes, anything, take it," he said before I could speak up. It was a broad but very thin shawl, pale blue and very different from anything she wore. With a flick of her wrist she coiled it and wrapped it around her neck, where it looked like a child's toy amidst a bouquet of flowers. Then she was gone, with not even the click of heels on the stairs to say that she had bothered to touch the steps on her way, leaving behind only a cooling breeze that had not been there before.

Everyone stared at the tree where she had disappeared behind a spray of orchids. Then I managed to regain my ability to speak.

"Mr. Masterson, that was my shawl," I said, trying not to sound as if I were complaining. Besides being unsure of his mood after the curious visitor, I could not afford to lose my most steady position. I taught for many children, but most I only taught once a week, all that their parents could afford, and all those combined would not be enough for rent, much less the ticket back to England for which I was trying to save.

"I'm sure it is not your only one," he said. "It is important to keep Oochia happy until Mrs. Masterson is well." He sighed slowly and brushed off his coat though it had neither a dust particle or strand of hair that i could see. "Mr. Bannister would most likely buy you as fancy a scarf as you could wish, and much more."

I held my breath and tried to hide my reaction to the thought of Mr. James Bannister stooping to buy me anything. "Perhaps," I said, only because Mr. Bannister and Mr. Masterson were both royalists, as Lady Constance had been, and my father with them. They might be friends on that account, for Mr. Bannister visited the Mastersons often, though they were otherwise little alike. Mr. Masterson and Lady Constance had hoped that my father, a good barber and well practiced at seeming neutral in the matter of politics, might find himself hired by both sides in the ragged politics of the Surinam colonials, and especially by the allies of Deputy Governor Byam, who by then ran the colony. With my father's death, hope of that particular arrangement had ended.

Mr. Masterson had hired me as a teacher for his own children and been helpful in finding me positions with some of his own friends, but Mr. Bannister, thankfully, was not a father. It was said that, after the death of his first wife, women of his own class had turned away from marrying him, repulsed by his cruelty and offended by his manners, and that he was seeking elsewhere for any woman who would give him a legitimate son. I had no interest in such a marriage and my imagination was still sorting my confused memories of the colorful Oochia. I had no expectation of seeing her again, nor of getting my shawl back.

"I'll fetch the children," one of the servants said, and the porch was quickly emptied of all but myself and the cook.

"Who was that?" I asked in a whisper.

"I don't rightly know what she's called, Aphra, but the slaves say she can cure Mrs. Masterson if we obey her instructions, and curse anyone she chooses."

##


Contrary to my expectations, I soon saw Oochia again. It was in a place more natural for her and less for me. Mrs. Masterson was recovering from her illness slowly, and I was asked to fetch more of the herbs, since the slaves and servants were too afraid to go. The weather was only lightly misting and I didn't mind the walk, so Mrs. Sampson loaned me a shawl and a bag and I followed Mr. Masterson's directions to the little shop at the end of a row of houses several blocks inland on Graven Street. I could follow Front Street along the river shore and look at the beautiful houses there for much of the route, which made the walk more pleasant than it might have been. Graven street was less interesting, being mostly more modest homes and boarding houses much like my own for the first few blocks, then filling more tightly with small shops and houses pushed together into a pile. I knew it must be the right place: a little shop front hardly more than a shack with a long low awning, a crooked roof, and bright banners hanging out in front at every height.

In front of it was parked an English carriage, a pair of matched black horses at the front, so I slowed my pace, not wishing to intrude. My pace and caution brought me past the open window, and hearing Mr. Bannister's voice, I paused to listen.

"Do you see these strands of hair?" Oochia asked. "They are very fine."

"I see them," Bannister said. I peeked in the window and saw that Oochia was holding out her hands to him. His hands fairly twitched to reach out and touch whatever it was he was seeing, though from my position by the window it might have been no more than air. I saw my blue shawl, as I still thought of it then, laying draped over a hook at the back of the parlor, almost bright against the darker furnishings and teak wood of the table and chairs.

"Carefully take one in each hand."

"One in each hand," he repeated. One hand twitched as he took something from her hand, pinching it between two fingers. Then he reached out the other hand and grabbed the air, as it seemed to me, with his whole hand.

"Now hold your hands out to me," she said, "and open them."

"Let go?"

"And let go," she confirmed.

Mr. Bannister turned his hands up and uncurled his fingers as if to let her examine what was in them. It seemed to me that dust drifted in the sunshine around them, though the air was damp as ever. Oochia, looked at his hands and shook her head and much of her body over what she saw there, her loose gown swaying in the opposite direction of her own long shape.

"You still have a chance, but only one" she told him. "You must fight your instinct to hold on. The tighter the grip the less chance you will hold on, until nothing is left."

Writer's challenge? Read a little about an unfamiliar place or time and use the resulting impression in a scene or story.

Quilter's challenge: Read a little about an unfamiliar place or time (fiction or nonfiction) and choose a color scheme or several block patterns that would serve as a reminder of it.
27 oct 13 @ 2:34 pm

Monday, October 14, 2013

Finished posting the story
I finished posting "Fairy Crossing". I'm not usually a short story writer so I would appreciate any tips on what would have made it a better story. I still have one that might be accepted by the anthology for which the two stories were written, but I had very little time to polish it.

Here are the historical notes that I provided with the story:

Historical Notes for "Fairy Crossing"

The late 14th and early 15th C. in England, the middle classes were noticing that the world was both larger than their home town's and small enough to reach in a season. Henry V started his reign in 1413, and the Church was in Schism, with no clear idea of which country hosted the "real" Pope. All of them sanctioned pilgrimage, and that offered many a chance to see the wider world, in a time before the concept of "vacation".
It was also a time of spiritual growth and readjustment before Reformation. With traditional Church leadership in disarray, leadership and action was coming from elsewhere in many forms. The Lollards, including Oldcastle--avoiding imprisonment by Henry V in 1413 and 1414--and "average" folk like Margery Kempe, were seeking the spiritual peace and guidance that rote tradition and sometimes-corrupt church officials didn't satisfy. Many were accused of being heretics and Lollards, who didn't believe in indulgences, relics (the primary focus of pilgrimage), and questioned the need for intercession by saints and priests. Margery was frequently accused of being a Lollard--she was certain that her visions were coming directly from God--but passed many religious exams to prove that she was no heretic and accepted Church teachings, despite that she was illiterate.
Margery was considered by many of her contemporaries to be insane and no more than an annoyance, but many church leaders and spiritual guides, such as the anchoress Julian, accepted her as devout and pious, and persuaded several who at first discounted her as at least potentially having true visions, though they often cautioned on how to watch for false visions that could lead her astray. She heard heavenly music and had visions that offered a more direct path to the promise of heaven than through long suffering in purgatory, a message of hope for her time.
Fairies and elves were widely accepted to be real magical creatures; however, sightings were typically limited to ancient forests, swamps, and other untamed places where magic was considered the only guarantee of survival. The "royal" ones traveled together, sometimes on horses as magical as themselves, ethereal, passing unhindered through underbrush and swamp waters with unexpected speed or appearing and disappearing mysteriously, as if they were merely using the real world as a shortcut, phenomena that the POV character Arorala refers to as "flickering."

Related Reading

Collis, Louise. Memoirs of a Medieval Woman: the Life and Times of Margery Kempe. Harper and Row Publishers, 1964

Lyle, Marjory. Canterbury: 2000 years of History. Tempus, 2002. ISBN 0-7524-1948-x

Writings of Julian of Norwich, ed. Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins. Brepols, 2006

Ben, F.. Women and Mystics: Experience in the Middle Ages. Boydell Press, 1992.


Writer's challenge: Pick up a history book, open it somewhere, and read a few paragraphs. Let it serve as a story prompt.
14 oct 13 @ 6:54 pm

Fairy Crossing Part 4 final
"What's that to you?"

"I've heard enough to think no one would willingly go there," Arorala said.

"Don’t be whistling at the wind, you fool girl, or you’ll curse us to that tower whether we would or no!" Oldcastle said, throwing a pinch of salt over his shoulder.

"Do you think that will flavor the soup? I can't change that any more than I can change whether those that go there ever leave. That much is written in the stars, and a pebble over your shoulder won’t change it.”

“You watch how you speak to your betters, girl!” Oldcastle said, swinging his fist. Arorala flickered back a step and he staggered as he missed her by a foot.

"Come away, La. You've no business talking to them alone," Fenway growled and tugged on her arm.

Have you noticed Rialon complaining? she wanted to ask him, pulling her arm free. She was sure she had figured out where the inn's troubles would come from, and wanted to tell him that, to prove she was no fool, but whatever she said, he would believe the opposite.

"What did you say?" Oldcastle demanded, clutching her other arm.

She ducked her head and pulled away. "Nothing," she said, then remembered Mrs. Kempe's advice that she speak up, but it wasn't Oldcastle that she wanted to speak to.

"Are you going to let her get away with such an attitude, my lord?" Trompar prodded Oldcastle.

Oblivious to what was going on behind him, Fenway shook his head. Over his shoulder he complained, "Stirring up trouble again, are you? My father should marry you off instead of trying to teach you sense, bind your powers and let the knight teach you manners."

Arorala wanted to shout at him, to make him pay attention to the changeling, who was clearly trying to make more mischief in the confined space, but knew he would discount it as petty and didn't want to hear anything she had to say. She backed away from all of them and withdrew toward her quiet corner.

"That's right, Fenway. Let-" Trompar said more loudly and in English, a gleam in his eye.

"Don't!" Arorala breathed, realizing what the changeling was about to do even as Fenway turned, responding to the call of his name.

"Sir John Oldcastle mishandle your pet," Trompar finished with a laugh.

"You said Oldcastle?" Charlie's companion asked, his voice rising as he stood. Beside him, Charlie jumped to his feet.

Arorala flickered, reaching for Trompar, but it was already too late. Oldcastle and his men at arms were standing almost as suddenly as if they had flickered instead of her, and so were the other soldiers. John pulled at his wife's arm to draw her into a corner, and the parson and Carver ducked under the table.

Their host waved his arms in the air. "No, no, no fighting in here!" he called out as the king's soldiers and the Lollards drew their swords. A blade swung close to the inn keeper's belly and he jumped back, stumbling over something, and crashed into the first of the long tables, which tipped off of it's end sawhorse under the weight. The other end of the table cut upward, sending mugs of ale flying and forming a momentary barricade between the two groups. They kicked platters and tossed benches aside, shouted obscenities at each other, and loosed their swords from their scabbards. A candle drowned in the puddle of water, not yet dried where Mrs. Kempe had lain on the floor.

"You're not getting out of here so easily, Sir John. Locked the door on yourselves didn't you?" Charlie said with a grin. "His Majesty will be well pleased with us, bringing in a prize like you, won't he?"

"Who says we're leaving? A few less of your like will serve us well enough."

Blades clanged over the table top ineffectively. Charlie and one of his men worked their way around, swinging their sword wildly above their heads as they kept low, using the table as a shield. In the confined space, it seemed like blades filled the air. Beside Arorala, Rialon and Fenway drew their own swords, hoping to quell the fight before blood was drawn.

"Arorala!" Mr. Kempe called from across the room and suddenly she found herself in front of him, shoved him aside and ducked as a sword swept through the air above their heads. She sent flame to the sword and it sagged like slowly melting wax, in a shape that reminded her of the wave of soup. A candle wobbled on the Oldcastle table as a body jumped against it. The candle toppled onto pooled wax and doused itself, but other falls seemed likely to be less lucky when flame and ancient wood met. Arorala smiled at the thought. Those were all elements of Faerie.

"Shona!" she called. The woman spun at the call of her name. "In your sleeve, throw it in the air!" she said, miming as if she were tossing a coin.

Shona nodded vigorously, pulled loose the cord snugging her sleeve around her wrist, and flung her arm into the air. The blue bead flew out, slowed into a spin, and a wave of water poured from it, growing as it progressed.

"What do you think you're doing?" Fenway demanded, jumping aside.

A great wave of water continued to form in the air, cold as ice and chilling the whole room as if the door had been flung wide open. It widened and continued the bead's arch, sweeping over and around the combatants with a low murmur that reverberated at the base of her ear and swelled into a roar like a winter storm or the crash of old stone flung by a siege engine. Oldcastle's cape was caught by the wave and pulled along by the force of it as it swirled around his shoulders. The pull of the cape spun him around. The swelling wave curled into a powerful white foam, crashing into Oldcastle's men. Swords flew into the air and the wooden beams of the ceiling grabbed them by their tips. The wave curled around the table to slam into Charlie's spokesman. Then Charlie and his other man were struck by the tumbling waters and knocked off their feet as the wave spread outward like an opening fan.

Rialon called the water's name and it slowed, then stopped before it could finish its arc down to the floor and out across the rest of the room. A feather touch from a great roiling curl of foam pushed Margery back onto her bench.

"Lord preserve us!" she called into the sudden silence. "The lord has sent the Blessed Folk as his angels!"

"What do you think you were doing? Didn't you hear that woman's request for prayers against water, for fear of drowning? Were you trying to drown us all? You're as crazy as-" Fenway shouted.

"Don't you say it! Mrs. Kempe was the only one touched by that wave that didn't deserve it and I noticed that she was the only one concerned about water tonight," Arorala shouted back. She knew she should stop there, but once loosed, the rest spilled out. This wave wasn't stopped by Rialon. "I was busy bringing an end to this fight while you were too busy fussing about what I should or shouldn't be doing, that's what I was doing. I could have asked the water to stop as easily as our master. Forgive me if I'm not yet as fast as he!"

"You did well, Lala, and Fenway spoke too harshly," Rialon said with a frown for his son. "Your insight has been right on the matter that brought us here and many others besides. We can speak of controlling your charms another time."

Weaponless, the soldiers slowly climbed to their feet. Under the close supervision of both Ashtolls and with many quick glances toward the fairies, they started uprighting tables and benches. Mrs. Kempe was blinking rapidly, her husband calm as ever at her side, and Timolen had his back to the room, refusing to see anything there.

"You are to blame for this, Trompar," Rialon said. "What were you aiming for?'"

"You know well enough. You've seen it, too, or at least she has," Trompar said, his voice low. His own clothes had been soaked through by some part of the wave and clung to his skin, unwilling to dry.

"I've seen many things, nothing to make me think that redirecting these travelers or getting them killed would serve any purpose."

"This ferry-"

"Or some other ferry years hence," Arorala said in the language of the Faerie. "Pilgrims, soldiers, merchants, this isn't the only boat such a group will share. Mrs. Kempe has more children to go before the worst boat ride she'll risk."

"And Oldcastle? How many more does he have time for?" Trompar asked, this time following Arorala's lead.

Arorala frowned, finding her tongue still hesitating to speak up against someone so much older than herself, now that she had stopped. But Margery Kempe's encouragement to speak up seemed to ring in her ears. She took a deep breath and spoke calmly. "It isn't ours to predict the unseen future from nothing, sir, only to understand what the world chooses to show us of the possibilities. I suggest you play your proper role, changeling, unless you prefer that of a hedgehog."

Trompar made his way over the fireplace, hoping that would induce his clothes to dry.

"That woman is a bit of a hedgehog," Fenway said with a nod toward Mrs. Kempe. He sat on the bench that slid up behind him, offering to be used. "I imagine she was getting on his nerves."

Arorala would have liked to retire for the night though it was still early, but Rialon wanted to stay in the pub long enough to be sure tempers weren't going to flare again and that the king's soldiers didn't resume their perceived duty as soon as their own tempers calmed. After all, the king's word was law and their duty was being challenged by Oldcastle's continued freedom. The truce could not last long, but the fairies were determined that it last until the ferry crossing was done and the inn safely behind them. If Oldcastle had any wisdom in his bones, he would be headed the other way come morning.

"What would the world be like if she never dictated her book?" Arorala asked, wondering if Rialon knew that part of the world's possibilities after the events of the evening.

"She won't get it right. As she says, she is also fallible," Fenway guessed. "She'll leave us out altogether."

"Of course, they always do," Rialon said. "The best servants are those no one notices."

"And easier to simply ignore what we can't understand," John Kempe, though he was far enough away that he shouldn't have been able to hear. He lifted an eyebrow at the fairies, and reached a long arm around his wife's waist.

- End -
14 oct 13 @ 6:45 pm

Fairy Crossing Part 3
The heavy curtain threatened to come off it's line as it was shoved aside, and three more customers came inside, bringing with them a chill damp breeze. The men were all armed with swords, and wore clothes that might once have been fine, the rich blues and red's of their original dyes much faded.

"A silver for the horses and the late arrival. Full night is on and you might want to lock up for the night," the leader of the three called out, and spun a coin in the air toward Mr. Ashtoll. He caught it more like blocking an attack than with joy, though it had to have been the biggest silver he had received in weeks. Unless this one was a regular. Though he wore no clear livery, the inn keeper seemed to recognize the knight from some other light.

"Y-yes, my lord. - Cody, see to the gates," Ashtoll called out through the back room. Unasked, one of the newly arrived men-at-arms squeezed past his knight to free the inner door of the drapery, hooking the bulk of it over an iron bracket set in into the wall. He closed the door and dropped the bar into iron bands on the door and on the far wall with a heavy thud that brought momentary quiet to the room. Arorala shuddered.

"Afraid of a little iron, girl?" Trompar asked with another grin.

"Why did we bring this frightened creature, Father?" Fenway asked.

"Because she has sense enough to know the gates might only lock the trouble in. Sir John Oldcastle is walking trouble these days, waving fire around a hornet's nest, here."

"Will you let them simply lock the door and have done, parson?" Mrs. Kempe demanded. "Will you let them bar the gate to good and ill alike and let the evil spirit enter freely? Where's your blessing for our protection? You know well enough that we are all sinners here, imperfect, too readily tempted by all things lustful and evil, and tempted by the world. We might all be doomed to an endless purgatory if we let anything in!"

"You needn't carry on so. Iron is enough to keep out-"

"Iron, Mr. Ashtoll? You can suggest it when half of these poor sinners think we have the Blessed Court in our midst? I have been chosen then to do it," she said, standing again. "I cross you against night goblins and evil sprites in the name of Jesus Christ, the Virgin, and St. Benedict. Prayer and abstinence tonight would do us well, too, so that we not die by water," Mrs. Kempe added when she was done, again eyeing the parson with a silent suggestion that he perform the next task.

"I don't believe in water sprites, nor magical floods. Perhaps at matins, when the ferryman is here to take us across."

"You speak as if it were the boat of death! I can't believe that you-" her voice went shrill, then suddenly cut off and she fell back and toppled off the bench, twitching and moaning.

Mrs. Ashtoll, who had come from some back room behind the serving counter with a skewered roast, screamed. "The devil and God are wrestling within her, she is so pious and devout!" she shouted. She dropped the meat to the counter, grabbed a mug and pitcher, and came out.

"The Carmelites have said so, Mrs. Ashtoll," John said, cradling his wife's head as she writhed. Mrs. Ashtoll splashed water on Mrs. Kempe's face, then more until Arorala wondered if the woman, to be so afraid of the water, had envisioned this slow drowning on the floor.

Mrs. Kempe recovered in a few minutes, wiped her face with her veils and Mrs. Ashtoll's apron, and adjusted the rolled fabric of her hat. She sat up, wringing the water from its padding with long, bony fingers.

"You are punished for your boldness, madam," Charlie scolded.

"Enough of that. If Julian has blessed her, she has right enough and not for man nor woman to question," Shona Ashtoll said. She reclaimed her apron and returned to her food preparation, then settled to rest on a stool beside the service counter. If rest it could be called. She was quick to dig needle and thread from a pouch and reached for a houpeland from behind the counter. She set to mending. "Will someone sing us a song or tell a tale?" she directed at those who had finished their dinners. Though the fairies had yet to eat, she looked toward them, obviously hoping that they could contribute some unique entertainment. Shona's eyes were full of dreams. She would, Arorala was sure, tell her friends how the fairies had danced on the tables and sung songs merry to hear but impossible to recall.

"We must have courage, accept our past failings but try always to correct them, to face whatever ridicule we must," Mrs. Kempe said. "Our Lord is forgiving of our mortal failings. He will-"

"Must you go on, madam? No one else is praying and preaching every time they open their mouths," Trompar complained.

"To face life is courage enough," Mrs. Ashtoll said, studying her damp hands as she wiped them on her candlelit apron, turned to gold in the glow. Her cap and veil put her face in darkness. "We can take comfort in fulfilling our own duties as wife and mother, and in bringing comfort to the family, Mrs. Kempe. Then you would not stir yourself so. That is our lot and we should be grateful for the Lord's help in doing it well."

"If the father dies, the family suffers. If the mother dies, the family dies, my mother said," Trompar said, fairly gloating. Arorala wanted to hush him, and more than that, so much did his smug tone remind her of Fenway at his worst. Rashford Ashtoll fetched the platters his wife had filled, squeezed himself against the counter to avoid having to step over Margery, still occupying the crimped space between the two long tables. The newcomer, whom Trompar had referred to as Sir Oldcastle, grabbed his elbow.

"That'll be for us then," he growled.

"N-no, sir, for them," Ashtoll said, greatly daring as he juggled the platters and pointed with his chin.

The knight's eyebrows seemed to dance at having someone among the crazy guests put before him. Staring openly at the fairies, Oldcastle let go of Ashtoll, who hastily continued on his way, fairly throwing the platters to the table as he tripped in his haste. Rialon waved at the leaping liquid before it could reach clothes or table. A rich red-brown, with small pieces of onions and beets, the soup paused in arching waves, then curled back into its bowls, leaving behind the tangy perfume of pepper, fennel and sweet marjoram. The rest of the contents bounced as the platters landed. "Excuse me, highnesses, excuse me," Ashtoll said. "Shona, we'll need three more platters," he called over his shoulder. "She'll have it in two shakes of a pig's tail, sirs. Not much for smarts, as you may imagine, but a fine cook, she is, a fine cook."

"And a lusty one, I imagine, to keep you so well content," Oldcastle said, still staring at the fairies. "Send her our way. We'll be wanting plenty after such a day and she can sit on my knee to fill the waiting."

"There's no call for that, sir! She's a good Christian woman and the Lord says-" Mrs. Kempe objected before anyone else could.

"Pah! You're still hysterical. Are you a priest?" Timolen grumbled.

"She'd like to be, I imagine," Fenway muttered. He tore off a chunk of the bread and dipped it in the soppes. Arorala took a quick taste and found that the roasted quail had been stuffed with honey, clove, and apple slices dried with cinnamon and ginger. She licked her lips, savoring the spicy sweetness of it. Fenway's silence was its own complement.

The soldiers at the first long table had been eyeing the rest with lowered brows and deep frowns. They had ceased to focus on the Kempe table after hearing Mrs. Kempe's proof that she wasn't a Lollard, but turned their attention repeatedly toward the newer arrivals. Arorala wondered if they had overheard the name, though it had been pitched for fairy hearing.

No one volunteered to sing. To start off the entertainment, one of Oldcastle's men told a tale of adventuring in the wildwood and fleeing evil pursuit that was too unbelievable to be anything but truth. As the room quieted, Shora made her way over to Arorala and crouched by her side. "I know it's much to ask and I've no money with which to buy it, but perhaps there is some service I could trade. I would very much like a blue bead to ward off evil from my family and the hall."

"Not for you?" Arorala asked.

"What is a woman without a family or home?"

"A woman still, and a brave, strong one to deal with such as these every day," Arorala whispered, with a twitch of one finger toward the occupants, most armed with more than their eating knives.

"It's true, it's hard sometimes to have new people in every day and night, no order or reason to the flow save some action far away. So lovely it would be to visit your peaceful world, where all is beautiful and bright and kingdom boundaries never change." She laid her head on Arorala's lap. Arorala stroked the woman's shoulder.

"Beautiful, yes, and often bright, but do not think to come to our realm for order, lady, nor expect pattern in time or place. We have no boundaries, only change. One day I might be flame, another water or deer, racing across the waves and the sky. Those who visit us might step back a moment later, old, or hundreds of your years later, unaged, their families long gone." Seeing the woman slept, Arorala touched her finger to Shona's apron to collect a drop of water and asked it to form a bead. She breathed on it lightly, shaping it into a teardrop. It sparkled ice blue and was hard enough to slip into Mrs. Ashford's sleeve.

While Arorala felt in that moment as if she were surrounded by a peaceful corner of the lands of Faerie, around her the inn--filled with nothing better to do than pass the time--had taken on the aire and odor of a pub. Someone had delivered plenty of the family's brew. Mrs. Kempe was scowling at the table top, half under her veils at something Timolen or Trompar had said to her, and Mr. Kempe had interposed himself between her and them. The soldiers at the first table were singing something bawdy to themselves with much arm waving and thumping on their table. The Oldcastle group were well along on their dinners and had set up a curious arrangement of bones, mugs, spoons and a couple of bread corners on the table between them. They had their heads together, frowning over their creation as they pointed at elements of it with their knives.

Shifting Mrs. Ashtoll's head carefully to the table, with the matron's own apron as a pillow, Arorala slipped over to where she could see the arrangement better. One of them glanced at her, grunted, and turned back to the discussion, ignoring her as they might a fool or a child. She saw that it was attack plans, something like a siege, though there were too many gaps in the dishes to have successfully blocked the opponent from getting in food or water.

"Is that the new London Tower?" she asked.
14 oct 13 @ 6:37 pm

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