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Posts tagged “dust and devotion

Diaries of a Cursed Kingdom: A Red Snow Tale

Dearest Brother,

Since boyhood I have enjoyed taking the horses and hounds into Mendelov woods. The bounty of animals to hunt there is wide and varied. It is a tradition passed to me by my father that the meat and fur we find there be shared among the people as much as possible. The nights can be long and cold so the kingdom appreciates the warmth.

Today was different though. There were scarcely any animals to be found save one rabbit which the hounds slaughtered for their own supper. There was a fire in the distance. Some celebration of sorts seemed to be happening in the nearby village. Singing and chanting filled the air. I had just about given up hope of ever finding a deer or elk. The noise had most likely scared them off. I was preparing to turn away when I stumbled across a clearance. My bow was prepared. My straining arms had all but fired a shot. I was startled. Before me was the most beautiful woman my eyes had ever beheld. She was seated upon a white horse. Her long black locks were so dark they almost shone blue in the fading light. Her skin was as white as the freshly fallen snow.

“Aren’t you frightened?” she asked me. Why, in all my heart and soul, would I be frightened by an image so fair? That was when she did the strangest thing. She threw to me a trinket, a macabre symbol. I held the skull of a cat in my hands.

“It will help aid success in your hunts,” she explained. Her voice trailed from her lips like fine silk threads.

Her name was Francesca. She was from a village far from here but I would scour the known map to find her again. I know nothing of this woman and yet I know I will have no other as my queen. I can’t erase her presence from my mind, nor her voice from my ears. I can’t explain it. We have met only once and yet I will offer her everything I have.

King Roman


My Dearest,

It has been done. I have left it all behind. The last sight I had of my kin was of them burning, begging for the pain to be ended. Even after it all those who could still pleaded for me to stay with them.

The man with the black eyes still claimed be me to as his love until I removed his heart from his chest. The blood was still warm as I devoured it. Great was my fury that they tried to stop me and greater was my horror at what the love of Roman has made me see.

The eternal child, was the last to speak. A curse she warned me of. That was laughable. Her power could never match mine for I was Queen of our people and none of them could match me. She quipped about a plague that would follow me to my new land and infect all those who crossed my path. My husband would be driven insane as images of my deeds flooded his fragile mind. Any children produced from the marriage would suffer from cradle until they begged for death. The girl doesn’t frighten me.

The village was reduced to ashes in my wake. The evil of its people banished. Annabelle followed me. My first reaction was to kill her too. She stared at me with those pitiful green eyes of hers. I’m not one to hold sympathy but she had been loyal to me. She is the only one who could rival me and yet she is too dim to realise.

On our way to kingdom, I on horseback, she on foot beside me, we came across one of the strangest creatures known in my black circles. We were met by a Hangram. It was creeping to the water, gasping for whatever pity the world could spare it. They are fierce yet wretched creatures. It’s finger tips flamed with the heat of redemption.

Annabelle and I knew the Hangram immediately but a ‘dweller’ may have been alarmed. Not many are seen by the dweller folk and fewer leave the unfortunate alive to tell the tale. It looked up at us from its contemplation over life and death. It approached. It recognised the blackness within me. It had softened since meeting Roman but still burned in my chest. Hanram are drawn to malevolence like thirsty men to a pond.

“You are evil, quite unlike any I have known and yet you roam this land without hinderance. Today is the day you answer for your evil,” said the creature.

“I am sorry for all I have committed!” I said knowing the proper way to address a Hangram.

“I’m not,” Annabelle interjected.

The flames from the Hangram raged. It’s eyes began to glow. Annabelle showed no fear. Truthfully she had little patience for such creatures and I wished to be on my way.

“Francesca!” the Hangram raged. “There is a special place in Hell reserved for you.”

“If you are waiting on my repentance I will not give it to you,” I told it.

The Hangram closed in on us. “I don’t expect contrition from the likes of you.” It’s burned face contorted into an unsettling smile. “You will have to find comfort on a bed of blades if you do not appease your conscience.”

This particular Hangram was not to be fooled. It knew me, although in its form I couldn’t quite place the haggard frame. I had seen so many Hangram over the years. “The kingdom do well for you,” it said. “The King’s love will save you but only if you accept the punishment you deserve. End your life here and now, save the kingdom and the generations to follow. There is not a sin so great that a single act of selfless sacrifice can’t save you from,”

Before I could make my response Annabelle stepped forward. She threw dust at the Hangram’s feet. The Hangram emitted a high pitched, pained shriek. The form began change in a swirl of black and red energy. The colours cleared. The body of a little boy of nine years old lay where the Hangram had been. I remembered him. His name was Dale and he had come from a village, deep in the woods. My brother Julian loved to toy with Hangram. There were countless of them wandering the land because of him. The soul purpose of these creatures was to seek out sin and evil and vanquish it. My people would absorb the energy left behind, strengthening our own macarbe magic. This was our way. When the Hangram had fulfilled its duty it would be disposed of. Formidable to the ‘dwellers’ but a mere pet – a blood hound in many ways – to us. To create a Hangram required the body of an innocent, someone who had led a pure life. This was often difficult to find in an adult so most of the time children served the purpose. Julian sought them out like an avid hunter. With his handsome face and bright, kindly eyes they flocked to him. Dale had been one such trusting soul.

Annabelle removed a dagger from her boot. She meant to cut his throat while he lay asleep on the forest floor.

“No wait,” I stopped her. I had been thinking of what the Hangram had said. I left him. When he awoke from his slumber he would have enough provisions to keep him until he found a way back to his family. When I left Vorelia Julian had burned with all the others so Dale needn’t fear him any more.

So here I am in the arms of the King, in the beautiful kingdom. The curse and all the others have been left behind. I will defy them, to be happy, to live.

Francesca

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A Prisoner in The Old king’s Castle

Sonya couldn’t count the days she had been held behind bars. The sun had risen and fallen but since her prison allowed no light she couldn’t tell how many times. What had been her crime? The beloved King Roman had fallen ill. Since then, the Kingdom of Navaria had fallen into anarchy. Cries of witchcraft spread panic throughout the snow covered land like untamed fires blazing through a dry forest. General Drenisov of the Navarian Guard had taken a firm grasp of the people. He held them in fear. He allowed the rumours of the cursed kingdom to circulate unhindered because the more frightened the people were, the more they turned to him for leadership. The sick king had been falling further and further into madness. His second wife, Annabelle, had retired from public view without explanation.

Sonya had been expressing her views.

“We’re being treated like animals,” she said. At first she had only whispered this to a few friends in the marketplace but before long more and more had gathered to hear what she had to say. She stood on top of a box to voice her opinion further. She lifted her skirts as she climbed to the new height. The hem was muddied from the ground where the snow had been trodden into filthy slush.

“We are stronger than they and they know it. We have had no word from the castle because they don’t deem us important enough.”

A merchant cried, “Here, here!” from behind his stall. Some of the gathering nodded in agreement with a firm shade of anger across their brows. There were others who hunched their shoulders and cowed away for fear that they would be seen listening to such thoughts.

“We demand to know what ails our beloved king. There are no such things as witches in Navaria, merely a symbol of fear designed to keep us under the control of the Guard.”

As she said this, the crowd began to part. Through the ragged clothing of sombre peasant colours charged a group of tall, young guards wearing the vibrant red and gold that was their signature uniform. Word of her malcontent must have reached The General at the grey, brooding castle that sat high on the mountain looking down on its subjects below.

Two guards snatched Sonya by the ruffled collar of her dress. She fell onto her knees in the mud. No one moved to help her, not even the grey haired, doe eyed merchant who had been cheering her on moments before.

“Don’t let them silence you!” she shrieked. “We are stronger than they.”

Sonya was taken to the castle and locked away in the dungeon. Word reached her that King Roman had been murdered. She heard two guards discuss it as they brought in a new prisoner. She even heard it from The General himself.

“You have murdered the king and doomed this land with your witchcraft,” Drenisov barked. She heard heavy footsteps on the stone floor. She pressed herself against the small window to the outside corridor on the door of her prison. She could only see the red of The General’s coat. There was no reply from the prisoner. The guards departed and all fell silent.

“Stay strong, comrade,” she said, not sure if her fellow prisoner would hear her.

“Is someone there?” The voice that returned to her was that of an adolescent boy. Sonya guessed him young enough to be her son.

“They can’t keep us here forever,” she assured.

The boy’s voice was eerily calm for the horror that he had no doubt just endured. “The king is dead,” he stated. Although youthful, the voice carried the wisdom of age. It’s owner must have been well educated. The son of a nobleman.

A deep motherly instinct that Sonya possessed looked past the obvious maturity of the boy and sought to lay comfort at his young feet.

“It’s a terrible tragedy. I heard The General say you are the murderer but I don’t think that is so. When the eldest prince, James, is granted the throne Drenisov will have no choice but to release us.”

The boy gave a laugh, the kind that bordered on hysterical. It held no real humour.

“I salute your optimism, my dear woman, I truly do. I fear that here in this darkness is where we will live out our last days.”

Sonya was chilled by the youth’s acceptance of fate. “Prince James…” she began.

“The prince can do nothing to help,” the boy interjected.

Sonya could feel tears on her brittle eyelashes. “He will …” Now it was she who was needing comfort.

“Take solace in knowing that soon it will all be over,” said the boy softly.

“I will get word to the Prince,” Sonya offered. “He is much like his father. He will help us.”

“He already knows your plight. My lady, I am Prince James and any chance I ever had of helping my people died with the king.”

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Extract from Dust and Devotion by Vivika Widow

The whole house was bathed in darkness. The heavy, dusty curtains had barely been drawn and the fire place in the main parlour was lit even though a latent heat hung in the air. Furniture was sparse.

“It wasn’t me who sent for you,” Julien announced. “It was my twin.” He gestured to a girl seated on the floor by the fire. Her royal blue dress fanned out around her. Her thick coal black hair almost reached the bottom of her back. Like Julien, she had the most piercing shade of blue eyes.

An older man sat in a bottle green sofa chair, staring blankly into the nothingness in front of him. His grey hair still clung onto the youth of its black roots. His beard was full but neatly trimmed.

Annabelle turned her attention to the girl. “Why did you send for me?” she asked. Her attitude at the door with Julien having simmered down to a cold vehemence.

“I’m Francesca,” said the girl. “That there in the chair was my father. We are the premier family and we have returned home. Come, I want to show you something.” Francesca took Annabelle’s hand and led her into the next room. It led from the main parlour but it was brighter and airier than the rest of the house. A mongrel dog lay cowering underneath a large dining table.

“Come, Savo!” Francesca called to the animal. It drew itself slowly from its hiding place. Its ears dropped, eyes lowered and its tail quivering between its legs. Francesca held her hand out. The dog tipped her fingers with its nose. She smiled and drew her hand softly across the light brown fur. The canine responded with affection. Francesca flashed a smile to Annabelle., filled with radiance and malice in equal measure, before she tapped the dog between the eyes and it fell to the ground in a fit, its leg twitching. White drool gathered at the corner of its mouth.

Annabelle asked, “Why did you do that?”

Francesa shrugged her shoulders. “It amuses me. It also highlights my point.”

Annabelle raised her eyebrows. “So what is your point?”

Francesca smiled. She watched the mongrel convulse on the floor in front of her. “Well, no matter how many times I do this to him he still comes to me whenever I beckon. I open the door so he can flee but he chooses not to.”

“He’s just a dumb dog,” said Annabelle.

“Perhaps, but people are not so different,” Francesca explained. “People have an inexplicable need to be shown the way by someone or something else. If only they opened their eyes they could see for themselves. As powerful as they think they are the people of Vorelia are no exception. With the magic we possess it is imperative that a guiding hand is laid over their eyes. As the premier I will do what I must.”

“So your going to make us all sick for your amusement?” Annabelle groaned, pursing her lips.

Francesca laughed.

“Not everyone. All I have heard since I came home was that you are quite strong. You are the one they have turned to whilst your premier was gone. I brought you here because I thought we might be friends.”

It was Annabelle’s turn to smile. “Perhaps.”

Francesca dropped her gaze back onto the dog whose fit was beginning to fade. “Why don’t you start by deciding a path for this beast, before fate decides for him.”

Annabelle tensed her broad shoulders. She reached her hand out, laying it on the dog’s fading heart. Life fell away from him.

“You decided death?” Francesca snickered.

Annabelle replied, “Anything that takes such punishment and returns for more isn’t really worthy of life.”

Francesca ran her hand over the canine and it faded into ashes. “Then you should meet Basilio, my father.”

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