Domus Exsulis

Archive for April, 2015

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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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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House Slippers and a Swerving Corridor

by on Apr.27, 2015, under Camena Draconis, Nemorosum Somnium, Three Forests

(c) Nin Harris 2009 – . All Rights Reserved.

Left of the Librarium, and slanting somewhat northwards the corridor swerves. The floor is covered with a threadbare carpet of maroon with beige swirls, intricate details lost under years of wear and dust. She pays attention to each dip and swerve in the floor as she walks, her fingers trailing the rough surface of the wall, counting each footstep she makes. Ahead, the triumphant cries of dragons. She does not know yet that elsewhere, trees are battling dragons with their fractured arboreal apparitions of dreaming. She does not know that the Great Dreaming of the trees had been interrupted by a well-aimed, albeit somewhat marred projectile. She only knows that it feels like the world is erupting in chaos about her. You will not perhaps know her as a distinct entity from the other female players within this House of Exiles, but perhaps you might be interested in the details, as she is. The details matter more to her than her own name or whether or not she has a character distinct enough for you to take note. The frayed hem of her favourite dusky rose morning gown reaches past her ankles and worry at her favourite pair of house slippers with every step that she takes. The slippers are embroidered with pansies and trailing leaves on a darker green fabric. Her fingers, dark brown, meddle with the peeling paint on the rough wall as she pads on, swerving downwards, ever downwards. She sees herself thus. A pair of hands, a pair of slippered feet, soft, subdued slapping sounds made against the threadbare, somewhat pungent carpet as she navigates herself through the rabbit warren that Domus Exsulis sometimes resembles. Her hair, frizzy and black, escapes her braid in opposing directions, making her look like a disjointed, ill-put together apparition who strolls through corridors at the break of dawn. A pair of eyes to observe. Ears to listen to gossip. A mind to filter. Lips to be pursed, keeping their own counsel.

She is ignored by the house-imps and the djinn wielding a vacuum cleaner. She reaches the steps. She takes them, one at a time, pausing to look through the cracked windowpane at the sun rising above Nemorosum Somnium. There, a host of dragons congregate, and seem to be swooping into the forest. Moments later, a deafening rumbling sound is heard and her vision feels enveloped by shades of green and deep umber, conflicting with one another.

When her vision finally settles, this is what she sees. A violet dragon, flying upwards to meet the host of dragons. Along with her, swirling shapes in iridescent colors mimic the movement of the wind. The host of dragons surrounds the elegant Himalayan dragon on all sides. With an elegant precision, the violet dragon swoops and plunges earthwards once more, evading their closing ranks. They begin to roar. Moments later she barrels into the sky again, this time above them, with her the host of earth spirits and aerial dancers of the forest. She bugles imperiously at them, a strong, draconic voice that reaches the walls and rafters of Domus Exulis. From her window, the woman in dusky rose watches. As the sun rises higher, this is what she sees: one by one, the flanks of the draconic formation step back. Heads are bowed in submission. The violet Queen sings to them a Hymn of Earth and Sky. The swirling shapes of the forest surround her, for this is a dragon who was also a tree. The woman knows this. Everyone on the island knows this. And now there is silence, for the dragons rumble no more. They have found their Queen, and she has accepted them, but has also subdued them.

The woman in dusky rose ponders what this would mean for the rest of the isle, and if this will bring the Wild Hunt out of hiding. When one wild host subsides, another must rise, after all. This is the order of things. There can only be silence, for a little while before one pattern or another will unravel. Chaos and change. The woman smiles to herself at this thought. It is a quiet smile, with a hint of bitterness. She resumes her journey, left of the Librarium, swerving northwards, towards a room found several levels below where her implements await her. This is all she has for now. Details. Knowledge of other lives. That is all she needs for now.

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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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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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