Fair Upon the Tor #57 (updates Mondays, mostly)

“I said, don’t look at them. And of course they are still watching. They’re wondering how much of their true nature we’ve guessed. Let them wonder.” A snort. “Now, keep moving and keep an eye out for a card-reader. The place is lousy with them. Oh, hrm, there’s one. Come on.”

He trotted ahead of her and barged into the tent, stating, loudly, “We want to have our cards read.”

A startled man in a red and gold turban and star-decorated robes was half-falling out of his seat as Caewen slipped into the space. “Sorry,” she said. “When my friend gets enthusiastic about something, he, well, he tends to knock things out of the way. Or sometimes people.” She shrugged. “Or walls.”

“Oh, um, yes, yes,” said the man. He was adjusting his headdress back into position–it had slipped over his left eyebrow–and he then set about arranging his robes back into shape again. He looked a bit like an ungainly bird trying to resettle its feathers after a fright. This overall impression was added to by his thin neck, pointy bulb in the throat, and sharp nose. He started to say, in a rather nasal voice, “Have a seat–” but looked at Dapplegrim, and just sort of stopped mid-sentence.

“That’s alright,” said Dapple. “I’ll stand. Hrm. Now, do me first. Call the cards and lay them.”

“Wait,” said Caewen, “How much?” She opened her purse and fished around inside. Her anxious running of fingers through the contents during the conversation with the two men had brought the larger objects to the top so that a couple sapphires, the carven black cloak-pin, and a tarnished silver amulet from the goule’s hoard were in the way of getting to the stash of more sensible coppers, pennies and groats.

The card-reader named a price, they haggled, but not aggressively, and agreed on three coppers and two groats. Caewen pulled out the coins and clinked them onto the card-reader’s table. He swept them into the cuff of his robe.

“I suppose you are learning,” said Dapple, eyeing her and smiling with his sharp, ivory coloured teeth. “That was good thinking. Agreeing to a price first. I was in too much of a rush, hurm.”

“I’m doing my best.”

“Ahem,” interjected the fortuneteller. “Now, be seated–or um, you, miss, you will be seated–and bring about a quietness of mind and voice. For the esoteric arts of notoria demand the utmost attention and focus. For else, what manner of–“

“That’s fine,” said Dapple. “We don’t need the show. Just read the cards. Me first.”

Caewen smiled, and tried to look apologetic.

He seemed a bit irritated that his spiel had been cut short, but rearranged himself again, and tried to settle himself back into the mood. “Now,” he shuffled the cards on his table, and ran his hand down the deck, flicking the edges, making clicking noises, “The first card I draw for you is–“

“Hey,” said Caewen. “Sorry. Stop. What’s that?” She pointed. Behind the man was an array of cloth, hung in rich folds and decorated with patchwork quilts showing various images of sortilege, magiomancy and augury. There were men spreading entrails of oxen, women roasting bottles over hearth-fires, children throwing old and worn out shoes into a river. The card-reader looked over his shoulder and said, abruptly, “Curtains. Those are called curtains.”

“No, I mean, there–the image. The head in flames.” One of the images was of a brownish bronze face afloat in a cloud of flames.

“That is a brazen head,” said the man. “It’s an oracular device.”

“Do you have one?” she asked.

“Do I–?” He snorted, and laughed, tried to suppress it, but gave up, and let out a long donkeyish laugh. It was good natured, but an awful braying sort of noise. “Do I have a brazen head?” He took his turban off, dropped it onto the table and mopped his brow. “If I had a one of them, would I be reading cards in a patched up, flea-ridden, bedbug infested tent like this?”

“Bedbug infested?” said Dapple, looking down at the rugs.

“I’m guessing not?” tried Caewen.

“No, of course not. The brazen heads were made by the Grand Circle of Augurs at the Lithriki Fire Temple five hundred years ago. There can’t be more than two or three left. Wars have been fought for them. They say that gods have been murdered for the possession of them. They are most powerful tools of foresight.” He waved a dismissive hand. “Hence, the depiction on the curtain. One needs to maintain a certain atmosphere.”

“I see,” said Caewen, squinting at the image. “So… that would be an unusual thing to just havee lying around? I mean, if someone had one of those sitting in a corner of their tent?”

“Almost certainly a fake,” said the man. “Now, did you want your cards read or not. And excuse me for not putting my hat back on. It’s hot in here, and I don’t think you care about the act, do you?”

“Not one jot,” declared Dapplegrim merrily.

“Very well then. I shall read for you first, oh strange horse with a strange fleshless face, and darkness for skin, and fire for eyes. Let me see. He turned over the first card. It showed a road with a stone beside it, and a long black shadow across the way. “One of Shadows,” declared then man. “Potentially an ominous start. But, there are many and diverse interpretations. Let us see what the second card is. He turned it over. “That’s interesting. Two of Shadows.” He turned over another card. “Three of Shadows.” This proceeded in sequence until he reached the Ten of Shadows. The cards were laid out in a long shape with two cards at the start, then a branched pattern made of three cards, then another bridging card, another branching pattern made up of three cards, then two sequential cards at the end.

“Oooh,” said Dapplegrim, apparently transfixed. “What does it mean?”

But the fortuneteller just blinked at the cards and shuffled them off the table into his hands. He muttered something about demons and spirits and turned to Caewen. “Let us try you. Unless you also are made of some manner of magical element that will render my arts rather joyless and pointless?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Good. Ahem.” Without any fanfare he drew and placed the first card. “Two of Moons.”

Caewen leaned over and peered at the card. It depicted a young man staring up at two moons that seemed to be caught in a tree, like big floating drifts of dandelion fluff.

“Huh,” said Caewen. “Go on.”

Plans of attack

Just a quick update today. The continuation of Fair Upon the Tor will be up tomorrow. I’m now formulating a plan for the next phase of the Caewen story. The next (novel length) story after Fair Upon the Tor is already written, but needs some editing, and that will likely be the immediate next task. However, I’m thinking of then taking a step backwards and filling out the first two instalments with a bit more material that helps draw together the story as a whole.

The reason for this is that I’m getting quite decent downloads of A Treasure of Bone and Promises, which sometimes notches up as high as rank 150-200 in Epic Fantasy on Amazon, but with little to no follow through on downloads for The House of Snow and Apples. There could be a couple of reasons for this, but I think the main problem is that the first novella doesn’t set up a good sense of there being somewhere to go, story-wise.

I’ve thought this over quite a bit, and now have some clear ideas how both A Treasure of Bone and Promises and The House of Snow and Apples could be expanded to make the through-story more obvious, and hopefully, more interesting too. So, to that end, I think my plan of attack is:

  1. Finish writing and posting the first draft for Fair Upon the Tor
  2. Edit and e-publish Fair Upon the Tor (probably arranged into chapters)
  3. Edit and e-publish Book 4, A Charm for the Nameless Child (probably arranged into chapters)
  4. Add some material that expands A Treasure of Bone and Promises
  5. Add some material that expands The House of Snow and Apples
  6. Publish the two ‘expanded’ books at the same time (i.e. these won’t go up bit-by-bit over time). I’ll do my best to provide other material at least once a week to keep the blog active.
  7. Complete/publish the rest of the series. I think this will form 2-3 books after A Charm for the Nameless Child.

So, that’s my working plan. Stepping backwards a bit will cause the completion of the series to be somewhat delayed, although I’m hoping that by first completing and publishing A Charm for the Nameless Child I will provide enough new material for readers to keep interested, and stick with it for a bit.

Slightly delayed by a cold

So I’m quite under the weather with a head cold that started in the throat a few days ago, but then moved to my sinuses with a vengeance. I have the next part (and actually a good few thousand more words) written, but I usually like a take an hour to make sure the writing is reasonably clear and I haven’t written anything very stupid. The cold is getting in the way of me thinking clearly at the moment. However, you should see the next little bit of the story up sometime tomorrow.

I expect I’ll have the next instalment up tomorrow. In the meantime, here are some randomly picked draft entries from a fairy dictionary I’ve been working on as a hobby project for years now.

Slubber-de-Gullion (Scotland and North England). Other variants are Slavermegullion, Slavermagullion, Slavermahgulyen and Slobbergullion. Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary gives these names only to be ‘terms of contempt’ for dirty, slovenly people. Gullion was used on its own to mean a wretched or worthless person in Scotland, and gully has meanings associated with gulping or swallowing, but also cutting and gashing (a gully-knife was a butcher’s knife). See *Gul for a discussion. Slubber-de-Gullion appears to have meant drooling or slobbering Gullion, and Gullion is perhaps a lost fairy or monster name related to *Gul and Gally- names. The name has the right form to be a fairy, where English farmers were presumably mocking the noble form of Norman names, or possibly giving a goblin a noble-sounding name out of fear or respect. Tatterdemalion and Flibbertigibbet are similar.

Sperimogle (Devonshire) Wright in the English Dialect Dictionary (1898) defines this as ‘…A supernatural being, a ‘spirit-bogle’…’ though gives no more detail. Speri- certainly does seem like it might be related to spirit, spreet or similar and -i(m)ogle could be a corruption of bogle or similar though what the middle -i(m)- part of the name represents is unclear. Because the stress and pronunciation is uncertain, it is also possible the word might be derived from something closer to *Speri(t)-Mogle, where mogle could plausibly be related to Moggy or Mawkin (diminutives for Mary).

Spotloggin (Worcestershire) In one explanation, this apparent bogey-creature was the ghost of a murdered man who haunted a ditch near Evesham. The ditch was supposedly the site of his murder, and as a mark of this, the hedge along the ditch refused to grow there. Spotloggin was supposed to appear to anyone who tried to cross the ditch. An alternative explanation current at the same time is that Spotloggin was ‘a lady of that name, who used to patch her face, and was supposed to be very proud’. There is substantial confusion between the fairies and the dead in British folk-belief, and there does seem to be something rather fairy-ish about Spotloggin. The ghostly explanations could well be tacked onto an earlier bogey-beast tradition.

Tangie (Shetland and Orkney Islands) A sea Kelpie that is named for the seaweed that covers him. Like many Water-Horses, Tangies appear sometimes as a horse and sometimes as a man, although, unusually, Tangies can appear as old men. It would be more usual for a Water-Horse to appear as a handsome young man who might tempt a woman into the water. From Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary:

Sh.I. Ye’re no like a bodie ava dat hes düins wi’ evil speerits–tangies, brownies, witches, STEWART Tales (1892) 5 ; S. & Ork. A sea-spirit which frequents the shores, supposed at times to assume the appearance of a horse, at other times that of an old man. Or.I. This imaginary being is supposed to have his origin from the luminous appearance of the tangle, when it is tossed by the sea (Jam.).

2. A young seal. Or.I. (Jam. Suppl.)

 

For anyone who is curious the fairy dictionary has hundreds of entries and has quite a few more obscure entries than Briggs or other similar general works. It’s currently standing at about 160k words. I’ll probably try to get it published if and when it hits 200k.

Fair Upon the Tor #48 (updates Mondays)

The stars above were bright nail-heads sunk deep in a soggy dark sky. A ghost of the day’s receded sun still draped itself across the western horizon. A few trails of high cloud showed up gleams of orange and gold, cast from somewhere beyond the rim of the world. There were people scattered around, but not many. They were almost outnumbered by the torches on polished dark wood poles and fires, lit in low braziers. The earth, the people and the hillside were all in shadow.

Looking around, the whole of the immediate landscape was one broad and shallow impression, pushed into the size of the tor, as if by the heel of a gigantic hand. Up above, Caewen could see paths tracing the black-green mass of the tor, and the summit above that, tearing at some foggy strands of cloudiness. She turned around to try and understand how the shallow corrie related to the maze. Behind her, both left and right, stretched a horseshoe shaped expanse of the grey, gritty stone walls of the maze, spreading like wings of a huge, heavy bird, and encircling the depression on the hillside. Doors lined the wall, studding the whole length of the half-circle. There were a lot of them too. Far too many to count at a glance. Above each door was carved a device of some sort or other, trees, clouds, stars, and other more esoteric shapes. Presumably these were exits from the maze, and the carvings were symbolic in some way. Maybe relating to the path taken through the maze?

As Caewen stood there, feeling more than a little disorientated, trying to work out her bearings, a cry went up from the thin crowd. More than one voice shouted aloud, all raised in what sounded like wordless surprise, even amazement. A moment later, a figure detached herself from the milling knots of bodies, and ran in long-limbed bounds down the slope. “Caewen! Caewen! You’re alive!”

It was Keri. She practically hit Caewen in mid-air and wrapped her arms around her. “Where’s Keru?” she panted. “Isn’t he with you?” She looked over Caewen’s shoulder.

“No. Didn’t he emerge ahead of me? I was in the maze for hours, or it felt like that. He must have long since come out of the place.”

“Gods of fern and earth-oven. He’s not with you?” She bit her lip, and it looked like she was going to have to stop herself crying. “I thought he must be with you, that maybe you chanced on each other in the maze. It was all I could think of.” Her tone darkened. “Has the maze kept him then?”

“No,” Caewen was about to tell her that the goddess of the tor only keeps young women, only by choice, and that there had been no sign of Keru in the house under the tor anyway, but she remembered the warning. “I mean. I can’t say how I know, but I know the maze hasn’t taken him.” She trailed off embarrassedly. Keri pulled away. She gave Caewen an awkward stare. “I was certain my brother had to be with you. He isn’t. What’s happened to him?”

“I don’t know.”

Keri swallowed hard, but pulled herself taller, fixed her expression, and turned her face away, rubbing the back of a hand across her eyes. “We can’t think about it right now. You have to go stand before the welcomers and proclaim yourself. I wonder what they’ll say?”

“The welcomers?”

“They meet new magicians who have completed the maze. They will ask you for your allegiance, night or day, or other.”

“Other then, I guess. Is that all? That shouldn’t take long.”

“But don’t you–?” Keri shook her head. “No, of course, you wouldn’t know. There are twenty-five doors out of the labyrinth. The Twenty-Four Doors for the Hours, which mark out the hours of the day, are the common doors, and then there is the twenty-fifth: the Lockshut Way. You came out by the Lockshut. No one comes out by the shut door, or at least, not in a hundred years has anyone come out that way. How did you find it? What was behind it? The story is that anyone who comes out of the shut door is destined to sit on the Broadtable, destined to be one of the great magians of all the orders.”

“That doesn’t sound likely,” said Caewen, now feeling deeply uncomfortable. “And besides, I don’t go in much for prophecies. I’m starting to doubt the truthfulness of omens and seers in general, truth be told.”

“Still, it’s unusual though. Come on, Caewen. The welcomers will be waiting.” A glance back at her. “And you will have to tell me what was on the other side of the door. I can’t imagine what you saw there.”

“Nothing much to speak of,” said Caewen quietly. She added, with discomfit, “It was just a way in the maze. Nothing special.” The lie rankled her, but she had to believe that the goddess had been truthful about the ban against telling anyone about her house, or the taking of souls.

As they walked up the shallow incline, Caewen spotted Sgeirr. The princess-sorceress was standing off to one side, looking troubled to the point of pensive. She was keeping well to the shadows, away from any torchlight, and fingering the hilt of that broad dagger she had sheathed to her hip. So, Sgeirr had come through the maze safely enough then? She would be wondering what happened to her two followers, no doubt. Caewen toyed briefly with the idea of telling her exactly what had happened, but thought better of it. The memory alone made her feel sick, and she didn’t want to be known for that sort of magic, nor did she think she would actually get any pleasure out of telling someone that their companions were dead.

Keri saw her too, and nodded in the general direction, but just a fraction, clearly trying to keep her movement subtle. “That Sgeirr… her two lackeys haven’t come out of the maze either. Something strange has happened today.”

Caewen now had to consider whether she could be honest with Keri about this, and said, after tentatively wetting her lips a fraction, “Actually, I do know what happened to them at least. They attacked me in the maze. I defended myself.”

Keri stoped, nailed to the earth in her half-step. She stared, eyeballs wide, unblinking. “But… but the goddess will punish you. No attendee of the moot can take the life of another. Not ever.”

“As things resolved, that won’t be a concern. The goddess will not punish me.”

“How do you know?”

A hard bite of her breath, then Caewen said. “I’m sorry. I can’t say. I’m not trying to be mysterious. I just can’t say. Certain things happened to pass that I cannot speak about. I was forbidden.”

Keri was quieter after that, casting suspicious, sideways glances at Caewen, as if trying to unravel what she was seeing. “I haven’t known you very long, Caewen, but you don’t seem like the sort of person who just lets themselves be ordered about. There’s more to this than just a simple instruction, isn’t there?”

“Yes. That would be the situation. I can’t elaborate though. I wish I could, but I can’t.”

They were nearly at the top of the small depression, Caewen heard another familiar voice call to her. “A’halloo! Caewen!” It was Dapplegrim. He had broken into a prance, like a foal, back and forth just on the other side of the outermost line of fires. “They won’t let me into the enclosure, on account of not being a magician. If you can believe it? Stupid wizards. Great to see you! Keri was worried, but I wasn’t.”

Keri smiled, small, concealed by a turn of the head. “He was worried sick. Caewen this. Caewen that. I thought he’d never shut up.”

Caewen waved. “It’s alright. I’m alright.”

By way of apology

It doesn’t look like I’ll have an illustration up for last Thursday. My excuses are divided three ways and evenly among new parenthood, a fairly heavy lecturing load last week, and ‘scheduled maintenance’ on the host servers, which seemed to shut down my ability to post for most of the week. By way of offering up something else, pasted below is a link to a couple videos recorded at the Sussex Folktale Centre. I have no connection with this centre, and found the links via Terri Windling’s rather wonderful blog. They are exactly the sort of obscure thing that is hard to find, except by accident. Well worth watching.

A link to the videos here.

Journal and updates

I’m going to see if I can start up some posting with updates and (hopefully relatively brief) thoughts and reflections on writing. I’d like these to stand out from the ongoing fiction I’m posting. To that end, I’m going to play around with fonts and colours.

These life updates won’t be regular. It’ll largely depend on me having something I want to say.

And, yes, this post is awfully short, I know, but it will have to do for now. It’s getting onto be late and I’m barely keeping my eyes open. Time to sign off for the day.

 

Old Dark Things: Freebee Promotion

Currently free until the 15th at Amazon… or, at least I think until the 15th… you might want to grab it sooner rather than later, as I’m still getting used to how the Amazon free promotion system works. I will, however, be re-running the promotion as regularly as possible. Also, feel free to email me at hobgoodfellowe@gmail.com if you want me to email you a freebee copy.

The Amazon promotion has ended, but if you’d like a copy, no obligation for a review, just send me an email.