Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Story Within a Story

     Perhaps you might enjoy a short excerpt from the fantasy novel I finished writing a few years ago...

     As they sat together that night in the circle of firelight that drew them all into its warm embrace and sent their shadows leaping away behind them, Miri said, "Aelynne, you haven't told us any tales yet; surely you must know one that none of us have heard."
     "I didn’t think it would please you to hear about the heroes and battles of the Realm, and the tales I was told about the Lordly Ones when I was a girl, you already know."
     "But you’ve had adventure," Miri coaxed, "and before you were a priestess you were a lord's daughter. Tell us something about yourself."
     Aelynne thought a moment. "I was a pig-girl first of all," she began, "and my Huldre was something of a féyri woman herself. Her greatest grandmother, Wyndolen-hée, lived in the time when the Realm first came up from the south to battle the féyri-folk." 

     Those were the days when the kings of the south liked nothing better than to battle.  They fought among themselves until there was only one king left. Then there was peace for awhile. But the king of the south soon grew restless with nothing to do but eat, and drink, and ride his war horse back and forth over his great conquered land, so he gathered his men together and sent them north to see if they could find any new king for him to fight. 
     Until those days the Féyri had been secure and prosperous, so there were many villages in the woods around Aeltre, flung out from the city like scattered corn at planting time. Then the Realm descended on Calantha like a hawk upon sparrows and all along the way, the fighting men left trampled corn and cabbage plots and smoking cottages behind them. Fey and feya alike felt the bite of iron forged in foreign fires, but many of the children were sent away south for slaves—especially if a girl were pretty or a boy had a strong arm.
     Wyndolen-heé—who was not so young as some, but pretty enough to save her neck—was not the kind of girl a man could make a slave of if it were against her will. She stood in the middle of the steading-yard with her father's cottage and outbuildings burning around her, wielding a rusty sword and shouting insults at the men who had come to take her away. Of course, they were grown men hardened in battle and she only a young farm-girl so the shouting did not last long, but when the men came near enough to take her she turned the sword on herself saying, "I'd sooner perish!" and they saw that she meant it.
     The captain of the band, who had fought in many outflung parts of the realm before this but had never yet seen a girl of such pluck and beauty when her fire was up, stepped forward from the rest. “Wait,” he said and held up his hand to keep the others back, “before you quench the flame that comes out of your eyes and into my heart like sword thrusts, and the light of you goes out of the world altogether, will you not hear me speak?”
     Then Wyndolen-hée paused with the blade pressed to her breast to listen, for none had ever spoken thus to her before. And she paused to listen because of the look in the captain's eye when he said it.
     “Take me instead,” he said, “and when the fighting is done, I will come back to you. I will build you a new cottage, plant new corn, and give you sons and daughters to heal the hurt of your father's dying. And before you say to yourself, 'this man is my enemy and the thing that he is asking is only another kind of slavery and also worse than death,' remember these two things:  a man must obey his king whether he will or no, and there can be no slavery where there is love." 
     Here the captain paused and captured the eyes of Wyndolen-hée, holding them with his own so that she could not look away. "Yet, should it still seem loathsome to you to give yourself to me instead of the grave, then before you strike yourself, have mercy on the heart-wounded and strike me first, for I swear to you that from this day forward I am yours in life or death."  Then the captain drew his sword slowly and carefully from its wolfskin sheath and knelt before the farmgirl, laying it at her feet. As he bowed his head, his dark hair fell forward above his shirt and leather hauberk, laying his neck bare to her own weapon.
     With both, white-knuckled hands gripping the hilt, Wyndolen-hée lifted her father's heavy sword above her head, and for all that it was ancient with rust, it would have severed bone from sinew well enough to leave the captain bleeding in the dust when the rest of the fighting men marched away. She raised it against him because of the ache that he and his kind had left in the smoking ruins behind her. In the instant before the sword came down, however, something stayed her arm, something deeper than the ache, something stirring nameless within her. The sword fell from her bitter grasp to the ground, and a moment later, she fell too—into the arms of her enemy, weeping for all she had lost and for all she must give up to get some of it back again.
     The captain was true, and when the last of the great cities of Calantha had been subdued, he came back to her and made her forget her weeping. But the one thing she could not forget was that she was now a stranger in her own homeland, for most of her people who had not been killed in the warring had vanished away up north into the wasteland of the high country. Indeed, she did not want to forget, and neither did she want her children to forget, so she spoke to them often of her kindred, and she spoke to her grandchildren as well. Some of the tales she told were believed and some of them were not for they seemed too marvelous to be true, but whether or not they were believed, the children of Wyndolen-hée told the tales to their offspring, so that, after long and long, my Huldre came to hear them. Then, because Huldre did not have any children of her own, she told the tales to me. So it was I came to hear of the Féyri, and all the time I was listening to them, I never imagined that they were my own stories as well."

     No one spoke for a moment.  Then Gynlon laid another log on the fire, sending sparks upward into the clear night like a burst of new stars.  "The captain was a clever man," he said as he sat down again.
     "He was love-struck!" Miri protested.
     "It would seem he was both," Calder said and began to tune his harp.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits..."
Psalm 103:2

The Prayer by Vincent Van Gogh

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Il Divo

     I sat alone in the car in the grocery store parking lot waiting for my husband to return with a roasting chicken and loaf of french bread for our lunch, when I suddenly heard singing. I looked around to see where it was coming from. The music wasn't that primal base so many enthusiasts seem to enjoy sharing with the rest of us, beating its way through walls and rattling windows till it pulses inside your bones, and the singer wasn't the usual rap or rock star. The driver's-side window in the car next to me was lowered a few inches and a middle-aged, ethnic-looking gentleman was listening to opera. Something Spanish or Italian, I think. It isn't often you hear opera played loudly in the grocery parking lot, so I rolled down my own window to listen. Then I smiled. The man was singing along. He was no Pavarotti, Carreras, or Domingo, but he was enjoying himself.

     It was a dust of snow moment.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Drop in the Bucket

     We were not in the habit of leaving our doors unlocked at night. We didn't live in that kind of neighborhood. But then someone let the cat out and forgot...

     When I was in high school I shared an upstairs bedroom with my older sister. Late one night after everyone had gone to bed, I awoke suddenly, sensing something was wrong. I heard shouting downstairs and scrambled out of bed three steps behind my sister. We tried to open the door at the bottom of the stairs, but someone on the other side slammed it shut against us. I smelled smoke. I was scared. One of my worst fears had materialized; our house was on fire! I didn't know what to do, so I did the first thing that came into my head: I ran back upstairs to the bathroom, emptied the trashcan onto the floor and began filling it with water.

     Everything else is a blur, but when the smoke had cleared—literally—I was standing in the diningroom in my pajamas hugging an empty trashcan as firemen sucked smoke from our house with their equipment. Somehow, the armchair in the corner of the livingroom nearest the front door had caught fire. Somehow, my dad had managed to drag the burning chair outside onto the lawn before the rest of the house caught fire. The carpet was ruined and there was smoke damage but that was all; except for a little singeing, not even my dad was hurt. There had been seven of us asleep in the house that night; it could have been so much worse.

     It wasn't the first fire in the neighborhood that year. Several garages had already burned to the ground and arson was suspected. Even so, I was called out of class one day at school for an interview with the fire marshal. He asked if one of my siblings or I might have been sneaking a cigarette and left it burning near the chair. Most of us had tried smoking at one time or another, but none of us was stupid enough to light up anywhere near home.

     A few weeks later the house across the street caught fire during the night. Investigators determined that the livingroom sofa was the source of the blaze, but the neighbors were smokers so it remained uncertain whether or not arson was involved. Then one morning as my dad was leaving for work, he found signs of a fire just inside our garage door. The door was closed and the fire had died out before it had done any real damage. It appeared to us that another arsonist plot had been providentially foiled.

     I am glad to say that the man responsible was eventually caught in the act of setting fire to a shed in broad daylight and was arrested.

     I think back to that small trashcan full of water, that drop in the bucket I had grabbed in order to help put out a fire; if our house had been ablaze it would have been useless no matter how good my intentions were. We are a family of gospel faith so, naturally, we give God the credit for our preservation. We are all grateful that He spared us. It is the kind of experience that has given me pause over the intervening years to consider the weight of my life. In the end, will I have spent it on things that matter? So it is that I pursue a grace-filled purpose in the hope that my drop in the bucket may one day become a flood.