Category Archives: fiction

What’s your Story?

[a short story by Sha’Tara]

I think we should observe one-another more; and without judgment. Not much of a starting line to a story, but where to start anyway? With the obvious, I suppose.

I normally work around the town of Abbotsford. It’s there that I noticed him last year. At first I paid no heed, but as he kept appearing along the streets I normally drive, I began to wonder about him. He was in his early forties I’d say, of normal height, that is, about my size; dressed clean, not expensive. Jeans, sweat shirt, jacket, on if it was cool or off on warmer days and slipped in the lower straps of the pack he carried. He was usually clean shaven, but sometimes he’s sport a short beard and mustache. He had reddish hair, curly and cut fairly short, complemented by that cheap Irish skin, you know the freckly kind that loves to turn bright red and peel at the mention of sunshine. He always wore a bone-head hat and I figured it was so the extended visor would keep the sun off his nose. He wore glasses, carried a faded dark blue back-pack and unless it was raining, he had a spiral bound notebook and a pen in his hands. And that completes my description of his general mien.

I’d see him at the intersection of Gladwin and South Fraser Way, then down by the Real Canadian Super Store or further down, past the Shell Station at the George Ferguson Way and Gladwin crossroads. Sometimes he’d show up further east, by the Chevron and McDonalds at Bourquin Crescent and South Fraser Way.

It wasn’t that he was usually at the crosswalks that intrigued me, but that he’d walk up to people, it didn’t seem to matter what age or gender, or whether there was but one person or several, and he’d say something, holding out his spiral-bound notebook and pen. The response was always the same: some kind of gesture, or words I couldn’t make out and he’d move on to someone else.

One day, I think it was a Wednesday if I remember correctly, as I waited for the lights to change on South Fraser Way I saw him approach an elderly man by the Toronto Dominion bank. I quickly rolled down the window of my service van hoping to hear what he was saying to these people. What I heard was unforgettable.

In a voice that carried well he asked: “What’s your story, sir? Would you tell me your story?” The elderly gentleman turns out not to be so gentlemanly after all. “Fuck off jerk or I’ll call the cops.” And to emphasize the point, he pulls a cell phone from his pocket. The spiral notebook guy backs off, turns away slowly, notices the lights have changed and proceeds across Gladwin to talk to a couple of young mothers with baby carriages. Again the gestures and the angry looks. Next he approaches three Middle School age young girls. They laugh in his face, say something and scamper across Gladwin as the walk light comes on.

I watch him put his notebook away and walk towards the next intersection. I remember it started to rain then and the wind was picking up. By the time I’d turned down Trethewey for the Husky station I’d forgotten about him. Slush machine issues require “Geek” level concentration and that particular Husky gas bar has three of them.

A few days later I remembered him again. I remembered suddenly that after months of his presence on the periphery of my life I had not seen him since the Friday of the week before. Well, you know what that’s like. You get used to something or someone just being there and take it for granted until suddenly they are not there and an empty feeling forms in your heart. I wondered what had happened to him. I knew he was well known in the neighbourhood so I asked the manager at the computer shop in the corner strip mall if he knew anything about him.

“Oh yeah, that idiot. The cops finally picked him up last Saturday. I guess someone had had enough of him going to people and asking for their story. Certifiable, if you ask me. You’d think they’d have places for people like that. Who needs that kind of crap around town?” Ok, so not the most compassionate person in the world here, but I’m trying to remain neutral. This is not my town, I just work here. I mostly just drive by on the streets so I don’t know what I’d done if the Note Book Man had come up to me and asked for “my” story.

I wonder. Do I have a story to tell that would be worth someone else’s time to write down? Would I ever get that chance? I did. My Note Book friend came back a month later. At first I wasn’t sure it was him. He was sitting on a bus bench, his back-pack lying next to him. On top was the spiral-bound note book. He was not accosting people, but holding his head in his hands, looking at the sidewalk. I had an idea. It was close enough to lunch time so I turned into West Oaks mall and parked by the Tim Horton’s in the corner there. I took my wallet, locked up, alarmed the vehicle and quickly strode to the sidewalk. I’d have to cross two lights to get to the Note Book Man. A bus came by and my heart sunk, but he did not get on. I made the lights and came to the bus stop.

“Hi!” I said. Not very original but one must start somewhere neutral with people. “Hi!” is usually safe. There was no response. I sad down beside the back-pack and looked at the note book. “Mind if I look at your notes?” I asked. He moved his head towards me, looking at my leg, I guess, then pointed to the notebook. I picked it up and opened it. I read the contents.

“What’s Your Story?” – an interview by Eugene Proulx.

I thumbed through the rest of the pages. They were all blank, except for those nice straight blue lines, like artificial veins under too thin and too white a skin. There was no story. There were no stories. No one had ever taken the time to give him one… or no one had thought that maybe they had one to give.

I felt a terrible surge of compassion for this man.

“I’ll tell you my story, if you want to write down some notes.” I said to him.

He looked up, not to my face, but as high as my shirt pockets this time. Then he took the note book, closed it softly, put it in his back-pack and closed that, slipping one strap over a slumping shoulder. I reached to him and put my hand lightly on his arm.

“I meant it.” I said.

This time he looked right into my eyes. Tears were welling up and rolling from his eyes. He stood up, turned and walked away.

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Take me Home, Lon

(short story – by Sha’Tara)

“Take me home, Lon!” She leaned heavily upon his arm though to him she seemed as light as an autumn leaf landed on his shoulder.

He looked tenderly upon his Lalika and in her gray hairs he read the story of their times together, times he knew were about to end. He knew also she was blissfully unaware of all that had befallen them, and their little world, in the last few weeks.

How does one face total disaster? If one remains alone in a destroyed world and a landscape reminiscent of a Dante’s inferno? That’s one thing. If there remains one truly loved one to cling to, or to care for? That’s another.

When the house burned; when the children and grand children died one after the other in screaming agony, Lalika had done all she could to ease their pain. When it was over she’d stood at the edge of the blackened skeleton that had been their home and simply shut down. She had turned to Lon, smiled sweetly and said, “Of course I’ll marry you, Lon. Why have you waited so long to ask me?”

Though she still recognized him, Lon knew he’d lost her. Her sorrow had captured her, heart and soul; stolen her human reality. She was gone into the world of the gossies, a ghost of times past. No future would be available for her to walk into. That was the price she had to pay at the end for having defied the gods and chosen a life of bliss in true love for herself instead of the expectation and the demand made of her, to serve the temple gods.

“You are cursed, Lalika, for chosing a man over the gods! In the end, all that you wanted; all that you lived for will be taken from you. All, even your memories; all that means anything to any living being. You will wander alone and haunted in the worlds of the gossies! You will have no voice, you will sing no song forevermore!”

Thus had the prophetess screamed at her as she had exited the temple for the last time to join her lover by the great River, running, smiling and jumping, lightly as a doe, into his wide fisherman’s canoe, to let him take her away from her family, friends and everything she had known.

“Take me home, Lon.”

She had never looked back, never once uttered a sigh of reget if she ever thought about her life in Barnard town. She lived with Lon, for Lon, in a fisherfolk shack on the edge of the great River. The children were born there, raised there, and married in turn. The grandchildren had come there to play and listen to their grandmother’s stories. There had been much laughter, some sadness, as when little Del drowned or when the fishing had been poor and food scarce. It was life and she accepted that.

Today, she accepted the inevitable by closing down the future. She would live in her happy past, forevermore. Lon would always be there with his cedar canoe. She would always be laughing with him, then with the children and their children. She would play the recording of her life, over and over and never get tired or bored.

“Take me home, Lon!”

Redemption

(part 2 – a short story by Sha’Tara)

“Let me show you something, Reed.”  He got up and led me from the kitchen down a short hallway.  A closed door I knew hid a bathroom, I could smell it.  He opened the next door and reaching up, pulled on a string, turning on a light bulb also hanging from the ceiling.  I was amazed.  The bedroom had a clean, fully made double bed in it and the walls were painted white.  A crucifix hung over the headboard and a bible was on its shelf.  One small closet and a set of drawers completed the room.  He opened the closet and there were a few dresses and a couple of what were called ‘maxi’ coats, terribly out of style as were the two pairs of small shoes on the floor.  I smelled the mothballs that must have been in the pockets of the garments.

“After she left I moved out and kept it as ‘ours’.  This is all I’ve got left of her.  I got rid of the pictures, they were too painful to look at.  But this, I thought, was OK.  It was an invitation for her to come back.  Then it just became a shrine.  I come here to pray.  I read from that Bible, the only thing she insisted on bringing with her when I took her away from her folks.  But I don’t find any consolation in it.  I’m not of those who believe they re-encounter loved ones in heaven.  If she didn’t want to be with me in this life, what would have changed her mind that she’d want anything to do with me in the next?  I don’t know the rules there, but I don’t think I’d be able to court her all over and make her fall in love with me for the rest of time.  I’ve thought about that a lot.  It doesn’t add up.

“Anyway, if you want, you can have this room.  Just leave everything the way it is, if you can.  If you must move something, please let me know.  I want everything back the same after you leave.  I know I keep the house a bit chilly but I’ll make sure there’s a good fire in the stove tonight.”

I agreed to staying the night and we returned to the kitchen table to talk.  I wanted to hear the details of his story, why Sally left, how she left, alone or with someone?

“Except for her folk, mainly her dad and her oldest brother who were what you’d call assholes, the people around here are quite open and trusting.  We don’t think bad of any stranger until they give us cause.  So after we’d been here three years and eight months,  May came around and spring was in full when a government surveyor came by.  He offered us some money if we’d put him up.  We had the extra room then behind the house-kind of collapsed now-and he said it’d be fine.  We certainly could use the extra money.  He’d come back after each day out surveying and putting those steel markers at the corners of each section.  He had bundles of those in the back of his government pickup truck.

He talked to Sally a great deal; I was too tired to talk much, after the field work and the chores.  But Sally couldn’t get enough of his stories, and she looked through all his magazines.  He gave her a transistor radio and she was happy to be able to hear what all was going on while she worked around the house.  I never paid much attention to it all.  Up here, a man’s married, no one bothers his wife.  She’s safe with any stranger.  And women know to stay with their men, that’s our way.  You don’t worry they’d ever leave for another man.  That’s city stuff, Hollywood stuff, not what real people do.

“But one day I come home from the fields to do the chores and there’s no one in the house.  The dishes are done and in the drying rack, but there’s no cooking.  The table’s not set.  I get worried thinking she went out and got herself hurt.  I call her and I look everywhere.  Then it occurred to me that Jean (that’s the surveyor) isn’t there either.  Now I think maybe he’s taken her into the city and maybe she thought she’d be back in time, so didn’t bother with a note.  I waited a bit, made a sandwich, although I wasn’t hungry.  I milked the cows and fed the pigs, going through the usual chores, trying to figure out what had happened.  Finally I took the old Chief and drove to Webster’s Corner.   She’d been there, and left a note.  I could tell the store keeper, Mr. Jameson, was very upset when he gave me the unsealed envelope.  I guess Sally’d told him what she was doing.  He’d tried to talk her out of it but she had gotten really angry and left.   She’d gone off with the surveyor.  I read her note.  It was a terrible thing.  I remember it, although I tore it up then, then burned it later.

“Dear Pete,  Thanks for taking care of me and taking me away from my folks.  I never really loved you but I felt I owed you for helping me.  So I didn’t know what to say when you proposed marriage.  I really had no choice: either you, or them.  You were nice to me.  But that wasn’t the life I’d been dreaming about.  Jean’s taking me to Toronto, or maybe Montreal, he speaks French and knows people there.  I won’t be coming back.  Find yourself a proper woman, Pete and forget about me.  Take care of yourself, Sally.”

“I didn’t know what to do then.  I went to the police and tried to enlist their help to find her.  The RCMP were very sympathetic but there wasn’t much they could do.  Although Sally was a married woman, she had the right to leave.  Legally, there was nothing they could do, except to try to find out for me where she’d gone, or was staying.  They traced her in Toronto.  I sold our four cows and the pigs for the money and went there to find her, sure I’d talk her into coming back; that she’d have seen through it by then.  But that was already two years later, two years it took for the police to trace her from an employment bureau.  By the time I got there she’d moved again.  Again they traced her, in another part, where she’d worked in a hotel.  But she quit before I got there.  Three years now.  I traced her again to a slaughter house.  Four years.  I took odd jobs, lived in low-rent areas and sent just enough money to my folks to pay the taxes on the land.  Five years, and finally another break.  She was working for the CN as janitorial help.  I tried to locate her but that company was reluctant to help me.  Not our policy, they said.  So I had to hire a private detective.  It was him who found out she’d had a baby.  Not only that, but she did the one thing that made me stop looking for her: she’d abandoned her child in a department store.  I don’t know how these people find these things out, but I believed him somehow.  I suppose because I figured he knew it would mean the end of that job for him.  He told me to go home, forget her, and get my life back.  But all I heard was ‘get your wife back’ and isn’t it amazing how those two words are so much alike?  He told me the little girl’s name was ‘Redemption’ – that was the tag they found in a  pocket of her coat when they picked her up.  Even the police could not find her after that: she must have planned it carefully.  Maybe she knew by then I was after her and I’d take the child.  Only I didn’t.  She wasn’t my kid.  I wanted my Sally, not some bastard kid by some hated surveyor I would have gladly killed at the time.  I could have found the kid.  She’d be in an orphanage.  The police would know.  I could lay some claim to her and adopt her, most likely.  But I chose not to go that route and I came back home.

“But it was never the same again.  If you’ve ever considered the meaning of the phrase, ‘a broken heart’ well, that’s what I mostly suffer from.  Some people heal and some don’t.  I suppose it’s like other diseases that strike people, it seems, at random.  Cancer, heart attacks, that sort of thing.  I love Sally, Reed.  I know I always will.  Even if there’s a heaven, I’ll love her there just as much even though I have no hope inside me that I’ll find her there either, as I mentioned to you before.  It seems as if I’m under some strange spell that nothing can break.  Do you know how many times I’ve thought that maybe it was because I just didn’t want to stop loving her; that I was in love with something I’d made up and all I had to do was just stop?  Stop, then start again fresh.  ‘Get a life’ as the young people say now.  Yes, wouldn’t that be easy, simple?  Just change my mind about that part.

“Fine, except it’s not in my mind, it’s in my heart.  It’s in every aware part of me.  I guess you could say that half of me is, or was, Sally.  It was that good and great half of me that left me.  How could I deal with that?”

He started sobbing heavily, and tears ran down his face unto the old blueprints.  I walked over to stand behind him and I put my arms around him gently, then hesitantly I put my cheek against his stubbly one.  I was surprised at my own feelings.  I held him tighter and when he calmed down I asked him to tell me about the blueprints.

“Mr. Jameson had been an architect of sorts before he bought the store at Webster’s.  He knew how to make blueprints and everybody knew this.   Some of the richer folks around had hired him to draw buildings for them, and make blueprints of the plans.  One day while talking, Sally and I laughingly said, ‘Let’s get Mr. Jameson to make us a set of blueprints for our new farm house!’  Well, it was something we could laugh over together-we’d been drinking dandelion wine she’d made and feeling silly-but she decided on her own to ask Jameson how much he’d charge us for a house plan.  ‘I’d be honored to do it for you as a Christmas present’ he’d said.  We were shocked, but we accepted.  The plans arrived on Christmas day and we pored over them through that long winter.  We were able to scrape just enough money from the sale of our pigs to pour our foundation for the new house.

My folks and her two younger brothers (they were the decent ones in that family) came to help.  It was the happiest time of our life together.  When we’d taken off the shiplap forms, pulled the nails and stacked the lumber, we sat in what would be the living room and we drank her wine with our help.  She’d also made egg salad sandwiches and bowls of fresh vegetables from her garden.   Simon, her youngest brother, brought his fiddle and we danced to his scratchy music but no one cared.  It was the best of times.

“Give us two years,”  I said to Sally, “and we’ll be raising the walls and maybe put the roof on.  In five years we’ll have our new home.  You’ll see.”  And she smiled and sighed and kicked one foot against the other from behind as she always did when she wasn’t sure how to deal with a situation.  So, she smiled again.  That was her answer:  we’ll see.  But she meant more than that.  She was becoming restless again.  She’d always been restless as a kid but I thought it was because of her home life.  I didn’t think-didn’t know, even-that such people remained restless all their lives.  Join up with a loving partner and everything changes, right?  You know Reed, us humans, we’re a naïve bunch.  We don’t know anything about each other and yet we assume we know it all.  And that’s where we go wrong.  We should never assume we know what the other person is thinking, or thinking of doing, at any moment.  All of us, we’re liked cocked guns just waiting for something to pull that trigger.  Of course we have all sorts of safeties we could use to make others safe from ourselves, but of course, we don’t believe we are the dangerous ones, only the others are.  Our downfall is thinking that we are either better, or worse, than others and living within that constant judgmental attitude.”

I watched his head droop lower and I felt I’d heard enough for one day.  I too was dead tired.  The house was cold and I wanted a hot bath, which I would not get, so I wanted to get inside my sleeping bag on top of the nice clean double bed, pull my comforter over my head and cry myself to sleep.  Yes, me, tough Reed, the girl who survived the orphanage, was never adopted because she was too strong willed-was returned twice!-now feeling like crying over some vague thought, idea, wish, dream.  I’d come all this way in my own way to find a story-no, to find myself, or rather, to find a me that would be more real than the one that was raised in that horrible orphanage and who clawed her way to the top of her profession simply because she kept burning her bridges as she moved forth.  There had never been any turning back for Reed.  Her life was lived from a one-way ticket to another.  When she left the orphanage with the help of a visiting priest, she closed that door.   When the affair with Edward cooled, it was over-the end, that’s all she wrote.  Now here I am, all emotional over an old man and his rather pathetic story.

I’d been warned in college not to get involved with the people in my stories, or with my sources.  It was just business and you used your feminine attributes to get into places no one else could get into, and to get the answers that made great copy.  You bargained with the chips life handed you.  A female body was a great asset if you knew how to use it without getting slammed.  If you got caught, your career could be over in a day.  Found out.  Exposed.  A slut, cheat and liar.  Men could do it, of course, but women, while giving the impression they were doing it, could never afford the possibility they’d be caught actually doing it, not if they held any kind of professional status in a man’s world.  And journalism is a man’s world, make no mistake about that.  As is publication.  It’s a man’s world because it is a money world.

“Uh, Pete?  I’m sorry, but I’m dead tired.  Could we continue this tomorrow morning?  I notice there’s a bathroom next to my room.  Is it OK for me to use it, or… do I have to use the outhouse I saw out there?”

“Oh, sorry about that.  I didn’t think to ask you.  Sure, use the bathroom.  Everything works, but there’s no hot water.  It’s not the cleanest place in the house, I’m sorry.  If I’d known sooner that you would be staying overnight I would have cleaned up…”

“That’s OK, thanks.  See you in the morning then?  Say around eight?”

“Anytime.  I’m up around six anyway, don’t need to sleep much.  Today’s the most excitement I’ve had in years so maybe tonight I’ll sleep more.  Good night.”

I watched him for a bit but he didn’t look up.  So I went out to get my stuff.  It was raining, cold sharp needles that hit the skin and felt as if they were drawing blood.  I shivered, grabbed my bag, sleeping bag, comforter and ran back in the house.  Pete was stoking-that’s what I think it’s called-the fire in the stove and putting more wood in.  The smell of dry wood burning filled the house and I suddenly felt really warm, good, safe.  ‘Thank you’ I said to no one in particular, but if I’d been pressed to say, I would have said, ‘to the goddess’ and been none the wiser as to who I meant. Emotional shit is what.

(end part 2)

Mr. Valentor

 [a short story by   ~burning woman~  ]

Ada Muir has just finished with the bathroom and exits into the hall leading into the kitchen when there is a knock at the door of her small, clean suburban bungalow.

She thinks, ‘What the…at eight AM?’

She looks through the peep hole and sees a man with what appears to be a roll of papers under his arm. She opens the inner door a wedge, “Yes?”

“Ah, good morning ma’am. My name is Valentor. My company has just expanded its readership into this area and I represent the Venus Monthly, a magazine with a varied theme, but dealing mostly with stories emanating from this system. If you could give me a few minutes of your time, I could introduce you to our feature article of the month.”

“I’m sorry, but do I look like I was born last night?” She replies a bit huffed. “I don’t have time for this nonsense.”

“Oh, ma’am, time need not become an issue. If you don’t have any of yours, I’m entitled to let you use some of mine, within reason. Shall we say, a half hour of my time for free and you take out a one year subscription to Venus Monthly.”

Ada Muir, as it happens, is a part-time reporter for the Rosedale Herald and she realizes this cockamamie story could have potential. Plus she is totally taken by his rich, deep, bass voice. She unlatches the inner door.

“C’mon in, Mr. Valentor.”

He walks in. She sees that he is very tall, possibly the tallest man she’s ever met. Well dressed and under the sharp suit, she senses a body of perfect proportions. The face is chiseled but not harsh. She is particularly attracted to his lips and his ears… she gets a sudden urge to kiss him and chew on his earlobes.

‘What’s the matter with me!’ she remonstrates to herself as she smiles at her visitor.

“Nothing is the matter with you, Ada,” says Valentor. “I have that effect on most earth women. It’s called “sex appeal” and one of the reasons I’ve been given charge of this sector. It’s enjoyable for me. I hope it will prove as enjoyable for you.”

“You know my name; read my thoughts?”

“Yes, of course. Why? Should I not? Is this a breach of protocol?”

“I can’t read yours so it isn’t really fair, is it.”

“I don’t understand ‘fair’ in thought exchanges. Whether I read your thoughts or not doesn’t stop you from having them.”

“What if I thought something, well, too personal, or critical of your appearance, and such like?”

“What of it? It makes no difference. They’re still your thoughts. Have them.”

“What if they hurt your feelings in some ways?”

“That is of no concern of yours, they’re my feelings, not yours. What I do with my feelings is my business. Speaking of business, can I show you this month’s copy of our magazine? Cover page here, that’s the Crab Nebula, awesome isn’t it?”

“Are we on your time now?”

“Yes.”

“When you leave it’ll still be eight o’clock my time?”

“Yes, of course. That was the understanding.”

Ada shakes her head. “Oh my, so sorry but in all this I forgot to offer you something to drink, to eat? Do you drink coffee, Mr. Valentor?”

“Yes, I have developed a taste for coffee. It is pleasant. I will have a coffee.”

She deftly slips a pod in the machine, slides a cup under the spout and flips down the actuator, pressing ‘medium’ to be safe.

“Cream and sugar?”

“Sugar only please. Two lumps.”

“They taught you to say that, didn’t they, your trainers before you came here? I knew it, I just knew it!” She half laughs, half smiles. She smells a story; she’s on track.

“I don’t understand. If you knew it, why did you ask?”

“It’s a different kind of knowing. Never mind. Have you ever tried your coffee black only, or with cream, or cream and sugar?”

“Those choices were not included in my training manual. I was not made aware of their availability.”

“Are you an AI Mr. Valentor? Artificial Intelligence? A robot? Are you human?”

“All of the above, of course, but I am also Pleiadian, primarily from source.”

“You mean from the actual Pleiades star system? Now you’re pulling my leg.”

“I would never do such a thing! Such a pointless and cruel thing to do to anyone; particularly to someone as pretty as yourself. What made you think I would pull your leg off? Why? You have such crude notions of relationships here.”

“I didn’t mean that literally! It’s just what we say when we think someone’s lying to us.”

“Why not just say, ‘You’re lying to me?'”

“Never mind. Here’s your coffee. Tell me if it is to your taste.”

“How could it not be? I don’t understand how it could be to someone else’s taste when I’m the one ingesting it.”

“Forget it!”

“That is an order I cannot comply with. I am designed to remember everything.”

Ada puts her head in her hands, “Oh, God! This conversation is becoming anal!”

“I am not God and you have no need to pray to me. Do not be worried, you will get your magazine, I assure you, and on time each month. To clarify, we were not having an anal conversation, we were definitely using our mouths.”

“Arrrgh!”

“Would you like a glass of warm water to help clear your throat impediment?”

“I don’t have a… Look, if we’re going to get along, will-you-please-not-comment-on-everything-I-say?”

“That seems quite impol…”

“Shut up! Just shut up, Mr. Valentor.”

Ada knows that she is now quite flushed and before she even realizes what she is doing, she stands up abruptly. Facing her alien salesman, looking down at his gorgeous face she drops her robe. Valentor looks up at the nude twenty three years, eight months, three days and thirteen hours of age Earthian female and thinks, ‘this I understand.’ He stands also, makes his clothing vanish and lets Ada get a full frontal view of his anatomy, waits while she tries to gather her thoughts, knowing what would come next.

Ada impulsively throws herself into the man’s embrace and hugs him to feel all of him. She then backs away, takes his hand and leads him to her bed.

It is a good thing the neighbours had already gone to work and their kids to school. If they had heard Ada’s cries they would have been certain someone was killing her and likely have called 911. The aftermath of an armed RCMP intervention would definitely have made a colourful story, though probably not one Ada would have cared to read about, much less watch on the evening local TV news.

There’s a lesson for us ladies here. Watch out for those tall, dark and irresistibly handsome time-traveling Pleiadian magazine salesmen. They’re a lot more than they at first appear. Just sayin’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff – Part I, The Calling: Chapter 19

 

Finally, I think I’m caught up on the blogging scene. I’ve read how to write better; how to improve my health; what to do in case of Armageddon; how to win a cricket match; that Russia isn’t to blame for anything; that we’re in deeper s**t than I even thought possible; how to make free electricity; how to awaken; that Sandy Hook mass shooting never happened (again) and that I’ve got to give peace a chance. That said, let’s get on with this story before it becomes “The Perils of Pauline” and Phil manifests himself on the blog waving a massive eraser and I lose all my subordinate clauses and loose conjunctions…


Chapter 19: Meeting the priest; all is set for the wedding

To Lo and Nal, it wasn’t much of a ‘town’ but to the others it was impressive as towns go. Not only the large church that sat imposingly in the centre of the main town but the shops, so many shops, and people everywhere. There were people on horseback and horse-drawn carts clattered on cobble-stone sections of the main street hauling various merchandise. At an open air butcher shop women were haggling with a portly butcher over the cut meat and the hanging geese and chicken. After each left with a purchase, she was replaced by another just as eager to haggle over the prices.

Children ran wildly through the filthy streets, yelled at by the adults whom they splattered when their bare feet slapped into puddles of stagnant, stinking water.

As Ian and his group walked deeper into the town, most people stopped doing whatever they were doing and stared. The men were particularly attracted to the three young women, the two tall imposing light-haired ones and the short, small dark one. But the main question on their faces was, who are these armed people and what do they want here?

Then some recognized MacGruder and greetings were exchanged. Women came forth to greet lady Jen MacGruder and their daughter whom they had not recognized so grown up she was. They were introduced to Lo whom they openly admired, and the two other young women, Genti and Deanna. Ian ventured the news that they intended to have a wedding here in Glowmere between the two travellers who were trading friends of the MacGruders, from the south. He announced that Nal and Lo, whom he singled out, were to be united in holy matrimony at the kirk if the priest was in agreement.

The news was greeted with a loud cheer that spread up and down the main street and brought the curious street urchins forth. Soon items went missing here and there from the shops and stalls as the cries of “Thief, stop him!” or “That miserable scoundrel, stop her!” followed by some useless chase that only left a shop or stall open to more pilfering.

“An where does one find the priest?” Ian asked politely and diplomatically for he realized such a location would be in proximity to the church. An urchin offered to lead them to the priest, for a price. Contrary to his usual parsimonious nature, Ian good-naturally accepted and paid the rascal. They intercepted the priest as he was stepping out of the kirk and getting ready to bar, bolt and lock the door.

“Wouldn’t want yer God er his saints t’ run off come night eh Father? Keep ‘em locked up, that’s the sure way.” said Ian with a large smile.

The priest, a tall, stringy sort of creature in a fading black cassock failed to acknowledge the joke. He eyed MacGruder with a frown and asked, “An what do ye be wantin’ fro’ me, mon?”

“Well Father, ‘tis not what I want, ‘tis what these young un’s here be needin’ – an’ that’d be a proper weddin’ t’would be, if ye be amenable to it?”

The priest cast a haughty look over the group trying to figure out which of them were to be the victims. Unable to decide, he turned to MacGruder and said, “They be proper Church people then? Baptized and knowing their catechism?”

“Aye of that I’m sure Father. Might not hurt ‘em just the same to have a confession afore the ceremony?”

“That is mandatory mon, and may I know whom I be addressin’ and whom the intended’s be?”

“I be Ian MacGruder, perhaps ye’ve heard of us from up t’ cottage? An’ here are the two ‘intendeds’ as ye put it: Lo ‘n Nal. Don’t know if there be any family names attached to ‘em, I reckon not.”

“Well, I’ll need such particulars for the book ye understand. We keep decent records here, not like the old pagan days thankfully gone from here, praise God.”

“We’ll get ye the names Father.” MacGruder’s voice had grown somewhat harsher and definitely colder as he prepared to haggle prices with the priest.

Having heard their names mentioned, Nal and Lo came forward and introduced themselves to the priest. Again he gave his haughty look, equally met and brought down forcefully by both Nal and Lo who would not tolerate such from a pawn of the Church. For a moment the priest sensed something that scared him and was of a mind to refuse the ceremony, then thought of the money and held his tongue. On top of the incentive of good gold, there were those deadly looking swords, bows and staffs to reckon with. It might not do to upset these and seemed more prudent to let the moment have its way.

‘I can deal with any sorcery and paganism afterwards and I certainly will.’

All three, Nal, Deanna and Lo, had been mind-focusing on the priest and heard his thoughts. Here was another dangerous enemy, certainly for Genti and the MacGruders. This priest would have to be dealt with after they settled with the Betrayers and before they carried on to further adventures, such certain to come about as a result of Nal’s vows and Deanna’s need to return to Torglynn.

As there was overt thoughts of violence and murder in the priest’s heart, Lo felt no qualm about disposing of the creature come the right time. This work might well fall to wolf and his mate he reckoned. Both Nal and Deanna agreed though Nal who had some personal scores to settle with the Church insisted she’d be involved in the priest’s demise. They left it at the stage where the priest would be killed but not who would have the honours.

Meanwhile, they agreed to let the hypocrisy of the moment reign supreme.

“Any o’ these others gettin’ married also, Ian?” Asked the priest, trying hard to sound innocent, caring, and friendly but inwardly licking his greedy lips thinking of the gold a double or triple wedding would bring, winter being financially remarkable only from the increase in burials.

“Hasn’t been mentioned Father. Must be waitin’ for spring, t’other ones eh? So then to business, time and cost? Ye’d be needin’ gold yea?”

“Gold, yea. Six ounces, weighed on the scale at the kirk. As to time, does next Saturday suit ye, Ian?”

Ian called his group together and after consulting with Jen asked them, “Does next Saturday suit ye all for the weddin’ t’ take place or ye havin’ second thoughts now? Last chance ‘fore I put down the money.”

Nal and Lo smiled broadly at one another then burst out laughing while a spark of hope flashed through young Giles’ heart only to be extinguished in the same moment when Nal said, “Saturday is perfect for us ‘n the sooner t’ better to get it done. Can’t wait! An’ Father if ye be wantin’ our clan names, I be a McBanish, n’ m’intended here, he be a MacDunit.”

“Interestin’ names. Can’t say I ever heard o’ those clans, interestin’ indeed. Saturday then, ten o’ the mornin’?”

“Aye that’ll suit us fine, that will, Father,” quickly answered Ian.

They left the skeletal priest standing there like a patiently expectant vulture on his favourite dead tree perch and Ian declared they all deserved a drink at the Wild Horse Inn, a good, friendly place, he added.

Once out of the priest’s hearing they all burst out laughing until the tears were running down their faces. Ian had to lean on a hitching post to keep himself upright.

Only Deanna failed to join, finally asking what the sudden hilarity was all about.

“Dinae hear girl? McBanish, MacDunit? Who ever heard o’ such nonsense? That was good that, truly magnificent, gal, and he slapped Nal on the back, making her jump.

Ian didn’t give his charges too much time to develop introspective moroseness that would demand another round and declared it was getting late and they had a fair walk ahead of ‘em yet.

As they were crossing the small drawbridge, Lo stayed behind to speak to the guard detail. He gave them each enough coin for a couple of rounds at the inn and was rewarded with some slaps on the back and cheers. Then in a vibrant voice he wished them a wonderful end of the day and a safe, healthy, prosperous and long life. They received his words as if they had been gifts, realizing that there was more than words in the blessing. They waved sheepishly then, thinking this was no ordinary man. They all sensed that their entire lives ahead of them had been magically blessed and the words would prove true.

Entering his speed lope he soon caught up to the group and immediately noticed that Deanna was gone and Nal was carrying her clothes.

“So she’s gone back to her wolf then? How did she manage to take off her clothes without upsetting the group?”

“We slipped into the ‘by woods to do that. She’ll inner nudge me when she needs ‘em again.”

“Let me strap those to my pack then, Nal, so you keep your hands free. It may seem silly here but remember that ultimately we are always alone, working singly, and must always think thus. Never rely on anyone else to take the point, or protect. Let them if they want to but don’t ask it nor expect it and I repeat, never rely on it.

“Keep your hands, arms and legs free at all times and your weapons handy.”

“Truly sorry, I temporarily forgot. Too much on m’mind an’ don’t push me, MacDunit.”

“Indeed I’ll endeavour not to, Miss McBanish.”

They laughed, hugged fiercely and kissed again.

Don’t look at me like that and I heard that snort. Look, I’m just writing it the way I see it. And remember, they’ve been apart for thousands of years, how do you think you would act if you suddenly found yourself back in the arms and love of a lover you knew was dead and you hadn’t seen for, say, twenty thousand years? Would you say,

“What? You again?” or

“I really wasn’t expecting you back this soon.” or

“I hadn’t planned on this; I have a life now.” or

“Things getting too boring for you, decided to come back?”

Right, I didn’t think so. More likely there would be sparks, maybe a flame, and hugging and kissing would just be the breeze that sets everything on fire. So put up with the hugging and kissing and let me go on with the story, which by the way is turning out pretty good, in my opinion, if I’m allowed to have one.

 

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff -Part I – Chapter 18

 I was going to reblog a couple of worthy posts I have read the last couple of days but, like rush hour traffic, it seems that blogs can only accommodate so much. So I’m being selfish and posting my own stuff today. I know there are some people reading this developing tale with interest and I don’t want to make them wait any longer than necessary. Enjoy this chapter. More to come!


The gold rings; Deanna spies on the Betrayers some more

A dark cloud soon rose again over Giles’ innocent hopes. Ian MacGruder called a general meeting after their noonday meal to discuss Nal and Lo’s upcoming wedding in Glowmere kirk. Then with a twinkle in his eye, he brought out two small blue linen pouches and gave them to Lo.

“Well open ‘em mon, open ‘em!”

The assembly cheered when they saw two smooth, plain, gleaming gold rings, a man’s and another so small it would fit a small girl’s finger. The rings fit perfectly and Nal wondered how they’d managed to get her size without her knowledge. She looked at Lo and he winked.

“Old trick Nal. I twisted a grass stem around your finger to size it while you were sleeping and gave the grass ring to Ian. We did the same for my finger, then in the following adventures I forgot all about the rings. Now Ian, what do we owe ye for such beautiful rings?”

“I fear the cost is quite high Lo. I demand the right to walk this lass down the aisle in exchange for the rings.”

“Oh Ian, you wonderful, wonderful man,” exclaimed Nal throwing her arms as far as they could reach around the large man’s midriff, “ye do me such an honour… such an honour…” and once again she found herself crying freely, unashamed, tears flowing from her eyes and running down her face. “Such friends, such good friends I have met here; I will be so loathe to leave.”

“Come lass, we won’t speak o’ leavin’ yet, one day havin’ enough trouble of its own. Now lydies o’ the house, this girl is in need of some sort of weddin’ accoutrements as I heard such called by an English gentleman when I was tradin’ in the south. No girl is so pretty that she can’t be made even prettier an’ a weddin’s the time for that. Jen ‘n I are agreed to  take care o’ the costs, so have at it lydies, have at it.”

Poor Giles was devastated on hearing about the wedding. Though he knew it had been mentioned before there was always the hope that Nal would choose him over Lo, him a property man and all. What did Lo have to offer her? But then, thinking of himself as of the truly noble sort, he squared his boyish shoulders and entered a realm of lofty thoughts befitting a true knight.

‘I shall become a knight and I shall go with her as her champion, though never mine yet always in my sight. I shall give myself to the worship of her and save her from her enemies, that I shall and my eternally broken heart shall be the token of my love for her.’

He went about his chores imagining scenes of mortal combat where he charged into the fray on a big white war horse, slashed through the enemy as blow after blow fell upon his helmet, his armour, his shield. He saw himself fighting and holding off the evil knight who had unhorsed her and would have taken her, and giving him the mortal blow. Bending down, he grabbed her and swung her across the war horse in front of his saddle, once more slashing his way through the press of men at arms and screaming wounded horses, his sword awash with the blood of the enemy…

The chores were completed in record time but his daydream, that was just beginning.

The next day, Nal having been measured for her wedding ‘accoutrements’ and having had quite enough of the fussing and comments on her diminutive size, her unusual tone and satiny smoothness of skin, her straight black hair and almond eyes, it was decided by MacGruder that he, his woman Jen, their grown daughter Genti, Nal, and Lo would walk down to Glowmere, visit with the priest and arrange for the time of the wedding ceremony and settle the costs.

“I thought o’ invitin’ the priest to the cottage to perform the ceremony but then I thought better of it. We’ll have the proper ceremony the Church demands, aye, but we’ll return here to our own an’ then we’ll have our ceremony as performed by our ancestors. We are goin’ t’ have a full pagan weddin’ ceremony right here with our own daughter priestess o’ the clans presidin’ an we don’t want any meddlin’ crow from the Church in it. The walk back from the Glowmere ceremony ‘ll do us all good, put some appetite in us by t’gods! What do ye all say to that?”

Lo spoke first,

“I like the idea immensely.”

Nal added,

“Yes that is a famous idea. Let us be pagan; let us experience the wild abandon of the old traditions!”

They set out from the cottage with a proper retinue of
“arms-men.” These consisted of the shepherds, Giles whom wild horses could not have kept out of this, Lil’ Cos and the the head man Cedric – all of whom were readily available as the sheep were safely in their pens and the two pit bulls on duty.

Guy was chosen to remain at the cottage to finish some needed chores, help the women in whatever they needed done in preparations for the coming ceremony and to pacify the nervous pit bulls who had been smelling the presence of both wolf and werewolf.

As they were crossing the lower field taking the usual shortcut to the village road, Deanna emerged from the woods, properly dressed though flushed with excitement and her hair in a toss of wild disarray.

She and Nal threw themselves in each others’ arms, kissed shamelessly under the intrigued but approving gaze of MacGruder and his male armed retinue and Deanna said,

“If I may join in? Wolf and I got your message Lo. Wolf will escort us as well, just in case, but we’re quite certain there is no danger. We tracked a couple of poachers yesterday but took care of putting the fear of Satan in them. We left them alive, they were not the murderous or raping kind, just beggar thieves, but they won’t be seen in these parts ever again, and the stories they tell will ensure none should venture this way at least for the duration of winter. In case anyone wonders, we did hunt down some hares to give them so they wouldn’t starve in the woods.”

“Well done Deanna,” replied MacGruder with a raised fist for emphasis. “On we go then.” With Giles close by and nurturing a pain-filled jealousy, Ian took Nal’s hand and led her over the ladder built into the fence and down the path to the village. Holding back, Lo and Deanna engaged a long and serious talk using strictly the inner language.

‘I taught wolf to speak the human tongue Lo. At first he could only do it in his werewolf form but now he can manage it any time. Very difficult for him but a very effective tool for deception. He can also project severe abdominal pain to an enemy without being seen so when the enemy is doubled over, he can pounce on him. We tried it on the poachers and yes, it works. My own power of projection has grown too. With one hand in Wolf’s mane I can project a force that can topple over a cliff if I so desired. We tested that effect far from here in a wilderness where the collapse would not cause hardship to those we stand guard for. I can collapse defences, walls, buildings and also set fires from at least a quarter mile distance. I could demonstrate when we reach the village if you want to see.’

‘Oh, no thank you Deanna, that won’t be necessary, I believe you.’

He wondered how far she’d gone from human now that she saw nothing amiss about setting some house on fire or destroying fortifications “as a demonstration” just when their group was entering the village.

‘Cause and effect, Deanna: can you see how such activities would turn the whole village against us? That we would be immediately blamed for the events and labelled sorcerers?’

‘It would? Ah, yes, of course I suppose it would. What about Nal? Has she demonstrated new powers to use against our enemies?’

‘Nal has been busy in many ways. She has taught some swordsmanship to our armed guard here and I’ve done some sparring with the staffs with her myself. She is greatly improving but remembering her full Alaya self is taking its toll. She still gets tired easily, requiring almost five or six hours of sleep every night. She is still much too human but growing and remembering. How long can you remain shape-shifted into the she-wolf before you can no longer change back, or is there a limit?’

‘I think there might be a limit unless I develop some other method of shape-shifting. It was very difficult to leave this time and putting clothes on, why I could hardly remember how to do it. All I remembered was Nal insisting I do it, so I did. At first I was almost blind and when I tried to stand, I fell against wolf to gain my balance. Walking on two legs is so irritatingly clumsy and energy consuming! Good thing I did not know about any of what I do now when I was growing up in Torglynn or I would have gone insane with longing and frustration.’

‘Critical point, can you use your combined Human, Elven, Alaya powers when you are shape-shifted into the she-wolf? Can you be the powerful wizard in any shape, or state of mind, Deanna?’

‘I know I can project the tear-up and fire energy, using my nose and ears to focus and I can sense unusual forces from great distances. I have been guardedly following the movements of our enemies to the south in, what did you call that land?’

‘I figured you meant the land of France.’

‘Yes, that land beyond a narrow sea? They’ve been involved in wars and there has been problems between the sorcerers, they ended up on opposite sides and there’s a stalemate in a main battle involving a large castle. There were canons brought to bear but your Tel’Madan wizard knows how to muzzle them and cause them to explode when fired. If we could be there now, we would take them individually and destroy them!’

‘Beware, Deanna. It’s a trick. They know someone’s been tracking them and this is a very complex but obvious trap. They want whomever to fall for their apparent disunity. That would never happen, particularly knowing of the rise of one or more Alaya in the world. They’re baiting while recouping their energies and planning.

‘Good that you tracked them in your she-wolf form rather than your human one. If they can sense that, they will be confused and wary. Any confusion will weaken them, not knowing what to expect. They must be aware now that their long years of unopposed evil are ending and they are going to have to fight to hold on to their power. They don’t have any problem sending hundreds of thousands to their death in their endlessly manufactured power wars but it’s been a long time since they had to personally fight against an enemy.

‘Long ago they killed nine of us, including their own wives because these refused to join in their evil deeds and plans for this world. After that, except for my rather pathetic ventures and overtures to them they’ve had no one of consequence to worry about. That is all about to change.’

Deanna continued with the inner language conversation,

‘But since you and Nal are mates from before, why go through this human wedding ceremony? I don’t see a point to it.’

‘There are good reasons. One is to defuse some of the suspicions that may arise from the local representatives of the Church. They are sure to sense that not everything is as it seems with us. We do this also for the people, to let them know that we are with them, though we be different. The other is to demonstrate to Nal’s previous close male friends and hopefuls that she is indeed in a marriage relationship, thus preventing at least some heartbreaks and possible hotheaded challenges.

‘But the greatest reason is, I sense an alignment taking place, an ordained shuffling of forces, a great alliance never before seen to bring men, women, Elves, Alaya, Alay and the wolf clans together to destroy a great evil. We have more, much more to organize and bring about before we engage the final part of our mutual quest, but the pieces are coming together. Soon the board will be set and the game will begin in earnest.’

‘Will we have to cross that sea to challenge the sorcerers, or will they come to us on this land?’

‘We must find a way to bring them here and ensnare them. They have built too much of a force on the mainland; too many blinded and willing to die for them. We neither can take so many on, nor do we want this to turn into a long drawn-out bloodbath. We don’t want a war so we must endeavour to keep the numbers small on both sides and settle it quickly, ideally in a day or two. We will guardedly thought-touch them and dare them to meet us in the wilds to the south of here.’

Thus they exchanged information and finally reached the outskirts of Glowmere. They were challenged by a rag-tag but suspicious retinue of a dozen guards. Ian and his lady greeted them loudly and being recognized as neighbours and allies, they and their following were allowed to enter the fortified town.

The Sword, the Bow and the Staff – Part I The Calling

(Continuing then with the story…)

Chapter 17
More history; how Lo came by the sphere

Lo came over to Nal when she entered the large room now filled with people, tables and benches stacked against the far wall, rush lights stuck in sconces burning in their holders all around, casting a warm glow on happy, sweating bodies.

“Come with me to the butchering room, I need to talk where no one will intrude on us.” They entered the cold, rancid room and bolted the door.

“I heard you Nal but I chose not to intrude on your sorrow, it is how it is with us. We are not like the humans who feel a need to run to a lover or a friend for support in times of personal inner turmoil. For us as you will remember, it is necessary to withdraw, find a place alone, and work out the problem until it is eliminated, as it must be. Unlike humans who can carry such as grief, sorrow, sense of loss, anger, hate or their sensuous loves for years, even for an entire life, we clear our minds of such things, constantly refreshing ourselves. Only our goal, purpose and quest remains a constant reminder that we are forever moving, forever changing, forever self empowered. If we lived as humans we would soon drain each other of all energy and fade away.

“I love you from purpose, not from feeling or need though of course there is deep feeling in it, but as a result, not a cause. My vow to destroy the Betrayers is also purpose driven and goal oriented. I follow a vision of perhaps removing a great evil from this world so it may have a chance of, how do I put that, evolving itself, of changing also for the betterment of all. You would suppose that after all the millennia of wandering this world, observing its ways and doing whatever in my power to make significant changes with so little if any results, would have put me off my purpose but it hasn’t. It is not how we are made.

“You will remember eventually of those times when we were young in spirit and we volunteered for this assignment. How we applied ourselves to the study of alien worlds, to understand the mindset behind a world’s mental, emotional and physical change, or evolution. How carefully we chose the forms we would inhabit on this world. We planned so carefully! We were so naive, Nal. When we arrived here all our plans were useless. That is because we were the first and there was only intellectual knowledge of earth in our databases we relied on. We knew the biology, the physics. We knew size, land to water ratios, weather patterns, seasons, temperatures. We knew about the basic races of its human life and the violence we came here to tame and in time bring to an end. We knew the number of people already on this world.

“What we did not know; what our own teachers could not give us, is an intuitive awareness of evil. It came at us with such force it overwhelmed us. It seemed the indigenous life was more or less adapted to it and accepted the horrible trade-offs of their situation. Well, it appeared at first it had no other choice.

 

“But we could not accept it; our natures rejected the concept of evil and we were stymied over and over in our efforts. We would teach and demonstrate and give lessons and for a short time some of the people would grasp the concept of peace and compassionate interaction but within a few years these people were overwhelmed in turn and often martyred for their beliefs.

“We learned two things: that the humans could accept new, non-traditional ways of doing things and begin acting in such new ways but that there was a programming running here that kept a violent, predatory status quo operating. This programming came from a source similar to our own, a powerful energy or group of beings not of earth, controlling its sentient life through its feelings, its hopes and desires; its thoughts and emotions.

“We had no defence against evil, no mental armour against it, no mental or spiritual immune system to draw upon. We were naked to its attacks and it infiltrated us. The rest you know, and here we are, again, thinking that logically we should be able to defeat this force. First though, we must destroy the Betrayers so we can then apply what we have learned up to this time to discover the source of this evil that is eating this world. You were thinking about why we are here, why try to intervene, and when will it end, some time back?

“I believe it will end soon after the Betrayers are defeated. We will be recalled to give an account of what befell here. Do not fear this great evil we are about to confront, nor the losses of friends through death or necessary separation. Remember the lesson of detachment we had to learn when we had to spend so many long years apart from each other on opposite sides of this planet. Much of your power is tied to the effect of detachment. If you care personally for someone, that caring will weaken your powers. It will cause fear and doubt.

“When we encounter the Betrayers, we must work together but only as if we were alone. Each will bring in his or her skills to bear independently. They will not expect that because they have been corrupted and have fallen victims to the false earth belief that in the many resides the more power. That seems to be the case but it is a massive lie. The many produce less usable personal energy because on one hand the collective takes from the individual to maintain itself and on the other hand the individual is less likely to rely on himself, seeking empowerment from the collective, from the hope that the power that was taken from him is increased when turned into group power.

“You see how subtly debilitating that is? A percentage of energy is stolen from the individual to maintain the collective but of course the collective cannot give back as much energy to the individual when it needs it to fight for it, or to support it because it needs a large percentage of that stolen energy just to maintain itself and its supporting apparatus. It’s a net loss all around and the greater the collective, the more entropy or energy loss is created.

“Conclusion: the collective, any collective is less stable than the individual; more prone to corruption and unlike the individual who can change through self-sacrifice and personal empowerment, the collective that becomes corrupt cannot, ever, be cured. Its purpose is not to serve but to maintain itself and increase its own power. The result is simple: though it eats more and more of its supportive energies, it becomes incrementally weaker, unsteady, reprobate then collapses into a myriad of separate parts. What the people of this world fail to see is that none of the personal energies poured into the collective, the organization or group, can ever be recovered. All of it is lost forever, to man, to nature, to the world and to the concept we Alas call Life. That is what our teachers called entropy.’

“Ah, Lo, yes of course I understand it now. I sincerely thank you for this lesson; for reminding me of things we used to discuss. But what about Deanna and her werewolf? There is attachment there, surely?”

“I am no expert on those races Nal. An Elven maiden shapeshifter and a Werewolf, also shapeshifter, that is something new for me to have encountered. Thanks to my ignorance in this matter I am obliged to not interfere in that relationship. Those people have their own ways; their own powers which are quite effective. I think their “attachment” has a different interpretation than what I put on the analogous human interaction since they lack human feelings and emotions. Let me tell it to you this way, Nal: I sense a kind of innocence at play in them, but for all that, focused and deadly. Contrary to human collectives, their community, be it of two or more, is empowering to them, not dis-empowering or disruptive and draining of personal power.

“Like us they possess a power that does not belong to this world, but theirs is quite different from ours. I sense they were sent to us, that we are not alone to face the coming trial. I also sense we are about to learn much, not only from Wolf and Deanna but from our human friends, particularly a couple of young shepherds, one of whom seems to have disappeared, and from the girl-woman Genti who was introduced to us as a priestess of the old ways.”

The celebration or festivities were drawing to a close when they returned to the main room. They were greeted enthusiastically, Nal hugged by the men, particularly the younger ones, Lo clapped on the back or given the powerful handshake. There was happiness here, and acceptance of something the people had long needed, something that had been taken from them so cruelly in the endless wars of conquest and debilitating retaliations. Any conquered indigenous people know what this is saying.

It was close on to midnight when Nal and Lo were finally able to retire to their upstairs bedroom and enjoy some privacy. Neither had had much time to enjoy the food and Nal particularly felt the emptiness in her stomach but chose to focus on the happiness of being alone and together with Lo. ‘My husband of forever’ she thought and smiled as she undressed and slipped in the hard bed. “Lo? Are you joining me?”

Lo, being of the full Alay did not have the same needs as those of earth. He could go days without eating or sleeping, able to override the demands of a physical body. He motioned to Nal that he would be with her presently, opened their window shutters and listened to the world. Predictably from the distant woods came the call of the Werewolf followed by that of his mate. He sent a quick thought of the inner language that could not be read by the Betrayers for it did not carry beyond a few miles:

‘So, all is well out there?’ He caught a touch of a mind message from the Werewolf: ‘We greet. All well.’

Lo decided it was time to introduce Nal to his sphere. He called Nal to join him at the window which she did though yawning and hugging her naked body with her arms. He opened his great coat and she slipped into it, leaning against him, waiting for whatever he wanted to show her.

He opened his hand to show her the small white sphere he held, barely visible in the darkness. She reached for it but he caught her wrist and held back her hand.

“If you touched it, it would hurt you. You have not been introduced yet so it would take you to be someone intent on controlling or harming it. This is one of those instruments we used in our training before we came here – soon you will remember. We were not allowed to bring them here but one of the Betrayers did. You remember Tel’Madan don’t you? Remember how over time he changed towards us, becoming secretive? Remember his inappropriate, even lurid advances towards you in front of his own partner Miriel who was your closest friend among the Alaya? He possessed this sphere and used it to access information we could not know about, or have. He learned about power over rather than power for, from this very thing.

“Long after everyone had been killed and I was the only one left to counter the Betrayers’ evil, I met with Tel’Madan in a neutral space, on a trireme in the Mediterranean sea. We had both agreed to hire on as sailors and to discuss our impasse. We were sitting in the prow, wary of each other, talking low. Then he said something disgusting about you, how they had enjoyed taking turns raping and torturing you before they killed you. The malice in his voice was so intense I knew then I’d never be able to speak to him of the times before. This was pure evil. Then he made one mistake: he showed me the sphere he had stolen and brought with him to earth.

“In one swift move, I was always the fastest of us, I grabbed for it and jumped overboard, diving deep, inducing a trance that put my body to sleep, not even a heartbeat to locate. I remained under water until dark came, then I surfaced slowly. There was no sign of the trireme or any other ship so I floated, waiting, pondering. I had put the sphere in a pocket and now I carefully reached for it, remembering the burning pain I received when I grabbed it.

“We were familiar with these devices, though you may not remember. Each was programmed to one person only. This one however had been mucked with, probably shared between the two Betrayers so it was a bit flexible, its security having been compromised. I engaged it with my fingers closing in on it slowly. I confused it and finally took it in my hand and closed my hand on it as we used to do. At first there was no response and I didn’t mind, glad that I had removed one important weapon from our enemies. With nothing else to do but floating with the waves and feeling the great sea all around, I kept focusing on the sphere, asking my questions. Finally it responded. It threw out a weak light in answer to some of my questions, turned dark and refused to answer others.

“How were you rescued from the sea?”

“A trader sailed close enough I was able to grab a rope dangling from the side and in the cover of night, climb aboard and hide until they reached port. Disguised as a sailor I grabbed some bundles and followed the others onto the quay, dropped my bundles and disappeared in the crowds.

“But about the sphere, I’ve had over a thousand earth years to reprogram it to my own touch and mind; to make it my own. It has served me well.

“Now I wish to make it accept you as the only other who may hold it.”

“Could we not just make a duplicate for myself?”

“I doubt it. If it could have been done the Betrayers certainly would have done so.”

“Thanks for showing it to me Lo but I’m too tired to deal with that now. Come to bed?”

He mentally locked the device, put it back in its hiding place and followed his wife to bed. She was tired but still she turned to him for the sex. She had always possessed a powerful need for it and he certainly did not mind accommodating that need.

Morning came, bright and sunny, a typical harbinger of spring when hope for an end of winter rises.

There was no sign of Deanna or her Werewolf. Lo and Nal found many things to do around the cottage and barns, repairing, reinforcing, feeding the animals, enjoying a few moments of normal earth life on a farm. The shepherd boy Giles found endless numbers of excuses for leading or following Nal about the yards, explaining things that she did not need explaining and proudly introducing her to his own pig, “Rumpf.”

“I saved his life when he was just a piglet and a fox had grabbed him. With his burden the fox couldn’t run as fast as usual and I was able to catch him and beat him with a stick to make him abandon his prize. Master MacGruder was so taken with the story and laughed so hard that he gave it to me. “That’s my pig, Nal” he said proudly. “I own my own animal! I am a man of property.” She acknowledged his pride with a hug that made him feel as if his feet had left the ground. “I’m proud of you, Giles,” she said, then, “and perhaps later you and I can do some sparring, what say you man?”

With his heart thumping so hard and loud he thought she’d hear it he said,

“T’would be my honour to spar with ye, lass!” and thought himself quite the complete man for saying so. Nal smiled and chuckled. She certainly didn’t mind the boy’s attentions and she knew neither would Lo. ‘He’ll learn my boundaries soon enough and his broken heart, if it must be broken, will lead him on to a suitable partner.’