Category Archives: Tales from Green Lake

Under the Willow – A Green Lake tale

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(Image found here – Weeping willow )

Grandmother Ida watched Kai run; watched her blunder out of the house, stumble through the rose arch and hitch handfuls of skirt as she hurdled the brook beyond.

“Don’t let those tears blind you long, girl.” Grandmother Ida murmured, turning from the window and contemplating the faded fawn leather of the book in her hand. She riffled the pages, ran a yellowing nail over the achingly familiar script and battened down a wave of sorrow. Life happened to the living. She could do nothing for Marli, dead three weeks; that was for the Goddess now. No, her care had to be for Kai.

Kai flattened by loss, Kai with a tear-stained smile, brandishing a book, the diary, confessions never meant for other eyes. Grandmother Ida had been too slow, her grief too raw for speed of thought. Now Kai was running. Grandmother Ida had watched the girl’s smile turn from pleasure, a chance to connect with one gone too soon, through puzzled frown, to the anguished, angry, tear-filled glare of a wounded animal. She’d flung the diary at the fire, Ida too slow again, and then fled the house, blinded by those tears.

Grandmother Ida placed a hand over her heart, closed her eyes and murmured softly,

“Watch over her. This much only I ask for she must find her way home alone.”

Kai ran. Disappearing into the cool, dim maze of ancient trees and silent carpets of moss, she had no awareness of her flight, her mind whirling, alternating between anger and despair. Occasionally, unconsciously, her body swerved out of danger from fallen boughs and jutting rocks, her hands periodically swiping her eyes clear, but the tears refused to dry. How could she not have known? Twenty years under the same roof and never a hint. Would she ever have been told if Marli hadn’t died? Why had they not told her she was no relation, they were not family? That each had been chosen to be the Grandmother to Green Lake, successors one after the other, she raised to think they were family? What was she supposed to do now? How was she to know who she was? How could she live under the same roof; the roof under which her whole life had been lived inside a lie!

Kai screamed, a throng of birds lifting out of the trees, screeching their indignation at her. Looking up, startled by their flight, Kai caught her foot in a root and ended on hands and knees, fingers and toes digging deep into the drift of yellowing finger-like leaves littering her landing spot. She crawled forward; suddenly aware her flying feet had brought her to the willow. She scurried further, a frightened child once more, curling against the bark, listening to the minute ticks and cracks inside the living heart of her tree, to the gentle whispers as the protective drape of branches and leaves enclosed her, shut out the world. She slept and dreamed.

She walked through woods which were at once familiar and yet changed. Paths she had known since childhood now led to unexpected ends, or forked into new ways. Ancient, revered oaks and willows rustled, whispered, leaned and beckoned with playful pokes of hanging branches or swirls of dancing leaves in bars of golden sunlight. It felt like summer but she knew it was Beltane by a slight coolness to the air, a profusion of new green, yet to attain the richer hues of warm and sunlit days. Water babbled and sparkled in a brook to her side and she paused for a while, paddling her feet in the delicious coolness, connecting with her world, the rushing ripples and miniature waves washing some of the weight from her heart.

A sound murmured across the air, borne on the lightest of breezes, a breath with which it whispered. Laughter, light and carefree, voices back and forth, a patter of feet, and snatches of music, voice and instrument raised in joyous abandon. She stepped across the brook, felt an encouraging caress from the drooping branches of a young willow, content as yet to remain with its roots soaking in clear, sustaining water, but urging her gently on with a branch to her arm, her back. She followed the barely visible path, perhaps no more than a rabbit run, edged with pale yellow primroses and overhung with hazel. Up ahead she saw a thinning of the plants, dapples of light and shade as the breeze danced shifting boughs and stems. She caught flashes of red amongst the green, laced with white, perhaps a flicking skirt hem, a streamer of ribbons.

She stepped off the path and into a clearing. A maypole stood tall and proud, festooned with intricately wound ribbons in a myriad of colours, crowned with a circlet of fresh blooms. The glade was filled with dancing, singing, laughing figures, each holding a ribbon end and whirling about the pole. A woman looked over, smiled, held out a hand and pulled Kai in beside her. She grasped for a stray ribbon, pushed it into Kai’s fingers and set her to dancing. It seemed not to matter that she knew no-one, that the intricate weaving dance was unfamiliar; within moments Kai was bobbing and reaching, ducking and rising, in an ever faster circle, the figures crowding in with her as they came closer to the pole.

Kai realised she was at the centre. Somehow, the whirling, laughing, singing throng had surged her against the maypole and the last ribbons were binding her to it. Each face came close, kissed her cheek and placed a ribbon end into her fingers. Finally she stood, bound lightly to the pole with the swaying, chanting forms all about her, a flute trilling above the low hum of voices, a harp cascading around and through the wordless song. The chant swelled, a pair loosed their hands allowing a new figure to step through and enter the circle. He, and there could be no doubt that muscle and power and masculinity rippled under the hooded cloak of green leaves, walked slowly to the pole. Sparkling green eyes, alight with dancing golden flecks, stared into hers. He held out a hand, tilting his head slightly to one side; a question.

Kai looked at her hands, at the ribbon ends and understood. She offered them to him. His hands closed about hers and her body shivered, heat and strength streaming into her blood. He began to pace around her, the chanting figures matching their rhythm to his, building with agonising slowness as he circled, unwinding, but with each turn she felt herself pulled closer to him, her heart and soul reaching for everything he offered each time their eyes met. The moment she was loose she stepped into him, fitted herself to him, laying her hands gently on his hips, beneath the rustling cloak. He stood a head taller than her and her injured heart craved his protection as his arms came up, slipping the cloak to reveal bronzed skin, well-muscled arms. She pulled the woollen cord securing the cloak and he shook free of it, letting it fall to the floor forgotten as the chanting hit a crescendo, pairs formed and wild, abandoned dancing spread across the glade.

Fires sprang up, food and drink appeared, but Kai questioned nothing, lost in the healing laughter and touch of this woodsman. She plucked twigs from his beard, his dark curls, he playfully considering each one, naming it and weaving it into her locks with deft brown fingers. She saw nothing of the dirt under his nails, the green-stained soles of his feet, the homely weave of his woollen trousers. It seemed natural that he wore no shirt, seemed not to speak, only to laugh and lend his voice to the constant chant which raised and lowered throughout the glade. A part of her, some sensible part which tried to prick her with needles of sorrow, anger, and guilt, spoke of enchantment, bewitchment but Kai found she could ignore the voice with ease, especially when she looked into those dancing eyes and felt his hard but gentle hands lifting her in swirling, giggling dances. She had no desire to be sorrowful, to think of the anger which had driven her into the wood; she wanted only to be lost in him.

Darkness surrounded them, the trees filling with mischievous little whispers and nudges, branches lifting and drooping before and behind couples who turned and stepped and leaped away from the light of the fires into sheltered, mossy dells round about. The chant was being replaced by low whispers, giggles and squirms in crackling leaves, by the muted sounds of love. Kai felt his hand tug, allowed herself to be pulled to a fire which bowed its leaping flames at their approach. Together they leapt over and then they were running. An ancient willow parted its curtain, scooped them inside and let the branches fall over them as they lay in the dry, sandy soil at its feet, naked bodies cocooned in a blanket of pale yellow fallen leaves from years gone by, beds from other lovers they now shared in quiet, powerful, entwined joy.

At some point Kai woke, primrose yellow morning light dripping through the willow fronds. The man beside her, caught in natural form seemed both ancient and achingly young to her loving gaze. A shadow of antlers curled about his head and she knew him. His eyes flickered open, his smile soft, yearning. When she went to his arms once more she knew it was for the last time. Clasped against him she caught a flicker of movement over his shoulder. A branch moved slightly to one side revealing a pair standing there. He could be none but the Green Man, older, wiser than he in her arms, his antlers broad and many branched. At his side was Marli,  tall and strong and beautiful, no sign of the ravaged figure disease had made of her at the end, a crown of willow fronds in her hair. They nodded, smiled and were gone.

She understood now, lying in his arms, their bodies refreshing their commitment and respect for the earth beneath them, and she smiled up into the sunshine flooding over them, blinding her enough that his fading presence was gentle, leaving only a mild wash of longing in her blood. She whispered into the breeze, under the willow:

“You are and always will be my mother for you chose me to be yours, to be your heir and know that I will honour that, always.”

She rose and walked softly away, knowing Grandmother Ida would be waiting.

Ida looked out of the window, saw the dervish of willow leaves dance across her lawn, the shadow of antlers pass through a patch of sunlight and went to put the kettle on the fire. Kai would be home soon.

Samhain in Green Lake

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This is not the story I intended to tell, but this is what came out when I set fingers to keyboard… so you’re stuck with it as I don’t have time to write another today *chuckle* I’m really hoping WP have a Halloween prompt today so I can connect it!

‘The evening was damp, but at least the rain had stopped. As darkness drew down the streets gradually lit a soft orange with hundreds of jack-o-lanterns and strings of lights which bobbed in the light breeze, throwing dancing shadows across lawns and sidewalks. Skeletons dangled from trees and capered on porches. Houses sported new names on artfully decrepit wooden signs claiming they were ‘Haunted’, that one should ‘Beware the vampire’ or run from the ghostly inhabitants. Candles burned in windows and strange figures could be seen moving within, dwellers preparing to be not quite so human for one night only.

At full dark the streets began to fill. From every house poured pint-sized witches, zombies, ghosts, vampires, devils, ghouls, all sprinkled with the occasional ballet dancer, fairy and beloved book character. The still air began to fill with laughter, shrieks, the patter of hurrying feet and the age-old cry; ‘Trick or Treat!’ Containers of every size, from chubby hands to bucket-sized pumpkin tubs, started to fill with every imaginable sweet treat, brightly coloured papers beginning to collect in little drifts up against cart wheels and tree roots as tiny demons could resist no longer.

When every house had been visited and all the spoils compared, the supernatural horde faded back into the houses. Inside, where spider webs bedecked every surface, witches flew from ceilings and sparkling orange streamers climbed the bannisters, celebrations continued, loud and sugar-fuelled. Spooky games were played, in turn giving way to a scary story, told in a circle before the hearth whilst tucking into foods which had acquired horrific names for the night. Finally, as a full moon cleared the clouds and flooded the streets with its eerie clarity, tired mortals shed their fae guises, slipping between covers, half thrilled, half uneasy at the prospect of Samhain dreams.

The adults followed but not before each had left a cake and a cup of milk on the doorstep, their eyes clouding for a moment as they remembered loved ones.

When all was still a low fog began to arise at the end of each street. It curled slowly around fences and gates, creeping up to porches. It glowed, faint shapes roiling within the sickly yellow of its smoke. A tang of earth and rot, unpleasant and cloying, followed in the wake of the fog, tainted every house for a long moment before passing on. Milk curdled in lovingly placed cups and cakes crumbled or grew unnatural moulds in an instant. It slithered its way, tendrils searching, questing, with an urgency no mere fog could have.

Twice that night the fog found doors with no cake, no milk, no protection. At the first it slipped a long strand through a partially open window. It coiled round bannisters seeking the upper floors. It slid under a door, up a bedpost, along a smooth counterpane and around the neck of the husband, tightening, constricting, squeezing with power drawn from dark, ancient magic. The soul made no sound as it was strangled from its vessel. For a single moment it hovered in the air, a pale facsimile of the body in the bed, then it was drawn into the fog, taken from the house to roll eternally in the fetid shadows.

At the second house the fog slithered through a splintered plank, sneaking into a back bedroom. An old mother lay on a cot. Some sense of preservation, some second sight brought her upright, eyes blinking blindly in the gloom, aware she was in danger but not knowing from what. The fog feared no mortal, instantly drawing itself together, taking on the form of a demon which bore no skin, blood sliding over exposed organs, a black heart beating an ever speeding rhythm which was picked up by that of the old woman, even as she gasped for air to summon aid. Her heart raced, galloped, screamed, burst and she fell back on the cot, her soul submerged before she could comprehend her end.

The fog oozed out into the street, eager to find more prey, but it had taken too long. At every door where soul gifts had been left a soft light enveloped the house. Within that light moved an infinite number of shining white souls, a protection his corruption could not defeat, the love of one mortal for another, eternal and unbreakable. Families protected by family, always. The demon assumed his natural form once more, his soul collection locked deep within his black heart whilst he raced along the streets, searching for those with no protection.

He found one, speeding up to the door and instantly recoiling in pain as the glow of protection solidified around the home. Not possible! And who was this? What mortal dared stare at him so brazenly, without fear? Her voice drifted to him through the glow which he could not contemplate for it brought searing pain to his eyes.

‘This village is protected by one who knows you, demon. One who understands the old ways and has brought protection. One who has taught strength in love and care for even the greatest outcast here. The love friends and community. You will have no more of my souls, foul creature. Leave!’

The demon screamed in frustration, whirling about and streaming out of the village. As he passed the last tree he blasted it with a boiling steam and it exploded instantly, filling the air with a million sharp shards, but the protection held and he was seen no more.’

Grandmother Ida sat back and smiled at her captive audience. She leaned to her right and patted the blasted, blackened stump which still marked the very edge of the village.
“This remains to serve as a constant reminder of those days and that wise woman who saved the village from the torments of a demon. But one can never be too careful, so remind your parents to put out the cakes and milk tonight.”
The children streamed away, pockets filled with Ida’s famous toffee cakes, and she rose, her back cricked from long sitting. As she stretched she kept an eye on the smoke drifting across the road and spoke softly;
“I still know you, demon.”
The smoke dissipated and Ida went to join the village around the bonfire to hear other stories.

Millie’s Homework – A Green Lake tale

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Today’s prompt was very silly so I fiddled with it a bit to fit a Green lake tale *wink*


(Image located here)

Millie looked at the empty page, fidgeted in her seat, gave up and rose to stare out the window. Not a child to whom words came readily tonight’s homework was a trial. Miss Bindhook, who took Millie’s class for spellcrafting, had asked them all to write a short piece – but stipulating not less than one page and in normal handwriting, for she knew her reluctant writers too well – describing the attributes of the modern witch. All the pieces were to be included in the latest edition of The Witches Zodiac, a quarterly scroll put out by the heads of year.

Leaning her elbows on the sill and heaving a deep sigh, Millie stared out to the rolling fields; just now stubbled and covered in scavenging children, gleaning what little remained of the harvest. She wanted to be out there, not stuck inside. How she had come to possess Witching she could not tell, but word of her playing with fae folk and occasionally disrupting local magic energies with her untutored magic had quickly reached Grandmother Ida and off to school she’d been bustled. Heathenfield was a wonderful place, full of clever witches only too eager to pass on their knowledge and to explain to the young people just how special they were, and yet…

Millie so wanted to forget the paper and quill, and she was on the verge of clambering over the sill when she heard a familiar voice, saw a familiar figure step from the shade of a hazel tree.
“I never liked homework either, Millicent.”
“I… well…” Millie gave up, climbed out into the yard and crossed to Grandmother Ida, “It’s too hard!”
“Life is never meant to be easy, child. Come, walk with me.”
Millie never felt quite so special as when Grandmother Ida chose to spare time for her, and she stood a little straighter, walked with a touch more confidence as she fell into step with the tall, grey-haired woman who ran Green Lake in all but name. They crossed onto the path between the bare cornfields; Millie noting how all the children stopped, turned and bobbed curtseys or sketched bows when they spotted Ida. She pretended the recognition was for her until Ida’s gentle reproach.
“Not yet, Millicent, but perhaps one day, if you can finish your homework.”

Millie wasn’t really listening, although she managed a quick ‘s’cuse me’ before darting into the field. Ida watched the gawky child run to a little one who had fallen. It wailed for its mother but Millie cuddled it up, brushed it down, and chatted to it. Ida thought the girl as yet unaware of the gentle healing magic she was exerting on the child’s grazed knees, but she only smiled when Millie trotted back, a little shy and awkward, stumbling over apologies.
“Mr’s Grain’s boy, Jeffy. His ma’s not got a lot of time with all the washing she takes in and his big brother is supposed to watch him, but he gets caught up in big boy games. Little Jeffy just needs someone to let him know he’s not forgotten, s’all.”
“Indeed. Shall we?”

Ida resumed their gentle amble, slowly heading their feet in the direction of Green Lake itself. Along the way she watched Millie pick up kindling for Old Mrs Farthing – as she was always known – currently wracked with arthritis and unable to gather for herself, snatch up some cress for a potion she knew Miss Bindlock was working on, stop and listen to the troubles of Mr Arthur and his pigs, gently suggesting a simple cure that Millie would bring for him the next day, halt a band of children from setting fire to a pile of leaves – which proved to contain a hedgehog ready to hibernate – explaining the dangers to them, the animals and the forest from uncontrolled fires before tucking the hedgehog into her apron pocket to find him a better winter bed, and finally handing over a large piece of tin she’d found to Brack the Boggis who happened to cross their path with a broad grin on his face and a wink for Ida.

They halted on the lake shore, the emerald green waters still as a mill pond whilst evening began to draw down. Soon it would freeze and the great water would become the village playground for a couple of months, but for now it was calm and peaceful.
“Watch.”
Millie realised Grandmother Ida had suddenly slipped into serious mode after their long walk filled with village matters. She followed the line of Ida’s gesture and watched the centre of the lake. It remained smooth for a moment or two and then began to turn, a gentle spiral lifting up from the surface in a mist of sparkling green drops until it formed a vaguely human shape. A feminine face appeared, ageless, smooth but somehow Millie knew it was kind. Diffuse green eyes fell upon her and she felt the urge to kneel, but Ida caught her under the elbow, keeping her upright, whispering from the corner of her lips:
“A witch kneels to no being.”

The voice which issued from the lake being was neuter, a thing of rippling waters, dancing spray and tinkling rain.
Little witchling, I have seen you this day and I find it most puzzling that you cannot describe a modern witch with ease for have you not been an example? I have seen you comfort, listen, and give aid where it was most needed. You knew the when and where for you know Green Lake and you know her people, both fae and mortal. What more is a witch but one who knows when and where to apply her knowledge? Share my thought with your class and continue on this path. I feel, one day, your childlike fantasy of obeisance will come to be if you do. Be blessed, little witchling.”

Ida didn’t stop Millie this time, allowing her to pay respect to the Green Lake spirit before they turned for the village. Millicent looked up at Ida with a tiny spark of doubt in her eyes.
“Did you do that to teach me a lesson? Make that spirit I mean?”
“Certainly not.” Grandmother Ida grumped and Millie was content, almost running home to write her piece for class. Behind her back, Grandmother Ida made a small symbol in the air and the the Green Lake spirit smiled before returning to the water.

Not Forever – A Green Lake tale

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I wanted to tie today’s prompt in with a prompt I found on another site, mainly working with the idea of twilight, of decline in both the day and human life. It turned into a small tale from Green Lake.

Tessa sat on the riverbank watching tiny silver fish dart through the ripples. She wondered if they knew where they were going, how long they had to get there. Did they worry about making it to the spawning grounds? Probably not, their brains weren’t wired that way; just that overwhelming impulse to run without knowing where to. She knew that feeling.

She shucked off her sandals and let her toes dabble in the water, her mind drifting. The sun was lowering slowly toward twilight, shadows creeping out to fill the hollows and quiet places. She loved twilight. It was the time when the fae emerged, gossiping, trading, playing, working, visiting, and the village thrummed with their vast energy. Her world came alive when the sun died, although that seemed to make Amanda sad. Tessa didn’t understand why and Amanda couldn’t really explain;

‘It’s just sad. Twilight makes me think of death, dying day, dying light, dying life.’

Tessa thought Amanda could be a little too sad sometimes. Lately she was sad almost all the time no matter what Tessa did to cheer her up. The showers of fairy dust, the glamours and magics, which once had delighted fae and mortal girl alike, brought no more than a faded smile. It was something else Tessa didn’t understand.
The girls had been paired when Amanda was born, almost eighteen of those fleeting mortal years now. Tessa was sent to liaise, an emissary between fae and human, keeping the connections alive, but she had to admit to a degree of defeat. She simply couldn’t grasp a lot of human concepts, like the idea of living for the now because there might not be a tomorrow. There was always a tomorrow, always. Always something new to do, to learn, to talk about and share. Why did mortals worry so much about dying? It wasn’t like it meant the end of everything!

Frustrated, Tessa jumped up and vanished herself, arriving about two inches before Amanda’s nose as she lay on her bed, the room gloomy with drawn curtains and no fire. Tessa flicked a finger at the hearth which burst into roaring flame, twitched the curtains wide open with a nod of her head and then levitated Amanda upright.
“Tell me a story!”
“Not tonight, Tess, I’m too tired.”
Tessa hovered, regarded the girl and suddenly noticed how her form had changed.
“Why are you so fat?”
Despite her cares, Amanda gave an indulgent shake of her head and a smile; Tessa had no concept of tact for all her years of mortal contact.
“I’m going to have a child, Tess.”
“Why?”
“Because, when you were busy chasing dragonflies and flirting with the blacksmith’s son, enough to make him blush I might add, I was getting married and starting a family.”
“Why?”
“I’m not a child any more, Tessa. You never change, but I have to grow up.”
“I thought you humans liked children. Why are you so miserable?”
Amanda settled on the bed, sighed deeply and sought words to explain to a creature who would never carry a child.
“The women in my family aren’t very good at giving birth, Tess. There is a long history of complications, and lots of women didn’t make it. I’m scared that it might happen to me and that makes me sad.”
“It’s ok” Tess smiled hugely, “I’ll just wait for you to be reborn and we can go back to normal.”
“Oh Tess… it doesn’t work that way for us, and even if it did, you’d have to wait for me to grow up all over again, another eighteen years.”
“That’s no problem. I have all the time in the world.”
“… but I don’t.”
Amanda lay down, curled about her stomach and Tessa removed herself, finally aware that this was something serious. Her friend wasn’t immortal, but Tessa had never had to think about it before. If Amanda died there would be no more Amanda, not ever. It was the hardest idea the young fairy, only 300 years old, had ever had to grasp.

She vanished once more and reappeared at Grandmother Ida’s house. She hovered around the window, knowing better than to burst in unannounced; the last time she’d done that, Ida had been at her ablutions and her curse had caused Tessa to lose flight ability for a week!
“Come in, pest of a fae. What do you want this time?”
The call was good-natured for all its harsh words, but Ida sensed something was wrong when Tessa simply slipped inside and settled on the edge of the potion table. A wise woman in all ways, Ida waited, and the outburst wasn’t long in coming.
“Amanda’s going to die! Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“Why didn’t you ask?”
Tessa looked dumbfounded, the thought clearly never having crossed her mind, and Ida continued.
“You are supposed to be an emissary, learning the ways of humans as Amanda had learned your ways. Instead you have played, never looking beneath the surface, always assuming there would be a tomorrow. Now you know there may not and you look for someone to blame because you fear you have wasted years of your life, perhaps all of Amanda’s.”

Fairies never cry, but if they could, Tessa would have been sobbing, her face robbed of all its sparkle and sunshine.
“I didn’t know the questions to ask.”
“A voyage of discovery has no map, Tessa. Your job was to draw one and you lost the compass.” Feeling she had driven the point home with enough force, and not a hard woman at heart, Ida smiled, “but I have good news for you; Amanda isn’t going to die. If I had known she was so despondent I would have visited with her sooner.”
“She won’t die?”
“Not for a while yet, at least not from the complication she fears. I have ways to deal with it now, ways I did not have for her mother and grandmother. I will speak with her tomorrow.”
“Not for a while yet?”
“Tessa, she’s not immortal, you know that now. One day, any day of her life, she will die.”
“I need to start again!”
Tessa vanished and Ida rolled her eyes, shaking her head fondly. She hoped Amanda was ready for a long and curious night with her fae friend.

The Secret Hour – A Green Lake tale

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I’m incredibly late today! One of those days, but here you go, a new Green Lake tale for the Daily Post prompt 🙂

Rachel sat quietly, allowing her mind to empty, her hands folded in her lap. The fire crackled and popped in the hearth and she smiled at the occasional fire sprite dancing in the flickering orange shadows. The clock candle melted slowly, closer and closer to the red line drawn within an hour of its base. Rachel was supposed to be the only person in the village with 25 hour candles, but she had her suspicions about Grandmother Ida. That woman managed to fit far too much into her day for someone running on normal time.

Rachel stood, the candle dripping close to the extra hour, and began to gather the things she would need. Her roomy cloth bag, a parting gift from the previous Guide at the end of her life, was quickly filled with assorted bottles, pouches and a large red book. She paused on her threshold, sending a quick plea for mercy to She Who Watches, and stepped into the cold night. An icy north wind blew around her ankles, whirled up and tugged at her hood, Rachel leaning into the playful element, ignoring the rushing whispers that begged her to stay and play;
“Not tonight, Chill of the Heart; I have work to do, but you may aid my progress, should you choose.”

It always paid to be polite when talking to the wild, free spirits of the elements; they were well known for their capriciousness. Tonight the wind seemed to catch her mood, withdrawing on a low, mournful breath and leaving her to approach the row of cottages without distraction. The night appeared to know her chore, shielding all sign of moon or stars, the vault of the sky a heavy black curtain. The cottages lay sleeping under their roofs of thatch, dark and unwelcoming, but one flame shone steadily, her beacon; she was expected.

Rachel reached to tap gently but the door sprung open the moment her boots hit the flagstone. A pinched, white face looked up, winced in recognition and ushered Rachel inside. The door closed and she followed the bent-backed shuffle of the mistress, her house silent, brooding. They entered the gloomy, stifling atmosphere of the back bedroom, Rachel’s gaze going to the figure in the bed, drowned under multiple blankets. She turned to the woman, now hovering at the bed head.
“You have said your farewells, Mistress Flaherty?”
Some nodding, some sniffles, a stray tear.
“Then I will proceed. Do you wish to remain?”
For a moment there was indecision then a shallow sigh from beneath the blanket mound seemed to push Mistress Flaherty into motion. She shook her head, laid a hand on an unseen brow and hurried from the room.

Rachel shut the door softly and released her tension with a brief shudder. It was always better if the relatives didn’t stay, especially in cases like this. She crossed to the bed and peeled back several layers to reveal the waxen visage of Ewan Flaherty. Only a year Guiding, Rachel still found the young ones hard, and Ewan was barely six. He’d been fading for three months, a disease of the lung. He opened his eyes and Rachel saw he was ready.

“Good evening, Ewan.” Rachel smiled, perching on the edge of the bed and holding the boy’s cold hand in hers, “How are you tonight?”
“Tired, Mistress Rachel. Has my mother said I can go?”
Rachel swallowed fast against tears at the weakness buoyed by hope and nodded, squeezing his hand gently.
“You mustn’t be cross with her, Ewan; she loves you so much it is hard to let you go.”
“I know, but I can’t stay now. There’s not enough of me left, Mistress.”
“Then I shall Guide you, child. You are certain you are ready?”
Ewan nodded, and closed his eyes, dwarfed by the blankets and pillows filled with a mother’s love.
“Keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them, Ewan. Can you promise to do that?”

No energy to open those heavy, bruised lids, but a nod; good enough. Rachel pulled the red book out of her bag and opened it on her lap, retaining her hold on Ewan’s hand. She knew the words now, but somehow, having the book open gave the proceedings an air of gravitas she felt absent without it. She spoke the words in a steady stream, scaling up and down intonations, feeling the twenty-fifth hour gather about her. A shimmer in the air was followed by a steady vibration, then a constant tick, building and building until the room slipped through the veil and lay between worlds. In that secret hour Rachel was the Guide.
She spoke one more couplet, felt the magic whirl about her and the child, watched everything fade to black and white and then explode with brilliant colours, as if the world had been drained and remade anew with her very words.
“You may open your eyes, Ewan.”

With a child’s wonder and acceptance, Ewan wasted no time on questions, accepting that his bed lay in the centre of a vast field of wildflowers beneath a cloudless blue sky. His colour returned as he slipped from the bed and buried his feet in the waving grass, his eyes clear, filled with joy. He danced around the bed, rushed in and hugged Rachel, ran off to dance again. Rachel smiled, allowing him to be an innocent child once more, brimming with life after death, then she called him to her.
“I must go soon, Ewan, the twenty-fifth hour is almost over, and no living soul can stay when it ends.”
“Will I be on my own… forever?”
“Do you want to be?”
Ewan considered this question for a long moment and then shook his head.
“I don’t think I should like that. Can I be with other people?”
“Listen carefully, Ewan, for this is what a Guide can teach you. Where you are, here in the secret hour, will be the same forever. You will never change and nor will your world, but first you must make your world. If you wish for people, there will be people, but be very certain who you wish for, for you cannot wish a live person to be here with you.”
“What about animals?”
“You may call upon animal spirits to be with you, if you wish. Ewan, you must make your choices for I am leaving and can help you no more.”
Rachel was bathed in Ewan’s radiant smile, his wish materialising even as she faded back from the secret hour; her last vision was of a small boy and a large, floppy dog running across the meadow under the sun.

The Telling Stump – A Green Lake Tale

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My response to today’s Daily Post prompt

Grandmother Ida shook out the ‘Telling Coat’, shooed away a couple of sneaky moths and wondered. The white peacock feathers forming the cloak still shimmered and shifted under their coating of silver fairy dust, but Ida’s sharp eyes spotted a couple of bald patches. She might have to visit Pavo Glade before next Telling season; a long, wearisome trek, but traditions had to be upheld. For the present, Ida gave the cloak a final shake, swirled it over her shoulders and let it drape to the floor. She turned up the hood, feeling the familiar irritation as feather tips tickled at her cheeks, and headed for the door.

The path to her cottage was lined with children, fae and mortal side-by-side. Hidden horns blared discordantly at Ida’s approach and she tried not to wince, suppressing a sneeze as hundreds of pollen-laden flower petals clouded the air, thrown with overly enthusiastic zeal by the children. As she walked the path toward Telling Stump their piping voices took up the chant:
“Time to Tell. Time to Tell.”

Ida couldn’t help but find their eagerness infectious, her step slowing, giving grandeur to her parade, feeling a thrill creep up her spine as the children fell in behind her, walking in step, the chant taking on a sing-song lilt. Ida could feel the magic in the air, building and intensifying, a cone of power forming to encircle them all in its still eye, falling over the clipped grass circle surrounding the Telling Stump. The stump had once been the centre of Green Lake village. Age had made it unsafe, but the town had chosen to make it a memorial, a skilled gnome carving the stump into a great seat, and the institution of the Telling had begun.

On the first full moon of Deep Dark, all the local children gathered with the current wise woman at the Telling Stump to hear a traditional tale. The powerful magic created by the night of story-telling and the willingness of the children to listen and learn strengthened the silent, stilled heart of Green Lake village, soaking through its varnished frame and into the earth to sustain it for another year. Ida sat now, allowed the hood to fall lower over her face and dropped her voice, forcing the encircling children to lean in, to really listen.

“On this night of Telling, when the moon swims through the mists, blessing us with glimpses of her beauty…”
As if on cue, the moon, full and luminous, drifted free of the low clouds and lit the Stump in rippling silver streams. The children caught a collective gasp of wonder and Ida smothered a smile, continuing;
“… we shall speak of the wolf and the rabbit. Do we wish to listen?”

The roar of approbation was probably heard by the moon, and Ida had to raise her hand, palm out, for a moment to restore calm. The children, pixie in the lap of mortal, gnome hand in hand with troll, fairy perched on the shoulder of boggis, shuffled, settled and waited. Satisfied, Ida began.

‘When the moon was still slender, and the sun still chased his new bride across the skies, there lived a white rabbit. She belonged to a witch named Rosalin, and she was much beloved for pure white rabbits were known to be magical beings and much prized by those who lived by magical arts. Rosalin called the rabbit Georgiana, much to the amusement of the local people.
“That’s too grand a name for a rabbit!” they scoffed, but Rosalin simply smiled, petted Georgiana and went on her way.
For many years, Rosalin was the wise woman to a village by a serene green lake. She…’

There was a minor scuffle in the back of the listening group, a very young elf being silenced by the hand of his big sister, who hissed at him to be quiet, but Ida was in a good mood and beckoned the elf child forward, allowing him to climb into her lap and sit ensconced in the cloud of white feathers, much to mingled awe and envy. She smiled at him and then surveyed the listening ones.
“It is never wrong to ask questions, my little ones, but you must also be ready to hear answers”, she winked at the elfling, “and they may not always be the ones you want to hear. Did Rosalin live in Green Lake village? Perhaps, but then again, it was long ago, and who can really know?”
She decided to keep the child close, scooping up a mortal child of similar age for balance, and then returned to her tale.

‘After a decade had passed, questions began to creep around the village. Georgiana, a rabbit for all her grand name, lived and lived and showed no sign of age. Rosalin would answer no questions, saying only that she was a magical being and such creatures obeyed no law of mortal time. There lived at the same time a young girl called Lisa. Lisa loved Georgiana and was possessed of a child’s natural curiosity, wanting to know all about her favourite animal. Rosalin would say no more to the child than she did to the adults, but clever Lisa was the daughter of a warlock, and she knew things children are seldom told.

One night, after overhearing her father talking to his familiar about the ability of magical creatures to mimic mortal speech at full moon, Lisa determined to talk with Georgiana at the very next full moon. She only had to wait a week, and then she crept to Rosalin’s garden where Georgiana lived in a fenced off area, sleeping in a miniature cottage Rosalin had asked a local wizard to create. Lisa hopped the fence, slipped up to the cottage and carefully opened the front door.
“Georgiana? Georgiana, will you come out and speak with me, please?”

There were sounds of scuffling, and then a soft pink nose surrounded by long white whiskers poked out of the door. Georgiana looked up at Lisa with huge brown eyes, eyes which always seemed misted with tears, scurried out into the open and then took Lisa by surprise. With a huge bound, Georgiana bounced into Lisa’s lap, toppling her back against the fence. The rabbit scampered up Lisa’s body and leapt over the fence, instantly heading out of the front gate which Lisa had left open.

As the rabbit disappeared toward the woods, Lisa stood frozen. She knew she would be in terrible trouble with Rosalin and her father for letting the rabbit get away, and that made the decision for her. She ran out of the gate, chasing Georgiana, hoping to catch and return her before anyone knew what had happened.

It was a long and tiring chase. Lisa had to walk because Georgiana made very little mark on her surroundings and only the occasional bent stalk or paw-print in the dust gave any sign of where she was going. The rabbit seemed to have a destination in mind, finally heading straight; toward Lupus Tor. Lisa hovered at the base of the steep hill, fearful. The village children were always told terrifying tales of wolves roaming the hill and, as Lisa put one foot onto the winding path to the top, a volley of howls reached her from the darkness. Lisa wasn’t a warlock’s daughter for nothing. She screwed up her courage and ran up the path, catching a glimpse of pure white bobtail as she entered the final stretch.

Atop the hill she had to weave her way through a grove of entangled rowans, and she came to a halt just before stumbling into a stone circle. Lying with her back against the belly of a great silver wolf, Georgiana held Lisa’s gaze, but it was the wolf who finally spoke:
“Mortal child, you have come where you should not, but for the sake of my love I will spare you. Go now, and do not return.”
The pair snuggled closer and Lisa noted that they both stole glances at the moon, watching its slow course across the night sky toward the dawn.
“Please, don’t send me away. Something is happening here. I love Georgiana and I want to help her!”

Both creatures considered the small child, some silent communication passing between them, and the wolf spoke once more.
“Georgiana was bewitched by a sorceress who wished to steal my magic. The sorceress thought to gain my aid by threatening my beloved, but Rosalin is sister to Georgiana and spirited her away. I ran to keep Georgiana safe from the sorceress, for if she could not find us she could not harm us. Rosalin finally found the cure, but she had no way to find me. I tried to come to the village but the sorceress had set up wards to alert her should I attempt contact. Her witch fire seared my throat and I should have died but for the aid of my brethren on Lupus Tor. What you did tonight has already aided us, for our spell can only be broken if we are together when the sun rises after the night of the full moon.”

He paused, ears pricked and then Lisa heard it too, voices shouting and the sound of headlong pursuit.
“They’re coming for us!”
His voice was a snarl, but Lisa shook her head.
“No! They are looking for me, and I can help you. Let me go to them. I will misdirect them until dawn, keep them far from you and the time you need.”
“Very well, mortal child. One day we will replay your kindness. A final favour; tell Rosalin what passed this night.”
“I promise.”
Lisa bent, stroked Georgiana, kissed her velvet nose farewell and ran down the Tor. She encountered the villagers at the foot of the hill, quickly telling them she had been chasing the rabbit and imploring them to help her find it for it had run into the deep ravine beyond the hill. Relieved to have found Lisa, they were inclined to be indulgent.

The following morning, Lisa ran to Rosalin’s house, finding her saddened, kneeling beside the empty pen.
“I’m so sorry” Lisa apologised, and quickly explained what had happened. Rosalin smiled, hugging Lisa in thanks and then her eyes widened. She turned Lisa to face the high ridge running down from Lupus Tor. Two wolves stood in the first golden light of morning, one large and silver, the other slight and purest white. A dual howl floated down to the garden and the pair watched as the wolves slipped over the hill and out of sight.’

Grandmother Ida fell silent, the children slowly coming out from under the spell woven by the tale, shaking cramped limbs and already beginning to talk to each other, recounting their favourite parts. They turned en masse and bowed;
“We thank you for the Telling. We will remember.”
“The Telling Stump thanks you for your gift of sustaining magic and bids you to your homes until next year.”
The children began filing away and Ida set her two charges on the ground, the elfling holding her hand a moment longer.
“Did Rosalin ever see her sister again?”
“Remember what I told you about answers, young elf?”
He nodded, his expression torn between the need to know and the fear of knowing. Ida bent and whispered in his ear;
“She was a wolf too you know…”

Tooth be told – A Green Lake Tale

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Today’s Daily Post prompt – Truth Serum – You’ve come into possession of one vial of truth serum. Who would you give
it to (with the person’s consent, of course) — and what questions would you ask?
I’m also using this piece for last week’s 3 Word Wednesday. The words are highlighted in bold.


“That should be adequate.”
Clarabelle stepped back and surveyed her handiwork. The tiny figure duct-taped to a mangy toothbrush wriggled furiously, but there was no give to be had. Clarabelle twitched the improvised hood – a little finger cut from a child’s glove – and hauled it free. The fairy beneath was clearly trying to cast a spell, but Clarabelle had that covered too. She pointed at the penny-sized medallion around the fairy’s neck, shaking a reproving finger.
“Don’t bother, Cavity. Every time you try to use magic that medallion will drain and contain it; those wizards know a thing or three about dealing with fairies. Now, time to find out exactly where you are stashing all that money.”

“As if I would tell a galumphing ape like you!”
Cavity followed her words with an explosive curse, but the medallion swiftly blocked the magic, sucking a trickle of silver sparkles into itself.
“Told you not to do that” Clarabelle sympathised, with absolute insincerity, for the fairy had lost much of her luminous blue light in one fell swoop, “I really don’t need you to tell me, Cavity. I knew you’d never give up secrets to a mortal, but we have a few secrets of our own.”
She cackled nastily, drawing a small vial from her apron pocket. Her plump fingers struggled with the cork. She muttered imprecations against all wizards whilst she struggled, eventually dragging a securing pin from her hat and jabbing it into the cork to free it. She re-read the instructions carefully – for much as she loathed the fae and their magic, she had no wish to bring down their wrath by accidentally killing one of them – then let three shockingly red drops fall onto a scrap of cloth.

She advanced on Cavity, who was watching, eyes wide with fear and once more struggling against her bonds. Clarabelle shoved the cloth under the fairy’s nose, covering nostrils and mouth until the creature was forced to breathe in the fumes. The change was instant, Cavity going from frantic bucking against her bonds to such stillness Clarabelle felt impelled to check the fairy was still alive. Satisfied the lack of motion was a side effect of the truth serum, Clarabelle grinned; an altogether vile thing of rotten teeth and eager greed.
“You don’t have a choice, fairy; you have to answer my questions now.”
Cavity opened her eyes and gave a single nod. Clarabelle rubbed her grubby hands together in glee.
“Are you a tooth fairy?”
“Yes.”
“I knew that, of course, I just needed to make sure the stuff was working. Where is the tooth bank?”
For a long moment Cavity said nothing, Clarabelle’s anger beginning to bubble, the urge to shake the stupid thing all but irresistible. Her voice heavy, strained, still fighting the magical vapours, Cavity finally spoke:
“Under Farwell Great Oak.”
“Yes!”

Clarabelle actually hurled her great bulk into the air and punched the air in delight before remembering she needed to deal with the fairy. She ripped the duct tape off with no small pleasure, aware how it must be hurting. Cavity sunk to her knees, but showed no sign of recovering from the drug.
“Right, you little parasite, making money off stupid mortal kids, you stay right there. You’re not to move until dusk, understood?”
“I understand.”
Clarabelle turned her back, heading out of the cottage, the fairy already forgotten. She had three hours to reach the Great Oak and break into the bank. She set off along the winding path which led to Farwell, her mind filled with plans for the fortune stored in the tooth bank. She’d come across the information by accident. Well, she hadn’t meant to be eavesdropping on Grandmother Ida’s conversation with Molar, the head tooth fairy; it had been a lucky accident. She’d listened to them discussing how the fairies sold the teeth to an old warlock over in Magevale and were paid gold for every sack of teeth. Clarabelle had phased out at that point, images of riches dancing behind her eyes as she wandered away, leaving the oblivious pair to discuss using the money to add a new schoolroom for a mixed class of mortal and fae children.

It had been too easy. Clarabelle had stolen a tooth from under her kid sister’s pillow and put it under her own. When Cavity had arrived to claim it she’d grabbed the unsuspecting creature before she knew what was happening. Now all that gold would be hers and she could finally leave Green Lake village and buy herself as many sweets and cakes as she could ever eat. She ambled on happily planning whilst back at the cottage Cavity sat very still and began to whistle. She couldn’t break her word, but Clarabelle had said nothing about Cavity not using her voice. In moments Tartar was at her side. When Cavity explained what had happened, Tartar shot off to raise the alarm. Cavity sat quietly, using magic to ease the pain and damage of her captivity and with a very secret smile on her face.

Clarabelle reached the Great Oak with an hour to spare. She was a little surprised to find no guards, no sign of any security about the door in the trunk; not even the smallest signal was given when she wrenched open the door and ran down the carved wooden steps within. At the bottom of the flight the space widened to a great circle which glowed golden in the light of torches stuck in the walls. The flickering light danced and bounced off of so much gold that Clarabelle felt dizzied by the possibilities it represented. She ran up the golden heap, flopping onto a golden throne which sat atop it all, as the fairies had known she would.
The instant Clarabelle set herself in the chair golden clasps shot out of the arms and legs trapping her completely, despite her desperate struggles. Head tooth fairy, Molar stepped out from behind the throne and shook her head sadly.

“You must atone for your actions against Cavity, mortal. You are to serve as housemaid to the wizard Zorvac for the next twenty years. Perhaps you will have a better attitude when your time is done.”
“No!” Clarabelle screamed, caught between terrified tears and breathless disbelief, for everyone in Green Lake knew about Zorvac and his experiments with the undead, but Molar was no longer there. Instead, the throne unfurled a beautiful set of golden wings, lifted smoothly into the air and sailed through a hatch in the upper reaches of the trunk, arrowing toward a distant tower deep within Magevale cemetery.

A Letter to Mistress Abigail – A Green Lake tale

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Today-s response to the Daily Post prompt

WiseWoman1
(Image here)

Grandmother Ida chewed pensively on her quill, spitting feathers quite literally as she attempted to compose her letter to Grand Mistress Abigail. She knew her time amongst those of Green Lake would end soon and had already received her scroll of invitation, assuring her of a place at the Great Congress in Magehaven, but she simply wasn’t ready. She dipped and re-dipped the nib in ink, started, discarded and restarted the letter, went outside to feed the geese and ducks, mixed up a batch of healroot for old man Barney’s rheumatics, remade a bed that was already perfect and finally flumped back into the chair by her work desk.
“If it doesn’t suit, so be it.” She muttered into the silent air of her cottage, and set nib to parchment.

Hail, Grand Mistress,
I accept with humble gratitude the offered position of High Lady of the Great Congress and acknowledge the tribute to my work at Green Lake village. I shall take up the post with great joy, seeing it as the pinnacle in my service to the Great Lady whom we serve.

However, it is with some trepidation that I ask for a delay in returning to Magehaven. I know and understand that this decision may cost me my position, and has not happened to my predecessors in living memory. I feel I must make a stand, not for myself, but for the sake of the village and all it stands for.

Mistress Abigail, I beg you to understand, things are not as they were in the mortal world. Time passes slowly for we who have the touch of immortality, but these humans move fleet of foot through that same time. Their ways have changed greatly, not only in their ability to use sciences for matters in which they once turned to us, to our powers, but also in their numbers. They do not proliferate in such great numbers as was once the case. It is this factor, above all others which has led me to this unprecedented decision.

I need time to find and train the next Grandmother. It becomes ever more difficult to find a mortal with enough of the touch to train. Once we could take our pick from dozens of girls in many villages, but no longer. In forty years I have found but three with any trace of the touch. Two are gone, one to marry far away, the other to the winter cough of last year. The remaining girl is stronger in the touch than any I have encountered since the days when it was common, but I ask again for time.

She is but three years old. Her mother has given her some understanding of the fae world, and she has a life guardian, a favour from the pixies for a kindness her mother did them. She is too young for me to leave behind, untrained, and the mother has no trace of touch to leave her in her care with any hope that the child will one day fill the post of wise woman. I must be here, Abigail, I must. Grant me a decade; that is all I ask. A decade to train this child who is so bright, brimming with untapped potential, a hope for the future of the village and of the union between mortal and fae.

I go now to the lake to send this missive, and there I will wait until your reply comes.
With greatest respect and small hope
Grandmother Ida

Ida rolled up the parchment, sealed the roll with ribbon and her wax stamp, then tucked it into her apron pocket. Gathering a thick woollen shawl about herself, she stepped into the gentle chill of an autumn evening, her solid leather boots kicking through the dry, brittle fallen leaves which carpeted the rutted cart track leading to Green Lake. Reaching the shore, Ida curved left and slipped into a stand of silver birches, weaving her way until she came to a clearing which gave onto a smooth stone path leading directly into the still emerald waters of the lake.

Ida stood, the water puddling around her booted toes, sending up a prayer to the Great Lady for a favourable outcome, for the chance to aid everyone who lived in that special place, and then she drew her arm back and pitched the scroll toward the centre of the lake. As it arched and dipped, about to hit the surface an ethereal arm, a thing of mists and smokes, pierced the water’s surface, grasped the scroll and disappeared beneath the emerald shimmers once more. Ida settled on a tree stump, prepared for a long wait.

As dawn began to tint the sky with palest gold, Ida watched the ghost of an arm break the surface once more. She was puzzled when the scroll did not detach and float toward her, as was usual, but a moment later she understood why. Clamping a hand over her mouth to prevent any sound escaping which might cause a distraction, Ida’s heart thumped rapidly in her chest. Rosa skipped merrily across the lake surface causing barely a ripple. Giggling with delight, she took the scroll, dipped a childlike bow to the hand and then skipped back to where Ida waited on the shore. Ida’s hands shook so badly she almost dropped the answer she had waited all night for. Rosa grinned up at her;
“Is it important? I guess it must be for the lady to sit in the lake all night to give it back.”
Ida couldn’t quite get her head around words, stunned as she was by a toddler performing tricks it hadn’t taken Ida years to perfect, but she managed a smile and a nod.
“Are you going to open it then?”

Ida broke the seal and unrolled the parchment, noting Abigail’s eagle seal header. There was one line of text:
‘I think that little performance just earned you a decade, maybe more. Abigail.’
Damn woman and her farsight; she’d probably been watching Rosa for months! She could have saved Ida a night in the cold, but she guessed that was Abigail’s mild reproof for Ida having the temerity to hold out on a position others would kill for. For now, Ida took Rosa’s hand and started walking back to the village.
“Let’s go and have breakfast with your mother, child.”

Brack the Boggis – A Green Lake Tale

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I promised to finish this and the prompt today reminded me of that promise. So here is the full tale of Brack, Kate and Rosa, at least for now *wink*

Boggis
The image of Brack came from here, and this is pretty much how he looks in my head.

Brack poled his craft slowly over the surface of Green Lake, barely causing a ripple in the calm, emerald waters. He sniffed appreciatively at the damp night air, squinting a little against the pale light of the full moon. He could hear his neighbours, assorted Fae folk, going about their business just beyond the lake shore as his prow bumped against sloping earth. He hopped out, swung his pack over his shoulder and headed into the shrubbery lining the path that lead from the village to the shore.

His slender, almost wizened frame, topped by an outsized head and huge ears, loped along a path beaten permanent by countless generations of elves, pixies, fairies, gnomes, trolls, and boggis’, Brack’s people. He’d first followed the path, tagging behind the grumpy coat-tails of Gramps Boden, struck dumb with awe on stepping into the hustle and bustle of the night market. It could still have the same effect on Brack, two centuries later. It did now, and he paused, a one-sided smile crossing his usually grumpy features – had he thought about it, he’d have seen the resemblance to Gramps Boden.

Stalls filled every nook and cranny, nestled between the tangled roots of ancient oaks and beeches. Fireflies hovered in helpful little groups above each stall, lighting the way for sellers and buyers alike. The market was an explosion of sound, colour and smell. From delicately woven fairy fabrics, via ironwork weapons and armour crafted by gnomes, to delicious, enticing scents of trollish cookery, if a Fae needed something, they would be sure to find it at the night market. If not, it could be ordered.

Brack hoisted his pack a little higher and began to thread his way through the throng, heading into the gnomish quarter. He had many items to sell, their strange angles digging into his back as the pack bounced with each stride. At dawn and dusk Brack could be found threading his way amongst the tall grasses and reeds of the lake shore. Most Green Lake humans were careful not to litter the land which fed and clothed them, but outcomers trekked to the lake regularly, fishermen who spoke of the wealth of lake fish and children who came to swim in the emerald waters. Those folk could be trusted to leave something behind other than their tracks.

Brack collected metal. Long ago, before Gramps headed out to Bracken Falls – where all elderly Boggis went to pass their final years – he’d taken Brack aside.
“Lad, you’ll be a guardian one day, as all Boggis must. Til then you has to earn ya keep. I’m off now. I teached ya all I could, and I give ya this as me parting. Guard it well an’ it’ll see ya right. Jus’ ‘old it ‘gainst human stuffs and you’ll know what’s metal and what’s nae metal.”
He’d pressed a small, horseshoe-shaped item into Brack’s hand, hefted his pack a little higher on his back and walked into the twilight. Brack had never seen him again, but he’d treasured the small blue horseshoe thing which stuck to anything metal. It had turned Brack into a fought over guest in the gnomish quarter where metal made weapons, and Brack brought the most as well as the best.

He sauntered into the spreading circle of roots beneath an ancient oak, pretending to be occupied with adjusting his pack, but waiting. They came at speed and many muttered imprecations against the family heritage of Master Steamsteel who hurtled to a stop in front of Brack and grasped his hand in a grip as well forged as his weapons.
“What h’an h’unexpected pleasure, Sir Brack. Please, please, h’allow me to h’offer you some acorn tea, straight from the trollish gardens in Densfield, I swear.”
Brack allowed himself to be steered to the stall and forge of Steamsteel. He didn’t mind dealing with gnomes, but their tendency to put on airs and graces, as well as h’s where they didn’t belong, became wearing very fast. Toasting his feet against the forge grate, seated on Steamsteel’s own stool, Brack sipped the delicate tea. Although it was a sort after commodity, he didn’t understand the appeal, and rather wished it were some of Madame Kizi’s bramble root beer which he could see being served across the market at her tent in the troll quarter.

Brack was weary and decided not to prevaricate, rather surprising Steamsteel when his guest simply upended his pack, allowed a pile of precious metal items to heap at his feet and waved a hand at them.
“You know me, Steamsteel, it’s all good. How much, and don’t barter. I want to be away to my bed.”
Steamsteel started to puff himself full of self-importance and disbelief at Brack’s desire to avoid the usual hour of dealing and drinking, but something hard glinted in the boggis’ eyes and he backed down, offered a good price and Brack was on his way. He passed Madame Kizi’s and was sorely tempted to join a couple of his people who were propping up the bar with foaming jars of beer, but he knew he had a long day on the morrow. Mistress Kate’s babe was due any day and he had to be ready.

Brack had barely closed his front door – a well concealed entrance carved from the living bark of a willow, consent given by the tree’s spirit, Nirida – when a vibrant purple light flashed in his eyes. The fairy ability to appear wherever they wanted and announce their presence with their birth colour drove Brack distracted but he held his temper.
“Lady Briar, you have news?” Brack managed polite, the annoying creature was royalty after all.
“Mistress Kate bore a daughter not one hour since. I will take you.”
“Wait!”
It was no use. Brack barely managed to grab the small, leaf-wrapped bundle from his dresser before he was enveloped in rushing air and blinding silver sparkles – fairy travel was ridiculously fast and far too showy for Brack, always leaving him with a headache and spots in his vision. He was deposited outside the home of Mistress Kate, Lady Briar vanishing without a word.

“And just how am I supposed to get home, you ridiculous creature?” Brack grumbled, sidling carefully around the house until he was under the bedroom window. He nearly fell into the water butt he was climbing on for a better view when a voice tinkled at his ear; ‘Call me when you are ready, Grumpy”. He tightened his grip on the sill, swallowed the many curses he wished to hurl after the fairy and peered in the window.
A candle burned by the low wooden bed, flickering in the slight breeze from the open window. Buried under snowy white blankets and a rich brown fur, Mistress Kate lay with her eyes closed and her babe wrapped securely to her breast. Brack hauled himself over the sill, dropped lightly to the floor and crept across the wooden boards, begging the gods to quiet any creaks. It didn’t work. As Brack reached the bed, Kate opened her eyes and looked down, smiling.

“Welcome to my home. I am Kate. May I know your name?”
This wasn’t how it was supposed to work and Brack was wrong-footed. He mumbled, fumbling with the parcel in his hands, desperate to just throw it on the bed and run, but he knew his responsibility to the babe this strange woman held. He swept a bow.
“I am Brack, a Boggis, Mistress Kate. I’m to share something with the babe, as the pixies asked.”
“Ah, I wondered what would happen.”
“You put the carving in the babe’s hand?”
“Her name is Rosa. Come.”

Kate reached a hand, aiding Brack onto the pristine counterpane. He felt grubby and out of place, but Kate beamed, unfolded the shawl about Rosa and showed him her chubby, tiny hand gripping the swan carved from a conker. Brack carefully unwrapped his leaf parcel, stepped up to Rosa and gently took her hand in his. He placed an identical swan back to back with the one Rosa held and recited the words Queen Nib had taught him;

“Mortal child, our lives are bound, from journeys start to breathings end. Call my name when dangers abound, I will ever guard, on that you can depend.”

A tiny shimmer of light began at the heart of each swan and slowly grew until it enveloped Brack’s hand and Rosa’s together. When it faded Brack swapped the swans, tucking his into Rosa’s grasp and depositing hers back in the leaf bundle. He slid off the bed, preparing to leave, but Kate called to him.
“Sir Brack? What now? I wish you would stay. I have been given a great gift for Rosa, I know, but I do not understand it.”
Brack turned slowly, shook his head in exasperation and returned to the bed.
“Mistress Kate, I am Rosa’s guardian for life. I will watch over her, keep her safe, and if she should stray into dark places she has but to call my name and I will come to her aid. For now, please, I have to be up at dawn and I am tired. If you will allow, I will return tomorrow and explain further, but I must rest.”
Kate leaned forward, taking Brack by surprise with a swift kiss to his brow.
“Forgive me, Sir Brack. Away to your bed, and you will be welcomed to my home always.”
Brack mumbled mortified thanks and fled, suddenly aware that he was not going to have an easy life from the next dawn into many decades.

The Chase

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Today’s Daily Post prompt – Autumn Leaves: Changing colors, dropping temperatures, pumpkin spice lattes: do these mainstays of Fall fill your heart with warmth — or with dread?

(Autumn is my absolute favourite time of year. I love misty mornings, dewy cobwebs in the hedges, ‘dragon breath’ on chilly air, Samhain (Halloween to non pagans *wink*), the colours, the smells, the cool weather – I would happily live in autumn all year around!)

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A tale from Green Lake

Briar paused for a moment, aware of the chill in the air, the occasional drip of morning mist settling on a browning leaf, and stretched hugely. She unwrapped the black wool cloak from her shoulders and shook out russet wings, the exact shade Green Lake villagers thought of as Falling red. With a single word of power, she took off, rising straight up, too fast for any mortal to see. Breaking through the forest canopy into hazy golden light, she hovered. Others were already gathered, a myriad shades of Falling glinting and shimmering from hundreds of wings as the fairies prepared for The Chase.

Lichen shot up through the leaves of an oak, dive-bombed her a couple of times and then settled to a hover beside her. He really seemed to think Briar was impressed by his bravado; she wasn’t but they always ran The Chase together. As a flying team they were unbeatable and Briar had already noted a few crestfallen faces amongst the almost complete assembly. Five or six stragglers were still arriving as the first sounds reached the fairies; the children were gathering. Giggles, shrieks and conversations about strategy came closer, the children of Green Lake heading for Bramble Glade.

For centuries Green Lake had held The Chase on the first official day of Falling; a date determined by the first sighting of a red-breasted robin. Long ago, one of the village elders had decided there was a more efficient way to deal with the immense volume of foliage deposited every year; Green Lake forest stretched for several miles around the lake. Many glades and clearing had been given over to growing fruit and vegetables to supplement the meagre days of Deep Dark. Not only did the sprawling drifts of leaves make it difficult for carts and people to travel, especially when wet and slippery, they were a constant source of illicit distraction to the village children.

After ‘The Incident’, as the older villagers still called it, action had to be taken. Three children had built a huge pile of fallen leaves under a tree. They’d climbed up, stood along a branch, holding hands, and dived in together. The tree had marked the site of a long abandoned mine, long flooded, and the children plunged straight through the rotted wooden boards guarding it. No-one had wanted to think what might have happened if a wood elf hadn’t passed by soon after. The elders instituted The Chase, with the agreement and aid of the fae.

All children under the age of twelve gathered in Bramble Glade. All the fairies hovered, out of sight, above the trees. Each child was equipped with a large woolen sack and a good pair of gloves. The fairies needed nothing more than the stirring of air their movements created. At cock crow the fairies descended into the trees, flying in all directions and causing the leaves to fall. The children chased below, catching with hands, sacks or the occasional enterprising net – although that was somewhat frowned upon. Children and fairies worked in teams, aiming to return to the glade at the end of the day with the most leaves collected. The mortal prize was a year of magical education with the fairies. The fae prize was a chance to choose a child and be their life guardian for a year. As the job came with many perks, including regular audiences with Queen Fen and her consort, Prince Stone to report on mortal development, it was much sought after. Briar and Lichen had won for the last fifty years and intended to do so again.

A hush fell over mortals and fae alike, every ear straining to catch the first hint of cock crow. When it came, accompanied by a lemon wash of light, the sun clearing the mist for a single instant, a roar of excitement flew up from the children, hitting the fairies in a wave of sound which dislodged almost as many leaves as their first manoeuvres; The Chase was begun.

Briar and Lichen headed to the willows which overhung most of the Green Lake shoreline, watching for any sign of children in tune with their thoughts; willows gave up their leaves readily and had multiple leaves per stem, a sure fire winning strategy. Hovering by the tree closest to the exit from Bramble Glade, they were rewarded by the appearance of Sally Murphy and Danny Moore, two of the brightest children in the village, pelting toward the willows.
“Go, go go!” Danny gasped, bent double hands on knees, catching his breath.
“We claim you, if you are willing” Sally added, remembering the rules.

Briar and Lichen nodded, grinned and shot amongst the willow boughs. They used their tried and tested maypole pattern of flight, racing round and round, over and under, higher and higher, always heading in opposite directions. Sally and Danny ran to the tree, Sally circling it clockwise, Danny opposed, echoing the movements of their fairy partners. Haring from tree to tree, it wasn’t long before Briar had to send up a flare of purple light to summon a steward with a new sack. The first was sealed with the mark of all four team members and flown off by a local heron to the weighing point. With new sack in hand, they were off again, stopping only for a brief lunch of Mrs Murphy’s currant buns and some troll dandelion juice, a local favourite of mortal and immortal alike.

“It’s almost dusk! We have to run!” Sally yelled, in her official capacity as timekeeper. If the teams weren’t assembled back in the glade by full dusk none of their sacks would count. All four arrived in an exhausted, dirty rush but on time. Only two teams of the twenty who started failed to make it back on time, and Grandmother Ida stepped forward to adjudicate the count. She wasn’t really anyone’s grandmother as she’d been widowed young and never had children, but she received the title when she took up her position as oldest Green Lake female and village wise woman.

It was agony, especially as the top three teams each had fifteen sacks apiece. Finally, as full dark slipped over the throng of children and fairies, Grandmother Ida stepped forward, a scroll clutched in each work-hardened hand.
“The Chase is done. For the next year…” she took a long pause, then winked merrily at the children, “Sally and Danny will be the beloved guests of Queen Fen and Prince Stone.”
The delighted children stepped forward, halting at her right hand and taking the scroll which signified their victory.
“The people of Green Lake village will be pleased to welcome Briar and Lichen as life guardians for Maya Greenleaf and Jimmy Mulch for the next year.”

There were cheers all round as the fairies accepted their scroll. The glade stilled and in the silence Grandmother Ida held up her empty hands. They began to glow, child and fairy alike watching awestruck as her hands filled with Falling red fire, dancing and flickering over her face, and that of the four competitors at her side. With a sudden movement, she threw up her hands and flung russet fire between the trunks of the oaks surrounding the glade. From between each trunk stepped a villager. They all held bowls before them and as the fire struck the first on each side it leapt from bowl to bowl until the entire glade was ringed with Falling fire.
“Let the celebrations begin!” Grandmother Ida called.
The centre of the glade was piled high with logs, now filled and covered with all the leaves collected over the day. The villagers, as one, reached back and then hurled their bowls of fire into the pile. It caught instantly – Grandmother Ida would never have admitted to augmenting that flame – and people began to sing and dance, joining hands and circling the fire. Soon all were a part of welcoming the days of Falling, the safety of the village and holding back the Deep Dark just a little longer.