The Tailor of Seamel
The story of Leon Noble, of the quiet city of Silkfield, is best remembered in the heart of the wood, where it is said even the wolves will stay their fangs when beauty passes. Leon Noble, a tailor by trade, belonged to a family of laborers – not in the field of war, nor in the field of men, but of thread. Leon was a wonderful tailor, and some would even say blessed. He spun cloaks like the moon spins light, capes like the sun with flames, hats as if the rivers gave up their waves. Leon could have had anything he wanted, money, a good wife, and wealth for his hard-working family. But he harbored a secret so deep, that it scratched and scratched, and would eventually destroy him. He was in love.
The Lady Deniah Seamel was a constant visitor to the Noble family shop. She was a vain woman, who painted her face, shunned the woods for royal balls, and scorned the dirt of the fields. Her dream was to live under the bright palaces of the north, to drink the golden wine of the Emperor, to hear the Fastheldian bards sing of eternal beauty.
Leon Noble worshipped the Lady Deniah. He would make for her the most beautiful gowns, which sparkled as if the diamonds of the earth were his to command. Yet she paid him not a heed, until he spun for her a gown of such beauty, that tears came to her eyes and all vanity fled from her heart. She wept that night, afraid to wear the gown, lest she soil it.
After that night, she changed. She began to notice the love in Leon, and became curious. If a commoner could create such a work of art, then perhaps, just perhaps, could she recognize the art, even as a noble, predestined to frown on the commoner as a plainclothes laborer. She paid the Noble shop more visits, asking Leon an endless barrage of questions about his art, and he gave for every question a bit more of himself, as if he was decorating his soul with just the right ornaments for the noblewoman. And she found herself in love, a despairing love which ate at her very heart. When she told her father about this love, the Noble family was ruined, forced out of the house into the fields as common farmhands. Leon disappeared. The Lady Deniah ran away from the home, in search of Leon, and found his head at the end of an executioners block, for being shadow-touched and cursed with magic.
Broken and torn, she flung herself towards the body of her love, but was pulled away. Lady Deniah sequestered herself in her home, forgetting the royal balls, the court life. Then one day, she cast herself into the river, and was never heard of again. The Starlight Gown, as it was called, was lost to history, and it said the diamonds lay on the bottom of the river, a testament to love that could never be.
By the White Bridge
“Speak the words again,” she urges.
“I love you, and always shall,” the young man replies. He is dressed in the uniform of a Bladesman, with a carriage waiting by the road. “Please, take this to remember me, my love,” he says. From his sack he removes a small golden pendant, with a silver chain. The pendant is engraved with a tree and a doe sleeping beside.
The girl brightens with astonishment. “Oh Joel!” she exclaims, and buries her head in his arms. “I will miss you so,” she says, “You do know that. Please come back soon.”
The young man smiles. “The Light willing,” he says. “I want you to marry me, Analise,” he says, taking a small gilded box from his pocket.
The girl is silent, and then exclaims, “So you will come back! Oh, I will, I will!” She opens the box, and inside is a sparkling ring. “Oh, do hurry Joel! And the faster you will come back!” She giggles.
So Joel said his final words and departed into the carriage, disappearing into the mist, while his fiance stood on the bridge, listening as the water lapped against the rivershore.
And the days and months did pass, Analise would step upon that bridge and watch through the gloom of the night, praying her Joel would ride out of the mist to her arms. In town, she heard terrible tidings, of war and death, of nightmares rising from the horizon. She dreaded for him, and her parents worried for her. After a year had passed, she began to prepare for his arrival and their family. She taught herself to knit and made friends with several upstanding carpenters. She gave donations to the church, and stayed indoors more. She tied her hair back, and sat dreamily by the window of the cottage, staring at the sky, writing letters, and watching children play in the street.
Another year passed, but she only heard from Joel’s letters, which were sparse indeed, perhaps one every few months. Then, she stopped receiving letters, and heard he hd died while on duty, fallen honorably. A few months past, and she received a small message from Joel’s father saying he had fallen in a battle on the Aegis. Before he died, Joel sent his father a special note, and told his father to pass it on to Analise. The heartbroken girl tore the packet open, and began to cry. Inside was a sprig of brilliant white grass, with a note: “Dear Analise, please forgive me for the anguish I will have caused you. I will have died, to your memory, but I assure you I am very alive. Do you remember the white bridge? Beneath it, is a little shack, and inside lives an old man. Give this piece of grass to him, and he will explain everything. With love, Joel.”
Analise found the old man. Upon glancing at the grass, he began to weep.
“What is wrong, sir?”
The old man replied, “It has been such a long time, dear girl, that I have almost forgotten. This grass is not of Fastheld. It is from beyond the Aegis. However you found this, girl, whoever found this, they are true warriors of the light, and the shadow will not harm them.”
“How do you know?” the girl exclaimed.
“I have been there. I have seen the horizon.”
The afternoon was hot, stifling. There was a heavy summer wind, ripping at the clothes of the audience. In the square, a wooden chopping block had been erected, and a woman with wild hair threw curses across the court. Her eyes were mad, her face twisted.
“On this day,” began a well-dressed man standing beside the block, “Eve Rain shall be extinguished from the light of this world. She has committed acts which show her to be shadow-touched, and for this the answer is death.”
Lauridsen Rain stood in the square, hidden by a black hat and a long, black coat. A tear fell down his cheek, and as the execution was completed, he turned on his boot and walked briskly away from the square.
Strange things dangled from his mind. Eve had begun acting strangely ever since she came back from the Mikin Arts Faire. She could not stay focused, talked to herself in her sleep, and spoke to her husband, when Lauridsen was not in the room. It was the evening a few weeks later, when she threw a man across the entire courtyard of their village, when she was found to be touched. Lauridsen didn’t know, and now, sitting on his empty bed, still didn’t understand.
He visited the library often, searching for clues. Very little remained, only brief accounts of people with strange powers, as if they could not control themselves. Then one day, he found himself sobbing in the Church of True Light, telling the priest in agony that he only wished the shadow would touch him and take him away. The priest was not amused, and Lauridsen remained the night at the local constabulatory, to be later questioned. When he was released, Lauridsen noticed he had gained many shadows, but he chose to ignore them, although word got around and people began to avoid him, casting unwary glances at him as he passed.
One night, Lauridsen heard a moan at his window. He woke with a start. A pale figure in a dark cloak stood outside, tapping, tapping. He rushed forward, but the figure moved away, now further down the street, sinking into the night. He heard his name spoken, “Lauridsen…” The sound was sonoral, and Lauridsen felt a chill. That was his wife’s voice. He chased the figure, going many miles, until the gloomy figure of the Old City stood before him. Cautiously, he followed the voice, suddenly finding himself in an alley, with a crying child being cradled by an old woman.
“You’ve finally come, child,” the old woman said. “She has led you here, child, our darling Eve has.”
“What are you talking about!” Lauridsen demanded.
“This is your child, Lauridsen Rain. You are her father. I hope you were half the man Eve said you were.”
With that, the old woman disappeared, leaving the child on the ground.
“I have a daughter?..”
Lauridsen quickly bundled the child in his arms, and fled the Old City.
Behind the Rose Window
To my only love, precious Amalthea:
My heart aches to depart from you. I feel as alone as a cloud, as if I were lost from you, unable to feel your gaze. The Aegis is bright this morning, calm and bright. Remember that crows do not fly when roses bloom, and the heat of passion collects gemstones like ancient armor collecting dust. Be well, my love.
With all my heart,
To my true one, bold Trevin,
I sit alone here, in my house, surrounded by the emptiness of not having you and the prejudice of my blood. Last night, Mother had to apologize to Lady Rache for kicking a poor old woman, a vassal of Rache, and this morning her mood has not softened. Gilbert is falling for the bait, however. I believe he is due to enter the Old City this same day next week. Keep yourself safe!
To my only one, sweet Amalthea:
They train us very hard here. We practice everyday, and it seems I always have a new scar, somewhere. The wound of missing you is growing deeper and deeper, and I fear I may soon lose you, not out of miscalculated love, but from this wretched wheel of time. The shadow now waits by the roadside, the lightning in his hand, in the tavern of a thousand tears. Take the heart of the church and bind it round his neck, until the wolf bleeds and the mind has taken root. Keep in the Light, and watch for the Green Man.
With all my heart,
To Imperial Bladesman Trevin Kahar,
Destroy this letter as soon as you receive it. Gilbert was slain but three fortnights ago, in the designated time and place. Marial of the True Light, to her word, followed him to the Shadow-Touched woman. Master Seamel was on time, and my father has consented us to marry. Lightspeed, my love.
The Maiden Monologues
I. Child in the Light (to the child)
Beside the flower groves, the ivy and the rocks,
a child rests, her spirit like a flowing spring,
dancing through the air on wind as hard as earth,
she laughs like fire, and welcome’s mirthful lyre’s sport,
and stares she to the pool and sees a youthful light.
II. Before the Singing River (to the maiden)
These girls, they stand like bloomed trees before the frost,
the wind, its fangs behind their painted, heavy faces,
but ride they go, while sounds of wolves and bears surround,
they dance, as if the ancient pools still held their shine,
and I, among them, flight and love, madness and doves.
III. A Sun Too Far (to the engaged)
Past the shadow, past the roads, is loved abandoned,
the carriage man coughs, the nobleman talks, the shadow
is ever too present. Alone, among the bramblewood,
the thorns of bees, the honey drunken by guileless seas,
the waiting of a thousand years, too short, too long.
IV. The Color of Night (to the widow)
You sit among the joyless tears, a hardened heart,
you dream of cities of glass, of storms of bright fire pounding,
but only the flowers can speak, but comfort none they bring.
“Death is but a transparent thing,” they sing before they die,
and sitting alone, before the nightless moon, you sing.
V. Ever Present, My Horizon (to the aged)
We are the edged knives, the relics of horns and larks.
To dance, which is the highest art, we crown the night,
our shadows, which have passed into the black, have faded,
and wisdom in our blood, does creep like festering lightness,
so to the children we care, with murmuring kindness.
Beyond the Aegis
My travels have taken me, oh so many places, my dear readers. From visiting cloud villages in the heart of the Black Mountains, to exploring the abandoned sea cities beneath the Forgotten Ocean, I have seen a great many things.
When I was but seventeen years old, my readers, I was given authority to document wild flowers outside the Aegis. It was then my glorious adventures began.
It was the eagle perched on a lone tree that drove me further into the wilds of this strange world. Its talons were formed of steel, and its eyes were as blue as the whole sky. The tree was scarred, as if this giant avian had made its home on the branch. But as he saw me, the creature lifted himself in the air and came sweeping down at me, his horrible talons grabbing my shoulders and dragging me into the air. I screamed for help, all I was worth, but I believe only the dry grasses had pity on me, but as the Light had not given them the ability to speak, they could only watch.
I do not know how far I flew in the grip of the feathered monstrocity. Night was falling when he finally set me on the ground, at which time I felt the nausia of sleep overwhelm me. When I awoke, I discovered to my horror my instruments and pack of food had disappeared.
I was on a vast plain of grass, with stalks that reached to my very shoulders. I heard sounds, like barking dogs, ad a howl of screams so horrid that I had to close my mind lest my terror be realized and cause me to fear. I ran through the grass, the tendrils cutting me, the sound of rushing creatures from behind. And then I broke free from the grass, and saw a gigantic, glittering lake, which shone like a sky-lit jewel, and I saw an old man with a staff of thorns, and when he saw me, he opened his mouth and fire came rushing out, and the world went up in smoke.
The Duke of Hero’s End
Dedicated to the Lady Mirabelle Vozhd-Kahar
Long ago, there lived a Count in a house of stone, weeping over lost love. The sound of crashing waves, whistling bluff winds, crackling of flame, only added to the Count’s sorrow. His flower, the Lady Gloriana with midnight hair and voice of dusk, was stolen from him. The Duke, in his vanity, told the Count he could wed Gloriana, if he vanquished the Beast of the Swollen Downs, a beast so terrible that its stare turned men to ash.
Arrayed for battle, the Count marched to the wood, reading his fate on every twisted tree. He found the beast, a horrible thing composed of shadow and bone, and struck it with his spear. The sound of metal and bone resounded from town to town. The Count lost, and afterward as he lay in the clutches of the beast’s maw, he only heard the sound of his own heart, and he fell into despair.
He heard a voice, like a birdcall, but the pain of his wounds assailed him, and he fainted. When he awoke, the dark Gloriana stood over him, whispering sweet things to him. She had ridden to save him, wounded the beast, and nursed him to the living. She had no desire to marry the Duke, and the two set a plan, to catch the Duke at his own game.
When the Duke heard that his to-be wife Gloriana had fallen to the bite of the Beast of the Swollen Downs, he marched straight to the beast, for it was his creature, his to command. Arriving, he saw the fallen beast, but he had no time to react as both Gloriana and the Count fell upon him, plunging a tooth of the dead beast into him. And so the Duke became a legend, the hero of the downs, the slayer of the shadow beast by his own life. And the Count married Gloriana, and lived a long, quiet, and fruitful life.