Domus Exsulis

Silva Atra

In which a fortuitous projectile fractures something other than its target

by on Apr.27, 2015, under Camena Draconis, Nemorosum Somnium, Nemus Animae, Silva Atra, Three Forests

(c) Nin Harris. All Rights Reserved.

In Memory of Janet Yanosko Elkins, one of the first and earliest readers of this frenetic, hypertextual web and all souls, friends and loved ones lost along the way, somewhere in the Great Dreaming.

Ackbroll squatted beneath the shadow of a teak tree, watching The Wild Maiden of The Trees as she circled the gradon that dreamt within states. All around them, Nemorosum Somnium moved and rustled. It was a feral force that troubled even the Maiden in all her wildness. It troubled Ackbroll even more so, for he was significantly less untamed. His patron, the antlered one, had warned him of this many moons ago. Now, as the Wild Maiden grew frenetic and urgent, he finally understood. The wind affected even him, the murmuring of the trees bending and shifting his own memories, despite the protection of the antlered one. Ackbroll had been named protector here, even if he could have left, his own sense of responsibility would not let him do so.

The susurration that was the conversation between twigs, the veins of corresponding leaves and the wind created an intricate weave that contained the consciousness of a thousand trees and more. It drowned out the thoughts of humans and animals alike. The susurration had the penunggu in the trees cackling and hooting, half-wild with starvation and a glee born of both deprivation and power. The madness of the forest had kept away the tourists who provided them with fresh blood, and fresher meat, but had given these malicious protectors of the trees something else. A new strength, a new dreaming. This could not bode well, Ackbroll thought. He sucked at his upper lip and made an irritated sound. There was no help for it, he had to act soon. Timing was everything. No time for elaborate plans here. He took his slingshot, and loaded it with a mangosteen fruit. It was firm, but soft. Firm enough to be used as a projectile. Soft enough not to hurt too much if used. He looked up at the elegant teak tree and patted its trunk in a familiar, affectionate gesture.

“This may hurt a little,” he said to both the tree and the forest.

He eyed the gradon, whom he knew to be the queen of dragons, as well as the source of the disturbance within the heart of the forest. He aimed his slingshot. He fired.

Splat!

“OWW!”

It would have been a loud shout of outrage, had it not hit something other than a very diminutive target. Ackbroll dropped his slingshot, squinted and then sighed.

“Broke my wing! My wing! Stupid spear-boy!”

Ackbroll dropped to his knees and peered at the Flitterer.

“Weren’t you banished from Nemus Animae?”

(continue reading…)

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The Arbitrator Speaks of Story-Theft

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

(c) Nin Harris 2009 —

The Arbitrator is in a fuzzy, deep blue bathrobe today, his close-cropped red hair wet as if he has just come out of a bath. He invites me into his home in the South-Eastern Wing of Domus Exsulis, a sturdy retreat built of wood and set atop tall pillars of timber. If I move out of the leadlight adorned doors which open from ceiling to floor, I will be on the hexagonal deck which looks out across the fens to the south, the Mishgalaveri Mountains towards the west. I watch as his eyes widen at how I have changed. I am no longer the voluptuous, dusky-skinned Ferahian scribe and researcher who visited him on odd evenings.

“Yildie, what a pleasant surprise,” he says, a hint of doubt in his voice as he takes my clammy and webbed hands in his big, warm ones.

“More of a surprise than it is pleasant, I am sure,” I say to him, some bitterness and insecurity entering my voice. He laughs, and runs his fingers through my hair, which has grown silky and wild.

“You look like a watermaiden now, my dear, but still you. This is indeed quite amazing. Quite, quite amazing. I have not seen you since the incident with Conrad. Was that his name?”

“Yes, him.”

I shiver and remove my hands from his warmth, my movements abrupt and jerky. I move towards the leadlight sliding doors and look at the grotesque panel-work on them. They make me feel sick tonight with the scenes of bestial debauchery. I push them apart, the disjointed and rusty protest of the sliding mechanism telling me that I have been too violent.

“Yes, do get some fresh air outside, love. I will be with you shortly. Must get decent for you, mustn’t I?”

Outdoors, the balmy breeze from Alta Exsilii caresses my merling cheeks. It is twilight; I lean my head back against the wood of the wall as I listen to the dragons rumbling overhead. They call still for their queen who is lost in the forest of dreaming. I suppose she would have lost her name as well. Names are a manner in which we lose ourselves, our identities. I say as much to The Arbitrator as he joins me with two full pewter goblets of pinot noir. I accept the proffered goblet, carved with ornate detail and studded with blood-red rubies as he sits down beside me, wearing faded corduroys and a thick black sweater, for it is getting cold. I watch his sharp features and his long, smooth-shaved jaw as his lips move.

“Names are one way in which we can have our selves defined and stolen. But I think what is far more important are the stories behind those names. And this is even more true of storytellers. Why, when you think of it, this entire isle is made up of stories. So, story-theft becomes something so deep, so hurtful that even magic suffers.”

“Story-theft? How is that even possible?”

The Arbitrator taps his nose, carefully and swirls the wine in his goblet.

“I have another ‘name’,” he says, as he lifts the goblet to his lips and drinks. I watch the movement of his throat as he drinks, and still wonder why he fascinates me so, when I know that part of what he does involves being merciless.

“Do I want to know this name?” I ask, not even feigning my apprehension, not even joking about it. He smiles at me a little.

“It is harmless enough. I am the Story Wizard, guardian of a rather arcane cult connected to the craft of storytelling.”

“Since when does storytelling require a Wizard?”

“It does when it is the sacred art of storytelling which goes hand in hand with ritual. There are many storytelling wizards, and then there are Story Wizards, who arbitrate.”

“Go slow, you’re confusing me.”

“One of the things a storyteller learns when he starts is that there are no new stories. And yet, there are new tellings, new variations. But because there are no new stories, proving that there is story-theft can be a difficult thing. This is where magic comes in. This is where I come in.”

The Arbitrator says this slowly as he finishes the last of his wine, I lean towards him, intrigued by what he’s telling me but also by the man himself.

“So a Story Wizard performs a form of magical arbitration?”

I wonder what Regya would think of that, remembering her struggles with both Finora’s and the Orphée’s stories. He smile at me, a questioning expression in his face as he says,

“Precisely.”

I shrug at him, knowing he wants to know what is on my mind, but unwilling to share.

Instead, I ask,

”And this goes back to the cost of arbitration that you’ve told me about?”

He smiles a little; I know he can tell that I am hiding things from him. It is not usually the case between us, but things have changed since I lost my hand. Things have changed in the main Manse as well, between Kieran and me. A particularly loud dragon roars a battle roar. The leadlight panes on The Arbitrator’s doors rattle a little.

“Most storytellers would suffer in silence rather than come to me for arbitration. It involves digging deep into the invisible latticework of stories, appropriation atop of appropriation. It may be that the numen called up to judge the stories may decide that our complainant is a story thief himself or herself. He or she could stand to lose not just their reputation, but their lives. Or worse, sometimes, even the ability to make stories.”

“That sounds rather harsh and unfair.”

He strokes my watermaiden hair and whispers in my ear,

“But nothing is ever fair. Didn’t we already establish this?”

Something about him makes me want to push him away today. And then I realize that this is the first time I’ve seen him since I was maimed by Conrad in the woods. Perhaps, something about him reminds me of Conrad. Or perhaps my watermaiden senses are now rendered nauseous by the warm, meaty smell of human male, even if he is several centuries old and magical to boot. I place the pewter goblet carefully on the polished, hardwood floor, and stand.

“I have to go,” I say. He stands up too, visibly displeased.

“Must you?” He takes my hand, and says,

“I have not told you yet about the storyteller who braved the odds because she felt aggrieved enough.”

I stiffen.

“And what did you do to her?”

My sentence is taut with tension, the implication of power behind his stories had never troubled me before. But today, it does.

“What did I do to her? Why I was quite magnanimous, my dear. I let her go! I did not punish her for being so bold.”

“What do you mean, by that? Was there not a cost of arbitration?”

“There always is a cost. But we found that, like in Hamlet, sometimes there are other ways to trap the conscience of an errant king or storyteller.”

I am riveted, despite myself.

“Will you not say more?”

The Arbitrator smiles at me.

“What, can you not guess already?”

Despite myself I allow him to fill my goblet again with pinot noir.

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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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Fireflies in the Wood of Spectres

by on Apr.26, 2015, under Silva Atra, Three Forests

(c) Nin Harris, 2001-2009

Conrad speaks:

Not far from Nemus Animae, there lies a darker, less inviting congregation of trees and wildlife. The undergrowth is sparse, the bark of trees darker. Yet, the fireflies that illuminate the thick-velveted green of Nemorosum Somnium and Nemus Animae also inhabit this darkness. As you barely enter its depths, you wonder what could be so forbidding about this place.

First, a hint. Soft feathers touching your face. Velvet in its tenderness, these are not white feathers, light as air and as forgiving. These are dark feathers which seem to belong to some fallen angel, lost beyond redemption of light and yet unwilling to fall to an even deeper damnation. There are no virtues to be found in this haunted grove. But you will not find the titillating sensations of angst either. A touch of that feather will induce sorrow in you that is thick and hateful. Insiduous and turbulent, it crashes into you and seems to penetrate every light hue in your being.

This then, is the seduction of the darkest of thoughts, whispers the voice in your head.

This then, is Silva Atra, Wood of the Spectres. You may find a darkness here beyond what you are used to; or a richness far too cloying, like a chocolate cake laced with alcohol. It is like an addiction you find close to impossible to kick. There is something dogging your heels here, feeling almost like an obsession.

Darkness and fireflies. This is the first impression any visitor unwise enough to venture here will get. Many specters and were-creatures and the darker of the fae can be found here, for this is a place of banishment. Only ghosts haunt, you say, but you will find more than that here – will find that sometimes the living are far more efficient at hauntings. It is cold; draw your cloak around yourself if you will. Or run, run back to the woods of Nemorosum Somnium or Nemus Animae. Just don’t kid yourself. No place is safe on Yrejveree; but then again, no place is the Wood of the Spectres.

No place more deadly, no place more filled with pain. I love the taste of that pain, it fills my senses, it makes me feel even more alive than when I was really, well. Alive, you know.

Oh no. Have I frightened you? She won’t be much better, you know. Yes, I know the Caretaker has told you about her, that she will protect you from people like me. Do you think she is any safer than the rest of us? Yes, move back, my sweet. I see you have noticed my nice, shiny teeth. Why don’t you let me lead you deeper into the trees? I have plenty of tales to share; I can be quite a scream too; the life of the party, as they say. What, was that too obvious a pun? I can be subtle too, if you want.

Hey now, why are you running away? Tarme? Well she’s busy at the easternmost reaches of this Grove; apparently a lot of new arrivals from that quarter. Banished spirits of the world. I was one of them; once, but I’ve made myself quite at home here. Come now, don’t you want me to show you around? I’m always glad to be of assistance. Always glad.

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