In Which Queen Ursula Makes Us Go, “Ohhh, No/Oh-ho, Yes!”

Where would the stories of the world be, I wonder, if everybody always did the smart thing? So often, the catalyst of an amazing adventure is an action you just know is going to lead to trouble. Take, for instance, “The Seventh Spell”. …or rather, take this excerpt from the novella’s second chapter.

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The queen’s official stance on magic was that all who wielded it ought to have their own curses thrown back on their heads and see how they liked it before being left in a dungeon to rot. She had suffered too many things at the hands of witches (or rather, the hands of one particular witch) to have anything good to say about them.

Even so, Villem knew his wife well: When she became emotional, rationality and reason were the very first things to go. Yes, Ursula hated magic, and she hated witches, especially the one witch with which she’d had dealings. But that which she hated most she fervidly called upon now.

“Anarchwitch!” she called into the empty room. “Mallory Carey, Wilhelmina – whoever you are! I beg of you: Come forth!”

A sudden breeze blew in through the tower window, bearing with it a voice.

Begging?” the voice said. “Tipsilvren’s princess, begging. Say it isn’t so.”

“You came!” Ursula sighed with relief.

“How could I not?” replied the woman who now stood before her. “It’s not every day a royal spirit as proud as yours condescends to beg. What do you want of me?”

Ursula blurted, “You’re young.”

When she had first encountered the anarchwitch – one of an order of enchantresses who sought to turn the institution of monarchy on its head – she had been a bent old crone. … The woman who faced the queen now was a beautiful young woman with fiery waves of hair and a face utterly without flaw.

An eyebrow on this flawless face rose incredulously. “You called me all this way to remark on my apparent age?”

“No, of course not,” said Ursula, remembering her all-important purpose. “It’s Villem. He’s ill – dying! Please, please do something!”

The witch shrugged gracefully. “What would you have me do?”

“What do you think?” Ursula snapped, anxiety carrying her voice up more than an octave beyond its habitual pitch. “Save him! He can’t go before me – I have to die first!”

“Well, you hardly need me to ensure that,” the witch said dryly. She gestured behind her. “Here. Third-story window. There never was a simpler suicide.”

“I don’t want to shorten my life!” Ursula shouted. “I want you to lengthen his!”

“Let’s not be greedy, Your Majesty. He’s already lived for a century-and-a-half.”

Ursula glared. “If you spend one hundred years as a rock, those hundred years don’t count!”

“And now we’ve lost our humble tone,” the witch observed lightly. “There goes the novelty of the situation. I think I’ll be on my way.”

“No, please!” Ursula pleaded, falling to her knees. “Please cure him! I can’t live without him, I just can’t!”

The witch contemplated the sobbing figure in front of her. As an anarchwitch, of course she held a very low opinion of royalty, and therefore felt no obligation to the queen on that account. However, unique to this particular anarchwitch was a soft spot for matters of true love, and there were few lovers truer than Villem and Ursula.

(The witch ought to know; she had orchestrated the spells which first brought the pair together.)

For this reason, she was sorely tempted to grant Ursula’s request – to extend the couple’s happiness for as long as it was in her power to do so. But something held her back.

“You do not comprehend what you ask of me,” the witch said gently. “Magic is not a thing to be doled out willy-nilly, anytime the whim strikes. The art of enchantment has its rules, and ignoring these rules often leads to the messiest kind of trouble. I am not saying I do not want to help your Villem; but it is possible I cannot.”

“But it is also possible you can?” Ursula pressed. “If there is the least chance of your ability to help my husband… if there is anything I can say or do that will make a difference… anything!…”

“Oh, Ursula,” the witch sighed. “We may both come to regret this… But I’ll try. Bring something of Villem’s here – something he’s handled often, or clothing worn recently that has yet to be laundered – and I’ll see what I can do, though it would really be wisest to—”

But Ursula was already halfway down the tower stairs.

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To be continued… on February 5th, Release Day for “The Seventh Spell (Book Three of The Wilderhark Tales)”!

Seventh Spell Cover, front

“Sample” or “A Girl in the Woods”

Not even a dozen days left until the release of my fairytale novella, “The Swan Prince (Book One of the Wilderhark Tales)”!

Wait, what?? *double-checks calendar* Holy smokes, it’s true.

Wow.

I can’t tell if this feeling is panic or just wanting so bad for you to read this book that I’m fit to bust. How to tell the difference?

The only swarms I like to think about are readers swarming Amazon to buy my book on launch day.
The only swarms I like to think about are readers swarming Amazon to buy my book on launch day.

Well, let’s try an experiment: I’ll let you all read a “small part of [The Swan Prince], intended to show the quality, style, or nature of the whole”, and we’ll see if the sharing of this piece of the book’s early pages helps to lessen the monarch butterfly migration passing through my midsection.

Ugh! Swarming insects! Why did I choose that analogy?! This sample chapter will now serve a twofold purpose – a lovely “Swan Prince” appetizer for you, and a distraction from disturbing thoughts for me. Enjoy. (:

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~ A Girl in the Woods ~

 

Doctor Villem Deere was not easily surprised.

It was not that he could be said to have “seen it all”; he had only lived a little more than twenty years of life, and had spent much of that time seeing the same few things many times over. And it wasn’t that he had a particularly outrageous imagination. Rather, he was open-minded enough that he could accept almost any circumstance as being a perfectly probable one, and if it was only likely that something would happen, it would be foolish to be surprised when it did.

So when – one autumn morning, not long past dawn – his door was thrown open by a panicked young nun, Doctor Deere took it entirely in stride.

“What’s the matter, Sister?” he asked with efficient calm, already reaching for his medical bag and shrugging into his favorite twill jacket. “An illness at the asylum?”

“A girl in the woods!” gasped the nun – Sister Ariana, by name. “Her leg’s caught in one of those ghastly steel traps meant for things like bears and wolves and mountain lions and— well, never mind! The point is, it’s trapped a girl! Please, Villem, come quickly!”

The supplies of his profession in hand, the fair physician followed his dark-haired friend out of the quiet village of Wilderhark and into the vast forest that bore the same name, working to make sense of Sister Ariana’s disjointed explanations all the while.

“I was taking my daily constitutional, the same as I’ve always done – for the past four years, anyway – or has it only been three? Well, never mind, that’s hardly the point: The point is that it wasn’t the same as I’ve always done.

“Normally, I circumvent the woods, but I didn’t today, because I heard this terrible, tortured sound coming from inside them! I can’t really put a name to it or describe it and I very much hope I’ll never be able to reproduce it because I just knew that such a sound could only be the result of overpowering agony!

“And I hadn’t even gotten over the shock of the first noise before there was a second one; what sounded like ragged, tearful breaths. I followed them to their source, and— ah! There she is!”

As one might reasonably suppose, the girl with her leg clamped tight in a steel trap had not gone anywhere.

In the ungainly-looking girl’s childish face, Villem observed the signs of physical distress one would expect to see in the expression of one in her situation. But what he had also expected to see, and yet did not see, was relief; relief that salvation had arrived, that she would soon be liberated from her entrapment. Instead, Villem saw no small amount of fear in her hard, staring eyes, as if the girl viewed him not as a source of deliverance, but as just another threat. He sought to reassure her.

“It’s all right,” he said soothingly. “I’m Doctor Deere, and I’m here to help you. Can you tell me your name?”

The girl’s voice was shaky, but she managed an answer. “Sula.”

“All right, Sula. Now, how did this unfortunate accident happen?”

Assuming that it was an accident, Villem thought. It most likely was, but you never could tell what some people might do to each other; it was a mad world, and everything was probable.

“I was… running,” Sula said tentatively. “It was dark. I didn’t see the trap until too late.”

“What were you running from?”

“I—” Sula began, hesitated, and began again. “I was running from a bear.”

“A bear.”

“Yes.” Sula nodded several times. “I mean, I thought there was a bear. Maybe there wasn’t, but I thought I had better run, in case there was.”

“I might have known there was a bear involved!” Sister Ariana cried. “I’ve heard of more than a dozen reported bear sightings in this area since this past spring alone. It was very foolish of you, dear,” she chided the girl, “to go into these woods at night; that’s when these local bears tend to be most active, I’m told. Your parents ought to have known better than to let you— Where are your parents, by the way?”

Sula’s answer was near inaudible. “I don’t have any.”

“Oh, you poor thing, how terrible! Well, never mind – I have just the place for you to stay. Would it be safe to move her there right away, Doctor, or will she need special care elsewhere?”

“Oh, she’s quite fit to be moved,” Villem replied, finishing his careful inspection of the girl’s entrapped leg. “You’ve been very fortunate, Sula: Somehow, your bone has withstood any breakage. How old are you, seventeen?”

“Sixteen.”

“Remarkable,” Villem murmured. That a girl of sixteen should have fared so well when a grown man’s leg would almost surely have been snapped in two by such a powerful contraption…

Perhaps something is the matter with the trap’s springs, he reasoned. He would have to look into that later.

“So I can take her to the asylum now?” Sister Ariana asked.

“Once I’ve cleaned and bound her wound, yes.”

“Thank goodness. Now, don’t you fret, Sula,” she said, noting the panicked look that had reappeared in the girl’s gray-green eyes. “We’ll soon have you where you won’t have to worry about getting hurt by traps or bears anymore.”

If she was worried about bears to begin with, Villem thought.

It wasn’t that Sula’s story had been an improbable one; but for reasons he had yet to scrutinize to his scientific satisfaction, Doctor Villem Deere was unconvinced it was the whole one.

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To be continued… on May 31st!

“Title”

A quick guessing game, readers: I’ll give you four words, and you try to figure out what they have in common. Ready?

“Blog”. “Networking”. “Theme”. “Gant”.

            Right-e-o, now I’ll cue up the iconic thinking music from “Jeopardy!”, and— Oh, never mind, you’ve either figured it out already or I’m about to spoil it all for you. They’re the titles of my previous blog posts, of course – all straightforward, all one word, all… slightly less than dazzling, I’m aware. Maybe coming up with “an identifying name given to a book, play, film, musical composition, or other work” (definition one) or “a general or descriptive heading, as of a book chapter” (def. two) comes easily to some people. Not so to me.

            You wouldn’t think it would be so hard. (Or, I don’t know, maybe you would, but I wouldn’t.) Titles don’t have to be all that complicated to stand the test of time. “Oliver Twist”, “Moby Dick”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Dracula”… Those are all just names, for goodness sake. I might just as easily have dropped “The Ballad of…” and called it a day. And actually, a handful of my stories with naught but a name or names for a title do come to mind. But that isn’t a device I’d want to employ all the time.

            I tend to find it easier, when naming books in a series, if I give myself a template to follow, a la the alliterative adjective/noun pair pattern established by certified genius Lemony Snicket in every volume (save “The End”) of “A Series of Unfortunate Events”. Based on the first title of what morphed into my “Wilderhark Tales”, when it came time to title the subsequent five books in the series, I gave myself rules: First word, “The”; second word, starts with “S”; and the third word could be anything that looked promising.

            But be it series or standalone, only rarely will I attempt to brave a lineup of chapter titles – bane of the label-challenged! …Well, part-time bane. Certainly, writers like Howard Pyle in “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” – (I pause to sigh deliriously at the mention of Robin Hood) – make it look like a piece of cake. “Robin Hood and the Tinker”; “Robin Hood and Will Scarlet”; “Robin Hood Compasseth the Marriage of Two True Lovers”… Simplicity itself.

            Maybe that’s my problem: I struggle with simplicity. I can’t just say “Bruno and the Frogs” and leave it at that. …Or, I suppose I could, but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “When Bloated Frog Things Attack… Or, Y’know, Just Sit There”. So if anything, the unfussy, one-word headers of my blog posts are actually a challenging departure for me. (Kinda like having a blog, in that respect.)

            And to any of you lovely people who are thinking complimentary things about my blog’s title, “Ever On Word”, I thank you… and then pass the kudos onto my tailor (who, for someone who insists on thinking of himself as thick-witted, spends an awful lot of time being the brains of this operation).