Domus Exsulis

Mykologosia

A Matter of Loose Translation

by on Apr.27, 2015, under Domus Exsulis, Gaernic Exiles, Mykologosia

(c) Nin Harris 2012. All Rights Reserved.

In the days before the last gaernic refugees found their way to Yrejveree, Aiceli had been a court scribe. She was one of many, and not necessarily the best. She had loved the etch of ink on parchment, but not the painful process of trying to turn the overwrought words of her Lady into something more elegant. That was three decades ago. Aiceli had left the feudalism of Gaern for the strange organised anarchy of the Mykologosia. She was glad to jettison the gaernic courtiers, and her erstwhile boss was too occupied with driving the Caretaker of Domus Exsulis around the bend to really notice. Aiceli had more immediate concerns and had learned to be an opportunist in her old age.

Now, she finished binding the third volume that Grisette had commissioned for her mysterious client. It was a set of rites and codes for alchemical purposes. Aiceli creased her brow over some of the pages she had transcribed, which made no sense at all from what she knew of gaernic alchemy, but this was Yrejveree, an island that had more connections with Terra Cognita than Gaern had ever possessed. She looked up as the doorbell attached to the front door of her workshop rang and the door opened. It was the perfumer, Ipede Dwinkum. He wore a primrose toga today, with owl-rimmed glasses perched on his nose. His features were peculiarly elfin for a wood-dwarf, even if wood-dwarfs were a clean-shaven breed, and decidedly intellectual. Aiceli gave him a wary look. Lately, he had been dressing in a far more sober manner, in very smart breeches, a brown hat and a tweed jacket. However, rumours were still rife about Ipede’s toga-wearing days and the citizens of the Mykologosia were divided on whether these were his days of madness or his days of genius. The more astute amongst them would point out that it was obviously both.

“Word has it you are binding a set of The Alchemica Divinium for Grisette, is this true?”

Aiceli frowned at Ipede, who was ruffling his mess of ginger and brown hair in an agitated manner, using both hands.

“Yes, but how did you…,”

“Do you know who she wants the books for? You cannot give it to her!”

“She has already paid me an advance, and Grisette is one of my most steady clients, I cannot turn down her custom.”

“I will double her advance. Pay her back. Say that you procured the wrong books. Tell her it was a mistake.”

Aiceli was not credulous. However, the urgency of his words and the look on his face swayed her a little. She shook her head.

“Ipede, I cannot! She was the one who secured the original copy for me to correct, transcribe and rewrite.”

The Wood-Dwarf crinkled his brow, his hands moving from his head to his sides as he mused aloud.

“Why would that rotten bounder need copies made if he already had it?”

Aiceli shrugged, turning the pages of the original Volume III of the Alchemica Divinium.

“I was told that her customer did not understand some of the language in the Book because it is in a mixture of latin, gaernic and ferahian.”

“Aha!” Ipede looked relieved as he said, “It cannot be the original Alchemica Divinium then! That was written in a mixture of pig-latin and Egyptian hieroglyphs!”

Aiceli turned the pages of one of the volumes she had been given.

“Correct. However, this was a translation done by a gaernic scholar who decided to replicate the hybrid effect to avoid it falling into the wrong hands. With a code that I was able to unscramble since royal gaernic scribes are taught to memorise the eight hundred scholarly cryptographical systems of Gaern and Ferahia combined.”

Aiceli realised she was boasting a little, but she couldn’t help herself. The wood-dwarf whistled appreciatively. He paused, before throwing her a more serious look. The pause was almost timed, and a little too obvious, Aiceli thought.

“There are no hands more wrong than those of Jezemiah Irlinus, Aiceli.”

Aiceli had heard of the feared alchemist, she had memories of her own unsavoury encounter with him. She clutched her scribe’s gown closer to her.

“How do you know it is him?”

Ipede shrugged, touching the bound volume wistfully.

“I have my sources, I’ve been around far longer than Grisette has.”

“And haven’t you been collaborating with Jezemiah, anyway?”

Ipede looked away. Outside, it began to rain and the boys who had been playing football in the street outside rushed into the neighbouring teahouse. She frowned, wondering if her grandson was with them. Ipede spoke,

“Decades ago. Not my proudest moment. Was around the bend, so to speak. Not that I’ve come back from around that bend by much, but I’m older now. Irlinus must not have the translation. He cannot. You should know why.”

Aiceli nodded.

“No, you’re right. But I cannot afford to lose Grisette’s custom either. I have a family to support here.”

Ipede gave her a shrewd look.

“It is a translation, is it not?”

She prodded the deerskin cover of the beautiful, cobalt blue book. Her eyes lit with understanding.

“Yes, yes it is.”

“The trouble with translations is that so many nuances can get lost. Alas!”

Aiceli laughed. Then, her face took on a cunning cast that would have shocked her previous employer – if one could call what she did for her feudal lady employment. They had not been given much beyond from fine food, clothes, a place to live and the odd trinket or piece of jewellery whenever they had pleased the Lady Deiranetta.

“Are you proposing only double the interest for the amount of work you want me to do?”

Ipede pursed his lips, and was quiet for some moments. Then, he spoke.

“Triple, if you let me assist you in the matter of translation. And the price of a new set of volumes made from an alternate translation of the Alchemica Divinium. And, you get to keep the money Grisette will give you when you hand over the volumes I have helped you with.”

Aiceli was delighted at the prospect of both the challenge implied within this new commission as well as the amount of money proposed. She had experienced a major shift in her perception of herself and the world since she had moved to Yrejveree. The events that had brought them to Gaern had not only stolen their homeland from them. It had also taken the life of both her husband and her son, leaving her to fend for both her grieving daughter-in-law and her grandchildren. The money that this new commission would bring would help. It would help a lot.

“This sounds like a promising business proposition.”

Ipede smiled, looking very pleased with himself..

“Only the beginning of many such propositions, my dear.”

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An Unloved Harbour, like a Rejected Swain

by on Apr.27, 2015, under Alta Exsilii, Domus Exsulis, Mykologosia

(c) Nin Harris 2010–, based on ideas and concepts that have existed or have been in development since 1997. The author asserts both her legal and moral rights. All Rights Reserved.

Yildie frowned at the refuse that slapped against the stones of the ferahian harbour every time the currents swirled the water against its rugged surface. Less than five years since her family’s business was wiped out by a Wild Hunt – and there was no one left to tend to the warehouses, the docks and the cobblestoned walkways. There used to be ferahian pirate ships coming in, day in and day out, but each ship hired their own thugs to look after their docks and warehouses. Now, even the thugs had disappeared, and there was no one left to care for the harbour itself. Now, even those ships were dwindling in number, and it had been almost a fortnight since this had been an active port. Worried by the news,Yildie had ventured down from Domus Exsulis to check on things. She almost wished she hadn’t; she had neither the energy nor the inclination to take on the responsibility of her deceased uncles.

Yildie took after her father, both their proclivities were either for the fluidity of water or the etching of ink upon smooth parchment. And yet, there was something about the ocean that called to her, something about having generations of piracy in her bloodline. Yildie felt sad for the harbour, which once sang with the approach of more than one ship, which was a bustling hive for not just infamy, but commerce and the exchange of information from more than one land, both of their world and of Terra Cognita.

“I keep hiring people to take care of the harbour, but they keep disappearing on the job,” came a new voice, behind her. Yildie turned, surprised and a little wary. It was Maryani, the mother of one of her tenants.

“Why do they disappear?”

Yildie asked this, still wary of the older woman.

Maryani shrugged, and said,”Who knows, this is Mykologosia, after all. You know how it’s become wilder. Who knows what lurks in the water of these harbours? Even as we speak there are less and less ships that dare to visit us. Commerce is down. My business suffers as well.”

Yildie slumped, her webbed fingers gripping the sides of her tunic as she made an effort to contain her conflicting emotions.

“I suppose I should do something about this,” she said slowly, “but it is just too much. I just…I can’t, not after everything else.”

She despised herself for the admission, despised the weakness of it.

“It’s okay,” Maryani said, her voice reassuring, “We’re working on it. Our interests as a city-state are bound to this Harbour. It allowed us independence from the Guardian, after all. We need the goods and profit that the ships bring.”

“What about these waters? They seem so polluted I do not think any of the merfolk would care to descend into it to unearth the mystery of the missing beach-bogeys. What would scare a beach-bogey anyway? They’re pretty scary bastards as it is!”

Yildie’s voice was doubtful as she looked at Maryani. The older woman shrugged.

“We don’t know, but Vita reckons we need something inorganic to work out what’s going on. So, she’s building us a mechanical beach-bogey. You should visit Ohn and Freya to see what they’re up to. They’re beginning to sound a little unhinged over at your place.”

Yildie looked intrigued.

“A mechanical beach-bogey? How would she even begin to make it sentient enough to…?”

“I’m a bit worried about that myself, to be honest. I hear Grisette is involved. You know the company she keeps.”

“Oh. Oh dear.”

“Yes, exactly. Now, let’s get back to my place, I’ve made a lovely bread and butter pudding for tea, and it will do you no good, moping around this harbour all Sunday. The ships will not come today. They did not come yesterday, and they will not come tomorrow.”

Together, they walked out of the unloved harbour. Alone again, the harbour felt the slap of old bottles and discarded newspapers against its sensitive pores. There was an infection in its liquid depths and a sad emptiness in its bereft warehouses. It missed the pirate captains, and the dancing pirate queens, it missed the caw of raucous birds of paradise and the clambering feet of monkeys, reaching for fruit kept in high, overhanging nets along its beams and rafters. An unloved space is like a rejected swain, the harbour’s numen thought to itself, curling inward until a new ship slowly made itself known upon the perimeters of the harbour’s purview. It brightened up, and its waters began to look less murky.

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Grisette’s Book Alcove and Occultarium

by on Apr.27, 2015, under Mykologosia

(c) Nin Harris 2010–

It is perhaps axiomatic to the point of cliché that beings who would choose to settle in a glade of oversized mushrooms also possess a keen appreciation for strange stories. Was that not how most of them had found their way across Alta Exsilii? Exiles dream harder and more fiercely than any other type of humans, because dreams mean so much more to those without a physical anchor. There are bookstores for many different kinds of dreams and obsessions in Mykologosia, but Grisette’s little bookstore was visited only by the most occult and the most covert. She liked to call herself a were-cat, but in truth she was a woman in a catsuit, with an enticing feline mask covering the top part of her face. The costumes were lovingly stitched together by her assistant Lillian, a tiny Cambodian woman who helped her with book-keeping, tea-making as well as costume-making.

The costume-making was a hobby and passion for both of them, and took place after hours, in their shared flat on the bookstore’s second and top floor. They would drink chrysanthemum tea sweetened with rock sugar, and eat delicate, translucent rice-flour dumplings stuffed with bamboo shoots and shrimp as well as pao stuffed with mushroom, herbs and chicken, while listening to music playing from a record player. Ignoring the scratch of vinyl and the skips in some songs, they would talk about their literary and occultic acquisitions, gossip about their neighbours, and reminisce, half-heartedly about the lives they had left behind.

Grisette herself had escaped servitude as a book-clerk in a branch of an international chain. She could never quite remember the details of how she arrived on Yrejveree, nor could she remember exactly how she managed to connive, consolidate and strategize enough to become the most occultic bookseller in the whole island. But succeed she did, and if perhaps she had made one too many bargains etched in her own blood, who could fault her? Was she not helping in the study and advancement of the arcane arts? Was it not partly due to this that major citizens of Mykologosia had succeeded in making this Glade an independent city-state within a storm-lashed isle of dreams?

Commerce was the backbone of every world, Grisette thought to herself, as she pulled the elegant pashmina shawl around her shoulders, feeling a little more on edge today than usual. A pleasant afternoon breeze shivered the lace curtains veiling the open window, but it felt almost wintry to Grisette’s nervous pores. Alas, the werecat was not nearly furred enough to be immune to both the change of seasons or the onset of a very human fear. She had both the pride and the apprehension of being the only bookseller who had actually seen Jezemiah Irlinus’s face. Not that this was something to boast about.

Even Lilian, her elegant assistant had no inkling of this, assuming that only the Nepali boys had been given the job of delivering books to his doorstep. Some books were too precious for couriers, however. Some secrets were far too dangerous. And perhaps Jezemiah Irlinus was indeed the assassin responsible for the mass murders that had dogged them for nearly a decade before they stopped, shortly after the Guardian had died. Correlation or coincidence? Who knew. But the man that was partially accused of being an Assassin was now the Caretaker of all of them, and yet another just promised her half a million gold bars for the shipment that was due tonight. What could a bookseller do, but comply? And if, perhaps, she knew secrets no bookseller should know, who could blame her for pretending innocence? She understood, better than anyone, that in Mykologosia, no one was truly innocent.

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“Better than Mathematicians”

by on Apr.27, 2015, under Alta Exsilii, Mykologosia

(c) Nin Harris 2010 —

Maryani watched, not without sympathy, as the hapless anthropologist trudged away from her door, his shoulders slumped. He was the third one this week to visit her since the last Ferahian ship arrived on the docks just beyond Mykologosia. He would probably be back again tomorrow. She had no idea how or why the Ferahian vessel had picked them up, but, being dedicated ethnographers, they had lost no time in trying to find out more about the city-state. After all, who could resist a multi-ethnic metropolis that had grown around a colony of oversized mushrooms, turned into houses by both humans and non-humans alike? A mushroom colony! How quaint!

Anthropologists who believed they had discovered Faerie were no different from those explorers who had traversed the continents of Asia or Africa centuries past. Maryani should know, being one of the more senior members of the city-state who had arrived on Yrejveree from Asia, or Africa, or even South America. Somehow, the salient fact of their inherent diversity or their hybrid human population was always overlooked. Somehow, they were always misread as being Continental or even, heaven forbid, medieval!

She remembered a travel-piece she had helped to proof-read by a hippie backpacker, sometime in the late `70s. He had been floundering about Mykologosia, taking instant photographs which were always turning up blank. He wasn’t exactly the smartest human to visit Mykologosia, but he had been rather good-looking in the disheveled, pseudo-intellectual hippie way that turned her on.

The backpacker, who was a medievalist by profession in the real world raved in the pamphlet about a “glimpse into the idyllic market places of faerieland”, using various fantastical superlatives. He did not even acknowledge the fact that the proof-reader that he had been happily coupling with nightly for a week was unequivocally a golden brown business woman from South East Asia with a razor-sharp tongue and business acumen enough to have a tiny empire on an island on the edge of the Known World. Her daughter’s father, an addled mathematician who had somehow discovered Yrejveree through someone’s unattended laboratory, was no different. He had drifted into her life as dreamily as he had drifted out of it and she was quite sure he had never quite registered the corporeal fact of her existence or the fact that if one did not use protection, even in Faerie, there would be by-blows.

Manfred had ranted about these “wankers who think we’re Fantasy bleeding Island with funny midgets” to her more than once, but she had to admit, they did have a full cast of fantastic creatures, enough to cause cynics to snicker at their predicament. Manfred was one of them. A Tomcatting Fae with the ears to match and a seductive smile to lure the more naive of their female visitors. Some days, just watching the street outside her comfortable home was enough to make her see screaming capitol letters on artfully aged pamphlets. Faerie creatures by the gross! Pirates! Mermaids! Why, even drunken poets, as well. You couldn’t avoid them, or the beatnik artists, or the performers who quoted Artaud and Brecht as they copulated in dingy cafes. Mykologosia was no different from any place where sentient creatures congregated, actually. They were as much a part of Yrejveree as were her sunburnt Ferahian pirates and her Nepalese friends who ran the best confectionery syndicate this side of Faerie.

Detailing the actual and exact racial composition of Mykologosia was a delicate thing. It was also a mess that she wouldn’t wish on any anthropologist. Not the one who had rang her doorbell earlier, not the one that she had very efficiently taken care of the week before. She had to admit, ethnographers made for the best fertilizers, better than mathematicians or astrophysicists. Her neighbours would be well-fed on her banquets for months as a result of the garden’s yield.

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In which Ipede discovers a flaw in his geas

by on Apr.27, 2015, under Mykologosia, Nemus Animae

(c) Nin Harris 2009 —

Ipede Dwinkum looked at his hat. It was a rather battered old thing, but Waterlily had gifted it to him. You do not throw away a faerie gift. You were permitted or sometimes, even encouraged, to forget it, but you do not throw it away. Not that Ipede would, or could. It was one of the things that connected him to her, even if he could never see her or hear her. He could breathe in the scent of her sometimes, know when she was near him by the quality of the air. He knew it the same way he knew when there were pixies around, ruffling his hair, or trying to pinch his bared, dwarven fore-arms. He placed the dark brown hat reverently on his head of tousled ginger and brown, age having softened and darkened its hue, somewhat. Flexing his body, he settled into a relaxed, fighter’s position and tried to push his way into Nemus Animae. This was the same fight he had with the same barriers for more than a decade, mayhap, even a human century. The same force of pressure kept him out. He had never accepted the geas laid upon him by the Faerie Lord, for daring to love, and even more, for trying to wed a member of the fae nobility. He had never accepted the kind of punishment doled upon him for daring to attempt to rise above his station. He lived with it. He lived with being denied the second sight, but he never accepted that it was for an eternity. The good part of the geas was that any form of tactile contact, good or bad, was buffered by it. He could sense, but he could not be directly harmed. In that sense, the Faerie Lord had protected him. In that sense, alone.

Through the birch trees Ipede’s eyes reacquainted itself with a path, lined with flowering shrubs, leading into the heart of the Grove. He knew there were other things to see and experience there; he had been through it more than once. That was how he had met Waterlily, blundering through the forest like the excited mad young wood-dwarf that he was. Mad Ipede, they called him in those days. Mad, even before he had lost his sanity and became the thing the children of the city-state whispered about, as much as they whispered about Jezemiah Irlinus. Mad enough to fall in love with a green faerie lady with star-glistened wings and a glissando on her lips when he made her hum, with a curve to her spine as he made her purr, verdant notes, as lush and as secret as the faerie woods themselves.

Perhaps she was half-mad too, the beloved Waterlily, she of the pastel skin of milk and smooth mosspond green. Perhaps an eldritch insanity was the heat behind her agate eyes, mad enough to accept his rough-as-bark skin into her silken embrace. And thus, he entered the woods and the liquid pastures of the fae dreams, where all things merge into one thing. And thus, he learned to hunger for magic. The sweet perfume of her skin and the musk of fae revelries led him to his profession as a Perfumer, scavenging for ducts and other unseemly things needed to create unguents of potency. His obsession with magic turned him into a Faerie Alchemist. And more. Perhaps too much more. Perhaps he hungered for more than Waterlily’s embrace the night he decided they should be betrothed.

Ipede pushes against the barrier that obstructs him from Nemus Animae, and finds something that causes him to stop. This attempt to access the woods has become, almost a ritual for him. He never expects to win through. But tonight, something seems to have changed. A brief weakness in the pattern that keeps him out. A slight…oversight perhaps? Ipede sets his hat on the ground, followed by the tweed jacket that the Caretaker gifted him with, last Solstice.

He pushes.
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The Kitchen Witch Grumbles

by on Apr.26, 2015, under Domus Exsulis, Mykologosia

(c) Nin Harris 2009

Every now and then, some of the braver or naughtier children from Mykologosia break into the grounds of Domus Exsulis. Their city-state was set up, after all, in defiance of The Guardian’s rule. Now, with her retirement and with one of their own as the Caretaker of Yrejveree, how could they not be even more tempted? Not all the lamias in bedchambers, nor the bogles playing cricket on the lawn or the fighting djinn could keep them away. Not the threat of a wild wolf, somewhere in the rose garden or a histrionic Lady who claimed to have once been a Princess. Not all the towering lavender Mishgalens in the world could keep them away. Particularly not the main, towering lavender Mishgalen who roamed the grounds, looking for intruders. He was rather fond of children, if truth be told, and always felt rather hurt when they ran, screaming away from him. Not the tykes and ruffians of the city-state, however. They knew he was an easy mark, knew he would have access to sweets and all manner of treats in the kitchens of the sprawling Manse.

Watch them now as they come tumbling into my kitchen. Watch him sheepishly grin at me as I frown. We’ve been through this several times over the past decade or so. Nothing has changed, really. We may have a new boss, but children will still think of this as the Forbidden Manse. They will still see it as a challenge. They will trip through the polished wooden floors of the main hallway, ooh and aah over the woodcarvings and the shimmer of light reflected off expensive lanterns. They may gape and giggle at some of the paintings. And then, inevitably, the Mishgalen will lead them here, where the smell of spices and baking bread can melt the heart of even the most recalcitrant wizard. And there are sweets of course. Not even the Guardian could have stopped this if she wanted to, but she wouldn’t have. She would have been in the kitchen, and they would not have even known she was there. She would have rolled up her sleeves, made a batch of cookies, another batch of butterscotch, and yet another of coconut candy. Pity she’s dead now, isn’t it?

Or is she, really? Perhaps she’s one of the kitchen helpers over there, perhaps she’s making lamingtons right now as she pretends to glare at the children. Who can tell? Not I! I may have the run of these kitchens, as is befitting a Chief Kitchen Witch, but I can scarcely tell which being wanders in and which wanders out of them. Too many ghosts. Too many sprites. Too many memories of Kitchens past. Only a Witch could work in such conditions. And even I have my moments. I tell the Caretaker he doesn’t pay me enough, and he laughs. I threaten to leave, and he laughs. The next day a cask of some expensive and hard-to-get herb or condiment will magically appear outside my bedroom door. And I am convinced to work for yet another month. But this may yet change. My sweetheart returns from Ferahia next month and he tells me of a new situation vacant there. They are rebuilding the old city which was claimed by the waves. And I’d like to get away from Yrejveree, if truth be told. Things aren’t the same on the Isle anymore. Not with the Guardian gone and the Wild Hunt running unchecked. Not with maddened dragons in the sky, daily roaring with anger because their Queen has disappeared into the woods of Nemorosum Somnium.

No, this is not a good time to be on this Isle.

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Wages for a Spy-in-Residence; a tale of three forests

by on Apr.26, 2015, under Camena Draconis, Mykologosia, Nemorosum Somnium, Nemus Animae, Silva Atra, Three Forests

(c) Nin Harris 2008–

Thick, wide basil leaves hid a small, pointed, malicious face. The antennae on her head whirled busily as she listened. The wolf-maiden Tarme, she of the tawny fur and voluptuous torso had strayed into Nemus Animae. For what purpose, oh, for what purpose? The Flitterer knew not, but information was her especial skill. And it promised to be profitable, once more. The Wild Huntsman was still abroad, and he had noticed her acumen, at last! Time there was when she would have been the Huntsman’s quarry. Had he not chased her away from the Titian One’s court? But what’s done is done, what’s in the past should remain solely in the past, whispered a sycophant elf in her ear. Gold for you, the elf said. Safe egress into the great Faerie beyond, freedom from this isle of exiles, wouldn’t that be a relief? The Flitterer’s antennae whirled; she readied herself to do what she did best.

The furry maiden sat upon an up-ended barrel, her fingers tweaking at petals of the torch ginger blooms in a nearby patch. Her eyes gazed this way and that through the dark of the grove. Who was patrolling the borders of the haunted woods if Tarme was here? The Flitterer inched closer, and closer still, hoping to get a better vantage point for the conversation that was about to occur. Poking her head through the unchecked growth of wild lemongrass, the hard blades poking into her sides, she hoped this would provide her with the information she needed to get away from Yrejveree.

WHACK!

She was dead. She had to be. A great whooshing sound and then, darkness.

Dead. Deader than dead.

Some bad thing had captured her. What? Who?

The Flitterer stared up into Heaven.

Fangs met her eyes, glinting.

“Hello,” the wolf-maiden said.

“Hillo,” she wheezed.

“Welcome to Silva Atra,” Tarme said. A look of wicked amusement passed over her feral features.

The Flitterer got to her feet, and tried to discover if anything had been broken. Nary a thing. Nope. She shook her head, and wiggled her ears. She touched the tip of her pointed nose with a finger. Then two fingers. She pulled the messy fringe that fell over her eyes. Scalp worked. She didn’t feel dead. The Flitterer looked around. She was surrounded by ghostly, white-barked trees; dying leaves were a carpet beneath her feet. Wispy fireflies hovered in swarms. And the hairy maiden looked very pleased with herself. Dreadful smirk that. She hated.

“Kidnapper, ye hairy brigand!”

“I would rather consider it a counter-recruitment, my dear. And I really wouldn’t recommend going back to Nemus Animae, even if you are perfectly welcome to leave, right now.”

“Faerie Lord’ll fix ye!”

“Faerie Lord was going to have your bones ground, my dear. He knows you’re a mole for the Huntsman.”

The Flitterer tried to whirl her antennae, but then discovered they would not work. And she was in Silva Atra, the haunted woods. Maybe, even if her limbs seemed working, she was still dead. Dreadful fear, this. She must ask.

“Am I dead?”

“You may well wish you are. But worry not; your antennae will work again, soon. And then you will be quite aware that you are, indeed, alive!”

“Huntsman’ll need me. Huntsman’ll fix ye.”

Tarme laughed, a short, lupine sound.

“For someone who fancied herself a future position as intelligence officer in the Titian One’s court, you’re not awfully bright, my dear. Huntsman’s done for.”

“Done for?”

“Gone. Kicked out of the isle!”

“No more Wild Hunt?”

“None.”

Oh dear, oh dear. Exciting happenings. She was not privy! Worst than being dead!

“Who kicked the Huntsman out and why?”

“They tried to take over Nemorosum Somnium. The forest spat them back out. And the dragons were waiting. Gone!”

Tarme grinned at the little faerie.

“And now, I have a job for you, my nosy little thing.”

“Job?”

Tarme nodded. The Flitterer’s expression grew cunning.

“Wages?”

“Information on exactly how the Huntsman was vanquished.”

The Flitterer’s eyes gleamed. But no, not to be cheated out of wages! Information was nice, but not enough. Wages must be had. Sweet things too!

“Not enough!”

“Bearing my protection so the irate members of the Faerie Court will not abuse you?”

The Flitterer considered this, but was yet unwilling to concede.

“And there is a nice little house for you of course. Prettily decorated to suit your faerie needs. And a title. How would you like to be Silva Atra’s Spy-in-Residence?”

Well now, this sounded nice. Very, very nice indeed. A house! She had to sleep on branches in the Faerie Lord’s bower, out of everyone’s way so she would not be kicked or cuffed. But still, “Not enough!”

Tarme sighed in exasperation and tossed her something. She caught it.

“Have a honeycake then, you greedy little thing!”

The Flitterer mumbled and munched. Honey was good wages. Sweet honey from bees fed on clover. She licked her lips. Very good wages indeed.

“I accept your offer,” the Flitterer said with all the dignity she could muster.

“Good. You may start right away. Here, wear this.”

Tarme placed a small, elegant amulet hanging from a thin necklace of moleskin leather over the faerie’s neck.

“This bears my mark of protection. You will not be harmed. I require you to enter Nemorosum Somnium to discover something for me.”

“The dreaming forest? One that chased out the Huntsman? One that has gone angry and mad? One that has leafy group-mind?”

“That one. I need for you to find me someone. A dragon. A very important dragon.”

The Flitterer’s antennae came back to life at this very moment, but it made no difference. She slumped. Her iridescent wings drooped.

“Stop dawdling!”

Tarme’s voice was a lupine whip that set her spine ramrod stiff.

“Can I see my house first?”

The Flitterer’s voice lifted hopefully.

“No.”

“More honeycakes, maybe oolong tea too?”

“You have had enough wages, you greedy thing. Get to work, now!”

The Flitterer raised her wings half-heartedly and pushed herself into the sluggish air of Silva Atra. Happened it was a mystery the hairy maiden wanted her to solve. Almost good enough to be killed for. But dreaming forest, please, should not kill her. The Flitterer increased the speed of her wings. She whizzed in between the trees that bordered both forests.

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Chess for the Season and All Things Unresolved

by on Apr.26, 2015, under Camena Draconis, Domus Exsulis, Mykologosia, Nemorosum Somnium

(c) Nin Harris 2007

The Caretaker Speaks:

Late afternoon, and the sky is gradually approaching the color of flax, bright blue merely a memory, for now. Will there be a storm troubling the waves of Alta Exsilli soon? From the big, round window which overlooks the ocean, I can see the clouds. The changing quality of the light shifts the patterns the stained-glass mosaic rim makes on our table. Our hands and the pieces on the chessboard are rendered mysterious. I cannot help but anticipate the further shift in the patterns, when the sky changes robes for the gloaming. I look forward to these minor amusements each day, experiencing each with a bemused sense of unreality, despite the fact that a decade has passed since I first set foot on Yrejveree.

It has been a long time since we’ve taken tea together, Ipede and I. And in the past, the meals we shared would be filled with a less picturesque ambience of gloom. The Librarium possesses a different kind of gloom, a solemn, reassuring kind. The girl, Yildie, pours for us, handling the painted china tea set with skill. I have protested countless times against her performing such services. She is not a servant here. She cannot believe me, yet. Nor can I do anything for what’s haunting her eyes and placing furrows underneath. I know the cause. I’ve lived in Mykologosia myself for a long while; I’ve seen the gashes on the walls. So long as the Wild Hunt roams, it will never end, even if all tales of the Assassin have ceased, for now. She is grateful to me, perhaps too grateful. I will have to learn to live with it. People are either embarrassingly grateful to me or curse my interference these days. Part and parcel of the job description, one might say.

Ipede takes a scone from the plate and butters it.

I ask Yildie to join us, but she shakes her head and retreats to the corner where I’ve placed a desk for her. I have been most grateful to delegate a great chunk of my paperwork as well as secondary research tasks. It frees me up for the rest of my responsibilities. Truth be told, I’m rather envious. She gets to do all the fun stuff now; I, on the other hand have to make all the stupid decisions, the minor and petty ones that the Guardian tackled on a daily basis. I remember how we cursed and carped at her for it. Ruefulness, would be an understatement.

As is our custom, at every Solstice and Equinox, Ipede and I play chess all afternoon, discussing topics of antiquity. We round up this pleasant, gentlemanly ritual with a sumptuous tea. It inevitably ends when he lights up his pipe and descends into a maudlin stupor. I never question too deeply into the contents of the pipe, merely open the windows and step back a little. Things are different, this time around. Yildie is here now, as well as that terrible woman, Deiranetta. They fill the tranquil spaces of this manse. Also, I cannot help but be reminded of All Things Unresolved when I cast my eyes on Ipede, as well as my new friend, the dragon Hrelgar.

Hrelgar is a little too big in dragon-form to curl up before the fire in the library, and so he has been wearing his human form more often. We can do nothing for his melancholy; no one that we have approached knows of a way to release Erna from Nemorosum Somnium.

The dreaming forest has absorbed her and her child. None can find their way either in or out of that forest. And far worst has occurred. I have traced this state of unrest but do not know where it begins. Which came first, Erna’s refusal to be crowned Queen, or the Wild Hunt? Did the angry Dragons agitate the Wild Hunt, or was it the other way around?

More questions than answers, here. And all I really, really want to do is find out the true names of the places of this island.

Ipede makes a half-hearted attempt at checkmate by getting his bishop to take my knight. But my adroit castling maneuver saves my king. We pause. I pop a petit four into my mouth and chew as Ipede complains about his new assistant. He is looking healthier these days. He has branched off into a more obscure branch of alchemy, which, although ponderous, is far safer than the dark arts he sought to practice. Perhaps he is finally resigned to the fact that he will never again see Water Lily. This makes me sad. So many things have yet to be resolved, even if a good decade has passed since things were set in place. Some may never be resolved.

I look outside, and imagine I can see far enough into Silva Atra, where Tarme lives. The last time I met her was when I brought Hrelgar to see her. Nothing much to report there, merely disappointment, and the look of promise in Tarme’s eyes. I wish I could take her up on that unspoken offer, but I have this stupid island to run now. It won’t run itself, and I can’t afford to risk my life canoodling with a wolf-maiden in Silva Atra of all places!

*

An excited squeak interrupts our reverie. It is Yildie, her eyes wild as she waves a book in front of us. Ah, the joys of a researcher. I am envious once again. But, I smile indulgently as she begins to speak. No doubt, some obscure but nonetheless toothsome bit of information from history. Perhaps, it might even be useful in my task of constructing place-names. But wait, her eyes are really big this time, and something in her posture alerts us to the fact that maybe, just maybe, there is Something Big after all.

“I think I may have figured out a way to extract that lady Dragon from the forest of dreaming!”

Hrelgar jumps up from his woebegone posture by the fireplace as she squeaks this out. Ipede merely looks at her with a distracted expression,

“That’s very nice now, dear,” he says, “but I don’t suppose you can find a way for me to see the Faeries again now, could you?”

Yildie’s face falls, but not for long. Hrelgar is clasping her hands now in his and almost screaming questions at her. I follow them to her desk as she begins to lay out a plan of attack. And so, I must leave you now. We have Something Important to Resolve.

Have a Happy Season, every one of you. Do feel free to continue your festivities in Domus Exsulis. There’s a party going on in the Ballroom, and yet another on the moonlit terraces outside. I’ve been told that the rival bogle factions are holding a cricket match out there.

Well, what are you waiting for? Shoo!

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A Refugee from the City-State

by on Apr.26, 2015, under Alta Exsilii, Domus Exsulis, Mykologosia

(c) Nin Harris 2007

Yildie Speaks:

“So, you’re from Mykologosia, hmm?” Rhees asks.

His stance is belligerent as he takes in my form, slouched outside the ornate front door of the House of Exiles. This Mishgalen loves the people of the city-state not, I suspect.

“Born and bred there, sir.”

“If that be the case, what are you doing here? Don’t you people want independence from Domus Exsulis?”

“Not quite, if by that you mean the Caretaker and the Guardian before him have ever ruled us. But they never have. The Guardian was never like that,” I protest.

The Mishgalen laughs, obviously amused by what he perceives to be my naivete.

“So sure, are you?”

“Very. If she ruled here, the Wild Hunt,” and here I stop, bravado running out; tears choke my voice.

Rhees considers me, “What have they done?”

“Taken them all. My parents, siblings, all of them. Razed our home to the ground.”

He opens the door wider.

“Here now, why’d they do a thing like that? They normally hunt their prey in the woods. Individually.”

“They’ve become bolder. Venturing into the city-state. Some say it’s Jezemiah Irlinus’s doing.”

Rhees raises an eyebrow, saying,

“They’ve been blaming old Jezemiah for anything and everything that goes wrong in the city-state for decades now. Old news. Give the old scarecrow a break.”

I shrug, because I know that Jezemiah’s bad news, no matter how you choose to paint it.

“So? Have you come to report this to the Caretaker? Come in, then.”

I step inside, shivering a little as I pass his immense, purple-hued form. They never had Ogres back home in Ferahia, and my family has not been in Yrejveree for longer than a generation.They used to call it StormLight when I was younger, but now the name has vanished from all the signs, thanks to the Caretaker and his Latin studies. Many resent this, but I remain intrigued. Books and textual obscurities are part of my inherited skills. My father used to be a Librarian in Ferahia, before the sea reclaimed great chunks of the City by the Sea.

The Half-Drowned City is what the Ferahian pirates call it now. And who knows what brought the sea? Perhaps I know, or suspect a little. I have even met her, when I was a child. They’d blame it all on her the way we blame it all on Jezemiah. I have visited with the Sirens of Alta Exsilii often, hoping they would give me hints of what occurred in my homeland. I do not think they like me enough. Perhaps it is because I am not a boy, but a scrawny woman instead.

And so I find myself here, in the House of Exiles. I am here out of a desperate hope that he remembers me, for I have need for a home.

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