Saturday, August 20, 2016

The God Door

Another story from the Forty Isles. This one is not set in any particular location or time period, but acts as an interesting slice of what life is like there.

The door was aged, elegantly carved and as I pushed, it swung silently open. A whisper would have been a scream.
My village had left me as the sacrifice for the God of the Woods. We practiced the paths of the Brotherhood, but with the advent of several natural disasters, some of the people remembered the God of the Woods. Maybe he was angry with them, the townsfolk had said.
Wamocha was his name, though no one remembered it.
I did, but that was because I enjoyed learning about the gods and goddesses around the town. The Brotherhood called me evil and threatened to send me away.
The townsfolk, it would seem, had the best idea - sacrifice me to the god they had forgotten in hopes that he would stop the disasters. If anything, it could prove his reality or something like that. Either way, I would be gone from their lives and no one would fear my intelligence or arguments.
All that had happened two days ago, and here I stood with my provisions nearly emptied, my body aching and my feet sore.
Should I enter or should I find a more hospitable place in deep dark woods, with night falling quickly. While I wasn't certain, I was fairly confident that a wolf or two was on my tail, too.
I entered the portal and the door closed. I knew because the room became suddenly dark then brightened as myriads of tiny dots on the walls began to glow and form into an intricate diamond shape, much like vines growing upon one another.
Turned out, the door led into a long hallway. No matter how far I walked, the path seemed endless. I began to suspect it was a circle when I left my bag on a chair, only to find it sometime later. "Bothersome," I retorted into the darkness. If this is some magical home of a wizard or fae, you would think they could provide directions."
"For what?"
I spun around. Behind me, a man stood. He was both young and old, a head taller than myself and darker than anything I could imagine. His skin was ebony, his eyes galaxies with tiny pinpricks of stars. Around his head he wore a garland of leaves and over his body he wore a robe belted at his waist. The garment was beautiful even as it was mysterious. It was a shade of black or blue, and appeared to be made with living stars.
"Ah, you like the robe," he rumbled. "It was a gift from a friend of mine. Gwion magic is always the best there is, I always say."
The Gwion were known for their beautiful tapestries and exotic clothing choices. The daughters and nieces of the current head of the Gwion were always on the fashion magazines most stylish list.
"Don't you have godly weavers?"
"We do," he agreed, never bothering to ask why I would assume he was a god. Maybe he knew already. "They charge enormous prices and the Gwion have better taste. Between you and me, I wish Alfny or Aoife would teach them a thing or two, but they can't seeing how the godly weavers are quite stubborn and set in their ways. Problem with being immortal - after two or three thousand years, you don't want to change."
He started walking down the hallway and turned left at a door. "Now, as for you. I would suppose you're hungry. Usually, the ones who make it this far are quite famished. There's food, but it's not the greatest, and I am uncertain what you like."
We entered a room where a table was set out in front of us. Fruits from all over the Forty Isles lay in golden and silver bowls, while the spicy scent of stewed beef simmering over a low flame wafted over from one of the four - four?! - fireplaces. The other three had roasted chicken with a mellow herbal scent, a melodic array of lavender and thyme on a fish, and a sultry pork and rice dish.
My stomach demanded attention and I hadn't even taken three steps into the room.
"Eat, of course, you must be hungry by now."
I dealt with a god, and all gods were never known to provide food. They ate godly food - whatever that was. "Can I?"
"Of course you can. It's all food. The house always provides food for the staff. I, of course, don't eat what the house provides. You'll have to prepare that yourself."
"Come again?"
"As the servant, you have to prepare the food for me. I can eat mortal foods, but somehow the way the house prepares it always gives me indigestion." He leaned closer. "Don't tell the house I said that - rather finicky, it is."
I knew how to cook, but I wasn't good at it. Nowhere near god level.
Wamocha didn't seem bothered by it though. Something else did bother him, though. He picked up a clump of my hair and let it drop down. "Are you quite old?"
I slapped his hand away. "I'm thirty-five, if you must know."
"Then why is your hair white?"
"I was born this way. I come from a family of very light-haired people."
He ignored the slap and the anger as he walked around me. "You're white." He looked past me towards the door. "Have I moved? It's been several years since I was beyond the forest."
"No," I sighed. "My father decided to move us into the nearby town because we were closer to other people who followed the Brotherhood."
Wamocha held up his hand. "Who?"
"The Brotherhood," I repeated. "The ones who follow the Most High God. The uncreated one?"
"I follow him as well seeing that he's my king and commander, but I don't understand why anyone would move a family from one place to another because of whom a group chooses to exclude from their pantheon of gods they acknowledge."
Was he jealous?
Could gods become jealous?
"Also, why it does not bother me at all, seeing that you appear to be quite capable and decently human. Why did they send a woman?"
I blinked twice. "You are bothered by the fact I am a woman?"
"Not at all, confused." He started walking to the table. "Are you going to eat, because if you don't the house will be hurt and will not allow you to find anything at all. I cannot allow my servants to become ill."
"About that, what if I don't want to be your servant?"
"Then you can go back out into the forest with those four wolves trailing you."
Four of them!
"What does the job entail?"
Wamocha blinked this time. "Everything - well, the house keeps itself clean so you don't have to worry about housecleaning. You'll have to cook my meals, but the house cleans the dishes. Primarily you'll have to help with the normal mundane things - organizing my writing, keeping up with correspondences, informing the various priests of my decisions, deciding where I need to visit and other items." He picked up a pineapple and sniffed it before putting it back on the table. "My last servant enjoyed himself."
"And when did he leave?"
"He died some years ago. Two hundred years? I was surprised a servant hadn't been sent in until you. Why did you come?"
"There are natural disasters in the town ..."
"Not me. That's the result of the twins have tantrums."
"Yours?"
"I have no children. No the twins are actually my younger siblings. Rambunctious little know-it-alls. You'll have to deal with the family as well." He cocked his head. "Not certain what they'll think about you, though." He sighed. "I'll deal with that later. Mother will be pleased."
I rubbed my forehead, not wanting to deal with godly family issues just yet.
"Are you going to remain?"
If my stomach had any choice, gladly.
My brain, however was also working with my stomach - curse it. There were four wolves out there. I had no food. No idea which way to go or anything else. Logically, this was my best option, but I felt like I was being tricked into the position.
Unfortunately, I had nothing to return home too, either. I would have been sent away by the Brotherhood. At worst, they might even attempt to kill me.
I closed my eyes and sighed. "I'll remain as your servant." I opened my eyes. "I don't have to seal it with blood do I?"
Wamocha chuckled. "Just food. Honestly, it's the house's way of ensuring its knowledge of who is in here at any given time. What am I to call you, anyway?"
"Pakasinura."
"Pretty."
That night, I learned that the gods did exist, were rather friendly and inclined to forget punch lines in jokes, but could tell a good story regardless. As I gorged on stew, chicken, pineapples, chocolate cake and things I never knew what they were, I listened to Wamocha.
Maybe curiosity didn't kill the cat as the members of the Brotherhood had informed me countless times. Maybe curiosity provided the opportunity to find something better.



Sunday, August 14, 2016

No Jam

This story has no connections to any other series, but is the outgrowth of a conversation I had with two students about jam. Sometimes, words I recognize turn out to mean something else such as the case with jam. I expected something sweet, but my students explained it means fun. Oppa, it should be noted is the term a girl uses for any older male around her age. It means brother, but doesn't have to be blood relation. 

I was under the belief that all children no matter gender, ethnicity or religious background were all monsters. My adorable, four-year-old nephew being no exception save when he slept.
Unfortunately, the little troublemaker had risen from his nap with an empty tummy.
That my oppa had yet to return from the forty minute trip he had left on four hours beforehand could only be attributed to wanting a respite from his adorable, yet terrorizing child. Innocent brown-black eyes notwithstanding.
A devil lurked under his black mop top.
"Hungry," he announced, shuffling along the wooden floor from his room. He dragged his favorite blanket by one hand and his demon doll in the other. The later had been a gift from me, by the way.
I turned the television volume down. "What would you like?"
"Toast and jam."
"Toast and jam?" I glanced towards the kitchen. "Does your father even know what that is?"
My nephew sniffed and rubbed his nose.
As I walked to the kitchen to scrounge, I turned up the temperature on the AC. Wouldn't do for my little demon to catch a cold during our hottest summer. I put two slices of toast into the toaster then went for the butter and jam while the demon got out milk for himself and a soda for me.
No jam.
I moved around the ham from the other day, checked behind the blueberries and tossed a couple rotten peaches which I had bought for my brother, but he never ate. My nephew loved peaches like his mother before him, but my brother had an aversion to peaches, pears and nectarines.
I hated melons, so I couldn't blame my brother much.
Still, no jam meant a cranky nephew on normal days, just waking up threaten a full blown little demon child.
I closed the refrigerator door. "No jam."
"No jam?" My nephew repeated, shoulders sinking. "No jam, no jam," he said sagely.
Jam, it should be noted was slang for fun in Korean. When teaching a young child two languages, things were bound to be mixed up.
He looked up at me with tears welling up in his eyes.
Now, personally, I thought having no jam on my toast was horrible, so I could understand the little demon's trouble, but I also could sense the imminent meltdown with loud sobbing and flailing arms. I didn't understand the hysterics children could reach over simple things.
"You'll just have to have toast and butter, I guess," I told my nephew. "It's not all bad, monster mine."
He sniffed.
"Jam."
I shrugged. "No jam." I wondered if my brother could bring some home with him, but as I texted, a message popped up saying he was running late.
No joke.
Then I remembered Mom had said something about a surprise at last year's Christmas. Oppa didn't like cinnamon cause it made him sneeze, but Mom wanted cinnamon in her Christmas cookies and hot chocolate, so instead of bringing some with her, she bought a big canister and hid it in the cabinet where she knew oppa never looked. I had a very tricky mother, I might add.
"Success!" I crowed holding out the canister. "Cinnamon toast."
The demon sniffed once as his face brightened.
"Jam."
I sprinkled cinnamon over his toast, enjoying his gleeful cries.
As I watched him eating, his expression mirrored one I had observed on my mother's face a few times. Maybe demons skipped generations because I think my mother would be proud of her little grandson.



Monday, August 8, 2016

A Trip Back in Time

I can only wish I could go back in time .... then I think about the smells and how to earn money, and I decide that I rather like my modern life.

Still, as a writer of historical fiction and someone who enjoys reading historical fiction, I find myself drawn to places where I can learn more about local history. For my current residency in Gwangju, South Korea, the biggest unknown was the Baekje Kingdom. To learn more about it, I traveled two hours north to the sleepy cities of Gongju and Buyeo.

The yellow arrow points to Gwangju and the blocked in area is where I went. Seoul is just off the map.

The ancient kingdom of Baekje existed from 18 BC until the Seventh Century AD. At one point, it controlled most of Korea's western coastline and had its capital in Seoul. Towards the last two hundred years of its existence, the capitals of Baekje were first in Gongju then later in Buyeo. The Sabi period is during its time in Buyeo.

Few artifacts remain from the time period, so most of what to be seen are smaller items. Buildings, by and far, are non-existent, but you can visit two ancient fortresses of the time period. To say you can see original items is not likely, but you can get an idea of what the landscape was like.

Buyeo

The third and final capital of this kingdom, Buyeo has the feeling of a country city - more focused on farming and family than history. It isn't entirely the case. Buyeo, like the larger Gongju, is very proud of its Baekje heritage. The National Museum located in Buyeo houses an impressive selection of items found in the various tombs. It also has a beautiful park which was the palace/fortress. For about $2 USD, you can wander the park from nine until six.

The place where they leapt
The rock from the river
The thing that it's best known for is the rock where nearly 3000 women leapt to their deaths after the kingdom fell to the neighboring Silla Kingdom in the 600s. You can climb to the ledge and look down into the river below, wondering at the desperation the women must have felt. The only way to see the cliff, however, is to take the ferry.

When you see the location, you can understand better the panic the women must have felt, knowing that their kingdom was lost.

To the people around here, their deaths are considered heroic. I wonder how terrible the women thought their lives would be without their kingdom to run off the cliff into the water below. I can imagine their fear and panic. I wonder if there were any who didn't want to die.

A trip to the local museum is a must. It's a good central location as well as provides an excellent overview of the history of the Baekje kingdom. The walk from the fortress to the National Museum goes past a temple museum which is also worth a stop to wander around ($1.50 entrance). Inside its grounds, you can find a five-tier pagoda original to the area.

Five tier pagoda
Inside, the temple museum steps through the creation of the original temple as well as the rise of Buddhism in the region. While Joseon Korea is known as the epitome of neo-Confucianism, Baekje followed Buddhism.

In point of fact, there is a style of Buddhas known to have an unusual smile. The smile is known as the Baekje smile.

One of the better parts of the Buyeo (in one way) is the Baekje Cultural Land. This is an entire replica of what buildings would have looked like during various times of the Baekje kingdom. Primarily, it focuses on the beginning and the end.

Some don't like visiting places like this, but I feel, due to the dearth of actual locations one can visit, the replicas provide an interesting insight to what places may have looked like. Besides, for about $4, it isn't the biggest waste of time or money.




Gongju


Perimeter wall in Gongju
The larger nearby city is bustling with life and energy, but like Buyeo, Gongju doesn't forget its past. Here, you can climb the perimeter of a Baekje-era fortress as well as visit the tombs of their kings. By the way, you can do the same in Buyeo, the tombs are a short car ride away from downtown.

The fortress, despite the capital being moved, remained a strategic location along the riverside. Up into the 1600s, it was still being used. During a peasant rebellion, the King of Korea escaped to Gongju and hid at the fortress.

Like Buyeo, Gongju also has a National Museum dedicated to Baekje history. Here, you can see more items found in the area. I must admit to feeling a little bit like I caught a lot of reruns in that some of the items were replicas of items I saw in another location. This also indicates the dearth of items that have been found from the Baekje Kingdom.
The tombs of dead kings

The ten minute walk from the fortress to the National Museum passes by a few other locations, various shops and restaurants. It's faster to take a bus, taxi or car. Going by bike or foot provides ample time to observe the scenery. A traveler's hint though - visit the tombs first. A short path takes you from the tombs to the National Museum saving you another ten minutes of walking.

My experience was well-worth the time and energy. I enjoyed my little jaunt back in time. While it wasn't traveling to Williamsburg or wandering around Stonehenge, the ability to see things, however distantly connected now, did offer a glimpse into the world. Standing on the ledge of the of the cliff, wondering what the women must have thought, I could sense their fear.

Wandering around Baekje Cultural Land, I could imagine what a princess or noblewoman must have thought as she walked through the halls. It gives you a glimpse of a time period and a people fairly alien to my Western world.





Saturday, August 6, 2016

Week Off

I thought I was going to write a story this week, but it turned out with the vacation, it didn't happen. However, I did have a wonderful time traveling around seeing sites connected to the Ancient Baekje Kingdom in Korea.

Come back Monday to see more about the trip. Until then, here's a photo from Buyeo, South Korea:

Waiting for the ferry to take off when the other ferry boat comes down the river. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Pantheras' Mission

This story is connected to the Glass Eyes. It takes place about fifteen years or so after The Eye of the Dragon. I like creating the world the Glass Eyes live in, and seeing how the other groups work. 

The home offices belied their desert location. Within the stone walls was a lush garden filled with fruit trees and nut trees and several species of roses. Vines alone in the corner of one wall yielded sweet fragrances at twilight, but during the day, remained closed. For Binh Kiem, it was his favorite location at any time of day to watch people.

He had the Eye of the Rok - a mythological bird said to carry off elephants and other large animals for its evening meal. One would think there was an Eye of the T-Rex someplace considering mythological creatures like roks existed. Of course there were real animals as well, lion, shark, raven, serpent and cow, but the truly powerful Eyes all had mythological creatures.

In Pantheras, only the best warriors were given the eyes of myth. Others, like Binh Kiem's younger sister, were given eyes of reality and were expected to work within the organization without questioning their existence. Yet, as Binh Kiem insisted to his partner, Hysen, and their immediate boss, Petrovic - weakness had its strengths.

"What are you doing out here?" Tien, Binh Kiem's younger sister demanded, her hands on her slim hips and her dark eyes flashing. She moved a step closer and bent at her hips to look her brother in the eyes. Normally a head taller than she, seated, Binh Kiem remained a head shorter than his sister. 
Anyone intelligent enough to recognize danger knew never to sit around an angry Tien for somehow the diminutive sprite could turn even the largest man into a slobbering mess.

And she had only the Eye of the Ewe - nothing more benign than an ewe.

"You can stare at the wall all you want," Tien insisted, "but you still need to answer my question. Hysen has been looking for you, and Petrovic is hollering for you to come."

Binh Kiem reached for his crutches and rose. Despite popular belief, the eye never prevented injuries, only made them heal quicker, but a broken leg was still a broken leg, though he only needed the cast on for half the time, one week into his injury was more than annoying. "Did he say why I was wanted?"

"Nothing beyond the normal. I think you're heading West, though."

"Nothing out there but sand and rock."

"Not into the desert, but over the ocean." She leaned in closer. "I heard they need someone to go to America."

"Any particular reason?"

"Only that they need someone at Astrophil's headquarters."

Binh Kiem scrunched his eyebrows as he began navigating the wide stairs leading up to the second story. No one had considered putting in elevators around here, but thankfully the property had long belonged in wealthy hands so the staircase was easier to navigate. At the top, he stopped and rested for a moment before continuing down the hallway towards his boss' office. "Why are we trying to send people to Astrophil?"

"I'm not certain," Tien answered. "Most likely has something to do with the new guy the Boss brought it."

The new guy, Kallikrates being about twenty-seven and cockier than a young lion. No one knew the history of the man, nor did anyone know why he had suddenly become best friends with Acayib ibn Bakr, the head of Pantheras. Some speculated the younger man was an illegitimate son to their playboy leader, but others speculated maybe Acayib preferred men now than women. Still, no one had the courage to ask their boss who the new guy was, only speculate.

Petrovic, a large Ukrainian in his mid-forties, sat behind an equally large Cherrywood desk, aged into a rich red during its over hundred years of existence. Many men had sat behind a desk in this room, and their portraits lined the room almost as if keeping an eye on the younger ones. In here the wars of Pantheras were plotted, though the organization had remained over its lifetime more of an academic institute.

All that had changed in the past eighteen months since the Kallikrates arrived. What he wanted was bloodshed and war, though he made it out to be much nicer than it sounded.

"I heard you need someone to go to America."

Petrovic looked up from his desk, his bright green eye locking with Binh Kiem. His other eye was also green, though more yellow-green than green. Oddly, Petrovic was one of the few light-colored Eyes who didn't use a contact on their natural eye since his glass eye and natural eye were nearly the same color. "Who told you that?"

"A little sheep."

Shaking his head, Petrovic closed the laptop on his desk. "One of these days people are going to realize that diminutive as she is, Tien has more ways of learning information than a leopard has spots."

"And even if all her spots should disappear another one will emerge," Tien promised. "I'm still here despite what you two think."

Petrovic leaned to the right to see around Binh Kiem. "So you are. Well, this concerns both of you, so take a seat." He motioned to the chairs in front of him.

"I'd prefer to stand, if you don't mind," Binh Kiem said.

"Suit yourself." Petrovic rose. "We need two people to go to Astrophil and infiltrate their organization."

"I thought we didn't spy on each other like that," Tien interrupted.

"Normally we don't," Petrovic admitted, "but Kallikrates has convinced Acayib that we need more information concerning the other Eyes, and to that extent I agree. Astrophil is the ungodly offspring of Pantheras, and it behooves us to maintain knowledge of their doings."
Tien leaned back in her chair. "Astrophil was formed over four hundred years ago, Boss. How can you even consider it the ungodly child?"

"Because the ones who founded Astrophil were originally part of Pantheras, but felt we were too far removed from reality, stuck away in our books. They wanted to pursue the physical abilities of the Eyes, and see how they could be used in a military form. Leave it to the Europeans to come up with that."

"Aren't you a European?"

Petrovic smiled. "As I said, it's one of the few things I agree with Kallikrates on. Astrophil has made a name for itself as one of the best fighting groups, second only to us, I might add."

"What about the Trio and the Blacks out of Raijin?"

"They too are building up their strength as are the other firms." Petrovic rose and went to stand in front of his window. "Can you not sense the power rising - it's gathering its strength like a storm. Everyone will be swept up in it, and we need to be positioned to be the best."

"You're not talking about revealing the identity of the Eyes, are you?" Binh Kiem said, leaning forward on his crutches.

"No; we will never reveal our true strengths, but if we are to be the leaders in this world, we need to position ourselves over the six other firms." He turned, hands clasped behind his back. "I'm not certain what this storm is, but it will wash away many things. For now, we need to find firm grounding."

"And to do so, we need information on the other firms," Tien said. "Why us to Astrophil?"

"You're Vietnamese."

Tien cocked an eyebrow.

"Two of the members of SY's Aces are either half or full Indonesian, the third is half-Vietnamese and the fourth half-Japanese. Besides you speak English as well as the natives do." He handed each a folder. "We're sending you by ship which leaves Alexandria tomorrow and you'll be taken over to New York City. From there, you will have to drive down to D.C. and meet up with our liaison at the Ukrainian embassy."

"Not Egyptian?"

"No; not Egyptian. The liaison is Halyna."

With that, he dismissed them.

"Nothing like sending us to the ex, is there?" Tien muttered once outside in the hallway.

"Who?" Hysen joined them. He was part Irish and part Arab with dark brown eyes and auburn hair. Tall and lanky like a futbol player, he had the Eye of the Verbti, or the blind fox, which enhanced his hearing.

"We're going to the States to meet up with Halyna."

"Oh, that ex." Hysen whistled, looking past the siblings to the door behind them. "Better you than me; makes you wonder why they remain in such good relationships despite being divorced for five years."

"No idea," Tien answered. "Want to help pack?"

Hysen smirked. "Not really, but I know you can't pack yourself and your brother. Besides, I already have my instructions."

"Which is?"

"High-tail it back to London to find something." He stretched his arms over his head. "All this traveling to and from the UK is racking up my frequent-flyer points, but I'm not finding what I need. Looks like I'll be spending the remainder of my time there until I discover this treasure trove Acayib wants, though between us, I think it’s Kallikrates who wants them."

"What is it?"

"Apparently information on the Eyes. He's a peculiar fellow this Kallikrates."

"He makes me nervous," Tien admitted.

Few made her nervous, which made Binh Kiem nervous.



Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Storyteller's Heart

Today's story is another from the Forty Isles, and follows the guardians of the Grand Duke and Duchess who are the heirs to the throne of the Forty Isles. The Guardian of the Grand Duchess is Isolde merc Gwion.  

The day had ended on a sour note - made worse only by the unquenchable stench of pickling cabbage. Two travelers sat under the shade of a lone tree and watched people passing. The strawberry-blonde woman had her legs pulled up close to her chest. She wore the simplest of clothes - a pair of trousers, boots and a sleeveless tunic. She rose, her long legs stretching upward as she reached her arms above her head to bend, giving the impression of an orchid bending in a breeze.
The man, dark-haired and skinned, remained seated, though he glanced up to follow the line of her movement. "Some would compare you to a tree when you do that."
"Bows are made from trees, so I think the comparison is appropriate."
"Most people don't think of bows when they see you."
"More to their folly, isn't it?" She stretched her arms out behind her back and bent forward. "Why are we here again, anyway? Surely it wasn't because you loved their pickled cabbage, was it?"
"If you know what's good for you, you won't continue that thought, Isolde."
Isolde smirked and looked up. "What just what are you going to do, Bleddyn?" She lowered her arms and straightened up.
Bleddyn ignored the taunt, and looked back down onto the town below them. "I'll consider it."
Isolde merc Gwion, granddaughter of a former head of the Gwion Tapestry Guild, shielded her eyes from the setting sun. "You think they're down there?"
"There are four sentries at the very least."
"Is that all?"
"You make that sound as though it would be of little consequence for you to waltz in there."
"And you sound as if you don't believe me."
"I don't."
Isolde smirked. "Aren't you ever going to come out and ask me? Surely the dogs of the king want to know all the secrets of the Gwion."
"We know most of them."
"You think you do."
"We do; we've been around for almost a thousand years. That's plenty long enough."
Isolde reached down to pet Bleddyn's scruffy black hair. "And we've been keeping secrets for twice that age, little doggy."
"You don't look that old."
"I'm older than you are."
"By two hours."
"Oh ho! You know that much about me?"
Bleddyn shoved aside Isolde's hand and pointed to the town. "They're looking for trouble. Can't you sense that with all your Gwion abilities?"
Lifting a finger towards the town, Isolde traced a symbol on the wind and blew it towards the town. The sounds of the people talking grew louder as the nearly invisible symbol reached the buildings. With a shift of her finger, the symbol followed the same course until it stopped beside a building.
"We're going to have to do something," a male growled.
"Anything's better than this life we've been giving," a woman agreed. Her voice was lilting, like that of a beautiful song one remembered from a faint memory.
"That would be the fae," Bleddyn said.
"I know what the fae sounds like."
"Don't know what the other one is."
Isolde snorted. "Dae."
"They don't exist anymore."
"There's a whole kingdom of them on the Isle of Pencaer. I thought the Graeme would know that, but that's not who we need to destroy."
"You make it sound so simple."
"It is. We're the guardians of the Grand Duke and Duchess. Of course it's that simple."
The fact that the Grand Duke and Duchess were the heirs to the High King and Queen of the Forty Isles made their position strong, but not as strong as that of the Captains of the King and Queen. Those positions, their immediate officers, were held by two wizened individuals who had served the royal family for over thirty years each.
The current assignment was meant to build the camaraderie of Isolde and Bleddyn who would work as the captains upon the ascent of their current wards. The couple were hiding nearby to celebrate their first-year anniversary.
Isolde twisted her hand around and brought the symbol back. "We know they're in that room. What else would you like to know?"
"The best way inside without being seen."
"Says that man who's sitting on a hill outside the city obviously watching them."
"What the?! I thought you put wards around us."
Isolde slapped her thigh and bent over laughing. "Oh, ho! I love your face!" She pointed to her own and mirrored his expression.
"Are you certain you're not a dog?"
"I'm not the one who turns into a big fuzzy wolf." She took a deep breath and released it. "I'll go down and take a look to double check on everything."
"It would be better if I went," Bleddyn argued, beginning to rise.
"Nope. In this case, it will be me. I can hide behind the wings."
Bleddyn stared at her. "Wings? They exist?"
Isolde wrapped herself up into a shape of a raven. "Of course they do," she answered before flying off to the building she had marked.
Their mission had been simple enough - find a female fae, known for her bright citron hair, and capture her. She was a known criminal bent on world domination. Why, as one of the fae, she hadn't simply sent waves crashing, rocks tumbling or any other number of things happening remained to be unknown. She was a known criminal, and that was enough.
It was the growling voice which had spoken first that concerned Isolde. Each race, each kingdom had their own sound. Humans of Caergwlân, her home kingdom among the Forty Isles did not sound like humans on Eguzki, the desert kingdom. No one sounded like those from the Mageless Isle. The fae had their odd musical quality; the dae, few as they were, had a similar sound though darker. One was airy, the other earthy. One was fire, and the other water. Even if a dae and fae sounded similar, upon meeting they would take opposites.
Perhaps it was in their blood to oppose one another?
The dae was not a dae, though. No. Worse, or better depending how one looked at it. With extensive families such as the Gwion, it wasn't uncommon for someone born to not know of Gwion ancestry - the Heritage Gwion as they were known. Those like Isolde who were born to the Gwion were known as Blood Gwion.
The Graeme family, like Bleddyn, had a similar groups. The Graemes inherited a family name so Bleddyn was Bleddyn Graeme, unlike the Gwion who remained children, merc for daughter, ap for son. For some, though, they did not know about their heritage, and transforming into a wolf came easily, especially for the young.
The shaggy red dog sitting at the table had spoken. It wasn't one of the Wolves of Abernath who were part of the Talking Animals, but something else. The only other thing would be the Graeme. Based upon his size and general demeanor, his age would have been somewhere in the early teens -thirteen at the eldest.
How did someone lose a Graeme?
The fae female sat with her back against the wall watching the group. There were other fae, no dae, though; humans, a dwarf and a smattering of talking animals. Oh, and there was a centaur and a minotaur. Of course they would show up.
All totaled, it would be too much for the two of them to handle on their own even using storyteller magic.
"She's in there," Isolde said, upon her return to Bleddyn. "I think you should take her back to Graeme as soon as you can get close enough; I'll look for information and records."
"I'm going to cause a ruckus going in."
"You'll be fine. I'll cloak the place in darkness and you can sneak in that way."
"Storyteller magic?"
Isolde snorted. "As if I would use storyteller magic. You do realize it's powerful magic which has been banned in this kingdom."
"I didn't think rules stopped the Gwion."
"Normally, they don't, but this isn't the time for storyteller magic. Simple word magic will suffice."
"You used it for the raven."
"Did I?" Isolde sprinted away before Bleddyn could answer. She returned to her spot, this time hiding under her cloak. As one of the Gwion, she would protected from any attack. She could walk through fire when she was fully clothed in her magic, but today, she was the diversion.
With darkness enveloped, Isolde left Bleddyn to his task and entered farther into the building. There was always someplace they kept important information. Chances were that the dog guarded the room.
Two guarded the room - one of dwarves sat with the dog until an unholy scream ripped through the building - that of the fae being dragged away to Graeme Isle. The dwarf sprinted away with an order for the dog to remain.
Isolde appeared and stepped forward.
The dog snarled. "Stay away."
"What do they call you?"
"I'm warning you."
"Have you always been a wolf?"
His eyes shifted. "How did you know?"
"I know a man who can become a wolf when he wants too." She touched her ear. "He has the same mark here that you do." It was known as the Mark of the Graeme. In wolf form, one ear remained pointed and wolf-like, while the other, though remaining upright, was rounded and notched. All Graeme had it from birth.
"I'm human?"
"As I am."
"You were a raven earlier."
"Was I?"
"It's the same smell."
Isolde narrowed her gaze and took a step forward. "How could you smell anything?"
The dog transformed into a boy about eleven. "My nose is extra-smart," he explained. "Only bad people can turn into animals."
"Are you bad?"
The question threw him for a moment. He shifted his weight and looked past Isolde. "Are you a fae?"
"Do I look fae?"
He shook his head. "You don't look safe, though."
"I'm not." Isolde eased to the door. "May I go inside? There might be something in there to stop the fire."
"There isn't a fire."
"Isn't there?"
The alarm shrilled.
The boy jumped and glanced down the hallways to either side. "We should put the fire out. Maelinicence said there's important stuff here."
Maelinicence - the fae.
"And ...?"
"We should protect the things inside." He opened the door and grabbed a bag to start stuffing things in it. "Grab those two bags as well." He pointed to bags on the side. "We'll take them to her."
Isolde did as instructed and followed the boy outside. "They should be here," he said once outside, up by the tree where Isolde and Bleddyn had rested.
The bell had been in his ear only. They remained fighting ... If not dead, by now. That was storyteller magic's power. To make anyone see, hear, smell whatever the story demanded. It was what made people fear the Gwion. In her sphere, she controlled the story.
The boy clenched and unclenched his fist. "You're one of them, aren't you?"
"One of whom?"
"Those storytellers. The Gwion."
"I am."
He stepped away, scrambling towards the tree. "You're going to kill me, aren't you? Maelinicence said the Gwion are evil." He narrowed his eyes. "You tricked me."
"Not entirely. I only aided your story."
He looked around them. "Now I die?"
"Nope." Isolde picked up the bag he had dropped. "Now we fly."
The boy snorted. "You can't fly?"
"Course I can."
"No you can't. Well, not with me and those bags."
"You want a bet?"
"Sure."
"Very well. If I can fly both of us and the bags, you'll have to promise to live with my friend for a year without complaint or trouble."
"Deal."
Isolde opened up the flat bag she had on her back, and dropped the three large bags inside.
The boy stared at her. "How did you do that?"
"Magic." Straightening, Isolde eyed the boy a moment. "You're going to need a name."
"Don't have one."
"Then I shall call you Flancuan."
"Why?"
"In one of the ancient tongues, it means Red Wolf."
"Like me."
"Indeed. Flancuan was a great warrior who helped people." Isolde wrapped her arms around the boy and sprouted wings on her back to fly.
"We're flying," Flancuan gasped.
"We are."
"How. Are you fae?"
"No; I learned this trick from them, though." Beautiful wings, light and airy, nearly invisible in the light, but now glowing in dusk carried them away from the town towards the place where the royal couple hid.
"You are a storyteller."
"I am."
"You're evil."
"We can be," Isolde admitted. "Storytellers are the most dangerous breed in the world. We give life to your dreams. Words will always be the most powerful things in the world, Flancuan."
"Flancuan," he whispered, snuggling closer to Isolde. "I like its sound."
"Go to sleep then. Your nightmare is over."
"It wasn't so bad. They fed me and clothed me."
Isolde turned towards the mountains. Maelinicence was on Graeme awaiting her trial. Would one year suffice for Bleddyn to show Flancuan about the ways of the Graeme? He had so much potential, this child for good or evil.
Just like a storyteller.