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.

Old Dark Things

Well, it’s done. At about 150k words, Old Dark Things is a dark, folkloric stand-alone fantasy set in Clay-o-the-Green, the same world as The Winter King.

My plan is to run it through Kindle Select for a while to start off with, so that I can make the book available as a free product over at least a couple promotional periods. We’ll see how that goes. If I don’t get a lot of take-up in terms of downloads via Amazon, I’ll withdraw it from Kindle Select (but leave it on the Amazon regular service), and then upload copies here and at Smashwords so that the novel will at least be easy to get hold of.

Either way, I plan to make the novel free using the promotional options via Kindle Select as much as possible. It should be easy to grab the work for free directly from Amazon, one way or another. Once Old Dark Things is up and available I’ll link to it directly, and make public some planned freebee dates. If you miss one window you can then easily grab the next one.

New Years Thoughts

Well, it has been an interesting, odd and difficult year. Personally, 2016 was full of both wonderful life events and a lot of hard trials. I have come through it, and although I am perhaps not unscathed, I am feeling positive about the future. Yes, it has been a somewhat bleak year for me in many respects. I ran right into a swamp of fear and misgivings that I did not anticipate at all, and spent much of the middle of the year wondering if I was perhaps being very foolish about this whole writing thing. I got myself tangled up with fear in a very serious way. Worries about mistakes and failures ground me down into a place where I simply stopped writing for several months. This was quite serious for me. I haven’t stopped writing for more than a couple weeks for the last twenty-odd years. It got to a point where I wasn’t quite sure that I knew who I was any longer.

But I am feeling more my old self again. A bit of time away from work to regather my thoughts, and allow myself some stillness, has helped a lot, as did the support of people around me. I don’t now how the next year will pan out, but I have reached a point where I feel that I have accepted some things, and understood some things, and these things will be a help to me in the future.

So what is my advice to myself this year? Sometimes we have to take time to shore up the bricks of our own identities. Sometimes we need to actively, not passively, do some work on self-confidence. It is alright to like the things you like. It’s alright to be you. And you know what? It’s also alright sometimes to look at yourself, your work, life, family, whatever is valuable to you, and just feel good about it. Sometimes it is just fine to make a cup of tea, and sit, and watch the leaves of trees blowing in the wind outside, and just say to yourself, well, this is nice, isn’t it? I don’t think I’d rather be anywhere else than here, and here is just fine by me. Sometimes, we just need to give ourselves a break, in both senses of the word.

Fair Upon the Tor Drafting

I have made some small headway with Fair Upon the Tor, enough so that I’m considering posting the first draft as I write it… or perhaps, not quite as I write it, but in thousand-word chunks. I think I’m also going to switch comments on. I don’t expect I’ll see much in the way of feedback, although I guess we shall see.

At this point I will aim for the first-draft-in-progress to go live with regular to semi-regular Monday updates. I might even throw in some related illustration work too.

Sort of related to this, sort of unrelated, I discovered Songgu Kwon’s Elf webcomic over the weekend and read it start-to-finish in a couple sittings. It is quite a bizarre tale (in a good way), and wandering, and beautifully illustrated, and also oddly and powerfully character-driven in a way that stories that claim to be character-driven often are not. Well worth checking out, if you haven’t already.

I suppose reading Elf made me reflect on other people who have posted creative works in progress. Given that my plan is to give it all away free anyway, it doesn’t seem all that terrible an idea to post bits of it as I am going. Yes, it may mean that I post something that is unpolished and will need a second or third pass to get it into shape. But, on the other hand, it will also impose a sense of urgency around actually getting the work done… which I think I now need to place on myself, one way or another. There’s a point where feeling exhausted and bleed-out ceases to be a good reason to remain in a state of slow trudging. Sometimes I think the only way to get back into a good pace, is just to start running again.