Monday, 16 June 2014

Forever Fog

The world was not always as it is now. It's much older, and more mysterious, than many imagine. What is common now, was once impossible, and visa-versa. Back in an age where knowledge and magic were closely entwined: a story unfolded.

Life in this era was perilous, filled with excitement and danger. The most adventurous of men turned to the sea for their fortune. Aboard flimsy boats, these foolhardy folks, sailed into the unknown, laden with goods to trade on far flung shores.

Prince Linus of Greece, was just such a man. The youngest son of a Greek King, Linus was never destined to rest upon the throne. Six older brothers waited in line for that honour, and Linus hadn't been blessed with the gift of patience. Deciding to carve out his own fortune, he purchased a battered sailing dow from an aging Mediterranean pirate, and rigged it with a second mast. Using every coin in his purse, he loaded the ship with herbs, spices, and fine cloth, then set sail west.

Along the journey he made many stops, selling his wears and purchasing exotic goods in their stead. On and on he sailed, until he came to the narrow straight that marked the end of the known world. Linus urged his nervous crew to keep a steady tack. His men believed if they passed this point, they would vanish forever, but Linus didn't put stock in such fairy tales. He kept his sails unfurled, and raced on.

His men pleaded with him to change his course but he was not for turning. He sent them below deck to secure the cargo, taking the teller himself. With a deft touch, he slipped the boat between the massive headlands, and they didn’t fall off the edge of the world. He let out a whoop of delight, drawing the crew back on deck. They celebrated with gusto, emptying a dozen pitchers of wine, while the little ship sailed into the vast open ocean.

As the hours passed, the waves grew as high as hills and the water darkened to black, but onward they sailed. Three days and three nights they travelled, with no sign of land. The longer they were alone, the more nervous the crew got, and Linus was starting to believe they had reason. At the end of a week, with only a few skins of water left, the Prince commanded a change of course. The men fell on the sails with abandon, delighted to be heading back toward safety. As if sensing his move, the Gods decided to show their might. The sky darkened and the sun vanished. The wind began to howl and waves crashed over the bow. As night fell, the hills of water had become mountains; none believed they would see the morning. All night they battled the elements, and when dawn turned the horizon pink, they were still floating, just.

They bobbed in the dropping swell and Linus took stock of the damage. The masts were cracked, the sails were tattered and water flooded into the hull as quickly as they could bail it out. The storm might have passed but they were far from safe. Two more days they battled to keep the ship above the waves, a battle they were slowly losing. When hope was all but gone, a man cried out, “Land!” It was a miracle.

As they got closer, they were faced with a fortress of cliffs, making landing impossible. The cliffs were crowned with lush green forrest, very different to the sandy shores of home. Wherever this was, it wasn’t Greece. Linus spotted a break in the cliffs just as the sun was leaving the sky. He turned his limping vessel into the darkening channel, and hoped for the best. It would be a tragedy to come this far and sink within touching distance of salvation. By the light of the moon, they dropped anchor in sheltered water and for the first time in days, the weary Prince lay his head down to sleep.


When the sun rose over the Irish village of Beanntrai, smoke was already rising from morning cooking fires, but all was not as it should be. A strange sight greeted the early risers. A new island, with two spindly trees, had appeared in the middle of the bay. A boy was sent to wake the Druid so he may assess this bewildering occurrence. He raced up the hill and hammered on the Druid's door.

The Druid was the second most powerful man in the tribe, only surpassed by the Warlord himself. He knew the healing plants, and the ones that could kill, magic lived in his words and he was respected by all. As befits a man of his station, the Druid was wealthy and had three young wives to show for it. Unlike most men, he didn’t believe women were dullards. He’d always found them to be the most apt students. Each of his wives had proven themselves gifted in many ways and knew nearly as much about the mysteries as he did.

The boy's excited knocking soon roused the Druid. He passed Fia, Corri and Gwyn, who were preparing the morning meal, and threw open the door. When told of the apparition, the Druid raced to the water's edge. Talk of an enchanted island was too much for the women to ignore, so they abandoned the cooking pot and followed.  

On the shore, the whole village had gathered to see this strange new thing. The Druid had to push his way through the throng to get a good look at it.

“What do you think it is?” asked the Warlord. The Druid studied the strange island and noted it moved in time with the water.

“It’s no island. It moves like a coracle,” he pronounced with authority.

“A coracle? Of such size? How would it stay up? It would be far too heavy. And what of those trees that grow upon it?” said the Warlord.

The Druid was at a loss but was never going to admit such a thing. He strode to the water’s edge and righted one of the wicker framed boats they had just discussed, and launched it. With a practiced stroke, he paddled in the direction of the island. As he got close it was easy to see that this was a boat, but one unlike any he’d ever seen before. It creaked as it rocked on the waves. He longed to inspect the craft, to unearth its secrets, so he moved a little closer. He got an awful shock when a sun-darkened face popped up to investigate his splashing.

Hazel eyes floated below a mop of impossibly black curls and a dark beard fell on a strong and hairless chest. The words he spoke were exotic and unintelligible. The Druid was curious, but didn’t dare go any closer. This man might be a pirate, or a barbarian. They stared across the water at each other and more heads appeared, seven in all. The Druid raised his arms, showing he held no weapons. The young dark-haired man seemed to understand and he copied the Druid's gesture. A connection had been made, but only a fool would venture closer without learning more. The Druid turned his corrical and paddled back towards shore.


Fia listened as the Druid explained what he had seen. A boat capable of carrying many men. The Druid advised the Warlord to be wary of the newcomers, to hide all of value, while he made a plan. Eventually, Fia, Corri and Gwyn, were sent to prepare a stew and bake fresh bread. Once the meal was ready, the Druid selected Fia, his youngest wife, to deliver the food to the ship. She tried to refuse but the Druid would abide no girlish strop and sent her on her way.

She paddled into the bay, sure these savages would kill her, or worse. Her stomach churned with trepidation as she approached the magic ship. A scruffy man, with dark eyes, watched her approach. When she drew alongside, she held up the pot of broth, hoping he would understand. The man said something and a figure appeared who was so handsome, her heart went into a flutter. He reached down and took the pot from her hands, then smiled at her. More men appeared and she could see how they gloried at the sight of food. Starvation knows no language. Desperate hands reached out for the bread she passed up, a dozen cakes vanished.

She waited alongside while the sounds of happy eating filled her ears. They finished every mouthful in record time. The dark-haired man returned her cooking pot, and said something in a language that made her heart dance. He held his hands in such a way that she understood he wanted her to wait. When he reappeared, he held a bundle cloth in his arms. He passed it down to her and when her fingers touched it, it was so soft, it was like touching a cloud. It could only have been made by the hands of a fairy. Fia tried to return the wonderful gift but the dark-haired man refused, and pointed toward shore. Fia knew it was a gift, in return for the food. She paddled home as quickly as she could with the amazing treasure.

Fia made more trips to the magic ship, at last, the Druid was confident that the men on board posed no threat. Then, he ventured out with her, hoping if they saw her as a friend, they would view him the same. When he reached the ship, he gestured that he would like to climb on board and the strange men helped him clamber up. With nods and gestures, the Druid and the dark stranger tried to communicate. Eventually the stranger spoke and the others unfurled a tattered cloth then hoisted it up one of the poles. The ship surged away from her, and Fia could only watch. She saw the dark stranger rest a reassuring hand on the Druid’s shoulder, when he began to get frightened. After a few moments, the man spoke again. The cloth was pulled down, and slowly, the ship came to rest. In their wake, Fia and the Druids empty coracle, bobbed. They looked back at her and she could tell that the Druid was amazed. The handsome stranger laughed, and waved for her to join them. To see him look at her with such joy was all the encouragement she needed. She rowed after them, herding the Druids’ empty boat before her.

That night, the ship lay at anchor a stone’s throw from the shore. A great banquet was held in the honour of the magical sea-men. It was also the first time that Corri, and Gwyn, got to see the dark-haired man that Fia couldn’t stop talking about. Fia spent the whole day preparing herself for the meal. She waited nervously as boats went out to bring the seven strangers ashore. The handsome man was the first to step foot on Irish soil. Even though the whole village crowded around him, he made a special point of seeking out Fia. She was beyond delighted, and couldn’t wait to show him off to Corri and Gwyn, but things turned sour. She was horrified when she saw the look on his face as she introduced Gwyn. Fia might be young, but she was no fool. She knew the heart of the man she loved had just been stolen. All through the banquet, he only had eyes for Gwyn.

Gwyn only had eighteen summers but she held herself like the queen. Her laughter was as sweet as nightingale’s song, her beauty paled all the flowers of the forest. She had been blessed with so much, why did she have to take Fia’s Prince as well? As the days passed, the stranger sought out every opportunity to be around Gwyn, while his men repaired the ship. Whispers of this budding love were everywhere, and the Warlord even made mention of it to the Druid. Being old, and wise, he wasn’t going to let himself be upset by fickle matters of young love. Fia overheard him telling the Warlord, “If I lose her heart, it’s a tiny price to pay for the secrets of the ship.”

Fia couldn’t believe how forgiving he was being. She wished he would thrash the woman…and lock her away! Then Fia would be the one to win his affections. She wished for it, but it didn’t happen. Every look that passed between the two, cut her to the core. She hid her envy as best she could, but inside she was furious. It might sound childish but she’d seen him first. Corri knew Fia was upset, but she made no secret of her joy for Gwyn.

Weeks passed, and the ship was ready for sea once more. Food and water were loaded but the handsome stranger grew melancholy. On the night of a full moon, the Prince said his farewells to the Warlord in the few Irish words he’d learned from Gwyn. Even now, in this final hour, Fia held hope he would see her love and realise what happiness she could bring him. She hoped against hope, but it was not to happen.

As the village feasted, Linus stole Gwyn away from the crowd. Fia followed them to a spot on the headland. She watched him point at the moon, then he pointed to the hill where it would vanish from view. Both, Fia, and Gwyn, understood. She was to be at this point when the moon and the hill touched. Gwyn was delighted, but Fia was horrified, as she watched the Prince take her in his arms and kiss her. In the darkness, her hatred grew and her soul became as dark as the night she hid in. The lovers ran back to the banquet, hand in hand, leaving Fia alone in a storm of evil thoughts.

When the moon began its fall, the Prince raised his crew from where they slept. They rubbed their drink aching heads and paddled out to the ship. At the same time, Gwyn stood on the spit of rock near the mouth of the bay, waiting nervously. She would leave everything behind, just to be with him. Fia watched it all from the shadow of a roan tree, waiting for her moment to act. She had etched the ground around her with charms, and in her hand, she held the Druid's darkest tool. It looked like any other candle stub, but this one was jet black and smelled horribly. Sitting close by was an earthen-wear bowl, with embers from the fire glowing inside. In a pouch, Fia had a lock of the prince’s hair. A keepsake rescued after he’d trimmed his mane. She watched the ship hoist its sail. It was time. Fia dropped kindling on the embers in the bowl and blew on them. They crackled and popped, then burst into flame. She retrieved the lock of hair, kissed it, then dropped it on the flame, where it sizzled. She dipped the wick of the black candle to the burning hair, and began her chant.

Magic words of elfish language fell from her lips, the curling smoke took on shapes that swam before her eyes. More smoke that was possible began to drift off the candle flame, rushing down the hill like a bank of fog. It spread across the bay, moving against the wind, and growing in size. Fia’s words grew faster, her tone more guttural. With each passing moment, the terrible evil she was unleashing spread.

The ship sailed forward, toward Gwyn, but the fog engulfed it. As the tip of the mast vanished from view, Fia’s words reached a crescendo. She pinched the candle flame, feeling her skin singe. A shudder ran up her arm and the black candle hummed in her fist. With a terrible noise, the magic fog was sucked back into the warm black wax, Prince Linus and his ship with it. As the last tendril of the smoke vanished, thunder boomed in the clear night sky, and lightening struck, throwing her off her feet.

When Fia awoke, all that remained was the candle, clutched in her hand. Delighted, she ran back to the Druid's hut with her wax encased love. Gwyn spent the whole night on the headland, waiting for Prince Linus to arrive. In the dawn, she returned with tears in her eyes and stone in her hart.

Days passed, and all believed the magic ship had sailed out of the bay under the cover of fog, never to be seen again. Gwyn was no longer the woman she had been; she didn’t eat and never smiled. Her life began to slip away, a day at a time. Fia kept the black candle hidden in the reed mat that she used as a pillow, holding it as often as she could. Corri was very worried about Gwyn, and one day when the girl could no longer raise from her sleeping mat, she asked the Druid to cast a spell for her.

“She is beyond my help. The magic that holds her is much stronger than any I possess,” said the Druid, sadly. Fia said nothing and tried to keep her joy contained. Gwyn had it coming to her. 

“You must try! What is stronger than magic?”

“Love. Gwen suffers from a broken heart. I feared I would lose her to the Prince and it looks like I may lose her anyway."

“There must be something you can do," she pleaded. He shook his head and Fia realised he was as heartbroken as Gwyn.

The Druid tended his dying wife in the days that followed but she only got worse. He tried everything he could think of but nothing worked for the girl. One night, Corri broke down in tears and Fia tried to comfort her.

“How could that monster break Gwyn’s heart this way?” she raged.

“Prince Linus is not a monster! It was hardly his fault that Gwyn fell in love with him,” she replied, jumping to the defence of her love.

“He is a monster, and I hope he dies horribly!” she spat.

“Stop, you can’t say that,” cried Fia.

“Oh, I can and I will,” said Corri. “That old wizard of ours might not want to cast his spells, but that won’t stop me. I'm going make sure Linus never loves another woman as long as he lives,” said Corri, coldly. Fia knew she not only ment every word, but she had the skills to carry out her threat. Fia had to do something to stop her.

“No! Promise you won’t,” howled Fia, beginning cry. 

“What is wrong with you, woman?” Fia had no choice but to tell Corri how she loved Linus, and hoped that one day he would love her back.

“That’s ridiculous! If he was concerned about any woman, he would have come for Gwyn, like he promised.”

With the story started, she told it all. It was a relief to confide in someone. Surely Corri would see she only did what she had to do. The Prince and Gwyn were going to make a terrible mistake, Fia was saving them from themselves.

Corri looked at Fia and made a face of disbelief. “You’re lying.” Fia ran to her mat and retrieved the thick black candle. Seeing it, Corri flew at Fia, striking her viciously about the face. Fia dropped the candle while trying to defend herself and it rolled towards the open fire.

“No,” screamed Fia, but a flame touched the wick. She tried to extinguish it, but once the black candle was lit, there was no going back. Smoke billowed from it, filling the house, before bursting out the door and racing down the hill. Corri ran to Gwyn. She lifted her easily and carried her through the choking fog.

Outside, Fia was laying on the ground, crying. She watched the smoke rush down the hill, and across the bay. By the second, the fog-bank grew bigger and thicker. Fia spotted the Druid as he ran toward the house.

“What have you done?” he demanded. Corri was about to tell him when Gwyn lifted her arm weakly, and pointed. Corri’s mouth hung open as she watched the Prince’s ship sail serenely out of the fog bank, with Prince Linus standing at the helm. The ship sailed directly for the headland where Gwyn had waited all those weeks ago. Without a word, Corri ran into the woods, with Gwyn in her arms. Fia knew what she intended to do and started to chase after them. The Druid grabbed her arm and demanded again, “What have you done?” She shook off his grip but his intervention had given Corri a head-start. Fia was still racing through the bushes when Corri reached the headland and found Prince Linus searching for Gwyn.

Corri collapsed, exhausted, dropping Gwyn like the bundle of rags. The Prince ran to them, scooping Gwyn into his arms, face a mask of confusion and concern. Corri had no words to explain, she just his waved him back towards the ship and hoped the Gods would save them both. Fia arrived as he stepped aboard the ship. She cried out for him to wait, but he didn’t. The ship sailed away; the lovers were together at last. Fia cried out the Prince's name, over and over again, long after the ship had vanished from view.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Forever Fog - The Running.

Once in deeper water, Prince Linus set his second sail. He couldn't explain what had happened in the bay; it was night one minute, and day the next. It had to be some kind of magic trick. Another thing beyond explanation was, Gwyn. How had she grown so weak in just a few hours? All of it was puzzling but the only part that mattered was, Gwyn.

He held her in his arms, and even as ill as she was, her beauty was dazzling. As they sailed further from shore, the waves began to pitch the boat which made Gwyn’s eyes flutter open. She looked shocked to see him; perhaps she hadn’t understood he was coming for her? She said something, and touched his face, but he didn't understand her strange words.

As his crew took charge of the ship, he tended his love, as a mother tends a child. He touched a dish of honey-water to her lips, coxing a drop at a time into her parched mouth. She desperately needed water; any sailor knows that thirst can kill. By noon, she slumbered more peacefully so he covered her with a blanket his finest silk.

The man at the helm had been holding the ship with the wind, ignorant of a destination, just happy to be moving once more. “My Lord,” he said, when Linus took over the teller. He studied the sky, and the sail, then with a flick of his wrist he filled them even more. The ship charged at the waves, putting miles behind them.  
“Where do you intend to go, my Prince?” asked the crew man, humble and respectful. Linus was aware of the torments his men had endured. They had travelled far and faced certain death. But his word was still law; he was their Captain and their Prince. If he decided to sail on forever, they would have no say in the matter. But Linus was a good man, and he cared for his crew. They longed for home and in truth, so did he.  

He looked at the place where the sky touched the ocean and said, “I have the urge to see the house of my father.” A smile spread across the face of the sailor.

“You are as wise as you are handsome, my Prince,” laughed the man.

“You silver tongued, scoundrel. No wonder husbands fear you making land,” laughed the Prince, gripping the man by his shoulder.

“Home is good, but where lies the path?” inquired the sailor, reminding Linus they were in unfamiliar waters. As a boy, scholars had tutored him in the ways of the heavens. They said, desert nomads used the stars to guide them. Linus hoped he could do the same.

“Our home lies where the sun wakes. The storm set us far off course but I believe, if we sail into the morning sun, and keep the evening one behind us, we should find our way back,” he said, aiming the bow of the boat at the rising orb. The sailor pondered the Princes words, finding truth in his logic, he simply nodded and set off about his duties.

A day and a night they sailed, across the wind and through ocean swells. Gwyn was sick to start with but Linus kept refreshing her with water and food. By the dawn of the second day she was eating unaided and her body had grown accustomed to the movement of the boat. Linus and the crew built a shelter for her, so she would be protected from the worst of the elements. The Prince intended to take Gwyn as his wife, and as such, her private moments were no sight for his crew.

Midway through the second day, land appeared, causing the crew to celebrate wildly. Only Prince Linus held his cool. He studied the position of the sun and the nature of the shore. It was similar to Beanntrai in colour, but a little dryer. This was not their homeland; not yet.

“We can’t sail toward the sun, my lord. We shall run aground,” protested a crew member. Linus studied the wind, the water, and the land. He thought of the conditions during his outward journey. The wind in his face, and during the storm, the wind was at his back, which should have sent him toward home. Now, the wind wanted to blow him on shore, but they were still too far north. At home, the sun rode much higher in the sky.  

“Keep the land in sight, and to the lee of our bow,” he commanded. As the crew made good his order, Gwyn appeared at his side, touching his hand with hers. Her eyes were full of questions, but her language was beyond his reckoning. He touched his chest and said, “Linus.”

She smiled, and touched his chest, repeating his name. Then she touched her own and said, “Gwyn.”

He repeated but she frowned. She took his hand, pressing it to her chest, and said “Gwyn.” The thump of her heart and the heat of her body took the him by surprise. This time, when he said her name, his voice was cracked with want. He tried to draw his hand away but she held it firm. She moved it slightly, and without accident. Linus’ eyes widened, causing Gwyn to laugh delightedly. Taking her by the hand, he said, “Perhaps the rest of this lesson should be in private.” She must have understood because she dragged him to her quarters, away from the eyes of the crew.

Corri walked sadly away from the headland, leaving Fia wailing on the ground, watching the Prince’s ship vanish. She sought out the Druid and told him what Fia had done. He was furious beyond reason and raced to the headland to hunt his wayward wife home. As he dragged her back to the hut, his words bounced off her without being heeded, so deep was her despair. It didn’t matter what he said to, or about her, she just kept keening and trying to get away.

“You terrible girl! You've betrayed me, you've betrayed us all,” he blustered as they got back to the cottage. Corri was waiting at the door for them.

“I don’t care what you say, the Prince should be mine, not hers,” she snarled at him. The girl was more animal than human.

“Your wicked…and you’re stupid. It’s a dangerous combination,” he said, dragging her into the house then barricaded the door until he could decide her fate. It didn’t take long for the story to spread through the village. It was evening when the Warlord, and a procession of elders, marched up the hill. Seeing them approach, the Druid went to meet them on natural ground. “Watch her,” he said to Corri, and slammed the door behind him.

He strode purposefully toward the mob and they stopped at the edge of his land. Some looked angry, but most looked nervous. “You never needed so many to show you the way to my door before,” he said to the Warlord. The man had the good grace to look bashful, but even the Druid knew he couldn’t back down.  

“There are stories of witchcraft rife among the people. Your wife, Fia, is at the heart of them,” said the Warlord, which raised a rumble from the mob.

“She is my wife, so it is me you must deal with,” he said firmly. This stopped the Warlord in his tracks. Taking on a powerful Druid was no light matter. This could be dangerous for them both.

“She cast a sell! She is a witch,” the Warlord boomed for everyone to hear.

“Ha,” snorted the Druid. “You weren’t so quick to complain about spells when your crops were plentiful, or your children born healthy!” The mob seemed to falter, not one among them hadn’t visited him in the past.

“Those were mere blessings, and you know it. I'm talking about spells, dark magic,” countered the Warlord. It was the Druid’s turn to be held in check. He considered what his chieftain said, and the deeds of his wife, trying to divine the right path to take.

“Witch!” a faceless voice in the crowd called.

“Bring out the witch,” echoed another.

“She’s been foolish! Even spiteful!” roared the Druid, “But she is no witch!”

“Has she been using her powers for her own benefit?” asked the Warlord, causing the crowd to hush with anticipation. The Druid was trapped, if he lied, his own position would be in pearl. If he told the truth, he condemned Fia to death. In the end, his own self-interest won out.

“She did,” he conceded.

“She’s a witch, so,” said the Warlord.

“Bring her out,” several of the mob cried.

“Burn the witch,” howled a woman’s voice.

“There’ll be no burning, today,” he bellowed, charging to block the few villagers that advanced on his home. They quickly retreated to the pack.

“Who knows which of us she will turn on next, she is too dangerous to let live,” the Warlord reasoned.

“Fia will be banished,” he said sadly, knowing it was the only way to save her life. She might be a stupid little girl, but she was his wife and in his own way, he loved her. He could not watch her burn in a pit of flame.

“That’s not good enough,” said one villager, feeling brave in the midst of the mob. “What’s to stop her coming back and casting her spells in the dead of night?”

“Slavery then. I’ll sell my own wife into slavery, with the tin miners of Croom. Will that keep you sleeping soundly in your bed, you little weasel?” the Druid said advancing on the man who questioned him. The Warlord held up his hands, stopping the Druid before he cursed them all.

“Aye, that will do, well enough,” he agreed. The Warlord turned, and walked back down the hill. With their leader gone, the mob soon scuttled away. Corri emerged from the hut as he returned and wrapped her arms around him. She had been crying.  

“I thought they would kill her,” she sobbed on his shoulder.

“You were very nearly right. How could she be so foolish? Didn’t I always treat you well, were you all so unhappy with me?” Only a day ago, he had been husband to three, now look at him. One, vanished across the oceans and another banished as a witch. His house had been devastated by lust and betrayal.

“What will you do?” she asked.

“I’ve given my word. Fia is destined for Croom. We should leave before they change their minds and burn us all in our sleep,” he said, the burden weighing heavily on him.

Corri packed travelling bundles for each of them. As the moon rose, he bound Fia’s hands and saw that her eyes had grown hard and hateful. Her body was still that of a young woman, but her mind was that of a crone.

“You’ll gladly make me a slave?” she hissed, as he finished knotting the thong on her wrists.

“It was this, or a scorching death! Anyway, it was your own actions that landed you here,” he said, as he finished binding her.

“I’d rather death than life without him,” she snarled, and spat in his face. Without realising his actions, the Druid's hand whistled through the air, rattling Fia's teeth when it landed. The blow only served to make her more resistant. She bared her teeth at him, like a rabid dog.

“At least in the mine there might be a real man, to make me squeal, something you could never do with that withered little wand of yours,” she snarled at him. When the blow landed this time, it was Corri that delivered it.

The journey to Croom was not easy, but with the treat of death following hot on their heels, it was speedy. As the path began to climb, he got off the cart and lead the pony by his head. Dense forest gave way to barren hillside. Streams washed away the thin soil covering the bones of the mountain. Soon, the Valley of Croom lay before him. Bolder strewn and desolate, the mines were a dreadful place. A stinking trickle of water ran along the valley floor. It was thick with silt and human waste. Thread-bare ponies grazed at wisps of grass and the Druid wondered how they still survived. He stopped long before he reached the huts, and announced his presence. The Croom men were not kindly disposed to visitors.

“Bless all who hear my voice,” he called, and held his hands aloft showing his unarmed condition.

“What want you, old man?” asked a voice from behind a hill of slag.

“Simply to trade. I come in search of ore.”

“With what will you trade?” boomed the voice, and it echoed off the steep walls of the valley. He dragged Fia from the cart by her bound hands.

“I wish to trade this woman,” he said, unable to keep the sadness from his voice.

“Woman?” chortled the voice. “I see you have two, why not both?”

“Only this one,” said the Druid firmly.

“What if we keep both, trade or not,” threatened a voice accustomed to violence.

“That would be a dreadful mistake indeed. Do you not recognise a Druid when you see one,” he said, standing tall and true. Minutes passed before a filthy beast of a man, with matted hair all over his body, came out into the open. He held a knotted bough of an ash tree, crusted with metal spikes. It was a formidable war club.

“You are indeed a Druid, but years are creeping up on you,” the man observed, slyly.

“For a wizard, the passing of years simply strengthens his magic,” he said, hoping his boast wouldn’t be tested.

The filthy man came closer, and circled Fia, using a long-nailed hand to test the solidness of her. He rubbed her skin and probed the mussel underneath.

“This little thing will last no time in the mine! She is too soft,” scoffed the brute.

“She is a hard worker, and tough for her size.”

The miner guffawed, grabbing a fist full of breast. “The only hard work this one has done was lying on her back,” he laughed. “She will have plenty of that here… while she’s still sweet.” Fia slapped away the hand with her clench fist and flew at the man. With the slightest flick of his enormous arm, the miner sent her crashing into the stinking stream.

“How much do you want for this unbroken filly?”

“Two carts of ore,” he said, wanting the trade to seem genuine. If this monster suspected an ulterior motive, he might kill them all.

“Two! You’ve spent too long on the road, old Druid. One, and you’ll be lucky to get it.”

“She is easily worth three, but two is what I want.”

“You can have one or begone.”

The Druid knew he was being robbed but he couldn’t do anything about it. “Trade,” he said sadly, holding out his hand.

The miner slapped the Druid’s palm, “Trade.”

The ore was loaded by a gang of ragged slaves while Fia was dragged away by the miner. She spat at the Druid as she passed, crying, “I’ll never forgive you, pig!”

The cart couldn’t be loaded quickly enough for the Druid's tastes. It was a blessed mercy when the pony took his first stumbling steps down the mountain. The sound of his wheels, crunching over pebbles, did nothing to mask the cries coming from the miner’s hut. Fia had gotten her wish it seemed. The men of Croom were more than able to make her moan. Corri shed silent tears as they passed the hut were a queue of miners waited to take their turn.

Forever Fog - Tears of Stone

Fia prayed for death several times during the first few hours in that stinking hut. The miners of Croom were a feral breed and she felt the weight of many. At one stage, a woman entered the hut and Fia cried out for mercy. The woman looked at her as if she were less than human.

In the days that followed, she learned that the men, although hard and savage, were not the ones to fear, it was the spite of the women that held most danger. The huge, hairy, chieftain, took more than his fair share of turns on her, satisfying himself until her body was raw. Vaddon, they called him and eventually it was he who dragged her, half naked, across the rubble of the valley floor.

The same crone that had turned a deaf ear to her pleas for mercy, crouched near a cooking fire which belched smoke around a blackened pot. As Fia neared, the woman’s eyes narrowed with unbridled hate. Fia could only wonder what she'd ever done to rouse such ill-will. She quickened her pace but the woman was far quicker. Her arm shot forward, as fast as a viper-strike, threading her stirring stick between Fia's bare ankles. She went crashing on the razor-sharp rubble. The skin of her knees, and hands, opened in bloody ribbons, staining the grey stone red. The woman became a whirlwind of fury, beating her on the head and back. Fia was amazed a woman could be so vile and skilled in curse words. She scrambled to her feet and dashed away from the mad old wench. Vaddon followed along, laughing with abandon.

"Get moving, you pox ridden whore," screamed the hag, landing a stinging blow on Fia's ear. She covered her head with bleeding hands, fending off further blows.

"Careful woman! You'll have her dead before she’s drawn one creel of ore from the ground," laughed Vaddon. His warning only added to the ferocity of the woman's arm.

Fia was driven towards the head of the valley where a gate of stout oak barred the mine entrance. It was only when she got closer that she could see eyes floating in the darkness beyond. A guard lay beside the gate, curled in his cloak. Vaddon kicked the man awake and Fia thought of fleeing, but her limbs were leaden with shock and abuse. The woman grabbed a fist of her hair, it was as if she could read her thoughts. The gate opened and Fia was shoved into the huddled mass of slaves. Vaddon was still roaring with laughter as he walked away, the furious woman trailing in his wake, giving his heedless back dogs abuse.

In the darkness, figures moved. Soon she began to pick out bodies, so covered in grime, they became one with the darkness. As her eyes adjusted, she picked out women and men, clothed in rags or completely naked. They were incredibly thin, flesh stuck on bone. They were broken people, only a heartbeat away from death. This is what lay ahead of her, a life of never-ending toil until blessed darkness would finally take her. Fia felt her way deeper into the mine, running her shaking hands over the weeping walls of rock. When far from the others, she made a pillow of her arms and cried herself to sleep on a bed of stone.

As the days passed, she toiled from dawn till dusk. She was only dragged out of the mine for the amusement of the chieftain. He would slosh freezing water over her to dislodge the crusted muck from her skin, then ravish her. The old crone; who must have been Vaddon's wife, was forced to watch. He added insult to injury by telling his wife to return Fia to the mine, after he was sated. The sight of the jealous wife whipping a naked consort across the village was a huge amusement to the rest of the villagers.

Morning is as dark as night in the mine. The sound of the gate being dragged open signalled a new day. The slaves would charge toward the opening, the stronger throwing the weaker behind them. A bucket of watery slop, dumped into a trough, was their only delight. The retched spectres squabbled over the scraps and Fia vowed never to sink so low. When the miners appeared, they dispensed metal-tipped digging tools, and lit the way into the mine with burning torches.

All day she worked, digging ore and dragging it to the mouth of the mine. The air was a mixture of smoke and human stink. The miners themselves rarely ventured deep underground. They only time she saw Vaddon inside was when a cave-in buried several slaves. The Chief and his miners rushed to the landslide, digging with vigour. They worked until they'd retrieved the tools, leaving the slave’s buried where they fell.

Overtime, she saw how one slave bullied his way to the food before anyone else. Food was life, and life was all she longed for. She decided that the only way to survive this test was to become more savage than the rest. That night, she fashioned a sliver of flint until it was razor sharp. The next morning, she positioned herself near her target and waited. When the food arrived, the man sent her reeling to the ground, such was his rush to feed. Faster than a blinking eye, she drove her flinty weapon into the man's spine. He spasmed, the small incision all but invisible. The rest of the slaves backed away from his trashing body, while Fia chanted a complicated curse. The gathered slaves were mesmerized by the power of this new woman. She knelt at the food container and ate her fill, while the dying man pawed at the ground. When she'd finished eating, she moved away, let the rest of the slaves fall on the food.

That night, after the miners had locked them in, Fia gathered the slaves around her. She told them she was a powerful witch, sold into slavery by an evil druid. She promised them she would set them all free, when her powers were fully recovered. From that day on, the slaves had a new high priestess. Fia took to sleeping deep in the mine, away from the stinking mass cowering close to the entrance. She would make her way to the gate shortly before dawn each day. Now, there was order to the eating. The slaves waited until she had her fill before gorging themselves on what remained.

She still worked and did her best to stay out of Vaddon way, which was not always easy. Then one day, while loading ore into her creel, a piece of rock fell from her hand. When she picked it up, she saw a glimmer of yellow inside the stone. She worked the crack open and gloried at the thick vein of gold she found. She placed the rock on top of the creel and moved towards the mouth of the mine. In a quiet spot, she hid the rock in a crevice. She knew that this gold could be a key to her freedom.

She played out scenarios in her mind but no matter how she looked at things, she could only see the miners taking the gold for themselves. That night, she slept across her hiding place, making sure no one stumbled on her treasure. She was woken by something. She lay still and listened. There was a faint sound coming from somewhere close by. She pressed her hand against the wall and felt a vibration. For a long time she listened in the dark, and searched her brain for a meaning. What it most reminded her of was the sound of a fast running stream, far away in the distance. The water might be inches away, or feet, but the tremble of the rock hinted at the power of the flow. With her bare hands she began loosening rock. All night she worked and she was exhausted by dawn. Exhausted but excited.  

The next day, Vaddon appeared and she knew it was time to act. She dug out her hidden treasure and ran as fast as she could toward the entrance, dropping to her knees before him.

"Look, look," she cried, holding up her treasure for inspection.

All the miners were drawn to commotion. She made sure they got a good look at the gold before the chieftain took it from her outstretched hands.

"See what I have found," she said, and watched yellow fever take hold of the men who surrounded her.

"Where did you get this?" Vaddon demanded.

"The mine. Did I do well?" she simpered.

"Yes, very," he said, panting harder than he ever had when laying on top of her.

"Good enough to set me free?" He sneered and shoved her aside, striding towards the mine. It only took seconds for the news of gold to spread among the miners. She watched as they crowded into the shaft, going to the very deepest part, where the vein was sure to lie. Fia followed the last man into the mine and for once, there was none left to guard the gate. She could run, try to escape, but she had a different plan.

She stood beside the trickle of water and waited for the last person to rush into the dark. As soon as they were out of sight, she attacked the wall with her digging tool. In seconds, she had weakened the wall enough to allow a fine spray of water explode from the rock. She could hear the earth groan, as the pressure built. Chunks of stone began to fly off, each adding to the cascade. She struck the wall one more time and heard a crack. She backed away toward the mouth of the mine. The stone had held for a million years, but wouldn’t hold a second longer. The wall exploded inward, disintegrated by the weight of an underground river. Fia was nearly swept away with it, but she managed to jam her digging spike into a crevice, anchoring her in place. Boulders as big as a man rolled down into the mine, pushed along by the torrent of water, seeking the lowest point. Fia pulled herself from the water and ran toward the gate. Once there, she wedged it closed. She was alone, not even one remained outside to halt her escape. But Fia was tired of running.

The water soon rose up the mine and flooded out the gate. It wasn’t only water that came. Bodies piled up against the barrier, some miners, some slaves. She waited, armed with her digging spike, in case any made it out alive. None did. Before night fell, she scrubbed herself in the gushing water. When she was done, her body was as pale as the morning mist and her long hair black with moisture. She waked away naked, a woman reborn.

She passed a handful of women but none dared approach. To them, she was a deathly figure emerging from the dark. None recognised her as the helpless slave they knew. None but Vaddon's wife. The old crone let loose a manic howl, but Fia didn't flinch. The woman rushed at her and Fia put all her hatred behind her lunge. When the digging stick skewered the old witch, the rest of the women simply ran away.

Fia searched the huts for clothes. What she found was rough and tattered, but in Vaddon’s hut she happened upon a heavy wool cloak. She took anything of value, then mounted one of the miner’s ponies. From the bushes, the village women watched as she rode away. They would say a demon had come from the depths of the mine, woken by the digging. It had killed all the men, then ridden away, its grotesque body hidden by a magical cloak. Not happy with that, they added that the creature had been carrying the still-beating heart of Vaddon, eating it like an apple. 

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Versatile Blogger Award

How poor a place would the world be without words?

Simple shapes, scribbled on what ever was available, have ignited the imaginations of men since we sought shelter in caves. The ability to record and share ideas could be the fundamental difference between our species and all others on this globe we call home. I know there will be those among you that will point to other differences which set us apart, some for better, some for worse. I would be willing to bet that every single one had roots firmly planted in the written word.

Today the scribes have thrown away their quills and parchment, replacing them with Macbooks and the Internet. I am delighted to be counted among the legions that participate in recording emotions, ideas, thoughts and stories, so others may share our experiences. The blogger world is filled with limitless outlooks, mental pictures cast in countless hues. Like all aspects of life, holding fourth your though's may inspire debate, even disagreement. No one view is more correct than another. Taste and compassion are virtues that count in all walks of life, writing more than most.

A shining example of bloggers doing what bloggers do best is Teagan Kearney. She finds herself on a journey through a novel and has chosen to let us share the experience with her. Not only this, she also takes time out of her day to share with us things she has learned along the way. Her posts are full of fun and knowledge I invariably smile when her little golden dragon appears on my screen. Teagan was kind enough to nominative me for the Versatile Blogger Award which I am delighted to accept.

The Rules:
Thank and give a link to your nominator.
Share seven things about yourself that others may not know.
Nominate 15 bloggers you enjoy.

Teagan Kearney, my heartfelt thanks for this great honor, I have followed your journey for some time and will continue to do so. for as long as the lights stay on. You can find a link to Tegan's blog 'Writing my novel no working title yet' here:

Seven Things about me.
1. Meet the two girls and one little boy who fill my days. Left to right, Lofty, Ela and Holly.

2. I grind my teeth in my sleep.

3. I have been know to cry at sad movies, (Notebook and Braveheart have both embarrassed me.)

4. When I was just a baby my Mom brought me to the beach. I couldn't walk yet but was a mighty crawler. She set me down on the blanket and I imitatively took off for the ocean. She followed me, picking me up before I got wet and carried me back to the blanket. After five repeat performances she decided to let me keep going expecting me to get a shock as soon as the water touched me. She said that I hit the water and just kept going. It was up to my chin and I showed no sign of stopping when she picked me up. This time as she walked back to the blanket, an old man sitting close by was laughing at her. He said "God missus are you training that thing for the Olympics?"

5. I think my dog talks to me?

6. I have sat in a Formula 1 car but they wouldn't let me drive it.

7. The first plane I was ever in was a four seat'er Cessna. I got to fly it around but the scardy cat pilot  wouldn't let me land. I was sure I could have managed it without killing us too much.

15 Bloggers testing the boundaries.

These are my famous fifteen, a click on any one of these links will not leave you disappointed. They are a truly diverse bunch, all well worth getting to know.