Consequences

“Consequences follow, my dear,” Lady Thatcher said. “They are the most faithful of hounds.”
“If only men were so faithful,” Lady Fairsdale said, fanning herself with her little oriental fan. “Then I would not fret so much over Henry’s time abroad.”
The two ladies exchanged mischievous, knowing smiles.
“The stray cannot remain away for long,” her elder friend returned. “Perhaps you should seek consequences of your own in the meantime.”
“I have enough dogs in the kettle,” Lady Fairsdale said, tucking a stray tress of russet hair behind her dainty pale ear. Her ear was tinged a faint cherry at the topmost curve, as were her cheeks and the flat of her chest above her bodice-bound bosom. “And of dogs and men and consequences I have tolerated enough. They all make such a terrible ruckus.”
Lady Thatcher sipped at her tea, a glint of mischief enlivening her otherwise dull brown eyes. “In my day the ruckus was what made dogs and men and consequences, my dear. A good ruckus makes the world go round.”
The pool of shade plunged from their broad parasol and soaked the two Ladies in its cool depths while the lustrous sun rose to peep over the treetops, burning the cool mists into fairy-fire that disappeared in the crisp dazzle of the dawn. The two Ladies chatted away, and gazed upon a young man and his happy father by the hedgerow. Lively petal lips found compensatory fare in conversation, though younger petals longed to quiver in other diversions.
“A man’s task is to prove himself worthy of a Lady’s affections,” Lady Thatcher said. “A Lady’s task is to prove him wrong. If she fails, then he has met his match. If he succeeds, she has failed herself.”
“You speak as if no man is worthy of a woman.”
“A wealthy geriatric may be,” she said. “Provided he has the decency of an imminent grave.”
Lady Thatcher was herself mottled with age, and yet like a well-kept antique she yet clung to a certain luster and fine figure which had possessed the hearts of many susceptible men when in her youthful bloom. And she still spoke as if fresh from the bud, in full array of her colors and her fragrance.
“That said,” she added, “a poor servant may be worthy, too, for a while. At least insomuch as he proves adept at the task given by his Mistress.”
The faint cherry of her young companion’s cheeks bloomed into a scarlet blush that no high breeding could conceal. She fanned herself fervently, and gazed out upon the lawn. The gardener and his son trimmed at the hedgerow. The old man stood with a bent back and a sweaty forehead, pointing and directing his son. The latter—in his prime years—worked the sheers assiduously, scissoring away the offensive leaves from the otherwise squarish greenery. Distantly, the dogs in the kettle barked with incessant insistence.
“When is Lord Fairsdale to return?” Lady Thatcher asked absently.
“However long he requires in Venice,” Lady Fairsdale said, disinterested. “Two months? Three? He has been gone already for two months.”
“So you have time, at the least, for more consequences,” Lady Thatcher remarked meaningfully. “A Lady in her youth, such as yourself, should always seek the fulfillment of such idle time in whatever means are natural to you.”
The young man glanced at the young lady from the distance, smiling to himself. His father took no note, but the young Lady did. Lady Fairsdale noted the young man’s large, strong hands, watching them flex and relax, her green eyes traveling up his thick forearms to the folded sleeves and up his broad shoulders to the slight slit of his white shirt, the cleft of his chest, the straight neck and square chin, dark eyes and dark hair. He was a strong buck, she knew, and yet the doe led him on like a dutiful fawn. Lady Thatcher watched Lady Fairsdale watch the young man, and smiled with vicarious pleasure. Lady Fairsdale’s bosom heaved, crowded with frustrated breath and its own largess within her bodice.
The dogs continued to bark, but both Ladies ignored them.
“It is needful work,” Lady Thatcher said.
“What is?” Fairsdale said, entirely dazzled and distracted by sunlight on a labour’s dew.
“Caring for gardens,” she said. “There are consequences in failing to attend them. They can grow positively riotous if unchecked.” She smiled. “And there is so little ruckus heard when one’s husband is away. The dogs can yap all they please, but none will mind them.”
“I should mind them,” a voice said near at hand, startling the two Ladies. “The temper of a dog is only equaled by faith to his Master, and he will bite those whom his Master mislikes.”
The gentleman loomed, a shadow with the sun at his back. Cradled in his arm, like a newborn babe, was a rifle that gleamed blackly in the forenoon sun.
“Henry!” Lady Fairsdale gasped. “I thought you were yet in Venice!” She cleared her throat, and calmed her heaving chest with the flat of her hand. “Has the venture been a failure?”
“To the contrary,” Mr. Fairsdale said, his tone casual between grinning yellow teeth. “The venture went rather well. So well, in fact, that I sent Howard to manage its conclusion while I returned home to see to…other affairs.”
He abruptly stepped around the table and headed toward the gardener and his son.
“Henry!” Lady Fairsdale exclaimed, close to fainting.
Lord Fairsdale halted and turned about, still grinning. He looked cheery and cheeky, ear to ear, though the thin wisps of gray hair at his temples— in their disheveled state—lent an air of uncouthness to his overall visage; as though frayed by some wayward tempest. An unhealthy sweat bedewed his reddish forehead, trickling over wrinkle and pox scar alike. Yet, his features otherwise were cast in a mold of hard-chiseled amicability.
“What is the matter, my dear wife?”
Before she could speak, a group of men— likewise cradling rifles—stepped forth together. Mrs. Fairsdale, attempted to contain her heaving breast and the hammering heart within. These men were her husband’s friends. Lords, one and all.
“Hunting today?” she said, glancing to Lady Thatcher.
“Of course,” her husband said, still grinning. “It is a lovely day for it.”
“Must you?” she asked, feeling frantic and febrile. “It does not seem a good day for it. Looks like rain.”
There were dark clouds converging on the horizon.
“A quick hunt will not take long,” he countered, still grinning. “It is my land, my wife. I will do as I please. The rain will not keep me off from it, however sadly it falls.”
The dogs in the kettle barked in a great clamour as the group of men converged on the gardener and his son. Lady Fairsdale watched them unblinkingly, feeling powerless and faint. Her hand instinctively sought the hand of her elder companion, tremulous at the clutch.
“Do not fret, Ellen,” Lady Thatcher said. “He suspects nothing.”
“He never smiles so dreadfully much,” Lady Fairsdale said, breathing labouriously. “Not ever on our wedding day, or the next morning.”
“You fear overmuch,” Lady Thatcher said. “Your husband is like most English husbands. Thinks himself lord of his lands, but is ever asleep on the throne. All is quite safe. No need to faint at phantoms, my dear.”
“But the hounds…” Lady Fairsdale said, trembling. “What a terrible noise!”
“Oh, they are beasts without reason,” the older woman said. “As are most cuckolded men.” She giggled softly. “You did well by marrying a man twice married before and twice your age. He is likely, thus, twice certain to be abloom within a meetly season. And then, my dear, your true life will begin.”
“I will not marry again,” Lady Fairsdale vowed. “I wish only to serve myself.”
“And so you should,” Lady Thatcher said. “Just keep plenty of comely youths in service. It has done wonders for my woeful years of widowhood.”
Lady Thatcher’s sly smile encouraged Lady Fairsdale’s to debut. It was a most winsome smile, charming both man and lad and lord and pauper, and had won her many an invitation to London’s most prestigiously exclusive soirees. Her smile suddenly vanished, for she could hear, at a distance, the conversation between her husband and the gardener’s son.
“I have never hunted before,” the young man said. “Perhaps you would rather I serve as a beater?”
“Nonsense,” said Lord Fairsdale blithely. “You are a hunter after my own heart. This I know to be entirely true.”
The young man’s father admonished his son to acquiesce to the Lord’s proposal. The dogs barked ever more loudly.
“It will be my first time using a rifle, sir,” the young man said.
“I think you will have much luck in it,” Lord Fairsale remarked. “The Devil’s Luck, I dare say, and a happy disposition toward it. All young men do. Just aim to the heart.”
The young man looked to his father and, sheepishly— almost shamefully— glanced to Lady Fairsdale. She shook her head only slightly, her eyes wide.
“I insist,” said Lord Fairsdale.
The young man was handed a rifle and shuffled away with the hunting party. Lady Fairsdale watched as the group of men walked down the sun-gilded field, toward the dark arbor of the forest; divided as day from night. Lady Fairsdale sighed. All cherry tinge had drained from her cheeks and ears, her face a pallid mask of bloodless fear as the men vanished within the woods.
“My dear,” Lady Thatcher said, “you mustn’t fret over such things. There is a proper order in society, and the English are known for following decorum among their peers. No harm will come of it to anyone of importance. Least of all to you.”
A shot rang out vengefully, like the crackling thunder of an old, angry god. Lady Fairsdale’s heart leapt as if to burst. The dogs’ clamour died at once to a deathly silence. The rain began to weep along the horizon.

Some Quick Poems

Rumor
A single soft-whispered word
rising gently as a bird
can destroy all that we love,
its wings blasting from above
like the giant Roc of old,
growing fat with each tale told.
Though born so oft Sparrow-small
and meek as a Robin’s call,
it can perch upon your tongue
and therefrom become far-flung,
though a Halcyon afloat
and so idle in your throat,
it grows bigger, breath to breath,
with nary a single death,
but rises upward once more
like to the phoenix of lore
burning with a ceaseless light,
its tell-tale feathers so bright.

Garroter’s Guitar
With a Garroter’s deft finesse,
he pulled the angel hair taut,
strangling from the chord a scream
that crescendoed as a
guitar solo,
silencing the cut-throat bar where
smoke swelled in suffocating waves
within the morbid gloom of a
killer evening show.

Blood-Red Leaves
The ancient stag
was crowned in years of wisdom
and wariness,
knowing well by instinct
the Death Sentence that came
with dying leaves
crunching underfoot.

Still Life
He whetted the blade
of his sharp palette knife
to start his crimson phase
with the perfect still life.

Frost

Pubescent Winter, crone daughter,
coming in dead of night to shine
like stars aglow on cold water
or the glint of a silver mine.

Frost, you blight the garden and crops
far worse than worms in leaf and root
with your cold white crystal caltrops
upon petal, stem, vine, and fruit.

But you kill, too, the worms in squirrels
and rabbits with your icy sting
so that while the frigid wind skirls
the family may eat till Spring.

A goddess takes and gives in turn—
beautiful, cruel, hoary and kind,
so cold that you can sometimes burn
as we leave Summer warmth behind.

Venom Pies Part 11

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Cousins, uncles, aunts, and various other relatives by blood and by vow all greeted the heir of the House of Lorwynne and his people as they were taken at point of sword and spear. Eseus knew it wiser not to fight, though every vesicle throbbed in him to take a blade to the complacent faces of his relatives. They sneered as he was stripped of his sword and rendered powerless. The looks upon their faces reminded him of the same arrogance present upon their faces at the feast wherein Kareth’s father died, except now they were one and all peacocked out in plumage and armor which ill-suited them.
“How could they know where we would emerge?” Iadne said. “We did not know ourselves.”
“Kareth is a sorcerer,” Eseus said. “I doubt there is much she does not know.”
“You are correct in your assumptions, traitor,” one of his cousins said; a dandy with a golden helmet and a purple plume. “She sees all. She knows all. Your treachery had no hope of success.”
The fop sneered, then raised the mouthpiece of his helmet and sneered again so Eseus could this time see it.
“If Kareth can see all,” Eseus said, “then she knew of the imminence of her father’s death, and did nothing to prevent it. Thus she wished for his death. Do you deny this?”
“Silence, traitor!” the fop said. He raised a gauntlet, as if to strike Eseus, but even the silver gauntlet could not steel his nerve toward violence. “It is ill luck to strike a relative,” he said, relenting and lowering his hand.
Eseus shook his head slowly, ruefully. “No, you fear to strike me because Kareth does not wish me harmed,” he said. “That much is easily seen.”
“True,” said another relative; a grandaunt stepping forward with as haughty a voice as her plumed son. She was one of his grandfather’s younger sisters. Her son— the dandy— was ten years Eseus’s senior. She walked like a woman possessed of years and power, and unrivaled arrogance. She spoke as someone who had never been brought to suffering by the pomposity of their tongue. “But that does not hold true of others in your treacherous number. Do you wish to tempt harm upon them?” She looked meaningfully at Iadne. “Those ill-bred peoples of the moor are not afforded the same mercies obligated to those loyal to a House. Wherever they go, they go with the shadow of a blade above them, eager to fall.” She gestured toward the women and children following behind Eseus. “And even your peasants can find themselves afoul of a noble temperament should they prove unworthy of Queen Kareth’s magnanimity. Loyalty is expected above all else, and the very whisper of disobedience is merit enough for a culling of their sniveling multitude.”
Eseus did not hide his sarcasm. “Loyalty seems a fickle thing in our family,” he remarked darkly.
“Indeed,” his grandaunt said. “Especially with your recent betrayals. Did you think she would abide your alliance with the Spider clan, let alone the assassination of Lord Oxenford?”
Eseus could not muster even a frown of incredulity. His grandaunt seemed rehearsed in the narrative that Kareth wished to present, and so, likely, the rest of his extensive family. Thus, he knew that Kareth was scheming beyond the House of Lorwynne and the domination of the moorland provinces. Her ambitions were doubtlessly exuberant, and reached elsewhere and afar.
“Lord Oxenford had my father assassinated,” Eseus said. “That he should be assassinated in turn seems divine retribution. And I am eternally grateful to the one responsible for that comeuppance. Had I the chance, I would have slain him myself and served his fat flanks at the feast in his honor.”
“But you did not slay him,” his grandaunt said simply. “Your ally did.”
She did not indicate Iadne beside him. She did not have to. The hateful glares that followed the Spider clan girl informed him, and her, that all present knew who she was and for what she was responsible.
“And,” his grandaunt continued, “you know as well as I that there was nothing divine in Lord Oxenford’s death, except, perhaps, that his daughter should reign afterwards as an ascendant Queen of the All Ways.” She threw her hands fussily in the air, as if shooing them all away. “Enough chatter now. We march. See where your words will take you while in judgment by your esteemed cousin. She will likely be more merciful than I would be, but I think she will nonetheless exact recompense from you, in some form or fashion. I eagerly await that judgment, too.”
“As do I!” her son said with childish glee. She gave him a withering look, but he was too gleefully spiteful to notice.
Eseus, his mother, Iadne, Percevis, Edea, and the remaining women and children of Lorwynne were all conducted through a passage walled by blades on either side, led to the military caravan already arranged along the Oxenford Road. They began the long march toward the House of Oxenford. Eseus glanced back in the direction where he thought lay the House of Lorwynne, but could not see anything. Above them, the Gray was as thick as ever, and beyond them, too. Much of the Oxenford army was concealed in the fog. Eseus could not see anyone among the Crow clan.
“Where are your allies?” Eseus asked. “I do not see them.”
“Your cousin feared for your safety,” his grandaunt said, her voice one of mild amusement. “She wished that they stay and hold the castle, weeding out whatever worms remained among its nooks and crannies.”
“They are pilfering and butchering,” Eseus said. His hand went to his hilt, but they had already taken his sword from him.
“Crows have their uses,” his grandaunt said. She stank of glamor-laced perfume. “As do peasants. So long as you surrender to Queen Kareth’s forces she will spare all those remaining. As I have said, loyalty matters to her. Her plans require many more forthcoming soldiers. The boys remaining will be trained to be obedient to her and to serve loyally in her army. The women, too, shall have their uses. No one will be squandered, and those unhelpful will find themselves unnecessary.”
Eseus looked to Iadne, to his mother, to all of the women and children sobbing behind him. He saw Percevis’s grim, blood-drained face, and the anger there, but also saw the illegible look upon Edea’s face. The old Spider clanswoman gave no feelings away at all, and Eseus knew wisdom in that.
“I will plead for mercy from my cousin,” Eseus said, sighing. “On behalf of all my remaining people.”
“Her remaining people,” his grandaunt said. “Otherwise we would round them all up like sheep and slaughter them as we did their treacherous husbands and sons. Be thankful, thus, that you have all been allotted mercy by being inducted into the Queen’s ownership. All that was yours, is hers. Your people, your castle, your mother, your soul. All belongs to Queen Kareth.”
“As you say,” Eseus muttered.
The Oxenford soldiers did not bind him, nor any of the others. They saw them as no threat. Only Iadne did they watch sidelong with suspicion and wariness. So far as they knew, she was something of a sorcerer in her own right. This was not entirely true, but also not entirely a misreading of her capacities. She kept the clew close to her heart within her hooded robe, next to the dragonrock.

***

It was a long march, protracted by the length of the caravan, the loads of supplies, and the prisoners of war thronging between it. The whole company crawled along like a lethargic dragon suffering an illness. This frustrated many among the nobles— in particular, Eseus’s foppish cousin— but there was no effective remedy for the circumstance.
Eseus was offered to ride in a guarded wagon, but declined. His mother also declined this dubious hospitality, though she grew faint with each passing day until she had to swallow her pride and climb aboard a wagon. Eseus insisted that the elderly and the young be given places among the wagons also. This request was granted by his relatives, but not, in fact, out of kindness; rather, it was obvious that everyone— from low Oxenford soldier to highborn noble—feared losing Queen Kareth’s newly gained subjects. Thus, the elderly and the young had their burdens lessened, many choosing to stay on the wagon wherein the Lady of Lorwynne resided.
Eseus felt Kareth’s presence always. While she was not among the convoy, her eyes and ears strained everywhere. At night when they slept, and Iadne refused to part from Eseus, he could feel a hateful glare upon the two of them. Iadne seemed to sense it, too, for she insisted with a spiteful delight that he share her robe with him. As they held each other, she smirked at the unseen intruder eavesdropping upon their moments of intimacy.
“He is mine,” Iadne whispered. “You cannot have him. He is mine. Always.”
The prisoners were fed hardtack that stank of skunk and given water every day. Eseus would not have deigned to eat, but Iadne admonished him to do so. Often at night she would supplement their poor diet by Willing grubs up from the moor, as she had done weeks prior while on the trek to the House of Lorwynne. Eseus ate all begrudgingly, knowing that she was correct: he needed his strength. His people needed him to be strong. Moreover, they needed his mind to be clear and well fed.
Yet, Eseus felt hollow. Shame had withered him from within, and alongside that shame was a restless beast; a creature caged by circumstance which sought fanciful means of salvation for his people as he imagined miraculous escapes and impossible moments of vengeance against the forces that had bereft them all. But he remained impotent, raging silently within his own skull as he awaited the inevitable arrival at House Oxenford. Disgraced and powerless, his mind reached back toward the Bull beneath the Labyrinth. Iadne sensed this stagnating rage. When he succumbed to such moods she would clasp his hand in hers as they walked, squeezing when the fury in his heart pitched downward into desperate fury, like a seaship diving headlong into a whirling maelstrom.
“Do nothing reckless,” she told him, “or all will be truly lost.”
“It is a fury I have never known in life,” he confessed, “and so it is a steed that throws me from within. It bucks and leaps and I feel the violence in its hooves. It wants to trammel everything. Foremost, myself. The shame is unbearable. The rage overwhelms when I think of all that could yet be lost because of my incompetence.”
“Do not let it overmaster you,” she said. “I know it is hard. Believe that. I know better than anyone what it is like to lose everything.”
Eseus felt a sudden shame of a different kind. “I am so sorry, Iadne,” he said. “For what happened to your people. For what has happened to you.”
She smiled at him sadly, and tears were in her eyes. “I feel shame, too, Eseus. For in all this misery, I feel hope. And happiness. Our daughter will come. I have read it in the web. She will make things right, as things should be. And I am ashamed because this happiness I feel would not have been had my clan not been extinguished. Without their deaths, I would have never known you. And you are mine. That, no one can take away. Not even you.”
Eseus shook his head sadly. “Nor would I. I promised you my life, and you shall have it.”

***

The caravan came to a stop, the prisoners kept in tight groups overseen by spearmen. In turns the women and children were allowed to make water upon the moor. While Iadne took her turn, Eseus saw to his mother. She sat among several women and children, all of whom had the looks of frightened rabbits as wolves prowled nearby.
“They have treated me no worse than anyone else,” she told him. “It has been a bumpy ride in the wagon, but worse would it be to walk. The soldiers have been more or less courteous; more so than to the other women.”
“They would not dare harm you,” Eseus said. He said it mostly to reassure her and himself, and feared only half-believing it.
“You have lost weight,” she said, touching his face. “You must eat, Eseus, and stay strong. Your people need you.”
There came an angry volley of voices from the other side of the Road. Two men shouted, one Percevis and the other an Oxenford soldier.
“Keep off her, you brothel-born by-blow!” Percevis roared. “Or I’ll split your head like an overripe pumpkin in want of mushing!”
“Search the woman,” the soldier ordered, ignoring Percevis. “She was doing something suspicious out on the moor.”
Percevis hobbled toward the soldier, meanwhile clutching the wound at his chest. “Yeah, she was pissing, you leaking bucket of hog-water! Didn’t get enough of an eyeful then, hm? Want to see where I keep my other sword while you’re at it? You filthy tree-peeper!”
The soldier ordered two other soldiers to bind Percevis, then grabbed Edea by the wrist, pulling her roughly to him. Inspecting her garments, he began to strip them off of her, one by one, until she was left with only her undergarments. He nearly stripped these, too, but for the eyes upon him. Instead, he stuffed all of the Spider-silk cloth into a large pouch and hooked it to the saddle of his horse. He looked quite pleased with himself.
Eseus rushed forward, even as the spears closed in around him.
“What is the meaning of this?” he demanded. “Stealing from an elderly woman? Have you never a mother of your own?”
Red-faced, the soldier stiffened and snarled. “I am confiscating these items lest they be used for witchcraft.”
“There is no witchcraft in human decency!” Eseus cried. “Nor in warming oneself from the moor! Would you have her freeze to death?”
The soldier snorted as he mounted his horse. “What loss would it be to for an old witch to die on the moor?”
Percevis pulled at the reins of the horse, turning it aside and flipping it down upon its flanks. The soldier rolled from the saddle, scrambling to find his feet. The horse was unharmed, but startled, and righted itself up and fled from the scene, startling other horses with other soldiers upon their backs.
Before Eseus could intervene, the thrown soldier came at Percevis and struck him a harsh blow across the face that sent him reeling. The old man’s chin was streaming crimson before he collapsed to the ground. Edea screamed, but was held back by the other soldiers. Eseus leapt forth and struck the soldier so hard that his helm went spinning off his head, joined in short order by the man himself. Straddling the downed man, Eseus beat him near to death before another Oxenford soldier knocked him aside with the hilt of his sword. The world spun and plummeted into darkness. All was darkness.

***

And then there were stars. Mesmerizing stars. Countless stars above and beyond. And he was a man staring out from a balcony upon a tower in the Southerlands around which white sands stretched seemingly forever, horizon to horizon. He saw the stars above his barren world, and marveled at them, yearning to pull them down and bind them, under yoke, to his will. More than anything, he coveted the twin Bulls that drove across the heavens, chasing even the moon itself in its arching path. The power of the Bulls pulled at him, like a madness, and so he sacrificed much to work miracles with his magic. He sacrificed whole forests and swamps and generations of creatures to harness the yoke whereby to call down the Bulls from the sky. He knew they were the beasts with which he would build a kingdom upon the misty moorlands.
A great road he furrowed, forking upon forks to create many paths to many castles. These castles he built up with magic, stone upon stone. Below them he cut a great labyrinth wherein to house his coveted beasts so no one might take them from him.
A woman came to him in time— a sorcerer of aspiring talent, and unequal beauty—and he longed for her companionship. But she feared the Bulls— not the beasts themselves, but the glimmer in his eyes when he thought of them— and so he gave unto her one castle over which she had dominion, and he kept his own castle, over which he had absolute dominion, and so he halved his power to double his love for her, visiting her in her castle whenever he was not dabbling in darker arts and studying the Bull beneath Oxenford. Her castle— Eseus’s ancestral home—was a cage for her, as it was for the Bull entombed beneath it. Like the Bulls, she felt separate from him, and so divided, and paced restlessly above or below the earth.
***

Iadne watched over the man she loved, tending to the wound dealt to his head. She cleaned the bloody contusion with hot water and honey, then bound it with fabric cut from her own robe. She gave him water and watched him for signs of fever. He did not wake, but he did not weaken, either. He merely slept.
When she was not tending to Eseus, she attended his mother, reassuring her the best she could about their circumstances. She also tended to Edea, though she knew that in moments of grief there was merit to solitude also, especially those among the Spider clan. Meanwhile, she also assured herself of the future of her clan. The clew remained, pregnant with promise, and so, too, the dragonrock. She did not know when an opportunity would present itself for escape, but she knew she and Eseus would need to take it. Yet, he was so stubborn. She knew how he felt about his people— she knew better than most. However, he would not be able to free those remaining. They would be inducted into slavery to his vile cousin, and if he and Iadne did not escape they would be tortured and humiliated and executed. Or so it seemed to her.

***

When Eseus roused he felt the world swaying and rattling violently. He thought it an earthquake at first, then saw his mother leaning over him, and Iadne, and the cloth backdrop behind them. He was in one of the caravan’s wagons. Disoriented, he lay still, listening as his mother and Iadne spoke to him. He had been struck half-dumb, but slowly regained his wits. Words resumed meaning in his head and he could at last understand what they were saying.
“Do not exert yourself,” his mother said. “Or your wound may bleed again.”
There was a spider-silk bandage across his forehead. He reached toward it curiously, but Iadne stayed his hand with her own.
“Leave it be,” she said. “Or you will be twice the fool you were earlier.”
“Percevis!” he said with a start, suddenly remembering everything.
The look upon their faces revealed all, grave and wan as they were.
“Where is Edea?” he asked, holding back his tears.
“She is here, in this wagon,” his mother said. She glanced toward the corner of the wagon, where Eseus could not presently see. He heard a woman’s sobs, faint above the rattle of the wagon wheels. His mother wiped a tear from her eye. “She grieves. They wished to bind her, but I would not let them. She is now our responsibility.”
“And Percevis?” Eseus whispered. “Did they…did they bury him?”
His mother and Iadne exchanged concerned looks.
“The moor will see to him,” Iadne said. “Do not rise up in a furor over it or you will be joining him. His burdens have been…eased. Relinquish yours, for a time at least.”
Eseus clenched his teeth, but did not rise. He knew it would do no one any good. The world rattled on, noisy and unfeeling as ever before. He closed his eyes and listened to the cacophony of the caravan pass along the Oxenford Road; the snorting of horses, the japes of soldiers, the weeping of the women and children, and the wobbly wheels of the wagon upon which he lay. The commonplace sounds were transformed monstrously in the wake of so much death and destruction. It drove the spark of his anger like a fire in the fields, burning bounty and blight alike until there was only the flames, and the desire for it to burn the unjust world to ash.
“Are you not angry?” he said.
“Of course we are angry, Eseus,” his mother assured him. “But we can do nothing now.” She looked wan and weary, her auburn hair graying. She trembled as she spoke. “We are are at the mercy of circumstance. It is not resignation…but we must abide. Your father would not want you to throw your life away in a noble, but futile, gesture. Nor would I. It would kill me to lose you.”
“Had she wanted me dead I would be dead. She has other proposals in mind.”
“‘Proposals’,” Iadne said, her pale lips creased at one corner; neither with amusement or anger. “That is the choicest of words for the matter.”
Edea sighed, her sobs subsiding. Then her sobs renewed. Eseus turned his head just enough to see her crumpled form in the corner. Her children and grandchildren huddled around her, comforting her, and themselves, in their loss. Eseus’s rage was suddenly overcome with pity. Pity gave way to outrage once again and he vowed revenge. Yet, despair undercut outrage, and the realization that he was powerless was as a bloodletting upon his anemic soul.
“I am useless now,” he groaned. “What a shame it is to be the last living man of the House of Lorwynne.” He shook his head, a tear streaming down his cheek. “What shame I feel. What disgust…”
His mother laid a gentle hand on his cheek, and Iadne rubbed his chest with her palm. In this way did the women of his life comfort him until he fell asleep once again. He dreamed of Labyrinths of Time, and a wall-less Labyrinth without Time, and the Celestial Bull, and all that would come to pass before the end of the world…

***
The witch looked out from her tall black tower overtopping the trees of Beggar’s Bog. She sat in a rocking chair, slowly rocking back and forth upon the balcony. She sipped from a tea made of mushroom caps and spider-grass, and occasionally nibbled from a biscuit flavored with gingerweed and sugar rushes. The dark canopies that stretched beyond her tower appeared like the moor itself—solid and traversable by foot. Below the foliated mirage of the trees, however, were plummeting depths and strange songs and drowning waters. Hungry mouths rummaged everywhere for meals. Aqueous throats gurgled, and guttural croaks deepened into growls. The trees of the Bog stretched outward forever, disappearing into the Gray that lay heavy upon the sky, occluding the heavens like a malevolent miasma that hoarded covetously the Northlands.
And because of these things, and many more, the witch considered her tower one of the safest places in the whole of the All Ways. It was safe enough for her, anyhow. The tower had stood for thousands of years, and she had lived in it for hundreds. Waiting. Watching. Wondering. Even when she could glimpse in her scrying glass the world beyond the Bog, she wondered at its machinations. Something foul was afoot. The House of Lorwynne had fallen, and now a great imbalance threatened not only the moorlands, but the entirety of the world. She feared it was the same power that had enthralled and ruined so much so long ago.
Yet, she calmly sipped at her tea and nibbled at her biscuit. She knew the threads would weave their way to her soon enough. Inevitability reigned here, as it did everywhere else. Not even the Master— whoever he or she happened to be nowadays—could overpower inevitability. Fate had its say, regardless of whether it accorded mankind cruelty or kindness. In the witch’s estimation, kindness and cruelty were often the same thing. And if she ever forgot such a thing, she would look down upon the Bog and be reminded of how the world was.

***

Eseus lay on his back, brooding. The ache in his head had departed, but the ache in his chest remained. His mind turned back often to the Celestial Bull beneath the House of Lorwynne. He envisioned himself driving the gigantic beast out over the moor and toward the various Houses that had conspired against his people. He saw the Crow clan scattering before its earth-shaking hooves, trammeling them to dust. With its horns lowered, the Bull charged the various castles, smashing them to ruins, the bodies of his duplicitous kin strewn among the fallen stones.
But he saw, too, the cost of such a vengeance. The House of Lorwynne would collapse as the Bull rose from its tomb, for its tomb composed the foundation of the castle. To free the Bull would mean to forfeit his ancestral home. He saw, also, that the Bull would not stop until all tall towers upon the earth were razed to the ground, for the Bull wished to refute all aspirant towers arrogantly thrusting themselves toward the stars. It was not that he could not have driven the Bull away from such a destructive path, but that he knew— deep down in his blood—that he would also have wanted to level the earth of all conceited enterprises accosting the heavens.
It was no use, all this wishful dreaming. Eseus sat up, steadying himself with his hands upon the wagon bed. The women and the children were asleep now. He could hear their restive breaths. He could not see in the dark of the wagon. Night roosted upon the world and the caravan had stopped. He wished to step outside, and relieve himself, and so carefully crawled toward the back of the wagon. Nights upon the moor were as black as chthonic passageways, but he could see the fires from the camps of the soldiers. An Oxenford soldier approached him as he climbed down from the wagon.
“I need to relieve myself,” Eseus said.
“I will relieve you of your head,” the soldier said, “if you do not return to the wagon.”
“Then I shall relieve myself here,” Eseus said. He fumbled with his britches, still feeling dizzy from the blow to his head.
The soldier stood guard meanwhile, his sword in hand. When Eseus had finished, the soldier shoved him up into the wagon.
“Animal,” the soldier said.
Eseus wished to kick the soldier’s helm off his head, but refrained. He sat at the end of the wagon, looking out at the soldiers and their many campfires. He felt dizzy and wished for water. Someone approached. To his surprise, Iadne appeared from around the wagon’s wheel, climbing up into the bed, unseen by the soldiers.
“They possess poor eyesight at night,” she said. She sat next to Eseus at the back at the wagon, her pale face cut softly from darkness by the faintest flicker of a nearby fire.
“Where have you been?” Eseus asked.
“Your mother was taken for questioning by some of your kin. Do not fear. She is safe and will be returned shortly. I crept about, finding the tent and listening to their questions.”
“What did they ask of her?”
Iadne glanced around, briefly, to see if any soldiers were within earshot. She whispered. “They asked what we had found in the crypts. She told them we had found many generations that would be ashamed of them all. They did not take kindly to that answer, but did not strike her either. They threatened to kill a peasant child for every turn she took at balking. She told them of the beast beneath the castle. This pleased them and they prepared to have her returned here. I left, naturally, before they could observe me.”
Eseus could only nod.
“We must escape tonight,” Iadne said. “I have a plan. It will require haste. How do you feel? Can you run?”
“I cannot run,” Eseus said. “I cannot leave the other women and children here.”
“They will be fleeing with us,” she said.
“Not all of the women and children would escape,” Eseus countered. “Many would be recaptured. Many would be slain. I cannot forsake them.”
Iadne scowled at him, and the darkness did not soften the spite.
“I have lost one daughter once before,” she said. “I will not lose another.”
“That is why you must take my mother and flee together,” Eseus said. “So long as I remain, the heir of House Lorwynne, they will be satisfied.”
Iadne’s scowl hardened. Her wild white hair, paired with her red-eyed glare, made her appear like a gorgon in the dark. “You would abandon me? You would abandon our child?”
Eseus looked away from her. He heard the multitudinous breaths in the darkness of the wagon—the women and children whose fathers and brothers lay heaped upon his ancestral grounds. When he spoke, his voice was soft and slow and full of memory.
“When I was a boy I wished to play as the peasant children played. I saw them from the stone towers of Lorwynne and wondered why I could not indulge as they indulged in mirth and sunshine and games. But my father dedicated me to training and education, instructing me about the world and the moor and governance. Whenever I bemoaned my lot my father would take me to the fields where the peasantry toiled. There I saw the children toiling, too. I saw how bent they would become, as their fathers had, and I saw how gnarled, and some broken by the hard labors of the fields. The children played but a few hours a day, whereas their chores lasted long hours, grinding them with its stooping and digging and planting and reaping. I saw their present lives, and I saw what their future lives would become. My heart ached for them, and when I confessed this to my father he said that wisdom began with a lent heart. By lending my heart to others, I could understand their lives. When I asked why we should allow the peasants to break themselves in the fields, he told me it was a necessary evil. He said that leadership must also including stepping beyond the immediate empathy to think of tomorrow’s plights. Small pain presently was better than greater pain— perhaps even deathly pain— later. Famine, he said, was the demon driving us forward beneath the yoke of necessity. As for me, he said I could not play as other children because there were too many lives ever upon my shoulders. Innumerable deaths, he said, would be the harvest of such play. And so, thinking of those small boys and girls, I dedicated my life to the role set before me. Even now I see those children in my mind, playing innocently for a handful of hours and then toiling endlessly in the field. Those little boys are all as one dead, strewn among the green in the House of Lorwynne, and those little girls are here, older now and weeping for the fallen while clutching little boys and little girls of their own to their hearts lest they be stripped from them and lost forever in the silence hereafter. All of my years training and learning— what good did it do any of them? What good would it do any of them if I abandoned them now? It would be a worse betrayal than that of abandoning their men to die on the green. I cannot do it. I will not do it.”
Iadne opened her mouth to rebut him, but he spoke quicker.
“And that is why I want you to take my mother and Edea and escape. Please. Save my mother. Save our daughter. Raise her to be a child of the moor. Do not tell her of me. Do not thread her path to the House of Oxenford. Take her South. Go to Gran Stone, or even the Southerlands. See the Silver-Scale Sea. Let her know freedom. Let her know happiness beyond all this misery.”
“You can go with us to the Southerlands,” she said. “Leave all of this behind.”
“Kareth will not allow it,” Eseus said. “You do not know her. Her heart is a cold, immovable thing. Glaciers would melt ere her heart would change. The retribution against the women and children…it would be of terrible cost to them. I must remain. You must leave, and take my mother with you. But I am bound by fate now.”
Iadne leaned toward him, her pale lips curdled angrily, but her red eyes sad. She grabbed his shoulders and stared into his eyes. “But you owe me your life,” she said. “It is not your decision to make.”
“I do owe you a debt of life, Iadne,” he said. “But my greater debt was always to my people. Had I a thousand more lives, Iadne, I should give each to you. I love you.”
Iadne said nothing. There was nothing left to be said. She felt the world churning irrevocably— the great millstone of Fate grinding what was into what could never be again—and it tore at her heart. Yet she remained silent, though she wished to scream.
Presently, a trio of soldiers came to the wagon, the Lady of Lorwynne between them. Eseus and Iadne leaned upon one another, pretending sleep, erstwhile listening to the soldiers.
“She’s a pretty one,” one of the soldiers said. “For her age.”
“No touching, you fool,” another soldier said, “or they will gut you for sure. That’s a Lady, even if she is a traitor.”
“A little pinch is all I want,” the other soldier said. “Never pinched a Lady before.”
“And I am telling you your neck will be in a pinch if you try it!”
The two soldiers argued quietly while the third soldier helped Lady Lorwynne up into the wagon.
“Go to sleep,” the third soldier said. “And don’t try anything unwise.”
“Of course,” the Lady of Lorwynne said.
The three soldiers left, the two grumbling amongst themselves. When their gripes died at a distance, Iadne and Eseus sat up once again.
“We must leave,” Iadne said. “It is our one chance.”

***

The dragonrock sparked, setting the spidergrass alight. Three sparrows carried the flaming wisps in their beaks, diving into the wagons wherein some of nobles resided. The canvas bloomed aflame, and many voices screamed as soldiers scrambled. The night became as dusk with the flames.
Iadne clasped the Lady of Lorwynne’s hand tightly, leading her urgently away from the conflagration and the chaos at their backs. Edea followed also, her eyes no longer grieving, but hardened and flashing like the sharp points of vengeful daggers. Her family members, too, followed her, and so their throng fled over the moor.
Soldiers shouted for them to stop. Naturally, the women did not heed them, but hastened their flight through the darkness and the mist. Arrows flitted past them, whining near their heads in futile fury.
“Where is Eseus?” the Lady of Lorwynne asked.
Iadne remained silent.
“Eseus?!” she called. She tried to stop, looking about for her son. Iadne yanked upon her wrist, hastening her.
“He will come,” she lied. “Now, run for your life!”
Iadne was too disoriented with emotions to know which direction she was fleeing. She was upset, and her eyes burned, and she wished the world to burn, too, for all seemed a ruin of what it should have been.
And then there came a light; a shimmer in the darkness. The woman beckoned to them from the edge of the swamp. She was fair-haired, her skin lustrous like starshine, and her dress was as black as the darkness between stars. Her neck was long and slender, and moved with a precise, almost unnatural deliberateness. The women and children followed her, surrendering their fates to her as they came to the edge of Beggar’s Bog. Iadne hesitated but briefly, fearful that she was being led astray by a wisp or some other malevolent creature. The radiant woman saw the doubt in the young woman’s eyes. She held up both hands, and therein were stars like the guiding stars of morningfall.
“Fear not,” the radiant woman said, “for thy deliverance I grant unto thee.”
The woman’s voice was soothing, devoid of malice, and renewed Iadne’s faith in her intentions. Thus, she followed, pulling the Lady of Lorwynne along while Edea and her family kept close behind. Soon they disappeared into the swamp. The soldiers of Oxenford were loath to follow.

13 Ways Of Looking At A Hoodie

As embers flaring
amidst midnight shadow,
her baffling freckles flashed
within the black hoodie.

He heard his name called,
his head down, hidden
in his camouflage hoodie—
huddling stubbornly in his
anonymity.

The two figures shouldered their way
through the rain,
black hoods over heads
like monks on pilgrimage
to the drop-off/pick-up point.

The dark depths of the hood
were void of feelings
when hung on the wire hanger
and upon his head.

Their relationship was like a
tight hoodie—
used overmuch, washed overmuch,
and difficult to pull on
for a comfortable fit;
difficult to take off.

For him the hoodie was
his own
hooded headsman—
if worn at night
in a White neighborhood.

His father’s old hoodie
lay upon the floor,
stained and crumpled and empty
of significance.

Homeless and hitchhiking
along the highway
he wondered how life had carried
him so far astray,
like a Greyhound bus
snagging his black hoodie
and dragging him backwards
miles a minute.

How jolly the bulbous belly
beneath the red Santa hoodie—
how menacing the
bearded leer
beneath the hood.

The rainy night hung heavy
upon the clammy earth
like a woolen hoodie
drenched with a cold sweat
as the smoking muzzle
kisses the forehead.

Fall was only half-ready—
a grown man in
swim trunks and beach sandals,
a hoodie reluctantly up top.

The pouch pocket
on the XX-large hoodie
engulfed his small hands
reminding him that the measure
of a man’s size
and size
can be variable.

Ever ironic
and trendy,
the Grim Reaper cloaked his old bones
in a new black hoodie
with understated text that read
“Passing Fad”.

Medley II

Honesty
As a frog squatting
upon the lily pad
he was comfortable when seated
on the truth,
eating falsehood’s flies as they
buzzed about,
the pests unable to escape the long reach
of his honest tongue.

Recluse
Strewn husks among the cellar
ricked up as exoskeleton refuse
beneath the watching dweller—
that skittish, fiddle-backed recluse.

What Is Rhyme?
What is rhyme
but the happy happenstance
of apt language through chance
and Time?

Bottom’s Up
Spare me the corporate mea culpa
and just go ahead and pin the tail
on the donkey, you
jackass,
because I am tired of hearing you
bray your prewritten lines
of plausible deniability
like Bottom high up in
Titania’s bower
while the whole center stage
revolves around you.
You are
looking for a fall-guy,
even if the body’s already cold,
and you pretend, (as you often do),
as if you did not stage this
magnum opus of
magnum onus
upon the rest of us down below
while you handed out scripts and gave
stage directions.
You want us to bend over
and take one for the
production team,
all the while the
tell-tale tail
is pinned where it belongs:
on your fucking forehead.
Yeah,
it sounds like you are
talking out of your ass again,
but it is the same line you always
pull out from that
tandem-team donkey suit
you’re always wearing while your
brown-noser
is bringing up the rear,
even as you lead the farce
ass-backwards.

A Smattering Of Rhymes

Effortless Beauty
What a lazy seamstress the sun can be
to embroider the sky with her ragged gold
around cotton clouds clumped so messily—
yet, the prettiest patchwork quilt to behold.

If By Design
The angels are spitting once again
from that raincloud overhead,
but whether in spite from some sin
or to bless the garden bed
I cannot yet begin to know,
but it is quite a curious thing
to think their spite might even bestow
by design an inevitable blessing.
And so I begin to wonder
about Lucifer and his disdain—
did he want lightning and thunder
only to grow the crops with rain?
And if all behave as so designed,
what of Man and his battle lines?
What of the fermenting fruits of his mind—
does angelic scorn grow the best wines?

Wasted Timber
I have heard certain poets read their acclaimed poems
to a crowd who clapped like biblical rains
for poems that seemed tottering, termite-eaten totems
propped up only by many PR campaigns.
With headwinds from a publisher or university
vouching loudly with flative-voices meanwhile,
the poems rang hollow (neither heartfelt or witty)
and I knew them not fit even for the brush pile.
They treat some poets like they are the mighty masts
for upholding the sails of their literary fleet,
and I thought myself seemingly one of the outcasts
who felt oddly marooned at each meet-and-greet—
because it seemed a shame that so much timber
should be cut and stripped and thinned to render
works that could not spark a single ember
when the bonfire of hearts should need tinder.