Domus Exsulis

Gaernic Exiles

A Gift Laced With A Mystery

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

(c) Nin Harris 2014 — . All Rights Reserved.

Deiranetta stared at the basket of pastries. They were warm from the oven, and the yeasty fragrance hinted at gustatory temptations that would ensure a very pleasant afternoon spent underneath the sheltering orange trees.

“What does the Kitchen Witch want?” she asked of the assistant pastry chef who stood before her, nervous as she smoothed her large lavender palms repeatedly on her starched white apron.

“The Kitchen Witch did not send you this, Lady Deiranetta,” the Mishgalen  answered, her head bent downwards so that Deiranetta could meet her eyes.

The birds sang overhead in the fruit-laden trees that shaded this particular courtyard. It was a peculiarity of Domus Exsulis that there were many courtyards here. Each courtyard had trees and plants that could have come from anywhere, and from any world. Deiranetta was rather fond of this particular courtyard because of the citrus trees and the sweet-smelling herbs that stained her bare feet as she walked. There were no roses here, but sometimes, even Deiranetta tired of roses. They evoked far too many memories that were not always pleasant.

“If she did not send me these pastries, then who did? Did you?”

The Mishgalen shook her head once more, and said, “Only look inside, Milady Deiranetta. It is a gift.”

“I do not trust mysterious gifts, even less so if they are edible gifts,” Deiranetta said, fixing a hard stare at the Mishgalen. Perhaps the Deiranetta of twenty years past would have been intrigued by the mystery and romance of it all, but this Deiranetta had learned the hard way what it meant to be betrayed, and to be exiled from her own home.

“It’s not poisoned,” said the Mishgalen.

“Oh, if you’re not going to eat it, I will. I’m hungry, and all this dithering over a basket of pastries is annoying,” said Elise. Elise moved out of the shadows, her movements tight as a whip-crack as she strode towards Deiranetta and the Mishgalen. Her feline eyes appraised the Mishgalen assistant cook as she approached, and extracted a butter-rich croissant from the basket. Her hazelnut-brown hands, so efficient at garroting spies and unwanted salesmen now tore into the croissant. She bit into it with disproportionate pleasure.

“Mmm. Yrejveree butter is the best butter I have tasted on any world,” Elise finally said as she licked the crumbs of the croissant off from her long fingers. The Mishgalen seemed hypnotised by this very expressive display of enjoyment.

Deiranetta stared at her cousin. “Any world? What do you mean, cousin? We’ve only been in Gaeirn and this world.”

“You have only been in Gaeirn and now in Yrejveree.”

“Oh Elise, more secrets? How many do you have?”

Deiranetta looked at her cousin. Elise had grown her hair since they left Gaeirn but it was still short, a page-boy cut that contrasted with the hard angles of her face. Deiranetta privately thought it was not as flattering on Elise as the sleek look she had in Gaeirn, when her head was shaved smooth every morning. She was a well-oiled killing and espionage machine then, and Deiranetta never felt safe without her presence. But, Elise seemed happier these days despite still being poised for danger like a cobra waiting to strike. She no longer needed to be Deiranetta’s bodyguard, but she had not lost her guarded air, nor her hyper-vigilance.

 

“It’s not poisoned,” she now said to Deiranetta, completely ignoring the other question. There were many questions that Elise ignored. Many. For instance, she never told Deiranetta why she always had to taste Deiranetta’s food first, nor how she always knew if a dish was poisoned or not. There were many mysteries to Elise, Deiranetta mused. She had learned to accept that she would never know everything there was to know about her cousin.

The Mishgalen moved backwards, discreetly, her smooth lavender visage looking both pleased and slightly guilty.

“There’s a note in the basket,” she now offered to both Elise and Deiranetta.

Deiranetta reached into the basket to pluck out the note. She opened the thick and coarse piece of paper to read a message scrawled in a rude, bold script. She took out her reading glasses and perched it on the end of her nose.

 

With Love and compliments from an old friend.

Wordless, she passed the note to Elise.

“Do you recognise the handwriting, Cousin?”

Elise shook her head. “No,” she said. She took a chocolate snail out from the basket and bit into it. Chocolate oozed out of the pastry snail and coated her lips momentarily before she licked them, with greedy gusto. It amused Deiranetta to see her cousin like this. Perhaps she was not as hyper-vigilant as she had been in Gaeirn. This Elise reminded her of the Elise she grew up with, the one with whom many secrets were shared.

“Mmmph. This chocolate. Divine. Belgian, isn’t it?” Elise directed this remark at at the Mishgalen, who nodded, mute and shy in the presence of Elise. Elise remained poised and deadly in a black velvet vest, and a leather kilt,even when her lips and chin were smeared with rich chocolate.

“What’s Belgian?” Deiranetta asked distractedly as she started pacing, fretting. obsessing again.

“It’s something that originates from Belgium, a country in Terra Cognita. And I can tell you one other thing. It’s not from him. You know it. We left him in Gaeirn, quite assuredly…,”

“Elise!” Deiranetta said hastily, gazing with meaning at the Mishgalen girl.

“Right. Well, as I was saying, we left him tied up with affairs of the state, did we not?” Elise winked at her cousin before marching up to the Mishgalen.

“You’re going to tell us who sent you now, aren’t you? This pastry is divine, even if it was pilfered from the Kitchen Witch’s stores, but that’s not the point. Even un-poisoned gifts can seem threatening if we know not the source.”

The Mishgalen shrugged, obviously bored of the questions. Deiranetta suspected the girl was not the sort who could keep secrets for too long, at any rate.

 

“It was the old minstrel,” she said. “He promised to come and  play for my family for my Nanna’s birthday next week in exchange. But now that you know, he probably won’t.”

The Mishgalen girl slumped as she said this.

Deiranetta threw Elise a panicked look. Elise rolled her eyes, clearly annoyed at her cousin’s one-track mind.

“Was he a Gaeirnic minstrel?” Elise asked the girl. The girl shook her head.

“Noo..ooo. He’s always been here. Years and years. Moving around down at the Mykologos. Sometimes he sleeps dockside. He asked me to make you these pastries, and to write the note. He didn’t say why, though.”

Elise reached into the basket for a third pastry, a rich orange Danish. She bit into it, and her eyes almost rolled back. Deiranetta began to wonder about the pageantry that was going on. Elise was not normally so forthcoming in her expressions

“You baked all of these? You have the hands of an angel, my dear.”

The Mishgalen looked pleased.

“Thank you, it was my pleasure.”

Deiranetta looked at the basket again, her resolve wavering despite her worry about the minstrel. It was not her minstrel, definitely.

“It’s an un-poisoned gift laced with a mystery, Cousin. And if you don’t take something now, I’ll finish the whole basket before everything turns cold.”

Deiranetta could not let that happened, naturally. She reached for a chocolate croissant.

“Oh my.” She said, and then took another bite. “Oh my.” She looked thoughtful.

“Perhaps a gift like this does not require too much examining,” she said to the Mishgalen girl. The girl beamed, very obviously flattered.

“Are you on duty at the kitchen now? And what’s your name?”

“Lilac, Milady. And I’m done for the day.”

Deiranetta smiled.  “Well then, Lilac, how about you join us in emptying this basket before Elise finishes everything?”

Lilac hesitated a split second before saying, “I would like that very much, Milady.”

Above them, the skies of Yrejveree remained blue and cheerful, while starlings sang in the orange trees. The bounty of the basket was enough to feed one very hungry Gaernic assassin and bodyguard, an exiled Lady, and an assistant pastry chef who had baked a basket of pastries so that her Grandmother could have the best birthday party ever.

*

Somewhere near the harbour, a minstrel started practising Mishgalen tunes for a family concert, a cunning smile playing about his lips.

*

Perhaps the true mystery lay in the making of the gift itself.

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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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All So These Roses May Dream

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

(c) Nin Harris 2011. All Rights Reserved.

She sleeps within a thicket of roses, but would laugh at you had you pointed out similarities to various fairytale types. She would gesture at her camping stove, the tarp over her head and her sturdy gardening gloves. She would ask you to stop gawking while handing you a trowel, or rake. You would be enlisted to help the roses grow, to aid in their dreaming. As they should. As they would.

The growth of this woman’s army is commensurate with the spread of the sea of roses, with petals as red as blood, as deep as pinot noir or as rich as the cream from Orkney cows. There is no Sleeping Beauty within this thicket of roses. There is just an army of people, like yourself, who came here out of curiosity but who ended up giving their time, laying to waste their own schemes.

All so these roses may dream

*

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In a Real Rose Garden, The Roses Dream

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

(c) Nin Harris 2009–

Somewhere on the grounds of Domus Exsulis, there is a real thicket of thorns and roses. The wild roses remember a tale; a long time ago, a winged One carried his bride to this isle on the back of Zephyr. The roses remember how a bright-browed One was transfigured by the dreaming of storytellers and poets into a green serpent, and later, a beast with the head of a lion and the paws of a bear. She had not pulled a rose, a rose but barely one. When up appeared her bridegroom, who may be elfin, or draconic, or with a pensive snout on his furry face, looking rather confused as he utters the lines that will determine their destiny.

There is, rather archetypally, a werewolf in this garden. He is a man-sized wolf who seems not to care that you are watching him putter around with his gardening shears, or his rake with wicked tines, humming all the while a chanson that has not been heard outside of this isle for several centuries. His snout is grass-stained, his claws adept, but not as adept as the gardening shears that he handles with an almost religious concentration. If you had called him an archetype, perhaps he will laugh, a guttural, wolfish kind of laugh, you understand.

He does not mind his fellow gardener, a highly strung woman with dark ringlets and a voice that rises and falls in the rhythmic cadences of both Italian and English. Perhaps we shall leave them here, where the roses still dream of the God of Love and his bride. For all Roses dream of that first gardener, who let them grow wild in Zephyr’s breeze.

This may also be true in a warmer clime, where rugosa roses will fight with wanton hibiscuses in a balmy breeze. Perhaps here, our Beauty may be clad in a delicate batik sarong, treading softly along the dewy grass and herbs while another gardener, pensive in his tiger stripes, waits to pounce on any who would dare to pull, a rugosa, a melur, but barely one.

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A Distraught Lady, the Fens and a Creepy Creature

by on Apr.26, 2015, under Domus Exsulis, Gaernic Exiles

(c) Nin Harris 2009 —

The Caretaker Speaks:

I have been slowly reading accounts of old Alhaere shared by Learie. The lands she speaks of, remind me of the uninhabited Fens towards the South-East of this isle. It may be wise for me to spend more time there. There may be clues in relation to the origins of this island which will mesh well with my discoveries in the Mishgalaveri Vale.

I do need to sort out other problems here first. The dragons are still making a frightful racket, and I really need to find an unused teabag somewhere. If I do not get some tea to settle my frazzled nerves, I do not know what I will do.

And if that is not enough, there’s a new exile living in the wild rose garden, somewhere towards the northwestern side of the grounds. I met her yesterday whilst composing a letter.

To cut a long story short, I met her, and she insisted that I aid her in writing down her raving accounts. She claims to be a Lady, but, you never know these days. Just smile politely, nod and walk away.

Do expect an emergence of a Courtyard sometime soon. She’s entertaining enough, and I could always direct a guest or two to her, I suppose. Whilst not the most lucid of hostesses, she is diverting in her own way.

On the subject of dubious hosts, I’d advise you to stay away from that Conrad fellow. Yes, he has a nice voice and a certain air about him. But just stay away from him, please? I have more than enough on my plate right now and do not want to have to account for the disappearance of yet another visitor.

Yes, yes. If you’ve got nothing better to do and you’re really curious, you can go and talk to her. Her name is Deiranetta, and she handed me a whole pile of her love letters.

No, you can’t read it yet. It is badly written, overly effusive and her grammar is deplorable.

Look, why don’t you go and find the help-bogles, make me some tea, and index these cards nicely for me? No? I thought not. Run along to the garden then.

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Domus Exsulis: A Courtyard

by on Apr.26, 2015, under Domus Exsulis, Gaernic Exiles

There is an unexpected courtyard at the heart of this sprawling home. Once you enter it, it seems to be impossibly big, with a garden of wild roses. You may surprise a lycanthropic gardener here, with gigantic gardening shears, or you may meet a wild-eyed, wild-haired woman in a gown of blood-red velvet muttering stanzas of Italian poetry under her breath. This was a forgotten courtyard before a ferahian ship deposited the last of the Gaernic exiles on Yrejveree. The wild-eyed lady led her subjects to the domus after her demands to meet “your leader!” met with shrugs and vague fingers pointing in the general direction of the hill upon which the domus sprawled in multiple directions in haphazard fashion. After much hand-waving and vicious squabbles between the wild-eyed woman and the Caretaker of the domus, her people started the long, painful process of rebuilding their world on Yrejveree.

The wild-eyed woman claimed this courtyard as her own, although it is perhaps more accurate to say that she peremptorily occupied it; the exiles of Gaeirn started erecting pavilions as they began the slow process of transforming the surrounding, dilapidated hallways into a court befitting their exiled Lady. Soon, the wild rose garden on the grounds outside bled into this courtyard. It is hard to tell if there is a competition going on between the rose gardens. It hardly seems so, for the profusion of wild blooms in hues of harsh scarlet, powdery and dusky pink, pinot noir-red and brazen carmine seem to reach for each other, embracing in a voluptuous-yet-deadly tangle of thorns, leaves and trembling petals.

Perhaps, like the forests of Yrejveree, it is simply impossible to tell where one ends, and where the other begins.

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