Monday, September 25, 2017

King James's Escape



"Fates! What was that?" said James with a moan, as he sat bolt upright. "Oh bell tolls from the Pit! Probably something going off in my stupid, stinking head. Why sit up, anyway? There's not a thing I can ever see, even when I bump into it." He reached for the familiar itchy place on his scalp, which had just lately gotten gooey, and found it unexpectedly painful. He lay back with his hand over the spot to keep the filthy straws from poking it. "Mmmm! It throbs just lying down. Why, oh why doesn't Spitemorta just execute me...?"
"Mercy no, King James! Fates forbid it...!"
"Damn!" cried James with a wail, not knowing in the least whether he was delirious or whether some speaking something had gotten into his cell with him. 
"Sire! Your eyes are mattered shut," said the young soldier, nodding at another to come forth with a torch, as he knelt to peer into James's face. "I'm Owain, I was..."
"Yes!" cried James as he accidentally broke into sobs. "You brought me that nice supper, didn't you! You're the one, right? You've got to be...!"
"I am! I said I'd be back. I'm terrible sorry hit took so long..."
"Yes. I see you do have a light...I mean through my lids..."
"Well we had a delay, ye might say. We found one amongst us who was a stinker, a traitor, if ye know what I mean, a loyalist to the queen. We had to carry on very careful Hit took us a right smart number of days to be safe. Here sire, let me help you up."
"You've come for me then?"
"Why absolutely. I gave ye my word, sire."
"Certainly..." he said, breaking into sobs all over again. "Oh forgive me! I'm not acting like much of a sovereign..."
"Why, you've run clean out of hope, is what. Anybody would, slow as I am, if ye know what I mean, sire."
"I'm just so very, very grateful."
"Easy, Your Majesty...Here. Take his other arm, Llewyrch. He's right wobbledy.
"Well as I was saying, there was one amongst us who was a-spying for Spitemorta. She never did find out that he was, but he was fixing for to wheedle his way into her good graces, the best he could."
"He's as big a fool as I was," said James, trying to steady himself. "Spitemorta has no good graces."
"You're no fool sire, but she certainly has no good graces," said Owain as he and Llewyrch carefully helped James to the door. "Anyway, as I was a-saying, we caught him attempting to take her news of our plans to get you out of this dungeon. Well. We pinned him down last night and the varmint confessed everything. There's 'way more to the story than that , but..."
"What will keep him from going to her behind your backs if you already can't trust him?" said James.
"Oh he won't have a chance. Ol' Culwch (that's his name, by the way) won't be bothering a soul."
"You killed him?"
"Nay. Not yet. I guess you don't have your eyes open yet..."
"I haven't tried. They've felt like they had sand in them and I couldn't see anything anyway, so..."
"Well, we got Culwch standing right before ye, all blindfolded, gagged and tied up. There are five more of us here to keep him pointed the right way, and we're going to make him nice and comfortable in your old cell. Won't take but a minute."
James heard some scuffling and a muffled yell before the groan of hinges, a heavy bang and the rattle and jingle of hasp, lock and keys behind him. He felt light and giddy, but there was no way he could stay on his feet. As his knees buckled, he felt Owain, Llewyrch and the others grab him up to haul him hurriedly down the corridor, up several flights of gritty stone steps and outside for a good way in the gloriously fresh air of early dawn. A rooster crowed. He could smell unicorn manure and hay. Somebody was cooking breakfast, maybe egg in a hole. He felt like singing. "I'll thank the Fates for the privilege of being allowed to enjoy this world, every single day," he thought.
"Oh, that's right good advice for each and every one of us, Your Majesty," said Owain with a grunt, right at his ear.
"My word! Have I lost track of when I'm speaking?"
"You're a-having your first joy in quite a spell, sire. I'd speak out too, and that's a fact."  
At last they carefully stepped through a narrow door with him into some other building. They set him down. "Here sire." said Owain as he carefully took James's hand and put his fingertips into some warm water. "What do you think of that? If that's about right, we'll get those filthy rags off you and Pryderi here will give ye a proper bath. He's a barber and a healer, and he's right good."
"Oh, it's perfect..."
"Now, there ain't no women around sire," said Llewyrch. "Let's get your shirt."
Soon James was in bath water up to his chin. "Do you object to Elf medicine, Your Majesty?" said Pryderi as he carefully examined James's head.
"Not in the least. It was Spitemorta who tried to pin the sukere burning on the Elves, not I."
"Well I have something that'll put you right quicker than anything I know of, but it's the bitterest thing you'll ever have in your mouth. You need to chew it up real fine and swallow every bit," said Pryderi as he put a black twist of leaves to James's lips.
"Mercy! I'll say!" said James after a couple of thoughtful chews. "It makes my tongue and mouth feel like old dry wood."
"Oh, it's just got started, sire. Just keep a-chewing. Try not to bite your tongue. It's called aquilaria. It's very difficult to come by. My grandfather found out about it from an Elf called Talamh Coille Graham, right before he was murdered by a witch known to the Elves as Bailitheoir Cailli. Ever hear of her?"
"I'm afraid so. She was Spitemorta's real mother. I had no idea when I married her."
"My word!" said Pryderi, falling silent for a time before resuming: "Well, the Elves's name for aquilaria is sláinte ollmhór. How's it doing?"
"Makes wormwood seem like something sweet. You're sure that I'm not turning into some kind of stump?"
"You don't have to worry about that, but I'm going to have to cut your hair. It's nothing but a filthy mat of snarls and nits. Now before I do, lay your head back here so that I can put a poultice of aquilaria, eyebright, goldenseal root, rue and fennel on your eyes. When I get your hair cut, I'm going to put burdock root and dandelion root on this awful festered sore on your head. If it doesn't dry up in a few days, someone will have to put a hot iron to it."
After a while, James found himself dressed in fresh plain wool and linen clothes, and able to partly open one eye as he sat in a chair, pressing a poultice against his face. "Do I smell food?" he said as he took down the sopping wet muslin and tried to use his eyes.
"The board is set for you in the next room," said Owain as he peered into his face. "Can you see to get there, or do you need help?"
"Let me try," he said as he stood and slowly shuffled to the next room, navigating with the flaming red slit of one eye. He paused as Llewyrch drew back his chair. "My! This is wonderful!" He took his place at the head of a sumptuous table of plain fare: roast chickens, cabbage and carrots, buttered squash, hot brown bread and heaping saucers of cottage cheese and honey. A dainty old lady whisked up and poured him a cup o' tea. "My word! Each of you, please, please have a seat and eat with me. And please don't be so formal. You will always be my friends." He spread wide his arms and bowed his head.
Never had a meal tasted so heavenly to James. At last he wiped his mouth and sat back. Just as he picked up his poultice to daub his eyes again, in came the little old lady with a steaming hot apple pie. She set it down before him and cut him a big piece. Suddenly he grabbed her by the waist and gave her a squeeze as tears ran down his cheeks. "My wonderful, wonderful friends!" he said.
"We are right honored to serve you, Your Majesty," said Owain.
"I am indeed grateful beyond anything I'm capable of putting into words," said James, "but you all are taking an unbelievable risk. The longer I'm here, the more peril you'll be in. I should be getting away immediately, but I've no idea how that would even be possible with Spitemorta and Demonica and their spies everywhere."
"This be the perfect time, sire," said Owain as he shared a look with Pryderi. "They've got all their attention on the birth of the new babe... Oh my stars! I apologize, sire! We neglected to tell ye that your queen bore a baby girl."
"Wasn't there another child?"
"There certainly was," said Owain with an anxious glance each way, "but he was stillborn, much as I hate bearing you such news. And worse yet, Spitemorta was so blithering furious over it all that she up and killed the midwife and all the attending help cleaning up the birth."
By now James had both eyes open.
"They keep saying she used some kind of witch's power to stop all their hearts," said Llewyrch. "And lots of folks reckon that she did indeed do it from different things people have seen. Do you suppose she actually did, sire?"
"Oh very possibly. Did you hear me tell Pryderi that she is Bailitheor Cailli's own daughter? Brutelee and Bee secretly adopted her."
"Well, we're right sorry we had to be the ones to tell ye, Your Majesty," said Owain. "But now, that's a piece of news about Spitemorta's dam."
"I appreciate your courage," said James.
"Thank you, sire," said Owain. "Anyway, we figure tonight's the night to get ye out of here. The servants think Spitemorta will be laid up for at least a week, and not only that, Demonica seems to have quite vanished, and no one has the slightest idea where she's gone off to."
"Then tonight's the night," said James. "But I'll say this: you need to keep a right sharp eye out for Demonica every single moment, because she reappears just as suddenly as she vanishes."
"We've heard the like," said Owain with a solemn nod. "We'll be as careful as we can be. And if ye don't mind my saying so sire, nobody's ever seen you with a beard. Maybe you should keep it for a while."
"Suits me, my dear fellows," said James as he stretched wide a bushy red-eyed grin.
 ***
On the eve of Queen Spitemorta's campaign to take over the world, King James is caught by her and her grandmother Demonica, tortured and imprisoned in the fetid blackness of Castle Goll's dungeon. He and his rescuers flee into the Gollmore countryside to join the Elves in their flight to the Wilderlands in Chapter 19 of The Burgeoning.

Have you ever experienced sudden hope after all was lost? Please tell us about it.

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Friday, September 22, 2017

Arwr the Diatryma Smashes a Smallie

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imagesIt took all of Fuzz's concentration to just hang on and to adjust to the speed at first, but soon he could see that Arwr was far more agile than any unicorn, sprinting between the trees without coming close to a single one of them. Somehow Arwr managed to anticipate their trunks as they came, so that he and Taflu were not thrown from side to side. Soon he could plainly see that even though he had never traveled through the woods so fast in his life, it was quite safe to not hang on tight anymore. As he relaxed, he saw that he was not being whipped by the twigs and branches of the underbrush, as he would be if he were astride a unicorn. Instead of rocking endlessly above a pounding gallop, Arwr seemed to glide, disconnected from the ground, as he kept up a steady, pat... pat... pat... pat... pat... pat... pat... over the leaves on the forest floor. "For a bird confined to the ground, he sure knows how to fly," he thought.
Bounding along creeks and ridges and over hogbacks, the woods flew quickly by. They were not far into the afternoon when Fuzz realized to his astonishment that they were passing through Mary's part of the woods. He wondered if she were still in her cavern with Myrtlebell and Edward, or if they had already started for the Dragon Caves. He was quite tempted to stop and see, but the need to reach the Heart before the Gobblers or Demonica's spies found it would have to come first. He said nothing as he studied the trees, watching the countryside pass by. Suddenly he recognized that they had entered the Chokewoods. "The change isn't so sudden anymore," he thought. "In fact, there's hardly any change at all. This is Chokewood, because I know the lay of the land. I didn't even notice when we ran out of peppermint trees." He gave a huge sigh, thinking of the changes taking place in the Peppermint. He doubted if there would be any difference at all between the Peppermint and Chokewood by the end of the year. In spite of all his years of despair from being held prisoner there, he felt a profound sadness.
Without warning, they were ringed by a chattering carpet of vermilion, pouring round them from the feet of the trees. Taflu took flight. "Smallies!" cried Fuzz at the very moment that Arwr came to a rigid halt.
"Ooo...ooo...oob!" boomed Arwr as he suddenly flashed the brilliant red and yellow which had been hidden in the flight feathers of his wings and tail. The smallies froze. "Oooooooff...vooov...vooob!" he boomed, snatching up the nearest smallie with his beak. With a furious swing, he dashed out its brains against the root of a choke oak, and with three violent gulps swallowed it whole as every one of his feathers stood out straight. With the sound of windy popping sheets, he flashed his fiery crimson wings as he lowered his head and glowered, snapping his beak.
For a moment, the smallies drew back and stood transfixed in utter silence. In short order, a rustling wave spread out through their numbers and the entire hoard surged toward them. "Fates!" cried Fuzz. "This is it!"
Ch. 12, Stone Heart  (Click on Title or Book Image to Download from Amazon)Stone_Heart_Cover_for_Kindle






































Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Who is Minuet?

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Minuet is born to the good wizard Razzmorten and his first wife Blodeuwedd who dies giving birth to her. Blodeuwedd, who was the most beautiful woman Razzmorten had ever seen in all his 329 years before he married her, was known to all as the maiden of flowers.
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Razzmorten is most taken with his new wee Minuet and quickly sees that she could well exceed his own powers someday. He hires a magically endowed woman called Demonica to be her nanny. Demonica is also beautiful and is an engaging companion, so he marries her. Soon she is pregnant. When she bears the child Ugleeuh, she vanishes with the crystal Heart of the Staff from Niarg's royal treasury, leaving him to care for Minuet and Ugleeuh.
Good_Sister,_Bad_Sis_Cover_for_KindleMinuet spends her childhood being a nurturing and precociously responsible older sister. For years she is Ugleuh's staunch defender and champion, but after a time Ugleeuh's play becomes a string of increasingly reprehensible pranks, forcing Minuet to endlessly undo her mischief. In Good Sister, Bad Sister, Ugleeuh plots to have Hebraun, the prince of Niarg for herself.
The_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_KindleThe plague comes to Niarg and Razzmorten finds the cure. When Minuet goes to tend plague victims at Fates' Hospital for the Sick, she is nearly beaten to death by a superstitious crowd. Whilst recuperating, she finds out that Hebraun wants to marry her. Ugleeuh vanishes from sight.
Minuet does indeed marry Hebraun in time for him to become king of Niarg. When their firstborn Rose is three, Ugleeuh appears and tries to murder Minuet and Hebraun.
In The Collector Witch, Rose hears a damning rumor at her sixteenth birthday party that has her running away to far off lands with her younger brother Lukus to find answers. When word reaches Niarg that Ugleeuh is holding them captive, Minuet prepares to deal with Ugleeuh accordingly.
The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_KindleStone_Heart_Cover_for_KindleIn Stone Heart, word comes to Niarg that Demonica and Queen Spitemorta of Goll are now in possession of the Great Staff and the much more potent Crystal Heart and plan to use them to conquer the entire world. Demonica declares that their first step should be to destroy all Elfkind. Minuet knits, waiting for the Elf Soraya, Lukus's wife, to give birth. She comforts Hebraun who feels old and tired after finding Niarg's grain ruined by a curse. Fuzz asks for Rose's hand in marriage. Minuet fits her old wedding gown to Rose and helps her prepare for her wedding. She sees Hebraun off to fight the Golls when they burn Ash Fork to the ground.
The Reaper Witch 01 copyIn The Burgeoning, she rides forth leading her army, determined to cut out Spitemorta's black heart and feed it to the hogs. And her tale continues in The Reaper Witch and Doom.
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                                                                          Carol Marrs Phipps &Tom Phipps

Monday, September 18, 2017

Spark Finds Fuzz


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Fuzz was exhausted. He had struggled futilely for hours against the sinews the Gobblers had bound him with. His wrists and ankles had been quite raw for a good long while. He was desperately worried for Rose and Lukus, and in spite of his years as a decorated soldier, he was in a losing battle with panic. At last, weariness came on him in such a way that he had no grasp of his passage into a fitful slumber.
He was writhing and rolling about in the throes of a nightmare about the Gobblers returning to enslave him. They wrestled and kicked him and cut him up with jabs from their spear points, loading him into one of their carts. As the terror became unbearable, Fuzz heard someone amongst them call out his name over and over. "How do Gobblers know my name?" he bellowed, rolling face up as he opened his eyes. "I can't see!"
"That's because it's after dark, Fuzz."
"Who...?"
"I'm Spark, Fuzz. You know, Spark!"
"Oh! Thanks be! We're delivered! Could you be so kind as to...?"
"Loosen your bindings? Absolutely. Pardon me, it's so dark, I'll have to..." said Spark as he conjured a bright green mage light between the palms of his hands. He set to at once, gnawing and picking at Fuzz's sinews. "Ah. Got that one. You'll have to roll over."
"You know Spark, it's been so long, I'd nearly forgotten that you could do that sort of thing," said Fuzz, as he licked at a freed wrist.
"Oh, it languishes. I was born with it, but I'm so feebly endowed, I don't fool with it for much of anything. Actually I don't remember having done anything with it in front of you before. Say. How'd you end up out here? Gobblers, I'd reckon, but I can't imagine you allowing yourself to get caught. Can you stand?"
"Whoa!" said Fuzz, pitching forward onto his knees. "Like a round bottomed bucket. I don't have any feeling in 'em yet, either. Yea, Gobblers! I..."
"'Scuse Fuzz, there's a little chocolate creek right here. Let's get you a drink. So. You were saying about the Gobblers? What were you doing out here?"
"Taking care of unfinished business in the service of the crown as Captain of the Royal Guard of Niarg, would you believe. And I still don't have it taken care of."
"What?"
"I was escorting the very prince and princess of Niarg to the sea to escape Ugleeuh, when we were waylaid by the sticky little curses."
"And they captured the prince and princess?"
"Almost certainly, but we were separated by my trying to divert them. They got me too quick. Rose and Lukus couldn't have had enough time to escape."
"Rose and Lukus. I'll bet they're the two Ugleeuh had with her this last spring when the Chocolate Volcano blew. She brought them along when she came up the mountain to insult and threaten me."
"They're her niece and nephew, would you believe?"
"No kidding. Why, they're nice looking kids."
"Well Queen Minuet, who's quite lovely, is Ugleeuh's half sister. And I've lost her kids for her, unless I come up with something immediately," said Fuzz as he rolled off his haunches and picked up an ankle to lick. "And I surely don't know how I'm going to do that. A thousand to one, they've taken them straight to the Gobbler castle, and that place is a fortress, quite a bastion indeed, bristly with little pike men all over, and a moat full of chocodiles. I couldn't have managed by myself back when I was a man at arms, let alone now that I'm a bear without arms. I've nothing with me, not even my miserable little dress dirk which is in a trunk in my den."
"Gobblers are nasty critters, all right," said Spark as he carefully enlarged a mage light and set it upon the ground between them to glow like a campfire. "Their young highnesses will never escape without help."
"So, will you help me rescue them? It's either the two of us or nobody."
"I hate Gobblers. They've taken over all the very best chocolate licks. I've always got bruises all over from their slings and rock candy."
"Then let's get 'em!" said Fuzz with a crackle of unexpected ferocity, as he smacked his paw with his fist. "Let's fix 'em! Let's get 'em back for the rock candy and for my awful nap, all tied up. And most of all, help out two splendid young people."
"She stood up to Ugleeuh for me, the princess. 'Rose,' you say she is? Oh, it was nothing really, but right nice of her all the same."
"Then you certainly wouldn't stand to have her abused by those sticky varmints."
"Never!" declared Spark, suddenly straightening upright.
"So what about this magic you never use? What can you do with it in a pinch?"
"I just really don't much."
"Yea, but could you get into the castle with it? Shot 'n' Stop said you're good. He said you disguised yourself as a tree, once. You might disguise yourself as a minstrel or a trader of some sort."
"Well thank you, but you need to keep in mind that my magical ability is quite small, scarcely more than that of a hedge wizard. I could go into the castle under cover of a glamourie, but I've not the power to maintain it for long. It would be risky."
"Can you think of any other way at all?"
"Well no Fuzz, but whatever it is, it's got to be good enough that I don't have to maintain it very long at all. I'll be lucky to manage going straight in and straight out. If I were just a minstrel, I'd have to take forever and seven days to argue my way in and back out." He paced back and forth for several long moments. "You have an awful lot of confidence in me to think I could actually get away with this."
"Ugleeuh!" woofed Fuzz. 
Spark looked up with a jerk and rolled away into the brush, as his mage light went out with a pop.
"No, no! Good grief, Spark. I didn't mean that she's here. I mean, what about you making yourself look like Ugleeuh? That would cause the Gobblers to let you in and out right smart. Don't you think?"
Spark eased back to where he'd been sitting and let another large mage light come to life from between his cupped hands.
Fuzz saw that his hands were trembling. "You all right?
"Do you have any idea what Ugleeuh will do to me if she discovers this little ruse?" said Spark, holding his hands still by clamping them between his knees. "I'll be lucky if she seals me up inside my cave until I rot."
"Sure thing. And me with you, no doubt. But we can't just leave Rose and Lukus in the hands of those marshmallow suckers. You know how Gobblers treat captives, Spark."
"I know you're absolutely right," said Spark with a great shudder. "Yeap, yip! Me as Ugleeuh. That's the best we're going to get. Just give me a bit to get used to the idea. I don't suppose you've ever heard of Lizzie? She was one of my clan and had a passion for marshmallows. Greedigut had his fat little slugs capture her and then he killed her slowly by forcing her to slave endlessly on next to no food while they made a routine of beating her senseless. No one should be thrall to a Gobbler," he said, as his voice went shrill and rasping. 
Fuzz jerked back with a gasp. Before him stood Ugleeuh. "Wow! Mercy! My very word! Excellent, Spark. If I didn't know it was you, I'd know old Dungbag was standing right where you are. The Gobblers will never know it's you."
"I was hoping you'd say that." he said, and with an odd wavering of the air about him, he resumed his normal visage. "Being Ugleeuh really saps my zip. I'll have to get as close as I possibly can to the Gobbler castle before casting my illusion. Then, maybe I can keep it up long enough. Besides, that way there'll be less chance that the real Ugleeuh will soar overhead and see me. Well. I see no reason why I shouldn't be underway."
"Good thinking. Hey, thank you. And good luck. I'll be right here until you're back."
"Ta-ta!" said Spark with a flutter of eyelashes, as he flashed Ugleeuh's Face for his own, before vanishing into the dark in the direction of the Gobbler's fortified keep.
Ch. 22, The Collector Witch (Click on Title or Image to Download From Amazon)The_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_Kindle
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps