Thresholds: “The Clearing” by Kori Frazier Morgan

When I chose “thresholds” for this project’s theme, I liked how the physical meaning of the word, “the floor of a door or entranceway,” corresponded with a figurative meaning, “the level at which something starts to happen.” After a couple of months in Scotland, I feel myself crossing the threshold of familiarity: golding trees and sea gulls’ cries shift from magical to ordinary, and poor water pressure and COVID restrictions become everyday. I hope I can hold onto my sense of wonder while settling into the rhythms of this place.

Kori Frazier Morgan‘s delightful contribution to the Thresholds project, a flash fiction story, explores thresholds of familiarity and boredom, safety and adventure, physical and metaphorical. I identified with the main character so closely, it startled me.

Kori’s partner for this project was Aaron Stephens, who gave her the following “artifacts” or creative stimuli:

  • Cat whiskers
  • Clouds moving quickly across the sky
  • A small patch of earth in an otherwise grassy place

The Clearing

by Kori Frazier Morgan

Charlotte awoke to her cat’s whiskers needling her cheeks, his head gently butting against her forehead, as if saying, “Wake up, I’m bored.” Bergamot was the neediest cat she’d ever had, a plain yellow housecat she’d rescued from a shelter. Charlotte blinked several times, meeting his aggressively green gaze, then groaned like a sick dog as she forced herself to get up.

She grabbed a pair of sweatpants out of her dresser and the Ohio State sweatshirt she’d worn for the last three days. “You should dress like you’re still going to work,” her mother had said the last time they talked. “This won’t last forever. Do you want to lose your routine?” Charlotte snapped back that she’d already lost it.

Downstairs in the kitchen, she poured a cup of coffee and scrolled through Facebook. This had been her routine since the beauty salon where she worked shut down last month—mindlessly scrolling through the latest bad news, charming photos of her friends’ kids learning on Zoom, Instagram-worthy loaves of homemade bread and DIY crafts.

A text from her mom popped up. U okay? Charlotte rolled her eyes. Bergamot jumped on the table, sidling up to her shoulder. “Please leave me alone,” she said, unsure whether she was talking to him or her mom. The cat just stood there looking confused, then leapt onto the floor.

The phone dinged with another message. I can see u reading my txts. Please go outside or something?? 

Charlotte glanced at her watch. It was 10:30. She’d only been up for an hour, but it felt like five. She thought of the groceries outside that had been delivered two days ago, and remembered that she’d ordered chocolate chip cookie dough. Cookie dough for breakfast might switch things up.

She opened the front door and tried to gather as many bags as she could. Struggling to balance it all, she dropped a bottle of wine and it shattered, broken glass and black-red liquid sinking into the pavement. Charlotte swore loudly. She tried to manipulate the screen door so she could get everything else inside, and it was then that Bergamot darted out of the house.

Charlotte yelled the cat’s name, dropped the rest of the groceries, and flew after him. He ran like crazy, the allure of the fresh air seeming to intoxicate him, and she chased him down the sidewalk, across the street, down another block, until she reached the end of the road, where Bergamot darted up a maple tree. 

Charlotte looked around and found herself in a clearing. There used to be a house here, all swaybacked and crumbling from years of neglect, until the city finally tore the eyesore down. Now, the grass was lush and green, except for one wide, circular patch beneath the tree where nothing grew.

Bergamot scaled the higher branches of the tree. Charlotte grabbed the lowest branch and tried to walk her legs up the trunk, but the bark scraped her hands and she let go and fell on her back into the dirt. The heaviness inside her was unbearable, but she was too tired to cry. Bergamot was now a tiny yellow dot bouncing from branch to branch high above.

“Please come back,” she said, her voice cracking. “Please.” Her legs shook—she hadn’t run like that in years—and she let herself sink onto the patch of earth, curling into it. She wanted to stay here forever in the barren patch of earth, letting the grass grow over her, until there was only a slight rise in the grass, blending into the roots.

She was half asleep when she felt something wiry poke her cheeks. When she opened her eyes, she saw Bergamot, curled up on her chest, his long yellow tail curled around his body. He stared down at her, opened his mouth, and yowled, almost snarkily, as if to say, I finally got you to go out.

Kori Frazier Morgan

Kori Frazier Morgan received her MFA in fiction writing from West Virginia University. Her work has appeared in Shenandoah, Forge, Switchback, Blanket Sea, Prick of the Spindle, Scarlet Leaf Review, & other publications. She is the author of two books, Bone China Girls: A Poetic Account of a Female Crime & The Goodbye Love Generation: A Novel In Stories

Thresholds: “Flight” by Reagan Dregge

The days are darkening. I bought some Christmas lights (known as “fairy lights” here, I think) and hung them up in our entranceway, where they create a golden glow. It’s been a week of grim clouds overhead and cold rain glistening on sidewalks, but the sun came out today to make shadow-patterns through the leaves.

The brilliance of scholars and artists here continues to dazzle me with tales of labyrinths and facades of the “real,” Biblical gardens and seas, pilgrimages and peregrinations. This week’s contribution to the Thresholds project also dazzles me: Reagan Dregge’s piece takes us on a mysterious journey through an unknown land. Enjoy!

Flight

by Reagan Dregge

Photo credit: Reagan Dregge

Dear Reader, The following is a mere fragment of a much longer tale, in which a young warrior must flee from a murderous enemy. Her only hope lies across a wild and lonely plain….

Trinith rode for a night and a day without resting, her jaw set northward. Narrows broadened, steeps shallowed. The gravel under her horse’s hooves echoed off the canyon walls, and the wind wrapped around her like her cloak, cooing in her ears and whispering to her loosened hair. Rocky ground gradually gave way to burned stubble and prickly shrubs. The rusted and purpled landscape faded to mute brown and yellow-gray. The sky, which she could see more of now without the mountain crevices framing her view, was wide and round above, but pale and hazy and endless.

She followed a scant trail across the plain. She wasn’t sure whether the trail was made by man or beast. Hunched over Zephyr’s neck, her belly uncomfortably round with child, she gripped the saddle and took another swallow from her canteen. The second night, she was forced to stop, to let the horse eat and rest her own muscles. A muddy creek hedged a few strands of dead grass, and she refilled her water. In the morning they pressed on.

On the fourth day dark figures appeared on the horizon. They were people, not trees. As they got closer she could see they headed east, and there were four or five of them. She doubted they were bandits. She kept her heading, and they kept theirs, passing before her and away with little more than a stare. Those were the only people she encountered on the plain, though she occasionally found marks and remnants of previous travelers’ camps.

Occasionally the ground would rise and swell like the crest of a wave carrying her and Zephyr along. The wind blew without obstacle now, and its sound was a moan that rose and fell and rose again, bending the thorny brush and thin, twisted trees. Her face felt numb from the relentless blast, her lips were dry and cracked, her eyes stung. A cloud of birds passed above them once at dawn, raucous and shifting. Now she traveled by night and rested in the early part of the day. She was able to snare a few rabbits and one grouse. The haze never seemed to lift, but she could make out the full moon’s blurry orb through its veil. That night coyotes cackled in the distant dark, and she had to dismount to calm Zephyr’s snorting and stamping.

The days were growing shorter, and the wind colder. One morning there was a silver frost spidering across the ground. The sun rose in a clear blue sky and hovered with a lucid burning glare. Far ahead a dark band cut across the plain. They had come to the river.

Reagan Dregge

Reagan Dregge and her family

Reagan loves names and words and stories. She once studied creative writing and theatre arts, but today she homeschools, writes handwritten letters, and salvages her own little house on the prairie with a husband, daughter, and multiplying menagerie (one cat, two dogs, a dwarf netherland rabbit, and a small flock of chickens). Her favorite seasons are winter, spring, summer, and fall. Follow her blog, The Grace Book, to read more of her work.

Thresholds: Three Poems by Aaron Stephens

In this small haven on the North Sea, green leaves are turning yellow; waves rise and fall with a thundering murmur; hot drinks like chai lattes and caramel mochas warm you up after walks through the cold winds. October is slipping away in later dawns and earlier dusks. Next week is Independent Learning Week, when classes are suspended to let students study, work on papers, and (in ordinary times) travel.

Now that I’ve had a month to settle in, I want to keep exploring the roles of maker, cultivator, and collaborator in my artistic work. After having so much fun with the Summer of Faerie project last summer, I longed to do another creative collaboration this autumn. I reached out to some artist-friends from The Habit and St. Andrews and invited them to join me.

Here is the full description and prompt for the project:

Project Title: Thresholds

Prompt: In her Rabbit Room article “Weathering the Books,” Rebecca D. Martin talks about reading books seasonally, and names The Fellowship of the Ring (especially the chapters up to Bree) as perfect for autumn. In honor of that beautiful thought, I invited some other artists to do a collaborative project.

The theme is thresholds: physical or metaphorical, small or great, looming ahead, just underfoot, or behind you. I took this definition of “threshold” from the Cambridge Dictionary:

1) The floor or entrance to a building or room
2) The level or point at which you start to experience something, or at which something starts to happen
3) The point at which something starts

Threshold synonymsbrink, verge, dawn, door, doorstep, doorway, edge, entrance, gate, inception, origin, outset, point, still, start, vestibule, point of departure, starting point

Medium: Anything: creative nonfiction, academic essay, fiction, poetry, visual art, theatrical script, Spotify playlist, etc.

The collaborative part: Once some people expressed interest, I arranged partnerships. Each individual came up with three “artifacts” or stimuli for their partner: concrete, physical objects such as “the color red, an iron key, and the smell of earth,” or “the taste of cinnamon, sound of a cello, and fog.” These “artifacts” didn’t have to appear in the final result, but they gave everyone a place to start.

Several artists took the challenge, and now that we’ve exchanged “artifacts” and had some time to work, I’ll start publishing the results here. This first contribution is three poems by Aaron Stephens. Aaron’s partner was Kori Morgan, who gave him these artifacts:

  • A tree with a trunk that grew up at an angle
  • An orange ball cap dropped on a hiking path
  • A windmill statue in a vegetable garden

He responded by capturing the beauty of a woodland with profound clarity and brevity that gives many phrases the emotional resonance of whole poems in themselves.

Enjoy!

Photo credit: Richard Loader

Autonomy

On our own
Lost in a
Maze of trees
On paths blazed by
Neighbors as blind 
As we

Trust

Change came
When I saw you
Step on a baseball cap
On the park trail.
An old orange hat
And I thought,
‘The hat was on the path
Now the path is on the hat.’

A new aroma
Finds my senses.
A patch of lavender
Hiding, waiting for me.
You found me.
So I prayed,
‘God, make me 
Walk more carefully.’

Breeze

White Birch trees
Straight and ordered
Sentinels of Law

Wild Beech trees
Angled trunks
Revelers of Gospel

Wind Blows
Through the leaves
Of the Beeches

We Begin
Down The Path
At last

Aaron Stephens

Aaron Stephens is growing more tenderhearted toward his wife and three children. Favorite color: blue. Have you had a dream that started before you were asleep? Have you had one so funny you laughed yourself awake? Aaron’s life has been like that. Just when he had settled into fearful religiosity, Jesus showed up like a belly-laugh for his soul. Find him at: aaron-erin.com.

Scotland: A Month in the Gray Havens

So, I’m here in Scotland. It’s October. I weathered two weeks of quarantine, cold winds off the sea, drizzling rain and blazing gold sun, walks down cobbled streets and runs up green hills. I’ve sipped mochas and eaten scones with clotted cream in little coffee shops with classmates, read long texts about aesthetics and Dante and postsecularism and a menagerie of other things, and listened to lectures on Tolkien and metaphysics and Song of Songs that made the world seem like a spinning toy carousel on a roof in Paris. 

I spent almost four years of my post-college life reading and studying, listening to and envying the beauty of others’ lives, of traveling writers and homeschooling mothers and brilliant academics. As I mentioned before, I want to be careful how I write about this year: it’s a grand adventure and glorious gift with a lot of hard work, stress, and small, dull, difficult tasks woven through it.

So here it is: a month’s worth of impressions of St. Andrews.

The town

Cobbled streets and winding roads; stone houses with slanted roofs or beige or white stucco houses with red tiled roofs; gardens of yellow rose-of-sharon or white roses; little shops of books, tartan, snow globes, scarves, golf gear, coffee, and pastries. The castle and cathedral ruins look mystical in the morning and eerie at night.

It’s charming and quaint, but also pays the price of its age: scaffolding and any kind of equipment looks out of place here, anachronistic in its bright colors and shining plastic or steel. Water pressure is piddling; mold and mildew are known hazards; they’re terrified of fire (we have three fire doors in our flat and warning signs everywhere).

The area

Steep hills of rolling green fields or plowed brown soil; pastures of black cows and white sheep; winding roads twined with blackberry plants, rose trees, and dead gray thistles; the blue sea calm and still or frothy with foam. One friend said she’s seen porpoises off the shore and rainbows on the horizon.

Fife itself is full of stone ruins and small fishing villages. I’ve only explored some of the Fife Pilgrim Trail so far, Crail, and Elie; small neighborhoods of stone houses, bright blue or red doors, ornamental wrought ironwork, gardens of orange roses and yellow begonias, and green hedges. 

Many houses and farms have cute or regal names: Kenly Green, White Cottage, North Quarter Farmhouse. 

The university

In my few days visiting Oxford last May, I felt the brilliance of the students and faculty almost palpably in the streets, lectures, and museum exhibits: we are the elite. St. Andrews has equally brilliant minds, but it feels more hidden and remote, like a secret society of astronomers meeting at the top of the world. I’m more of an insider here as a student (I was just a tourist in Oxford), but my program is also less well-known and feels delightfully intimate. 

In those soft spring days last year, Oxford was gold; St. Andrews is silver. Oxford felt like a smaller Gondor, dreaming spires at dusk; St. Andrews feels more like the Gray Havens, stone ruins at twilight. It has a special northernness, ruggedness, and loneliness from its brooding skies and wild sea.

The program

I knew so little about theology and the arts, and our discoveries are breathtaking. We’ve studied Giotto’s Arena Chapel, Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio, the curio shop of religious kitsch and the wasteland/wonderland of postmodernism and postsecularism. We’ve really barely started, but here are a few curiosities I’m pondering as we read and discuss:

  • How can we value beauty without idolizing it? Protestant suspicion of beauty and visual art is well-known, and I think it has valid reasons: it’s so easy to worship beauty as an idol, as Dorian Gray did. However, driving through the industrial meadowlands of New Jersey and remembering churches with moldy gray carpets and barren walls reminds me that beauty has spiritual significance: it revives the soul and glorifies our Creator-God.
  • How do orthodoxy and artistic vision relate? In class, we’ve talked about the relationship between theology and art: are the arts 1) a mere illustration of theological truth, 2) a completely separate area of thought, or 3)  an equally authoritative source of truth? I am passionately orthodox, and the idea that an artist’s work could translate spiritual truths just as well as divinely-inspired Scripture makes me nervous. However, viewing the study of theology/art as wandering around with a doctrinal checklist and making sure every charcoal sketch or one-act play matches every cant and creed seems unnecessarily harsh and legalistic. 
  • How can I glorify God with my art? I yearn to delve into the mystery of the incarnation, the wonders of creation, and the richness of divine love with storytelling and essay-writing – but a work written with a teaching purpose behind it can become a poorly-dressed scarecrow sermon or a cheesy, flimsy thing that’s embarrassing to call yours. We’ve talked about how just following a thread of inspiration and focusing on the craftsmanship of the work in itself can create something lovely and meaningful, but I need to figure out how to do that practically.

The opportunities

After years of longing for intellectual and artistic community, I’m joyfully overwhelmed by the opportunities here. Other scholar-artists/artist-scholars here have fascinating interests and talents – just listening to them makes me want to go write a great American novel in the murmuring woods or compose poetry under the stars. You may see some of their work here soon – I started a collaboration project for autumn themed “Thresholds” and featuring some artifact-sharing that I hope will create a feast of beauty.

God is good. Through the maze of visa applications, pandemic restrictions, phone plan issues, and banking mayhem, He has upended the storehouse of Heaven and showered blessing after blessing on my head. I hope this garden-haven plants rich, lovely things in my soul to harvest for the rest of my life.

Summer of Faerie: Poetry, a Golden Wood, and Departure

Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into fall – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.
E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web, chapter XV, “The Crickets”

I hope I never lose my awe at the change of seasons, the year’s wheel turning from red to white to green to gold. This year, the whispers of autumn in the cool breezes and silver-dipped backs of leaves hurts me as much as it excites me. This summer was a dream, from the beauty of blue horizons and pink beach-roses to the amazing contributions to the Summer of Faerie project.

I’m ready to go to Scotland; ready for the long flight, the two-week quarantine, the world of books and music and art I will enter with the other students in my MLitt program. It will be good and hard and beautiful and strange. I have never lived in a foreign country; I have been dreaming of going to grad school for five years; I’m longing to dig deep into the richness of study; I’m nervous about the many things I don’t know, like what grocery store brands to buy or whether I can keep track of the dollar/pound conversion in my head.

I wrote this poem to capture some of the beauty of this summer and a little of the scattered research I’ve done of Faerie.

Faerie Country

The lake

Dipping paddles into darkness, stirring
Pollen gold dust over pondering deep,
We tune our ears by cicadas’ whirring,
Hearing loons cry ah-oo, spell of noon’s sleep.

Dragons dream below us. We glide like ghosts
Over their ancient rest, tree-covered spines
Watching like guards of a distant outpost
Hungry, listening, waiting for mythic signs.

Staghorn sumac raises scarlet pledges,
Toasting endless sky, hailing dark green peaks.
Silver birches gleam at twilight’s edges.
We pause, haunted, as night’s veil speaks.

The dream

Golden moment: scent of pine in a glade
Swirling rich and sweet. Steep hills overgrown,
Tangled with roots. Heat shimmers; phantoms fade.
Did I dream it, or remember? Unknown.

The river

Eelgrass rustles; breezes finger willows.
Fireflies blink and twirl in shadowed trees.
Green-Guards conduct the peepers’ twilight show,
Their song of sleeping kings and emerald seas.

Orange seaweed drifts up from the sea caves
Remnants of the Sea Folk’s midnight fun.
Splashes: kids jump off the bridge into waves.
Tide-Keepers giggle, scales glinting with sun.

Mourning doves cry oo-ah while the Dawn-Beasts
Breathe on windows of a morning, fogging glass.
Packing quickly, I watch the kindling east
Turning green to gold. The zenith has passed.

There seems to be an unwritten rule that artists should never explain the meaning of their work: they can either remain mysteriously silent or drop cryptic hints. I’m going to break that a little now to explain the middle section of the poem, “The dream” because there’s a mystery there. Since spring, I’ve had a recurring daydream of a golden wood, a pine hollow baked dry and amber by the sun, full of hills that roots break through. It’s warm, silent, peaceful, safe, beautiful, sad. There might be a castle nearby; I think it has a wishing well. It may be from a book or movie (Ever After, Bridge to Terebithia, The Book of Three, Prince Caspian) or somewhere I have traveled (New Hampshire, Cape Cod, Pennsylvania, Yosemite). I thought it might be in Acadia National Park, but I didn’t find it there in June.

As I included that dream in my poem, I read Rebecca D. Martin’s beautiful article, on the Rabbit Room, “The Stories of Others.” I liked it so much that I went back and reread her Rabbit Room article from February, “Significant Lights.” The fourth paragraph brought me to a full stop: she describes a childhood dream

… infused with a beauty so rich I can still sense it. In the dream, I walked through a golden wood, as haunting as autumn, as living as spring. There were elements other than the forest, too: a castle, the sense of mystery, a deep feeling of belonging and hope, and even sorrow—a pervasive sadness that I couldn’t keep staying here in this most perfect place. . . . sometimes I still lay on the edge of sleep longing for a glimpse of that forest again.

Is my golden wood a subconscious memory of Rebecca’s article? (Probably.) Or did we both dream of the same place, miles and years apart? I have no idea, but the second idea reminds me of something I read in Madeleine L’Engle’s book Walking on Water: L’Engle noticed that a certain image she used in her book A Swiftly Tilting Planet, a bonfire of roses, also appeared in Dante’s Divine Comedy, George MacDonald The Princess and Curdie, and T.S. Eliot Little Gidding.

Where did the fire of roses originate? I suspect that it goes back beyond human memory.
Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water, chapter 10, “The Journey Homeward”

Is the golden wood a whisper of Deep Magic? I want to believe that.

I think the golden wood will haunt me in the darkness of winter in Scotland (six hours of light per day). I think it will come back to me when I slop through slush in the streets or feel cold, wet winds slicing through my jacket. I hope that instead of making me grumpy and discontent (as I can be), that fragrant silence, delicious heat, and golden radiance warm me from the inside out.

Summer of Faerie: “The Changeling” by Taryn Frazier

Yellow spots are spreading across parts of the tree canopy; two sumac leaves out of every seven blaze scarlet and orange. The turning is happening earlier than usual because it’s been so dry, and it’s breaking my heart. I’m not ready for summer to end, even with an exciting year ahead.

This week, I reread Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing (a retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”) and Cybele’s Secret, its sequel. They’re enchanting tales of medieval Transylvania and Istanbul respectively. I read them as a young teenager, and they taught me about Faerie politics and rules like “don’t ever eat Faerie food.” However, they’re pretty dark in places – a few scenes in Wildwood Dancing almost gave me nightmares. I recommend them as good examples of fairy-tale retellings and historical fiction/fantasy, but they veer a little closer to horror than I usually like.

This week’s Summer of Faerie post is also an excellent example of entwining history, myth, and imagination – a tale from the green hills of Ireland. Taryn Frazier captures the musical speech and traditions of the Irish people with a prose as clear and lovely as raindrops. Enjoy!

The Changeling

by Taryn Frazier

Curtains at a window
Photo credit: Lucas Allman through Pexels

Mrs. Dixon, that old stickybeak, came early in the morning to see Bridget’s new boy. I’d heard the cries last night from the mother and then the wee baby, but I had my own little ones to tend to and the washing to do at sunup.

Imagine my surprise when I heard a scream from next door. I left the clothes in the kettle and ran out to the gate. I was just in time to see Mrs. Dixon hurry away down the lane as if the devil was after her, crossing herself with every step. Well, I gave my Deirdre a sweet and told her to mind little Tom a moment, and I fairly flew over to see what was amiss.

Saints and sinners, what a sight. Bridget lay keening on the bed, her face turned away from the cradle beside her—the cradle her man had made when Molly blessed their home not two years ago.

Molly had been a pretty baby, pink and round, with curls yellow as the shavings that fell from her da’s plane as he worked wood. She sat wide-eyed in the corner now as her ma cried and her da wrung his big hands. Bridget had always worn the trousers, as the saying goes, and the man was at his wits’ end.

I shooed him out the door. “Take Molly to my house. Go on, now.” Then I looked.

The baby in the cradle was as unlike Molly as could be. Thin and small, he was. A wispy bit of black hair came to a point over his brow. His eyes were almond-shaped, slanted like a cat’s, and little ears sat low on his head.
“Oh Mary, Mary,” Bridget wept, “They say he’s a changeling child.”

He looked like no human child I’d ever seen, but for all that, I felt no fear. His face was peaceful and round as the full moon. The little thing began to root and fuss for milk.

“Wait, you,” I told Bridget. She scarcely heard me for weeping. I ran away down the lane and up the hill to fetch Old Sarah. If she had a last name once, only she remembered it. Old Sarah could work small magics. With my own eyes I’d seen her call a lamb from a ewe when the farmer had given both up for dead.

All out of breath, I told Old Sarah of the changeling. She took up her rowan staff without a word. By the time we reached Bridget’s cottage, Mrs. Dixon had returned, armed with a hawthorne switch.

“Careless woman,” Mrs. Dixon was saying, shaking the switch over Bridget. “Did ye not put cold iron by the cradle? Sure, the fairies stole your baby and put that elf in its place!”

Bridget cowered on the bed. The little one writhed in the cradle, crying in earnest now. Seeing Old Sarah and myself, Mrs. Dixon darted forward and snatched him up.

“Look at this hellspawn!” She thrust the wailing bundle at me. “You know the cure as well as I, don’t you? We must whip the imp until it speaks!”

Troubled I was, but before I could speak up, there was a crack. Old Sarah’s cane had come down on the hearthstone.

“Still your foolish tongue, Tara Dixon.” She took the squalling child and bore it over to where Bridget lay.

“Hush,” she murmured to the pair of them. She put the boy to Bridget’s breast. The poor woman could hardly look at him, but he quieted and began to suckle. Bridget hiccoughed and quieted too.

Mrs. Dixon spat, “’Tis a misbegotten thing, I say.”

Old Sarah rounded on her.

“Your God may err, but my God makes no mistakes. This babe is an innocent, fairy or no. If you touch him again, may your God defend you from mine.”

Mrs. Dixon puffed and spluttered like a cornered cat, but Old Sarah picked up her cane.

“Get you gone, or I’ll not cross your threshold when lambing time comes.”

Well, Mrs. Dixon left in a trice. Bob Dixon’s flocks were his pride and joy.

~

I tell you, I went home and hugged my Deirdre so tight she cried out, and I put iron nails beside Tom’s cradle that night.

On the morrow I kept one ear cocked, but I heard nothing from next door save little Molly’s chatter in the yard and hammering from the shed. The day after was the same. On the third day, though, I heard Bridget singing. She’d gone mad, said I to myself.

I went by—to get a bit of flour, that’s all. There she stood with her back to me, rocking the changeling boy, kissing his little moon face. All the while she crooned the old lullaby she’d sung over her Molly. A pair of iron tongs lay before the empty cradle.

I was gone before she turned about. Yes, Bridget had gone stark mad. There was no use keeping the fairies away now, was there?

Taryn Frazier

Taryn Frazier loves reading beautiful stories, and she wants to write some too. Something that would make C.S. Lewis, Ursula Le Guin, Tolkien, or Lloyd Alexander smile and nod. She lives in Georgia with her husband and four kids. She likes to spend time outdoors with the family, gardening, hiking, forest schooling, and swimming.

Summer of Faerie: “The Decision” by Loren Warnemuende

August is hot. Humidity hangs heavy in the air and (some mornings) paints fog on the windows. The leaves have darkened from their fresh spring green and hang limp, shriveled. I’m writing this while sitting on the back porch steps, my feet on the dusty earth and brittle grass, as our golden retriever sits in the middle of a lawn chewing a stick. Crickets murmur in the woods. Just now, though, a cool wind just came running through the tree canopy with that delicious rustling sound like running water.

My Faerie research has lapsed (somewhat) as I work through summer reading for St. Andrews. On our Montana trip, however, I read Charlotte E. English’s delightful Faerie Fruit, a tale with shades of Eden, Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” and C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew mixed in with small-town intrigue and told with enchanting prose. The first section was my favorite, but the whole story was a fascinating look at food and eating in Faerie (a branch of study I need to examine further), community and friendship, self-control and desire, love and choices.

This week’s Summer of Faerie post also concerns choice and desire. Loren Warnemuende, who wrote a retelling of “King Thrushbeard” earlier this summer, also contributed an excerpt from her manuscript, Exile. It’s the first book in a trilogy named Daughter of Arden which retells the Grimm Brothers’ tale of “Maid Maleen.” I’ve had the privilege of reading some of the first drafts of the series, and it’s marvelous – rich, exotic, compelling, and gripping at every turn. I hope to see them in print someday. Enjoy!

The Decision

by Loren Warnemuende

Cathedral interior
Photo credit: Loren Warnemuende

“Her Royal Highness, the Princess Maleen!” Minister Gooldon boomed. Echoes reverberated through the Hall, up against the arched stone ceiling and down across the glimmering windows.

 At the front of the Hall King Darrick rose, and the assembly turned toward the center where Maleen must walk. She swallowed. There were so many people watching. Three days before she had stood here alone with her father when he had given her the incomprehensible choice—marriage to Prince Jared of Dranneth, or sojourn in a tower. He said the tower was the only alternative to the marriage, and both were to keep her safe from the looming war with the barbarous Kalomenn. Maleen had begged him to consider other options—if only he would consider Prince Melanor of Pandor, the one she loved, who loved her!—but the king wouldn’t bend and now she had to announce her decision.

Maleen took a deep breath, fixed her eyes on her father, and swept toward him. Colors swirled along her sides and the path moved on and on. She felt she traversed the history woven into each of the tapestries lining the walls, back to the dawn of Arden. At last she reached the steps of the dais. King Darrick stepped down to meet her and took her hands in his.

They stood, brown eyes to brown. She did not speak, and tried not to look down, forcing her face to give no signs of her turmoil. The hush in the Hall was almost unbearable.

“And so, Maleen?”

His words were soft, but they permeated her being and flowed through the Hall. Maleen lifted her chin, but her gaze dropped.

“I choose the tower,” she said, and the weight of the stone pressed in around her. But it was the only option that would give Melanor enough time to come for her.

The king gripped her hands tightly and a chatter of voices rattled like tossed pebbles through the Hall behind her. The king’s hold loosened, and he sighed deeply. He stepped up to his throne, leading Maleen to her delicate copy of his massive seat before he sat down. He motioned to a guard who stood by the council chamber door. The guard stepped within, then emerged followed by a man and a woman. They approached the dais and bowed deeply to the princess and the king.

“Princess Maleen,” King Darrick said, “I would like you to meet Sage Granimor and Dame Marietta. Granimor, as you know, will build the tower.”

Maleen nodded in acknowledgment toward the man with the wind-grained face and bulky shoulders. The man’s frame seemed out of place in the ornate hall.

“I am honored to see to your safety, Princess,” Granimor stated, looking at her with piercing blue eyes. He carried his authority as a sage like a mantle. Maleen wondered how honored the man really felt for Granimor revealed nothing.

“And this,” Darrick continued, “is Dame Marietta, who will join you in the tower.”

Maleen jerked her head toward her father, then turned her full stare onto the woman before her. Someone to accompany her? The thought had not crossed her mind! She assumed she was in this on her own—how could her father impose such a fate on anyone else? Then she realized her father would never force someone to join her. But who would come willingly? Not, of course, Maleen reminded herself, that they would actually enter the tower, but what if…. No, the idea was unthinkable.

The woman stood quietly before her and Maleen wondered what far corner of the castle she had been found in. Her hair, dark brown except for some gray at her ears, was pulled back loosely from her tanned face. She, too, had keen blue eyes that were fixed steadily on the princess, and her mouth was firm, but not tight. A blue sash tied the waist of her brown linen gown and her back was straight.

She stepped onto the first step of the dais and took Maleen’s smooth hands into her rough ones. Her eyes were now level with Maleen’s.

“I am looking forward to serving you again,” she said smiling. Her voice was low and rich. 

Maleen gaped openly at the woman now. She was sure she had never laid eyes on her, and yet this peasant had the audacity to take her sovereign’s hand. Maleen closed her mouth, smoothed her face, and drew her hands away. Marietta, unperturbed, nodded slightly and stepped back to the foot of the dais.

Maleen saw her father frown faintly before he turned to her.

“Marietta has been a faithful member of this household since before you were born,” King Darrick explained. “She has worked in the library and kitchens, but it was she who nursed you your first two years.”

“Oh.” Maleen had no other words. She knew someone must have nursed her after her mother died, but no one ever said who. She’d never thought to ask. She stared again at this quiet woman who smiled at her with peaceful assurance.

The king waved his hand at the enigmatical pair, and with another bow they retreated to the council chamber. Maleen couldn’t take her eyes from the door where they exited. The rest of the Hall no longer existed.

Her father spoke beside her. “My dear, I hope you will continue your regular activities until the tower is built. It will be some months before it is complete.”

Maleen tore her eyes from the door but focused on her hands and didn’t look toward him.

“Yes Father, of course.”

He coughed slightly, and stood. She looked up into his face, trying to put away any feeling. The sight of his sad eyes, brows crumpled, and mouth compressed was too much for her. She stood quickly so she could avoid looking into his face again.

 “You may go now,” the king said, his voice low. And then, “I will try to call you in more frequently, my child.”

 “I—I thank you,” Maleen stammered blankly. She turned and stepped down the dais, moving toward the distant open doors, willing herself to remain calm and poised. She must be stalwart before her people. What would they think if she broke down now? And how could she let her father see how she felt? Let him show his pain! He should be anguished over sending his only heir and daughter into a prison. Besides, she thought, there’s no need for tears or tantrums! Melanor will come and take me away, far away, from all these people who pity me. She raised her chin again and left the hall with swift, unfaltering steps.

 She had expected her ladies would follow. They had said they would stand behind her, and she thought they’d want to be there, if only for the purpose of scrutinizing her initial reactions. She had looked forward to venting her frustration onto them. But no one followed, and when Maleen reached the bottom of the Hall stairs she realized she was alone save the stony sentinels of the King’s Elite. She caught her breath, forcing down an unexpected lump in her throat, then conversely welcomed the rushing wave of relief that she was alone. 

 Maleen strode toward Ramia’s Garden, thankful there would be no unwanted company at this time of year. She wandered the paths in silence, trying to think only of the muted colors of winter. Eventually she settled onto a stone bench hidden in the rose arbor and wrapped her arms about herself to ward off the evening chill. 

No roses bloomed, but the branches entwined the trellises, providing shelter from the cool winter breezes and possible prying eyes. The sun slipped behind the castle wall, but its ambient light cast a soft glow over everything. Maleen sat, drinking in the quiet, pushing thoughts away. Her eyes wandered, settling eventually on the brown stone of the Akklesia visible over the gardens. This building, a place of worship to the Mighty One, had stood for centuries here in Ardenay. It was a symbol of hope for the people—a center. It was only a small Akklesia, structured for the worship of castle inhabitants. Every castle and large town in the country had an Akklesia, most far more grand than this. But this one was significant because it was the first. Arden’s first king and queen had built it with their own sweat and blood, forging a core for their young kingdom. It was they who lit the first Light, the eternal flame that burned on a pedestal in the Akklesia, representing the Mighty One’s constant presence.

 And what was the Mighty One’s perspective on Maleen’s situation now? Wasn’t he worshipped and honored because he protected his chosen people? Maleen was from the line of Arden’s kings and queens—the blood of the firsts flowed through her. Why didn’t the One Who Saves reach down and change her situation now? Why had he even let it occur?

No voice answered her questions; she hadn’t expected one. Instead the clear tones of the Akklesia choral girls rose, singing their evening hymn of praise. The single line of notes climbed sweetly into the clean air, dragging with it the lump lodged in Maleen’s chest. It rose into her throat and then mouth, and with it came the tears she had repressed so fiercely. A final ray of the sun lanced over the castle wall catching the roof of the Akklesia, and the water in Maleen’s eyes magnified it so it seemed to ignite and consume the building, annihilating hope. Without further care for appearances, Maleen lowered her head and sobbed.

Loren Warnemuende

When she was in fourth grade, Loren won a story-writing contest and decided that she’d grow up to be a writer. Since then God has led her into many roles including wife to her Renaissance man, Kraig, and mom and teacher to their three kids. Loren also teaches Worldview and Bible to high schoolers in a homeschool co-op, and adults at church. Through all these roles writing has been a source of hope and a way to share the stories and big ideas that fill her mind and heart. Loren lived most of her life in Michigan, but now calls East Texas home. You can find more of her sporadic writing on her blog Willing, Wanting, Waiting…..

Summer of Faerie: “True to Me” and a Scottish Tale

Mountains at sunset on a lake

After some amazing contributions to the Summer of Faerie project by AJ Vanderhorst, Matthew Cyr, Loren Warnemuende, Rachel Donahue, Emma Fox, Rachel Greco, and William Stark, here is my own Faerie story for the summer. I wanted to do a retelling of one of my favorite tales – “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” or “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” – but a different, darker story called out to me this time. 

I first read about the “Two Sisters” or “Cruel Sister” ballad in Patricia Wrede’s Book of Enchantments; she did a retelling with her own spin on it, so my story is as much a retelling of hers as it is of the original tale. It’s actually a troubling, gruesome story, technically a cautionary tale instead of a fairy tale (according to Angelina Stanford, fairy tales have happy endings by definition), but I felt drawn to it by fascinated horror, sadness, and a desire to reshape it. You can read about the ballad itself and its many versions in this article. I used this version of the ballad sung by Peggy Seeger. I also threw in some research about Scottish Fae and superstitions.

Along with this tale, I have Scottish news. After about five years of waiting, praying, planning, scheming, saving, and doing a lot of paperwork, I’m going to St. Andrews University in Scotland to study for a Master’s degree in Theology and the Arts. The program will let me explore the curious, wondrous region between faith and human creation: how does theology relate to art, and art to theology? How do artists-who-are-Christians integrate what they believe with what they create? 

Most of my applications went to literature programs, and I was torn between this degree and one that focused more on the English-major topics I love. I meditated on the decision one bright, chilly morning in April, sitting on the black, red, blue, and gold rug in our front hall and petting our golden retriever as the sun streamed in. The choice came with a surge of joy: I felt that this program would best equip me to use my gifts for the Kingdom of God, to figure out how my writing can be an act of worship.

I have dreamed of going to grad school to study further since college and through various office jobs in a green farm town, silver seaport, and tinted-glass greenhouse. In those years of waiting, I often let myself sink into social media envy (a cliche of our age, I know): envying Facebook friends and Instagram profiles for their exotic vacations, gorgeous weddings, or grad school achievements. Now that I have a life event that looks good on social media, I feel shy.

This coming year is a divine gift, splendidly undeserved. It’s also the product of some hard and unglamorous work, like long periods of loneliness, bumbling through grad school research and applications, international wire transfers, and visa paperwork. Becoming a grad student is a fairy tale written just as much with stress and effort as beauty and adventure. And I’m so, so thankful for it. 

Anyway, here’s my story. Enjoy! 

True to Me

Seashore

Our backyard was dim with dusk. The harbor’s salty breeze mingled with the smell of scallops and haddock grilling on the patio.

My older sister Eara’s navy dress smelled faintly musty after 11 months in her closet. It fluttered around me as I rushed down the stairs to the rehearsal dinner laid out on the patio, carrying a flat package.

My oldest sister, Aileen, sat with her fiancé, Mike, a tall man with dark brown skin, broad shoulders, and gold-rimmed glasses. Aileen leaned forward to let him whisper something in her ear. A wave of her dark hair fell onto the shoulder of her green dress. Her expression relaxed into a quick smile before resuming its concentration.

Don’t forget to smile, I remember Eara telling Aileen years ago, before Aileen’s first violin recital. Your concentrating face is kind of scary.

My nervous smile is scarier, Aileen had said.

I looked up at the trees; my little cousins, the other bridesmaids, and I had had a hard scramble to string the golden fairy lights up there, but the looping pattern matched my concept sketches exactly. They completed the atmosphere I wanted: warm, bright, and safe.

You’re quite the Maid of Honor, my mom had said when we finished the lights.

Eara would have been chill about it, I said. But at least I can make things look nice.

Turning to the gift table, I put my package with the other presents: a watercolor painting I’d done of a sailboat on this very harbor, with the land in turquoise and the sail a vibrant orange.

My temples ached with exhaustion; I hadn’t slept through the night in months. Dreams of the pale sun glimmering from underwater and golden hair rippling in a current interrupted my sleep. In waking hours, I kept seeing weird images flicker across peoples’ faces and in their eyes, like shadows or prism-cast rainbows.

Jack, Mike’s younger brother, sat under the maple tree with his guitar. He was leaner than his brother. His skin was a shade lighter and had golden undertones while Mike’s were amber. I squinted: his guitar looked…white? Pale and yellowed, like the whale bones hanging in the Nantucket High School.

I collect instruments that carry stories, Jack told me when I saw him at Easter. He’d showed me his favorite, a guitar his grandfather bought in Berlin in August 1961.

Jack cleared his throat. Our gazes met, and I smiled. He lifted his head slightly in acknowledgement. “I found this guitar on the beach last week,” he said. “And this song kind of wrote itself.”

He began strumming, and in that moment, the instrument in its hand shimmered like a mirage of water – and golden eye in it winked at me. I looked around, but no one else seemed to notice.

I’ll be true to my love, if my love will be true to me, Jack sang with his amber river-voice.

While these two sisters were walking the shore,
Bow, balance to me,
While these two sisters were walking the shore,
The oldest pushed the younger o’er,
And I’ll be true to my love, if my love’ll be true to me.

Audience members looked at each other. Whispers began like a breeze rustling leaves. “Kind of creepy,” my grandmother whispered loudly.

Then, Jack lifted his hand from the instrument, stopped singing, and stared at Aileen. The guitar continued to play on its own. Another voice, my older sister Eara’s summery tones continued:

While we two sisters were walking the shore,
We, Aileen and me,
While we two sisters were walking the shore,
Aileen pushed me into the wat’r,
And I’ll be true to my love, if my love’ll be true to me.

Oh sister, oh sister, please lend me your hand,
Bow, balance to me,
I never, I never will lend you my hand…

Gasps; heads turned to the wedding party’s table. Aileen and Mike exchanged glances, then stood, their chair legs scraping the stone, and ran around the table to Jack. Aileen grabbed the guitar, and they disappeared into the garden.

I was the still point of a turning world. Relatives and friends turned to me, their eyes wide. Last September’s memories rushed through me: the Coast Guard report, Aileen’s days in the hospital, the empty coffin. I walked to Jack, my high heels wobbling.

“Jack,” I said quietly. “What the heck?”

He met my eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said. “They had to know.” Studying his dark irises, I saw swirling mist instead of the long golden shore I glimpsed in there the last time we spoke.

 “You’re confused,” I said. “Ok. Stay here. Tell everyone else to stay here and finish dinner.”

“Ok,” he said. I walked into the garden.

Last July, Eara had brought some grad school friends here for the weekend. I came back from my day camp job one afternoon to find them walking back from the beach, sandy and sun-kissed. As I closed my car door, I saw Eara drop her blue towel. One of the guys picked it up and put it around her shoulders. She laughed, flicking a strand of wet blond hair out of her eyes. I saw Aileen at the back of the group, looking at them. The guy was Mike.

Thick cedars screened the garden from the house. Lights glimmered on the harbor’s dark water. Mike and Aileen were in the white gazebo.

“Ow! Bracelet,” Mike grunted.  

I walked to the entrance of the gazebo to see Mike hanging onto the neck of a black horse – snap – a black goat – snap – a black rabbit with golden eyes. He managed to keep his grip around the thing’s neck, hanging on as if trying to tame a wild bull with his bare hands. As the rabbit appeared, Aileen snapped her silver bracelet around its neck. It squeaked and lay still. Panting, Mike sat down with a huff, and she sat beside him, holding it in her lap.

Aileen saw me. “Mairi,” she said.

“Ai,” I said, my old nickname for her. My lungs felt small. “Why did that thing say you killed Eara?”

Aileen looked up at me, her freckles standing out more than usual. “It’s, uh…it’s hard to explain.” She looked down at the rabbit, then back at me. “Do you really think I would do that, Mair?”

I studied her eyes: hazel, with flecks of gold. A dappled light like the sun shining through green leaves shimmered over her face – no mist, no darkness, only green and gold.

“No, you wouldn’t do that,” I said. “But what really happened?”

Aileen tilted her head, studying me. “This is a púca,” she said, gesturing at the rabbit in her hands. “It stole Eara’s voice.”

“A shape-shifter?” I said, bending over to look at the rabbit. It panted, meeting my eyes with that gleeful golden stare. “Why would it steal her voice? She’s dead.”

“No,” said Aileen. “She was taken by the Fae.”

When you jump into deep water, you create a thousand tiny bubbles that hover and pop around you. I felt that plunge and tingling sensation now.

“Eara and I were researching the Fae in grad school,” said Mike. “Faerie is drifting towards us again, close enough to visit. She took something they wanted – we don’t know what. Sea Fae took her.”

“We’ve been searching for her all year,” said Ai. “We thought she was in the Aegean, so we booked our honeymoon there. But púcas are Scottish. This is from the Unseelie Court. So she might be there.”

“You knew all year that Eara wasn’t dead, and you didn’t tell us?” I asked. “Ai, seriously?”

“I know. I’m so sorry,” said Aileen. “We weren’t sure anyone would believe us, and telling stories about the Fae attracts their attention. Mike found a safe way to tell me everything after it happened. We…pretended to be dating at first when we were hunting for her, and then we ended up actually wanting to get married. And the wedding was a good cover for quest prep.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.

“You were in Florida,” said Mike. “Sea serpent country. They’re vicious. All Fae can be, really. And capricious, like this púca. It must have convinced Jack it really was Eara’s bones. I need to talk to him.“

“It means we have to act now,” said Aileen. “Before the wedding. Tonight.”

“Yeah,“ I said. “You two get your marriage license and go to the Aegean. I’ll go to Scotland.”

“Mairi, no,” said Aileen. “You don’t know the Fae.”

“I’m the third daughter,” I said. “You don’t think that matters on a quest? Or the ocean dreams I’ve been having about her?”

We stared at each other. “Second sight,” Mike murmured. Aileen mmmed in agreement.

Another strange feeling came to me: I felt that there were four of us standing here instead of three, and tasted snow.

“We‘ll find her,” I said. “Before the winter solstice.”

My gaze drifted to the harbor, into the waiting dark. A cool breeze brought me a hint of music, like a summons.

Summer of Faerie: “Threnody: The Fallen Kingdom” by William Stark

One of my favorite findings in this Summer of Faerie project was an essay by George MacDonald in which he argues (in a lyrical, wandering way that doesn’t really feel like an argument) that the purpose of a fairy tale is, like music, to awaken readers instead of convincing them.

He says (speaking of the author):

… where his object is to move by suggestion, to cause to imagine, then let him assail the soul of his reader as the wind assails an aeolian harp. If there be music in my reader, I would gladly wake it. Let fairytale of mine go for a firefly that now flashes, now is dark, but may flash again. Caught in a hand which does not love its kind, it will turn to an insignificant ugly thing, that can neither flash nor fly.

This week’s Summer of Faerie post, a haunting poem by William Stark, honors MacDonald’s vision of a work of art as an aeolian harp or firefly. Reading it rewakened my memories of the stormy, brooding Anglo-Saxon poetry of my freshman “Intro to British Literature” course; the misty, musical words of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion; to the green hills and rainy skies of England’s Lake District. Enjoy!

Threnody: The Fallen Kingdom

by William Stark

Lake District
Photo credit: William Stark

Along the twilit road I trudged, yet seeming scarce to tire,
as round about the raindrops muddied field and path to mire.
No gleam of sun glanced through the gloom, no fire from hearth did flame,
and all about was dark and cold, yet in that moment came
a spark forth from my musings grim. that set my mind afire.

A dwindling, flick’ring, dying coal that gleamed with memory’s gold,
recalling all the former days, those radiant years of old,
when hearth and heart were warmed and filled, when singing never ceased,
when friendship fair bound man to man, by doom nor foe released,
and holy honor ruled the realms, as men of yore have told.

Castles and strongholds stout they raised, untouched by storm nor siege,
whence warriors errant sought afar the kingdom’s furthest reach;
and seven towers watched their strands, above the harbors still,
and pillared halls they made themselves, and a city on a hill.
For love and honor were their lords, and loyalty their liege.

These all shine clear before my eye, from flashing, noble past: 
the seven guarding towers pale, the ancient strongholds fast,
the city white on verdant hill, that stoops to azure sea,
awash in sunset’s golden rays from pinnacle to quay.
But weep, for it could not endure, could not forever last.

The vision past, the towers fall, dissolving into rain;
the sun-washed city on the hill gives way to gloom and pain.
Its warriors sleep beneath the hills; their loyalty is dead,
And only chill and dark endure, yet still I trudge ahead
To wander on until at last my city I regain. 

William Stark

William Stark is a rising high school senior from Georgia; an avid reader of epic, myth, and fantasy; and a writer of both poetry and prose. His poetry primarily follows formal structures such as the sonnet and blank verse and has been featured at the Foundling House website. His prose work combines elements of high fantasy and science fiction, and most recently produced the first draft of his first novel. William also maintains a website for reviews of lesser-known children’s books, which may be found at www.realmofbooks.com.

Summer of Faerie: “The Nightingale’s Song” by Rachel A. Greco

Sun through leaves

Hot, bright days that burn the grass brown and brittle; dim, humid days when the air hangs heavy; gray, stormy days of booming thunder and sweet, cool rain. Lately, I’ve been enjoying the aurora borealis of Coleridge’s theology and poetry through Malcolm Guite’s Mariner, the golden web of mythology and folklore through D.R. McElroy’s Superstitions, the thick jungles and shining palaces of India through Joseph Jacobs’s Indian Tales, the green mountains and stone castles of Wales through the Mabinogion, and the silver dreaminess of legend through Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn.

While not every myth or fairy tale is my favorite (for instance, some of the monsters in Superstitions were quite shocking) I love how these stories remind me of the wonders of this world – fog on mountains, green tree-reflections on water, the glowing moon – and make me yearn to look over its edge into the wonders of eternity.

This week’s Summer of Faerie story expresses that same wonder with a burning brightness like fireflies at night. Rachel A. Greco retells Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Nightingale, with grace and depth, using such vivid language that I feel like I dreamed it. Enjoy!

The Nightingale’s Song 

by Rachel A. Greco          

Lantern in the woods
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Travelers braved the Briny Sea, the Peaks of Misfortune, and the Sands of Time to hear the nightingale’s song. Brighter than summer’s sun, sweeter than roses, it left the stoutest warrior’s heart quivering. But only at night did the enchanting music flood the forest.

Although the nightingale sang in the forests surrounding his palace, Emperor Ghanzou had never heard or seen the bird.

One evening, while showing dignitaries the splendors of his palace’s porcelain walls, ambassador Rolf asked the emperor, “Have you heard the nightingale’s song? It made me cry like a baby.”

“I have yet to see or hear the bird,” the emperor growled, annoyed the men weren’t complimenting his sculptures. “How do we know such a creature exists? Perhaps it’s just the temple bells or a dragon’s song.”

“Oh no, your majesty,” Rolf said. “It must be a nightingale.”

“Then bring it to me,” Emperor Ghanzou commanded.

The men stood as silent as the jade statues, for they didn’t know how to capture a nightingale or even find one.

The kitchen maid’s daughter had overheard the conversation as she scuttled by to prepare their tea. “Please, your majesty,” she bowed before him, “the nightingale is a special friend of mine. I can convince it to come and sing for you if you wish.”

The Emperor stared at the bowed head and food-smattered apron, surprised such an insignificant girl knew something the men did not. “Bring it at once.”

The maid darted away.

Emperor Ghanzou awaited the bird’s arrival after dinner and told a servant to bring a net in case the bird was as splendid as everyone said.

The emperor’s fingers tapped against his jade throne. The windows opening onto the balcony let in moonlight and the fragrance of jasmine.

A bird landed on one of the windowsills. It was a small, simple creature. How could such magnificent music come from such an insignificant source?

The bird opened its beak, and Ghanzou no longer cared. Crystalline music filled his head with sunnier days, when life was simple and sweet. When he stole kisses from a kitchen maid whom he had loved but couldn’t marry. Tears streamed down his face.

When the bird stopped, Ghanzou blinked as if coming out of a trance.

With his permission, his servant leapt toward the nightingale with his net.

The bird darted out the window.

“Get it!” Ghanzou thundered. “I must have that bird.”

The reward was set, the hunters found, and the search began.

Although the sharpest-scented dogs and sharpest-sighted men trekked through the empire, they couldn’t capture the bird. Years passed, and the nightingale continued to sing, often near the palace, but the little bird proved too clever for the emperor and his men.

Emperor Ghanzou’s rage and longing for the nightingale’s music drove him to bed with illness. As his strength drained away, his anger and greed drained with it. All he wanted was to hear the bird sing one more time before he died since he hadn’t heard its song since the night it escaped.

One evening, when his coughs kept the nurse beside his bed, she said, “The nightingale has come to sing for you, your majesty.”

He turned and saw its small figure on the windowsill, its beady eyes examining him. “So you’ve come now that I’m dying.” He sighed. “I suppose it’s what I deserve for trying to capture you. Thank you for coming.”

The bird opened its mouth and sang. It sung all through the night, and the emperor smiled for the first time in a long time.

“Your Majesty, the nightingale has turned into a girl,” the nurse’s voice hauled Ghanzou out of the pleasant memories the song had given him.

The kitchen maid’s daughter sat on the sill, dirty and simple. But the dawn cloaked her in light.

“Who are you?” He asked.

“I am a nightingale by night and Chynna, the kitchen maid’s daughter who has no father, by day.”

She stared at her feet. “You didn’t want me as your daughter, so I hoped you’d want me as your nightingale. I didn’t want to live in a cage, though.”

She glanced up. “I heard you were dying, so I came to sing for you again.”

Ghanzou knew the kitchen maid had carried his child and let her stay on. But he had put them from his mind so he could rule and produce heirs. Over the years he had forgotten the woman and child until the music had reminded him. He gazed at the young woman. His daughter. Poor and filthy, but not as insignificant as he once thought.

“Come here.” He opened his arms.

She sank into them, healing him with her song.

Rachel A. Greco

Rachel Greco

Rachel Greco is a YA fantasy author who wishes she was a dragon. Her short story, Fairy Light, won an honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition and another was published by White Cat Publications. When not writing, she can be found reading, kayaking, or dancing with elves in the forests of her South Carolina home. Visit https://www.rachelagreco.com/ for book recommendations and news about her writing world.