Monthly Archives: December 2015

Barnaby’s Task – Fiction

From the Book of SeasonsApen-Table-Mountain-10-19

Translation by Cormag M.

In a time long past, four Ladies began the never-ending cycle of seasons. Each Lady an embodiment of her quarter of the year. Each Lady the bringer of a season. For as long as we have marked time by watching the leaves fall and the snow melt, the flowers burst through the soil and the crops fruit, they have been the wardens of the year. Eternal and unchanging, they carry the seasons to each other in a dance designed by the Creator. They are guarded with vigilance from those who seek to do them harm, for they are not invulnerable. As the cycles spin on, many Ladies seek to share their duty and time with a partner, who will step into the dance alongside them, equally eternal. Many have danced for a time in the shoes of the Ladies, and returned to their mortal place to live out their days. In times of tragedy or great strife, some have retreated from the world, for a time…

Autumn 1221

The men had been hard at work all summer constructing dwellings and making a life for themselves in the little valley. It was an interesting time for the three men. While tightly bound to their mission, they were also untethered from the strict rules they had been living under. Beyond their settling of the little valley, they had been intently focused on their first Autumn as Guardians. Once that duty had been discharged, and the season received from the Summer Lady, they found themselves with little to do but await the pass to Winter. Daily tasks and preparation for the cold had continued, of course, but their primary duty was to watch and wait, and that meant a lot of free time. Barnaby, the oldest, was the slowest to let go of his usual rigid schedule.

Barnaby had been married. His young wife had died while giving birth to their daughter, who had followed his wife into the afterlife. Devastated by their deaths, the talk of crusades and pilgrimages to the Holy Land had fired his imagination.  He joined the Brotherhood hoping to be taught how to fight, and to go somewhere where he could vent the anger he felt over losing his wife on something. On the surface, the Brotherhood was much as the Knights Templar or Hospitaller: a Christian order that was helping the Empire to free the Holy Land from the Saracen and protect pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. The reality was much more. The Brotherhood’s primary purpose in participating in the crusades was preserving knowledge. For them that meant all knowledge, regardless of whether the Church branded it heresy, or treason, or sin. They had gone to the Holy Land alongside the other orders and had stopped the burning  of libraries, and murder of clerics. Carefully made copies of every book they saved were in a vast library under the council chamber.

Barnaby, at first, wanted only to learn to fight, and he did.  He quickly found that fighting wasn’t helping him to let go of his anger, but rather causing him to hold more tightly to it. The elders of the Brotherhood saw this struggle and began teaching him of other duties of the Brothers.  They recognized a Guardian coming of age in Barnaby. The Brotherhood had been serving the Ladies and their Lords for centuries. The Autumn Lady’s Guardian was growing too old to continue his duty, and so, when Barnaby, so full of fire, wanted something more than fighting, the council apprenticed him to the elder Guardian at once. Barnaby was dedicated. Serving The Autumn Lady was, he felt, his calling.

In the most recent crusade, the Brotherhood had found themselves pushed to the limit. The other holy orders had become more bloodthirsty and more ruthless, even more convinced to their right to the Holy Land. The Brotherhood spent so much effort trying to save women and children, that they didn’t manage to save the books. This was Barnaby’s third journey to the Holy Land, and his last. This was the crusade that pushed Lugh to the breaking point. Many other Brothers had simply left afterwards, fading into the night with no word, never to be heard from again.

Barnaby, in saving every person that he could from the senseless slaughter, had found himself alone and injured at the edge of a now abandoned town. The residents had fled, again. This town was one of the first to be encountered on the long journey to Jerusalem, and as such it was ransacked repeatedly. Barnaby had been here before, and he knew the families here had a safeholding in the surrounding hills. He did not know how far the rest of the Brotherhood had moved, nor did he know if the other orders were coming back. At nightfall, he had begun the journey to the hiding place of the village residents. He never made it. Diarmuid had found him two days later, fevered and wandering in the desert surrounding the village. The Brotherhood had failed in their task completely. The battered and diminished force fled toward home immediately, carrying the wounded along, leaving the dead to face the sun and sand in the desert.

Barnaby spent most of the return journey incoherent. Diarmuid tended his wounds, and prayed. The fever took days to break. The Autumn Lord visited Barnaby in his fever dreams and told him he would face a great challenge. That this task would outlast his years on this earth, and many other men’s as well.  The Lord told him that it was his destiny, and he could not deny it, for it was important to the one he served so selflessly. He said that Barnaby would lead two others with him, and that they were crucial to the success of his challenge. When the fever broke, Barnaby recalled only the clear prophecy of the Autumn Lord, though Diarmuid said he ranted about many things.

Barnaby healed and waited for this challenge to present itself. The chaos of their returning so beaten and battered had thrown the town into an uproar. When the rustlings of judgement against Cormag for Lugh’s sins began, Barnaby knew something was about to happen. The Council summoned Barnaby and called for a volunteer to take up the task alongside Barnaby. Diarmuid had been undone by what he had seen of his Brothers in the Holy Land, and loudly protested the Brotherhood’s further involvement, in any form, to the Council. He knew he would be unable to face the results of another slaughter, and volunteered to accompany with Barnaby. In one sitting, the Council sentenced Cormag, accepted Diarmuid’s request, and laid the task of guardianship in absentia on Barnaby.

Barnaby held on to the traditions and rituals of the Brotherhood more strongly than any of the three men. He needed the routine to keep him grounded, and he thrived on it. As a result, he was having the hardest time adjusting to the relative freedom in their little valley. The other two seemed to find peace in solitude, or caring for others, or even in building them a home.  Barnaby was at a loss without temples to attend, rituals to oversee, and people to train. He started new rituals and  new traditions that he could settle himself into.  His two companions had been amenable to the first round of suggestions, and had incorporated Barnaby’s rituals into their lives.  However, when Barnaby began suggesting more, until their lives began to resemble that of a Council hall guard, both Diarmuid and Cormag had drawn up short. Cormag had flat out refused anymore senseless imitation of Brotherhood rituals, and Diarmuid had simply stated that he didn’t feel that much devotion was really needed in this situation. After all, their very existence in this situation was a daily devotion.

Barnaby had been furious.  He was the leader of this group.  This challenge was his!  He would be the one to dictate what was needed and when. After an exchange of angry words, he stormed out of the small cabin and into the woods.  Unsurprisingly, he found himself at the tree. In the moment before he crashed through the screen of evergreens, he heard the sound of a woman crying. It ceased abruptly when he thundered into the clearing, looking around in alarm. A gentle breeze moved the tree’s leaves, which remained as vibrant as the day they arrived. They looked appropriate now, at least, he thought.  Barnaby moved quietly around the clearing looking for the source of the crying, hoping it had been a trick of the wind.  What would he do with a crying woman, here, where she was not supposed to be? He had no idea. Finally he set himself up at the edge of the clearing, tucked slightly behind an evergreen and watched.

The leaves of the tree shook in what appeared to be a great wind, even though everything else in the clearing was still and quiet. With the great invisible gust a handful of leaves fell to the ground. As Barnaby watched, another wind picked the leaves up and blew them into a a column of wind and orange. There was a bright glow, and then, the Autumn Lady stood at the base of the tree. Barnaby stared in shock. He had seen the Lady before, but never seen her do what he could only classify as magic.  She looked at him and motioned him to her. He slowly rose and moved toward her, falling into a deep bow when he reached her.

“Oh, Barnaby, rise please.  There is no need here, in the dark woods, to use such ceremony.  Here, I am merely a leaf girl, and you, a very angry man,” she said as she settled herself under the tree.

“But, Lady, I serve, and…” he trailed off.

“I know you serve.  I know you.  You could no more disrespect me than burn down the forest.  That doesn’t mean that you may not relax when people don’t expect you to be in full armor,” she smiled at him, “In fact, I believe that is why you are here tonight, is it not?  Your companions have found their ease, and you have not.  At least that was the gist of the loud words I heard from your home tonight.”

“Aye, Lady, you have it. I am trying to anchor myself.  I feel like I have nothing solid to hold on to.  The others, they find things to do, or enjoy.  I have done nothing but serve since my wife died, and now, all the trappings are gone. Two decades of the same structure, and now, there is nothing but waiting.”

“There may be much waiting, I am afraid. The others have found a life.  Neither has served as long nor as intensely as you have, and they find it easier to disregard the ritual nonsense of the Brotherhood,” she said and laughed when Barnaby looked at her in shock, “Know this, I neither expect nor require prayers so many times a day, offerings on every other Tuesday, or any other silly thing that the council had decreed sacrosanct.  I prefer Cormag reading under my branches, or Diarmuid singing as he plants herbs nearby. But you, Barnaby, seldom visit me, in any form.”

“I have been worried. The others had not met you, seen you. I had, and worried that there would be little of the Lady I serve in this tree, magnificent though it is. Bluntly put, I was scared,” Barnaby said.

“Now you know, I am here, and can be present when you need me.  Allow me to provide comfort to you as you do to me,” she said.

“I shall try. The crying that I heard as I crashed through the tress so rudely, was that you?” Barnaby asked, embarrassed.

“It was. Usually there is no one here at night, and I am free to grieve,” she said quietly.

“I still do not know why you grieve.”

“That is a tale for another night, my friend. I am not ready to revisit it just now.”

“As you wish.”

They sat silently for a while, listening to the night noises around them, like old friends are able to do. Barnaby had been devoted to serving the Lady for most of his life but had always interacted with her from a carefully held distance – a Lady and her servitor. Never before had he talked so casually with her. Sitting under this tree with her, he saw a young woman, caught in the sting tide of great grief.

“Lady, may I visit you and speak with you again?”

“I would like nothing more.”

“I must go and mend things with Cormag and Diarmuid. I will return tomorrow night,” he said, “Thank you.”

“For as much as I am spending this time as a tree, we share in this adventure. You are most welcome.” She stood and vanished in a whirl of leaves and wind before Barnaby fully managed to rise. He stood and ran his hand down the trunk of the tree, feeling that it leaned into him for comfort. Barnaby walked back to the cabin to apologize to the others, and to make amends. For the first time since they had arrived, he felt at peace.


Author’s Note:

This is part seven of a short story/novella. I am posting parts every Tuesday until it is here in its entirety. It is by no means finished, so please share your questions/comments/suggestions.  

You can find the previous parts here:

Part 1: Population 3

Part 2: A Harvest Festival

Part 3: The Sentencing

Part 4: Journey’s Beginning

Part 5: A Visitor

Part 6: The Tree

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NaNoWriMo Wrap Up

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Here we are, December 2nd. National Novel Writing Month ended two days ago.

I have participated in this for several years now. I’ve won (i.e. hit 50K words) three times now. Let me just say the learning curve is steep. My first year, I won, and I have never, ever looked back at that story. It was awful, self indulgent, and often times read like a list of stage directions – “Person 1 goes to the sink, while person 2 crosses to the left of her.” (My background is in theatre, I think in stage directions sometimes.) Then came a string of years where the story didn’t quite have enough gas to get to 50K, one of those being the Changing Leaves novella that I am now posting here.

Last year was the first year I got a story that spanned the full 50K, and was interesting. While I got the plot all in line, it was a pretty two dimensional story, and my characters were flat. I’ve spent the last few months on revising it. It has been a huge job, and I’m still going. It’s not even to a point where I want someone to read it yet.

In the last year I have taken a writing class, submitted a short story to several magazines (all of which declined it), and spent a sizable chunk of my very slim sliver of free time learning what I can about writing. I have struggled to get to write every day, often having weeks upon weeks where I didn’t even glance at my laptop, much less get into writing.

But, I have kept coming back.

Now, this year. Here on the far side of November I have 54,080 words of a novel. A novel that likely has another 25,000-30,000 words left before the story is finished. A story that, while it needs work, is (hopefully) leaps and bounds ahead of last year’s already.  I’m still writing, and I’m still enjoying the story. That alone makes it hugely different.

Someone asked me what I got out of doing NaNoWriMo – did I get a prize? What was winning? The first year I won, I was proud of myself, but it was in a “Yay!!! Now what?”  kind of way.  The second time I won, it was just a huge relief to get done. I put that manuscript away for a couple of months afterward. This year, I’m ready to keep going. I have more story there, and I have some ideas how to fix up last year’s. I have a couple of short stories wiggling around in my head, and quite a few more posts in Changing Leaves to share.

If I’m being realistic, there is a strong likelihood that, at the age of 41, nothing I am writing will ever see the inside of a bookstore. Unless I’m carrying it in my bag while I’m shopping. At times, that makes it feel like the most ridiculous thing I could possibly be spending my time on. Other times, it feels like it would save me a lot of energy to just give up now, after all, who is ever going to care about something I made up? Maybe if I had started in my 20s….maybe.

But you know what? I like writing. I like creating worlds and stories and people with big things to do. I like figuring it out, letting the characters talk to me and each other, painting pictures with words. Maybe all that happens is my kids see me writing, and decide to do some of their own. Maybe all that happens is there are a couple boxes worth of interesting things to sort through when I’m gone. Maybe it will all get lost and no one will ever see it. I don’t honestly know.

What I am learning is that just writing the stories is what’s important. Making the story that I can’t wait to find out the end to is the prize at the end of the month of writing. The story matters. Even if it is only to me.

 

The Tree – Fiction

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Spring 1221

The three Brothers crested the hill they had been climbing and saw a small valley lay before them.  A ridge ran along the western edge of the valley, and they followed the line of the ridge for a distance before carefully picking a path to descend to the valley floor. It was clear that, aside from them, nothing had passed this way in some time. The men had been traveling on foot for nearly three months. Summer solstice was upon the rest of the world, but spring was just beginning to creep upon the edges of the valley, protected as it was by the surrounding mountains and hills. Trees on the slopes were wearing bright green leaves, but below only the evergreens sported more than leafless branches. The dark green stood in contrast to the patches of new, bright spring grass that lay in the meadow beyond.

“Why are we stopping here?  I thought we were to serve the Autumn Lady. Surely she doesn’t reside here,” Cormag said and gestured with an arm, “in this forest?  Especially a forest on which Winter seems clearly reluctant to release its hold.”

“While I trust you, Barnaby, I also am curious as to why we are choosing to descend here, rather than follow the ridge to the Autumn Lady’s holdings,” added Diarmuid.

They had reached the valley floor and the only thing standing between them and the meadow a wall of imposing evergreens.  From here, the trees presented a dense screen that blocked most of the valley from view. Barnaby put out a hand to for them to pause before they pushed their way through the piney screen.

“In fact, we have reached the Autumn Lady. What the Council wished I not tell you, until now, is that she has chosen a very different way to retreat from the world than her sisters may have chosen. When something of this nature last occurred, the Spring Lady chose a grand palace with servants. In that instance, her guardians merely prowled the halls, and found whatever diversions they could, until she was ready to return. Our Lady has opted for something quite the opposite.” With that said, he pushed through the trees, holding the branches back for his companions.

In the middle of what turned out to be a grove of evergreens, there stood a magnificent maple tree. This particular species of tree was not found in this region, and so, was unfamiliar to the men.  Cormag and Diarmuid gaped at it as they stood at its base. Perhaps fifty feet high, the tree still bore the brilliant flame colored foliage of the Fall, even with spring attempting to bud around it. What was more, it appeared that not one leaf had fallen away from the branches. It was wholly out of place and time, and yet, it seemed to be holding court in the small clearing in the grove as if it had always been in that exact spot.

“I must confess, I do not wholly understand the craft employed here. This tree is our link to the Autumn Lady, and in some way, embodies her. She will remain in this form, as we perceive it, until she chooses a time to return. I do not know when that will be. She instructed the Council that she could be moved.  Only with sufficient warning, however.  She can create a sapling which we may take to a new home and plant in a grove like this one. The Council chose this meadow because it is below the ridge trail, and close enough to a village for supplies for us. A few people pass it by on their journeys through the mountains, but they rarely make the trek down as we did. I do not fear being discovered or having to move any time soon. There is precious little magic available to us to flee before any conquering hordes,” Barnaby said and reached up to touch a leaf.  The entire tree shivered in greeting.  He bowed and said simply, “Lady.”

The two other men started at the tree’s movement in the still morning air, but recovered their wits enough to bow and murmur, “Lady.”

“There will be other duties as we come into Autumn again, of course. The task of receiving the season from Summer will fall to us for the time, in addition to the passing of it on to Winter. As far as I understand, and have observed, she can hear us, and can communicate in a limited form. I truly do not understand the scope of it, and hesitated to delve more deeply because charges of heresy were flying about like flies in summer.  Even amongst our own. The level of ritual and, yes, even magic, the Council is privy to is beyond what many people can fit under the heading of Christianity. It is an ugly time, brothers. I do not mind being well away from it.”

“So, it is here will be our home then?” Cormag asked, looking around. He tried to remain surly in tone, but in reality, he was pleased, and no small part relieved.  The valley was beautiful, and he had no fear of living rough, especially with the summer coming on. It was as far away from people as he could want, and solitude was what he craved most these days.

“Aye, we will make our home a little away from this grove.  No need to draw attention if we don’t have to. The valley is quite large enough, and the more commonly used path in is that direction,” Barnaby said, gesturing to the North, “These lands are holdings of the Brotherhood, and as long as we are mindful, we should have no issues with passersby.”

“Well then, brothers, let’s find our spot.  Something tells me we will be here a good while.” Diarmuid was already moving off as he said this. He was already eyeing the surrounding terrain for possible places to build.  It was a lovely valley, he thought, and a fine place to build a home.

Barnaby bowed briefly to the tree again and turned to go, as he reached the trees he looked to Cormag, “Are you ready?”

“In a moment, Barnaby,” Cormag said, and Barnaby crossed through the trees.

Alone for the moment, Cormag closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, glad to be at the end of the journey. Once more he looked at the tree, and reached his hand up to caress a leaf. The tree sighed, as trees do when blown by wind, though there was no wind today. Leaves near his hand fluttered across the back of it as though patting it in sympathy. The tree sighed once more and Cormag withdrew his hand. A single leaf had come free of the tree and lay in his hand, glowing radiant orange. He pressed it to his chest and bowed deeply. Tucking the leaf carefully into his vest, he held his hand over the spot as he hurried to catch up to the others.

Soon the men were out of sight of the Lady’s tree, though sounds of camp being set up floated back to her throughout the day. The tree, alone in her grove, swayed in a nonexistent breeze. Eventually night came, and the sounds of the men fell quiet. The valley slept. Eventually even the night bugs tapered off their song. If you had been sitting at the base of the tree that night, however, you would have heard the sound of a woman weeping quietly.


Author’s Note:

This is part six of a short story/novella. I am posting parts every Tuesday until it is here in its entirety. It is by no means finished, so please share your questions/comments/suggestions.  

You can find the previous parts here:

Part 1: Population 3

Part 2: A Harvest Festival

Part 3: The Sentencing

Part 4: Journey’s Beginning

Part 5: A Visitor

The story continues:

Part 7: Barnaby’s Task