editing and publishing
N A Sulway
Nike Sulway is a Queensland writer. Her previous works include the novels
The Bone Flute and The True Green of Hope. Her new novel, Rupetta, will be
published by Tartarus Press in 2012.
Alan Baxter writes dark fantasy, sci fi and horror, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog.
He also teaches Kung Fu. His novels, RealmShift and MageSign, are out now, and his
short fiction has appeared in journals and anthologies in Australia, the US and the UK. Learn more at www.alanbaxteronline.com
Paul A Freeman
Paul is the author of Rumours of Ophir (a novel on Zimbabwe’s high school syllabus) and numerous short stories. He is also the author of Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers – A Canterbury Tale, (2009) and the crime novel Vice and Virtue (2010). He can be found at www.paulfreeman.weebly.com
Sue Bursztynski has written ten children’s and YA books. Her recent novel, Wolfborn, is a CBCA Notable book. Her stories have appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Worlds Next Door and the Ford Street anthology, Trust Me! Sue lives in Melbourne with a balcony garden and a huge folklore collection.
Les is a freelance writer/editor based in Melbourne. He’s had stories published in Windmills, Short and Twisted 2011, Wet Ink, Page Seventeen, Perilous Adventures, 21D, Blue Crow Magazine, Skive, and Spunk2; and articles in Writer, WQ, ACTWrite, Back Page Lead, Living Now Magazine, Leader Newspapers, and Frontier.
Donna Maree Hanson
Donna is a Canberra based writer of fantasy, science fiction and horror. Her short stories also appear in anthologies, such as Dead Red Heart, by Ticonderoga Publications, and Anywhere But Earth, by coeur de lion. Donna is co-chairing Conflux 9, the Australian Science Fiction Convention in Canberra April 2013.
Jen is an Australian author of speculative fiction who has had short stories published nationally and internationally, in anthologies and magazines. Most recently, her short stories have appeared in the anthologies Bewere the Night, Dead Red Heart and Extinct Doesn't Mean Forever.
Nigel is a public servant from Perth, WA. His short fiction has been published in Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Full Unit Hookup and various themed anthologies.
Satima has had a life-long love of fantasy, which led her into writing it. She is working on a fantasy trilogy. Apart from reading, writing, editing and reviewing, her interests include theatre, Shakespeare, astrology, family history and belly dancing.
Kelly is an Archaeology graduate with a Masters specialisation in Egyptology, which encouraged a strong interest in ancient cultures and religious beliefs. This has resulted in her writing often including a strong mythological theme. She is currently working on a novel based on the Nephilim and the fall of angels.
Steven is an Australian, married with two children, has two university degrees and a résumé that looks like a list of every job you could ever have without really trying. He is also a performance acrobat and professional wrestler. He has been writing for 25 years.
Tom’s short stories have been published in many places. He also writes novels. Unfortunately, they remain, as yet, unpublished.
Vicky, from Gippsland, has recently rediscovered the joys of writing short fiction. She names procrastination and fear of rejection as among her best friends, and is always amazed when she has a story published.
The Salted Heart by N A Sulway
In Akkadian mythology, Ea was, among other things, the god of sea and lake waters,
crafts and writing, and ruled over Apsu, the great water, sometimes described as
groundwater, or the water beneath the earth. In ‘The Salted Heart’, the mythical and
the mundane, the past and the present, intertwine and merge as an ancient tale of
conquest, betrayal and love is revealed and interpreted through modern
archaeological and linguistic methodologies and played out to its conclusion. Or is it?
The Everywhere and The Always by Alan Baxter
This is not a Disney-style, modernised, sanitised fairy tale with a ‘happily ever after’ ending. Interweaving a time-honoured theme with a contemporary setting, ‘The Everywhere and The Always’ is a cautionary tale that more closely reflects the dark roots of the tradition, rather than being designed to appeal to young children. We all know that time passes differently in The Other Lands: mortals, enter at your peril!
Annabel and the Witch by Paul Freeman
Although this poem borrows its narrator from Chaucer’s most famous work, and also uses the legendary poet’s favoured heroic couplet form to craft the narrative, ‘Annabel and the Witch’ is more mediaeval fairy tale than Canterbury Tale. The lurid, forthright language and dark themes are strongly reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm, whose collections of folk and fairy tales, published in the early nineteenth century, largely reflect the dark and violent nature of the stories’ earlier, oral roots.
Through these eyes I see by Donna Maree Hanson
Since time immemorial, every culture has had its myths and legends about those with extraordinary healing powers. In Greek mythology, for example, Asclepius, a pupil of the healer Chiron the Centaur, was said to have been able to raise the dead after drinking a potion made from the blood of a Gorgon. ‘Through These Eyes I See’ is loosely based on the Medusa myth, sharing its resonances, but reversing and distorting it. And, in a further twist, in this instance, the healing ‘gift’, while beneficial to the recipient, brings nothing but grief to the healer.
A Tale of Publication: A Contemporary Fairytale by Les Zigomanis
The publishing game is tough. Every day, thousands of aspiring authors flood publishers with unsolicited manuscripts, looking for their break, looking for their book to become a bestseller. But most never make it. And the bulk of those who do don’t earn enough to make their endeavours worthwhile. For some, however, avarice, and the search for fame and success, fuels their obsessive pursuit of the impossible dream. Beware! The results may be deadly.
La Belle Dame by Satima Flavell (to the memory of John Keats (1795–1821) and Lee Hazlewood (1929–2007))
Lorelei, siren, mermaid, fairy, witch: the beautiful temptress who lures and traps the unwary male appears in many guises in myriad stories. Whatever her origins or name, she is invariably portrayed as a figure of evil that makes grown men shudder. ‘La Belle Dame’ revisits this recurring theme and hints at the possibility of an alternative interpretation: that the most evil acts may spring out of a misdirected search for happiness, and that therein lies one of the tragedies of the human — and, perhaps, the non-human — condition.
Glorious Destiny by Steven Gepp
Herakles, Theseus, Perseus, Jason, these names conjure up images of heroism, of everything that is good and great in human endeavour. Their exploits and deeds elevated them to a position beyond that of mere mortals, but what actually defines a hero, and how do you set about becoming one? Is it just about slaying monsters, and, if so, how does a would-be hero identify one? Appearances can be deceptive!
Meeting my Renaisssance Man by Vicky Daddo
Leonardo Da Vinci was something of an enigma, a genius living in an age where his knowledge and skills far surpassed those of other men, hampered in his achievements by being born centuries too soon. He truly was a visionary, a legend. And then there’s the equally enigmatic subject of his most famous painting, the Mona Lisa. ‘Meeting my Renaissance Man’ uses what we know about Leonardo and, tongue in cheek, recreates him in a present day setting.
Wetlands by Jen White
‘Wetlands’ explores themes that haunt our continent, stories of dispossession, of lost and stolen children and extinct animals, stories that resonate in our minds and haunt us for reasons we don’t always fully understand. It feels, at times, as if Australia is full of ghosts, creatures from the past (or from the future?) emerging in our dreams, in the liminal spaces of our psyche, in themes of terrible loss and creeping strangeness, but of discovery and renewal too.
Man’s Best Friend by Tom Williams
A futuristic adaptation of a mediaeval folk tale, perhaps best known in the form of a legend about a Welsh prince, Llywelyn, and his faithful hound, Gelert, ‘Man’s Best Friend’ is, in essence, a morality tale, emphasising the importance of trust based on experience and the need to think before acting.
In Paradise, Trapped by Kelly Dillon
Dressed in shining armour, soaring above the battlefields on a winged horse, choosing the bravest of the fallen warriors and escorting them up to Valhalla… what a privilege it is to be a valkyrie, one of Odin’s immortal handmaidens! What more could any woman ask for? ‘In Paradise, Trapped’, presents an alternative view of this splendid vision from Norse mythology, a view from within a brutal and corrupt patriarchal culture, a male paradise, where the woman are little more than glorified slaves.
Holly and Iron by Nigel Read
Fairy tale, folktale, cross cultural love story… ‘Holly and Iron’ combines elements of all three genres in a narrative that is deceptively simple yet defies categorisation. And they live happily ever after. Or do they?
Brothers by Sue Bursztynski
Believe it or not, variants of the Snow White story can be found in most European countries, and even as far afield as Libya and Mozambique! Most of us are familiar with the Brothers Grimm version, but is it real and accurate, or will ‘Brothers’ reveal the truth behind the popular fiction?
The Salted Heart
N A Sulway
Rebekah loaded the camera and descended the ladder, rung by rung, into the mouth
of the sinkhole. The hot desert disappeared, their tents and equipment, Nate's
diagrams, the trowels and brushes, the plastic tubs of small artefacts.
In the sinkhole there were only echoes and coolness.
Rebekah had never liked sinkholes. Too many archaeologists had died in their inky depths. The stink of limestone and broken bones rose from the water.
Thirty metres into the hole she clung to the ladder, ankle-deep in water, the well of the cave endlessly deep beneath her. She knew Nate had to go down alone; the caves were narrow in places, too narrow for two divers, or for too much equipment, and the silt that lined its walls was thick. One touch from a stray hand or floating piece of equipment and the disturbed silt would become a cloud of impenetrable darkness; Nate would quickly lose his sense of direction, and drown.
Rebekah wished he had trusted someone else to come to the site with them, one of his grad students, someone to supervise the dive while she worked on her translations. She resented the heat and boredom of waiting at the lip of the sinkhole, waiting to find out whether he had died, alone in the treacherous cave.
The red buoy dipped nearby, its bell echoing.
Her husband's great discovery rose from the dark like Ahab's whale. It climbed steadily beneath a cluster of air bladders, swathed in yellow plastic, long and slim, wider at one end than the other.
Nate had been in the water almost twelve hours, diving to 270 metres to retrieve the artefact he had discovered resting on a ledge in the brackish dark. In the infrared video it looked like a casket of some kind, perhaps a makeshift coffin. After all his careful research, the poring over ancient manuscripts, painstaking hours mapping each inch of the limestone karst – his doddering methodology – he was still calm. Twenty years of uncovering the remains of spears and bowls, shattered beyond repair. Important finds, but discoveries that barely ruffled the surface of history. Finally, her husband had uncovered something major, something that could change everything they knew about history, and the thrill that should have been there, the bone-deep enthusiasm, never reached his eyes, never shone from his face.
Rebekah peered into the dark water until she saw her husband coming, hand over hand up the guideline, his white face turned to the surface like a reflected moon. When he reached the surface they moved quickly and silently, hooking the winch rope through the chains, and disconnecting the bladders that had lifted the object from the anoxic depths of the cave.
Nate stayed in the sinkhole, at the water's surface, as Rebekah climbed into the world again, into the expanse of desert. Her feet collected damp clumps of ochre dirt as she walked to the winch and wound up the slack.
‘Ready?’ she called to Nate.
The Everywhere and The Always
Baba scowled at the lacework in her lap.
‘Mother,’ Rachel said, ‘don’t worry. He’ll be here. He’s just forgotten the time.’
‘He’s only ten.’
‘Yes. Too young to realise the anxiety he’s causing us.’
A knock at the door. Rachel smiled. ‘That’s probably him now.’
A distorted, thin silhouette waited beyond the frosted glass. Rachel opened the door to a very old man; wisps of white hair floated about his ears and collar. He wore an old-fashioned dark suit and short leather boots. A tag from a local charity shop hung on the jacket pocket. He smiled warmly, inclined his head.
‘My dear lady.’ His voice was soft and kind. ‘You won’t recognise me, but I could use your help. I’m staying with the Clarkes next door, and I’ve locked myself out. They’ll be back soon. Might I sit with you until they return? It’s rather cool this evening.’
Rachel smiled uncertainly. ‘Sure… of course. I’m Rachel.’
‘Forgive me, my name is Smith.’
‘You’re related to the Clarkes?’
‘Is it my stupid brother, Mum?’ Amy’s voice, equal parts hope and trepidation.
‘A friend of the Clarkes’,’ Rachel called out. ‘Come in, please.’
Mr Smith bowed and stepped inside, followed Rachel into the living room. ‘My daughter, Amy,’ Rachel said. ‘And my mother. This is Mr Smith. He’s waiting for the Clarkes to get home.’
‘An absolute pleasure, ladies,’ said Smith, another little bow. His eyes swept over the three women, drinking them in.
‘Tim’s late home,’ Amy said. ‘He’s only ten.’
Mr Smith’s face creased with pain, an almost personal hurt. ‘That’s terrible.’
Rachel sighed. ‘I’ll make tea.’
Smith sat in an armchair. He looked long and hard at Amy, his soft smile still in place. ‘Don’t you worry.’
‘I called him a retard this morning,’ Amy said. Tears welled in her eyes, wet diamonds over rosy cheeks.
Smith smiled. ‘Don’t worry about that. I’m sure he’s forgotten all about it.’
‘Did I ever see you before?’ said Baba, eyes narrow.
‘No, madam, I’m only visiting from out of town.’
Rachel returned, carrying a tray with a teapot, cups and cakes in individual wrappers.
Smith took a cup gracefully. ‘Young Tim, is he very late?’
Rachel shrugged. What was a long time for a ten-year-old boy to be gone? ‘He didn’t come home for lunch; now he’s late for dinner. He was supposed to be playing with friends.’
Mr Smith nodded gently. ‘Maybe that was an excuse and he went somewhere else.’
Smith’s face was drawn. ‘You must be frantic.’
‘I’m starting to worry, yes. He is very late. But he’s been late home before. He’s easily distracted and rarely checks his watch.’
‘Baba reckons the fairies took him.’ Amy’s eyes were dark, her frown deep.
Smith nodded. ‘Fairies, eh? I know a few tales of the Other Lands.’ Three generations of eyes fell upon him, hopeful, suspicious and intrigued from youngest to eldest. ‘I could tell a tale of Faerie, if you like.’
Annabel and the Witch
In Windermere, a pretty little maid
Named Annabel resided in a glade,
Inhabiting a hovel with her kin.
Through toiling in the fields her frame was thin
And often thoughts of appetising food
Caused Annabel to pout, to sulk, to brood,
To contemplate a world where daily strife
Was banished for an easy, slothful life.
Yet fancies such as these were naught but dreams,
As fleeting as the swollen mountain streams
That swept across this district strewn with lakes.
For though she yearned for honey-sweetened cakes
And roasted meats served up on plates of gold,
The claws of destitution had a hold
Of Annabel, this lass of humble birth
Who tilled and turned the unforgiving earth.
Yet rather than accepting cruel Fate
Ordained for her this disadvantaged state,
She girlishly imagined that one day
(And on this point, each night she’d kneel and pray)
A handsome prince upon a snow-white steed
Would rescue her from penury and need.
Alas, no knightly saviour was at hand
To liberate this daughter of the land.
Through these eyes I see
Donna Maree Hanson
Within these silvered walls I see nothing but me in my skin. A multitude of sad eyes, crooked mouths grimacing into infinity, long clumps of tangled hair that writhe. Gazing at my reflection, I dream of being free — walking down the street and seeing the sky and hearing the laughter of the people around me. Then I remember what I would see through these eyes. It would overwhelm me, kill me perhaps.
The door swings open, a slight groan of the hinge. My breathing grows short and my heart thumps, squeezing the blood around inside me so fast I think I will burst an artery. Now there is a gap in the mirrored walls where the doorway is.
‘Mandy?’ My mother talks quietly as she steps through the door. ‘There is someone to see you. Someone who needs you.’
I see her reflected image, her wrinkled skin. By the cut of her mouth, I know she is determined. I whimper. I know they need me, but it is so horrible seeing people without their skin. Sometime they are rotting on the inside, great swathes of blackness eating through tissues and bones. I feel sick when I touch it.
‘It won’t take a moment, baby. She is the same age as you, but she is sick, and only you can help her. Won’t you help her? Won’t you come out here and look?’
‘Does she go to school?’ I ask.
‘Why, yes, she is in high school and very smart too. Before she got sick she won lots of academic prizes. They say she is a genius.’
‘That means she is really smart doesn’t it?’
The reflected image of my mother smiles and nods. ‘Yes, and you know smart people, they help the rest of the world, make it a better place. If you don’t see her, there might be some great discovery that never gets made, some new formula that never gets calculated... there are so many possibilities.’
‘Can I see her in here?’
My mother frowns. ‘In here?’
‘Yes, that way I can look away when it gets too much, and I can talk to her with her skin on too.’
Her brow furrows over glittering eyes. ‘Very well. But I don’t like people seeing you in here. People will talk, think it’s strange.’
In the mirror, I watch her turn and go, see her close the door with a snap. I watch my smile in the mirror. I’ve won a small victory. As it is not my healing day, she couldn’t force me to heal or the government regulator would remove me from her care.
Soon after, the door opens again, and a girl comes in. I like the look of her skin. She is slightly brown, a tan, I think it is called. She has bright green eyes and a wide, smiling mouth. Her dark hair is long and curled, bouncing around her shoulders. From looking at her skin you would not think she was sick at all.
A Tale of Publication: A Contemporary Fairytale
Once upon a time, a writer was showering when the idea for a book struck him as if God Himself had thundered inspiration into his brain. The Writer was breathless, excited, awed. He’d already written a couple of books — one about a blind, idiot savant serial killer who worked in a prison as a janitor, killing the prisoners one by one; the other about feral bunnies who rebelled against being hunted, got organised and enslaved the human populace. Shockingly, neither book sold. Each did the rounds of the slush piles, visiting almost every publisher in the country, but they elicited only rejection after rejection. Now, the books lay forgotten in the bottom drawer of The Writer’s filing cabinet.
This new idea, though, was The One.
The Writer was sure of it.
La Belle Dame
He was beautiful. A golden youth, handsome, muscular, riding as if he owned the world and everything in it. And all alone. That was good.
I waited until he was almost under the shade of my tree before dropping, light as a squirrel, onto the path before his steed. He reined in sharply, startlement — and something else — evident on his face as he eyed me up and down in my velvet gown, its neckline slashed to the waist in the new eastern style popular among mortal women of rank. The sideless surcoat just covered my nipples, lending the gossamer silk of my shirt a semblance of modesty. I offered a shy smile, quickly lowering my eyes, but not before he had noticed the admiration in my glance.
‘Greetings, Sir Knight,’ I said.
Of course, he did not understand. But he replied, in his own harsh tongue, ‘Can I offer you assistance, my lady?’ An ugly, limited language. I rarely bother to speak it, although I can understand it perfectly. If the knight would take the trouble to learn my tongue, he would pass an essential test.
I glided to his side and took his left hand, loose on the reins, with both my own. A gentle tug and a smile with just the right amount of appreciation in my eyes, and he took my meaning. He swung from the saddle, and taking my hand, followed me.
Glory was all that mattered.
To have one’s name spoken of and known throughout eternity; to be known by generation after generation; to have one’s name spoken by kings and peasants alike; to be written in the annals of history, for children and adults alike to aspire to.
Glory was all that mattered.
It was what their entire culture seemed to be based on — the stories of the heroes and their accomplishments. No, not just heroes, but Heroes. The god-like amongst men, those whose deeds no mere mortal could ever hope to replicate. All in Greece knew of Jason, who sailed to the ends of the Earth, gathering the Argonauts to journey with him in order to bring back the Golden Fleece. They knew of Perseus, who slew the Gorgon Medusa, the beast whose merest glance could turn men to stone, and of Bellerophon, who rode Pegasus to kill the dreaded Chimaera with a spear. Then there was the greatest hero of them all, Herakles, who did more in one lifetime than most could even dream of. And, of course, last, but far from least, Theseus, who entered the labyrinth and faced down the mighty Minotaur.
That was the man in whose footsteps he was going to tread to become the next Hero.
Meeting my Renaisssance Man
When I say I was floored the first time I saw him, I mean I was literally floored. I was working in Nonna’s bakery one Saturday afternoon while all my girlfriends were buying shoes in the Myer sale. He walked in through the fly flaps. I looked up, smiled and carried on wiping the tables, but then I had to do one of those crazy cartoon double-takes on account of his wild hair, and that’s when I spilt the cleaning fluid, slipped and ended up giving him a ‘V’ sign with my legs. Thank the Lord I’d taken my black mini off in favour of the pants.
I wanted to cry because I’d broken my fall with my wrist and it freaking hurt, and then I wanted to cry because the guy with the wild hair just walked on by as though seeing someone crumpled in a heap on the floor was within normal parameters in whatever world he occupied. He just stood at the counter, a wide, black bag slung over his narrow shoulders, inspecting the pastries.
I don’t mind telling you that I had a little trouble containing the colourful words that were competing for the tip of my tongue, and I marched to the counter, wearing my long-perfected scowl.
‘Can I help you?’ I asked with a sunny voice while my eyes fired bolts of lightning at this nonsensical old man with his albino lion’s mane. I waited, let off more silent bolts into his skull, and then asked again, with my cloudy voice. Nothing. He was about to get the thunderous voice, when suddenly he looked up and I realised he wasn’t an old man at all; he was about my age, and he had the most dazzling green eyes I’d ever seen.
Josh gazed dully out through the dirty window of the plane. He could smell vomit. Only minutes after they had taken off, the passenger in the back seat, a miner returning to the site, had thrown up into his hat, enveloping the three of them — Josh, the pilot and the miner — in a rancid stink of half digested Chinese food and beer.
The small plane swooped above a surreal landscape of sandstone plateaux, deep gorges, sheer escarpments and winding rivers, the complex topography host to dozens of microclimates that nurtured diverse wildlife. Josh had been making trips like this for years, flying in and flying out, monitoring radiation levels and determining the effects of any environmental contamination for the department. He liked his job. He never tired of the rugged beauty of the surrounds, but this time he hardly saw it.
This time, as he was leaving home, Emma had told him not to return. Oh, he had known it was coming. Things had not been easy between them for months, but he had hoped they could work it out. Emma, obviously, thought differently.
‘I can’t stand it anymore,’ she’d yelled. ‘You have to control every single damned thing.’
He knew she was right.
Man’s Best Friend
Exhaling grey plumes, I stretch and yawn, marvelling at the magnificent blue and green sunrise spreading across the western sky. The exotic light gives the colony’s bland pre-fab buildings an appeal they won’t retain later in the day. After two years on Salvation, I still haven’t got used to the planet’s colours. Even the shrubby native vegetation comes with its own limited palette of near-black shades — red, blue and purple — which contrast sharply with the chlorophyll green of the Earth life in the vicinity of the village.
I love this part of the day. Everything seems hopeful and possible at dawn, but in an hour or two my mood will shift to the sour end of the range, as the tough business of surviving, never mind thriving, on this planet begins. Today’s main chore involves removing blades of indigo grass that have sprouted in our cattle and sheep paddocks. The native grass poisons the animals, and it’s a constant task to keep it contained. Usually, everyone who can be spared pitches in.
‘Lew!’ Sam Cavanagh calls. “Doc” Cavanagh is our medical officer — originally qualified as a general practitioner, he’s also Salvation Colony’s head nurse and, at a pinch, its veterinarian.
‘What is it?’ I reply, still rubbing my eyes. It was a long night. Jessie woke three times, and I helped Kellie out by getting up twice. I look forward to the time when the baby learns to sleep through the night, though everyone tells us that won’t be until she’s six months old. At least another two months of sleepless nights, then.
‘I was on night guard last night,’ Cavanagh says.
I nod. “Night guard” means monitoring the electric perimeter fence that surrounds the community and its adjoining fields. ‘Did you see anything?’
Cavanagh pulls a face. ‘Yes, I did. There was a medium-sized heat source circling the perimeter for most of the night. I’m not sure if it’s gone yet. Nate Morgan’s taken over the guard.’
In Paradise, Trapped
I can’t remember being sold into slavery; I was simply too young. I’ve heard people say I was barely past newborn, too small to even walk or talk. It’s surprising anyone saw any worth in me at that age, yet those who took me in don’t live by the usual rules. Some would argue my father acted towards my gain, to give me a better life, but I have no doubt his actions were self-serving. I don’t remember being taken, but I do try to imagine, from time to time, fitting together the clues like pieces from a broken drinking horn.
My father, Eylimi, king and fierce warlord, was said to have ridden into battle with me in hand instead of his great sword. Did my mother fight to keep me? Did she weep? I’ll never know, not from her own lips at least, for she was long dead by the time I discovered my lineage. She exists now in a place beyond even my reach. I like to think that she fought for me, even if it was just a token resistance, although doing so would surely have earned her a beating.
Eylimi must have waited for the precise moment in battle that the clouds parted and light shone through. His countrymen would have been dying around him as he sat atop his charger; in fact, he would have made sure of it. Only with enough battlefield deaths would they appear, the valkyries, shepherds of the blessed slain. As they rode down from the skies upon their mystical steeds — and this I can picture all too clearly — he would have cast me into the air like so much chaff, high over the heads of those locked in combat.
What would he have done if they hadn’t caught me? Finished the skirmish, no doubt, and counted me among the many other casualties of war. But that was not to be. Valkyries, even removed from the world of Midgard, are women still. Despite Odin’s command to save only the souls of the fiercest warriors, they cannot pass by an innocent left upon the battlefield. They counted it a rescue; my father hoped it would be a bond, sealed with blood, and I see it as being enslaved.
Holly and Iron
It was finished.
Jack took the leaf into the yard and held it up to the sun’s light, turning it this way and that, admiring its shape, its symmetry. Its surface was so finely polished that it seemed to glow. It was more than a leaf — it was what a leaf should be. And whilst other leaves fell to the ground and decayed, this would be forever.
‘What’s that?’ asked a neighbour, peering over her back fence.
‘A holly leaf.’
‘Ooh, it’s pretty.’
‘It’s perfect,’ said Jack, his heart aching with pride.
‘Who’s it for?’ the neighbour asked, grinning slyly.
‘I don’t know. I might keep it for myself.’ As soon as he said it, though, Jack knew it wasn’t true. The leaf was a gift for someone. He just didn’t know who yet.
‘It’s very pretty,’ repeated the neighbour, hopefully.
But Jack didn’t hear her.
The girl stumbled into our kitchen garden around mid-morning. My brothers were in town, running our market stall, but I had stayed at home to finish some repairs for local villagers. She wore a fine hunting costume, but it was torn. Dust whitened her long black hair. I grabbed my hammer as I went out to investigate, in case she was being pursued.
I suppose she was pretty, as humans go. I wouldn’t know. Give me a sturdy dwarf woman any time. And no, our women don’t have beards, despite all those human jokes. The fact is, you rarely see them because the first a human sees of a female dwarf is on the battlefield, and by then it's too late.
Clearly, this young woman had never seen one of my people before, though she had probably heard the stories, at third hand, or from the elves, who make pretty jewellery and give their swords names. Ours just pierce flesh.
Anyway, she shrieked and fainted. Dropping the hammer, I lifted and carried her into the house. She was too tall for our beds, but she wouldn’t be out for long, so I laid her down on a bed, legs dangling over, and went to poke up the fire for chamomile tea. She wasn’t badly injured, but would need calming when she recovered.
She woke — and cringed. ‘Oh, my God!’
I said firmly, ‘My lady, I brought you in only to recover. You were crushing our vegetables.’
‘I’m sorry for the reaction,’ she said, sitting up with a wince. ‘I’m already in danger and easily frightened. If you will let me rest a few minutes, I will be on my way.’
‘I don’t think anyone is near right now, and I’ll protect you from anyone who might come after you later. Let’s have some tea for now. I live here with my brothers. When they get home, you can tell us all how we can help you.’
‘I’m Blanche,’ she said. ‘Thank you, although I’m not sure you can protect me when my stepmother wants me dead.’
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