Tsujigiri #AtoZChallenge

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Tsujigiri – crossroad killing. A Japanese samurai with a new katana to test attacks a random defenceless passer-by at night.

The single track road was dark. Touches of light cast from the houses of the edge of the town kept the night at bay but wasn’t enough to really see by. There was a low murmuring of animals, a dog whined somewhere and horse let out a long neigh. People’s voices faded as the doors of the tea houses shut, leaving only the gentle lapping of water to break the silence.

Hiki sat as if he was a drunk who had fallen asleep by the side of the road. His black helmet with the forked stag like horns on top was pulled low to cover his eyes. The rest of his black lacquer armour was back in his room. Hiki hadn’t needed it for this. Instead, he was dressed in black bellowing robes and saddles which made him fit in more of the town’s people and also the growing night.

At Hiki’s side, laying in the long grass so it was hidden but still in easy reach was his new katana. The sword was unsheathed in preparation and Hiki’s right hand was resting next to the black lacquer handled.

This afternoon when he had received the katana, he had practised with it to make sure the balance was right. Hiki had demanded of the swordsmith that the sword be lighter then normal, so it could almost be wielded in one hand. The blade was to be sharp on both sides and the curve more pronounced. The handle was to be left plain so Hiki could dress it himself and that was going be in the traditional black and white diamond pattern of ribbons.

Firstly though, the katana had to draw it’s first blood and kill it’s first victim. Which was why Hiki was sat outside the town pretending to sleep. He couldn’t fight just anyone for the katana’s first outing. This thing had to be done just right and Hiki had found the perfect setting.

He had been observing the town since he had first arrived and during the wait for the katana to be made. The town was no stranger to samurai and produced good weapons and armour. There was a steady flow of people coming in and out with supplies, even by night they travelled because the roads were free of dangers thanks to the numbers of samurai.

The sounds of cart wheels and a horse clopping along, sent a thrill through Hiki. His fingers twitched towards his katana and held the handled lightly. Trying to remain still was hard but he controlled his breathing and cleared his thoughts. He couldn’t get up too soon, the timing had to be just right.

He peeked out from under his helmet and looked at the patch of road he could see. He didn’t turn his head towards the sound. He knew when he saw the horse come into view that was his signal.

Time seemed to slow, Hiki counted each breath and listened as the horse got closer. Hiki’s hand tightened on the katana, his legs twitched as they got ready for action. Soon, it would be the right moment.

The horse came into view faster then Hiki realised. He shot up, his body that had been laying like a scarecrow coming to life and with the grace of a dancer moving through the darkness. His katana swooshed through the air like falling cherry blossom caught on the wind and the head of the cart man went flying through the air.

Hiki let out the breath he had been holding. The horse cried out, reared in fight and shot down the road. The body of his master slide off the cart’s seat and tumbled into a ditch. Blood dripped down the katana as Hiki lowered it and listened to the sound of the running horse and trundling cart fade.

Slowly, Hiki walked over to the cart man’s head and picked it up by the top knot. The head swung, dripping blood and trails of the inside. Hiki inspected the katana’s work in the dim light and he was satisfied by the cleanness and sharpness of the cut.

(Inspired by; http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com)

Orrery #AtoZChallenge

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Orrery – a clockwork model of the solar system

The Engineer’s workshop was a fascinating place and Kit Benedict Kettle was having a hard time keeping his hands to himself. There was so much temptation to set off the devices and see what they did.

Withdrawing his fingers from almost touching an hourglass that was attached to a series of cogs and bubbling tubes, Kit rubbed the sweat on his brow. He pulled his leather flying cap further up his head, causing unruly boyish brown hair to escape out. Then putting his hands in the pockets of his short, brown leather jacket, Kit looked around the room again.

There was a heavy smell of hot oil, a smoky fire and faint whiff gas from the lights filling the room. Steam, smoke and coloured mist rose from a number of items and gathered on the ceiling looking for release. It was hotter than outside which was really saying something as this city was on the edge of a desert.

It was hard to tell how big the room was because of everything packed inside, but had to be the size of small warehouse. As well as all the devices and parts of them, there were towering bookcases stacked with not only books but models and other things. There were a number of work benches, each crowd with tools that did multiple jobs. Everything and anything you could imagine was in some state of construction in this room.

Kit walked around a cage that had some pink rats inside and spied the Engineers’ two apprentices. One was a lanky young man who kept pushing up the heavy framed glasses on his nose and the other was a hollow older woman who had shown them in when they had ring the doorbell. Though she had tried to hide it, Kit had seen her bronze metal left hand.

The apprentices were hunched over a small workbench and whispering to each other whilst they fixed a small engine that was burping steam. They hadn’t shown any interest in the guests, nor offered a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Kit sure wanted a drink. He felt his hip flask at his side and took a few sips of lurk warm water. The absinthe had run out days ago and he was desperate to try and get some more. Clicking the flask back on to his belt, he walked away from the apprentices, around strange machines that God only knew what did. Though a huge glass bowl that was empty but connect to some scientific test set up, through it Kit saw Patience Jane Castleton.

The ace navigator of their airship The Lost Harmony had found a dirty window and was lent against it. The top panel only half opened but it was enough for Patience to let some fresh air in.

She was taller than Kit, thanks to the high heel and knee length silver boots she wore. Patience had on brown leather trousers like Kit had but covering some of the front and all of the back was a ruffled dark brown top skirt. She also had on a short sleeved white blouse and a brown corset with bronze straps. Her leather jacket was thrown over a pile of books and balanced in her piled high and twisted up blonde hair was a small black hat were a netted veil and peacock feather.

Kit turned away from her and left Patience to her thoughts. The navigator had been touchy since they had landed here. Something about how she hated deserts.

Meandering around more piles of things and ignoring the gutting of gas lamps, Kit found himself back where he had headed off from; the main pathway to the Engineer’s metal desk. Surprising this one stretch from the door to the elephant of a desk to another smaller door in the back wall was all clear of things. As the Engineer needed an escape route.

Kit walked up to the four people gathered at the desk and found a bookcase to lean against. Three people- the other crew members of The Lost Harmony- where on one side of the desk and the Engineer, who to Kit looked so much like a dwarf because he was so small, yet studly built and had a long well groom red beard and a shaved head, that the Engineer must have been a dwarf, was sitting on a high chair on the other side and fiddling with a blunder bluster gun whilst he listened to his guests.

The engineer of the airship, Meriwether Bramwell Redsmith the third and the gunner, Nicodemus Radulphus Langridge were putting in an order with the Engineer. It was why they had come here; airship and weapons improvements. The two men were taking turns to talk in low voices as if they were worried about being overheard.

Kit didn’t blame them. Meriwether might claim to have known this Engineer well and to have used him before but everyone knew that Engineers were not to be trusted. They were the listening devices of the world thanks to all the contraptions they could secret about.

From the back, it was easier to tell Meriwether and Nicodemus apart. Nicodemus was built like a rock giant. He was almost seven foot tall, all bulging muscles and skin tight leather and rough cotton clothes. He had long black hair, tied in a plait that ran down his back. His accent give him away as a man of the cold regions, he spoke with a harsh voice and Kit had never heard someone speak as much foul language as Nicodemus did.

Meriwether looked the total opposite on the giant. The airship engineer was short, skinny and capable of getting into the smallest gaps on the airship. Meriwether’s mind was always racing with this or that improvement or task. He hardly spoke but when he did it was thoughtful and scholer like. Thin glasses balanced on his nose, his eyes were a strange teal colour, his hair short and greying. He wore black trousers, a spotless white shirt, a red velvet jacket, a perfect cravat was tied up at his throat and a long black top hat on his head. Meriwether had dressed up for the occasion.

The third person was Captain Cornelius Horatio Featherstonehaugh. He was standing apart from the others at the corner of the table. He had on a massive sky blue coat with a golden high collar that was up and pressed against the back of his neck. His thinning black hair was tied in a small ponytail and poking out of a large tricorn hat pulled low over his heavily scarred old face.

Two fingers were missing from the Captain’s right hand and he had a metal right leg which was always seizing up and has he often said, ‘causing me more grieve then the real one ever did!’ He wore specially made boots with magnetic heals and toes and baggy, flaring blue trousers. On the Captain’s shoulder sat a creature that made everybody but the Captain uneasy.

The creature was half monkey, half clockwork. One side of it’s face was normal but the other was all made up of cogs, gears and metal pieces. A flashing glass eye whirled around whilst the real black eye stayed still. Brown fur met dark grey metal plates across cheek and skull, they screwed together with tiny bolts.

The monkey’s heart and lungs had been removed and in there place were steam powered ones which could be viewed through a piece of glass in the monkey’s chest. The right arm and leg had been replaced with bronzes replicates and random cogs that seemed purely decorative had been stuck into the monkey’s fur. The monkey’s tail was thankfully normally.

The Captain had rescued the clockwork monkey and Kit could repeat the story off by heart. The Captain had fought some sea pirates when he had been a sea mercenary and he had found a ship full of mutilated animals who had had things replaced cockwork parts that were being smuggled into different countries and sold to people as novelties.

‘There is nothing novel about animals experimented on and changed,’ the Captain always added into his story, ‘unfortunately the ship was blown up and the only animal to escape was this little one who I was trying to save at the time. He bit me fingers off and we’ve been best friends ever since.’

Kit shivered at the thought of the horrible monkey creature and his elbow slipped further into the bookcase. A pile of cogs flew to the floor, making an awful din as they fell and scattered. All the heads in the room turned towards him.

The monkey broke into loud cries and began jumping on the Captain’s shoulder in worry. The Captain raised his hand and began comforting the creature. Meriwether rolled his eyes and Nicodemus mumbled something in his own language. The two apprentices shot out from nowhere both armed with guns as if they had thought the loud sound was a fight starting, followed by Patience jogging over with her two heavy pistols drawn.

Kit held up his hands and mumbled ‘Sorry.’

He bent and scrambled to pick the rolling cogs up. Some of them were heavier than he expected them to be and he felt bruises blooming underneath his leather arm guards.

‘Be careful there, boy,’ the gruff voice of the Engineer spoke, ‘everything is fine, Priscilla and Elijah, go back to work,’ he added and waved the apprentices away.

Leaving the cogs stacked on the floor, Kit slipped off and went to hide his flushing face in one of the devices. He stopped before one and stood there not really seeing it for sometime. Then his eyes and brain focused and he saw he was standing before a large moving clockwork model of the solar system. Each planet and some of the larger constellations had been painstakingly handmade and fixed to thin metal poles which was attracted to a heavy wooden base.

Kit looked underneath and saw a mass of cogs and gears, like the inside of his pocket watch, working away to turn all of the solar system representatives above. There was the harsh sticky smell of warm oil and a tricking of burning steam. A piston was pumping away and Kit followed it to see an coal fueled engine hard at work.

He went back to the clockwork model, his fingers reaching to touch one of the moving planets whilst his thieving mind tried to work out how to steal this rare and expensive item.

‘Don’t you think you’ve caused enough trouble?’ Patience said, her posh voice softening.

‘I can’t help it,’ Kit muttered, dropping his hand.

‘I know, Thief,’ Patience tacked on like a pet nickname.

Kit slipped his hands into his pockets and turned away, pressing his redden cheek into the soft fleece of his jacket.

Footsteps creaked on the wooden boards and some of the devices shook with the vibrations. Kit looked out of the corner of his eye as Patience turned and spoke something to the Captain. Meriwether and Nicodemus were close behind, looking pleased with their agreements with the Engineer. 

‘Let’s go, kid,’ Patience said turning back to Kit.

He give a swift nod and trailed after them. At the door, Priscilla saw them out, scowling at Kit as he had been a bad dog she was kicking outside. The door snapped shut behind them and Kit carefully went down the dimly lit metal staircase.

At the bottom, night was falling in the city and the fading voices of people could be heard alongside the hissing of steam and the creaking of ropes. Kit took in lungfuls of fresh air, glad to finally be outside. Cooling wind wrapped around him, wiping away the heat of the Engineer’s workshop.

‘Are you coming to have a drink with us?’ Captain asked.

Kit shook his head, he wasn’t in the mood for that, ‘I’ll go back to the Harmony. Will you buy me some bottles of absinthe, if they have any?’

‘Sure,’ Patience repiled, ‘though you should really lay off that stuff.’

‘I’ll come back to the airship with you,’ Meriwether cut in, ‘I have to be up early to find some parts I need. It’s market day tomorrow.’ 

They said their goodbyes and split into two groups. It felt like a long walk back to the dockyard where The Lost Harmony was awaiting for them but Kit didn’t mind, he was glad to be outside and couldn’t wait until they took off once more and were flying high over the cities below them.

(Inspired by; http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com)

(Writer’s Note; Though this story might seem like it’s from a longer piece it’s not. I had the idea of the character Kit come into my head then the Captain and the monkey – the imagine in my head of the monkey kinda scares me! 

I’m a massive fan of steampunk and I try to go to a few events during the year. With everything in lockdown, I’m missing it. I don’t think I’ve tried to write a steampunk story before, though there may have been hints of it in some of my stories. I’d really like to write a steampunk novel but I’m not sure where to begin with it. Perhaps this short story scene is my gateway?)

 

Minikin #AtoZChallenge

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Minikin – small.

I was gardening and humming along to the radio when I saw a flash of orange. Frowning and wondering what it was, I peered closely under a small bush and saw a tiny kitten.

Crying out, I dropped my trowel and carefully picked up the limb body. Was it dead?

Hurrying into the house, I wrapped the kitten in a tea towel and took my gardening gloves off. I rubbed the towel over the kitten, not wanting the poor think to be dead.

There was a weak mew and small wiggle of movement. I peeked into the wrapped towel and saw a little white paw moving.

Straight a way, I thought of one of my neighbours who fostered abandoned kittens. She would know what to do.

I took the tiny kitten to her and got her to help. It was touch and go because the kitten was only a week or so old and was so weak.

Everyday, I went to see the kitten, prepared for the bad news but the kitten hung on and got well and strong.

I named her Mini and as soon as she was well enough, I brought her home to live with me.

(Inspired by; http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com)

Juramentrum #AtoZChallenge (Part 2)

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Juramentrum – oath

Siegfried breathed deeply and smelt the nature drifting his way. It was mid spring and everything was waking up after the long dark winter. He could smell something sweet, maybe flowers hidden from sight in the grass that covered the rocks. There was a damp earthy smell from soil that had found its way into the cracks of the rocks.

The river smelt of nothing but has he dipped his fingers into the water, Siegfried felt the coldness and smoothness of the flow. Removing his hand, he took a few sips of water from the waterskin.

He didn’t have to worry about steering the boat, it was making its own course as if being pulled along by unseen hands. The boat was also small enough to pass by and over any threatening rocks. It was a good boat. His brother, Hrothgar, had done an excellent job.

One of the old dogs yawed and Siegfried twisted to look at them. They were settling down again. Grey heads resting on the edge of the boat and their bodies curled together for warm. They looked peaceful and not worried.

Siegfried grabbed one of the furs and threw it over them. He could trust his dogs sense of things and if they weren’t worried about any danger then nor should he. It was growing colder though.

Grabbing a fur for himself, Siegfried drew it around his shoulder and noticed how dark it was getting. The height of the gorge was blocking out the warm sun and casting everything into darkness the further you entered in. Soon, he wouldn’t be able to see.

Searching in the boat’s hull, Siegfried found a lamp and lit it. Carefully and slowly, he crawled to the front of the boat and placed the lamp into its place. Going back to his seat, he found another lamp, lit it and placed it beside himself. Clutching the oar in one hand and his sword in the other, Siegfried was swallowed by darkness.

An icy wind swept down and Siegfried smelt snow in the air. It was normal of winter to hold on has long as he could and he found hiding places where the sun couldn’t find him. Siegfried hoped the river was frozen and that it didn’t start snowing. Just in case though, he threw another fur over the dogs and pulled a large one onto his head.

Siegfried might be a mighty Viking but he was old now and felt the cold stiffen his bones more and more.

Perhaps, I should have waited till the summer? he thought.

Shaking his head, Siegfried got the oar back out and began paddling again. He’d rather meet the ice sooner rather than later. A few small flakes of snow landed in his beard and boat. The darkness pressed deeper down, everything had been blocked out above him as if the gorge had a roof.

Not stopping, he rowed faster, not liking the darkness and the gathering cold.

‘This can’t go on for much longer,’ Siegfried muttered, ‘how you doing back there dogs?’

There was a muffled moan and Siegfried glanced over his shoulder but he couldn’t see the back of the boat. The light from the lamps was hardly anything but he was grateful to not be in total darkness.

He turned his face up, looking for glints of blue sky. His oar hit something hard, probably just a rock, he felt the vibrations going through his arm. Nothing to worry about. He padded faster, not liking this at all and feeling uneasy in his gut. Telling himself there had to be an end to this soon spurred him on.

There, was that a hint of blue above? Did the path ahead look lighter? Siegfried concentrated on that patch of blue and slowly came out into the light once more. Sighing, he stopped rowing and blew the lamps out. He took a few deep breaths and let the furs slip off him.

Blue sky angled it’s way into the gorge, filling the gap above the rocks. Sun cast light on green things and grey surfaces. Warm slowly tricked down to the river and soon the way widened. The river burbled along as if happy to be out of the darkness just as Siegfried was.

Pulling the oar in, he let the boat drift again. The river lapped against the wood and the shore in a calming way and carried the boat along its course. Siegfried settled back, watching more and more of the sky open above him. He could tell the gorge was coming into an end.

Shutting his eyes, he rested, feeling the cold leaving him and warmth filling him up. He dozed then when the boat slowed and began bobbing against something, Siegfried opened his eyes and saw he had arrived at the gates of Valhalla.

 

(Inspired by; http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com)

Juramentrum #AtoZChallenge (Part 1)

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Juramentrum – oath

Siegfried stopped paddling the wooden long, narrow boat and looked up at the rising landscape around him. It was quiet. Too quiet he thought. He could hear the far cry of birds, the wind playing through trees and long grass, the flow and lapping of the river but that was all.

He pulled the oar half in and watched water dripping off the neatly shaped paddle. There was nothing smoothing about the steady sound, just reminded that he was alone out here.

I hate this, he thought and lowered the oar again.

There was nothing for it but to get through the gorge and hope nothing attacked him.

‘I’m tried of fighting and that’s saying something coming from an old Viking!’ Siegfried spoke then chuckled.

He paddled swiftly, with years of experience, his eyes watching his surrounds and not his oar or the front of the boat. He could trusted the craftsmanship of the vessel his brother had built it and there was no finer ship building then Hrothgar.

Siegfried wished his brother was here with him now, instead his traveling companions were two old hunting dogs who never left his side. Still though, this journey was Siegfried’s alone to take.

The gorge rose up on either side, blocking out some of the afternoon sun. Solid multi-coloured rock with bits of green plant life sticking out seemed to stretch endlessly to meet the blue sky. Rocks jutted out of the river, covered with moss and worn smooth. Boats still had to be careful though as there was no telling if some of those rock edges could still break through wood or not.

Entering the gorge would mean no going back. It was a long way to the other side. Most people tried to avoid going through, preferring the other, longer route the river divided into further back up. This way was favored by bigger boats because in some places the gorge forced the river to narrow far too much.

Siegfried stopped rowing and let the boat drift as he went inside the gorge. He knew being quiet as much as possible would help if anyone or thing was listening above. He picked up his shield which he had rested in the bottom of the boat and lifted it over his head.

Only arrows or rocks or other things could be rained down on him from the gorge’s high cliffs because nothing would be stupid enough to jump down and try to get him. No, if a wild animal or monster wanted him they would track him to a more suitable place.

I’m being over cautious, Siegfried thought, this too dangerous journey is getting to me.

He lowered the shield and studied the view above. Nothing was moving up the clouds and he could hear the river singing along. He looked at the two dogs, both now awake and looking around as if they sensed there could be danger.

Siegfried looked down into the hull of the boat once more and gripped his long sharp edged sword. The weapon comforted him even though it was no use currently. In the boat was also some daggers, a bow and arrows which he hardly used anyway, some food, water and other useful items. He had packed well for this journey, not sure what he might need.

Siegfried shook his head then ran his hand through his long plaited grey beard. He felt uneasy and wished things were different. But he had made an oath to his brothers, wife and children that he would do this. He would go first….

To Be Continued…

(Inspired by; http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com)

Gaberlunzie #AtoZChallenge

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Gaberlunzie – a beggar

He was there everyday on the streets with his old dog. He would hold out a hat or a cup and press his head to the floor. He was ashamed. He didn’t want to beg, he didn’t want to be homeless but somehow he had ended up trying to survive like this.

I finally stopped, one April afternoon and decided as if an angel had called upon me to do this good deed. I touched his shoulder softly and met the deep sad eyes of his dog’s.

‘Come with me,’ I said gently, ‘let me help you.’

(Inspired by; http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com)

Erinaceous #AtoZChallenge (Postcard Story)

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Erinaceous – of, pertaining to, or resembling a hedgehog

Dear Em,

Today I found a new animal and it was so fascinating! It looks like a large hedgehog but its white instead of brown. Also, it’s fur is more rabbit like and its ears are triangle shape. It’s covered in sharp spikes and does curl into a ball when threatened or pretending to be dead.

Of course, I had to capture one for further studied! I’m looking after her/ him? well and I’m going to release him/her? later. I thought though you’d like to give the new creature a name.

Yours forever, Win

(Inspired by; http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com)

Deracinate #AtoZChallenge (Part 2)

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Deracinate – to tear something up by the roots

(Please note there is some adult content in this story)

Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I got up and went outside to the well. There was no one there but signs that people had been gathering water earlier. I pulled the handle around and drew up the rope which the bucket was attached too.

Birds were singing in the trees, animals were being noisy – demanding food-  there was no wind and the sun was all ready warming. I could smell the start of peat fires as water was heated and food cooked in the little huts.

I pulled the bucket full of water out of the well and began washing my hands and face. Then I did my feet, arms and legs, following the washing pattern I had done all my life. Normally, I would have been in the Temple bathhouse, naked with my dorm Sisters. There would have been hot water, steam and fragrant soaps.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had had a full bath or washed my hair. I wasn’t ashamed of my body but I was aware of the trouble being naked could cause. Sighing, I finished off washing and poured the water into one of the buckets that was used for washing clothes and other things, when anybody could be bothered to do so.

Back in my hut there was a warm pot of tea, a jug of ale and a bowl of thin porridge for me to have. The old woman who had woke me was serving the breakfast out. There was a low mutter of talking and I caught a few words of that but it was mostly complaints about things and a challenge for who could pick the most apples today.

Out in the orchard, it didn’t look like we had made much progress yesterday. There were many trees looking weighed down with apples. Wood ladders were laid against the tree trunks with baskets and carts drawn by old horses were under the trees. I stood with everyone else and listened to the orders given then it was skirts tied up and climbing the ladder for me once more.

My legs and arms were still aching after yesterday but I tried to ignore that and get on with bringing the apples down once more. Twisting them off, I threw the apples down to the catchers below – who were old people and children- and they put the fruit into the baskets. The large men came and put the baskets onto the carts and left an empty basket behind.

The sun grew hotter throughout the day, it made me sleepy and desperate for a cold bath. Like yesterday, we were allow to stop a few times for drink and food but it didn’t help that much. The ale tasted strange in my mouth even though I should have been use to it by now. Nobody drank much water but I would have preferred it. The food was always bread and cheese, sometimes it was fresh other times it wasn’t.

I stole two apples. I had climbed higher into the tree, balancing on the thinner branches to reach the apples at the top. Everyone’s attention was drawn to a woman with child who had fainted. It was easy for me to slip the apples into the pockets of my underskirt and take a rest on a thicker branch. From here, I could see a lot of people gathered around the woman. She was placed on a cart and taken away with some women and perhaps her husband following.

‘Come on, get back to work!’ someone yelled and everyone walked back to their choice tree.

I threw down the last of the apples and came down the ladder. The rest of the day drew itself out as if it didn’t want to end. The smell of the apples and trees clogged my other senses. I felt I could just curl up on a branch and sleep forever. Even the children who seemed to have boundless energy were tried and some had fallen sleep at the bases of trees.

Drinking some ale, I heard my stomach growl in hunger. Soon it would be time to eat. I looked up at the sky and saw that the sun was in it’s setting position but it had no intention of going down for another two or three hours. The ale tasted too malty and slightly gritty, I drank it all, too thirsty to stop.

Petting the old shire horse, who’s cart I had been leaning against, I helped pick up any apples on the ground as the pickers decided to shake the trees out. Some of these apples could be added to the collection and others would go to the animals.

I stumbled over something and decided I’d had enough of these shoes. I took them off and in my bare feet carried on working. The earth and grass were cool, reminding me of times I had run around the Temple and it’s gardens. And I felt the call. The earth whispering to me asking what I wished of it.

I had to ignore it and get back to picking up apples. I put them into the ‘basket’ I had created with my dress. It was an easier way. Then I tipped them into the wicker baskets and went back together more.

Finally, the sun was setting. The bright blue sky turning paler and darker as the sun dipped. We collected the last of the day’s apples and followed the horses and carts back. People began going their own ways. I went to the well and joined the queue for water. It as too long and I decided to go to the stream instead.

Other people were heading there too but I could walk along to find a patch of my own. There wasn’t a lot of shade out here, there was just fields. I passed some cows who were getting ready for evening milking. The sheep hadn’t been brought down from the hills yet but there were some goats milling around.

At the stream, I walked by people who were drinking or collecting or taking clothes off for a wash. I saw some naked children splashing each other. An old woman with her skirts all bunched up as she dipped her feet and legs in. A few men just in their breaches pouring water from jugs over their heads and three young women watching them and giggling.

I found a quiet spot, far down from everyone else and also beside a small tree. I took all my clothes off. Wishing I had clean ones to put on. Beside from a few undergarments, I had nothing else to wear. In the Temple, I had worn white dress with sliver thread edges to show I was a novice. I could wear a clean one everyday if I had wanted.

I took the cloth strip from my head and pulled my hair down. Leaving my clothes by the tree, I stepped carefully into the stream. It was blissfully cold. Stones felt rough under the feet, so I moved a few of them then crouched down in the little exposed area of stream bed I had made. I cupped the water and splashed it all over me. The cold of it prickled my skin but it was too nice to stop.

I tried to imagine myself in a Temple bath, cooling down after a long day. The chatter of my Sister around me. Everything was cool and clean. There would be robes to wrap in, clean clothes and lots of food to eat this evening. Autumn time had also been my favourite season of year because of that.

‘What we got ‘ere then?’

The man’s voice broke through my thoughts, I stilled and looked up at him. He was grinning, showing missing teeth, rough black stub covered the lower half of his face. His brown eyes were shinning as if he was delighted by the sight before him. He was grubby, thin and a youngish look about him, maybe in his twenties?

‘You’re the mute girl, ain’t you?’

I shook my head and wonder if I did speak would he leave me alone? Panic swelled in my stomach. I knew I should go, put my clothes on and run but wouldn’t that expose me more and invite him to give chase? Not moving might be better but I really wasn’t sure….Maybe, if I had kept some clothes on it would have a made a difference.

‘Yes, you are,’ the man said in a low voice, ‘no one has hair like your’s….’

I looked at my hair, the cherry red colour had darkened with the water and felt heavier, the long wet strands were giving me some cover. I brought more of it around to hide my chest. The man noticed the movement and one of his eyebrows raised.

‘I think you need some company,’ he said and began taking his clothes off.

I shook my head and panic made me flee. I stood, water dripping off me and rushed to my clothes pile. Without throwing anything on, I ran naked into the opposite field. He chased after me, not shouting – I guess so he didn’t draw attention. I didn’t look back, I concentrated on finding some cover but of course there was none to be had.

I dropped a shoe and tried to pick it up. A heavy weight flew into the back of me and sent me tumbling to the ground.

‘Oh, yes! That’s how I like my women!’ the man spoke, his voice full of lust.

I twisted around and saw him dropping his breaches down and his manhood on display.

I couldn’t let this happen! The Sisters prepared us well for sex and bearing children but they taught us it was an act of our faith. Our bodies were vessels for the next Sisters and we shouldn’t just lay with any man. There were rites to be done…

I scrambled upwards but the man threw himself down on top of me and grappled me to the ground. I tasted dirt and blood on my lips. His breath was harsh in my ears and I could feel the hardness of him pushing against my rear end. He tried to part my legs with his own but I strained against him.

My hands clenched around the dry soil and before I could think, instinct took over. I told the earth to blind him as I threw the soil into his face. He cried out and moved his hands off me to try and get his eyes clean. I wiggled out from under him and sat facing him, my chest heaving with deep breaths.

The man swore at me, calling me nasty names as he rubbed his eyes and blinked. His eyes had turned white.

‘I can’t see!’ he screamed.

I plunged my hands deep in the soil and felt the power growing within. The ground shook, the grass shaking wildly then the earth began splitting, a hole appearing under the man and because he was distracted by being blind, he fell into the hole. He screamed but it was cut off by the ground coming back together and the soil closing around him.

‘I didn’t mean it,’ I whispered looking at the spot the the man had disappeared from.

Grass brushed against my naked skin, the soil was cold underneath me. Licking my lips and tasted blood and dirt on them still. I turned away, saw my clothes and quickly got dressed. I ran back to the stream, washing the soil away then rushed to my hidey hole.

There I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders and curled up. The Sisters taught us to control our powers. To not use them without thinking nor in anger. I had broken that lesson. What was I going to do?

Tears washed down my face, thoughts flooded my mind and I couldn’t calm down. All I could see was the earth swallowing that man!

Darkness pressed against my makeshift shelter. I looked out from a hole and steadied myself. No one knew what had happened and if anybody asked me, I was a mute who couldn’t utter a word. The man was gone so he couldn’t say anything against me. I could carry on as normal. That would be the best thing and no one would ever know.

I got up and went to the well, I sorted myself out, tied my wet hair back up and under the cloth, brushed grass from my clothes and put on my shoes. I went back to my hut and found a little stew and tea left for me to have.

Some people were smoking in chairs beside the fire and others had gone to bed all ready. No one looked or spoke to me. I tried to act as normal, tipping the stew into my mouth and swallowing down the cooling tea. I got into bed and pulled the woollen blanket over my head.

I lay breathing deeply, my eyes squeezed shut and trying to blank my mind. I had made a terrible, terrible mistake but I would learn from it and never again would I act like that.

I was alone now. I had to control my gift. I had to stay hidden.

 

(Inspired by; http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com)

Deracinate #AtoZChallenge (Part 1)

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Deracinate – to tear something up by the roots

All stories start with something and this story starts with an apple. It was a normal apple, bright red and ripe for picking. I twisted it off the tree and with a quick look around, I slipped it into a pocket in my underskirt. It was the first apple I had ever picked and the first thing I had ever stolen.

I was wearing clothes that were not my own; an old, patched up blue dress with layers of grey skirts and stays for my growing woman’s shape. On my feet were falling apart brown leather shoes, worn down from all the walking and work. My hair, dirty and unwashed for days like the rest of me was a cherry red colour which shone gold in the full sun or moonlight. It was tied in a bun under a strip of cloth that covered my head.

I carried on picking apples all day. Stopping only a few times to sip ale and nibble mouldy bread. The other workers didn’t speak to me, energy was wasted by talking and there was too much to do. Also, they all thought I was a mute. The apples in their wicker baskets were loaded onto a cart and taken into a stable to be sorted. Some apples were to be sold at the markets and others made into cider.

The sun set and some of us retreated to little huts the farmer had given us for the harvest season. The rest of the workers went to houses or other places they had in the surrounding villages. We ate a weak stew then in a haze of peat smoke, pipe tobacco and sleepiness, I slipped outside.

A few feet away was my hidey hole. It was a little nook in a tumbled down animal shelter. I had made a seat out of some of the wood and placed straw on the floor. There was a holder for a small candle and a worn blanket. I wrapped myself up and lit a candle. I listened but there was only the sound of the wind and animals.

I took the stolen apple out from my pocket. I had eaten apples of course but not for a while now. Not since I had left my Sisters. I rubbed the waxy surface of the apple then bought it to my nose and breathed in deeply of the fresh, sweet and fruity scent. I bit into the apple, the flesh and juice were too sugary and crisp. It all returned me to my past.

The memory of my Sisters made tears prick my eyes. I had been born into them and grew up not knowing anything else. I had learnt many languages, to read and write them. I had learnt potion making of all kinds, casting, calling, spells both defensive and inflicting, herbs by all their names and their many usages, prayers and songs, baking and mending, romance and the weakness of men and monsters, plus so much more.

We lived in large groups in many cities, towns and villages. We had Temples which some of us also lived in though most preferred houses with their families and or other Sisters. My home was a white Temple in a fine old city. We had a patch of land that was a small farm where we grew fruits, vegetables, herbs and plants. There were also animals; chickens, cows, rabbits, bees, dogs, cats, ravens and owls.

We had been in harmony with all peoples and nature. We had been looked upon for help in a whole range of problems; sickness, death, childbirth, crop and animal failures, wars and feuds, blessings, future readings, advice, teachings and lots more. Then something had happened four years ago, some turning of the tide that caused the Sisters downfall.

War had knocked upon us. The people rose against us declaring us bad and forgetting all we had done of them. The Sisters fought back but the enemies were numerous, over powering and driven by unquenchable rage. We were torn apart. Our homes and Temples burnt with some of us still inside, the rest put to the blade or their deaths on show. We were hunted down like scared deer, not understanding why we had been turned upon.

I had been lucky, being only a girl of twelve I had escaped with some others into the crypts below. There our Fallen Sisters lay at their never ending rests. Their bodies wrapped in white sheets and tied with red ribbons. They were placed on stone shelves on top of each other with carved wooden symbols of our faith; bell, book, candle, crested moon, bunches of herbs, cats, ravens and owls.

In the middle of the crypts were the highly decorated marble sarcophagi some of which had effigies on them and there were also statues of the High and Supreme Priestess or Sorceresses. Candles, incense, fresh flowers and prayers were constantly supplied into the crypts and long Fallen In Memoria ceremonies took place day and night down there.

When we escaped, we were meant to stay together but in the darkness and vastness of the jungle we lost each other. I had wanted to go back, I had tried hard to but somehow I had never been able to find my home again. Perhaps it had been a spell cast by the Sorceresses to keep all the novice witches safe? I would never known.

Needing shelter, food and places to hide, I found work on farms. Hard work but at least no one saw me as anything other then an orphan girl on the run. I was too traumatised to speak for a long time and the label of ‘mute’ stuck to me but I found it easy to wear this mask. I didn’t have to answer any questions and say anything which might reveal or create suspicion to what I was.

Novice Sisters didn’t get the tattoos, clothes and jewellery of the faith until they became of age at sixteen then they were called Practitioners. Once everyone could see what you were it was too late to hide. That’s why only the girls had escaped and hardly hunting though I bet innocent girls had been put to fire or to water or just slain by swords.

I had the last bite of the apple and sat with the core in my hand. I thought about practising some magic on it, I still tried often to do things I had been taught. The risk of being caught stopped me. It was all a part of me though, I couldn’t forget or ever stop it no matter what I did. Magic and faith flowed through me like blood.

I transferred the light of the candle to another I had brought. I could have cast my own light but that was asking for trouble. Blowing out the first candle, I made the long way to the pig pens. There was no moon or stars in the sky, clouds were banking up there but I knew it wasn’t going to rain tomorrow. It was going to be another hot and dry autumn day.

A fat, pink pig happily took the apple core from me then snuffled back to sleep. I was half tempted to crawl inside his wooden house within him but instead I made my way back to my own bed.

I slipped through the door and into my cot. Pulling the harsh wool blanket over me, I tried to sleep. Around me, in other cots or chairs were ten or so people all fast sleep. There was snoring and mumbling, sounds of breathing and tossing, it all reminded me of the dorm room I had slept in at the Temple.

The fire was low, only a whisper of heat left within it. I could have brought it back to life and made it everlasting with no need for fuel. I could bend the flames to my will, ask them to burn this hut down, the farm and the apple trees, the people too if I wanted.

I could command the wind to fan the fire more, to blow a gale, destroy everything in its path. I could call water from the well, from the stream and the sky to cover everything and wash it all away. The earth would answer me if I whispered my wants to it, the ground could shake or spilt up and swallow everything.

Plants would be my allies, I could encourage them to grow fast, to wrap around and suffocate everything. I could speak to animals, bargaining with them to do tasks; to bring me food, to help me kill someone, to be my eyes and ears in another place.

There had been other Novice Sisters in my classes who could do things with energy from furniture and other things, pull out memories from minds, whisper thoughts into your head, make objects move and more. We each had our own gifts and talents, our favourite things to work with. Some found the powers easier to work with, others hard and some not at all.

I fell asleep and dreamed about one of those girls I knew, her name had been Aenwyn. For years, she didn’t show any magic abilities no matter what she did. Some of the other girls laughed at Aenwyn but we were friends and one day we were talking as we picked herbs. The smell of those things was heady, mixed in with strong wild garlic. Bees were buzzing in the air gathering honey for their hives. It was a hot, dry summer day.

‘Elenora, what will become of me?’ Aenwyn asked me.

‘Why Aenwyn,’ I answered, ‘you’ll get the best job of all! You’ll become a Matron. You’ll get to look after the Sisters, their daughters, you’ll work in the gardens, with the animals and in the kitchens too. You like baking bread and tending the rabbits, don’t you?’

Aenwyn nodded, ‘but I’d rather be like you, Elenora! You’ll become a druidess.’

‘Maybe, but I’d rather be an elementalist,’ I said, ‘imagine what you can do if you can bend elements to your wants?’

Aenwyn shook her head, ‘it is too great a power.’

I laughed and picked a blood red beetle off one of the baby leaves of sage. I shut my eyes in concentration and called upon the air to fly the beetle away. My request was granted and the beetled was lifted away and over the walls.

Aenwyn opened her mouth but her words were drowned out by the Temple bells, it was time for afternoon prayers. Then we would read the books of our faith before washing and changing to go for evening meal. Afterwards, we would finish our daily tasks, put the animals to bed then change and wash again for the nighttime chants and prayers then it would bedtime as the sunset.

We had lived by the callings of the bells, the tasks set to us by Matron Sisters, Tutor Sisters and Dorm Sisters. Our lives were structured, we knew what to do within each hour by heart. We knew our duty, our destinies, the powers within us until everything was uprooted by the war against us.

Someone was shaking me awake. The faint ringing of bells from my past in my ears. Waking, I saw an old woman, half her wrinkled brown face was covered by long, ragged, white hair, her simple peasant dress too loose around her wasting body.

The sun had rose and brought another day of apple picking with it.

To Be Continued…

(Inspired by; http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com)

Cereology #AtoZChallenge

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Cereology – the study of investigation of crop circles

It was definitely aliens this time, I could swear to it. The crop circle was huge and spread across two fields of corn, most of which had been flattened. The plants hadn’t just been laid flat though, there were shapes within the main ones. The corn lay in almost a spiral pattern, some going one way then the next patch going the opposite.

I glanced back at the farmer who had called me into inspect this weirdness. He was stood against the open gate to the field, scratching his head under his flat cap whilst his three boarder collie dogs paced around him, eager to get back to work.

There was no way he could have done this. It was too big, too complex and why would he want to ruin a crop that was a month away from being harvested? No, it didn’t make sense for him to have done this….

I looked at my clipboard again and made some more notes. I took some more photos then went over to the farmer. He was petting one of the dogs and talking to her.

‘Do you have a ladder or something I can get a higher photo with? I’d love to try and see this thing fully,’ I asked.

The farmer mumbled something in his thick Yorkshire accent which I could hardly understand and walked away. I hoped he was going to get a ladder and hadn’t decided I was crazy. Though, he like everyone else, except those of The Fellowship of the Outer Finders Orbit (FUFO) thought I was mad, so what did it matter?

Minutes passed, I re-read my notes, made a few more, walked around bit and then the farmer and another man appeared with the ladder. The dogs were running around and barking but once they realised they were back at a sheep free field again, they calmed down.

The farmer spoke and I guess he was introducing me to his son and also where were they to put the ladder?

I pointed to the corner of the field and we went over.

Once up the ladder, I could see the crop circle in all its glory. God it was beautiful! There was circles of all kinds joining together to make what had to be the base of a space craft. I took a few photos then had to change the film in the camera.

‘Let’s move the ladder over there,’ I said.

For maybe a hour or so, we moved the ladder around and I climbed up and took photos of the different view. Finally, we returned to the gate and the ladder was laid against a hedge.

‘What’s tha think?’ the farmer asked.

‘You sure you didn’t hear or see anything?’ I asked.

‘Nowt.’

‘They must have been cloaked,’ I muttered to myself, ‘I wonder what they wanted….Any cattle or other animals gone missing?’

‘Not sure. Sheep ‘re on fell. Don’t count ’em.’

I frowned and took that to mean he didn’t know. Was there any point in asking if he could go and check? I shook my head.

‘Tha done?’

‘Yes. I think so. If anything else happens, call me again.’

‘Theerz nowt s’queer as folk,’ the son said in a low voice.

I frowned but before I could ask what he meant, the farmer spoke, ‘tek n’gorm.’

God, I should have brought a translator!

‘Tha want brew?’ the farmer asked.

‘Er no, I’m driving. Thanks anyway. I should be going actually. It was nice to meet you. Thanks,’ I said and shook both their hands, ‘goodbye.’

‘Aye, lad sithee.’

I nodded and left the two men talking to each other. I guessed they were discussing me, probably insulting me but I had no idea. I walked back to my car, parked almost in a ditch in the courtyard of the farm.

Once back in my car, I felt strangely safer as if I had just escaped from an alien encounter.

I sipped some warm water and took a some deep breaths of hot, stale air. I started the car and put down the window. I glanced at the collection of papers and camera films I had dumped on the passenger seat.

‘Unbelievable evidence though, wait to the FUFO sees this!’ I spoke.

(Inspired by; http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com)