Most Epic Heroine Silmaril Award Presentation #SilmAwards2017

The time has come at last, and you’re so excited to be attending the Most Epic Heroine Award Ceremony. You hurry to a door and knock quickly, hoping you’re not too late; the woods of Ithilien left you a little lost and you had to ask the way from a Gondorian guard.

The sun has just set, leaving the world in a twilight of stars, which is when the award presentation was supposed to take place. Hopefully you’re not going to miss it!

Light floods outside across you as the door is pulled open by a tall man with raven hair and keen grey eyes in a kind face.

“Am I on time?” you ask anxiously.

The man smiles. “We were only now about to begin. Enter, friend, and be welcome.”

He guides you into a courtyard edged with pillars of white stone, full of flowering trees and shrubs and many herbs, a breathtaking haven of a garden, lit with many bright lanterns as though the stars themselves were hung in the trees.

The courtyard is currently filled with a crowd of eager people staring at a dais at one end of the open, tree-filled place. You sigh in relief that you’re not late, and join the crowd, waiting expectantly.

The man who let you in mounts the steps to the well-lit dais and stands by a pedestal hung with a black cloth with a silver tree on it, which has an object sitting atop, covered by a gold-embroidered green cloth. A small mound of flowers lies over all.

“Welcome to our home in Ithilien,” the dark-haired man says, smiling. (You suddenly realize that it’s Faramir—the Steward of Gondor himself let you into his house!) “I will be brief, as this is not my day, but another’s. May I present the White Lady of Rohan, Princess of Ithilien, the shieldmaiden and healer Eowyn, who will be presenting today’s Most Epic Heroine award—and I, for one, believe her to be quite qualified to do so,” he adds with a quirking of the corner of his mouth.

The crowd laughs.

Faramir steps down from the dais to join the rest of the people, and smiles as he passes the lady mounting the steps, who goes to stand by a pedestal on the platform.

Eowyn turns. She is fair of face as she smiles down at the audience; her hair is like a river of gold, and she is clad in white, with a midnight-blue cloak with stars around the hem and neck. The audience applauds.

“Greetings, fair friends,” Eowyn begins, as the crowd falls silent in a hush of intent listening. “I bid you all welcome to the Award Presentation for the Most Epic Heroine Silmaril, which I am here to present. I do not know if I am qualified as such, although certain biased parties might say otherwise . . .”

The audience laughs again, applauding.

Eowyn laughs then too, merrily, like a tinkling waterfall. Then she continues. “But someone must, so I will gladly do this duty. I have here with me five heroines.” Eowyn gestures to one end of the dais-stage, where five figures stand among the pillars and trees to one side. “All of them are doubtless worthy heroines, but today, one of them will be announced as the most worthy of receiving this honor, as chosen by the will of the people here gathered.”

Eowyn turns toward the five heroines and beckons one forward. “In third place we have Cress of The Lunar Chronicles.”

Cress, a short, spunky young woman with an unruly mess of wavy blonde hair and a dash of freckles across her face, moves to the center of the platform. Eowyn takes a bouquet of white flowers from the pedestal and hands them to her. Cress accepts them, waves half shyly, half cheerily at the crowd (from which there are some cheers and a spattering of applause) and troops across the stage to the other side.

“Tying for second place,” Eowyn continues, “we have three heroines: Kyrin of The Ilyon Chronicles, Cinder of The Lunar Chronicles again, and Rose Red of The Tales of Goldstone Wood.”

At her name, Kyrin, a tall young woman with brown hair and grey-blue eyes, comes forward and takes her flowers. She smiles her thanks at Eowyn and at the applauding audience, her gaze sweeping each as if storing them away in her memory, and returns to her former place by the side pillars.

Next, Cinder, a thin, casually dressed young woman with straight brown hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, who may or may not be holding a wrench, crosses the stage, takes the flowers with awkward thanks, to the sound of clapping, and quickly crosses to the other side of the platform to stand by Cress. They put their heads together, chatting quietly.

There seems to be some difficulty with the fourth person, who has a slight frame all covered in somewhat dirty white veils so that not an inch of her can be seen. She seems reluctant to come out of the shadows, and appears to be having a hushed argument with the goat calmly chewing its cud next to her.

“I don’t want to be goin’ out there in front of so many people. I cain’t—” the girl in veils says.

There seems to be another voice—from the goat? But that couldn’t be . . . “Of course you can, child. Go on out just for a moment and have done with it.”

The veiled girl, Rose Red, crosses the stage and Eowyn hands her a bunch of red roses like her name. There is a lot of applause. Rosie mumbles her thanks to Eowyn and returns to her place by the pillars with Kyrin and the goat. The goat starts chewing on the roses.

“Don’t, Beana, you’ll be sick,” Rosie is heard to mutter.

“Bah,” scoffs the goat.

“And now,” Eowyn announces in a clear ringing tone, “last of all, in first place, we have the long-awaited winner of the Most Epic Heroine Silmaril. May I present:

Lucy Pevensie, Queen Lucy the Valiant, of the land of Narnia.”

The courtyard erupts into thunderous applause and cheering as a girl comes laughing out of the shadows and crosses on light feet to the center of the platform.

She is merry of face, a light of joy about her as she seems to be drinking in the beauty of the place, of the garden courtyard under the stars. From her shoulder is slung a bottle that looks like it is made of diamond, and at her side is a gleaming dagger. She moves to stand by Eowyn.

“Welcome, Queen Lucy,” Eowyn says. “I am told that you too are a healer and shieldmaiden as the circumstances require; that you are brave and kind, valiant and loving, and have the heart of a lion. May I present to you the title of Most Epic Heroine and this Silmaril.”

Eowyn sweeps aside the green and gold cloth and holds up the Silmaril for a moment for the gasping crowd to see, its beauty breathtaking, the lavender glow shining brilliantly across the fair faces and hair of both heroines on the dais.

Eowyn passes it to Lucy.

“Oh, thank you!” Lucy says. “It’s a great honor, I’m sure, though I don’t deserve it really; I’m sure there are others who should deserve it more, and I only did what I had to do . . .”

Eowyn smiles and says, “As a wise Lion once said: if you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been proof that you were not.”

“I suppose that has to be true, when He said it; it’s just hard to apply it to oneself, you know . . .” Lucy says. “Well, thank you—all of you,” she adds, bowing a little to the audience. “I’ll try to be worthy of the title, and I’m very grateful I’m sure.” She smiles and waves. “I hope you’ll all try to be heroes and heroines too.”

The applause is deafening.

“Thank you all for coming,” Eowyn says when it dies away a little. “And now, friends, the hour has come—away! To the feast in the hall which is awaiting us during this time of celebration. Queen Lucy, if you will lead the way?”

The crowd cheers and streams under the stars after Eowyn and the laughing Lucy who goes first, shining the glow of her Silmaril to light the way.

POSTSCRIPT:
A NOTE FROM DEBORAH

There you have it, everyone! Congratulations to Lucy, and thanks very much to Eowyn for presenting. 🙂

For those curious, here are the results:

Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia 54%
Kyrin Altair from The Ilyon Chronicles 14%
Cinder from The Lunar Chronicles 14%
Rose Red from The Tales of Goldstone Wood 14%
Cress from The Lunar Chronicles 4%

Next up will be the Most Mischievous Imp Silmaril over at E. E. Rawls—I’m excited to find out the winner of that and the remaining awards!

And if you come back here on July 29, I have a special post about fantasy literature I can’t wait to share with you all. ^_^

Thanks so much for reading, everyone, and for being a part of the Silmarillion Awards! 🙂

Advertisements

Writer Ups & Downs

It’s a funny thing: it seems the writers’ life consists mostly of ups and downs.

I mean, there’s all these times when we’re either SUPER EXCITED about writing and just so energized, and other times when we’re super down about it and think our writing is worthless etc. etc.

One moment we are all:

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

And the next:

Quoth the raven: Nevermore.

Our writer lives are a series of mountains and valleys. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

It seems that there’s not an even road, where we are just quietly content in where we are in our writing, things going smoothly but not exciting (because if it’s going smoothly, that IS exciting), or just generally “meh, it’s okay” (because thinking that rockets one quickly to: “there must be something wrong with it if I’m feeling that way about it!” which turns to super down), and it’s all extremes.

(I’m generalizing, and if you’re not this way, then just ignore everything I said. XD)

But I suppose it makes sense, since writers are primarily storytellers, and in a story, things mostly ARE extremes. It’s either enormously happy for our heroes or super-super-enormously, extravagantly bad for our heroes. (Usually the latter; being a book character is a poor career choice, let me tell you. XD) Because in a story, if it was just meandering along a flat place where things were okay or all right, then… there wouldn’t be much of a story.

Perhaps we writers are attuned to that (and are also dramatic souls *cough* *guilty*) and tend to take it in extreme emotions one way or the other.

I’m not saying this is good or bad. XD I’ve just been thinking about it. 🙂 (Again, if you’re not this way, forgive my ramblings and let me know otherwise. :P)

I’ve been going through some writer ups and downs this year myself.

I’ve been writing short stories, which means I’ve been finishing things! But that also means I haven’t been making progress on novels.

I’ve been writing in small dashes of this-and-that, not focusing on any one thing, which means I haven’t made any serious progress on ANYTHING. But I HAVE somehow amassed about 20,000 words of writing this year!

I’ve had some great “clicking” moments that have resulted in excitement over various stories! But I’ve also not been excited enough about one thing to focus on it.

I’ve been writing in snippets, so I haven’t made consistent progress. But I’ve been using Scrivener and that has helped with my snippet tendencies and I’m getting fun inspired scenes down!

I’ve (hopefully) decided what to write for NaNo and gotten super excited about it! But NaNo is 4 months away. (That’s both good and bad. XD)

I’ve written three short stories this year, which total 14,700 words (Wintertale, A Tale of Two Boxes, and a Kedran’s Wood “fanfiction” that will never see publication but was fun to get me back into the series). I’m 2000 words into another short story, Invisible Beauty, and almost finished. I’ve written at least a thousand words of The Secret of Kedran’s Wood a.k.a. KW2 (I haven’t been keeping very good track, just trying to get further since I’ve been stuck) and a snatch of KW3. I’ve written 1700 words of snippets of The Other Half of Everything. And a couple lines of random other things. Plus various plotting I’ve done.

In a way, it’s not very much for six months. In another way, it’s far better than I was doing this time last year during my huge burnout!

Plus, I’ve been doing a LOT of reading and reviewing, getting my story-and-writing-fix that way.

I’m at the point where I have decisions to make of which paths to take as I wander these mountains and valleys of my writing… and these decisions, too, are huge opposite decisions, in keeping with the ups-and-downs-extremes theme of this post. XD

I either need to get seriously back into writing soon, OR take a serious break in order to recharge.

I either need to buckle down and decide that I will focus on one specific story and pick it and stick to it, OR embrace my work-on-multiple-things-at-once thing I’ve been doing slightly and make it work for me.

I either need to start writing in order again and focus on getting things done that way, OR I need to embrace my scribble-snippets-out-of-order-all-over-the-place thing I’ve been doing and make that work for me too. (Scrivener might help. But it’s hard to sew the quilt-pieces together once I’ve made them, so… I don’t know.)

I also need to remember tips that I’ve learned in the past that I don’t always remember to put into practice, such as:

  • Draft zero. This is a huge friend of mine, or at least has been in the past, and it could really help me if I’d remember to use it.
  • Timers and wordsprints. Especially the awesome wordsprint timer on the NaNo site. This is also super helpful for if I want to write something and just don’t have the motivation. I’ve only used it for NaNo and Camp so far, but the amount of progress that can happen in 15-or-20 minutes with this thing is astounding, so I should probably go for it again sometime.
  • Music. I know music can be super inspiring and get me in the grove, but I just don’t remember to listen to it much. (It doesn’t help that the speakers on my laptop are shot, so I have to remember to use earbuds, and I just don’t.)
  • A time to focus. I don’t write when I can’t focus, which means I just don’t have a time for it in my life right now. I need to set aside a time every day, or at least occasionally, to block out distractions and just open my Scrivener documents and at least TRY. Normally those times come at night and I’m either too tired, or I decide to read or write a review instead. Problems. 😛

Anyway. There’s a bit of a ramble on what’s up with my writing life of late, and its ups and downs, and partially just to remind myself of some things I should know. (Does that ever happen to you?) Writing is how I understand things in my life, so writing this out helped show me where I am, which is helpful. 😉

I’m going to leave you with a scribble of poetry that was meandering around my head at 2 a.m. when I was trying to sleep but instead thinking about all these things.

Writer ups and writer downs
We will don our paper crowns
Take up our most loyal pens
Find out where the story ends

Thanks for reading! ^_^

Short Story, Boxes, Camp NaNo, & Inanimate Objects

Hi everyone!

Two things.

First:

I have a short story on a blog!

Hazel B. West (author of the amazing Blood Ties and An Earthly King) runs a cool website called Tales From a Modern Bard, and has writing challenges there from time to time.

The latest was “Inanimate Objects” and I couldn’t resist taking this excuse to write a story I’d been planning to write for ages.

So I wrote it for the challenge and Oh. Was. It. FUN. (Spoiler: Yes it was.)

And now you can read it!

My story is called A Tale of Two Boxes, about the adventures of… yes… two boxes. If you’ve ever wondered what the life of a cardboard box is like, and what they’re thinking, and how they get from one place to another, then this is the story for you. (If you’ve never wondered… well, few of us have, and now you’re wondering — I hope — so there you are.)

It also features some books arguing about how each of their genres is better than the others’. Yes. This did happen. XD

I’d be ever so honored if you’d pop over to Tales from a Modern Bard and read my story, and maybe tell me what you think of it! Thank you! ^_^

It was actually incredibly fun to write a story from the perspective of a cardboard box. You would think a story about a box would be boring, but… it was actually fascinating! (To me, at least. XD) I had so much fun and totally fell in love with my cardboard box characters. ❤

(Be sure to read the other challenge stories from the other authors at Tales from a Modern Bard about other inanimate objects, if you have some extra time, because they’re all quite interesting — some tragic, some funny, but all unique. :D)

The second thing has to do with the first thing.

Second:

I’m doing Camp NaNo!

Yes indeed. A couple of writer buddies dragged me into this. XD

Although I participate in November NaNoWriMo/National Novel Writing Month each year, I haven’t done a Camp NaNo session in positively ages. I kind of stopped doing word challenges for awhile there due to burn out.

But it’s been some time, and I wanted to try it out again. Plus you can set any sort of goal for Camp. So, hoping to get some small things like short stories done, I decided to go for it!

I… um… technically hit my goal and won Camp already? *coughcough* I set it for 5K, given how little I’ve been writing of late. But I’d like to keep writing as much as my busy schedule allows. 🙂

So far for Camp I’ve written 5,813 words this month (that was A Tale of Two Boxes, so far) and I’m having a blast! It’s a wonderful feeling to write again, folks. I’ve missed it.

So there you have my writing updates of late — I wrote a short story for you to read, and I’m doing Camp NaNo.

I know — gasp! — I’m actually talking about writing on my writing blog. The strangeness!

Speak to me, my Roadlings!

Are you doing Camp? (How’s it going?) Did you read my box story and what did you think?? And what’s going on in your writing or reading worlds? 🙂

Wintertale: A Short Story

wintertalecover

Note:

I’m posting this short story (written January-February 2017 — one of those comfortable plotbunnies mentioned in my December Ishness) in honor of Jenelle Schmidt’s February is Fantasy Month short story challenge, which is to write and post a short story of 3,000 words or less, which is fantasy and contains the word snow.

This half-written (at the time) story seemed to fit. (It’s slightly over 3K words, but close enough. ;))

I hope you enjoy. 🙂

february-fantasy-month-banner-1024x263

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Caroline Knightley for Kendric’s accidental name, Jenelle Schmidt for the finish-inducing challenge, Christine Smith and my sister for timely encouragement and much-needed support, and the epic sounds of Celtic Christmas music (including this one) which helped inspire this story. And to you, reader, for stepping for a moment into this little tale.

wintertalecover

Wintertale

by Deborah O’Carroll

Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago

In the Bleak Midwinter (Traditional Carol)

~ ~ ~

Dusk fell, and with it his restraint. He had to go—no matter the cost.

Kendric left the lonely woods and strode out across the moor. His long black hair was tied back at the nape of his neck, and a threadbare coat of midnight blue hung from his shoulders—little comfort against the unforgiving chill of this crisp winter night, but he could bear it—for love.

White clouds of mist swirled up from the cold hollows he wandered through as he crossed the moor, the heather touched with frost. His way was lit only by the sky’s silver-grey waning light, and here and there the touch of a will o’ the wisp or other fae lights in the growing shadows. The faerie lights glimmered through the winter-bare trees and shone through the white mist on the moor, as though the stars themselves had come down upon the earth.

More lights appeared ahead—the evening star hung directly above the old mansion on the moor, its dark bulk black against the darkening sky. Golden light filled the windows, brighter in the darkness, like the sun looking out of the windows of Night.

He drew nearer and stopped just outside, watching through the nearest window. Figures moved within, dancing, and strains of music came softly to his ears—the low half-melancholy purr of a violin, a harp like a tinkling brook, the distant strains of the pipes.

Kendric stood alone outside in the darkness as the snow began to fall, watching the scene inside the place he had long known.

A place from which he was forever barred.

“With the face I call my own, at least,” he murmured.

From within his threadbare coat, he took out a black mask like a raven’s face and pulled it over the top half of his face. He slipped inside the mansion through a side door.

Music enveloped him, along with a crowd of dancers in masks, through whom he pushed his way unobtrusively, brushing past the Steward of the house and other faces he knew behind their masks. The midwinter ball was well underway. Ladies’ full gowns twirled around the floor, and men’s dark coat-tails flew as they danced and spun their ladies about in the light of a thousand candles.

One lady was more radiant than them all, at least to Kendric’s eye. She wore a dress like snow, lacy, glistening, pristinely white. Fair hair piled in abundance atop her head, like a mound of sunshine, tendrils escaping to frame the white mask like a swan which graced her gently smiling face.

With one purpose, he approached her, and in the heartbeat between two melodies he whisked her away from her last partner who stepped away, and they were off into the next dance.

Laughing, she tilted her head to look up into his masked face. For a moment, she did not know him; the next, recognition brought a gasp which stole her laughter away. She mouthed his name, but no sound came to her lips as she stared into his smiling eyes.

Kendric gave a quiet nod. “Vanessa,” he murmured in acknowledgment as they continued to dance.

She tensed in his arms, worry creasing her brow, and threw a look over her shoulder—but no one seemed to pay them particular heed.

“How have you come here? Did no one see you arrive?” she whispered.

Kendric shook his head. “No one; unless the stars above or the stones of this house would tell of it.”

Vanessa relaxed. A smile bloomed on her face, radiant as the light through the windows or the sun-like hue of her hair. “Then we will be happy, and not speak for now,” she said. “Nothing in the worlds exists besides us two.”

Kendric smiled too. “As you say, love,” he said softly.

They danced. The music wove a path for their feet, and their hearts carried them together in complete harmony. In that moment, all was perfect.

But like the last glimmer of the sun before nightfall—like the evening star gleaming reflected in a still pool before a stone drops and destroys the reflection in a splashing ripple—it could not last.

The Steward of the house, one of the few who wore no mask, his face solemn, slim, and craggy as a stone, pushed his way silently through the dancing crowd. He had returned with his master—the young man with a black coat, fair hair, and a hawk mask, who was called the lord of that place. Lost in their bliss of dancing, Vanessa and Kendric did not notice them at first.

The Steward stood aside, and the lord of the mansion pounced like a hawk on the dancing lovers. Thrusting himself between them, so that they were forced to stop in sudden startlement, he tore the raven mask away from Kendric’s face.

The music ceased. The crowd stopped dancing—some of the couples moved away, creating a bare space around the two young men standing eye to eye, with the white-gowned lady at their side.

“Skandar,” she began, addressing the lord with hair as fair as hers; but he did not turn away from the black haired young man in the threadbare midnight-blue coat.

“Step away from my sister,” Skandar said—although they had already stepped apart.

Neither moved further. Skandar’s furious gaze through his hawk mask never wavered from Kendric, who did not back down and eyed him levelly, calm.

“You would show your face here?” Skandar demanded.

“I did not intend to, and in fact did not—until you knocked my mask off. You have only yourself to blame for showing my face,” Kendric said mildly.

Skandar clawed his own mask off and flung it to the floor. The quiet sound rang through the hall like a thunderclap in the still silence. Every eye present remained fixed on the two young men facing each other . . . they who once had been as brothers.

Skandar’s voice was dangerously even. “You were banished—a mercy too good for you, but I gave it. Did I not swear that if you set foot here again I would see you punished with death? You have come. And now you will pay for it.”

“Skandar, please,” Vanessa pleaded, taking her brother’s arm.

He spun to face her. “Kendric killed him—in this very mansion!”

“I know you’re upset—” she began.

“If anyone should be upset about the murder of the lord of this mansion, I should. It is my father we’re talking of,” Kendric said gravely.

Skandar’s voice tore from his throat like a wounded animal’s howl as he shouted in Kendric’s face: “He was like my father too!”

Vanessa turned desperate eyes to Kendric. Her voice cracked in an almost-whisper. “Why did you come?”

Kendric glanced at her. His look said it all: that he could not stay away. Instead of answering aloud, he passed her an expression which said plainer than words, “I love you.” Then he was gone—slipped outside past the standing figures before any could catch him.

“After him!” Skandar cried.

Several men in the room surged outside in his wake. Skandar urged them all to horse, and with their grim lord at their head, they galloped in pursuit of Kendric, who rode away across the moor on a black horse with the white evening star on its forehead.

Kendric looked back, once, before he was lost in the snowy midwinter darkness—looked back at the woman in white who stood alone on the steps outside. Their gazes met across the distance. Snowflakes fell around her like the melancholy chords of a harp now silenced as she watched her love ride away in the night.

Vanessa would have done something to help him—anything—if she could.

But it was night, and that was her brother’s hour.

It would be long before the dawn.

~ ~ ~

Kendric galloped hard through the night, the men on horses galloping relentlessly after him.

The chase left the whitening moor under a blanket of hoof-print disturbed snow as Kendric rode into the forest, snowflakes falling about him in the blackness, driving into his eyes with a bitter wind. His hair whipped back behind him, and his horse’s mane and tail streamed in the wind to meld with the embracing shadows as he galloped through the woods.

The bare trees welcomed him into their stronghold, and the shadows of their branches intertwined, lining the ground in interlacing patterns beneath the speed of his passing.

The hoof beats pounded unrelenting behind.

Kendric bent lower to his horse’s neck and rode for all his worth.

Faerie lights lit his way, and moved off in false trails in attempts to misdirect the pursuit. Shadowy and fae beings flitted in the shadows half-unseen, giving him what aid they could, which was little—they could not well come between these two lords. The trees made a way for him and the land beneath guided him onward, while slowing his pursuers and tangling their way with branches—for the land loved Kendric.

But Skandar rode after, disregarding the distractions and obstacles, almost unchecked; for he was Night, driven by a rage born of a broken love like a wounded animal, and nothing would stand in his way.

So they galloped through the night: quarry and hunters, matched; Kendric always a little ahead, but unable to escape completely.

When his horse could carry him no further, he released it and it melted into the shadows, save for the fading evening star which guided Kendric through the wood.

He ran on alone now, through the trees with shouts behind him. At times a stone would trip him, but still he ran. He passed a river which flowed in the winter night over a waterfall, its rushing sound like the wild call of the pipes as the wind sighed through the trees like a violin, the snow falling like the harp chords which had carried Kendric and Vanessa through their joined dance . . .

He could not run much longer. The night had been long and the sky began to silver with the hint of dawn. The snow ceased falling. In a last effort, Kendric scrambled up a rocky hillside through the thinning trees. The treacherous stones threatened to dislodge him with their slippery ice, but he made it to the top, his breath ragged wisps of white on the air.

Skandar and his men had dismounted and climbed behind him, gaining.

Stumbling forward, Kendric emerged from the last of the bare trees and onto a flat hilltop clothed in an untouched blanket of white snow in a circle of standing stones with a natural rock formation behind them. Kendric ran into the ring of standing stones which stood nearly black in silhouette against the sky just before dawn.

“Kendric!” Skandar shouted. He was mere steps behind, crossing into the ring himself, sword in one hand—with the other, he seized the flapping end of Kendric’s coat and wrenched at him.

Kendric swung around and pulled free of his grasp. Skandar swung his sword and Kendric took a couple of quick steps backward to escape it, but a stone hidden in the snow betrayed him, catching his heel.

Kendric fell backward and lay full-stretch on his back, his black hair, outstretched arms, and blue coat spread out to either side atop the blanket of white. The blade had merely nicked his arm, but he lay there without attempting to get up, looking up at Skandar, who stood over him with the sword pointed at him. They remained motionless like that for several heartbeats.

Kendric stared calmly, unblinking, unresisting, at the face of the fair-haired young man who had once been like his brother, who now held a sword ready to end his life. In Skandar’s eyes was only betrayal and anguish. A single drop of blood fell from the tip of the sword blade and blossomed scarlet on the glistening snow.

“Why?” came Skandar’s voice in a hoarse whisper with a wisp of frosty breath. “Why did you do it?”

“I’ve done nothing wrong of which you accuse me,” Kendric said quietly.

Excruciating conflicting doubt twisted across Skandar’s features. “Then who did?” he challenged.

Kendric glanced past Skandar’s form looming above him, to the other men from the mansion who stood fanned out motionless behind their lord just within the ring of standing stones. “Only the stones of the mansion could tell you that.”

“You can prove nothing of your own innocence?” Skandar demanded.

Kendric blinked passively. “Of course not. You have only my word.”

Skandar drew a hissing breath of indecision.

“That used to be enough,” said a new voice.

In their focus on one another, neither Kendric nor Skandar had noticed the new hoof beats.

Just as the sun rose in a flash of golden dawn light bursting from behind the rock formation, Vanessa rode around it into view on a horse as white as the snow all around them; as white as her gown. She swung to the ground—in a swish of her long dress with the lace like a bushel of snowflakes poured down the front—and landed lightly on the snow, the brilliant sunrise behind her sun-gold hair. In a moment she was beside Kendric.

Kendric got to his feet and stood by the lady, who slipped her arm through his as they faced Skandar together.

“He has done nothing,” Vanessa said. “And in your heart you know it, brother. I know you loved his father as your own, but you seek revenge and justice blindly, in the wrong place. Kendric loved his father beyond anything, except perhaps you and I. He would never murder his own father, as much as it may appear that he did. Can’t you trust him, as you used to? No one knows what really happened, but I know—and you should know—that Kendric had nothing to do with it.”

“No one knows what happened . . .” Skandar repeated, half under his breath. “. . . Only the stones of the mansion.” Abruptly, he spun on his heel, the flashing arc of his sword glinting in the sunrise as he still gripped the handle and strode toward the edge of the circle to return to the mansion. His voice turned to harsh determination. “Then we’ll ask them.”

Kendric and Vanessa shared a brief look before stepping quickly after him.

But as Skandar moved to pass between two of the standing stones, he ran up against an invisible force which flung him backward into the snow, sword flying from his grasp as snow exploded into the air around him. The ring of stones shook violently.

The blast made to knock the other men over too, and they all staggered. Kendric stepped before Vanessa to shield her from whatever was happening, keeping her from the brunt of the blast.

Everyone slowly regained their steady footing as the shudder of the stone circle stilled, and they looked at one another.

“The stones are keeping us here, my lord,” one of the men said to Skandar.

“Why would—?” Vanessa began.

Skandar regained his feet in an angry jerk and retrieved his sword, looking around as if for something to wield it on.

But Kendric had already spied the one man who stood outside the ring of stones, watching them distantly from his emotionless stone-like narrow face. Kendric lightly touched Skandar’s arm and wordlessly jerked his chin toward the Steward.

Skandar’s eyes fixed on him and he went suddenly cold and ominous. “What is this?” he demanded.

“The stones of the mansion will tell you nothing,” the Steward said coolly. “They serve only me. As do these.” He nodded almost imperceptibly at the ring of standing stones. “Just as the rest of the land will serve me when all of you are gone.”

Fury crossed Skandar’s face and he pounded his fist against the invisible force which held them within the ring. The stones shuddered again. “This was you, was it? Just let me get my hands on you—!”

“You will not leave this circle,” the Steward said.

“We’ll see about that,” Vanessa said softly.

But the standing stones writhed and began slowly moving inward, in jerks, as if reluctant. The men of the mansion uneasily backed toward the center of the constricting circle of stones, which would crush them if they continued.

Skandar fixed his gaze on the Steward a moment longer, then sheathed his sword, drew a calming breath, and stepped back. “It seems I was wrong about you, brother.” He placed a hand on Kendric’s shoulder and bowed his head. “I . . .” He looked back up and could not continue.

He had no need to.

Kendric’s face remained serious under the life-threatening situation of their traitor Steward, but Kendric’s eyes smiled forgiveness at Skandar—a forgiveness which had been there for a long time.

A look between brother and sister and all was right with them.

Then the three faced the Steward who stood without the circle as the stones continued shifting nearer the doomed group within.

Kendric spoke. “We call the stones to witness.” He glanced at the stones—still grinding forward inch by inch—and went on. “If he has unlawfully slain the former lord of this land and some of your number were witness to it, then show it now by disclaiming his power over you.” Kendric drew himself up, Skandar on his left—a hand on Kendric’s shoulder—and Vanessa on his right with her arm through his, and he went on, voice ringing clear in the frozen dawn air.

“The rightful lords of this land and its lady call upon the timeless stones to free themselves from their enslavement to this unfaithful one who has forfeit his authority over them by his base treachery.”

A deep shudder ran through the standing stones, which shook the ground at their base.

Then they stilled.

A calm fell across the circle. Everyone there could sense the absence of the invisible force holding them inside the ring. The cluster of men breathed again.

The three standing alone remained unmoving and looked across at the Steward. His craggy rock-like face twitched very slightly, but that was all, and his stony eyes stared back at them.

“As for you . . .” Skandar growled.

Kendric cut him off, calm but authoritative, fixing the Steward with an unwavering look. “Begone. Return to your mountain fortress or wherever you dwell, and do not come to this land again.”

The Steward seemed to bend against his will, crumbled stone-like for a moment, and an instant later was gone, leaving a bare patch of ground in the snow where he had been.

As one, Skandar, Kendric, and Vanessa all collapsed to their knees and the next moment had clasped each other in a three-way hug as they knelt in the snow together.

“I think you missed me, then,” Kendric managed to gasp out, half laughing, as soon as he could breathe through the tight clasp the other two held him in, which he returned.

“Missed you!” Skandar scoffed. “Why would such a scoundrel be missed—you interrupted my midwinter ball!”

“And you, brother mine,” Vanessa said, shooting Skandar a laughing look, “interrupted our dance.”

“And you interrupted my death,” Kendric remarked to Vanessa.

She smiled. “Always.” He smiled back.

Skandar sobered a moment, then recovered. “Well, that’s one we don’t need to continue. But for the other two—well.” He surged to his feet, the other two rising with him, and they turned to join the group of men who had been stamping cold booted feet in the snow and moving arms to warm them, murmuring about heading home but cautious of disturbing the lords and lady.

“Yes . . . for the other two?” Kendric prompted, still smiling, his arm around Vanessa.

“We’ll go amend their interruptions by returning to the mansion and finishing them properly, shall we?” Skandar said, a mischievous half-smile quirking his lips. “After all, there’s no interrupted ball or dance which can’t be even better when taken up again.”

Vanessa smiled too. “With all my heart.”

Kendric, Vanessa, and Skandar followed the others to the horses, Kendric in the middle with their arms about him and his about them, the three claiming each other as their own once more—dark head between two fair ones.

Together they left the ring of standing stones to the glistening snow under the brilliant light of a golden dawn.

i can’t see where the road goes

roadpoemnewyear

I can’t see where the road goes
As through the trees it turns
Though deep inside my heart I feel
A world of wishes burns

But still I follow after
The path my feet must take
Where what awaits is surely more
Than words or wishes make

So show me where the road goes
Or teach me: know I must
Beyond horizons veiled, things are
Awaiting me through trust

img_6483