Monthly Archives: December 2013

An Open Letter To The Lost.

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Read this first:

An Open Letter To The Lost..

The following is not a reply so much as the product of what this article inspired in me. I did not know the man from the story in the article, this isn’t even speculation – it’s just what my brain conjured up when I read about him.

His mind is a blur of senseless images. News. Ads. That girl at Starbucks with the mole on her cheek. Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. The buzz of the radio. Facebook instagram pics. Work car home eat sleep work car home eat sleep. Kids. His wife’s face. My wife – but nothing is mine any more. The automat that has taken over my body has grown huge and hard, far more competent than me at living my life. And I, who have been gladly fleeing all sensation for so long, was woken by the automat a few seconds before my alarm clock one morning and realised I no longer felt anything at all. Ever.

At first, it was a relief. Not feeling. No more panic attacks. No more crying in public. No more exploding in front of the kids.

But there was no more joy, either, so the automat developed automatisms, which is what automats do, after all. A polite smile. An interested tilt of the head. A friendly laugh. A firm handshake. It was easy. It was what I’d been taught since childhood. Good Morning! Great Weather, Huh? I’ll Have It Done By Tomorrow. Thank You, Sir. Honey, This Is Delicious. Wow, Son, That’s Amazing. Double Espresso, Please. Have A Nice Day!

I thought we had a good thing going until my wife confronted us about it. She knew it was all fake. She asked if I was taking drugs. “What happened to you?”, “Where’s the man I married?”

“I feel like you’re not even there any more.”

That’s when I realised I’d been possessed. The automat had taken over my body, and turned off my senses. They were useless to him, so he turned them off. All he needed was sight and sound. He didn’t need emotion, so he’d gotten rid of it all.

“You’re right.”

That was the last thing I ever said to her. Of course, there was the Please Don’t Leave Me, Honey Let’s Talk About This, You’re Making A Big Deal Out Of Nothing, I’ll Get Help, I Swear. And Oprah, and Jeremy Kyle, and our neighbour’s divorce last year.

He went to therapy once. It was terrifying. Terrifying wasn’t a sensation that I’d missed very much, so he didn’t go again. He took the meds, but she found out anyway. She broke up with us. She took the kids.

Teen Mom. He had the kids every other weekend, but he knew they were doing fine without him. It was obvious they weren’t happy to see him. Nerf Gun ads. He bought them expensive presents. The durex ad. Super nanny. I knew I should try harder. I didn’t.

Discovery Channel. That time I found a geko in my grandpa’s garden when I was a kid. The climb has been hard. His body isn’t used to being used like this. The air is not conditioned, and the burning in his legs and chest cuts through the walls. Reflexively, I recoil into my refuge of random images. That guy who wrestled crocodiles or something. The time I went to Australia in college. My first time in a plane. That terrifying, wonderful sensation of flight.

What I’m about to do.

Fear grips me for a split-second, and is gone. That’s interesting. There’s nobody up here. It’s been raining all day, and the falls rush down into endless mist. He almost wishes for the fear to return. He’d welcome it now. Anything but this cold void. Anything at all.

He stands on the bridge for a while. He could just leap over, but maybe if he’s reverent, it’ll all come back to him, to me, and by some miracle we won’t have to jump. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Act happy and you’ll be happy. Utter crap. I’m not even there enough to feel anger. A little disgust. Maybe.

Still, he plays the game a little longer, just in case it works this time. Our brain continues running commercials in the background, quietly. I guess it’s comforting in the sense that I can’t feel fear.

His belly bumps against the barrier. Slim fast. It’s not working. Frustration? His son bawling in a supermarket when he was two. His wife carrying the boy out under her arm. The durex ad again.

Old habits die hard, so he climbs over the barrier slowly, careful not to fall too soon. Death is so frequent, it’s surprising it only ever happens once to each individual. He turns and leans out, his hands gripping the rail, which is wet.

Panic! Then nothing again.

The noise is incredible, by the way. He’s only just noticed it, because the noise in his head is louder. The mist is white and opaque, like our mind.

Deafening noise. White mist. Cold death. Void? It occurs to me with sudden epiphany that this situation is precisely, ironically, perfectly right.

Pleasure.

Let go.

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Fairy Politics – Glimmerlands 1

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Morgana le Fay, sorceress, enchantress, legendary half-sister to King Arthur himself and now (mostly) undisputed queen of the Unseelie court, turned her midnight-blue eyes on the visitor and motioned for her guards to let him go. The guards – a rabbit-eared goblin and a particularly fat bogle – dumped the poor pixie at her feet and stood menacingly over him. The pixie boy, wearing a smart green and gold-lined suit, and evidently unused to such treatment, brushed himself off before facing her, chin raised indignantly.

I bring news from the Seelie court, my Lady” he announced. The bogle kicked him.

My Queen,” it growled. “Or your Majesty, or your Greatness, or your Enchantedness-”

Shut up.” Morgana turned her cold eyes on the overzealous bogle, who seemed to shrivel under her gaze. “Do go on,” she said to the messenger.

“’Tis a secret message, my- your Majesty” said the pixie self-importantly, with a pointed glance at his escort. Morgana sighed, and dismissed the guards. Perhaps Oberon had finally decided to retaliate to her many attempts to have him assassinated. That might be fun.

Well?” she said when they’d gone.

The pixie put a hand inside his jacket, and Morgana tensed in anticipation, but he only took out a roll of leaf parchment. Oblivious to her little sigh of disappointment, he unrolled it with a flourish, and began to read.

From His Majesty Lord Oberon, first of that name, undesputed King of the Fairies, the Seelie court, and all the lands from the Goblin Mounts to the Unknown Coast, and from the Dragonrealm to the Timeless Desert and beyond, blessed ruler of-”

Morgana snatched the parchment out of the pixie’s hands and silenced his squawk of protest with a look before lowering her gaze to read:

We have received reports of Thrumli activity in Seelie territory. As you know, enforcement of the peace treaty between our lands is entirely dependent on your capacity to contain the monster you created, and to keep it away from Our people. Should We continue to receive such reports, the treaty will be presumed null and void, and your laxism shall be taken as a declaration of war.

Morgana stopped reading and clicked her fingers. The parchment went up in a woosh of flames (the pixie squawked in protest; she ignored him), which transformed themselves into a ball of deep blue light. Morgana propped her chin on her hand and poked the ball. Oberon’s face appeared, looking irritated.

What is it?”

So you’re allowed to write to me, but if I so much as touch a plume, it is war between us?” her smile was as beautiful as it was cruel.

The Seelie King’s look would have curdled milk. “I refuse to enter into this debate again. What of that thing you’re supposed to be keeping under lock and key?”

“Locks and keys are human objets,” said Morgana, “as are scrolls and ink. You can never resist the urge to tease me, can you?”

Oberon opened his mouth to reply, then stopped, listening, and reddened. Morgana giggled.

“Is it that stuck-up wife of yours? Tell her I preferred her when she was single.”

“I am not the messenger of either of you!” Oberon growled.

“Titania darling, come talk to me!” she called. “Your husband is so mean to me. Leave him and come to me, sweetling, I’ll be better to you than he ever was!”

She heard the sound of a door shutting, and pouted. “You’ve taken all the fun out of her.”

“What did you call on me for?” Oberon growled. “Was the letter not clear enough?”

“Truly, it was not,” she said. “For as far as I know, my darling lover – or the remains you left me with – have been here with me.”

“‘As far as you know’ is not good enough. This is serious business, Morgana. Your own people will suffer, should you let that thing out.”

Morgana’s smile vanished. “My people suffer anyway because you made him what he is now! Every quarter year I have to sacrifice a child of my own people in order to contain him. Adults won’t do! Criminals bore him! It has to be an innocent!”

You are the one who drove him to madness!”

“Because of your treachery! None of this would have happened had you simply let – us – be!”

The Seelie King’s face was suddenly glamoured to absolute stillness. Finally he said, “Whatever the case, the fact is now that you, and only you, are responsible for containing him.”

“Only I am capable, you mean.”

“If you are no longer capable, then measures will have to be taken.”

Measures?” she asked. “Do you presume to threaten me, Oberon?” Morgana’s smile returned, mirthless. “Not that I’d complain. This peace you insist upon is getting boring.”

Troublesome, is the word I’d use,” he said. “Indeed, perhaps if I eliminated the rabble that you call a court, the Thrumli would be killed too.”

Morgana frowned. “You know that is false.”

“‘Tis but a suggestion.” Oberon gave her that awful, ironic half-smile typical of elves who thought they were being clever. Morgana repressed a grimace.

Movement caught her eye. The pixie was fidgeting. She’d forgotten about him.

Why waste time writing me a letter and sending me one of your pixies?” she asked. “You know he won’t get out of here alive.”

The pixie jumped at the remark. She winked at him.

Killing him would also be a declaration of war,” Oberon said calmly. “You pretend not to mind, but no matter how good your glamour is, our power – true power – is far superior to yours, and you know it.”

And there was the crux, Morgana thought, and she bared her teeth in a wide, predatory grin. She beckoned towards the poor messenger, who approached helplessly, his legs no longer obeying him. “Then why don’t you invade us?” Morgana asked.

Do you want us to?”

“It would be far more interesting than all this reminiscing over our tragic past.”

Then by all means, kill my messenger.”

The messenger in question, now visible to Oberon, had abandoned his veneer of self-importance and was emitting small, panicky squeaks. Morgana ran a long blue talon down his cheek.

Is he so important to you that you would start a war to avenge him? Or so disposable that you tempt me on purpose?”

Oberon’s laugh was devoid of mirth. “He is Seelie. It’s a question of principle. Not that you’d know what that means.”

“Principles are a hypocrite Seelie notion, something I do my best to avoid,” she said. “You can hide behind your principles all you like, your Majesty,” she said, “The real reason why you let us live is that the Unseelie lands are your dumping ground for every outcast and misfit born into your otherwise perfect ranks. There are no bastard Seelie children, are there? No half-breeds, no rebels, nobody to contest your rule.”

And why do you think I send them to you, instead of simply having them killed?”

Morgana had expected Oberon to deny the accusation, and that made her hesitate.

Because you know we’ll do the dirty work for you,” she said at last. Seelie “immigrants” rarely survived for more than a few minutes. There were tribes of goblins that lived close to the Seelie border, living on Seelie outcasts.

Oberon snorted. “’Work’ is a nice way of putting it. ‘Brutal massacre’ would be more accurate.”

Would you prefer that I protect them, maybe bring them all together in one place so that they can rebel against the King that banished them?”

You may do as you like.”

Morgana smiled. “Indeed I may. Now, are we done? All this talk of Seelie outcasts is making me hungry.”

“Just take care of the Thrumli.”

The blue ball disappeared. Oberon had never been one for civilities, which was one of the rare things Morgana liked about him. She turned once more to the Seelie pixie.

Y-y-you heard him, didn’t you?” the pixie stammered. “If you k-kill me, it will be a declaration of war!”

Of course,” Morgana said. She smiled warmly at him and ruffled his hair. “I apologize for my bad use of you. Oberon is such a blockhead, talking to him is impossible without some sort of hostage.”

The pixie giggled nervously.

However,” Morgana continued, “I’m afraid you’ll have to undergo a thoughting. Worry not,” she added, seeing the pixie pale again, “it is a short and painless process, and I assure you that, should your mind be clear of any plot or treason against me, Oberon will have no cause to declare war.”

She clicked her fingers and a small fairy child appeared, dressed in a spidersilk dress so thin as to be almost transparent. Its limbs were shorter and thicker than those of most fairies, its ears smaller and rounder, and its eyes were the deep, dark blue particular to those of newborn humans, before they change. The pixie tried not to stare, though Morgana suspected that he had never encountered this type of fairy before.

Thought him, please,” she said. The child turned its huge eyes on the pixie and he stared back, transfixed. After a while he began to tremble violently, and small gasps escaped him, as the child’s eyes took in all he was.

Done,” said the child eventually. “Nothing to declare.”

Then I trust you know your duty,” Morgana said. The child nodded, and she dismissed it. Morgana turned back to the pixie and beckoned once more.

A-am I not free to g-go, your Majesty?” the pixie asked desperately.

Whoever said anything of freeeing you?” Morgana smiled, and this time her smile held no warmth.

B-b-but – you said -”

What I said was that Oberon would have no reason to declare war, and indeed, he will see you return to his ranks safe and sound before next sunrise.”

The pixie giggled and nodded enthusiastically.

I never said it would be really you.”

Laughing prettily at his the terror on his face, she got up, took him gently by the hand, and led him to a balcony overlooking the Unseelie capital. Sensing her presence, the closest of her subjects stopped what they were doing and looked up, followed by those around them, until the whole city waited to hear what she had to say.

My subjects,” she cried. “Are you loyal to me?”

An enthusiastic cry of assent.

And do I not reward your loyalty duly?”

The shouting shook the walls. Morgana waited until it had faded.

The Seelie King has sent me a present,” she said, pulling the terrified pixie to stand in front of her, putting her hand on his thin shoulders. She could smell his fear. “Isn’t he lovely? Not good enough to forgive all that they have done to us, but we must make do with what we have, must we not?”

The crowd waited. Some nodded, others licked their lips, eyes widening in anticipation.

The Seelie are right about one thing,” she continued. “Sharing doubles pleasure. It is my pleasure to share my gift with you, my people, as a reward for being loyal to me. Do you accept?”

This time the roar did not fade, but amplified and transformed into a wordless, pulsing chant, like an accellerating heartbeat. She bent her head to speak to the pixie.

What is your name?” she whispered, her lips brushing his quivering, pointed ear. The pixie, certain now of his inevitable fate, opened his mouth, but no sound came out. She ran a long blue nail over his adam’s apple. “What was that?”

R-R-Ribbons…”

Morgana smiled, and lightly kissed the pixie’s neck. He groaned, and the smell of fear took on another, sweeter note. The kisses continued around his shoulder, until she found the hole in his jacket between his shoulder blades where his wings sprouted. He was paralysed, exactly like a fly caught in a spider’s web.

How appropriate,” she chuckled.

She bit him, and he moaned again, as dark green blood trickled down his back. She sucked, and bit him again, twice, before straightening with her prize. The fairy’s wings hung limp in her hand, the boy collapsed in her other arm. His eyes were staring at her, glazed with pain, pleasure and confusion, all trace of fear gone. Pity, she thought, as she threw the useless wings over the edge of the balcony.

Her subjects, whose hunger was now tangible, dived at them in a screaming, growling, biting mass of wings, limbs, fur and leaves. She lifted the mutilated pixie so he could see, but his head hung limp on his neck, and she could sense the life leaving him already. Disappointed, she dropped him over too, turning back into her castle as Oberon’s messenger was ripped to pieces.

Several floors below her, in one of the countless tunnels that connected Morgana’s castle to everywhere else in the Glimmerlands, a child changed shape as it ran. Its skin turned green, its grey hair fell out, it grew taller, thinner, and its spidersilk dress turned to gold.

Tamlin’s youth and the courting of Oonagh – Glimmerlands 1

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“Once, back when the courts were united under the One Queen Maebh, she had a son, who was named Oberon. He was to be the Crown Prince, and the future Queen’s consort when the time would come for Maebh to retire the throne. All went well since Oberon fell in love with fair Titania, and Maebh approved, and promised that when the time came she would cede the crown to her.

“One day, however, an old god wandered in from Cat’s Court. He had goats’ feet and horns, and green skin that glowed in the twilight, and his voice was as deep as the forest, but he had been gravely injured by the very humans that had created him, and was dying. Maebh took pity on him and kept him in the forest that so reminded him of his home, and fed him the best cakes and sweets from her own royal kitchens, and Cat’s Court goods too, and she used magical herbs from all the worlds, and gathered healers from every corner of the Glimmerlands, but he did not get better. One day she went to see him, and the god said “Dear Queen, I am dying.”

The Queen wept and wept, and begged him not to leave her. He said, “I used to crave the day I would return to the peace of my earthly womb, but the pain of leaving you is greater than peace. I would do anything to remain by your side forever, but even I have not such power.”

The Queen Maebh then said, “At least give me something to remember you by!” And so the god made love to her, and gave her a child, and then he died.

The child was named Tamlin, and he grew quickly in his mother’s womb, and even quicker out of it. It became evident that the boy was very special indeed; he didn’t seem to be an elf, like his mother, but neither was he a god. Somehow his body had combined the two species, and so we had a prince that was half-god and half-elf.

Maebh doted on the child, and taught him everything she knew and more, and the court found him delightful. He had the best teachers from all over the Glimmerlands, even places outside of our court, and so he grew strong in all the arts.

Only Oberon was jealous of his younger brother, afraid that he would take his place as Crown Prince. Several times he attempted to kill the boy, but each time young Tamlin turned the trick on his older brother, and for him it was so easy that never did he suspect that Oberon wanted him dead. He grew to admire his older brother, and little by little Oberon’s tricks became tests, as he saw how useful it might be to have such a strong and clever servant. Maebh was relieved with her sons’ reconciliation.

All was going well until Tamlin met Oona. He had grown into a tall and handsome prince, and she was a lady of the court. Tamlin began to court Oona, and according to tradition, Oona set him three tasks in order to win her affection. All the court ladies longed for Tamlin’s affection, so they expected the tasks to be easy, but not so proud Oona. The first task she set him was this: “Bring me something that is both present and absent, but not a gift.”

The court wondered at the difficulty of this task; however Tamlin, being the son of a god with incredibly powers, found it easy. He waved a hand in front of her and created a window into Cat’s Court.

“There,” said he, “is what is going on at present in another world that is absent from ours.” And he waved his hand again, and the vision was gone.

Impressed, Oona took a moon to think up the next quest, during which time Tamlin continued to court her. The court was intrigued, because all evidence suggested that they were courting in the way of humans, in an intimate dance without touching one another, the aim of which was to find out which would give in first to the other.

Finally she presented him with his second task: “Bring me something that is both old and new, but not made with hands or magic.”

Tamlin seemed a little troubled over this one, but after three days he brought her a vineplant cutting, and said “This is new, from and very old plant, and it created itself.”

“Ah,” said Oona cunningly, “but the new plant has been cut from the old, and is no longer old.”

Tamlin then went to the oldest member of the court, a hag who didn’t even bother to glamour her wrinkles any more, and asked her for a drop of her blood. The lady cackled and fed the plant from her hand, and then Tamlin brought it back to Oona, and she approved.

“When will you give me the next task?” he asked, already eager.

“Right now,” she said. “But you have as long as you need to accomplish it.” And this was the final quest: “You must find me, and bring me to me.”

The court wondered at the impossibility of this test. She had not said “shadow” or “reflection”, but “me”, which meant that there had to be more than one of her for the task to be accomplished. Everyone then thought that Oona had decided to reject Tamlin, and he went away sadly.

A moon later, he burst into court where she was talking with the other ladies, holding an iron knife, and confronted her with it.

“The only way I can find you is if I lose you,” he said. The rest of the court gasped, someone called the guards, but their magic was no match for his, and they couldn’t get to him. Oberon was arriving, when Oona held up a hand.

“You are right,” she said, “I see you have found the solution to this task. Please see it through. I am counting on you.” And she smiled at him, and he smiled at her, but it was the saddest smile you’ve ever seen, and then he killed her.

Oona’s family wailed in despair and bewilderment, and Oberon chased Tamlin out into the woods surrounding the castle, then lost him. Tamlin was ever good at hiding, and after a while they gave up the search. The entire court was disgusted with him. Only his mother, Queen Maebh, insisted that they trust him, since Oona had let him kill her, and she prevented everyone from chasing him into the woods where he was. As the child of a noble family, Oona’s body was kept in an enchanted glass coffin to keep it from disintegrating, so that her family might visit it until they could let her go.

After that, however, three young girls went missing. The first two were court ladies, and a search was mounted, which eventually found them dead, with swollen bellies. Someone had taken them and put children in them, and then they had died. Some speculated that Tamlin, or even the ghost of his father, was in the forest, kidnapping the girls and raping them until they died.

The third woman, however, was of little consequence. A simple pixie girl, a servant, and only her family worried when she went missing. However, several moons later, she returned in tears. She told them that she had met a horned god in the forest and fallen in love with him, and lived with him until she had a child. But on the third moon after the child’s birth, she had woken up to find her lover and her child gone, and no amount of searching could recover them.

Another search party was mounted, for this story was of some consequence, but neither god nor child could be found. The girl despaired, and eventually died in her misery.

A year and a day later, a man in rags entered the court. His face was covered, but he was tall enough to be at least an elf, and would have attracted the guards had he not been carrying on his shoulders a pixie-child the likes of whom you’d never seen. Despite her young age, her glamour was such that she only had to smile at you and your heart melted like butter in the sun. He carried her very carefully, and requested that she be allowed to see the princess in the coffin. Of course, nobody called Oona that, since she had never become princess, but the child’s smile was such that nobody minded much, and her family let them in.

Then the man put the child down on the floor, and lifted the lid off the coffin in spite of the enchantment keeping it in place, and he put the child’s hand in Oona’s hand, and then the child fell and died instantly, and Oona – who had been killed by iron – rose from the coffin.

The whole family gathered, and when Oona got up and pulled the rags off the man’s head to kiss him, revealing him to be Tamlin, the whole court gathered too. And the hue and cry went up that they should be married, and so they were.”

“And they lived happily ever after?” Stranger said.

“Dear gods, no,” the elf laughed. “But if you will sleep with me tonight and protect me from harm, then I will do the same for you, and tell you the rest tomorrow.”

Stranger – Glimmerlands 1

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The man’s name was Alden, but it had been so long since anyone had called him that that he’d all but forgotten it. Nowadays, most called him Stranger. If a fairy saw through the residual glamour that clung to him like a layer of dust, they might call him “Old Man”, and if they were Unseelie they’d probably call him “Catspawn”, and spit at him. Occasionally one of the younger ones would try to lure him into a bog or some similar prank, but most recognized that if a human had survived this long in the Glimmerlands, he probably wasn’t worth the effort. He wandered from place to place on a winding, circular path, muttering to himself, and some of the smaller sprites called him “Whisperer” as well.

“Don’t stray from the path. Avoid nobles, soldiers, gatherings. Never be in Unseelie land during esbat. Keep your glamour on. Hide your iron. Cut up your food before you eat it. Drink only water that floats wood and sinks stone. Don’t trust anything. Remember Daisy. Find the gate. Don’t stray…”

He’d been walking for several days when fatigue cut through the glamour and forced him to find an inn. Inns in the Glimmerlands were dangerous places at best, designed more as catalysts of natural selection than as places of rest. The Stranger had long since learned to avoid the most inviting ones, which were frequented by a strictly closed crowd of regulars to whom newcomers were a source of entertainment and food (usually in that order). Being human gave him the blessed advantage of being inedible to most sociable fairies, but that wouldn’t stop them torturing and killing him out of spite.

Generally, the less noticeable an inn was, the better. If you could barely look at it without remembering five urgent things you’d forgotten to do, you’d found a winner.

This place wasn’t a winner, but it was run down enough that Stranger thought he might be safe there. Of course, “safety” in the Glimmerlands was a relative concept. Stranger pulled the glamour around him like a cloak. It was a gift from an oddly benevolent Seelie fairy in exchange for some favour he could barely remember any more, and his only real survival tool in this wretched world. He’d had it so long that he was used to the sensation of his limbs and fingers and toes growing longer and taking on extra joints, and his ears pointing out of the hair on either side of his faded red hat, and at the same time he could feel that his body hadn’t changed at all. He knew his hair had brightened to red, and his eyes took on a green tint, and the myriad wrinkles that scored his face when he started to tire smoothed away to nothing. The fact that the glamour took effort worried him.

The innkeep – a brownie, like all Seelie innkeeps – opened at his knock and eyed him suspiciously before letting him in. The hallway was stuffy and cramped and reeked of boiled cabbage. The innkeep held out his hand and Stranger took out a copper coin, which the innkeep bit and pocketed before holding his hand out for another, which Stranger gave to him. When he held out his hand a third time, however, Stranger growled menacingly, and the innkeep growled back, but let him in.

The food was alright: solid enough to cut (runny slop was tricky and most likely to try to eat him back), and he only found three greenberries in it. He threw them into the fire, where they popped merrily. He probably could have eaten them, but didn’t fancy the gut-wrenching agony and terrifying hallucinations they might or might not have produced. He had little trouble persuading the innkeep to give him water instead of nectar or winterwine, which was a nice surprise. To be sure, he took out his little stone and wood chip and checked, but it was fine. There was one other customer, an elf staring morosely into the bottom of his mug. Stranger sensed no threat, which was suspicious in itself.

“Where is everyone?” he growled. The innkeep, whose hand was just visible on the tap above the bar, gurgled a non-committal reply.

“It’s esbat tonight,” said the elf.

Stranger turned to him. “So? This is Seelie land.”

“It’s on the border. There’s been rumours of raids on esbats, though nobody knows how they’re getting through the barrier.”

“Added strength,” said the innkeep, emerging from under the tap. He burbed generously and went on, “Dread our dear King hearing it, but the Unseelie are, as a race, more powerful than us.”

The elf frowned, but didn’t protest.

“Aye,” said Stranger, “but that don’t explain how they manage to get through the barrier. Isn’t it supposed to be guarded?”

“‘Tis,” said the innkeep, “but rumours say there’ve been possessions.”

The elf paled visibly. “I hadn’t heard that.”

“I know you hadn’t, elsewise you wouldn’t be here, would you?” The innkeep chuckled and ducked under the bar again. His hand hesitated between two taps, then pulled both of them.

“Maybe it’s just an incarner,” said the elf, trying to look nonchalant. The glamour turned his cheeks bright red before settling. Stranger hid a smile.

“Incarners have to die and be reborn to incarn, and then their stuck until they die,” said the innkeep knowingly. “Possession is the gift of ghosts.”

The elf abandoned his half-hearted glamour and went back to staring into the bottom of his mug. Stranger ordered another mug of water. He felt the elf watching him as he dropped the wood chip in and watched it float to the top. He was unsurprised when the elf came and sat next to him.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

“Nope.”

A surprised pause. “A service then?”

Stranger liked honesty. “And what would that be?”

The elf leaned in close, shooting a glance at the innkeep, who was under the bar again. Stranger thought he could see his belly swelling over the counter.

“I know what you are,” said the elf. “Your kind is particularly vulnerable here. You’d do better to enter into my protection.”

Stranger chuckled. “Protection from what? An incarner?”

The elf shook his head, and Stranger noticed the beaded braids in his hair, the sign of a teller. He sat back to listen.

“Once upon a time…”

Abandonment – Glimmerlands 1

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Darcy was in the forest, and it was huge and golden with autumn. The gently falling leaves were ruby and amber and citrine in the rays of the fresh morning sun, well-rested and still bright in the aftermath of summer. The trees towered over her, and the bushes too, laden with ripening blackberries, which they stopped to pick every now and then. Darcy’s fingers were blue with the juice, even after she’d wiped them on her dress.

Her brother had her by the hand, leading her back to Mother. She trusted him completely – he knew the forest better than anyone – and she let him guide her while her eyes wandered over the spectacle of the forest, in gaudy costume in time for the equinox. An orchestra of birds serenaded the ballet of thin branches waving in the breeze, the leaves they dropped spinning like dancers on tiptoe.

Her brother’s hand tightened painfully around hers, pulling her out of her reverie. He stopped, and she stopped behind him, waiting.

I can’t come any further,” he said. “You’ll have to go on your own from here.”

Darcy squeezed his hand tight in return, panic rising in her chest. “Why?”

It’s not safe for me.”

Darcy began to cry. She buried her face in his shoulderblades, pushing his back, trying to get him to move forward. When he wouldn’t budge, she pummelled his shoulders, arms and back with her small fists, pulled his thin dark hair, it came out like chick down in her fingers. She even kicked the back of his leg. He simply stood there, taking it, refusing to move forward or even turn and face her.

I’m sorry, Darcy” he said, and the wobble in his voice was a bitter victory. “It’s not that I don’t want to come with you.”

Why?” she sobbed again.

I have to go back.”

I want to go back with you, then!”

You don’t want to see your mother?”

Darcy hesitated, wailed again, wanting both.

Keep going down this path, and you’ll find her” he said, and started to walk away. She grabbed the back of his shirt and clung to it, pulling him to a stop.

Don’t go! Please-”

He turned suddenly and pulled her into a tight hug. He was very thin under the shirt, even she could wrap her small arms all the way around him. She buried her face in his chest and sobbed, and thought she felt him sobbing too, in silence.

After what could have been a minute or an hour, he pushed her away gently, holding her by the shoulders. He cupped her cheek in one hand and wiped her eyes with his thumb. Then he kissed her forehead, and she looked up at him. His eyes were the colour of moss in the sun.

It’ll be alright” he said, “I promise.”

And then she believed him.

She let him turn her around, and when he gave her a little push along the path, she kept walking. She could feel him watching her, making sure she got back alright, but when she reached a bend in the path and turned to look back at him, he was already gone.

Voices – Glimmerlands 1

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It’s your fault.

The thought echoed through Kieran’s head like an accusation in another voice. He jumped.

“What is it?”

Donall was close enough to feel the slightest change in his son’s step.

“Nothing. I nearly tripped on a rock.”

Donall turned his back again, eyes scouring the undergrowth. Kieran followed, nodding when his father glanced back to check he was still there. Kieran had been repressing the urge to grab hold of his father’s hand since they had entered these woods. Ridiculous in a grown man.

It’s your fault.

“Shut up,” he muttered. If Donall heard, he gave no sign of it. For the first time, Kieran was glad of the fifteen yards separating them from the other pairs. It made them feel alone in the forest, but at least nobody could hear him talking to himself.

“It’s loss of his sister that turned him, like his mother”, he heard Mrs. Stephens’ voice this time. “It’s a shame, but he’s not fit for our Martha, that’s certain.”

Martha’s having my baby, you harpy, and I don’t intend to let some imaginary voice take either of them away from me!

What if you kill them too?

Fifteen yards to their left were his friends Jim and Davvie, and beyond them, a constable and Mr. Stephens, the pastor. On the right were Colin Cross the chandler and his son John, and after them… John had seen the whole thing. Why hadn’t he stopped Darcy going into the forest? The strawberries were all at the edge…

It’s not John’s fault. It’s yours.

“Shut up.”

“What?” Donall said, still walking.

“Nothing.”

Donall stopped and looked at him. In the flickering lamp light, his father’s eyes were unreadable.

“She’s not dead,” he said finally. “Your mother would know if she were.”

Kieran felt another stab of guilt. Just that morning he’d as much as told his sister that their mother was going mad. They had been bickering. They did little else lately. He wondered if that was why she’d run off.

She didn’t run off, she was kidnapped, he told himself.

She would never have been kidnapped if you hadn’t asked her to go in your place.

“SHUT UP!”

Silence.

“Everything all right over there?” that was the constable.

“Just me and my son having a bit of a row,” Donall called back. “Sorry.”

There were mutters, and an order to keep moving. Kieran heard the sound of the lamp being hung on a branch, and felt his father’s hands on either side of his face.

“Son, look at me.”

He opened his eyes, but couldn’t look at his father. Not when he’d practically killed her.

“An act is always the fault of the perpetrator,” said Donall in the voice he usually used to give lessons. “It is never the fault of the victim, or of the people who unwittingly brought the victim to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“But…”

“But she might still be alive.” A note of desperation sneaked into his father’s voice. “She has to be. They probably just want a ransom. Ha.” Donall laughed mirthlessly. Kieran could see why. If the kidnapper had known who Darcy was, they’d have taken the daughter of a richer family. He wondered if the Stephens’ would chip in for them, since they were soon to become family too.

“So I need you to concentrate, alright?”

He hated that voice. It was the voice people used to speak to his mother. Kieran used it too, and now Donall was using it on him. He looked at his father.

“I’m fine.”

Donall hugged his son tight, gave him a clap on the back to give him courage, and turned to walk forward again. The rest of the party had moved on, and theirs was a tiny light in the middle of a black wilderness that seemed to close in on them.

They might get you next.

He grit his teeth against the voice, and stepped up next to Donall. His father was right, he had to concentrate. This forest was getting to him. He couldn’t let it, his little sister needed him. If it was his fault she’d been taken, then he would be the one to bring her home.

I bloody hope they do get me next, he thought. I’ll murder the lot of them.

Dangerous Relatives – Glimmerlands 1

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Sorry this is late, it *was* of course supposed to appear before chapter 3. I’m getting the hang of WordPress now, I think.

“Someone has been tampering with it.” Arwyn’s brother frowned, turning the book over and over in his hands. “The glamour I put on it has been replaced by somebody else’s.”

“Whose?” Arwyn sat on her bed, watching him anxiously. Orren closed his eyes and concentrated for a moment.

“Mother’s,” he muttered darkly, handing it back to her.

Arwyn felt the blood drain from her face. “Mother knows?”

“She’s known for a few days now, at least,” he said. “If she hasn’t mentioned it yet, then she must be planning something. I’ll have to take it back, there’s no other way.”

“But-” Arwyn silenced her protest in the face of Orren’s worried gaze.

“I’m sorry, sisterling,” he said. “We cannot know what she’s planning, but I’d wager it’s not good.”

“But why would she hurt us?” Arwyn asked. “You’re her hero and heir, and she dotes on me.”

He arched an eyebrow at her. “Have I taught you nothing? Glamour gives those impressions, but they’re just that – impressions. We can’t know what really goes on in her sly little head.”

Arwyn slumped her shoulders.

“Enough of that,” her brother said sharply. “You, too, must practise glamour, even with me. What if somebody comes in disguised as me?”

“Even I would smell that much glamour,” she retorted.

“Not if the imposter used a spell instead.”

Arwyn’s eyes widened, her chagrin over the book almost forgotten. “I wish you’d teach me to name,” she said.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Why would you need to name?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” she retorted. “You’re always saying the worlds outside are dangerous, and my grasp of glamour is too shaky. Maybe we’re focusing on the wrong magic?”

Orren chuckled. “If you can’t master glamour, there is no way you can grasp naming. Glamour is just illusion magic, it changes what we perceive, but not what is. Spells transform what is into something else, which is dangerous. Besides, it’s banned. If anyone caught you naming, you’d be killed.”

“Smuggling books out of Cat’s Court is banned too, and you did it for my amusement,” she sulked, enjoying the nervous glance her brother threw at the door and windows. “I’ve glamoured the room, silly. They think we’re arguing about what I’m to wear tonight.”

Orren’s mouth twisted. “And what are you wearing tonight?”

Arwyn rolled her eyes. “I don’t know. A dress, I suppose.”

“You know esbats are supposed to be attended skyclad.”

Arwyn shuddered. Tonight’s moondance would only be the second in her lifetime, and she hadn’t particularly liked the first.

“You’ll attract more attention dressed than not,” he warned her. “And you really could use the extra strength. You spend more time sleeping than a hinterbear.”

“So? You never let me out. I’ve nothing else to do.”

“It leaves you vulnerable.” He bent and lifted her chin so she had to look at him. There was worry in his eyes. “I won’t always be there to protect you.”

She scowled and snapped sharp fairy teeth at his hand. “From what?”

He snatched it away, smiling mirthlessly. “From who, would be a better question.”

“From who then?”

“Everyone.”

The Yellow Hummingbird – Glimmerlands 1

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Chapter One

Once upon a time, in a land most of us would call imaginary, there lived a young fairy girl who, if you were loose enough with the term, might qualify as a princess. This fairy princess, then, lived in a land in the Unseelie Court called the Borderlands, because it was close to the Seelie border; in a castle that rose magically out of the ground, and looked, from the outside, like a very tall hill with a jagged summit, as though the inside of it had been scooped out by a giant toddler destroying an anthill. But if you looked closer, and weren’t distracted by the ever-shifting dreamclouds above, you’d see the outline of hundreds of spiderglass windows, some huge under their glamour of blue songrass, others tiny and isolated.

And if by chance you were experienced in fairy matters and immune to the sleep the songrass would put on you, you might see figures moving behind those windows. Huge hulking bogle guards, scrawny goblin messengers, and all manner of noble and not-so-noble creatures, some almost human-looking, apart from the ear-points stylishly separating their hair on each side, and the extra joints on their bare fingers and toes. Others sported tiny horns, antlers, rabbit heads or fox tails or goats’ feet.

Arwyn – for that was the princess’ name – was one of the human-like fairies. Indeed, some whispered that she was too human. Her ear-points were easily covered by her sleek brown hair, which was chestnut coloured, a rare colour for a fairy. The extra joints were there, but her hands and feet were shorter than they should have been, whereas the rest of her was too tall for true elegance.

Which would have been all very well, they said, if only she had the grace to hide her flaws. Or turn them into something else, something more interesting, a glamour – but no, the Lady Arwyn wasn’t interested in glamour. It was scandalous.

What was even more scandalous, or would have been had anyone known about it, was her favourite activity, in which she was indulging now. Curled into a vine chair she had coaxed through the window and soothed into obedience with a few drops of her own blood, what Arwyn was doing danced beyond the realm of scandal and into the dangerous terrain of subversion: she was reading.

Oh, but it was so pleasant to read! To lose herself in story, to send her mind out of her body and into lands and lives even more imaginary than her own! The book was almost as dangerous as the act of reading itself, a relic of a world both reviled and fantasised about, that her brother, after much pleading, had smuggled in. Across the cover of it Grimm’s Fairy Tales was embossed in what was once gold ink, though now rather chipped, and it contained 210 stories. Arwyn had counted them. She was up to Rapunzel, and had just decided it was her favourite so far when she heard a buzzing noise.

At first she thought it was a honeybee, attracted by the moonflowers on the vine. She sat very still as it buzzed closer. Honeybees made the honey some of the smaller forest fairies lived on, and they did so by stealing it from them. The bees, none too bright, had nevertheless developed a hatred of all fairykind, and would sting any fairy they crossed. The stinging killed the bees, but it could also kill a fairy. Arwyn could feel her heart beating in her chest.

But when it circled round her chair and came to land on the open pages of her book, she breathed again. It was the size and colours of a honeybee, but it had the long, thin beak of a hummingbird. Hummingbirds were Seelie birds, and even in the Borderlands they were quite rare.

“Aren’t you supposed to be blue?” she asked it. It looked at her through sage eyes. She wondered how intelligent it was. In the Glimmerlands, intelligence was not based on any particular pattern of brain size or evolution; indeed, these were Cat’s Court notions, quite useless here.

In answer, the hummingbird fluffed her feathers, and yellow and black stripes was momentarily replaced by blue iridescence, only to turn yellow and black again once still. It looked outside, at the huge silver moon.

“It’s a question of light, isn’t it?”

The hummingbird looked at her again. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw approval in its gaze.

“Did you come in for the moonflowers?” she asked. “I’m afraid they’re mostly closed in here. They’ll be open outside, though.”

The hummingbird gazed at her a little longer, then set to preening its feathers with quick, graceful strokes of its long beak. Arwyn watched it for a moment, then went back to reading her story.

The hummingbird hopped in front of her eyes and cheeped. Arwyn nearly cheeped herself, but held it in.

“You are lovely, you know,” she told it instead. The hummingbird preened some more. “Are you not going to let me…”

…read my book weren’t words that it would do well to pronounce aloud, even in the company of a hummingbird. Which reminded her of something…

“Aren’t hummingbirds messengers?”

She could have sworn there was amusement in the look it gave her now.

She frowned. “Well, are you?”

The hummingbird went back to preening its feathers, fluffing them occasionally so that her eye caught the odd flash of blue. She sighed, realising she could no longer concentrate.

“I suppose your message to me is that I should stop.” There was definitely approval there now. The hummingbird buzzed into the air and hovered at eye level. Arwyn closed the book.

“Alright, I’ll play with you. Just give me a moment.”