Shadow in the Corner

It’s an old stone house with a tall stone tower

It’s bent and battered but it still holds power

And the priests keep blessing but the dark’s still calling

So the cattle’s brought in soon as night starts falling

We’re the edge of the kingdom so we don’t pay taxes

And the only human sounds are the woodcutter’s axes

So the lords don’t bother and we like it that way

Though few who come to work here have the heart to stay

There’s a new girl in the kitchens and we have to warn her

Of the stain that hides in the shadow in the corner.

Photo by George Hiles on Unsplash

Glass and Ashes: A Sparkling Character Spotlight

This week’s Fairy of the Hour is none other than Cinderella’s own Fairy Godmother, Sabine Cantrelle.

Sabine is not your ordinary Fairy Godmother, though some on the Fairy Tale Council wish she was. She can’t help it if she has a mind of her own. To be fair, it’s due to that ability to think for herself that she has so much success. Once slated to be the worse Fairy Godmother in history, she was able to turn a difficult job into a life changing opportunity and has become a leader among her kind. Let’s get on to the questions.

  • So, Sabine, what’s it like being a Fairy Godmother? I imagine it’s totally grand and fantastical?

– *snort* “Fantastical, my foot. You mortals always think that because we have magic life is…well a fairy tale every day, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Magic has restrictions. We can’t bend wills, or change minds. We can persuade, but even then, it’s not always what you intend. Magic is a tool, and like any other tool, it alone can’t fix everything. As for being a Fairy Godmother, honestly?” *She leans in and whispers* “I love it. But don’t go around shouting that I told you. I have a cool and detached reputation to maintain.”

  • Cool and detached? Can you explain?

– “Well I’m not the pink tutu wearing, always smiling, ‘happy to serve you’ kind of Fairy Godmother. This job’s work. A lot of work. Especially the way we do it now. After working with Cinderella, it all changed. So, I have to appear to be aloof, unattached if you will, or everything just gets more complicated.”

  • You say you helped Cinderella with her Happily Ever After. We can only assume you‘ve been influential to the story of many different protagonists, but I’d like to know who was your favorite?

– “Favorite?” *laughs* “I could get fired for answering that question! Not supposed to have favorites. Let’s just say Cinderella taught me an awful lot, and I’m very grateful.”

  • Alright, so tell us how do you get into the Fairy Godmother business?

-“Ugh, it’s a long story. Some grow up wanting it. Others are coerced into it because of ‘family business’ and all that. Then you have those who just kind of accidentally find it—I’m the latter. It’s a great story actually, but to tell it would take up more time than we have, so I think I’ll just say this: curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.”

  • One last question. Cinderella? You guys still talk?

– “Ya know, us Fairy Godparents are just supposed to do our job and then move on, but there are a few charges I keep in contact with. A genie named Juan, this poor soul known as the Big Bad Wolf, and Cinderella are definitely in that group. Last I heard she’s happy as can be. Even named a kid after me.  Not a human one, one of the goat variety. I’m pretty sure it was that dang Innkeeper’s idea—oops, spoilers. I better stop before I give it all way.

  • Wait, wait, wait, one more…. Those who read the story will want to know…Can a Fairy Godmother get a Happily Ever After too?

– “Let me tell you something I’ve learned after four hundred years of initiating Happily Ever After’s. There is only one constant I know for sure: anyone can get a Happily Ever After—even me.

 

Sparrow

Flit through the branches, bounded by brambles, nimble witted

Squabble and scatter, chatter and chase, dawn clatter and dust-baths

Tiny not timid, tenaciously territorial, quicksilver to the seed heads

Singing from gutters, pattering on pavements, defying the traffic

Unruly urchin birds, diminutive, darting and dashing

Yet cousins to swans

Photo by Nastya Kvokka on Unsplash

Not Death

So slowly creeps the lichen in the sun

And slowly the trees stretch their arches

Spreading shade over the green acres

Where the snails leave their silver paths

 

Slow too is the slow rise of the hedges

But beating quicker is the grass,

Which is pinned by the spring daisies

Lest it rise to the clouds

 

Beating quicker are the green shoots

Twining at the base of the hedges

In the corners of the dim shade

At the base of the stones

 

And the spring bulbs are bursting

And leaves push out and up to sunshine

As the first bees harvest the dying grave flowers

Warmed by the growing sun

 

Birds flit, their shadows racing

Across wood and stone and grass

As the fledglings call and cry

Daily getting nearer to their own flight

 

And underneath, the shy voles

Scamper and search among the offerings

Tiptoeing through last year’s leaves

Slipping down the root tangle

 

And in a corner, busy ants

Harvest the crumbs and keep their march

As their nest warms in the mild sun

And the petals are dropping.

 

This is no place of death

This is a place where the dead remember

The rushing, pushing, pulse of spring

And celebrate their life.

Image from the Swedish National Heritage Board and used under the Creative Commons Agreement

Souls of the Dark Sea: A little something to keep you warm

A guest post by AF Stewart, author of the compelling Saga of the Outer Islands series

Bottles of Rum and Drunken Sailors

Now, what seafaring story would be complete without the rum?

Certainly not my Saga of the Outer Islands series.

Rum, or alcohol in general, and sailors (or pirates) is fairly synonymous, as is the scenario of sailors having a bit of a tipple on shore leave. The tradition arose with the old sailing ships keeping men at sea for months at a time, and alcohol becoming a ship ration to ease the trip. However, early stores of liquor for the lowly sailor were wine and beer, (that often went bad) not rum. It was about 1650 that rum become the drink ration of choice, due in part to economics, a surplus of rum, and the durability of the liquor to not go off. The rest is history and good movie lines.

Which leads me back to my book series. Of course, as a seafaring fantasy, the crew of the Celestial Jewel and her Captain like a good drink from time to time. And my books, Ghosts of the Sea Moon and Souls of the Dark Sea, do have plenty of flowing booze, with not only rum but port and other wine, cordial, beer and ale. Even the traditional grog. So here’s a little insight into some of the characters and their favourite drinks.

Captain Rafe Morrow: He can most often be seen with either a glass of wine in his hand or a glass of rum. As a god, alcohol doesn’t affect him significantly, so he drinks quite regularly.

Elliot Blackthorne:  His tastes are a bit more refined with his preferred alcoholic beverage being a good wine or port, though he will take rum with his Captain when asked, or indulge in an ale with the crew at the local tavern. Rum and other spirits tend to go to his head quickly though, so he generally does not imbibe much.

One-Eyed Anders: He likes his ale (and boasts he can drink any man save his captain under the table) or a good glass of rum.

Pinky Jasper: The preferred drink is grog, though he won’t refuse an ale at the tavern.

Lord Merrill: More of a social drinker, he drinks almost exclusively wine, port, or cordial, but has been known to sip whiskey or rum on occasion.

 

Now for a couple of drink extras.

What is Cordial?

By definition, cordial is a sweet fruit or floral flavoured syrup, but can also refer to a low-alcoholic liqueur or other alcoholic beverage that uses cordial syrup. In my book, a cordial refers to a fruity liqueur.

Here’s a site with a recipe for a berry cordial made with vodka: Berry Cordial

And one for a cordial syrup: How to Make Cordial

 

What is Grog?

Grog began as a way of keeping sailors from over inebriating from the highly intoxicating rum and for spreading out rations by simply watering down rum. As one might expect, sailors were not happy with this, so later they were allowed to add lime juice, spices and sugar to make it more palatable.

 

Here’s a good basic grog recipe:

2 OZ DARK RUM

0.75 OZ LIME JUICE

0.5 OZ DEMERARA SYRUP

1 OZ WATER

Add all ingredients to a mug with ice and stir to combine.

And another one:

2 ounces dark rum

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon brown sugar

4 ounces hot water

Slice of orange and a cinnamon stick

Mix the rum, lime juice, brown sugar, and hot water in a mug. Garnish with an orange slice and a cinnamon stick.

 

I hope you enjoyed a little insight into my sailors and rum. Please come join me on the high seas.

Set sail on a new adventure with gods, ghosts and sea monsters. You can find ‘Souls of the Dark Sea in all amazing book shops including Amazon, and it is currently at an offer price of 99p.  Check out the YouTube here and for further wonderful tidbits, check out AF Stewart’s website here 

Bad Night’s Sleep

You were my perfect victim.  You were young, bright and energetic and I was so glad when I stumbled across you when you visited that fake medium.  You were the only one who believed in him because you had just a hint of my presence as I followed you home, but you shook it off and eventually went to bed for your lovely, long healthy sleep.

It was glorious.  Here was someone who slept eight hours every night.  That is a gift to one of my kind.  During the day I could creep into a corner or a shadow and remain an unobserved spirit.  I would even hide under the bed.  Then, when night fell and you slid between your covers and slept, I could creep into your dreams.

You had never remembered dreams before.  When I first crept into your sleepscape I was shocked at how bright it was, filled with sunlight and good memories.  But it was also full of your energy and you were worth the effort.  It took weeks for me to make it my home.  I eroded the sunlight, filled the golden fields with a nameless dread and sent strange shapes to hunt your dreamself.  I nibbled at the corners, cutting off the good memories and making the perfect opportunities for every shameful moment of your life to echo.  Every dark thought, every insidious fear, every tiny morsel was savoured as I nurtured your sleepscape like a master nurtures a perfect pupil.

You didn’t notice at first. I’ve been around for a very long time and I don’t make mistakes like that.  Instead you noticed that you were a little tired, a little run down.  You laughed with your friends about your strange dreams and tried changing your diet around.  Once I became settled, I took a little more.  You were finding sleep harder and harder and the nightmares were scaring you.  You cut out all caffeine and went to a counsellor.  I went with you, of course, and took notes during your discussions.  You gave me wonderful tools to use for your torment.

Then you cut out sugar and went to the gym more.  I basked in the dark thoughts that were brimming in your sleepscape and fed to satiation.  I gave you sleep terrors and laughed as you woke screaming.  I noticed that your boyfriend was a little too perceptive, so I made sure your nightmares featured him.  I was relieved when you dumped him, as he was getting close to the truth.

I drained draught after draught from you as you slept, your torrid dreams feeding me to repletion.  You, however, lost weight as you tried different diets and exercises.  You went to the doctor and got sleeping pills and I celebrated.  You had started to wake a little too often and now these wonderful pills kept you in my domain for so much longer.

You were finding it harder and harder and I gave some thought to moving on.  The bright, bubbly victim I first met had gone.  You were gaunt and pale, with dull eyes and slow speech.  You dragged yourself from work to home to sleep to work and suffered.  You were now insipid fare.  I looked around for a suitable candidate, but you were now far too exhausted to speak to anyone and my choices were becoming very limited.  I couldn’t survive long without a host, but you were so drained that you were barely adequate to keep me in existence.

Thank goodness I had my lucky break.  You were far too tired to drive but at the same time you were far too tired to see sense.  You lost concentration as you drove to your work and so you swerved to miss a fragment of dream and hit a tree.  I was frantic, wondering if I would be able to transfer to one of the crowd who rushed around to help you, but they brought you into this place.

I have never been in a hospital before.  It is truly a marvellous place.  As you slip deeper into a coma and I perch unseen on the end of your hospital bed and plunder the last of your sleepscape, I have so many other potential hosts I can choose from.  The patients are not worth considering, but there are plenty of visitors, along with technicians, secretaries, cleaners, maintenance, porters and all manner of healers.  The chirpy blonde girl who chats to your unhearing form as she cleans the room is perfect. I wonder what her sleepscape looks like.

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

Please note, this is fiction and sleep disturbance is best addressed by checking your diet, exercise and, if necessary, consulting a health care professional.  And if you are into the wonderfully scary, check out the last day of October Frights here – get the goodies while they’re going!  

October Frights: Haunted

Many walk past his statue.  School children sketch it and history teachers wave wildly as they walk its bounds.  His name is in legend.  But for those who have the sight, his ghost huddles at the foot of the bronze, sobbing inconsolably, his hands shielding his head, as he remembers the blood shed in his wake.

For more great reads, awesome insights and generous giveaways, check out these authors taking in part in October Frights!

Dead Roses

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I sat and stared at the faded roses in the centre of the table.  My cup of coffee was cooling in front of me.  Tonight was the last night of the dark of the moon.  Perhaps it wouldn’t work.

I sat immobile, staring at the fallen petals surrounding the plain black vase.  I had made a deal.  I should get the results before the last petal fell.  Outside the sun was setting.  I needed to get up and close the curtains but somehow, after all the weeks since the funeral, somehow now I was finished.  I couldn’t go on.

I watched another petal drop.  I had worked so hard, risked so much, lost so much.  I couldn’t bear to see it fail.  Another petal dropped.  I looked down at my hands.  I had lost weight over the last month.  My hands looked like claws and my wedding ring was loose.

The room was getting darker.  I needed to stand up.  I needed to close the curtains, switch on the light, sweep up the fallen petals and admit my failure.  I briefly closed my eyes.  How could I have failed him so badly?  But I had done all I could.  I had thrown everything into this.

Outside the wind was rising.  I could hear a sighing of the trees.  It was all the more reason to push myself to my feet and take care of the house.  To go through the motions of closing curtains and lighting the fire as the temperature dropped.  I gripped the edge of the table and forced my head to move.  By a massive effort of will I looked out of the window.  I could hear the sighing of the wind, but the trees were not moving.  Moving became easier.  I looked back at the table as another petal dropped.

I managed to push myself to my feet.  My joints ached and my head swam but I stood and looked fully out of the window.  The last gleam of the sun’s rays slipped down and I heard a soft tap at the door.  My dead love had come back.

This is part of the October Frights Blog Hop which you can check out here.  Lots of good stuff with giveaways and great writing.  

A Test

Steve looked at the foul imp digging its claws into his expensive suit jacket.  “Are you sure it is this way?”

Armani belched, spat and scratched the dirty, tiny t-shirt covering his stomach.  “That’s the way.  Lord Darcy is through there.”

Steve stared at the wooden planks across his path.  Why the hell had an elfen decided to call himself ‘Lord Darcy’.  Where had he picked up the stupid name?  The elfen lord would no doubt be wearing a velvet jacket and a lace up shirt.  Steve leaned closer to the planks.  The trouble with these older faerie lords is that they were insanely powerful.  They were insane, they were powerful and this one wanted Steve to do something for him.

Steve considered turning back.  A large trunk of guaranteed genuine medieval prayer books would fetch a very good price – but he had to strike the deal first.  Was the money going to be worth the risk?

“It isn’t real, boss.” Armani looked bored.  “Just walk straight ahead.”

Steve tentatively touched the wood.  The grain of the planks ran from left to right, he could feel the tiny ridges and valleys and smell the pungent creosote.

“Seriously, boss, not real.” Armani chuckled coarsely as Steve pressed his fingers against the unyielding wood.  Stretching out his wings, Amani hovered in Steve’s eye line.  “Watch this.” Armani flapped forward and passed through the barrier as if it was mist.

Steve pressed his palm against the cool, grooved wall.  It was still solid.  Armani flapped back into view.  He tugged nonchalantly at one of his tattered ears.

“Actually, boss, there’s a forty-foot pit with iron spikes on the other side of this.  I think we need to find another way.”

“A pit with iron spikes?” Steve said levelly.  “I was asked here, I don’t need to do this trade.  Why are we getting these tricks?”

Armani shrugged.  “Powerplay, ego trip, practical joke, fear that if he looks weak you’ll rip him off, placating an awkward courtier, worried about werewolves, forgot he put it here, someone else put it here to screw the deal, proving that you were up to making a deal with an elfen lord – take your pick.  You’re the one that makes the deals with elfen.”

“How would it look if I just turned back?” Steve stepped back and looked at the barrier.  Armani shrugged again.

Steve took a deep breath.  He hated the elfen playing mind games, but this was a test.  He strode confidently forward and through the planks as if they were just a dream.  For a heartbeat his foot seemed to hover above the steep sided pit and the iron spikes and then was placed confidently onto the solid stone floor.  He glanced at Armani.  “Since when did ancient elfen tolerate iron.  The older the faerie the less they can bear it.  However, I don’t like being tested.” Steve was well aware he was being overheard.  “My commission has just gone up.”

Checkout the awesome writers on the October Frights blog hop here 

Protection from Fairies

If someone talks about fairies nowadays, many people think of cute, diminutive female figures.  They may have lacy wings and possibly a hat in the shape of a foxglove flower.  Some people may think of wise and beautiful nature spirits, or perhaps they may think of a coin left under the pillow in exchange for a tooth.  It wasn’t always that way.

Before The Flower Fairies

If we go back before Tolkien and Enid Blyton, there is a long tradition of dark stories about what can loosely be called fairies – spirits of the countryside.  These were spirits who were capricious and not always friendly.  They were blamed when the crops were affected by blight, the butter wouldn’t come and sheep and cattle died.  And worse – they were blamed for changelings.  These were children that didn’t thrive but who were sickly and ill.

Will o’ the Wisps led travellers astray.  Stories were told of people who would disappear and then reappear years later believing that they had only been away three nights.  Creatures like the kelpie would drag helpless passers by down into the water to drown.  Sudden afflictions like strokes were attributed to fairies.  The stone arrowheads that were found near the old stone circles were ‘elf shot’.  They were considered physical evidence of a magical attack that could leave you crippled or dead from what would now be called a stroke.    Some stories even said that fairies paid a tithe of human souls to hell.  Fairies were scary!

They were also tricky.  You couldn’t accept food or drink from a fairy.  It might whisk you away for a hundred years or bind you as their servants.  You couldn’t trust payment from a fairy.  Fairy gold had a habit of turning into dead leaves.  They would look like one thing, then another.  And you had to watch every word you said.  The slightest hint of a promise and you were bound to them.  They were elusive and mutable, and in a difficult world, they were best avoided.

Protection from the Fair Ones

Fairies were seen as a risk to your food, your family, your life and even your soul.  Of course people were going to try and protect themselves.  The first thing anyone turned to was iron.  Horseshoes were nailed over the door, but it had to be the right sort of horseshoe.  It had to be a horseshoe that had been used and in most districts it had to be nailed with the points up.  If you couldn’t get a horseshoe (and iron was expensive) then iron nails could be hammered in to the lintel, the mantelpiece or even the bed where a woman was giving birth.

A stone with a hole in it was also considered a good protective charm.  It couldn’t be a hole which had had a hole drilled in it.  Instead it had to be a stone that was found to have a hole in it naturally, from somewhere like a river bed.  These were often hung in stables and byres to keep fairies from knotting manes and tails into ‘elf locks’ and drying up the milk.

Salt was also a good source of protection.  It could be sprinkled across thresholds and lintels if the family felt threatened.  Rowan wood was another source of protection.  Rowan was known as a magical tree, both dedicated to fairies and used as a protection against them.  St John’s Wort was another remedy against fairy attack.

If an unlucky traveller had to travel and feared fairies and being led astray, they could turn their coat inside out and carry a piece of bread in their pockets.  And it was not uncommon for church bells to be rung when there was a storm to frighten away the evil spirits and any fairies that were affecting the weather.  Although as stories evolved in the Christian society of the Middle Ages, fairies respected churches.  Indeed, in today’s Iceland, elves are thought to have a bishop and their own churches.  A road was diverted to accommodate an elvish church in Iceland only recently, though I feel that this isn’t a belief in fairies, but a tolerance of a belief in fairies, which is to be encouraged.

Conclusion

All in all, fairies are not all sparkle and shimmer.  In folklore they are dangerous, duplicitous and difficult.  So slide an iron nail into your pocket, turn your coat inside out and beware!

 

Keep away from the wall, my child,

It keeps us from the faeries wild.

It keeps us from their faerie fear.

Keep away, my child, come here.

 

They blight the cows and cost us money

They steal the bees and take the honey

They spoil the butter in the churn

They cause the cakes and bread to burn

 

They steal our children, blight our wheat,

Ruin pigs and taint the meat.

Keep away from the wall, my dear,

Keep away, my child, come here.

For more wonderful things from the October Frights blog hop, have a look here and dip in!  There are great stories, amazing giveaways and lots of scary fun!