This winter fawn heard a noise!
The sorcorers had come for the dragons in the early days. Before Incarnate even. They came with their greed and their small minded prejudice. They judged dragons to be evil so they could point to an enemy to rally people against. Dragons were hunted and feared. They were nearly invincible, such was their power, longevity & wisdom. Their compassion was unmatched, yet man found a way to test its limits and go well beyond. The shortsighted cruelty, the unnecessary violence. The relentless pursuit of dragons to the ends of the earth, seeking their utter annihilation. All to justify their need for control.
Dragons were hard to kill. A dragon can withstand an entire army of humans in a straightforward battle. Which is probably why humans refused to engage in them. They claimed to be reasonable and compassionate; indeed, this was the definition of “humane”, but they did not behave that way. It was not in their nature at all.
Entire forests were burned to hunt them down. Their young, murdered in the shell. Starvation, dehydration, madness. Waged generation after generation. Until the few dragons left lived as ghosts, invisible, without leaving any tracks, no traces. Living in the most inhospitable climates, in the darkest secret places, almost resembling the monsters they were depicted as.
Although Yendor had been conscripted into the Armata Rebellis by force, he felt he had joined unofficially the day he met Danse. The memory of her hit him from within, a burst of pain in his chest. He could picture her; just her face: dimly lit, dirty, miserable. His fault. He didn’t even know how to go looking for her. He shook her out of his mind. Danse had taught him to fight, to engage his magical energy into the effort. The Armata had taught him battle. The brutality of it. He did not relish it, but understood its necessity. In order to defeat Incarnate’s Armata, it would take an Armata. These boys were trained, disciplined, and vicious. They would probably be crushed. But if he could get close to Incarnate, if the Armata could keep him focused on them, he might be able to get in a lucky shot; whatever that meant.
These thoughts meandered through his mind as he marched with the troops through thick, viscous fog. The men were superstitious about any natural element, whether it was in their favor or not. The fog, they mumbled was conjured by sorcerers, lurking nearby waiting to ambush the Rebellis. At times the fog was so thick Yendor could not see anyone else. He could hear them laughing disembodied nearby and then they would materialize, as if from another realm. The fog seemed to whisper with them, saying nothing in particular; just sowing fear. And then, with a sudden inhalation, it sucked itself away, into the shadows, leaving the men spooked.
They were descended upon without mercy. sorcerers and warriors, moving as one attacked from all sides. Their numbers were legion. Yendor had his sword out and cut with precision. A brute smelling of earth and shit hacked through the man on Yendor’s flank and came at him frothing at the mouth. He lofted his bloody axes at Yendor, the weapon still dripping with the blood and gristle of Dante, the man Yendor had shared breakfast with. Yendor’s fear turned to icy hatred and parried the axe with his thin blade, enchanted, glowing and with Yendor’s pain and anger surging through it. It cut the axe clean through, then took the eye, brain and life of Yendor’s attacker in one lethal thrust.
A sorcerer saw Yendor’s action and turned his attention to the wizard. The stink of the earth opened up under Yendor, and he fell, lurching to the side to escape the chasm. Before he could regain his footing, the sorcerer was on him with a mace. Incarnate’s favored weapon. The sorcerer wielded the spiked sphere with blinding speed and deadly accuracy. Yendor got his shield up barely in time, but it blocked the blow edgewise, so that the shield crushed under the blow and the mace rammed into Yendor’s left hand. Yendor didn’t feel any pain at first, and that is probably what saved him. He turned into the attack instead of away as his instincts told him, and kicked the looming sorcerer over his head. He leaped to his feet and faced the enemy. The mace began to glow with a heat summoned from pure evil. Another swing of that would be the end of him, Yendor knew. He thrust his sword without magic or thought straight at the necromancer’s heart. There was a hiss as black smoke emerged from the wound, staining the blade.
Yendor had finished his chores, more or less, and had found himself a secluded area not far from camp. Everyone thought the life of a traveling musician was a romantic, drunken celebration that never ended, but only went from town to town. Still technically an apprentice, Yendor knew that this was a myth. There was laundry, and squabbles, food to be prepared, wagons to be repaired, and endless travel. The troupe Yendor traveled with was a large one, and Yendor’s mentor, Waters, was an elder of the troupe and expected Yendor to behave like a grown up for as long as he could remember. Now, nearly an adult, Yendor was still treated like a child. Not that he had any ill feelings toward the grizzled old man, indeed Waters had been Yendor’s only real family since birth. His parents had apprenticed Yendor to Waters as a babe, which it turns out is fairly uncommon. Aparently, his birth parents had wanted to get rid of Yendor imediately, although Waters would always chuckle, shake his head and claim it wasn’t like that; but he would never elaborate. Which wasn’t like Waters at all. Waters was a born storyteller. This was something a traveling musician needed to be. It was also something Yendor was not. He was a skillful player, and had a good voice. But Yendor struggled to write songs that connected to people.
Lately, Yendor had had to face a new problem. His instruments would not behave. They would go out of tune, sound loud or vibrate uncontrollably. It had something to do with Yendor’s emotions. His mood, his ability to control his own temperament seemed tied to his ability to control his oud, the stringed instrument Yendor was most adept at. Waters had never seen anything like it and many in the traveling band of performers, dancers, singers, mummers, fortune tellers, acrobats, actors and other miss fits thought Yendor should be left behind, because they thought his bad luck might be contagious.
Waters had finally said, “Sometimes a problem is in how you look at your problem. You got to ride this thing out. See where it takes you. If you can’t squelch it, maybe you can harness it. You can’t stop the wind, but you can make a sail and travel the seas with that wind at your back.” Waters stroked his scraggly beard, which had, like the hair on his head, gone white.
Yendor’s ouds had been breaking, so he made one more solid. The belly was just a kind of way to make the music carry, and Yendor seemed to be able to make the strings vibrate louder even without the hollow body. Slowly, Yendor had found ways to coax the music back into his oud. He could use the oddities to his favor, creating a more expressive sound than traditional musicians could do.
The air had chilled all night so that the dawn was crisp, brisk and broke with a clear crack of light, which had been looming just under the horizon. At the pier stood a figure, protected from the chill by his woolen cloak, kept in good repair, despite its age. The man had come to pier to fulfill his life’s purpose. He looked out onto the Tao as the tide ebbed an flowed like the breath of the world. There was a calm on the surface that belied the turmoil beneath.
That calm was broken by the frantic cries of a desperate man. Panicked and shaking, the man careened through the village searching for a solution to his problem. The midwife was delivering in the neighboring village and the man’s wife was in labor. The babe was breach and both the child and its mother were like to die without help. The cloaked man took up his staff and went to the father-to-be’s aid. This was what he had foreseen.
In the hut of wattle and daub, the wife writhed upon the bed, sweating the sheets. Leaving his staff at the door and pulling back his hood, the stranger showed his face to be lined with age, the creased shadows pulling away from the candlelight. He ripped the mother’s skirts to expose her to her swollen belly. Who have I invited into my home, thought the father. The ancient stranger placed his withered hands on her abdomen and she calmed. The glow seemed to come from inside the womb, lighting the old man’s hands orange around the edges. He moved his hands in a circular motion as if turning a wheel. The woman arched her back and the babe was born quick and simple.
As the old man took up his staff and replaced his hood, he smiled. “He will be the One.” he said, without need of further explanation. “What will you call him?”
“Yendor.” was the reply.
I am the Blue Dragon. I serve the Blue Light; whose physical manifestation is the Universe: the One Voice, the Eternal Word, the Infinite Sound. All things are revealed by the Light. All shadows are created by the Light. Love is the Way of the Light. Either one serves Love or one opposes Love. One cannot claim to serve Love through hate. Anger and fear are the absence of Love. Love is omnipresent. There is nowhere it is not. It does not shirk; it does not hide. To be unable to feel its presence is delusion. It is we who turn away from the Light. It is constant and never abandons us. It is The Energy; The Force; The Power. The Source of all. Love is indiscriminate. Love is not concerned with what name it is called, or what rituals it is worshiped by. Love does not favor one over another. Love does not punish. Love wants you to be happy and healthy. For this to happen you must conform to Love. Love cannot be ruled by you. You are a manifestation of Love. There is no intermediary.
When a man sets out to tell a tale, he wants to entertain with adventure, action and fun. He cares not of lofty goals or higher ends. Yet tales have a way of telling themselves; at least when they are told correctly. Unseen turns and hidden paths reveal themselves with each step. Shadows shift as our eyes adjust, and then there is a flash of light as confusing as the darkness before. In the end we may have told a different story than we set out to, but it is the one that wanted to be told. We care not, so long as there is adventure, action and fun.
The road was familiar even at night. The houses, the neighborhood, the shops and bars were all known. This was home. Wandering home from somewhere, he became lost. The streetlights cast a garish glow that did little to dispell the stark and encroaching shadows. Once again he was alone in the night in a strange place. The breeze chilled his skin as it stroked his face and moaned through the sycamores. Leaves rustled and unseen whispers could be heard. Without warning a horse seemed to bear down on him, rider unseen. It was too close, too sudden; he would be trampled by the mindless beast.
Rhyder sat bolt upright in bed. Another nightmare. His wife beside him, his son in his crib across the room. The feeling of fear and disorientation hung over him, but slowly faded. He drank the water from the table by the bed and drifted back to sleep. Moments later the baby, his son, woke screaming. Rhyder leapt up and picked up his son and held him to him. The crying was unconsolable. When at last he had calmed his boy and gotten him back to sleep, he found that sleep for himself was elusive. With a heavy heart he realised his son had inherited his nightmares.
The stones of the castle wall had been searingly cold for months. Since October really. September if you thought about it. The fireplace threw off some heat to the room. The braziers helped. The kitchen was warm sometimes. The torches and the candles did little to keep the gloom at bay and nothing in the way of warmth. Nothing though, could dispel the cold of the thick stones that comprised the building proper. The thrushes on the floor didn’t really provide any kind of barrier, and had to be replaced constantly with fresh ones or they just became litter.
Even a stocky and bear of a man as William Brewer wore his heavy boots everywhere except to bed. Like his grandfather, he was known as Big Bill Brewer, and as sheriff, he used his weight to intimidate the subjects in his care. He stoked the fire himself, mindful of the winter’s stockpile. It wasn’t unlimited. Although he was on his way to becoming a baron, he was at this time just a sheriff albeit; High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, it was a position, not a noble title.
Though fortified by a thick wall and built of heavy stone, the fortress wasn’t really a castle in the proper sense, though everyone referred to it as the castle. It kept out the bandits, but not the cold. He had but a few servants and with his wife, who was as formidable as he was, performed many of the household chores himself. Weary from a long day of suffering fools, he put out the last of the candles, took off the boots and climbed into the cold bed, and prayed for sleep as his foul breath came out in chattering plumes.
e i h
High in a sturdy and ancient oak, there was another house of wattle and daub. It was invisible from the outside, though inside it was aglow with homemade candles. This room was much smaller though that had its advantages. For one thing, it was much easier to heat. The simple furnishings were cunningly fashioned in such a way as to fold away at night to make room for a bed. Marian sat in a chair in the corner and watched Robin lay it out. He started with three thick comforters, one from his childhood and two from hers. He laid them out in the meager space, centering them to provide both Marian and he equal cushion. Upon these, he laid several more blankets of varying size and shape, centering each one carefully and smoothing out any wrinkles. There was the course wool blanket made by the Smith wife in the village, there was the blanket won at the fair as a boy. There were nine layers all told, made fresh every night.. At this point, Robin lay down two down pillows, a gift from a family in town when they heard they had none. Finally, Robin lay down a few more blankets to cover them and they lay down to cuddle and keep each other warm. Marian blew out the candle and marveled how she had come to live in a tree in the forest with an outlaw.
The day they came to evict Robin from his childhood home, he was already gone. He had taken everything so Big Bear Brewer would get nothing. He had spirited his meager belongings into the woods, weary of the thieves that populated the forest, but willing to take his chances. Bill had threatened Robin with imprisonment, as well as seizing his property if there was trouble. Robin wanted trouble, but he had been talked into fighting another day. He had planned on watching from a hiding spot, but couldn’t bear it. In his minds eye, he saw the Bear arrive with a handful of deputies. He saw himself loose arrow after arrow into each man’s heart. Then he would be a murderer. His great great grandfather had built that house before the Normans had come, and now one of Brewer’s men lived there.
At first, the taxes had not been much. They were levied, it was claimed, to support the office of the sheriff, who protected the subjects of the realm from outlaws. As far as anyone could tell, the only outlaws sheriff brewer went after were the ones who’s crime was not to pay the ever increasing tax. Tax was supposed to go to paying for services such as roads, or actual law enforcement, but everyone knew Bill sent some to the crown for the privilege of being sheriff, and kept the rest to fill his coffers. The nobles could pay the crown directly and thus escape Bill’s tax with a writ of exemption, but the lump sums required for such a writ was too steep for the commoners. Some of the nobles would complain from time to time, to the realm, at the bequest of the servants who worked for them, that Bills methods were corrupt.. But Bill was wily, and hid his money in “monestaries” he gave to. He would retire to them one day, and find them nicely furnished and waiting for him.
The first night in the woods, there was no tree house, no Marian, no blankets and not much sleep. As a Yeoman, and the son and grandson of a Yeoman, Robin was no stranger to sleeping in the woods. It was just very different when it was not by choice. He built a fire to cook the rabbit he had caught for dinner. there was no biscuits or coffee or beer that night. He set his leanto and his thin bedroll and said to himself; “Here’s your new home Robin. Nice view, but a bit draughty.” The water from Spritescreek had been bracingly cold, and had never tasted better.
Robin found it hard to keep his mind from wondering how he could regain his property, his reputation, and his place in Nottingham. Yet, the forest was alive with sound that kept him from forming any concrete plans. He thought he heard voices and clumsy movement in the trees. Then at one point, it was quiet. A hush fell over the forest. It was louder than the noises that preceded it. Robin quietly pulled the thin cover off him, and silently moved to look out of his tent. He expected to see a murderous brigand. Instead, he saw a stag. Regal and lit by the moon. When he saw Robin, he didn’t dart away, but lowered his great antlered head, revealing a star filled sky with the effect of a cascade of celestial light showering down upon them. Silently Robin approached the deer and placed his hand on the muzzle of the noble beast. It was a singular moment in Robin’s life, as if the forest welcomed him and offered him protection. Once again, the stag bowed and with a lingering look from his shining black eye, he turned and disappeared. Slowly the forest came back to life but without the clumsy ghosts he had heard earlier.
When Robin woke in the morning, he wondered if he had dreamt the incident, but there in the soft dew covered ground, was the unmistakable deer track. From that moment on, whenever doubt or fear entered Robin’s head, any uncertainty about the future; he remembered that night and that provisioned him with such courage as to forge ahead, no matter the odds.
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I’ve been working on a new series of faerie sketches for a children’s book. Some are more finished than others. Most of them are in a little 5×7 sketchbook that my wife gave me as a gift, so the sketches are kind of small. These newer ones are being done with water soluble graphite, watercolor pencils and markers. They are helping me to flesh out the story. I’ve also been writing some poetry for the book, but again, more as sketches or ideas that may or may not end up in the book.
All I can really tell for sure is I probably won’t do the finished pieces in watercolor pencil and marker.
Marina is a baby raindrop floating in the clouds. Follow her on her journey through life as she makes friends, becomes part of a community, blossoms into a unique individual and contemplates life in this short, poetic story about life. Beautifully illustrated with aquatint etchings. This is not your typical picture book. Order your copy here.