November 26, 2018

Of Fairy Beasts and Fugitive Lovers by Judy DaPolito

I was ten years old when my grandmother came to live with us, adding two books of Japanese fairy tales and an enormous volume of Russian, Magyar and Slav tales to the books of Grimm and Anderson already calling to me from behind the glass doors of our living room bookcase. Since that time, I’ve delighted in everything from Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber to Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles. And I’m still discovering new and wonderful tales. Recently, I fell in love with Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens.

The world of Rogerson’s story captured me immediately. The town of Whimsy, where it is always summer, sits between two contrasting regions. In the World Beyond, humans go about their lives unaffected by the fair folk, and the seasons go through their usual changes. In the treacherous forest humans who trespass risk death, and the areas are divided into seasons according to each one’s prince or king. But the fair folk travel from the forest to Whimsy to buy objects made by human Craft. The fair folk can create enchantments, but if they try to cook or sew or make furniture or write poetry the attempt itself can destroy them. Isobel, the seventeen-year-old human protagonist, is a skilled portrait painter.

Isobel has painted many of the fair folk since her main patron, Gadfly, first came to her when she was twelve. She gives her whole self to the acts of drawing and painting. Only her peculiar family is as important to her as her Craft. A fairy beast killed Isobel’s parents when she was small, and her Aunt Emma has raised her and her young twin sisters. March and May illustrate the dangers and the carelessness of the fair folk. They started life as goats, but became human when a fair one who’d had too much to drink transformed them. They still tend to leap from high places and eat small lizards and broken dishes, but Emma and Isobel love them anyway. In addition, they’re a reminder to Isobel of the dangers of the enchantments the fair folks offer as payment for Craft. If the wording of the enchantment is not tightly controlled, what sounds beneficial can prove to be devastating. Isobel has learned to request precise enchantments, such as causing each of her family’s hens to lay half a dozen edible eggs every week. She knows better than to trust the fair folk.

But her practicality begins to slip when Rook, the autumn prince, comes to sit for his portrait. Isobel hears a raven beyond the kitchen door and shoos it away, but it ignores her and croaks again. A moment after she goes into the house, there’s a knock at the door and the prince enters. He’s handsome and unreserved, asking questions about household tools and furnishings. He doesn’t stand on ceremony, and she loses herself in the process of sketching him until she has trouble drawing his eyes. When he leaves that day she asks if she can see him turn back into a raven, and he obliges her.

They grow closer as the sessions continue, and Isobel realizes how much she will miss him when the portrait is done, but love between humans and fair folk is forbidden and the penalty is death for both. She and Rook say goodbye reluctantly, and two weeks later she gives the finished portrait to his messenger. A few nights later he returns, furious, and forces her through enchantment to follow him into the woods. She has painted human sorrow in his eyes, and that weakness can cause him to be overthrown. Since his subjects have already seen the portrait, he intends to put her on trial to prove that one of his rivals paid her to do it.

In the course of their travels through the different principalities of the forest, Isobel and Rook are chased by the Wild Hunt and attacked by enormous fairy creatures made of human corpses and rotting vegetation. At first, Rook insists he’s protecting Isobel in order to bring her to trial, but it soon becomes clear that his feelings for her break the Good Law. And instead of running away she protects him as well, even after injuries have temporarily destroyed his glamour and she sees his physically frightening reality. Each of them comes to believe that interior worth matters far more than exterior beauty.

When they finally confess their love for each other, Isobel finds the courage and wisdom to attack the rules of the fair folk and turn an early crushing defeat into a great and surprising victory. An Enchantment of Ravens is a valuable addition to the tales that lived behind the glass doors of my parents’ bookcase.
Because Judy DaPolito is enchanted by fairy tales and medieval adventures, she writes about both subjects. Right now, she's immersed in a novel-length retelling of Bluebeard.

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November 23, 2018

SATURDAY TALE - Off-Spring by Marcia Sherman

She sat on a rock near the cavern
where the river disappeared and kept watch...

Dusk was nudging the sun away. The breeze quickened to wind, and leaves scattered. Caritas sat on a rock by the pool, near the cavern, where the river disappeared. Twice a year she kept watch. She knew her mother was waiting for her; it was soon time to leave. But her grandmother was not yet in sight. Cari could not, would not leave until her hand was firmly grasped by the elder’s. She touched the birthmark on her right cheek. Maybe she would see her father again this time. Maybe Cari would get another kiss. His beard tickled, she remembered. That had been nice, even though it had burned a little and left a mark. Cari’s mother told her it was the shape of pom seeds. Cari thought it looked like tears.
Dusk edged through the trees and wind tossed leaves in every direction. Persephone wiped her hands and removed the apron. It was almost time; and all of the preparations for her absence were now completed. She eased into a chair by the door, waiting for her mother and daughter to arrive. She was ready to meet her husband. Every year Sephi went through the same rituals: clean the cottage, pack some personal belongings, smell the last of the flowers – even though chrysanthemums had little smell – and set out alone to the pool, by the cavern, where the river disappeared. It had taken her longer to prepare this year. Her growing belly kept getting in the way. Why was her daughter not returned?
Sephi knew Cari waited in hopes of seeing her father. However, Hades had been warned not to seek contact again. That would void the contract, and he would not chance losing Sephi forever. Cari, with her black eyes and fiery red hair, was the image of her father and his surroundings. This second child would be quite different. Cari’s brother would be born in dark, but would carry light with him always. He too would be the image of his father – and nothing at all like her husband. Sephi knew exactly how Hades thought, what wife doesn’t? At first he would be happy, over the moon as it were, to have a son. A son who – being born underground – would stay with him forever and take a seat beside him in the management of the underworld. All babes look alike at birth, and eventually change to favor one parent or the other. This babe would keep the coloring with which he was born. Hades would begin to wonder, and doubt, and suspect. Then he would count the moons, and he would know. This child, this son, with those cool, blue eyes and soft-as-spring-lambs pale hair, was not the son of Hades. Waiting for her daughter, watching out the window, Sephi let her thoughts wander. How was it she had been so weak? Was it really just all those months, year after year, in dark and heat? The soft, new grass and the rainbow of flowers had seduced her, along with his smile. She was lost, and loved, and never spared a thought to the complications which might arise from the joining. He had been gone when she awoke. Nothing for it now, just bear it and move on. Where was that girl?
Cari watched the shadows grow and tamped down her excitement and fear. What was taking her grandmother so long? There – finally, footsteps on the path, surely that was Demeter making her way to collect her granddaughter. Cari glanced past the cavern to get a better look through the trees, and her eyes widened in amazement. It was him! Had her yearning called him? She jumped up and ran to the cottage, calling to her mother the entire way.
Fontanus or Ueris? Either name would be perfect. It may be considered a slap in the face of her husband, but Sephi wanted a name to remind her of that breathtaking afternoon spent in the May bower. Shaken from the reverie by her daughter – at last! – calling to her, she gathering up her travel bag, she stepped out of the door. There was Cari dancing along the path. There was her mother, laughing. There was, wait, was it…him? She had not seen him in almost six months. Thought it impossible, considering the circumstances. Her knees gave out and he rushed to catch her. Joy shone like a May dawn on his face, amazed at the gift she held for him. Gently, he lifted her and carried her into the wood.
Cari watched her mother and companion and laughed delightedly. She looked up at the trees – did they suddenly seem a little greener? With one long loving look at the couple, Demeter smiled too. She took Cari’s hand, and they entered the cottage.
Hades waited for hours at the mouth of the river, in the cavern, near the pool. At length a messenger was sent. There was to be no argument. Just this one winter Persephone would not be returning to Hades. Other than the god of the river Styx and his bride, only the dead live underground.
It was remarked upon as the warmest and mildest winter in hundreds of years.

Only one snow fall - and that on February 14th.
Check out another story by Marcia
by clicking on the cover below:

Marcia A. Sherman writes flash fiction, specializing in re-imagined fairy and folk tales, and mythology, with a feminist bent. One of the stable of writers for Llewellyn Worldwide, she has been a columnist for her local paper, has self-published a children's book, and enjoys entering literary contests. Marcia resides in New Jersey and, with the arrival of a granddaughter, has recently been happily graduated to the position of crone.

Art: Evelyn de Morgan

Layout: Amanda Bergloff

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November 17, 2018

SATURDAY TALE - The Salt Pool by Angie Dickinson

There is a small, saltwater pool in the Peak District of Derbyshire.
It is said that a nymph bathes there.

The message said to be there on the night of her birthday. Alone.

Although Mairen turned sixteen on the last fine night that the people of the Peaks would see until spring, there would be no firelit celebration in her name. She had been forgotten her whole life, living sparsely on the outskirts of the little village she had been born into without a family.

Forgotten, that is, until she received the message instructing her to come to the salt pool.

The pool was said to be salt because of an underground passage to the sea, although no one could verify such a thing. It would have to be quite a long passage, as the nearest coastline was many miles west of the Peaks. Mairen rather thought that it was salt because it was an ocean by itself, but she kept that fanciful suspicion quiet.

The pool had to be much deeper than it was wide; it only took five lengths of a row boat to cross it, and legend said that no diver or pole had ever reached the bottom. The dark waters of the pool dipped into the white rock of the cairn quarry, a solitary, wind-swept place. Mairen never saw a soul there, although she visited the place daily. The scent of salt and the pull of the rippling waves felt more like home than her tiny shack ever had.

Mairen visited the pool regularly by day, but had never ventured near it at night. The air was cool as she approached, but the water must have been warm, for steam rose in evanescent curls off of its stirring surface, and fireflies danced above it, reflecting amongst the stars in the water beneath.

Mairen looked around cautiously. The stones that rose jaggedly from the isolated cairn quarry, brilliant white in the moonlight, threw long, concealing shadows. She shivered, viciously angry at her own stupidity, her desperation for human attention.

She turned to leave, and something splashed lightly in the water behind her. She whipped around, and her hands came up, ready to fight. Small waves furrowed the water, but still, she did not see a soul.

“Hello?” Mairen forced her voice through her compressed lungs, past her tight throat.

A dark shape moved at the edge of the pool.

“Oh, you really are mine, aren’t you?” A voice, like a warm wind through rushes, spoke clearly from the pool.

“Who’s there?” Mairen demanded, her voice louder than she’d intended, higher than usual. Against all reason, she took a step closer to the pool, then another.

“Come, daughter,” said the voice. The moon slipped out from behind a cloud, and shone down over the water, illuminating a dark, sleek head and wet, bare shoulders. Mairen gasped, but did not draw back.

“Why do you call me daughter?” she asked, kneeling down to the edge of the water. The figure in the pool did not move, but her dark hair swirled around her shoulders.

“See for yourself.” The figure turned her face up, and the moonlight bathed her features. Mairen had rarely seen her own reflection clearly, but she knew that she might as well be staring at it now. Wilder, perhaps, with ancient, deep eyes, but with her nose and dark brows, her sharp cheekbones, her lips.

“Daughter,” the woman said again, and the water stirred around her. “Your sisters.” Four more dark heads rose from the water. Each face looked like a young version of the one before her. Although their lips were solemn, their eyes danced in excitement as they stared at her.

“Your path will be harder than your sisters’, but you have the strength to follow it.” The gentle voice was louder now.

“What – what do you mean?” Mairen asked. Her eyes darted from one wild face to the next. The joy in her sisters’ eyes began to fade to something else. Something darker.

“Your father was of earth. Now that you are grown, you may join us, but incompletely. You will never be truly of the water until you have claimed your full strength from a human.

The water was liquid diamonds at her fingertips. Warmth and wildness and home. Mairen felt a tug of longing. “How?” she breathed.

“Join your sisters, tonight, when the moon shines over our pool on the night of your birth. Then, lure the young man, Kel, here.”

Mairen froze. She stared into the black eyes of her mother.

“Drag him down into the pool. He will die, and you will be a daughter of the sea, as you always should have been.”

The words knifed through Mairen’s chest. Rarely as she saw him, Kel, the innkeeper’s son, was the only person who had shown her kindness. The only person who seemed to realize she existed. How had her mother known he was the man who might come to her – and the one it pained her to hurt?

“When…when must I do this?” Mairen asked unsteadily.

“Tonight, of course.”

“But – how shall I lure him tonight? The village is a mile away, and it is already late –”

“He has been sent a message just as you were. He will come as surely as you did. But you must join your sisters first.” Her mother slid back from the pool’s edge, and Mairen caught a glimpse of her heavy, shimmering tail. A fin slipped above the surface of the water, elaborately studded with glistening adornment, its detail obscured by shadows.

Mairen’s sisters swam forward. The joy had returned to their eyes, and they reached out to her.

“Come sister, gently. We will keep you safe,” said one, her voice young and sweet. Mairen felt something bright rising within her, and she smiled. She sat at the edge of the pool, and gasped as she slid her bare feet in. The water was hot and abrasive against her skin.

“It’s all right, we will be with you, we will help you,” said her sisters, taking her hands gently in their small, cool ones. The smallest said earnestly, “It will get better!”

Mairen plunged into the pool. The water closed over her head, scalding and tearing at her skin. Her entire body screamed. Then a pair of slim arms wrapped around her, and another. Another, and another. She was sinking, fast. She had been tricked. Her lungs clawed for air, her heart pounded frantically, and the empty darkness of death pressed against her eyes.

“It’s all right, you’re safe,” whispered a voice in her ear. The voice was joined by three others, crooning and soothing. Her sisters’ arms clutched her tighter.

The water cooled against her skin. Her body flooded with light, utter relief, as if a balm had been poured over her, as if her lungs were full of fresh air. The arms held her, but she was no longer sinking.

Then, four sets of soft lips brushed against her cheeks, her forehead. Four voices, as soft and nearly inaudible as a distant wave, whispered against her healing skin, “She lies.”
When Mairen broke the surface of the water, she felt as if she were waking from the heavy cloud of a dream. The sky had lightened to violet, but the stars still shone brightly over the pool. The water was pleasant against her skin, and she felt no fatigue in her muscles. Dipping under the water, she found that she had no need of air. It had been no dream.

Down, through water as clear as green glass, she could see the figures of her sisters and mother. Waiting for her.

She wanted to join them. When she looked at her sisters, a keen sense of home and family roared, and gripped the deepest parts of her. She would do whatever she had to do.

Mairen surfaced again, and saw him: Kel, the innkeeper’s son, standing at the edge of the pool, gazing down at her with sheer amazement in his eyes. Fierceness thrummed through her, and she stared back, holding his gaze until she knew that he couldn’t look away if he wanted to.

“Mairen?” he said. He knew her name. The thought was enough to cut through the raging emotion, but only slightly. She would not let it weaken her. She threw up her arms, as her sisters had done.

“Let me help you,” he said gently. She shook her head. No. He mustn’t be kind. He knelt, and reached for her. Their hands touched, and indecision shivered through her. But she pulled anyway.

She wrapped her arms firmly around him, and they sank together. His arms tightened around her as well, and she knew he could not swim. He kicked his legs madly, panic rippling through his tense body; he knew he was going to die. She held him, her thoughts focused downward, and they plummeted. Something swirled around them, beating the water powerfully. His arms clenched, and then he let go and desperately tried to push her up. He was trying to save her. His heart beat wildly against hers. Then, his body relaxed.

Mairen looked up into Kel’s face. It had gone slack, and his eyes were closed. His head lolled against his shoulder. Something like poison darted through her and she knew herself, starkly.

As desperately as she wanted her family, she could never have them at such a price.

She swam up with a ferocity of speed, although her legs were still human, and shoved Kel above the water. Hauling him to the edge, she pushed his limp body onto the stone lip of the pool. She rolled him to his side.

A long moment passed, and a devastation heavier than the weight of the ocean began to fill her. What had she done? The pale autumn sun broke over the horizon, and the wind gently ruffled Kel’s dark curls. Then he coughed.

Relief coursed through Mairen as Kel coughed up salt water and his chest began to move up and down. His eyes remained closed, he didn’t try to sit up – but he was alive. The sky lightened to pink. Mairen pulled herself out of the pool and sat next to Kel.

With a rush of waves, four heads broke the surface of the water and blinked in the rising sun. Mairen’s sisters swam toward her, their eyes shining. Her mother was not there.

“I’m sorry,” Mairen whispered. “I couldn’t do it.”

“But you did do it,” said the oldest, her voice vibrating with contained emotion. “You saved a human life.”

“But – our mother said that I must take one.”

“Yes – she lied,” said a sister with a streak of lighter hair playing through the dark, and eyes more amber than brown. “She did not want you to challenge her strength. As a half-human, you could become one who dwells in water by night and land by day. If you had taken a human life, you would have been bound to the water, forever. But because you have instead saved a life, you are a nymph, free to dwell on land or in sea as you please. This also means you are stronger than she, and she owes you her allegiance.”

“Which would be why she is gone,” said the youngest, her eyes dancing with pleasure.

“Gone?” asked Mairen, peering down into the pool.

“We can access any sea we choose from this pool. Who knows where she went.”

“Will she be back?” Mairen asked. She slipped back into the gentle water beside her sisters, excitement stirring her blood.

“Yes – but you will be ready.”

Mairen followed her sisters into the fathoms-deep salt pool to explore her new home, where the sunshine followed them endlessly downward. When she returned later that evening, just to check, Kel had gone, and only the gleaming stars remained.
Check out another story of Angie's, "Knight of the Sun, Moon, and Stars," by clicking on the cover below:

Angie Dickinson is a busy mother, and an avid reader and writer. Her writing has been greatly influenced by fairy tales, folklore, and myth, and their deep well of renderings. She is grateful for every opportunity add to that well by expanding on old tales that capture her imagination. Her short story, "Knight of the Sun, Moon, and Stars," has been previously published in Enchanted Conversation Magazine. You can learn more about Angie and her writing by visiting her blog, Telling Tales. Follow her on Twitter @AngieSDickinson

Cover: Amanda Bergloff