The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me! So I’ve heard it over and over. You need a blog. And, because I am, by nature, reclusive and strange, my response has always been ‘ick, no.’ But, lately I’ve been thinking about my life as a writer. See, my reclusiveness is at odds with my desire to share my stories. I want more readers and this year is set to be one of the biggest in my career, release wise and the blog thing has become almost a chant from every single person I talk to. So here we are. You sitting patiently, waiting for me to be brilliant and me sitting over here like ‘why are you looking at me like that?’

Yeah, blogging has never been my thing. I don’t go to parties, my taste in movies is downright weird, and even when it comes to books my recommendations are often odd. I could spend hours telling you how to write, but every single bit of advice is going to be meaningless once I give you the only thing you will ever really use. Which is: figure out what works for you. I could tell you what I do every single day. And none of it might work for you. One writer will tell you to write every single day and another will tell you they only write when they have a handle on the story. If you are a writer, this is your fight and the only way to be any good at it is to figure out what works for you.

So there I was, with this confusing muddle of ‘what could I possibly have to say’, cringing every single time someone told me to start a site with a blog, trying to figure out another way to find my readers. Then it hit me like a load of bricks (you know, the sort stamped with ‘how did I not think of that before’) dropping right on my head. I don’t teach writing classes and I’m not looking to start. There are so many people out there that are better for that job because my second piece of advice is ‘suck it up, Buttercup, and read the last paragraph’. I’m not the sort to coddle you through writer’s block because I’ve been there a thousand times and have come to know it for exactly what it is. Self pity and avoidance. Something is not right in Wonderland and you need to figure it out for yourself. And sitting online reading a thousand blogs will never, ever help you because it is your muse pouting silently in the corner and, like your last girlfriend, she’s waiting for you to say or do something to make her love you again. Hint: start by turning off your phone and logging off Facebook.

So why would I start a blog giving out my opinion on anything or trying to offer up advice other writers have already given a thousand times over in far kinder ways than I am capable of? I wouldn’t and that was where I so often ran up against a wall when the word ‘blog’ came up. What I would do, however, is tell stories. Because that is pretty much all I want to do, all the time, every single day. Not just my own stories either. See, when I was about ten, I became fascinated with two things. Ghosts and magic. In fact, I became so enamored with both that I read every single thing I could. I have read so much over so many years that I can tell you stories from Celtic Mythology and reel out the names of all the Gods and Goddesses in Greek Mythology just to turn around and give you a lecture on their Roman incarnations. Then I can tell you all about the most famous haunted houses and more than a few nobody else really knows about. Urban legends? Right here, baby. And, yes, I can give you a list of excellent books to read if you are into any of these things. What hit me, my dears, is the simple, inescapable fact that, until now, I’d never thought to attach to the idea of blogging what I practice in my stories. Write what you love.

I was that kid at Halloween that was watching the Garfield Halloween special on one channel and taping Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman on another. I was the kid in high school English that wrote a twenty page paper on the Pantheon of Greek Mythology (true story). I am that crazy person that wishes I’d gotten a letter from Hogwarts and still stubbornly insists that Santa Claus, in some form or another, does exist.

So here’s the deal. I won’t promise to be brilliant. Writing short has never been my strong suit. But I plan on sharing a number of things with you. I am going to be drawing on everything from my vast library of myths and legends, my knowledge of ghost stories, and my own short fiction, some of which will include short stories from my War For Inìsfail series and my own ghost stories. I am going to, on occasion, be lazy and tell you who else you ought to be reading (and that’s a list we’ll never get to the bottom of) and why. And, yes, this is all copyrighted. Please do not steal from me; I bite.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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The Goblin Tree – Eight

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The Silver Door

The Goblin Tree – One

Song Suggestion: Dance With Dragons by BrunuhVille

 

XXX

Eight

“I am the fire of the holy, the beginning and the end of all things. Meet me with wisdom and wisdom ye shall find. Meet me with darkness hidden in your heart and I shall feast upon your soul.” The cat peered at Bethany and she smiled.

“That is no riddle,” she said to him. “It is a passage from the book of Danu.” She shook her head. “Grandmother wouldn’t read from it; she said that the goddess had nothing to do with most of it, that it was just fluff, that most folk didn’t know enough about the real gods. But I used to go listen to the priest in the village, sometimes. That was always my favorite line because it was one of the few things that made me feel better.”

“It sounds far too threatening to be comforting,” the cat said.

Bethany shook her head. “It’s about the god of the sun and his children, who were born in his likeness. It’s about dragons. They guard the innocent and punish the wicked, the priest always said. That passage refers to their fire; it cleanses everything that is evil, but legend says that the pure of heart can stand within it and be safe as babes at their mother’s breast.”

“Dragons,” the cat said.

“I suppose there are none here?” Bethany asked, wondering if, like goblins, this was one of the larger differences between Inìsfail and The Silverlands.

“Oh, we have them,” the cat said. “The real sort and those that are not quite dragons, only wearing their skin.”

Bethany frowned, but the cat didn’t elaborate right away. “People go around wearing dragon skin?” she asked at last.

“In a manner of speaking,” the cat replied. “We call them the riven or Ryven, if you prefer. They wear something very like the shape of a dragon and they are entirely evil. But, we do have the real ones, here, though they aren’t quite as friendly as the ones in your blessed lands. They keep to themselves, for the most part. But. There was a time before I was born when dragons were much more present. There is a city deep in the forest. Naught but ruins, now, but there is a statue there. A dragon, ten feet tall with obsidian claws and eyes of bright emeralds as big as your fist. In his maw he holds a gift from the dragons of old, a promise that they were friends of true heart to the men who lived there. It is a bit of dragon fire.”

“If I had a dying star,” Bethany said, “I would give it dragon fire to eat, for it burns bright and pure.”

The cat nodded and looked at the sun, now sinking red as blood into the horizon. “We must hurry. The city is deep in the trees, two or three hours walk at least. I’ll get the girl.”

The Goblin Tree – Seven

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Song Suggestion: Chapter 5 – Blood Of The Vikings by Peter Gundry

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Seven

When Bethany got back to the camp, the child was curled in the wagon’s soft bed. The dog was digging up rabbit holes, and the mare was happily grazing. The scene would have been a sweet one, if Bethany did not think it very likely that she wouldn’t see it again after this day. The cat was not in evidence and Bethany soon gave up on him and laid down to sleep herself.

She woke to the sun sitting low on the horizon and the great, gray cat sauntering out of the wood. “And where have you been?” Bethany asked.

“With an old friend,” said he and narrowed his eyes at her. “Look here,” he said, “I’ve just about had my fill of Master Shrim’s game, haven’t you?”

“I have,” said Bethany. “But what am I to do? I agreed to play.”

“And all this time he’s had it his own way,” said the cat. “I think it is time we changed that.”

“How?” Bethany asked. “I’ve searched and I’ve searched and have suspected all along that lantern is too well hidden.”

“It is,” the cat said. “Because it isn’t up the tree at all!” His whiskers bristled, as if this was an unforgivable insult. “For two nights you’ve searched the lower branches, like those who’ve come before. And I’ve looked higher, suspecting that as his trick. Yet I’ve seen nothing of a lantern lit with starlight and I’ve a better sense of what it will look and smell like than you ever could. So I’ve been to see my friend, more clever than me by half. I was born in the Elder Wood, back when it still was young, and though much that walks here has forgotten me, she never has.”

Did she tell you where Shrim has his lantern hid?” Bethany had many questions, many things she wanted to ask the cat about how he had come to be with her grandmother in the blessed lands if he came from this dark and wicked forest, about his age and if he really was a cat, but this was not the time.

The cat yawned. “No. Creatures like that don’t speak plain. She gave me a riddle and said that you would unravel it. Though I’ve made short work of such things in the past, I cannot turn this one on its head. And she has promised to help us a bit as well, for it will take more than just knowing where to look to outsmart Master Shrim, for he was one of Elphame’s own knights, a lord and one of her favorite children, though she did not give birth to him. He is dangerously clever and strong besides and if he guesses that his secret has been found out, we are lost.” The cat’s eyes glinted in the growing dim. “But there is a price you must pay for such help.” He told her quickly what she would have to do and Bethany turned pale.

“But that would be cruel!” she cried, repelled by this demand.

“Any more cruel than what he has planned for you?” the cat asked.

“I am not a goblin,” Bethany pointed out. “Why would I stoop to such a thing?”

“Because, if you do not agree, then you and the child are both lost forever.” 

“Yet what life is it that is won through treating others with malice?” Bethany asked coldly. “Be they an enemy or a cheat, to stoop to such a base level as they only means you remove them so you might sit on their throne. This my grandmother taught me and well do I know it. He who answers evil with evil will burn in a hell of their own making.”

Then the cat relented and patted at her hands with his soft paws. “My friend would never ask such a thing without reason. She is not a cruel thing, though she is stern and does not forgive easily, and some might mistake that for wickedness. Anyway, it is the only way. For you and the child. And, perhaps, for Shrim.” He flicked his tail about him one way and then the other. “Do you think that he truly enjoys his game? Or does he only look for an answer to the suffering he must endure?”

“How could such a horrible thing bring relief?” Bethany asked. “Do you trust this friend of yours?”

“Never has there been another with truer heart in this land. Never has another cared for those who live within the forest more than she and she’d have no harm come to them, no matter their nature,” said the cat. “So yes. I do trust her.

“And I trust you,” Bethany said at last. And she was already praying to the gods she’d left behind in another land that they might be forgiven if the cat had been deceived.

The Goblin Tree – Six

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Song Suggestion: Chapter 11 – Always by Peter Gundry

XXX

Six

Bethany returned through the wood to her wagon. The dog was awake and chasing rabbits and the mare was stamping her feet restlessly, but Bethany did not harness her; for better or worse, she was part of the goblin’s game. The girl was curled up in the bed inside the wagon and the cat sat beside the remains of the fire, as if he’d never left it.

“Any advice would be welcome,” Bethany said, sorry she’d been cross with him before.

The cat yawned and she thought he would refuse to speak. But, after several, long moments, he did. “There are many paths in the woods, just as there are in life. Some are narrow, some are wide, some will take you far away, and some just wander about without going anywhere at all. There are times when you would do well to follow the beaten trail, if you don’t want to be lost forever. But there are also times when you must leave the path others have taken and forge your own.” Then the cat curled up on the blankets she’d laid out for her bed, with his tail across his nose and did not say one more word.

At first, Bethany was frustrated, for cats are full of riddles and seem to delight in not speaking clear. Then she set to thinking about his words, half understood, because she sensed there was great wisdom – maybe even an answer – wound up in them.

She pondered for many hours and had an idea by the time the first star had risen, glimmering, above the forest. The moon soon followed it and Bethany saw that it was just as full and fat as it had been before. She took the trail into the trees, this time stuffing her ears before she set off, and the cat followed behind her. The girl stayed shivering by the fire, though, and Bethany let her; this was not her fight any longer.

The goblin was waiting for her on his rock beneath the tree. “Ah, so you’ve come again,” he said with a wicked smile. He snapped his fingers and the lanterns blazed with light. “Would you like to choose or just admit your defeat now and save us both time?”

“Good evening to you too, Master Shrim,” Bethany said, dropping a curtsey to the creature; her grandmother had taught her to be polite, always saying that it did not matter king or pauper, polite respect belonged to all. Even those who did not always give it back. The goblin said nothing, but it did seem to Bethany that he looked at her with a softer expression as she climbed up to the branches of the Goblin Tree.

Bethany did not stop at the lowest branches; she’d spent hours there the night before and not seen a single silver one with both a round door and a green gem upon its crown.

In fact, at first, she found none higher up which had that exact description. If she found one with a round door and a gem, then it was not silver, or if it was silver, it had a round door or a gem, but not both together.

But, at last, Bethany had found some, though it was by no means as large a number as her choices the night before. When she looked up, the tree branches seemed without end and she felt the tiniest twinge of despair and fear; if she could not find the lantern, would she end up like the girl, wandering endlessly, or follow those who had come before them to their doom beneath the tree? She was not sure which choice she would take. And, suddenly, without warning and in keeping with every cat that has ever been, the clever tom was on the branch beside her.

“Can you help me?” Bethany asked.

“I already have,” replied the cat. “Though you seem bent on repeating the mistakes of all who came before you.”

Bethany began to reply, but the cat was already gone. So she carried her lanterns down and set them beneath the tree. Shrim came down from his rock and inspected each one carefully.

“These are lovely, it is true,” he said, turning to her at last. “They are the right size and the gem is upon the crown. But one and all they lack the graven rune of my lady upon the door and are lit with candles and oil and not a star.”

“You said nothing about a rune upon the door,” Bethany said, exasperated.

“Didn’t I?” Shrim asked with a smug grin and clicked his fingers. The lanterns went dark and Bethany found herself standing alone in the first light of dawn beneath the Goblin Tree.

The Goblin Tree – Five

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Song Suggestion: Crimson Tears by Nox Arcana

XXX

Five

“Your tree is dead,” Bethany pointed out to Shrim, master of the Goblin Tree, as they stood beneath the wicked thing, black and lifeless, but no less terrifying than if it had been a raging beast. Thousands of dark lanterns hung from the branches, a terrible testament to the forsaken souls who had played the goblin’s game before she had come. She was not being cruel in stating the obvious; though she still thought Shrim horrible, she did understand him; grief does many things to a soul and anger holds the power to twist someone. Mixed together, the two things became a poisonous brew best not tasted. “Hurting others will not bring back what was taken from you. If there was any way to undo what was done, I would swear to find it. But, surely, the young girl had no hand in the evils done to you. Wouldn’t you set her free from your bargain?”

The goblin gave her a terrible smile. “She entered into the contract of her own free will, as I’ve said. I do not have any more power to break it than you do. And, if the tree be dead and beyond saving, then the dead must forever keep it. That is the price they will pay for their foolish, thieving schemes. Now. Do you wish to make a bargain or not?”

And Bethany knew there was only one way to save the girl and, though she did not admire their greedy plot, she thought she best save the souls of everyone else that had played the goblin’s game. “First tell me the rules,” Bethany said to Shrim, for her grandmother had taught her never to make a blind deal.

“Simple enough,” said Shrim. “Find my lantern, shining bright, and I will give you what you wish. Three nights you have to choose the right one. But, should you fail, your life is mine and your soul must feed the roots of my ancient home.”

Bethany thought about refusing, about turning around and walking back to her wagon and simply driving away. But the cries of the child she had found along the road of this forest haunted her still. She had promised to try and help her and help her she would.

“I will take your challenge,” Bethany said quietly. She did hope that her travels would not so soon be ended, but she knew that was the way of adventures, sometimes, that, as with life, nothing was guaranteed. “What does your lantern look like?”

The goblin’s eyes shone with vicious pleasure. “Oh, it isn’t much, really, just a small thing made of silver. The door is as round as the moon over our heads, and, inside, is the light of a dying star, brilliant and white, the last of my lady’s sacrificed grace.” He waved one arm at the tree. “You’ve until dawn to make your choices and three nights to take your chances.” He hopped up to the top of the rock and sat grinning at her unpleasantly. He flicked his fingers and all the lanterns, every one of them, bloomed with light.

Bethany only spent a few moments staring up into the branches, even more horrible with the lanterns lit; it looked even more like the black web of some demonic spider, which would be crouching somewhere, waiting for an unwitting victim to land in its trap. Then she began to climb up.

If she had thought it would be easy to pick out the goblin’s lantern, despite the number of others hanging there, then she soon knew better; there were not a hundred lanterns hanging, nor a thousand. As she lifted herself onto the first branch of the tree and looked up, it seemed as though there was no end to the branches rising above her and each of them was filled with lanterns.

Bethany did not despair, though; it was not in her nature to accept defeat, certainly not while she still had so many hours in which to solve the puzzle. She got right to work. The largest lanterns she ignored and she first looked for the glint of silver. Finding that, next she looked for a nice, round door, disregarding the ones who had a square door or oval or none at all. Soon, she’d found dozens that matched the description, though it was impossible to tell what sort of light was burning inside; she didn’t know what a star would look like if it were in a lantern, if it would need a wick or oil to sustain it. She was still on the lowest branches of the tree, though, and did not make much headway; there were simply too many. Presently, she became aware of the cat perched above her, watching.

“You could help me,” Bethany informed him.

“Sometimes the best help a friend can give is to sit and think with a clear head,” the tomcat said.

“Think too long,” Bethany replied, “and you’ll have no-one left to feed you cheese after one of your naps.” But the cat was already gone.

At last, Bethany knew dawn was close. She climbed down the tree, carefully setting her selection of lanterns by the roots. There were twenty, at least, each beautiful in its own way. Overhead, the sky was velvet black and, if not for the lanterns, it would have been dark indeed.

The goblin came to inspect her choices. “Too large,” he said to some. “Too small,” he said to others. One by one, he discounted them and Bethany marked his words well; if the right lantern was not among those she had brought him, then at least she would do better the next time and have a better idea what she was looking for.

At last, Shrim stood before the final lantern. “It is the right height,” said he, “and the door is like the face of the moon. Yet there is no green stone set into the crown.” He pulled the door open, “And there is only a half burnt candle inside.” With his final words, the first light of dawn came, not yet flushed pink, but still gray and soft, shimmering with promise.

“You did not mention the stone on its crown before I climbed up,” Bethany said, scowling.

“Didn’t I?” the goblin asked, grinning. Then he was gone, all the lanterns blew out, and Bethany was standing alone beneath the Goblin Tree.

The Goblin Tree – Four

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Song Suggestion: Chapter 1 – Lament Of The Shadow Elves by Peter Gundry

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Four

Bethany stood looking at a tree that may have been beautiful, once, but, in death, it had the presence of some terrifying, evil creature. The Goblin Tree, the girl at her side had named it. Bethany’s clever tomcat sat on her other side, silent and watching the wicked tree. Before Bethany could ask what he was waiting for, there opened in the tree a door. Out of the door came a small creature that she knew must be a goblin, though it was not the sort she knew from her homeland.

Bethany did not hesitate, but walked out into the clearing to face the creature. “Excuse me,” she said. “Is this your tree?” The goblin looked nothing at all like she’d have expected; though he was smallish and thin, he was not ugly or frightening. He looked, rather, like a very small, very old man. He had a large, lumpy nose, rather like a potato, wispy, white hair and bristling eyebrows, and fingers that were far too long for his hand.

“It is,” he said to her, “though what business it be of yours, I don’t know.” He had a sharp gleam in his eye and Bethany thought he looked a little more frightening for it.

“I am here to help a child I found crying along the road,” Bethany said. “She claims that you have taken all those she loved and imprisoned them beneath your tree.”

“Oh she does, does she?” the goblin said. His grin was most unpleasant. “She is not lying, stranger. I’d have her too if she was not too frightened to finish the game she started.”

“So you are wicked after all?” Bethany asked.

The goblin raised a single eyebrow at her. “I? The wicked one? Not at all, young lady. And if you’re going to go about shoving your nose in other people’s business, then maybe you ought not be making accusations until you know the whole of it.”

“Then why don’t you tell me your side?” Bethany said, but she’d already half made up her mind and the goblin sneered like he knew it.

“My name,” said the goblin, “is Shrim. And, once, I was the guardian of the village called Stonehaven, protecting them from the darkness of the forest. And my tree was known far and wide because it did not blossom with leaves or flowers, but with stars. It was the most beautiful of all trees that were ever grown in any world.”

“What happened to it?” Bethany asked, motioning to the bare, dead branches spread above them.

“What always happens when mortal men are about?” Shrim asked angrily. “Greed.” He scowled at her as if, at any moment, she might personally be to blame for this. “This tree was planted by the Lady of the forest, herself. My own queen, Elphame, did come to earth to marry my father and rule his wild children. Here she buried the remnants of her life as a goddess as proof of her love for him. The tree grew up in this spot and from its branches, stars were born which shone with the light of her renounced divinity. She asked me, in those early days, to guard it and so well did I love her that I promised to give my own life to protect it.”

“When the forest was cursed, her Ladyship gave me another task. She plucked from the branches a single, shining star and gave it to me in a lantern. By its light, all darkness would be cast away, said she. And she bade me to look after those mortals in the village, for the curse was not of their making and she would not leave them at its mercy.”

“So every night I did make my way to the village and kept at bay those dark and hungry creatures that hunted there. At first, the people were grateful; they were frightened of my mad father and those of his fell children that followed him instead of our mother, as well any ought to be. They are foul and full of nasty tricks, and mortals are easy prey for their cruel tricks.”

“Soon, though, the villagers’s own nature overtook them. As a Knight of Elphame, surely I had riches, they supposed. And right they were. I have mountains of wealth, but it was not for them to know of or take. What fool, I ask you, wishes to steal from he that gives them safety? Yet they were driven by this desire. Soon, the villagers became so jealous of my wealth, hidden beneath my tree, that, while I guarded their homes, they crept off and tried to find a way to break into mine. When all else failed, they tried to dig beneath the roots and, in doing so, killed the tree. So, you see, all that was left of Elphame’s power was the light from my lantern.”

“So you stole them away and made them prisoners?” Bethany asked. “Do you not know that two wrongs cannot make anything right?”

The goblin gave her a knowing grin. “All I did was ask them to play a game. Because the people of fair Stonehaven were so bent on stealing my wealth, I did nothing more than give them a way to win it fairly. If they bested me, I would let them wish upon the last of Elphame’s light and they might have my wealth besides. If I won, however, they would give me their soul and bend to the service of healing the tree. T’is not my fault that none would turn away from the challenge or that each one failed and, in return, gave their life to try and give the tree a way to bloom again.”