August 4, 2019

TALES FROM BEYOND THE WOODS - August 2019 - Table of Contents

Enchanted Conversation
presents the
August 2019 Issue
TALES FROM
BEYOND THE WOODS

Beyond the woods lies an endless green.
All those who seek it 
can wander freely through the stories that dwell 
in this landscape of eternity.

The magic of fairy tales, folktales, and myths reach beyond our every day experiences and connects us to the past and future. They call us to look beyond what our eyes see in every day life and to see with our limitless imagination.

We hope you are all creatively inspired by the stories from the twelve talented authors featured in this issue and that they take you beyond the ordinary, beyond time, and beyond the woods...


So maiden, you would become queen?
Bring us the sky and lay it at our feet,
and the crown is yours..
Belle Perkins

Bring me a daughter, and give her the eyes
of a gazelle, the slender neck of a springbok,
and the grace of an antelope...
DJ Tyrer

Wouldn't being a frog-prince be way
mind expanding? That guy would get why
I felt so much like a fish out of water...
Frogman
Amy Beth Sisson

The storm peterel stood before them with
its wings spread. He straddled the back of the
great bird, and the bird bore him into the sky..

What was the thing that twisted my heart
beyond repair? It was a piece of burnt toast...
Myna Chang

I looked back and saw braided hair,
dangling like a golden ribbon bookmark
left untucked upon a novel's spine...
Her Place
Rob E. Boley

A three-legged crow swooped down
and perched by Toki.
Cindy held a sprig of cherry blossoms
between her beak...
Lisa Cai

Listen, lady. We need to talk about this
Ella situation because I'm fed up...
Rachel Ayers

Fanny was a proud and stubborn girl.
Herbert was a brown lump of a troll
with a mouse that lived in his hair...
Heidi Lobecker

In keeping with the Grecian theme of the hotel,
on each of the eight walls there were
hand-painted murals of the Cyclades
and the beautiful Aegean Sea...
Smörgåsbord
F.J. Bergmann

Albert nearly hired a detective then,
to figure out if what she said
about her stepmother was true...
Death in a
Brownstone
A.M. Offenwanger

It is the night of a summer's dream,
rousing the ones who dare sleep
to a kindling awareness...



And finally,
I want to send out my heartfelt thank you to everyone who reads Enchanted Conversation and also to the writers who create the wonderful tales we publish. Your support means everything, so please enjoy the song below that accompanies this issue.
Thank you for being on this journey with us!
- Amanda Bergloff, Editor-in-Chief


ALL COPYRIGHT
to the written works in this issue belong to the individual authors.

Cover Painting: The Sensitive Plant by Sir Frank Dicksee
Cover Layout: Amanda Bergloff

THE MAIDEN WHO WORE THE SKY by Belle Perkins

So maiden, you would become queen?
Bring us the sky and lay it at our feet,
and the crown is yours...
In the time before steel and wire, when forests blanketed this land and my grandmother’s grandmother still had all her teeth, the rulers of a starving empire lived in a glass palace on the edge of a frozen river. Like a creeping infection, the people’s hunger turned to anger, and their anger turned to revolution. A would-be monarch had promised to open the granaries and throw coins to the poorest peasants, if only they would put him on the throne. Finally, one grey morning, the people marched on the palace, shattering the walls and slaying the king and queen. They seized the young princess from her cradle and took her before the new king for judgement. 

One argued that she be killed like her parents, another claimed she should be raised in the palace as the new king’s heir.

“She cannot remain here,” he said, and the disputers fell silent. “Take the child far away, beyond our borders, and leave her for fate to follow its path.”

And so it was done. The princess was swaddled in fine blankets, fastened with the gold crest of her dead father’s house, and taken by her nursemaid past what had once been thrice-nine kingdoms, beyond the edge of the empire to the middle of a deep, dark wood. 


By and by, a woodcutter walking in those parts heard the plaintive wail of a child in distress. Upon discovering the princess, he brought her back to his village and took her to the house of a woman whose own baby had recently died. She agreed to raise the foundling, naming her Oriana for the gold crest she wore. 

Oriana grew into an honorable maiden: neither tall nor short, neither fair nor plain, but respected by all who knew her for her honesty, cleverness, and skill at any task she put her hands to. Only her foster-mother noticed the sad tunes Oriana would hum, and the wistful way she would glance at the woods when she thought herself alone.

“What ails you, that you sound so mournful?” her foster-mother asked. 

“I know not where I come from,” Oriana replied. “You have been a good mother to me, but I mourn for the history I have lost.”

The foster-mother and the woodcutter had cobbled together the truth from what news reached their small village, and now she told Oriana what they knew. “You are a princess by birth, but you may never return to that land.” 

“Then, with your blessing, I will leave for the capital city,” the maiden replied. “There is still some good in the world I can do without a crown.” 

And so with her foster-mother’s blessing, Oriana left the village, her dead father’s crest carried always in her pocket. She traveled for three days before reaching the next town. As she passed the tailor’s shop, a cry of despair sounded from inside, and she ran to investigate.

“Oh, curses on this dress!” An old seamstress sat on the floor, tears in her eyes and yards of silk piled around her knees. 

“What’s your trouble, Grandmother?” Oriana asked.

“The prince must have a bride, and I’m to make her dress,” the seamstress wailed. “It would be easy, but no one knows who she’ll be yet, so I haven’t got the measurements! I’ve tried nine and ninety times and it still won’t turn out right!”

“I will help, if you let me,” Oriana replied. “We’ll make a gown to fit a queen, and if she’s the right sort for the job she won’t mind a few last-minute alterations.”

All through the day and night, until dawn blushed the horizon, the two worked at seams and sleeves until they had sewn a gown that would fit any who wore it as though tailor-made. 

“Blessings on you, child,” the seamstress said. She handed Oriana a cushion stuck with golden needles. “Take this for your troubles, and may it help you on your path.”

Oriana travelled for three more days before she found herself in the midst of a forest. She had paused for a drink of water when she heard she barking cry of an animal in pain. Venturing further into the trees, she discovered the source: a fox with silver claws had its hindmost leg stuck fast in the jaws of a trap, and its foremost leg stuck deep in a pool of tar. 

“What’s your trouble, brother Reynard?” Oriana asked. 

“I am going to the prince’s wedding,” the fox yelped, “for though we know not to whom it will be, he is my sworn brother and I must attend. But I’ve been mired in this pit and caught in this old trap, and though I’ve tried nine and ninety ways I can’t get free.”

“I will help, if you let me,” Oriana replied. “What is impossible alone is sometimes easily done with another set of hands.” She freed the fox’s paw from the tar, but the trap was locked shut. Remembering the seamstress’s gift, she drew a needle, and immediately it turned into a key which unlocked the trap. The fox sprang free, unharmed but for the loss of a single silver claw. 

“Take this as thanks,” he said, handing her his claw. “May it help you on your path.”

Oriana walked for three more days until she was on the main thoroughfare to the capital. She came to a waystation and there found a man grooming his horse. Diamond spurs sparkled on his boots, but his head hung low with sorrow. 

“What’s your trouble, kind sir?” Oriana asked.

“Have you not heard?” the youth sighed. “The prince must have a bride, but he has no say in who she’ll be. Nine and ninety maidens have been tested by his councilors, but none have yet been found worthy.”

Oriana was puzzled. “Why should you lament the prince’s strife?”

“I… know him well,” the youth said, hesitating. “Since birth we’ve been inseparable. His troubles are my troubles and his joys are my joys. These last nine days he’s sought the solution to his problem, but none will give an honest answer to a prince.”

“I will, if you will carry the answer to him,” Oriana said. “For he should know that the only tests a queen must pass are those that win her the love of her husband and the hearts of her people. She can do no good without them.”

“The prince’s ears are my ears,” the youth replied, smiling now. “You are a wise maiden. Take my diamond spurs as thanks for your troubles,” he added, handing them to her. “My horse never much liked them, and they may help you on your path.”

“You have my thanks,” Oriana said. “I am headed for the capital city.”

The youth exclaimed, “What luck, so am I! Climb on my horse, I will take you as far as the gates.”

Though the path to the city took three hours to travel, it seemed no time passed at all. The conversation flowed freely between them and Oriana found herself smiling for the first time since leaving home. When they reached the city, they parted ways as old friends.

“Everyone I meet speaks of the prince,” Oriana mused, once more alone. “What test for his hand could be so difficult that nine and ninety maidens have failed? There is no harm in seeing what they want of a queen.”

So saying she made her way to the palace and was shown to the meeting-hall of the prince’s councillors. She noted with some surprise that the youth she had met on the road stood in the back, now wearing a fine suit of clothes, but before she could puzzle it, the head councillor spoke.

“So, maiden, you would become queen? Do not think it is as easy as asking. Bring us the sky and lay it at our feet, and the crown is yours.” He motioned for her to leave.

Stunned at the magnitude of the task, Oriana turned to go, slipping her hands into her pockets. A thousand sharp edges met her skin, and she gasped in pain.  

For a moment, she contemplated her red-stained fingers.

The blood was salt and iron, not rubies.

Then, turning once more to face the councillors, she spoke. “Your grace, the task is a simple one.” 

From her pocket she took the cushion and drew a golden needle, and from the eye of the needle produced a length of silk bluer than midnight. The rest of the pins she scattered on the cloth, and they were the rays of the golden run. The fox’s claw became a silver slice of crescent moon, and the diamond spurs, placed just so, became the morning and the evening stars. Finally, Oriana drew the mantle over her shoulders and once more faced the councillors.

“I give you the sky in all its glory, not at your feet, but worn as a queen must wear the weight of her duty.”

“Then if you will have me, fair maiden, I am yours!” It was the youth, who Oriana now saw wore the regalia of a prince. “You are kind, clever, and wise,” he told her, “and none would do better for a queen.”

She showed the prince her father’s crest, and told him the whole of her story. “I was born to an undeserved crown. If I have earned this one, it has not been by silver or by stars. Only stay by my side, and I pray that our crowns will rest lightly.”

"Why they will shed light," said the prince, "brighter than day."

And in a day and a year, they were married. Oriana wore the splendid gown she had made with the seamstress, who was revealed to be the prince’s mother in disguise, and the fox turned up with his seven young kits. In time, Oriana and the prince ascended to the throne, and if my history serves, they are still ruling now. 
Belle Perkins is a college sophomore and folklore enthusiast from Virginia. Previously, her short story "The Robin's Nest" was shortlisted for the 2018 Amy Wahl Short Story Prize for Teens.

Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff

GAZELLE by DJ Tyrer

Bring me a daughter, and give her the eyes
of a gazelle, the slender neck of a springbok,
and the grace of an antelope...
Once upon a time, in the lands of the burning southern sun, there was a chieftain of a mighty tribe and he took as his wife the daughter of a chieftain as great as he, a woman who was beautiful and lovely, kind and wise. But, for all her husband found her so, there was one thing no amount of beauty and loveliness, nor kindness and wisdom could bring, and that was a child.


The chieftain’s Great Wife was barren and, every year, he would marry another woman, younger and more comely and able to bear him healthy sons and beautiful daughters. And, every year, the Great Wife’s beauty faded just a little and she became a little less lovely and bitterness took root in her heart. And, the chieftain’s wives and daughters began to sicken and die, and he was greatly pained.
One day, the Great Wife was reclining in the shade cast by the trunk of a baobab, having applied her wisdom to the gathering of ingredients for a most-potent bag of muti, one that might make her womb fertile like the veldt after the rains come.

On the plains before her, she watched timid gazelle move carefully through the long grass, the antelope run and dodge away from the lionesses that pursued them, and the springbok skip away with bounding leaps from the hungry leopard, and she saw in them the child she desired.

As she lay there, finishing the ritual that would complete the muti, she whispered a heartfelt prayer to certain ancestral spirits ordinarily shunned.

“Bring me a daughter, a perfect child who shall bring joy to me, and give her the eyes of a gazelle of rarest beauty, the slender neck of a springbok and the grace of an antelope.”

And, so it was: The Great Wife fell pregnant and, to the delight of her husband, she bore a girl and he gave his wife a belt of golden twine to celebrate. She named their daughter ‘Gazelle’, for she did indeed have the sensuous eyes of a young gazelle. And, as she grew, Gazelle’s neck grew long and slender and she learnt to walk with a delightful grace.

Now, as kind and doting a mother as the Great Wife was to her young daughter, the bitterness that had taken root within her had not been expelled with the afterbirth, but remained, festering.

Upon the Great Wife’s shoulder there always rode a bird, a grey parrot that could talk, and it was an oracle of sorts, able to answer any question she chose to put to it.

Every morning, she would ask the bird a question: “O parrot, tell me true, is there one in all these lands who has the beauty to challenge my own?”

One morning, the parrot spoke and its words were as unexpected as they were unwelcome, for it told her: “O mistress, there is one whose beauty, now, outstrips your own and you name her daughter and Gazelle.”

With a terrible cry, the Great Wife struck at the bird and it flew up into the branches of the baobab and hid from her. Tearfully, she passed the day and no words from her daughter could soothe her.

Next morning, she beckoned the parrot down and asked her question, again, and the parrot answered with the same words. Once more, she gave a terrible cry that sent it flying from her.

“Mother, whatever is wrong?” asked Gazelle.

“Nothing, dear child, nothing,” she lied.

One more time did she coax the bird down from its perch and question it.

The parrot said, “O mistress, I tell you nought but the truth when I say there is one whose beauty daily grows more and more than your own, and that is your daughter, Gazelle.”

And, though it swiftly flew out of reach, the Great Wife didn’t rage at it, but sat quietly, wringing her hands, ignoring her husband and her daughter when they came to query what ailed her.
In the late afternoon, she rose and went to the chieftain’s eldest son, who was a mighty hunter.

“How,” he asked her, “may I serve you?”

She looked at him, her features grim, and said, “It is your sister, Gazelle. It is with a terrible heaviness in my heart that I have learnt she’s a witch who means to do me, her own mother, harm.”

“No! I cannot believe it!”

“It’s true. Oh, it’s true.”

“What’s to be done?”

“Take her out into the bundu on some pretext and kill her. Leave her body for the hyenas, but bring her heart and liver and kidneys to me as proof she is dead.”

He protested, but she said, “I know it’s hard, but you are the best hunter in our tribe and you love your father and me. You’re the only one I can trust to do this thing.”

With a heavy heart, he approached his sister. “Dear Gazelle, come with me into the bundu. I have something special to show you.”

She followed him deep into the bundu on secret tracks only he knew, till they came to a series of pools that bubbled like the water in a boiling pot.

“Take a closer look,” he said, moving behind her with a knife in his hand.

But, the blade trembled as he held it and he couldn’t kill her. Instead, he fell to his knees, sobbing.

His sister turned. “Whatever is wrong?”

“Oh, it’s terrible! Your mother commanded me to bring you here, far from the kraal, and kill you.”

“Kill me? I don’t believe it – you lie!”

“I swear by our ancestors, I don’t. She says you are evil, but I know you are not. I cannot do it. But, neither can you return home – for both our sakes. Gazelle, you must flee far away and hide. Go!”

The girl turned and ran with all the speed and grace of her namesake, leaving him far behind.

He took his bow and shot and killed a gazelle and cut out its organs and carried them back to their mother.

“Here you are – gazelle’s heart, liver and kidneys.” The words weren’t, strictly, a lie.

She took the organs from him, then carried them to her secret place and made muti from them.

But, when she spoke to her parrot the next morning, she discovered the truth and, with a terrible cry, ran to her husband’s son, shrieking curses. He turned and fled, deep into the bundu where none but he knew the paths, resolving to seek his sister, leaving the Great Wife to plot her revenge.

Gazelle, meanwhile, had wandered far away, coming to a kopje surrounded by a tangle of thorns. There was a tempting cave in its side and, struggling her way through the skin-raking bushes, she made her way to it.

There were agitated cries as she approached and hisses through bared teeth as the cave’s inhabitants made themselves known: Seven baboons stepped out of the night to regard her with shining eyes.

Uncertain whether they could understand her words, Gazelle spoke anyway. “Hello. I mean you no harm – and trust you mean me none. I’m lost and in need of a place to stay.”

Although the sounds they made in reply meant nothing to her, the way their ranks parted and they ceased to hiss did seem welcoming, and she went into the cave.

The Great Wife, meanwhile, had summoned a dozen tokoloshe and sent them forth, searching for Gazelle. One returned and told her where her daughter was.

Wrapping herself in a kaross and covering her head so that her face was hidden in shadow, she set out for the kopje where Gazelle was hidden.

Slowly, as if bent with age, she climbed the rocks to the cave and called out a greeting.

“Hello,” said Gazelle with a smile, as she exited the cave. “You look weary. Please, come sit down and rest. You must be hungry; can I get you something to eat?”

“Please, my dear.”

Gazelle brought out a bowl of sadza to share with her.

Scooping a little into her mouth, the Great Wife said, “Delicious. But, please, may I have a drink of water.”

While Gazelle was fetching her the drink, she scooped out some more of the sadza and hit it amongst the rocks, then sprinkled some powder from her muti pouch into the bowl and quickly mixed it in.

When Gazelle returned, her mother handed her the bowl in return for the water and watched as the girl ate. As Gazelle finished, the Great Wife rose, thanking her for the food, and hurried away.

With a sudden cry, Gazelle collapsed.

Her mother smiled to herself, satisfied, pushing the pang of guilt down where she could barely feel it.

Gazelle’s breath slipped out through her lips and she lay as still as death.

A short time later, the baboons returned and, with hoots of dismay, ran to her side and attempted to revive her. One bent and sniffed the bowl and gave a cry.

Running off, they returned with certain roots and leaves, which they chewed into a mush and pushed into her mouth, the juices running down her throat.

With a cough, Gazelle blinked her eyes open and sat up.

Her mother learnt of her failure the next morning when, once again, the parrot declared, “But, today, far from here, there is one whose beauty, still, outstrips yours. Yes, your daughter yet lives.”

She cursed and railed, then set off once more to the kopje.

Within the cave, Gazelle was singing, so she placed an ivory toothpick outside, knowing her daughter would take it.

And, sure enough, she did. But, as soon as she used it, the toothpick nicked her gum and a poison entered her and Gazelle fell lifeless to the ground.

But, once more, when the baboons returned, they knew the herbs to cure her and Gazelle revived with a gasp.

Come morning, her mother was enraged to learn she had been thwarted again.

So, she set out a third time with murder in mind.

Climbing the kopje, she revealed herself and called her daughter’s name.

“Mother, is that you?” Gazelle responded.

“It is, my dear. I’ve been searching everywhere for you.”

“I was hiding from you. My brother said you meant me harm.”

“He lied. It was he.” She held out her arms and Gazelle fell into her embrace.

As she held her daughter close, she slipped the belt of golden twine from her waist and twisted it about Gazelle’s neck, pulling it tight so she ceased to breathe.

Heart churning with a mixture of grief and exultation, the Great Wife ran from the kopje.

Her eyes blurring with tears, she didn’t see her husband’s eldest son as he approached the kopje. He ran up to the cave, where he found his sister seemingly dead upon the ground.

Raising her up, he untwisted the twine and she gasped a deep, body-shaking breath.

“Mother…” she murmured.

“I know.” He helped her up, then said, “Come.”

Accompanied by the baboons, they made their way through the bundu, back to the royal kraal.

“What is this?” asked the chieftain.

“My mother tried to kill me,” said Gazelle.

“With this.” Her brother held up the belt of golden twine.

The chieftain gasped to see the gift he once gave to his wife and refused to hear her denials.

“You are no longer welcome here. Go. You made our daughter live in the wilds like a beast. Now, it is your turn. Leave and never return. If you do, I will kill you myself. For the love I once held for you, be gone.”

And, his wife turned and fled far from the kraal and, though her husband and daughter lived happily thereafter, she never was happy again.

As for the parrot, it flew to Gazelle’s shoulder and was her friend ever after.
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Winter’s Grasp (Fantasia Divinity), Tales of the Black Arts (Hazardous Press), Pagan(Zimbell House), Misunderstood (Wolfsinger), and Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), and issues of Fantasia Divinity, Broadswords and Blasters, and BFS Horizons, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).
DJ Tyrer's website is at https://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/
Follow him on Twitter @djtyrer

Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff
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